Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christmas is coming, but it's always there in North Pole...Alaska

I don't know about you, but this is kind of the way I've always pictured the place where Santa lives.  And this is the time of year when thousands of kids of all ages start thinking about Santa Claus for one reason or another.  Now, we've all outgrown the Santa myth as adults, but wouldn't it be nice to fly away to a fantasy now and then?
Here the first one of my Santa stories.

This is North Pole Alaska, and it's home to Santa Claus.  Now, haven't you always wanted to go to Alaska anyway?  Most of us have.  This little town isn't far from Fairbanks, and the good news is that although this is the time of year that most people think about visiting Santa, you can come visit him here anytime.

It's always Christmas at Santa Claus House.

There's shopping, there's visiting with Santa,

and you can even feed the reindeer.
But there's more to this sleepy little town than meets the eye.
North Pole, Alaska's post office is legendary.  The town founders started a tradition many years ago that continues today.  You can order a special letter from Santa Claus for your child or the child in you.  The original letter from Santa will come directly from the good people who work with the Santa Claus House and will be postmarked as coming from the North Pole.
If that option doesn't appeal to you, in the tradition of other theme towns across the country, you can buy an inch of the North Pole that comes complete with deed for your very own square inch.
Towns like North Pole are far too rare.  It's a great side trip to an otherwise regular skiing or snow machining holiday.  So take the side trip.  Take the short 40 mile drive from Fairbanks and see what has become one of the most popular inland attractions in the state.

It's far too rare that we have a chance to visit an entire town that doesn't take life too seriously.  Have some fun.  Take that side trip.  Come and visit Santa at North Pole, Alaska. tour&utm_content=alaska

You Never Thought of This in Cabo San Lucas

This is one of the most iconic images in travel.  Everyone has passed by a travel agency and seen this in the window at some point in time.  This is the most photographed scene in Cabo San Lucas.  But, that's not why I'm mentioning this wonderful place.
Cabo is famous for whale watching.

In the winter months you would be hard pressed to not see one.

You can go off roading with ATV's.
You can go off roading with four wheel drives.

But what you can do here is go off road with Baja racing cars.  This isn't the only place in the world that you can do such a thing, but it is the Baja.  Does it get any better?
Wide open tours is the company that you'll want to visit.  They will train you and then let you do the driving.  That's a chance that you shouldn't miss.  They will let you do the extreme driving through the desert country that is Cabo.  This is the Baja.  This is what it was named after.  This is the place to do it.

If you've ever wanted to try your hand at that something that seemed impossible to get your hands on, this is it.  This is the thrill that you've been looking for.

Now, you can go parasailing.  It's fun, and it looks adventurous.  It's actually referred to as relaxing, however.

You could go out on a booze cruise on a pirate ship.  I mean, it is Cabo.

You can even go out on something that is called a submarine.
There are many things that you can do in Cabo.  It's a great destination, full of snorkeling, sea kayaking, scuba diving, and fishing.

The sunsets are beautiful.

The resorts are beautiful.

The beaches are beautiful.

Even the bars are beautiful.
But, if you want that something extra that makes a great vacation in one of Mexico's safest locations an unforgettable vacation, then try that something different.

Then try Wide Open Off Roading Baja Racing.

 I promise you, you'll never forget it. tours Cabo San Lucas&utm_source=MSAC&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=22
Get revved up and enjoy!

The Largest Fluvial Island in the World

This is the gateway to Marajo Island.  It's a fluvial island, because it sits in a river or the delta of a river.  Marajo sits in the delta of the biggest of them all--the Amazon.  The island isn't officially the largest in the world, because of tides and seasons.  Sometimes Marajo is a single island, sometimes an archipelago.  Pororoca is the confluence tide in the delta of the Amazon where the sea water meets the freshwater of the river.  There are many times during the year when you can see the two waters moving against one another.  It's a phenomenon that you would be hard pressed to find visible anywhere else on Earth.

But why should you go to Marajo?  I always pick something unusual.  The tides are enough, but that's not all.  Marajo is most of the year, the size of Switzerland.  That's big.  Remember, the Amazon Delta is also the biggest in the world.

This may look like your average resort, but it's not.  This is Fazenda Do Carmo, a local farm and ranch turned tourist attraction.  What makes it different?  The activities.  There are many things that you can do on a farm, of which this is only one of many farms on the island.

