Nomad Vagabond – Genghis Khan

This is an excerpt from my book “Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point” . It’s available as an ebook for kindle or ebook readers. Over the next several months we will be exploring some of these amazing vagabond characters from the past (and present).

 

Traveling round the world doesn’t usually involve conquest of foreign lands but for Temujin, also known as Genghis Khan, conquest was probably just a means of travel. Starting with nothing as an exile and prisoner means he was certainly an extraordinary vagabond.

Genghis Khan was a nomad, in other words he was a world traveler of sort. Genghis Khan’s real name in his childhood was Temujin. When his brother poisoned his father Temujin killed his brother and in punishment he was thrown into forest, he was held in prison by his former friends after that. vagobond genghis khanAfter few years, Temujin rose up as a powerful leader and united the tribes of the Mongol people. With this goal accomplished, he and his Mongol hordes targeted many and far lands. From the time of his unification of the Mongol tribes, the Mongols called him Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan first attacked the Tangut tribes to the west of the Mongol homeland. His first important foreign venture was not an easy one, but he brought the tribes of Tangut to their knees by 1209, which was the beginning of his empire. Genghis targeted east and south after that, this was the land ruled by Jin Dynasty of China. Genghis Khan captured Beijing, bringing the pressure to the Jin emperor and managing to restrain the complete northern half of the kingdom.

Kara-Khitan which is called “Xinjiang” today by the Chinese government was the next battleground of Genghis Khan. With just 20,000 soldiers, the Mongols brought the surrender of Kara-Khitan by 1218. Now Genghis Khan’s empire extended from shores of China in the east to Kazakhstan in west.

genghis khan mapThis was not enough and Genghis Khan desired more. He set his eyes on his new neighbor, the Khwarezmid Empire. It stretched from Kazakhstan to the banks of Persian Gulf, surrounding most of Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and half of Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. At first Genghis Khan tried to establish a booming trade partnership with Khwarezmids, but the leader of Khwarezmid attacked his 500 man caravan. After this, he foolishly refused to pay compensation for his act. Genghis Khan later sent his group of ambassadors to the Shah of Khwarezmid in a hope to have some kind of political trade relationship. But the Shah refused his proposal, Genghis Khan invaded Khwarezmid and executed the Shah. After this horrible conquest of Khwarezmid Empire, he headed across Afghanistan and northern India.

By the end of his life, Temujin had conquered everything from Asia all the way to Europe’s doorstep. Most of modern Turkey, parts of Greece, and even portions of Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia were his domain.

As a world traveler, he spilled a lot more blood than most, but the fact is he controlled the largest contiguous empire in history and saw more of the world than most people ever will.

Islamic Aesthetics Unleashed – Asilah, Morocco

Asilah, Morocco
Asilah, Morocco is a great little funky town that hosts a mural festival each year. It’s a gorgeous little town on the Atlantic Coast of Africa. I was going to share about 30 photos of the gorgeous artistic town of Asilah, Morocco when I realized it would be better and allow me to fulfill one of my New Year’s Resolutions (make more videos) if I put them in a video slideshow for you. I hope you enjoy it.

Just 31 km from Tangier. Its ramparts and gateworks remain fully intact. Its history dates back to 1500 B.C., when the Phoenicians used it as a base for trade. The Portuguese conquered the city in 1471, but John III later decided to abandon it because of an economic crisis in 1549. In 1692, the town was taken by the Moroccans under the leadership of Moulay Ismail. Asilah served then as a base for pirates in the 19th and 20th centuries. From 1912-1956 it was part of Spanish Morocco.

 

I’m not a spy!

secret base conversations
This is not me talking on the phone inside a secret base somewhere.

Serbia wasn’t the only place I’ve been accused of being a spy. It could be that it just comes along with the name Bond. Vago Bond. In fact, I’ve even had some of my closest friends ask me on the down low if I am in fact a spy. When I ask them what makes them think that is even a possibility they point out that I speak Arabic (but not very well) and I’m always traveling in Islamic countries, I don’t seem to have a visible means of income, and no one can really figure out what the hell I’m doing. That includes me by the way.

elite ninja spy
This is not one of my elite ninja spy colleagues

In fact, being a spy would probably be pretty cool. Especially if I got to wear tuxedos and have an expense account. It would probably be pretty awkward to try to explain why I was going to places and doing the odd things I would have to do as a spy. In fact, it might make my working and family life look positively bizarre.

