Mattis’ and Borkas

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Doesn’t that remind you of the book Ronia the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren? Look there is Ronia’s father’s caste on one side of the gap and the Borkas’ encroachment on the other side.

 

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The Roadtrip from Phoenix to San Diego-Day 2

Day 2 – The Grand Canyon and the Antelope Canyons – What can go wrong –  part deux.

The next morning we had to be up by 4:30 am in order to catch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon. Having already missed the cheat option of watching the sunset, we just had to do the sunrise. Surprisingly, we managed to wake up, drive down to the canyon and walk up the South Rim trail well in time for sunrise. After logistical confusion killed the idea of camping on the Desert View campground, we booked ourselves into the Grand Canyon Inn, a comparatively inexpensive motel a 20 minute drive away from the South Rim. The room we got had comfortable beds and a clean bathroom. They also have free wi-fi.

As much as we would have loved to explore the less touristy North Rim, our tightly packed schedule allowed us very limited time at the canyon, so we settled on the more popular South Rim. We did a small portion of the Rim trail. On our way to the canyon, we saw signs that warned of natural fires ahead. We assumed the lightening storm last night had  started forest fires. Later someone we met at the end of the trail told us that the authorities were carrying our control burns. We got on on the trail right behind the El-Tovar hotel. When we started walking, we were only people on the trail, and the first people to reach the end.  The walk is quite easy, but if you don’t want to do it there is a fantastic view point right at the beginning.

The Fantastic View Point

The Fantastic View Point

I had heard and read from several sources that the sight of the first rays of the sun hitting the red rocks of the canyon was magical. That glorious glow of redness as the darkness suddenly lifts, has been described as  mystical. Grand as the Grand Canyon looked that early morning, the smoke and the looming thunderstorm ruined the sunrise experience for us.

At the crack of Dawn

At the crack of Dawn

The dining room of the EL Tovar  is a great place to grab breakfast after doing the trail.

If you ask me to describe the Grand Canyon,I would say it looks like a number of magnificent temples dedicated to the great Gods of the old. Over millions of years wind and water have carved the mountain face to create beauty fit for worship.

Castle Rock

Castle Rock

After breakfast we started the next leg of our trip. We were going to Page, to photograph the Antelope Canyons and catch the sunset at the Horseshoe Bend.  On the way we stopped by at the Desert View point. This is just another vista point for the Grand Canyon. On the Rim Trail, a couple who have done multiple hikes in the Canyon told us that there is a trial that leads to the bottom and there is a waterfall there. Something we would definitely like to do on our next trip here.

The route from the Grand Canyon to Page is very scenic and is dotted with a number of distractions. There is the  overlook on Little Colorado, the  Cameron  trading post, the Echo Cliffs, the painted desert and the Vermilion Cliffs. On the way there is a little side road (US89A) in Bitter Springs that takes you to the  Navajo Bridges,Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry. On the way to Lees ferry are some remarkable rocks like the Mushroom rock and Balanced Rock. This information has been gleaned from Trip Adviser and we really didn’t have time for most of it. We did stop though, at one of the Navajo (pronounced Naa-va-Ho) stalls and picked up some pretty jewelry. If you plan to include the Vermilion Cliffs in your itinerary, there is a parking lot with Navajo stalls that has great views of Vermilion Cliffs. This information is again from Trip Adviser.

 Navajo Jewelry - Turquoise and Coral for the blue skies and the red rocks, butterfly for grace and wings for freedom

Navajo Jewelry – Turquoise and Coral for the blue skies and the red rocks, butterfly for grace and wings for freedom

We knew we would be cutting it too close for our reservations on the Upper Antelope Canyon Tour so we called the tour operator and had them shift it to the next morning, so we would do just the Lower Canyon and the Horseshoe Bend today. As we got into Page, the hot summer sun was sudden blocked out by ominous dark clouds. Just our luck!! By the time got to the Lower Canyon tour office, the rain had stopped, but the damage had been done. Both the Upper and Lower Canyons are prone to flash floods and once it rains they are closed for the day.

Since there were a couple of hours left before sunset, we decided to take a boat ride on Lake Powell. It is a pleasant way to pass time. I thought the boat would go all the way to the Navajo bridges, but they only take you as far as the Lower Canyon. Do it by all means if you have some time and money to spare, or have just been having a rough time like us.

Boat ride on Lake Powell

Boat ride on Lake Powell

From the Antelope Point Marina we drove down to the Horseshoe Bend well in time for the sunset.

The Roadtrip from Phoenix to San Diego – Night 1

Night 1 – A Lightening Storm

When we reached the gate to board our flight from LA to Phoenix, the agent at the gate scanned our passes and then scanned them again to verify something. The husband and I looked at each other and braced ourselves for the worst. She smiled brightly and said, “I don’t know why, but  they have changed (our hearts sink, not another flight please!!) your seats. You now have seats __ and __, but the flight is not full, so you could try and switch once everyone is seated.” Almost as soon as she finished the sentence the husband responded, “We’ll take it!” At this point we really didn’t care what our seat assignment was, all we wanted were 2 seats on a flight to Phoenix.When we finally reached Phoenix, I was ready to fall on my knees and kiss the ground.

