Mount Rushmore

Our travel has taken us all over the world but one thing we need to do more of is get to know our own country. We’ve been to a number of states, mostly out east, but heading west is certainly on the agenda. In lieu of that for now we felt it appropriate to take pause this President’s Day and take a look at those men etched in Mt. Rushmore’s rock-face.

Mt Rushmore is one of those iconic places and this photo here captures it exactly as the memory holds it. Ironically this is not as it was intended it look. Budget cuts caused construction to stop once the faces of each of the four presidents were complete bu the initial plans were to construct each president from head to waist. Regardless, there are plenty of USA Tours out west and it’s up to you to find the right one for your budget!

Mount Rushmore

IF YOU GO: The closest airport to the monument is Rapid City, SD but chances are you’ll be flying in somewhere else and be driving a long way to get to Mt. Rushmore. No doubt there is plenty to do out west so be sure to pick the vacation that works right for you and pack plenty of music for that long car ride.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Flickr user dean.franklin via a creative commons license.

New Land in Hawaii

One of the highlights of our trip to Hawaii was visiting Volcanos National Park.  The Hawaiian islands were formed by volcanos in the middle of the pacific and those volcanos continue to add land to the islands as we speak.  Usually, they are quite tame but sometimes their lava flows can and do change direction.  Rarely is this an emergency as visitors usually have several hours to move away from the slow moving lava, but nonetheless it can impact the scenery a good bit.

When we visited the volcanos we were impressed by the trail over the lava rock.  We took this photo at the start of the trail just beyond the end of the road.  It should be clear why the road has come to an end!  We were able to hike out on the lava rock for several kilometers and could actually see it running several feet below where we were standing.  We have pictures of molten lava as well but this photo is pretty compelling to us.  Later we sat and watched as the lava created new Hawaiian land, it was memorizing!

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

IF YOU GO:  The Hawaiian Islands are a great place to get away from it all.  Almost all flights to the islands land in Honolulu so check out some Oahu Hotels and then feel free to island hop to your heart’s content.  No trip to Honolulu is complete without a visit to Waikiki and Pearl Harbor!

To see more of our favorite photos from around the world check out our travel photo page. Let us know some of your favorites and we’ll include them in our photo series.

Is elephant damage covered under our car insurance?

It’s not often that we find ourselves behind the wheel of a car, but to see Kruger properly it was necessary to rent a car. So in our tiny little rental we took to the roads of Kruger, the paved, the dirt and the gravel. Our days were the same, get up early (sun rises at 4:30 a.m in the summer) pack up our tent, hit the road for some game viewing, arrive at our next camp around noon, rest until 3pm and head out for another game drive. The game drives are always exciting, sort of like a scavenger hunt through the bush- herds of elephants in the distance, giraffes eating from the tops of trees, but it wasn’t until our third afternoon when things got umm… up close and personal?

On our afternoon drive we had been severely disappointed. Game viewing is all about luck, being in the right place at the right time and so far we hadn’t seen anything that afternoon besides a few impala. Disappointed we came around a curve face to face for a giraffe. Moving out of the road for us, he trotted into the bush and continued eating the leaves. Carrying on our way, we hoped to see a lion or cheetah, but as we continued down the road nothing happened. Over taking another car we came around a bend and there in front of us was a huge maseth bull elephant standing in the road. Thankfully it was not turned towards us, but he took his dear sweet time getting out of our way.

For nearly twenty minutes we followed this bull down the road, each time Danny inched the car forward I nearly had a heart attack. There is no way I wanted to be that close to a male elephant, umm.. in “the mood.” Somewhere I remembered hearing to stay 20-30 meters back from an elephant, and as many things in life, husband and wife had a difference of opinion as to the exact distance of 20-30 meters. So there we were inching along behind the elephant that wouldn’t clear the path. Looking at the clock I realized that time was winding down fast, and we would have to either turn around or make a run for it if we wanted to get to the camp gate before it closed. Unwilling to turn around, we decided to wait the elephant out. Finally the bull stepped off the road and into the bush far enough that we could no longer see him. Making a run for it, Danny gunned the engine and we took our chances passing the elephant. Startled by the sound of our engine, the elephant, who wasn’t exactly as far as we thought from the road, turned towards us as we passed and made an angry grunting noise and motion, which prompted me to hit my darling husband in the arm and scream “move, move, move.” We were soon out of harms way although it took a good 20 minutes for our hearts to stop pumping.

