Nature

USA: If Only We Could Control the Weather – Roadtrip to Seaside/Cannon Beach, OR, 07 May 2016

Cannon Beach OR

My good friend was in town for a week long visit. He was only 2 states short of visiting all 50 states – Alaska and Oregon. After seeing multiple photos my friends posted of Cannon Beach (damn you, social media!), and given there is a IHG promotion of 7000 points for making the first stay in May, I figured, why not?

We left Seattle at ~noon, and after four hours, we arrived at Seaside, OR. We drove down US101 S, which was a rather scenic drive. I enjoyed the view as we crossed the bridge that spanned Washington State and Oregon.

Crossing into Washington State

After checking in at our hotel, I was starving, so we walked around downtown Seaside, and stopped at the first place I was ok with – Dundee’s Bar & Grill. I had some amazing cod & chips, which was super fresh!

Seaside Oregon

Unfortunately, while we were eating, the weather turned crummy. We drove the ~20 min to Cannon Beach, but no sunset. It was a typical Pacific grey. The looming rock stacks at the sea are still very majestic, and my friend is a Goonies fan, so we still had a good time!

I wish I didn’t have driving anxiety – road trips are such an amazing way to see America!

Cannon Beach OR

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Costa Rica: La Paz Waterfall Gardens, 22 March 2016

La Paz Waterfall Garden

Yesterday evening, we obtained some tour brochures from the travel desk at our hotel. I actually generally hate bus tours, but unfortunately, we wanted to check out the waterfalls near San Jose, and short of renting a car, it wasn’t exactly accessible. The tours offered by the hotel travel desk didn’t work for us, as they all started too early, and were way too long. We wanted something that didn’t pack in too much, didn’t take too long (~5 hrs), and didn’t start too early.

Enter Anywhere Costa Rica. After a quick google, we found a tour that fit our description. I booked it online at around 4 pm, and by 5 pm, we got an e-mail confirmation that we’re booked for a 6ish hr tour that sets off from our hotel at 10 am. I highly recommend them – we paid US 88 per person all-inclusive, and I thought it was good value.

10 15: Guide is there, right on time.

11 15: Brief pit stop for coffee at a plantation (tres generracion, if anyone cares), while others who haven’t prepaid for the tour cough out their fees. I got a cafe con leche – it was ok.

La Paz Waterfall Garden

12 30: We were ushered into the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which is a sort of nature theme park with a lodge. It’s a little tourist trap-ish, because basically, a tour operator built a hotel beside these gorgeous falls, and started an animal sanctuary. It was some sort of zoo/fall thing.

13 00: High carb buffet lunch was included. Nothing to report here. The bathroom sink tap was kinda cool.

Sink and tap at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

14 00: Lots of plants, animals, insects, and amphibians. The frog is pretty – and I don’t like frogs. Toucans are cute (if a little scary, when trying not to become a walking target of bird dodo)!

La Paz Waterfall Garden

15 00: Falls are dramatic. The falls alone are quite worth the trip.

La Paz Waterfall Garden

16 00: Back on the bus, and headed back to San Jose. Nap time! 18 00: Picking up bags from hotel #2 back to hotel #1, which is close to the airport, for our early flight out the next morning.

La Paz Waterfall Garden

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Olympic National Park, USA: Camping at Lake Crescent, 17 – 18 July 2015

Some kind friends invited me on an overnight camping trip to the Olympic Peninsula, a UNESCO world heritage site because of its biodiversity. We left Seattle at around 7 am, and hopped on the 8.50 am ferry from Edmonds, for the 2 hr drive from Kingston to Lake Crescent, arriving at Fairholme Campground close to noon. Camp sites (88 total) are available on a first-come-first-served basis. Although the sign outside indicated that it was full, be sure to drive in and check, as it was not updated, as was our experience. When we drove in, we found some availability. You can check out the different camps and their facilities in the link above (Fairholme Campground).

