Worlds Largest Ancient Statue Leshan Buddha Statue and Giant Pandas of Chengdu


Chengdu is the old capital and is known for preserving the old ways.  When you think of Chengdu you should think Pandas and Giant Panda or Mount Emei one of the most holy mountains in China.  I was very blessed to see the Leshan Buddha as we saw it just two days after it finished a very long restoration. I was just there and the fantastic news is it’s now complete. I was lucky to visit when there were very few visitors due to the restoration project. The Leshan is a 71 meter or 233 ft tall stone statue, built between 713 and 803 (during the Tang dynasty). For scale comparison the giant sphinx in Egypt is 20m (66 feet) high, the Buddha is 3 times taller, the Colossus of Rhodes in Ancient Greece was 33 meters or half as tall and would have been destroyed about 60 years before the Leshan Buddha began construction. The Buddha is carved out of a cliff face of red sandstone that lies at the Min and Dadu River in the southern part of Sichuan province, right outside the city of Leshan. The stone sculpture faces Mount Emei, with the rivers flowing below its feet. It is the largest and tallest stone Buddha statue in the world and it is by far the tallest pre-modern statue in the world.

The Mount Emei Scenic Area, including Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.

The Best view is from the water, but it’s a quick trip…

Generally speaking, you can go to Leshan from Chengdu (about 2hrs’ driving), and the Giant Buddha first, then transfer to Emeishan City or the foot area of Mount Emei for accommodation. Have a day tour to the top of Mount Emei – Golden Summit, then descend the mountain, and drive or take a high speed train back to Chengdu. You can spend a lot of time in the area. There’s a buddha park right next door as well as the holy mountain Mount Emei so close nearby. It’s up to you how much time you spend.

You can even find the 170 meter long sleeping buddha… It’s hidden among the trees.

The Buddha park nearby which is a lot newer has some great carvings and a great hike with fantastic carvings.

This Standing Buddha is at least 4 stories high and in a cave.

We don’t even come up to the toe.

After a full day in Leshan, and after the ride back we were ready for Sichuan Hot Pot, a delicious popular local dish.

5. Chengdu Giant Panda Research Base

There are a few places to see the pandas in Chengdu, but that’s the place to go to see the Pandas. In Chengdu there are 3 main places to visit pandas. Out in the world there are fewer and fewer places that have the endangered pandas.

We spent half a day at the giant panda research base. We stood in a long line to take the shuttle to the back of the park and then we walked back visiting each of the panda stations with a focus on the youngest pandas. The Red Pandas were fantastic as well. The best Panda watching in the world is to be had in this area.

We saw dozens of Pandas and had as much time as we wanted with them. While we didn’t get to pet them as some have told in the past, those prices have skyrocketed. It also doesn’t make sense these days with potential spread of disease.

Red Pandas

The young pandas are so fun!

Thanks to China Highlights for putting together a simple map.

Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi’an China – Guards of the Largest Tomb in the World


The story of the Terra Cotta Warriors is an incredible one. I’ve been wanting to go to see the Terra Cotta warriors for years… since before my first trip to China.  Xi’an is a short 3 hour bullet train away from Beijing or you can take the overnight train and get there in about 12 hours… the flight is even quicker.  We ended up looking at all options.

Ying Zheng took the throne in 246 B.C. at the age of 13. By 221 B.C. he had unified a collection of warring kingdoms and took the name of Qin Shi Huang Di—the First Emperor of Qin. He is credited for the first version of the great wall. Beijing was not the capital of China at the time.

largest tomb in the world

The terra cotta warriors are the guards of the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi—he was the first emperor of China in 221 B.C.  The tomb itself has not yet been excavated due to mercury poison concerns, but understand this… it is the largest mega tomb in the world.

For almost four decades, archaeologists have been excavating the site. So far, they’ve uncovered about 2,000 clay soldiers, but experts estimate there are more than 8,000 in total.

