Tag Archives: outdoors

Tales from the Wadi Rum.

Desert Highways, Wadi Rum, Jordan.“Hard to believe there’s a war going on next door,” said my travel companion. It was 2007 and we were sitting around a small campfire in the Wadi Rum desert. It was a trip we’d hooked on to an event I’d managed in Egypt. We’d chosen that country because we weren’t sure how many years would be left for Americans to travel there before it all went pear-shaped.

After Egypt, the idea was to take advantage of being in the region so we set our sights on Jordan. Through shuttle arrangements we made our way into the desert and the land where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.

The Wadi Rum is otherworldly and we were happy to be there. A handsome, young Jordanian guide, Ra’ed, met us along the Desert Highway. We hopped into his jeep, driven by a shy, Bedouin, teenage boy and within a few minutes were off-road, traveling through desert red sands. The world we knew disappeared, and aside from the clink and clank from his truck, there wasn’t another sound. We made out way through mountain rockscapes in various hues of crimson. There wasn’t a soul in sight and for this city girl, the empty space was liberating.

Wadi Rum

Not a soul in sight.

Eventually, a long rectangle Bedouin tent came into view and our driver swung a long arc around it and parked. We met the chef, an Egyptian, and then we proceeded to make ourselves at home.

Out came the hookah pipe. I find the sweet smoke a bit nauseating but when in Rome, right? So we sat around and exchanged the typical questions like, “Where are you from?” and “Why did you come here?” but we made quick work of that superficial talk and dove deeper, seeing as it was just the five of us. A group of tourists who’d been in camp earlier in the week had kept to themselves and barely acknowledged them. Frankly, I don’t see how it would be possible to ignore the people who were responsible for getting you in and out of Wadi Rum, feeding you and providing you a tent for sleepy time. The chef smiled and excused himself because he had to get cooking.

Wadi Rum campsite.

Making camp.

Back in the truck, Ra’ed took us through desert. We all raced up sand dunes and slid down them. Gazing around at its natural architecture, the Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon, is hypnotic. The sunset reveals deeper shades of red on the rock walls.

Wadi Rum desert.

Not so easy as it seems.

A few hours later, they laid out a banquet table decorated with candles and tray upon tray of food. There were falafel, stuffed grape leaves, couscous with raisins, salads, pita bread, dips of hummus and baba ghanoush, rice with lentils, platters of vegetables, and lots more. I couldn’t imagine how they thought two people could make a dent in it. Ra’ed told us to enjoy the meal. My boyfriend and I looked at each other and in unison said, “Where are you going?” He told us that they’d eat when we had finished. There was no way that was going to happen. We explained that it was extremely uncomfortable for us to dine without them and after much persuading they joined us.

Dinner in the Wadi Rum.

Midnight at the oasis.

Stuffed and satisfied, we sat around on massive pillows, passed the pipe again and gazed at the stars and the shadows the mountains made across the dark sand. A full moon had risen and the chef suggested we build a fire. So we dragged our pillows into the sand around the pit he’d made. There we were, an American, a Brit, an Egyptian, a Bedouin, and a Jordanian. Through broken English, translated through Arabic and a mishmash of a few other languages thrown in, we all got on like a house on fire. There was lot of giggling, talk of what music we liked, and of what America is really like. We did indeed find it hard to believe that Iraq was next door and being made a mess of.

Eventually, things got quiet until the silence was broken by the unmistakable sound of Bill Withers singing, “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” followed by Ra’ed giggling. It was the ring tone on his cell phone and he entertained us by playing it over and over. That night we slept in a pup tent they’d set up and made comfortable for us.

Wadi Rum breakfast.

Breakfast.

The next morning we watched the sunrise bathe the desert mountains gold. Afterwards, we all shared a breakfast of tea, fruit, boiled eggs and biscuits. Then we hopped back in the jeep to explore, hike, and absorb as much of the Wadi Rum’s energy as possible.   They let us take turns driving and we passed camels and a goat herder. Walking, I came across a small bouquet of delicate white flowers growing out of the sand and other small wonders. Back at the tent we took pictures, exchanged hugs and were sorry to leave our new friends but we were moving on to Petra, the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.

Wadi Rum tour guides.

Our great hosts.

Jordan remains a safe and attractive place to travel. The Bedouins, whose lives have changed over time, and the Jordanians are well-known for their hospitality and tourism contributes a huge percentage to the country’s GDP. Wadi Rum attracts visitors from around globe, yet despite its popularity its pleasure for me was the sweet feeling that it existed purely for my own experience. The new friends, and Bill Withers, were the icing on the cake.

Got an itch to go somewhere? Go. And don’t forget to write.

 

Fall Into It.

Nankoweap Rapid is mile 52 along the Colorado River.

Nankoweap Rapid is mile 52 along the Colorado River.

