Thursday, January 30, 2014
It's absolutely true. Cruises are not my style. I want to see the world, and I don't wish to have the view clouded by on board extravaganzas, all you can eat buffets, water slides, and casinos. If I want to shop, I'll shop in the area where I am vacationing. If I want to go to an amusement park, I'll find one. If I want to gamble, there's always Vegas. This cruising thing is not my style.
Then you add to it the growing number of stories about people getting sick on board cruise ships, and the ones that are breaking down or getting lost or running aground. Well, it's just ridiculous and why would I pay someone for that experience? I can have a bad time for a lot less pretty much anywhere. The world has plenty of bad experiences that you can have for free. Where was I going with this?
Ah yes, the exception to the rule. I do like to have an adventure, and there are sailing adventures out there. It is a cruise, and it's not the normal style. You won't find extravaganzas on board a sailing ship. You won't find a water slide on a schooner. What you will find is an adventure. Take to the seas like the old world used to do. Most tours include the option to pitch in and help the crew sail the ship. You can be part of the experience. Beat that.
You still get the sunsets. You still get great food. You still get to see all the ports that you get to see on a regular cruise, but it's different. It's a smaller group. There's a close relationship with the crew. You get to feel like a captain exploring the seven seas. This is about how it feels. This is about the experience. This is a real experience that you can't get on a regular cruise ship. This is where the seafood buffets stop and the beauty of the sea begins.
The Caribbean offers any number of cruises on sailing vessels. There are day cruises, pirate cruises, Windjammer Cruises, and many others. All of these are designed to take you to the beautiful ports of call like Grenada, the Grenadines, St. Maarten, the Caymans and so many others. There are companies where you can customize your cruise to go anywhere you want. There are companies where you can choose how much time you spend in a given port. Let the wind be your guide and see many things that you won't see on a standard Caribbean cruise. These ships go into smaller ports. They provide activities that the regular cruises don't, like swimming right in the ocean off the side of the ship. It's different than the cookie cutter variety cruise that most people take around the Caribbean.
It's a slower pace than the regular cruises, but that's part of the pleasure. The fact that they don't seem to be having a huge problem with people getting sick on them is a perk too.
This is the adventure. The pace is slow. The view is amazing. The food is still good. The groups are small, so you get to know people, make friends and even work together for the common good. Sailing is a feeling that you don't get on just any boat. There's a nostalgia or a freedom, I'm not sure which, that goes with it. If you join in with the crew you feel like you've really done something special with your vacation. It's something that you just have to do to understand the feeling. If you're looking for the experience, this is the one you should have. This is what it's really like to cruise around the islands. This is what it really feels like to sail on a ship. This is what an experience really is. It's not manufactured as a theme park for your entertainment. It's something that you will remember for a lifetime.
So, go and sail the Leeward Islands, see the Turks and Caicos, swim with turtles and dolphins, explore the Blue Hole, see a volcano, walk some old forts, party with the locals, and have a fabulous adventure. Sailing brings a cruise to life in the right way. It's not Vegas, but then again, why should it be?
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
He's Charley Boorman, world renowned motorcyclist and adventurer, and for the last couple of years in February, he has led a motorcycle ride with limited availability across parts of Australia. Now, I will start out by saying that this is something that most celebrities don't do, but Charley isn't your average garden variety celebrity.
Charley is the son of legendary director John Boorman. You may have heard of some of his movies including Excalibur and Deliverance. Charley was in most of his father's movies when he was a child, and did some acting as an adult, but it didn't really work for him.
Ewan McGregor and Charley met on the set of a movie and became fast friends from their like love of motorcycles. This spawned the trip around the world on their bikes that was called Long Way Round. They traveled through several countries and even through the wilds of Siberia and Mongolia. It was such a hit that it spawned an entire career for Charley, which has been keeping us entertained ever since. After Long Way Round there was Race to Dakar where Charley and his longtime producer/buddy Russ Malkin attempted to complete the most dangerous race in the world. Then Ewan came back on board for Long Way Down, a motorcycle journey from Scotland to South Africa. From there, Charley just kept on rolling with By Any Means from London to Sydney, Right to the Edge; Sydney to Tokyo, and the Extreme Frontiers series: Canada, South Africa, and USA. He has numerous other television mini series in various countries all over the world. Viewers in 40+ countries around the world have been entertained. Those of us here in the USA that have followed his career would like to see his shows here someday. As it stands you can buy them on Amazon.com.uk and get a cheap DVD player to watch them.
In all of his travels, Charley has always been a staunch supporter of UNICEF and has worked with them for years. He also has books that he coauthored for six of his adventures and--get this--is well known as a dyslexic. He's a very interesting character that has been someone that I have followed for years. Charley is accessible though, and has a personality worth being around. You can twitter and message him when you want the join in on all of his adventures on group motorcycle rides. That's why his motorcycle tours are so popular.
