Chuuck state (Truk Lagoon) The Federated states of Micronesia

Well here we are done with another adventure.  Wreck diving in Truk Lagoon, or Chuuck state as the locals call it.

We left Seattle on Delta airlines, 10 hours to Narita Japan, another 4 hours to Guam and then 1 1/2  hour flight into Chuuck.

Lets talk about the resort.  http://www.bluelagoondiveresort.com, this is a hard core divers resort.

This is not Wakatobi, https://www.wakatobi.com/resort/intro/ or the four seasons.  It does not have luxury, or fancy meals.  But, its clean, cool and comfortable.  And the ocean views from every single room/balcony, are to die for.

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A little about the resort.  They support both open circuit and CCR diving.  The dive shop is well equipped.  But be warned it does not have AC so setting up, gearing up, cleaning up, is HOT!

We were with Pete Mesley and his group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/258762027472938/

The resort does NOT have a pool. Which might seem like a silly thing to add, but its DAMN hot and the ocean water is very warm.  So having a cooler temperature pool would be nice.  But of course its expensive to maintain, so, no pool.

The rooms usually have two double or full beds, full balcony’s, with a table and chairs, AC units in the room, a large bathroom, linen closet, dresser for your clothes, closet to hang things up.   A small table and chairs in the room a television and phone that do not work, but for some reason are there.  🙂

The AC is a bit cranky, its either to hot or to cold in your room.   We just managed it the best we could.  There are ceiling fans in every room, but they do not work.

They provide a hair dryer, shampoo and soap.

The rooms are cleaned each day and you are given fresh towels.  The linens on the bed are changed once a week.

The resort is well maintained, the grounds are cleaned and mowed each day.

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Blue Lagoon Resort, Chuuck

There are hammocks that you can lay in all around the resort, for a leisurely day of reading, or napping.

The resort needs a few repairs, the tiles in the rooms are coming up, the tiles in the showers are very bad, some of them are coming out, there is some mildew in the showers, but its a hot, humid place, where supplies and repairs are limited.    All in all I was very happy with my stay.

The restaurant serves three meals a day.  The menu is pretty large and they will make you most anything.   But after a week or two you will get tired of eating fish, and what I called “meatloaf burgers”.  They also offer many Japanese choices on the menu which were quite nice.   All in all, the fish is fresh, the coffee hot and the staff very kind.

*NOTE:  You need to be respectful of the locals when you are at the resort.  Try to stay covered up while in your bathing suit.  There is no need to wear a skimpy bikini.  And when you are in the dining room you need to have shoes, and be covered up.  Its inappropriate to go shirtless, (men), or shoe less, or wear your bathing suit in the dining area.  Wearing a tank, or a dress over your bathing suit is fine.  But if you are not dressed appropriately, they will ask you to leave and or change.  Just show respect.  

There is wi-fi in the lobby.  As you can imagine it is “the coconut telegraph”.  Its very slow and if there are multiple people using it at the same time.. well, good luck.

The water is safe to drink, BUT they do give you filtered water in your rooms in Tupperware containers.  You do have a small refrigerator in your room so you can put that in there and keep it cold.   I recommend using bottled water for brushing your teeth, drinking etc.  You never really know…

There is also a small “store” near the front desk. You can buy items like gum, Tylenol, toothpaste, etc. they do have a few bottles of booze for about 60.00 a piece.

You are allowed two bottles of liquor a person into Chuuck.  I highly recommend buying those at Duty Free in the Guam airport.  That way you can have it in your room for cocktails, or after dinner.

There is an outdoor bar at the resort, and for some reason those drinks are a bit cheaper than the dining room.

There are a few mosquito’s, but surprisingly, not as many as we expected.  You might do well with some bug wipes, or bug spray.  But there is no need for malaria medicine or anything like that.   There are tons of birds around and they do a pretty good job of gobbling up those nasty bugs.

Have fun, relax, get in some great dives and you might even meet some new people and make new friends.

Cheers!  Now enjoy my slideshow!!

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Na’ia M/V and The Kingdom of Tonga 2015

Well here we are with another adventure under our belts, and man what an adventure it was!!

We took Air New Zealand out of Vancouver, straight flight, 14 hours, into Auckland.

And just a shout out about Air New Zealand.  It was one of the best airlines I have flown.  The business class section had amazing food, drink and cabin crew.   The beds lay totally flat, and they make your beds for you.   Great comfy beds, pillows, etc.   If you have a chance to fly it, do it, I highly recommend it.  Even the economy cabin looked comfortable enough to manage for a long flight.

We then took a short flight also on Air New Zealand to The Kingdom of Tonga.  Tonga is near Fiji.  It has over 170 islands.  It is the only Kingdom in the South Pacific.   We stayed in a hotel there before catching our Dive Boat Nai’a.  The boat picked us up at the hotel at 2:00 pm the next day.    Another site for Nai’a, to help you understand how this adventure works.

This boat was amazing, one of the best of the dozen or so liveaboard’s, sail, yachts, etc. that I have been on.    It had a great crew, the rooms were spacious and really nice.  The showers big enough to move around in, plenty of room for your things in the room.  The beds were pretty comfortable, nice pillows, good lighting, plugs, places to hang your clothes, shelving, drawers, etc.  Even a place for a large suitcase if you need to bring one.

AC in the rooms which works really well.

Three great meals a day, plus plenty of snacks, drinks, coffee, wine, booze (extra price) water, ice, fruit.  (but if you want salty you might have to bring your own chips or crackers, there were not any on the boat.  Mostly just sweets, carbs, etc.)

There is a huge dive deck, with room for 16 divers.   This was not necessarily a dive trip, as we were really there to see the Humpbacks,  but they did have dives every afternoon and the divers said they saw some really great stuff most days.

Humpback Whale, Kingdom of Tonga, 2015

Humpback Whale, Kingdom of Tonga, 2015

The whales come to this spot in Tonga to give birth, it’s a nice protected, quiet area and they are plentiful.  There are only two places in the world you can swim with these whales, and Tonga is one of them.  You cannot dive with them, but you can snorkel with them.  The laws are pretty strict these days, so as to protect the whales and make sure they are always comfortable an in peace.

