Thursday, December 3, 2015


Lured by the chance of riches and fame, explorers and adventures alike have searched for lost cities for centuries.  The three most infamous remaining lost cities are Atlantis, El Dorado, and The City of Z.  I use the word infamous as their search has claimed many lives and fortunes in attempts to prove them real.  Present day seekers point to Pompeii found  buried in Italy or Machu Pichu discovered high in the Andes as proof that these missing cites are authentic.     

A new form of travel has taken over as agency and guides tout “Extreme” vacations.  What better way to spend your holiday than seeking fame and fortune.  One has to wonder if these companies knew so much about the cities locations why they would want to share it with a bunch of tourists?
Guided tours aside, countless books and films have been written on the whereabouts of each.  However, if you are really intent on making the discovery it will take research, drive, patience and most of all, a lot of luck.  For those who want to chase these illusive settings I will wish you happy hunting and good fortune.  

Following is a brief description and history of the three lost cities.

1.        Atlantis – The oldest of the recorded lost cities.  Mentioned first by Plato circa 360 BC, it was originally deemed to be merely more Greek mythology.  However, in recent times the possibility of the lost city has taken on new life.    All who believe can agree that it is submerged somewhere between Europe and North America, but that is where the agreements end.  Recent books have it located anywhere from below the Bahamas to the under the Arctic Ocean.  With today’s modern ocean mapping and sonar technology the possibility of its existence grows more and more remote. 

2.        El Dorado – The city of gold.  This legendary city has taken on more of the myth status than the rest.   Ever since Cortez burned his ships the city has remained hidden in a cloak of smoke and mystery.  Originally said to be near Guatavita Lake in Bogata, Europeans searched without success throughout the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.  Does it exist?  Only time with tell.   Countless Aztec temples have been unearthed throughout Central America.  With many more mounds identified as possible ancient ruins, is it not possible one is made of gold?  Is it not possible they could either extend or start in Columbia?

3.       City of Z – This city is so lost that it does not even have an official name, but only a letter.   Named or my aptly marked by the early nineteenth century English explorer and geographer Colonial Percy Fawcett, it remains undiscovered.  Presumed to be deep in the jungles of South America.  A recent book written by David Gann has brought renewed interest in the search.  In fact his book alludes to the fact that it has actually been found by a Professor who has been working in the area for years.  However, even if the area identified is correct, it is yet unearthed and beckons treasure hunters to further their search for the gems hidden in the rain forest.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Meserani Snake Park, Arusha, Tanzania

A modern day stage stop, Arusha, Tanzania serves as a starting point for the majority of European and tourists visiting the area.  The unofficial capital of East Africa, it could be considered the gateway to the Country’s National Parks.  Within a few hours one can reach, Lake Manyara, Ngorongora Crater, and the entrance of the famed Serengeti.  However, the main draw to Arusha is Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Over 70 percent of the climbers attempting to climb the mountain are outfitted and guided by services domiciled in the city.  Even if the climber thinks they have hired a guide from the U.S. or elsewhere, none may attempt Kilimanjaro without using the services of a licensed Tanzanian native guide.

If the above itineraries aren’t enough, approximately 25 kilometers outside of Arusha lay the Meserani Snake Park It   Your choices are to spend $10-$20 on a cab, or use the Daladala for less than a dollar each way.   Nowhere is there a better opportunity to experience the true Africa than a ride on a Daladala.   Most are 7-12 passenger Toyota minivans.  However, the vehicles can hold far more than what the manufacturer suggests.  We had at least 20 people in ours.  Men, women and children were jumping in and off at each stop.  Within the chaos was order.   Money was collected and room was made for all who wanted to ride.
can reached by taxi or public transit.

Our driver dropped us off in front of a dusty plaster wall.  A small sign read Meserani Snake Park.  A dirt driveway leads to the entrance of the park.  Tickets were $15 per person.  At least it was for us.  I had to wonder if we had not paid the American rate.  Regardless we were in.

