Yosemite Valley Natural Wonder

Yosemite Valley

I’ve been to California many many times, but it wasn’t until I explicitly planned to go to Yosemite that it happened.  I’ve seen pictures, and heard stories about it’s beauty, but it never popped until this summer.

Our family had a family reunion in Lake Tahoe, and with an open weekend, it took a little convincing, but we were all in.

I knew I wanted to have a full day in Yosemite and not just plan to drive through.  This was smart.  You really do need to plan to spend a full day to take advantage of what is there.  Imagine Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon… it’s one of those type of places.  You’re essentially 3-4 hours from civilization in any direction.  The good news is, there are options, but planning is important.  I found that common travel sites would easily put you 2 hours away from the park when booking a hotel, so you have to be careful.  The hotels, motels and lodges in the park go quickly and are quite expensive.

We stayed at the West Entrance to the park at Yosemite Riverside Inn.  It met our needs, and even included breakfast.  We were most happy with the distance to the park and being able to wake up and begin our journey into the park.  The first sight of Yosemite valley was incredible.

Yosemite valley

Half Dome in the Distance… My first view of it. Inspiring!

Personally it only took this one view, to know that I had found what I was looking for.  Yosemite was a natural wonder.  This was an ancient canyon with God’s fingerprints on it.  This place has serious earth history and a magical valley that would attract earths inhabitants all over it.  This special valley would awe and inspire and enchant anyone who sets their eyes on it.  In many ways simply traveling through this valley can bring one closer to God, because it makes man feel small.  In so many ways the pride of man can be stilled by standing on one of these rocks.

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El Capitan – What a Serious Megalith

While I didn’t really take the opportunity to climb these mega stones carved out of the valley, I did spend hours driving around them and went on a couple of easy hikes up to the falls, and one to a lake.  I spent most of the day in the valley with a bunch of other people I was trying to ignore.  You can see a few of these insignificant creatures in my picture.  Ignore the crowds, it’s still worth it. There are times of the day when you can get there ahead of the crowds, but still you have to do it anyway… It’s amazing and it does bring one closer to ones creator.

yosemite bridal veil

Yosemite Falls is 2,425 ft.  The highest waterfall in North America and in the top 10 in the world.  I’m going to be visiting the highest in the world, Angel Falls, in Venezuela and planning to spend 3 days to see it.  Had I known how amazing this was and how many of the top waterfalls in the world are in this park I would have given it more priority.  When I think of falls in the US, I think of Niagra, but that’s a volume thing.  Here you can plan to go when the run off is at it’s highest in the spring and get a real show.  Remember this park reminds man, that he is insignificant.  Some people get hurt or worse, trying to prove they can conquer these things.  With over a dozen falls, and hikes to nearly all of them, there are tons of things that people will do.  I would have liked to have tubed the river, or rode horses… lots of great activities in the park.

Things to do:

  • Horseback riding
  • Rafting
  • Hiking (Falls, Trails, Loops)
  • Rock Climbing
  • Biking
  • Tours
  • Loops Drive
  • Walking

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If anything Yosemite reminds us that there are things bigger than us in life.  Anytime you want to feel small. Visit the Yosemite Valley and it’s 1000 square miles of National park.  While you may feel like you weren’t alone while you were there.  You won’t regret it.

Traveling Ireland’s Ancient and Natural Wonders

Cross in Ireland

Ireland has been inhabited for thousands and thousands of years.  For Eons and Ages, Ireland has constantly been inhabited and has a rich culture of folklore, myths, and a myriad of megalithic structures scattered across the country marking structures from these older ages.  Early man left evidence from the mesolithic, neolithic, stone, bronze, and iron ages. I love traveling to Medieval and Neolithic sites.  The ancient world history is fascinating to me.  From the pyramids and temples of Egypt to Avebury & Stone Henge and on to the Nazca lines and the underground cities of Goreme and Cappadocia.  I’m absolutely fascinated with it.  So much of what we know is so little.  We talk about these places like we know all about them, but honestly it’s pre-historic and we know very little and are still learning.

History in Ireland started in 400 AD with the spread of Christianity.  It’s amazing to think of it spreading so far and wide.  There are some amazing structures to see in Ireland.  Within a short drive from the beautiful city of Dublin, you can be at amazing places.  I recommend Wicklow for an afternoon at Glendalough.  Glendalough is a glacial valley in County Wicklow, Ireland. It is known for its early Medieval monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St Kevin, a hermit priest.  It’s a beautiful drive and history itself unfolds as you walk amongst the graves, churches, and stone archways.

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Like these ancient sites.  Very easy to connect with nature and get a feel for what it was like in a village.  This tower entry reminds me of Rapunzel.  The entry to get in the tower is twenty feet off the ground.  Apparently the monks would climb up a latter and then pull it up.  They could drop rocks or oil and fire on the invaders.

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These ancient rock churches are beautiful, but not an uncommon site in Ireland.  They have lasted well through the ages.  You can see how important faith was through the ages.

Glendalough is home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. This early Christian monastic settlement was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century and from this developed the “Monastic City”. Most of the buildings on the site today date from the 10th through 12th centuries. Despite attacks by Vikings over the years, Glendalough thrived as one of Ireland’s great ecclesiastical foundations and schools of learning until the Normans destroyed the monastery in 1214 A.D.

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Amazing structures, history from an ancient time… you can feel it in your bones.

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Walking through the graves and the amazing Celtic crosses makes you feel an appreciation for the deep faith of the people.

Older than the Pyramids or Stone henge, Newgrange was an amazing find.  I was amazed to find such an ancient megalithic structure that I hadn’t heard of with such importance.  Driving north from Dublin straight north in the small town County Meath, Ireland on our way to Belfast and Northern Ireland, we saw a sign for this ancient site.  I was intrigued.  What is this Neolithic site I’ve never heard of?  Newgrange is a large mound in a circular shape with a stone passageway and decent sized chamber inside (no pictures inside).  On the tour they told us that during the 70’s some hippies were inside when it lit up during the winter solstice.  Apparently they really didn’t know what it was used for prior.  There’s still some confusion, but essentially this mount is not isolated.  There are a lot of them in a small area.

New Grange

This stone mound is surrounded by large stones with Neolithic carvings that still show up reasonably well.  I absolutely love the swirls.  It reminds me of the tail of the monkey in the Nazca lines.  What you don’t realize is just how old they estimate this place.

These megalithic structures are called portal tombs (a chamber consisting of upright stones with one or more large flat capstones forming a roof) or passage graves or dolmen often there is often no human remains. There are 40 of these passage graves near Newgrange.  The carvings on the rock are one of the largest collection of megalithic art.

megalithic artNewgrance megolithic

Incredible examples of one of the largest natural collection of Megalithic art… Newgrange is part of the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO World Heritage Site.

solstice lottery

On the tour, they simulate the light, but there is actually a lottery to be able to be one of the lucky handful who can be in the chamber when the light enters.

In Northern Ireland is one of the great natural wonders of Ireland.  The Giants Causeway.  This basalt has dried in amazing formations on the sea side.  It’s like Black Chrystal formations.

Giants Causeway beach, Northern Ireland

Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

In the Giants Causeway with my sons.  I’m lucky to be able to travel with my family on occasion.  Ireland is a good family destination.  Very family friendly destinations, and accommodations. They really enjoyed Ireland as well, and to think I was afraid there wasn’t that much to see.  Incredible structures, incredible history, and very fun people.  I’d be happy to go back to Ireland… anytime.  So much more to see.

Plan Your World Cup 2014 Trip to Rio Brazil with 5 Adventures and Tips

Rio is amazing!!

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Rio is world famous.  Even beyond the wild and amazing cultural customs and tradition of Carnival, Rio is an incredible city.  The world will be looking at Rio as FIFA Host city in 2014 World Cup and holding it to a very high standard in 2016 when it hosts the World for the Summer Olympics.  the 2014 FIFA World Cup will be the 20th FIFA World Cup, an international football or soccer tournament that is scheduled to take place here in Brazil from June 12 to July 13 in 2014.  I hope this blog helps you make up your mind.

