Wednesday, 30 November 2011

How to Explore Havasupai Falls

Havasupai is one of those places that you are really tempted to keep to yourself and silently wish that no one else finds out about it. But in the spirit of travel blogging, and since its popularity is already growing like crazy, I'll share it as well.
The first thing to know about Havasupai, well the first thing that the stunning pictures can't tell you, is that you need a reservation to stay, for both camping and lodging, and you need to reserve as soon as possible, especially for large groups.Spaces fill up quickly and only a limited amount of people are allowed to enter.
If you look at the photos throughout this post you should quickly understand the appeal of Havasupai. It is a chance to discover the Grand Canyon past the traditional rim edges. Explore this beautiful oasis and it's breathtaking waterfalls that lie deep within the canyon. The blue river and green vines against the red canyon walls make for a spectacular setting. And once you are down in the canyon, the water serves as a perfect escape from the heat.

Summer at the Grand Canyon is HOT! 10 miles is not a bad hike, but the canyon walls trap the heat and make it very uncomfortable in the daytime. Start early! We parked in the middle of the night and hiked down at 1 am. You hike down the canyon wall, which is not fun heading back up, and the rest of the journey is relatively smooth through the canyon. Even extremely sick and semi-delirious with fever I made it most of the way.
8 miles down in the cabin live the Havasupai tribe. This village, of around 450 people, offers a restaurant and general store but little else for tourists. It has modern comforts of electricity and running water, but no cars and roads, preserving the uniqueness of the location. The village is 2 miles away from the camp site, so be sure to check in and pay at the camping office as your enter, the uphill hike back to the town is usually the last thing you want to do once at the waterfalls.

Be sure to explore the rest of the canyon once you have set up camp. A walk to the Colorado River is good for the more adventurous. Try and be back before nightfall, because the stairs from Mooney Falls are slippery and treacherous even in the daylight. But no worries, we traveled with 3 generations from a 10 month-old to 70 years old and it was all safe and fun.
Part of my group went as far as the Colorado, but I stopped at Beaver falls, around 3 miles past Mooney. These falls have some nice shallow pools, great for swimming. Around 50 yards past these is some great cliff jumping. At 60ft my legs were shaking, but it was definitely worth it. The hiked down is something of a natural water-park, beautiful as the turquoise river flows against the red stone creating small slides and water falls. The best way to explore this area  is to walk right in the river, the water stays around 70 degrees year round. Part of the hike on land leads you through shoulder-high vines, a random sea of green. Keep and eye out for a rope swing (not sure if it still is up).

The geography of Havasupai can change drastically with floods, in particular the flood of August 2008 that created two new falls. Don't be surprised if things look different from the pictures, they will be equally or even more amazing.
The cost of camping in Havasupai can add up, so backpacking in all your equipment is the best for those on a budget. Feeling luxurious? There are mules to help carry bags, good for large groups to pitch in together. The site has picnic tables, composting toilets and spring water (must be treated before drinking). Don't forget a camp stove as camp fires are not allowed. You can also enter on horseback or helicopter. It is the only camp ground that I've ever been to where they helicopter out the toilets. All in all, visiting Havasupai is an amazing and breath-taking experience, and while you may not be traveling into isolation, the spectacular waterfalls and river are well worth the hike and crowds.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Sofia- Explore behind doors

Sofia is quite a small capital city, you can walk across the centre in half an hour. While still overlooked by many travellers, it is becoming increasingly more vibrant as the city grows. It serves as a base to explore the rest of Bulgaria, I met many travelers who had been trekking around the mountains, but also holds some worthy attractions such as the impressive Alaxander Nevsky cathedral, Sveti Georgi and the museum at the Institute of Archaeology, with the Boyana Church and Mt. Vitosha nearby.
What struck me most about Sofia, which I only found through surprising experience, was how much of the cities gems were actually hidden behind doors. Walking around the streets of Sofia, the buildings, aside from the main attractions, were generally unremarkable, concrete blocks . The pavement, broken and choppy, was some of the worst I've seen (and that's saying something).
My hostel is the perfect example of how you have to search for the best of Sofia. The door was one of those that are part of a larger garage opener, and even once you ring inside I had to walk under construction scaffolding to a building set back a ways. I was a little worried since I was just beginning travel on my own, but the cute Hostel Mostel ended up being one of my favourites. It had a pool table almost always in use, a great open common area to relax in, an extreamly welcoming and helpful staff and a portion of spaghetti and a beer included in the 9€ a night charge. This all made it a great location to meet people and relax as Sofia isn't the busiest of cities at night and you can end up with some down time.
I don't recommend Sofia if you are looking for a crazy night-life, the streets were dead as we wandered around, it was even a Saturday night mind you. There are a few places to head out though, and the cheap price of beer in particular is quite tempting with a liter costing only £1.30. Some groups headed out to the casinos, the cheaper ones as we are hostel goers, where a minimum buy in of 5 leva (£2) gets you free drinks and toast. Others visited the ever-classy Ale house where a tap is located right at your table.
And yet many others got completely lost trying to find the hostel bar located a 3 minute walk away. This goes back to my hidden Sofia point from before. It looks as if you are entering a clothing shop, but instead you pass through two sets of doors, and follow the pounding music up up a tight staircase to the bar. With their sign broken, I saw more than a few groups return to the hostel for directions a second time.
The most remarkable of these hidden experiences though, was the small restaurant Before and After. I ended up here after a losing a bet of tea over a game of pool. Entering the restaurant from the busy street I felt as if I had fallen down the rabbits hole into another universe. A large fountain stood in the middle of slightly dark room with 30's style wallpaper and and paper-crane-like ornaments dangling from the ceiling. Large, overstuffed booths lined the back wall and all of the tabels had been pushed to one side to make room for the couple tangoing across the other half. We only had tea and coffee, and the most delicious buiscut cake, so I can't recommend their food, but Sunday tango lessons was the icing on the cake to the experience. We watched as a the room filled up with people of all ages and eventually the lesson began while the beats electric tango filled the room. If I knew something in Bulgarian, other than thank you, I would have been tempted to join in.
In my opinion, if you have some time Sofia is worth a couple days. Based on recommendations, ext time I would stay in Bulgaria longer and take the time to stop in Plovdiv and I would also like to return to do some trekking in the mountains. 

