Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sri Lanka - day two - the road

Day two starts early.  I awaken around 5 and we are all up and moving by 6ish, which is very odd for us.  We normally all sleep in, but not this trip. Hitting the beach to grab some breakfast we see people exercising every where.  Push ups, sit ups, running, jumping jacks,  you name it.  Finding a place for breakfast was much hard then expected.  We only found one place on the beach that was open and they had a buffet that was demolished by some Chinese sporting team.  Coffee on the beach it is then.  After the coffee we cruise up the hill into town and grab some bakery, which was all delicious. 

Now the task of getting some where. We talk to the people running the hostel and search to internet for schedules for the train and bus and nothing seems to add up.  Deciding just to go do it and figure it out we hop on a bus fr Colombo fort.  What seems to be 8 km or took us way to long. The buses here fill up, then they fill up more and then a little bit more. Packed from entrance to exit the buses push through the chaos.  Tuk this speed by just to get pinched by a bus, motorcycles driving everywhere.  The lanes seem not to matter much. 3 or 4 wide on a 2 way is common. At last we get to the station.  A quick check of buses and we find ourselves Dambulla bound. Now I have been on some bad bus rides, but this one takes to cake. 145km separates us, that for you Americans is 90 miles, a drive from Green bay to Wausau.  How long would this take?  1.5 hours? No.  3 hours? Ha. Maybe 4 right? Nope. Over 6?  Ding ding ding, winner. It seems every few kilometers they start a new road construction project that leads to back ups and frustrated drivers. Now our drivers was solid.  He drove really fast and would pass around corners honking his horn as his passengers swung like meat in a Rocky movie.  At some point during the trip there was a bit of scolding behind us.  Thinking it was a mother and son we didn't ignored it. Just before this Amanda felt something on her bum.  Looking like toes coming thru the seat she thought someone just tucked their feet in. We come to figured out when the lady scolding got off the bus that she told the drivers assistant something. All eyes on the bus turn towards Amanda. The drivers assistant walk over and yells at the late teenager boy behind her and moves him. We have come to conclude is wasn't his toes.  Amanda said she enjoyed it none the less and hoped for more during the trip.

Bouncing around for 6 hours was not the way we wanted day two to go but our hostel was booked and we made it. But did we? Getting to the hostel after a tuk tuk ride from the bus stop was a jovial experience. Amanda and I in one,  Michael and Kimmie Kat in the other. A thought of Mario Cart passed thru my head as we stream around objects. We hit the drive way for the hostel, which seems to have seen better days. A dark bumpy dirt path shows us the grim hostel.  I get out and say we have reservation.  A blank look comes over the mans face.  He explains that they are full.  But we had a reservation!!  At some point he decided to show us an option. Michael runs in to the room to take a peek. (This will be the last time he goes alone) Michael says yes and the guy shows us to our room.  Blue rooms painted well in to the civil war, bugs flying, and a door with no lock appear behind door number one. He wants about $10 for the room.  This guy isn't getting pay. After a lot of discussion we find ourselves back in a tuk tuk to another hostel.  Room were nicer and we stayed. A few Lions for dinner and sleep. Whoa that was a long day.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sri lanka - day one

We have arrived after a long flight through Dubai.  We walk out of the airport into a wall of moist heat.  Its only 5k I say.  That's not bad the crew responses.  We begin our walk heading the only direction we can which doesn't seem quite right but let's do it walk on folks.  Within no time tuk tuk after tuk tuk(a tuk tuk for those that don't know is a three wheeler with a box which holds 2 comfortably) stop us and tell us to get in.  I shake my head "no thanks, we are walking." Some time goes past and the girls are hot so a tuk tuk driver that has been stalking us for the last km or so finally pulls up.  We soon realize that our really close hostel is really close to the other airport.  40 km separate us and the group decides not to walk.  So we board the tuk tuk, all 4 us and gear. 