For over 2000 years the story of the thousands of warriors and horses was lost to the world.  While the tomb was known, but was also known as extremely dangerous we didn’t know there were pits of thousands of warriors over a mile from the actual tomb of the emperor.  A group of farmers were digging a well when they came upon the greatest discovery of the century… if not since king Tut’s tomb… what they found was extraordinary underground treasure: an entire army of life-size terra cotta soldiers and horses, interred for more than 2,000 years. Over the past 35 years, archaeologists have located some many pits, a complex of underground vaults as yet largely unexcavated, across a 22-square-mile area. Some are hard to get to, but three major pits are easily accessible, enclosed inside the four-acre Museum of the Terracotta Army, constructed around the discovery site and opened in 1979. In one pit, long columns of warriors, reassembled from broken pieces, stand in formation. With their topknots or caps, their tunics or armored vests, their goatees or close-cropped beards, the soldiers exhibit an astonishing individuality. A second pit inside the museum demonstrates how they appeared when they were found: some stand upright, buried to their shoulders in soil. The third pit has horses and chariots made from bronze. Our guide explained there are many thousands of warriors and more that are purposely still buried that are filled with color that burns off in the days after it is exposed to the air. For this purpose they are waiting to unbury a large quantity of warriors and more. Read more about the history of the terra cotta warriors on Smithsonian magazine.

The Back of Pit #1

The warriors look different and there are different warriors indifferent groups with different skills and even different shoes.

Scientists work in pit #2 to uncover and put the warriors back together. Think about it… they’ve been doing this since 1979.

Meeting the man. This was the farmer who was digging the well in 1974 when he found the terra cotta warriors.  Still blows my mind.

In addition the actual tomb is still unexcavated. Imagine us saying we haven’t been inside the pyramids, and as well haven’t yet been inside King Tuts tomb. We know there are traps and danger with large amounts of mercury. “The tomb was filled with models of palaces, pavilions and offices as well as fine vessels, precious stones and rarities,” reads a translation of the text.

The account indicates the tomb contains replicas of the area’s rivers and streams made with mercury flowing to the sea through hills and mountains of bronze. Precious stones such as pearls are said to represent the sun, moon, and other stars. Modern tests on the tomb mound have revealed unusually high concentrations of mercury, lending credence to at least some of the historical account. Chinese archaeologists are also using remote-sensing technology to probe the tomb mound. The technique recently revealed an underground chamber with four stair like walls. An archaeologist working on the site told the Chinese press that the chamber may have been built for the soul of the emperor.”

Experimental pits dug around the tomb have revealed dancers, musicians, and acrobats full of life and caught in mid-performance, a sharp contrast to the military poses of the famous terra-cotta soldiers.

Pit #3

But further excavations of the main tomb itself are very very slow, at least for now.
I expect when China is really ready for tourism they will excavate the main pyramid. It will absolutely be the reveal of the century if not the mellenium. China has the largest pyramid in the world under wraps due to danger…. what would it take for them to decide it is worth the risk?!!

“It is best to keep the ancient tomb untouched, because of the complex conditions inside,” Duan Qinbao, a researcher with the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeology Institute, told the China Daily.

When will the world be ready for the mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in China, this UNESCO mausoleum was constructed over 38 years, from 246 to 208 BC, and is situated underneath a 76-meter-tall tomb mound shaped like a truncated pyramid

Gateway to Heaven Tianmen Mountain China


I had a fantastic spring break in China and saw some of the most amazing places on the planet. If you’ve never been to China. Now is the time to start dreaming. In this series I will share 7 Bucketlist level places in China. It was out of this world amazing.  Tianmen mountain is UNESCO world heritage.

#1 Heaven’s Gate or Tianmen Cave at Tianmen Mountain, Stairway to Heaven

A mountain with the world’s largest natural bridge or “cave” located within Tianmen Mountain National Park, Zhangjiajie, in the northwestern part of Hunan Province, China.  This UNESCO heritage mountain is ancient and has since been developed into an important pilgrimage including one of the world’s most interesting roads with 99 hairpin turns, a stairway to heaven with 999 steps or an alternative way to get to the portal to heaven by taking the escalator followed by a second escalator up to the top of the mountain which has 3 optional very affordable glass walkways, chairlift, and one of the longest cablecar like gondola rides down the mountain and through the city.

