Lake Tahoe – so much to offer!

Mark Twain famously describes his first glimpse of Lake Tahoe in his semi-autobiographical tale about his travels through the Wild West, Roughing It:

At last the lake burst upon us–a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft three thousand feet higher still! As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole world affords.
-Mark Twain, Roughing It.


Lake Tahoe
is the largest alpine lake in North America, famous for its clarity, deep blue water, and surrounding snowcapped peaks. Sprawling across the state line between California and Nevada, it lies just over 6,000 feet above sea level in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Because of its unique geographical orientation, Lake Tahoe appeals to a diverse population of visitors. About half its tourists come looking for a low-key and activity-filled get-away. The rest skip the California side and instead head for the Nevada side to get their fill of the glittering casinos, big name entertainment, bargain buffets, and around the clock revelry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many think of Lake Tahoe as only a popular winter wonderland and a great ski and snowboard destination, however Tahoe is nearly as bustling in the spring, summer and fall months.  Year-round activities include is great for sightseeing, hiking, fishing, camping, and boating.

Tahoe, and the immediate surrounding area, is home to 12 major ski resorts, with Heavenly perhaps being the most popular.  Spanning 4,800 acres, as well as offering 95 trails and 30 lifts, it is the largest resort in California.  And, at 3,500 feet from base camp to peak, it is has California’s the vertical drop…all with a jaw-dropping views of Lake Tahoe.  And don’t think that just because it gets an average of 380 inches of snowfall it’s always snowing – Heavenly also boasts 300 days of sunshine.

Galapagos Islands – Spotlight Santa Cruz

The second largest island in the Galapagos archipelago is the island of Santa Cruz, which might be called the focal point of Galapagos’ Tourism. 

Santa Cruz’s popularity among tourists may have to do with the fact that it is very close in proximity to one of the only two airports in the Galapagos or that it is one of only four islands that accommodate overnight guests.

The island of Santa Cruz is also where you can find the famous Charles Darwin Research Station.  Virtually all tours of the area will offer a visit to this branch of the non-profit Charles Darwin foundation where research and scientific investigation is conducted to further preservation efforts on the island.  Visitors can also check out the tortoise breeding and rearing that takes place right in the facility, along with the most famous inhabitant of the islands, Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island tortoises.

Lonesome George

Lonesome George

Santa Cruz is probably the most tourist friendly of all the islands, and is where you can find the port city of Puerto Ayora (named for the former Ecuadorian President).  Puerto Ayora is a vivacious sea-side town where vistors will discover many hotels, restaraunts, bars, and shops.  It is the most populated town in the all of the Galapagos with a staggering population of just over 10,000 inhabitants!

Nevertheless, Puerto Ayora’s spirited environment and assortment of activities and entertainment makes the town deserving of at least a two-night stay.

Like most of the Galapagos Islands, Santa Cruz is also home to a wide array of animal life, including a large tortoise population nearby at Black Turtle Cove.  Pelicans, land iguanas, Darwin’s finches, wild tortoises, and other creatures roam free in the area and virtually every bird native to the Galapagos has been seen at one time or another on the island of Santa Cruz. 

Sharks, rays, sea lions and sea turtles are just a few of the aquatic inhabitants visitors will come across during their stay.  You will likely also catch a glimpse of the marine iguanas which swim and slither through the sea – an amazing sight that you may have previously seen in movies like Russell Crowe’s Master and Commander.

There is no shortage of entertainment in Santa Cruz – visitors can go mountain biking, kayaking, scuba diving, horseback riding, surfing, or take a jeep tour on land or a glass bottom boat tour on the ocean.  If you need a break, have a drink at an outdoor bar in Puerto Ayora.

In any event you will never find yourself bored on the dynamic and always active island of Santa Cruz!

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do SE Asia (12 of 40)

view from burning bus on the wayt to mae salong

view from burning bus on the wayt to mae salong

fire!
“we left pai yesterday on the local bus and headed towards our first stop mae ma lai… we tossed our bags under the bus, along with two other travelers bags, and we’re on our way with the locals.  the bus was big and long and we were at the very back (not a good combo on a winding road at all), but all the doors and windows were open so we were set…

about 30 minutes into the trip one of the bus attendants hanging out the door hollers to pull over.  being right at the door, we hop out first once the bus is stopped.  we see the attendant opening one of the luggage compartments underneath and flames rising out of it (fire under the bus, run!) almost… he pulled out a backpack and sleeping mat that belonged to the other travelers as well as an extra air filter that were all in flames.  the attendant threw them on the side of the road, which was piled up with dead leaves, which in turn caught on fire

controled burns by mae salong

controled burns by mae salong

so, for maybe 2 minutes it’s panic – everyone’s giving what water they have and the attendant and driver are trying to put out the fires.  by now other buses have pulled over now to see the commotion

after 10 minutes it was all okay – turns out the pack was placed on top the battery and heated up too much, hence fire.  luckily, jeff and my packs were on the rear side in their own compartment (we had placed them at that exact spot over the battery and changed our mind at the last minute, moving them to the back…. crazy!)

from that bus, we made our way to the town of interchange and hopped on another bus, arriving at the last stop around 7pm.  mae salong (where we needed to get to) was supposedly 1.5 hours more…so we looked for a bus but couldn’t see any.  we ended up with a german couple that had the same idea, and followed their lead in hitchhiking

within seconds we were in the back of a truck, packs and all.  by this point it was completely dark out and we started our ride up and into the mountains… it was beautiful!!! driving in pitch black, looking up at the thousands of stars and then on either side of us were mountains in lines of flames (controlled burns, not our bus fire)…. quite magical. 

mae salong hills

mae salong hills

since we went by truck, within 45 minutes we were at mae salong and dropped off at our guest house.

mae salong, a village created by chinese soldiers fleeing their country in the 1940′s, is now the tea capitol of northern thailand.  its a village of a town, scattered on tops and bottoms of mountains.  the houses were all very small, all tea houses, with only 4 guesthouses and maybe 3 restaurants in the whole town.  no bars and very limited foreigners…quite nice. 

we rented a motorbike and explored on the back roads and in between, going though tons of tea terraces/farms, lahu, akha, and chinese villages, and then through the tea houses where everyone wants them to try their tea: oolong, green, jasmine, ginseng….quite delicious. jeff was stoked to feel that ‘tea high’ again. 

cruising on our motorbike we felt, and looked, just like dumb and dumber – cruising at a speed of 5mph straight up a hill. a few times i had to hop off the back and walk… guess that was due to all the damn good coconut curries and chang i’ve been eating…..

we’re both just stoked to find a chill place with not to many other tourists.  we loved pai of course, but now we’re really off the ‘beaten path’ per se… but tomorrow we rejoin it and head further into the golden triangle…..”

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do SE Asia (11 of 40)

elephant ride

burning butts and tongues…
“my butt is killing me and jeffs inner thighs are a burning…. we finally rode the chang.  his name was niompio, and was a male at the age of 30 years old.  we chose to go barback rather than the chair.  we were able to go for an 1 and a half, any long erwould have killed us both! but, we did it, we rode an elephant. 

we started through the dry forest, our helper dude ‘chicken’ on the head, stacy at the riens and jeff in the back holding on.  it was like riding the biggest horse ever – bareback… and then throw in the scaley ruff skin with three inch long hairs pointing into you.  and man was he slow!  and hungry. 

lets wok with tee

"lets wok with tee"

there was a few times when we both thought he was gonna roll us over so he could get to some food.  but after 45 minutes of riding on his back, we made it down to the river where he ‘bathed’ us with his trunk, and then doused us by rolling us over.  very intimidating the first few times feeling this giant elephant rolling over and sending you over too, only for him to maybe land on you.  but he didn’t. 

after riding him like a bronco and getting dumped on, we were completely drenched and cracking up.  great experience, but man were we sore the next two days….

‘let’s wok with tee!’  that was our cooking class.  we shopped around and went with this one.  when we arrived the first night just checking things out, we were immediately invited in to watch the current class going on and given whiskey and then served dinner…all for free. 

tee’s 34, from eastern thailand but went and holiday’d in pai 12 years ago and hasn’t left since, so he’s making his living through these classes. 

we started at 10am (no whiskey this early) and went over all the veggies and herbs most commonly used.  he realy just made you feel like you were at your own house, good tunes, casual and slow.  we picked out some curry pastes to make and then worked away. jeff made red curry paste which he turned into panang curry and i made masuman curry and dish. 

thai basil

thai basil

after 3 hours we had quite a feast.  then we took a break til 5:30 and returned to tee’s for stirfry.  we chilled a little more, drank some whiskey, got to know eachother a little more, learned all about sauces, and stir fried away… jeff made burnt red curry dish, i made holy basil with minced pork.  jeff then made our fav, green papaya salad, and i made tom yum soup… all along tee made dishes too that we picked out for him.  a great time, totally at our pace and retainable.  plus we’ve got a great cook book to go home with…..

we’ll have the dinner party when we get back and our in the mood for thai food again….”

The Heavenly Island of Provo

The breathtakingly gorgeous Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Overseas Territory located in the West Indies.  The islands are widely known for their gorgeous beaches, natural beauty, and pristine coral reefs. 

Providenciales, or Provo, is the urban center of Turks and Caicos and it is also the most popular island.  Interestingly, only about forty years ago, Provo did not have a single wheeled vehicle and today it is one of the most popular vacation destinations among tourists.  The gorgeous beaches, beautiful landscape, and tranquilizing atmosphere of the city will make you fall in love.

Provo is a paradisiacal island that is ideal for families and couples trying to get away from it all.  Provo has gorgeous, white sandy beaches with dazzling turquoise waters, and miles of coral reefs making it the ultimate diving destination.  Flamingo Divers offers diving with small groups of eight people of any experience level and it provides an exciting and memorable diving experience!  The most popular 12 mile stretch of the beach is located on Grace Bay and is surrounded by a barrier reef

At the beach, you can indulge in a host of enjoyable activities including parasailing, scuba diving, surfing, sailing, kite-surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, and waterskiing. 

