Posts Tagged With: beach

Camping in Polihale State Park (South-West Kauai)

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Sunset pineapples are the best type of pineapple.

We live for the untouched, hidden, secluded, end of the road type of places. Sometimes it’s not possible to find those places. Sometimes it’s too hard to get to them. Sometimes it’s just hard enough that it keeps people away and that’s the sweet spot. Polihale is one of those sweet spots. Located at the end of the road on the South coast, next to Na Pali coast, down a beat up road, Polihale State Park has 17 miles of beach, day use facilities, and camping. The water is typically a bit rougher here, although Queen’s Pond is a protected area that is more “docile” and many people swim there.  Most people visiting Kauai want to be pampered and not deal with camping equipment (rental or other) so Polihale makes a great getaway spot for seclusion and reflection.

We had read and heard a lot of different things about Polihale State Park. For example, we read that it’s accessed down a dirt road that is sometimes maintained by the park service and sometimes left alone and unkempt. We read in some books that 4WD vehicles are a must, while others claim that any car can go. Through these varying recounts of Polihale, the one piece of information that did seem to be consistent was that many car rental companies will basically void insurance if you go out to Polihale and get stuck or need a tow. For this reason, we’re going to say check your rental agreements and if you really want to go out here, rent a 4WD vehicle.

To get there is fairly straightforward (that’s what you get on a small island with one main road)! To get there from Lihue Airport for example, you get onto Highway 50 and drive west. In about 34.5 miles (after you’ve passed Waimea Canyon turn-outs and signs for the Pacific Missile Range Facility) you curve right onto Kao Road which quickly turns into Kiko Road. After 0.2 miles, you’ll see Lower Saki Mana Road on your left (across from a gate with a graffiti sign and a Private Property sign). There’s also a sign a few feet before the road (on the right side) with an arrow just in case you can’t find it.

It’s at this point that the dirt road adventure begins. We drove out in the end of August and it was very dry, but I suspect that’s not always the case, so check your weather forecasts before you go. I’ve heard at times, it can flood over and make it a mucky, muddy, mess. The drive is about 4 miles out to the end of the dirt road… you basically end up on the beach. As an aside, while above we noted that 4WD is helpful, we will also backtrack here and say that there were all sorts of cars out there- jeeps, vans, trucks, mustangs even! Just be careful. After a couple miles of bouncing and trouncing you arrive at a giant Monkey Pod Tree in the middle of the road (picture below). The left “Y” will take you to Queen’s Pond, a supposedly docile and protected area for swimming in the Polihale State Park area. I say ‘supposedly’ because we didn’t really find a “docile” area… more of choppy, but not too choppy, all along the Polihale Coast. That didn’t stop us from swimming at Queen’s Pond, nor at Polihale proper. If you do decide to swim, be very careful, don’t go out too far, and assess before you go in. We went in because it didn’t look too bad. However, if the waves are big don’t risk it. This is a very unpopulated area so you’re on your own.

If you continue to the right of the Monkey Pod Tree, you enter the camping and day use area. Camping permits can be purchased online through the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. Permits cost $18 per tent (non-resident) and you may camp for up to 5 nights (nightly capacity is 60). Note that the link to the camping page (hyperlinked above) states $12/person. When you click on the box to be taken to the permit purchashing site, you will note that the actual cost is $18/non-resident tent. Anyway, after the Monkey Pod Tree, you will pass some picnic tables and then as you continue down the sand road, you will notice four “sand driveways” is what I’ll call them. Each one is a “camping area”. They each have a small sign that says “Camping Area XX” (1-4). There also some pull outs that don’t have camping signs. If you continue on to the end of the road, you’ll see a few pavilions and the beach. While we saw one truck drive onto the beach, no one else did. To make life easier, don’t drive on the beach. You’ll need an air pump and a pressure gauge at a minimum and don’t forget that if you get stuck you’re basically screwed.

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Sometimes even small cars can make it out here!

Anyway, if you are camping, you can pull into any of the camping areas. You may be discouraged if you see a car parked and a tent out in front, but don’t be. The camping area is not just the area directly in front of the car parking. It is much larger. We stayed at camping area #3 (picture of parking above) and couldn’t be happier. We parked in the designated area (where there was a tent set up about 10 feet ahead of us). We saw a sort of opening to the left in the trees and walked that way only to wind around and find (in our opinion) the perfect camping spot. We were tucked away from the cars and other campers with our own beach entry point. We could literally see the ocean from our tent and yet we were protected within the trees. Awesome.

We ended up spending two nights in Polihale and in the end, I think we both would have spent 20 more there if we didn’t want to see the rest of the island! It was so relaxing. There was some cell service (in and out), no hustle and bustle… just mandatory relaxation. After the first night we picked up beach chairs so we could spend a few hours out on the beach the next afternoon. When we did, we saw two young friends (the ones with the truck) and some fishing poles… and maybe one other couple. As an aside, it’s important to note the size of the dunes here… easily 100 feet. There’s no easy way down or up– just you and your feet. Going down the dunes is fine, but back up is tiring- just be aware before you embark. Another note is that the sand gets really really hot (especially at mid-day). A few sites and guidebooks we read said that your best bet is to wear hiking sucks (no shoes) to walk on the beach… in fact some people even reported getting blisters from barefooting it. We went later in the day and without shoes and it was hot but manageable… but I’d heed the warnings- always better not to deal with foot blisters and put on some socks! The reason you don’t wear shoes is because you are likely to get sand stuck in your shoes which will be uncomfortable and hot.