El Bolson and Cajon del Azul

Living in Argentina for 4 years, I was able to explore much country, and El Bolson proved by far my favorite place. This small, hippy town, tucked away in the Andes, is the perfect sanctuary from the city, if you like nature that is. Just a two hour bus ride from Bariloche, winding through many Andean valleys, brings you to the laid back "whatever life may bring us" town that attracts many artists and writers. It is the kind of town where you just want to sit outside and read a book and just relax all your senses. Once revitalized, head off into the mountains for day trips or overnighters at the refugio cabins that provide accommodation and sometimes food. First off, I recommend visiting in the summer months (December- February) so you can take advantage of the outdoors activities in warmer weather.
The best thing about the town is the feria that occurs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The market offers all sorts of items from jewelry to clothing, from fresh fruit to children's toys. I spend hours walking through the stalls and always find something new.  My advice: Don't eat before you visit it because the food vendors are amazing. Pair a fresh fruit smoothie, made on demand, with some cheap and delicious empanadas and top it all off with a Belgian waffle with strawberries and whipped cream.
On the topic of food, there are some great trout places in the town, but the best food I encountered was a small ravioli take-out place in the wast side of town. We stumbled upon the place by accident, and didn't comprehend that it was a take out place until the lady had thrown together all the tables in her front yard. The ravioli was to die for, my favorite were the salmon ravioli in a four-cheese sauce and the butter nut squash ravioli in a nut sauce.
Getting out into the mountains is easy from El Bolson, there are quite a few refugios hidden away. The hikes can be beautiful, as well as entertaining, as many have plank bridges that feature the half comical half frightening signs warning only one person to cross at a time. With planks dangling into the water or some outright gone, the sight seems reminiscent of the stereotypical bridges about to break over boiling lava in some film.
My favorite hike was to the Cajon del Azul. The 10 mile walk, which took us around 4 hours, is very picturesque, winding up hills of ancient cypress trees and into valleys. A number of streams and Rio Azul cross your path, helping with the heat, but the real treat is the Cajon at the end. At the Cajon del Azul, rock walls jet into turquoise water so clear you can see the trout below. Coming from the mountains the water may be a little cold, but lying on the warm rocks after remedies that problem.
We didn't stay at the Refugio Cajon del Azul, instead opting to do the trip as a day hike, but once you get up into the cajons paradise you defiantly want to stay. While we spent the day lounging around the rocks and diving into the water, but there are a number of activities near the refugio including caves and the virgin forest that could provide entertainment for a couple of days.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Dobrý den

As I start my internship at eWaterways and WorldReviewer this week I'm also (finally) starting my travel blog. This is something I've been meaning to do for a while now, but when I'm caught up in some new adventure the last thing I think of is sitting down at a computer to write about it. Fortunately, I've started keeping a  journal when there was down time on train or buses, so I'll also post some of my favourite places from the past as well as what I am up to now. I've spent a good deal of time in Prague now, with my parents living there and everything, and příští zastávka (pronounced PRZHIH-shtee zahs-TAHHV-kah)  has become drilled into my brain. It means "next stop" for the bus or tram, so while this may not be the correct way of using it I'm just going to pretend the interpretation works. If your reading, I'd love any recommendations or feedback so don't be shy. Thanks! ~ Keyla 

p.s. You should support the two companies, eWaterways and Worldreviewer, on Facebook and Twitter since I'm now in charge of that stuff.