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Downtown San Franciscoʼs Tenderloin district is a multifaceted creature. A glittering sprawl of strip clubs, dive bars, and late night donut shops, itʼs certainly not everyoneʼs cup of tea. Nicknamed the Scorpio neighborhood by The Bold Italic for its unpredictable atmosphere, the Tenderloin is an inner city paradise that has much to offer if you look in the right places.
In our ultimate quest for the life of leisure, me and my blue haired accomplice decided to check in to the Phoenix hotel, a retro-mod retreat located on Eddy and Larkin. Upon arrival, itʼs easy to fall in love with the Phoenixʼs funky, 1950s architecture and mix-matched decor. A wild cacophony of kitsch and color, the rooms are an acid dream come to life. Along with psychedelic tapestries and retro-mod furniture, the rooms have travel guides listing local events and upcoming concerts. Since the Phoenix is close to historic music venues such as the Great American Music Hall, it serves as a popular destination for the performers who play there. Whether itʼs by accommodating the tour buses parked out front or transforming the hotel into a gallery location overnight, the Phoenix proves to be an epicenter for musicians, artists, and eccentrics alike.
What makes the TL unique compared to most neighborhoods in SF is that itʼs teeming with life well until daybreak. Living true to its title as the entertainment district, people are often seen shuffling in and out of cabernets or crawling out of impromptu basement shows. Jam packed with notorious drag clubs and dim-lit dive bars, the Tenderloin is a cornucopia of sleaze and splendor. Weekends tend to be the busiest as leather jacket-clad locals smoke, drink, and dance in the street to attend gallery openings or record release parties. Nearby Gallery/Venue locations such as Vacation and RS94109 frequently host these events, where the wine flows free and the party is open to the public. Whether itʼs late night record shopping or attending a last minute DJ set, the possibilities are endless--and all within a five block radius.
So pack your favorite pilled band t-shirt and call the Phoenix in advance; itʼs gonna be a long night ahead. Donʼt worry though, the Phoenix has everything you need to recuperate from your post-punk show shenanigans. Along with a continental breakfast served until 10:30 AM, they also provide free access to communal baths at the Kabuki Spa. So as youʼre contemplating why you drank that whole bottle of Honey Jack Daniels to yourself, or wondering if those bruises have always been there, allow yourself to get treated to a massage or unwind with a long bath. In addition to access to communal baths, the Kabuki offers facials, massages, and acupuncture treatments. Massages and facials cost between 75 to 150 dollars, but access to the communal baths is a complimentary feature as long as youʼre a guest at the Phoenix. Or, if you would prefer to stay within the hotel grounds, you can lounge in a cabana during one of their annual sunday poolside parties.
For more information on booking, summer packages, and upcoming events, contact the Phoenix here.
Journeying by rail to Australia's Red Centre is hardly the fastest way to travel - but that's exactly why thousands do it. The Ghan has been crossing the desert from Adelaide into Alice Springs for more than 70 years, but these days it also collects passengers from Sydney and Melbourne. We boarded the Ghan in Melbourne after flying from Sydney.
It is one of the greatest ways to experience the Northern Territory Outback while not leaving the human comfort-zone of bunk beds, cooked meals and proper bathroom facilities. For those intent on having a motoring holiday but not wanting to risk a breakdown in the desert on the way, it is also possible to take the car aboard.
The Ghan inherited its name from the Afghan camel drivers who arrived in Australia almost 150 years ago to transport goods through the inhospitable terrain. Telegraph linesman later relied on camels before they were replaced by trains in the late 20s, when the Government decided to build a railway line.
The 1 1/2 day trip is one of the best ways to appreciate the vastness of the land. Panoramic windows in each of the cabins ensure passengers do not miss any of the sights, in daylight at least. There is also something to be said for the old-fashioned feel of the wooden-panelled interiors and uniformed conductors strolling the corridors.
Passengers ranged from families with young children, couples and backpackers to pensioners and war veterans. For most, it was their first trip, although one train buff named Frank, a war veteran, said he'd made the trip more than 10 times, simply because he relishes the experience. He doesn't even get off at the Alice but stays on board for the return journey.
We travelled overnight to Adelaide, with the few hours before bedtime spent in the lounge car, swapping travel tales with the other passengers and taking advantage of the bar. While some of the guests retired to the smoking lounge for port and cigars, I decided to give in to sleepiness and crawl into my first-class cabin bunk-bed where, despite the rocking and odd bump, it was surprisingly easy to sleep.
Brilliant sunshine blazing through the window took the place of a regular alarm clock, waking me naturally. But for those who might otherwise accidentally sleep through breakfast, a friendly announcement is made before food is served. Meals on the Ghan, unlike pre-prepared airline offerings, are cooked by on-board chefs and range from bacon-and-egg breakfasts to gourmet dinners. Later that night a grilled lime and ginger snapper went down extremely well with wine for dinner, while a picture-perfect orange sunset provided the backdrop in the restaurant car.
