Back in 2008, I left Hawaii and set out on an adventure that took me across the USA by Amtrak train, I called it the Amtrek. This week, for the Vagobond Travel Museum, I bring you the collected articles and videos from that trip. The trip began in Honolulu and then went to Portland, Oregon from where I crossed the country and ended in New York City with a one way flight to Barcelona – the truth is, the trip has never ended since I’ve never gone home.
Along the way, I couch-surfed and asked my hosts the same set of questions, those videos are below and worth watching. Keep in mind, this was before couch-surfing had gone mainstream.
Here are the ten lessons I learned on that trip:
The trains through the Rocky Mountains have the most incredible viewing cars for enjoying the magnificent landscape.
Sacramento is a lot cooler than I thought it would be and the train museum is a must see..
Utah is an incredibly rugged and scenic state filled with some very cool folks in Salt Lake City.
I want to travel by train to Austin, Texas and Detroit, Nashville, and New Orleans. I’ve still never been to those cities.
I love New York and Boston – taking a train to them was the way to go. People in these cities rock.
Philly and Chicago are both incredibly cold in winter, but the people I met in them were pretty great.
It’s better not to hurry, a 14 day rail pass was too short for a true American experience.
Too many museums in too short a time can’t be appreciated – so get a longer rail pass.
Libraries are havens of free wifi and peaceful places to work – trains should always have wifi and should have libraries for passengers.
Making the wrong friend can suck out part of your enjoyment of life and destroy a train trip – the right friends can make a boring stretch very exciting.
Story and Photos by Linda Kissam If you miss that feeling of carefree abandon and going on a road trip…then read on my friends. Frankly, I think many of us in our college years were too busy prepping for finals, looking for summer jobs, or just didn’t have the cash on hand or an airplane to fly to do much with their last spring break. So I am offering you a chance to go back in time and have the spring break you should have had in college–but better, because you’re a little older, a little more responsible, and of course better funded!
Picture this: Southern California’s two most impressive wine countries, Temecula and Julian, filled with fun people, all looking to have a blast as they sip, swirl and nosh their way through the vineyards. I can promise you incredible food available all day and all night, premium wines, great accommodations, music, and fun stops, all laid out for you. Think wine tasting, hot air ballooning. Olive oil tasting, golf, hard cider tastings, glider plane rides and more. This is an ideal vacation for anyone, but I am thinking this is really perfect for those who are 35+ and really ready to get loose and have a good time. Sound like you? Strap in and read on!
Day One – Temecula Wine Country
10 AM – Arrive in Temecula Wine Country About 45 minutes from Ontario Airport, about 12 miles from the French Valley Airport (Private planes), andjust about 7 miles off the I-15, this is an easy place to fine. Whether you fly or drive in…take Rancho California Road east. The key to enjoying yourself is pacing yourself and visiting 4 pre-selected wineries. I’d give you directions, but we all have GPS, so I won’t waste the space. Here are my favorites.
10:15 AM – First up, Thornton Winery
This is a beautiful French chateau looking property that offers both indoor and outdoor sit-down tastings in the Champagne Bar or their famous Café Champagne Restaurant. Winemaker David Vergari has created premium still and sparkling wines to die for. Just added to the menu – chocolate wines. Yup, they’re actually quite good! Personable service, good prices and a killer hors d’oeuvre menu created by Executive Chef Steve Pickell sells this place. Check out www.ThorntonWine.com for hours and 2 for 1 tasting coupons.
11:30 AM – Briar Rose Winery
Just around the corner, and maybe 8 minutes from Thornton Winery, this upscale boutique, by reservation only winery takes itself seriously…and for good reason. Their amazing wines ranging from $28 – $1,300 and will knock your socks off. It’s a special experience from start to finish from the Snow White Cottage theme, to the smooth, complex wines. Check out www.BriarRoseWinery.com for hours and reservations.
1 PM – Ponte Winery
Time for lunch. Just about 10 minutes from Briar Rose you simply must stop in at the Smokehouse Restaurant at Ponte Winery where you will sit out amongst the vineyards. Views, menu, and hospitality are incredible. Great wines for every palate and plate. You’ll want to linger for a while and after lunch enjoy their wonderful gift shop – one of the best in wine country. Reservations a must on the weekends! (www.Pontewinery.com)
3:00 PM – Keyways Winery
This winery is on De Portola Wine Trail, about 15 minutes from Ponte. You’ll quickly notice the terrain changes from your Rancho California Road to one that focuses on more of an equestrian feel on the DePortola side. Gorgeous, relaxing, unique is what makes the area and this particular winery worth the drive. The wines are fabulous; the décor is thoughtful and engaging. The best bathrooms in wine country – almost art -like in concept! This owner knows details. The grounds give of a Zen vibe, and when this winery showcases local musicians indoors or outdoors, guests find themselves caught up in the moment. Truly a memorable experience. (www.KeywaysWinery.com) 4:15 PM – Check into your hotel I recommend Temecula Creek Inn. Good rates and they often feature special packages that include golf and wine tasting. Try their Temet Grill for superior wine country cuisine. 6 PM to 8 PM – Head off to Old Town Temecula
About 10 minutes away. Park your car at Front and Main and walk to late afternoon olive oil tasting at Villa Di Calabro or the Temecula Olive Oil Company. It’s a fun, unique experience. There are also four or more tasting rooms to visit. My picks include Lorimar Winery’s tasting room and Tesoro Winery’s tasting room (www.TesoroWinery.com). Both are staffed by fun knowledgeable people and stocked with premium wines you are going to love. Lorimar Winery is known for their incredible promotions. Tesoro features a classy, well-stocked gift shop and an outdoor tasting garden that allows you to people watch well into the evening. For evening fun, try The Collective featuring many local small lot wineries without tasting rooms. Day Two – The Wynola Business District in Julian
8 AM – Road Trip! After a great breakfast at the Temet Grill, you’re ready to get into your car and head out to the Wynola Business District in Julian. Much has been written about the town of Julian, but I am giving you an insiders tip – spend some quality time in Wynola before you browse the town of Julian. It’s about a 90-minute trip. Take Highway 79 South to Highway 78 (left) to Wynola. You’re going to enjoy the pastoral wide, two-lane highway drive. It meanders past cow pastures, the Warner Springs Golf Course www.WarnerSprings.com/golf.cfm, Santa Ysabel Casino www.SantaYsabelCasino.com, and the Sky Sailing facility in Warner Springs www.SkySailing.com. If you stopped at each place, it could be an 8-hour trip. You can also catch an awesome wildflower display in nearby Borrego Springs. Each stop is unique and worthy of a spring break experience.
10 AM – Wynola Business District
Watch out for this quirky, strip mall kind of business district on the left hand side. The easiest sign to read – and your first stop – is Orfila Winery. What a find! Seriously good wines here folks. Manager Jeff is a great host and often offers samples of unique cheeses: Local lilacs are blooming so Jeff will be selling fresh lilacs by the bunch. You cannot possibly imagine what a special spring break sensory treat a tasting room full of Lilacs presents. Linger awhile, take it all in. And hey, Jeff even offers non-alcoholic cider for your designated driver. A must do! Check out their Web site for tasting coupons (www.Orfila.com)
Next door check out the Julian Hard Cider store. It just recently opened. Yup, with 7.27 percent alcohol, this refreshing drink has a good kick to it. The Julian Hard Cider recipe originates from 1670 colonial America and is comparable to the finest British ciders. It took 4 years to build the tasting room. According to owner Paul Thomas it was built using all reclaimed wood from the Julian area. History buffs will be delighted with the interesting photos on display. Seems Paul tracked down a bunch of old photos with historical significance from Julian neighbors, scanned them, and then framed them using frames from the local Goodwill. Paul is a wealth of information and as energetic and friendly as they come. This is a pleasant stop not to be missed. Check out hours, tasting fees, etc at www.JulianHardCider.biz. 12 PM
Walk a few more feet and you’ll find Country Cellars. This small tasting room features San Diego wines and beer. I loved the names as much as the beverages. Who wouldn’t love beers named Inferno Ale, Serpents Stout and Black Marlin Porter? How about wines from Cactus Star/ Scaredy Cat Ranch, or Woof n Rose Winery? This is a perfect place to sample local San Diego adult beverages in a casual atmosphere. Check out all the options at www.CountryCellars.com.
