This Place Rocks

The introductory warmup walk of our Cornwall walking tour was destined to rock. There was just no way around it, because it would begin and end in the town of Rock. In order to accomplish this rockin’ trek, we would need… CONTINUE READING >> 

A big thank you to Country Walkers for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.

The introductory warm-up walk of our Cornwall walking tour was destined to rock. There was just no way around it, because it would begin and end in the town of Rock.

In order to accomplish this rockin’ trek, we would need to cross Daymer Bay from our base in Padstow.

No big deal, except for the interesting challenges faced by the ferry in negotiating the enormous tides that occur along this north facing coast on the Celtic Sea.

The variance from low to high tide is often over 20 feet. This leaves many boats in the harbor stranded high and dry at the low point, and requires a temporary disembarking spot for the ferry out on a sandbar far from the usual shore.

Once across the bay, we climbed to the high tide shoreline from our makeshift docking location and proceeded along England’s famous South West Coast Path toward the tiny village of Trebetherick.

This bit of trail would be our first of many walks along the country’s longest marked footpath. We wouldn’t come near covering the over six hundred miles of coastline that it spans along the South West Peninsula, but the sections we saw proved to be as scenic as we could have possibly imagined.

The stretch along the bay ran over and through large sand dunes that have been covered with grassy growth so that the seemingly solid ground beneath our feet was actually continually shifting.

Before long we came to the enduring little Saint Enodoc Church. This stone chapel became known as Sinking Neddy because it looks as though it has sunk into the ground. But looks can be deceiving, actually it has been battling the relentless encroachment of the dunes that have continually conspired to cover it for nearly nine centuries.

Today the grass covered dunes rise almost to the roof line, but it would be completely covered if not for  a big dig back in 1864 that unearthed the building and stabilized the dunes. For three hundred years before that Neddy was nearly invisible and the only way in was to drop in through a hole in the roof.

This peculiar procedure had to be completed at least once a year for the church to remain a valid parish, so priest and parishioners would make an annual climb down a ladder to attend services.

We have always been fascinated with cemeteries, the older the better, and St. Enodoc’s was mesmerizing. Not only for the markers, some of which date back to the sixteen hundreds, but for the scenic placement overlooking the bay.

Another interesting feature of the church, which was new to us but that we would encounter many more times again on this trip, was the lychgate we passed through to enter the yard.

The word lych, meaning corpse, has survived from Old English and stems the Middle Ages when the dead were brought to the lychgate until a funeral service could be performed. The little structure kept the rain off of, and provided seating for folks keeping vigil.

As we moved off into the countryside we encountered a couple of other new gateways that enabled passage between farmer’s fields. These were both designed to permit people, but not livestock, to pass through.

The first, a kissing gate, works by allowing a person to enter inside an enclosure with a gate that can be pushed one way to enter, walked around, then pushed back to permit an exit.

The other, called a stile, is simply a few steps placed so that people but not animals can climb over a fence or wall. We immediately associated the name with the word turnstile, which was correct. The contraption we know from crowd control at stadiums originally was a form of stile used to keep sheep or other livestock penned in.

Following our curiosity down an internet rat hole led us to learn that the first use of a turnstile to control the flow of humans was in a Piggly Wiggly store in Memphis, Tennessee.

Passing along hedgerows, and through the meadows and glades, also offered us the opportunity to discover a flower that we had never seen before, the foxglove. Turns out that these beautiful purple bloom covered plants are the source of a medicine called Digoxin that is used to treat heart conditions.

The plant’s medicinal qualities have been known for centuries, with the first published description dating back to the 1785 book An Account of the Foxglove and some of its Medical Uses with Practical Remarks on Dropsy and Other Diseases by physician William Withering.

Mostly we noticed that bees love them. Guess the little bumblers will never have to worry about an irregular heartbeat.

Leaving the flora and fauna behind we returned to human habitat in the pastoral village of Pityme.  The name is said to come from a tragic tale of loss at sea.

The skipper of a fishing vessel set despite despite threatening weather, resulting in all hands being lost. The grieving women of the town went to the widow of the captain and berated her for her husband’s irresponsibility. However, she was distraught as well and explained: “I have lost my husband too, so you should also pity me.”

