Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tequila to Tequila in Riviera Maya

I came to Riviera Maya for a food, wine and tequila tour, but we hadn’t gotten to the tequila. That all changed on the third day as we finished our Tulum tour with a tequila tasting at Hacienda Tres Rios Resort.

The Food and Beverage Manager of Hacienda Tres Rios, Oscar Orbe Quiroz, led our tasting seminar. It wasn’t just something he did for us, but a course the resort’s guests get to take each week. I have to say it was one of the best I’ve had for any spirit. He explained the basics about tequila being made from the blue agave plant grown in Jailisco, and the difference between the kinds of tequila – white, silver, resposado, anejo and aged.

We started with Don Julio White, a sweet and mild spirit. Next, it was 1800 Silver, with a hint of color and a touch of green apple in the taste.  The Sausa Reposado showed caramel and vanilla from the toasted barrels and the Sausa Tequila Anejo had the taste of both wood and aging, making it almost like Scotch Whisky. As someone who tends to favor the white spirits the first was my favorite, but I certainly appreciated the complexity of the reposado tequila.

The tasting finished with a lesson on making (and tasting) Sagrita, a Mexican mixer that is made of orange, lime and tomato juices; salt, pepper, soy sauce, worschestire sauce and Tabasco. It is not mixed with the tequila, but drank after it. Before we left we got to sample an expensive, aged tequila, Herradura Seleccion Suprema, full of sweetness and oak, and smooth as can be.

After we toured the Tres Rios Resort, which is on a 326-acre nature park, we headed back to Gran Velas Riviera Maya for some work time before dinner. It was a quiet dinner for myself and three of the other writers, David Hammond, Kristine Hanson and Anna Cavaliere, at Piaf, a wonderful French restaurant at Gran Velas Riviera Maya.  Chef Michel Mustiere’s presentation was beautiful throughout, but the Crème Tricolore was magnificent. It was a trio of soups – Pumpkin, Pea and Tomato – in one bowl, divided in thirds. The chef suggested I try each individually, then tasting a mixing by swirling from the middle, where there was Mushroom Duxelle Crocant Scented with Thyme Blossoms! I don’t use the word magnificent often to refer to food, but this certainly was.

After I got a  good night’s sleep, I walked to the main resort to check out the buffet breakfast for the first time. I enjoyed the display of every kind of fruit imaginable, with some yogurt and a croissant.  I spent the morning writing and organizing my photos while most of the group was at Xcaret. I also had an hour at the infinity pool, looking out at the beach and enjoying the quiet before the Riviera Maya Tourism van picked myself and the rest of the group up to go to The Tides, a  nearby resort that’s about to have a huge expansion.

I should clarify that statement as “huge” is not an appropriate description of this boutique property that will only have 41 villas when renovations are complete. I met up with the group for a tequila and ceviche tasting. It was a bit more informal than the one the previous day, with a focus more on eating (for those of us not allergic to seafood). I heard the ceviche was excellent and I enjoyed the Caprese Salad with Pesto and the Macacita (rolled tortilla filled with cheese) with Caramel Sauce. Marcos, The Tides’ restaurant supervisor who teaches these classes to hotel guests, also introduced us to a Green Sangrita, which I highly recommend. This drink is made from green tomato and pineapple juices; chili sauce and salt.  It was a perfect combination of sweet and salty to highlight the tequila.

Fortunately, we had a few hours before we were to eat again because there was a big meal planned for the whole group. It was our farewell dinner at Grand Velas' Frida, before most of the writers would head home and I would be off to Secrets Maroma.

Thursday, June 30, 2011 by montox · 0

Important Factors Believed To Cause Florida Shipwrecks by on sports, outdoors, recreation, fishing, boating

Important Factors Believed To Cause Florida Shipwrecks

by Stacie Allison

The statistics about the number of people whose lives were claimed by the sea yearly can be very alarming. Oftentimes, these accidents are caused by several factors that could have been easily avoided. In Florida shipwrecks have been caused by some factors that people need to be aware of.

A lot of people have cited several contributing factors on why this type of accident happen in the seas. The list includes poor design and equipment failure, poor weather condition during the time of sailing, sabotage, overloading and navigation errors.

