Feature Travel Archives

Feature Travel Archives

Jost Van Dyke - A Tranquil Caribbean Retreat

By Patricia Keegan 

It started with friends around the kitchen table, in the dead of winter.

"Wouldn't it be great to escape from winter and 'Monica Mania' to a Caribbean island with nobody around?"

Everyone sighed in agreement with Diana's suggestion, but where would you find such a place?

Seven days later Diana called excitedly, "I have the perfect island, and it sounds ideal."

She had just been in Annapolis where she met John Klein, owner and developer of White Bay Villas on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. She was smitten with his description of the island and his custom designed villas. And he had a one week window of opportunity when the main Plantation Villa was free.

Soon we were on his website at www.jostvandyke.com. The site was a great enticement, with its lovely villas overlooking a pristine beach and aquamarine sea. We had found the answer. Five of us, after tallying our frequent flyer miles, struck a week from our calendars and flew from Washington to St. Thomas.

We arrived on different airlines, but the Delta, American and USAir flights all arrive about the same time. We took a taxi to Red Hook, at the the east end of St. Thomas, where we stocked up on a week of provisions. Across the street, a chartered water taxi waited to ferry us to our fantasy island.

It was evening as we made the 12-mile crossing from St. Thomas to Jost Van Dyke. Looking back on the churning sea in the wake of our fast-moving cabin cruiser, the lights of St. Thomas grew ever more distant. Ahead, through the moonlit darkness, we could see the outline of Jost, with hardly a light to be seen. Yes, we laughed, we were far from Washington, but had we been too extreme in wanting splendid isolation away from people - in this case, only 150 full time residents on a rugged tropical island seven miles long.

Great Harbor was quiet, the customs house had already closed, but in the distance we heard reggae music. Our skipper pointed to Foxy's Outdoor Restaurant and Bar, which we would soon discover was the island's epicenter, renowned throughout the Caribbean.

We were driven over a steep, rugged hill to the spacious and inviting Plantation Villa, largest of three secluded, magnificently-situated, Caribbean style villas.

The great room and kitchen are decorated with original murals depicting the island's culture. Three bathrooms and three bedrooms, each with its own verandah and patio furniture, offer a panoramic view of White Bay. We stood on the terrace absorbing the silence of the night; the dark sea, and the sky swarming with layers upon layers of stars. The sole reminder of the world we had left behind were the distant lights of St. Thomas.

What we saw in the darkness of night we liked even better with the arrival of a glorious morning. Spread before us was the blue sea, a sun-filled sky and a trail through the villa's papaya, banana and mango grove winding down to our own white sandy beach.

Fate was kind - among us was one fine chef who did not believe that toast and coffee were an adequate breakfast. For the next six days we not only enjoyed the panoramic view and ambience of dining on the terrace, but sumptuous meals worthy of a five-star hotel. To add to our pleasure, the villa had a CD player, and we enjoyed some of our favorite arias while imbibing the beauty spread before us. The TV was turned on just once and quickly turned off. What we were endeavoring to escape from was on no account going to catch up with us during this refreshing interlude.

From White Bay Villas we hiked down to the main street (just a sandy pedestrian trail) in Great Harbor, to visit the bakery, a small grocery, a couple of boutiques and Foxy's. We also rented one of three rental vehicles on the island.

We piled into our Jeep and set out to explore the Atlantic side of the island. We drove a few miles east, hiked through scrub brush, and reached the edge of the turbulent Atlantic - a dramatic contrast to the calm Caribbean. We had been warned not to climb too far over the rocks near the sea. Some adventurous risk takers had been swept away by powerful waves.

We were in search of the "Bubbly Pool," where 12-foot waves crash through a narrow gap between huge boulders, creating a torrent of effervescent bubbles within an idyllic pool tucked safely behind the rocks. We relaxed in the warm pool waiting for the wave. One moment it was like a small, benign whirlpool, then a wave would come crashing through the rocks, turning us upside down in a surge of bubbles. It was exhilarating for those of us who enjoy child's play.

On the drive back, we were tantalized by the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting our way from Harris' Place at the edge of Little Harbor. The owner, Mrs. Adina Jones, one of the sweetest ladies on the island, was baking bread and coconut cream pies. She invited me into her kitchen where dozens of pies and loaves of bread had just come from the large ovens.

Watching sailboats gliding across the horizon and hungry pelicans diving for fish, we were served crab meat salad sandwiches on warm, crusty bread with pie for dessert. It tasted like a banquet from heaven.

It doesn't take long to realize the island's essence is found in two enterprising characters - Foxy and Ivan. They provide the entertainment. In the morning you might find Foxy playing guitar at his outdoor restaurant with a repertoire ranging from Caribbean to his own, on-the-spot compositions. Described as a wild, warm, wonderful, wacky character; he calls himself the "happiest man alive." He sings about anything that comes to mind - Washington politics, the heat of the day, or the hometown of someone in the audience. He tells his audience how he found his wife.

"I couldn't find a girlfriend around here to save my life! So if a boat sailed in, and the captain had a gorgeous cook on board, I would try to get her to stay ashore with me. This would piss off the captains. One angry captain invited me aboard for dinner. He had one of them gorgeous cooks...anyway he gave me too much to drink, and he said I should stay the night and he would take me home in the morning. When I woke up, we were at sea."

"I asked the captain what's going on.

He said, 'You make everybody so mad trying to find a wife, so I'm taking you to look for a wife.'"

It's a long story. The ship takes him around the world. His audience listens attentively, some giggle, but most look intrigued. He is a master storyteller. Finally, there is an audible sigh of relief. He meets a girl, Tessa, in Gibraltar, sails her across the Atlantic to St. Barth's, gives her "a lobster dinner, two bottles of wine, and a fine time," then returns to Jost Van Dyke.

Foxy's has evening entertainment and several dinner specials, but no one misses the Friday night buffet. The harbor fills with sailboats, so make a reservation. The band starts at 10 p.m. and keeps everybody moving until the wee hours.

A more quiet, rustic hideaway is Ivan's Local Flavor Beach Bar, just a short walk down the beach from White Bay villas. Ivan Chinnery is not only the local herbalist, and a staunch conservationist, but owner and proprietor of this open-air restaurant and beach front campground. Campers from as far away as Australia mingle at Ivan's, share meals and songs, and unwind while immersed in natural beauty. One single mother from Baltimore said she had found "utopia" as she watched her two-year old daughter play on the beach. The mix of hippies, professionals, couples, young and old, seem to get along famously with each other and the ever-present, ever-smiling Ivan. There is always a song and a laugh to be found at Ivan's, especially in the impromptu, evening sing-alongs. In the 70's, Ivan's guitar playing helped make Foxy's famous. Now he enjoys playing and singing in his own place, especially with a fellow troubadour like Freddie, a guitar-playing camper whose singing always got his audience involved.

Strolling home along the beach to our villa on the hill, we savored the stirrings of gentle surf, the soothing din of nature unspoiled by sights or sounds of civilization, and the brilliance of the Milky Way in the inky blackness. It was a time to be grateful for the simplicity of time and place spent with friends at White Bay Villas and the refreshingly real people we met on Jost Van Dyke.

Check out Jost Van Dyke and White Bay Villas on the internet or call John Klein at (410) 626-7722.