Whether the legend contains a grain of truth or not we may never now, but it does make for a good story. Certainly better than the account of how Rock got its name. Some seen hundred years ago it was known as Blaketorre, or Black Tor, meaning black rock, which was eventually shortened to just plain Rock.

Entering the town along the beach we could see some of the namesake stones along the shoreline, even with the tide rising rapidly. Clearly, we didn’t have time to dawdle or we would be the ones asking for pity while we washed away to sea.

So as much as we enjoyed our exploration of the area around Rock, we had to roll if we were going to catch our ferry back across the bay.

David & Veronica,

See more from our Cornwall walking tour here.

Delivering Supplies to a Little School in the Jungle

We will carry this in our hearts forever…

The Anita School was built specifically for the children of immigrant workers on one of the sprawling palm plantations in the Quepos area of Costa Rica.

Driving several miles down a dusty dirt road through the dense rows of palms, we reached a one-room schoolhouse… CONTINUE READING >>

With Back to School time upon us, we thought we’d offer this flashback story containing ideas for providing school supplies to kids all over the world who may not otherwise have the tools they need to get an education.

Delivering school supplies in Costa Rica with Pack for a Purpose

During our stay at the Parador Resort in Costa Rica, we learned a great deal about their commitment to the surrounding area, not only environmentally but also as a member of their community.

In addition to being a leader in sustainable tourism, they are involved in several civic projects.

What we're giving through Pack for a Purpose

We discovered one of them, Pack For a Purpose, from the Parador website as we were preparing for our visit.

In a simple and effective way to lend a helping hand to schools, Pack For a Purpose asks that travelers make room in their luggage for needed supplies.

We were moved by the idea and happily stuffed pencils, pens, protractors, and other items listed on their website into our bags. click here to see more about Pack For a Purpose

Anita Primary School near Quepos, Costa Rica
The one-room schoolhouse we visited.

Upon our arrival at Parador we met one of the managers, Moises, who has taken a special interest in the program.

He offered to take us to Anita Primary School, one of the four schools they help out, for a firsthand look at the effect the program can have. We were honored to accept his offer.

Housing at the Palma Tica Plantation near Quepos, Costa Rica
Housing at a palm plantation

In Costa Rica, government education is well-funded, compulsory, free to all citizens, and highly regarded, but there are schools that are not a part that system.

The Anita School was built specifically for the children of immigrant workers on one of the sprawling palm plantations in the Quepos area.

A child does her schoolwork at a palm plantation school in Costa Rica

There is an interesting history to these schools, and the little villages that are home to them.

Early in the last century, the United Fruit Company set up shop in Costa Rica to grow bananas.

At the time, there was little-to-no infrastructure in the area, so everything had to be built from scratch – roads, bridges, trains and ports for shipping, and housing for workers. The housing consisted of little villages, each with a church, a pulpería (a small store with a little of everything), and a school – all surrounding a soccer field.

Long sticks with knives on the end are used to harvest oil palms in Costa Rica.
Long poles with sharp scythes on the end are used to harvest oil palms – backbreaking work.

In the 1940s blight hit the bananas, so the company decided to plant African oil palms instead. The trees thrived, saving the plantations and these villages.

The new owner of the palm plantations, Palma Tica, continues to offer basic first-through-sixth grade education to the children of the workers. But, truth be told, these are spartan accommodations at best. Isolated and showing their age, these communities get by on the bare minimum, and the schools are no exception.

Palm plantation harvesters carry their poles and sharp scythes on bikes
Palm plantation harvesters carry their poles and sharp scythes on bicycles.

Palm plantation harvesters carry their poles and sharp scythes on bikes

Carts pulled by buffalo are used to transport palm oil fruit in Costa Rica
Carts are used to transport palm oil fruit Photo credit: Alejandro Marten

Mostly migrant workers from Nicaragua fill the difficult, low-wage jobs.

These jobs include cutting large clumps of dates from the extremely tall tree tops and hauling them off to the plant to be refined.

