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While driving down a two-lane highway across a broad expanse of a brown Wyoming, a weathered non-DOT sign popped up on a post alongside the road. It read, “Sacajawea’s Grave” and an arrow pointed to the right. We had just entered Wind River Indian Reservation, I couldn’t bypass that old sign. 

I hit the brakes and pulled into a gas station to ask for directions. The woman behind the counter handed me a photocopied hand drawn map and asked a guy hanging around to explain it to me.

We started down the road under a darkening, cloud filled sky. A cemetery soon appeared.

A large headstone for Shoshone Chief Washakie marked the entrance, but there was no grave for Sacajawea.

We drove on, and eventually found the right cemetery.

A smell of rain filled the air and Remy and Simon were a little creeped out after exploring a ghost town a few days earlier. But I made them get out of the car anyway.

I loved that each grave was colorfully decorated, with hand painted wooden crosses and artificial flowers.

The monument dedicated to Sacajawea is impressive compared to the gravesites in its company.

Upon further research, I found Wyoming isn’t the only state that claims her gravesite. In fact, her actual grave has never been found, but records say she died on the Wind River Reservation in 1884, when she was one hundred years old, and is buried somewhere on this hillside.  Other historians say she died in 1812 at Ft. Manuel, South Dakota, not long after returning from the Lewis and Clark expedition, at only 25 years of age, and left behind a baby daughter.

If you happen to find yourself driving down Highway 287 in Wyoming, look for an old weathered sign and ask for directions at the gas station to Sacajawea’s Grave. If you’re lucky, you too will have ominous Wyoming weather to make the expedition all the more adventurous.

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I had the pleasure of learning of Diana McCaulay when she came to Seattle last Spring to present her film, Jamaica for Sale, through the World Affairs Council at the University of Washington.

Jamaica for Sale is a documentary about tourism and unsustainable development. The film examines environmental, social and economic damage inflicted by large-scale hotel development. Jamaica for Sale takes us beyond the pristine beachfronts and well-appointed hotel rooms to the community, where construction workers, fishermen, tourism industry professionals, and everyday citizens are interviewed in an effort to provide the full picture. 

Diana McCaulay is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Jamaica Environment Trust, which focuses on environmental education and advocacy. Born in Jamaica, Diana McCaulay holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Management Studies from University of the West Indies. Diana was the recipient of a Hubert Humphrey Fellowship in 2000 and studied a range of environmental subjects at the University of Washington. She went on to complete a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, with majors in Environmental Policy and International Development. She has served as a member of the Board of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority, the government regulatory body for environmental issues. She is also a past Chair of the National Environmental Societies Trust, an umbrella organization of environmental groups, and has served as Treasurer and Vice Chair of the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica, a local funding agency. She was a weekly columnist for The Gleaner for seven years, writing on environmental, gender, and social issues.

Diana was kind enough to answer a few questions:  

How would you describe the current tourism situation in Jamaica?
 
It depends where in Jamaica you are talking about.  I think the way the north coast has been developed is disastrous – large, ugly hotels directly on the beach, with insufficient attention paid to all kinds of infrastructure, such as sewage, roads, housing and schools for workers, and also excluding Jamaicans from their own coastline.  There is insufficient analysis of the economic benefits as well – tourism is undoubtedly a large employer in Jamaica, but there is also considerable “leakage” – in other words, the income from tourism not staying in and benefiting Jamaica.  There are other parts of Jamaica, though, which have not yet gone the way of the north coast and you can still see reasonably healthy marine resources and experience Jamaica the country (as opposed to Jamaica the hotel).  What saddens me is that our decision makers seem determined to develop the rest of the Jamaican coastline like the north coast.      

What do you think are some of the most pressing issues regarding tourism development today?
 
We need to talk about the whole model of tourism development.  There are many large Jamaican hotels, both locally and foreign owned, where you could be anywhere in the world.  We need to talk about the disregard of natural resources, particularly during the construction phase.  We need to talk about carrying capacity – there seems to be a view that there is no limit to the number of hotels, marinas, cruise ship piers and golf courses that any island can hold.  We need to talk about cumulative impacts – what may be a well designed single project may well be the last straw for a piece of coast, when you consider all the other projects that have gone before it.  And we need to talk about inclusiveness – how to make sure that the majority of Jamaicans, especially those who live near to where the hotels are built, benefit from the tourism industry.   

