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Another day in the van. After a quick stop in Homer proper for bank and supermarket, we were on the road, backtracking most of our route from the other day, back to Anchorage, but turned off at the Seward Highway. Not sure on the stops we made that day, but I am sure there was plenty, as it was a beautiful, clear, sunny and WARM day. Because it was on the warmer side, this is when the fights for having the window open vs. closed started. I was in the back, where it was boiling hot and I sat most of the day in just jeans and a t-shirt, throwing on my sweatshirt for various picture stops.

One of the millions (?) of really tall, ice covered mountains.

Free lifejacket! There were piles of them at the info board at every lake we went to.

The big stop of the day was at the Exit glacier, near Seward. It was pretty impressive and I always love the signs along the way that tell you how far the glacier was back in the day. How fast it’s receding is insane! We dropped some people off at the glacier to do a short hike, while the rest of us continued on to camp at Millers Landing , so we could arrive in time to join a kayak tour out on Resurrection Bay.

Me and Exit Glacier, Seward, Alaska

We threw up our tents and then went to the office to pay and start the kayak tour. There were good and bad things about this tour.

Bad:

-The place seemed a little disorganized. People kept getting added to the tour and therefore instruction was very basic.
-They gave us no instruction on “driving” the kayaks. They told us about the foot pedals and in talking with some of my tour mates later, they thought both of them were driving the kayak. Thankfully I had used these kayaks before and claimed the back so I could drive and when I told my mates that, they looked at each other, thought about it and then realized I was right. The guides never told us that only the back drives the boat.
-I shared a kayak with the Russian in our group who spoke little English. When we were out on the water, the guide asked her some questions, but when he realized that her English was minimal, neither guide spoke a word to either of us for the rest of the tour. I think they thought I was Russian also.
-Once we were out on the water, one of the guides lit up a cigarette. Talk about unprofessional!

Good:

-Ohmigod, some of the smoothest water I have ever kayaked on in my life! I know this was an extremely rare day, but it was amazing and totally worth it. I would drive the boat one direction and within two strokes, we were headed that way. Usually it takes 5-10 strokes to change direction. I can’t get over how amazing that was!
-Scenery, amazing.
-Guide explanations were okay. We paddled about an hour and then stopped and hiked to Bridal Falls in the rainforest and it was a really nice break! And then we pedaled back.
-I just can’t get over how smooth the water was.

First look over Seward, Alaska

A short hike into the rainforest after kayaking. Seward, Alaska

Waterfall at the end of the short trail while kayaking. Seward, Alaska

Got back to camp and dinner was being made, though I can’t remember what it was. We just hung around the campfire and chatted about activities for the following day.

View from our campsite in Seward, Alaska.

The first day of activities! We woke up to rain and the two activities on offer were either fishing in the afternoon or heading out early on the water to take a water taxi across the bay to Kachemak Bay State Park and go for a hike to a glacier. Fishing was really expensive and didn’t really appeal to me much anyway, so I went with the other half of our group on the hike. The water taxi didn’t end up being much cheaper at $80 RT (compared to $175 for fishing, I know that looks like a lot, but when it comes down to it, I essentially paid $80 for a 4 hour hike, meh).

Typical dock in Alaska (haha!)

Okay, okay, I’ll stop being bitter now. But when we set off, it was raining and we were wet and sort of miserable, not the best way to start off a vacation, but there was little we could do except make the best of it. So we did! We were let off on the shore in what looked like the start of the Hunger Games or some other murder mystery movie setting. The water taxi captain pointed us to the start of the trail and we were off. After a decent hike down the rock covered beach, we finally found the trail head and I stopped to sign the guest book and take a quick look through who had been here lately. There were bear sightings just the day before which already scared the shit out of me. I was probably one of the only ones in our group that had no urge to see a bear, especially when we were out in the wilderness with no safety net. Color me shitless!

Into the woods we go.

Anyway, I chatted with some of the group as we walked along in what looked like rain forest, in an effort to keep the bears away. We saw our first bear scat (poo) and thankfully it looked somewhat petrified, which made me feel better. We stopped once to take a break and have a snack under the canopy of trees which helped keep the rain out. We hiked on somewhat flat terrain until we finally got to Grewingk Glacier. I love glaciers and it was beautiful! The wind coming off the glacier and lake was freezing though and it didn’t help that we were wet. We found a sheltered place to eat lunch and leave our packs to have a wonder around the lake. We didn’t see a soul all day on the trail or at the lake, so we felt safe leaving our stuff unattended. Unfortunately, due to the rain, I was freezing and went back to the shelter and chatted until we decided to leave as we didn’t know how long it would take us to continue on and make it to the end of the trail in time for the taxi to pick us up.

Glaciers in Lake, Homer, Alaska

Glacier into Lake! My favorite!

