Top 20 Diving Locations Around the World in 2019

Top 20 Diving Locations Around the World in 2019

Diving has become a huge passion of mine, and I am slowly working my way to becoming a Master Diver (keyword slowly). After knowing it is an activity that I will be doing for the rest of my life, I decided to get a little input from fellow divers and travel experts around the world who have contributed to this article on what we all feel are the Top Diving Locations Around the World. Within each section, you will find information on the Dive site, visibility, certifications required, how to get there, where to stay and other helpful tidbits to craft your own Diving Bucketlist.

Don’t forget your travel insurance, I don’t travel without it now. I typically use World Nomads as you can specifically craft the insurance coverage for your extreme sports activities and your budget. If you have a dive site you would love to add, be sure to add it in the comments below.

Mexico: Cabo (Lands End)

Cabo San Lucas conjures up images of partying, sloppy drunk teens escaping from their parents….or at least it did for me in the beginning. When taking my cruise there this last December I couldn’t have been more wrong about what kind of adventures Cabo San Lucas Holds. There are plenty of areas to dive here, and with the mass amount of tourism, the companies cater to you and have really nice equipment.

The dive itself is some of the most unique along the Mexico/South American Coastline. There are underwater sand falls, shipwrecks, seals, eels,
Mobula Rays, Hammer Head Sharks and a healthy array of colorful fish and puffer fish. If you decide to dive in December, the whales will be migrating and are truly worth every minute observing their breaching and feeding frenzy.

Visibility here depends on the season, during the summer you can have 30-90 feet of visibility and the winter can drop to 20-40 feet. While water temperatures can range from 64-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Depths near Cabo Arch can be anywhere from 10-90 feet, while diving sites at Lands End are 1000+.

This was my first real ocean dive, as diving in Utah (the middle of the desert) is a little difficult to get that ocean experience in. I would recommend that you have good control of your buoyancy, and take a guided tour so that you can see the best parts without getting hit by tour boats going to Cabo Arch. I recommend using Cabo Adventures as there are plenty of staff on hand to cater to the most advanced divers and the newest divers. We had a mix of open water, and master divers on our boat; so they took us all out and split us up into appropriate groups where each of us had a wonderful time. They also do snorkeling adventures, dolphin encounters and a whole lot more. Plus they are really good looking…sorry not sorry…lol.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

Read more about Scuba Diving in Cabo San Lucas, My First Time Diving.

To get here take a flight to the Los Cabos International Airport, from there it is a 34-minute drive to Cabo San Lucas. I would suggest taking the bus though it is $5.50 for two people and takes around 1 1/2 hours to get to the Center (Puerto Paraiso Mall) of Cabo. If you opt for a cab or shuttle, you are going to pay a lot more. I think you can get a group shuttle for around $15 pp or take a taxi for $50 -$100 so the bus is a big savings if you are watching your budget.

Booking.com

Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking

USA: Florida – Devils Den

While cave diving wasn’t really on my list of ‘best places to dive’, this particular dive was so unique I just had to include it. Devil’s Den is so appropriately named as you descend down into a cavern from the humid Florida air into a prehistoric cave of wonder.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

While it appears warm in the video below, the water itself is
72 degrees F/22.2 degrees year round. I didn’t think I needed a full wet suit, as it was still winter in Utah and temps there were around 32 degrees so I just took my shorty wetsuit. While I was a little chilled when entering the waters, by the end of the dive, I really wish I had my full wetsuit (some people were in dry suits). Visibility is excellent, but there is silt on the bottom as the cave is fed by natural springs so try to not disturb the bottom. If you are there on a weekend, or holiday expect to have loads of divers training here.

The cave is an excellent place for practicing night dives, cave diving, and fantastic for beginners. There are areas that are more dangerous than others but the private owners have blocked those areas off, and the caves are easy to maneuver around in. They have also put different items around the caves, so it makes it really creepy and fun to explore. Be aware of the creepy fish and giant catfish lurking in the corners.