With the price of admission comes a guide.  Our leader was a very stoic gentleman.  He spoke from rote   More often than not, he dictated the exact writing on the plaque attached to the display.  None the less, we were educated on the snakes of Africa.  Included among the almost 50 types of snakes were cobras, pythons and black mambas. Like all of the Dark Continent the serpents were dangerous, with the majority of them being poisonous vipers.   In addition the snake park acts as a refuge for injured or orphaned animals.  While we were there it was housing a blue baboon, a vulture and several other birds.   
memorization at each stop.

Glass enclosed cases of snakes form a circle around the interior of the park.  The middle ground is reserved for large and small crocodiles.  The highlight of the tour comes when the guide allows you to hold and handle a small crocodile and several snakes.

After the tour you can wet your whistle at the park’s bar and restaurant.  The service was truly nonexistent, however we were fortunate when the owner stopped in for a drink and ended up serving us.  Soccer jerseys and t-shirts from around the world adorned the walls and ceiling.  It was a reminder of the global draw of Africa.  Also attached to the Meserani Snake Park are a Maassi Culture Center and an area where camel rides are offered.

All in all it was a pleasant experience.  Certainly not one to visit Africa for, however if you are in Arusha there are certainly worse ways to spend your time.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

La Libertad is Freedom at the Beach

La Libertad provides the perfect day trip from the El Salvadorian capital, San Salvador.  That being said, an emphasis should be put on "Day".  Before dark the port is safe, friendly and offers the tourist a great deal of sightseeing in a very condensed area.

When the sun goes down the beach city attracts a growing number of the notorious MS-13 gang members to enjoy its’ night life.

La Libertad lies 30 miles southwest from San Salvador, and 15 miles from the Cuscatian International Airport.  It can be accessed by car, taxi or bus within an hour from either point of origin.  Don’t fear renting a vehicle as the roads in El Salvador are kept in wonderful repair.  All highways are marked and driving is easy.  However, unlike the U.S. there is little warning given prior to any given turn. 
Regardless of your means of arrival, the destination target should be the city center or “Centro”.  All roads into La Libertad seem to end at the port.  Parking is available for free along the streets. 
However, guarded lots are available for a couple of American dollars which is reasonable for the peace of mind.  

The waterfront is alive with activity and stretches for about a half a mile.  An open air market exists on the south side of the port.  Vendors hawk their wares, encouraging shoppers to purchase their trinkets over the exact replicas of their competitors across the aisle.  T-shirts, hammock, shells and various types of bracelets and necklaces are available.  In addition to souvenirs, patrons can purchase fruit, vegetables and a wide assortment of candies.  On the edge of the market place lies a restaurant.  Furnished with white plastic chairs and tables it is truly an eating establishment for the people.  Tantalizing cups of ceviche is the house specialty, however an appetizer of fried fish may be the safer choice.  It too is excellent, and most likely slept in the ocean the night before.  Either dish is around $2.00, add a coke or bottle of beer to wash it down with for an extra $1.00.

Next, venture to the concrete pier that stretches out into the ocean.  The first half of the wharf is comprised of a fish market.  Booth after booth of fresh seafood line both sides as you move through and towards the end of the dock.  From Yellow Tail Tuna to Albacore, every fish from the local waters is displayed on a bed of ice and available for immediate purchase.   Women adorned in colorful aprons sit patiently behind their catch waiting to negotiate their best price.

At the end of the pier is a boat lift.  Not content to haul their fish up to the 40 foot high platform, the fisherman’s boats  are attached to a single cable and actually hoisted out of the sea, until fish, fishermen and boat together come to rest amid the crowd that has gathered to watch and bid on the vessels’ contents.   In the U.S., OSHA would have a heart attack, but in El Salvador nothing seems amiss.
Moving further north along the waterfront, you will see the pride of La Libertad shining through in the image of a newer mall.  Small but growing, the eclectic mix of shops provide the buyer everything from ice cream to prescription glasses.  Nicer restaurants punctuate the establishment.

Abutting the mall is a small open amphitheater.  Several rows of concrete bleachers overlook a stage and a cement basketball court.   This newer construction is obvious progress, however one does feel that the soul of the harbor is being compromised.

