Hiking Cinque Terre

Hiking Cinque Terre was a beautiful experience that Molly and I will never forget. If you have read articles about Cinque Terre, such as this article from The New York Times, you may even be ready to buy your plane ticket right now. I can confirm that it is a tranquil and relaxing place and that you should keep it on your travel-destination radar. Read below if you want to know your show before you go. The obsession with Cinque Terre is fairly straightforward as far as travel destinations come. You have five stunning towns whose yellow, pink and blue buildings pop out of a lush mountain landscape overlooking the Mediterranean. You will quickly fill up your SD card snapping photos of just about everything you see. What you will also learn is that the best views you will get are from high up in the mountains on the many hiking trails.

Riomaggiore Cinque Terre

A view of Riomaggiore – the southernmost village in Cinque Terre and our starting point

The most famous trail to travel through is actually part of the National Park of Cinque Terre and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This trail is by the sea and has an incredible vantage point – if you get the chance to take it. The path was closed during our stay due structural weakness on the path from recent rain. Mountains help create this dramatic landscape, but have caused difficulties and dangers for residents for years. When heavy rains hit bad things can happen as we saw in 2011. The devastation from this storm can still be seen to this day. One portion of the seaside trail is still closed after the damage inflicted by the 2011 floods. When we visited, the seaside trail was entirely closed due to recent rain so we began began hiking one of the higher paths. The mountain paths are well marked and there are a number of options to choose from, but they are steeper and definitely a better workout than the seaside options. There is enough trail variety to keep you busy for several days. Midway through our hike, a portion of the trail near the edge gave way under my foot. So a word to the wise – be careful and take rain-closed trails (and the resulting landslides) seriously. Also, don’t copy me and stay clear from the edge! With this in mind you can safely enjoy the incredible views.

Cinque Terre Village

Looking down on Corniglia (the middle of the five towns) from up the mountain

Oh, and be prepared for plenty of vineyards and olive groves too.

Cinque Terre Village

A view from the walking trail

Hiking will take you off the tourist trail and allow you to experience smaller nearby towns, historic architecture and a little bit of everyday life. One of my favorite moments – seeing a gardener leaving fresh vegetables and greens on his neighbor’s doorstep. There is a slightly more leisurely feel to life than we are used to in New York. If hiking isn’t your thing, there is another great way to take in the sights of Cinque Terre. There is a ferry service that runs between the five villages. You can see the details of the ferry here. You can take the ferry to and from all of the villages except Corniglia which does not have water access, due to being located on the cliff edge. In addition to the transport, you get a great tour of the coast!

Italy Cinque Terre Dock

Leaving the dock.

Italy Cinque Terre

From the water.

Italy Cinque Terre Coast

Back on the coast.

We highly recommend the ferry. It’s functional, practical and beautiful. The train is also a fine way to get from village to village – just don’t expect it to come on time. Cinque Terre has a lot to offer. It’s a great vacation spot to relax and take in the sights, sounds and pleasures of the Mediterranean. There is plenty of hiking and exploring to do and it is also ideal for drinking wine by the water. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Cinque Terre Italy Sunset

Make sure you get down to the water around sunset!

On the practical side, you can expect to pay more for lodging and food in Cinque Terre than most other Italian destinations. There are simply fewer options to accommodate all the tourists who want to visit. It was the most expensive place we stayed on our entire trip – save for the Great Barrier Reef. You wont find many listings on AirBnB there! Vegan food options may also be limited in the restaurants. However, we found a number of great pizza places that made us vegan pizza in Riomaggiore. Just remember vegans – senza formaggio!

Why We Travel: Featuring Baby Turtles!

Sometimes it’s hard to even pull yourself away from your desk for lunch. However, when you do have the opportunity to travel, you can truly be blown away by what you see. There was one destination we visited that had more unique and diverse wildlife than any other; The Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Australia Lady Elliot Island Coral Cay

Lady Elliot Island on the Great Barrier Reef

Lady Elliot Island is situated on the southernmost end of the Great Barrier Reef. It is a small island known as a coral cay built slowly over thousands of years as coral breaks off and collects in shallow water. It is remote and the only human inhabitants come from the small “eco-resort” that hosts about 150 guests at a time. Humans are greatly outnumbered on and around the island by birds, tropical fish, manta rays and endangered turtles.

