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Anna's Adventures
                          Anna Mackenzie
                          American Airlines

Crystal Cove Shimmers

Anna MacKenzie

Nestled halfway between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach in So. Calif. Is a treasure of historic coastline where time seems to have stood still.  Crystal Cove State Park (www.crystalcovebeachcottages.com) offers a welcome reprieve from everyday life and a look back in time. Built as a seaside colony in the 1930’s & 40’s, Crystal Cove endures as a magical escape from the overdevelopment of the surrounding coastal area.  What I believe to be one of the OC’s best kept little secrets –Crystal Cove Historic District fills the prevailing sea air with images of a bygone era. 

Starting from the easily accessible parking lot just north of Pacific Coast Highway, skip the shuttle bus and take the inviting paved walking path which leads through a tunnel under the highway and opens to a well-maintained dirt trail. Lined by majestic old-growth eucalyptus, oaks, sage and rosemary, one can drink in the hillside flora and fauna.  Then you’ll pass old wooden sheds used by original cottage dwellers, a visitor’s center, store and gift shop.  But keep your eyes westward as just beyond the next curve the prettiest little beach in the OC comes to view.   Three and a half miles of pristine coastline frame twenty-one authentically restored rustic cottages.  Twenty more dot the beach and bluffs just north—waiting patiently for much needed restoration funds (www.CrystalCovelliance.Org) and each in different stages of weathering dilapidation.  Instantly, one is transported back to the 40’s and 50’s when the Cove was a collection of clap-board & thatched cottages inhabited by very fortunate friends and family of the famous Irvine Co. who owned (and still do) thousands of coastal ranchland acres.   Just imagine the ‘good ‘ol days’--of beach parties set beneath sea-wood awnings  and the distant sound of clinking martini glasses and jovial laughter from sand covered cottage patios.

From 1935 to 1955 these lucky families thrived, partied, surfed and vacationed in this picturesque beach-side community.  Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and the land lease expired in 1979.  Luckily the cottages were saved by developers and The Crystal Cove State Park Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A sad day indeed when the last families had to leave, but a gift was given to the public who are now welcome to enjoy a truly unique area of Calif. History.

Another huge plus about the Cove is its fantastic restaurant—The Beachcomber Cafe (www.thebeachcombercafe.com/_crystalcove).  Where else in So. Cal can one enjoy a fine-dining eatery perched on a wooden deck just steps up from the sand?  And around the corner is the Bootlegger Bar with an extensive menu of foo-foo tropical drinks and appetizers.  The fun Hawaiian décor, strung lighting, candles and big-band era music inspire a 40’s tropical bygone era.

Crystal Cove was adequately named in 1927 by Elizabeth Wood “because the name seemed right for such a beautiful place.”   During one of our hot OC summer nights, I was lucky to catch a half moon rising over the Cove’s gently lapping waves.  Soon a triangle of shimmering diamonds reached out from the cobalt blue horizon to my vantage point—an old wooden picnic bench.  My new squeeze added to this special moment with sweet kisses that brought to mind the lovers who once snuggled around seaside bonfires---the world did indeed seem to go away…..

Happy Traveling, discovering and taking the road less traveled….

Anna

A Tribute to Ireland

 

Viridian, forest, emerald, kelly---a virtual pallet of greens envelop Ireland’s vast farm fields and countryside. From the soft rolling hills lined with cobblestone fences on the West coast to the raised bog of central lowlands and rugged shores of Eastern Ireland, there’s a prevailing mystical and magical feel to my ancestral homeland.

My recent adventure started with an invitation from Cousin Bill Cassidy to accompany him and his two charming (yes, actually charming) teenagers on their first visit to the homeland.  Bill’s grandmother and my grandfather were siblings and emigrated from Westport, County Mayo, in the early 1900’s.  Bill was on a quest to visit the clan for the first time and see as much of the emerald isle in 8 days.  To be his guest was pure pleasure for me--- to not have to plan, coordinate, reserve, and research the trip—he had done all that.   So I sat back, and enjoyed our road trip from Shannon, across the interior of Ireland to Westport then to Trim Country, Meath, and across again to the coastal city of Galway.

