Archive for the ‘Destinations’ Category

Bhutan – Day Four – And the fun continues….

By Paul Largay   Friday, February 26th, 2010
Bhutan Potato Shed

Dinner in the Potato Shed in Bhutan

Today has been completely monopolized by a six hour hike though some of the most beautiful and varied terrain imaginable. We trekked through river valleys, steep mountain passes and National Forrest lands that posed extremely tall majestic woodlands.  The altitude, over 10,000 ft., was at times a bit challenging, but with dogged determination, humor, and a wonderful picnic lunch we prevailed.  

Some of the true highlights of the climb were witnessing up close and personal the endangered bird, the Black Neck Crane, and an archery competition between local villagers.  Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and it was very evident as we watched young and old successfully hit their ’marks’ from vast distances easily exceeding the length of a football field.

Bhutan Celebration Dinner

Peter, Kristen, Paul & Reenie with a local musician at a Celebration Dinner in Bhutan

Our evening meal was one of the most unique transformational dining experiences I’ve ever had. We all dressed (with much help from the hotel staff!) in traditional Bhutanese attire and continued to a farmer’s antique potato shed which was perched high on a hillside. Since the town is without electricity, the shed was identified/located by means of a blazing signal bonfire.  Upon arriving we were greeted by the warmth of the roaring fire, a glass of local wine, and a strolling musician, gladly sharing some of the popular songs. The interior of the river rock and wooden shed was illuminated by more than one hundred white candles creatively and strategically positioned to cast a romantic shadow throughout the building.  The only element competing with the setting and ambiance was the abundance of wine and the meal itself, which was a seven course Bhutanese menu whose taste, variety and preparation were thoroughly enjoyed by all in attendance.  Our evening concludes with us working in conjunction with the hotel staff to finalize our plans which include us cooking and serving our own sunrise breakfast for one hundred and twenty five monks in residence at the local monastery.

Bhutan – Day Five – Feeding the Monks

By Paul Largay   Thursday, February 25th, 2010

The wakeup call shattered the predawn serenity of our hotel room but we gladly arose as we were on a mission.  After friendly assistance with our local attire, we made our way to the monastery perched majestically on the hilltop to cook and serve breakfast for one hundred and twenty five monks. 

Upon arrival we were graciously greeted by the head monk and led to the cookhouse whose working conditions presented some unusual challenges.  First, there was no electricity and the source of heat for the (50) gallon pots of water were open fire pits fueled by large logs harvested from a nearby forest.  After stoking the flames, we proceeded to the temple where we joined all the resident monks in morning prayers, chants, meditation and celebration. 

We were truly humbled by having the privilege of the inside perspective and bearing witness to the sacrifice, dedication and commitment of the monks, many of whom had dedicated their lives to religious pursuits at age five and would continue their studies at this particular monastery for a minimum of (13) years before going out to the surrounding community to share their insights and acquired knowledge. 

Paul feeding the Monks in Bhutan

Paul Largay feeding the Monks in a Monestary in Bhutan

After sharing in the communal prayer session we served breakfast to the community, thanked them all for the opportunity to share the morning and some small, but enlightening, insights into their faith and religious rituals.  We are now preparing to leave our wonderful home at Amankora Gadgety and are headed to explore Amankora Panache with it’s lush valleys and hiking opportunities as well as the festivals and mask dancing.  We just can’t wait

Aman Resorts in Bali

By Honey   Friday, February 19th, 2010

I recently had the opportunity of visiting the exotic island of Bali. I disembarked in Padang Bai after a short but wonderful cruise on Regent Seven Seas Mariner from Singapore to Bali and chose to spend a few days in beautiful Bali visiting three Aman properties Amankila, Amandari and Amanusa.

Amankila is a short drive from Padang Bai where the Mariner had anchored and we tendered in. A cheerful, smiling  Budi Klong met us once we had gotten off the tender  and greeted us with the word Ibu before our names. In Indonesian Ibu means mother and everyone will greet you that way., After a short drive from Padang Bai we arrived at Amankila which means peaceful hill. It is set on a hill overlooking Lambak Strait in East Bali. Our suite, one of the 34 had a spectacular view of the sea and surrounding hillside with a private pool. Check-in is done in the suite which are like beach houses. Below the resort is it’s private sand beach and club. One can chose to walk or be driven in an open-air buggie. I chose to be driven by the ever smiling Budi the next morning before we departed for Amandari.  Though my stay was short it was nice to be able to experience the Amankila where service was impeccable and the staff always smiling and gracious.

