Tag Archives: culture

President’s Corner: Getting to Know the Real Costa Rica

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By Jeremy Sampson, President, GreenSpot Travel

At GreenSpot we love to experience destinations the way they were meant to be. We have a particular passion for indigenous communities, working with them to provide unique opportunities for our clients while protecting and celebrating traditions and cultural heritage.

Our US-based team visited our Costa Rica office in May, and spent several days traveling in and around communities which currently offer indigenous and rural tourism experiences. Our visits included the Bribri community in Talamanca and Brörán in the southern region on Terraba, which includes a quiet, rustic lodge called El Descanso – as the name implies, a perfect place to rest.

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Our time was spent exchanging stories and ideas with community leaders, while observing and reviewing what they have to offer visitors. We came away with several new ideas that we plan to incorporate into Costa Rica itineraries for travelers interested in meeting and learning from these amazing people.

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My personal experience in Brörán was an unforgettable one. Life moves at a different pace in their small village, and we made fast friends with our hosts. Spending time in a place like this, it’s impossible not to reflect on your own roots, on the importance of holding onto identity, family, and tradition in the face of deep-seeded modern challenges.

We ate simple (but perfect!) homemade meals cooked by the local abuelas (grandmothers). We walked to and swam in magical waterfalls. We prepared (and enjoyed) sacred cacao. We exchanged stories. We talked about the past and the present. We were shown hospitality one can only classify as “priceless”, even if it’s not the 4- and 5-star lodges we typically sell.

Costa Rica indigenous community

I believe this is an experience all travelers should have. The newfound perspective is well worth it, and I can’t wait to go back and see them again.

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Icelandic Stories & Passionate People

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Recently, GreenSpot’s destination specialist, Mandy Haakenson was interviewed by Pink Pangea (a community for women who love to travel) about travel to Iceland. Read that interview here and be sure to read on for a more in depth look at her Icelandic experience.

While I was in Iceland, one of my guides told me that Icelanders “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. I love that quote, although I admit to being a little dubious of everything I was told thereafter. The little girl in me adores hearing stories of trolls and elves. Much to my delight, they are abundant in Iceland, and Icelanders tell them with vigor and charm.

I had expected the striking landscapes, wildlife viewing opportunities, volcanoes and geothermal activity. Less expected, but very much appreciated, were the cultural and historical insights I gained by talking to the hospitable Icelandic people. They seem reserved at first, but there is tremendous passion to be found within the 300,000 inhabitants of this Nordic island nation. Finding time to chat, over a cup of steaming coffee or while sipping Brennivín (Icelandic schnapps) is worth your while.

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My time in Iceland was full of activities. I took a food tour of Reykjavik, bathed in natural hot springs, dipped in the Blue Lagoon, walked on a glacier, rode an Icelandic horse, hunted for Northern Lights, traveled west to Sneafellsness Peninsula, toured a lava tube, took a jet boat ride, and completed a 3-day trek of the southern interior from Thórsmörk to Skógar.

For most of these activities, a guide in an all-wheel vehicle picked me up. This allowed us to travel over some rugged terrain. One evening, we drove right onto a black sand beach, where we toasted Brennivín at sunset, after dining on delicious local lobster at a seaside restaurant. We were waiting for darkness to arrive, so that we could hunt for northern lights.

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An all-terrain bus took us through barren land, where we drove through rushing rivers and bounced over lava fields. Once we reached the middle-of-nowhere, we disembarked and ventured through the woods to a mountain hut. For the next couple of days we hiked through some of the most breathtaking landscape I have ever seen. Although Thórsmörk to Skógar is a popular route, we saw very few people. This is one of the advantages of going in September, when high season is dying down.

