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5 Reasons to Visit Tunisia

5 reasons to visit Tunisia

For those seeking adventure, Tunisia is the perfect holiday destination for the trip of a lifetime. This North African country is bordered on one side by the Mediterranean sea and on the other side by Algeria. Along its long coastline you can enjoy a hot Mediterranean climate freshened by the sea breeze, while inland it’s hot and arid, with areas of desert. Tunisia saw a decline in tourism after the events of 2015, but this extraordinary country is now considered safe and intrepid tourists are returning in numbers – it’s now reportedly one of the top five fastest growing tourist destinations in the world.

Ancient Ruins of Carthage

The ruins of the ancient city of Carthage are located close to the centre of Tunisia’s capital, Tunis. It is easily accessed by both train and taxi. This extraordinary 6th Century city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was once a powerful trading capitol which rivalled Rome. The most famous Carthaginian, the general Hannibal, once led his army, complete with elephants, over the Alps to surprise the Roman Army! Eventually, Carthage was sacked by Rome and later became the centre of the Roman Empire in Africa. This long history means there are ruins to explore from the Punic and later Roman period. The site is huge, so allow plenty of time to explore. You will want to take in the Archaeological Park, where you can stroll around the ruins of Roman streets. Close by are both the public baths and the ruins of the Basilica of Douimès. 

Medina of Tunis

Once back in Tunis you will want to explore the Medina of Tunis or Old Town. In fact, it dates back to the 9th century when it was surrounded by high walls. These have long since crumbled, but you will find romantic narrow streets of whitewashed buildings and over 700 historical monuments including mosques, villas, gates and fountains. There are covered souks to explore where you can pick up a souvenir. Tunisia is famous for its carpets, ceramics, leather slippers and intricate handicrafts made from silver gilt and intricate wood veneers. This is a perfect opportunity to practice your haggling skills.

Diving

With 713 miles of Mediterranean coastline, Tunisia is the perfect place to explore the water and offers some wonderful sites to dive. Beginners might want to check out one of the resort towns around Cap Bon where the conditions are steady and the water shallow. In Hammamet you can explore several wrecks, sunk in the Second World War and submerged only 15 metres below the surface. Nature lovers might want to visit the Galite Islands. This is a designated nature reserve comprised of seven small islands. It is home to coral reefs harbouring endangered species and a colony of seals. Advanced divers will find plenty to challenge them in Tabarka, the site of the largest coral reef in the Mediterranean. Here the brave can explore Tunnels Reef – a system of tunnels covering 500 meters!

Sahara

Over 30% of Tunisia is covered by the mighty Sahara desert which extends into neighbouring Algeria and Libya. It is a magnificent place to visit. You can find tours that will take you in just to enjoy the sun setting over the sand dunes. Alternatively, take a camel trek and stay overnight in a Bedouin camp. 

Cuisine

If all that doesn’t tempt you then perhaps the food will. Tunisian cuisine is a fiery meeting between Mediterranean and North African culinary traditions. Expect mezze style dishes, flatbreads, couscous and spicy harissa. Be sure to try some of the many sweets like yo-yo’s, a freshly fried doughnut flavoured with orange and drenched in honey syrup.

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Beautiful Burma

We get asked a lot, “What is your favorite place you’ve traveled?” My standard answer for the past 10 years has always been Turkey, and a shout out for my love Paris.  If I had a dollar for every time I said that, I would be headed back to the Istanbul all-expenses paid.  That all changed last year. Luci and I went to Burma.  Burma changed my favorite place answer and more importantly, it changed me.

Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, is located in between India and Thailand.  Burma has a rich history, one of beauty and conflict.  If you can get beyond the challenges and meet the people and storied history, you are in for a powerful journey.

Our trip to the region took us to two strikingly different areas within the country: Bagan and Mt. Popa. Both are not to be missed, and candidly, they are the tip of the iceberg of Burmese beauty and mystery.

Before You Go

Be aware that the Myanmar government limits where foreigners are able to travel.  It is critical that you understand in advance where you are allowed to travel.  Going to and from Bagan, Myanmar, will not take you anywhere near prohibited areas. No need to worry.  Myanmar has made giant leaps forward in welcoming tourists.  Don’t forget to arrange your visa: https://evisa.moip.gov.mm/.  It is helpful to learn a few basic phrases in Burmese. English is not widely spoken beyond the tourist areas. 

Getting There

There are two major international airports in the country: Yangon, the capital, and Mandalay.  If your focus is Bagan, Mandalay is the best choice.  We elected to connect via Bangkok, Thailand.  Connection options include many of the major hubs in Asia. 

Currency

The currency of Myanmar is the Myanmar Kyat.  While we did find ATMs in Bagan, they were not plentiful.  We would recommend not going thin on cash, as credit cards are not widely accepted.  The exchange rate is favorable to Westerners, making Burma perfect for the budget focused traveler. We often joke that Myanmar makes Thailand look expensive. We found the food, accommodation, and transportation to be very affordable. Luci got a two-hour massage for $12.

We landed at the Mandalay Airport and we had arranged in advance a car service to take us the four-hour drive to Bagan.  If you arrive after 4 p.m., we might recommend that you overnight in Mandalay and then take the drive into Bagan.  Half of the drive will be on a modern freeway.  The remainder of the drive will be winding through small Burmese towns and fields. There are few road signs and the roads can be rough. We loved the drive and were glad we didn’t elect to rent a car.

Beautiful Bagan

Bagan is steeped in spiritual and political history.  It once was the capital city of the Pagan Kingdom.  It was a thriving center of commerce and religious practice from the 9th to the 13th centuries. At its height, it was home to over 10,000 Buddhist temples and monasteries.  Later, a number of Hindu temples were added to the mix. Today, you can visit over 2,000 different structures that dot the valley.  It truly rivals Angkor Wat.  Most, if not all, of the temples are open to visitors.  A number of earthquakes have rocked the area over the centuries.  Some of the temples are in disrepair and some of the larger temples are under reconstruction.  In August 2016 a major earthquake hit the area and over 400 temples were destroyed.  For obvious reasons, do not delay your visit to the area.

Getting Around

We highly recommend renting an electric scooter.  They are simple to drive and very affordable.  We paid $3 (US currency) a day!  They brought them right to our B and B.  The temples are spread out and the valley is vast.  There is no way to do it on foot.  We recommend the first day of your visit to hire a guide that can give you an introduction and overview of the history and religious importance of the temples. 

Rent a scooter!

Sunrise and Sunset

The Bagan Valley is one of the most photogenic locations we have ever visited.  This is especially true during the “golden hour” at dawn and dusk.  During the right season, you can board a hot air balloon. We unfortunately, we didn’t time our visit to allow this. Bummer. The views from the balloons must be amazing! Next trip!

Visiting Temples

Know that most temples are still active religious centers. You will be expected to show reverence and respect.   This begins with the attire.  It is important to be modest in your clothing choices.  You will be asked to remove you shoes in most temples.  This can be very hot on the feet and a nightmare for germaphobes (Luci). In the major temples, you will be asked to keep your voices low.

Accommodations

Good news, bad news.  Major hotel chains have not landed in Bagan.  This is great news.  Bad news is the good places fill up quickly.  Most have a mom and pop B and B feel.  Make your bookings early.  We recommend the Tripadvisor.com to get the latest intel on the best places to rest your head.  We stayed at the Bluebird.  It was beyond our expectations. The service rivaled a five star hotel and the food was excellent.

Bagan Temple

The Food

There are a number of restaurants along the Irrawaddy River.  Dinner at sunset overlooking the river is magical.  While there a host of different options for every taste, western options are limited.  Most of the fruits and veggies are locally sourced.  The local specialty is actually peanuts.  They are sooo good!  Bring us back some?

