Thursday, May 30, 2013
Somewhere in the northeastern corner of Arizona, lies the town of Page. It's past the narrow beginning of the Grand Canyon and above the Cameron Trading Post. At the moment, they've had a partial road collapse on route 89 and you even have to take a 45 minute detour to get there if you come from the south somewhere like Flagstaff. Here's the thing. You can go to the Grand Canyon's south rim and see all the beauty you can absorb. There's dining, lodging, hiking, burro travel, tours to Phantom Ranch, and even a train. It's amazing. I admit that. But, if you never go to the lands along the north rim, you'll be missing something amazing.
Page, Arizona is the home of Lake Powell. Lake Powell was largely formed when the upper Colorado River was regulated by Glen Canyon Dam. The sandstone that is the lake and it's edges make for a colorful landscape that also gives the feeling of being on an entirely different planet. There are many who would argue that it's the most beautiful lake in the world. It covers an enormous area stretching up into Utah, and is one of the best places in the world to go house boating. There are several companies along the shores of Lake Powell that rent houseboats out by the day and week for the tourists, as well as wave runners, speed boats and fishing equipment. It's one of the biggest water recreation areas in Arizona topped only by Lake Meade. Along it's shores you will find many tributaries to investigate, and with a permit, you can visit the Rainbow Bridge, the worlds largest natural bridge. Be careful to be respectful when visiting this monument. It's on Navajo land and it is a sacred point to them.
Page is a wonderful little town, and it's directly on the Navajo Reservation. There's a good portion of this town devoted to the tourists. There's every imaginable hotel chain, there's a Walmart, and they have a McDonalds with the best view I've ever seen. Most people, myself included, don't really bother to take pictures of the town, because there are so many beautiful things around to look at. It just gets overshadowed by the art that God provides. I can say that there are a ton of shops devoted to both the ridiculous souvenirs that we all love to buy and the native handicrafts that are purely works of art. So the shopping here is amazing. I don't normally mention that, but there it is. There is also the Indian culture to absorb. There is amazing food to be tried, those beautiful handicrafts I mentioned and then there's the dance. In the summer, which is the height of tourist season here, a couple of nights a week, the locals will put on a dancing demonstration, and if you like, they will teach you to join in. Page is a great place to use as a hub for your north rim area adventure.
Once you arrive at the north rim, you will notice the difference between it and it's counterpart. Here you can look back to the days of Teddy Roosevelt, when the national parks system was new. The Grand Canyon Lodge was built in 1928 with all the grandeur of the day. It's stone facade and rustic yet grand interior has made it a draw on the north rim even to this day. There are rooms available in the lodge, excellent dining and cabins for rent on the property if you want to do it the old fashioned way. But the best part to me was the view. You can sit on the terrace of this amazing old lodge and look out over the Grand Canyon. It's hands down the best view anywhere of this stunning natural wonder.
While you're out touring the nether regions of the Grand Canyon, you have to stop at both Lee's Ferry and the Cameron Trading Post. If you like to stop along the way and find kitchy things to see, these are for you. Lee's Ferry is an abandoned town, founded by the man who some credit with finding the Grand Canyon. I'm sure lots of people knew it was there, but the story is good. Down in Lee's Ferry there are more natural sights to see. This is where you can hike amongst the red dunes. They're a sandstone formation the looks like striped dunes. They're fascinating and shouldn't be missed. The Cameron Trading Post is a wonder perched along the edge of the river right at the bridge on the road headed for Page. This place has great Navajo Tacos. I had to throw that in. It also has some amazing shopping. The place is huge and has every handicraft and every stupid little souvenir you've ever seen. They also have a complete clothing department, and groceries. It's spectacular.
As you drive back to Page, you'll pass the Red Cliffs which glow in the sun, and you'll wonder what else could make your trip special. This is where the adventure truly begins.
Antelope Canyon is one of the most unusual places I've ever been. There are many slot canyons, as they're called throughout the Arizona/Utah area. Antelope Canyon lies directly on Navajo land, is sacred, and is the most famous one in the world. In order to go into the canyon, you must go with a native guide, so if someone who is not a native offers to take you there, don't go. It's against the laws of the Navajo Nation. Now, you can drive out to the desert and meet up with the tour, or you can just ride from Page. The giant tired trucks that take you to the canyon are quite a fun ride. They do bounce a bit, but it's all part of the adventure.
