Bob Marley Adventure Guide to Reggae Jamaica

Bob Marley Tour of Jamaica

I’ve been wanting to go to Jamaica really bad.  When a few of my friends were asking when we’d go,  I knew I was going to be in Orlando and said why not?  At first I was planning on a dive, but most of my friends that were joining weren’t divers, so instead we made this an interior trip.  Why not explore the parts of the island that the tourists miss and be real travelers and go on adventures .  I did see a lot of Jamaica and I write about the other parts of Jamaica in my follow up post “Get all right in Jamaica”.

I was excited to connect with one of the greatest artists  Bob MarleyRobert Nesta “Bob” Marley (6 February 1945 – 11 May 1981) He’s had such an impressive impact on the music industry with popularizing Reggae on the world scene and bringing light to Rastafarian way of life.  More than just having a few Bob Marley songs, I’ve met some real Rastafarians that helped me understand it’s more of a lifestyle.  Many wouldn’t realize the commitment of the Rasta folks including not drinking alcohol and eating veggie.  Most seem to focus exclusively on the fact that marijuana is accepted and taken religiously.  It was in Zanzibar where I really gained an appreciation for the Rasta music and sacraments.  It was then that I really wanted to visit the island and see what it was all about.  In addition, it was visiting the grave of Haile Selassie I and the castles of the empire of Ethiopia that made me feel like I both needed to learn the ancient and modern manifestation of what was going on with the line of Solomon and Bob Marley as a Prophet?  There was a lot I needed to learn.  There were really three main places on the island we visited.  Most of the tours be prepared to pay $20 USD on the spot.  For some reason most of the attractions on the island are twenty US dollars and yes you can pay in USD or Jamaican Dollars (approximately 9 or 10 to 1), while we were there it was even better to pay in USD as the dollar was stronger, wasn’t even worth exchanging the money…

1. Bob Marley Experience – House and Record Label on 56 Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica (also where the attempted assassination took place) Tour required to see the house.

2. Trench Town Culture Yard – Birthplace of Reggae and where Bob Marley learned to play and where he lived after running away a few blocks. (a bit rough) Tour available. More on Trenchtown on Wikipedia

3. Birthplace, Mausoleum, and first home of Bob Marley in Nine Mile, his real retreat on his grandparents land.  Deep inside the island. (Multi hour drive from Kingston or much closer from Ocho Rios) Tour required to get to the mausoleum.

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There are a few ways to see the islands of the Caribbean, and while many simply get the all inclusive resort and catch a cab or van to their particular resort with a big fence and a private beach.  If they leave they are visiting a tourist attraction called an excursion where the entire path and time is laid out where very little interaction with the *real* islanders happen.  This trip on the other hand was the complete opposite.  While I did see a few attractions, where I drove, slept, ate, and spent my time was amongst the people.

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Popular Bob Marley Statue… One Love, One Life!

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I had some great opportunities to visit the homes of Bob Marley.  There are really three main areas to visit.

Bob Marley House on Hope Road – Bob Marley Experience

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This is the house where Bob Marley lived until his attempted assassination in 1976.  The house is now known as the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica dedicated to the reggae musician Bob Marley. The museum is located at 56 Hope Road, Kingston 6, and is Bob Marley’s former place of residence at his peak. It was home to the Tuff Gong record label which was founded by The Wailers in 1970.  They don’t allow any pictures to be taken inside the home, but there’s a great collection of the news, records, and history.  The guide takes you from room to room giving you history about Bob Marley and his success concluding in the theatre where they show a number of music videos and you get to listen to his music as it evolved over time.

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Trench Town, Kingston Culture Yard – Birthplace of Reggae and where Bob Marley learned to play guitar – Not a place some tourists will want to drive by themselves.  But for the adventurous traveler you’ll find a poor part of Kingston where the cement is the walls, floors, and many live in small spaces.  The place itself has a rough history.

Bob Marley’s mom moved to Trench town, a poor but cultural part of Kingston a few streets up from the Culture yard.  Bob moved to Trench town when he was 12 and wanted to stay on first street.

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Today Trench Town boasts the Trench Town Culture Yard Museum, a visitor friendly National Heritage Site presenting the unique history and contribution of Trench Town to Jamaica. Trench Town is the birthplace of rocksteady and reggae music, as well as the home of reggae and Rastafari ambassador and prophet Bob Marley.

“Though raised as a Catholic, Marley became interested in Rastafarian beliefs in the 1960s, when away from his mother’s influence. Marley formally converted to Rastafari and began to grow dreadlocks. The Rastafarian proscription against cutting hair is based on the biblical Samson who as a Nazarite was expected to make certain religious vows including the ritual treatment of his hair as described in Chapter Six of the Book of Numbers.”

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Trench Town Culture Yard… birthplace of Reggae and where Bob Marley ran away from home and learned to play guitar.  There you can see his first guitar and see his room.

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Left: Bob’s first guitar.  Right: Statue of Bob Marley in the Culture Yard.

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Out in Ocho Rios the Ganja smoking is not welcome in some areas, but you can find people who can get you whatever your heart desires.  There are many plants all over the island.

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This weed seems to spring up everywhere.  I can’t say I tried any, but I did see a few plants and was offered much of the Reggae sacrament.

Bob Marley Mausoleum, Resting Place, Birth Place and first home in Nine Mile.

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Bob Marley’s home where he grew started his life on his grandparents property.  The mausoleum in Nine Mile (deep in the island) contains family members on his mothers side of the family.

 

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While I couldn’t sit on the bed, I was offered the rock which was where many songs of inspiration came to the Bob.

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I had an incredible time on the island.  I’ll follow up this post with the non Bob Marley things I saw, but felt like the Reggae experience was worth a post alone.  I hope this post can stand as a reference that there’s a lot to see to better understand the great legend of Bob Marley, one of the most influential singers of the decade a man taken before his prime.