Provo is a haven for golfers as it has one of the top ten golf courses of the Caribbean. 

The island also has the world’s only Conch farm; the mollusks with their beautiful pink shells take five years to grow.  The Conch farm offers tours during the winter; it is most definitely a must-see, unique attraction of the island. 

Another popular place of interest in Provo is The Hole located on the way to Long Bay Beach.  It is a breathtaking, bottomless pit that has ultimate natural beauty.  According to some, the pit is connected to the sea via underground tunnels.  The Hole is usually admired from the topside; you have to see this fascinating location on your visit!  

Historic points of interest in Provo include Cheshire Hill and Sapodilla Bay.  Cheshire Hall is a 200 year old building that consists of ruins of a prosperous cotton plantation.  The building ruins have been conserved and they offer beautiful views of the island providing a captivating contrast of the old Provo and the modern Provo. 

"The Hole" in ProvidencialesSapodilla Bay is a heavenly spot with white sand beaches and clear blue waters; there is a hill that overlooks Sapodilla Bay where you can observe historic stones engraved by shipwrecked sailors

Provo offers a luxurious and diverse dining experience.  The island has a wide variety of restaurants with distinct ambiances and cuisines.  A lot of restaurants have mouthwatering specials every day of the week!

During your stay at Provo, you must visit the island’s only live casino called Casablanca Casino.  The Casino is an exciting place with live gaming tables, a lounge, and a bar

At Provo Island, you are bound to have a magical vacation. Provo is a heavenly island that will leave you with memories of a lifetime!

St. Martin – the perfect blend of 2 countries!

St. Martin is a magical island that is shared by the French and the Dutch; the two countries share an almost indiscernible and friendly border.  However, each side maintains its distinctiveness and represents its own culture

The island has a very calm and secluded environment that makes it a perfect spot for vacationers.  The fact that the island has two distinct cultures makes it an exciting place to visit.  The beautiful island is warm and sunny throughout the year, the average temperature is about 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

Marigot, the capital city of St. Martin, has a vibrant French culture – it has colonial houses, bistros, pastry shops, luxurious boutiques, and European fashions.  The best part is that the entire city is very accessible and vacationer-friendly because it only has four wide streets. 

The figure of Fort St. Louis is a huge historical monument that is located on the side of the island and it overlooks the Marigot Bay.  While you’re looking at this monument, you can get a great panoramic view of the island.  At the South of Marigot, there is a museum that preserves the island’s history and culture as it has an abundance of pre-Colombian treasures and extensive displays that manifest the plantation and slavery period. 

Paradise Peak is the highest point on the island, after climbing 1,400 feet to the top, you can get a magnificent view of the landscape and tropical forest.  On the east of the island, there is a small village called Orleans, or French Quarter, which still preserves some of the seventeenth-century structures.  Spending a day in this beautiful village is a great learning experience that you will thoroughly enjoy. 

There are a ton of fun-filled activities that the great island offers.  St. Martin has thirty seven stunning and unique beaches.  The beach at Grand Case and the Anse Marcel beaches have vibrant local cultures and are great beaches to visit with families.  Orient Bay beach is unique because it has white sand and it offers a great variety of water-sports. 

Dining in St. Martin is world famous- the cuisine there ranges from French delicacies to Asian and Indian cuisine.  There are plenty of renowned restaurants on this island; many of them play music for dancing as well. 

Given the rich culture of St. Martin, the gorgeous beaches, the historical sites, the enjoyable activities, and the romantic and peaceful atmosphere, a trip to this beautiful island will be a magical one that you will cherish for the rest of your life!

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do SE Asia (10 of 40)

our little bungalow

our little bungalow

and we’re off…part 2
in the morning, everyone was up at the crack of dawn, and the whole family was up and about getting things ready for the day.  women were already returning from the forest with baskets full of dried leaves, to either use as fuel or as roofing, kids were running everywhere, water was boiling, roosters were kooing, dogs were barking, it was quite a lively village.  as jeff and i walked around the village there were a few ecstatic ‘hello’s’ but mostly stares. 

after a large breakfast of scrambled eggs, a whole loaf of white bread toasted for us, hot tea…. we were on our way.  our plan was to go up to a lahu village then over to another karen village and then to a cave, waterfall, and get lessons on more bamboo cooking uses.  we ventured on through some burn fields (created for rice paddie farms) on to the lahu village.

lahu village

lahu village

within 20 minutes we were at the next village, a lahu village.  so close together, but there were so many little differences between the two it was pretty amazing.  appearance all together was different, this one seeming a little tidier, not as many trees and bushes or fences either.  and a lot more cows – tons of cows.  the houses themselves were made slightly differnt materials: palm leaves as roofs instead of the teak leaves, and the siding was actual wood slabs rather than woven wood.  the language different too.  we hung at a house for almost 45 minutes drinking tea and watching the men talk over banana leaf rolled cigarettes and observing. mong, the local lahu guide is hilarious – especially after some moonshine or even red bull.  he mumbles to himself as the leader of the pack.  we’d always ask him what kind of terrain was ahead, and he’d say, oh, easy easy, no hill, and then we would arrive at a steap and long hill, but to him, it wasn’t a hill.  pretty amazing. 

whisky in a bucket!

whisky in a bucket!

at the next karen village we were given yet another large meal, similar to the others along with tea and soda this time.  we relaxed for quite some time, went with some of the locals to look at the local ‘coffin cave’ (a 5 minute walk from where we were) saw a large old wooden coffin, then waited till it was time to go meet the truck.

overall a fantastic experience – we do wish we could have finished out the trip, but after jeffs spider experience, we were all a little nervous to camp in the jungle itself.  so instead, the next day we went with our new friends to the pool in pai and chilled all day long at the pool drinking beer and eating french fries… can’t beat that!
 
at night we decided to go out and see what the real nightlife was all about.  we went to a bar called re-tox (vs detox…clever) that was all about drinking games – chalk boards covered the walls with ongoing scores between countries based on the speed of drinking, the quantity of drinking, anything from beer to shots
jeff & our new french friends!

jeff & our new french friends!

this night happened to be the canadian owners birthday so he threw himself a party.  we weren’t really sure what to expect but before we knew it we were joining in on some dice games and drinking a bucket of whiskey.  the group was kinda small, about 15 of us, so we partied on and then ventured out to some other bars come midnight.  we met a crazy and cool west african chick that had some amazing stories of hitching through sudan and such, some crazy french (see photos), scots, irish, etc… by the time we made it to the next bar, we were well on our way so decided to call it a night before it was too late.  later we found out the rest of the gang was out til 7in the morning… wow were we glad we didn’t make it out that long, we felt hungover enough as it was…. but now we can say we partied hard in thailand!

next on the agenda:  elephant riding tonight, cooking class tomorrow, then monday we venture on…….

The Galapagos Islands – Spotlight: Isabella

First made famous by the great naturalist, Charles Darwin, the diverse assortment of mammals, birds, reptiles and marine life found on the Galapagos Islands make for an unparalleled look at what happens when nature is left unspoiled by the footprint of the modern way of life.

And while the Galapagos Islands have become mystified over the years, visitors shouldn’t expect to encounter freaky hybrid animals.  There are no iguana-mingos or sea-boobies, but there are plenty of marine iguanas, pink flamingos, sea lions and blue-footed boobies, as well as penguins, dolphins, whales, the famed Alcedo tortoises, and many, many other animals including Darwin’s finches.

What is a bit unique (though still far more cool than freaky) is that, besides figuring out some kind of harmonious and symbiotic relationship among themselves, these animals seem to tolerate if not welcome human presence.  There are countless stories of dolphins “dancing” in the water or mimicking tourists as they swim, or finches perching on peoples hands to grab a quick snack of seeds.

New York Times writer, Josephine Humphrey, wrote this of her experience:

“I met up with a blue-footed booby standing smack in the middle of the footpath. It made no offer to step aside and let me pass. Looking into its birdy eye, I saw . . . nothing at all. No fear, but also no aggression. No anxiety, affection, hope, recognition. Its indifference was profound, as if I were invisible, although I’d been told that if I did step too close it might jab at me with its beak. This strange fearlessness can’t be explained by any local history of kindness on the part of man. Even Darwin killed birds and ate tortoises. The blue-footed booby wasn’t afraid of me, but the name for this is not tameness. It’s genetic innocence. Since the animals evolved in the absence of man, their innocence exists at a molecular level. I saw it again in the eye of an albatross just before it turned to begin its mating dance; I saw it in the stare of a sea lion nursing her pup on the beach. The animals felt nothing for people one way or the other, yet all around them were people, including me, in love with the animals.”

Isabella is the largest of the archipelagos that make up the Galapagos Islands, which were formed right smack on the equator over a million years ago when a series of volcanoes merged.  Not many tourists visit this Island, which has the largest colony of Galapagos tortoises and picturesque beaches complete with coconut palms.

Sidenote – because of the flourishing animal life on the Islands, it is the general assumption that the plant life is just as abundant.  The Galapagos is not a lush Gilligan’s Island type place.  The Islands tend to me more barren and rocky and, in some areas, are devoid of vegetation entirely, mostly due to the recent volcanic activity.

Puerto Villamil is the main “hub” of Isabella and thrives mostly on fishing, tourism and agricultural activities.  With its sandy streets it is a welcomed escape from the more touristy Islands of the Galapagos.  There are very few motor vehicles and the whole town seems to adapt to the slow pace of the local tortoises.  Villamil has friendly (mostly Spanish-speaking) locals who are happy to point you in the direction of the nearest great place to find a hammock and relax, swim and snorkel – all within walking distance from the main drag.  The town has a good selection of accommodations and small seafood restaurants.  In Isabella there are no banks, so remember to bring enough cash to last you your entire stay.

