TravelWorld International: Eco Travel Issue, January 2013

Page 1

2013 | JANUARY

EcoTravel the







Osa Peninsula


JAN 2013

EcoTravel the











Cycling through the Shimanami Kaido STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY NATHAN DEPETRIS

It’s easy to go green in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY REBECCA L. RHOADES

Going green on the Mexican Riviera has never felt so hedonistic STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY ABBY VENTZKE

Taking an eco-detour for a cup of prized Puerto Rican coffee STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY BENNETT ROOT, JR.

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Eco-Adventure Bike Route



Cycling through the Shimanami Kaido STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY NATHAN DEPETRIS


ew countries can claim to have a relationship as close to nature as Japan does. While casual visitors to Tokyo and Kyoto may view an endless sea of concrete at first, they soon realize how Japanese citizens find ways to stay in touch with nature. From large parks in the center of a megalopolis that draw endless crowds evenings and weekends, to the smallest bonsai perched on an apartment shelf, the Japanese strive to remain connected with the environment. This love of all things out-of-doors permeates all aspects of daily life. Now, as a new century dawns, humans are beginning to truly understand the impact that our lifestyle has on the globe. Slowly travelers are realizing that the journeys they undertake add to the burden placed upon the environment and are seeking ways to explore the world while still having as little of an impact as possible.



Bicyclists crossing the Innoshima Ohashi Bridge ride below the automobile lanes. This is the only bridge along the Shimanami Kaido to offer such an interesting perspective.

The bright colors that decorate the temples and shrines at Kosenji temple shine in the light of the afternoon sun. This temple is one of the main attractions for anyone biking the Shimanami Kaido.

A fisherman's bicycle waits for its owner’s return at the entrance to the Kurushima Kaikyo Ohashi Bridges.

Onomichi is a typical Japanese city where traditional Shinto shrines are located next to the most contemporary modern buildings.

Although recycling programs have been around for a long time, this was always first and foremost out of necessity. Japan is, after all, an island nation that has to import most of what it consumes. It makes sense to have programs for materials to be recycled or repurposed. This keeps the cost of many critical materials affordable. Why buy



supplies of aluminum or steel when you can just use what you already bought a second or a third time? Japan has learned that just having basic recycling and environmental regulations are not enough to attract this new style of traveler. By promoting green initiatives in conjunction with its natural assets, it can attract

the environmentally friendly ecotourist wanting to see it all while still treading lightly. Recognizing the importance of this growing niche, many of the country’s prefectures have started working to attract explorers interested in more than the average bus tour. Hiroshima and Ehime, home to some of Japan's

Small rest stops, such as this park bench with a view of the Seto

The tall statue of Kannon

Inland Sea, are very common along the Shimanami Kaido.

towers over Kosenji temple.

A deity welcomes visitors to Kosenji temple on Innoshima Island, Japan, one of the most visited sites along the Shimanami Kaido.

most scenic natural landscapes, jointly developed a breathtakingly beautiful way to experience this picturesque rural area: the Shimanami Kaido cycling route. Loosely translated, Shimanami means “island over sea route” describing perfectly the 70-kilometer bike route and paths that stretch over the Seto Inland Sea. Eight islands connected by a string of architecturally stunning bridges guide visitors through some of the loveliest coastlines in Asia. The Shimanami Kaido does more than just link two prefectures though; it connects urban Japan to its rural countryside, bridging the nation’s future with its culturally rich past. For most cyclists, their two-day journey starts in Onomichi City, a short distance from Hiroshima airport, and takes them to Imabari City on Shikoku Island with an overnight stop midway. Onomichi was founded as a port city and can trace its modern day prosperity to a close relationship to the Inland Sea. A steady influx of income from fishing and shipping meant that residents had more leisure time than their


Eco-Adventure Bike Route rural neighbors to enjoy the luxuries of higher education and temple life. More than 20 temples dot the city today, and no visit to Onomichi would be complete without stopping by at least a couple of them. Senkoji Temple shares the mountain top with a municipal park and the Onomichi City Art Museum. From the hilltop observatory, the eyes can feast on a panoramic view of the harbor and Seto Inland Sea, while a giant rosary stored in Kannondo Hall at the temple promises to scare away any lingering evil spirits. A stop at the art museum is a must for art lovers, while architecture buffs will marvel at the building housing the collection—it was designed by the world famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Jiko-ji is another temple worth seeing. Located in the heart of the old city among narrow back alleys and aging Japanese homes, it’s famous for being the only place in the world where both tourists and worshippers alike can create their own Nigiribotoke. This unique small clay Buddha is formed when a roll of clay is squeezed in one hand while making a wish. A few more pinches of the fingers form the nose and ears while a small wooden dowel is used to draw the mouth and eyes. When the Nigiribotoke is complete, a master bakes the figurine in the temple’s oven and ships the Buddha to its new owner. Most cyclists start their day and their journey on the Shimanami Kaido from Onomichi in the early morning. While watching the sun rise over the water and harbor, they see a Japanese city come to life. After renting their bikes, cyclists start their tour with a short ferry



Komainu, or lion dogs, often guard entrances to Shinto shrines. A pair of statues, one with the mouth open and a second with the mouth closed, ward off evil spirits.

Volunteers at the Oyamazumi Shrine sweep the grounds clear of fallen leaves. Such morning rituals are as much an exercise in meditation as they are efforts of cleanliness.

ride from Onomichi to Mukaishima Island. This short two-minute cruise is the start of the scenic Shimanami Kaido. The rental station also sells the tickets used to pay the tolls for the six bridges crossed along the way. Riders see the port area and northwest tip of Mukaishima Island before reaching the Innoshima Ohashi Bridge, the only bridge on the route where bicyclists ride beneath the automobile lanes. Once on Innoshima Island, the route follows the north coast. Cool breezes start to waft in off the water and the smell of the sea becomes heavy. The small islands dotting the

Seto Inland Sea here offer photographers endless possibilities. Nearby, the Innoshima Flower Center is a great spot to relax for few minutes. The route on Ikuchijima Island follows the coast, winding in and out of small villages with a chance to stop at Kosenji temple. Many of the structures at Kosenji are modeled after some of the country's most iconic shrines and temples; these will delight the eyes while a stroll through the underground grotto gives riders a chance to escape the sun for a little while. This temple is one of the highlights on any bicycling tour, so taking time to enjoy

Row upon row of stone markers surround a local shrine in Setoda.

Statuary and art installations are found along the length of the Shimanami Kaido. This gorgeous example sits in the parking lot of Yoshiumi Ikiiki-kan BBQ Restaurant.

Installation art is backlit by the setting sun at Sunset Beach, a popular area for swimming in the Seto Inland Sea.

