A Hike and a Drive to Homer, AK

This morning, we decided to take a hike in the Russian River Campground where we were staying before heading south towards Homer. We packed up early and drove towards the trailhead. Unfortunately (or fortunately for most people) you cannot park RVs at the trailhead. So instead, we dropped my parents off at the trailhead and then went in a search of a lot where we could leave the RV. Our campground site itself was pretty far back so we wanted to find a place closer to avoid having to walk the extra 1 mile or so to get back to the RV after the hike (we were in the last of about 3 or 4 campground areas in Russian River). We did find the Pink Campground Overflow lot that allowed RV parking fairly close to the trailhead (fyi, it’s right by the Pink Campground). We parked the RV and then made our way back to the trailhead (we had told my parents to start without us and we’d catch up).

 

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The hike was about 2 miles out and 2 miles back. It was up and down and through the woods—very pretty. Along the way there were some pretty wood bridges and off-shoot trails to cabins. We continued along to the end where there were two large wooden viewing platforms. From here you could look down on the river where there was a fish bridge to help the Salmon move upstream. There were a ton of fish and every few minutes you would see one jump out of the water on an attempt to get further upstream. In another week or so, sport fishermen will be invading the campground … and even more likely, bears will be invading Russian River. Apparently at the height of the fish movement upstream, bears can be seen in the river eating fish. Unfortunately (fortunately?) we had no such bear luck. Andrew and I did take a short shoot-off trail from the viewpoints down a fishing trail where we found a fresh salmon carcass. Our guess is that it was a bear—but again, no bear sightings here!

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We had a short snack stopover before heading back up the trail towards the RV. We pulled out of the campground ready for new adventure and to check out the south. We drove to Homer via Sodoltna where we made a stopover at a grocery store (Fred Meyer) for supplies and goods… after a brief stop, we headed onward down the coast, stopping for cool viewpoints and vistas and of course, moose!

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Yeah, I know. You can’t see it in this picture. But it’s there, I swear!

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Another stop that we made on our travels down the Kenai Peninsula was at a Russian Orthodox Church in the town of Ninilchik. It was slated in the book as one of the most visited tourist attractions because of the church and the views. We were slightly skeptical, but we decided to check it out anyway; if it’s the most visited, chances are that it is for a reason. :0) We turned down a gravel road and drove along until we saw the onion-like domes painted in gold. There on a small hill was a little Russian-style (you can tell because of the onion-shaped domes and the crosses) Orthodox Church. There was a small graveyard in front, giant mountains in the back, and a small Russian fishing village at the bottom of the cliffs in front of the water. Awesome.

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We walked around the church property a bit and took a look at the graveyard- some crosses were worn-down and battered with no headstones marking lives lost, while others indicated burials from this February. It was a pretty little graveyard right on top of the hill. Out of respect, we tried not to take any photos of an individual grave and rather focused on the entire graveyard for its intricate burial set-up. Crosses (two horizontal lines at the top and one line on a slight angle at the bottom) adorned every grave as did small fences that contained everything from flowers to books to pictures. We were also able to walk into the church itself- very small but just as intricately decorated with pictures and paintings, candles, large religious hats (sorry don’t know the name of them), and small benches and pamphlets.

 

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Outside, you can look down over the cliffs towards the small Russian fishing village of Ninilchik. This are is now considered to be “old town”. The “new” Ninilchik is located a little bit away from this area. Boats and houses located directly on the water- a pretty cool little place.

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Then we traveled on to Homer. Homer is in the southwest corner of the Kenai Peninsula. We opted to stay in a campground on the Homer Spit- a skinny piece of land that juts out into the water. A sort of peninsula on the peninsula so to speak. We pulled into our campground (Homer Spit Campground) and set-up shop directly on the beach- looking out at the water with snow-capped mountains and volcanoes behind it. Awesomely beautiful spot! Tonight we grilled up some chicken on the mini portable propane grill that we rented through the RV company. Grilling on the beach… is there anything greater? We also enjoyed some of our Seward Brewery Growler Beer. Yum!

 

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Ah yes, and the showers. First showers of the trip were pretty awesome. Pay $1 at the office, they buzz you in, you can take an untimed, hot shower. It was awesome and wonderful and everything you would expect a shower to be after a few days of now shower, including a cold and rainy boat trip! Another great day!

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Categories: Alaska, Hikes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Marathon Mountain and Other Seward Things (then Russian River Campground)

After a night of soup and grilled cheese in the camper (and de-thawing and warming up from our boat trip), Andrew and I packed up our day packs with cameras, layers, and snacks for a morning hike. We woke up at 4AM, got dressed, grabbed our gear and headed out. Our destination: Mount Marathon (or at least part of it). We had plans to do some other things in Seward today, but we really wanted to hike at least part of the famed Mount Marathon.

Let me step back. Mount Marathon is located pretty much in downtown Seward. Its apex is 3,022 feet above sea level. As the story goes (and like so many things), some guys were in a bar in Seward talking about how it would be impossible to get to the top of the mountain and back down in an hour. One guy claimed it wasn’t impossible and so, Mount Marathon was born. While he did not make the 60 minute time limit, he did create a tradition in Seward that still lives on today. Every year on the 4th of July, people from all over the world come to Seward to run a slippery, rocky, dangerous, and ridiculously unsafe route straight up Mount Marathon and back down. Every year, a whole handful of runners are injured. One year, a runner was event lost (and as a result, certain safety rules were added). Still, these crazy thrill-seekers come out and make their way up and down… for the glory and the pride, regardless of the probability of broken bones. Interestingly enough, there is a hospital located at the start of the racing route (coincidence, I think not). The race itself is about 3.1 miles from start to finish with average uphill speeds of 2mph and average downhill speeds of 12mph. Here’s a picture of the top of the mountain from somewhere along the trail that we took- see the line that goes basically straight up and down? That’s the up-route. The down route is that curved line that coming in from the right.

 

Runners Trail (3.1 miles)

Runners Trail (3.1 miles)

While hiking this straight up and down route seems tantalizing, we put aside our dare-devil tendencies and instead set our eyes on the Jeep Trail— an old rock road that goes up to the town’s water supply. From there, you can jump on the Sheffield Waterfall trail that supposedly has a more gradual incline around the mountain, past the Sheffield Waterfall, into the Marathon Bowl, and up the spine of Mount Marathon to its peak. As I mentioned earlier, we had other things planned for the day, including a drive to another campground out of Seward and towards Homer. For this reason, our goal was to make it to the tree line if possible before we needed to turn around. Here. Here’s the map at the trailhead (I added the yellow arrows to show the general route we would have taken to go all the way up).

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As mentioned in a previous post, we were camping in the state campground directly on the water (close to the harbor) because of our boat trip and its early departure. From this point, the Jeep Trail Head of Mount Marathon is a little less than 1 mile walk a little towards downtown Seward. You simply leave the state campground and walk to the main straight and make a left. You walk down to Jefferson Street and make a right. You walk straight down Jefferson until you hit the trail head (about 3 blocks). Not too shabby. At the trail head you will find a sign and simple map posted that shows a variety of trails going up and around Mount Marathon (posted above). Tip- we took a picture of the map with our cell phones so we’d have a reference just in caseI’ll note here that a lot of the references I found online prior to this trip stated that the trail was really hard to follow. It was definitely questionable in some areas on which way you were supposed to go, but generally speaking you could find your way. We did end up using the map once or twice.