In my travels, Rio stands out as a big highlight, amazing city.  Some will ask if it’s safe.  Rio, every year as it gets closer to the world cup and the Olympics is worlds of change for the better.  While pick pocketing or mugging out at night on the beach in the dark may have been more common place in the past, this is now no longer happening.  The streets have been cleaned up and crime is getting stamped out and pushed back into dark areas of the flavelas.  Even these have undergone much change over the years.  Brazil and Rio care very much about their reputation and as the world is looking to see if Rio can stand up and be the world destination is it destined to be… it is accomplishing just that.  Yes, you should take care and don’t do anything stupid, and take the advice of your hotels.  Be smart and be cautious of what your plans are at night and you’ll be fine.  I went to some night markets near the beach and made sure to stay in lit areas where people were and was fine.  Those were both tips I got from locals.  The people are extremely friendly and there’s so much to do.  Rio is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.  It’s in my top 3 most beautiful cities in the world and may be #1.  You will not be disappointed if you plan your world cup travel to Rio.  It will be amazing.  Planning for the Olympics and on the fence?  Rio will fulfill all your dreams!

Rio is really working on response and planning for these major events.  See Rio Goes High-Tech, With An Eye Toward Olympics, World Cup

Copacabana at night - welcome to rioCopacabana beach

Beaches!

Rio is known for it’s beaches some of the best known are Copacabana and Ipanema, but Botafogo, Praia da Barra da Tijuca, and Praia do Flamengo are also amazing beaches and there’s even more.  There are lists of top ten beaches in Rio.  The beaches are long and have long stretches of sand and boardwalks with varying population, some can get quite crowded.  It’s not hard to get a hotel right across from one of the beaches.  There’s water beyond the beaches as well with places like parque lage

 

Corcovado Parque Lage

New Wonders of the World – Christ Redeemer Statue

Rio has very unique topography.  Huge granite hills, but one of them has the world famous Christ Redeemer statue.  Corcovado, is the destination.  It’s not to miss.  Incredible views, amazing views of pristine beaches.  Some of these stone hills have special access with funicular and others with chair lifts.  You must get up on Sugar Loaf.  Day or night… the views are absolutely incredible.  You can even hike parts of it. There are tours you can take from your hotel, or bus routes to the funicular.

Visit Christ the Redeemer Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio

The views are unlike anywhere else.  You feel like you’re on another planet.  The closest examples I’ve found to the rocks are like haystack rock in Oregon, and Meteora in Greece, and feel like Capetown, but ultimately it’s more than all of these.  Bigger variety and 6 million plus people spread across over a dozen of these huge rock mounts that have been carved out over thousands or millions of years.

Hang gilding and Paragliding

Jump off this mountain as a paraglider or with a hang glider

I’ve jumped off that mountain.  That grassy area is where I landed.  For around $100-150 you can hang glide or paragliding as a student of the art.  You get a special license to do the jump.  The prices vary greatly at different hotels.  Different companies charge different rates. I even found there was some flexibility and was able to carve off a little off the price.

looking down on the worldGliders

Soak in the culture, the music and dancing… Let loose, relax and feel the Carnival spirit…

For the most lucky watch the two weeks of Carnival on the streets, where it all happens.  Then at night settle down to dinner and Samba Music maybe some Brazilian kick boxing.  Find a samba school for the most authentic experience.  Also watch in addition to samba, the choro, and bossa nova music.  Rio is the birthplace of all of these.

Carnival DancersCarnival Costumes Amazing Brazil at Night

 

There are a lot of reasons to visit Rio.  You’ll be sure to experience the relax attitude of the people and learn to enjoy yourself one way or another… either sitting on the beach, enjoying the music or the fresh meats and seafood… amazing food!  My favorite was the beans stew feijoada.  Ask a local for the story.  They have a long history. Don’t miss the Brazilian most famous dish, the feijoada (fay-zho-AH-da), a black bean stew filled with big chunks of meat, like chunks of sausages, pork or beef.  Rio is famous for it’s seafood as well.  The fresh juice bars with fresh coconut are also so fresh and great.  Very refreshing after a good surf or after soaking up the sun sitting out on the beach.  Enjoy a fresh one for me.

 

Looking for more details… visit the wikitravel page for Rio.

 

Estádio do Maracanã - panorama

Picture courtesy wikicommons

The Estádio do Maracanã is incredible.  Huge stadium that has undergone special renovations to make it a top stadium in the world.  Following its 50th anniversary in 2000, the stadium underwent renovations which would increase its full capacity to around 103,000. After years of planning and nine months of closure between 2005 and 2006, the stadium was reopened in January 2007 with an all-seated capacity of 82,238

Planning for the games or not, it is one that the locals would tell you not to miss… You can visit the Maracana, once the largest stadium in the world and currently largest in all of South America will be host of the FIFA 2014 World Cup and final.  Maracana MuseumIt even includes a museum!  The tiny picture to the right from the museum has photo ops.  Yeah, it’s a little silly, but football fans love the shrines to their favorite players and the chance to be part of the action.

As a frequent global traveler, let me share a few tips for a successful trip to Rio, Brazil…

5 Tips to Prepare Your Trip to Rio de Janeiro

1. You may need a visa.  US Citizens NEED a visa.  This is something you need to prepare for around a month in advance.  Hopefully around the time you have your travel plans.  There are express visa options, but don’t delay.  Getting the visa MUST be done in advance and can not be done at the border.  You’ll be looking for the tourist visa. You’ll need at least 2 blank pages in your visa and 2x2in photo.  I recommend the 10 year visa.  The cost difference between the shorter visa doesn’t warrant it.  It will cost you around $200-300 USD to get the visa and could easily take 2-3 weeks to make it all happen.  You will be sending a copy of your passport to get the visa, so make sure you plan accordingly. If this is your first trip, you’ll want to get your passport months in advance.  Even if you’re from Canada, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Japan, or Mexico you NEED a visa.  Citizens of the UK and EU including Turkey are exempt and don’t need a visa.  So check to make sure.

2. Prepare to pay – Brazil isn’t a poor country, despite what you hear in the news.  Food can be quite expensive.  The Brazilian Reals are a strong currency.  You will definitely love the experience.  It’s a tourists dream to go here, but you may have to shop around if you’re coming from a poor country to see the match.

3. Hotels – Prepare way in advance for hotels and hostels.  Do your research. These will fill up fast for the World Cup and Olympics or Carnival.  Consider options like AirBnB and VRBO as alternative to the typical conventional options sometimes these can even be cheaper than hotels.com.  If you don’t mind paying in advance, Expedia and Priceline can save you a lot in some of the major hotel chains, but there are a lot of options, so you’ll need to shop around.

4. Bring your swimming suit and a jacket – while Rio seems like it has the perfect weather.  The nights can be cool, and you may end up in the hills where it’s chilly.  Don’t forget your suit and sun screen.

5. Travel and Money strategies – I spoke in length about how to put money in more than one place such as some in your carry on bag and NOT in your back pocket.  With the events you don’t want to be sorry about having all your money getting swiped in one place.  You should visit my 10 simple tricks for world travel, so you’ll be thinking wholistically about how you pack and what your backup strategy is on money.  The way you pack can make a big difference on your flexibility for a trip to Brazil.

If you’re debating between adding on excursion trips to Sao Paulo or Iguazu Falls.  Iguazu in my opinion is the best waterfall in the world from a tourist perspective, and I’ve seen 4 of the top 5 in the world.  It’s awesome.  Sao Paulo, while a great city to do business in, wasn’t that exciting from a tourist perspective.

Mysteries of the Rock of Gibraltar and the Barbary Apes


Barbary Apes

 

I love travel mysteries and Gibraltar has lot of deep stories that make it one of the most powerful, interesting and mysterious places.  It’s said that this place once held greek temple to Hercules and the caves inhibited by early man… maybe even the last hold out for the Neanderthal.  There is a labyrinth of tunnels that are longer than the trails that go over the top and caves filled with mystery from early inhabitants.  It is first recorded in history as the “pillars of Hercules” from Greek Mythology. Until Columbus it marked the edge of the known world.  It’s a magical place filled with mystery that transcends time.

Here are a few of the things we saw..

  • Wild Barbary Apes in Europe – Living on the Rock of Gibraltar are the only wild apes in Europe
  • An International Airport runway that people can drive across, the only road into Gibraltar
  • A gigantic gun that can shoot from Europe to Africa
  • A viewpoint for viewing the straights of Gibraltar to Africa
  • Hop a ferry to Africa or Spanish Morocco on the African Continent
  • Century’s old military Tunnels and caves inhabited by Neanderthals and Neolithic times

gibraltar map

Here’s a snippet on the history of Gibraltar… “It was first inhabited over 50,000 years ago by Neanderthals and may have been one of their last places of habitation before they died out around 24,000 years ago. Gibraltar’s recorded history began with the Phoenicians around 950 BC; the Carthaginians and Romans later worshipped Hercules in shrines said to have been built on the Rock of Gibraltar, which they called Mons Calpe, the “Hollow Mountain”, and which they regarded as one of the twin Pillars of Hercules.”