Here is how it works:  The boat moves everyday to spots they think the whales are, and we usually spot them off the bow of the boat every day.  Then if the whales seem to like staying in that spot, we say, “let’s go swimming” and we put on our wet suits, grab our cameras and snorkel gear, and on the skiffs we go.

The skiff drivers are very skilled at spotting the whales and keeping us in a spot where we can get in the water with them.  Once we spot them, we put on our masks and grab our cameras and slide off the sides of the skiff like a seal, slippery and into the water.  We stay together as a group and slowly swim over the whales or near the whales.  No need to be fast or quick or kick madly, the whales need quiet and slow movements.  They are very large, peaceful animals.

It can be a bit scary and or daunting the first time you are close to them or they come at you.   You have to really be calm and follow the instructions of your leader.

This is one of the most magical things I have ever experienced.  It was very emotional for both my husband and I.   Its very hard to explain.

Take a camera, and or a GoPro or a water camera of some sort.   Just remember that sometimes the water will be very choppy and it will be hard to not only see the whales, but even hard to take a photo of them, even though they are very large creatures.  And the visibility is not always perfect.   Sometimes it will be hard to see anything.

*NOTE : make sure your camera, big or small, is clipped to you, strapped to you in some way.  Perhaps a float and wrist strap.  Getting in and out of the skiff and the choppy ocean can easily take that camera away, and then, bye bye, no more whale shots.

Sometimes there will be that one person in the group that tries to ruin the shots for everyone.  Trying to be the first one out of the boat, swimming ahead, kicking wildly.  It’s not necessary to be “that person”.   Take your time and remember there are plenty of you on this trip, who have all paid the same price to see the whales.  No one person is more important than the other.

And remember these are huge creatures and if they feel threatened, they will let you know.

The water is a bit chilly (around 72 degrees) and the wind on the skiffs can make you pretty cold.  I recommend 5mm wetsuits or 7mm or Lava core or Shark Skin.  (of course if you are an experienced diver you will most likely know what you need in that temperature water)   The wind can get pretty cold especially when you are wet and since you are snorkeling you are on top of the water, which, if its sunny is fine, but not everyday is sunny.

We didn’t have the best weather, the waters were very choppy and the wind was merciless.   There were days where we didn’t get in the water at all because it simply was not safe to get on and off the skiffs or from the boat to the skiffs.

If you are not an experienced snorkeler this might also be difficult at first, especially if the waters are choppy.  You have to just hang at the top and stay with the group.  Don’t try to swim it, don’t try and kick too much, the choppy waters might make you anxious but the leaders are pretty good at keeping the group together and safe.

*NOTE: I highly recommend light snorkel fins instead of your heavy wetsuit/dry suit fins.  It will def. make the experience easier. 

Getting back on the skiff can be tricky.  You have to pull yourself out of the water and launch yourself back into the skiff.  If you have bad shoulders, or are perhaps a bit overweight, or don’t have much athletic ability, this exercise could be difficult for you.

*NOTE: when you pack, whether you have been on a liveaboard of not, here are some recommendations.   Two or three bathing suits, as you will likely get in and out of the water a few times during the day.   Wet suits, 7mm, 5mm, LavaCore, Shark Skin, or something of your liking.  But the water is cold so be sure not to underestimate that.  Lounge wear, skirts, shorts, pants, sarongs, and of course, a sweatshirt or jacket of some kind, as the wind is very cold on deck.  A light rain jacket just in case.  We did have many days of rain.   You are allowed to wear shoes on this boat so flip-flops, or tennis shoes are fine if you want them.   Sunscreen, hat, kindle, and or books, music, etc.   There may be days when you are on the boat all day and never see a whale or never get into the water, so you will not want to be bored. 

 

 

 

Cusco, Lima, Pisco, Salkantay, Machu Picchu, PERU! 2014

Summiting Sulkanay with horses Peru, 2014

Summiting Salkantay with horses, Peru, 2014

Oh my what a trip this was!  We were in the jungle, the dessert, summited 15,200 on the mountain. We rode horses through the Andes mountains, rode dune buggies, went zip lining, and even white water rafting!   It was quite and adventure! Peru is a fascinating place.  Different than I expected.  I will tell you a few things about our journey, give you some advice, and let you ask as many questions as you want. Here we go…… First of all knowing a very large amount of Spanish will be very helpful on your journey to Peru.  Most people speak some English but it can be frustrating in some places, especially restaurants. Signs, drivers, hotels, airports, etc. are all in Spanish.    I suggest you brush up on your Spanish before you arrive.

Peru is very dirty.  You cannot drink the water, or even let the water touch your lips in the shower.  All water consumption must be bottled.  Some high end hotels will have filtered water and ice, but be cautious, always ask before you just start drinking from the tap or order ice in your drink.

Be sure to bring all the emergency medicine you will need on your trip.  (after bite, epipen, Cipro, Benadryl, band-aids, Neosporin, Z-pack, etc.)  There is an abundance of bees and wasps there, so make sure if you are allergic to stings you are prepared.  I was stung by a wasp and not only did it hurt like a MoFo, I was lucky that I was not allergic to the sting but some people are and you must be prepared.  There is not place for emergencies in Peru.

Be careful where you eat.  If you have a guide let the guide recommend some good restaurants, safe restaurants for tourists to eat at. Refrigeration is a problem in Peru so sometimes the meats will not be as cared for as you are used too.  We travel a lot and we are very careful about what we eat and where we eat and we were sick more times on this trip than anywhere else in the world. Do not eat the salad, or the vegetables or fruits that have not been peeled, or cooked.  They wash these things with their filthy water, and just like my advice in Egypt, you will get sick if you are not cautious about that.

You will need to have your yellow fever shot and you will need to take Malaria meds while on this trip.  There are TONS of bugs, we were bit several times.   And these bugs are nasty!  Huge welts, blood, itching, like no bugs I have ever seen.   Make sure all your vaccinations and meds are up to date before you travel here.