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The landscape in 9 mile is beautiful.  In my opinion it’s worth the drive.  You get to see a very different part of the island and if you can find a way to relax with the people… I recommend slowing it down and listening to the music.  Don’t be so afraid to leave your resort.  Jamaica is amazing!

In my search for the origins of Reggae I found Marcus Garvey and read all about Haile Salasie I, then looked up more quotes on his rein.  You can also get a lot more history of Bob Marley with tons more detail on Wikipedia.

Touring Iraq – Travel Adventures in Kurdistan

Iraq travel

Middle East Peace Talks - Iraq

Everyone I know who have ever visited Iraq were there for military reasons.  When I told a local in Iraq I was a tourist, they said… “Tourist?” What’s that? Tourism is really a foreign word, but no longer.  The Kurdistan region of Iraq is open.  Visa restrictions in Iraqi Kurdistan aren’t bad for many western countries.  For Americans you can currently get a 15 day visa on arrival!  I was impressed how easy it would be to get into such an incredible place.  The cradle of civilization.  Abraham himself is said to have traveled to this area.  Chaldeans, Assyrians, Babylonians, there is a serious history to this region of the two rivers.  I stayed in the Kurdistan region my entire stay, but traveled through a number of check points going both ways between Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.  We ultimately took two routes between the two cities by cab.  One went on the highway and through check points.  We were worried there might be problem with driving between the cities, but the road itself was controlled by Kurdish forces.  So while we did get our passports checked a couple of times.  We did avoid entering Kirkuk and we avoided Mosul.  I really wanted to go to Nineveh and the tombs of the prophets, but instead stuck with our plans to spend time exclusively in the cities.

Iraq road map

Our route through the Iraqi-Kurdistan region.  Syria just on the other side of Mosul and the hills of Iran on the other side of Suliamaniyah.  Yep those hills!  While we were in Erbil (Arbil/Irbil) we met a man in the square who was a Syrian refugee.

Erbil, Iraqi-Kurdistan

Citadel fountain

I started my visit with the best, the ancient Citadel.  At 6000 or 7000 years old this citadel is the one of the longest continuously inhabited cities.

Erbil Iraq Clock Tower

The fountain and clock tower attract vendors and families coming to the beautiful square to shop and take pictures.

Old pictures of Erbil show the Citadel and the Minaret.  Over 500 years ago the city of Erbil was only what was on the hill protected by the city walls, and the minaret.

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We walked nearly all the way around the citadel hill.  “A city on a hill cannot be hid.” I have to wonder if this old saying came from this city.  As we walked I saw a group of old men.  I needed to find a restroom.  I just had to go and decided to ask them.  We found this tea house was actually a game center.  The men were drinking tea and playing some high volume game of dominoes involving slamming tiles.  Even though they spoke little english and we spoke little to no Kurdish or Arabic we were able to build trust enough after playing a couple of games and getting tips from our new friends.  In travel I have found there are moments to really dive in.  It’s not all about going to tourist destinations.  It’s about learning to understand people and visit new people and cultures.

Playing Dominoes game in Iraq

Most people if you told them you were going to Iraq to visit.  They would say avoid crowds.  Well, in a local market in Erbil we seem to have met the real masses.

Iraq Crowd in the market

The faces on the people do seem to be hard, but I can attest that the Kurds are some of the kindest people you will meet.  They have sacrificed much.  It has not been an easy life.

Cotton Candy Kids

Life goes on… Kids on their way to school

Chaldean Christian Church in Iraq

Our last night in Erbil we went to the Christian part of town.  This Chaldean church was in service.  My friend Michael and I enjoy visiting cathedrals, mosques, temples, and find that you can learn more about it’s people by understanding their passions, their worries and their faith in God.  We stayed for the entire service.  The prayer for the Filipinos was so strong it brought tears to my eyes.  The group of minority Christians in this vast land of Muslims with their faith prayed for those suffering in the Philippines.  It was so touching to see them turn their thoughts.  They have not had an easy life here in Iraq, but many came here to provide a better life for their families back home.  They saw this as a land of opportunity.  One of the people at the church had lost 30 members of their family in the Philippines.  It made the disaster personal talking with this group and hearing them pour out their hearts.

(This picture above and a couple of the others were taken by Michael Noel travel blogger at http://travelingtheglobe.com, my good friend and my traveling companion on this and may of my trips.)

Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi-Kurdistan

When we first planned to come to Iraqi-Kurdistan we tried to find connections in our technology.  You can read more about the visit to the University and our technology sessions with the Computer Science students and faculty of University of Human Development (UHD) in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan.  Those who wonder how I travel the world best understand it is my passion to visit the world and connect with people of all cultures and people.  How I do it is through my connections and relationships. I sacrifice my time and money as well to visit places around the world like this, and not only are the people changed through our encounters but I am changed.  Hearing stories from the students blows my mind making Iraq real and the horror stories of Saddam’s rule.  One of the assistant professors told me about his 3 brothers being killed and how he barely escaped and just recently came back from spending many years in the UK. Amazing personal stories.  I feel for these people.  Over night I became friends on Facebook and LinkedIn with over 15-20 of the students in the room.  I hope I can help them in the future in their pursuits.

Iraq University Students

So after a couple of nights in Erbil, the next morning we left for Sulaymaniyah by cab.  We arranged for a driver to take us on the road through the hills through the Kurdistan region.  On the way back we were feeling more confident and drove back through the highway faster route through Kirkuk.

When we first arrived I did a quick search and came across the Amna Suraka Museum known as red prison or Red Intelligence Museum. This prison was the former Ba’ath intelligence headquarters and prison.  Just as some death camps and concentration camps have been preserved, this captures the essence of torture and death in the treatment of Kurds.  In my travels I have found it fascintating to visit places in the world where minorities have been treated poorly.  I see a lot of parallels in how the Armenians were treated by the Ottomans as the Kurds were by Saddam’s regime.