Stairway to Heaven… Portal to Heaven, Heavens gate.  My 9 year old and I and my sister in law walked up the 999 stairs as my wife and brother in law and his daughter took the series of escalators.  A half hour later both of us arrived around the same time at the top of the stairs.  

Tianmen mountain may seem like it’s all about the portal to heaven, but there are a lot more surprises including glass walkways, gondolas, and the longest sets of escalators you’ve ever been on (unless you went to Kiev).

The Magical Map of Tianmen Mountain.

The walkways hang on the edge of cliffs.  Beautiful, breathtaking, and as my wife says… you get use to it after a while.

Tianmen Glass walkway: note the booties…  Christine, pictured didn’t think she’d be able to handle the glass walkways, but really you do get used to it and it is amazing and a must see!  You feel like you’re invincible.

Looking down from the glass walkways at the 99 turn road that led up to the gateway.  The road is thousands of feet below.

The Mountain is rich with a variety of experiences:

  • 999 Steps up to Tianmen Cave the Stairway to Heaven
  • You can take an escalator or walk up the 999 Steps
  • 99 Turns up the mountain
  • 3 Glass walkways with booties
  • East Glass Walkway
  • Ghost Path
  • West Glass Walkway
  • Tianmen Cableway
  • Tianmen Mountain Temple
  • Cave of the Godess of Mercy

This post is in a series about our spring break trip to the most amazing places in China. Natural wonders, Pandas, the Terra Cotta Warriors and more!

Tracking THE Migration: Wildebeest Worlds Largest Migration in the World!


When I told my guide I wanted to see the the wildebeest migration he told me I’d see so many wildebeest I’d cry.  I was up for the challenge.  This wasn’t my first African Safari, so I knew I wasn’t going to be satisfied with a herd of a few hundred wildebeest.  The family I was with was up for everything.  The Serengeti and the Crater is clearly the best places in the world to see the diversity of the world’s last greatest animals like the lion, cheetah, elephant, hippo, rhino and so much more.

Wildebeest the great migration

Spoiler.  I got my moment.  I was completely surrounded by a herd of migrating wildebeest who were climbing all over each other falling into ravines and it took me to a moment when I was in southern Utah and saw billions of crickets crawling and consuming everything in their path a mile wide.  These wildebeests for a moment were the crickets and I was in that moment looking at them in god mode like they were a swarm of crickets.  Incredible life experience.

cricket swarm

What many don’t realize is it’s possible to see the Migration all year round.  The river crossings are from July to November, the huge herds in Serengeti in April to June and calving season with babies and predators from December to March.

wall to wall wildebeest

I was looking for moments where all I could see was wildebeest everywhere I looked.

Wildebeest in water

It’s sad how after a couple of days you start rooting for the predators and are hoping a crocodile is in the water.

Wildebeest migration dates

One major myth is it being hot.  We went in July and needed jackets some nights.  It was NOT hot, the weather was hotter at home.  If you were hoping to go before it became a major tourist destination, with major international tour companies, and fees like you were in a top park.  Too late.  The fees were quite disappointing.  Tanzania knows that the Serengeti is a major international destination and getting accommodations in the park for less than $200 per night are nearly impossible.  Just pulling up a random date the cheapest per night is $500 for the 28 properties near Serengeti.  Go check booking.com… I’m serious!   There are primitive camping options at around $150, but for the most part I found most accommodations are only accessible at reasonable rates only through tour companies.  These companies seem to have a monopoly on the prices.  If you’re thinking you’ll skip the tour and do the drive yourself after 5 days in the park I can tell you they’ve tightened it up so it’s next to impossible to do yourself.  The park fees are $50 per person per day, but included in trip costs if you go through a company.  The crater entrance fees $200 per vehicle.  Let me get off the topic of fees.  It’s not cheap, but please do your research.  This can be an epic trip, and very worthwhile.  It was two days into the trip that I found out from my driver if I went direct I would have had a better price, and here I thought I had the direct price.  We must have priced out 30 or more different outfitters.  I’ve seen prices commonly between 5K to 30K for a week for a comprehensive inclusive package.