While the conditions may be better than what was left behind in Nicaragua, they are far from ideal.

We will carry this in our hearts forever…

Delivering school supplies in Costa Rica with Pack for a Purpose

Driving several miles down a dusty dirt road through the dense rows of palms, we reached a one-room schoolhouse.

Professor Marino welcomed us, gave us a brief overview of the little school and introduced us to his pupils.

Delivering school supplies in Costa Rica with Pack for a Purpose

He has been teaching at Anita School for twelve years and, though many of the students are only here briefly, Professor Marino can take pride that he has watched several go on to university with scholarships.

Math class was in session and, like the old frontier one-room schoolhouses, all grades are taught simultaneously with each child at their own grade level.

Delivering school supplies in Costa Rica with Pack for a Purpose

The folks at Parador had combined the contributions from many guests to make bags for each of the children, and their eyes really lit up as they dug in.

Like kids with Halloween goody bags, they dumped the contents out on their desks and excitedly examined their haul.

By far, the most popular item in each bag was the colorful soft rubber, solar-powered calculator that we’re sad to say we didn’t contribute.

Whoever packed the calculators in their suitcases brought real joy to this group of children – we wish you could have been there to see their happy faces.

Delivering school supplies in Costa Rica with Pack for a Purpose

Though the excited students no doubt enjoyed the distraction from their math duties (as any kid would – ugh math), we knew we needed to move on and allow their routine to resume so we reluctantly said our good-byes, thanked Professor Marino, and stepped outside.

The playground at a palm plantation school in Costa Rica

Moises explained to us that the commitment from Parador goes beyond school supplies.

Staff from the resort also perform routine maintenance, painting and fixing up as needed, and even built the children a playground. While he elaborated, it was plain to see his pride in this little school.

Most deservedly so, job well done.

David & Veronica,

A HUGE gracias to Parador Resort and Spa for setting up our visit! As always, all opinions are our own.

See more about Pack For a Purpose
See more about Parador Resort and Spa

See all of our adventures in Costa Rica!

Traveling Low To The Ground

 Traveling low to the ground is our style of getting around. We’re not big on throwing money into all inclusive resorts, hate being told what to do and enjoy meeting the “real people” at our chosen destinations. It’s all about discovering things for ourselves and jumping into the culture at hand. No set plans…

Traveling Low to the Ground!

Traveling low to the ground is our style of getting around. We’re not big on throwing money into all inclusive resorts, hate being told what to do and enjoy meeting the “real people” at our chosen destinations.

It’s all about discovering things for ourselves and jumping into the culture at hand. No set plans.

It also costs a lot less, and we’re all about saving money where ever we can. Every little bit helps add to what we have to spend on our adventures.

We love to be afoot, seeing everything from ground level. You’d be surprised at how much you miss whizzing by at 60 miles an hour (though we have found that the best way to find out about a place is from a good taxi driver–the true ambassadors of the world–and the snarkier they are the more we love ’em!).

Street food, weird shop owners and cheesy tourist diversions are all more enjoyable when you discover them for yourself. We’d have a lot less to write about if we woke up in a gated resort with nothing more to think about than the planned menu and whether we’re going to play golf or join twenty other tourists on a day trip.

We’ve learned the “international sign language” that gets us through much of the tasks at hand. This sometimes involves some innovative on-the-fly signing.

Imaging poor David in the Italian pharmacy trying to get the point across to the stunned man behind the counter that his lovely wife is all clogged up and in the need of an enema. Hilarious fun. Or the night in a bar in Spain “discussing” American politics via cocktail napkins and crazy arm flapping. What great memories (really!).

Sometimes renting a car and pointing it in a general direction is a great way to go.

We spent a week in France in some wonderful places we would have never found in a guidebook, stayed in a room in a Medieval castle, watched pastry eating “tough guys” in Bordeaux and ordered the special at a cafe in a quaint little seaside town.

Our waiter at the cafe actually went to his home and returned with an encyclopedia to show us a picture of a ray so we would know what it was we were eating. Who says the French are unfriendly?

