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Clown day's gorillas in Park City Utah. Sonja Stark photo.
Tags: Outdoor Adventure United States Utah Sonja Stark

 

Clowning Around at Park City, UtahVisitors take note skiing the Wasatch Mountains on Clown Day.  Skiers descend the slopes dressed to impress in grass skirts, striped neckties and red sponge noses. Sonja Stark photos.Visitors take note skiing the Wasatch Mountains on Clown Day. Skiers descend the slopes dressed to impress in grass skirts, striped neckties and red sponge noses. Sonja Stark photos.

Grab some face paint and color your world in silver

oNOMAD Senior Travel writer
 

Chasing spring powder on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains in Utah, teetering on the desert’s edge, can be white-knuckle experience.   The heart pumps wildly at 10,000 feet, and deep drifts leave you exasperated. 



The muffled booms of explosives echo in the distance.  Myth or not, all it takes is a high-pitched yodel to loosen the silver snow and start a tumbling landslide. The bumps and bruises on the Thayne’s Canyon trail at Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) is not the mellow run I was anticipating.  In my wake are gigantic mountain bowls covered with loose layers that shiver and shake.

Snowflakes course like blood through the veins of the average Parkite but this upstate New York native is gripped with trepidation.   I watch as the fringes of the ski society rip up the resort’s signature Jupiter Mountainzone.   They manage untamed wooded areas and expert-only runs with the grace of a ballerina; ski porn at its best.  Now it’s my turn to have a love affair with this legendary backcountry terrain. 

I chase this pink retro-wearing ski bunny down several slopes.I chase this pink retro-wearing ski bunny down several slopes.
A powderhound wearing a vintage neon one-piece ski suit, so bright that it hurts my sunglasses, stops alongside me.  

The heat is on!  Two girls dressed like firemen chase a white-hot day of spring skiing in Park City, Utah.The heat is on! Two girls dressed like firemen chase a white-hot day of spring skiing in Park City, Utah.Do you mind if I follow you down the mountain?  You’re dressed for success!” I ask. 

“Sure, but I’m not really a great skier. I just feel like one when I dress retro,” she smiles.  


White Powder Utopia

I’ve been invited to the Wasatch Mountain Range for three days of spring skiing punctuated by dining and drinking - yes, all necessarily in that order. Those in the know realize that the Beehive state rejoices with 500 inches of  “The Greatest Snow on Earth” - a superlative based in science.  To put that into perspective, that’s more than a foot of snow every five days with an average of 6.7 feet falling in April alone.   The precipitation is special because it’s bone-dry, like the desert.  

In fact, meteorologists use a snow-to-liquid ratio measurement to compare.   For example:  it takes up to 35 inches of snow to yield one inch of water in Utah.  It takes only eight inches to replenish that same amount in California. Have you ever heard the term, Sierra cement?  Now, you know why. 

This northeastern corner of Utah plays host to seven surrounding world-class ski resorts (or rather six because of a recent merger):  Snowbird, Alta, Brighton, Solitude, Deer Valley, the Canyons and PCMR. Canyons and PCMR merged in September 2014.  Only a single ridgeline separates the geographically cozy bedfellows. 
Utah, a conservative state?  I don't think so.  Early stories of vice and tomfoolery during the 1970's are legendary.Utah, a conservative state? I don't think so. Early stories of vice and tomfoolery during the 1970's are legendary.

This is Utah and the notion of marrying all seven under one name isn’t such a far-fetched idea.  The vision, known as ONE Wasatch, has been percolating for years.  

Planners envision a playground similar in size and scope with a European-style ski experience. The goal is simple: more time on the snow and less on the road.  Just by adding a few new chairlifts to Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons and removing a rope barrier between PCMR and Deer Valley, the area could explode into 18,000 skiable acres of terrain, making it the largest on the continent.   

“Connecting seven of Utah’s finest ski resorts while preserving both our water quality and a pristine backcountry experience is not an impossible task.  With thoughtful planning and sincere cooperation, ONE Wasatch would add significantly to what is already one of the greatest ski destinations in the world,” said Ski Utah President & CEO, Nathan Rafferty. (Ski Utah is the primary promoter of the future of skiing in Utah.)

While most agree that it would be the ultimate tourism product for the state, the idea isn’t without its share of critics.  Many worry about the environmental impact while others are concerned about public access to adjacent lands maintained by the US Forest Service.   The one thing that everyone agrees on is positive stewardship is required to preserve 220 square miles of pristine alpine landscape.  


Spring into Clown Day

As I chase my fuchsia Supergirl down the mountain, we pass colorful pranksters sporting goofier outfits than hers.   Someone is wrapped in a sexy t-shirt, another a feathered boa and the wind-burned boarder has a humorous sombrero gaffed to his helmet.   All are shredding so perfectly that it’s as if they just came home from winning gold in Sochi rather than a performance under a circus tent.  

Sexy GirlOf course, today is April Fools’ Day!   Better known as Clown Day, April 1st has been an unofficial tradition in this old silver mining town since the mid-1970s.   The funny thing is, with or without clowns, there’s no shortage of entertainment here.   Any bluebird day (spring or not), is ideal for hours of snow-covered hedonism.  Today, the vibe in Park City is a mischievous mix of sunshine and flurries.   The mercury is rising and there are plenty of skiers with pseudonyms like BoBo and Groucho.    

