Green With Renvy | Travel & Lifestyle in Sustainable Shades of Green
Baby Boomer and founder Alison Abbott has been a multi discipline designer for all of her adult life. She is a serious adventurer, content creator and small business strategist, who is enthusiastic about keeping it local whether at home or abroad. Alison shares the experience of eco-friendly travel and lifestyle through Green With Renvy.
Summer has announced its imminent arrival and as travelers dream of a New England vacation, a scenic Maine hotel group is making an impact on responsible tourism. This season in South Casco, Maine, Migis Lodge will be powered for the first time with solar energy. The century-old vacation destination will offset 95% of its annual electric power with solar power. Located on Sebago Lake, the lodge and 35 cottages sit on 125 acres of pine tree covered land.
When building the 912-paneled solar structure in collaboration with Revision Energy, they were careful to preserve the surrounding forest area by locating the project in an off-site former gravel pit.
Solar panels courtesy ReVision Energy
The panels have given new purpose to unused space in the heart of nearby Rockland. The project came online at the beginning of the year and will power Migis Lodge’s electrical needs throughout the upcoming summer seasons. Life expectancy for the project is approximately 40 years.
The 314 kilowatt solar array will greatly reduce Migis Lodge’s carbon footprint and offset 610,753 pounds of carbon annually,” said Nick Sampson, a Commercial Solar Consultant at ReVision Energy. “We are proud of their environmental commitment, and I’m glad we partnered on this project to achieve their clean energy business goals.
One of the questions I am asked most frequently is “How can I travel more responsibly?” Most people don’t realize how easy it is to see the benefits of responsible tourism and make a difference. So many choices go into planning a vacation, sometimes it can appear that the list is endless. Every choice along the way your trip can be a responsible one.
Depending on the location of your destination, the level of responsible travel choices will vary. The most important thing to remember is that each eco-friendly choice can have an impact.
My work as a travel writer takes me on some incredible experiences around the globe. When I partner with a company whose environmental mission is impressive, I want to sing their praises and let my readers know about them. Each of you can use the information and decide what will work when making travel decisions for yourself and your family.
Hotels and Responsible Tourism
Let’s start with your hotel choice. There is rampant green washing circulating in the travel industry (and they are not alone-it is everywhere). Green washing, also called green sheen, is defined as an attempt to take advantage of the growing demand for eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable products. Making something appear- whether it be a hotel, skin care product or a suitcase- more environmentally friendly than it is.
As consumers, do we really think not changing our linens everyday gives a property the right to talk call themselves eco-friendly? Dig a bit deeper when looking for hotels and the positive impact they can have on the community. Here are are a few good topics to begin with:
Where does the water come from and is grey water recycled
Energy supplier, are they making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint
Does the hotel use eco-friendly cleaning and bath products
Is food sourced locally
Does the hotel have a recycling plan
Is the staff local
All properties should have a list of sustainable practices they follow if their business mission is serious about the environment and the principles of responsible tourism.
History of Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake
Since 1916, Migis Lodgehas opened its doors to guests seeking a step back from the world along the tranquil shores of Sebago Lake. Located just 40 minutes north of Portland, the resort is an idyllic location perfect for family vacations, romantic getaways, and much more.
One of only a handful of resorts in New England offering the Full American Plan, including all meals and many activities in their rate. Migis is a true getaway experience that invites guests to get unplug and recharge. All types of visitors will feel at home with welcoming hospitality. The lodge caters to both solo travelers and multi-generational families, with a wide range of activities to enjoy, regardless of age. Guests can stay active with canoeing, kayaking, sailing, waterskiing, and tennis, or relax amidst the glorious lake views and unparalleled refreshing Maine air.
Migis Lodge is committed to the environment and sustainability, said Jed Porta, General Manager for Migis Lodge and Managing Partner for Migis Hotel Group, the family-run, Maine-based hotel management company. Our guests will have one more reason to enjoy their vacations with us, knowing that we are doing what we can to respect Maine’s natural resources by using renewable energy.
Boutique Hotels & Migis Hotel Group
The Emerson Hotel – Rockport, Massachusettes
I’ve had the pleasure of being hosted in several of the Migis Hotel Group properties. Little more than an hour from Boston, visitors will find Rockport an area steeped in all things maritime. Seaside, in a location founded by the Pilgrims in 1623 and named after England’s Queen Ann, one quickly forgets the hustle and bustle of city life.
Cape Anne’s beautiful rocky shores include four communities: Gloucester, Essex, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and my escape: Rockport and the historic Emerson Inn. Like so many small towns in Massachusetts, it’s perfect for a weekend escape.
Like the rest of their properties, The Emerson embodies the meaning behind the Migis name-a place to steal away to rest. Taken from the Abenaki word migis, the hospitality group intertwines a welcoming environment for rest and relaxation with commitment to history and the environment. Walking through the doors, one immediately feels the sense of relaxation and hospitality Migis is known for.
Emerson Inn, Rockport, MA
The property offers 36 tastefully decorated rooms with all the accouterments one would expect at a luxury property. Spa tubs, luxury linens, plush robes and sweeping views of the Atlantic add up to a sophisticated experience.
As a summer retreat, the Pigeon Cove area has been welcoming guests for more than 160 years. Ralph Waldo Emerson spent time in the area with his family and found inspiration for his poetry in Pigeon Cove. The beautiful rocky coastline provides endless inspiration and as a haven for artists, still thrives today, drawing creatives from around the world. One of the most photographed and painted fishing shacks on the globe-Motif #1– is in the local harbor on Bradley Wharf.
250 Main Hotel – Rockland, Maine
To understand the concept behind the design of the 250 Main Hotel in Rockland, one should know the history and customs of the seafaring area. A long tradition of shipbuilding dates back to the 19th century. Boats were produced for the commercial market and were the mainstay of the town’s economy along with lime production and fishing.
The hotel is designed with the maritime heritage of the town in mind, architecturally taking the shape of a large ship. Owners Cabot and Heidi Lyman of Lyman Morse Boatbuilding used their talented artisans to construct the hotel. Intentionally designed in this way to capture the essence and history of seafaring Rockland, 250 Main provides guests with a unique hotel experience and a genuine sense of place.
Sustainable elements in the build include a high efficiency exterior skin and LED lighting. Water saving technology is employed in the laundry units as well as the plumbing fixtures in the bathrooms. Heated floors and towel racks are a nice touch and Malin + Goetz bath products are thoughtfully refilled in permanent containers affixed the shower. Kudos to the designer of the black washcloth for make-up removal. How many white towels were discarded before someone came up with the idea?
The Migis Hotel Group is taking impressive steps to reduce their carbon footprint amongst their ten scenic properties in Maine and along the east coast. Heartfelt hospitality, award winning dining facilities, luxury amenities combined with a vision for the future. When making travel decisions, this is the type of property where I’d like to rest my head. What about you?
Pin Me – Scenic Maine Hotels and Responsible Tourism
How do you like your local flavor? Does it come in the form of seafood, seasonal vegetables, a local brew or maybe a hand crafted treasure? The best Outer Banks restaurants compete wholeheartedly with the scenic coastline in North Carolina. As an iconic beach destination, the area attracts visitors from around the world. Miles of barrier islands offer an abundance of opportunity to taste local flavor throughout this TOP vacation spot.
This east coast destination represents a string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. They offer unsurpassed views of nature, half a dozen state and national parks and shipwreck diving sites for the swashbuckler in all of us. For additional enjoyment, the Outer Banks restaurant scene features a plethora of flavors to taste the bounty from both the sea and local fertile soils.
Getting to The Outer Banks
Fans of the area are familiar with the OBX nickname: you’ll find evidence of the area’s acronym everywhere. While I struggled to find the story of its true origin, I choose to believe it signifies an imaginary airport handle for a local runway that doesn’t exist.
Yes, that’s right folks. While the area boasts a robust highway/bridge system just awaiting your next road trip, the closest airport for visiting the Outer Banks is Norfolk (82 miles) or Raleigh-Durham (192 miles away). And that’s a good thing! Part of the area’s charm is the fact that it’s not exactly easy to get to. Like Nantucket, off the coast of Cape Cod, the journey is all part of the excitement and delightfully manages to keep tourism in check.
Of course everyone’s to do list of North Carolina’s Outer Banks attractions has to include beaches and lighthouses. That goes without saying, and there are plenty of both to keep visitors busy! In addition, at the top of your activities, make sure to enjoy some of the local flavor on the Outer Banks in between the surf and sand.
Responsible Travel in the Outer Banks
Keeping it Local is always a good idea. Especially when you are trying to travel responsibly. Supporting local businesses preserves dollars in the surrounding economy and supports small entrepreneurs who are often the key to making a destination unique. In fact, for every dollar spent locally, twice as much circulates back into into the neighboring economy.
Living on this coastline might mean a certain susceptibility to storms and hurricanes; it also portends the home of the areas top producer of tasty seafood. The fresh catch, over 14 million pounds, combines with plentiful seasonal vegetables and local brews for tasty meals and places to eat throughout this part of North Carolina. When mixed with a hearty combination of talented creatives calling the OBX home, visitors will find a taste of local Outer Banks flavor around every corner.
From the beginning, area restaurants were working hard on seduction. How did they know to greet me with Skip the Straw. What really impressed me however was how the eco-friendly action followed my itinerary throughout the trip. Without fail, every eating and drinking establishment encouraged diners to Skip the Straw and follow their lead with this piece of environmental responsibility.
Over 500 million single use sucking tubes are used daily and I commend the effort when anyone tries to keep single use plastics out of waterways. They do untold damage to wildlife.
OBX Eating Local Looks Like This
Seafood Flavor in The Outer Banks
Living on the coast of Massachusetts means an extraordinary amount of fresh seafood comes my way. To say I’m spoiled by fresh+local might be a bit of an understatement. Since I hadn’t been to North Carolina since the 80’s, I was more than a little excited to experience what shape local flavor in the Outer Banks takes currently. looks like.
Years ago, seafood felt like an unending resource. Plenty of fish in the sea so to speak. Now we know better; overfishing and by catch have lead to a crisis in the fishing industry. The Outer Banks works towards providing sustainable seafood that is both farm rasied and wild-caught. If you’re interested in learning more, visit Outer Banks Catch. It’s a great resource for seasonal seafood information.
Shrimp-Pink, Brown and White
Weighing in at over 4.5 million pounds, the yearly shrimp haul from local Carolina waters is an impressive catch. The short life span of the crustacean means shellfish are currently a good sustainable source of protein. You’ll find it on the menu in soups, bisques, as stuffing, dips and toppings. Steamed, fried or broiled, the pink, brown or white varieties are all delicious.
Boutique Marine Oyster Farming
The Nature Conservancy is working in North Carolina to build oyster reefs and restore aquatic vegetation. Good news for foodies as these efforts go a long way to ensuring that oysters along with other shellfish will flourish in the changing environment. Oysters are a great natural water purifier wherever they establish a home and when talking nutrition, remember, when done responsibly, marine aquaculture produces the greenest form of protein on the planet.