Amna Suraka torture

Turned into a museum at the behest of First Lady of Iraq, Hero Talabani, in 2000, the façade still bears the bullet holes evidencing the scars of its past.

Iraqi sorrow

Our cab driver shared his person experience having been there only 11 years prior.  His wife and 3 of his family were killed.

women and children suffering

You really could feel the emotion of the place. The prison was haunting with

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Hall of mirrors… represent those that were killed in the mass genocide

Unmarked graves

There are other reminders of mass death in this region.  So many unmarked graves, and these that are marked with simple rocks that dot the hillside.

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Interesting food choices!

tower

Hope is strong in this region.  They are ready to bring in the New…  The tower in the background which looks like it’s from Dubai is made by the same architect.

iraqi gondola and ferris wheel

It still isn’t Disneyland, but would you believe that there is an amusement park and gondola?  The construction going on is also quite impressive.  There is a lot going on here.  Change is coming.  The people are ready to see change.

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Their faith will carry them.

cable tower

On our final departure we saw this wild tower piece of metal near the airport.  It took at least 4 scans to work our way from the street to the gate at the airport.  They are very serious about security.  I felt safe while in Kurdistan.  Speaking of God, I felt like he was watching out for me on this trip.  The faith of so many in this region is very strong, and the people of this land itself has had a strong connection Abraham’s God for thousands of years.

One of my most fascinating trips.  I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.  It isn’t for everyone, but I do see reason for investment.  I see passion and interest in the people.  People are ready for change.  As well, the Kurds are great people, a great heritage that has suffered greatly, and will rise from the dust.  I made some great friendships that will last though the years.

Colosseum Ampitheatre of the Roman Empire – 7 New Wonders

Colloseum

The Colosseum or Coliseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy.  Definitely growing up you hear all about the colleseum.  You hear about the stories of the gladiators the Ben Hur, the Christians and lions.  Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas.  It is a UNESCO heritage site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

The Colosseum

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

  • Great Wall of China – Sacrifice of a Nation
  • Christ the Redeemer Statue – Religious Icon of Rio Brazil
  • Taj Mahal – Sacred Mausoleum of Agra India
  • Petra Jordan – Nabataean Cave City of the Desert
  • Machu Picchu – Lost Sacred City of the Incas
  • Chichen Itza – Ancient Mayan Temple Pyramid
  • Colosseum Amphitheatre of the Ancient Roman Empire
  • colloseumEmperor Vespasian had it built in around 70–72 AD, funded by the spoils taken from the Jewish Temple after the Siege of Jerusalem, but since then it has been robbed itself of blocks to build other things.

    You do have to pay to go into the colloseum.  Despite the fact that huge parts of it are now decrepid and missing, it’s handled time quite well.  It really is huge and impressive… Definitely worth seeing.  People dress up in Roman costumes.  There’s a lot to see nearby as well with the arch, great restaurants, and museums… it really does feel like the center of town and hey, there are more things close to this tube station than most others.  Getting around this was one of the easiest ancient things to find.

    Italian in Italy with a view of the coloseum

    Great Italian food nearby!!

    When in Rome!

    As they say… When in Rome!

    I’ve been to Rome a few times and it’s a city that’s a great city filled with tons of things to see and do.  Very easy to spend a week in.  In fact we did that a few years ago as a family.  While driving was a challenge, after a couple of days I was getting around pretty well.  Driving in Rome has gotten a lot easier than it was a few years ago with tons more scooters.  I do have to warn you that if you have your own rental car make sure you understand there are areas you can’t park without a permit.  As well, certain lanes you can’t drive in (bus/taxi lanes).  I’ve gotten towed in Rome once, and a ticket in the mail once.  So let’s just say, I’ve had some experience in this area.

    Rome is filled with tons to do.  There have to be more nuns and priests in Rome/ Vatican city than anywhere else in the world!

    Here are a few ideas…

    5 Additional Places to go when visiting Rome (or Italy) when visiting the Coliseum

    Happy Nuns

    1) St Peters Basilica, PLUS Vatican Musuem, and the MUST SEE! Sisteen Chapel… Shhhh! No Photos!

    Spanish Steps

    2. The Spanish Steps…

    Great social place to meet the locals and throngs of tourists as well

    Trevi Fountain Rome Italy

    2. Trevi Fountain

    Florence

    4. Day trip to Florence to see Michelangelo’s David

    Track down the Catacombs.  There are a few different ones.  We absolutely loved them as well.  Depends on your interests…

    5. Day trip to Pompeii and YOU MUST GO TO POMPEII! It’s one of the most amazing places on the planet.  There is another amphitheatre there, but you’ll see ruins like no other on the planet… KM or miles of them.

    There really area ton of things to see in Rome, pace yourself so you don’t get “ruin”-ed out or museum’ed out.  The Blocks and Columns start looking the same and religious paintings as well start blending together.

    Coliseum

5 Incredible Alaska Adventures

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Alaska is amazing.  Everything you’re heard and then some.  My visit to Alaska was my last state in the US (50/50).  For that reason alone I was excited to visit.  I was debating doing a cruise from Seattle or from Vancouver, Canada but ultimately decided on a flight to Anchorage.  It took me by surprise when I was trying to figure out what I should do with my Alaska Miles. I had 45,000 miles and after my move to Salt Lake City, I found my miles were going to expire.  What I discovered in my searches, I could fly from SLC to anywhere in Alaska even as far as Borrow, AK for 25,000 round trip.  That’s not the same case with Hawaii.  It was 40,000 round trip, but flying from Salt Lake City to Boise Idaho was the same number of miles.  At first I was thinking I should go with a friend to Alaska, but my wife expressed interest, and getting a multi day baby sitter to watch my 3 boys has never been easy, and they are all great travelers.  Then I was talking to my parents, and they expressed interest.  At first I thought I could go with my dad, but then my mom wanted to go as well.  Why not make this a super family trip?  With the partnership with Alaska I found a direct Delta flight from SLC to ANC (Anchorage.) I had to check to see how much the Delta points were for this same flight.  25,000 miles!  With this discovery I decided to book 5 award tickets on Delta in addition to the 2 on Alaska.  I even ended up buying 5,000 miles to make up the difference.

