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IN THE SPOTLIGHT  (SCROLL DOWN TO READ OUR LATEST BLOG POSTS)

 

Tuesday
Aug262014

Fogous and Creeps in Cornwall

by Elyn Aviva

Pendeen Fogou wasn’t a very prepossessing site. To reach it, the three of us—my husband, Gary, our guide, Cheryl Straffon, and I—had to unfasten three rusty metal gates to venture ever deeper into a farmer’s cattle yard. The broken concrete beneath our feet was covered with several layers of dried (or drying) cow manure. Cattle were lowing and resting in their own muck in the nearby pens. 


Our goal was a six-foot-tall stone structure with tall grasses and weeds growing out of the top and a yawning opening in one wall. Before we could enter the site, we had one more obstruction: a detached farm gate, which the three of us hauled over to one side. 

Bending low, we followed Cheryl down a steep, stone-lined passage deep into the earth. I was grateful I had my hiking staffs to help keep me from slipping. At the bottom, the rocky passage leveled out. My flashlight illuminated moss-covered granite walls and ceiling, the large stones carefully placed to construct the fogou. Pronounced “foo-goo,” it’s a Cornish word that means “cave,” and it refers to a human-made underground cavern.

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Saturday
Aug232014

Explosion on the Mountain

by Nancy King

 

It was a gorgeous day for a hike--sunny, blue skies, comfortable temperature-perfect hiking weather. F suggested we hike up to the summit of the 12,000’ peak, taking our time, enjoying the profusion of wildflowers that had suddenly emerged after the night’s rain. She was used to hiking at lower altitudes, so we stopped whenever she needed to catch her breath or eat a snack. We climbed in companionable silence, finding the meandering path up to the top with no trouble.

Photo by John Fowler via Flickr CCL

When we reached the top, both of us feeling triumphant, she high-fived me and we stood, enjoying the panoramic view. When we noticed that the gray clouds were turning dark, we decided to have lunch lower down, where we had a great view of a mountain lake.

Almost as soon as we started eating, it began to rain. We put on our rain gear, packed up our food, and started hiking down the mountain. The temperature dropped. Balls of hail mixed with the rain. Rivulets of water poured down what we thought was the trail.

Suddenly she screamed at me. “I’m not doing this anymore. Why do you always have to hike? Why can’t we ride bikes? This is dangerous!”

I told her, “I look at it as an adventure.”

“It’s not an adventure, it’s dangerous.”

Habitually, when someone is angry at me, blaming me, I “check out,” go deep inside myself and wait for the assault to be over. Since I was so stunned by her anger, by her irrational accusations, by her acting as if I were to blame for the weather, I shut down and focused on finding the way down. I wasn’t sure what was a trail and what was water running down the steep slope, but I figured if we kept to the right and kept going down, we’d be okay.  As I hiked, I tried to avoid the water gushing down the path. She followed me.

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Tuesday
Aug192014

In Search of Quiet

by B.J. Stolbov

 

Deep in the barren Sonora Desert of Southwestern U.S, three days away from the last person I saw, I was hiking alone, in search of quiet. The desert has always been the one place that spiritual seekers, saints, and sinners have gone in search of quiet. 

Sonoran Desert, Prima, Arizona. Photo by Ken Bosma via Flickr CCLExcept that, in reality, the desert was not quiet. Its incessant winds whistled by my ears and rumbled up through my feet. Dead and dying grasses tumbled and rolled by.  Snakes slithered, lizards clicked, and hares scurried across the sand. The winds sang beneath the wings of hovering vultures and under the claws of lingering thoughts.

There, hiking alone through the desert, reveling in my own silence, late in the afternoon on a tranquil summer’s day, I suddenly came upon a rattlesnake, which startled me with its rattle, louder than any rock concert I had ever been to.  I stopped, the snake did not strike, we stared at each other, and then we both quietly went our separate ways. 

Sound and silence can come in unanticipated places and at unpredictable times. 