Boutique oyster farming is thriving on the Outer Banks. While the price of these bivalves might be a little higher in restaurants, the flavor will be worth it. Look for the Cape Hatteras Oyster Company brand on local menus.
For true clam lovers, this soup really lets the flavor of little neck clams shine through. It consists of simple broth made with clam juice that is traditionally flavored with bacon, onion, and potato.
Like the tomatoe based chowder I make with Nantucket clams every year up north, the Hatteras chowder recipe has been handed down through the generations for many years. On a cold rainy day, there is no better local flavor found in the Outer Banks restaurants to warm you up than Hatteras chowder.
The land surrounding the Outer Banks is rich, fertile farmland. Curious about local produce that is unique to the area? Look to farm stands, they are always good for clues. In the spring to early summer, Mattamuskeet sweet onions rival the better-known Vidalia from Georgia.
Camden County potatoes are a restaurant favorite and I’ve been told sweet potatoes from the region are sugary enough to stand in for dessert. Rocky Hock melons and Knotts Island peaches appear on desert menus. The state fruit, the scuppernong grape is used in jams, jellies and wine production (see below). This variety of muscadine grape was the first in the country to be made into wine.
Annual Seafood Festival
Are you ready to start eating? Let’s begin with the seafood festival. As luck would have it, my off-season visit coincided with the Annual Outer Banks Seafood Festival. Lucky me!
I’m a big fan of visiting coastal destinations during the shoulder season. It helps to make the area more sustainable by giving a little added support to local businesses after the large crowds have left. Combined with deserted beaches the opportunity to taste a wide variety of seafood all in one place was more than enough reason to pay the Outer Banks a visit during the fall.
Taste testing a selection from area restaurants just primed the palate for what was to come. Tuna poke, fried crab sandwich, Hatteras chowder. Top it off with local brews from any of the five breweries in the area and live music. My intro to the flavors of the OBX restaurant scene could not have been tastier!
The Best Outer Banks Restaurants
The beach culture keeps the restaurant scene decidedly casual here, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an array of options to suit all tastes and budgets. Some are looking for a quick bite in flip flops and t-shirt as they come off the beach. Others want a meal more formal and inventive. Not to worry. Rest assured everyone will be happy with the restaurants of the Outer Banks. Put it all together and taste local in my favorite restaurants.
Nags Head, North Carolina
Breakast at Sam and Omie’s, Nags Head, NC
This one doesn’t need much description. Old fashioned diner-like setting, the best cinnamon roll EVAH…finished off with crab eggs Benedict. I’m good to go now for the rest of the day! Sam and Omie’s can get crowded, but the line moves pretty quickly.
As one of the oldest Outer Banks restaurants, Owen’s exudes warmth and a welcoming atmosphere that comes from being an OBX institution. The décor is loaded with nostalgia and memorabilia. I especially loved the collection of vintage oyster plates hanging on the walls.
The feeling was sophisticated without being stuffy. Our group began with appetizers and devoured the complimentary crock of pimento cheese. The crabstack was photo worthy with layers of mango, avocado and a key lime vinagrete. I was jealous of my friends choice. My fresh catch of the day was delicious, but I was swooning over the perfectly cooked grits which are hard to find up north.
Our arms were twisted for the dessert tray, and as we passed around the choices on the lazy susan, I stopped the spin more than once for the Key lime pie.
Breakfast at WaveRiders Coffee and Deli
Waveriders has a cool local vibe and a focus on healthy. This is the type of spot where locals hang on the comfy couches and surfboards decorate the walls. Visitors can pick up ingredients for a picnic, great sandwiches or a six pack. The coffee’s good and the egg sandwiches on fresh bagel even better.
Captain Andy’s Oceanfront Tiki Bar and Grill
Can’t beat the location at Captain Andy’s (aka Nags Head Pier House). Overlooking the ocean and adjacent fishing pier, this popular spot exudes what I’ve come to expect when I visualize casual beachside dining. After starting with a southern classic of pimento cheese and legendary crab dip, my grilled, blackened tuna sandwich was a tasty classic.
For the fisher folk in the group, come early, head out to the pier and toss in your hook. The restaurant will cook up what YOU catch and clean, and serve it up with French fries, slaw and hushpuppies. In season, the Tiki bar has live music throughout the week.
Blue Moon Beach Grill
Don’t let the mall location fool you. The Blue Moon Beach Grill has a menu filled with fresh flavorful seafood, great salads and a Blue Moon margarita that will put a smile on your face. I was craving some (more) shrimp and grits and they did not disappoint.
Vidalia onions flavored the shrimp along with some Cajun spices and garlic. Stone ground grits along with some smoky Gouda and cheddar cheese were the perfect vehicle for all that flavor.
Duck, North Carolina
Custom Donuts TO Order. Oh yeah, they found my sweetspot. All this deliciousness begins with a vanilla cake base. Patrons choose their coating (maple, chocolate etc) and then dust with a custom topping, all as you stand by mouth watering, watching your order come to life. Peanuts, toasted pecans and sprinkles are just the beginning of the final touch.
Duck Donuts offers endless combinations! Visit the Duck Donuts Menu and start planning your donuts order.
The resulting instagram worthy bakers dozen has created quite a buzz on the app –even garnishing their own hastag #MyDuckDonuts. Maple Bacon is their best selling flavor, Salted Caramel- the winner for me.
Life Saving Station at Sanderling
The most luxurious stay on the Outer Banks is undoubtedly the Sanderling Resort. Tucked inside this property is the beautifully renovated Lifesaving Station Restaurant. As an original Jersey Shore Girl, I was thrilled to see this beautiful building brought back to life as the casual dining option on the property.
The maritime themed décor was spot on and carried thru with the menu’s southern coastal cuisine. Local ingredients monopolized the menu in the very best of ways. I loved my salad; local greens were taken to the next level here with roasted pecans and a slowly melting frozen lemon dressing with a balsamic drizzle. So unique!
Entrée’s featured local seasonal seafood(I had the scallops), and buttermilk fried chicken along with surf and turf. Blueberry cobbler was crowned with ice cream and was served in a classic iron skillet. Tons of moaning was heard as deserts were passed around the table. Frankly, I was full, but managed a bite or two of sweet delight. For a fine ding option in the resort, visit Kimball’s Kitchen with gorgeous views of Currituck sound.
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
Diamond Shoals Restaurant
The laid back casual vibe of Diamond Shoals restaurant belies the terrific seafood served inside. This is the only restaurant I visited with a salad bar, and although it looked tasty, I had other fish to fry–so to speak. The tasty sweet potato fries were the only deep fat item to appear on our table. Fresh glorious seafood took center stage.
I didn’t think I was a fan of peel and eat shrimp, but when it arrived a the table loaded with Old Bay Seasoning, well let’s just say FINGER LICKIN’ good. I’m a convert! Diamond shoals slaw accompanied all the plates and we downed a few local beers. Yum! In the summer, I dig clams on Nantucket and make an awesome chowder. As a chowder conneser of sorts, Their award winning chowder was a delisous surprise as well. Topped off with a grilled grouper sandwich, I was ready for my nap.
Wanchese, North Carolina
O’Neal’s Sea Harvest
Located on the busy shores of the Wanchese harbor, O’Neal’s Sea Harvest is a vertical operation where the fresh catch arrives from the boats. Being able to watch the fisherfolk return from the sea and unload is always of interest to me. Seeing the whole fish leaves an impression and I’m much better able to identify the filets in a market. Part of the sustainable food movement to Know Your Food.
This family owned and operated seafood wholesaler supplies many of the area restaurants as well as the general public. Best of all, they will do the cooking for you with their menu of seafood, sandwiches and desserts. We were between meals when we visited, but there’s a soft shell crab BLT with my name on it in the future!
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
TRiO Wine, Beer and Cheese
Our last stop was one of my favorites. Trio really feels like a gathering place for visitors and locals alike. Vast amounts of wine, cheese and beer are available in their inviting shop as you enter the building. They carry over 500 labels of beer and micro brews from around the world. How could you go wrong with the likes of Figwood Toast, Captain Laurence Galactic Fog and Foothills Sexual Chocolate?
TRiO also houses a terrific tasting destination with live music three to five nights a week. Snacks, sandwiches and small plates to share are their forte and I’m always a quick study for a dynamite charcuterie board.
In addition there’s local seafood and seasonal produce. Our group discovered new tastes by ordering a sampling of tapas and I was in heaven with a rosé flight, the perfect way to end a discovery of new tastes in Outer Banks restaurants.
Bright lights twinkle at dusk as the plane dips beneath the clouds on approach. I can just catch a glimpse of the surrounding contoured mountains rising up around the city. I imagine the Winged Virgin of El Pancillo, the tallest in the world, standing guard in so many photos. As we take a shadowy bounce on the runway, I can’t wait to get started exploring the top experiences in Quito.
Outside of the Galapagos, Ecuador is an often-overlooked jewel of a country. Surrounded by its larger South American neighbors, many visitors don’t look past the popular islands made famous by Charles Darwin. The county’s small size shouldn’t fool you. This Middle of the Earth gem has loads of appeal and something to offer everyone. When exploring the highlights, I suggest visiting my top ten essential experiences in Quito.
Where is Ecuador
Located on South America’s west coast, Ecuador is bordered on the north by Columbia and the east and south by Peru. The Pacific ocean forms the western border. The famous Galapagos are approximately 620 miles off shore and are part of Ecuador as well.
Divided by the equator, the natural biodiversity within the country is mind bending. The continental areas extend north to south in Ecuador.
A large coastal area has beautiful beaches with clear waters of the Pacific Ocean. The climate is tropical and quite warm.
The Andean Highlands are set in the middle of the country with two chains of parallel mountains running through. You might hear it called La Sierra, and some famous mountains and volcanoes (Chimborazo and Cotopaxi are two) are highlights. This area also includes Pululahua, the only inhabited volcano in the world. The rich soil makes it a prime area for cultivation; the fact that there has not been an eruption for 2,500 years makes me think the residents are a unique and hearty group!
Pro Tip: The altitude is real here. Talk to your doctor about preventing altitude sickness pre-travel.
The Amazon or Oriente Region
The Amazon jungle area is part of the world’s largest rainforest. Famous for it’s biodiversity, the area is interconnected with a complex map of rivers and streams.
Finally there are the Galapagos, an entirely different geographic destination loaded with unique species. Because of our limited time, I’m saving that area for another trip.
With a fairly universal climate in Quito that boasts 12 hours of daylight throughout the year, this small gem ticks off a lot of boxes.
Curating an Itinerary – Top 10 Experiences in Quito
When I travel to a new destination, I always want to see the highlights. Perhaps more importantly however, I want to discover and search out the local food and creatives which make a destination unique. This is why it’s so important to work with a travel planner that has the right contacts on the ground in your area.
Jane and I chose Ecuador for some of the following reasons:
We only had 8 days (including travel) and wanted to stay in the same time zone.
The country has a combination of tastes, treks and textiles we always search out.
Quito, the capital, is known for its largely intact Spanish colonial center, with decorated 16th- and 17th-century palaces and religious sites. It is the first cultural Unesco World Heritage site.
