Yodeling Vagabond into the Abyss of the Grand Canyon

by Brian Leibold

The Grand CanyonJohn Wesley Powell said:

“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. “

Regardless, I’ll try. Recently, I went hiking into the Abyss of the Grand Canyon.

I am living in Flagstaff, Arizona. A good town for the vagabond, good enough to settle down for a long time in the vagabond mind (3 months). Of course, we must settle our restlessness by never settling. I know this all too well.

Flagstaff isn’t too big, and there is beauty all around. Enough National Forests close by for a lifetime of exploring, the red rocks of Sedona 40 miles south, and of course the Grand Canyon 70 miles up the road. An easy hitch, two rides tops.

Abyss of the Grand CanyonI’ve been to The Canyon three times with other people; this time I go alone. Sometimes a man needs separateness to see the loveliness and love the rest of it. Or something. Vagabonds are usually lone vagabonds, lone wolves, steppenwolves.

Thoreau:

 “The man who goes alone can start to-day; but he who travels with another must wait till the other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”

I decide to hike the Hermit Trail, one of the more difficult and least populated trails at the South Rim. Getting to the trail head is the worst part, as I have to take two standing-room-only shuttles packed full of rim tourists with Nikons around necks and a yawning old driver deadlocked in dead end job. One of the stops is called The Abyss.
Abyss of the Grand CanyonThe driver:

Now approaching The Abyss. This is The Abyss. Please exit through the back doors to The Abyss. Step carefully over the white line as you descend into The Abyss.

Edward Abbey in the late-sixties, with prophetic foresight, writes in Desert Solitaire:

Industrial Tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims in the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars, they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of those urban-suburban complexes they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while…the automotive combine has almost succeeded in strangling our cities; we need not let it also destroy
. out national parks.

For the most part, though, the Grand Canyon can never be destroyed. It is invincible and perpetual. Let the rim be overrun by the terrifying tourists. The inside of the canyon itself will remain relatively untrodden. The sloth of the American public guarantees that.

Abyss of the Grand CanyonFinally I make it to the trailhead and start hiking down into the true abyss. All is still on this mid-October afternoon in the canyon. It grows warmer as I descend, naturally, but it is not yet overly hot. Colors. Green junipers and cottonwoods and firs in front of me, red jutting cliffs with probably hidden caves behind that, white almost checkerboard-looking cliffs beyond.

I arrive at the bottom, 5000 feet below civilization. I walk on past the Park Service campsite thirty minutes to the Colorado. There is a sandy area where I put down my bedroll and sleeping bag. I probably will not even need the sleeping bag, it is warm enough without it. I have no permit (the $5 seemed excessive), but this is no campsite.

Abyss of the Grand CanyonThe same sun shines down on the Colorado river at the bottom of the canyon as shines upon Times Square, but it shines upon two different worlds. Here is stillness. Not silence, the roar of the Colorado is heard, the buzzing of bees insects, the occasional chirpings of the birds that frequent these parts, the unfortunate though fortunately distant rumbles of airplanes (but that’s a whole nother world). No, not complete silence, but stillness. A deep pervading peace. And magnificence. Natural magnificence. In New York, there is no denying the empire state building is mechanically magnificent, mechanically masterful.

But what is it when compared to this canyon? Nothing. To me they cannot be compared. It would be like comparing an wealthy man in a suit talking on a blackberry or an attractive woman in the dress with earrings costing thousands of dollars and a wild tiger in the wilderness. The former is attractive because it looks distinguished maybe, wealthy. Impressive in a material sense. Can be attained with the proper resources. To those who strive for wealth and power, it is attractive.

The latter is pure unrestrained wild unattainable unfathomable fierce beauty. The wild tiger, the wild canyon. Here is the place for the yodeling vagabond. Here is true beauty.

The Grand Canyon cannot be shaped by the will of humans. No people can chisel or hammer the canyon to fit their needs. The empire state building was built to fit our needs. The canyon rises above or actually sinks below our petty human ant like comings and goings.

And so, sublime sub time and beyond time and mind.

But even as I curse the distant rumbles of the airplane which disturb the natural tranquility of the canyon, seeing it flying through the sky and seeing the white trail in its wake fading behind it, it is magnificent. Yes, it too is beautiful. I am proud of the human race to see an airplane in the sky. It is an accomplishment, a testament to our abilities but also our restlessness. Who but a restless people would create such a speedy hurrying vehicle?

Anyways from here the sound of the airplane is like a song. The airplane sings along with the birds and the rest of nature in harmonious pitch. In its distance, I can appreciate the airplane, its usefulness, even its genius. All looks and sounds beautiful from where I sit beside the river, the red rocky cliffs soaring above me, the Colorado cutting through in all its primeval fierceness, the light and shadow of the setting sun. From the ugly smoke filled city of head aching confusion, the airplane looks ugly. Just another noise. Adding to the chaos. From here, where all is still and quiet and there is no ugliness, the airplane only adds to the glorious scene.

A little after sunset a bird on the cliffs opposite the Colorado chirps. Another answers it on that side. And one on this side. The bird on this side sounds the same as the second on that side. I don’t know their names.

They sing me to sleep.

Wind, Wine, and Sailing in Bellingham, Washington with Linda Kissam

Schooner Zodiac wine tastingStory and Photos by Linda Kissam

This Wine Diva loves …well… her wine. That includes pretty much anytime and anywhere. But it’s the unexpected wine adventures that call my name and beckon me to throw caution to the wind. Perhaps one of my most unique wine escapades was the sunny summer afternoon I spent on a wine cruise aboard the Schooner Zodiac in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The 160 foot windjammer Schooner Zodiac set sail for 6-hour wine and dine tour in the scenic waters of Puget Sound. My vision for the day was a wine and dine where a professional staff would take care of its guests every whim – mine included. Well…there’s a yes and a no in that scenario.

The captain's wheel in BellinghamWith a main mast that towers over twelve stories high and the largest working mainsail on the north coast, the gaff-rigged two-masted tall ship Schooner Zodiac is a living, working piece of maritime history. Her decks and beams are living testament to the wide array of faces and places this Windjammer has seen on her 88 year journey.

The Zodiac is operated by a licensed captain and experienced team of volunteer crew members. Note the term “volunteer.” This would have a big impact on my time on the boat. She departs her dock in Bellingham, Washington for a wide variety of public and private charters, as well as evening and day sails from spring through fall, exploring the untouched anchorages of the San Juan Islands and Canadian Gulf Islands. It’s a gorgeous “ride,” but wait there’s a catch. Guests are encouraged to help out with some of the sailing duties.

Zodiac Guest Crew in Bellingham, WashingtonYup, whether you are there for a day or a week, you become part of the sailing team. At first I resisted the “call” to assit, wanting to soak in some rays, chat with friends, enjoy the changing landscape and sip some Sauvignon Blanc; but darn there’s something about the wind and the tides and the romance of getting involved with this old schooner that dictates a self-immersion course on volunteer activities.

Actually raising sails and dropping anchor between sips of great wine and food is quite special. In all honesty, I did more cheering for the other volunteer crew than actual hands on stuff, but still the thrill of being involved was very cool. The crew is patient and good at reinforcing positive participation and tolerating guests with minimum skill and strength. As Captain Bob Bitichin says, “The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.”
sailing in Bellingham BayThe opportunity to learn to sail, reading charts, and taking a watch at the helm is all there for each guest to be a part of should they wish. If you take a multi-day cruise expect a day of beautiful sailing and in the evenings, after anchoring in a peaceful bay, time to explore an island or paddle a kayak. Anticipate seeing pods of orca whales, spiraling bald eagles, sprinting porpoises and inquisitive harbor seals on your voyage. Hearty, delicious meals are served by the Zodiac’s experienced cook. My sail included lovely hors d’oeuvres, wine, a deck-side barbeque, lots of yummy side dishes and a lip-smacking dessert. Certainly, there is no rustic living in the food and wine department.