Julian – You can check out Julian on your own now. Spend a couple of hours browsing and strolling the charming town. A great lunch and some more wine tasting is available. It’s just 10 minutes from the Wynola Business District. (www.JulianCA.com)
3:30 PM Julian Pie Company
Who can resist having the best apple pie ever? Certainly no one on spring break. Heading back to the I-15, at the convergence of Highway 79 and Highway 78 , you’ll find the pie place of your dreams. This is a casual place – self-service and counter stools. They’re focused here. No fooling around, it’s all about the pies. Stop in for a slice and cup of coffee or a latte. I am pretty sure you’ll be taking a whole pie to go. www.JulianPie.com
Time for your designated pilot/driver to head back to the airport, it’s about a 90 minute drive, but you’re refreshed, invigorated and loaded down with bottles of wine, beer, and pies. Seriously, did we have fun or what?
Private Plane Pilot’s Guide
French Valley Airport is located in Southwest Riverside County, adjacent to the communities of Temecula, Murrieta and Winchester. The airport, located on Highway 79, is only minutes away from Interstate 15 and the 215 Corridor . Outstanding climate and minimal congestion make takeoffs and landings easy at French Valley Airport. The wide-open approaches and ground support services accommodate most aircraft including jets and turbo-props. The filed is composed of two runways 18 Left, 36 Right. More info here www.rivcoeda.org/Default.aspx?tabid=522
Story and Photos by Brian Leibold Do you own a bike? If not, get one! If yes, do you know how to ride it? If no, learn how! (And question the wisdom in owning a bike and not knowing how to ride it). Now that everybody has a bike and knows how to ride it how about you… Go on a bike tour! But first read this. Then go, man! Maybe train some to prepare and perhaps learn how to fix a flat tire. Then take off, man, ride on! Actually I would strongly suggest purchasing panniers or a trailer to carry supplies first. Then definitely take off, my fellow vagabond, get, ready, set, go! But don’t leave without first of course deciding where you want to take off. Then by all means, what are you waiting for, you nomadic rascal, go! But I would suggest taking your time and thinking about it first. There’s no rush. It’s not a bike race, it is a bike tour (not to be confused with the Tour de France or similar tours of that racing nature. —Words of Wisdom #1: Do not confuse “bike tour” with “bike race.”It is not a race. On a similar but at the same time different note, the words “It is not a race” could also be applied to life. That could be a book, Life: A Tour, Not a Race. Or something. Some might not know what a bike tour is. It is self-explanatory. A bike tour is when you have your bike, you put all the stuff you need for however long you may be touring, whether it is for a weekend or a year, and then you go! Some people just start from where their bike is, while others ship their bike to another place and go from there (I shipped mine to Montana).
— Money Saving Tip #1: It is cheaper to ride a bike that you already have than to purchase a bike that you don’t have to go on a bike tour. Also you don’t really need a great expensive road bike to go on a tour, just a bike that is dependable. —Money Saving Tip #2: Most bike shops will ship your bike to another bike shop for cheaper than it would be to ship it on the plane. So do that. Last fall, I took off time from college and joined my cousin for a leg of his bike trip. His was an adventurous epic that began in Washington (state) and just recently finished in Washington D.C. (On The Res, his blog about his trip). I would bike over 2000 miles and explore the states of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Arizona (BML ON THE ROAD, my blog). It surprised me a little just how easy it was to get accustomed to being on a bike for 6 or more hours a day and putting in as many as 100 miles a day. If I can do it, having very little biking experience, so can you! So go! But finish reading this first. The first distinctly memorable place Richard and I biked to was Yellowstone, the first National Park in the country. Yellowstone is made for bikers and hikers. While cars have to wait for scenic overlooks in order to stop, where hundreds of other cars create hungry horrid mobs of mass pulsing humanity, the biker hiker community is able to avoid the mobs by stopping at unofficial points to explore off-road. And so the first place in Yellowstone we biked was famous Old Faithful, which was not off-road but needed to be seen and so we saw it. We experienced the spouting, spurting, springing, old-in-years-but-still-with-youthful-raw-get-up-and-go-energy, timeless geyser that is Old Faithful, uncontrollable in its pure natural wondrous power exploding out of the ground phenomenally and perpetually, with a sort of violent vigor like a surreptitiously but supernaturally strong Samson shaking and bursting up towards the surface, longing for the open air, to be freed from the shackles and constraints which held it down in the discolored volcanic ground.
—Fun Fact #1: Yellowstone is the world’s largest active volcano. In that way, the geyser was sort of like some vagabonds who live in the way they do in order to escape from the shackles and constraints of modern day society and by traveling and seeing and experiencing new places and meeting new and wonderful people, they set themselves free. —Fun Fact #2: I just compared Old Faithful in Yellowstone to vagabonding. We explored Yellowstone for many days, and it never failed to drop our jaws with its geysers and raging rivers twisting with snaky sinewy vigor through the eternal Eden and peaks and mountains and just the general heart-warming wondrous naturalistic beauty of the place. Beauty can be found most everywhere in America if one searches hard enough for it, from big, industrial, neon-brightened cities to small, lonely ghost towns that lay neglected and forgotten off never-ending highways in the western night. But in Yellowstone the traveling vagabond is able to experience a land that is preserved to look like the earth did back before all the skyscrapers and the endless development and the constant construction, and even before there were houses or railroads, and back to an even earlier era still when men and women perhaps lived in caves, or just out in the wild under the stars, reveling in the natural glory of the land around them.
And so with our ancestors of yore in their graves or wherever their spirits may lie, we paid our respects to our possibly-cave-dwelling vagabond ancestors by exulting excitedly in the land around us as the sun slapped our sweaty brows as we biked up to precarious peaks and the wind whipped us with a frenzied rush of bursting gusts as we heehawed and yodeled all the long way down. We would go on to many National Parks on the bike tour, including Grand Teton immediately following Yellowstone, Zion and Bryce Canyon both in Southern Utah, Grand Canyon, and lesser known but no less wonderful in their own way parks such as Craters of the Moon and City of Rocks in Idaho. And at every park, especially when the tourists and sun-setters (those who see only the sunset and then promptly leave) were scarce, I would feel that sensational sensation of experiencing land in its original state. And so if you wish to live the life of a vagabond biker, I would suggest that you get your bike out of the dusty dark depths of the back of the garage, put some stuff you need on the bike, get on the bike yourself, and go! First maybe see if any of your friends want to go with you. Then take off, man, go! First, though, of course say goodbye to your loved ones, and tell them you love them, and give them a handshake or naw, be demonstrative! Pretend you’re going for the handshake but then give them a big old hug! Maybe even get a little emotional. Then go! Ride onwards, westwards, southwards, eastwards, upwards, downwards, any wards! Jump in the air and fly like an exotic vagabond bird, a nomadic eagle with wings spread! —Words of Wisdom #2: Ride out onto the road! It is open ahead. Brian Leibold is a student of life and a yodeling vagabond. You can find his work at his blog at BMLontheroad.blogspot.com and maybe even back here at Vagobond.
