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July 29, 2019

Machu Picchu side dish: Guinea pig on a plate

Cusco

Sailing along the South American coast was the beginning of a pilgrimage to the ancient glory of Machu Picchu – fortified by gourmet guinea pigs.

Why am I feeling so guilty about eating a guinea pig? The dilemma isn’t that bad after all. Not since my chat with the chef at the Inkaterra Hotel where the train from Cusco pulls into Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu in Peru. One of the special dishes here is roast guinea pig served with mashed potato, drizzled in a mandarin jus. So, when I buy my guinea pigs (cuys) from a roadside barbecue in the Secret Valley, I’m told by my local guide that I should serve them with the latest in food fashion, quinoa, with over 350 varieties. Since the 1960s, efforts have been made to increase consumption of the ‘cuy’ outside South America and these days Andean immigrants in New York City raise them for major ethnic restaurants.

The meat is high in protein, low in fat and similar to the dark meat of chicken. It’s served fried (chactado or frito) or roasted in pieces (al horno) but in Cusco, it’s baked whole, like a cute, small, suckling pig garnished with pomegranates. For me, it is an instant hit. Funny though, it’s not featured on cruise menus.



If anyone had told me that after a nine-day sophisticated cruise on a posh Ponant ship, Le Boreal, along the South American coast, I’d be lugging an el cheapo backpack on the train to the ruins of Machu Picchu, I’d have said they were bonkers. But both experiences were equally fantastic and vastly different.

Our cruise starts in Puerta Caldera in Costa Rica and we head towards the palm-fringed Cocas Island on our way to Guayaquil in Ecuador, the real and only home of the Panama hat, first woven in 1630 and now, still handwoven, exported worldwide. From the minute I step on board, I feel at ease with the French flavour of Le Boreal. All 132 cabins have ridiculously comfy beds and pillows. The bathrooms feature full-length glass panels so I can shower while ocean gazing. Facials and fitness are available at the spa and gym, which also take advantage of sea views.

A la carte dining takes on a new meaning in the elegant La Licombe where the passengers, mostly French, dress to the nines as they devour their frogs’ legs and foie gras. On deck six at La Boussole, breakfast, lunch and dinner are enjoyed buffet-style, indoors or beside the pool.

Latin American musicians put us in the mood for arrival in Lima, Peru, a multiethnic nation formed over five centuries before the Spanish Conquest in the 16th Century. Lima has much to intrigue the first time visitor. Barranco is favourable for accommodation so I choose the only real boutique hotel, the very arty Hotel B. Located a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean and a short waterfront walk to the shopping mecca of Miaflores, I pass the Parque del Amor scattered with monuments and mosaics devoted to love.

The ruins of Machu Picchu and the beautiful city of Cusco is somewhere I’ve yearned to visit. At 2400m, after a one hour flight from Lima, I spend two days acclimatising in Cusco and soaking up the pulsating atmosphere in this city of half a million, where the houses climb up the hillsides. The main square explodes with people and Spanish buildings and traditionally clothed women clutch baby alpacas to earn a few cents for tourist photos. Shopping for handmade fabrics and jewellery at the markets is fun and good value.

Machu Picchu is 130km from Cusco so, in a mini-bus, we drive via the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo for our scenic and comfortable train trip to overnight in Aguas Calientes. We’re up at 6.30am to beat the first tourist train and catch the shuttle bus up the winding roadside to the crowning jewel of Inca architecture.

Known as ‘the lost city of the Incas’, and perched high in the Andean Cordillera, it remained hidden until 1911 when archaeologist, Hiram Bingham, revealed it to the world. Thought to be built around 1440 and abandoned before the Spanish invasion of 1532, it was used as a secondary palace for the emperor with temples dedicated to Inca divinities in the main courtyard and other annexed buildings for servants looking after up to 750 inhabitants. Surrounded by mountain peaks, Machu Picchu is a city of granite, so grey amongst greenery but overwhelming on first sight. Two days, partly guided and partly exploring alone, was ideal. It still remains shrouded in mystery as the Incas left no trace, either written or oral, to explain their departure. As part of a 325km square nature reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983, it’s a magnificent world wonder, worth every second of waiting for trains and boats and planes.

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Originally published in Get up & Go Magazine Winter 2016


July 28, 2019

Challenge yourself with a 3 Sisters Adventure Trek and help empower the women of Nepal


3 Sisters Guides

By Jennifer Doherty

Looking for a challenge in retirement, then start training for a trekking adventure in Nepal and join one of the many treks offered by the 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking Company.   At the same time, you will be helping to empower the girls and women of Nepal to a better life. 

3 Sisters Adventure Trekking was set up in 1998 by the Chhetri Sisters – Lucky, Dicky & Nicky who are now seeing the benefits of training and empowering a new generation of strong, confident women of Nepal who can contribute to the future of their country.

Soon after setting up the trekking company they set up the NGO, Empowering the Women of Nepal (EWN) to work in partnership to train and encourage more Nepalese women to become self-supportive, independent, decision-makers.

