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A Swamp Walk in the Everglades

January 19, 2016 by · 4 Comments 

“I know you’re into adventure travel,” said my friend Carol. “How about a walking tour and photo shoot through the swamp in the Everglades?”

A Florida Gator

A Florida Gator

“Sure,” I replied, not considering any danger. Carol’s right, I’ve jumped into my fair share of crazy escapades, so why not a swamp walk? Besides, if former President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter could do this, why not me?

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Gem Spa’s 10-Step Hydrotherapy is a Jewel

January 6, 2016 by · 6 Comments 

Given the choice between spending a day exploring a new destination or indulging in a hotel spa, I’d pick the exploration. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy spa treatments; I just prefer basking in the local culture, people and food.

Exploring Isla Mujures architecture.

Exploring Isla Mujures architecture.

However, the Gem Spa’s 10-step hydrotherapy ritual in Cancun was such a jewel; it made me reconsider. The sublime treatment takes about an hour, and I left feeling alive and ready to take on the world. Mind you, massages are wonderfully relaxing, but this treatment re-energized me. Because I never knew what was coming next, my mind escaped from all worries, and I allowed my body soak in the moment. The hour was bliss.

Coral Beach at the Grand Fiesta Americana.

Coral Beach at the Grand Fiesta Americana.

The oversized Gem Spa, measuring a whopping 43,046 square feet, is located at the Fiesta Americana Grand in Coral Beach, Cancun. The hotel is staffed and run to the highest 5-star level. Their strip of white sand beach might not be wide, but it delivers everything you want on a Mexican vacation. Chaise lounges and palapas provide comfort, clear turquoise waves roll onto the shore, and the clock like sound of the surf can lull you to sleep. Those who prefer swimming pools will also discover happiness. The Grand’s string of freeform pools cascade one into another via waterfalls, fountains, and swim-up bars provide amusement.

The beautiful freeform pool.

The beautiful freeform pool.

I signed up for Mayan Chocolate Scrub, but anyone taking a spa treatment is invited to arrive early for a complimentary hydrotherapy routine. Don’t miss it.

I entered the Aromatherapy Steam Room in my swimsuit and sat down. The powerful scent of Eucalyptus filled the moist air. Soon, beads of sweat began to form on my skin and my lungs expanded. This room was pleasingly warm but not too hot; I stayed for ten relaxing minutes.

Aromatherapy Steam Room

Aromatherapy Steam Room

Step two, I must warn, is rather unpleasant. I was lead to a cold water shower with multiple heads. Here, I was to withstand the chilling spray for a minute. Call me a wimp, but those 60 seconds seemed endless; I couldn’t wait to get out. My skin, however, was certainly stimulated.

 

Step three involved the Clay Steam Room, much more to my liking. I was handed a container of soft clay to rub onto my body, but not my face. This treatment was to remove impurities from my skin and leave it feeling smooth. I took pleasure from the warmth and the essence of orange in the clay.

Step four had me standing in a rain shower, but this shower was not cold, merely cool to lukewarm and, at this point, the temperature felt right. I think I stayed under the shower for 2-3 minutes rinsing away all the clay.

Step five brought me to a hot sauna. The aromatic wood and dry heat produced more sweat and relaxed my muscles. I live in Florida, so can withstand heat. This ten-minute treatment was divine.

The Gem Spa's Sauna

The Gem Spa’s Sauna

Entering the Ice Room is step six. I feared this may be painful, but I was totally wrong; the ice room felt refreshing. I slowly rubbed pieces of ice all over my body and strangely, the sensation was delightful. The cold didn’t seem to bother me.

Gem Spa Ice Room

Gem Spa Ice Room

Step seven includes ten minutes in a Jacuzzi. I lowered myself into a warm pool filled with bubbly water, and my body floated around in pure happiness. Who doesn’t love a tepid soak and the gentle pressure of a Jacuzzi jet?

In the Gem Spa Jacuzzi.

In the Gem Spa Jacuzzi. (That’s me!)

 

Step eight was another “Oh no” moment: The Polar Pool. I was astonished again, this cold water treatment was not as unpleasant as I feared and my skin became tingly as blood circulation increased. I did not have to stay in long- just take a plunge or two under the icy water. Did I let out a muted scream? Yes, I did.

Warm and cold plunge pools.

Warm and cold plunge pools.

Next came step nine, the Pebble Water Walkway to stimulate my feet. I lightly touched the side walls for balance as I carefully walked through a narrow zigzag course of knee-high water lanes lined with flat stones. Some of the paths included warm water, and others were cool. The friction created on the bottom of my feet felt like a foot massage- weirdly wonderful.