“Wow, this place is incredible!” I must have heard that phrase a hundred times over in my 4- day stay at the Palazzo (Hotel, Resort and Casino) in Las Vegas, Nevada… and they weren’t talking just about the slots. Each one of us has our own vision of what the “Vegas Experience” is , but if you haven’t been there in a while or you usually just come to play and don’t spend much time on – or in – the accommodations, restaurants, or non-gambling activities, you’d be missing the “Real Vegas” experience. Seriously, slow down folks; enjoy all the amenities that Vegas has to offer. It’s like going abroad, but without the passport and language hassles.
I have to admit, I used to be a casino dasher. Up and down the strip I’d go, umbrella drink in hand, my casino key card at the ready to pop into the slot machines, eating at the food courts. That was my old vision of what Las Vegas had to offer. Now that I have been introduced to the indulgent lifestyle a large well thought out and professionally managed property has to offer, I am all in; they can have all my chips and my loyalty. I understand now that I can check in to my suite, drop my bags and begin the planning for days of uncompromising culinary treats, wine, cocktails, and shows…as well as world class gambling opportunities. In fact, there really is no reason to go anywhere other than the Palazzo during your stay. Continue to read and see where The Palazzo WOW factor gets its credentials from.
With more than 3,000 spacious suites, luxury shopping, world-class dining and entertainment, the $1.9 billion, Silver LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified Palazzo Las Vegas takes luxury to new heights. The Palazzo features 3,066 sprawling suites, each specifically fashioned for convenience and comfort ranging from the 700-square-foot Luxury suite, nearly two times larger than the standard Las Vegas hotel room, to the palatial Presidential and Chairman suites, measuring in excess of 8,000 square feet, with private terraces and outdoor plunging pools. Ranked as one of the Top 25 Hotels in the Continental U.S. and Canada by Travel + Leisure’s ‘World’s Best Awards’ for two consecutive years, the AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Four Star Award-winning resort brings high fashion to the Strip more than 60 luxury boutiques. For a shopping diva, this place is nirvana.
The all-suite resort also offers a variety of cuisines (30+) from a collection of award-winning chefs. My favorites include Valentino with Chef Luciano Pellegrini, AquaKnox with Chef Tom Moloney’s, LAVO with Ralph Scamardella, Taqueria Canonita with Chef Reed, , SUSHISAMBA with Executive Sushi Chef John Um (See recipe below), and the Public House with Corporate Executive Chef Anthony Meidenbauer. Each one of these places features a different cuisine, exceptional service, carefully selected wines, beers, cocktails, and reasonable prices.
Also not to be missed – which I definitely did not –is the unique and fabulous Fusion Mixology Bar. Located on the casino floor the Latin-inspired Fusion Mixology Bar offers beautifully handcrafted cocktails focusing on the Latin American beverage culture. Designed by award-winning bartenders and mixologists, cocktails are made-to-order using fresh fruits and the muddling technique of grinding sugar with fresh limes and lemons. A friend and I were challenged to call out some ingredients so the mixologist could create a unique drink for the two of us. Got to say, that is a day we won’t soon forget, as the JoLinda was created. A lovely mix of cucumber, basil, mint, and citrus… we certainly found our happy taste place. This is a memorable experience I highly recommend to you. Its open 24 hours daily, which gives you plenty of time to fit it into your plans.
Something that everyone knows is there, but may not take advantage of, is the world class “experience entertainment “opportunities. I’ve travelled a lot, but Las Vegas and especially The Venetian do a great job providing enthralling Las Vegas shows with special engagements by headliners and special events. There is something to do or see every day. See critically acclaimed shows including the world-famous Blue Man Group, and the thrilling Phantom production. Reserve your tickets to see special engagements from headliners like Rita Rudner, Tim Allen, David Spade and Joan Rivers. Catch the hottest events in town from shows and parties to amazing activities.
All in all the experience at The Palazzo in Las Vegas gets this Wine, Food & Travel Diva’s best recommendation for a memorable luxury adult getaway.
Compliments of Executive Sushi Chef John Um
• 8 oz ahi tuna
• ¾ cup fresh tatsoi leaves (may substitute baby spinach)
• ¼ cup hearts of palm, sliced
• 1 stalk white asparagus, sliced
• ½ tbsp garlic chips
• ¼ tsp black lava sea salt
• ¼ cup yuzu garlic vinaigrette*
• ¼ cup avocado vinaigrette*
• ¼ cup ponzu sauce*
• ¼ cup blended oil
Method: Toss tatsoi in ponzu sauce and place on plate. Assemble hearts of palm and white asparagus on top of tatsoi. Dip tuna in yuzu garlic vinaigrette and marinate for a minute. Layer tuna with garlic chips and top with avocado vinaigrette. Garnish with black lava sea salt.
*yuzu garlic vinaigrette
• ½ tbsp shallot, chopped
• ½ tbsp garlic, chopped
• ¾ oz yuzu juice
• ½ oz soy sauce
• ¼ cup vegetable oil
• ¼ tsp black pepper
Method: Place all ingredients, except vegetable oil, in blender. Blend until smooth, adding vegetable oil in a slow stream. Reserve in refrigerator.
• ¾ oz soy sauce
• 1 ¾ oz rice wine vinegar
• ¼ oz lemon juice, strained
Method: Whisk all ingredients in a bowl and reserve in refrigerator.
• 1 fresh ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
• ½ oz rice wine vinegar
• ½ oz water
• 1 ¼ oz vegetable oil
• ¼ tsp honey
• ¼ tsp yuzu juice
• ½ fresh lime, juiced
• salt and pepper to taste
Method: Place avocado, vinegar, water, honey, yuzu and lime juice in blender on a low setting. Blend ingredients until smooth, adding vegetable oil at a slow steady stream until creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste; reserve in refrigerator.
You won’t often find me and my $250 shoes in the midst of alligators, marsh and power walkers. Nor are you likely to find me in an open golf cart with the wind and elements blowing through my carefully coiffed hair. However, the world of nature is truly fascinating and if it is to remain wild and untouched, everyone – including you and me – must experience, embrace, and support the beauty that is being preserved for us by local communities and government agencies. Such is the wild and wondrous world of the Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail in in Orange Beach, Alabama. It’s the perfect pairing of beauty, brawn and protection.
The Backcountry Trail project is a collaborative effort between the City of Orange Beach (Alabama), Gulf State Park and property owners along the trail’s alignment. Historically, many parts of the trail were utilized by the area’s indigenous peoples, as well as explorers and settlers of the region.
The Backcountry Trail is steeped in lore and local legend. For decades, a creature believed to be part man/part wildcat –The “Catman” — has allegedly lurked along the paths and swamps of the backcountry woodlands.
Just minutes from the high rise condos on Orange Beach, this is the place for you to buckle up in an electric cart with two or more friends for a 2 to 3 -hour guided eco-tour. Winding through the gorgeous Alabama back-country on tiny paths, you’ll see flora and fauna side by side with joggers, cyclists and power walkers as you listen to your guide explain in detail the past, present and future of this special place. You’ll exprience firsthand the pristine trail with four distinct ecosystems covering 10 miles. Untamed and vibrant, expect to see alligators, snakes, marshland, wildflowers and towering trees.
Six trails among six distinct ecosystems make up more than 11 miles of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex through Orange Beach, Alabama and the Gulf State Park. This is not a Disney type experience. It’s relaxed and relaxing. It’s inspiring and engaging. There is only one tour at a time going on. Generally no more than two tours a day. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy your time with Mother Nature. She has a surprise or two in store for you.
On your guided tour expect to experience:
HURRICANE RIDGE TRAIL Hurricane Ridge Trail was constructed after Hurricane Frederic hit the Gulf Coast in 1979. The hurricane created this natural ridge by depositing sand, twigs, and vegetation from the force of the tidal surge. The 130 mph winds and the many tornadoes uprooted hundreds of trees. Many of these dead trees can still be seen today. Their gray, rotting trunks are one of the many reminders of the power contained in nature’s storms. Try to find animal tracks in the sand, or look for birds, such as woodpeckers and mocking birds, feasting on insects in the trees.