A view of the Buddhist compound from Mt. Popa

Mt. Popa

A wonderful side trip from Bagan is going to Mt. Popa.  The Mt. Popa National Park is densely forested former volcano.  It is nothing short of beautiful.  There are a number of resorts overlooking the famous Buddhist monastery that is perched on a volcanic outcropping.   Words cannot describe just how beautiful it is.

Getting There

Getting to Mt. Popa is simple.  Just hire a car and take the 1 hour 30 drive.  There is are interesting little town right at the base of the volcano that has an incredible selection of fruit.  The exotic fresh fruit is yummy!

Needless to say, Bagan is one of the special places on the planet.  In time, we worry that it will become over commercialized as Angkor has.  Visit soon to see it in its pristine beauty. 

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Destination: Antartica

Why?

I want to bring you on a journey with me.  It has been 20 plus years in the making.   While I was attending Rigby High School in rural Idaho, I set a goal to travel to all 7 continents.  Growing up in a single-wide trailer and a son of a single mother, this was a very audacious goal.  In 10 short months I will take the last step in tackling this ambitious goal.  Cue the stirring music.

I am sharing my experience, not to boast, or draw attention to myself (This is Mike by the way…).  This series of posts are for three different types of people:

1) If you have ever dreamed a dream, set a goal, wished for something big and special in your life, this series of posts are for you.  If you need a little reassurance that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, this is for you.  There is a light.  It can and will happen for you.  But…..it is really, really hard.  Never, Never, NEVER give up on your goals!

2) If Antarctica is on your bucket list, and you just want the details on how to make it happen on a budget.  These posts are for you– if you can get beyond a little sappiness, along the way.

3) For my friends and family that are wondering “what in the world” is Mike doing this time.  This is for you as well.  (Please skip the “danger” section below.) Enjoy.

Antarctica

Antarctica

Perhaps one of the most inhospitable places on earth, Antarctica is not a “fun” place to visit.   According to Wikipedia:  “Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents.”  So, it’s got that going for it.  Obviously, it attracts scientists, global warming anti-deniers, and penguin watchers galore.   It also speaks to another breed, the 45to 55 year-old bucket-lister-crosser-offer-ers. Guilty as charged.

The Fighting Solo

I am going it alone on this one. This trip includes everything that Luci hates: 

1) cold

2) rough seas

3) Mike

4) small cabin

5) more rough seas

6) sea-sickness and

7) cold water. 

After not getting a response from my Twitter invite to Gal Gadot (It’s not too late if you are reading this), I have paired up with a good friend to join me. Traveling solo to Antarctica nearly doubles the price, a non-starter for me.

Antarctica Fun Fact:  The Continent was the last one to be “discovered.” In 1820, the Russian expedition of Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev sighted the Fimbul Ice Shelf.  It was not until much later that a group of Norwegians made the first landing.

Weddell seal pups on the ice of the Antarctic Peninsula

When to Start

Cruises fill up a year or more in advance.  While I have read of bloggers going down to the port and booking a spot the day of, I just can’t roll that way.  If you are like me, you have a tight window to make everything work with time off and family, booking exact days is a must.

Nothing is Easy or Cheap

A word of warning.  Regardless of the many “fluffy” blog posts out there on the white continent, visiting Antarctica is difficult, extremely expensive, and a tiny bit dangerous.   Luci and I have made a habit of finding the shortcuts to make travel cheap.  We maximize points, travel on shoulder seasons, and a several other tricks of the trade to make global travel affordable.  None of those ingenious tactics work on Antarctica.  There is a three-month window when you can go, there are limited boats, and there are only two ports you can go out of in South America.  Antarctica is the soup Nazi of travel.  No cheap trip for you!

The “Drake Shake”

Budget

I began saving for Antarctica four years ago. Both Luci and I are disciples of Dave Ramesy, so we are very conservative on how we spend our money.   Each year we allot a certain amount of our budget for “blow money” (we know, it sounds terrible.).  This is money that we can spend on anything we want.  I hoarded mine like a crazy man, I skipped birthday and Christmas presents in order to save the money for this trip.

Ok, let’s talk numbers.  You can spend $75k on an Antarctica trip without blinking an eye. (https://www.swoop-antarctica.com/cruises/south-georgia/in-depth). Since we don’t have a trust fund, this is not an option for us.  (It would be soooo cool though!)

Here are the basics for our trip:

$1,800 flight from Boise, Idaho, USA (BOI) to Buenos Aires (EZE).

$500 flight from Buenos Aires (AEP) to Ushuaia (USH)

$8,900 pp double Occupancy cruise

$750 excursions (kayaking, camping, etc.)

$250 Lodging and transport Ushuaia

$500 “melt” layover in Buenos Aires

$500 Medical/evacuation insurance

$13,200

Jumping Gentoo Penguins

Travel Insurance

Without a doubt, you need travel insurance for any trip to Antarctic.  There are three major components to travel insurance: medical, evacuation and cancellation.  Medical insurance provides coverage for major injuries and sickness that may occur during your trip.  Please pay close attention to how “previous conditions” are covered.  Evacuation coverage could be used in tandem with the medical, it is to get you to the nearest medical facility and eventually home should your treatment be needed.  This is critical with the remoteness of the region.   Lastly, most of the cruise tickets to Antarctica are non-refundable.  Should you have a covered incident, like losing a job etc., there is coverage for the amount of the ticket that is not refundable. The rest of the add in coverages are nice, but not mission critical.

Danger

Ok…you bought the insurance right?  Lets talk danger.  There is a small but real exposure.  This is still a difficult trip.  Type in MS Explorer 2007 into google and you will read of the last tourist ship sinking after hitting an iceberg.  All survived due to extremely good weather at the time.   The boat ended up at the bottom of the ocean.  Moving right along….

Getting There

With all the boring details taken care of, let’s go!  Let’s start with the end in mind.  There are two ports in South America that ships to Antarctica sail out of:  Punta Arenas, Chile; and Ushuaia, Argentina. Getting to one of those two can be done by a couple small carriers out of major South American cities including Rio, Buenos Aires, and Santiago.  We elected the Buenos Aires to Ushuaia route on Aerolineas Argentinas.  It is roughly a four-hour flight.  Don’t book the final flight of the day, leave yourself at least one more flight option.  You don’t want to miss the boat.

Seal in front of ship, boat, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Choose your Cruise

The lion share of your budget is going to be spent on which cruise.  Your experience will be completely defined by the craft you choose.  Ultimately, you are trying to maximize your value.  There are roughly 50 boats that make trips to the Antarctic every year.  Only smaller boats are allowed to stop and let passengers visit the mainland.  If your boat has 500+ passengers, you will simply float past the continent. 

In order of luxury of small ships to Antartica:

Abercrombie & Kent

Hurtigruten

National Geographic

Ponant

Oceanwide

Quark

G Adventures

The key will be finding dates and trips that will fit your schedule and fare that won’t destroy you budget.  Keep in mind the cruise season in Antarctica is December to February. 

We elected to go with Oceanwide, sailing on their brand new luxury boat the Hondius.  Below is a video of its launch in Croatia.  Our decision was made on timing, activities, and reputation of Oceanwide.

This is the first of many posts as we prepare for the grand adventure.  Stay tuned for more details in this series on packing, plans and preparations.

Do you have questions?  Let us know.  Would you like a postcard from the end of the world?  Leave us a comment.

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Jordan: Petra and Wadi Rum

Do you ever have one of those dreams where you show up for class and didn’t do your homework?  Going to Jordan for the first time was like that for us, only in a good way.  We were floored by how much we loved Jordan.  It is a breathtakingly beautiful country.  We were absolutely taken by surprise.  Candidly, we came to the region primarily to see Israel. Check out our trip report on Israel A visit to the Holy Land . Jordan was intended as a side trip for us. In the end, we fell in love with Jordan.  Let us tell you why. 