*ALTITUDE: This is NO joke!  When you arrive in Cusco you will begin to feel the difference as your breathing slows down and you are having trouble taking a breath.  While we did not get Altitude sickness, we did have a few nites and days where we struggled with the altitude.  We took some medication with us that was prescribed by our doctor, Acetazolamide, it really works!  Also drink the Coca tea.  It is very helpful as well.  I suggest you drink it in the morning and before retiring in the evening, or right after dinner. Your first nite in the high altitude, you should eat a light meal, and have Coca tea, and then take a sleeping pill and go right to bed. Keep yourself hydrated, plenty of water and electrolyte tablets as well.   Do not do any activities your first nite or day.  Your body needs time to acclimate to the altitude.  Relax and think carefully about your breathing.  Some people get very sick, nauseated, light headed etc. You will find even the smallest activities, eating, walking, showering to be difficult at first.  Take your meds, take things slow and eventually your body will acclimate. Be very cautious about your alcohol intake, you will find that even a small drink, or one beer will quickly go to your head in that high altitude.

*COCA TEA It is NOT Cocaine.  It comes from the Coca plant.  It would take you chewing on a thousand Coca leaves to get the Cocaine effect from them.  The tea is very helpful for the altitude.  It has a bland hay taste to it.  Most hotels and restaurants serve it as a local and regular drink.

*TOILETS There are very very few public toilets in all of Peru.  Even if there is one, you will end up paying 1 solace for the privilege of its use.  People literally just pee in the streets, or in the bushes.  The country smells very much like urine and fecies.  Even at monuments and ruin sites like Machu Picchu, there is only ONE public toilet at the beginning of the site entrance.  If you have to use the restroom while you are there, you will either have to go all the way back to the front or you will have to just pee in the bushes that are there on site.  Its all very odd.   Also carry your own TP and hand cleaner.   If you do end up finding a toilet it will not have the necessities like TP. We spent many long hours in cars, and on boats and if you have to pee you either have to pee off the side of a boat or ask them to stop so you can pee in the woods.

*HORSE BACK RIDING We used Mountain Lodges of Peru as our source for this trip.  They were a great company and the lodges were wonderful.  I will post that in the next paragraph: I know many people hike these trails, and some take bikes and some do Horses.  We decided to take the horses through the Andes mountains.  I cannot emphasize enough that horseback riding is NOT, NOT, NOT for beginners.   You must have advanced knowledge of horses and horse back riding before you do this trek.  The trails are STEEP and narrow and muddy and filled with large rocks, boulders, water, debris, etc.  The drop offs are very deep and the horses are not very well behaved. The horses do not like to listen to commands, they only like to follow the front horse or the horse in front of them.  They are not trained very well in commands.  There are NO smooth trails to ride on, you will be on super rocky passes for many hours and many days.   The horses seem to know the trails but because they are not very well behaved it can be scary for some. 

They also are not very well footed so sometimes they will walk very close to the edge without even caring since all they do is watch the horse in front.  AND if the horse in front starts to run, trust me, your horse is now running.   All things you need to be aware of. The saddles are not the kind you might be used to.  They have no “knob” on the front.  They are flat and some are very small.   If you are not steady in your core and on a saddle this might be more than difficult for you. I suggest good hiking/riding boots.  You will also need a good water bottle, I suggest a soft one, it will be banging against you leg for hours, as they suggest you hook it to the saddle, so a soft water bottle is less abrasive on your legs.  You will need a small day pack that can hold extras, like toilet paper, hand wipes, sunscreen, hats, gloves, scarves.  You can put your rain gear and heavy coat and camera gear in the saddle bags.  Their size is sufficient for those items. The company will provide you with a helmet that they strongly suggest you wear.  I also strongly suggest it.  If you were to fall off this horse, you will want your head protected. They will provide you lunch and snacks along the way, but carrying a few snacks of your own is not a bad idea.  Peanuts, cookies, crackers, fruit, are all good ideas.

*LODGES Mountain Lodges of Peru:  Each evening after long days in the saddle we stopped at these lodges for hot tubing, and dinner and sleep.  These lodges are beautiful, well maintained and clean.   I suggest highly that you use the hot tub every night after you hike or ride, it will help soften the muscles and help you relax and sleep. The lodges have big beautiful rooms with full bathrooms and large comfortable beds.   The food in Peru is always good and these lodges were no exception.  Full breakfasts, large lunches, (unless u get a paper lunch on the trek) lovely dinners, with desserts.  They have full bars, (though with the altitude you might not drink too much) In the mornings you get coffee, tea, juices, eggs, bacon, whatever you want. They always have snacks out, like crackers, cookies, fruit.  If its chilly they will have a nice fire going. Most everyone speaks English and the hospitality is really wonderful. You wont be disappointed.

Whistler, Canada

We decided to take a drive to Whistler!  It was the perfect 4 day weekend away where we didn’t have to fly and we could take our time driving the beautiful roads and scenery in our convertible.

It is about a 4-5 hour drive from our home to Whistler, depending on traffic and the Border Crossing.  We have Global Entry to the return trip was a breeze, we didn’t even have to sit in line at the border.   It literally was a 3 minute trip across the border for us and other Nexxus or Global Entry holders.  Wow!  That made it so much easier and nicer for the drive.

We stayed at the Crystal Hotel in the village,   http://www.crystal-lodge.com/hotel.   It was really nice.  We had a large room, with a couch, a small kitchenette with a microwave, coffee maker, sink and plenty of glasses for drinking wine, water, booze etc.  It had a large television, a king bed a large bathroom a safe, most of the usual stuff.  The hotel was clean and well-kept.  The beds were very comfortable.

It is 22.00 a day to park your car in the garage, but its safe there and that seems pretty standard.

Being right in the village is great because you come out of your hotel and there you are in the midst of things.   There are tons of restaurants for breakfast, lunch, dinner.   You can choose to spend little or a lot on any of those things.  There are plenty of Starbucks in the village, so you wont be short on your coffee or tea or scone.  🙂  *And to answer a question from a reader, YES there are several Starbucks in the Village.  Don’t worry you wont be without your Latte!  🙂

There are a few restaurants in the center of the village that seem to be hopping.   It’s nice because you can order a drink or food and just sit and people watch or a show that might be going on in the center.

