Millennials Explore Alaska By Kayak

M2.jpg

The title of this blog might sound like the newest action-packed (with some romance, of course) film coming to a theater near you. I hope you won’t be let down that it is about three different three-day sea kayaking trips that I had the pleasure of guiding here in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Yes, the trips were action-packed and yes, some of the clients probably enjoyed some romance. I’m here to share some of the highlights from these great trips.

This three-day sea kayaking trip starts and finishes in beautiful Valdez, which offers a glorious coastline to paddle. What makes this trip so wonderful? Old-growth forest, rushing waterfalls, colorful wildflowers, juicy Blueberries and Salmonberries to eat, Bald Eagles diving for jumping salmon, serene bays, snow-capped peaks, adorable Sea Otters and curious Harbor Seals, and the holy grail of exploring the magnificently blue and alive Shoup Glacier.

M3.jpg
M4.jpg

 

Look at all of those millennials having such a good time! I’m a millennial myself, so it was really fun (and entertaining. . . I mean, we understood the same social references, and could quote the same movies!) to share what I love with people around my own age. It was also inspiring to see my cohort getting out in the world and exploring amazing places, such as Prince William Sound, partaking in an adventure they might not have ever done before, such as an overnight sea kayaking trip near a glacier.

t1.jpg
t2.jpg

This string of three trips in a row were with 100% millennials. Gosh, I hope that I’m right about that. If not, I’m in trouble. Although it should definitely be taken as a compliment if I thought that people were younger than they actually are:) People often ask me who are the clients who do camping trips with me. “Really, kind of everybody, except for babies and geriatrics. I’m talking really geriatric. . . like 90’s. I’ve had a handful of 12-year-olds who did amazingly well on long paddle days, as well as a 12-year-old who was the only one of us to sleep through a torrential downpour that lasted for 15 minutes in the middle of the night in a hammock. On a few of my trips the strongest group of paddlers were within the ages of 55-75! For those of you who have gone on a trip with me in Guna Yala, and know what a paddling beast Nemesio is (I always tell every single client that if they can even keep up with Nemesio. . not pass him. . simply keep up with him, that they would be the first to do so). And the 75-year-old was the one in the group to paddle the closest to Nemesio for the entire trip. Very impressive. My first day trip of this season I was in the back of a boat with an 89-year-old woman traveling around Alaska for a couple of months by herself. So, my answer to that question of who are my clients is quite varied. However, these three trips definitely tip the clientele in favor of millennials.

One of the coolest perks of a job that takes you to the same places throughout the season is that you get to see the fascinating changes that occur, especially at such a dynamic environment as a glacier. Glaciers are often where the “adventure-packed” part of a trip occurs. We get to witness the ice shifting and changing. (Below photos) The “after” photo on the right was taken a couple of weeks after the “before” photo on the left. Pretty cool.

g5.jpg

So millennials: here’s to you. . . (here’s to us) and your young, energetic professionalism that allows you to travel the world and do awesome things, like a three-day sea kayaking adventure with an equally energetic guide!

Happy Hour on local hand-picked free range glacial ice:)   MORE POSTS BY ILENE PRICE

Happy Hour on local hand-picked free range glacial ice:)

 

MORE POSTS BY ILENE PRICE

 

 

Why New Zealand is an Adventurer’s Dream

There’s something magical about New Zealand. It’s a country filled with everything you need for an unforgettable outdoor adventure – sprawling pastures, raging waterfalls, and even active volcanoes. Still, New Zealand is often forgotten in the conversation of best travel destinations. It’s treated like Australia’s little brother – a small island nation whose main association is with Middle Earth. But on a recent trip, I discovered that there’s more to New Zealand than I could have imagined. Here a few reasons why you should book a trip to New Zealand for your next adventure.

Outdoor Adventures

There’s nothing quite like New Zealand’s landscape. You can go from a shimmering lake to a towering mountain or hidden cave at a moment’s notice.

My first taste of New Zealand’s beauty came with a helicopter tour of the Milford Sound and Fiordland on the South Island. The helicopter tour gave me access to some of the most remote parts of New Zealand. During the trip, I flew under 2000 foot waterfalls and through steep fiords.

We took a pitstop for lunch at Minaret Station. This dream lodge is hidden in the mountains and requires a helicopter arrival. The lodge may not look like anything special upon first glance. After arriving, however, you’re greeted by five star cuisine and a large selection of wines. The lodge doubles as an expansive 50,000 acre farm home to thousands of deer, sheep, and cattle.

From there, we traversed our way through glaciers and through deep snow. This culminated in a view of Mt. Aspiring, one of New Zealand’s highest peaks. The entire tour showcased the limitless possibilities for exploring in New Zealand. You can spend days hiking through mountains, valleys, and glaciers and still feel thirsty for more.

The Kiwi Spirit

New Zealanders (or Kiwis) are known to be a rowdy bunch. Case in point – the Kawarau Bridge Bungy.

It’s the World’s first commercially operated Bungy Jumping Site, opened by Bungy pioneer AJ Hackett. I embraced the Kiwi spirit by taking a plunge of my own off Kawarau Bridge. The jump included a 141-foot drop into a gorgeous canyon. It was simultaneously terrifying and thrilling – and totally worth it.

Locals made my trip extra memorable by being warm, hospitable, and helpful throughout my travels. Even dreaded trips to the airport became a highlight – as they were filled with friendly staff and great lounges that took the stress out of travel.

Island Paradise

New Zealand is known for being split into two islands – the North Island and the South Island. So you might be surprised to learn about the Bay of Islands.

It’s a group of over 140 subtropical islands located off the coast of the North Island. It’s like a New Zealand version of the Hawaiian Islands – complete with shimmering sand beaches and warm water. What more could you want?

My trip may have been in the winter, but the cooler weather was refreshing and enjoyable. The water was still swimmable and there were more than a few opportunities to sunbathe near the water.

My Bay of Islands adventure culminated in a daylong sailing excursion. We ported from the Russell Wharf and spent the day admiring stunning views. We even got lunch in a sheltered cove.

