How G Adventures Gives Back to the Community

When you are planning a trip abroad with sustainability in mind, it can sometimes be complex and hard to execute. You may think of options like a  group trip, head to a particular destination you think is more sustainable, or look for ways to make a positive impact when you arrive. Thankfully, some travel organizations, like G Adventures, take the difficulty out of preplanning and allow you to focus on how you can truly be a positive, impactful traveler.

“Changing the world through travel” has been the organization’s motto since its creation in 1990. For over 20 years, G Adventures has curated numerous bookings for individuals to revel in sustainable vacations, the local community and volunteer services that provide an enriching experience. Furthermore, G Adventures works closely with its non-profit partner – Planeterra, which aims to empower people, protect the environment, and create a ripple effect of positive impact through tourism.

From all across the globe, there are numerous vacation projects for you to pick from. The organization just introduced five new projects to the public in 2020. Be sure to check them out below to gain some destination inspiration or learn more about how you can give back to communities while traveling.

1. Dqae Qare San Lodge – D’Kar, Botswana

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The Dqae Qare San Lodge is a unique experience as it is owned and run by the San people

D’kar is a village in the Ghanzi District of Botswana. A large number of the San of Southern Africa, a marginalized group of indigenous people, resides there. They are excluded from the economy and lack social services. Moreover, they are under constant threat of their language and history being demolished by infrastructure development and lack of cultural resources. 

In the D’kar village, the Dqae Qare San Lodge is a wildlife area, lodge and campsite. It also aids in the protection of the San of Botswana. It offers full-time employment and part-time work for those who offer cultural activities and other small jobs there. Over USD $38,000 is annually paid to upkeep development projects like freshwater infrastructure and resources for preschool. Such projects are invaluable to the community, which lives in extreme poverty.

Planeterra partners with Dqae Qare San Lodge to assist them with upgrades to their site and accommodation. Funds are used to improve facilities and connect the lodge with a steady stream of travelers from G Adventures. The tourism income ensures a regular revenue for the camping grounds.

2. Reef Ecologic – Whitsundays, Australia

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The Whitsundays is just right on the corner of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia

The Whitsundays Islands is made up of 74 continental islands off the coast of Queensland, Australia. People from all over travel head here to see some of world’s finest white sands beaches and barrier reefs. However, a tropical cyclone swept through the Whitsundays region in 2017, decimating terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Along with the environmental and economic impacts, the ecosystem began to collapse because of damage done to the coral reefs. The lack of coral reefs affects marine life and leads to the disappearance of fish, sharks and sea turtles.

In a collaboration with Reef Ecologic, Planeterra integrated reef restoration programs into tourism experiences in the Whitsundays. With the sponsorship of a new coral garden, Reef Ecologic secured funding for monitoring efforts for the coral garden through tourism. When booking a trip to Whitsundays, Australia, travelers engage in various materials to learn about marine rehabilitation. They also physically help in reef recovery and integrate tourism with the community.

3. Soa Zara – Ranohira, Madagascar

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Approximately 22% of Madagascar is forest

Located off the east coast of Africa, Madagascar is the world’s fifth-largest island. It has some of the world’s largest coral reef systems and mangrove areas. In addition, it is home to an abundance of plants and animals found nowhere else on earth. However, Madagascar has lost 90% of its original forests because of destruction caused by humans. Deforestation is a major issue that has spurred from agriculture and fuel usage.

L’Association Soa Zara has planted over 10,000 trees, and Planeterra worked with them to create a tree planting activity for travelers staying at the ITC Lodge nearby.

Learn how trees sustain our planet in this book

Planeterra further supports the local organization’s efforts through community outreach programs. Soa Zara helps create washbasin stations and a water filtration system. As a result, they bridge the protection of the environment with economic development for the local people. Travelers stay at the nearby ITC Lodge and have hands-on experience with planting their own trees next to the Isalo National park. In addition, travelers learn about the reforestation project and discover ways their trip can support the renewal of habitats.

4. Libaran Island – Borneo, Malaysia

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At Libaran Island, the best time to watch turtles is between July and September

On the northeast coast of Sandakan in Malaysia, there is Libaran Island. There, you will find long beaches and crystal blue water. With its beautiful sunsets, it is also called the “Turtle Island”. Libaran Island has two species of turtles – Green Turtles and Hawksbill turtles. The remote island has little economic opportunity, but the importance of the island as an endangered sea turtle nesting site also ties into the local people having the ability to earn an income on their island. 

Help the environment by using 100% Compostable Paper Bowls Natural Disposable Bagasse, Eco-Friendly Biodegradable, Made of Sugar Cane Fibers.

The Planeterra Foundation provided a grant to fund the necessary training for Libaran villagers to make souvenirs from ocean plastic waste. Local plants are weaved and local snacks are cooked to create new tourism activities while having a new way to earn income. Travelers have more opportunities to learn about the community, observe traditional craftsmanship and enjoy the local cuisine. The project helps locals increase their capability to earn an income from sustainable tourism opportunities on the island.

