Winter’s Silver Lining – The Purple Mountain’s of Arizona

As I look out the window I am acutely aware that the six months of gray skies, cold temperatures and precipitation of some sort has begun. It is 15 degrees, everything is dim, and snow is spitting from the sky. And to think that just days ago I was surrounded by golden sunlight, endless blue sky, plum colored mountains and rolling golf links surrounding a graceful resort, several shops, a few restaurants and a lovely new spa. This is Tubac, Arizona.

Every morning we woke early to the warm breezes of an Arizona day. We walked out of our suite, and into a small village area where the scent of fresh bacon in the breeze brought us to the sunny breakfast room. We usually chose to sit outside and watch the brilliance unfold as cows wandered around the golf course and waiters brought fresh healthy things as we considered our options for the day.

One morning we crossed into Nogales, Mexico for a bit of bargaining in the shops. Mexican traders will drag you in off the streets saying “You are my first customer of the day, special discounts. Almost Free”. They are shameless flirts, will offer you tequila “made by my uncle” and give you small gifts for purchasing with them. If they don’t have the size of something you like, they will dash out into the street, haggle with another merchant, and sell you his product. They offer advice and suggest restaurants as long as you promise to return to their shop later. Go ahead, be shameless too. It’s fun and it’s the Mexican way.

One morning we rode bicycles down the short dusty road into Tubac. What a delightful little town spanning the range from Mexican hand crafts and traditional work, to stunning contemporary artistry. We had lunch at a fresh air bistro enjoying fresh Mexican cooking and the exotic wind vanes of another artist bending the light gently in the soft mid day breeze. Jewelry, leather and clothing of all types and price ranges was to be found in southwestern buildings, adobe shacks and modern lofts off the dusty streets.

Another morning we played golf on the beautiful course that surrounds the entire village resort. The course is a beautiful rolling landscape that surrounds the houses, hotel suites and inner village of the resort and is itself surrounded by towering purple mountains. Its most interesting feature to me was the ever present “girls” grazing next to the greens. They are practically pets right up until they become a fresh part of the restaurant menu, tender and delicious right off the hoof!

Every afternoon at the Tubac Resort, we went to the new spa, a lovely tile and mesquite building with tall windows and a balmy solarium in the center of the resort village. Treatments are perfectly designed to sooth sun drenched skin and golf tired muscles. Wonderful gentle falls of water ran down the walls infusing the air with moisture and the relaxing sound like very gentle rain. Pitchers of iced water filled with limes were at hand before and after treatments as we sat in cloud soft robes.

My first treatment was called Tui Na. Sara’s strong hands soothed the whole length of my body. She infused the air with different aromas blending calming herbs with long smooth strokes and greener scents with deep tissue work. Interesting guitar music softly filled the room to stimulate several senses at once. For 80 minutes this process eased from quiet and peaceful to energizing and back to soothing. The end result was a head to toe body hum that lingered for days.

Another afternoon I had one of the most refreshing facials that I have ever had. We had learned to come quite early to enjoy the ambiance of the spa and the comfort of the solarium before treatments. The spa room was as calming as I had found it the day before. Today though, I was offered a choice of scents for the air and the cleansers and lotions. I chose something light and floral which just barely lingered all evening. The treatment itself was soft and smooth and left my skin feeling calm and soothed, very nice.

There are very nice shops at the resort as well as in the town. We bought clothes there to remind us of the delicious stay in the purple mountains of southern Arizona. We enjoyed every minute of our time at the Tubac Golf and Spa Resort, and as I turn to the window again, I can barely believe that I left. My mind takes a small holiday into the possibilities of staying out there for the winter…..  It’s pretty easy to get to though, so I might just have to go back before the daffies start emerging!

 For more information or reservations you can visit:

Travel Troubles Be Gone – and just in time for Christmas!

I travel a lot. Because of my job, I am always going to beautiful places so the pull of getting there is always strong. Still, there has never been a single trip in the last two decades where you wouldn’t find me stomping around the house the day before departure muttering “… it’s just not worth it….” caused by the ritual of house sitters for the dog, bills paid that will be due, and letting friends know.  For me the real issue is PACKING! After all these years I still put it off to the very last minute as packing is the precursor for all the coming hassles of being enroute.

Well there must be hope for us all because after years of doing things one way, I made a change. As I was dreading the approaching travel day it suddenly came home that perhaps it could be easier. Someone must have been working on tools to make getting through airports easier and I had the technology to find it! The search turned out to be fascinating, the products turned out to be comforting, the result rewarding. After  long hours of traveling to airports, rushing between planes, and sitting in old seats the new gear had worked. I got off the plane with a comfortable body and relaxed nerves happily looking forward to my first cocktail of fresh fruit and local rum.

This in only the check in so far!

I am practiced at selecting clothes and laying them out on the bed so that I can be sure I have the mix and match collection of what I need for the next trip. Also, the nature of where and when I travel, there can be an 80 degree temperature differential between where I get on, and where I get off. Airport climate will be consistent, but other than that it is a matter of constantly being ready to change clothes.  Then the questions start. Will it all fit into the luggage? What part goes into the checked bag and which goes into the carry on. Will I get hit for overweight fees?  And the biggest one; how can I arrange it so that I can move it all at once by myself.

Next morning, gear into the car, car to the airport, luggage from the parking lot to the terminal, then the line to check in. Next, the dread of checking in with luggage, living in fear of small overhead or underseat compartments that won’t hold the carryon . Do I have some way to deal with it if I get one of those awful 30 year old seats? Must leave room to tote a reasonable lunch and a change of clothes. The plane can be cold or hot in flight and who knows where those airplane blankets have been?

Welcome to a new day! There is a world of tools out there that you can customize for your own comfort and efficiency as you pass the day in airports and planes. A much underutilized tool is a good passport case. I got one with room for my passport, itinerary, ticket, a little cash and one credit card and that is all. It’s flat, fits in a carryon pocket and I can reach all the travel docs I need.