The grand country of Ireland holds a place near and dear to my heart and my grandfather kept me linked to my heritage.  I recall his tales of playing with all the other emigrant children on Ellis Island as the statue of liberty saluted their dreams of life in a new country.  There were photographs sent from cousins with names like Daly, Cassidy and ours—Kirby.  For hours, he could recite Gallic poems that described a magical place-- of his thatched cottage in Ballybourke surround by fields of wild ponies, fluffy sheep and cool streams.  

The eccentric playwright and author, Oscar Wilde once said, “The Irish have an ingrain sense of tragedy to sustain them through brief moments of happiness.”  From a history rich in tragedy and religious prosecution, a new people thrive as the real treasure of Ireland lies in its people.   In all my travels, never have I experienced such an optimism and joy for life—even through endless months of rain soaked days, the Irish embrace their country and their beloved Guinness with a proud stance and gleam in their sparkling blue eyes.  From the rowdy pubs lining Dublin’s River Riffey streets, to the coastal resort city of Galway, I found sweet souls willing to stop anything they're doing to smile, greet and offer directions to this bewildered American driver on the wrong side of the street.  To my direction inquiry many would answer, “Oh, it’s no problem, really, I’ll be takin' ye there if ye like”….and no doubt they actually would. 

 

Hat’s Off!

There are a few items I just can’t travel without—one that is near and dear to my heart is my wide-brimmed straw sun-hat.  I picked it up in Nassau last January while on a Bahamas cruise with my daughter.  Too frazzled to endure yet another adventure, its predecessor was reluctantly tossed but not without many fond memories—like being caught in the middle of a torrential tropical downpour on Buck Island in the Virgin Islands.   Seeking shelter beneath a coconut palm, I can still smell the sweet wet woven straw as rain dripped on my clenched knees.  From its protective brim, the storm brewed quickly and I could survey the majesty of nature at its best.  Dark purple clouds sent jagged bolts towards the deep blue Caribbean horizon while fierce winds swirled my calm snorkeling lagoon into a white-caped frenzy.   Now quite disheveled, the drenching took its toll.  But experiences like this simply add more character.

My fedora has lovingly protected my face while sun bathing.  What joy in waking up from a sunny snooze to the speckled sunlight filtering through?With my pony tail and designer shades---it even makes a nice fashion statement.  Many admirers have commented, Oh, I love your hat!  That always makes me grin.  While souvenir shopping and people watching, the hat makes a cool refuge from which to mysteriously peer.

Toting a hat along can be a challenge and unfortunately the glamorous days of traveling with big stylish color-coordinated round hat boxes are gone.   Although a bit gangly, I place mine in a soft nylon carry-on along with my purse so it counts as one item.  Just make sure to store under your seat and not in the overhead or it’ll get squashed.  I’ve even found specially made straw hats that can be folded two times over into a small triangle and pop right back into shape—how great is that!  And they can even go directly in your luggage.

At home, my straw hat sits on a high shelf in my closet—calmly waiting for the next excursion.  As I begin to pack once again, my boyfriend shouts—"You’re not bringing that hat are you?" –he hates it and his daughter says I look old in it (oh, I just love that).  I disregard their comments—what do they know?  In my eyes, it’s a silent friend and protector—and it’s coming along!

Here’s a picture from my recent trip to the stunning Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach Resort in Cabo San Lucas---what do you think?

Happy Traveling!...Anna

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cabo Wabo

By Anna MacKenzie

Once a base for pirate ships waiting to pounce on Spanish treasure ships, ‘Cabo’ is a diversified, playful destination.  Lapped by both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, even 15 years ago was little more than a fishing and canning village occasionally visited by adventurous sports fisherman with the means to sail in or fly down. 

I recall being a young thing of 18 and totally awestruck when my jet-setting boss, Don Callender of Marie Callender’s Pies, would whisk his girlfriend off to this place called Cabo.  She would return brown as a nut with tall tales and I vowed then to check it out when I grew up.  Well, grow up I did and have explored this part of Mexico’s “Gold Coast” many times—even had a few romances of my own where the famed ‘El Arco’ – the Arch- famous rock formation frames a pretty little beach appropriately named, ‘Lovers Beach’.