Another friend sent me the following:

Spies are everywhere around the world. Many people work as undercover spies. Organizations such as the CIA hire specialized spies. Some people are illegal spies. There are many spies that look like normal, everyday people. Do you know how to identify a spy? Here are some steps to help spot and identify a spy.

* 1 – Identify a spy by their age. Most people who are spies will be between the ages of 25 and 40 years old. However, there are also older or younger spies.
* 2 – Review the college credentials of the potential spy. Most spies will be college graduates. Many spies are college graduates who have not been very successful in their careers or have had a difficult time locating satisfying employment.
* 3 – Investigate the military background of the potential spy. Most spies will have some form of military experience. They have very good fighting or defense skills.
* 4 – Ask the potential spy if they like to play chess or other games of intense concentration. Most spies will have very good logic and problem solving skills. They are very intelligent people.
* 5 – Research the driving and criminal record online. Most spies will have a blemished driving or criminal record.
* 6 – Watch for unusual behavior. Does the spy subtly try to be left alone in an office for a few minutes? Do they asked to be trusted with important information? These are all red flags.

secret missile photo
This is not a North Korean Missile aimed at Hawaii

Sure, I know, sometimes it looks funny. I mean what the hell was I doing hitch-hiking to the DMZ and the border of North Korea? Why was I looking at bombed out buildings in Belgrade, Serbia? What the hell am I doing wandering around Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore right now? And by the way, why the hell do I live in the Republic of Turkey and travel to North Africa so often? It’s mighty convenient.

Let’s get serious. If I were a spy, I certainly wouldn’t tell you about it. In fact, even though I love playing chess, was a US Marine, and all the other red flags are there, calling me a spy could blow my cover if I had one. You could get me killed or ruined like Valerie Plame. And I’d love to tell you the truth, but if I was a spy, that would mean I would probably have to kill you. Who the hell would I be a spy for anyway?

spies are better looking than me
If I were a spy, I would be much better looking.

 

 

 

 

If I were a spy, I would be working for the Hawaiian Secret Service which is so secret that most governments in the world don’t even know it was began by King David Kalakaua in the 1870’s and has continued to this day with loyalty only to the spirit of Aloha.

But I’m not a spy. That’s just silly.

Vagobond Travel Museum – A European Wander

Much to my surprise, what I had thought would be a sort of never ending, round the world holiday, had suddenly become mired down in love – mainly because I’d fallen in love with a Moroccan girl with no passport and in order to bring her into my world – I had to get the right papers, find a job, and prove that I could be a good husband.  Not easy when my plan hadn’t included any of these things, I was thousands of miles from home, and I didn’t even really like being in Morocco. I needed time to think. I needed to step away.

My bride to be had told me that I could marry her or that she would understand if I chose the world instead…frankly, things had moved so quickly, that I needed to see if the world still held the same appeal – so I decided to take a few weeks, explore a bit of Europe, visit some friends along the way and clear my head.

This trip was all about deciding whether to continue traveling and leave the girl behind or whether to follow my heart and leave the travel behind – or perhaps to find a way to marry both the girl and the road. In any event, things quickly turned south when all three of my debit cards were shut down because I had yet to learn that banks need to be notified that you will be using ATMs when you are abroad.

This particular trip follows up on leaving Hawaii, taking an Amtrak across the USA, spending my first month in Spain, and then finding love in Morocco. So, there was a lot going on as I tried to figure out what the hell to do next.

Sevilla – The Flower of Spanish Beauty and Culture

The King of Seville and the Barber of Seville

Brussels – Comic Murals, Skate Parks, and Chess Bars

 

 

Vagobond Travel Museum –

Valencia Statues Vagabond Travel MuseumWelcome to the Vagobond Travel Museum.

The web is full of great travel blogs, travel stories, travel photos and travel videos – the hard part is finding them amidst all the garbage. Through the week, I curate the best travel stories I find and bring you the highlights here at the Vagobond Travel Museum.

travel deals in the New York Times The New York Times this week published a great list of 19 websites that can save you money on your travels.

