Itinerary #3 – Summit Half Dome

Photo Credit: Ansel Adams

Today’s itinerary is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and tentatively have scheduled for my 10 year wedding anniversary — I still have a couple years to convince the better half.

Fly into San Francisco, rent a car and make your east to Yosemite National Park.

Photo Credit: Ansel Adams

Half Dome is one of the most recognizable rock formations in Yosemite National Park, the granite dome rises almost 4,800 ft from the valley floor, and close to 8,800 ft above sea level. The park offers a trail that snakes it way from the valley floor to the summit and can be completed in a solid day of hiking.  The trail is about 14 miles roundtrip and can take up to 10-12 hours to complete, with an elevation gain of 4,800 ft.  I’m planning on doing a bit of training before taking on this challenge.

Photo Credit: Sierra Journal

One of the highlights of the Half Dome hike is the final ascent which is done with the aid of steel cables on either side of you.  The cable section is a 400 metre climb to the summit.  One recommendation I’ve seen mentioned frequently is to bring gloves for this section.

In 2010, Yosemite introduced a permit system for the Half Dome hike because there was too much traffic on the trail.  The park currently allows 400 hikers daily on the trail, before the permits they were seeing an average of 800 hikers on the weekends.  The process has changed over the 2 years and it is now a lottery system that starts in March. So even if you’re thinking of doing the hike in August, you’ll need to enter the permit lottery in March.  Keep this in mind when planning this trip.  Go here to enter the lottery.

Things to bring on the hike – well worn hiking boots, lots of water – I’d recommend a camelback which makes for easy access while walking along, and a warmer layer as the temperature can change dramatically as you leave the valley floor behind.

Accommodation – I plan on staying in Curry Village which offers very rustic cabins, this way you don’t need to bring a tent & camping gear.  The village is located in the park and is also close to the trailhead for the Half Dome hike.

Food – Stock up at a grocery store before entering the park.  There are restaurants located in the park as well.

Ansel Adams

I’d recommend staying at least 3 days in Yosemite, 1 day for the Half Dome hike and a couple more for discovering the many breathtaking vistas.  Make sure to have your camera fully charged and allow your inner Ansel Adams to reveal himself.

Now, if I’m going to make this fly as an anniversary trip I would plan on finishing my week with a few days in Napa Valley at a nice resort & spa.  To take some time to recover from the hike with good wine, good food and a massage.

Photo Credit: Ansel Adams

Here’s a few tunes I would have on my iPod for this trip.

  1. California Stars – Wilco
  2. Mountain Sound – Of Monsters and Men
  3. At Dawn – My Morning Jacket
  4. The Weight – The Band
  5. That Western Skyline – Dawes
  6. Hard Sun – Eddie Vedder
  7.  Truckin’ – The Grateful Dead
  8. Heart of Gold – Neil Young
  9. Going to California – Led Zeppelin
  10. Vesuvius – Sufjan Stevens

Koh Tao is Best Below the Surface

If you’re heading to Thailand and are a scuba diver or have always wanted to get certified, you need to add Koh Tao to your itinerary.  The island is in the Gulf of Thailand and can be reached only by ferry from Koh Samui or Koh Phangan.

It’s a beautiful island with only one major town which is where the ferry arrives, other parts of the island are uninhabited and can only be accessed by ATV’s or dirt bikes.  The main reason that it attracts travellers is for the scuba diving.  The water is very clear and there is an abundance of marine life.

When you arrive and walk into the town of Sai Ree, you’ll notice dive shops everywhere offering daily dives as well as PADI open water certification courses.  Since there are so many dive operators on the island the course price is basically the same no matter which one you choose, and it’s a lot cheaper than doing the same course at home.

When selecting a dive operator, one perk that may interest you is that some will offer free accommodation at the dive resort while you are taking the open water course.

The big player on the island is definitely Ban’s Diving Resort, you’ll see their boats loaded down with lots of new divers.  I highly recommend Sunshine Divers, it’s a small resort located on the southern part of the island away from the main town/beach.  My accommodation was free since I took my open water course with them. You don’t need to worry about transportation as the resort will drive you to the boat and pick you up each day. There’s a restaurant at the resort, as well as many others within walking distance.

The dive spots are incredible, the visibility is endless and you’re guaranteed to see some amazing coral reefs and a variety of tropical fish.  So, if you’re a diver or want to be a diver definitely take the ferry ride to Koh Tao when in Thailand.