The majority of sea mishaps recorded in history have been caused by terrible weather conditions. Bad weather is sure to cause strong winds, cold atmosphere and very poor visibility. The winds and the waves usually go together so when the wind is terribly strong, stronger and larger waves are likely to be generated as well. If this is coupled with poor visibility on the navigator's part, then a mishap is likely to happen.

Many people have also lost their lives because of navigation error. The vessel's crew have to maintain constant watch and vigilance over the boats bearings at all times. Numerous accidents have been noted just because the crew have neglected to be careful in watching over the navigation panel causing the boat to collide into icebergs, crash into rocks, or even with other boats. Safe voyage can only be attained if there is ample watchfulness and accurate navigation on the part of the crew.

There have been instances of Florida shipwrecks that were caused by the poor design of the boat. These vessels will need to withstand pressure from the wind the waves, as well as make sure that they will remain afloat the whole time. Hence, it is very important that its structure should be designed in order to withstand all these. It should also be made of materials that are both lightweight and durable.

There have been cases where an accident occurred because the equipment in the vessel did not functions as they were supposed to. Propulsion is very important to keep the vessel afloat, hence, very important machinery like the engine, the hull, the rigging and the anchor should at all times be well-maintained to function fully.

There are also instances when outside or inside forces pertaining to humans have caused the accident. This is called sabotage which could be in the form of piracy- which are forces from the outside- and mutiny-which are forces from within the vessel.

Many people believe that most Florida shipwrecks could be well avoided if the necessary precautions and measures were taken beforehand. Thousands of lives could be spared if vessel owners and operators will only follow these regulations at all times. Read more about: florida shipwrecks

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by montox · 1

How To Prepare To Go Fishing New River by on sports, outdoors, recreation, fishing, boating

How To Prepare To Go Fishing New River

by Francisca Avila

Fishing can be a fun and exciting activity. If the water is calmer you may also find that it is a soothing and relaxing experience. If you think that you will be going fishing New River there are a few things that you need to do to prepare properly.

One of the first steps to take when preparing for your trip is to decide whether you will be boating when you are fishing or whether you will be standing on the shore or on a dock. There may be different gear that you will need to bring if you know you will be out in a boat. You may also need different lures or different bait if you are fishing near the shore.

Buying some basic equipment for your trip is a good idea. When you are fishing New River you will need a rod and reel. There are many different kinds to choose from. Look for one that is a medium weight. This will allow you to handle most types of fish easily without your rod snapping. You should also make sure that your fishing line is also strong enough to handle heavier fish.

You also need lures in order to catch fish. These are usually designed to try and look as much like a fish's natural prey as possible. Some look like insects, others look like worms and still others look like small fish. You will also need bait in order to interest fish in coming over to your hook.

Boating excursions have their own special requirements. Any passengers in the boat will need life jackets or personal flotation devices. These will help keep their heads above water even if they are unconscious. You should have a map of the waters you will be boating in as well as a boat emergency kit. These usually have bailing devices, rope and signaling devices in them so that you can be prepared for any emergency.

You need to look into which licenses you will need. There are two that you may need to get. One is a boating license for operators of motorized pleasure craft. Another is a fishing license. There are large fines for people who do not have licenses so you want to make sure that all of your paperwork is in order.

If you want to get the best deals and best selection possible you can go online. You will likely be able to find lures, rods, reels and even special clothing that can keep you comfortable while you are angling.

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by montox · 0

POV: Photo Assignment RAW FILE

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Through Twitter, I've noticed a post by RAW FILE, Wired magazine's blog, which is starting a new series of posts called Assignment Wired, where the magazine will hand out photo assignments to its readers, and then eventually choose some submissions to publish and critique.

WIRED's expertise and interest is in reportage and photojournalism, and it expects its participating readers to get quotes, do some writing, do some research and take emotive photos.
"We want gritty, real and human stories. We want to throw you into new situations and give you a chance to sink or swim."
It actually just launched its first assignment, and it's to feature the corner store where the participating photographer buys his/her daily Coke, milk, doughnuts...whatever. It wants the story of this local corner store through photos and reporting. The assignment "sheet" lists the skills required for such a project, and there's a deadline of July 7th.

I think the experiment (as they call it) is a damn good idea! It will provide an impetus to budding photojournalists (and others) to go out there and actually work on a local project. As it says, it's hardly sexy or glamorous, but it's an interesting project that will teach basic photojournalism skills to those interested. I only wish they included audio recordings, and even expand it to short audio-slideshows...but perhaps that will come in time.