Putting the petal to the metal, we sped along towards the main road and our camp gate. Each time we saw fresh elephant dung in the road my heart skipped a beat, and it wasn’t long before we saw a breeding herd along the side of the road. This time they were further away from us and thankfully paid no attention to us. Speeding along, we turned onto the paved road hoping and praying that we could convince the guard at the gate with our video footage that indeed the elephant had made us late. Cruising along we saw the familiar stopped vehicle ahead. Slowing down for a quick view, we thought the car was only looking at wildebeest in the distance, until a hand came out the window and pointed to the lioness not more than 5 feet from the road.

Of course we stopped. Screw that 1000R (about 135 USD) fine- the lioness was hunting. Within a minute we saw the wildebeest start to scatter and from a distance we could see the herd split in two. My family uses the phrase “national geographic moment”, which I think is rather self explanatory. This was indeed one of those moments. As we watched the scene unfold, several other lionesses came into view and a large male. We could see the lions rounding up one half of the herd and sorting through the chaos to find their target. Unfortunately the chase continued over the hill and we turned towards the people in the first car in shock and awe. The car behind us sped off towards the gate as we had about 10 minutes and 15 km to go. Gathering ourselves, we quickly did the same. Half way back to the gate we came over a hill and saw a man standing in the road with a gun. Great I thought, speeding ticket. Fortunately the car that left the hunt before us was already pulled over and we were waved on.

Sneaking into the camp gate behind another car, we couldn’t believe our luck. We had almost been trampled by an elephant, witnessed a lion hunt, avoided a speeding ticket and snuck in through the gate without a fine.

What a ride.

This glacier is actually growing!

Two and a half days on a bus from Bariloche and we found ourselves deep in southern Patagonia. Barren plains with wind so strong the double decker bus shook violently with each gust, it wasn’t beautiful to look at in the traditional sense and yet we couldn’t take our eyes off the landscape. Flat and uninviting, you could see the sky for miles, which unfortunately for us, meant seeing the impending storms.

We finally arrived in El Calafate, exhausted, dirty and wanting a good meal. The town basically only exists as a entry point for the Perito Moreno glacier, so its touristy and in our opinion one of the more expensive places in Argentina. Almost everyone whose traveling through Patagonia comes through town to see the glacier, so its a strange mix of tour buses, independent travelers, backpackers and families on vacation. Everyone it seems wants to see the glaciers, and its widely joked that we had better see them now because they won’t be there in forty years. Admittedly I’ve had the same thought.

When we stepped out of the van at the national park and the biting cold and wind hit me, I assumed there was no way the glacier would keep my interest for five hours until the shuttle left for the city. I was wrong. Four years ago we stood on a hiking trail at Mount Rainer swathed in fog unable to see the glacier that was hovering above us, but we could hear it. Thankfully there was a brightly painted sign that we couldn’t miss, even in the fog, telling us to watch for falling rocks and ice from the glacier or we may have been hit by falling debris. To this day I don’t know what that glacier looks like but I’m about 99% positive that its not nearly has huge or impressive as Perito Moreno.

Perito Moreno glacier is enormous and although there are numerous walkways at all different levels, giving you a dozen different views of the glacier, you can’t really get a feel for how large it is. Pieces crack off and crash into the lake, but from the walkways the huge sound doesn’t seem to match the seemingly small piece of ice. That is until a boat pulls along side the glacier and the large ship becomes a small bathtub toy compared to the wall of ice. The glacier is 60m (180 feet) high and according to our brochure 5 kilometers (3 miles) wide. Even staring at it for several hours, its hard to comprehend the size of the glacier.

