My Mongolia

Featured image source: www[dot]nomadicexpeditions[dot]com Mongolia—the land of Ghengis Khan, inventor of flash warfare, listed as an unusual and low-terror travel zone (1)—caught my eye. Ghengis Khan. Image source: www[dot]biography[dot]com This YouTube video of what it’s like to travel to Mongolia tells … Continue reading

Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun, Mexico

Start the New Year in style by going on vacation and staying at Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun, Mexico. This is the ultimate in “chic on the beach.”

Surrounded by natural, verdant foliage and facing an impeccably tended, green lawn, a seemingly endless beach and an inviting, crystalline azure, Caribbean Sea, Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun is an oasis of luxury.

Would you like to see what’s happening at the resort in real time? You can do so by clicking on the “Live Web Cam.” When I did, I saw a group of people headed toward the vanishing edge, dual-temperature, heated-in-winter pool. This is what this amazing swimming pool looks like:

Secrets Capri Riviera pool

Image source:

http://www.secretsresorts.com/capri-riviera-cancun/photos-videos

Unlimited-Luxury® means that, like Ali Baba, your every wish will be fulfilled and your expectations ever exceeded. Amenities include elegant accommodations. The “Preferred Club Deluxe Tropical View” looks like this:

Deluxe Tropical View

Image source:

http://www.secretsresorts.com/capri-riviera-cancun/elegant-accommodations

Some of the other accommodations are the: Deluxe Ocean View Room, Jr. Suite Oceanfront Room, Junior Suite Tropical View 128 and Presidential Suite.

Other amenities are: a welcome cocktail and cool towel; Free WiFi and international calling & more; a private concierge on call 24/7; gourmet dining at five onsite restaurants; 24-hour room and concierge services; choice of mood-setting turn down service; complimentary mini-bar refreshed daily; unlimited premium drinks at four bars and lounges; and unlimited natural fruit juices and soft drinks. 1

In addition to swimming in the pool, there is a wide variety of activities to choose from during the day including golfing. The resort offers one complementary round per person per day at the Grand Coral Riviera Maya Golf Course and the Playa Mujeres Golf Course. 2 Be sure to also take advantage of the complete fitness center, world class spa, and Outdoor Jacuzzi. You can even go scuba diving, deep-sea fishing and participate in tours and excursions and more. 3

My personal favorites are: The Sea Side restaurant, Cactus Club, Taco Cevich  Bar and the possibility of setting up private dinners on the beach for groups and couples.

Although I would have preferred virtual tours to be viewed individually and/or grouped into categories, they are all bundled together here.

Customer testimonials include words and phrases like “great,” “wonderful,” “enjoyed our time here,” “enjoyed the food, the people and the customer service,” “the customer service here is fantastic,” “the guys and gals who work here always want to make you feel like you’re at home here,” and “very friendly, very hard-working staff.” 4

For more information or to book, click here.

You won’t be disappointed.

 

References

 

  1. http://www.secretsresorts.com/capri-riviera-cancun/unlimited-luxury
  2. http://www.secretsresorts.com/offers/cancun-golf
  3. http://www.secretsresorts.com/capri-riviera-cancun/activities-entertainment
  4. Guest testimonials. http://www.secretsresorts.com/capri-riviera-cancun/photos-videos

 

You Won’t Believe Your Eyes: Secrets Marquis Los Cabos

In my perpetual quest for the ultimate in customer service and satisfaction, as I looked through Reader’s Digest “Top 10 Most Luxurious Hotels in the World,” the last resort on the list caught my eye: Secrets Marquis Los Cabos, Mexico. Why don’t you take the resort tour first. It has very pleasant, ambient music that conveys the mood.

Secrets Marquis Los Cabos, was “inspired by a celestial legend of two angels seeking paradise on earth ….” 1 If you take the virtual tour, it will help you understand, in 3D, why this resort really is paradise on earth. (Click on any photo on the left to start a given tour.)

The resort boasts of unlimited luxury and the possibility of seeing migrating whales from your balcony. George Clooney’s beach villa is next door. 2 Secrets Marquis Los Cabos is the ultimate, romantic destination for honeymooners and the service is excellent. According to this testimonial, Jake from Canada says,

I honestly can’t say a single negative about the service … I’ve stayed at other places, but this is the best service that I’ve ever received.”