Feature Travel Archives

Indonesia: Bali & Java


by Anne Kalosh 

Trickles of perspiration streaming down their brows, the old women, young couples and families with small children struggle up the stony path leading to nirvana. Vendors tail the dripping pilgrims, waiting for them to succumb to the sun and rent a big red and white parasol emblazoned with the Coca Cola logo.

Java the name conjures up exotic images of coffee, cloves, swaying palms, balmy nights. And Borobudur.

The steps grow steeper, but the faithful persist. They, like thousands before them, have trekked to the island of Java to climb Borobudur, one of the world's greatest Buddhist monuments.

It took a century, from 750 to 850 A.D., to hew this mandala of black stone that, from a distance, resembles a mound of dark meringue whipped into tiny peaks. Close up, each peak resembles a huge bell and conceals a larger than life sized statue of Buddha. The complex is a series of terraces linked by progressively steeper steps.

Borobudur was built by the Saliendra dynasty of Buddhist kings who ruled Central Java in Indonesia's 17,000 island chain until their overthrow by Hindus in the mid ninth century. Today, Java, like most of Indonesia, is largely Moslem.

The abandoned Borobudur slept for a thousand years, blanketed by lava and jungle vines, until unearthed last century and, in the 1980s, restored by UNESCO. Today, billboards along the road to the site proclaim it one of the seven wonders of the world.

'It doesn't belong to us but to the culture of the world,' says Agus, a university student who moonlights as a tour guide.

During our three hour bus ride south from Semarang, the north coast port where our cruise ship, Marco Polo, docked, to Borobudur, Agus prepared passengers from England, South Africa, Australia, Canada and the United States by teaching a few words of Indonesian.

'Selamat datang!' he grinned. Welcome!Bali & Java And, essential for this shopping minded crowd: 'Ini berapa harganya?' How much? When Agus tried to tell the passengers how to say 'cheap' and 'expensive,' one man growled, 'We won't be able to use the word 'cheap.'' But, for visitors bearing dollars and those who relish bargaining, Indonesia is inexpensive. While clothing stitched from hand made batik fabric in the big tourist stores can run into the hundreds of dollars, bargaining in small shops and with vendors can net dresses and shirts for $10.

The day trip to Borobudur is a featured excursion included in the price of our Orient Lines' cruise, so we travel in a police escorted convoy of buses carrying most of the ship's 800 passengers. Few cruise liners visit Java; we're so rare that folks look with astonishment as we zip past a rolling green countryside dotted with cacao plantations, towering bamboo fronds and silver domed mosques.

We notice that only some women on this largely Moslem island wear veils. Religious tolerance is an Indonesian practice, Agus explains. 'Some women cover their heads, some don't. We don't have a problem with that.' On the road, Agus briefed us about the life of Buddha but, arriving at Borobudur, many passengers are astonished by scenes depicted in hundreds of detailed reliefs: Buddha's renouncing his noble birth to wander for years in search of enlightenment, his numerous incarnations and his achievement of nirvana.

Respectful visitors climb the monument in a clockwise direction starting from the east gate. Agus says faithful Buddhists don't go beyond a certain level; the higher terraces are the realm of monks. But most visitors today must not be Buddhists for they seem bent on reaching the enormous, bell shaped stupa crowning Borobudur. On the way, they pass more than 500 Buddha images.

I crawl along with the pilgrims that stop at one stupa and stretch their arms through the latticework to touch the figure inside. As my fingertips brush the cool stone Buddha, I make a wish.

Trudging upwards, I come to the summit but, instead of a spiritual spot, I am met by a fairground atmosphere. It's too crowded for the umbrellas. Children are racing around, groups of students are snapping pictures and grannies are plopped down in slivers of shadows, pumping away with bamboo fans. I spot few Westerners; most of the cruise passengers have opted to stay at the lower altitudes.

They have missed an enchanting view. The surrounding countryside looks like Eden. The undulating plains are forested in coconut palms, banana trees and flowering shrubs stretching to the horizon where dark hills shimmer in the midday heat.

Back at the monument's base, vendors press close, hawking shadow puppets, carved Barong masks, t shirts and big floppy, batik hats that fold to pocket size. Some tourists panic, but I feel calm. Vendors don't persist when I look them in the eye, smile, and say 'No, thank you.' When a boy tries to sell me a hat, I point out that I already have one. 'Have two,' he urges. 'But I have only one head,' I protest. He laughs and leaves me for better prospects.

But some of my fellow travelers get prickly. One woman scolds a postcard vendor. 'You silly, silly man. When I say no, I mean no.' He responds by lowering his price. 'One dollar?'

During my last visit to Indonesia, 10 years ago, I encountered few street sellers. At the time, my work made me a frequent visitor to Bali and it seemed paradisiacal, with fishermen casting their nets from sweeping beaches, emerald rice terraces inching up mountainsides, graceful women balancing offerings of fruit and flowers on their heads, and the chime of gamelans lilting on the breeze.

A decade later, these idyllic snapshots still exist. I flew from Singapore to the international airport south of Denpasar, the Balinese capital, and stayed a few days at the nearby Inter Continental Resort at Jimbaran Bay. For me, the big resort hotels and tour buses are new to the picture. I was at the Inter Continental with other Marco Polo passengers on a pre cruise package before joining the ship anchored off Padangbai, two hours' drive up the coast. Orient markets itself as 'the destination specialist,' with programs focusing more on the places visited than on the ship. My cruise to Southeast Asia and the Java Sea, ending in Singapore, included hotel stays at ports of embarkation and debarkation. 'I chose this because I like to set foot on land for a few days,' says Helen, a retired school teacher from Michigan who photographs everything and admits that, back home, slide shows of her far flung travels are in big demand. Bali's Jimbaran Bay is tourist territory, but still lovely. The Inter Continental, modeled on the ancient Balinese imperial style, is a lush, dream like oasis of flowers and fountains, swans and swimming pools. Despite its allures, I was eager to venture out and explore. Denpasar's narrow lanes are clogged with cars, a sign of the prosperity that tourism has brought. Traditional markets are being swallowed up by shopping centers, and satay stands by KFCs. But when it comes to the Balinese people's interactions with visitors, there is no culture clash. The Balinese are naturally friendly and hospitable and adapt to new ways without abandoning their courtesy, self discipline, tolerance and strong sense of community.

'The Hindus have a saying, 'There is only one soul,'' explains Sayang, a tour guide for 22 years whose name means 'Honey.' 'Why the other countries fight? Because of ego. Why you hit the other person? You only hurt yourself.'

Most Balinese are Hindus and, by all appearances, devout. Thousands of temples dot the countryside; every family, Sayang says, has its own, in addition to the bigger community and regional temples. Stone statues depicting manifestations of the supreme deity are decorated with hibiscus flowers and dressed in checked cloth tied with yellow sashes.

Offerings containing a pinch of rice, bits of food, flowers and incense are placed in alcoves at the entrance to homes, at temples, near statues, over wells and beside rice fields. Offerings for evil spirits rest on the ground; those for good spirits are elevated. I step around one lying on the courtyard of a jewelry store and spot another resting on a sewing machine at a batik shop.

