Category Archives: featured

No Other Place Like Zion

Sometimes the best adventures begin on a whim, making a spur-of-the-moment decision, to pack your bags and hit the road. Over last Memorial Day weekend, I had the fantastic pleasure of exploring Zion National Park with a new found friend that was visiting the States from Africa. A bit skeptical about the experience, knowing how busy the park would be, I got some valuable tips from a colleague that has spent a lot of time guiding and wandering the park. Here are a few tips I would share with you:

Hike the Narrows. If you plan to do this, be sure to check if it is open yet. There are two ways to hike the Narrows. From the top down and from the bottom half-way up and back. It all depends and the depth of the water and whether or not you can make it through certain parts of the canyon. It’s worth a stop by the Zion Adventure Company, located right outside the park in Springdale, to gauge what the river is like. They also have neoprene rentals which come highly recommended if you have a hard time with being in cold water. You will be in the river most of the day with limited sunshine. We wore our shorts and warm tops with tennis shoes and keen sandals and acclimated quite quickly.

YOU MUST, get as early as start as possible. Hop on the first shuttle up to the trailhead. You will not regret it. We were in the water by 7am and were so happy we did. There were many stretches we nearly had the canyon to ourselves. The later in the day, the hike gets packed with people, I mean packed.

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Virgin River, Narrows, Zion National Park © Ami Jones
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Virgin River, Narrows, Zion National Park © Ami Jones
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Virgin River, Narrows, Zion National Park © Ami Jones
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Virgin River, Narrows, Zion National Park © Ami Jones

Where to find a campsite? We were given a great tip by a local that worked at the Adventure shop to camp just outside of Rockville. If you are heading out of the park, take a left on Bridge Rd. where you will cross a bridge over a small river. Take this road until it dead ends then hang a left up the hill. We found a perfect spot with incredible views. Yes, we still had neighbors, which was to be expected with the holiday weekend. 

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Campsite, Rockville, Utah © Ami Jones
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Campsite, Rockville, Utah © Jeff Trollip
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Campsite, Rockville, Utah © Jeff Trollip

Do the Canyon Overlook Trail. This is an easy hike with high rewards. The trailhead is just after you exit the tunnel in the park, you can park on the right, cross the street and hit the trail.

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Canyon Overlook Trail, Zion National Park, Utah © Jeff Trollip
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Canyon Overlook Trail, Zion National Park, Utah © Jeff Trollip

Looking for a place to cool off we asked a park ranger the nearest area to access to water. He gave us the insider tip to check out the Pine Creek Pools. This is not so well-known and we ended up having the waterfall and pools to ourselves for about an hour mid-day. It’s a short hike that you can access shortly after the Zion National Park entrance on Hwy 9 (via Springdale). About a mile past the entrance, the road will turn right and you’ll cross the Virgin River and pass Floor of the Valley Rd. Drive straight to the switch backs. The 1st (right) turn crosses Pine Cr., and at the 3rd (right) turn, there is a pull-off (inside of the corner). Stop here (you’re about 2.5 miles from the park entrance.) Cross the road going north. Follow the trail; It’s less than 50 yards off the road.

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Pine Creek Pools, Zion National Park © Ami Jones

There is absolutely no place on earth like Zion. This was truly a trip that will never be forgotten! While trekking up the Virgin River on our hike through the Narrows we kept saying we wish we new a geologist that could explain what we were seeing. That night, at our campsite, it just so happened, that a geologist from Norway who had been conducting research amongst the many parks in Utah had set-up camp right next to us. We soon were chatting about the region and he confirmed there is truly no place like it on earth. So, be sure to add ZNP to the bucket list and take these handy-dandy tips with you!

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Five Days in Fiji

I recently had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand for work and when looking at flights I thought to myself about a stopover in the South Pacific on the way home back to the States. I zoomed in and out of google maps traversing across the Pacific Ocean and kept scanning over Fiji. After confirmation from a friend and colleague who previously worked in Fiji, I jumped on it. Always having the impression that Fiji would be quite expensive to travel through I was pleasantly surprised. I had 5 days and wanted to see and do as much as possible. Here are some tips on traveling Fiji in 5 days on a limited budget.