Zodiac Bunks - Bellingham, WashingtonSleeping arrangements are a bit more casual. You’ll sleep on board in the ships’ quarters. The ship has three bathrooms and two hot showers on board. Expect to share most facilities, but you can pay extra for your own compact stateroom. Pack light but purposeful. Summer can be anywhere between cool to warm to hot on any given day – bring sunblock and a hat, and a pair of sunglasses. A pair of shorts is a must and if you feel like braving the ocean temperatures, swim wear is a great idea. Part of the fun of visiting the islands is going ashore on remote beaches. There isn’t always a dock, so you may be landing on the beach trekking through water, sand and mud. A pair of cheap waterproof boots – or just sandals that can get wet – is a good idea. Layered clothing, including turtlenecks and tights or long underwear are necessary for most mornings and evening comfort. Foul-weather gear like waterproof footwear, pants and jacket is necessary when it rains or you’ll be stuck down below in your cabin or bed while everyone else is having the time of their lives in the summer rains. An inexpensive hooded rain jacket and pants is a good idea.

Bellingham Bay BeersIf you’re like me, you’re already thinking about your next vacation. The Schooner Zodiac offers a cruise, theme and price point for everyone. Join us for a unique and memorable cruise in the San Juan islands as we visit local wineries and experience the flavor and variety of Pacific Northwest seafood

Resources

Schooner Zodiac http://www.schoonerzodiac.com/default.htm

Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism http://www.bellingham.org/

On the Road to Bethany Beach with Yodeling Vagabonds

Story and Photos by Brian Leibold

 

yodeling vagabond bikeThe other day I went back on the road. I quit my job sweeping at a construction site, hopped on my bike, and headed off to the beach.

 

 

 

 

Words of Wisdom #1: If you have a job sweeping at a construction site, first of all quit it. And when you quit, say: “I quit. I’ll sweep when I’m dead.”

Two of my friends biked with me. The beach was Bethany Beach, in Delaware. The landscape was unremarkable, but it didn’t matter. The beauty of biking long distances isn’t what you see, it’s the intoxicated feeling (that never seems to peak) and the insights, however seemingly insignificant, that come from the solitude.

fuck sweeping at construction sites One friend said

…the thing about biking is we’re moving and can feel ourselves moving, while the people in cars are technically moving, but they’re sitting still. They’re staring blankly out the window waiting for excitement to come to them, and not seeing, while we’re outside the window seeing it all, and actively seeking excitement as we move.

My other friend made  a new Rule of the Road:

 Shakespeare Rule  #1

To bike home or to bike into the unknown: there is no question.

 

When we arrived, we added some beach rules (because the more rules, the happier you can be when you break them or prove them wrong)

 

Beach Rules 

A vagabond must drop down and do twenty before surfing the waves of plenty (pushups).

When sleeping, one must be able to hear the waves crashing in harmonious accord.

Cops with cop souls should be avoided when sleeping on the beach.

To apply sunscreen on one’s own back is impossible. One would be wise to find a suitably attractive member of the opposite sex to perform this function. Skin cancer must be avoided, this much is certain.

 

The further away I biked from that sweeping job, the better I felt.

There is a negative correlation between distance from the city and mental state. In the city, with everyone driving around and around the cyclical beltway, it is very possible for a vagabond to feel caught unwillingly in a web of sameness, trapped and shackled in monotonous routine.

It is difficult is feel any excitement for the present. But in remembering past adventures, the vagabond is able to shake off the gloom, knowing he doesn’t have to feel like this, that it is possible to separate from the confusion of the city, as a fugitive from normality, by heading back on the road (and yodeling.)

There, especially if biking or walking, freedom is found.

As I biked on the back roads towards Bethany Beach, the quiet all around me spoke to the unquiet within me and allowed my thoughts to be clear and my own, influenced by no other.

I was feeling for the first time since my bike trip in the west that indescribable natural euphoric feeling of movement on the road. I was moving! I was riding onwards.

The Road stretched out in front of us, in all its gravelly glory, and we pedaled frantically, whooping and yodeling whenever we wanted and as loud as we wanted as only vagabonds back on the road after too long an absence can.

As the wind picked up intensely the closer we came to the sea, I realized that nomads and vagabonds are indentured servants to the road. But we do not have to work on the road for seven years as the indentured servants of old did in order to be set free.

We are freed as we work.

We work physically on the road. We hike perilously up to mountain peaks, hoping to clear our cloudy minds by going above the clouds, we bike against the strongest of head winds and up passes that ought not to be biked up, we walk across deserts thirsting for some mirage in the midst of the vast sandy barren lands.

These feats are difficult, but befitting for those who do not wish to simply fit into an already present locked in four by four square spot in society and want instead to unlock what we can in a mind unhampered by the grind.

When the headwinds of fate gust against us off the road, and we wonder what we are doing here, we become unhappy, and we are told:

Why the long face? Aren’t you happy? Why don’t you make a ton of money, get three Lexus’ (Lexi?) (grey silver black), plastic surgery, a silicon wife, and a seven story house with four basements and seventy four windows all with views of the interstate. It worked for me!

But on the road, when the headwinds rage, we simply listen to The Road and he says:

Pedal onwards, climb onwards, move onwards, go forward leave the chains of luxury far behind you in another world.

And we are rewarded by a feeling of success, of doing something worthwhile, of working not solely for the sake of money. We are rewarded after the climb when The Road shows us his valley below, on the long walk as we revel in the solitude of the solo road, after a day of hard biking as we sit and talk excitedly of tomorrow by a raging fire.

A sunrise is all the reward I needAs vagabonds, we realize that success as society sees it is succession from the best of life as we see it, so we choose permeability over permanence.

 

We wander from the straight and known, straying from the narrow in order to experience the great wide open unknown of the road.

And after the headwind tried in vain for many miles to push us back from the beach, we finally made it to the Atlantic. The water was cold (under 60), and the rough waves crashed imposingly as they have crashed for all time.

The mighty perpetual sea did not care how many miles we had biked to see it and was perhaps angry that we had overcome its friend the wind. But The Road overruled the angry sea and said

Well done, my young vagabond riders, you biked along the river to the sea. You pedaled through fierce winds. I will reward you by allowing you to run like insane nomadic sprinters into the Atlantic Sea. First, though, you must drop down and give me twenty before you surf the waves of plenty. It is only right.

So we did twenty pushups, for we were indentured servants voluntarily submitting to the hardships of the road in order that he let us see, in order to be set free. And, zanily yodeling in imperfect inharmonious discording rewarding whoops, we ran like insane nomadic sprinters into the sea.

And The Road looked on with a half-smile, knowing something and knowing we are all searching for the something he knows. But The Road does not tell us, he only smiles his enigmatic smile. We have to find that thing for ourselves. We may never find it, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop searching.

Cruising the San Juan & Gulf Islands – A couples cruise to nirvana

Article & Pics by Linda Kissam

San Juan Islands, WashingtonIf you search the Web, you can find many stories from a technical or nautical viewpoint on cruising the beautiful San Juan Islands in Washington State and its twin sister the Gulf Islands in Canada. This is NOT one of those articles. This is my personal take on a couples fall-time cruise through the two island groups. Yup, just me and my husband kicking back for a week long escapade amongst soft breezes, brilliant sunshine, intimate moorings, and gurgling blue waters.

There is definitely something to be said for how a couple of empty-nesters with hectic jobs, major responsibilities and plugged- in -lives stopped their whirlwind schedules to stand down, relax, and reconnect. Just getting a date we both could agree on was a huge issue. I sense some eye rolling and head nodding out there in reader land, so I know you’re feeling my pain. Agreeing on what type of boat to rent was another whole challenge. I was looking for “Mr. Big” with all the amenities. My husband the sailor was looking for compact, maneuverability, and minimum maintenance.