The Ghan passes through several key tourist spots on its way from Melbourne to Adelaide, including Geelong, the sandstone ranges of the Grampians, Victoria's wheat district and Bordertown. We arrived in Adelaide shortly after 10am and disembarked to explore the local sights for five hours before starting the final leg of the trip. There's a choice of tours but we decided to hit the local shopping strip before enjoying a long lunch in one of the city's many restaurants. The most scenic leg of the 2387km journey is from Adelaide. The lush green coastal vegetation rapidly turns more scrub-like as we pass by spinifex plains and salt pans across to the rugged MacDonnell Ranges.
Just in case of monotony, I had brought some books. A conductor took a bet that I would not get through one. He won. It is amazing how satisfying it is simply to watch the landscape, the changing colours of the sky and the sunset.
Most travellers watching their budget choose the day-nighter cars with reclining seats. But for those wanting a proper bed, sleeper cabins are available with almost all the facilities of first class, the only difference being they have to share a bathroom.
Overseas travellers are expected to make up the bulk of passengers on the Ghan when it embarks on a new route to Darwin. Construction on the long-awaited link has started and is expected to be completed by early 2004.
A Top End Club has been established to register the names of people who want to be first on the Ghan's historic first crossing to Darwin. But for us, when the Ghan rolled into the Alice Springs station at 10 am, everyone disembarked to begin the next leg of their outback adventure - everyone, that is, except Frank.
Our writer Linda's outback travel tips
The seaplane dips ever so slightly as we approach to land on the glacial waters surrounding the wild, remote islands and inlets of British Columbia's far north-west.
From my vantage point in the cockpit, the pine forests stretch endlessly into the horizon, their uniformity broken by the occasional snow-capped rocky mountain peak. Apart from the odd lone fishing boat, there are no obvious signs of human life. We begin to close in on the green-blue waters of a fjord below with a gentle bump signalling our landing. As our pilot steers the aircraft down the waterway, the green-roofed floating log cabins of Knight Inlet Lodge come into view. Against the dramatic backdrop of the mountains, they seem positively dwarfed.
``Welcome to bear country,'' our pilot says as we pull up outside the lodge.
The bears he is referring to are the grizzlies -- the admired and feared animals which dominate Canada's north-west outskirts.
Knight Inlet has one of the largest concentrations in British Columbia. The guests who make the journey here come for just one purpose: to see these animals up close.
Two of the lodge's staff come over to greet us before we are led to our rooms. Mine is tucked away at the back of a cosy timber cabin with a fireplace and spectacular views across the inlet. We're given just enough time to settle in before the Lodge's guides direct us to a boat for our first bear-spotting session. As we set off, we are told the rules of bear-watching: no loud-talking, perfume or camera-flashes; the idea, of course, is not to attract attention.
No more than a few minutes have passed when our guide -- a Canadian local who drives huskies during the winter -- points ahead to a moving brown figure behind a bush. It moves forward so that its shape can be seen. Yep, it's a bear -- and a big one at that. We are told he is around 180kg and most likely a male.
The boat's engine is turned off and we sit and watch. It is so quiet that the cracking sound of branches being broken by the bear as he feeds echo through the valley. He eventually catches our scent and briefly lifts his large round head to sniff the air. Deciding the salmonberries on his bush are far more interesting, he resumes eating. We leave him be and continue our search.
The anchor is pulled up and we head to a grassland area further north where we find two smaller grizzlies on the water's edge.
We are told there can be up to 40 bears sighted within a few kilometres of the lodge. As they like to feed by the water, you're likely to see at least a dozen, even on a bad day. Satisfied with our first bear sightings, we head back to the Lodge for dinner.
Knight Inlet's two resident chefs have been cooking all day and their efforts of crab, roast beef, vegetables and varied cakes and sweets are devoured by our hungry crew. By the end of the meal, I feel as if I've consumed an entire bear.
Still, I somehow manage to squeeze in a glass of red by the fire where the rest of the guests have gathered.
The next morning, after waking to the sounds of bird calls, we are split into groups -- some will go off on a hike while others will take out the kayaks. Our group is hiking through a forest to see where the bears sleep, eat and just hang out.
After a short motorboat cruise down the inlet, we disembark before boarding a big bear-proof truck for our journey into the forest.
Unlike the rules on the boat, we are instructed to talk loudly when off the truck to let the bears know we are here. The aim of this tour is to see where the bears live, but not to actually run into one. If they know we are here, they will keep their distance.
We follow an old logging route into the forest. Light soon turns to darkness as the thick rainforest canopy blots out the sun.
We eventually pull over to begin the first of a series of short walks into the bush.
A few steps down a trail, we are stopped by our guide who crouches down near a brown mound ... bear droppings, and still warm. We look around nervously, but all is still: whatever left it behind has moved on.
