Otter Point Holiday Home
Most years I travel with my parents on holiday and each year my parents have wanted nicer and nicer holiday homes, for the same cost if they can get it, don't we all? This year was no exception and lead us too a tranquil,remote, rural house which was right beside the tiny Scottish village of Tayvallich. Whilst it may not be ... geographically in the center of Scotland, to me this holiday felt like we where in the metaphorical heart of Scotland.
We found it online at unique-cottages.com although this is not a review of that website but of the holiday home itself. The house is a large 2 level family house with an extension built onto it which hosts a swimming pool, it sleeps 8 and has 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms.
The house is just loaded with facilities it has a bathroom downstairs with a shower, also on the lower floor is a large kitchen, large living room with a dinning table at the back, which although part of the same room feels like its own little world. The Kitchen features a fridge, kettle, fancy gas cooker-Oven (which requires no lighting of matches so is just like an electric cooker) and grill, a toaster and lots of space to store your biscuits and bread.
In Particular I was immensely blown away with the number of glasses and cutlery, which meant you could go quite some time without ever washing a dish. There was also a dish washer for when washing was piling up and you could not be bothered to was the dishes yourself.
At the back of the house their was another sink, fishing rods for using on the loch behind the property and a fridge-freezer. This meant that the house has two decent sized fridges, it would be nice to live in a place so massive in real life! Finally there is a large bedroom downstairs with an en-suite toilet and shower-bath. This was my bedroom and it has a smallish double bed in it.
Upstairs there are three more bedrooms, one of which is the master bedroom, which has a TV in it and again is en-suite and it has a shower-bath. The other two rooms are about equal size and have two single beds in them, one overlooks the loch and the other is in sort of an L shape with a sort of alcove feel to it, which is where my dad's friend and his wife stayed when they came to vist us. Finally upstairs there is another separate toilet with a shower.
Downstairs there is room at the back of the house which has a greenhouse-like glass roof and shape which hosts your very own swimming pool which is roughly around 5ft deep, it is around 6-7m long and is a little short for serious swimming but is fine for a little bit of light exercise and chilling out. It is amazing how much it lifts your spirits when you are feeling a little down about things.
The pool also has yet another shower which in some ways was my favourite shower of the house as it was lovely and warm but it lacked a little bit of pressure and volume of water, its really just meant to be used when exiting and entering the pool but I found myself spending a good 10 minutes in it after a swim!
There is also a sauna in the house which has a very "Norwegian" feel to it with it being made out of oak wood, the sauna is quiet nice and is generally not too hot but eventually if you had to much water to the boiler it becomes too much to handle. A nice benefit of having the sauna is you can use the heat from the sauna to dry clothes, a good thing as the house lacks a tumble dryer!
The house has a large front garden and a green rusty seat at the backgarden and a short walk from the backgraden you will find a little floating jettie for fishing using the child-style fishing net (not a line) provided by the owners.
The house is equipped with a payphone (useful as you don't get a mobile signal here), and two tv's of which the one downstairs has free view only but also a dvd player and some DVD's.
I generally was not so keen on the wallpaper and couches from a visual perspective as it just felt a little old fashioned for me and also I felt that for such a big living room, if you owned the place yourself then you would probably organise the furniture differently to get the most efficient use of the space you have. I generally prefer a minimalist decour and this was not really the style chosen except for in the swimming pool room. One plus point about the decour however was the animal themed ornaments, in particular there was a striking stuffed pheasant in the window besides the stairs and through out the house their where numerous otters and paintings of what looked to me like a Nightingale bird. I also quite liked the old fireplace in the center of the living room.
3. Favourite Room
For me my personal favourite room was the back half of the living room when eating a meal and facing the window at the rear of the house you had a lovely view of loch behind you where you could see all the boats and to your left you could see the tiny village of Tayvallich which was a ten minute drive in the car, looking out across the water really was like looking at something from a postcard. As I mentioned previously this part of the living room almost felt, somehow, like its own little room.
4. Things to do:
There are not a lot of restaurants or pubs in this part of the world however the nearby village does have a post office where you can pick up milk, the paper and round the back you can get a breakfast or a lunch. I think it was quiet expensive for the meals you received relative to the portion sizes they gave you, 7.50 for a tiny micro veggie burger which did not include chips for example , and the lunch menu was also quiet limited. However at this establishment, like the house, you had a great view of the loch from here. The pub across and a little further up the road however had a great range on its menu,for meat eaters and vegetarians alike, was competitively priced and what I ate was delicious.
