Tag Archives: Travel

When it rains it – ZIPS!

1 Apr

Ziplining at Climbworks Oahu

Our first full day on the North Shore started with a walk along the beach, a brief wander around Waimia Valley and a run to the grocery story. By noon, I was starting to get my first inkling of “I want a nap!” just as it started to lightly mist outside. Within minutes, that mist had turned into a full-on downpour and Alan and I sat staring at each other, wondering if we should give in to the urge to nap.

Answer: NO! When you’re on vacation, you milk every minute out of it. (At least, this box-checking, spreadsheet keeping person does.) Relaxing and sleeping are NOT the same thing.

So we brainstormed things that would be fun to do in the rain – and decided that ziplining was the way to go. We headed to Climbworks Keana Farm, signed a rather extensive waiver and got strapped into our gear.

Foolishly, it was only as we climbed to the top of the first platform that it dawned on me that there might be an aspect of this that was mildly terrifying. I couldn’t pinpoint if it was the height or the fact that my entire body weight would be suspended from a cable using just one point of contact. The weigh-in they’d performed upon arrival suddenly seemed less embarrassing and more alarming.

As soon as I had this realization, I began scrutinizing our three guides – all appearing to be in their 20s and potentially having a taste for weed. Did I really trust them to attach me to a cable correctly? At this point, my heart began to race, and I hadn’t even stepped off a platform yet.

By the time I arrived on the other end of the first zipline, my mouth was dry and my knees were weak. I obsessed over watching the guides clip people to the cable to make sure they were doing it right. Nevermind that – thirty minutes prior – I’d had no idea what “right” even was.

Fortunately, the course is long so I had ample opportunity to shake my jitters so I could actually enjoy the ride. And once I did? Yee haw!

Perspective on a zipline

The course consists of seven zip lines, two repels, a rope bridge and one climbing station. It’s spread out over sixty acres and starts at the top of a jungle-like mountain and works its way back down to ground level, taking you over the tree canopy along the way so you can soak in some pretty spectacular views of the mountains and the ocean.

At times you’re zipping 120′ in the air, and the longest line is over five football fields long, so you can really pick up some speed – and have a chance to look around.

The guides ended up being completely professional and hilarious. We had a trio of Tyler, Andrew and Cami, and they made the three hours pretty fantastic. There were about 10 people in our group, and they did a great job creating a friendly vibe so we all felt “in it together” even though we were strangers.

There were a few mis-steps along the way – like when I came in a “bit hot” (read: too fast) and almost kicked the receiver in the balls. Here’s what it looks like when you’re worried you’re about to sterilize your guide:

Climbworks Keana Farms

By the end, we were zipping backwards and upside-down. Even people who had admitted a fear of heights had broad smiles on their faces. And we only ended up getting rained on a little bit.

All told: awesome first full day on the island.

Next up: Pearl Harbor brings WWII to life for us. Also? Our obsession with the shaka. 

Travelogue: Best Monday EVER – seals, a castle, and not dying.

5 Nov
© 2013 pithypants.com

Hey there, snuggles.

Everyone bitches about Mondays. Even though I love my job, sometimes even I am guilty of it. But not this week. I’m pretty sure I had the best Monday known to man. Here’s why…

We left our motel in San Simeon at 8am. (In case you’re curious: there are still places in this world where you can enjoy a good night’s sleep near the ocean in a clean room with a fridge and microwave and remodeled bathroom for $55. I didn’t think it was possible, but there you go. Just do your research and book with Hotels.com.)

We attempted to stop at a place called Sebastian’s that was highly reviewed on TripAdvisor for breakfast, but – to our dismay – it isn’t open on Mondays or Tuesdays. Their loss – I’m sure we would’ve been their best customers ever.