It's hard to travel around the island without meeting a religious procession or seeing families on their way to a temple, decked out in colorful finery. Women in long batik skirts balance towering offerings on their heads. Men wear sarongs and knot a scarf around their heads. By the roadside, I met a couple on their way to a temple celebration with their two small children. The mother has spent an hour assembling a two foot high crown of apples, eggs and rice cakes to deliver as an offering. As we talk, a girl passes balancing her offering of a whole cooked chicken splayed across a bed of fruits and flowers.

The big Balinese families of the past are rare now that the government encourages no more than two children. 'When we have only a small family, we are free to go everywhere,' says our guide, Sayang. 'We Hindus have a saying: 'The more legs you have, the harder it is to move.'' I admire a large emerald ring he wears. He bought it last year on a trip to India, a reward for a job that sometimes keeps him working seven days a week.

Outside the spectacularly carved temple of Pura Beji, worshippers stream in on foot, by moped, in the beds of pickup trucks and in buses. I smell incense and hear the lovely, subdued tones of the gamelan. In the countryside, traditional ways prevail. Most Balinese work as farmers, harvesting cloves used in cigarettes or growing vanilla, tapioca, coconuts, pineapples and other juicy tropical fruits ranging from prickly red rambutan to melon sized durian that smells like a sewer but tastes heavenly.

Rice is by far the most important crop, growing year round in irrigated terraces spilling down the mountainous countryside. Sayang says that, thanks to the green revolution, Bali produces enough rice to not only meet the huge local demand, but to export.

Art, music and dance are a natural part of Balinese life. In the community of Ubud, painters work on shady terraces and galleries burst with scenes of village and religious life. Other towns are known for their stone carvers, wood carvers, jewelers or batik artists.

All over the island, people work hard, but life seems sweet. As coconut palms sway against a deep blue sky filled with fluffy clouds, villagers bathe in languid streams and boys fish in a temple pool blanketed with flowering lily pads. A woman waist deep in an irrigation ditch looks up from her laundry, a white duck paddling at her elbow.

She could ignore our passing minibus, but instead she flashes a brilliant, toothy grin.

Getting there: Orient Lines offers cruise tours of varying duration to the Far East and Indonesia, as well as other destinations around the globe, on the 22,000 ton, 800 passenger Marco Polo. For a brochure, call (800) 333 7300. Singapore Airlines is a preferred Orient Lines carrier, flying passengers from New York (JFK), San Francisco and Los Angeles to Singapore and on to 10 cities in Indonesia. (800) 742 3333.

Feature Travel Archives

IRELAND: Embraced in Green Velvet

By Patricia Keegan

Flying over the neat, square, green fields of Belfast on a shuttle flight from Heathrow, I am captivated by the tapestry below. Shades of gold, deep green and pale green, blending with a pink glow from the setting sun, evoke tranquility and peace. Cows and sheep graze blissfully. This lush, eternal land stands unspoiled, the strength of its beauty untarnished by history.

Though I was born in Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland, as I look down on the mountains and fields outside Belfast airport, I feel a familiarity with its distinct beauty. I am thrilled by the anticipation of freely exploring the six counties of Ulster that I have never seen.

I am not alone in my enthusiasm. A young couple returning from a vacation in Spain lean across me to see their homeland. The woman's eyes shining with tears, she whispers, 'Oh, it's so good to be home.'

Since all the hotels in Belfast were full, I picked up a Hertz rental car at the airport and headed for Bangor, a historic seaside resort. Maureen, a Northern Ireland tourist board representative, offered encouraging words.

'It'll be very easy once you find the road to Bangor. If you get lost, just ask anybody, they'll be delighted to help you.'

Maneuvering out of the airport with a map on the seat next to me, I set out to find Bangor, hopefully before darkness descends and leaves me on lonely roads to be chased by leprechauns.

Driving on the left, my first mistake, on exiting the airport, was to automatically look left at a circle. Lo and behold, from the corner of my eye I saw a thousand chariots descending from the right. I pulled back in the nick of time.

Driving in Ireland is itself an adventure. It takes only a few hours on the roads of Northern Ireland to realize how well marked they are, and only one or two stops ,meeting the Irish people, to understand how friendly and hospitable they are. By the time I reached the seaside resort of Bangor and checked in at the Marine Court Hotel, I felt rewoven into Irish society.

Belfast -- An Alive City!

Nestled in a valley ringed by mountains, this bustling city of close to half a million inhabitants appears to be in a state of vibrant renewal. Impressive Victorian and Edwardian buildings, including Belfast City Hall, have a clean and polished look. The City Hall is open to visitors, and inside its marble interior is a mural by Belfast artist John Luke, depicting the founding of the city, a good place to start exploring.

In the 17th century, Belfast was a village just beginning a mercantile economy. In 1888, with a population approaching 300,000, Queen Victoria, who had visited the town in 1849, gave Belfast the status of city and the citizens built city hall, completing it in 1906.

Ulster Museum describes the rise of the city alongside fine art collections featuring the works of Belfast artists Sir John Lavery, William Conor and Gerard Dillon. There are exquisite samples of china, silver and glassware, together with natural history and geology exhibits stretching back 9,000 years.

The Linen Hall Library's 20,000 books include a Robert Burns collection and documentation of Belfast's most recent history. A wall inscription tells us it was founded 'to improve the mind and excite a spirit of general inquiry.' The library has been lending books since 1788.

St. Anne's Cathedral, built in 1899 and consecrated in 1904, has a beautiful mosaic depictingSt. Patrick landing at Saul in 432 A.D. With its strong literary and musical tradition, Belfast considers the arts an important part of daily life. There are numerous small theaters throughout the city. Major performances are held at the Grand Opera House, Ulster Hall, and Queen's University. For an evening of good humor, the Empire Bar on Botanic Avenue is venue for the Empire Laughs Back, a sharp, satirical comedy targeting everybody and everything.

Discovering the Glory of Antrim

Although many Irish ballads refer to the beauty of the Glens of Antrim, I was familiar with most Irish scenery and did not expect to enter a state of bliss. It seemed to happen just after the first sign for the Antrim Coast Road which took me through the glens and on to Ballycastle. I drove for many miles through green velvet without seeing another vehicle. I felt as though I were in a heavenly garden surrounded by every conceivable thing of beauty. My joyful journey took me on roads that ran under archways of trees, that curved through mountains, descending into small villages with castles rising in the distance. I saw cows standing on high meadows seeming to lean against the sky, forests filled with trout streams, lush green everywhere and many beaches with ribbons of white foam breaking along the edges of the sea. I heard myself singing all the way through Antrim as my little car took on wings.

Glenarm, the oldest of the villages, has long, narrow streets leading to Glenarm Forest, where there are bridle and walking paths and waterfalls spilling from mountaintops. Glenarm Castle, which looks like the Tower of London, is the home of the Earl of Antrim.

In Cushendun, the entire village and beach is preserved by the National Trust for its Cornish style cottages and unspoiled beauty. Flowing through Cushendun, the river Dun is noted for salmon and sea trout, and if you want to go fishing, you just drop your boat into the mouth of the river.

Glenariff, considered the 'queen of the glens,' has a series of waterfalls plunging down through a gorge traversed by a path crossing rustic bridges. One cascade is named tears of the mountain. The park is also a national nature reserve with access to caravan and campsites. The view from the visitor's center down through the glen was described by Thackery as 'Switzerland in miniature.'