As there was no free WIFI at home it encouraged you to get out and walk and that is one of the attraction for a lot of people coming here. One of the big attractions other than the stunning scenery and occasional sightings of rabbits/hares (not sure which) is the Knapdale Beaver Walk, of which I plan to write a separate review on.
The Story of the Knapdale Beaver walk is this; the Scottish Nature Trust got permission in May 2009 to research the effect of reintroducing Beavers into the wild, having previously died out century's ago in Britain due to man eating and using the beaver for its oil (nice perfumy smell) and fur (warmest fur produced by any animal). Thus Knapdale and the surrounding area was chosen as the testing ground for the effects of reintroduction of the beaver on the local ecosystem and how well they will be tolerated by the human population in the area.
The study lasts for five years after which a decision will be made whether to extend the reintroduction of beavers to other parts of the uk or not. As part of their work the Scottish wildlife trust offer a walk through Knapdale Forrest explaining all about their physiology, their habitat, behaviour, effects and offer a chance to see some beavers. This walk is a unique selling point about the home in Tayvallich as it is around 15 minutes in the car from Knapdale and in no other place in Britain can you currently see Beavers in their natural habitat.
There really aren't too many I can think of except the fact that it is not within easy driving distance of any significantly large town, the lack of paid for satellite tv, the poor mobile reception (read none on most networks, both 02 and Virgin) and crucially the lack of free WiFi or a free Ethernet cable connection. However you are not coming here for technology or bustling night life and as long as you bare these things in mind I feel you shouldn't have too much to complain about!
5. TARGET AUDIENCE
Who do I feel would gain most from this type of relaxing, scenic holiday? Well the cliched answer would be pensioners and middle aged couples however this particular holiday has something to offer most types of people from those with young children, large families and even families sharing the house with other parts of their family such as a brother and sister taking their partners and their children with them. The pool would be ideal for children who could set up some type of water volleyball set up if they are old enough. Younger children could practice swimming in the pool under the watchful eye of a parent or older sibling.
In fact because its a good distance off from the nearest house even 20 somethings and late teens could all chip in together and use it to play obnoxiously loud music without it likely bothering anyone much in particular, although in general I feel that the kind of activities on offer would not appeal to this age range unless they are quite into the outdoors and things like canoeing etc, or if they were going there with their families.
6. Price/Value for money
It depends what time of year you go and what week, in the high season it can be as much as 2 grand a week which is just outwith most peoples affordable price range however if you wait and if you are expedient in checking back on the price you can potentially get a weak here for only £1,200, which is what we got it for.
For what we paid it was exceptional value for money and was no dearer than what we typically pay for a week. Whereas we are used to hot tubs and two, sometimes three bathrooms, this house with a massive four bathrooms, just surpasses all those previous houses and blows them away. Having your own swimming pool for a week starts to make you feel like a king, then its back to reality!
6. Closing Remarks
This house in otters point Tayvallich is the stuff of dreams, and for someone that prefers places that have music and gyms I was thoroughly impressed with it and enjoyed it more than I could ever possibly of imagined.
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Octupus Club International Dive Centre (Cuba)
Playa Larga and Playa Giron at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba are well known for their political and revolutionary history. Most tourists opt to visit the Bay of Pigs museum on a daytrip from Cienfuegos. They might stop off at the seaside for a quick lunch but most people miss out on this stunning area. The Octopus dive Club located at Playa ... Larga offers some of the most exciting scuba diving in Cuba. Although the open water dives are fairly standard - for standard read amazing as it is the Caribbean - the cave dives are what makes this dive school truly stand out. Prices are the cheapest in Cuba and the deals are great. 5 dives for 100CUC (roughly 85Pounds) including equipment and transport is a real bargain. Cave dives, night dives and Nitrox dives are 40CUC each and all standard dive courses are available. Please not that as Padi is an American company you can only get SSI licenses here but they will recognize Padi as a dive qualification.