We swam for a while in the water, just bobbing along and then eventually sat and dried out… at one point we heard a helicopter and figured it was a tour… Polihale is located at the start of the Na Pali coast, so many tours- boating, kayaking, helicopter, etc. go down this way. However, we noticed the bright red helicopter circling in and out of the same mountain– then it landed somewhere behind Polihale before taking off again, this time with a really long cord with some sort of windsock looking thing tied to the end. After disappearing into a canyon/mountain fold, the helicopter reappeared with a person(!) attached to the end of the long cord! They eventually landed again somewhere behind Polihale before taking off back down the coast the way the helicopter originally came. The verdict- must have been a practice rescue exercise. Still cool and interesting to watch!

Other things to note about Polihale: each camping area is a few feet to restrooms and an outdoor shower. The bathrooms are simple, but they’re bathrooms! Each has two stalls and toilet paper as well as a sink (but no soap). There is also a freshwater faucet by the restrooms to fill up on water. In addition, there is a trash can and recycling bin (the word “recycle” is painted on one of the two cans) by each camping area. Open fires are not allowed, but you can have a grill. We opted to lay out our tent rainfly on the beach and eat pineapple and guava rolls while watching the sunset. Now that’s living!

As another aside for this area, if you take the dirt road back out to the main paved road and turn left (not towards Lihue), you will eventually dead-end (whether you end up weaving left or right) at some giant security gates. What are they?! Oh they’re just gates blocking off mountains that have caves with ammunition and other military weapons hidden and guarded in them. Crazy, right? Seriously though, there are tons of signs and cameras and what not– so don’t go snooping, but you can drive up and turn around if you’re so inclined. You can’t see anything except the signs and gates by the way… unless you run into a raucous herd of goats running all of the place (as we did!).

Two thumbs up and 5-stars to Polihale State Park! If you get a chance to go camping out here, do it! If you don’t want to lug your camping stuff with you on the plane, there are a few rental places around the island such as Kayak Kauai or Kauai Camper Rental or really a whole slew of them… these two I have heard mention in books before for what it’s worth. That’s all for now- we’ll see you next time!

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Categories: Camping, Hawaii, Unique Places to Stay | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dangriga, Belize –> South Water Caye, Belize

December 29, 2013.

We woke up at the Pelican Beach Resort in Dangriga, Belize around 7:00am. The mattress was firm the air conditioning was cold, and the beach was near. We ate breakfast at the resort: a “Belizean Breakfast”- coffee, water, scrambled eggs, fried jacks (giant puffy pastries), refried beans, cheese, bacon, and habanero hot sauce. Yes, I know. HUGE breakfast. It was delicious. We packed up our bags and made our way down the dock to catch our boat at 9:00AM to South Water Caye.

Andrew checking out the view of the dock on mainland Belize

Andrew checking out the view of the dock on mainland Belize

The boat was small and fit our group plus the luggage; it was completely open air. The ride took about 45 minutes. We docked on the tiny caye where we were greeted by Leonardo. He walked us literally 5 yards to the office where we were given water, tea, coffee, and juice (available all the time). He also pointed out the bar. We were given a short tour of the office building which was complete with a library (books, games, puzzles), and a white board that would list the daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner plans. Life here on the island is simple; no making choices. The kitchen staff makes the menu and that’s what goes. After touring the building, we were taken to our cabins; Andrew and I are staying in “Osprey”- a duplex where Andrew’s parents were also staying. There are kayaks available for our use 24/7 and snorkeling right off the beach. Basically, I’m in heaven. The cabins are on the water.

The group getting the official tour!

The group getting the official tour!

Owen and Aunt Sarah checking out the water.

Owen and Aunt Sarah checking out the water.

Lunch was fish sticks, squash, garlic rolls, ginger cookies, and piña coladas. I know what you’re going to say– Meghan, you don’t eat seafood. Correct. I simply didn’t eat the fish sticks; you learn to go with the flow here. Everything is relaxed. There are no schedules, no facebook to update, no work to do. Just relax. You want to lie on the beach all day? Awesome. You want to snorkel all day? Awesome. You want to kayak to the research station off in the distance? Awesome. You want to lie in a hammock and ready? Awesome. Everything is awesome.

Want to sit in a chair all day on the beach? Awesome!

Want to sit in a chair all day on the beach? Awesome!

After lunch, we kayaked all the way around the island (really only took about 40 minutes) and snorkeled. There are a ton of fish off this island and I swear I will never get tired of them. We showered with cold rain water (perfect way to cool down) before heading up to the bar for a few cold drinks: Belikan Beer, Piña Coladas, and CocoLoco (no clue what was in this last one- they wouldn’t tell us!) For dinner, we dined on Conch Civiche, Lobser Tail, Marinated Salad, Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, and Coconut Pie for dessert.

One of many, MANY Piña Coladas consumed on the trip.