The Irish Times published this very interesting piece about exploring Fez, Morocco with a cookbook from the 1950’s. A different way to see a city that has been written about in sometimes too many ways.

The Guardian came out with a fantastic guide to summer family holidays– including a tree house in Paris and some beach holidays you might overlook.

Life Remotely is a blog from three Seattlites who decided to become digital nomads…If this post centered around a drunk campfire conversation with a Vietnam vet is any indication – this could become my favorite blog.

And while there were plenty of other great travel stories this week – that’s it for this weeks inductions into the Vagobond Travel Museum. To let me know about any great travel pieces, contact me using the contact form here at Vagobond.com

Rome, Italy – Hostels and Boutique Hotels

As a tourist to one of the most visited cities in the world, it is a bad idea to visit without booking your hotel in advance. In addition, since there is more than a little bit of trickery and thievery in Rome, travel insurance isn’t a bad idea either.

rome boutique hotels

Arguably one of the most historic cities of the world, it has moulded so much of today’s western world culture, tradition and language. You will find this unmatched concentration of history in a city populated with modern Romans that live and work with their unequivocally Roman style. Many of the great achievements of Roman times can be admired in its streets. Who visits Rome will be astonished by its grandeur and style. Discover the Vatican museums, be wondered by the monumental Coliseum, walk along the Piazza Navona, visit the Spanish Steps and enjoy great views of St. Peter’s basilica where is housed one of the greatest artworks of human kind: The Last Judgment, by Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Here are a couple of hotels that I found to be worth the price while I was in Rome and a few to avoid.

Hostels and Budget

Alesandro Palace Hostel – Near Termini Station, pretty good breakfast, free wifi and a helpful staff. Free pizza parties too.

Alessandro Palace Downtown – Free wifi and computer use, great breakfast, fun dinners and parties, great location, funky building.

Avoid Hostel Beautiful and Hotel Beautiful 2
. I got bedbugs here, no wifi, dirty bathrooms, stinky place, scary elevator, filled with creepy people when I visited.

More Rome Hostels

Luxury Hotels
Hotel Charter – This was listed as a 2 star hotel but I found it to be closer to a three star with newly remodeled bathrooms, comfy mattresses, and a very friendly staff. Free wifi, breakfast at the cafe next door was discounted, and nice little perks like delicious candies waiting for you in the room.
Hotel Montreal – 3 star hotel but 4 star treatment. Free breakfast. Be sure to request an inner courtyard room or you will get street noise. Nice place to have a drink at the end of the day.

Favorite Boutique Hotel – Ripa Hotel – Modernist comfortable hotel in the midst of classical architecture. The change between the two is nice and the comfort and service provided here is worth the cost. Four stars +.

Hotel Regina Baglioni- best five star hotel in Rome. Housed in an Art Deco palazzo on the famous Via Veneto, the elegantly furnished guestrooms and suites offer a stunning fusion of turn of the century glamour and contemporary technology. The hotel’s prime location ensuring most rooms also offer superb views of Via Veneto and the unique Roman cityscape.Mix with the local elite in the exceptional Brunello Lounge & Restaurant.

Worst hotel in Rome: Hotel Galeno. Don’t stay there, but you might want to do what I did and go there to see what an awful hotel is really like. One review said “Like a Gulag but without the friendly staff”

Memory and Travel – Reflections on Bergamo and kindness to strangers


It’s funny how memory works in regards to travel. I was in Bergamo, Italy back in 2009 (and about 10 days ago but only to sleep in the airport but that’s another story) and my memory of it seemed to be perfectly clear. A very small sleepy place where I could walk from the train station to the Nuovo ostello di Bergamo in about 20 minutes. I even remembered a general map of how to get from the lower city to the upper city, where the funicular was, and how to get from the centro to the ostello.

So, last night, arriving at about 8 pm at the train station in Citta Basa – I started walking. I walked up the main boulevard past the grand square building in the area of the Sentierone and the Palace of Justice).I went by the 4 towers that housed The Health Tribunal, the Fair Curators, The Magistrate of Provisions and the Tribunal of Justice
and the famed 540 shops of the Sentierone. I strolled past the modern shops and began thinking to myself that I didn’t remember it being so…modern, so developed, so filled with luxury branded stores.