MIDDLE LAKE TRAIL
One of the major trails in Gulf State Park is Middle Lake Trail. It begins at the Nature Center and follows Middle Lake unit it intersects with Hurricane Ridge Trail. Look for alligators floating along the surface. They are seen in the warm months of summer but are experienced at hiding in the grasses along the edge of the canal. Look for their eyes and nose on the surface of the water.
BEAR CREEK TRAIL
Bear Creek Trail is a unique trail because it used to be an old paved road heading to Orange Beach. Since Your guide will help you identify many of the local trees and shrubs. Covering many of the trees and shrubs on this trail is a thick, woody vine called Muscadine Grape Vines. These wild vines are abundant throughout Gulf State Park. The fruit matures in late summer and is slightly larger than domestic grapes. Some of the animals that enjoy these wild grapes are the gray fox, black bear, coyote, raccoon, and many different types of birds.
ALLIGATOR MARSH TRAIL
This is a unique trail that winds beside a small canal offering the right environment for small alligators, turtles, frogs, and other small animals. Tall marsh grasses grow along many areas of this trail. Some of this grass is easy to identify by its saw-toothed edges
BOBCAT BRANCH TRAIL Bobcat Branch Trail connects Bear Creek Trail to the main campground road. It winds through ¾ of a mile of Live Oaks, Blackberry Brambles, and Holly. Look for some of the dead or dying trees. These trees provide a continuous supply of insects for birds such as woodpeckers. One of the largest and most impressive woodpeckers found in this area is the Pileated Woodpecker.
This ¼ of a mile trail follows a small creek in the campground. If you get out of the cart and walk quietly along this trail, you may see some birds such as the green heron fishing for dinner. The creek is also a home to many different types of frogs, turtles, and lizards. In the sandy areas of this trail, you might notice several different animal tracks. Many animals such as raccoons, bobcats, deer, and rabbits use this trail as an easy path into the campground.
Along this one-mile trail you will see various types of ferns and moss. On the soft pliant earth beneath your feet, you will notice an amazing root system of the trees. You will also see palm-like leaves growing close to the ground along the sides of the trail. This plant is called Saw Palmetto. As the leaves fall to the ground, they provide a wonderful habitat for small animals such as snakes, frogs, and lizards.
MIDDLE LAKE OVERLOOK TRAIL Completed in March 2000 by a group of winter campers, Middle Lake Overlook Trail crosses over Armadillo Trail and ends at a small pavilion overlooking Middle Lake. Try to be quiet as you approach the lake and you may see turtles basking in the sun or a small alligator swimming nearby.
Middle Lake is one of three freshwater lakes in Gulf Resort State Park. It is approximately 150 acres. The largest lake, Lake Shelby, is about 750 acres, and the smallest is Little Lake. These three lakes are fed by underground springs. The water flows out of the lakes into Little Lagoon and eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. As you look out of Middle Lake, you will notice that the water has a very dark, reddish/brown color. This coloration is due to the release of tannins from the decomposition of plants.
Your guide will stop the cart to give you time to explore the eternal beauty of the Butterfly Garden. Created and maintained by a local women’s club it is a special oasis for festively marked and colored winged beauties. This also makes a great place for a picnic as there is a small enclosed pavilion with picnic benches.
An insider’s deal at $60.00 per cart or $15 per person for a two-hour ride. Up to 6 people can be accommodated. Perfect for couples, singles, families. Bring a camera. There are restroom stops along the tour as well as water fountains. You can bring your own snacks; beverages if you like…and oh yea…don’t forget the insect spray in high summer.
The 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.
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)
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.
As 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.
Maybe I am biased because I have spent the better part of my life living in and wandering around New England and the rest of the northeast, but I think it is the most beautiful part of America; especially Maine, where I was born and now happily live. Not only is it gorgeous, it’s a hotbed for brilliant, literary minds. If you are a nerd like me, pack up the car and embark on the great American road trip to discover the great American novel!
I’ve loved poetry since I was a little girl, maybe because I was such a dreamer and I liked the idea of romanticizing every single thing that has ever happened, or maybe I was just dramatic. Either way, I am not alone. Mainers are in love with poetry and trip into Portland will prove that. Head down Congress Street past the giant statue of our beloved Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and you will soon find yourself at the poet’s former home. The house was built by his grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, (a General in the Revolutionary War), between 1785 and 1786. Along with his wife Elizabeth, he raised ten children in the house, which would later become Henry’s childhood home. Longfellow House isn’t just for poetry lovers; architecture and history buffs will also enjoy the visit. It was the first home in a city famous for its beautiful brick work to be built entirely of the material, and it is also one of the oldest standing structures in historic Portland. Plus, the gardens are gorgeous!
About a half an hour up the coast you will find the home that Harriett Beecher Stowe lived in after her husband accepted a position at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The couple only inhabited the home for two years, but it was during those years that Stowe penned Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The controversial story became one of the most widely read novels in the world, and it is even reported that President Lincoln referred to Stowe as, “The little lady who started this great war.”
Hopping back on the poetry train, you will find yourself in Derry, New Hampshire where one of America’s most beloved poets made his home. Robert Frost worked hard to maintain his farm there for eleven years until moving his family to England to focus on his writing. Upon his return to the States, he moved back to New England and was granted not one, but four Pulitzer Prizes. Today people from all over the world travel to Derry for a tour of the farm. You can even take home a piece of the tree that inspired, “Tree at My Window.”
If you have yet to get your fill of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Cambridge, Massachusetts offers a glimpse at the home he where he spent almost fifty years with his family. All of the items in the home belonged to the Longfellow family, and the collection includes over ten-thousand books that were owned by the poet. As a bonus for history lovers, the house was also once inhabited by George Washington.
In Springfield, MA you will find a wonderful tribute to everyone’s favorite children’s author, Dr. Seuss. The sculpture garden is located outside the museum in the author’s hometown. His step-daughter, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, is the artist behind the bronze tribute which features a giant story book, an enormous likeness of Horton the Elephant, the Lorax (my favorite!), the Cat in the Hat, the Grinch and his dog Max, and of course, Theodor Seuss Geisel.
If you find yourself in Lowell, Massachusetts, you will want to stop by the National Historical Park visitor center. There you can pick up three different maps that allow you to follow the haunts of legendary beat Jack Kerouac. Explore downtown Lowell, Pawtucketville, Centralville, or all three and see where Kerouac lived, went to school, was baptized, and all of the places that inspired and worked their way into his novels and poems. Downtown is home to the Jack Kerouac Commemorative which is made up of a series of granite columns inscribed with passages from some of the writer’s most famous works, including the seminal On the Road. You can also pay your respects, as Kerouac is buried in the city’s Edson Cemetery.
Concord, Massachusetts was once the most popular places for progressive literary minds to convene. For me, one of the most exciting places on this trip is the Walden Pond State Reservation where Henry David Thoreau lived off the land and penned Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. For two years Thoreau lived in a one room cabin he had built on land owned by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Amos Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller were frequent guests during these years. Thoreau’s original cabin no longer stands, but you can pay visit to a replica where you will be greeted by a statue of the man himself.
Speaking of Bronson Alcott, he raised his family close by. This includes his daughter, and another one of my all time favorite authors, Louisa May Alcott. The Orchard House in Concord is where she wrote and set the classic Little Women. The characters in the story are based on her family, Louisa herself as the protagonist, Jo March. Much like her character, Louisa was a headstrong tom boy who paid frequent visits to Ralph Waldo Emerson and delighted in walks through the woods with Henry David Thoreau. Eighty percent of the furnishings at the Orchard House belonged to the Alcotts, and the home appears much as it did when they lived there. Of all the places on this tour, Orchard House is the most like actually stepping into a story.