On all issues we ended somewhere in the middle. Giving up my hair dryer, Wolf Stove, wine refrigerator and Riedel glassware sucked. Arguing over terms like aft, stern, lines and so forth is never a pleasure. I want to converse in everyday words; my husband is a stickler for sailing terms. But then again toasting stunning sunsets from the stern (back of the boat) , drinks on the patios of some amazing island wine bars, the quiet lap, lap, lap of the sparkling blue water, and relatively good Internet connection everywhere certainly has its benefits.

Tying up in the San Juan IslandsOur vacation started with an early one day fly-in to Bellingham Airport. This would give us time to inspect the boat, have my husband take his “boat driving test” and stock the boat up with supplies. We rented a car and were on our way 15 short minutes to the Bellingham Marina where our boat was waiting for us at Bellingham Yachts. We chartered a 33’ Back Cove power boat with many of the comforts of home. Limited seating and cooking facilities
met this would be a simpler experience than when we charter a 42’ boat two years ago. No fancy dinners, lots of overnight guests or dancing till midnight, but its small compact demeanor had its own charms. As expected, the Bellingham charter staff was kind, knowledgeable and eager to please. The boat was clean, fueled and ready for us to board.

As peaceful cruising and a good glass of wine at sunset is a part of reaching vacation nirvana, we set out around 11 a.m. the next day chugging along at six knots to our first stop Lyall Harbor. I think we were supposed to start out earlier, but I took the time to use the curling iron one more time and chat up all the yacht dogs and their owners before we set out. At some point someone mentioned that
my husband was doing some sort of energetic jumping jacks to get my attention, so I rightly guessed I missed the official sail-off time.

Lyall harbor in Canada was out first stop. It is located in the southwest portion of Plumper Sound, attached to Saturna Island. Lyall Harbor wharf is adjacent to the BC Ferries dock. If you’re not use to cruising around the big ferries, it can be quite a shock to see these big boys barreling towards you. Luckily my husband knows the rules of the road (sea) so there were no near misses, but just saying, get a rule book if you haven’t done this before.

Queen Charlotte SoundWe had a choice to make, as we would each night. Should we dock at a private or public
marina or gunkhole it? No eye rolling please, this is a real word. Gunkholing by definition is a quiet anchorage where small yachts anchor into soft mud or “gunk” — so gunkholing applies to those who engage in this low key relaxed style of cruising. We opted for anchoring in the quiet bay, a light dinner, a rich glass of Pinot Noir and a long lazy look at the seductive sunset.

I had thought we would get off the boat the next morning to do some wine tasting at Saturna Winery. I’ve been to this winery before and enjoyed its ambiance and wines. If you’re near, make sure you take the time to stop in. Unfortunately we found out that we needed to get over to Canadian Customs immediately. So we pulled up anchor and headed to Bedwell Harbor on Pender Island where all passengers must report their presence as tourists. You can do the initial registration process by telephone or avoid it by registering in advance on online. Luckily the process was quick and off we went for a 2—day stay at the popular private Ganges Marina on Salt Spring Island.
There was a bit of head spinning at the price of mooring. But you get what you pay for. In this case it meant clean and gated docks, a friendly hand to help you dock (something I am hopelessly not adept at), nice showers, Internet access, and calm waters. This is one of my favorite stops to make. Just a few steps from the marina gourmet food is available at the local market, and the restaurants are varied in price and cuisine. There are lots of shops to browse and my favorite jewelry shop is located here. It’s a good thing this boat had good storage as my credit card got a nice work out here.

Relaxed, rejuvenated, and stocked up on wine, food, and jewelry we motored back to the US to Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands. Another 2-night private mooring stay meant there was plenty of time to explore this quaint island before we picked up a guest.

Roche harbor has a small but classy shopping center which is just steps from where all the
boats moor. There are several waterside eateries, a marina full of beautiful yachts, and local artisans’ booths in summer—showing off jewelry, wool, paintings, pottery, and more.

Pretty much two restaurants serve the boaters and locals. The Madrona Bar and Grill focuses on coastal casual cuisine and creative cocktails. Its deck overlooks the harbor, offering diners the only island sunset view over water. Fresh salads, creative grill sandwiches and famous BBQ ribs are menu favorites. Open 11am-10pm mid-May to the last day of September, which you should know is known as “the season.” The Lime Kiln Cafe is a classic for hearty harbor side breakfast. Sandwiches and fish & chips round out a lunch menu that makes decisions difficult but delicious. Open 7am-8pm daily during “the season.”
Quirky sailing and luxury in Washington StateWhen you’re finished noshing and catching up on your email, strike out to see the San Juan Islands Museum of Art Sculpture Park. It’s about a 10 minute walk from Roche Harbor and has more than 100 sculptures placed in an open, 19-acre, natural setting. You can ramble among the sculptures or follow the nearby nature trail that takes you into a native forest and close to Westcott Bay, home of the world-famous oysters. I loved the sculpture park and spent a good 2 hours just wondering from one amazing art piece to another. It’s a photographer’s and art lover’s dream stop.

An old high-school friend of my husband’s met us early the next morning. He had spent his early a.m. hours taking a ferry from Anacortes to Roche Harbor to connect with us. Once aboard, we untied the boat and where off to Deer Harbor on the western side of Orcas Island. This was to be another gunkholing experience. Now, with two co-captains aboard, finding “the spot” to anchor took some time and discussion. Finally we dropped anchor and the “boat people” watching began.

It was a beautiful day for boating, canoeing and other water-tight vessel sailing. And so it
was with a chilled glass of Riesling the 3 of us sat back on the stern and had the time of our lives watching the skilled and the not-so-skilled glide pass us. At this time of the day I am usually pounding out 50 trillion emails, catching up on paperwork and articles, and arguing with various Internet providers about the latest hacker and spam attempts. But today, it was a pleasure to put that all aside and just enjoy the scenery. What a treat to discuss no more than the lively seals, the fearless teenagers in tiny canoes, the hot- rodding young men breaking every no-wake rule in the area, and the odd hippy couple floating by in what could best be described as a version of an oar- powered Nile boat. They all seemed to be doing fine without computers, fancy stoves and screaming Internet connections. There’s a lesson to be learned here. And for some reason, I had no thought of taking our power raft to the tiny store in the even tinier marina. We all did fine on a simple diet of canned clam chowder and beer.
Cruising in the San Juan Islands, WashingtonRunning from the fog -laden morning at Deer Harbor we exited the San Juan Islands at Thatcher Pass and motored past the Anacortes ferry pier. We thought we might be able to drop our guest off next to the ferry terminal, but that was wishful thinking. We had to go to the Anacortes public marina at Cap Sante to fuel up for the final leg of our trip and drop him off. He helped out with the fueling process and with a casual wave of his hand he was off to his home in Seattle (lucky, lucky man).

Returning to Bellingham from Anacortes is another three hour run from Anacortes when operating at chugging speed. The boat was due back in at 10 AM the next day so we had thought we might gunkhole it one more time. On this trip however, the risk of morning fog forced us to run back to the home marina. My husband put the pedal to the metal for about an hour on our way back literally hurling us back to civilization, schedules and bright city lights. I much prefer chugging, but it was a treat to see my husband really having fun powering away (which I am sure is not a technical boating term, bit it paints the right picture).

What we gave up in another night on the water, we made up by having dinner at Anthony’s
in Bellingham Marina which is just a few short steps from where our boat made its final docking. This is a long-time favorite restaurant of ours, so not such a tough trade really. We spent the night on board the boat and the next morning hitched a ride to the airport from the charter manager. While my husband traded sea stories with him, I turned on my iPhone and reconnected with my real life once again.

