The Spice Isle: Where trails are paved with nutmeg shells

“You can use it for tea” he says after picking the small leaf and handing it to me to smell.

There doesn’t seem to be anything that Telfor Bedeau doesn’t know about Grenada’s plants. In the past 50 yards alone, he’s pointed out trees that would’ve gone unnoticed as anything other than anonymous tropical trees. But now they’re recognized as some of my favorite things in the world: guava, mango, cinnamon. I’m already imagining my next supermarket trip back home going a little differently.

Telfor would be considered spry for any age, but especially since he just turned 70. He celebrated the day by doing what he seems to do (and love) best: hiking up to the top of Grenada’s highest peak, Mount Saint Catharine (2,757 feet).

It was his 157th time.

Known as the “Indiana Jones of Grenada,” he reached the milestone of having hiked 10,000 miles throughout Grenada in 2005. Guiding since 1990, he hikes in jellies (plastic sandals) while everybody else on the trail relies on treaded sneakers and walking sticks. He’s easy to extend a smile to everyone, and a hand to anyone who needs one.

It’s not that I’m writing this to flatter him — there’s little chance that he’ll read this, since he doesn’t use a computer or have email. No doubt it contributes to his youthful appearance. That and all the hiking. And the fact that his diet solely consists of raw fruits and vegetables.

So it was with intrigue –- both in my hiking guide Telfor and the trail –- that I hiked to the Seven Sisters Waterfalls in Grand Etang National Park.

%Gallery-77232%It’s a manageable walk — about 45 minutes one-way. If it’s considered tricky at all, it’s because of the ramped up mud- and slick-factor after a rain shower (and it is home to a rain forest, after all).

After paying EC$5 fee (per person) because the trail is on private property, we descend between plantations that are growing food I’m just getting to know for the first time, like callaloo and sorrel. We continue down steeper terrain where steps are made of large rocks, or clay that’s reinforced by bamboo (which also grows along the trail and creaks in the wind at intervals). The path meanders through lush greenery of all shapes and heights –- ferns, banana trees, strangler figs, palm trees.

Telfor takes a swipe at a vine stock with his machete, to show me its hollow core. “It’ll grow back,” he explains. Such is the nature of these quick-growing plants here — the first to sprout after Hurricane Ivan.

Areas that are muddy are mulched by nutmeg shells — an ingenious use of the island’s abundant throw-away. (You can even catch a subtle whiff of fragrance after the shells break underfoot.)

After rock-hopping across a river, we reach the two cascades of water, each falling into its own pool. There’s room for lounging along the side, but most people seem to head straight into the waterfall of the upper pool. My preferred vantage point: mid-way in the upper pool, looking up at the steep cliffs on either side, covered in a mix of big-leafed, exotic greenery.

The return trip is the same route back. In this direction, you’ll likely use the walking stick (on loan from the start) to help with the upward climb, rather than to navigate slippery sections downhill. I figure that the slower uphill pace gives me more time to look for the rain forest’s mona monkeys and armadillos, but no such sightings.

If you want to replicate the Seven Sisters hike on your own, you can reach it by hiring a car or joining a tour. Or you can specifically hire Telfor as a guide for the day (US$40 for 1 person, $30/each for 2 people, $25 for 3+ people, regardless of how long the day is. Phone: 473.442.6200).

Alison Brick traveled through Grenada on a trip sponsored by the Grenada Board of Tourism. That said, she could write about anything that struck her fancy. (And it just so happens that these are the things that struck her fancy.) You can read more from her The Spice Isle: Grenada series here.

SkyMall Monday: Travel Writer Favorites

Gadling’s “SkyMall Monday” feature recently turned one year old. That means it’s finally eating solid foods, sporting a luxurious head of hair and wetting itself constantly. It’s been a heck of a year for SkyMall Monday, and I’ve met a lot of great people along the way (including one very special friend). Sharing my love of SkyMall with others and hearing about their experiences with every traveler’s guilty pleasure has kept me laughing during many long layovers.