Clown Day started in 1974 as a fundraiser with what the local newspaper described then as: “49 clowns, four hobos, a shah and a ringmaster parading down Main Street.”  The crazy troupe tooted horns, laughed, howled and juggled rubber chickens.  Onlookers pointed and took photos. 

They made their way to the nearest PCMR ski lift where resort staff got in on the action by giving away free lift tickets and donating half of the $10 entry fee to a local ski team.  For the next decade, excitement over the town’s favorite annual tradition exploded.  

Thousands from all over the country descended on Park City to cavort and frolic.  But, by the early 1980s Clown Day was awash with skiers pulling offensive pranks, getting drunk and singing obnoxious songs.   The revelry escalated out of hand when local high school students started coming down with what was commonly referred to as “Clown Flu."

 They would skip classes to spend the day on the slopes. Not everyone loves a clown and in 1983 a crackdown ended the unadulterated day of fun.  For the next 10 years anyone caught wearing a clown costume, on any day, had their ski pass revoked.   A clause was written into the pass forewarning would-be merrymakers of the consequences. 

2014 marked the 40th anniversary of Clown Day and I think it’s safe to say that it has resurfaced barely a shell of its former self.   Great imagination and creativity still goes into the costumes but it’s nothing like it was during the heyday.  Gorilla suits, Elvis impersonators and circus acts are kept to a minimum as to not attract too much publicity and risk a riot.  


Follow along at http://onewasatch.com for details on 18,000 acres of interconnected mountain resort skiing. Follow along at onewasatch.com for details on 18,000 acres of interconnected mountain resort skiing. Chasing a Dream

I’m doing what I can to keep pace with my pink apparition as she soars down a short, windy chute called C.B. Run.   In 2002, all eyes were glued to this particular trail when Bode Miller won silver in the men’s giant slalom during the XIX Winter Olympics.  

PCMR also played host to several snowboarding competitions including one that made US Olympic gold medalist (and Vermonter) Kelly Clark, a household name in the women’s half-pipe competition.  

To learn more about Olympic history, visit the Utah Olympic Park (eight miles north of Park City), home to several 2002 competitions including the world’s highest altitude ski jumps and the fastest bobsled, luge and skeleton tracks.  

For a scrapbook of skiing memorabilia and history, visit the Alf Engen Ski Museum and George Eccles Winter Games Museum.  These cool facilities include interactive exhibits and virtual reality dioramas.   

I found it fascinating to read about Alf Englen, the person credited with skiing powder for the first time.  I was also thrilled to feel the thrill of an alpine competition and the power of an avalanche through a simulated ride. 

Admission is free; should you want to try something more adventurous, $185 will get you the experience of a lifetime aboard the Comet Bobsled.   You and an instructor will hit speeds of over 80 mph, absorbing the same G-forces as do Olympians plummeting down the curvy, ice tunnel.     


Pay Dirt in Parley Park City


Sacrificing comfort for the shenanigans of Clown Day at the base of Park City Mountain Resort.Sacrificing comfort for the shenanigans of Clown Day at the base of Park City Mountain Resort.Long before Park City became a world-class mountain resort, it was famous as a silver mining town.  In 1869, soldier prospectors living in Parley’s Park City (original name of Park City) found an outcropping of glittering bluish-gray rock on Bonanza Flat.  The rock turned out to be a large vein of silver and lead sulfide called galena.  The prized precious metal sparked large crowds of settlers to the boomtown for the next 100 years.   All went bust in the 1950s when the price of silver plummeted.  

“Miners should be credited with skiing here before everyone else,” said Park City Mountain Resort Communications Manager, Andy Miller.   “In the early days of mining there were 1000 miles of tunnels snaking underneath us.  Miners strapped hickory barrel staves to their feet to navigate back down from the summit.”

Miller is a most valuable PCMR employee, a polished skier who can recite history like a town historian.  Sitting alongside him on his favorite lift, we’re launched high overhead trails with names that pay homage to the miners’ pioneering spirit:  Dynamite, Prospector, Mel’s Run and Detonator, for example.  

When mining ended, United Park City Mines resourcefully turned to the sport of skiing to revitalize the economy.  They applied for a federal recreation loan to help develop the area, but the application got lost in a politician’s desk drawer.   In August 1962, President Kennedy, running for re-election, invited a number of Utah publishers to Washington for a briefing.  

During the luncheon, Kennedy learned about Park City’s struggles and quickly instructed his press secretary, Peter Salinger, to green-light $1.2 million in funding.  Treasure Mountains Resort (now PCMR) opened a year later and the resort industry was born.  PCMR celebrated their golden anniversary in 2013-2014 with celebratory activities and festivals. Miller interviewed dozens of ski and mining legends that spoke nostalgically for the days when a lift ticket cost a mere $3.50.  

Utah Olympic ParkUtah Olympic ParkFor more on the mining days of old, I visit Main Street for a tour of the Park City Museum.   I scoot inside what used to be dubbed the skier subway, a slow moving mine car turned into a subterranean shuttle for access to the top of Treasure Mountains (now PCMR).   This was what was used before lifts were widely available.  


Slope-Side Cravings


With a dozen or more runs in a day, I think I justify grazing on a little grease and protein.   While atop a section of PCMR called the Motherload Mountainzone, I recess above the clouds with a bowl of bison chili and hot chocolate at the Summit House.  

During lunch, I peel off my ski boots for a signature Wagyu beef burger at PCMR’s Legends Bar & Grill.   As luck would have it, my server hails from Albany, New York, my hometown.   Meg fell in love with skiing here two years ago and says she isn’t going home anytime soon.   

