Thursday, March 26, 2015

Still Cold, So Grenada

We're enjoying our spring at 39 degrees and rain in New England, so I thought I would talk about someplace a lot warmer, and at this point in time, a lot prettier.  I love a good sunset, and despite my angst about beaches as a vacation location, sunsets over the ocean are beautiful.  One of those pretty sunset spots lies just north of Venezuela in the Caribbean...Grenada.  Grenada sports six smaller islands, some of them technically uninhabited, but most of the fun is to be had on the island of Grenada itself.  I'll just get the easy ones out of the way.  They have amazing beaches, great snorkeling and diving, resorts, great food, a petting zoo, sailing vessels for rent or tour, shopping, hiking, biking, and those gorgeous sunsets.  But, there are some really cool things about Grenada that you don't always hear about.

Let's start with a little history.  Grenada was "discovered" by Columbus and originally was called Concepcion.  Over the years the island was fought over by the French and British and was called not only Concepcion, but also Grenade, before it finally landed as Grenada.  In the 1970's the country became independent, and a few years later communists from Cuba tried to take it over.  After several countries helped them battle this problem, they went to a parliamentary government with the Queen as head of state.  Today, it is a tourist haven and a tax haven for people from all over the world.  There are forts that are hundreds of years old, with cannon still pointing out to sea.  There are spices grown all over the island which it has become famous for, especially the nutmeg.  The waters are clear, the skies are big, the people are friendly, and the views are amazing.  The weather is nice, especially if you avoid the hurricane season from June through November.  There's really no downside here.

St. George's is the capital of this island nation, and it's epicenter for activity.  This is where you will catch most of the tours and find most of the resorts.  This is where your cruise will stop if you come out this way.  You can even come here with Disney.  It's a regular stop for a lot of ships.  Now, as you know, I normally pick a place because it has something unique.  Well, Grenada does.  It has a couple of things.

It has some great outdoors.  There are several waterfalls in Grenada, such as Concord Falls and the Seven Sisters, and some of them are not long hikes.  Some of them are not far from the roads you take through the parks where they live.  Grenada also has hot springs because they also have a volcano.  Mount St. Catherine is over 4500 feet high and not dead.  It's not active right now, which makes for great hiking and the hot springs are great for a soak.  One way to access all this stuff and more is to take a Jeep tour, which come in both half and full day tours and take you to some amazing places with great vistas and good activities.

Jeep tours will take you through rainforest areas and along coastal areas as well.  It's like a best of both worlds.  Some tours stop way out in the middle of the rainforest area for lunch at Morne Fendue Plantation House.  This is an old colonial style plantation house turned restaurant.  It provides atmosphere as well as good food.  Also on these tours, you can book an inner tubing trip down the river or a biking trip through the rainforest and along the coast.  there are several choices and it's a lot of fun.

One of the really fun things to do is go on a sunset cruise with Savvy Sailing.  They take you out on the ocean for some dinner and a fabulous sunset view.  It's a definite Adventure for Anyone, and if you have a someone special with you, that's perfect.  These schooners are one of the most affordable ways to spend a little time out on the water.  You can take longer tours than three hours, but it will get pricey.

Here it is, the reason that Grenada is an Adventure for Anyone.  No, that's not an actual Beetle.  What that is, is a sculpture in the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park.  It's the only one of it's kind and it's amazing.  This place was created to combat damaged reefs after Hurricanes Ivan and Emily came blasting through the area a few years back.

This park is a growing project with new sculptures being added all the time.  What they do is create reef area for the sea life, and they make a great tourist attraction.  It's about 14 feet deep where you find these statues, so you can dive or snorkel down to see them.  It's a very creative way to enhance the wildlife in the area.  Some places are using wrecked ships, but in Grenada, it's become an art project.  The best part is that if you don't dive or swim, you can come out in a glass bottom kayak and just take a look.  The good folks over at S & S Kayaking will help you do just that.

So, if you want to have some fun, get some sun, and see something really amazing, check out Grenada.  The spice islands have some really great things to see and do.  They also have a sense of responsibility for the nature around them and a genuinely creative way to help the sea life survive.  It does the body good to see artists from all over taking part in such an amazing conservation project.  The fish like it too. So, join in the fun and come and see the world's prettiest underwater conservation project.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

It's Still Cold Here, so Hot Springs!

