Being the Ball—Golf in India

27 May

by Bob Bestor

BDjraaHr6hn2lIhlQRs3RVRhmJ2n0oYMj36AwIJMPro,RhShjkKIZ3zvGGQamoLk9y6i9l5IwNsIXdvWGnb7iyAThere comes a time, even in a country as amazing as India, when four men traveling together have had enough of forts, palaces, museums and markets—when a break from the traditional sites is required and a manly activity that men like to do is necessary. So after about a week on the road in Rajasthan we decided that a round of golf was in order.

Throughout India you find men idly hanging out just about everywhere. And the front gate of Rambagh Golf Club in Jaipur is no exception. We pulled up to its somewhat humble entrance and were soon herded onto the grounds by a few of these men.

A short walk led us down into the bowels of the club and to a crowded office where we were able to communicate our intention to play golf that day. The men working in the office communicated to us that we needed to see the boss before we could be allowed to play. Soon we presented ourselves to the man in charge of the whole operation (the Raj of Rambagh perhaps?) seeking his blessing.

Handshakes and greetings went all around and I simply stated our intention, “We would like to play golf today here at your golf course.”

“Yes,” was his answer. But it was not a “yes” said with the tone of granting our wish. It was a “yes” said more with a tone that made it sound like “Yes, I acknowledge your inquiry and I am considering it.”

Golf Course Sign

A few awkwardly silent moments followed while he looked us over and soon Dave, who is much better at greasing the skids than I, chimed in with perfect gravitas: “We have traveled all the way from the western coast of the United States. And from the moment we decided to visit India we knew that we simply must visit Jaipur to play a round at world famous Rambagh Golf Club.”

Well that did it, and this time the Raj answered with an enthusiastic yet stately, “It is done.” We were in. A brief, convivial conversation ensued in which we were asked about our handicaps and were informed of prices and services. It was all acceptable, and within minutes we were standing at the first tee with our caddies at the ready.

Komsel w_India FlagThe golf course and caddies were great. This was the first time I’d ever had a caddy and my man, Komsel, right away had me figured out for the tremendous slouch that I am. Rambagh is a fine, challenging and well-maintained track that features sandy soil for firm and fast conditions. Other than women dressed in bright saris weeding the greens and the gigantic Indian flag billowing in the distance, you could be on any golf course anywhere.

The caddies were knowledgeable, and mine in particular was quite helpful. So helpful in fact that on at least three occasions I arrived at my ball after a very wayward shot to find that it was nowhere near as wayward as I had thought. In fact all three times my ball ended up in excellent position. After the third such occurrence, I realized that on each occasion my caddy had run well ahead to “find” my ball. He probably thought that the better I scored, the happier I would be and the more I would tip. He was correct on all accounts!

More than basic golf communication with my caddy Komsel was difficult. I asked him what score the best golfer he’d ever caddied for shot and he answered, “four hours.” I carefully rephrased the question but once again the answer was “four hours.” However all the caddies knew a couple of key golf phrases in English. Whenever one of us hit a grounder, they would diagnose our mistake by saying “head up” in unison. With any shot hit well offline, it was “wrong DI-rection,” once again said pretty much in unison. Thanks for the help guys.

Notes:

The total charge per golfer for greens fee, club rental, caddy fee and a brand new sleeve of balls was 3400 rupees (about $55). We passed on cart rentals, which would have been another 1000 rupees per player.

We did buy tees from a man hanging out somewhat idly at the first tee. While he didn’t appear to be an employee of the club, he did seem to be the only option. We each bought a couple of tees for 10 rupees while he pretty much harangued us to purchase extra balls, gloves and tees. We declined all but the tees.

Do You Love Me Surfer Girl? (Throwback Thursday!)

21 May

Ten years ago last month we took a trip to Costa Rica…..

There I was, a 38 year old mother of two, listening to my 24 year old extremely buffed Costa Rican surfing instructor tell me to lay on my surfboard, and when he said go, I was to “glide” to my knees, “pop up” onto my feet and catch a small wave. I know I should have been focusing on form and balance, but the only thing running through my mind, as my 24 year old extremely tanned and buffed Costa Rican surfing instructor stood six-pack deep in the water right behind me holding my surfboard, was “Does my butt look big in this swimsuit?”

