The Lofoten Islands

In a matter of days, HK and I will be on a flight headed to Norway. This is our first trip to Scandinavia, so we’re excited to see a different part of the world. We chose Norway as a result of my research for an article on my European Travel site at BellaOnline.  The Norway websites (Fjordnorway and visitnorway)  wowed us with stunning scenery of turquoise blue fjords surrounded by craggy cliffs and majestic mountains. As physically active travelers, we were impressed with the opportunities Norway offers-kayaking, glacier walks, white water rafting and hiking galore. Perfect! Add to that the fact that getting around is easy; the country’s bus, train, air and ferry systems can get you anywhere your heart desires.

HK also made it clear that he did not wish to travel to another 3rd world country this year. Last year’s 3-week trip to Bhutan was enough for a couple more years.

Knowing back in the spring that Norway was our destination, I scoured my favorite discounted airlines websites;  Kayak, Sidestep, Cheapoair and TripAdvisor.  I placed Atlanta-Norway on their watch lists, and within about a month, Cheapoair alerted me that there was a $535  fare. For Norway, that is a DEAL, so I grabbed it!  Now the fun part, deciding on our itinerary and booking rooms. ( I prefer to know where I’ll be staying beforehand, as history has shown us that just showing up, especially in rural areas where accommodations are limited, is risky business.)

Back in the day, I was a travel agent. I even co-owned a travel agency for awhile, but I made both a lousy boss and worse employee, so I quit. No, wait, maybe I fired myself. Whatever…After that gig, I went to work for an adventure travel company and was a trip consultant/tour escort.  Fun job, I got to travel all over Latin America, and HK got to go on several trips with me. Anyway, after learning how to put trips together, and realizing that I do not like group travel, HK and I began orchestrating our own trips, much more to our liking.

It was only after booking our airfare that I discovered that Norway is the most expensive country in the world. Hmmmm…I thought Japan had that title in the bag.  Yep, turns out even staying in a youth hostel can set you back a C-note.  (Compare that to our 50-cents a night tea houses in Nepal-YIKES!) Anyway, after comparing lots of suggested itineraries on travel-oriented websites such as Virtualtourist, Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree, I combined all the elements that I thought would suit HK and me best.  The forums on all of those sites are excellent places to gather information and ask questions.  Fellow travelers are typically willing and eager to help.

Even though I was trying to book reservations 3 months in advance, nearly all of the hostels were full, so we will be staying in some camping cabins; small, simple inns; a big hotel on the water that I scored a deal on through, and in the far north, above the Arctic Circle on the Lofoten Islands, we are booked into a fishermen’s cabin for 3 days.

My dilemma has been how to pack for this trip, since the weather will be questionable, at best. My main objective in packing is that we can both carry-on all of our baggage. I have dealt with lost luggage before, and we won’t be in any one place long enough to hassle with that. I also refuse to pay the new rip-off “checked baggage” fees. It’s simply a matter of principle.  If I am dishing out the moo-la to contort my body in an agonizing position for hours on end and eat the shit they serve on those flights, I refuse to give them even more money to lose my stuff!

So, how does one pack for a 2-week trip abroad where some bulky clothes and hiking boots are a necessity? Check back later this week, because I am going to share my “packing-diva’s do’s and don’ts” for overhead-compartment mastery!

In 2 short weeks HK and I will be on our way to Norway, and I’m telling you, it can’t come soon enough!  Here in Atlanta it has been in the 90’s for months already, and frankly, I am totally over the heat!  Last summer we spent 2 months in Vancouver, BC, and were grateful to escape the oven that we call home in the summertime. And although we had the 2 days of the hottest temps ever recorded in Vancouver (96F), we were at least able to cool ourselves in the refreshing waters of the Pacific.

Anyway, while gathering some essentials that I know we’ll need for our upcoming trip (rain gear and warm clothes–we’ll be traveling north of the Arctic Circle), I came across a crayon, partially melted, stuck in the deep recesses of my backpack. It was a reminder of a long-ago trip that HK and I took to Laos and Thailand several years ago. We had decided to “think outside the box” for our 10-year wedding anniversary, and eventually agreed on an independent kayak/backpack trip down the Mekong River, staying in local villages with none of the creature comforts we take for granted at home. We slept under mosquito netting on the floors of local villager’s homes, ate on the ground off of banana leaves and spoke none of the local language except to ask where the bathroom was (bathroom=hole in ground). The only running water we encountered in the villages was the cappuccino-colored water of the river, so you can imagine how we smelled after nearly a week.