A shimenawa--or straw rope--marks the boundary between the sacred and mundane worlds.

the grounds is highly recommended. The area is also home to many mikan (mandarin orange) orchards and during the spring and fall the heavenly scent of citrus perfumes the air. The usual route then winds its way to Sunset Beach where riders can refresh themselves on hot days with a quick splash in the sea before watching the sun dip below the horizon. Since this is the island that most will use as an overnight stop during the journey, ryokans can be found in abundance all along the route. Some, such as Ryokan Tsutsui, offer many amenities for the overnight guest. Freshly caught seafood and locally sourced produce keep the gourmand happy while those seeking the experience of staying at a traditional Japan-



Eating Your Way Along the Shimanami Kaido The west is familiar with sushi and teppanyaki, but Japanese cuisine goes way beyond fare that is found at most every local strip mall worldwide. Riders along the Shimanami Kaido will find a plethora of choices to make their mouths salivate. Fresh seafood is plentiful and most dishes are centered around this bounty. Onomichi Yaki can be found in many small restaurants all over Onomichi City. Large amounts of noodles and cabbage are cooked on counter grills with special toppings, such as Sunauzri (chicken gizzard) and fried octopus, then covered in a special sauce. Debera (flat fish) are washed in salt water then dried in the cold winter wind. It’s deep fried and enjoyed with sake during the coldest time of the year. The warm weather in Hiroshima and Ehime prefectures are perfect for growing citrus and other fruit. Fresh oranges, lemons, figs and persimmons make a refreshing dessert after a large meal. These and other regional specialties can be found at the numerous cafes, restaurants and BBQ’s that line the Shimanami Kaido.


Eco-Adventure Bike Route ese ryokan revel in the tatami mats and futon-style bedding. Hot spring baths to help with those sore muscles can be found at Tsutsui; one public tub is shaped like a lemon with fresh lemon slices added to the hot mineral water. The smell of the citrus clings to the skin giving bathers a refreshing aroma that lingers. Early risers can catch the sunrise over the Pagoda at Kojoji Temple in Setoda, painted several times by Japan's much beloved artist Hirayama Ikuo. The second day on the Shimanami Kaido starts by crossing the Tatara Ohashi Bridge. While making their way across, riders often pause beneath one of the bridges’ huge pylons where wooden clappers are attached to the railing. Using these clappers, cyclists listen to the otherworldly echo produced by the pylons, an unexpected side effect of the bridges’ design. This day is typically the longest and most strenuous for riders, especially if they want to include the Oyamazumi Shrine on the north side of the island. A traditional Shinto shrine, early morning visitors can watch as attendants dressed in traditional white kimonos sweep the grounds with large twig brooms more than a dozen feet long. Watching as the broom moves across the ground in sweeping rotations can be very relaxing while offering amazing photograph opportunities. The museum that shares the shrine’s grounds has one of the most amazing collections of Shogun-era armor that can be found in or outside of Japan. Sweeping panoramas of nature and small villages grace the route as cyclists cross both the Omishima

Wishes and prayers, written on strips of paper, are tied to long lines on the Oyamazumi Shrine grounds.

If You Go Official Shimanami Kaido Website Official Hiroshima Prefecture Tourism Website Official Shikoku Prefecture Tourism Website Official Japan National Tourism Organization Website

Bashi and the Kahata Oshima Ohashi bridges before tackling the long uphill climb on Oshima Island. A stop for a quick seafood BBQ at Yoshiumi Ikiikikan is suggested before entering the Kurushima Kaikyo Ohashi Bridges, three connected bridges spanning four kilometers (2.5 miles). Once on the final stretch of the Shimanami Kaido, cool ocean breezes and tidal whirlpools in the waters below the bridge astound riders as they finish their journey through natural, cultural and architectural landscapes. While watching the sun slowly set as fishing boats return home to the harbors under the Kurushima Kaikyo Ohashi Bridges, riders can reflect on their eco-

adventure ride. From Iyatoma Park’s observation deck, the view changes moment to moment as the orange light of the evening flashes across the white bridges and forested islands dotting the surrounding sea. Nathan DePetris is owner and COO of Pride Travel, catering to gay and lesbian clientele, and is an IGLTA Ambassador to the USA. He’s sailed on more than four dozen cruises, traveled to almost 40 countries and was awarded a WAVE TrendSetter for Travel Agent Sales Superstar. Tapping extensive GLBT travel knowledge, DePetris founded online travel magazine featuring information and colorful narratives from a gay perspective.



Red-eyed tree frog.


La Pura Vida

T It’s easy to go green in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY REBECCA L. RHOADES

he air hangs heavy and wet as the 12seat Cessna descends from the clouds. The rainstorm that had jostled us for the hour-long flight from San José, the capital of Costa Rica, had finally ended. As I step out onto the single-lane dirt runway cut in the dense foliage, the damp, earthy scent of the rainforest is overpowering. My guide Geovanny quickly whisks me past the small open-air shelter that serves as the port city of Golfito’s single air terminal to a small colorful panga waiting at the nearby dock. I’m headed into the heart of the Osa Peninsula, a corner of land on the southwest edge of Costa Rica along the Panama border. And as the boat slices through the warm blue-green waters of the Golfo Dulce (Sweet Gulf), it is not hard to understand why this region is widely recognized as one of the richest biological zones in the world. Jagged mountains covered with thick, lush forests—so dense that no speck of earth shows beneath them— rise from the waters. At their edges, the trees are alive with hundreds of pelicans, a few of which take turns flying overhead. A row of Scarlet Macaws soars above the canopy, while in the gulf, a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins frolics in the distance. A tiny country—smaller than West Virginia and with a population of about 4.5 million people—Costa Rica covers only about 0.03 percent of the Earth’s surface. But it plays host to almost 6 percent of the world’s total species—with more than half of that biodiversity concentrated in the Osa Peninsula. The region is home to between 4,000 and 5,000 species of plants, more than 120 species of mammals and upwards of 400 species of birds. And no visitor to the peninsula will leave without seeing more than a few of the region’s thousands of exotic and bizarre insect species.

One reason for the area’s biological preeminence is the amount of precipitation that falls here—as much as 20 feet annually. It’s almost perpetually humid and soggy, and I am reminded of this as I reach my destination: Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge, a private preserve nestled in the forests of Piedras Blancas National Park. “You can’t leave stuff sitting around for more than a day here,” says Marie, manager of the lodge, as she rearranges the books in the main building. “It’s always so damp here that if you leave items in one place for a couple days, life starts growing under them.” And as if on cue, the skies darken, and a violent storm rains down on us. ECOTOURISM SUCCESS STORY Dawn breaks, and I am awakened by the deep bellows of howler monkeys. I open the slatted doors of my cabin and enter a fantasy world where ferns and palm fronds grow taller than I do. Waves crash upon the black sand beach on the other side of a thick row of plants, while a cacophony of bird calls echo through the trees. Before breakfast, I set out on a nature hike with Tomas, an older gentleman who moves stealthily through the brush in a pair of well-worn beige Crocs; the only noise comes from his machete clearing a path through the undergrowth. As the early morning light filters through the trees, Tomas skillfully tracks herds of peccaries, capuchin monkeys and a rarely seen tayra, a member of the weasel family. Tomas speaks little English, and my Spanish is pretty much limited to hola, adiós and gracias, but by using a stack of well-worn and laminated identification sheets, he takes great pride in pointing out numerous types of trees, animals and even the fresh tracks of an ocelot. Tomas is considered a guardian of these forests, and for good reason. He

Toucan cabin.

Toucan cabin interior.