As we move further down the trail, we come across a large sheltered depression beneath an old-growth rainforest tree. Our guide explains it is a ``day bed'' -- a place for bears to sleep in between foraging for food. Not far away we find a tree covered in bear fur which is used as a scratching post.
After a good few hours exploring, we head back to the Lodge for lunch before our afternoon bear-viewing tours. This time, more bears have come out to play. As we watch, two cubs take part in a spectacular chase along the water's edge. The pair are pursued by a cranky adult grizzly who has apparently objected to their presence.
Further along the inlet, a large chocolate-coloured head of another bear appears above the grasses. We also encounter a pair of bald-headed eagles carrying sticks to a nest, and an enormous sleeping seal making use of a random log which has floated into the inlet.
One of the guides offers to take us on an afternoon cruise to some of the inlet's glacial waterfalls. A thick blanket of fog descends into the cove before lifting to reveal mountain-top glaciers and sheer rock faces with waterfalls fuelled by melting snow.
We also see more bald-headed eagles and seals. But it's too early in the season for whales, which also frequent the local waters.
By the end of my three-day stay, I feel as if I have stepped back into a time and place before humans occupied the planet.
With just four hours left before I must fly home, I decide to squeeze in a last-minute kayaking tour. Three grizzly bears are out on the shoreline. My kayak drifts towards one of them. Although I am a good few metres away, I can see all his features in great detail -- from the hump on his back, a small scar on his head to his giant front paws. I thank him for allowing me into his home.
Several major airlines fly from Sydney to Vancouver, from about $AU1300. The lodge, Knight Inlet Lodge, is 80km north-west of Campbell River, British Columbia. Guests flying from Vancouver stay overnight at Campbell River before taking a float-plane to Glendale Cove.
Package: ... Scenic Tours' four-day grizzly bear expedition can be added to any of its tours or taken alone from May to late October. Fare from $AU2345 includes return air faresfrom Vancouver, two nights at Knight Inlet Lodge, one night at Campbell River. All-weather gear and boots included.
More: www.scenictours.com or 1300 723 642.
It was with some trepidation that I agreed to go on a Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival camping trip.
While it is universally regarded as one of the hippest music festivals in the northern hemisphere - style muses Alexa Chung and Chloe Sevigny are regulars - as a Gen X indie-rock survivor, I thought my days of drinking cans of warm VB while standing in portable toilet queues had gone the way of my faded Nirvana T-shirt. However, the pull of seeing live music outdoors again - Nick Cave, Tame Impala, Yeah Yeah Yeahs - was too great, even if I was going to have to bring ear muffs.
Heading into its 15th year, Coachella has become one of the most successful art and music festivals in the world.
What began as a one-day gathering on an Indio Polo Club field back in 1999 has become so popular it stretches over two weekends, with bands playing the same set twice to cater for the demand.
Part of its appeal is that Coachella attracts the biggest names in the business - The Stone Roses, The Cure and even Madonna have performed.
It also taps into the upcoming music scene, scouring the world and inviting the best still largely unearthed talent to play alongside the megastars.
In preparation for the weekend, my travelling crew check into the Andaz Hotel on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip in West Hollywood to overcome jet lag. The hotel is famous for having hosted parties by rock'n'roll royalty such as The Rolling Stones and The Who back in the day.
While still "cool", the hotel is more of a relaxed oasis for weary travellers.
The two-hour road trip from LA to Coachella is broken up with a quick stopover at the Desert Hills Premium Outlet to collect some cut-price jeans, sunnies and yet another pair of Converse shoes.
Upon arriving in Indio Valley, where the festival is setting up, we climb into golf buggies and are driven to a field of white-marquee style tents - the luxury safari tents camping ground. Across the field, there is a pool with deck, massage tents and showering trailers with mirrors and power.
Inside my tent, a wrought-iron bed covered with '70s print cushions takes the place of a sleeping bag. There's power. A fridge. Even aircon.
The "mess hall'' is yet another luxuriously furnished tent that serves hot breakfasts and late- night snacks.
With a three-day festival ahead, we plan our days.
The advantage of staying next to the festival grounds means we are a short golf buggy trip to the stages.
Despite its popularity - the festival attracts about 85,000 over the two weekends - there is never the feeling of being in a crowd, except, of course, near the moshpit.
It is a relaxed atmosphere with the fashion - think Woodstock, Ali McGraw, Michelle Phillips - and the celebrity-spotting is just as entertaining as the onstage acts.
The stark but stunning desert landscape is best appreciated from atop the now iconic Coachella ferris wheel.
Both toilet and drinks queues are surprisingly short, while the fast food is so good that even singer Katy Perry queues.
The VIP area - tickets can be bought at extra cost - is teeming with celebrities who appear to enjoy mingling with the masses instead of taking advantage of their backstage trailers. We spy Twilight stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart huddled in a corner (they broke up a few weeks later), Paris Hilton with her chain-smoking sister Nicky and actor Lindsay Lohan.