It's still cold here.  It's supposed to be spring tomorrow, and that's not happening.  Hate that groundhog.  So, in the interest of still getting out, and the need to stay warm, we're looking in on the Pyrenees Mountains in the Catalan Region of Spain, Andorra, and France.  Specifically, we're looking in on France.  The Pyrenees Mountains are some of the most beautiful in the world.  Matisse is only one of the artists that was fascinated with the area.  Now the area is mostly steeped in tourism, and that covers everything from hiking and biking to skiing.  The Catalan Region is famous for it's ski resorts, and they will not disappoint.  There are tons of resorts in the three countries that are open well into the spring.  The elevation in the area makes them late season hot spots, even though the area is in the south of France.

The mountains will keep any artist or photographer busy.  The resorts are great with all kinds of activities and great food.  There are also little towns dotting the landscape, and they all have ancient history for the history buff in your family.  The Romans were there.  Their architecture is all over the place from buildings to water retention systems, to tunnels, to churches.  If you love history, you will love this area.

The village of Dorres sits in one of the many rural areas of the Catalan Park and Pyrenees Mountains.  The village sits on a plateau hundreds of meters above sea level.  It's a great little village with a couple of hotels and bed and breakfasts, and some restaurants.  The Catalan language is spoken here, so if you thought that little bit of French you picked up might help you...don't count on it.  They do speak some French in this area, but overwhelmingly, they speak Catalan.  I remember my first encounter with Spain.  I thought that by picking up some Spanish I would be all right.  Wrong.  There are several languages spoken in Spain.  There are also several spoken in France, especially in the southern regions.  Andorra almost exclusively speaks Catalan.  So, go prepared travelers.  You need to be able to communicate, if you intend to go out to the small rural villages and soak up the culture.  The Catalan region has it's own language, it's own food, it's own traditions, and they are wildly independent of whichever country they actually belong to.  It's like taking a trip to Brighton Beach in New York City.

Getting to towns in this area is a little tricky.  Hence, the Yellow Train.  This train was designed to give travelers a great view whilst getting them to their destination in the area.  Dorres and some other villages are really off the beaten path, and you will have to catch a cab to those towns, but the train really helps.  It's a difficult drive unless you are familiar with the area, and the train and taxi is a great combination to get you where you need to go.

But, why would you want to visit this land of rebels and separatists?  You can see great Roman churches and other architecture all over Europe.  What's the big deal about Dorres, France?  I do like to get out of the rat race.  I do like to find those out of the way places and check them out.  You know how I am.  Off the beaten path, baby.  But seriously, with all the hiking and the skiing and the climbing and the biking; why would I consider this an Adventure for Anyone?

It's the baths.  Bains de Dorres France is the top of the list when it comes to hot springs, or in Europe, baths.  The baths in Dorres are some of the most visited in the world.  They are carved out of the granite that the area is also famous for, and were reportedly carved by Romans.  In early times there were quarries and stone carvers all over the area.  Today, there are museums.  The baths are famous for righting a number of problems like arthritis and other joint and muscle pains.  People have been taking the sulfur baths since at least the Roman times and many thousands of people have claimed that they have been cured by the waters there.  For me, it's just another way to fight the cold.  Even if you like to ski, snow shoe, glacier walk or whatever; you can thoroughly enjoy the baths to warm up after. 

So, call up Air France and get a flight to Nice or somewhere close by.  Make your way to Bourg Madame or some other town on the railroad map.  Catch the Yellow Train and head into the wilds of the Pyrenees.  Enjoy the skiing.  Enjoy the view.  After you've seen all the other views, go to Bains de Dorres and soak in the baths, surrounded by snow, 4800 feet up in the air on the side of a mountain, gazing at the amazing view of the Pyrenees.  It doesn't get much more magnificent than that.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Poor Niagra...That's What Eleanor Roosevelt Said About These Falls

Anyone who has ever met me, hung out with me, been to my house, read my writings, or had any other contact with me, knows that I love waterfalls.  And the fact that I love waterfalls means that I also know a little bit about waterfalls.  I'm what's referred to as a waterfall hunter, and most of the vacations that I have ever taken are because of waterfalls.  But, what does that mean?  That means that while most of us have heard of and seen some gorgeous pictures and footage about certain waterfalls around the globe, you might be surprised to know that you're probably missing it.  Most people know that Yosemite Park has some great waterfalls.  Yellowstone has some goodies too.  Iceland is called the land of waterfalls with Gullfoss and Dettifoss leading the way with the tourists.  Most folks have heard of the tallest waterfall in the world--Angel Falls.  Victoria Falls in Africa is widely known.  Niagra Falls is probably the best known waterfall in the world.  But, which falls is actually visited most?  Welcome to Iguazu Falls.

Iguazu Falls is one of the most unique waterfalls in the world.  It sits on the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay in South America.  There are 275 individual waterfalls flowing into a cataract gorge that in places is roughly 270 feet high.  The gorge full of waterfalls spans roughly 3 km with an overall flow rate of 1000 cubic meters per second.  It's all pretty impressive.  Okay, so you want to see this, but how?