As always, comments from naysayers, cynics and skeptics have come in fast and furious....some accusing WIRED magazine of using this experiment to get work for free. To those, I say you don't have to participate...or participate and don't send in your material. Just take the time to learn something new...or refresh your skills, and if you do a good job, you might get a critique from the magazine. It will surely be worth it.

by montox · 0

Theyyam: The Living Gods

Here's a trailer of The Living Gods, a film by Rupesh Tillu, which depicts the story of a father and a 6 year old son, and their hope to find new opportunities for the survival of a form of art. The young boy wants to become a Theyyam artist just like his father Rajesh, who performs a thousand year old ritual from Kerala, India.
"Theyyam is on the verge of extinction, since very few children are learning it."
Theyyam is a unique ritual which is performed only in Northern Kerala. After a complex preparatory ritual involving elaborate make-up and meditation, the performers are incarnated as deities, and dispense advice and counseling to the throngs of devotees who attend these rituals. It's a living cult of several thousand-year-old traditions, rituals and customs, and is observed by all the castes and classes in this region.

I have used the Theyyam tradition as the core focus of my Theyyam of Malabar photo~expedition in 2009, and I (and its participants) was rewarded with incredible proximity to these living deities, and their traditional religious practices. The resulting photographs are possibly some of the most colorful of religious rituals I've made so far.

The gallery Theyyam: Incarnate Deities is one of my favorites.

by montox · 0

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wilderness Inquiry family adventure through Voyageurs National Park

Our guides, Virginia and Max, purposely swamp the canoe for a "tip test," a lesson in getting it upright again.

Life lessons in the wild
Finding strength despite challenges of ADHD and Crohn's

Kate leads the paddle back to Big Sky Island, Voyageurs NP.
Photos & story by Lisa Meyers McClintick
Originally published in Minneapolis Star Tribune

With bandanas on their heads à la Willie Nelson and bug bites visible across their legs, a group of six boys whoops into the piney woods at Namakan Lake in far northern Minnesota. Their mission: Find the best new spot for a dig-it-yourself latrine.

The adults grin at their unexpected enthusiasm. It's amazing what friendly competition will do for the most dreaded duties at our camp on Voyageurs National Park's Big Sky Island. Or maybe it's a healthy shift of perspective.

Ditching daily comforts, rattling routines and rising to fresh challenges were key reasons we were on this family trip through Wilderness Inquiry (WI). Founded more than 30 years ago, the St. Paul nonprofit organization welcomes participants of all abilities, ages and levels of experience. Last year more than 16,700 people took WI trips, including outings designed for city youths, many of whom received scholarships and grants to get them into the outdoors. Every trip can be modified to fit a group's abilities.

Lori heads into the woods.
Our group was all newcomers except for Laurie Davis of Minneapolis, who was on her fourth WI trip with her two sons. She first signed up when the youngest was only 4. They've since learned the wilderness ropes and tallied a wealth of inspirational experiences, such as seeing a teen trade a wheelchair for the graceful glide of a kayak and a fellow camper who had lost her eyesight get back on a bike with the help of a tandem rider.

"We like to celebrate everybody's uniqueness," says our leader, Max. And indeed we do.

Getting to know each other
 We meet as strangers on a warm June afternoon, introducing ourselves in a circle outside the Ash River Trail visitor center. It's always a grab bag seeing who comes together. Our group gets lucky with a concentration of six boys, ages 7 to 14.

The boys loved clowning around & exploring the woods.
Besides Laurie and me as Minnesota moms with boys in tow, we have Coloradoans Mary Ellen Anderson with two grandsons; plus her brother, Drex Douglas, with a reluctant grandson and 24-year-old son, Jeff. We later find out Jeff has a developmental disability known as fragile X syndrome. He shyly ducks from introductions and avoids eye contact, but warms up quickly as playful energy amps up among the six boys.

My son and I arrive with our own struggles. Jonathan, now 11, has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. A steam locomotive stops faster than his mouth near bedtime, when thoughts and emotions pop out like firecrackers. At school and at home, he's constantly being told to calm down, stop breaking things and getting into trouble. It's a tough load to shoulder.

That constant energy and impulsiveness can shred relationships like cats clawing at furniture. This trip is our chance to heal, to enjoy some rare mother-son time away from twin sisters, and to escape the usual chaos of home life.