So, what's all the fuss about this motorcycle ride? It starts on February 28th in Melbourne, goes around Tasmania to various amazing sights and ends in Sydney. It's nine nights and 1880 miles on motorcycle. You'll travel overnight on the ferry, visit the highest peak in Australia--Mt. Kosciusko in the Victorian Alps, visit Strahan; the best little town in the world, and ride up the coastal highway to Sydney.
One of the wonderful sights that you'll get to stop at is Russell Falls in Mt. Field National Park. You'll also visit Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers National Park with more beautiful views. These parks are full of gorges and waterfalls, local flora and fauna, and a ton of great photo ops.
Strahan was voted the best little town in the world. This picturesque locale is a great place to do some fishing, take a cruise, and take some more really great pictures.
Also on the ride you will get to visit Kosciusko National Park and traverse the highest peak in Australia. This area known as the Victorian High Country or the Victorian Alps is a beautiful landscape.
Another stop on the trip is historic Port Arthur. This is where the convicts were housed in the 1800's. The entire town is a historic site. There are many things to see and do while you're there.
No matter how you cut it, you'll be riding from Melbourne to Sydney through Tasmania entirely on paved roads on your choice of motorcycle with Charley Boorman as your guide. It's a great way to spend the winter months, because Lord knows no one likes the cold. It's an adventure, and it's a good one. I've followed Charley for years, and it's a great time to spend some time traveling with a true professional. Take the time to check this one out through Compass Expeditions and start on your first true adventure of 2014.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
Most of us think of escaping to the tropics during the harsh and dark months of winter. However, there are those hardy souls that love the arctic spirit and turn winter into a wonderland of festivals, sports, frozen fantasies, and fun. For these wonderful people who make the rest of us look like wimps, I give you Maine.
I give you Greenville, Maine. This is the land of what happens in the north woods. This place is fabulous 365 days a year. In the winter in Greenville and the greater Moosehead Lake region, there are so many wonderful and unusual activities that you will never be bored and you will never feel like you are locked in the house. West Cove Racing starts the end of January and goes through February each year. This is where the men and the boys separate, as they race cars right on the frozen lake. And if you think that's the only thing that goes on out there, you're so wrong. Each January there is the commemorative snow machine ride up the the old B52 site to mark the anniversary of the plane crashing there back in the 60's. Moosehead Lake is also ground zero for great cross country skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, snow shoeing, and hunting. In February, there is a weekend chocolate festival for your entertainment as well.
I would be remiss if I forgot to mention that there are several notable ski resorts in Maine. You have Sunday River, Bigrock, Black Mountain, and Sugarloaf to name a few. All of them have great skiing and great accommodations. All of them have entertainment. All of them are a good time, but I have to mention Sugarloaf separately here.
Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel is a premiere location. This year they've added a 30 person outdoor hot tub so that guests can enjoy a Nordic experience with up to 29 of the closest--or not--friends. It's another unique experience for the northern adventurer. Also, at Sugarloaf each January they have White White World Week. This is your chance to be crowned king or queen of the resort. There are theme contests all week for the competition and everyone there has a lot of fun.
Auburn, Maine is home to some hearty souls and every January they have a wonderful winter festival. There are playgrounds made of snow, ice sculptures to wander through and admire, all kinds of entertainment, pond hockey, and yes, they do really race bicycles down snowy slopes. They also race decorated cardboard boxes, and they have a paintball biathalon. There's a lot of action, great food, friendly folks, and family entertainment at this one.
If you've ever wanted to try out an Olympic sport, come on out to Belfast and try it. The curling club there has all kinds of leagues, lessons, and open time to try out this surprisingly fun sport. Make sure you bring an open mind and you will have a great time.
Acadia National Park is the easternmost national park in the country, and is a beautiful spot in the winter. If you think that Cadillac Mountain is gorgeous in the summer, you should see it in a slight blanket of snow. Acadia is beautiful in winter and you can go cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and horseback riding. It's a lot of fun with wonderful scenery.
If you like horses, you could head on down to Lisbon in February for the World's Greatest Sleigh Ride. This festival every year brings out all kinds of Belgian Draft Horses and tons of sleighs. It's a weekend of sleigh rides and snowmobile racing with a festival on the side. It's a lot of fun, and a great winter experience.
If you like the country atmosphere with sleigh rides and draft horses, there are farms and lodges around that provide this entertainment all winter long. Northern Heights Farms in Waterford is just one of the many places where you can have your mini adventure with horses and sleighs for a wonderful winter experience.