True Blood star Alexander Skarsgard outed himself as a fan of The Stone Roses, as did Katy Perry and UK Vogue cover girl Lily Donaldson.
Even back at the campground, we have a celebrity encounter when Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, famous for partnering with Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, walks past on his way to have a shower.
Being a desert, the days are hot, think mid-30C and the nights cool. To avoid the midday heat, there is the option of joining the pool party scene in downtown Palm Springs. The hotels open their doors to the public - except for those hosting the real VIPs like Bono - to lounge by the pool with a cocktail under one of the district's ubiquitous date palms until it cools down.
Others wile away the hours with a yoga or Pilates session, or take photographs of the 9m tall statue of Marilyn Monroe who lived in the neighbourhood.
It is hard not to fall in love with Coachella. Not just for the music but also for the afternoon desert sunsets - arguably the best act each day - and the chilled-out nature of the crowd.
Not even an eye-stinging violent desert dust storm could dampen my enthusiasm for the festival, nor the headline act - the Red Hot Chili Peppers - who gritted their teeth and crunched their way through the final hour.
After four days and more than 40 bands, it is time to go into recovery mode - and a long, luxurious shower.
We check in at the Shore Hotel in Santa Monica, opposite the famous pier, before heading further south to stay at Belamar Hotel in the artist and surfing hub of Manhattan Beach.
Linda flew Virgin Australia to Los Angeles.
Ph 13 67 89
Linda stayed at the West Hollywood Andaz Hotel, Shore Hotel Santa Monica and Belamar Hotel Manhattan Beach.
Valley Music Travel has Luxury Safari Tent Coachella weekend packages for about $AU6500 for two people.
Coachella general release tickets will go on sale early next year from $AU399.
The ultimate Dubai experience is a 6 hour sunset safari road trip deep into the desert, and Hormuz Tours Desert safari can take you there. Pack your camera to take your own amazing postcard pics on a great Arabian experience.
First up, a large eight-seater 4 wheel drive collects you from your designated point, along with fellow tourists in the area who have booked the same trip. The drive heads outside of the city of Dubai - actually straight in to the middle of beautiful wind swept sand dunes which continue into the distance for as far as the eye can see. In no time you are tearing up the desert with some major dune bashing in your large vehicle - keep your seatbelt on!
Next you are sand-surfing down enormous dunes. This is an activity easier than it looks - the sand moves for you, all you need to do is balance on the board and walk back up the dune..and again and again, beleive me - you'll want to!
As the sun sets, dunes are highlighted with a barren mars-like glow, and it's onto a group activity with fellow tourists where seperate tour companies who have been sand dune bashing now join together for the rest of the evening. Under the stars, you'll be camel riding, snapping selfies in authentic Arabian costume, and dining together with fellow desert safarians. Smoke from apple flavoured shisha pipe creates the perfect Bedouin camp atmosphere. You'll sip traditional Arabian tea and hold a falcon. Be painted with a temporary henna tattoo - all part of the tour. Under the night's stars you are then treated to an Arabian feast fit fot for a sheikh, and the entertaining skills of an expert belly dancer who works wonders with swords. The whole evening's experience won't break the budget, there are plenty of tour companies advertising online for around 160 dirhams and up, all Inclusive.
Recommended: Hormuz Tours Desert safari is perfectly entertaining way to explore the culture and landscape of Dubai.
White sun-washed sand stretches for miles, against a backdrop of brilliant aquamarine ocean. You might think this is the Caribbean, but the Gulf Coast shore of Florida has some incredibly beautiful beaches that can give Caribbean ones a run for their money.
One of the most fun and relaxing Gulf Coast Florida getaways is Marco Island. This six-by-four mile island is the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, stretching south from Naples through the Everglades and to the Florida Keys. Situated along the white sand beach is the island’s premier resort, the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort. This large, full service resort has everything from amazing pools, the beach, top-notch dining, a full wedding and event location, private golf course and spa. The Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort is the place to come for romantic getaways, family vacations, friend get-togethers or a special event. It’s one of those places that has something for everyone, and enough variety that you may never feel the need to leave!
There is space for everyone in the resort’s 726 guest rooms including 63 suites. Most have private terraces with amazing ocean and/or pool views, and the décor is inspired by South Pacific style. Plush, sink-into-them beds, spacious bathrooms and state-of-the-art technology make relaxing in the rooms a pleasure.
Suites treat guests to an exceptional experience, offering awe-inspiring Gulf Coast views in a luxurious tropical oasis. Junior Suites range from 800-2080 square feet, and Presidential Suites are 1800-3000 square feet of sanctuaries in the sky, bathed in natural light. The Presidential Suites were fully renovated in 2013.
The pools are pretty amazing here. There are two, and both are outdoor, large and heated. In particular, the Tiki Fantasy pool is a wonderland for kids, with a grotto, splash zones and a water slide. A poolside bar with basic food offerings such as burgers and sandwiches at both pools makes hanging out for hours enjoyable, and there seem to be plenty of lounge chairs even at peak times. Towels are provided at the poolside cabanas.