Family in Serengeti Africa

Ultimately there were 9 of us with my wife and our 9 year old, my brother in law and his son, and my other brother in law his wife and 2 kids.  We elected to do 2 different big safari vehicles. 

Family in Serengeti Africa

My African Safari family – In the back is our guide. 

hippos

Yes those are hungry hippos in the background.  No they don’t have access to us there’s a 30 ft cliff behind us.

06 Days/5 nights Tanzania Serengeti & Ngorongo Crater Safari

Day 1: Arusha Lake Manyara National Park Pick up from Arusha
Drive to Lake Manyara with picnic lunch .Arrive and start game
viewing later check out of the park and drive to Karatu .
Dinner and overnight at Country lodge/Eileen tree in/Crater rim
lodge.

Mad baby elephant

You never know when a young elephant might jump out of the forest and be a little upset that you cut her off from her mommy.  Let me tell you… they aren’t afraid of cars.

Day 2- Karatu- Serengeti
Depart for Serengeti after breakfast, with picnic lunches, you
will drive via Ngorongoro conservation area. Arrive at the park and
start your game viewing. Later drive to Ikoma/katikati for dinner and
overnight.

Leopard lookout

Of course you start tracking the big 5.  The Leopards are beautiful.

Sunset in serengeti

Driving nearly all day tracking animals went by quickly, and the sunsets were spectacular!

Giraffe at sunset

Even better when a giraffe would pose.

Day 3- Serengeti Full day
Spend this day with game drives within the Great Serengeti.
Serengeti is the home to Africa’s Big Five. There will be picnic lunch.
Dinner and overnight at the ikoma Camp

Disney in real life simba

This is Disney in REAL LIFE!  Simba headed out on the edge of the rock.  Circle of life!  Hakuna Matata

(Contact me joel.oleson@gmail.com for use of any of the photos.  A couple of them are my nephews.)

Day 4: Serengeti – Transfer to Ngorongoro After breakfast, depart
for Ngorongoro Crater passing through Olduvai Gorge. Enjoy an
introductory game drive as you arrive at the crater as you head to the lodge.
There will be no other game drive so spend the remaining hours at
leisure enjoying walking around the surrounding areas and exploring the
lodge’s facilities. Dinner and overnight at the Rhino
lodge/Country Lodge

Lion in tall grass

Ngorongoro is quiet unique as its physical protection from man
natural beauty ranks it among the most pristine wilderness on the earth.
It has been also declared the world heritage and is the largest
intact crater in the world.

Ngorongo Crater

rhinos in grass

The crater didn’t disappoint on providing the illusive black rhino as well.

Day 5: Ngorongoro Crater Full day
After breakfast, check out of the lodge with packed picnic lunch
and depart for a tour of the crater floor, which is home to numerous
plains game and the big five. Spend the day within the crater and
have lunch at one of the famous picnic spots in the park. In the
evening you will return to the lodge which is strategically perched on the
rim of the collapsed volcano, with the most magnificent views of the
crater floor.Dinner and overnight at the Eileen trees camp/Crate rim

image

running hyena

leopord in tree

chetah

lion hunt

For the most part by day 5 we were already saying we’ve seen enough of the antelope, elephants, and we’ve clearly found the big 5.  Let’s track leopards, lions or cheetahs and see them land a kill.  We weren’t disappointed, we caught a very interesting hunt of a four male lions tracking a female lioness who was hunting a water buffalo.

Day 6: Ngorongoro Crater Arusha.
After breakfast at the hotel depart and drive to Arusha. Drop off.

savanah

No one told this young one she was in the wrong place.

