kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2017-04-07 04:29 pm

Cuba - Day 6 (part 1)

Woke up in Baracoa on March 16 to a lovely breakfast made by our hosts.
It was even better than the ones we'd been getting at the hotel - more selections! (Not much more but hey, they had hot chocolate!).

Trying to get through this so quick summary of parts.
Back to the city center where we got a lecture on the local history from the local historian. He was pretty awesome. He knew a lot about the area and spoke about his attempts to carry his suitcase museum to other more remote areas to share and collect information. He's also got the title of historian of the country or something like that. I'll edit when I get the better details.

So the church we met at is the Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. The Cruz de la Parra is located here too. It's supposed to be one of the last remaining 29 crosses erected by Columbus in 1492 - or so they say. Now after carbon dating they realized that the wood doesn't seem to come from Spain so who knows what's really the truth? Regardless, the church has gone through some renovations but it is the one of the oldest - remember, Baracoa is also known as the first city of Cuba since this is where Spain is thought to have landed.

Facing the church doors with all his pride is Hatuey - the first rebel of the Americas. He seems to have been a pretty bad ass guy. Unfortunately he was betrayed in the end - isn't that how it always is? - and he got caught by the Spaniards and was burned alive. When he was asked if he wanted to repent, confess and get the chance to go to Heaven, he asked the priest if there Spaniards would be there too. The priest said yes and so he said he'd rather go to Hell.

"Here is the God the Spaniards worship. For these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea... They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break."

He's also known as "The Indian" and Cohiba as well as some other brands use him as their logo. They couldn't have picked better. I started reading up on the guy. I'm surprised there isn't a movie out yet. I guess Columbus makes for better box office figures. And so Hatuey faces off in the town square against the Church and all it stands for. I really, really like everything about it.

We then wandered over to the local gallery where many of us bought pieces of art. I did too. It was a really nice gallery!

The Baracoa visit was one highlight after another. We stopped off at an old hotel owned by a woman from Russia and got the history of that - I was paying less attention here. And that was followed to a visit to the Museo Matachin for our next bit of entertainment.
We got in a bit too late the night before and instead of getting two bands, we only got one. The one that was about to play was pushed back to today and wow, we were all so thrilled not to have missed them! They were my favorite of the entire trip and yet they didn't have any CDs for purchase. Luckily I've already found them on Spotify and Amazon too!

Maravilla Yunquena

Just going to drop the music right here:

The rest of the Videos are at my VIMEO page.
Just watching these over again make me feel really good. I really did like Baracoa and I need to plan a return that lasts a few days longer!

Then on to the next stop and lunch. That goes in the next post.
kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2017-04-07 03:56 pm

Cuba - Day 5 (part 2)

So I've fallen behind. I thought I would. There's been a lot of traveling happening and very little time to catch up between work and rest. So the posts may become a bit shorter. Hopefully not too sparse in detail because otherwise I'd just be tweeting all this. Since Cuba, I've been in Florida, then flew home. Then a weekend trip to New York and then home once again. In a couple of weeks I head off for Japan followed by the Northern Marianas. I'd better gt to it!

The Casa Particulares had 3 bedrooms so I got housed with [livejournal.com profile] wrayb and Alan and Dirck and David. What a super cute place. Why did I not take photos? Stupid, stupid. After a nap we headed off to dinner at La Poeta. It was really yummy. I drank a lot of NoJitos and Pinadas.

Total thumbs up kind of place!

After that we headed off to another performance by BaraRumba!
This was kind of lively. The dancers put on more of a theatrical show which included body paint as well as costumes. There was also audience participation.

Michelle and David rocking it!

The night was getting long. And I was ready to go to bed. However I snapped a few shots while walking back.
This place is awesome. The wet street with its bright colours made me think I was on some kind of movie set or Disney theme park. Really love the colours here...

kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2017-03-27 11:12 am

Cuba - day 5 (part 1).

Woke up and headed to the rooftop to eat breakfast and enjoy the sunrise.
I got a couple of nice pano shots too!

Click on the image to see it full size. Hopefully the quailty doesn't go to crap when LJ uploads it.
Anyway, all the images that I've posted here and more have been posted to my tumblr account so you can always go there.

We were able to have the option to leave our larger suitcases behind and just pack an overnight. The Hotel E Imperial hooked us up! Hurray! (I think I forgot to mention something about the water running out on one of the other nights. I'll edit that info back in when I get to transcribing my hand-written journal notes).

So onto the bus for the ride east, past Guantanamo, then south and east along the coast to Imías and then north on La Farola! The government under Batista may have made promises and started it but it's the revolution that got it done! In 1965 Baracoa was now accessible by land! I've been on some sketchier roads but this one definitely has some spots worth watching out for, especially if you're on a large bus. There are also bicyclists that use the road too! Some spots have very steep falls and some of the road is worn. It's going to be a road you want to use during the day time. Plus you get to see great views while cruising through the Cuchillas de Baracoa mountains.