What would be your ideal tourism development strategy?
 
A model that starts with respect for the uniqueness of the place, respect for the people who live there.  We should not transform our countries to meet some fantasy of the tropical paradise held in the minds of our visitors.  As an example – tourists all want to be right on the beach and also to have an unrestricted view of the sea.  This leads to hotels being built to close to the high water mark, exclusion of Jamaicans from the beach and removal of all coastal vegetation.  When beach erosion follows, there are howls of despair and requests for expensive sea defense works.  But the beach erosion could have been avoided if the hotel had been built in harmony with the natural resources.  And Jamaicans resent being excluded, which leads to crime and tourist harassment.
 
Scale matters too – very large structures are too obtrusive and spoil the natural beauty of the coast – those things that tourists, presumably, come to see.  We also need to change the mindset of our visitors, who too often want to have all the comforts of home – air conditioning, no bugs, the same food.  We need travelers, people who are excited to see and experience another culture, not tourists.   

Do you know of successful examples of sustainable tourism?
 
I don’t know of anyone who has done it perfectly – although I am sure there must be examples.  But I was just in Costa Rica and was struck by how they really seemed to value their natural resources and the low density of the resort I was at.  In Jamaica, the site would have had many more concrete structures.    

What recommendations do you have for travelers who’d like to make positive travel choices? Can you point us to helpful resources?
 
There are various websites you can look at – Tourism Concern, Responsible Travel, spring to mind.  But basically, try and stay at local places, spend your money with the local community, be respectful of local customs, be restrained in your use of resources such as energy and water, and try to limit the amount of waste you produce.  I think visitors should also find and help local charities.  
 
What are your top three recommendations for visitors coming to Jamaica to do or see?
 
I’ll tell you a couple of few hotels I like, but when you recommend unspoiled places, you run the risk of causing a sudden influx of visitors to those places, making them spoiled!  We are very bad about limiting numbers here in Jamaica – I have been to other parts of the world where numbers into a natural area are strictly controlled, but we rarely do that here. 
 
I like Tensing Pen in Negril – small thatched cabins on the rocks in Negril’s West End – and Mockingbird Hill in Portland. 
 
My number one “don’t” is this – be careful about the attractions you visit, particularly those with animals.  Ask yourself how were the animals captured and transported, and whether or not you think it is appropriate for animals to be forced to perform tricks or other services for our entertainment.

*

In the coming weeks, I’ll discuss with Diana McCaulay her novel, Dog-Heart, and we’ll delve further into social and economic issues, including race, class, and privilege. Check back!

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Taking a paid, guided horseback ride in the northern mountains of Nicaragua is nothing like a guided horseback ride in the United States. For one, I can’t imagine an American operation thinking it a good idea for an inexperienced six year old to ride and control his own horse for six hours.

But the confidence of Jamie, our Nica guide, assured me. Or at least made it seem allowable. And my six year old was certain it was a grand idea. My eight year old would ride Paloma. Isn’t she pretty?

We headed out in the misty early morning. The foals of Paloma and her sister, Mariposa, desperately wanted to come along.

Our six hours would take us through Miraflor Nature Reserve, a protected area where farmers grows crops and raise cattle sustainably on small plots interspersed throughout the three microclimates of the 200 sq km reserve.

 

Our first stop was the Orchideario.

We were visiting at the end of dry season and the orchids weren’t flowering at the time. But we found leaf cutter ants carrying big pieces of leaves across the path to their home, transparent butterflies, medicinal berries, and this tree that Jamie crawled inside and climbed up and then rappelled back down on the outside using vines. 

Four types of coffee are grown in Miraflor. The small trees were interspersed with tall banana plants.

Then we set out to wander the countryside. At a steep rocky ravine, the horses balked at going down. Jamie insisted it was no problem for them. My six year old’s horse, Mariposa, was the best at leading the group, Jamie said. My six year old would go first. I willed him to hold on tight. 

