Experiencing The Final, Fire-Laden Ceremony Of The Kharchu Dratshang Drupcheen in Jakar, Bhutan

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I love good fortune. While we had some days with rain for our 2013 Bhutan Photo Tour, we had some good fortune as well.

Having previously been to the Namkhe Nyingpo Goemba (Monastery) above the town of Jakar in Central Bhutan, I knew it as a great spot for sunset photos. After a day of trouncing around the countryside our group gathered in our trusty van and headed up the small, winding road (this describes almost ALL Bhutanese roads, by the way) to the monastery, hoping for a break in the clouds just at sunset.

What we were greeted with instead was a parking lot full of cars. Monasteries in Bhutan don’t have a lot of cars because the monks don’t drive much, if at all. We came to find out there was a retreat going on and that the next day there would be a ceremony in the courtyard. I’ll have more on the indoor ceremony we found that night in another post as it was a unique experience (we were allowed to take photos during the ceremony inside the temple, which is usually not allowed).

At the appropriate time the next day we headed up the hill again and watched as the monks set up for the ceremony, burned a lot of offerings and then ignited a huge fireball near the end of everything. You can see the fireball about 2/3 the way into this photo essay.

The experience was fascinating even though we didn’t understand a word of what was being said. I loved the pageantry and colors most of all and it was fun to be at on a local event.

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View On The Forest Floor In An Alaska Rainforest

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What’s lurking on the floor of an Alaskan rainforest? Plenty!

For my daughter, girlfriend and I, cruising with InnerSea Discoveries in Alaska’s Inside Passage this last summer allowed more than one opportunity to take a small skiff ashore and wander in pristine temperate rainforest. Not only that, I also was teaching photography to guests aboard the 80 passenger boat and had ample opportunity to capture life close to the ground.

The images below were taken in and around Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. As luck and planning would have it, I’ll be teaching aboard another sailing with InnerSea Discoveries this April in Hawaii, where there is a whole different kind of rainforest. If you’re interested in joining us, check out the April 6th sailing at this link.

Click on any image for a much larger version.

California Adventure Minus The Cars

photo 3We had high expectation upon entering Disney’s California Adventure. I had first seen the theme park during our last visit to Disneyland when Sabrina was four, but that was just from the outside. What lay on the other side of the sprawling Disney property, away from the Castle and It’s A Small World? In 2005 I only guessed before running the normal gauntlet of princesses, animals in human clothing and pirates that is Disneyland proper.

This is why I jumped at a chance for a free day with Sabrina, my girlfriend and her five year daughter when the new Cars Land opened in Disney’s California Adventure. We weren’t the first to visit, like my friend Debbie of Delicious Baby who snagged a sneak preview before the new land opened to the public. Her view and mine were quite different.

For one thing, we never went on the Radiator Springs Racers, the premier ride at CarsLand. Why? 2.5 hour wait in the sun. There is some shade along the slithering, python-like waiting pen, but not a lot. Not enough that a five year old would not melt into a puddle of “How much longer”. Heck, I didn’t want to wait in that long of a line. When we asked about the coveted Fast Pass which allows for skipping the line, more or less, we were told they sold out by 9:12am. The park opens at 9:00am. This was, after all, July, known as ‘high-season’ for the park.

The speedway looked fun, but we skipped it. Sabrina and I opted for Luigi’s Flying Tires which said it only had a 30 minute wait. We learned this from the Disney Mobile Magic App, which is very handy for checking wait times across the park and sniping out the best use of time. I highly suggest downloading it before you arrive.

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Luigi’s was fun. Bouncing around on a hovercraft always is. (Okay, I admit this was my first time on a hovercraft.) But the volume of the music and commotion from excited visitors while waiting in line (we picked this ride in part because the waiting area is indoors and air conditioned, which was nice) was enough to turn my mood sour. Did I mention we started the day waiting in line for 90 minutes at the Grizzly River Run? This was all before the app.

Get the app. I wish I received a commission for saying that, but it’s just a fact that life is better with the app. Once we had the app, we picked some rides with far shorter lines in Bugs Land. These are at the cusp of Sabrina’s age range but she enjoyed them all the same. The Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies bumper cars were fun (but slow for my maniacal, leadfoot tastes) and we all enjoyed Flik’s Flyers. Me included. Bugs Land had the shortest waits with some only lasting five minutes.

We also hit up Monster’s Inc’s Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! twice. The wait was only 20 minutes the first time and 25 the second. This ride was fun enough for that long of a wait and we could see the immense and empty holding pen that was built to absorb the onslaught when the attraction was new.

And that is what I learned from our visit; Get the app. No, I mean, expectations are important. We rode the Grizzly River Run twice and didn’t even know about it before we showed up (once was after dark and the water can feel a bit colder then)(oh yeah, and being stuck for 15 minutes at the top of the big drop the second time around is not so fun for a certain ten year old when she knows what’s coming). That one was a lot of fun. The Soaring Over California experience was also worth the wait and I would have gladly done that one again. It is extremely well done.

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But we missed out on most of Cars Land because it was a zany zoo. Like ants to a cube of sugar, the new area (only open since June) was abuzz with life. And lines. And not a lot of shade.

And that’s okay, because we found a lot of other fun to be had in Disney’s California Adventure away from the crowds looking for the new hotness.

I would like to go back now that it is November. Hopefully the crowds are less and we won’t roast in the sun. I know there is no true ‘off-season’ for Disney but I have to think anything is better than trying to see a brand new attraction in the middle of summer heat.

In the end, this is as close as we got to Lightning McQueen. (No, we didn’t want to pay for the real posed picture. ;))

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Balboa Island As Seen Through A Sigma DP2 Merrill

Balboa Island, California

I’ve been spending more time in California these days, especially the lands South of LA. Orange County, if you will.

Yesterday we headed out to Balboa Island because it was too fickin’ hot when going to a park inland. Being close to the water usually offers a drop in temperatures and it was a nice 80F compared to 91F inland. Coming from Washington, I prefer numbers that don’t start with 9. 80F with a breeze off the ocean works well for me.

I was also testing out a Sigma DP2 Merrill point and shoot camera. This is no ordinary point and shoot. It boasts a new kind of sensor that gives amazing detail and is typically found in their SD-1 Merrill DSLR camera.

Below are a few images from the outing around town. It’s a laid back beach town with not enough parking but plenty of ice cream. And if you want to check out the detail possible with this camera, click on an image for a full size version.

 

 

Rafting The Roaring Fork River In Colorado

Photo Courtesy of Ben Drivin'

The raft shot up the wall of a wave four feet high just 30 feet after leaving shore with the five seemingly drunk clients flailing paddles into last night’s snow melt waters with no more precision nor coordination than an elephant on a three week heroin bender trying to paint a Rembrandt. Gasping for air as the near frozen water sluiced down that tiny gap between wetsuit and dry skin, the group fiend attention and understand of what guide Mike Glock was shouting. He certainly was shouting something because it seems he wanted the raft pointed down river, not up.

Photo Courtesy of Ben Drivin'

Flail, paddle, flail, paddle. Breathe. And POP! Out of the first wave on the Roaring Fork river in Colorado the group, now wide-eyed and adrenalin riddled, let out bottled up excitement in the form of laughter and exclamations of joy to not being thrown overboard while spinning aimlessly in the wave.

I have the pleasure of being in that raft with Mike as we took a morning trip with Blazing Adventures (who rafts under the company name ‘Blazing Paddles’) down the Roaring Fork River as it carves the Rocky Mountains before meeting up with the mighty Colorado. Located just outside the village of Snowmass, our put-in is a quick introduction to the ferocity of rivers all over the West which have been bolstered by a solid winter of gracious snowfall.

While the river is flowing faster than normal, making our anticipated two hour trip closer to a 90 minute endeavor, we were treated to many impressive waves bulked up by the increasing temperatures of a looming summer sun. It’s true we can’t raft the vaunted Slaughterhouse Rapid due to safety concerns, a nice reminder that Blazing Adventures values living customers over the chance to practice river rescues. Even without the largest challenge on this stretch of the river, our day is non-stop action.

I have been rafting as a client in various states and countries over the last two decades. I don’t know it all, but I do know that our day on the Roaring Fork is as good of an ambassador of Colorado’s whitewater potential as I can ask for. While the larger Colorado often overshadows the ‘lesser’ rivers in the state, and while this river would not be on my list of solo reasons to fly all the way to Aspen and Snowmass, it is an unexpected highlight to my trip, sponsored by Colorado State Tourism.

That's me, taking a face full of Roaring Fork up the nose - Photo Courtesy of Ben Drivin'

First, the river is a refreshing escape from the valley’s hot days during summer. The water comes from the surrounding hills and was snow only half a day before meeting us at our put-in. That means it, and the air around, is cooler. Thankfully cooler because standing around in a wetsuit in the Colorado sun will bake you alive.

Second, the river is non-stop, as I mentioned before. I have been on many Class III+ rivers and they are a lot of good, wholesome fun. But they often have long stretches of, for lack of a better term, boredom. River guides are well versed in jokes and yarns to spin while plying the slow waters but Mike only had to fill about 10 minutes of ‘down time’ on the Roaring Fork. That’s 80 minutes of “watch where you’re going or you’ll get doused with a wave” action.

It’s 12 miles of wearing a stupid grin on my face as I eat wave after wave. Loving every minute, even through chattering teeth.

Lastly, the guides and staff are bona fide nutcases. The good kind of nutcases. The kind of nutcases you want as your guides because they do care about your safety, but they are also very interested in having a good time. And for them, that means loving what they do. They have to, because they will be heading down the same river later that day. And the next. And the next.

While we are a press trip, which often makes people treat us a bit more special, I can tell that Mike and Talbot, our other guide, really didn’t care. Not beyond their normal amount of care for those in their charge, who have entrusted them to deliver smiling customers to the take-out. They aren’t out to impress us and they are a lot of fun with entertaining knowledge of the river (most of it likely BS, but that’s a river guide’s job). They are rafting because they love it and don’t seem to care if we are the village idiot or kings and queens; they are going to show us a good time as a guest on their river and in their state of Colorado.

Blazing Adventures delivered what I want from a rafting trip:

  • Fun, knowledgeable and safety conscious guides
  • Convenient pick up from hotel
  • Wetsuits and jackets in good condition
  • Stories, jokes and river history
  • A rafting guide with a Hollywood name that seemed made up
  • A huge grin when I was done

Blazing Adventures is a company I will gladly raft with again when I return to the Roaring Fork Valley. Just like crack cocaine, handing out that free sample for a press trip was enough to get me hooked and I will gladly fork over whatever I need to get another taste of Colorado whitewater. Originally posted July 22, 2011.