We reach our hostel, Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel, and sign in.  4 beds, bug nets and a fan fills the room. An attached bathroom has all the fixings for a super clean ass, but don't flush the poopy tp. The shower has hot water that comes from an electric box that is accompanied by scorched marks.  The thought of electrocution while showering does make this boy strangely happy.  That night we went down to the beach to grab food and drink.  Crabs ran around our feet as we looked for grub. We found a great place and ate with our toes in the sand and the sound ocean crashing.  The beer is Lion which comes in a big bottle.  It is a lager at 4.8 % and doesn't taste too bad.  Sleep tonight sounds so good. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


The next  morning we awake and get breakfast from our great host Mohamed.  Bread, jam, cheese, butter, coffee and other goodies.  We then figure out the plan to reach the train station to get on the rails to Fes.  After a short walk and a few mistakes on the public bus system we find the train station and get ready for a ride.  As we ride through the heart of Morocco I wonder how life has sustained itself for as long as it has.  A dry barren land for a few hours opens up to a sparse grass field.  The buildings, a rainbow of sand colors, fill the sides of the rails once we reach the cities of Casablanca and Rabat.  Closing in on Fes we are looking in the LP and phone to find our hostel. Figuring out that the riad is within walking distance of the station we decided to make the trek. A few short moments later we are approached by a man and conversation begins. We quickly become aware that the hostel is not where think it was. The man makes a quick phone call to confirm he knows where the riad is. He then walks us out and snags 2 taxis and talks them down on price for us. Minutes later we arrival in the maze that is mid evil Fes. Our cabby tells us to get out in Arabic.  Now 4 white bread Americans stand in confusion on where to go from there. After a few moments of dumb stares the riad owner appears over a hill with 2 more lost Americans.  We say hello and make our way to dropping off the other gringos. Now our riad, much like everywhere else in Morocco is no less then 5-50 confusing turns on unmarked alleys. We reach our place to stay.  The room has photos of the owner family tacked on the walls.  A bed that dips in all the wrong places was where we were to sleep tonight. A quick peek on the rooftop terrace shows the Medina at night. This place looks confusing.  Sleep... Breakfast.  Bread, jam the usually and did I mention the mint tea. A sweet blend of mint and sugar comes at every meal, hotel and transaction. A high pour to create a little foam on top. This is how Morocco moves, mint tea.

We head out for the day.  As we hit up the tannery the smell of hides and pigeon poo becomes apparent.  

Just found this from last year we will add to it.

Monday, January 6, 2014


Landing in Marrakesh we get out of the plane on the tarmac and see an old beautiful Arabic sign that says Marrakesh airport.  We trek through customs with ease and get a taxi.

We arrive in the medina and our host Mohamed met us.  He snakes us through alleyways and explains the numbers and signs to get us in and out. A maze of confuse after a long sleepless flight is all it seems. We come to a short old door with no markings.  This will be our home.  After a conversation with Mohamed we decide a nap is in order. When we awake its time for our first meal, cooked by Mohamed himself.   It is a pork tagine.  Cooked in a clay pot the meat and veggies mingle together to create a beautiful tender and tasty dish.  A few glasses of wine and dessert leaves us with only the Moroccan staple left for dinner, the mint tea.  A sugar water boiled then poured over fresh mint leaves.  It is quite good.  After dinner we make way to the square. Jamaa el Fna is the local market and meeting place.  Packed full of pushy locals trying to sell everything from lanterns to kebabs.

More to come.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Day 3 – Mt Cook National Park / Purakaunui Bay

Day 3  – Mt Cook National Park / Purakaunui Bay

Did I forget to mention the incredible view from Mueller Hut? A 360° view of mountaintops with dozens of waterfall flowing down the cliffs from the melting mountain glaciers. This was the spectacle in front of us when we awoke the following morning. Clouds poured in over the mountains, but so did the sunlight. It was a beautiful morning.

We got up, made coffee and ate breakfast. We chatted with a woman from Auckland while most of the other visitors slept.  An hour so later we packed up, thanked the warden and began our great descent down the mountain.