But first we stopped at an overlook that gave us a view of Guantanamo. Sometimes I wonder how the locals can be so nice and open to us when they find out we're from the USA. Granted we as individuals didn't open up the base and we as individuals aren't refusing to close it and give their land back and give them back the access to the water and the sea!
The town of Guantanamo is poor and because of our branding, tourists don't really flock there as they would other towns. But tourism is what they need to get some money flowing through.
We actually didn't make a stop in town on this trip, but drove onwards. Another day in the future we'd be visiting though!

That's the base in the distance and the mouth of the giant harbor that the locals don't have access to.

And once again onto the bus after a quick break and along the underdeveloped coast towards Imías !
I slept for most of the journey but during this part I woke up because it was so nice to see the blue of all that water!


After Imías the road turns north and heads into the mountains. We were given some gorgeous views and some slightly more sobering ones. Some of the road was a bit worn and we could see where the rockslides could ruin a commute. Also, we were able to see some traces of what Hurricane Matthew left behind.

Here's a video on the history of La Farola:

As we made our journey through the mountains, and climbing in altitude, the bus started to strugle so we stopped and gave it a little break. It was a nice pause and we were all able to get out and have a little walk around. We bought local items from the house we stopped in front of (water, cocoa butter pots, and yummy coconut wrapped in leaves). There was a fresh water stream and I got a photo of me in front of it. I look like a slob.

Almost there!

Photo Dump !! OMG I love Baracoa!!! AIEEE I wish we had more time to spend here. I would definitely come back to this place omfg. It's not that it was particularly luxurious, or anything. The place just had a feeling and although I took a lot of photos, it's not really something you can get out of my fast shots.

Lunch was pretty nice. I forget the name at the moment. oh. El Buen Sabor. It had all sorts of stickers on the window for Yelp, n Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor n stuff. Then we ended up meeting our hosts for the night and visited our casa particulares for a little siesta before the scheduled evening activities!

kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2017-03-27 09:36 am

Cuba - day 4 (part 2).

So onwards!
We then headed into the Los Hoyos area of town.
Conga las Hoyas makes sense for a name now, eh?
The place was called Foco Cultural, Conga los Hoyos.
And it was loud!

After this we headed back to the hotel for a break before going to dinner. I decided to go with the group because we were told it'd be some Chinese place. That really got my hopes up at least, but it was far from it!
From the journal:
Today was full of history and culture. Just like every day. I really need to study and learn about this region's history. It'd be more helpful in being able to keep up with the information dump being thrown into our heads each time we board the bus. It's great info but I'll bet if I had prepared better then I'd be able to connect the dots and absorb more. Even still, it's great to listen to - even if I consistently fall asleep most of the time.
When I get home I'm going to start looking up Cuba history.
I'm also going to eat Chinese food. For real. With lots of spicy red chili peppers.
I am deaf. Thank you conga los hoyos. I will pretend the faint sound in my head are my other personalities being more vocal than usual.
kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2017-03-27 08:42 am

Cuba - day 4 (part 1).

Wow. We've done so much and we're only 4 days into this trip.
Today was full of more music and dancing and history and culture and art.
And we even ended up half-deaf after doing the conga too.
A lot of bus riding today but we got out often because everything we saw was in Santiago.

We started out at the Casa del Caribe - currently celebrating 35 years - and found a bunch of seats set out for us. Lecture time!
Lots of history though, and lots of information. I'm really enjoying it though again, I wish I had a better background of it.


From there we walked over to the Casa de la Religiones Populaires. Basically it's a living shrine to mulitpe religions where people can come and practice whatever they want.
We got a presentation by Abelardo Larduet and after that, the Grupo Abburreyé performed for us. They were good!



I told [livejournal.com profile] wrayb to copy the lady's pose. I realized after he mentioned it that it wasn't a lady.

From the journal:
Later start. The Casa de Caribe. Got more history and background of Santiago and other things including Haiti and the influx of tons of other influences. My book is full of notes and I can't read any of it. I think I was trying to write it on the bus.

Returned to the hotel last night to find the water working :-)
There was no need to switch our home for the night. Hurray for being able to be lazy for that evening. Now there's no need to pack until tonight. I think tomorrow we head off to Baracoa where we will stay in private homes - casa particulares. Right now watching members of our group dancing to La Bamba sung by a woman and her guitar in an Italian resto where we've just had lunch. Dessert tasted like bazooka joe in ice cream form.
And once again into the breach!
(I mean back to the bus!).
kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2017-03-26 11:15 am

Cuba - day 3 (part 2).

So from the phallic fishing spear and metal man statue, we headed to the small town nearby for a bit of singing and then a bit more singing with the dancing.

This stuff:
house of spiritist Juan González Pérez “Madelaine”
groups Cabildo Cimarrón and Voces del Milagro
Castillo San Pedro de la Roca (Morro Castle)

The groups we saw were different but had some of the same participants.



So they danced and we watched. And I got a shot of everyone watching. It's more than just our group. Our visit would coincide with a group of students studying abroad for a month or so based in Havana but they were out east. We would run into them later on too!

