World Oceans Day: What it Means to Us and How You Can Help Conserve Our Oceans

Did you know that around 70% of our Earth’s surface is covered by oceans? June 8th is World Oceans Day, a day delegated by the United Nations to raise awareness, and to protect and celebrate the major role that oceans have in supporting everyday life. Oceans are critical to life as they provide most of the oxygen we breathe, are a major source of food and medicines and are an essential part of the biosphere. Oceans also intrinsically bless us with beauty and wonder.  However, between rising temperatures, climate change, ocean acidification, and single-use plastics polluting our seas, we are taking a detrimental toll on our oceans, not only negatively affecting marine life but also compromising human health. The good news is there are ways we as travelers can protect our oceans.

In honor of the 17th annual World Oceans Day on June 8, Impact Travel Alliance (the world’s largest community for impact-focused travelers and travel professional) is asking travelers to take a stand for our oceans by making conscious changes to their routines as they explore the world. As a devoted member of the Impact Travel Alliance (ITA) and an ocean-lover myself, I wanted to share some tips and resources on how we as travelers can make a difference and help protect the future of our oceans. 

“Destinations on or near the ocean continue to be a favorite for travelers,” said Kelley Louise, ITA founder and executive director. “But with our oceans’ health at serious risk from climate change and overpopulation, it’s important to understand how we can make a difference with small, individual decisions we make while away from home.”

 


Ocean Conservation Travel Tips

The Ocean Project has worked in partnership with hundreds of organizations and networks from all sectors to help rally the world around World Oceans Day, a way to bring about a healthier ocean and a better future. Check out these guidelines on how you can make a difference and help conserve our oceans.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Conservation/Environment Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD
Laguna Chocuaco, Rancho Quemado, Osa Península, Costa Rica

Sustainable Travel Guide: What to Do in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Gently pushing off the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica lies the beautifully pristine Osa Peninsula, a magical paradise of untouched primitive rain forests, deserted beaches and rural communities relatively hidden to mainstream tourism. Known for its conservation efforts and robust ecotourism industry, the Osa Peninsula is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet with over 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity in less than one millionth of the Earth’s surface area.

With utterly jaw-dropping beauty, immense expanses of virgin rainforest and parts of lush green jungle that literally look like it is dropping into the celestial blue sea, the Osa Peninsula is my favorite part of Costa Rica. What I love best about the Osa Peninsula is it is still a bit of an undiscovered jewel. Despite a handful of small towns sprinkled throughout the peninsula, the majority of the Osa is uninhabited and undeveloped. Even the airports are simply plain old landing strips in the middle of a field or jungle. Its lack of development and its immense bounty of undisturbed nature and wildlife make it the ideal part of Costa Rica to experience pura vida, the pure life.

Why go

While many travelers chose to visit the more popular parts of Costa Rica such as the endless beaches of the Guanacaste, the precious yet touristy Manuel Antonio National Park in the Central Pacific Coast or the cloud forests or Arenal volcano of the Northern Zone, a visit to Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula will be sure to be an experience not like any other.

Where else can you be rewarded with the opportunity to immerse yourself with the local life, culture and extraordinary nature in one of the most magical, biodiverse places on earth? The pure remoteness of the Osa Peninsula works to keep the hordes of tourists away which is an added bonus. If you want the pure, real deal then go to the Osa Peninsula. It is sadly the last frontier of Costa Rica and hopefully it will stay that way.

Some of the unique things you can do in the Osa Peninsula include bathing in jungle swimming holes and waterfalls, birdwatching in a private lagoon, spending a night in a locally run guesthouse that is only reachable by foot, eating home-cooked Tico cuisine, all while supporting the local community. A highlight of any visit to the Osa Peninsula includes a day or more at the Corcovado National Park where you can see scarlet macaws, monkeys, sloths, tapirs and for those lucky few, an endangered jaguar. You can also spend a day dolphin and whale watching or diving and snorkeling off Isla de Caño or go for a sunset horseback ride on the rarely visited Playa San Josecito. The options are endless and after few days in the Osa Peninsula you will be wishing you had more.

The Osa Peninsula is idea for nature lovers, adventure lovers, families and couples, and especially those who are interested in supporting sustainable tourism. However, be prepared. The Osa Peninsula is still like the Outback and getting there and around requires a test of patience and some white-knuckle driving. Many places are only reachable on foot, on ATV or by boat. For those who love adventure, this is the place for you!

Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Adventure Travel Central America Costa Rica Family Travel TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Travel Guides TRAVEL RESOURCES

First Time Guide to Climbing Kilimanjaro

Have you ever had a dream for so long that it never stopped bugging you until you decided to just do it? For me, it has always been Kilimanjaro. I had wanted to climb this epic mountain ever since my father did it in October 1999. There really had not been any dream or travel goal that I have had for that long.

Like most dreams, there have been many obstacles and road blocks along the way. It wasn’t until a few years ago that my decades long dream became a reality.  I had wanted to make this climb special and have it be somewhat similar to my life-changing trip to Nepal. Serendipitously I was connected with the U.S.-based non-profit Solar Sister, an organization who provides solar electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa. For their fifth year anniversary, an international team was planning to climb Kilimanjaro in June of 2015.  Each climber was required to raise $4,000 to support the hiring and training for 8 new solar sister employees in Africa and to celebrate the success of Solar Sisters, we would climb Kilimanjaro together as a multigenerational, international team. It was a perfect opportunity and I seized it. Looking back today, it was even better than I ever dreamed it would be. It was truly epic. Figuring out what on earth to do next after such an incredible climb will be the challenge.

Why go?

Kilimanjaro, the fourth highest peak among the seven summits, soaring at 19,340 feet (5,895 m) and one of the world’s highest freestanding mountains, has long been one of the most popular climbs given its relative ease of climbing (no technical climbing ability is necessary) and beauty.  Located 200 miles (330 km) south of the equator in Northern Tanzania, the snow-capped volcanic dome of Kilimanjaro dominates the skyline like no other mountain on earth.

Kilimanjaro is actually not a single peak but a vast complex of cones and cores spreading over 38 miles (61 km) long by 25 miles (40 km) wide. There are three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim and is the hopeful destination of thousands of climbers every year.

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

For me personally, I had grown up hiking, and climbing Kilimanjaro had been a long-term goal of mine after seeing my dad’s photos of his own climb back in 1999. I also desperately wanted to get there soon before the snow that caps the top of this mighty beast and makes it so stunning, is gone forever. Some scientists predict that the glaciers atop Kilimanjaro will be gone as early as 2030. What a tragedy!

What Route to choose?

There are six main climbing routes on Kilimanjaro with the Marangu Route (also known as the “Coca-Cola Route”) being the easiest and most popular. Our group chose the longer, more scenic Machame route that can take anywhere from 6-7 days and is known as one of the most beautiful routes on the mountain, passing through five distinct ecological zones and affording dramatic views every single day of the climb. The Machame Route also has one of the highest success rates for reaching the summit since it allows proper acclimatization before the final summit push.

Total Length of Hike: 62 miles (100 km) up and 24 miles (38 km) down.

Image of Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes (Wikipedia)

Image of Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes (Wikipedia). Our route was the Machame colored in brown.

Adventure Travel Africa Tanzania TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Travel Guides Trekking/Hiking
Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

A Guided Tour of Manuel Antonio National Park with Naturalist Johan Chaves

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”. –  John Muir

Our villa at Tulemar was like a treehouse, perched high above the jungle and surrounded by nature.  I woke at 5:30 am to the sound of the birds greeting the day and went out to watch the tropical rainforest come to life. Two pairs of scarlet macaws flew poignantly overhead and settled in a neighboring tree where they squawked a bit before taking flight. Kingfishers, warblers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and tiny hummingbirds enjoyed their breakfast in the morning light. I could have laid here all morning but alas I had to get everyone else up for our seven am tour of Manuel Antonio National Park.

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

My favorite place of all – the hammock

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Morning sunrise from the balcony at Tulemar

Visting Manuel Antonio had been a dream of mine ever since I first visited Costa Rica on a volunteer trip in 2011. Today I would finally see one of Costa Rica’s most popular and beloved parks and I could hardly wait.

Adventure Travel Central America Costa Rica Family Travel TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Walking tours
Transfăgărășan Highway

A Drive along Romania’s Stunning Transfăgărășan Highway

I fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) tend to be that traveler who has to try to see it all no matter what. I think half of my obsession with seeing and doing it all is that I normally don’t have a lot of time in a given place. Usually my trips last under ten days and in the case of Romania, I was literally on the ground for only five full days before I had to begin the long day and a half journey back home.