They have Water Buffalo.  They raise them, they breed them, they cook them, and they are a primary source of transportation on the island.  I'm not joking.  They ride Water Buffalo on Marajo Island.  It's common, and they will teach you how to ride.  They do also have horseback riding and such, but why would you waste your adventuring time riding a horse when there are Water Buffalo awaiting?
And this is only the tip of the iceberg here on Marajo.  There are kayaking and other boat tours of massive Mangrove forests.  There are lush beaches with beautiful white sand.  There are excursions that will take you fishing for Piranha.  It's amazing all the things you can do and learn on this magnificent island.

The scenery is beautiful.

It's largest city, Soure, is beautiful.

The beaches are beautiful.

Marajo Island is a great place for birdwatching.  As a matter of fact, if you love ecotourism, this is a great place for it.  Most of the activities are based on nature.  There aren't many cars on the island, so there isn't a lot of damage to the ecosystem here.   There is a ferry that comes to the island from Belem on the coast of the river.  If you don't want to ride Water Buffalo or horses around the city, you can rent a bike almost anywhere.

The accommodations at Fazenda Do Carmo are nice, farmhouse rooms, with meals as well as activities.  They will teach you more than just to ride a Water Buffalo there.  They will teach you about fishing for Piranha ranching in the river delta, Mangrove Forests, and their culture.  You will eat and help cook authentic local dishes.  Beware, you will try Water Buffalo.

So, if you've seen Rio, and the other busier spots in Brazil, try this one.  It's wonderful, small town, and different.

Oh yeah, and they ride Water Buffalo. 

As I always say, try something different and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Do you know where Vermillion Parish, Louisiana is?

The swamps of the bayou in the Mississippi Delta area of Louisiana are legendary.  There are TV shows about the people who live there.  They are a rugged frontier sort of people who live off the land and do things there own way.  Most of them travel by boat a lot of the time.  But what can you find in the swamps of the bayou?
A lot.

First, you'll find the most famous area residents.  There are alligators there.  The locals have a relationship with them.  They feed them for the tourists.  They hunt them.  There's even one family that has one as a pet.  I'm not sure that would be for me, but hey, whatever.

If you want to see the wildlife, go fishing or hunting, the air boat is the most realistic experience out there.  These captains will take you around and show you things that you didn't even know really happened in a swamp.  The air boat is unique, and gives you a thrilling experience.

Many of the locals have their own air boats.  They are a tradition down there.
And there are other traditions too.  The locals will take you to hunt alligator with the proper permits.  They'll also take you fishing if that's what you would like.  You can go camping in the bayou and boating.  It's fun for everyone.  So, if you've ever wondered about those shows you see on TV about swamp people, this is your chance to find out first hand.
If you're lucky, they'll cook you up some Endouie Sausage at the local restaurants.
You'll love Lake Fausse State Park with it's options for primitive and even canoe camping.

Imagine yourself canoeing or going with a guide through this lush tropical rainforest, looking for gators along the way.

the sunsets are beautiful too.
So, don't think twice.  Take a step outside yourself and look at a lifestyle that you've only heard about and maybe seen on reality TV.  The people here do live off the land.  They do take boats more often than cars.  The do have houses on stilts.  Come and see it all.  Come and see the land, watch the gators or hunt them.  Go fishing, air boating, and even spend an evening cooking with the locals.  It's an outstanding trip to another place and time.


So, what are you waiting for?  There's a truly unique lifestyle there that needs exploring.  Don't waste time.  You never know when a storm will come along and destroy it all for a while.  After all, this is where Katrina hit.  Come feed an alligator.  Come and see the bayou. 

So, try out some Zydeco music, have some Creole cooking, learn about the Acadian people, and look for some gators.  The bayou is one of the most unusual places in the world.  It's well worth a look.

Cooking in the Azores Islands

What is it?  The place is called Furnace.  Imagine that.  The island is Sao Miguel in the Azores.  I have a lot of explaining to do.
Let's start with the basics.  The Azores Islands are an archipelago of nine main islands and other various places.  Sao Miguel is the largest and considered the green isle.  The Islands belong to Portugal, but sit just off center in the Atlantic Ocean.  You know how most people like to go to the islands in the Caribbean?  Well, as you go south, hang a left and go a long long way.  You'll find it.