The Shop – Jaipur, India

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The shop is not attended when I walk up, unlike the crowded establishments on both sides of this loud, dust covered street in Jaipur, India. Behind me is a non-stop cacophony of tuk-tuk horns, car horns, bike horns and cows with horns. For a moment I am alone with the shop and I peek inside. A musk of heavy-weight gear oil and lubricants takes me back to the days I used to work on my own truck and be elbow deep in synthetic oils; happy. I don’t sense the same joy here. My work was that of leisure and some insane pleasure derived from bathing in grease to fix the problem of the day.

This shop carries little joy. It hints at desperation. Desperation to feed someone somewhere. The caretaker gone, I slow and take in the scene; lanterns, innertubes, a pile of gears impossible to separate, hubs, a working air compressor serving as the heart keeping this business’ blood pumping. Tools and more tools. A family photo and a long dead clock. A calendar that is mercifully accurate unlink some I have seen from 1994 and earlier in other stores. A bucket of bolts and nuts not unlike mine at home. Grease over it all and not a single horizontal surface left uncovered. If it’s not covered with grease, it’s turning to rust. The cascade of commerce and forgotten parts making its way toward sunlight, before being shoved  behind the roll-down security shutter each night.

No escape.

 

 

Around Town: Los Angeles – The Griffith Observatory

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When I recently visited Los Angeles I was happy that I could actually see Orion in the night sky for two reasons: #1 It was winter and I live near Seattle, so seeing stars in winter doesn’t happen that often and #2 LA is a massive sprawl of lights, lights and more lights.

Then I found the Griffith Observatory, perched to the North of town on what surely would be a hillside covered with houses if it were not a LA municipal park. This lack of houses makes it a great site for star gazing. While the city still does its best to block the star light, the observatory itself is worth the visit. But just in case you needed convincing of the wonderful panoramas from the decks of the observatory, this image should suffice:

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On a clear night, this is what awaits you. And a walk up the hill to the observatory. And a lot of people because this is a popular site, even in on a Thursday night in January. When I arrived (15 minutes from closing, so I was able to gain an upfront parking spot instead of the parking in the overflow lots lower on the hill) the grounds were buzzing with couple and even a few kids. A few volunteers had set up smaller (but by no means small) telescopes in front of the observatory and were checking out Venus or the moon while allowing visitors to have a look.

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The place had a nice, festive atmosphere. And the park closes at 10pm, which is when people will herd you to the exits and down the hill. And the observatory is FREE! Well, except a small fee for some of the programs held in a number of halls on the grounds. Free parking and free entry within the LA city limits? It’s all true. And if you have children who are even remotely interested in what’s above us in the night sky, there are a ton of exhibits explaining how telescopes work and other mysteries of the Universe.

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Need some solid info for planning your evening at the observatory? 

  • PeterWestCarey-GriffithObservatory-20120105-215611-6722Plan to arrive early, even before sunset, to give yourself enough time to explore the grounds and exhibits. It’s a great spot for a picnic dinner.
  • Tickets for events and shows are first come, first served.
  • Parking will likely be down the hill for you, but you can drive to the top and drop off anyone who doesn’t want the uphill walk.
  • The park closes at 10pm.
  • The observatory is closed on Mondays and most Tuesdays.
  • The official site can be found here.
  • You can visit during the day time as the observatory has a solar telescope as well.
  • Public star parties are held during new moons each month. More info on the schedule can be found here.
  • Need help in finding your way to the observatory? It’s actually quite easy. Here’s info to  get you started.
  • The observatory really does beg multiple visits at various times as there are outdoor exhibits that explain the path of the sun and moon and planets.

I plan on visiting the observatory again on another visit to LA because there is more to take in. Plus, they close the 12” telescope about 30 minutes before closing and I didn’t get a chance to look at the stars up close.

This Travel Blog Post Will Bore You

It’s 11:18PM in New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport and I’ve been here, dozing on and off in a lounge like chair, for most of five hours. I left what was my home about 48 hours ago. It’s no longer my home as I have moved out (the previous owners were foreclosed on and I was kindly given 60 days notice to vacate. I decided to leave in 30 and start travels) and currently have no permanent residence. ‘Permanent residence’ is a funny phrase and only one of those two words is ever marginally accurate.

What’s so boring about this post about traveling for two days straight to get to the far side of the world? It’s what most travel blog posts are not about. I didn’t get robbed, become shipwrecked on an island, meet the Pope or Michael Jordan or even some Hollywood star. I’m sitting in this lounge chair waiting patiently until four hours before my flight so I can check in and hand over one of my bags. I have four more hours until that time and I am listening to the Chinese girls next to me chatter on and on, endlessly it seems, while a man in white Pumas blasts his iPhone powered headphones too loud on my right.

It’s boring. But that’s not bad. I’m without internet access (gasp!) and my battery is nearly dead after lining up three weeks of guest photographer posts. That might be the most exciting thing I can subscribe to so far; that my laptop battery is nearly dead. It’s an artificially dire situation, but it beats me telling you how many laps the floor cleaning Zamboni has made in front of these lounge chairs.

My flights were mostly on time. We avoided some rough air out of Chicago. The meals were decent. I had a good selection of movies to watch. Immigration in India was simple and the line was short. My luggage showed up as planned. The bathrooms were clean. I had ample connection time in Chicago and didn’t have to run. I even had enough time to enjoy a sandwich. People let me into the aisle when it was my turn to exit the plane. The luggage carts are free in New Delhi.

Who wants to read about that stuff? It’s boring as hell. I’m well fed, have had enough to drink, TSA security in the USA didn’t suck. Blah.

Travel writing is almost always about the exciting times, and for good reason. Often they are the most thrilling and give a sense of adventure. But face it, not all travel is like that.

Some trips (so far) are a good kind of boring we often lust for but never report on. It’s often a compliment to the carriers involved when we report to friends and family, “It was a nice, uneventful flight.”

Uneventful doesn’t make headlines and grab readers though.

I will do my best to have some grand adventures and spice up future posts about this trip to Nepal, Bhutan and India (I’m here in the airport for transit this first time, coming back in five weeks for a one week inspection tour to decide if I want to offer photography tours in the country or not).

Until then you are left with this pleasant, boring, uneventful blog post without a captivating picture.

“Everything is going well.”

How African Lions Hunt – A Guide’s Lesson With Webkinz [VIDEO]

Due to technical difficulties, I haven’t watched much of my own video clips from Africa. The difficulties have been remedied and now all 200 clips are available to be edited into pretty 3 minute length films for your viewing pleasure.

While I get working on those videos, here’s a fun bit as our safari guide Ebeneezer explains how lions hunt zebras using my daughter’s Webkinz stuffed animals. Shot on location in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

No Webkinz were harmed in the making of this video. I can’t say as much for the real gazelle that fell prey to real lions just outside of our safari vehicle.

Riveria Maya’s Xplor Waterpark And Ziplines

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Xplor is a waterpark with a zipline problem.

It had a chance to be super campy. Xplor. Even the name seemed a bit over the top.

Yet Xplor turns out to be a lot of fun. The park is a newer addition to the Riviera Maya coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. While a lot of the area is growing up to cater to foreign tourists, including their own local airport much closer than Cancun, Xplor is a great spot for guests and locals alike to forget the worries of daily life and just play.

One of the things I liked about Xplor was what was missing. It wasn’t an attempt to be a super Mayan theme park or ‘authentic’ Mexico or anything other than a place to slide high across some of the most level jungle in the world while suspended from two inch-wide straps. It’s also a place to escape the dripping heat of the Riviera Maya with constant dips in the numerous pools; both on ziplines and through a fun river swim. And I have to admit I like any park that requires you to wear a helmet.

Sabrina and I started our day in the park sweating. Take a look, this is Sabrina just barely holding it together for the picture, in between bouts of complaining about the heat.

Neither she nor I are big fans of sweltering heat. But it’s Mexico on the Caribbean, live with it. Yeah, I know, it works well with kids, doesn’t it?

Our first adventure was the ziplines. Sabrina had never been on them before and was excited to try, but like a lot of kids, a bit afraid of actually doing it. After suiting up in fine Petzl safety harnesses with two checks by attentive staff, offering instruction in both Spanish and English with plenty of smiles, we’re off to our first tower. The park is dotted with these tours and there are two circuits to be traveled. We are only allowed to travel each circuit once and Sabrina chooses A.

Lined up at the top of the tower (“How much further IS it?”) waiting our turn, Sabrina is a bit fidgety. We were told kids can go together with their parent and Sabrina is bouncing back and forth between wanting the security of Dada on the zipline and wanting to be by herself. A scene I’m sure I’ll see a number of times in the coming years on a variety of subjects. In the end, she decides to start with me and, as there are over 15 ziplines total, thinks she might branch out if she’s not too freaked out.

The attendants at the top of each tour are bilingual and attentive to safety. Not only that, they seemed to care if you are having fun. Clip this, clip that, check everything and “Adios!”. A quick swing by the attendant and our feet are suddenly dangling 90′ in the air over native Yucatan canopy.

It doesn’t take long before I hear, “This is awesome!” And thus the tone is set for the rest of the day (until she starts to run out of energy, for which there is a well stocked buffet inside the park). On the next tower we again share a ride, but this time with more hesitation and an obvious desire to strike out on her own. Tower Three sees Sabrina not only wanting to go by herself, but demanding she goes first. Confidence only took two trips for a girl who admits to a fear of heights. Of course, these heights have the added feel of flying through the sky.

Our two circuits go entirely too fast. The park isn’t very crowded when we start and this helps keep us going from tower to tower, including a monolithic 150′ beast with an 80 second glide time from start to finish, covering 2300′ of jungle. Speeds approach 20MPH as the dual overhead pulleys let out a high pitched whine up until the last moment of semi-soft deceleration at the end of each trip.

In addition to the normal tower-to-tower ziplines, there are two which provide immediate relief from the heat. These end in pools of water, under a waterfall and, if judged wrong, can provide a heck of a wedgy. When they tell you to keep your knees together, do it.

The park has two other main attractions including in the price of admission: an underground river walk and a self drive through the jungle on fun fourwheel buggies.

The river walk, or float for those of you less than 5’9″, follows what used to be a natural underground water way. This area of the peninsula is dotted with all kinds of cenotes, or underground pools, often connected through the limestone walls. In this case, Xplor took an existing patchwork of caverns and pools and connected them. Part of me felt bad for man just shaping nature in this manner. And another part enjoyed getting out of the heat and being able to explore the underground world.