If summer’s about escapism then autumn is all about back to business. But for many, fall is the time of the year when a lot of us hightail it out of here.   The crowds are gone, the roads are clearer and we can have places more to ourselves. But what’s travel without a good book? More specifically, without a good book about travel?

Depending on the direction you’re headed, some travelers prefer total immersion. And as most travelers know, any good travel tale is not without its fair share of ups and downs.  With that in mind, here are a few recommendations for all you travel advisors and travelers to inspire travel reading, travel writing, but mostly…travel.

theoldwaysI like a guy who likes to walk so I’m looking forward to The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot by Robert McFarlane. Shortlisted for the 2013 Warwick prize for literature makes it another good reason to pick it up. A literature professor, McFarlane leads us along the paths of the British Isles in England and Scotland, where he meets people and learns the history of these places. Step by step, he experiences the meditative bonus of walking, the thinking that goes with it and shares how exploring a country on foot is one of the best ways to enjoy travel. For anyone who’s hooked on their Kindle app and can’t get away, or for travel advisors who want to check things out, you can use Google Earth to track his path and see what he saw as you read along. Pretty cool.

Collection-of-Sand-Essays-Pe“…the most important things in the world are the empty spaces,” writes Italo Calvino. In one way or another, the 38 essays that make up A Collection of Sand focus on Calvino’s visual experiences and how they inform travel. Around his pleasures and fascination of maps and books and how certain places, in this case Japan, Mexico and Iran led to contemplation on space and time and civilization. Beautiful writing.

 

robberofmemoriesSeems only fitting that since there’s a chill in the air that you should have something chilling in your hands, or on your iPad. In which case, The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Columbia may be right for you, especially if you’re heading in that direction. Michael Jacobs takes us with him on his adventure up Magdelena, a river that runs through the heart of Columbia where he charts its course geographically and emotionally. Like most first-world travelers who go it alone, he sheds himself of life’s modern comforts. His journey is challenging and dangerous but his tale, where South America is the central theme, serves up a different perspective altogether.

alexandriaEgypt might not be the first place you think of going to these days but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a taste of what it once was. A long time ago, in a land far away, an old flame turned me on to The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell and this masterpiece has stuck with me ever since. Made up of four small novels, it’s a lush and seductive tale of friends and lovers in Alexandria before WWI. Its central theme is love conveyed across the different viewpoints and experiences of the characters that make up these stories and whose common ground is the city.

BehindBeautifulForeversBehind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum by Katherine Boo. I suppose the title pretty much sums up it up but don’t let that get you down. Boo won numerous book awards for this story and any traveler worth their salt knows that the closer to the bone you get to living in a country, the sweeter the meat. A journalist for the New Yorker, Boo takes us into the slum of Annawadi and its underworld of characters that make up the citizens who do what they can to make a life for themselves and their families who live on the other side of life in the shadows of shiny corporate hotels.

urbancircusAnother glimpse into the lives of others, The Urban Circus: Travels with Mexico’s Malabaristas by Catriona Rainsford takes you on a wild and wacky ride. Rainsford joined a group of young, itinerant street performers on a two-year journey across the country where she learned to live hand-to-mouth with them. If you’ve ever been to Mexico, this true story will give you a chance to see beyond the tourist zones and into the everyday lives, genuineness and character of Mexicans.

If you’re into adventure travel, or have customers who live for it, then this gripping and heart-stopping story is the perfect companion. The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History through the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko is the harrowing tale of three guides who ride the Colorado River through the heart of the Canyon.  Check it out:

There’s loads of stuff out there. Are you reading any good travel stories these days, fiction or otherwise? Let me know, I’d love to hear about them.

Howl or Stare, It’s The Time of the Season.

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Full tilt at the Full Moon party in Koh Phangan.

Full tilt at the Full Moon party in Koh Phangan.

I am not the same having seen the moon shine on another part of the world.
–Mary Ann Radmacher Hershey

Sunrise. Sunset. These two daily occurrences loom large for travelers no matter their budget. Wherever you may go, these natural—and free—gifts often feature in photos as the main event or as a backdrop to our travel experiences. Depending on the destination, travelers often set their day by that bright and brilliant starburst but there’s another player with a different kind of pull. The moon.

Some travelers plan their trips around this great big ball in the sky. You know who you are. It might seem nutty but knowing when the moon is full is a major bonus to your journey. While some folks might not be able to alter their travel plans based on the lunar calendar, travel advisors who keep this little gem in mind might just add a unique experience to a customer’s trip. Knowing this bit of info may earn you a bit of star status in their book.

Cruising by the light of the moon.  (Photo credit: Carnival Sunshine.)

Cruising by the light of the moon. (Photo credit: Carnival Sunshine.)

A full moon is beguiling, romantic, and hypnotic. Whether you’re on a beach or on the deck of a cruise ship, it lights up the ocean like a Hollywood movie set. Lakeside or hillside, a full moon is a major gift when you’re camping. Road trippers take advantage of the added value of its silvery light, and surfers love it. A full moon safari walk is magical. Yosemite under its light is otherworldly. Moonlight kayak tours are peaceful and meditative. And while I’ve never been, I hear the infamous Full Moon Party at Koh Phangan in Thailand is off the planetary chart. I’m sure there’s a lot more than howling going on there.