Last spring our family traveled the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, stopping in every sleepy beach town that caught our fancy, soaking up the sun and its rays.

ry=400-1Playa Samara was the spot for our surfing lessons, and Jesse’s Surf School (www. samarasurfschool.com) was just the ticket. Jesse and his daughter Sunrise, who are originally from Southern California, along with their patient instructors, work very well with beginners and children (as well as advanced surfers), so they were an excellent fit for our family. A one-hour private surfing lesson was $40 each, and Emily and Sarah (ages 11 and 9) each had a private half hour lesson for $40 total. The price included one hour of board rental after the lesson.

Surfing might sound easy, but it is harder than it looks, especially if you’re trying to keep your swimsuit in place because you have a 24-year-old extremely tanned and buffed surfing instructor close by. I would get as far as gliding to my knees, but the “popping up” onto my feet and balancing on the board while riding a wave was just a shade more than my body could handle. As quickly as I would “pop up” I would pop right back down, into the tumultuous white water, which would toss me around, tangle my hair, sting my eyes, and send rivers of snot cascading down my face. It doesn’t take many wipeouts to come to the conclusion that the ocean is a powerful force. Then you realize you’re only knee-deep in water.

My patient instructor James (a Costa Rican surfing champion) would tell me where I had gone wrong—sometimes my feet were too far forward, other times I wasn’t crouching down enough on the board, and other times I was just too darn old and uncoordinated (my sentiments, not James’). Finally, however, James got me to focus on the task at hand, and become one with my surfboard. He was genuinely pleased when after about 40 minutes of instruction I started shredding on some righteous and gnarly waves. I was stoked. Jesse’s Surf School claims that almost all of their students are able to get up onto a surfboard and surf in whitewater after just one lesson, and Bob, Emily, Sarah, and I did just that. Dudes, we rocked.

Travel Notes

  • We stayed in a delightful hotel in Playa Samara, the Hotel Belvedere (www.belvederesamara.net), which our Lonely Planet and Rough Guides both recommended highly. Our apartment had a bedroom, a living room with a pull out bed, and a full kitchen for $75 a night. This also included a full breakfast served on a balcony overlooking the ocean. Owned by a German family, the rooms at the Hotel Belvedere were spotlessly clean, and the two lovely swimming pools kept our girls happy.
  • We stopped for a few days at Manuel Antonio National Park in Quepos. Our hotel of choice here was the Mono Azul for $75 per night (www.hotelmonoazul.com). This hotel is the home of “Kids Saving the Rainforest,” started by local kids worried about the endangered squirrel monkey. Ten percent of hotel receipts are donated to the organization. Although not crowded, Manuel Antonio National Park had more people on the beach than we had yet experienced in Costa Rica, and anytime there were “wild” animals around, such as sloths and monkeys, there was a large group of tourists with cameras at the ready. The park was beautiful, but we didn’t want to share, so we decided to head for more remote locales along the coast.
  • A pristine and deserted coastal stop on our trip was Matapalo, on the southern end of the Pacific Coast, just north of Dominical. The gravel road to Matapalo was rough, with mile after mile of bone jarring potholes. It took us past endless oil-palm plantations and villages consisting of small workers’ homes surrounding well kept soccer fields. We even had to ford a shallow river at one point. The secluded stretch of beach in Matapalo, and the oasis-like hotel, Bahari Beach Bungalows (www.baharibeach. com), made the drive well worth it. The Bungalows are actually “safari-style” tents right on the beach with full electricity and plumbing, beautifully tiled private bathrooms, and views of the ocean from the front porch and strategically placed hammocks ($100 a night for our family of four). The pool was fantastic, and we had the beach and facilities virtually to ourselves.

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—Nancy Bestor is the co-owner of Travel Essentials. She likes to imagine herself a female Duke Kahanamoku, albeit younger and better looking.

Listen—Do You Want to Know A Secret?

28 Apr

by Nancy Bestor

IMG_1991On a recent trip to New Orleans, Bob and I were studying Yelp reviews, looking for an interesting place to have dinner, when the words “Secret Feed Me Menu” caught my eye. That’s right, the Louisiana Bistro in the French Quarter has a “secret” menu. You tell the chef that you would like either a 3, 4 or 5 course meal and that you want him to “feed you.” After letting him know of any allergies or strong dislikes, you put your meal in his hands, and he prepares whatever he feels like cooking for you that night. This option isn’t listed anywhere on the restaurant’s menu, you have to know about it and ask for it, kind of like the animal or protein style burger at In N Out (but a whole lot better!). The restaurant is even a little off the beaten path, down a quiet street in the Quarter, with a simple unobtrusive front.