We came across this dead turquoise blue snake. I can’t say I was disappointed it wasn’t alive, but it is a gorgeous color, isn’t it?

At Miraflor, farmers are trained in sustainable farming. No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used. At this farm, we dismounted from our horses to walk alongside the new crop of beans

to this river with a lovely waterfall.

I must mention: if you are visiting at the end of dry season, do not strip off your clothes for a dip under the waterfall. Unless you don’t mind an infestation of ticks. Newly hatched and hungry, we were a magnet and they the iron. It was impossible to get them off before we were covered with more. We’d have to attack the ticks later.

Back with the horses, Remy played with a puppy.

Even though the concept of Miraflor is very first world, farmers still have very little. Oxen, not tractors, pull the plows through the fields. There are few vehicles. Some people have horses but we saw most people traveling on foot.

While riding back to the farm where we stayed, Posada La Sonada, Jamie asked if we wanted to let the horses run. The kids thought it a brilliant idea, and before my instinctual motherly concerns could be projected, we were all off and running. Jamie had earlier fashioned a little whip out of a stick for Simon to keep Mariposa moving, since she was the leader, and Simon took to his running horse like a cowboy set loose after a day of being reigned in. His cap caught the wind and blew off as he whipped Mariposa (gently, of course) with one hand and held onto his saddle with the other. I couldn’t help but laugh while I willed my kids to hold on tight.  

Back at Posada La Sonada.

And to our room to strip and search for ticks.

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“White wo-man!”

“White wo-man!”

I cringed. It could only be me the voice from behind was calling. The last time a man jogged to catch up with me on my walk from the white house to our dinghy in Clare Valley, not the presence of my toddler riding on my shoulders nor my declaration of love and commitment for my husband did anything to quell his lengthy proposition to please me like no other man could.

“White wo-man!”

The eyes of nearby villagers were on me and my two children, waiting to see what would unfold. The slap of feet pounding pavement grew louder. Goats bleated. Chickens pecked at bugs. I stopped walking and turned around.

The eyes of a dreadlocked man, barefoot and in a raggedy t-shirt and shorts, lit up when he saw my acknowledgment. 

He stopped inside my invisible comfort bubble, panting, and smiled. “Good morning,” he said.

I steeled myself. “Good morning.”

“You have solar panels. I need a solar panel. Can you get me one?”

“A solar panel?” The surprise in my face and voice must have been something to see.

“Yeah, I live on the mountain,” he gestured behind him. The villagers came closer. “We have no power. You have solar panels, yeah? I have money. I can pay for it.”

My shock turned to instant admiration. He wanted to talk business! My heart swelled. He would be my ally.

This post has been entered in the Grantourismo Home-Away Holiday Rentals travel blogging competition hosted by Grantourismo Travel and  Home-Away Holiday Rentals.

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My idea of the perfect travel experience is to immerse in local culture. But when I enthusiastically proposed to my family a stay at Miraflor, a nature reserve that’s also a farmers’ cooperative in the northern mountains of Nicaragua, they all stared back at me with blank and unconvinced faces.

“A farrmm?” Simon said.

“How about the beach? I really want to relax and it would be cool to teach the kids to bodysurf,” my husband, Brian, proposed.

“I want to go horseback riding,” Remy said.

“I want to zipline,” Simon said, “But I don’t want to go to a farm.”

Hoping to persuade Simon and not realizing what I was getting myself into, I told them what I knew about Miraflor: There were three different micro-climates, one of them a rainforest. Monkeys and sloths lived there, we might even see the elusive quetzal. There were waterfalls and caves and more than 300 varieties of orchids. And we could ride horses. There was even a six hour horseback ride.

“How do you say six hours in Spanish?” Simon asked.

“Seis horas.”

He and Remy looked at each other mischievously and without another word started chanting in unison, “Seis horas!, Seis horas!, Seis horas!”

Brian looked at me sideways. Six hours on the back of a horse? In former Sandinista and Contra Rebel territory? With our kids? This didn’t sound relaxing. 

“But can we still go ziplining?” Simon asked.

“Sure!” I said.