Cicada and chrysalis.

was born under a mango tree on this exact plot of land. His family harvested cacao pods here until the 1970s when a fungus wiped out most of the country’s chocolate crop. Like many who once lived and hunted in these forests, Tomas now owes his livelihood to the country’s commitment to ecotourism. For many, Costa Rica is synonymous



with ecotourism and sustainable travel. The country’s green era began in 1970 when, following nearly 50 years of unrestricted logging, a systematic effort was begun to save what was left of the wilderness. That year, lawmakers founded a national park system; today, 32 national parks cover approximately a quarter of the coun-

try. In 1987, Costa Rica’s natural beauty was thrust onto the world stage when President Oscar Arias Sánchez was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end civil war in several Central American countries. (Costa Rica was the first country ever to constitutionally abolish its army, in 1949.) Soon visitors began pouring into Costa Rica,


Toucan enjoying a snack.

and tourism quickly became the country’s top revenue-producing industry, surpassing traditional commodities such as coffee, bananas and fishing. In 1997, Costa Rica pioneered another initiative in green tourism: the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) program. This green seal of approval is voluntary, but with the growing interest in sustainability, it is one that is becoming more and more popular with hotels and other tourist-related businesses. The rigorous CST program categorizes and certifies tourism companies according to the degree to which they comply with a model of sustainability. Four fundamental aspects are evaluated: how does the company impact and/or protect its surrounding environment; how does the company’s operations (waste disposal, energy management, etc.) affect the environment; what impact does the company have on nearby communities (promoting education, working with community-service providers, etc.); and how does the company promote and teach responsible tourism to its guests. Businesses are awarded “leaves” on a scale of one to five based on their sustainability achievements. A relative newcomer to the Costa Rican tourism industry, Playa Nicuesa opened in 2003. In 2009, it received a Four Leaf designation, and in 2012, it received the Five Leaf Award, the highest rating for sustainability. SUSTAINABILITY FOR ALL There’s a popular saying in Costa Rica, “pura vida,” or the pure life, used to describe everyday life. Nowhere does the pure life seem more evident than here amongst the pristine wild of the rainforest. Days can be spent hiking through the forest—a number of refreshing waterfalls can be found miles from the lodge for those who are willing and able to make the effort— testing your flexibility at one of the lodge’s daily yoga classes, or kayaking




La Pura Vida

through the mangroves.(Several caimans and a resident crocodile live in the waters, so nighttime activities are strictly land-based.) But travelers wishing to “go green” in Costa Rica don’t have to spend all of their time in athletic pursuits. Even the softest adventurer can have a satisfying eco-experience here. A morning boat ride takes me to the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary. Within minutes of landing, a gentle spider monkey hops on my shoulder and begins playing with my hair and stroking my face, her long tail wrapping softly around my neck. “That’s Sweetie,” says Carol Crews, founder of the sanctuary. “She’s just curious about you.” The 700-acre property, originally an avian sanctuary, provides care to injured and displaced animals of all species, thanks to the arrival in 2003 of spider monkey Poppy. The $25 entrance fee is used to help feed and care for the animals, most of which are released back into the wild. Crews and her staff also work to educate locals about conservation and animal care, even providing free spay and neuter clinics in the towns surrounding Piedras Blancas. Sweetie launches herself into the trees and follows us as we tour a series of enclosures holding macaws, a tayra, ocelots, parrots, a kinkajou, and a very vocal troop of white-faced capuchin monkeys. Two sloths lounge in a hammock, their long toes curling over its edge. As we make our way back to the beach, Sweetie jumps down and runs ahead. She stops and looks back at us for a second before hopping on a wooden swing and tilting her face to the sun.




That night, the rainforest once again lives up to its name. Having just finished with dinner, fresh mackerel I had caught just a few hours earlier, I relax on a hammock on the second floor of Playa Nicuesa’s 2,800-square-foot main lodge. As I wait for the storm to pass, I enjoy a local Imperial beer and chat with Jonathan, the bartender. Soft-spoken with a kind smile, he is young, barely 20, but his love of the region’s natural wonders is obvious. “I come from the city, but I love it here,” he says. “I go to school to learn about nature. I want to live here and teach others.” Later, Jonathan and I head out for a short stroll around the grounds. He is quick to locate frogs that my untrained eye overlooks, including ones no bigger than my pinky nail. A red-eyed tree frog, the best-known symbol of Costa Rica’s rainforest and its preservation, sits on the underside of a giant leaf. Patiently it allows me to take its photograph before closing its eyes and disappearing into the darkness. Pura vida. The pure life, indeed. Rebecca L. Rhoades is an established travel journalist and photographer based in Philadelphia. Follow her on Twitter: @rlrhoades.


Room in Mango Guest House

Spider monkey.

Main lodge in rain.

a r e i v i R a y a M Sunset on

Going green on the Mexican Riviera has never felt so hedonistic.



co tourism is a hot catch phrase in travel— combine doing good with feeling good. What’s not to love? While there is no international body to prevent an establishment from calling itself eco-friendly, many will install a recycle bin and low-flow shower heads and do just that. The eco-friendly label is also a moving target: improvements in sustainability are introduced every day. With that in mind, a hotel just 10 years old may now be the equivalent of an automotive gas-guzzler. But replacing large systems only a few years old and still perfectly functional—or even rebuilding

altogether—can be costly, wasteful and decidedly not green. For this reason, the opportunity to build a world-class ecologically sustainable resort from the ground up, where nothing has stood previously, is an eco-engineers dream. Mexico’s Hacienda Tres Ríos, located in the Yucatán Peninsula, is just that. Encompassing more than 326 acres of rainforest (150 slated to remain untouched), the resort has earned numerous awards since its doors opened in 2008, and Sunset World’s president, Orlando Arroyo Marroquin, has become a resource speaking on behalf of sustainable tourism and construction at conferences such as London’s World Travel Market and at FITUR in Spain and Berlin. Hacienda Tres Ríos is part of the larger group of resorts and properties owned by Sunset World Resorts & Vacation Experiences, which are located throughout Cancún and Riviera Maya. Under the watchful eye of chief environmental officer Gabriel Santoyo, all strive to be ecologically

The expansive lobby of Hacienda Tres Rios welcomes guests. PHOTO COURTESY SUNSET GROUP

friendly, but since most were existing properties purchased by the group, are necessarily limited in what they can boast. But this is not the case with Hacienda Tres Ríos. A WORLD APART The Yucatán Peninsula lies between the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico and consists of flat rainforest lands and jungle. The land itself is actually a 76,300 square mile limestone shelf with an extensive underground aquifer and numerous cenotes—fresh water sinkholes—vital to the delicate ecological balance of the area’s unique flora and fauna. My guide, Genoveva Garcia, was a part of the creation of Hacienda Tres Ríos (named for the three rivers running through the property) from the ground up and has a special attachment to it. She explained that the resort was actually built offsite, to minimize the ecological impact caused by heavy construction. The modules were then brought in and assembled, much like Lego building

Hacienda Tres Rios is built on stilts, or pilings, 2 to 3 feet above sea level, to allow the rivers to flow unobstructed.

Light and power at Ethos is provided

The three rivers (or tres rios) invite exploration, and kayaks

through solar and wind energy.

are available for guests’ use. PHOTO COURTESY SUNSET GROUP

blocks. The resort itself was also designed to have minimal impact on the environment—it’s positioned two to three feet above the level of the ocean, and built on stilts, or pilings, sunk into the limestone to allow the aquifers to continue their natural flow unobstructed. The systems built into Hacienda Tres



Ríos are state-of-the-art and combine low-impact with luxury. Everything from the locally sourced, sustainable lumber of the expansive patios and bridges, to the decorative limestone trim on the walls, harvested locally and polished to a high shine, bringing into sharp focus the delicate fossils of the sea life that it was once a part of.