Since there are actually three districts in “Cabo”, visitors can get a little confused…. 

Cabo San Lucas, the “Main Town’, which is 20-some miles from the airport and the entertainment hub of Cabo.  The word ‘Cabo’ alone evokes images of teens-gone-wild and tequila drenched tourists jamming the wild bars of The Blue Marlin, Cabo Wabo, and numerous other discotheques. Cabo is also a favorite port for Mexican Riviera cruises.  Time share hotels line the pretty beaches and the famous rock arch guards the harbor as countless fishing boats now rigged with sleek, radar-equipped devices promise a catch for the novice to experienced fisherman.  One of my biggest thrills was watching a majestic marlin fight for it’s life as it leaped and thrashed against a most certain destiny—only to break free and careen back to an abyss of dark blue.

San Jose del Cabo, the “old Town” is nearest to the airport.  San Jose has old Mexico charm and some shining new resorts.  Another world altogether and my favorite part of Cabo, San Jose still has the picturesque atmosphere of a slow-paced Mexican “pueblo”.  Narrow streets lead to the heart of town where you’ll find the ‘plaza’ or main square.    There’s even the beautiful San Jose del Anuiti mission in the heart of the square.  Go ahead and venture down side streets and tucked between will be a pretty little courtyard restaurant, fountains bubbling with friendly proprietors coaxing in much needed tourists.  While enjoying festive strolling mariachis, order up one of the local fish dishes—a specialty in this area.  And there’s nothing like warm hand-made tortillas washed down with a shot of smooth agave tequila.

The Corridor, the highway which connects San Jose and Cabo San Lucas—once a desolate stretch of barren gray desert, is now lined with golf courses, condos and resorts that hug the stunning coastline.  Luckily the city buss runs continually between both areas but take head Cinderella--it stops at 11 p.m.  So if you’re partying hearty in Cabo and staying in San Jose, you’ll need to end the festivities early or be stuck with a hefty $75.00.

Still think Mexico is cheap?  Forget about it!--in this part of Americanized Baja Mexico…it’s very pricey, but the dollar is accepted and preferred everywhere.  There is one deal, however, and that’s silver.  I’ve bartered and purchased gorgeous pieces from roaming beach vendors to village jewelry stores. Know your prices and offer at least half of what they’re asking.

Beaches—the ocean here is very deceiving.  Unfortunately, only a couple swimming beaches exist in Cabo and they’re in the downtown resort area.  Though gorgeous to look at, San Jose beaches are not for swimming.  Alarmingly, this is usually not stated in the glitzy web-site blogs and ‘Beach Front’ does not mean, ‘Swimming Beach’.  Warning signs are posted everywhere—in hotel lobbies and along beaches.  Dangerous currents and sand bars lie waiting under the seemingly serine coastline.  Just a year ago, I had a horrible experience helping rescue a young dude who was stupid enough to dive in.  So enjoy the pool areas and use the pretty sandy beach for long work-out walks and awesome whale spotting in the winter. 

UPDATE:   Swine Flu Outbreak.  As of April 30, 2009, The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised its global alert level for H1N1 swine flu to Phase 5.  Although no known cases have been reported in the Cabo area and air travel is not affected, cruise ships have temporarily discontinued all Mexican ports.  But from the bad comes some good---airfares to Mexico have been slashed so lots of good deals to be had---Adios Amigos!!

 

Staying in Shape While Having Fun

Although we may embark on a vacation adventure with all the intentions of hitting the gym every day—it’s simply easer said than done.  But feeling good, looking fit and leading a long and healthy life are things most of us want.  The beneficial effects – both physical and mental – of good nutrition, physical fitness and exercise are proven.  So why not mix these proven effects with your next get-a-way? I’ve found all kinds of ways to fuse physical activity with my escapes so the word ‘workout’ is easily blended in.

The inside of a cold, stark gym just doesn’t do it for me when sun, sand and sea await.  Even though cruise ships have very cool gyms with rows of exercise equipment facing grand picture windows, I prefer to hit the deck running—the desk side walking track that is.  With water bottle in hand, elbows bent and arms above waste level--keep the tummy tucked in, squeeze the glutes (that’s your butt) with each step and mind your posture——eyes ahead--drink in the scenery!  