My trip gave me a small sample of the Bay of Islands. If the small sample size is any indication, the rest of the islands are more than worth a trip.

Lift Off

There’s no shortage of ways to experience New Zealand. You can hike, kayak, drive or sail your way around the country.  I was able to access some of the most remote parts of New Zealand by taking helicopter tours. It allowed me to get bird’s eye views of glaciers, Alps, and even an active volcano.

One of my more memorable experiences came with a helicopter tour of White Island near Rotorua. The flight gave me aerial views of Mount Tarawera, an active volcano that’s responsible for one of New Zealand’s largest eruptions. I was able to walk the crater floor and witness the magnitude of the volcano up close. There’s no wrong way to explore New Zealand. But flying opens up the most opportunities for thrill seekers.

Special thanks to Tourism New Zealand & Seasonz Travel for planning such an exceptional itinerary. My short trip to New Zealand had all the elements of a great adventure. It showed me that this underrated destination has a beautiful setting, eccentric people, and diverse terrain. So what are you waiting for?

MORE POSTS BY VICTORIA STRUBBE

SLEEPING AROUND: INDIA HOTEL REVIEWS

I recently found myself in Northern India, wandering the crowded, bustling streets by day and drenched in luxury at night in a country with a story of occupation, then freedom. It’s undeniable how much history has influenced all of these hotel properties whether it be the former residents, the design or the staff, who take pride in teaching you about their culture. Whether you find yourself in the insanely overpopulated cities of Delhi and Mumbai or the “smaller”, brilliantly colored cities through the northern state of Rajasthan, these are the most jaw dropping places and palaces to rest your head after a dizzying and exhilarating day zipping down bustling city streets and dirt narrows by tuk tuk.

DELHI

The Leela, New Delhi: The open lobby is adorned with crystal vases and bright roses. At any given time, there are 14,000 roses throughout the hotel, 500 of which are arranged in the lobby’s silver centerpiece. The Leela New Delhi is the right combination of international flare (Le Cirque serves dinner to celebs and socialites) and cultural awareness (there is a female-only floor for traditional travelers of Eastern culture). What impressed me the most was the service, ever-present, from calling the elevator to pouring more tea at breakfast, my every need was anticipated.

The Oberoi, Gurgaon: Although just 15 minutes from Delhi International, this is far from what you’d think of as an “airport hotel”. The Oberoi Gurgaon is an ultra modern, sleek property divided into three blocks: hotel, residence and conference center. The 220 hotel rooms all have private butler service and not just any ol’ service, but rather trained by the same school as Queen of England’s butlers. So it’s safe to say, it’s literally fit for a queen…or Maharani, as a princess is called in India.

ThreeSixtyOne, the hotel’s restaurant, has a chocolate cake that is a must. But don’t worry, the gym and spa are 24/7 hours so your indulgence can be (almost) guilt-free. Dine on Indian, Asian and continental cuisines.

The welcome from staff upon stepping into The Oberoi Amarvilas’ courtyard. 

AGRA

The Oberoi, Amarvilas: If you’re visiting the Taj Mahal, a white marble symbol of an emperor’s love for his favorite(!) wife, which you should if you’re visiting northern India, you MUST stay at The Oberoi Amarvilas. It’s an oasis in Agra, a city where India’s harsh poverty isn’t lost. This ancient wonder of the world and UNESCO site can be seen from every suite. Soaking in a bubble bath while gazing at the setting sun over the Taj Mahal…now that’s romantic. Amarvilas is ideal for two to three nights of relaxation in the midst of your Indian journey. The idyllic setting will be welcome after days of visiting massive mausoleums, forts and temples in the beating sun. You’ll need a full day to just take in the vast pool, multi-tiered lounging decks and manicured gardens.

Just part of the Maharani suite at Suján Rajmahal.

JAIPUR

Suján Rajmahal: Rajmahal, a former British Residence and then private home of the Mahajara, boasts just 14 suites, all differing in decor and size, and aptly named. The Princess Diana suite, delicately decorated in blues and whites, is where the late royalty stayed when visiting the palace. The Maharani suite, second largest on property only to the Maharaja suite, is the former chamber of the Maharani and boasts a well-lit, massive bathroom, plenty of mirrored closets and a private pool. True to it’s name, it’s fit for a princess! It’s also where I got to call home for two nights (and recently, so did this Forbes writer). The bold teal and fuchsia wall coverings and upholstery make for an opulent atmosphere. The rich and fun colors are woven throughout the property’s decor.

Rajmahal feels like your own private palace. (It almost is with so few other guests!) And as silly as it sounds, I can’t stop craving the sweet corn-like muffins and mini slices of pound cake. Just a week after my stay here, the palace was given Relais & Châteaux accolades, only given to properties that embody the culture, people and history of its surroundings. Over the next year, the property will be almost tripling to 40 suites.

One of Rambagh’s meticulous gardens and courtyards.

Rambagh Palace: Rambagh is synonymous with regal, with its grand entrance and outdoor halls overlooking vast courtyards and richly decorated suites. India’s history is apparent throughout Rambagh, from photos of the former royal tenants to the polo lounge honoring the days the property hosted the sport. If you’re looking to indulge in luxury and learn along the way, a suite here is where to stay.

Mehrangarh Fort illuminated above RAAS.

JODHPUR

RAAS: With crisp white sheets and a comfortable bed, this is where you will rise to a deep-voiced, pre-dawn prayer echoing through the blue, walled city. The property is built from local Jodhpur pink sandstone and gives a welcomed juxtaposition to the cool hue of the rest of the city. Peek through scalloped open-air windows for an unobstructed view of the Mehrangarh Fort, seemingly an arm’s length away.

Simple luxury and pink sandstone at RAAS.

MUMBAI

Taj Mahal Palace: Never has there been a more appropriate name of “Presidential Suite” than Taj Mahal’s, the waterfront property in Mumbai, not to be confused with the iconic Agra mausoleum. President Obama was the first to stay in the 5,000 sq. ft. suite, which is large enough to get lost in (which I did), has bullet proof glass, a 12-person conference room and private spa, to relax in after those day-long meetings making decisions that impact the world. For those of us outside the Oval Office, Taj has not quite as large but equally exquisite suites that overlook The Gateway to India, a monument symbolizing both the British rule and India’s freedom. I particularly enjoyed the bathrooms with claw-foot soaking tubs reminiscent of colonial times and double vanities.

