Category Archives: Uncategorized

El Capitan’s Dawn Wall Climbers Set The Bar High in 2015.

Ben Margot/AP

Photo credit: Ben Margot/AP

In a new year that’s already delivered some real lows, two men have given us an ultimate high and something to cheer about.

Free climbers Tommy Caldwell, 36, and Kevin Jorgeson, 30, made history yesterday by clawing their way to the top of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in California’s Yosemite National Park in a single expedition. Using rock holds for their hands and feet–just their hands and feet–and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, they accomplished something that’s never been done. Known as the world’s hardest rock climb, they free-climbed the sheer vertical 3,000ft ascent in 19 days. Their only accessories—rope to stop their falls and sleeping tents suspended from the great rock face.

Desire may see possibility everywhere but not without commitment.

Their quest began on December 27 but it took years of planning and practice. One of the beautiful things about their achievement was the help of friends who ascended 1,200 feet every few days to help replenish supplies that helped them to achieve their goal. Bagels and whiskey helped sustain them, and the positive vibrations pouring forth from the friends, family, and onlookers at the feet of El Capitan and via a live-feed certainly helped. For a lot more details on this incredible climb check out NPR’s Free Climbers Make It To The Summit of El Capitan.

For anyone who likes beginning a new year with a challenge, Caldwell and Jorgeson have certainly provided some great inspiration. We may not all be up for something along the likes of El Capitan, but chances are you’ve got your own personal summit that you’re trying to reach. Whether it’s traveling someplace new or traveling out of your own comfort zone.

Where will you go in 2015 and what will you do? These two guys have set the bar damn high!

The Positive Revolution of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.

slras_Photoby_zach_smith_3Music can heal the trauma of man.
Jahson Gbassay Bull

Travel is wonderful but at some point you’ve got to go home.

Unless, that is, you can’t.

That is the fate of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.

If you’re not familiar with them, Sierra Leon’s Refugee All Stars are a band that was formed in the refugee camps of West Africa. Originally from Freetown, they, along with millions of others, were forced to flee their homes in the 1990s during a civil war in Sierra Leone that lasted a decade. In a crazy, shook up world, their story is incredible.

Born out of a situation you’d never hope to be in, instead of staying mired in hardship, these guys mined the power of connections and the indomitable nature of the human spirit. Music became their weapon, and from the dirt camps of Guinea they led a positive revolution. From international music festivals, to intimate venues, their uplifting sound and rousing energy inspires people around the planet.

Beloved for their joy and spirit, for the past year Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars have been celebrating their 10-year anniversary and the release of Libation, their fourth album, with a tour throughout Europe and the United States. It ended earlier this summer.

But once again, they can’t go home. They are cut off from their friends and families.

With Sierra Leone being one of the West African nations hit hardest by Ebola, recent reports list that more than 20 people a day are dying in that country from the virus. The limited amount of health care workers and hospital facilities make it impossible for everyone infected to get treatment, and all areas of the country have been impacted.

As the band takes shelter in the U.S., I was lucky enough to meet them when I booked them for an event in New York City. A gentle group, their feel-good sound immediately permeates a room, and it’s all peace, love, understanding, and connecting. They bring a sense of place with them, and for a little while it was Sierra Leone. With a bit of funk, a bit of reggae, and lot of West African soul, if you can’t chill to that, then you can’t chill.

I suspect that most of us don’t know what it’s like to live like a refugee but it can’t feel all that good. And while the U.S. isn’t the worse place in the world to be holed up, when a place isn’t your home, it isn’t your home. So they’re doing what they can by taking a bad situation and using it as an opportunity to raise money and awareness to help the people of Sierra Leone fight Ebola. As ambassadors for world peace, and with music as their arsenal, they continue to create goodness in an even crazier, shook up world.

The Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars are a generous group of men, so I’d like to use this opportunity to be an ambassador for them. With the holiday season upon us, I know there are plenty of parties being planned right now that are going to need music.  Not only will you have an internationally acclaimed band at your event that’ll get people on their feet, but you’ll also be helping them in their campaign to raise awareness. They can travel anywhere for a gig, except back home.

Unless you work for a humanitarian organization and volunteering to go in, travelers aren’t going to Sierra Leone. As the western world does the freak about the few Ebola cases that have touched their shores, the best thing we can do to stop its spread is to help eradicate this virus in the countries where it’s become an epidemic.  This is a collective endeavor.

So spread the word and spread good will. None of us may be traveling to Sierra Leone anytime soon but that doesn’t mean some of the best things about Sierra Leone can’t come to you.