An Arizona Harvest Moon.

An Arizona Harvest Moon.

Where are you or your customers this week? There’s a lot happening in the heavens right now. Especially if you’re outside the scope of city lights. Wherever you are, look up.

Talk about celestial seasonings, Venus and Saturn joined forces on Monday and will stick around for the week. They ride low after sunset but anyone with access to a telescope, whether you’re on a ship or in your backyard, will be able to glimpse Saturn’s rings. The star attraction, the full Harvest Moon peaks tonight. I stopped and stared at its near perfect formation last night on my way home, while the sun set behind me. Uranus will cozy up with the moon on Thursday, September 19. Otherwise known as the “green giant,” it’ll come so close that their combined wattage will equal 8 full moons side by side. Get out those binoculars, shoot for the moon and you’ll easily pick out that planet.  I’ve got no  idea what Pisces has to do with this picture but something’s fishy.

It'll be a starry, starry night this week.  (Image credit: Starry Night Software/ A.Fazekas.)

It’ll be a starry, starry night this week. (Image credit: Starry Night Software/ A.Fazekas.)

Lastly, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, I guess it’s time to say goodbye to the summer as autumn enters center stage on Sunday. Bittersweet, yet, but thankfully fall graces us with foliage rich with jewel tones and with more reasons to travel.

If you can work in the full moon on October 18… all the better.

Friday Night Lights.

Ride it if you dare! (Photo by author.)

Ride it if you dare! (Photo by author.)

As summer winds down, New York City still has some good—and free—stuff left in its back pocket for visitors and locals. If you’re in any of the boroughs this week, you might want to make your way to Coney Island. This historic salty dog defender of American popular culture hosts one of my favorite summer treats every Friday night.

Sadly, tomorrow is the last one of the season but the forecast calls for a sunny day, which will make for a lingering sunset and a clear night. For anyone who wants to dig in and enjoy a full day of sun and sea, then suit up, pack a beach bag with a sweatshirt (you’ll need it later) reading materials, toys, whatever floats your boat, and take the D, F, N or Q Subway train to the West 8th Street-NY Aquarium or the Stillwell Avenue stations in Coney Island. Once you’re on the beach, set up camp close to the shoreline and suck it all in.

An on old merman on the boardwalk with his poodle and his parrot.  (Photo by author.)

An on old merman on the boardwalk with his poodle and his parrot. (Photo by author.)

Coney Island is one of the craziest places on the planet. It’s New Orleans meets Nice, but with lots of wackiness thrown in. It’s where old European women still rock bikinis in their 60’s, 70, 80s, and…seriously. Where Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Mexicans peddle homemade empanadas, tacos, and pastilles, and home boys weave around blankets like roving bartenders hawking Nutcrackers, a cocktail created in Harlem. Where you can swim until your heart’s content and not have to sit in traffic to get home because the subway system makes it so easy.

Old timers tango under a gazebo. (Photo by author.)

Old timers tango under a gazebo. (Photo by author.)

The culture of Coney is a sideshow unto itself. New Yorkers who hang at this beach and boardwalk on a regular basis are salt of the earth people. Some have come since they were kids, others since they came to this country. There’s something about Coney that puts a tattoo on your heart. Like your first love, it’ll never go away.

But let’s get back to Friday. Whether you get to enjoy a full day, arrive for a sunset swim, or hit the beach at twilight—it’s time to get comfy. Relax on your blanket, or walk the boardwalk, and enjoy the night sky as the sun fades out around the Parachute Jump, Deno’s Wonder Wheel, The Cyclone Roller Coaster and the rest of the rides in Luna Park. Then wait for the show to begin somewhere around 9:45pm, although they don’t stand on ceremony at Coney.

Greatest show on earth.  (Photo credit:  Steven Kelly.)

Greatest show on earth. (Photo credit: Steven Kelly.)

At this point, lots of sailboats have come in and bob close to shore. A dull shot followed by a long whistle will ring through the air, and at the same time you’ll feel a BOOM under your blanket as the first rocket sails into the night. From there lay back and enjoy one of the most incredible firework displays. The closer you get, the better.

Coney's smokin' on Friday summer nights.  (Photo credit:  Reid Dodson.)

Coney’s smokin’ on Friday summer nights. (Photo credit: Reid Dodson.)

The grand finale sends it all up in a blaze of glory. The breeze carries the smoky residue from all that dynamite, like a hundred octopus tentacles creeping slowly across the beach as it hangs it in the air. In unison the boats blow their horns, start their engines, and toot back out to sea.

Summer’s almost gone. Coney Island’s a playground for the world, go there and have a blast.

Gimme Shelter.