After taking the obligatory “before hiking” photo, we started up the Jeep Trail. Think baseball, softball, and basketball-sized rocks covering a 45 degree-angled trail. That’s basically what we were hiking up. It was rough and tiring but because of the steepness of the trail, we made more ground at a faster clip than what we had anticipated. As you climb further up the mountain, the rocks yield to a more typical tree needle and dirt path, still on a fairly hefty incline. You get a chance to see just how enormous the trees really are and there are a few places were stumps of fallen trees remain and those stumps are at least 7 feet tall. We got some great pictures through the forest. We were also hiking completely alone; it was awesome.

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We continued on and much to our surprise, we reached the tree line in less time than we thought, so we could continue on the trail that wound around the mountain. Ah relief at last we thought, but to no avail. The trail continues its grueling up-hill path (admittedly with a few reprieves here and there). In a few places I was even crawling up because of how slippery and steep the trail became at points— which is crazy considering the trail we were on is the easy trail in comparison with the running route. At one point we did hike off the trail a bit and up a small hill to a clearing in the trees where we had a beautiful view of the water, mountains, and our campground. We really lucked out with the weather on this day.

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We continued on, approaching our time turn-around deadline, being passed by one other person who was hiking with his dog and just booking it. It was quite obvious that he hikes this mountain fairly often, telling us the shortest way to the top and what not. We continued on and started climbing another steep portion towards the Marathon Bowl (after both a snow and two minor stream crossings) until we could again see Seward below us. From here, we were shocked to see that we also had full service on our cell phones. We checked in with my parents who were around the camper and actually pulled out their binoculars and could see us waving way up on the mountain. After a brief chat with them, we also called Andrew’s parents to check in and say hello. We were able to FaceTime with them— on a mountain. How crazy is that?! I know I know, who makes a cell phone call while on a hike, but admit it- if you’re going to check in with your parents and say hello, that’s a pretty sweet place to do it- especially since we could show them the scenery.

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After the call, we decided to head back down the mountain. We didn’t make it to the waterfall, but we did make it much further than we had planned. We will definitely do this hike again sometime so we can get to the peak. We made it back down in one piece and walked back down to the harbor to grab some breakfast from a local restaurant called, “The Bakery”. We dined on breakfast burritos with eggs, cheese, pico de gallo, and reindeer bacon (at least we think it was—definitely wasn’t regular bacon). After breakfast, we stopped by the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center (on the harbor) and then we headed back to the RV, packed up shop and headed into downtown Seward. My parents dropped Andrew and I a few blocks from the Sea Life Center where we strolled down the main street, looking at giant murals and paintings on the walls of the buildings in town. We also made an obligatory awesome coffee stop at Resurrection Coffee Company, an old church that had been turned into a coffee shop. We ordered our coffees and browsed around the awesome insides- covered with arts and crafts created by local artists. We purchased a small carved twisty piece of birch wood that has a tag stating it was handmade in Seward, AK. I think it will make a most excellent Christmas Tree Ornament.

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One of many murals in downtown Seward.

One of many murals in downtown Seward.

After coffee, we walked down to the Seward Sea Life Center and paid our general admission dues so that we could go in and see the sights and exhibits (we did not opt to do any behind the scenes tours). The Sea Life Center is actually pretty cool- it consists of two floors with the lower floor boasting a large gift shop and the upstairs boasting exhibits, hands on exhibits, and of course, the Sea Life! They have areas and tanks with sea birds (including puffins!), stellar sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters. You can watch from inside or you can walk outside and look at the animals. While it’s super cool to see the animals up close, you can’t help but feel really bad for them considering how small and cramped their quarters are… on our boat tour, we saw these magnificent creatures in all their glory- free to move and go wherever they want at any time. Here, a giant mammoth stellar sea lion is stuck in a tank that only allows him to swim in a circle. Pretty sad when you think about it.

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The displays at the center included information on how the different species of animals are doing since the latest oil spill, hands on games that teach about over-fishing, and videos and signs about the importance of our oceans and protecting them. The day we were there, they also had some kids coloring and other activities going on as well as a raffle contest. My mom entered and one a bag with some Sea Life Center items.

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After our trip around the Sea Life Center, we walked the pretty much 1-block distance to the Seward Brewery, where we purchased a glass growler and had it filled with Rockfish Red beer. Since we were in a hurry to get on our way to a glacier and then on to our campground for the night, we didn’t stay and have samplers or food—but the place looked really cool and you can look through a large glass window when you walk in the door to see their brewing set-up. We will definitely be coming back here next time!

On our way out of town, we stopped by the Smoke Shack to pick up lunch—an old railroad car converted into a BBQ restaurant. We went in and ordered food to go and we were welcome to sit down and they brought us water while we waited- great hospitality and delicious food! We ended up with pulled pork sandwiches (mine was a bit different- made with jalapenos and maple syrup, yes please). They also had a selection of about 6 different sauces from orange-jalapeno (not as spicy as you think!) to a vinegar sweet and sour to chipotle ranch. Everything was delicious and the sandwiches were huge! We also got an appetizer of Cajun brie- basically think melted brie, tomatoes, jalapenos, and onion with some chipotle seasoning and served up with crostini. Perfecto!!! Definitely check this place out!

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From Seward, we drove a bit up the road to Exit Glacier; still a portion of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Here you can take a trail that goes right up next to the glacier. At one point you could touch the glacier and even walk on it, but it has receded and become unstable, so now you can just walk up next to it (still pretty awesome). Additionally, you can backpack up past the glacier to the Harding Ice Field where all of the Kenai Fjords Glaciers stem from. You can camp up their and do further exploration and hiking (put it on the list for next time).

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After Exit Glacier, we finished our drive to Russian River Campground, about ½ the way to Homer (located on the opposite side of the Kenai Peninsula from Seward). We set up shop and made dinner. A wonderfully awesome day!

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Resources and Tips for the Traveler:

  1. Take a picture of the trail map before starting a hike (especially with Mount Marathon—some off-shoots of the trail that aren’t clearly marked)
  2. Take snacks on your hike—you may not be hungry when you start hiking, but you will be (string cheese is light and delicious)
  3. Seward Sea Life Center– Probably not necessary if you did the boat tour into Kenai Fjords NP and saw a lot of wildlife, but it is still interesting to see the animals up close and to check out the exhibits and demos (Cost: $20; discount for military and AAA)
  4. Smoke Shack (Trip advisor link; no website)- great lunch stop on the way out of town (Address: 411 Port Avenue, Seward).
  5. Marathon Campground on the Water (for RVs) (Cost: $15/night or $30 with hook-ups; they do check to make sure you registered; Check out the Seward City campground website for more information: http://www.cityofseward.us/index.aspx?NID=864)
  6. Kenai Fjords NP Visitor Center (Seward Address: 1212 4th Avenue, Seward)
  7. Bakery on the Harbor (Trip advisor link; no website)- great for breakfast and coffee before the boat! (Address: 1210 4th Avenue, Seward)
  8. Seward Brewery (We paid $25.68 for a Glass Growler filled with beer; Address: 139 4th Avenue, Seward ); Buy a growler and have it filled; then you can stop at other breweries along the way and just refill the growler!
  9. Exit Glacier (Cost: None Address: Turn onto Exit Glacier Road at Milepost 3 of the Seward Highway. Continue 8.4 miles and you will end up in the parking lot ); Cool hike! After you walk up to the glacier, take the trail that goes out to the glacier view point—it’s a great vantage point of the riverbed and the entire glacier and definitely worth it! Also, if you have more time, you can hike up to the Harding Icefield where this glacier (and many others) originate. You can also camp up there! We will be doing that next time!