This is not a Disneyland ride. And it’s COLD when you first get in, especially compared to the heat above. We are required to don lifevests and our helmets never leave our heads. Sabrina is again hesitant to start. Even though the entire way is lit from above and often from below, she has some trepidation as it has a bit of spookiness to it, I’ll admit. But cool spookiness and with a bit more super-patient coaxing, we are off with a mix of floating and swimming. I liked that it was actual rock, sharp in places and not watered down. There were emergency exits available and I felt perfectly safe, yet still experiencing a bit of the earth many don’t see….while still inside an amusement park. It was an odd mix and it worked.

The path is a mix of carved stone and original stalactite formations on the ceiling. The width of the path is no more than 6′ across most of the time so it is best to time departure when not in a large group. Camera traps along the way capture photos and Sabrina loves swimming back to these over and over once I show her where the triggers are hidden in the rock.

Last on our day’s agenda are the buggies. These are a blast for those that like to zip around. Most of the time is spent above ground, but sometimes the path dips under the surface for tunnel action.

Our day came to an end all too soon. Warn and happy, we headed back to our resort before another day of exploring.

While Xplor is not the type of activity I go on vacation to experience, I am very glad we went. We both had a fun time and it was no less ‘authentic’ Mexico than water parks in the USA are any less ‘authentic’. The majority of the visitors were local Mexicans enjoying the family fun and it was nice to have a break from all the ‘have-to-see’ attractions of Tulum and Coba and snorkeling.

An excellent way to spend a day having fun on vacation.

Tips for visiting Xplor

  • Arrive early and get the full park pass if you have the energy for it
  • Make sure kids know what they are up for
  • Leave the expensive camera behind and grab a waterproof model or disposable
  • Credit cards accepted
  • There is a large heart as a rallying point for those that get a bit lost. Signs all around the park point back to this spot
  • Near the heart are lockers for gear and bathrooms
  • The buffet is decent with a number of vegetarian options
  • Cameras abound in the park to capture the fun. If you don’t bring your own, you can buy shots of yourself all through the park thanks to the numbers on helmets
  • You don’t need to know how to swim to have fun as the river walk employs lifevests and the ziplines into water always have attendants
  • You can go careening off into the jungle with the buggies. This would be bad, but makes it more fun than Disneyland. Danger is fun for boys. :)
  • Wear sunscreen!
  • Wear watershoes if you have them, otherwise you need to stash your flipflops on each zipline run so they don’t fall off
  • Bring a bathing suit or wear one there. Shorts are also handy for ladies with bikinis as it makes the harnesses less chafing
  • There is a juice bar with cookies for a quick pick me up. It’s real fruit smoothie types of drinks and yummy cookies
  • Have fun!!

Our admission to Xplor was covered by the Riviera Maya Tourist Board.

 

The Best Shower I’ve Ever Had

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As Sean Connery once said, “There can be only one.”  Sure, he was talking about immortals battling through time to find out which of them would earn the prize of becoming mortal.  And then making a number of really bad spin-off movies.

I’m talking about showers.  It’s been two years since my Best Shower Ever and I still lust after it.  Not every day, but once in a while it calls to me. I’ve had a lot of showers I’ve really loved since then, some that meant a lot to me.  Maybe the location was special.  Maybe the pressure was just right.  Or maybe I was so happily grungy dirty and ready for a cleanse that the shower I had right then, no matter where it was, was the perfect shower.  Or so it always seemed.  Only one shower, though, can hold the title.  And it is the shower all are held against.

My Best Shower Ever was in the jungles of Peru.  Sounds romantic already, doesn’t it.  Humidity past 3000%. Tarantulas literally sneaking into my cabana during the day.  Coming back from a river paddle through piranha infested waters and swimming in the same waters (because those piranhas weren’t the mean kind looking for a movie cameo).  Dripping with sweat.  In need of The Best Shower Ever.

It can be found at Inkatera’s Reserva Amazonia Lodge.  I spent eight nights there in 2008 on my own accord, looking for some time to relax and explore.  It’s fancy by jungle lodge standards and was my last great splurge in personal travel expenses.  What’s even better is they upgraded me part way through my trip to the Tambopata Suite.  I went from the standard cabana to this:

Behind that wall is the entire bathing area.  It’s not a bathroom, that’s for sure.  Step around the corner and you encounter the back, walled in, net covered patio with cool soaking pool.

So big, I had to make a stitched panorama of it.  You can imagine my excitement and child-like glee when they told me this would be my home for four of my eight nights.  The pool is about 70F and perfect for a cooling dip after hours of the oppressive swelter of the jungle.  The chairs are comfy and it’s a wonderful place to relax.  Now walk to the back with me, towards those towels (doesn’t matter which one).

Here it is.  My Best Shower Ever. To quote another Hollywood great, “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”  For me it was having all this openness, especially above, while still having complete privacy.  It felt open, free and oh so good.  Also, most of my showers were on the cool side so I would stand for long, long sojourns without the guilt of sucking down hot water.  Although I was afraid at times that I would suck the nearby Rio Madre de Dios dry.  I’m not one to journey to nudest beaches because I “have to be free!!”  and I’m not a showman either.  Yet, being able to shower right under the jungle canopy (just 3′ from the back wall) and let my day-to-day life worries wash down the drain….that’s what made this the Best Shower Ever for me.

Walking back to the living space…

…there is another shower under the cover of the cabana if the open air and walking around naked isn’t your thing and you like ceilings and walls.

I’m heading back to Peru and to the Madre de Dios in November, this time with GAP Adventures.  We have two nights scheduled at one of their river lodges and I’m now very curious what the showers will be like.  I already know the heat will be stifling and the humidity will be <insert your favorite over-used term for really, really high humidity here>.  But the showers?  Can they top the Best Shower Ever?

For those of you out there who have, in fact, bathed, what’s your Best Shower Ever?

The Cozy, Welcoming Side Of Wenatchee

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I’ve lived in the Puget Sound my entire life.  As thus, I have stereotypes of many places around the state of Washington.  Forks is wet.  Sequim is full of old people and sunshine.  Pullman is a college party town.  Wenatchee is hot, dry and industrial.

It turns out I have a lot to learn about this state, especially Wenatchee.  In gathering information for an upcoming article covering Mission Ridge’s Ski Patrol in Washington Magazine, I was hosted by the folks of Wenatchee Valley Visitors Bureau for a quick overnight in the city before heading to the slopes.  Honestly, I thought I’d be put up in a Best Western.  I mean, Leavenworth, just 25 minutes away, is the cute, charming gem of the area with romantic inns, riverside B&Bs and enough cuteness to make a basket of kittens jealous.

First surprise; Huckleberry Haven B&B.  The directions placed this B&B in a residential area of town, away from the bustle of the strips malls, auto shops and fast food joints.  +1 for the HHB&B.  Easy to find if you know it’s there, the B&B is taken care of by Ian and Rush Leslie, quintessential hosts radiating warmth and a welcoming smile.   If you have run the B&B circuit in any part of the US, you get to know who absolutely loves their job and who kinda likes it.  Ruth and Ian love their small, three unit B&B and it shows.  They also seem nuts about bears, tea and huckleberries.

The Saddlerock Suite, our room for the night, is a home away from home.  A full kitchen and bath give this one room accommodation all that is needed to hole up for a night or a week.  The queen sized bed is complimented with a pull out sofa, making it work for families of four or a pair of couples traveling the wine country together.  A roll-a-way is also available if siblings just can’t share. Head to a local grocery store and stock up the full sized fridge as the kitchen is fully equipped.  There is even a washer and dryer in room to refresh your laundry before heading out.

The room is comfy in a woodsy type of way; stuffed bears nestle into the reading nook and are painted above the kitchen sink, an electric fireplace, while nothing like the real thing, gives a cabin feel and the view from the wide, private deck across the neighboring orchard and valley is becalming.  All the B&B niceties are including as well as huckleberry chapstick (this IS the dry side of the state, after all).  And don’t worry, the rooms have satellite TV and WIFI to help keep you connected if that’s your thing.

Breakfast; scrumptious.  I’m no food critic, I just know what I like.  And I loved the huckleberry muffins.  As we were the only guests this morning, we had our pick of options.  Ian and Ruth present a fine meal and asked about dietary restrictions beforehand, customizing the meal as needed.  The dining also doubles as a tea room during the day (the couple hosts a number of tea parties for those young and old in town) and, for those into the tea scene, is ultra cute. It’s not my normal gig, the cute tea room, but Sabrina loved it and wants to go back just for a high tea.  By that measure, the decor is a success.

Dinner the night before was just a mile away at McGlinn’s Public House.  Walking in the front door and onto ancient hardwood floors made me feel instantly at home.  We could have been at Diamond Knot Brewery in Mukilteo or Kells in Seattle.  It had that feel.  Brick walls, a styled bar and tasteful knickknacks all over the place.  A town favorite, the room was packed with locals.  Wood is everywhere; the floors, tables, ceiling, bar.  I love wood.  A brick pizza oven sits at the back of the establishment under a full sized streetlight.  Service was quick, non-hurried and helpful.  Sabrina scarfed down her mac and cheese and my chicken Caesar salad was not an anomaly on the well balanced menu.  And dessert; chocolate!

Appetizer, entrees, dessert, a glass of wine, tax and tip = $45.  Our room at the Huckleberry Haven lists for $150 double occupancy.

I also received a big packet of info on the whole Wenatchee Valley from the Visitors Bureau, describing more than I ever knew about this dry side of the state.  Check out their website for a long list of wineries, bike routes, history, skiing, museums, hiking, offroading, snowmobiling, farmers markets and other activities that make this mistakenly stereotyped industrial town a worthwhile drive from Seattle.

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Twilight In The Mountains

There’s a time of day that is the same for me no mater where on the planet I may be. Correction, there is a time and place. The place is very important, yet it’s doesn’t matter where I am.

Twilight in the mountains.

The trail down from the Coleman Glacier on Mount Baker is becoming less obvious. The actual time of sunset is hard to pin down, as the sun dips behind a shoulder of the mountain hours before it passes the distant horizon. Exact timing is not important tonight. What is important is that I forgot my headlamp. And that’s a fortunate mistake.

I can still make out the major roots and ankle turning stones. I’m not yet to that point where I need to open my eyes wide, but it’s closing in. In my haste I almost fail to notice a very subtle deja vu. I haven’t felt like I’ve been here before (although I have been on this trail a number of times). Instead, the familiar feeling comes from the calm before night.

I stop for a moment to let it sink in. It’s that time before dark but after sundown. It’s that time when the bird are hurriedly finding their way back to nests. If I were in camp, a fire would be started about now as the chill of night finds its way through layers of clothes. It’s a calm transition, a time before and after all mixed into one. And it’s timeless in its beauty.