Shelter Island jewels. (Photo by author)

Shelter Island jewels. (Photo by author)

Anyone who’s visited the beaches of Long Island knows how lovely they are. Over the years I’ve clocked time in the gorgeous towns of East and South Hampton, the hamlet of Amagansett, and one of my favorite places in the world, Montauk, affectionately known as The End. But in all that time, I’d never been to Shelter Island. Always passed on the way out to the eastern end of Long Island, I’d look at the ferry sign and think that one day I’d visit. Anyone I know who’s been always spoke of how gorgeous it is. This past weekend I got to see its beauty.

I’m leaving on a…quick ferry ride. (Photo credit: Tim Kelly)

Nestled between the North and South Forks of Long Island, the island really is sheltered. I was heading there for a wedding, and took the first morning train on the Long Island Railroad out to Greenport. The three-hour journey is the first step in getting that “away” feeling and gives you time to read, nap, or catch up on whatever needs catching up. By the time the train arrives, decompression is nicely underway. A few steps later you’re at the ferry, excited with the anticipation of being so close to your destination. It’s a quick seven-minute zip across Shelter Island Sound but enough time to make me feel like I was a million miles from New York City.
Visiting Shelter Island is like being in a time capsule. With its lack of noise and overall hustle and bustle, white picket fences, gabled homes, wrap around porches, rolling hills, boats bobbing in the harbor, and lush land, it feels like Mayberry RFD. Its natural beauty is startling. Just to give you an idea, The Nature Conservancy owns one-third of the island. This keeps it real and keeps it wild. No one was walking around with head’s down staring at their cell phone; in fact I didn’t see one person on their phone the entire time I was there.

Dering Harbor.

Dering Harbor.

There’s no such thing as perfect but to this visitor the pristine beauty of Shelter Island was almost overwhelming. To boot, the weather was bright sunshine, no humidity and clear skies. From the moment I checked into the Chequit Inn, the wedding couple spoiled me (and all their other guests) rotten with goodies and meals. Sure, I was there to celebrate their union but being there gave me—and the rest of the crowd—an opportunity for a little vacation. A mode that everyone seemed to take to immediately.

The added bonus was reuniting with friends who don’t live in the US anymore, and making new ones. A gang of us rented bikes and spent Saturday exploring. It’s probably the best way to see Shelter Island, you can stop and start back up when you like. We rolled through the roads of Dering Harbor and gaped at the off the hook homes that look like something out of The Great Gatsby. We made a pit stop on a wide-arced, sandy white beach, empty except for a sole person in a deck chair reading; a turquoise umbrella sheltered her. Aside from the gentle lapping of water on the shoreline, all was quiet. She had the world at her feet and heaven around her.

A sweet ride.

A sweet ride.

We swam in Coecles Harbor, near the Ram’s Head Inn, where I found my new favorite sport—paddle boarding. We could have lolled seaside all day but we had to head back to our hotel to get spiffed up for the night’s festivities. Cycling home along the shoreline the breeze carried the sweet smell of grass and clover mixed with salty air, creating the sort of moment that only summer can bring. The sort of feeling you had as kid, when you didn’t have a care in the world. When a minute seemed like an hour, and before sound became noise. The feeling that you didn’t want the day to end, wishing you could capture it forever. Magic.

Sunset ceremony sky over Coecles Harbor.  (Photo credit:  Lawrence J. Winston)

Sunset ceremony sky over Coecles Harbor. (Photo credit: Lawrence J. Winston)

We returned to the Ram’s Head for the outdoor wedding ceremony during that golden hour where the sun blazed over the rolling lawn that overlooks the harbor. As it set, it cast a lingering gift of neon orange glow over the dinner party. Then this brilliant fireball slowly dipped into the sea. Delicious food, good times, no one wanted the glamorous night to end but we eventually had to call it quits.

Show me to my table.  (Photo credit:  D. Powell)

Show me to my table. (Photo credit: D. Powell)

The following day the celebration continued with lunch on a secluded private beach. More food, more drink, more laughs, more swimming. We combed for seashells and found a treasure of mermaid’s toenails, scallop, spindle and snail shells. My sun hat became a bucket for my bounty. So many shells, so much sunshine, so much summer.

Someone asked me what time I was leaving, I said never.

What Do Wildlife and Travel Advisors Have In Common?

King of the Serengeti.

King of the Serengeti.

Tourism is the number one driver in the economy of many countries, especially in Africa. Millions of travelers visit countries on that continent each year to experience the one thing most people blow off as a dream—a safari. The jungle is teeming with all sorts of wildlife but most travelers go to see the Big Five—the Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino. Few things compare to the thrill of seeing them up close and personal. It’s humbling. Sadly, over the past decade more and more of these animals are on the endangered species list because of the profit made from the illegal wildlife trade. Most notably, the elephant, the rhino, and the lion. Worldwide and local conservation organizations are doing their best to prevent their extinction but the future of these creatures doesn’t look good.