The historic center can be covered on foot.
We would have several opportunities to connect with the authentic indigenous local culture.
The country has impressive bio-diversity and opportunity for responsible travel in all areas of our interest.
Choosing a Travel Planner
I had worked indirectly with Metropolitan Touring on my trip to Lima, Peru and was impressed with their knowledge, flexibility and responsible travel mission. Since they are based in Ecuador, and reputed to be the best tourism agency in the country, I didn’t hesitate to connect with them again.
MetroJourneys is the new digital face of Metropolitan Touring. They work directly with clients for a personal connection and tailor made trips. Upon initial contact with their web site, a destination expert is assigned and you will work with them throughout the planning stages. Caro, our expert, listened to our interests and tailor made a unique itinerary.
I like working with a boutique agency that is flexible and understand the needs of a client. While we did not adhere to one of their preplanned tours, Caro worked hand in hand with us to fit in as many highlights as possible into our 7 day travel trip.
When I am traveling with my girlfriend Jane, we always have three things on our agenda: tastes, textiles and treks. I use the term trek loosely, as we are more of the day hiker variety with a luxury hotel waiting for us at the end of the path.
We also like to walk as much as possible in the historic district of destinations and base our itinerary around that area as much as possible. In addition, we like to get out in nature or the city and get some exercise because we love to indulge in the local food and wine scene. Our philosophy: one (walking) to balance the other(food+wine) for a net zero gain!
My Top Ten Experiences In and Around Quito
3 Day To Do List
1. The Exceptional Churches of Quito
It’s hard to just pick one church when there are so many to see in this Unesco city. We covered 6 top to bottom, and these were my favorites.
La Basilica del Voto Nacional
For the views – make sure to climb (take an elevator if need be) the Neo-Gothic bell tower in the La Basilica del Voto Nacional. The 360 degree views of the old city are magical. Don’t miss the gargoyles on the exterior. They represent the indigenous animals of the land-armadillos, tortises, birds and dolphins!
PRO TIP: Try to time your visit early or later in the day for the best photo opps.
La Compañía de Jesus
For the Gold-The extraordinary façade of La Compañia de Jesús is only surpassed by its jaw dropping gold interior. Every sculpted surface is covered in gold leaf-apparently seven tons of it! Visitors will immediately understand why the awe-inspiring site was nicknamed Quito’s Sistine Chapel. Church lovers will not be disappointed.
Iglesia y Convento San Francisco
For the Culture – Quito’s first church, Iglesia San Francisco is also the largest religious complex in South America. The entire compound of buildings will transport visitors back to the 16thcentury. Close your eyes and you might even hear the faint sound of monks chanting in a muffled hush.
Inside, along with an appropriate musty scent, the woodcarvings are amazing. Crowning the altar is the exquisite Winged or Dancing Virgin sculpture by Bernardo de Legarda. Her dress and folded hands give a feeling of motion. This particular Virgin can be seen throughout the northern Andes as a popular cult figure.
The adjacent museum has an impressive collection of artwork and décor; an airy courtyard complete with swaying palms is a respite from the buzzing streets outside. Make sure to ask about the devil’s connection to building-a great inventive folk tale.
2. Limpia – A different Kind of Wellness
I have always been fascinated by the power of traditional medicine. When I heard about the traditional healers in Quito, I asked MetroJourneys to make sure to include it on our list of experiences.
Limpia is a natural cleansing procedure involving the use of herbs, oils and flowers. This is a typical type of Andean medicine used for maintaining wellness, treating disease and cleansing the spirit. Healthy mind~healthy body.
In a closet-sized, nondescript stall located in a local market, we found our healer. The shelves were lined with flowers, herbs and a variety of potions. Señora Rosa Lagla is a 4thgeneration healer, a holistic trade passed down amongst indigenous women. You cannot study to become a healer, it is kept within families.
Traditionally, clients strip down to their underwear, I took the condensed version and rolled up my sleeves. Señora started whacking me with an assortment of herbs up and down my arms and neck. My allergic self did not take kindly to the process and immediately broke out in hives. I was assured this was the toxins escaping form my body and part of the process. Apparently I was loaded with the nasty devils.
When the itching reached a crescendo, the method changed. I was carefully massaged with rose petals and a salve laced with marijuana. The bruised petals released an intoxicating scent (I’m all about the smells) and transported me to a different place. I left balanced and restored, perhaps a little high and ready for whatever Quito had in store for my next experience.
Talk about a unique method of healing…even if I was a bit lost in translation.
3. Roof Top Deck of Casa Gangotena
For one of the most spectacular views in Old Towne, head to the rooftop of Casa Gangotena , an iconic property in the heart of the historic district. As the city winds down for the evening, the views are some of the best, overlooking San Francisco Plaza. Located in Quito’s centro historicó, the 360 view below clearly illustrates why this city was the first to receive cultural Unesco World Heritage status.
As the second highest capital in the world visitors quickly realize how much is on offer here from this view. Behind the hotel, The Virgin of el Pancillo overlooks the property and the rest of Quito, guiding all into the evening.
Service on the roof is called through a buzzer system in the tables. The small bites are a delicious accompaniment to said cocktail; the lentil cones we ordered were one of the best bites I had on the trip. Chef Emilio Dalmau puts his own unique twist on typical mestizo ingredients. The night felt like the perfect beginning to an adventure in Ecuador.
4. Casa del Alabado Museo
One of the most beautirully curated museums I’ve ever been to can be found in Casa del Alabado Museo. Referencing the Pre-Columbian world view of indigenous American peoples, the exhibition rooms are broken down into small bites of related objects. With a focus on communication, rituals and nature, the celestial, underworld and middle earth are all related and intertwined.
Perhaps and early form of yoga?
The art of turning clay, stone, metal, wood, fber and shell into cultural objects was a spiritual activity. Different materials have become cultural elements that made human life possible and have enriched it spiritually.
5. La Rhonda
Colorful La Rhonda, one of the best preserved Colonial streets in Old Town Quito. Mornings are sleepy and the area does not does not get busy until close to sundown. Once the retreat of bohemian creatives, artists and writers, the government has worked hard to change its seedy reputation. The cobbled street is lined with cafes, galleries and top notch artisans who have been invited to share their talent here.
Come early for a quiet cup of coffee, later for a hip and active vibe. Don’t miss the honey shop, their products will have you buzzing long after you return home.
We stopped into the atelier of metalworker and sculptor Germán Campos Alarcón. His meticulous work is used in much of the restoration of many historic buildings and churches. While my Spanish is pidgeon at best, we managed to sign language our conversation and realized we had a mutual friend in Philadelphia.
Julia and Isaiah Zagar from Eyes Gallery and Philadelphia’s Magic Garden had visited and worked with him many years ago. While the connection didn’t really surprise me, it certainly was a reminder of why I love to travel and seek out creatives around the world. We are all tied together by a magic string; this was the first of two close encounters of the makers kind I had during the trip.
6. Plaza Grande – Spend Some Time People Watching
You can’t dig deep into the city’s culture without spending some time in one of the crowd gathering plazas. My favorite being Plaza Grande aka Independence Square is surrounded by the Presendial Palace, City Hall, a cathedral and the Archbishop’s Palace.
Choose a bench and enjoy the people watching. Multi generations gather, the central statue is a favorite spot for photos. Vendors of all kinds make their way through the paths of cobblestones that radiate from the center. Should you need it, you’ll have many a chance to get your shoes shinned.
7. Metropolitan Cultural Center
Just across from Plaza Grande, the Cultural Center offers a taste of contemporary Quito and is housed in the former Jesuit headquarters. Some of the best artists in the country, as well as an assortment of international names have exhibited here.
On display are permanent as well as temporary exhibitions. The artwork is political and asks tough questions of its audience. On the walls were work dealing with Quito’s expansion and keeping the area sustainable, indigenous women and their contribution to the culture and several interactive works. In the rotunda, there is a tasty café which makes for a nice break as you’re touring the historic district.
8. Middle of the Earth – Mitad del Mundo and Museo de Sitio Intiñan
Yes, it’s a tourist trap and yes, I almost skipped it. But really, how many times are you going to be able to stand on the equator? This was my first and probably only.
Finding balance on the equator.
A charming museum has really old school displays and lots of information about the indigenous population and their talents and skills. It’s a good overview and will give great insight into the artisans and what to look for in the local markets.
While I’m a firm believer that every day should be Earth Day, it is always exciting when a major environmental achievement coincides with Earth Month. Peru’s sustainable Machu Picchu Pueblo has reached an exciting environmental goal. The city has been crowned the first in Latin America to become 100 percent sustainable.
As the area struggles to cope with overtoursim, Machu Picchu has introduced timed visits to the famous Unesco World Heritage Site. While this might help deal with the crowds, the city still has to cope with the trash produced by the industry bringing in the bountiful tourist dollars.
The author reaches the Unesco World Heritage site of Machu Picchu
How Did Machu Picchu Pueblo Become Sustainable
It is a major accomplishment to hear of their success and this positive step towards eco-friendly living. Inkaterra, Peru’s leading group in sustainable tourism and the AJE Group, a Peruvian beverage company, joined forces to achieve the admirable goal of recycling 100 percent of their solid waste. Together they presented the first Organic Waste Treatment Plant to the city. The construction of a Biodiesel and Glycerin Plant took 3 years and was completed in 2018.
Over 6,000 liters of oil/month are generated from homes, lodges, hotels and restaurants. The plant processes this vegetable oil into biodiesel (a clean burning fuel) and glycerin, which can be used to replace cleaning chemicals on the stone floors. I first witnessed this type of process in India.
Through the process of pyrolysis, in which the waste is decomposed at high temperatures without oxygen, seven tons of trash is processed per day, generating bio-diesel, a natural fertilizer that will be used to restore the Andean cloud forest and contribute to the agricultural productivity of Machu Picchu.
In addition, a plastic compactor plant was donated by the two brands, processing over 14 tons of polyester plastic daily.
The strategic alliance between Inkaterra, the AJE Group and the Municipality of Machu Picchu aims to change perception of our wonderful city into a sustainable destination and become an example of management for ecotourism worldwide. We have managed to awaken the ecological conscience of the local community, which now segregates waste from homes and establishments. Today, we present an innovative technology that will contribute to traditional agriculture and help restore the Andean cloud forest in Machu Picchu. ~ José Joechlin, Inkaterra’s Founder and CEO.
InkaTerra’s Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel
Visiting Machu Picchu lives up to all the hype. What a thrill it was for me to visit Machu Picchu Pueblo as they were in the midst of working towards the goal of 100 percent sustainability. The icing on the cake was a stay at the award winning Inkaterra’s Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in the Andes.
The Inkaterra Association is the conservation arm of the hospitality group. Their mission is conservation through the sustainable use of natural rescources :
Forest Conservation managing over 30,000 acres of Amazonian forest
A Production Program through organic practices that co-exist with the forest
Biodiversity Management monitoring key species and implementing conservation strategies.