How securing a campsite works at Fairholme Campground:

There are three ‘loops’ of campsites, and located near the wash facilities is a board where you can check for availability of campsites, and how long campsites are reserved for. A blank space indicates an available campsite. The board is not completely authoritative, so the best thing you can do is to walk/drive around, and see if a campsite is indeed reserved. After you choose a campsite, fill out a little slip, and pay the fee ($20 per night).

Campsites differed greatly in size. The larger ones were snapped up pretty early, and because there were four of us and two tents, we also needed a largish campsite. After driving/walking around for a bit, we found a sufficiently large campsite on Loop C. I highly recommend Loop C. Loop C is the furthest away from highway 101, and some of the campsites are actually beside Lake Crescent itself. The only downside to Loop C is that it is a walk-in site, so you cannot drive/park your car right beside your tent. As long as you do not have too much stuff or have enough muscle, that should not be a great challenge. The views from the campsites on Loop C are priceless, and really worth the extra walk/work.

The ones by the river are numbered 81-88, I think.

Lake CrescentAfter eating a sandwich lunch at our campsite table, we headed to Hurricane Ridge, which is some 1.5 hrs drive from Lake Crescent. Hurricane Ridge offers gorgeous mountain views, and sound views from the lookout, which is a short walk from the visitor’s center. There is also some wildlife to be spotted – we spotted a deer. After our short walk in the short loops at Hurricane Ridge (we had a lil two year old trekker), we drove back to the campground for a dinner by the fire pit. I tried to wake up before sunrise for a blue hour shot of Lake Crescent, but well, I slept through it. Oh well. Nevertheless, it was amazing to wake up to bird song, and a picture-perfect turquoise lake. Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane RidgeLake Crescent

Lake Crescent

After breakfast at the campgrounds, we decided to head down the Peninsula to check out some of those glorious beaches. We passed by the town of Forks, which is now famous for its association with Twilight and had brunch at a diner.

One of the more unique things about the Pacific Northwest Beaches are their driftwood and black sand. I have been to Kalaloch a number of times, but every time I do go there again, I get reminded of how beautiful it really is. We stopped for a bit, and let the little tyke have some fun digging in the sand. The sand has an awesome texture – fine grain. For some reason or other, there were lots of dead jellyfish and crabs, which washed ashore as well. As we neared late afternoon, we started our drive back, passing through the town of Aberdeen, which is the birth place of Kurt Cobain. I’ve never done it, but apparently you can do some sort of Kurt Cobain tour if you are in Aberdeen. We mostly stopped for food, because the little tyke wanted to be fed.

All-in-all, a nice little weekender! Kalaloch

Costs:

Edmonds to Kingston Ferry: $29.65 ($13.65 for vehicle & driver + $8 per adult passenger. Tip: I usually drive this route in reserve, because you do not have to pay passenger fares from Kingston to Edmonds – You just have to pay the vehicle fare, saving $8 per passenger)

Camping: $20

Gas: ~$30 (335 miles. cost depends on your gas mileage, but at 30mpg and $3 per gallon, works out to this sum)

Parks pass: $20 (though not all areas require a pass)

Views/experience: priceless

Total: ~ $100 

Categories: Beach, Camping, Nature, Travel Tip, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

USA – Crystal Mountain WA, 17 September 2014

Crystal Mountain is a short 2hr drive away from Seattle. It’s usually visited in the winter, for some reliable skiing. I’ve not actually ski-ed there, but most of the more advanced skiers I know seem to prefer it. But, since I suck at skiing, I did something else – I went in summer.

What’s there to see/do on a ski mountain in summer? Well, if you’re into hiking, apparently it’s awesome, as is Mount Rainier national park. But well, I don’t really have friends who’re into hiking. Most are couch potatoes. So what did I end up doing? We took the scenic gondola ($22) on a half-cloudy day, and wound up doing some reading at a very scenic spot.