To get to Devil’s Den, you will likely need to rent a car and drive there. The closest major town is Gainsville, but I would recommend flying into Orlando diving at Devil’s Den and then hopping up to snorkel with the Manatees at Crystal Rivers.

You can either stay in Williston, Gainsville or swing over to St Petersburg Florida where there are the perfect west coast white sand beaches, plenty of street art, the Dali museum and yummy places to eat.

Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking

Richelieu Rock – Similan Islands

Richelieu Rock is the most popular dive location in the Similan Islands. The name of the dive site is based on the fact that the dive site is a rock formation in the middle of the ocean. It is stated that the site was discovered when during a low tide Jacques-Yves Cousteau and a local fisherman boat bumped into the top of the rock formation.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

The dive site itself is famous due to the traffic that occurs at Richelieu Rock. The rock is covered in anemone and has over four variety of anemone fish. There are numerous other reef fish at the location. The large attraction however is the whale sharks and manta rays that frequently cruise around the location. A dive tour at the site will typically encompass a trip around the rock formation, and then if you are lucky, you will see a manta ray or whale shark cruising by on the outside area.

An added bonus is that the whale sharks are juvenile, so while smaller than normal, the whale sharks are far more curious and will check out the divers and the bubbles from respirators thinking that the bubbles may be plankton. Ultimately making Richelieu Rock a great location to dive with whale sharks.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

The dive is easy to complete, with only an open water certification required. The depths can go upward of 30m, but companies typically stay at the top of the rock formation and no further than 15m. Visibility is clear at site, however there can sometimes be strong currents.
There are two main ways to get to Richelieu Rock, and the Similan Islands, and that is through liveaboard out of Phuket, or through a dive company that does day trips out to the island. I recommend using Sunrise Divers, they are located in the Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand area and can help arrange a liveaboard or a day trip out.

Contributed by Amy Dodd – Oceans to Alpines

Diving Qiandao Lake & Lion City Ruins in China

While I haven’t personally been diving here, in planning my trip to China in the next year – I found this hidden gem! It is the 1,400 old ruined city submerged underwater for over 50 years! Talk about the Asia version of the Atlantic City. Qiandao Lake, also known as Thousand Island Lake, is a sprawling body of fresh water, covering 573 sq. km. It was flooded to create a reservoir where hydroelectricity could be used but displaced nearly 290,000 people in doing so.

After reading about all the specs on the dive I discovered, I personally need a little more experience before attempting it. The visibility is very poor in the lake and gets quite dark very quickly. Some of the diving accounts I read, said that you need to have excellent bouyancy control, excellent navigation epxerience (because it is that easy to lose your dive partner), night dive certification, and advanced open water certification.

There is a lot of silt in the area as it is in a lake, so that is why buoyancy is so important here. Diving itself is apparently a newer sport for those in China so there are limited companies willing or able to do this dive. The company I found that does do tours of this site is Big Blue Scuba that schedules tours here our of Shanghai. I personally plan on staying in Shanghai and then letting the tour drive the 6 hours of winding rural roads to get to the site so I don’t get lost.

I don’t know how long the ruins will last, but despite the visibility and needing excellent diving skills – just watch the video and you will understand why this one needs to be on your bucket list. For more information on this dive, be sure to visit Underwater Photography Guide.

Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking

Hanga Roa, Easter Island

One of the most unique dives anybody can do is located in Hanga Roa Harbor. Hanga Roa is the capital of Easter Island, and this amazing and easy dive is called the Moai Dive. And as the name implies, this is the only place on earth where you can meet an Easter Island stone head statue underwater!

This moai is submerged in roughly 28 feet of water, and it is only a few minutes ride from Hanga Roa harbor to reach the dive site. An open water certification is required to do this dive or to visit any of the Easter Island dive sites.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

Easter Island is one of the most remote places on earth, and its far distance to the nearest island and the lack of natural stream on the island contributes to the extremely clear surrounding waters. The coral reefs here are relatively young, and some of the 150 species of relatively small fish and other creatures are endemic to Easter Island.

