Monday, March 31, 2014

Discovering Art In Tobago

Snorkeling, fishing and diving are some of the favored activities in Tobago. But I went for the art. Yes, you heard me correctly. High above ever popular Mt. Irvine Beach, The Castle, as it's known, aka the Kimme Sculpture Museum, is a treasure trove of works by German-born Luise Kimme, a highly prolific and abundantly passionate sculptor and painter who died last year at the age of 74.

I prowled the galleries and nooks and crannies of the multi-story whitewashed mansion that served as her house, atelier and museum, admiring the multitude of her creations. The life-size or larger pieces carved from masses oak, cedar, mahogany and other trees -- in her 70s, she was still able to heft a chain saw -- embody so much of energy that if you stare long enough at any of 'em, you might believe they could actually become animated.

Kimme took inspiration from Tobagonian culture as well as that of Cuba -- a country she frequently visited -- and Africa, portraying Cuban musicians, Harlem Renaissance dancers as well as pieces reflecting native African religious (Orisha) art. Working in a multitude of media, including charcoal, oils, watercolors, and even embroidery, she was particularly inspired by folk themes as well as mythology.

The house is itself a work of art with cobalt blue bird sculptures perched on the roof, a mermaid lounging beside the pool, murals on the front facade, and fretwork all about. Curiously, I spent an hour on the property and didn't run into another visitor until I was about to leave. And I was told that locals rarely, if ever, visit the museum.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

It's All About Nature in the Dominican Republic

Floating in a calm waters, the color of a turquoise gem stone, waters that are huddled by a jungle of foliage, it's easy to forget that you are just minutes from your air-conditioned hotel room. The Reserva Ecologica Ojos Indigenas (Indigenous Eyes Ecological Reserve) is the only private forest reserve in Punta Cana and it sits smack on the property of the Puntacana Resort and Club in the Dominican Republic. Tasked with protecting the area's natural resources, the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation seeks to conserve the region's biodiversity by preserving this park.

Hundreds of different plants, including mahogany, mesquite, red mangrove as well as feather, coconut and sabal palms make up the dense foliage of this reserve that's home to numerous bird species found only in the Dominican Republic.While you're enjoying the refreshing pools, you'll spot tilapia and other freshwater fish as well as mud turtles.

On the 1,200 protected acres, 12 fresh-water lagoons are fed from the underground Yauya River that flows into the sea. Most of the lagoons bear names, such as Inriri, Corcote, Buren and Guacara that reflect words from the Tainos Indians, the island's first inhabitants who were wiped out because of European colonization. (The Tainos would refer to these pools as ojos or eyes because of their shape.) Each lagoon has a different depth and color but only three of the dozen lagoons are regularly open for swimming plus one additional that rotates. Yauya is shallow, a mere three-feet deep, with a wide wooden deck where benches are inset. At Casinbajagua, you can leave your gear on two wooden planks and climb down a ladder into the cool lagoon.

As I walked a shaded ribbon of a path lined with limestone rocks that links the lagoons, I heard shouts of glee in the distance. These were coming from Guama, a lagoon that you can dive into. Here I found a family from Germany with their three teenagers. The teens were diving in over and over again while the parents took the more tame route by climbing down into the water.

It's easy to spend hours in this reserve, bird watching, lounging, swimming, exploring the plant life. And, when you decide you've had your fill of the sub-tropical paradise, you can head back to the trail head, and wait for the shuttle bus to take you back to your air conditioned room. And, if you can't get enough of this little Eden, you can always return tomorrow.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Protecting The Peruvian Amazon

The only thing coming between the mahogany and cedar trees and other bountiful natural resources in the Amazon and the devious poachers who are anxious to pillage them is a man in a boat. Well, actually a few men, each in a canoe.

The Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon is a wealth of plant and animal species. And, a small cadre of rangers in canoes is tasked with protecting this more than five million-acre expanse bordered by the Marañon River and the Puinahua Channel that branches off the Ucayali River.

Some of the creatures are quite unusual, including the 100-some-pound capybara, the world's largest rodent, the walking catfish that can breath air for up to 24 hours, are quite unusual, and the pink dolphins which are believed to bear this hue because of blood vessels that are close to the surface of the skin.

Find out more about the treasures these rangers are protecting in the article I just wrote for National Geographic Travel Intelligent Travel.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Safety and Security During Spring Break

I was born a geek. When I was 14, I was reading the American Journal of Cardiology and teaching myself how to read ECGs. Yes, geek, for sure. So, when I went on spring break, I was my usual overly cautious self, to the dismay of my peers who, of course, threw caution to the wind.

We're now in the spring break season which often means accidents, injuries, illnesses and overall risky behavior. There's the binge drinking, all night partying, sizzling on the sand sans sunscreen, chowing down on fatty foods, forgoing condoms, operating motor vehicles in a less than optimal mental state. The list goes on.

