Veracruz Adventure Challenge

November 8, 1998 9:27 pm

By Katharine Fletcher; Images Eric Fletcher

Would we be fit enough for our “adventure challenge”?

It was our sole concern as we flew to Mexico in the American Airlines plane out of Toronto.

We’d signed up for what was billed as an exhilarating 15-day Veracruz Adventure Challenge with Esprit Rafting of Davidson, Quebec. The package includes rafting the rapid-filled Barrancagrande River in the Sierre Madre Mountains, horseback riding, mountain hiking, and hiking through remote and lofty villages.

We soon found we were suitably fit. The trip was an excellent balance of physically demanding activities along with “free time” for cultural exploration of museums and galleries in Mexico City and Jalapas. And you can possibly imagine the flamboyant gaiety of the Mardi Gras celebrations we found in the port city of Veracruz!

Upon our arrival in Mexico City, Jim Coffey, owner of Esprit Rafting, personally greeted us and whisked us off to our hotel by taxi. Attentive and extremely well organized, Jim is no “hands-off” operator. Au contraire, he is always ready to answer even your most detailed questions.

The first night, Jim dined with us at one of his favourite restaurants, La Opera Bar. Mexican hero Pancho Villa once disliked the service here so much that he unloaded his pistol into its walls and ceilings! Or, so the story goes… These days the service is just fine!

Mexico’s like that full of colourful legends. And so, inspired by tales and the banter of our guides, we traveled in Esprit’s bus to its Mexican “headquarters,” the village of Jacamulco. The congested streets of the city slipped away to reveal the source of the river we’d be rafting on: the snow-capped peak of Mount Orizaba. As Jim drove – yes, all guides take their turn – we were regaled by his personal insights into the culture we would soon experience.

“We’ll be hiking through the most amazing villages,” he enthused. But he reflected, too, on the rapid changes even the remote villagers are now embracing, such as television. “Villages that had no electricity now have it. They don’t want to live in the nostalgia I like to see.”

We empathized with Jim’s nostalgia, hoping that we would still be able to see some of “the old Mexico.”

We need not have worried. Jacamulco was electrified, but its residents are genuine, and amazingly friendly. Even though we couldn’t speak much Spanish, Eric and I were often welcomed into people’s homes: they’d simply beckon us in.

One night, as a part of their Mardi Gras celebrations, the townsfolk dressed up in costume and thronged the streets in a village-wide party! We joined the swarm of dancing villagers on the cobbled lanes. The Grim Reaper darted here and there, touching people’s shoulders with his scythe. Kids squealed in mock fear, parents smiled indulgently: mirth and merriment were everywhere in evidence, despite the ambience of muerte!

It was hard to leave the throng, but we returned to eat and sleep at Expediciones Tropicales, the Mexican partner of Esprit Rafting. It offers hostel-like accommodations and scrumptious, plentiful quantities of food. Naturally, there’s cool “cervesa” (beer) to be enjoyed, too, as well as exciting videos of Esprit Rafting’s various conquests of rapids all over the world.

The physical exertions started the following day. Our destination was a rare Cloud Forest at a ranch called Las Cañadas (The Little Gorges), where we rode horses, hiked and camped for two days. Vegetarian owner Rocardo Romero created a sensation when he turned his father’s beef ranch into an organic farm. His organic produce, including milk, cheese and butter from Jersey cows, is winning the respect of neighbouring campasinos, or farmers, who are starting to realize that Ricardo is on to something economically and environmentally sustainable.

It’s intriguing to witness the ripple effect of ecotourism. As we rode out of Las Cañadas through a nearby village, Eric asked why the schoolchildren were pointing at his horse.

“Oh, they’ve just recognized yours! It belongs to one of their fathers,” laughed Ricardo. The mounts we rode did not belong to Ricardo but were rented from local campasinos. Suddenly, the kids were aware that their fathers’ horses were useful to these strange foreigners who want to explore their world.

Everywhere we rode, rafted, hiked or hiked, we found lots to discover and we realized that locals were equally as intrigued by us as we were by them. In our self-baling rafts, we bobbed through thousand-foot canyons with walls that were undercut by swirling currents. We heard jungle birds call, and surprised donkeys as we rounded a bend in the river. Campasinos paused from their labours, machetes in hand, to wane as we white-skinned, be-hatted rafters coursed past.

“Hola!” we shouted, smiling and waving in response to their greeting.