Lessons Learned:

  • Alaska/Delta miles let you book a flight to Alaska for the same price as a domestic (48 states) ticket – (Best Deal was 25,000 Award Miles)
  • Same number of miles for adjoining cities as it is for Miami to Alaska

One other thing that came in looking at the best way to book Alaska was in discovering that an Alaska Cruise would ultimately mean getting on a smaller boat to see the glaciers and getting closer to the wild life ultimately.  I did find that both food and hotels are pricey in Alaska.  So that was definitely points toward cruise, but I used some tricks to find a hotel in Anchorage for less than $100 using Priceline.com.  Food was a different challenge.  Most meals were about $5 more than in the states.  The 2 for 20 deal at Chilis was 2 for $25.  A large bowl of Pho soup was $12 in contrast to 6 or $7 in UT or WA.  The IHOP average meal was around $12 vs. 7 as well.  At fast food places, the $1 menu was $2.  Anchorage did have a lot of choices for food, and out in the smaller cities the deli’s and sandwich shoppes could get you a meal.

Rustic Cabin with fire

Some of my best advice for the adventure traveler is to think outside the box.  There are hostels that have much better rates, but also consider camping and cabins, some of the best deals and most flexible options are in this area.

5 MUST DO ACTIVITIES IN ALASKA

1. Glaciers and Fjords – The Glaciers and Fjords in Alaska are simply amazing.  The size and scale of these things dwarf most things on earth.  They sure seem like they are alive.  Calving, Moving, Groaning, Shrinking, Growing, Cracking, Carving…  There are multiple ways of reaching these amazing beauties.

Fjords with Calving Glacier

The best way is to get right up to the Fjords of Kenai by cruise.  Right out of Seward there are multiple cruise companies with multiple cruise options.  I took the 10am Kenai Fjords Cruise with Salmon Bake Dinner on the island.  I have no regrets.  It was a great cruise, we saw a couple of Fjords up close, but also amazing wild life.  I’ll talk about that later.

Kenai Fjords Cruise

As well, you can hike up to the Glaciers.  Exit Glacier has a great hike that starts with a flat handicap accessible viewpoint within a mile, or add another mile and hike up the mountain to view them up closer, and add another mile to touch the glacier, or add another few miles and you can hike up the largest snow field in the US.

exit glacier sea ice kayaking

or even Sea Kayak to the Fjords, not too close because these things are very active and can create amazing tides.  I’m sure you could even dog sled in the winter.  There are options to take a sled with wheels to help the dogs practice for the Iditarod.

2. Whale Watching – Some of the best viewing of whales in the world is right here in Alaska.  On this short 8 hour Fjords and Nature cruise of the Kenai peninsula, Kenai National Park from the water, we saw a half dozen hump backs, a couple of pods of Orcas with many individuals covering a large distance, half dozen porpoises, hundreds of seals and sea lion and dozens of sea otters. Such a great feeling when you see these gigantic creatures of the sea.  It’s not the same as watching National Geographic, because you’re seeing it and experiencing it first hand.  I can imagine whale watching in a kayak or small boat would also be quite “wild.”

orca pod wild

Orcas, Hump Backs, and Belugas are all within reach, I saw a couple of pods of Belugas driving along the Arm headed to Seward.  I’m sure the population increases and changes based on the seasons, but the Orcas and Hump Backs and the Belugas all call it home.  I’m sure they have additional whale friends who come and visit.  I’m also sure it’s a different experience every time, but reading the reviews from the Kenai Fjords Cruise, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t think it was incredible.

hump back whale tail

As a photographer, catching the tale of the whale, or the even more rare breach of a hump back whale is beyond exhilarating.  These are wildlife memories that will ruin any future visits to sea world, or at least remind me when I saw it IN THE WILD.

seal rock

While seeing large groups of seals and sea lions and the like, I am reminded of a number of encounters the docks in San Francisco or Seal Beach California, the docks in Ensenada or the elephant seals on the beach in Antarctica, but seeing them in their native habitat on rocks away from people is pretty darn cool.  I can’t tire of seeing these amazing animals.

3. Encounter the Animals of the Forrest – With more than 3 types of Bears, and some of the densest and largest populations of large land mammals, Alaska is the best place to find bears, moose, elk, caribou and more in their natural habitat.  You can go flight seeing and bear viewing they’ll take you right to where they are dinning on salmon.  We saw a little brown bear chewing on a carcass on the side of the road.

little black bear eating

While I can’t guarantee you will see a moose or bear while simply driving.  There are plenty of signs to watch for moose.  That’s a big concern.  They are big animals and cause serious damage to your vehicle if you hit one.

big rack carribou

If you are looking for guaranteed great sightings, I won’t send you to the Anchorage zoo which does have them, I would suggest going to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center which has decent rates (carpool for even better rates).  You can definitely get up and close.  With a simple fence separating you.  While you don’t feed them, you can visit the Musk Ox or Reindeer center in Palmer (close to Anchorage) for even closer encounters.  The good news is the money goes to rehabilitating animals and reintroducing and strengthening the population of endangered animals.

big black bear in meadow

We saw…

  • Baby Musk Ox
  • Huge Herd of Wood Bison
  • Elk Herd
  • Black Bears
  • Moose
  • Caribou/Reindeer
  • Porcupine

baby musk ox cute

4. It’s a Birders Paradise – Eagles, Swans, Cormerans, Puffins, and way more.  If you love birds, you’re in paradise.  Even if you aren’t you’re going to see some amazing examples of some of the most beautiful birds.  Below this is one example.  We’re watching this elk herd and noticed a bald eagle in the tree nearby.  Incredible.

