Adventure Travel tagged posts

Trip Report:  SA Express Walvis Bay to Johannesburg

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SA Express Flt 1702  WVB to JNB
Boeing 737-300, Economy
Sched. Dep. 2:45pm   Sched. Arr.4:55pm
Actual Dep. 3:00pm   Actual Arr. 5:18pm

This is part 14 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

So this was a very strange flight.

Swakopmund doesn’t have its own airport with commercial service, but the Walvis Bay International Airport is not very far, about a 40 minute drive away.  I had pre-booked a transfer, which came just on time, and the owner, a German Namibian woman provided me with some interesting commentary as we drove down.  The drive is actually quite pretty, as there are picturesque sand dunes on the left and the ocean is on the right.

Dunes en route from Swakopmund to WVB

Walvis Bay is Namibia’s largest airport outside o...

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Safari in Etosha National Park and Damaraland, Namibia

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This is part 12 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.

You could easily spend several weeks in Namibia, with a range of terrains, suitable for safari, watersports, adventure sports, and a range of exploration.  I didn’t have a long time, though, as I was really just squeezing in my stay between Cape Town and Johannesburg legs.  I had no real flexibility on dates, so there was only one choice for my excursion, which worked out well – the Etosha Express 3-day tour run by Chameleon Safaris...

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South Africa & Namibia Preview #2: Planning My Stay, Hotels, the Protea Prokard Explorer, and IHG PointBreaks

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This is post #2 in a series about my February-March 2017 Trip to South Africa and Namibia.

With flights booked into Cape Town and out of Johannesburg, I had to figure out how I would spend my 12ish days in Africa.  From talking to folks, it seemed I really could spend the whole time in Cape Town and its surrounds, and that Johannesburg didn’t require a long stay.  But I also figured I should do a safari or something outdoors; you don’t go to Africa just to see cities.

Several people had recommended Namibia, so I looked at safari options there, after deciding Krueger National Park wasn’t a great option for me as a solo traveler given its location and the options I saw.  (I had also thought about Victoria Falls and Botswana, but the travel time from Cape Town was a negative.) I was pretty limited because I didn’t want to do a very long safari, and there was actually only one tour leaving on days that worked for me, the Etosha Express tour, which will start in Windhoek on a Tuesday morning, spend two nights in Etosha National Park, swing down the Skeleton Coast, and end in Swakopmund, a coastal resort-ish city with a strong German heritage.

Etosha Watering Hole

One reason this tour worked is I was able to get easy nonstop flights that allowed for a half-day in both Windhoek and Swakopmund, for a nice 4 night exploration of Namibia.  I’ll be flying on Air Namibia from Cape Town to Windhoek, and then on South African Express from Walvis Bay (just south of Swakopmund) to Johannesburg.

Two new airlines a-comin’: Ai...

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Trip Report: Wanaka, Queenstown, and Doubtful Sound

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This is part 9 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

My trip to New Zealand had five segments, and the only one that wasn’t particularly good was my time in the Queenstown area.  There were three reasons: (1) I had a very disappointing stay at the Doubletree Queenstown, which will get its own post; (2) spending a day going to and riding around Doubtful Sound ended up not being a waste of a day; (3) the trip back from Doubtful Sound involved a break down (literal, of a bus) and a break down (more metaphoric) as election returns came in...

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Four Nights in Brazil, Part 4: One Side of the Falls:  TAM from Rio (GIG) to Foz do Iguacu (IGU), the Wyndham Golden Tulip, and the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls

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This is Part 4 of a series of trip reports on my November trip to Rio de Janeiro and Iguazu Falls.

In this post, I’ll cover my trip from Rio to Foz do Iguacu, and my stay on the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls.

Note, there is no traffic at 7am from the city to Rio’s international airport (GIG).  I learned this when I arrived at GIG at 7:30am for a 10:08am flight to Foz do Iguassu.  Also note, there is no lounge for domestic departures, and when you’re actually supposed to go through security is completely unclear.  The TAM check-in area at Terminal 2 was pretty crazy, with super long lines.  The “preferential” check-in line only had the symbols for Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald status, but it is actually a published benefit for Oneworld Ruby as well, so I got on that short line.  Although I was only second on line and there were three counters, I apparently was the only “preferential” passenger not traveling with significant amounts of oversized luggage.  (The guy in front of me was an art dealer, and there was also a woman with some large pole.  Hehe. Large pole.)

