Tag Archives: adventure

Video: Galapagos Islands – Darwin’s Land

To finish up the Galapagos Islands Series, I have made a video of the voyage.

I hope you have enjoyed the adventure just as much as I did.

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Filed under Activities, Ecuador, Facts, Galapagos Islands, Global, History, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tips, Tour, Travel, Worldwide

Chasing Waterfalls: La Ruta de Las Cascadas

You can rent a bike in Baños, Ecuador to cycle the route that takes you along the mountains and valleys where numerous waterfalls are located. A majority have tarabitas that you can ride for $1-1.50 USD to get really close to the falls, or to a bridge where you can walk to the waterfalls or even hike. Definitely worth a few hours of your time. Especially the end, where you can see the powerful Pailon del Diablo.

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Filed under Activities, Ecuador, Facts, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tips, Tour, Travel, Worldwide

Zipping and Hiking Through the Mindo Cloud Forest

This weekend my friend and I took a weekend trip to the small town of Mindo, Ecuador, which is a 2.5 hour bus ride out of Quito. The bus, which leaves every hour and costs $2.50,  drives on a curvy rode through the mountains, offering breath-taking views of the green land.

A word of advice: Do not fall asleep on the bus or stare out the window too long. The bus driver picks up and drops off people all along the route. My friend didn’t realize until we were at our hostal that someone on the bus had cut a hole into the side of her backpack and stole her estimated $1,000 camera. Always hold your backpack on your lap with your arms safely around it. Never in-between your legs or tucked under the seat in front of you.

After spending a few hours with the Mindo police, attracting quite a few people at the bus station (who later knew us as the (chicas gringas con la camera problema “the white girls with the camera problem) and checking into the Casa de Cecelia hostel (which I highly recommend), we got to exploring some of the Mindo Cloud Forest.

We didn’t do what Mindo is most known for: the butterfly preserve or bird watching. Instead, we opted for the active, adventure tour of Mindo (we already are planning on going back to visit the butterfly preserve and go tubing) and decided on zip-lining in the canopies and hiking to see the waterfalls.

the mindo canopy adventure offers a thrilling flight on 13 different cables

The Mindo Canopy Adventure, which is also the most popular, provides fun and thrilling zip-lining way above the ground below on 13 different cables. None of which require you to slow down. They are just fast enough to enjoy and are long enough to allow you to simply glance around at the mountains and floor below while cruising through the air. Bi-lingual tour guides accompany you the entire time as you hike up and down the mountain trails to each line.

Some cables are long and some are short, providing enough variation to keep it exciting. At one point, they pull up and down on the cable to have you bouncing along to the other side. Another perk that just adds to what this company has to offer is the chance to do two unique forms: the mariposa (butterfly) or the superman.

all geared up and ready to go!

The mariposa has you flying upside down with your legs straight up (the guide is keeping them steady) in the air and your arms hanging down, so all you see is the sky above you or the grown below, depending on where you’re looking. As for the superman pose, your legs are wrapped around the guide’s waist and you stretch your arms out before you and soar along the cable like the popular hero.

I highly recommend the Mindo Canopy Adventure to anyone visiting Mindo. They are safe and secure, and for $10 USD, make sure everyone has a good time.

The next morning, my friend and I took the Tarabita, or cable car, across the forest to the trail heads that lead to six different waterfalls of equal magnificence.

the tarabita cable car that takes you from one side to the other

For $5 USD, hikers can walk through the magical forest covered in moss to each waterfall in the Santuario de Cascadas. To visit each waterfall would take an entire afternoon, which my friend and I sadly did not have. So we chose to go in the direction of where the majority of the falls were in close proximity.

The elevation made the hiking incredibly a mission for someone even in my fit condition. You go over hills and tree roots, up and down stairs, having to be extremely careful because the ground is wet and muddy, making it easy to slip.

enjoying the cascada guarumos

The scenery was unbelievably magical. All the vines hanging around made me wonder if I would hear Tarzan’s signature yell “OhhHhHhHh” and see him swinging through the giant trees. Mushrooms are growing on the trunks and all shades of the color wheel seem to paint the plant’s leaves. Along the way, you can hear the rushing water hinting that you are getting closer until you see the wooden, rickety bridge that leads you to the majestic waterfall (or maybe, just maybe the mythical land of Terabithia? I wish).