Jonathan and I enjoy campfire brownies.
It's personal, too. I yearn for my children to see me as strong and adventurous -- not as a mom who naps and growls with middle-aged migraines. I also have pushed myself to new limits since 14 years of drugs, chemo-like infusions, where-is-the-bathroom vigilance and multiple surgeries finally cowed chronic Crohn's disease, a digestive disorder, into submission.

I'm still wary of sudden setbacks, but feel confident these guides with their calm demeanor can handle medical emergencies.

That's not to say I'm keen on dig-it-yourself latrines -- even if the boys do find a dandy location. I tell myself to suck it up. This is worth it. And, really, it is.

Settling into a camp groove
It takes a full group effort to paddle voyageur canoes across Lake Kabetogama and unload our gear up a steep embankment and into the forest. As we make meals, gather wood and wash dishes, Jeff gleefully and repeatedly asks, "Are ya workin'?" with such comical zeal and upward lilt that it's like teens asking, "Are you ready to par-TAY?!"

Jeff loved fishing from our island.
Jeff's repetitive phrases cause a few exasperated groans while others make us laugh and become part of our camp vocabulary. The patience needed to repeatedly untangle his fishing line is offset by his determination to catch a fish and his absolute joy in everything.

My son, whose emotions can flare like a rocket, marvels at Jeff's calm and smiling face after Jeff accidentally slips in the lake while getting dishwater. He returns to camp soaked and doesn't seem to mind.
The six boys glom together quickly. They dare each other to jump into the dark, tannin-dyed water and try to show off their best campfire-building skills. They tear through the woods with imaginations fully fired. It leaves the adults with a few rare pockets of quiet time.

Big Sky Island's granite dome edging the lake pulls at us like magnets. It's a theater for nature's daily show and heavenly to soak in the sun. It's here where we most often swap life stories, chapter by chapter, taking stock of where we've been and where we want to go.

The beauty of camping isn't just the setting. It's the ability to declutter and distill life to the basics: Stay warm. Sleep. Eat. Look, listen.

Lady's slippers.
'The beauty of camping isn't just the setting. It's the ability to declutter and distill life to the basics: Stay warm. Sleep. Eat. Look, listen.'
I don't realize how mentally ragged I've been until escaping daily demands feels like dropping a heavy backpack from achy shoulders.

Excursions and stargazing
Mornings start with cowboy coffee. Our guides whirl the pot of boiling water and loose grounds like all-star pitchers doing a wind-up. Centrifuge acts as the filter.

Sipping that first brew, Mary Ellen places a hand on her hip, takes in the boreal forest and says, "God, this is so cool!"

She came to share her childhood passion for paddling with her grandchildren. She's an adventurer, too, who has taken them to Turkey and volunteered with them in Senegal. She offers impromptu tai chi lessons on the granite dome, reaching for the stars or out toward the loons.

"I love the enchantment and innocence of childhood, and it's here," she says. "The kids just go with the flow. This is a whole six-week summer camp in five days."

While Big Sky was our base, each day includes paddling excursions where we perfect our strokes, learn to rudder voyageur canoes and mentally muscle our way through brainteasers our guides offer for entertainment.

We wander an abandoned logging camp, collect wild blueberries and strawberries, set up a pasta salad picnic and enjoy a whitewashed outhouse with toilet paper on a roll. It feels like the Ritz.

Later, shrieks echo across Hoist Bay as our guide Max grinningly rocks and flips the huge canoe, dumping the boys with a splash and coaching them through the "tip test." They scramble to hang on, dog-paddle when needed, and get the canoe back afloat. Jonathan, who thrives on amped-up fun, asks to tip again and again.
Jack shows off karate moves at sunset.

Seven-year-old Jack has been our most reluctant camper. He loves his couch and video games at home in Colorado and wasn't thrilled about the itchy, unpredictable, wet outdoors. But even he warms up to life in the woods.

As group members fish, read or tidy the campsite, I spy Jack along the shore reveling in the one-on-one attention of our guide, Virginia, a sweet and cheerful college student. They playfully challenge each other to new karate poses, balancing and laughing on the ancient rocks.

Later that afternoon, as adults relax by the campfire and older boys chase through the pines, Jack stares up at a massive upturned pine root stretching at least 10 feet high. He scales it like a muddy climbing wall.