Terminal at GIG

Terminal at GIG

When giving me my boarding pass, the TAM agent said “at 9:08, go through the middle.”  So I took this to mean that I couldn’t pass through security until 9:08 – which seemed late, but also seemed too early to be a boarding time for a 10:08 domestic flight (it did say “boarding time” on the boarding pass.  There was a Starbucks pre-security (and little else), so I was able to get the breakfast I had craved the day before – a latte and a muffin.  (As this was in the middle of red cup-gate at Starbucks here in the US, I was amused to see that Starbucks Brazil also only had solid red cups for the Christmas season.  In the small concourse area, there was ample seating and free wifi, though no plugs – so not really significantly worse than most Priority Pass lounges.  I should note though that the Rio airport is much smaller than  you’d think, but that’s because Sao Paolo is used for more international flights, Terminal 1 handles a lot of international flights and all of Gol’s flights, and flights from Sao Paolo mostly fly into the domestic airport inside the city.

At around 9:00 I headed towards the security checkpoint, where I was let through though it wasn’t 9:08, and it was in fact the easiest security I’ve ever been through.  No ID check, and the metal detector didn’t even go off though I had left some coins in my pocket.   It was clear when I got to the gate area that my flight was not boarding at 9:08, so I checked out the small terminal area, then sat for a bit at one of the many power columns and charged my laptop.  One clever design element of the gate area is its “reversible area” – a section with a McDonald’s and Domino’s and extra bathrooms that is separated by glass doors on either side, that could be connected to the Domestic side or the international side of the terminal.  During the morning and afternoon, there are very few international departures, so it makes sense to have that space open for domestic passengers.  In the evening, it flips.

Boarding took a long time, as a result of a combination of three things: (1) the unclear boarding time (it ended up being around 9:30; (2) the lack of any audible announcements in the gate area; and (3) LATAM’s silly way of boarding half the plane at a time.  I was seated in the front half of the plane, which meant I was in the last group to board.  But because people either are dumb or were playing dumb, tons of people in the front of the plane got in the line clearly marked “Rows 14 through 29.”  Every time it seemed that line was done, some stragglers would walk up, making it seem like my line would never actually get to board.  Final...

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Two Days in Sicily: Catania, Mount Etna, and the Una Hotel Palace

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Catania by day

Catania by day

IMG_1948Or really a day in a half. By the time we landed in Catania, it was already almost 7:30, and it took me a while to find a functioning ATM. (Note: following the signs to “Bank” at the Catania airport leads to a nonfunctional ATM, but there’s a functioning one on the Departures level.) Although there is a bus that runs from the airport to downtown Catania, we took a taxi. Traffic was absolutely insane – even on a Sunday night – though we later realized that the drivers in Catania are all crazy, there’s always traffic, and walking is basically a game of Frogger.

We ended up not having a ton of time in Catania itself, as we had booked a Mount Etna excursion, which went from 8:30 to 2:30, and left me exhausted and in need of a nap after that. But there aren’t really any must-see sights in Catania. We ended up walking around the city a fair bit on our first night, proceeding down Via Etnea, which was packed with people even on a Sunday night.  Very different from Zurich, even some stores were open.

Catania is a univ...

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Trip Report: Exploring the Seychelles Part 2: Hiking to Anse Major and a Sainte Anne Marine Park Excursion

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As promised, this is the second of two posts covering our experiences of the Seychelles outside the Hilton Northolme.  To read about eating in the Seychelles and the capital of Victoria, check out this post.

Hiking to Anse Major

I like doing at least one physical activity on my vacations, be it mountain biking in the foothills of the Andes in Mendoza, kayaking in Panama’s Gatun Lake, or hiking through Cinque Terre in Italy.  I knew there were a ton of beautiful hikes throughout Mahe, and somehow convinced my typically hike-averse boyfriend to join me on one. There were a number of options, some which went higher than others and provided wonderful views, but we decided to combine our hike with a beach day, and head to Anse Major, a beautiful beach that can only be accessed via boat or hike.

