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Valley of the Sugar Mills

By Linda Tancs

Eight miles northeast of Trinidad, Cuba, a trio of rural valleys–San Luis, Santa Rosa and Meyer–comprise the Valley of the Sugar Mills.  The industry peaked there in the 19th century, when more than 30,000 slaves worked in more than 50 sugar mills.  A monument to that powerful industry is Manaca-Iznaga Tower, a 147-foot-tall mud brick structure built in 1816 by Alejo Maria Iznaga y Borrell, a successful plantation owner.  Its value as a lookout over this region dubbed an area of Outstanding Universal Value by UNESCO belies its harsh history; a bell in the tower once signaled the start and end of the slaves’ workday in the mills and on the plantations and sounded an alarm should any of them try to escape.

Lighting the Way in North Carolina

By Linda Tancs

Ocracoke Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina and the second oldest operating light station in the nation (surpassed by New Jersey’s Sandy Hook Lighthouse).  Built in 1823, the need to preserve its structural integrity prevents climbing, but the exterior views are just as enchanting.  For interior views, you can visit four other lighthouses adorning the Outer Banks:   Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras (the tallest lighthouse in North America), Currituck Beach and Roanoke Marshes.  The lights, however, aren’t the only things sparkling at night–tiny dinoflagellates kicked up in the beaches along Cape Hatteras National Seashore glow with a blue-green light.

Rocky Mountaineer

By Linda Tancs

It’s a three-hour drive between Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, B.C., but why deal with the traffic?  If you believe that life is about the journey rather than the destination, then take the meandering route via rail on the Rocky Mountaineer’s Coastal Passage itinerary.  The tour begins at Seattle’s King Street station and features over two days of daytime train travel, taking in a hotel night in Seattle, two nights in Vancouver and a night in Alberta.  While munching on delectable entrees and complimentary drinks, you’ll take in amazing vistas (through oversized windows or glass-domed cars, depending on the class of service) of the Canadian Rockies.  Keep an eye out for sightings of its wildlife inhabitants like sheep, elk, goats, bears and moose.  They’re in no hurry–are you?

Hotspot for World’s Second Largest Fish

By Linda Tancs

Did you know that the basking shark is the second largest fish in the world?  Second only to the whale shark, this fish grows up to 30 feet in length.  Feeding largely on plankton, fish eggs and small fish, they’re generally harmless to humans.  Snaking their way through coastal temperate waters, these surface-cruising giants are a tourist draw on the Isle of Man during the summer.  Their numbers are particularly dense there, making the island one of the world’s hotspots for sightings.  Head to Port Erin, Niarbyl or Peel for perfect views along the sheltered south coast.

Sand and Shingles

By Linda Tancs

Heather and gorse, shingles and sand.  That’s what you’ll find at Dunwich Heath, Britain’s gem on the Suffolk coast.  The scenery is bursting with color this time of year, not to mention enviable bird watching for the likes of the Dartford warbler, nightjar, woodlark and others.  During school holidays the ranger team provides child friendly activities such as pond dipping and bug hunting.  Geocaching is one of many new activities; you can borrow a free tracker pack at the information hut.

On the Ropes

By Linda Tancs

How far will you go for a fantastic cliffside view?  Across a wobbly rope bridge closing a 98-foot deep and 65-foot wide chasm?  If your answer is yes, then Carrick-a-Rede island in Northern Ireland is for you.  The rope bridge to the island was erected by salmon fisherman to check their salmon nets during the industry’s heyday in the area.  Along with uninterrupted views of Rathlin Island and Scotland, you’ll no doubt encounter fulmars, kittywakes, guillemots and razorbills that breed on the islands close to the bridge.  The area is rife with geological formations, flora and fauna, earning it a citation as an “Area of Special Scientific Interest.”

Mink in Maine

By Linda Tancs

Mink is an elusive animal in Isle au Haut, an island off the coast of Maine so remote that you need to take a mailboat from Stonington to get there.  French explorer Samuel Champlain noted the island in 1604 and named it Isle au Haut (High Island) because it is the tallest island in Penobscot Bay.  Not surprisingly, the year-round population is rather small (less than 100) but nonetheless dedicated to preserving their island way of life.  This is the place to take a breather from the hustle and bustle of daily life–troll for seafood or native berries, or get lost in the park.  About half the island, or 2,700 acres, is part of Acadia National Park.  Techies needn’t worry.  The Town Hall is equipped with free, high speed wireless internet access.

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