Something else I forgot to mention: the visitor’s center states it will take 3.5-4.5 hours to make it up the mountain ridge. Josh and I made it in 2:40. Oh, so I wasn't moving as slow as I thought I was! On the way down, we met other hikers on their way up. We told them what to expect and offered our encouragement. We knew how difficult the trek was. However, we found it more difficult going down and fighting against gravity. By the time we reached the bottom, my legs were jello. I glanced at my watch; we made it down in about 2:40 again. Not bad.

We stopped at the visitors’ center to let them know we made it safely back. We soon found out that the park’s only gas station pump was out of order, excuse me, I meant to call it a petrol station pump (call it a gas station and New Zealanders will give you nothing but a blank, dumbfounded stare.) Luckily we had just enough fuel to get us to the nearest station. We picked up some petrol and groceries and headed down south.

We decided on the fly to head to Purakaunui Bay, to camp for the night. It was a long drive but a pretty one. The South Island is huge for agriculture. Besides the nonstop fields of sheep, there is an enormous abundance of fruit and veggie farms. We stopped at a fruit stand along the way and picked up a bag of cherries. Oh, what a treat.

Our GPS took us to a narrow, and seemingly deserted, gravel road. What kind of place is this Purakaunui Bay? I briefly worried we’d get stuck, but we made it. I’m glad we didn’t try to turn back because we found yet another gorgeous New Zealand sight/site. We found out we could camp there for only $10 US . There were a fair amount of campers who had already set up tents and whatnot, but we found a spot with a decent ocean view. I paid our dues while Josh went and chatted with some surfers.

It was cold, rainy and windy. We nearly lost our tent and Josh was ready to cram his skinny long legs in our tiny rental car, but we ended up in the tent, falling asleep to the sound of nearby sheep. Baaaaah. Baaaaah.

Day  4 – Curio Bay (for a Bit Anyway) and Te Anau

We left the bay behind us and headed out in search of Purakaunui Falls. The falls were a short hike from the parking lot through a rainforest of sorts. (And a short hike was a very good thing, as my legs didn’t seem to want to walk after our mountain hike.) Josh got some beautiful footage, and an older couple had me take their photo. What a couple of cuties.

We got back on the road, and wouldn’t you guess, we ran into sheep. A mob of them. In the street. What dumb animals! It took only minutes and our car was surrounded. There were three factors that contributed this: the sheep’s fear, herd mentality, and their deep seated need to eat whatever grass is in front of them. Oh, and our decision to keep driving towards them; I guess that was a factor too. The mob began to taper off and before we knew it, a herd dog and a farmer showed up and saved the day.

We drove on towards Curio Bay, fighting extremely windy conditions on the way. The rain guard on our back passenger window, which was partially detached upon pick up, hammered against the glass threatening to rip off and/or break the window. We hoped to see penguins, seals and dolphins in Curio Bay. Josh hoped to surf. However, when we arrived the surf shops were closed and the wildlife was more than likely taking shelter somewhere.  It was simply too windy.

We thought about staying at a hostel on the coast, but with the lack of surf, wildlife, and as it seemed, restaurants, we didn’t know what we’d do for the rest of the day. Plus, we had to get up to Milford Sound the next day, and that was another very long drive. And so, we left. We stopped for a Valentine’s Day lunch at a brewery in Invercargill. (And wow, what cool music videos they had playing there! I got to watch Lionel Ritchie and Shania Twain sing ‘Endless Love’.) We jumped back in the car and headed north for Te Anau.

Te Anau is the hub for all tourists heading up to Milford Sound. It was busy when we arrived that evening. There wasn’t much for lodging available. We ended up at a holiday park out on Te Anau’s fringes. The holiday park didn’t have much character, but it was quiet, the showers were awesome, and the beds were cozy. $44 for two people was a deal, at least by New Zealand standards.