If you don’t want to climb anything for a viewpoint, but want a great view of Rainier, look no further. This is your thing! If you have some extra spare Andrew Jacksons, they also have a restaurant at the top of the gondola. We packed our own lunch up. Be obsessive about checking the weather forecast for a perfect day.

The view
Mount Rainier from Crystal

I worked!

View from work today

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Australia – Phillip Island, 19 November 2012

We booked into a day tour with AAT Kings at the recommendation of our hotel concierge. The pickup was at 12 20, outside our hotel, and our day tour with a tea thrown in cost 135 AUD. It is slightly pricier than the regular one, because we opted for the Penguin Plus (more on that later). They also have a counter at the Museum of Moving Image, and offer a pickup there at 13 00. It is somewhat on the pricey side of things, and people who signed up for it tended to be older (like over 60), and does not include dinner. If you are thinking of cutting cost, if you can get a car at a good rental rate, you’d save money, even if you were just going solo, as the cheapest adult ticket for viewing penguins goes at 22 AUD.

Having said that, the trip is still worthwhile, as it is hassle-free. We got to survey quite a lot of animals unique to Australia (or this part of the world), and our knowledgeable guide, Carrie, certainly enhanced our experience.

First, along the way to Phillip Island (~2 hr self-drive), we stopped at one of the farms along the way, which have started domestic animal tourism, e.g. cow milking for children. The particular farm we stopped at has kangaroos, ostriches, llamas, peacocks, and wombats, in addition to other animals you’d normally expect at a farm, i.e. horses and cows. For someone like me who grew up in the city, and have not seen many animals since my last trip to the zoo, this was really quite a treat.

Our second stop was the Koala Conservation Center. This was my second time seeing koalas, as we went to one, when my mum brought us to Australia some 16 years ago. It is actually kinda nice to see these teddy-like animals, and it’s also nice to see that the rangers were there to prevent overly zealous tourists from disturbing them. I did certainly get some inspiration about sleeping positions in trees, considering their penchant for sleep! On a side note, if you don’t want to blow too much money on these visits, be sure to bring your own beverages and snacks, as a candy bar will set you back by 3.20 AUD, though I guess the money goes back to research for the animals.

As the penguins were not due to come in in the next few hours, our next stop was dinner. Our guide brought us to the largest town in Phillip Island – Cowes – so we could have more options, and less lines (there’s only one cafe at the penguin parade). Good choice. Cowes is like a seaside town, and on the main street leading to West Port Bay, there are plenty of dining options. Some are pricier than others, (~20 AUD per entree), but we ended up at a fish shack, and got some good fish and chips for 10 AUD.

Finally, the highlight of the trip – the little penguins. Phillip Island is home to the world’s smallest penguins, and around 30,000 of these penguins live on Phillip Island. The Penguin Parade is located at Summerland Beach, where at its peak (summer), around 2,000 penguins return from their day’s adventures to rest. On average, these penguins are about 33 cm tall, and weigh about 1 kg. The penguins only return after sunset, as they want to avoid their predators – the birds which circle the area. Apart from the cover of darkness, they also find strength in numbers. Despite being solo hunters at sea, they return to their homes after dusk in groups, as it makes them less vulnerable than going solo. It is really quite a sight to see groups some 30 over penguins waddle in, wave after wave. You can either do this through the general admission grand stand (first come first served), or at the Penguin Plus, which is a stand built at a separate area, where more penguins make their journey to their homes. It is not necessary to pay the extra, as the closest view you’ll get of the penguins is on the boardwalks which lead to the grandstands. No photos, though, as photography is strictly prohibited (didn’t stop some asses who think their pictures are more important than vulnerable wildlife).

Tip: Rumour has it that if you send a postcard from the penguin parade, they’ll use a unique penguin chop. Do try mailing a postcard to yourself! They sell stamps at the souvenir shops there.