PRICE BASED ON USE 4X4 SAFARI LAND CRUISERS.
Price per vehicle @ $ 2,150 x 2 vehicles = $ 4,300
Per per adult @ $ 950 x 6 adults = $5700
Per per child 16 yrs. old @ $ 780
Per per child 7, 9 yrs. old @ $ 595 x 2children= 1190
TOTAL $ 11,970

So for my share it was around $3,785 for the 3 of us for 6 nights and 5 days all inclusive.

hyena

SAFARI QUOTATION INCLUDES:
Accommodation on Full board basis on safari.
Ground transportation in a private 7-seater Safari 4×4 safari Land
cruiser in Tanzania driven by a professional driver/guide Game drives
and park entry fees.
Mineral water during game drives only 1 litre bottle per person per day

EXCLUDES:
x Arrival Airport Transfer
× Visas (currently US$ 50 per person)
× Cost of international and Local Flights
× Inoculations and personal insurance
× Beverages unless stated otherwise

× Gratuities/guide tips to Hotel/Lodge staff
× Laundry and other personal expenses

monkey on roof

Of course the animals don’t know where the wild ends and the homes are.  In fact most of the lodges we stayed at warned us not to wander at night.  There were no fences around the camps.  In most camps we had armed guards who stayed up late chasing off animals or potential predators that wandered into camp, but the monkeys didn’t care.

boy with wildebeests

Our vehicles do have the pop top which was extremely handy and we ended up using it A LOT!

trekking the serengeti

Make sure you bring a good camera.  The photos you see in my blog here are all from an iphone.  Imagine what they’d be with an SLR.

Horny lion

Horny lion

You do get quite close to the wild life and the exhilaration you experience when you see a lion chasing it’s game is incredible!

Ostrich

Africa has some incredible animals and to imagine them all in such a short distance is pretty mind blowing.

Masai culture

Don’t let the animals be the only reason you want to visit Africa.  As a traveler the cultures of the tribes are easily what keeps me coming back for more.  There’s so much we can learn, and increase in our perspectives by learning from each other.  The Masai tribes were extremely welcoming.  They had a very formal way of receiving us into their village, with traditional greetings, jumping and dancing, and showing us their arts and crafts and then taking us into their homes.

Jumping Masai

  It’s not without a price these days, but if you get past that part, it’s a fascinating journey and your funds are shared among the whole tribe.  We were told our money was going to go for medicine for the cows.  Having visited the school of the village, I was happy to share that and more.  We left books and school supplies that we had purposely brought with us in extra bags.

Zanzibar

If you end up planning a trip something like this.  I highly recommend what I call a detox in Zanzibar.  Go relax in Zanzibar, go to the night markets and relax on the beach.  There’s the best food of Tanzania is in Zanzibar.  Very easy to find great food on the island, and the pace is perfect for relaxing as well stone town has some fantastic culture, history, and feels a little less like that extremes of tons of tourists or primitive… lots of great deals to be had on Zanzibar.  I really enjoyed taking in the culture and spices of the island.

Thanks for sharing my journey! 

Lion attacking baby rhino

I’m not selling anything.  If you are curious who I used reach out to Edward Massawe I asked Edward how people can reach out.  He says “Hello Joel! Jambo? Hope all is good with you my friend!! Here is my email address edwardtz@ymail.com, or WhatsApp me at +255 763 122 626.”  He was our driver who said he could even do better direct.  He recently posted on Facebook how he saved the life of a baby rhino with some other drivers.  He’s got some fascinating tales from Leopards inside the vehicle… stories you’d never believe!

(Note the photo above is from Edward’s friend posted to his Facebook page.)

Natural Wonders of the World – Underground River of Puerto Princesa


Philippines is hidding a real gem.  In fact, scratch that, they are hiding some of the most amazing islands for vacation in the world.  I’ve been to the main island a couple of times, but it was this intentional visit to go see the 7 natural wonders of the world that brought me to the little gem of an island of Palawan.  Puerto Princesa Underground River started with a motor boat ride to the nearby beach to an outfitter to provide us with smaller boats bright mandatory big orange life jackets and shiny hard hat helmets. 