5. Mesilou Home Stay – Borneo, Malaysia

At Mesilou Atamis Homestay, all travelers can engage in the daily traditions of the locals

The Mesilou Atamis Homestay is “The Highest & Coldest Homestay in Malaysia.” It lies at an altitude of about 1600m above the sea, and temperatures can reach 15 degrees celsius. The cold, highland area once showcased unique and traditional cultural activities to guests, but it had become a home rental service due to the demand from domestic tourism. The community’s goal to share their unique travel became difficult to do as many travelers saw the area only as a place to stay. Since then, a large disconnect between locals and travelers resulted.

From the former CEO of renowned travel guide publisher Lonely Planet, a look at how travel can transform not only the traveler, but also the world.

G Adventure’s Planeterra funds improvement to the homestay operation and created new tourism activities for tourists to enjoy real experiences. As a result, the project provides opportunities for young entrepreneurs returning to their home town and turning their family home into local accommodations. Also, the community can feel that they are able to shine again after years of not having the ability to share their culture with international guests. There, travelers can engage in fishing, farming and cooking with members of the community, while economically aiding through tourism.

~By Virtual Marketing & Communications Intern, Laura Vo. Laura’s a Public Relations Major at Kennesaw State University and has a passion for supporting great causes like Go Eat Give.

Greetings to Learn From Other Cultures

In America, what’s a common way for a person to greet someone? A usual “Hi! Nice to meet you!” followed by a handshake is what many would think of when asked that question. What started as a Greek symbol of peace has became an everyday action now, but how do you feel about the new elbow bump that’s becoming commonplace with social distancing?

With COVID-19 still a concern, you may be wary of exchanging physical contact. So instead of the usual universal greeting, why not take a look at how other cultures greet each other? Though the handshake has been a long tradition in American life, learning and trying out different new ways to greet people can be a fun, unique experience, while also helping you build stronger bonds with people from various backgrounds. It may even come in handy on your next business or leisure trip!

1. Bow

bow greeting
In Asia, a bow is appropriate for all social settings.
photo courtesy of TripSavvy

In Eastern Asian countries like Japan and Korea, bowing is a common greeting. Though everyone greets by bowing, the meaning of the gesture can take on different forms. It can symbolize respect, sincerity, humility, and remorse, depending on the context of the situation. Increase the emotion behind the greeting by bowing lower than the other person.

For a Japanese bow or “ojigi,” men should have their hands to their sides, while women would place their hands onto their laps. During the bow, make sure to lower your gaze and avoid eye contact. The neck and back should be a straight line. In informal situations, a 15-degree angle bow is acceptable, but during formal situations, a 30-degree angle bow is expected. In Korea, however, numerous bows or “konsu” are practiced. They vary from casual and respectful, to “belly-button” bows. Each gesture has different guidelines to follow for specific settings a person may be in. 

Check out this video for a more in-depth explanation and the difference between the two cultural bows!

Want to try some Japanese snacks? Check out this fun box that comes with an assortment of food items anyone can enjoy!

2. Shaking Fist

I tried out this fun greeting, and it’s super easy! Try it out next time you’re with friends!
Photo courtesy by Mental Floss

This greeting of shaking your own fist in the air is common among the Kanuri tribe in Niger. The Kanuri tribe belongs to the Saharan Branch of the Nilo-Sharan, and its lineage traces back to the medieval Kanem-Bornu Empire. As farmers, fishers and traders, it’s common to encounter the Kanuri people in Southeast Niger. Instead of smiling or waving, shaking fists is a formal greeting!

To correctly do this, raise your hands at eye level and then form them into fists. Then, shake your fists while saying “wooshay!” which translates to “hi!”

3. Wai

For the wei, the higher your hands symbolizes the amount of respect shown.
Photo courtesy by Koh Samui Sunset

The wai, pronounced  “why,” is exclusive to the people of Thailand. The wai complements the Thai word “sawasdee” which means hello. However, it’s recommended to not gesture the wai to people who are younger than you, as age plays a major role in social ranking in Thailand. Instead, give them a nod and smile. Use the greeting to say goodbye, to apologize, and to pay respects to spirit houses, temples or shrines!

To wai, place your palms together with each finger touching its counterpart. With your hands at the center of your chest, bend your neck toward your fingers. As your neck is lowering, rotate your hands to where your index figure will touch your nose. The higher you place your hands, the more respect is conveyed.

4. Tongue Out

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This Tibetan greeting will make kids chuckle.
Photo courtesy of Home Exchange

Across the globe, children often stick their tongues out when making fun of each other. As adults, we refrain from this as it is considered rude. In Tibet, however, it’s quite the opposite, and is actually a formal greeting. The tradition stems from the 9th century during the rule of Tibetan King Lang Darma. Known for his cruelty and black tongue, Darma is an infamous figure in Tibetian history.

Tibetans fear Darma’s incarnation and stick out their tongues as a greeting. If the tongue is not black, they are deemed not guilty of evil deeds, and are not incarnations of the malevolent king. When you visit Tibet, you don’t have to worry about being impolite since the greeting is actually a form of respect!

5. Namaste

namaste greeting
Namaste symbolizes unity and good energy.
Photo courtesy of Stuff

During this time of social distancing, namaste has become the go-to method across the globe for greeting people. The action is a customary, non-contact form of Hindu greeting predominately found in India. The meaning behind the custom is to welcome guests, relatives, or to acknowledge strangers. It expresses courtesy, politeness and gratitude, while also acting as a salutation and valediction. Derived from the Sanskrit language and meaning, “I bow to the divine in you,” namaste is the highest and most respectful greeting in the world!