If the weather cooperated, it will be warm enough to actually get in for a bit to experience the crisp, refreshing water but make sure to cover yourself right back up so the mosquitoes don’t attack!

Here is a complete video of my weekend trip to the Mindo Cloud Forest, a special spot that is becoming known for its eco-tourism and friendly atmosphere.

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Filed under Activities, Ecuador, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tips, Tour, Travel, Worldwide

Becoming ant-sized while crawling through Mammoth Caves in Kentucky

mammoth caves is known as one of the best interpretive national parks

About three hours from Indianapolis is Cave City, Kentucky, which is located off Exit 53 on Interstate 65, passing through the capital city of Louisville. Since its founding in 1835, the area thrived, but has recently undergone some depletion after being hit hard during the country’s economic recession. However, it still has much to offer the adventurous traveler.

Most of the businesses that closed their doors were not worthy of your time or money, essentially the typical tourist trap. The quality attractions, such as the Green River Canoe or the Jesse James Riding Stables, which take you horseback riding on what they deem the most gentle horses around throughout the hillsides and valleys where Jesse himself rode while fleeing the law, are still going strong and provide memorable moments during your visit.

Nonetheless, the number one tourist attraction in the caves region is Mammoth Caves National Park. The caves are the world’s longest, running more than 390 miles in length with still more to be discovered. There is no entrance fee to the park, which is home to  over a dozen endangered species and has as much to see and do above ground as there is beneath. You can horseback ride and hike over 80 miles of trails or mountain bike on over 20 miles of trails.

the map of over 390 miles of trail, with more still being discovered

In the summer of 2010, the park opened the doors to its new visitor center, where people can purchase gifts, souvenirs, books and tickets for more than 10 different cave tours.

Note: Some do sell-out quickly and others are only offered once a day, depending on the season. I highly suggest checking the Website for Mammoth Cave to make reservations online for most of the tours. A few are not available by reservation and must be purchased at the Visitor Tour on the day of the tour.

Before every tour the guides explain the physical and mental considerations that must be taken on your part. Yes, mental considerations. The caves can play tricks with your mind. There are points in tours where you have to bend down and almost walk on your knees to get through passages. At other times, you are walking across a bridge or up/down a staircase, look over to the side and see a never-ending drop. The mere fact that you are hundreds of feet below the surface is another hurdle to overcome. I can honestly say it is worth it all though. Groups, depending on tour, range from 12 to 120 in size.

It should be known that Mammoth Caves National Park has highly knowledgeable and passionate guides. Every question you ask them will get an in-depth answer with an eager tone. These people look forward to spending their days underground sharing the stories of the caves, its history as well as their own personal experiences in the caves. One of the girls first visited the park when she was eight and now she is leading tours.

Tip: Choose to either be at the front of the pack or at the end  if you want to have the chance to ask the guide leading the group or the guide at the back of the group specific questions you have regarding things you notice in the caves or have in general about the history of them while you walk. Trust me, you will have many questions pop up in your head and they are more than willing to answer.

I took two tours: New Entrance Tour & the Historic Entrance Tour.

walking down stairs in a narrow passage

New Entrance Tour:

Length: 2 hours, 3/4 mile.

Tour Limit: 114 people

Total Stairs: 500, including 280 on initial descent

Difficulty: Moderate

The New Entrance Tour has the guides shuttling you to an entrance that appears to be a random steel door in a hillside, resembling a portal to a bomb shelter. The opening was created after a man, who wanted his own cave, had purchased land with a sinkhole above a portion of the caves that he knew were linked with Mammoth Caves. He used dynamite to blast a new way into the caves and started exploring.

On the initial descent, you walk down 280 steps that become extremely narrow and steep, winding through passages no wider than your hips. Once you reach the stopping point you make your way through the caves. At one point you reach a big room, and the group will take a seat while the guide explains some history and tells stories about the caves. This is also where they turn all the lights out, showing you what some of the earlier explorers faced during their time down in the very passageways you are walking through.