So new check in luggage. First of all, luggage must be light, robust and have good wheels. My war horse of a check on bag weighs 11 pounds, just begging for overweight fees even while empty. Best solution for that turned out to be a huge rolling duffle (Eagle Creek) that weighs roughly 4 lbs, with the added convenience of folding up when it is empty.

I also got several of the mesh cubes for putting clothes in. Not only do they make it easy to keep things sorted going into and out of the luggage for packing but when the baggage guys ruffle around during inspections, your luggage is easy to check and neat when they are finished! The mesh cubes of clothing go in along with a shoe bag and a “jump kit”, your best working toiletry bag. Wonder of wonders, Magellan’s has a large selection of all of these things.

The new carryon luggage is another matter entirely. I need a change of clothes, I even carry sandals. I have a computer, kindle, cell phone and room for my purse and lunch in one bag that I put under my feet so I can reach them. The Vertical Business case worked perfectly for those and can be stacked with m other carryon so I only have one to pull.

The other carryon bag goes over head and is all about comfort in flight. I got a Getaway Wheeled Underseat Tote for that. Packed on top I carry the clear rugged bag of carry on liquids for easy removal at check points. I carry a blanket, an inflatable neck pillow, earphones, a GSeat folding cushion to sit on, as well as my new camera bag.

Doesn’t look like something to steal and has all the right spaces for a full camera set up.

I found that the Urban Hybrid Touring Bag holds all my camera gear perfectly and fits neatly inside the Tote which fit inside every overhead bin I encountered. Happy girl! I carry a small arsenal of wellness gear as it is impossible for millions of people to share space without a few nasty bugs floating about. The air ionizer I got years ago is a tiny device that hangs around your neck and sterilizes the air for 3 cubic feet around your face. I can’t say for sure that it is the reason, but I don’t seem to catch anything during travel.

While I was practicing retail therapy to dissolve the airport travel blues, I also got some clothing. I found two shirts online that really don’t wrinkle.

Weighs nothing, has tons of pockets and the sleeves zip off in the heat. Fabulous!

You can whip one out of the tiny knot it became when you stuffed it into the carryon bag, give it a shake, and good to go. One of them has the added advantage of providing UPF sun protection while breathing so well that you are hardly aware of it.

I also bought something I found called a Voyager Jacket which is the only coat I need. Light weight, lots of pockets in the right places, a passport case pocket, and sleeves that can be removed for climate changes. It is even good looking!

The Heineken Regatta is one of the famous parties in the Lewards, with 3 days of sailing mixed in.

So I left Vermont when it was 4 degrees in the morning and spent the day going through airports finding my way to the island of St. Maartin and the 32nd Annual Heineken Regatta where it was 84 degrees at night. I easily got to check in with all luggage  rolling in harmony. I checked in my new cube organized duffle bag without the dreaded overweight fees. Had all of my travel docs easily accessible in one place without putting my purse at risk.

What a difference this makes!

Breezing through the scanners and onto the plane, I used the seat cushion (amazing difference), blanket and ionizer from overhead and the underseat gear to entertain myself during the  flight.

This little unit ionizes the air for three cubic feet around your face and is tiny to wear!

If you travel by plane, I can highly recommend spending some time getting the right tools for the task together.

I changed mid flight in prep for the new climate and bounced off the plane looking wrinkle free and happily up to the task of searching for the perfect margarita!

Most of the gear that I acquired can be found at Magellan’

Cookie Crumb Trail Through the White Mountains of NH

Like Hansel and Gretel we were off to follow crumbs through the forests of New Hampshire. The 10th Annual Inn to Inn Holiday Cookie Tour involves following a trail map from one highly decorated inn to the next, sampling each one’s favorite cookie recipe, and at the end, voting on your favorite.

After climbing into and over the White Mountains on twisty roads gentle lights peeked through the snow covered trees, the first lights we had seen for miles. This magical oasis in the darkening sky was the Notchland Inn. Walking from our delightful cottage to the inn for dinner we took in the brilliant decorations, crackling fireplaces and the glorious scent of real pine trees ornately spruced up which thoroughly  infused us with holiday ho-ho-ho.

Here was the perfect blend between elegant European style, a casual new england atmosphere and the squeaky wooden floors of a very old mountain lodge. The dining room was large, cozy and filled with inviting aromas. From the fresh spicy soup, to Uncle Gordy’s (very best ever) Pate, to the seared duck breast to creamy chocolate truffle torte it reminded us why dining is something to linger over and savor.

The following snapping clear morning, map in hand we walked back to the inn. Perhaps the chef thought his guests might drive off the edge of the fragile paper maps for the tour and get lost in the mountains, so he better feed them up. Breakfast was hot, fresh, rich and huge!

Still tasting sweet maple syrup we headed down into the valley in search of cookie gold. For two days we found our way from inn to inn, each one carefully decorated for the holidays, and loaded with seasonal treats. I was impressed with the artistry and creativity of the presentation that went into each inn’s signature cookies. At each stop our little maps were stamped by the inn, and most gave us a bag of the house specialty cookies to take as a reminder of our visit.

We slowed down our ‘sugar buzz” with lunch on Saturday at a wonderful small Spanish pub all decked out in cut tin ornaments and red chili ristas. Full of margaritas and poppers we forgot that you can do a lot of damage to your master plastic in North Conway, the outlet capital of New Hampshire! But we got some wonderful deals on Christmas presents and a few things for ourselves and so it wasn’t all bad.

Sunday morning we visited the remaining inns on our map and Sunday afternoon the entire cookie tour met for tea at the Notchland Inn. Almost a hundred visitors who had been staying at the various participating inns handed in maps stamped by all the inns. For this we were given a very handsome brass wooden soldier Christmas ornament.

We also voted on the best three stops on our tour. I really can’t imagine how anyone could choose! It was so hard with each place having worked so hard and created such holiday spirit around the event. Eventually first, second and third prized were issued to the winners, but as near as I could tell, we, the people who followed the cookie tour all weekend were really the winners.