Before you stray too far from Concord, take a stroll through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson and the Alcotts are all buried.
Next stop: Connecticut, Hartford to be exact. In Hartford you can visit another of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s homes, or if you are like me, you will be far too busy geeking out over the Mark Twain House and Museum. Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, moved to Hartford with his wife Olivia in 1871. Construction on their home began in 1873, and they moved in before it was finished in 1874. While living in their creation, Clemens wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court, and worldwide favorite, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Clemens family continued to build their home in Hartford until hard times forced them to move to Europe during 1891. Twain’s daughter, Susy Clemens, passed away while visiting their beloved house in 1896, after which the Clemens’ never lived in Hartford again. The Mark Twain House and Museum is filled with interesting artifacts from the writer’s life and has a great gift shop where you can buy books and more. My favorite item is a button that reads, “Experience Freedom. Read a banned book.”
There are so many other amazing places to visit in the northeast, like the Edward Gorey House in Massachusetts, HP Lovecraft’s grave at the Swan Point Cemetery in Rhode Island, and the Robert Frost Museum in Vermont. Amherst, Massachusetts is home to the Emily Dickinson Museum, where the poet was born and spent a majority of her life, and in Lenox you will find the home of The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome author Edith Wharton. Stephen King fans flock to Bangor, Maine to see the town that so many bone-chilling stories have been set in. But if I keep going, I will have written a novel of my own, and I don’t want a bunch of people showing up at my house!
Happy reading and safe travels!
Melissa Rae Cohen is a travel writer for Auto Europe working out of Portland, Maine. In her spare time she likes to read books. Lots and lots of books!
It’s a shame that not much has been written about Desert Hot Springs near Palm Springs, Ca. I am not sure if those who know about it don’t want others to be “in” on the values and fun of it all or the press just hasn’t discovered it yet. One thing for sure, this is one of those wonderful USA holidays that hasn’t yet been ‘discovered’.
No matter, I’ve been there, experienced its rich treasures, and am here to tell you – it’s a great place to relax and rejuvenate. It’s hasn’t wrapped itself in the glitz and glamour cloak of its neighbor Palm Springs yet, but …it can certainly hold its own until that time comes and is worthy of a 3-day stay. If you’re the kind of traveler who can appreciate the raw essence of a natural jewel, this is the place for you.
Desert Hot Springs is built over one of the world’s finest natural hot mineral water aquifers. Naturally occurring mineral waters bubble to the surface making this a mineral bath and spa destination. There are over 22 unique (many family owned and operated) inns where you can Zen out, relaxing in polished marble resorts, retro-hip motels, clothes optional, or dog friendly retreats.
Almost every inn has spa treatments available on property, so you can just roll from the comfy rooms, to the pool, to the mineral baths, to the spa treatments. No need to bring your own stash of designer bottled water as the city boasts pure and delicious award-winning municipal drinking water.
I’d forgotten how good the health benefits of mineral-rich, hot springs can feel. Mineral waters around the world are famous for their healing attributes, and Desert Springs is no slacker in this department. What a treat to experience stress relieving natural heat, while minerals absorbed through my skin rejuvenating my body. Ready to relieve sore muscles and treat the stiffness that accompanies arthritis, the water in Desert Hot Springs is rich in silica leaving the skin soft and smooth.
This destination is perfect for some serious alone time, girlfriend getaways, or some romantic rejuvenation. There are a variety of inns to choose from. My favorites (including a refreshing recipe) are below, but whatever you’re looking for…it’s here for you.
Aqua Soleil: This was my host hotel for two days. Savvy General Manager Sabine Pollerman welcomed me with open arms. I must say the ground floor suite she assigned me was amazing. Just imagine your own mammoth Jacuzzi in your suite. By count I think I could have gotten at least 10 people in it. Also, lots of space to work on the computer or lounge on the couch. If I were writing a book, I’d like to start or end it here. The grounds were immaculate and inviting with a large swimming pool, two Jacuzzi’s and inviting well-kept outdoor conversation areas. Sabine tells me that her goal for her guests is for them, “To relax, refresh, and leave with abundant energy to return to their normal life.” The on property spa offers a variety of treatments and uses the upscale Body Deli products. Think Blueberry Fusion Micro-Scrub. Sabine encourages potential guests to check the property’s Web site for specials, and to call front desk manager “Ella” for any daily deals not shown on the Web site.
El Morocco Inn & Spa: A Moroccan inspired luxury inn in Desert Hot Springs, CA. run by owner Bruce Abney , one of the most gregarious inn keepers I have ever met. A day here is not only going to provide relaxation via the natural hot mineral water pool and spa, but when the evening rolls around… charm and deliciousness is the order of the evening. Between the delightful Bruce and the Inn’s signature cocktail, “The Morocco-tini” you’ll be raising a glass to pure relaxation. And hey…make sure you ask Bruce for the Sultan’s Tent Tour
Dog Spa Resort: This is an inn created from the ground up for dog lovers. Dogs vacation free with their owners. The owner and inn keeper are outstanding guardians; you’re going to love this place. No size limits or breed restrictions. Soak, swim, and rejuvenate in some of the world’s finest hot mineral waters.
Does it get any better? Yup! The pet nanny is on duty from 12 – 6pm to care for dog guests while you play off site. The rooms are large, clean and gorgeous. All you have to do is pack your bag, grab your significant others and get ready for a unique experience.
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Soleil Chilled Avocado Soup with Tomato Salsa
The recipe serves 8-12 Compliments of Aqua Soleil
6 large ripe avocados, peeled and seeded
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 spring onions, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups yogurt
4 ripe tomatoes, deseeded
2 seedless cucumbers, deseeded
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sweet chili sauce
4 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Chop avocados roughly, leaving 1/4 cup for the salsa. Place in a food processor with lime juice, garlic, spring onions, cumin and stock – puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add yogurt and blend for 30 seconds. Chill soup until ready to serve.
For the tomato salsa, finely dice tomatoes and cucumber, then combine with the remaining avocado left from the soup. Stir in spring onion, lime juice, sweet chili sauce and chopped cilantro.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with a small amount of salsa.
Aruba 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 Arikok 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.
The 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 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.
The 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.
Meeting the Artisans of Fez, Morocco was one of the highlights of my time in Morocco. Much has been written about the Fez, Medina – I’ve even written some of it. In a nutshell, the Fez Medina is a UNESCO world heritage site, the largest inhabited car-free urban area in the world, the best example of a living medieval Muslim city and a place where you can stay in some amazing hotels, guest houses, dars and riads.
The Artisans of Fez, Morocco
I was fortunate in being able to take part in something that hasn’t been so extensively written about. I joined my friend Jessica Stephens (aka ‘The Jess’) on a medina tour that was focused on not only observing but also interacting with, talking to and getting up close and personal with the artisans who do their work and make their home in the Fez medina.
The usual medina tour goes something like this (and it’s good, don’t get me wrong)
“Here is the medina, here is a potters shop, here is the Quarawine Mosque, here is an old funduq, here is an old medrassa, and here are the famous tanneries from five floors up, now we will go to my uncles rug shop…”
Depending on how much you’ve paid your guide, you will get various levels of sales, various levels of information, and various levels of bullshit (How do you know when a guide is lying? Their lips are moving!)
This tour was different. Jess and I met with her clients at a cafe in Bathha which sits on the edge of the Fez medina and is very tourist friendly. They were nice, interesting people from Seattle who have traveled all over the world and lived in Vietnam, India, Malaysia and probably a few other places. One way to tell if a tour is interesting at a glance is to look at who is going on it. This one was looking tops from the beginning.