The puerto princesa national park is a limestone karst mountain landscape. The actual St. Pauls Underground River Cave is more than 24 km (15 mi) long and contains an 8.2 km (5.1 mi) long underground section of the Cabayugan River. The river system of the cave flows into the West Philippine Sea and is navigable by boat up to 4.3 km (2.7 mi) in from the entrance. The cave includes major formations of stalactites and stalagmites, and several large chambers, including the 360-meter-long Italian’s Chamber with approximate 2.5 million square meters of volume making it one of the largest cave rooms in the world.

20170928_013615125_iOS

Tourists getting ready to enter the cave

image

Just inside the cave system

20170928_003216009_iOS

On the first boat headed to the beach with the smaller boats

20170927_093810602_iOS

The island of Palawan has many uniquely styled canoe boats designed to move quickly over the water

20170927_082142785_iOS

The boat captains love and live on the water.  It is life.

image

Bats, snakes, birds, there’s a lot of life going in and out of the caves.

20170927_104239990_iOS

Chili crab.  Some of the best food on a banana leaf.

20170927_093637067_iOS

The boats are a very important part of life on Palawan island

20170928_055915304_iOS

I stand back to back with our guide and she’s next to one of the indigenous oldest elders.  They are known as pygmy people due to their height.

20170928_055705920_iOS

Palawan not only has an underground river cave system, but also native tribes!  This friendly looking tribe recently emerged from the forest.  They danced with us and taught us about their mythologies and shared traditions.  A young guide who is from another nearby tribe can speak their language and helped us communicate with them.   The young ones are now attending a school built right next to the huts, the teacher resides nearby.

20170928_055604029_iOS

There are 70 indigenous peoples and the Bataks are thought to come from Asia 50,000 years ago.   The island of Palawan, the largest province in the Philippines, is home to several indigenous ethnolinguistic groups namely, the Kagayanen, Tagbanwa, Palawano, Taaw’t Bato, Molbog and the Batak tribes. They live in remote villages in the mountains and coastal areas.  We drove as far as we could and then walked across 6 streams to this remote village.  We visited this small tribe of about 17 individuals, some of the last of the Batak tribe.  The Batak tribe is a group of indigenous people who reside in the rugged interiors of the northeast portion of the province of Palawan. These group of people lives close to nature and are extremely peaceful and shy, traditionally they believe in nature spirits with whom they communicate with through the aid of a shaman. At present, there are only about 500, or less, Batak people remaining in the Philippines.  This group is now Christian and preferred not to talk about the old beliefs, but did tell us how much their lives changed when they found rice.  It was rice ultimately that drove them from hiding in the forest to coming out and coexisting with the other people.

Colosseum Ampitheatre of the Roman Empire – 7 New Wonders


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

Angel Falls Venezuela – World’s Tallest Waterfall

Angel Falls - World's Tallest Waterfall

One of the biggest adventures in my life included a recent trip to Angel Falls.  Angel Falls is very deep in Venezuela.  First there was getting to Venezuela.  The cheapest way we found was to go through Curacao.  With a friend we arranged an overnight van transport from Caracas to Ciudad Bolivar airport, and from there we flew on a small plane to Canaima, the absolute edge of any sort of civilization.  The area we flew into is a crossways of a number of Amerindian tribes where the river is the road.  From that point we met up with our native guides.  At the local market, call it arrivals and departures where I saw a native wearing a loin cloth.  We were really out there.  After jumping on an army transport vehicle we went up stream past a big waterfall to get in our hollowed out canoe.

1369060_10151941642663783_573517398_n

I had heard we were up for a four hour canoe ride, what I didn’t know was that it was going to be four hours of white water on a hollowed out canoe with a motor!  This wasn’t a motor boat.  This was a native boat turned into a motor boat.  We stuffed all of our stuff for 2 days plus our group of 10 and our two native guides.  The first wave, I thought we were going over.  I think the canoe was even more rocky than you’re average canoe.  We were literally in a log that as hollowed out.  It didn’t feel very steady.  Our guides knew it.  If we put our hands on the side of the canoe it was enough to throw off the equilibrium.  Ask anyone who rode in our canoe, during the first couple of hours they had to yell at us every few minutes to make sure we kept a low center of gravity.  Getting bashed by cold waves over and over did much to make us listen to every warning from our guides.