We then got on the bus and headed through Santiago to the coast to visit the Castillo San Pedro de la Roca aka Morro Castle. We had to wait a bit to all get seated for lunch but once it happened it was pretty good. I suppose.
I started getting really moody. My ability to be around people was starting to wear thin and I needed to get away so I skipped dessert and went outside to chill out in the hot sun. Eventually everyone got back on the bus once again. As we cruised through the backside of the Castillo and along the road we noticed the beach and lovely coast lined with super blue water but we were denied and so there was no opportunity to get our feet wet.
How disappointing.
So back to the hotel and then off to another show and dinner. This time it was the Tumba Francesa of Santiago. I wanted to kill people or myself so I decided on staying in and by myself because that was a much better idea.

In the photo below I'm smiling but I'm probably digging my nails into my skin.
Everyone else looks pretty exhausted. including [livejournal.com profile] wrayb

I went out to dinner by myself. I ate pizza. I ate flan. And all was well for a little while.

From the journal:
Currently: found time to hang out by myself by skipping the evening activities. I really needed to do this. Got a pizza and some flan and now I'm closing my time here out at the Hotel Casa Granda with a virgin Pina Colada. Because why not?
I really hope the water is back on at our hotel. The hotel is nice enough but not without water!
The nights here are warm and loud - but not annoyingly so. Very festive and if we end up switching to this hotel we will have WiFi but we will also get all of the noise too from the square.
I think I will have heard Guantanamera enough tiems on this trip - so far we're averaging about 5x /day.
Unfortunately the Galaxy phone here - being a Samsung product wont connect to the local WiFi. Even Jesus tells me that his kids have had issues with their Samsung phones. At least the laptop works however I can'd do phone check-ins or Instagram uploads. Even getting a local SIM card wont work because those don't actually offer data. :-(

Oh well, being off like is a pain and difficult for me with my addiction but it's nice to connect to the people I'm actually surrounded by at least. Losing out on work because I'm not quick enough to respond is a bit problematic though.
Enough. Back to my hotel.
kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2017-03-26 07:27 am

Cuba - day 3 (part 1).

Day 3 in Cuba. We had a pretty full schedule set for today:
Sanctuary of LA Caridad del Cobre
the Momument to the Cimarrón
the house of spiritist Juan González Pérez "Madelaine"
and saw the groups Cabildo Cimarrón and Voces del Milagro.

(I don't remember these details. It's what I took off of our info FAQ of the tour).

So then, started off with breakfast at the hotel. I really like breakfast. Plus, we get an awesome view of the city from the roof top.
This is looking SW. The harbor would be a bit to the left in the image.

So then, off into the bus and to El Cobre. It's about 30 minutes west of Santiago in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra. Nearby are the old copper mines. It's supposed to be the most important church in Cuba where people come from all over to pay their respects. Inside is the Virgen de la Caridad - the protector of Cuba. Her parallel figure in Afro-Cuban worship is Ochún, goddess of love and femininity, who is also dark-skinned and dressed in bright yellow garments. The place was built in 1927 and has a super long name: El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre.

From the parking lot area of this church we could see our next destination: the Monument to the Cimarrón.
When we got to the monument, I decided on not climbing up the stairs in the heat and staying below with the metal man (statue).
The photo of the monument is from [livejournal.com profile] wrayb cuz he climed up those stairs! Later during our trip, we would meet Alberto Lescay - the sculptor and visit his workshop too!

" El Monumento al Cimarron” (the Monument to Runaway Slaves), a towering sculpture created in bronze and iron, was built on a hill near the town of El Cobre, in Santiago de Cuba Province, to honor one of the earliest slave revolts that took place in the country.

This region, with its great tradition of struggle, was the scene of many acts of insubordination and mass slave escapes in the years 1673, 1691, 1731, 1737 and 1781. But the uprising of July 24, 1731 qualifies as one of the most important slave protests in Cuba, noted by historians for its character and importance.

The work that marks this revolt was produced by artist Alberto Lescay Merencio, a sculptor and painter highly recognized in contemporary international and Cuban visual arts. He wanted to pay tribute to this event in history, so in 1997 he constructed the monument." (Source)

Below where I waited was a sculpture that surprised me when I got closer. I didn't realize he did't have pants on n stuff. From here though, you can see the church in the distance.

From the written journal:

To the bus! Went tto the Sactuario del Cobré. Walked around it. Saw religious stuff. Ran away.
Back on the bus! Idid not combust.
Some pretty spots inside of there but those kinds of places to not make me feel comfortable.
Went to a monument accessible by stairs. A lot of stairs. Skipped seeing the monument. Took photos of the art piece with a big dick.
Back on the bus.
Then into town to see the spiritist and dancers. Fun. Everyone danced.
Not me. I don't dance.
Now at Los Morros taking too long for lunch. This is cutting into my sleep. Already nodded off on the bus on the way here. Supposed to check out the castle. It's over there. Checked it out.
Boom. Done.
Irritated. Easily irritated. Want to explode. Or implode. Or something. Had to step away.
kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2017-03-24 05:19 pm

Cuba - day 2.

