Dale Says

December 30, 2014

Maison 557

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 1:21 pm

We can usually tell whether we will like a hotel by the greeting we receive when we first arrive. If the staff is prepared for us and happy to see us, it usually means they are content, well-trained, and they will take good care of us.

The reception we received at Maison 557 in Siem Reap, Cambodia was cordial and welcoming. Jeff, the innkeeper, warmly greeted us when we walked through the hotel’s front gate, and he was there to help with our bags and offer us a welcome drink. He asked about our backgrounds and interests and then escorted us to our room. We felt like we had arrived at a friend’s house.

We were in Siem Reap to explore the nearby temples and ruins at the Angkor complex. This former capital city of the Khmer empire is vast – extending over 75 square miles – and to do it justice requires at least 2-3 days of scrambling over stones and through temple ruins. Fortunately, the magnificent Temples of Angkor are just a few minutes from Maison 557’s front door.

After each day exploring the temples in the heat and dust we needed a clean, quiet place to escape. Maison 557 is the place! It’s small (just seven rooms), calm, and comfortable. The rooms are well appointed, spotlessly clean, and welcoming. The beds are comfortable and include plush sheets, supportive pillows, and an air conditioner and ceiling fan (to adjust the temperature just the way you like it). Small luxuries add to the comfort; like aromatic soap, clean wash cloths, lots of fluffy towels, a make-up mirror, and plenty of bottled water. Our room even had a private outdoor shower (just outside the bathroom) that was luxurious and refreshing. And, at slightly over US$100 per night, our room was moderately-priced.

Maison 557 is staffed by people who know how to treat guests.

Jeff is the innkeeper, and he greets each guest with friendship, warmth, and an excitement that comes from enjoying life in this part of the world. He’s Scottish, a true professional innkeeper, and he somehow manages to accommodate every guest’s needs. Want breakfast late, for example? No problem, have it when you want; even after a sunrise photo session at Angkor Wat. And, while we’re on the subject, the breakfasts are wonderful, full meals with fresh fruit, honey, yoghurt, optional eggs, and yummy baked goods — served on a gorgeous terrace. Want to ride bicycles to the Angkor sites? No problem — Jeff will get them, fix them the way you want, and have them available when you are ready to go. Want to see the local sights or shop in the local markets? Jeff will arrange it for you, and he will get on the phone and make a few calls if you need further help.

Borin (with the largest smile in Siem Reap), serves a wonderful, full breakfast each morning. He also helps with luggage, and will show you around Siem Reap (if you want). He might also tell you stories about his twin babies, who he calls “the Monkeys.”

Ree, the housekeeper, floats quietly around the complex followed by Wallace, the inn’s little pug. Ree keeps the rooms refreshed and welcoming, and she does it quietly and efficiently. Don’t be surprised to find fresh flowers and a bowl of fresh fruit in your room after Ree has been there.

Mr. T., the sparkplug of the place, arranges transportation for guests. Want an air conditioned car and driver to tour the temples? He will line up a trustworthy driver. Need a tuk-tuk to go to shopping or to a restaurant? Talk to Mr. T and it will be arranged.

Your stay at Maison 557 will give you the opportunity to relax and enjoy a comfortable bed and breakfast environment set in lush gardens. After a day of touring the Angkor temples, you can soak in the pool, chill out on the patio, or enjoy a scrumptious meal at a local restaurant. The inn is only a few minutes from Siem Reap’s restaurants, cafés and boutiques located around the Old Market area of Siem Reap.

To contact Maison 557, visit their website at maison557.com, email them at info@maison557.com, call them at Tel: +855.89.280.830, or write them at #557, Wat Bo Street, Group 12, Siem Reap Cambodia. PO Box: 93136

November 18, 2014

The Parrots are Back!

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 1:07 pm

It was one of those special moments you remember forever! It was the reason we travel. It happened at the Angkor complex of temples and ruins in Cambodia.

We had bicycled from our hotel in nearby Siam Reap to the Angkor sites. It started as a mild, cloudy day, but by the time we arrived it was hot and humid, and we fought to stay hydrated the rest of the day.

It was our second day of exploring the complex at Angkor. We had saved three special temples for today. First up was the most popular temple in the complex — Angkor Wat. It was very crowded and spectacular — with five gigantic spires, and very sacred. It’s the largest and holiest of the temples and we sat outside and talked to a guide who explained a little about Buddhist beliefs and customs. There are 37 steps to the top of Angkor Wat, for example, because Buddhists believe there are 37 steps to get to heaven. The more he explained, the more we realized that if everyone followed the teachings the world would be a peaceful place to live.