*Note- be sure to say hi to the guy in the Exit Glacier Visitor Center! He’s a character and super-friendly!

Categories: Alaska | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Day#2: Kenai Fjords National Park Boat Trip (Seward)

On day #2 of the trip, I woke up super early… as in 3:45AM. I actually spent about 2 hours catching up on a few blog posts from our recent Indonesia trip. I worked out of the passenger seat in the front of the RV, gazing out at mountains, water, bald eagles, and a sea otter! The rest of the crew stirred around 6:00AM. We set to work cooking up some scrambled egg and cheese sandwiches for breakfast and made sure our cameras were loaded up with fresh batteries and blank memory cards. We gathered layers and filled water bottles, and headed into town to The Bakery (where the French dip sandwiches we ate last night came from) to meet up with our boat crew. Around 8AM, we met up with eight other people and then met up with one of our two crew members/guides/boat captains for the day. We were headed out on a small group wildlife and glacier boat tour through the Alaska Saltwater Lodge (you don’t have to stay at the lodge to go on the excursion).

We were led down to the boat dock where we boarded the Stellar Sunrise, one of the company’s two small boats (maximum of 15 people). The boat was great- seats in the back, in the front and inside. The inside also had heat, coffee, hot chocolate, and tea. Blueberry Muffins were also served when we first took off. Wanting to have the best view on the boat and loving previous experiences of being upfront in all the action, once we made it through the safety instructions and overview talk, we high-tailed it to the front of the boat.

 

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We grabbed seats right below the captain’s window. There was a very light on and off drizzle but nothing too bad. Oh how naïve we were… The tour was awesome. We learned that our two boat crew members spend summers in Alaska and winters in Hawaii. They provide tours in both locations and love it. They were well versed and explained that most of the boats in the harbor and going out in search of wildlife will radio to one another when they see something so others can partake in it. Pretty cool system.  The idea was that we would boat a few hours out until we reached a calving glacier. We would park in front of the glacier for lunch and then head back to Seward. We ended up eating a bit before reaching the glacier because of all the wildlife we saw and how much time we spent following and learning about the different animals on our way. Lunch consisted of turkey sandwiches, a bag of chips, soda, and a cookie.

We had hoped for sun but it didn’t work out quite as we hoped… it rained on and off all day and it was SO COLD. And WET. But, to be fair, we did that to ourselves. It was on principle. We were trying to be the diehards staying upfront, however with 8 foot swells bringing seawater overboard and rain water running off the boat roof and down our backs, it made it quite difficult. We were literally wet from head to toe, inside and out. We almost made it too. But at some point, we just had to take a break and sit inside in the warmth (where everyone else was). Even with the rain and the cold weather, it was awesome!!! My advice if you are planning on taking this or a similar tour in Seward/other areas of Alaska: wear rain pants or at least bring them with you just in case. A poncho or a rain jacket is also a must. Gloves and waterproof shoes are very very helpful. Also, make sure you either have a hood on your jacket or wear a hat.

As I mentioned earlier, even with the cold and wet, the tour was still phenomenal and Andrew and I both agree that we wouldn’t have traded it for the world. You travel out into Kenai Fjords National Park, into a few little coves and up into a few inlets around Resurrection Bay before heading out into the Gulf of Alaska. Because the water is a bit rough and you get tossed around a bit, there is also a little passage that is extremely calm where the boat slows down and/or stops so folks can use the restroom.

The calving glacier that we went out to view was Holgate Glacier, one of about 30 that are found in Kenai Fjords National Park. A massive glacier located on an ice-infested portion of water. Our boat pulled up into the icy waters and actually pulled a large chunk of glacier ice from the water onboard. She explained how the clearness or opacity indicate how cold the ice is and how long it will take to melt. We added some of the chunk sample to our cooler (not that it needed it because things were already quite chilly). We sat for about 30 minutes or so watching this gigantic glacier. Every once in a while we would hear what sounded like crashing thunder and then we would see a portion of the glacier collapse and crumble down into the ocean. The pictures below show the glacier from our viewpoint, still over ½ mile away from the glacier itself.

 

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I mentioned earlier in this post that we saw a lot of wildlife on the trip. We sure did. Here’s a list of what we saw:

–       Orca Whales

–       Humpback Whale

–       Eagles

–       Sea Otters

–       Dall’s Porpoise (look like miniature Orca Whales)

–       Harbor Seals

–       Stellar Sea Lions

–       Grey Porpoises

–       Puffins

 

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When we add this list to our Day#1 list, we total 10 types of animals on the trip so far. Not too shabby!

 

When we arrived back to the harbor in Seward, we were frozen to the bone. But still, we couldn’t resist stopping for a photo or two with the statues in town first. Afterwards, we headed back to our RV, changed into warm, dry clothes, and then dined on RV-made grilled cheese and Ramen. Andrew and I also spent some time packing breakfast and snacks and loading up our packs for tomorrow morning—we have a long day planned that starts at 4AM.

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Resources:

1. Alaskan Saltwater Lodge Small Group Wildlife Boat Tour: http://www.alaskasaltwaterlodge.com/alaska_whale_watching.htm (Cost: $259 including tax and fees; $216.43 if booked online)
Highly recommend taking advantage of the small group boat tour- maximum of 15 people means minimized number of heads and arms in your way while trying to see and/or take pictures :0). Plus, the tour guides are fantastic. Remember that you get coffee, tea, water, soda, an onboard restroom, maximized guide-visitor ratio, comfy seats, heat and outdoor space, snacks, and lunch (sandwich, chips and cookie)! Let them know if you’re a vegetarian beforehand!
Tips for the Traveler Going on the Boat Tour:

  1. Rain Jacket/Poncho (A MUST)
  2. Camera (A MUST) Bonus points for an SLR camera with a decent zooming capability. Double bonus for ISO)
  3. Hood or Hat of Some Kind (A MUST)
  4. Waterproof Shoes
  5. Gloves (Nice to have- it can get really chilly) *Note- if you forget your gloves, you can contact the owner of the boat tour and she’ll actually lend you some gloves for the trip*
  6. Rain Pants (Nice to have- all I’m saying is that if you get caught in rain, you will really really want to have them)
  7. Sunglasses (Nice to have- especially if you’re sitting outside; can block the sun and the wind!)
  8. Dramamine (A MUST if you are prone to sea-sickness; they actually ask people who are prone to it to take the medication when we are just starting the trip to avoid and unpleasant trip). *Note we did have one person get sick on our boat- she just high-tailed it for the end of the boat, did her business, and moved on. I’m not sure the majority of people on our boat even knew)
Categories: Alaska | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Day#1: Seward

After our successful stop at Safeway to stock up on goods, we headed down the highway towards Seward. We read and followed a Milepost along the way. The Milepost in a giant magazine that provides information based on the mile markers you are passing—it includes campgrounds, rest stops, scenic views, things to do and see, warnings about bear/moose areas, etc.