Considering this trip? Inexperienced skippers need not shy away from this trip, but for safety sake take an experienced person along for a few days to avoid disaster. Bellingham Yachts will charter the boat and provide training or help you to contract a training skipper. The cost to charter one of the boats in their fleet ranges from $2,138 for the smallest of the boats off season to $6,545 in season for the largest of the boats for about a week. Of course prices and types of boats are subject to change. There is a minimum $3,000 (up to $9,000) additional refundable damage deposit required depending on the boat you choose. You must return the boat full of fuel at your own cost. Book your charter by calling 1-877-310-9446.

 

6 Southeast Asia Water Adventures – #3 is my favorite!

Exclusive for Vagobond by Melissa Ruttanai Photos by Neil Friedman.

In mainland Southeast Asia, adrenaline junkies and nature lovers will discover full-throttle water sport adventures. Without mandatory deposit fees equivalent to mortgage down payments, visitors trek, snorkel, raft and kayak in pristine waters. For those seeking beaches, grottos, and limestone landscapes, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam have become prime destinations. In Southeast Asia, adventure begins where the tides meet the shore. Here are 6 Southeast Asia Water Adventures.

Kayaking in Southern Thailand’s Angthong National Marine Park

Inland Sea, ThailandFor Hollywood filmmakers, billionaires, and broke college students, the Gulf of Thailand remains a draw for many waterborne adventure seekers. Northwest of famous Koh Samui Island, Angthong National Marine Park is an archipelago of 42 limestone islands carved by tide and wind. While camping is allowed with a permit, many visitors arrange tours out of Koh Samui that include swimming island lagoons, trekking trough the mountain, and eating at a local village. During the day, explore small coves and sandy beaches. Snorkel with tropical fish and survey Koh Wua Talap, the largest island in the chain, or Koh Mae Koh that boasts a green-blue inland sea called, Talay Nai. Glide kayaks across the Koh Mae’s bay and relax to the delicate sound of your paddle dipping into gentle waters while high promontories loom like grey-green sea monsters.


Boating through Vietnam’s Halong Bay

With a UNESCO World Heritage seal of approval, Halong Bay sits on the northern ridge of a limestone chain that sweeps up from the Gulf of Thailand and Angthong National Marine Park. Here, the karsts cluster into a mystical array of gray stone, verdant brush, and boats with iconic colonial sails and rudders. Meaning “dragon descending”, Halong Bay includes 2000 islands and over 600 square miles of the Tonkin Gulf, offering visitors dozens of beaches, grottos, and caves to explore. With its high salinity, bathers can jump right from the ship into waters so buoyant there’s hardly any exertion necessary. Stretching across the water surface, visitors can drift all day among spiraling crags. Visit floating houses lashed together into small villages. Or tether broadside to local fisherman, selling giant prawns and squirming squid straight from their nets. After a day caving, pull into Cat Ba Island, a favorite retreat for Hanoians escaping the city.

 


Sailing through Daily Life on Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

Tonle SapSix miles south of famous Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Southeast Asia’s largest lake, Tonle Sap continues to play a vital role in the life of local Cambodians. Fed by the Mekong River during the wet season, Tonle Sap remains a major waterway for commerce and transportation. Every day, ferries carry commuters and cargo across the lake on their way to and from Battambong. For US$5, travelers can gaze through a window of life on the lake, witnessing how families live in boathouses, cooking, reading, and raising children in narrow canals. Children attend floating schools on large boats with open windows and basketball courts enclosed by high fences. Families visit floating hospitals, teetering gently in the wake. Women buy fresh fish and produce from vendors rowing along peacefully.


White Water Rafting in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang RiverLaos’ religious and cultural capital, Luang Prabang is a town known for Buddhist temples, daily markets, and a laidback pace of life. At sunrise, monks and novices traverse the UNESCO World Heritage streets. At sunset, fishing boats shift back and forth in the wake of speedboats heading to China. On one side of the town, the Mekong River skims along, a wide boulevard of fertile silt and dependable currents. On the other, Nom Khan River sweeps in from the east, offering visitors white water rafting and kayaking for any skill level. From town, tours can be arranged with door to riverside transport included. On their second day in Luang Prabang, travelers could find themselves clad in helmet and life vest, digging hard into rushing currents. Guides lead rafters through crashing white waters and ominous rocks creating whirlpools. In the reeds, Lao children play in the shallows, making the peace sign as they splash each other. Along the river, mountains as diverse as the wildlife press up against the shoreline. Stilted houses perch on slopes growing tea. Birds cut across black rock cliffs. And women plod up and down terraced vegetable patches.

Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

Tubing in LaosIn the 1970’s, backpackers looked around for a convenient stopover during trips between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, the capital. From this necessity, Vang Vieng burst onto the scene, offering accommodations, meals, and more recently, tubing. On the riverside, two companies rent out massive inner tubes and drop travelers off upstream for a day of lazing on the river, listening to birds, and losing all thought to mountain peaks. From these humble beginnings, the tubing trend has become the main activity in town. On the river, bars jut out from the tree line, pulsing with Bob Marley tunes and hawking cheap mixed drinks. Bars feature ziplines, mudslides, and tug-of-war pits to keep patrons docked at their shores. On the river, meet other travelers and become inspired by how many consecutive days they’ve tubed the river. Back in town, relax on triangular pillows, enjoy the mountain air, and recharge for another day on the river.

Swimming with Elephants in Pai, Thailand

Elephants in ThailandSitting on the highway route between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, the little town of Pai is a major stop along the traveler’s path in northern Thailand. Here, artists absorb nature’s inspiration and Thais retreat from the bustle of metropolitan life. While there’s plenty to do on foot and motorbike, a popular activity in Pai is elephant trekking. Hotel staff can make tour reservations. In the morning, a guide escorts you to the elephant camps. The world grows quiet on the outskirts of Pai. Elephants eat bananas and throw grass into the air. The elephant trainer called a mahout helps trekkers mount the pachyderms and settle onto a thick blanket. No saddles here, riders spend the day bareback in the sun as the elephants walk through the forest. At the river, elephants suck water up their trunks, spray a cold drink into their mouths, and save just enough to splash up at their riders. Once the mahout gives a command, the elephants shake. The riders hold on tight only to be flicked like flees off the elephant’s back. Up into the air and down into the river, the riders splash, getting their cold drink too.

Exploring California’s Golden Triangle – Gold, Startups, Agriculture, and Wine

California is known as the Golden State for a good reason – the gold rushes of California pulled an estimated $20-$40 billion dollars worth of the precious metal from the rivers, rocks, and streams of the state.
2013-05-04 13.44.32Some of the greatest fortunes in the world were built with that gold, but that wasn’t all California had to offer. Today the state is home to Google, Facebook, Oracle, Apple and many other tech giants. The aerospace and space industries laid a solid groundwork here. The golden state is also a breadbasket for fruits, vegetables, and livestock. There’s also oil in them thar hills and offshore rigs with massive reserves that are currently untapped. And let’s see – a little thing called Hollywood which generates huge profits. California – if it were a country, would have the world’s 12th largest gross domestic product at a massive $1.9 trillion. That puts it in about the same range as India, Russia, or Australia – not bad for one state out of 50!

California capital

 

In fact, California provides nearly 15% of the USA’s annual GDP! California is the third largest and most important wine producing region in the world (after France and Italy) and ‘California cuisine’ is now a fact of life nearly everywhere on the planet. Fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Panda Express were all founded in California – there is no mistaking the impact this region has had on the world. Perhaps instead of globalization, people should refer to Californization of the world! Our own journey is still only just beginning.