One of the craziest airports in the world, Gibraltair International (GIB) has daily flights to and from Heathrow, Gatwick, and Luton.  Went through all 3 airports in one day once.  I don’t recommend it.  As well Malaga is only 120 kilometers away.  Notice how the airport goes through the only road that goes into Gibraltar.  Locals call it Gib (sounds like jib).  The locals even have a British sounding accent, but they used GIP Pounds or Euros in most of the places where I went.  There are a number of Spanish as well that live in Gib.  While the Gibraltarians have their own culture, it’s definitely a mix of english and spanish supporting a very strategic military installation mostly turned tourist attraction.  I don’t think the apes realize just how important that little strip of land has been over time.  It get’s stirred up every 50-100 years it seems to me.  Spain still doesn’t seem too happy for it to be there.   

Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen Area. This means that there are immigration and customs controls when travelling between Spain and Gibraltar. Citizens of the European Union are required to have a national identity card or passport, while all others are required to have a passport to enter.  Right after you cross the border you cross the airport.  Hopefully while you’re there you’ll see a plane coming in or out… it’s a beautiful site.

I do encourage you to read the history.  The wikitravel article on Gibraltar has a sview of africa from europehort but decent write up.  The history of Gib goes all the way back to Neolithic times, some evidence in St Michael’s cave. 

As far as visits go, take the gondola up the rock and spend time with the apes.

Quite the view… across the straights, you can see Africa!

There are very few spots in Europe where on the other side you can see Africa.  It’s a real treat as a traveler to be able to be this close to two of the huge continents and see history reveal itself.  I had no idea that it was real UK territory. It’s fascinating.  If you like traveling to unique places this is a real draw for a number of reasons.  The Apes, the military arsenal, the huge iconic and powerful rock, the majestic views, and the point at which Africa is close to Europe.  There’s a lot of symbolism and exciting parts to this story.  I’m sure you’ll love it.  I mean come on, it’s also very close to Morocco, one of my favorite places to time travel, and to some of the most relaxing parts of Europe.  The Ferry is just down the road to visit the islands… It’s a great destination.

When I visited, we went to Spanish Morocco and then a night taxi ride to Fez.  What a fabulous place cultural that is. 

 

big guns

The Barbary macaque or Barbary ape, is a species of macaque with no tail. Traditionally found in the Atlas Mountains.  There is a small population, about 5 troops and 300 individuals in Gibraltar with an unknown origin.  They are the only monkeys or apes in Europe. The Barbary apes are the best known species from the old world.  They are recognized as an endangered species.  If you visit Morocco you can visit a troop in the forest. 

The Rock is beautiful and iconic.  It rises in such a way that you can understand why it’s used in Greek Mythology, and why companies even now like Prudential take advantage of it’s symbolism.  It carries power.  Over time it has been one of the most densely fortified and fought-over places in Europe.

Did I wet your appetite?  Maybe you’ll consider this amazing place filled with mystery.

The Rock Hotel Barbary ape looks over the Gibraltar cliffs

Panama Island Escape: Bocas Del Torro and Urraca – Adventures in Paradise

Private islands

monkey scream

Before when I thought of Panama, all I could think of was the Panama canal.  Now I think of Islands.  There are so many little islands off the coast of Panama.

The only way to get around the islands is with boats.  The boats are like busses taking you from place to place.  The first time I visited Bocas del Torro, I thought the island was the destination.  It wasn’t until I spent a little time on the island and I discovered that the adventures are all around you.

  • Red Frog Island
  • Urraca Private Island
  • El Tigre – Native Tribe Island
  • Bat Caves
  • Waterfalls
  • Scuba Diving for underwater ship, sea horses, and amazing

I wasn’t satisfied just to see a small bit of Panama.  I had to come back, so I brought my family.  I did some searching and came across Urraca Private Island.  It sounded magical.  Your own private island, the lady who runs the place has her own monkey, a French Canadian who travelled the Caribbean looking for paradise.  She found 2 islands of mangroves and found a way to put a house on stilts.  These beautiful places are designed with nature in mind.  The electricity comes from the sun, the water in the house comes from the rain.

water out the window

While I was really hoping to find “utopia,” instead we had a great adventure that tested my wife’s limits.  I think over those few days I’d see something in her as an adventure traveler that would make me realize things have changed (at least knowing that there are comfort limits.)  My wife didn’t like the cold showers, didn’t like the rain showers that barely let up a couple of days. Even though it wasn’t the rainy season we spent a lot of time in the rain forest and you don’t know how it will effect a person.

I realized we couldn’t do hostels as a family.  I tried a couple of different styles and we drew the lines at A/C – required, hot showers – required, and no bugs.  We didn’t have screens in the windows and the little fans didn’t do enough to keep the kids and my wife happy.  The adventure became too much of one.

It was a little daunting not to be able to be in control.  You tell the boat when to come and that’s when it will come.  No earlier, no later.  When it’s time to eat and you’re on a private island, you don’t have a lot of choices if you didn’t prepare.  You likely will eat what is being cooked and if you don’t like it or don’t like the prices… tough.  You may not even know the price until the end of the week, and at that point you better be prepared.  Ask for a menu and ask for prices, and ask for alternatives.  I did come across some places, but easily 30 minutes away and that means gas or it means going to dinner on your way back from an adventure.

water bar bocas del torro island paradise

Pictured: Left the food places at Bocas are often out on the water with incredible views. Right: The swim up to it table, difficult to get on those seats at low tide, but beautiful to look at.  There’s a lot of symbolism in this… It looks better than it feels without knowing and realizing it’s going to be an adventure and that’s what it’s all about.

While it may not have been the ultimate paradise for everyone on those three days on the private island.  I really really enjoyed the adventure even though I discovered their comfort limits.  Here are just a few things we experienced.

  • Capuchin monkey
  • Fresh lobster
  • Private beaches
  • Encounters with natives
  • Snorkling and scuba
  • Cave spiders that look like scorpions
  • Seeing sloths in the wild!
  • Bioluminescent waters
  • Dolphins

monkey manprivate islandwater walkway

Crossing from Costa Rica across a wild train bridge was quite the adventure.  It really wasn’t hard to catch a bus from Puerto Viejo or Manzanilla to the border.  You can even pay to get all the way to Bocas del Torro which involves crossing the train bridge then riding a van transport to water transport and then on for another hour to Bocas del Torro.

big rodentbaby with monkey

Pictured: Jared with his rodent friend that had a rabbit face on Right my 3 year old and Tutsi the monkey

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Pictured: Get your scuba certification in 3 days. Open Water PADI certified. It was the best dive with the worst equipment, but I got what I paid for… it was cheap!

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Local breakfast on Bocas del Torro… a local meal of scone and two meatballs.  I’m sure there was a local name for it.

South Africa’s Kruger Wild Animal Park: Wild and Wonderful


I’ve visited South Africa on three different occasions and found it incredible each time.  I would go at the drop of a hat.  I still need to take my family with me, and yes if you were wondering.  I would do that.  Something that holds a lot of people back is they are sincerely worried about this world we live in and they see Africa as a whole as a place that isn’t safe or ready to be explored.  In my various adventures in Africa I’ve found South Africa to be a great hub to explore other parts of South Africa.  It does feel like that hut surrounded by barbed wire that protects me from the wild animals like in Kruger wild animal park, but then I realize I’m the one that’s in the cage.

After you’ve been to Africa and been on safari, a zoo will never be the same.  As I suggested, you are the one that’s in the cage.  During the day you venture out in your car, and in our case it was a rental car with insurance.  Our little car was chased by bull elephants a couple of times and we drove through herds of buffalo, zebra, and numerous horned antelope and other horned beasts.  Before nightfall we’d drive into a gated area that would keep the wild animals out.  We’d share stories with others and see what large animals had been spotted. 

The big 5 are on everyone’s mind.  You have to see what of the big 5 you can check off.  In our 3 days of driving around never once crossing an existing path, we saw them all but the leopard. 

  1. Elephant
  2. Rhino
  3. Lion
  4. Buffalo
  5. Leopard

Why it doesn’t include the Crocodile, the Hippo, Hyena, Giraffe or Zebra or other animals that are just as huge I don’t know, but I did see them as well.  I’d also recommend tracking down a troop of baboons.  It isn’t enough to just see one of these animals, you need to see them in hundreds and it again changes your perspective.