Taj’s Presidential Suite, former guest: Barack Obama.

The Oberoi Mumbai: This Oberoi gets it right on all accounts: anticipatory service, sleek, sophisticated design, and convenient city location. A near and dear property to owner Mr. Oberoi’s heart, he personally redesigned and oversaw the hotel’s reconstruction when it was closed from 2008-2010 after the 2008 terrorist bombing. Expect the edge of a modern city with elements like a red lacquer baby grand as the focal point of the lobby. A wall of windows and full-ceiling skylights brighten the space and look out to the Arabian Sea. Rooms are crisp and clean, designed tastefully with contemporary paintings and statues. And a 24-hour spa- the only in the city.

A large bathroom with luxurious free standing tub and glass walls at The Oberoi Mumbai.

For more on how to support the local people sustainably, read about Nikki’s visit to Salaam Baalak Foundation in Delhi.

Must Try Food in Penang

Penang, the island city in Malaysia is home to the multicultural cuisine and you get to find lots of varieties here. Work has taken me to Penang many a time and the foodie in me has had the opportunity to experience many dishes that were not only mouth watering and super tasty but they introduced diverse tastes as well. There are different religions, ethnicities and cultures that join together at Penang and so do the foods. Penang street food is famous across the borders. One thing that I found exceptional with the restaurants, cafes and hotels is the taste and almost every option was great. And guess what- as an Indian I found high-quality food here way cheaper than back home.

It’s an island city hence easy access to the beaches, rich cultural heritage and is identified as a UNESCO heritage city, beautiful mountains, Buddisht temples, great shopping experience, very modern in its outlook and great food- all this and the vibe makes Penang one of my favourite SE Asian cities.

I haven’t gone wrong trying any food here, but I’ll try to call out some of my favourites and must try while you’re in the city.  

Char Koay Teow

This can be called the national food of Malaysia.  Fried Kway Teow is another name given to this dish. The fresh and lively ingredients with their entire aroma are the specifications of this dish just make it my top favorite. Kaoy teow is very famous and easily available in street food stalls and high end restaurants alike. My favorite variety was the Sea Food Char Kaoy Teow with duck eggs.

Char Keoy Teow

Char Keoy Teow

 

Penang Assam Laksa

Laksa is a very popular SE Asian dish and you get different versions across the region. Whether you’re in Singapore, Hilly areas of India or Malaysia- Laksa is a staple diet for the locals. I have had it in all of these countries but this is the signature dish of Penang, filled with the richness of spices and tastes of sardines and prawns. The lemongrass, chili and tamarind make the wholesome taste even better. I found it quite hard to brace the power of tamarind. First spoon was harder, the second was hard, third one softer and keep it going till you acquire its taste. You have options to enjoy the yellow noodles or the white whatever you prefer.

Penang Laksa

Penang Laksa

eafood overload Laksa

eafood overload Laksa

 

Penang Rojak

Penang Rojak was recommended by one of my Malaysian friends and I found it awesome in both taste and richness. There is a variety you would experience with an informal mixture. I love flavours of this dish and the peanut sauce serves a great taste. It’s very different from anything you’ve tried before!

Penang Rojak

Penang Rojak

 

 

Curry Mee

Without adding Curry Mee, I can’t find myself doing justice with the memories of Penang. This is the most popular street food where every stall offers its own version of this hugely popular dish. Where ever you enjoy this from, it gives the taste you would never forget. You can eat the curry with noodles, rice or by itself.

Penang Curry

Penang Curry

 

Raw Mango & Papaya Salad with Avocado Shake

This is a tangy but yummy salad prepared with raw mango and papaya spiced with local spices. And if you can get yourself some thick avocado shake, this can be a meal in itself. It is delicious to say the least. Although, this is not a signature Penang dish and available in many other regions, the spices and flavours will make you want more of this 

aw Mango and Papaya Salad

aw Mango and Papaya Salad

Avocado thick shake

Avocado thick shake

 

Deep fried Cencaru Fish

You are mostly going to find the deep-fried Hard-scaled Cencaru fish with sambal inserted through slits at the street food stalls. 

Deep-fried Cencaru

Deep-fried Cencaru

 

Tom Yum hot Pot

Although, this is a thai delicacy, I’ve chanced upon some of the yummiest Tom Yum hotpots while in Penang.  If you’re a Tomyum fan, give it a go!

Tom Yum hotpot

Tom Yum hotpot

 

Red Ruby Dessert (Tub Tim Krob)

Time for some yummy dessert! Tub Tim Krob is Penangs famous dessert that is made of red dried water chestnuts, jackfruit and coconut milk with ice. It is very refreshing and absolutely delicious. Even if you are not the Dessert types, I’d suggest youTom Y give this a go.

Red Ruby Dessert (Tub Tim Krob)

Red Ruby Dessert (Tub Tim Krob)

Hope you enjoy your stay in Penang and enjoy the amazing food this city has to offer like I do. Do post your thoughts in the comments section below on your take on Penangs must try food. 

To learn more about Aditi Chauhan, please visit her website Wandering Passport

 

From Gators To Mountain Goats

Klahhane Ridge. Photo: Chelsea Westerlund.

Klahhane Ridge. Photo: Chelsea Westerlund.

It will be one year this October since moving to Seattle. Growing up as a Native Floridian, mountains were mostly foreign to me. I was used to sandy, warm beaches, palm trees, flat terrain and reptiles—those cute, little gators. I had seen mountains before, having been to the northwest and traveling to the northeast for family vacations, but the awe didn’t really set in until I began hiking in them. After my first hike upon moving out here, I was hooked. Being at elevation and immersed in the rocky terrain, you feel small yet powerful at the same time. That was a spiritual experience for me. I was at peace and humbled by the might and sheer magnitude of the alpine landscape.