The systems are designed not only to operate efficiently, but to operate with as little environmental impact as possible. Case in point: Tres Ríos features three desalination plants on its property, with reverse osmosis filters, providing fresh potable water without tapping into the fragile freshwater supply. Wastewater runs through

Guests staying at any of the Sunset World resorts are welcome to partake in riding tours at Andalucia.

A shaman explains what to expect on the Sense Adventure Experience.

onsite treatment plants and is used to irrigate the grounds, while solid waste is taken offsite and recycled into compost. The massive air conditioning system features state-of-the-art technology in which chilled groundwater is pumped up and used to cool the equipment, resulting in energy savings of 70 percent. That now-hot water is, in turn, used to help heat the natural gas hot water systems (with a 30 percent savings), before being returned to the earth it came from. There are too many nifty eco installations to mention, most behind the scenes and completely unobtrusive. But nature is ever in the forefront at Tres Ríos. AN UNCONVENTIONAL RETREAT Hacienda Tres Ríos offers a number of activities designed to heighten the senses as well as develop visitors’ appreciation of the delicate balance of rain forest nature as well as Mayan culture. What better way to begin this journey than with your eyes closed? Garcia and I headed out of the resort to a starting point in the jungle a short



a r e i R iv aya M Sunset on

walk away. I was struck by how dense the forest was—and how it smelled, well, not foresty. Growing up in the Garden State, in a rural area a stone’s throw from Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, I have an definite idea of what the woods smell like: pine, moss, ferns, and the dense, rich smell of dark earth that rises with each step you take. I expected a similarly overwhelming scent of “green,” but this forest defied my preconceived notion of rainforest jungle. The air smelled light, almost delicate, and definitely more herbal than earthy. The Sense Adventure Experience is not for cynics or killjoys. A blindfolded walk through the jungle, with touch, taste and smells designed to open your mind and heart, requires a bit of faith and a great sense of adventure. I admit to taking a peak beneath my blindfold once or twice (blame the journalist inside), but was still completely entranced by the experience once I gave in to it. It’s difficult to explain without giving too much away, but it’s not unlike going to Disneyland: You either walk away enchanted by the magical experience, or complaining about the long lines and high prices. I was enchanted, and ready to see more of this rainforest-that-didn’tsmell-like-a-forest, so Garcia and I met up with Antonio Hernandez, Memory Makers assistant, for a Segway tour of part of the grounds. Tres Ríos offers its guests numerous options for touring, including bicycle, kayak, walking and Segway, but taking along a guide is a must, which becomes obvious once you’re off in the jungle. Paths are laid



Crystal clear, still waters of the cenotes invite snorkeling. PHOTO COURTESY SUNSET GROUP

out, but one looks so much like the other that it’s more than easy to get lost. Once we had our bearings on the Segways, we headed off to the nursery, where three varieties of baby mangroves, vital to rainforest survival, and other plant species are carefully raised to take their place in the larger ecosystem. The nursery also serves as an educational opportunity for guests interested in learning more about the local flora, and children who love digging in the dirt. We stopped to take in the cenotes, admiring their crystal depths, where guests are welcome to swim and snorkel, and the narrow river passageways where we saw a kayak plying its way past lowhanging branches. The Segways were fairly silent (and a low-emissions mode of transportation)—quiet enough for me to hear birds singing and the scrabbling of local fauna in the underbrush. The peace was enchanting. ETHOS FARM IN THE JUNGLE One of the pleasures of travel is indulging in local cuisine, and none of the onsite restaurants I visited disappointed. Exceedingly fresh and carefully prepared, it even had this very picky eater satisfied. Karla Baez,

another of my guides, explained that most of Sunset World’s fresh fruit and vegetables are organically grown at its own farm, and offered to take me for a visit. The Ethos Granja en la Selva (Farm in the Jungle) is exactly that: a farm in the rainforest jungle. I never gave it much thought (after all, the rainforest already has plenty growing in it), but farms in the rainforest are exceedingly rare. Crops harvested for food require a substantially greater amount of topsoil nutrients than the limestone base of the Yucatán provides. Baez and I caught up with Eduardo Lopez, Ethos coordination and planning director, and traveled more than an hour over rough singletrack to reach the Ethos Farm, where he took us on a tour of the facilities. Ethos is not a farm in the traditional sense of the word: there are no plowed fields with even, furrowed rows; no silos; no combines. In fact, it doesn’t even look like much at all. There were a few farmhands working in the distance, and a cluster of solar panels and a wind turbine providing power to pump water during dry spells. It wasn’t until Lopez pointed out the delicate plants and explained the intense

The flower farm provides most of the fresh

These Bird of Paradise plants produce 8,000

blooms decorating the Sunset Group properties.

to 10,000 blooms collectively each month.

planning involved that I truly began to appreciate what I saw. Ethos was launched just two years ago on property owned, but unused, by the resort. Through an ingenious process that begins by digging out a hole in the limestone rock, then filling it with compost (generated by the hotels), a sprinkle of seeds, some careful watering and—lo!—a tomato (or melon or pumpkin) is born! The process sounds simple enough, but there is an unfathomable amount of labor and planning involved. Lopez plants according to the needs of the resort properties, meticulously planning each growth cycle for maximum output. Crops are routinely rotated after a plant’s lifecycle to maintain soil fertility and discourage pests and

other pathogens. More feel-good greenwashing? Hardly. Lopez cites impressive statistics and has plans for more. For example, in 2012, Ethos produced 6 tons of green tomatoes and 40 tons of red. In 2013, he expects those figures to rise to 10 tons and 120 tons respectively. The 12 different crops produced in 2012 will almost double by the end of 2013. Impressive? Crops are just the beginning; Ethos also produces most of the flowers decorating the resorts (12 acres of bird of paradise plants alone produce 8,000 to 10,000 blooms each month). What next? A bee farm was recently launched that will provide honey for use in Sunset World’s Ya’ax Ché spa products.

GIVING BACK One of the directives of sustainable tourism is: “To contribute to the social, economic and cultural development of the region.” Ideally, this goes beyond just hiring the locals to clean rooms and serve drinks. Sunset World helps old and young by sponsoring Los Años Dorados de la Tercera Edad (The Golden Years Club for the Elderly) in Cancún, and providing free horseback riding therapy for local special needs children at its Hacienda Andalucia. There are many other programs in place as well. For example, the nursery at Tres Ríos plays host to local schoolchildren twice a year on horticultural fieldtrips, and has provided thousands of mangroves to rebuild much of the devastation caused by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.



Hoses snake through fragile plants, providing direct drip irrigation during dry spells.

A RESORT ABOVE ALL All things being equal, guests at a resort expect to be pampered and I wasn’t disappointed. Each of the Sunset World resorts offers a signature Ya’ax Ché Spa with full amenities, the size of which varies by property. The word Ya’ax Ché is Mayan for tree of life, usually represented by the ceiba tree, and is an important part of Mayan culture. The resort’s spa strives to reunite body and soul of harried visitors, and bring them back into harmony with Earth—not always an easy thing to do. I opted for the 80-minute Sensations Massage to work out the kinks. It was easily one of the best spa experiences I’ve ever had, and a fitting end to my trip. My personal yaxche restored to satisfactory operating conditions, I boarded a plane back to the States and headed home.