To say namaste, hold both palms together with forefingers posing upwards. Bring your thumbs close to your chest. Close your eyes as you bow, and say “namaste” loud and clear. For an example of how to correctly observe this greeting, watch this video from Hemalayaa.

~By Virtual Marketing & Communications Intern, Laura Vo. Laura’s a Public Relations Major at Kennesaw State University and has a passion for supporting great causes like Go Eat Give.

Hidden Gems to Visit Across America

How can you make ordinary trips across America more unique and fun? Look for hidden gems scattered around each state! Though tourist spots like museums, bustling cities, landmarks, theme parks, or national monuments are often highlights of a destination, hidden gems like the ones listed below, can turn your traveling experience from memorable to unforgettable!

When you search for activities on your vacation, try to find hole-in-the-wall places, often times located in between attraction hotspots. You’ll find yourself learning something new while getting away from the crowds.

The easiest thing to do is Google search “unique places around me,” or “unusual things to do at ____” to look for interesting wonders to visit. You’ll also be inspired to go searching for secret spots to venture to in your own backyard. Here are some suggestions on where to get started…

California: Downtown Los Angeles Underground Tunnels 

Explore these hidden tunnels in Los Angeles
Image courtesy of Alissa Walker

What comes to mind when you think of California? Disneyland, the Hollywood sign, Santa Monica Pier – I bet you it’s not this! Most people don’t realize there are a network of tunnels underneath the city. As Los Angeles began to grow a century ago, underground tunnels were carved out for transportation needs. However, the 11-mile hidden passage became even more of a hotspot during the prohibition period. Such tunnels became the meeting place for basement speakeasies and a method for people to transport liquor. But now, they have been abandoned.

To explore this hidden gem, you can slip into an elevator behind the Hall of Records on Temple Street, or you can schedule a guided tour.

Louisiana: New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum

This cultural gem is only a three-minute walk from the St. Louis Cathedral
Image courtesy of The Captain’s Ramblings

Connected to nature, spirits and ancestors, Voodoo is a historic religion in “Big Easy” city. With its mix of African, Haitian and Catholic spiritual practices, it became widespread among the slave population of New Orleans during the 18th century. Inspired by the Voodoo culture, local artist Charles Massicot Gandolfo founded the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum in 1972. This hidden gem offers interesting items for sale such as potions, books and fortune-telling. Also, you will find artifacts, antique dolls and recollections of the famous Voodoo Priestess Maria Laveau.

As the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Laveau was a black priestess who wielded tremendous power and magical abilities. Such beliefs continue today as visitors still visit her grave and make their wishes. If you want to spice up your usual trip to the French Quarter, check out this enriching culture spot.

Colorado: Paint Mines Interpretive Park

hidden gem
Capture these gorgeous colors in person on your next hiking trip
Image courtesy of El Paso County

After hiking the famous Rocky Mountains, journey on over to El Paso County, where beautiful, brightly colored rock formations will inspire you. Unlike other national parks, orange, purple and white clay bands decorate this geological formation. It’s said that ancient Native Americans collected sediments from this area 9,000 years ago to create colorful pottery and even war paint.

For anyone wanting a hiking spot that is more intimate and has a historical background, Paint Mines Interpretive Park is definitely a hidden gem to visit.

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia’s Magic Garden

A maze of various art will blow your mind
Image courtesy of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Wanting to add a little magic to your vacation? Make some time to visit Philadelphia’s Magic Garden. Don’t let the name fool you. Instead of flowers, mosaic tiles, antique objects and other artistic knick-knacks entirely make up this garden.

Isaiah Zagar, a local artist in the 1960s, began tiling South Street and never stopped. In addition, a wide range of Latin-American to Chinese art fills the Magic Gardens encompassing half a city block. Also, don’t forget to check out the neighborhood of indoor galleries and an outdoor labyrinth. On your next trip to Philadelphia, let yourself get lost in this gorgeous work of art!

A great way to capture all your hidden gem moments in a unique way is with a Polaroid! Make sure to check out this item to save all of your travel memories!

~By Virtual Marketing & Communications Intern, Laura Vo. Laura’s a Public Relations Major at Kennesaw State University and has a passion for supporting great causes like Go Eat Give.

Virtual Tours Across the 7 Continents

Popular destinations across the globe are virtually capturing their highlights, so that people can still travel, even if it’s from the comfort of their own home. Follow us on an adventure across the seven continents, as we journey through some of the must-see places around the world.

Let’s take a (virtual) trip around the world!

North America

Alaska, the Last Frontier. Virtual tours in North America.
Tagish Lake, Alaska

Start at the edge of the globe by taking in the breathtaking sights of America’s infamous Last Frontier, with a virtual vacation by Travel Alaska. Watch the brown bears at Katmai National Park and Preserve, or follow alongside a professional guide as he explores the glaciers at Kenai Fjords National Park.