On a typical day, the visibility can range to over 200 feet, with no obstructions in sight. Even better – during the whale migration season, you can sometimes hear some of the whales singing in the distance!

I highly recommend Mike Rapu Diving Center. It is one of the few trusted PADI establishments on the island.

There are only two ways to get to Easter Island: a four hour-flight from Tahiti or a nearly six-hour flight from Santiago de Chile. Either way, it demonstrates how remote this island is.

Contributed by Halef from the RTW Guys

Diving in Negril Jamaica

Negril in Jamaica, an iconic destination for scuba divers who want to explore the wonders of the Caribbean underwater universe. This spot features vivid marine world, thriving coral reefs, a range of unique undersea sights, colorful fish, sharks, sea turtles and much more. You will enjoy in a warm crystal clear water with an average depth of 30 ft and maximal depth of 70 ft.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

For your diving experience, Sandals Luxury Resorts offers several dive courses.  With a 3-hour PADI diving program, you will be able to dive in the same day as the program. There’s also PADI’s e-learning system (8-hour course) which helps you to complete it at your own pace. Furthermore, the program does not require any prior certification or dive experience.

I recommend staying at Sandals Negril offers from two-story suites to the Millionaire Suites, some with private pool, balcony, patio or swim-up pool, etc. Which to choose depends on your preferences and budget. 

To get here there is a daily flight from Miami to Montego Bay. Once in Montego Bay take an included transfer to Sandals Negril. It’s a 60 minutes ride.

contributed by Leo from Safari Nomad

Gordon Rocks the Galapagos Island

The Galapagos is world famous for its incredible wildlife and the underwater world is no exception. One of the best tours in the Galapagos is to visit Gordon Rocks, a dive site near the island of Santa Cruz.

Gordon Rocks is one of the best places in the world to find Hammerhead sharks and the Oceanic Sunfish. You can also see Galapagos sharks, white tip reef sharks, giant sea turtles, stingrays, moray eels, Galapagos eels, Barracudas and various colorful reef fish.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

The average depth of the dive is between 60-80 feet. Gordon Rocks is considered an intermediate to advanced dive site as the current can be strong at times. In order to dive, you will need to have your open water certification and a minimum of 25 logged dives.

I recommend diving in Santa Cruz with Scuba Iguana. They are one of the oldest diving companies on the island and have an excellent reputation for being safe and environmentally responsible.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

Scuba Iguana is located in Santa Cruz’ main town, Puerto Ayora. A good hotel to stay in is Hotel Ikala, located just a few minutes from the dive shop. This new hotel was built with a focus on sustainability and is surrounded by beautiful trees and gardens, giving it a natural and fresh ambiance.

Contributed by Lora from Explore with Lora

Green Island, Lvdao Township, Taiwan

They say Green Island is the best diving spot in all Taiwan due to its incredible visibility of 40 meters or even more. When we got into the water, I knew people were right. The visibility was fantastic, the more than 200 types of corals are colorful and flourishing. You have a wide range of beautiful fishes in all shapes and sizes. I have never seen that many clown fishes on that little space.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

Max depth is around 20meters. Visibility is incredible, around 40 meters. You need at least an Open Water. However, the dive centers also offer explorer dives with 5 meters depth and taking photos. Absolutely interesting for beginners, since the corals and fishes are colorful, and you can even see turtles.

The company we went with was “BLUE SAFARI DIVING CENTER 藍莎潛水中心”. I asked specifically for a dive instructor that speaks English, to take away any language barrier. They organized one for me. It was a 1 on 1 dive, so only me and the instructor. The briefing was on the point, we went through all signs again, to make sure we can both understand each other under water. He then asked what i want to do. I could do a drift dive, see specific fishes. I told him I am interested i seeing Turtles. We succeeded and saw two precious, beautiful turtles.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

We stayed at “Hostel Green520 綠島民宿‧綠野仙蹤鄉村童話-海島民宿” (< that is the full name apparently). The host is a young guy from the island, and it feels like you are staying wth a friend. He knows everything on the small island. He also picks you up on the harbor, and you exchange your WhatsApp with him. During our stay, he sent as a few messages, for instance when it was raining he’d send us a message to stay safe because it’s slippery. And then if we want to go for a drink tonight. Seriously, it was like staying with a friend!

