Thursday, November 27, 2014

Do You Like James Bond?

I've spent a lot of my time in life with James Bond.  I've read all the books by Ian Fleming, I've watched all the movies, I've remained a fan of all the actors that have played James Bond, I've got the companion books and so forth, and I've been to James Bond World on top of the Schilthorn Mountain in the Alps.  But, as always in life, I continue to learn more about the things I love, and one of those things is James Bond.  So, if you've covered all the Bond stuff that I have, what's the next stop on that crazy tour?  Jamaica man.

There's a lot of things that most people don't know about Jamaica, and the little village of Orcabessa Bay that is home to all things Bond is just one of them.  Most of us would either take a cruise that stops in Jamaica at Montego Bay, or stay at one of the Sandals Resorts or something which are also close to Montego Bay.  What most people don't know is that Jamaica is not so slowly turning into one big resort, and that most of the public beaches are going away and becoming part of private resorts and personal homes.  It is possible that in the near future Jamaicans won't be able to go to the beach.  That's nuts.  Fortunately on the north side of the island nation, there are more laid back  spots and public beaches to use.  Also on that north side are some really interesting places to see and things to do.  Isn't that always the way?  You get out of the main tourist junk, and you get to see something really great.

Let's talk about the obvious first.  Goldeneye.  It's a James Bond 007 movie.  What you may not have known is that it is the name of the rental and beach villas for sale property in Orcabessa Bay, Jamaica.  Why on Earth would it be here?  Well, as luck would have it, Ian Fleming was in Jamaica when he was a British Spy, before the novels and the movies.  The mission that he was there for turned out to be a bust, but he fell in love with Jamaica.  Years later he returned and lived in Orcabessa Bay on this property.  As James Bond became larger than life, Orcabessa became more and more centered on James Bond.  You'll find beaches referring to Bond, streets, restaurants and everything else imaginable.  The whole area is Bond centered.  It's a must visit for us Bond junkies.

I must mention one thing, however.  Goldeneye is expensive.  It is one of the resorts that is taking over the country.  James Bond beach, however, is one of the remaining public beaches.

There are tons of things to do in the area besides sit on a beach though.  Ocho Rios isn't far from Orcabessa and they are well known for some things like Dunn's Falls and the bamboo raft rides on the river.  These are a must do and must see in Jamaica.  They are both relaxing and beautiful.  Watch out particularly at Dunn's Falls.  It is one of the most popular day trips going and it's normally pretty crowded.

Now, let's talk about the really fun stuff.  We'll start with horseback riding on the beach.  This is one of those things that we all say we should try someday.  Well, that day should be while you're in Jamaica.  There are a few companies that will take you on an amazing ride while in Ocho Rios.

Dolphin Cove is another great stop.  There are several places throughout the Caribbean where you can swim with Dolphins, but this is the one in Ocho Rios.  While you're there is shouldn't be missed.
Dolphin Cove is also associated with Prospect Plantation, who has great adventure tours all over the island.

Prospect Plantation and Prospect Tours will take you out to do some amazing things that you never really thought about doing in Jamaica.  First off would be the camel rides.  I'm not joking.  Instead of trail riding on a horse, you'll be on a camel.  This is something that normally is done in desert regions of Africa, so it stands out in an island nation like Jamaica.

And here's one of my favorites.  Mystic Mountain is Jamaica's first mountain theme park.  Here you can get your game on with a Jamaican bobsled.  That's right, just like the Olympic team that has made it's members so famous.  Do you really get to try it the way that the Olympians trained?  No, it's a mountain coaster and it's fabulous.  There are also many other mountain park activities at Mystic Mountain, like great water slides, scenic ski lifts, and zip lines.  It's a lot of fun and a great way to spend the day.  The scenery is amazing as well, and the butterflies are gorgeous and plentiful in the gardens.

So, whether you come for the thrills of Mystic Mountain, the uniqueness of camel rides, to see the view from Noel Coward's estate, or to just enjoy the turtles and beaches; come visit the north side of Jamaica, and see what it's like without being all about the resorts.  This is changing.  The resorts are coming in with Goldeneye leading the way, so see it now before it becomes just another land of foreign tourists like the Sandals Resorts area on the other side.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

I Love Waterfalls!