Here’s a couple of the dive spots:

Mango Bay, Koh Tao

Twin Peaks, Koh Tao

Itinerary #2 – Learn to Surf in Portugal

You may not think of Portugal as a typical surf destination, but it’s actually a great place to learn the sport or ride a record breaking monster wave. Check it out:

Fly into Faro, Portugal which is along the southern coast of the country on the Atlantic ocean.  Make your way to the city of Lagos, either by bus, train or renting a car.  It’s an old fortified city and is also a central location to the different surf spots in the area and has lots of surf shops/schools for you to choose from.  One week here should be enough time to go from a beginner to riding your first green waves.

There are some really nice beaches around the city where you can swim and work on your tan.  A lot of the beaches are beautiful coves backed by towering cliffs, definitely check out Praia Dona Ana.

Accommodation – Most of the surf schools have a place to stay as part of their surf packages.  This is a great way to meet other people from all over the world, as well you’ll get to know your instructors really well.  Here are some of the surf schools you could go with: The Surf Experience, Lagos Surf Center, Algarve Surf School

The surf spots in the Lagos area have very consistent waves and are almost always uncrowded which is great for beginners.  In other words, this is a great place to learn, or if you’re already a surfer a great place to visit.

Food – there’s lots of choice in Lagos, the streets are lined with bars and restaurants.  The main dish is definitely seafood, but if that doesn’t appeal to you there are alternatives -Italian restaurants offering pasta options, and there’s even an irish pub that you should definitely check out – Mullen’s Bar.  Also, in the main square there’s Mamma Mia which is a great spot for pizza.

If you’ve got a day to explore the area, you should make your way to Sagres which is at the southwestern tip of the country.  There is a fort at the end of the peninsula which you can visit and the vistas are breathtaking as the angry Atlantic smashes into the surrounding cliffs.  It kinda reminds me of the limbo world from Inception, where the buildings are falling into the ocean, it has that kind of a vibe.

Lagos is a great place to learn how to surf because of the surf conditions and the uncrowded beaches, you won’t get beat up for dropping in on someone else’s wave like Keanu in Point Break cause there won’t be anyone else in the water. You’ll also save quite a bit of money in food & accommodation by visiting here compared to more traditional European surf spots like San Sebastian, Spain and Biarritz, France.

Here’s some tunes that you should have on your playlist for this trip:

  1. Summertime Clothes – Animal Collective
  2. That’s Too Bad (Byron Jam) – Donovan Frankenreiter
  3. Miles Davis & The Cool – The Gaslight Anthem
  4. At or With Me – Jack Johnson
  5. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) – Jimi Hendrix
  6. Oceans – Pearl Jam
  7. The Zephyr Song – Red Hot Chilli Peppers
  8. Badfish – Sublime
  9. One Big Holiday – My Morning Jacket
  10. Festival – Sigur Ros

A Fab Day in Liverpool

“Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes, there beneath the blue suburban skies”

If I had one day in Liverpool, England to soak in as much Beatle lore as possible this is what I would do:

Mendips – the childhood home of John Lennon, this is the home where John grew up with his Aunt Mimi.  The home is now owned by the National Trust who offer tours of the home, this is something you’ll want to book well ahead of time.

20 Forthlin Road – the childhood home of Paul McCartney, similar to Lennon’s house, visits can be reserved through the National Trust.  It was in Paul’s home where John & Paul worked on writing many of those early songs together.

Strawberry Field – the Salvation Army used to have a children’s home here and it was very close to where John grew up, he used to play in the woods on the property with his friends. John’s song ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was inspired by his childhood memories here.

Penny Lane – Paul immortalized this street in his nostalgic song of the same name.  Paul & John would often meet up on Penny Lane and catch the bus into the city centre.

St. Peter’s Church – on a summer day in July 1957, Paul was introduced to John at a church dance where John’s band The Quarrymen were playing.  Paul impressed John with his musical chops, was asked to join the band, and the rest is history.  Also, the church graveyard is home to Eleanor Rigby’s grave.

The Cavern Club – this is the bar/music venue where The Beatles started to play on a regular basis after returning from their time in Hamburg.  The club is still open, so I’d end my sightseeing here with a couple pints and some live music.

If there was time, I’d also visit George’s childhood home….sorry Ringo!

 A great biopic that captures the story of John’s childhood and the beginning of the band in Liverpool is Nowhere Boy, check out the trailer.

Remembering MCA

When Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch passed away last week, in a strange way it was like losing a friend.  The Beastie Boys had been my soundtrack as a teenager, starting with the Ill Communication album.  I got the album through Columbia House, remember the 8 CDs for a penny deal.  Then Hello Nasty dropped in ’98, my friend got it on vinyl, and some days after school we would just sit in his room and spin it till dinner time.

