Christmas

Fresh cut trees, trees with bulbs to decorate and plant in the yard after Christmas. Palm trees strung with lights down south. Holiday themed music everywhere you go and it will  definitely get stuck in your head. Instagram  worthy wrapped boxes under Pinterest perfect  decorated trees. Some people choose to go all out and pick the perfect gift for everyone others donate their time to the less fortunate at at soup kitchen.

Christmas may bring up thoughts of spending too much money and waiting in long lines everywhere. Its hard to remember the true meaning for this gift giving day. No, I don’t feel that its a religious events, I feel like it is a family day. A day of waking up early to see what loved ones surprised you with and a big family dinner.

Even the furry family members get gifts in my household. My dog could smell the treats inside! This is what its all about, seeing the excitement on loved ones faces as they tear open the brightly colored paper.

Making home made Christmas and holiday season cards if one of my most treasured pastimes. Its a special time of year, and I am spending quality time making these cards for people that I love. The hard work is all worth the love. The excitement of seeing all the presents wrapped under the tree waiting for Christmas morning to come.

The pink dolphins of Hong Kong

Away in an old fishing village, there are regular tours of something I have never heard of before, pink dolphins. More commonly called the Chinese White Dolphin but affectionately called pink dolphins for this unusual pink and white-colored dots making themselves stand out against the dark water. I found this tour in Tai O village, a once-thriving fishing community, now being overshadowed by a giant bridge connecting the Hong Kong cities of Zhuhai and Macau. It is the longest sea-crossing bridge spanning the Pearl River Delta. Tai O has been an attraction to see the local fishing culture and to catch a glimpse of the pink dolphins, but now the village has an added feature on the boat tour, to see the new record-breaking bridge. The bridge construction has been a threat to the rare pink creatures. Marine experts say the dolphins feeding and communication activities of these very social animals have been distributed. Hopefully, now that the construction is about over and the bridge is waiting for its grand opening the sea life will be left alone.

The Dolphins start their lives as dark calves until they grow into the famous pink spots. The pink spots are from blood vessels beneath the skin of the dolphins. There isn’t a great deal known about these pink dolphins of Hong Kong but the numbers don’t lie. The animals in the Pearl River Delta areas have seen numbers drop by eighty percent over the past decade.

Try as you may, but you will not find any pink dolphins in my photos. Like many others on the boat, I was never ready when these creatures would jump up to say hello. After many missed shots, I simply sat back in the first of the boat and watched pointed pink heads pop up and splash away just as quick. It was a calm end to a busy Hong Kong day.

Be local

Go local! We have heard it said, but what does that mean to you right now. If you are sitting at a desk not doing work you should be or sitting by a pool on a far away island you can find what is off the beaten tourist path of chain stores and malls if you look around.

Being a local in your current city, home town when you visit family, or find something local in a far away place. It’s always worth it to go local and see how people are going about daily life. If the locals love a great restaurant, it’s safe to say the food will be worth the trouble.

If you need to be pulled out of your fast food comfort food zone then listen to these reason why going local, anywhere, is important everyday.

  • Big box stores dont need anymore of your money.

Which do you think gives better service and quality, the multiple billion dollar corporation paying minimum wage workers who have trouble answering questions or the small locally owned businesses ran by a family and is tied into the community. I would rather put my money into the hands of a small business owner even if its cost a little more.

  • Google doesn’t always know everything.

There are places in this world (believe it or not) that are not connected to a Facebook page or Google maps. When you are in the far corners of the Earth you may not be able to understand what information is on the internet. If you happen to pass a place where the tables are full and there is a line, there must be a good reason and its usually worth the wait. “Greasy spoons” and “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants have some of the best homemade cooking in every city.

  • Locals know what’s happening

As you are strolling by a busy lunch spot for the afternoon rush of the blue collar area and decide to see what the fuss is all about then you have made it past the first step. The next part is tricky (not really) and involves speaking to others. Ask your server or eat at the bar and talk to a person near you. See what is going on around you. Even if you are asking about what is going on in your own area you still can learn about amazing places from word of mouth. When you are in a place with a language barrier there are always still ways to ask about great things to do. Draw a picture, translate a question, or hand and body language talking. It seems like a lot of trouble but the rewards can be amazing, even if it’s just the tale of getting lost on the way.