The Guides Field Station in Tambopata, Machu Picchu and Cabo Blanco is active with volunteers and serves as a base for training courses for new developments in ecotourism. Passing on information to the local community encourages appreciation of the value of conserving biodiversity as well as stimulating development in the local economy.
With over 40 years of experience with responsible tourism, Inkaterra has an emphasis on preserving Peru’s environment, customs and cultures. Tourism options and programs throughout have the ability to transfer that mission to guests.
Next to visiting the actual site, my guide Silver was responsible for one of the most memorable experiences I’ve encountered in my travels. His love of culture and desire to sustain, support and promote the indigenous population was infectious and unforgettable.
Visiting one of many traditional markets with my guide Silver Ballon
Beautifully nestled into the cloud forest landscape, Inkaterra claims real-estate alongside the majestic site found on bucket lists around the world. Representing both luxury and eco-responsible hospitality, the hotel provides guests with an authentic Inka experience both before during and after visiting the wonder of Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu Pueblo’s Outdoor Connection
In addition to other spa treatments, guests can indulge in a self guided Forest Bathing, a wellness trend gaining traction and receiving particular attention during Earth Day. Be it rain forest, pine forest, or Machu Picchu’s cloud forest, the health benefits are hard to ignore.
While I’m not crazy about the term forest bathing, retreating to nature, unplugging and immersing yourself in the surrounding environment signals our brains to switch to a restorative state. After walking the grounds, stone pathways and terraced hills of the 12-acre property, it would be impossible to deny the positives from being outside and walking along the Urubamba river.
Machu Picchu Pueblo, in the middle of the cloud forest, represents the access point for over 1 million tourists a year to the Lost City of the Inca’s. I think we can all agree that in an increasingly urbanized culture, hearing a story of sustainable success in a cloud forest gateway to such an important historical and environmental site is reason for travelers and environmentalists around the globe to cheer!
Have you ever been traveling and wondered, “how can I experience life as a local rather than a typical tourist?” Well, I am glad you asked! I recently returned from my third trip to Italy where I participated in a Florence food tour. It’s my absolute favorite city, although in my short 27 years I can’t claim the list is too long. I decided I must do something unforgettable this time around to see more of the life a Florence local lives.
Aside from following in my Mom’s love of travel footsteps, she has always told me a great way to get to know a destination is a food tour.
Food is central to most cultures around the globe, breaking bread with people is a great way to connect. Taking a tour with a local guide can give you insight into ingredients and dishes that are important to a destination.
Locals also know the cafés and restaurants away from the tourist traps. To paraphrase a responsible travel mantra,
Responsible Travel-Local Food Tour is Best:
local food tastes better and is fresher
local guides know the city like the back of their hand
supporting local businesses keeps dollars in the surrounding economy
Now, as previously mentioned, this was my third trip to Florence, Italy. I studied abroad in college for four months, and then returned 4 years later to take a TEFL course. This trip however, there was no studying involved, my sole purpose was to enjoy the city I’ve grown to love so much; to experience it in a different way. An Eating Europe – Florence food tour was just the solution. I knew with their tagline, Share a Taste of Local Life, I would be in good hands.
Firenze is known for many things, including, but not limited to: their exquisite architecture, famous art and sculptures, and their delicious cuisine. Eating Europe – Florence food tour, provided me an opportunity to see the city from the local perspective. I don’t mind eating alone when I travel, but the Sunset Food Tour I booked allowed me to have dinner and connect with others during my solo travel.
Eating Europe-A Local Florence Food Tour
As I walked across the Ponte Vecchio, heading towards Santo Spirito, I began to feel pure excitement for the evenings activities. Approaching the Piazza, the smiling face of Omar, our guide for the evening. I couldn’t have asked for a more authentic experience. He was born and raised in Florence, is half Egyptian, and loves street art. Off to a great start!
Our group of six began the evening at Italian Tapas. We discovered the history behind the famous Negroni cocktail along with the art of aperitivo. Between 1917-1920, Count Camillo Negroni, a nobleman from Florence was working with his bartender to make his favorite cocktail, the Americano, a little more potent. His bartender went to work and replaced the soda water with gin. Voila therefore the Americano was replaced with the Negroni. This was the first cocktail to be entered into the International Cocktail List. The Negroni cocktail is the most popular aperitivo drink in Florence.
Next, we learned cocktails during aperitivo are supposed to be a bitter and dry. This stimulates your appetite as opposed to a sweet cocktail which will close your stomach and make you feel full. Trying our hand a mixology, it was time to get busy creating with the recipe. While I am not a huge gin fan, after drinking this concoction, my appetite was definitely stimulated and ready for our next stop!
Tasting Local Cheese
For our second tasting of Florence we headed to a local small business owner for some Formaggi e Salumi. Cheese and meats are a wonderful addition to the aperitivo hour. Marzio, the “King of Cheese” was the most wonderful, passionate man. We tasted two cheeses and two salamis. The first cheese was a pecorino, sheep milk cheese, that was aged in a grotto for 8 months. Next, was another pecorino, but with a treasured ingredient….truffle. This is the one ingredient I might hop on a plane to find. Lucky for my wallet, I have a good source back home.
After our cheese, Omar gave us a piece of bread, and asked what we noticed. Quietly I responded with “it is very bland”, where Omar said excitedly “EXACTLY! There is no salt in this bread”. He proceeded to tell us, that the house bread in Florence does not have salt in it because the government decided to tax salt. Fiorentines decided they didn’t need salt in their bread!
After our “cleansing of the palate”, we moved on to salami. Our first salami was wild boar, something I never would have imagined I would eat, but it was delicious! Salami with fennel was next, again another piece of meat not normally on my shopping list. So full of flavor, Marzio shared the aromatic herbs are good for one’s health.
Fresh Wine on a Florence Food Tour and Sneaky Lardo
For the next tasting, we headed a few blocks to a ‘hole in the wall’ place that was a secret gem. Andrea and Francesca are the current owners who continue to run the business their grandmother left to them. We had wine in a barrel, known as fresh wine, and lardo on a crostini.
Omar decided to not tell us what we were eating until we all scarfed it down. Again another dish I would never order on my own, but a Florentine classic. I remembered my Mom was fooled by the guide when she was in Ukraine and tasted lardo also! The fresh wine tasted exactly like its name, it was breathable, light and delicious! We said “Grazie´ Andrea” and went on to our final stop!
Florentine Steak -The Main Event
After many wonderful drinks and dishes, it was finally time for dinner. Omar told us in the beginning of our adventure we would be having a traditional Florentine dinner on the food tour, but wouldn’t tell us what it was. I assumed it would be the Florentine Steak, and was correct!
We walked a few blocks, down a dead end street to another obscure spot that visitors would never find on their own. The friendly staff brought us to the back of the restaurant for chef hats and an inside look thru the kitchen. Here we watched the chef cut our dinner. I had never seen such a big piece of meat, and was a little hesitant, but was excited to try a Florentine classic. There’s something about being on a food tour that encourages you to try new things and eat outside of your comfort zone.
After watching the steak being cut and cooked on the grill, we headed back to our table where the most delicious appetizers were waiting for us. It was prosciutto, a fried dough, and a spreadable cheese that melted in your mouth. As an American, the world of fried food is not foreign to me, but I had never tasted something like this. The flavors from the prosciutto combined with the creamy cheese hit every taste bud imaginable. The wine continued to flow, and the appetizer was demolished.
Out came the Florentine steak. The side to go with the steak was cannelli beans, which were simple yet tasty, and a perfect for for the meat. Omar cut the steak and we passed our plates. I don’t often eat steak, but when I do, I typically like it cooked medium, far from the case here. This steak was pretty rare, blood red comes to mind, but cooked beautifully. The taste was subtle, delicious and melted in your mouth. I can’t say I will order my steaks rare anytime soon, but it was a wonderful dish to experience.
Eating Europe and the Florence sunset tour was a great way for me to experience Florentine cuisine like never before. Visiting authentic local spots where the owners are ambassadors for the city’s food culture was to meet Florence in a new way. From the tapas to the steak, there were locals all around us. It was a breath of fresh air to get away from the city center and tourists! I can’t thank the crew at Eating Europe enough for this localized, unforgettable experience. I finally saw Florence through the perspective I was searching for and the beauty continues to amaze me. I hope to be able to continue my travels through Europe and wouldn’t hesitate to check out some of the tours they offer in London, Amsterdam, Prague and Paris.
Until next time Ciao e Buon appetito
Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Eating Europe on her Florence Italy Sunset Food Tour, but as always on Green With Renvy, opinions are her own and represent her true experience.
A crushed and broken doll, unread school books, homes taken back by nature, peeling paint on a glorious mural and a rusted amusement park; these are the images that come to my mind when someone mentions Chernobyl. April 25th marks the anniversary of the one of the most dangerous and expensive nuclear disasters in history. Tourists to Ukraine can take part in a Chernobyl tour and experience a rare opportunity visiting the disaster area. It is surely a trip you will never forget.
On that date, there were the conditions for a perfect storm. A design flaw in the reactor was coupled with a late night safety test. During the test, the security systems were turned off; an explosion and fire spewed radiation into the environment for hundreds of miles.
Chernobyl Thirty Plus Years Later
In 2016, to mark the 30th anniversary, sirens were sounded at the moment of the first explosion. Candlelit vigils were held in the nearby town of Slavutych to honor those with relatives who died. Even after so many years, the disaster was in the forefront of the hearts and minds of all of those affected.
A room known as the “Gas Mask Graveyard”.
It’s not surprising that an area categorized in the niche of Dark Tourism continues to garner attention. In fact, Chernobyl Tourism is growing at a rapid pace. Part of the increase comes from more visitors adding Ukraine to their travel plans. It’s a wonderful undiscovered country and there are many reasons to visit Ukraine now.
While traveling in Ukraine with JayWay Travel, I had the opportunity to include a visit to Chernobyl. I immediately said yes, but will admit to spending copious amounts of time on the internet to research the safety of a Chernobyl Tour.
What is Dark Tourism
Chernobyl was originally called the Lenin Nuclear Power Plant, the name was changed after the disaster.
So, what is dark tourism you may ask? Simply put, it’s travel to places that are connected with death or disaster. Unlike traditional travel, there are many people who want to learn more about “dark” places. For some, it’s educational, like those who travel to museums like the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia or travel to concentration camp sites like Auschwitz in Poland. For others, it’s just an interest in the macabre. They are drawn to attractions like Lenin’s dead body which is on display at Lenin’s Mausoleum at Red Square in Moscow.
Some other popular dark tourism spots are the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York City, Alcatraz in San Francisco, Pearl Harbor, Pompeii and The Killing Fields of Cambodia. While the term has only recently been added to our modern lexicon, the visitation of sinister or heart wrenching sites has been around for hundreds of years. Think of all the pilgrimages people have taken to places of religious martyrdom.
Dark Tourism and Responsible Travel
The current culture of smiling selfies in inappropriate places might have you questioning whether this type of travel is ethical. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Research the Tour operator and make sure they are not just profiting from someone else’s tragedy.
The transmission of accurate information is important. Get a feel for the tour operator from their web site. Check out their social media accounts (or a hash tag) and investigate how they present themselves.
