Supertrees of Singapore

The same way Paris has its Arc de Triomphe, Dubai its Burj al Arab, and Mostar its Old Bridge, perhaps the most associated image of Singapore is that of its Supertrees. In a slightly jet-lagged state and with first-day-of-vacation walking optimism, Della and I set out to find said icons to see what it was all about. We succeeded [and got the requisite photos to prove it], but we found Singapore's Gardens By the Bay to be so much more than Supertrees!

I actively avoid getting too much information about a place before I visit lest I'm unable to keep an open mind upon arrival. Singapore, and Gardens By the Bay, was no exception. So aside from the trees, we didn't know what to expect. As it turned out, around every turn there was something new and wonderful to see: large scale installation art, topiary gardens, water features, an amazing food court*, and a holiday light installation to that puts Vegas to shame. We wandered through mostly deserted paths and were positively giddy*.

All in all, Gardens By the Bay set a wonderful tone for the upcoming 2 months of adventure: hidden wonders, delicious food, and being together. This is going to be fun!
Sunday December 8 2019File under: travel, singapore

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Losing a Phone In Puerto Vallarta

You know that sinking feeling when you reach for your phone in your pocket and it's not there? Imagine that feeling, but while being in a foreign country where you rely on said phone for not getting lost, figuring out what it is you're eating, and getting access to your plane tickets. Not to be overdramatic, but it can be a bit of a heart stopper. It was exactly this feeling I had yesterday as Della and I hustled off the crowded public bus in Puerto Vallarta on our way to see a two-bit (but still very enjoyable) Mexican circus*.

"Maybe I left it in the room..." [Nervous two hours of trying to ignore possibility of phone loss, search room top to bottom, ask hotel staff where bus lost and found is, enjoy staff's laughter at this concept, lose hope]

"Didn't I hear a podcast about an online way that can help you track where your phone is?" [Google "find my phone", log in, see blinking red dot a map nearby(!), hustle out on the street, get lost finding intersection, find intersection, don't find phone, return to hotel]

"Oh hey, the blinking dot moved!" [Internet sleuth everything possible about new blinking dot location, grow disheartened by very rural location, enlist friends' help to call phone, remotely lock down phone and prepare my goodbyes, search for phone replacement costs]

"The dot moved again!!" [Put on Sherlock hat, start spreadsheet of GPS coords with time of observation, frantically refresh website until bedtime, sleep fitfully]

"I think the phone is still on the bus!!" [Continue to track route, convert spreadsheet of GPS coords into map, develop a plan to find this bus out of the 100s of public Puerto Vallarta buses.]

"The buses seem to be laying over in this abandoned field. We should go there and search every bus we find!" [Jump through hoops to get internet on Della's phone, hop a bus that looks like it's going that direction, hop off bus once it diverts, see intermittently updated blinking dot pass us, furiously speculate, hop on new bus, bounce our way to the "station"]

"Yesterday he/she/it lose thing phone in bus please us look for"* [Start searching buses, try to connect via Della's phone to make it ring, no ringing, see dancing Della with phone in her hand, jump for joy, many self congratuations]

With a successful completion of the mission, we felt like badasses. From the get go, we felt like our chances were slim. But for a few pesos for bus fare and international data charges and a bit of ingenuity and persistance, we triumphed. In fact, it was a better adventure than the overpriced omni-present snorkeling excursions the resort keeps trying to pitch us. Adventure, badassery, frugality: that's the way we roll!
Thursday March 7 2019File under: travel, mexico

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An Age Milestone

Today, I am exactly half as old as my dad. Or, in other words, I am the age now that my dad was when I was born. This fun milestone was discovered as I was visiting him in Zipolite, Mexico. What an interesting perspective it can give about where I am in my life. But mostly, it was just a fun tidbit to toast over chiliquilis and fresh squeezed orange juice on the beach!

Della and I are on a bit of a Mexico adventure and Zipolite proved the perfect places to start it out: a mile long picturesque beach on which we found a circus hotel for next to nothing price-wise. We played in the surf, we juggled for locals while dad played accordion, and we ate really well for very cheap. As far as a place to relax a bit after a winter of back-to-back-to-back* housesitting and an intense run of Valentine's day circus shows, it can't be beat.

My dad and I have good travel history together. This trip is the third Mexico adventure together (San Cristobal 9 years ago, and San Miguelle de Allende 15 years ago (pre-BdW(!))). While "adventure" might apply less on this trip than it did to the others, easy time over crosswords and good food is an experience I can get behind just as much. I can only hope that when I'm his age, I'll be living as great a life!
Wednesday February 27 2019File under: travel, mexico

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Jamaica Public Transport Experience

Whenever I travel, I'm drawn to skip the air-conditioned plush tourist buses in favor of whatever transportation the locals use. I tell myself it is to get to know the place better, to mingle with the locals, but I imagine cost plays no small role. But whatever my motivations, it is a travel habit I'm glad to have as it leads to some wonderful experiences. On our recent trip to Jamaica, these local transport adventures proved to be among the most memorable from the whole trip!