Continue south and take a journey through the National Parks of the American West. Explore your way through the diverse landscape of Yosemite, the unique water features of Yellowstone, and the great expanse of carved rocksides of the Grand Canyon.

South America

Amazon Rainforest

In South America, begin in Peru with a tour of Machu Picchu. Soak in the ancient culture of the long-ago Incas, and marvel the site’s ability to withstand the test of time. Then, take in the astonishing grandeur of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. Finally, finish your South American tour, with an immersive venture into the wilderness of Patagonia, the famous mountain range shared by bordering Argentina and Chile.

If you have little ones, read with them children’s picture book on travel – Beato Goes To Brazil.

Europe

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland. Virtual Tours around the world, Europe.
Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Start your European journey on the coast of Ireland, and have your breath taken away by the vertical plunge to the sea that sits just past the ridge of the Cliffs of Moher.

Next, travel to the popular city of London, England, and take in the city sights from the top of the London Eye. Or, immerse your self in the history, culture, and heritage that is encompassed by the virtual tour of Buckingham Palace.

Learn about the history of the famous architectural feat, the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Virtual traveling does not require a lot of stamina, so you can continue on with a virtual walking tour of the entire city of Rome.

Africa

Learn all about the geography, the people, and of course, the animals of this vast continent, with a short informational video from PBS.

Continue on your journey and view Victoria Falls, one of the biggest waterfalls in Africa, from an aerial perspective. Finally, take a virtual Safari compliments of Asilia Africa. You will quickly fall in love with the native elephants, hyenas, lions, and so many other wild animals.

Asia

Asia is a vast continent and it can be intimidating to pick where to start. The good thing about virtual visits is you can explore all the places you want to from your home and for free! That ways you can pick and choose where you want to go in the future.

Take a walk along one of the wonders of the world – the Great Wall of China. This amazing structure boasts a history of over 2,000 years and is over 3,000 miles long!

In Indonesia, walk through temples, rice fields, or even the famous sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary.

Continue on westward and travel to Vietnam to experience the world’s largest cave – Hang Son Doong, located at Nha- Ke Bang National Park. 

Antarctica

Watch penguin colonies up close in Antarctica

Finish your virtual tour around the world on a different edge of the globe – in Antarctica, also known as the 7th continent. To see this snowy landscape, Shackleton 100 has a great interactive map of the whole continent. Additionally, Quark Expeditions has created an online guide for viewers to get to know the animals that inhabit the land. These include but are not limited to Gentoo penguins!

Read about our adventure to Antarctica

Continue the Adventure

If you are looking for more opportunities to see the world from your own home there are numerous avenues to do so. Google, for example, has partnered with entities around the world to create vast galleries of Art and Culture, as well as a unique platform for Heritage Sites that are threatened by climate change. Or if you’re just looking for a day trip, National Geographic has created a gallery of 24 sites, one new place for one new hour of the day.

For even more, check out How to Satisfy Your Wanderlust at Home, here.

~By virtual Marketing and Communications Intern, Jordan Dunn. Jordan is a Public Relations and Communications Marketing Major at Siena College in Upstate NY. She has a passion for writing, traveling, and advocacy.

Where To Meet The Maori People in New Zealand

When tourists arrive in New Zealand, they often ask, where do the Maori people live, or where can we go see them?

The Maori are indigenous people of New Zealand. They came from Polynesia in the 1300s. Today, they make up 17% of New Zealand’s population. Te Reo is the official language of the country, along with English and New Zealand sign language. Most places in New Zealand have Maori and English names.

The fact is, after hundreds of years of racial integration, there are not many 100% Maori people left. They don’t bear much resemblance to their ancestors in the way they look, carry themselves, or the work they do. Most of them hold high ranking positions in the public and private sectors, as well as own large companies.

Finding an Authentic Experience

However, there are a few spots around New Zealand where you can get a Maori experience, which is often curated for tourism. At Rotarua, a popular tourist town located in the Waikato region of the North Island that reminded me of a tacky strip in Gatlinburg, you can go see a Maori cultural performance with thousands of other travelers.

Or if you want a more intimate set up, book a Powhiri or official Maori Welcome with Aroha Luxury Tours.

Off to Mokai Island

High Speed Boat heading toward Mokaia Island
You can always add a little adventure to your experience in New Zealand!

I had a high-speed boat pick me up from my luxurious lakefront lodge, Peppers on the Point. The trip offered a few thrilling rides and water splashes on our way to Mokoia Island.

View of Mokoia Island from balcony at Peppers on the Point
View of Mokoia Island from my balcony at Peppers on the Point.

Mokoia Island was once a Maori tribal residence but is now a historical and nature reserve governed by four local hapu of Ngati Whakaue.

Meeting Our Maori Guide

Maori guide paying respect to his ancestral ground.
Maori guide paying respect to his ancestral ground.

My guide, Jason (who is one of the tribal members), greeted us at the island and told us the correct way to approach and greet the Maori. The powhiri always takes place on a mare (Maori meeting ground). A warrior from the host community blows on putatara (conch) and challenges the guest to see if they are an enemy or not. As he lays down a branch as a peace offering, the guest must accept the offering. Doing so shows that they come in peace. It is always the male who would make the approach as the women are kept safe until a friendship between the tribe and the guests has been established.  