Day 2 started with a very nice sunrise before jumping onto the bus and heading to Sagua de Tánamo to see the Tumba Francesa de Bejuco. When we arrived, the town band was playing in the square and performed a song for us before we all headed into their local cultural center and a museum to listen to a local artist and town historian.
We're going to meet a lot of historians filled with information on their local areas. It's really enlightening and encouraging to see how they try and keep their traditions and culture alive.





After the dancing we jumped on the bus and had lunch with the performers. Afterwards they would then jump into the back of a truck for their 3 hour journey back into the mountains to Bejuco while we had the comfortable bus take us to Santiago. I slept for most of that drive. But woke up when we got to Santiago.



We checked into the hotel Imperial and rested for a bit. Then it was off to dinner which was on the roof of the hotel.
It's got a very nice view.




i tried to take a few panorama shots. I will attempt to link full size images to the smaller ones.

That's it for day 2.

From the journal:

Today is the long drive north and east to the coast followed by a doubly long drive to the opposite southern coast to Santiago. I think now is a grand time to nap.

13 March
Pretty much slept through all of the driving we did to the town where we saw the tumba francesa, museum and dancers.
Noticed that the dancing was very stiff and controlled. All due to the French infuence in Haiti Th ancestors of these dancers then came to Cuba and attempted to continue the tradition. The singer sang in Creole.
After the performances we went to lunch with them. It was chicken and more rice with beans. I really wish I brought the hot sauce.

I awoke again when we arrived in Santiago mid-drive.
kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2017-03-24 04:59 pm

Cuba - day 1 (part 2).

We got in the bus and headed into town to the Restaurante Avilés.
It was really nice for our first place and there we met the local historian/musician who gave us a history of the restaurant, the building itself, and some local facts. After we ate, he took us to the space next door to show us the room the band practiced in. The Orquesta Hermanos Avilés was founded in 1882. After that we moved to a larger space and the band performed for us. The private concert was finished off by everyone dancing.




Back to the hotel and bed to prepare for the next day.

From the written journal:
After a nice nap we headed off for dinner.The place was aptly named Restaurante Avilés. There we were given an opening introduction of the history of the place and a drink. I ended up getting one without the rum.
For food options there was a choice between marlin and chicken. I had the fish. Sides for the main was rice with a lot of beans. Ick! There were multiple courses though and then there was ajicao which was different from the one I've tried at home but still very good. Dessert was flan! :-)
Next door to the restaurant was an open sapve where we were given another history lesson by the local music historian of the area. The space was the practice room of the Orquesta Hermanos Avilés which was founded in 1882 originally.

We all piled into the bus once again and headed to a space that looked like it functioned as a children's day care or play space. Either way it was quite sparse. We watched the band play for about an hour or so. It was great. Most members of the group took photos or videos and danced.
kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2017-03-24 11:37 am

Cuba - day 1 (part 1).

Trying this again. Multiple posts already attempted. At least I sorted out the photo posting issue.

Took a red eye flight on March 10. Landed Fort Lauderdale March 11 early am.
Easy enough flight. Slept so-so. Jetblue flight so got a night packet with earplugs and sleep mask which came in handy just about everyday.
Met up with peeps then onwards to Holguin when that flight came up.
Here's photo of me and [livejournal.com profile] wrayb in Florida.



Landed in Cuba after a short flight. Then got on the bus - our part-time home for the next several days under the helm of Captain Pepe. I slept a lot on this bus.
We then proceded up to a hill - the Loma de la Cruz - for a great view of Holguin. It's possible to walk up the 484 steps. It's also possible to go up using other means. I prefer 'other means'.


Then off to the Soviet-era hotel called the Pernik. It's got an impressively sized lobby and pool area. Award winning I heard. It's definitely of an era that's long since been left behind however my first impression was that I liked it.
I didn't get to enjoy the pool. It seemed a bit not-chlorinated-enough for my taste. Also, if you ever come here, bring ear plugs. The place is an echo chamber/sound amplifier.
Once you get to the rooms, the place seems more basic. Very basic and minimal. Towel is thin - (towel: you get one. no biggie for me).
No soaps or other amenities. Shower head was OK but attachment to wall was broken. TV worked. Pillow (single) was more like a loosely stuffed half-a-t-shirt.

20170311_154038.jpg    20170311_154038.jpg


We rested for an hour or so before heading to dinner and the evening concert. That's in the next post.

From my written journal:
11 March
Waiting at the gate and watching the people pass by and those sitting here as well. There's always the one that takes up more seats than decently allowed. Shoes on the seats, etc. Now spraying perfume and assaulting everyone else's sense of smell.

Pet peeve --> annoyance. Excess noise pollution via personal electronics/cell phone use - we all don't want to hear your silly videos from across the room.

Finally on board. March 17, 2016 was the first entry so this has been sporadic journaling for just under a year. I need to write more though. What I really need at the moment is a nap. Here's hoping I can get oe in on this short flight to Holguin. Slept horribly last night. Usually plane sleeping happens for me but this wasn't as good as other experiences.