The two dominant non-tourist transport options were route taxi and mini-bus, both variations on the same concept: pack a regular old vehicle as full as possible with people going from here to there. When I say full, I mean FULL. Think of a regular sized car, like a Toyota Camary. Put 4 full-sized adults across the backseat and 3 adults plus the driver across the front (with additional cushion for the middle person to span the e-brake). Now drive that vehicle at a million miles an hour around curvy mountain roads and you've got an idea.

We chose Christmas day to venture from the north of Jamaica down to the south, a 77-mile journey through the less inhabited center of the island. While there was some fear about transpo not running, we found that with the exception of 1 leg of the 6 leg journey, we were in luck. Each leg took us from one small town to the next, about 45 minutes to an hour, costing about $1 or $2 per person. After each leg, you'd hobble out, try to get feeling back in your butt and legs, and then cram into the next rig.

By the end of our time in Jamaica, I truly felt like I had grown accustomed to the experience of getting nice and friendly with your neighbors and riding in companionable silence (albeit with the Reggae blasting). I won't say I loved it, but it wasn't the hardship it was on that first mini-bus.

In chatting about the mini-buses to a local friend, he casually mentioned "Yep, like two white girls on a mini-bus". In quizzing him, he told us of a once popular song that recounted the public transit experience from the perspective of a non-local. Della and I looked it up and found it couldn't be more accurate. So I'll leave you with this, Two White Girls on a Mini-Bus.


Saturday January 13 2018File under: Jamaica, travel

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To Do the Tour or Not Do the Tour

One of Della's and my favorite things to do while traveling is to find a deal, to save money. It's what's led us on the cruises we taken, to the countries we been, and it guides our every day choices. And we get great joy out of it.*

But this deal/savings seeking leads us to a frequent dillemma: do we take the tour or not? Tours are usually lots of fun and frequently are the only way to see something, but they almost always cost a lot of money so we often end up skipping out, instead opting for the free activities like exploring, hanging out on the beach, and juggling.

In the interest of expanding our horizons, after much hemming and hawing, yesterday we took a tour. The tour promised three-fold adventure: dolphins (35% chance), the Black river and crocodiles, and a stop at the Pelican Bar, a bar on stilts in the middle of the bay.

In short, it was totally awesome! We saw both dolphins and crocodiles, the Black River was amazing with its mangroves, nesting snowy egrets, and truly jungle-like vibe, and we can now say we've been to the world famous(?) Pelican Bar. Beyond the three-fold promise, there were lots of other great perks: meeting other travelers, a neat swimming hole/rope swing/jumping tree into the river*, an adventurous boat ride, and lots of great information that we might never have gotten otherwise.

Our super successful tour will no doubt help encourage us to penny-pinch less when the next opportunity arises. And I look forward to it! But in the meantime, we'll be keeping an eye out for deal. Old habits do die hard.
Thursday December 28 2017File under: travel, Jamaica

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Financial Recap of Costa Rica-Nicaragua Trip


Money is one of the reasons often cited by people who want to travel more but don't. While I understand this, I also like to offer up some of the details of my trips to let them know that travel can be done on the cheap and still be very rewarding. Della and I just had an awesome trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua—23 days of beaches, exotic animals, good food, new culture, and lots of time together—for just under $2000, flights and all!*

As part of our daily journaling (to keep track of what we did, where we stayed, etc.), we also captured what we spent and on what. Just as a fun exercise*, I threw all that data into a spreadsheet to see what came out. And as always, data proves to be fun!

So, excluding flights, but including everything else, we spent $1,521. That breaks down to about $66/day. I split expenses into lodging, food, internal transportation, ice cream, and other (a category that included national park entrance fees, visa fees, souvenirs, zip lining, etc.).

TotalPer DayPercentage
Lodging*$584$25.39
38%
Food$451$19.61
30%
Internal Transportation$178$7.74
12%
Ice Cream*$36$1.57
2%
Other$272$11.83
18%
Numbers are for 2 people. Divide in half for per person numbers

While it wouldn't be fair to say that we traveled like kings, we also didn't only go for the cheapest options. We almost always got a private room (vs. dorms), had occasion to take a taxi a time or two, ate out almost exclusively, and didn't forgo much in the way of activities. Basically, we traveled much like we live here at home—on the cheap, but not stupid cheap.

As for flights, I benefited from a friend working in the industry and got my flight for just the cost of taxes and fees ($68 total) (THANKS MINDY!!). For Della, we found two cheap one way flights in and out of Liberia, a small city in the north of Costa Rica (cheaper than flying in and out of San Jose). Her flights came to $400.

So yeah, $2000 total for the both of us for a wonderful adventure to a foreign land seems pretty dang reasonable. In fact, comparing it back to some of the previous "Financial Breakdown" posts I've done (here, here, and here), it ranks as just about the cheapest trip I've ever taken! Whatever the details, I hope this helps to show that travel doesn't have to be super expensive. All you need is a spirit for adventure, a little patience and know-how, and the world can be your oyster!
Tuesday January 3 2017File under: travel

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Easy Days on the Boardwalk


(Drinking a homemade batido while evening happens around us on the boardwarlk

At the beginning of a trip, I always want to do stuff—explore, zip-line, be proactive to feast on the culture and place I am in. At the end of a trip, however, I find myself more looking to chill out. With the end of this trip drawing near, chilling out is exactly what Della and I have on our agenda. We're in San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, the perfect town for just hanging out. Our days involve walking the beach, searching the streets for loose change*, eating, and chilling on the boardwalk while the sun goes down (as seen in super high speed above).