SUSTAINABLE TOURISM In 1987, the United Nations defined Sustainable Development as “…development which satisfies the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs.” This overview is broken down into three distinct elements: 1. Environmental resources must be used in the development of tourist sites. 2. The sociocultural authenticity of local communities must be respected, and viable, long-term operations be ensured for economic benefits of all. 3. Tourists should experience a high level of satisfaction, raising their awareness of sustainability and encouraging them in further sustainability efforts. Cancún first broke out as a travel hotspot in the 1970s through the guidance and direction of the Mexican government. It has since boomed in popularity and become a resort mecca for spring breakers, sun birders and honeymooners the world over, and is now a vital part of the nation’s economy. As a result, the Mexican government, resort developers and the local population have embraced the idea of sustainable practices to minimize the increasing pressure on local resources. The more recently developed Riviera Maya lies south of Cancún and is becoming just as vital. Hacienda Tres Ríos is a certified member of the World Heritage Alliance for Sustainable Tourism. It is a member of the Rainforest Alliance Program for Best Practices in Sustainable Tourism Management, as well as a member of Sustainable Travel International. In March 2009 it won the coveted Green Globe International Certification seal.

The inhospitable ground belies its Watermelon. Fresh and table ready.


Tres Rios Beach.

IF YOU GO Hacienda Tres Ríos is remote, quiet and relaxing, but if you yearn for the bright lights of Cancún, it’s not an either/or proposition. Guests staying at a Sunset World resort are welcome at any of its other properties. If you have the energy, you can play a round of golf at Laguna Suites Golf + Spa, rent a boat at the Admiral Yacht Club, take scuba lessons at the Marina Club Lagoon, bask in the turquoise-blue waters of the Caribbean at the Sunset Royal, or party the night away at one of Cancún’s many clubs. Boat and bus shuttles are available to transport you between properties, and cars are available for rent. Hacienda Tres Ríos www.haciendatresrí 800-494-9173 U.S. and Canada • 01-800-262-9268 Mexico 52-984-877-2400 International Sunset World Resorts & Vacation Experiences 866-760-1842 U.S. and Canada • 01-800-262-9648 Mexico 52-998-881-8750 International Ethos Granja en la Selva


Buena Vista Taking an eco-detour for a cup of prized Puerto Rican coffee



Drying racks for de-pulped green coffee, workers quarters and plantation house (inset above) were at the heart of plantation life. They have been meticulously restored by the Conservation Trust to permit visitors a rare glimpse of life in Puerto Rico’s Caribbean jungle some 150 years ago.

rom that Eureka! Moment in the Middle Ages when an Ethiopian goat herder discovered what his goats already knew—a little coffee was a great way to start the day—human beings have enjoyed the tastes and magical properties derived from coffee beans. Coffee is now produced in many places throughout the world, but in the mountains north of Ponce, on Puerto Rico’s Caribbean shore, late 19th century growers produced some of the world’s most prized coffee beans. On a recent Eco-Detour from daily living, we were treated to a cup of this rich coffee produced from Don Salvador Vives’ Buena Vista Plantation, recently restored to its remarkable original working state by Puerto Rico’s Conservation Trust. The Trust, and the arc of its special mission, is a story to which we’ll return; for now, however, we’re still savoring the coffee and the experience of this jungle stopover. Vives and his family came to Puerto Rico in the early 19th century from the tumult of revolution in Venezuela. Unable to afford flat land appropriate for sugar cane cultivation, Don Salvador Vives bought 500 acres of mountainous jungle on the Canas River, north of Ponce. Initially, this land fed the cane workers with plantains and corn. To produce corn meal, farm animals turned gigantic millstones. Soon enough, however, Vives’ son started building for the plantation’s future by substituting hydro power from the Canas River for traditional animal power. This required JAN 2013 / TRAVELWORLD INTERNATIONAL


“Shade coffee� grows under the forest canopy, protected from direct sun. The result is a coffee that is more mellow and flavorful.

Coffee “grinder” from the plantation’s early years.

Tropical flowers in screamingly bright primary colors punctuate the Hacienda’s grounds.

an intricate water diversion channel and an eighteen foot water wheel. And approval of the colonial government regarding how the water was to be used. A decade later, the Vives family continued the steady development of its jungle homestead. With a prescience responsive to evolving market conditions, Vives’ grandson modified the plantation’s crop mix, planting coffee bushes under the protective shade of overarching cocoa trees. These bushes would produce beautiful red berries— shade coffee—to the subsequent

Dried coffee beans ready for roasting.

delight of palates in Europe and the United States. The new crop required redesign of the plantation and relocation of the mill. As redesigned, the existing water wheel provided the power to new machinery which automated the de-pulping and husking of the coffee berries. To drive his relocated corn mill, Vives conceived and created a clever variant of a Baker water turbine to harness power from an underground water flow. The magic worked. Vives’ coffee and corn flour gained substantial traction in the marketplace, valued for their reliable

quality. Thus, the Buena Vista Plantation became one of the most successful agricultural businesses of its time. Location, vision, innovation and perseverance, all in harmony. At Buena Vista, the coffee berries are harvested in the fall, soaked and then de-pulped, husked and dried. We watched expectantly as the water channels were opened and the giant wheel groaned into fluid motion. Gears ground, wheels turned, belts applied power to synchronized processes. The berries’ pulp and the beans’ husks were removed so green JAN 2013 / TRAVELWORLD INTERNATIONAL










coffee beans could dry and blanch in the hot Caribbean sun. After drying, the beans could be roasted in cylindrical vessels hand-turned over hot charcoal. Unlike the mechanized depulping, at Buena Vista getting the right roast is an individualized art form. The roasting cylinder is two feet long and about 6 inches in diameter. Hand-cranking over live coals allows the beans to be turned so that each side of each bean is exposed to just the right amount of heat. As the heat dries the bean and caramelizes its sugars, there is a pop not unlike corn popping over heat. The amount (and uniformity) of the heat determines

for the 1850s! A bit less than a half mile of canals, complete with gates, diversions and returns would be reclaimed from the jungle. A regulatory nightmare, one might argue. But the system worked. While hiking to the falls that provided the power for the plantation, we heard the roar of, then saw a rush of water returning down a spillway to the river below the waterwheel. Looking at the completed system now restored to its previous finesse, one could see how mastery of this grant of water rights with canals and a water wheel permitted the plantation to increase coffee production from five tons per year in the early

tion is rarer still. The gearing was conceived on site and drawings sent to the West Point Foundry in Cold Springs, New York. Months later, the “mail order” parts arrived by ship and were successfully assembled to spectacular result. Both the original design and the restoration are recognized by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The Society of Industrial Archeology cited this turbine as an important “missing link” in the evolution of hydro power systems. Because our trip to Buena Vista was as remarkable as it was, it is difficult to conceive that this jewel of Puerto Rican patrimony lay in ruins in the

Mechanization at the Buena Vista allowed major increases in plantation yields, making the Buena Vista Hacienda a cutting edge innovator and remarkably successful for its time. Harvested coffee beans were brought to the processing area, all by traditional means. Then the eighteen foot water wheel was activated (no. 1) by an astonishingly sophisticated water diversion mechanism. The power from the turning wheel drove the mechanized de-pulper (no. 2). De-pulped beans we spread out on drying racks (no. 3) to bake in the hot Caribbean sun. Dried beans (no. 4) were hand roasted (no. 5) in a small metal cylinder (no. 6) allowing a skilled roaster to produce a wide variety of tastes from mildly aromatic to a robust , fully caramelized roast akin to today’s French Roasts. Hot beans from the roaster were set out to finish and cool (no. 7) before being ground up for coffee. Early twentieth century grinder and packaging for beans and ground coffee (no. 8) are on display (and available for brewing) at the hacienda’s site next to the original plantation house.