Portland isn't the capital of Maine, but some say it should be, because everyone knows of it. This blog has always been Adventures For Anyone. So, if there isn't enough of for anyone and everyone there's always Portland. It may be winter there and the winds off the Atlantic may be bitter and biting, but there's a town that just never slows down sitting right there on the shore. Portland is a great place to eat with extraordinary restaurants all over town. It's a great central spot along the coast, so you can do a lot of things with this as your hub. And they have the Ice Bar at the Harbor Hotel. The Ice Bar is seasonal, it is outside, and it is cold. The decor is ice, the art is ice and even the glasses are ice. There is entertainment and it's a lot of fun. So, if you're hearty enough, come on out in the cold, have a drink and a dance and a really great time.
If you've ever wanted to take the plunge and embrace winter rather than hiding from it, take this time and come to Maine where winter is the best time of year. America's Vacationland is at it's best in the cold. So, come and enjoy the festivals, the sports, the entertainment, the food, the sparkling nights, the one of a kind adventures and by all means, the view. Maine is one of the best places to spend the coldest part of the year, because it comes with some of the warmest hearted folks. You cannot have a bad time in Maine. I've tried, and failed many times.
Thursday, January 9, 2014
In recent years, the idea of going to Indonesia has become slightly less popular for a lot of people with us Americans heading the list. Terrorism has seemed to flourish there if you pay attention to the news that you see on cable. The question that I always ask myself is whether or not everyone there is a terrorist. The answer of course is no. That's why I look past the terrorists and see the people in a place like Bukit Lawang, Sumatra.
Bukit Lawang is in North Sumatra. Where is that? Well, North Sumatra is easy enough. Sumatra is the fifth largest island in the world, and it sits in the middle of Indonesia, northwest of Borneo and New Guinea. It's really not far from Singapore either. It is famous for it's volcanoes, tsunamis, and rain forests which are being cut down as we share this time together. Padang is the capital of North Sumatra, and that is where you would fly in and out of. To go to Bukit Lawang from there you have to take a tour. Don't bother with that independent spirit that I'm always talking about on this one. Just look into it and take a tour. There are some places that even I don't go alone.
I won't lie to you. Bukit Lawang is nothing much to look at. It's a shabby little village with the laundry hanging out and a rickety bridge over the rushing river. It floods in the wet season, and there are no McDonalds around. There are no paved streets, trains or taxis.
Bukit Lawang is becoming famous for their eco lodges. That's what you'll find here. This is a place where you go to commune with nature and not destroy it. There are several eco lodges in the area that are comfortable, quiet and fabulous. This is where you will most likely stay if you take a trip to this area.
If you love nature, this is your trip. If you've ever wanted to visit the jungle, this is a great place to do so. Most people come here to come to Gunung Leuser National Park, and see nature at it's finest. Gunung Leuser National Park covers 950,000 hectares of North Sumatra. That's a pretty good chunk of the land of that area. There are elephants, tigers, hundreds of bird species, hundreds of animal species, thousands of plant species, and who knows what else that can be seen in that park. But, this is a guide to unique destinations. What is it that is so special that this place is being listed as an Adventure for Anyone?
I could have picked this spot for any number of reasons. I could have picked it for the local culture, the eco tourism or the fact the Lake Toba is the deepest lake in the world. I could have picked it for the volcanoes, the waterfalls, the caves, or the temples. But that's not what got me.
I picked this wonderful tropical exotic location because of the Orangutans. The Sumatra Orangutan is an extremely endangered species with approximately 6,600 of them left in the world. It is illegal to harm them in any way at this point, as organizations try to repopulate them in the wild. Orangutans are the largest of the tree dwellers, and most of us have seen them on television or in movies over the years.
What most people don't know is that these poor animals are trapped in the wild and forced into a life of captivity and performance. They are abused by the people who pay to have them kidnapped from their home, and they are then rescued and returned to Sumatra where they need to be rehabilitated and returned to the wild to live free. That's what they do at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Bukit Lawang in Gunung Leuser National Park. This is where this very worthwhile work goes on. What does this mean to the tourist?
Well, I say go and learn something and have a great time doing it. This park is the place where you can see these magnificent creatures in the wild. There are areas of serious rehab work going on where the tourists are not allowed, but there are parts where the tourists are welcome. And twice a day, if you go to the feeding area, you can see the people who care for these rehabbing Orangutans feed them. It's a great experience. You do not get to jump in or help. I will tell you that. Orangutans are large primates and they are wild. They trust their human helpers, but they don't necessarily want to meet every person that happens by. But the experience here is something that you just can't get anywhere else. This is a little window into what these great animals think of their surroundings and the humans that try to help them. It's the closest look that you'll get of these great monkeys. It's well worth the trip. It is a one of a kind experience.