When I first met Franci, the owner of the Octopus Dive Club, I was not impressed. He did seem incredibly cocky and not particularly friendly. However, within a few hours of knowing him he turned out to be a genuinely nice person (although with a strange love to 80´s broken heart songs like Hotel California) and one of the best and most experienced divers that I have ever met. He is a qualified technical diver and holds a variety of specialty licenses. What impressed me the most is that he tells you straight away if your diving is rubbish. Some people can't deal with being told that their buoyancy is off but it is important for them to know in order to improve and not endanger others. He judges your ability and only lets you go on more challenging dives if he thinks you are up for it. Very impressive and definitely making me feel very save diving with him and his staff.
Franci as well as a couple of the dive masters speak English very well and I never felt like I was not understood or I could not voice concerns/questions properly. Some Spanish does help obviously but at least the underwater dive signals are the same wherever you go. Just to be on the safe side dive signals were explained before every dive. Franci himself allocated the equipment by looking us up and down and the choosing appropriate sizes for wetsuits and BCDs. He gave me a lot less weights then I usually use but told me to trust him. Obviously I didn't and complained all the way to the dive site - where it obviously turned out that I was weighted absolutely perfectly.
The equipment shows obvious signs of frequent usage and the wetsuits are a colourful mix of all different makes and styles. With it being the Caribbean you only need a 3mm shorty to stay warm. We never experienced any problems with the equipment and diving with the short, stubby bottles was way more comfortable then with the longer ones. Obviously you are welcome to use your own equipment if you have it with you.
We were promised a lot and could not wait to get our feet wet. So off we went with one of the DMs towards Playa Giron. The drive is very scenic, following the ocean for a few kilometers. There are a few small dive outlets dotted along the coast where the equipment can be stored.
* * * Taking me lower, lower underground * * *
The first dive site we went to was opposite the main outlet next to the Cueva de los peces with others being down all the way to Playa Giron. All open water dive sites are in this area start within a few meters off shore. The shallow water areas are great for beginner but the guides never failed to find us more challenging bits like tunnels, canyons and of course the stunning drop off running along the coast. Corals, gorgonians and sponges are plentiful and varied supporting an abundance of marine life. We saw the usual reef fish as well as some big barracudas and rays. As it is a Bay don´t expect any sharks or turtles though. The reef is in good condition although not as pristine as the Punta Frances dive area.
My favourite open water dive was a bit further along the coast. There is nothing that indicates any kind of dive station. Basically, we stopped right next to the ocean, were told to kit up and jump off some rocks into the water. We descended right next to the shore line and were immediately surrounded by a school of schoolmasters (tiny yellow and black stripped snapper). Adorable! We went down to 18m very quickly and swam through a few tunnels. The drop off was stunning and visibility was good until 40 meters depth. Ascending slowly towards the shore line we swam again through some tunnels. When we came out of the last one we found ourselves to be right in front of a sunken fishing boat. Nice wreck that you could even dive through if you are confident in your buoyancy. Lovely dive site with a lot of variety and definitely a bit challenging with the narrow tunnels and the wreck. The DM swam through the tunnels first and made sure that we came through ok. It is always good to know that somebody was looking out for us. He pointed out interesting things and checked our air regularly. Also he did make sure that we never went deeper than 40 meters - the depth limit for recreational diving.
As much as I love open water diving I could not wait to try cave diving! The pictures at the office look stunning and even the slightly higher price tag of 40CUC could not stop me from booking a couple of cave dives for the next day. Cueva de los peces is a tectonic fold around 500meters away from the beach. You walk through the forest to a bar next to a natural pool surrounded by trees and rocks. Tour groups stop here and it can get very crowded with loads of people jumping from the rocks and taking family pictures. The best way to escape the crowds is to go cave diving! Cueva de los peces is Franci´s second home. With over 400 dives he knows this cave probably better than I now my living room. And you could really feel that. He dive was very enjoyable I had the feeling that in case something goes wrong Franci would make sure that everything was fine. The cave itself is more of a cavern, m meaning that there is always a hint of natural light. Don´t be fooled by this though - cave diving is a serious sport and it would be very, very stupid to be anything than highly alert. Pay attention to Franci leading the way and never shine your light directly at other people. There is a weak halocline before you enter the actual cave. This is the point where you rely mostly on your underwater torch that is clipped to your BCD. Single file formation all the way through with the DI leading the way. The dive was incredibly exciting but nothing for the faint hearted - it does get very, very dark in there.