At the end of the waterfront are a couple restaurants overlooking the world famous Punta Roca surf spot.   The waves break consistently to the right here and is lauded universally by surf periodicals as one of the top ten breaks around the globe.  Consistent swells of 5-7 seven feet move from a half mile out to crash hard onto the short beach and surf wall.   Like a surfer’s Mecca, wave riders from Australian to Brazil make their pilgrimage to this locale.  Watching these extraordinarily talented men and women is the best entertainment in town.  Throw in a dinner of fresh grilled sea bass, and a couple of the local “Pilsener” cervezas, and you have the perfect end of the perfect day trip!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"180 Degrees South" Film Review

Take one part “ Endless Summer”, a pinch of “The Hobbit - There and Back Again”,  (the animated version), a couple of teaspoons of “Into Thin Air”, throw in a dash of Blue Hawaii, and you have the film “180 Degrees South”.   If this outdoor documentary doesn’t whet your appetite for adventure, then, perhaps you need to check your hunger for life.

Film maker and adventurer, Jeff Johnson ponders the question that many of us do.  What is left to do that hasn’t already been accomplished?  Instead of dwelling on the negative, he determines to recreate a journey made first by Yvon Chounard,  founder of Patagonia and Dave Tompkins   the creator of the North Face.  Like the title of the film, the goal is to head south 180 degrees.  Johnson doesn’t mimic the outdoor pioneers exactly; instead he makes his way to the bottom of the world a bit differently, but by means no less difficult or intriguing. 

Choosing water over a Volkswagen Van and the open road, he hires on as crew on a ship heading south.  A decision he initially regrets due to his propensity towards sea sickness.  Although he later overcomes the nausea, video of him retching, sprawled out on a filthy cot deep in the ship’s bowels is moving.  Feelings not lost on those of us whom has suffered the same fate.  It’s not long before the craft itself is disabled as its mast is broken.

We are rewarded with great surf footage as the crippled vessel arrives at Easter Island for repairs.   Of course a South Pacific surf goddess named Makohe lives and teaches others on the island how to ride the waves.  A hint of a relationship surfaces between her and Jeff, and another person is added to the journey.
Upon arrival in South America, we are introduced to Yvon and Doug.  Over tea, they educate us on times past, and the wanderlust they shared.  Both men now are multi-millionaires many times over.  Yet, they reminisce with fondness over days past that were void of money, but bursting with adrenaline. Businessmen by accident, they are now environmentalists and conservationists by design and intent.   They chose to follow their dreams, living life on their terms.  A thread which plays strongly throughout the documentary.   To say which man returns more towards the preservation of wild lands is a tossup.

The film unintentionally shows the viewer how quickly extreme sports have grown.  While the men are now in their 70’s, the 1960’s was not that long ago.  Developing clothing and equipment to solve the problems of their passions for climbing, surfing and other outdoor sports they in turn inadvertently launched an industry that was nonexistent.

The cinematography of Patagonia is unparalleled.  The story continues with more action.  Two of Jeff’s friends arrive.  One is an accomplished climber, the other an equally adept surfer.   Minus Tompkins and the surf buddy, the others gear up and set out to reach the summit of Mt. Fitzroy.   This last part of the trek is filmed in detail, yet the movie leaves enough time to educate the audience on the eco-abuse going on in this southern continent, as well as around the world.

Without doubt the film takes liberty to editorialize the views of the producers and cast, however the message does not drowned out the entertainment the movie provides.   It is without question one of the best outdoor documentaries to be aired in reason times.

Other great movies and documentaries along the same lines you might enjoy are:

1.        Endless  Summer II
2.       To The Limit
3.       Born Free
4.       Into the Wild
5.       Everest

Monday, August 24, 2015

Three best activities in San Bernardino National Forest

The San Bernardino National Forest has so many ways to enjoy the outdoors it is almost impossible to list them all, let alone write about them.  We have come up with 3 that we believe provide the most mass appeal.  In addition we have included ideas that you can use for both summer and/or winter.  Like all lists, the reader may feel that we have left out the best.  If so, please comment and let us know. 