There are lots of shops for souvenirs, jewelry, clothes, just about anything you need/want.   You can buy booze, food for your room, there is also a couple of pharmacies.   There is plenty to do at Whistler even in the summer.  You can take the peak to peak gondola ride to the top of the mountain and have lunch while looking over the peaks.  Its amazing!

You can hike, there is bike riding, and there is still plenty of skiing and boarding to be had at the top on the glacier.

It can be a bit chilly so I recommend a wrap or light sweater in the evenings.   The wind is a bit cold but for us it was fine because we live in the Pacific NW so we are used to the temps.   I brought one pair of jeans, two pairs of shorts, a couple of cover up shirts for sun coverage while on the open lifts and while walking around or hiking.   I brought GOOD hiking shoes, also a dress pair of shoes, some leggings a couple of nice blouses for dinner.  It’s a pretty casual place but there is always room to dress up in the evenings if you chose.

You can do river rafting, and bear watching and zip lining as well.  We took the 2 hour bear tour.  They pick you up in a land rover and you share that very small car with 6 other people while driving up a mountain trying to see bears in the woods or by the side of the road.   *I do not think its worth the 200.00 for this tour.   We mostly just drove around, played magical chairs in the car and in the end saw only one small bear on our way back to the room.  Honestly we could have taken our own car up around the roads to find the beard ourselves.  I don’t recommend this tour, but that certainly is up to you.

The prices are reasonable for a place like Whistler.   There are a few very expensive restaurants but we chose a more casual weekend.

Go, have fun, see the sights, walk the village and bring your camera.

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

We took a week to visit this amazing Island!!  For me this was my first time, for my husband it was his third.  He was doing more CCR diving and I was snorkeling, hanging by the pool, writing, shopping and meeting some great new friends!!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Cayman

We took United (which we hate flying BTW) from Sea-Tac to Dulles and Dulles to Grand Cayman.  Same route coming home.   It was long for us but for others it was only a few hours, like if you are coming from NC.. easy flight!

Grand Cayman June 2013

Grand Cayman June 2013

Grand Cayman is the largest of the Islands.  We stayed at http://www.cobaltcoast.com/  this place is incredible!  It is clean and fun and seems to attract a great crowd.  Its not cheap but nothing in the Caymans is.   But if you have the means and you have the time its def. for you.   They have a great Dive Shop, Dive Tech, http://www.sportdiver.com/worlds-best-diving-resorts/cayman-islands/2012-world%E2%80%99s-best-diving-resorts-cobalt-coast-dive-resort–  which is one of the top dive shops at one of the top Dive Resorts.

The rooms at the resort are large.  They include a living space, with a refrigerator, a table, a couch, a chair and plenty of space to use your laptop.  Plenty of plugs to plug-in your batteries, phone etc.  You have free Wi-Fi, it’s a bit slow but it works.  The Wi-Fi works best in the bar and eating area but not great in your room.   The rooms have large beds, a large bathroom and they even include, soap, shampoo, extra towels and blankets if you need them.  The rooms have AC and fans so they are very cool, which is nice esp. at certain times of year.  There is also a pool right outside the rooms.   You basically walk out your room and there you are at the outdoor dining area.   Breakfast is usually a buffet, with eggs, potatoes, fruits, breads, jams, bacon, sausage, pancakes, French toast, coffee, tea etc.   You can also order off the menu but its all pretty much the same.   Lunch and dinner are menu items and the selection is wonderful.  And everything, is fresh.  I loved the Mahi-Mahi Fish tacos they were a huge hit with me.   They also have fresh soups and specials each day for lunch and dinner.  You will never lack variety and you will not be disappointed.

** The plugs in the Caymans are the same as the states, no need to have an adapter.

The all-inclusive package includes three meals a day, and 5 alcoholic drinks a day.  (the alcohol program is not a rollover, so it’s a use it or lose it kind of drink deal)

The dive shop is located right there at the resort, out your room and there it is.  They support snorkeling, open-circuit, CCR and CCR tri-mix diving.  They offer courses as well as private instructors.  You can also get your Lion Fish hunting license and go out with one of the DM’s and kill the Lion Fish (Lion Fish do not belong in the Caribbean.  They have NO natural predator there and they are eating up the life)  So Lion Fish hunting is highly encouraged.  DONT worry they have recipes for them not so they can be cooked and eaten safely.

I also did Sting Ray city!!  It was so amazing.  Though some people still have a false belief about Sting Rays, they really are amazing and HARMLESS creatures.  They do not kill, they do not hunt, they do not bite, they do not point and aim their barbs at you.  They are incredible creatures.   You can either go out on a small dive boat and dive to the bottom, 10 or 12 feet and sit on the bottom so they swim around you.  Or you can snorkel above them, and they will come up to greet you, or you can take another tour where you stand in the water up to your waist and the Sting Rays just swim around you.   It really is a neat experience.  They are soft and fun and inquisitive!  You should def. do this its worth it.  I think it costs about 30.00 a person.   The dive boat will have tanks and towels and water.  But you need to pack up your own gear to take with you, including snorkels, fins, BC etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stingray_City,_Grand_Cayman

We took one day to go shopping.  We did not go to Georgetown, as if was my first time we went to Camana Bay instead.  Its pretty swanky!  It has lots of expensive shops but the courtyard was neat and they had a lot of great restaurants.  We met our new friends from Colorado and NC there after they spent the day on 7 mile beach, and we had drinks and dinner and there was even dancing!  It was great fun. http://www.camanabay.com/

All in all my experience there not only had deep meaning for me as it was, years ago the first time my now husband bought me my first piece of jewelry, it seemed like a great place to spend our anniversary.

It was hot, so you don’t need much.   A few bathing suits, cover ups, sarongs, sandals, flip-flops, some sun dresses, sunscreen, a hat or head cover esp. if you are going to snorkel for long periods.  You probably don’t need a lot of make-up as you will sweat it off, and it wont really be worth it to fix your hair as you are usually dripping in sweat!  🙂   So headbands, cute head pieces, rubber bands, scrunchies are a must!  Sunglasses don’t forget those!