Kruger Wild Animal Park is a must.  If you visit South Africa you should definitely plan to do it.  There are other less wild parks where you can get closer to the big cats, but the wildness of it all will change your perspective forever.  This is the Yellowstone of wildness for Africa.  I later spent some time in Botswana that made me rethink what I thought was wild, but really this is a great introduction into the wilds of Africa.  As well having spent some time in Kenya and Tanzania, I think this is a great place to start.  Tons and Tons of animals and you can do this on your pace.  They’ve even got maps that point out the climates and what to expect in the various ecosystems.

Eric Harlan, a Microsoft engineer and I ventured out into Kruger with his massive camera and a very expensive rented lens that made the far off animals seem within reach.  It was Eric’s first foray into the wild, and he to this day refers to the changes that took place on this trip.  Not just the animal wild and crazy, but our walking border crossing into Mozambique to Maputo.  An incredible experience I’ll have to share in another post.  Eric and I have since been on a few other trips, but Kruger stands out.  We flew into Johannesburg, stayed with a good friend in Joburg.  The next morning we rented a car and were in a hut in the park that night.  It was a good drive and we barely made it before they closed the gate, but it was a beautiful drive.  After 3-4 days in Kruger we went into Mozambique and got the human side as well as in Swaziland before arriving in Durban where we did our speaking gig at TechEd Africa before flying to Capetown for the first SharePoint Saturday event in Africa… 

If you want to go on a guided safari you have lots of options.  First you can take a guided tour and they will track down the animals for you.  As well, you can take your vehicle into the park and at each of these self enclosed villages that often include bungalow, or beehive huts, and more primitive tent spaces.  You decide how primitive you want to go.  At these places you can pay to go on a morning or evening walking tour, or go out on a safari on a huge truck that can go on special routes and get quite close to a watering hole, or a night safari that has exclusive access to the routes during the dark.  They are all freaky and I highly recommend them all.  Each of them is a real experience… having a guide with an elephant gun in the front and one in the back… and walking through grass thinking wasn’t that a lion roar and it was, is truly exhilarating.  Very raw.  We tracked down some rhinos grazing who eventually smelled us and ran off, but not before we were about 10 feet away… and followed some buffalo and zebra.

When you stop for lunch at one of these rest camps you can eat gazelle or other meat that you’d never thought possible didn’t think you’d ever eat Wildebeest.

At night we tracked a lion, a bull elephant who pushed our safari truck, and spotted a family of hyenas with tiny little 3 babies.  Incredible experiences.  It was amazing to see these animals in their habitats on their terms.

It’s unreal when you see a HUGE elephant looking straight at you and there’s nothing more than a little metal or tiny little glass window between you and them.  On the walking safari, you feel very vulnerable.

Do I recommend these experiences.  Oh, definitely.  Is it safe, you’ll have to ask your guide what his stats are.  These are experiences of a lifetime… 

Kruger Wild Animal Park

Above is a video of footage from my camera mixed with some photos that Eric took.  He snagged the lion photo as well.  Getting that lion photo was a real experience.  We had gone two days without seeing a lion, and we really wanted to see one.  On our maps we tracked down the area where we should see one, and asked as well around camp.  We saw a car that was stopped and pulled up quietly behind it.  A man in the car had a camera pointing into some tall grass.  We must have sat there for 5 minutes before we saw a tail swish and realized what we were waiting for.  A group of lionesses were sunning.  Over the next half hour we’d get nearly out of the car (not recommended and anything more would be against the rules) to get the best viewpoint.  All of a sudden they jumped up looked around… (maybe smelled us?) and then ran off.. it was beautiful and an experience I will cherish.

Lalibela Ethiopia and the Famous Rock Hewn Churches

St Georges Cross

8th wonder of the world Unesco Rock Hewn Churches

In our world there are few places shrouded with as much mystery, culture, and history as Lalibela the second holiest place in Ethiopia.  Designated as the 8th wonder of the world, and a UNESCO world heritage site.  These rock hewn churches made in the 16th century are an ancient treasure built by Angels.

St George in Lalibella Ethiopia

Lalibela starts with the story of a King that as a baby was shrouded in bees.  The bees weren’t bees at all, but angels.  The angels took him up to heaven and showed him how to make tools and how to carve churches from rock.

Megalithic Rock Hewn Church

The story doesn’t end there.  King Lalibela shared the ideas of the tools that were ahead of their time, and the humans took the day shift and the angels took the night shift and together they built amazing churches that are built with deep symbols of early Christianity.  Rather than pilgrimage to Jerusalem at a time when the Christians had been kept from safely visiting Jerusalem and the other holy sites of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the life of Jesus.

Narrow valleys carved into the rock can take you from church to church, each with it’s own story.  The largest megalithic church in the world is found among the 11 rock hewn churches in Lalibela.  All of them are within a couple of miles, and easy walking distance.  You can easily spend a day or two.  Loyal Christian orthodox priests act as guides for a negotiated price.  I was trying to explain that these churches were a lot like the church caves in Cappadocia, but our guide wouldn’t have it.  These were literally carved by Angels.  It was great to have a guide who was so loyal.

Coptic Priest

At lunch we stopped at a little place.  We were told it was Friday and so we couldn’t order the lamb.  It’s fasting day.  So we ordered the fasting food.

Injera

The Ethiopian fasting food is made up of various veggies. The food is designed to be eaten with your hands and is designed to be a social family experience.  Beets, potatoes, lentils, cabbage, tomatoes, amazing food.  It’s served on a traditional injera which is not only edible, but is how you eat the food.  Rip off some injera and wrap it around whatever you’d like.  Sometimes it comes in a roll so you can rip off a little and have plenty to eat a nice big pile of food.  There really is a lot of variety in the food, served on large platters.  Ethopian food really grew on me.  I had some in Zanzibar and a few years ago in Capetown.  It’s really a fun food.

Tukul Village

Ahead of time I did a little research and came across the Tukul village hotel.  I *really* enjoyed it.  They were cheap enough, around $50-60 that both Paul and I got our own rooms.  The nicest rooms in town.  We had hot water 24×7, plenty of power, and free wifi and it almost reached to our room.  I say 24×7 cause some say they have hot water, but it’s only on in the morning.  One also said they had wifi, but it was a hard wire in a room behind reception.  Across Ethiopia this was our favorite city and favorite hotel.

The rock churches were about a mile or two walk from the hotel.  When we’d walk around, a group of kids that would grow as we’d walk would tell us stories about their lives.  They were from the countryside.  In a sort of boarding type situation.  Groups of kids put together sharing a room.  Most, basically all, don’t have money.  Part of the story you hear from the kids is that they are going to school and need supplies.  Notebook, dictionary, and more.  If you’re around long enough you hear about how they are months back in rent and will get kicked out of their place.  Some don’t have shoes.  In some places I wouldn’t believe the stories, but I was convinced.

Lalibela Festival

After a day of walking through the rock churches, I overheard some amazing traditional music and as we got closer found what looked like the whole of the 15,000 of the village gathered to watch the dancing in a festival.  I was offered a prime seat, but instead found a spot next to some young kids.  One of the children was a blind boy, and his faithful friends who he held onto, one behind and one in front.  They filled me into what was going on.  None of them had parents around… they too were from the countryside and were here in Lalibela for school.  They told me about their need for notebooks and that they would struggle without them.  After hearing the price and seeing the sincerity I walked with the boys to the little store and purchased a pack of 10 notebooks which they shared.  Word got around, and we saw some kids that we’d seen earlier in the day, so we went back and decided we’d buy them out.  70 more notebooks, but this time the story was more sincere.  The 3 of us will share.  Ok.  I’ll get a notebook for all the children, there can’t be more than 70 around here.  I was warned by one of the older children that the kids will fight over the books.  Paul and I weren’t sure how to take the advice we were given of giving him all the books and have him distribute them.  Images of him running off, or only giving books to the older kids concerned me.  We gave him a pack of 10 and committed him to promising to share.  Then another and another and then Paul and I each took 10 or 20 to distribute to the growing crowd of children.  To my surprise, it was as if we were handing out food to a starving crowd who hadn’t seen food in ages.  Fights broke out, emotions ran high, as older kids pushed and little kids tried to find a way to get close to us.  I was nearly in tears as I saw the thirst.  As I saw one notebook ripped to shreds I put the rest under my shirt and said no!  I wasn’t going to waste these.  The needs were too great.  We were beyond sincerity.  This meant their ability to learn.  One child then explained to me that 3 kids could share one book.  I appreciated his willingness to share and gave him a book.  Another tried to line up and smile.  Those that were surrounding me reminded me of what I had seen earlier in the evening before all the amazing cultural dancing.  It totally reminds me of chickens fighting.