12 March
Yesterday first. Flights were no problem. Somewhat of a long connection at FLL but in the end it wasn't unbearable.
(Long? nothing at all like the 10+ hour ones I've done).
The only long line came after arrival at Holguin after going through passport control. Had to wait to go though a security check point and scan primarily used to check for items the govt could charge duy on for locals coming in or people attempting to sell big ticket items. From there we all jumped on a nice tour bus and headed up a hill over looking the city of Holguin witha great view of all the surroundings. On top of the area was a small fort-like structure as well as a cross. Later that night we'd see the spot from below lit up with white lights lining the 484 steps that went from street level to the top. The cross was lit up with a bright blue light.

...the Hotel Pernik. It's a pretty cool giant hotel with about five floors. The lobby area is large and spread out with dated decore. The hotel is a Soviet-era constuction that has totally gone off the vibe of the past with slippery tiled floors ad entrance way. INside the decore is in shades of dark orange and brown and red. Some of the furniture on the upper floor "lobby" areas show definite signs of wear. They're also very low-seating @ only a food or so of height.
kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2017-03-10 09:08 am

Buena Vista Social Club - Chan Chan

The journey starts tonight on a redeye to Florida followed by a mornng flight to Holguin.
It'll be my bday in one week.
And the tentative itinerary says Ruta Chan Chan to Cueto before returning to Santiago for the festival de la trova.

kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2016-12-29 12:09 pm

Back to Cabo Pulmo

Yup. I went back to Mexico.
But this was a few weeks ago. In November. For Thanksgiving.
And it was awesome.

Did a lot of diving. Here's one of many videos posted to my Vimeo page.

kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2015-04-16 08:32 am

Blog: The IceHotel, pt. 2

So sleeping in the ice hotel wasn't really a challenge - I was pretty tired after the long day of flying and traveling and trying to stay awake. I passed out all too quickly. However I did wake up in the middle of the night and instead of tossing and turning I immediately got out of my sleeping bag, threw on the borrowed ice-hotel boots, and walked to the bathroom.
The air inside was brisk - as was my walk. I had on my base-layer bottoms and top, and my mid-layer fleece top during the night. When I got to the locker rooms, I ran into a group of people having a party. Apparently they were drinking in the locker room as well as the men's shower room. I was on a mission so I didn't really stick around. I did grab my phone before heading back to the ice-room. (Ah, it was about 01h30).

I got back to the room and crawled into the sleeping bag. For me, the difficult part in trying to get back to sleep was the fact that I just felt so tangled up. You sleep in a sheet - like a giant pillow case. This is the liner. It doesn't feel chilly like the inner, synthetic part of the sleeping bag, however it made me feel very restricted. I didn't want to get rid of my warming layers nor sleep while touching the inner cooler sleeping bag layer.
When you've got the sleeping bag all zipped up it's highly insulating. There's a small hole where you can let air in but you've got to find the right balance. Too much air = a chilly face, too little air = so much stuffy heat.

I dozed off for a couple more hours. I thought about sleeping some more and getting the full experience of the hot-ligonberry-juice-delivery-man wake up call. But that was still a couple of hours off so I gave up on trying to sleep more and went back to the lounge. Oh and before doing so I snapped some photos (and also woke Richard up with the camera flash). When the camera flash went off, I figured out why our room was called, "Forest Fairy" :-D

I spent the next couple of hours enjoying the quiet in the lounge with hot chocolate from the vending machine. I got to catch up on posting photos and just chilling out. It was pretty nice. Eventually I got hungry so I got Richard to hurry up so we could hit the breakfast buffet. I was very happy with it because it has lactose free berry yoghurt. However I must say that so far, the buffet at the Anantara Mui Ne resort in Vietnam is the one I miss the most.

After breakfast we got ready for our first planned excursion: dog sledding :-D
The things I learned:
Sit near the back.
If there are only 2 of you, your view isn't obscured and you're not going to miss anything.
If there is a larger group, do not sit in the front.
The dogs run pretty fast.
When they run they kick up little bits of ice that you can see land on the seat.
The dogs do not stop for bathroom breaks. They take poops while running.
When they run they fling up little bits of poo.
Sit in the back.

After our sledding excursion we headed back to the IceHotel to watch the big ice extraction machines do their work for a bit. It was pretty cool.

There was some construction also happening which I just learned today was for some big Ice Run. "Toughest Ice" You can see part of the hotel locations no longer intact. :-D

There's a new video up but it's on facebook and I can't seem to embed the thing.
So this is the video from last year:

We then headed into the church. It was so pretty. I couldn't believe I'd tell people, "Skip the bar, get into the church!" I really loved the fern design. Each "leaf" was an individual tube of ice.

