Travel America – Michigan City, Indiana

Ever have that itch to get away?  Sometimes I just need a vacation – but then reality sets in…I can’t take any more time off of work.  Who would watch the dogs?  Can I even afford an overseas flight?

Lucky for me – and now those of you reading this - my job has allowed me to discover offbeat destinations right here within this glorious country of ours!  I say “offbeat” because haven’t we all either been a college student on spring break in Daytona, participated in the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, or, at the very least, seen the Baywatch crew run in slow-motion on the beaches of Los Angeles?  If you’ve been there, done that, and are looking for some variety, our “Travel America” articles will explore the hidden gems across the United States – cities and towns waiting for you to arrive…

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana

I’ve never been to the Great Lakes, but ever since that 2003 surfing film depicted guys riding the waves off of Minnesota, I’ve wanted to visit.  There are many small towns dotting the lake’s coastlines, but one town in particular, Michigan City, Indiana, piqued my interest.

Michigan City has long been a vacation destination for the residents of Chicago (it’s only about 50 miles east of the windy city – on a clear day you can even see the Chicago skyline!) and for residents of nearby areas of Indiana, but it is gradually becoming better known by the rest of the US.

Plan your trip to Michigan City for one of the summer months if you plan to hit up the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore – nearly 25 miles of beaches, sand dunes, marshes and woodland forests along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.  The Lakeshore is home to over 35o species of birds and has one of the most diverse plant communities of any National Park in the US.

Visit the Lighthouse Place Outlet Mall for Michigan City’ s best shopping and some great dining options.  The outlet was named after the Old Michigan City Lighthouse – one of the state’s few lighthouses.

And if birds and lighthouses aren’t quite your thing, pony up at The Blue Chip Casino!  The largest riverboat in Indiana, The Blue Chip Casino, offers 24/7 boarding and a 65,000 square foot gaming floor.  Casino’s are fun and all, but I am on a budget here.  I think I’ll check into the casino’s entertainment scene, which attracts National acts to the 15,000 square foot Stardust Event Center.

While Michigan City has a variety of accommodations, ranging from camping to hotels, my friends and I would rather rent a house or apartment. And I confess,  because I rarely travel the US without my fur-babies, it can be hard to find a short term rental that allows my dogs to stay with me.  I am booking my stay at the “Miami” – a lakefront home I found that has panoramic views of the dunes, beach, and Michigan City’s famous lighthouse. There is not going to be anything between me and the fine sandy beach but a foot path through the sand dunes to the lake!

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 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!”

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!”

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”

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….”

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?