Getting there

The capital city of Amman has a major international airport and regular flights from Europe are easily found.  Our entry into Jordan was a little unique.  We came over at the border crossing at the port city of Aqaba.  A little about how to get into Jordan, before we tell you the wonders of Aqaba.

Getting in

We spend a great deal of our focus on our advance research about border crossings including what to expect and what is needed for entry. Mike loves checking countries off of his list! Our research on this crossing made us concerned.  You read rumors of not being able to enter and exit if you have ever set foot in Israel (flat out wrong!). We heard that you are not able to enter if you have the wrong stamp in your passport—also wrong! Crossing was very straight forward.  Really no reason for concern. Security is tight; no surprise there.  Take it step by step, and the entire process takes 45 minutes on a good day.  If you are traveling during a holiday, or during rush, it could take hours.

You will not be able to take your rental car from Israel into Jordan.  There is a massive dirt parking lot on the Israeli side where there are hundreds of cars parked.  No charge.  Don’t leave valuables, as it is not secure, but it is safe.  We crossed the border on foot and caught a taxi on the Jordan side.  You are going to need to heft your luggage the distance.  Make sure you are thoughtful about how much you pack.  Check the State Department of your respective country for any changes.

Aqaba

Perched on the north shore of the Red Sea, Aqaba is across the Israeli city of Eilat.  Aqaba is roughly twice the size of Eilat.  Both have a wide array of accommodations.  We elected to stay at the DoubleTree on the Jordanian side booked with points.  Our room overlooked the Red Sea and below are the sounds we captured in our first few mins in the room: a very moving rendition of the Islamic call to prayer over the Sea.  It really was at this moment that we realized that we were somewhere special.

There is actually plenty to do in Aqaba: great food, scuba diving in the marine park and visiting a historic fort.  The city is 6,000 years old!  Along the waterfront, there are a number of native cuisine restaurants and fish houses.  English is widely spoken in these tourist areas.  As we always recommend, it doesn’t hurt to know some words in the local language.

Our first full day in Jordan we enjoyed the massive breakfast spread at the DoubleTree. Before going any further into Jordan, make sure you exchange some of your cash for Jordan Dinars. Next, we picked up our rental car and headed north.  Roads are straight forward and in reasonable condition.  Yes, there are camels along the roads.  ….and yes we stopped to take a picture of every single one of them!  We travel with one of the mobile hotspots for Wifi and it worked like a charm, providing us with GPS on our iPhones.  Freeways in Jordan are well maintained.  There are plenty of petrol stations along major roads.

Wadi Rum

Our first destination was the desert of Wadi Rum.  Once only accessible by camel and Omar Sharif, today Wadi Rum is a major tourist destination.  Drive 15 miles north of Aqaba and turn right at the Wadi Rum sign.  Follow the signs further to Wadi Village.  In advance, book one of the many desert camps.  We elected to stay at Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp http://www.wadirumnight.com/.  We highly recommend this camp, but having not stayed at others, it is hard to judge how it compares.  The food was really good, accommodations were clean, staff friendly, and the atmosphere out of this world. The setting was nothing short of magical.

When you arrive in a large parking lot in Wadi Village, attendants sort your luggage and direct you to your pickup by which camp you are staying.  You are limited to one bag, keep that in mind.  There are many, many camps and all of them depart from this location.  We were directed to our truck and off we went into the dusty desert.  Our journey in the back of the pick up took roughly and hour and was incredible.  The red desert is stunning.  Giant rocks spring out of the desert floor.  They look like sky scrappers! 

We arrived at the camp at the base of one of these red rock monoliths.  Check in and hydration was done efficiently.  Our tent had full facilities: shower, toilet and air conditioner! We didn’t elect for one of the igloo looking things as luxury tents were cheaper. The bed was comfy and there was power for electronics charging.  We did need an adapter.

A room with a view-Wadi Luxury Camp

We had arranged for two activities: a Jeep tour of the desert and camel riding.  Both are highly recommended.  The Jeep tour took us to Lawrence of Arabia and The Martian sites, as well as the famed Jordan Arch.  The entire desert is photogenic.  Spend the money and bring a solid camera.  Check out these pictures:

Once we ended our Jeep tour, we boarded our “Rolls of the Desert.” The camel ride was a fun activity.  We were led by a camel keeper and found the camels docile and offered a real perspective of desert life.  We highly recommend. 

In the evening, we dressed for dinner and there was a great array of fruits, breads, meats and other dishes.  They make fresh naan right there in front of you.  After dinner, the camp hosts a bonfire and pass around the hookah. Sitting around the fire, the cinnamon smell of the hookah looking at the bright stars, was a moment that we will never forget.

Petra

Our next stop on our Jordanian adventure was the ancient city of Petra.  The drive from Wadi Rum to Petra takes about an hour and a half.  Again, the roads are well marked and in good condition.  There are a number of western hotels in the Petra area including some upscale accommodations like Movenpick (yes, it serves the famous ice cream!).  We stayed at the Marriott up the hill.  It was a little drive down to the city, so we recommend you stay closer to the entrance to Petra.

Petra is a Unesco site and as such, the entry prices and crowds are more than you would expect.  We went through Petra in a day, and were left feeling like we should have planned for two days.  Once you pass through the gates, the hike begins. You head downhill through narrow canyon walls. There are hundreds of tourists making this trek along with horse drawn carriages. At one of the bends, you gain a partial glimpse of the Treasury. Yes-it is an Indiana Jones moment! The Petra Treasury is perhaps one of the most photographed structures in the world. It is even better in person. Don’t worry about being disappointed about the overplayed Instagramming, seeing it with your own eyes is powerful.

The Treasury is just the tip of the iceberg with Petra. There are hundreds of tombs, ruins and temples that are all along the path. One day is simply not enough to see everything as we found out belatedly. Wear some really good hiking shoes, and pack a lot of water. It can be dry, dusty and hot.

The Monastery

One of the hidden secrets of Petra is the Monastery. It is quite a hike, thus not for the faint in heart. Located at the very end of the city, begins the arduous hike up to the structure. It’s 54 flights of stairs to the top. It’s bigger than the Treasury and better preserved. We highly recommend it!

Petra at Night

One thing we were disappointed by was Petra by starlight. At the close of the day, you are asked to leave the park and pay to reenter. The hike back down the hill after a day a trekking was a little daunting. The path is lined by candle light which was really beautiful. When we arrived back down at the Treasury, there were hundreds of people. Many were attempting unsuccessfully to take pictures with flash of the dimly lit treasury. It was loud and annoying and not in worth the price. We left early.

Jordan was beautiful beyond our expectations. The place is definitely on our list to explore further. Please reach out to us on social media if we can help you in any way plan you trip to Jordan.

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A Visit to the Holy Land: Israel and Beyond

There are a lot of destinations that call themselves holy.  With that said, few places can claim that three of the world’s major faiths call the place sacred.  The land we speak of is Israel.  We recently returned from a two week visit and want to give you the ultimate guide to seeing the sacred sites.  This will be a two part post, with the first highlighting the religious sites of Israel, and the second will be about a side trip into Jordan.  Both are must dos, and compliment each other well.

Beautiful Jerusalem

Safety

Ok. First off, let’s take on the biggest reservation we hear about visiting the region.  “Is it safe?”  The answer is yes and no.  Will an AK-47 armed terrorist kidnap you and hold you for ransom?  No.  Will you run over a roadside bomb driving your rented Toyota down the freeway? No. Could you be pick pocketed in a busy street loaded with tourists? Yes.  Could a valuable in your parked car be taken? Yes. If you wander into the wrong area late at night, might you meet some baddies? Perhaps.

Our advice to staying safe is simple.  Be aware.  Be careful.  And be kind.  With these three simple guiding principles, you are extremely unlikely to have any issues.   