I have witnessed this time of day on six continents and many islands of this world. Dark from the East scratches at the coat tail of Light racing to the West. Neither stands over me, but instead it’s as if a portal lay over the land for a few fleeting minutes. That portal takes me back to other times I have been outdoors when the chase takes place. In childhood it was that moment when we couldn’t make out the football any more and risked getting clobbered in the head. It was the moment right before the streetlights flashed to life. They always gave a warning buzz as the ballast for the sodium vapor stored and amplified its charge before purging the portal and forced us into evening.

That portal extended over my first real hike in August of 1990, when Liz, Jason and I hurried down the hill from Talapus Lake, also without flashlights, before both of my friends headed off to college in different states.

It was in that portal that I watched my first in-the-wild black bear pace the opposite shore of a river in Olympic National Park as my friend Kristi asked if we should think about heading home in the advancing dark. I remember crawling under a blanket as I began to sleep alone, without a tent or fire, on the shores of Pratt Lake, wishing that the portal would pass so it would be dark and I could justify wanting sleep. 10,000′ up Mt. Rainier, the mountain and my goal still barely visible, anything seeming possible. The time walking, with a blanket over one shoulder and my arm around the one I loved, as we strolled along a deserted beach with a plan to make love just above the surf while watching the stars fill the sky. Or sitting along Ashland Lake with my daughter, just the two of us and a few dozen excited mosquitoes, and listening to the still before night overtook the forest and it came to life again. This summer with Jodi at the summit of South Sister in a make shift campsite and the roar of the camp stove silenced at last so we could watch gathering storms to the south electrify the atmosphere.

And heading back to the car, three miles away, on the side of my beloved Mt. Baker.

All these places different but all connected by that one special time of day.

Twilight in the mountains.

Exploring The Mayan Ruins At Coba

COBA!!

Why do I type it like that? Check out the view from the top of the Nohoch Mul temple.

Sabrina atop Nohoch Mul at Coba

Nohoch Mul is the tallest temple at Coba, Mayan ruins found 44km from the Carribean Sea and 40km from the more famous Tulum ruins. While Tulum has its spectacular beach front property and well excavated grounds (though by no means complete), much of Coba remains buried. Some of the ball courts near the entrance have been renovated and a few choice buildings, but on the whole, the town is beheld by the encompassing jungle.

This becomes evident after a short bike ride to the far end of the complex to climb Nohoch Mul. Along the muddied path through thick jungle, there are numerous mounds of rubble. Each mound is an unreconstructed house or community building or storage building. Who knows. There simply are too many mounds and not not enough money to restore them all. Trees quickly take root in the smallest bit of moss between the cracks in walls and start their process of forcing apart that which once stood tall. Breaking, covering, dis-forming, until it appears, to the untrained eye, as if the city is a bunch of overgrown anthills.

My daughter Sabrina and I are in a rickshaw like bike, complete with umbrella for the rains, as our guide from the Riviera Maya Tourist Board, Lizabeth, peddles along side. Ten minutes later, we have reached the far end of the Coba complex.

Climbing Nohoch Mul gives a better glimpse into the extent of the Mayan ruins still waiting to see the light of day. If you get a chance to climb this 42m limestone pyramid, take the opportunity by the horns, or better, by the fat climbing rope anchored to the main staircase. The way up can be a slog with the Caribbean sun beating down on your back and the moisture soaked air providing no relief even as sweat pours forth to attempt to cool your skin. It’s hot and muggy and you will be taking steps one at a time, each approximately two to two and a half feet high.

Half way up the treeline starts to drop away. A breeze might even be felt. No relief yet, you still have 20m to go. The crowd of people shuttling up and down will give you chance to pause as you are all using the same rope. And the limestone? Yes, it gets slippery if a rain storm rolls by.

The end of the rope finds you just below the temple platform, once used for ritual sacrifice, typically of animals. But also of food offerings to the Mayan gods. There is a small temple building at the top, all roped off to clumsy tourists. This side of the temple walls faces North, towards Chichen Itza, its far more glamorous cousin ruin beyond the horizon. That set of ruins received a better cleaning and shines in the tropical sun. I even have a guest photographer’s picture of it here.

But Coba is still covered. Three walls of the temple lay shrouded in trees and I stepped beyond “clumsy tourist” ropes (surely I am not one?) to take a look. Barely any stone is visible on those sides, the jungle’s reclamation project having had at least four centuries to work since the arrival of the Spanish. Looking out the fourth side of the temple, I was a bit stunned by the sheer flatness of the Yucatan Peninsula. I read about its creation and how it was covered by the sea, washed over many times through the millenniums, but until I gazed down on it from 140′ above ground level, the magnitude was lot on me.

That first photo on this post shows the view well. Can you see any little bumps in the jungle canopy? Each one of those is a ruin of some type, waiting to be uncovered. Or maybe not. The Mexican government doesn’t have the funds to uncover and reconstruct all of the ruins. The view does show the extent of the city of Coba, which is reported to have supported over 50,000 inhabitants in the larger complex of raised roads and waterways.

Lizabeth takes a picture of Sabrina and I overlooking the peninsula and then it was time to head down. The clouds were growing gray and thunder booms the impending arrival of rain. Half way down, it starts to rain, a nice respite from the broiling heat. We park under a canopy near the base and listen to the rain leak through the thatch roof. Nearby stood a crumbling stone with an ancient mural painted on it, the colors almost lost to time. So much to explore. So much left covered and waiting.

Sunrise At Haleakala National Park, Maui

Looking back, 2am was a ridiculous start time. But that’s what the itinerary said, “2am – wake and drive to Haleakala for sunrise”. I dare not argue with an itinerary. And so it was that writer John Jerney and I piled into my (as of yet undamaged) Budget rental car and headed for the highest point on the island of Maui. We popped in a CD by local award wining artist Keali’i Reichel to set the mood and talked about power generation and other trips we had taken as we curved our way up Haleakala.

Prodding 10,023′ into the tropical skies above Hawai’i, Haleakala is touted as the best place on the island to watch the sunrise and sunset. Leaving the tropical coasts below, the flanks of the mountain change from wetlands to farmland to cloud forest and top out on the summit in a plain of arid scrub brush. The range of natural resources is so diverse and unique, the National Parks Service created Haleakala National Park in 1961

I knew to dress warm and had brought a Polartech coat just for this part of the trip. We arrived at 4am, approximately two hours before sunrise, and were happy to find we were the second car at the mountaintop parking lot. Nothing left to do but step outside and “Whoa!”….it was cold. Not freezing freezing cold. I’ve been in cold places before but not cold places that are reached in such a short drive from 70 degree beaches.

Me in my flipflops and shorts (I wasn’t smart enough to completely dress for the cold), we scamper up to the observation room at the very top of a short flight of stairs and observe that indeed, it is dark. Finding it hard to read any of the interpretive signs, we scamper back down to wait in the warmth of our running car, climate change be damned!

Something strange happens if you sit in a car for an hour waiting for the sun to rise at Haleakala; everyone takes your spot. Granted, we didn’t actually claim a spot along the observation platform with its low stone wall and open skies. But, ya know, we were there first!!…back in our car!!! Lesson learned.

By the time we walked back up to the summit there was a throng of 40 people wearing various versions of blankets and hotel towels, shuffling their feet and chatting hushedly, trying to stay warm and occupied while waiting for the sun. In between the heads draped with blankets the glow of digital camera screens could be spied.  Billows of fog, or cloud, hid our Easterly view. And before this bank of clouds a Park Ranger, James, appeared to give his rehearsed, yet entertaining, speech about the mountain on which we stood. Its creation with the other Hawaiian Islands. The fact that it is not a crater, but an eroded valley at the top. Some history before the area became a National Park.

He checked his watch. I bounced up and down to get blood flowing to my bare feet. A gizmo I was testing, known as the Gigapan EPIC PRO robot, was busy trying to shoot a panorama of the emerging landscape for me. Sunrise time came and went. But still no sun. Most of us are sniffling back running noses. The clouds, or fog, was too thick in the direction we wanted, but still we stood and waited.

And waiting has its rewards. We were treated to not one, but at least two, maybe three, sunrises. Because of the clouds, or fog, the sun would appear, dim, and then hide again. Only to return, just a bit higher, just a bit brighter, trying its best to burn through the clouds. Or fog. Down below us, at the visitor’s center, we could hear a woman belting out a Hawai’ian chant, welcoming the new day.

After the sun comes up, the crowd disperses. We’re left mostly alone on the summit surround by the din of car engines starting and larger tourist buses arriving. It’s a pleasant place to experience, once abandoned by those needing warmth.  It’s pleasant to enjoy a moment alone and thank the sun for the warmth it is finally bringing to my body.

My advice? Dress warmly, very warmly. Arrive early, about an hour before the sun comes up. Don’t forget some cash for the Park permit. Secure a good spot. And lastly, leave your camera in the car and just enjoy the moment. It’s not often you will get to enjoy a sunrise from 10,023′ in the sky.


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The North Fork Brewery, Pizzeria, Beer Shrine and Wedding Chapel

We didn’t fit in last night because we weren’t trying to.  Everyone around us looked local and, dressed in our synthetic hiker/climber gear, we were decidedly not.  This was my second stop at The North Fork Brewery, Pizzeria, Beer Shrine and Wedding Chapel along the Mount Baker Highway in Deming, Washington.  Yes, that is its full name.  My first visit was a press trip in July, sponsored by Whatcom County Tourism, where we were beered, dined and given VIP treatment, including a personal tour of the beer making facilities by co-owner, Vickie Savage.  Top notch treatment.  Great facility, and one person on our tour even walked away with the old Beer Shrine sign out front (it was destined for someone’s fireplace).

But this second trip, last night, was my chance for incognito investigation.  I know while on a press trip I am afford the best service an establishment can give.  It’s only logical.  And appreciated, greatly. I like being treated well.  All of us do.  Free is also good.  Free and treated like a king?  Heaven.  But I always know, in the back of my head, there’s a chance my treatment isn’t the norm.  Being the high profile writer that I am, companies are flocking to impress me, daily, hourly, ohhhh! there’s an offer to drive a Ferrari across the USA and visit National Parks!!  Ok, I’m dreaming now.

I think you see where I’m going with this.  What is the place really like when, unlike Norm in Cheers!, no one knows your name?

Warm. Inviting. Friendly. Laughter. Comfortable. And smells, really, really good.