Once trekking operations in Nepal were only led by men, but the very capable, well- trained and experienced guides of 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking truly can make your trek a very special experience.

With our guide Sita Rai, we took on the challenge of the 10 day Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)  trek and soon learned many things from her, how to climb up steps and not be breathless (and in Nepal there are endless stone steps leading up and down the mountains), how to stay motivated when times get tough and how to succeed in your challenge to make it to base camp and feel that great sense of achievement when you do.

For first time trekkers like us who are reasonably fit and walk a lot, we suddenly realized that trekking in the Himalayas is much different stamina wise to a bush-walk in the Blue Mountains.   It’s the challenge of walking day on day for ten days that requires more than just physical strength.

The ten-day Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek takes you through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery you could imagine.   We trekked in the month of April which is Springtime in Nepal and the spectacular rhododendron forests were in full bloom and the mountains were swathed in pink & red foliage.

Walking every day is different and exciting, sometimes through farmland, bamboo groves, lush rainforest and then alpine scenery once you reach Macchapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) and finally Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) about two hours further up.  Along the way you can enjoy the beautiful trees and foliage, and pretty wildflowers that bloom right up to Annapurna Base Camp.

Fewa Lake. Pokhara

And you can actually see beautiful birds you’ve never seen before in your life and hear beautiful birdsong every moment of your trek along the Modi Khola river gorge which leads up to Annapurna Sanctuary & Base Camp.  We were delighted to see a brilliant turquoise and black Grandala on the track to Annapurna Base Camp as well as the little forktail, spotted forktail, barbets, bush chats as well as a woodpecker and a cuckoo in the birch forest.  As we called back to the cuckoo it moved from tree to tree following us for more than twenty minutes. We were told by our guide Sita who is an avid birdwatcher that there are 883 species of birds in Nepal.

We were also very lucky to see the silver-grey black-faced langur monkeys who live in the rainforest jumping from tree to tree above our heads.  Trekkers have encountered them sometimes on the track in the forest in a surprise encounter.

The villages along the way where you stay each night are basically a number of lodges and restaurants that cater well to the trekkers passing through.  Most of these have the main dining room where you eat your meals and meet trekkers from all over the world.  The diet is mostly good trekker’s food with lots of carbs like pasta, pizza, rice and curry as well as the Nepalese staple dal bhat which consists of curry, vegetables, lentil soup and rice.  3 Sisters Adventure Trekking provide the backpacks and limit them to 10kg for their staff to carry, and then you just need to carry your daypack with water, protein bars and chocolates for some high energy snacks along the way.

Along the route, there are amazing views of the Himalayas right from the third day at Ghorepani where you can trek up Poon Hill to see the sunrise.  The balcony of our lodges at Tadapani and Chomrong provided sensational views of the Himalayas

But of course the best views are stupendous when you reach the end of the river gorge and enter the Annapurna Sanctuary and Base Camp where you have 360c views of the Himalayas including Annapurna South (7,219m), the world’s tenth highest peak Annapurna 1 (8,091m), Annapurna 3 (7,555m), Machhapuchhre (6,997m) which is well known as Fish Tail mountain, and the Mardi Himal (5,553m).  The massive Annapurna South Glacier carves its way to the edge of basecamp which we were told might have to be moved sometime in the future.

Most treks usually include one night only at Annapurna Base Camp because of limited accommodation, there are four lodges and restaurants based there, but if nothing is available at ABC trekkers stay at Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) and do the 4.30am trek up to Annapurna Base Camp for the sunrise.

Now, to say the Annapurna Base Camp is as easy as ABC would be stretching it, it takes a lot of effort, sometimes up to eight hours a day walking up and down those stone steps but the reward when you reach the Annapurna Sanctuary with the incredible views of the Himalayas are truly spectacular and worth the effort.

For recovery, you can spend a few days in the relaxing surrounds of lakeside Pokhara where you can enjoy boating on the beautiful Phewa Lake, have a massage to ease the muscle pains at the wonderful Middle Path Spa and refuel at top restaurants like Rosemary’s Kitchen and OR2K.

For detailed information on all the treks being offered by 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking visit the website:  www.3sistersadventure.com

You can even donate or volunteer your time or skills with the NGO, Empowering Women of Nepal
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Words and images: Jennifer Doherty

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au


July 23, 2019

Going Green: Eco Resorts in Malaysia



Ecotourism might be the most overused, misused, and clich├ęd term in the tourism industry. It was a word coined by scientists but then hijacked by the marketing department of many hotels most of which have little more than a landscaped pavement at the entrance to lure tourists onto their property. Ecotourism came into vogue as tourism surveys reported the increase in travellers seeking green, sustainable, responsible and eco-friendly holiday opportunities. There are some Malaysian hotels that are fully committed to the green cause and often it is what you cannot see that make a resort truly green. It is hard making good public relations press releases from treated wastewater and composting garbage, but these are some of the indicators of those who are committed to the cause. Many Malaysian resorts have taken giant steps in lowering their environmental footprint, and here are five that standout as places to enjoy a greener holiday.