The Saddle trail was a bit harder, but thankfully the rain pretty much stopped at this point but the downside is the bear scat started looking more and more fresh, until part of the group up ahead started shrieking that they saw a bear cub. I freaked the fuck out and ran as fast as I could past the group, not caring at all if they got eaten (my motto for the trip when people were acting stupid around bears, “I don’t care if you get eaten, that means more room in the van”) because if they saw a cub, that means the mother isn’t far behind. The next thing I knew, we were at the trail head, way ahead of schedule. I had one bar of service and a nearly dead phone but I called the water taxi to let them know we were at the end and to pick us up when they had a chance.

End of the trail.

We then crawled over a bunch of rocks to get to the beach where they told us they would pick us up in the morning. It was a good thing I called from the trail head because by the time we got to the beach, I checked my phone and I didn’t have any service. We waited for about 45 minutes and in that time, the tide started coming up really fast. I never really understood that saying before until then, but ohmigod, did the tide come up fast. Thankfully the taxi came before we were swallowed up and even though they were only allowed to take 5 people (there were 6 of us, so we took two going out), since the tide was coming up fast and it’s not like we were going to tell, the driver took us all back in one trip. My first experience with Alaska not caring about safety, another theme of this trip that I had never experienced in the US before.

Otter spotting on the trip back!

Of course, on our trip back, the sun came out, which was nice for sitting on the deck and we saw otters! I love otters! The taxi slowed down when we got near and it was so awesome. We got back to town and the fishing group wasn’t back yet, so the 6 of us just relaxed. I invested in a $1 shower (and stupidly didn’t wash my hair, will I ever learn my lesson when it comes to not knowing what is ahead?) and charged my phone in the shop and just sat at a table and enjoyed the view and wrote in my journal.

Now that we are done for the day, the sun comes out.

For dinner that night we had fish. Not my idea of the best time, but I talked the guide into making rice and dumped a whole ton of soy sauce on everything, mixed it together and scarfed it down. Not my most favorite meal. I didn’t realize until later that the fish didn’t sit well with me (didn’t go #2 for a few days and it really fucking hurt, sorry for the image) and in chatting with another tour mate and not going into details, we realized that the fish didn’t sit well with her either so a few days later when we were going to eat the rest, the two of us invested in one of those fully cooked chickens and that was delicious! But that was later. After dinner, some of the group went to the Salty Dog, the local bar. I went too, but when I was never served and was really tired anyway, I just went back to camp and sat around the fire for a bit before heading to bed. The hike wasn’t hard, but doing most of it in the rain, wore me out!

Note: The subject line is only a slight exaggeration.

After a not so bright and early wake up call, I packed up the majority of my bag before heading down to the lobby for a free breakfast. It was pretty decent! Any place with a make your own waffle bar is a-ok with me. We all stocked up on more goodies for the road later, including muffins and bagels. Hey, we had no idea when the next meal was. We ate when we could!

The group gathered in the lobby at the requested time and the last person to show up was the guide. Not sure how I felt that would bode for the rest of the trip, but at least everyone else was there! I hate waiting for people. We loaded up the trailer and settled into the van. I am really picky about where I sit and at first chose the seat next to the window, 2nd row from the back. I thought that might be good. We had some stops to make around town first, the first being one of our many visits to the Fred Meyer on Northern Lights Blvd. to get our first batch of groceries. I grabbed the other American in the group and claimed we would shop for lunch food, meaning sandwich stuff and snacks. No one knows a good American lunch like the people who live it! It was tons of fun to throw in whatever we wanted to eat with really no disregard for content or price. My favorite type of shopping! Bagels and loafs of bread, tons of meats and cheeses, some cheap peanut butter (which our guide took back and picked out his own brand, as we soon learned that was something he was really picky about) and crackers. And peanuts. And trail mix. And more crackers. We bought a “gallon” box of goldfish and a few boxes of cheese-itz. No one does cheese crackers like Americans. This was also the place to grab lunch for the day and my fellow American found these awesome lunch bags and the kids one was perfect (and $2 cheaper!) so I took that one. After reorganizing the food in the trailer, we were off to REI for last minute gear.

Random shot driving around town.