That is what I encountered at the North Fork last night, starved and on my way back from ice climbing on Mt. Baker’s Coleman Glacier with Laurel and Genevieve.  Our hostess was friendly, courteous and always smiling, even when she wasn’t serving us.  You know how some waitresses only smile when they come up to the table?  Not her, she was having a good time and made sure we had all we needed, taking out special orders in stride.

The crowds around the solid wood tables chatted casually while we waited for our scrumptious food.  Did I mention I was starved?  The place is small, with two main rooms, and the Beer Shrine, a double glass display case full of collectible (and not so collectible) beer bottles, separating the two.  The homage to beer is evident everywhere I looked; coasters frame one window that is flanked by serving trays from Blue Moon and others.  A swirling Olympia beer sign hangs beside a shadow box-like ancient Rainier Beer display.  “Free Beer Tomorrow!” exclaims another decoration and a pair of Rainier Beer skis hang over the service window to the small kitchen. Hardwood floors abound and while the wall decorations can be a bit eclectic, they never veer far from the overwhelming theme of beer.

Of course there’s a bar, a cozy little place for sitting and drinking.  Not the “have your friends hang out around you while you scope the joint for chicks” type seen in many places in downtown Seattle.  If you’re at the bar, you’re there to enjoy the drink, preferably in one of the handmade mugs offered for sale, emblazoned with the North Fork logo (Genevieve couldn’t leave without buying one of the pint glasses).  And behind that bar?  The brewery’s own mix of ales is offered in rotation and on any given evening only a handful of the beers are circled signifying they are available.

Why only a few beers?  (7 were on tap last night)  Because the brewery has a desire to stay small.  The facilities are all on site and each batch is only 3.5 kegs worth of tasty, local beer.  Sandy and Vicki Savage opened the brewery in 1997, wanting to keep life simple and do things right.  Rather than head the route of other local microbreweries and expand with demand, the couple enjoys the rural life and a chance to produce high quality hand-crafted beer for the locals and visitors alike.  My personal favorite is the IPA.  Even though I’m not much of a beer drinker any more, smelling hoppy aromas leaping out of the vats on the night of our tour was too much for me to take.  With equipment recovered from other breweries in the area, the brewing operation is exactly as you’d expect a homebrew obsession on steroids to look like (photos).

Lastly, the food.  An overflowing calzone with thick, real ingredients for $10, a 12″ pizza, feeds 2, for $15 and a salad large enough to overflow the serveing plate for $12 (complete with salmon).  Beers were $4.25/pint.  Oh, and the Chocolate Decadence cake for desert.  Reasonably priced fare that had my belly singing to the heavens.  I’m not sure if my review can be impartial, being starved as I was.

I guess I will have to gladly stop by on my next visit to Mt. Baker and find out.

A Lesson From My Intuition

The first hitchhiker I pick up has long dreadlocks, a skateboard and has been living on the island of Maui for only four days. The second hitchhiker I pick up introduces herself this way, “Hi, I’m Samantha. Do you want to buy some pot?” as she pulls out a bag of weed from the back zipper on her teddy-bear. This story ends with me damaging my rental car.

I don’t normally pick up hitchhikers. Yet, with the freedom of travel comes curiosity to try different things. Today’s spur-of-the-moment, live-on-the-edge lifestyle change is picking up hitchhikers. It’s a nice thing to do, I figure. Paying into the karmic bank and all that, for the number of times I’ve been broken down on a highway and needed a hand. Besides, I’m a nice guy, really.

It’s a gamble, but I try my best to bank the odds in my favor by giving each potential mark a quick profiling. So many governmental agencies aren’t allowed to do it because they can’t discriminate, but you better believe I use some form of educated guessing when picking up hitchhikers. Will they rob me? Will they kill me? That type of profiling. In reality, most people are harmless, but my intuition has a lesson for me to learn this day.

John is harmless, a good kid, as is my first hitchhiker. In his early 20’s, he has come to Maui just because. Some friends live here, they have a spot and it’s Hawaii, so why the hell not? Young, single and short of cash, he hitches the two miles to work and back. He lived in Colorado for a stint but the short ride I afforded him is over before I can learn much more. Goodybe! Have a good day at work!

Two miles down the Hana Highway I spot a gal by a guardrail, something at her feet and something in her hands. I’m traveling 55MPH and make a snap decision after a quick glance in the rear-view mirror. It’s not my wisest choice. I didn’t follow one of my rules for hitchhiker evaluation: Are they walking? If they are walking towards their goal, no matter how far it might be, it shows they really want to get to where they are going and not just trusting for a hitchhiking handout. I like people that do what needs to be done even in the face of it being a large task. I also like people who help themselves first and then ask for help.

I also didn’t catch the bear. The teddy bear. The beat up, dirty, ragged teddy-bear in the arms of a grown woman. You can’t judge a book by its cover, I know. But teddy-bears in the arms of grown adults are fairly stereotypically the sign that something is off. So be it. Maybe she’ll liven things up? That’s when she offers to sell me some pot. I decline. Twice. No, really, I’m ok (and driving).

We turn down a dirt road towards the ocean and she asks if I’ve seen Jaws, the world famous surf break about a mile off shore. Did I catch the morning swell? All this is a fairly stereotypical stoner voice. If you just repeated those lines in your own mental stoner voice (or anything Jeff Spicoli ever said in Fast Times At Ridgemont High) then you’re a good steroetyper like me, even if you don’t want to admit it.

“What do you do for a living?” she asks.

“I’m a photographer.”

“Do you have your camera with you today?”

I lie, “Nope”

This is when my intuition starts wanting to steer. I push him into the backseat on top of the bag that covers the camera I don’t have with me. “Take a left here then go down the dirt road.”

She tells me she has to drop off the beer (the package that was at her feet when I picked her up and is now in the footwell) at her neighbor’s house but then she’ll take me to a great spot where I can see Jaws. The sugarcane stalks on both sides of this small, dirt path are four feet high, swaying with the wind. Rounding a bend of potholes I spot an abandoned, burnt out car to the right. Intuition taps me on the shoulder from his backseat driver position, wanting to whisper something in my ear.

“That’s my driveway, on the left. My shack is back in there. You can’t see it” Oh. I glance down the lane which is barely visible from the sugarcane growing down the middle of two worn tire tracks. I doubt any car has been down that way in a while. Bumps, jarring my rental sedan, then the views open up to the left. There’s the ocean. The land gently slopes away from our ‘road’ to a headland below sight. Just ocean and more ocean all the way to Alaska. And, oh yeah, Jaws.

“Stop here, this is good. I just need to drop the beer off and then I’ll take you down to see Jaws. It’s awesome. I’ll only be one minute.” A guard dog greets her as she walks an uphill driveway to our right, through a gate and towards a house I can’t see. The dog won’t stop barking at me, parked 100′ away. Intuition has taken her spot in the passenger seat now, he wants to say something. “Shhhh”

“But look at the situation. You can’t see the house. She’s been in there for at least three minutes now. The house is some place above you,” he comments.

“What? Do you think they’re going to sneak up behind us and jack the car?” I reply, annoyed with his interruption of my enjoyment of the wonderful view.

“Maybe. If not, she’s leading you down a dead end road to the beach and you have to come back up, past this house on an easily blocked road.”

“You’re being paranoid. I told her I’d go to the viewpoint and I don’t want to be rude.” I’m fidgeting in my seat, checking the mirrors now.

“No one knows where we are. You cell phone has no reception here. You know because you’ve looked at it impatiently nine times in the last three minutes, checking the clock. Let’s get the fuck out of here, now!”

Foot on the break. A quick shift into reverse. Foot on the gas hard as I look behind me. Politeness be damned, as our argument comes to an end. He’s right. She’s probably a nice gal, but I don’t know about her friends who sent her to the store at 10am to get more beer.

I bounce and dip through potholes until there is a break in the cane stalks on the uphill side. Just enough room to pull a Y-turn. But I cut it too close in my haste (yes, half worried they would see me leaving and come running up the road). BAM!! “Fuck!” Complete the Y-turn while growling at my lack of attention to detail and speed up the road, twice as fast as I we came in, past her shack, past the burnt out car and back to pavement. A left takes gets me back on the Hana Highway and allows my heart rate to slow. No one behind me. And my intuition has left as well.

I’m alone in my car as I pull to the side of the road after four minutes of driving. I will my tight shoulders to relax. Breathe. Time to see what the “BAM!” was.

“Damn it!”

There is an L shaped crack in the rear bumper, about three inches on both sides, with sugarcane parts sticking out of it. The right side of the bumper doesn’t line up with the right side of the car, either. It’s one of those moments when I wish I had a rewind button to do things differently.

And what would I have done different? Maybe not pickup a grown woman with a teddy-bear? No, that would be prejudice. But look where it took me. Maybe not drive down mystery roads too far from other drivers? Yeah, that’s a good idea for future reference. No more side trips with stoner hitchhikers. One for the rule book.

I pull out sugarcane root from the crack and push the bumper back into place, making it seem like nothing happened. It’s still early and I have one of the most spectacular drives in Hawaii ahead of me. But maybe I should call the rental car company, or Maui Visitors Bureau (who invited me on this trip and rented the car). I look around for my intuition to tell me what to do now. I spot him on the road, back the way I came. He has his thumb out and is laughing at me as a pickup truck pulls to the side of the road in front of him.

“You’re on your own now. Figure it out, smart guy,” he yells as he jumps into the cab of the pickup and rides off in the opposite direction. Staring from the bumper to the deep blue of the open ocean, the only thought in my mind at the moment is a line from a Jimmy Buffett song:

“Some call me crazy, for being way too nice. But it’s just another shitty day in paradise.”

Taking A Break From School To Learn About The World

My daughter is asleep, cuddled in my arms, as we pass under the gate officially declaring our entry to Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. I thought of waking her as this park, this ecosystem, these views are what we took more than six flights through four countries to see. But honestly, the start of the Park is rather plain. It’s the same dry, bumpy, monotonous road it was before the gate. Unlike entering a city, where a boundary can be the difference between rural settings and sudden civilization, the Serengeti becomes less exciting when you enter.

It’s not until we reach the first migrating herds in 20km that the excitement begins. I rouse Sabrina from her slumber when we pull to a stop next to a scattered herd of wildebeest and zebras. Some antelope are grazing here and there. She wakes quickly and is enthralled as we stare out the open windows of our Toyota Land Cruiser at the herbivores going about their grass munching ways. “Are we here, Dada?” she asks, pointing me to an adorable newborn antelope and mother. “Yes, honey, this is the Serengeti.” I listen to my own words, still trying to grasp the enormity of the land and our journey.