Eagle watching over the elk herd

This pair of swans was swimming with their three ugly duckling swan babies in a pond just outside of Seward.

Swan Family

Seems like every where you turn, there’s some amazing majestic bird watching.

bald eagle alaska

On our cruise we saw the funniest little puffins.  The rare crested puffins, and the more common puffin were so funny to watch trying to take flight.  Seeing them on their terms in these huge rock fortresses which seem designed for birds.

puffin bird rocks

5. It’s a Fisherman’s Paradise – Every where we went people asked if we were doing a charter.  No, we were there to observe, and observe we did.  We started stopping at the streams to see the salmon.  Amazing salmon jumping up their fish ladders and making their way to spawn.  Huge fish, many with their humps out of the water, finding their way upstream.  The rivers were teaming with life.

teaming with life spawning

Red Salmon

In addition as a sportsman’s paradise it wasn’t hard to find huge halibut and a variety of fish on the walls, and in boxes being shipped home.  Lots of great finishing and amazing catches.

After such an amazing trip, I can’t answer why it took Alaska so long to get on my list.  Amazing place… Highly Recommended.  Yes, it does rain and it get’s cold in the winter and dark 22 hours of darkness, but in the summer you get 16 hours of light, and 2 months without much rain in June and July.  Rain starts back up in August.  While I didn’t see the Aurora Borealis, I can see reasons why the time of year has it’s benefits.  It’s a different place with different experiences.  Do you’re research and consider Alaska a great destination to make the most of your miles.

 calving glacier with baby seals

Hitchhikers guide to the Baltics: Part 1 – Tallinn, Estonia

Russian Orthodox Alex Nevsky

I have really enjoyed exploring Eastern Europe.  After you visit western Europe a bunch of times, you’ll really appreciate Eastern Europe.  First it just seems so much more raw, so much more fresh.  It hasn’t had as much time in the media and still feels a bit undiscovered and off the radar of most tourists, and that’s one of the reasons it’s so amazing.  It’s that sense of adventure.  I was once visiting Helsinki, Finland just across the sea from Tallinn, Estonia and in fact saw that there was fast ferry that would take you across the sea to visit Tallinn in 3.5 hours.  I went to a nearby island and saved the Baltics for a trip where I’d get more than just a few hours.  Road trip across the Baltics and then meet up with friends at the border of Belarus sounded like a blast.

The Baltic states are three countries east of the Baltic Sea – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  The full drive was around 8 hours on the road.  It’s a great road, and traffic wasn’t bad.  We didn’t need a GPS.

From Tallinn to Vilnius

I’ll cover a little bit on each one, but the point of these is to share my photos.  I flew into Tallinn, and my friend Paul and I rented a car one way and drove from Tallinn, Estonia to Riga, Latvia to Vilnius, Lithuania.  We had most of a day and a night in each capital.

Old Town within the gates of the city was our target.

 

town square in old town estonia

Above: Beautiful Town hall square in Old Tallin

cobble stone street in old town

Quaint old cobblestone streets

Alex Nevsky Russian Orthodox in Estonia

Above: Alex Nevsky – Russian Orthodox Church

 

Russian Hats in Estonian Hat store

Above: Fun with Hats: Left- Paul, next shop owner, and Me on the Right.

 

Must see top 5:

1. St Catherines Passage in Old Town

2. Old Town & Town Hall

3. Alex Nevsky Church

4. Walls & City Gates (especially Fat Margaret)

5. Toompea – Garden on Toompea Hill

Also sneak out to the waterfront, some beautiful views of the Baltic Sea.

 

Looking for more? My friend Michael shared his experience on Sharing the Globe – Journey through the Baltics – Estonia

Is Tourist Becoming a Dirty Word in the Travel Industry?


I took the quiz on Huffington Post “Are you a traveler or a tourist?”  I discovered a few things.  I am very much into the journey and not the destination.  I just rode with my 15 year old son, yes he drove and I rode, on a journey of 2500 miles across Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and back through Montana, Idaho and Utah.  Why?  Because I wanted to spend time with my son, before he gets too old to want to hang out with his old man…  But why drive across the Dakotas?  I wanted to visit North Dakota.  I wanted to check it off of my list of states I’ve visited to complete my continental US map.  Every place deserves at least one visit.  I hope I’m not all about lists, but those of you who have been following my travel blog will have noticed I have been blogging about the 7 Wonders of the World, and will follow that list by the top Falls in the world, and then Natural Wonders and so on.  I LOVE Traveling, and while I want to see every country in this world, I also make a point of capturing the amazing places with plans to go back.  In fact I do.  After my first visit to Egypt, one of my favorite destinations, I returned with my family an epic experience that I wanted them to have.  Same with Morocco, except I went first with my family to Marrakech and returned with a friend who hadn’t been there to, but tried to visit new areas… Rabat and Meknes.  When I’ve decided to go somewhere I want to immerse myself in the culture even if in the beginning it means doing a few “touristy” things to first see what their is and then dig deeper and see it through the eyes of those who live there.

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So am I a tourist or a traveler?  I do think the word tourist is being seen more and more as a negative thing.  They sound loud, impatient and uninterested in the culture and more about seeing the attraction.  They also may be staying in resorts, and all-inclusives.  They are the cruisers that take the boat options and don’t take time to get to know the locals.  Tourists are focused on the organized tours.  They spend their money with where they know it’s “safe” and less risky.

American Tourist has a lot of baggage… literally.  There are other tourists like the German Tourist, the Russian Tourist, the Japanese Tourist and Korean Tourist.  You get the idea.  I don’t need to go into the stereo types, but there’s some sad but true experiences I’ve had with tourists that make me not want to be seen as one.