I could give you a list of all the do's and don'ts to assure that you come back in one piece. But instead I'll simply suggest bringing two simple, inexpensive products with you. One I produce and another is an app that I highly recommend.

LifeLine Response is a personal security app that I reviewed on my blog. This is a must for anyone traveling in North America. You never know when you'll find yourself in a dangerous situation, such as on the beach at night, outside a club, on campus, or in a hotel.

Then there's my travel first-aid kit organizer, Doc-in-a-Bag, that provides the most complete list of everything you need to pack to keep you healthy during spring break. It tells you exactly what sunscreen gives you the most protection, what items every woman should carry, and what prescription meds you should ask your doctor to give you before you leave on your trip.

Here's what some people are saying about Doc-in-a-Bag:

Dominick Gervasi of Made in Brooklyn Tours:

"I've been to many countries myself and with each trip, carry less and less. It's paramount to be prepared with the essentials. Doc-in-a-Bag is a fun, practical and nifty way to organize what's important. The series of durable zip-lock clear pouches are labeled with images that obviously reflect what's inside. I plan to use this organizing tool for my trip to Colombia. No doubt, Doc-in-a-Bag will give me some good orderly direction."

You can read a longer review from Dom here:

Jeff Titelius of EuroTravelogue:

"What a convenient solution to a problem we all suffer through when traveling. How do we keep all the meds, vitamins, bandaids, etc. organized? These little packs are fun way to maintain order with all those countless little bottles that always seem to end up where they shouldn't be in our travel bags. Thank you Doc In A Bag!!"

Meryl Perlstein of MDP Publicity. Here she review my kit for her site, Travel and Food Notes

"As I pack for my next out-of-the-country trip, I find myself spending considerable time trying to anticipate every medical item I would need should I be stuck on a desert island with no access to doctors, food, or a phone. I just discovered something that can help make your travels easier..."

Read the rest of Meryl's review here:

Vera Marie Badertscher of A Traveler's Library selected Doc-in-a-Bag as one of her 10 perfect gifts for travelers. Find out what she said about it here:
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Monday, February 24, 2014

Nature-Centered Girlfriend Getaways Near New York City

As a woman, maintaining a tight bond with my girlfriends is a priority. But, sometimes our everyday lives are so frenzied with the needs of kids, partners,and colleagues that email, texting and video chats have taken the place of face-to-face sharing. Instead of attempting to schedule and reschedule Sunday brunch with your best friends only to find that electronic devices are still too tempting a distraction, why not plan a girlfriend getaway oh-so-close to New York City?
No, this isn't all about endless shopping sprees or consuming large quantities of alcohol. Sure, you'll be putting your usual responsibilities on the back burner, but you'll be focusing on activities that will nurture your body, mind and spirit. To me that means sipping fine wines, sampling exquisite cuisine, relishing a therapeutic massage and, tree hugger that I am, embracing nature-focused activities.

My favorite spots in the Northeast that are ideal for a girlfriend getaway include St. Michaels, RI, Litchfield Hills, CT, Finger Lakes Region, NY, New Hope, PA and Newport, RI. The farthest away is the Finger Lakes Region, the closest is New Hope. But each offers abundant opportunities to reconnect with the women that brighten your life.

I recently wrote an article on girlfriend getaways for offMetro, the online travel guide for native New Yorkers or visitors to the Big Apple alike.
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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Solo Travel Safety Tips + Much More

I'm a slim packer. Whether I'm traveling for eight weeks or eight days, I only carry a backpack and a fanny pack that doubles as a shoulder bag. In order to do this efficiently, there are certain items I bring on every trip, such as a large, cashmere pashmina that serves several functions, including as a blanket on the or, when rolled up, as a lumbar support on the plane.

These are some of the many things you'll learn from an interview I just did with Flavours Holidays, a cool travel agency specializing in cooking, painting, and Pilates vacations in Italy.

You'll learn about some of my personal security tips when I'm traveling alone. For example,  if you ever carry a pursse, never ever hang it over your chair in a bar or restaurant or even place it between your feet on the floor. Find out the security situation of your destination neighborhood by speaking with women business owners in the area.

And, then there's one of my most memorable experiences: a fun, informative and exciting trip down the Amazon with International Expeditions where I met the best naturalist guide ever. You'll find out about what makes him so stellar in this interview, as well as much more information on how I plan my trips, and the circuitous course I took to becoming a travel writer.
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Friday, February 14, 2014

A Scenic Spiritual Retreat In Maine

My travels aren't always filled with joy. When a good friend and colleague recently and suddenly passed away, I needed time to grieve and reflect in a natural setting, which, for me, is the most therapeutic. Luckily, I found the Marie Joseph Spiritual Center in Biddeford Pool along Maine's south coast.

