Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Where to go this winter

So you want to go somewhere this winter, but don’t know?  Weather got you down?  Bakersfield not far away enough?  Well here’s my five ideas for travel this January:


  1. Indonesia (Lombok, Bali, Java, Sumatra)



OK, so the food isn’t the greatest.  Get past that and you’ll see a fascinating place of 250 million people (110 million in Java alone) with gorgeous landscapes where you take a train through Java, amazing volcano hikes in eastern Java, great diving in the Gili Islands, and the Hindu temples and rice paddies of Bali.  Sumatra has Bukittinggi’s market, orangutangs, and is off the beaten track.  You’ll get to see a different side of Muslim culture and friendly people.  It’s pastoral and scenic.  Getting around is easy too with Air Asia and Tiger Airways having flights to and from islands constantly.

  1. Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt

It will be a great time of year to go when it isn’t oppressively hot.  Beirut has spectacular food and centers such as Gemmyzeh and Hamra plus a day’s visit one of the best caves in the world: Jeita Grotto.  Byblos is a beautiful ancient area with great seafood and Baalbek has one of the best examples of Roman ruins.  Jordan is home to some of the best ruins in the world such as ancient Rome’s Jerash and the Wonder of the World: Petra.  You can see where Lawrence of Arabia lived in Wadi Rum.  Dahab in Egypt is one of the best diving spots in the world, super cheap, and a great relaxing spot where daily trips to the top of Mt. Sinai where you can be Moses and look for the Ten Commandments yourself.  While the Great Pyramids are great, the Great Hypostyle Hall in Luxor is greater along with the best temples in the world. 

  1. Southern India

Sculptures of loving couples, illustrating the Kama Sutra, on walls of  Kandariya Mahadeva Temple at  Khajuraho in  India, Asia Stock Photo - 6099641

The sights, the smells, the colors, oh and the people everywhere you turn.  Yes, the food is great, amazing clothes, and you can negotiate for everything.  It’s cheap and anything can happen.  It’s tough and varied.  Think about it: over a billion people, over 20 languages, and a place that is simultaneously modern and exceptionally poor.  There’s tourist spots such as Goa for a bit of beach time, the Bollywood area of Mumbai (where with a bit of luck you can get into a movie shoot for a day or two), ancient sculptures of Kama Sutra, the ruins of Hampi, and the Portugese settlement of Madras.  Just make sure to have a Thumbs Up and King Fisher for me.

  1. Guatemala, Belize, Honduras

Diving is what it’s all about in Belize.  The Blue Hole is one of the five most famous spots in all of the world.  Guatemala’s Antigua has great colonial architecture but what ultimately is going to get you going are the volcanoes that you can hike up and then slide down (sounds dangerous AND fun)!  Lago de Atitlan is beautiful but the best part about getting off the beaten track in Guatemala is the Mayan culture.  White water raft, hike, and go through caves in Honduras.  Just travel around from town to town and live some of the village life.

  1. Southern Africa

Go to the Sousselvei and see the most inhospitable deserts in the world via a snowboard and ATV.  See one of the most majestic places on earth in Victoria Falls while you whitewater raft, walk with elephants and lions in the open, and do any adventure activity you can imagine.  Then there’s my favorite country in the world: South Africa.  The most beautiful wine region in the world is Stellenbosch.  Cape Town is full of culture and history.  The coast line is spectacular.  The Drakensberg Mountains will amaze you.  You can see all of the Big Five and every other animal at Kruger National Park, an easy step from Johannesburg and the Apartheid Museum. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Top Ten of the World

           Fifty one countries and four continents later I thought I would share my favorite places in the world.  I’ve been to every type of environment from inhospitable desert to swampy jungle to the biggest cities in the world and all in between.  So what does it take to be on the list?  Well, it doesn’t hurt to have a fascinating history and complex contemporary issues.  However, a place can be my favorite simply based on scenery (as you’ll see below), great food, beautiful people, fun activities, or exotic locale.  These are all easily accessible and I’m sure you’ve heard of some of these recommendations before, but I hope you’ll find a couple new gems along the way too.  Here’s the list:
10.  Istanbul, Turkey 
            Some of the most recognizable historical buildings in the world are here such as the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.  Some of the best food you’ll ever eat is on every corner of the city.  Some of the most beautiful people will be walking by you all the time.  Some of the most cosmopolitan people and culture you’ll experience sit here.  There are amazing views of this great city, and some can be seen from the top of ancient city walls.  It’s the crux of east meets west.  You can see a sultan’s palace and some of the most ancient artifacts in the world.  Do I need to say more?
The Hagia Sophia and Hippodrome area will make you wonder at ancient civilization and current city planning.
The views of the water are beautiful and you'll always find a new spot to admire. 