To Tour or Not to Tour

Ok, with that big one out of the way.  Let’s take on the second big one.  Do I need to go with a tour?  To this we offer a resounding NO!  Somehow, you found our blog.  This leads us to believe that you are the type of person that can do a basic internet search.  If you can do that, you can navigate Israel on your own.  That simple.  If you can read and speak basic English, you will have no challenges there.

Perspective

A word of disclosure.  This was Mike’s second visit to Israel. The first time he traveled with the American Jewish Committee as a part of a leadership exchange.  This offered a uniquely Judeo-view of both the history and the spiritual perspectives.  We are practicing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) and we traveled this time with another couple who are devout Roman Catholics.  We will try out best to offer insights on all three of these perspectives.  Regardless of your level of religiosity, you will find the history of the region compelling.

If you need some help packing, not forget the Fighting Couple Packing Guide.

Getting there/Tel Aviv

The major gateway in and out of the country is Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.  Tel Aviv is the secular capital of Israel; Jerusalem is of course the spiritual one.  Many of the world’s leading airlines have regular flights there.    The airport sits roughly 10 miles west of Tel Aviv.  There are many shuttles back and forth.  We highly recommend that you rent a car.  All of the major rental car companies have representation there.

Landed!

Once you arrive, depending on the timing, you may wish to overnight in Tel Aviv.  Early arrivals will give you the leg up on getting to Jerusalem.  The City of David is roughly an hour drive from Tel Aviv.  It is all freeway, and could not be easier.  If you are accustomed to driving on US or European freeways, you will be very comfortable.

We recommend doing a large circle route: starting in Tel Aviv and driving to Jerusalem.  Use Jerusalem as a base to see the sights of the town and then take a day trip to the Dead sea and to Bethlehem.  From there drive north to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.  We then recommend driving out to the coastal town of Acre and following the freeway south along the Mediterranean back to Tel Aviv. 

We took a total of 12 days in see Israel on the route listed above, and saw Wadi Rum and Petra, Jordan.

Jerusalem

The first thing you need to know about Jerusalem: there is the city, and then there is the old city, which is a city within a city.  Most of the historic religious sites lie within the walls of the old city.  Park your car for the time you are in Jerusalem.  All sites can be seen by walking and public transport.

The Old City

One of the seven gates into the old city

The old city is divided into four sections: the Jewish Quarter, Muslim, Armenia and the Christian quarter.  Armenia is represented, and has a long connection with the city, as they were the first country that officially named Christianity as the state religion.  The entire old city is surrounded by a massive wall built in the early 16th Century by the Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.  There are seven gates into the city…ok we lied, there are really eight, but one is no longer in use…and there is an interesting story about that. (https://new.goisrael.com/article/252).

A great way to really get a feel for highpoints of the Christen sites is to follow the Via Dolorosa.  This follows the path of Christ’s last moments.  To those of the Catholic faith, each of these stops will ring very familiar.  https://www.dolr.org/stations-of-the-cross/jerusalem

The walk begins where Christ was condemned to die, walking to where he sees his mother and where Simon takes up the cross for the Savior, and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.   The path is mostly cobblestones and pavement.  You will definitely want good walking shoes.  There are plenty of places to stop along the path for water or refreshment.

Church of the Holy Sepulchure

The Church of the Holy Sepulchure

The last four stations of the Via Dolorosa are contained in the church.  It is massive.  Here you will see the slab of rock that Christ was placed after his crucifixion.  Many other sites were identified by St. Helena.  Constantine the Great converted to Christianity in 312AD.  Shortly thereafter, he dispatched his mother, Helena to the region to begin the process of identifying where the stories of the Bible took place.  By inspiration, advice, and some other more interesting methods, she was able to key in on were everything happened.  On her direction, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was constructed on the site of an old pagan temple.  It has expanded and changed over the centuries since.  A mixture of crusades, Muslim protection, earthquakes, and internal architectural disputes have led this building to be one of the most interesting and disputed structures ever built.  One of more intriguing stories is the “immoveable ladder.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immovable_Ladder

Today it is the home of six Christian orders with each sect battling an internal turf war within the building for control and real estate.  Often these disputes turn to fisticuffs.  Make sure and read the Wikipedia profile of the Church.  Very helpful:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Holy_Sepulchre   If you wish, a number of parishioners call be “locked” into the church overnight.

To those of the LDS faith and others, visiting this site can be a bit overwhelming.  While held in reverence by so many sects, the crowded, smoke filled church is constantly loud, contentious, gaudy and combined with forceful docents, we found it difficult to make a strong spiritual connection to Christ while inside the church. Luci got yelled at while trying to go inside the tomb by a demanding priest who wanted people to hurry and our friends got kicked out of mass even though they are Catholic. However, we should note that we were befriended by an Armenian priest, who blessed us with holy oil and that was the highlight of the visit to the church.

One of the biggest challenges for us as Latter-day Saints and others is the desire to stand, or be near the exact spot “where it happened.” Few places exist today were one can say with sureness that “this is the place,” where the Savior stood.  Yes, you are within hundreds of feet of where these events took place, but exactness is hard to come by. In addition, the real stones the Savior would have walked are typically 80 to 100 feet below you as the city has been conquered and rebuilt. In the end, we learned that it’s ok to be “ok” with this.  As the “Fighting Couple” always says… “make sure you are fighting for the right things.”

The Garden of Gethsemane

Across the valley from the old city is the Garden of Gethsemane.  The word Gethsemane translated means “oil press.” It is here that tradition holds that Christ prayed, as his disciples slept the night, before his crucifixion.   Today the Church of All Nations is on the site.  The ceiling is a stunning blue and décor is incredible.

We felt a strong connection to Christ in this area.  It was less crowded, and being among the 2000+ year old olive trees really lends to quiet refection on the Atonement. We also bought small bottles of olive oil here.

The Garden Tomb

One of the most peaceful places we have found in Jerusalem is the Garden Tomb.  Many Protestant groups claim this as the tomb of Christ.  It is located just outside the Damascus Gate.  Those of the LDS faith will immediately recognize this setting.  Pictures of the Garden tomb appear in many versions of the standard works.  It was unearthed in the mid 1850s.  It is surrounded by a peaceful garden and is an ideal setting to contemplate. 

The Garden Tomb

Many claim John’s comment, “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.” KJV (John 19:41) to be evidence of the correct location.  Again, it is nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact location of the Tomb. 

While a number of LDS leaders have had a strong affinity for this being the Tomb of Christ, no definitive declaration has been made that we are aware of.  Mormon scholar Dr. John Tvedtnes shares some interesting research on the topic:  (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1983/04/the-garden-tomb?lang=eng&query=garden+tomb)

The Western Wall

Perhaps the most sacred spot for Jews is the remnant of the temple wall.  Jews come from all around the world to pray, and worship at the foot of what would have been the temple.  Especially at the close of Shabbat, or sabbath the place is filled with songs, prayers and rejoicing.   The Western Wall is separated into a men’s and women’s side.  Jew and Gentile must cover their heads as they approach the wall. You can also write prayers and stuff them into one of the cracks in the wall.

The Dome of the Rock

The most recognizable structure in all of Israel is the beautiful Dome of the Rock. It is one of the most sacred houses of worship for Muslims. Its beautiful blue octagon walls and golden dome rival any temple we have seen. The location is believed by Jews to be the place were Adam was created. It is also believed to be the location where the Old Testament prophet Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son Issac. This is also believed to be the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. While you cannot enter the mosque as a non-believer, you can enjoy the peacefulness and beauty of this site.

BYU Israel

BYU JerusalemLocated on the Mount of Olives is the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.  The center is a satellite campus of Brigham Young University, one of the largest religious universities in the world.   A few hundred students reside at the center for a semester.  The center is open for tours and often offers free concerts from their concert hall overlooking the old city.  It is a view not to be missed. The LDS Church leases the property, thus it is difficult to know how long the center will remain in its current location.