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There are iconic spots in Iceland that everyone wants to see, but if you wish to avoid crowds, you can venture to the slightly less visited Snæfellsnes Peninsula. With a looming glacier and jagged cliffs bursting with birdlife, this western peninsula is quintessential Iceland. You can visit a farm to help sheer or gather sheep, take a jaunt on a graceful Icelandic horse, bathe in secluded hot springs, or strap on a headlamp and climb down into a lava tube.

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If you are willing to sacrifice wide-open space for an abundance of charm and hospitality, I would recommend staying at Hotel Egilsen, in the seaside town of Stykkishólmur. Before you head out to explore, enjoy a delicious homemade breakfast made by the inn’s proprietor, Greta. If the elegance of an old-world hunting lodge is more your style, you may want to book into Hotel Budir. Take time to walk along the craggy cliffs and find the unique black church. Be sure to have dinner at Budir’s renowned restaurant.

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Above all, allow the Icelandic people to guide your journey. After all, they know their country the best. They will happily share the legends of this ancient land with you. They also know how to pronounce words like Eyjafjallajökull – and let’s face it, this might come in handy.

To learn more, be sure to check out our sample itineraries for Iceland or contact us if you have questions.

Goats in the Highway – Travel to Turkey

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Holding hands in a circle, while a sparkly bagpipe-like instrument (a tulum) blared away with a pretty catchy tune, I was reminded once again that I was born with a very, very subtle sense of rhythm. Our Turkish hosts were attempting valiantly to show us a few of what I’m sure were the simplest traditional dances they could think of, and it wasn’t going well. Fun, but not pretty, would be an apt description.

Avoiding support posts and beams in the small dining hall as went ring-around-the-rosy-style around the room, with intermittent stomps, yells, and arm waving, couldn’t have been a more effective ice breaker.

The Eastern Black Sea Development Agency invited three board members from The International Ecotourism Society (TIES – www.ecotourism.org) to tour Turkey, especially their relatively unexplored northeast corner of the country. A secret they’d like to share a bit more, but in a sustainable way. Accompanying me was Hitesh Mehta, (h-m-design.com) the pioneering ecolodge designer, and Masaru Takayama, Executive Director of the Japan Ecolodge Association (japan-ecolodge.org).

The Turks were asking for our expertise in developing their style of travel to Turkey and sharing ecotourism experiences with the growing number of travelers looking for a deeper connection with the places we all visit. We were joined by writers and travel company representatives, all focused on experiencing places by connecting with local people and learning about local customs and daily life as part of a more meaningful form of tourism.

The view of the Kaçkar Mountains from a sleepy village speaks volumes about the natural setting in Eastern Turkey.

 

A late flight into Istanbul and the resulting missed connection to the coastal city of Trabzon, the main city in Turkey’s northeast, had us up the next at 4 a.m. and on the highway east right away. Visually, the surprise as you leave Trabzon and head into the surrounding mountains is how green this region is, everywhere. Mountains, valleys, rivers, waterfalls and coastline with dense forest spread as far you can see, broken only by small villages and the occasional town.

My longtime interest in travel to Turkey centered on the history and culture. While the east is full of diverse and living cultures, the verdant natural landscape is different than what I’d envisioned. The roadblock of a lounging goat herd or a woman leading her flock along a mountain pass was much more in line with my expectations.

Standing a few feet away from the Turkish-Georgian border, which is actually fairly porous due to some complicated negotiations with the locals in both countries, we waited for the rest of our group who hadn’t missed flights. A few steps up the hill was the first place our Turkish hosts wanted to share – a wooden mosque built in 1855. A flurry of photography quickly gave way to a peaceful, meditative moment in a unique space, designed and cared for with an eye for simplicity and peace. See out the window below…

 

A Turkish Roadblock

 

Read More on Days 2-10 soon!

 

Wooden Mosque from 1855 on the Turkey-Georgia Border

Article and photos: Richard G. Edwards @greentravelguy

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Nope, that's not a painting on the wall. It's the view from your bed while visiting one of our favorite hotels in Costa Rica's Arenal Volcano region.

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