And as I kept walking for 30 minutes or so, I became less sure of where I was. At the point I remembered finding the stairs to the hostel, I found a hillside leading downward into a neighborhood instead of the ten flights of stairs leading upward that I remembered. Soon, I was in an area of closed shops and fairly modern apartment buildings. This didn’t fit with my memory at all.

I asked a few Italians if they knew where to find the Ostello di Bergamo but they didn’t speak enough English or didn’t know and then, I found a Moroccan kebob shop. They didn’t speak English either and my Italian is zero, but much to their surprise, this lost looking white guy wandered up and greeted them in Darija. My Moroccan Arabic is functional though far from fluent. Once they got over the shock of my speaking Arabic, they were very kind and interested.

They knew where the hostel was and I was far from it. One of them, Hisham, asked his boss if he could leave for a few minutes to get me started in the right direction. We chatted in Darija about family and life in Italy. He’s originally from Agadir and has actually been to Sefrou for some reason. I admit that I’m not always keen on meeting Moroccans in Morocco, but when I meet those who have left or travelled abroad, it is always an extreme pleasure. It’s something about the broadened world view and the shattering of the illusions the media puts in people’s heads. An expansive worldview makes a world of difference. The Prophet Mohammad said something like “Don’t tell me what you’ve read, tell me where you’ve travelled.”

In any event, Hisham and I were lucky to run into his Italian friend, Enzo who was waiting to pick up his girlfriend from work. Enzo speaks English and offered to drive me to the hostel. During this exchange, I was translating Arabic to English and English to Arabic – a good exercise that seemed to work.

So then, Enzo and his girlfriend drove me to the hostel which was miles from where I had ended up. Once at the hostel, I thought I remembered where the pizza place nearby was – but once again – memory failed me, so I ended up eating a frozen microwave dinner. And while I can say that my memories of the hostel being clean, bright and comfortable were right I was disappointed to recall that they require you (or at least me 2x now) to check out each day at 10am, leave your bags in the luggage room, and then check back in in the afternoon. Not ideal by any means- it makes me glad I took a day in Greece to just lounge in my hotel room.

Anyway, I’m excited to get back to Morocco but I have a full day and another night here in Bergamo. I had thought to take the train and get lunch in Switzerland, but the weather may not be cooperating – in any event there is a giant world food festival here as well as a world renowned organ music festival – so it may be best to stay here – besides the trip to Switzerland wouldn’t allow enough time to see the Alps.

 

Travel Writing – A Dangerous Business

Travel writing is a dangerous business. No doubt about it. Most of all, it’s dangerous for your bank account! Of course, that’s just writing in general. The travel part…

We travel because we suffer from too much curiosity Here are a couple of links you might enjoy about the dangers of travel writing.

First of all, a great article from the New York Times about one of the first budget travel writers in the business- John Wilcock.

Here is an excerpt:

JW: Today everything’s available.
NYT: So what does that make the role of travel writers today?
JW:Everyone’s turned into a travel writer. It started when people who were bankers and people like that went on vacation and realized that if they wrote something about the trip they could maybe take it off their taxes. But today, basically everybody writes about their travel. I don’t suppose you can say there’s nothing left to discover, but it certainly is hard.
NYT:Should we be happy or sad about this?
JW:It’s just an inevitable development. The way the world has gotten smaller all the time, it’s easier to get around. it’s easier to fly everywhere. That Ryanair guy started doing $1 flights to obscure towns that nobody had ever heard of before all of the sudden they became tourist centers.
NYT:You wrote in the 1970s that most most travel writing is just “public relations bull.” Is that true today?
JW: Things have changed a lot since then. One of the things I’d like to claim is that the underground press changed the nature of almost all newspaper and magazine writing. Travel writing today is much more interesting than it was in those days. When I was working at The Times everything was incredibly impersonal. Basically, you weren’t allowed to have an opinion at all. And nowadays it’s almost the reverse, almost everything is written from the personal point of view. So things have changed tremendously.
NYT:What was this Travel Directory you founded?
JW: When I first went to Mexico, I wrote in my column that I’d like to call and see people along the way. From that evolved a directory back in the early ’60s, which eventually had people all over the world in it who were willing to offer varying degrees of hospitality to travelers.
NYT: It sounds like the original CouchSurfing.
JW: It wasn’t called that back in those days, but that’s what it was, of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could still Google the Travel Directory. I bet it ended up somewhere. [Note: It did.]
NYT: I assume that at 83, you travel a bit more luxuriously than you used to.
JW: No, I still travel as cheaply as I can. I don’t look 83, I look about 60-something, and I’m actually pretty active still. I’m not really handicapped: my eyes are going a bit and my hearing’s going a bit, but otherwise I’m in pretty good shape and I live pretty much the way I always have. When I’m staying with somebody and they say “I’m sorry, we only have a couch,” I say “Listen, I’ve slept on billiard tables and in bathtubs.” I’d like to think I’m as adaptable as I always was.