How I loved these days on the river. At night, tucked into our tents, we fell asleep under the canopy of stars. Always, always we were awakened by a cacophony of noise which started at 3:50 a.m. most mornings. Yes, braving donkeys, cock-a-doodle-doos of roosters and the chimes of morning mass conspired to raise us from our slumber!

It was difficult to say goodbye to Jacamuko but the day came for us to peddle to the coast. Eric and some others cycled the entire 50 kilometres to Chachalacas Beach, north of Veracruz. I only rode for an hour or so before boarding Esprit’s van to the coast, where beaches, waves and peaceful fishermen welcomed me.

Esprit’s logistical infrastructure is excellent. If you don’t want to participate in a scheduled activity, you can simply tell one of the guides and ride the bus or van that transports Esprit’s tents, food and gear from one night’s stop to the next.

Veracruz itself was delightful. So much colour, great music and, to top it all off, we stayed at the El Mocambo Hotel – the very first beach resort in the area, built in the 1930s. It has all the Spanish Colonial grace you could ask for, with a wonderful pool and good food. A great spot to end up after all our physical challenges.

We love Mexico: this was our fourth visit and it won’t be our last. We were never sick, we ate well, explored new terrain, and can strongly recommend that you investigate Esprit’s many inspiring adventure vacation packages. Jim is always expanding his horizons: he also offers trips to India… Guess where we want to go next?

Hidden Surprises in Gatineau Park

September 8, 1998 9:24 pm

By Katharine Fletcher; Images Eric Fletcher

“I hereby bequeath to the Government of Canada as a public park in trust for the citizens of Canada… my several properties at Kingsmere, in the Province of Quebec, amounting in all to nearly Five Hundred (500) acres, and the houses and other buildings erected thereon.”

So wrote former Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in his will of 1950.

It is largely because of his passionate love of the land, coupled with his personal vision, that we can enjoy Gatineau Park today. Just 20 minutes north of the spires of Parliament Hill, the park’s 125-kilometre network of woodland trails transports picnickers, hikers and mountain bikers from the concrete jungle to a green, restorative environment. King recognized the tremendous value of parks: we can be glad that he did, and that he championed Gatineau Park’s creation.

Not only does the park offer trails and historical sites to explore. There are refreshing lakes and beaches that give everyone a break from summer’s oppressive humidity. Whether it’s overnight camping at Taylor Lake campgrounds near Lac Philippe or a beachside afternoon at Meech Lake, there’s a patch of sand “with your name on it” up in the hills.

But you mustn’t think you’ll be sharing your lakeside view with a crowd! Before you go, check out a map of the park. At the Visitor’s Centre on Metcaife Street opposite Parliament
Hill, or at the Old Chelsea park information centre, you can get a map and eight new park trail brochures. Take the time to discover what’s beyond familiar Parkway destinations like the Champlain Lookout. If you want a vigorous hike and a grand view to reward your effort, ask about the Wolf Trail and remember: after you hike, you can enjoy a dip in Meech Lake! Sounds good, doesn’t it?

One spot that is a “must-see” are King’s twin properties of Kingswood Cottage, which he built in 1903, and Moorside with its delightful grounds. If you haven’t been there for a few years, check it out… and don’t forget to take your summer guests along, for it’s a little gem of history tucked away in the Canadian woods!

The National Capital Commission (NCC), which manages Gatineau Park, has beautifully interpreted both sites. At Kingswood, a video of King’s life and times provides context to his impact on the area. The cottage is a museum, which looks as it did when King enjoyed it as his personal retreat from the pressing urgency of politics.

If Kingswood was a refuge, Moorside – his larger property across the road – allowed King to experiment with creating an English country estate in Quebec’s Gatineau Hills. He revelled in the role of a country squire, building stone walls, erecting his astonishing collection of ruins, creating footpaths through the woods and designing flower gardens.

Although there is a pleasant tearoom at Moorside, you might choose to go on a woodland walk and picnic. Pack a daypack, find the Abbey ruins, and then descend the short, steep hill to the Waterfall Trail. King cleared this broad path which now passes beneath the Champlain Parkway to end at a little cascade which he named Bridal Veil Falls. Just before it, you’ll come to a fork in the trail heading right, towards Larriault picnic grounds. It’s a gentle woodsy walk that gives good views of the flat Ottawa Valley plain, which extends as far as you can see in all directions.