During your entire time down in the caves, the guides will be explaining various things such as the writing on the walls, how the rooms got their names and prominent people whose names will be forever associated with the caves.

Frozen Niagara Falls

The main attraction of the New Entrance Tour is the Frozen Niagara, which is 130 feet below ground surface. You enter a room of formations rising from the ground or hanging from the ceilings like icicles. These columns are called stalagmites and stalactites. They are created by calcium salts and the dripping of water. The bigger formations, such as the Frozen Niagara take thousands of years to form by the slow drip, drip, drip of water and is a sight to marvel. After this stop, you make your way out of the cave via the Frozen Niagara Entrance, completing a two hour and 3/4 mile trip.

This tour does not require a jacket and is a great basic introduction to the Mammoth Caves. It takes you down and up stairs, crouching through tunnel passages, provides a glimpse at the river below you and a stroll through a room full of formations.

the Historic Tour path

Historic Tour

Length: 2 hours, 2 miles

Tour Limit: 120 people

Total Stairs: 440, including 155 at Mammoth Dome

Difficulty: Moderate

Warning: This is tour is not for those who suffer claustrophobia or are afraid of heights. You will experience steep stairs, bridges and crawl spaces. Again, it is worth it to push yourself!

On this tour you get to enter the original opening to the caves and walk to a large room at 140 feet below the surface, called the Rotunda, which still has artifacts from the early days when these caves were mined.

After this you walk yourself through tunnels that make you feel like a tiny ant in an ant hill, and over a bridge that crosses the Bottomless Pit. Take a peek over the edge and see blackness for as long as your eyes can see.

the giant's coffin

You will have the chance to pay respects at the Giant’s Coffin. A large granite form is laying in front of you and appears to be the final resting place of a large person. This is also where the guides will tell a story about a slave woman who was the only one buried in the Mammoth Caves in this spot on the tour. They believe she may have held a prominent position for having been brought all the way underground to be placed.

The biggest attraction on this tour, in my opinion as well as my mom’s, is Fat Man’s Misery. They even have a tiny sign to let you know that you have arrived to this portion of the tour, which is a passageway that has you going from a standing position, to a crawling position in a narrow space that has you squeezing your way through to make your way into the Relief Room, where you can stand and go to the bathroom.

At last you’ll make your way to The Tower in Mammoth Dome where you’ll climb up five levels of stairs that also get more narrow along the way before making your way back to the Rotunda Room and into daylight once again. Although you won’t see any formations, you’ll get a rich taste of history and stories about the people who walked before you in these caves.

squeezing through Fat Man's Misery on Historic Tour

I survived both tours. Granted, it took me some deep breathing and support from my parents to get me in there, it was well worth it like I’ve mentioned in this blog post. To feel smaller than ordinary and see the vastness of these caves is astonishing.

The passion the tour guides possess for the caves is inspiring. Some are the next in their generation to walk underground, and now their kids are working themselves up the hierarchy ladder to become a guide.

Both tours I went on are excellent introductions to the caves. The New Entrance Tour is on the opposite end of the Historic Tour, so you get to enter from both sides of the cave system.

For the more daring, there is a tour offered at night, Violet City Lantern Tour, where the only light you have guiding you for 3 hours and 3 miles is a lantern you are holding. As for the cave explorer,  the Wild Cave Tour is about six hours and 5 miles in difficult and strenuous situations.

Note: Some pictures in this post were taken by my mom.

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Filed under Facts, Kentucky, Nature, Outdoors, Tour, Travel, United States

Ditch the main road, the backcountry is where it’s at

a water tower

Roughly 25 miles south of Indianapolis is the small city of Franklin where my mom spent her childhood. State Highway 135 passes through Greenwood, where my Grandma lives, and Whiteland, where my Aunt and her family live right inside the city limits, before entering Franklin.