Budi drove us to Amandari which is just an hour a way but we chose to make a few stops along the way. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant where all the locals dine. The food was delicious and spicy. Since we also wanted to interact with the local people in their own homes, Budi offered to take us to his home and meet his 105 year old grandfather. He was alert and had the most beautiful toothless smile. We  finally arrived at Amandari by early  evening which is Aman’s enclave of Balinese elegance and grace overlooking the Ayung river gorge. Amadari which means ‘peaceful spirit’ is located 5 minutes from the art community of Ubud in central Bali. The views of terraced rice fields and coconut palms is magnificent. Our thatched-roof suite with private garden courtyard and pool was more like a villa than a suite. The suites feature expansive glass walls with superb outlooks with batik-covered sliding doors. Our suite had an outdoor sunken tub which was wonderful to soak in at night and star gaze after a relaxing Ballinese massage in one of their open air bales. The world class staff are always willing to help and make your  stay warm and comfortable.

The next morning after a relaxing breakfast by the pool we set out for Amanusa which means peaceful isle in  Nusa Dua which is about 6 miles from the Denpasar, Bali airport  an hour and half drive from Amandari. The property is on a garden hillside in Southern Bali just above the Bali golf and country club. Views run from the adjacent Indian Ocean to sacred Mount Ayung on the far horizon on a clear day. Amanusa has 35 thatched-roof suites set behind foliage and mossy para stone walls for added privacy. All suites have 4 poster beds, a sunken indoor tub, outdoor shower, a garden courtyard and terrace with spacious day bed. We arrived almost at sunset and took a short drive down to the beach club. The sand beach is one of Bali’s finest and is fringed by a coral reef. After another relaxing Balinese massage and a delicious Indonesian in room dining dinner in our exquisitely designed suite, it was time to bid farewell to Bali very early the next morning. A noteworthy point mentioning is all the staff I spoke to at all three resorts had been working with the resorts since they first opened, some 18 and some 20 years.

All three properties offer Virtuoso exclusive amenities. For further information and special pricing for the Aman resorts in Bali please contact Honey at

Kenya ~ A Place of Peace

By Amanda Klimak CTIE   Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Denise & Amanda enjoying a nice camel ride

Two thousand and six was a challenging year for me.  Personal struggles had taken their toll and I began to feel like I was surrendering my usual upbeat personality.  I knew that something had to change and, like the rest of the “travel addicts” in our industry, an adventure was the perfect remedy to heal my soul.  For years I have been planning African safaris for clients and for years I had intended to visit myself but to no avail.  Brochures, pictures and stories from my mentors and African enthusiasts, Paul and Roland Largay, had me selling a destination that intrigued me, but for a multitude of reasons had thus far, eluded me.  With each successful African adventure I crafted, my knowledge grew but Uncle Roland (as he is known throughout the industry) would always remind me, “You have to go to truly understand.”  So in full Thelma and Louise style, my sister, Denise, and I began to prepare for our African adventure.

My overall goal was to experience Africa “Micato Safari style” and immerse myself in the exciting new trend in which guests stay at exclusive private homes, working cattle ranches and unique tented camps.  Small hidden gems on private expanses of land and on the outskirts of the traditional national parks.  Weeks of planning and personal recommendations from Dennis Pinto, Managing Director of Micato Safaris, had my sister and me off and running with an exciting itinerary, great anticipation and borrowed safari jackets that were two sizes too big.  As each passing day brought us closer to our Girlfriend’s Adventure, we could barely contain ourselves.

In addition to becoming a magician packer, capable of single handedly trying to fit seventy-five pounds of clothing into a thirty-three pound capacity duffle bag, I was simultaneously engaged in pursuing my marketing and African Community projects.  On previous trips my efforts had entailed extending a better understanding of world geography with my daughter’s kindergarten class by carrying and photographing “Flat Stanley” (a picture of a boy from a book) in exotic locales throughout the Far East.  Lectures on my trip and on life in Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore followed my return.  This trip to Kenya, however, was different, as I was planning to visit an orphanage in the Mukuru Slum in Nairobi with the Lend a Helping Hand on Safari program offered by Micato’s non-profit arm, AmericaShare.  Preparations included a talk on Kenya to the first grade classes, a fundraiser in which students sold beaded heart pins handmade by an HIV-positive women’s group in Nairobi, handcrafted stuffed animals with notes from kindergarteners and fifth graders, a photo journal and the creation of a hand print banner. 

My 33-pound duffle was now filled with the art supplies necessary for the children in Kenya to create and return their own banner.  I was energized by the local children’s enthusiasm, their success in raising over  $700 and humbled by the local press’s interest and involvement in the project. All we needed now was to depart on our journey.