One of the reasons that I travel is to hunt down, hike to, and photograph waterfalls.  I'm not alone in this endeavor, because I understand that there are over 10,000,000 million waterfall lovers around the world.  That's a lot of people who love waterfalls.  World of Waterfalls is a huge website that documents and posts photos of waterfalls from all over the world.  There are over 10,000 books about waterfalls.  Russell Dunn has written about a dozen just on the eastern half of the United States alone.  Painters, love them.  Photographers make a living on them.  Niagra Falls, United States and Canada would not exist as a settlement if it weren't for the actual falls.  The Eastern Seaboard wouldn't have electricity if it wasn't for them.  Think about that for a moment as we all had to several years ago when the power plant over there had a problem and New York City was in the dark.  It's mind boggling how important waterfalls are, and yet how much they are used as a mode to draw tourists.  They are an all purpose item that is useful, beautiful, natural, and replenishes itself.  Beat that.  Is it any wonder that I love them so much?

Niagra has long been a fan favorite.  There's probably not a waterfall anywhere in the world that is better known.  It's famous for people getting married there.  It's famous for people trying to go over it in a barrel.  It's famous for being a border crossing for the underground railroad.  It's runs an enormously powerful hydroelectric plant.  Combined the two waterfalls have over 7,000 cubic meters per second of water crashing over them.  That makes them not only the most famous falls in the U.S. but the falls with the highest volume as well.  It also makes it tough to visit in the summer, because it is one of the busiest tourist venues in the entire country, and well known throughout the world.

There are many amazing waterfalls around the world such as Iguazu, Victoria, Kaieteur, Guillfoss, Tugela, Angel, and so on.  The thing is that there are about a million waterfalls out there and the big ones are not always the best.  One of my favorites is Multonomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.  This one is over 600 feet high.  It's impressive and it also comes with about five other amazing waterfalls and a drive on a cliff road that you will not soon forget.  The view overlooking the Columbia River is breathtaking even without stopping at the amazing waterfalls.  It's a treat that I'm really glad I didn't miss.

In the wilds of southern Oregon is Toketee Falls.  This beautiful plunge is found along Route 138 on your way from Roseburg to Crater Lake National Park.  This entire road runs through a gorge area, with ample trailheads along the way that all lead to amazing waterfalls.  It's one of my favorite spots and it should not be missed by a true waterfall hunter.  But, when you stop in your local bookstore or go on Amazon, look around for a book.  Look online for a website.  Most areas of the world have some way to look up local waterfalls.  New England just happens to be famous for them.  You can probably find some really pretty waterfalls close to you.  I grew up in Indiana, and it was flat as a pancake, but we still had some pretty waterfalls that we could go and see.  Turkey Run State Park had some gorgeous ones in a box canyon that I loved.  So, look around.  You might be surprised what you find.

In the northeast you can't go far without running across a waterfall.  There are numerous towns named after them, which is how I have found some of them.  Lots of them are right in the center of town.  You can't miss them.  Some towns, like Ithaca, New York are made of waterfalls.  Ithaca Falls is right in the middle of town and it's enormous and over 150 feet high.  There are over 100 waterfalls in the Ithaca area, most of which are part of a state park.  New England is amazing with waterfalls.  They are everywhere, and most of them aren't hard to walk to.  That's the great part of waterfall hunting.  In some places the waterfalls are remote, but in New England that's rare.  We do have a high population density which probably has something to do with it.  Most of the time in my area the walk to a waterfall is less than one mile.

North Carolina is another place that I visited that prides itself on the waterfalls.  It's called the Land of Waterfalls in Brevard County, NC.  Not far from Asheville is home to around 200 waterfalls, one of them is Whitewater Falls and it is the highest waterfall in the Eastern part of the United States at over 400 feet high.  There are numerous waterfalls in the Appalachian Mountains though.  The Appalachian Trail finds thousands of them along it's route.

Deleware Water Gap and Bushkill Falls Park is another popular waterfall area along the Deleware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  The falls are plentiful and the whole area is beautiful.  But the spots go on and on.  Anywhere you find a hill in my country, you'll probably find a falls.  It's just that simple.  When I started hunting waterfalls, I had no idea what I was getting into.  I needed a cheap hobby that got me out of the house on the weekends when I was young, broke and single.  It's a cheap hobby.  It's not like going to a club, a show, or a casino.  It's just communing with nature, and it's healthy and pretty.  You tend to meet people along the way, and you become kind of part of a club.  It's like being a biker.  When you meet other waterfall people, you automatically have something to commiserate on.  It's a great icebreaker.  When I took the day and went to Silver Falls State Park in Central Western Oregon, I met dozens of people who were just like me.  They had to be for that one, because that park was hidden and it took me researching in a book to find it.

There are tons of places to find waterfalls.  Like I keep telling my friends, they are everywhere.  Some of the most beautiful waterfalls I ever saw were inside the Grand Canyon.  I'm not joking.  There's a whole village down there called Supai Village, and it's inhabited by the Havasupai Indians.  They have a ten mile or so trail that goes from their village to the Colorado, and there are some amazing waterfalls along the way.  Not bad for sitting in the middle of the desert.