There’s another parking lot at Larriault, as well as picnic tables. If you want to complete a leisurely circuit, walk back to Moorside, cross the Champlain Parkway at Larriault to enter Mulvihill Lake’s picnic area.

We’ll tell you a secret! The NCC has created a pleasant, wheelchair-accessible dock on this man-made lake. Paved trails that are perfect for tiny tots and folks with walkers or wheelchairs make the short, gentle descent to the lake manageable. The sturdy dock with solid railings and benches extends into the lake to allow everyone to enjoy the air. To return to Moorside, find the sign pointing to the estate at the foot of the lake.

The entire circuit can be walked in less than an hour, but our bet is that you’ll want to make it a more leisurely excursion. Because Moorside, Larriault and Mulvihill all have their own parking lots, you can fashion your own “custom circuit.”

But don’t think that the Mackenzie King Estates are all there is to do in Gatineau Park!

A quick glance at a map reveals a park full of lakes and intriguing-sounding trails: Wolf, Nature, King Mountain and Discovery trails are only a few of the best. Three lakes: Meech, Mousseau (Harrington) and Philippe are accessible by hiking trails from O’Brien Beach, Just beyond Old Chelsea on the Meech Lake Road, and Lac Lapeche, the largest of the lakes, is only a 90-minute drive from Ottawa.

Also enquire about canoeing, mountain hiking, booking campsites, or about interpreted walks that might be offered at the campgrounds in the summertime.

This year, make getting to know Gatineau Park a personal goal. Hey, you’ll have fun in the sun, get some fresh air and get fit, all at once. What a great deal!

Trekking: Travel Tips for a Honeymoon in South East Asia

June 8, 1998 9:21 pm

Rob and Annie Cornforth recently returned from an eight-month honeymoon in South East Asia.

Ottawa Life has followed their travels since September 1997. Now the globetrotters are back, telling us about their experiences and how it feels to be back home. (Look for Rob and Annie on Parliament Hill as Captain Seymour Canada and Missus Canada, selling Cuddle Canada pillows to finance their next big trip.)

Just before leaving, we were filled with intense optimism and raw fear. Our fear vanished shortly after our arrival in Denpasar, Bali, in September 1997. The initial culture shock was one of the more exciting moments of our trip.

Eventually, all the dreams we had for our extended honeymoon would be realized. We found adventure, reinforced our love and grew spiritually. Today, we know that we made the right decision by following our dreams.

Did we ever get bored in our travels? Sometimes, but the trip changed our lives forever. We’re different people now. We look the same but our friends say we’ve changed in some hard-to-define way.

We’re grateful to have had the opportunity to share our adventures with you. We hope we have encouraged others out there to follow their dreams.

What you should pack for such a trip:
one camera; one pair of waterproof sandals; one pair of hiking boots; two pairs of socks; Lycra thermal underwear (shirt and pants); one pair of quick-dry pants with zippers so that they can be turned into shorts; two dirt-tone T-shirts; raincoat; Ziploc freezer bags for passports and photocopies of important documents; first aid/toiletry kits; two books (fiction and non-fiction) for those occasional boring moments; Lonely Planet guidebook; waterproof money belt; Leatherman knife; a durable hat.

Closest call:
Being locked in a van and almost being robbed, abducted, and/or beaten in Solo, Indonesia.

Dreams come true:
Riding an elephant, climbing a volcano; jungle trekking; sex on a South East Asian beach, learning yoga.

Best deals:
Accommodation and meals for $1.30 in Nong Khiaw, Laos; acoustic guitar purchased for $25 in Solo, Indonesia; ceremonial mask bought in Bangkok for S15, retails for US$90 on Melrose Avenue in El Ay.

Favourite dishes:
Pad Thai; papaya salad; green curry and rice; sticky rice; fresh tropical fruit.

Rob lost 30 pounds and Annie lost 15 pounds after a seven-month vegetarian diet and constant exertion.

Get to the Point: Yellow Point Lodge

9:04 pm

By Katharine Fletcher; Images Eric Fletcher

World War II POW Gerry Hill sustained his life during his internment by honing a cherished dream. He resolved to build a resort when he regained his freedom. There, he envisioned, visitors would relax and enjoy British Columbian nature at its best.

He realized his goal. While touring Vancouver Island’s east coast, he discovered 180 acres, complete with a mile and a half of . Today, the magic he saw remains: fragrant wildflowers and grasses still blow in the breeze off the ocean. Cedar and arbutus woods frame the beach meadows, beckoning you to linger in their shade, to explore their mysteries. Yellow Point is a mere two-hour drive north of Victoria and overlooks the spectacular inner channel to the coastal mountains of BC.