I’d much rather be known as the Traveler.  This is the term to celebrate.  If you’re a traveler you’re smart about what you carry because of experience.  The experienced traveler knows what lines to get in at the airport.  They don’t have to plan big tours or spend a lot of time on research because they are more willing to go with the flow, and connect with locals.  They have only the carry on and don’t get hassled at the airport, because ultimately they are likely frequent fliers.  The traveler when he arrives in Cambodia is going to find out how to get local food, and try the grilled snake near the lake.  They will make friends with their tuk tuk driver and see how they live and understand life through their eyes and maybe hop a bus with this new friend to explore the killing fields and hear the stories from the eyes of a local rather than a guide.  Visit the land mine museum, and discover a band each missing limbs and find a way to contribute.  Be thinking about the young girl selling T-shirts and wonder why she isn’t in school and connect at another level that helps you appreciate those that are providing for their families and find a way to connect.  Keep in touch on facebook with the kids in Ethiopia and check up on their school work and needs.  You’re not worried it takes 4+ hours to get through a tough disputed border crossing, and lack of concrete plans on the other side other than to make friends and connect with locals to find a ride to the next adventure…

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

When I was planning out this trip to North Dakota. I knew it was less about the destination, and more about the journey.  We’d want to stop at amazing places along the way, even if it was impromptu, like stopping at the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails near Fort Bridger and walking along the trail looking for grooves, or checking Yelp for authentic food to get the full experience in South Dakota and eating at a chuck wagon buffet in Wall Drug.  Stopping at the Minute Man Missile silos and imagining how crazy the cold war was, and how crazy the world is we live in.  I remember visiting a bunker in St. Petersburg Russia in the basement of a software company with big orange doors, and thinking… Wow this is for the US.  Then as I sat there, hearing the stories about the guys who put in the double keys to press buttons that takes two people to press, and that 2 of those nuclear missiles carry enough power that it totals more than everything that was used in World War 2 including the nukes.  You wouldn’t even know those silos are out there.  150 were shut down in 1995-2005, leaving only the 2 for the tourists Delta 01 and Delta 09 as a reminder or something.  While those are the last in South Dakota, we won’t talk about the ones in Texas with the newer Minute Man Missile 3.

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I have been thinking about the Devils Tower in Wyoming ever since I saw that movie, and living in Salt Lake City, I have been scoping out day trips.  It’s not a day trip.  It’s a good 8-10 hour drive from SLC in Eastern Wyoming, but wow.  Loved every minute of that.  Amazing Natural Wonder.

Devils Tower Wyoming

Another drive I did that I need to write about is my drive from Tallinn, Estonia to Vilnius, Lithuania.  Beautiful drive, amazing architectures in each of the capitals, and interesting cultures and history.  Funny, it was a hitch hiker that made that trip for me.  We picked up a young 20s something hippie chick.  She was awesome.  When we did an impromptu bathroom break in between cities that meant trying to find tall enough grass, she took advantage of the stop as well.  Hillarious.  Once we arrived in her town, rather than just part ways, she gave us a tour of Vilnius.  Had to be one of the best city tours I’ve ever been on seeing the city through the eyes of a local that saw the unique charm and sparks of life.  I want to tell these stories because while I won’t encourage you to pick up hitch hikers, I want you to know that life is an adventure and there is a way to live life to the fullest as a traveler 24×7.

One question in the quiz was on travel planning.  I do always need a trip to look forward to.  It’s not about the destination as much as it is a new outlook on life, new perspective, new friends to connect with, and each and every one of these makes the world smaller.  I recently added the Dalai Lama quote because I have found it inspiring to always be looking forward to the next adventure, but also treasuring all of the memories.

Christ the Redeemer Statue – 7 New Wonders of the World (2 of 7)

Christ the Redeemer Brazil New Wonder

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

View from Corcovado

Rio is one of the coolest cities in the world.  The environment that the city is build in, has the best of the water world with amazing beaches. Some of the best in the world, but also some of the best viewpoints in the world with the huge rocks that soar into the sky that have gondolas on them.  Corcovado topped by Christ the Redeemer is amazing.  First with such strong devotion in the culture of the people and then the iconic and larger than life Jesus with his outstretched arms becomes a very strong symbol of the people and their need to feel guided and comforted.

 

View of Sugarloaf in Rio

Corcovado, meaning “hunchback” in Portuguese, is a mountain in central Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 710-metre (2,329 ft) granite peak is located in the Tijuca Forest, a national park. It is sometimes confused with nearby Sugarloaf Mountain.  Sugar loaf is a tourist attraction in its own right and deserves to be visited.  This rock mountain is quite central and shaped in such a way as to escape the city while being in the city.  In an effort to help people gain better access you’ll see there’s quality care.  This escalator can really reduce to the last bit of stairs.

Christ the Redeemer's back with escalators

Corcovado hill lies west of the city center and is within the city limits and visible across great distance. It is known worldwide for the 38-metre (125 ft) statue of Jesus atop its peak, entitled Cristo Redentor or “Christ the Redeemer”.

Christ the Redeemer Statue... as a tourst.

10 Tips for a Successful Road Trip


My 15 soon to be 16 year old son recently got his drivers permit.  Now that he’s behind the wheel, there’s a lot of interest on his part to get behind the wheel.

Here are a few tips to planning a road trip:

1. Getting from Point A to Point B: GPS Device, Maps, Smart Phone with GPS, USB on Mappoint, iPAD with GPS, Road Signs, etc… – I have used any number of ways to get across state lines.  I like having the turn by turn directions, and if you do, you will either want a GPS like Magellan.  The times have sure changed but many still prefer the maps for planning and executing their routes.