You will be challenged mentally, try and emotionally prepare yourself.
Keep behavior appropriate and be respectful.
The bottom line is intention. Make sure you are visiting for the right reasons.
Because of the catastrophic nature of the Chernobyl disaster and its environmental impact, it’s easy to see why those interested in dark tourism want to learn more at the actual site. The historic nature of the catastrophe, the ecological after-effects and the current state of our energy dependency was more than enough reason for my visit. Combined with the present-day politics between the United States and Russia, the scheduling could not have been more timely. After returning home, everyone I spoke to about my Ukraine trip was fascinated by the story and photos of the site.
Ukraine and Chernobyl Tours
Where is Chernobyl
The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, ground zero for the disaster, is located in the town of Pripyat in the Northern Ukraine. Close to 65 miles from Kiev, it’s an easy, full day trip from the capital with a Chernobyl Tour. We were picked up at our luxury hotel, the Senator Apartments, and dropped off again at the end of the day. During the transport, we saw an informative video about the disaster. Narration and actual footage bring the incident into perspective and will prepare visitors for their visit.
Fields of sunflowers, one of Ukraine’s largest exports.
On the drive there, the beautiful landscape gave no indication of the remnants of the disaster we were about to experience.
The Russian-Chernobyl Cover Up
Although what happened in Chernobyl is now part of history, the Russian government had initially hidden the disaster. Even when countries “downwind” from the fallout like Poland, Sweden and Denmark reported higher than normal levels of radiation and questioned Russia about it, they weren’t forthcoming.
It wasn’t until the Swedish authorities from the nuclear plant at Forsmark sounded the alarm and traced the radioactive cloud back to Chernobyl days later that the Russians finally admitted there had been an accident.
Those being evacuated were misled with false information, especially about the dangers of radiation exposure. Finally after public outcry, more information was released. There was no warning about ingesting contaminated food and drink. Thyroid cancer claimed many victims. Twenty-eight people died within a few weeks from radiation poisoning. Long term, several thousand were put at risk for cancer.
Restrictions for Visiting With Chernobyl Tours
There are restrictions if you want to visit the site and they may change, so be sure to check with your tour guide. Currently, visitors are only able to access the sight through an organized tour; Chernobyl is highly restricted. You must be at least 18 years old and certify you have no medical restrictions. Tour companies will require that you provide a complete list of passport data as they will have to obtain permission from the government for your visit.
Here are a few other safety rules when visiting inside the zone:
You must wear long sleeved clothing and shoes that cover your feet
You cannot eat or drink outside of the bus or structures
You cannot drink alcohol and can only smoke at designated places
You cannot take souvenirs originated at the Zone like debris, stones, etc.
You cannot go inside the structures in the city of Pripyat
Visitors can not stray from the guided Chernobyl Tour or paths
Radiation and Chernobyl Tours
I must admit, my biggest fear was the exposure to radiation. Sometimes the internet can be a curse when researching; I found a lot of mixed information. After talking to my family about the possibility (of course my kids started researching as well), we all came to the same conclusion: it sounded like there was no danger as long as you followed the rules.
Investigation revealed most people receive more radiation from X-rays at the dentist office or traveling on a transatlantic flight to Europe. In addition, I always had the choice to opt out once I got there if it felt unsafe.
Our knowledgeable guide, Nazar Vilchynskyi, constantly measured levels of radiation in every area we visited. Though Chernobyl and Fukushima were both level 7 nuclear accidents, in Japan, only about 1/10th the radiation was released into the atmosphere. The entire reactor exploded at Chernobyl sending a massive radio-active plume into the environment. There was no containment, as there was in Japan. Perhaps we did learn something from the past disaster after all.
Hoping to clear the radiation detector at the end of the tour
The Town of Pripyat
Once a large town, Pripyat has been abandoned for over thirty years. It formerly had a population of over 49,000 people and busy marketplace, fairgrounds and other amenities made this a desirable place to live in the 70’s and 80’s, especially for those who worked at Chernobyl.
Chernobyl town of Pryipyat
The city boasted schools for over 10,000 children, a hospital with 400 beds, three clinics, 27 cafes, 10 warehouses, 10 gyms, 35 playgrounds and so much more. Many of these structures still remain, but are abandoned and now governed by the Ukraine’s Minister of Emergencies.
The Exclusion Zone
The Exclusion Zone for Chernobyl has grown since the disaster. What originally started as an area of 19 miles from the radius of the plant, now encompasses approximately 1000 square miles. It is under military protection to ensure that the contamination is contained. It is still known as one of the most radioactive areas in the world.
The Amusement Park
Perhaps the most famous spot on the tour is the Amusement Park that never opened. The ferris wheel has become an iconic symbol for the disaster. It was scheduled to start operating on May 1st in celebration of May Day. As part of the cover up, the ferris wheel is said to have been running the day after the accident to assure residents that it was “business as usual.” As we approached, in the distance the crumbling ferris wheel is rusty and abandoned, an eerie reminder of the children that once called the area home.
The Azure Swimming Pool was built in 1970 and was active until 1992. Even after the accident, local workers used the pool, as it was one of the least radioactive areas. I stayed a bit too long taking photos and got separated from the rest of my group. It was then that I realized what a dangerous spot I was in. A panicked five minutes felt like much more. The thought of spending any extended period of time alone there really freaked me out.
The most heart wrenching visit was to the former kindergarten. The brick building is one of the few still standing in this area. The front door hangs by a thread. Empty child sized bed frames line a room. Littered with toys, cribs and a random shoe, the setting puts a lump in your throat. This window into a world that represents such horror was a powerful illustration of loss and sadness.
Energrtik Palace of Culture
In the Energrtik Cultural Palace concerts, parties and sport events were held. It was a former hive of activity for the residents of Pripyat. The cinema had space for 800. Now a shell stands with decaying pictures and holes in the roof. Vines climb in through the roof and hang down to the buckling wooden floor. The space is dark and shadows move across the space through holes in the ceiling where light sneaks in.
Before the accident, residents shared meals while overlooking a scenic lake, a pleasure boat slowly sinks and lists to one side down river. The torn screen blows in the breeze on a ghostly porch where upturned chairs cover shattered glass on the floor. Further inside, we walk through an area with enormous murals on the wall, paint flaking, colors still glowing with a hint of their former beauty.
Outside the building, a glass sits atop what looks like a soda machine. We learn in Russian style, it dispensed shots of vodka.
You may be surprised to find out that there is a restaurant inside the exclusion zone (and even more so to learn I actually ate lunch there) The food is grown and processed elsewhere. It was a weird but welcome pit stop on the Chernobyl Tours. Our guide had arranged a vegetarian meal in advance for me. The vegetables were fresh, mushrooms tasty. They offered a selection of a meat dish and potatoes, as well as soup, vegetables and rice.
On the Nuclear Power Point observation deck, a monument honors the liquidators who worked tirelessly to eliminate the results of the Chernobyl disaster. In the background, visitors can see the new Sarcophagus which covers the 4th reactor. Workers move in and out of the building, working on rotating shifts. No-one is ever inside for too long.
The Russian Woodpecker
Perhaps to get a deeper understanding of Chernobyl, you can not only visit the site but also hear the story told through the voice of a “radioactive” person, someone who lived through the disaster. The award-winning documentary,The Russian Woodpecker does just that. It tells the story of Fedor Alexandrovich who was four years old when he was exposed to the toxic environment and fled from his home.
Chernobyl Tours-The Woodpecker
This documentary also explores the Cold War Weapon, the Duga (known as the Russian Woodpecker). Alexandrovich who is searching for answers about Chernobyl becomes fascinated with the monstrosity. The constantly emitting clicking radio frequencies gave it the woodpecker name. Official maps had the woodpecker labeled as a summer camp to hide the true value of the missile detector. It was one of the last stops on my Dark Tourism Chernobyl Tour and the massive structure looked like something of Star Wars.
The Aftermath of Chernobyl
The town of Pripyat, which housed the facility has now been abandoned for years and many of those who worked there during the accident and firefighters that responded were plagued with illnesses for months and years after. It’s estimated the disaster affected over 500,000 people and cost the government 18 billion rubles (over 270 million USD). The ghost town has been deemed uninhabitable for thousands of years.
It’s hard to say what the future has in store for Chernobyl but until that sorts itself out, visitors will still continue to visit with Chernobyl Tours and see the ruins of a place that stands frozen in time. A place where the worst nuclear disaster reduced a town to a population of zero.
Chernobyl abandoned house taken back to nature.
Would you visit Chernobyl? I felt incredibly lucky to have had this experience. Few other will have the opportunity. We were in what felt like a war zone. Broken glass was everywhere, and while I never felt in harm’s way, a site like this in the United States would never allow visitors access.
Although a few of the areas looked staged, it doesn’t take away from the somber nature and emotion of what happened that day in 1986. To imagine the dishonesty of the government and the resulting disease and deaths that followed will always stay with me.
While the area around the Exclusion Zone might be abandoned except for a few brave souls(approximately 200 people have returned to live); the ghosts of the former residents remain. Reclaimed by nature, this eerie Dark Tourism attraction holds many secrets. Visitors can find lessons about energy, truth in government and learn from the mistakes of the past from this site.
Done responsibly, dark tourism sites like Chernobyl Tours open a visitor’s eyes to a broader understanding; a stronger sense of place. Tourist dollars are one of the best ways to help in the recovery of devastated destinations. Whether it be a place like Puerto Rico, devastated..
March is Women’s History Month. This year, the theme is #BalanceforBetter, a balanced world is a better world. I can’t think of a better reason for marking the occasion of women’s achievement and trying to raise awareness against bias.
Celebrating women who travel is just one of the many categories of impressive females in our history. We’ve all heard of Amelia Earhart, Jane Goodall and Nellie Bly, the list of inspiring women is a comprehensive one. Intrepid explorers all: one part bravery, one part brains and a whole lot of wanderlust and passion.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, I thought I’d share the stories of a group of relatively unknown women with very different histories. One a survivor, one a wealthy explorer, one a remarkable artist and a group of women scaling new heights of adventurer. The common thread- women who travel runs through and changes their lives in unexpected ways.
Women Who Travel To Survive
Ada Blackjack via Creative Commons
Ada Blackjack (1898-1983)
I learned of Ada Blackjack, an Iñupiat woman, during my trip to Alaska’s Inside Passage in 2016. Often called the female Robinson Crusoe, she was born in Alaska and spent much of her life in the unexplored territory. Her husband drowned and left her penniless without a lot of options. In 1921, at the age of 23, the petite Inuit woman joined an expedition, led by Canadians, as the cook and seamstress. They were crossing the Chukchi Sea to claim Russia’s Wrangei Island for the British.
The five settlers soon ran into terrible conditions and were unable to forage and hunt enough food to survive. When three of the men left to try and cross the sea into Siberia, Ada was left with a sickly ‘explorer’ and the expedition’s cat. The men were never heard from again.