Over the weekend we had a real acceleration in to the holiday spirit, got lots of our Christmas shopping out of the way at great prices, dined very well and grazed on hand made sweeties all weekend.  We all agreed it was a grand (if fattening) start of the holiday season.

Information on the Notchland Inn
Inn to Inn Cookie Tour – December 9 & 10, 2007

Nuevo Villarta – Safe, Luxurious and Fabulous!

We have heard such scary news in the press about traveling to Mexico these days that make us think twice about going. Mexico is one of my favorite destinations though, and I am a frequent visitor. I am convinced that this distorting overview is designed to sell newspapers and create a buzz rather than to offer a clear picture of what is happening there. Many countries have small pockets of territory that are not visitor friendly and while we don’t go to those, we don’t write off the whole country!

With that in mind I headed south to explore a region of the coast that I had never seen. The “left” coast of Mexico is a land of legendary sunsets that linger for hours, long wide golden beaches, plenty of fresh local food and cultural shopping. Sometimes the hotels leaned on the side of “roughing it” which was pleasantly authentic when I was in my 20s, made travel with kids feasible in my thirty’s and forty’s but over the next decades my taste for a lovely room with a great mattress and luscious surroundings has gained momentum.

Riviera Nayarit is the region around the beautiful bay Banderas and several miles north offering an evolutionary trend that my old bones appreciate.  The charming old world aspects of regional traditions seem to merge nicely with the new elegantly refined hotels, a marina that can support super yachts, and restaurants that appreciate the fresh grown fruits, vegetables and fish delivered daily and put these treasures in the hands of sophisticated chefs who cater to elegant open air dining environments. Often the golden beach is one step off the dining room with the turquoise ocean just past that and all of it infused with warm breezes and honeyed scents.

I flew into Puerto Vallarta and met the hotel driver for a 10 mile ride north up the coast to Nuevo Vallarta and La Estancia.

There was nothing dramatic or notable about the ride up the coast, but there certainly was about the La Estancia. The architecture is a modern rendition of colonial Mexican style which focuses on privacy, comfort and a seamless transition from inside to outside. Water is everywhere, pools down to the ocean, soaking tubs on decks, wading pools with pebble bottoms, and all of it surrounded by the deep fluctuating turquoises of the sea.  The spa at Estancia is one of the new style entirely focused on grace and comfort and relaxation of the senses. The restaurant has high ceilings and a fresh inventive menu.

From there I toured up the coast looking for a mix of traditional life and the new infusion of luxe comfort that is evolving here.

Bucerias is a step back in time to relaxing days of open air markets with everything from silver, to clothing to fresh ceviche and fruit drinks sold on the streets. Bicycles provide much of the transportation, and of course all streets come to the golden beach. And of course, you simply can’t ignore the entrance to this gym right on the main street.

Next stop, Sayulita. This is a lovely traditional Mexican village with carved signs, cobbled streets and painted walls. Huge trees overhanging the beach where food and drinks are served in the shade by the sea. Perhaps 10 blocks wide along the beach, and several blocks back you will see galleries, shops, bakeries, baskets, and all manner of interesting things to explore. About a decade ago, Sayulita began attracting artists from all over the world, and the cumulative effect is totally charming.

Further up the road is San Pancho, adorable in its authenticity. Its history painted permanently in the town square on the long wall to the beach. Vendors sell their wares under huge spreading trees in the square, and the ever present surf rolls along the front of the town. The curious feature I found there was a polo club. It seems being born there entitles one to be a member, take polo lessons and participate in tournaments. That with the myriad of small shops, restaurants and galleries make it an enchanting place to wander about.

The next town that really won my heart was Rincon de Guayabitos. I first saw it from the top of a knoll at a pub called Vista Quayabitos which gives a commanding and endearing insight into the joyous lifestyle to be found here. Festive is the word that really suits this place, and while I was only there during the day, I could see how much fun it would be when the lights come on at night and there is music and food flowing through the streets and down to the beach.

This new blend of comfortable old world style, with updated and handsome facilities has the Riviera Nayarit evolving into a region that deserves to be separated from the bad news that we keep hearing about Mexico! I had a wonderful time, amid beaches, great food, fun atmosphere, fabulous authentic shopping and not a bandito in sight!

Information about Riviera Nayarit can be found here:

Touring the BVI Under Seven Sails

Watching seven sails unfurl along the 156’ deck of Arabella is a romantic image and full of grace. Waves surge under the figurehead on the bow with flowing energy as Arabella offers a guest the luxuries of a sailing vacation without any of the traditional sailor’s chores.

In six days of travel up to three dozen guests visit several islands in the US, British and Spanish Virgin Islands. The week offers an afternoon on the wide white beach at Cooper Island, a visit to the famous Baths at Virgin Gorda, snorkeling inside the caves on Norman Island, a day at the sailor’s paradise of Bitter End Yacht Club, dinner at the Prospect Reef Club on Peter Island, and an evening of dinner and dancing at world famous Foxy’s on Jost Van Dyke. While each day is filled with potential adventure, guests are welcome to stay aboard if reading with the quiet rocking of the yacht is what they are seeking.

Morning begins with the smell of coffee followed by mountains of salmon with capers, onions and cream cheese, or platters full of bacon, sausage and eggs, muffins, and there is always juice, yogurt and fruit available. Lunches generally consists of interesting salads, wraps and warm cookies or brownies. At the perfect hour freshly made baked brie, cheeses, dips and crackers or sushi is set up near the bar in the main saloon and guests warmed by the tropical breezes meet for cocktails. The saloon then became a charming gathering place for diners in groups of two to eight. Fresh fish, salads, outdoor grilled meat and vegetables, or both meat and vegetarian pastas were placed on the two buffets so guests could serve themselves. We had candle lighted dinners ashore under the stars at several islands during the week as well.

After breakfast on most days, guests enjoyed the last cup of coffee and found comfortable spots to chat as the sails unfurled and we set out for a new location. Sailing in the British Virgin Islands is generally line of sight, the longest passages being about 3 hours. 156 feet of deck space means that guests can always find padded places to read, work on a tan, sip iced tea and chat or snooze in sun or shade.