Dead Sea and Masada National Park

One of the side trips we highly recommend is a three hour drive south east to the Dead Sea.  Swimming in the Dead Sea is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  There is nothing like it.  You will float no matter how hard you try not too! The water feels slick like a truck load of essential oils were dumped in it. To get the most of the experience, cover yourself in mud, let it bake, and swim in the sea to dissolve it. Your skin will feel like you just left a five star spa. There are a number of public beaches that have changing facilities and you can buy mud at local stores.

Looking down on the Dead Sea is the might fortress of Masada.  Once a last refuge from the Romans, Masada is a collection of ruins atop a lofty plateau that can be accessed by a strenuous hike or a comfortable tram.  This is an important and moving place for Jews.  It symbolized the rebellion against Roman invaders and a last desperate act against domination. It is both a spiritual and patriotic place for Jews. For Americans it would be like combining Valley Forge and the National Cathedral. The views of the area are worth the price of admission.  A couple hours is really adequate in our eyes to see the area. Check out the museum which has the actual rocks or lots where the men of Masada wrote their names as too who would be killed next.

Bethlehem

The birthplace of Christ is a must see during your visit.  Bethlehem is located 5 miles south of Jerusalem.  The city is controlled by the Palestinian Authority.  It has a very different vibe than what you have been experiencing in Jerusalem.  The Church of the Nativity is being remodeled at the time of this writing.  In the grotto you can visit what is believed to the be manager where Christ was born. Take a public bus to get there from outside the Old City. We suggest bus #21. It’s safe and easy. It will drop you off a ten minute walk to the Church of the Nativity. Taxi cabs in Jerusalem will try to swindle you by charging $200 to $500 to take you to the Church.

The Jordan River

Jordan River

While there is not a definitive spot where tradition holds the Savior was baptized, the Jordan River holds a special place in the Christian tradition.  Just south of the Sea of Galilee, in a wide spot in river, is a commercial baptism center.  Here patrons can be baptized. It felt a bit like the baptism scene in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.” There is a changing station if you want to pay to get baptized and a sizable gift shop. You can put your feet in the water without paying, but swimming is discouraged.

Capernaum and the Mt. of Beatitudes

On the north shore of the Sea of Galilee are the ruins of the City of Capernaum.  During Christ’s ministry, he spent a great deal of time here.  It is here that he met Peter and a number of his other apostles including Andrew, James, and John.  He taught, lived, and worshiped here.  We learn of many healings that took place in the city:

Mark 2:1-5 And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house.

2 And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them.

3 And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.

4 And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.

5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.

Today you can walk around the ruins of the city and there are a number of alcoves and areas you can stop for reflection.  In the center is the octagonal church.  It is here were Catholic tradition holds that an invalid was lowed through the roof and was healed by Christ.  One of the highlights for us is as you walk in through the front gates, there is a statue of Christ on a park bench.  It almost looks like it is a vagrant taking a nap.  It is only after you see the nail prints in his hands and feet to you realize who the person is.  It is very impressive.

Just above Capernaum is where tradition holds that the Savior would have given the Sermon on the Mount.  With its lofty view of the Sea of Galilee, it is perhaps one of the best views in the Holy Land.  A peaceful and reflective spot!

Church of Annunciation

 

Nazareth

Nazareth is the town that Jesus was raised.   Here you will find the Basilica of the Annunciation.  This is by far, one of our favorite churches in the Holy Land.  It was built to feel like it was made of wood.  There are many stunning stained glass windows throughout.  The theme of this church is the figure of Mary.   There are many colorful pieces of artwork, done by artists around the globe that surround the outer courtyard and the inner basilica. 

According to Catholic tradition, this is the spot where Mary’s childhood home would have stood.  The current church there was built in 1969, on the top of an earlier Crusader era church.  It has been classified as a minor basilica.  Mass is celebrated there in multiple languages. 

On the way back

You have hit the major religious sites if you have followed our plan above.  Now how about some sun, sand and surf?  Head east till you need a boat.  The Mediterranean Sea is a beautiful and warm reward for tired bodies.  We spent some time in the Medieval city of Acre.  Very interesting history and architecture.  We highly recommend spending a day or two unwinding before you head back to busy Tel Aviv.

To see more pictures for this amazing place please visit our Facebook and instagram pages:

https://www.instagram.com/fightingcouple/

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Barcelona for Begginers

Ok…you have booked your trip to Barcelona!  Congrats!  You are about to set foot in one of the most storied cities in all of Europe.  You are about to indulge is masterful art and architecture, a compelling history, complex cuisine, and meet warm and friendly Catalonians as they call themselves.  A few of the basics:  Barcelona is perched on the sun drenched Mediterranean Sea.  It is a kaleidoscope of culture.  The city is perhaps best known for its championship football team, aka “Barca”.  They call Camp Nou home, it is a shrine to the game, a must see for any soccer fan.  There are many lodging options, everything from the very basic to luxury apartment rentals in Barcelona.

Getting there

Barcelona international Airport “El Prat” is the gateway into the city.  Flights from Europe and the rest of the world arrive there each day.  Some 47 million passengers arrive each year at El Prat.   The airport is some ways away from the downtown area.  There are a number of options for transfer/transportation including:  rental car, bus, metro and smaller shuttles called Rapid shuttle.  Barcelona is actually a very drivable city, if you elect to rent a car, you will have additional freedom to explore the entire region.

Getting around

Navigating around the city is simple.  They have a very advanced metro system.  You can easily purchase tickets in the underground and navigate yourself around the city.  We suggest the weekly card for extended stays.  There are a number of aps that help you design your routes.  You can combine bus and metro to get to all of the key areas, as well as the outlying areas.  As with any large city, keep an eye on your belongings and be situationally aware.

Lodging

Barcelona offers a wide variety of lodging options.  You can choose from everything from luxury accommodations to the very basic spartan lodging.   We elected to stay just outside the city, in a very nice business class hotel, and found the commute easy via the metro, and our dollars went a lot further.

Discovering Barcelona

Lets go see the city!  A quick primer. The city’s skyline and history is dominated by one name: Gaudi.  Antoni Gaudi (25 June 1852 – 10 June 1926) was a famed artist and architect.  His work is one of a kind.  You see his fingerprints all across the city.  The best way to get a feel of the entire town is to take one of the double decker open bus tours.  I know, I know, they are bit basic, but the hop on hop off buses really give you a lay of the land for your visit.  Take note of the sights that interest you the most and build your itinerary.  If you are traveling with your sweet heart, check out our post on the best places to Kiss in Barcelona.

The other dominate thread throughout the city is the Olympics.  The city played host to the 1992 summer games.  There are a number venues that are still in place and operating.  The Olympic museum is a fun visit and is a tribute to sport and friendship.  The diving platform with views of the city is one of the iconic camera shots from the game.

The view from the top of Park Guell

Park Gurell

Hands down, our fave place to visit in Barcelona is the Park Gurell. (https://www.parkguell.cat/en/)  This is truely one of Guadi’s grand visions.  Originally, it was intended to be an upscale planned community.  Fortunately for today’s visitors, Gaudi’s vision was a little deeper than the pockets of prospective investors.  Today, the entire development has been transformed into a public park and greenspace.  It is a masterpiece.  Wander around the grounds then climb the Instagram worthy lizard stairs.  There are a number of vistas of the city and of the grand Sagrada Familia Cathedral.  The park is the perfect place to picnic or cool down during a warm afternoon.  There is a nominal charge for entering the park.