Washington has the secret recipe—although it is not so secret anymore. Other transplants (like me) are catching on to why this state is so magical. Now that I live here, I’ve toyed with the idea of keeping my enthusiasm for this place a secret. I have realized however, that if others can experience natural beauty like this, only good can come from that; including a new found respect and awareness like I’ve developed. Quick nature geek out–Washington has water, forests and mountains! To break it down even further, WA is home to a rainforest, five volcanos and a major fjord. Seriously?! There is a lifetime of exploration one can do in this state alone. I can ramble on for days about Washington’s natural beauty, but instead let me share some of my favorite day hikes I have been able to experience so far.

Klahhane Ridge. Photo: Chelsea Westerlund.

Klahhane Ridge. Photo: Chelsea Westerlund.

Klahhane Ridge– Located in Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula, you can pick up the trail from Hurricane Ridge for a longer hike, about 7 miles roundtrip. Driving up to Hurricane Ridge alone is breathtaking with sweeping views of the Olympics. I was spoiled because the first time I did this hike, there was a plethora of active wildlife that day. Dozens of black-tailed deer, handfuls of marmot, a mama black bear and her two cubs, chipmunks and a lone mountain goat which, by the way, are the coolest animals. I wish I could scale peaks like a mountain goat!

Mailbox Peak– Buns. Of. Steel. If you did this hike every day, you would be a marble statue. There is an old and new trail; my friend and I did the old. The new trail is around 9 miles roundtrip and less steep. The old trail is around 5 miles roundtrip so you’re doing a 4,000 ft. elevation gain in 2.5 miles. One of the volunteer rangers we ran into when we were there said Mountaineers training for Rainier will hike the old trail with heavy packs on to see if they are prepared to summit. Simply put, it feels INCREDIBLE when you make it to the top.

Right and left: Mailbox Peak. Photos: Chelsea Westerlund.

Right and left: Mailbox Peak. Photos: Chelsea Westerlund.

Mailbox-1-1024x1024.jpg

Camp Muir – Hiking to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier was a blast! It is a physical and mental combo. You are exposed to the elements and should definitely be prepared since the weather does change quickly at elevation. The climb up to Muir is about 8 miles roundtrip and you end at over 10,000 ft. in elevation. The sensory experience was unreal. From the sounds of rock fall and stepping over crevasses in the snowfield to feeling the difference in my breathing because of the thinner air; it gave me a little insight into what real mountaineering might be like. My favorite part of the entire day was chatting it up with the extraordinary people at Camp Muir that were roping up to continue on in attempt to summit. That and glissading on the way back down!

View of mountaineers beginning their summit attempt of Mt. Rainier, from Camp Muir. Photo: Chelsea Westerlund.

View of mountaineers beginning their summit attempt of Mt. Rainier, from Camp Muir. Photo: Chelsea Westerlund.

Climbers preparing for the next leg of their Mt. Rainier ascent. Photo: Chelsea Westerlund.

Climbers preparing for the next leg of their Mt. Rainier ascent. Photo: Chelsea Westerlund.

I definitely miss the warm ocean and Florida wildlife, but it’s been an incredible experience to see and learn about something very different than that. Washington’s vibrant outdoor culture continuously inspires me and the next trip I plan on doing is to Mount Adams. John Muir said it, “The Mountains are calling and I must go.” Wherever you are, enjoy the outdoors and relish in what is unique to your area. Happy trails!

Note: We used Hefty Ultra Flex trash bags for glissading and they worked like a charm!

K-ridge-1-1024x768.jpg

Explore a Central American Safari, at Nekupe.

Ever want to go horseback riding, drive ATV's, play with monkeys and do some clay shooting all while having an active Volcano as your backdrop? Nekupe is just the place...and the greatest part? You don't have to travel around the globe to do it.

There are several direct flights to Nicaragua from the US and even if you happen to live in a city without a direct flight, it's still pretty easy. I was lucky enough to travel to Nicaragua last week from Los Angeles. We took a 10pm flight from LAX and were at the hotel sipping on a signature drink by 11am the next day. Super easy and Super worth it. 

Now, let the fun begin! Along with your amazing room, you're assigned a personal Ranger that helps you explore the resort. How do you get around you ask? An ATV of course! Way cooler than any golf cart you'll ever get at a hotel. Your activities and meals are all included in the cost of your room too....pretty hard to beat that. 

I'm not the only one to think this new hotel is something to see and know about, Nekupe was just named one of the "Best New Hotels in the World" by Travel + Leisure

I could walk you through the day by day but why would I do that when I can show you? Check out my adventure, it was Epic to say the least and of course, let me know when I can book your trip! Contact me at jennifer@imouttravels.com

From Street Children to Tour Guides in Delhi, India: How Salaam Baalak Trust is Changing Children's Lives

Few places in the world embody a contrast starker than India, with its vibrating colors, rich culture, legendary temples, forts, and luxurious hotels…and dilapidation and poverty. On my recent trip, which started in Delhi, this contrast was evident from the moment I landed. The following two weeks would expose me to many awe-inspiring moments, from stepping inside the Taj Mahal to feeding elephants, but what impacted me the most was just a few little faces in one of the biggest cities in the world during a tour that very first day in Delhi.

Nine children go missing a day in Delhi, a city of 20 million people. Some cases are accidental- at the crowded train stations, buses, and markets. Due to the dense population and rapid movement of large crowds, it's a common reality for children to be separated from their families. Other children are abandoned because of medical issues, sexually exploited or run away. It’s foundations like Salaam Baalak Trust that give hope to what sounds like a hopeless epidemic.

The work of Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) started with 25 children in 1988 and now cares for 6,600 children a year. SBT has six centers throughout India, four homes for boys and two girls homes, one of which is solely for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. 70% of the children return home at their will, while the rest are cared for and educated at SBT’s long-term centers.

In addition to providing safety and education, SBT trains the teenagers to become tour guides of their own backyards, building their confidence, improving their English and teaching them to earn a living.