Next up was Angkor Thom, a sprawling and intricate place. Angkor Thom was the last capital city of the Khmer empire, established in the late twelfth century. It is a massive site, covering more than five square miles. At the center is the former king’s state temple, the Bayon, with other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north. We explored much of it, getting a good workout in the process. We ran across a local parade, with music, colorful headdresses, and much excitement, and we braved a coconut smoothie from a street vendor, which was made from coconut milk, coconut water, milk, and meat taken directly from a coconut. It was refreshing and delicious!

Finally, we cycled on to Ta Prohm, the former monastery. At its peak, Ta Prohm was very powerful, with 18 high priests, 600 temple dancers, and 80,000 attendants.
Ta Prohm was originally a monastery, and it must have been a peaceful place, ideal for training and prayer. Some of the carvings on the stones are of praying monks, and there are small, isolated stone buildings that could have served as meditation or prayer rooms. Today, it’s largely in ruin, although it’s now being restored, a little at a time. It’s known for the giant banyan trees that have grown into the ruined temples, with vast networks of trunks running hither and yon like huge snakes.

Standing under a very tall banyan tree, whose roots had spread to nearly cover the temple ruins below it, as the sun was beginning to set, a flock of yellow-breasted parrots landed in the upper branches of the tree and began to roost for the night, squawking and pecking at the branches. Leaves began to softly fall, floating in the air and landing around our feet. It was a magical moment that brought tears to our eyes, and it reminded us of the simplicity and beauty of nature. A nearby guide told us the parrots had been missing the past two years, but they had come back this year, and he was glad to see them. We were too! The sight and sound of the parrots, the gently-falling leaves, and the knowledge that this very special place had been a very special place for more than a thousand years made for a magical ending to an incredible day.

August 16, 2012

Headwaters

Filed under: Miscellaneous, Travel — Dale @ 2:27 pm

The snow melts on the mountain
And the water runs down to the spring
And the spring in a turbulent fountain,
With a song of youth to sing,
Runs down to the riotous river,
And the river flows to the sea,
And the water again
Goes back in rain
To the hills where it used to be.

- William Randolph Hearst

A bottle sits on my desk, filled with water from the source of Hot Springs Creek. It reminds me of a special group of friends and a unique place—a place of beauty and worth.

Each August, we don hiking boots and sun hats and we march over dusty trails and hillsides to search for the headwaters. Each year it gets a little more difficult to climb over downed trees and cross the streams that lie in our path, and each year more of us require encouragement and help. But together we make it.

The “kids” go ahead now, scouting out the best route. We’re slowly passing the leadership to the next generation. When they were young, we helped them lace up their boots, carry their water, and get over downed trees. Now, they help us, holding low-hanging branches out of the way, and taking our hands to help us across streams. They are smart and kind, and it makes us feel good about the ability of the next generation to run the world.

The sound of the spring floats over the hillside and reaches us as we are tiring, and we know we are close. That encouragement helps us up the final slope, and we step into a glen where a mountain spring is cloaked by blooming lilies and dark green ferns. Butterflies and bees float among the plants, carrying out their lives. We drop our packs, congratulate each other, and take time to admire the beauty and peace. We fill our water bottles from the spring; the water is cold and pure—perfect water from a perfect place! Some of us circle around the spring, taking photos and absorbing the natural beauty. It’s tranquil and sublime—our special and magical place.

We have lunch by the waterside, and the conversation is light and easy. We are happy here. We try to take it all in because it means so much to us, and because we don’t know how many more of these moments we will have. None of us know for sure what lies ahead, but we do know that it won’t always be like this. So we soak it up and relish the moment.

As we gather our belongings and get ready to leave we sense a relaxed mood in the group. Any troubles we brought have been washed away, and we are refreshed. We reluctantly start the hike back, helping each other along the trail. It’s been a remarkable moment, shared with extraordinary friends. We’re refreshed and we can go on.

We’re back to our usual lives now, and the bottle from the headwaters sits on my desk. It’s just water, and yet it means so much more. Whenever I look at it I think about what it represents, and a warm feeling comes over me.

November 8, 2010

Lost in Marrakech!

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 2:06 pm

Our Lonely Planet guidebook suggested that when we arrived in Marrakech we would have the distinct feeling we had left something behind – which would be predictability and all sense of direction. Truer words were never written.