To recover from this disappointment, I asked Alan to keep driving north for a few miles because I’d heard there was a place to see elephant seals, and I was hell-bent on seeing at least one seal after getting my hopes up about lifting one the day before. Knowing that breakfast wasn’t in the cards and since we both tend to have blood sugar crashes that get ugly, while Alan drove, I began doling out cashews and beef jerky.

Within minutes, we were screeching into a gravel lot behind a motorcycle gang (Alan says it was actually a “club” but I don’t think you should use that word in the same sentence as “seals”) to look for seals. If Monterey had left us high and dry on the seal-front, then San Simeon was our tonic. We peered out at the ocean, shading our eyes. “Alan! Look! Right there!” I pointed to a rock some hundred yards out where there were definitely seal heads in the water.

Then the old couple next to us pointed and said, “Look – right there!” and pointed down some thirty feet off-shore.

Then, as I looked more, I was like, “HOLY SHIT. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.” Which normally would be an exaggeration when I say it, but this time it wasn’t. There were seals EVERYWHERE. We began counting and estimating and couldn’t keep up. There were thousands of heads bobbing in the water.

And then, when I moved a little bit, I saw hundreds of seals beached on the shore, snuggling, fighting and snoring. They smelled like an elephant house at the zoo, but they were fantastic to watch. MISSON ACCOMPLISHED. (As a side-note, I’m now curious to know who would actually try to pick up a seal. They were HUGE and – according to a sign – weighed between 3,000 – 5,000 pounds.)

After an hour of seal-watching, I glanced at my watch and realized we needed to hustle over to the visitor’s center at Hearst Castle if we were going to get the tour I’d already booked.

If you’re not familiar with Hearst Castle: Think of the movie Citizen Kane, or think of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. W.R. Hurst had this estate built  during the first half of the 20th Century, and it is spectacular. Especially the swimming pools.

Here are a few photos from the tour to show you what I’m talking about:

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There was an older couple in a group who immediately caught our attention not only because they moved at a snail’s pace, but also because they were dressed in identical outfits: purple “Hearst Castle” t-shirts covered by hot pink fuzzy fleece pull-overs. Had we somehow managed to NOT notice them for these reasons, they certainly would’ve drawn our attention with the utter nonchalance they demonstrated while farting audibly as they walked. It was impressive. In fact, Alan and I coined a term so we could warn each other of their activity: HEARSTING – to audibly crop-dust an area while walking. 

Back to the castle: it is NOT located right on the ocean. Instead, it’s up on top of a mountain a few miles away. I thought Hearst was batshit crazy to build up there instead of directly on the water, but the views are pretty great. What is NOT great is the drive getting up to the castle. It’s so shaky that the Foundation doesn’t trust you to do it on your own, so you have to park at the bottom at the Visitor’s Center, then ride a bus up.

That was fine on the ride up. They had a soothing soundtrack narrated by Alex Trebeck telling you what you were seeing out the windows. To wit: “Out the right-side windows, you can see zebras grazing – a hold-over from Hearst’s zoo.” And yes, there were really zebras out our windows just roaming around on the side of a mountain, eating dried grass.

After the tour, we hopped a different bus back to the base of the mountain. It is nothing short of a miracle that you aren’t reading about our fiery death in a newspaper right now. Our driver didn’t seem to know where the right tires of the bus were – which would be fine in a lot of scenarios, but not when you’re barreling down switchbacks without guardrails and a sheer drop-off to the right.

There were two specific turns where I white-knuckled on Alan’s arm, then tried to calm myself by looking at the faces of other passengers for reassurance. When the jaws of the people in the first few rows are also hanging open and women are palming their rosaries, however, you can’t find much comfort in the belief that perhaps your own alarm system is just faulty.

It was so bad that I joked with Alan, “They need to have Alex Trebeck come back on and say, ‘If you shit your pants during the descent from Hearst Castle…'” And because I was so overwhelmed with relief, I couldn’t even finish my sentence because I was laughing so hard I had tears coming out my eyes.