This is where you'll find them.  They are interesting.  Back in the day, before everyone had a long distance jet, they were the Atlantic refueling station for many countries' militaries.  They were a stopover for commercial flights as well.  Hell, even Amelia Earhart stopped off there.
Now Furnace.  This is a beautiful area that used to be riddled with volcanic eruptions.  Nowadays, it still has it's natural sulfuric heat, but it's been put to good use.  This is why to visit.

The geothermal mud baths are said to cure what ails you.  People have been coming here for decades and longer for the baths.  They run a little over 100 degrees, and are all natural.  There are geysers in the area and there's something else.

Cooking Cozido in the ground here has become a Sunday tradition on Sao Miguel.  The locals mix their stew ingredients together, put them in a pot and come to Furnace, where they bury it in the ground for hours to cook it hermetically.  It's unique.  It's also a great way to spend a Sunday with family and friends.  The Cozido is normally some beef and sausage with cabbage, carrots, turnips and other veggies.

Looks yummy.  Traditional Azores cuisine.
There are many things to see and do on Sao Miguel.  They have a beautiful botanical garden.

They have unique housing.

The village is lovely.
Let's face it.  All the boating, beach sitting, cliff diving and snorkeling, is not even interesting when you get a load of all the volcanic activity in this place.  The public baths have been around for centuries.  The Cozido in the ground is an ethnic tradition.  This is where it's at.  This is what makes Sao Miguel tick.

It's one of the most interesting ways I've ever heard of to cook.
I like to get off the beaten path.  There are many more common things to do in the Azores.  This is just that thing that makes the place truly unique.  That's what I like.
To get there is the trick.  Most airlines go through Lisbon to get to the Azores.  You fly all the way across the pond to come back on TAP Airlines.  I recommend using this little fact to take a long layover and spend some time in Lisbon as well.  It's a fabulous city.  The last I knew there was a weekly flight from Dulles Airport in Washington DC to the Azores.  It's a tricky way to try and do it though, because you only have one shot a week.

So come and try the water, but be careful.  It's a little warm.

Come visit an amazing place where it wasn't so long ago that the volcanoes ruled.

Uzbekistan, and Man's Destruction

There are many times in my life that I have visited a place for it's ambiance or it's natural beauty.  However, many of us have spent significant time wandering the globe, looking at ancient ruins and wondering how things came to that.  Here in the U.S. where I live, we have gone overboard to protect and preserve some really weird things in the name of not destroying them.  There's a busted bell in Philly that exemplifies that.  But, some other cultures, in the name of progress have done some odd things with some amazing repercussions.
This one is for Soviet buffs like me.  This is the Aral Sea.  No, you're not seeing things.  It looks like a desert, but see the ships.  They used to be sitting in water.

Here you can see the sea as it is and the dotted lines show where it used to be.  The two rivers that were running into it, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, were dammed up in the 1960's to provide irrigation for cotton and rice fields.  With these two rivers being the only supply of water to the foremost inland salt water sea, the water has simply gone away.  The ships have sat right there in the water until it went away.  The town of Muynak has gone by the way too.

There's not much left.  This is the local hotel.

There's not much left.  There aren't very many people either.  This place used to be a big fisherman's port on a thriving sea.  Now, it's a desert ghost town.  Welcome to a modern ecological disaster.
But yet, it's something that is amazing to see.


It's amazing, isn't it?  There's nothing on Earth quite like it.  Here's the thing.  If you like to look at ruins in Rome or Athens, then think about this.  In a thousand years, people could be coming to look at these ruins in the same way that we go to look at the others.  This is something you don't see every day.

Uzbekistan is a fascinating and beautiful country with wonderful steppe cultures to learn about.  You can take a tour that includes living in a Yurt with locals that teach you about the ancient nomadic lifestyle and the foods that they eat.  You can come and spend your time in Tashkent where there's a modern lifestyle emerging.  It's an amazing country.  It's an amazing journey.  Just take that side trip up to Muynak and the Aral Sea.  It's a side trip you'll never forget.
And take that side trip soon.  The people in the area are starting to clean it up, so to speak.  Some of the locals have been making deals to sell the remains of some of the ships for scrap.  That means simply that as time goes on, there will be less of a ship graveyard to see.  As time goes on, there may also be less of a remaining sea to look at.  As it stands, you can still go to parts of the sea where you can get in the water if you like that much salt.
There are also areas in Kazakhstan where they have salt flats from the dried up sea and mine that salt for sale.  It's the other part of the Aral Sea that's definitely worth a look.