Though the seaside location fronting a long stretch of sugary sand couldn't be beat, this property is solely for those who desire a spiritually-focused time for reflection.

The behemoth castle-resembling building dates from the 1890s when it was a major hotel resort that later fell on tough times, transforming first into a girls boarding school in 1948, and much later, in the 1970s, into an adult learning center, a nursing school and finally into this spiritual center run by the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary. But men and women of all faiths are welcome at this peaceful oasis.

I spent my time taking long, contemplative beach walks, jogging a short loop to East Point and back, bird watching, meditating while gazing at one of two ponds, and mindfully eating simple but flavorful meals, often outside at one of several picnic tables set beside shade trees. (When there is a silent retreat going on at this spiritual center, then no talking is allowed at designated meal times, which is why I chose to eat outside.) There are no embellishments here, but none are needed. My room was spare but comfy with bathrooms down the hall. But, then, I spent little time in my room because I enjoyed the comfort of nature.

And, for those who do prefer to reflect in a more formal way, you can attend morning or evening prayers in the chapel as well as mass and also the afternoon rosary.
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Friday, February 7, 2014

Gear Review: Studded Snow Tires For Your Feet - Winter Footwear

Another week, another ice storm. That's what New Yorkers, like myself, have faced since Christmas. But this week is different. No, the streets are not ice free. In fact, they're slicker than ever, thanks to a recent snowstorm that dumped five-plus inches, followed by rain, followed by sub-freezing temperatures. No, this week is different because I feel like shouting "Houston, We have traction," in the fashion of a successful NASA mission. You're probably wondering if all this snow has frozen my brain. My glee comes from a product I decided to review that, as they say, puts "studded snow tires" on my feet! Welcome to the world of the STABILicers Lite Walker by 32North.

These are made of ultra light rubber with steel cleats. The boots I tend to wear all winter are North Face and, though they are comfy and warm no matter how low the mercury drops, the sole doesn't grip packed snow or ice. In fact, I feel like I've been wearing ice skates this winter.

With friends and colleagues falling in the middle of busy streets and on ice-coated sidewalks, I jumped at the opportunity to test this product this week when the sidewalks were the iciest. And that's why I've been declaring "We've got traction."

It takes seconds to pull the cleats on over the sole of my boots (or shoes) and seconds to remove them, roll them up and tuck them in my bag.  In fact, they're so light, I forgot they were in my bag. While wearing them -- and they come in five different colors -- I walked confidently at my usual brisk pace over hard-packed snow and ice while those around me, of course, fell. No problem wearing them on asphalt or dirt, either. The big problem, though, is that you can't walk across any polished surface, like tile or marble. The cardboard insert did mention this, but I somehow didn't read it and accidentally walked across a sidewalk surface that was polished. Bad news. Very slippery. But that's the only caveat with this product that I intend to carry with me until spring. Ice storm in spring? I sure hope not.
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Sunday, January 26, 2014

St. John - A Hiker's Paradise In The Caribbean

The Caribbean often attracts those who simply desire to sun on long swaths of golden sand. I go to hike. And that's what made a trip to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands so perfect. Two-thirds of the island is a national park, cut with 21 trails where you can take a short walk or a two-hour hike. Even in high season,  you’ll run into only a couple of other hikers on the trail, especially those that are more strenuous.   

Unlike other Caribbean islands, such as Dominica and Grenada, where you have to negotiate tortuously slick, red mud trails through the rain forest, or step carefully around boiling pits,  St. John is graced with dry, safe and, often, short treks. 

To access some trails you don't even need a car; the Lind Point and the Caneel Hill trails are just outside of downtown Cruz Bay.  If you only have time for a short hike, the Cinnamon Bay Nature trail only takes 15 minutes. This trail heads through a moist, shady forest where you’ll see golden orb spiders and zebra butterflies. 

The National Park Service leads hikes on the Reef Bay trail which is chock full of history. Considered St. John's most popular trail, Reef Bay passes old sugar estates and petroglyphs. The bonus is a botany lesson where you'll learn about bay rum trees whose leaves were made into cologne, kapok tree seed pods whose cotton-like fiber were stuffed into mattresses, and locust tree wood that was part of the shipbuilding process.

For a more strenuous hike, the Bordeaux Mountain trail takes you to the highest point on the island and drops to Little Lameshur Beach.  If you tire of lying on the beach, the Ram Head trail starts at the blue cobblestone Salt Pond Bay Beach and then climbs past roly-poly cactus that dot the sides of the path. On this windy path, you'll find goats and burros wandering in the meadows, the oldest rocks on the island, from 90 million years ago, and crevasses where you can peer down to tumultuous waves.
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