Want to learn more? Click here for details on booking Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.

A Cemetery in Marbella: A Photo Essay

Some folks get creeped out by the thought of a cemetery. Not me. Raised across the street from Green-Wood Cemetery, one of the most famous in the US, as a kid I would slip through the bars on a wintry day and make snow angels among the beautiful tombstones. In summer, it’s still magic watching millions of fireflies dance the night away. Here’s a nice photo essay from The Daily Norm whose cemetery visits inspire travel.

The Daily Norm

There’s something inherently beautiful about a cemetery. It’s not just the peace and quiet, which is of course an inevitable feature of every cemetery or graveyard, but the tangible demonstration of human emotion shown by the care taken by those living for the memories of their beloved dead. This can be seen through the wording of a grave, through the flowers carefully laid alongside it, and through the regular cleaning of the stone with as much care as would be taken for a feature of a living household. There is also something innately civilised about caring for the dead and paying homage to the past, not least because it can make us more appreciative of our life and the lives of others still around us.

While I do like an English graveyard, headstones tilting in all directions and covered in moss and decay, my favourite type of cemetery is a…

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Eight things I learned from travel

The recent post by Life After Liquidity, 8 things I learned from travel, is too good not to reblog. For anyone who’s been on the fence about getting up and going, here’s a good kick…enjoy!

Life After Liquidity

Travel Cover

As I write this post I am sitting in the Caltrain, passing through various suburbs of the San Francisco Bay peninsula on my way to the city. It’s comforting to be surrounded by so many familiar sites once again.

My wife and I have had quite a journey: 17 countries, dozens of cities, and countless airports/train stations/bus stations. We’ve witnessed both staggeringly beautiful phenomena (Northern Lights in the Yukon Territories) and horrifying moments (a mob beating up some dude in the streets of Istanbul) along the way. Fortunately, my wife and I came out the other end of our trip completely safe and with a lifetime of memories.

I’ve delayed writing this post as long as I could; it’s been taking me a while to process what I’ve learned from this trip. The short answer is: a lot.

I may not be able to cover all the lessons I’ve learned…

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Hood Canal—The Greatest Show On Earth.

Hood Canal, WA, photo credit Claudia SantinoPicking my way along a beachhead of oysters, the water beckoned. You can’t walk this Washington beach at Hood Canal barefoot unless you want your feet cut to ribbons. Water shoes were my salvation. It was 86 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, and with barely a breeze the air felt like a furnace, and I was pretty crispy. Just as I was about to step in a shiny head popped up out of the water.

Eyes like a lab and a whiskered snout kept a sharp eye on me. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I waved, whistled and called to it, only to hear my sister say, “It’s not a dog.” It’s not every day I get to swim that close to a seal and as they say, you can take the girl out of Brooklyn but…

Visiting family can be a wild experience—the best of the best or the worst of the worst. When it’s good, it’s golden and if you’re blessed to have siblings who live in interesting places, spending time with them is a double incentive. I’d be in Bellevue with my sister and her husband. It’s the suburb Microsoft calls home and a stone’s throw, or two, from Seattle depending on traffic.

Seattle is the big draw for many travelers who visit Washington, and rightly so, but I was here on a backyard vacation. I appreciate the delights of the Emerald City but visiting family doesn’t always give you access to your own personal itinerary and that’s okay by me. With the lack of humidity in the summer, there is no finer place to be in this rainy part of the state when the sun takes its hat off. Our ultimate destination was Hood Canal, a hamlet in Union, Washington.

A pretty blue palate seen aboard the Washington State Ferries.  (Photo:  Claudia Santino)

A pretty blue palate seen aboard the Washington State Ferries. (Photo: Claudia Santino)

Located two hours west of Seattle, Hood Canal is one of the state’s jewels and a retreat into one of nature’s most pristine shorelines. It’s a natural saltwater fjord that splits the Kitsap and Olympic peninsula and where locals go to chill out and wish they didn’t have to make the trip back to the daily grind. You can easily drive to this stretch of paradise but parking your wheels on one of the Washington State Ferries is a nicer way to break up the trip, decompressing you into vacation mode a lot faster.

On a clear day, one of the biggest treats is feasting your eyes on the soft-serve vanilla ice cream cone perfection of Mount Rainier.