We then headed to our new warm room to take a little nap before the evening's snowmobile northern lights hunt!
More later!
kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2015-03-28 11:02 am

Blog: The IceHotel, pt. 1

The journey getting there was a little on the long side but very nice!
I was on Virgin for the first leg (SFO-ORD) which is always a joy, and then SAS the rest of the way (ORD-ARN-KRN). And surprise, Richard and I were in Plus which means we had lounge access and were able to breeze through security check lines (in SE airports - not US ones though). I would fly SAS again readily.

I met up with Richard in Chicago. Since I knew we'd have a little bit of time I suggested eating at Tortas Frontera. I'm so happy I did. It was great! There are a couple at ORD - the preferred one has the actual restaurant seating in the international terminal.

We then boarded an 8 hour flight to Stockholm, after that we continued onward to Kiruna for a couple more hours!

It took some time for us to get to the hotel after landing in Kiruna. While we waited for the shuttle to pick us up, I fell asleep. Finally Richard called them and they sent a taxi. It took a few hours AND they forgot us! UGH. Anyway, it was a short ride over to Jukkasjärvi.

We walked over to the cold-room check in area and set our bags down so we could check out the available art suites. We had an art suite booked but if you don't know what you want in advance you'll get one picked for you. When you arrive you can change and pick one of the available ones.
There are a few "tiers" of ice rooms you can sleep in. There's a basic ice room, there's a northern lights room (which features a colorful light display you can shut off at night), and then there are the art suites. There are also 2 luxury suites that require a card key to access.
During the day, the hotel is open for visitors. It's in a separate building and when you enter, there's a main hallway with corridors on either side. Down each corridor are doorways with a bit of fabric functioning as a "door". Until 18h00 you can enter any of the rooms freely to take photos and wander about.
So we went through to select our room - we chose 317 (my bday!) - and then moved our bags into our warm-storage area. For those staying in the ice rooms, you get to share a locker room changing area with most of the guests. If you get an art-suite, you get a large closet space with a mirror and seating to store your items. There are separate shower/sauna rooms for wo/men as well stocked with towels and soap/shampoo. Really, it's very nice.

So we went and visit the IceBar for a quick drink. I actually didn't have one. The colours scared me. It was pretty sad. Considering the hotel is celebrating it's 25th year, we felt that the IceBar should've had something with a little bit more oomph. And when I tell people to visit the church, and don't bother with the bar, you know something is wrong! I didn't really take any photos of the bar because I didn't think it warranted photos. The church you'll see later! After Richard's drink, we wandered back into the IceHotel to take photos of the first half of the rooms!

By this time we were pretty exhausted. The rooms are just too cold to stay in and as I mentioned above, the public can roam around until 18h00. So we hung out in the warm-room lounge for a bit. It was pretty crowded. We had a light dinner in the main restaurant. I ate foie gras.

We then went to the cold-room lounge which ended up being my favorite place to chill out. There's a machine for coffee and hot chocolate (gotta pay for it but whatever), there's free water, wifi and a fireplace that keeps everything toasty. I actually ended up hanging out in a tank top, flip flops and sweat pants.

2015 march 16 - Jukkasjärvi from KumiM on Vimeo.

I took a shower in the evening. It helped keep me awake for a little bit longer. It also got the stink from the too-many-hours of travel off of me. We exchanged our boots for the free ones given out by the hotel, grabbed the inner liners and arctic sleeping bags (all supplied by the icehotel) and then got ready for bed!
You leave most of your personal belongings in the locker storage area. You don't want anything that you're not actually wearing because it'll get too cold during the night. That's why you use the hotel's items like boots which will be sitting in the cold room, outside of the warmth of the sleeping bag.

OK. This is good enough for now. More later when I get to it.

ALL the photos are at my tumblr moblog
(in reverse order though)
kumimonster: (gilles glassed)
2015-03-08 09:45 pm

wow an LJ post! Kiruna or Bust!

Yes, well life has been happening.
Nothing too thrilling, just work and diving mostly.

And even though I've retired from that previous work that allowed and even facilitated so much travel, luckily, my ability to keep traveling hasn't stopped - although I have cut down a bit.

So this time, I'm headed to Sweden - at the end of this week actually!
I've been to Malmö (while visiting Copenhagen), and on another visit I traveled directly to Stockholm and up to Umeå in northern Sweden. It's still sub-arctic and about 250 miles south of the arctic circle.
This time I'm headed about 100 miles north of the arctic circle to Kiruna and then traveling to Jukkasjärvi - where the Ice Hotel is made every year.

Going with my main travel buddy, Richard.
My flights: SFO>ORD>ARN>KRN
(another new airport for me! Kiruna!)

I've been shopping, which is something I don't like. But I do like some of the new gear I've picked up. The hotel does set you up with gear but I needed my base- and mid-layers. I got a pair of outer layer pants from R, and I got a nice goose down jacket online. R said he really likes his Baffin boots so I got a pair of my own too. My new mid-layer Columbia fleece is teal and actually matches my boots, though I'll be completely covered in black - but at least I know what I'm wearing underneath!

yup, the smartwool socks don't actually match - that's how they came.

my new Baffin boots. Flare - rated to -50C!

people say they really like this company. I hope they work out for me. And a pair of Wigwam socks too.