Things that you do have to remember for this trip. Make sure that you go with a guide to Antelope Canyon. Make sure that you have a permit to go to Rainbow Bridge. Make sure you book your houseboat before the season begins. Be prepared for detours on route 89. Be aware that the seasons in the area are somewhat harsh at times. Not all of Arizona is warm year round. And by all means, have lunch at that McDonald's with a view. Enjoy!
There are things that we just miss, because we've overlooked it, no one talks about it, or we just never even thought about it. Here's some of those things.
1. In Oklahoma City, OK this year, they will be holding the 62nd Annual Square Dance National Convention. I know what you're thinking, but it's not the old barn dance that you've seen on TV. These dancers have spent a long time in classes learning the moves that make square dancing popular. If you think you've heard it all, try doing a move called a bucket of worms.
2. Have you ever considered cruising the St. Lawrence Seaway? It's not the Caribbean Cruises that we've all heard about, but then again, I haven't heard of them breaking down all over the place. There are several cruise options on the Seaway, but one of my favorites is the Pearl Seas Cruise of the Thousand Islands area. It's relaxing, old world and beautiful.
3. How about a night on the town in Little Italy, New York City? There is nothing quite like a warm summer evening dining outside in front of the restaurant with the streets blocked to traffic and street performers all around. There's wonderful music to dance to, and as always, the great authentic Italian food. Not to mention, it always looks like Christmas in Little Italy and the views are way better than you might think.
4. My family talks non stop about the NASCAR Racing Experiences around the country. But, did you ever wonder if you could drive an Indy Car? Yes you can. The Indy Racing Experience is waiting for you at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Here's your chance to get off the beaten path and away from NASCAR for just a moment and try a different kind of racing.
5. Ithaca, New York is one of those unique places in the world. It's green, it's gorges, and it's full of food of all kinds. The Moosewood Restaurant is famous the world over for it's amazing vegetarian cuisine, and their cookbooks are some of the best sellers of all time for vegetarian. There are also over 100 other fabulous restaurants in this amazing city. You can find some of the best Thai food outside of Thailand, there's an authentic Irish Pub with music too, there's great Mediterranean and so much more. Then if you need to bike it off, you can rent a bike from several locations around town. You can also hike it off in any of the several beautiful gorges that give the town it's slogan...Ithaca is gorges!
6. Here it is. Did you know that Cedar Point has been ranked the best roller coast amusement park in the world for most of the last decade? It's in Sandusky, Ohio, for heaven's sake. They have, count them, 16 roller coasters, most of them world famous and some of them have been around for years, like the Blue Streak and the Corkscrew. There are tons of other rides in the park, so there's something for everyone, but remember, the best amusement park in the world is just over in Ohio.
7. It's here. Sandboarding. It's all the rage, and one of the best places to do it is the Imperial Dunes in southwestern California. There aren't rental places that I know of just yet, but it is allowed, along with all the ATV's, dirt bikes, and dune buggys you can muster up. It's a great sport, but remember to allow yourself to get used to it. It's definitely not like being on the water.
8. Just in case you missed this one, several years ago London Bridge was sold, and the owner moved it brick by brick to Lake Havasu, Arizona. Not only is the Lake Havasu area a beautiful place to go boating and in general spend your time, but London Bridge is there too.
9. I love this one. Only in Vegas can you spend a couple of hundred dollars and have the privilege of playing with heavy equipment. It opened only a couple of years ago, so if you haven't been to Vegas lately, you missed it. They have bucket loaders, backhoes, and all kind of wonderful toys for your biggest boys and girls.
10. Michigan is a great place. There are so many unique things there to do and see. I spent half my life traveling in Michigan, and I can attest to that. But, if there's one thing that I can say is unique about Michigan, it's the dune rides. There are dunes up and down western Michigan along the shores of the great lake that bear's it's name. Silver Lake Dunes is the place to go however. You can take a ride in dune schooners, or you can bring your own vehicle. This is the only place in duneland that you are allowed to do that. It's great fun.
So, if you are looking for something a little different to do this summer, I hope you enjoy these ideas. It's all great fun, and it's all right here in the U.S. Enjoy!
Thursday, May 23, 2013
We've all seen pictures from Libya. We've seen them on television and on the web and in the paper. They're pretty scary. I'll admit that. But, have you ever traveled to a place that you've heard on the news is scary? I don't mean someplace that you will be killed, but someplace that's in flux and just becoming a solid free country?
It's not what you hear all the time. Sometimes, you'll go there and find people who are just itching to tell you their story of freedom and conviction. Sometimes, you'll find people who want to know all about where you come from, because they weren't allowed to have contact with people from your country until last year. Sometimes they just want to show you the beauty that you never get to see on television.