Jess went over the details with a map and asked them about anything in particular they wanted to see. He wanted to see the tanning process up close and she wanted to just enjoy the architecture since she’s an architect. I particularly liked Jess’s warnings at the beginning 1) This isn’t a shopping tour so they shouldn’t buy a bunch of things on the way – the guide could take them back later if they desired 2) Don’t walk into an artisanal and just start snapping photos, instead talk with people, let them explain what they do and then – after all of that – take some photos if they want 3) Don’t be afraid to ask questions and interact with people and 4) Watch out for the donkeys (okay, I added that last one myself)
Once the briefing was done we headed down to the not so tourist friendly (but still safe and cool) Bab Rcaif, where we met with the licensed Moroccan medina guide. Here’s a side note – Jess pays her extra not to take visitors to any of the shops that most guides get commission from when tourists buy things. That’s not only cool for the guests, it’s also cool for the guide because Jess tries to compensate her for the commissions. There’s a lot of talk about sustainability and fair trade these days, but this is the real deal in action.
Our first stop was to the dyeing street inside the medina. This is an entire derb (small street or alleyway) dedicated to the art of dyeing clothing and material. We were able to stop and ask questions along the way from the dyers and they showed us the process of the vats, using wool and also aloe vera silk harvested from the mountains.
This old man was the shop steward in one of the dyeries…the map of lines on his face speaks of the travels of Ibn Battuta and more. Here’s something else nice, rather than the guide simply telling us everything – she allowed the artisans themselves to speak and then translated. This might seem like a small thing but it made a huge difference in terms of trust and authenticity.
From there we crossed over the river and went through the metal working and mirror shops. All along the way, Jess was giving the artisans, the workers and the kids copies of the photos she had snapped on previous expeditions. It’s something that brought smiles of delight to the old and young and made all of us welcome guests along the way.
The metal working area opened up into the Attarine Square – one of the oldest squares in the medina and our lovely guide told us about the history of the migrations from Tunisia and from Andalucia and how they set up on different sides of the river and had a fierce rivalry which caused Fez to become the shining light of the times – home of the first university (The Quarayine University) and also I learned something I hadn’t known – there are 365 mosques in the Fez medina and that is why it is the spiritual capital of Morocco ( of course the guide’s lips were moving as she said it, so you might want to count).
We paused to explore a bit of the square and see the famous library though since it is still a place where students study, we weren’t allowed to go inside. Still, magnificent…
Down another narrow winding passageway and we came across a fellow who works exclusively with bone and horn. He showed us how he heats the bone and horn make it flexible and then he is able to cut around it and create beautiful shapes that can be carved and polished.
Now we were heading to the area where a recent scandal shook the medina. I hadn’t been in town for more than a few days and already I’d heard about it from three different sources. Here is the scandal and the very unfair way it turned out:
A fashion magazine of some sort came and booked a tour with their models of the famous Fessi tanneries. When they got there, they apparently bribed someone to be allowed to go down in the thick of things despite the fact that they were using an illegal guide and technically aren’t supposed to go down there. Once down there, the models stood in the center and stripped nude! Now, this might not seem so scandalous but remember, this is a conservative Muslim country and these guys working there are among the conservative working class – it was shocking! As a result, the models and the photographers were escorted out but the manager of the tanneries and the guide were both jailed and charged 4000 dirham – which is a huge fine here. Anyway, we had proper permission and we all kept our clothes on.
Even clothed, the tanneries were still amazingly interesting. I’d always wanted to get down into the pits and see the process and it was incredibly fascinating. The process goes a bit like this – skins are brought, thrown into the limestone pits (filled with pigeon shit and lime) and soaked for a few days. After this they are thrown onto a huge electric wheel that scapes them along the floor and gets the hair loose. Next a man scrapes the hair from the hides. After that, they are thrown in another pit with more chemical agents. Following that they move to the dying vats (the brown ones) and then they go to be dried, scraped and softened, and finally made into your shoes or bag.
I probably don’t need to say this, but the smell is something you can simply not imagine. It is awful throughout. The guys in the pits looked at us suspiciously as we wandered through, probably wondering if we would take our clothes off or at least ‘Why the hell do they want to come down here?” We walked through the entire process and then blissfully, left the tanneries to head to the carpet weaving area. The weavers rooms didn’t smell bad at all, but then, after the tannery, nothing really could!
The weaver spoke excellent English and gave an demonstration of how to make material. We found out that for silk and cloth, it is generally men who do the weaving but for rugs, that is up to the women (like the women weavers I met in the collective in Rbat al Khair a few months ago). The scarves and textiles were gorgeous and in a variety of colors but most striking was a deep cobalt blue. The dyes used to be all natural but these days (we had found out on the dyer street- most of them are chemical dyes).
After this we took a car from Rceif to the artisanal school commissioned by the King of Morocco. In the school we met a master zelij (mosaic tile) craftsman, teaching four apprentices his craft with a massive piece. We also had the chance to meet and talk with a Moroccan slipper maker and to see a number of the workshops where master artisans are teaching their craft to pupils. Among the skills being passed on are the making of the oud and Moroccan fiddles, stone work, glass, tile, ceramics, wood working, and much more.
Finally, withe the tour of the artisans of the Fes Medina complete, we all sat down for lunch and took a good rest. This was an awesome tour – I hope that more tours like this that 1) respect the local people 2) interact with the culture 3) create an appreciation for the arts and handicrafts of places – continue to show up.
Backpackers heading to South America are in for a treat. Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and La Paz are some of the world’s most famous and intriguing cities. And the beaches; everyone goes for the beaches. But the life of a backpacker is more than sightseeing and sunning yourself on the beach; any trip has to be the adventure of a lifetime.
So, there’s bungee jumping, skydiving, and snowboarding in New Zealand and Australia; but what does South America have to offer? Here’s what.
Mountain biking the death road, Bolivia
You may be a mountain biking specialist, knowing all there is to know about Shimano shoes and Specialized bikes, but that won’t necessarily prepare you for cycling the death road in Bolivia. Don’t worry you won’t just be grabbing any old rusty bike and taking your chances on your own; it’s one of the biggest attractions in the country. That doesn’t make it any less scary though!
Descending 3,400m from a high mountain pass near La Paz to the tropical lowlands of Coroico, the North Yungas Road is said to be the most dangerous in the world. Prior to the new road being constructed in 2006, the narrow unpaved highway was responsible for hundreds of deaths every year, with cars and busses toppling over the cliff sides at the rate of one each week. Nowadays you can throw on your cycle clothing, jump on the back of a bike and ride hard with one of the many tour companies offering trips.
Sea kayaking the Patagonia, Chile
This is a haven for extreme sports junkies, with climbing one of the biggest draws here. Coming in a close second is sea kayaking. Travellers will find hundreds or glacial lakes and crystal clear waters traversing the Andean Mountain Range and the fjords. The scenery is awe-inspiring. Get yourself on a tour (ranging from 2-9 days) as much of the lakes are un-spoilt, so a guide is essential.
Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru
When you mention getting on a board in South America, snowboarding in Argentina probably springs to mind; but for those heading to Peru there’s the chance of some adrenaline fuelled action without the snow. Sandboarding in the large dunes found in this spot 5 hours outside Lima is the perfect alternative for those winter sports lovers dying for their fix. It’s not as fast, but it’s still cool.
Piranha fishing in the Amazon, Brazil
OK this one may not involve throwing yourself down a sand dune or pushing your body to the limit, but piranha fishing is still pretty damn scary. Your guide will take you out in a boat on the Amazon while you drop a line for these feisty fish.
Other favourites include ziplining in Ecuador, Bungee jumping in Brazil, kitesurfing on the Brazilian coast and canyoning in Mexico. What will you choose?