9 FACB Cancun Gem Spa Pebble Water Walkway w Model

A plunge into the Pool of Sensations is the final step, number ten. To reach this pool, I exited the main hydrotherapy area and proceeded into a grand swimming pool size arena filled with fountains, waterfalls, cervical neck jets, bubble beds and floor geysers. I was free to wade around and test out each area, lingering as long as I desired. One section had a circular handrail with powerful jets (geysers) of water aimed directly upward. I entered, and the gush of air inflated by my bathing suit making me look like the Poppin’ Fresh doughboy. The powerful sensation was almost strong enough to lift me out of the pool. I chuckled, then swam around and lazed along an incline zone relishing the champagne effects until my skin began to prune. I then climbed out, toweled off and wrapped myself in a warm spa robe.

Entering the Pool of Sensations.

Entering the Pool of Sensations.

Honestly, I didn’t need anything more; the chocolate treatment was almost overkill.

Pool of Sensations

The Pool of Sensations

Traveling to the World’s Largest Rainbow Trout Farm

January 3, 2016 by · 3 Comments 

Who would have guessed a land-locked state included the largest rainbow trout farm in the world? Clear Springs Foods sits in Buhl, Idaho, beside immense rock walls. The company raises between 24-26 million pounds of trout annually. At any given time about 10 million fish thrive in their fresh water facilities.

Growing trout in a pool at Clear Springs Food in Bulh, Idaho.

Growing trout in a pool at Clear Springs Food in Buhl, Idaho.

I flew to Idaho to participate in Taste Idaho, a culinary tour that I assumed would include a lot of potatoes. It didn’t. What’s that they say about making assumptions? This year the potato harvest came early, so the fields were clear of potatoes. But I did learn a lot about agricultural operations and visited a beef and dairy farm, wineries, a fruit ranch, and a trout farm.

A natural phenomenon occurs at the walls of Snake River Canyon creating an ideal situation for trout farming. Heavy winter snows in the Tetons area melt in the spring, thus filling a massive underground lava rock aquieir –the size of Lake Erie. The fluid works its way southwest via gravity and emerges at Buhl in a gushing roar of pure, oxygenated water at a constant temperature of 58 degrees. Since those are the exact environmental conditions trout prefer, this location makes the most perfect spot on earth to raise Rainbow Trout.

Clear Springs Trout Farm

Clear Springs Trout Farm

No surprise then that trout operations in the area date back to 1928, however, Clear Springs was founded in 1966. The company now manages the entire production process from selective breeding to growing, harvesting, cleaning, deboning, packaging and distributing nationwide.

I toured parts of the plant, seeing labs used for testing and the breeding area which felt a little like walking into a science fiction movie. Although trout typically spawn in the fall, by careful selection and specialized lighting to adjust the length of day, Clear Springs can stagger the normal spawning cycle to provide a continuous supply of eggs year ’round. The eggs are placed in incubators where they are bathed in spring water for about ten days until they hatch. The young fish (called fry as in small fry) are then transferred to indoor ponds to continue their growth. When they reach three inches in length, they’re moved to outdoor ponds. Here they are nurtured for up to an additional year until they reach a typical market weight of 16 to 28 ounces.

The outdoor pools are alive and thriving. I heard flapping fish tails and saw lots of splashes. You feel like you could throw in a net and catch enough food to feed an entire town. My favorite part of the tour was the underwater viewing window that gives you a peek into a trout’s world.

All ponds are constantly inventoried and monitored for health. The fish are fed a consistent diet of high-quality nutrition including vitamins, minerals and protein.

A rainbow trout swims by the underwater viewing window.

A rainbow trout swims by the underwater viewing window.

At the optimal time, live trout are trucked to the nearby processing plant and placed in holding ponds. The fish then travel through computerized weighing and sorting lines and into chill tanks for about 30 minutes. They are then packaged as “Dressed Fish” meaning they still have their head, tail and fins or sent to other stations for further processing such as filleting and breading. Trout burgers, anyone?

Finally, the trout are shipped fresh or frozen in refrigerated trucks across the US. Some customers receive air shipments.

The 500,000 gallons of water per minute that flow through the farm and processing plants are closely monitored under very strict codes. The plants manage their waste by manufacturing liquid fertilizer and are non-consumptive water users. Environmentally safe and good for everyone.

The dramatic Snake River Canyon and Perrine Bridge in Idaho.

The dramatic Snake River Canyon and Perrine Bridge in Idaho.

Later that day, I was served some rainbow trout, courtesy of Clear Springs, at Elevation 486 in Twin Falls. The restaurant overlooks the spectacular Snake River Canyon and the famous Perrine Bridge used by B.A.S.E. jumpers. However, it was a windy day, so no one was jumping. Nonetheless, the stunning panoramic vista is worth a visit.

 

A serving of delicious trout.

A serving of delicious trout.

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Disclosure: Many thanks to Taste Idaho for hosting me on this trip.

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