Ada survived the freezing conditions for nearly two years, all the while keeping a journal of her struggles. When she was rescued, many tried to exploit her story. She was horrified by the media frenzy and never profited from the experience. She spent the rest of her life in Alaska until she died at the age of 85. Her story is recounted in compelling detail by Jennifer Niven in Ada Blackjack: A true story of Survival in the Arctic.
Women Who Travel for Physical Adventure
Photo of Lucy Smith and Pauline Rankin of the Ladies’ Scottish Climbing Club, Salisbury Crags, Scotland via Creative Commons
Lucy Smith, Jane Inglis Clarke and Mabel Jeffey
Have you watched the Oscar winning documentary Free Solo? It’s filmed with breathtaking beauty and gives quite a perspective on modern day climbing. Equipment is loaded with safety features, high tech shoes and harnesses are part of the picture.
Now just imagine early female climbers and the challenges they faced. Picture ankle length skirts and a length of rope tied around the waist. Add in a dose of discrimination and you have a picture of the Ladies’ Scottish Climbing Club. Founded in 1908 by Lucy Smith, Jane Inglis Clarke and her daughter Mabel Jeffey, these athletes laid the ground work for modern day female adventureers and climbers.
Don’t dare tell a woman who travels- she can’t. Although women were banned from joining the Scottish Mountaineering Club in the 1900’s, these three female leaders decided to form an organization of their own. Membership in the group involved first scaling four different 3,000 ft peaks; two snow and two rock ascents.
Beginning their climbs in the dress of the day, including hats, and street shoes, once on the mountains, the women would often disrobe and move on in knickers, knee length pants hidden under their dresses.Imagine scaling the peaks of Suilven, Glencoe and Skye without modern day equipment
In 1908 with their 14 members, the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club was a force to be reckoned with. They challenged the conventions of the day and broke barriers leading the first Women’s Expeditions to the Himalayas and Greenland. Trailblazers all, the club today is the oldest all women mountaineering club still in existence.
Women Who Travel For Their ART
Marianne North in Ceylon via Creative Commons
Marianne North Botanical Painter (1830-1890)
Marianne North was an artist who stepped outside Victorian convention in England and painted flora around the world. Her early travels with her father took her to Syria and along the Nile, resulting in a strong case of wanderlust. After his death in 1869, she made capturing the world’s exotic flora on canvas her life’s work.
Over the next 15 years she traveled to 17 countries. She especially enjoyed the jungles of the world and captured the tropical and unusual flowers of Borneo, Ceylon, New Zealand Japan and countless other countries.
Nepenthes Northiana by Marianne North via Creative Commons
Independently wealthy and unmarried, she had the means to fund her passion and independent lifestyle. Her trailblazer spirit took her to many countries other citizens of the conservative era deemed unsafe. Often the artist became the topic of conversation in the British newspapers.
Marianne North Gallery via Creative Commons
She was a contemporary of Charles Darwin who encouraged her travels, and often consulted with her about destinations. Marianne gave her collection to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, where a gallery was created and more then 833 of her paintings hang there today. The unusual layout of the tightly hung paintings seems to echo her life devoted to travel and painting with little time for any other pursuits.
Women Who Travel To Explore
Harriet Chalmers Adams in the Gobi Dessert via Creative Commons
Harriet Chalmers Adams (1875-1937)
This American adventurer’s love of exploring little known parts of the world began with camping trips with her father, a mining engineer with a taste for the gold rush.
Touring with her husband took her to Central and South America. She became a regular contributor to National Geographic in 1907, and it was as a lecturer and writer she found herself traveling more than 100,000 miles, many of them solo, to study important linguistic groups in North and South America. Solitary rivers, impenetrable jungles and dugout canoes were her only companions crossing the Peruvian Andes on mule.
Adams was a fierce believer in a woman’s ability to succeed and as one of the organizers of the Society of Woman Geographers, she was their first president. Through her solo travels, she faced many difficulties, but never felt being female a burden to accomplishing her goals.
I’ve wondered why men have so absolutely monopolized the field of exploration. Why did women never go to the Arctic, try for one pole or the other, or invade Africa, Tibet, or unknown wildernesses? I’ve never found my sex a hinderment; never faced a difficulty which a woman, as well as a man, could not surmount; never felt a fear of danger; never lacked courage to protect myself. I’ve been in tight places and have seen harrowing things.
Celebrate Women Who Travel to Discover Themselves
Join me in celebrating women who travel both past and present. In today’s climate there is no better way to open our hearts to other cultures and understand populations throughout the world. Embracing a sense of adventure, I wish you all safe travels and a Happy International Women’s Day.
Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them and try to follow where they lead. ~Louisa May Alcott
The words of the Hawaiian language are melodic. From the voice of the right storyteller, they roll off the tongue in a form of lyrical poetry. When joined by the ukulele and hula, they combine to tell a verbal history that is passed from generation to generation. This is what they call in the Hawaiian Islands Talk Story. It was one of the highlights of my trip when I had the opportunity to cruise the islands aboard a 36 passenger expedition ship.
What makes a good storyteller? It’s a question I often ask myself as I try to translate the experiences I have as a traveler into words for my readers. As one who loves the telling of tales, I don’t think I could have been luckier than to have Danny “Kaniela” Akaka Jr. and his wife Ana as our onboard hosts during a 7 day island exploration with UnCruise Adventure in Hawaii. I had the chance to interview them both during a quiet moment on deck overlooking the Pacific and volcanic mountains of Maui.
Safari Explorer with UnCruise off the coast of Lanai
Traditional Protocol and Talk Story
Dan Akaka blowing the Pū-a call to the divine that marked the beginning of our voyage
We started our journey with a blessing of the ship and then the traditional greeting and exchange of HA. This exchange of breath is done when two people press together their noses while inhaling at the same time. By exchanging the breath of life each is welcomed into the other’s space. A sacred greeting in the culture. Ancient Hawaiians recognized that their breath was the key to good health. It possessed spiritual power. Before an elderly person died, they passed along wisdom to the chosen successor by sharing ha in this fashion.
The author exchanges HA with Uncle Pilipo Solotorio on Molokai
What is Talk Story in the Hawaiian Islands
Unfortunately, our Hawaiian ancestors did not pen a written history of our islands. Information was passed from generation to generation verbally, with the ‘Ōlelo (the language and spoken word) and in storytelling. Today there is much effort in our Hawaiian renaissance to record what we know about our past history before the kūpuna (our elders) forget and can no longer tell it to us.
Still today, for us to communicate and dialogue is to “talk story.” There is so very much I personally have learned from the ‘ōlelo form of teaching, perhaps most of all that anyone who speaks has the potential to be my teacher. I only need listen as well as I can, quieting the voices in my own head. ~ Ana
As much as I love reading, you cannot replace the interchange that happens between human beings when you ‘ōlelo and talk story with each other. Learning is just as much about the questioning, and the requests for clarification and complete understanding. ~ Dan
The Experts of Hawaiian Island’s Talk Story
Danny is a fascinating individual, eager to share his encyclopedic knowledge of the islands he loves so dearly. As a child, he grew up around music in the church where his father, the late US Senator Daniel Akaka, was the choirmaster and a band teacher at the local high school. Kaniela became a leader in the youth choir and over the years he learned from great Hawaiian musicians; he even recorded two CD’s.
Anna grew up on Hawaii nurtured by the balance of spirituality and physical well-being. She learned hula at an early age and continues to practice this tradition as well as working with indigenous crafts.
The couple met in highschool. The Kamehameha private school system was developed for native Hawaiians to learn English. Studying a college prep curriculum, their courses were enhanced by Hawaiian culture, language and practices. Continuing Hawaiian traditions was of historic and practical value; a priority in this school system. Kamehameha I(c.1736-1819) was the founder and the first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii and over 30 schools, named in his memory, operate around the state.
Continuing their education at the University of Honolulu, it was fortuitous their arrival coincided with the beginning of the Hawaiian studies program. Danny and Anna’s participation helped shape the future of the curriculum. In the early 70’s they never imagined they would be pioneers in the syllabus and such an integral part of its development.
We were so fortunate to have a professor from Hawaii, who knew the language. Growing up with his grandmother, if you closed your eyes he sounded Pure Hawaiian. The only native speakers at that time were grandparents; use of the language had been banned since 1896. Residents were not allowed to speak it. Indigenous people were asked not to use it at home. ~Ana
At that time, the powers that be felt learning the western culture was necessary to succeed in life. The law that banned learning the Hawaiian language was not erased from the books until very recently (1978). Oral history documentation was part of Danny and Ana’s college education. In rural areas recording craft techniques and culture was a priority. The language was fading; it was their mission to document the native lifestyles.
Their Professor (Larry) started a weekly Hawaiian radio station that would be in the native language. The focus was on music; they found songs about remote places the native speakers were from to help tell their story. Sometimes Dan would assist in composing songs about the radio guests location: the characteristics, the geography, what made it unique, the elements and nature, prominent features of the landscape. Larry did the words, Dan did the music. Flying by the seat of their pants, it worked. Very poetic. ~ Ana
After completing school, Danny worked for Aloha Airlines, Hawaiian Holidays, and Hawaii Maritime Center. I can’t imagine a better ambassador to welcome visitors to the state.
A Stay on the Hawaiian Islands to Talk Story
Dan began sharing what he learned with others. His years of training, learning and teaching made him a powerful influence in the community. The work that Ana and Dan do, is all about sharing the Hawaiian protocol and ceremony. Public interest is abundant, no matter where they happen to be.
People yearn to get that cultural connection when they visit. It’s all the same, people look to make a connection so their visit is not just the physical, but a sense of place, a spiritual connection. ~ Dan
Since 2000, he has held the position as the Director of Cultural Affairs for the resort, Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows on the Island of Hawaii. They host a monthly talk story session for guests and members of the community where he delivers a dose of Hawaiian history and culture. Often the stories are not even known to the native population.
Danny acts as the master of ceremonies. He brings in other storytellers, ukulele and traditional artisans which find their way into folk stories in the form of a relaxed presentation. The setting sounds quite magical.
“Ancient fish ponds, an old cowboy cottage and the sun is gently setting, they share their talents, their life, come to share their story and passion in a relaxed Hawaiian Islands talk story format. Very communal. A relationship is formed, there is a bond. The Spirit of Aloha, the unconditional sense of love and welcome hospitality. Look Alo–being in someone’s presence both physical and spiritual + HA share that greeting of breath and spirit of presence. A part of who we are and a sense of respect for each other are shared in that moment of time and hospitality. Aloha-that is Hawaii’s gift to the world. ~Ana
The guests aboard our small boutique yacht were lucky to have this master story teller (and Ana for a few days) for the entire trip. He shared meals, snorkeled, was a nightly raconteur, and incredibly generous with his time. He shared folklore about the whales, Captain Cook, the sacred spaces we visited and legends of the volcanoes. It added another dimension to an already bespoke travel itinerary. With UnCruise, over the years the Akakas normally visit for a few hours, sharing aspects of Hawaiian culture. To have him for the entire trip was a priceless gift with lasting impact. His cultural stories colored and enhanced every adventure.