With the current pandemic still an ongoing situation that is disrupting travel to many countries, travel lovers are unsure when they might be able to travel freely again. Everyone wants to be safe, but beyond taking responsibility for yourself, you also need to pay attention to the travel rules that many countries have put into place. While some nations are now starting to allow international travel again, there are some that are still restricting travel or are requiring periods of quarantine for new arrivals into the country. While you might not be able to go on a spontaneous trip right now, you can make plans for the future and even careful plans to travel now in some cases.
Here are some of the ways you could be making plans to travel for both now and when things are safer.
Staying Up to Date with the Latest News
If you’re desperate to start traveling again, keeping track of what’s changing day-to-day is a must. Things are changing all the time, and it’s important to stay up to date with the different travel restrictions and guidelines that are in place. There are plenty of places where you can get information about the places you want to travel to or even suggestions for which are the safest countries for traveling right now. Official government travel information can be the best resource much of the time. As well as looking at the information provided by your own government, check out the official government or tourist board information from the place that you want to travel to.
Keep an eye on the news in general, too. You will likely find news items about what changes certain countries are making and what rules they have in place for travelers. These things will be changing gradually over the next few months, and there is a chance that they may not always move forward. Sometimes, restrictions might need to be tightened again if the need arises, so make sure you always have the most recent information.
Keep Your Plans Loose
How do you plan to travel when you’re not sure where or when you might be able to go? You most likely don’t want to end up having to quarantine yourself when arriving at your destination, either, which adds another level of complication. It might be best to keep any travel plans as loose as possible for now, especially if you’re planning to travel for fun and not for anything particularly necessary. You might want to make a plan for where you want to go and what you want to do, perhaps even thinking about some rough dates. However, it might not be the right time to book anything just yet.
Use Tech to Be Prepared
Technology can always help you with your travels. It makes it easier to plan and book your trips and to get the information that you need both before and during your travels. There’s plenty of tech that could prove to be useful when you’re making plans for travel in the near future. Still traveling? 6 apps could be all that you need to stay organised. Traveling can always be tricky to manage, but it’s even more difficult during this time. The right apps for booking travel and accommodation can make it easier to plan any journey, whether it’s for now or later.
Technology can help you to make travel plans in other ways too, even if it’s only through using spreadsheets to stay organised. Spreadsheets can help you to keep track of information, as well as things like budgets and how much you can expect to pay for things where you want to travel.
Make Bookings Far in Advance
Do you have a dream trip in mind? Maybe you can’t wait to get out there and see the world, but you know that now isn’t the right time to do it. However, maybe you want to get your next trip locked in now, or you’ve spotted a deal that you don’t want to let pass you by. If you really want to have something to look forward to, it might be a good idea to book a trip far in advance. Booking something for at least a few months down the line will help to improve your chances of being able to go where you want to and do what you want.
Take the Time to Save
Waiting for things to go back to normal might have you feeling antsy. However, you can also take advantage of the time that you have available. One of the ways you could benefit from being at home instead of traveling is that you have time to save. Maybe you have a big trip that you’ve always wanted to take, but you’ve never managed to save up for it. Or perhaps you just like the idea of spending a bit more money on your next trip so that you can enjoy a little luxury. Now could be time to do some serious saving and perhaps create a savings plan to help you to reach a specific goal.
Pay Attention to How to Stay Safe
If you are planning to travel anytime soon, you should make sure you know how to stay safe during your travels. Firstly, you need to know about the regulations for your destination, and anywhere you might be passing through. Do you need to wear a face mask and, if so, when and where do you need to wear one? Will you be expected to quarantine or perhaps give the address of where you will be staying? Apart from the official rules and regulations, make yourself aware of the expert advice on how to keep yourself safe and how to help keep other people safe and healthy too.
Stay Close to Home
It might not be the best time to travel internationally, right now. But if you really want to get away, traveling close to home could be an option that works for you. In fact, even booking into a hotel close to where you live could be a new way to experience your home. A staycation is the ideal way to do something different and get some time to relax without having to travel too far. You can find new things to do in your own town, or you could travel to the next town or city to see what you can discover.
Build Flexibility Into Your Plans
You’re not sure what’s going to happen in the near future, but you still want to book some time away. How can you make plans while still being able to change them if necessary? Paying a little bit more for flexibility could be the key to getting your plans right. Usually, you can pay a higher price for a more flexible booking, whether you’re booking a hotel, flight or something else. If you do want to postpone your trip, rearrange it or even cancel out, you will be able to do so more easily and affordably. You can usually choose from the cheapest and least flexible option for a room or ticket, or a more expensive but more flexible option.
Consider Cancellations Carefully
There might be an occasion when you decide that you do need to cancel a trip that you have planned. Even if there is nothing official stopping you from traveling, you might not feel safe taking your trip because you feel that the risk of infection is too high. If you do cancel, it will be easiest if you have chosen to build some flexibility into your trip. If the things that you have booked have good cancellation terms, it may be easier to cancel and to get your money back if necessary.
Even if you can’t recover your money with a simple refund, there might be other options that allow you to get your money back. If you booked using a credit card, you might be able to get a full refund. Sometimes you might need to put some effort into chasing a refund if you really want one. Another thing to keep in mind is that it can be all about timing, too. If you leave it too late, it will be more difficult to get a refund.
Think About Traveling Differently When It’s Time
When everyone can travel freely again, consider how exactly you’re going to approach your travels. Many businesses and communities are being affected by the COVID-19 crisis, and many have not survived or will not survive before it’s over. For those that are left, they will need support to keep going. You might want to consider how you can give your business to local services and communities so that you can support them. You can help to rebuild the places and people that have suffered due to not having the visitor levels that they would usually rely on.
It might be a while before things are back to normal, but that doesn’t have to stop you from making travel plans.
Ancash lies quietly to the north of Lima, ignored by too many people who hop past to the golden northern beaches, the central jungle, or Cusco and Machu Picchu. But they are all missing one of the great jewels in the Peruvian landscape.
Ancash is bordered by long sandy beaches but then quickly gives way to the mountain ranges which dominate it – the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca, which contains the Huascaran National Park and the famous peak of the same name, at around 6000m it is the highest in Peru and 6th on the continent.
The landscape of Ancash is truly breathtaking, with wide open expanses, lorded over by massive, permanently white tipped peaks. Throughout the range there are some 300 glaciers – although all have been affected to some degree by a warming of the climate – and strikingly crystalline blue lakes – quite likely the origin of the provinces name – anqash in Quehcua means blue.
Tucked between all this majesty in a small valley, itself situated at a humble 3177m above sea level, at the confluence of two regionally important rivers, the Huacheksa and Mosna, is an ancient city built by a civilization that thrived nearly 3000 years ago.
The Chavin culture is one of the best known and influential pre-Incan cultures, at its peak from 900 – 200 BC, with its sophisticated art, metallurgy and textile work influencing many later cultures in Peru, and perhaps even as far abroad as the Olmec culture which shares certain artistic tendencies. It is theorized that the Chavin was not a great military power, but rather that the people of the large stretch of land (roughly between modern Piura in the north and Paracas to the south) under their sphere of influence were culturally colonized – i.e. they chose to follow the Chavin philosophy and religion.
The heart of this culture, is Chavin de Huantar, the remarkably well preserved archeological site in the Huascaran National Park. The main temple and surrounding buildings stand between the two rivers, a position carefully chosen for its supposed mystical energy. (Although the convenient positioning on a major riverine trade and transport connection between the coast and the high mountains was likely a key additional factor.)
The whole site should have been inundated and destroyed, but the builders rerouted one of the rivers and created a complex system of underground water channels, some of which are believed to have been used as acoustic tools which, with water flowing through them during the rainy season would, due to vents above ground, roar like a jaguar – likely the principal deity of the Chavin religion / cult.