From Ballycastle to the Giant's Causeway

I continued driving through a spectacular landscape. At one point I pulled into an overlook and saw, in the distance below me, what looked like a miniature village nestled in a curve of green cliffs sweeping to the sea. I felt a magnetic pull to get a closer look. Continuing on the main road, I turned onto a long lane cutting through fields. I judged the path to be about the right distance to the place I had sighted. As I came closer to the sea, I passed two farmers standing at a gate. They didn't stop me so I assumed it was not a private road. Reaching a dead end at the very edge of the sea, I was thrilled by what I found--five houses and one tiny church, flowers and roses growing in front gardens, all warmed by the sun and completely protected on all sides by high cliffs. The peace and solitude here was spellbinding, I felt I couldn't leave without knowing more about where I was. 

There I discovered Bernie McKay, a rugged and healthy looking man with alert, blue eyes. He looked as though he had spent his life outdoors and, indeed, he had spent most of his life salmon fishing on the high seas.

Bernie told me he had grown up in Portbraddon. His father had owned all the land in the area and did all the construction. Portbraddon is one of the oldest spawning areas in Western Europe. Bernie, an expert on the history of the area, showed me the remains of the Templastragh Church, built in 648 by St. Gobhan, a carpenter, blacksmith and preacher. There is an intriguing stone slab on the northwest comer with a crude drawing of a cross and letters difficult to decipher. He is working with the local historical society to rebuild the church, as well as writing a book about Portbraddon. Saying farewell to heavenly Portbraddon and Bernie Mc Kay, I left with an indelible memory of beauty and goodwill.

From Portbraddon I headed toward the Giant's Causeway. There I checked in at the lovelyCauseway Hotel

I set out to explore one of the wonders of the world. Nobody should visit Northern Ireland without seeing one of Ireland's greatest treasures. It extends 18 miles along the coast and is Northern Ireland's most famous landmark and a World Heritage Site. Crashing waves beat against a coastline of 40,000 six-sided basalt columns formed by volcanic and fissure eruptions over eons of time. Some of the oldest rocks in the area are of Jurassic age (135-190 million years ago). Most were formed after a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. It is a prime example of the earth's evolutionary history during the Tertiary epoch.

Walking alongside these six-sided basalt columns, the symmetry of their cut is remarkable. As a guide explained, when you look at cracks caused by hot sun on mud, all lines are equally divided, similar to these giant columns formed by heating and cooling in the surrounding atmosphere.

Like everywhere in Ireland, the Giant's Causeway has its own legends. Here lived the giantFinn MacCool, whom they say built the Causeway to bring his wife across to Ulster from the Scottish island of Staffa.

Donegal--The Republic's Northwest County

An Alternate Trip from Dublin  to Donegal and Back

Serene and apart for centuries, County Donegal missed the western world's siren call to industrialize, modernize and bring its resources into the swiftly moving currents considered 'progressive.' So the big, destructive wave of the industrial era bypassed Donegal and most of western Ireland where houses are spread miles apart and velvet, green hills sweep down to white capped waves.

But there is no lament about being a small spoke left out of that 'progressive' wheel. The people along the Northwest coast have turned to creative ways to make a living and are linked by computers to the larger world. Towns and villages are not only distinctly beautiful, but alive with life. Women bob in and out of the butcher's and the baker's, chatting with the vendor and bringing home freshly cut meat and bread straight from the ovens.

The streets are filled with modern cars, and at noontime, pubs are filled with businessmen on lunch hour. Life in the local pub begins at lunch with a wide variety of 'pub grub.' Fish and chips, Irish bread and a glass of Guinness seems to be the favorite.

Sitting in Donegal town's O'Hanlon's pub at noontime was a great way to connect with the vitality, confidence, and strength of identity in being Irish in the 21st century.

With the opening of the new airport in Carrickfin, you can fly to Donegal from Dublin or London but we, two couples, rented a car in Dublin for the journey. We detoured slightly for the ever popular medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle in Limerick, then traveled through the western counties to Donegal, where we stayed a few days before driving back to Dublin by the northeast route.

We passed through the city of Limerick, made famous by Frank McCourt's bestseller, Angela's Ashes, portraying a dismal, though humorous, side of the Irish experience almost a century ago. New construction is under way, but we could see the tiny row houses in areas completely barren of aesthetic grace--the background of the writer's sad, young life.

From Bundoran we drove through Ballyshannon and Rossnowlagh to Donegal town, then west through Killybegs and Glencolumbkille.

In Dungloe we stayed at Sweeney's Bed and Breakfast. Dungloe is quiet an relaxing, but outdoor activities abound, ranging from fantastic fly-fishing to horseback riding, bike riding, or scenic hiking. In the evening we found our way to some local dances, both traditional and country western. Before the dance, we sat by the turf fire having a great Craic, catching up with the latest news of Dungloe.

Dungloe lies in the heartland of the Gaeltacht, the Irish speaking area of Ireland. (Of course, everyone speaks English as well.) All road signs are in Gaelic, so it's important to carry a map.

Gaelic, one of the oldest surviving European languages, is spoken in areas of Donegal stretching from Fanad Head in north Donegal to Slieve League in the southwest. Up to the 16th century all Ireland spoke Gaelic, however British rule eventually undermined Irish culture and language. The Great Famine (1845-1848) drained the country of native speakers as the population decreased by four million, who either died or left for other lands. The revival of the language is part of the school curriculum.


We traveled through the northeast counties southbound toward Ireland's capital, Dublin. Dublin is a great pedestrian city with colorful shops, loads of pubs and small, ethnic restaurants lining the narrow streets of the old section just off Grafton Street.

We stayed at the beautiful Merrion Hotel in Merrion Square on Dublin's colorful Grafton Street.

Dublin's cultural life is punctuated by live theater. The Literary Pub Crawl has become a favorite of visitors. The guided tour meanders through the literary haunts of famous writers while being entertained by the richness of the language of Joyce, Yeats and Behan. The two and one half hour crawl features professional actors performing the works of the great scribes with irreverence and humor--a good example of what makes Irish pubs the liveliest in Europe.

The National Museum of Art houses the preeminent collection of Irish artists including a room filled with William Butler Yeats and Jack B. Yeats' paintings. The latter's use of bold, thickly applied color provides a strikingly dramatic effect. I especially liked 'Men of Destiny,' with its mystical aura. 

Dublin's bountiful bookstores contain vast collections devoted to Irish history and modern Irish writers. However, if you don't have time to read and want a quick overview of Dublin's tumultuous history, a visit to Trinity College, (home of the Book of Kells), to see the historical overview, 'The Dublin Experience,' is one way to understand more about the fortunes and misfortunes of this great capital and all of Ireland.

Planning a trip to Ireland?

An excellent resource is the 'Be Our Guest' guide detailing over 800 places to stay, plus touring maps, special interest sections and vouchers for free accommodation in Winter and early Spring. The guide is available from the Irish Tourist Board, 345 Park Ave., New York, NY 10154, (800) 326-0036.

Feature Travel Archives

Switzerland: Alpine Trekking.

