Monday, November 27, 2006

Around the World: Quick as a Google Search

I use Google Analytics to track the visits to my travel blog. Recently I noticed that there are quite a few visitors from all over the country and around the world. The speed of the Internet has become commonplace. But, I still think it's amazing how easily we can share with our friends and family who live far away now that we have it. Special thanks to my friends in Belfast, Bombay and Basel who make me look more worldly than I really am.

Updated 12/10/06 with new map.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Florida Everglades: See you Later Alligator

I spent New Year's in Miami last year and paid a visit to Everglades National Park. December is the best month to visit because the weather is agreeable. The drive is about an hour and a half if you take the Tamiami Trail. The path inside the park is 15 miles long, so most people choose to take the tram. I suggest doing it right and renting a bicycle ($15/hour).

The first encounter with the alligators is scary. However, after seeing a few of them you will realize they are mostly harmless. Keep a tall stature and the alligators will be afraid of you. And, by all means, do not attempt to pet the alligators!

The trip highlight was the baby alligator I noticed along the trail. He was tiny, vulnerable and incredibly cute.

Another highlight was the airboat ride. Airboats are very different than other boats. It feels really strange to glide over the tall saw grass. The downside to airboat rides is the extremely touristy nature. I have a very patriotic shots of an alligator sleeping under an American flag by a totem pole (see above). I couldn't see anything chaining the gators to the pole, so I began to wonder if they were stuffed.

Perhaps the most important reason to visit the Everglades is to learn about its ecosystem. Although the park has legal boundaries, it is still greatly affected by the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses. Visiting is a great reminder of how fragile our planet is and that we need to take action to promote a more sustainable lifestyle.

Suggested Destination Reading: Tourist Season, Sick Puppy or Skinny Dip (Carl Hiaasen, Miami Herald Staff Writer)

Photography by me and Paul Johnson.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

India: Snakes off the Plane?

I recently heard that approximately 50,000 people die each year in India due to snake bites. I will be staying at an Ashram across from a nature preserve. Wish me luck!

Suggested Puzzle: Snakes on a Sudoku

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Peru: Hot on the Inca Trail

In the summer of 2005, I felt a need to leave the country and do something physically challenging. So, after hounding everyone I could, I finally convinced my college roommate to join me in Peru to hike the Inca trail. The trip was for one week and we spent 4 days on the trail hiking and camping at very high altitudes.

When we arrived in Peru we spent one night in Lima. Lima is a busy city on the arid coast and is not very pretty. However, there is some great shopping to be had at the bigger Alpaca 111 stores and local markets. I would focus my energy on bead necklaces and 100% baby alpaca or vicuna fabric items, the alpaca beanies are invaluable for the hike. Be wary of inexpensive alpaca fabrics across the country, as they are typically 95% brushed polyester.

On the second day we flew to Cusco, a quiet town, which is at about 3,800 meters. This is where I became very sick the first day from the altitude. However, my friend didn't feel the effects of the altitude at all. My suggestion is to be prepared for the worst and plan on staying in Cusco for more than one day to adjust.

Cusco Recommendations: Inka Grill (dinner), Hotel Monasterio (accommodations and food), Explorandes Tour Guides, plenty of coca tea!

Sign up for the local tours as a package. This includes guided tours where you can learn about much of the regions history. A visit to Sacsaywaman will supply you with a good laugh when you hear how it is pronounced. I won't ruin the surprise.

The third day is when we took Peru Rail down to the start of the Inca Trail. Beginning the trail is very exciting because you don't really know what to expect. The porters carry your large bags and all of the accommodations on their backs and consistently beat you to every stop, wearing nothing but recycled rubber sandals on their feet. You almost can't believe it without seeing it with your own eyes.

The trail is a journey of its own. Each day the terrain becomes more lush and the mountain views more breathtaking. Peru has some of the largest hummingbirds you will ever see and there are wild orchids along the way if you look carefully.

