AA 30th Anniversary

American Airlines is celebrating its 30th anniversary.  What better way to celebrate than offer chances to win AA miles?  They have a special website that you can enter to win miles and find ways to earn bonus miles on different purchases.  Each day there is a new deal, but some of the deals last longer than one day.  Go through each of the days to see which ones have expired.  

Since my kindness has no end, look at MAY 9TH for a chance to win a trip around the world.  Also on the upper right hand corner you can enter for a chance to win 30,000 miles everyday.  In order to enter these contests you have to have an AAdvantage number.  If you are not a member of their frequent flyer program, no worries.  Sign up using the promo code ADV30 and you’ll receive 500 bonus miles.  Good luck to everyone, especially me!

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Albisola Superior to Albenga

The great thing about never truly planning a trip is that if you need to change your schedule, it is really easy.

Originally I was going to cycle from Milan to Barcelona, but after seeing the amazing scenery, I decided I would spend an extra day at each of my stops.  My first stop on the coast was Albisola Superior.  The decision to spend an extra day at each of the locations paid off immediately.  I spent the day laying out at the beach trying to recover from all of the cycling.  Since I fell asleep immediately while on the beach, I didn’t get to see much of Albisola.

The next day I spent the day walking around the different shops, seeing all of the unique buildings, and watching people eat (I’m not a creep, I just wanted to see what everyone was eating).  The narrow streets were mesmerizing because around every corner there was something new to see.  Down one street there was an old church.  Around the corner there was an old fashion art studio.  In front of the studio there was a restaurant with a giant window to watch pizzas being tossed.

The next day I cycled to Albenga.  It was fun to ride along the coast because I had to cycle up a large hill and follow the road as it curved around the cliff.  As I began the descent, the city of Albenga came more and more into view.  The coolest part about the ride was seeing an old castle on top of a mountain overlooking the coast.  When I arrived I found a cheap hotel, but unfortunately no one spoke English.  I guess not a lot of tourist outside of Italy visit Albenga.  It was a difficult situation because I usually ask locals where I should visit and which restaurants to try.   To overcome this challenge, I would ask a question in English and get a bunch of blank stares.  Then I would ask it in Spanish.  People would reply in Italian and after a bunch of hand signals we would finally be able to understand one another…I think.

Abel Tasman

Sometimes the name of a place is a good indicator of what to expect.  Abel Tasman.  The name has an exotic, but peaceful ring to it. And that is what you will get.  It is a passage to a world free of technology, human influence, pollution, noise, and cubicles.  Although I loved all of New Zealand, Abel Tasman is in my top three favorite places in this beautiful country.  Since I didn’t have enough time to go hiking through the park, I decided to kayak in the Tasman Bay along the coast of the park.

If I had a personal Guinness Book of World Records (that people actually cared about) then you would see Abel Tasman listed three times.  It holds the record for being the quietest place I have been to.  The only sound that could be heard was the occasional bird call, seal grunt, or paddle cutting in and out of the water.  Even when I was on the shore, eating lunch, the waves breaking on the sand were so gentle that they hardly made a sound.  This quietness filled me with immense peace and provided the perfect opportunity for self reflection.

Following this peaceful theme, the second record this national park would hold is the calmest ocean water I have ever seen.  I felt like I was on a calm lake with a slight breeze causing little ripples throughout the entire body of water.  There were no waves (on the shore or in the middle of the bay).  The biggest waves I saw were caused by a larger than life gentlemen and his slightly skinner counterpart (Luckily the huge tidal waves were being created behind me and did not swallow me with my kayak).

The final record would be for the most exotic sand.  I have never seen sand like I did in Abel Tasman.  Caught between the turquoise water and the green forest wall, the yellow sand seemed to emanate a golden glow.  The sand was soft and appeared untouched by man.  There were no footprints or trash, just the trickle of the waves against the soft golden sand.