Historic Main Street is crawling with apres-skiing choices from small-batch brewers to upscale haunts.   In the evening, I share a mouthful of appetizers and cocktails at the world’s first and only ski-in, ski-out gastro-distillery and oldest distillery in Utah, The High West Distillery and Saloon. 

I’m tempted to buy one of their artsy flasks and fill it up with their latest spirit.  The clowning around continues at the No Name Saloon, another vestige of the cowboy era with the catchphrase: “Helping people forget their names since 1903.”  I

"Why have just one?" The suds are flowing after the snow stops blowing at the No Name Saloon and Grill"Why have just one?" The suds are flowing after the snow stops blowing at the No Name Saloon and Grillorder two beers, each with funny labels; one called Yard Sale by the Uinta Brewing Company and the other called Polygamy Porter by Wasatch Brewing.   With an ABV content of only 4% on beer (state law), I’m destined to imbibe all night without any regrets.  


Sleep Tight at Silver Star Lodging

I hibernate like a grizzly bear at an artisan development community called the Silver Star Resort found at the base of PCMR.  My cave is a four-bedroom townhouse (Building 3000) accented with rough-hewn timbers, Native American art and several fireplaces.  

My friends are gracious enough to let me take the master suite full of amenities.  From our building, there’s a short 3-minute shuffle to the Silver Star chairlift, a private ski-in and ski-out entrance to PCMR. A delicious piping-hot breakfast of huevos rancheros is served up at the rustic Silver Star cafe conveniently next to the lift.  

I highly recommend returning for the “Park City Limits” bluegrass and dinner show with a voracious appetite.  You might even be tempted to share slices of your hearth-fired pizza with the resort’s beloved ambassadors:  English and French bulldogs, Vidalia and Talluluah. 

The friendly pups greet guests with sloppy kisses at the front door of the Ski and Sport shop.  Affectionately dubbed Team Onion - no, they do not mush or pull a sled - rather, they are part of a wildly successful marketing campaign of ski apparel and accessories.  Their faces emblazed on t-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers are popular with returning customers.  


Utah’s Newest Giant

If size matters, and it does, PCMR just got a whole lot bigger.   Ski firm juggernaut, Vail Resorts, purchased the resort for $182.5 million in September 2014 with plans to christen it the biggest skiable terrain park in the country when they complete an eight-passenger, two-way, high-speed gondola to neighboring Canyons Resort.  Another $50 million injection goes towards amplifying lifts, restaurants and lodging.   You can already purchase the “EPICDAY” ski pass ($20 cheaper online) and gain riding privileges at both resorts.    


Planning your Trip 

When you ski PCMR this spring, be sure to harness your inner-clown and pack a red nose and face paint.   Forget the barrel staves that the miners wore and, instead, rent a pair at the Silver Star Ski and Sport shop and stay close to the slopes at the Silver Star resort.  If you need a rest, visit the history museum on Main Street or the Alf Englen Museum at the Utah Olympic Park.    I found everything I needed to color my your adventure in silver following these links:

Park City Mountain Resort:  www.parkcitymountain.com/

Silver Star Resorts:  www.resortswest.com/rw/info/silver.star.aspx

Silver Star Café:   www.thesilverstarcafe.com


Silver Star Ski and Sport Shop:   silverstarskiandsport.info/

Utah Olympic Park:  utaholympiclegacy.com/park/

High West Distillery: www.highwest.com/
sonja

Park City History Museum:  parkcityhistory.org/




Sonja Stark is the owner of Pilot Girl Productions, a video production company in New York, and she's a regular contributor to GoNOMAD. Read her blog, Pilotgirl Travels.

Read more stories by Sonja Stark on GoNOMAD



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 A moose in Yukon territory, Canada. Terence Eder photo.
Tags: Outdoor Adventure Canada Yukon Territory

A Yukon white out.  Terence Eder photos.A Yukon white out. Terence Eder photos.

Exploring Canada's Far North, Yukon




Canada is a vast country with outstanding landscapes. However, few travellers to Canada cast a glance beyond the favored ‘go to’ provinces of British Columbia, Alberta or Ontario. 
However, Canada’s three Territories – Yukon, Northern Territory and Nunavut offer a travel experience like no other and are slowly gaining more attention, not only from travellers abroad but for locals alike.

Yes, they are more isolated and costly to visit but with a bit of pre-planning can be affordable, meaning you won’t have to mortgage the home or sell your grandmother to get there. The territories really offer a once in a lifetime experience and the cost is priceless and quickly forgotten, once you venture into this unique setting.



I did just this last winter. I ventured into the heart of the Yukon Territory for 10 days in the dead of winter.  It was something most of my Canadian friends could not really comprehend. It was cold enough across the provinces with temperatures falling lower every day as we neared the holiday season, so why the heck would I be enticed in roaming around the arctic like conditions of the North!!

A moose in a field in the Yukon.A moose in a field in the Yukon.Canadian snow birds prefer to fly south for the winter to evade such conditions.

I guess for me, having come from the Southern Hemisphere, where we generally only experience two seasons with much milder winter temperatures by comparison, it would be a truly novel experience. In truth, I love nothing more than passing away the summer months, basking in the sun enjoying the beach. My idea of cold is when the mercury level falls around 50 degrees. Perhaps it was a test to see how far I could push my coping mechanisms or simply to prove to my Canadian compadres that this Southerner really could survive a week-long trip up North.