Speaking of kids, the Tiki Tribe is the Marco Island Marriott’s supervised children’s program, available for ages five to 12. The fee is $70 per day.
For golf aficionados, look no further than the Rookery at Marco, an award-winning private golf course just a 15-minute drive from the Marriott (which offers a complimentary shuttle). Designed to embrace the native surroundings of Naples, the prestigious course offers a driving range and putting green, clubhouse and restaurant, lessons and rentals, and a Kids Golf-4-Free program. The course is set to undergo a $4 million dollar renovation soon.
On the beach just in front of the resort, a host of activities are available (most at an extra fee) including volleyball, tennis, sailing, kayaking, jet-skiing and boating.
The Spa at Marco Island Marriott offers a relaxing environment with a Balinese style, with a full menu of treatments available. There are also plunge pools, therapy baths, a steam room and fitness classes here. The spa is adults-only, so if you tire of too much commotion at the outdoor pools you can always buy a $35 day pass and enjoy the spa facilities.
Other facilities include:
As you would expect with a resort of this size, there are a lot of options that range from poolside casual to upscale gourmet. The informal Tropiks offers a sumptuous, expansive breakfast buffet ($26). 400 Pazzis is casual, serving pizza and paninis for lunch and dinner. Tiki Bar & Grill is light fare set poolside, open at lunch and dinner.
Also open for lunch and dinner, Quinn’s on the Beach specializes in Caribbean dishes and inventive tropical cocktails; a tradition is to watch the sunset here and toast it with a Green Flash drink. A highlight of my dinner at Quinn’s was the fire dancing that occurred just outside on the beach, and easily viewable from most tables in the restaurant.
Korals just off the lobby provides a place to grab some sushi and a drink in a very nice, lounge-like atmosphere. For me, the sushi was a bit hit-and-miss; but some other dishes – such as the lobster rigatoni – were amazing. Kurrents is the most upscale restaurant at the Marriott, with prime steak entrees and seafood dishes such as a Chilean Sea Bass.
At the golf club, you will find the Rookery Grill and Hammock Bay Grill serving casual breakfast and lunch.
One of the perhaps most surprising facts about Marco Island is that it contains one of the largest prehistoric archaeological site in the Eastern United States, just south of the main island on Key Marco. Long before tourists arrived, the Calusa Indians established a highly developed society which left more than a thousand wooden artifacts discovered to date The area also features highways over large shell mounds over 40 feet high from the period of the Calusa Indians.
The area is also a prime spot for frolicking dolphins and fascinating sea turtles. In fact, during the turtle nesting season the Marriott Resort imposes a light blackout ban at 9 pm; if your guest room lights are left on without your blackout drapes drawn, staff will go in and close them. The minimal lighting is to protect the nesting turtles and their eggs. Other local wildlife includes many species of birds, and Everglades National Park is very nearby, which makes a wonderful day excursion. Fishing and other water sports are top draws here, and if your tastes run more to shopping or sophisticated city life, spend a day or evening in nearby Naples.
Good to Know
At this time, there are no adult-only floors. During my stay, I was next door to a family with several loud children who woke up very early, and I could hear them clearly. Definitely a slight dent in my aura of relaxation. This was over Fourth of July weekend, a prime family time and outside summer, there are generally far fewer children at the resort. However, I would highly recommend that the Marriott implement a simple policy of guest room floors for families and separate ones for adults only.
Internet in the guest rooms is not provided as a courtesy, which I believe should be standard in all hotels. Expect to pay $9.95 a day for it, or $16.95 daily if you want enhanced high-speed wi-fi access. All public areas of the hotel do provide complimentary wireless connection.
The onsite parking fee is a reasonable $12 per day, or $22 for valet parking.
Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort
400 South Collier Boulevard
Marco Island, FL 34145
Phone: (239) 394-2511
Rates: $189-525; Suites $759 and up
"Burning man, how was it?" Asks everyone. Words cannot properly describe the week I’ve just had at the Burning Man festival, but I’ll give it a shot. I am an avid festiver go-er, though never have I experienced an event remotely like Burning Man. You may have heard the event described as a concert, a giant workshop, a festival, a conference, an art exhibition, a temporary commune, an experiment, or a bunch of naked people camping in the desert. I agree 'Yes and no' to all such round ups. Let me explain..
Burning Man is the world’s largest temporary city. It is close to a hundred thousand people together in the desert for one week, held in Nevada's Black Rock desert of the USA. As an annual event, Burning Man brings together people's celebrations of art, music, workshops, dance, yoga, and creative gatherings on a mass scale. All leading up to a traditional Saturday ceremony where a symbollic man sculpture is set alight 'burning the man.' Art is a big part of the experience with a dedicated theme each year, such as Time, The Floating World, The American Drean and this year 2014 was Caravansary.
