All posts by Team Lost

Penguin Spotting in South New Zealand

When the alarm went off I had already been awake for ten minutes, I always do that when I’m excited to wake up.  I slid off of the enormous bed and shuffled across the room with my arms stretched out out in front of me, searching for a wall in the pitch black room.  My fingers found a wall and I dragged my hand behind me as I walked in the direction of the bathroom.  I found the doorway, and then the light switch, illuminating the entire place enough for me to make my coffee.

I filled the electric kettle with water and turned it on, a routine that I had begun looking forward to.  I didn’t realize before traveling to New Zealand that none of the accommodations would have coffee makers, only electric kettles.  I found this to be especially surprising once I was there, due to the fact that they take their coffee very seriously. Luckily I had found a french press at one of the many great coffee shops along the way, and the process of making my coffee like this was really starting to grow on me.

After my morning coffee I hopped in the shower, eager to get on the road.  I knew that if I missed this there would be no second chance, and I had no idea exactly when it would happen, only that it was just before dawn.  I got out of the shower and fixed my hair as usual, even though I had to come back afterwards I didn’t want to waste a  moment of daylight in that beautiful place, not even on myself.

Once I was ready I gathered up the essentials; coffee, flashlight, my good camera, my not-so-good but waterproof camera, my cigarettes and my jacket.  It was March, which means fall in New Zealand, so the air was pretty chilly at night, and on top of that it was drizzling outside.  I kissed E on the cheek to say goodbye, and I left for my adventure.  I never really mind when E isn’t in to doing the same things as me, I’ve always been a solitary person and I cherish any alone time that I get.

I started up the car and slowly backed out of the driveway, very careful to stay on the left-hand side of the road.  Luckily I only had to go about 1/4 of a mile because I was a pretty nervous driver, partly because of the left side of the road thing but also because I live in Chicago and I hardly ever drive.

After my not so long drive I arrived to the parking lot to find no other cars.  No way, this is awesome I thought, excited to have the whole place to myself.  My excitement quickly turned to fear when I realized that I would be the only person, in the pitch black unfamiliar place, surrounded by unfamiliar sounds.  Man up, I told myself, tucking my camera into my hoodie to keep it dry, this is a once in a life time opportunity.

I clicked on my little flashlight and hopped out of the rental car. To get to the ground  there is a large staircase with multiple viewing areas and to get to the staircase I had to walk down a narrow path with tall plants on both sides.  I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the spiders that I saw the night before and I knew that this path was literally crawling with them.  I pulled the strings on my hood out as far as I could to tighten it around my face and I slowly crept forward, shining the flashlight every which way looking for a web to catch the light.  Once through the path I was careful not to touch the rail of the stairs, again because of the spiders.  There are only three species of spiders in New Zealand and I’m sure that they were all having a party on that staircase.

As I navigated my way down the staircase I was already wishing that I had brought more coffee, it was still pitch black and I had no idea how long I was going to have to wait.  Once at the bottom of the stairs I carefully made my way across the rocky terrain and over to the large flat rock that I had sat on the night before.  There is a rope around the perimeter of the viewing area so that people do not disturb the penguins and this particular rock was as close as I could get without going outside of the rope.

I got all of my things in order, made myself comfortable on my rock and settled in for a long wait. The air had dried up enough for me to have my nice camera out but without any light it was useless, so I turned my flashlight off to conserve the batteries and sat there among all of the things that go bump in the night.

There were strange noises everywhere and the sound of the ocean crashing against the rocks made my hair stand on end; rouge waves happen all the time, I thought. All around me I could hear the rustling of what I hoped were crabs and birds.

Petrified Forest, Curio Bay, New Zealand.
Petrified Forest, Curio Bay, New Zealand.

The sun was not up yet but it was now  giving off enough residual light for me to make out shadows.  The birds were starting to call more, and I had no idea if this was the sound of penguins or one of the other many types of birds that came to feast on the breakfast buffet of marine life.  I started to hear more and more screeching in the direction of where the penguins nest and I got my camera ready for action, the anticipation was killing me.  And then, after an hour and a half of waiting there it was, the elusive Yellow Eyed Penguin.

 He (she?) hopped out from the bushes and tilted his head up to the sky to let out a series of screeches.  It was as if he was telling the entire group “It’s time to get up!!”  He hopped around the petrified obstacles, ruffling his feathers and lifting up his stubby little flippers like he was stretching out after a long sleep.  Not long after he made his appearance another little guy popped out, and another, and another!  About six penguins in total, all at different times, emerged from their nesting spots hidden in the bushes and stretched out their flippers in preparation for the day.

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Most of the other penguins made their way down to the ocean right away, hopping into the water one by one as I had seen them do so many times on The Discover Channel.  But the first penguin, my little guy, seemed to be sticking around just for me.  He was still stretching out, taking his time waddling down to the water, stopping frequently to ruffle his feathers and drink out of the puddles of rainwater that had accumulated between the rocks.

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After about thirty minutes of showing off, my penguin started to make his way for the ocean.  He held his flippers out as he hopped across the uneven terrain, like a tightrope walker putting their arms out for balance.  Once he got to the edge of the rocks, where the ocean was spilling up and over the headland, he paused; looking right and left as if checking for traffic, and then he was gone.  He disappearing into the ocean as if he was never there.

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The only time to spot the Yellow Eyed Penguins in Curio Bay is at dusk when they come in from the water and at dawn, when they go back out. We did try spotting them the night before but we only got to see one penguin from very far away, not to mention there were about twenty-five other people there.  I highly recommend going early in the morning for a better chance at spotting them and having the whole place to yourself.

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The reason that I chose to stay in Curio Bay for a night is because of all of the amazing and rare things that can be found in this one tiny part of the world .  The rough terrain that I was sitting on is actually a 180 million year old  petrified forest and the “rocks” are actually petrified tree stumps that were once covered in lava.  The yellow-eyed penguins are the rarest species of penguin in the world with only 5000 of them still in existence.*¹  The bay itself is home to the Hector’s Dolphin, the most rare, and one of the smallest of the dolphin species. Fur seals and sea lions can often be found basking in the sun on the beach or the rocks.*²  Unfortunately we did not get to see any dolphins, seals or sea lions, a storm had come through the night before and taken all of the usually plentiful fish in the bay back out to sea with it.  I’m not complaining though, because I know how lucky I am to be one of the few people in the world to get to wake up with the Yellow Eyed Penguins.