North Sumatra is amazing and gorgeous. It's not the easiest place to travel. The roads are dirt, the villages are small, the conveniences are few and far between. But if you want to go somewhere and commune with nature, I can't think of a better spot. If you want to see good people doing good work with orphaned and abused Orangutans, this is the best place to see it. It's one of a kind, and it's well worth the journey. So, don't worry about terrorists night and day. Take some time, travel around the world, and see some majestic primates living the life that they deserve.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
Okay, Christmas and New Year's have passed. We're all sitting here in the midst of storm Hercules or Bethany, depending on exactly where in the country you are standing at the time. I know it's a cliche' but it's time to head to Florida. I don't normally go for the idea of the tropical thing, but Key West is different, and the Overseas Highway that you drive to get there is one of the most scenic drives in the whole country. It's 124 miles of amazing driving, vistas, and a whole lot of water. It's one of the few places on Earth where you can feel more like you're captaining a boat than driving your car, even while you're driving it. Beat that.
We've all seen pictures of the cement buoy that sits at the southernmost point in the US. We've all heard about Ernest Hemingway's house and all the cats that call it home. We've heard about the bars, the bikini's and the booze. All good things, but there's more there than that.
In Key West, you can ride around on the Conch Tour Train. That may seem like some cutsie tourist thing, but it's one of the remnants of a rebellious time in Key West. April 23, 1982 Key West seceded from the US and proclaimed themselves The Conch Republic. It was a short lived protest against a border blockade that was inhibiting their tourism in Key West, but it stuck. It has been a part of the culture of the island since, and every year on April 23, they celebrate their Independence Day. The event turned out to be a great boost in tourism, and you can even pay to be the honorary leader of the Conch Republic for the day if your heart desires.
But, in addition to comically being their own country, Key West has a lot of things that you wouldn't normally think of. They have Fort Jefferson. That's right, an American fort sitting right on the coast of the island. It's historic in a traditional sense, which is something that Key West is not nearly as famous for. In fact there are a lot of family friendly things to do in Key West. There are several companies there that will take you boating, fishing, sailing, and out to see dolphins. Key West is a premier dolphin viewing area.
Some of the best reef diving is available in Key West. It's one of the top reasons that people come to visit, but in 2009 they got one reason more to come and dive off Key West. In 2009 the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg was sunk off the coast to create more reef. Now, it's a great place to go wreck diving. You can go in and out of the giant ship, while it helps to improve the ecosystem in the area.
Key West Butterfly Conservatory is one of the most popular places to visit. It's a wonderful place to go and see beautiful butterflies from all over the world in a natural habitat. It's always a great time when traveling with the kids.
Another thing that nature provides in Key West is the sunset. Mallory Square is the place where everyone gathers at sunset and relaxes to watch Mother Nature's most beautiful show. It's a custom in Key West to stop in the evening and watch something that most of us don't even think about on a daily basis, but then again, maybe we don't have the kind of sunsets that they have in Key West.
So, there are many things to do in Key West. They also have beaches, boardwalks, and parks. There's a lot to do there, but it's a very laid back environment. People there seem to worry a little less, get angry a little less, get bored a little less, and smile a lot more. It's warm in more ways than one. And, if you have a little bit of a different lifestyle they don't mind. There are a lot of writers, artists, eco people, and alternatives running around Key West, and they fit in just fine. It's the melting pot that we've all heard about as a country, but it really exists in Key West.
I think that the most common perception of Key West in the modern age is the drag queens. Gay and Lesbian travel is extremely popular in Key West. It's all part of the open and accepting lifestyle that everyone lives there. If you like the cabaret style drag queen show, stop in at 801 Bourbon Bar and see the group that is so famous that there are books and documentaries about them. All of the travel shows have visited this bar and hung out with the lovely ladies. It's a once in a lifetime chance to have some great fun and meet a bunch of wonderful ladies that put on a really great show. Remember, this one is not for the whole family, but it is a lot of fun.
So, if you're bored with the snow. If the white Christmas is over and the crystallized water that makes everything look so nostalgic for the holidays is losing its luster, think about heading for the border. Stop in at Sloppy Joe's and have a drink. Take a walk on the uninhibited wild side and check out the free spirits that inhabit the Conch Republic. Take a look at the world from a different point of view. Check out a place that is either forward thinking for the time, or a place left behind in time. Sometimes it's difficult to tell which way it really works there. Take the time to meet a revolutionary, or a guy that looks like a girl. And by all means, take the time to take the drive out scenic Route 1, the Overseas Highway. Take your time and slow down enough to truly appreciate a gorgeous sunset. Do some things that you never thought you would do. Let your hair down and go to the southernmost point in the country just to dangle your feet in the warm water that makes you forget that your pipes at home are frozen.