One of many, MANY Piña Coladas consumed on the trip.

 

We were pretty exhausted from a day of relaxing, so we headed to bed around the time the sun went down. I couldn’t tell you what time that was– I didn’t know and I didn’t care. We read by dim light for a bit (all the lights are solar powered here), we gazed out at the giant expanse of sky with millions of stars, and then we went to sleep. Tomorrow afternoon we are going on a snorkeling trip. The office has a bunch of excursions available. You just tell the what you want to do and they make it happen.

I could get used to this life.

 

Check out our fun day of travel to Belize here.

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

Exploring Homer, AK

Well, we awoke on the Homer Spit on the beach. Awesome. What’s more awesome? Eagles on the beach. Super awesome! We saw a juvenile that we took a bunch of pictures of right on the edge of the water, before one of the kind beach photographers with us let us know that there were some adult eagles down the beach. So, we slowly made our way down the beach where we saw THREE adult bald eagles. So awesome!! We took A LOT of pictures and spent almost two hours on the beach. Here are a few pics:

 

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After our picture fest, we got ready to go and headed into breakfast at the Sourdough Express– a restaurant that we had read about in an article discussing delicious sourdough pancakes. It is also well known for its efforts to locally source most to all of its ingredients (including meats from sustainable local sources). Pretty awesome! We ate a delicious meal (including reindeer sausage! Sorry, Vixen) and then decided to check out the rest of the sites around Homer. By the way, I’ll note here that I’m not sure Reindeer sausage is for everyone… it has a very particular flavor (and is smoky). Reminds me of venison. Anyway, I digress.

 

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We headed up into the mountains to check out the skyline drive that promised to provide us with some beautiful views of Homer, the Spit and the Mountains. We made our way up through the obviously wealthy area of Homer and took a short jaunt over to another Russian Orthodox Church first [All Saints of America; information below]. This time, there were people there (the last Russian Orthodox church we were on our own). Here, we met a woman (Sharon) who told us that we were welcome to go in and look around and that the Father would be down to show us around. True to their word, a few minutes later he did come down and chatted with us for a bit about the church. He and his wife travel from another town every so often to have church services here… pretty cool. It’s a small little church with gorgeous decoration.

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From the church, we headed next to the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center just up the road. The visitor center was closed at the time we arrived, so we just grabbed a trail map and headed out for a walk. We didn’t see any Moose to our dismay, but the trails were well-maintained, the views were great, and then area in general is a great little spot. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the area!

 

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After the nature center stop, we moved on and drove along Skyline drive, stopping here and there for a picture stop because of the sweeping views of Homer and the mountains and volcanoes. We made our way across and back down to the visitor center where we parked and let my mom go in and gather her beloved brochures. Andrew and I also hopped out and said we were going for a short walk. The truth was, we had researched and called a bakery in Homer called, “Two Sisters Bakery” while we were in Seward to order a Birthday Cake for my parents (Today’s the big day. Yep, both of them). We made our way down to the bakery and were immediately happy with our decision. The inside is a cool little wooden bakery and restaurant with a huge display of baked goods and food for people to try out. Andrew ordered a cinnamon roll and we paid for/picked up the cake (chocolate cake, caramel filling, cream cheese frosting). They had decorated it beautifully—especially considering how small of a cake it was… with a blue Happy Birthday and a row of fresh flowers. The cake was so delicious. Highly recommend if you are in the area and want a bite to eat or want to order a cake.

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After cake and sandwiches in the RV, we tried to make our way to Homer Meadery only to discover that the Meadery shutdown and is no longer functioning. So, we headed off to the Homer Brewing Company, a large brown building seemingly in the middle of nowhere. My dad, Andrew and I went in and order a few tasters of beer—basically small 4oz. glasses, $2/glass. They had EIGHT beers on tap—very impressive! The inside of the brewery was pretty cool- one side had the brewery itself with all the equipment on display to see. The other side of the brewery was the “taproom” of sorts. They had a few tables and some merchandise and a small bar. After we tried out our samplers, we decided on a beer that we all liked and had him fill up our Seward Brewery Growler [don’t forget to visit our tip for microbrewery drinking while traveling- purchase a growler at the first brewery and just refill as you go]. We also picked up a pint glass to add to our collection (We opted for the Abbey Ale to fill our growler).

 

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After the brewery, we headed uphill to the Bear Creek Winery (following the Homer Fermentation Trail). There are only 11 wineries in Alaska and 1 of them happens to be in Homer. Interestingly enough, they do not grow grapes here. Instead the source them and make the wine here… they had quite a few wines available to try. The idea here is that you pay $___ for 6-8 samples of wine (you choose which wines you want). They have pure fruit wines, chardonnays, zins, ports, and even one ice wine, although sadly, they did not have the ice wine when we were there. My dad and I each made our list of wine and the ladies working the wine brought out halibut spread on crackers and cheese for palette clearing. The wines were awesome! The fruit wines blew me away—they had a Pomegranate wine made with Pom and Grape and it was phenomenal! They even had a mead that we made sure to try (and bought a bottle of for the road). It was a great top and the folks are super nice!