Have Mule, Will Travel

By Patricia Keegan and Dan Davis 

It's not often you find a hotel or restaurant that has parking space for your mule. But in the hamlet of Binn, Switzerland, the Hotel Ofenhorn's outdoor restaurant offers ample refreshment beneath shady trees with hitching posts on the side. This backroads make that footpath waystation in the southwestern Valais canton is seldom mentioned in guidebooks. Binn is even hard to find on maps. (Focus a magnifying glass at the eastern end of the canton between Fiesch and the Italian border.) Without a car to drive the local mountain road that mimics the twisting Binntal River, hiking or mule trekking provides the only access, just as it has done for centuries. The trail follows an ancient trade route to Italy through alpine meadows, farms, mountain tunnels, and over stone bridges. Outfitter Stefan Schweizer of Bergland Produkte , saddles up in the village of Ernen (near Fiesch). His mule treks the only one offered in this side valley of the Valais begin in a courtyard that practically lies in the shadow of the Tellhaus, Ernen's most famous building. The Tellhaus has the earliest depiction of Switzerland's legendary folk hero, William Tell, who shot an arrow off his son's head. Stefan's mules bray and stamp their hooves just as they might have done in the late 16th century when the Tellhaus fresco was painted. This Swiss trip marks my first hiking experience. With the exception of a New Yorker in his 60's, the eight Americans, two Swiss, three Japanese, and a German couple are all younger than me; and judging by their faded packs and coordinated gear, all are old hands at hiking. Even the Germans' dog, Lupa, wears saddle packs filled with dog food. Two mules carry excess gear and baskets of food. Three others are saddled to allow us to alternate hiking and riding. The mules are fresh, and so am I, so I relinquish the saddle seats to one of the Japanese, who communicates with us mainly through smiles and gestures. Stefan's assistants lead the mules, giving those in the saddle nothing to do but hold on and enjoy the scenery. We amble past sun blackened chalets built of aged larchwood. On balconies, decked with rioting red geraniums and yellow pansies, housewives air down comforters. Cow bells clang in backyard pastures. Not one soul gives the mules a second glance. An earthen switchback trail marks the old Valais route to Italy. Pine roots act as ladder rungs on the steepest section. My calf muscles start to feel as firm as cheese wheels. I begin to wish I hadn't given up my turn in the saddle. We traipse through a barnyard, past a farmhouse and a tiny whitewashed chapel the cluster of buildings a symbol of the self sufficiency practiced for generations by these secluded Binntal farmers. As late as 100 years ago, the Swiss traveled this route to trade cheese, corn and leather for Italian rice, wine, textiles, salt and spices. Then only mule trains negotiated these steep and narrow trails. Lupa leaps ahead, kibble jiggling in his packs. In a small clearing a stucco chapel perches above the valley. Here Stefan spreads a blanket onto the chapel steps and lays out cheeses made from sheep's and cow's milk. The cheeses are prized local varieties made in small quantities in the high alpine only during summer months. Slices of salty beef sausages and crusty wheels of brown bread complement the cheeses. A saffron rice and raisin salad, carrots and wine round out the picnic. 'The Swiss people were afraid of the mountains,' Swiss native, Natalie Kenmeugni, tells me as we drowse like butterflies in the sunshine. 'They thought bad spirits caused avalanches and falling stones. They thought the sounds the wind makes were poltergeists. They put on masks at the end of winter and rang big bells to make noise to chase the bad spirits away.' I can hear the bells, but they belong to cows, mere dots on the opposite hillside. Suddenly, snarling and barking shatters our peace. A couple of descending hikers rushes into the clearing where their dog has attacked Lupa. We rally around the Germans' dog, defending him as if Lupa belonged to all of us. The couple snare their hound and drag him away, but the spell is broken. Rain clouds are gathering. Quietly, we pack up and move out along a trail that zig-zags downhill across a stone bridge spanning a boulder tossed gorge. The path narrows and switchbacks upward. The mules trudge farther ahead out of sight and then out of hearing. A tunnel of fir trees spreads upturned angel wing branches overhead. The calves of my legs start a slow burn. My stumbling steps dislodge pebbles that spill into a rock slide. For several moments I listen to the cascade of stones I can no longer see. Then the sound is swallowed up by the gorge far...far below. The trail ascends through a pine forest umbrella that shelters us during a brief, but chilly, shower. Oh, dear mules, where are you now?

The fast walking New Yorker leads the way along the rustic trek that hugs the mountain's hunched back. The inexperienced hikers, like me, concentrate on the scenery from the backs of the sure-footed mules. Rough hewn mountain tunnels slice across the final miles to Binn. The nature-loving Germans will camp on the trail that night as the mules continue into Italy. The rest of us take the high road by car back to the 20th century. Two hours later I arrive in Sion, Switzerland's oldest city, proving that this is a country where you can hike all day in the Alps and still make it into the city for an evening concert in a castle. My destination, however, is the pool and spa of the Hotel Des Vignes, a pink stucco palace tucked into a hillside of vineyards. A glass of 'Arvine' wine a Valaisian specialty and a swim rejuvenate me for an evening outing: driving amid the vineyards. As far as I can see, mountain vineyards of Switzerland's main wine-growing canton ripple down to the city sprawled below. Golden light gilds the vines where burbling water rushes through irrigation canals called 'bisses,' which Valaisian wine growers have relied upon for centuries. Hiking provides the perfect complement for Switzerland's hearty cuisine. Nearly every meal includes a variation on Rosti a potato, onion and egg dish. Some of the simpler specialties are the tastiest. Raclette, a dripping grilled cheese is served with gherkin pickles, onions and Rosti. Even remote mountain restaurants present artfully arranged entrees garnished with herbs and decorative designs swirled in the sauces. 'The Swiss are known for their hospitality,' says Denise Guigoz, a local guide. She laughs as she hands me an appetizer of 'Serac,' a farmer's cheese made that morning. 'My mother used to chase after tourists with buckets of meat.' I accept a second serving of succulently roasted pork, knowing that this indulgence of calories can easily be walked away in the morning on a hike through the vineyards. Months later I receive a letter from one of the Japanese hikers with whom I had exchanged business cards. A photo is enclosed with a note that reads, 'So send for memory during our Swiss day.' It makes me crave a meal of farmer's cheese eaten on the open trail beside a faithful mule. 

Getting There: Swissair flies from Washington, DC's Dulles International to Zurich two days a week via Boston. Also, Swissair code-shares with Delta and Austrian Airlines, using on an Austrian aircraft for nonstop flights to Geneva six days a week. Call 1-800-221-4750 for reservations. For information on Switzerland, contact the Swiss National Tourist Office, 608 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10020. 212-757-5944. FAX 212-262-6116.

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Croatia: Red Roofs of Dubrovnik Radiant Again

By Dominique Wellington

In the sunlight, you can't tell the old roofs from the new, but it's evident that the charm of Dubrovnik has returned again.

As one of the oldest and most beautiful Adriatic towns, Dubrovnik was a commercial and naval power with a medieval structure dating back to the 13th century. For seven centuries the people of Dubrovnik labored to create and maintain a rich cultural tradition, symbolized by the city's treasure trove of architectural monuments, paintings and sculpture. During the recent war, the historic core of Dubrovnik, the old city, was subjected to heavy bombardment. All public buildings, churches, monasteries, palaces, walls and fortresses suffered grave structural damage.