In that spirit, to kick off Gadling’s month-long celebration of SkyMall Monday, I asked several travel writers to write about their favorite SkyMall products. The hard part wasn’t getting them to participate. No, it was getting them to select just one product about which to gush. Who knew people loved SkyMall so much? Well, you and I did. Duh! So, below you will find the SkyMall wish list of some of the best travel writers around. And in italics you will find my review of their selections. Hey, I still run this joint.
Robert Reid (Lonely Planet US Travel Editor & blogger) – I’m charmed by the King Tut Life-Sized Cabinet (pictured above) for a variety of reasons. One, knowledge comes from prying open the past, some say, and this case it’s literal. But also for its description, which begins, “Measuring taller than most men (6 1/4 feet).” This is wonderful — for its unusual use of fraction, but also because SkyMall simply understands that when I buy $850 furnishings I make my considerations solely in how they compare… with men. Robert also demands that he sit in that throne everywhere he travels.

David Farley (Author of An Irreverent Curiosity and freelancer)I don’t have a truck–or even a car–to properly display the Truck Antlers, but if I ever do, I would totally buy these. I love the idea of turning my automobile into an antlered animal. I’d just make sure I don’t drive through states with loose gun laws or anywhere near Dick Cheney’s house. I’d don’t love the idea of being hunted by some gun-toting nut. Oddly, David’s failure to own a truck has not prevented him from owning multiple Animated Hitch Critters.

Jen Leo (Lead blogger for the Los Angeles Times Travel Blog)The Noise Canceling Safety Earmuffs are my dream gift. Not to cancel out the noise from the screaming kid next to me on the plane-ahem, mine-but to shut out the flight attendant screaming “Please stay seated – the fasten seat belt light is on!” as I race past her to change the poopy diaper of my tot which is clearly causing more turbulence in our aisle than the pilot’s fine driving. How intense are your child’s bowel movements that your diaper situations require industrial-strength noise cancellation? Does Gerber make three-bean chili tacos now?

Spud Hilton (Travel Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle) – It was a tough choice, but I finally went with the Shirtpocket Underwater Camera. Not only does it have 4X zoom and 115 minutes of continuous operation, but my shirtpocket keeps going underwater and I never have a video camera to capture those precious moments. Two things worth noting: this thing takes voice memos and Spud’s second choice was the Underwater Cell Phone System. Conclusion: Spud Hilton is a merman.

Nicole Lerner, Alexi Ueltzen, Amy Widdowson & Victoria Gutierrez (Staff at NileGuide) – The ladies of NileGuide want a Custom Inflatable Costume. Why? Because no one dresses up to travel anymore. Who wouldn’t want to sport an outfit like this? 7.5′ tall, inflatable and it comes with a built-in backpack power pack. That $2k price tag is just pennies compared to the joy of “familiarizing the public” with Yoplait…or NileGuide. We’re sporting one of these for next year’s Bay to Breakers. Reminds me of when I was a kid and my imaginary best friend was an anthropomorphic container of cottage cheese. I miss Curdis ever so much.

Jim Benning (Co-founder and editor of World Hum) – My dream product is the SlumberSleeve. We’ve all used our arms as pillows at one time or another, but SkyMall knows we can do better! One of the user comments really sells me on it: “Although I tend to be fairly capable when it comes to assembly, I am still trying to figure out how to stretch the fabric “wristband” over the support piece.” I wrote about the SlumberSleeve in December 2008. I guess Jim and I could have a slumber (sleeve) party and wear our PJs.

George Hobica (Founder of Airfarewatchdog and Gadling contributor) – The Shure Se530 Luxury Earphones block out noisy fellow passengers and the sound quality is superb. And they’re lightweight and easy to pack. Leave it to the guy that finds us the best deals in travel to actually pick a sane, useful and high-quality product from the SkyMall catalog. But I’m sure he meant to recommend these much more logical Pillow Speakers.

Alexander Basek
Best deals reporter at Travel + Leisure and freelancer) – I pick the Wine and Liquor Accelerator. Traditionally, it is my understanding that once you open wine, “aging” it turns into vinegar. Still, I hope they keep this magic machine hush hush from the folks at Macallan. Alex likes his wine like I like my women: young and tart. Hey-o!

Andrew Evans (Writer for National Geographic Intelligent Travel) My dream SkyMall product is the authentic Indiana Jones Leather Bullwhip. Currently, my persona as a travel writer suffers from not having such a whip as part of my ensemble. This special edition SkyMall “gift” would come in handy from Patagonia to Berlin and as an added bonus, I would gain the attention of bored TSA agents who would unsuccessfully attempt to confiscate my new fashion accessory. Truth be told, Andrew’s persona as a travel writer suffers less for his lack of a whip and more for his insistence on wearing this heating pad at all times.