During most of our first day in Marrakech we had been accompanied by a guide, who led us through the labyrinth of narrow streets, souqs (shops), and museums; and we had relished the unique nature and bizarre attractions of this fabled city. We photographed snake charmers and acrobats, negotiated with vendors of leather goods and souvenirs, and grew confident that we could find our way on our own.

So we said goodbye to our guide and went back to the main square for orange juice and a few more photos. Then we headed back into the Medina (old walled city) for a shower and a quiet meal at our guesthouse. That’s when it got interesting…

It was shortly after sunset when we first walked through one of the 10 gates (babs) into the Medina. We immediately left behind all sense of orderliness and entered a complex of streets, courtyards, alleyways and cul-de-sacs crammed with mopeds, street vendors, donkeys, and throngs of people.

After several minutes we realized we were heading in the wrong direction, so we stopped to look at our map. It was one of those city maps you get when you c heck into a hotel. It had the major streets, tourist attractions, and an X drawn where our guesthouse was located. We didn’t have the exact address or phone number of the hotel.

After a few more minutes, nothing was looking familiar, so we stopped at a hotel and asked for help. The clerk was friendly, but she wasn’t familiar with our guesthouse and couldn’t find a phone number for them. So we decided to cut our losses and return to the main square.

After further studying our map, we entered another gate into the Medina and began our search again. And again, we became entangled in the maze of alleyways and shops. This time we asked a shop owner for help, and he sent us down another crowded narrow street in what turned out to be the completely wrong direction. After several more minutes of wandering, we realized we were hopelessly lost, and we returned to the main square.

This time we asked for help from an orange juice vendor who sent us back into the Medina through yet a third gate. By now it was pitch dark, getting late, and we were becoming anxious. So we walked faster and after several minutes, we realized we were again hopelessly lost.

This time we asked help from a neatly-dressed man sitting outside a shop. He studied our map, discussed oour plight (in Arabic) with a couple of his friends, and off we went – following him through another maze of narrow streets. After a few minutes, he met a friend, who joined us. For the next several minutes (which seemed like forever), the two men walked and talked, while we followed behind, and the streets became less crowded, darker, and we began to wonder whether they were leading us to a friend’s carpet shop, a blind alley to rob us, or to our guesthouse.

Much, much later (it seemed) we arrived at the doorstep of our guesthouse. We were incredibly relieved and heartily thanked our rescuers, who accepted our tip and offered us taxi service for the next day. We shook hands, thanked them again, and entered the sanctuary of our guesthouse. Marrakech had wielded its power on us and, thanks to the kindness of strangers, we had survived!

September 30, 2010

Listening to the Alphorn Under a Full Moon

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 12:59 pm

We saw the full moon last week in Murren, Switzerland. The restaurant where we had dinner provided entertainment that evening, which consisted of an accordion player and an Alphorn concert.  (Alphorns are several-feet-long wooden  horns — think Ricola commercials).

Alphorns are made to be played outside, and their sound carries so far that Swiss shepherds use them to communicate with each other in the Alps.

The Alphorn was too loud inside our restaurant, so the Alphorn player took it outside and played it for us under the full moon. The music was comforting and melancholy, and it turned out to be a beautiful and unusual evening. 

When we went back inside the patrons started a conga line dance behind the accordian player, and we figured it was time for us to leave.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcefYj5Wu-U

January 26, 2010

A Place of Hope

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 11:43 am

A Place of Hope: Touring a Township in South Africa

The hand-written poster in his house defines his philosophy:

“We didn’t inherit the world from our parents — we are borrowing it from our children.”

He is driven by an unshakable hope for a better future and believes that great things can be achieved when his diverse community works together. There are indications the efforts are paying off, but a great deal remains to be done.

His name is Afrika Moni and he guided us through the township of Imizamo Yethu, near Cape Town. He is a determined young man with a soft voice and a calm way of dealing with people. His goal of finding a better life for his community motivates him, and he has dedicated himself to helping achieve his dream.

Townships are South Africa’s slums. There are dozens of them throughout the country and they collectively house millions of people. Some folks moved to the townships when their neighborhoods were deemed “white only,” others came from rural areas of South Africa looking for work; still others are refugees from neighboring African countries.

This township is a few miles south of Cape Town, near the coastal city of Hout Bay. Here the contrast between wealth and poverty is striking. Residents of Hout Bay are typically white and affluent and they live in some of the nicest houses in the country.

But across the street in Imizamo Yethu 20,000 people live in rows of shacks that sprawl on the hillsides. Their presence is resented by their wealthy neighbors and many are unemployed.