It's amazing that the world's fourth largest sea has come to this.  There are efforts in place to reverse the effects of this disaster.  Hopefully they will succeed.  But in the meantime, come and take a look at what the Soviets did in the name of cotton and rice.
 So, if you like to look at really different things, I can't think of much that would be more different than the Aral Sea.  If you want to see something that will stick with you forever, like Auschwitz, this could well be it.
Take a look and be amazed.  It's the trip to a graveyard of a lifetime.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Zip Lining Catalina Island, It's Just Off the Coast

It's beautiful, isn't it?  It looks like an beautiful exotic island off the coast of Italy or in the middle of the Caribbean.  Nope, it's Catalina Island, just off the coast of California.  It's not far from L.A.
Catalina Island is a cross between taking a step back into the past and hurtling into the future.  It's a resort area for sure, but it's not talked about as much as one would think.  If you don't live in California, you may never have heard of it.
Let's start our trip like most everyone else.  Once you've gotten here, you have to see the Casino.  It was built in the 1920's and it's never really changed over the years.  It is preserved in perfect condition and still operates just as it did all those years ago.

You won't find any slot machines here.  The definition of the word casino is "gathering place" and that's exactly what the Catalina Casino is.  It's most famous for it's ballroom that is still used for many a social occasion from weddings to Saturday night live music.  There's also restaurant choices at the casino and many other things to do, but you will be more likely to do Tai Chi than gamble at this place.
Here's another unusual spot that is offered on Catalina Island.  This is the Airport in the Sky.  It's not a commercial airport, but if you want you can land your plane here before 8 p.m. on most days.  The locals and tourists love it because of it's vantage point.  Taking a trip up there just for the view is amazing.  There's also a nature conservatory up there and some great hiking.  There's some mad good barbecue up there too, and it's one of the highest points on the island with a lovely view.

There are many things to do on Catalina Island.  You can go on an underwater cruise that takes you on this beast.  It's not quite a submarine and it's not quite a ship, but it will carry you just below the water level so you can watch the marine life.  You can also go snorkeling, scuba diving and diving off the local cliffs if you'd like.

The water caves that the island is famous for make for some of the best sea kayaking in the country.

You can take a tour in one of these Hummers to the outback of the island known largely as Cape Canyon.  There are herds of Bison there and a natural habitat for eagles.  Watch out though.  It's a desert out there and there are rattlesnakes too.

The outdoor adventure of a place like Catalina Island just can't be beat.  You can hang out here with all the ecotourists from around the world.  There are lots of things going on under the surface here.  They preserve the past.  They run most of the vehicles on biodiesel, so that they won't hurt the environment.  They are very conscious about what they do to the planet out there, so be prepared for that.
One last thing.  I didn't bring up Catalina Island just because it's a terribly overlooked extremely fun vacation paradise that anyone would love to spend a week in.  It does sound like solid logic as a reason to mention it, but that's not why.  I'm always looking for that something unique that you can't find anywhere else.
And here is that something.  Zip Lining is one of the fastest growing crazes in America, and the highest, longest zip lines in the country are on Catalina Island.  Catalina Zip Line Eco Tours has the best and the most thrilling zip lines in the country.

The zip lines go everywhere.  They go over the desert, they go over the canyons, they go to the water, they even go near a 250 foot waterfall.  This is a zip liner's dream.  This is mecca for zip lining in America.  If you love to hurl across zip lines, this is your spot.  So don't miss this.
Catch a ferry or fly your own plane to this unique and wonderful island.  Take in the ambiance, slow down your life for a while.  Enjoy the ballroom, look at the marine life, go play with some dolphins, do some surfing.  Then, when you've done all the riding around in Hummers and looking at Bison that you care to do, make some time for the zip lines.  You won't regret it.


So come, catch a ferry, spend the day, stay forever.  It's a beautiful spot in the world.  Do some zip lining like you've never done before.  Enjoy!