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Bob and I could not pass on this opportunity. We both like to be fed, have no strong dislikes, and love secrets (well I do anyway). How could this meal go wrong? Turns out, it could not. We arrived at the Louisiana Bistro at 7pm on a Saturday night and left 3 hours later, both fatter and happier. We felt like royalty in this quaint spot. For every course (and guess how many courses we chose), Chef David would come to our table with our dishes, telling us exactly what he prepared for us. He got down on his knees at the edge of the table and told us his secrets—okay they weren’t really his secrets, but he did break each dish down by ingredient, and let us know exactly how he made it. I saw someone at another table ask the waiter what we were having, and when he told them it was a dish specially prepared for us, I couldn’t help but sit a little straighter, and delight a little louder in what I was eating.

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And boy, did we eat well. Our meal included mirliton (or chayote/squash for us laymen) and gulf shrimp in a whiskey caramel sauce, alligator bread pudding, pork ribs and collared greens, blackened catfish in a creole tomato sauce and alligator tail with sweet potato hash. For all the food we got and the personalized service, the meal was not horribly expensive at about $65 per person. The dinner was delicious, the service great, and the surprise of not knowing what you were going to get an enjoyable aside. It reminds me a little of choosing a hotel on Priceline or Hotwire. You know the quality of the hotel you’re going to get, and the location, but you just don’t know the hotel name itself. We knew the quality of our food would be good, but just didn’t know what we would be eating. It was fun, and it also made me feel like I was in a secret club. And who doesn’t want to revert to middle school and join in a secret club every now and then?

 

Cab Driver—Once More ‘Round the Block

28 Apr

by Nancy Bestor

IMG_2015When I was a little girl, my Dad talked to everyone he met. He still does. Trips to the grocery store, the post office or the bank would always take a few minutes longer because my Dad would chat with the clerks. He’d find out their names, their ages, and almost always something interesting about them. Then he’d come home and tell my Mom everything he learned. As a teenager, I was incredibly embarrassed by my Dad’s talkative nature. I would cringe standing next to him in line, thinking that these poor people just wanted to get along with their day and really didn’t want anyone, especially my Dad, prying in their business. But then I grew up and realized that people do like to talk about themselves (maybe all except for the age bit), and they enjoy being treated as interesting individuals, and not as servants.

Fast forward to the present, where I find myself talking to people who help me out at the bank, the post office and the grocery store. It’s easy to make friends this way, particularly in our little town of Ashland, Oregon. And when traveling, it’s a great way to learn both about the place you’re visiting and about different cultures throughout our world.

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Apparently, I’ve married someone a bit like my Dad, because when Bob and I are in a new city, riding in a taxi, the first thing he does, after telling the driver where we’re going, is introduce himself, and ask the taxi driver where he is originally from. The majority of drivers we’ve met, whether in New York, Las Vegas, or New Orleans, are immigrants to our country. Most seem delighted to talk about what brought them to the US, and to share details of their home country. We’ve met drivers from Egypt, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and more. We’ve learned about their obtaining green cards and permanent visas via lottery. We’ve learned that in every city, there is a community of immigrants that spend time together, that there are drivers who diligently send money back to their family, and save money too, in the hopes that they can bring more members over to the States. We’ve discovered the best local ethnic places to eat, and learned a lot about civil unrest around the world. We’ve even seen photos of drivers’ children and families.

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I’ll long remember the interesting conversations we’ve had with our taxi drivers, and I hope they might remember them too. Because I imagine it can be a dull job driving people around all day long if they aren’t interested in chatting with you. And maybe I’m sentimental, but I believe talking to people makes our great big world just a little bit smaller. Thanks, Dad.

 

How United Did NOT Break My Guitar

28 Apr

by Bob Bestor

DSC02757We’ve all seen travelers lugging oversized bags on board and straining to cram them into the overhead bins. And when we see it we ask ourselves, “Man, how’d that guy get that on board?” Well, it’s likely that he skipped the ticket counter altogether by checking in and printing his boarding pass online. Then he was able to head straight to security where the TSA didn’t bother to do anything but x-ray his luggage. After that the gate agent was the first and only airline representative who could have even looked at his luggage before he got on board. But gate agents are often working alone and doing two or three things at once. So he made it. And oversized or not, as long as he could stuff it overhead, he was good.