Kangaroo

Kangaroo

Peacock

Peacock

West Port Bay

West Port Bay

Cowes

Town of Cowes

Phillip Island

Scanned in a postcard for people who want to see the penguins

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Vietnam – Con Dao, 22 August 2011

I must have an affinity for prison islands. Anyway, just to spice up my library research trip, (and since the price was right) I decided to take a trip to Con Dao, which used to be known as Pulou Condore, and was famous for being a prison island during the French colonial era.

Con Dao is about 45 mins away from Ho Chi Minh City. It appears that getting there now is easier than in the past. Now, Vietnam Airlines offers almost daily flights (and sometimes, more than once a day) to Con Dao at reasonable prices (~100 usd, a little cheaper if you can score a deal), and so does Air Mekong . Both can be done online. I made my booking via Vietnam Airlines, and had no problems with the online booking system.

After the short flight from HCMC to the Con Dao airport, the reports on wikitravel about the difficulty of transportation was true. Most of the other passengers on the plane were staying either at Con Dao resort, ATC, or Six Senses, which sent their vans to pick up their hotel guests. Since I was staying at Con Dao Camping, and did not bother arranging for transportation beforehand, I was ever so slightly screwed. Thankfully, there were several xe om (motorbike taxis) hanging around, so I hopped onto one, and paid 50000 dong for the journey into town, which was about 12 km away from the airport.

The journey from the airport to town was amazingly picturesque. The island of Con Dao is rather hilly, and after the cliff, there’s the gorgeous blue-green sea. The road was ran along the coast, so I could see the contrast between the lush greenery, and the sea that beats relentlessly against the rocky cliffs.

Anyway, no drama getting to Con Dao Camping. Despite the misleading name of Con Dao Camping, this place actually consists of well-constructed bungalows built in the shape of tents. The bungalows are modern, comfortable, and have every amenity you would need: A/C, ensuite bathroom with hot water shower, cable-tv, and fridge. Prices range from 30 USD for a bungalow with two single beds, to 35 USD for a bungalow with a King bed. Be sure to send them an email to make your reservations. These simple, but comfortable bungalows face the sea, and in the compound, there is a well-kept lawn, complete with deck chairs, and a private beach just after the lawn. It is more tranquil compared to the stretch where ATC and Con Dao resort is located (where locals go swimming, too), and it is definitely cheaper than ATC and Con Dao resort (which range from 50 USD to above 100 USD). They also provide motorcycle rentals at the standard rate in Con Dao, and range from 20000 dong for 1 hr on a manual motorbike, to 130000 dong for a full day on an automatic motorbike. My only complaint is that the service is kinda slow. Also, go look for food elsewhere – they don’t really have a kitchen.

My first stop for the day was the prison camp. After working up my expectations for it, it was actually rather anti-climatic. It kinda looked like the one in displayed in Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum. Architecturally, it was not exactly inspiring, unlike its British counterpart, the Circular Jail in Port Blair in the Andamans. Oh well, at least I can say I’ve been there now?

Anyways, I still enjoyed this trip. It is definitely a nice getaway from Vietnam, which is always so busy and bustling. Pace of life was definitely slower here, and people seem more laid back, and less rip-off-y. There were many beaches around, and an excellent people-to-beach ratio (i.e. very few people compared to the number of beaches). I have heard that the snorkelling, diving, and trekking was wonderful, but I guess I will have to explore that in a separate trip. But otherwise, just moped-ing around simply made my day!

Con Dao Camping

On Top the French Tiger Cages

Con Dao Coastline, and an Island beyond

Markers and Mirrors

A mysterious little isle, and fishing boats

Categories: Architecture, Beach, Museums, Nature, Vietnam | Tags: | 2 Comments

Indonesia – Komodo Island, 29 June 2011

We woke up bright and early to a spectacular sunrise, and the bats returning to the caves, after their little night adventures. After sunrise, we were well-fed once again by Captain Mad, before setting off for Komodo at probably about 7 or 8 am. Who knows. It wasn’t a long boat ride, but we arrived in Komodo soon enough. The park was still relatively empty, though there were about two other boats parked at the jetty.