Sagrada Familia

Once you have had a view of Sagrada Familia from a distance, time to go discover the work of art up close.  First things first.  This place is very popular.  By popular we mean there are throngs of people that que up to see the inside and take pictures of the quirky characters that adorn the exterior of the building.  We recommend making this a first or last stop during the day to avoid the herds.

Barcelona

So what exactly is this?

Dreamed up and designed by Gaudi, the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) cathedral is Gaudi’s tribute to his beloved religion, Catholicism.  He spent every last peso on its development and construction.  He died leaving the building only 25% finished.  Construction was commenced 1883 and continues to this day.  Construction has been interrupted by civil war, construction company disagreements and most of all lack of funding.  With all of that turmoil it is one of the most unique and intriguing structures.  The way the entire building is filled with light, the shapes, curves, and spires make it an icon.

Waterfront

One of the most underrated parts of town is the water front.  While Barcelona proper doesn’t have any prime beaches, it does have some stellar fish houses along the water.  You can dine on some seafood paella and watch the boats come in and out.  Don’t forget to snap a picture of one of you fellow travelers- Christopher Columbus!

Barcelona

The Fountains of MontJuic

Monjuic

Once you have had your dinner, head over to the city center and watch the magic fountains of Montjuic.  The display is made up of hundreds of jets shooting water high into the air, and the entire show is set to music.  It is a wonderful mix of water, color and sounds!  Not to be missed.

Barcelona is truly one of those places that change the way you travel.  You immediately want to dive deeper and understand the architecture, culture and the vibrant and engaging people of this city.  Did we miss something?  Have you been?  Please let us a comment below.

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The Self-Guided Safari: Kruger National Park

On a regular basis we receive glossy travel advertisements in the mail. They show pictures of remote Africa savannahs with robust looking guides driving Range Rovers dressed in Green or khaki. They often are pointing off into the distance at some incredible animal. Our reaction to these appeals: Sign us up! Take our money! Then reality sets in. We don’t have $20k stuffed in our mattress. (we did find a quarter last week!)

Lion in Africa

African Lion

What to do?

After lengthy research, we were able to piece together the idea of doing a self-guided safari. We settled on South Africa as out destination as the flights there are very reasonable and plentiful.   We selected Kruger National Park for our self-guided safari.

Kruger National Park

Kruger park is one of the largest game reserves in the world. The entire park covers 7, 500 square miles and is 250 miles top to bottom and 50 miles wide. Roughly the same size as Massachusetts! It is a massive park. The park is home to the classic Big 5 including: lion, leopard, black rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. Beyond these incredible animals, you will likely encounter hundreds of other animals large and small. The park is home to over 100 species of reptiles and 30 amphibians.

Kruger Park

The Gate to Kruger Park

Getting around the Park

Your first stop for research on the park should be the park’s website (https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/) The site is extremely helpful, especially keeping current on road closures, conditions and weather.   There are 9 main gates into the park. These entry points are for paying fees, securing maps, and getting current info on park conditions.

Roads in the park are in varied condition. You go from paved tarmac to dusty gravel roads. A good map, and in some cases, even a decent GPS will help you navigate the park. At each of the rest camps you will find a crowd sourced “animal” board where other visitors post animal sightings. This can prove helpful as you quest to see the complete Big 5.

Lodging

There a number of different lodging options for your self guided adventure. The park’s website will give you the option to see photos of the “camps”. You can reserve everything from humble bush camps to the luxury lodge option. Pick the right option for you. Each camp is surrounded by high fences that prevent animals from entering. Each camp has set hours for entry, when the gate closes, it closes for the night. There is a significant fee to open after hours. We nearly learned this the hard way. WE were caught up watching a pride of lions, and lost track of time. Not good. We had to step on it to barely make the deadline. Each area is unique in its food and amenities. Be aware of what is available. Some camps have spartan restaurants. Most offer some sort of food offering. The bush camps do not offer food, they are strictly self catering.

What is the difference?

So what are the key differences between a true-guided safari and the self guided option?

The biggest difference from our experience is the cost. You will likely see the same animals, you will see the same flora and fauna. Many of the guided safari tours are in and around Kruger Park. They both offer very similar habitats for the animals. Top end guides are good at knowing where the animals like to hide out. Not having to drive to see the animals is also a definite advantage of the guided option. Park rangers can help with some information, but would not be able to offer the in person perspective that would be provided in a guided situation.

What to drive

The question we get asked most often about our self-guided experience is what we drove. We rented a basic sedan at the airport in Johannesburg. We would recommend something with a little more ground clearance. A small suv would be ideal. You definitely don’t need a jeep or a range rover to get around Kruger.

African Water Buffalo

Water Buffalo

A Word of Caution

Kruger national park is not a petting zoo. It is wild. The animals reign here. Do not leave your vehicle outside to the gated camps. Do not “hike” the park. Just because you don’t see any animals, doesn’t mean that they cannot see you. You very well could be dinner. It is tempting to exit your vehicle to take the perfect picture. We recommend you position your vehicle to take the picture then use your camera lens to get you close. Regardless if you are on a guided safari or self guided, the rules are the same, don’t approach the animals….ever. Stay on the road. Keep an eye on the weather and the environment around you.   You will have the adventure of a lifetime.

What we wished we had known:

We purchased our first “real” camera and long distance camera lens for this trip. We were glad we did. Candidly, we wished we have invested more in longer range lens. Spend the money. The pictures will be priceless.

Expectations: The second thing we wish we had known, was advice given to us by one of the game wardens at one of the camps. “Don’t expect to see anything…then you will be in constant amazement, you will see everything!”. Such wise advice. Don’t come with a list of things to see, be open to the experience and seeing whatever comes your way that day. This is hard for those of us that love lists. Be open to whatever happens.

Enjoy your Safari!

 

Safaris are wonderful, but if your dream is climbing Kilimanjaro  Give our friends at Mojhi a look.  They have a wonderful guide for making this dream a reality.  There are 7 different routes you can take to the top.  Each of the trails offer astounding views of the entire area.   They also rate the difficulty of each of the routes to help you match your ability.

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7 Questions with: Our Escape Clause

Take the world by a storm?  That’s just what Kate and Jeremy Storm have been doing full time for the past two years!  We put this globe trotting couple to the test with our 7 questions.  If you are wondering if the fight, stay tuned!

Give them a follow:

Blog:  Our Escape Clause

Twitter:  @ourescapeclause

Instagram:  Our Escape Clause

Facebook:  Our Escape Clause

1) Tell us a little bit about yourselves. How did you meet? What inspired you to travel together?

We met 10 years ago at an afterschool job in a fast food restaurant–we were both high school students at the time!

We were both excited about the idea of traveling the world, but neither of us had ever left the USA, and of course, we didn’t really have the time and money to make travel happen at that time.

After we got married and took our honeymoon in the Bahamas (our first time out of the USA!) and quickly followed that up with a trip to Paris, we knew we were hooked: within 3 years we had sold almost everything we owned and set off on a RTW trip that has now morphed into a location-independent lifestyle.

2) If you had to travel with someone else besides your travel partner, who would it be?  (this person can be living, historical or mythical?)

He Said: Ernest Hemingway–he knows all the good bars!

She Said: Hmm… probably my mom, because I’ve been trying to get her to come travel for years! I think she’d love it, and also, I’m picky about who I spend that much time with.

 

3)What has been your favorite destination in your wanderings?  Why?

He said: Koh Tao, Thailand: it’s a laid-back island with lots of great (and cheap) food. It’s also where I learned to scuba dive, a sport I now love.

She said: It’s impossible to pick one, but I will never be tired of returning to Italy. The food alone is enough to keep me coming back!

4)  One of our favorite posts on your site is “Fire on the Utila” Tell us the story!

He said: I remember that we were returning bikes that we had rented, and I suddenly heard people shouting about collecting buckets in Spanish… it took a minute to realize what was going on, but as soon as I did, I ran in to help.