San Francisco Skyline

We started in San Francisco, took a quick trip North to Redding to visit my mother, and then we landed in Sacramento – home of the original gold findings at Sutter’s Mill. We’ve been house sitting for a little under two weeks and this gig is just coming to a close as our first month in the USA. From Sacramento we will head back to San Francisco and then make our way North along the Pacific Coast. If all goes according to plan we should be in Seattle and Washington State sometime during the perfect weather of summer.

Here are a few of the highlights from our explorations thus far in Sacramento: Folsom, California – while Folsom is mostly known for the prison of the same name thanks to the late, great Johnny Cash, this little suburb of Sacramento has a lot to offer with a small train musuem, an enjoyable history museum, and a cute little old town filled with reasonably priced antique shops. Nearby is Folsom lake which was created when Folsmo Dam was built in the 1950’s.

Folsom Prison Blues

And – I forgot to mention the microchip and processor industry above – but Intel has their headquarters in Folosm.

Sacramento’s Old Town and Sac History Museum The Sacramento Farmer’s Market The California Museum of History California State Capital and Garden McKinley Park Rose Garden and Pond were also pretty incredible. One of the sad things coming back to the world of car culture is seeing the effect it has on wildlife…this raccoon, however, was obviously living the good life before he got hit by that big truck in the sky…

racoon road kill

 

First published May 14, 2013

5 Quirky Boutique Hotels in Madrid

Looking for a Madrid hotel? Here are five of the best upscale and boutique places to stay in the Spanish capital…

Osuna Hotel

quirky luxury in SpainFound in the Palomas neighbourhood, close to Juan Carlos I Trade Fair Ground (IFEMA) and Barajas Airport, Osuna Hotel might seem best-suited to business travellers on first appearances – but it also has a lot to offer those in Madrid on leisure. The city centre is ten minutes away by taxi, and the hotel itself has a whole host of fancy facilities. One large, secluded pool lets you take your morning dip, while the poolside restaurant El Mirador serves up Mediterranean fusion cuisine. All rooms have internet access, air conditioning and smart modern décor.

 

 

 

THC Bergantin Hostel

Quirky boutique madridFound just a block from Madrid’s main square the Puerto del Sol, THC Bergantin Hostel is perfect for first-timers to the city as it puts you within walking distance of all the main sites. The beautiful Royal Palace, Real Theatre and Almudena Cathedral are all easily reachable on foot from your front door, as well as party areas like Huertas where you can get plates of tapa alongside every drink. The hotel itself has just 15 tastefully-decorated spacious rooms, so it’s great for a more intimate and romantic break away. Perks include Wi-Fi access, air conditioning and free city tours arranged by helpful staff.

 

 

Petit Palace Cliper Gran Via

Next to Madrid’s famous main shopping-and-sightseeing thoroughfare the Gran Via, Petit Palace Cliper Gran Via puts you in the centre of the action. Other must-see places nearby include the gorgeous Parque del Retiro and Madrid’s ‘golden triangle’ of museums, the Prado, Reina Sophia and Thyssen. The Reina Sophia holds Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica. At the hotel itself, you’re treated to the ultimate in style and comfort for relatively low rates – rooms have plasma TVs, airy balconies and hydro-massage showers in bathrooms. There is free Wi-Fi throughout the building, and a full breakfast is served daily. You can also rent bikes from reception.

 

 

High Tech Madrid Aeropuerto

boutique hotels madridIf you’ve got an early flight to catch, you’re travelling on business or you just like the fuss-free convenience of staying near the airport, High Tech Madrid Aeropuerto has everything you need and style in spades. There is a free shuttle bus to and from the airport, so you don’t have to worry about catching a train or shelling out for a taxi. The hotel owns a large outdoor pool for taking advantage of the city’s famous sunny days. Inside, your room is kitted out with the latest fancy technology, including a flat screen TV, hydro-massage shower and free Wi-Fi access. You can also sweat out your cares in the sauna, or treat yourself to local delicacies like Iberico ham at the restaurant. Popular business and conference areas Fuencarral, Chamartin and the Paseo de la Castellana are on your doorstep.

 

 

THC Latina Hostel

madrid hostels and hotelsFound in the stylish La Latina neighbourhood, about half an hour’s walk south of Madrid’s main square the Puerta del Sol, THC Latina Hostel offers stylish and affordable rooms that feel like a home away from home. With luxuries like LCD TVs, parquet floors, modern décor, pretty balconies and free Wi-Fi, you’re sure to be comfy here. Outside, the neighbourhood is calm and safe, and you’re only a short walk from the bustle of local bars and restaurants that Madrid’s tourists haven’t claimed for their own yet. You can rent bikes from the front desk ,and La Latina Metro station is four minutes’ walk from the hotel – from here you can whiz to the centre of town in ten minutes flat.

4 Great Musical Acts Who Found Inspiration Through Travel

 

Abbey Road in India cc image courtesy of UppyPhoto on FlickrThey say that a change is as good as a rest, and when it comes to seeking inspiration most musicians will tell you that a change of scenery is as good as it comes. The best musicians take inspiration from their surroundings: so if you’re starting to find that you have songwriters block, it might just be time to strap on that backpack and get your groove back. You certainly won’t be the first: in fact you’ll be following in the footsteps of some of the biggest names in popular music. Names like…

 

The Beatles

Arguably the most influential band in the world, the Beatles are behind many 70’s youngsters’ ambitions to fly cheaply to Indiato ‘find themselves’. In February 1968 the fab four attended a transcendental meditation training session in Rishikesh, resulting in one of the most productive periods of their career. Although the trip wasn’t exactly idyllic (most accounts speak of tensions between the Beatles and the Maharishi) the time out of the spotlight certainly gave the band the peace and the time to compose a great body of work: including most of the songs from The White Album.

 

David Bowie in Travel cc IMage courtesy of Quicheisinsane on FlickrDavid Bowie

It seemed like all was lost for Bowie before he bit the bullet and left LA,grabbing a one way ticket to Berlin after a brief stint in Paris. In 1976 the thin white duke was exhausted and the trials of fame were starting to get the better of him: Bowie later said that during this period he lived on “red peppers, cocaine, and milk” (not the healthiest diet). Three years of exile in Berlin was the perfect antidote. Working with Brian Eno, Bowie released his ‘Berlin Trilogy’: a set of three albums that included one of his best albums, “Heroes”. Musicians have to take risks, and during the 70’s the Berlin Wall was still standing: the Cold War inspiration for the album becomes deeper when you realise that it was recorded not 500m from the wall itself.

 

Paul Simon

Despite a fairly successful career after his partnership with Garfunkel ended, by the mid 80’s Paul Simon was starting to lose his touch. Disappointing sales of his album “Hearts & Bones” made him believe that he had lost his mojo once and for all. By chance he listened to a cassette of instrumental South African music, which kindled his artistic flair, and inspired him to visit South Africa. The trip resulted in his Grammy award winning album “Graceland”, and a return to the spotlight. Like Bowie before him, the trip was a risk: during the 80’s apartheid was still in full swing and most of the world was boycotting South Africa.

 

Snoop Dog er...Snoop Lion cc image courtesy of thecomeupshow on FlickrSnoop Dogg… or should that be Snoop Lion?

More recently, a simple trip to Jamaica turned out to be life changing for Snoop Dogg. After meeting with some Rastafarian priests, the rapper had an epiphany and now claims to be the reincarnation of Bob Marley. Snoop is “tired of hip hop” and is planning to make reggae music instead under his new moniker, ‘Snoop Lion’, and plans to release records that young and old alike can enjoy. We’ll be keeping our eyes on this transformation with bated breath.

Best Autumn Festivals Around the World

We usually think of summer as the party season but across the globe, some of the best and wildest festivals happen in the autumn. The fall is a great time to travel – it’s off-season in many places, meaning cheaper flights and less of a crush at the airport.