Our cabins were bright and spaces concise without a lot of storage but certainly room for everything we need. Each cabin had its own “head” (shower, sink and toilet), telephone, climate control air, and a small satellite TV as well as several drawers and shelves. Some cabins were bunk rooms, others had double beds. None of us spent much time there as topside was so comfortable and we all seemed to be interested in watching the islands flow by. With the lingering effects of warm water swimming, tropical breezes and salty air the gentle rocking of the yacht at night made sleeping deep and sound.

I have been to the BVI several times before, but I found myself telling our captain Sandy Sunderland that this had been my favorite way to see these islands. He told me that in the summer Arabella does cruises starting out of Newport RI, and going to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Cuttyhunk so I am thinking of joining this beautiful yacht with its friendly crew for that cruise as well.

Each day of the six we were aboard had its own flavor shared with our small group. We made friends that we will see again, put on some weight, danced until we were exhausted, and came home so laid back that I could barely remember how to drive my car. Pretty much the definition of a perfect vacation as I see it.

For more information contact:

Classic Cruises of Newport
Sailing Yacht Arabella

How to cruise the Chesapeake, stay at a different inn each evening and learn to drive a power boat at the same time!

All you need is a general comfort about boats and a desire to learn to drive on to attend the new Annapolis Power Boat School. Evan, Hannah and I set out to Annapolis for different reasons but with the same goals. Evan, and age 17 is a lobsterman from Booth Bay Harbor Maine and wants to learn to drive a power boat safely for the future of his business. Hanna, at 20 has a goal of getting enough boat handling experience under her belt to apply for a job on a yacht, and in that way see the world. I grew up on fishing boats and never really noticed that somehow I missed learning the navigation and boat handling part. I would like to be able to buy or charter a powerboat for cruising and fishing.

On Sunday we checked in to Chez Amis as our starting point for powerboat school. Mickey, the owner warmly welcomed us to her charming three room B&B located only a block from the dock in the historic district. As the buttery afternoon sun set over beautiful Annapolis harbor, we ventured out to explore. We found dinner overlooking the harbor watching boats and people enjoy the evening.

Mickey’s native ebulience combined with her specialty baked breakfast were the way we started our adventure. By 8:30 Monday morning, we were at the Annapolis Powerboat School headquarters, a classic building under aged shade trees on Spa Creek.

After a brief description of the week’s itinerary, we met the rest of our class which made us a group of nine going out in two 30′ boats. Our instructors filled the coolers on each boat with a dozen kinds of drinks, snacks and box lunches. A quick class on how to work the head, how to check the engine and were were good to go for our week on the Chesapeake.

My personal anxiety was easily displaced by the calm demeanor of our instructor Shawn as one at a time we were introduced to driving “twin screws”. The first exercise we each performed was to gently approach a mooring ball, and then back off. Lunch was the reward for each of us after docking, and finally tying up. The afternoon was filled with taking turns at the helm, discovering the power of our engines as we headed under the bridge and out onto the open bay.

In the evening we practiced docking in front of the Inn at Osprey Point, our first stop for dinner and the night. Maybe it was just the tired and hungry feeling you get from a day on the water, but I would say that the food was the best I had ever had! So was the sleep!

In the morning the water was flat calm. We all eagerly munched down a continental breakfast and then headed down to the dock with our instructors for day two of our power cruising course. Over the next four days we practiced these skills, adding chart reading, course plotting, anchorage and tying knots.

We stayed at the Imperial Hotel in Chestertown, the Robert Morris Inn, and the Harrington Point Hotel before heading back to Annapolis having covered a total of 140 miles by boat and having a new understanding of travel by water.

We felt capable and in control at the helm upon our return, needing only practice to enjoy safe boat handling for the rest of our lives.

Contact Information:

Annapolis Powerboat School

Chez Amis Bed and Breakfast
85 East Street
Annapolis, Maryland 21401.

The Inn at Osprey Point
20786 Rock Hall Avenue
Rock Hall, Maryland
21661 410-639-2194

The Imperial Hotel
208 High St.
Chestertown, MD 21620

Cabin Charter in the Society Islands, Touring Tahiti, Huanine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora on an 83′ Catamaran at a modest cost.

Our first morning on Tahiti Moorea shined pink across the turquoise lagoon and cobalt sea that separates the two islands. We walked paths through playful exotic flower gardens, graceful palms, and glittering fresh water pools that overflowed into the ocean. We were always aware of the delectable colors of sea and the ever-present roar of the barrier reef protecting the quiet lagoon from it. A buffet covered ten tables under the shade of the palms and allowed for every possibility of breakfast choice. Enormous urns of scented vibrant flowers were integrated with the edibles to create a riot of color, scent and texture that was truly irresistible. Warm breezes played in the blossoms while we sampled the delicacies at the buffet and watched small sailboats and outrigger canoes on the lagoon. 

John and I had crossed the 3875-mile distance from Los Angeles to FAAA airport on Tahiti to board a cabin charter boat called Nemo Polynesia. We would live aboard the 83′ catamaran in our private cabin as we sailed between Tahiti, Huahini, Tahaa, Raiatea, and Bora Bora.  Cabin charter is the middle ground between taking a cruise and chartering a yacht. Like a cruise there is a planned itinerary, meals are all served at one time and the other guests are unfamiliar. Unlike a cruise, there were only 12 of us and we had some flexibility in our schedule. Like a yacht charter, we lived in cabins on a comfortable boat, the food was regional, exotic, and beautifully presented, and we spent leisurely days sailing from island to island. Unlike yacht charter you don’t have the boat to yourself, and that makes cabin charter cost a fraction of the price of a private yacht.

A half-hour flight from Tahiti brought us to the town of Fare on Huahine Nui. The village was filled with the quiet bustle of barefoot activity and the ever-present rumble of the barrier reef. Children and chickens wandered the flower-lined street among the restaurants and shops. The locals are physically beautiful people, so innocent that they meet your eyes like old friends. There are flowers everywhere on these islands and people pluck a blossom from a bush to stick behind their ear as part of strolling down the street. Little brown bodies did flips off the dock into the iridescent water, performing tricks and grinning in delight as they burst to the surface. 