I knew I wasn’t going to be in the best shape for this trip. I own no waterproof stuff and I wasn’t about to spend money on something I would never use again. The trip notes said there would be laundry at least once a week, but it’s really not in my nature when traveling for only 2 weeks to think about doing it, so I packed enough for 2 weeks. Unlike my tent-mate, I don’t really care how I look in pictures, I don’t mind wearing the same sweater every day. Now underwear, socks and t-shirts are another thing so I brought enough for 2 weeks and just rotated amongst my 2 sweatshirts and only down (but not waterproof) jacket. My bag was one of the bigger ones, but I didn’t care. At our REI stop, I noted three things I wanted to buy, that were somewhat suggested by the guide the night before. And all three things were super helpful and I am actually really glad I bought them! First up was a $17 pair of socks that were all wool, which pretty much means they are sort of waterproof. This is the thing I probably could have lived without, as I only wear socks once before washing and since I didn’t plan on doing any washing, I had to think about when was the best time to use them when they would make the most sense. Story coming later on the day I made the decision to wear them and why I choose correctly! Will I ever wear them again? They were super comfy and maybe I’ll bring them to SF and wear them there, as my current sneakers aren’t waterproof by any means. Something I didn’t really need, but my tent-mate had one and it was so cool was a collapsible water-bottle. It was a pouch that gets smaller the less liquid you have! So perfect for me who drinks tons and tons of water and had to deal with the empty big bottle. Now it gets smaller the more I use it! I got the “grape” (purple) color. I love marketing term,s they just crack me up. And finally, the item I used the most, a waterproof rain jacket. I grabbed the cheapest one and used it the most. It was perfect for throwing over my sweatshirt in a freak rainstorm when I didn’t want to carry around my huge down or when it wasn’t that cold (on those rare days). This I’ll probably wear again, at some point, on those rare rainy days in LA when I don’t want to deal with my down, now I have a great alternative! All of these items came to less then $80, which made me happy. Since I knew want I wanted and grabbed it all and left, I found a coffee house that served my new favorite coffee so I had to grab a cup before meeting up with the rest of the group outside REI.

YUM!!!!

And then we were finally off to Homer! We made a bunch of stops both at lookout points and roadhouses along the way for food and bathroom and to stretch our legs before we finally arrived at the Homer Spit campground. The beach was full of rocks and that was where we were going to pop our tents to sleep. After a quick lesson on how to put them up, TM (tentmate from here on out) and I got ours up, but we couldn’t agree on which side was higher, so we ended up sleeping head to toe, which I actually liked better! We each used different entrances and I think that helped up get along much better in the long run. After the tent and air mattresses set up (we were 5 short so the guide had to trek back to Anchorage a few days later to get more but luckily, there was another tour with another company who had some spares in the meantime, yay Alaska hospitality!) we pitched in for dinner and had a delicious chicken dinner by the beach. I proved my true Californianess by decking out in wool hat, sweatshirt, down jacket, mittens, jeans and FLIPFLOPS! I was a bit worried about my sock situation as my shoes were not water proof and neither were my socks, so I made the resolution to not wear my shoes and socks unless I had to. And since the first day we spent it in the van, I wore my sandals all day, no need to waste a pair of socks on that! And I was okay. This proved to be my typical camp outfit for the trip.

Lookout near Girdwood.

The campsite was fine. A bit far to the bathroom for me, and stumbling over rocks to get there wasn’t the best. But loads of stalls, tons of sinks, plenty of paper and outlets to charge up. Showers were in a different house and you had to pay the front desk $1 and she’ll buzz you in and you got a stall and unlimited time. Each stall had a bench too! I didn’t want to leave my phone in the bathroom (even though Alaska is one the safest places I have ever been, you’ll hear more about that later) so I asked the office if I could charge it there and she directed me to an outlet under the shelf where I left my phone for a few hours for a quick charge.

Our view the first night camping.

The activities begin tomorrow!

I woke up in the hostel, took a shower in the full home-like bathroom with the great water pressure and no stress about finishing quickly. I paid for my room, sat in the general living area eating my breakfast and it was just really really quiet. I finished quickly and asked the guy I paid for my room about the bus into town. He showed me the poster that someone had hand drawn about how to get to the closest bus stop with the attached schedule and I figured out what I needed to do to get there. I asked for change for the bus, since it cost $1.75 and he pointed me to a change machine. I hadn’t seen one of those in years and best of all, it actually worked! Another surprise. I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to drag my large bag to the stop and really how far it was, so about 30 minutes before the bus came (it was a Saturday, so they only came once an hour) I set off for the stop. It was a lot closer then I realized, so I sat in the bright and sunny Anchorage day and waited. It actually got quite warm! The bus arrived on time and the driver was this really nice hipster girl who showed me how to put my money in and that I didn’t need a ticket as I was only going one way. I dragged my bag to the back and enjoyed the ride into town.

My view while I waited for the bus.

