Friday, 23 January 2015

Trekking in Nepal, do you really need a guide?

Sunset on Annapurna ©Solange Hando

Guide or no guide, mountains are fraught with danger even for seasoned trekkers.
We all remember what happened last autumn.
All the more reason then to put luck -and experience- on your side, chances may be slim if disaster strikes but better a glimmer of hope than none at all.

Great View, Keep Safe ©Solange Hando

Fortunately, major disasters are rare but what about altitude sickness or stomach problems? That's pretty frequent.
How will you cope on your own, or even with a friend? Help from locals? Sure, but in a poor country, that might cost you more than a guide would have done and be limited by lack of medical knowledge and language barrier.
What then?
Well, hire a guide and you can rest assured he will do his utmost to keep you safe and healthy for it is in his own interest as much as yours.

Discover Village Life ©Solange Hando

Anything else?
If you're into local culture, that's the best way to discover it and communicate with people along the trail. You may have the chance to rest in a farm house, enjoy butter tea and mountain potatoes straight from the embers, take photographs, meet a weaver or a schoolteacher, learn about local customs and daily routine.
Then of course, there's the natural world.
Did you see the honeycomb hanging from a branch, the blue poppy at your feet or the plant that will soothe your headache or that nasty insect bite?

Pokhara below the Annapurna ©Solange Hando

Fine, but how do you know you can trust your man?
Easy, don't do it on the cheap, go to a registered agency in Kathmandu or Pokhara, explain what you're looking for and they'll have someone to meet your needs, knowledgeable, trained in hygiene and first aid and speaking your language, or at least English.

View from Sarangkot, Nepal ©Solange Hando

After many visits, I'd say so...
And all for $20 a day (how much was the flight?) and just think what that would mean to your guide and his family...

Enjoy and I'll see you there...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Nepal Bare Essentials

Annapurna Range above Pokhara, Nepal ©Solange Hando

Nepal is as stunning as ever and after 14 visits, here are a few tips I'd like to share to help you along.
  • On arrival at the airport, pick up a visa form (if needed) plus an an immigration form. You don't want to queue for 30 minutes then have to start all over again.
  • Visa on arrival requires a passport-size photograph and cash payment (major currencies only). Costs from US$25 depending on length of stay.
  • If your hold luggage appears to be missing, check the bags and cases piled up on the floor to free the belt for the next flight.
  • If you need a taxi to get to your hotel, buy a voucher from the taxi desk in the arrival hall. The alternative is a long walk down to the road and you may end up paying more.

Kathmandu Valley ©Solange Hando

  • Money matters, check your notes... Those of a similar colour are easily confused, 500 and 1000 rupees, also 20 and 5. Always check the European digits on the reverse.
  • Safety matters, wait before you cross...Cross the road with a crowd whenever you can and once you start, don't step back. Motorbikes are allowed in pedestrian areas.
  • Buy local, save money: a small bottle of imported water costs 115 R, a large bottle of local water 15R. The same for biscuits and other supermarket goods.
  • Eating out? Check for extras, few menus include tax and service charge, that's an extra 23% (likewise for accommodation).
  • Shopping? Bargain but remember this is a poor country. Start around half the asking price and be prepared to climb a little.

On the Everest Trail ©Solange Hando

  • Trekking: if you can afford a flight, you can afford a guide. Use a registered agency, you will discover more, you will be safe and you will be providing employment.
  • On the narrow trails, let yaks and buffaloes pass on the precipice side, they're used to it and tougher than you.
  • Beware of altitude sickness, it can be a matter of life and death.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu ©Solange Hando

Enjoy and keep safe

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Caribbean Dreams Punta Cana Resort and Spa, Dominican Republic

Dreams Punta Cana Resort and Spa ©Solange Hando

Located on the Atlantic coast, at the north eastern end of the Dominican Republic, this all-inclusive resort claims one of the longest free-form pools on the island, stretching from the lobby all the way to the beach. It's made up of three connecting pools with bridges so you can easily cross from one side of the hotel to the other.

Pool or beach, water activities are just part of the entertainment offered by the resort from morning to night. Families, couples, singles, young and not so young, everyone is catered for, from Classic Movie Time to Yoga, Cooking Classes, Theatre Shows, Latin American dancing and much more.

Caribbean Dreams, Gardens and Beach ©Solange Hando

Pools aside, the next best thing about Dreams Punta Cana are the spacious tropical grounds, beautifully kept and draped in flowering hedges, exotic plants and trees which spread a welcome shade on a hot day.

When the rain comes, and it might at times though never for long, the covered walkways linking the different buildings help keep the guests dry. Then, if you don't want to stay in your room or chat away in the bar, there's always the spa for a beauty treatment or a Couples Relaxing Moon and Stars Massage, complete with Champagne and passion fruit.

Poolside Accommodation ©Solange Hando

Accommodation is in low rise buildings spread across lush grounds either side of the pools. All 620 rooms and suites have either a patio or a balcony with tropical or pool views. Swim-up rooms are especially popular with their own lawn leading straight to the water.

Guest rooms are spacious and bright, cool tiled floor, white walls, a splash of colour on cushions and seats, tea and coffee making facilities and a mini-bar with free drinks replenished daily.

Salad Bar at Dreams Punta Cana ©Solange Hando

As for eating options, you are truly spoilt for choice, with six main restaurants: international, French, Italian, Asian, Seafood and Grill, plus a pizzeria and snacks on the beach, not to forget the bars and coffee-shop handing out the most delicious pastries.

You can always find room at the World Café where the superb buffet and super-friendly staff are simply amazing, but it may be wise to reserve your table in the more specialised venues.

Caribbean Sunset at Dreams Punta Cana ©Solange Hando

Right on the beach and miles away from anywhere, Punta Cana is popular for honeymoons and weddings, with romantic sunset and golden sunrise over the ocean.

A few excursions are on offer but most of all, guests come here for fun, good food and relaxation.