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Back in Homer “downtown” we stopped by a few gift shops and also “The Cool Juicy Bus”, an old school bus that was turned into a smoothie café. The girl working at the bus was really friendly and had a huge menu of smoothie mixes and fruits as well as add-ins such as flax and hemp and proteins, as well as soy/almond/coconut and other non-dairy/dairy milks. We chatted with her a bit and learned that originally, her mother and father owned the bus and drove around and up to Alaska (noting that her mother was a bit of a gypsy). She decided to set-up the smoothie and bus and the rest is history. Two other people came up while we were waiting. Both Homer-ites and both knew the woman who owned the bus… and they chatted with us. Everyone is so nice here!

 

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My mom had heard from the Visitor Center that there was a really cool authentic Russian Café about 40 minutes out of Homer. So, she called and asked about availability and then we were off. We made our way to the town of Nikolaevsk. The “town” wasn’t really much to see- a small run-down area with a few small buildings and houses. The Russian Café [Samovar Cafe] was located near the end of one of the roads. A small building with a wide-open parking lot; no other cars. We parked and slowly made our way to the front door. It’s really hard to adequately describe what awaited us on the inside of the building. Today, as I type this over a week after that experience, I’m still not 100% convinced that it actually happened and/or was real. The café has a small outdoor area that is covered from the rain. The inside is a small room that is jam-packed with just about every Russian trinket you can think of from teas and traditional spoons to nesting doll sets. In front of us was a small bar “area” with 6 stools and behind the bar was Nina. Nina the Russian; dressed to the nines in traditional Russian clothing. She greeted us with a great big smile and welcome. What followed I can’t be sure… there was some VERY quick speaking with a heavy accent and discussing the options of meals, food, and “experiences”. This culminated with the four of us sitting at the bar for the “Russian Experience”. We were not allowed to speak to Nina while she was “cooking” and we were not allowed to ask questions. She gave us booklets and pamphlets of information on her, on Russian, and on the café.

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We were to receive several courses each coming just as quickly as the next. We started with borscht- a traditional soup that was very similar to vegetable soup (heavy on the tomato) with a small squirt of sour cream. With this, each couple also received a plate with a slice of Rye bread and a traditional Russian Pierogi. The Russian pirogi is more of a potato bread- a soft roll stuffed with a mashed potato substance. Both breads are served cold but were very delicious when dipped in the borscht. The perogi may have been my favorite part of the meal J.

 

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Next, the four of us received a mixed combination platter- essentially a sampler. It had sausage on it, sauerkraut with craisins, small meatball dumplings (looked like your more western-style perogi), and pickles. For dessert we were each served a cup of tea and a tall dish with cream puffs, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and a cherry. After dinner, Nina dressed us in traditional Russian garb and took pictures of us by a giant nesting doll. Then, just like that, we were thanked and ushered out the door.

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The experience was cool. It really was… and it was unlike anything we’ve ever done. Was it authentic Russian? I’m not sure because I’ve never been to Russia, but my sense is “no”. Here’s why: the sausage she served us was microwaved and cut off of a giant plastic-packaged sausage. The dessert simply looked like cream puffs from Costco with Hershey’s syrup and Ready-whip. I wouldn’t classify those things as “Traditional Russian” but perhaps I just don’t know Russia.

The food was delicious, don’t get me wrong and as I said, the experience was fun and unique. The café was lauded online by various travel and news companies including National Geographic and folks on Trip Advisor loved it. To me, though, it seemed to much like a push to get money and take advantage of the customers. There were signs everywhere when you walked in—taking 4 photos cost money, taking more cost more; to sit at the bar instead of outside under the awning cost money, the plate that we split four ways was about $25 (to me it was not worth that amount). The bread was something like $2/slice. Microwaved sausage just makes me really sad. The kraut, the borscht, the perogi, and the tea were my highlights of the meal. While it was fun dressing up—it wasn’t necessary. It just seemed really staged. In the end for four people, we spent well over $100 for 4 cups of tea, 4 cups of borscht, 2 slices of bread, 2 perogis, 3 desserts, and a plate with 1 cup of kraut, 4 slices of pickle, some meatball dumplings, and a couple slices of sausage.

Additionally, on the phone, Nina had told us that we better bring “green paper” (aka cash) with us. She insisted on it, despite the fact that the front door said she accepted both Visa and MasterCard. Now, I totally understand businesses (especially tiny ones like the one she had) not wanting to pay the fees to charge credit cards, but it just seemed weird because we were even given the option of using a credit card (and realistically, we probably would have ended up spending more).

So all of that being said, would I do it again? Probably not. Am I glad we did it? Sure. Why not? I’m all about new experiences and branching out… I’m just not sure I’d rate it as highly on the “must do” in/near Homer, AK as the others.

After dinner, we piled back into the camper wondering what just happened. We made our way back to the Homer Spit and our campground via a bumpy gravel road, complete with beautiful views and another friendly eagle. Then we hit the hay.

 

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Not a bad way for parents to spend their Birthday, eh?

