Fave Five 2008 Travel Excursions, Part One

Online Editor Monica Poling relives her Fave Five 2008 travel experiences

By: By Monica Poling

There are few people who are so lucky as those of us who work in the travel industry and actually get to enjoy the travel we promote. I was reminded of this fact when I was asked to sum up my top five travel experiences for this past year. Browsing through my photos, I was reminded of my rich and varied travel experiences, and I was hard pressed to narrow the list down to just five favorites. However, 2008 did have some stand outs, and among them were:

National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium // (c) Monica Poling
National Museum of Marine Biology, Taiwan

National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, Kenting, Taiwan
My mom, sister and I took a girlfriend’s getaway to Taiwan; the first time the three of us had traveled together in a quite a long time, so it was just great to get to hang out together. Since my sister is a marine biologist, it was a given that we’d make the long trek south to Kenting to visit Taiwan’s national aquarium. Kenting is a popular seaside retreat for Taiwanese travelers, but is not well known to foreign visitors. The journey there is arduous and we were nervous about what kind of facility we would find when we arrived there, so we were thrilled to encounter a top-tier aquarium that even my sister agreed was one of the finest she’d ever visited. We spent a good eight hours exploring the aquarium’s exhibits, real and virtual and were thoroughly delighted we made the trip.

Photo: Parting of the Waters, Manaus, Brazil // (c) Monica Poling 2008
Meeting of the Waters

Meeting of the Rivers, Kula Eco Park, Manaus Brazil
Another personal trip this year took me to Brazil for a wedding in Sao Paulo. I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked, but did manage to sneak away to visit the Amazon for two days. There wasn’t enough time to venture deep into the jungle, but rather I stayed at the Kula Eco Park, located across the river from the city of Manaus. One of scheduled hotel excursions was a trip to the “Meeting of the Rivers,” a place where waters of the Rio Plata (Silver River) and Rio Negro (Black River) meet. The excursion sounded cheesy, but it ended up being my favorite part of my Amazon journey. There was a distinct division between the dark waters of the Black River and the lighter waters of Rio Plata, and my mind is still trying to embrace the science that keeps these waters from blending together.

Photos: Watefall Hale at the Fairmont Orchid Hotel, Big Island // (c) 2008
Waterfall Hale

Waterfall Massage, Fairmont Orchid, Kona, Big Island, Hawaii
My first visit to the Big Island came courtesy of Classic Vacations, who held their annual Marketing Partners weekend at the Fairmont Orchid. The Classic Vacations folks kept us hopping with a full itinerary of activities, including island sightseeing, snorkeling and a full line up of fabulous meals. I did manage to sneak away the final morning to take advantage of the Fairmont Orchid’s fabulous spa. Although they offer a variety of massages, from beachside to in-room, the waterfall massage was my goal. This on-property, massage hale (hut) is set immediately adjacent to a waterfall, so treatments are accompanied by the relaxing sounds of water cascading down. For the “face down” portion of the treatment, when I could remember to keep my eyes open, a plate of glass in the floor let me overlook the fish swimming in the pond below. I indulged in the Orchid’s signature Alii treatment, which included a massage, scrub and hot oil treatment for my hair. Ahh, bliss!

Photo: Cave Rappelling in the Riviera Maya // (c) 2008
Cave Rappelling

Cave Rappelling, Hacienda Tres Rios, Riviera Maya, Mexico
My adventurous side got a full work out this year when it rappelled down a hole, into a cave below Mexico. This excursion is part of a sustainable tourism program organized between Kanchee Tours and the local Mayan people of the Riviera Maya. It was introduced to us as part of a series of programs offered by the new Hacienda Tres Rios Resort, which opened on the Riviera Maya in mid-November. Being a woman of size, frankly, the idea of lowering myself into a cave, relying solely on ropes and the brawn of strangers had my heart beating double time for most of the trip. However, as it usually goes when I challenge myself to try something new, I’m doubly glad I made the effort. Below ground I learned some of the local lore, and explored caves that very few humans have ever had the opportunity to visit.

Palau's Jellyfish Lake // (c) 2008
Jellyfish Lake

Swimming with Jellyfish, Palau
Palau, a country that few travelers have even heard of, tends to get the recognition it does have for its incredible snorkeling and dive sites. Although I did snorkel in Palau’s clear, blue waters, swimming with some of the local sharks, the country’s ocean waters did not end up making my top-five list. Rather, an inland lake, once formed of sea water, but eventually evolved into a brackish combination of salt and rainwater, was the locale for my top experience of 2008. The lake has become the home of some five million jelly fish, and since the jellyfish have no known predators, they have slowly evolved into a stingless breed. Swimming among such a dense variety of jellyfish made for some darn intriguing swimming. With five million fish in the lake, there is a large density, almost like pea soup, but swimmers must be careful not to harm these fragile creatures. They have no fear at all of humans, so it was quite easy to get an up close view of Mother Nature in action.