Perito Moreno is one of the only glaciers in the world growing and its constantly advancing across the lake, some sources say at up to 2m (6 feet) per day. Every few years the glacier connects to the land, but only temporarily, as the water flowing below the glacier eventually cracks the ice and huge chunks float away. Ironically, in a nearby valley is Upsala glacier, the famous “Al Gore” glacier from his “Inconvenient Truth” documentary. Somehow Perito Moreno didn’t make the film. Although the national park that protects Perito Moreno is big on recycling, it is the first place in the country that we’ve seen recycling bins and notices about water usage.

Maybe its ironic to discuss global warming in a post about a glacier that’s growing, and after telling you about all the cold, snowy weather we’ve been traveling in. And yet, every local we meet tells us that this weather is uncommon, that the summer starts later ever year and the winter comes earlier. There’s an awareness that the climate has changed at all levels of society: from the farmer who can’t plant his crops until later in the spring to the families near Cordoba that are right now experiencing a drought so severe that the rivers are drying up. Sitting at the glacier looking up two American girls sat next to us not realizing we spoke their language. Clearly impressed by the size and beauty of the ice, the girls remarked that the glacier was “awesome” and a sight unparallelled so far in their lives. Will their impression of the ice change their habits at home? Probably not, but maybe every once in a while they’ll think about walking to the store instead of driving, or reusing their water bottle instead of buying a new one. Maybe if we all do that these glaciers will still be there for our children.

More Monkeys

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I can’t remember the last time we had seen each other, probably the summer after our high school graduation. When a friend from high school messaged me on facebook a few weeks ago I didn’t really know what to think. She invited us to come stay with her and her boyfriend in Costa Rica, which lets be honest is not a hard invitation to accept.

We got to her place in a rain storm after 9 hours of buses.  Thankfully they looked past how smelly, wet and tired we were and let us stay. :)  Spending the next two days lounging around her apartment, making the best of a stormy beach day and watching movies (in english!) we caught up on the last few years and even found time to buy me a replacement bathing suit. Turns out Costa Rican bathing suits are cut similarly to those in Brazil. You get the picture.

Just as we were relaxing in the comforts of a real apartment we got the exciting yet somewhat bittersweet news, we could whitewater kayak in Panama – if we got there in two days.  Dying to get in some whitewater we quickly altered our travel plans and set off early the next morning for Manuel Antonio, our last “must do” in Costa Rica.

We’ve been to a lot of beaches on this trip, both on the Pacific and the Caribbean but none that had monkeys on them. If you’ve been reading this blog you know that I want to see monkeys almost everywhere we go, so when we entered Manuel Antonio National Park my eyes immediately drifted upwards. From what everyone said about this place I expected it to be a zoo of tropical Costa Rican creatures.

Unfortunately there were no monkeys waiting for us to enter the park, which was shall we say perturbing. Plodding ahead towards the beach I kept my eyes peeled for shaking trees. “Seriously.” Danny said. “Haven’t you seen enough monkeys already.” The best response to a question like that is always silence so I ignored him and continued to scan the tree tops. Within meters of the beach we finally spotted them- an entire clan of capuchin monkeys. (Not sure if monkeys travel in clans, but it sounds good so lets go with it!) Clamoring through the trees playing with each other and eating leaves the monkeys seemed unphased by the crowd of humans near by, virtually ignoring us. Enthralled by them I continued to watch them play along the branches until Danny eventually pulled me on to the beach and the monkeys moved on. Not for long though. From the water we spotted the clan’s return and within seconds a “cheeky fellow” had grabbed another beach goers grocery bag and was making off with it into the trees. This is what I had waited to see- the famous thieving monkeys of Manuel Antonio. Wave after wave, like an aerial assault this monkey tried to grab things from beach goers, grocery bags, fruit, even clothing. Ever vigilant, I fastened our bags together with carabiners creating what I called a “monkey proof” design. Unfortunately it was never tested, apparently thieving monkeys do not want cookies covered in chocolate. Their loss.

For the $10 entrance fee into Manuel Antonio we saw: capuchin monkeys, a cayman (like a crocodile), tucans, a huge bird eating snake, coatis and agouti.  Pretty good if you ask me. In my intense focus on seeing monkeys we somehow missed the sloth that everyone else saw, but really sloths aren’t as cool as monkeys so thats ok!