When you can see it, Mount Rainier is a perfect site to behold. (Photo: C. Santino)

When you can see it, Mount Rainier is a perfect site to behold. (Photo: C. Santino)

“Relax, you’re at the cabin” reads the welcome mat and I do, immediately melting into Hood Canal’s south side. East and west ends of this shoreline are chock-a-block with an architectural assortment of seaside residences. Some breathtaking, some kitschy, some over the top, but all lucky because of the knock-your-socks-off view of the majestic Olympic Mountains. Behind these homes, it’s pretty much all forest.

Hood Canal is a quiet haven and for old-timers and newcomers that is one of its draws. It’s a simple times kind of place to sit and behold nature day or night. Sure, you’ll hear a speedboat or the peal of laughter from a water-skier ring across the water but for the most part it’s the silence and serenity that becomes its most obvious gift.

Spring, summer, fall or winter, if you appreciate the great outdoors and are looking to disconnect, it’s a pearl of a place.

Douglas fir, cedar and redwood trees loom high above this little cabin like sentinel giants. The cool air they provide carries their woodsy perfume and the canopy of these shady guards seems to double as a concert hall for all manner of birds. In the twilight a large, winged, dark shadow passed above my head like a death starship. It was kind of eerie but then wings pulled in and long graceful legs descended to alight on a nearby dock. It was a great blue heron, coming in for last call on sunset happy hour.  A moment later its partner stationed itself on an adjacent dock.

A great blue heron settles into a Hood Canal happy hour.  (Photo: Claudia Santino)

A great blue heron settles into a Hood Canal happy hour. (Photo: Claudia Santino)

Seeing them again the following evening as they made their way towards their nest was another sight to behold as these large seabirds folded themselves towards branches, navigating them like tightrope walkers.  Sibling kingfishers dove out of a tall maple tree, skimming the canal for a fresh evening meal and providing additional entertainment.

Speaking of food, locals are used to fishing it right out of Hood Canal or off its beach. Crabbing, clamming, trout, salmon—it’s all there. And then there are Hood Canal oysters. These sweet bivalves have made their way from this once sleepy hamlet all the way to New York City menus.

No matter the season, the local town of Belfair has pretty much anything you need to get your provisions, hunker down, and escape mankind. Our car was locked and loaded with food from home. More importantly, we’d bought lots of peaches for pie. Silence may be golden but it doesn’t get much better than sitting on a deck in summer enjoying homemade peach pie.

With its small town vibe, nearby Shelton seems like the town that time forgot. Located southwest of Hood Canal, it’s a lazy pace place but with a downtown area that has lots of cool and quirky shops, bars and restaurants. Vintage stores and second-hand shops draw locals and tourists and a good starting place for anyone who likes this kind of treasure hunting is Garage Sale Maniacs. It’s the kind of place that has something for everyone, with its top quality furniture and furnishings, books, jewelry, vintage photos, as well as all the bric-a-brac that goes with a second-hand shop.

If you’re not into buying someone else’s stuff, contemporary design and home furnishing shops are happy to take your disposable income and you’ll be lucky if you can get out of Lynch Creek Florist without busting your wallet open because they don’t just do flowers.

Let’s put it this way—if I owned a cabin on Hood Canal, this home decor and gift shop on W. Railroad Avenue would be my go to and I’d be in big trouble.

Just a few steps away, Nita’s Coffee Shop, in business since 1962, drew me like steel to a magnet. Spotting an authentic diner is like recognizing a first crush. It’s a good way to meet the locals and any place that has homemade pie on the menu gets a star in my book. Spending the day in Shelton is a perfect way to extend your feel of the area and revisit the type of town that is disappearing in this country.

A local hangout in Shelton, WA. (Photo: Claudia Santino)

A local hangout in Shelton, WA. (Photo: Claudia Santino)

At one time Hood Canal was a best-kept secret but no more. Over the years it’s welcomed a new demographic of visitors. In 2004 the redesigned Alderbrook Resort & Spa had the light shining brighter on this neck of the Great Northwest.

Since then, the hotel has been racking up awards for its accommodations and four-star spa.

In business since 1913, Alderbrook has served as a getaway for vacationing Washington families. It changed hands over the decades and the major facelift it got in 2001 dovetails with Hood Canal’s natural environment. Today’s design is simple and welcoming with a 30-foot stone and wood fireplace as the lobby’s centerpiece. Huge windows look out on the canal and the resort’s garden. With a mix of hotel rooms and cottages, Alderbrook’s friendly room rates are one of its most welcoming features and the 18-hole PGA golf course is a draw for locals and visitors.

Alderbrook Resort & Spa provides a nice welcome for visitors and locals.

Alderbrook Resort & Spa provides a nice welcome for visitors and locals.