Meeting the People of the Island

The Maori people performing a welcome dance.
Maori welcome dance.

After we were seated, older men -who are actual decedents of the island- from the community, gave speeches, and the group sang to support the speaker’s remarks. We were asked to give a speech and sing a song in return (which my husband did on our behalf).

Maori Elder
Maori Elder

After an expressive performance of melodious songs and rhythmic dance movements, the Maori greeted us with sermonical touching of noses – twice (as we were reminded). It was a custom I have not seen in any other country.

Exploring the Island

Historic site on Mokoia island.
Historic site on Mokoia island.

Next, following our welcome, John led us on a guided tour and hike through the island. There we saw rare special birds and plants and learned about the Maori love story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai. My favorite was the silver fern buds, called koru – the iconic symbol of New Zealand. They represent new life or the beginning of things.

The Maori concept of manaakitanga means hospitality, generosity and mutual respect. It is also part of New Zealand tourism values. To experience a Maori tradition you will need to travel to New Zealand and find a community that welcomes visitors.

Maori Anglican church in Ohinemutu.

Later that day, I also got a chance to drive past an actual Maori village (not one designed for tourists) in Ohinemutu. While there you can see geothermal hot springs releasing smoke in many front yards. One of the best places to see the traditional architecture was at the Anglican church. The stained glass windows of the church reflected Maori symbols on Jesus’ robe. There’s also a meeting house and a small craft center in the square, where you can buy handicrafts made of wood, bone, flax, paua shell, and greenstone.

Discover Three Thousand Year Old History in Sri Lanka

When you think of Sri Lanka, you may picture a tropical island dotted with sandy beaches, wildlife reserves filled with elephants, coconut groves, spice and tea plantations. Surely, the small island located just south of India merits all these, but there’s also three thousand year old temples, palaces and caves to explore.

Here are some places in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka that are must see:

Rangiriya Dambulla Cave Temple

This UNESCO World Heritage Site also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, dates back to 1st century BC. Burial sites in the area indicate that prehistoric Sri Lankans lived in these cave complexes 2700 years ago.

You must ascend over 100 stone steps to see the complex of 5 caves carved into a 160 meter rocky hill. Inside you can see 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses, along with various cave inscriptions. Every inch of the roofs of the caves are covered with colorful murals (many still intact) covering an area of 23,000 sq. ft. You will feel insignificant in the presence of one of the largest statue of Buddha spanning 15 meters located inside the first cave.

Hotel Tip: Stay at Habarana Village by Cinnamon in Habarana for luxurious village style retreat near the spiritual sites. The hotel organizes village tours including bullock cart rides and traditional meals by the river. 

Sigiriya

Also know as Lion Rock, this ancient rock fortress is the iconic image of Sri Lanka in posters and tourist brochures. According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavamsa, this site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. You can see this example of urban planning by climbing up the  massive column of rock nearly 200 meters (660 ft) high. On the way, see a gateway in the form of an enormous lion, the palace ruins, painted frescos, and a swimming pool. On top, enjoy spectacular views of the canopy and gardens surrounding the complex, with giant white Buddha status propping in the green.

Hiking Tip: The best time to climb Sigiriya is early morning when it’s not too hot or late afternoon so you can see the sunset. The best photos of the rock are aerial shots, but you must obtain permission to fly a drone prior to your visit. 

Anuradhapura

Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Anuradhapura was the first capital of Sri Lanka from the 5th century BC to 9th century AD. The ancient city, has 16 square miles filled with monasteries.

Pay respect to the oldest historically documented tree on earth (over 2,200 years old). The Bodhi tree is considered to be the island’s oldest Buddhist shrine, as Buddha got enlightened under it (the sapling comes from the original tree in India). A large white stupa as well as small alters surround the complex. Look for impressive white ‘dagabas’ (relic chambers), stone carvings, rock sculptures and more.

Temple Visit Tip: It is necessary to cover arms and legs; remove shoes, hats and sunglasses when visiting holy sites in Sri Lanka. You will find the locals typically dressed in white, a symbol of purity. While it’s ok to take photos inside the temples, it’s illegal to take a picture with your back towards Buddha. 

Mihintale

This is where Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka and is therefore regarded as the cradle of Buddhism. On this rock are many shrines and dwellings, originally used by monks. A grand stairway of 1,840 steps made of granite slabs 15 feet wide, leads to the summit from where one could get a splendid view of the surrounding countryside.

Polonnaruwa

There are mostly ruins of temples, palaces and stupas to be seen in this medieval city, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a brief perspective at the museum, visit the Royal Palace complex including the Kings Palace and Audience Hall, the Quadrangle with its concentration of ancient heritage and the spectacular Gal Vihare complex of four massive images of the Buddha, cut from a single slab of granite. Some of the best examples of the Hindu influence – the Temples of Shiva, intricate statues of Hindu Gods, fascinating Buddhist temples, the Lankatileka and Watadage, the Galpotha, the Lotus bath, the Kiri Vihare Dagoba and the remains of a former Temple of the Tooth are other impressive sights.