Jake and his Columbian wife, who initially stayed in the Honeymoon Suite before moving to the Junior Suite (with which they were highly satisfied), refer to the resort as a “dream,” a place where you can “get away and relax.” Watch the testimonial and decide for yourself.

The resort received the following awards: membership in The Leading Hotels of the World; the 2013 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence; was named one of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hotels in Mexico 2013; is recognized as a RCI Gold Crown Resort ®; and, for the tenth consecutive year, earned the AAA Four Diamond Award 2013. 3

Secrets Marquis Los Cabos places social responsibility at a premium. It is: Rainforest Alliance Verified ™; was recognized as practicing exemplary practices for sustainable tourism; gets its water supply from a water desalting plant (sea water in, fresh water out); produces ecological soap; recycles organic waste into compost which is used to fertilize the resort’s gardens; and implements the annual Turtle Protection and Release program. 4

The resort boasts of a world-class spa with a wide variety of spa packages to choose from. 5

Secrets Marquis Los Cabos offers a wide choice in gourmet dining: the Barefoot Grill (Grilled Specialties); Canto del Mar (Gourmet Cuisine); the Coco Café (a charming niche offering Premium Coffee & Pastries); Dos Mares (Seafood Favorites); Spice (Pan-Asian Cuisine); and Vista Ballenas (Mexican & International). Click here to view images.

Here’s what your suite could look like:

Private Pool Casita

Private Pool Casita Suite, Secrets Marquis Los Cabos

For availability and pricing, visit their website.

For more Secrets Resorts and Spas (and, yes, there are more which I’ll explore for you later), visit the main website.

 

Enjoy your stay!

References

1. Reader’s Digest. Top 10 Most Luxurious Hotels in the World.

2. Ibid.

3. Secrets Marquis, Los Cabos. http://www.secretsresorts.com/marquis-los-cabos/awards

4. Secrets Marquis, Los Cabos. http://www.secretsresorts.com/marquis-los-cabos/social-responsibility

5. Secrets Marquis, Los Cabos. http://www.secretsresorts.com/marquis-los-cabos/spa

 

The Mo’ai of Easter Island

Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is “the most remote, inhabited island on the face of the planet.” 1

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Rapa Nui is located 2 500 miles west of Santiago Chile and 1 500 miles east of Polynesia. It was settled by the Polynesians in the fifth century AD. Escaping overpopulated homelands, they set sail from Tahiti and the Marqueses for what is known today as Easter Island. 2

Without maps or compasses, in their outrigger canoes, the Polynesian navigators used their deep knowledge of currents, swells and the flight of birds in order to detect land including New Zealand, Hawaii and Rapa Nui. 3 By the fourteenth century, Rapa Nui had a thriving population that had reached 20 000, five times what the island could naturally support. 4

In 1722, however, when Dutch explorers arrived on the island on Easter day, hence the island’s new appellation, they were shocked to find a “starving population and a struggling culture.” What had happened? Why were the mo’ai, the island’s legendary stone statues, strewn about as if they’d been abandoned? Why had Rapa Nui eroded into a quasi-barren land?

Something eventful had happened that had nearly decimated the people of Rapa Nui whose population remained less than 2 000; the island was ecologically devastated; and, from a rich, thickly forested island, painfully few trees remained. 5

The Mystery of Easter Island Giants attributes the devastation of Rapa Nui to the inhabitants themselves placing the blame on overpopulation; the overproduction of mo’ai stone statues; and the depletion of the island’s natural resources. One theory posits that the statues were moved from the volcanic quarries where they were carved to other parts of the island (i.e., distances of up to twenty kilometers) by rolling them on logs and that this would have seriously depleted the island’s trees. Another theory claims that the mo’ai were moved upright with strategically positioned groups of men manipulating the statues’ movements using ropes. According to the ancients, though, the mo’ai walked to their new locations. 6

Ancestor worship

The mo’ai heads represent the island’s protective ancestors of old. They are said to personify the “living faces” of the Rapa Nui. When a chief died, a statue or, mo’ai, was carved in his honor in which his spirit was said to live on. The statues embodied the dead returned to life to act as guardians of the living. Although we are used to seeing the mo’ai with dark, empty eye sockets, reputed archaeologist Sergio Rapu discovered the mo’ai’s original, coral eyes. 7 When placed inside the statues’ empty eye sockets, the mo’ai take on an entirely new appearance and appear to look “alive.”