Destination weddings are popular at Alderbrook but the vibe is so local that other guests don’t seem to mind the ceremony as they slurp down local shellfish and sip a chilly glass of Pinot Gris from the state’s Columbia Valley or a Spice of Life Bloody Mary served with a signature crab claw. Kayakers glide by and a red-sailed boat moves towards a sunset sail. It’s local meets luxury and it’s all very chill. The hotel’s location in Union is prime for hiking, fishing, or boating but I was happy to just enjoy the scenery.

It was only three miles west from where I was holed up but the view from Alderbrook took on an entirely different color. Situated on a wider point of the canal, my eyes absorbed more and the mountain range was cast in a watercolor palette of pale to indigo blue. A bald eagle in flight only enhanced the picture, as if someone said: “Cue the bird.” I couldn’t get enough of this wild stuff. Sunsets seem to go on forever here and as a crescent moon rose, the sky and water was cast in an amethyst hue that set the Olympic Mountains aglow. No acid required.

Mornings are an entirely different experience and it’s not unusual to wake to cloud cover. This summer has been golden for the Great Northwest and the sunrise lit up the Olympic Mountain range, Hood Canal’s west side view, clear as glass. Its spiny ridge is set in profile of a sleeping George Washington. A faint, wispy trail of snow formed the lining of his breast pocket. Playful swallows dipped and darted, skimming the water at a frenetic pace. Focusing solely on them I could almost feel their aerodynamic power.

Bumblebees get busy on deck flowers of hot pink-fringed gladioli, ballerina pink Japanese anemone, and orange flame crocosmia, disappearing into petals like women into a fitting room. They finally reappear, their theft of pollen hidden wherever bees stash that precious gold.

Going for the gold. (Photo: Claudia Santino)

Going for the gold. (Photo: Claudia Santino)

Bobbing in the water, I watched the seal watching me. I figured by now this was flirtation so “it” became “he.” I don’t get this at Coney Island and I was as transfixed by his otherness as he seemed to be by mine. But my perfect moment was shattered when a barking Jack Russell came charging down to the water raising hell.

In a flash, my Romeo slipped into the sea and his little torpedo body vanished.

That night as twilight set, the water was cast in ripples of indigo blue. I asked my brother-in-law if he ever saw seals at this time of the evening. Not really, he said. A moment later we heard a splash and out popped Romeo. He’d go under in a big dip, smack his tail against the water sending up a plume of water that echoed across the canal.

His splashing went on for hours and I was content to contemplate this creature, staying on that deck squinting for him as the light faded, listening to his act until the inkiness of the water blended with the rest of nature.

The darkness came and then the stillness. I couldn’t see anything anymore but it was still the greatest show on earth.

This article originally appeared in Communities Digital News.

Cold Spring, NY—A Perfect Getaway.

Photo credit: Claudia SantinoGet outta town!

For New York’s city dwellers without beach houses or country homes, escape is a thought that’s constantly simmering throughout the summer. For visitors, ditching Manhattan to explore greener pastures makes for a nice retreat. The trouble is that traveling to a destination that instills the feeling that you’ve escaped the city’s limits can take a few hours. Without a car, or the budget to rent one, finding the right place to accommodate you logistically can be a bit challenging.

Except for Cold Spring, New York.

Located just over an hour from Grand Central Station via the Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson line, once you arrive Cold Spring it’s just a short stroll to Main Street where you’ll find a small village with lots of offerings. Especially its access to the great outdoors.

Located on the banks of widest part of the Hudson River, across the water the looming hills and plunging cliffs of West Point will have you feeling a world away from Manhattan’s hustle and bustle. Sailboats and paddleboats make their way along the same historic waterway Native Americans used in the 1600s and which later became a main hub for travel and transportation.

With its proximity to New York City, this charming and historic town is a welcome shock to the senses, making it an ideal getaway for day or weekend trips. Its easy navigation makes it equally accommodating to older travelers and families, many of whom can be seen strolling or relaxing along the water’s edge. A few local inns located just on or off Main Street and the nearby towns of Beacon and Garrison offer additional accommodations for visitors who come to explore the areas access to historical culture, art galleries, boating or cruising on the Hudson, and nature trails.

On a hot August morning, I was drawn to this easy getaway for a day of standup paddle boarding, or SUP as it’s known. Once off the train I easily made my way to Hudson River Expeditions, an outfitter specializing in all things paddling for the novice to the expert, including canoeing and kayaking.

All things paddling await you at Hudson River Expeditions.

All things paddling await you at Hudson River Expeditions.