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Curio Bay is in the southern most part of New Zealand, part of the beautiful Catitlins Region. Besides Curio Bay, the Caitlins area has many other great beaches and hikes (my favorite water-fall is there, more on that to come). If you do plan on staying in Curio Bay, I highly recommend Curio Bay Accommodations. They have a few different options and they are all directly on the beach with amazing views. We stayed in a boutique studio, a large studio apartment with an enormous comfy bed, a great bathroom and a large deck facing the ocean. They also have boogie boards (maybe surf boards?) and wet suits for rent and a full washer/dryer at your disposal.  The prices are very reasonable for the quality and the location and the owners are very nice people who are just down the road if you need them.  This was hands down our favorite accommodations of the entire trip

Curio Bay Accommodations
Curio Bay

Getting to see these rare creatures in the wild was one of the most special things that I have ever experienced. That morning was surreal to say the least, and I feel humbled and blessed to have gotten to have it all to myself.  I can only hope that these amazing birds will grow in numbers and be around for generations to come.

– Team Lost

*Sources:

  1. http://www.newzealand.com/us/
  2. http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-visit/southland/southland/curio-bay-porpoise-bay/features/wildlife/

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5 Tips for the Aspiring Traveler.

Whether you’re an aspiring or seasoned traveler, the fact is, travel planning takes a lot of work.  For me it’s something that I really enjoy doing, but it is work none the less.  Though it does take a lot of time, I actually get excited about the process; exploring different activities, researching the cheapest flights, finding the best places to stay, exhausting every resource searching for the best price on everything.   

Here I have listed a few pieces of advice for the person who is serious about wanting to travel but doesn’t know where to start.  These are just a few of the resources that I use, and ways that I always manage to have a trip on the books, even on a tight budget.  My 5 tips for the Aspiring Traveler can help you stop thinking about your next adventure, and be on your way to making it happen.

Bathway Beach, Grenada, West Indies

 1.  Be Flexible, But Don’t be Easy.

Almost every trip that I’ve ever taken has started with a great deal on a flight.  Now don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that you should go just anywhere because the price is right; no. This means keeping an eye out for airline specials departing from your closest airports and then doing your research on the destinations.  Instead of looking for a place to go and then planning your vacation around that, keep your options open and let the place find you.  You will be surprised at the beautiful places that you can discover when you step out of your comfort zone and go somewhere that you’ve never heard of before.  I knew absolutely nothing about Grenada, West Indies until last year when it came up on one of my travel alerts.  I did a little research (e.g. Is it safe?  What is the average cost of lodging?  What language do they speak? What is the weather like?  Where the hell is it!?), and a half an hour later I purchased my tickets.   Three months later I was on a secluded beach watching a 6 foot leatherback turtle give birth by moonlight. If you do your homework and keep an open mind you will be surprised at the things that you can discover. These are the memories that I am most thankful for.

Giant Leatherback Turtle, Levera Beach, Grenada, West Indies

2.  Sign up for Travel Alerts.

No one has the time to check every website for travel deals 24/7.  With the amount of travel sites nowadays you could spend every day-all day sorting through endless amounts of information and never even set foot outside of your own home.  The key is to find the resources that will narrow down your search and bring the information to you.  Signing up for travel alerts on a few different websites will save you time and can make an otherwise endless search much more productive.  My favorite site to use when signing up for flight specials is Airfarewatchdog.com.  This site lets you set up your specific search criteria and customize your e-mail alerts to your own needs. I like to have mine set up to alert me daily of every flight-deal departing from my home airport, and those within a 50 mile radius.  This way if I’m not sure about where I want to go next (which I’m usually not), I can get inspiration simply from the list of destinations that are on sale.  You can also set up your alert for specific destinations, dates, airlines; whatever you want.  Just keep in mind that the more you narrow down your options, the less options that you will have (duh).  Another great site that you can tailor to your own preferences is Travelzoo.com.  This site not only shows you great deals on flights, but also great deals on hotels and resorts, car rentals, activities and entertainment.    A few other sites that I feel are worth signing up for are Carrentals.com for deals on car rentals, Trivago.com for accommodations and Kayak.com for their flexible search options.

Grenada, West Indies

3.  Keep a travel stash, and don’t be afraid to use it!

Just like having children, you might find that there is never a right time to travel.  The two main excuses that I hear for why it is a bad time to travel are: (1) I’m too busy; and (2) I don’t have the money. These are both legitimate obstacles, but if you are diligent about saving and doing your research, they should not have to prevent you from doing what you love.  About 6 years ago I began keeping a travel fund, a separate savings account dedicated solely to funding my adventures.  Now don’t get me wrong, I realize that not everyone is in a position to do this.  But if you are able to put $50 per month away for travel, and maybe throw in a little bit extra from time to time (skip a latte once a week), then you should have no problem taking a small trip every year or a larger one every two years.  In addition to having a separate savings account, I also have a designated credit card that I use only for traveling.  This is a card that I earn airline points on, that way I am also earning points toward future travel while spending money on the trip at hand.   Most airline credit cards also give you double points when purchasing flights on their airline, which is also perfect if you see a great deal on a flight but don’t quite have enough saved yet.  This method should only be used if you are very responsible about paying your credit card bill each month and if you have a low-interest rate, it can be easy to get in over your head.  Two cards that I use and recommend are Citi/AAdvantage for American Airlines miles and the United Mileage Plus card for miles with United Airlines.  Both start you out with a good amount of bonus miles and they also save you money by getting you free checked baggage and priority boarding (when you are flying with their airline). The American Airlines card seems to have more opportunities to earn bonus miles and the United Airlines card doesn’t charge for foreign transactions.

