A little more than a year back, while on a Caribbean cruise, I (along with my wife and sister) decided to head over to Dunn's River Falls on my birthanniversay (birthday and anniversary). Leaving behind my daughter and my parents are the wonderfully named Mahogany Beach, we took a taxi to the Falls. It's a good idea to inform the taxi driver not to leave the parking. As it happened in our case, thinking that we would take longer than we did, he decided to go someplace else in the meantime, and after waiting for him for a good 45 minutes, we eventually took another taxi back to our ship.

Dunn's River Falls is one of the primary tourist attractions in all of Jamaica, yet it was not over crowded. A ticket of $20 USD got us in and into a group led by a couple of guides. There are lockers inside the property to leave your valuables, and it's advised that you use them because the falls can be a bit challenging at times. Also, available on location are water shoes which can be rented for a small fee. Once again, it is advisable that you rent the water shoes as the rocks, while climbing up, are very slippery.

As a tourist attraction, the whole arrangement is well organized. There are groups of 12-15 people that are taken by two guides. It's essential that you use the service of the guides (included in the entrance fee) on your first trip up because they point out the plunge pools deep enough for you to take a back flip in and importantly the corners that should be avoided.

Carrying a video camera, the guides also make a video of your whole "expedition" up the falls which can be yours for $40 USD. A bit expensive, we gave the video a miss, but the guides were not at all pushy about it. They were friendly and as expected flirted with the girls, at the expense of the guys, but then that's a given almost anywhere in the world.

Dunn's River Falls is one of those attractions that you would want to say "Been There, Done That". The areas where flow of the water is too much, the climb a bit steep, or the rocks are really slippery; there are handle bars on the sides to support you. Moreover, walking in a group, a human chain is usually formed again to provide support for everyone.

Although I saw people of all ages go up the falls, I would advice the really young and the really old to skip climbing the falls. There is a good chance most people will end up with tiny cuts and scratches by the time they reach the top, but that is not to say that this is a dangerous activity.

Our climb up the Dunn's River Falls was refreshing and something I definitely recommend for everyone visiting the region. Once you have had your guided climb, you can always go back down and climb up again if you desire. There is also a small beach at the bottom of the falls which is fun for the younger and older members of the family. The organizers are not at all pushy and you are free to take or not take the photographs and videos they make without any hassles.

I would however apologize for my photographs not being of the best quality (and thus not doing justice to the Falls), but in my defense these were taken by a waterproof single use disposable camera.

Published in Jamaica

If you should find yourself near Arenal Volcano, be sure that you visit Venado Cave, which is located about a 45-min van-ride south of La Fortuna. Officially known in the cave registry under its original local Indian name, Caverna Gabinarraca (well, what has been explored so far) consists of over 2,700 meters and is believed to have been formed about 20 million years ago.

Although these caves were not discovered until 1945 it was almost 30 years later before any extensive exploration was done. Even to this day there are still unexplored portions, as you can see from the map below.

Map of Venado Cave in Costa Rica

Any of the local La Fortna hostels / hotels / resorts / excursion companies can arrange it for you once you are in town. Hell, they will all be fighting for your business, so don’t waste time and money and extra fees pre-booking ANY excursions online. We booked through our hostel Arenal Backpackers Resort and paid $50/person despite hearing online that others were being charged as much as $70 each. Another blogger managed to arrange transportation both ways via pirate taxi, acquire supplies and pay their tour guide all for a grand total of $30 for his entire group. However that enterprising young chap was unable to fully enjoy his part in the expedition, as he was forced to translate for the rest of his group.

Bats in the Venado Caves
Bats, lots and lots of bats. Click to enlarge.

The drive up there is only 15 miles or so but will probably take around 45 minutes or so given the road quality towards the end. The final segment is slow going but then the home stretch is a glorified dirt rut and thus super-slow going. It is a pleasent Alajuela drive though, up through farm country and then past a couple small villages, and provides you with an opportunity to see a variety small houses and farms.