when one hears the pops made by cooking beans. Between the sounds of roasting and the aromas of cooking, the roaster decides to produce a milder, more aromatic finish (Café Americano), or a darker, richer caramel which yields a more bitter taste (French Roast). Artistry, indeed! Never had a cup of coffee seemed more complex, more in the moment, or more satisfying. Looking back, what we found interesting at Buena Vista was the application of mechanical leverage to agricultural process. Water rights in Puerto Rico were communal—Vives had to get permission from the colonial authorities to use the Canas’ water. The Buena Vista water rights required Vivas return the water he diverted, and return it “cleaned” of productive by-product. What a concept

stages of development to more than 300 tons by the end of the 19th century, all without choking off downstream neighbors. Ingenious. Before the Buena Vista water wheel empowered coffee production, it drove the corn mill. Morphing economics of the times required that the mill give way to coffee production. But Vivas did not abandon production of corn flours—he simply relocated the mill and tapped a new hydro power source to turn two 500-pound millstones— subterranean water flows driving an underground water turbine. Paddles in a stream 30 feet underground turned a shaft connected to gearing in the millhouse that turned one wheel against another. Dried corn poured in from above came out and was bagged as corn meal. This use of hydro power was rare; its restoration and preserva-

early 20th century, well on its way to rotting into a consuming jungle, a victim of natural disasters, changing production processes and killer economic times. In fact, Puerto Rico, an island of relatively small dimension blessed with a dense population but burdened by overdevelopment, had little of its land, history, culture or biodiversity set aside for conservation or preservation, much less restoration. The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico (Fidiecomiso de Conservaci n de PR), a brainchild of Steward Udall 50 years ago, was created by Congress to ameliorate this challenge. Since its founding in 1970, the Trust has taken on the job of identifying, acquiring and, where funds permit, restoring environmentally sensitive properties in Puerto Rico. Fortunately, the Vives’ Hacienda Buena Vista in one such property. In process



If You Go

The Conservation Trust has reclaimed the Hacienda from the jungle’s decay, providing visitors a beautiful glimpse of plantation life for Don Salvador Vives and his family.

Therel Santos Diaz shares some of the history of Buena Vista. The Trust “interpreters” (guides) are fully

Interesting Hotels in Old San Juan Ei Convento Hotel (Historic Hotels of America, AAA Four Diamond) 787-723-9020 Hotel Casa Blanca (Stylish, comfortable and well located) 787-725-3436 La Cancha Beach Resort (Chic, hip, retro, beachfront) 787-721-8500 Interesting Dining St. Germain Bistro & Café (Quaint, soothing, quality food) 787-725-5830 Il Perugino (Elegant Italian, nice wine pairings) 787-722-5481 El Jibarito (Comida criolla, traditional classics) 787-725-8375

knowledgeable about the period, the history and the restoration.

for 20 years, the restoration of this plantation was based on meticulous research, detailed artisanal effort, and a carefully calibrated commitment to the property’s provenance. The classic beauty of the restored Manor House speaks eloquently to the Trust’s success in its mission. As we walked through the neatly detailed family rooms, we felt transported to a time and way of life now gone for some 150 years. Gone, but not lost. We came to the Hacienda Buena Vista through the Conservation Trust’s specialized Eco-Detour program, a customized and highly personalized “vacation from daily living” designed by Trust naturalists (the Trust calls them “interpreters” of the space) for individuals or groups. Additionally, the Trust does special educational programs for schools and others seeking



Interested in Your Personal Eco-Detour? The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, a private, non-profit organization founded to acquire, preserve and restore ecologically and historically significant sites in Puerto Rico, sponsors a very limited number of “Eco-Detours,” uniquely designed discovery programs for individuals and small groups interested in an in-depth exploration of one or more of the Trust’s properties (for example, the Hacienda Buena Vista coffee plantation or the Hacienda Esperanza sugar plantation). Itineraries are custom designed for each group. All arrangements are made by Trust guides to the client’s specifications. Explorers are picked up in and returned to San Juan (or another embarkation point) as desired. All expenses are included. For details, contact Therel Santos or Christine Hernandez through the Conservation Trust. 787-722-5834

to get in touch with the history, culture and ecological systems of this extraordinary island. Our experience was particularly rich because our local interpreter was especially knowledgeable about the property and our overall trip coordinators were so good at

making the experience a joy. We had only a day, but what a day! If you are curious about plantation life and enjoy a great cup of coffee, call Therel Santos Diáz at the Trust. He’ll hook you up and brew up a much-prized cup of Puerto Rican coffee.





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* North Carolina CULINARY TRAVEL


Eco-Friendly Wineries in the Yadkin Valley By Sherry Jackson

California’s Napa Valley is well-known


for its world-renowned wineries, but it’s not the only wine-producing region in the United States. The Yadkin Valley in North Carolina is steadily gaining accolades thanks to a robust viticulture program at the Surry County Community College and the fact that its wineries are churning out some mighty fine-tasting wines. Southern wines haven’t had a good following until recently. Admittedly, most just weren’t that good and were made primarily from Muscadine grapes, native to the southeastern U.S. But the 36-plus wineries in the Yadkin Valley are now producing great-tasting, award-winning wines from a surprisingly large variety of grapes, and are eco-friendly in the process. The viticulture program at the Surry Community College sets the stage and is the entry point for many winemakers in the area. The program began in 2004 and has had about 25 graduates in the past five years, most of whom have gone on to run their own vineyards in the area. There’s a bonded winery and vineyard on campus, and program participants learn the grittiness of the job—from getting up at 4 a.m. to check the grapes to the never-ending process of growing, bottling and marketing their products. Here’s a look at some of the Yadkin Valley Wineries and what makes them unique.


CAROLINA HERITAGE VINEYARD & WINERY This is the first USDA-Certified organic winery and vineyard in North Carolina. Clyde and Pat Colwell wanted to do something active in retirement with a more sustainable, less carbon footprint. So in 2005 they decided to pursue Clyde’s life-long dream of establishing his own vineyard and winery, and make it eco-friendly. The house and wine-tasting room are



solar powered and Clyde experiments with different animals, such as guinea pigs, to assist with bugs and weeds in the vineyards. Most of their grapes are native to the region and they use several Muscadine varieties. They are currently working on planting an Isabella Grape which was used in the 1800s near Charleston, South Carolina, to make a new table wine label.

ELKIN CREEK VINEYARD AND WINERY Open since 2010, this winery has the hilliest vineyard in the Yadkin Valley. New owners Louis and Carrie Jeroslow, and Nick and Jennifer White, met while working for the Blue Man Group in Las Vegas. The two couples fell in love with the area when the Whites were married at the winery in 2008. The property contains a mill (circa 1896) with all of its original mill equipment, which is now the home of the two families. Nick, who took online viticulture classes from Surry Community College while in Vegas, has gone from drummer to vineyard manager. Jennifer, the head stage manager, now stages weddings and special events. Louis, a special effects engineer and amateur winemaker, is now a professional winemaker, while Carrie, resident director in Vegas, directs a lot of operations and handles wellness and her ministry duties. “We all bring specific talents and skills that fit really well,” Jennifer White said. “We worked together through Blue Man Group for so long that we developed teamwork and communication skills. It’s a pretty incredible team.”