They call it Leptis Magna. It is an ancient city previously inhabited by the Romans. It's perched along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea between Misrata and Tripoli. Although the city has been around since the time of the Phoenicians, the Romans really made it spectacular. Lucius Septimius Severus, a hometown boy became emperor and this was his favorite place on Earth. It's probably the most in tact Roman ruins on the planet, and there are tons of things to see.
The theater is almost completely in tact. It's almost as though it's just waiting for the people to arrive and the show to start.
The Four Season's Mosaic is just one of the many works of art that are still completely in tact from Leptis Magna. The whole place is like an open museum. It's a whole city lost in time.
You can see where the town forum use to be.
They had roads, temples, basilicas, and many homes for their citizens. It was a large city and a modern one for the time. It stands today as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is probably what has kept it safe during the Gaddafi era. One of the perks of visiting the site of Roman ruins is the fact that it is in Libya. Let's face it folks, there aren't a lot of tourists yet in this land, and that makes it someplace that isn't crowded. Many times you can visit the ruins and have the whole place to yourself.
And then there's Misrata. We're all used to seeing this city torn to pieces from the revolution. It's coming along. It still has a long way to go. There are certain sections of town that look like a modern city.
There are other sections that still need work, but the locals are hopeful of their future. The area is still largely in flux, because they are still in what they call a gray area as to where the country is actually going politically, but they hope that whatever is ahead, it is better than Gaddafi.
The healing has begun. As is necessary for any people that has been through hard times, the Libyans have made a War Memorial Museum to honor those who gave their lives for freedom. This is not like any museum I've been to.
This museum, in addition to having many artifacts that they will protect for all time, has some things that you won't see anywhere else that I know of. There are wall after wall of pictures of the people who were killed in the conflict while fighting for their country's freedom from tyranny. They are honored in prayer by their visiting friends and family. There are home made weapons out front. It's the only exhibit I've ever seen of makeshift weapons from a war. We all know that it was necessary for the rebels to make their own weapons, since there was no way to buy conventional ones.
I think the most shocking thing that I saw in this museum was the television. They show footage of Gaddafi's last days. They show him being dragged through the streets in his blood stained shirt, crying. It's sobering to say the least, but just like the museum at Auschwitz, it seemed necessary. It's the victim's way of assuring that this will never happen again.
But what is it like to visit a place like Misrata? Well, you can visit the market, meet people, go to the beach, and enjoy the scenery just like you would anyplace else. It's just that you will being doing this in Libya. Isn't that enough to call this one an adventure?
So, get in touch with a Libyan tourism company. Can't stress that enough. You will need to make special preparations to visit this country. I would only go with a local company. There are tricky visas to get, there are language barriers, and the militia still has iron clad control over most areas of the country. What does that mean? Well, you will see people with machine guns in camo on the streets. They are there for your protection. There will be a ton of checkpoints. They are there for your protection. How dangerous is it? Not as dangerous as you would think. I'll be honest, I wouldn't go to Benghazi. I don't know that I would spend a lot of time in Tripoli. There is still a lot of unrest there. But Misrata seems more calm and ready to move along. The people are warm and friendly and love to tell their stories of triumph in the revolution. It's a must see and do.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Now, one of the best things about the tour of FDR's house is the guides. So what if the interior isn't really worth looking at? The guides are going to tell you the best stories about FDR and his family. It's totally worth the time for that. So, let's recap. Great movie to see. Great stories from the guides. Beautiful grounds to wander. History in a whole new light. Good trip.
What you will enjoy about this tour once again are the stories. Frederick and Louise had no children, so they left the place to a niece of theirs, who worked with FDR to turn the place into a historical attraction. In the meantime, FDR used parts of the house to house his secret service agents. You'll love the stories, I promise.
The historic sites in Hyde Park are beautiful. There is also Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt's home, the Mills Mansion, Hyde Hall, and the CIA--Culinary Institute of America.
The Culinary Institute of America is one of the oldest and most respected cooking schools in the country. If you don't know of anyone else who has studied there, how about Anthony Bourdain? That's right, that travel foodie on television. This school has been schooling some of the world's best chefs since 1946, and you too, can take part in all they have to offer. There are restaurants on the premises where you can sample the student's wares that they've learned to prepare. But here's the cool thing for you budding foodies out there who don't have the time to go and get a degree. They have non-credit courses for non-students. You can look at their catalog and choose from a huge selection of one day courses for only $250 apiece. It's a great way to spend a day with world class instructors. Then afterwards you can impress all of your friends with a gourmet dinner party.