BATANG AI LONGHOUSE RESORT

One of the main principles of ecotourism is that the locals benefit from tourism development, and in Sarawak there are several destinations where this occurs. While Batang Ai is a dam, efforts were made to involve the local Iban community when the Hilton-managed Batang Ai Longhouse Resort was mooted. Now many work in the hotel and accept hotel guests into their longhouse communities for cultural exchange. Local longhouse architecture has been incorporated into the design of the resort while creature comforts are also in place. Staff conduct nature walks, longhouse visits and trips to Wong Luih Waterfall.

Website: www3.hilton.com

CLUB MED, CHERATING

Kids love Club Med and that is good news for parents as they can chill out around the bar and pool while their child's every need is addressed by eager beaver staff. Club Med's eco-nature resort concept is set in coastal forest that is home to a menagerie of animals. Some 75% of the site is protected and the environmental policies put in place satisfy Green Globe benchmarking (the environmental barometer adopted by most hotels around the globe) and Accor's own PLANET 21 initiative. Waste water is treated on site and compostable garbage is returned to the soil. Green turtles lay their eggs in the soft sands of Chendor Beach between April to August and Club Med guests can visit the Cherating Turtle Hatchery operated by the Department of Fisheries.

Website: www.clubmed.com.my

FRANGIPANI LANGKAWI RESORT AND SPA

When Frangipani opened in 2006 the management set about putting in place 200 green practices and has won many local and international awards for its conscientious efforts. These include the regulation options, ‘reduce, reuse and recycle', but also a general rethink about everything that occurs on their land and the effects they have on their immediate island surroundings on Langkawi. While maintaining a high guest experience, the resort is setting out to try and become self-sufficient in their use of many resources, such as water and energy. They capture rainwater in tanks for irrigating the grounds, treat grey water in an on-site wetland, compost rubbish to fertilise organic gardens, incorporate solar power and openly show others how to reduce their costs and save the planet. They also host Langkawi Live – One Earth Music Festival, held in November, where music and environmental activities feature.

Website: www.frangipanilangkawi.com.my

GAYANA ECO RESORT



Sabah has many ecotourism propositions with Gayana Eco Resort being situated on Gaya Island which forms part of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. Rooms overlooking the turquoise waters of the South China Sea are fabulous, and Gayana's coral reef restoration initiative is unique in Malaysia. Located just off Kota Kinabalu, the resort is a refuge for urban weary travellers. Gayana Eco Resort and its neighbouring and jointly-owned Bunga Raya Island Resort have established a Marine Ecology Research Centre to help restore coral reefs around Borneo.

Guests can participate in reef restoration including coral planting of broken coral fragments. Its Marine Kids' Club is especially appealing and guests can learn more by doing a PADI scuba course. 

Website: www.gayana-eco-resort.com

SUKAU RAINFOREST LODGE

Sabah's Lower Kinabatangan River is one of the major focuses for ecotourism in the country. While surrounded by a number of oil palm plantations, the wildlife sanctuary is a protective habitat for many animals including orangutans, proboscis monkeys, clouded leopards and the Borneo pygmy elephant. Many wildlife lodges (including Sukau Rainforest Lodge) are located on the perimeter to offer deluxe lodges overlooking the river. It caters for small numbers and places emphasis on employing excellent and experienced guides to impart knowledge to guests (80% of the staff and 30% of the ownership are local). Activities are conducted from dusk to dark and the resort facilities include a nature library, with staff presenting evening slide talks. Boats with electric motors are used for riverine wildlife spotting. Small luxuries here such as outdoor baths, Wi-Fi and chilled beers in the Gecko Lounge confirm that eco- holidays need not involve sacrificing life's little luxuries. This hotspot is also where eco-celebrities like Sir David Attenborough, hole up when in the Kinabatangan.

Website: www.sukau.com

Source: Senses Of Malaysia.com January 2014

July 06, 2019

Hawaii: The Phantoms of Sarah Joe




By William Starr Moake

Sunday morning Hana Bay was as flat as a pond with a gentle southerly breeze under a clear sky. These were unusual weather conditions for the windward coast of Maui. Normally, the ocean churned with white water and gusty tradewinds produced cloudiness and frequent rain. It was the perfect day to go fishing offshore since the fish always hit best when the water was calm and the sun shining.

Each of the five men planned to work that day, even though it was a scheduled day off from their regular jobs. On weekends a lot of work got done in Hana -- car repairs, carpentry projects, helping a neighbour, digging a luau fire pit, feeding livestock, weeding the vegetable garden. It was a way to preserve the traditional homesteading lifestyle while working for wages.

The Grand Balkan Tour



“From both sides” replies experienced tour manager Lana from Croatia when one of the fellow passenger Richard from our group of forty asks windows on which side of the bus will provide the best view of the scenic landscape when driving down from Cetinje to Kotor in Montenegro. This drive down is considered as one of the world’s most spectacular but hair raising adventure on road.

And soon we find out Lana is absolutely right