Before we left on the trip, I tried to think of some little something that I could take that might endear me to the locals. (Yes, I like to feel endeared—imagine that). I knew we would encounter lots of children, so i decided that paper and crayons may be just the ticket.  I was right. During the course of our trip, the local kids would curiously poke their heads out of the windows of come just within 10 feet to get a better look at these blonde-haired, fair skinned foreigners. As soon as I got the crayons out and started coloring on my pad, they would gather around and want to draw a picture for me.  The icing was taking digital photos of them and letting them see themselves instantly in he viewfinder.

It was a tough journey, we both got stomach parasites and were exhausted at the end, but in hindsight, iIt really was a trip of a lifetime. I thought I’d share some of my memories from this adventure with you.  What are some of your favorite travel memories? I’d love to hear them!

note the Osama Bin Laden t-shirt.

"happy hour" enjoying rice wine

dinner smorgasbord

Christmas eve, 2002

checking us out from the safety of their hut

group shot!

Mother or Grandmother-not sure

public restroom

karaoke night

Over the holidays, HK and I decided to break up our week-long isit w/ my parents by going on an overnight kayak adventure in the everglades

HK 'yakkin in the 'Glades

“Oh, my god, are you nuts??  Don’t you know there are gators and pythons out there?  You’ll get eaten alive!!”   Mom shook her head in that old familliar way she does when HK and I spring plans for our next big trip on her.  “Couldn’t you just  go to the beach like everybody else?”  Of course, she knows the answer to that question, and the next morning we were on our way.

Our adventure  started in Everglades City where we met our guide Cynthia, and our 2 traveling companions, Peg and her daughter Becca.  We were all experienced paddlers, so were able to forgo the initiation lecture. What we were warned about, however, was the slight chance of  encounters with no-see-ums, those pesky tiny black bugs that attack during sunset and sunrise.  “They’re typically not a problem,” Cynthia assured us. “They don’t even bother some people. Bug spray doesn’t help–they’re immune”.  OK, since mosquitos don’t typically choose me as their main course, I figured what the hell.

We packed our yaks with all our gear–quite a feat to cram a tent, sleeping bags, 2 days worth of food/supplies and clothing into the 6″x6″ hatch of the kayak. Since I had the fatty-kayak, I got to carry the motherload of stuff, giving me lots of extra weight/drag.  Needless to say, I struggled to keep up with the sleeker, newer kayaks.

Along the way we paddled with dolphins-up close and personal, along with a plethora of shorebirds and other wildlife. (the ospreys were a real treat). (We did not encounter any pythons or ‘gators–they do not frequent this area.)

Anyway, mid-afternoon we arrived at our destination, Picnic Key, and set up camp.  Now, I’m gonna admit, it has been a loooonnnnggg time since I’ve camped in the sand.  Let me tell you, it can get a little messy. A lot messy, in fact, and before we were even done putting out our sleeping bags, there was sand in everything.  After a bit of island exploration and a snack, we went out for a sunset paddle.  After about 30 minutes, my shoulder gave out, so I headed back in.

BAD MOVE!!! As soon as I got on land (having relinquished my kayak to Peg), the no see ums attacked. Swatting my face I ran for the tent and jumped in, but not before the 376 of them that were attatched to me snuck through the screen. I pulled on everything I had that would cover bare skin, but I had nothing for my face, which they were feasting on big time by now. SHIT! I looked around for ANYTHING-and, spotting our mesh toiletry bag, dumped everything out and threw it over my head, tying it around my neck with a sock.  And there I sat, for the next hour, trying to watch a stunningly beautiful sunset from the protective netting of a toilet bag.

HK and the others, of course, laughed their asses off at me when they returned–after the bugs had retreated for the night–(it’s ok, though, i refused HK any of the wine we had brought along for dinner.)

Next morning, we all stayed in the saftey of our tents until well after sunrise in order to save blood.  Upon returning to the pull-out point, 4 hours of hard paddling against the current and the wind, I promptly stepped into a huge but hidden nest of fire ants, which finished off any remaining blood that I had. After realizing why my feet and ankles were burning so profusely, I tried in vain to brush them off. I ran back into the water, but the little fukkers were relentless.  They weren’t letting go.  Here is a shot of the evidence-3 days later.

OK, so it wasn’t the ideal trip. It was, however, another adventure, the first of which I hope to indulge myself in in 2010!

Where to go next??

Where to go next??

Last weekend, HK and I were kayaking down the Cartecay river in Ellijay, GA, when we paddled past a couple of (presumed) locals sitting in innertubes with their fishing poles. We were in a very remote part of the river, and HK quietly began humming the chords to “Dueling Banjos”. Remember, from the movie Deliverance? I chuckled under my breath, made a pig squealing sound, when the one with crossed-eyes asked  “Where ye headed?”