Temple of the Tooth

This is one of the most important shrines for Buddhists and pilgrims from all over Sri Lanka come to the hill town of Kandy through the year, offering trays of lotus flowers and sweets, as they pay respect to the tooth relic of Lord Buddha. While you can’t actually see the tooth (the door encasing it is opened once a year), you can admire the beautiful carvings and splendor of the palace-turned-temple located on the lakeshore. Spend some time walking the temple ground, listen to the drummers dressed in traditional costumes and peek into the museum for some historical facts. There are two ceremonies performed each day so make sure to time your visit accordingly.

Kandy Tip: Kandy is a popular tourist town, mainly because of this temple, access to hiking areas, trendy restaurants and lots of shops selling tea, gems and souvenirs. Stay at Cinnamon Citadel by the river and reserve a special Sri Lankan curry lunch overlooking the city at Theva Residency.

The above sites can be visited in 2-3 days and give valuable insight into the belief system of the Sri Lankan people. If you are the kind of traveler interested in ancient history and culture, add Sri Lanka to your travel list.

Booking Tip: To avoid the hassle of making hotel reservations, public transport and finding guides, contact The Holiday Place for a custom made itinerary in Sri Lanka. They can arrange a private driver with knowledgeable guide, tickets to the monuments and hotel reservations. 

Do you have a travel tip for Sri Lanka? Post your comments below…

St Lucia’s History and Saltfish Recipe

If you manage to leave your resort in St Lucia, one of the neat places to explore the heritage, culture and beauty of the island is at Greenwood Terrace. This historic home has been converted into a museum, garden, cooking school and offices of local tour company, Barefoot Holidays.

When you first enter the 2-story building, you will see artifacts and items donated by St Lucians dating back 100 years. Some of the memorabilia show documents of the first black seaman from St Lucia, pictures of nobel laureates, top chef Nina Compton, past presidents, women leader, actors & cricketeers.

You can also try on the St Lucian national wear for women – Mouchew/ Madras. The headpiece is designed out of a square or rectangle material cut specifically for this purpose. Worn over the forehead, it is creatively folded with a peak extending from the base. You can tie up to four peaks based on your courtship availability. One Peak – I am single. Two Peaks – I am married. Three Peaks – I am widowed or divorced. Four Peaks – I am up for anyone!

Outside there are over 260 types of flowing plants, fruits and traditional herbs and 23 species of birds on the property premise. Marketing manager, Shirlyn shows me trees full of moringa, avocado and mango, which she often picks after her office hours for a quick snack.

In the back, there is a traditional St Lucia village hut, the kind her parents generation lived in, she tells me. You can also see a clay baking oven, a chicken coop, and platene – a large traditional cooking pot used for making sugar and farine (a by -product of cassava – an Amerindian dish).

Of course, I had to taste some of fruits and herbs I had seen earlier, so Shirlyn presents me a Lucian snack box with candied fruits, nuts and spiced rum. There is a cooking studio setup for those who want to learn Creole cooking and classes are held couple of times a week or on request.

The resident chef shows me how to make Accra (fish cakes) made with cod that are very popular for breakfast and appetizers.

Here is the recipe for you to try this St Lucian dish at home courtesy of Barefoot Holidays.

Fish Cakes (Accra) Recipe

Ingredients:

  • ½ lb. Saltfish (or dried salted cod)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. Baking powder
  • 2 tbsp. Finely chopped green seasonings (combination of fresh thyme/oregano, chives/spring onion/green onion, shadon beni/cilantro)
  • 1 tsp. Minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. Finely chopped onion
  • Hot pepper to taste
  • ½ cup water (approx.)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup vegetable or canola oil for deep frying

Directions:

Scald saltfish, remove bones and flake fish finely. Keep aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, green seasoning, garlic and onion in a large bowl. Mix the fish with the flour. Add pepper and water to make a soft mixture and mix until smooth. Add salt to taste.

Heat oil in a large frying pan until really hot. Drop the batter into the hot oil using a large spoon and deep fry for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with hot sauce or banana ketchup.

An Evening With a Maiko

If you have walked around the streets in Japan, you may have spotted a beautiful lady dressed in a kimono with white painted face and her hair pinned up in a bun. Perhaps she was a Maiko or a Geisha, an integral part of Japanese culture and society. In the western world, perception of these women has been misconstrued.

According to Aileen Adalidgeisha (aka geiko or geigi) which translates to English as “performing artist” or “artisan”, is a high-class professional and traditional female entertainer in Japan trained in various forms of art. Meanwhile, a maikowhich translates to English as “dancing child”, is an apprentice geisha. A geisha is usually hired to attend to guests (traditionally male) during banquets, meals, parties, and other occasions as she demonstrates her skills through various ways such as dancing to a tune played with the shamisen (a stringed instrument), initiating games, doing the art of conversation, and more. There are fewer than 2000 Geishas in Japan today. They were over 80,000 in the 1920s.

According to Japanese culture, any random person cannot visit a ochaya (tea house) unless they have been formally introduced through a third party and invited. There is no money exchanged in the beginning, so this ensures guarantee payment at the end of the year. However, these days private parties and tourists can arrange meeting with a geisha at a ryōtei (traditional Japanese restaurant).