 

Homer Resources:

  1. Campground: Homer Spit Campground Information (showers: $1- unlimited time)
  2. The Fresh Sourdough Express: Website; Trip Advisor Reviews; Facebook Reviews
  3. Skyline Drive: Information (the drive is located between East and West Hill Drives)
  4. All Saints of America Russian Orthodox Church: Church Website (located off of Skyline Drive) 
  5. Carl E. Wynn Nature Center: Website Information; Trip Advisor Reviews
  6. Two Sisters Bakery: Website
  7. Homer Brewing Company: Website
  8. Bear Creek Winery and Lodging: Website
  9. The Juicy Bus: Website Information
  10. Samovar [Russian Café] in Nikolaevsk, Alaska: Nina’s Main Website; Webpage on Russian Cafe “Samovar”

 
Google Map Showing Our Path and Stops for the Day (excluding the Russian Cafe):

Google Map Showing Route from Visitor Center in downtown Homer to Russian Cafe [Samovar] and return to Homer Spit Campground *Note- these directions use the gravel road. To take main roads, take Sterling Highway 1 out of town (north) and then in Anchor Point, make a right on North Fork. This will be the SECOND right turn for North Fork Road that you see when leaving Homer. The first North Fork Road is the gravel Road. Once you turn on North Fork, follow the road all the way to Nikolaevsk. You’ll see a painted sign on a building reading “Cafe”. You can turn left at this building [follow the arrow] and it will take you down and around to the Samovar Cafe.:

Categories: Alaska, Hikes, Microbrews, Restaurants | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

North Bali: The Drive to Lovina and Some Downtown

When we departed from our seaside eco resort of Puri Dajuma [website here: http://www.dajuma.com/en/eco-resort], we headed towards Lovina. We knew that Lovina was going to be at least a bit of tourist trap. It’s a town that is frequented by beach tourism. Andrew had found us a place that was a hidden gem, so to speak, up on a hill with a view of the beach, but not in town. The name of the place was Puri Mangga Sea View Resort and Spa it consisted of rooms and houses and somehow Andrew swung a house with a private pool. The drive there was via Bunut Bolong Tree. Roughly translated, this means hole tree or a tree with a hole in it. It is a sacred tree in Bali- located near the area of Pekutatan. It is related to the Banyan tree is quite simply, a massive tree with a hole in it that is large enough to drive through… there is a clove plantation on one of side of tree [located on a hill of sorts]. In addition to tree, there were also two offering temples. We had requested that the driver go by the tree, as I had a lot of interest in seeing it– it really is quite cool, reminded me of a strangler fig. However, as you might guess, it also has become somewhat of a miniature tourist traps and locals are plentiful, willing to sell you anything and everything… or to take your picture with the tree. We declined and after snapping our own photos, moved on with the trip.

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The drive to Lovina was full of all sorts of great views and picture moments. We saw a ton of rice fields, which really do appear to be placed anywhere there is spare space. Many of the rice fields are in different phases of growth– some fields just being plowed, some with baby rice, some with full grown. Based on what we saw, it would be extremely interesting to do some research on how much water is used each year for growing rice on Bali… and where it comes from.

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We also continued our list of usefulness of bamboo for everyday purposes. On this section of the trip, we saw bamboo being used as a fence, as scaffolding [to hold the building up], and as a billboard sign stand. In addition to the bamboo views, we saw a number of other awesome sights, including massive bunches of bananas, massive bags of rice, street-side stores selling roosters in large woven baskets, statues, and temples, and beautiful architecture. We also saw roadside stands with what looked like homemade dishes in pots and bowls— I’m sure they contained something most delicious!!! Perhaps some Nasi Goreng [fried rice]?

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As I mentioned earlier, we were headed for a house with a private pool. We got there fairly early and it was absolutely gorgeous. I highly recommend Puri Mangga if you want an awesome time away from the crowds [website here: http://www.puri-mangga.de/en/]. Our house was beautiful. Complete with two bedrooms [next time, we’ll have to take a friend!] and two outdoor bathrooms that each had toilets, sinks, and shows. I have mentioned lately how much I LOVE outdoor showers and bathrooms? I’m not sure I have in a few posts– I love love LOVE them. They’re so nice and there’s so much space, and it’s just awesome with the sun shining down. I digress… the pool was also phenomenal. The “resort” itself [I put that in quotes because it’s not like a Sandals resort… it’s much cooler. By that I mean, it’s smaller and remote and just beautiful]. Anyway, the resort itself has a pool and tub that were beautifully sculpted, but we instead, turned our attention to our own rectangular infinity pool that looked down into a valley and you could see the coast. On either edge of the pool was a giant papaya tree and to finish it off, there were lounge chairs to sit in and watch the hours pass by… We swam for a while and read a bit before deciding to head down into the town of Lovina.

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A driver was around almost immediately and told us he would drop us at the Dolphin statue and when we were ready to be picked up, just give them a call and they’ll meet us back there. Easy enough. We stepped out by the “dolphin” statue… I put that in quotes because most of the dolphins on the statue, appeared to have had a run in with the Queen of Hearts [as in, OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!].