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Tuesday
Aug122014

Jules’s Very Dumb Day in Luxembourg 

by Jules Older

 

If you travel, you will have dumb days. That's a given. You’ll get on the Metro, but on the wrong train, and you’ll end up at the wrong end of Paris. You’ll order dinner in Tokyo, and with a flourish, the waiter will set what appear to be raw snails in front of you. You’ll book a hotel in Miami, and when you get there, discover that the elevator hasn't worked since the Nixon administration. These are dumb days. They will happen.

The trick is to avoid VDDs — very dumb days.

I just survived one. Barely.

Jules’s Very Dumb Day began in our hotel room in Luxembourg City. We’d been here a week, a week of nothing but sunshine and warmth. Okay, maybe I'd grown cocky about the weather. 

Now, we were heading north to Vianden, a town of winding, cobbled streets; an ancient mountaintop castle, lovingly restored; and such overwhelming charm that… well, in 1871, Victor Hugo found refuge here. 

Bet he brought his raincoat. Though I’d searched our hotel room from gurgle to zatch, I couldn't find mine. Not that it was raining — just in case. After seven straight days of Luxembourg sunshine, no worries.


We took the Hop-on Hop-off Bus to Vianden. We arrived at 11 a.m., and though he spoke no English, the driver assured us in the modern traveler’s Yiddish — FranglishDeutch — that he'd pick us up at exactly 2 p.m. on that self-same spot. And off he drove.

That was where we had to make our first decision. Walk up to the castle or down to the tourist chairlift, then hike from the top of the chair to the castle. Effin said.  “I felt a raindrop. Let’s walk up. It’s shorter.”

I said, “Nah, let’s take the lift. It’ll be an adventure.”

 

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Tuesday
Aug052014

The Plague Comes Back To Life

 

The year is 1645. The most virulent strain of the Bubonic Plague has immobilized Edinburgh, Scotland, claiming the lives of more than half the city’s population. The area hardest hit: Mary King’s Close on High Street, a busy thoroughfare and lively 17th century street of pubs, shops and residences. Cries of suffering have replaced the friendly chatter, and the stench of death, the pungent aroma of tea and scones.

The place, the time, the horror have been resurrected as one of Edinburgh's most unusual attractions. Archaeologically and historically accurate, the alleys you walk upon, the rooms you visit, the stories you hear are real. This is not a recreation; it is a resurrection of what already existed so many centuries ago. 

Beneath the City Chambers on Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile, lies Mary King’s Close, a series of narrow, winding side streets with multi-level apartment houses looming on either side, which has been hidden for many years. In 1753, the houses at the top of the buildings were knocked down to make way for the then-new building. Parts of the lower sections were used as the foundation, leaving below a number of dark and mysterious underground alleyways steeped in mystery -- and misery. 

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Tuesday
Jul292014

The Children of Angkor

story and photos by Jolandi Steven

 

Unkempt little bodies jump from stone to stone. Lithe and agile. Darting now towards, then away from the never-ending stream of tourists flowing over the raised wooden causeways of Beng Mealea. They claim the messy jumble of unrestored stones of this temple, 40 kilometres east of Angkor, on the ancient royal way, as their playground. Nearly nine centuries of heat and humidity have played havoc with the precise placement of the blue sandstone blocks. Gone is the former wealth and glory of the mighty Khmer Empire. In its place poverty reigns. 


At each consecutive temple I visit they keep buzzing around me in swarms. Irritating little mosquitoes. Sometimes noisy and persistent, other times quiet and watchful. Even if I try, I cannot seem to avoid their persistent onslaught. “Lady! Lady!” Dirty little hands push tacky souvenirs I don’t want in my direction. I am determined not to make eye contact. I don’t want to see them. “Only one dolla!” I hasten my pace, and keep my face stern. I focus on the beauty and splendour of the temple in front of me. They give up, and turn their attention to their next victim.

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