If you have a chance to go to Abel Tasman, I highly recommend kayaking.  There’s nothing like cruising at a steady pace and enjoying the scenery.  Plus one of the best parts of the day was paddling to an island covered with seals.  Most were getting their tan on and sleeping, but every now and then one would stir and make a sound or go for a dip.  It was fun to circle the island and see all different sized seals.  Some had too much to eat.  Others would fit in your arms.  All in all two words provided me with and peaceful and enjoyable day, Abel Tasman.

Where do you go to find peace?

Prepare to Save

I have been slacking with the travel tips as of late, but this week I have a couple that will save you a lot of money.  There is a website called Airfarewatchdog that allows you to find unadvertised sales and cheap flights.  All you have to do is sign-up with your email address and select alerts from your home airport and other close airports.  If you are looking to travel to a certain city you can also select “to a city”, which alerts you of deals to a certain city from various airports.  It’s a great way to find the cheapest flights.  Once you find a good deal, select it, and to the right of the flight information there will be several discount websites you can book the flight through (Travelocity, Orbitz, etc.)   To get these deals you have to act quickly and have flexible travel dates.  The tickets go fast because you can save hundreds of dollars. This gives you the power to find deals that you would have otherwise missed. 

If you hate renting a car as much as I do, you will enjoy this tip.  Auto Slash helps you find the cheapest car rental prices.  The cool thing is that if you’ve booked a car and the price drops, you’ll receive an alert and be allowed to rebook at the lower price.  I compared the prices from this website with other common cheap car rental websites and Auto Slash has been the cheapest and easiest to use.  It provides all of the details of the car rental agreement.  This is a great tool to help you quickly find cheap rentals.

Although I haven’t used either website, I know that both websites will help you save a lot of money.  There are a lot of good reviews and information about both sites.  I can’t wait to begin using them!

The Temple of Karnak

After a good night rest in my five star hotel room, I headed to the Temple of Karnak, the largest temple I had visited.  It was so large that I couldn’t count the number of columns, statues, and hieroglyphics that I saw.  The best thing about a large tourist attraction is that you can always find an area to be alone or surrounded by people, depending on what you want.  Just inside the main entrance I decided to hang-out by a large tour group to get some basic knowledge of the ruins (nothing like a free tour).  After my tour guide’s summary of the temple, I headed off to make some discoveries of my own.

I entered a corridor to the right which was filled with pillars and statues.  They were all covered in carved hieroglyphics, even the ceilings. By the time I finished looking around, my tour guide and his noisy throng had entered the corridor.  I saw another tour group entering through the main entrance, so I made a mad dash to the Hypostyle Hall before any tour groups flooded that area too.  The Hippostyle Hall is incredible.  There are over 100 giant columns standing about 33 feet high (the height is according to Wikepedia, so I make no promise of the accuracy of the information, but I am accurate in stating that they were really tall).  The better preserved columns had colored hieroglyphics running up the entire length of the column.  I felt like an ant as I looked up at these towering structures.  Fortunately for me, the Egyptians were good engineers because if one of those pillars had fallen, I would have been squashed like an ant.

Column after column, statue after statue, room after room, the temple seemed never-ending. The intense heat added to the feeling that I would never be able to see all of the temple.  my aching feet and sweat covered body told me it was time to take a break from viewing the endless temple.  Off to the right, not attached to the main temple, I saw a small temple.  The small temple was deserted, so I followed a set of stairs up to an area that overlooked the main complex.  It was the perfect place to take a break.  I was in the shade with a great view of the enormous ruins.  As I sat in the quiet, empty temple, I was grateful that I was not stuck in a crowd listening to some tour guide ramble on in the intense heat.

I walked around the entire exterior of the temple and enjoyed sites that no one else even cared to discover.  One of the coolest things I found was a side entry way to the temple.  The inside of the 50 foot entryway was covered in painted carvings.  As I re-entered the main temple, I passed through a gigantic Pylon (a massive gateway), which had a carving of two men fighting.  I believe it symbolized a great victory of Ramses ll, but I’m no archiologist.