A lightening storm is an awe inspiring spectacle, but when you see it at night, from the window of an airplane it feels more like dark demon grinning manically at you. As we approached Phoenix,  we could see flashes of lightning  jarring the dark night sky. Luckily it didn’t affect landing. Even more luckily, my bag was waiting for me at baggage claim.

After spending a good 10 minutes deciding on a rental car, we picked a bright red Kia and drove out into the lightening storm. Nature had put on quite a show for arrival. Four hours later, we reached our digs for the night at 2 the next morning. Almost twelve hours later than we had planned!

The Roadtrip from Phoenix to San Diego – Day 1

Day 1 – What can go wrong, will go wrong -The Hellish Travel to Phoenix 

Our big trip dates have finally arrived. We woke up at 4 this morning to make it to our 7 am flight. We decided to use public transport to get to the airport because, well because  we have access to it. Mistake  no. 1. – we did not check to timings. As we lugged our luggage down the stairs at Journal Square station, the wheel broke off one of the roller bags. The first in  long series of unfortunate events. At the bottom of the stairs, we realized we were on the wrong platform. We reached the Newark station, only to realize if we waited and took the air train, we would never make it in time for flight. So we took, what can only be described as a leisurely taxi ride to the airport instead.

Our flight was via Texas and since that flight was full, American Airlines (AA) was offering courtesy baggage check-in which I happily decided to avail. That was mistake no. 2 I must have been really hungry, because before checking my bag in the only thing I grabbed from it was not my wallet or cannot-afford-to-break-them sun glasses, I grabbed a bag of oranges. The Husband’s disbelieving  I-don’t-know-what-to-say-to-that-look sent me rushing out of the aircraft, back to the gate to retrieve the said items. It must have been the kajal and the danglers that did the trick, the ground staff actually brought the bag back for me to take my wallet and glasses out. Little did I know, this would not be the end of this issue, but more on that later.  As we settled in and waited for the flight to take off, the captain announced that the flight was delayed as a component of the communications system was not functioning and they were waiting for a technicians to come take a look. Surprisingly, 15 minutes later we were airborne.

One orange and a short nap later, we found ourselves in Texas. At Texas we received a call  and a message from AA that our flight was cancelled and we would have to re-book at a re-booking station they had set up at one of the gates. In the line there, we overheard someone say that the reason for cancellation was that there was a plane shortage, they had run out of planes. The agent at the re-booking counter said the plane had developed some technical issue and hence the flight was cancelled. I strongly suspect that it was the same plane with the same communications problem, and that they had taken off from EWR without rectifying it. The agent offered us 2 choice,

1. To take a flight to Reno/Tahoe and a connecting flight on their partner US Airways to Phoenix. this flight was due to depart in 20 mins.

2. To be waitlisted on a direct flight taking off an hour or so later, and a confirmed ticket on a direct flight almost 4 hours later. This last flight would reach 1 hour after the roundabout trip offered in option 1.

Pretty certain that we would not be accommodated on the next direct flight and would have to wait for 4 hours in the airport, we took option 1. Mistake 3. We regretted it almost as soon as we boarded the flight. We would be flying for 2 hours away from our destination, and then again another 2 hours or so to it. Essentially we would be wasting time in airplanes instead of an airport. When we reached Reno our worst fears were confirmed. US Airways did not have space on that flight. After wheedling and pleading, and someone else not turning up they agreed to put us on that flight, and here we come back to our baggage problem. They had one condition though, that our checked in bags go with us, or AA provide them with reasonable proof of location of the bags. Since AA could do neither, we got stuck on yet another roundabout trip, this time Reno to LA and then LA to Phoenix.

Once we were seated in the into aircraft to LA, the Husband asked the flight attendant what time the flight was expected to arrive in LA. Believe it or not, she said, “I can’t say. We haven’t even taken off yet.” Seeing the husband’s stunned expression she did go on to clarify, that the flight time was 45 minutes but taxiing  eats up a lot of time.

We’ve reached LA now and are waiting for our connecting flight. I hope my bag is waiting for me at Phoenix.  Our plans to catch the sunset at the canyon have been completely ruined. If all goes smoothly from here we will reach the hotel by mid-night or in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. We’ve slept through most of this flights, but I hope fatigue does not get in the way of our plan to watch the sun rise over the Grand Canyon tomorrow. Even as I am typing this, the husband is trying to sort out the reservations. Tomorrow is another day, and I sure hope it will be worth this one!

Whale and Dolphin watching at Cape May

We finally made the long journey to Cape May. Yet again, there were so many people headed in that direction that we only just made it to the whale and dolphin watching boat. We were the last 2 people to get on to it.

Since it was my second such excursion, I was mentally prepared for 3 hours of boredom at sea with the off chance that we might spot a whale. The first trip was in San Diego with Subi, Reva and Rose Aunty. We didn’t see any whales on that trip but we saw dolphins. Dolphins are by nature friendly and curious. They find the fast moving boats fascinating and will often swim right next to the boats.