On that painfully humid, sunny afternoon, our guide, Ejaz, confidently walked us through the dirt alleyways of Old Delhi, past stray dogs and produce carts, educating us on the daily lives and stories of the locals. Alongside him walked a timid guide-in-training, Pav, whose smile caught my eye and innocence won my heart. We walked side by side and I began asking about school, life in India, and his family. The young man – no more than 16 – spoke of studying like it was a privilege, a gift he was so grateful to be given. He smiled a little wider when he told me he plans to return to his home country of Nepal and his sister.

We ended the tour at the center where a dozen boys flocked us. They sang twinkle twinkle little star and took turns taking center circle to show off their Bollywood-inspired dance moves. They were completely enamored by our iPhones and were antsy waiting for us to snap photos as they posed in our sunglasses.

And then a simple, heartfelt answer to a question a man in our group asked Ejaz: “What do you want to do after this? Your aspirations, goals?”

“I want to be a good man.”

I start to tear up from his honesty and gratitude for all he’s been given, which is nothing in a Westerner’s mind. (Had I not just complained about the weather?) The outlook Ejaz and the other boys have on their future, how much they value each other and SBT, and of course their smiles marked my memory forever.

After the walk and visit to SBT, our guides took us back to our bus. We boarded, waved through the window at their royal blue shirts shrinking down the street as we picked up speed past the teetering rickshaws. That was probably the last time I’ll see Ejaz and Pav, but I’m confident they have bright lives ahead of them, including the big screens of Bollywood.

Salaam Baalak Trust is funded from a combination of government, international agency and tourism donations. For more information on booking a tour and visit, go to the foundation’s website.

Discovering the 7th Continent with Quark Expeditions | Antarctica Cruise

by Tye Rogerson

Travel Consultant, Tye Rogerson, just returned from the adventure of a lifetime on a Quark Expedition to Antarctica.  Follow his journey as he takes us from the southern tip of Ushuaia to the White Wilderness, Antarctica. 

We reached Antarctica the old fashioned way, by crossing the Drake Passage. It is now possible to fly over the passage and then cruise, avoiding the dark and moody waters of the southern seas. But we wanted to grab ahold of distance, and wait for the moment until the world’s largest wilderness area faded into view. And in the meantime, it wasn’t hard to enjoy the sight of half a dozen albatross strafing our stern. We were aboard the Ocean Endeavour, owned by Quark Expeditions, on one of the first departures of the season. Everyone beamed, we knew we were going somewhere rare.

Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, driest place on earth, and it has the highest average elevation. It is nearly twice the size of Australia, and in the winter the sea ice expands its size almost twofold. There never were any indigenous peoples dwelling on the seventh continent, and today Antarctica is a symbol of international cooperation. The whaling has almost entirely ended, and where there are people, they are there in pursuit of science. Or simply curiosity. As a travel destination, it’s on most people’s bucket list because…what can possibly compare? ­­

Our expedition leader was an adventurous Alaskan native, who had previously studied philosophy and been an iron worker at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. He explained that as an expedition trip we had a general daily itinerary, but would pivot as necessary to make the most of our weather and wildlife opportunities. This approach came in handy a few days later when somebody spotted a pod of orcas, and a few days after that when our resident bird expert spied an emperor penguin.

 

Ocean Endeavour – Ship Amenities

Although we crossed the Drake like the heroic explorers a century ago, our onboard experience was very comfortable. As a hotel, the Ocean Endeavour had multiple decks with a variety of areas to spend time in. There were saunas and a full health spa (massage, facial, etc.) on Deck 8, as well as the Meridian Lounge which served as the quiet area for reading. On Deck 7 we often took tea in the Aurora Lounge, Deck 5 was the lobby, and on Deck 4 was the mud room where we suited up before boarding the zodiacs. After making landings and leaving our outerwear in the lockers, staff always had a mug of hot cocoa to hand us. Deck 6 was the main one, and included a pool heated by the ship’s engine, the bar and Nautilus Lounge where scientists and adventurers gave talks and shared stories, the library and Compass Lounge stocked with every polar book one could wish for, the dining area (very popular!), and the Polar Boutique store. Outdoor observation was possible on several decks, and the bow was open a couple times during the week. It was a pleasant surprise to learn the ship’s captain maintained an “open bridge” policy where, most of the time, passengers could see what it takes to pilot a 137m vessel around icebergs and islands.

 

Shore Excursions

The landings were our favorite part of the voyage, whether it was walking thru chinstrap and gentoo penguin colonies or watching elephant seals groan along the rocky beaches. Some days we passed Adélie penguins porpoising across the wavelets, and others we gazed at tabular icebergs the size of city blocks floating ever so slowly out from the Weddell Sea. The places we visited were varied and endlessly photogenic. The expedition photographer took photos of those silly enough to take the polar plunge (worth it!), and he gave us plenty of tips on how to compose and shoot better images ourselves.

Quark also offered adventure activities, such as sea kayaking, cross country skiing and mountaineering. We opted for the stand up paddle boarding and snow camping, a stunning day of fresh air and the super moon looming over Cuverville Island. In the distance we heard some “Antarctic Thunder”, a falling cornice became an avalanche. Then night.

At certain points some of us found ourselves waking up at dawn to listen to orchestral music and watch the first light strike the glacial fjords. Indoors, the Ocean Endeavour was brimming with talented and interesting people, and stepping outside presented this unbelievable world, Antarctica, and everything that represented to us. Some people said they wanted to check off a bucket list item, some came for nature photography, and others couldn’t quite put it into words.

15056446_10105783673274298_6156991834120559209_n.jpg

We re-crossed the Drake Passage and disembarked at the very tip of Argentina in the charming town of Ushuaia. It is known as the “End of the World”, but that is only if you’re arriving from the north. Reflecting on where we had been, it was more like the beginning.

To learn more about  South America Travel News please visit their website

5 Things You Should Try in Belize

Of all the places I’ve visited in the last few years, Belize may have surprised me the most. The beautiful natural scenery, uninhibited adventure, incredibly friendly people and more-than-reasonable prices made this Central American paradise one of my favorite destinations. I only spent a week in Belize, but I made the most of the experience. If you only have a short time to visit, here are five things I highly recommend doing in Belize.