Whether you’re looking for private instruction or just interested in renting for an hour or more, these folks are a full service operation. Their tours of the Hudson Highlands area includes such offerings as a leisurely paddle through the Audubon sanctuary of Constitution Marsh, an open river paddle through World’s End to West Point, or a journey to Pollepel Island to explore Bannerman Castle, to name a few.

Gearing up at Foundry Cove, which George Washington used as a strategic location against the British, a guide adjusted a paddle to my height. Reviewing the basics at the launch point, he said to imagine an imaginary buoy out on the Hudson and instructed me not to cross it because of recreational vessels. That wouldn’t be a problem, with its abundant wildlife Constitution Marsh held all the appeal.

It was late afternoon and he said the best part would be going out with the tide. “You’ll catch a free ride,” he added, waving me off with a big smile.

Unless you’re riding rapids, or doing it with your spouse, paddling is a meditative sport. Being on a board solo gets lets you dive into that state of mind a lot easier. Add a bit of chop from the wake of passing boats and your core muscles get a quick opportunity to kick into gear.

Paddling in the big pool of the Hudson River with a sapphire sky and a 360-degree view of forest is pure magic. In the distance, the majestic mountains of the Hudson Highlands on both sides of the river draws visitors to its prime hiking trails with Breakneck Ridge being one of the most popular. There’d be none of that on this trip but it was an incentive to return.

Hudson Highlands.

Hudson Highlands.

Bird watching is popular in Cold Spring, with the colder months attracting visitors eager to see eagles set up camp here before heading back to their nesting areas in the spring. In Constitution Marsh on this perfect summer day, periwinkle blue dragonflies zoomed around and a family of ducks paddled about, the mum herding a renegade duckling back in line. Birds flew in and out of the tall marsh grasses and a quick eye was needed to identify them.

I believe it's a wren.

I believe it’s a wren.

Blazing sunlight glittered across the water as kayakers leisurely made their way through the marsh channels, snug in their cockpits they looked like muffins baking. When the heat is on another benefit of SUP is sliding off your board for a refreshing plunge.

In the late afternoon a kayaker glided out of a channel, warning me of the receding tide. When my paddle began hitting the sandy bottom, I headed back towards the river and the rushing water carried me out of the marsh, under a trestle and out into the Hudson. A free ride indeed.

After all that paddling, lunch was in order and on Main Street one was easily found. From one end to the other, it is chock-a-block with eateries from comfy cafes to restaurants. Cathryn’s Tuscan Grill serves Northern Italian fare and has café garden bursting with flowers. With its pretty front porch, Hudson Hill’s Café & Market is just the sort of place you expect to find in a small town like Cold Spring. Open for breakfast and lunch, their menu offers a nice selection of sandwiches, burgers, salads, and even fish tacos, and their portions are hearty. Thirst quenching refreshment came in the form of cider pressed in nearby Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery and it was especially nice over a pint glass filled with ice.

Lots of spots to eat on Main Street.

Lots of spots to eat on Main Street.

Weaving in and out of the local galleries, antique stores and vintage shops is a good way to walk it all off. But save room for ice cream because it’s just the sort of town that beckons this kind of summer treat.

Moo Moo’s Creamery can easily satisfy that craving and saying their portions are generous is an understatement. While it was yummy, the small cone of strawberry ice cream I ordered could easily have fed a family of four.

Cold Spring Film Society's spooky sunset feature

Cold Spring Film Society’s spooky sunset feature

This main thoroughfare slopes down to the Hudson River where people gravitate to simply enjoy the view of sailboats gliding by with a perfect backdrop of mountain. The Cold Spring Film Society plays free sunset movies a la fresco every Saturday throughout the summer. Local food and wine shops benefit from the outdoor movie picnics and are a good way for visitors and locals to mix. The sci-fi flick Alien was the feature during my visit and I could think of no better way to spend a splendid summer night than dockside scared out of my wits.

September 6 brings a double feature, American Tale followed by Dirty Dancing. A great way reason to visit Cold Spring and enjoy some of the last nights of the season.

With its low humidity, September often promises some of the best weather on the East Coast, providing a few more opportunities to enjoy summer in Cold Spring. The jewel tones of fall foliage will soon set the mountains surrounding this area ablaze, attracting leaf lovers.

All the sun and fun eventually catches up with you. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about hitting traffic on the way home. Settling into a window seat, dozing off was easy as the rhythm of the train rocked me all the way back to the big city.

Got Vacation?

Posada Margherita, Tulum.  Photo by Claudia SantinoThe US Labor Department recently released findings that one out of every seven workers does NOT take paid vacation.