Lava tubes & cave living

In the sixteenth century, roughly one thousand years after settling, the inhabitants of Easter Island began inhabiting extensive cave systems in order to protect themselves against warfare and raiding, now endemic on the island. They lived and cooked in these caves, ancient lava tubes through which “rivers of molten rock once flowed from volcanoes now long extinct.” 8

There was no more wood from which to build their outrigger canoes and they were essentially cut off from the outside world. There were food shortages as fishing became difficult and the population grew. This created bitter and bloody conflicts over land and food between different clans.

Skeletal mo’ai

To illustrate the ecological and social ravages plaguing the island, a new kind of mo’ai were created: small wooden statues, emaciated in appearance. These skeletal figurines depicted the island’s starving population.

The Birdman Cult

The Birdman Cult, which replaced the Ancestor Cult, the worship of Rapa Nui’s ancestors in the form of the mo’ai, was the redistribution solution devised to resolve Rapa Nui’s resource problem (i.e., the dearth of agricultural land and food). Leaders and warriors gathered annually at Orongo in order to compete for the political and economic control of Easter Island. The outcome of the contest determined which clan would rule the island the coming year.

The egg hunt on Motu Nui

The clans’ best warriors would, carrying reed floaters, race down Orongo’s incredibly steep 1 000 ft. cliff at the bottom of which were shark-infested waters. Upon reaching the water, they would swim, supported by their reed floaters, fighting strong ocean currents and powerful swells, to the larger of two nearby islands, Motu Nui. Once on Motu Nui, they had to find the egg of what they considered to be a magical bird that came straight from heaven. Its egg was considered a symbol of “cosmic fertility and power.” 9

As soon as a warrior-contestant found an egg, and after most likely securing it in his headdress, he would plunge back into the water on his reed floater, swim back to the base of Orongo’s cliff, climb up, and give the egg to his chief, thus winning the grueling Birdman contest.

Rapa Nui

“Rano Kau volcano in Rapa Nui National Park, Easter Island”

Image source: DzineBlog 360

Moai

“Patiperros-‘Rapa Nui'”

Image source: Club Chileno de Chicago

References

1 The Mystery of Easter Island Giants, Host, Josh Bernstein; Executive Producers, William Morgan and Jason Williams.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Mysterious Easter Island Heads Have Bodies Too, TheLeakSource.

The Mystery of Easter Island Giants, Host, Josh Bernstein; Executive Producers, William Morgan and Jason Williams.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

 

An Unusual Travel Destination: The Seychelles, Praslin Island

I was thinking about unusual travel destinations and came upon an interesting website which lists such places, with each featured image being more beautiful than the one before it. 1

As I perused the destinations, my attention was inexplicably drawn to Praslin Island, Seychelles.

Northeast of Madagascar and East of Kenya in the Indian Ocean, Praslin, the second largest island of  the Seychelles, lies 45 kilometers northeast of Mahé. With a populationj of 6 500 people, it comprises of two administrative districts: Baie Sainte Anne and Grand’ Anse. 2

The Seychelles are truly “another world” with some of Praslin’s beaches appearing in the top-10 list of the world’s best beaches.

The Seychelles boast of two, UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Vallée de Mai (in Praslin) where the Coco-de-Mer, the world’s heaviest nuts grow on ancient palm trees in a primeval forest; 4 and Aldabra, virtually untouched by humans, the world’s second largest coral atoll, part of the Outer Islands. ” The atoll has about two thirds of the world population of Giant tortoises, about 100,000 out of a reported 150,000.” 4 General Gordon thought that the Vallée de Mai was the original Garden of Eden. 6

Praslin, named after the Duc de Praslin, was settled by the French in the mid-18th century. Prior to that, it was frequented by pirates.