We met Michel, our captain aboard Nemo, when he came to pick us up at the covered bridge dock in Fare. After moving into our cabins and exploring the catamaran, the process of getting to know our fellow travelers began. We all had sailing and exploring new places in the world in common. There were twelve of us on board, but with a boat 83’ long and 30’ wide there was always space for gatherings small or large, and places to read quietly or work on a tan. Our cabins were tight but efficient, each with it’s own entrance and head. Life aboard had a comfortable rhythm as we explored these primordial islands. 

Before we left Huahine we took a land tour with AFO Safari in the afternoon. Afo is a native who gives a tour circumnavigating the twin islands of Huahine Nui (big) and Huahine Iti (small). We saw fresh water blue eyed eels that have been hand fed by the locals in the town of Faie and have been tame for decades. At a small farm we all saw the processes involved in growing the fresh vanilla used in most local recipes. The farmers pollinate the blossoms by hand since there are no native insects for this job. We were taken to the Maeva Bridge, the last remaining site of the local tradition of using fish traps. You build stone walls in the tidal pools, shaped as a “V” which follows the outgoing flow. These stone walls are just higher than the lowest tide. When the tide comes in, the fish do too. When the tide goes out some fish are trapped. The traps were just one more indication of people living in elegant simplicity, enjoying a lifestyle which reveres the harmony of natural forces.

Our first dinner aboard Nemo was a delicious raw fish salad full of chopped raw vegetables and a salty sweet dressing, followed by Polynesian chicken marinated in coconut milk, and lots of wine. For dessert there was a mixed fruit compote with crème fraiche. Fabianne is Michel’s wife and is a very creative cook. She uses what ever is freshest of native produce to create beautiful and tasty feasts day after day from her tiny galley. 

Our first night sky was filled with luminous reds and vibrating purples. The islands make shadows into the bioluminescent water, and look as if they are floating. The new moon in the Southern Hemisphere hangs in the air like a teacup without a handle on a tapestry of spilled sugar. In the morning the water was flat calm and reflected the pink light so evenly that you could not tell where the sea stopped and the sky began. Clouds hung in the rosy air, roosters crowed, fragrant flowers and salt breezes blended to create a sense of being suspended and timeless between sky and ocean. The smell of fresh coffee drifted over the deck as people began to emerge from their cabins. Michel prepared for our first day’s sail, a three-hour run between Huahine and Tahaa. 

I had never seen an atoll before, and did not understand the effect of a barrier reef. What it creates is a lagoon with a clockwise circular current surrounding the volcanic island in the center. Outside the ocean pounds against the barrier, with surf is made up of rolling curls as high as 30′. The luminous turquoise wave shatters into white spray with a continuous roar. There are only a few breaks in the barriers to each island. These are known as “passages” where the boats can pass through. The ride out of the passage at Huahine was calm, just a moderate swell actually. As you go through the passage you can look down the throat of this rolling curl, see the sunlight through it, and imagine what power it must have. There is that ever present sound of the ocean, like an animal roaring in frustration. 

Three hours of peaceful sailing later we entered another passage, the one surrounding Tahaa. Each island has what is clearly a volcanic shape covered in thick jungle. We were able to go ashore on Tahaa for a little shopping in the afternoon. John and I explored the small shops and sandy streets then settled in for a cold local beer at an outdoor café. The leisurely pace and casual style of everyone in the streets gave a feeling of being at the end of the world, pretty much true. Children chatted happily to us in very pristine french as we took in the comfortable life of the village. You would really have to work hard to have a rotten day in an environment such as this.

Back aboard Nemo we headed south around the lagoon to spend the night in the harbor of Point Tuamaru. Our first dinner ashore was at the Marini Iti Restaurant. We were treated to a festival dinner complete with native musicians and dancers. Our stewardess aboard Nemo, Jese, grew up on this island and joined family members in the dances. The dancers were instinctively graceful while music was innately joyous. We wondered about an odd small wire basket with a long handle at each place setting. The answer was that the traditional dinner of Poisson Crue is served rather like fondue. Each table had a large platter of fresh fish cut into chunks and slivers. Vegetables were to be mixed with the fish pieces and quickly seared as the wire basket is dipped into a candle heated pot. The mixture is then eaten hot sprinkled with coconut shavings and delicious fruit sauces. Every basket produces a different mix but the outcome is always crispy, tender and delicious. 

Being the earliest riser among our group, the next morning I spent some time chatting in my rusty french with our captain and his wife. I learned that we were headed to a black pearl farm on Raiatea that day, We would travel inside the lagoon to Motu Tau Tau. Michel and Fabienne told me a bit about the black pearl farms in the region, describing the strings of oysters hanging in the water, the farmers checking on each oyster every day. I could envision the large black irregular shapes clinging to the silver strands twisting in the shining lagoon 30 feet down, quietly making dark pearls. I could picture the strong brown swimmers diving in the clear sunlit water with to tend the current crop.. 

We set out to the west and then north along the lagoon towards Raiatea which over time has come to share a barrier with Tahaa, creating in the end a figure 8 shaped lagoon. Cabin charter offers flexibility of schedule not possible on a cruise ship so Michele took a detour up a large inlet called Baie Hurepiti. He told us that it was a place where we could see the homes of fishermen on the island. The terrain is so steep that it appears like a fjord with palm trees. The houses were all on the beach with a variety of watercraft tied up in front. Dense jungle rose steeply up behind them and I wondered if the only access to these homes was by boat. We saw typical working boats, dozens of outrigger canoes and a few large sailboats along the way. There were swings hanging from the branches of palms, and sandcastles along the shore, bright pareos drying on lines in the breeze and flowering gardens everywhere. All the signs of people who take time to enjoy their lives.

