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Miyagi… for when travel restrictions are lifted

Throughout the region, there are a vast array of remote places that provide travelers with a serene escape from the crowded cities. Here are some attractions and destinations to dream about from afar, until travel restrictions are lifted.

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Known as the “land of contrasts,” Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan gets this name from its unique blend of urban areas and natural attractions. Throughout the region, there are a vast array of remote places that provide travelers with a serene escape from the crowded cities. Below are some attractions and destinations to dream about from afar, until travel restrictions are lifted. 

Travelers looking for a quick escape from the cities can find one in Akiu, home to Rairaikyo Gorge. The one-kilometer nature trail is free and easy to access. The scenic gorge features a variety of rock formations and flowers, and offers access to Nozoki Bridge, also known as the Lover’s Sanctuary. The remote spot has a heart-shaped hole that naturally formed in the gorge wall. After it rains, the heart is filled with water and locals believe you can see your future lover’s reflection in the water.

Right near the gorge is Hotel Zuiho, an upscale and modern hot springs hotel with numerous baths at different temperatures. The city of Osaki also has a variety of natural attractions, such as Naruko-kyo Gorge. To experience these attractions from home, Osaki has its own Youtube channel featuring in-depth videos of many local attractions. 

The sacred Oshima Island in Matsushima Bay was famous decades ago, regarded as a special place of spiritual power, and home to numerous natural attractions. In the 11th century, the island became home to poets and monks, including the famed pilgrim Kenbutsu Shonin, a monk who was said to have magical powers, including the ability to fly. In 1119, Emperor Toba heard of these legends and gifted the island 1,000 pine trees — which is believed to be the origin of the name of the bay of “Matsushima,” meaning “pine tree island.” Today, the island is shrouded in mystery and still contains historical landmarks and artifacts for visitors to explore.

A short trip from the island to the Onikobe Jigokudani Nature Trail in Northern Miyagi offers a very different view. This volcanic area, whose name translates to “demon neck,” is home to erupting geysers that momentarily disrupt the solitude and tranquility of the trail. Also nearby are natural hot springs, and travelers looking to spend the night can camp out at the Fukiage Kogen Campground

Miyagi is also known for its variety of remote onsens, ideal for travelers looking for wellness options. The Sakunami Ichinobo is a ryokan that sits among the lush forestry in the valleys of the prefecture’s Sendai region. Reflecting the natural beauty of the surrounding nature, the Sakunami Ichinobo features an outdoor pool, sun deck and eight hot spring baths from three natural geothermal sources, including the nearby Hirosegawa River. Gaga Onsen of Mount Zao is also incredibly remote and has been a family operation since 1875. The ryokan boasts a rustic wooden private open-air bath overlooking the river that guests can reserve free of charge. For even more privacy, the Komakusa Suite includes its own in-room hot spring bath.

Sporty travelers looking to explore the land and see as many sites as possible can mountain bike through the Mount Zao Highlands. The Zao Echo Line is the best way to take in the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and is considered the most scenic route around Mount Zao. The nearly 16-mile trail traverses through the mountainous border between Miyagi and Yamagata Prefecture. Bike riders and hikers can follow this trail up and over Mount Zao, eventually ending at the hot springs of Kaminoyama Onsen in Yamagata. Beautiful waterfalls, spiritual sites and Okama Crater, the crown jewel of Mount Zao, are waiting for those who choose this path.

For a way to experience cycling in Miyagi from home, people can check out this video on cycling through Matsushima Bay and this one in Akiu.

Travelers who prefer the beach instead of mountains can hike the Michinoku Coastal Trail, a trekking route running from Fukushima to Aomori Prefecture that is over 500 miles long. Hikers who travel through Miyagi are bound to encounter some of the prefecture’s most iconic remote and scenic spots, such as Matsushima Bay and Sanriku Coast. Travelers at home can still experience the trail through this online guide that shows the trail in its entirety.

For more information on Miyagi, visit http://www.visitmiyagi.com.

Destinations

Loggers become river tour guides in Samar

Revenge Tourism is a social phenomenon where people who have been stuck at home, often for months at a time, rush to tourist sites to appease their lockdown fatigue. With easing lockdown and flight restrictions, more and more tourist destinations are experiencing waves of visitors out to re-experience paradise – but what about the people who guide them? The people who themselves work in paradise?