On our last Day Franci offered us a final cave dive for 25CUC instead of the usual 40CUC. He only took me and my buddy and told some other interested people that they were not experienced to come on this dive. He also took a spare tank with him just in case one of us would run out of air while in the cave. Obviously I did appreciate this from a safety point of view but it did make me feel slightly nervous. The drive to the dive site was nothing spectacular, following the same ocean road we used to get to Playa Giron all week. When we then turned on a tiny dirt trek into the forest instead of towards the beach we did think for a second that this here was serious stuff. Stopping in the middle of the forest we were told to kit up. Feeling slightly surreal we put on our gear and were then shown to the dive site - a tiny hole in the ground in-between a few rocks. The Jump as it is amply named is one of the most stunning caves in the area according to our dive instructor and far more challenging than the previous one. The 2 meter drop off that we had to jump down was not my particular highlight. Being terrified of heights all I can recommend is keep your arms and legs neatly locked and jump as quickly as possible, no point in standing there looking down into the dark hole.
The dive itself is absolutely stunning. With a very pronounced halo and thermocline it is a true spectacle to descent. Where fresh and saltwater mixed the differences in density and temperature causes the water to look oily and we could see waves inside the water. Physics has never been so interesting before. The thermocline is very pronounced, the freshwater layer is nice and warm but as soon as you enter the saltwater layer it gets fairly cold. Towards the end of the dive I was very happy when we went up as my 3mm shortie did not offer much in terms of protection against the cold.
Diving in caves is incredibly exciting and the stalagmite and stalagmite in the flooded cave were highly interesting and spooky at the same time. A few times I did think that the passages were a bit narrow but this dive involved nothing of the take your tank off and pass it through a hole type of stunts seen in cheesy action movies. It is however nothing for anyone suffering from claustrophobia. We are talking about dark passages without any natural light. There is an added highlight that you will see on this dive but I´m not going to take the surprise from you - just go there and enjoy!
* * * Never, never going to leave * * *
By the time we came back to Playa Larga I was ready to beg Franci to let me stay there and do my Dive Master course right away. Which he happily agreed to but not having much money left and a university degree to finish it was time to leave. Playa Larga has been the best diving I have ever done before and Franci was an instructor that I would happily trust with my life. His movements underwater are stunning to watch, it looks like he was floating and not bothering with things like moving his fins as we mere mortals have to. With every dive he made sure we had a proper briefing, knew about what to expect and treated our equipment with care.
Although I paid an obscene amount of money for my time at Playa Larga I regret nothing of it. The dives are the cheapest in Cuba simply due to the fact that all dives are shore dives. In other locations a boat is needed to reach the reef making it a lot more expensive. What I liked very much is that there were heaps of dive masters, meaning that we always dived in small groups tailored specifically to our needs. Nothing is more frustrating than going on a six meter depth dive just because there is a newbie in your group. I love diving but there are only so many times that you can get excited about a shallow water reef. At this dive school they offer the right mix of easy to incredibly challenging dives and they are not afraid to tell you if you are over judging your abilities.
The Octopus Dive Club is the only Scuba place in Cuba that I would feel confident in doing a dive course as a beginner. One of the guys that I met there did is Open Water with Franci and knew much more about dive theory and equipment than I did after over 50 dives. They also offer guided snorkeling if Scuba diving is not your thing. Highly recommended for dive beginners and experts. Just make sure you communicate your abilities and needs beforehand and you are guaranteed to have an amazing time.
* * * Quick Info * * *
Located at Playa Larga, South Cuba. Closest town is Cienfuegos (40km)
200Km from Havana, can be reached in 2 ½ hours by car. Taxi should not cost more than 60 to 70CUC one way.
Scetchy public transport, no bus at all during low season.
Accomodation available in many casas in Playa Largo.
Octopus dive Club located next to the main beach in Playa Large.
Open water dives: 25CUC
Night, cave and Nitrox dives: 40CUC
All prices include equipment hire, air and transport to and from the dive sites.
Exclusively shore dives
Small groups with Dive Master or Dive Instructor. One to one tuition also available.
Fully SSI certified. Offers courses from Open water to specialty courses.
Ask at any guesthouse to get in contact with the dive school. Everyone here knows Franci and they will put you in touch with him.
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Baci Ceremony (Laos)
Baci Ceremony, Vientiane We were invited to take part in our own Baci Ceremony while we were in Vientiane. Prior to our own ceremony I knew nothing about what happened or why they had the ceremonies. In Laos a Baci ceremony is carried out for both sad and happy events so it might be for a marriage, a birth of a ... child, a funeral/death, a welcome home, before or after major exams and before a long journey could all be reasons for a Baci ceremony.