We grabbed dinner and drinks at a pizza place and went back to our rooms and checked in for the night. Tomorrow we were bound for the 8th Wonder of the Natural World…

Day 5 – Milford Sound

Mid morning we jumped on the Te Anau-Milford Sound Highway, the only route to Milford Sound. We stopped for a couple photo ops along the way. Unfortunately, the Chinese just kept getting away. (Yes, I know that’s an horrible way to phrase it, but it was totally true! It was Chinese New Year, so there was a huge spike in Chinese tourists, most of them on giant tour buses. I’m sorry, I’m just reporting the facts here.)

So, gorgeous scenery, yes, yes, bla- blah-blah, and then we made it to Milford Sound Lodge. We arrived a little early so we couldn’t check into our room yet, but the receptionist had good news for us: a kayak tour was leaving in about an hour for Milford Sound. They needed two more people and if we booked right away, we would save about $50. We signed up.

Our guide, Jesse, picked us up and shuttled us to the boat launch. With us was a Minnesotan, one couple from Australia and one couple from the UK. Jesse was from Iowa, so yes, half of our group was from the Midwest. After going over the basics, Rosco, the tour owner, loaded everything and everyone in the boat and we sped off down the sound to the Tasman Sea.

And what luck! Not only did we get a discount on the tour, but we also got a sunny day! Apparently sunny days at Milford Sound are few and far between. It is usually cloudy and rainy, but when we lowered ourselves into our kayaks that afternoon, the sky was clear and the sun was glistening on the Tasman Sea. I was waiting for dolphin to pop out of the water (and maybe wink at me or something), but we weren’t that lucky. Sadly, no dolphins.

We did, however, see seals. One did a barrel roll right next to our kayak. We also had pretty much the entire sound to ourselves. A few tour boats came through here and there, but it was only the eight of us in our four kayaks.

The tour was fairly easy going. The nice thing about the particular tour we took was that by starting at the Tasman Sea, we didn’t have to kayak as hard. The waves pushed us down the sound. (Ok, let’s get real here: it’s technically a fiord/fjord, but whatever.) It didn’t get too wavy, but when it did, we grabbed on to each other’s kayaks and formed a raft. We also kayaked into a waterfall. It was a refreshing and slightly exfoliating shower. Closer to the end we surfed some waves in the kayaks. It was good times. At least we got some sort of surfing in.

Back at the lodge we said our goodbyes and checked into our room. Josh and I decided that we would cancel our second night at the lodge. We had seen Milford Sound; we hadn’t expected that we’d get to kayak so soon and there was still so much more of New Zealand to see. We cancelled for a minimal fee and did some research. We decided to head to Queenstown early and go to Oamaru after that. Tired from the 4.5-hour kayak trip, we went to bed.

Friday, February 22, 2013

First days in New Zealand

Amanda's Voice in White                   
Josh's Voice in Orange

Our Travels Begin

We hopped in the Prius and drove to the O'hare Baymont. Oh lucky day!... We had an extra treat...a jacuzzi in our room. I made sure to take advantage of it before heading to bed.

We woke up in the wee hours of the morning and took the shuttle to the airport. After some coffee and breakfast we boarded our plane for Los Angeles. Virgin Airlines was quite the upgrade from Spirit and we were very happy with our flight. We also realized we might have enough airline points from this trip to take take another (maybe Olympic National Park? Nicaragua?) I found myself sucked into a Top Chef marathon, and any flying anxiety I had quickly faded away.

We landed at LAX and our 12-hour layover began. Mr. Ryan Mommaerts and a lady friend of his picked up us for a late lunch. We ended up at The Kettle where we chatted and soaked up some of the (relatively) warm weather. Ryan returned us to the airport and we spent the rest of the wait playing games and napping.

The 14-hour flight to Australia wasn't too bad. We were able to get a row to ourselves and some decent sleep. I slept like a Koala and learned that a 6'4" grown boy can curl up and sleep on two airplane seats fairly comfortably. After a short layover in Brisbane we were off to New Zealand.