The directions for finding the trailhead were not particularly helpful – basically drive south from Beau Vallon and follow the road until you can’t go any farther by car. After a few “is this it?” false alarms, we pulled our car into a nook at what seemed to be a huge hotel under construction and began the hike.

Looked like a spot

Looked like a spot

The hike had been labeled as “easy,” but I actually think moderate would have been a better description. Although the path was fairly well-marked, there were a decent number of climbs up and down using small rocks as steps. There was also a lot of uphill and downhill, making neither direction particularly easy. But one thing that was not underrated were the views, which were simply breathtaking the entire time as you stay along the water, going through what seem to be several different climates (jungle, arid, wooded forest). It was a hot day, and we were glad we had our Hilton hats.

Hiking to Anse Major

Hiking to A...

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Trip Report: Exploring Panama: A Day in Jungleland and Seeing Panama City on a Wet Red Bus

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Exploring Panama: A Day in Jungleland and Seeing Panama City on a Wet Red Bus

I ended up with a little bit more than two full days in Panama. I decided I wanted to do something active, outside Panama City. Car rentals were pretty cheap, but I didn’t like the idea of driving solo in a foreign country. I originally looked at some Panama Canal crossings, but they seemed kind of boring. I looked into going to Portobelo, on the Coast, but the excursions I found were super-expensive.

I found one intriguing possibility online which seemed to have many of my desired features, including a reasonable price, called Jungleland.  Since it wasn’t particularly in-season, the tour I wanted only was offered one of the days I was there, but I made it work.

My day started pretty early, around 7:30am, with a pickup at the Intercontinental. A friendly driver came and escorted me to a large van, where a family of five awaited. The family – including a United pilot- would become my traveling companions for the day, which had its pluses and minuses. It was like being on someone else’s good family vacation. Actually, that’s exactly what it was like, until our ride back from the jungle to Panama, where the young children – ages 3 to 8 – were a bit restless. We ended up picking up a seventh passenger, an Italian solo traveler around my age who, though living in London for eight years, spoke often incomprehensible English.

With our crew assembled...

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New Mexico Trip Report: Santa Fe, Bandelier National Monument, the Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza and Hilton Santa Fe at Buffalo Thunder Reviews

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Note:  The rest of my stay in New Mexico was relatively uneventful, and I am waaay behind on blogging, so I’m combining the rest of my thoughts on the trip into one large post. After this, I still have an Alaska trip to blog, and my big European summer adventure is coming up in only 10 days.  Eep!

For my last two nights in New Mexico, I headed to the Santa Fe area.  Chain hotel options in Santa Fe are not great, as most are located in a suburban strip mall-type area, and are not particularly luxurious.  I thought about staying at the El Monte Sagrado, a Marriott Autograph Collection property in Taos, but decided it would be a bit much to do Santa Fe and Taos in the short remainder of my trip, and I’d heard great things about Santa Fe.  I ended up staying at two different Hilton properties, despite Hilton’s recent nasty HHonors devaluation, simply because the two properties worked for different reasons explained below.  Both were fine, but neither were much more than a place to sleep.

After my awesome stay at the Hyatt Tamaya, I had initially planned to head to the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument – off the road on theway to Santa Fe — for an afternoon hike, taking advantage of New Mexico’s natural beauty.  On the drive up, though, it started to rain heavily, so I made the decision to head straight to Santa Fe, and check in to my hotel.

Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza

I had decided to stay at the Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza as it is the only chain property located in downtown Santa Fe, and was relatively inexpensive compared to the nice boutique properties in downtown.  I hadn’t realized that, in the off-season in the middle of the week, I would have been fine staying elsewhere and driving into town for plentiful parking, oh well.

The h...

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Over the Andes and into Mendoza

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After two days in Santiago, it was time to head over the border into Argentina.

Mendoza was a bit of an accidental destination for me.  I had really wanted to go to Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego.  Oddly, LAN never releases any award seats to its partners on flights to Ushuaia, even thought it does on the far more exotic Easter Island route.  I couldn’t justify paying for the full-day flight, which would have required splitting my time in Buenos Aires due to the early morning departure times.  Iguazu Falls was an option, but people I spoke to told me it was a lot of travel for a short look at the falls...

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