Praslin stands at the forefront of Seychelles’ tourism industry with a strong tradition of hospitality and wide range of accommodation facilities. It also provides a base for excursions to neighbouring islands, some of which are important sanctuaries nurturing rare species of endemic flora and fauna. 7

What should you see in Praslin? According to Lonely Planet, Anse Volbert, which is also known as Côte d’Or, and Grand Anse. 8

Where should you stay in Praslin? The Castello Beach Hotel’s description reads in part: “This four-star deluxe hotel opened January 2009, is situated on the north west of Praslin right beside one of the most beautiful, year-round beaches at Anse Kerlan. Surrounded by a tropical garden, this boutique hotel is a sanctuary in paradise with a spectacular view of the islands of Cousin, Cousine, Mahé and Silhouette.” 9  This “charming boutique hotel” also offers proximity to the beach, a restaurant and bar, swimming pool, massage parlor and mini club. Their friendly team will organize sailing and yacht excursions. 10

Are you ready to go to paradise on earth? Book your trip with Seychelles.travel, the official destination website for the Seychelles Islands.

Bon voyage!

Seychelles

Praslin Island, Seychelles

References

1.  50 Unusual & Awesome Places of the World

2. Seychelles.travel

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Aldabra.

6. Op. cit.

7. Seychelles.travel

8. Lonely Planet, “Introducing Praslin.”

9. Castello Beach Hotel. And, the hotel’s official website.

10. Ibid.

 

Iceland: Land of Contrasts

Iceland is a truly amazing country.

I remember visiting this beautiful place many times over the years. Travelling with Icelandair, I’ve had numerous stopovers at the Keflavik International Airport where I always bought something from the souvenir shop, my favorite items being white pullovers with subdued streaks of colors. These pullovers are made from Icelandic sheep wool.

Uncommon sheep

The sheep in Iceland are unlike any I’ve ever seen. They resemble round globs of fleece standing on stick legs. When in motion, instead of running, they appear to bounce-and-go. As unusual as they appear, though, their wool produces extraordinary and extraordinarily soft pullovers, gloves, caps and socks.

A land of contrasts

Iceland’s houses-painted blue, red, yellow and green-stand in sharp contrast to its volcanic landscape. When I first saw these homes, I thought that the vivid colors were deliberately chosen to bring life to the bareness and starkness that represent the island.

One time, I had the opportunity to stay in Iceland for several days. I stayed at a hotel next to the airport from which I could see airiplanes take off and land. I remember eating a variety of fresh fish including salmon. The sauna was fantastic.

Icelanders are extremely well read with a 99% literacy rate. Reading is a good activity in the depth of snowy winter.

The many volcanoes on the island, and the steam they emit, enable Iceland’s inhabitants to benefit from geothermal energy. Iceland is a world leader in harnessing renewable energy. 1

Iceland’s stunning scenery, with its bare, lava-strewn flats, snow-capped mountain ranges, glaciers, volcanoes and hot springs, is due to its location on one of the earth’s major fault lines, the mid-Atlantic ridge. While this landscape is attracting an increasing number of tourists each year, the country’s geographical peculiarities also mean that Iceland is the only country in the world that can claim to obtain 100% of its electricity and heat from renewable sources.

2 [My emphasis.]

Points of interest are: Blue Lagoon, Gullfoss, Hallgrímskirkja, National Museum of Iceland, Dynjandi, Aldeyjarfoss and Súlur. 3

Iceland is by no means an inexpensive destination. If you’re planning on going, make sure you budget first.

Eager to visit this amazing land of contrasts? Why don’t you build your own trip. 4

Iceland Image

Image title & credit: Iceland Lava Cascade, “Iceland Volcano: Eruption Sparks Tourist Boom,” National Geographic, Daily News.

Dynjandi – Fjallfoss

References

1 Iceland’s energy answer comes naturally

2 Ibid

Iceland, Points of Interest

4 Build your own trip

Bulgarian Urtime

As I settle in Toronto, I’ve been reminiscing about the decade I spent in Bulgaria.