There is no specific day or time for a Baci ceremony but just before noon or sunset appears to be a preferred time. The idea of the ceremony is a calling of the soul or in Laos "su kwan" also spelt 'sou khuan' .
The idea of kwan is the soul of a person but more than that; vital life force of any being. In Laos it was believed in ancient times that humans consisted of thirty two parts and these were watched over by kwan. The human works best when all his kwan are in the body and the idea of the Baci ceremony is to call all the kwan back to the body from wherever they have wandered off to.
The Pha kwan or Pha Khuan
When we arrived in the middle of the floor was a wonderful creation called the pha kwan. This is made from banana leaves , marigolds and white threads. It is wider at the bottom like a pyramid and must take hours to create. This creation is usually made by older woman in the village or community.
This flower creation is set on a white cloth in the middle of the room. The person who is to carry out the ceremony sits cross legged in front of the pha kwan and he is called a maw pawn or mohkwan or mor phon. The maw pawn is usually an elderly man, often an ex monk and he chants the sort of poetry during the ceremony. The maw pawn also knows the auspicious days when it is best to hold a Baci ceremony and that is worked out by using the lunar phases.
Around the pha kwan were a couple of sweets and dried and fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs which represent the foetus , a stalk of bananas which represented the community and each fruit being member s of that community, a whole boiled chicken with head feet and claws and finally as a bottle of Laolao whisky for purification.
We had to sit on the carpet around the pha kwan and the white strings that were attached to the pha kwan were taken and handed to each of us to hold. The maw pawn also held one white string too. And began his Buddhist or animist chanting which is him calling the wandering spirits back to the body.
The ceremony began by the maw pawn lighting a candle on the top of the Pha Kwan and then those taking part in the ceremony my husband and I laid our hands palm down at the edge of the pha kwan. The maw pawn then brushed our hands with the white strings saying "hai kuard nee, dee kuard kao" meaning "bad is swept out, good is swept in".
The next stage was he took the white strings and gave us each one to hold and he also held one end and he chanted some more and this was asking our spirits to receive the blessings.We then held the string between our palms while he continued to chant.
We were then told to say "ma der khuan euy" which according to our guide means "please come spirits". He then threw some bits of rice in the air over us . These rice grains we were told represented the spirits and the good luck that we had asked for in the ceremony.
After the chanting the maw pawn then tied the strings around our wrists. If this had been a big ceremony such as a pre wedding ceremony then everybody would have then come forward to tie a string around the wrists of the couple taking part. I think about three or four strings were tied around each of our wrists. As these strings were tied around our wrists he chanted some more words which were a sort of concluding blessing.
The final part of the ceremony was that the maw pawn poured a little shot of Laolao into small glasses and we each had one. This concluded the ceremony and we were instructed to keep the white strings on our wrists for at least three days and longer if we wanted our lost spirits to have the best chance of returning to us.
We got up to leave and we told that we were to take the beautiful pha kwan home with us. We sadly only had one more night in Vientiane so we took it back and had it in our hotel room for one night and then left it for the cleaner the next day so hopefully it might return her spirits too.
I kept my strings on for the rest of our holiday so hopefully all my spirits have returned to me. My husband took his off when we left Laos which was at least three days so I think he has been balanced too.
I found the ceremony really interesting. I am not sure I fully understand the whole thing. I am certain I understood not a word of the chanting but it was done with ceremony and was very serious too . The maw pawn didn't speak to us at all except when doing his chanting and after the ceremony he disappeared very quickly. Out guide was greta and explained a lot of what went on to us so that we understood the ceremony and what happened a bit better than just sitting through it.
My husband can't bend his knees and sit on the floor so he really struggled as you are meant to kneel and sit on your heels or sit cross legged and he can do neither so sort of had his legs bent to the side. This is something to consider if you have problems like this. You have to sit for about twenty minutes so my legs were just beginning to get pins and needles when we finished.
I thought it was lovely that we got to eep the pha Kwan and such a shame we only got to enoy it for one night. I hope the hotel cleaning staff got some pleasure out of it as so much work had gone into making it.
I am sure we paid for this in our tour but I am not sure what it cost. Selective Asia put together our itinerary for us and worked out all the flights etc while we just told them what we wanted to do.
Thanks for reading. I trust this has been of some interest to you. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
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