2. Plan a Route with some Fun destinations, It’s not about speed between A and B – Today I planned our road trip using RoadTrippers.com it worked great.  I put in Salt Lake City, UT as the source and the destination.  Then I added the places where I wanted to go.  I really want to see Devils Tower from the Close Encounters of the Third Kind movie, then Crazy horse and Mount Rushmore, and then Teddy Roosevelt Park.  The plan was to get me into North Dakota, the last state in the lower 48.  I’ll be visiting my last state in the Union, Alaska next month.  You can use Bing Maps, Google Maps, or various tools to see what the roads are between you and your destination, but how do you plan your route?  I like to have things I want to see.  Seeing something cool every day with a little hike or some fresh air is nice to plan out when doing 10 or 12 hour drives.  You really shouldn’t plan to drive more than 12 hours in a day.  Longest I ever did was somewhere around 15 hours back when I was in college, but usually it’s not about getting as fast as possible to the destination, but rather enjoying the road trip and seeing sites along the way.  The RoadTrippers app allows you to display attractions, historical, and photo areas.  As a result I added a couple of additional stops, Independence rock, Sturgis (home to the biker gathering), a Mesa falls, and 1800’s Smith mansion.  Normally I’d go through Yellowstone National Park, but I have visited the park nearly every year for the past few years.  So while I am a fan, I need a break.

If you’re traveling during the winter, watch the roads as is be sure to keep track of the pass weather, just in case it’s closed!

Mount Rushmore Road Trip

3. Be willing to stop along the route, Mix it up! – You do need to think about stops along the way that will break up the day and make it enjoyable.  Maybe it’s the world’s largest ball of twine, or Wall Drug, or even just getting slurpees for the kids, but when doing big family trips, the kids memories aren’t just about the destination.  They will remember the 6 legged cow, and the albino skunk more than they may remember the St. Louis Arch.  Same with Disneyland. If they drove 14 hours the day before they get to Disney, they will be exhausted.

4. Use the Pool – You may feel like you need to get on the road as early as possible, but an early dip in the pool will serve to wake you up, and will give you energy you didn’t know you had.  The kids will thank you for it.

5. Break it up – Rush day, chill day, Busy Day, Relax day.  When I plan a family trip, I am use to doing it my way, which is cram the days full… Packed days.  I thrive off of the destinations and adventures.  I’ve found the family prefers to spend more time on the beach and less time at the pyramids.  Less time in the caves, and more time in the pools.  Less time on the Hike and more time chilling at the cabin.  To keep everyone happy I try to mix it up so we can both be happy.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

6. Get fresh air – Seems there are less and less rest stops.  I push myself when I do long road trips, and often stop only when I need more gas.  That’s not a great practice.  You need to get the blood flowing.  There are conditions that can happen.  You’ll notice a lot of the attractions on this trip will involve some decent hikes.  I’m looking forward to doing some father and son bonding.  Hikes are a great way to get to know the others on the trip.  Often up in the hills there’s no 3G, no Wifi, and the power on the devices in the car are likely drained or having been used for the last 6 hours are now a bore.  Walking, hiking, or simply exploring around national parks, or around the downtown… there are ways of keeping the blood flowing and supporting your goals.  Think about all the junk you’re eating along the way minus your normal exercise routine.  Feels good to find balance between the long drives with a good walk or hike.

7. Plan for snacks – Gas stations ultimately are limited on the quality of food you can get.  Granola, nuts, fruit, aren’t popular in gas stations.  Pop, candy bars, and circus peanuts, and peach rings… now you know what we end up with.  Much better to plan for snacks so you can mix in some healthy stuff.  It shouldn’t be hard to find a grocery store.  They really are all over the world.  The convenience of the gas station is just too easy.  Learn to enjoy water.  May make sense to bring a water bottle and just fill up with ice.  Takes serious discipline.  I’m not all there yet, but I know I should be doing that.  Think about how you want to carry water and keep it cool.  You do need to drink plenty of water.

8. Plan your hotel, B&B or camping strategy, get a good night’s rest, if you’re feeling pain get an adjustment or massage – You may be pushing through to arrive at your destination.  Just because you arrived late doesn’t mean you need to be up at the crack of dawn.  If you do need to be up at sunrise keep your drapes open.  Natural light will help restore you and help you make up more naturally.  Careful on doing anything dangerous.  8 hours of downtime is good.  Remember it’s about regeneration.  After I’ve done some horrible thing to my body… those other side of the world 40 hour flights, I reward myself with a massage.  Easy to get in Asia, it’s becoming more and more common in many countries around the world to get a massage.  I love space tanks as well for their restorative qualities.  I bet that’s another post.

Plan your Hotels and know what you’re getting into.  Consider Bringing Your Own Pillow and a Spare Blanket.  If you’ve got the room in the car, you may want to toss in a pillow and blanket.  Great for naps, and your neck is use to your pillow.  Consistency.  There’s a lot of stress on your neck during the drive, so taking off that stress at night may really help.

Hotels – Quality *

  • Motel 6 – 1-2 stars
  • Super 8 – 2-2.5 stars
  • Holiday Inn Express, Marriott Fairfield, Hilton Garden 3+ stars
  • Holiday Inn, Residence Inn, Hilton 3-4 stars
  • Hyatt, Ritz, Intercontinental 5 stars

International folks may enjoy the http://VRBO.com and couch surfers the http://airbnb.com which both have a huge variety.  The B&B’s can be a way to combine the destination as part of the tour.  A lot of them are online these days, and it takes some research.  Top travel sites for planning include http://kayak.com http://expedia.com http://orbitz.com http://hotels.com http://priceline.com http://Travelocity.com http://tripadvisor.com they all have their pros and cons and expose most of the major chains.  Trip Advisor has attractions in it’s database.  If you can figure out which hotel you want and then call them directly, you may be able to simply make the reservation without having to pay.  They may be able to hold it with a card.  As well, lot of opportunities to collection hotel points for free nights or double dip on frequent flier miles like at Hilton depending on your loyalty.