Climbing off the Yukon North Klondike Highway.Climbing off the Yukon North Klondike Highway.
Either way, there was something alluring about winding up North in the frigid cold, surrounded by endless snow and sub-zero temperatures.

The Yukon is situated north of British Columbia and East of the US State of Alaska.

I flew with Air North, one of the few airlines operating into these territories and landed into the capital of the Yukon – Whitehorse. Whitehorse, a small Klondike town, is situated off the Alaska Highway and is one of the largest towns in the Yukon. Incorporated in the 1950s, it was a key stop off point by fortune seeking prospectors heading north to Dawson and was integral during the Klondike gold rush.

Flying in is an experience itself; the plane descends through vast mountains and forests along the Yukon River, before landing on a snow covered plateau high above town. The icy wind billows outside and the low fog makes the arrival a little ominous but simply breathtaking.

I don’t think I will quite forget that landing and the moment the plane suddenly dropped through the thick fog before sliding onto the snow covered runway and coming to a quick stop. A glance across the cabin and the reassuring sighs, tells me I wasn't the only passenger sitting with a lump in my throat and pulsating heartbeat, as we came in for the precarious landing.

 The temperatures drop well below zero, reaching as low as -40 degrees Celsius. Most of the territory is frozen over; hence Yukon being called “The Great White North”. In summer, Yukon is known as the “Land of the Eternal Sun”, receiving 24 hours of daylight. However, in winter, there is around 4-6 hours of daylight, giving you limited time to explore.

It’s a charming town with many buildings retaining the colorful wooden facades and style from the bygone gold-mining era. Today there are many small eateries, cafes and historical hotels which line the main streets along 2nd and 4th Avenue. Relics of the Klondike era are scattered around town and the historic SS Klondike sternwheeler ship stands alongside the frozen Yukon River.

The plateau above town offers outstanding views over the small grid like town bathed in white.

From this vantage point you begin to understand how remote Whitehorse is. Along my travels, I am constantly intrigued by the locations and settings people choose to call home and what it is that they find so alluring about these far flung abodes.

Active Living

Each morning, I would bypass a nearby school – Ecole Whitehorse Elementary where a frenzy of kids dressed from head to toe in thick winter wear were running around a sports field covered under snow.

Whitehorse.Whitehorse.It was around 9am and the only source of light came from the stadium like spotlights. I watched with curiosity before stopping a teacher to ask what they were doing. She informed me, that the kids take part in what is called “active living” each morning. It is a chance for them to get some morning exercise and warm up their bodies in the frigid temperatures before retreating indoors to begin class for the day.

As a scholar, I recall hating the thought of getting out of bed in 10 degree weather, so having to run around in -35 degree temElk on the move in Yukon Wildlife Preserve.Elk on the move in Yukon Wildlife Preserve.peratures sounded quite ludicrous. I guess, life in these parts means adapting to the environment you find yourself calling home.

The temperatures were the coldest I had ever experienced with the icy wind penetrating the multiple layers I had on. My hands froze instantly each time I took my gloves off to snap a quick photo. At one point my right hand succumbed to the cold. Testament to the many photos I had taken.

I quickly sought cover indoors and found a hot water tap to run my hands under to restore blood flow. I subsequently got frost freeze and lost feeling in the tips of two fingers for a few days. There is no time to mess around and it’s essential to come prepared for the most extreme of weather.

Despite the cold, I found a balance between exploring outdoors and recuperating indoors with a much needed bowl of soup and a few cups of the favoured, locally brewed - Bean North Coffee.

The town has a few local galleries, museums and sights to keep you busy. Outdoor enthusiasts wanting to experience the very essence of the Yukon should pick up a rental car and venture further out to partake in some of the very best winter activities for which the Yukon is renowned for.

A Yukon mushing dog.A Yukon mushing dog.Drive the North Klondike highway and visit the Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s outstanding natural enclosures. A chance to spot the elusive moose, herds of bison, elk & caribou and the arctic fox. After a chilling walk through the compound, stop for coffee at the Bean North fair-trade coffee roaster and then try your hand at Ice Climbing at a local tour operator, as you don your crampons, ice axe and harness traversing ice stacks or Zip-line over frozen terrain and lakes. An unforgettable experience that will leave you feeling like a true mountaineer and pioneer for the day.

Sled Dogging with MukTuk Kennels

If you’re still left wanting more, head out to MukTuk Kennels for a unique dog sledding experience over the alpine terrain and let the entrancing echoes of the sled dogs mesmerise you as you’re whisked through enchanting scenery. The Yukon also offers fa
Whitehorse airport.Whitehorse airport.
ntastic back-country skiing and snowshoeing through the endless forests dusted in white. You take a moment to appreciate the absolute stillness of the setting until silence is broken by the piercing shriek of a raven passing overhead.

If time permits, drive the famed White Pass Route from Whitehorse to Skagway, Alaska on the South Klondike Highway through the winding mountain passes. The journey takes around 3 hrs depending on the weather and road conditions.

Along the way stop off at Carcross, another Klondike era town, Carcross Desert – the world’s smallest dune desert and multiple frozen lakes before crossing Canada – USA immigration and winding down into the port town of Skagway. Although the cruise ships and hordes of tourists are long gone, this charming town is still worth a visit in winter.