Imizamo Yethu began in the 1980s when thousands of South Africans moved to Cape Town looking for work and found a shortage of public housing. Some built shacks in the bushes, which was resented by the residents of Hout Bay. In 1989 the local government developed a piece of land for settlement, which became the township. The city provided basic services such as streets, water, electricity and sewage, and residents were allowed to build temporary shelters. They named the settlement Imizamo Yethu (which in the local Xhosa language means “our combined effort”).

Now, 20 years later, the township has a church, a YMCA and community center, and a few small businesses. A police station has been built in Hout Bay to keep peace.

Homes are small; a few are brick and concrete, but most are scrap wood and tin. Some houses have running water; the rest share communal water facets. Most houses are supplied with limited electricity which must be supplemented by the residents.

Over the past few years there have been some improvements. Volunteers, including a group from Ireland, have built a few brick homes, and the South Africa government is putting up a few more. But most residents still live in shacks.

An elderly woman in a tin shack pleaded with us to help her get a better home.

“When the rains come, the water runs clear down to the floor,” she told us. “And I can hardly stand the noise on the roof.” She applied for a brick home, but has heard nothing.

The children of the township are dressed, though most are barefoot. They attend school in a nearby town and Afrika hopes they will stay in school because education is the best way out of the township.
Life in Imizamo Yethu is bleak, but there is hope.
We saw signs of hope in the faces of the children and in the voices of the people as they walked home in the evenings. Many were singing — they had made it through another day, and they had hope for tomorrow.
Afrika also has hope. He and others in the community hope to find a solution that will provide everyone decent living conditions.
If you want to help Afrika Moni contact him at www.suedafrika.net/imizamoyethu.

About the author:
Dale Fehringer is a free-lance writer who lives in San Francisco. He can be reached at dalefehringer@hotmail.com.

About the photographer:
Patty McCrary is a free-lance photographer who lives in San Francisco. She can be reached at fehringermccrary@aol.com.

December 14, 2009

Do you know where I am?

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 11:25 am

Do you know where I am? I am riding in a safari vehicle which stops in front of a water hole. Less than 30 feet away is a group of around 40 Kalahari elephants. It is spring, and there are baby elephants following behind their mothers, trotting on uncertain little legs to keep up. They imitate their mothers, trying to grasp dirt or dust with their trunks and fling it on their backs or undersides. One of the babies tries to roll in the mud as its mother did, but it misses the mud hole and winds up rolling instead on the ground. The adults carefully step around it on their way to the river for a drink. They put their trunks in the river, suck up water, then put it in their mouths.

This national park has one of the greatest concentrations of game found on the African continent; including hippos, crocodiles, and buffalo — and the largest surviving continuous elephant population in the world. It is in Botswana, near the borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Do you know where I am?

November 23, 2009

Phantom Forest Eco Lodge

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 1:38 pm

Nestled in the hills above Knysna (pronounced “nighs-na”) in the middle of South Africa’s Garden Route is a lodge that blends luxurious accommodation with environmental responsibility.  It’s called the Phantom Forest, and it’s one of the most unique places I’ve ever stayed. 

The Phantom Forest consists of 14 wooden “tree suites,” which are set well apart from each other, allowing a complete sense of privacy.  Each suite includes a bedroom, sitting area, deck, and en-suite bathroom.   The rooms are exquisitely appointed with hand-crafted furnishings, ethnic artifacts, king-sized beds with silky percale cotton sheets and mosquito nets, a bath tub (large enough for two), and a double-headed shower (my favourite feature!).   

The lodge was constructed with a systematic concept of conservation, which was instrumental in its winning The Leading Eco Destination Africa in 2007 from the World Travel Awards.  No trees were removed to make way for the tree-suites; instead the design was adapted around the native foliage.  Buildings were constructed from alien vegetation, which was cleared by hand and used to create the flooring, chairs, tables, doors, etc.  Organically grown produce is purchased from small area growers and used in the preparation of meals.  Biodegradable cleaning products are used, and water is recycled through the lodge’s own sewage plant, pumped to reed beds and filtered naturally back into the ground as clean re-usable water.     

A stay at the Phantom Forest begins when you leave your car at the base of the hill on which the lodge is built.  Staff transfer your luggage to a green Land Rover and drive you to the reception area, where you are greeted and escorted to your suite.  After relaxing on your deck while listening to the monkeys and birds outside your room, you dress for dinner and enjoy a “sundowner” drink in the bar.  Dinner is a seven-course delight to the senses and would excite the most discriminating palate.  It is followed by coffee and a camp fire on the firedeck.  Then, when you’ve had enough, you stroll down the boardwalk to your suite and enjoy a soak in your over-sized bath tub. 