The Beasties’ rhymes are party-friendly, funny & bizarre, but even within that context MCA was able to raise issues that needed to be addressed. Whether it be advocating equality and respect for women or bringing attention to the oppression of the Tibetan people under China’s rule, these messages just made the music stronger.

As I was reflecting on Adam’s passing, I thought of another band that made a huge impression on me a few years before the Beastie Boys.

That same friend and I used to sit in my basement almost every day after school playing Super Nintendo and listening to The Beatles – Live at the BBC double album and Sgt. Pepper’s over and over.

This post was originally titled ‘A Fab Day in Liverpool’ and was going to be about Beatles sights in Liverpool, that post will come tomorrow.

RIP Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch

Nothing beats Beerlao

From your travels around the world or from a well-stocked bar or beer store at home, what’s that one beer that makes all others pale in comparison?

For me, I have to go with Beerlao.  I think it was the mix of hot humid Laotian weather, the clean crisp taste, the size of the bottle (640ml), and the price ($1.50USD).  Unfortunately, it’s not exported to Canada yet so I’ll just have to get my self back to the sleepy country of Laos.

Here I am enjoying this fine product in one of my favourite towns, Vang Vieng, which is home to inner tube floating on the Nam Song river and illegal drugs on restaurant menus.  Two things that should never be mixed together.

Let me know your favourite beers from around the world!

Itinerary #1 – 2 Weeks in Hawaii

Here we go with my first trip itinerary for 2 weeks in Hawaii.  I decided to go with 2 islands (Oahu & Maui) for a week each, because I want the trip to be relaxing but still offer a variety of things to do & see.  I’m not paid by hotels or restaurants, these are just my recommendations for a great experience in the Aloha state.

Let’s start with 7 days in Oahu.  You’ll fly into Honolulu and it’s likely been a long flight so you can start the trip by spending 3-4 days in the Waikiki Beach area.

Accommodations in Waikiki – there is a plethora of hotels in Waikiki within walking distance to the beach.  For a luxurious experience, I’d stay at the Moana Surfrider hotel, it’s a Westin hotel and is located right on the beach in the heart of Waikiki.  It has old world charm but with all the modern amenities you could want.  For those of you looking for something with a lower price point, there are lots of options in Waikiki, but I would recommend the Aston Waikiki Beach hotel it’s located at the Diamond Head end of the beach and has a really funky feel — lots of bright tropical colours and teak in the rooms.  They offer a free breakfast and provide lunch bags so you can pack up your breakfast and get out to the beach or out to other parts of the island right away.

Dining in Waikiki – like hotels there are lots of restaurants to choose from.  Here are a few of my recommendations:

Duke’s Waikiki, named after Hawaii’s first famous surfer who introduced the sport to the rest of the world.  The food is really good here, and if you can, try to get a table outside on the patio which looks out to the ocean.  Most evenings have a live band playing oldies as well as traditional Hawaiian songs.

Jimmy Buffett has a restaurant in Waikiki at the Beachcomber hotel.  The food is same as what is served at his Margaritaville chain.  There are some great food and drink specials at happy hour depending on what day of the week you visit.

Another great restaurant that’s a little classier is Roy’s, there is one located in Waikiki, and the original one is located in Hawaii Kai which is a 20min drive from Waikiki.  Roy’s offers a lot of great fresh seafood as well as traditional Hawaiian cuisine.  If you’re in Hawaii for a special occasion, I would highly recommend you make a reservation at Roy’s.

Activities in the Waikiki Area – the main attraction here is of course the beach which has calm water which is good for kids, as well as a small consistent beach break for those who want to try surfing.  It’s a beautiful beach with the Diamond Head volcano at the southern end. You’ll notice ‘beach boys’ standing beside a pile of surfboards who would be more than happy to rent you a board or give you a lesson for a negotiated price.  The main street that runs parallel with the beach has lots of shopping options when you need a break from the sun.

Here are 3 essential things you should do while in the Waikiki area:

1) Spend at least half a day at Hanauma Bay Marine Park, it’s a protected marine reserve that offers the best snorkelling on Oahu.  There is a fee for a day pass and you must watch a video on marine conservation and how to treat the reef while you’re snorkelling.  Get here early as the parking lot fills up fast and there can be lines for the movie viewing.  Once you get in the water and swim past the kids into the deeper water, the marine life is abundant.  You’ll likely see sea turtles, schools of tropical fish and lots of coral.