Ethiopian children dancing

At the beginning of the festival a sort of sacrament or communion moment was happening.  It was loaves and fishes Ethiopian style.  A large platter with a large loaf of bread was split among the elders of the group, then to the guests like myself and other adults.  I shared my ripped off piece with the blind child and his friends, really felt the spirit of what was going on, that is until it never made it’s way to the children, and others were chastised for grabbing at the loaf of bread.  I needed to find a way to distribute the books in a way that wouldn’t result in ripped up pages.  As I walked away to see how Paul was doing I secretly pulled out a book at a time with no one looking and gave it to the children who seemed heart broken.  It really lit them up.  Paul had given out his books and had a similar experience of kids fighting over them.  We were both really shaken by the experience and knew we’d never forget it.  Paul vowed to buy a dictionary, which he did, and ended up giving away wads of local currency to the children we walked with.  Hoping that they could buy some shoes for the boy with no shoes.  We don’t know how it worked out, and if the dictionary purchase was a ploy.  That one to me did seem that way me, but we both hope that it ultimately would be used for good.

Lalibela is in my top places of the world.  It has has special place in my heart.  I was only there for a couple of days, but it did change me.  It also makes me consider the wonders of our modern world and make me wonder what we’re contributing to our future.  How will they judge us based on our megalithic buildings propped up around economics.  These walls will fall much sooner than those in this little town of Lalibela, Ethiopia and they won’t mean as much as these either.

Mt Kilimanjaro: The Ultimate Hike

The Road to Uhuru... Mt Kilimonjaro

I want to give you all the details to one of the most challenging, and incredible events of my life.  My SharePoint friends and I took on the largest free standing mountain in the world.  Known as the top of Africa, Kilimanjaro is also known as the highest hike that you can do that an adventurer can do without ropes and oxygen.  It’s the ultimate hike for normal people.  I once sat on a plane next to a guy who told me it is a mental hike… one that someone in incredible shape may fail at, but an 80 year old may accomplish.  I was fascinated and dreamed about.  Our hike along with three speaking events was sponsored by Colligo.  They’ve been incredible and great to work with.  Colligo has an iOS SharePoint app called Colligo Briefcase that supported our interests in sharing our photos, videos, and files on and off the mountain.

Marangu Route

L-R Gabriel assistant guide, Mark Miller (known on the trail as Babu or Grandfather in Swahili), Eric Harlan, Me, and Daudi in front our Guide, Paul Swider and Michael Noel

Above: At the beginning of Marangu Route: We are at the starting point here.  51 miles to go.  We arrived at the Kilimonjaro airport, drove an hour to the hotel where we met our guide and moved around our gear.  I rented hiking poles and a sleeping bag, they kept our gear in blue water proof bags that they brought to each stop. 

I carried with me a hip carrier with about 1.5-2 liters of water in 3 bottles, a half roll of toilet paper, small bottle of baby powder, small bottle of IBU Profen, diarahea pills, SPF 50 sun block, lotion insect repellent with high % deet, mole skin, sunglasses, and 4 protein bars, and 1 candy bar.  As well, I wore pants that could unzip the legs for shorts, and at times would carry my gloves.  We were hiking outside the rainy season otherwise I would have wanted a rain cover. My phone which doubled as a camera, and solar charger. (Wish I would have just gone with big dense battery packs. My friend Michael had 3 full charges with one of his battery bricks.)  There were no power outlets the entire 6 days.  Camera with tons of batteries may have been a better option than assuming my phone would work well enough.  All of this fit in my hip fanny pack designed with a couple of bottles on either side of it. 

Packing for Kilimanjaro

A couple of my friends had camel pack water carriers one on his hips and two on their backs.  One thing to note is after you start hiking you won’t see any more places where you can buy something you’re missing.  There is a little shop right across from checkin, where I could have bought something last minute for 4x the cost.

In my pack that the porters carried, I had a box of protein bars and some candy bars.  I also had all my high elevation pills, high vitamin C, a couple of additional variety of headache medicine, snow boarding gloves, fleece, snow boarding coat, rain coat, and scarf.  Underwear for the week, and variety of specialty hiking socks with varying thickness.  Shirts not cotton.  I brought another pair of shorts, but the pants I brought were very very dirty by the end, but I didn’t care.  Some people would.  All of this fit in a back pack.  I do encourage you to bring a couple of special food items that you can spread throughout the trip.  You burn a lot of calories, and even a little bag of chips and crackers I snagged from the airport tasted incredible after eating the same food day after day.

Porters

Our porters carried all of the food and cooking utensils. The porters are amazing.  They carry huge bags on their heads and have their backs loaded up.  They work for less than a dollar a day and hopefully get the tips that are left for them at the end.  Tips is something I won’t address.  I spent $130 in tips for money for guide, assistant guide, cook, assistant cook, and porters.  I also gave some of my gear to the porters, like my gloves, a pair of socks, and hat.

Our route was the Marangu route.  Read about all of the different routes on the Wikipedia Mt Kilimanjaro hiking routes page.  Here’s what it says about this route…

Marangu:

  • Nicknamed the ‘Coca-Cola’ route due to the tea huts where Coke can be bought along the way
  • The shortest and cheapest route, but less time to acclimatize, therefore lower success rate
  • Dormitory style accommodation
  • Less scenic due to ascent and descent on same route

While it says it is the shortest and cheapest… it is designed to be a 5 day hike, but many do this route in 6 days by doing the Zebra rocks and staying at Horumbo for 2 nights.  I didn’t see any coca colas being sold anywhere.  As well our group was big enough we had our own room every night.  I believe we were quite lucky on the last night where we staying in a room that had 16 beds.  I’m sure Paul paid someone off on that night, but it really was nice.

The first day is the most scenic route.  You’re hiking through jungle for the entire day.  We joked that the first day feels like a scout hike.  There’s nothing technical about it.  Really really enjoy this day, take your time and stop and take lots of pictures.  There isn’t anything strenuous about this day.  Basically it gives you 5 miles to make sure your boots are working and your day pack isn’t too much.  We saw monkeys, and heard lots of them at night.  The foliage is dense.  We saw a big blue monkey and a red winged monkey that reminded me of a squirrel monkey.

Jungle of Kilimanjaro

The first day of hiking from the bottom to Mandara huts from where we checked in is about 5 miles to the first hut.  The first night we stayed next door to a group of Russians.  When they refer to dormitory style… this was it.  We were lucky, and I do mean lucky to have our own room.  It was a room full of bunk beds and we again were lucky to each have our pick at top or bottom of our own set of beds.  We did have to go through the Russian room to get to the outside of the cabin.  This duplex only had one exit.  The bathroom was outside.  One western toilet and one turkish toilet.  They both were lacking, but it gets worse.  At least we had a choice.  I felt lucky to have brought toilet paper, but our guide brought us each a roll at that first hut.  I had less bargaining power with my team mates after we then had plenty of toilet paper.

That night at dinner we met a Swiss guy who had come down the mountain by himself.  He had summited the night before.  He told us stories about how crazy cold it was and about how he had got to the summit before sunrise and did the whole ascent in 3 hours. (something that would take us 6-8 hours.)  The cold was what we would hear over and over.  How his water froze, how his gloves were no good, and his face mask froze, and he had to just power through.  He warned us to wear everything we had.  It was great to hear someone who had made it, and it gave us some confidence while also a wake up call.

Day 2 Mandara:  we woke up early about 6:30am to wash, and get ready then went over for breakfast.  We had our first millet, and drinks we had coffee, tea, and milo (hot chocolate.)  As a non coffee, non tea drinker (yep LDS.)  I would drink a whole can of milo myself in the first few days.  It wasn’t just breakfast, it was breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I started making up drinks with the honey, and hot water provided.  As a soft drink guy, I wasn’t use to the hot drinks every meal.  There wasn’t any cold water unless you had yours left over from the previous day.  We would get fresh water that had been boiled the night before after breakfast every day to fill up our containers.  Drinking is something you have to do a lot of.  We had tang or some orange drink after our summit, but wished I had seen that as an option.  Mix ins, is something we’d see quite often.  For breakfast we had toast, egg, and yes the millet, a warm porridge that we’d see every breakfast from then on.  It was a novelty the first day.  We also would some times see hot dog style sausage every so often.  We didn’t see much meat.  We later speculate that it was because we had a vegan with us that kept us from seeing any variety of meat or meat that took time to cook.  We had cold chicken once.  I bring up the food because really, three of us were so sick of the food that we veto’d the food after the summit and elected to go to bed after eating protein bars and try again in the morning.  We were so sick of cucumber soup, the same soup we’d seen every night.