And if eating in the fifties isn't enough for you, there's a rollerskating rink right out back. Roller Magic is a state of the art genuine roller skating rink. And up the street from there, just across from the FDR estate, is the Hyde Park Drive in theater. It's all right here folks. You can spend a whole weekend in the 1950's. It's nostalgia at it's finest.
From up on this magnificent bridge you can see for miles with amazing panoramic views that include the Catskill Mountains and the lands almost all the way to West Point. You will see commercial and personal boats alike traversing this shipping lane, and you will also hear and see the trains as they follow the shores of the mighty Hudson River below. If you like the outdoors, this one's for you.
So, just to recap, FDR's house, Vanderbilt Mansion, old time diners, skating rinks and drive-ins. A giant walking bridge over the Hudson. Oh yeah, all the gourmet food you can both eat and cook. It's a great place to visit. I've always loved the area, and I would highly recommend it to anyone.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
I'm not much for the wild west, but here's one that seems worth checking out. This is the gate in Poipet, Cambodia. This town is a wild west like town, that used to be a stronghold for the Khmer Rouge on the border of Thailand. It's part of the Pailin Province, and is famed for it's precious gemstones and, you got it, gold.
Although most of the sapphires, rubies, and gold are gone, people still come from all over to seek their fortunes. It gives the area that feeling of the wild west. In both Pailin City and Poipet, there are casinos, bars, and dives where you can see and meet ladies of the world's oldest profession.
Now, should you take a walk on the wild side? Sure, why not? The Khmer Rouge is all but over. The locals like to meet foreigners and show them their country. It's a great culture shock style vacation. If you've seen Vegas one too many times, then pull over and check this area out.
During the Khmer Rouge years, many refugees made their way from all over to this spot in the mountainous border region of Thailand and Cambodia. Many of them still live in Ba Hoi Village. This is a major tourism factor in the Pailin City area. People can come from all over and see what being a refugee is like, still today. They can talk to the people and hear their stories. It's amazing to hear first hand what happened to these people and their families during the war years. It's incredible to see how they survive still today.
But, don't think for a second that you won't be seeing any ancient temples because you've left the normal tourist areas of Cambodia. Wat Khaong Kang is a Buddhist teaching center that sits right in the city limits. It is a beautiful place to visit.
O'Tavao is one of many beautiful spots where you can enjoy nature in Cambodia. It's only 5 km from Pailin City, and it is a refreshing and beautiful place to visit. You can also go to Go-Ay Mountain and Kbal O'Chra. There are many wonderful places in the area to enjoy nature, go hiking, or even look around for left over gold and gems. Just make sure that you follow the worn paths. I can't stress enough that Cambodia is still rich in land mines. You need to be careful when going out into nature in this country. Ask a local or take a guide, but at the very least, don't get off the beaten path. Literally.
Now, Pailin City, and Poipet are not high class modern cities. The cities are still what Americans would classify as third world. You will find child pick pockets and such, but don't let it scare you. These cities are real and friendly, and they're learning how to appeal to the rest of the world and make money.
The casinos have arrived, and with them all the high end resort hotels you could hope for. There are a few in Pailin, and several in Poipet, with more coming all the time. Being on the border makes these areas extremely popular for gamblers and vacationers alike. You can come here and play all the regular games, eat good food and stay in five star hotels. It's quite the varied lifestyle that you see in both of the cities. It brings a lot of money into the cities and and country.
So, you can see all different kinds of life in the Pailin province. It seems as though two completely different worlds have come together in a mad paradox along this border. You can meet the locals, and the refugees. You can play in the wilderness, as long as you don't go near the land mines. You can pan for gold if you like. You can stay in a five star resort hotel and play in the casinos all day and night. It's an amazing confluence of culture. It's an extreme mix of old and new. There's also a lot of ways to learn about the Khmer Rouge in the area. You can even go to the wats and see the lives of the Buddhist monks.
It's beautiful. It's mystical. It's like no place else on Earth. You can even go from here to Thailand, because the border is spitting distance from both of these cities. However, do not try to cross from Thailand to Cambodia in Pailin City. Do it in Poipet. Trust me.
Have you seen enough of the major tourist cities in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam? Come here to the wild near east and get a taste of something that is all but gone from the rest of the world. Come and see what it's like to live in a frontier on the edge of a new world. You won't regret it, and you'll learn more than you ever bargained for. Will you be happy with what you come away with?
Most likely. Enjoy!