Towards the back of the main temple there was a sacred lake.  The murky water didn’t look so sacred, but because of the heat I was tempted to jump in.  If it wasn’t for the fear of contracting every disease known, and unknown, to man for the past few thousands of years, I probably would have jumped in.  After an entire morning at the Temple of Karnak, it was time for a break.  I went to my sacred lake at the palace Steigenberger and had a poolside meal fit for a pharaoh.  What an awesome day!  Amazing ruins, great food, and a cold pool.

To the Coast!

The next day I rode from Alessandria to Aqui Terme.  Italians come from all over to relax and vacation in the thermal waters of Aqui Terme.  I am not a frequent spa visitor, but I thought, “when in Aqui Terme…” (“Yes, please continue.” That’s from Anchorman Kyle, you should probably see it!).  Since I wanted to save money and get the local experience, I went to the community spa.  If you plan to go to a spa in Italy, be careful of the strict dress code.  No sandals, towel, or bathing cap, no service!

Going to the spa was the best idea ever!  It was so relaxing and helped relieve my aching muscles.  I swam in their thermal pools, chilled in the sauna, and took a nap in their nature room.  The best part about the spa was their shower.  They had a shower with a bunch of different settings.  You could set it to a jungle rain, orange scent spray.  The cool spray reminded me of a light drizzle in Singapore.  Of course, since I’m a man, my favorite part of the shower was the barbaric setting, you just pull a cord and a giant bucket of cold water would dump on your head (the warm flower scent was an excellent combo with the bucket…I mean…).  I must have spent 30 minutes in the shower trying out every possible combination.  It was awesome!

When I woke up the next day, I felt rejuvenated.  I guess the spa did the trick.  As I began the 40 mile bike ride to the coast, I realized that my  body was adjusting to the heavy cycling.  My legs didn’t hurt as much, I could peddle longer, and cycle faster.  Just as I was getting in a groove (and images of cycling in the Tour De France with my buddy Lance was playing in my head), the landscape changed.  All of a sudden the relatively flat land turned into steep hills and mountains.  Every time I slowly summited a hill, coasting downhill barely gave me enough time to catch my breath to begin a new ascent.

After riding up and coasting down for what seemed like forever, I made it to the top of the last hill.  At the top of the hill I could see a valley covered in clouds.  A rainstorm was headed my way.  Before I could begin my descent, it started to rain.  I quickly found shelter under some trees and decided it was time for a lunch break.  Without a doubt, I must have looked like a crazy person, sitting in the forest eating a peanut butter sandwich in the rain.  Luckily the storm quickly passed.

Since the road was slick, I was worried to descend too fast, so initially, I took my time.  Each time I braked, my bike did not want to comply with my cautious attitude.  My bike was right.  The steepest downhill section of my ride wasn’t meant for caution, but for speed.  I let go of the brakes and went flying down the hill.  Never in my life have I gone that fast on a bike.  The more my speed increased, the more unstable my bike became.  My grip tightened on the handlebars and the adrenaline ran through my veins.  The speed almost became too much as my bike started to wobble.  Just when I was about to apply the brakes, the road flattened out.

I coasted around a long bend and then out of nowhere the ocean appeared.  It was an incredible sight!  Three days of cycling, a near death experience, and exhaustion made my goal of making it to the coast of Italy seem impossible.  There, in front of me, was a seemingly impossible goal accomplished.  I can’t explain the joy and satisfaction I felt.  It was crazy that the simple sight of the ocean could bring about so many emotions.

#42 Iron Chef

#42 of my bucket list was to create an outstanding recipe.

Since there was a chili cook off last week, I decided that it would be the perfect time to create an outstanding recipe.  To make a long story short, I did not win, but I think it is some of the best chili I have ever made (I guess it couldn’t have been that good since I didn’t win).  I can’t completely cross this off my list until I have other people try it and confirm the amazingness of my recipe.  Below is the recipe, so please try it and let me know what you think.