But before you book your flight to Isabella, stay tuned for upcoming articles exploring the other Islands of the Galapagos…

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do Southeast Asia (9 of 40)

stacy and her stick in the bamboo

stacy and her stick in the bamboo

and we’re offpart 1
“before we knew it, mong (our local guide) charged down the hill with his basket on his back full of tons of food, water, a pot, and who knows what else…. we were told to follow with our little daypacks on our back, toil (our pai guide) following behind.

we started through farmlands, then down to a creek through banana and bamboo groves.  first order of business was walking sticks.  the men stopped got out there machetes and cut each of us a sturdy bamboo walking stick.  we were off….

jungle lunch

we hiked up, down and around, and it was hot hot hot!  but we had our water, and every once in awhile it would get a little cooler.  we ventured through major teak groves and bamboo groves…we trumped over dry clay, through creeks, over bamboo fences, and through masses of dried huge leaves…it felt like trumping through snow, only a little crunchier sounding.  and of course, going through my mind was wondering what was underneath all these leaves, perhaps a poisonous snake? a giant spider? even a big lizard would give me a jump… but no such luck thank god.

villiage street

after a few hours we stopped for lunch in a dry creek bed.  the two guides pulled down some banana leaves and created some seats for us, then they swiftly created a fire with twigs, cut down some bamboo and made a mortar and pestle to crush chili and two bamboo cups for his homemade ‘moonshine whiskey’ – so resourceful! we sat in amazement as we watched the two of them create this tremendous lunch:  ramen noodles with tons of fresh veggies, salted fish, pork belly, and a fresh chili sauce using some ‘wild olives’ they found in the forest.  it was great, and super delish!

karen villiage

karen village

as we were sitting, we glanced above at the banana leaves and realized they were moving… there were thousands, if not millions, of daddy long leg spiders with the longest legs you’ve ever seen! and when the fire started, the smoke must of spooked them cause it started raining daddy long legs…. you could hear it even as they made a run for the ground, and crawling on us! it was crazy, but okay, none of us freaked too much, rather observed in amazement!

curious karen girl

curious karen girl

we tried some moonshine, and it literally evaporated on your tongue – strong stuff! and the two, toil and mong downed this stuff.  it must keep them running.  after lunch we ventured on to a waterfall, took a little dip, then we were on to the village.  all in all we probably hiked around 16 km (miles??) up down and around, we were totally pooped!

we arrived at the karen village at dusk and were escorted to a house where tea awaited us.  the ‘hill tribe’ was very much a village, with one satellite in sight, but still very rustic. we were greeted by what seemed like one very large family.  the village itself consists of around 25 families. the house was two rooms, only separated by a half size wall and an open doorway and a step.  the front room was the ‘kitchen’ and hangout area with some storage, the back room the sleeping area.  large mats were thrown down with a small table and from there we were waited on all night long with tea, way too much food, snacks, fruit, etc….

karen generations

karen generations

the dinner was rice, dandelion soup with pork, morning glory greens with cat ear mushrooms, noodles with veggies…. all very good!  and then we were given large samplings of a karen dinner… similar to ours but more spice and thrown in some dried fish and chili and tuna sauce that an eggplant like veggie was dipped into.  soo much food though, but all good.  the stars were amazing.  the most we’ve seen yet by far.  everybody was very nice, lots of staring from the curious kids too.

after we set up our beds, we all fell asleep pretty swiftly.  but then… shortly after a lil sleep, jeff was awakened by a small sensation – after a little more focus on it, he felt something crawl up his beardand then all giant 8 legs hit his face, just over his eye!  aaahhhhh!”   we had previously seen this suckers outside in their bathroom:  the size of your palm, dirt brown, skinny long legs and big eyes…… jeff swiftly and quickly grabbed it and threw it against the wall beside him creating quite a pound and a thump to follow, just to show you how big this guy was.  after debating whether or not to wake me and tell me, he chose to wait til morning and then mummified himself in his blankets and tried to get more shut eye.  so glad it wasn’t me, i think i would have screamed bloody murder!

more on our trek to come….

Travel America – Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Kitty Hawk is a lovely town located in Dare County, North Carolina.  It is an old city that was established in the 1700s and was previously known as Chickahawk.  At one point, Kitty Hawk was a remote area; today it is one of the most thriving beach communities where thousands of vacationers visit every year.  The town has both a laid-back, romantic atmosphere and exciting attractions including sandy beaches, great shopping, superb dining, entertainment facilities, and enjoyable aquatic activities.  Kitty Hawk is an ideal town to relax and to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

By far, what attracts most vacationers to Kitty Hawk is the beaches! Particularly in the spring and summer, you can sunbathe, take a nice nap, read a book or people watch at the beach.  For ultimate relaxation, you can take a yoga class or get a massage.  In addition, you can hunt for shells or sea glass, swim, fly a kite, build a sand castle, surf, and boogie board.  You can literally spend your entire vacation at the beach without experiencing a dull moment!

Kitty Hawk is also a great city for fishing; TW’s Bait and Tackle is an impressive facility that provides fishing paraphernalia.  Besides aquatic activities, miniature golf is a popular attraction for the family.  You can also enjoy golf at the popular Seascape Golf Course.  Kitty Hawk Woods is a great attraction that has a maritime, forest, swamp, and marsh.  You can explore this 461 acre area and find a variety of animals including gray foxes, white-tailed deer, amphibians, river otter, hawks, and herons.  For hiking lovers, there is an impressive trail as well.   

Along with the outdoor activities, Kitty Hawk also has indoor attractions.  Kitty Hawk is a great city to eat out in; there are great restaurants that have Eastern North Carolina barbecue and local seafood is definitely a favorite!  You can relax while sipping on a cocktail at the patio of Ocean Boulevard and enjoy breathtaking views from the Black Pelican.

Shopping in the city is enjoyable as there are a bunch of locally owned and interesting shops in town.  Whether you are looking for homemade dog biscuits, local artwork, funky clothing, accessories, beach souvenirs, you are bound to find something of interest at Kitty Hawk.  For some entertainment, you can go to the Outer Banks Music Showcase that offers shows featuring live music and comedy.  The Music Showcase plays diverse music including pop, country, and beach hits.  During the winter, special shows are offered like Bluegrass and Elvis tribute.

Kitty Hawk has a great location because popular attractions like Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head are only a short drive away.  Kitty Hawk is a lovely city that provides a wonderful vacation experience.  A vacation at Kitty Hawk in a beach house will leave you with a lifetime of memories!

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do Southeast Asia (8 of 40)

lahu men

lahu men

the trek
“on our 3rd day here in pai we ventured out on a trek.  after seeing all the places in chiang mai we were getting kinda picky.  we didn’t want to just take a truck and get dropped off at the village and then turn around and get back on the truck.  thats’ what most of tours looked like.  we found a local guide named toil that seemed pretty cool – he caught our attention right away.

so we signed up for a 3 day 2 night trek, 1 night in a karen village the other camping in the jungle.  we lucked out with just 1 other couple with us, vs the other treks who would go with around 15 people.

so we hopped in the back of toils truck and ventured off.  our first stop, the tourist police.  toil gave them photo copies of our passports and informed them where we were off to.  then the head police guy comes out to us in the truck and gives us almost a farewell speech, it was crazy.  he pretty much said be safe its dangerous out there, our lives are in toils hands so respect him, and then finished it off with saying he hopes we return.

our guide

our guide

wow, you should have seen all of our faces.  what had we gotten ourselves into ?!?!  (later, at the end of course, toil tells us he’s never had the guy say that before and it even gave him the shivers! but here we are, safe and sound… )

so, we drove 45 minutes northwest and then off the main road up a fairly bumpy dirt road – pretty much reminded me of the indiana jones ride at disneyland…grasping on the handlebars as ventured up.  we arrived at a lahu village.

all these ‘hill tribe’ villages are migrants from burma and china from hundreds of years past.  each has their own language dialect and culture.  we were greeted by two guys, as well as puppies, pigs, cows, and chickens, all roaming around.  we were also greeted by a local guy, named mong, who was to serve as our guide.

stay tuned and we’ll tell you all about the trek….”

The Secluded Abaco Island – Bahama’s Little Paradise

The beautiful Abaco Island, also called “the top of the Bahamas,” is located in the northernmost portion of the country.  The south of Abaco Island is comprised of a group of small islands and settlements including Casuarina Point, Elbow Cay, and Little Harbor.

Each settlement is worth exploring because of its uniqueness.  However, all the islands share the beautiful warm weather year-round and spectacular views.  Vacation homes are popular among tourists as they capture the true essence of the island and make you feel at home away from home.

Casuarina Point is a small, exclusive settlement that is located on the breathtaking beach.  The beaches are usually secluded and they are perfect for couples and also for families to spend private, quality-time with each other.   Luxurious beach houses are ideal for family reunions and for couples looking for a getaway.  At the beach, this is right outside your doorstep, you can enjoy gorgeous views of sunrises and sunsets, have privacy in a serene atmosphere, and observe the tropical landscape.  You can also indulge in snorkeling, fishing, scuba diving, and fishing.

Elbow Cay is a nice island that stretches to the renowned Tahiti Beach.  You can go to restaurants and bars that you can reach by rented boats of golf carts.

Little Harbor is a laid-back, tranquil community of South Abaco Island.  It has a captivating deserted lighthouse that you can explore.  The beautiful sandy beach along the community has a number of boats and great rock cliffs to observe.  Little Harbor is a haven for people that like to fish and it is also a perfect idea for bone-fishing.  You can turtle watch which is an enchanting experience as the serene waters are replete with sea turtles.  The different communities of South Abaco Island make fantastic vacation destinations.  At Elbow Cay, you can visit nice restaurants and enjoy Tahiti Beach.  Casuarina Point is a little taste of paradise with its privacy and pristine beauty.  While staying at a beach house in this beautiful location, you will feel as if you are on your own island!