So, I've not discussed in any detail waterfalls outside the contiguous 48 United States, but there are waterfalls out there, whether they be the classic project of the 1930's that is Watkins Glen or the 22 cascades of Rickets Glen.  Whether they are the famous falls of Yosemite or Yellowstone or the more unsung beauties like Kaaterskill.  They are out there and they are beautiful.  I can't say enough amazing things about waterfalls.  They are wonderful.  They are soothing.  Hiking to them helps with stress.  It's great to get away from it all.  If you like to walk, then they are your friend, because in the summer when the heat is too much, the streams that you follow to the waterfalls are cool.  The waterfalls tend to provide spray and a swimming area to beat the heat.  They are wonderful in so many ways that I could spend all day talking about them.  Believe me, get closer to God and go find some waterfalls.  Take your camera too.  You'll get hooked on photography.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Did You Know?

Here's some things that I've learned along the way that aren't always out there for us to see.  You don't see this stuff on television commercials.  You don't normally read about it in books.  Travel agents don't normally mention them.  It's just some of those things that you learn as you go, and I thought I would impart some of it on all of you.

1.  In Berlin, Germany you can take a guided bicycle tour of the remnants of the Wall.  It's been 25 years since the wall fell, but the folks of the amazing city of Berlin will never forget it.  Today there are many ways to see parts of the wall.  They are all over the world, but the bicycle tour is something different.

2.  In Puerto Rico there are a couple of spots where the wildlife is luminescent.  The sea life here glows in the dark, making several bays into romantic nighttime paradises.   Mosquito Bay is one of the most popular places to see this strange but beautiful phenomenon.

3.  You can still see plays performed in outdoor theaters built by the Romans and Greeks in Sicily.  The plays are traditional, and the acoustics are fabulous at most locations, such as this one in Taormina.


4.  The Enchanted Grotto is a romantic seaside restaurant in a cave along the coast in the Puglia area of Italy.  This is not a snack bar.  This is a five star restaurant that even has entertainment sometimes.  It will impress any lady.  Grotto Palazzese is a great place to truly impress a date.

5.   Guoliang Tunnel is a short but unique piece of road in Changsha, China.  It was designed to resolve the problem of connecting a tiny village of 350 people to the outside world.  It was dug out by hand, and is today one of the most unique driving experiences you'll ever have.

6.  The Ice Palace at the Top of Europe on Jungfraujoch in the Alps in Switzerland.  This glacier has been around a long time, and the train up to Jungfraujoch is one of the most interesting train rides around, but in 1934 someone thought that it needed a little something else, so the tunnels that are now known as the Ice Palace were dug by hand.  It's a chilling but entertaining little walk to take while you're up on the Top of Europe.

7.  The best way to see the fairy chimneys that are the chief attraction in Cappadocia, Turkey is by hot air balloon.  This area is one of the busiest hot air balloon meccas on Earth.  The air currents lend all the help needed for a truly amazing journey.  There are plenty available so that you can get a great view of a truly unusual place.

8.  It's the latest craze to take a cruise or have a birthday party on a pirate ship.  This isn't just for kids, they have specifically adult parties too.  These crazy tours are all over, from the Caribbean Islands to Florida, to Washington DC and the latest one that popped up in Hawaii.  Hawaii Pirate Ship Adventures is right out of Honolulu, and it's a great way to have a great evening at sea.


9.  People love to stay at dude ranches.  We have them all over.  But, did you know that it's one of the most popular things to do in Argentina as well?  There are several different types of programs in the Pampas of Argentina from places where you spend a couple of months at ranches that are more akin to what we find here in America with spas and riding lessons.  The Estancia los Potreros is a very popular ranch to spend some time at and the views are amazing.

10.  When you think of Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe you don't normally think of something like bungee jumping, but there is a company there that specializes in just that.  Victoria Falls Bungee is the place to go if you would like to get a real up close and personal look at the gorge below the falls.  It's a once in a lifetime experience.

So, this is just a few of the amazing and unusual things that there are to do out there.  I hope that you will continue to join me in finding some of the less celebrated but no less amazing things to do out there in the world.  I enjoy learning about all kinds of new places and new activities.  There's so much to do out there and so much to see that if we don't all get moving, we'll miss it.  With all the beauty in the world and all the amazing things to do, wouldn't it be a shame if our lives passed up by and we missed it?  Don't let that happen to you.  Check out all the sites.  Check out this blog.  Check out whatever you have to check out to find something really amazing.  Enjoy!