After arrival — well, technically upon signing of the waiver — you are provided with rubber boots and a hardhat with attached light. Just a forewarning: those who have a shoe size above 12 (US mens) may have some difficulty here. I am a size 13/14 depending upon the brand and only with water to help lubricate and the assistance of an employee were we finally able to force my boots on one at a time. They were painfully uncomfortable the entire expedition too, but I survived. Once everyone was suited up it was a brief hike past a field of cows and down the trail on into the valley below, where the first cave entrance lies in wait. All the while we struggled to listen as our guide described the history of the cave system. I was the first person behind our guide and as such was the only one able to catch more than the occasional word, so for this expedition try to get the guide with the loud booming voice if possible!

Speaking with our tour guide before entering the Venado Caves of La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Upon reaching the entrance we paused to listen to the stereotypical introduction and warning spiel from our guide, as well as information on what type of creatures we could expect to see once inside. Basically this cave includes the usual spiders, bats, and bugs, but thanks to the water there is also an assortment of fish, crabs, frogs, and other small forms of aquatic life.

Walking through the Venado Caves of La Fortuna, Costa Rica

From the first few seconds in all the way until the end, this cave was basically non-stop amazement. I've explored a couple cave systems before but this one by far was the best! First off, they failed to mention just how much water you really see. From the start you are standing in 6-12 inches and the water level only goes up from there. Several times you are fully submerged and swimming to the next cavern. It was exciting and a lot of fun, to say the least. Definitely beat out traditional dry spelunking.

Stuck in the Venado Caves!
My buddy Jared got stuck, I laughed.

Guess who got stuck thirty seconds later?   Yup, me.

The whole thing took about an hour-and-a-half and included lots of waterfalls, stalactites, bats, and other interesting shit. Our guide showed us some interesting rocks that appear solid but are actually luminescent when hit with a flashlight, as well as others that sounded like metal when tapped (if only I could remember what they were called).

But there are also several crawl spaces that you need to make it through, so I will warn you with this: if you are taller than my 6'2" and/or weigh more than 250lbs, you probably should avoid this excursion. Even if you could make it through all the spaces, trust me, it will not be an enjoyable squeeze. I'm tall and relatively thin yet there was this one part in particular which I barely made it through.

Additionally, the caves do close periodically due to high water levels, primarily after heavy rainfalls during the wet season.

  Below are a few photos from our expedition. Been spelunking before? What is your favorite cave system?

Derek got stuck in the Venado Caves in Costa Rica

Inside the Venado Caves of La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Inside the Venado Caves of La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Kim holding a large spider at the Venado Cave in Costa Rica

Large sections of the Venado Caves are submerged and require swimming through

  Have you been to the Venado Caves before? Know of any other hidden sights worth visiting that are nearby? Share your thoughts with us!

Published in Costa Rica

Now this is truly a unique sight like no other! Everyone has seen algae, that icky often green stuff that grows in water all over the world — but have you ever seen rainbow-colored algae? That is what happens for a brief period every year at a remote river in Colombia, South America.

The Caño Cristales River located high in the Serrania de la Macarena Mountains is one that most travelers have never even heard of. It’s location is so remote that the river does not even have any fish and you can only get there after a long trek via foot or donkey! But that is not all, it gets trickier...

This multicolored algae occurs only during the brief period in between the wet and dry seasons, usually in September or October. At that time, for only a week or two at the absolute tops, all the algae on the rocks of the rivers turns a rainbow of colors — and thanks to the clear river water visitors can get a perfect view!

Rainbow colored algae at Caño Cristales River in a remote part of the Colombian mountains
Show up at the wrong time though and all you see is boring old green...

I tentatively plan on joining friends in Peru in September, but I told him I would only come visit him on one condition: if we can travel to neighboring Colombia and spend a few days camping and relaxing at the Caño Cristales River. This is something I absolutely have to see with my own eyes, even if it means staying up in the mountains for two or three weeks, and that is why Caño Cristales River is #40 on the HoliDaze Ultimate Travel Blogger's Bucket List (TBBL for short).