We smile across our coffee mugs, silently applauding Jack's can-do transformation. It's a thumbs-up moment.

Freedom and joy
Better than a campfire: gathering on our island's granite dome.
At bedtime, families regroup in their own tents. We whisper about the day, play cards by flashlight, trade a few giggles. In the morning, the sun fights through clouds and out of the blue, Jonathan pipes up, "Thanks for bringing me, Mom."

I know the other boys feel the same.

For parents and grandparents in a digital age, it's grounding to see how little -- and yet so much -- can grab kids' attention and keep them happy.

I feel a rush of gratitude, too, for my son's joy and the freedom to go, go, go. He releases explosive energy across this rocky, ancient island with few corrections or commands to stop, slow down or act like someone else. Yet there's gentle guidance and life lessons for all of us sneaked into daily camp life, tucked between chores.

As Mary Ellen says, "You give kids an 'aha moment,' and the 'aha' stays with them."

We leave our island with admiration for one another, gratitude for life's luxuries and a fresh appreciation for its simplicities.

Our Big Sky Island crew in 2010.

One of the easiest and most economical Wilderness Inquiry trips is the three-night Itasca State Park Family Adventure. It's a bargain at $190 for adults and $95 for kids who want to explore the Mississippi and old-growth pine forest. Two-night St. Croix River trips also run six times through the summer ($135 kids, $265 adults) and offer wilderness camping closer to the Twin Cities.

Don't want to rough it too much? Try this: a base camp with running water, platform tents and showers at Little Sand Bay among Wisconsin's Apostle Islands ($195 kids, $395 adults).

Trips for adults run year-round. While many are based in Minnesota, others are elsewhere in the United States, and in Central America, Africa and Australia.

More information: 1-800-728-0719, www.wilderness

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 by montox · 0

Inflatable Boat Camping by on inflatable boats,camping,boating,outdoors

Inflatable Boat Camping

by Danny Matterson

The outdoors offer rich experiences which can be fully experienced by going on a camping trip. The ultimate camping expedition that family and friends will enjoy is one that's combined with kayaking or fishing trips. Hiking and exploring the wilderness is easy but the kind of inflatable that will be used will largely be determined by the body of water you will be taking your boat to.

Before going on your trip, it's important that you learn all you can about the area you are planning to go to, learn the water rules and regulations and identify the kind of inflatable that would best suit it.

Knowing this, it is important to stress that going on any inflatable boat camping experience requires careful planning. You must bring all the necessary gear with you. The most obvious are the safety gear-life jackets, repair kits, first aid kits, communication equipment like cellphones or radios, sufficient food and water supply, oars or paddles and GPS tracking equipment. You must also ensure that you have sufficient fuel supply to last you the entire trip-you'd be hard-pressed to find a gas station on the ocean.

The easiest place to determine as to what kind of inflatable boat to use is the lake. Almost all kinds of inflatables can be used on the lake.

Depending on how large it is, you can bring pontoon fishing boats, inflatable kayaks or large motor mount boats. However, make sure that you know what the rules are in the lake you are planning to go to since some prohibit the use of boats with gas or electric engines.

Determine how many people are going and how much gear you are bringing on your expedition. If there are many people going and you have much gear, a sports boat is best-suited for your trip. If there are only two or three of you and you want a true outdoors experience without the sound of engines or motors, an inflatable kayak is best since it also gives the benefit of portability.

However, an inflatable kayak might hamper your need for speed when nature lashes her unexpected fury.

In the river, you will most likely not be able to use big transom boats since the presence of rocks and whitewater conditions will make it unsafe. Whitewater rafts, floating rafts or inflatable kayaks are more suited for this kind of trip.

For a camping-cum-whitewater river rafting adventure, the best boats for this purpose can include an inflatable kayak, river raft or a motor mount boat used without motors. Aside from picking the right rig to use, you also need to be certain that you can navigate whitewater. If you don't and you want to go on a whitewater adventure, you might as well go with an organized river running outfit. Don't go by yourself when planning this kind of expedition but always go with a group since this is one of the most dangerous of the water adventures.

Transom boats are most suited for sea or ocean adventures although inflatable sea kayaks and inflatable sail boats can also be used by more experienced boaters.

Safety should always be your utmost concern when you are organizing an inflatable boat camping trip. You can do that by selecting the correct inflatable for your water expedition.

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by montox · 0