Why Is Talk Story So Important to Hawaiians
Through the years, many of the traditions and stories of the islands were lost. When westerners and missionaries were introduced to the area, the population of native Hawaiians dropped and the culture slowly started being forgotten. Native Hawaiians were restricted from doing certain practices, speaking in their native tongue.
Many diseases that were not native to Hawaii were brought by those coming to “help”. It all ended up taking a toll on the Hawaiian population. Later the United States stepped in, and established Hawaii as a territory. The Archipelago was declared a state in 1959. The Hawaiian culture is over a thousand years old, but only recently have outsiders been able to realize the many unique culinary, artistic and religious practices that fill the breadth of their heritage.
Hawaii is like the Renaissance, it has been since we went to university in the 70’s. Language, music, hula, protocols all started back then and a new generation had the opportunity to learn subjects in the Hawaiian language. Everything was coming together in a perfect storm. We borrowed the template from New Zealand. The idea is to use the “nest” of the home; many times parents and children are learning the stories together. Parents took the opportunity to learn from the Kapuna, the native speakers who were still alive and could translate the stories. These elders are the basis of our culture.
The language is simplified but very poetic. Because is was so simple, the mechanics were not the focus, it was the prose of the language, the storytelling, that was the focus. As the language was being taught, it was done in the western context of English to Hawaiian. The poetic was lost in translation. Speak with native speakers and hear the nuances of the elders. Everything sounds like a song, the cadence is there even when you are not singing.~ Dan
Pay it Forward – Talk Story Wherever You Go
Through Dan and Ana I learned about the Hawaiian tradition of “talk story”. Friends can talk story, but also strangers as well. It’s become an important part of Hawaiian culture and also a way to preserve traditions before elders have passed. Many of the original stories may have been lost over the centuries, however, a modern day exchange of culture is alive and well in Hawaii and one that every Hawaiian knows; the joy of listening to – talk story.
Talk story allows people to learn from each other and promotes the value of inclusivity, which Hawaiians call KĀKOU. Dan believes Hawaiians represent the compatibility of humans with each other and nature, that everyone in the community is extended family. It’s a beautiful sentiment in this day and age; talk story is the perfect way to honor this.
In a time where many people don’t know their neighbors or are too busy to slow down and notice those around them, taking the time to talk story can turn any interaction in to an opportunity to learn.
I’ve found when I travel, it’s so easy to make conversation with strangers. Rarely does someone not engage. Some of those conversations give incredible insight, allow you to discover hidden gems and are responsible for many of the best memories that go into storytelling when I arrive back home.
This storytelling couple shared a gift with all of us on the voyage. After meeting Danny and Anna, I have been much more present in my own environment and made the effort to connect with random folks I meet out and about in my neck of the woods. People seem so happy to connect, even if just on a superficial level, The next time you are at the grocery store or sitting on the bus, will you talk story with those around you? I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t benefit from receiving the Aloha spirit. After all, shouldn’t Hawaii’s greatest gift be shared with the world?
Pin Me ♥ UnCruise The Hawaiian Islands to Talk Story
When I asked my favorite Baby Boomer travel writers to let me in on their dream destinations, I had to admit, the answers surprised me more than a little. This group knows their way around the globe, and if I did a tally, they’ve probably visited almost every one of the 195 countries on earth. After all, this demographic has the means and desire to learn and broaden their horizons thru travel.
Photo of Tetiaroa via The Brando
According to AARP 2019 survey:
Boomers anticipate taking 4-5 leisure trips in 2018, for which they will spend~$6,300 across all trips.
Of the trips planned for 2018, Bucket List destinations are mentioned most often among Boomers.
Experiential, more authentic trips have them looking to local entrepreneurs for eating and touring.
Baby boomers are well read and researched too, have likely spent days – even months – online looking at where they might want to eat or a local attraction they might like to visit. The kind of tour that appeals is one that has done all the leg work for them, but allows them enough free time mixed with planned time to see the things they are interested in.
Educational trips are on the rise especially for the younger Boomer in their 50s. That might range from booking a cooking class in Italy or Vietnam to an expedition cruise to the Antarctic.
Now they’re after places they’ve dreamed about. They’re trying out their first cruise – maybe even taking their adult children and grandchildren. And they’re realising they love that smorgasbord of countries on a platter that cruising provides and now want to spend more time in the places they only had a day in.
This last item is particularly on trend as most of the experts below are trying to figure out how their dream destination has eluded them for so long.
Where Are These Baby Boomer Travel Experts Dream Destinations?
You’ll find most are by the water, and many involve beaches and islands. Not surprising as throughout history, travelers have written about the calming and regenerative powers of being near the ocean or sea. “Water makes you happier, healthier, more connected to other people, and better at what you do,” says Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D., the author of Blue Mind.
It’s also not a shock to find these experts have chosen five destinations included in the NY Times 52 Places to go In 2019. These award-winning bloggers are in touch with top travel trends and can read the pulse of exciting destinations ready to be explored. The most popular area with top choices was Oceania, a geographic region comprising Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Spanning the eastern and western hemispheres, the many islands and archipelagos involved conjure up the palm tree locations most people would call paradise. Are you ready to start packing?
Map of Oceania
Top Baby Boomer Travel Destinations – Oceania
Tetiaroa, French Polynesia
Marlon Brando had a secret and hidden gem that has captured my imagination since I first read about this seductive private island. He fell in love with Tetiaroa and his leading lady while filming Mutiny on the Bounty. It became his mission to build a legacy there that shared his passion for the environment and cultural way of life. Part of the French Polynesia archipelago, Tetiaroa is my adult luxury version of Swiss Family Robinson – that island you want to be shipwrecked on until time stands still.
Breathtaking in its beauty, the Brando Hotel is a model of sustainability and has the awards to prove it. This bio-diverse barefoot paradise offers all the required eco-friendly water sports, sea to table cuisine and an off the charts spa housed in a bird-like twig structure that might become your favorite nesting spot.
Tahitian royalty formerly used the island as their retreat and it exudes Polynesian culture. When all is said and done, I find it hard to imagine a more perfect vacation destination than this near carbon neutral, private island resort.
I’ve wanted to go to Vanuatu ever since some friends spent a few years there as medical volunteers. In the South Pacific to the east of Australia, it’s made up of about 80 islands extending over 1000 kilometers. It’s the kind of place that fulfils everyone’s dreams of a tropical island getaway: white sand beaches, coral reefs, traditional villages, snorkeling, active volcanos, and an interesting Melanesian culture.
While it apparently has tourist facilities like overwater bungalows and golfing, it doesn’t sound overrun with tourists like some other South Pacific islands. The combination of a natural environment that’s relatively unharmed with a local culture that isn’t “spoiled” by mass tourism makes it seem all the more perfect.
Given how far away it is from everything, I think I’d have to stay a while. I’d snorkel and dive and explore several of the islands, as well as the capital of Port Vila. Mostly I’d like to see islands that are further away from tourist hubs: places where I could get a sense of the local way of life. Or maybe I’d just check into a fancy resort and luxuriate. Most likely a bit of both!
New Zealand is on my dream destination list for several reasons. Many years ago, my desire to visit New Zealand included Bungee Jumping although currently I find the idea quite terrifying. Now my biggest reasons for visiting include learning about the Maori culture and experiencing the outdoors through the incredible hiking and kayaking.
While in New Zealand I will learn from the Maori people about their legends such as Tāne Mahuta, Lord of the Forest. I want to learn about their elaborate carvings and how the art work tells the stories of the Maori. I would love to attend a Maori welcoming ceremony as well as see the Haka performed.
For outdoor adventures I plan to visit Abel Tasman National Park to do some sea kayaking. I’ll visit the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park and tour the glowworm caves. Plus, I’ll do plenty of hiking around New Zealand to take in the amazing views of the mountains, volcanoes, and glacial lakes.
Tropical Tahitian Landscape by Paul Gauguin via Wikipedia Public Domain
I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited many places on this wonderful planet but Tahiti is the one place that keeps calling my name. I studied art history in college and was intrigued learning about Paul Gauguin and his visits to Tahiti in French Polynesia. Ever since, I’ve dreamed of going to Tahiti and visiting the Paul Gauguin Museum.
Not only do I want to enjoy his work but also to experience the nearby Botanical Gardens and beach park. It seems like the perfect place to learn more about him and his fascination for this part of the world. I must admit that when I learned about overwater bungalows in Tahiti my fantasy of visiting became even more intense. I imagine sleeping like a baby while hearing the water softly lapping under my own bungalow. Now that Tahiti has made it on to the New York Times 52 Places To Go in 2019 I believe that to be a sign that I need to get to Tahiti sooner than later.
Both the Galapagos Islands and Easter Island are but tiny specks in the Pacific Ocean. The Galapagos is well known all over the world for it’s incredible biodiversity while Easter Island is know for it’s stone staues – the Moai.
What is less know is the vibrant festival that is held on Easter Island called Tapati Rapa Nui. This festival celebrates the island’s Polynesian culture. During this fesitival there is an event called the Haka Pei. The rules for the Haka Pei, the most eagerly anticipated event in the annual Tapati Rapa Nui festival, are simple: stand naked but for a loincloth at the top of a 300m-tall volcano, hold on to two banana tree-trunks lashed together with twine and launch yourself feet-first downhill, reaching speeds of 50mph before skidding to a halt in front of a whooping crowd. This is just the first in many celebrations and games that take place during the festival. Competitors throw long spears at distant posts and this is greeted with drumming, and dancing from the onlookers.
This is why I have been planning to go for years now. Both of these remote islands are so far away from any civilization that it’s a wonder that the festivals and the people have thrived.
Jutting out of the western tip of the island that is Ireland is the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. This is where the land and hills meet the roaring Atlantic Ocean. It’s been my heart’s desire to visit the peninsula since 1970 when I first saw the movie Ryan’s Daughter. I want to see those lush green hills dotted with houses and castle ruins that were in the movie. I picture myself walking the alleyways and streets of the tiny villages that hug the shore and watching fishing boats bob in the harbor.
Friends who have visited the area tell me that Dingle is the busiest town. In my mind I’ve mapped out what I’ll do when I’m there; take a driving tour of the Slea Head drive, part of the Wild Atlantic Way, that circles the entire peninsula, hop a ferry to Blasket Island to see puffins, and enjoy a freshly poured Guinness while listening to Irish music in a warm pub.
World War II seems like a long time ago. However, it had a huge impact on my husband Steve’s life. His parents, Sephardic Jews, fled Bulgaria for the United States in 1940 with the intention of returning when geopolitics settled down. However, following that cataclysmic war, Bulgaria disappeared behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet sphere of influence until 1990.
By the time Steve was born in 1953, it was clear the family’s future would be in the United States. His parents didn’t teach him Bulgarian, but every once in a while, his grandmother who lived to be 98, would show us faded black and white photos of their old life in the capital, Sofia.
We’ve been wanting to visit Bulgaria ever since Eastern Europe was opened to tourism, but as close as we’ve gotten is Budapest, Hungary. Finally, it looks like the stars have aligned for us to be able to visit Bulgaria this year. Better yet, we will be guided by one of my husband’s work colleagues who is fluent in Bulgarian, still has close family there, and is eager to show us the places we’ve only seen in faded black and white photos.