2) Pay your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbour.  This is a major attraction, and the lineups can be enormous – get here early! There is a museum with artifacts from the Pearl Harbour attack and a video explaining what took place that day – with a focus on the sinking of the USS Arizona.  It took a direct hit and sunk immediately trapping most of the crew inside.  You’ll board a boat that will take you into the harbour, on your way to the memorial you’ll see signs for the other boats that lay at the bottom.  The memorial is a floating platform that lies right over top the USS Arizona – the walls of the memorial are lined with the names of all those who lost their lives on the ship.  As you look down into the water at the ship, you may see oil bubbling to the surface, these oil droplets are known as ‘the tears of the Arizona’.  It’s quite a moving experience.

3) Hike to the summit of Diamond Head – it’s a 45-60min hike from the parking lot to the top of the Diamond Head volcano.  At the top, the views of Waikiki and Honolulu are spectacular.  Bring water as it is not protected from the sun and can get really hot, and you may want to kick off your flip-flops and put on a pair of shoes for the hike up the mountain.

It’s now time to leave Waikiki and head out to the country, by spending 3-4 days on the North Shore of Oahu, home to big wave surfing and a beautiful undeveloped coastline.

This area of the island is a lot less touristy and has more of a local flavour. There’s only one hotel on the North Shore and that’s Turtle Bay Resort, which was featured in the movie ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’. It’s a luxurious hotel with a golf course right at the northern tip of the island.  It’s very pricey, so an alternative to this would be to rent a vacation home.  There’s a lot to choose from as there are many houses along the beach and in the surrounding hills. I’d recommend having a look for a vacation rental here.

Dining on the North Shore – there’s some great restaurants you can check out in Haleiwa, which is the main town on the North Shore.  If you’re craving a burger and fries, you gotta try Kua’aina Sandwiches, it’s definitely one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.   For a dinner out, give Haleiwa Joe’s a try.   Lastly, if you love shrimp you may want to make a special trip to Kahuku, where there are shrimp trucks lining the highway cooking up fresh shrimp.

Activities on the North Shore – during the winter months, the beaches of Waimea Bay, Sunset and Ehukai (where Pipeline is) are filled with surfers and spectators.  During the rest of the year, these are beautiful and deserted beaches however the water can still be fairly rough for swimming.  It sounds cliché but make sure to catch the sun setting at Sunset Beach.

Other activities you can enjoy are snorkelling at Shark’s Cove which is located right across the street from the Foodland. You’ll see lots of fish and likely a sea turtle or two.  If you scuba dive, this is where the dive operators in Haleiwa will likely take you.  Another activity is Stand Up Paddleboarding, it’s a lot of fun and a great work-out.  You can rent boards from the surf shops in Haleiwa.

Lastly, one of Oahu’s top attractions is a car ride away, the Kualoa Ranch.  At the ranch, you can go for a horseback ride or an ATV tour that will take you to some of the filming locations from Jurassic Park and the TV show Lost — think of Hurley’s golf course.

That’s Oahu in 7 days,  now head back to Honolulu and catch an inter-island flight to Maui for 7 days, try Hawaiian Airlines.  Most Maui vacationers stay in the Lahaina/Ka’anapali area, this part of the island is very dry and hot.  There’s so many hotels and resorts in this area that you should just have a look on tripadvisor or expedia and see what hotel matches your price point and needs.

If you want to stay away from the tourist area, check out this cottage rental it’s located in Haiku on the north side of the island.  This side of the island sees a lot more rain but the scenery is much more green and lush.  Staying on this part of the island also gives you a good head start for the Road to Hana drive and is much closer to the Haleakala volcano.

Dining in Maui – similar to Waikiki, the Lahaina/Ka’anapali area has many dining options to choose from.  Definitely have a meal at one of the oceanside restaurants in Lahaina and enjoy the sunset, Kimo’s would be a good option for this.

When visiting the hippie town of Paia, stop in at Charley’s for a bite.  The restaurant is owned by Willie Nelson, who lives in the area. The food is really good, especially the breakfast options, give the macadamia nut pancakes a try!

There are 2 must-do’s while staying in Maui.

1) Drive the Road to Hana – this is likely a day trip, especially if you are coming from the Lahaina/Ka’anapali area.  The road trip starts from the hippie town of Paia, where you can stop to fill up your car and pick up supplies for the long drive.  Those with motion sickness might want to bring some Gravol.  The Hana Highway is a 68 mile stretch that takes about 2.5 hours with no stops, the road is very twisty and hugs the cliff side. You’ll cross 59 bridges, and 46 of those are one-lane bridges. The scenery is spectacular, lush tropical jungles, waterfalls cascading down the cliff walls, and the ever present Pacific Ocean.