Then back out into the lagoon for the trip to the Motu Pearl Farm. The pearl farm was a casual riot of flowers and shells with gardens everywhere and a lovely beach. Unfortunately we did not get to see the tending of the oysters, but we did see them opened and the pearls removed. Black pearls each shine with a distinctive hue, the colors spanning from gold, to green to purple. A fabulous explanation of the process of growing, tending and harvesting pearls was given to us by our host. This farm had been in his family for eight generations. I couldn’t help noticing what a peaceful and graceful lifestyle these farmers had.

The next day was about exploring the reefs around Raiatea. Many guests wanted to walk on one of the barrier islands so Michel took them across in the raft. John and I preferred to snorkel in the beckoning coral heads that we could see below the surface of water so clear as to make determining depth impossible. There was no loss of light as we dove 35-40′ down to come up with a beautiful conch shell. The natives called it “sept doigts” or “seven fingers”, named for the slender points that extend from the shell. Live ones are protected but since there was nobody home in this one it lives on my desk now as a reminder of peaceful living. 

The following day, we crossed through another passage, this time on the western side of the twin barrier reefs, onto the deep blue for a four hour crossing to Bora Bora. Approaching the island we were silenced by the twin towering pyres, vibrantly green as they jutted into the luscious blue of the sky. There is only one passage into Bora Bora. It is on the western side. The barrier reef had huge rolling aqua waves which traveled as a luminous curl for miles before crashing down. The passage through them was very narrow, and gave a stunning view down the curl. As if internally lit is seems like a gigantic continuous emerald syphon with a frothing white trim on the interior side. Our native stewardess, Jese, did a graceful dance to her traditional music as we sailed through the passage. 

At the village of Viatapea we disembarked for a short shopping trip. John and I wandered the streets and bought presents for our friends at home. As had become our custom, we had a beer at an open café, and watched people go about their lives. Children walked or rode bikes chatting happily among themselves or with us as I tested the boundaries of my improving French. They seemed unconcerned about our language skills and were much more interested in these two blond and blue eyed visitors appreciating their black eyes and tattooed bodies. 

After reboarding Nemo, we set sail to put out a hook for the night. All evening, my eyes kept drifting up to those two huge slabs of rock jutting up into the sky that create the distinctive silhouette of Bora Bora. As the light faded and the boat rocked gently I asked Jesi about the meaning of her dance. She told me that sea travel was full of legends about these island passages. Her reverence for this island was profound and unmistakable as she told me that Bora Bora was such a sacred place that one should never enter the passage without a gift. This dance was hers.

After breakfast, we headed to the Lagoonarium on Motu Tofari. It is a charming small barrier island, which appears to contain only a few small houses for the people who tend the pens used to contain turtles, sharks and tropical fish in shallow water. We were able to swim in the pens for a close up look. The pens were large enough to really travel with the animals, and in a funny way they seemed interested in us too. When we emerged from the fish pens, the owners brought us a huge tray of fresh fruit cut up into finger sized chunks as we rested under the palms. 

When the dinghy came, Michel took us to a place locally known as the coral garden. It is unmarked, simply a turn in the lagoon. We plunged backwards over the side of the dinghy, and by the time we surfaced we were 100 feet from it riding the 5-6 knot current. We held hands, and raced over the coral 2-4 feet below us. The yellow and orange coral heads, black and brown snails, brilliant jewel like fish, and neon colored scallops flashed by for about a mile and a half. Traveling at such speed it was like watching an Imax movie right in front of your nose! This was one of the most sensuous and exhilarating experiences I have ever had. Michel picked us up with the dinghy in the wash where the current slowed, and took us back to the headwaters so we could do it again. It was a stunning show, a truly exotic insight into the life that exists within and under the coral beds.

On one of these races over the coral John began to do lazy somersaults in the fast current. Twisting and rolling weightless in the turquoise water, flying over the brilliant display of color and sparkle from the coral he looked for all the world like one of the ebullient native children. I think each of us recognized that the child within sometimes demands expression in this place of innocence, and we were watching his now. If I had to summarize what French Polynesia had to offer, it would be the reverence for simple pleasures made of water, sunlight and flowers. French Polynesia wraps its friendliness and beauty around you until you view its charms with the uncomplicated eyes of the child within.  


Casual clothing and bathing suits make up most of your wardrobe. Soft luggage is necessary. Currency is the Coeur de Franc Pasifique, but US dollars & credit cards can be used in larger stores and restaurants. Sun block (at least spf15) is important. There is plenty of light, so slower film is preferred.

Travel Information:

Fly into FAAA Airport, Papeete on Tahiti Airlines: Air Caledonie Int, Air France, Air New Zealand, AOM French Airlines, Corsair, Hawaiian Airlines, Lan Chile and Quantas From Tahiti you can get to the other islands by small plane or boat.

Entry Requirements

You can stay for up to a month without a visa, and everyone who is not French needs to have a passport.

Nemo Polynesia – Cabin Charter
Launched: 1995
Length of deck: 83’
Width of deck: 30’
Cabins: 10
Heads: 10
type: Sloop rigged catamaran
Nemo carries masks, snorkels, fins, windsurfer & a kayak

Location of Nemo Polynesia:
Year Round: French Polynesia

Charter Contact:
Richleigh Yachts

Spa Hopping Down the Riviera Maya

Spa destinations are evolving all over the world. Essentially a spa destination is a resort that is dedicated to lifting you completely from the familiar patterns of daily life with the expectation that when you do return you will be refreshed and invigorated through the use of their spa. In each resort the mind is offered a different surrounding atmosphere ranging in style from soothing massage and relaxation to an active schedule for fitness. One spa destination I visited believes that the key to renewal is to be dramatically romantic and offers an all adult environment. Another focuses on family interaction combined with active sports followed by relaxation, aromatherapy and fine dining.

In each the body is nurtured by its fabulous food which runs all the way from light, lean and fresh meals presented with creative elegance to rich dining that is practically an immersion experience. In each resort the soul is nourished with its spa. Each spa specializes in treatments of massages, wraps, soaks and scrubs to offer the best of beautification, purification and rejuvenation. The whole experience at each place I visited is about renewal, being refreshed, pampered and reborn, made ready to face the rigors and disciplines of daily life with a fresh eye. It is left to you to choose the location, style and atmosphere in which this will be accomplished.