Amid this glory, old Gerry built Yellow Point Lodge right on the granite rocks. Built from cedar, the lodge welcomed its first guests in 1936.

From the start, Gerry created a getaway from the stresses of life. A lingering place fit for honeymoons and anniversaries, for lovers and comfortable friends. Time has proven his astuteness, for Yellow Point Lodge snuggles into your soul and won’t let you go.

So popular is it that many times of the year – including the summer solstice are booked by returning groups of friends who celebrate the seasons of their lives here.

Amazing views to relax the soul.

In 1985, in Gerry’s 90th year, the lodge burned to the ground. Amazingly, Friends of Yellow Point was struck and, like the proverbial Phoenix, a new, generously gabled cedar lodge rose from the ashes. Today it is operated by Gerry’s son Richard and daughter-in-law Sandi.

But what is it that makes people return, year after year? What magnetic power does the Point possess?

Perhaps it’s the towering stone fireplace encircled by overstuffed sofas. Or the beach barbecues where seafood and corn on the cob are served on picnic tables, allowing strangers and good friends to mingle.

Possibly it’s the rhythms of Nature, the endless roll of the waves on the beach. In winter, orcas and sea lions swim in the bay. In summer, deep in the forest, you might catch a glimpse of a deer, hear the melodious call of the wren, or spy a hummingbird hovering in a shaft of sunlight. Whatever it is, the spell is cast.

If you are like us, you cherish balancing relaxation with physical activities. The lodge offers swimming, tennis or mountain hiking, sea kayaking or canoeing-each included in the price of your stay. Ask the lodge to make you a picnic lunch, then off you’ll go, free and easy. We particularly enjoy such days, when we feel sure that just this once we can thwart Time. It is impossible to say how many hours we’ve spent, stretched flat on the rocks, gazing into the busy life-in-miniature captured in a tidal pool. It’s a glimpse of childhood’s carefree ways.

Yes, there are many reasons to ‘get to the Point.’ Some are drawn by the few remaining, primitive cabins that Gerry built, cast like pebbles on the beach. Impossibly close to the ocean for today’s environmental code, they hark back to less regulated times. These are our personal favourites. At night, you could swear you’ll be transported away, like a Jane Urquhart hero, upon the ocean’s waves, which wash close to the door. However, morning discovers you snug in your bed, stretching with the salty air and ready for beachcombing.

A rustic cabin is the perfect place to relax.

If you prefer the comforts of fully outfitted cottages (beach cabin guests share showers and toilets), there are cottages in the woods, meadows and others perched atop rocky cliffs with grand ocean views. As well, nine rooms in the lodge, offer something for most tastes.

But not for all. Yellow Point makes no pretense to be everyone’s cup of tea. For us, it is the lodge’s quietude and its lingering atmosphere of tranquility that urge us to return. And we enjoy mealtimes where guests sit together at tables set for eight or ten. But if you want the bright lights, a casino or extreme adventure vacations, save it for another time. You can be sure Yellow Point Lodge will be there, firmly affixed on its rock, waiting for you.

Cushing Lodge Nature Retreat

May 8, 1998 9:03 pm

By Katharine Fletcher

There’s a hot tub with your name on it overlooking a private lake an hour’s drive from Ottawa.

Just imagine how relaxed you’ll feel, toasty warm, luxuriating in the tub with the canopy of stars twinkling in the heavens above. Can you identify the constellations Orion and Big Dipper? You’ll find these and more far away from the light pollution of Ottawa.

It’s all part of the experience you will enjoy at Cushing Lodge B&B Nature Retreat, located just north of Ladysmith, West Quebec. The 250-hectare property offers kilometres of forested trails for your hiking enjoyment. And, as summer warms the waters of Indian Lake, there is good swimming along with a safe, sandy beach for youngsters.

The perfect retreat from the big city.

Geoffrey and Jo-Ellen Cushing built the lodge in October 1991. It was a challenge, carving the winding laneway from the country road to their brand-new home and resort. They built the main lodge and its dining room, along with a guest lodge, on the shores of a private lake. If you’re lucky, you’ll spy the playful otters that call the lake home. We have enjoyed prolonged looks at them; the last time we were at the lodge there were five of them. With the help of a powerful scope, we felt as if we were right beside the otters as they dove, splashed and played in the lake.