We got off, and following R’s advice, we went on the medium trail. On a previous trip, R was convinced he almost lost his life going on the baron trail, and they didn’t see anything either. There was quite some things to see on the trail, like deers, and various trees, but I guess it was slightly disappointing, as we were not really there to see those. You go to Komodo to see Komodo dragons, right? The downhill descent was once again breath-taking, as we got a great view of Komodo Island bay. Nonetheless, no dragons, just more deers.

We did almost leave Komodo without ever seeing a Komodo dragon. But just as we were about to leave and board our boat again, a dragon sauntered out, and parked itself near the kitchen. It definitely caused a lot of commotion, as we were not the only ones who wanted to see a dragon. There were other groups there who had also gone for the bust of a hike. One of the cool things that did happen was we saw how the park ranger used his flimsy-looking stick to hold off the dragon, by poking it at the neck. It ain’t pretty, but it sure is effective!

After we were done with our two hour hike, guess what? It was still early in the morning. Captain Mat brought us to the Red Beach, and the snorkelling nearby, and we jumped into the water to cool off. Post-swim/snorkel, we had some lunch, played more minimum, rested some, and snorkelled some more.

My main impression of this boat trip was not really the Komodo and Rinca hikes, but the snorkelling. In many ways, this was like our Philippines trip, just that this time, we are spending three days on board the boat. I didn’t think I would like it, given my obsession with taking showers and having clean bathrooms, but it did work out. The snorkelling was sensational, and not being around way too many people was very enjoyable. I did wish I had an underwater camera with me to share the underwater beauty. With the good company, this was definitely a great trip.

Thanks R for organizing!

Sunrise in the Bat Cave Bay

Komodo Island Bay

Komodo Dragon spotted me

Sunset at our second docking spot

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Indonesia – Rinca, 28 June 2011

We set off bright and early at 9 am for our three-day boat trip, that would bring us around Komodo National Park for Komodo dragon hiking, and snorkelling missions.

After a three hour boat road on the calm seas, we arrived in Rinca, one of the three places that Komodo dragons can be found. After quite a few busts on the trip (like getting air tickets), it was a welcome sight, to see a Komodo dragon lounging by the island booth (I really don’t know a better term for this, they just built a booth for no purpose right after the jetty) of Rinca. Komodo dragon? Check.

A park ranger welcomed us at the jetty, and escorted us to the ranger station, which was probably about 100-200 m away from the jetty. Along the way, we saw a lot of dragon poo, which was interesting, because it’s white in colour (the white colour is due to the fact that Komodo dragons eat bones). After waiting before some lame foreigners who couldn’t make up their minds about what they wanted to do, we paid for our tickets quickly, and were on our way.

Before beginning on our trail proper, we ended up seeing more Komodo dragons hanging around the kitchen at the ranger station, than on the rest of the island. We opted for the medium length trail, after we didn’t see anything particularly interesting on the short trail (well, except some animal skeleton that the park rangers hung there for effect).

Well, I guess it didn’t really feel like it was a Komodo dragon trail, but was more like just a hiking trail, with some nature along the way. We saw quite a few water buffalos, but only one Komodo dragon on the way. The view returning from the trail was quite worth the hike, as we were descending downhill, so we got to see a panoramic view of Rinca harbour, and the surrounding area, which was very Savannah-like, and not lush tropical, which is the typical foliage for Southeast Asia.

After returning from our little hike, we were treated to a very nice lunch by Captain Mat. With some luck, our boat captain was also an excellent cook, so we had tempe goreng, and fried fish in tomato sauce, and a bunch of veggies that I didn’t care about. It was a little bit of overkill, as he seemed to be cooking for an army, not that we were complaining.

Following our food coma, we pulled into a spot where there was some great snorkelling. We swam with the fishes, and admired the corals, before retiring for the day at a cove, waiting for sunset, and for the bats to leave the caves for their adventures at night.