I’m a sucker for history. The richer, more complex a location’s history, the more I want to go there which is why Malta is high on my must-visit list. It’s been short-listed twice, but remains elusive.
For over 7,000 years the archipelago of Malta has lured conquerors, occupiers, and pilgrims including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, French, and British, all who left their mark on the culture, language, and landscape. Theirs is a fascinating history set against the sparkling beauty of the Mediterranean.
Situated on three inhabited islands 50 miles south of Sicily, Malta has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, fortresses, museums, churches and cultural sites. Lagoons, beaches and bays provide fantastic snorkeling and swimming.
High points of my trip will be:
Valletta–the capital, on the World Heritage list for its concentration of historical buildings
Mdina–the ancient walled capital, dating back to Phoenician times
Hagar Qim and Mnajdra–two cliffside stone-age temples
Rabat–home of catacombs; a Roman villa turned museum; and St. Paul’s church and grotto
The Blue Grotto–a series of sea caves on the southeast coast of Malta
“You have to go to Rodrigues! It’s only a one and a half hour flight from Mauritius, has a beautiful hilly landscape with stunning beaches and first of all, it is much less populated than Mauritius”, my taxi chauffeur exclaimed enthusiastically. I’d taken a comfortable direct flight to Mauritius to escape the winter and was happy enough with my prospect of launching lazily at the Mauritian beach already.
“You’ll find not only unspoiled beaches with indefinite opportunities for diving and snorkeling but also plenty opportunities to discover endemic plants and animals while hiking, visiting the botanical garden Jardin des 5 sens, the François Leguat Reserve with its different species of turtles including the imposing Giant Alhambra turtle from the Seychelles or exploring the longest limestone cave Caverne Patate.”
My volunteer tourist guide recommended visiting one of the hundred family-owned bee farms and most of all, to embrace the unspoiled creole culture far from the beaten tourist path for example at the Port Mathurin Market, and at the Festival Kreol if I’d be lucky enough to be on Rodrigues at the end of the year. Certainly, by now my taxi driver had hooked me to put Rodrigues far up on my bucket list of travel destinations for the coming winter season!
Tanzania, Africa is like the one that got away. I don’t really know why it eludes me, but year after year as I travel around the world, it seems to be a place I never land. Having traveled every six weeks of my life for over 22 years BEFORE becoming a travel writer, you would think I could have made it there at least once. Since then I have been to 47 countries in 2016 (some more than once), 20 countries in 2017, and 15 countries in 2018 for a total of 75+ countries traveled to in the world, but alas, not Tanzania.
Why do I want to go there? For me, it is the sunrise breakfasts on the Serengeti, the big cats, and the great migration of millions of wildebeests. All those stunning sceneries of Tanzania I see on travel websites and scattered on my social media. That’s what I want to see and do, along with bringing my camera, of course, to capture those moments.
In my worldly travels, I’ve had one particular quest: to find the most beautiful beach in the world. I’ve explored some stunning candidates in Bora Bora, Thailand, Brazil, Hawaii, Mexico, Bali, Greece, Australia, Maldives, and the Caribbean. But the beach that is arguably the most beautiful – the Seychelles – has eluded me.
How can anyone not be intrigued by the exotic islands that have been called “the Garden of Eden?” Located in the Indian Ocean, off the eastern coast of Africa, the archipelago consists of 115 tropical islands. Impossibly iridescent turquoise waves lap onto powdery beaches with a backdrop of lush mountains.
The Seychelles are #1 on my Bucket List, and when I do finally get there, I have two beaches I want to visit. The first is dreamy Anse Source d’Argent Beach on La Digue Island, dubbed by National Geographic as the world’s most photographed beach. Pink sand is strewn with large rock formations rendering an otherworldly appearance. It’s also one of the best places to snorkel in the Seychelles.
The other is Anse Lazio Beach on Praslin, the second largest island in the Seychelles. This beach is cradled by a large bay with mountain peaks on both sides, and similar granite boulders.
I do believe that after I’ve been to the Seychelles, I’ll be ready to declare a winner!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to see Morocco. To me, the culture is one of the most unique in the world, an exotic meld of Arab, Roman, Berber, French, Spanish, African, and Mediterranean — I can’t think of a more interesting mix of culture, ethnicity, and history. Exploring the souk markets of Fes and Marrakech would be first on my list.
Between the rich textures, warm colors, and colorful people I grew up gazing at in the pages of National Geographic, my camera and I might never see anything else of the country. I’d love to stay overnight in a colorful riad, though the desert landscape holds a particular charm for me and would be my first choice. I’ve dreamed of hopping on a camel to ride out and sleep in a tent, the inside strewn with heavy carpets and braziers to keep you warm, and photographing the entire romantic scene at the blue hour.
The Outer Banks is well known as the birthplace of flight, and while the Wright brothers might hold the mantle as the Pioneers of Aviation, this coastal retreat is the perfect spot for visitors to also take their first flight on an Outer Banks vacation.
Hmmm, your thinking, is she talking about an airplane flight, because I’ve already put that feat in the rear view mirror? The answer would be no, I’m talking about soaring above the dunes yourself, attached to a kite, on an adventure in Kitty Hawk North, Carolina.
Where are the Outer Banks
The Outer Banks, also known as the OBX, are a chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. Four islands, six towns and twelve coastal villages of “By The Sea Magic”. As a popular vacation destination, they offer a plethora of adventures and activities for the visitor in addition to over 200 miles of panoramic coastline. Unlike many islands, the Outer Banks are not anchored by any coral reefs, so the sands and geography are constantly shifting, especially when hit with hurricanes. Environmentally, the coastline is forever challenged; one of the many characteristics that makes the area unique.
Summer months are the high season, but this destination offers opportunities for adventurers year round. The shoulder months are especially nice because the weather is still warm and the crowds have disappeared. September thru November would be a great choice for those seeking an adrenalin rush, as the water has been kissed by the sun and the winds pick up making water sports and adventure more challenging. Visitors should also think about options in winter months, when vacation rental homes (over 80% of the lodging) offer huge discounts. Who doesn’t love a cup of hot cocoa on a secluded beach accompanied by a salty breeze.
Wind Based Sports in the Outer Banks
Wind based sports are a particular attraction in the Outer Banks. The geography of the Sound’s inland waters make for great conditions. The water is inviting and shallow, making it difficult for larger boats to navigate. For water sports lovers, there’s little distraction. Winds are often brisk and fairly predictable. The sandy bottom is great for beginners. Being able to touch bottom makes the learning experience much easier. On the ocean side, adventure seekers can find an entirely different set of conditions.
Often called the Wind Surfing and Kite Boarding Capital of the East Coast, weather in the area is great for both novices and experts alike. These action sports along with hang gliding, surfing, and kayaking attract visitors from around the world. Additionally, talented instructors are attracted to the same great location.
Hang Gliding for Your First Flight on a Outer Banks Vacation
Operating the largest hang gliding school in the world, there is no better place to learn how to take your first flight than Kitty Hawk Kites. Options include a tandem glide and solo dune gliding. Most modern hang gliders are made of an aluminium alloy or composite frame covered with synthetic sailcloth to form a wing.
First Flight Ground School
Ground School is a required segment of the Hang Gliding Lesson with Kitty Hawk Kites on the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. This piece of the lesson includes park orientation, a bit of history, orientation of the equipment and techniques of the sport. Students finish with a training film and then it’s off to the dunes.
After ground school, we proceeded to the dunes via a scenic boardwalk. At the base of the dunes, everyone walks up the hill thru a majestic view that feels like a desert scape from Lawrence of Arabia. Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest natural sand dune in the eastern United States.
The dune was most probably formed by strong water currents over years of hurricane weather. Shifting maritime winds blow billions of grains of sand in all directions. Like the Outer Banks itself, the dune is constantly changing in size and shape, measuring between 80 and 100 feet above sea level.After we climb into the harnesses, we prepare for our first flight in the Outer Banks.
Up, Up and Away for your First Flight
A last minute pep talk and you will run into the wind. Depending on the wind conditions (and your weight and skill), you can travel anywhere from 30 to 100+ yards at 5 to 15 feet above the sand. Each trip down the dune is termed a “flight.” We were warned we might not land on our feet. This is one if the reasons the dunes are a perfect spot for learning. The sand is nice and soft when you face plant.
Running into the wind to get airborne
I will admit to being more than a bit nervous panicked when I heard we were going solo. Although I managed to jump off the cliffs of Lima,Peru to go tandem paragliding without a problem, something about being the one responsible for my own safety ignited fear. Never one to pass up an adventure, the instructors talked me off the dune (so to speak) and quickly instilled the confidence I needed to take flight. I can’t say enough about how personable and encouraging they were. My fears were quickly assuaged after the first attempt.
The dunes are a soft landing pad.
It’s hard to explain the feeling of freedom one gets when your feet lift off the ground. The rush of adrenalin is familiar, and yet totally unique during the experience. I could have sworn I was 50 feet in the air (until I saw the video) and as soon as I touched down, I wanted to soar again.
The lesson is for 5 flights for each student; it felt like we had many more, but who can count when their adrenalin is rushing? I just can tell you once you get a taste, you’ll definitely want to learn more and get to the next level.
The History of Flight and Flying Machines
When you catch sight of birds soaring and gliding along the wind currents, it’s easy to imagine how man has been obsessed with flight for centuries. Ancient Greek and Roman Gods were characterized by their ability to fly. The kite, invented in China, was probably the first invention of a man made machine. Hot air balloons continue to fascinate today with festivals and tours available around the world. Leonardo da Vinci’s famous sketches illustrate his fascination with human mechanical flight. All of which leads me to the most well known attractions in the Outer Banks.
Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been and there you long to return. -Leonardo da Vinci. Click To Tweet
A Visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial
Is it any wonder the Wright Brothers National Memorial is one of the top things to do on an Outer Banks vacation and the perfect ending to a first flight? The recently renovated Visitor Center is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building and a marvel of sustainable design. With interactive exhibits and informative videos, the Wright Brothers come alive at the center and their flying machines inspire the imagination.
Understanding the reasons behind Orville and Wilbur’s choice of Kitty Hawk for their experiments in the early 1900’s brings new appreciation of the site and the challenges they faced with their flying machines. Although the brothers had proven their theories in Ohio, they choose Kitty Hawk to work out their actual flight experiments. After comprehensive research of the US Weather Bureau’s statistics, they found the area had the right combination of wind, sand and isolation to test their gliders in private.
The boulders and numbered markers indicate the takeoff and landing spots of the Wright Brothers four flights.
Seeing the reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer and thinking about the milestones in aviation made since their famous flight is mind boggling.
Outside on the property, visitors can climb Kill Devil Hill and walk the path where the Wright Brothers made their powered first flight. The promenade is a fitting end to an adventure of my own solo first flight on an Outer Banks vacation.
Disclaimer: The author was the guest of Outer Banks Visitors Bureau for her visit to the Outer Banks, but as always, opinions and views are her own.