GRASSY CREEK VINEYARD & WINERY This winery is set on what was a family hunting retreat in the 1920s for the Chatham and Haynes manufacturing families, and was where they would bring their corporate guests for wining and dining.

The Chatham family later founded Klondike Dairy, claiming to have the sweetest chocolate milk anywhere. There are three cabins onsite, along with the original hunting lodge, that are available to rent. The eight-acre property also has a pond and a dam that is a mini replica of the Hoover Dam and generates electricity for the property. The winery is located in what was once an old barn,and the owners maintain the farm-like atmosphere by bottling all of their table wines in Italian milk bottles.


MCRITCHIE WINERY & CIDERWORKS In addition to being a winery, McRitchie is the only cidery in North Carolina. Patricia and Sean McRitchie have planted more than 22 varieties of apples used to produce their hard ciders. McRitchie Winery makes its wines from locally sourced grapes that are grown with minimal chemical sprays. Sean’s father was a winemaker in California and Oregon, and Sean had worked in wineries and vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, California’s Napa Valley, and all over the world, including France and Australia, before opening his own winery in 2006. McRitchie is also the only vineyard that uses old English sheep to manage the grass on the back portion of their land.

Gardens at Shelton Vineyards. PHOTO BY SHERRY JACKSON



Elkin Creek Winery.

Located in downtown historic Elkin, the Brushy Mountain Winery is housed in what was once the Elkin Canning Company in the early 1900s. Owners Matthew and Ann Mayberry, married 63 years, like to experiment with their wines, producing both a raspberry wine and blackberry wine. Their Bugaboo Creek Red is named after the revolutionary war battles at Cowpens and Kings Mountain, and “was our best wine until we made the one after it,” says Matthew.


STONY KNOLL VINEYARDS Stony Knoll’s vineyards were planted in 2001, but this 116-year-old family property was once a working tobacco farm. The farm has been in owners Kathy and Van Coe’s family since 1896, and they now produce, “Some of the best wines in the world, on the best property,” according to Van. The tobacco history of the property actually creates a great soil profile in which to plant grapes, as farmers plowed the land for years producing nutrient-rich topsoil. They have planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Syrah grapes for their wines.




Located on Main Street in downtown Mount Airy, this “haunted” winery, deli and brewery is located in an old mercantile building constructed in 1885 by Thomas Franklin Prather. Legend has it that due to a disagreement with Prather, the owner of the neighboring general store set dynamite along the store front in 1926, completely destroying the store façade. Belk’s Department Stores purchased the building and rebuilt the storefront, where they stayed until 1969. During the reconstruction, the bones of a human arm were found. To this day no one knows to whom the arm belongs. The staff of Old North State Winery often notice mysterious events inside the building—such as footsteps on the hardwood floors, closing doors, shuffling feet, shadowy movement and feeling a presence. The Old North State staff dedicated a wine to this wandering sleepless spirit called Restless Soul.


ROUND PEAK VINEYARDS Acreage-wise, Round Peak is one of the bigger properties with more than 30 acres (12 in production), growing eight different varieties of grapes. The property is very pet friendly, as most vineyards are, but they go a step further with a fenced-in area where Fido can roam. Round Peak is best known for its red wines and are one of the few wineries in North Carolina that produce a Sangiovese. The large outdoor deck is the perfect place to hang out on a Saturday afternoon and enjoy a glass of their reds. The vineyard also plays host to many outdoor weddings, and a neighboring farm with Clydesdale horses that can take the happy couple on a carriage ride through the vineyard.

SHELTON VINEYARDS The “granddaddy” of North Carolina vineyards, Shelton is also the largest with more than 400 acres. Brothers Ed and Charlie Shelton not only own and operate the vineyard together, they also live on the property. They purchased the winery at auction in 1994 as a retirement project, but have since grown the hobby into a full-time business operation. They

harvest grapes by hand, use a windmill to help ward off frost, have a waterfall in the barrel room to maintain the humidity, and plant rose bushes at the end of each vine row to alert them to any possible disease or problem with the grapes (the theory is that the rose bush is more delicate and will be affected first). The property features an inn, two restaurants and several walking paths. All of Yadkin Valley’s wineries have tasting rooms, and hours are posted online. Most feature special events throughout the year—summer concert series, fall hayrides and more. For more information, visit

IF YOU GO Carolina Heritage Vineyard & Winery 336-366-3301 Elkin Creek Vineyard 336-526-5119 Grassy Creek Vineyard & Winery 336-835-4230 McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks 336-874-3003 Brushy Mountain Winery 336-835-1313 Stony Knoll Vineyards 336-374-5752 Old North State Winery 336-789-9463 Round Peak Vineyards 336-352-5595 Shelton Vineyards 336-366-4724 Sherry Jackson is a travel writer covering subjects from snorkeling in the Caribbean to Parisian life. She has been published in

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For advance story ideas: Chris Jay, Public Relations/Social Media Manager,, 800-551-8682 ext. 140

USA Today, Blue Ridge Country, Foothills Spotlight magazine, Jetsetter and Yahoo. To see more of Jackson’s work, visit




Outdoor Adventure And

By embracing its wild beauty and colorful past, Northern Idaho is creating eco-friendly options for all of us. Story and Photography by Audrey Medina

When Rand McNally and USA Today chose Sandpoint, Idaho, population 7,300, as the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America” in 2011, cattle trucks and big rigs still hauled their loads through downtown. For small towns relying on tourist dollars, creating a bypass to allow heavy haulers and other traffic to circumvent the stoplights, often meant the beginning of the end. But in the case of Sandpoint, Kate McAlister, President and CEO of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t see it that way. “Getting the 18-wheelers out of the downtown core has been spectacular. It’s also quieter,” she explains. “More of those living within four to five hours from here are coming because the traffic has gotten better.” She’s right. As I drive into town, Highway 95 no longer makes a dogleg to the left, but leads across an elevated bridge along Sand Creek, giving me an extraordinary new view of Lake Pond Oreille. Sandpoint is charming in every way, and provides the perfect showcase to Idaho’s outdoor charms. I strolled through the town’s center as cyclists pedaled by in every direction. At MickDuff’s Brewing Company, I tried a few samples, and ordered a pint of Huckleberry Blonde Ale. Opened in 2006, MickDuff’s offers a wide selection of brews. As testament to the growing craft beer movement, more microbreweries are opening in the area, and innovative brewers are sourcing hops, huckleberries and other ingredients locally. A few doors down at Northwest Handmade, nearly 90 regional artists display fine art and custom rustic furniture, all inspired by the Panhandle’s wildlife and natural beauty. Images of moose, bears and eagles appear in headboards, quilts and paintings.



Sandpoint is returning to its roots. Highway 2, which still runs through downtown, is slated for future rerouting. Adding trees, more bike paths and wider sidewalks will help to recreate the original Sandpoint documented in vintage photos. McAlister envisions an idyllic Bedford Falls, the town from the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.