Isla Marisol, Belize
Isla Marisol, Belize

4.  Pull the trigger.

This one goes back to excuse number one mentioned above “I don’t have time.”  While there is no real solution to this problem, I have found that if I don’t make time for the things that I love, then I will spend my entire life busy with other people’s moments.  I can’t tell you how many weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, etc., that I’ve missed while I was away on vacation.  But one thing I can say is that I don’t regret missing any of those things.  The really great deals, the ones that seem too good to be true; they are few and far between, and when they are around it’s not for long.  Four years ago I got round trip tickets for my friend and I from Chicago to Maui, HI for $450.  I saw the deal on Travelzoo.com, I called my friend to see if she was up for camping on the beach, and 15 minutes later we had two roundtrip tickets to Hawaii for about the price of one.  If you see a great deal, you need to snatch it up fast, so make sure that you have a travel stash saved up for just such occasions.  Just one thing to check before you pull the trigger, make sure that flights aren’t cheap because it’s a bad time to visit (e.g. monsoon season, or it’s known for having ungodly high or low temperatures that time of year).  Just be smart, hop on the interwebs for a second to check your “facts,” and then go for it, it’s now or never.

One Ali'i Beach Park, Molokai, Hawaii
One Ali’i Beach Park, Molokai, Hawaii

5.  Do your Homework.

Some of the most amazing things that I have seen in this world did not cost me a penny, and most of those places weren’t easy to find either.  The fact is that the best kept secrets are secrets for a reason.  The travel industry doesn’t want you to know that you can have fun without spending money, and the locals don’t want you knowing where they go to get away from the tourists.  This is why it’s important to do your homework when you are planning what to do and see on your trip.  Of coarse, look on all of the big guys like Tripadvisor and  LonelyPlanet, but also try digging a little deeper.  Look through blog posts and travel forums for topics on your location and talk to people who have been there recently.  Try to find books, blogs or articles written by someone who lives there and try to find a local newspaper on the web.  You will be surprised how much fun you can have when you really go off the beaten path and immerse yourself in a different culture, (it’s usually cheaper that way too).  Just remember when you’re in a different country to be courteous and respectful of other people’s beliefs.  I’ve been to over 12 countries in the past 6 years and one thing that I can say is that the people have all been very different.  Embrace it and learn from it, this is all part of the experience.

Grenada, West Indies
Grenada, West Indies

I am often asked how I am able to travel so much, and how I decide where I will go next.  My answer is usually met with the response “ooo…you’re sooo lucky!”  —sigh— While I certainly don’t find the term “lucky” to be offensive, I just don’t feel that it’s very accurate.  While I will admit that I do have great luck (that time I found a hundred-dollar bill before I left for Vegas, the fact that I was able to get tickets to that Foo Fighters show at Cubby Bear, nbd), I just don’t feel like my great vacations have anything to with good fortune.  I do realize that most of what I’ve mentioned is easier said than done, but when is there reward without a little hard work?  I feel that travel is so important in making this world a better place and molding who we are as human beings.   I hope that these 5 tips for the Aspiring Traveler can help you stop dreaming about a life of travel and start making it a reality.  Lets get lost.

-Team Lost

Grenada, West Indies
Grenada, West Indies

 

‘Map Quest’

*Happy birthday V, I love ye’ more than there are words, and this world would be a bore without you.  “We can climb a mountain…”

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I don’t remember exactly when it happened. It was definitely subtle and not all at once. I thought that I was cool and smart enough to break the cycle of every generation before me, but alas, and without question, I too have become a technology hating geezer.

I used to make fun of these people, the parents and the grandparents and all of their peers who scoffed at all of my new gadgets and do-dads. Why would someone want to mock the growth of the internet? Or cell phones? Or devices to play my music on? (music that they would never understand anyways because their obviously all too old and clueless). But without fail we inevitably become our parents, and their parents before, and so on and so on, evolving each generation ever so slightly, just enough so that we might say we are a little smarter than the generation before. But is technology making us smarter? Are all of these little doohickeys which are meant to make our life easier, making life easy to the point that it takes little to no effort? Is everything that’s being done for us by our thingamajigs making everything that we learn now obsolete for the next generation to come?  This all came to a head on the day that my (then) 25-year-old sister told me that she didn’t know how to read a map.

“Wait…what?” I looked over at her with the perfect combo of both suspicion and judgment written all over my face.  “I don’t need to, I just always use my phone.”  She said in the way that 60% of the time will get us into a fight, EVERY TIME.  “Yes but you need to know how to read a map, especially since you love to travel.” Again with the judging tone.  “Nah, I’m good…” she said provokingly casual.  I wanted to slap her.   Fortunately the fact that I was driving kept me restrained from physically assaulting her, not to mention that she could easily kick my ass.  I couldn’t understand how a smart, independent, woman in her 20’s could not know how to use a map!  I went on and on, asking her questions and thinking up different scenarios, “What if your phone dies?  What if you lose the signal?  What if you get mugged?  WHAT IF THERE’S AN APOCALYPTIC METEOR SHOWER AND ALL OF THE SATELLITES GET KNOCKED OUT OF THE SKY!?”  Nothing.  My sister has a special way of being infuriatingly nonchalant when you’re really trying to get her to care about something.

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Finally we had to stop for gas (we were about 2 days in to one of our week-long road trips).  I grabbed the atlas from the back seat and opened it up to Arizona.  I knew that she had no interest in learning but I also knew that because I was the driver I had the upper-hand.  Not to mention that the big-sister instinct in me was not going to let my young, globetrotting sibling continue to roam this earth without knowing how to use one of the most essential survival tools for an adventurer.  “See, we just passed this town, so we’re probably about right here”  I traced our path with my shaky, overly caffeinated finger,  “Las Vegas is here, so you look at the little scale to see about how many miles that looks like, and you just follow the roads until we get there!”  She looked back at me with a face that said I couldn’t care less, and I hate you.  “Okay, so just hold on to that and you can help me navigate,”  I said to her setting the atlas on her lap, proud that I had just taught her this invaluable life lesson.  She glared at me, “But you have our directions printed out from MapQuest...and Myscenicdrives*… and our GPS is working fine.”  I felt like a mother must feel when her teenager acts like everything she says is ‘totally annoying…gawd.‘  “Whatever, just humor me.”  I hissed.

