Thursday, November 26, 2009

Beaming Bali, Indonesia

Cycling the Balinese path to happiness

By Dianna Beaufort

Everyone in Bali smiles. Big, broad, beaming smiles. And all that’s necessary to evoke it is eye contact. Even when they may be preoccupied with weaving their scooters through traffic or carrying a heavy, flailing pig across the road, you only have to hint at a smile from your own lips and the response is immediate and electrifying.

"Transport?" queried a smiling young man on a sidewalk in Ubud, an artsy town in the south-eastern hills. It’s a frequent offer on the streets of nearly every town in Bali. Everyone with a car will offer you a ride for a small price. You may say "no thank you" seven times on Monkey Forest Road in Ubud. But what’s heart-warming is that you will always receive an enthusiastic "Welcome!" in response.

As one of Indonesia’s luxury destinations, Bali is a truly service-oriented society and economy. Away from the resorts on the coast, there is less commercial zeal and more genuine friendliness. Culturally, Bali differs from other Indonesian islands, and indeed is an exception in this predominantly Muslim country with its Hindu-Buddhist history. It is this history that shapes the Balinese approach to life and the Balinese landscape.

Exploring the surroundings of Ubud on bike is perhaps the best way to take in the beautiful landscape, with all its rice terraces, temples, villages and cackling roosters. I signed up for a daytrip with Arung from Bali Moon Group. We began with a morning stop at an eclectic orchard growing everything from mangosteen, papaya and peanuts to cacao, coffee beans and tea leaves. Arung also introduced us to salak, a fruit with a brown, snake-scaled skin that looks like a nut inside and tastes like mixture of apple and pear.

After an invigorating ginger tea we were driven up to the edge of Mount Batur. The mountain bikes were unloaded and we were ready to start off downhill back towards Ubud. Arung had assured us back in the office that it was "all downhill", but some of us were taken aback by how steep downhill can be. And the road was just a rocky path. One of the English girls on the excursion already wanted to make use of the trailing van service that carried our backpacks, but was persuaded to stick with it since it would get easier.

Our reward, when it began to level out, was a school full of excited children running towards the road to greet us. Six and seven year old boys were exploding with excitement, seemingly overwhelmed by such an unexpected visit from strangers. "Hallo! Hallo!" they squealed, vying to make eye contact with any one of the cyclists and jumping for high-fives. Wide-eyed awe and giggles rippled through the crowd as our group responded to their eagerness. It felt like the Tour de France. A few boys ran with the bikes until they were out-paced or came to the end of the village.

We cycled along rice paddies, many of them flocked by ducks feeding on leftover grains. In the rolling countryside I could hear the lovely sound of bamboo music and wind chimes everywhere. We passed through several more villages, all laid out on a sloping north-south axis and flanked by walled enclosures that are the typical Balinese. Each had an elaborately carved gateway and immediately behind it a wall, the aling-aling, to keep floating evil spirits from sweeping in through the open gateway.

In one village an old man on a moped scooted up beside me to ride tandem and indulge in conversation. His smile was wide, his questions direct. "Where you from? Where you stay? Where you go?" He exudes a pride in managing dialogue with a foreigner and brushes off the cajoling of youngsters. As we neared the open countryside he veered off back into his village and signalled his final sentence with a wave,"The Balinese people welcome you. Good time."

Everyone, just everyone, genuinely wants to have contact and wish you well. When we came to the end of our cycle we were invited into a family home. The residential compound had sleeping pavilions for extended family members, a fountain in the middle, a temple and a low table for us to share dinner. A typical Indonesian meal is a selection of hot and cold plates, with spicy meats, peanut sauces and sautéed vegetables. Everyone was exhausted from the combination of heat and pedalling, and completely ready to feast on the buffet.

When our host came to collect our finished plates, she asked simply "Happiness?"

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dhoni Mighili in The Maldives

Dhoni Mighili is the stuff that dreams are made of. A small island in Ari Atoll of The Maldives, to the south west of the capital Mahe.
You can either fly by seaplane from the airport, or be transported in your own personal private Dhoni, a superb start to what should be the vacation of a lifetime

The Dhoni Mighili is only two words, but once seen and experienced, never forgotten. Dhoni Mighili may seem like just another Maldives vacation, but having experienced it, there is just nothing like it anywhere, or at least anywhere that we have ever been.

Just imagine this:

A bungalow with a private plunge pool, and a 65 ft yacht [ called a Dhoni traditional Maldivian boat ] with a crew, and a private butler, and it is all yours from the moment you alight from your intercontinental jet, until you return.

We just loved the whole concept, from not having to pay out any money when you were there, it is very easy to forget how much you paid to get there in the first place!! Nevertheless it makes you feel you are on your own private island, and you can rent all six thatched bungalows plus the dhonis if you can afford it!!

As there are only twelve guests, the service is perfect, down to the last detail, and the Thakuru, private butler ensures that no stone is left unturned when it comes to what you want.