  1. Mountain Climbing & Hiking
    San Bernardino National Forest is home to Southern California’s two highest peaks.  Mount San Gorgonia, or “Ole Grayback” as the locals refer to it is in the northern section of the forest and reaches an elevation of 11,503.  The southern area of the national forest boasts Mount San Jacinto at a lofty 10, 600.  Both mountains are non technical and have well marked hiking trails.  Either summit can be reached in a day by climbers in reasonable condition.  If you are not interested in stepping on top of Southern California, the forest offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails where you can choose to meander through the forest or go on a rigorous trek.

  1. Ski or Snow Board  -  Although reserved for winter, several ski resorts are operated within the forests boundaries.  Most popular are:
    1. Bear Mountain – Located in the town of Big Bear, this resort offers both ski and snowboarding.  There is an emphasis on snow boarding and offers numerous terrain parks.
    2. Snow Summit – Also located in the town of Big Bear, this side of the mountain offers the longest ski runs in Southern California
    3. Snow Valley Mountain Resort – Just outside of the town of Arrowhead this park gets a lot of action from those who do not want to make the further drive to Big Bear, CA.  It offers a wide variety and levels of runs for both skiing and snowboarding

  1. Fishing – The National Forest has an abundance of fishing opportunities.         
    1. Lake and Pond Fishing
      Try your luck in catching native California fish.  Rainbow trout, bass, bluegill and catfish are some of the species that you may find on your hook.  The sport can be enjoyed from the shore or if you prefer many of the lakes offer boating as well. 
    2. River and Stream Fishing – Although a bit more difficult to reach, river and stream fishing can be exhilarating.  Fly fishing in cold mountain streams can lend itself to the reward of battling a beautiful Rainbow trout.  However, remember if you are camping this is bear country.  Clean your catch and bury the remains at least 300 yards away from your camp site.

Regardless of what activity you choose you are guaranteed to have a wonderful experience.  Spending time in the wilderness that is the San Bernardino National Forest is good for the soul.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Belize Speaks English!

Central America provides the traveler with an astonishing array of adventure and beauty.  From breath taking vistas a top its many volcanoes, to its’ isolated beaches sandwiched between the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans.  From El Salvador to Panama, the region beckons for exploration, investigation and enjoyment

However, one problem occurs for most U.S. tourists.  That problem is the language.  Better defined,  is the lack of our ability to converse in Spanish.  This problem steals from the experience. Not only does it isolate us from the normal day to day conversations of the public, but it also adds to our frustration in everything from renting a car to ordering food.   Making the inhabitants of Central America seem alien and difficult because of our inability to communicate with them.

One country is different.  Belize.   Perched at the north east corner of Central America, the official language of Belize is English!   Once an English Colony, British Honduras became an independent nation in 1981.  The country changed its name to Belize, but maintained English as the language of choice.   The historic ties to Jamaica are heard in the rhythms and delivery of the natives’ speech.   
Belize is a small country, rectangular in shape.  One can drive from the east coast to the western border in a couple of hours.  Driving the length of the country takes longer due to the increased distance and the decreased maintenance of the highways.

As spectacular as the country is, like all nations, it’s the people that make it special.  Belize is certainly no exception.  Not only is the local population open and cheerful, but they possess a seemingly genuine interest is communicating.  At a restaurant in Belize City, my waitress not only served me, but then sat down and entered into a conversation with me over dinner.  

Another time, the man that was serving as my guide into the rain forest was as informative about local politics as he was on Howler Monkeys.  I learned of his views, his family, his childhood, etc.  In general I learned about Belize as I learned about him.  

Beside the enjoyment factor, safety also comes along with a common language.  Warnings, written and verbal take on more meaning with one can understand and realistically determine the risk.  One lunch time placard advertised a “Cow Foot” soup special.  Perhaps I may have missed out on a local culinary specialty, but by understanding what I was to be ingesting helped me make an alternative selection more to my liking.

Belize, like all of Central America is a land of great scenery and history.  Yet it alone provides the non Spanish speaking traveler the opportunity to really delve into the culture.  The culture communicated to you by, guides, waitresses, taxi drivers and more.  The past and current Belize comes alive as it is told to you by the countries most valuable commodity of all, its people.