Relieved to survive the descent, we stopped in the quaint small town of Cambria for lunch, where we demolished some great fresh Mexican food. Then it was on to San Luis Obisbo for a quick look at the Mission. Directly in front of our parking spot was a public restroom. I used it as soon as we arrived, accidentally walking into the men’s room, where I encountered a sketchy looking guy walking out. We excused ourselves and I found the ladies room.

Later, as we were getting organized to leave, we sat in the car for five minutes. The guy was still loitering there, ducking in and out of the restroom periodically. I thought maybe he was in charge of cleaning it. Alan, however, came up with the more probable explanation: drug deals. Sure enough, in the five minutes we were watching, two different guys ducked into the restroom after a furtive glance over their shoulders and were back out faster than any human could’ve peed.

So now I’m suspicious of SLO’s motto, which proclaims it the happiest city in the United States. I think everyone is just on drugs.

Finally, we ended our day at a hotel in Pismo beach, right on the ocean with a great balcony. Falling asleep with the windows open, hearing the surf crashing? Not a bad way to end a Monday.

Travelogue: Carmel-by-the-Sea

3 Nov

We arrived in California today for our week-long vacation. Everything went smoothly until we went to pick up our rental car. For some reason, the line at Hertz was worse than airport security. It took 50 minutes of standing in line before we were given a car assignment. But if that’s the biggest complaint you can lodge after a full day of travel? Not bad at all.

When we went to retrieve it, the car was NOT in slot 161 as promised on our paperwork – so a scavenger hunt commenced to find it. Finally it turned up – a grey Malibu with no pick-up in slot 282.  Maybe this was karma’s way of paying us back for driving through a flash flood in Charlottetown, PEI last year and almost ripping the underbody off our rental.

Oh – I haven’t told you that story? Another time. Still waiting for the statute of limitations to expire.

Once we got our car, we zipped out of town, heading to Carmel, about two hours south of SFO on the Monterey Penninsula. If you’ve never been, it’s an adorable ocean-side town with cute shops, tasting rooms and restaurants that all look amazingly homey. The architecture probably has something to do with that – the town has a funky Bavaria-meets-smurf-cottages kind of vibe. Don’t believe me? Check out these photos.

We were starving when we arrived – with the time difference and the flight, it was approaching 7pm Eastern time and our last meal had been a 9am burger at the airport Five Guys. Fortunately, I’d happened to check TripAdvisor before we tumbled out of the car, so instead of blindly choosing the first place that looked halfway good (and there would’ve been no shortage), we made a beeline to Dametra Cafe.

It’s funny – neither Alan nor I were particularly feeling mediterranean food, but the TripAdvisor reviews were so overwhelmingly positive, that we felt we should give it a go. I’m so glad we did – if I were dying, I might make a special trip to this restaurant for my last meal.

Let me set the stage. The place is tiny. There are approximately 18 tables which can each seat two people. The decor is simple but warm – it feels like you’re a guest in someone’s overly large kitchen. Perhaps part of why you feel like you’re in someone’s home is because of the hospitality the owners show.

Bashar, one of the owners who also serves as the host, welcomes everyone who sets foot into the place as if they’re a friend, placing his hand on your shoulder while he looks around to see if they have a table for you. Unfortunately, the answer to this query is usually, “Sorry – we’re completely full. Do you have a reservation?” Alan and I somehow managed to snag the last unreserved table (probably because we arrived 4:45pm) and felt incredibly lucky every time we heard him turn away another couple.

This photo doesn't do it justice.

This photo doesn’t do it justice.

After spending a ridiculous amount of time debating what to order, we decided to split two of the most basic Greek staples: spanikopita and chicken kabobs. It was the right decision. They were so different than any other version of those foods I’d eaten before that – had my eyes been closed – I wouldn’t have recognized them. The spanikopita was huge – imagine getting served two perfectly golden, flaky poptarts sprinkled with sesame seeds and filled with garlicky spinach hugging little gems of salty feta unlike any feta you’ve ever tasted. Delish.