What a treat to be able to call up your own Dhoni, and crew, to go where you want, and stop where you want, which means you can just go sailing around and swimming from uninhabited islands.

The dhonis are so well equipped, with both sails and motor, comfy daybeds and tons of cushions in the bow. There is a king size bed in the cabin, with all the best kitchen appliances, and bathroom fittings, plus a hidden 30” LCD screen with Bose DVD surround theatre, which is well hidden.

I can tell you, that to be anchored up in your own private Dhoni, off an uninhabited coral atoll, watching’ Pirates of the Caribbean’ with a glass of champagne, sitting next to the person you love, having just eaten a sumptious meal, and been waited on hand and foot by your own personal butler, has no equals in life.

In fact it is all heavenly.

The island itself, is a soft pure white sand shoe, and watch free paradise. The sand is everywhere, even in the main reception and restaurant area.

The whole thing is just so classy and elegant without ever being overstated.

I still think of the bungalow with its’ own IPod, songs already downloaded to take with you, the small details that prove you are somewhere exceptional already taken care of before you arrive.

Everything you can think of has already been taken care of, from the kind of pillows you like, to the perfume of your soap, to your dietary requirements. If you like lobster, you get lobster, if you like steak you get steak, all beautifully cooked.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Yoho National Park of Canada

Yoho, named for a Cree word expressing awe, is a park of rock walls, waterfalls and glacial lakes. It's a park with snow-topped mountain peaks, roaring rivers and silent forests. It's a park whose history is bound up with a railroad: spiral tunnels inside mountains and stories of runaway trains.

Established in 1886, the park currently spans 1,310 square kilometres (507 square miles) on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia, and borders Banff National Park to the east and Kootenay National Park to the south.

Yoho's craggy peaks and steep rock faces posed an enormous challenge for Canada's early explorers. The mountains that were the curse of railway builders are responsible for the park's many waterfalls including Laughing Falls, Twin Falls, Wapta Falls and one of Canada's highest at 254 m (833 ft.), Takakkaw Falls. Silt carried by streams from melting glaciers high on the mountains is responsible for the deep, rich turquoise colour of Emerald Lake and Lake O'Hara.

Water is responsible for creating a natural rock bridge over the Kicking Horse River. Torrents have worn through a solid rockbed leaving a flat-rock bridge. Water erosion has also formed another Yoho marvel: balanced boulders on tall pillars of glacial till, called Hoodoos, found in the western end of the park.

Many of British Columbia's plants and animals reach their eastern extension in Yoho. The high peaks of the Continental Divide wring out the precipitation remaining in clouds moving eastward from the Pacific Ocean. This creates pockets of wet belt forest where coastal species such as devil's club, western red cedar and western hemlock thrive.

One of the world's most important fossil finds, the Burgess Shale, is located in Yoho. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1981, the Burgess Shale Formation contains the fossilized remains of more than 120 marine animal species dating back 515 million years. The Burgess Shale World Heritage Site is now incorporated into the larger Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site with Yoho, Kootenay, Banff and Jasper National Parks and Mt. Assiniboine, Mt. Robson and Hamber Provincial Parks.
Some Yoho facts

* 28 mountain peaks more than 3000 m in height
* Takakkaw Falls, with a free fall of 254 m, is the third highest in Canada
* over 400 km of hiking trails
* most abundant large mammal in the park: mountain goat

Points of interest

Wapta Falls (24 km west of Field)
In 1858, near Wapta Falls, a pack horse kicked explorer James Hector in the chest, and the Kicking Horse River got its name. Wapta Falls is the full width of the river and drops 30m (100'). A short drive off the TransCanada Highway takes you to the start of an easy 2.4 km trail to the falls.

Hoodoos (22 km west of Field, in Hoodoo Creek Campground)
It's worth the steep hike to see these capped pillars of glacial debris. The 1.6 km trail starts in Hoodoo Creek Campground.

Natural Bridge (3 km west of Field, on the the Emerald Lake Road)
The Kicking Horse River has carved a natural bridge through solid rock, 1.6 km from the Trans-Canada highway on the Emerald Lake Road.

Emerald Lake (11 km west and north of Field, on the Emerald Lake Road)
Emerald Lake is popular for sightseeing, canoeing and hiking.

Yoho Valley Road (3 km east of Field)
Travel 13 km on this narrow, steep road beside the Yoho River to see Takakkaw Falls. Leave trailers at the parking lot across from Monarch Campground. Facilities on the Yoho Valley Road include Monarch and Kicking Horse Campgrounds, seasonal accommodation and viewpoints. The road is snowbound from mid-October to mid-June; it is used by cross country skiers in the winter.

Takakkaw Falls (13 km north of the TransCanada Highway, at the end of the Yoho Valley Road)
With a free-fall of 254 metres, Takakkaw Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in Canada.

Lower Spiral Tunnel Viewpoint (8 km east of Field)
A fascinating display explains the history and operation of the spiral tunnels. From the platform, visitors have a spectacular view of the Yoho Valley, Yoho Glacier and the lower spiral tunnel portals in Mt. Ogden.

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