Young rhinos goofing around in South Africa.  (Photo by author.)

Young rhinos goofing around in South Africa. (Photo by author.)

One of the reasons is that the money poachers earn from slaughtering these animals provides a massive source of income. In turn, some of these profits are funneled to fund terrorist groups. It’s amazing what you’ll find when you follow the money, and you can learn more about this in Killing Lions, Buying Bombs.  I’m not certain of what the solution is to deter poaching, it’s multidimensional for sure but I do know that education plays a huge role.

Another is for the travel industry to recognize the direct threat it poses to its livelihood. Knowledge is power and travel advisors who stay informed and educated about conservation bring value to its efforts by being part of the conversation and raising awareness. Tourism generates billions of dollars to the industry each year from travelers who set their sights set on a safari. What would be the draw if these animals didn’t exist? Travel advisors matter. Every voice and advocate who partners with conservation efforts, on any level, matters.

Chillin' at Chobe in Botswana.  (Photo by author.)

Chillin’ at Chobe in Botswana. (Photo by author.)

On the flip side, the communities within these countries need to be educated about what the loss of tourist dollars would mean to their economy and livelihood. The money generated by tourism in these countries not only pays the people directly connected to the travel industry, but indirectly as well. If managed right, this money goes back into the infrastructure, schools, healthcare, and the protection of wildlife and its natural habitat.

The rising extinction of these animals is alarming, but the article Through The Eyes Of The Maasai is inspiring. For starters, it made me want to book a flight to Kenya. But what really got my attention is how the Maasai, a semi-nomadic people, through education and collaboration with local and international communities realize that to keep their culture they have to shift their way of thinking and living. The Maasai occupy large tracks of land near game parks in Kenya and in northern Tanzania, live under a communal land management and use seasonal rotation to manage their livestock. The Masai Mara National Reserve is a huge draw for tourists who visit to experience the bonanza of wildlife, especially the wildebeest migration and to see the big cats. The camps that offer accommodation, some on Maasai land, to these visitors benefit tremendously. For tourists, the value of the trip is usually immeasurable.

Dmitri Markine.com http://www.dmitrimarkine.co...

Masai Dance, Maasai Mara Reserve,Kenya. The higher you jump the more women you can marry.(Photo credit: Dmitri Markine Photography)

Whatever side of the tourism road you’re on, education is key to preserving not just the wildlife but the habitat and way of life within the countries most folks regard as “bucket list” destinations.

Everything—from the lion to the livestock herder—is connected.


Ode To Joy and A Cool Breeze.

williamsburgparkA different post was all up and ready to go for today but I caught New Orders concert on the waterfront in Williamsburg Park last night and…screw it, I’m going with this trip down memory lane.

Yesterday, even the heat got tired of itself and New Yorker’s were treated to a picture perfect night. The sun was just starting to dip, I heard The Human League booming and gladly crossed the border to the land of flashbacks.  I bopped along in the line to get my neon green I.D. bracelet stamped with “Enjoy ★ Heineken Responsibly” and kept moving.  Traveling with a pack, we grabbed our Brooklyn Lager and expertly snaked our way through the masses, moving smoothly like water through a river rock run until we were close to the stage. To the north, a tumble of clouds hung in the distance like a mountain range, or maybe I was just seeing things. Strong, cool summer breezes off the East River blew in all around us, a killer sunset was coming down and then the band came on.

New Order takes the stage, July 24, 2013.

New Order takes the stage, July 24, 2013.

If you’re a fan of New Order then I’ve got no explaining to do. If you aren’t too familiar, let’s just say they were their own particular style of music in the ‘80’s and one of the best British bands to come out of post punk’s ashes. Originally members of Joy Division, they salvaged their talent after their lead singer opted for a dirt nap. New Order created its own brand of alternative, electronic music that wasn’t mainstream by a country mile. But you’ve probably heard at least one of their songs, maybe Blue Monday, one night when you were out dancing in a club or at a wedding. The rhythm and beat of that tune wormed its way into your head, making you bounce and groove in ways you never thought possible.

Last night they were loud, they were proud, and they had the crowd in the palm of their hands. It was finally dark, the air was cool but the place was pulsing, it was full transmission. I saw some old faces and some old dance moves. New Order played all their classics and in the end they stoned us with some Joy Division. Williamsburg Park is a misnomer but even the lot we stood in seemed to morph into a perfect venue listening to those retro sounds.  After 23 years, these Brits still know how to do it and have some North American shows left if you’d like to catch them.

Staycation’s wonderful but you can keep your couch, keep your air conditioning, and keep your Netflix.   I’ll take an old school park concert anytime.

Whatever kind of entertainment moves you, summer’s nights are calling you to come out and play.   Share what’s happening in your backyard.

Click here if the image above doesn’t take you to a taste of last night’s show.

Get Your Flicks and Kicks.