Ask Jo-Ellen and Geoffrey where to look. The high-powered scope is ready and waiting for you, mounted on a tripod in front of the bay windows in the dining room.

During the month of May, migrant birds are returning to our region, so this is a great time to explore the countryside. The silence of the whiter woods is broken by songbirds’ twitterings as they establish territories and build their nests.

Cushing Lodge is an increasingly well-known raptor centre. Raptors (birds of prey) have been a lifelong passion for the Cushings.

Lakes as clean and smooth as glass.

Says Jo-Ellen: “Since childhood we have been intrigued and fascinated by raptors. We have wondered why they have been worshipped and used as symbols of peace and power for centuries. Yet, at times man has scorned and persecuted these winged predators. We believe that through education and facilities such as ours, people can gain a better appreciation for and understanding   of   the importance that raptors play in the natural world.”

Included in her collection of these fascinating birds is Casper the barn owl. Due to habitat loss – old barns are rapidly being demolished – this species is increasingly at risk. Also at risk is the gorgeous snowy owl, and the Cushings are completing a new “snowy” facility this summer, in July.

A real treat is to participate in the raptor in-flight demonstration that the Cushings annually host in conjunction with the African Lion Safari Farms of Cambridge, Ontario. It’s an unforgettable experience to watch birds of prey such as the Harris hawk, snowy owl and others fly at close range. Spectators are asked to volunteer to help with the demonstration-

We can vouch for how thrilling it is to watch a “snowy” fly close to the ground, hugging the meadow and then swoop up to perch on your wrist! Don’t be afraid: you’ll be given a sturdy leather gauntlet to wear so the raptor’s talons don’t inadvertently scratch you.

A rustic lodge with all the comforts you need.

Even if there’s no flight demonstration happening, Jo-Ellen will enthusiastically show you the birds. Bald eagles, hawks and owls regard you with interest when you peer into their enclosures. Ask her about her breed-and-release program for these threatened species.

But if leisurely walks in the woods are more your thing, simply head off down one of the trails. In May, trilliums nod in the spring breezes. Look for all three variety: the white trillium, the wakerobin (red trillium) and the painted, which is more fragile than the others and has a magenta “V” in each of its three white petals.

And, if all you want to do is relax in the hot tub, have tasty meals and forget about work, the Cushing Lodge B&B near Ladysmith, Québec, is a destination we’re sure you’ll enjoy.

Florida's Nature Coast: Canadian Dollars at Par!

April 8, 1998 8:59 pm

Text and  images by: Katharine Fletcher

There’s a little bit of heaven waiting for you on Florida’s Nature Coast… Mockingbirds will call melodious songs from palm trees. Natural springs pour turquoise waters through rivers bordered by emerald grasses and gnarled, bellbottomed cyprus.

And, as if such natural beauty is not enough to make you want to rush right down, Canadian dollars are accepted at par for stays of a week or more until May 21.

Where is this oasis of tranquil delights?

Steinhatchee Landing Resort.

At Steinhatchee Landing Resort (pronounced STEEN-hat-chee). Located only 1-1/2 hours south of Tallahassee, the state capital, the rustic fishing village of Steinhatchee is on the Gulf of Mexico. Freshwater and saltwater anglers know it well and in season (late summer) the scalloping is renowned. It’s a region largely untouched by commercial development: there are no McDonald’s, malls, nor Mickey Mouse or Goofy.

What you will discover, instead, is Old Florida, the sort of place where time lingers. Where you can bike down into the village of 1,000 to explore the coast at leisure. Where you can catch your breath amid the live oaks dripping with Spanish moss and cook your own meals, just the way you like, on the barbecue or in the kitchen of your housekeeping cottage.

Your host is Dean Fowler, a southern Georgian gentleman who has cannily designed a 14-acre “off the beaten track” resort whose cottages are tastefully hidden among live oak, sweetgum and palm trees. Walkways lead from gazebos to riverfront, from the vegetable garden to the little creek that wends its way to the river. To affect the feel of a a little village. Dean – everyone calls him by his first name,
staff as well as guests – selected three architectural designs from which you can choose. Victorian, Georgian or the appealing Floridian style called “Cracker.”

We stayed in a Cracker “Spice Cabin,” which feature two-storey screened porches, queen-size bed, full bathroom with ensuite laundry facilities, and an upstairs kitchen, dining room/living room with sofa bed, and VCR/TV. We enjoyed the generous space, as would a family of four or two couples. It’s simply superb value at $120 a night for the cottage – not per person!