Despite only having five short days in Romania, I felt that I truly got to see quite a bit of this magical place. I had a full day in Bucharest, several days in Brasov, saw the Bran Castle and the Rasnov Fortress, went hiking in the Carparthians and on the last day took a crazy adventurous drive back from Brasov to Bucharest via the world famous Transfăgărășan Highway.

It may have been a little bit crazy but deciding to take the Transfăgărășan Highway on our last day in Romania ended up being the highlight of our trip. This says a lot for someone who hates car trips and gets carsick on windy roads. But the drive along the Transfăgărășan Highway was one of the most stunning drives I’ve taken in years and it gave me a wonderful glimpse into Romania’s majestic countryside. A place of sheep herders, men in horse drawn wagons, and women clothed in traditional long dresses. Old churches, stone walls and terra cotta rooftops awash in greenery and flowers were just as I had imagined it would be in the nostalgic Romanian countryside.

“Also labeled “the Road to the Sky”, “the Road to the Clouds”, “the Best Driving Road in the World” and even “A spectacular Monument to Earth-Moving Megalomania” the Transfăgărășan climbs, twists and descends right through Moldoveanu and Negoiu – the highest peaks in Fagaras Mountains and in Romania. This is no pass through a gap but a frontal assault, a stark and spectacular reminder of unchecked power stamping itself on an obstreperous landscape”. – Romanian Tourism

The Transfăgărășan Highway (DN7C) is the second highest paved road in Romania, after the Transalpina further west, which travels for 56 miles/90 km through the southern section of the Carpathian Mountain across the Făgăraş Mountains. The road twists and turns up to the altitude of 2,042 metres (6,699 ft) with enough hairpin curves to make your stomach leap and adrenalin rush with excitement.

Constructed from 1970-1974 during Ceaușescu’s iron-fist rule for presumably military reasons, this amazing feat of engineering required lots of money, manpower and dynamite making people question the true reasoning behind its very existence. At the time, there were plenty of other high mountain passes that could be used for strategic reasons yet  Ceaușescu instead that the Transfăgărășan Highway be built.

Today the Transfăgărășan Highway is one of the most touristic drives in Romania and driving enthusiasts, bikers, hikers, tourists and locals alike flock to this spectacular road making it one of the top scenic drives in the country.

Romanian countryside

Adventure Travel Romania TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Rasnov Fortress Romania

Day Trip from Brasov, Romania: A Visit to the Rasnov Fortress

After our visit to the Bran Castle, we headed to see the neighboring Rasnov Fortress. Both places make an easy day trip from Brasov and are well worth the visit if you are interested in Romanian history and culture.

We set off to Rasnov, missed our turn and didn’t realize that we had passed the fortress until we saw it off in the distance from the top of road weaving through the Carpathians mountains. We had gone at least a half an hour out of our way and were closer to our base in Brasov than to Rasnov at that point. Annoyed with our continued misdirection (we always seemed to be lost in Romania!), we decided to turn around and go back. I’m glad we did as I liked Rasnov Fortress even better than the Bran Castle. The views from the fortress were sensational and it had a great deal of charm and mystique.

Rural Romania

Driving through the Romanian countryside is always a treat in my book

Rural Romania

The Rasnov Fortress is perched on a rocky hilltop overlooking the town of Rasnov below and was built in the 13th century by Teutonic Knights as protection against invaders. The fabulous Romanian Tourism website provides the following history on the fortress in this excerpt below (for full version, click here).

Rasnov Fortress Romania

The Rasnov Fortress

Strategically located on the commercial route linking the provinces of Transylvania and Walachia, Rasnov differs from other Saxon fortresses in that it was designed as a place of refuge over extended periods of time. As such, it had at least 30 houses, a school, a chapel and other buildings more commonly associated with a village.

The defensive system included nine towers, two bastions and a drawbridge. Surrounded by 500-foot-slopes on the north, south and west sides, the fortress was obliged to surrender only once, in the year 1612 when invaders managed to find the secret route that supplied the people inside the fortress with water. With the location of their water supply no longer a secret, the need for a well inside the fortress became a must.

The last siege of Rasnov Fortress took place in 1690 during the final Ottoman invasion of Transylvania. Damaged by fire in 1718, it was rebuilt the following year. The next major damage occurred as the result of an earthquake in 1802. The fortress was last used as a place of refuge during the revolution of 1848 and was abandoned after that.