The news of the damage reverberated around the world. It was particularly devastating to those who had walked the walls above the terra-cotta rooftops during serene times, and those with a sensitivity to the cultural treasures of our world.

Almost immediately after the shelling stopped, the Rebuild Dubrovnik Fund, alongside other preservation groups, and with the help of the travel industry, came to the rescue. Fund raising efforts have now restored most historical sights to their original splendor.

The history of this beautiful city remains an integral part of its spell. There is a feeling of splendor and valiance associated with the Old City which, like a noble character from a Puccini Opera, survives all attempts at destruction because the forces for good-arts and culture-are on his side.

Some sources date the first civilization around Dubrovnik as far back as 6000 B.C., but the city itself was founded in the 7th-century by refugees of nearby Epidaurum, a large Roman city destroyed by earthquake and war. Most of ancient Epidaurum sank into the sea during a 4th-century earthquake and still lies buried under layers of sand. Dubrovnik's first settlers picked a strategic, well protected island, but the experience of Epidaurum led to construction of fortifications around the city. By the 9th-century, sea trade and ship-building were well developed, and the continuing fortifications were strong enough to withstand a 15-month enemy siege. Shortly thereafter, the Republic of Dubrovnik was born, and foreign troops never set foot on those streets again until Napoleon marched in unopposed in 1808.

Besides sea commerce and world famous shipbuilding, Dubrovnik was known for its diplomacy. Despite numerous threats, the Republic knew how to make the best use of political and economic advantages to turn enemies into allies. For many centuries the Venetians vied with Dubrovnik for control of the Adriatic, even proclaiming sovereignty over the Republic for 150 years. Some of the greatest diplomacy emerged after a disastrous 1667 earthquake when much of the city was in ruins and temporarily defenseless. While most of Yugoslavia fell to the Turks during the Ottoman Empire, Dubrovnik, alone, remained free, independent and Christian for four centuries. Although the yearly tribute of gold and silver paid to the Turks was a heavy burden, they wrote, 'Freedom was worth more than gold.' One of the great charms of Croatia is the consistency of its architecture. Those irregular, red, terra-cotta tiled rooftops, such a familiar part of the unfolding scene, stand out in sharp contrast to the spectacular blue of the Mediterranean or a background of green hills. They are as much a part of Dubrovnik as a smile lighting up a face.

The Dubrovnik Republic was characterized by the fact that almost everyone sang or wrote poetry, always competing for ways to express their creativity. This tradition of attracting writers and performing artists has remained intact through the centuries but, sadly, came to an abrupt halt during the recent conflict. Restoration of the performing arts, the life blood of the city, has been one of the primary goals of the fundraisers. The initial goal was achieved on July 10 this past summer, when the 47th Dubrovnik Summer Festival, founded in 1950, resounded again. What had been a n annual tradition until 1991 was awakened after a long pause. Its return was heralded with a great fanfare of color, pageantry and joy. The opening celebration of fireworks and performances, facing the sea and stars along the blue Adriatic, was attended by President Tudjman and other government officials. The Festival, which concluded August 25, featured the acclaimed Zagreb Soloists, the Croatian National Theater of Zagreb and Split, the Royal Dramatic Theater of Sweden , the Moscow Chamber Choir and the Festival Strings of Lucerne. On July 11, the Lord Mayor of Dubrovnik, Nikola Obuljen, recognized major benefactors of the Rebuild Dubrovnik Fund. Engraved brass plaques were presented with the inscription, 'A city of poets...a poet city,' based on the words of Croatian poet Jure Kastelan. Those honored for their 'dedication and effectiveness' were Alan and Harriett Lewis of the Grand Circle Foundation, for their contribution towards the restoration of the Stradun, (the main street), Jeanne and Otto Ruesch for the Jesuit Stairs and Dordic Mayneri Chapel, and Earlene Causey, president of the Rebuild Dubrovnik Fund, and her husband, Bruce Causey, for restoration of the St. Blaise Statue at Revlin Fortress. Strolling through the Stradun (Placa) in the evening has always been a favorite pastime for both residents and visitors in this medieval city. Resembling huge slabs of marble, the pavement reflects the shadows of people walking in sunlight or lamplight.

With most of the restoration projects now completed, visitors are returning again to this city of inspiration by the blue Adriatic. Among the hotels back in full swing are the Excelsior and the Argentina, which is renovated but undergoing further upgrading this winter. The Villa Orsula is a charming, deluxe, 17-room hotel within walking distance of the old city. Just outside the city walls, the beautiful Imperial Hotel is still under renovation. People who have fallen in love with its old world charm and gracious ambience will be happy to hear its friendly front doors will soon reopen.


Swissair, Lufthansa and Austrian airlines all fly to Zagreb. Atlas Travel Agency, a full service destination management company, offers motorcoach tours and adventure tours. Atlas and Blue Heart Travel have incentive travel programs and can arrange trips to Medjugorje.

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Cyprus - A Break in the Clouds?

By Patricia Keegan

The pain caused by the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 is still palpable 26 years later. But on my second visit since 1991, I felt that this cloud, woven like a shroud so long ago, was developing some holes with flickers of light edging through. Divided Cyprus has come close to a solution before, but now something real and concrete lies ahead. Membership in the European Union gives incentive to all sides to work out a mutually agreeable solution. The devastating earthquake in Turkey that brought an immediate, humanitarian response from Greece - and the swift, Turkish reciprocation when the Greek earthquake struck - opened the way for a more trusting relationship between the two countries. But there is much ground work to be done. Building trust takes a long time; it must be established on an individual-to-individual basis and passed along to children.

Cyprus shares the fate of its geographic and historical ties to both Greece and Turkey with other well-known, culturally rich and beautiful islands, all at some stage of threat or domination by a larger, more powerful mainland: Northern Ireland by Britain, Taiwan by China and Cuba, passive-aggressively, by the United States. To gain independence, sovereignty, and individual destiny, a high price must be paid and the innocent always seem to pay. The constant fear of invasion is not conducive to a secure environment for children-the fear and the stories of war and oppression simply pass to the next generation. The cycle of enmity is never-ending unless people at the grassroots on both sides of every dividing line are totally committed to change and the experience of sharing their loss. 

For Kate Clerides, elected member of parliament since 1991, law graduate of London's Gray's Inn with a degree in sociology from the University of London and a political science degree from New York University, and daughter of Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides, the concept and model for bi-communal meetings are very important. She was instrumental in starting the meetings in 1992. The idea sprang from a meeting with Louise Diamond, an American expert in conflict resolution, who was brought to Cyprus to begin mono-communal, then bi-communal meetings. The training brought 10 Greek Cypriots and 10 Turkish Cypriots together. Both groups attended a conflict resolution workshop at Oxford University, thus establishing a core group of leaders.

"It's quite amazing to see how significant results come from a very small beginning," said Clerides when I met her at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia.