Party with Brazil’s own Morro de Sao Paulo!

Morro de Sao Paulo (St. Paul’s Hill) is just about as good as it gets when it comes to a laid back vacation destination.  And while the island is not far from easy-to-get-to locations like Salvador, the small town has no cars and a much slower-paced lifestyle despite its popular nightlife.

The village of Morro de Sao Paulo is known for its grand festas. Hotels, pousadas, and restaurants that line the sandy path of Rua Caminho das Praias or Beach Road.  Stop in any of the restaurants and try the fresh local cuisine or a raska – Brazil’s favorite cocktail made from local tropical fruits, sugar, crushed ice and a splash of vodka.  Each restaurant will have their own take on the drink so try a few and find your favorite!

The Northeast coast of Brazil is famous for its beaches and Morro de Sao Paulo has arguably the best…so good that the beaches have no names as the natural beauty speaks for itself.  Merely named ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘third’ and ‘fourth’ each beach has its perks.

Summer homes that have long been located on First Beach now serve as pousadas or “inns” for surfers and other vacationers visiting from all over the globe during Brazil’s winter (America’s summer) months.  This is the best time to visit as the population of the town nearly doubles during the Brazilian summer – North American winter.

First Beach’s offers the most consistent waves to surf on, crystal-clear waters and is also home to most of the seaside restaurants.  Note:  Like everything else, Brazil likes their food spicy!  If you’re not a fan, make sure you order it mild!   This beach is also where you will find the tirolesa, or zipline, that runs from a lighthouse up on one of the morros, or hills, down to the beach – definitely something to try!

If you’re looking for excitement, head down to Second Beach – the party beach!  Bring your camera for a perfect photo op as you wind down Second Beach’s staircase – it offers amazing views of several of the island’s beaches and the sparkling ocean.  Brazilian “Luaus” take place along the beach every Saturday and nightly during the weeks leading up to Brazil’s Carnaval festival.  Since the parties often last into the morning, steer clear of Second Beach if this isn’t your scene. 

However, Second Beach is more than a party – one of Brazil’s most famous cultural arts, Capoeira, is preformed here every evening.  With the setting sun as the backdrop for this acrobatic martial art, you will not want to miss this!  Ask around for performance locations or simply follow the crowd!

Attention divers – on Third Beach you’ll find more pousadas and restaurants and less crowds as the beaches tend to get progressively quieter.  You’ll also find Caita Island, a large barrier reef just off of the shore (with up to 15 meter visibility!).  Rent a a kayak, snorkeling gear or dive gear and head out – the island is right off the beach!

Fourth Beach is the largest of Morro de Sao Paulo’s and is another reef beach.  It is the quietest of the four beaches making it the perfect place to laze under a palm tree, watch for jumping dolphins in the ocean and listen to the sound of the waves while sipping a roska.  Snorkelers and divers will find an assortment of coral and some of the brightest colored fish in all of Brazil. 

With 4 amazing beaches to choose from, a rich marine life, a variety of water and beach sports to partake in and local “must see’s” such as the Old Fort Ruins and Morro Lighthouse, make Morro de Sao Paulo your next south-of-the-boarder vacation!

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do Southeast Asia (7 of 40)

early morning

early morning

chiang mai to pai
“we actually survived beautiful bangkok! we have a few more things to do there but were going to wait until stacy’s mom arrives. after our overnight bus ride, which was a shitty bus with old uncomfortable seats we arrived in chiang mai.

the bus company has this little scam when you show up in town. they say that the bus can’t go into town so they need to drop you off outside and they will have their truck taxi take you into old town….so we all get out and load up into the taxi (around 10 people per) and they take us to a guest house where they offered coffee or tea.  its a good offer since it’s around 6:30 in the morning.

minutes later, after we woke up from our travels, they brought out a picture board that shows all the treks they offer in the mountains. 3 days, 2 nights, one day you hike then the next you ride an elephant through the jungle then you finish by riding a bamboo raft down a river – sounds pretty cool!  they sweeten the deal with a one night free room if you book it.

stacy and i are trying to get off the standard backpacker scam trail so we left for our guest house that we already arranged. i never thought i would be traveling with a cell phone but i have to say it makes thing easy in se asia.

once we were settled we went out to see chiang mai, the town everyone is talking about. a lot of the backpackers stay in the old part off town which is surrounded by a moat, and on the interior of that was a large wall around the city (now only the main gate is still standing). we search for what everyone has been talking about, but we only found a cool reggae roof-top bar and the night market where everyone goes to buy their gifts. stacy found some cool silver jewelry and a dress, as I found a chang wallet.

after we decided we weren’t really diggin on chiang mai, we fled and went up to pai, about three hours northwest on a windy road.  finally, a great place!  chiang mai was just too much of a city still for us.  pai is just the opposite.

killer pai breakfast - wild mushroom crepe and tomato salad

killer pai breakfast - wild mushroom crepe and tomato salad

hardly any cars on the road, maybe more motor bike, if even that, and bicycles.  it was described in the book as a little hippie town and that it is.  a little more touristy than in the past i’m sure, but still a great feeling all around.  now we’re staying in a killer little bungalow on the river just across from downtown, very cheap too!

the food everywhere has been excellent, all organic, some even vegan.  even the western food is great, though the thai is beyond excellent.  and of course, being the hippie town it is, lots of wheat grass shots, tons of different teas for every ailment out there, and then there’s the crystal wand therapy, reiki, yoga and good ol’ meditation… almost a little berkeley in the hills!”

Life’s a Beach in St. Croix!

St. Croix is a beautiful island in the Caribbean Sea and a county of the US Virgin Islands.  St. Croix, the largest of the Virgin Islands, has two different towns to explore – Christiansted and Frederiksted.  Each town is distinct and scenic, and carries all the offerings of a lively destination.  The gorgeous beaches, sunny weather, vibrant culture, and exceptional beauty contribute to making St. Croix a popular tourist hotspot!

St. Croix is known for its breathtaking beaches.  Due to the wide variety and uniqueness of the beaches, the term “life is a beach” particularly rings true in St. Croix.  The island is surrounded by many distinguished beaches which are globally ranked.  Some of the beaches include the Hibiscus Beach, Turtle Beach on Buck Island, Cane Bay Beach, and Coakley Bay Beach.  Hibiscus Beach is ideal for snorkeling; Turtle Beach, which is accessible by one of the ubiquitous charter sail boats on the island, was declared a national monument by President Kennedy because of its indescribable beauty; Cane Bay Beach has clear waters, beautiful views, snorkeling, and diving on the reefs; and Coakley Bay Beach is a gorgeous and secluded beach.  

Scuba diving is an extremely popular activity at St. Croix as the island has more than 50 beautiful diving sites to choose from.  St. Croix is considered “undiscovered” to some extent, hence, there are a lot of hidden treasures waiting to be unveiled in this island.  St. Croix is known in the Caribbean for its eco – tourism opportunities – you can explore an untouched environment from the mountain peak all the way down to the coral reef!  In addition, the Caribbean island is a paradise for golf-lovers with three scenic, award-winning courses to choose from.

The culture of the city is portrayed in its colorful flora and fauna, the authentic arts and crafts, the music, and the nightlife.  St. Croix’s stunning plant life decorate hillsides and roads and add a dimension to the culture of the island.  The beautiful plants are used for many practical and medicinal purposes in the island.  St. Croix art is displayed in many different forms including painting, sculpture, pottery, crafts, photography, and woodwork.  Each form captures the essence of St. Croix in a unique manner and depicts the island’s sea, sunset, sunrise, plants, and culture.  You can enjoy St. Croix’s nightlife at buzzing beach bars, bistros, or balcony cafes while you can dance the night away to reggae, rock or jazz tunes. 

St. Croix has excellent dining – there are many restaurants that serve excellent food, and have beautiful balcony views.  Mouthwatering, fresh seafood is a specialty of the island and you cannot go wrong with a clawless Caribbean lobster.  Calypso Daiquiri made with Cruzan Rum or mango salsa flavored drinks are very popular in the island. 

The island is a festive place that celebrates events with a lot of zest.  The Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a memorable event with parades of colorful displays of floats, and costumed characters.  The St. Croix Food and Wine Experience in April is a weeklong event that features the well-known people of St. Croix’s food and beverage industry. 

You can experience fine dining, wine tasting, and spot a few celebrities as well! St. Croix is a beautiful and exciting destination that promises a memorable vacation!

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do Southeast Asia (6 of 40)

local thai market - meow!

local thai market - meow!

conglomerate of stories…
“favorite food in phuket:  in our last few days in phuket, we found this little locals place hidden back off the road and tried their papaya salad for lunch, it was delicious.  we were so turned on by the spot we tried it for dinner that night.  the setting was something of an outdoor living room, the only other diners being what seemed family members and close friends.  the food was great and cheap! our first dinner there we sat and watched some thai tv drama while i sipped on so-co and coke…. it was great.  we ended up eating all of our meals there over the next two days and all were fantastic!  it was run by pretty much the sweetest lady with the best smile.  her daughter was a mini-me, looking to be 10 or so and seemed to be in training for a future running the restaurant.  dad looked like samuel l jackson if he were thai – by far the biggest/thickest guy we’d seen yet.  on our last night the woman was so sad to learn we were leaving for bangkok and, before we knew it, she ran off and then returned minutes later with this little plush blue bear.  she handed it to us and said it was for good luck on our travels and to make sure we come back when we return later in the trip.  it was great!  hugs and all and a firm handshake from the husband….great departure.