I was searching for a mind, body and spirit rebirth surrounded by wide white beach and perfect blue water. The reason I chose Cancun, Mexico is because it is easy to get to with generally inexpensive fares. I left Burlington Vermont at 7:25 AM and was in Cancun in time for lunch. No hassles, perfect. Each of these spa destinations I found is within a half hour of the Cancun airport.

Thalasso Spa at Paraiso de la Bonita

40 miles south of Cancun lies the spectacular Riviera Maya, miles of wide white beach, and a Caribbean blue ocean that has you taking off your sunglasses to check the reality of the color.  Past a small sign and down a long sandy road lies the inclusive spa resort of Paraiso de la Bonita. Freshwater pools of harmonized blues and the rolling luminescent ocean is instantly soothing. Walking between ponds swirling with multi colored coy under a high peaked grass roof to pass through the 15 foot tall adobe walls I saw an enchanting world, very far from my normal life.  Glistening white beach and graceful palms and beyond that the tropical turquoise ocean merging with the clear dense indigo sky. Very far from my normal life actually.

Leaving the mid day sun the cool adobe spa area is the first step into a timeless physical refreshment. I had my first Thalasso therapy at the spa at Paraiso de la Bonita, and it was a stunning demonstration of the befits of the nutrients, minerals and phytoplanktons from seawater.

The 80 minute treatment begins in a dark quiet room with an aggressive sea salt scrub that I found invigorating, leaving my skin tingling and receptive. This was followed by the gentle sensation of salt water rain delivered by the Vichy shower set at the perfect temperature as the granular salt rinsed away with long smooth strokes.  lotion with emollients and phytoplankton from the depth of the sea was then massaged into my thirsty skin. I felt fresh, silky, almost langorous for days afterwards.

Our favorite dining area is open to the breezes where the menus offer a wide spectrum of taste and texture including the most delicious avocado salad I have ever tasted. There are three choices of places to dine, including in your suite. The suites at Paraiso de la Bonita are airy, spacious and instantly welcoming. They all have places designed to sit out in the evening by candle light and let the ocean work its magic. The total experience is designed to create memories completely disconnected from stress of outside life. Services are delivered with such invisibility as to appear telepathically .

Safely tucked between the mangroves and the pristine beach, surrounded by the perfect colors of the Caribbean sea, exquisitely fed and pampered by very talented hands it is hard to even remember that there is an outside world.

Spa del Mar at La Meridian Cancun

At the heart of La Meridian Cancun is its Spa del Mar, which is deservedly famous as a transforming experience. I had the most rejuvenating facial of my life at the Spa Del Mar, given by a tiny sweet mayan lady named Aydeth in 50 minutes that seemed to last forever and was too short all at once. The treatment rooms at Spa Del Mar are dark and quiet and made me feel as if I was alone in the universe being pampered by thoughtful kind people to the sound of gently falling water and soft ethereal music. Afterwards we visited quiet rooms where we sipped chlorophyll water in complete relaxation, and lingered in the peace that we found from our treatments.

The hotel rooms are large, each one with a view of the ocean as well as the swirling blue pools with islands and waterfalls that drift in sequence down to the perfect turquoise ocean isolated from the outside world by the resort itself. There are several restaurants available to guests at La Meridian Cancun, each with its own style and presentation. We had breakfast one morning in a glass sunroom which had the benefits of feeling outside without the heat or direct impact of the tropical sun. The Spa Food part of the menu included fruits cut into beautiful shapes and blended with mint and yogurt, followed by poached eggs on delicious thin toasts covered with rich cheese sauce that left us feeling deliciously satisfied and eager to relax at La Maridien Cancun.

Spa Aqua

Located in the heart of the busy downtown area of Cancun, Spa Aqua is an immersion into renewal of the spirit from the instant we stepped out of the bustling of the city.  Just up the hill from the sounds of traffic, the smell of hot asphalt and the intense tropical sun we entered a 30 foot tall glass atrium. The interior was filled with the calm green light of a jungle grotto, the gentle sounds of water falling into a shallow pool surrounding the black water mirror in the center bringing refreshing cool of a woodland stream to our senses. At the same time the faint sounds of ethereal music quietly infuse peace of mind. Just walking into the atrium removed us gently from the ways of the hot busy world.

Spa Aqua is a spa with the added facilities of handsome rooms, graceful fresh water pools and four different styles of restaurant, not to be confused with a hotel that has a spa. The spirit of the people who work there is reflected in the way they greet each other in passing. A hand to the heart, very slight bow and the mayan greeting “in la ceche” meaning “I am you, you are me, we are friends”. It is a small gesture, but once we got used to seeing it we really began to appreciate a world where people stated such communion as casually as we say “hi”.

The spa is dark, tall and mysterious, filled with spare woven furniture and tall black pottery candle holders as it wanders around with the passages cool and tranquil, offering seemingly entrance randomly to softly lighted treatment rooms. I had an aroma sensory massage that did in fact take me away from the life I knew outside. Worlds away, 80 minutes seemed truly timeless in its peacefulness, followed by lingering in quiet candle lighted meditation.

Kayanta Spa at Ritz Carlton

“Ka a yaan tah” is a mayan expression meaning “to be reborn” and is the core philosophy of the Ritz Carlton Cancun. The 5500 square foot spa sheltered from the intense tropical sun, offers welcoming quiet and diffused light of the Kayanta Spa folded itself around us as we entered from the beautiful pools and gardens in the center grounds of the hotel.

I had the aromatherapy massage. It began with a detoxifying massage which not only left me feeling completely cleansed and removed from the elements of every day life, but also calm and relaxed within the scent of herbal oils. The flow element seemed to produce a balance of relaxation and excitement about the future which either came from or was reflected by the different blend of herbs used in the treatment. And finally, the tonic of fresh invigorating and stimulating therapy that filled me with excitement. I wanted to write, paint and stimulate my senses with water, wind and laughter. I enjoyed this spectrum of sensations enormously.