Recently, the old fortress has been restored to its former glory and today, you can visit the impressive remains. There is also a museum here, hidden behind the ancient walls, where you can find a skeleton buried beneath a glass floor, as well as some other interesting artifacts. The inner rooms are maze-like, with several wooden ladders linking them and a few so-called secret passages which should keep you busy for quite awhile. 

Source: Romanian Tourism

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We walked up the short distance to the hilltop and checked out the ruins inside. There is not much left behind however it was still quite fascinating to see. It felt very magical and despite the tourists, it did not feel as touristy as the Bran Castle. There were no Dracula souvenir shops lining the outskirts of the castle. If there were even any Dracula trinkets for sale, I thankfully missed them. Instead, the only real thing to see here is the ruins and the view. If you want more, you have to drive down to the village of Rasnov.

Rasnov Fortress Romania

The entrance into the fortress

Rasnov Fortress Romania

Wouldn’t want to get stuck inside the gate when it is closing!

 

Rasnov Fortress Romania

Rasnov Fortress Romania

Rasnov Fortress Romania

Rasnov Fortress RomaniaRasnov Fortress Romania

And the stunning view below makes it worth your visit.

Rasnov Fortress Romania

Rasnov Fortress Romania

Rasnov Fortress Romania

Rasnov Fortress Romania

Rasnov Fortress Romania

If you go:

It is about a fifteen minute walk up to the fortress. There are plenty of nice little Romanian restaurants below as well as a children’s theme park on the way up the hill to the ruins. For more information, click here.

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The Rasnov Fortress in Romania is perched on a rocky hilltop overlooking the town of Rasnov below and was built in the 13th century by Teutonic Knights as protection against invaders. It is the perfect place for a day trip from Brasov and well worth the visit.

 

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Brasov Romania

A Walking Guide to Brasov: The heart of Romania

Tucked majestically beneath the verdant hills of the Southern Carpathian Mountains in Central Romania lies the historic charming city of Brasov, one of Romania’s most visited cities. Awash with gothic, barque and renaissance architecture, this once walled city is one of the loveliest cities in all of Transylvania.

Brasov was founded on an ancient Dacian site in the 13th century at the crossroads of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and the rest of Europe. A thriving German mercantile community of skilled craftsmen enabled Brasov to dominate the economical life  and importance of the region during medieval times. Beautiful churches and colorful buildings were built along with fortifications to protect the city against invaders. Parts of the 15th century wall still exist as well as a couple of lookout towers.

Today, Brasov remains a charming city to wander and explore, enjoying its stunning architecture, its delightful bohemian walking streets and mass of fabulous outdoor restaurants and cafes. It is also an excellent launching off point to many hiking trails and day trips to medieval castles in Transylvania. I found Brasov delightful and the perfect place to base ourselves for the majority of our stay in Romania.

Brasov Romania

Brasov Romania

We arrived around mid-afternoon after a relatively straightforward three-hour drive south from Bucharest. Quite frankly, getting out of Bucharest took the longest and was the most difficult part of the drive given its swath of roundabouts and signs in Romanian. Thankfully we had GPS in our rental car or else we certainly would have gotten even more lost than we did.

As you leave Bucharest, you pass through the surrounding Romanian countryside a place of tranquility and beauty. In the Middle Ages, Romania was made up of three principalities: Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania with Transylvania inspiring the most legends and mystique. For it was here in Transylvania that the lore of Dracula began and it is easy to see why given the number of castles, fortifications and medieval towns.

Brasov, Romania

Approaching the city of Brasov which is located down in the valley surrounded by mountains.

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We based ourselves at the lovely Hotel Kolping located about a ten minute walk up above the city, in the mountains. It served as the perfect place to stay as long as your wore ear plugs at night or are a sound sleeper. (There is a bit of noise at night from the  barking dogs trying to ward off the bears coming down from the mountains for a midnight treat). But despite the noise, the hotel is lovely with an incredible view of Brasov, a wonderful friendly staff and excellent food.

When we first arrived in Brasov, it was overcast, gray and gloomy yet I still found it quite lovely nevertheless. There would be a day or two of rain followed by perfect, cloudless days. In my option, the grayness captured the romantic mood and sense of mystery of Brasov. It was also great weather for doing a do-it-yourself walking tour which takes only a couple of hours.