Day 1 – Christchurch

After a short wait our shuttle arrived, and we headed over to pick up the rental car. It was a bit of an adjustment to learn how to drive on the other side of the road. Josh would later end up driving in the wrong lane and briefly wondering why another car was driving straight towards us, but all-in-all we managed. The adjustment was worse then I thought. The turn signals and windshield wipers were switched, those dirty English. I would be ready to turn, then pop the trigger and WHAT the wipers, damn it where is the... WHAT I turn down the wrong side of the road.  AahahHH trigger wiper blades.  Turn.

A short, uneventful drive and we were at Kiwi Basecamp, our hostel for the night. We showered and walked down to the City Centre to pick up a few snacks and some supplies.

The Christchurch earthquake occurred two years ago and the city still has a good amount of rebuilding ahead. Streets are lined with piles of concrete and empty buildings remain in the same disorderly state they were in after the quake. Large sections of the city are fenced off and inaccessible, yet Christchurch is still making due. We went down to where a mall used to be and found shops and restaurants that are run out old shipping containers. We went to a cafe that was made entirely out of shipping pallets and a bar run out of old buses. It probably sounds horrible, but they've actually made these shipping container shops into an artistic statement. They are really cool, hip looking buildings, and hopefully they keep them around.

Bus bar. Great beers. A bit costly, 2 for $18.

Later into the evening we ventured out in search of some grub. We decided on a cheap burger shop, but finding it proved difficult. It was starting to get dark, and along the way we ran into a very tall and very large build man. He walked very close to Josh and eyeballed him as he passed in a very weird, aggressive manner. He hollered back something like "Did you say something to me?" Josh shrugged and said he didn't say anything and we, very quickly, walked away. Not sure what that was all about, but five minutes later Josh broke into a run and told me the guy was behind us again. My heart started pounding and I picked up my pace. Suddenly Josh came to halt and started laughing. HAHA "You jerk!" He got a nice slap for that one.

We were unable to find the burger joint, and instead we ended up at a Thai stand. We were greeted by a very friendly Kiwi who allowed us to be his last customers of the night. Josh had the Kiwi's recommendation and I opted for the green chicken curry. The food was fantastic, so we weren't too disappointed that we didn't find the burgers. We finished our meal and headed back to the hostel ready for sleep.

Day 2 - Mount Cook National Park

We awoke fairly early the next morning ready to head to our next destination, Mt. Cook National Park. At first our drive was boring: a flat landscape that felt a lot like Wisconsin. But as we drove, the road became hilly-er and mountains started to pop up in the distance. And sheep popped up, field after field, filled with sheep everywhere.

As we neared the Mt. Cook area we met up with a couple awe-inspiring lakes, Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. It was a sunny day and the glacier-fed water was that perfect clear turquoise you see in photos...and so, we stopped at Lake Tekapo and took some photos. As I was leaving I practically walked into a young man wearing a Packer hat. I gave him his props. We headed back into the car and continued our journey. (Which, it was around this time that Josh decided he was back in the U.S. and drove in the right-side lane. Whoopsie.) Ok here it is. I was turning on to another road and as I turned I saw a woman in a car driving right at me. I was wondering, why is that woman on my side of the road? She is going to kill someone. Click, TURN LEFT you tall dumb idiot.

Lake Tekapo

Upon arrival we stepped into the visitor's center and paid for our sleeping quarters for the night, Mueller Hut, a 28-bunk hut made available to the public by the Department of Conservation. To get there we would just have to hike up a mountain! We packed our gear and changed, and our epic mountain journey began.

The first half or so trek isn't actually hiking. The stairs are built into the side of the mountain... over 1,800 of them. We actually found this to be the most difficult part of the hike. It was hot, the stairs were steep, and I felt soooo slooow and tired, but Josh was very sweet and encouraging and each ever-more-amazing view behind me helped keep me going. Everyone that knows me knows I am always sweet and encouraging. Right guys?

Ah look at those two.