This is not a day trip from anywhere in any of the countries.  Argentina and Brazil share the National Park that encompasses the falls and there is a hotel on each side.  The Tropical das Cataratas Hotel sits on the Brazilian Side and has a view of the falls, although it's not as convenient as the hotel people say.  On the Argentinian side there is a Sheraton.  On the Argentinian side is Iguazu City and the airport.  Fly in folks.  It's around 1000 miles from either Sao Paulo or Buenos Aries.  It's not a small undertaking.  However, it is one of the most popular destinations outside of the beaches in all of South America.

Why is this waterfall so popular?  Well, it's like Niagra.  There are several ways that you can get up close and personal with this falls.  There are walkways at both the top and bottom.  There are trails all around it.  You can flight see over it.  You can take a boat up the gorge into it.  It's warm enough to enjoy, with lots of people wearing their swimsuits around in the warm times.  There are thousands of different angles to view, appreciate and photograph these amazing falls.  Just make sure that whatever camera you bring is good with water.

Most of the activities and most of the best access to the falls is on the Argentinian side.  But, if you decide to stay on the Brazilian side because you like the quiet and the closeness, that's okay too.  You can cross over pretty easy in a place where multiple countries are sharing a national park.  When you cross the border at the falls, the officials pretty much presume that you're doing it to see more of the falls and go shopping at more gift shops.  They really don't mind.  The Argentinian side sports most boats, a train, a rainforest walk, extensive trails, and the walk to Devil's Throat.  One of the things that make this waterfall so popular is the access.  Devil's Throat, also known as Gargantua del Diablo, is the top of the gorge where the falls begin.  The walkway crosses the river right at the top of the falls.  It's a long bridge out to the middle of the river and the viewing platform hangs right over the beginning of the amazing waterfalls.  It's a thrill just to go out there and take a look, so don't miss it.

There are also walkways down in the gorge that are accessible by taking a boat across the river.  There is also a boat trip up into the gorge.  They won't promise to reach the end of the gorge, but they do pretty good at getting you up close and personal with the bottom of the head of the incredible falls.  Once again, this is one of those places where you will want to bring a cover for your camera and should probably have a camera that's good with water.  You can easily ruin a camera trying to take a picture of these falls.  There are a ton of ways to view the falls, for all kinds of people.  Some are work.  Some are fun and easy.  Take your choice of methods.  That's why this is an Adventure for Anyone.

But, the falls is not the only activity in the park.  As I mentioned, there is a train that runs from the Argentinian entrance up to the walkway to Devil's Throat.  It also stops along the way and that's where you can take the rainforest walk.  This is a great place to get in touch with nature.  You will not only see the flora and fauna that the South American Rainforests are famous for, but you will see wildlife.  They have gorgeous parrots and toucans; monkeys and other amazing animals that you don't see every day at home.  It's a lovely walk and a great place to get some shade and dry off after a wild day full of falling water.  The train is an open compartment vessel too, so that you can have a great experience communing with nature.

I can say that you should not plan this as a day trip or as an entire vacation.  It's one of those things that you should set aside two maybe three days to do.  You will have a great experience, and you'll have fun in the town with the locals.  It is out of the way, which I like.  You will want to fly in from one of the major cities in one of the three countries, because you don't want to ride 1000 miles on a bus and you certainly don't want to try and find it in a rental car.  There are domestic airlines that do this trip all the time in all three countries.  It's the best way to go.

My husband says that it's silly to go out to see waterfalls.  He thinks that they're all alike, but millions of tourists would say different and so would I.  Mother Nature is the one who made these amazing wonders of the world, and I'm always in awe of the waterfalls I see.  The size, the power, the beauty, and the danger are an amazing combination that make these sights fascinating.  There are not that many waterfalls that demand our respect and shouldn't be missed.  Iguazu heads that list.  It's one of those places that if you don't see it, you've missed out on one of the most amazing experiences that you ever would have had.  I know, you have a family, a job, a mortgage and whatever.  We should all be adults and be responsible.  Just think about this though; if you never do anything crazy like going 1000 from the major cities of three South American countries to look at a waterfall, then what's the point?  Life is for adventure and that's why I write Adventures for Anyone.  So, throw caution to the wind and go for it.  You only live once.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Vanuatu...The Fascination Started With a Coin

I collect coins, which was a hobby that came along because I travel.  However, sometimes these two hobbies get reversed.  So was the case with Vanuatu.  I was at a flea market and ran into a guy who was selling off his coin collection.  I saw the 50 Vatu coin from Vanuatu and asked him where on Earth that was.  I learned a lot that day.  He told me about this amazing collection of 83 islands in the South Pacific that aren't that far from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and others.  There are about 250,000 inhabitants there, and while thousands live in the capital of Port Vila, there are lots of native tribes living in their native villages as well.  The islands are volcanic, as goes with the rest of the area, and they are spectacularly beautiful as well.  So, why go to the Vanuatu Islands?