fresh orchids for sale

fresh orchids for sale

chinatown, bangkok:  it was like the stockroom of a dollar store or a walmart with all the hair things and fashion jewelry you could ask for.  swarming with ladies and girls.  crazy.  it then unfolded into the food market, which as the photos show, are not for the faint of heart.  it had anything and everything - most we didnt’ know what it was.  You can only imagine the smells that went with it…

teddy ska, brick bar, koh san road:  in search for the bathroom (cause I always have to go at the wrong time) we came accross a back-ally bar with live music coming out!  we decided to enter this dark brick-walled bar and check it out.  we walk in to a crazy rad bar filled with local 20-somethings rocking out to this really amazing ska band.  we were the only ‘farongs’ in there by far. it was great.  we met this drunk kid who proceeded to buy us beers and show usa good time.  sooooooo much whiskey there it was unbelievable.  for 1000 baht (a little short of 30 bucks) you buy a bottle and go to town.  nobody was drinking beer but us, so we too went to whiskey eventually.  but it was just so cool to see all these kids loving life and rocking out.  great tunes too, kinda like a mix between save ferris and no doubt…. we learned they’re a pretty famous thai band so we really lucked out in finding it…so cool can’t tell ya enough!!!!

monks waiting for the boat taxi

monks waiting for the boat taxi

with that we were on a music search and got a list of some top reggae and ska bands.  we bought our first cds today, “kaijai brothers”, famous for their song tuk tuk brokedown… the only bummer is now we can’t listen to them unless we find a usb cord for the ipod.  but we also, learned of “job 2 do” which is known for their song ‘do do do do…’ we had never heard it until today, but everybody refers to it everywhere…. and then “t-bone” which is  more ska…. we tried to get our friends from last night at the bar to write down their favorite bands for us, but too much whiskey and too loud….

stacy’s hair:  we were bored in phuket and i was frustrated with my hair being constantly wet and in knots… so jeff cut it.  he did a pretty damn good job too, but thanks to some remaining layers from my last cut, it wasn’t too hard.  i haven’t had my hair this short since highschool!  and it feels oh so fresh and so clean….

now we’re off to chang mai on an overnight bus……

cheers, peace and love!”

Explore California’s Central Coast

The 2004 hit movie Sideways did wonders for California’s wine industry, showing that the long fêted Napa Valley is not the only California wine region worthy of acclaim.  With almost 200 wineries between San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles there is a tasting atmosphere and tasty vintage to appease every palate. 

Mimicking the famed growing climates of long renowned wine regions, the micro-climates, soil varieties, rainfall, elevation and long growing season of this area accommodate many of the same varieties of grapes previously known only to Europe and the surrounding areas.  The Central Coast is, however, unique because of the contrasting daytime high temperatures (ranging between 85 and 105 degrees) and chilling nighttime temperatures that drop by 50 or 60 degrees.  Winemakers believe this fluctuation to be a key factor in exuding the intensity found in grapes of this area.  Known mostly for it’s superb Zinfandel grapes, the Central Coast conditions also supports the growth of dozens of wine grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Viognier, Roussanne, even Mourvedre.

The Cuesta Grade, separates San Luis Obispo into “north county” and “south county”, making it a little less daunting to tasters wanting to make a dent in the vast array of tasting rooms in the county, allowing them to conquer one area at a time.  North of the grade, in Paso Robles, are several wineries and tasting rooms, all located in “West Paso” as the local’s refer to it – meaning west of HWY 101.  Some of the most popular include Tablas Creek Vineyard, Justin Winery, Eberle Winery, and Opolo Vineyards. West Paso is known for its rolling hills, meandering roads and sun-filtering oak trees.  A whole other crop of wineries can be found in East Paso.  East of the 101 tends to have more level parcels with the majority of the wineries dotted along or just off of HWY 46.  This includes Vina Robles, Martin & Weyrich Winery, and the notorious Tobin James Cellars.

San Luis Obispo proper is located at the base of the Cuesta Grade.  Cooler temperatures (sometimes by as much as 10 degrees on a summer day)  alter the chemistry of the product and make for a different tasting experience.  Many of the wineries and vineyards of San Luis Obispo boarder Edna Valley, which runs east to west and is paralleled by the Santa Lucia Mountains.  The location of Lake Lopez to the south and Islay Hill to the north helps to keep the valley cool with breezes also rolling in off of the Pacific Ocean.  Edna Valley Vineyards, with its picturesque panoramic views of rolling vineyards from its tasting room, along with Meredian Vineyards, Baileyana Winery, Claiborne & Churchill Vintners, and a host of others, can be found nestled among the vibrant fields of San Luis Obispo’s grapevines.

In addition to introducing new varietals to the area, many central coast winemakers are testing innovating ways to alter the finished taste of the wine.  While some prefer the tried and true traditional method of aging wine in Oak barrels, some are embracing the newer practice of employing stainless steel barrels in order to produce a crisper wine…and some use a combination of the two methods.  Cutting edge or classics – all can be found and enjoyed while exploring the tasting rooms and vineyards that the Central Coast has to offer.

The Central Coast is a great place for a weekend trip or a vacation stay – besides the selection of vineyards and tasting rooms, there is also a number of beaches and state parks to visit.  San Simeon (and Hearst Castle), Cambria, Cayucos, Avila, Montana de Oro, Morro Bay, Los Osos, Shell Beach and Pismo Beach each have their individual charm and make for a great day at the beach!

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do Southeast Asia (5 of 40)

rasta tuk tuk

rasta tuk tuk

maggot soup
“we’re in bangkok!  our flights in and out of malaysia were a piece of cake – still a pain in the arse – but it went smoothly.  once at the brand new airport in bangkok, we received our 30 day visa and are good to go!  the airport is only 2 years old so it’s shiny, sparkling, and huge (not to mention state of the art)

making sure to really use all our connections, we were met by brian, my friend’s brother-in-law at the airport.  brian is finishing up his third year (maybe more) living here in thailand.  his first two years were spent volunteering for the peace corps in a village north of bangkok.  now he’s working with the education department per se through the gov’t in town.  needless to say, he’s fluent and know his stuff.

so, we were privileged to have him meet us at the airport and get us a taxi into town.  the day we flew in, monday, was a local buddhist holiday so nobody had to work.  we headed over to an area near koh san (the backpackers district), found a cozy little guest house ,and then started cruising.  brian took us around to all the cool places and showed us some great local dishes, all in thai of course!  and we tried our fair share of the different beers they offer here.

buddha feet with incense offerings

buddha feet with incense offerings

bangkok’s crazy and everyone seems a little jaded…not the same hospitality we’ve experienced so far.  not everyone of course, but a lot of the people at the street restaurant/carts, hotels, tours, and the vendors just really seem to be irritated and fed up.  granted, we understand, this place is swarming with ‘farongs’ (equivalent to gringo), but they are making a lot of money from it.  just different.

also, so far, thailand’s a little more expensive then planned – we are in a major tourist area so we’ll see how it is outside of town.  but as of now, jeff may have to sell his liver…a very quick and easy procedure here in thailand   :)    kidding!

we saw some buddhas and rode a tuk tuk (local taxi/golf cart type thing) around yesterday, pretty darn cool.  huge buddhas too.  today we’ll ride the boat taxi around just to do it.  it’s very hot here – i got my first pair of fisherman pants last night, so we’re slowly working into the thai way of doing things.  food’s still great, though we ate maggot soup yesterday.  yuk.

reggae bar

reggae bar

i was trying to be cool like the locals and ordered what our tuk tuk driver got – it looked like a regular ol soup.  at first taste, okay, something was different - but we pushed through it because everyone in the restaurant was looking at us and slightly giggling…hmmm.  at the bottom, of course, we looked closely and realized there were little maggots or potato bugs or something in it…. hence the ‘different’ flavor.  we stopped dead in our tracks.  we said it was too spicy and that we couldn’t finish it and went on our way… after chewing our super minty gum we survived.  just part of doing the thai thing i guess…!

tomorrow we head up to chang mai on an overnight bus…

cheers!”

Teriffic Vacation in Seaside, OR!

Seaside is a beautiful city located in Clatsop County, Oregon.  Seaside is a tourist hotspot because of its fabulous beaches, chic vacation homes, close proximity to Portland, and interesting events that occur throughout the year.  During the summer, you can watch the widely-known Hood-to-Coast Relay or the beach volleyball tournament; and during the winter, you can enjoy the beautiful beaches and serene atmosphere.  You are bound to have a wonderful vacation experience in Seaside no matter what time of the year you visit!

The terrific beaches of Seaside will keep you coming back to this city.   Seaside Beach is a scenic, sandy beach with clear waters.  At the beach, you will find volleyball, sandcastles, swing sets, kites and much more!  Seaside Promenade is a beautiful two-mile long walkway along Seaside Beach that you must check out.  You can embark on a soothing, beautiful stroll and watch the sunset or relax and soak in the beauty of the beaches and the glow on the sand produced by the reflection of the street lamps.  You can also start a little fire and listen to the sounds of the waves at night for a truly romantic experience.

Two notable state parks are located near Seaside: Del Rey State Park to the north and Ecola State Park to the south.  At the beautiful Del Rey State Park, you can relax, watch the view of the ocean, and have a wonderful family picnic.  The famous Ecola State Park includes Indian Beach and has unrivaled views of the Oregon Coast.  The park also has a historic dimension to it because you can walk along the Clatsop Loop Trail that has footsteps of Captain Clark and his men.

Seaside offers a variety of sports including swimming, surfing, volleyball, golf, tennis, kite-flying, and crabbing at Seaside’s 12 Avenue Bridge.  Fishing is a popular pastime in the city—anglers will encounter steelhead, trout and salmon in the waters!

One of the prime attractions of Seaside is the Seaside Aquarium which is one of the oldest aquariums on the West Coast.  At the aquarium, you can feed the seals and observe fascinating, native sea creatures.  In some of the underwater areas, you can see some exotic life forms including a spectacular 20-Ray StarFish, a brutal Wolf-Eel, or a deadly Moray Eel.  The Seaside Aquarium is most definitely a fascinating place to check out during your terrific vacation at Seaside!