We got back on the road and after a while, somewhere between my 19th coffee and us singing along to Doggystyle, my sister must have gotten bored because she actually started to pay attention to the map.  “Oh I see, there are signs for Lake Mead, and here’s Lake Mead on the map, oooohhh, I get it.”  she squinted at the sign and pointed at the map.  Eureka!!  I had taught my cranky ass, premenstrual sister something and it actually sank in!

The dam Hoover dam

 

Yes, I will admit, I am a planning nazi.  I do overly compensate for the fact that I was such a disorganized fuck up through most of my 20’s, and I really shouldn’t take that out on my loved ones when we travel together, my bad.  And don’t get me wrong, I love my lap-top, my cellphone, my Ipod, and all of these little gadgets that definitely make my life easier from day to day.  But just because these devices are meant to make our lives easier, doesn’t mean that they should replace books, and face to face conversations, and hand-written letters, and all of the tangible information that you can actually hold in your hands.   Since that road trip with my sister I have noticed and spoke with more and more young adults who have no idea how to use a map and feel like they never will have to, they even had a Mythbusters about it!  I do love GPS, and I use it often whenever I’m traveling in the United States, but I cannot tell you how many times that E and I have been in a different country, in the middle of nowhere with only a map to guide us and we have never gotten lost (not significantly at least). Carrying a map and knowing how to use it is still, and will always be, invaluable to anyone, especially those who have the travel bug.  So go ahead and get lost, it’s part of the adventure, just make sure that you bring a map and you know how to use it.

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-Team Lost

* I highly recommend using the website and the app. myscenicdrives.com.  I have used it for every major road-trip that I’ve taken (within the U.S.) and it has never steered me wrong.  The website makes it easy to plan and revise your route, find scenic routes and points of interest, find places to stay and get gas, and much more.  The website is simple to use and it lets you create and save each trip for future use, which also comes in very handy if you’re undecided about exactly where you want to go.

Zion is for Lovers…

For the first time in five years I wasn’t able to do my annual girls trip this fall.  This was partly due to my having a new job that I can’t just leave all willy-nilly like I’m used to, but  mostly it is due to the collective broke-assness of myself and all of the women in my life.

Everyone I know has had a hard time this year, whether it’s financial, emotional, physical or all of the above.  While I generally have a most amazing life (though I feel I must point out that I have worked very hard for it), even I have had a hard time feeling awesome this year.  I can’t put my finger on it, but something has just seemed off lately.  That being said, I always try to stay positive. So when I wasn’t able to do my girls trip this year, I decided to take this opportunity to show my man what all the fuss is about, and he agreed to take my ‘girls trip’ with me this year.

I was beyond excited when I learned that Frontier Airlines started flying out of ORD.  Not only is Ohare much easier for me to get to (like most Chicagoans I’m sans car and proud of it), but Frontier has been running some great specials to kick off their new route.  I went back and forth between flying into Phoenix or Salt lake because both cities are relatively close to great hiking, but ultimately Salt Lake won because the flights were cheaper for the weekend I wanted to go ($150 rt ORD to SLC) and also because of its proximity to Park City.  We decided to leave on Saturday, Nov. 1st and come back on Wednesday, Nov. 5th, a 4 night trip.  This was significantly shorter than my usual 7-10 day girls trip, but this way I only had to use my vacation time for 2 days because I already had Tuesday off for election day.   I was worried about feeling rushed because of the lack of time so I chose to see two places that I had never been (Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park), and one place that I knew I loved (Park City).  I was excited to show E the place that I had raved so much about, ever since the first time I saw Utah I had been telling  him how much I love it.

Yarrow Hotel and Resort, Park City, Utah

We got into Salt Lake around 7pm Saturday evening.  We had some problems with the airline employees at Ohare but because I have flown with them several times out of Midway without a hitch I will chalk it  up to them being very new and I won’t say anything else on the subject (I’ll save the rant for next time).  After grabbing our rental car and bags we were on our way to Park City, about a 45 minute drive.  One of the things that I love about SLC is the ease of picking up and dropping off the rental car, no waiting for a shuttle, it’s all right there.

We arrived at Yarrow hotel and conference center in Park City.  The staff was very nice and the room was clean enough but I wouldn’t stay here again.  Last time I was there I stayed at Park City Peaks which was only about 1/4 mile further from Main Street but the rooms were much nicer and it was about $30 cheaper per night (Yarrow was about $100, not bad but not really worth it in my opinion).  I will say that the hotel was under construction (something that hotels.com failed to mention, obviously) so maybe this means that in the future the place might be awesome, but for now I would either stay somewhere cheaper or spend a little more and be right on Main Street.

High West Distillery, Park City, Utah

I already knew where I wanted to go first, High West distillery.  The only other time I had been to Park City I was there with my sisters and needless to say we had an awesome time.  We shared a flight of whiskey, the Rendezvous Rye being our favorite (there’s a reason it’s their most popular), but all of them are interesting and worth trying at least once.  It was supposed to snow that night so the temperature was pretty cold, but inside or out High West is nice and toasty thanks to their outdoor fire pit and cozy indoor atmosphere.  

No Name Saloon, Park City, Utah

After eating the best grilled ham and cheese that I’ve ever had at High West (seriously, try it, it’s so good), we walked up the steep hill to the No Name Saloon.  It was just as I remembered it; quirky, comfortable and a little dusty.  This is the place where you can come dressed in a suit or a hoodie and feel perfectly comfortable either way.  Looking around the No Name it’s easy to spot who are locals and who are tourists.  We (tourists) have eyes all over the place, pointing at the old brick work and all of the crazy shit on the walls, while they (the locals) have their eyes on the football game and can order their drink with a wink and a nod.  The bartenders are fast but not pretentious, they don’t make you feel like an ass for not knowing what kind of beer you want and their happy to recommend one to you (which is more than I can say for a lot of bartenders).  The music playing was phenomenal, it went from classic rock to indie to metal, I literally did not hear a bad song the entire time we were there.  Being as it was the day after Halloween we did get to see a few costumes, mostly of slutty (fill in the blank) who were heading to the club next door.  Seriously, these ladies were literally in their underwear, I’m all for woman’s lib but letting a drunk dude feel on your bare ass in public probably doesn’t feel very “liberating” the next morning when you’re hung over and waiting in line to get the ‘morning after’ pill.  Just sayin’.