Dolphin spotting in an San Diego

Dolphin spotting in an San Diego

On this trip too, we saw dolphins. Infact we saw them very early in the trip, swimming quite close to the shore. I had read that dolphins can be seen frolicking in the water along the Jersey shoreline, but never really believed it. Later when we went to Cape May beach, we actually saw the dolphins from the shore.  What I’m getting at is, you really don’t need to go on a boat ride to see dolphins at Cape May, just go to the beach.

Did you know, in the wild, the average lifespan of a dolphin is 45 to 50 years. In captivity, 2 out of 3 dolphins do not live for more than 90 days. The ones which do, do not live for more than 4-5 years and often develop blindness or catch other diseases from swimming in the same water for extended periods.

Dolphins at Cape May

Dolphins at Cape May

If you do take the boat, go prepared for long intervals of doing nothing. Carry a lot of music or a book. Also carry a lot of water, sun protection and a hat. If you have motion sickness a book might be a bad idea. It might also be a bad idea then to sit in the front or on the upper deck. The best place for you would be the back of the boat, on the lower deck. Make sure you take your anti-sickness meds and carry whatever helps when you feel motion sick like ginger chews or limes or oranges. I personally find awala supari (salted and sundried  gooseberries) very helpful. If you ride in the front of the boat, you will get wet. Notice how I say, will and not might? You will get wet.

After a while the Husband dosed off. When he woke up from his little nap an hour or so later and asked me, ” What did I miss?”,  I was so  tempted to say ” A big whale jumped out of the water!” Alas, that was not true. He had missed nothing.

Cape May beach is a lovely place to take a swim. The water is quite deep close to shore itself. There is the regular boardwalk stuff, plus  a Putt Putt range right outside the beach. There is also a very famous hotdog vendor there. I overheard someone say that if you ask them for mustard and ketchup/catsup you won’t get any. You’ve got to ask for some yellow ( or brown) and red. The Washington Street Commons, a shopping area that extends for 3 blocks and houses some very interesting stores is an other agreeable diversion nearby.

Watch the sunset from the top of the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

*Photo Courtesy Flickr

As romantic as it sounds romantic, I don’t think it’s such a great idea. Firstly, you won’t get the tower in your pictures, and also there will be long lines and extra high prices to get up there at that time. The Esplanade du Trocadéro might be a better spot. It just might also be a better idea to go up late night and see the city twinkling below. We did this with Subi and Reva in NYC. We skipped the mandatory trip up the Empire State building in favour of a view from the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center).

NYC by night, from the Top of the Rock

NYC by night, from the Top of the Rock

It was completely worth it, because

  1. We could go at a later hour when the lines are much shorter. We went after dark and all of NYC lay shimmering beneath us. This is a much prettier view.
  2. We could see the iconic Empire State building. Something you can’t do when you are standing on top of it.

*Original photo can be seen here. If this picture belongs to you,please let me know if you have any objections to my using it. If not, thank you for letting me use it. 

Desert Camping with the Bedouins in Wadi Rum

*Photo Courtesy Flickr

*Photo Courtesy Flickr

Camping is high on my list of things to do. The Husband is not too keen, but when he saw how disappointed I was about not being able to camp on our up-coming road trip, specially in Death Valley, he were sweetly came up came up with a plan to do some local camping.

Oh! There’s something super romantic about camping in the desert. The vast emptiness.The silences. The night sky shimmering with thousands of tiny diamante like stars, clear and unaffected by pollution. The spectacular sunrises. The people! The people of the desert, I imagine would be different from the people of the city. They would be roughed and harsh, but fiercely loyal. Their faces would be weathered yet so beautiful. They would independent and free spirited people. Perhaps I read too much.

Real Bedouins,the ones who live in deserts (with no water to bathe for days or months), in close proximity to their camels are probably a stinky lot, and highly irritable because of the weather. The ones I will actually meet would probably be neither. They might be regular people, just like you and me, who will hopefully will not be putting on theatrical airs and gushing, “Khushamdeed!! Khushamdeed!!” In addition to reading a lot, I also watch a lot of crappy Hindi movies.

My apologies if that offended anyone. I am sure the Bedouin are wonderful people and I look forward to their hspitality.

Now if I could convert a desert camping trip to include a camel safari through some stunning landscape and add a trip to the Dead Sea wouldn’t that be just perfect? That is where Wadi Rum comes in. Wadi Rum! Doesn’t it sound exotic? The Dead Sea is a 4 hour drive from Wadi Rum. They are both in Jordan, so you need just one visa.

While in Jordan, Petra-a UNESCO World Heritage site is not to be missed and Aqaba would be a great place to experience the Red Sea.

* Original Photo here.If this photo belongs to you and you have any objection to my using it, please let me know and I will take it down. If not, thank you for letting me use it.

 

** edited to add- Anthea of antheaschronicles tells me that Indian nationals do not require a visa to go to Jordan. Read about her adventures in Jordan here.