The welcome sign is located directly across from my aunt’s neighborhood on the 135, which is the one main road that all three cities reside along. Within 10 minutes of driving along the highway, you’ve pretty much visited all three of these little cities.

the road to my mother's childhood home

It’s not until you turn off the major interstate and get on the backcountry roads that you see the vast expanse of farmlands that are signature to the central and southern regions of Indiana. The northern portion is more industrial with factories and production plants. The green hills seem to roll on forever until the corn fields pop up in shades of green, brown and yellow, depending on the time of season. Clusters of assorted trees such as oak, pine and willow are interspersed among the farms and houses. They reach taller than the houses and silos.

the house where my mother grew up

Every mile or so a farm or house will appear within a hundred feet of the bumpy, country road. My mom’s old house is located on farmland surrounded by fields. It used to have white aluminum siding but has since been painted a yellow that is lighter than harvested golden corn. Her dad rented the house for only $65 a month from an artist across the street who owned all the farming property.

A little farther down, the street curves and crosses a creek. We wanted to explore the area and pulled into the parking lot of a country corner store that is still open for businesses since the days when my mom would stop in to buy wax bottles filled with juice for no more than 10 cents. She would bite off the top and chew the bottle because the juice would seep into the wax. She said kids would chew it until the flavor was gone, just like gum. My dad and I bought a package of sunflower seeds and asked if we could climb down to the creek.

the corner country store

The man at the register warned us to watch out for rat snakes, but our sense of adventure drowned out any concern of danger. We slipped and slid down the brushy hill and reached the water with no snakebites.

My dad kept insisting I watch out for poison ivy, but I haven’t been itching yet.

exploring the creek

I walked in up to my calves and it was cool enough to be refreshing from the heat and humidity. A couple of stray dogs heard us and started barking, eventually strutting toward us from the backyard of a nearby home. After a quick sniff they left us alone. A pair of kayakers paddled on by while we relaxed.

The sun began beating down on us so we climbed back up the hill toward the car where we immediately turned on the air-conditioning and regretfully headed back into the hustle-and-bustle of the town.

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Filed under Indiana, Nature, Outdoors, Travel, United States

Oriententing Myself

I’m at that point where I am nervous and excited about my move to Ecuador. I have to continually remind myself that I’m leaving this weekend to visit family in Indiana, with a side-dish road-trip to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky.

It will most likely be filled with ups-and-downs because my grandpa just went through a quadruple bypass surgery after a minor heart-attack and, well, let’s just say that side of the family still seems to be going through World War II, which is where the seed for the family-tree was planted.

This will be my only vacation taken all summer and I haven’t even started doing laundry. In my opinion, once you’ve traveled internationally, you lose the excitement of packing for any trip. You wait until the very last night before or the day you leave — depending on the time of departure — to actually put the loads of laundry in the washer and toss a pile of disheveled, wrinkled clothes into a suitcase.

For Indiana and Kentucky, I’ll most likely revert to an Adidas duffel bag and wing it:

  • Shirts – check.
  • Cargo pants than can become shorts with one quick zip – check.
  • Converse – check.
  • Toothbrush – check.

No stress. No worries.

My mind is more focused on Ecuador than anything else. I mean, why wouldn’t it be? I’m practically moving to a foreign country. I’m thinking about money. I’m thinking about the internship – what if I’m not cut out to be a travel writer. I’m thinking I need a full-time job. Why can’t I be normal like my older sister and twin sister. One has been a crime-scene technician for more than a couple years now and loves it. My twin sis just started her career as a teacher today — and I’m still here, going from internship to internship still trying to get the big break.

But isn’t that part of the excitement in not knowing what’s going to happen? Stepping off that airplane and into an entirely different part of the world brings out that adventurous spirit in myself. This is the job I want. This is the office where I want to work. I admire those like my sisters who can take pictures of dead people and have the patience to mold the minds of our future.

However, I want the opportunity to bring cultures to people in all corners of the planet, whether it be in the pages of a geography book, in an online article or in the pages of a travel guide I may have written or contributed to.

At this point, I have to stop wanting and actually do it. This is the dreaming turning into reality.

I will educate people about a variety of languages, food, cultures, music and places they may never have heard about, because maybe, just maybe they’ll think of traveling there one day because of the pictures I have taken and the words I have written.

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Filed under Ecuador, International, Internship, Travel