For lunch, we simply pulled into a turn off on the side of the road. It was located right on Turnagain Arm, a sort of inlet of water. Surrounded by water and giant snow capped mountains on one side and rock cliffs on the other side, it was a pretty cool place for a lunch break! All together, our lunch consisted of chicken, salads and a sandwich. Yum!

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We continued on and stopped off at Bird Point; a scenic area where you can walk on a really nice boardwalk up and towards the water. There were great look out spots and some of those giant magnifying lens things (great description right?! Think giant metal binoculars…) so you could take a closer look at the water and surrounding area. We were on the look out for Beluga Whales, the only all-white whale that is sometimes found in Turnagain Arm because it feeds on two types of fish that live there. Bird Point also had statues of the Beluga Whales embedded in the cement at the end of the parking lot. They were designed in a way to replicate what you would see when spotting them in the water swimming. Pretty genius if you ask me. We didn’t see any Belugas, but we did take an excellent walk, get an excellent panoramic view of Turnagain Arm (waterbody) and we saw a lot of birds, including a carefullys spotted bald eagle by my dad.

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After bird point, we continued on our southward travels making stops along the way to snap pictures of the snow-capped mountains and beautiful inlet. We also stopped at one point on the highway where a spring exits the cliffs on the side of the road through a long cylindrical pipe. We filled up our water bottles and cups and enjoyed a nice cup of ice-cold water.

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A short distance later on Seward Highway found us taking photos of a large Moose just hanging out on the side of the Highway. First Moose sighting of the trip! Our last stop on our way into Seward was at the Bear Creek Weir. We drove down a small gravel road and rounded a corner — passing a small Weird on the left. We almost missed it completely… and almost skipped it when we turned around, but we pulled over just in time to check it out anyway… because why not? We got out of the RV and headed over to the little bridge. Looking over the side, I stated, “no fish.” Then I amended it “oh there’s a fish” which then became “there are fish everywhere”. The salmon were there en mass and they blended in that it took a few moments to see how many there were!  On the other side of the bridge, we were able to see the fish trying to jump and swim upstream We also walked over to the small Weir building there were there were two people working. They said “hi” but didn’t offer much more than that— we saw the capture a few salmon with a net and place them in another area in the building- not sure what they were doing with those fish, but it was still interesting to see. It was a great little stop!

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After our Salmon stop, we continued on our drive to Seward, stopping at many of the pull offs because it was just
gorgeous. There is no way to adequately put into words what it is like to be driving down a highway with cliffs on one side and a giant body of water surrounded by snow-capped mountains on the other. It is genuinely indescribable. I’m including some photos below but even they don’t do it justice. Do yourself a favor and go there yourself so you can experience it!

 

 

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We arrived in Seward and pulled down into a waterside campground. We parked looking out at the water and snow-capped mountains. The sun was still shining (doesn’t get dark until about 11PM in early June). My mom disappeared to go see where we needed to meet the next morning and when she returned, Andrew and I were pretty much ready to collapse from the long day (our flight left DC at 6AM). She returned with a French Dip Sandwich and Fries from the small Bakery by the harbor where we were to meet with our boat crew the next morning. After eating sandwiches and figuring out our wake up call time, we headed to bed. All the shades were drawn on the RV and eye masks were used to help block out the bright sunlight.

 

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All in all day#1 of the trip was a HUGE success; beautiful vistas, wildlife, good eats, big mountains, waterfront campgrounds, and cozy towns.

 

Wildlife List:

Moose
Eagle

Categories: Alaska | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flying from DC to Anchorage, AK

First things first. Sorry for not posting over the last two weeks. We were traveling around Alaska and wifi was at a minimum. I still need to finish up the Indo trip and add the Alaska posts. Working on that now! Enjoy :0)

 

This morning we woke up at 3AM and gathered our bags, scrambled some eggs for breakfast burritos, and hopped into a taxi to take us to the airport. We’re going to Alaska! Our flight was on Delta; I’d found a decent deal through Amex Travel—plus if I book through Amex with my Amex, I get 3x the miles. So, why not? We were flying from Reagan National Airport to Minneapolis, MN and from Minneapolis, MN to Anchorage, AK. There we would call Great Alaskan Holidays (RV Company) for a ride, we’d watch a video on driving the RV and then we’d meet up with my parents and head onto the great outdoors for two weeks of adventure, sight-seeing, hiking, and “bonding time” (hopefully not too much- I mean there are four of us living and traveling in an RV).

The flights weren’t too bad. While they in no way compared to our most recent International flight (seat size, plane size, bathrooms size, or snack service-wise), they still weren’t too bad. Our first leg was about 2 hours. We received drink and snack service twice. Drinks included the usual coca cola beverages and juices (including coffee, tea and water) and our choice of snacks between cookies (2 biscoff graham cracker type cookies), a small bag of pretzels or a small bag of peanuts. To be honest, we weren’t even expecting the snacks, so that was a nice surprise.  The plane was completely full at 6AM so we were pretty packed in… sleep was not comfortable.

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Our layover in MN was about an hour or so and the gate was only a few stops from our arrival gate. So, we exited the plane, took some time to stretch and use the restroom, and moved on…

Our flight from Minneapolis, MN to Anchorage, AK was a little over 5 hours. The plane was again full. We boarded the plane and took our appropriate window and middle seats. As the plane filled up, a woman came and asked if we were in seat 25D. We both said no because that was the aisle seat next to us. She then said well 25D is the window seat. Luckily the woman behind us piped up and said “no it’s not. It’s the aisle seat”. The woman said OK and sat down. The first flight attendant that came by was asked if there were any open window seats. At this point I was going to offer her the window seat, but figured I’d wait until she found out if there were any available seats, which we doubted there were since the flight was full. Well wouldn’t you know, about 10 minutes later, the flight attendant came back and told her there was one more window seat available in the back. So, the woman moved, we got three seats/a row to ourselves, and the comfort level went way up!

On this flight we were given drink and snack service a few times and in addition, the flight attendants would also walk around offering water to folks in between main drink service times. The plane had large TVs hanging over the center aisle every few feet for people to watch what was playing (our first flight did not have TVs). This flight showed the movie, “Veronica Mars” and then showed a series of three TV episodes… from 3 different shows (How I Met Your Mother, About a Boy, and then a third show about a little girl ends up traveling with a convict- not sure what the name was- hadn’t seen it before and only watched bits and pieces on the flight). You could use your own headphones or purchase a set for $2 (no cash; credit cards only).

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We arrived in Anchorage about 10 minutes early. The airport is a really nice one that has had some definite updates. Moving from plane to baggage and out of the airport was extremely seamless (I had almost forgotten what it’s like to fly domestic and not have to purchase a Visa, get cash out, or go through customs). We called up Great Alaskan Holidays and told them we had arrived and about 15 minutes later, a maroon van showed up, loaded up our bags, and off we went.