So, it’s never been easy, but in terms of competition, there has never been more. Even in the ‘vagabond’ niche which I started writing in in 2001 when there were about three people using the term. Check out this great new vagabond blog.Vagabond Paris

Artemis’ quest has been to “find some new way to define personal happiness.” Answers to life’s big questions, he discovered, require mobility. “When most people are born they are taught they need to own certain things. We’re all embedded in a matrix designed to keep people at work.” People, who admire his decision, always wistfully say, “I can’t be that courageous. I can’t be that brave.” He adds, “But I’m not much any of those things… I’m just a little crazy. It’s a different mental place.”

A space that’s proved instructive. “A day has not gone by that I have not learnt something new, or met someone interesting. I spend a good portion of my time finding out what makes people happy. For some people it’s their kids, for some it’s perfecting juggling, or finding a great jazz concert, or finishing a piece of art.

Why Paris is special

Paris, a hotbed of artists, many living in squats and communes, has proved an ideal base. “It’s friendly to people who don’t have a steady job. Who opt for a free and liberal lifestyle.” The Parisians have also proved to be endearingly open-minded. “Sometimes I’ll be at a bar and start talking to some guy. As we’re leaving, he’ll say, ‘So where are you headed’ and I’ll say, ‘Turn down the street. See that lamp? I’m there.” And he’ll say, “Oh that’s cool. Why don’t you crash on my couch instead.”

And finally, here is a small feature from the blog A Dangerous Business where they showcase a traveler or writer each week and discuss the dangerous business of travel writing. Can you guess who this is?

1. How do you define the word “traveler,” and why would you consider yourself one?

It’s a funny thing, this idea of travelers and tourists. To me, a tourist is someone who has a set agenda. They know where they will go, what they will do, and when they will return. A traveler, on the other hand, operates on an altogether more free form consciousness. Plans can change, and when you travel, if you aren’t flexible, you often miss out on the best things. Yes, I’m definitely a traveler, but sometimes I don’t even like to be labeled by this definition. I almost never have the budget to travel so one way tickets usually get me to my destination. Over the past decade, I’ve learned that as long as I can carry all my possessions, it’s cheaper to actually move to a place. Not to mention the experience of living and working in a foreign culture gives you an even broader perspective than just traveling there. As such, I’m often a traveler, but more often I am what I like to call a ‘moovist’. I move to new countries more often than I travel to them.

Are you a travel writer? What do you think? Is it a dangerous business? Is there a way to earn a living at it?

Italian Witch Hunting in Naples

Witch Hunting in Naples, ItalyLike Salem is to America, the city Naples is home to a rich and mysterious history of magic and witchcraft, or as it is called in Italian, stregheria. It is not at all uncommon for European cities to boast such a past, as the pre-Christian world was ripe with healers and folk magic, but the area around Naples continued their mystical traditions well into the Christian age.

During the late 1800s, an author by the name J.B. Andrews conducted a series of interviews with known Neapolitan strega (witches). He discovered that each witch seemed to specialize in his or her own area, whether it be sea magick, earth magick, herbalism, and even astrology. He was curious as to whether or not they learned their practices from sacred text but discovered that the tradition was entirely oral, “given by mother to the daughter.”
Stregheria is still prevalent in modern day Naples and has been highly influenced Hermetic groups. Of course today, we all have access to the spells and rituals that Old World strega used to practice thanks to a large interest in the occult and a number of volumes that have been printed on modern Paganism. Italian-American author and Salem, Massachusetts resident Raven Grimassi is one of the few writers to focus on Italian witchcraft today.