We also noticed immediately, that we were no longer in seclusion. We were immediately approached by three different people wanting to sell us things– fruit, jewelry, and paintings. We assured them that we would look again later but that we were looking to get lunch and had other plans. We happened upon a thai place in Lovina called Jasmine Kitchen. I highly recommend it– fantastic fresh dishes and drinks. It was down an alley of sorts and well, away from the mayhem of the beach. We were the only ones at the restaurant and as we found out later, since it was the off-season, we were hit up by all the locals trying to sell goods [fewer tourists to take them on]. Our lunch was amazing… really. We sat upstairs on giant pillows on the ground around a low table and we ate, admittedly, way too much but it was sooo good! They also have homemade ice cream on their dessert menu which a little different from our Western-style ice cream, but still worth the taste. They also will fill your water bottles for a low price, so it’s worth the stop even if just for water [why not grab a snack, too?] After stuffing ourselves, we walked around a bit more [avoiding the beach] so that we could hopefully avoid the sales. Eventually, close to sundown, we decided to head back to the beach because we wanted to watch the sunset. It was worth it. True, we came out of it with some jewelry, a bag of fruit, and a painting that we hadn’t planned on initially… but we also made three locals very happy and took some AMAZING shots of the sunset on the water.

After sunset, we decided to look for a bar with some music for an hour or so before calling Puri Mangga to pick us up. We found an open-air spot [Kantin 21] with not a soul inside other than the bartender and a few waiters. There was a stage and a banner outside said there would be music. We stepped in and were seated at a table with an umbrella. They gave us a MASSIVE drink menu– the second they gave them to us, it became apparent once again that Lovina is not “true Bali”… it is built to appease the tourists– a fact that is made obvious by the multitude of cuisines in town as well as the bars themselves and the extensiveness of the bar menu. Most Bali folks don’t drink at all or at least not a lot. The fact that this drink menu was larger than most American bar menus is saying something. But we didn’t care. We were excited to grab a crazy drink and maybe some food and some music. One of the drinks we ordered was called the Kantin 21 Level 17— 17 alcohols mixed together. We figured, why not, right? I’m not sure the bartender even knew they made that— but they mixed one up for us and we drank it down– bright green, really funky, not sure I recommend it :). We both ended up ordering pizzas [they had an outdoor brick oven]– although I got their special pizza which ended up being a square pizza dough covered in greens and veggies [delicious]. The live music turned out to be a main singer and some back up band. The main singer was apparently a massive America fan– as he kept giving us shout outs and yelling “Obama” and “I love your movies”. Needless to say, we had a great time- as always everyone is super friendly. By the time we left, a few other couples had joined us– representing France, Australia, and Germany. Our driver met us as promised, by the dolphin statue. All in all, a great day and night!

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Summary of Day:
Route: Pekutatan to Lovina [Southwest to North-central]
Breakfast: Puri Dajuma Hotel [included with room]- delicious and fresh, fruit and hot, cooked food
Lunch: Jasmine Kitchen [Thai Food], Lovina Beach; Cash Only; Fresh and Delicious; 5 Stars
Dinner: Kantin 21 [Open Air Bar], Lovina Beach; Small Food Menu/Huge Drink Menu; 3.5 Stars
Hotel: Puri Mangga Sea View Resort and Spa, Lovina; House with Private Pool; 5 Stars

Categories: Indonesia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Where Everything Went Wrong: Bali Day #1

And we were off. Two mountain bikes, two Americans, and two packs weighing about 50lbs each. Again, we had read that the traffic could be tricky but we were prepared. We had plenty of crazy driving experience all over the world! We took off taking a route that would wind West and then curve North before heading West again towards our destination for the evening: Puri Dajuma, a beachside eco-resort/retreat located a little ways into West Bali [Towards Negara]. We rode down a few streets and immediately saw the Balinese culture and religion of Hinduism through the never-ending temples. Miniature temples can be found at every home and business. The vast majority of the Balinese people believe in Agama Tirta or the “holy-water religion”. It is a Shivaite sect of Hinduism.

We stopped a few miles into our ride to get some water to fill our camelbacks and bike bottles. The sun was beating down, our packs were heavy, our bike seats tiny and hard, and our helmets lacking padding and protection, but we were excited and happy. We saw rice fields and construction, amazing architecture, and roadside “warungs” or little shops selling everything from water and Sprite to fried bean paste to candies to incense to gasoline in glass bottles. We continued on our trek, shortly coming to a “secondary” road. In other words, not the main road that was our destination. We were immediately aware of the immense amount of traffic. While our back and “tertiary” roads were nice and beautiful, the majority of these roads do not run east-west in direction. There is one main road that run east-west that we had to take to our destination.

We biked along, going up and down hills and around steep curves, trying to stay away from speeding cars and motorbikes [the primary method of movement on the island]. After another good hour of riding, sweating, coughing because of the immense amount of air pollution and exhaust from the motorbikes and cars, and literally almost getting hit by cars at least 5 times each, we admitted defeat. There are close to no traffic lines or signs in Bali. In fact, almost a week of being in Bali as I write this post, I have only seen one traffic light and it was flashing yellow. Cars and motorbikes just go on their merry way and don’t take others into consideration [certainly not bicycles]. Any motor vehicle turning left, in fact, does not even look right to see if anyone is coming, they simply go without stopping trusting that if they will get slammed by a car, that car will honk first. Unfortunately, with our bicycles, we did not have horns, let alone bells, let alone some road presence other than looking extremely out of place.