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We’re shooting through a wild, wild washing machine: paddling, cursing, laughing and getting absolutely drenched inside a torpedo-shaped canoe.

We’re in the Ulot River, a 92-kilometer waterway which snakes east to west across Samar. The third largest island in the Philippines, Samar is rough country, hewn from limestone which over millennia formed some of the most dramatic rock formations and cave systems in the Philippines, such as the Langun-Gobingob Complex.

Revenge Tourism is a social phenomenon where people who have been stuck at home, often for months at a time, rush to tourist sites to appease their lockdown fatigue. With easing lockdown and flight restrictions, more and more tourist destinations are experiencing waves of visitors out to re-experience paradise – but what about the people who guide them? The people who themselves work in paradise? 

“I used to help cut and transport logs illegally,” reveals Epifanio ‘Panying’ Obidos, our boat guide. “For generations, we used traditional torpedo shaped canoes called balugo to transport timber. We would get orders to cut down hardwood trees like banuyonarra or kamagong. One balugo can transport over 100 board feet of wood.”

Samar is among the poorest provinces in the country. In 2015, the Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that 45% or nearly half of all families in Samar lived below the poverty line. “The hardest part was that even when we’d risk run-ins with the law by transporting illegally-cut timber, we’d still have barely enough cash to survive. Often we’d borrow money from financiers to buy gas and other provisions to transport the logs they ordered. Even after getting paid, we’d still be in debt,” recalls Panying. 

Things have steadily improved. Samar’s poverty incidence dropped to 30% by 2018, mostly because of small businesses, one of which is the Ulot River Torpedo Extreme Boat Adventure, where boats go bow-to-bow with raging rapids.

“In 2008, to veer away from illegal activities, we started using our torpedo-shaped balugo for tourism to showcase the natural beauty of Samar. We mostly employed locals who formerly worked as illegal loggers or log haulers,” explains Panying. “Back then we only had 12 people and a few old boats – but traversing rivers was a way of life for us, since we’ve been using it for transportation long before Samar’s road network was developed.” 

Each torpedo boat has a three-man crew, comprised of a boat operator, tour guide and a point man, who sits at the bow or front of a boat, deftly using a paddle or pole to keep rocks at bay.

“Now our once-small operation has over 20 boats and employs 70 local people,” beams Panying. In 2018, their group, Tour Guides and Boat Operators for River Protection and Environmental Development Organization (TORPEDO), was recognized by the Department of Tourism for its responsible, community-based operations.

The Ulot River is part of the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP), the country’s largest land-based Protected Area (PA). “The Philippines hosts 247 PAs and practically all of them give locals employment,” explains Department of Environment and Natural Resources Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) director Natividad Bernardino. The stories of many of these PAs are similar to Panying’s – of loggers turned into tour guides, hunters turned into rangers, blast fishers transformed into dive guides.

“For all this to continue, there must be a steady stream of clients,” notes SINP superintendent Eires Mate. “The COVID-19 lockdowns hit the world’s PAs hard, generating all-time visitor revenue lows. Many people were laid off and operations were drastically scaled-down. With our parks again open for business, we invite adventurers to visit the Ulot River and our country’s other beautiful PAs.”

Launched in May of 2022, the Year of the Protected Areas or YOPA aims not just to educate people on the need to conserve PAs, but to encourage them to visit the sites themselves. YOPA hopes to generate funds from tourists to ensure continued management for areas hard-hit by COVID-19 budget cuts.

Declaring natural sites as PAs is among the best ways to protect natural capital. “The jobs generated by sustainable and ethical tourism activities act as economic and social safety nets for locals who might otherwise turn to illegal means to support their families,” says United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative Selva Ramachandran.

* * *

Back in the Ulot River, the going is wet and wild. Our balugo, which traveled easily downstream, is now battling against the current in what locals jokingly call the ‘Salmon Run’ – akin to the epic upriver journeys undertaken by salmon in colder climes. Chilly geysers of water splash into the boat as our engines go full-throttle.

Just as soon as we’re sopping wet, the river calms down, the ride turning tranquil. Like the turbulent COVID-19 era, raging waters and rough times too, shall pass.

I glance ahead and notice what’s written on one of the guides’ shirts: #MAYFORRIVER, a play on #MayForever, the hope that some things really can endure the test of time.