9.  Luang Prabang, Laos

            While Southeast Asia has plenty of temples and monks, one city easily stands out amongst them all.  There is a calm beauty to this place part in fact because the Laotians have quiet, calm demeanors and also part of the beautiful views of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers.  The outdoor markets are fantastic and you’ll always be walking by monks.  The temples are exotic and the town is very cosmopolitan.  Great cooking classes, waterfalls to walk under, animal experiences, and a chance to watch monks get their daily morning offerings are all great activities here.  Vientiane might be the capital of Laos, but Luang Prabang is the undisputed cultural capital of Laos.
Temples and jungle mountain scenery combine for beautiful and unique scenery, even for Southeast Asia. 
As a center of Buddhism, you'll find monks wandering the city and studying. 
8.  Cairns, Australia
             The adventure capital of Australia sits on the coast of the Great Barrier Reef where you can do some of the best diving in the world.  If you’re not into the water, you can do nearly every single adventure activity here amongst some of the best views in the world.  People don’t realize that northeast Australia is a rainforest and has amazing mountains to boot.  So while you are whitewater rafting or skydiving you’ll have amazing views to enjoy.  The town is cute and quaint with a pool in the center of town made to look like a beach.  Although Australia is expensive, everything is first rate and always super friendly. 
Rainforest hikes, views of the mountains, and encounters with wildlife are literally a mile away from the town center.
The Great Barrier Reef doesn't disappoint in terms of scenery, wildlife, or clarity. 
7.  Angkor Wat, Cambodia
                There are ancient ruins throughout the whole world, and I’ve been to nearly all of them.  None show off the grandeur and impressive detail in a great forested environment like Angkor Wat.  The best part is that you are still allowed to walk these ruins and get up and close with the detail, making it so much easier to imagine yourself here nearly 1,000 years ago at its peak.  If you want to fulfill your Tomb Raider fantasy, nothing works better than a walk around the ruins of Angkor Wat. 
Walking around the sites, you'll get a sense of the grandeur of this massive creation.
One of the most iconic sites in all the world, Angkor Wat truly is as advertised. 
6.  Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia
            Mosi-oa-Tunya, The Smoke That Thunders, or as it’s better known: Victoria Falls.  The scale of this waterfall is only matched two other places on earth, but you can’t do nearly as many adventure activities or go on a safari.  You can ride African elephants, whitewater raft, bungy jump, ride a microlight, or if you are adventurous enough even sit on the edge of the falls in the famed Devil’s Pool.  It also has one of the best backpacker vibes in the world. 
It's an adrenaline capital, and the signature piece of that capital is the bridge.  This bungy jumper is finding out firsthand. 
No matter what you do or see, the highlight of Victoria Falls is the view of the falls itself. 
5.  Kyoto and Nara, Japan
              Kyoto evokes everything you want of Japan: geishas, fantastic temples and shrines, history, and gardens in one of the most livable cities in the world.  Rent a bike and go from trail to bamboo grove to temple.  There is one of the best onsens (spas) in the world, and since this is Japan, there is amazing food everywhere.  They even light up a lot of the temples at night so you can revisit your favorite spots in a different atmosphere too.  It’s one of the few places where five days might not be enough even if you are going at it hard each day.
You'll walk and wind your way through a maze of Japanese history and culture. 
The Golden Pavilion is one of many permier temples and sites in Kyoto.  Combined, Kyoto and Nara have as many sites as any top tourist destination in the world. 
4.  Dahab, Egypt
                Far from pyramids and ancient temples is the laid back resort area of Dahab.  It’s the lesser known chic hangout of the Sinai Peninsula, but it’s by far the cheaper and better option.  The whole town is easily walk able and is flush with one word: relax.  Plus some of the best diving is literally off the steps of the waterside restaurants.  There are dozens of excellent diving options here that will double as a way to cool yourself off from the intense Middle East heat.  If you’re up for a hike and a bit of history you can go hike Mount Sinai and see St. Catherine’s, but I’d just advise a hookah and a dive. 
Hike through the night to Mt. Sinai where you can walk where Moses received the Ten Commandments. 
Dahab is about relaxation and diving, and they have both in spades. 
3.  Cape Town and the South African coast
               The number one questions I get: What is your favorite country?  It’s easy to me.  What place else has a fascinating history combined with a reconciliation amidst African animals, amazing coastline, the most beautiful wineries in the world, one of the best cities in the world (Cape Town), and great activities?  There’s only one.  Only in South Africa you can play with baby lions, dive with great white sharks, ride an ostrich, and pet cheetahs. 
You can fulfill your animal dreams, such as playing with baby lions, in South Africa's wilderness. 
Not only does Cape Town have Table Mountain, but great food and markets to explore.
The Cape of Good Hope's coastline is spectacular and gives awe to those that tried to go around the bottom of Africa in search of spices and goods. 
2.  Queenstown, New Zealand
            As you are flying into Queenstown you’ll already notice that you’re in an other-worldly place.  The majestic mountains combined with Lake Wakatipu make for fantastic scenery.  Queenstown is one of the most entertaining and nicest cities while maintaining a quaintness to it.  You can do the original bungy jump dive, skydive, ride a luge, whitewater raft, take Lord of the Rings tours, go to Milford Sound, or do a vast other number of activities.  There’s so much to do here that you can spend weeks and thousands of dollars.  I can guarantee you will fly away with a smile on your face. 
It's charming, small, and yet extremely nice: Queenstown.  There are fantastic bars, hotels, restaurants, and tourist centers here.
The luge track is super fun and has amazing views of Lake Wakatipu, the long lake that sits on Queenstown.
There are so many activities to do here (including seeing some of the sites of Lord of the Rings) that specialize in adventure.
1.  Hallstatt, Austria
             It always has been, and it almost always will be number one.  I visited here ten years ago and was so blown away that I had to come back (which is a rarity for me).  Here’s all you need to know about Hallstatt: I was traveling with a girl in Salzburg who was amazed by the beauty of the city and surrounding countryside.  I kept telling her that it was nothing compared to Hallstatt.  She was getting mad at me that I was building up this place so much in her mind that there was no way she wasn’t going to be disappointed when she finally saw it.  A day later when we were leaving Hallstatt she said, “It still beat my expectations.  I can’t believe it.” 
It's quaint and sits right on the lake, and that's the whole point of the Hallstatt.
A gondola takes people to a salt mine and a restaurant containing amazing views.
The old Austrian architecture sits perfect with the Austrian Alps and Lake Hallstatt. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mount Cook National Park