  What do you think, pretty wild huh? Would you trek up the mountain to check it out? Let's hear your comments!

Published in Colombia

On a recent trip to Stockholm, my friend Joahnna and I decided to explore the city the effortless, yet informative way - by boarding the Historical Canal Tour.

We went to the visitors center at the airport to claim our Stockholm Cards that we ordered online. With it, tourists get to use public transportation and go to major museums and attractions for free. It's really worth it! While the Arlanda Express is a really efficient and cheap way to get from the Arlanda airport to Stockholm Central Station, where our hotel was conveniently located, we wanted to make use of our Stockholm Cards and use free public transportation.

So, we got on a bus to Malsta and switched to a train to Stockholm Central. After checking in to the hotel and eating lunch, we trekked to Stadshusbron, where the Historical Canal Tour departs from.

Stockholm Historical Canal Tour
When you see this flag and this tower, you know you're in the right place.

The weather was alternating between light rain and cloudy, which made made for slightly dramatic shots. If it gets too chilly, there are flannel blankets to keep passengers warm.

Stockholm Historical Canal Tour

Stockholm Historical Canal Tour

I wish I could tell you amazing facts about these awesome buildings but I'd had zero sleep, and though interesting, I forgot all the things the audio guide narrated. Weirdly, I only remember Swedish House Mafia, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and ABBA being mentioned.

Stockholm Historical Canal Tour
Oh, and one of the buildings we passed by used to be a prison and has been turned into a hotel! Cool, huh.

Stockholm Historical Canal Tour
Boats and buildings

Stockholm Historical Canal Tour
Look at the amazing architecture

Stockholm Historical Canal Tour

Stockholm Historical Canal Tour

Stockholm Historical Canal Tour

The views were just amazing. I really enjoyed the 50-minute tour, it was as relaxing as it was informative. Bonus: you'll even see a few kayaks!

Stockholm Historical Canal Tour   Official Web Site
  Price: SEK 160 for adults, or free with the Stockholm Card.
Departs from Stadshusbron.

{jumi [*2][r]}

  First appeared on No Stopovers.

Published in Sweden

Kerala is literally a paradise set in green! And Kerala backwaters is one of its unique attractions. National Geographic Traveler has tagged the Kerala backwaters as one of the top 50 Must-Visit Tourist Destinations in the World.

What Are The Kerala Backwaters?

The Kerala backwaters consist of a chain of brackish (a mix of saltwater and fresh) lagoons and lakes lying almost parallel to the western coast of the state. These backwaters stretch from one end of Kerala to the other. You can enjoy the vivid yet varied glimpses of Kerala culture while experiencing its pristine backwaters. Come with me as I take you on a photo journey exploring the Kerala backwaters:

Look how green the Kerala backwaters are

Taking a relaxing boat ride through the Kerala backwaters

Houseboats in the Kerala backwaters of India

Traditional Kerala boat

Happened upon a boat race in the Kerala backwaters

Children on a boat in the Kerala backwaters

At the end of the day, this is the sunset you have to look forward to in the Kerala backwaters

The beautiful sunset from Kerala Backwaters lures you back. Each one is different..and you can never get enough. Hope you enjoyed my photo tour exploring Kerala Backwaters. And please do share your experience if you had taken a trip through these backwaters...Love to hear from you.

Published in India

Australia is a continent of extremes with Queensland generally going through two types of weather per year; dry, clear and cool or wet, muggy and hot. The recent bout of arid conditions, coupled with crystal-clear sunshine days means that the National Parks in Queensland, Australia are in top condition for discovery through camping, hiking and four-wheel driving.

We took advantage of the 25+ days of no rain to head out and explore a spot we had not visited previously: Conondale National Park. Approximately 130km North West of Brisbane in South East Queensland, the reserve spans an enormous 35,000+ hectares. To gain access we had two creek crossings to make. The waters at this time of year were less than half a metre deep, but it was still a thrill to take the vehicle pummelling into the glassy, ice-cold streams.