Our driver was extremely friendly and turns out he was born in Alexandria, VA (where we live), lived in PG County for a while, then moved to Texas, and eventually moved to Alaska (first Fairbanks, now Anchorage). He is a welder by trade and moved to Alaska as a result of the recession. He had family living in Alaska who told him that the state hadn’t been hit by the recession. So, he moved to Fairbanks and worked for a Gold Open Pit Mine there as a welder. He said the benefits were amazing and the pay was 6 figures, but the work was boring. After a little while in Fairbanks (which he does not like at all, by the way), he found himself down in Anchorage. His girlfriend, a basketball player on some professional level, is an Alaskan and loves it more than anything, so he’s sticking around.

After watching 15 minutes of a video about how to drive the RV, Andrew had his license scanned, he signed a form, we met up with my parents, and we were on our way. First stop: Safeway Grocery Store. We stocked up on some fruit, vegetables, sandwich fixings, and some chicken to grill. We grabbed lunch and then headed towards Seward… but that’s for another post.

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Restaurant Review: Sticky Rice

Two of our friends (Sarg and Logan) are headed to Europe for 18 days beginning Monday, so we wanted to make sure we could get together and catch up before they head off on Euro Trip 2 and we never see or hear from them again! So, we decided to go to H Street in DC because it’s close to Andrew’s work (Union Station) and the rest of us (somehow) didn’t have to work today (Friday)! We couldn’t settle on a place to go and it was a Friday so we were worried about crowds and what not… one way or another, we ended up at Sticky Rice (thanks, Logan)! Sticky Rice is located at 1224 H Street NE. Washington, DC. If you drag the below map a bit to the right you will see Union Station pop up on the left-side. It was only about a mile walk. If you are not done with walking, there are also a number of buses that run down H Street. You can use WMATA’s Trip Planner or Google Maps to find buses/metros and times (in Google Maps you can also select the arrival or departure time and/or date to make it more accurate).

If you do end up walking be sure to watch out for the sidewalks that are under construction (especially now because of the street car project). There are pretty solid sidewalks on the far side of H Street if you’re coming from Union Station. Anyway, on to the food…

We had made a reservation for 6:30PM and showed up around 6:15PM or so. The place was pretty empty but looked like a great laid back atmosphere. The guy up in front opened the door for us and asked us if we wanted to sit inside or on the deck. Hey, it’s summer and it’s DC and who doesn’t love eating outdoors?! He took us upstairs and past a few tables to the back door. Outside was a cute little deck with a bunch of tables, a nice shaded overhang, a giant tree hanging over a portion of the deck, and some really cool string lights and lanterns. Like I said, sweet atmosphere.

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We were promptly brought water and asked for our drink orders. They have happy hour specific specials that are served at the bar only, but they also have happy hour specials in the restaurant ($1 of all beers, discount on mixed drinks, other assorted deals) that ran until 7PM. So, we ordered sake flights (because why not?) and we found out that the bartender just chooses the sakes that you’ll get to try (but you can make requests). Love it. Great idea. We also ordered beers because it was happy hour (and why not). The menu has loads of options from sushi and sashimi to asian bowls to sandwiches to the famous sticky balls themselves. On top of that, they have a TON of vegetarian options- so herbivores need not worry about having options. I myself am not a huge seafood fan and I think I ended up eating more than the rest of the crew!

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Something that is really cool about this place is that in addition to their plethora of asian dishes and plates, they also have tater tots. I mean, come on. Can you say best restaurant ever?! On the night we went they had both regular and sweet potato tots- we opted for sweet potato tots and they came with two dips- one that tasted like a spicy ranch and one that tasted like a spiffy mustard. Both awesome. We then of course, had to try the sticky balls. We got one order of the “sticky balls” and one order of the “veggie balls”. So what are they?

Sticky Balls: Tuna, crab, sriracha rice in an inari pocket deep fried topped w/scallions, wasabi dressing and eel sauce

Garden Balls: Shiitake mushrooms, red pepper, cilantro and spicy rice in an inari pocket then tempura fried and
drizzled with eel sauce

Trust me. Try the balls. You will never go back. While I didn’t have the regular “sticky balls” because I don’t eat seafood, I can still vouch for them- we ended up getting seconds. On both balls. And I know what you’re thinking- what about the eel sauce? I actually did some research online and found out that most eel sauce is just soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Sometimes it is made by simmering eel bones in the process– but I’m assuming since the Garden Balls were marked “Vegan” on the menu that they didn’t use that kind on the balls. Either way, no trace of eel flavor. Just pure heaven. Spicy and rice-y and just amazeBALLS.

We also ordered some other dishes:

Free Luggage: This was a special roll that isn’t on their normal menu. I can’t remember everything that was in it but there was fish roe and rice and avocado and it was gone in 30 seconds.

Godzirra: GIANT roll that has jumbo crunchy shrimp, avocado, cream cheese, spicy sauce, cucumbers, tempura crunchies, and tobiko. It was ginormous but still disappeared quickly

Southroll: A vegetarian roll that had tempura sweet potato and honey in it. It was awesome and delicious and gone in 20 seconds.

Some Type of Sashimi: I don’t remember the name of the last sashimi that Sarg ordered but it was gone as quick as it came so I’m sure it was fantastic :0)

After we ate all this food, we sat there longer, had another beer and then decided that we would order MORE food. We got another order of both balls and another order of sweet potato tater tots. This was about 2.5 hours in… about 3 hours in, one of the guys working, I’m guessing Manager, came over and offered a free round of beers for hanging out so long. Yes please. Such awsomely nice people at this restaurant (and not just because of the free beer!)

It was great to relax and just talk and catch up and not feel the pressure to get in and get out because we need to serve more customers vibe. If you want a truly enjoyable and delicious meal, I highly recommend Sticky Rice. Worth the trip and you definitely won’t regret it!

Want to see the menu? Check it out here.

Want to make a reservation? You can do so on Open Table.

Want more info on Sticky Rice? Check out their Website.

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Garden Balls front right; Stick Balls back left. Sushi and Sashimi back left. Sweet potato tots front right.

Categories: Restaurants, Washington, DC Area | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jakarta (Harris Suites and FX Sudirman Mall)

As mentioned in a previous post, our taxi ride was about 40 minutes from the International Airport near Jakarta (Soekarno-Hatta International Airport) to our hotel. Because we were in Indonesia for Andrew’s work, we went with a centrally-located hotel that he has stayed in before (and that was recommended by his coworkers). The hotel is called the Harris Suites-Sudirman. 

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The Harris Suites-Sudirman hotel is actually located on top of a large Mall (FX Mall). Many of the hotels downtown are similarly set-up. The staff at the Harris Suites speak English and are especially friendly and accommodating! If you are going to arrive late (which we did), it’s good to give them a heads up ahead of time… we simply emailed before left the U.S. to let them know that our flight was getting in late and we’d arrive about an hour after that… We actually had two sets of reservations at the Harris Suites on this trip because we were spending the first weekend in Singapore. So, we arrived on a Wednesday night and checked into our room; we were placed on the 9th floor (the hotel has about 59 floors). The room was nice and clean. If you are used to large hotel rooms in the U.S. or other parts of the world, you should know that not all hotel rooms are the same everywhere. Our room for the first few nights was big enough to house a bathroom, a mini fridge and snack counter, a tv with a desk, and a bed. It wasn’t gigantic, but it served our purposes and was all we needed. Perhaps my favorite part of the rooms at Harris Suites are the gigantic floor to ceiling windows. Just beautiful; great views of the downtown business district.