Land of the Lost

Land of the lost… A view of Angel Falls from the other side of the river where we were camping… we woke up to this.

There wasn’t anything on our cold soaked bodies that was dry.  I had prune hands and feet by the time we reached our destination 4 hours up the river.  I later learned the conditions were right for us to make such good time.  The river was high due to lots of rain.  What I missed out on mentioning was the fact that as we sped up the river getting drenched with whitewater, we saw some of the most incredible views of waterfalls coming down from high plateaus rising up from the plains.  The terrain changed from sparse forest to thick dense jungle.

1291527_10151941614353783_1666151117_n

Our guides informed us that the peninsula we saw was over 700 Sq Km at the top and rises over 3000 meters from the ground to the top.  The terrain itself is a thing of stories.  From the stories of a land where dinosaurs still live to a place where an old man flies his house on balloons.  It was also part of the stories of El Dorado in search of the cities of gold.  This place is so inaccessible, it is the place of stories.

Angel Falls Venezuela

Angel Falls Venezuela Mirador Salto Angel

The reveal of the world’s tallest waterfall was scintillating.  When I realized what it was and had it confirmed by our guides, our boat was a flutter with video, cameras and phones clicking snapping as we all hoped the waves would stay at bay while we got shots of a lifetime.  Within minutes the boat stopped, and we started a hike across streams and small rivers up the mountain toward a vantage point to see the best of Angel Falls.  A five mile hike with wet feet and wet clothes.  My friend Michael did the hike barefoot as his flip flops broke early on.  I was wearing knock off crocks that I bought for about the equivalent of $5 back in the camp.  It worked out for me.  The hike was pretty wild.  I was looking for jaguars and monkeys, but ultimately I missed seeing any significant wild life.  On the way down, the trail got darker and darker.  Most of the group had head lamps.  Despite the new batteries I put in it, they were dead when I found it at the bottom of my bag and the light was switched to on.  I wouldn’t find out until our guide brought down the last group that he saw a 3 meter (10 feet) long boa constrictor!

That night we slept on a dozen hammocks slung up next to each other displayed in what looked like a wedding chapel.  Swinging just a little, you’d bump into you’re neighbor and we were a cozy bunch… That is until the next morning when I found out that I slept like a log when I laid down.  Apparently I was snoring (I hadn’t really slept in two days) and made it a bit of a challenge for a few of my new friends… which made it a bit uncomfortable over the next couple of days.  I guess the snoring was a bit of a joke in camp.  It kind of felt like a summer camp after 3 days with these folks.

I’d like to share more of our experience on this trip, but I don’t want to detract from the falls… What an amazing falls.  After we got back down closer to canaima we had the opportunity to do some smaller hikes including one behind a HUGE waterfall. That as well was truly incredible.  Another night on hammocks with the option of a room or bed… I think I got bit by something even though I was sleeping in a mosquito net.  Strange.

The final day we had the option of taking a little flight up around the falls.  Doing the fuzzy math with the cheaper exchange rate, it came to around $50 to go fly in a 6 seat plane around Angel Falls.  I convinced my friends we should do it.  Another amazing add-on and this was the best $50 spent in a really long time.  It was incredible.

After we got up we had some amazing views of the falls.  With four passes, twice each window and a rainbow, and a different view each time… we got some amazing shots!

1231230_10151940569408783_461482637_o flying over Auyantepui

Flying over Auyantepui and the great Cataract – Angel Falls, named for a pilot from Missouri who crash landed his plane on top of Auyantepui

Overall I really loved the little plane flight.  It gave me a real appreciation for how high up we were and provided the chance to really gain another vantage point otherwise impossible.  It made me think about the history and discovery of this area of the world from the European perspective.  There is some fascinating stories about the history and discovery with Jimmy Angel and his search for Gold and Diamonds… Can you believe that they didn’t believe him when he told the stories of a fall that fell 1KM

1186439_10151940571233783_1586435479_o (1)

More stories to tell… but I really want to get these amazing pictures shared… We walked behind this falls!