It was especially delightful to greet the sunrise and enjoy the ensuing birdsong from the upstairs porch. Acorns from the live oaks fell with a crack and a rattle on the tin roof. Far from disconcerting, the sound blended into nature’s awakening: besides, we could watch the squirrels chasing them as they tumbled to the ground.

The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic Home

The whirlpool spa, exercise room and swimming pool await, only a short walk from your cottage door. Says Dean: “Our free activities include archery, badminton, jogging trail, volleyball, fishing, spa, tennis, bicycles, shuffleboard, horseshoes, canoeing, walking paths and basketball.” Quite enough to keep most happy, even for a week-long stay. For an additional fee you can rent a horse and ride the Landing’s trails.

Although the well-stocked Mason’s Market grocery is nearby, Steinhatchee Landing’s restaurant offers delectable cuisine. Don’t consider leaving without trying crab cakes, pecan-coated grouper and other culinary sensations such as the fluffy coconut cake!

For those of you who want to explore, you’ll find that Dean and his staff are tremendously proud of their region. The
Landing’s office offers brochures describing attractions such as the 25 natural springs (where you can see mastodon bones or tube down a river of turquoise water). Want a bit of culture after all this natural splendour? Ask about the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings historic home (this feminist was author of The Yearling); the antique shops of High Springs; or the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science.

Trekking: Thailand

March 8, 1998 8:56 pm
March 1

Last month, we shared in the action-packed adventures of Rob and Annie Cornforth as they took a swim at a dam in Indonesia and explored a watery cave. The Ottawa couple packed their bags after wedding at the end of August and set off for an eight-month trek around the world. Ottawa Life Magazine is tracing the couple’s steps every month and telling their stories. This month, Rob describes the weird and wonderful sights and smells of a market in Sungai Kolok, Thailand:

The spirit of a town can be found in one place – its market. The spirit of Sungai Kolok was embodied in a multitude of crowded stalls which lined the dingy back streets. An endless variety of oddities and bargains lined the booths. Fruit, vegetables, raw meat and t-shirts made up the regular fare. But it was the oddities that evoked so many emotional reactions.

Annie and I bought some soup from a vendor, determined to stay open-minded as we sampled the local cuisine. As the mixture was placed in a bowl in front of me a host of ingredients whirled by: onions, carrots, spinach, garlic, gristle and, suddenly, a chicken foot!

A groan escaped my lips as the grey and wrinkled claw settled to the bottom of the bowl. It was like a scene from a horror flick! Discreetly I extracted it, placed it in a napkin and waited for the hurl reflex to pass.

Unlike Canadians, Thais don’t gut their chickens or remove the head. The whole thing is chopped up from head to foot and cooked, with nothing but the feathers wasted.

The next day we took the 45-minute ferry trip to the neighbouring island of Ko Phangan, to take part in the “full moon party.” The idea of this gathering is to celebrate the union of many different cultures, together in harmony under the same moon. The party is the island’s busiest time of the year-people from near and far flock to participate.

We started the night drinking whiskey in our bungalow. Our rooms gave a perfect view of the sandy-white beach and the ocean-blue water. From our vantage point we could see that the beach had been transformed into a fluorescent boom box. Four huge speakers pumped out techno music. We moved down to the sand and sat on bamboo mats facing the ocean as the partiers started to gather. The full moon and its bluish hues cast a reflection on the swooning ocean which stared back at us.

We were invited to have our faces painted in phosphorescent colours. I drew an Egyptian eye in the sand and the local artist tattooed it over my left eye in blue. Annie ended up with smiling lime-green lips and orange polka dots on her cheeks and forehead, which captured the emotions of her face.

The party was really wound up. Repetitious bass beats pounded into our bodies. Painted faces glowed in the black of the night. Festivities didn’t wind down until 1:30 a.m. or so the next day.

In this leg of our journey we were reminded of the difference between a tourist and a traveller: a tourist has more money than time and therefore enjoys the convenience of expensive hotels with all the amenities. Travellers have more time than money and learn to revel in simplicity.

The Big Secret: The Iberostar at Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

8:49 pm

Playa del Carmen is a Mexican fishing village one hour south of Cancun. In recent years it has become a small resort catering to tourists who like to be comfortable but not inundated with the commercial excesses of larger venues.