If you think that’s crazy, that’s because it is.

There was a time when vacation was the silver lining of working for the man but, apparently, no more. This once sacred cow of an employee’s time has morphed into busyness as a badge of honor. Like a scene out of Network, I keep excepting people to throw open windows and scream, “I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE.” but the silence is deafening.

Network, the film whose famous line could be a rallying call for folks to take their paid time off.

Network, the film whose famous line could be a rallying call for folks to take their paid time off.

Say what you will but this all started with laptops and cellphones. The insidious lamb to the slaughter takeover of our lives from “smart” devices and constantly being plugged in got in the way of real living. It obliterated the separation between church and state. We’re in a wired world where we are constantly “on.” Once out of the office, some folks have a hard time disconnecting and some managers and office cultures expect a live line at all hours.  These days it’s not uncommon to hear coworkers who do go on vacation tell the office that they’ll have their phone with them.

What the sound of the ocean isn’t entertaining enough for you, you must have your cell phone?

The Employee Confidence Survey, conducted by the transparent career community site Glassdoor, is a window into why employees are leaving paid vacation time on the table. Anyone interested in all the details can read the report but here’s a bird’s eye view on their results:VacationBreakdown-Q1-14

Why would employees entitled to paid time off not take it?

For some, it’s a case clear case of climbing the corporate ladder, company dedication, being a good worker bee, and getting the gold star.  Some are so freaked out by the amount of work they have that the thought of taking vacation is stressful.  For others it’s guilt (about what I have not idea), or fear of losing their job, or being afraid of the boss.

Speaking of bosses, is there nothing worse than a boss who calls you while he or she is on vacation? Vacation for you is vacation for me. The operative part of that word is “vacate.” It’s like the boss who goes on maternity leave but doesn’t leave—it’s sheer craziness.

And here’s the really sad part. A 2013 survey by Oxford Economics found that 13% of managers are more likely to promote workers who don’t take vacation days. That’s real nice.  Another side effect of not taking vacation: heart problems, poor morale, and most likely not that fun to live with or be with.

Not surprisingly, the study found that employees who do use their vacation time are more productive and less stressed out. So why would you want to promote someone who is overworked and stressed out? The benefits of taking vacation benefits everyone.

And here’s where the travel agency and industry has a shot. Everyone knows the Got Milk ad campaign. Why not…Got Vacation? There won’t be white moustaches but the creativity around that tagline is endless and could wrap itself around the planet several times over.

When it comes to people who can’t disengage from work, a friend of mine says, “No one ever spent their last breath saying, ‘I should have spent more time at the office’.” On that note, no one should end up on a hospital bed saying, “I should have taken my vacation days,” but that’s what’s going to happen because it’s turned into the American way. Can’t we take a page out Europe’s book on this one?

It’s August and if you haven’t used any of your vacation or holiday time yet, do yourself a favor and take it. Summer’s not going anywhere but hopefully you are. And that goes for the rest of the year. Use it or lose it because that’s probably your company’s policy anyway.

If you need any more encouragement, this might give you the push needed to call a travel agent, take a staycation, get out the roadmap, or get off the grid.  Whether or not he’s your cup of tea, his humorous take on taking vacation is spot on.  Click here and fast forward past New Rules to the closing monologue.

Enjoy your vacation!

 

 

 

 

The Grand Canyon—Keeping It Real.

sunset-on-the-north-rim-of-the-grand-canyon-hdr-mark-greenawalt

Do we have to ruin everything?

The first time I visited the Grand Canyon, it was in the mid-90s. Some colleagues and I were in Phoenix for a company meeting and had 24 hours to kill before it kicked off. There were five of us, and one rental car, so we decided to head to Sedona. Once there we went horseback riding, bopped around the town, ate and contemplated the beauty of this destination. Over icy bottles of beer, we were feeling groovy and the last thing we wanted to do was return to Phoenix. I mentioned how I’d never seen the Grand Canyon.

The next thing, one of the guys from our group pulled a quarter from his pocket (obviously that’s when peopled carried cash) and gave us the directive, “Heads we head for the Grand Canyon, tails we’re back at the hotel.”

That night we found ourselves split up between 3 bunk beds in one room of a hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was cheap and we were cheerful and all charged up for our renegade getaway from the claws of a corporate meeting. It felt like camp as our company of two women and three men giggled, whispering tales in the dark until we drifted off to sleep.