Wat Phantao during Yi Peng Image by Takeaway@Wikimedia.org, used under Creative Comms licenseAt these autumn festivals you can hang out with Mexican spirits, swill the finest German beer or sail your own (two-inch) candle-lit boat in Thailand in the coming months. So when you do a holiday comparison for your autumn vacation, remember to check for these fantastic events before you start booking your flights…

Kyoto in Japan

September to November in Japan is a riot of color and beauty that’s particularly cherished in areas like Kyoto, where you’ll see the most stunning reds, oranges, golds and green leaves in Japan’s most traditional and fascinating city. Not much compares to seeing men and women dressed in elaborate kimonos and walking under a canopy of rich and vivid autumn leaves colours. Enjoy the sights at the Maple Festival in November, where you will also see Japanese dancing performed on boats on the river and can partake of the elegant tea ceremony.

Dia de los Muertos in Mexico

The ‘Day of the Dead’ is a colorful and macabre festival of celebration held all over Mexico at the end of November. Locals make garlands of marigolds and buy a special bread that attracts the spirits of departed loved ones, and everyone heads to the graveyards after dark to eat, drink tequila and dance to the Mariachi bands. It’s not so much a party as a thoughtful and sometimes exuberant celebration of life. Tourists will find themselves welcome to join in
and learn about this vibrant culture.

Oktoberfest in Munich

If you like beer, and you like festivals, get yourself to Munich! Also known as the Munich Beer Fest, this celebration takes over the city, with little stalls and massive tents lined up along the riverside, serving beers and ales from Germany’s finest breweries, and a wide selection of traditional German foods. There’s even a funfair and rides to go along with the carnival atmosphere.

Loi Krathong in Thailand

This beautiful river festival is a visual treat. Thousands of little floating ornaments made from bread and bark are lit up with candles and sent out onto the river. The little boats, known as krathongs, signify letting go of negative thoughts and hurts, and giving thanks for your blessings. At the same time, the festival of Yi Peng involves releasing thousands of illuminated paper lanterns into the sky. A lovely and completely unforgettable experience.

Festival de Cornuto in Rocca Canterano, Italy

Not a great choice for a honeymoon trip, this November festival is a celebration of infidelity! The ‘Festival of the Horned One’ with its carnival of floats and street theatre is a perfect choice for spurned lovers, cheated-on spouses and betrayed brides. Console your broken heart with some delicious Italian ice-cream and laugh your troubles away.

Aruba Adventures

aruba adventuresAruba is a gorgeous island where you can spend entire days (or weeks) lounging on the beach staring into the crystal clear ocean. Just because you can be a total bum in Aruba does not mean you have to (or that it is best way to maximize your vacation).

The rolling hills and open seas also make Aruba the perfect location for adventures and outdoor challenges.

On Land
Aruba adventuresArikok National Park is made up of three different geological configurations which result in unique wildlife and rock formations. Aruba lava, quartz diorite and limestone formations have influenced the land development in the park. Hard core hikers will enjoy challenging themselves on the over 20 miles of trails throughout the rugged terrain.

aruba hikingThe majority of Aruba may be flat and sandy, but interestingly enough Aruba is also filled with unique hills and colossal boulders. Ayo and Casibari are both excellent rock climbing locations with challenging hills juxtaposed with unbelievable views. If rock climbing isn’t your thing, you can also hike through the boulders on the walking trails developed by the Aruba government.

In the Water
deep sea fishing in ArubaDeep sea fishing takes place a few miles offshore. You will be rocked by the strong ocean waves and may swallow some salt spray during your experience. However, you may hardly notice these things because you are so intently focused on reeling in an 80 pound fish at the other end of your pole. You don’t need to have fishing experience if you go with a tour, because they will provide you with a skilled captain and first mate.

Aruba Scuba DivingThe entire south coast of Aruba Is covered in coral reefs, making it the Caribbean wreck-diving capital. Planes, abandoned cargo ships and tugboats are some of the wrecks divers can explore while snorkeling in Aruba’s water. Over eleven wrecks can easily be reached by divers, and there are over 20 sites designated for diving in Aruba. The bright and unique reefs paired with the wrecks are both magnificent and fascinating.

Difficult waves, flat water locations, 15-knot trade winds year round and widespread shallows make Aruba one of the top five locations in the entire world for windsurfing. Because there are so many windsurfing locations in Aruba, anyone ranging from someone with no experience to a skilled windsurfer will enjoy and be challenged by the experience.

 

Backwater Adventures in the Peruvian Amazon Part 1

Exclusive for Vagobond by Matthew Barker

The Peruvian Amazon that most visitors get to witness is not the wilderness it once was. Iquitos, the one-time frontier town in the first rubber boom has bloomed into a small metropolis; the river as busy with traffic as a highway, luxury jungle lodges stretching for hundreds of kilometres into the once virgin jungle.

Backwater Adventure in the AmazonMeanwhile in the south, Puerto Maldonado, the most popular access point to the jungle, has transformed from a small logging town into a chaotic outpost of mass tourism. Five-star jungle retreats, luxury spas, global cuisine and a chance to witness a small, tamed parcel of the rainforest without getting your feet wet.

Fortunately for the more adventurous travellers, there are still a few chances to get up close and personal with the real and undomesticated jungle.

Amazon DolphinsFollowing the road east to its final conclusion, the last stop before the river finally takes over is the town of Pucallpa. From here I set off into the jungle with my guide Achiles on his narrow riverboat. We were heading deep into the Amazon for five days to visit Achiles’ friend Don Luis in the village of Nueva Utuquinia, roughly halfway between Pucallpa and the Brazilian border.

Tourism is a barely developed industry in this stretch of the central Amazon; there are no five star lodges in sight, I would be hanging my own mosquito net in abandoned riverside huts and if we wanted to eat anything other than the rice and eggs we had brought with us, we would have to go fishing first.

Matthew Barker is based in Peru where he is writing about his life. 

Biking and Drinking in Argentina’s Mendoza Wine Country

By Melissa Ruttanai

biking in MendozaMendoza was made for wine and traveling winelovers. With street grid construction and verdant parks, this city steeped in viticulture offers great walking boulevards, outdoor cafes, and of course, wine at every corner. Visitors cannot walk 200 feet without passing a wineshop or restaurant with a display case. Even the fountain at Plaza Independencia is tinted red so that spouts shoot water up into the Argentine sky resembling sparkling wine rosé. At most restaurants, a wine list includes most of the vintners in the area and prices them starting at 40 pesos (US$10) for a 750ml bottle. In town, Vines of Mendoza presents a formal tasting room for tourists looking to sip their way through the regions wares. While here, most visitors will be compelled to see at least one winery. Some perhaps via the 200 peso (US$50) tours offered at high end hotels. But for more adventurous, DYI wine lovers, head over to the circuit of Bikes and Wines.

Bikes and Wines in Maipu, Mendoza
A cluster of wineries are located off the main drag in Maipu, a small town in Mendoza province. Each are a few minutes bike ride from each other. Alongside parking lots for cars, visitors will find designated bike racks and even VIP signs for Bikes and Wines. Truck drivers seem more lenient toward 2-wheeled traffic, giving them wider berth than their counterparts in Buenos Aires.

When you come off the bus ramp, employees from rival bike companies will offer you flyers. Take them and feel free to browse. When Neil and I visited, we preferred bikes with baskets so we could carry all our goodies. Each shop offers a full day rental for around 25 Argentine pesos (US$8). They provide a map for the day and when you return, there are refreshments. We were really surprised with our rentals with Orange Bike. They offered us a 10 peso discount for the day and when we returned for our snacks we expected some potato chips and a thimble-full of wine. The workers set up a table with three types of snacks and a full bottle of red wine. In the shade and with music in the background, Neil and I relaxed, chatting with the other travelers on the patio. The owner Mario is a jovial man, making sure all was well and introducing us to other bikers on the wine trail. At the end of our day, he and his assistant walked us to the gate, sending us off with a kiss on the cheek. Crossing the street, we waited no more than 10 minutes for the return bus back to Mendoza.