It was a bit chaotic at first, but once we got the bucket line going, things started to progress.

It was definitely strange see a fire somewhere without a proper fire department–it was quite the reminder of how vulnerable places can be.

She said: Jeremy spotted the fire first, and immediately jumped in to help. It’s was all a whirlwind, but within a few minutes we were both on a bucket line, hauling water and trying to help get the fire put out as fast as possible.

Luckily, it wasn’t too scary of a situation–everyone was calm and helpful–but I remember we were all concerned about nearby buildings catching fire and causing the fire to spread.

 

5)  We love one of the themes of your blog is traveling on a budget.  So important for couples! What are your best tips for traveling with limited funds?

He said: Try to remember that not everything has to be organized or cost money. One of my favorite things to do in cities is to pick up some local street food and wander around aimlessly. We find tons of cool spots when we do that, and also end up having some of our cheapest days on the road.

She said: Track everything! The easiest way to go over budget (or to stress about being over budget when you’re actually under budget, which can happen too) is to not know exactly where your money is going. I write down our purchases every day, and it helps us stay focused.

 

6) If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?

He said: Hunger. It’s a travesty that given how much food that we produce as a planet that we have failed at managing it so badly that there are still hundreds of millions of food insecure people in the world.

She said: Wow, that’s hard. I would say making sure all children are in quality schools until the age of 18–I believe a lot of problems in the world could be solved via a ripple effect if we address that issue.

7)You knew it was coming….What has been your greatest travel fight/disagreement?

He said: It’s cliche, but we spend a lot of time arguing about what we’re going to eat. It can be hard for both of us to make decisions, and we often crave different foods on the road.

She said: It’s hard to remember one in particular, but I’m sure it had something to do with getting lost. Not knowing where we are is always a big stress point for us, and sometimes causes us to bicker.

A huge thanks to Kate and Jeremy for sharing their story!  Give them a follow!

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Belize for Couples

The best things in life are the perfect mix of two ingredients:  strawberries and cream, jam and toast, peanut butter and jelly.  We have found the perfect combination of the carefree Caribbean and the flair of Latin American:  Belize.

We’ve put together the perfect couple’s itinerary for your visit to this paradise.  We found 10 days was ideal to relax and see the key sites.

The exchange rate with United States dollar is set at one dollar for every two Belizean dollars. This makes monetary conversions very simple. Most places take American dollars and credit cards.  English is widely spoken, it doesn’t hurt to have a little Spanish in your back pocket.

Getting There

Belize has one major airport in Belize City.  It is easily accessible from just about anywhere in the lower 48 states.  Major departure cities include: Miami, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and Houston.  We elected the three-hour flight from Dallas.  It could not have been easier.

Once you arrive, take a taxi into Belize City. The airport is a ways out-of-town, about 10 miles.  It should cost US $25.  Don’t pay more than that.  (You are already paying double what the locals pay.)  Candidly, we didn’t find much to see in Belize City.  There are some rough spots, make sure you take precautions for personal safety, especially at night. Have your taxi drop you off at the boat terminal. From here you can purchase tickets and board boats to the many island locations. We elected to take a boat to Ambergris Caye.  If time is an issue you can also book a short flight from the Belize City to San Pedro. The boat takes roughly an hour and a half.  The flight will get you there in 30 minutes. The boat ride can be a little rough depending on weather.

Costa Blu Belize

Costa Blu Belize

Resort Life

We highly recommend that you start your vacation on the beach. Select from one of many resort locations along the ocean. You can get everything from simple accommodations to five-star resorts. Definitely pick one with the pool.  We elected to stay at the beautiful Costa Blu Resort at Ambergris Caye.  It is an intimate resort that focuses on providing world-class diving.  The staff is friendly, and the food on premises is really good.  We highly recommend the conch ceviche!

Snorkeling

Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world.   Definitely bring your Go Pro camera!   Your resort can help you in booking snorkeling trips. We elected to use Tuff N Nuff. We went out for two different half day excursions: shark alley, and Mexico rocks. We would recommend both to you. The excellent dive masters were so helpful and patient. Eric was especially nice to Luci who had trouble with her mask at first. They provide all the gear that you need.  They also offer insights into the flora and fauna you will see. If you are scuba certified or would like to become so, there are so many places that offer this service. Again they provide all of the equipment and excellent dive masters. On our visit to Mexico rocks, we swam with nurse sharks, turtles, and even an moray eel.  It was incredible.

 

Chill at the pool/beach

Arriving in Belize you immediately go into relax mode. Whether it’s sitting by the beach or enjoying the sun by the pool, you cannot help at leave all your worries behind.  We elected to have a couples massage right on the beach. Our resort arranged it and the cost was reasonable. We paid $90 for a 90 minute massage with the sounds of the sea and breeze tickling our faces.

Shopping at San Pedro

The major town located on the peninsula is called San Pedro. This rough and tumble beach town gives you access to a wonderful restaurants, souvenir shops, and more T-shirt shops and you can shake a stick at. We highly recommend Elvi’s restaurant for lunch or dinner. You’re not going to find high-end retail shops here. Just the sort that offer fun little trinkets to remember your trip.

Once your stress has melted away when you’re ready for adventure hop on the boat or plane back to the mainland. Here you’re going to need to rent a car. After doing our research there’s only one place that could offer the border transfer documents into Guatemala and that is Crystal Auto.  They have a solid selection of vehicles, it is not a bad idea to rent a jeep   Buy the GPS.  Cell service is a little spotty there. The main roads in Belize are fine, but you have a lot of large speed bumps and potholes the size of Texas or a German Shepherd. There is one major road running north and south and east to west.

Tikal Mayan Ruins

Tikal Mayan Ruins

Day trip to Tikal Mayan Ruins

We highly recommend a side trip to Tikal, the ruins in western Guatemala. It is a beautiful four-hour drive from Belize City. Well worth the travel. You will need to have a rental car that allows you to leave Belize and enter Guatemala. Crossing the border is a bit of an adventure.  The Belize side is fairly straightforward, the Guatemalan side not so much. You will need to trade some Belizean dollars into Guatemalan dollars. Keep in mind, border agents only speak Spanish on the Guatemalan side.  Be prepared for a lot of gestures and pointing.  There are a lot of teenage boys and men more than willing to help you figure out the border procedures, especially if you have a car. We let them help us and tipped them afterwards.

IMPORTANT:  You also need some Guatemalan dollars in order to enter in the Tikal National Park. We made the mistake of not having cash, we had to drive all the way back roughly an hour each way to get cash. Do not make this mistake.

There are two hotels in the park.  Accommodations are not stellar. Both are a bit rustic. We recommend staying inside the park as travel in and out of the park takes a lot of time. There are many guides that are available via your hotel.  Please visit with them before you book your tour. The command of good English is not widespread.  If you keep walking at a good pace you can see the entire complex in one day. You will definitely want to take pictures in the morning and evening, as the light is best. Pack gallons of mosquito spray and sunscreen: both will be an issue.  We elected to take the sunrise tour. This was a mistake. We did not check the weather. Eight out of ten days you will not be able to see the sunrise. The fog is too thick. Have your hotel check the weather forecast for the morning.

There is definitely a different feel in Guatemala. The language barrier is significant at times. The culture is remarkably different. With that said, well worth the adventure.

ATM Cave

Hands-down our favorite activity in Belize was visiting the ATM cave. You will need to book a trip in advance with a tour company that leads small groups through to Cave. You will need to be able to: swim, climb, and be ready for a significant hike.  The ATM cave complex is ancient Mayan religious site.  The cave is filled with archaeological artifacts and geological formations. Cameras and video cameras are not allowed in the cave. Sorry we don’t have any pictures. You begin the morning about 8 a.m..  Your guides will pick you up from your hotel.  From the main parking lot, your guide will take you on a short jungle hike, which includes a river crossing. There is a rope stretched across the river to use your crossing.