Italian WitchesIf the mystery of the occult piques your interest, then Naples and its surrounding area is the perfect place to plan your next European escape. Try a trip to Benevento, also called Italy’s “City of Witches,” a mere 50 km northeast of Naples. Here once stood a sacred walnut tree, known as the place where witches would gather on their sabbats to sing and dance. When Saint Barbato converted the Duke to Christianity in 622, the Duke proceeded to have the tree chopped down. Legend says it didn’t take long for the stump to magically begin to grow, restoring the old walnut tree to its previous glory. Even the transcripts from the Italian Witch Trials make mention of it. It is believed that this particular tree still stands near Avellino in Stretto di Barba and that modern day witches secretly meet there.

witches in SicilyNot just concerning stregaheria, but Naples history in general has a lot to do with its relationship to Sicily. With a car rental in Italy, you will easily be able to travel down the coast to Villa San Giovanni and hop a ferry. Sicily was home to the famous Fairy Witch Trials. It is believed that the fairies and elves would make human contacts in Sicily and carry them away to Benevento. The fairies and the women who were involved with them were named the “donas de fuera.” During the 16th and 17th centuries, there were an unknown number of witch trials held in Sicily. Unlike the Salem Witch Trials, the women on trial said nothing of the devil, but instead spoke of the fae and were tried for sorcery. Far less violent than the US trials, most of the sentenced were simply banished, put in prison, and some were even set free.

What is interesting is that all of these events can be traced back or lead back to Naples. Plan your next vacation in Italy and discover the magic for yourself!

Melissa Rae Cohen is a travel writer in love with all things mysterious and magical. Her family immigrated to Ellis Island from Naples during the early 1900s. Today she lives in Portland, Maine with her husband and two naughty cats and works as a travel writer for Auto Europe.  

Southern California Wine Travel

Story and Photos by Linda Kissam
Wines of California TravelIf 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

California Wine TravelThis 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

Bacon Wrapped BBQ Meatloaf
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
Temecula CreekI 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!

lavendar - California wine travelAfter 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

Southern California Winery
Lorimar Winery and Vineyards

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)

11 AM


Hard Cider, Julian Head CiderNext 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.

1:30 PM

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

4:30 PM

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

Glider rides California wine travelFrench 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

Taking Better Travel Photos

We all want to be great photographers and the age of digital photos has made that much easier. Here are some tips from my friend Grace that can help make all of our photography better. Here’s one thing I could do- get a new camera instead of taking pictures with my phone.

Since my camera got crushed, it’s been phone only. Believe it or not I used to win some photography contests…maybe someday.

Photos are a wonderful way to share travel experiences with the world. Here are a few ideas to help you capture travel memories you will treasure forever.

alicante spain
spain alicante

Be Prepared
Make sure your digital camera is in good working order before you go, and keep it in a water- and shock-resistant case. Bring two sets of rechargeable batteries and don’t forget the charger and etceteras. Make sure your camera has enough memory. Packing an extra memory card is wise, as there is nothing worse than running out of memory just when they start to kill the chickens for some barbaric ritual.
Don’t lower the resolution. Buy an extra memory card or you will regret this later as your photos will be more sucky. Set your camera at its highest quality JPEG setting and get more memory if you have to. You will appreciate this when you’re viewing and printing your photos later.

Spanish flowers

Take tons of pictures
You can always erase the photos you don’t want. Take pictures of everything and try to focus on some of the details such as an attractive person or a colorful display, not just panoramic scenes and tourist sites. Let your pictures tell a story by creating a visual diary of your trip. Include street scenes, interesting signs, people you see along the way. For variety take both vertical and horizontal pictures. Just take lots of photos and you are more likely to find ones you like. You might even get lucky and take a great one.

snow crystals

Get up close and personal.
This is especially true with people. Get close enough so you can see the expressions their faces – then get closer.Shoot for the hips and up in your zooms – unless your shooting bottoms. Pictures are often more interesting when you can catch people at candid, un-posed moments. For posed photos, try to incorporate some of the background into your shot.Don’t center the subject.