The bus dropped me off at the Transit Center and I had printed out a really good map of the downtown area from the Anchorage Transit website, of all places and walked to the Ramada Inn, which was the joining hotel for my tour that night. Downtown Anchorage is on a grid, so it was really easy to figure out my way around. I walked past the market which I had heard a lot about and looked forward to going after I dropped my bag off. Thankfully, the hotel was only a block away from the market! Even though it was barely 11am when I got to the hotel, I really just wanted to drop my bag in (free!) storage for the day, the front desk said I could check in if I wanted a ground floor room. Sounds good to me! They gave me the name of my roommate and I claimed the bed closest to the window, which ended up being a very good choice. I just claimed the bed and arranged myself for the day and off I went. I highly recommend this hotel. Great location in the center of town, walking distance from everything, free airport shuttle, friendly and very helpful front desk, great lobby inclusive of hanging out and not feeling guilty (as you’ll see later), free computer for limited use, apparently free internet (don’t really care as I can use my phone and I’ll never carry a laptop) and a free breakfast included! Anytime there is a make-your-own-waffle bar, you know the quality is good.

My first stop was the Anchorage Museum which was awesome. A glance at my student ID and I got in for $9 vs. $12! Every little bit helps. The place was really cool and showed a lot about Alaska, why people came, why people stayed, why is it part of the US and not Russia or Canada. There was a lot on the native people also but unfortunately by then, I didn’t get to it until the end of my visit and I was getting hungry . Oh, you aren’t allowed to take large bags in and it took me a moment to figure out the locker system in that you have to put a quarter in them, but you get it back when you open it. YAY! I love that system. So free lockers!

View from the “Sounds of Alaska” room. One of my favorites.

After the museum, I went across the street to the mall in search of cheap food and found it in the form of a food court so I just grabbed a bottle of water and a slice of pizza and people watched for a while. Otherwise, the mall is your typical American place. There is a Nordstroms and JC Penny that anchor it as well as an Apple store right outside Nordies. I couldn’t help but laugh. When I was tying my shoes that morning, I noticed that my laces were starting to come apart and the last thing I needed was them breaking while I was in the middle of nowhere, so I stopped at Payless and grabbed a spare pair for $2 before finally headed toward the town market.

One of my favorite signs, what Alaska thinks of Texas! Too funny.

I had a nice wonder around the market to see what was on offer and get the lay of the land. Unfortunately, I had already eaten lunch, so I wasn’t that hungry for all the delicious food on offer! Oh well, reason to come back. I did have a discover my new favorite coffee though in Kalandi Brothers. So good! They are only in Alaska (and WA, I just checked) and when ever I saw them on my trip, weather I wanted or needed it, I bought a cup. So good! I also got my mom a pair of earrings. I sat on a bench near the bathrooms where there was chalk on the ground for the kids to play with and called my parents, which was actually kind of weird in itself. I can’t remember the last time I was on vacation, like a proper vacation, and had the abilities to use my phone without extra charges. It was so weird! As I was talking to my family, it started to rain, so I took shelter near the bathrooms and continued the conversation like nothing happened.

My view at the market, drinking coffee, chatting with my parents. Rain came about 5 minutes after this picture was taken!

After that, I was a bit tired and wet, so I just went back to the hotel to relax. I didn’t really want to sit in the room as besides the bed, there wasn’t really anywhere to sit and the lobby was so nice. I cuddled up in a chair near a window and read and wrote for a while before someone came up and asked if I was part of G Adventures tour that was starting. I said yes and met my first tour mate! We chatted for a while before someone else came into the lobby and over heard us talking and joined us and before I knew it, I was meeting my roommate and tentmate for the first time! Both were lovely and we talked for a long time as more and more of the group joined us before the welcome meeting.

We were all present for the welcome meeting except one person and we got an overview of the following two weeks before breaking for dinner, which we all ate at the bar attached to the hotel. I had the nachos and they pretty much sucked, but at least the company was good. Most of the group was pretty jet lagged and even though I wasn’t, I didn’t want to OD on the group too fast and I wanted to take advantage of the hotel room while we had it, so I came back to the room and took one last shower and packed up my bag for the following day and snuggled into a real bed for the last time.

Alaska – My 39th State

I am going to format my recent trip to Alaska a little different then normal. Instead of writing by topic, I am going to write out whatever the hell I want in chronological order. There will probably be some sort of topical relation in the post, but essentially it is going to be a day-by-day take on what I did, saw, stayed and ate. On a personal note, I am sort of getting away from travel blogs. I comment less because I am caring less. Everything is sponsored these days, which is just annoying and I am getting more into reading personal lifestyle blogs, which is kind of hilarious as I have neither a life nor style. ANYWAY.

So yeah, if I forgot to tell you, I went to Alaska for my summer vacation this year. It was sort of a last minute thing as I wasn’t sure I would be able to afford it, with the dog and all but around May I started getting depressed that I wasn’t going to do anything this summer, so I booked another G Adventures tour to Alaska, as I wanted to keep it local and on the cheaper-ish end side. Yeah, cheap did not end up working out too well, but at least I stayed semi-local (didn’t have to worry about being international and only one time zone and flight away). I wanted to be lazy for this trip. I wanted someone else to take care of the details. I didn’t want to have to be aware of everything all the time. And this trip was perfect for that.

