Extreme tree-hugging in The Jungle

Day 4 in Northern Ireland and we all felt like Tarzan swinging from vines and hopping trees at a fun park called The Jungle. Our guide lead us through an obstacle course in a treetop canopy designed to test our mettle and grit.

My friend Anna maintained her balance and poise like the professional high-wirer walker, Philippe Petit.
Marko challenged his demons until the last free fall when he admitted that he suffered from a fear of heights. Billy screamed like a girl expecting to be ricocheted through the forest rather than plummet to the ground.

Though we were always perfectly safe while wearing our belay harnesses all of us gripped the safety cable as a precaution.

Home to Ireland’s first high wire tree top adventure course, The Jungle includes other adrenaline-pumping activities including zorbing, llama trekking and paintball. The 400-acre hilly peat was once rural farmland.

Enjoy the short video I shot & edited: https://vimeo.com/222914330

Shredding the shorelines of Portrush

It’s a good thing wetsuits were invented or none of us would have braved the waters of Portrush, Northern Ireland. At 54-degrees (Fahrenheit), it’s a world away from the tepid bath waters of the North Shore in Hawaii.

Even still, the swells are descent enough that young rippers at Troggs Surf School brave the frigid shoreline in an attempt to ace the sport. Try as I might, I was not one of them.

That’s me in the 3rd photo from the top: noodle arms all akimbo, tail feathers about to kiss the sea and a runaway board heading for the beach. Wipeout! So much for technique, balance and rhythm that Instructor/Manager Carl Russell repeated during the lesson.

It’s the pop-up that poses the biggest challenge. The pros make it look so easy but the ability to go from lying on the board to standing upright on it takes tremendous core strength and mental focus.

After one too many spills, I retired to the boneyard to watch instead. Frankly, an equally rewarding alternative.

Northern Ireland: Resort of the Week

I checked into Room 505 at Galgorm Resort & Spa escorted by a well-dressed agent. He effortlessly wheeled my heavy luggage into the room and proceeded to point out the features.

Secure Wifi access? Check. Hair dryer? Check. Plenty of outlets for electronics? Check.

Since these first few amenities met my approval everything else was a bonus: a small portable fan, bottles of complementary water and mini-bar, drapes that didn’t bleed, long bathrobes and slippers, a European heated towel rack and on and on.

I ripped my bathing suit from my suitcase and rushed down to where more hype was happening. The sprawling estate hotel included indoor/outdoor spa facilities profiled on the banks of a terraced waterfall on the River Maine. I was torn as where to get wet first.

Admittedly, there’s a routine or ritual to follow at this fairytale Resort. But being as excited as I was, I skipped the instructions and let the pampering begin in the Infinity Hydrotherapy Pool. The aqua bed jets eased my tired, arthritis neck muscles.

I followed that up with the Aroma Grotto where eucalyptus oils hung heavy in the steamy air. The scents helped release tension around my face and sinuses. My friend Ann baked blissfully twice as long as me to help with a recent hip fracture.

An icy Vichy Shower awoke my senses for a final dip in a crowded jacuzzi. I had to laugh (and cry inside) when couples looked at me with sympathy in their eyes when I told them I was American.

“I’m sorry but he’s not my fault,” became my standard response for everyone’s confusion and disgust.

Finally, I braved a stint in the Snow Cabin. A bearded visitor already inside had the markings of a few growing goosebumps on his arms. No surprise since the winter dwelling was brushed with powder snow and ice crystals and maintained a bone-chilling temperature of 14°F.

(I lasted less time than it took you to read this blog up until this point).

All facilities and services at this luxury resort are beyond expectation, however, it’s also the furry creatures that roam the grounds that make this place unique. Horses, goats, dogs, cats, even stone statues of animals frozen in time, turned my one-night stay into a cozy slumberland.

A special thank you to Stable Manager Lisa Munce for allowing Max, the Irish Sports Half-bred, to befriend my camera. 5-year old Max, like the entire staff at the hotel, couldn’t have been friendlier.

Holy Mackarel! It’s time to catch and cook

The sun isn’t even up yet so why am I? The Causeway Coast Foodie Tours sounded appealing the day before but, now, boarding a boat and fishing for my breakfast seems a wee-bit crazy. Still, I manage to crawl out from under my plush down comforter at the Atlantic Hotel and pull back the red dotted curtains.

It never gets completely dark in Northern Ireland during the summer months so there’s just enough light for me to see the lapping ocean waters. It triggers early childhood memories of deep-sea fishing with my Dad. The nostalgic moment jolts me to hurry to the north pier of Portrush harbor for the early departure.

The boat captain isn’t a fan of fishing but he sure loves the reaction it gets from children and beginners.

“It’s best to take my tour with a big crowd of people from different countries because each of them have completely different reactions. I don’t know what it is but there’s always competition in this sport. It just happens naturally,” said Charlie Adjiy.

Sure enough, when others drop lures around the Skerrie Islands and, within minutes, their lines hit jackpot, I too am hooked.

Unlike freshwater fishing, I didn’t have to bait a hook with a worm or rig a heavy sinker or embarrass myself with a messy cast among friends. Not even a license was needed.

Rather, I simply held my thumb against a spool of thick white line and cranked back the break. Here now are the results that were cleaned and cooked in record time at the nearby Babushka Kitchen Cafe. Chef George turned our bloody bucket of Mackerel into a feast fit for a king.

Northern Ireland, an assault on the senses

Northern Ireland

I’m on assignment with GoNomad this week visiting some of the most apocalyptic landscapes of Northern Ireland including several locations filmed for the Game of Thrones series.

We went from documenting squawking puffin seabird sanctuaries to admiring the only upside-down lighthouse in the world to having an esoteric experience walking among octagonal rocks. And this is only Day 1.

(See the photos I parked on my FLICKR album to learn more.)

FYI: None of this would be possible without the ever-amusing Billy Scott, an unapologetic tour guide for Discover Irelandthat’s helping escort us through the countryside.

But, more on his antics after I finish my second helping of fish and chips.

Staying dry at the Gaylord Opryland Resort

Blake Sheldon, Scott McCreery, Charley Pride – a lineup of country music superstars at the famed Grand Ole Opry is enough to raise even my eyebrows. If not country, the Stanley Cup Finals is also underway with my bet on the Nashville Predators.

Indeed, today is a great time to visit Music City but I’m just as content hanging inside the Gaylord Opryland Resort/Convention Center, a staggering hotel that caters to a flood of music, sport and garden fans like me.

As you might recall, in 2010, an epic storm resulted in the biggest economic disaster in the state’s history (see photos below). The Gaylord sustained millions of dollars worth of damage. Fast-forward months of renovation and expansion completed quickly with a $90 million water fun park complex on target for 2018.

I’ve had the good fortune to work in several Gaylord properties, all that extoll the virtues of great hospitality, but this hotel really does go beyond your wildest imaginations.

Amble leisurely under a 30-foot waterfalls without getting wet. Eat a hearty steak among exotic greenery without bugs biting. Take a riverboat tour on a shallow river winding through verdant acres without paying. Marvel at the choreographed movements of the fountain show that rivals the Bellagio without the noise of slots and blackjack tables.

The Nashville showpiece is part greenhouse, part biomes and part confusing. Download the app to navigate the five inner courtyards, each a maze of glass atriums with tropical flora and fauna.

I ventured outside only briefly to run alongside the Cumberland River and then returned quickly to cool off in the hotel pools.