MOOSEY WATERS “It’s real moosey in here,” says Randy Dingman, a guide for ROW Adventures, waving at a large marsh as we head east from Coeur d’Alene. A break in the clouds lights up a stand of yellow aspens on the far side, and I want to stop and look for moose, but we’re on a mission: We’ve come to fish. Dingman grew up in Coeur d’Alene, and knows every undercut bank where brown trout rest, and what they want for dinner. On the lawn near a riverside campground, Dingman demonstrates casting techniques. Freezing mid-cast, he whispers “Look,” and points toward the forest. A huge bull moose ambles toward the trees, pausing momentarily when Dingman’s moose call catches his attention. The morning’s fishing is successful. My casting has improved, and even though I only caught one small brown trout, we’ve had a good time. The next day, I follow the Coeur d’Alene Scenic Byway, stopping at Old Mission State Historic Park, at Cataldo. Built in 1842, the mission is the state’s oldest building. At the visitor center, a new exhibit tells the stories of the mission and the native Coeur d’Alene people. Recorded songs and the voices of tribal elders follow me through displays of beadwork and mission artifacts. The hilltop provides a clear 360degree view, and I can see Dingman’s “moosey waters,” a mile away.

Lake Pond Oreille.

Curious wildlife is abundant.





RAILS-TO-TRAILS HALL OF FAMERS In Wallace, south of the Coeur d’Alene National Forest, I meet Rick Shaffer, the town’s Prime Minister, and my guide for a bike ride along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. The old rail bed runs across the state for 73 miles, and was a Rails-to-Trails (RTT) Conservancy Hall of Fame pick in 2010. Shaffer and I pedal along the Coeur d’Alene River, waving at anglers and admiring the scenery. Near the trail, a cow moose and her calf are bedded down in the grass near a small pond. The pair are a common sight, and we see them feeding in the pond on our way back. The next morning, my huckleberry pancakes arrive with a smile. The 1313 Club Historic Saloon & Grill is packed with funny photos and mining camp humor. Local sports uniforms and fishing gear dangle from the rafters, and a stuffed beaver swims across the front window. A jackalope poses above the door, and antlers, steelhead, mountain goats and elk line the walls. A shelf of plastic “stope rats” hold hard hats and mine lamps as they flash large, toothy grins at customers. Full of pancakes, Shaffer and I set off for the Trail of the Hiawathas, another RTT Conservancy 2010 Hall of Famer.



The old Taft tunnel is 1.6 miles long, and just wide enough for the Milwaukee Railway’s Hiawatha trains that pulled passengers through one of the most scenic stretches of railway in the country. I zip up my jacket, click on my bike light, and enter the tunnel. The 15-mile route cuts through the Bitterroot Mountains with eight tunnels and seven trestles, reducing the steep slopes and deep canyons to an easy two-percent grade. As I exit the tunnel, the only sounds I hear are wind, waterfalls and the cry of ravens cruising overhead. I’m surrounded by wilderness as far as I can see.

THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE In Idaho, even the center of the universe is off the beaten path. “Why not?” explains Shaffer, “No one can prove otherwise, so we decided to claim it.” A specially designed manhole cover marks the spot in the middle of town. During the 1880s and ’90s, Wallace was the center of the world’s richest silver mining district, and five brothels operated in town. The last bordello, the Oasis, is now a museum. Early ’70s décor, and vanities covered with makeup remain as they were left in 1973, when it closed forever. A vintage trolley shuttles me and a tour group up

Trail of The Coeur d'Alenes.

Oasis Bordello.

Easy to Get to and Hard to Leave 800-753-3255


ILoveBrownCounty ILuvBrownCounty






Sierra Silver Mine.

Downtown Wallace.

a narrow road to the Sierra Silver Mine. As we adjust our hard hats, a retired miner explains how silverbearing ore is drilled, followed by a very loud demonstration with a high-pressure stope drill. We learn about blasting patterns and mine safety, and the tragedy at the nearby Sunshine Mine that led to improved safety procedures for mine workers around the world. The 800 or so folks who live in Wallace struggled for 17 years to get I-90 rerouted around town. Getting the entire town listed on the National Register of Historic Places helped, as did putting up the only stoplight between Seattle and Boston. These days, the bypass keeps the town intact and quiet.



There’s still plenty of treasure in those mines, but the lasting treasure is outside, in the deep lakes and dark forests of northern Idaho, and in people who value their small town culture more than the quick flash of silver. By celebrating their history, giving their guests local products and sustainable recreation, they’ll continue to attract visitors eager for experiences not found anywhere else. Audrey Medina writes about nature, cycling and sustainable travel. Her stories have been featured in The San Francisco Chronicle, Adventure Cyclist, Bird Watcher’s Digest and others. She been a cowgirl, a geologist and a technical editor. Recently retired, she’s pedaling her way into full-time travel writing.



The Sandhills area of North Carolina has entertained travelers for more than a century. The area is known for its 40+ championship golf courses, called the Home of American Golf®. Historic sites, seasonal gardens, and the villages offer a variety of options. A world-class spa and award-winning dining establishments are waiting for you to enjoy their distinctive dishes.

ALABAMA Alabama Tourism Department 334-242-4537



In Oklahoma, you’ll find hospitality around every corner. We’re situated at the crossroads of the nation, where Southern hospitality goes hand-in-hand with solid Midwestern values; where the don’t-quit attitude of the Old West combines with a sophistication you would expect only in big cities back East. We are a one-of-a-kind state with something for everyone. Discover the nation's most diverse terrain and the ultimate in outdoor adventures.

Fort Smith was a town on the edge of the nation in the late 1800's; the last stop at civilization before entering Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and the lawlessness that lay ahead. Today, Fort Smith embraces and celebrates its Wild West heritage and preserves the memories of those rough 'n tumble times.

Palm Springs 760-322-8425

San Diego Zoo Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau 205-458-8000

Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau 256-551-2235

ARKANSAS Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau 479-783-8888

Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau 800-844-4781

ARIZONA Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau 602-452-6250

CALIFORNIA Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau 831-657-6415




San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau 800-288-4748

Santa Barbara Convention and Visitors Bureau & Film Commission 805-966-9222

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau 310-319-6263

TriValley Convention and Visitors Bureau 925-846-8910

Visit West Hollywood 310-289-2525

CANADA Ensemble Travel 416-367-3660

COLORADO Glenwood Springs 970-945-6589

Key Link Public Relations 970-331-2121

FLORIDA Franklin County 850-653-8678

IDAHO Idaho Division of Tourism 208-334-2470 x.2152

INDIANA Brown County Convention & Visitors Bureau 800-753-3255

LOUISIANA Visit Baton Rouge 225-382-3578

Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau 888-458-4748

MASSACHUSETTS Open The Door Public Relations 617-536-0590

MEXICO Sunset World Resorts & Vacation Experiences

NORTH CAROLINA Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area

TEXAS Plano Convention & Visitors Bureau



OHIO Positively Cleveland

San Angelo Chamber of Commerce



MICHIGAN Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau

Tuscarawas County Convention & Visitors Bureau

UTAH Iron County



OKLAHOMA Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau

VIRGINIA Ice Pack Emergency Preparedness Systems



Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Dept.

Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau



OREGON City Pass

Visit Norfolk


MINNESOTA Meet Minneapolis 612-767-8001

MISSOURI Beenders Walker Group 573-636-8282

NEVADA Destination Henderson Nevada 702-267-2171

Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority 702-318-4255

R&R Partners 702-228-0222

NEW YORK Missy Farren & Associates, LTD


PENNSYLVANIA Valley Forge Convention & Visitors Bureau 610-834-7990

PUERTO RICO Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico 787-722-5834


RHODE ISLAND The Newport & Bristol County Convention & Visitors Bureau

Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation



South County Tourism Council

Travel + Leisure



Ulster County Tourism 845-340-3568



WASHINGTON San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau 360-378-6822

Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau 253-284-3265

TENNESEE Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway 423-442-9147



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