Great selections by these seasoned travelers. Not as good as the ones I find every week, but you don’t become a highly respected, sought-after expert in all things SkyMall overnight. Which writer do you think picked the best product? What tops your SkyMall wish list? Let us know in the comments.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Big in Jordan: How to reenact Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

This week, Big in Japan is on vacation in the Middle East, and will be bringing you travel news and happenings from around this often misunderstood region.

With the world premiere of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull scheduled for May 22, 2008, it’s no surprise that the internet is buzzing these days with Indy-related travel themes. After all, who wouldn’t want jet-set across the world in search of mythical treasures, assuming of course that in the end, you get the girl and defeat the Nazis!

Well, considering that today’s column is about Jordan, that surprisingly peaceful speck of a country that is bordered by Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia (there goes the neighborhood!), I thought it best to give into the Indy hype. After all, one of the newly minted New Seven Wonders of the World, namely the ancient city of Petra, happens to be the location of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Interested in reenacting one of the greatest moments in cinema history? Go grab your trusty bull whip and keep on reading.

In the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Joneses, Sallah, and Brody race across the world to reach the temple housing the Holy Grail, which is located in the Canyon of the Crescent Moon in Hatay near Ä°skenderun. You don’t need to be a geography major to realize that Hollywood got a bit carried away with the names, especially since the the temple housing the Grail is a very real place. In fact, we’re talking about the Treasury, which is located in the Siq Canyon in Petra near Wadi Musa.

So, how do you reenact the Last Crusade? Actually, it’s quite simple. Wadi Musa, a small village in the south of Jordan, is the base town for exploring Petra, and home the area’s hotels, restaurants, cafes and tourist-related services. From here, the entrance to the ancient city is just a quick cab ride away.

Petra, a ‘rose-red city half as old as time,’ was hewn from towering rock walls of multi-colored sandstone by the ancient Nabataeans, Arab traders who dominated the region in pre-Roman times. The city’s most iconic building, and the film location of the Last Crusade, is the fabled Treasury or Al-Khazneh, a masterpiece of Hellenistic craftsmanship that is near perfect in size, scope and symmetry. Sadly, the interior of the building is empty, so you can abandon any hopes of falling rock bridges, grail cups and the search for everlasting youth.

The Treasury is approached via the Siq, a long and narrow slot canyon of multi-colored sandstone. In the final moments of the Last Crusade, the Joneses, Sallah, and Brody race down the Siq on horseback with the Treasury to their backs, fading off into the distance. If you’ve brought along your Indy hat and leather jacket, this is where you’re going to want to snap that classic screen shot. Fortunately, the local Bedouins have all seen the Last Crusade a few hundred times, so there is no shortage of horses on hand that can be rented for a small negotiable price!

Sure, it’s touristy, but once you’ve gotten the obligatory Indy snapshot, you can take comfort in the fact that Petra is one of the most stunning archaeological sites in the whole of the Middle East, yet sees a mere fraction of the tourists that swamp neighboring Egypt. So, wear plenty of sunscreen, clean up your memory card and don’t be afraid to call out your favorite Indy lines while trekking across the desert!

Intrigued by the Middle East? Want to know more about this often misunderstood region? Check out previous posts on the top sights in Dubai, a how-to-guide for would-be travelers in the Palestinian West Bank and reasons why Jerusalem is holier than thou.

Adventure vacations inspired by Indiana Jones

In the world of travel, it is impossible to keep up with the Joneses. No matter where you go and what you experience there, “they” have always been someplace more remote, did something more adventurous, and saw something far better than you.

Now, try to keep up with the Indiana Joneses!

On Friday, Expedia launched 10 Indiana Jones adventure vacations. Travelers can take a custom tour to 10 locations that either appeared in–or were inspired by–the Indy movies.

How do some of these sound to you?

  • Horseback riding in Petra, Jordan (like in “The Last Crusade”)
  • Elephant safari in India (like in “Temple of Doom”)
  • Visiting Incan ruins in Peru (like in the new movie, “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”)

I can tell you right now, they all sound great to me, even though I am not a huge packaged-vacation fan.

According to CCN Money, Expedia is also holding a Summer of Adventure Sweepstakes, offering an opportunity for site visitors to win travel prizes and daily giveaways. The contest will award one grand prize of two Indiana Joneses travel experiences for two; weekly prizes will include a family movie adventure to Southern California complete with Disneyland Resort Park Hopper tickets, a VIP visit to Universal Studios Hollywood, movie tickets to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and more.