So what does one actually do at Burning Man? This is the kind of festival everyone experiences differently, so I'll give you the break down of mine. On reflection, my time does sound like some very warped children’s story. Most people travel to Burning Man with a group, which I did, and each day we would start by sharing tales of the previous days amazingadventures.
“..First thing inn the morning, I hopped on the back of a mechanical dragon taking me to a wedding in the most beautiful temple I have ever seen, right in the heart of this desert festival. Then, I climbed inside a car decked out as a potion bottle for a ride to a yoga workshop, which halfway through - I left. This was so I could dance along the road with an alien marching band, leading me to a butterfly woman who gave me the best hug of my entire life and told a happy tear jerking life story. The butterfly woman gave me some refreshing fruit and drinks, then introduced a man in a rubber suit who discussed the concept of reality, love, and perception, along with the meaning of life.
At this point, to my bewilderment, out thousands of people at Burning Man, my own burning man family walk in the door. No need to quesiton how they found me. A simple smile, nod, hug and understanding were given. ‘Well of course you found me, its Burning Man's Black Rock City’.
Night descends, we link arms and walk onto the beach. Breathtaking fire and lights are a beautiful sight for us, then in the blink of an eye my family disappear into the night again. Heart racing and completely overwhelmed, I don't panic, rather quickly make new friends and jump inside a naughty teapot installation with them. My new friends and I catch a lift to a surprise show from Skrillex and Major Lazor. It was fantastic. We dance and sing for hours until a flaming octopus came along and showed us the path to a volcano with a slide inside. Soon exhausted, we found reprieve in a library where all books are written by patrons. So in quiet contemplation each of my new friends sit and write ..until the sun rises behind an art sculpture showing two giant wooden lovers caught in embrace.
I took the hand of a leopard princess and walked home across the desert. Bones weary and with the lights and sounds of The Playa fading behind us, we collapse into blankets and pillows and drift off to sleep. Soft sounds of The Doors and Star Wars theme music are a distant lullaby. For a second, I look up and smile, knowing that life is great and that tomorrow it all begins again. But first sleep.
This was only one day at the event, I can barely scrape the surface of feelings, emotions and profound happenings which Burning Man present to you. People are together in the desert not just surviving as they say, but thriving. It is the most profound expression of human potential that I have ever personally witnessed. It is a place in the world truly showing just how wonderful life can be, for all people - if simply given a space of freedom, of love, acceptance and support. I'd recommend the experience to anyone.
Ticket info, getting there, Q&A
Buenos Aires is a vibrant and lively city, full of passionate people, classical architecutre, gastronimical delights, stylish shopping, group dogwalkers, and plenty of history. If you haven’t yet booked accommodation, head to the Palermo Soho or Palermo Hollywood district. With similar character to New York's Soho, or London's Cambden, all you need to experience this stylish city is within close walking distance.
Palermo Soho & Palermo Hollywood are exceptionally reliable for gastronomie dining and night drinks, and of course shopping. Wandering the streets you might walk an entire block without seeing a single restaurant, only to discover the perfect eatery for your evening, hidden out of the way. This is the Palermo area charm. Great walking streets are Thames, Costa Rica, El Salvador or anything leading to or stemming off Plaza Serrano. A good idea is to get a taxi to drop you there - then just wander around, as it will be the best introduction to the area. Locals hang in Palermo Soho & Palermo Hollywood, as opposed to tourists, meaning a charming BA atmosphere exists. Definitely visit by day as well - for cute shops are scattered throughout the area and mostly only open in daylight.
Palermo Soho is hands down one of the best places to shop in Buenos Aires. Plenty of local designers in boutique stores are situated along almost every street, definitely wear your comfy walking shoes! On the weekends all around Plaza Serrano is a design fair for up-and-coming designers who can’t afford to display wares in real shops - and so you find amazing hand-made designs for a great price.
Nearby on Sunday go to Feria de San Telmo, a touristy antiques market that fills the Plaza Dorrego with stalls of costume jewellery, vintage movie posters and all sorts. Browse mini-stalls and watch street performers as you shop. This is pretty close to La Boca, the touristy place with the colourful houses and tango dancers, so worth having a look at both places in one hit.
The artisan markets in San Telmo are absolutely wonderful but only on weekends. Stick around to watch the tango dancers.
An interesting day activity which involves absorbing and understanding the city's politival background, is a trip to the Evita Museum. The amazing wardrobe of Eva peron has been preserved at the Evita Museum, aka Museo Evita, along with detailed documentation of her rise to fame, and Argentina’s love/hate affair with Evita.
Recoleta is a wonderful suburb, very safe and very wealthy. Make sure to visit the famous Recoleta cemetery. Here you'll visit Evita Peron’s tomb and have a guide tell you the history of her life with her presidential husband Juan Peron. There are also fun markets in the park on the weekends in Recoleta.