I hear the summer months in Yukon are equally, if not more breath-taking and offer the perfect setting for nature, outdoor lovers and road trippers traversing the Alaska Highway but for me, Yukon in winter, will remain one of the coolest (no pun intended) and memorable journeys I have yet to encounter.

Whitehorse and the Yukon offer a uniquely different experience for the avid adventure traveller wanting to get off the beaten track and experience more than the usual tourist ‘go to’ hot spots and city destinations.

Here is a quick List to get you on your way:

minus thirty eight degrees xc skiingMinus thirty eight degrees xc skiingAir North – Local Airline servicing the territories
www.flyairnorth.com

Air Canada and Alaska Air also fly this route.

Muktuk Adventures – Dog SleddingA Yukon totem poleA Yukon totem pole
info@muktuk.com
Toll-free: 1-866-968-3647

Equinox – Zip Lining / Ice Climbing

www.equinoxyukon.com
equinox@equinoxyukon.com
Phone: 867-456-7846

Thakini Hot Springs – Thermal Hot Springs
www.takhinihotsprings.com
swim@takhinihotsprings.com
Phone: 1-867-456-8000

Yukon Wildlife Preserve
www.yukonwildlife.ca
info@yukonwildlife.ca

Bean North Coffee Roasting - Fair-trade Roaster & Café
www.beannorth.com
Phone: 867) 667-4145

Terence Eder




Terence Eder
, a television producer, calls himself as a citizen of the world having lived in four Countries and travelled to 39 to date.
While 'home' is where ever his suitcase lands, he is constantly on the lookout for his next far flung adventure abroad. He lives in Austria and his native South Africa.








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 The Plaza San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador. Coen Wubbels photos. The Plaza San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador. Coen Wubbels photos.

Bathing in Luxury at the Casa Gangotena in Quito, Ecuador



I am looking out over the Mediterranean dotted with a couple of sailing boats. Low rolling hills line the horizon. The image is framed by Corinthian columns covered in flowering vines. I feel as if I'm on vacation in Greece, Italy, or Spain. Does that make sense, with my being 9,350 feet above sea level, in Quito, Ecuador's capital? Not really.

Bathing in Luxury

I enjoy this view from my spotless white bath in a marbled bathroom that is part of a comfortable and spacious room decorated in a blend of classic and modern. I am literally bathing in luxury in the three-story Casa Gangotena Boutique Hotel, which Trip Advisor's Traveler Awards 2014 nominated "The Best Hotel in Ecuador and South America".



After an extensive renovation of the more than 100-year-old, neo-colonial mansion, Casa Gangotena opened its doors in 2011. The hotel has preserved as many of the original architectonic features and decorative elements as possible, the wall-to-wall fresco painting across the bathroom and bedroom of the scene described above being one of them.

Casa Gangotena bedroom.Casa Gangotena bedroom.
Among the others are two paintings at the reception and several mirrors in the hotel. They perfectly fit in with the modern design hotel with touches of Art Nouveau and neo-classical architecture.

Next to the tub that I am soaking in, my partner Coen is taking a shower which has the force of a waterfall after we found the bathtub a tad too small for two persons. He is shampooing his hair – 'mmm, smells good', he comments – without turning off the tap.

One of Casa Gangotena's luxurious bathrooms.One of Casa Gangotena's luxurious bathrooms.What's the big deal here? Aren't we just taking a bath/shower? Well, for travelers who have lived in an antique Land Cruiser for the past eleven years and whose outdoor showers consist of five liters of cold water from a shower bag – for the two of them – bathing in warm, no hot, water with foamy bubbles and not having to turn off the tap while soaping up is sheer luxury.

A slight feeling of guilt of bathing in such opulence is soothed by the thought that the hotel's water is heated by solar panels and all soaps and shampoos (as well as the hotel's cleaning products) are biodegradable.

Downtown Quito

We cherish a moment of relaxation after an intensive day. We had chosen a perfect day to drive to downtown Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978, which despite its alluring colonial buildings, plazas and churches suffers just as much from traffic jams as any other major city in the world. But it is Sunday and the
roads were practically empty. When parking our Land Cruiser in front of Casa Gangotena we learned that the hotel has an underground parking lot, but not for 2.70-meter-high vehicles.

The hotel and gardens.The hotel and gardens."No worry," Diego, the porter, said. "We'll find a solution while you get settled in." Jane, the receptionist, took care of the paperwork and while taking us to our room showed us the glass-roofed lounge and patio garden where we would later have our 'Quiteño coffee'; she enthusiastically shared background information on the boutique hotel, which until some ten years ago was owned by an influential family called Gangotena.

From our room we took some of the Ecuadorian fruits with us, such as tomate de arbol, granadilla and uvilla, that were waiting on a tray with a handwritten welcome note, and then walked up the spiral marble stairway to Casa Gangotena's panoramic terrace on the third floor.

In easy chairs underneath a parasol we ate our fruits, and took in the view of the adjacent immense, cobbled San Francisco Square that is lined with majestic churches and colonial buildings.

As we left the hotel I wondered why so many travelers prefer staying The view of beautiful Quito from the hotel's terrace. The view of beautiful Quito from the hotel's terrace. in the northern section of Mariscal. Casa Gangotena lies smack in the middle of Quito's most scenic quarters.

The old town is characterized by charming plazas and pedestrian streets, making it easy to go for a stroll and visit Quito's most beautiful churches (Iglesia de la Merced and Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco), interesting museums, and watch scenes from daily life.