The most renowned relics of the Chavin culture are the cabesas clavas or Tenon heads, large stone heads placed in the walls thought the temple complex. Some rows of these stone heads represent the transformation of human to feline (jaguar – and thus divine), a process brought to life by the Chavin shamans, most likely through the use of the psychotropic cactus, SanPedro which grows in the region.
The other relic of great importance and beauty is the Lanzon, a 4.5m obelisk depicting the main deity, located in the labyrinthine heart of the main temple. It is there where I found myself face to face with this ancient monolith; I have no clear picture of it, only swirls and patterns incised precisely into granite. These swirls, the taste of that entire moment, seem branded into my memory. Perhaps due to some mythical energy or more simply, highly sharpened senses as my body desperately tried to convince me that it was a bad idea to be standing underground, in a maze, in a 3000 year old building, in stale light and murkier air.
A visit to Chavin to Huantar gives you chance to come in contact with something unthinkably ancient, created by human beings completely different from (or perhaps remarkably similar to – depending on your perspective) anything we know today. And all within one of the most spectacular setting Peru has to offer.
The most common access to Chavin de Huantar is a three hour ride in a public bus from Huaraz, the capital city of the region. The route between Huaraz and Lima is well serviced by a number of companies and takes about eight hours. If at all possible, a rental car (preferably a 4×4, but this is not essential) is the very best option as the roads of Ancash are one of the best driving experiences in the country. If you are short on time you could book a guided tour with a specialist in Peru adventure trips.
Morocco is one of the most photogenic countries on the planet. From the markets to the sahara there is never a lack of wonders worthy of a photograph. Here are five off-beat destinations that you may not have heard about but are worth your time. Don’t forget your camera.
Azrou. In the Middle Atlas mountains there are vast cedar forests that the Phoenicians used to build ships. The mountain town of Azrou is a picturesque village with a lively market on Tuesdays where the Berber tribes from the surrounding regions converge to sell blankets, rugs, and handicrafts. If you trek into the mountains, you will find Barbary Apes swinging in the cedars.
Sefrou. Sefrou has been eclipsed by it’s neighbour Fez, but the old medina (walled town) of Sefrou is actually older and more manageable than that of Fez. Just 28 kilometres south. Sefrou is great for a day trip. The waterfall just outside of Sefrou is a cool destination on hot summer days.
Sale. The ancient pirates of Morocco were based in Sale and caused problems for Europeans for hundreds of years. This was the center for white-slavery and nefarious deeds. Today it is a relaxed seaside city where you can find delicious seafood and uncrowded beaches.
Ouarzazate. Morocco is famous for the Sahara and most people miss out on visiting Ouarzazate, also called the Hollywood of Morocco. It was here that films like The Mummy, Lawrence of Arabia, Prince of Persia, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Gladiator were made. Most recently it has been a location for the very popular HBO series Game of Thrones. There are studio museums and ancient desert fortresses that have been well preserved by the dry desert air.
Marrakech. Everyone has heard of Marrakech, but most people go there for the old medina, Jmma el Fna, or the ruins. It’s the new parts of Marrakech you don’t want to miss with red hot world fusion cuisine, great chefs, fabulous nightclubs, and an annual red carpet Film Festival that brings some of the biggest stars from around the world.
Monkeys, waterfalls, pirates, mummies, and movie stars – I’ll bet you had no idea Morocco could offer so much!
Cited as one of the “most livable cities” in South America, Montevideo in Uruguay is often an overlooked city. To many, Uruguay sounds familiar… Montevideo rings a bell somehow… But this seaside metropolis is an underrated gem jutting out into the Atlantic, worth a visit especially if you are in Buenos Aires. The city sits on a peninsula with ocean breezes, sweeping positive ions over cobbled streets and the meandering beach palisades called Las Ramblas. Everything centers around the Old City, or Ciudad Vieja, and for visitors new to Montevideo, the best way to learn about the history is on a free tour, given by Alberto Rodriguez of Ciudad Vieja Tours.
How to Get a Free Tour on Friday in Montevideo
Every Friday, free tours are held at 10 am and 3pm. No reservations are necessary unless you’d like to hire Alberto for a private tour on a specific day. My husband and I rented a small beach-side apartment in Montevideo’s Pocitos neighborhood. It’s roughly 5 km away from the city center but on the straightforward bus system, we navigated our way through the city without any problems. On Bus 116, we cut westward through town, along the water at some points. The bus dropped us off three blocks from the meeting point of the free tour: the gateway to the city.
Although we were 15 minutes late, our guide Alberto waited by the stone archway, sipping mate in the morning sun. At 10 am, we were the only two travelers who’d met up for the tour. We couldn’t be happier. Alberto tailored the tour to our interests, waiting for us as we took pictures of stained glass windows and local artisans painting in the market. Two hours flew by.
Highlights of the Tour in Ciudad Vieja
Alberto walked us through the old cobbled streets of Montevideo, explaining the architectural influences and the mysterious etchings in town believed to be Free Mason symbols. Great highlights included the Teatro Solis, El Pie de Murillo, and the sidewalk art. Alberto told us that the tour follows a general route past some of the most important sites in the Old City. But he prefers to customize each tour based on the group’s interests. Since we were the only two with him, we skipped around and spent more time in the places we liked.
About Our Montevideo Free Tour Guide
Alberto Rodiguez is a New Yorker, born and bred and educated at Tufts University where he studied Latin American History and Revolution. When he’s not leading tours, Alberto teaches English and studies for his degree in tourism. He’s married to a lovely Chilean, Veronica and together they have fallen in love with Montevideo. With all their dedication and hardwork, please remember to tip US$10-15 per person. It’s worth every penny. If you can’t make it to the free tour on Fridays you can book Alberto for paid tours on other days. Tell them Melissa and Neil say hi!
Oregon is one of the most popular destinations for ATV riders in all of North America, and the Oregon Dunes is the primary reason for this popularity. In the following list, we present the seven top reasons why all ATV riders must visit the Oregon Dunes at least once in their lives.
1. Terrain Diversity
The name Oregon Dunes might give you the impression of sandy hills, but there’s a lot more to the Dunes than that. Expansive forests border the sprawling beach, and there are several routes that weave in and out of the water and forest.
The Oregon Dunes reach up to 500 feet above sea level, and you can actually ride at this height, which gives you an amazing view of the surrounding area. For the adventurous, riding up and down dunes of this height provide stretches of incredible exhilaration and steep hills that will challenge your skills.
3. 40 Miles
The Dunes stretch for 40 miles, and there is flat terrain available from one end to the other. There is also plenty of open space, so there’s not a great deal of concern over obstructions and other riders. This stretch provides an amazing opportunity to ride your ATV and really open it up.
Not every rider wants challenging rides and breakneck speeds. For those who want to take in nature, the Dunes offer splendid scenery, diverse wildlife, vegetation and the majestic Pacific Ocean.
5. The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Dunes stretches along the Oregon Coast, which is a breathtaking area that boasts numerous activities you can do along your ride. On the sea, you can participate in tours, whale watching, fishing and surfing. On land, you can camp, hike and visit the many museums and landmarks.
6. Accessibility and Affordability
All along the coast are communities where ATVing is a way of life. ATV rentals are affordable and accessible, and plenty of accommodations and other activities are available that cater to the ATV rider. You can even purchase Oregon travel packages built around ATVing at the Dunes.
Oregon has a thriving ATV community that includes locals as well as riders from all over North America. Each trip is an opportunity to meet fellow ATV riders and perhaps even build lifelong relationships.
Before Your Ride
Oregon does require riders to pass an Oregon ATV Course and acquire a license before riding on public land designated for ATV traffic. A compatible license from another state or province is a suitable alternative. There is no similar requirement for private land.