I loved it and I am excited to go there again.  If you want a fun, sunny, beautifully friendly place to vacation this is the place.

Galapagos, Bikini Atoll & The Big Island of Hawaii… CCR diving

My husband is now a CCR diver and now has the opportunities of a lifetime to go to so many more places diving, to stay down longer, to dive more, see more magnificent things, wrecks, reefs, you name it!!    He will be going on some live a boards soon to get more underwater time with his CCR so he can go back to Bikini Atoll in the spring of 2014 and back to CoCo’s island.

The CCR’s give him the opportunity to swim with sharks and fish without scaring them, to see things he can see with open-circuit diving.  To get photos you can’t imagine.

Here is what he is diving with now.  We are friends with the creator of the Titan and the owner of the shop.  Will write more about his experiences as they come up..

http://expeditiondivegear.com/

Cheers all hope you are well, we are off to the Cayman islands in a few weeks for our Anniversary!  Woot!

Red

Ephesus, Capadocia and Istanbul Turkey 2012

Even though our trip ended on land in Turkey I am going to start with it because it is freshest in my memory.  Turkey is an amazing place filled with such history.  Istanbul is very modern and has a great transportation system.  You can get almost anywhere on the tram.  You can walk most anywhere there too.  Some places I highly recommend are the Spice Market, the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque.  It is worth eating dinner in and around the Grand Bazaar because its busy and happening and if you are lucky you might get into a place where you can see the Blue Mosque lit up at night.

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey

This is the amazing Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey

Take the tour of the inside it is worth it.

These tiles on the walls, (below is just a small sample of some of their beauty) are worth 40-50K American Dollars a piece.  There is high security inside the Mosques so these tiles are not stolen.

Tiles inside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey

These are some of the beautiful tiles inside The Blue Mosque

*NOTE

Turkey is 99% Muslin so be respectful when it comes to your dress, esp. as a woman.  When entering the Mosque you must remove your shoes and your shoulders must be covered.  So wearing a tank top or a short skirt is not advisable.  Always wear something with sleeves and pants or a long skirt.  In some mosques will also be asked to cover your head, so my advice is to always carry a scarf or a wrap with you when traveling to Muslim countries. 

You will be allowed to take photos in most places in turkey but sometimes you will be asked NOT to use your flash.  Please be respectful, don’t act like many tourist who just don’t care what they are asked to do or not do.  Remember this is THEIR country and you are a visitor.

I highly recommend taking a day to walk the Spice Market.  You can buy many candies, teas, spices etc.  The people are very kind and you will find it quite and experience.

The Spice Market Istanbul Turkey

Also take at least a FULL day to walk the Grand Bazaar.  It is covered so you wont get wet if it happens to rain.  It is an amazing place.  You can buy many gifts here or things for you and your home.  You can barter here like in many bazaars.  BUT the good thing about the Turks is that they are friendly, funny and loving!  They will not push you to buy something but they will give you good prices on good items.  They take much pride in their business’s and they will always offer you Turkish tea so that you can sit and get to know them and tell them about your travels and family.

Go to Turkey with an open mind, the people are some of the friendliest I have ever had the honor of meeting and spending time with.  If they offer you tea say “Yes” and sit and enjoy their stories and their history.

You can buy most anything in Istanbul, rugs, personal items, etc.  If you are missing something chances are you can get it here.  You can buy clothes, shoes, anything.  As I said it very much like NY, Hong Kong or Milan.  15 Million people now live in the City of Istanbul so you can imagine how busy it is.   Be prepared for the hustle and bustle of this big city.  There is much to see, bring your camera!!  There are ATM’s everywhere and of course you can use your credit card for most things.  Sometimes they prefer you buy things in cash and you probably will get a better deal if you pay in cash but it’s not necessary.

EPHESUS:

This is an old bible city.  If you are familiar with the scriptures than you will certainly be aware of the importance of this city.  They say that Mary, the mother of Christ was brought here by John and lived and died here after Jesus died.  That John built her a house and you can tour this small and modest home.  They also claim that the Apostle John died here and you can see his “grave”.  You can also see the Wishing Wall, which is very much like the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Only 15% of Ephesus has been excavated so there is SO much more to see in coming years.

It takes about a day to see all the old city and the cobble stones are big and rocky and its hot and dusty. DONT wear heals and I don’t recommend flip-flops or tank tops.  You will want to wear a hat, clothing that is sun resistant and cool, I suggest travel pants but shorts will be fine as long as you wear sunscreen.  ALWAYS carry water with you.  There is much to see you want to make sure you are comfortable so wear GOOD walking shoes.

CAPADOCIA:

This is also a very old biblical place.  There are not many ruins here but there are homes carved into the stone, the structures are very interesting to see.  It is beautiful and mysterious and worth your time here as well.

WHAT TO WEAR, NOT TO WEAR AND BRING:

  • A scarf or wrap for your head and or shoulders
  • Good walking shoes for the Bazaar and Spice Market and the city in general
  • Sunscreen
  • A light jacket or sweater it can get cold by the water or in the evenings
  • Dress slacks or a dress or skirt and blouse for dinners

Bali, Depensar, Wakatobi, Sulawesi, Ubud Indonesia & The Pelagian Dive Yacht

We left our home and traveled to Vancouver B.C.  We took EVA air from Vancouver to Taipei, business class, a 12.5 hour flight.  We got a hotel room in Canada so that we could store our stuff, get a nice dinner, then shower and change into our travel clothes.  We left our car at the hotel for a small parking fee.  It was a secure parking lot so we were not worried about theft or anything.  Our flight from Vancouver was $2400.00 cheaper than flying out of Sea-Tac and security is SO much easier than at Sea-Tac.   And the drive for us was only a little over 2 hours and it was a nice day, so it all started out very well.