We were at once surrounded by trees, hundreds of years’ old, rainforest with towering palms and other native plant life of every shade of green ever conceived. With our windows down, crisp country air rich with the scent of earth began filling our nostrils and immediately grabbing our attention, its’ coolness like a slap in the face.

We parked up at the first campsite which was a wide-spanning grassy area in amongst trees and flanked by thicker forest and bordered at one side by the pristine creek, glistening in the sunshine. Soon we discovered there are four separate campsites. These are some of the best maintained areas we’ve seen, including toilets, running water, creek views, rainforest surrounds and fire rings. Campsite 1 even includes shower facilities. Families, couples and individual adventurers have plenty of privacy and space between each site.

img src="/images/countries/australia/conondale-national-park.jpg" alt="Sunset at Conondale National Park in Queensland, Australia"
Photo by duality via flickr

Here are our top 10 tips for a safe & rewarding camping trip to this unique area:

  1. Log on to the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service website to check current conditions, closures and any current warnings www.derm.qld.gov.au
  2. Choose your preferred spot and pre-book your campsite www.qld.gov.au/camping or ph 13 74 68 (within Australia)
  3. Hire a 4×4 vehicle. Shop around for the best deals with Sunshine Coast or Brisbane companies. They will generally be willing to beat the last quote you receive.
  4. If you’re not into camping, there are plenty of B&B options in nearby Maleny, Montville or Kenilworth.
  5. For hiking, pack plenty of water and food – take more than you think you’ll need. Make sure you take a map of the trails with you.
  6. Whatever you bring in, you must bring out with you. Don’t leave anything behind, including food that could be consumed by animals and encourage them to become reliant on humans. Instead pack all refuse and dispose of when you return to town.
  7. Plan ahead. For those using the mountain bike trails as well as hiking trails – only walk/ride within your ability.
  8. Be aware that there is no mobile phone signal, so ensure you are well-prepared and exercise caution at creek crossings, on slippery trails and so forth. Don’t take unnecessary risks.
  9. Allow yourself enough time to walk back to camp before dark.
  10. Look up, look down and look around. Be aware of your surroundings, keep your noise to a minimum and you’ll come upon wildlife in its’ natural habitat. Enjoy the scenery and the stillness of your surroundings.

Australia is ever-teetering on the knife-edge of extremes. Severe drought crippled much of the continent for many years before 2011 brought the heart-breaking flood disaster. Ever in the forefront of our minds are how much we depend on the fragile weather system and how important it is for us to get out and enjoy the national parks when that system is in balance, remembering to never take it for granted.

Published in Australia

What comes to your mind when I say "squeal like a pig"? Probably the movie Deliverance, right? The subtle strum of a melodic banjo; serving as a battle cry for an entire legion of disenfranchised, subhuman, rapacious country folk. A group of people hell bent on waging a war on every pompous city slicker that dares to come into the backwoods and disturb their rustic way of life. The imagery strikes such fear into outsiders that every change in wind direction, or rustle of leaves, causes glutei maximi to tighten shut with herculean force.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly where you need to go for your next vacation! The classic squeal like a pig scene was shot on the banks of the Chattooga River. The Chattooga is a tributary to the Tugaloo River that forms part of the border between Georgia and South Carolina. These unpredictable waters make for some of the most scenic white water rafting trips east of the Mississippi River.

My good friend Rome and I (I'm Ice by the way, hello everybody) decided to take a rafting trip down the Chattooga as part of our ongoing travel show called Give Us The Strength.

We were accompanied in our raft by a tour guide and another party of two that were just as enthused as we were to fight the intrepid rapids ahead. We all took our seats on the large blue raft and paddled out of the shallows and into the mischievous downstream current.

The first few minutes on the raft were strangely alluring and calm. Even with all the other rafters on the river, all I could hear was the sounds of nature and my paddle occasionally dipping into the cool, clear water. It was one of those moments where everything slows down and all of your senses heighten. The air was so light and refreshing, the light breeze danced through the leaves as they rattled with delight. The birds chirped fervently and I swore I could hear the notes vibrate and bellow around in their throats before they opened their beaks to sing their songs for the world.

