No one snoozed in the pews when visiting Santiago City’s church service. “It was theatrical,” marveled Lafayette’s Marcia Linn. “There were four monks harnessed in a basket that allowed them to work a pulley system to propel an incense burner filled with hot coals fifty feet into the air. Every day we saw hundreds of people arriving as pilgrims to attend the service and take communion in every possible language. Everyone hugged the statue of St. James.”
Linn stayed at northern Spain’s five star Parador Santiago de Compostela, considered to be the oldest hotel in the world. The plumbing has been upgraded since its transformation from a Royal Hospital in 1499, where it sheltered numerous pilgrims.
El Camino de Santiago de Compostela or “Way of St. James” path begins in many European locales including Le Puy, France, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The journey is marked with scallop shells along the 326 mile route. The shell, found along the shores of Galicia, serves as a metaphor for the pilgrims. As the waves of the ocean wash the shells on the shore, God’s hand guides the pilgrims to Santiago.
The cuisine of the area offers Spanish style seafood with fresh, local ingredients and wines. Don’t miss the Galacian almond cakes, “polvorones” cookies or apple and caramel cream “filloas” pancakes.
While today’s pilgrims might carry Palm Pilots, a recent survey by Forrester Research found that nine percent fewer people booked travel online this year than in 2005. Information junkies may roam the web, but travel agents still provide value in taking the stress out of vacation planning.
The government of Bhutan, situated between India and Tibet, requires guided assistance when traveling in their country. Guide Tenpa Chophel spoke recently at REI Concord about Bhutan’s high value, low impact tourism policy launched in 1974. “Visiting Bhutan is not easy,” notes Chophel. “Visitors must spend $200 per night minimum, with 30% of that fee returning to the government for development. By charging a tariff, it limits visitors and preserves our culture, heritage and traditions.” Low impact translates to less garbage and allows the trekking routes to remain pristine.
Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, is located along the southern slopes of the Himalaya mountain range. In this isolated local, the Buddhist culture remains untouched by the outside world. In 18,000 square miles of jungle and Himalayas, there are more than 165 animal species. It is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. For further information on a Chomolhari Trek visit reiadventures.com.
As we close the travel books on 2007, I’d like to share some trips and trends that I discovered while attending the Luxury Travel Expo in Las Vegas. Author Pamela Danziger, “Let Them Eat Cake – Marketing Luxury to the Masses” notes, “old luxury is about a thing, while new luxury is about an experience.”
Is a Mexican experience on your travel agenda? Cancun’s Ritz-Carlton is offering wine and tequila tasting and Chef’s Table sessions in their new culinary center. Perhaps you are worried about Europe’s weak exchange? Your dollar will stretch farther in South Africa. On my wish list to visit; the Singita Game Reserves, or the Royal Malewane in Kruger National Park. Are you looking to give back to a community while on vacation? Voluntourism is on the rise with tax-deductible programs in place to the Peruvian Amazon jungle community of Yantalo. In closing, not only were Actors Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson recently spotted in Peru; several Lamorinda residents are off to ring in the New Year in Machu Picchu. Have a Pisco Sour for me!