Back to searching for flights, I ended up finding travel through Nadi International Airport from Auckland International $400 cheaper then flying directly back to Los Angeles. I flew New Zealand Air to Fiji (a short 2.5 hour flight), then Fiji Airways back to Los Angeles, then on home to Denver. I highly recommend searching different providers and one-way tickets. Also, keep in mind that the rainy season in Fiji is November to April, making the best time for drier weather and sunshine April to October. I was there April 4 – 8 and had beautiful days!

Arriving early afternoon to Nadi,  I headed to Smugglers Cove Beach Resort. They have a variation of room offerings, a bar right on the beach and offer a free shuttle from the airport. A bed starts around $8.79/night. They have a travel desk to help you plan all of your adventures and if you are planning a trip out to the Yasawa Islands the bus stops right out front to take you to the boat.

View from Smugglers Cove
View from Smugglers Cove

That evening, I befriended a few Fijian locals. I ended up in a jam circle sipping on the local Kava tea. Kava is a mildly narcotic drink made from mixing the powdered root of the pepper plant with water and results in a numb feeling around the mouth, lips and tongue and a sense of relaxation. Well worth the try while in Fiji. Make sure to follow the local tradition of how to drink it with your new-found friends.

The next morning, I hopped the bus to climb aboard the Yasawa Flyer out to the Yasawa Islands. With limited time (and budget), I planned my first stop at Oarsmans Bay Lodge. This resort is located right near the Blue Lagoon, owned by an unforgettably friendly Fijian family and is much more affordable than the Blue Lagoon Resort. It was about a 4-hour boat ride on the flyer up to one of their last stops. I booked this directly on bookings.com and got a bit better deal then booking through Awesome Adventures Fiji. That said, their website is a great resource to research where you want to go and see. Oarsmans Bay was fantastic for a budget traveler. The rooms were well-kept, the food delicious and every morning they placed fresh Hibiscus flowers outside of your room. Keep in mind that wifi is not available here- which when traveling in Fiji it is the perfect reason to completely disconnect.

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Our beachside bungalow at Oarsmans Bay Lodge

I spent two days at Oarsmans adventuring out on day activities offered by the Lodge. (A side note, it might be helpful to make a checklist of your must to-do’s while there so you don’t miss out on a particular activity then double check that accommodation offers what you like- it’s great to do this on the Awesome Adventures website). I had befriended a three girls; one from Sweden, one from Italy and another from the Netherlands. We stuck together and had an incredible time! We headed out to go swimming through a cave on another island, did some snorkeling, dancing with the family and of course taking in the views. When you book accommodations in the Yasawa Islands it is important to remember included in the cost your booking are all meals and activities.

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Our boat ride out to the cave
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View from our room
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Sunset at Oarsmans
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Our new friend

After a couple of well-spent days at the Lodge, we boarded the Yasawa Flyer and all headed to our next island. I overheard that a night spent at Beachcomber Island Resort was a must-do. It is well-known as the party island and it is near the mainland (so I could catch my flight back to the States the next day).

Upon arrival to Beachcomber, the resort was packed. I was in a large hut with about 100 beds in the girls dorm and every one of them was accounted for… Come to find out it was spring break for the nearby University of the South Pacific and I found myself right in the middle of the festivities. Seize the day and the rest is history! The evening was full of Fijian libations, performances, fire dances, and I even had the honor of teaching a local Fijian dance and ending up as one of the two finalists in the limbo contest. When in Fiji! It was truly a night to remember.

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Fijian fire dance

With an evening flight the next day, I spent the morning and afternoon going out for a snorkel and relaxing on the beach. Right on schedule, the flyer arrived and toted us back to Nadi. I quickly dashed back to Smugglers Cove to collect my belongings, they let me leave locked in storage, and hopped in a shared taxi back to the airport.

Walking out of Denver International Airport nearly a day and a half later with the Fijian sun and sand still lingering on me, my heart was filled with gratitude for such a wonderful adventure with new friends in an unforgettable place. I’ve encountered many extraordinary places and memorable faces and Fiji tops the list. The people here are amongst some of the most friendly. When traveling Fiji remember, as famous poet and playwright once wrote, “live, love and let be.”