We watched the shoeshine boys at Plaza Grande, and from some women from neighboring villages, dressed in traditional clothes we bought a portion of treinta y uno (thirty-one), an intriguing name based on the traditional 31 pieces of stomach and other intestines that make up this snack. In fact, to learn more about Quito's daily life, we had planned the Metropolitan Tour's Live Quito Like a Local Walking Tour for the following day.

More Pampering

Around five we returned to the hotel, in time for the Quiteño coffee which is pretty similar to the typical English high tea, and which is served daily between four and six pm in the lounge. When Victor, the waiter, asked us whether we wanted coffee or tea we got into a discussion about flavors of Ecuadorian high-quality coffee and teas.

The hotel kitchen's herb garden.The hotel kitchen's herb garden."We have fresh herbs for infusions and if you like I'll show them to you," he suggested and off we were to the patio garden, smelling and tasting mint, hierba luisa, cedrón, and thyme. We settled for the mint, which was served with an array of homemade canapés, pastries and petit fours all based on Ecuadorian ingredients, such as turnovers made of green plantains and shrimp.

After having eaten our complimentary fruits upon arrival, snacked downtown, and enjoyed this elaborate high tea, our stomachs were so heavy that we skipped dinner. While Marco, the porter on duty, escorted Coen in the Land Cruiser to a suitable parking lot, I slid into a warm tub filled with bubbles and closed my eyes.

I feel the fatigue draining away. My eyes feel heavy and the image of the Mediterranean starts to fade. It is time to hit the bed.The patio garden.

A king-sized bed that is, with pillows in three sizes. Big enough to lose one another, I muse. The size of the bed is about that of the entire interior of our vehicle in which we have camped for eleven years. And since I have never lost Coen in our car, I figure that I won't in the king-sized bed either.

Further information

- Website Casa Gangotena
- Website Metropolitan Touring for the walking tour Live Quito Like a Local.

Karin-Marijke Vis and Coen Wubbels



Karin-Marijke Vis
and her partner Coen Wubbels, photographer, have been overlanding in Asia and South America since 2003. They have been assigned the Overlanders of the Year Award 2013. Their work has been published in 4WD/car monthlies and in travel magazines. Follow them on landcruisingadventure.com and instagram/photocoen
.



Read more travel articles about Ecuador on GoNOMAD

Ecuador

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. Photos by Darrin Duford Beyond a Shadow of a Snout: A Saturday in Otavalo, Ecuador
A An 'Eco-Lodge' in the Cloud Forest of Ecuador Santa Lucia Reserve, Choco Andean
Quito: The New Face of EcuadorAs Old City The city of Quito, Ecuador. photos by Sloane Travel
 
Nomadic Matt's new book is called Travel the World on $50 a day.
Tags: Travel Books

Travel the World on $50 a Day

Nomadic Matt Shares His Travel Wisdom

Matt Kepnes shows how you can travel the world for $50 a day 

Matt Knepes is one of the hardest working travel writers and publishers I know.  He spends hours and hours compiling really good travel deals, ideas and special fares for his weekly newsletter. He replies to hundreds of his readers one by one, and his website is at the top of the list for the Top 50 Travel blogs consistently.  Try as I might, I can't fault him for his work ethic and though many of us in the business are envious, none of us can ever call Matt a slacker. Travel the World on $50 a Day has already been selling well, and it's no wonder. It's a useful book written by a guy who has inspired many to take the plunge like he did.



This new revised and updated edition of his book provides some tips on how you can save on accommodations, flights, meals,  and activities and mostly, it's a book designed to help get travelers out into the world. As you'll see below, traveling in a state of mind, one that Kepnes has embraced for all of the years he's circled the world.


Excerpt from the book: Getting Over Your Fears

The most difficult part about traveling the world isn’t the logistics of the trip—it’s fi nding the motivation to go. It takes a lot of courageto leave your life and journey into the unknown. It’s the step that most people never get past. For me, it took a trip to Th ailand to get me to make the leap. For others, it’s a lot more diffi cult. Instead of the nudge I required, some people require a full-on shove.

While most of this book will talk about the practical, financial side of travel, the fi rst thing I wanted to tell you is that you don’t need to be afraid of traveling the world. It’s only natural to second-guess yourself when making a big life change.

And this is a big change. One of the most common emails I receive asks me whether or not someone should travel the world. Do they quit their job and go for i
t?
Are they in the right stage of life? Will everything be OK if they leave? Will they get a job when they return? Th ese emails are peppered with nervous excitement over travel’s endless possibilities, but there is also always one underlying tone to the emails: “Matt, I want to go, but I’m also afraid. I need someone to tell me it will be all right.”

In my meetings with strangers, they pepper me with questions about my trip. People are curious about my travels, experience, and how I got started doing this. Th ey dream of traveling the world. “It must be such the adventure,” they tell me, “I wish I could do it.” And when I ask them what stops them, they come up with a book full of
excuses as to why they can’t:

Matt Kepnes, aka, Nomadic Matt.Matt Kepnes, aka, Nomadic Matt.I can’t aff ord my trip.
I have too many responsibilities at home.
I won’t be able to make friends on the road.
I don’t want to be alone.
I have too many bills to pay.
I’m not sure I could do it.
I’m simply too scared.

With all that fear and doubt, it’s easier for someone to stay home in his or her comfort zone than to break out and travel the world. As
the saying goes, “People go with the devil they know over the devil they don’t.” Home is our safe zone. We know it. We understand it. We may not always like it, but we get it. In the end, held back by their own fears, most people stay home, dreaming of that “one perfect day” they will finally travel.
nomadic matt logo

But you know what? That day never comes. It will never be perfect.