We had a 5 hour layover in Taipei at the airport.  Since we fly business class we get to go to the business class lounge and shower and change and get something to eat and drink.  Then we can rest, read, etc.  We then took a 5 hour flight into Bali, business class.  When we arrived it was HOT!  We had someone from Wakatobi Dive Lodge waiting for us, she helped us get our visa and helped us move quickly through customs.  We then had a car waiting for us to take us to the resort in Depensar.  That was a three-hour drive and not necessarily because of miles but because the traffic in Bali is SO bad now.  Sometimes you can walk to your destination quicker than you can drive.

We met our friends from Whales, Graham and Margaret Roy at the resort.  They had been there a couple of days before us.  We stayed at the Anda Amed Resort.  The resort is decent with very nice size rooms, large beds, large bathrooms, with a shower and a tub,  french doors, mosquito netting on the beds.  There is A/C, a T.V., DVD Player but there is no telephone in the room so if you need something you will have to walk from your room to the front desk.   The water pressure is not very good, the towels are a bit rough, but other than that it was a good place to stay.  We had a room way at the top so we had a great view of the Banda Sea , where we could see the sunset and rise each day if we chose.

There is an infinity pool that looks over the Sea.  You can order food and drinks by the pool if you want.   Margaret and I sat by the pool and read most days while Brad and Graham went diving.

The food menu is decent, lots of selections for each meal.  Fresh fruits, meats, sandwiches, noodles.  They even make fresh fruit juices in the morning with the whole fruit in the blender, they are SO good.  The restaurant is ok substituting or changing things for your dietary needs or wants.  They also have a full bar and they can mix whatever you want, whenever you want.  And the Indonesian local wines are very very good.

Two evenings we decided to eat somewhere else instead of the resort.  There was a little place called Beer & Grill that was not too far from our resort, we took scooters to get there, man that was scary and fun all at the same time!  We met the owner, he had amazing english, and his restaurant was wonderful!  Graham and Brad shared Duck one evening and we all had prawn and avocado Sate both evenings.  It was so fresh and SO Good.  We even shared a bottle of the local Red Indonesian wine that was made right there, grapes grown on the soil from the Volcano.  It was cheap and delicious.  Both nites we had that with dinner.

After a few days in Ahmed we all got a taxi together and went into Bali for one nite in a  Harris Hotel .  This hotel is only a few minutes from the airport instead of the three-hour drive from Ahmed so we thought it best to drive there the nite before, get a good nites rest and then take that three minute drive to catch our flight.

We are now on our way to Wakatobi to stay at the resort and to stay on the Pelagian Dive Yacht.  When we arrived at the airport the porters took our bags, no need to tip them because they work for the resort.  We were escorted to the VIP lounge where we had free snacks, water, coffee, etc. while waiting for our 10:00 am charter fight to the island.  It is a 2.5 hour flight to the Island.  This day it was raining heavily so when we arrived we were greeted by the resort dive masters, helpers, etc. and with umbrellas.  We got on a boat with our luggage and carry-ons that took us another 45 minutes to the resort itself.   Once we arrived at the resort Brad could not believe how much it had changed in all these years.  It was HUGE and beautiful with new Villas, a large restaurant, a huge staff etc.   Ourselves, our friends and a few other guests were now going to be taken to the Yacht where we will stay for 5 nites and then back to the resort for another 5.   We met another couple, Rodger and Becky Stewart from Colorado who joined us on the Yacht.  The Yacht only holds 10 guests, and man was it luxury!

The rooms on the Yacht are HUGE and they have all and more of the comforts of home.  The bathrooms were FULL bathrooms with HUGE showers, they supply soap, shampoo, conditioner and if you have forgotten something you can get that too.  We had a queen size bed and another large bed in the room for a guest or two.   There were two closets, plenty of drawers, lighting, everything you could need.  The only thing negative, was that the bed was very hard so sometimes we had trouble sleeping.   This is the room we had:

The cuisine is to die for!  They have a master chef and everyday you can choose whatever you want for breakfast including fresh fruits, anything!  For lunch and dinner there is a planned menu but you get to choose from three or 4 choices and all the meals are delicious.  The meals are not too fatty or heavy or large either.  So you can enjoy a nice meal and not be overly full.   They have plenty of snacks on the yacht, tea, coffee, sodas, booze, wine etc.  You have to pay for the sodas, 2.00 a piece and you have to pay for your booze and wine.  The wine is about 12.00 a glass and the booze about 14.00 a glass, there are more expensive ones too but we stuck with the stock stuff.  Booze in Indonesia is expensive and at the resort and on the Yacht it was SUPER expensive, so just be prepared for that.  You do get tea, water, iced tea, lemonade, juices, milk and coffee for free.

The snorkeling and diving are phenominal!  Brad says the best in the world.  The reefs are protected and thanks to places like Wakatobi resort, dynamite fishing is becoming less and less so the fish and reefs are growing instead of being depleted.  The visibilty is amazing everyday and there is so much to see, I even saw an Octopus and eels, small fish, big fish, any kind of fish!!  It was fantastic!

As on many dive boats there are always people that you dont get along with. It was not so bad on this trip, but there were times when Brad would leave the room because of bigoted or ridiculous discussions that no one really wanted to have.

The Yacht will provide you with towels for showers and for each and every time that you get out of the water.  There is plenty of fresh water on board so you can use as much as you want for showers.  Fresh water showers on the dive deck too for your returns from the dives.  You can do nitrox if you choose on the yacht, you just have to let them know in advance.  Its costs about 150.00 extra.

**Weather/Clothing:  Its hot and it also has thunderstorms.  So on the boat, shorts, bathing suits, sarong, cover ups are usually sufficient.  It’s a nice yacht and dressing for dinner is not unusual.  So perhaps a couple nice shirts, skirts, linen slacks would be appropriate.

*NOTE: I had heard a rumor that they were going to start allowing Cruise ships into this area. We are very much against that. Many people who choose to do cruises are not fully aware of how their presence to places in such large groups adversely affects the eco delicate eco systems that we are trying so hard to preserve.