9. Packing & Keep the Car Clean – I always pack light as a world traveler, but when I’m in my own car it’s easy to get sloppy.  I count out the days and pack minimalist, but since I’m in the car I will pack the snacks and water separate.  Putting the snacks in a small box will keep things from rolling around.  If you can think modularly of those things that are for the car can stay in the car and then only what you need for the night has to go into the hotel.  You may be driving an RV or Staying at Camp grounds.  This use to be so much easier back in the 70’s and 80’s.  Now the camp grounds are really spread out and they definitely don’t have the marketing budget of the hotels.  For cheap hotels there are those little magazines that mention the walk in rate discounts.  There are a lot of strategies to employ here.  I’ve used a dozen different strategies and I do a lot of hotels.  A lot of it is tolerance around cost, and tolerance around conditions.  In the US there really is a hierarchy on national and world wide brands.

10. Tune up the car or consider a Rental – You may end up being focused on the agenda and packing, but ultimately what can make or break a trip is the condition of the car.  Remember the vehicle you may be driving has often not been driven long distances, and may need fluids antifreeze an oil change and more.  Get that tune up that you’ve been putting off, not on the day you’re trying to get out of town, but instead a few days prior.  In road trips in the past I’ve encountered flat tire, overheating car (ended up dying), and transmission issues that cost me thousands.  Even cleaning it out and having it vacuumed can help to start off on the right foot.  Some may want to consider renting a vehicle.  In some cities the daily and weekly rate may be worth the wear and tear on your own car.  Big road trips can add a lot of miles all at once.  These road trips can be fun with the top down, and in a sports car.  For some, that is the dream.  For others, it’s about a camper or RV to get on the road… Make sure you’ve got plenty of accessing to funds.

Enjoy!!

Great Wall of China – New 7 Wonders of the World (1 of 7)

Greatest Wall in the World

If you ever feel like getting to China is just too impossible.  Have Faith.  It’s definitely possible.  I had seen most of Asia before I made it to China.  For some reason I just kept finding other things, and I felt like if I was going to visit China, I wanted to see it all, I wanted to have enough time.  I changed my attitude.  The forbidden city wasn’t going to remain forbidden any more.  I visited the Chinese embassy on a visit to San Francisco and within a couple of hours I had my visa.  I was on my way to the Forbidden city with explicit plans to see the Great Wall of China one of the most exclusive travel lists in the world… the New 7 Wonders of the World!

Forbidden City China at Night

The Forbidden City, in Beijing at night near Tiananmen Square

I decided, I wasn’t going to have time to spend a month or more in China anyway so I should break up my trip to China and plan it like I would Australia and simply break it into regions.  Same as seeing Canada, you just can’t see it all at once.  I’m sure many people say the same thing about the USA, or they should.  Those who go to NYC and Las Vegas and think they’ve seen the US are kidding themselves.  Those who rent an RV and Drive along route 66 are still only seeing one piece, but I understand the draw.

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

 

Forbidden City at Dusk

Gate to the Forbidden City

China is an amazing country.  Looking for a culture shock!?? China is awesome at that.  I’ll save another post for digging into my travels into China, and share my Wonder Experiences in a series.

172680_10150163215808783_4779820_o climbing to the great wall

We woke up early to head out to the Great Wall of China.  It was surreal.  Dux one of my techie friend’s from the Philippines who speaks great Chinese was our real connection to the locals.  He helped us arrange a van to take us out to the Great Wall.  We drove for a good hour from our hotel.  The homes were getting more and more spread out.  As we drove along it felt like we were entering the country side.  I can’t remember if it was 2 hours, but it seemed like when we thought we were there, it was another 20 minutes.  Then once we got into the parking lot, we realized it was going to be another 20-30 minutes of hiking up steps.  The wall wasn’t designed for accessibility.

More steps to the great wall of China

Seeing the wall was promising, but we could really see it from the car.  We could see it weaving across the mountains for as far as we could see.

Towers of the Great Wall of China

At first it just seems a lot like a wall made of bricks, but then as you take it in… in its magnitude, and splendor to realize its age, its role in history and in its preservation of culture and history… and then really start to understand the sacrifice of this man made feat.  It brings humility and awe.  Lots of sacrifice.

While we all decided we didn’t want to go down the way we came up, Michael and I decided we wanted to go for a walk, and the other guys decided to take the roller coaster.  There were some interesting options once on top.  You could walk 2 miles to a gondola one way, or another way was the gravity based roller coaster with a metal track, it was next to an impromptu zoo.  We all decided we’d meet back at the bottom of the hill near where they were.

(A few of these photos are from Michael at Sharing The Globe a Traveling companion and Great photographer.)

Snaking across the hills - great wall of China

Walking from tower to tower it seems close, but it really isn’t.  It might be 1KM or more between towers.  The area where we were while there were a number of tourists, we found space to be alone and found it not too challenging to take people-less photos.  Yes, that’s me trying to run between the towers.  It isn’t the easiest running, but I imagined those working the walls trying to share a message.

Running on the great wall

I picked up the Chinese Police hat.  While it didn’t go with my jacket, I did like the fun reactions from the locals.

Deep Thoughts on the wall of China

After walking along the wall for a few miles at a pretty fast pace (Can you believe there is a Great Wall Marathon?), I took a couple of early moments to reflect on this incredible structure.  While I know it wasn’t all maintained as well as where we saw it, it was amazing about it.  It started as far back as the 7th century BC against intrusions and nomadic groups and incursions and in protecting the spice route.  Amazing how these towers were used in defense and in notifying the troops of what was coming.

How long is it actually?  Depends on if you count the structures that also help support the defense of the wall.  I’m going to say more than 5000 miles!  Wikipedia proposes a couple of different estimates:

The Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the Ming walls measure 8,850 km (5,500 mi). This is made up of 6,259 km (3,889 mi) sections of actual wall, 359 km (223 mi) of trenches and 2,232 km (1,387 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measure out to be 21,196 km (13,171 mi)

This post is designed to be post 1 in a series of 7 of the Wonders of the World. Follow this blog to be notified of the rest of the series.