Occasionally, we'll take a break from chilling to visit a monument, get a geocache, or something else proactive. But mostly, it's time to bathe in the good life before returning to the real world back home (not that the real world ain't pretty damn good in its own right).

So, without further ado, back to chilling. Someone pass me that batido!
Tuesday December 20 2016File under: travel, Nicaragua

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Our Ometepe Mini-Adventure

Ometepe is an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua consisting of two volcanos, one extinct and one not-so-extinct. It is also a bit of a tourist mecca, owing to its chilled out vibe, its beautiful scenery, and its cheap cheap cost of travel. So while it wasn't on our original itinerary, we had a few days to spare and decided to head out and have a look for ourselves. Between a couple of lazy days of catch up computer work and reading in hammocks, we rented a scooter and had a bit of an adventure!

Driving in a foreign country is always an adventure in itself. Because Ometepe has more bikes than cars and really only 2 intersections, it could have been much worse. The cow traffic jams, bursts of weather, and surprise speed bumps, however, kept us on our toes. Luckily, all that Scoot Scoot time made me an expert Scooter-er, so we felt about as comfortable as could be expected.

Our first stop was a search for a geocache. I feel obliged to get a cache in every country I visit*, which sometimes is a hassle but this time turned out to be great. It took us to an out of the way National Park that held ancient petroglyphs. We snagged the cache and then wondered around the completely deserted park for a while before meandering back down towards civilization.

To dodge an incoming squall, we ducked into a little restaurant in a not-even-a-town only to find it to be a Southern Californian's dream. Farm-to-table is a term that is kicked around all the time, but this place was serious: coconut milk hand made from trees on the property, lettuce and tomatoes from their garden, fresh pasta hand made with egg from their chickens, beef from the neighbor's grass-fed cow, and coffee from local (like within 100 yards) beans roasted over a sustainable wood fire. Finish it off with tiny cacao num nums (grown on property sweetened with honey from their land) and you might as well be a millionaire in Santa Barbara. Just about the only thing not hyper-local was the beer Della treated herself to, the first of the trip. Bill total on this splurge of a meal with dessert, drinks, and stuff-you-to-the-gills goodness for two: $15.00.

With the squall past and darkness not far off, we decided to head back, but figured we had enough time to go the long way 'round to complete our circumnavigation of the Concepcion volcano. What we didn't count on was 1) the main highway turned to rutted dirt road for 8km and 2) the sky would open up and dump on us. But despite all that, we loved seeing the even less populated parts of the island and even were treated to a nice howler monkey show.

Once back to town, safe and dry, we moseyed to our now favorite dinner place for our usual fare. Amazing chicken, beans and rice, smashed fried plantains, and a salad served by the sweetest little lady totaling $6 with tip (for both of us!). Totally the right price for an awesome meal and a great way to wind down our little Ometepe adventure day.

If you ever find yourself in Nicaragua with a few days to kill, I can't think of a better way to do it than checking out Ometepe!
Tuesday December 13 2016File under: travel, Nicaragua

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Della and the Animals of Costa Rica

From the moment our plane touched down in Liberia, Costa Rica and the pilot had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting a giant iguana, this trip has been about animals. Costa Rica is a great place for animals! You can't seem to go 10 miles without seeing a National Park. It makes for some convenient tourist-ing, that's for sure.

I don't know if you knew this, but Della likes animals. I mean, she really likes them. Like really likes them. So this has been great being able to see all the animals through her eyes. Everything is so cute from the gecko to the howler monkey and pretty much everything in between*.

And while we haven't been able to get a photo of her with every animal we've seen, we thought it might be fun to try. So, without further ado, here're a few picture of Della with animals in Costa Rica. (Be sure to read the caption for the story.)



It's not only the native and wild animals that are of interest.


Friday December 9 2016File under: travel, Costa Rica

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Pura Vida


Hear the words "Pura Vida" and you know you're in Costa Rica. It's pretty much their mantra. You hear it from the cashier at the mini-mart, you hear it from your waiter, you hear it from a passing local on the street. It means "pure life" or something along those lines, at least for a literal translation. But it means so much more.

After only a week here, I know I haven't grasped the full meaning, but I'm starting to get it. It means no worries, enjoy yourself, welcome, isn't this amazing?, namaste, and so much more. Over the next couple weeks, I look forward to learning more about Pura Vida from the super friendly locals and the lovely vibe that this place permeates.

Besides our lexicographical endeavors, Della and I have been up to pretty much what you might expect folks in Costa Rica to be up to: ziplining*, frolicking in the ocean and on the beaches, seeing lots of good wildlife, and just taking in the good life. Pretty standard, really. But since a picture is worth a bunch of words, here are a few snaps from week 1.

Sunday December 4 2016File under: travel, Costa Rica

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