Getting Over Your Fears

Tomorrow, you’ll still have bills.
Tomorrow, you still won’t have just the right amount of money.
Tomorrow, there will still be someone’s wedding to attend or a birthday party to go to.
Tomorrow, you will still second-guess yourself.
Tomorrow, you’ll fi nd another excuse as to why you can’t go.
Tomorrow, people you know will still feed the seeds of doubt in your head.
Tomorrow will come and you’ll say, “Today isn’t the right day. Let’s go tomorrow.”

Dropping everything to travel takes a lot of courage, and while many people claim “real world responsibilities” are the reason for not traveling, I think fear of the unknown is really what holds people back.

If you bought this book, you are probably already on the right track. Taking a long-term trip is already on your mind. Maybe you are already committed or still on the fence about it. But no matter what side of the coin you fall on, know that even the most experienced travelers had doubts when they began. I want to reassure you that you are doing the right thing.

Right here. Right now.

"You Aren’t the First Person to Travel Abroad" One of the things that comforted me when I began traveling was knowing that lots of other people traveled the world before me and ended up just fi ne. While long-term travel might not be popular in the United States, it is a rite of passage for a lot of people around the world.

People as young as high school graduates head overseas in droves for long-term trips. As you read this paragraph right now, millions of people are trekking around the world and discovering foreign lands. And if millions of eighteen-year-olds on a round-the-world trip came home in one piece, I realized there was no reason I wouldn’t either.

There’s nothing I can’t do that anyone else can do. And the same goes for you. You won’t be the first person to leave home and explore the jungles of Asia. There is a well-worn travel trail around the world where you’ll be able to find support and comfort from other travelers. Columbus had a reason to be afraid. He had no idea where he was going and he was the first person to go that way. He blazed a trail. You’re going on a trail that has already been blazed. That realization helped take away some of my fear because I knew there would be other travelers on the road to comfort me.

You Are Just as Capable as Everyone Else

I’m smart, I’m capable, and I have common sense. If other people could travel the world, why couldn’t I? I realized there was no reason I wouldn’t be capable of making my way around the world. I’m just as good as everyone else. And so are you. Early in my travels, I managed to turn up in Bangkok without knowing one person and live and thrive there for close to a year. I made friends, I found a girlfriend, had an apartment, and I even learned Thai.

It was sink or swim, and I swam. I recently navigated my way through Ukraine, a country where few people speak English and even fewer signs are in the Roman alphabet, as they use the Cyrillic script there.

Then there are little things like fi guring out a local subway, using a map to navigate unknown streets, and making yourself understood without learning the local language. I once went “choo choo” to a taxi driver to make it understood I needed to go to the train station. It worked. Nobody steps out into the world knowing it all. They pick it up along the way. Don’t doubt yourself. You get by in your regular life just fi ne. The same will be true when you travel.

Buy Travel the World on $50 a day on Amazon

Read more inspiring travel book excerpts on GoNOMAD

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A How to Make Money Doing What You Love: Traveling by Beth Simmons Renowned travel
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A flute player in Kyoto, Japan.
Tags: Women's Travel Asia Japan Max Hartshorne

Michelle, Julia, and Linda in the Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan.Michelle, Julia, and Linda in the Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan. 

 

For Many Women, Japan is Atop 2015's Bucket List



In 2014, Japan's Tourism officials were pleased to report a big surge in visitors from the US traveling to their country. While among the most insular of modern countries, especially when it comes to foreign languages, Japan remains an exotic bucket list destination to many Americans. In 2014, more than 881,000 U.S. citizens visited Japan, and overall the country had 13 million overseas visitors in 2014, a record number.

Why is Japan such an up and coming destination? We asked several women who visited Japan with Sights and Soul Travels about what they were hoping to experience on the trip and what it was like going there with Sights and Soul Travels.



Linda Pirard of Halifax, Nova Scotia, selected Sights and Soul for this trip because she had travelled with them before and found the quality of their trips perfect. "Good company, great hotels, good food, and very interesting experiences. I like to stay in only a couple of places and take day trips so that I do not feel I am living out of a suitcase. Also there is a perfect mixture  

japanmap

of group activities and time for individual activity. In addition, the small size of the group is important to the ability to see things in a more intimate way," she said.

Japan was a bucket list destination for her, so who better than S&S to take her there. "I had never been to Japan before, but it was on my list of places to see."  Like all of Sights and Soul's trips, their journey to Japan in October 2015 is open to women only.

A 12-person Group

But Pirard said that the trip's itinerary would also work as well for couples, but restricting the group size to a dozen people might be more difficult and surely tripadvisorthe group dynamics would change.

"Travelling with a group of women is really very relaxing," Pirard said. And a group of just twelve is a lot more pleasant for many than a 40-person delegation in a huge motorcoach.

Zen garden in Kyoto.Zen garden in Kyoto.

"It is very difficult to pick one specific item from a trip that was filled with special moments, Pirard said. "I loved the intimacy of meeting artisans in their home/studio environments and the photos I have chosen reflect my interest in the people we met. However, if I had to pick a special time, it would be our visit to a traditional ryokan. 