With illegal activities, nothing is certain – but with legal, safe and sustainable tourism, then there truly might be forever.

“You know, if not for ecotourism, I would most probably be dead,” reflects Panying as we quietly glide back to shore. “The authorities would have definitely caught me, like they caught others. I might have starved to death, been shot by the cops or been hauled off to jail.”

He looks up, just a bit teary-eyed.

“In a very real way, ecotourism saved my life.”

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Travel

5 Road ready tips to ride motorcycles safely and comfortably

As a rider, you are part of a global community and a steward of the open road. To keep your ride safe and comfortable, consider these additional tips.

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A warm day on the open road is a dream opportunity for riders, whether it’s a longer trip or a quick jaunt through town. Regardless of the adventure, and no matter what you ride, a thrilling ride is a safe ride.

Whether you’re new to the open road or a seasoned veteran, remember to follow best practices for safe riding like those outlined in the Responsible Rider program from BRP, makers of Can-Am 3-wheel vehicles. The program prioritizes being an attentive rider and always considering safety, the environment and riding etiquette from highways to city streets and everywhere in-between.

As a rider, you are part of a global community and a steward of the open road. To keep your ride safe and comfortable, consider these additional tips:

Wear the Right Gear

While your fashion statement is largely a matter of personal preference, there are some safety items designed to protect your health and well-being that should be worn. Protective riding gear helps keep you safe while enjoying the open road.

Full-hand gloves, riding boots that cover ankles, pants and jackets help protect against wind, sun, cold, heat and flying objects such as bugs or rocks. Drivers and passengers should also wear an approved helmet and eye protection to prevent injuries to the head, brain and eyes.

Choose a Proper Helmet

Every rider should wear a helmet, and the abundance of options available can make it tough to decide what’s best. Start by looking for a DOT Certification sticker, which means the helmet meets the strict safety standards of the Department of Transportation.

  • Full Face: This style of helmet provides protection for the head and neck with a fixed chin that helps absorb impact. Simply slip it on and adjust the visor.
  • Open Face: Helmets like the Can-Am N21 are usually worn with goggles or a small integrated shield. This option provides ultimate freedom on the road.
  • Crossover: These helmets are easy to personalize based on ride intensity and weather conditions. Crossover helmets can be configured in numerous ways by transforming from full face to jet, which keep it breezy with a full field of view.

Maintain Your Hairdo

Keep hair out of your face. If you have longer hair, choose a hairstyle that’s high and away from your eyes like a low bun, simple braid or ponytail. Secure hair at the nape of your neck and, when possible, wear a neck gaiter around the back of your head and across your nose to keep loose hairs secured. Bonus tip: Keep a compact brush on your ride so you can brush your hair upon arrival at your destination.

Prepare Appropriately for Riding Conditions

Weather is unpredictable, and you should be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws your way. Regardless of the forecast, always make a plan for unforeseen conditions like wind and rain. An easy way to stay prepared is to keep a small packable jacket on your ride so you’re never left without an extra layer.

Cooler conditions call for warm yet lightweight gear such as a base layer with additional light layers over the top like a jacket or thin vest. Hotter days require vented clothing that allows airflow to keep you cool and dry.

Consider Your Passenger’s Safety

The most important rule for packing a passenger is ensuring your bike has a specific seat intended for a second rider. Be aware of how the added weight can affect the handling and behavior of the vehicle.

Generally, riding with a passenger requires more gradual riding from acceleration and braking to steering. Instruct your passenger how you prefer him or her to ride with you to ensure the most enjoyment possible.

Find more responsible riding tips at can-am.brp.com.

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Destinations

5 Reasons to visit Mykonos this summer

Summer is here, and there’s no better place to stay than Kenshō Ornos on Greece’s iconic island of Mykonos.

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Photo by Jeet Dhanoa from Unsplash.com

Undoubtedly one of the most famous Greek islands, Mykonos is known for its stunning beaches, cosmopolitan vibe, and vibrant dining scene. Holidaymakers flock from all corners of the globe to soak up the Grecian sunshine and local gastronomy.