After reaching the rural town of Hana, continue down the road to the seven sacred pools at Oheo Gulch.  There are seven pools with waterfalls between each and the river runs right out to the ocean.  You can stop here and go for a swim in the pools, or take a leap from one of the waterfalls into the pool below. From the Oheo Gulch parking lot, there are a couple of trails you can take for a jungle hike.

The longer trail will take you through a bamboo forest and ends at a 200 foot waterfall.  This drive is definitely a must, when visiting Maui.

2) Sunrise at the Haleakala Summit –  this requires waking up really early and driving up to the summit of the Haleakala volcano.

The summit is just below 10,000ft, so you’ll want to bring warm clothes with you – something you wouldn’t think to pack for a trip to Hawaii – as it can be really cold at the top.  The view is amazing as the sun comes up, you’ll be able to see all of Maui, other islands, and the volcanoes on the Big Island.

Transportation for Oahu & Maui – a rental car is essential on both islands, some drivers may find the Road to Hana stressful, while others will find it exhilarating.  I know it’s very cliché but on one of the islands you should splurge and get a jeep.  I’d pick Maui, so you can enjoy the Road to Hana with the top down and soak in the scenery that’s speeding by.  With this itinerary, you’ll only need 1 inter-island flight as you should be able to fly into one of the islands and fly home from the other.

Here’s 10 songs that would fit nicely on a Hawaii Trip playlist.

  1. Jack Johnson – Bubble Toes
  2. My Morning Jacket – Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
  3. Jimmy Buffett – Cheeseburger in Paradise
  4. Bob Marley – High Tide or Low Tide
  5. Ben Harper – Steal My Kisses
  6. The Beach Boys – Feel Flows
  7. Eddie Vedder – Hard Sun
  8. Willie Nelson – Ain’t It Funny How Time Just Slips Away
  9. The Head and The Heart – Lost In My Mind
  10. Iron & Wine – Walking Far From Home

Dining with Crocodiles

Have you ever wanted to sit down for dinner in the same room as a pit full of hungry crocodiles, if so the Dead Fish Tower restaurant is for you.

The Dead Fish is in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  Siem Reap is the town that you stay in when exploring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.  I’m sure I’ll post about Angkor in the future, but today’s post is about unique dining experiences.

When you enter the restaurant, you’ll notice that the tables are on raised platforms throughout the multi-level dining room, and there are cable systems that the servers put the orders on and send down the line directly to the kitchen.  It’s quite a sight to see.

There’s live entertainment that features traditional Khmer music and dancing, but the main attraction is the pit in the corner of the restaurant that is filled with large nasty crocodiles.  For a few bucks, you can buy fish to feed the crocodiles, or you can just watch someone else throw in the fish and witness the feeding frenzy below.

The food is good, but it’s the atmosphere and entertainment that get top marks at this unique spot.  When visiting Siem Reap, make sure to have a meal at the Dead Fish Tower Inn.

The Hyena Man of Harar

Every night, outside the gates of the ancient walled city of Harar in Ethiopia, the Hyena Man sets up shop and provides travellers with a heart pounding thrill.

The hyenas show up in large numbers for their dinner, the Hyena Man sings the pack a song or two and then begins feeding them slices of meat one-by-one from a stick in his mouth.

After watching him perform this a few times, travellers have the opportunity to pay the Hyena Man a little money and feed the hyenas as well.

This nightly ritual began years ago, after hyenas attacked and killed some children in Harar.  The people of Harar decided to keep the hyenas in the area well fed so that they wouldn’t attack again.

Years later, it’s an attraction for visitors exploring the ancient city.  I’d definitely go watch the Hyena Man do his thing, but I’m not sure if I could feed one of those beasts…..would you?

Hill Tribes & Vistas: Sapa

Vietnam is becoming a hot spot on the Southeast Asia travel route, but the remote village of Sapa in the northwest of the country is still considered to be off the beaten path from Saigon to Hanoi or vice versa.

The landscape is mountainous with lush green vegetation and terraced rice paddies built into the sides of the mountains.  The people in this area belong to various hill tribes such as the Dzao & Hmong, and are friendly towards travellers.

A popular way to see this area is through a homestay with a local family, you’ll get to experience how people in this area live and get a taste of their unique culture. There are tour operators in the area that can set this up:

The best time to visit Sapa is either March – May or Sept – Dec, when the weather is very pleasant and rainfall is minimal.  There are lots of trails in the area for hiking, multi-day trekking, or mountain biking.

If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, you should make space in the itinerary for Sapa, it’s a little out of the way but the experience will be well worth it.