Thursday, October 29, 2009
I'd like to share with you some of the many curiosities I found, including a museum exhibit of caskets and tombstones reserved for prize-winning crickets (from the heyday of betting on cricket fighting); a hilltop summit that's home to a centuries-old fort, chapel and lighthouse (the oldest on the China coast); and a jogging path where quite a few of the locals jog on a sweltering day barefoot. Listen to this radio interview and you'll see why I fell in love with Macau, a place that has something for everyone, including those gastronomes or oenophiles in your group.
You can listen to my interview on Macau by clicking on the audio player below:
Friday, October 23, 2009
Emily S. Gerson wanted to know what I love about Portugal and how I'd advise others to enjoy one of my favorite countries. Her interview with me appears on her blog Maiden Voyage. There are plenty of tips that can help you plan your itinerary along with hidden treasures galore. Whether you're an oenophile or a gastronome, someone who enjoys hiking in leafy forests or delights in a sense of history, you'll find it in Portugal.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
1. Most visitors would probably choose a hotel or inn beside a golden sand beach. Instead, my base was an inn that sat atop a high hill and required driving along narrow winding roads that climbed steeply up the hillside. But it was all worth it. Staying at Jamaica Heights Resort is like bedding down in a botanical garden. The property is littered with red ginger, bougainvillea, wild orchids and hundreds of other botanical delights. It's a low-key, economical establishment where we had panoramic views of the mists coating the tall Blue Mountains. One of the cottages was my favorite: it's got expansive views on all sides so that you look out over Port Antonio right from your bed.
2. We boarded a small boat for nearby Navy Island -- it's officially closed to the public but that didn't stop us -- that was once owned by actor Erroll Flynn who entertained many a celeb guest here. On this little leafy hideaway with the faded ruins of his mansion, we walked through shallow waters from a protected harborside beach where there was some good swimming, to oceanside white sands that were backed with mangrove trees. We had the place to ourselves until a few snorkelers showed up.
3. I'm always up for walking and hiking and found the Swift River Valley provided a perfect venue for scenic treks. Here I found the land thick with cocoa, coffee, grapefruit and guava trees. Walking through the eponymous hamlet beside the trailhead, we spotted freshly-caught crayfish for sale. Further along, locals were fishing for mullet and trout in the adjacent river.
4. Everywhere we ventured in Port Antonio we marveled at the different hued waters. In the case of the Blue Lagoon of Brooke Shields fame, we found jade-colored deep waters. This couldn't be a more perfect place for a placid swim in a amphitheater lush with palms, almond trees and ferns.
5. One of our best lunches was at Winnifred Beach, a swath of sand where shacks sold chicken feet and boiled corn and an old Rastafarian practiced his yoga postures. My fave restaurant was plenty informal. Owned by Cynthia and Painter, this eatery served up large portions of freshly-caught snapper and lobster along with pumpkin and plantains.
6. Another culinary find is Dawn's Bar, a roadside stand in the seaside village of Manchioneal. Their seafood can't be beat -- we ordered the conch soup with crayfish and sweet roasted doctor fish stuffed with okra.
7. You can't leave Port Antonio without walking, hiking and taking a dip at Reach Falls. There are plenty of pools to take a dip. Along the way, we walked barefoot in the shallow river and along the parallel trail half a mile upstream, passing mini-waterfalls and plenty of foliage, including heliconia, and ferns.
8. Another activity that is synonymous with Port Antonio is a river rafting trip down the Rio Grande River. This was no ordinary raft, however. We sat in a 30-foot-long bamboo raft piloted by Captain Bell, a river veteran who once took Errol Flynn's guests rafting. For seven miles, we cruised through a serene landscape with great blue herons, vine-covered trees, shore-side boulders and towering cliffs.
Monday, October 12, 2009
And, surprisingly, even savvy travelers don't associate Israel with mountain biking, hiking, skiing and scuba diving. Listen to my take on the subject and I'm sure you'll come away with an entirely new view of this country.
You can listen to my interview on Israel by clicking on the audio player below:
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
The old colonial town of Guanajuato, Mexico is one unique city, that's for sure. And for someone like myself who has what I terma geographic dyslexia -- no matter where I travel, once I leave my hotel, I'm always a bit lost even when carrying an array of maps -- this town with its narrow cobbled lanes and alleyways that twist and turn in myriad ways presented a challenge. But that's fine, because Guanajuato has plenty of charm and surprises to boot.
Probably the biggest surprise was the Museo de Los Momias or Mummy Museum. It seems the minerals in the soil and the inherent dry air helped preserve the dead. But these more than 100 mummies that are on full display within glass cases are not all neatly wrapped as you might expect from ancient mummies you've heard about in Egypt. No, these leather-skinned mummies are sometimes naked, sometimes in their now-tattered funeral clothing displaying smiling, somewhat placid or gruesome facial expressions. As someone who gets frightened in Friday the 13th or other horror movies, the exhibit had a high freak factor for me. But that doesn't stop many local parents from bringing their kids who don't seem to have a problem with the displays of mummies of all ages and in all degrees of decomposition. Nonetheless, it was definitely worth the visit, more because how often do you see this sort of display. Plus, you can walk away with a mummy t-shirt or a piece of mummy candy sold outside. It's a great conversation starter.
The museum is just outside this vibrant university town which couldn't be more atmospheric. Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a maze of streets lined with dwellings that bear carved wooden doors, handpainted tile walls and wrought iron balconies. Soft pastel- and hot pink-painted houses hug the hillsides in this town that's nestled in a rugged river gorge. No wonder there are so many steep streets, some bearing staircases.
During the day, Guanajuato warrants strolling and relaxing. And my favorite stop was the Jardin de la Union, a tree-shaded plaza surrounded by flowers in the heart of the city that's perfect for people watching, dining in one of the outdoor cafes, listening to a mariachi-type band or sipping a glass of wine.
Another favorite activity of mine was wandering the steep path to the Pipila monument high above the town. At this hillside plaza, I had panoramic views of the boldly-painted houses that dot the terraced hillside as well as views of the rugged Sierra Madre mountains.
With all the miniscule streets, it's only natural that the town boasts an interesting legend behind the Alley of the Kiss, a mere two-foot-wide alley. It's said that two lovers who lived across the alley but were forbidden to meet were able to kiss from their respective houses.
I wish I were in Guanajuato over the next couple of weeks when the town plays host to the Cervantino, a festival of art, dance, music, theater, and other performances. It's held every October and this year it focuses in on the 400th anniversary of Galileo.
But of everything I experienced in Guanajuato, my most memorable was staying at La Casa de Los Espiritus Alegras where the Mexican Day of the Dead tradition is alive and well and fun. Everywhere I looked I found something unexpected: hand towels wrapped with a cord decorated with hand-painted skulls, a dresser topped with a ceramic red devil and a sax-playing skeleton hanging above the kitchen stove. This inn is like a museum, thanks to the folk art and other crafts that the owners collected both from every state in Mexico, as well as their journeys to India. For example, the Raj Majal suite with its antiques and embroideries transports guests to India, while Nagual is decorated with animal mask -- appropriate given that the room takes its name from the word for the animal spirit that inhabits all of us.