This is a couple of recent webcam shots from the ice hotel


I posted about wanting to go to the Ice Hotel in May of 2006 on LJ.
kumimonster: (dive)
2014-05-29 08:08 am

blog/review Adventures in dive organizing: Vietnam edition pt 2

(part 1 here. copy/pasted from scubaboard thread).

So here's another update!
Ended up diving for 3 days in the end. There were some great and good experiences and some hiccups too but in the end it all came through. (However it's not rocket science, it's a holiday and really it shouldn't be that much trouble!)

But before I recount my experiences, I should clarify again, that I am staying at the Six Senses resort. It's not actually near the city and accessing the resort requires a boat. The guests arriving and departing the resort are transported to/from the mainland via speedboat. Other than private hires and booked excursions, guests are pretty much "trapped." (Can one say "trapped" when you're talking about some super fancy luxury resort? I've got a freaking butler assigned to me here!). Anyway, four times a day staff is shuttled back and forth as well but on a wooden boat that takes just over 35 minutes. The dock it stops at is called Pearl Farm and almost 30 minutes' drive north of the city. In my post above, I thought that the Rainbow Divers' boat would be able to pick me up directly from the resort however I learned that no boats are allowed here without prior permission from the resort manager - so it's definitely something that needs to be sorted out in advance.

So to start, my first day of diving was with Rainbow Divers. It was Kerry P. that I communicated with for the majority of the time. It was Kerry that was most pro-active about responding to my e-mails and getting my questions answered. And it was Kerry that finally got an answer out of the resort about my transfer over to the mainland: instead of hiring a private speedboat at $120 (the price quote I received was $150), I would take the am staff boat at 0645 which would get me to the mainland (approx 0715). From there a car would take me to the dive shop and then to the main harbor. Luckily, since I was hiring a speedboat for my dives, I wasn't under the same time constraints as those that were diving via the main boat! Things seemed to be getting later and later as departures got slightly delayed. FYI, this whole time I had Kerry's mobile number in case things didn't go smoothly. (She did call the driver to find out where he was after I waited at the Pearl Farm dock for almost 15 minutes).

I didn't bring any gear besides my mask, computer, warm water gloves, and an SMB. So I used the shop's gear. I also paid for a Rainbow photographer come along (Iain Wood).
My dive companion for this day was Mr. Anh and he was a great buddy and quite skilled at spotting all the little things.
When I asked other companies about this dive site - Electric Nose - most of them didn't go out there and/or said the diving there wasn't that great. They also mentioned that it was not in the Marine Park and that a lot of dynamite fishing occurs there. I found one review online that raved about the dive site with details and explanations and a few one-liners that said that it wasn't worth the trip. My opinion: it was well worth the trip! Also, best to get 3 tanks and make the most out of the journey!

We primarily swam around rock walls that went down to about 45 meters /147 feet (that's what people say). There's no need to go that far down however. Actually, there's not really any need to do much swimming because there's simply a lot of life hanging out in various outcroppings of a single wall. From coral to stars, clams to sponges!  Lots of little and not so little hermit crabs hanging out, and of course the nudies! So many different kinds in more easier to see sizes (about 2-4 inches) to the ones that could comfortably fit on the top of a pencil. And in such a variety of colours! Saw a few flatworms too. If you're looking for big fish, there are some here but they're not *that* abundant (We did spot a barracuda swimming along). Come here to check out the super small things!

I wore a 3mm full. The water temp in this location changes constantly as you swim between rock faces and it does so at various depths.  The dives here are deeper than at the Hon Mun Marine Park and even there I wore a 3mm full - granted they were rental suits had quite a bit of stretch in them so I had a decent amount of water flow. But then I'm used to the cooler Monterey water so maybe that helped me out a little bit.
On this day there was a small amount of current but nothing to write home about. As most of the online sources say, it is not a site for new divers.

The nitty gritty: Rainbow Divers charges $95 (US) for a 3-tank dive. The private speedboat out to Electric Nose ran me $150 (US). There was a fee for the photographer and yes, I did tip out as well. All in all, slightly a bit on the pricey side for 3 tanks but then running a boat out for a single person isn't the most cost efficient practice (there was the capt, and 2 DMs (one in the water with, and one out). In addition, I knew I wasn't going to be on a boat with a ton of other divers/snorkelers. I know that's a prime selling point for a lot of divers. I read on some other site that another company charged a couple around $65 for 3-tanks - but then that just seems a bit crazy low for me. In any case, if I had time to go out again, I'd go out to this dive site and I'd book with Rainbow Divers to take me there.

(thanks for reading! more on days 2/3 later)

Also Iain posted with some photos from our dive at Electric Nose.
I'm the white q-tip head so just disregard the human in those shots.
Also, I hate weight belts. And those fins. The tops of my toes aren't happy.

kumimonster: (bluenudeavatar)
2014-05-24 02:40 pm

bloggy: Anantara Resort Mui Ne, Day 1

Photos are probably the best way to describe certain things.
Instead here's a video:

But before we even got to see the room, our bags were taken from us and we were ushered into the open and airy lobby where instead of standing at a desk we were asked to sit down and handed some yummy sweet honey elixir. Then we were given cool towels to refresh ourselves and 5 minutes of neck/shoulder massage action.