Lisboa Souk

Use your Flash
In bright sun, set your camera’s “fill” or “forced” flash particularly when photographing people. Brilliant sunlight often makes people’s faces look harsh, casting dark shadows under the eyes and accentuating wrinkles. The daytime fill-in flash will soften the lighting and make the images more flattering. Your family and friends in the photos will thank you!

big crowd in the street

Don’t be afraid to Edit
When you get home edit, crop and enhance your favorites using photo editing software. Turn some of your color photos into black and white or sepia tones and then upload all your images to get prints.

Photo Essay: The Beauty of Doors

There’s something about doors that just make my brain fill with wonder. Like travel, doors always lead to something new and often to something unexpected. Like the story of the Lady or the Tiger or Let’s Make a Deal.
BCN Door
This door in Barcelona seems to lead to a classical place where graffiti monsters rule. Aren’t you curious what lies on the other side?
Bergamo Italy Door
Does this door in Bergamo, Italy actually lead to anywhere? Why is it locked. What’s it hiding? Does it lead to Narnia?
Door to Bordeaux
Is there a French family drinking Bordeaux behind this French door? Can you almost hear the laughter? Oui.
Door in Belgium
This Brussels, Belgium door is altogether more serious. Are there great works of art on the other side or serious EU business going on?
Door in Fez
Couscous perhaps? Maybe a carpet shop? What does your imagination say is behind this door in the Fez Medina?
Cave Door in GrenadaWhat about this door from a cave in San Bernardino above Grenada in Spain. How do the troglodyte gypsies pass their days. Beer, fortune telling, black magic? Or just a card game and some cooking.

Marrakesh Door
Rabbit Hole in Marrakech

Finally this one in the magical city of Marrakesh. Don’t you feel like you are falling in?
Lao Tzu famously said that without opening your door you can see the world and I think that might explain the fascination with travel. We all wonder just what is on the other side of the door and sometimes it’s even more wonderful than we imagine.

Yodeling Vagabond Biking and Hiking in Zion National Park

story and photos by Brian Leibold
Zion National Park in UtahLast month I wrote here about yodeling in Yellowstone during an epic bike trip from Montana to Arizona. Toward the end of this adventure, I spent a weekend alone in what would become one of my favorite places in the world: Zion National Park.