A great evening is spent Salsa dancing into the early hours of the morning at La Catedral, a charming oversized salsa-only dance floor converted from an 1880’s cathedral hall with live band and art pieces covering wall to ceiling. Best kept secret, no website just an address. La Catedral, Sarmiento 4006, Almagro, Buenos Aires.
Jardin Escondido in Buenos Aire's trendy Palermo Soho district is a divine seven bedroom villa where a young Sofia Coppola and father Francis Ford Coppola’s spent time with family and which is now open as a hotel style villa, kept almost exactly as they had.
Home hotel Located in Palermo Hollywood, Home hotel is a modern and peaceful escape from the city's hustle a bustle, with agreat outdoor pool garden bar downstairs open on weekends.
Everything happens at night in the boho-cool cosmopolitan city that is Buenos Aires. You'll find most people sleep in the day, then go for dinner at 11pm and party into the night with tango and drinking til wee-hours. Take note, if you turn up to a restaurant at 8.30-9pm it will probably still be empty. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your state of mind!
Try these eateries..
Bar 6 – Armenia 1676, Palermo Soho
Café-cum-bar-cum-restaurant that fearlessly mixes styles. Very cool for lunch or dinner.
Mott – El Salvador 4685, Palermo Soho
Breaks the cosy mould of Palermo’s eating establishments and introduces an industrial aesthetic to the area. Great for lunch or dinner – doesn’t start dinner menu until after 8:30pm, but you can grab a gormet burger or salad before that.
Las Cabras - Locals line the streets waiting for the mouth watering Argentinean BBQ’s served al fresco. Think thick juicy steak, melting BBQ camembert, Parilla of Chorizo with a fine glass of Malbec.
Freddo icecream - Or any gelati venue really. Try the Dulce de Leche flavour, or banana split. There's no going back!
The metro is a great way to get around quickly by day, and taxis are super cheap by night.
The chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador is famous for its inspiration of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. Here on the Galapagos Islands, animals have evolved and adapted to survive in ways found nowhere else on earth.
I recently had the incredible opportunity to go on a 7-day Galapagos wildlife cruise with Ecoventura, one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable tourism companies in the Ecuadorian archipelago. We set off from San Cristobal, on a path that crossed the equator six times and visited 7 islands during the week. Hiking, snorkeling and kayaking were all part of the activities to view the islands and their unique ecosystems and wildlife.
One of the most unusual aspects of Galapagos wildlife is how unafraid they are, how completely unperturbed they are by people. Because they are protected and mostly have no natural predators, they really fear little and see no threat from humans in modern times. They do not flee — there is no searching and waiting to spot wildlife. It is right there in front of you, and you can walk right up to them. Our Ecoventura guides, both named Pepe, were clear about the rules not to touch or interact with the animals. But you literally can walk right up to them — iguanas, birds in their nests with babies, sea lions who will swim right up to the boat and want to play.
This can also be their downfall, if not properly protected. "The Islands retain a staggering 95% of their endemic species, a feat unparalleled on any other archipelago in the world," says Santiago Dunn, owner of Ecoventura. "Keeping Galapagos biologically pristine has been and continues to be, a constant and hard-waged battle. Tourism to this remote volcanic archipelago is both part of the solution and also part of the problem."
One thing I really liked about the Ecoventura line, besides the wonderful guides and staff, was their dedication to making the least footprint possible on this ecosystem. The boat we were on, The Eric, had solar panels and wind turbines to supplement the power. Ecoventura was was the first company to earn and maintain the ecological certification, SmartVoyager, and the first Galapagos cruise ship company to offset carbon emissions and to install alternative energy sources.
This is so important in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin’s enchanted isles are one of our planets most precious and unique ecosystems, home to an extraordinary profusion of exotic flora and fauna. In 1959, a hundred years after the publication of The Origin of Species, Ecuador declared 97% of the Islands landmass a national park and in 2001, the marine reserve was established.
In 2007, three decades after being designated the first World Heritage Site, UNESCO declared Galapagos as a World Heritage Site at risk, citing introduction of alien species, illegal fishing, unsustainable tourism, illegal migration and population growth. Galapagos was later removed from the list in 2010, but many conservationists feel this was done prematurely as the Islands still remain very much at risk.
Arrivals to the Galapagos have tripled in the past 15 years due to the growth in land-based tourism operations. During this time the type of tourism available to visitors has changed with land based accommodation and activities now representing 50% of the market, according to the Galapagos Conservation Trust. Pressure to build resort style hotels and bring larger cruise ships to Galapagos is a constant reality.
"The growing number of settlers migrating from the mainland of Ecuador to the islands, largely in response to the recent boom in tourism, has also put pressure on a fragile environment that imperils the entire ecosystem," Dunn adds.
Visiting the islands by water, as a tourist, has by far a lower impact than land tourism. The number of highly regulated, self-contained non-diving live-aboard tour boats has not changed since 1998 after the introduction of the Special Law for Galapagos.