And babe, don’t you know it’s a pity
That the days can’t be like the nights
In the summer, in the city
In the summer, in the city
–Lovin’ Spoonful

Manhattan Skyline Sunset

Manhattan Skyline Sunset (Photo credit: Justin in SD)

Spending the dog days of summer in New York City can be…hellish. Anyone who’s already used up vacation days, or can’t spring for one, knows that when it sizzles like this there are few options to stay cool. But nothing’s worse than holing up in your apartment with the air conditioner cranking, missing out on the spectacular neon-pink sunsets and warm breezes of these hot summer nights.DogConorFieldmanBoals

Luckily it seems like this season nights in the city—and the surrounding boroughs of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island— hold some pretty cool offerings for outdoor music and entertainment. The best part is, plenty of it is free and depending on where you go, you can bring your own food and drink. Last week, I—and hundreds of fellow New Yorkers—danced the night away at a silent disco that was part of the outdoor Midsummer Night Swing series at Lincoln Center. Dancers and spectators wore a perpetual grin, and the place was rocking. Whatever side of the floor you were on, the night was magic.

Midsummer Night Swing's Silent Disco.

For visitors and locals, the metro area offers a spice rack of entertainment. If you’re a resident and haven’t enjoyed any of this goodness, times a wastin’.  It’s sometimes easy to keep to your own part of town, but have some fun, play tourist and visit the other boroughs.  Here’s what’s ready and waiting for you:

From opera to jazz, folk, rock, world music, or classical, you can still catch some of the best performances and musicians at the Free Summer Concert series happening all around the town from Central Park to Van Cortlandt Park. Beck will play a benefit concert in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on August 4th. It’s sold out but don’t let that stop you. Pitch a blanket on the grass outside the bandshell and you can still enjoy the show.

Hot fun at Celebrate Brooklyn. (Photo credit:  Ryan Muir)

Hot fun at Celebrate Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Ryan Muir)

The Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library offers culture and arts events. Check out their unique book and writer discussions on the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Norman Mailer, or stomp the night away at their outdoor Plaza Swing Series.

Coney Island beachside flick. (Photo credit: Coney Island Fun Guide)

Coney Island beachside flick. (Photo credit: Coney Island Fun Guide)

Drive-in movies may be a thing of the past around here but luckily you can catch a flick in the park or on the beach. From Wreck-It-Ralph to Argo, Free Summer Movies is a great back-to-basics way to enjoy a hot summer night. A special shout out goes to Coney Island, The Rockaways, and Staten Island. These areas are showing true grit in rebounding back from the beating they took from Superstorm Sandy and are running movies for folks of all ages.

Last but not least, today is Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday and the folks at Madiba, the South African restaurant, will throw their annual celebration. “This restaurant was built on Nelson Mandela’s ideals of love,” said Madiba manager Denis Du Preez. “It doesn’t matter if we light a candle, put a flower out or just put up a picture on his birthday—it’s about the people who come here and rejoice with us and celebrate our hero.” Starting at 6:30pm, they’ll be pouring free Brooklyn Lager and will release lanterns into the night sky.

The town is hot!  Throw on your shorts and flip-flops and celebrate the summer nights—and don’t forget your good will, and blanket or beach chair.  Wherever you are, stay cool and enjoy!

Peace.

Field Trip.

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye.
But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Milky Way over Evans

Milky Way over Evans (Photo credit: casey mac)

Stars.  What is it about looking up into an ink black night studded with stars that makes you feel at one with the universe?  Living in New York City doesn’t give us too much opportunity to really see stars.  They’re too dimmed by the massive amount of light set to a permanent on position.  But now I was in Colorado, my aunt had died, and I was on a back porch in a small town just outside of Denver, gazing up at the heavens and the wonder of it all.  In the distance, a coyote yipped.

It’s a funny thing to travel to a place and have no agenda.  No travel agenda, that is.  There’d be no activities, no wandering.  I was there to be with my cousins, to celebrate their mother’s life. On the porch the next morning, I wanted to jump into the wide expanse of big blue sky, not a cloud in it.  Birdsong rang through the air, settled around us and came in spells from the reserve the house borders.  This breadth of land is a plain field of tall, pale grass but there’s nothing plain about it.  To the west, the Rocky Mountains were as majestic as ever.  Their snow-capped peaks shone bright in the sunlight, like massive Hershey Kisses in their foil.   This mountain range humbled me.  I’m not the first person to feel their awe.  Nature does this to us in thousands of ways, large and small.  It was going to be a heavy trip for sure, but there was something about the sweet scent of grass, and the bigness of it all that I disappeared into. The doing of…nothing, the just being, the simplicity of it all put life and death into perspective.  Made it easy to give comfort.  These mountains have been here long before us and will be here long after the last of my family has turned to dust.