  • ATM Tour

The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave Tour is one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had while traveling. This cave, located in the Cayo District near San Ignacio, is one of the most famous Mayan archaeological sites in the country. There are several skeletal remains, calcified ceramics and artifacts throughout the cave. In order to reach them, however, you need to do some walking, swimming and climbing.

Let me preface this by saying that I’ve done cave tours before, but nothing quite like this. In the U.S., and many other countries, caves are equipped with lighted walkways, bridges and railings to keep people safe and dry. Not in Belize. We swam in water up to our necks, climbed along limestone and squeezed through tightly spaced rocks, with only the headlights on our helmets to light the way. In order to see the burial site, we had to climb a tall limestone rock face (without the help of a ladder), and pull ourselves up to a ledge.

Despite it being a challenge, the ATM tour is something I encourage everyone to try. The physical aspect makes you appreciate what’s at the end of the journey. The caves reveal an ancient world and a way of life we could never truly understand. Even though I was drenched at the end of it, I loved how natural an experience it was, without anything man-made obstructing the beauty of the cave.

  • Mayan Ruins

There are a number of ruins and temples sprinkled around the western portion of Belize. You really can’t go wrong with whichever one you choose to visit. We picked Xunantunich, which means “maiden of the rock” and is located close to the Guatemalan border. We arrived early in the morning—and I would highly recommend this in order to avoid a lot of crowds and get some good pictures without a lot of photo bombers. As we walked amid the ruins, a heavy fog hung over the moss-covered stone temples. It was eerie, yet serene. From the trees, we could hear the load, haunting calls of howler monkeys as they leaped from branch to branch. After the sun burned off most of the fog, we climbed up to the top of the highest ruin (133 feet), where we had a gorgeous view of the jungle and neighboring Guatemala. The site includes six major plazas, more than 25 temples and palaces and a small museum where you can learn about the history of Xunantunich.

A few other options to visit include Caracol, located on the western edge of the Maya Mountains within the Chiquibal Forest Preserve; Cahal Pech, which sits on a hill that overlooks San Ignacio and Santa Elena; and Lamanai, one of the largest Maya ceremonial centers, which sits on the banks of the New River Lagoon.

  • Belize Zoo

This was not something we originally thought we would see when we were in Belize. But we were driving from Belize City to San Ignacio, and it was right off the road, so we decided…why not? It was one of the best decisions we made the whole trip.

The Belize Zoo started as a small, backyard zoo in 1983 to house a collection of animals. Soon, it was developed into a 29-acre zoo and education center that exhibits over 170 animals, all native to Belize. The zoo was a great introduction to the animals of this country. It gave us the chance to get closer than I ever imagined we could to some of the most incredible creatures. The Belize Zoo is unlike any in the U.S. The zoos I’m familiar with keep animals a good distance away from people, and they are separated by strong iron fences, cement walls and deep moats. In Belize, animals and people are separated by little more than chicken fence. I was mere feet from monkeys, parrots and even jaguars, but I never felt unsafe.

I know it sounds a little sentimental, but I really did learn a lot at the zoo. It was an educational experience, and one I would do again in a heartbeat. Plus, it’s incredibly affordable, only $15 for adults and $5 for kids.

  • The Local Fare and the Local Beer

Belize is known for both its fresh seafood and its local brew: Belikin. Even if you aren’t a beer fan, try it at least once, because it’s not distributed outside of Central America. The best meals can be found off-the-beaten path. The one time we picked a restaurant that was along the main thoroughfare, we were disappointed with the food and the service (and it was much more expensive than other options). Speak to the locals and ask them for the best place to eat. Our second night in San Ignacio, we followed the recommendation of our guide and went to a place called Cenaida’s, hidden on a quiet street away from the bustle of the city center. We dined on coconut curried fish, complete with a super fresh and well-seasoned fillet, coconut flavored rice, black beans and vegetables. Simple, but delicious. Two meals and four Belikins, all for under $25. There are many of these eateries throughout Belize, you just have to do a little searching to find them.

  • Snorkel in the Belize Barrier Reef

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, the Belize Barrier Reef straddles the coast and is protected by the country’s reserve system. The Belize Reef is a 190-mile long section that is part of the 560-mile Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. Popular among snorkelers and scuba divers, the reef provides a diverse underwater landscape that includes walls, pinnacles and reef flats, and is home to hundreds of coral and fish species.

The islands of Belize are the best launching point for a snorkel expedition. We started from Caye Caulker, a small island located about 20 miles northeast of Belize City. There were a number of companies on the island offering snorkeling tours, and we organized ours through the hotel since it was a convenient option and the company they use was highly recommended. The tour ran about 3 hours, and we made three stops along the reef.

The first stop, the local reef, introduced us to many of the local species that call the reef home. I can’t even recall how many kinds of fish and crustaceans we saw, but with every turn of my head, our guide was pointing out something new. The next stop was the Coral Garden where we could explore on our own and see the diversity of the coral structures. The last stop was Shark and Ray Alley, where the guides tossed food into the water to attract dozens of sharks and stingrays. I was reluctant to get in the water, for fear of being bit or stung, but the guides assured me that they would not attack, and as long as I kept my distance from the stingray tails, I would be fine. I was still very nervous, but I’m glad I experienced it—as short lived as it was.

Longer snorkeling tours will take you to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where you may be lucky enough to see Manatees. Check with the operators to see what tour options they have to make sure you find the right one for you.

A quick note: If you’re a scuba diver, the most famous dive site in Belize is the Blue Hole. It’s over 900 feet across and just over 400 feet deep, with a diverse collection of fish, sharks and corals. Dive depth is usually 130 feet, which gives you a decent view of the coral formations and a good opportunity to see reef sharks. If you’re just looking to snorkel, I would not advise going to the Blue Hole.

These were true highlights of my trip, and are just a few of the many things you can do in Belize. When I go back, I hope to explore more of the Southern portions of the country, including Santa Cruz, Placencia, Payne’s Creek National Park, and Punta Gorda, among others.

If you’re been to Belize, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the best places to visit and things to do!