Early the next morning we hit the road, three in the back and two in the front. But one of our gang was itching and scratching. He’d had a bunk all to himself and was convinced he had bed bugs. Someone turned the radio up and when signs for the Grand Canyon began appearing, I forgot everyone.

With the exception of a few cars, the parking lot we pulled into was pretty empty. Which way to the canyon, I asked one of my travel companions who’d already been. “It’s right there,” he said pointing over my left shoulder. And he was right, it was right there.

How this glorious force of nature, so all-encompassing, so massive, so breathtakingly, incredibly, jaw-dropping, out-of-this-world, awesomely obvious natural work of art couldn’t have immediately captured my attention bewildered me. Looking back, it’s like being on safari when all of a sudden an elephant appears out of nowhere, without a sound. How is that possible?

We only had two hours and I sat on a rock ledge on the South Rim staring into the abyss of this natural wonder and the Colorado River that formed it. As the sun rose, the orangey-coral, multi-colored striations that paint the canyon walls changed. Birds flew through its corridor, soaring high and low and I envied their view.

One might river.

One mighty river.

The Grand Canyon is humbling. It is also compelling and I almost wanted to throw myself in. It is an all out force of nature and it truly is quite grand.

Every once in a while my eyes drifted and I saw visitors doing the same thing as me. Cameras came out but mostly people sat individually or as couples, losing themselves in the canyon’s vortex. There is no past or future when you are in a space like this, it is nature’s cathedral and she has your undivided attention.

Since then, I’ve revisited the Grand Canyon several times and it is always a unique experience. I’ve hiked down into it, staying overnight in the Havasupai Indian village (a bit depressing) and swam in Havasu Falls (gorgeous). The North Rim of the canyon is my preferred side. It’s less accessible which is probably why I like it, but no matter what vantage point you view it from there’s not a bad seat in the house. And there’s no sunset like a Grand Canyon sunset. New age and woo-woo stuff aside, it is most certainly a spiritual experience.

Bird's eye view of Havasu Falls.

Bird’s eye view of Havasu Falls.

So last week when I read A Cathedral Under Siege, it invoked the question for me—do we have to ruin everything? If you’ve ever visited the Grand Canyon than it’s a must read. If you’ve never visited this geological wilderness wonder, it may inspire you to experience it.

The article is written by Kevin Fedarko, whose book The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon, was featured on PortsAreCalling last year. As a guide in Grand Canyon National Park, this man knows more than a thing or two about this natural monument and the havoc that two development projects underway will wreak upon it.

One is the construction of a residential and community center just two miles from the South Rim’s entrance. Development requires water, which requires tapping into wells, which basically means tapping into the delicate balance of nature connected to the Grand Canyon. The other project is the proposed construction of a tramway that would descend into the canyon, as well as an elevated walkway, an amphitheater and a restaurant. The tramway would provide access to 4,000 plus visitors a day.

Is that really necessary?

This kind of heavy traffic equals congestion, pollution, destruction, and ultimately desecration.

I ask again, do we have to ruin everything?

I’ll leave you with Fedarko’s thoughts:

“Conservationists often lament the inherent unfairness of fights like this. Whenever a developer is defeated, nothing prevents other developers from stepping forward, again and again. But for those who love wilderness, the loss of a single battle can mean the end of the war, because landscapes that fall to development will never return

If you care about places like the Grand Canyon, there’s something inherently wrong about that. But there may be something reaffirming about it, too, because these threats call upon us to reassert our conviction, as a nation, that although wilderness is an asset whose worth may be difficult if not impossible to quantify, without it, we would be immeasurably poorer.

Every 15 or 20 years, it seems, the canyon forces us to undergo a kind of national character exam. If we cannot muster the resources and the resolve to preserve this, perhaps our greatest natural treasure, what, if anything, are we willing to protect?”

Getting ‘Used To’ Travel.

FtrainSeveral years ago when some friends and I and boarded my local F train that’s part of New York City’s lovely subway system, a very funky odor greeted us. Basically, it smelled like crap. I suggested we move to another car, while another friend said, “You’ll get used to it.”

Are you kidding me? Why should we have to get used to it I wondered, as other passengers sat there reading or staring blankly in the practiced effort of avoiding eye contact.

Airline travel can sometimes be a similar experience. We’ve gotten “used to” things we feel we can’t control. Last week on a flight to Seattle, the flight attendant asked all passengers if they would kindly remain seated upon landing so a family traveling together could exit first. The plane had been delayed an hour leaving New York and it was going to be a tight connection for these folks to make their next flight. No problem, I thought, what’s a few more minutes? Apparently, it’s a big deal to a lot of people. The family could barely make it though the gauntlet of passengers who just couldn’t wait to get off the plane first.