Our goal as Gypsy Nesters is to try new things, see as much of the world as possible, taking the time needed to truly fall in love with a place, gathering out-of-the-box memories as we go.

For us, this can only be accomplished low to the ground.

David & Veronica,

This post contains sponsored links.

Seeking Stonehenge Somewhere in Time

The famous ring of rocks has eluded me ever since I realized that I had missed an easy opportunity to see it on a visit to London back in 1987.

From that moment on I was motivated to make it to the mythical monument… CONTINUE READING >> 

The famous ring of rocks has eluded me ever since I realized that I had missed an easy opportunity to see it on a visit to London back in 1987.

I could have just hopped on a bus for the short ride out to the mysterious site but didn’t know it at the time.

Not long after that I discovered the cult classic movie This Is Spinal Tap and was humorously reminded of my failure every time I saw their heavy metal mystic rock spoof Stonehenge.

From that moment on I was motivated to make it to the mythical monument.

From time to time we would fly through London, only staying long enough to change planes, and I could practically feel the nearby presence taunting me.


I came close to a viewing a few years ago with a stop in Virginia at Foamhenge, a life-sized replica made of Styrofoam, but as fantastically campy as that was it did not placate my passion for experiencing the real thing.

Finally, on our way to our recent walking tour of Cornwall, I got my chance.

We stopped off in Salisbury for an overnight on the train from London and hopped aboard one of the hourly busses that ferry visitors to and from the archaeological marvel.

Believed to date back to around 3000 BC, the monument has had three major phases. Through the first thousand years or so the construction consisted of earthworks and trenches. This was followed by several hundred years of timber posts being erected within the original circle that had been dug centuries earlier.

Evidence shows that it was around this time that burials began to take place within the circles. However, soon after our visit an ancient burial chamber was unearthed near Stonehenge.

These ancient graves date back over two thousand years before the presumed beginnings the site, adding more questions as to why this place was so significant to the ancient people who built it.

Next, around 2600 BC, the builders began erecting stones. This development only added more mystery to the monument. The blocks are believed to have been brought from some 150 miles away, which took some serious determination.

What could possibly have inspired these ancient builders to drag untold tons of rock from so far away? It certainly made my little quest to see their handiwork seem pretty pitiful in comparison.

It was also during this time that an astronomical aspect of the stone rings was incorporated. The builders carefully aligned gaps between the rocks so that they would line up with sunrise on the summer solstice and sunset on the winter counterpart.

The final phase included the largest stones. This time the blocks were brought in from about 25 miles to the north. They were used to construct the iconic doorway like structures of upright stones topped by lintels, with each piece weighing up to fifty tons.

As enormous as these are, standing up to 30 feet high, I have to say that my first impression upon seeing the monument was that it was somewhat smaller than expected. Perhaps my years of anticipation had instilled a larger than life impression in my imagination.

Aside from that initial reaction, Stonehenge lived up to all the hype I had formed in my mind over the years. So we stood in proper awe wondering just what would possess ancient people to pursue this great undertaking.

Whoever made the monument left no written records; so many aspects of Stonehenge remain a mystery. Over time a number of myths developed surrounding the stones, including one of the most often repeated which is that the Druids were the builders behind the mystical boulder circles.

My favorite fictional band Spinal Tap described them thusly:

“No one knows who they were or what they were doing, but their legacy remains hewn into the living rock of Stonehenge.”

The theory arose around 1640 in a study by John Aubrey and hung around for centuries until better dating methods placed the construction long before any Druids danced anywhere near a Stonehenge monument.

But even though we now know who didn’t build it, there have been precious few good theories as to who did, or why.

Has Merlin returned to stand atop the magical stones as a raven?

In the middle ages some thought that the rocks of Stonehenge had healing powers. This myth, called the giant’s dance, had giants bringing the stones from Africa to Ireland, and then on to the plains near Salisbury years later to erect a memorial on the advice of, and with some magic help from, Merlin.

For most of modern times the historic site was held in the hands of various kings, earls, lords, and marquesses. During World War I the surrounding grasslands served as an air base then, soon afterwards it was donated to the government.