Typical street in Anchorage. They speak ENGLISH!!!

After I booked my tour, I knew I wanted to essentially arrive and leave as close as I could, no dicking around for extra days in the area, just in case someone went wrong, like I did last year in Peru when by the end, all I wanted to do was come home. I found a decently priced flight on Alaska immediately for the exact days and times I wanted, so I bought it only to find out the following week that the exact same flight went down in price by $20!! GAH!!! Not the end of the world and since I bought it directly from Alaska, I qualified for a voucher refund, which I processed, so now I have $20 to spend on Alaska or American in the next year, if I spend it at all. Oh well! Just a little annoying, but it could have been worse.

High tourist season in Anchorage.

Since I left during rush hour on a Friday, my parents dropped the dog off with me first at boarding and then dropped me off at the FlyAway bus because they didn’t want to drive me all the way to the airport, which I was fine with. As long as they picked me up, as my flight back was arriving around 6am. Kill me now! Bus was fine and I had to check luggage for my one-time-a-year. On the Alaska website, it says that if you have an AAdvantage credit card, you can check one piece of luggage for free and since I knew the check in counter would have no idea about this, I brought a print out of the website, but thankfully I talked the guy into it and checked my large bag for free! I noticed the tag he attached had the code MTF and I was like, wait, that doesn’t look right. I check the boarding pass he gave to me (without even checking my ID! Love that LAX security) and see that it was not my name. I tell him and he apologizes profusely as that is the person in front of me’s information, it was printed twice. THANKGOD I always know my destination airport code (ANC) and I checked my ticket before leaving the counter. Lesson of the day!! Security was a bit of a clusterfuck, but what else is new. I had plenty of time to go and grab food, but who knew a baked potato would take nearly 30 minutes to cook! T6 just went through some changes and now there are charging stations at every seat, which is great, so I sat and charged my phone and ate my dinner before boarding. Since all I had for bags was something that would fit under my seat, I was in no rush to board, what’s the point? I waited until last call and finally boarded only to find someone who only spoke Spanish in my seat. She kept yapping away and I was like, Yeah, I don’t understand you, you can shut up now, thanks. I roll my eyes, knowing she is wrong and I go back to find an attendant and tell her the situation and the attendant rolls her eyes and says, Yeah, I told her 11F, NOT 11A. I say, no worries and we cause a huge jam up in the aisle, but hey, not my fault. The thing I like least about this whole situation is that someone has been sitting in my seat, keeping it warm and unlike the general population, planes are ALWAYS too hot for me and the last thing I want is to sit in someones warmed seat. Gross. But everything the works out.

The flight is fine as it’s an 8pm-1am flight and almost everyone sleeps EXCEPT for the person in the aisle in my row, who keeps his light on the whole time. At least it wasn’t behind me, but it was still annoying as hell. Why do I always end up in that row? Same thing happened on my 10000 hour flight to New Zealand 5 years ago. We land, it’s nice and cold, my bag comes out and I go out to find the taxi line to take me to my hostel.

These wood statues are everywhere! I love them.

Originally, I was just going to crash at the airport. I didn’t want to pay $150-$200 for a hotel room for one night and since it was peak season and I waited until like 2 days before I left to realize this, all the hostels were booked. But I finally found the Spenard Hostel nd booked a bed to crash in for like 7 hours. I’d just have to suck up sharing a room for a few hours, I knew it wouldn’t kill me, plus it was close to the airport. What’s the worst that could happen? The taxi line, or lack there of at ANC is a clusterfuck. There is no order and everyone just runs for the first one, so don’t stress. Everyone will get one eventually. I chatted it up with a pilot for DHL in line, who asked me if I was headed downtown (I was not) because I think he would have given me a lift if I was. That would have been awesome as that is how my sister gets into NYC every time we visit. Anyway, I finally get a cab, chat with the driver and make it to my hostel in record time.

I’m a sucker for a fun sign. And I hate Starbucks.

The place is really quiet and there is a note for me and I find my room and the light it still on. I hit the jackpot! There are two sets of bunks, but there are completely empty except for one made up bed for me!!! $25 and I get the whole room to myself. SCORE!!!!!!!! I dress for bed and snuggle in for a cozy, quiet night sleep.

Unlike the world outside the US’s lack of fascination with the Oscars and the Super Bowl (the latter I understand, but not the former), the Olympics are a world-wide event. Everyone everywhere cares.

Next stop…..London!