When we originally headed out on our tour via bicycle, we were not doing so because of the book Eat Pray Love. , but I have read several articles in books and online stating how people show up in Bali thinking they’ll be able to bike around on desolate flat roads past rice fields in a nice cool breeze [as in the book and movie]. These articles warn you that no, that is not the case. As someone who has tried and failed, DO NOT try to ride a bicycle around Bali unless you have a death wish. We are pretty adventurous people and true, there are some areas that are less crowded and easier to go around, but honestly, we pulled over after a truck almost pummeled me and decided that we would rather live than live the “adventurous, crazy, try to bike around an island that has a population of 3 million people” life. In the end, we wanted to enjoy our trip and the sights and sounds, not constantly be worried about being hit by a car or motorbike.

Furthermore, we decided that we did not want to use a rental car for the entire trip. The majority of cars here in Bali are manual, so finding an automatic would have been impossible. Driving here also requires an international license, something that you need to apply for in your home country. So, what to do? Interestingly enough, many Indonesians [in Jakarta, for example] have their own drivers. This was also an option in Bali. We decided against that as well. Instead we thought we’d be best getting rides between our housing locations and then using our bikes when we had the opportunity or otherwise exploring via foot in towns.

So, where that found us was sitting on the side of the road by one of the many street ditches that is basically used to capture trash and runoff. Speaking of trash, when we had stopped earlier for a bottle of water [it’s not safe to drink the tap water here], the plastic wrapper flew off the table and I went running after it. The woman who sold us the water just laughed and waved her hands to tell us, “oh don’t worry about the trash, just let it go”. Very surreal. Anyway, back to our ditch. Wild chickens and dogs wandered around and motorists whizzed past. We called Puri Dajuma and asked if they had a driver available to pick us and our bikes up. They did not, so we asked them to call us a taxi. We settled in, dejected and depressed at our failed attempt at “Biking Bali”, but happy that we would live to see another day. We settled in to wait.

At one point two dogs were playing around across the street. We watched as a third came up and barked and bit one of the other two on the leg. That dog whipped around and bit the third dog who was backed and pushed into the street. Not even 2 seconds later, a van hit and rolled over the dog… and just kept on going without so much as slowing down. We literally saw the dog roll under the car. I have never seen anything so absolutely disgusting or depressing in my life. At that moment I questioned our trip to Bali. I know that wild dogs are big here and they are EVERYWHERE and there are no sidewalks and I’m sure dogs are hit about 10,000/day, I had just never seen it so close and so real. I immediately missed Franklin and wondered how he was coping with our departure [his house sitters are loving on him more than we were I think].

About 1.5 hours later we were still waiting and it was starting to get dark. A van seemed to slow down and waved so we figured it was the taxi driver. He pulled over and Andrew went to talk to him. A 10-minute conversation later, we were loading our bikes into the trunk of a man’s van [NOT our taxi driver, just an Indonesian who offered to give us a ride]. We loaded into the van and headed off for our next adventure. We were thankful that he stopped and picked us up and yet wondering at the same time, do Indonesians often offer to drive strangers stranded on the side of the road? I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know is that the man who drove us to Puri Dajuma was and is my angel and night in shining armor. Without him, who knows how long we would have sat along that side of the road. Who knows if the taxi driver would have shown up. Who knows what the night would have served to us. About another hour driver later, the van pulled down a steep incline, through a gorgeous temple-like gate, and in front of a beautiful, open-air reception area. We thanked our night in shining armor profusely, gave him a healthy tip, and dragged our dirty and abused, pollution-covered bodies onto the nice comfy-looking couches. Minutes later, we were handed large glasses of watermelon juice and welcomed with open arms.

Needless to say, we had some re-arranging and shifting of plans to do. A big shout out to all the Indonesians who were nice to us and helped us that first day. It was tough and exhausting and enlightening.

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Welcome to Bali: Enjoy Your Stay and the Traffic

Arriving into Bali was something else altogether for me. I flew from Perth, Australia on Air Asia [the plane was comfortable, the crew spoke in Indonesian and English, the flight was pretty short– about 3.5 hours]. When we landed, we disembarked on the runway itself. We then all loaded onto a bus shuttle, crammed in like sardines [but part of the fun!] and the bus drove us about 2-3 minutes to the entry way of customs/border patrol. They drove us right through what looked like doors of a temple. How cool. How different. This, my first experience in Asia, I was extremely excited to see the different architecture and design.

Anyway, on to the airport. When you arrive in the airport there are a handful of people there holding signs. If you have a person waiting for you, you wave and that person sprints to one of the lines for visa payment to make sure that you are first. I did not have such a person waiting for me, so I made my way groggily over to the lines and hopped into one– only about 2 people back! Turns out, waiting to be one of the last people off the plane has its advantages! The visa fee is $25US or the equivalent in Indonesian Rupiah [IDR]. You pay your money, show your passport, and receive a receipt. Then you move on to the customs lines. When you get called up, they look at your passport, look at you, then attach the visa to your passport [a sticker!] and sign it and let you go on your way. Next you grab your bag[s] if you checked them, place them on an x-ray belt where they are simply scanned through [I’m not sure if anyone was actually watching the scan screens to be honest]. Finally, you either walk to the “red line” where you go if you declared anything on your card or the “green line” if you didn’t declare. You hand your card to the guy standing there, or in my experience, you watch people walk by and drop their cards on the table while the guy speaks to one of his buddies and just like that, Welcome to Indonesia!