Snow-Capped Colorado Rocky Mountains

Snow-Capped Colorado Rocky Mountains (Photo credit: Rockin Robin)

My aunt was born a Kansas girl but eventually set her roots and boots in Colorado.  This side of my family, and the rest of my cousins and older siblings who came to pay their respects, hail from Topeka, the Land of Oz, and when we gather it’s like a trip back in time.  We don’t see each other often but when we do there seems to come alive some semblance of a childhood preserved by the memories we share of that place and the grandparents we lost long ago.   My brood of cousins, and siblings, has the greater history of the Midwest.  They are the Kansas of my childhood visits.  They are the brilliant fields of sunflowers and tall stalks of sweet corn, and the clink-clank of the Santa Fe Railroad that chugged and whistled behind my grandparents’ faded out white house.  They are the scent of the penny candy shop that no longer exists, a barefoot walk on a hot summer’s day to the Dairy Queen, drive-in movies, and lakeside camping.   They are mid-Western mannered, speak in “yes sirs and no ma’am’s,” and have a gentility those of us who grew up on the East Coast lack.   “It smells like Topeka in here,”   I said when I entered my cousin’s Mel’s home.   “I couldn’t ask for a better compliment,” she said.  In some ways, I guess I made two trips.

Sunflowers at Sunset

Sunflowers at Sunset (Photo credit: Stuck in Customs)

Flying back, the plane had a fiery sunset on its tail all the way home and I gazed out the window until I could no longer see the fields and the Rockies.   The rest of my cousins were also flying or driving back to their homes.  We all had living to get back to but I hoped my aunt was somewhere in the springtime of her youth, running wild through a field of sunflowers.

Island Hopping.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

One of the gifts of working in travel is the wide network of colleagues you meet along the way.  Across air, car, cruise, destinations, hotels, travel advisors, tour companies, and event specialists—we’ve cumulatively traveled the globe!  So it’s always a treat when you run into each other because chances are someone will have just returned from a trip.  One of the features of Ports Are Calling will be a Q&A with industry insiders—or people who have a thing for travel—to spread the word, share a moment or shine a light on a particular destination or travel experience.   I recently caught up with Catherine Reilly, Managing Director, Brendan Vacations, Ireland.  When she’s not crisscrossing her motherland, Miss Reilly can often be found hiking near Lake Como or exploring a new destination experience.  Because she’s blessed to travel so much, she considers herself a “privileged delinquent” and it was good to learn about her recent visit to Easter Island.

Rapa Nui view from the top.  (Photo credit:  Explora lodge, Rapa Nui)

Rapa Nui view from the top. (Photo credit: Explora lodge, Rapa Nui)

Q:   What inspired you to travel to Easter Island?
A:   I’ve visited South America several times, places like Machu Picchu, Patagonia, Galapagos  Islands, the Amazon Rain Forrest, Iguassu Falls, and the wonderful cities of Santiago, Quito, Rio De Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Lima and more. I love this continent and this time a visit to Easter Island fitted nicely into my travel plans.

Q:  So you obviously have a thing for South America.  What is it about that continent that attracts you?
A:  Reading about South America as a child I think I was first attracted by the wonderful place names, Paraguay, Uruguay, Patagonia, and Lake Titicaca.  Now as a traveler I am inspired by its ancient civilization and culture, that’s what draws me back again and again. 

Q:  Do you think that might have something to do with the ancient history that’s in your bones as an Irish woman?
A:  In Ireland all around us we witness our ancient civilization.  At Newgrange for example we have a structure built thousands of years ago that remains today. At Machu Picchu the ancient civilization of the Incas is powerfully presented to us and through the statues on Easter Island we learn about the ancient Polynesians.  The debate continues as to whether these structures, temples, monuments were built to venerate their dead or worship their Gods, or were there other reasons? That said, the fascination is with the people who built these amazing places and things with such engineering skills, knowledge of geometry, astronomy, and respect for their environment. Today we visit, stand in awe and remind ourselves they didn’t have metal yet!

Unfinished Moai.  (Photo credit:  C. Reilly)

Unfinished Moai. (Photo credit: C. Reilly)

Q:  What about Easter Island surprised or fascinated you?
A:  The locals refer to their island as Rapa Nui and you visit to see the Moai (not statues). Interestingly, ‘Rapa Nui’ is the name of the country and the local language and ‘Rapanui’ refers to the people.  The island is so small, about 26 miles long. The biggest attraction is, of course, the Moai, there are so many of them and they are all over this little island and they’re so big.  They’re not protected in any way, so the island relies on the visitor to treat these treasures with respect. What’s fascinating is not just the monumental stonework and the amount of effort it took to build the Moai, there is also the mystery of why the islanders toppled them all over.

The Moai.  (Photo credit:  C. Reilly)

The Moai. (Photo credit: C. Reilly)

Q:  They’re statues but the Moai sound like more of a presence?
A:  Oh, absolutely, yes, the energy on the island is amazing.  It’s like when I walk around some places in Ireland, I feel like I’m walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.  There is a presence on Easter Island and when you visit Rano Raraku, the quarry where there’s something like 400 of these statues still there in various stages of carving, some are half-finished and some are just heads, it’s like one day, the people making them just all up and left.