Pictures of Kilimanjaro Hike

The day 2 hike was interesting.  In the morning you’re still in the dense forest, and half way through that hike you start seeing mossy trees and they become more and more sparse until even they start to change. 

Above the Clouds on Mount Kilimanjaro

At the end of day 2 we would arrive at Horombo after about 7.5 miles.  Horombo huts really became home.  We’d end up ultimately spending 3 nights in these A frame huts.  We had the entire cabin to ourselves.  The first night we stayed in a small one and a bigger one became available the next night.  Each morning we’d wake up and watch the sun rise and each night we’d look over the clouds until they parted and we could see all the way to Kenya.  Michael would venture off to find a cell service and data to see if he could get our tweets, pictures, and status updates.  I admit it was nice to get a quick call in from Horombo huts.  Yep, I’m still alive.

Kilimanjaro Crew

Day 3 – When we woke up I was feeling great.  I had been contemplating pushing the group from our original plan of a 6 day hike and pushing for a 5 day hike… yeah I was feeling great.  I knew that we’d hike to zebra rocks and be able to see the Kebo huts our next destination and it seemed so defeatest to turn around and come back to Horombo.  The same guys who were pushing for 5 day originally didn’t give in, and we kept with the plan.  Zebra rocks it was.  Beautiful naturally white and black striped rocks were the next destination. 

Zebra Rocks

One of the activities of the day was stacking rocks.  The plan was to acclimatize and relaxing and taking in the fresh air and relaxing was on the agenda.  We’d play an advanced version of jenga with these rocks.  You have to add a rock, on your turn but can’t let any fall.

Jenga Zebra Rocks

We got our first glimpse of the top of the mountain that morning.  Our ultimate destination was in sight.

Uhuru Peak

 

Day 4 We’d wake up at Horombo huts and set off.  As we climbed it looked like 15000 feet was ultimately a lot of rock and liken.  Not much foliage and that was for sure.  We left behind the last cactus and larger plants for much smaller shubbery.

Kilimanjaro Wasteland

At Kibo Huts we ran into a Microsoft Windows 8 group from the Netherlands!  Can you believe it.  Small world.  Group of 50 Microsofties had just attempted the summit to better understand our odds… 9 of them did not make it and had to head down the mountain.

Kibo Hut Kili Explorer

I was feeling the pressure. Not just of the climb, but the elevation.  Feeling head pain, headaches, and I’m sure I was also feeling soreness that was working it’s way in.  After arriving at Kibo we were told we would be fed dinner at 5pm and then sleep until 11pm when they’d wake us up to start hiking at midnight.  I was seriously worried that the headache I had wouldn’t go away, and it was interfering with my ability to get any sleep.  For the first time doubts started creeping in.  I started thinking what if my head explodes.  I start using diving techniques and try to “equalize” as if under water by plugging my nose and pushing forcing air.  I do this a few times and do feel a little relief.  I’m taking a large does of pills and I’m freezing.  The toilets at Kebo are the worst.  There is a section of toilets denoted for “tourists” and they are all turkish toilets and no running water.  Just a hole and these ones STINK.  They must be making people ill.  There’s a lot of foul smells from vomit and diarrhea.  Some people here are not doing well at all.  Word is that a Russian here has a device to check the oxygen content in the blood by simply inserting your finger.  When Michael says he may be able to arrange it, I’m interested.  Paul, myself, and Michael all pass the Russian’s test.  Apparently they sent one of theirs back to Horombo.  After feeling some better we get a pep talk from our guide.  He lays out the details for the night.  We are leaving at midnight, and we are to have all our gear on and leave our stuff at our beds.  We’ll be back soon enough.

Below: 5 Hours to GILMANS Point (Welcome to Kibo Hut 4700 Meters)

Kibo Hut 5 hours to Gilmans Point

To be continued…

United States Utah: Top 10 Vacation Destinations

Goblin Valley Hoodoos

When I tell friends they should visit me in Utah.  They often think I’m joking.  Many of my European friends dream of visiting New York City, Los Angeles/Hollywood, or Las Vegas.  What they don’t realize is that Utah a state easily dismissed as one of those states somewhere in the middle or above Las Vegas and West of Denver… host of the 2002 Olympics Utah has a lot to offer in National parks and a lot more.

The perception of the world the US comes from T.V. and it’s amazing to me how some think that there’s really not much between New York City and Los Angeles.  As a traveller myself I first saw most of the U.S. and grew up going to the mountains and parks of the Western US.

I will continue to spend most of my blogs on non domestic destinations, but I needed to share my home to really give Utah the credit it needs.  As well, I’ll have a blog to point friends to who might consider visiting Utah… only 6 hour drive from Las Vegas which passes by some of the most incredible things our planet has to offer.  I’ll break this into a top 10 list to make it easy to follow…

10. The largest man made hole in the world.  Bingham open copper pit mine.  This huge copper mine is impressive and can be seen from space!  Complete with it’s own museum, you can see the tires of the huge mining trucks, the largest vehicles in the world.

9. Sundance, Park City, Alta, and Snowbird – Year Round Beauty.

The Best Snow on Earth, and incredible resort towns all year round.  Park City has many adventures has very visible remnants of the Olympics.  Take one of many zipline downs the ski lifts and jumps, or take the alpine coaster or alpine slide one of the longest in the world.  The Alpine coaster is more than a mile of track of loops, curves, and hair pin turns.   l couldn’t believe Sundance and that amazing natural beauty.  Known famous for the Sundance film festival and Robert Redford’s restort, conference centers and getaways.  There is a lift open year round for full moon night rides, and a 45 minute round trip ride or one way up and mountain bike down the trails. Big and Little Cottonwood canyon is a great escape for lake and waterfall hikes.

Stop by Bridal Veil falls in the Provo Canyon on your way up to Sundance, or ride the Heber Creeper, an old steam engine locomotive that rides along the rack.

8. Visit Antelope Island The Great Salt Lake is a huge remnant left over of the ice age formerly known as lake Bonneville.  Now a huge salty lake it reminds me a lot of the Dead Sea.  A place I’ve visited a couple of times both from Jordan and the West Bank.

The Mormons delivered the Saints by their Moses like prophet Brigham Young called the Salt Lake Valley “Zion,” and the Great Salt Lake was their Dead Sea and Utah Lake the equivalent of the sea of Galilee.  The Jordan River which connects the two is named the same.  Antelope island state park is one the largest of the 9 islands on the lake and a great place to view wildlife including antelope, deer, bobcats, coyotes, many varieties of birds and waterfowl.  Over 600 American Bison roam the island since 1893. Camping is available.

Directions: Take Exit 332 off Interstate 15, then drive west on Antelope Drive for 7 miles to the park entrance, then another 7 miles across a narrow causeway to the island.

Hiking, biking, horseback riding, and swimming in the lake

Contact Information
Antelope Island State Park
4528 West 1700 South
Syracuse, UT 84075

On the South side of the lake you’ll find remnants of former glory the Salt Aire.  Famous in the early 1900’s for balls, parties and even roller coasters.  Much of the area was destroyed by floods.  Now you can visit a small museum and venture out into the water if you dare.  This side of the lake has a lot of brine flies and gnats.  Unlike the Dead Sea, the Salt Lake has been introduced to brine shrimp also known as Sea Monkeys.

If you like Animals you may enjoy Hogle Zoo across from this is The Place Monument and Pioneer Village where people will dress up in period dress, or go to Provo and visit BYU Campus and visit the museum on campus to  see a real stuffed Liger.  Napoleon Dynamite was right, even take a day trip up to Preston if you’re a fan and stop by the city chambers office to get a map to locate his house, Pedro’s house and the Cuttin’ Corral.

7. Temple Square and the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir

The 1.4 million square foot LDS Conference Center seats 21,000 with not a bad seat in the house.  The organ has 7667 pipes!  The choir has over 360 members and sings every week they are not on tour in the longest running radio program in history… Music and the Spoken Word.  If you are in Jerusalem you can hear the pipe organ in the BYU Jerusalem Center.