At the mouth of the cave you guide will give you a short introduction of what you will see in the caves and the will emphasize importance of staying together. The company will supply you with a helmet and a flashlight for your helmet. There is a moderate creek that runs through the cave. At the mouth of the cave your swim roughly 50 yards   The rest of the journey will be hiking and climbing.

Toward the end of the hike you will climb a ladder remove your shoes and walk into the main sacrificial chamber. There you will see a well-preserved skeleton of a sacrificed Mayan as well as interesting pottery and other ancient artifacts.

The entire experience was impressive.  It was unlike anything we have ever done.   We highly recommend it. It is a bit on the expensive side running roughly US$100 per person.  The guide service provides lunch, and transportation to and from your hotel in the area.

Caracol

If you’re up for another day of exploring Mayan ruins. We highly recommend Caracol ruins. Getting there is a wonderful adventure. You will need a high clearance or a jeep type vehicle to get there. There are several small river crossings as well as some jungle jeeping to get to the location. It is roughly 2 hour drive on a rough unpaved road. Toward the end of the journey you will need an armed guard to get to the ruins. Each day the Belizean army runs an armed guard service from the army base into the ruins. There’s no cost for this service but you have to be on time. There’s a sign in & out location there. Don’t let this scare you away, it is really straight forward and safe.

Caracol Mayan Ruins

Caracol Mayan Ruins

Make sure you have plenty of fuel as well as food as there are no services on the entire road into the ruins. There are guide services that can take you on this trip if you would like. Candidly, the drive in and out of Carocol is a lot of fun.  What makes the ruins better than Tikal would be the number of people.   There were only other 15 people at the entire complex during our visit. This makes for great pictures and you can take your time and seeing each of the ruins.

Enjoy your trip to Belize! The country offers something for the body and soul.  Relax on the beach, swim with schools of fish, then explore the ruins of an ancient civilization.

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Seven Questions with Roamaroo!

Have you ever wondered how to stay fit while on the road constantly?  The couple we are featuring this week are pros!  Not only do they keep their bodies healthy, they also work hard on keeping their relationship strong.  Meet Scott and Collette of Roamaroo.com.  They recently penned a great article for Elite Daily titled:  “10 Ways My Husband and I Keep Our Spark Burning While Traveling.”

Give them a follow:

Blog:  www.roamaroo.com

Facebook:  Roamaroo

twitter: @roamaroo

Instagram: Roamaroo

Lets get to know them better:

1) How many countries visited between the two of you?

We’ve visited 45 countries together! Collette has visited 66 countries. Scott has visited 46 countries.

Scott and Collette of Roamaroo

Scott and Collette of Roamaroo

2) If you had to travel with someone else besides your travel partner, who would it be?  (this person can be living, historical or mythical?.)

She said: Mike Rowe for his witty banter, incredible vocabulary, and carpe diem personality.  How cool would it be to be included in an epic Mike Rowe story? Maybe he’d even sing it in his Opera voice…

He said: Superman – I wouldn’t have to worry about paying for plane tickets again.  Also, he could fly me around to get some cool “Drone” shots of all the great places.  

3)What has been your favorite destination in your wanderings?  Why?  Any tips for someone that has never been?

She said: It’s a toss up between South Africa and New Zealand. When we visited South Africa, we went on a safari in the Sabi Sands area of Kruger National Park. There is nothing more primal than being surrounded by nature’s greatest beasts.

New Zealand will always have my heart for its pure beauty. We road tripped around the south island for 2 weeks, sleeping in a van and cooking beans and rice. It was romantic, it was intimate, it was exploration at its purest. No frills, no fuss, just two explorers finding meaning in Mother Nature. If you find your way to New Zealand, we highly recommend renting a campervan to explore the country. Don’t make too many plans and leave your options open to chance!

He said: Istanbul and Iceland.  Istanbul is such a culturally rich city with a fascinating history. The Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are some of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen.  A great thing to do is to take an Uber boat down the Bosphorus.  We took one to Reina restaurant at night.  There’s nothing fancier than arriving to a turkish club/restaurant on a boat.  

  Another favorite location of mine is Iceland.  The vast beauty, dramatic waterfalls, and welcoming people make Iceland unforgettable. We drove a campervan around Iceland for a week.  Every morning we woke up somewhere new and beautiful.  My favorite experience was when we cooked breakfast in our camper while overlooking the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Watching the brilliantly blue ice while enjoying our morning coffee was something no hotel or restaurant could offer.  

4)    You both are uber healthy!  We are not brave enough to try Crossfit.  Tell us, what are you secrets for eating and exercising on the road?

She said: For me, exercise is both a mental and physical necessity. Exercising is my own moving meditation. It clears my mind, keeps my body in tip top shape, and makes me a better person. I even wrote a book about staying fit while traveling called Passport to Fitness!

He said:  I love to do Crossfit and it’s a great way to meet locals.  We’ve made some great friends at gyms who have been nice enough to show us around or take us to dinner.  One of my healthy travel tips is to fast on travel days.  Most people hate the idea of fasting, but new research is showing some amazing anti aging benefits benefits to fasting.  If we have a travel day filled with sitting on trains or planes, it’s easy to fast for the day since they’re no caloric need for large meals.  

Collette in Cambodia.

Collette in Cambodia.

5)  We really enjoyed your posts on Cambodia.  Tell us what your impressions were?   Any recommendations?  How was the food?

She said: Cambodia was one of the most memorable experiences we’ve ever had. From a 4:30 am cotton candy sunrise over Angkor Wat to visiting local Khmer villages on the Mekong River, it was one of the most gratifying and eye opening trips of our journey. One memory stands out above the rest and that is when we were cruising down the Mekong River and stopped at a remote village. We ended up having a dance party with the locals under the glowing Cambodian moonlight. Although we don’t speak Khmer and they didn’t speak English, we were all able to communicate via dance.

He said: Cambodia was a great country to visit, I especially loved Siem Reap.  Climbing the temples of Angkor Wat with our local tuk-tuk driver was an unforgettable day.  Due to the horrible actions of Pol Pot in the 1970’s, the people of Cambodia are struggling to rebuild the country.  You can see this in everyday life as many people live without basic technology of developed countries.  Tip for Angkor Wat:  Most hotels will organize tours of Angkor Wat, but if you want to save money, book directly with a tuk tuk driver.  You’ll save 75%.  Just ask any tuk-tuk driver (who has a nice tuk-tuk) if they do tours of Angkor Wat.  Then negotiate a good price.  It’s best to ask a few drivers to find the best price.  

6) If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?

She said: I would love to absolve the fear that people have of other cultures, religions, and differences. Travel is about celebrating and accepting differences, learning other beliefs, and co-existing.

He said: As cheesy as it sounds, it would be world peace.  If we didn’t spend the billions of dollars, time, and resources on defence we could solve countless problems within the world.  We could dedicate resources to the hungry, creating better communities, advance society, and space travel.  Call me selfish, but I would like to visit the moon!

Roamaroo

Roamaroo

7)You knew it was coming….What has been your greatest travel fight/disagreement?

She said: Setting the alarm! I am not a morning person, especially when you mix in jet lag. Sometimes I like to wake up naturally and not have to worry about an alarm waking me up everyday. Scott likes the regimented alarm, but he hardly ever wakes up from the noise. I however, always wake up from his alarm and have to wake him up.
He said: Every time we board a flight, Collette likes to be the first one in line.  I’m a little more relaxed when it comes to getting on the plane. This always caused a rift between us in the beginning.  Now, Collette just gives me my ticket and we meet on the plane.

 

1000Fights:  Thanks again to our friends Scott and Collette for sharing a little about their adventure!  Give them a follow!

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