"In a small country like Cyprus you get a spillover effect as people talk to families and friends and more and more  become interested." Stressing the importance of training prior to these sessions, she elaborated, "So many times when we think we are talking to each other, all we are actually doing is debating, putting forward our own view and not really listening to what the other person is trying to say. The goal of the group is never confrontational, but something much deeper. The process of reconciliation cannot really start until you understand that not only have your side and your community suffered, but the other side has suffered also. You need to experience their suffering, they need to experience yours, and you need to understand how they have experienced the whole situation."

An acknowledged success story, the meetings, monitored by the U.N., took place at Nicosia's Ledra Palace which stands on the dividing Green Line. Sometimes there were four or five thousand people, families from both sides, in attendance. Villagers came to see if they could find their counterparts from the opposite community. Some days were called free access, "open days," mixing food, drink, folk dancing and music with the meetings. Healing, at some level, had begun until December, 1997, when Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Dentkash shut them down. Apparently, this was in response to the EU Council at Luxembourg's statement that Cyprus would become a member of the EU as a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation. Turkish Cypriots, however, want a confederation of equals on each side.

Kate Clerides knows instinctively that her efforts at reconciliation and rapprochement are on the right track, but she has yet to harness the full support of her own Greek Cypriot side. Some prefer a passive role, allowing the two governments to work it out. But I sense Kate Clerides' unwavering commitment.       

But what about the other side? On March 27, shortly before I arrived in Cyprus, 300 Turkish Cypriots crossed the Green Line to have their blood typed in the search for a bone marrow donor to save the life of a six year-old Greek Cypriot boy, Andreas Vassiliou, suffering from leukemia. Business men and women, housewives, academics and students filed into the ballroom of the Ledra Palace responding to the boy's plight .

Among the volunteers providing blood samples to Greek Cypriot nurses was Serdar Denktash, son of Rauf Denktash, leader of the Turkish Cypriots. After being tested, he was introduced to the boy's father, Vassos Vassiliou, a 38-year-old businessman. The two came together in a bear hug. "This goes beyond politics, religion, nationalities and hatred, said Vassiliou. "When Turkish Cypriots see my son, they just see an innocent child who desperately needs help. He could be one of theirs."

 In a telephone interview with 41-year-old Serdar Denktash, one of the founders of the Democratic party in 1993, and a current member of Parliament who served as State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, he conveyed a similar point of view. "This was not about politics at all. I heard about Andreas from a bi-communal NGO representative who approached me and asked for my support. A Greek Cypriot would have done the same thing. You saw what happened during the earthquake, how the Greeks helped the Turks. I wish the best for them. I hope the same goodwill climbs into the political realm."

I asked if there was a time frame to restart the bi-communal meetings halted by his father. "I believe they will start again this year and continue as long as both sides use it as a way of learning the fears and concerns of the other side, not for propaganda."

Regarding EU membership he said, "It is an aim for both Greeks and Turks, but before becoming members we must first find a solution to our own problem. My brothers and sisters and I have, for the past 35 years, been living isolated from the world. We want to become part of it."

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Mexico: Exploring the Heart of Oaxaca

 By Arin Pereira

In Mexico the heart is a familiar motif. For centuries, Aztecs and Mayas offered up still-beating human hearts as sacrifices to their hungry gods. Then the Spanish arrived, bringing their own form of corazon, emboldened in Catholic imagery. Today the heart is a popular symbol in Mexican art, especially in Oaxaca where so much art is created. Hoping to discover the heart of Oaxaca, I followed some of its many rich veins.

One of these is its geography. Oaxaca, the state, is the fifth largest and most diverse in Mexico. Its topography ranges from 10,000 ft. mountain peaks to some of the worlds deepest caves, its vegetation from tropical forest to desert plain. Almost anything could grow in Oaxaca, it seems. Oaxaca, the city, lies in the center of the state, in a fertile valley which still looks much the way D.H. Lawrence described it in the early 1950s:

"The dry turf of the valley-bed gleams like soft skin, sunlit and pinkish ochre, spreading wide between the mountains that seem to emit their own darkness, a dark-blue vapor, translucent, sombring them from the humped crests downward."

At 5,000 ft. elevation, Oaxaca's semitropical climate provides cool nights and warm days with plenty of sun. Over the centuries, its gentle climate has rubbed the paint-over-plaster facades of its gorgeous colonial architecture, creating soft, multi-hued pastel washes. Combined with the prevalent building stone, or cantera, which comes from nearby Etla in shades of light green, rose, and yellow, these colors can look unearthly.

The geographical heart of the city is the Z=F3calo, or main square, where people stroll or sit under the cafe arcades; municipal bands play and protesters march. On the south side is the State Capitol, decorated by an engrossing detailed mural, "Oaxaca in the History of Mexico," by Arturo Garc=EDa Bustos. On the north side, the 18th-century Cathedral provides a stately backdrop to the hundreds of gaudy bouncing balloons that seem to go forever unsold.

Including the Cathedral, there are an astounding 27 Roman Catholic churches in Oaxaca. These are stratified somewhat socially: Santo Domingo Temple, with its extraordinary Baroque polychromed plasters and heavily gilded altar would be at one end; San Juan de Dios, the first church in Oaxaca, where simple paintings tell the story of the arrival of the Conquistadors from the Indian perspective, would be at the other. Somewhere in-between is the 17th-century Lesser Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude, or La Soledad, famous for its fine stone facade. The Virgin of Solitude is the patroness of the state of Oaxaca. Above the altar, her image rises in a great gown of black velvet, brilliant with jewels, and wearing a crown encrusted with diamonds. Catholicism, obviously, leads toward the heart of Oaxaca.

A good place to see the full effect of the city is from Monte Alban, at sunset. Located on a mountain top six miles southwest of the city, Monte Alban was the holy city of the great Zapotec Indian empire. Its well-preserved ruins cast strange shadows and create unusual echoes. Especially interesting are the ball court, observatory, and danzantes (dancers), a group of thick-featured, carved human forms representing-it is believed-various medical challenges. The valley of Oaxaca was ruled by Monte Alban from 600 B.C. until 1000 A.D., when the rival Mixtecs conquered the city. The Mixtecs built their capital at Mitla, located about 25 miles southeast. Mitla is remarkable for its mosaic walls and Hall of Columns.

As varied as its geography, Oaxaca's indigenous population is another important vein. There are 16 distinct ethnic groups in Oaxaca, of which Zapotec and Mixtec are among the largest. Each maintains its own customs and traditions, including distinctive clothing. Walking through the streets of Oaxaca, it is not unusual to see a couple of Trique women in their vibrant, full-length huipils (block-form tops), woven in deep red on white; a Mixtec woman in her short, heavily embroidered huipil with a bright, floral patterned skirt; or a Yalalag woman in a simple, monochromatic dress with a horizontal bit of twisted yarn at mid-chest. These and other traditional clothing items are displayed at the abbreviated Guelaguetzas, performed in town at the Hotel Camino Real. The main Guelageutza is a two-day affair in July, when delegations from all regions of Oaxaca gather for a spectacle of music, folk dancing and song, followed by a feast.