Wine tour in ArgentinaWineries and Other Sites in Maipu
Wineries of all shapes and sizes dot the landscape around Maipu. There are artesian shops and hi-tech ultra modern behemoths as well. Trapiche is one of the biggest producers of wine, exporting to the US, Canada, and Russia. But as you pedal around the countryside, enjoying the green vines stretching on either side of the road, smaller vineyards will post signs if they are open for visitors and tastings. So you can weave in and out of these orchards all day. One of the best aspects of this self-guided tour is that their is no set itinerary.

Each winery will have prices for tours and tastings. They are mutually exclusive of each other. So, while you may think a simple tasting should be less expensive than a full tour, this is not always the case. At Trapiche, a tour costs 35 pesos for video, walk-through of the winemaking buildings, and 3-4 tastings. Their tasting menu is by the glass, starting at 50 pesos for three samples and a souvenir glass.

If you have time, stop at the Beer Garden located off Mitre Street. It is a simple outdoor seating area with three choices of microbrewed beer. Their menu includes 6 empanadas and 2x 500ml beers for 55 pesos (about US$14). The veggie versions taste like fresh pizza bites. Nearby is another artesian shop called Historia and Sabores offering homemade chocolates and liqueurs extracted from regional fruits and cocoa. There is outdoor seating for tasting breaks and shade as well as a bathroom.

How to Get There
Argentine Bike and Wine TourFrom Mendoza City, catch a Line 10 Bus to Maipu. This line has several routes, of which #170 and #173 will take you to the right place. All bus stops are numbered with the lines, so you can just queue up. Ask the bus driver if he goes to Bikes and Wines. They all know it and will drop you off at the appropriate spot where all the bike companies are located. You pay all fares in coins, so make sure you have enough for a round trip. The ride is 30 minutes and takes you through Godoy Cruz for most of it.

Mendoza is 1040km from Buenos Aires and 155 km from Santiago. Neil and I took a daytime bus through the Andeans from Santiago. A 7-hour ride, the route covers some of the prettiest parts of the the mountain chain. Between Mendoza and Buenos Aires, several bus companies service the long 14-hour trip. Whether you take Cata, FlechaBus, or any other, know that service levels are all the same. In fact all the buses are owned by the same company. That said, book early to lock in lower fares and then sit back to first class, cross-country service that begins with Mendocino sparkling wine.

Art Class with a Wine Chaser in Gulf Shores Alabama

Article and photos by Linda Kissam

A sip of artGulf Shores, Alabama, is known as a family friendly place to vacation. It’s also great for singles and girlfriend getaways. I can see why. The pristine beaches, sugar white sand, tropical drinks, and a unique food and music scene make this a happening place for all age levels. On an average vacation day, I’d head out to do some sun bathing, wave jumping, and cocktail ordering with some friends. At night, bar hopping was on the to-do list to investigate the emerging food and music scene. But last week I discovered another va-cay option.

I was checking out the tourist-friendly dockside shops of SanRoc Cay, when I came across the art studio, Life’s A Canvas. It’s an art instruction center …with a twist. So what´s the twist, you ask? How about professional art instruction with a wine chaser?

Art and Wine in AlabamaLife’s A Canvas is an optimistic, creative class for folks who want to learn the basics of acrylic painting in the company of great friends and good wine. In each class an instructor shows you, step-by-step, how to create your own masterpiece that you can actually be proud of, take home at the end of the night, and hang on your wall the next day. Yes, the results are really that good. Don’t worry if you can’t even draw a circle correctly. I am thinking if you know your letters, shapes and colors then you are able to learn how to create a quality piece of art.

Art and wine in AlabamaI am always intimidated by art classes. I am a stick-figure gal myself. I think of art classes as the creative types knocking out beautiful stuff under the watchful eye of a critical instructor. So, I was a little surprised at first by the atmosphere. Begin with the oh-so charismatic owner John Grant Gordon. A professional artist in his own right, he is the personification of a talented entrepreneur who knows how to show his clients a good time. He’s funny, charming, energetic, patient and inspiring. He also knows how to pick the right drinks and music to get the art party going full tilt. If that isn’t enough to get this stick-figure drawing Diva in a chair, I don’t know what is.

Who says art and wine don't mix?The focus is more on the painting, with some wine on the side to help you relax or celebrate a sense of accomplishment. John has created a space where people can relax, sip libations, and laugh as they channel and develop their inner artist and creative instincts through painting. The actual space is large, airy, and well lit with natural light. The studio area is a large room where paintings are hung all over the walls, exhibiting some of the pieces Life’s A Canvas has copyrighted and inspiring newbies like me to buck up and give the process a try. There are plenty of different work areas to settle into and find your groove.

Wine and PaintThe price is certainly right, starting at $35 per class. Come alone or invite your friends. Paint, canvas, and brushes are provided, as is an experienced and enthusiastic local artist who will lead you step by step through the process of recreating a featured art piece. At the end of the evening, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind creation and a newfound talent you’ll want to continue to explore. It can be somewhat addictive. This is not your average art class, this is art entertainment.

 

Best Hotel in the World- Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipu, India

by Nishant Churuthi

What is the world’s nicest hotel? There may be some argument about it, but guest writer Nishant Churuthi is pretty sure he has found the best hotel in the world.  

There are many ways by which a hotel can be judged, and one of the more popular ways is by rating hotels with stars, ranging from one star, which means that the hotel is simply a tourist hotel, to 5 stars, which means the hotel is a super luxury one. Though there is no single global classification, the most agreed upon rating is the star system.

Also, though officially there are no hotels in the world rated higher than 5, every now and then we see a hotel advertising to be a 7 star one. There is no way to check the authenticity of such claims, apart from visiting the hotel yourself and seeing if it really deserves such a rating. All said, however, every now and then we come across such a hotel that you would think deserves more than even 7 stars.

Udaivilas Udaipur8 stars? Maybe, but it’s not official. One such hotel that its visitors have constantly placed in the “above 5 stars” category is the Oberoi Udaivilas, located int he beautiful city of Udaipur, Rajasthan, India.

The city of Udaipur is one of the most beautiful ones in India, and was voted the best city in the world by Travel + Leisure, USA in its 2009 Readers’ Poll. It is a city of lakes and palaces. Not just normal palaces. Magnificent ones. Reflecting the true glory of the place, the Oberoi Udaivilas is indeed a majestic hotel, and does justice to its praise of deserving 8 stars. At first glance, the hotel itself seems to be a palace. Every inch of the hotel showcases the rich Indian tradition, and the courtyards, fountains, pools and gardens all bear testimony.

Once you enter the hotel, you no longer will believe that this hotel actually exists in the 21st century, it’s so surreal. best hotel in the worldEach and every thing, right from the hand painted domes, to the intricately carved doorways, has been crafted with love and perfection that leaves no doubt in your mind regarding the royalness of the place.

The hotel is accessed by traveling by boat through Lake Pichola, and the ride itself will leave you spellbound. Each visitor is then treated to the ceremonial welcome at the entrance. The Oberoi Uaivilas has rooms to suit all needs. Rooms that open to private pools are available. All rooms feature exquisite decorations and the glory of the erstwhile kingdoms of India is regaled in its entire splendor at the Oberoi Udaivilas.

All kinds of international cuisines are available, and the specialty is the traditional local Rajasthan cuisine, which is prepared by the best chefs in the country.

The hotel has its own luxurious spa, which overlooks the Lake and is a heaven in itself. World class trained therapists provide your body with all the relaxation it needs and you are sure to feel exhilarated and rejuvenated to the fullest.