I met Maiko-san at a restaurant in Kyoto. We had a private room inside the restaurant, minimally decorated with tatami floors, and a low table with a window overlooking a small zen garden. After the waitress came to take the drink order and poured me a glass of plum wine, a beautiful young woman dressed in an exquisite red and white kimono walked in. Her makeup made her look like a doll with a static expression. Her hair was neatly piled up on her head. She greeted us (me and my guide) softly in Japanese. A man who entered the room with her played music on a boombox and she started dancing in slow rhythmic motions. It was mesmerizing!

Then she sat down at the head of the table. One of the duties of a maiko is to have conversations with the guests and entertain them. We were told we can ask her anything. She did not speak English, but understood practically everything I asked. Nevertheless, Nobu-san, my translator facilitated the conversation.

Maiko-San told me that she was 17 years old. She came from a small town in northwest Japan which was hit by tsunami. She chose this line of profession at 15 because she had a strong interest in Japanese culture and wanted to follow the career path of a geisha. In Kyoto, she enrolled in a teahouse where she still undergoes a vigorous program of learning music, dance, origami, personal care and more. It is intense with long hours and little time to be a teenager. She cannot go out much (especially when she is in her garb) and gets to visit her family once a year. Her master/ big sister is 80 years old and she will need to repay her through her earnings.

Training to be a geisha can be quite expensive. The master at a tea house will invest in the lodging, meals, classes, dresses and pocket money of the young girl until she graduates.

Only a fraction of girls who come to the program with her will graduate.

Then she showed us how to do origami and gifted little swans made of paper napkins.

Maiko-San told me on her days off she likes to go to Starbucks and try out their seasonal drinks. Japan is very innovative for that! When I was there this summer, they had introduced a “chocolate cake frappuccino.” We talked about all the places I visited in Japan and the foods I had tried. As we got our meal (she does not eat with guests), I would ask her to describe to me what I was eating. Though she is not allowed to own a phone, she felt quite comfortable using my iPhone to looks up Japanese foods I was unfamiliar with. I felt I was chatting with any other Japanese girl, a bit shy but curious, and matured for her age.

The experience costs $500 for 2-hours plus cost of food and drinks at the restaurant and can be booked through a travel agent. This experience was arranged for our group by Flo Tours and their Japanese partners.

Given the chance, would you sign up for an experience to be entertained by a maiko or geisha? Leave your comments below…

Myths of Bhutan Revealed

Up until recently, when I visited the tiny country of Bhutan, it remained a mystery to me. I pictured this magical place where the entire nation practices Buddhism, animals roam free through the protected forests, and everyone is happy and content all the time. Some of the movies I watched also suggested that one becomes very peaceful and all the illnesses go away when you go to Bhutan.

As an eager journalist, I wanted to find the facts for myself. What I discovered was very different from everything I knew, which is generally what happens until you actually travel to that destination.

Here are some of my questions answered…

Is everyone in Bhutan Buddhist?

Technically, Bhutan is a Buddhist country. Majority of the population is Buddhist, followed by Hindu. Though the influence of Buddhism is strong in many areas, not 100% of the people observe all its beliefs and rituals. About 15% of the population are Buddhist monks. There are both male and female monks in the monasteries.

female monk in Bhutan

Do Bhutanese eat meat?

If you look at the traditional Bhutanese menus, they tend to have a lot of meat dishes, including pork, beef and chicken. The government does not allow killing of animals for consumption. In fact, you can get arrested and fined if you slaughter an animal for food, fish from the rivers, or even accidentally kill a stray dog. Therefore, the meat you find in Bhutan is imported, mostly from India.

Though the Buddhist belief does not allow consumption of animals, many of the Bhutanese people do eat meat.
bhutan food

Is everyone in Bhutan happy?

In 2016, the World Happiness Report published by the United Nations ranked Bhutan as the 84th happiest country. According to the domestic survey done to measure Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, 90% of the population reported that they were happy. Now the definition of happiness can be subjective. In Bhutan, you will find a lot of poverty and access to very little resources. Infrastructure is undeveloped, there is high unemployment, work is mostly in agricultural sectors, and practically everything is imported into the country. One might question, how one can be happy having so little? In fact, while walking around shops, I didn’t particularly find anyone smiling or laughing with joy. Most people went about their day very seriously and responded only when spoken to.

Perhaps the people in Bhutan are happy because of their culture which embodies the teaching of Buddhism. There is strong emphasis on living as a community, helping each other, doing good deeds and finding happiness from within.

Is there any crime in Bhutan?

Though Bhutan is a peaceful country and quite safe, there is some petty crime especially among the youth. You can find instances of pick pocketing, theft, domestic violence and an occasional murder as well. When I asked one of the judicial officials regarding this, he mentioned that most cases of crime are committed by adolescent boys, perhaps overcome by peer pressure, alcohol or just hormones. Crime in Bhutan is significantly less than other countries.

Is Bhutan a mountainous country?

Given that the country is half the size of Indiana, there is unimaginable diversity in nature. Valleys, subalpine mountains, rivers, and plains are spread through the country, making it hot and rainy in the south, and dry and cold in the north. 60% of the country is protected as forest land under a strict regulation for maintaining the environmental impact. It is home to many animals including leopards, tigers, musk deer and takin. There are also some of the highest peaks in the world found in the Himalayan mountains of Bhutan, making it a great destination for trekking and mountaineering.

punakha bhutan scenery

The highest point in Bhutan is Gangkhar Puensum at 7,570 metres (24,840 ft), which has the distinction of being the highest unclimbed mountain in the world

Can you feel the monarchial presence in Bhutan?