At the last minute, we passed on the four hour bus ride from Managua to Miraflor and instead splurged on a car and driver.  We assumed we’d just traded stress and discomfort for an indulgent ride, but when every word we spoke in our broken Spanish to Raul, the driver, was met with a suspicious stare from the rear view mirror, we worried how we would even find the office to arrange our farm stay in the town of Esteli, 30 miles before Miraflor.

It’s possible we ended up in Esteli only because the Pan American Highway passes right through the town. 

When we found the office closed for the noon hour, we offered to take Raul to lunch, and that’s when Brian won him over, making jokes using his Kitchen Spanish and asking about Raul’s family. After lunch, we were a team. 

At the office, we chose our farm and set off again with a vague hand drawn map. Few vehicles traveled this unpaved road and Raul asked every vaquero on horseback and campesino on foot we passed for directions.

After several wrong turns, there were cheers all around when we finally found our destination, the farm of Dona Corina Picado.

Then it was pointed out these were the bathrooms we’d need to use. I sure hoped the horseback ride would carry the weight of it’s expectations.

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The morning after the indulgent dinner, we soaked one more time in the hot springs baths and met up again with Bill and Masami for breakfast.

After days of sampling countless exotic Japanese offerings, Brian and I didn’t pass up the offer of an American style breakfast.

They started us off with an onion topped salad.

And moved on to assorted breads, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage and a lovely fruit plate.

  

Comforting, but downright boring compared to the Japanese breakfast.

The Japanese breakfast started with umeboshi, or pickled plums.

Which was followed up by all these dishes:

  

   

And this:

Salted and fermented squid guts.

Known as Shiokara, it’s considered an acquired taste, even to the Japanese. This morning I didn’t have the stomach to sample it.

But as you can see, we had no trouble polishing off everything else.

Stuffed again.

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When Brian and I were in Tokyo, we snuck away with our business partner, Bill, and his partner Masami, to an onsen.

An onsen is a Japanese inn and hot spring. The volcanic archipelago of islands that make up Japan are covered in naturally occurring hot springs and onsens are popular among the Japanese. They vary from simple to luxurious in accommodation.

We visited Sekiyou, an hour outside of Tokyo by way of bullet train and short taxi ride that winds up a lush mountain while monkeys watch from the roadside. A grandmotherly hostess showed us to our sparse and spacious eight tatami mat room complete with it’s own wooden soaking tub, then handed us kimonos and waited while we changed.

 

Bill and Masami gave us the low down on how the baths worked. There were two separate baths, one for men and one for women.

 

Guests always scrub up before immersing in the steamy water. Washing stations line the wall with short wooden stools and detachable sprayers.

I was thankful no one was using the bath when I, the uninitiated, entered and clumsily sprayed myself down at the washing station, not sure just how much scrubbing was expected. The hot springs bath was outdoors, surrounded by dense shrubbery but with a view of misty mountains in the background.

Soaking was lovely.

We met up with Bill and Masami in their room later for dinner, which was delivered one course at a time by a hostess in traditional formal wear. 

The menu.

First course is served to Masami and Bill.

Kanpai!

Sashimi.

Eel

Broth with clams and sugar snap peas

   

Beef with farro and fiddlehead ferns and mountain vegetable

Jellyfish and mushrooms

More.

Ending with citron gelatin and a mochi covered in roasted soybean dust.

The food was amazing. I was blown away by the detail and time and care required to prepare every single dish. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the best of notes. I’ll blame it on the unusual setting, or maybe it was the sake or shochu (a spirit distilled from rice), or beer.

Later when we returned to our room, futons were unrolled on the floor and beds made up.

Just as we started to settle in, our hostess let herself in, offering to help us get ready for bed.  We bowed in thanks and shooed her toward the door.

We considered sliding the futons together to make one bigger bed, to sleep together like we usually did. But we thought better of it. Not at the onsen.

Check back next week for details about breakfast.

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We spotted the Ford Ranger from the ferry. 

Its turquoise color matched the sea.

The truck’s owner hurried toward us. “Good morning, you must be Brian and Nicole, and you are the children, and you, the brother!” Herb said. His wife, Ilene, hugged us. 