For many years visitors were allowed to walk among the stones, and even touch them, but in 1977 the site was roped off, so the best we could do was walk around the perimeter. Considering the crowds, we had no problem with that, happily abiding by the rule for the preservation of the ancient achievement.

More recently a visitor center and small museum have been added, where theories on how the stones may have been moved and how the builders may have lived are recreated in life-sized models. While interesting, these are little more than guesses because any indications of their methods have long since disappeared.

The usual speculation is that ancient people moved large objects by rolling them on logs, which makes good sense, but it is only a best guess.

Inside the center, we browsed through old photos and memorabilia until we stumbled upon a serious collector’s item.

There, standing in a display case, we found a limited edition record of Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge pressed on a picture of the stones. What a way to close out my successful quest to finally see the stones.

On the bus back to Salisbury I had to download the song on my phone.

It seemed only fitting… one might even say like a glove. (No smelling required.)


Discover the Desert in El Paso

Nestled between the Rio Grande River and the Franklin Mountains, El Paso is the perfect place to experience the stark beauty of the high Chihuahuan Desert.


Out in the West Texas town of El Paso… 

Not only the opening line of a great song but also the perfect place to experience the stark beauty of the high Chihuahuan Desert.

The city sits nestled between the Rio Grande River and the Franklin Mountains, and any one of the many hotels in El Paso will make an excellent base camp for explorations.

Mountain Majesty

Image via Flickr  by VisitElPaso

With peaks reaching over 7,000 feet high, Franklin Mountains State Park is the place to begin. The entire park is completely contained within the city limits, making this perhaps the most spectacular urban park anywhere.

The views of the city are spectacular along several scenic drives and trails. Or for an even better perspective, the Wyler Aerial Tramway climbs to the summit of Ranger Peak. Three states and two countries are visible from this more-than-a-mile-high perch. But if, like Veronica, the thought of dangling in a gondola riding high above the crests and valleys is too much to take, there is an option to walk up the Ridge Trail.

Best yet, after spending the day hiking, mountain biking, or picnicking in this alpine oasis rising up from the desert we can still end the day with a hot shower, a good meal, and a cozy bed.

Blooming in the Desert

After a look at the big picture, we’re ready for our close-up. The Chihuahuan Desert Gardens is perfect for an in-depth investigation of the vast variety of tenacious vegetation that flourishes in this climate. The collection contains over 600 species of plants indigenous to the region.

As part of the University of Texas at El Paso, the groups of themed assortments are a valuable tool for botanical and environmental education, or simply enjoying for their beauty.

Just down the road, the Chamizal National Memorial is not what we’d call a garden in the classic sense, but the landscaped grounds are perfect for a picnic or for attending a concert in the amphitheater. The memorial also includes art galleries and a museum that explains some of the history of the U.S.–Mexico border and disputes that have arisen when the river has changed its course.

On a Mission

Image via Flickr by awsheffield

Speaking of history, much like the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park that we visited several years ago, the El Paso Mission Trail connects Spanish missions dating back to the 1600s.

Beginning at the Ysleta Mission, celebrated as “the oldest continuously active parish in the State of Texas,” the trail travels through some of Spain’s earliest established outposts in what would later become the United States. These served as more than churches, they functioned as political footholds in the expanding New World.

Traveling southeast along the Mexican border, the next stop on the trail is the Socorro Mission. Completed in 1691, this comes in as a close runner-up, being the second oldest settlement in the state.

A few miles further, and about one hundred years later, the Spanish Crown established the San Elizario Presidio as a military compound to provide protection for the missions. It served as an important stronghold for New Spain, but soon Mexico won its freedom from the colonial power.

Before long Texas declared its independence, followed by the war between the U.S. and Mexico. After that the fort was abandoned and now all that survives is the chapel.

The confluence of these cultures reminds us that our explorations could not be considered complete without a taste of the cross-border cuisine that Texas is famous for. We wouldn’t think of leaving before tasting the best Tex-Mex food to be found.

That’s what we’d call saving room for desert.

This article was created in collaboration with InterContinental Hotels Group.