To learn more about Vanessa, please visit her website Hops on the Road

The Many Sides of Malta

When my husband and I started planning our honeymoon, we decided we wanted to go somewhere different; somewhere that wasn’t a typical honeymoon destination. I chose Croatia and he picked Malta. Both uncommon, both unique and both filming locations for Game of Thrones (yes, we are big GoT fans).

Croatia had been on my bucket list for a long time, but to be completely honest, Malta had never really crossed my mind. It’s a little surprising, too, considering I have family from Malta, and many of them still vacation there during the summer.

As a result, I was a little unfamiliar with the country, with the exception of the Knights of Saint John and the Maltese Falcon. For many people, those are probably the only things they associate with Malta, too. But there is so much more to this small, yet significant island nation.

View of Malta from the plane

View of Malta from the plane

Malta is a collection of islands in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast. The country consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. Its location has given it strategic advantages over the years, and it has been ruled by many different powers, including the Romans, the Moors, Sicilians, Phoenicians, French, British and Spanish. All of these civilizations left their marks on the islands.

It’s this wide range of cultural influences, combined with the striking medieval architecture and some of the oldest known structures in the world that have led people to call the islands an open-air museum.

Due to the relatively small size of the country, we had the chance to explore a lot of the islands in a short period of time. Despite being small, Malta manages to deliver a varying degree of landscapes and cities, each extraordinarily different from the others.

Small Towns and Beaches

While Valletta may be considered the main attraction in Malta, the villages and towns of the islands play a huge role in the country’s cultural landscape. Each village is defined its unique character.

We had the pleasure of staying in my uncle’s flat in St. Paul’s Bay, one of Malta’s largest seaside villages. Named after the Apostle, St. Paul’s Bay started as a small fishing village nestled in an alcove. It offers wonderful open sea views and a subtle yet active nightlife. The flat is located right on the water, and it was lovely to enjoy a cup of coffee and locally made pastries while sitting on the patio overlooking the bay.

St. Paul’s Bay – view from our flat

St. Paul’s Bay – view from our flat

During the summer, St. Paul’s Bay is bustling with activity, mostly from foreigners coming in for summer vacation. We visited in mid-September, when things are much more quiet and peaceful. We thought it was a little odd that the streets were practically empty in the evenings, but at the same time it was nice not having to deal with crowds of people.

We had our pick of restaurants, no reservations needed and no wait time. Our favorite meal was at La Buona Trattoria Del Nonno. We sat out in the garden, next to a small gold fountain. They offered us a complimentary appetizer and prosecco, and it really set the tone for a great evening. Steve ordered the Fish & Chips, a house specialty, while I had the Ravioli di Casa. Yes, we were pretty boring with our orders, but the menu is full of fresh pasta, seafood and char grilled meats for those feeling a little more adventurous.

 

 

My family also recommended the 1930’s Carpentry Wine Bar. While we didn’t make it there, we passed it a couple times going to and from the flat, and it looked absolutely adorable. It’s housed in a traditional Maltese dwelling that was once used as a coffee shop, and now it’s filled with old carpentry tools and machinery dating to the industrial revolution. I would recommend it for sure, despite not actually eating there myself.

The village is very walkable, but the streets are pretty narrow in spots, and they do drive on the opposite side of the road. We had to keep reminding each other which side of the road we needed to be on to catch the bus. Malta’s bus system is very intricate and easy to use; you can pretty much get anywhere you need to go by taking a bus (or walking).

On the coast of St. Paul’s Bay, you can visit the Parish Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, built in 1617 and carefully restored after being heavily damaged in World War II. Near the parish is the Wignacourt Tower, built during Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt’s reign. It houses a small museum showcasing Malta’s military and architectural heritage. If you have time, you can take a boat over to St. Paul’s island, where legend has it that the Apostle was shipwrecked.

A short walk (or bus ride) from St. Paul’s Bay is Bugibba and Qawra, two of the islands main resorts. We didn’t make our way over to these coastline gems until our last day in Malta, and it’s a real shame we didn’t. These resort towns are brimming with shops, restaurants and activities, as well as significantly more people. The seaside promenade features a pool, basketball court, playgrounds and carnival-style games and rides. We had a quick lunch in Bugibba Square, where a majority of people were also dining, and then ended our experience with a visit to Sottozero gelato factory for some delicious creamy dessert.

Our first full day in Malta was spent on the other side of the island from St. Paul’s Bay in the village of Manikata, known for its beaches. The beaches here are all situated in bays carved out of the cliffs by the rough currents. The most well-known beach is Golden Bay, one of the few sandy beaches on the coast of Malta. There is a smaller beach to the east of Golden Bay, called Ghajn Tuffieha Bay, which means Apple’s Spring. We heard about it from the driver who took us from the airport to the flat, and she highly recommended it. We actually opted for Golden Bay, despite it being larger and more crowded.

We rented beach chairs and an umbrella for a nominal fee, and spent the afternoon lazing in the sun, catching up on our reading and toeing the water to cool off. There’s a café right next to the water, where you can order snacks and smoothies, or you can head up the hill a little way to a restaurant that serves larger meals and drinks. We ordered a pizza to share and a couple pints of Cisk, a local Maltese beer (not the best I’ve ever had, but we had to try it). We watched as the sun crept closer to the top of the water, shimmering with the last remnants of the sun’s rays.

img_2075-e1463622483778.jpg

Another adventure took us to Meridiana Wine Estate and the city of Mdina. We hopped a bus over to Ta’ Qali in the center of Malta, and took a walk to the winery. It was late in the day, but we hoped they would still have tours or a tasting we could enjoy. With half an hour to spare until they closed, the woman at the front desk told us tours were finished for the day, but since we were the only ones there, she would be happy to give us a mini tour and tasting. What hospitality!

We tried sips of the Astarte (a white wine Vermentino of Malta), Baltis(Moscato), Isis (chardonnay), Nexus (merlot), and Melqart (Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot blend). I’m a big fan of red wines, but the whites really won me over here. They were crisp, with some floral and citrusy flavors. Since we knew we wouldn’t be able to find these wines in the U.S., we decided to pick up a couple bottles before we left.