The lodge offers a range of amenities including pool, hot tub, sauna, spa, restaurant (where we were served one of the finest meals of our lives), and firedeck.  Everything within the lodge is connected by wooden boardwalks that meander through the forest and minimize the impact of foot traffic on the environment.   Staff help organize a variety of area activities; including hiking, cycling, paragliding, sailing, horse riding, and canoeing.    

A stay at the Phantom Forest Lodge is a marvelous experience, with a satisfying balance of luxury and ecological accord.  It’s not an inexpensive venture (rooms run around US$300 per night), but is well worth it.  You will leave totally relaxed, completely satisfied, and thoroughly content. 

The Phantom Forest Lodge is located seven kilometres west of Knysna, South Africa, at the foot of the Phantom Pass.  For more information, go to http://www.phantomforest.com.

June 10, 2009

Cycling with Canadians

Filed under: Colorful Characters, Travel — Dale @ 2:56 pm

We had booked a guided cycling and sailing tour for a week on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, and we were slightly anxious about who our traveling companions would be.  It’s always a crapshoot when you book a group tour, and we were going to be spending all day and night with these people for a week. 

When we boarded our ship the group was already eating dinner.  There were two couples from Vancouver, British Columbia on board who knew each other, and by the time we arrived they were working on dinner, a bottle of red wine, and having a great time.  We joined them at the open places at the table and quickly found out they shared our interest in good food, of which there was plenty, and our love of travel (especially by bicycle). 

Ian and Colleen are good cyclists and enthusiastic travelers, and they enjoy seeing, touching, and sensing the countries they travel to.  She is a retired teacher, mother, writer, and cancer survivor.  He is a successful businessman who is retiring and wants to travel more.  Both are knowledgeable and confident, yet humble and generous.  They told us stories, shared travel experiences, taught us new card games, and sat up nights playing games and laughing with us. 

Danny and Francien are truly worldly. He is Scottish-Canadian, with a genuine Scottish accent, which we eventually got used to.  He works for an oil company, is stationed in Africa, and spends several days each month traveling back and forth to his job.  He has a buoyant personality and frequently breaks into song.  Francien is Dutch-Canadian, enthusiastic, and has a terrific sense of humor.  She is also an excellent cyclist, and her determination and persistence inspired us to make it to the top of the many hills. 

Our Canadian companions shared a lot with us that week; including their terrific sense of adventure, enduring good moods (even when the weather didn’t cooperate), and their love of new experiences.  They greatly enhanced our trip, and we were fortunate to have them as mates.

May 26, 2009

Whirling Dervishes

Filed under: Travel — Dale @ 1:56 pm

During our recent trip to Turkey we were fortunate to see the Whirling Dervishes in the old Caravanserai of Sarihan in Cappadocia.  The building itself was built in the 13th century and originally served as a roadside inn where travelers on the Silk Road could rest and recover from the day’s journey.  It is now a cultural center where travelers gather to witness historical reinactments of this fascinating section of Turkey.
 
The Whirling Dervishes are a religious sect of the Islamic faith, called Sema, that have been around for hundreds of years.  They are located throughout the Middle East, and consist of young men who attempt to achieve spiritual connection with God.  They believe that the fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve, since everything in life revolves – from the planets around the sun, to electrons, protons, and neutrons within the atoms that make-up our basic structure.
 
The Sema ceremony consists of music, recitation of passages from the Qur’an, and a “dance” in which the performers turn in circles, rotating on their own axis and also moving in orbit. The performers are dressed in white, including long white skirts that flair as they twirl.  Their right hands are turned up (toward heaven), and their left hands are down turned (toward earth). One foot remains on the ground, and the other crosses it and propels the dancer around. The rising and falling of the right foot is kept constant by the inner rhythmic repetition of the name of “Allah-Al-lah, Al-lah…” 
 
Participants whirl steadily for around 10 minutes, then stop, rotate to the next position in the orbit, then start again.  Somehow, they do not lose their balance, or their position.    
 
The ceremony ends with a reading from the Qur’an. The dervishes complete their time together with the greeting of peace and then quietly depart.
 
This is a stiring ceremony, and the participants are very sincere.  We felt privileged to have witnessed it. 

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