How easily cares and concerns fade away as your next steps are drawn to the cool blue horizon ahead.

A gym just can’t offer the sensation of brisk sea breezes or tropical sun drenching your sports bra-exposed back.  Smile and greet your fellow cruisers.   Have you noticed how happy and fun vacationers are?  To burn more calories and work legs even more, pack some 2 lb ankle weights.  And take advantage of outside yoga classes to really elevate the senses.  If your resort or cruise line offers bike and kayaking excursions—go for it! 

My darling daughters learned at an early age that Mommy takes a lot of walks.  Leaving my lounging husband with his cooler of six-packs and the girls to entertain, I’d head for the beach!….not down at surf level where the sand is wet and hard, but a few feet above where it’s soft and cushy and your feet sink in.  A mile down and back is a great work out.  There’s a reason why thoroughbred horses are trained in sand—it builds leg muscle and you can easily break a healthy aerobic sweat.

In the big cities—pack a pair of good sneakers and walk, walk, walk—everywhere.  Skip the trains, planes and automobiles when possible.  Take a walking tour—there’s nothing like the sounds, smells and vistas of a beautiful, historic city.  Subway stairs are a fabulous workout but be careful in slippery rain.  Many museums have audio tours to follow at your own pace.   

Reminder—always stretch after your workout—don’t bounce.  Hold your bends and stretches just until there’s a slight ache and hold for at least 10 seconds.  Taking the time to stretch your worked muscles properly after, not before, is proven to decrease soreness

As little as 20-30 minutes of exercise most days of the week is all you need to see results.  That’s 3% of your waking day and you’ll fee better for the other 97% to enjoy your holiday. 

And don’t forget to take a few extra minutes for our Facial Magic exercises as well!  

Anna.Mackenzie@fab4evr.com

 

Affordable Travel in 2009

By Anna MacKenzie

I’ve vowed this year to go somewhere I’ve never been before.  It’s so easy to return to a familiar resort or destination but where’s the adventure in that?  After all, most of the allure of travel is adventure—the discovery of places unknown with unfamiliar faces and cultures.  But I do realize our tumultuous financial times are curtailing many would-be happy wanderers.  How many of our destination choices are made simply based on affordability?  I’m often guilty of just that.  Like the Bahamas cruise I’m taking my daughter on next week.  I’ve visited the Bahamas before but the off-season price was so cheap-- how could I say no?  But one port will be a new experience—Royal Caribbean’s own private island, Coco Cay.   Dora The Explorer has nothing on me!---I plan on trekking the nature trails, maybe bike a little and definitely sign up for the yoga class on the beach.  Even a familiar destination can bring new surprises.

Now I must admit working for an airline brings travel more easily into my life.  I honestly can ask, “Where in the world shall I go this year?"  But finances beyond the flight are still a big concern.  Staying with family and friends can cut costs in half.  This will be a huge money saver for my trip to Italy in early spring.  My BFF, Pam, has a friend who has offered his apartment in Milan and his Mother’s house on Lake Como.   And Pam’s elder aunt would welcome us to her home in the Italian Alps---perfect!—we’re there! 

One of my favorite low budget yet glamorous destinations is Cancun—an all-inclusive being the only way to go, of course.  Try the GR Solaris (www.clubsolaris.com) and be open to their time-share presentation.  They offer free excursions and cash to attend.  These presentations can get long and tedious, but some of the deals are good once they get down to their rock-bottom, take-it-or-leave-it offer…. and if you go to a couple different hotel presentations, it can pay for most of your trip! 

The promise of a new year is here--a clean slate and open map await.  Allow the imagination to run wild and please don’t over-internet search your destination.  Allow some element of surprise and wonder.  I do suggest checking airfares religiously—they can change without notice.  Many airlines have a fare finder feature—use it.  And don’t forget last-minute tour, hotel and cruise deals.

Now, for those lucky enough to travel with no budget---hey, we should all be so lucky!  But have caution, many of the high-end, 5 stars are just a rip off (come on—why should a margarita cost $15 and breakfast $35!).  And the limo/concierge, chocolate turned-down Australian feather stuffed pillows and 800 count sheets are too fancy schmancy for me—I prefer a hammock on a secluded cove in St. Lucia with a little open-air beach cottage and a handsome man sitting alone at the palapa bar—now that’s adventure!