For this post we will focus on the celebrities of the island: endangered sea turtles. We were fortunate to be on the island during hatching season. Hatchlings usually come out at night. Even during hatching season you still need to be in the right place at the right time before the baby sea turtles race to the water. It was only our second day on the island when we heard shouting coming from the beach. We rushed over and arrived in time to see this little green sea turtle making a break for the ocean.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUHiOkMgrV0

It’s a rare sight to see a baby sea turtle during broad daylight as they usually wait for the cooler temperatures after the sun sets so they can navigate to the water under cover of darkness to protect themselves from predators. Fortunately, this turtle had no trouble making for the open water with the protection of his 40 or so human guides.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y53dg0oafQ8

When a turtle hatches, it heads for the brightest light, which without electricity would be the moon and the stars reflecting off of the ocean. One reason sea turtles are so threatened is the presence of artificial light. While Lady Elliot Island has relatively few inhabitants at any one time, there is still ample light to distract the turtles. Over the next few nights we saw even more hatchlings come up out of the sand and move immediately toward the brightly lit bar area. It took a team of flashlight-equipped employees and vacationing volunteers (us!) to help navigate the turtles one by one back toward the ocean.

Sea Turtle swimming in ocean

Sea turtle swimming in coral lagoon

The sad reality is that these animals are endangered and there are very few places where you can still see them in their natural environment. They say only one in a thousand sea turtles make it back to its birthplace to nest thirty years after hatching.

We were fortunate to see so many of these elegant creatures. In fact, we got to experience the entire life cycle of the sea turtles. We saw turtles nesting, hatching and swimming free in the lagoon next to the island. Once in a lifetime experiences like this are why we travel. We did everything we could to help guide those turtles to the ocean with the hope that future generations will enjoy the same opportunity we did.

 

Happy New Year From Australia!

Happy New Year VeganHop readers! Molly and I celebrated the start of 2014 in the beautiful city of Melbourne in Australia. Being 10,000 miles away from home for the new year was a different experience. The particular brand of fireworks we witnessed were also quite different. See the big finale below.

Once you got over the shock of seeing buildings shooting out flame the show was quite beautiful.

The end/beginning of the year is a convenient time to pause and reflect. For me, 2013 was a year I will always remember fondly. I married Molly (my partner of over six years), left for an adventure around the world and began writing my first book.  My family and friends supported and encouraged me every step of the way. What could be better?

What made 2013 so beautiful was that I pushed myself to take calculated risks and focus on my core values. I am very cautious in many aspects of my life and I decided that it was the right time to take a leap and live my dream of seeing the world. One year, 14 countries, and 70+ gigabytes of photos later I still can’t believe have far I have come (literally and figuratively). I only had one chance to live 2013 and I genuinely feel I made the most of it.

I have already sat down and made a 2014 ‘to do’ list of the tasks I hope to complete by this time next year. My family and friends are near and dear to me and I want to spend the next 12 months making the most of my time with them.

Always remember that every day is an opportunity and you are the only person who can make the most of it. I try to remind myself of this fact every day and am thankful that I have such a supportive partner who reminds me when I forget. I hope 2014 will bring more unique and memorable experiences – and blog posts!

What are your goals for 2014?

Dan with Kangaroo, Australia

Dan with a sleepy Kangaroo at the Great Ocean Road Wildlife Sanctuary

Into Cambodia Part II: Banteay Srei and Beyond

Put the Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia on your bucket list if you like history (and pretty architecture). It is remarkable in so many ways for so many reasons. (If you missed part one, you can find the post here.) When I first saw the option to purchase a 3-day park pass, I thought that the administrators may be crazy. Now I realize that there is an excellent reason why it exists. Enter Part II.

Angkor this, Angkor that – it can really be confusing to know what is what around Siem Reap. If you can believe it, there is even a beer called Angkor and another beer called Anchor. I’m sure that’s not aggravating for bartenders at all.

That being said, there is a secret to sprawling world of the Angkor Archaeological Park (AAP). That secret lies about 30km north of Angkor Wat and led to my favorite experience in Cambodia. We went with fellow long-term traveler Nicole (whom we met in Thailand a week earlier) to check out two more remote sites that are included in the AAP ticket: Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean.

Have you seen this equation before? The Journey ≥ The Destination

An hour long Tuk Tuk ride from Siem Reap was a thousand times more entrancing than it sounds. As a result, it was my most memorable experience. Just look at the beautiful surroundings.