Sweet & Spicy BBQ Chili

1 1/3 lb lean ground beef

1 onion chopped

1 small green bell pepper, chopped

2 garlic cloves. Minced

2 (16 ounce) cans of kidney beans, rinsed and drained

2 (14 ounce) cans diced tomatoes

3/4 cup of BBQ sauce

5 tablespoons chili powder

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

1 green chili pepper

Cook first 4 ingredients in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring until beef crumbles and is no longer pink; drain.  Place mixture in a 5-quart slow cooker, stir beans and remaining ingredients.  You can add as much or as little cayenne pepper and chili pepper as you want, depending on how spicy you want it.  Cook at high 3 – 4 hours or at low 5 to 6 hours.

What’s the coolest bucket item you’ve crossed off?

Drakensberg

My trip to Drakensberg was one of the craziest trips I have ever taken.  One night I saw a picture of Drakensberg and the next day I was on the road driving nine hours to the national park.  The drive, although long, was beautiful.  It was awesome to see traditional homes, wide open grasslands, and baboons.   When I arrived just outside of Drakensberg, the real adventure began.    As I stopped to get gas, in a place I thought was close to Drakensberg, I decided to ask the gas attendant where I could stay.   He told me that I was still over an hour away from the park.  It was late by the time I arrived in the secluded area near Drakensberg.  With no street lights and poorly marked roads, I struggled to find a place to stay.  By some miracle I eventually found a hostel nestled 100 yards off the main road.  I was grateful that the stress of trying to find a place to stay was over.

The next day, I was excited to hike to the foot of the Amphitheater.  Even though I was there during the dry season, the surrounding area was beautiful.  As Macrae and I hiked, it was weird that almost the entire surrounding vegetation was a golden brown color except patches of thick green forests that overran the mountainside.  After three hours of hiking, we thought we had made it to the end of the trail, however, there was a ladder that led down to the rocky, dried up river.  Macrae decided to chill by the river while I continued on.  Thirty minutes later, I arrived at a lookout point over the Amphitheater.  The mountain range was incredible.  It looked like a set of wavy curtains, the kind you would see at a play.  I spent a long time enjoying the highest mountain range in Southern Africa.

When we finally made it back to the car it was late in the afternoon.  As we drove out of the park, Macrae and I decided to drive to Lesotho (it’s a country completely surrounded by South Africa).  The reason we decided to make the hour and a half car ride was because my grandma and I have a contest to see who can go to the most countries.  Currently she is in the lead, but Lesotho was going to make 36 countries for me, putting me eight countries away from her.  The hour and a half drive to Lesotho provided us with sights of lakes, mountains, and an amazing orange sunset.

When we arrived at the border, I excitedly handed the customs agent my passport.  That’s when things went downhill.  I forgot to bring my visa extension paperwork and the agent told me he was going to have to detain me until the morning so that he could confirm that I had the necessary paperwork.  When he repeated the threat three times I began to get nervous.  After twenty minutes of talking with him, he decided to let me go.

We were so close.  All I wanted to do was stick my foot across the border.  Since I almost got detained, but we decided it was best to cut our losses and head back to the hostel.  Disappointment quickly turned into fear as we drove back.  While driving up a canyon pass, I came around a corner and hit a huge pothole.   The frame of the tire bent and caused the tire to deflate.  The great thing about South Africa is that they spend money to put up signs that say “Beware of Potholes” instead of using that money to repair the potholes.  Changing the flat tire was an adventure  on the canyon pass.  Since we were on a hill, the car kept rolling back as I jacked it up.  It took three tries to finally jack the car up and change the tire.

After an exhausting trip of getting lost, trying to find a place to stay, hiking, almost getting detained, and having a flat tire Macrae and I were ready to go to our room and get some sleep.  Even this simple desire did not work out.  When we got to our room we found our stuff on the floor and people in our beds.  All I could do was laugh (as a small tear rolled down my cheek).  The front desk apologized and moved us to a new room.

Everything that could go wrong did.  To most people this trip would appear to be a an expensively disastrous trip, but to me, this is what traveling is all about. Every moment provided a new and challenging experience.  I learned.  I grew.  And I got to enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in Southern Africa.  Success!

Why do you travel?

Your Choice

I’m going to start writing about another country and I want you, the reader, to decide which region I start writing about.  You can choose Asia, Central America, or Micronesia.  Leave a comment about which area you choose.

Find your adventure