Best check-in ever!

At the foot of the bed are two chairs and a table that face our door to the outdoor deck area - there's another area I'll call the outdoor patio area which has more chairs and a lounge you can stretch out in too!
On this table they have a bowl of fruit which is changed daily.
Water bottles in the room are constantly replenished (and free) however the chocolate snacks are yummy and can add up if you eat them all!
Oh and each night for turn-down service you get some kind of sweet snack too.

The shower and the bathtub are actually outside of the villa (within and enclosed space). I'm not that comfortable using it during the night however. I know there are mosquitoes around and I got bit about a dozen times in the space of an hour.
The hotel spa did set me up with some Eucalyptus oil which has been working like a super magic anti-bug potion. I'm going through the stuff like it's the water of life!
More resort review/blogging later. I need to get to the beach!

kumimonster: (me wcGreen)
2014-05-24 02:24 pm

bloggy: from Ho Chi Minh City to Phan Thiet/Mui Né

After getting through customs and immigration we headed to the exit and Richard spotted our driver with the Anantara Resort sign. We jumped into the SUV and was given a gift bag full of snacks and water which was really nice.
The best thing: the car was WIFI enabled!!!

It was about a 4.5 hour journey to the coast. We got to experience the traffic in HCMC as well as the aggressive driving everyone has to master - in 4 wheels and on 2. I think the most I saw on a scooter was 4 but I did see a lot of heavy and over-sized objects being transported in things that most people would rent a u-haul for!
Otherwise, I suppose one would just get used to having to make do but I'm still not certain about packing on the infants.
The other day I saw a family of 4 - one child was in front of the driver on the handle bars and the mother held the baby in her arms but to protect the child from the wind or whatever, it had a plastic bag over its head.

We did have a chance to stop at a rest stop for a quick pause and then we continued onwards to Mui Né and the resort!

kumimonster: (camRiceBowl)
2014-05-24 02:06 pm
Entry tags:

bloggy: from SFO to TPE to SGN

Pretty much an uneventful trip!
Richard got to SFO before I did and what a long line it was at the China Airlines check in queue!
Luckily when I arrived he was just about next.
We both had small bags to check too - both were carry-on sized!
Eventually we boarded the aircraft and settled in for a 14+ hour journey to Taipei.

The food was OK. There was a special request meal that looked good - noodles. Didn't figure out which dietary restriction I need to claim in order to get it though.
Slept OK for most of the flight. Got to watch a couple of movies from the international selection though which I wanted to see some time ago (Korea: The Face Reader & Germany: Hannah Arendt)

TPE was very quiet before 0600. Humid and warm and rainy too. Wasn't too impressed with the areas I saw.

Arrival at SGN a few hours later. Lots of crowds! Getting the VISA on arrival was no issue whatsoever. However the photo on-site fee was actually $5, not $2. Still the whole thing costs less than applying for one in advance!
kumimonster: (aKMin)
2014-05-16 10:06 am

Vietnam trip: UPS/VISA issues

Hungover today.
I don't think I'll be doing that again - at least until the next time.

A month ago I decided to use the local UPS store to handle my VISA paperwork to/from the Embassy of Vietnam. I figured I'd give the local business my business instead of going to the post office.

Well, that was a mistake.

Everything was going fine. I kept checking the tracking info. Documents received, VISA approved, documents sent back. On May 1 I saw that there was a scan in Sacramento and then Menlo Park at the local distribution area. Of course the documents never arrived. And for some reason I wasn't troubled by the delay. I should've been though. A few days ago I went by the UPS store and asked them to help locate my package. I got an 800# to call which I did and they said I could file a claim which would take up to 8 business days. Thinking positive, I thanked them for their help and left the store.

May 14. I went to work and then during a break called the 800# again. I was told that my documents were found and delivered to the local UPS store. After work I drove over there. But then there were no documents. :( I called back the 800# and they told me whoever I spoke to previously made a mistake (!!!!!!WTF!!!!!!)

May 15. Canceled work to handle this crap. Called 800# and no help there. Called local store so they could contact 800# peeps. (local store peeps = great and sympathetic).

Vietnam is way ahead of Cali time. 9am here is 11pm there.
I did find a way to avoid having to drive to the consulate in SF by applying for a VISA-on-arrival letter.
That was close to the wire too. I got my request in last night (before going to the bar) and just before noon in Vietnam. I paid for the rush service and got my letter.

So now, instead of just breezing thru customs & immigration, I need to stop off at a desk and show my travel letter (and get my photo taken) and pay more money ($45). At least I wont get sent back home.

Just UGH!

I want UPS to give me back my $140. Oh wait. The documents did arrive to DC on time so I'll lower that down to $125.