While I was completely out of the loop for the 2004 Olympic games in Athens (I was finishing up my summer in NYC, commuting 2 hours each way to work during the first week and then dealing with first week of school (and my last semester ever) issues the second week), I do remember the 2008 games in Beijing. I was living and working in Sydney, which was like beyond perfect. I was in a sports-mad country living with people that actually could give Americans a run for their money in many sports! I would have felt kind of depressed, kicking ass and taking names (the Aussies thought this saying was hilarious!!) if I was still living in New Zealand during the games. It was all around a very interesting experience.

Sydney Olympic Parade, Winners!

Everything pretty much took place in nearly the same time zone. There was very little recapping as Sydney is only 2 hours ahead of Beijing. AWESOME! But since a lot of the sports were set to American East Coast time, I remember there being issues with swimming as usually the main events take place at night, but so they could be broadcasted live to the east coast, somehow NBC struck a deal with the IOC to have them in the morning, so they could play live. Which meant they aired around lunchtime for us. Not the worst thing ever, as the job I was working had a TV in the lounge and it was on the entire day and people would gather for a few moments here and there to watch certain events.

Sydney Olympic Parade, not to shabby!

Also, being the minor huge media nerd I am, I remember Channel 7 (the station that covered the games back then) having reports on the US coverage. It’s like NBC was its own event! They talked about how much space NBC took up, how many employees they brought over and the security measures in place for NBC and only NBC. It’s something that obviously does not get covered in the US and very interesting to hear.

Sydney Olympic Parade, the most they won, still awesome!

It was weird watching events without Americans. I don’t think NBC has ever done that. And actually, back in 2008 the only event there were no Americans in was like girls handball or something. Something I did miss, was the montage packages. No one can put a spin on any story like the US. I missed that! I cheered for countries in the following order: US (it was nice to have some patriotic pride after a year and a half!), Australia and then New Zealand.

So very very London at the Sydney Olympic Parade.

A few weeks after the games ended, all the Australian Olympians went on a national tour of the country, doing parades in each state capital city where a variety showed up for each. Ohmigod, could you image if they had to do that in the US?! It would take like a year! Anyway, since by then I was unemployed, I went to the parade in Sydney. Super fun! I actually recognized some people I had seen on TV a few weeks prior up close in person and actually remembered their names! And funny enough, watching the games now, I am like, those names are still sounding familiar. Love it.

Libby Trickett of swimming fame.

Steve Hooker (hehe, that name!! That hair!!) of pole vault fame.

Moral: If given the chance, I would highly recommend watching The Olympics in a country other then your own (especially if you are from the US). You learn a lot and get another perspective of a worldwide event. Just another life experience that you can not get within your own borders.

Looking down George Street during the parade. Go Green and Gold!

Used: Lifetime

I love a good window seat. Really, who doesn’t? Slightly more space under your seat, enough to jam everything up against “the wall”, a plastic hole to check out the ground below and a very hard up-right bed to sleep on. What could be better? Thought I have written about my recently acquired loved for Group C (aka the middle seat) on Southwest I really don’t mind the middle seat when flights are around an hour long, give or take On my flight home from Peru last year, I was given an aisle seat on 2 out of 3 legs which the check-in counter couldn’t change. Oh well, it wasn’t a red-eye and hell, it wasn’t a middle (especially for that 5+ hours flight from SAL to LAX), I’ll see what this fuss is about.

I kind of get why the aisle is awesome. As someone who has minor issues with their knees, I love the aisle for the space is offers. If no one is coming, I can stretch out as much as I want. And for the snoop in me, I love spying on what people are reading, listening or talking about.

But the biggest downside to sitting in an aisle seat (and even middle perhaps) and why I make an awesome window seat companion is my ability to “hold it”. I have the art of using the loo down to a science, especially when I fly. And on flights less than 10 hours, I usually just hold it the whole time. The moment they start to board the plane, I use the restroom and the first thing I do when I get off is find a loo. On long flights, I like to think I am considerate and I can’t remember the last time I had to ask anyone to get up, I just use the loo when the others in my row get up, to ease the process. Heck, I’ll even get up and go when the others do, even if I don’t really have to go, just in case!

My chart for what should be legal uses of using the toilet whilest sitting on any of the internal seats.

Flight time 0-4 hours – ZERO times, just fucking hold it.
Flight time 4-7 hours – 1x
Flight time 7-14 hours – 2x
Flight time 15+ – 3x (no more)

Anymore then the above and you should be required to sit on the aisle.

On my 5+ hour flight from SAL to LAX the person at the window got up TWICE. The first time, I just rolled my eyes, but went with it. But less then two hours later, they got up again and I nearly lost it. I hate sitting and standing and worse, settling back into a warm seat (ewww), I wanted to punch them. Are you fucking kidding me? If you have to pee this much, sit on the fucking aisle. Note: I never pee’d once during the whole flight.