Within walking distance of Temple Square you can visit the Beehive house (pictured above).  Home of Brigham Young, the first governor of Utah and Deseret and 2nd prophet of the LDS Church.  Visit the famous Christus, and answer for yourself if the Mormons believe in Jesus Christ.

The famous Salt Lake Temple is accompanied by two visitors centers where you can learn all about the history of the plight of the Saints who were expelled from the US, kicked out of Missouri and Illinois with an extermination order and later pursued by the largest US army ever assembled.  It’s all worked out.  In fact there are many Mormons in politics and in positions of power.  Mitt Romney, presidential nominee has a great shot at the white house.

In the Joseph Smith Building, Old Hotel Utah from the top floor you can see out over the Temple.  An incredible view, where I got engaged to my lovely wife.  The museum’s provide an amazing history of the settling of the West that is often overlooked.  As well, the visitors centers tell the story of faith and how this restored church of Jesus Christ sprung up in the 1830’s in upstate New York to a Church with 6 million Americans and over 14 million world wide.

Don’t miss the old Tabernacle and organ (pictured below).  Tours are available for free.  They’ll drop a pin and you won’t even struggle to hear it.  Incredible.

Be sure to stop by the Family History center, the largest of it’s kind in the world.  The majority of the worlds family history records are here in Salt Lake stored in a granite vault up little cotton wood canyon, but the records are indexed and available for search on http://familysearch.org or leverage the free help from volunteers ready and willing to help you do your family history.

6. Goblin Valley – filming location of Galaxy Quest.  I really love Goblin Valley.  It’s one where you can drive right up and be in another world.  The hoodoos are wind and rain shaped fairy chimneys.  They remind me a lot of Cappadocia region of Turkey.

As a young boy we met up with our cousins and hiked around following trails of flint.  We found a few small arrow heads and one large one.  What an incredible place to go rock hounding (outside the park of course).

Very narrow Slot canyon hike near Goblin Valley.  One of my favorite hikes is this narrow hike which completes nearly a full loop.  The water has carved out a narrow slot.  If it looks stormy at all, definitely avoid it.  You might avoid it if you have claustrophobia, but it’s amazing.  It can get hot during the highs of summer, be sure to carry water.

From I-70, exit onto Highway 24 and drive south for approximately 24 miles to the signed park turnoff

Activities
Sight seeing from the park overlook
Hiking among the goblins
Photography
Picnicking
Camping
ATV trails nearby
Mountain bike trails nearby
Slot canyons nearby

5. Bryce Canyon – Some of the most amazing vistas and canyons in the world.  You’ve heard of Grand Canyon, but this is something you should combine with that trip.

Bryce Canyon is fabulous.  It’s another place you can drive right up to incredible vistas, hop out take a bunch of photos and stop at a new view of a different part of the canyon and take in a completely different view that again will blow your mind.  You can do this for hours.  As well take a horse ride, ATVs, or hike on some of the most incredible ridges.  There are easy hikes and longer hikes… something for everyone.  You’ll definitely appreciate our world a lot more after seeing it like this.

This natural arch is just one of the stops you can do along the road through Bryce Canyon.

We’ve done family reunions in this area.  There are so many parks and outdoor things to do you can easily fill a week multiple times over.

4. Monument Valley – Near the four corners area where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada meet up are some incredible sunsets and majestic plateaus including easy day trips to Mesa Verde in Colorado.  Navajo Tribal park.

4. Zion – with nearly 3 million visitors a year this is Utah’s oldest and most famous National Park.  The park is known for its incredible canyons and spectacular views. Famous hikes including The Narrows, Subway, and Angels Landing attract adventure enthusiasts from around the world.  Memories of 72 hours should come to mind.  I was going to do Subway with my cousins this year.  It’s an 9.5 mile hike through narrows, complete hiking through rivers.

(Image courtesy americaswonderlands.com)

Read this description of the Subway hike “The mystical journey through the Left Fork of North Creek involves route finding, plunging cautiously into chilly pools then sloshing, sometimes frantically, through frigid water over and through difficult obstacles. The narrow Subway section of this hike forces hikers through a unique tunnel sculpted by the Left Fork of North Creek.”

3. Arches – You may have seen the world famous Delicate Arch, but Arches National Park contains the world’s largest concentration of natural stone arches. This National Park is a red, arid desert, punctuated with oddly eroded sandstone forms such as fins, pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, and arches. The 73,000-acre region has over 2,000 of these “miracles of nature.”  These are great day hikes.  If you want to do biking, driving, or off roading there are lots of options in this area.  Plan on staying in Moab and spend a few days in this area.

2. Temple Hopping – There are over a dozen temples across the state.  If you simply try to visit them all you’ll see some of the most amazing construction dedicated to God, and see a variety of different communities.

Pictured below is the Brigham City Temple currently under construction which will be open for visitors this is a very unique opportunity to see an LDS temple as visitors may only enter prior to it’s dedication unless you hold an LDS temple recommend which requires you live worthily and have a temple recommend interview with your Bishop and Stake President.

The Jordan River Temple – Looks like a rocket ship

As an interesting fact… The Logan Temple, The St George Temple, and the Manti temple were all finished prior to the Salt Lake Temple which took 40 years to complete as is still the largest temple of the more than 136 temples dotting the globe.

Is it a birthday cake or a spacecraft?  Provo will have 2 temples, the first city in the world.  The old Provo tabernacle is being converted into a temple after a fire and reconstruction.

For a list of the Utah Temples and for pictures visit the ldschurchtemples.org

Photo: Stopping by to see one of the temples that dot the wasatch

Brigham City Temple Taken 7/15/12

Information below from ldschurchtemples.org

Location: 250 South Main Street, Brigham City, Utah, United States.
Site:  3.14 acres.
Ordinance Rooms:  Two ordinance rooms (two-stage progressive) and three sealing.
Total Floor Area:  36,000 square feet.

Announcement:  3 October 2009
Groundbreaking and Site Dedication:  31 July 2010 by Boyd K. Packer
Public Open House:  18 August–15 September 2012
Dedication:  23 September 2012

Public Open House

The general public is invited to attend an open house (video invitation) of the Brigham City Utah Temple. Admission is free, but reservations are required.

Reservations:  Open house tickets will be made available beginning Monday, July 30, 2012, at 10:00 a.m. at templeopenhouse.lds.org.
Dates:  Saturday, August 18, through Saturday, September 15, 2012 (excluding Sundays and Saturday, September 8)

1. Mt Timpanogos

Take a cave tour in Timpanogos Caves.  Take a ranger led cave tour through a 1/3 mile with gravity defying helectites with all the famous formations on a 3 – 3.5 hr hike and cave exploration.  The cave is great.  There are more adventuresome cave splunking if you want to get off the beaten path.  That route requires advanced permission.

If you’re a hiker, then this is the hike for you.  Alpine lakes, Glaciers, Mountain goats, and wreckage of a B-25 air force jet, Timp is amazing.  It is a popular hike, but a great workout with a great payoff and one you can do in a day, but you’ll want to start early.

The Hike to the summit of Mount Timpanogos is 11,749′, the second highest in the Wasatch Mountains. Many consider the hike from the Timpooneke Trailhead to be the best hike in Utah. Reaching the summit will require 4-5 hours. The summit is 7.5 miles one-way with an elevation gain of 4580′ on a well-maintained trail.  There are a few scary parts if you’re afraid of heights, but the trail itself is not too technical.

Honorable mention:

Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument – Breathtaking views and panoramas… hiking, camping, climbing

Canyonlands – Rocky Spires, arches and canyons… Ruins and Petroglyphs of natives. hiking, biking, whitewater rafting and ATV

Salt Flats – Bonneville.  Great stop after seeing the Great Salt Lake.

Capitol Reef National Park – You’ll be getting into this when you go to Goblin Valley, my preferred spot

Cataract Canyon – whitewater rafting destination (see it when you do arches.  It’s near Moab)

Slick Rock Trail – 9 miles of rock path for mountain biking (excursion from Moab)

Consider day or overnight trips from St. George or Moab to the Grand Canyon from Park City you could go into Wyoming and even work your way up to Jackson Hole, and Yellowstone quite easily.

Petra Jordan Prehistoric Nabataean Caravan-city and Wonder of the World (4 of 7)

Petra Jordan the Treasury

The Treasury at Petra in Jordan

The Treasury in Petra, Jordan

When I left Microsoft in 2008, I was planning a major trip.  It was my first trip to the middle east, I was to speak in Dubai and Istanbul.  I reached out to my technical blog audience at the time and asked the question… Where should I go… Petra, Jerusalem, or the Pyramids?  A Facebook friend of mine from Jordan named Mo, responded… come to Jordan and we’ll take you to Petra and setup a meeting with our user group… and more!  I was crazy excited such a simple question could be answered so well. As well a blogger in Israel offered up a visit to Jerusalem and opportunity to speak at the User group in Tel Aviv.  What a great opportunity to visit the middle east and really see it from a local perspective.