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Puno, Peru and Copacabana, Bolivia have one major thing in common. The both sit on the shores of the world's highest elevation navigable lake--Lake Titicaca. And this is somewhere that you should come if you want a vacation full of culture.
Puno, Peru is a huge stopping point on a trip through Peru, across Lake Titicaca, and on to Bolivia. The area here has been home to many indigenous and foreign imports over the years. The modern era brings a unique mix of old and new in the Christians who go to mass and worship God. These local people also look to the Virgin of Candeleria, the local patron saint, and each year they hold a festival in February to honor her. During the Feast of the Virgin of Candeleria, the locals compete fiercely in the Dance of the Devil. To win a dance contest is a great victory during the festival.
The local people here have around 300 native dances, and they spend a lot of time dancing throughout the year. Elaborate costumes and masks are the norm only during the feast, but dancing is an all the time thing.
The Lake Titicaca area is noted for it's Incan ruins. Legend has it that Manco Capac and Mama Ocilo, who were brother and sister, rose from the Lake, sent by their father, the Sun God, to form the base of the Inca's culture. There are several Islands and other locations along the shores of the lake where the ruins of the famous Inca Empire can be seen.
Lake Titicaca is a high altitude Lake, sitting 12,725 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. At one point, people believed that it was an old volcano crater, but it's actually a run-off and river fed gem. It's a place that is shrouded in legend, including the tales that there was gold at the bottom of the lake, because that's where the locals hid it from the Conquistadors. Whatever the story, the natural source of water and food has made it home to many many civilizations over the eras.
There have been Inca here, Spaniards, Tiahuanaco, Uros, Aymara, and of course the Andean natives that still inhabit the area today.
There are many beautiful buildings to see in the area, and many churches. Catholicism is the name of the game these days, and there are churches evidenced to that all around the area. There are also markets in the area where you can buy some of the most coveted handicrafts in all of South America. The descendants of the local ethnic groups make some of the best handicrafts around.
Copacabana, Bolivia isn't quite as bustling as Puno, but there is plenty to see and do there as well. Also, some of the islands that you will want to go and see, are closer to there than Puno. Let's face it, if you've gone this deep into the bush in either one of these countries, it's because you wanted to go there. This isn't what happens when I go to NYC for the day and decide to walk the Brooklyn Bridge instead of keep an appointment for lunch. Getting to these towns isn't easy. You have to take a questionable train, a small plane with a lot of luck, or a bus that still leaves a lot to be desired. This is a destination that you will not end up seeing. You will have to plan and work at it to get there.
And oh, the things you will see when you do get there. The views are magnificent. The culture is amazing, the llamas and alpacas are cute and the wool makes great woolens. Then there are the islands, which brings me to my main point as to why anyone would come here for a vacation. I mean, you can buy a bowler hat anywhere, you don't have to get it in South America. The islands of Lake Titicaca are exceptional. There are around 30 of them at any given time. Does that sound like a number that can change, which makes no sense, because it's a lake?
Well, not all of the islands on Lake Titicaca are real islands. Some of them are man made. It may look like dried grass, but there are islands out there which are constructed of reeds. That's right, Bull Rushes. Uros, Taquile, and Amantani are probably the best known of the islands in the lake. Taquile and Amantani are islands that you can stay with a family on and really get the idea of their lifestyles.
Then there's Uros Islands which are man made of reeds. These places are amazing. They will take you there in their boats, called Totora Rafts, that are entirely made of reeds. Their houses are made of reeds. Their islands are made of reeds. It's an unbelievable achievement. Each island lasts for about 30 years, and it decomposes from the bottom since it sits on the water. The people who live there add
Totora(reeds) to the islands every few months to keep them strong, as the bottom or water side decays. Some of the people who live in these areas never leave them. They are born and die right there in the lake.
These people have churches, schools, as well as homes built right on the islands that they built. They are a self sustaining people who don't crave attention. The modern era has caused them to accept tourism into their lives, but they still don't like to have their picture taken. Respect their lifestyles, and they will respect yours. They will also show you their lifestyle. There are a few things to be prepared for. First, there aren't many modern amenities. These are a basic people. Second, the islands are always rotting. They smell a little weird. But anything that might be of a little inconvenience, is easily overlooked since the experience is so amazing.
So, amazing cultures, fabulous scenery, Inca history, and above all, the chance to see how life is on a man made island. Take a leap, I would say take a tour just to be safe, and enjoy something truly different. Step back in time and leap to another world. Learn of legend and Conquistadors. You will always be glad you did.