Setting off on our boat trip to Komodo

Komodo Dragon Greets us at the Jetty of Rinca

Savannah-like Environment of Komodo National Park

Sunset in the Bay with the Bat Cave

Categories: Boat, Indonesia, Nature, UNESCO | Tags: , | Leave a comment

USA – Whale-Watching Day Trip: Coupeville/Whidbey Island WA, 27 March 2011

Twas grey whale watching season, and since company was in town, what better time to explore the Puget Sound area, and watch some wildlife along the way, no?

We signed up with Victoria Clipper for a Sunday day trip that’ll bring us whale-watching with trained marine biologists who work in the area, and included a two-hour stop at Whidbey Island, one of the many islands in the Puget Sound. The Victoria Clipper also offers ferry services to Victoria, British Columbia, and trips to other islands in the Puget Sound area.

Honestly, after watching the whale surface just an itsy bitsy bit, I was quite contented with my whale sighting, and just proceeded to snooze until Coupeville in Whidbey Island. Other people were certainly more determined, and some braved the relentless drizzle for more sightings of the whale, and the perfect photo to bring home. Well, it’s 10 am on a Sunday morning, and I do what I like doing best – snoozing.

After all the excitement about the whales, we arrived at Coupeville around noon, and were given two hours to explore the town. The ‘commercial’ area was pretty small, and there were quite a few restaurants near the pier. It has a small town feel, and although there are some historic sights, it would have required a car, and definitely more than two hours. With two hours to spare, what else better to do than to stuff our faces? 😛

Anyway, it was a good choice. M ordered a pasta after her first choice of clams was sold out, while I ordered a mussels in white wine sauce. The portions were generous, the price was fair (mine was 12 bucks), and it was delicious!

After our leisurely Sunday lunch at Coupeville, we boarded the boat and returned to Seattle to end our little day trip.

Grey day for Grey Whale Watching

Coupeville, Whidbey Island

Lunch of Mussels in White Wine Sauce in Coupeville

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USA – Death Valley National Park, 21 March 2011

For a trip to Vegas, we certainly did not spend a lot of time Vegas. We actually chose Vegas due to its proximity to numerous National Parks, and after Grand Canyon, next in line on our itinerary was Death Valley National Park.

I think I picked this one. I think the only reason why I picked it was because I thought it has such a cool name! Well, unless of course, I become a reason why it is called what it is called. The Death Valley National Park spans the states of California and Nevada. California mainly, really. At its lowest point, it is actually below sea level. For some reason or other, that makes it quite a dangerous place. After some googling, I figured out a route that will bring us through a ghost town or two, and given my fascination with what nature does to places after humans abandon settlements, obviously, it was a must see.

Anyways, after the ‘training’ of the Grand Canyon trip, driving to Death Valley was a breeze by comparison. The landscape on the way was actually very breathtaking. The road was surrounded by mountains in the distance, and an expanse of desert. And of course, the mirage.

Our first stop in Death Valley National Park was Rhyolite Ghost Town. Not quite sure why it was abandoned, but the sight of semi-decrepit structures against blue skies and desert made for great pictures. It did seem to be quite a developed town. There was even a Rhyolite Casino.

Next, we kinda just followed the driving trail, and stopped by some structure that we thought was fascinating (my research is awesome … not). Turns out it was pretty fascinating. The Death Valley used to be mined for some material nicknamed white gold by Chinese. To cut costs of purifying them, they were done on site, so there were pretty big settlements of Chinese. Looking out from the look out point, you can still see some remnants of buildings. It was quite a desolate landscape.

There were, however, some pretty out-of-place spots in this landscape. For instance, there was a golf course, and some really garish-looking resorts. I am not quite sure why, but the tale of immigrant labor and abandonment of settlements seems to be detracted by these new features that capitalize on tourism.

Endless Road in Nevada

Rhyolite Ghost Casino, Death Valley National Park

Former residence of migrant workers in Death Valley National Park

Categories: Nature, Sights, USA | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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