Our odyssey began with two nights in Nairobi, providing an opportunity to see the sights and adjust to the time change.  Our wonderful Micato guide, Kennedy, established our expectations of the trip and focused on our personal interests.  He provided many helpful insights into both our planned itinerary and the various cultural regions of Kenya. His ability to seamlessly deviate from our originally planned route in order to incorporate our interests (we were convinced he had to have our room bugged!) magically resulted in a wonderful visit to the Elephant Orphanage on the way to Karen Blixen’s House and a private tea plantation for lunch.  Our stay in Nairobi ended with a private dinner at the Pintos’ Nairobi home, a hallmark of the Micato experience.  After seeing the sights and shops in Nairobi we were now ready to begin the safari portion of our trip.

Our early morning flight on a bush plane the size of compact car brought us to Loisaba, a private 60,000 acre working cattle ranch on the Laikipia Plateau. The flight was our first introduction to the natural beauty of Africa as our pilot flew at a low altitude, graciously revealing the rolling landscape of the African plains.  Selectively dotted with herds of elephant and giraffe, the outlines of Maasai and Samburu Villages and the traditional red dresses of the inhabitants wonderfully contrasted with the earth tones of landscape.  This was the Africa I had dreamed of, this was the Africa that everyone always spoke about in such reverent tones. We had finally arrived.

We arrived at Loisaba in the late morning.  The game was plentiful and the park was vast.  The view from the lodge, which sits on the rim of a large valley, was spectacular and all seven rooms had a deck overlooking a waterhole on the valley floor.  There was a serene feeling throughout the entire property, and all staff and visitors willingly shared their daily experiences with one another.  Our days consisted of game drives, swimming, visits to native villages, camel trekking and white water rafting. Evenings included socializing by the lodge’s gigantic stone fireplace and a gourmet dinner that would rival those served at the world’s finest restaurants. Our night game drive provided the finishing touch before we retired to our feather beds.  This was truly paradise. 

Our next stop was Borana Ranch, another working cattle ranch that offered a complete immersion into life on a Kenyan Ranch, with an emphasis on horseback riding.  The lodge sits high on the walls of a gorge with spectacular views and luxurious thatched-roof accommodations.  Our days were monopolized by games drives, massages, and a visit to a tannery staffed by local disabled and blind residents. The highlight of our stay was galloping on horseback across the plains with a heard of giraffe and zebra.  This was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Our last stop was the Maasai Mara and Cottar’s 1920’s Safari Camp. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about the idea of a tent, as my prior concept of camping was a power outage at the Four Seasons, but my uneasiness quickly evaporated as I discovered oriental rugs, antique furniture, flush toilets, in-suite hot showers and four-poster beds.  This was camping on steroids or “luxury under canvas” and we loved it.  The family who runs the camp, Nick and Betsy, could not have been more engaging or hospitable.  Having raised their family in the bush with awareness on conserving and preserving the Mara, they entertained us with many stories of their life and cultural pursuits there. The camp was spectacular and on one game drive alone we spotted over forty lions. 

Our last stop was the one I had looked forward to the most, the AmericaShare orphanage in Nairobi.  We arrived in the early afternoon, and the journey through the Mukuru Slum was daunting to say the least. Although I had seen poverty graphically depicted in photographs, I had never personally witnessed nor understood it until now.  As we turned the corner into the orphanage, I felt as though I was entering an oasis of hope. A place so physically close, but so spiritually removed from the rest of the personal hardships and challenges of the slum. It was as if the hands of God had mysteriously reached down and drawn a line between the pain of the past and the potential of the future.

To my wonderful surprise the children were smiling, laughing and playing games, just like my own children do.  My personal sorrows were quickly replaced by feelings of joy, as the children sang and danced for us.  We presented our gifts from the students and jointly created a handprint banner to return home.  The experience was powerful and enlightening and magically displaced the wildlife of Kenya with the children of Mukuru as the true highlight of my journey.

I humbly returned home with countless pictures and amazing stories of Kenya, knowing that my life had been transformed and that my soul had been healed and indelibly etched with the smiles of the children in Mukuru. I am fortunate to include Kennedy, our Micato Safari guide, in my list of ‘true ‘ friends.  My sister and I now have a personal relationship that transcends its former limitations, and the children of Bethlehem, Connecticut have a wonderful new understanding of Africa and its people.  I would highly recommend this journey to anyone who is fascinated by culture and wildlife and I consider myself fortunate as I can FINALLY join the chorus of people, who say,

“You have to go to truly understand.”

Amanda at the America Share Orphanage in Kenya