Bhutan’s political system has recently changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. In 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred most of his administrative powers to the Council of Cabinet Ministers and allowed for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly.

In everyday life, you can feel the presence of the monarch though. Pictures of the royal family, including the current 36-year old king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema are displayed at homes, shops, museums, hotels, etc. They make ceremonial appearances at festivals and assemblies, and give motivational speeches to the kingdom on the importance of education, giving back, and following one’s customs.

How much freedom do the Bhutanese people have?

In 1999, the government lifted a ban on television and the Internet, making Bhutan one of the last countries to introduce television. They believed that exposure to the western world makes people unhappy as it encourages desire and greed.

There are few bars and clubs in Bhutan, mostly frequented by young people. Certainly not a destination for party lovers.

happiness wine in bhutan

Traditions supersede freedom of expression. The King requires everyone to wear the national costume to work, school and temples. Only during free time, one can choose to dress as they like.

Women and men have equal rights in Bhutan. Even in jobs involving manual labor, such as construction and agriculture, you can find women working alongside men. Respect for women is also an important part of Buddhist culture. Bhutanese men perform domestic duties including cooking. Traditionally the groom moves to the bride’s family home after marriage.

people of bhutan

What shocked me most about Bhutan?

The poverty in Bhutan was very noticeable from the moment I landed in Paro. There were dirt roads right outside the airport, and lots of garbage on the streets. I guess I was expecting this enchanted land with forests and mountains, where everything is squeaky clean, and the people in a constant state of eternal bliss.

Bhutan facts

5 Cities in Jamaica You Must Go To!

Jamaica is a wonderful island known for its white sand beaches and reggae music. The country is a perfect destination for a family vacation, wedding celebration, outdoor excursion, or culinary tour. Deciding what you want to do when you do visit Jamaica is as simple as finding 7 best things to do in Falmouth Jamaica (or any other city you want to check out).

Here are some of the most important Jamaican cities you must visit:

1. Kingston

Kingston, the capital, is Jamaica’s bustling metropolitan city and is considered the cultural district of the island. It’s mix of jungle, modern business, and original colonial architecture makes the city a must-see for any visitor. Kingston is located in the Southeast corner of Jamaica far from the northern resort towns, which speaks to why Kingston is known as the most authentic city on the island. An interesting tourist destination located in Kingston is The Bob Marley Museum, which is coincidentally the departed reggae star’s former home in Jamaica. All of the rooms in his home have been meticulously preserved to display Bob’s life as accurately as possible, including his personal recording studio, closet, and award showcase. Also, the “One Love Café” in the museum boasts some of Bob’s favorite meals.

bob-marley-museum

2. Montego Bay

This Jamaican destination is perfect for the traveler who loves relaxing on the coast with a piña colada in their hand. Montego Bay, or simply “MoBay” by the locals, is home to many famous and luxurious beaches. The city is the second largest on the island and is located in the Northwest corner where it holds many hotels, restaurants, and a cruise ship port. For the beach bum, Doctor’s Cave beach is the most popular beach in Montego Bay and is known for it’s clean and beautiful waters. Interestingly enough, one can also experience a winter wonderland in the city while enjoying the tropical paradise. CHILLIN at Coral Cliff holds the island’s only ski lodge and ice bar!

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3. Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios, or “Eight Rivers,” was initially a historic site and is now a thriving tourist city. Columbus Park is located just outside of Ocho Rios and is where Columbus supposedly first landed in Jamaica. There is also a port here for cruise ships and interesting scuba diving spots. Even though there are not actually eight rivers in Ocho Rios, there are many beautiful waterfalls in the area. The most well known is Dunn’s River Falls, which receives thousands of visitors each year because of its resemblance to a giant staircase. Tourists can actually climb the waterfalls with a guide in about an hour!

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4. Negril

About an hour drive from the Montego Bay Airport lies the quiet resort town Negril on the westernmost shore of Jamaica. A relaxing and popular attraction is Seven Mile Beach full of soft white sand and palm trees for as far as the eye can see. For the more adventurous visitor, a must-see spot is Rick’s Café on the coast. Not only can you taste a great Jamaican meal and party at their nightclub, but you can cliff dive off the rocks. The highest platform jump at Rick’s Café is 35 feet and ensures the thrill of a lifetime.

 

5. South Coast

The South Coast in Jamaica is a hidden treasure dripping with luxury. Any traveler should definitely visit the Bubbling Spring mineral baths known for their healing powers. The spring is fed by water that is filtered through limestone, and contains substantial levels of magnesium, potassium, chloride, sodium, iron, and manganese. Hungry? Schedule an outing to the Bloomfield Great House. It’s an expansive 200-year-old coffee plantation house that was recently renovated into a breathtaking restaurant.

2911To learn more about Jamaica, attend Go Eat Give Destination Jamaica on April 23, 2015 at Stir It Up Atlanta.