Seaside has a variety of scrumptious restaurants and eateries.  Fresh seafood and well-known Oregon wines are the specialties at restaurants in Seaside.  Doogers Seafood and Grill is a great restaurant for seafood and Guido & Vito’s Italian Cuisine is a superb Italian bistro.  Seaside is a fantastic city for a vacation for the whole family.  By staying at a beautiful beach house, and exploring the different aspects of this city, you are bound to have a terrific vacation!

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do Southeast Asia (4 of 40)

the big buddah

the big buddah

getting out
“well we have been in phuket for a while now. stacy dental work was a success and she is feeling better! we’ve been spending our days on the motor bike cruising around the island.

one day we went to the biggest buddah in thailand, then we also went to see a movie at the mall on the same day (inkheart). for $12 we got our own private couch (that reclines!) and for $3 we got 2 large cokes and a medium carmel popcorn…we just wanted to treat ourselves.

then we cruz to patong beach where anything goes. its a pit of travelers, women that are men, girls of the night, souvenirs, anything you want. we walked around for a bit then headed back to nai han where we’re staying.

we stopped at the small view reggae bar for a bite to eat and to see the local band covering some bob marley, peter tosh, jimmy cliff, and some thai reggae originals. we recorded it with our audio recorder. once we figure out how to put it on the web site you will be able to hear our music recordings.

we went sailing on tuesday for the night with plans to sail for three days. we motored to an island for the first night where we anchored in the cove next to all the thai fishing boats. when we arrived, our new friend with the boat (chip, a family friend of stacy’s) brought his 3 new kittens along. we decided to take them to the beach. stacy and i went snorkeling while chip watched the kittens and they decided to go explore. they left for the whole night in the jungle. we all were very concerned motoring to shore in our zodiac every few hours.

crazy

crazy

long story short, they were on the beach in the morning safe, but a little scared. so we decided to go back to phuket and get the kittens home.

we’ll try the sailing when we return to thailand in a few months. stacy’s mom is coming to visit us soon so we’re excited to see some family and explore new places together.

lots more to tell but i hate computers and its sunny outside. i also need to work on my tan in my banana sling, chicks are diggin it (and of course, stacy too).

peace and love, jeff and stacy”

Isla de Roatan, Honduras – A Divers Dream

Roatan is a scuba diviers paradise.  Located off of the North Coast of Honduras, Roatan is one of the three Bay Islands and is quickly becoming a premier scuba diving destination.  Often called the Caribbean’s best-kept secret, the island boasts diverse and unique reef systems, friendly people, and is a unique culture full of authentic Caribbean charm…after all, it was once inhabited by pirates!

The three Islas de la Bahia – Roatan, Utila and Guanaja – lie along the southern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-longest coral reef in the world.  Beneath the clear turquoise waters is a trove of unbelievable riches: vibrant coral formations, enormous sponges, a wide variety of colorful fish as well as manta rays, sea turtles and whale sharks.  Yet prices remain remarkably low, (the Bay Islands are said to be the cheapest place in the world to get your PADI dive certificate!) making the Bay Islands a great place to learn scuba diving – and if you learn here, chances are, you’ll be hooked for life!  And don’t worry – if you’re like myself, who gets claustrophobic at the thought of being at the bottom of the ocean with only an air tank to keep you alive, the snorkeling in Roatan is pretty amazing too!

If you’ve never been to Roatan, you can plan on using your US dollars rather than the local lempiras as US currency is accapted, even welcomed, nearly everywhere.  Do keep an eye out for favorable conversion rates and cash in if and when it makes sense.  Also, expect to see a heavy military presence.  There is almost guaranteed to be an AK-47 wielding guard at the enterence to most establsihments – they keep a low profile and it is the general consensus that Honduras is safer for locals and tourists alike since the new government has implemented this military presence.

Regardless of your skill – or lack of – Roatan has everything for your diving vacation:  wreck diving, wall diving, scuba lessons, certification courses, and fun day or night dives.  The island has a wide variety of diving resorts, in addition to small hotels and independent diving operators offering outstanding diving opportunities at varying and competitive prices.

“Mary’s Place” is perhaps one of the most popular dive sites off of Roatan – the dive starts at a permanent mooring buoy on the reef shelf, along a vertical crevice that drops from 40′, with a huge section of the wall broken away from the main section to form a wide slit.  Smaller crevices invite exploration among bouquets of Rope and Tube Sponges, deepwater seafans and Black Coral.  A sand shelf drops from 140′ to 200′, offering a magnificent underwater view.

If you’ve never been wreck diving, “El Aguila” is an amazing sight – a 210′ cargo boat perfectly sunk in 100 feet of water on a sandy bottom full of Deep Garden Eels.  Divers can descend onto open large compartments where you can surprise a number of fish in their homes!  The wreck runs alongside a wall where many choose to finish off their dive among the shallow water tropical fish.

If you’re not into diving, Roatan is big enough to keep you busy, with botanical gardens, butterfly and iguana farms, canopy tours, and winding dirt roads leading to small villages and isolated bays.  And if you just want to relax, head to Roatan’s West End and West Bay,- the beaches there look like they could be right off of a brochure.  Picture clear turquoise water, powdery white sand and coconut palms.

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do Southeast Asia (3 0f 40)

elephant crossing

elephant crossing

planes, trains and automobiles….
“seriously, 37 hours worth…. but we made it to phuket from bali in that short amount of time.

it all started sunday morning at 8 o’clock we went into to kuta from padang, returned our car and hitched a ride to the airport. from there we took asia air (a great cheap airline that flies everywhere direct, their slogan ” now everyone can fly,” which was free seating – kinda a funny airplane all together, but big. we made it safe into kula lumpar, malaysia. from here we didn’t really know what our plan was, but at that point we decided to head straight into thailand and we’ll come back and do malaysia. we took an hour bus ride from the airport into town to the sentral train station. wow. niether of us really knew what to expect in malaysia. driving through what looked like thousands of day palm farms, out of nowhere a mini brand new suburb would pop up; classy shiny lookin houses! and the roads are immaculate. the whole infrastructure was amazing. something i’d expect to see in japan or something. and all the cars on this 4 lane freeway were big and newer than our car cars. getting closer into the city we could see larger buildings holding some major technology firms or something. and in town, the bridges look like that of melbourne with the lines going everywhich way to create a modern art piece.

not knowing anything, what we learned is that malaysia is quite the melody between chinese and indian; between muslim, buddhist, and christian. in one area you see ladies adorned in beautiful scarves covering all of their body and then you turn around and see a group of young chinese girls in little heels with their mini skirts on. it was crazy. and in the bathroom, much to be said, but for one, all the ladies washed thier feet as well as their hands.

after waiting for three hours in the train station, we took an overnighter up to a town called butterworth outside of georgetown (can you guess that malaysia used to be under the british empire…?). this was the farthest north we could get by train on that day. the train was horrible. from all that we had seen so far we were really looking forward to it. but no such luck. the seats were okay, pretty spacious (no sleepers were available), but man, they had that a/c blasting all night with the flourescent lights on the whole time too…. we couldn’t believe it. we would have needed our thickest wool blanket to be comfortable on this sucker. after a miserable 8 hours we arrived at our destination at 6am and then started our bussin’ adventures at 9am.

mango salad

mango salad

these ‘gypsy vans’ (toyota vans converted to hold 12 people) were suprisingly pretty darn cool. with the funky curtains in the window, a/c above each person like on an airplane, and some decent local tunes, we cruised over the border accompanied by two local old men, looking to be the 70 year old version of bert and ernie but malaysian, a muslim girl, another girl dressed for a good time, a caucasian monk who kept to himself and a young boy looking like an abercrombie and fitch model. and us of course. a unique combination. four hours later and getting on and off this ‘bus’ three time to take care of stamping, paying, more stamping, etc…. we made it to hat yoi, thailand. then another bus to krabi, and then another bus to phuket. by 8pm monday night we arrived at our destination.

phuket. many people told us to not really hang here too long cause it’s just another expat area now, not too much culture. well this is somewhat true but we’ve lucked out meeting some great people and fell into an awesome situation. first night we stayed in old phuket town in the little china town part. we found a great little restaurant with the nicest owners who talked us through our first language lesson and told us about our whereabouts. we liked it so much we returned for breakfast the next day and tried their lemon grass juice.

sundown

sundown

all along this we communicated with my moms best friend who has a vacation house in phuket near the beach – it turns out she’s letting us crash there while they’re in south africa! this place is amazing. talk about the indoor/outdoor living with beautiful hand carved furniture, lovely bathrooms, and a pool to match it all. we are way spoiled! we rented our first scooter and we’ve been cruising up and down the coast. lots of little coves with the perfect turquoise water and white sand. lots of expats for sure. but hey, it’s beautiful here.

so today we venture on our scooter with snorkling gear in hand (hold the speedo) to go find the perfect beach. tomorrow we get down to business and find me a dentist. the healthcare is supposed to be great here, something people travel here specifically for, so we’re in luck!

p.s. pictures are takin way too long to upload so only a few for now….

peace and love….”

The Best Thing to do in Cat Island is to do Nothing at All!

Cat Island is a beautiful and historic island located in central Bahamas.  Cat Island’s exceptional beauty, peaceful atmosphere, superb climate, and pristine beaches contribute to making it a spectacular vacation destination.  Cat Island has the one of the best climates in the Bahamas – the temperatures average 80 degrees in the summers and 70 degrees in the short winters.  You can escape from the hustle and bustle of every day life to this lush island for a romantic getaway for an intimate family vacation.  Everyone is bound to have a marvelous time in this beautiful island.  Beach vacation homes are a popular mode of accommodation in Cat Island, as they provide a luxurious home away from home.

There is pleny to do in this beautiful Bahamian island.  Cat Island has serene, beautiful beaches that offer enjoyable activities.  The expansive beaches are so secluded that you will feel as if the beach is your own private beach; this feeling is intensified if you stay at a luxurious beach house!