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Wednesday Evening – Friday Evening we spent at the Harris Suites. In the mornings, Andrew and I would head down to the Mall and grab coffee and a muffin for breakfast at one of the maybe only two places open at that time of day (around 8AM); Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (Crazy, right?!?). We found the prices there to be comparable to what you would spend in the U.S. (ie, about $14US for two muffins, heated, 1 iced coffee and 1 iced latte). *Note- Harris Suites – Sudirman does not have its own restaurant* Andrew would then head off to work and I would return to the hotel room for a day of work myself. The Harris Suites offers free wifi and it works really well! I had no problems connecting to my VPN or accessing my files through the cloud. I typically didn’t eat lunch on these few days; I was wrapped up in work and the muffin was pretty filling. Also, after the first day, we stopped by the small store downstairs in the mall to purchase some water and snacks- so I was set.

When we were going to fly to Singapore for the weekend (before returning to the Harris Suites on Sunday night for a week again), the front desk gladly let us store bags for no cost (they gave us tags to turn in upon return). This was fantastic, because we really didn’t need all of our bags while we were gone. Additionally, the taxis at FX Sudirman are available 24/7 so there was no need to reserve one ahead of time; we did however, let the front desk know and they offered to give us a wake-up call and made sure a taxi was pulled up front and ready for us.

When we returned to Harris Suites after our weekend away, we actually requested a room on a higher floor. We were given a room on the 57th floor. The room was much larger than our first room with an additional big comfy chair and open space. The rooms ended up being about the same price despite the size difference (around $84/night). Here’s a picture that looked similar to the room we were in for the second part of the stay:

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Request a room on a higher floor for more space. [Credit]

The Harris Suites also have a fitness center, a tennis court, and a swimming pool available to all guests:

Harris Suites features a tennis court, a swimming pool, and a fitness center for guests. [Credit]

Harris Suites features a tennis court, a swimming pool, and a fitness center for guests. [Credit]

Something else interesting about hotels in Indonesia and other parts of the world (ie, that you don’t see in the United States) is how the electricity works in the rooms. When you enter your room [using a key card], you place the key card in a slot on the wall and turns on the power to the room. This means that you can’t ignorantly leave the lights, TV, and a/c on while you are gone. Likewise, this means your room is hot if you aren’t there all day :0). When you leave the room and remove your key card, the power will shut off. Pretty cool feature if you ask me.

To touch base on the Mall again- I’ll write gain in a later post about the restaurants and amenities in the Mall, but for now I will show you these pictures of the inside of the mall. It isn’t very many malls that you can find a giant slide… yes that is a gigantic slide that children (and I’m assuming adults) can purchase a slide in… pretty awesome!

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In addition to the slide and the food, the mall also contained two pharmacies, a small store, restrooms, some clothing stores, and an abundance of ATMs. One thing of note that I mentioned in a previous post as well– know how much money you need because if for some reason, you need a large amount of cash- we have found that there is a max on how much you can take out of the ATM (typically around $100 US) at a time and on how many times you can take money out of the ATMs per day.

Useful References/Websites:

1. Harris Suites (Website): This is the direct link to the hotel’s webpage where you can look up more information on the amenities, rooms, availabilities, prices, location, etc. It is in English. Note that Harris Suites are found in many locations other than Jakarta as well!

2. FX Surdiman Mall (Website): This provides a link to the mall that was underneath the Harris Suites in Jakarta. You can look up stores and restaurants on each of the floors and get other helpful information. It is in English.

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Indonesia- Know Before You Go: Temperature and Clothing

 

Ahh Indonesia. Great weather. If you like it hot. and humid. :0) As you can see in the above world temp map, Indonesia is in a hotter portion of the world. Indonesia sees at a maximum, a change in daylight of about 48 minutes between its longest and shortest days; equating to an awesome year-round growing season with temperatures that are pretty constant throughout the year. To give you an idea of heat and humidity, when we were in Jakarta in May, it was typically between 80-90 degrees. The kicker was the 95% humidity (feels like 104 degrees when 85 out). In Borneo in May it was 91 degrees with 97% humidity (feels like 133 degrees). Check out this handy dandy heat index calculator if you want to see what it will actually feel like where you are going based on the temperature and humidity.

Because of the heat, it is important to pack accordingly. However, you also have to be mindful of what you are wearing. While many tourists traveling to “hot” places typically get giddy and roll out the booty shorts, tanks and strapless tops, flip flops, and board shorts, if you want to stand out less and show that you’ve actually done some research and respect the people you around, do yourself a favor and leave he see-through (albeit, much cooler) tops at home. Ditch the booty shorts. Stow the flip flops for Kuta.

In Jakarta, the majority of the population is Muslim. They pray multiple times a day and you can hear loud speakers blasting prayers at different times throughout the day. While many women still wear the traditional hijab (see photo at right), in this more modern day, a lot of women have put aside the hijab. Regardless, the majority of women in Jakarta wear shirts with sleeves that are not low-cut and shorts/skirts/pants/dresses that go past the knee. While you may see some women defying the “norm” in short-shorts or spaghetti straps, these women stand out completely. Do yourself a favor and get some linen pants or some leggings for under that dress. Additionally, I wore simple sandals- not much more than flip flops, but they had straps around the heel and looked a bit more dressy. Trust me you’ll be more comfortable- especially if you try your luck at walking around the city. You may not always find 100% perfectly maintained sidewalks.

While we were in Jakarta, I frequently wore jeans that I rolled once or twice at the bottom to let some air flow up my legs with a pair of a sandals, a short sleeved-shirt and a button down 3/4 length sleeve shirt over the short-sleeved shirt (unbuttoned). I also brought a light weight halter dress (not a vneck but a straight across dress) that I wore leggings and a light weight shirt over so my shoulders were covered.

As for the men, similar dressing/clothing means apply. Don’t wear booty shorts or see-through shirts or tank tops or flip flops. Stick to pants and polos or t-shirts or light button downs. Sneakers or comfortable shoes are preferable to flip flops. For work, Andrew typically wore khakis, shoes (think work shoes but not polished shiny ones– more comfortable Toms work shoes), and a button down.

The biggest thing that you’ll notice is that locals don’t sweat nearly as much as you do. They are used to the weather or were somehow graced with non-sweating genes. They can wear layers or long-sleeves and look like they’re relaxing in the air conditioning… I on the other hand tended to look like a drown rat after 10 minutes outside :0).

In Bali, things are a bit more flexible because of it being a major tourism location, combined with the fact that most people in Bali are Buddhist and thus you more rarely see the hijab. While in areas like Kuta, Lovina, and Ubud, you’ll find tourists wearing the whole gamut of clothing from pants to bathing suits, remember that rule #2 of traveling (at least in my book) is to always do your research and dress respectfully; even though you may still completely standout, it will look like you care and locals will appreciate it.

A note on Bali temperatures/weather: while it is still warm and humid (80 to 90 degrees most days), if you travel to the mountains, you will find it to be A LOT cooler. When we traveled to Bali, we made sure to pack a sweatshirt or warmer long-sleeved shirt for mountain travels.