After about 2 hours we went across the street to the irish pub, Flanagan’s.  We bellied up to the empty bar, another friendly bartender helped us choose a beer, and after about 5 minutes or so we started to notice the thumping of base coming from downstairs.  “Is there another room here or something?” we asked.  “Yeah,  there’s a band downstairs, Folk Hogan, their pretty good actually.  And it’s free.”  He had us at free.  We grabbed our drinks and headed downstairs to find a bunch of long-haired 20 somethings with their faces painted like Kiss (I’m assuming this was only for Halloween and not their regular get-up).  These guys are awesome.  They sound like if Gogol Bordello and Mumford and Sons had a baby and it grew up to be a Viking.  They played a couple of cover songs but it was actually their originals that won me over, which is rare.  Definitely check them out if you ever have the chance, they said that they should be touring soon.

After Flanagan’s we had our friendly, stoner cabbie take us to 7-11 for some beer, and then we headed back to our hotel (there is a free bus but it stops running at 11pm).  In Park City the bars close at 1am, which really sucks if you live in Chicago and you’re used to the bars staying open until 4am.  Luckily there is a 7-11 in town that sells alcohol 24/7, so if you’re like us and really aren’t ready to go to bed once the bars close, you can stop here and pick up a night-cap.

Snow capped mountains.

The next morning we woke up to find that it had snowed about 4 inches overnight.  Living in Chicago, my first instinct is to hate the snow, but it’s so beautiful there that it’s hard to be mad about it.  Not to mention that I have never seen Park City in the snow, which is what it is mainly known for (being a ski-town), so this was a welcome change.  We got on the road for Bryce Canyon at about 11:30am and made it to Panguitch, a quiet little town about 23 milesoutside of Bryce Canyon, at about 4:30pm.  We had just turned the clocks back the night before and the sun was going down fast, so we decided to stay there for the night and wake up early to see Bryce Canyon.  We stayed at the Quality Inn in Panguitch which was nice except for a very strong air freshener and a very unfriendly person at the front desk.  He wasn’t necessarily rude, just not friendly at all (ie. no hello, no goodbye, just what’s your name and here’s your key).  Plus when I asked him if I could switch rooms (I had  accidentally booked a room with 2 beds instead of one, it was my fault), he gave me a lecture on why I shouldn’t book through 3rd party sites and why he could not switch my rooms.  Thanks dude, a simple no would have sufficed.  But the room was clean, spacious, a great view and free breakfast so I wasn’t too upset, I would probably stay there again and request a room with one king size bed and no air-freshener.

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Bryce Canyon was breathtaking.  I have been to the Grand Canyon and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Bryce is very different.      The canyons are filled with towering pillars (called Hoodoos) that stab up through the canyon so fiercely that it’s hard to believe that its taken millions of years to form them.  The color of the hoodoos changes drastically depending on the time of the day and the weather, so you can take a thousand pictures and they will all be at least a little bit different.  They change from deep red and bright orange through the early morning and evening to bright yellow and brown in the middle of the day.  Depending on the time of year, the red rock contrasting with the bright white snow is absolutely beautiful and makes for some great photos.

A long way down…

 

The park it’s self is much smaller than the Grand Canyon and we were able to drive through the entire thing in one day, stopping at all of the look-outs and even doing a couple small hikes (even the small hikes can be time-consuming due to the change in elevation). After spending most of the day at Bryce we then headed over to Zion to spend a couple of hours before the sunset.

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It took about an hour to get from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park but the scenery on the drive is so beautiful that you don’t even notice that you’re in between destinations.  This being said, as soon as you get to Zion, you definitely know it.  Giant orange and white mountains of rock seemingly grow right up in front of you and all of a sudden you’re in a different world.  IMG_7119

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These are much different from the hoodoos, these are giant, towering cliffs.  It was only about 4pm when we arrived but already the sun was getting low enough to turn the mountains into something out of a movie. It was like the entire landscape was on fire with orange and red. We drove from the East entrance straight through to Springdale, an adorable little town just outside of Zion, stopping all the way but saving the Canyon ScIMG_7153enic Drive for the morning. We knew that we wanted to do The Narrows Hike the next day and since it is at the end of that 6 mile road we decided wait and do it all at once.  After finding a good rate online ($79/nt), we decided to stay at the Quality Inn in Springdale.  The staff at the front desk were very friendly, the room was clean and spacious, and the location can’t be beat, I would definitely stay here again.

We walked across the street to grab dinner at The Whiptail Grill and it was absolutely amazing.  I had the fish tacos, E had the steak burrito and we got the chile relleno and chips and salsa appetizers to split.  We loved it all, seriously, every bit, I highly recommend it.  Plus it looks like an old gas station and it has a great outdoor space so it also gets bonus points for looking cool.

The Whiptail Grill, Springdale, Utah

 

After dinner we went across the street to Zion Adventure Company to grab our hiking gear for the next day.  We rented the Dry Pants Narrows Package which included dry pants, neoprene socks, hiking shoes and walking stick for $41 per person. If the weather is warm you can definitely get away with doing the hike without the dry pants and socks (you definitely need good shoes and a walking stick) but because it was November we wanted to be sure we stayed warm.

The Narrows, Zion National Park

The next morning we got up early and made it to the Narrows at about 8:30am.  After putting on our gear we set off on our hike.  We planned to do the 4 mile round trip hike, one mile of a paved path, another mile through the river in The Narrows, when you see the split off to the right you can take that if you have a permit and plan on doing the 10 miles or you can turn around at this point and go back (this is what we had planned to do).  The first mile of the hike is a piece of cake, paved path, mostly downhill, I could’ve done it barefoot.  At the end of the path it comes to an area with benches and stairs leading down to The Narrows, this is where you enter the river and where the adventure begins.  We both made sure that our socks were on correctly, as not to get our feet wet, and we started on our way.