Remember—happiness is a journey not a destination….

Happy Traveling!

Anna

 

Wedding Time in Tuscany

 

Oh, Tuscany—how romantic,  This was the response from most of my friends upon mention of my latest destination.  The word alone conjures the imagination--medieval stone villages, sweeping farm fields lined with ancient cedars, and of course lots of wini de rossi—red wine, which flowed quite freely during my whirlwind visit to Italy’s magnificent Central valley.

After my last European adventure, I swore I would never again do Europe in just one week.  Recalling jet-lagged days and sandpaper eyes—I was reluctant to repeat this bodily abuse, but the opportunity to join my Irish clan and attend cousin Larry Daly’s wedding in the quant village of Radicofani was the chance of a lifetime. 

And what a wedding it was.  Decorated in vines and bouquets of bright yellow sunflowers, the historic Chiesa di San Pietro took on an angelic amber glow as Anne and Larry shared their nuptials in Italian.  Amazingly, it was the first wedding Father Don Elia ever performed for a non-Italian couple.  With tear-swelled eyes, the elderly priest spoke eloquently and entirely in Italian.  His tenderness and caring in performing this sacred sacrament truly touched everyone and created a moment I will forever hold close to my heart.  Outside, villagers gathered as we tossed real rice and raced across the narrow coble-stoned street to the quaint ‘boozer’ where numerous toasts were made to the newlyweds before our short caravan drive to Castelvecchio (www.borgodicastelvecchio.com), an ancient medieval hamlet where the reception would take place. 

As sunset transformed the horizon into a haze of peach and purple, our tiny Smartcar struggled up the curved mountain road of this former fortress.  Guests gathered outside on a hill-side slope of vibrant green with a stunning view of the Tuscan valley far below.  Soft music from a pool-side jazz ensemble set quite the romantic mood while tables of ice-cold champagne and fancy hors d'oeuvres lined the decking.  This was my kind of reception! Soon we were directed to the great hall of Castelvecchio’s castle dating back to 1279 where a gourmet wedding feast of roast boar, pasta and other delectables awaited. 

At midnight, guests were summoned by bells to follow a candle-lit pathway across the courtyard to a gazebo for the cake cutting ceremony.  By this time, tipsy guests laughed and joked while the adoring couple shared this sweet tradition.  Until the wee hours of the morning we ate, danced and drank in celebration.  Finally at 4:30 a.m. it was time to return to our little piece of heaven high on a hill—the farmhouse Cacciamici (www.cacciamici.it)

At our charming stone farmhouse located half way between Rome and Florence with nearby picturesque abbeys of Sant’Antimo and Monte Oliveto Maggiore and three quarters of an hour from the Chianti region of Siena, Orveiot and San Gimignano we gathered to reminisce—make more toasts of warm beer and swim in the lovely cool pool high atop our own private mountain retreat surrounded by barley fields and olive groves.  Just a short hike up hill stood a derelict stone farmhouse just waiting for Diane Lane to fall in love under its dilapidated eaves.  Another charming aspect of Tuscany is that old structures cannot be torn down—only renovated.  How I wish our country held its historic buildings in such high regard.

Radicofani’s castle tower loomed on a distant hill reminding us of the special day prior. Sienna and Firenze lay in many of our destinations that afternoon.  A word of caution about driving—the country roads throughout Tuscany leave much to be admired—narrow and winding with poor signage and virtually no lighting.  Believe me; it’s worth renting a navigation system to avoid heated back-seat-driver arguments.  Also be prepared, this part of Italy is an Agriturismol area, there are no amenities nearby—no mini marts, no gas stations, no nothing except beautiful scenery, blessed silence and the sweet distant clanging of sheep’s bells or a pheasant’s call. 

And the historical aspect is unbeatable--close your eyes and one can almost hear the echoes of Etruscan soldiers galloping on slate-stone village streets, or the call of Roman emperors from their columned thrones…and in the far-reaching country side, the soft swishing of sickles as peasants worked their fields.  Tuscany, sweet Tuscany, you capture the soul.