A second note on Indonesia dressing/custom: Depending on where you travel, if you visit many Religious sites, you may need to rent or purchase a wrap or remove your shoes. In many of the larger touristy sites, you are not required to do this, but you should be especially mindful to not wear revealing clothing when visiting Religious places. Finally, note that it is considered a sign of disrespect to show the sole of your foot. While we never had locals mention anything to us, it’s something to make a mental note of and try to avoid crossing your legs in a way that shows the sole of your foot. Just something small that you can do that will be more respectful!

Helpful Resources/Apps:

1. Wunderground (Website and Free App for Iphone Users): This App (and website) is fantastic for weather. You can search by zip or city or country. It will pull up a graph of the temperature changes over the past several days (and for future days). You can also see a map of the location, the temperature, humidity, and the “feels like” temperature. Additionally, with the App, you have the ability to select a “green check mark” or a “red x” to agree or disagree with what the App’s weather is saying– ie, social media/real time weather updates.

2. NOAA’s Heat Index Calculator (Website): Mentioned earlier in this post; this website allows you to plug in the temperature and humidity and spit out the “feels like” temperature.

Categories: Indonesia, Travel Basics (Resources & Help) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Indonesia: Know Before You Go- Money & Language

As anyone traveling to a new country may tell you; if you know the language, you are good to go. The reality is that oftentimes, we travel to new places and only know very little of the language or sometimes, nothing at all. Not to fear! In our experiences in Indonesia [with very little Indonesian knowledge] we were still able to have a superb time. Tourism in Indonesia is a big draw and a big business, so many Indonesians know at least some English. As mentioned in the previous post on where Indonesia is in the world, Indonesians are required to take English in school… so many of them know at least some of the language. Additionally, in places such as Bali, where tourism is paramount, many people go to school specifically to work in the tourism industry, so they too, know English. But I digress, back to language in a bit. Let’s start with money.

Money

Indonesian currency is called “Rupiah” [roo-pee-ah]. As of May 2014,
1 Rupiah = $0.000087 USD
1 Rupiah = $0.000052 British Pounds
1 Rupiah = $0.000093 Australian Dollars
1 Rupiah = $0.0089 Japanese Yen
1 Rupiah = $0.00011 Singapore Dollars
For more information on exchange rates visit this site.

Indonesian Rupiah are extremely colorful and come in both bills and coins. The smallest bill that we have encountered is the 1000 rupiah. Coins are typically smaller denominations and although I recently read a website stating that it is possible to get a 100,000 rupiah coin, I have never seen larger than a 500 rupiah coin.

The bills come in 1,000; 2,000; 5,000; 10,000; 20,000; 50,000; and 100,000 rupiah. Based on the conversation rates to USD, a 100,000 rupiah bill is around $10.

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The rupiah coins that you most often see are 100, 200, & 500 rupiah:

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When you arrive in Indonesia, remember that you must pay $25 US for an on arrival visa. This can also be paid in rupiah if you happen to have it; we always make sure to carry US dollars with us just in case. So, we typically pay on arrival visa fees with that money.

You may choose to exchange money before you arrive in Indonesia. You may also choose to exchange money once you arrive. We simply take money out of an ATM in the airport. This just seems to be easier for us. While you do have to pay a transaction fee, it is typically smaller than the cost of exchanging through a booth. The downside is that there is a maximum on how much you can take out of the ATM at any one time [around Jakarta we found this to be between 1,000,000 and 2,500,000 rupiah or roughly $100-$250]. Depending on your plans, this may or may not work for you. For us, it worked perfectly.

If you are planning to go on an excursion of some sort and you book through the guide itself or a local Indonesian group, you will oftentimes have to pay the remaining balance in cash when the excursion begins. Because of this, taking money out of an ATM sometimes doesn’t get you the amount that you need, so be sure to keep that in mind based on your plans.

Many places in Indonesia take credit cards, especially when you are traveling to larger or more tourist-like destinations such as downtown Jakarta [a mall, for example] or main areas of Bali. However, note that taxis do not take credit cards and smaller restaurants do not either. So, it is always good to have some money on hand and if possible, get some smaller bills as well [purchase a drink to break larger bills].

Food and drink prices are typically a lot less than you would see in places like the US and obviously, if you choose to eat from a street cart instead of in the mall, you’ll be spending less money as well. As an example, there is a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf [yes i know, not Indonesian at all] in the mall under the hotel we stayed in when in Jakarta. We purchased an iced coffee and an iced latte and the total was 74,000 rupiah [over $7!]. In comparison, every day that we ate lunch near Andrew’s office, we paid 100,000 rupiah [$10] for two entrees, 2 bottles of water, 2 coconut shakes, and a coconut water with coconut meat in it.

A final note on money in Indonesia- there is no tipping. Service industry employees typically are paid well [in comparison with those in the US at least] and the few times we’ve tried to tip, the recipients tried to turn it down!

Language

As previously mentioned, depending on where you are traveling in Indonesia, knowing the local language [Bahasa Indonesian] isn’t all that necessary, although you will obviously have a much easier time getting around if you do know at least a little Bahasa. In much of Bali, we had no problem getting around without Bahasa. In Jakarta, the main malls were fine with English, the smaller areas and the taxi drivers were not as good with English. For that reason, it is good to at least write down and practice a few words and/or phrases in Bahasa if you are planning to travel in Indonesia. For example, I do not like seafood. I loathe it. Unfortunately, much of this part of the world lives on it. So, I made sure to look up and write down a few words and phrases so that I could at least say “no seafood” or “vegetables please”, etc. *Note- if you are planning on taking taxis around an area such as Jakarta, it is helpful to have the address written down and a map with the location. To help with this, if you have your Smartphone, you can take a snapshot of the location on your map while you have wifi and save it to your phone so you can show your driver.*

Here are a few phrases that are good to know:

1– Satu (sah-two)        2– Dua (doo-ah)       3– Tiga (tee-gah)       4– Empat (um-pot)      5– Lima (lee-mah)

6– Enam (ahn-um)     7– Tujuh (two-joo)    8– Delapan (del-ah-pan)      9– Sembilan (som-be-lan)    10– Sepuluh (sep-oo-loo)

Hi/Hello– Halo (hollow)

Thank You– Terimah kasi (tare-reem-ah kahs-see)

Good Morning– Selamat pagi   (sla-maht pog-ghee)    For other parts of the day use “Selamat” with the appropriate word:
Afternoon: Sore (sore-ay)
 Evening/Night: Malam (mahl-ahm)

Yes– Ya        No– Tidak

Right: Kanan (kahn-non)      Left: Kiri (key-ree)       Straight: Lurus (loo-roose)

Here: Di sini (dee scene-ee)   There: Di sana (dee sahn-nah)

This: Ini (een-knee)    That: Itu   (eat-two)

I would like: Saya minta (Sigh-ah mean-tah)

Water: Aire (ire)     *Also called “aqua botol” (ah-quah boat-toll)

Fish: Ikan (eek-ahn)     Chicken: Ayam  (eye-ahm)     Vegetables: Sayur Sayuran  (sigh-your  sigh-your-ahn)

Fried: Goreng (gore-ang)     Roasted: Panggang  (pong-gong)

Noodle: Bakmi (bock-me) or just Mie (me)      Rice: Nasi

 

Additionally, here are a few apps that we found especially helpful for translating from English to Bahasa (free and available on IPhone):

1. Kamusku (Free): An offline Indonesian-English dictionary

2. Learn Indonesian (Free with option to upgrade for $5.00): A fun little app with categories that you would use/need to get around (greetings, general conversation, numbers, directions/places, transportation, eating out, etc.) The $5.00 upgrade will get you more detailed items like colors, family, dating, and feeling sick.