We took a way-longer-than-expected trudge from the winery over to Mdina (not something I would recommend doing). The ancient walled city was once the capital of Malta, and was home to the country’s noble families. Today, it still possesses a timeless ambiance, as if the world moved on without it, leaving it to flourish in quiet solitude. As we walked amid the impressive homes, the streets were empty. We wondered if we missed the memo that the city was actually closed.

dsc_0988.jpg

We did see some small groups here and there, visiting St, Paul’s Cathedral, poking in and out of shops, but for the most part, it was pretty quiet. Walking through the narrow streets, I definitely understood why the city was used as the setting for King’s Landing during the first season of Game of Thrones. Maybe it was the lack of activity—or the agonizing trek to get there—but I wasn’t that impressed with Mdina. However, it is definitely worth visiting, especially for medieval history buffs and architecture enthusiasts.

Big Cities

Known as the Fortress City, Valletta is Malta’s capital, the heart of the island’s commercial industry. Built by the Knights of St. John in the mid-1500s, the so-called “city built by gentlemen for gentlemen” has become a World Heritage City and is one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.

Outer wall of Valletta – It’s clear to see why it’s called the Fortress City

Outer wall of Valletta – It’s clear to see why it’s called the Fortress City

A stark contrast from the area of Malta where we were staying, Valletta is abundant with both people and attractions. The moment we walked through the main entrance of the city, we were inundated with shops, restaurants, museums, historical buildings and more.

img_21462.jpg

It was tough to decide where to start first, and after grabbing some much needed caffeine and sustenance from a nearby café, we made our way to St. John’s co-Cathedral & museum.

We felt it was a good place to start, considering the city has such a strong tie to the Knights of St. John. We paid €8 each for the entrance fee (it now costs €10) and a handheld audio guide that conveniently led us through the church and its many significant rooms and altars. Ladies be warned, if you’re wearing shorts, a dress or any shirt that shows your bare shoulders, you will need to use the shawls and wraps provided at the entrance to cover your shoulders and knees. I looked incredibly fashionable, let me tell you.

The inside of the cathedral is incredibly beautiful, with intricate carved stone and painted high ceilings. The chapels were the most impressive, each of them dedicated to the patron saints of the Order’s eight langues and one for Our Lady of Philermos. The audio tour provides an extensive background for all of the chapels, which helped me understand the artistic depictions and symbols in each.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral – altar

St. John’s Co-Cathedral – altar

After completing the audio tour (and browsing around in the gift shop), we left the Cathedral and walked down Merchant Street, filled with bars, restaurants and a flea market. We wandered over to Fort St. Elmo, and strolled along the waters edge, taking in the surrounding areas, before arriving at the Lower Barracca Garden and admiring the Siege Bell Memorial. This is what I love about Valletta, it’s so easy to walk around the city.

Siege Bell Memorial

Siege Bell Memorial

We grabbed a quick lunch at a place down a small street, almost hidden from the crowded main streets. If you’re visiting, keep your eye out for these hole-in-the-wall eateries—fewer people, great food and affordable! We spent a few more hours exploring the city. We visited St. George’s Square, located in front of the Main Guard Building and the Grand Masters Palace, and cooled off in the blasts of water shooting up from the stones. We took in views of the Grand Harbour as we sat in the Upper Barracca Garden, where I found my Grandma’s maiden name carved into a stone plaque—a sign perhaps?

I picked up a few souvenirs—a ceramic cross of the Knights of St. John, a Maltese Falcon statue, and some Maltese candies—before we headed to the bus terminal outside the city walls.

Natural Wonders of Gozo

Since one of the main reasons we selected Malta was because it was a filming location for Game of Thrones, we knew we had to visit Gozo and its iconic Azure Window. (This is the setting for the Dothraki Wedding in Season 1.) Just a 25-minute ferry ride from Malta, Gozo definitely should not be missed. It is filled with incredible architecture and UNESCO world heritage sites, not to mention some unbelievable naturally formed structures and caves waiting to be explored.

We didn’t rent a car, so we decided to do one of the hop-on, hop-off bus tours. We figured this was the best way to see most of the island, get some useful background and information about Gozo, and ultimately reach the Azure Window. Along the way, we stopped at the Xewkija Rotunda Church, the city of Victoria and St. George’s Basilica, a shopping village filled with all kinds of artisan crafts, before finally reaching San Lawrenz and Dwejra Bay, home of the Azure Window.

img_2101.jpg

This flat-topped rock arch reaches naturally over the sea. The geography was created thousands of years ago after two limestone caves buckled. Now, it’s a breathtaking sight that draws hundreds of visitors every day. We stood on the shore, navigating through shallow pools of clear water that had carved homes in the rock. It is the kind of place where you can just sit, perfectly content, listening to the waves and watching the blue water foam up against the rock.

Next to the Azure Window is the Inland Sea, a small lake connected to the Mediterranean Sea by a narrow tunnel. This is a very popular dive sight, and is also a docking place for fishermen. We wandered over to the Inland Sea, and settled on the stony beach, next to several fishermen huts and boats. It was the perfect place to cool off from the heat, and we took a quick swim in the cool water before heading to the nearby restaurant for a nice lunch.

On the way back to the ferry, we stopped at the Giants’ Tower, a megalithic temple. We heard good things about it, and figured it would be worth a visit. I consider myself a history enthusiast, but I wasn’t that impressed with the complex. The temples are basically crumbling structures, filled with rubble and the occasional rock formation that shows some form of civilization created this. I’m not sure it was worth money to visit, but I can now proudly say that I have been to the world’s second oldest manmade religious structure. These temples are even older than the pyramids of Egypt, so I guess that’s pretty cool.

My experience in Malta reinforced the knowledge that every destination brings different elements to the table. You can explore a metropolitan city one day, walk through small towns and farmland the next, and finish the adventure at a naturally formed spectacle. Malta exposed me to a different world, one of immensely deep history, stunning architecture, entertaining culture and peaceful beaches. It’s a place worth visiting, and one I hope to return to very soon.

To learn more about Vanessa, please visit her website Hops on the Road