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Archive for belize

A Retreat Fit for a Filmmaker

By Linda Tancs

Talk about star quality:  Blancaneaux Lodge, a luxe resort in Belize, is the former family retreat of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.  Lucky for us he decided to share it with the rest of the world over a decade ago.  This hideaway in the rainforest is a birder’s paradise, offering the potential to view the ecosystem’s 300+ species like the Stygian owl, black-headed siskin, rufous-capped warbler, Great Pewee and solitary eagle.  Voted #1 Best Resort in Central and South America in 2009 and 2010 by Travel + Leisure, the menu includes local favorites like shredded beef salad flavored with sour orange and cilantro and classic Italian fare from the Coppola family cookbook. 

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The World at Your Feet

By Linda Tancs

The world at your feet—that is, under your feet—is a traveler’s mélange of sights and sounds of the earth and under the earth from Old World to New World.  Consider Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat.  Descending from a prehistoric lake, this snow-hued wasteland is punctuated with a series of cherry red trains bearing silent testimony to a once burgeoning rail system designed for the transport of the area’s rich mineral resources to Pacific Ocean ports.  Although generally devoid of plant or animal life, a pink brigade of Andean flamingos breeds among the flats each November.

Pink also characterizes a shallow lake in Senegal, West Africa known as Lac Rose (Pink Lake), so named for the gentle pinkish tint owing to the reflection of mineral deposits in the water.   This basin is popular with tourists because its salinity allows for floating.  However, it is hope that floats for the locals in this area some 20 miles from the capital city of Dakar; the huge stores of salt extracted from the lake bed are a vital source of income.

The hue turns to blue in Belize, where an underwater sinkhole near Ambergris Caye attracts divers the world over.  The Great Blue Hole is about 1000 feet in diameter and 412 feet deep, formed from the collapse of a roof of an underwater cave system formed during the last ice age ending over 12,000 years ago.  Not for the faint of heart, the 100-plus-feet dive to a panoply of parrot fish, sponges, grunt fish, elkhorn coral and sea turtles requires advanced skills.

Nature’s fury finds a different mode of expression in Argentine Patagonia at Glaciers National Park.  There you might experience a thunderous roar beneath your feet thanks to Perito Moreno glacier.  Known as the White Giant, the iceberg’s steady advance creates a spectacular collapse, usually in summer, when the warmer waters of Lago Argentino drill a tunnel through the glacier so powerful that its trademark archway ruptures into the waters below.  Be prepared to view a stunning white haze of ice, mist and froth from the observation deck.

Water is an equally powerful part of history in Rome, Italy.  In particular, the 2000-year-old aqueduct, Aqua Virgo, is a miles-long labyrinth still channeling water to many of the city’s fountains, including the legendary Fontana di Trevi.  Running beneath the ground like many aqueducts to protect its precious resource, it is occasionally visible above ground at such locations as beside the Spanish Steps—just minutes away from Trevi fountain.  Another ancient artifact outside the city proper is the Appian Way, the longest and most significant ancient Roman road.  Along this path you can explore the catacombs, underground burial places for ancient Christians (as well as Jews and pagans), such as the catacombs of Saint Sebastian. 

Underground exploration also thrives among the dark, mineral-clad chambers of show caves in the United States.   For instance, Tennessee sports over 8700 caves for spelunkers and casual tourists alike, more than any other state.  Manganese, iron, calcium and copper are in abundant supply along the walkways at Appalachian Caverns in Blountville.  Its most popular natural resource, however, may be the colonies of grey, big brown and eastern pipistrelle bats lurking around the higher ceilings.  Ruby Falls cave in the Chattanooga area is the deepest commercial cave in the country, earning a listing on the National Register of Historic Places as well as the awe of visitors who are drawn to the waterfall gliding 145 feet through its depths.  One of the earliest visitors to the eastern Tennessee attraction of Craighead Caverns in Sweetwater was a Pleistocene-era jaguar, the remains of which are now on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.  Today’s visitors flock to an underwater lake covering over four acres, recognized by Guinness World Records as the World’s Largest Underground Sea.

Another kind of commercialism rules in Canada at Montreal’s Underground City (officially known as RÉSO), reputedly the largest underground city in the world.  This subterranean universe comprises 20 miles of tunnels spread over an area of nearly five square miles linking shopping malls, hotels, offices, cultural attractions, entertainment, universities, and transportion stations.  Often referred to as a city within a city, the shopping and entertainment mecca is a convenient respite from both cold and snowy winters as well as year-round traffic.

As poet Henry David Thoreau observed, heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.  Whether buoyed by ancient Roman craftsmanship, modern day urban masterpieces or natural phenomena, a world of enlightenment awaits you underfoot.

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