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We first went to the Council Square (Piata Sfatului) which is the heart and soul of Brasov, and one of the most beautiful squares in all of Romania. The street is lined with stunning red-roofed merchant homes which once belonged to the Saxons who built these homes in medieval times. The most notable sight to see in the square is the famous Biserica Neagra or “Black Church”.

The Black Church was built from 1383 to 1480 and is the largest Gothic church in all of Romania. It received its name due to the effects on its appearance after a fire damaged it in 1689. The inside of the Black Church can be toured however no photographs are allowed. The church can be seen from miles away and is especially magical viewed from above on Mount Tampa.

After touring the church, the winds came in and swept away the rain clouds. The sun appeared and shined down on the square illuminating its buildings and bringing Brasov  to life. Families were out playing with their kids by the fountain. Couples were walking hand in hand. People were enjoying a cool drink at one of the many lovely outdoor cafes in the square. Meanwhile I was taking pictures of the lively, colorful buildings that lined the square and were even more brilliant with the afternoon sun.

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What I loved most about Brasov was its bohemian, laid-back feel. For a town of its size, I was amazed by how many excellent outdoor restaurants and cafes there are in Brasov.  We found several that we thoroughly enjoyed. The only difficult decision was deciding where to eat! Also compared to other European countries, the prices in Romania are extremely good. We were able to have a three-course home-cooked meal with a bottle of Romania wine for under $25.
Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania

One of several main walking streets

Brasov, Romania Brasov, Romani Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romani

Brasov, Romania

Brasov is a great city to spend time just wandering its cobblestone streets and soaking in the character and charm of the city through its elaborate buildings and facades. Some were beautifully restored and immaculate while others were in need of renovation yet still had a story to tell through its layers of peeling paint.

You can also hike or take the tram up to the top of Mount Tampa (where the Hollywood-like Brasov sign is above) for a bird’s eye view of the town. We opted to take the 1960s Communist tram up and hike down. The views were absolutely spectacular and worthy of a post all in itself.

Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania

As I often do when traveling is make sure to look up. I thought about all the history that I’d witnessed in just a short time in Brasov and without the crowds that are common in so many other parts of Eastern Europe. It was lovely!

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We spent five days in Brasov using it as our base for exploring Transylvania. Within that short amount of time, I easily fell in love with Brasov’s unique beauty, charm and liveliness. I would go all the way back to Romania just to spend more time in this lovely town with its friendly people, beautiful architecture and relaxing feel.

This article is also available for download on the iTunes app GPSmyCity. You can download by clicking this link. GPSmyCity provides a GPS-assisted downloadable version of this blog post. 

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Heading to Romania? Be sure to spend a day or two in lovely Brasov. Check out my walking guide of the top sights in Brasov here.

Adventure Travel Romania TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Walking tours
Iglesia la Merced Granada Nicaragua

The five most beautiful churches in Granada

Granada is one of those showcase cities whose eternal beauty lies deep within her Spanish colonial roots. Founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, much of the city remains the same as it was hundreds of years ago when the Spanish landed in Granada and conquered the people and their land. Despite being ransacked, destroyed and burnt to the ground, Granada has remained shockingly intact with its glorious cobblestone streets, opulent Catholic churches and vibrantly colored architecture, making it one of the most beautiful cities in Central America.

Catholicism arrived in Nicaragua in the late 16th century during the Spanish conquest of Latin America.  To build their empire, the Spanish constructed grand, elaborate cathedrals throughout the region and Granada received her fair share of beautiful churches. Today roughly 90% of Nicaraguans practice some form of Christian denomination with the majority being Roman Catholics.

The sound of church bells is a constant reminder that you are in a Catholic country where religion still plays an integral role in people’s lives.

There are five main churches that grace Granada’s picturesque streets: The Iglesia la Merced, the Cathedral on Parque Colón, The Iglesia de Xalteva, the Igelesia Guadalupe and the Antiguo Convento San Francisco. All are worth checking out as they are equally beautiful in their own right.

Iglesia la Merced

Built in 1534 (sacked and burned and rebuilt again in 1670),  the views from the bell tower are the most spectacular in the entire city. High on top, you are rewarded with a 360 degree view of Granada’s terra-cotta rooftops, the stunning lake and the volcano.

Iglesia la Merced Granada Nicaragua

Climbing the narrow stairs, you reach the centerpiece of the church: The bell tower. The panoramic views from high above the busy streets of Granada, are sensational and perhaps my favorite view in all Granada.