Friday, November 7, 2014

25 Years Ago This Week...The Wall

I've been wondering what to write about this week.  I'm always torn with the changing of the seasons, and different holidays to discuss.  It's been one of those weeks where I'm stuck in bed with my laptop, because I'm sick as a dog, and I struggle with topics.  And then it came to me.  25 years ago, November 9th, the mighty Berlin Wall came down.  Do you remember where you were when you heard the news?  I was in my living room watching it on CNN.  I sat up all night long and watched in amazement, as the German people were reunited with friends and family.  There are very few events in a lifetime that will stick in your mind til the day you die.  I have this one tucked away in my brain as one of the few events that I will always remember.  It's one of the very few good events that I will remember.  Berlin has touched my life more than once.  Berlin is one of those places that connects very deeply with my soul.

When I was young, I thought about joining the military.  I went so far as to go for the physical, but then something changed my mind.  I was pulled aside by some intelligence officers and they told me that they wanted me to do a six year tour with the intelligence office, and do code breaking on the Berlin Wall.  I was scared to death of being so close to a place where my friends families had been held hostage in East Germany.  I was scared of all the stories that I'd heard both good and bad.  I was scared of Soviets, as we all were back then.  I took a pass on the military as a whole.  I felt I'd dodged a bullet, but a few years later, I began to wonder.  My time would have barely been over, when November 9, 1989 rolled around.  I've always wondered if maybe I would have been there on the day that the people began to cross, freely between East and West.  Maybe that bullet I dodged was one that I should have taken to heart.

I sat all night and watched the locals break through the wall that separated them from their friends and families.  It was one of the most emotional things I ever saw on television.  It was the end of an era.  It was the end of fear for them.  It was a moment of triumph for my friends whose families had escaped from the Soviets and made their home here in America.  It was one of the most emotional moments of my life.  Was it an accident?  Was it a mistake on the part of the East German Bureaucracy?  I don't know, and there are still, to this day, about a hundred theories.  I don't care what it was.  I don't care why it happened.  I care that it happened.  It was a good day.

Berlin is still a work in progress, but it is a great city.  There are many sections of the wall to see.  There is a Checkpoint Charlie Museum.  There are all kinds of museums, monuments, memorials, and other places that are devoted to educating the general public about the history of Germany and Berlin.  You can still spot differences between east and west Berlin.  It's a constant reminder of the city's dark past.  The people of Berlin love their city.  You will find people everywhere that will share their personal stories with you of the dark years of the wall.  It's something you will never forget.  There are ditches where the wall used to be.  The German people will never forget it.  They've made a point not to.  Just like the bombed out church that reminds them of World War II.  Just like the tower of machine guns that reminds them of Hitler.  Just like the Brandenburg Gate which reminds them of Napoleon.  There is so much history in Berlin that you can't soak it all up in one visit.  This is a city that you should visit more than once.  It's layered with history.  It's modern and the people are amazingly open and friendly.

Two years after the wall fell, I got my big chance.  I was invited to go with a group of students to several places in Eastern and Western Europe.  One of those places was Berlin.  When we went there, they were still tearing down the wall.  A bunch of us visited the Brandenburg Gate where the demolition crews were still tearing down the wall.   The workers were outgoing, and they all told us their stories about reuniting with their families and how honored they were to be the ones hired to demolish most of the wall.  They felt honored and that they had been a part of history.  It was moving to hear the stories of men who had in the last two years finally been able to see their grandmothers, grandfathers, cousins, and so many more.  It was heartwarming.  The workers allowed each of us to take a sledge hammer and knock off our own pieces of the wall.  I keep them to this day.  Those pieces of that wall are the most important souvenirs I've ever gotten anywhere.  I cherish them along with the stories that I was told by real people who lived with that wall.

So much has changed.  The once Soviet signs of strength and solidarity are now historic monuments to times gone by.  Berlin moves  forward.  They are going in the right direction.  25 years have passed, and the world has changed.  The city of Berlin has changed.  There are many who are too young to remember the wall in all it's Soviet Glory.  Us old folks will never forget.  We will walk the pieces of the wall that are left and remember a time of great celebration.  We will visit the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and remember a time of fear and loathing.  We will walk down the Kurfurstendam and remember that it was not that long ago that it stopped at the wall.  We will visit the dozen or more sites around the globe where pieces of the wall are proudly exhibited so that no one around the world will forget.

25 years ago the wall was breached and a country was reunited.  A couple of years later, I got my chance to see the remains and sit on top of that wall.  I've seen a lot in my lifetime.  One of the greatest places that I ever saw was Berlin.  It's a town that never sleeps.  It's a town of beautiful parks, amazing museums, open air history, fabulous architecture, great food, gorgeous art, and people that you will never forget.  Come to Berlin to celebrate 25 years since that wall came down.  Come to celebrate.  Come to learn.  Come to see what this amazing city has become.