Some of the beaches include the Greenwood Beach that has pink sand, Old Bight Beach with its pure white sand (ideal for walking, beach combing, picnicking, and relaxing), New Bight Beach, which hosts weekend dances and holiday picnics, and Fountain Bay Beach.  You can enjoy fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, and scuba-diving at the beaches.

Mount Alvernia, which is 206 feet above sea level, is the highest point in the Bahamas and it is located in Cat Island.  Even though the island offers enjoyable activities, you can choose to do nothing at all and, instead, appreciate the distinct serenity of the island.

Cat Island was once one of the thriving Loyalist colonies of the Out Islands.  The island prospered by means of numerous cotton plantations that were established in the 1700s.  Now, you can view the vine-covered, semi-ruined mansions in which the cattle was penned and the pineapples were grown centuries ago.

cat island private beach

The island has many other intriguing historical sites.  Columbus Point, which is also a momument to Christopher Columbus, is one of the  many Indian caves located in Cat Island.  Hawk’s Nest is a beautiful and fascinating area where a wonderful hawk awed all the locals by making her nest for several years.

The Hermitage, a minature monastry, is an tremendous imitation of the larger hermitages in Europe.  The Hermitage is built on Mt. Alvernia and you can enjoy exceptionally beautiful, panoramic views of the island from there.  The historic sites are a must-see for tourists!

Cat Island has variety of diverse restaurants that will ensure a wonderful dining experience.  Delicious, authentic Bahamian cuisine and seafood is a specialty of the island!  Some of the great restaurants include Bachelor’s Restaurant, Pass Me Not Bar Restaurant, and Blue Bird Restaurant.

Cat Island is serene place that provides a superb vacation experience for everyone!  You are warmly welcome to say at a luxurious beach house and enjoy the serenity of this exotic island.  You will undoubtedly have an unforgettable vacation experience!

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do Southeast Asia (2 of 40)

view from our front porch

view from our front porch

surfs up in padang padang
“not really, well sorta.

after an amazing time in ubud we’re back down in padang. the beach is still beautiful. ubud was a great little place, definitely the hub for displaying their culture, foods, music, and mysticism. we had a great little place looking over some rice paddies, beautiful pool, delicious green banana pancakes with a buddalicous host, all for a mere $10. couldn’t ask for more.

ubud has the charm of a little community, everyone excited to see you there. great markets with awesome crafts. the foods are everything you want, be it turkish flat bread and hummus, hamburger that actually tasted really good, polish sausages – yes, polish sausages – and the fab local cuisine. we listened to some great jazz, all mostly covers, but still great.

after leaving slightly frantically yesterday morning due to a painful tooth ache (stacy) we made it down to the clinic in legian/kuta area. great little experience, a little more expensive than expected but whatever. they gave me some antibiotics and pain killers and said ‘if tooth no better in five days, we take out’…. good thing we’ll be gone by then, so now i’m on painkillers and antibiotics and off to find a thai dentist…that’s another story.

first major rain storm this morning while we lay in our bamboo huts raised on stilts in our mosquito net. thunder like we’ve never heard before, not too much lightning, but buckets of rain. after the clapping stopped we sailed down to ulu and checked the surf. small but people out having fun.

suns startin to poke out so we’re back to the beach on padang. more pics to come, slow connection out here in the jungle though…

tomorrow to kula lumpar, malaysia…. from there who knows!”

Tamarindo, Costa Rica – Pura Vida!

Tamarindo has gradually evolved from a sleepy surfer’s paradise into one of Central America’s most popular tourist towns.  It’s a place where the local’s slogan of “Pura Vida” or “Pure Life” definitely rings true.  For some though, the fact that Tamarindo is now “on the map” is reason enough to avoid the destination.  I suppose many liked the undiscovered charm that the beach town once had.

I visited the area for the first time with 7 of my closest friends in 2001.  At that time, Tamarindo was still seen as quite the exotic locale…I think that Costa Rica as a whole still had many asking, “where is that?” or “is it safe to travel there?”

Pretty quickly after we arrived we figured out that our type of group wasn’t something that Tamarindo saw every day.  We created somewhat of a spectacle wherever we went - there were impromptu “ladies nights” in our honor and other bizarre things that I doubt would have happened had we opted for Cancun or Maui as our senior trip destination instead.

Because Tamarindo was still flying under the radar, besides us, there was only a handful of other tourists; an Australian couple in their mid 30′s who were on an eco-adventure (before they were trendy), an Italian group who was visiting their friends who had moved to Tamarindo a couple years prior and opened a small hotel, and a pack of 7 professional surfers, along with their photographer and videographer, who were filming for an upcoming Quicksilver surf video.

By our third day there, we had down the lay of the land, knew the bartenders at both of the bars, Las Olas and the Monkey Bar, had made friends with the gentleman who owned the great Thai restaurant, Pachanga’s, and had invites to be featured in the weekly open mic night at Pasa Tiempo’s.

Since we had discovered all of the shops, markets and hotels Tamarindo had to offer, and had made enough local contacts, we were therefore able to branch out and explore the surrounding areas.  We hitched a ride with the surf crew to the nearby Witches Rock, Playa Negra and Playas del Coco beaches.

We rented mopeds and rode – in the pouring rain – to Playa Avellana where they serve up some of the most amazing brick-oven pizza and sat with the beach’s mascot, a pig that was so huge it rarely moved and had long ago claimed a spot on the beach under a tree.

We took a side trip to the Arenal volcano and sat in the Tabacon Hotel’s natural hot spring pool while sipping a cocktail and watching the volcano, smoldering, and hoping to catch a glimpse of the lava oozing over the rim, fiery red and traffic cone-orange against the inky dusk sky.

It was amazing – by far the best trip I had ever been on – and one that I have, to this day, had trouble topping.  So good, in fact, that I returned 4 years later, hoping to somehow replicate the experience.  I had heard that the area had changed, been built up, transformed into a ”would you like to buy some silver jewelry” by day and neon sign-streaked hot spot by night.

Once I got there, I realized that, for the most part, what I had heard had been right.  Las Olas was vacant (rumor had it that immigration officials has come through the town scattering the charming beach bum crew that has amassed – albeit illegally – over the years), Pachanga’s was now a so-so Italian restaurant and our favorite dreadlocked bartender had packed up his Guaro shaker and moved on to discover another surf town.  There were dozens of new tiendas, there were now 2 main supermarkets, and new streets altogether had been carved into the jungle that once used to hang over the roofs of the couple shops that had dotted the one main drag.

But it was still beautiful and authentically Costa Rica.  You know how some people claim that Puerto Vallarta is no longer “real” Mexico?  Well I don’t buy that.  It’s still Mexico – just a slightly more influenced and modernized version of it.

I highly recommend traveling to the area – maybe rent a vacation home so that you are encouraged to cook and therefore go out and experience the local supermarket.  Tamarindo and the surrounding Pacific coast of the Guanacaste region is breathtaking.   The locals, or Ticos, are generous and welcoming and spirited.  The food is unique, somewhere between Mexican and Caribbean and quite eclectic.  There are still howler monkeys that throw small fruits down from the trees, iguanas that are bigger around than your thigh, and the occasional toucan that you can spot in stark contrast against the trees.

Still Costa Rica…still “Pura Vida!”

Myrtle Beach’s Golden Shores

North Myrtle beach is a beautiful and peaceful city located along a nine-mile stretch of the Atlantic Ocean coastline in South Carolina.  The beautiful city was created in 1968 when four small beach towns—Cherry Grove, Ocean Drive, Crescent Beach, and Windy Hill Beach consolidated into one town.

The fairly new city has developed into an exceedingly popular tourist hotspot because of its stunning, sandy beaches, enjoyable activities, and world-class attractions.  Thousands of visitors vacation at North Myrtle Beach, especially in the summer, to have a relaxing and fun-filled vacation experience.  Luxurious beach vacation homes are very popular among tourists because they make you feel as if you are at home away from home and you can thoroughly enjoy the real spirit of this city.

North Myrtle Beach is widely known for its superb beaches.  Cherry Grove has scenic salt marshes that have colorful wildlife.  By staying at a beach house, you can relax on your deck while watching the fascinating pelicans and egrets, or go to the fishing pier and catch your own dinner!  Tilghman Beach is an old residential community that has many chic shops and restaurants.  Ocean Drive Beach is a beautiful and exciting beach that is surrounded by many nightclubs.  Be sure to bring dancing shoes and try the Shag which is the indigenous state dance!

The beaches are ideal for relaxing, sunning, surfing, water skiing, kayaking, snorkeling.  Fishing is a very popular activity in North Myrtle Beach and visitors can enjoy inshore, offshore, and surf fishing and find some of the largest and most unique fish in this city!  North Myrtle Beach also offers party boat fishing, private charters, casino cruises, and riverboat cruises.

In addition, North Myrtle Beach is a haven for golfers as the city has over 120 world-class golf courses that are designed by well-known architects.  The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, located right off the beach, is the area’s most prestigious golf course, while the Barefoot Resort up the road features a collaborative design on its courses by some of the best players in the world – Dye, Fazio, Love III and Greg Norman.

North Myrtle Beach is also a wonderful place for a family vacation—the city boasts numerous theme parks, aquariums, adventure parks, race tracks and miniature golf courses.  The city also has a prominent culture of performing arts.  Le Grand Cirque at the Palace Theatre is a mesmerizing performance features the globally acclaimed acrobatic and theatrical performers.  The show is so spectacular and surreal it will leave you in amazement and wonder!

North Myrtle Beach has a wide variety of fine restaurants that have diverse cuisines including Italian, Japanese, French, and classic American.  Among the top to try – Villa Romana (Italian), Rioz Brazilian Steakhouse (Brazilian), Bonefish Grill (seafood), and Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy (Mexican).

Whether you want to take a fun-filled family vacation or have a romantic getaway, you are sure to have a superb holiday at a luxurious beach vacation home in the beautiful North Myrtle Beach.