“Wow, the truck is outfitted just like ours,” Brian said. 

“Is that right?” asked Herb. “Shall we go back to our place to discuss the sale?”

“I’ve made some sandwiches and juice,” said Ilene. 

Shouldn’t we just discuss the purchase here? Take it for a test drive? I wondered. Brian shrugged.

We loaded into the back, riding on the bench seats under the canopy, just like we had done in our rusted out truck.

At their home, we snacked and admired photos of Herb and Ilene’s grandchildren. Two hours later I suggested we look at the truck. 

Brian inspected for rust and finally the modest price was revealed.  We accepted without negotiation.

Spirits were high. “Have you seen all of Bequia?” Herb asked.

Well, no we hadn’t.

The sun sank low before we were dropped back at the ferry dock. Herb would deliver the truck to Kingstown next week. They watched us board and searched us out on deck and waved as we sailed away.

The next day, there was a phone message. “Brian, I’ve been thinking. Considering the cracked windscreen, the price seems too high. I’m going to lower it by $300.”

I listened to the message three times to make sure I’d heard right.

This post has been entered in the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

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Immersion is my favorite way to experience a new country. And you couldn’t wipe the smile from my face the days we spent at Miraflor Nature Reserve in Nicaragua. Not only were we deep in the heart of Nica countryside, we were also on a coffee farm.

Besides being a protected haven for flora and fauna, Miraflor hosts an agricultural cooperative where campesinos farm plots using organic methods. We stayed with Dona Corina Picado at her farm, La Posada Sonada. 

We explored the coffee fields, learning this is what a coffee berry looks like:

And a coffee flower smells like an orange blossom. 

And that coffee plants grow well under bananas.

We stumbled upon a few farmhands filling American-style backpacks with hand picked berries. Clearly, harvesting was a slow process.  We watched this young man dump the day’s harvest into the machine to wash and sort the berries.

Here’s where the berries dried:

Dona Corina showed us her earthen oven, fueled by a wood fire, where the coffee is roasted. And this is how coffee is ground, outside the modern world:

It was here that I learned a cup of coffee should be drunken slowly, and savored.

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Brian has pined for guavas since we left St. Vincent. The only place we’ve found them in Seattle is Uwajimaya, a fantastic Asian grocery store, but they’re never ripe and they’re always expensive. Once we landed on Kauai, the hunt began.

We had high hopes for the Hanalei farmers market. We saw no guavas, we were told it wasn’t guava season, but Brian wasn’t deterred, he questioned each vendor. One had brought a few, but they had sold already.

We tried the Lihu’e market. We arrived at opening time and Brian rushed through, scanning the tables for guavas, inquiring with each vendor. One vendor told us, “I have guavas, but I didn’t bring any today.”

“Awww,” we said in unison. 

She giggled. “Where are you staying?”

“On the north side,” I said.

“I will bring some to Hanalei tomorrow. Come tomorrow to the Hanalei market.”

“Really? Can I pay you today to hold them for me?” Brian asked.

“No, no, I’ll save them for you,” she said.

“Okay! We’ll be there at 9:30!”

We were there, at 9:30. Brian rushed through the already crowded market, searching for the face of the vendor who would have his prized guavas. He found her, busy attending customers. We scanned her table, no guavas, then Brian spotted two small bags of guavas on the tailgate behind her. “There they are,” he whispered.

He paid for the two bags and opened one and inhaled the sweet aroma. I took my turn and was instantly transported to standing under the guava tree at Petit Byahaut. Guavas are filled with seeds and are quite tart so eating them raw isn’t nearly as satisfying as turning them into guava cheese. Later that evening, Brian set to work.

He chopped all eight guavas.

Put them in a pot, added a cup and a half of sugar, and lit the burner.

After the seeds separated and the guavas softened, he put the stew through a sieve to remove the seeds and the puree was returned to the pot.

Stirring constantly, it seemed like forever before the puree thickened into a cheese-like consistency.

Not done yet. More cooking and stirring required.

Finally he turned it into a pan, let it cool and cut the slab into pieces before coating them with sugar.

So good…

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