Signature Vacations offers all-inclusive packages direct from Ottawa, ranging from $1200 to $2400, for one to two weeks. (Prices vary depending on the time of year you go; it is not possible to be any more specific.) Over the past several years thousands of people from the National Capital area have visited this town and become attached to the warmth of its people and its quaint charm.

The packages include stays at resorts like the brand-new five-star Tucan Iberostar Playacar. The resort, built by a Spanish business consortium, is truly impressive. The entrance rises out of the jungle terrain and the visitor is met by two 12-foot statues of Mayan Indians, lush tropical plants and several fountains in the surrounding jungle. Marble and ceramic floors decorate the entranceway and dining areas, while 12- and 18-foot salmon-and-blue pillars are geometrically spaced to lend a classic architectural look.

Displayed throughout the resort are Mayan sculptures, local etchings and beautiful wood carvings. Visitors reach the dining room by crossing a footbridge over a small ravine. There are no walls in the dining and bar areas of the Iberostar, just the vast array of the natural terrain. Marble floors through the jungle lead to several pastel- coloured villas. Each is no higher than three stories and merges nicely with the landscape. Iberostar was designed to blend with the surrounding terrain rather than overwhelm it, and the grounds are spectacular.

The Iberostar is upscale, yet retains a casual atmosphere. The staff are from the local area, Europe and North America, so most visitors can be served in their own language. The food, served both buffet-style and with table service, is varied and excellent.

Iberostar is only a three-minute walk from a golf course, and a twenty-minute walk or a five-minute cab ride to the villa del Carmen. The village boasts miles of sandy, palm-lined beaches on the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean, dozens of varied restaurants, and an attitude that is distinctly low-key. The pedestrian walkway is lined with shops of local artisans’ works: fine silver jewellery, delicately carved wood, embroidered linens, stone products, hammocks and a large selection of paintings and sculptures. Every day and evening the local teens play soccer on the beach in the main square, a popular stopping point for both tourists and locals.

A week-long stay at this quaint resort near this beautiful town convinced me that anyone who is looking for a place to visit should consider this one.

Trekking: Indonesia

February 8, 1998 8:42 pm

This month, our two adventurers, and some friends, experience the beauty of Delta Gecko Village in Pangandaran. Rob and Annie packed their bags after wedding at the end of August aid set off for an eight-month trek around the world. Ottawa Life Magazine is tracing the couple’s steps every month and telling their stories. Their adventures this month start at a dam in Indonesia, where they arrived with friends Elinore and Dave, sweaty and hot and ready for a swim. The dam had three levels of waterfalls and the group climbed all three. The water was blue and green with thick, lush foliage. It was exactly how Rob and Annie had dreamed Indonesia would be like…

Behind the last cascading falls we found the mouth of a cave. The guys ventured in but the girls didn’t go far, as its slimy walls and dark existence made them feel claustrophobic…

Rob and Dave soon discovered a flashlight was necessary when their first attempt to explore landed them in pitch black. Swimming with his head above water and a flashlight between his teeth, Rob led the way back into the cave.

In order to travel its length the guys had to crawl through some sections and swim in others. At some points the breathing space between water and ceiling was only a matter of about a foot. Neither of the guys had ever done anything like this before.

Every twist and turn, the weight of claustrophobia, and occasionally the dimming light, made for exciting, authentic exploration.

The route eventually ended in a huge cavern which was big enough to stand in and walk around. Stalactites dangled from the ceiling, glittering like diamonds when the light passed over them.

It was difficult for the guys to leave, but it was getting late. They promised to return….

The next day we took a bemo to the Green Canyon. Elinore and Dave joined us again, as did Kevin from England and Cami from Paris.

We rented a boat for 24,000 rp (C$12). The boat was similar to a dugout canoe and brought us up the beautiful green river. We spotted a lizard and some birds we’d never seen before.

We arrived at the canyon 20 minutes later. The boat anchored, we got out to explore the 50-metre stalactite walls that were dripping large droplets of water. During the rainy season the droplets are transformed into a steady stream of water. With the light shining through a canopy of trees above, it was like being inside an emerald. When unable to swim any longer, we had to climb the big rocks, while making sure we didn’t slip on their wet, slimy surface. Kevin climbed cautiously, as his left eye was already black and blue from slipping on a rock at the dam a few days before. His injury made us realize the importance of safety and caution while travelling. We would hate to find ourselves in a third-world country hospital.

Recent Posts