Camping and hiking on the trail was so much fun. We saw so many stars, including the Southern Cross, it was absolutely incredible. The night we stayed at the highest altitude (near Dead Woman's Pass) was below freezing and a little brutal, but totally worth it to get to the top the next day. Just make sure you have a great sleeping bag and warm clothes and you'll be fine (REI is my favorite place for gear). Don't forget to give coca leaves to the mountain gods in a ceremony at the top. This will ensure your safe passage on the rest of the trip.

Preparation is key to enjoying the hike. Make sure you are very active and lift weights to gain strength. Take care of your knees. The steep declines along the way are tough to take, so buy a walking stick from one of the locals if it's offered. I paid an equivalent of only $2 for a hand-carved walking stick and it was very helpful!

Prior to reaching Machu Picchu you will come across Wiñay Wayna, which I found to be even cooler than Machu Picchu. I had seen numerous pictures of Machu Picchu, but Wiñay Wayna was totally unexpected. If it's lush and green when you get there, look out for the waterfall on the far side. After Wiñay Wayna you will make your way to the Sun Gate, where you will get the first view of Machu Picchu, renewing your energy for the day.

It's all downhill from the Sun Gate, where you will beam with excitement. Strategically placed llamas will greet you when you arrive and you will feel very territorial after seeing the day hikers that don't appreciate the 4 days and nights you just spent getting in touch with nature. Take pictures, do a quick tour and then get yourself down to Aguas Calientes to enjoy $20 massages, the local hot springs and a much needed Pisco Sour at the local bar.

Our last day was wasted due to a Peru Rail strike. But, we learned that the locals can pack tightly into the last train and still enjoy themselves singing, everything from Guantanamera to the Beatles.

Photography by me (except the awesome cow picture taken by a fellow hiker).

Seattle: The Emerald City Rains Supreme

Seattle is the most beautiful city I've seen in the U.S. I absolutely love the artistic culture and the natural beauty. It's a city completely surrounded by water, the Puget Sound and Lake Union. My favorite Seattle neighborhood is Belltown.

In Belltown, it's not just about location. While you are within walking distance of all the major sites (Space Needle, EMP, Public Market, Pioneer Square) you'll do just fine staying within the neighborhood. Belltown is home to one of the most inexpensive and incredibly chic hotels, as well as numerous clubs, famous music venues and gastronomically delightful restaurants.

Belltown recommendations: The Ace Hotel, Crocodile Cafe (music), Cyclops Cafe (breakfast), Flying Fish (dinner)

On the tourist scene, make sure to visit the top of the Space Needle on a clear day for the the best views. There is an all access pass that will get you into Frank Gehry's interactive Experience Music Project and other nearby attractions for a discounted price. For a different perspective, enjoy a relaxing view of the city while having a picnic at Gas Works Park. The old gas pipes are no longer functional, they now serve as intriguing industrial artwork. Just make sure you get good directions to the park as it's easy to get lost on the way there.

If you're looking for some unique shopping, take a stroll down 1st Avenue. There are numerous shops housing clothing from independent Seattle designers. The shops will lead you to Pike Place Market, where you can watch the famous fish acrobatics, grab lunch and stock up on incredibly fresh fruit (my favorite: the 'Holy Shit' peaches). Across the street from the market is the 1st Starbucks, in all of its original glory. If you're lucky you might even catch a coffee and cheese tasting, the perfect way to refuel after all that shopping.

Even if you don't like baseball, Safeco field is a site to see. I suggest buying tickets for seats between 1st and 2nd base, where the view of the city is quite lovely. It gets chilly, so dress warm and pick up a latte from the many Starbucks inside. Who knew you could find soy milk at a ball park?

Last, but not least, if you find yourself in the drizzle, don't worry yourself with an umbrella, it screams tourist. Find the nearest coffee shop and read a good book or converse with good friends. One of the most indulgent pleasures Seattle has to offer is a quiet, gloomy day.

Photography by me.

1/1/2008: Now that I live here, Ballard is my favorite neighborhood.