We are at the Southern tip of the park and heading north for four nights of camping on the hot, dusty savannah. It is March and most of the migration is already rounding towards the West side of the park. More than one and a half million wildebeest will soon lead the other herbivorous, following instinct, heading North into Kenya once the rains come.

I knew, as I planned this trip months earlier, we will not be experiencing the bulk of the herds in this location at this time of year. We will not witness the incredible crossing of the Mara River, when the herbivorous must battle the river and predatory crocodiles to reach rutting and calving grounds. The stuff seen in National Geographic videos. Even without that excitement, I knew back then that I wanted to have this moment, now, with my daughter. A foreign land. A foreign language and culture. And animals we had only seen sparsely in zoos back home, literally running free in the oldest circle of life our planet displays.

She is spending a month out of school for this trip. But I do not believe she fully understands the education she is receiving in the heart of Africa.

My Climbing World – Kyajo Ri

Both of my tentmates are awake in the middle of night, panicked, with a feeling they were not getting enough air. Now it is my turn. My mind is sounding alarms, imploring me to bolt from our cramped two-man tent and find scarce oxygen at 18,900′. Training, experience and a trust in my guide are tools I rely upon to help quell the flight reflex, falling back on what I know.

I know I am safe on our ice perch below the summit of Kyajo Ri, a little known peak in the Nepali Himalayas. I know if I control my breathing and sit up, the alarms will abate. And I know, somewhere behind the anxiety, I am doing what I love; climbing mountains in the most beautiful terrain in the world. Calm slowly returns, my breathing settles and I fall back into a disturbed but useful sleep many mountaineers know well.

When next I awake, daylight is filling the tent and my fellow climbers are gone. They left before dawn on a 1,200′ summit bid and I am left behind due to an equipment malfunction (Tip: don’t buy cheap gear for big climbs). While many climbers would bemoan their luck, I instead am complacent with my place in the world. This is the highest altitude I have ever obtained and I am eager to leave the tent to soak in the vistas. But first, I need to put on my boots.

Putting on boots at sea-level is easy, even in the cold. Putting on boots at high altitude, in the cold, is laborious and time consuming. My thoughts are slowed and I tell myself, “Just put on one boot.” With that accomplished, “Now lace it up.” This is what thought patterns are like when my body is low on oxygen; slow, deliberate, singular. There is no multitasking, no ‘monkey mind’ bouncing from topic to topic. It is refreshing, meditative even, and is a simplistic aspect of climbing I enjoy.

Five minutes later, boots are laced and I am out of the tent. The scene in front of me is incredible, something out of National Geographic. So many details in the mountains; Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Makalu, Ama Dablam. The roof of the world. Cracked glaciers in the valley below me, ice on the mountain above. Rock everywhere. A world few dare to glimpse. This world I love.

Fort Flagler Exploring

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The past couple of summers I’ve been fortunate enough to get out to Fort Flagler on the Olympic Peninsula.  It’s one of three forts built around the turn of the last century in order to protect the Puget Sound and Seattle.  The forts have all been turned over to the State Parks system in one form or another and all boast great camping and exploring.

This year Sabrina and the dogs went with me to have a fun, relaxing weekend.  If you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway and love camping, give the fort some serious consideration, especially if you are a history buff.


Watch more travel videos at tripfilms.com

Faces Of Maui

It’s a personal goal of mine to photograph more people during my travels.  Sometimes I’m good at it and sometimes I don’t have the gumption to ask.  On this trip to Maui I’m off to a decent start and hoping this posting will grow.  I will add to it as new pictures are taken, hopefully nightly, but not always as one morning I have to rise at 2am to catch the sunrise.  Photos are of the people I meet that live and work on Maui.

Chris

Chris is the VP and Managing Partner for the Pineapple Grill, which, in its short time on the island, has already garnered a plethora of awards for their fine, yet casual, dining experience.  Chris is born and raised on the island, moving to the mainland for just 12 years.  Long enough for him to miss island life and return to the lifestyle he loves.

Craig

Craig is the head chef at the Sea Horse Restaurant at Napili Kai Beach Resort, my last stop on this Hawaii trip.  If you wind him up by asking where he sources his ingredients from and how important is the local food scene to him, sit back and watch out because he can talk your ear off in a good way.  He moved to the island eight years ago and has a knack for adapting his menu to what the island has to offer, including seasonal fish catches.

Moss

Moss moved to Maui four months ago and is trying something I have often thought of giving a whirl, WWOOFing.  If you’re not familiar with WWOOF, check them out at WWOOF.org.  She’s volunteering at the organic Hana Farms and I met her when she tempted me with chocolate banana bread at the farm’s roadside stand.  I have since purchased and devoured a loaf of said bread.  She’s evil that way, watch out.

Elanor

Elanor was another guest at The Old Wailuku Inn At Ulupono, spending time at the house that she used to play around when she was a child. Taking up work at NASA and other entrepreneurial endeavors (as well as skiing) have her living on the mainland. She returns often to visit family and was in town for a high school reunion.

Janice

Janice runs The Old Wailuku Inn At Ulupono with her husband Tom with a passion for the islands and their culture that flows from her with ease. And she never stops smiling….it becomes infectious!

Tom

Tom was born and raised in Hawaii, returning to Maui after spending some time on the mainland. He and his wife Janice opened The Old Wailuku Inn At Ulupono, once voted a top ten B&B by Travel & Leisure Magazine.

Harry

Harry works at Makawao Sushi & Deli having moved to Hawaii in the 60’s. His plan was to stay for one year, but he never left. He’s been on Maui for 35 years and cuts some mean sushi (they have ice cream there too!).

Frenchie

Frenchie (also not his real name) is a guide with Piiholo Ranch on the flanks of Haleakala. Formerly a jockey, he suffered a crash that left him in a body cast and swore off horses. But his wife kept encouraging him to take them up again and he soon found himself living on Maui, looking for a horsing job. He now works full time for the ranch and is quite fun to have as a guide.

Matthew

Matthew is a staff photographer with the Maui News who is currently putting on an exhibit at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, chronicling his last 30 years on the job. Personable and friendly, John’s has hopes to take his large slice of Maui’s history on the road to help others see what life is really like on the island.

Rachelle

Rachelle moved to the island to take up duty with a youth conservation corps, landing her ideal assignment in the Iao Valley with the Hawaiian Nature Center. No longer an intern, she now spends her days leading groups through the gorgeous valley explaining the difference between invasive and native plants, with sprinkles of history and botany thrown in.

Lesley

Lesley is fairly new to the island, moving from Ketchikan, Alaska. She’s another person in love with the water and dives and surfs often, living meters from the beach. She also laughs at my jokes.

John

John is a transplant from Portland, OR who fell in love with the islands. He worked for a time helping install some of the longest zipline in Hawaii before joining the family at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel.

Malihini

Malihini is a life long resident of Maui and performs a number of duties at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. When we met her she explained much of the the Hawaiian history of fishing, respect for the land and how to treat common ills with local plants. She also forced us to get on stage and learn to hula in front of the dinner crowd.

Nani

Nani is a ball of information about Maui’s only winery at Ulupalakua Ranch.

James

James is a National Park Ranger stationed at Haleakala National Park, Maui’s highest mountain. He was present to lend comic relief and information as the sun was about to rise; an event many people drive to the top of the mountain to witness.

Sheldon

Sheldon is the head chef at Star Noodle in Lahaina.  Born on The Big Island, he spent some time on the mainland before marrying a Maui girl, moving to the island soon after. Star Noodle opened in February of this year after the entire kitchen crew spent weeks ‘researching’ noodle shops all over New York to find the flavor they wanted to present.

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Annie is a ‘local’ from the Puget Sound. A lover of marine biology and all things fishy, she just moved to Maui after accepting a job with the Pacific Whale Foundation. Like me, she enjoyed a visit to Colorado but realized she missed the big water too much.

Captain Tiffany

Captain Tiffany was a spark of good humor to what might seem like a droll job; porting vacationers out to the same reef to see the same dolphins and ask the same different groups of tourists to have a seat so we make sure we didn’t leave anyone behind. She made the trip enjoyable. Skipper for Pacific Whale Foundation.

Taylor

Tyler moved to the island from New Hampshire for the reasons a lot of people visit: great hiking, surfing, diving, mountain biking and, of course, beautiful women.

Gina

Gina, ummm…well, I didn’t talk with Gina a lot but she did point out of a lot of interesting coral and fish on the snorkel today.

Jaclyn

Jaclyn was our informative naturalist on the boat and a wealth of knowledge about Hawaii, biology and how to board the Pacific Whale Foundation boat.

Ali'i

Ali’i is the owner of Ali’i Kula Lavender Farms in the Maui Upcountry.  A very charismatic gentleman with a long and interesting story to tell.  Much of his life has been spent in the fields, following his passion for growing crops.

Ancil

Ancil is a farm help at O’o Farms in the Kula region on Maui.  A farmer most all his life, his knowledge of crops and growing methods is impressive.  He has an easy demeanor and dirt on his hands from starting a new planting of 1300 coffee starts.

Cliff

Cliff was an interesting character I found hanging out on the beachfront in Lahaina.  He had many a story to tell, some of which might have been true.  He smoked bent up, scavenged cigarettes and told me of his father’s health woes from working with too much lead paint.

Food On Maui

This will be an ongoing post during my visit to Maui in September and October of 2010.  Newest photos will be at the top and added as I eat things.  Click on a photo to gain a higher resolution image

Lahaina Grill 

Pan seared mahi with so many good things I forget it all. Lahaina Grill

Lahaina Grill

Had to take pictures of other people’s dinners this time. A Lahaina Grill dish of yum.

Lahaina Grill

Lahaina Grill Art

Lahaina Grill

There’s always room for dessert. Lahaina Grill

Cane & Taro 

I sure wish I was listening better when he described this, because it was a heavenly starter.  In the middle is sushi grade tuna. Cane & Taro Restaurant

Cane & Taro

My main course: Pan seared local ahi ahi with mashed potatoes and asparagus and shitake mushrooms. Cane & Taro Restaurant

Cane & Taro

There’s always room for dessert! Chef James’ signature apple tart with Lapperts ice cream served over a caramel sauce. Cane & Taro Restaurant

A Day Trekking In Nepal

Rhodies-590x393 Namaste!  I’ve started writing more about my time in Nepal this last April and May and one of the first places to highlight that writing is Avid Trips.  The blog effort is a new offshoot from the travel booking business and a great place, showcasing great travel writing (yeah, a bit of horn tooting there).