When I laid out my plans originally I would spend a week between Jordan and Israel.  The first plan involved me flying between Amman and Tel Aviv, but my time in Jordan wasn’t enough to spend the time I wanted to at Petra, so I changed my plans to meet my Israeli friend Avi, at the border.

Amman is a fascinating city.  It is a great modern city, but has a great mix of the old as well.  The shops alone you get a mix of modern and ancient.  There are places were you can easily find people doing trades such as selling clothes, handicrafts, but my favorite is the food.  In Amman there is great humus, meats, and breads.  Some say a lot of the food has it’s roots in Lebanese food.  It’s common to start with finger foods and then work to the beef, and lamb.  You can also find great chicken and turkey.  No pork!

Very common to have big platters of food where you can decide what you want.

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

There are remnants of Rome, and old ruins throughout the city as well.  This Roman Amphitheatre dates back to the before the time of Christ and has some amazing acoustics.  I’m pictured here with my friend Mohammed Zayed from Microsoft, who helped setup a lot of my appointments in Amman, he kept me very busy, and personally made sure I was well taken care of and safe.

As well, there are lots of flavored smoke, Houka, hubbly bubbly, smoke shops for just hanging out and chatting.

For tourists I recommend the King’s car collection.  One of the best exotic car collections around. Bugatti’s, Ferraris, Rolls Royce, and more…

Well, after spending a couple of days with the technical community with a little tour here and there, and some great food.  I was ready to go see Petra.  I couldn’t wait!  My Jordanian friends suggested that I would really like to see the Dead Sea after all our meetings to relax… So I took their advice, and we headed for the Dead Sea.  Once we got there I covered myself head to toe… literally in Dead Sea Mud.

Dead Sea Mud
Dead Sea Mud

It was all the rage.  I did get some footage of a family getting all muddied up.

Having Fun with Dead Sea Mud

Being so close to the holy land it was fascinating to imagine that Moses, Jesus, Elijah, and so many of the ancient prophets use to walk these lands. My Muslim friends were so kind as to take me to the River Jordan where Christ was baptized, and the same river where Naaman was told to dip in the River Jordan 7 times in (2nd Kings) to be healed of Leaprosy.  You can see the milky muddy river wouldn’t be that appealing.  This little river is the border… right next to this platform is an armed guard, and right on the other side of those reeds is an Israeli fort with its flag waving.  I’m sure both sides were watching my move.  A catholic priest who was part of our tour group offered to baptize my Muslim friends.  Poor timing?

Waters of the River Jordan

After the Dead Sea, and Jordan River, we headed out toward the desert to go track down Petra.  We wanted to get into Petra the city and spend the night there to see it at first light.  That was a great recommendation… although the route was a bit challenging.  On the road, my friend got a flat tire.  We had a rough time getting the tire off, and while all of us, and the military that happened by couldn’t get it off, a couple of friendly neighborhood chicken farmers figured it out.  This one guy got under the car, and was kicking it so hard I was sure we was going to knock the jack out.  I thought he was going to get crushed.  I tried to stop him, and warn him, but he didn’t understand me.  It was through his efforts we got back on the road with a donut for a tire.

After a number of check stops it didn’t seem like we were getting any closer.  Hours passed, and we started getting to know each other better.  In this chatting, something came up about Palestinians.  What?  After being with these guys for the past few days I thought for sure they were Jordanians.  They were, but their Parents were displaced.  Their parents were refugees from Palestine and had built homes, and families and lives in Jordan.  Wow.  Amazing.  At first I was a little shocked, and scared, but that was simply a media response.  It wasn’t a year earlier I had been watching footage and hearing about what Palestinians teach their children about life.  It was my first experience with Palestinians and since I felt like I knew these guys I really wanted to know what their perspectives were.  It was extremely enlightening to hear how they both knew where their families homes were in Jerusalem.  They both were from the same neighborhood even.  They had different perspectives on the war and the post war effort of how things were dealt with.  I think that’s something that is often overlooked is the literally dozens of collective perspectives of how things are currently being dealt with and how best to end the occupation (as it is explained by most in the West Bank and Gaza), and how to arrive at peace.  While I didn’t have much of an opinion on this, I was eager to understand as much as I could.  I was after peace, and felt like the better educated I was, I could share what I had learned.  A few days later, I’d find out the perspective of my Jewish/Israeli friends, and again in Dubai with even more Jordanian and Palestinian friends, and a year or so later with friends in Egypt, and then even more in a visit to Ramallah.

There is still a lot of animosity.  Most wars end with clear lines and boundaries, and some kind of plan to work toward.  Instead there’s a lot of confusion, and neither side has found an arrangement that works for the other.  It’s a bad situation and the leadership on both sides of the last few decades hasn’t allowed it to work out for either side.  Those in the West Bank have tried very hard to make a better life for their families.  More on that in my blog on Palestine… to be written.

I’ve made a lot of Palestinian friends… My second trip to Jordan I had a whole crew that made a special trip to see me.  I was so touched by their sacrifice, I made a special effort to visit them.  There are some very special people and when you get to know them individually, you start putting stories to faces, and see different perspectives… it’s all eye opening and touching.

Evil Camel in Petra Jordan
Evil Camel in Petra Jordan

After driving into the desert and realizing this wasn’t the best idea with a donut on, we drove back to Amman and found another more direct route and arrived in Petra at around 5am.  We crashed on a couch at the Marriott, which was also the resort we used when we were putting on the mud.  It was great to see Marriott was doing so well. (I collect Marriott points.)  We washed up, and after some breakfast, we got entrance tickets and started down the canyon.  The sun was coming up, and we were alone as we arrived at the Treasury.  WOW!!! It was so amazing.  What an incredible building carved right into the stone, a building cut out of a cliff.

The Monastery at Petra Jordan
The Monastery at Petra Jordan

Petra was as amazing as it looks and as Indiana Jones makes it look.  It’s awesome.  Totally worth the trip.  Wish I could have spent more time exploring.

Walking up through the high walled canyon to Petra… as it is revealed

After seeing the Treasury, I really wanted to see the Monastery, but I knew it was a lot of hiking with steps involved.  I had very little time, since I was going to need to rush off to the border.  I was way behind, and I was fascinated by the Donkey ride idea so I talked my friends, one of them at least into riding Donkeys.  To this day, he won’t ride the donkeys to Petra.  It was a very scary dangerous ride up steps, on cliffs, with a saddle that looks like it could choke the poor little donkey.

Jordan Travel Tips:

1. You MUST see the Treasury.  That one is required.  The second best is the Monastery.  Once you arrive at the Monastery you should go and look at it from various points of view.  There are some great places to view it on the hills.

2. Early is best.  6am is the preferred time.  Ideally you want the experience of walking through the canyons and it seems dark because of the canyon walls, and as you walk out the sun is shining brightly on the Treasury.  Early light is best.  The crowds will come as the tour buses arrive and people start coming in on carriages and the routes fill up fast.  We didn’t see anyone when we first headed out, but on our way back the Treasury was packed with people and they had a hard time getting pictures without people in their pictures.

3. The Dead sea is worth it.  The MUD is amazing!  You should definitely try it.  The Sea doesn’t stink.  It is very relaxing and yes, you can float!  Very cool feeling.  Keep the water out of your ears and out of your eyes.  It burns like crazy.

4. The Jordan River did feel more authentic in the Jordanian natural setting than the one on the Israeli side.  In Israel they have a place where people line up to do baptisms, and groups gather to collect vials of water, and have spiritual experiences.  The Jordan side was not crowded.  There was an orthodox church, and you can ride in the back of a truck to see the ancient steps that show ancient proof that this could be where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.

While this footage doesn’t look that bad.  You can tell by my expressions that the cliffs and the steps are crazy on the back of a little donkey.

Insane Donkey Ride in Petra

If you’ve got the time, you don’t need to ride the Donkeys.  There were also camels… but it wasn’t my day for camels.  After my amazing tour of Petra, I flew in a taxi to the King Husain Bridge crossing where I’d find that I was crossing not directly into Israel, but into the West Bank…

Read more about my adventures in the Palestinian Territories & West Bank…