Now after 5 days of diving, food and fun on the Yacht its time for our adventures at the Wakatobi Dive Resort.  A boat comes to get all of us to take us there, for those who were staying at the Resort, they took your bags to your room for you and had everything set up.  Some stayed on the small dive boat to do some morning dives, while Margaret and I went to our rooms and got settled and then we all met at the restaurant for lunch.

Our Villa was amazing!  It had a separate room for others to join us if they chose too with its own bathroom etc.  It had an infiniti swimming pool and private access to the beach.  It was pure enjoyment!  There are many different options for staying there, large villas, roomy bungalows, it’s all lovely and you will enjoy every moment you get diving and at the resort.

http://www.wakatobi.com/amenities/resort.html

The resort has changed a lot, there is now a huge restaurant where all meals are served buffet style.  But this is not your ordinary buffet!  All meals are gourmet.  Fresh everything!  There are fruits and fresh fish, meats, breads baked fresh everyday, fresh home-made jams, fresh squeezed juices, tea, coffee etc.  In the evenings there is a full bar, you must pay extra for sodas, and wine, beer and hard liquor.  All other foods and drinks are included in the prices of the resort.

There is now a bar at the end of the jetty that you can sit at and have drinks and watch the sunset.  It was great fun!  We enjoyed our happy hours with our new friends Becky and Rodger and Margaret and Graham.  And it gave us a chance to meet new people and hear lots of stories of where people are from, their dive experiences, travel experiences etc.

There will be one evening when you are asked to come to the restaurant for drinks with the owners and the managers and staff.  This is like a cocktail hour so perhaps wear something nicer, linen slacks, a flowing dress, button up shirt for a man etc.   The cocktails they serve will be free and you can have as many as you would like for this particular evening.

The restaurant is a “no shoe” restaurant and though it’s a casual dive resort bathing suits are not allowed at any time (in the restaurant).  They would prefer you wear a cover up, a dress, shorts, shirts etc.

The diving is prepared each evening and you are assigned to a certain boat, there are 5 dive boats.  You can also snorkel on one of the boats or off the shore there.  Snorkeling will be assigned a dive guide just like a diver.  There is so much to see that it is worth going out on each dive whether you snorkel or dive.

You will have a place to hang your wet suits when the dives are done, there are dunk tanks for your cameras, and dive and snorkeling gear.  You are assigned a bin and you can keep all your things in those overnite, every night.  In the mornings depending on the boat you are assigned the dive masters and crew will take all your things to the boat for you, including your camera gear.  So you will be all prepared for your dive with no hassles.

The staff at this resort is TOP NOTCH!  If you needed something they were on it with no problems, no hassles, no complaints.  They were the best I have ever dealt with.   They were friendly and kind and funny!  The owner of the resort employs about 150 local talent.  Its great to see so many locals have a great place to work, get good meals and be able to proide a good healthy life for their own families.

 I HAVE WAY MORE TO ADD BUT I AM BUSY SO BE PATIENT!! 🙂

http://villasarna.com/

Orlando Florida, The Dolphin Resort, The Magic Kingdom and Epcot center

My husband was invited to a HCL conference in Orlando and we took a couple of days to enjoy Florida before the conference.  We stayed at the Dolphin Resort http://swandolphin.com/

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It was convenient because you are right in the heart of Disney so you can take the water taxi from the hotel to the boardwalk, Epcot, Hollywood Studios or The Magic Kingdom and the ride is free so that’s nice.   The Hotel is pretty nice but nothing to write home about.  It is a bit run down, and it has screaming kids on every corner.  We made our reservations months in advance yet they could only give us a room with two double beds instead of a King.  They said they “upgraded”  our room for our troubles but our room still only had two double beds and it was a corner room that looked out over concrete.  There was no turn down service, the sheets were so hard and smelled so much like bleach it was hard to sleep.  BUT the beds were really nice.  The rooms were clean and the hotel did have some nice restaurants like Shulas steakhouse where we ate one evening and enjoyed exceptional food and service.   http://www.donshula.com/locations.php?l=1&restid=10

THE MAGIC KINGDOM:  Well this was my first time ever here so I was not sure what to expect but it was pretty much what I thought it would be, kids, kids and more kids!  There are all kinds of rides and the property is HUGE!  If the lines are long go for the Fast Pass that way you can walk around, get lunch etc. and then come back to the ride and get right in with your fast pass ticket.  (NOTE:  You CANNOT get more than one fast pass for the rides, for example you can’t go around getting a fast pass for multiple rides hoping to time them, you can only have one fast pass for a ride at a time)  But its the way to go if a line is say 2 or 3 hours long. 

Space mountain was SUPER fun, a rollercoaster basically in the dark!  Of course the Log Ride is one of my favorites.  We rode the Haunted Mansion kind of slow but kids will like it, also Pirates of the Caribbean a pretty slow ride, good for small kids, The Runaway train was fast and super fun… there is lots to do for the whole family. 

The food inside Disney World is nothing but CRAP!  Its fried and fatty and everything is bad for you.   I did see lots of families bringing in their own foods, like fruits, water, sandwiches etc.  If you are watching your food intake, or on a diet, or just eat better than most people, bringing in your own food is the best way to go.

It is hot and there is lots to see so keep yourself hydrated or you will be miserable.  Wear a hat on hot days and a cool long sleeve shirt and wear GOOD walking shoes!  I can’t tell you how many times I preach the importance of NOT wearing heals, or flip-flops or sandles for places like this.  You need good tennis shoes, or Merrells or something that is good for walking or hiking and good socks, socks that wont cause blisters.  There is a lot of walking and its hot be PROPERLY prepared!

EPCOT CENTER:  I see the concept of this and I understand that for many people this is a way to experience different parts of the world.  The property is very lovely and clean but since we travel so much it was not as good of an experience for us as it may be for others.  There are several different countries represented like China, Norway, etc.  You can see a small town, watch a movie about the history and shop for things that may or may not represent or come from those countries.  I am not sure that I would have chosen it again for myself but you might enjoy it and enjoy seeing different countries represented.  And if nothing else its a good slow pace, not many kids there, beautiful to walk in the sunshine and spend time with your companions.