When I walked out the front doors of the airport,I noticed several things: 1) about 150 people crowded around the doors with signs with different names of people on them [hotel drivers and hired drivers] as well as a handful of people waiting for others to arrive; 2) a bunch of guys walking around offering taxis or private drivers; 3) warm and damp air; and 4) a giant billboard reading, “Welcome to Indonesia, Enjoy Your Stay.” I was actually expecting more of a push for Indonesian language, but alas, everyone in the airport spoke English and it seemed, so did the advertisements in Bali!

I found Andrew sitting under said billboard on the grass. We had actually told our hotel ahead of time our flight information, so the driver came to pick us up. Finding him was a bit complicated as there were so many people crammed around the door, but after a short search, we found him and headed off towards the car [he had parked about a 5-10 minute walk away].

This is where I’ll pause for a moment. I had heard and read about drivers in Indonesia. My understanding was that they were fast, didn’t follow traffic signs, and there were a lot of them. What I wasn’t prepared for is the crazy, chaotic patterns and ways of driving that I experienced on the way to the hotel. First, I think that perhaps there are 5 traffic lights in all of Indonesia. They just don’t exist. Second, Indonesian drivers do not stop or yield or pause when turning left. They simply go and turn and trust that if someone is coming that person will honk their horn. Which brings me to point three, horns are used a lot, but not in a mean way. They are used as a way of saying, “Hey, I’m here, just wanted to let you know”. Next, drivers have no problem swerving around each other and/or driving on the wrong side of the road [and I don’t mean wrong side of the road for US folks, I mean wrong side of the road for Indonesian folks]. Apparently, there is no wrong side of the road. Our driver literally straddled the center line of the road the entire hour-long drive to our hotel in Canggu.

On the insistence of the Infinity Mountain Biking Company that we had been in discussion with prior to our trip, we had chosen a hotel they recommended out in Canggu; a little further away from the Bali Airport because of the traffic. Our plan was to spend our time in Bali biking from place to place [making a loop around the island and also into the middle/central portions of the island where the volcanos are]. The hotel they recommended was the Legong Keraton Beach Hotel. Here, they would deliver our mountain bikes in the morning.

Because of airline delays, we didn’t end up getting into the hotel until around 2:00AM, but from what I saw that late/early, it was beautiful. Situated right on the beach, Legong Keraton features spacious rooms with connected balconies that overlook tropical vegetation and trees. We quickly settled in and caught some rest. In the morning, around 7:00AM, we received a call stating that our bikes were there. We headed downstairs and met with a group of about three guys from Infinity Mountain Biking. The bikes were really nice: One Giant and One Polygon. We were handed two sets of bike gloves, two helmets [not sure they had quite the same padding amount as in the states, but they would serve their purpose], one bike lock [we were a little leery of that], two water bottles, a bike multi-tool, two extra bike tubes, a patch kit, and we were offered but declined a backpack. There was also supposed to be a pump, but I guess they forgot it. Andrew asked if it would be easy to find a pump if we needed one. After some talking back and forth, they agreed that they would return with a bike pump in about an hour. We handed over $600US [well, the equivalent in Rupiah] as a bike deposit. The total for all of the gear and the bikes for 12 days [including delivery today and pick-up at a hotel in Ubud 12 days from now] was $240US. So, when they come to pick up our bikes in Ubud, they’ll return the deposit minus the $240US. Not too bad for a week of traveling.

When they headed out to get the pump, we headed to breakfast. There is a restaurant at the hotel and breakfast was included in our stay. We entered the open-air dining area and were instantly greeted by a woman who offered to cook us eggs. Andrew ordered ham and cheese eggs and I ordered mixed eggs, no meat. My eggs turned out to be: cheese, mushrooms, peppers, and onions. Yum. In addition, there was a buffet style set-up with strawberry juice, water, coffee, tea, cereals, fresh fruit [pineapple, yellow watermelon, and papaya], beef sausage, and nasi goreng [nasi = rice, goring = fried]. The breakfast nasi goreng was vegetarian and had egg, onion, and some chilies in it. Yum!

We dined on a patio overlooking the manicured lawns, palm trees, and beach. While the lawns looked fake, they were still nice and it was very obvious how much time and care was put into keeping them looking perfect. About half-way through our breakfast, infinity mountain bikes returned with our pump and after a handshake and a wave, they were off. We headed back to our room and set about discarding things we didn’t need from our bags and repacking them in an effort to minimize the weight of our packs. At the end of the day, we had about 50lb packs. They were too heavy.

Andrew had also asked if we could store an extra bag at the hotel for about a week [stuff leftover from working in Jakarta for the past 3 weeks]. The hotel said sure no problem and didn’t even charge us! With a few more checks of our gear, we double-checked our maps and headed off down the road to begin our cycling adventure!

Pictures to be added: poor internet connection here!!

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