 

Smart Packing Saves Big Bucks

By now you have heard that major airlines are increasing their fees to recoup skyrocketing fuel prices.  Sadly, these ever-increasing oil prices have meant catastrophic losses for airlines and these costs can no longer be absorbed; they must be passed on to us, the airline passenger.

One of the new fees starting with tickets purchased after June 15 is $15.00 for the first checked bag and $25.00 for the second—yep, nothing is free anymore.  And to top it off, if the bag weighs over 50 lbs--which is easy to do, the cost will be $100-$150 more!   Not all carriers are charging the same, so check with your airline on their latest increases.

What’s a traveler to do?  It’s really quite simple—take only carry-on bags and be very selective about what you bring. Yes, with a little pre-planning for each day’s outfit, one week’s necessities can be stuffed into the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. 

Now, my New York big-city daughter would strongly disagree.  "I must have options", is her motto but won’t be for long.  The first time she’s asked to pay $115.00 in checked and overweight fees, she’ll change her tune and follow my advice.

Simply, it’s all about reducing weight and maximizing space.  Here are some of my best tips.  Keep in mind they’re geared more towards my preferred warm-weather destinations like the Caribbean or Hawaii.  Cold climates will require more bulky space-guzzling sweaters which can be worn in layers during transit and removed later.

  • You’re still allowed two carry-on bags. Take advantage of this!  Do what I do and put a small purse containing just the necessities inside a larger tote.  Later, this carry-on tote-it-all can double as a beach and shopping bag.  And the small purse stays with you everywhere—don’t leave personal items in your room unless you can lock up in a safe.
     
  • Think Three Oz’s---keep all your liquids—including perfumes, cosmetics and hair products to 3 oz’s or less—or they’ll be confiscated at security.  It’s easy to forget that new $65.00 bottle of Mambo tucked in your makeup bag and so sad when it’s confiscated by a TSA agent.
      
  • Another tip—when buying your favorite cosmetics or trying out new ones, always ask for samples—the tiny sizes are perfect and feel like a treat.
     
  • Roll, Roll, Roll---yes rolled clothing does take up less space than folding. It’s been proven—just believe me!
     
  •  Bathing suit cover-ups—pair them with leggings and heels and they double for a nice evening outfit.  Wear a cammie underneath, add accessories, and Voila! -- It’s a coordinated ensemble!  Just be careful when pool side to fold and tuck inside your tote to avoid sunscreen stains.  And bring only two bathing suits—who needs all those different tan lines anyway?
     
  • Keep it down to three pairs of shoes---lighter aerobic tennies for walks and spa workouts and two foam or cork soled (less weight) slip-on sandals in black and white.  Black for the evening, white for the pool or beach.  For cooler trips—a pair of black boots is a must.  Wear one pair while traveling so you’re only packing two.
     
  • Forget all those bulky appliances.  Most hotels provide hair dryers and irons.  If not, it’s a small investment to buy folding travel sizes and don’t forget outlet adaptors for foreign destinations.
     
  • Leave the pooch at home—checked animals are $100-$150 each way!

Keep heart, these higher costs and loss of wardrobe options don’t need to affect our sense of adventure—of seeking the road less traveled.  After all, there’s nothing like watching fading sunlight cast purple shadows on an ancient Tuscan olive grove or the smell of a crisp cold aquamarine glacier as your kayak silently glides by.  Despite increased airfares and fees, the world remains our oyster.

 

Something Magical

One of the many joys in my life is being involved with the Something mAAgic FoundationÔ.  Something mAAgic is definitely magical--a nonprofit organization made up of employee volunteers of American Airlines/American Eagle that supports the missions of the Give Kids the World VillageÔ and the Make-A-Wish FoundationÔ by raising money to enhance wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses and sponsor their marquee event, WishFlight .  Please visit the site, www.somethingmaagic.org for more information.

Did you know our own Cynthia Rowland has donated her precious time and efforts to this wonderful cause?  For the past two years, Cynthia and I have teamed Facial Magic with Something mAAgic for two dynamic benefit Facial Magic workshops.  Many, many thanks, Cynthia!