Food is a vein essential to the Oaxacan heart, and the region is famous for its delicious dishes, both simple and complex. On the simple side would be chapulines (grasshoppers), which are sold both on the streets and in the finest restaurants. They are pure, cholesterol-free protein, sizzled in lemon and chili salt. If you can get beyond the aesthetic, they really are tasty. Tamales are especially good in Oaxaca (corn meal packed with a variety of herbs and meats, baked in corn husks or banana leaves) as are the quesadillas (made with squash blossoms and Oaxacan string cheese). At the high end of complexity would be the Oaxacan mole, served with chicken or turkey. There are several different types of mole, but the black is the richest, concocted with more than 30 ingredients including peanuts, raisins, spices, and chocolate. Mole is a real gastronomic art.

Art, of course, is one of Oaxaca's main veins, and I followed its course straight to Mary Jane Gagnier de Mendoza. Canadian by birth, she is married to well-known artist Arnulfo Mendoza and has lived in Oaxaca for 11 years. The Mendozas run the popular art gallery and shop, La Mano Mágica, located on the ground floor of their hacienda in the center of town. La Mano Mágica carries only the finest examples of Oaxacan fine and folk art, and seems to attract foreign visitors like a magnet.

Briskly friendly, Mary Jane is constantly on the move. Her dark eyes do not miss a thing and business seems to be good, thanks in part to the recent devaluation of the peso. Sitting in her airy gallery one day, I asked Mary Jane why she thinks art is such an integral facet of life in Oaxaca. Three of Mexicos greatest contemporary painters, Rufino Tomayo, Francisco Toledo, and Rodolfo Morales, were born in the state, as were many others whose work is shown in the city's excellent galleries and museums. (These include the Quetzalli Gallery, Gallery of Mexican Art, Museum of Contemporary Art of Oaxaca, State Graphic Arts Institute, and the Alvarez Bravo Photographic Center.)

"It may be genetic," Mary Jane said. "Look back at Oaxaca's artistic past; it may be that there is a just the right climate here to grow art." Witness the dazzling contents of Monte Alban's Tomb Seven, on display at the Regional Museum of Anthropology and History. The work, in gold, silver, stone, shell, and bone, accomplished centuries ago, is of astonishing beauty and precision.

There is also an inescapable folk art tradition in Oaxaca, echoed in the marvelous ancient pottery and stone carving on view at the Rufino Tomayo Museum of PreHispanic Art. Some of the Oaxacan folk art, or artesanías, is subtle and fine, particularly the work in gold and silver, religious ornaments, glass, distinctive pottery, textiles and weaving; much of it is cruder, attractive for its bright, lively vulgarity.

Death, it seems, is also a vein. It was late at night, and we were in a graveyard in Xoxocotlan, 15 minutes from town. The place was packed. Copal incense filled the air, mingling with the heavy scent of many flowers. Candles glowed on every grave where entire families crowded, set up to spend the night. For a week, people had been preparing for this night, buying incense, candles, flowers, breads and decorations at the tianguis, temporary markets set up once a year just for this. It was October 31, the beginning of festivities surrounding the Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos.

Death is a central cultural theme in Mexico, and Mexicans seem to have a comfortable, even ironic, relationship with the concept. At no time is this more evident than when the Roman Catholic All Souls Day nears and shops are full of macabre, but humorous, "dead" merchandise. Since the end of the thirteenth century, All Saints Day has been celebrated first, on November 1, when Church saints are commemorated, and, in Mexico, the souls of dead children. The next day, November 2, is All Souls Day, a day of prayers for the souls of the Christian departed, especially those thought to be in purgatory. Elaborate home altars and graveyard vigils underscore the respect Mexicans feel for their ancestors. The arched altars are filled with offerings: mole, tamales, chocolate and mezcal, or other favorite foods and drink of the departed, pan de muertos (decorated sweet breads), candles, and flowers (mainly cempaz=FAchiles, a kind of marigold). Garish candy skulls, photographs and plaster skeletal representations of the dead complete the offering. It is believed that while they do not actually eat the food, the dead consume its essence and leave behind positive energy to be ingested later by the family, sustaining them for the coming year.

In Xoxocotlan, the famous medieval graveyard lured hundreds of tourists that night. A perverse, carnival-like atmosphere developed between the outside food vendors, fireworks and crush of the crowd. It seemed intrusive as we stepped over one another, examining the graves and threading our way through family groups. But I spoke with a number of residents, and each one said basically the same thing: "The more the merrier."

The last vein I followed was to Oaxaca's wild Pacific coast, famous for its virgin beaches, scenic bays, flora and fauna, especially sea turtles (the Mexican Sea Turtle Center is the world's only research center of its kind). Now it is famous for something else: the careful resort development of the nine bays of Huatulco, the "new, improved Acapulco."

The bus ride south from the city of Oaxaca is not for the fainthearted: eight hours of twisting and turning up into the mountains, through the cloud forest, then down again through the jungle. Suddenly, you can smell the ocean through the tropical air.

On my way to Huatulco, I stopped first in Puerto Escondido, the "Hidden Port," where palm groves line fine, white sand beaches. The town's laid back attitude contrasts with the violence of its surf. It is dangerous to swim in Puerto Escondido, but surfers from around the world flock there to ride the waves, and major competitions take place twice a year.

Puerto Angel lies 50 miles southwest of Puerto Escondido. A tiny fishing port wedged between green cliffs, it is often referred to as "sleepy" and "rustic," but I would add "seedy." The main beach is freckled with the colorful boats and the daylong activity of fisherman, and did not look like an inviting place to swim. (Nearby La Esobia, Zipolite, and Mazunte beaches are reputedly nicer.)

Forty miles east of Puerto Angel, Huatulco is a world away. Once a primitive fishing village, in 1984 the Mexican National Fund for Tourism Development (FONATUR) took over development of what may be the country's most beautiful coastline. The government's conscientious plan will eventually transform the nine pristine bays of Huatulco into an environmentally-protected megaresort, designed to receive an estimated two million guests a year by the early 21st century, many via a new international airport. The lessons of gaudy, overgrown Acapulco have been learned, however, and the government plans to keep 75 percent of the area green. Efficient sewage treatment plants and fresh water networks mean clean bays and tap water in Huatulco.

Huatulco has an average year round temperature of 87oF and green, bathwater-warm surf. Each of its nine bays is separated by rolling hills which afford near-total isolation. Tangolunda was the first to be developed: in 1988, Club Med opened there its largest installation in the Western hemisphere, followed by the Royal Maeva, Sheraton, Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, and Deluxe Omni. There is also a golf course. I stayed at the Royal Maeva (see Hotel Spotlight), to date, the loveliest, and only totally Mexican-owned, of the Tangolunda resorts. Following strict architectural regulations, each resort has been designed to blend somewhat with the tropical surroundings.

I returned to Oaxaca, the city, having seen something of the state. The varied and vibrant veins I had followed included geography, architecture, religion, indigenous culture, gastronomy, art, and history. They led me to wonderous places and marvelous things, however lightly I touched. And while I may not have found all of Oaxaca's heart, I certainly left behind some of mine.

Getting There
Many domestic airlines fly to Mexico City, including Continental, United, and Delta. Connecting Mexicana flights to Oaxaca take about 40 minutes. The bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca takes six hours and costs about $15 if leaving from the first class terminal. There a numerous direct flights daily from Oaxaca to the coast. They take some 40 minutes and cost around $150 roundtrip. The Oaxaca to the coast bus leaves twice a day (first class terminal), more often from second class, and costs $10-25