On my recent trip to India I was that guy. Well, sort of. But at least I did it with the blessing of a friendly United gate agent.

I arrived at Rogue Valley International Medford Airport (no, really—that’s what it’s called) with a standard, maximum-sized 22” wheeled carry-on, a daypack, and a guitar in a soft-sided case. If you’re counting, and the airlines usually do, that’s three bags. Now I was fully prepared to check the suitcase, although my preference was not to check anything. But traveling internationally, I knew that at least my checked bag would be free.

I was not able to print my boarding pass online, so I had to go to the United ticket counter first, where I was only asked if I “wanted” to check anything. Of course I answered “no”. TSA didn’t take notice either and soon I was at the gate with my three bags and my boarding pass in hand. The gate agent took a look at me and my bags and frowned. “Do I have to check something?” I asked. “Well, she said, “you’re not allowed to bring three items on board. But, a few years ago a country singer had a big hit with a song about how United breaks guitars.  So I’m not going to be the person who starts another round of that.” And voila, no checking for me. This time at least.

Money, Money, Money—Must Be Funny

31 Mar

by Nancy Bestor

While I’m not big on name brand clothes or cars, every once in a while I wonder what it would be like to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous. The fantasy of walking in to a restaurant where the prices aren’t even on the menu, in my Manolo Blahnik shoes, my Harry Winston diamond necklace and Vera Wang dress does give me a moment of pause (and then I laugh hysterically imagining myself in such an outfit). But when Bob and I were invited to a private party at the Hardwood Suite in Las Vegas last month, I felt like it was our duty to check out how the really rich really live, and if this suite in the Palms was any indication, they live one highfalutin life.

The Hardwood Suite is any wealthy basketball fan’s dream. From the hallway, its door looks like any other hotel room door inside any Las Vegas casino. But walk inside, and holy cow. The Hardwood Suite is a 10,000 square foot hotel “room” on two floors, with a regulation half basketball court, NBA-sized beds that fold out of the walls onto the court (in case you want to shoot hoops from a mattress), a jacuzzi in the middle of the living room, a full bar to boot so you can drink in between, or while, hot tubbing and playing H-O-R-S-E. It also sports a professional locker room, a pool table, and of course, huge high definition televisions all around.

hardwood

We were visiting Las Vegas for the Travel Goods Show, where we get to preview the latest and greatest “innoventions” in luggage and travel gear. Who knew we would also get the chance to check out a hotel suite that costs $25,000 a night to rent? I can’t say that the Hardwood Suite is my style. I do like basketball, but not enough to want to play in my hotel room. Plenty of folks must like it a lot however, as it is apparently booked out most of the year.

The Hardwood Suite was fun to see, but I was happy to go back to my $99 a night room across town, in my canvas Converse tennis shoes, with my ExOfficio wrinkle resistant top on. Because let’s face it, I can’t even pronounce “Manolo Blanhik”, and just the idea of me wearing his high heels is surely an accident waiting to happen.

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

31 Mar

by Bob Bestor

gogoWe all complain about commercial airlines, and they probably deserve it. There is little argument that historically they have done one thing (and one thing only) very well—they get their passengers to their destinations quickly and safely. Everything else, whether it’s comfort, cuisine, or anything that might make the experience even the slightest bit more pleasurable, is sorely lacking.

But in a small but very nice step to reverse that trend, United, Alaska, American, Delta and more airlines now offer in-flight streaming of movies and TV shows to laptops, tablets and smartphones.

The beta version from United is free (so far). It kicked off last year and is available on about 200 of their aircraft. On two recent trips it was available on most of my flights and I found it easy to use, reliable and a big improvement for the in-flight experience.

United’s Personal Device Entertainment is actually part of a suite of services in the United app that includes flight status and access to your personal United information like reservations, boarding passes and your Mileage Plus account.

The entertainment service comes on almost instantly after take-off, offers about 50 movies and mulitple episodes of about 30 TV shows, and shuts off right around touch-down. Prospective users must download the free app from either Apple or Google before traveling. Here is the link to United’s Personal Device Entertainment page.

Notes:

  • United’s service is free (so far).
  • This is not wifi. With United, wifi is a separate on-board service that is available for a fee on a growing number of their aircraft.
  • Download the app before you fly.
  • Other airlines, including Alaska, Delta, and American also offer similar services, such as the GoGo In Flight Video.
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