Fijian traveler tip: get used to saying, Bula Bula!  Say it.  Just once, maybe twice.  It is hard to say the words without a smile immediately parting from your lips.  Go ahead…try it.  The word is heard everywhere in Fiji.  Bula originates from the Fijian culture and means anything from hello, goodbye, welcome, love and more.  It means LIFE.  A blessing of health and happiness.  Regardless of where you live; the concrete urban jungle, down under or near the north pole…you do not have to be in Fiji to celebrate LIFE.  Enjoy how one simple word can transform your entire day.  Bula blessings to you!

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My new found friends… until next time!

Street Art of São Paulo

São Paulo is easily revered as one of the best cities in the world for street art. Many well-known graffiti artists hail from this region, which not only have their pieces adorned throughout S.P., but worldwide. Artists, such as, Onesto,  Kobra, Alex Senna, Zezão, and the twins, prominently known as Os Gemeos have bedecked the walls of SP with their artistry. The colorful hues that transcend through the city have transformed it into a walking outdoor museum. There is vibrancy around nearly every corner, always leaving more to be found and explored. Be sure to visit Vila Madalena, Beco de Batman and São Paulo’s historic center to find some of these brilliantly hued pieces.

Below are a few of my favorites.

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Great White North: Searching for the Perfect Shot

Preparing for the big trip to the Great White North, I sought out a wealth of advice on how to get the perfect picture of white on white, polar bears up close, ptarmigan in motion… what camera to use.. what settings… Being an amateur photographer with not much money to spend on a new camera and limited time, I packed up my IPhone, my 6 year old Canon point and shoot and a loaner from work, a newer Sony point and shoot. Here I’d like to share my favorite wildlife shots, enjoy!

 

Must See Winterpeg

Who would have thought that somewhere near the middle of Canada in the balmy province of Manitoba there would be a gem of a city that some may reference, maybe due to its record low temps or also being known as the coldest major city in Canada I would find… Winterpeg!

If you ever find yourself making your way through the city here are just a couple of my favorites…

Canadian Museum of Human Rights: the first museum worldwide solely dedicated to the celebration of human rights, architecturally stunning, and probably the best view of the city from its Tower of Hope. Allow yourself lots of time to meander.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Winnipeg. 2014.
Aaron Cohen. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Winnipeg. 2014.

Fergies Fish’n Chips: talk a stroll down by The Forks on the river and snag up one of the city’s oldest and most well-known traditional portions of fish’n chips. You know you’re eating well when the long time locals find themselves here.

Thermëa: a Nordik spa experience that is truly like heaven on earth. I will quickly breakdown your first hour or so at the spa… change into an oversized robe and slippers, heat up from the cold in a hot suana, plunge in the polar pool to fluch toxins, hot steam in a eucalytpus scented steam room, lavendar scented salt scrub shower and rinse, heated meditation rooms with music and hot tea and… repeat 2 more times. Then relax in the hot or with a cup of tea by the outdoor fire. All for $50CAD or $37USD. Need ask more?

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Thermea, courtesy of Momstown Winnipeg

 

Manitoba Museum: take a deeper look at Manitoba history. Well worth the guided tour to learn more about survival in the north, the Hudson Bay Co. and much more.

With lots more to do, see and eat in Winterpeg make sure to enjoy these favorites!

 

 

 

A Journey of a Lifetime: The Great White North

I remember a time, lying on the floor of my father’s home office, curiously skimming the bright gold-colored spines of his neatly arranged National Geographic collection, “…Peru Mummies, Bombay, US National Parks, Arctic, Lichens…” and running my fingers across images of far away people, lands and species that I only dreamt existed. I knew, one day, there would be a day, I would see such things with my own eyes.

Many years and many moments of transition later, I sat in the front row of one of my favorite college courses, “Sustainable Tourism”. That day we spoke at length about a small town in the Arctic north, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. People from all over travel to this isolated corner of the world, in search of spotting one of the most powerful and beautiful creatures that still exist. Yep you guessed it, the polar bear. That day I felt all the images etched in my memory from thumbing through those pages race back into my direct, clear, view. I knew that day not only would I bear witness to this magnificent animal but I would be a part of something, something bigger.