Ecoventura is committed to providing an authentic experience in small compatible groups, lessening the impact on the wildlife, offering value, and a safe, memorable, mind-expanding voyage. The company began offering tours in the Galapagos in 1991 and started “greening” the operation and equipment in 1999, and later worked toward reducing carbon emissions and ensuring the local community benefits by tourism through educational opportunities and supporting marine conservation.
So, what should a potential visitor to the Galapagos know, in terms of how to select a reputable tour operator and how to visit the Galapagos in a way that won’t harm it?
“They need to do their research through guide books, Trip Advisor, etc. or through a trade organization such as IGTOA (international Galapagos Tour Operators Association),” Dunn suggests. “Unless people have limited time and budget or prefer ports to nature, we suggest they book a tour boat versus a hotel or island hopping trip for various reasons.”
Liveaboards are self-contained and have less impact on the local limited resources. Convenience, all the planning and logistics are done, the itinerary is set, all meals are provided, and there is continuity, and you only have to pack and unpack once.
Navigating at night means fewer daylight hours are lost while spent in transit and passengers have more time on the islands. Tour boats, also called liveaboards, visit the islands and wildlife in the early morning and late afternoon, when wildlife is more active and the sun less intense.
IGTOA also provides a few other tips for visitors to the Galapagos:
Do not take any food or drink other than water to the uninhabited islands. Do not touch or feed the animals. A distance of six feet between you and an animal is required. Also, do not allow them to touch you.
Ask your tour operator if they have a responsible tourism policy. Only travel with operators that can demonstrate that they are doing as much as they can to support conservation efforts and ensure that local people benefit as a result of tourism.
Consider your environmental impact when traveling. Fully cooperate with environmental inspection and quarantine services personnel during your visit. Introduced plants, animals, and certain foods not native to the islands are a serious threat to the delicate ecosystems here.
Do not buy souvenirs or objects made of native plants or animals from the islands, especially black coral, volcanic rocks, native woods, sea lion teeth, or tortoise shells
Travel with a local tour operator. Ensuring that tourism is of maximum benefit to local people is key to the sustainable development of the islands.
Following these guidelines and committing to be a responsible tourist will help to ensure that Galapagos tourism is sustainable in the future.
Los Altos de Eros means the height of love – and that’s just what this place is. Every detail is thoughtfully planned and executed, from the rooms to the exquisite spa and delightful meals - and most especially, the amazing staff.
Los Altos de Eros is a small boutique hotel set on 27 acres high amongst the mountains of northwestern Costa Rica. The secluded romantic retreat is far removed from anything to spoil the perfection of the place or experience, yet only a 20 minute drive outside the popular town of Tamarindo. In many ways, Costa Rica is the way life should be. With numerous eco climates, many active volcanoes, and pristine beaches, the country offers a diverse and storied culture that can be enjoyed by all.
Upon arriving, the entry lobby and common area living/dining rooms feel more as if you’ve just stepped into someone’s luxurious private home. The staff is warm and welcoming, and lead you to one of four poolside rooms, a detached suite with private terrace, or the upstairs Eros Suite. Each room is beautifully decorated with signs of Eros all about, from sculptures to other art forms. Each room is meant for romance, from the large two-person tubs to private terraces. It’s no surprise that this is a very popular place for honeymoons and small weddings.
The on-site spa was rated 8th best spa in the world! The building is just below the property and is open air, constructed solely of teak with bamboo ceilings. Views from the 5 private treatment rooms feature mountains, jungle and the Pacific Ocean. Very Balinese in nature, this is the place to relax even more, should you need to. Treatments from massages and body scrubs to facials and soaking tubs soothe away any stress easily, and the therapists are excellent and gentle.
The meals are a big draw here; Chef Andrea delights in creating fresh, local and very inventive dishes, and guests can also take her very popular cooking classes during their stay. She meets with each guest to discuss their likes, dislikes, preferences and any food allergies. Los Altos de Eros only serves organic fruits and vegetables, free-range chicken, and grass-fed tenderloin. The seafood is brought directly from the dock packed in shaved ice.
Other onsite activities include yoga with certified instructor Nicole Loria; hiking around the area; swimming or lounging at the gorgeous infinity pool; or going into Tamarindo for shopping, restaurants or the local beaches. Los Altos de Eros can also arrange a number of eco, adventure and culture tours in the area.
I love that the property offers a Top 10 list of reasons to stay, which include "We are hurricane proof and we don't have drug wars." Other listed reasons, all of which I completely agree with, include the romance, many awards the 5-star hotel has won, the cuisine and spa, amazing staff, involvement in the community and Coco the dog.
Rates include the following complimentary services:
This property receives high ratings and is very popular, so booking well in advance is advised. And they have a heck of a guarantee policy: If in the first 24 hours of your stay you don't think Los Altos has over-delivered on what you expected, they will happily refund your room charge and help you find another location at which to stay.
Phone: (506) 8850-4222
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