More later…

Taj Mahal of Agra India – New 7 Wonders of the World

Taj Mahal Mausoleum in India

My trek through India was truly EPIC.  One of the most interesting and amazing trips.  The assault on the senses was so intense fascinating world of spice.  Some of the oldest cities on the earth are in India.  India is the second most populated country in the world, but driving across the country you wouldn’t know it. The Indus of 3000 BC had a written language, a complex society.  In a country with 1.2 Billion people with one of the richest cultural destinations in the world, I highly recommend India for the adventure seeker, the world traveler, and for those looking to find themselves.  The eat pray love movie suggested that Bali and India are great destinations for getting at your soul.  Trying to find your inner being.  I agree.  India is fantastic, and the wonder the Taj Mahal is the most impressive display of love in the world.  You haven’t seen India, until you’ve seen it the way I have.

Incredible India

This post is in an Adventure Travel Series on the “New 7 Wonders of the World”

Bikaner Holy Rats

I wrote about my experiences with the holy rats of Bikiner.  That one incident was culture shock like no other.  I definitely dove head first and loved it.  I throw out everything I have ever known about rats, and listen to the kids and humble followers that told me to remove my shoes and walk among the rats barefoot.  They say no one has ever even gotten sick from these special rats.  Hundreds, thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of rats in the temple.  That was my real introduction to India and while an extreme it prepared me for what I would experience through the nearly 5000KM trip across India and ultimately to Kathmandu, Nepal and up into the Himalayas and up around Mt Everest.

9333_164263298782_6697582_n

The Gates of Jodhpur, the Pink City

Three dips in the Ganges the dirtiest but holiest river in the world as well, was a fascinating experience that made me really consider the healing effects of water and help me appreciate and respect the faith of all people.

Amazing old city of Varansi

The Gattes… steps to the Holy Ganges river

The Gattes of the Ganges

As these men hosed down the steps into the water, not far pilgrims were drinking the holy water

Floating in the Ganges

Dipping in the Silty powerful Holy Ganges River

We drove nearly straight for 3 days across the Rajasthan province of north western India through the the most amazing cities of Jaipur (The Pink City) and Jodhpur (The Blue City) [map].

mehrangarh fort in jodhpur

Mehrangarh Fort high on the high on the hill in Jodhpur

Jodhpur Blue City

Above Jodhpur the Blue City!

Jaipur Floating Palace

Floating Palace near Jaipur

It was after seeing these awesome examples of great kingdom with palaces and forts, that I arrived in Agra the home of the Taj Mahal.  I had already been in India for about a week by the time I arrived.  We parked outside of the site, and walked.  It was a pretty good hike.  In our visits across Agra and even in the south in Pune and Chennai we hadn’t seen many tourists, but here we weren’t alone.  Here we across our trip we saw more tourists than we had seen in total.  I try to avoid tourist spots, but I also have to see the wonders of the world.  They draw me in.

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal Mosleum – Designed for the Favorite Wife of the Emperor Shah Jahan built in 1632–1648 as a tomb

What%2520a%2520moustache

India has such a rich culture.  Amazing people filled with joy, sadness, and a rich history.

From Taj Mahal, side buildings at Sundown

Watching sundown from the Taj Mahal

World UNESCO Heritage, Wonder of the World, as a true legend of eternal love of an Emperor for his favorite Queen!  It is an amazing story.

Though he spent much of his time subduing Hindu kingdoms to the south, Shah Jahan left behind the colossal monuments of the Mughal empire, including the Taj Mahal (his favorite wife’s tomb), the Pearl Mosque, the Royal Mosque, and the Red Fort. The Taj is an immense mausoleum of white marble, built in Agra between 1631 and 1648 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife.  It is the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.

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.

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.