Supporting the little guys doesn’t just benefit the small business owner. It is good for you the consumer! Usually going small means it’s not a touristy spot and the prices are cheaper. In the cases that you pay for for an item chances are the quality is much higher then the cheaper box store version. I would rather purchase a homemade gift to a gift anyone could buy on Amazon.

This is a photo of a woman I meet selling woven elephants on the sidewalk outside a market. I gladly paid for this fine craftsmanship and a very unique souvenir from my time in Thailand. Go out and get lost, or meet your neighborhood Baker and make a new friend. It may be the most fun thing you do all week.

Hello Berlin

Berlin may bring up mixed thoughts and feelings upon hearing the name, but the city has grown to be a cultural and artistic hotspot.

The Holocaust Memorial is a maze of different sized columns numbering 2711 in all. The artist meant for the memorial to be confusing and disorienting. It is not taken kindly if you climb on the memorial, so please be respectful.

The great Brandenburg Gate always seems to be filled with life. This gate marks the former city gate where the beginning of the road from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg an der Havel.

While walking around there was a “checkpoint” where I received an old school passport stamp for Checkpoint Charlie at the east and west side of the Berlin checkpoint.

Preparing to traveling solo

People like to tell you just do it, and while that may be true, it’s more like just do it over and over. Before you buy a one-way ticket there is much planning to be done of course. Budgeting and planning a route is important, I didn’t spend more than a day planning a budget and only mapped one country out of the eight I visited on my most recent and longest trip. I knew I needed as much money as I could before the deadline that I made up. I gave myself a year to get it all together. I started by getting a second job, which also ment I had less time to go out and spend money. I looked up a lot of places to visit in New Zealand which I decided was my first country and turned out to be the most expensive.

I had recently bought a house and decided to sell my house which was one of many just do it moments. I started to tell my friends about my plans to go to New Zealand and beyond and most didn’t believe me and a few told me I would end up dead or kidnapped. I keep pushing on, almost loosing my mind a few times working so many hours. I would take time random days off work for mental health along the way, but I kept pushing.

After I bought the ticket, and saved while working my ass off and things were really coming together. I was coming down to the last few months were I signed power of attorney to my Dad and boxed or gave away everything I owned. I stopped working both jobs, visited my mom up north and sold my car. The last month flew by with me not working. I had time to catch up with my friends before I left and at this point, my friends believed I was leaving they just didn’t know for how long but neither did I. Having all this free time with friends meant I started dipping into my precious trip money. I do not recommend this. The last few days were a blur with shipping the last few things out if my empty apartment and packing for the 70th time. I was ready to go. All of my planning before left me with two flights and a few weeks of hostels. The real learning always happens after get deep into where ever you are going.

Vegemite yuck!

Vegemite is the yucky, think, salty spread made from leftover brewers; yeast. It was made by Cyrill Callister in Melbourne, Australia in 1922 and the locals still love it today. For me, there isn’t much love for Vegemite even if it does have Vitamin B in it. Waking up to a free breakfast is one of traveling’s perks, but seeing five gallons of brown mush waiting at the table I know my options are limited. Like any good travler, I always try new things even if it’s just once and can write a blog post about how much I don’t care for it. To each their own.

Where to begin? The middle of course!

Any great story is amazing in the middle. Bungee jumping off a platform suspended in the air in a glass box and jump platform dangling high above Shotover River to fall 184 meters or 603 feet for an 8.5-second free fall is a great place to start this travel story.

In New Zealand, there is a name known with bungee jumping. That name is A.J. Hacket. With mulitible kinds and locations to jump in the north and south islands, I felt it was a name I could trust in when I jump 600 feet from a plank.

Food Roulette

Walking into a restaurant in a foreign country with no English menu and only a few pictures scattered around you and must make a decision by pointing and hoping for the best.

This is a photo in Hong Kong at a window kitchen from the bottom floor of a large apartment building in Kawloon. There were different shops and other selling food out the window. The window I picked had a few people waiting in the line for the while I watched it. As one person walked away, another stepped up to wait, so I felt it was a popular and trusted enough place to eat random and in some cases unknown selections. I walked to the counter with money in hand trying to order in English to Chinese only speaking locals. After I failed at asking for whatever they will give me for $20. Finally the woman running the cashbox told a man something as she pointed to the back and then she called for the person behind me to come forward to select fried goodies and pay. As I thought this wasn’t the way to order foot and I should go back to the pointing and grunting method, then a younger man came forward from the rear of the kitchen. He spoke in very good broken English and asked what I wanted and with a smile, he filled bags and bowls full of things on sticks and some fried balls of something with spicy sauce on them. I could figure out what some items were and others I didn’t have a clue. I sat in the hostel balcony and tried everything loving some and not too sure on others, but it was amazing gamble that I think is a great way to try local foods.