Easter Island.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Easter Island. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

Q:  Aside from the Moai, were you drawn to any particular part of the island?
A:  My favorite place on the island was the Rano Kau, a crater shaped like an amphitheater. When I arrived at the crater it was clear just how remote it all is, truly wonderful, you’re just surrounded by the big, blue ocean.  The island is Ireland green, and the ocean around it is all different kinds of blue and turquoise, and every time you look at it you can see a different color.

Catherine at Rano Kau on Easter Island.  (Photo credit:  A. Reilly)

Catherine at Rano Kau on Easter Island. (Photo credit: A. Reilly)

Q:  How’s the island hospitality?
A:  It’s fantastic, super friendly.  The population on Easter Island is approximately 5,500.  It’s governed by Chili and 60% of the islanders are Rapanui, and the rest are from the mainland. Most of our guides were Rapanui and they were all very proud to share their stories.  The islanders are extremely welcoming. The post office will even stamp your passport with a Rapa Nui stamp!

Q:  Where did you stay?
A:  I stayed at the Explora lodge, which is five miles from Hanga Roa, where 95% of the population lives and the only place on the island with electricity and running water. There are hotels, restaurants, mini markets and the usual souvenir shops. The local currency is the Chilean peso but you can easily use US dollars. 

Q:  How’s the local cuisine?
A: The food was excellent, great variety, with lots of fresh fish and vegetables. It was all very tasty and healthy. 

Q:  Any interesting experiences?
A:  One of the traditions on the Island is a triathlon with the difference being that it takes place during the Tapati festival in February. It’s only open to Rapanui men, and one of our guides participates each year so it was interesting to hear about it from his perspective. It’s a race that requires extreme stamina. The contestants paddle across the lake 650m in canoes made out of reeds. They then pick up enormous heads of bananas and run one and a half times the circumference of the lake. They then swim and surf across the lake atop a reed surfboard. The men are very scantily clad for this competition.

Q:  How many days do you recommend to visit and what time of the year is the best to go?
A:  I travelled there with LAN, a South American Airline from Santiago.  The flight was just under six hours and there’s daily service. I travelled in the off-season in April, there was some rain but I was able to see the Moai practically alone. It’s quite remote, the island is situated in the Pacific Ocean, half way from the coast of Chile and Tahiti, three full days are a must. The Tapati Festival happens in February and that’s peak time to visit.

Q:  Most people over pack for trips, what do you recommend for an Easter Island visit?
A:  You’re visiting a special place that so few others have ever set foot, so bring an open mind.  After that, all you need is casual clothes and comfortable walking shoes—something closed toe is good, not flip-flops or sandals. High season is January through March but the weather is fairly good for the remainder of the year, so I’d recommend sunscreen and a hat.  Pack a light rain jacket for an off-season trip.  It’s an island so there are beaches where you can swim, and for divers there are caves to explore.  Make sure you have plenty of memory card space and batteries for your camera.

Q:  Why should people visit Easter Island?
A:  Because it’s one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world with a unique history and archaeological wealth greatly disproportionate to its size. A visit to the island will unlock some of the mysteries associated with Rapa Nui, sort out the facts and fiction.  

Q:  Do you recommend hooking a visit to Easter Island onto any other destinations?
A:  For sure—Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil.  Chile and Easter Island for example.  Chile is home to some of the most beautiful and exotic scenery in the world, from the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth, to the magnificent Torres del Paine National Park in the Extreme South, not far from Antarctica, to the beautiful city of Santiago and the nearby vineyards—the itinerary choices we can design here are as diverse as they are endless.  Brendan’s team, Boutique Journeys, creates amazing South American itineraries and extensions to Easter Island.

Empire of the Incas, Peru.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Empire of the Incas, Peru. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

Q:  Easter Island is considered something of a “bucket list” destination.  How popular is it for Brendan customers?
A:  It used to be difficult to get there but flights have increased and it’s becoming more popular for us each year. When you consider that only a total 4,000 travelers visited the island in 1989 from all over the world and in 2012 that number increased to 85,000.  That’s still a small number in global tourism terms, but when you think of the size of the island and the number of inhabitants a different picture emerges.  If tourism continues to grow, they’re going to have to protect the island in some way because it’s a heritage site. They will probably have to restrict visits, like they do on the Galapagos and on the Inca trail. It’s not a place that you can get to easily so the folks who book with us tend to have a traveler, not a tourist, mindset. They’re not looking for the creature comforts—they’re looking for an experience.  The Brendan team does an excellent job in managing expectations and matching the needs of the customer with the experience

Q:  So it sounds like the ideal thing would be to figure which South American country you’d like to explore and build Easter Island into the itinerary.  If anyone is interested in booking a trip with Brendan to discover Easter Island, what should they do?
A:  That’s easy, they just talk to their travel agent!