 

Categories: Indonesia, Travel Basics (Resources & Help) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flying to Indonesia: 22 Hours & Counting

DCtoJakarta

Flying to the other side of the world is quite a trip, no matter which way you are going or how many stops you make along the way. We wanted to minimize our layovers… they just wear you out and add time to your trip… so we found flights that went nonstop from Washington, DC Dulles to Tokyo and then from Tokyo to Jakarta. Honestly, even if there was a nonstop flight from Dulles to Jakarta— that might be a BIT much… but who knows :)- maybe someday we’ll be able to do that! Just in case you’re wondering about this flight, here’s a picture:

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Yes you see that correctly- you literally fly around the world. 14 hours of flying- so make sure you find a good airline to spend more than half a day on! We went with ANA and departed on a Tuesday from Dulles, VA (IAD) around 12:20PM or so. The flight was pretty full but when we checked in, the woman working the ticket counter was super helpful and super nice. She said that she was going to move us so that Andrew was on the aisle. As it turned out, she found seats to move us to that also had an empty seat next to me. Remember here that our flight was booked less than a week before we left, so our seat options were limited.

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ANA was a nice airline; a really nice airline. You can access their website here: ANA Airlines. In the event you can’t find the flights you are looking for (happened to us because we saw them on Kayak but not on the ANA website), we gave them a quick call and they were able to look up the flights for us. In addition, they could put a 24-hour hold on the seat(s) which was super helpful considering I didn’t have a Passport at the time. Each seat on the plane had it’s own personalized TV and remote (complete with TV shows, movies, games, chatting from seat to seat, etc). The movies were recent as well (Wolf of Wall Street, Secret Life of Walter Mitty, etc).

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In addition, I really liked that ANA had drink/cup holders that were separate from the tray itself (they also had drink holders on the tray). Sometimes, you just don’t want the stupid tray down but you are really thirsty. ANA has solved this problem. Other Airlines, take note.

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Because we boarded at Noon and flew for 14 hours on this leg, we were given lunch and breakfast/dinner. It’s called breakfast/dinner because according to local time (in Tokyo) it was dinner, but home time (DC) it was breakfast. The meals provided were actually pretty good. You typically had your choice of an “International Cuisine” or a “Japanese Cuisine”. So for example, the first meal was a baked fish dish or a hamburger. As much as I want to be, I just am NOT a fish person. So, we opted for hamburgers. For breakfast/dinner, we split the difference. Andrew got french toast and I got the lasagna.

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In addition to the main meals, the airline staff also walked around really frequently to provide drinks (sometimes the full cart, sometimes just tea or juice) and packets of rice crackers. By the way- watch it if you’re a vegetarian. There were not any vegetarian dishes (unless you eat fish) and the rice crackers actually contained shrimp. So, if you’re a vegetarian, pack your own food. *Note- I just looked at the ANA Website and you can apparently request meals if you have dietary restrictions or religious reasons*. We actually packed some snacks as well because we knew the flight would be so long and we were unsure of the airline food. Easy airline snacks: trail mix, fruit snacks, sandwiches.

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One of the juices that ANA served was Kabosu. Kabosu is a green citrus fruit that looks like a lime that grows in Japan. It is apparently substituted for vinegar in a lot of Japanese dishes. Either way it was sweetened to perfection and absolutely delicious. Sort of like a limeade but not as tart. YUM. This is what it looked like:

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In order to acclimate to the time change, we ended up staying up for the duration of the flight. It really wasn’t all that bad. We watched about 4 movies and we played A LOT of on-screen Sudoku. So, if you find yourself flying on ANA and playing Sudoku, check out the high score list for “Slumpy”– I’m there! Other important things to know about ANA include the bathrooms- they are awesome. It’s like a giant stall that you might find in a typical Western Restroom in a workplace. Lots of space. Leg room wasn’t too bad either and they also have foot rests that can come down if you’d like. Additionally, the arm rests can be moved to upright position for optimal comfort. Sound like an airline ad? I don’t care- it was great. By the way, they also sell on airline goods like hairbrushes and ties and stuff.

We landed in Tokyo and had a 2 hour layover. You basically leave the plane and can move on to your next terminal by going through a simple metal detector. Our bags were checked through to Jakarta which I highly recommend– it was a lot nicer than having to go find our bags and go through customs and what not. Do it. Our second leg of the trip was from Tokyo to Jakarta for a total of 8 hours. Really, it was nothing compared to our 14 hour flight. Plus, we slept most of the way. They served one meal on the flight and you again had your choice or fish or another dish– this time it was beef and rice and stirfry veggies with cold soba noodles and other goodies.

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Similar to the previous leg they again walked around with drinks and rice crackers. We didn’t really partake of them because we were sleeping (!) and trying to the local Jakarta time. We landed in Jakarta at around 11;50PM on Wednesday night (remember we left DC at Noon on Tuesday)… so a VERY long flight and a bit smelly and gross. Make sure you fill out all of your forms- immigration and customs to decrease waiting time in the airport.

You have to purchase an on arrival visa for each person ($25 USD… or you can pay in Rupiah) at the appropriate window before you can go through immigration. You will receive two visas held together but perforated. The immigration official will stamp them and keep one of the slips. The other slip will be placed in your Passport- don’t lose it! At this point, you will also have a dated stamp in your Passport as well as a portion of the immigration card (the embarkation/disembarkation portion). You will need to hold onto this and show it when you want to leave Jakarta so don’t lose it! We have never been asked if we have flights or plans to leave Jakarta within the 30 day visa period, but the site below in the helpful information section and many other sites say that you should have those plans in order just in case you are asked for them.

We grabbed our bags and made our way through customs (really lax actually- they didn’t even look at the fact that our form said we were bringing food into the country). Then we headed outside to grab a cab. The second you walk out, cabbies are calling and yelling to you. Because Andrew had been to Jakarta before and had coworkers here, he knew the best company- Blue Bird (they also run Silver Bird and Gold/Platinum Bird). The guy working the Blue Bird counter wasn’t even yelling at people. He was simply sitting and relaxing- that’s how you know they’re good ;0). We chatted with him and ended up with a Mercedes taxi that drove us to our hotel (40 mins or so) for about $20. In comparison, the guys next to us who went to a shouting taxi man were paying more than double, going a shorter distance, and getting a car with no A/C.

So do yourself a favor- if you fly to Jakarta, look for Blue/Silver/Gold/Platinum Bird for your taxi company. Two thumbs up!

Helpful Links/Information:

ANA Website

Phone Number (US/Canada/Mexico/Brazil): 1-800-235-9262

Phone Number (Other Areas): 310-782-3011

ANA In-Flight Services (Including Meal Requests)

Blue Bird Transportation Group

Soekarno-Hatta (Jakarta Airport) Website

Arriving in Jakarta Information (including Visa)

*Note this site makes it sound a lot more intense then in our two experiences; ie, we never had to get fingerprints or pictures taken and we never had a “lazy” immigration official*

 

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