With impeccable service, the Oberoi Udaivilas truly puts the phrase “there’s never too much luxury”, to the ultimate test. If there is heaven on earth, this is it and we should all get the chance to stay there, at least once in a lifetime.

Nishant Churuthi is a writer and scholar in Udaipur, India. He enjoys spending time with his family, writing, and seeing the many splendors which his country offers.

 

Cozumel – Getting Ruined Among Ruins in Mexico

Story and Photos by Shane Crash (@shanecrash)
Cozumel by Shane CrashIn San Miguel De Cozumel, off the Yucatan Peninsula, I was caught in a miniature flash flood, in danger of being seriously injured. The downpour began and I gaped ignorantly at the rising water, helplessly flailing on my rent-a-bike. Eventually the water won out, sweeping my bike away and me with it. Fortunately, a friendly local pulled me up onto the elevated entrance of a McDonalds. He told me that the entire island had been hit with one tropical storm after another, and that the periodic downpours would continue.

I’ve traveled twenty-seven hundred miles, only to wash up in a McDonalds. And I often ask myself how I’ve become so cynical.

It rains for nearly half an hour, and the water washes out after another forty-five minutes or so. I retreat back to Casita De Maya where I’m staying alone, spend the remainder of the day drying out, and sulking in a hot tub. In the evening I get rip roaring drunk in the hotel bar where I plan a trip further inland while dragging on the lousiest cigarette of my life.

CozumelThe next day I catch a ride up to the San Gervaiso ruins, a site dedicated to the Mayan goddess Ixchel. (“She of the Rainbows”) The jungle shrine is fascinating, surrounded by gorgeous foliage and lazy iguanas. In the heat, wandering through the abandoned structures, I have a tendency to feel as though the sun is swallowing me. My guide, Andres, fills me in on the myths and history of the Mayan culture. I’m sure some people won’t find gray stone and worn rock illuminating, but as a student of anthropology and a lover of big ass lizards, it’s well worth the visit.

Mexico RuinsWhen I get back to San Miguel, I find a restaurant at the end of Punta Langosta Pier. I establish it as my unofficial headquarters when I find out they serve pizza. They tell me they’ve purified their ice, but I don’t trust them so I drink beer and nibble on pizza as I work on a manuscript that will become my debut novel.

In the evening I aimlessly saunter to the Corpus Christi Cathedral before meandering back to The Plaza, which is essentially the city center of San Miguel. I’m feeling rather lively from all the booze, and pleased to find a large crowd to blend into. The locals are dressed in vibrant costumes and the air is rich with the stench of cigars and the sound of music. The inner Plaza is packed with tourists, hanging out before they have to board the cruise ships later in the evening. One of these tourists sees fit to rub an ice cream cone across my cheek before licking it off and walking away. I’m a reluctant ladies man like that.

ruins in Cozumel, MexicoPer usual, I find myself feeling lonely in large crowds. Most of the tourists are chatty and polite, albeit drunk. I feel lonely and connected to the mob, a kind of bitter kinship. So I sit and nibble on tacos from Casa Denis. A group of attractive college aged girls approach and chat me up, distracting me from my melancholy.

They drag me over to a courtyard where throngs of people are dancing. I mostly smile and nod and let them dance around me while I stare at the bright pastel walls behind them. I can’t dance and I’m too polite to be rude. I’ve been that way about dancing my entire life, and I think girls have built in radar for it  – because they always target me.

I finally slip away when siesta hour commences and make my way back to Casita De Maya where I chow down on yogurt with walnuts, complimentary of my stellar room service.
I spend my final day in Cozumel checking out the Punta Celerain lighthouse, considerably more sober than I have been on the rest of the trip. There’s something like one hundred and thirty steps up to the lookout point, but it’s worth the hike for the gorgeous view, and the Columbia Lagoon is a breathtaking mural of breaking blues.  Afterward I relax on a hammock just off the shoreline. The beach is a mess from the last storm that blew through, but it’s worth it to gaze out at white sand and cerulean waves.
It’s nice to know that even the most vicious storms can’t rob the world of its beauty.

Shane Crash is an American author and activist. He’s published several zines centered on alleviating poverty and homelessness. In 2009 he co-authored a collection of satire and poetry in the short zine, Lost Thoughts. And in 2010 he released Travel Logs, a short chronicle of his travels across the globe. He released his debut novel, Forest Life, in September of 2012 through Civitas Press. His upcoming novella, Tabula Rasa, is part of a double novella feature with writer Anthony Mathenia.
At the age of twenty-one, up until he married at twenty-three, Shane traveled the world, voluntarily homeless, traveling from city to city. Shane has partnered with the Catholic Worker House to care for single mothers fleeing abuse. He’s also partnered with the Catholic Workers to tutor immigrants, teaching English, and American history.
Shane often speaks on nonviolence and social responsibility. He runs Pacifist Army, a volunteer group of nonviolent activists who raise awareness on various social issues, including nonviolence and poverty.Shane passionately advocates for education and nonviolent alternatives to war. He’s a fan of marvel comics and pizza.You can find his blog at ShaneCrash.com 

The Longest Beach in the World – Cox’s Bazaar

Home Town Guest Story by Md. Ferdous Koreshi

World travel is a funny thing. The longest beach in the world is in a place you’ve probably never imagined. Sounds impossible, but guest writer Md. Ferdous Koreshi tells us exactly where it is- in his home country of Bangladesh.

When it comes to travelling, tourists can go a great distance and out of their comfort zone to feel the excitement of exploring the beauty of the world and travelling to different parts of the world. If you are one of the tourists who takes travelling to be something more than a leave from the hectic life and loves exploring the world to the fullest, then there is a place that you have to visit.

The place is knows as Cox’s bazaar. Longest beach in the world, BangladeshThis is the longest sea beach in the world. Now you might be thinking it must be somewhere in the Caribbean or somewhere famous like that. But you would be surprised to know that, a small south Asian country unknown to most of us is blessed with this beautiful gift which surely will take your breath away.

Named after the British Captain Hiram Cox, who was appointed as the superintendent of “palongkee” now known as Cox’s bazar, the beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole world.

Though the beach is the most popular holiday destination for almost all the Bangladeshi people, it has yet to attract potential number of international tourists due to the lack of promotion. Cox’s bazar has got almost all the elements a tourist might expect from a beach city. The beach, home to the great foamy waves of the Bay of Bengal is the perfect place for the surfers. The beach itself is worth visiting as it is the longest beach in the world.

There are lot of activities you can do while being in Cox’s Bazar. Start with visiting the beach and get a nice sun tan. The weather is great and surely you will have a great time. You can go surfing or ride the sea bikes along the beach.

Longest beach around the worldOnce you have seen the beach, head towards the local markets and shops. You will find amazing artifacts and showpieces made up of sea shells and other aquatic things. You can also visit some nearby places like Himchori waterfalls, Maheshkhali, Bandarban and many more.

If you visit Cox’s bazar, you cannot afford to Miss Saint Martin’s island. This is a small coral island with breathtaking view. It is about 9 kilometers away from Cox’s bazar and there are cruise services available for you to get to that island. Seeing the sunset in that island can be quite a view.

When it comes to staying at Cox’s Bazar, you have so many options. You can get yourself a room in the hotels and motels available. There are great 4 star hotels in Cox’s bazar. If you prefer a bit of privacy, you can hire the studio apartments available in the town. There are some great restaurants with local cuisine and also delicious sea foods are served in these restaurants.

The best way to get to Cox’s Bazar is to get on a flight from Dhaka Airport. It would take hardly 45 minutes to reach Cox’s Bazar in that way. You can also go by road or have a rail journey but these are very time consuming.

Hopefully you will explore a great time by visiting Cox’s Bazar this holiday. You are welcome in my hometown.

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