We may be captives for a few hours in a flying can but that doesn’t mean we can’t be civilized. We may not be able to move to another subway car to get away from an offensive smell, or passenger, but we can show good etiquette.

Earlier this year Jaunted posted 8 Ways to Avoid Being ‘That Annoying Passenger’ on a Flight, I figured it bears repeating and, hopefully, you’ll pass it on:

Ah, airline travel. Could there be a more perfect example of a love/hate relationship? We feel fortunate for the opportunity to travel anywhere around the globe in a day; however, we’d be lying if we said the experience was always a relaxing one.

Airline travel is no longer comfortable in economy class, and it’s up to us to do our part to stop the bleeding. Some of these recommendations may seem small and trivial, but a little goes a long way at 30,000 feet!

Here are a few ways for you to help make someone else’s flight more enjoyable, and to avoid being “that guy” at the center of happy hour horror stories:

Don’t use the seats for balance as you walk down the aisle. Instead, use the overhead compartments. If you reach up and slide your hand along it, you’ll be able to catch yourself if there’s a sudden bout of turbulence. Every time you grab the corner of a seat, you create an earthquake, and if you’ve ever had someone do it to you while you’re nodding off, you know how annoying it is.

Along those same lines, don’t use the seat in front of you to pull yourself up when going to the rest room. Use the arm rests to push yourself up, as grabbing and pulling on the back of the seat is on par with kicking it.

Turn your bags back to front in the overhead. Time and time again we watch people put their bag sideways and take up the space of two. Don’t do that! It simply delays takeoff when the last people can’t find space and the flight attendants have to go around and turn the bags themselves.

Look behind you before reclining. We know you have the right to do it, and most times it’s all right, but sometimes, especially in smaller planes, we’ve wanted to knife the person sitting in front of us. We’re on the tall side – six foot two – and we’ve had situations where one minute we’re working on our computer, and the next the laptop is under our chin and we couldn’t type a word comfortably even if we had Tyrannosaurus arms. Take a peek behind you and just make sure you’re not making someone more uncomfortable than the comfort those extra few inches will provide you. That’s not too much to ask, right? By the way, if someone does it to you, all bets are off and everything is fair game. That particular time, we felt no hesitation or guilt for having to push on the seat to access the bag at our feet. We hate to say fight fire with fire, but sometimes it’s the only way.

Don’t eat aromatic food. Notice how we didn’t say bad smelling food, as that leaves too much up for interpretation. You might love the smell of tuna, but the other hundred people on the plane most likely do not. We had a man next to us eat canned octopus in garlic sauce once, and we spent the next three hours keeping the woman on our right from shoving the can down his throat.

Introduce yourself to your seatmate. You have to walk a fine line with this one as we’ve all heard people complain about the person next to them who “wouldn’t shut up,” but at least say hi to the person next to you. We find most people are up for some conversation, and sometimes it turns into a pleasant back and forth. That said, feel it out and pick up on people’s signals. If they’re fiddling with their earphones, casually give them a chance to end the conversation. But, at the very least, make an effort during takeoff and landing. To us, it’s weirder to sit next to someone for three hours and not say a word than it is to introduce yourself.

Wait until the row in front of you deplanes before deplaning yourself. We’re not sure why there is so much confusion about this (cough, Europe!). It seems like it should be common sense and common courtesy, yet inevitably there always seems to be someone who thinks they shouldn’t have to wait and who tries to push past us as we’re trying to exit our row. We were once in the second to last row of the plane and had the man in the last row almost knock us over as we stood up from our aisle seat and stepped out. Needless to say, words were exchanged – it’s just plain rude. If you happen to have a tight connection, be nice and quietly ask permission to go ahead (there’s nothing worse than a panicking person screaming about their connection… it’s a rookie traveler mistake and no one takes you any more seriously whether you ask nicely or act like a knucklehead. In fact, it’s the people who are pushy that we want to help the least).

Don’t stand in the aisle when waiting for the bathroom. We know you have to go, but we really would rather you not stand over us while you wait. It’s already tight quarters, and hovering over someone sitting in an aisle seat doesn’t make it any better, not to mention that certain body parts tend to line up with our face when they’re standing next to us (this is also a common time when people tend to rest their hands on the back of seats). Stay in your seat until there’s no line, or wait in the food galley until the person in front of you comes out. Thankfully, airlines have started to police this themselves and it doesn’t happen as often as it used to.

Deep breath, rant over. Happy flying!