At first I couldn’t tell if my feet were just getting cold or actually getting wet.  It only took me crossing the river twice to realize, they were definitely getting wet.  My first thought was that I must have put the socks on wrong, but since E said that his feet were wet too I think that just must be normal (or we both got a bum pair).  Luckily the pants kept us perfectly dry, and the water really wasn’t that cold, so having water in our socks and shoes was just more of an annoyance than anything.  Not to mention it made our feet as heavy as bricks, talk about a leg work-out.  The hike was gorgeous, a little tricky maneuvering the river and the rocks but if you take your time and really pay attention to every step then it’s really not that bad.  We did run into one pretentious hiker who yelled at E for smoking a cigarette.  Had he said it nicely I would have definitely kept my mouth shut because I do agree that smoking is gross and smells bad.  But the fact that the guy decided to bark orders at a complete stranger and be all holier than thou about it made me want to light one up as well just to piss him off.  Smokers can be good people too, dick.

5 hours later…

Anyways, we continued on our way for about 2 hours until we finally started asking each other, “doesn’t this seem like a long mile to you? This sure seems like a long mile.”  That’s because it was 3 miles.  Somehow we had missed our turn off, thinking that the split would be marked or have a sign or something, and we had continued past that split for another 2 miles.  Oops.  So once we figured this out (about 5 people told us, apparently we were the only idiots who didn’t know), we turned around and hiked back.

This hike is one of those that by the end of it your legs are screaming, and you can’t wait to just be on dry land eating a cheeseburger, but looking back on it I would do it again in a heartbeat.  Even though we did the hike when it was a little bit colder it made it perfect for us because it wasn’t crowded at all.  There wasn’t ever a time when there were more than 8 people around and there were even several moments when we had the canyons all to ourselves.  Though I would have had a blast doing this hike with my sisters, there is something special and romantic about doing this hike with your significant other. The world is very different between those walls, with just the sound of the river and the echoes of your own footsteps,  and if you’re lucky to be there at a time when there isn’t a crowd then you will know exactly what I mean.

Zion National Park, Utah

 

After our hike we returned our gear, had lunch at Oscars Cafe (good, but not as good as the Whiptail), and headed out-of-town. We had spent most of the day on our hike so by the time we stopped for lunch and a few more pictures the sun was already going down again.  We drove as far as we could, with the sun directly in our eyes at every angle, and after seeing one of the most amazing sunsets that I’ve ever seen we decided to stop for the night.

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We decided to stay at The Days Inn in Beaver.  Yes, that’s right, it’s called Beaver, Utah and they are not shy at all about pointing out the hilarity of that name (I heart Beaver signs, t-shirts, etc.).  I like a town that can make fun of its self.  Anyways, The Days Inn was about $59/night and it was hands down the nicest Days Inn I’ve ever stayed in, as well as the nicest hotel that we stayed in our entire trip.  The room was brand new, super spacious and had free breakfast that you could get all day.  Score.

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The  next day we got up early and headed back to Park City, about  3 hour drive from Beaver, to do a little shopping and have dinner at 501 (great food) before we flew home.

Park City, Utah

 

It was definitely bitter-sweet to do a trip out west without my girls this year, but I was happy that I was able to be there with E.  It’s nice to share something that you love so much with your significant other, and also to see that place again through their eyes.  I can honestly say that the trip was perfect, nothing felt rushed and we were never anywhere long enough to get sick of it.  I highly recommend this itinerary if you are only going to be in the area for 5 days (and if you’ve already been to Moab)  I’m also glad that I go to experience Bryce and Zion for the first time with E because, while it was nice to show him why I love Park City, there’s always something special about seeing a place for the first time together, now these places will always be ours.

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“I would rather be in the mountains thinking about god, than in a church thinking about the mountains.”- John Muir

– Team Lost

No. We Can’t Stop Here, This is Bat Country.

Earlier this year, while in Queensland, Australia, I was  lucky enough to come across one of the coolest creatures that I’ve ever seen first hand, the flying fox, aka fruit bat.  We were strolling down the main strip in Airlie Beach one evening at sunset, full from dinner and still foggy from the night before, when a large cat on a hang-glider flew right over our heads. “What the hell?!” we ducked and swatted at the air like we were being attacked by killer bees.  It didn’t take me long to realize that I was in bat country, fruit bat country.

Flying Fox a.k.a Fruit Bat

 

I only saw one fruit bat while in Airlie Beach but the closer we got to Cairns the more we saw.  They would come in flocks at dusk and if you didn’t look closely enough you might just think that they were crows.  You could hear them crashing into the trees as they landed and sometimes falling from the top to the middle until they found a branch to cling to.

Cairns, Queensland, Australia

 

Where there was one, there were many.  You could hear them screeching and ticking, unclear whether they were having a conversation or warning each other to back up off my fruit yo.

Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

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Sadly, I am not a photographer, and though I became slightly obsessed with trying to capture these guys on film, my efforts were futile.  The light (or lack thereof), and movement made it nearly impossible for a novice like me to get a shot.  So out of hundreds, I have only a few usable images, and even those are mediocre at best. Apologies for the lousy photos and HAPPY BAT WEEK!!

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-Team Lost

Utah, it’s Not Just For Mormons Anymore!

Whenever I tell someone about how much I love Utah I generally get the same reaction, a puzzled look followed by the question “Isn’t that where all the Mormons live?” Well, yes, there are a shit load of Mormons in Utah, but unless you’re going there for a Match.com event or have a crippling fear of short-sleeved button down shirts then that shouldn’t really bother you.

I first fell in love with Utah while on a road trip out west with my sister. Moab was the first stop on our 7 day adventure from Denver to LA and it pretty much ruined us for the rest of the trip. We were both shocked to discover how beautiful this state was, and baffled at the fact that no one ever talks about it! Sure, we always hear about the beauty of Colorado, Northern California, Hawaii, etc. but why is Utah so underrated?