Iglesia la MercedGranada, Nicaragua

I could have stayed her all afternoon watching the world go by on the streets below but alas I had four more churches to see and it was getting hot.

Iglesia la Merced Granada NicaraguaIglesia la Merced Granada Nicaragua

Here is a beautiful view of the Cathedral on the central plaza, the heart and soul of Granada. You can also see the lake, Lago Cocibolca and Las Isletas where I would go for a sunset cruise later on that day.

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San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Chicabrava: Empowering women one wave at a time

You are built not to shrink down to less, but to blossom into more. To be more splendid. To be more extraordinary. To use every moment to fill yourself up.”

– Oprah Winfrey

A few months ago, I got an email that set in course an experience that would teach me a powerful lesson on overcoming my fears. It was an invitation to attend a press trip to experience and review Chicabrava, an all women’s learn to surf camp in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. I read the email with both the usual excitement I feel when learning about a new opportunity to travel as well as slight apprehension about what I would actually be doing on the trip: Learning to surf.

I consider myself a very adventurous person who has traveled to over 40 countries, many of these trips solo, and has pushed my body and soul to the limit by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, trekking the Himalayas, tandem hang-gliding in New Zealand and diving in the Great Barrier Reef. But surfing? Now that is something I had never tried and quite honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

What I would come to learn about this entire experience was that traveling alone to Nicaragua and actually getting up on my surfboard to catch a wave was no problem at all. The real challenge I had to overcome was my immense fear and anxiety over the ocean. It terrified me.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Adventure Travel TRAVEL
South Kaibab trail Grand Canyon Arizona

Exploring the Grand Canyon: A Hike Down the Rim to Ooh Aah Point

On the last day of our October visit to the Grand Canyon, I decided it was time to take a hike down off the rim and explore. After a taste of hiking down the Bright Angel Trail, I agreed with everything I’d read. Getting below the rim was the way to truly see the magical colors, depth and splendors of the Grand Canyon.

Although we had seen some families with children hiking below the rim, I personally did not feel comfortable bringing my children. Not only was it incredibly steep, there was no protection. One slip and down you go. Thus, I decided to do a short 1.8 mile hike myself, on the South Kaibab trail to the OOH AHH Lookout Point.

South Kaibab trail Grand Canyon Arizona

Start of the trailhead

My husband and kids dropped me off and away I went, elated to be doing one of the things I love most: Hike!  I had the next hour and a half to hike before they would come back to pick me up. I could hardly wait.

South Kaibab trail Grand Canyon Arizona

Getting ready to go!

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Buildings in Old Havana

A Brief Look at Old Havana’s Glorious Architecture

One of the great things about being on a cultural tour of Cuba was all the interesting stuff we learned about the arts, culture, history and people of this fascinating place. Our first morning in Havana started bright and early with a lecture by highly esteemed Cuban architect Isabel Rigol, PhD. Isabel came well prepared with a slide show and five hundred years of Cuban architectural history to enlighten our group over the next hour and a half presentation.

Much of Havana’s architecture is influenced by her four hundred years of Spanish colonial rule. Havana was settled by Spanish conquistadors in 1511 who basically wiped out the entire indigenous population and established seven villas or towns across the island. Havana was the most important place to build a grand city due to her strategic location overlooking the narrow channel entering into the Bay of Havana. An impressive fortress was built on each side of the channel offering protection from invading ships.

 Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes Magnos del Morro with the lighthouse.

Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes Magnos del Morro with the lighthouse. This castle was erected between 1589 and 1630 to protect the entrance to the harbor.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, religious constructions were very important as the Spaniards grew Catholicism. Impressive cathedrals were built throughout the city following the popular Baroque architecture of the times. Homes were built simply with steeped roofs made of clay shingles, however, the inside of these homes had incredible moorish ceilings made from precious timber and reflected Cuban’s Andalusian roots.

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Notre Dame Gargoyles Paris, France

Protectors of the City of Light: The Gargoyles of Notre Dame

No trip to Paris would ever be complete without a visit to the beloved Cathédrale de Notre-Dame.  Built between 1163 and 1345 the Notre Dame has withstood centuries of history and is one of the most iconic cathedrals in the world. Not only is the Notre Dame a pure masterpiece of French Gothic architecture, it has also remained the city’s heart and soul for centuries of dynamic struggle and change.

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