My first post for them is entitled At Home In The Himalayas and chronicles my surprise at finding a rhododendron forest so high up in the mountains.  Rhododendrons are all over the forests of the Pacific Northwest USA, where I live.  They are regularly  used as ornamental plants in gardens are come in a number of varieties.  They typically grow in shadier areas, under evergreen canopies of cedar and fir trees.  So I wasn’t ready to find a rhody forest in full bloom out in the open on my last trip.  I had seen the hillsides covered with them on a past trip, but to see the color covering the hills, was something special.

Read on at the Avid Trips blog!

Do you have a compelling story that Avid Trips might like to use?  They pay well and are looking for story pitches.  Email them!

As Green As It Gets – Gato Verde Is Only Diesel/Electic Hybrid Sailboat Charter On West Coast

Todd and the Cat I think I found the man who stole my dreams.  Not all of my dreams, but the one where I use more renewable resources and live a good life. The man in questions is Todd Shuster, owner and skipper of Gato Verde Adventure Sailing in Bellingham, Washington.  Even the company name appeals to me.  Adventure.  But what’s up with the Green Cat reference(gato is Spanish for cat and verde is green)?

Todd has been a sailing instructor for over 20 years including time spent teaching at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Mexico.  He has Coast Guard certifications and all that, but that’s not what impressed me.  It’s his boat, an extension of his life philosophies.

A Great Way To Spend The Day Quick backstory: I am royally frustrated at the total lack of a diesel/electric hybrid car in the USA.  While gas/electric are ok, they aren’t as efficient as diesel/electric.  Also, I like the ability to run on biodiesel when it’s made in something resembling a sustainable fashion (I acknowledge there is a long road ahead for biodiesel and making it out of soybeans is a really bad idea, but it works for now).  I’ve looked and looked, but you can’t get one in the USA.

And that’s why I love Todd’s Gato Verde.  Cat is short for catamaran, a twin hulled boat that tends to offer a smoother ride over the water.  Gato Verde can run on either the diesel engine, fired with 100% biodiesel in the summer (20% in the winter due to gelling concerns) or on a bank of batteries, much like World War II era submarines. The Green Cat is the only chartered diesel/electric hybrid on the West Coast and possibly in the whole USA.

I really like that our two hour sail as part of an adventure tour sponsored by Bellingham/Whatcom County Tourism used only electric power and the wind.  The power for the batteries comes from dual shore hookups to the main power grid.  Figuring that power is coming from Puget Sound Energy, that means about 42% of it is produced by renewable resources.  I could get long winded about how the other sources could become more ‘green’ but that’s not my shtick on this blog.  42% is a good starting point.  And during our cruise we used about 2kWh to shove off and return the 42’ catamaran to dock.  That’s $.20 of power.  And with zero pollution from the Cat itself.  Most of our time spent on the water was under wind power.  $.20 for a day of sailing.

Sails up The diesel side of things helps the Gato Verde stay out for tours as long as seven days.  As a certified sailing instructor, Todd often takes clients out for long hauls around the nearby, idyllic San Juan Islands, teaching all skill levels the ancient art of sailing.  Over 200 islands to explore but they don’t all have shore power.  That’s when Todd can switch on the diesel engine to help dock as well as in times of low wind.  While it has less energy per measured unit, biodiesel does have a distinct advantage in producing far fewer smog producing emissions.  You can also look at the whole lifecycle of a carbon atom and point to the fact that it’s better to capture it out of the air (rapeseed, algae, etc…) to make fuel than to pump it out from inside the Earth.  Down from my soapbox, I’ll state that moving towards more biodiesel use is, in general, better for everyone who breathes.

Our tour was short-lived as fog kept us close to the shore that day.  But I found Todd to be a fun guy, quick to smile and quite personable.  His boat is equipped to handle nine passengers on overnight trips (photo of the cabins below) and has a full galley, two heads (with a cool view into the space between the hulls) and, in general, is relaxing.  He also takes folks like us on shorter tours of the bay.   I especially enjoyed the hammock between the hulls on the front of the boat, which made me feel like I was gliding over the water without effort.  Probably because that’s exactly what I was doing thanks to Todd and his Gato Verde.

Watch more Bellingham videos at tripfilms.com

Gato Verde Cabin

Caockpit of the Gato Verde

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Lady Chieftan On Bellingham Bay

Ferry to Alaska leaves from Bellingham

Sun and sail

Abbie and the capstan

Shore power

Calm On The Seas

Capstan

Gato Verde At Dock In Bellingham

Time Lapse Video Of Morning In Kyajo Ri Valley Of The Nepal Himalayas

This quick one minute slide show was shot during our last morning in the valley at the end of an attempt on 20,290′ Kyajo Ri in the Solukhumbu region of Nepal, about 26 miles as the crow flies from Mt. Everest.  Most of our mornings were like this, clear before the sun came up with clouds down the valley.  Once the sun dropped its rays into our valley things warmed up and more clouds formed.  Sometimes it snowed, sometimes it hailed and some days were just flat out sunny.

At an altitude of 4500m (14,500′), this is the lower of the three valleys on the way to Kyajo Ri.  The second is  500m higher and the last is another 400m, containing the bulk of the Kyajo Glacier which must be crossed on the way to the summit.  Looking down the valley in the video you can see the lower flanks of the sacred Sherpa peak Khumbi Yul Lha (spelled differently on each map, it seems).  The water in this area is clean enough to be drank straight from the stream, although only one member of our team was brave enough to do this.

Click on the map for a full size image of the valley. The pen indicates where we were camped.

Morning Comes To The Kyajo Ri Valley from Peter West Carey on Vimeo.

Climbing South Sister Mountain In Oregon

I was going to write up a big old review of a recent climb I did with Jodi Ettenberg for her birthday.  I was even thinking of include space aliens and finding a secret stash of gold.  But, well, reality is better than fiction in this case.  The trip was a lot of fun and I had an exceptional time with Jodi and the mountain.  It was hard, hot, up and challenging, but it was completely worth it.

Jodi has a fine writeup on her site so I’m going to point you over there and instead work on penning my thoughts on one small aspect of the climb for another post, shortly after this.  Yes, you should keep hitting refresh until that new post arrives.

San Juan Wildlife And Scenery

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As part of a press tour of Bellingham and Whatcom County in July, I was treated to a San Juan Island excursion with Outer Island Expeditions.  We rode aboard the Triton, one of the fastest whale watching boats in the area, to Sucia Island State Park where we paddled around checking out the wildlife.

An Island In Creation – Visiting The Lava Flows Of Hawai’i With KapohoKine Adventures

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I could say it all day long!  LAVA is just, pardon the pun, cool to me.  It’s the earth in action in a way that doesn’t, immediately, knock down buildings the way earthquakes do.  What I’m talking about here is the mostly slow moving lava, P?hoehoe.  The stuff is amazing in its formations when cooled and I could spend months on the Big Island of Hawai’i wandering Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

KapohoKine Adventures was kind enough to roll me out to the lava fields of Kilauea, home of the Fire God Pele, where the heat of the island meets the (relative) cool of the ocean and the island continues to grow.  Emma was my guide and an awesome gal with whom to spend the evening.  A native Hawai’ian, she had folk lore, modern stories and geology oozing out her pores.  Not only that, she was earnestly interested in what she was talking about and had a love for the land.  This was a press trip and KapohoKine gave me my own guide.  I know, a bit spoiled, but I did take time to peek in the other vans and Excursions the company ran and all are well appointed, clean and quite nice.  I also mingled with the other groups when we showed up for dinner at Puna Girl Farms on our way to the LAVA.  Ok, it doesn’t always need to be capitalized, sorry.  The food at the farm was fresh and wonderful, with plenty to offer the carnivores or herbivores in attendance.  And the chocolate covered macadamias (grown on the farm) for dessert were scrumptious to the point of me having thirds. Maybe fourths.  They wouldn’t cut me off, what was I to do?

I’m going to drop the words for now and show you some of the cool, and not so cool, lava.  If you’re wondering what those beehive shapes are in the lava, they were created when pineapples fell into the cooling lava and left their imprint.  The shots near the end are of a flow moving towards the parking area, burning down foliage, while the big burst of steam comes from lava finally meeting the ocean.  The very last shot is taken from a quarter of a mile away as more lava breaks free from the flow to create its own path to water.  Awesome stuff.  I love lava, did I mention that?

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Was this part of a press trip?  Yup, sponsored by the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.  Is Hawai’i awesome with or without a press trip?  Hell yeah.  It’s got LAVA!!!  And if you’re looking for other fun activities in Hawai’i, Uptake.com has a passel.

Rocking Climbing, Chocolate And Pastries: Heavenly Weekend In Leavenworth

100606-141635-6123 It’s less than three hours from Seattle and it contains rock climbing, chocolate and pastries.  Also white water rafting, more rock climbing, hiking, wine and mountain views from main street.  If you’re still guessing where I’m talking about, you need to read the title again,  This little slice of heaven can be found nestled in the Cascade mountains of Washington state with a big old dollop of Bavaria thrown on top and goes by the name Leavenworth.  Or if you fancy, Leavenworth.org.  That’ll give you all the general info you’re looking for. Uptake also has some handy info and they link to me so I like them.

I’ll save you the boring details of my weekend in town and skip the the highlights:

Rock Climbing

There’s a lot of rock climbing in them thar hills.  Are you looking for traditional, gear placing climbs, bolted sport routes, top ropes, multi-pitch or bouldering (did I leave anything besides ‘gym’ off the list?)?  You’ll find what you’re aching for along the Icicle River.  This weekend we headed up to Playground Point for some of the easier stuff and weren’t disappointed.  Ok, we were confused at times trying to find our way to the particular wall, but not disappointed.

The nice thing about Leavenworth is we started the day watching TV because it was raining, hard at times.  With the unbearable thought of canceling a whole day of climbing we decided to wait it out and see if things got better.  After an hour of watching infomercials (remember, I don’t watch TV so every time I do 100606-144310-6139 watching me watch TV is like watching someone from 1920 come to the future and be amazed at the moving pictures on the box on the wall) and church services, we couldn’t stand it any longer, so we headed into town. (described next, but all I really remember is the chocolate)  Around noon time the rain had stopped and we headed up canyon to the crags.  As luck would have it, the rock at Playground Point was dry and climbable.  Hooray for the east side of the mountains!

Then CHOCOLATE!!!