We didn’t get to Moab until late in the afternoon because we had been driving all day from DEN.   By the time we checked into our hostel and grabbed something to eat it was only a couple of hours until sundown so we  decided to go straight to Arches to see as much as we could before sunset.  Driving into the park is a little daunting at first. The main entrance is a long windy road that goes up the side of the mountain to get to the top where all of the main attractions are.  The view going up is amazing, but at the time I had a pretty bad fear of heights and my body wasn’t yet acclimated to the altitude.  Once we got to the top though it was a different story, the world opened up to a field of shapes and colors and all of my anxiety melted away.

Moab, Utah

 

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

The sun was fading fast so we sped through the park and stopped at every turn out just long enough to hop out and snap some pictures. We knew that we had some great light with the sun so low in the sky and we wanted to take full advantage of every minute.  As we drove further into the park the sun got lower and the shadows from the rocks grew taller. “Look, there’s a penis, there’s another penis, and another!” we pointed to all of the different shapes and rock formations. The longer the shadows grew the deeper red the rocks became and by sunset we were almost speechless.  Only Dr. John  coming out of our stereo could begin to explain the energy at that moment.

 We drove about 3/4 of the way through the park and then we headed back toward the entrance to watch the sun go down from the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint.  There’s something bittersweet about those sunsets that drench the landscape in colors and light in a way that can never be captured on film, sad because it can never be recreated but special because it’s something in the universe that’s only for you.   

Courthouse Towers Viewpoint

 

Once the sun was gone we decided to call it a day and come back in the morning. It’s only a 10 minute drive from the park to the hostel but it made us both nervous driving down a winding road on the side of a cliff after dark.

Delicate Arch Hike

Surprisingly (because of the number of beers we had before bed) we got up at sunrise as planned and headed back to the park to do the famous Delicate Arch hike. I can’t imagine doing the hike any later in the day because by the time we got there around 8 am the sun was already beating down. The trek took about an hour and a half, beautiful as expected and mostly uphill (a gradual incline but a bit strenuous because of the heat and the terrain).  The scenery was breathtaking and different at every turn, the rocks changing from smooth and calming to jagged and angry. The trail was pretty clear but if you were uncertain about were to go you could always follow the little rock piles (do NOT follow the chipmunks).  After about an hour and a half of climbing and sweating our asses off, we arrived at Delicate Arch.  Totally worth it.  Not only is it beautiful and mysterious all on its own but it’s perched on a small slab of rock between a cliff and a giant hole that you have to maneuver if you want to get right up under the middle.  It’s as if it’s saying You’ve made it this far, now one last test to pass before you get your reward.

Delicate Arch

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We played around at Arches for at least an hour and then headed back to check out the rest of the park before leaving for the second leg of our trip.  The hike back was much faster because it’s all downhill, or maybe it just felt that way because I was running (I had to pee something fierce).

We didn’t really know it at the time but we both agree that Moab was the most memorable part of our entire trip.  We’ve talked about how we wish that we had stayed there longer, but if we had, our experience would have been different, and who knows if we would remember it as fondly or if we would ever go back.  Maybe it’s for the best that Utah left us wanting more.

Cabin’s at Lazy Lizard Hostel

If you are ever in Moab I highly suggest staying at the Lazy Lizard Hostel.  My sister and I stayed here and it was our favorite accommodation of the entire trip, including the hotels.  I didn’t see the dorms or the private rooms but we stayed in one of the cabins and it was awesome.  The cabin is only $33 per night and has a large bunk bed with a full size bottom and a twin size top.  It’s really basic; just a bunk, a couple of tables, a lamp and a heater, but it’s super clean (we didn’t see one bug!) and the bathroom is only about 20-40 steps away.  The best part about the cabins is the front porch.  Every cabin has its own front porch with a little table and chairs that is perfect for beer drinking and star-gazing (hence the reason for us staying up way too late the first night).  I have been to quite a few hostels around the world and this one is still my favorite, hands down.

Another place that deserves honorable mention is The Eklecticafe. This quirky little restaurant has great food, great atmosphere and at least one really hot server…  those baby blue eyes peered straight into my soul…that pretty much sums it up.

Coincidentally (or not at all) I will be heading back to Utah this Saturday for a quick four-day trip.  My first stop will be Park City (I looooove Park City), and from there I’m just going to play it by ear.  I will be posting my shenanigans when and where I can.

Maybe it’s a blessing that no one ever really talks about Utah, maybe that’s part of the reason that it still seems so vast and unspoiled.  But, like any good secret,  I can’t help but want to share it with my friends.

This message is brought to  you by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (Just kidding)

-Team Lost

PURA VIDA!!

“Just a basic swimming test?”  I said looking at E with a face that said “GOD HELP ME.”  This is what the man at the complex had told us when he signed us up to do the activities.  “I want some adrenaline, not just a scenic float,” I had told the man.  I wanted to do a class IV or V because the only other time I had rafted was a class III in West Virginia and it was boring as shit.  “Okay, that trip just requires a swimming test,”  he said not even looking at me as he scribbled with his pen.  “Like what kind of swimming test?” I asked. “Oh, just like to make sure you can swim.  You know, just a basic swimming test,”  he said, finally looking up and sliding the forms across the table for me to sign.  “That’s fine, I’ve been in swimming lessons since I was 2,” I said looking over at E smugly. I signed my life away and slid the papers back across the table.

Now, as I looked at this churning river that I had just been asked to voluntarily jump into, I was beginning to wish I had paid more attention in those swimming classes.  And in my C.P.R. classes.  And to the fine print on those forms.  But whatever, E and I had only been dating about a year at this point and I’ll be damned if that river was going to make me look like a pussy.  “This run is usually about a IV/V but today it’s a hard V, maybe higher.  Are you guys sure you want to go today?”  The guides had been walking up and down the river bank muttering to each other and pointing at random objects in the water.  All my senses were telling me that this was a bad idea. E and I looked at each other with a smirk that said neither of us were backing down.  “Yeah, let’s do it!”  I could barely hear my own voice over the roaring of the river.