Cambodia fields and house

Cambodia fields and house

Throughout our ride we got a small taste of Cambodian agrarian life. We passed rice fields, oxen pulling carts, small villages and abundant wildlife. It’s quite different than the tourist-track near Siem Reap. Our destination seemed like an added bonus after the ride there.

The distance makes Banteay Srei a little quieter. It is smaller, intricately carved and, most amazingly, predates Angkor Wat by two centuries. It was only rediscovered about a hundred years ago.

The temple and carvings are made of a reddish sandstone which makes it unique. Banteay Srei translates to ‘The Citadel of Women.’ The carvings found there are supremely detailed. You can get up close and spend hours analyzing the subtle patterns if the sun doesn’t dry you out first. Banteay Srei is also a great jumping off point to another unique location even further north.

Kbal Spean is not a temple like Banteay Srei. It is an archaeological site that houses a collection of amazing carvings which happen to be underwater. In a tributary of the Siem Reap river lay artifacts and engravings from the 11th and 12th centuries.

The carvings are everywhere. Many are beneath the water and some are on dry land nearby. You must walk for about 20 minutes from the nearest road through the jungle to glimpse the remains. While enduring constant erosion from the stream, you can plainly see the patterns and carvings that lay beneath. In fact, the carvings can be seen for wide stretches as you walk up and down the river.

I tried to wrap my mind around how (or why) such carvings would be placed underwater. It was a thrill to see something that takes so much skill to complete in a location where it will inevitably be reclaimed by nature. After the better part of a millennium, most of the carvings are still going strong. We only had time to see a one area in the riverbed but there were other paths and areas to explore.

I really began to appreciate our day as we rode back to Siem Reap. Not everyone goes to Cambodia. Fewer still make the journey further beyond to see the beautiful countryside and the truly unique ruins found there. Sometimes when you go exploring you find new and amazing things at your destination. The beauty of exploring is the unexpected. A bumpy Tuk Tuk ride on the other side of the world just may be something you remember forever.

Into Cambodia – Angkor

The last 50 years have not been kind to Cambodia. The spillover from the Vietnam war led to decades of struggle. At the hands of the Khmer Rouge it is estimated that a quarter of the population was killed or died of starvation. The instability was still very apparent into the 1990’s and trials for genocide are still not fully resolved as of 2013. With all of these events it is easy to overlook the thousands of years of history before Vietnam.

Cambodia is a beautiful country and has legacy of ancient history to match.

Cambodian Jungle

Cambodian Jungle

No trip to Cambodia is complete without a visit to Angkor. The Angkor Archaeological Complex is home to ruins from many structures that sprawl for kilometers including notable temples. The most famous of these temples is Angkor Wat. We got up before dawn for a tuk tuk ride to catch the sunrise over this storied structure. You may recognize the iconic silhouette in the picture below.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Angkor Wat is enormous. You can’t properly appreciate the scale until you spend 10 minutes just walking toward the main structure. What you find inside is magical. Steep stairwells, long hallways and empty pools where medical treatments once took place. In addition to the massive size, there are many areas of extraordinary detail. Carvings of spectacular scenes with immaculate human and animal designs.

It is incredible to think that Angkor Wat was constructed over 800 years ago. You could spend all day appreciating the site. However, Angkor Wat is just one of many temples located in the complex. Our second stop was Ta Prohm.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is literally being eaten alive. The surrounding forest has been encroaching on the site ever since it was abandoned and has incorporated itself into the design. The result is an incredible blending of nature and man-made structure.

Ta Prohm was my favorite of the temples at Ankor. It twists your imagination to wonder what it must have been like hundreds of years ago and what it may become hundreds of years from now.

The last of our three-temple-tour was the equally impressive Angkor Thom (Bayon). Angkor Thom is best known for the faces that decorate the entire site.

Angkor Thom Face

Angkor Thom Face

After spending six hours in the blazing sun looking at ancient artifacts, I’m not sure my mind was in the best state to absorb all there was to see at Angkor Thom. Thankfully, we have cameras and I can go back and appreciate the details.

To say Ankor is massive is a severe understatement. We spent a full day at the complex and could have spent many more. Once a thriving population lived and worked on the same site as these ruins. Now, we can only look at these rocks and imagine what a thriving Ankor may have looked like.

The next day, we had the opportunity to venture even further back into Cambodia’s ancient history. Stay tuned for part two of our Cambodia temple adventure!