I remember, especially in the beginning, that I wanted to return to the West. I didn’t speak the language and couldn’t understand why things moved so slowly.

My first invitation was to a village feast or, “praznik.” I recall going to a small chapel and sitting on its front stoop with village women. We sat there holding a single flower in our hands for more than an hour with no one uttering a word. I understood then that Bulgarians were people who appreciated and communicated in silence. Later, I gathered why there hadn’t been any men at the feast. The men celebrate “kukeri” or, carnival together. They dress up in animal skins and multi-colored, hand-painted or fur masks and, donning huge cow bells, walk down the middle of the village streets banging on pots. The point of the ritual is to bond as males while making their presence felt via loud noise.

Urtime

Over time, I learned how to speak Bulgarian and began to understand the power of silence.  I got used to watching the street lamps–with their soft, orange, anti-fog glow–contrast with swirling mists of precipitation and allowed my thoughts to slip into infinity, time immemorial or, urtime. I learned that communication happened differently than only with words. I began to feel the draw of silence and the mysteries that enfolded it.

Subterranean tunnels and time capsules

They say that Bulgaria has everything. This includes Noah’s plate (i.e., the plate Noah ate from while traveling in his ark), subterranean tunnels that crisscross the country, and time capsules. The plate is in Varna and the time capsules are at undisclosed locations, waiting for an unknown trigger that will activate them and enable people to make new, never-before-heard-of discoveries that will benefit both Bulgaria and the world.

Vanga

One of Bulgaria’s most well-known psychics was a woman named Baba Vanga 1 which translates as Grandma Vanga. During her youth, she was caught up in a violent windstorm that left her blind. Ever since then, Baba Vanga developed the ability to “see” with an inner vision. Bulgarians from all walks of life would line up and wait for hours to meet with Baba Vanga, born Vangelia Pandeva Dimitrova, for healing and to learn what their future held. Well-known Bulgarian and foreign politicians visited her as well. Vanga had learned how to tap into Bulgarian urtime.

The Noah Plate

Image title and credit:  “The Noah Plate,” Copyright © Dukaty Ltd., 2006

References

1 Baba Vanga

Cephalonia: The Indomitable

The island of Cephalonia (also known as Kefalonia), the largest of the Ionian islands, was recently rocked by an earthquake that was nearly a 6 on the Richter magnitude scale.  A few days prior to the earthquake, a fireball (or, meteorite depending on who you ask) fell between Cephalonia and neighboring Zante island lighting the shoreline of the latter as it slowly descended into the depths of the surrounding sea.

When I learned the news, I, a once-upon-a-time denizen, immediately called friends to find out what the situation was on the ground.  Since the epicenter was close to Lixouri, most of the damage (to a nearby road and older buildings built before anti-seismic regulations came into force) was concentrated near said town, across the bay from Argostoli, Cephalonia’s capital city.

1953

Cephalonians are used to earthquakes.    The Focas-Cosmetatos museum featured an exhibit called “1953:  The Earthquake.”  The earthquake of ’53 was a devastating, natural disaster that caused a tsunami, resulted in many casualties, and brought the International Red Cross.  It was an event that caused many to lose everything they had with the consequence of a mass exodus.

Luckily, the latest earthquake resulted in zero casualties with only a few, minor injuries thanks to the fact that every new construction must, by law, adhere to strict, anti-seismic building codes.

Europe will fund repairs.  The buildings will be fixed and road damaged repaired.  Life will go on.

Cephalonia:  The Indomitable

Cephalonia was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the top ten places to live in Europe. 1  Although it has experienced its fair share of natural disasters and foreign conquests (the pirates from time immemorial; the Venetians from circa 1500; and the Axis powers during WWII), this incredibly beautiful island continues to be a highly sought after tourist destination.

Absolute musts to see:  Myrtos beach, Fiskardo, Assos, Kipuria Monastery, Melissani Cave, and Mt. Aenos.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2GGy18Axsw

“Makis, a KTM Adventure”

Cheap flights to Cephalonia

References

1 Cephalonia is one of the top 10 places to live in Europe