We wandered around downtown Leavenworth.  I bought some wine.  The details pale in comparison to buying chocolate.  Then eating it.  We eventually ended up at Rocky Mountain Chocolates . Oh my.  Ashlie is the queen of getting multiple samples and we worked the gals working there into giving us what seemed like 10lbs of samples.  Ok, that’s exaggerating.  There were so many choices but I held fast to my standards and got some Bear Clusters (they don’t use real bears, don’t worry) and something else that ended in cluster.  Both with peanuts and plenty of chocolate.  When it comes to chocolate I’m a “pay the price, never count the cost” kinda guy, so this isn’t an in-depth review.  Let’s leave it at, the chocolate was yummy and I’d gladly go back, but there’s another chocolate place in town I need to check out.

Then Pastries

100605-174620-0782 Homefires Bakery on the outskirts of town (man, I’ve been waiting to use that quaint phrase for so long) is the real deal. It’s not a bakery trying to be a coffee shop, trying to be a gathering point, trying to be an espresso stand, trying to be a strip club, trying to be a bar.  They have one small table with room for maybe three slim people.  But they do have fresh, fresh baked goods.  And if you’re nice they’ll give you pie by the slice.  Cookies, muffins, and more cookies fill the small display case.  And good golly, they have a huge mixer!  We grabbed some cinnamon rolls for the morning and I chowed down on cookies.  Again, Zaggat I am not, but this place is worth a stop.

I’ve since been back to Leavenworth once this summer and plan a few more trips.  I really like it there and the place has a good feel.  It’s a kick ass base for hiking, climbing, rafting and all kinds of other ings. 

Sleeping In The Flight Path

Maybe that title is a bit misleading.  While the family I’m staying with is in fact right near the flight path for the main airport here in Kathmandu, the flights don’t go out at night.  So I’m not really sleeping in the flight path.

What I am only slightly tortured with is the fact that the first flight goes out at 8am, flying past the house at 8:01 by my clock ( I’m waking up at 6am now so they aren’t waking me up, in case you were concerned for my sleep habits). It’s one of the turboprop flights heading to Lukla or Pokhara most likely.  For me, waiting for my own flight in a couple of days, EVERY flight is going to Lukla.  Every flight reminds me of my last trip here and having to board an army plane (complete with static parachute line and bombbay doors). Taking the 45 minute flight to Lukla and the start of 17 days of wondrous trekking.  It reminds me of the time spent waiting for planes to arrive back in Lukla, nervous that, like the day before, they’ll be canceled due to clouds.  Nervous that we’d miss our flight home that day.  And then the sound of the first turboprop coming up the valley and into sight.  The crowd amassed in the small, packed airport electrifying with the prospect of a chance to leave behind the trekking life.

It’s odd that way.  Those planes and that steady drone of double overwing propeller engines bring both the excitement of adventure in the Himalayas and then the excitement of the chance to return home. I have much to return home to and I know, in my time, I’ll be thrilled to hear my ride home bouncing up the valley, coming for to carry me home.  But for now, those flights, taking off every 5 minute from about 8am until 9am, and again later in the morning when they swarm home, will build my excitement. Once again I’ll experience the simplicity of life on the trail and the escape it provides from my normal fast paced world.  If only for a little while.

Romantic Travel Not Lost On The Single

Jacuzzi Tub at Port Ludlow Inn Back in February I received an email from The Clam Cannery asking if I’d like to head on over to Port Townsend and check out their nice, newly renovated hotel on the water.  So I took a look at their website to see what the story was (more info on the actual stay in another post).  What I found was a great looking spot that should be included in any “Best Places To Kiss” registry.  It was romantic.

And I’m single.

At first you might think this a problem or at least something of little interest to a single guy.  I certainly did.  I started thinking of friends I could call to bring along, rent-a-dates if you will.  It seemed to me you should be with someone to go to boutique hotel that is clearly in the romantic category (even if that person was not a romantic interest).  I just about declined the offer at that point thinking I wouldn’t fit in.

But I really liked the look of the place.  Just because I was single didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy that setting, did it?  So, in the near hallowed words of my friend John Miller, I said “Fuck it” to my worries about social stigmas (mostly made up in my mind) and replied with, “Sure!”.

I’ve since spent a night at the Clam Cannery, a day strolling around cute as a button Port Townsend and am now relaxing in another ‘romantic’ spot at the Inn At Port Ludlow.  It’s got a fire place, Jacuzzi tub like the Cannery and views of the water as well.  It’s quite romantic.  And I’m finding it’s actually very enjoyable to visit places like this as a single person.  I wasn’t expecting that, coming to the Peninsula, and I’m happily glad I am wrong.  Romance doesn’t exist just in the lives of those involved in a relationship, evidently.  Maybe if I just change the word romantic to idyllic.  It doesn’t matter, really, because it’s the same thing.  

And it’s a good reminder to those locations who normally advertise themselves to the couples crowd. They may be missing a segment of the population that would also love to come visit their romantic getaways.

Dents In British Columbia

In September, Pam was fortunate enough to be invited by BC Tourism for a little spin around the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, Canada…..in a 32′ RV.  Fearing the worst may happen if she didn’t surround herself with a crack squad of experienced Road Trip experts, she still found a valid reason to invite Kelly and I.  This was something new for both Pam and Kelly, neither of whom had driven such an RV.

The trip was a lot of fun and I still have posts to write about our adventures.  There was one little mishap though.

What you are about to witness is a re-creation of actual events, followed by Pam’s “Lessons Learned” session when we returned our dented RV to Fraserway RV in Langley, BC.  If you’d prefer to read Pam’s rendition of events, her blog does a wonderful job of that.  And for the record, the dent is bigger than the video shows, plus we could not open that door again.

Exploring Kazumura Cave On Hawai’i’s Big Island

Kazumura Cave Climbing down a crooked ladder.  Scrambling over moss laden rocks tossed around with no mercy for ankle joints.  And then peering into the darkness fore and aft in this 25′ wide hole in the Hawai’ian countryside.  This is how I first came to enter the Kazumura Cave, the world’s longest and deepest lava tube.

Formed in multiple eruptions from Kilauea, the tube now extends some 40 miles on land and untold miles below the sea.  What used to be filled with 2000 degree Fahrenheit lava (it is known as magma when below the surface and lava when above) is now a prime adventure with such variety in length that a mere three hour tour seems like the ultimate tease.

I was invited by Curtis Hill of Kilauea Caverns of Fire to take a trip below the lush growth on the Big Island’s East side for a trip through rock and history with one of his top guides, Jeffrey.  Meeting Jeffrey above ground on the outskirts of Hilo, I’m first give a safety talk.  Don’t touch anything.  The microorganisms in the cave system are very fragile and I’m given gloves to not leave behind skin oils.  Don’t take anything.  The caves, while naturally crumbling in areas, are protected to help them remain open for all to enjoy and that means leaving things as they are.

After donning my helmet and checking my light source, we head out through the brush toward one of many openings in the cave system.  It’s a sweltering hot day and I’m hoping for relief below the surface as I’ve experienced before at Derek Cave (also a lava tube) in Eastern Oregon.  After climbing down a ladder into the cave-in location and tucking back into the dark mouth of the cave itself, I realize there will be little temperature change inside.  Jeffrey relates some anthropological history of cave use, including stories of settlers from the Marquesas Islands using the tubes to escape enslavement from the ruling class at the time.   FlakesIn earlier times many regarded the cave to be the sanctum of the fire goddess Pele and as thus, men would never venture inside of caves.  The Marquesas used this mythology to their advantage to remain safe while venturing deep inside the caves, with soot deposits from torches telling the tale of their extensive exploration.

Back in present times, Jeffrey and I begin our journey down into the tube.  The walls of the cave are not entirely smooth but often appear so.  The tube was laid down in many, many flows with each carving out a bit more rock before it eventually ran dry.  In places the floor of the cave is littered with what Jeffrey refers to as “corn flakes”.  They are disc shaped chunks of rock which at one time rode on top of the flows and, because of their composition, remained solid to the lava below them.  When the lava cooled these flakes are left at odd angles on the cave floor and sometimes along the walls.

The tube is never perfectly round as you may imagine.  Bending and twisting as it encountered rock more solid (and thus, slower to melt) in the hardened lava, the tube gives me a constant wonder about what’s around the next corner.  I soon realize I want more than three hours to explore, there is so much to see!  In places the ceiling forms mini lavacilces (yes, I made up that word I believe); a pattern of ripples where the lava cooled in interesting patterns.  Water is everywhere, dripping down through cracks and making the rock slipper at times.

As we descend deeper, the cave does begin to cool from the sweat inducing temperatures above ground.  Moisture fills the air and is visible in my headlamp, as if walking in a slight fog.  lavacicleDistance becomes harder to judge.  Jeffrey tells a story of how the cave was used as a trial of sorts in times gone by.  Those who broke certain laws were put deep into the lava tube with no torch or sense of direction.  If they made it out they were said to be blessed by the gods and allowed to live.  Those who never made it out, never made it out.  At one point we shut off our lights to experience what it’s like.

For me, that darkness is the most complete black I’ve ever experienced.  Vertigo sets in instantly and I slow my breathing to calm myself.  A slight panic wells up and I remind myself that I’m safe, relatively speaking.  Jeffrey and I remain silent and after a little while I begin to hear what I’ve been missing.  Drops of water sound astonishing loud and non-stop.  Beside the sound of our breath, that is all there is.   The air has a musk to it and a metallic feel.  It doesn’t smell pure but it’s also apparent that even down there, there is movement.  Robbed of my eye sight, I feel humbled.  What it must have been like to have been left for dead over an hour’s walk from the mouth of the cave, with no sense of direction, time, space, self.  It all gets lost in the darkness and is no wonder many never made it out alive.

Formations With our lights back on we begin to move towards the mouth of the cave well beyond many twists and turns.  Jeffrey explains more about the formation of the tube, how there are parallel tubes to this one, how hot gases splash against the side walls and get frozen in rock.  He’s eager to point out every aspect of tube formation and I soak it all in.  And photograph what I can.  At one point I ask him to stop at a ritualistic site and humor me as I experiment with some photographs, chronicled here of Digital Photography School’s site.

Our time underground is short and before long we spot the faint glow signaling the end of our journey.  Sunlight.  A return of the heat.  A return to the familiar.

Caves are enchanting places that stir the imagination even in our modern age.  Throughout history they have been given mystical places in lore.  From the dens of dragons to passageways into other worlds.  Exploring the Kazumura Cave helped bring in a little mystery to my Hawai’ian adventure, mystery I would have missed if I had remained with my feet planted only on the surface.

If you’re interested in other grand adventures to be had on Hawai’i’s Big Island, take a look at Uptake.com’s listings complete with reviews from around the web.

NOTE: If you’re curious about cave photography from the standpoint of a beginner, I have written a post entitled 14 Tips For Cave Photography to help get you started if you decide to visit the Caverns Of Fire.