On Oct. 26, 2007, I jetted off to Orlando, Florida, for this year’s 12trh annual WishFlight where 27 Make-A-Wish children and their families were flow in from cities all over the U.S., Mexico, Peru and Puerto Rico. Upon arrival at the festively decorated gate area in Orlando, numerous volunteers were on hand to meet and greet the anxious families who will spend a week at the whimsical resort, Give Kids the World village.  Give Kids the World, a non-profit resort, provides accommodations for the families, donated tickets, meals and more for a week-long, cost free fantasy vacation. 

This is where magical memories are created.  If a little girls dreams of having tea with Cinderella in the Disney World castle—it happens.  If a little boy wants to float in space, he’s an astronaut for a day at NASA Space Center.  Every effort is put into fulfilling each child’s unique wish.

Many people have asked me if it’s too sad to watch the sick children---I say not at all.  The emphasis on this event is strength, hope and joy.  Honestly, there are more smiles than tears.  And the illness of the child is not discussed.  This is a time for families to be a family again—to laugh and sing and forget about hospitals and doctors if only for one special, magical week.

The founder of Give Kids the World Village, Henry Landwirth, has his favorite quote in the walkway at the village…

 “We make a living by what we get, we get a life by what we give”…

                                                                                     Winston Churchill

 

Cancun’s Cenotes

 Natural Wonders Amidst Cancun’s Bustling Riviera Maya

By Anna MacKenzie

Considered sacred by the Ancient Maya, Cenotes (pronounced Say-no-tays) are an intricate network of underground river systems, which feature thousands of grottos, caverns and underwater rock formations that constitute one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s most amazing natural attractions. 

I’ve been to Cancun several times and never knew these truly gorgeous waterways existed.  The crystalline waters allow a visibility of up to 150 feet and surrender the magical and mysterious world that lies underneath this mystical land.  Cenotes (sinkholes) were ancient caves, totally or partially filled with water, whose vaults collapsed due to the erosion in its walls.  For the Maya, cenotes represented the entrance to the spiritual world, so they were considered holy in nature and enormous ceremonial centers were constructed around many of them and used for ritual.

Being one who steers away from tourist traps, I usually don’t consider glitzy amusement park attractions advertised on glossy brochures strung throughout airport and hotel information centers.  But after being awarded a free day’s tour from a time-share presentation, I was pleasantly surprised by a the eco-friendly agricultural park,  Xel-Ha (www.xel-ha.com)

Located 73 miles south of Cancun, Xel-Ha is simply stunning and worth the drive—a natural aquarium of unique beauty where you swim and snorkel in freshwater cenotes amongst hundreds of multicolored fish that have made their home in the rivers and lagoons.  Also, a neat new concept, the park is ‘all inclusive’.  For one admittance price, around $40.00, all food, drinks (including alcohol—gotta love Mexico for that), snorkel gear, and towels, are included.  Simply place your valuables in the convenient locker areas provided, grab some snorkel gear (all new and disinfected) and head for the magnificently clear water.  Access to the water is so easy on wooden platforms and steps placed strategically throughout the rivers. 

If you have the time, grab an inner tube and gently drift down a river-way. Or for the Tom Sawyer in all of us, there are cliffs to leap from, trails to meander, rickety wooden bridges to forge and even free bicycles to ride.  Be careful on the trails since hundreds of people-friendly Iguanas sun themselves on the pathways and leave little piles of squishy lizard turds.

Also very cool, were the numerous cruise-ship-like teak lounge chairs perched sporadically in scenic and tucked away spots on the rivers banks and within the dense tropical jungle.  These empty, comfy looking chairs beckoned me to take a moment--sit, relax, and meditate amidst such natural wonder— but alas, my boisterous traveling companions on their first trip to Cancun had to keep exploring all Xel-Ha had to offer. 

As our short visit came to a close, I wished for an entire day to fully enjoy this fantastic place—to drink in the brilliant hues of countless fish species, breath in the cool, earthy scent within a dark cenote cave, or just relax beneath the shade of a giant elephant-ear leaf.  Even the languid scaly Iguanas beckoned my return—but I’ll be sure to watch out in case one big guy should decide to sun bathe on my lounge!