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do Southeast Asia (1 of 40)

ubud school children

ubud school children

ubud, indonesia
“we made it to ubud! we took the car around the area to see the botanical gardens and a few temples. the most impressive temple was the gorung kawi which was down in this river and the temple was carved into the stone cliffs. i will let the pictures tell the rest. we’ve done lots of exploring, ate some really great meals and of course drank a lot of bintang (local beer). today i think we will hang by the pool, eat some fruit and walk around in my banana sling. ok, if anyone would like to come visit we leave for malaysia on sunday then train it up to thailand. some nice beach time.”

Travel Deals – Thailand Etiquitte

Your experience traveling through Thailand depends greatly on the amount of research you do before you venture overseas.  It is a very nuanced country whose culture is full of etiquette do’s and dont’s and tricks of the trade as far as avoiding getting caught up in local tourist traps and scams (both of these I’ll talk about in this entry).  There are also definite places to see vs. places to skip, but I’ll save that topic for a different day’s work.  Once you understand the basics, Thailand is a beautiful and picturesque backdrop to, quite possibly, the best vacation of your life!

Perhaps the easiest and most fundamental key to traveling in Thailand is to avoid being around, possessing, talking about, asking about, or even alluding to anything drug-related.  While this rule may be a good one to abide by in any foreign land, it rings especially true in Thailand.  Over the years, the country has been getting increasingly overzealous in its anti-drug campaign – and because much of Thailand’s borders are burdened with drug smuggling this issue is exasperated.  Even though Thailand is generally a laid back place, the local police have begun to randomly drug test travelers in bars and arrest travelers for possession or positive tests.  This tid-bit of information is not meant to scare anyone away, nor should it be reason to avoid Thailand.  Just be smart…and maybe watch Brokedown Palace.

The people of Thailand are some of the friendliest people you will encounter on your travels, which I guess is why the country is sometimes referred to as, “the land of smiles.”  Nevertheless, here are some social norms that, if followed, should keep em smiling:  keep the PDA’s to a minimum – you may see Westernized Thai teens holding hands, but generally, that is the extent; keep your shirt on – no topless sunbathing ladies;  Thailand is a deeply religious culture, so respect it – while it is OK to wear shoes around the grounds of Buddhist temples, once you enter a building men and women should remove their shoes and make sure their legs and shoulders are covered – also, don’t go strutting around sans shirt in the town’s streets, bars or restaurants; keeping with religious values, Thai’s consider the head as the highest part of the body, literally and figuratively and they don’t approve of touching anyone on the head, even as a friendly gesture; along the same line of thought, Buddhist monks are forbidden to touch (or be touched) by a woman, or to accept anything from the hand of one; don’t point the sole of your foot at anyone – it’s considered rude – so try to avoid doing this when sitting opposite someone and don’t use your foot to point at things.  Lastly, the Thailand culture has no tolerance for confrontation…if any misunderstanding does arrise, demur and settle it with a smile.

In the Thai culture, they don’t shake hands, instead using the traditional greeting, the “Wai,” which is used instead of a handshake, but also as a means of saying sorry, thank you, or to pay respect.  A Thai person will often Wai as he approaches a temple, Buddha image, or other item of religious significance.  When you are introduced to someone who Wais you, it is polite to return the Wai.  As you are walking through towns and villiages, small children will often Wai as you pass by – they love it if you return the gesture with a big smile. (Note:  If you receive a “thank you” Wai from a hotel employee or after tipping a waitress it is inappropriate to return the Wai, but a smile is always welcome!)

Most of Thailand is gracious and welcoming, but, as in any culture, there are some people out to make a buck any way that they can.  Taking a few precautions will save you money in the long fun.  If you get into a taxi and the driver refuses to turn on the meter, even if they use the language barrier as an excuse, simply thank them with a smile and get out to find another one.

Local Thais, mostly teenagers and twenty-somethings, will offer to act as your local guide to show you the “local” sights that many tourists miss out on.  While many of these offers are genuine and allow you to see a side of Thailand that would otherwise be skipped over, some want to make off with your money and leave you high and dry.  Often times, the legitimate ones will photocopy your passport and leave it with someone.  It’s best to listen to your gut instinct or visit travel forums to get specific names of guides – although locating them once in Thailand can be tricky.

Overall, Thailand has much to do, is accommodating to travelers, and is full of cultural, religious, and artistic sights.  Be prepared for hot and humid weather and venture out to see what Thailand has to offer you!

Hello, my name is Belize!

Traveling through Belize you will see the sign, “No Shirt, No Shoes…No Problem!” nearly everywhere you go. This relaxed approach to life is only part of what is attracting more and more visitors to Belize each year.

Caye Caulker Island, BelizeLocated between Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west and south and the Caribbean Sea to the east, Belize is a country of contrasts.  Belize may be the only country in Central America where English is the official language, but Belize has a diverse society, composed of many cultures and speaking many languages and, culturally, Belize considers itself to be both Caribbean and Central American.

Geographically Belize has a lot for travelers to take in as well.  The Caribbean coast is lined with a coral reef and some 450 islets and islands known locally as Cayes.  In total they comprise about 270 square miles of land and form the 200 mile long Belize Barrier Reef, the second longest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef.  Three of the four coral atolls in the Western Hemisphere are also located off the coast of Belize.

And, because over 40 of Belize’s mass is a protected national park, wildlife sanctuary or marine reserve, there is no shortage of wildlife.  Sharks, coral fish, dolphins and turtles troll the waters, and over 570 species of birds, including toucans, fly the skies.

Caye Caulker – one of the tiny islands off of the Belize coast – is a great place to observe the culture of Belize, while staying within a budget.  In fact, this island has been a stop for backpackers and college travelers for decades!  Many of the residents of Caye Caulker are fishermen, making the island a great place to get fresh spiny lobster and snapper.  There are no cars on Caye Caulker but there are plenty of beaches, friendly locals and delicious food.

Another must see while in Belize is Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, named after the cashew trees that inhabit the village.  For $8 you get access to the community that is actually home to 900 locals, of Creole descent, who have been farming and fishing the area for generations.  If you make it there in the morning, you’ll also get to see the amazing variety of birds that inhabit the area and make this one of the top birding destinations in the world.

After you’ve conquered Belize by land, venture seaward and see Belize’s Hol Chanand the Great Blue Hole.  Hol Chan, also known as “Shark-Ray Alley,” is an split in the reef where nurse sharks and sting rays among other marine life, make their home.  Besides being a prime destination for dive excursions, Hol Chan is also a marine reserve.

First made famous by Jacques Cousteau, the Great Blue Hole is a large underwater sinkhole that can be seen from space!  The world’s largest feature of its kind, the Hole  attracts divers looking to catch a glimpse of the nurse sharks, Caribbean reef sharks and Blacktip sharks that live in the area.  Dive trips to the Great Blue Hole are usually full-day trips, including a dive in the Blue Hole and two other dives in nearby reefs.

Whatever attracts you to Belize, the warmth of the local culture will make you feel you’ve found a second home.  Actually, many visitors have made it their second home – and when the owners are away, why not take advantage of the great deals to be had by renting a vacation house rather than paying a nightly rate for a hotel?

Akumal – the Secret Jewel of Mexico

Akumal is a hidden jewel that will keep you coming back year after year once you discover it! The most distinct attribute of this wonderful community is that its serene, tranquilizing atmosphere provides miraculous tropical therapy for the soul. Akumal is a small beach-front community located about an hour and ten minutes south of Cancun in Mexico.

Akumal has a variety of stunning beaches, fun bars, and enjoyable activities. Tourists of this area have found that renting beach houses, rather than paying top dollar to stay in hotels, allows them to immerse themselves into the local community, rather than looking from the outside in.  Renting a house or villa also allows for a private and homey vacation experience!

Akumal is known for the beautiful sandy white beaches where you can enjoy palm trees, the sun, surfing, snorkeling, diving, and feel as if you are in heaven! Akumal, located on the Mexican Caribbean coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula, has six distinct bays: Central Akumal, Akumal Beach, North Akumal, Jade Beach, South Akumal, and Aventuras Akumal.

Central Akumal, established by Don Pablo Bush, is the original Akumal Bay; you can shop, go to restaurants, bars, and enjoy the beautiful beach. La Buena Vida, or the Good Life, beach bar in North Akumal is one of the most romantic spots of this community.  Pick up a bottle of wine and enjoy it with your sweetheart in this surreal location!

The waters of Akumal have an abundance of tropical fish and coral gardens; hence it is an extremely popular destination for divers.  Akumal’s reef, known as the “jewel of the Caribbean,” is part of the Mesoamerican Reef that stretches along the Yucatan Peninsula.  The reef has a multifarious variety of species of coral, fish, flora, and reptiles.  In addition, snorkeling is a popular activity in Akumal’s beaches as well.  Walk out your beach vacation home and enjoy snorkeling any time!

Moreover, Yalku lagoon, a series of lagoons leading out to the sea, is another distinct characteristic of Akumal.  Its serene waters are perfect for swimming and snorkeling.  Many also travel here for its great bird-watching – observe a great variety of beautiful birds in Yalku while taking in a vibrant sunrise!

Akumal has many delicious restaurants that serve traditional Mayan food, fresh seafood, Italian food, and typical American food.  The community has wonderful, indigenous shops that sell folk art, handcrafted jewelry, and traditional clothing.  Markets sell fabulous Mexican pottery, blankets, hammocks, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Main temple at Tulum against the Caribbean Sea

Main temple at Tulum against the Caribbean Sea

Besides the exquisite waters, Akumal offers a variety of exciting things to do and places to see.  The famous, historic city of Tulum is only 19 miles south of Akumul.  Tulum is a spectacular city that has archeological sites where you can see the Mayan ruins – a must-see for vacationers of Akumal!

Akumal is a spectacular town that promises an unforgettable experience.  After one trip to this paradaisical location, you will keep coming back for more!