Moral: Is this rant too petty? Guess what, I don’t care. We all have our weird pet-peeves when we fly (don’t really care about paying for ticket changes or paying for checked bags, I could write two posts ranting on those complaints! Hey, watch for those posts coming eventually!) and this just happens to be mine. And fun family side-note: My dad, who LOVES the window (he and my mom got into such a fight over the window when leaving New Zealand, that my sister and I just left the airport, not knowing when I was going to see them again and they barely noticed) has had to give it up recently on long flights because he needs to stretch every hour and use the loo more. He is aware of his needs and changed his wants for your comfort. Too bad more people couldn’t be like that.

Used: My lifetime.

Is it just me or do there seem to be a lot of posts out there lately regarding “how to take better pictures”? I feel like this trend comes and goes. Even though I took photo all my years in high school (as well as went to a hoity-toity photography program one summer vacation), I have never been one to concentrate and set up a shot. I can tell you I hate flash and when it comes to black and white, those are the only colors I want to see (I hate gray). Other than that, whatever my camera gives me, I am sure I’ll love. In fact, the crazier or unfocused or blury or whatever the picture, sometimes make it better because who knows what was happening to you when you took it? A gust of wind? A friendly laugh? Leaning over so far and the shot is still out of reach? I love it even more! The jest of it is, if I wanted postcard quality shots, I would just buy the postcard. And I do, especially if it’s of a place that I love. I’d must rather experience a place then spend time taking pictures.

One of my favorite “awful” picture of Sydney at night. It’s not going to get better then this!

So when I first arrived in Auckland, I had my new camera with me. I read the instruction manuel on how to use it and the pictures I took back in LA turned out fine. I snapped my heart out the first weekend in Auckland, doing loads of touristy things and when I finally had a moment to sit down and look at the pictures I noticed that they all looked really bright and washed out. I did not adjust my settings for lack of ozone layer, which New Zealand is known for! I adjusted my settings quickly and the rest of my pictures for the next 2 years turned out great.

My first shot of Rangitoto Island, Auckland, New Zealand

After I realized my error and changed my camera settings. Rangitoto Island, Auckland, New Zealand

When I went over to Australia to meet up with some friends, my friend had this HUGE camera she carried around with her in this huge heavy bag. We went to the Blue Mountains and she totally lagged it compared to the rest of the group because not only did she had to stop and take pictures of EVERYTHING but because of her camera, ever shot had to be set up in a professional manner and it took forever. Give me my point and shot any day.

Besides, as a perpetual solo traveler, a huge DSLR is highly impractical. First off, you can’t take pictures of yourself by holding it out in front of you. Talk about a set up! No thanks. Plus, I like knowing all the features on my camera and by the time I learned them all on a DSLR, it would be out of date. Forget it.

Take a picture of myself in Sydney, Australia. Not the greatest angle due to the sun, but different!

And actually, this is so unlike me to say but after playing around with my sisters iphone last year, I think when I need to get a new camera, I might actually consider getting that. Still not going to happen for at least two more years as my current camera is alive and clicking, but when I do, that is high on my consideration list.

Auckland is not really this light! Before I changed the settings.

Moral: Take whatever pictures you won’t, don’t care about anyone else. And talk about being a tourist! If you spend too much time setting up a shot, not only will you look like a tourist, but you’ll miss out on everything that is going on around you!

Used: 2011

When booking my trip, since I had such little time but wanted some form of control to my travels, I mixed up my tours and went with two companies. Because of that, it meant having to book my own airfare from Puno/Juliaca back to Lima before coming home. Since I had never been to Peru before and don’t know anyone that has been lately (or travel there with time restrictions), Google was my buddy in finding ways to get back to the capital. At the time of my planning, there were three airlines in Peru that ran the Puno-Lima route. The official airline of Peru, LAN as well as two local airlines, Peruvian Airlines and Star Peru. In checking the prices, LAN was easily three times as much as the local carries. LAN was crossed out immediately. And the only reason I picked Star Peru over Peruvian was based on cost. And thank god I picked Star! A week before my trip, I got an email from GAP saying that Peruvian had ceased flying due to inadequate regulations or something like that. GAP didn’t fly with them (we flew with LAN) but they emailed me, just in case my other travel plans in Peru involved flying with them. Very helpful. And thankfully, I wasn’t flying with them! But because Star Peru flies within Peru only, they had some pretty strange ways of doing business. Granted, I flew last year and my mom and sister are flying on them this year, apparently things have changed already in the span of one year and I’ll note the differences.

Exiting the plane in Lima. Note the constant overcast sky!