Finally we came to the end of the stairs and started climbing small rocks/boulders. At this elevation it had cooled down and the process of finding your footing and handholds made the trek up more enjoyable and less exhausting. Soon enough the rocks turned into a massive bolder field. The sky was getting darker and I briefly felt a little apprehensive, but we carried on.

Amanda on the climb

The boulders turned into small, slippery rock, and here we really had to slow down and be cautious. As we came closer to the top of the mountain ridge, we crossed paths with some fellow Mueller Hut guests on their way back down. They were very encouraging and let us know we were only 15 minutes away. Josh and I continued our way to the top where a strong wind rushed over the ridge and Josh was almost blown away! He practically tackled me to the ground to shelter behind some boulders. We took refuge there for a minute or two, braced ourselves, and finished the last leg of our trek. The wind was so strong that as I crossed the ridge it pushed me to my heels and with a very graceful performance of the Riverdance I stayed on the mountain.

View from the wind block. Even more beautiful over the ridge.

The Muller Hut warden greeted us at the door. He gave us a tour and laid down the ground rules, this included instruction on how to properly use the toilets. (Solid waste and solid waste only is flown out of Mueller Hut, so it has to be separated from urine.) How nice, there was an illustration to go along with the instruction…

Oh that's how it's done. I was going to hug the lid. Silly me.

We made a very disgusting dinner of pine flavored risotto and fatty beef sticks that we picked up from the visitor center, hung out in the lounge with the other nine guests, and went to bed as the hut continued to be pounded by the wind the remainder of the night. The $8 meat stick exploded once I bit into it. Not a good feeling for dinner.

Columbia More

A little late, but still good for memories.

So the last couple of days have been a blur of cocaine and booze. Or the non stop action of Cartagena is making my head fuzzy. I spent much of that time running the streets of the old city searching for something unique, something mine. With 10's of miles on my feet I came to realize what I already knew, it has all been done. A city packed full of people honking, screaming, and drinking is what I found. With a gaggle of tourists  all shooting the same frame. At one point 5 separate people walk to the same spot and shoot the same shot. I travel to Santa Marta via shuttle and get there in 4 hours.

As I sit on the roof of my Santa Marta hostel and stare at the Andes I wonder why I didn't get here sooner.  Santa Marta is the oldest surviving city in South America. An old city with a lot of character. A few main streets with people packed wall to wall selling and buying the same crap as the other guy. Then there is a beautiful plaza full of greenery and sitting areas. Past those is the beach. A coca cola colored water laps on the shore, where in the distance two islands and a huge cargo ship off loads large quantities of cocaine. Ok maybe it is weed I don't know.

I have a grand conversation with a Canadian fellow who was biking the country. He seems to do a lot of solo trips and been all over the world. The next day I awake and make the trek to the mountains. I reach the taxi stop to find two Germans also waiting for a ride. We jump into a early 80's sedan, no fabric left on the seat, bare metal on the insides of the doors, a homey feeling. The Germans and I had a lovely GerSpaGlish convo. on the way through the bump mountain road.

As we reached the small coffee city of Minca the temperature dropped to a pleasant degree. I got out of the "cab", paid the man, and starting walking to where I thought the hostel was. I reached the basketball court and bumped into a woman Marie. She told me all about the place and how to get there. After the series of steps I reached the top. Greeted by people from around the globe I feel strangely at home. I end up talking with Kevin, Marie boyfriend, for quite sometime. We ended up going to a nearby waterfall where we spotted a local couple, girl with no bottoms on, but a top. Strange, I think why the bottom hanging out, oh well. Kevin and I get a good look and better chuckle and move to a different part of the falls. We splash about a bit and return to the hostel for dinner and long conversations. It's always fun to travel when you meet great people as I did. The next morning was spent wondering around enjoying life. We also carried a chop saw down to Santa Marta on the top of our "taxi."

Beautiful Butterfly

Small houses in Minca

View from Minca of Santa Marta

All and all Columbia was an insanely hot and beautiful place. Not many place have the history and culture still alive, but I feel part of this country still do.