No trip to Mykonos is complete however, without a visit to Kenshō Ornos – the A-list favourite, award-winning boutique hotel, set on the beautiful Ornos Bay. Here are our five top reasons to visit the hotel:

1. Resident DJ and Weekly Music Events

Popular for its glamorous nightlife, superstar DJs and beautiful crowds, Mykonos is a true holiday destination. The fun starts at Kenshō Ornos, with a calendar of regular events sure to keep guests entertained. Throughout the season, different musicians and performances will be taking place at Kenshō Ornos, ranging from singers to DJ’s, dancers and more. Recent events include our resident DJ, DJ Angelosi playing Ethnic Electronic and Afro House music and Mediterranean ethnic music performances by Ghenwa Nemnom.

2. The Star-Lit Swimming Pool

One of the best places to take a dip in Mykonos, the Kenshō Ornos pool was designed to complement the hotel’s surrounding Ornos Bay. With majestic views of the Aegean Sea, lounging by the pool has never been more relaxing. The pool is the perfect Instagram spot, guaranteed to give everyone at home FOMO. At night, the turquoise swimming pool is illuminated with ‘starlights’ that light up the turquoise water for inviting evening swims. Guests can enjoy fresh towels, delicious cocktails and snackable lite bites whilst listening to chilled beats throughout the day.

3. Kenshō Ornos Restaurant, Home To Exquisite Fine Dining

Dining in Greece is an experience like no other. Think long leisurely meals with stunning views of the Aegean Sea and evenings filled with Greek mezze favourites and glasses of local wine. This summer, an exquisite dining experience awaits at Kenshō Ornos Restaurant. Award-winning Executive Chef Ippokratis Anagnostelis, has created a menu that takes traditional Cycladic cuisine and transforms it into modern gastronomy.

This season, the restaurant is launching the ‘Gastro Comfort Project,’ a special degustation menu of small individual plates with intense flavour. Highlights include Aegean red mullet, with bouillabaise espuma, Ossetra caviar and basil oil; Cycladic Cacio E Pepe, bavette cooked with lamb broth and dried anthotiro cheese and Orzo Langoustine, orzo with Aegean langoustines and lobster broth. The menu is available daily between 7-11PM, reservations can be made through the website here: here.

4. The One-of-a-Kind Cave Spa

This is the Mykonos for grown-ups. The ones who come to Mykonos to experience ultimate luxury and relaxation. This is the only Cave Spa on the island, transporting guests to a magical place to enjoy moments of rejuvenation.  The boutique hotel has won numerous awards for its spa, which includes two treatment rooms, a hammam bath, an indoor pool with hydromassage, a tropical rain bed, a hair salon, beauty centre and a gym. Visitors can choose between various treatments with packages on offer like The Sleep Therapy and The Lovers Spa Experience. Don’t forget to try the hi-tech sun beds with colour, sound and heat therapy!

5. The Unique Architecture and Design

Under the bright sun of Mykonos, Kenshō Ornos is a haven of beautiful design and architecture. The colour palette uses shades of white, natural wood and stone, respecting the values of Myconian architecture. Combining state-of-the-art technology and traditional design elements to create an impression of serenity and beauty. The hotel features iconic design pieces by well-known figures including Dedon, Mogg, Gessi and Kenneth Cobonpue. Guest rooms and suites are airy, light, individually styled and design with seclusion and privacy in mind.

6The Idyllic Location Above Ornos Bay

The hotel overlooks Ornos Bay, a beautiful part of the coast where the land curves inwards and traditional whitewashed Myconian architecture is dotted around the hillside. The Bay is paradise, with clear turquoise waters and white fine sands, yet only 2km drive away from the iconic town of Mykonos. Kenshō Ornos offers guests the best of both worlds; the accessibility to  popular cultural, nightlife and entertainment spots teamed with the serenity and tranquillity of the island’s quieter side of Ornos.

About Kenshō Mykonos

From the Zen tradition, Ken means “seeing” and Shō means “nature, essence”. Kenshō is often interpreted as “seeing one’s (true) nature”. Kenshō offers its guests a unique journey, creating memorable experiences of stay, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Inspired by the endless blue colours of the sky and the sea, Kenshō combines the high-quality services and goes beyond the standards, to provide a truly luxurious experience for each and every visitor. Kenshō Ornos is home to every luxury a guest could need including 35 individually styled rooms & suites, the only cave spa in Mykonos, the finest hospitality, state-of-the-art facilities and the ultimate Myconian experience.

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