Last year, I booked my ticket online, about 4 months before I was to fly. I got a what looked like a very basic confirmation email a few days later and apparently they only billed my credit card US$15 to hold the reservation. I emailed the office in Miami (their US office) to find out if my reservation was processed and within 2 days, I got a confirmation from the office in Peru, saying my reservation was confirmed and instructions to pay the balance of my ticket once I arrive in Peru. I wasn’t too worried about this as I gave myself plenty of extra time in Cusco and Lima to figure this out. I had read on their website that the office at the Lima airport was open 24 hours, so when I landed at the start of my trip in Lima, I found my name on a sign and the rep from GAP asked if I could wait until the next plane arrived, so we could share a taxi into town. I said it was fine. I sat down for a few minutes before I remembered that I had to pay my balance to Star Peru. I went to find the rep and tried to tell him what I wanted to do, but he didn’t understand what I was trying to say at all (you would think more tourists would have this issue) but I gave up, knowing I would have time in Cusco to deal with this. When my mom bought her ticket for this month, it took a few cycles, but she was billed in full so she won’t have to find a local office once she is in Peru to pay the balance.

In Cusco, I had a map to the office and thankfully the town is so tiny and the office is on a main street in between the center of town and the airport, that I saw it when we first arrived so I knew how to find it after my tour ended. After the Inca Trail hike, I had one day to essentially “run errands” which involved paying the balance of my ticket. It was very easy! Since I had my confirmation print outs, barely any language was needed to communicate and I quickly and easily paid my balance. The whole transaction was quaint. Thankfully, they took credit cards for this part in person!

The following week was my flight and it was easy peasy. I got to check my HUGE suitcase for free. What I didn’t know at the time, was that the flight wasn’t nonstop. We had about a 20 minute flight from Juliaca to Arequipa, which was probably the shortest flight I have ever been on in my life. Even though I was assigned an aisle seat, the plane was dead empty (seriously, maybe like 30 people on the Southwest-size jet) so I had the whole row to myself and moved to the window. But then in Arequipa, the plane filled and I moved back to the aisle. Thankfully, I shared my row with some English-speaking tourists who didn’t say a word (the only reason I know so, if their guide books were in English, but I don’t know what country they were from) but the person across the aisle from me, let her daughter run wild around the airplane after we had taken off and I was so scared that the kid was going to pull the door open. Seriously, shit like that would NEVER happen in the US, the attendants would scream at the person to hold on to their kid, but in Peru apparently, anything goes. The plane was full on the flight back to Lima and we got served a box of snacks! YUM!!!! There was no entertainment, but for slightly over an hour, who cares.

Star Peru’s “gate area” in Lima. On the runway!

When we landed in Lima, unlike when I left on LAN for Cusco, it was like Star Peru was too cheap to rent a gate, so we exited onto the runway, which I don’t mind at all. We then jammed on a bus for a quick ride to the gate and spilled out right in the baggage claim. I grabbed my bag and spotted the sign from the hotel I was staying at in Peru for my last few days. This was the only time on the entire trip (except in official capacities) that my name was spelled correctly. Very nice!

Exiting the plane in Lima.

Moral: Unless the airline has total shit reviews and track records, try the local flights! They’ll usually be way cheaper than the national and international carriers, plus you’ll interact with the locals more. Thankfully, all the employees on Star Peru spoke English, so it was a non-issue, but the customers were way local. Have you ever flown on a local carrier you were impressed or disappointed in?

Used: 2011

I love tiny airports! They are easy to navigate and you rarely have to worry about missing your flight. Puno was a perfect example of it. Trusting the collective to get me to the airport on time was a fine decision. Since I knew the airport was tiny, pretty much everyone in my collective was going to be on my flight. I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Check in was a breeze and even though I flew on Star Peru, a local internal airline, the agent spoke English. Not that there was much to say. I checked my bag and then was pointed to the next window to pay my s/9.50 exit fee. No communication was even needed there.

Outside the Puno/Juliaca airport

Security was easy and hey, if you wanted to enter and exit, you could do it as much as you wanted, just had to pass security every time. I was a bit nervous going through security, mainly because I didn’t know what was past it, anywhere to eat or buy stuff, just in case, so I waited until my plane was scheduled to about to leave to go through. Turns out, that wasn’t even an issue because we were delayed for about an hour. Ah, the Peruvian way! Thankfully, we got to wait in the terminal instead of on the plane, so that was nice. Another favorite thing about small airports (or airlines) are the jetways! There are none and you have to enter and exit the planes right on the runway. I totally love that. All the flights in Puno, even LAN, have entrances and exits on the runway.

Don’t you wish all airports could be this empty?

Moral: Small airports are great when traveling in a new place. The lack of flights means you’ll never miss yours and they might board in a different way, which is always fun. Thankfully, since most airports in less developed nations cater mainly to tourists, you can be guaranteed that someone will speak English and have good clean (English!) signage as well. And the bathrooms will be clean and stocked with toilet paper. What is your favorite small airport?