They split our entree in the kitchen, bringing us each a generous plate with rice, Greek salad and a kabob of chicken, tomatoes and onion, drizzled with a garlic aoili. This sounds like a boring line-up, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that it was amazing. The chicken was beyond tender, and I don’t know what they marinated it in, but it was magical. The homemade salad dressing and the aoili completely transformed the meal – and I’m normally very finicky when it comes to sauces.

Midway through our meal, as we were marveling over how something so simple could be so mind-blowingly good, we heard someone begin to tune what sounded like a guitar. Then, from the kitchen, Bashar emerged, playing some kind of Middle Eastern guitar, followed by two servers banging drums. They shuffled through the small restaurant playing and people rose from their tables to begin dancing. It was like a party had just broken out, and everyone was up for it. It felt like being included in a secret.  Here’s a snippet:

When we finished our meal, they brought us a plate with complimentary baklava drizzled with honey and whipped cream. I had no room for it, but managed to choke it down since it is tied with fried ice cream as my favorite dessert of all time. One our way out the door, we thanked Bashar for having us. “Every time you turned away someone, we felt so lucky that we had managed to snag your last table,” Alan told him.

Bashar countered, “No – the luck was ours. We were lucky to have you dine with us tonight.” And with that, he asked our names and said he hoped to see us again soon. And like a good host, he truly seemed sincere.

After dinner we walked down Ocean Avenue and it’s adorable cottages to the beach. We arrived just in time to catch the tail-end of the sunset as we smelled the wood smoke from various bonfires dotting the beach. Not a bad way to end our first day of vacation, though it does set a high bar for the rest of the trip.

Sunset in Carmel


Random Question Friday

23 Aug

Image Source: http://doblelol.com/uploads/6/funny-car-crash-pictures.jpg

Perhaps I’ll start a new featured called “Random Question Friday” and just pose a single random question. On Friday.

Or maybe I’ll just do it today, which happens to be Friday, but never again. Mainly because I have a question:

What percentage of passengers on an airplane are – at some point during a normal flight – worried it will crash? 

Here’s a hint: If I were a pilot, carrying no passengers and I received this survey, the answer would be 100%. (Although that kind of feels like a trick question along the lines of “What is any number divided by zero?”)

What is your answer?

In related news: I’m glad to be back home.

I Don’t Think I’m Alone on This One…

21 Jan
Borrowed from "The Onion"

Borrowed from “The Onion”

Skimming the news this weekend, an article caught my eye.

“Did you know they’re removing some of the scanners from the airports?” I asked Alan.

“Oh yeah? The invasive scanners?” he clarified. “Not a surprise.”

“Invasive? What do you mean?”

“You know, the ones that show you naked,” he prodded.

I shook my head. “I thought that was a wives’ tale. I mean, they don’t actually show you naked.” I paused. “Do they?”

He nodded. “Do a Google image search. You’ll see.”

I thought he was surely pulling my leg. I mean, I fly ALL the time. There’s no way they’d allow TSA officers to take naked scans of me, would they?

I searched. Images like this came up:

Image Source: http://maxcdn.fooyoh.com/files/attach/images/1097/325/389/001/airport_xray_scanner.jpg

“Are you serious? This is what it really looks like?” I asked, incredulous.

Alan nodded. “You seem freaked out.”

“I am,” I said. “I mean, I didn’t know they could actually see my naked body!”

“What would you have done?” Alan asked.

“Um, probably stood taller. And definitely sucked my tummy in.”

He started laughing. “So what did you think the scan looked like, if not a naked photo of your body?”

“I don’t know,” I said, flipping through more images. “I guess something like this…”

Image Source: http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2011/07/Screen-Shot-2011-07-20-at-3.48.29-PM.png

At this point, Alan was convulsing. “You thought people were up in arms because they resembled gingerbread men on the scanner?”

Good point.

I hate it when he’s right.