"I had such beautiful accommodations there that felt like I was living in Japan of old. A traditional hot tub bath, wonderful healthy Japanese food served beautifully, entertainment by geishas.......what more could a person ask for? I felt like I had died and gone to Japanese heaven!" 


A Long VoyageGold Leaf Artist Garden in KyotoGold Leaf Artist Garden in Kyoto
 
Flights to Japan are a long ordeal, and at a certain point it becomes very worth it to get an upgrade to premium economy or business class. A lie-flat bed makes the trip an overnight snooze instead of a slog. 

"I was fortunate to travel business class so the trip was very manageable, however, I would advise people if you are travelling on day flights that you try not to take any more than a short nap so that if you arrive in the evening you can go to bed early and get right into the routine of the new time zone. 

"This seems to help with jet lag at least for me," Pirard said. "If I fly to Japan again. I will upgrade to business class." 

It pays to be well rested, said Carolyn McLeod, who also visited Japan last year.

Advance Materials Helpful

The advance material that was sent by Sights and Soul was very helpful in preparing for the trip and the cultural differences that should be respected, Pirard said. "I would suggest that as you are constantly removing your shoes to enter various venues, that comfortable shoes that can still be slipped on and off easily are a very good choice." 

Marilee gave this advice about the long airplane trip: "I wore comfortable workout pants. I had a neck pillow and a sweater. I watched a bunch of movies. It is important to get up and move around frequently. Try to get an aisle seat."

"I don't believe that there was anything extraordinary that you need on this trip that was not mentioned in the material that was sent in advance." People would be well advised to learn the few Japanese expressions of politeness that were shared by the company, Pirard added.
flute playerThe flute player in Kyoto.

Shosuitei Tea House

Carolyn McLeod reflected on the highlights of her trip to Japan last year with Sights and Soul.  She is a painter who lives in Reno, NV.

"I think the highlight of our trip was the morning and early afternoon that we spent at Shosuitei, a sukiya-style tea house located on the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

We were given a flute and Ikebana demonstration and also shown how to wear a kimono. The setting was beautiful and our lunch was very good."

She also especially enjoyed the visit to the Saiho-ji (Moss Temple) and garden in Kyoto.  Marilee, from Georgia, said she was impressed when she called Sights and Soul after an internet search and spoke directly with owner Yolanta Barnes.  "I was quite pleased with her enthusiasm and commitment to providing a unique Japan travel experience, especially for first time visitors."

The Language is Tough


McLeod went to China in 1976 and she said she wished at the time that she had also gone to Japan. In college she studied Japanese art, history, and language. During the past year she resumed her Japanese studies. Just knowing a few words was helpful, she said. "One word I used a great deal was "sumimasen" (excuse me)."

Pirard agreed that the language can be a big barrier. "If you are on your own, English is not something you should expect people to speak and not many signs are printed in English. On the tour it is no problem as you have a translator at all times," she said.  Marilee agreed that it's not that common for Japanese to automatically speak English. "It was not common for locals  
Moss Garden BasketMoss Garden Basket
we met to speak English.  Our guides did a lot of translating," she said.

McLeod said that she picked Sights and Soul partly because she saw their ad in the National Museum of Women in the Arts Magazine. "I thought the tour would appeal to women artists or women specifically interested in Japanese art, history, and culture." 

 "I’m sure there would have been some different selections on tours, etc. if this wasn't a women-only trip.  This was focused on experiences which would appeal to women.  I was recently widowed, and did not want to travel with a tour of mainly couples," she explained.

The Artisans of Japan

For Marilee, the trip's highlight was meeting the artisans of Japan. 

"All of the artisans were a pleasure. It’s hard to pick just one, but I have to go with the calligrapher. He actually worked with some of the abstract expressionists, and I am familiar with their work and could see the influences, especially Franz Kline," she said.

Do you have any advice about visiting Japan that would have been helpful to know ahead of time that you can share?

"Don't plan on unpacking your suitcase - there is no room. I would have arranged things differently."   Are there any items that people might not think to bring with them on this trip?  "I wish I had brought disposable face cleaners. Washclothes weren’t provided. Otherwise I was fine," said Marilee.

"The very small groups give a feeling of intimacy. There was real camaraderie. Many of the women had travelled with them before. I am already booked for my next two trips with Sights and Soul!" 

Sights and Soul Women-only Trip to Japan:

October 23 - November 1, 2015
10 Days / 9 Nights
This tour starts in Kyoto and ends in Tokyo

Find out more at Sights and Soul's website.

Max Hartshorne





Max Hartshorne is the editor of GoNOMAD. Sights and Soul is a GoNOMAD advertiser but the opinions expressed are my own. 





Sights And Soul

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of provincialism that's refreshing.A My reasons are my own, you'll find yours if you join Sights and Soul
Exploring the Amazon - photos courtesy of Sights and Soul Travel The Future
One of the newest tours designed by Yolanta Barnes of Sights and Soul Travel is to Portugal's
. Tokyo Neighborhood Guide: Seeing the Sights By Ana Prundaru Narita Airport Upon exiting the JAL
Romagna: The Heart and Soul of Italy By Jennifer Kim Venice, Rome, Milan and Florence are the 'name
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. photos by Sonja Stark. Visiting Berlin is Balm for the Soul
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on photo to enlarge. Sights and Sounds of Providence: Rhode IslandAs Creative Capital
and some wanted dinner. He calls it "neo-soul food." It has proved to be a winning formula, because
Leopards at the Djuma Private Game Reserve in South Africa. Photo courtesy of Sights

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