If anyone knows what I was eating in the photo above please let me know, because I still do not know.

This amazing dish is kangaroo and I can’t rave enough about it.

Bracelets of travelers

Have you ever been sitting in a hostel and looked around to notice that there were a lot of people wearing mulitable bracelets of different colors and materials. I noticed this shortly after landing in Auckland. Is this a backpacking trend? In short, yes. I wasn’t on board at first, yet I understood it. Backpackers can’t carry much and it’s marking the places on theĀ  journey. When I first arrived I didn’t buy into the hype or trend. Four and a half months later I was wandering threw a craft sale down by the water in Queensland, Australia on an early Sunday morning and bought a beautiful stone in beaded waxes hemp. Which was handmade by the local that was making her craft as I walked by the glance on her wares neatly arranged on her table. This was the first on many countries on this trip and the first of many brackets. The next country for me was a short flight over to Sydney from Auckland where I spent the next few months exploring. On my way down the east coast I stopped at the capital Canberra. While I spent my week in a YHA in the main part of the city I learned something I did not realise. If and when you happen to lose your passport, you must make your way to the capital to get back out of the country. Interesting and amazing people are everywhere. I was out wandering around the city taking I’m the sites of wonderful public art all around the downtown area and found what the locals call bricker- brack sale or a rummage sale and probable ten other terms for locals selling stuff. Rounding a corner one weekend morning I found such a set up. There was a man with books, a woman with clothing, jewelry, and a few mixed tables and a street performer playing piano to set to tone. After digging threw a discount bin I found a turquoise colored Rock bracelet for fifty cents Australian!

More stops on my journey and more markers of those places on my wrist. I would buy a few and break one here and there. By the time I returned home I only had about three or four left but as the wooden beads of Nepal wear against my arm I am reminded of amazing stories every time. I love it and I won’t be taking them off anytime soon.

Solo, one way, extended trip

Coming back after a extended trip can be hard for anyone. There are many emotions evolved in the days before you leave and the trip home. Weather it is a few hour car ride or a full day flight, the travel beings the emotions of home very real.

My latest trip was almost eight months long and I learned a lot about the world and about myself as cliche as that may sound. For me it was after the first few months I adjusted to life on the road and out of a pack. I started my trip in Auckland, New Zealand and stayed in most of the major area of the city for the first three weeks, and man did I ever get my bearings of a city then walking it everyday for three weeks for most of the daylight hours. After the innatinal first weeks my mother took the twenty something hour flight to come see her globe trotting daughter. My mother, being the planner she is, had all of our ten days filled with things to see and do on this once in a lifetime trip for both of us. We travled from north to south island and back again. When I finally had to tell my dear mum goodbye I had to be on my own again and for this trip my defining moment. Having to plan where you will sleep and how you will get to that bed you booked in the most beautiful picture the hostel can create, you learn how quickly judge pictures and rating. Which I feel I had learned from hostel hopping in Europe on a tight budget. After a few mad hostels in New Zealand and one or two in Australia I learned quickly that five US dollars could mean the difference between a small or out of the way compared to toilets soaked in drunken pee from the bar hostel downstairs. Reviews are worth the read and also worth the time to write.

  • Www.Booking.com always gave me the most results generally in my International travels
  • Www.hostelworld.com come up with much fewer results but are all on a backpacker/ budget level.
  • Www.couchsurfing.com is a way to meet locals that are willing to open up their home to you after registering and filling in important details to the website and matching with locals that want to show you their city. You may have to do dishes or keep clean in exchange for a very local tour,home cooked local food, and a place to lay your head.
  • Www.YHI.com comes at a price of a year membership at a very reasonable rate. I have found over many counties that this organisation have overall the best accomadation at comparative prices. The rooms are always clean and the location is usually near the things you came to that area for. I have nothing but nice things to say about Hostel International.

Like in most things, the people in each place can make or break even the nicest hostel. Community living isn’t for everyone.

After getting used to this life of everyday new city, new people, and new