Then it happened. The guide told us we were approaching our first set of rapids. It was a spot in the river aptly given the name "seven foot falls." It was given this name because when the river is low and you can see the bed, there is a 7 foot drop in elevation. I liken it to a waterfall completely contained in a river. Our river guide began barking orders at us in an effort to straighten out the raft and launch us through the rapids to the calm swirling pool on the other side. This was the test we had all been waiting for. We paddled with all our might to the precipice of the cascading white water and shifted our weight in an effort to maintain our respective centers of gravity.

Needless to say, I wouldn't be typing this if we made it through unscathed! Our raft went sideways at the back end and basically capsized sending all of its contents (with the exception of the wise tour guide surprisingly) hurtling towards the water. I plunged into the cool torrent and began swimming for what felt like my life at the time.

When I finally got my head above water, I was totally surrounded by darkness. I had no idea where I was. I could hear all of my fellow rafters, but I could not see anything. I thought to myself "Oh no! I'm in a cave! I went under and came up in some underwater cavern and nobody will be able to find me! This is how I am going to die."

Just before I was about to start screaming for dear life, I heard splashing heading in my direction. Then in an instant, the comforting day light was shining in my face again. Rome, who had looked around for me after the raft flipped and couldn’t find me, came to the conclusion that I was in the one place that nobody had looked yet. Under the upside down raft!

Apparently the raft flipped over and landed on top of my head. When I came up, I came up under the raft, which explains why I had the headroom to come up and breath, but was also surrounded by darkness of the raft’s empty hull. Rome saw the "deer in the headlights" look on my face and began laughing hysterically at me as he put together in his own head the pseudo realizations that I must have been facing.

At any rate, we flipped the raft back over, boarded again and continued with the trip. The rapids were thrilling, the scenery was amazing and the cost of the entire trip was very affordable. White water rafting is definitely nature's roller coaster. Oh, and guess what!? We weren't accosted by loathsome hill folk. How cool is that!

Published in United States

Passed All The Towns & Barangays, Headed For The Jungle!

We were traveling through Quezon province headed towards Agos-Agos barangay near the coastal town of Infanta on an 8-hour drive past Manila to the eastern side of the island. And you better believe it was a trip! This was my first experience at spending a full week literally living in the jungle, with almost everybody in bamboo-type huts, no running water and no electricity. We had a few neighbors with intermittent electricity, usually 4-6 hours a day at most, and they were usually the families with little shops built into their huts. These shops will sell small snacks, toiletries, cigarettes, even beer or (the fancy ones) ice.

Even though I only had a faint idea of what I was getting into, there was one aspect I was a little worried about. No, not meeting the girlfriend's parents and extended family for the first time. No, I was more scared about what I would be eating during this trip. Luckily my cast iron stomach ended up having no issues. Although to be fully honest there was one dish that I repeatedly passed on, balut. While supposedly delicious, I found balut too disgusting to try — despite countless people, even little girls hardly old enough for school, all swearing that it's "so so good!"

Balut in the Philippines

Balut is a fertilized duck or chicken egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. You see, chickens gestation period is about three weeks, so halfway through that you raid the henhouse to collect your eggs and boil them. Balut is common, everyday food in some other countries in Southeast Asia, such as in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Popularly believed to be an aphrodisiac and considered a high-protein, hearty snack, balut is mostly sold by street vendors in the regions where they are available. They are often served with beer.

What you do is slam the flat end of the egg against a table or other flat surface, then suck the partially formed mass of feathers and beak out with your mouth. All the locals seemed to quite enjoy this delicacy, and even some of the young girls proclaimed how delicious it was. I myself decided to pass. Repeatedly.