“Uh…Down?”  What do you say when your boat is pointed downstream on a lightly flowing river? 

We paddled on past, giving it no further thought, until today.  The question popped into my mind during a morning walk with the puppies.

Where are we headed?

We’re back from any planned vacations for the next forseeable future, it’s nearly Labor Day, and, as usual, I’m trying to think of ideas for next year’s trip.

Being a type AA aires, I plan WAY in advance, in order to get all the research done and airfare booked (remember–cheap), so that (more…)

Mommy and Daddy really had a great time playing in the mountains of British Columbia. it seems like every day when Daddy got off work (at 2:00, since he was working on Eastern Time), they’d head off on another adventure.

One day while their friends Stef and Glenn were visiting, they went kayaking on the Indian Arm at Deep Cove.  Being a self-proclaimed cheapskate, mommy called all around to find us the cheapest guided trip. She finally found one, but when they got to the outfitters “office”, it was a little trailer in a run-down neighborhood. Two young (but cute) guys were waiting outside for them.

“Nice one, Jules. Real professionals”, Daddy and Glenn teased her.It only got worse when they told them to follow them down a long, windy, remote road. “This is straight out of one of those Kill the Tourist movies,” Daddy said, and that really pissed mommy off.  Finally they got to the put-in spot, and the 2 guides turned out to be very professional.

Mommy couldn’t stop talking about the scenery-here’s her favorite shot…

check out the scenery!

check out the scenery!

hahahahaha! that was their guide- a real “hottie”, according to Mommy and Stef.  Here are some more pictures from their 4-hour kayak trip

Beer break

Beer break

an abandoned hydro power plant

an abandoned hydro power plant

Meanwhile, (click on more to continue the story) (more…)

rest stop on Vancouver island

rest stop on Vancouver island

This weekend, as part of our exploring British Columbia quest, Kizzy and I took mommy and daddy to Tofino, the westernmost drivable point on Vancouver Island. We  took a car ferry to Nanaimo and drove 3 hours west.  Forested mountains and crystal-clear lakes dominated the scenery, and we stopped frequently to take in the surrounding beauty, and to pee. While we were driving, a big black bear crossed the road right in front of our car!

Willy & the Boyz in Tofino

Willy & the Boyz in Tofino

When we got to Tofino (a pet-friendly place, of course), we went exploring. (more…)

HK and I went to Naples, Fl. to visit my parents for xmas. Something about 85-degree weather and palm trees just doesn’t support the holiday feeling, but being with family is important, so we made the 10-hour drive, pups in tow, for our “merry ho-ho”.

So while we were there, we figured we’d check-out the Everglades,around the Ten-Thousand Islands area. Not one for guided tours, we rented a tandem kayak (arthritis in my shoulders has been a huge issue this year).  We packed our little cooler and caught the shuttle for the put-in. Within 5 minutes, we spotted our first alligator. Laying on the banks about 15 feet from our ‘yak, it looked huge.  The next one was even bigger. They seemed to grow larger the further we paddled. I realized that I am not nearly as brave as I think I am. Every time HK would paddle closer, I wielded my weapon (paddle ) in the air, ready to ward off the prehistoric monsters.

We paddled through long “mangrove tunnels”, so narrow that it wasn’t possible to properly stroke, and we disconnnected our paddles into singles, like a regular canoe paddle. Then we ended up sort of pulling ourselves along by grabbing the roots of the trees overhead and pushing off. At one point, I was trying to push our ‘yak off of a tree, and the tip of my paddle got stuck between the roots, and the handle slipped out of my grip and landed squarely across HK’s face. I could tell by the sharp “slap” that it had made direct contact with bare flesh.

mangrove tunnel

mangrove tunnel

“What the Fu*k??????? ” I think that he initially thought that a giant python had come out of a tree for a strike. Realizing it was “only” my paddle, the sting was a little lessened, and we continued on through the swamps.  : 0

For a while, we just let the wind and current determine our course. We sat back, enjoyed a couple of cold ones, and watched life happen all around us.  As we drifted, we made a note of the many bird species we glimpsed, including  Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Ospreys and Anhingas.  It was invigorating and tranquil all at once.  After a couple of hours, it hit me.  I had to pee.  Bad.  Looking around, all I could imagine was losing my left ass-cheek to a hungry gator, or worse, so I held tight.   Hmmmm… maybe those “cold ones” weren’t the brightest idea.

As we paddled back upstream, the gators seemed a littl less threatening, the birds a little less threatened, and we agreed that this day in the Everglades was exactly what was needed to recoup and regroup after a hectic month of festivities.