“Okay so you’re just going to jump in here,” he pointed to a spot in the river directly in front of us.  “Float down to about where those ropes are and then swim to shore.”  he said pointing down the river to where his girlfriend was now waving at us and smiling.  We were there in between seasons so we were the only two people on the tour that day and we had picked up Romaine’s girlfriend on the way to the river.  Romaine and her were going to take pictures and survey the river ahead of us while our guide, “Tico Rambo,” would be in the raft with us.  I’m not going to lie, having my life in the hands of a guy named Rambo did make me feel slightly better about the situation.  “Okay, I can do this,” I thought to myself recounting the instructions they had given me. “Feet first at all times, hands crossed on my chest and NEVER take a breath when going into a rapid.  Take a deep breath before and then hold it until your through the rapids.”

I began wading forward into the river “I want to go first” I said looking back at E and the guides.  I knew that if I didn’t go right at this moment I might lose my nerve.  The river was strong, like REALLY strong.  It felt like a 300 pound man was hanging over a cliff by my ankles.  I inched forward until I was standing in the spot that Romaine had pointed to before, looked down the river to where the lady was standing next to the rope, and I sat down.  No sooner did my ass touch that water than my legs swept out from under me and I was speeding down the river.  “Okay,”  I thought, “my legs are in front of me, my arms are crossed, now I just make sure that I don’t take a breath before GULP…..fuck.”  The rapids were unpredictable.  So much so, that what looked to be just a tiny ripple in front of me turned into a tidal wave and washed over my head just as I was taking my first deep breath.  I could not breathe.  It was like that scary sensation that you have when you get the wind knocked out of you, except I couldn’t even gasp for air because I was mostly under water.  I didn’t get a breath in and now I was in the thick of it.  My feet were hitting boulders, my life-vest was up around my chin, and that lady with the rope still looked ages away.  “Fuck-it I’m swimming now,” I thought.  I literally had no air in my lungs, only water.  Every time my head popped up and I tried to take a breath it was like trying to turn over the engine of a car with a dead battery, nothing. I saw a small gap up ahead where there weren’t too many rocks and made the quick decision to go for it.  Here’s where all of those swimming lessons better pay off goddamnit.  It was now or never, I rolled onto my stomach and paddled for dear life toward the river bank.  I was trying to swim freestyle but between the current and the life-vest I’m sure I looked more like one of those dogs that you saw on the news getting rescued from the floods during Hurricane Katrina.  I still couldn’t breathe and my body was starting to go into fight or flight mode, but the harder I swam the more I needed to breath.  The next set of boulders was seconds away and I started flopping around like a fish, paddling and kicking and basically using my whole body to propel me forward.  I wasn’t going to make it all the way to shore, and I definitely wasn’t going to make it through those upcoming rapids while floating sideways on my stomach.  Just then, a boulder, the most beautiful and glorious boulder, appeared just before me out of nowhere.  I’m fairly certain that it was made of solid gold and had a halo around it. It was right next to shore and I knew if I could make it to that rock that I would be able to make it the rest of the way. I reached out just in time to grab it before being shot through the next set of rapids.  I clawed and clutched to the boulder for dear life, finally I was able to gasp.  I choked and spit and my chest made a raspy gurgling sound that I had only heard in old episodes of E.R.   All of the water in  my lungs was coming up and out of my throat, eyes and nose and I couldn’t tell if I was crying or just draining.  I looked up, still clinging to the boulder, to see everyone on shore cheering and giving me the thumbs up.  “Great job!”  they said, “that was perfect!”  E was doubled over laughing.  I’m pretty sure that he was the only one who had seen the look of terror in my eyes.  “Good job?!”  I said in between gasps of air. “Yeah, you passed!  Your turn E!”  “What the hell do you have to do to fail, DIE?!”

E passed his test with flying colors (he is one of those annoying people who is just inherently good at EVERYTHING)  and the rest of the trip went on to be one of the (if not THE) most terrifying and exhilarating things that I have ever done in my life.  There are rapids with names like “Dragons Tail,”  “El Chorro,” and “Devil’s Butthole.” (Okay, so I made that last one up, but you get the point).  It’s intense, and you have to stop and survey most of the rapids before you can even go through them.  This means maneuvering boulders on foot and trying to keep your balance in the current.  I was so focused on staying alive that I didn’t even notice how beautiful the scenery was until the end, nor did I notice Romaine and his girlfriend taking our pictures the entire way down the river.

Here we go!
PURA VIDA!!!
SPLOOSH!

 

And then, just as it had begun, it was over.  The river, almost in an instant, went from angry and spiteful to docile and beautiful.  It opened up to a calm, wide area with a waterfall to our left and the tree-lined shore to our right.  Tico Rambo led us in putting our paddles up, “PURA VIDA!!” we all yelled laughing (and crying a little) hysterically.

“oh look, a waterfall!”

 

Once on shore we all shared our favorite and scariest moments, even the guides had a couple scares which made me feel slightly better about the fact that I was still shaking like a leaf.  We went through all of the pictures that they had taken.  Romaine had a laptop so we were able to view all of the pictures before we decided to buy them and they burned them for us on the spot. Because our photographers had gone unnoticed the pictures were fantastic.  It’s interesting to see the faces you make when your life is flashing before your eyes, never before has the look of sheer terror been captured on film.

AHHHH!!!

 

H20 Adventures is a local based company near Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica that operates white water rafting and tubing tours down the nearby rivers.  Although the tour that we did was intense, they also offer several family friendly options and tours for the less adventurous.  The guides are knowledgeable, fun, and make you feel right at home from the time that you arrive, until the time that you leave.  They will tell you all about the land and history of the area along the way to the river and they will explain about the plants and animals that you see while you are there.  They even picked fresh fruit from a tree and we had it for lunch!

I wrote this story not to discourage anyone from doing a tour with H20 Adventures, but to encourage those who are up to the challenge.  I did this tour almost 6 years ago while in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, and it remains to be one of the most fun things that I have ever done.  I still get that feeling of adrenaline when I look through the pictures and even as I tell this story.  Costa Rica was one of the first trips that I ever took, and it holds a special place in my heart.  If you are in the area, take a tour with H20 Adventures and ask for Tico Rambo, just make sure that your life-vest is on tight.  PURA VIDA!!

-Team Lost

H20 Adventures

Downtown Quepos, Costa Rica

On the road to Manuel Antonio…

Toll Free: 1(888) 532-3298

Email: info@h20cr.com

Check out their great reviews on YELP!