Mt. Cook as seen from the one of the main roads on the south island.
The Southern Alps run through the length of the park.

Vegetation changes due to altitude are easily seen largely thanks to the steep slopes of the park.

Gorgeous bridges line a lot of the paths along the national park.

A vew of man and nature as one.  Along the main road to the base of Hooker glacier.

Hooker glacier and Mt. Cook as seen from the end of the Hooker Valley hike.

The Tasman glacier extends straight to a lake and is well seen from the hiking path.

Massive glacier chunks float on the lake of Tasman glacier. 

You can take a boat around the lake to get up close and personal with these broken off ice pieces.

    New Zealand has some of the most beautiful scenery in the entire world.  The Lord of the Rings was filmed here for a reason: beautiful and dramatic landscape.  Some of the most impressive of that New Zealand scenery are the Southern Alps running along the west side of the southern island, and some of the most impressive sections of those Southern Alps lie in Mt. Cook National Park.
                Nestled halfway up the south island, the park is home to the tallest peak in all of New Zealand (Mt. Cook, 12,313 feet) and the longest glacier (Tasman glacier, 17 miles).  The mountains and glaciers are so large that they can be seen from the main highway over fifty miles away.  Aside from those facts, the park has dramatic cliffs and glaciers all everywhere.  There are several hikes in the area showcasing the gorgeous alpine plants and birds.  One hike featured several mountain parrots that we saw at the terminus. 
                There are scenic flights, star gazing, mountain biking, and even boat rides that skim close to the large chunks of the Tasman glacier now sitting in the lake.  The best and most common activity is hiking the Hooker valley and trail up to the Tasman glacier.  With the outdoor recreation and long distance from civilization, Mount Cook National Park is one of fourteen national parks that tourists flock to every year for their dramatic beauty.