As I biked on the long winding road down into the canyon, I was struck dumb in the shadow of the setting sun. Zion is indescribable, but I will attempt to describe it. It is ineffable because that’s a word too. The sheer cliffs rise up threateningly and gorgeously on both sides of the echoing canyon like that girl or guy that you’ve always been in love with from the moment you first saw her and who is so attractive that you find it difficult to speak in his/her (because I’m gender neutral) presence: intimidating but undeniably stunning.
Zion immediately made me feel like I was on some kind of nature speed, lighting a passionate fire that so often waits impatiently to be sparked and left blazing on a heaven-on-earthly grill and, once burning, is loath to be put out.
Vagabonding Tip #1: Find something that lights your fire. Then burn baby burn and scorch the earth lusting to quench your fiery desire.
Zion National Park, UtahSo I was wide awake and euphoric and raring to go with lightning speed, and like a keen owl in the balmy Utahan night my eyes were sharp and focused and trained completely on the present moment.
And here, in my manic state of elevation, I biked headlong down the spectacular canyon glorying in all these buttes and monoliths because those are apparently words. These rock formations in Zion beckon urgently to all who are born to boldly boulder, and immense mountains call climbers breathlessly sans lungs to climb higher to elevate our lives, and rolling rivers swerve alluringly through narrow slot canyons away from the sun.
My first day in Zion I did two hikes, the 8-mile Observation Point hike and the 6-mile Angels Landing hike. I was a solo venturing yodeling vagabond at this point, as my cousin and I had gone different routes a week earlier.
Words of Wisdom #1: If no one wants to vagabond with you, go alone! Being alone on the road is highly superior to being clustered and flustered in claustrophobic cities where finding any time at all to be alone is difficult.
Zion National Park, UtahWhen I was in Zion, words—even words of wisdom–were not forthcoming. How does one describe the indescribable? How does one express the ineffable because that’s a word too? What does one say in such a place? I had not acquired the courage to speak to the stunning woman who dared me to approach her overawing beauty and I approached and we neared closer but I spoke not.
On my way up to Observation Point, I traversed through slot canyons which provided discrete sneak peeks through narrow windows, portholes to paradise, hinting at the magnificence that would become vividly clear upon reaching the top. Then there was a curvy section that looked out to the east and then to the west in a cyclical wondrous fashion as I winded my way to the top.
At the Point, the other hikers and I all competed for Zion’s attention and she like an eternally beautiful always vigorous spinster chose no lover but stirred the spirits of all men and women who exulted in her spacious canyon. She made youthful the old and she made bold the faint-hearted; she never spurned her admirers’ advances but spurred on the souls of restless vagabond wanderers who had searched ceaselessly to see her and delight in her delights for days and decades alike and she did this with a mysterious majestic air of constant slight amusement, laughing inwardly at the magnetic effect that she had on all.
Zion National ParkAnd then I descended Observation Point and began to hike up Angels Landing, where messengers would surely come down from on high and pronounce Zion as the unmistakable heaven on earth and all comers would enter into the gates where the angels land and where spirits of sojourners soar with just-realized wings to new elevations.
The hike began in earnest and the angelic views took shape at a point where the steepness increased and a rope was needed to hold onto. I took my time here and enjoyed the journey. For the vagabond, it is all about the journey. In the words of the Grateful Dead
—Such a long, long time to be gone and a short time to be there.
Fun Definitely Disputable Fact Which Is Not A Fact At All But An Opinion #1: The Grateful Dead is the best band to listen to while vagabonding on the road.
Agree or disagree with this statement as you see fit. Say I am unquestionably correct or that I am disgracefully mistaken. My view on the matter has been stated with conviction and I hold steadfast to it.
zion national park, UtahAnd with the Grateful Dead playing in my head, I dreamed peaceful daydreams on the angel’s throne.
The next morning, I arose early.
Although the previous day had been incredible and I had climbed two hikes considered the best in the park by some, I wanted to earn the beauty that I was witnessing by allowing the all-powerful Zion to put my physical abilities to the test. And Pride Rock provided that opportunity. Pride Rock was simply a mountain that had a rock that looked to me like Pride Rock from Lion King.
Vagabonding Tip #2: Pride Rock is an unknown unmarked hike. You won’t find it in any guides or handbooks. Do the established hikes at places like Zion. Even with the crowds, they are absolutely worth it. But also go off and climb your own mountain. And choose a cool fitting name for it.
I knew that Pride Rock would be a noble competitor. I would describe the climb as very difficult bouldering. When I needed some limb to grasp hold of in precarious points of the climb, Pride Rock offered not his hand to hold; when I needed to climb on his back, he carried me not; when I needed energy for the last final push, he gifted no such burst and I was forced to find it inside myself.
Zion Pride RockBut finally, though Pride Rock put me full to the test and did not help me at any point and was an altogether stubborn but beautiful bastard, I finally made it to the top where I zanily unrestrainedly exulted to no one in madcap yodels, which were insane enough to do any traveling minstrel proud.
And then Pride Rock and I shook hands with the utmost mutual respect and we sat together and watched the sun set slowly to the west, pleading with the tyrant of time to stop and stand still and soliciting the sun to do the same and stay motionless for a time in the sky and fall not.
But time went on as it does, and the sun went down as day turned to night, and I rode back for my last night in paradise. Then the next day I biked up the canyon back onto the road.

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.

Yodeling Vagabonds Bike Yellowstone

Story and Photos by Brian Leibold
yellowstone Bike TripDo 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.
Yellowstone River Falls—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).

Bikig through Yellowstone— 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.

biking through yellowstoneLast 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.
old faithful in Yellowstone ParkAnd 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.

Yellowstone natural bridge—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.

Here is a list of hotels in or near Yellowstone in case you don’t want to sleep in a tent for some reason.

waterfalls in YellowstoneAnd 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.

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.

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.

 

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