Surrounding this Kayanta Spa is a lovely hotel, in grand Ritz Carlton style, with a series of blue tiled pools with different temperatures so that we could find our preferred relationship with the day’s weather. Large raised and shaded palapas are for guests use between the pools and the ever present glowing Caribbean. These are a purely delightful way to spend a day, lunch was delivered and of course cocktails. We were asked to reserve them in advance as they were very popular and you would be wise to book one ahead.

The Spa at Secrets Excellence

We arrived at this spa at night and it could not have been a more dramatic impression if we had landed on another planet. Secrets Excellence appeared as a regal ethereal city, with tall clean lines, sweeping curves and blistering white walls reflecting the glittering turquoise from the lighted pools as we approached what seemed to be a temple in its center. With arches 30 feet tall the billowing white curtains gracefully drifting in the evening breezes promising secrets and mysteries within.

This combination of pristine white walls and reflecting water carried through to the inside of the spa, with its many types of hydro therapy, massages and wraps. We saw some of the most beautifully designed and crafted pools that I have seen anywhere in this spa, blended with slender pillars, tall arches filled with graceful white drapes gently shifting in the breeze that inspires the soul as well as nourishes the body.

Romance is everywhere. This is an adult only resort where the assumption is that you came to have your senses seduced in every way. There are seven restaurants within this mystical city, each with its own style and variety of menu united in the passion elevating concept. Doors passed in the hallways had banners that said “honeymoon” or “anniversary” in gold letters proclaiming the joy of those within. Many small places within this city were created for two, to sit and talk, caress or share a glass of wine.

These were all places for a spiritual make over, each in their own way. Each very beautiful, full of the undeniable glory of the Mexican coastline manipulated by talented designers into a distinct retreat from the world. Each has a magnificent team in the kitchen, exquisitely trained spa staff and delivers pretty much perfect services to their guests. None is inexpensive. A stay at any of these is truly a pampered experience, good for all parts of you and one that you will certainly want to repeat. As the famous commercial says “Go ahead, you are worth it!”

Paraiso de la Bonita Resort & Thalasso Spa
reservations: (52)998.872.8320

Spa del Mar at Le Maridien Cancun reservations: 1.800.225.5843

Spa Aqua
reservations: 52.998.881.7620

Kayanta Spa at Ritz Carlton Cancun
reservations: 52.998.881.0808

The Spa at Secrets Excellence
reservations: 52.998.872.8500

Wrong about Cruises

The doors of the cruise ship open and out pours a stream of polyester in loud tacky prints. That had long been my concept of what cruise travel was about.

Ocean going bed platforms on steroids. I had seen them ruin a beautiful day on a Caribbean island, and I was certain that no one could say anything that would make me get on one. But this Radisson 7 Seas Navigator was very small and the sun would be out where it cruised and the snow was three feet deep at the time the subject came up.

My first hint at how wrong I could be came by FedEx. A package arrived containing a fully customized 25 page itinerary handsomely bound with the ship’s name, my name, the dates of the cruise. There was also a leather ticket & passport wallet containing a very specific packet of tickets for excursions, massages and all the pre-planned adventures that we had signed up for. That wallet also contained a leather luggage tag, and several laminated luggage tags with our cabin number on them. “OK, that is impressive organization and a handsome presentation from Radisson” I thought but skeptic that I am, I was sure that the “cattle barge” element would appear eventually.

The following morning it was a short hop by land to the berth of the Seven Seas Navigator. Boarding was my second hint that perhaps our preconceived notions might be in error. Stevedores took our luggage out of the taxi, and the next time we saw our bags they were in our room. While security is evident everywhere, we followed their protocols and boarding was just a walk through. A steward showed us to our suite and that is where we met our butler William!

Our particular seven day itinerary began in Fort Lauderdale, stopped at Progresso, Mexico then on to Cozumel, followed by Georgetown, Grand Cayman and then offered a day in Key West before heading back to where we started. Each shore day had several different excursions to see the area offered, as well as tips about the area, all explained in the newspaper the evening before. There are actually four 7 Seas cruise boats, in different parts of the world and with different itineraries so be sure to check the web site.

In between shore days there were whole days and nights at sea. These were easily filled with time spent in cooking classes, bridge tournaments and lessons, spa treatments, working out in the gym, tea parties, evening cabarets, a casino,  and a whole host of other activities. You could fill every minute of the trip with the offerings and events aboard. I chose to give considerable time to working on my tan with a good book and a seemingly bottomless iced tea.

I have lost my preconceived notion that meals on a cruise ship were reminiscent of a high school cafeteria. There are five choices of where you might decide to have breakfast, three options for lunch including an elaborate poolside buffet with a different theme each day, formal and informal tea, and three possibilities for dinner. I don’t think there is an hour of a day when you can’t order a cocktail. The food was artistically presented in each situation, and in every single case, scrumptious.

After my week aboard the Radisson Seven Seas Navigator I surrendered to being wrong about cruises. We did see much larger boats that had that “teeming masses” style about them, but just as William promised “hour by hour, day by day” we were having a luxurious and pampered experience on our cruise. Coming ashore is a very harsh reality when you have spent a week being so beautifully attended to. There are many things I will miss about life aboard a cruise ship, especially William.


Radisson Seven Seas Cruises
600 Corporate Drive, Suite 410
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33334
(800) 477-7500 toll free

The Spa at Villa Vieux Fort

Down a flight of wide stone steps from this terrace and across a small yard the large spa terrace perches over the sea. Sitting out there watching graceful yachts from all over the planet come to rest for the evening, with a golden orange Rum Punch in the horizon wide sunset inspires the thought “It doesn’t get better than this”. Whether it is your first or your fifth punch the golden light drawing your eyes to the west and the soft sound of the ocean greeting the shore with gentle breezes cooling your skin, it really doesn’t get much better than that.

In the evening we usually had sunset cocktails on this terrace. Beautiful yachts came in during the afternoo right under the terrace to enjoy the evening here. A perfect ending for the day.