Las Vegas Nevada

It might seem weird to post this as part of my Travel Blog but honestly if you have never been to Vegas its nice to have a few clues as to how to handle it and soak it all in all at the same time.  It can be so overwhelming that you might find yourself frustrated.

The first and best piece of advice is dont stay in Vegas more than THREE whole days.  It can wear you out and you might even get bored with the “Vegas Scene” by then.  But that is just my opinion of course and others might tell you something different! 🙂

Vegas is as you would expect, its big and flashy and expensive and unique in all ways.  There are your high-end hotels like The Wynn and The Encore at one end of the strip, which is where Brad and I prefer to stay and there are your lower priced and older hotels like The Palms, The Flamingo, Circus Circus, Harrahs.  There are also the new City Center Hotels, Aria and Vdara.  I just got back from Vegas with my daughter and three girlfriends, we were celebrating my daughters 21st b-day together.  We stayed in the new Vdara hotel.  Its new and nice and the rooms are big BUT the hotel does not have a casino or a restaurant.  It has a bar and a small deli like place where you can get coffee and bagels.  The drinks in the bar are pretty expensive 14.00 or more a piece.  But the rooms were reasonably priced and since the hotel is new its nice and clean and smells good.

The rooms are like condos with full kitchens, stove, sink, microwave, fridge, etc.  And we had a room with a full view of the strip and the city. 

http://www.vdara.com/

It is connected to the Bellagio so its easy to just walk the walkway and get into the other hotel if you want to tour it or see the fountains at the Bellagio, which run ever 30 minutes, it’s a must see while in Vegas!  http://www.bellagio.com/amenities/fountains-of-bellagio.aspx

Its pretty easy to get a cab in Vegas and you can walk the strip and walk to most places but if you are on one end of the strip and you need to get to the other the cab is the way to go.   It is about 12.00 from one end to the other, or a few dollars for a few blocks.

You can step outside your hotel and there is a taxi stand right there where someone will whistle for one quickly!  No need to call one or make an appt, its pretty much like NY where cabs are everywhere and easy to take.

Each hotel in Vegas has its own personality.  Every casino is the same but different.  They all have different smells (yes smells) different atmospheres, and not every hotel or casino is for everyone.  We used to like to stay at the MGM and gamble there but then it got run down because MGM is in bankruptcy and the rooms and service were just awful and for some odd reason people starting bringing their little kids there and the place was crowded and loud with families.  So we stopped staying there and we pretty much don’t gamble there anymore.

Some of my favorite hotels are The Wynn, The Encore, The Ny Ny, Bellagio, and The Monte Carlo.  But everyone has their favorites and of course your budget will def determine where you can stay.  Each hotel has a buffet for dinner, lunch and breakfast.  You have to determine if a buffet is for you and if you can really eat all that food!  Sometimes the hotels will give you free vouchers or a dollar amount off or percentage off for a buffet then it’s probably worth it.

Each hotel has something like a Starbucks, or a Starbucks, places for sandwiches, bagels, etc.  And usually has a few nice restaurants.  You can easily travel to another hotel for the dinner or meal of your choice.  Dont be afraid to explore all the hotels to find what you really like.

The casinos are smoking and NON smoking, for rooms as well as gambling.  The filtration system in the casinos is really well done so you don’t really smell or see smoke of course, unless you are gambling at a table that is smoking and someone right near you lights one up.  But be aware that you do have the option to gamble in a non-smoking section.

The liquor laws in Vegas are pretty flexible you can walk the streets with a drink, etc.  Even in the airport you can order a drink in the restaurant and take it with you to the gate, that is not an issue.

Each hotel has a pool or many pools.  If the weather is nice the pools are open, period.  So no matter what time of year it is, if its sunny and warm you can swim or lay by the pool.  Each pool has towels and a bar or multiple bars so you can get drinks, or beers, or buckets of beer, water etc.  Its pretty nice!

If you want to see a show in Vegas my suggestion is be flexible if you don’t want to pay full price for something like a Cirque show.  Go to the half price ticket booths outside some of the hotels and get a show and dinner.  You will have to look at the board to see what is available, but chances are there is something there you want to see and the ticket prices are much lower than online.

Dressing for Vegas:  Well its pretty open to anything but mostly people go to Vegas and like to wear their best.  They like to dress up for dinner, dresses, suits, jackets, slacks etc.  Even in the casinos, esp the nicer ones its good to dress up.  Vegas has that old feel where people used to look their best and it feels good to dress up!  Of course you can easily wear jeans or shorts while touring the strip or shopping.  Just be prepared to sometimes change your clothes two or three times while you are there.  You will want something to wear to breakfast, for walking, for dinner and a show and maybe for dancing or partying later on.  whew! 🙂

Corinne and I in Vegas for her 21st B-day

There are lots of dance clubs in Vegas like ROK and Studio 54.  If dancing is your scene than you should def check out this nightlife.

There are piano bars  and tons and tons of bars like Coyote Ugly in the NY NY hotel.

Be prepared to pay a cover for MOST bars and clubs.  And its a pretty hefty cover sometimes 45.00 but usually in the 20.00 range.  Be prepared to show your ID if you look young you will get carded at the bars, the casinos and sometimes even just walking through the casinos to get somewhere else in the hotel.

If you win money at the casinos remember you MUST cash in your ticket or chips at THAT casino you cannot use those chips at a different Casino.  Each Casino has its own chips and money alloted to it so don’t walk away with a 500.00 ticket from one hotel and think you can cash it somewhere else, you can’t.

There is TONS of shopping in Vegas to the cheapest souvenirs to the most expensive shops like Prada, Gucci, Cartier etc.  So be prepared to shop and shop and shop!  Its pretty fun and the malls are nice.  There is a huge one at the New Planet Hollywood complex and a large shopping center at the Encore complex. 

You can buy jewelry in Vegas, there are lots of shops!  Brad bought me a beautiful diamond ring there for my 40th b-day and he has purchased a watch there but for the most part the shops are pretty expensive. 

Vegas is about having fun and just being yourself.  There is no time limit, most things except the malls are open 24/7.  Dress up, feel free and have fun!