Time went on… I continued travel and work in the southern hemisphere. Then as some would say. the stars aligned. My time with my work in Brazil felt as if it was nearing a close. Within days from returning home from the south I came across a new job opportunity and nearly 8 weeks and numerous interviews later, I landed a position with my dream company, Natural Habitat Adventures. As luck would have it, working operations on the “Polar Bear team”. Starting my new job smack dab in the middle of the 6-week polar bear season in Churchill and hopeful I would have the opportunity to travel that season, in just a couple of weeks I found myself boarding a plane to embark on an a long waited and thought about experience of a lifetime… all of the hard work, perseverance and determination paid off.

It is interesting finding yourself in a dreamlike, surreal, euphoric state living out what you thought may be the impossible, walking through the scenes of what were once only childhood dreams. Staring out the window of yet another airplane window brimming with the anticipation and excitement of what is to come, this time, the Great White North.

Stay tuned for more of the “Great White North”… Would love it if your shared your moments!

 

 

 

In Search of an Unforgettable Amazon Rainforest Experience?

For many years I had dreamt of seeing the Amazon rainforest. When I was assigned to teach English in Manaus, the gateway city to the Amazon, with a Denver based non-profit, US-Brazil Connect, I could not wait to start planning my adventure to the Amazon.

I had already been in Manaus for a week and was having some trouble finding an operator that was reasonably priced and did not feel like it was a mass tourist operation. This is when I found Max at Maia Expeditions. If you are searching truly for the experience of a lifetime, I recommend Maia Expeditions and the Amazon Turtle Lodge. Here are 4 reasons why:

1. Max grew up in this area of the Amazon. He knows it very well. He personally took my friend and I and a nature and survival hike. On this hike we were shown how to build a shelter, how to make children’s toys out of hearts of palm, natural bug repellent, we drank filtered water out of a vine, smelled the tree that Chanel no.5 derives it’s perfume from, tasted fruits and so much more… Walking through the canopy with someone that has lived with the environment made for a much richer experience.

Harvesting and eating Brazil nuts  © Ami Jones
Harvesting and eating Brazil nuts
© Ami Jones

2. The operation’s focus on conservation and preservation. The owner is very concerned with these elements. Having grown up here he has a unique appreciation for the beauty of the area and has supported and created many projects focused on such things as afforestation, and preserving eco-systems necessary for wildlife. At the end of our hike we helped plant Copaiba trees on the property!

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Planting Copaiba after our nature and survival hike © Ami Jones

3. The experiences offered at the Lodge. I personal did the Jaraqui Exedition however, Maia offers a slew of different experiences. They offer everything from small canoe rides under the canopy in search of wildlife to searching for Caiman’s after the sun goes down. Other offerings include: birdwatching, visiting a local community, fishing for piranhas, spotting pink dolphins at sunset.. Not to mention the service, accommodations, food and staff are all top notch! Also, the best caipirinhas I have had in Brasil- just make sure to order two at a time because they take a little while to make.

Night spotting for Caiman's- I namer her Susy
Night spotting for Caiman’s © Ami Jones

4. You are guaranteed to have a great experience. It is very important to the owner to ensure that everyone that comes to the lodge has a phenomenal experience. This is his home, he is proud to call it home and is eager to teach others about the beauty of the region.

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The stillness of the Amazon © Ami Jones

I would suggest calling prior to make arrangements for your travel and to let Max know exactly what it is you are wanting to experience. We talked a few times on the phone and when we finally met in person it felt as if we were long-time friends. There are those times that you come across people and experiences that are hard to summarize in a few words. However, that being said if you are in search of a genuine jungle experience I give Maia and the Amazon Turtle Lodge a 10 out of 10! If you do decide to go please tell Max I say hello!

Here is the link for more information: http://www.maiaexpeditions.com/index.php

Additionally here is their page on trip advisor if you would like to peruse through some of the reviews: http://bit.ly/1uAzafO