Well, Port Vila in particular is full of hotels, resorts, diving schools, golf courses and the like.  It's not a huge place like New York or anything, but it is very civilized.  There are great restaurants, infinity pools, and some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world.

The main market is a great place to meet the locals and buy all the gifts for taking home.  It's also a great place to talk to people and learn about what there is to do in the area.  There are more common style shopping areas where you can get supplies and such.  Now, don't worry.  This isn't a completely primitive area.  They have cell phone service and wi-fi.  This is just like visiting any other island nation that has been overrun by tourists and the money that they add to the local economy.

You can get to Vanuatu in all the usual ways.  They have an interisland boat system to get around.  They offer cruises on cruise lines.  They have their own airline.  There are interisland flights with charters as well.  Even Tanna has an airstrip for the tourists and supply people to land.

The scenery is spectacular in Vanuatu.  There are so many things to do.  I always love the waterfalls, and they are plenty on these islands.  Some of them are a hike, but they are gorgeous and photogenic.  The beaches are pristine and most are not that crowded.  Champagne Beach on Espiritu Santo Island is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  Not kidding; people voted on it.  The scuba diving is amazing here as well.  There are reefs teeming with amazingly beautiful life.  There are also spots where you will see various sharks and some other great creatures.  You can also go wreck diving and see some great stuff.  The waters are warm and the area is volcanic.  It makes for a great place to play in the waterfalls and dive on the wrecks.

But, why go to Vanuatu?  You can play in the ocean and lay on the beach anywhere these days.  Well, the culture is one of the big things that I would call the Adventure for Anyone here.  There are several indigenous tribes living on some 65 of the 83 islands.  In all, 113 languages are actively spoken throughout the archipelago.  There are tours available to go and spend some time with some of the tribes and see their way of life.  I recommend taking a tour or hiring a guide to help with translation.  Now, remember that these tribes are all very different.  You will find that some of them have modernized and carry cell phones, own hotels, and so forth, but others have stuck to tradition and want nothing to do with the ways of the new world.  Most of them do like to meet new people though, and they love to show us their ways of life.

So, part one of the Adventure for Anyone is to go out and meet a tribe.  My favorite is to take the trip to Tanna.  Tanna is one of the smaller islands at the end of the line in Vanuatu, and they are a friendly, happy bunch of folks that strongly stick to their traditions.  However, they are not unwise to the ways of the world.  A few years ago a group of men from Tanna were invited to take part in a documentary series called "Meet The Natives."  The group first appeared on television in the United Kingdom and then on The Travel Channel in the United States.  The group got to do a lot of traveling and saw a lot of different ways of life on their journey.  It was a great show and the men of Tanna are some of the kindest men on Earth.  They wholeheartedly decided to go back to their island after the shows, and have been living a life of quiet happiness and teaching tourists about their lives ever since.  There are some distinctions on Tanna.  They have a unique type of religion, so to speak.  In the 1940's they ran across an American soldier during the war.  The people of Tanna called him Tom Navy, and he told them that they would receive many wonderful things in the near future.  At one point, a bunch of military supplies pretty much fell from the sky, and ever since, Tom Navy has been kind of a God to them.  It's an interesting culture that you won't see anywhere else on Earth.  It's the only place that you will see the American Flag as some kind of an icon in a place of worship.

So, an adventure to Tanna is an amazing way to have an adventure that you won't soon forget, but before you leave the island of Tanna, you should really see the volcano.  Yasur Volcano is one of the most accessible volcanoes in the world.  You can hire a guide to take you right up to the rim and look at the lava as it spurts from the caldera.  I'm not joking.  The locals will also teach you how to surf or snowboard down it.  It depends on how you look at that.  It's a very live volcano, and a very dangerous one.  People have been killed while visiting the volcano.  The natives will tell you that you will be fine if your heart is pure.  This also comes from a tribe that has a dancing man and a happy man.  Those are careers on Tanna.  So, the Adventures for Anyone here are visiting the tribes and getting a really close up look at a volcano.  There are many wonderful things to do in Vanuatu.  It's not cheap, but it's worth it.  So, take some time and get to know the people of Vanuatu.  If you don't leave Port Vila, you've missed it.  Take the time, take a guide, go to Tanna and have a really great Adventure for Anyone.