  [ UPDATE ]   In January 2014 I finally ate balut and captured it all on video. Watch out for the 1:30 mark, where I gag and nearly throw it all up ;)

Anyway, I'm rambling. Agos-Agos is a very small barangay in the eastern part of Quezon province and the only reason I even spent time there was because it is where my ex's family lives. To even get to the barangay requires traveling a stretch down this rough dirt path (I can't even call it a road, and its certainly not on any map) that you can reach by following the only road west out of Infanta, the only nearby village. Just when you think there is nowhere left to go you come upon small clusters of bamboo huts and various trails connecting them. Some of the trails were so narrow it was hard to get our little vehicle down it. People there either walk or use motorcycles.

My hut in the Philippines
Home sweet home...in the jungle...in the middle of literally nowhere

There are no big places, nor even any medium-sized ones. The houses are small buildings made of usually bamboo although a few of the lucky ones had cinder-blocks and a corrugated metal roof, never more than one-story tall. The house my ex was raised in (along with her three siblings and parents) is maybe 15-ft square absolute tops, with a plywood wall dividing it in two main rooms. A couple sheets of plywood are slapped upright in one corner for the bathroom, which is again just a couple buckets of water. There is a small corner in the back that I guess would be the kitchen, with a water pump out back.

A few years ago they got electricity for the first time, thanks to the efforts of the current Governor Arroyo, who worked her hardest to uplift the country and bring power to the places without. I have not been back in almost two years now, since the ex and I split, so I have no idea if the planned improvements have continued.

Hut in the Philippines jungle
Our neighbors across the river have a freakin' mansion!

A ten-minute ride away is the town of Infanta. There is not much there, but at least it is a real village that has been in existence for nearly 200 years, complete with a small hospital, several churches, and plenty of streetside vendors and marketplaces. There are no jeepneys in towns like this, only trikes and motorcycles.

It was very interesting my first time there with Claire. Whether walking around or riding on the back of a cycle, everybody stopped and stared at me whenever I passed by. It was like I was the first white guy they had ever seen in life. Suppose that is entirely possible, actually. There are no airports near here and were not any resorts until recently. Even now I believe the total count is at just two or three, and they are located down the street from Infanta on that little peninsula.

Claire and I went into town every other day, usually just for minor things like fresh meat for the day. One afternoon her family asked if there is anything special I would like to eat while there. Having already tried most of the local food, I went for something I love but had not had, despite seeing an abundance of pigs around the barangay: bacon. So her brother went into town and came back with a chunk of — no, not bacon but pork fresh from the slaughter and threw it in a drawer. I'll be damned if that thing didn't sit there at room temperature for about 16 hrs before it was cooked the next morning. I was a little skeptical eating it with my eggs and rice but it had some damn good sauce on it (oh, you thought I would be skeptical about it sitting out all night?) and actually was not bad. And I didn't get sick from it either!

Water Bison in the Philippines jungle
Water Bison...mmmm dinner. Wait, he's a pet!!

So does that mean we eat him now or wait until later?

I tell you, to this day there have only been two times in my life where I have gone a week without pooping — and this my friends was the first! (The second wouldn't happen until two years later, in 2011.) I thought about "oh crap what am I going to have to do if I have to poo?" the first minute I saw the pail and laddle in the bathroom that made up toilet / shower. My answer to the problem was to simply watch my intake of food.

One thing I have long since noticed when traveling is if you eat less processed food and other unnatural bullshit, your body maximizes the food intake, using all it can. The end result is less waste and therefore you have to "drop a load" a lot less than the average American. Eat McDonald's or Taco Bell all day and night, you could take three, four dumps a day — maybe more! That's easily 20+ loads a week! Anyway, moving on...

Now I thought prices were cheap in Olongapo and Barrio Barretto. Wow, Infanta had them beat threefold! Stuff cost pennies and it was awesome. And the coast is just minutes away, the beach is pristine and free from tourists — so heavenly! Now this is what I like, not places like Angeles City.

Yes, Infanta is just far enough away from Manila to be off the beaten path and therefore inexpensive and tourist-free yet also close enough to still be feasible. Like fishing? Got it. Like good Filipino food? Oh boy do they have it! Want to live like a true Filipino? Well what are you waiting for, go visit Infanta!

Published in Philippines

Login to The HoliDaze to submit articles and comments or register your blog.