You can only take a ferry from Taitung harbor. The ferry takes around 1 hour, and it can be bumpy. There are also airplanes, but they are always sold out, taking the ferry is much easier.

contributed by Matt Kiefer from Hostelgeeks

Gili Islands, Indonesia

The Gili Islands is a great place to go diving. There’s a small shipwreck, some underwater statues, and turtles the size of dinner tables! It’s a trip you can take around all 3 Gili Islands. The water is beautiful and crystal clear so you can see tons all around you. You don’t have to be certified as they have introductory dives that will take you up to 12 meters on your first dive. You can check out Shark Point to see reef sharks, eels and rays, or head to Turtle Heaven where you can swim with several large turtles.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

Gili Air Divers on the island of Gili Air is a PADI certified company that we recommend. They are very professional and emphasize safety. You can easily find them after your boat docks, on the strip of vendors.

We always recommend staying on the island of Gili Air, as it is more of a relaxing vibe as opposed to the more party islands. It has a great tropical island vibe with lots of live music and great food on the beach every night. We had a great experience staying at “Villa Karang Hotel and Spa”, with pools, a spa, great air-conditioned rooms, and right across from the beach.

Gili Air is a boat ride away from Bali, Indonesia, and it is very easy to find a boat to take you there. You can check online to purchase your tickets in advance as well. 

Contributed by Sara from Our Kind of Crazy

Monad Shoal

Monad Shoal is the only dive site in the world where you are likely to spot Thresher Sharks daily. Normally the Thresher Sharks live and hunt at 50+ meters of depth. The sunken island works as a cleaning station as the sharks swim up there early in the morning to get their skin washed by tiny fish called Cleaning Wrasse. That´s when divers can observe them.

The dive goes down to the underwater sandbank of Monad Shoal. From there, you dive down along the wall to about 30 meters of depth. Once you spot the Thresher Sharks you will sit down by the wall and observe them calmly. Visibility is normally 10-15 meters.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

As the dive is 30 meters deep you need minimum Advanced Open Water to do the dive, though some companies will take experienced Open Water divers. You need to stay at Malapascua island to do the dive. I did it with Jayky, a great instructor and divemaster at Dive Society. Unlikely most of the dive centers, this is not on the main beach, hence you get a better price and the experience was nevertheless unforgettable.

We traveled budget, so we stayed at a basic, budget bungalow with no name in the inland dirt tracks of the island. We found it by talking to some locals when we arrived.

To get to Malapascua you need to get a bangka (traditional Philippine pirogue) from Maya Port on Cebu island. You can take a bus from Cebu city to Maya. It is also possible to go from Leyte island by private bangka, but that will be much more expensive. 

Contributed by Lynn from Brainy Backpackers

SMS Cöln – Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands

The SMS Cöln is one of the wrecks within Scapa Flow.  She is the most intact cruiser in the Flow and sits on her starboard side at 36 metres.  The shallowest point is at 22metres.  The stern and armoured control tower are still intact.  The visibility averages about 10metres.  This is a cold water dive in deeper water so PADI advanced open water with wreck and dry suit experience are needed to make it a pleasant experience.

There are a number of companies who operate out of the nearest town of Stromness.  I would recommend Andy Cuthbertson who runs Jean Elaine through Scapa Flow Charters.  If you want support or training then Scapa Scuba have courses, training and equipment available and can take you out the wrecks in the flow.  This is especially useful if you are a single diver or buddy pair.  All the charter boats usually take larger groups and book up months in advance.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

All of the companies include accommodation in their packages.  They use small self catering cottages or the Stromness Hotel. 

Diving in Scapa Flow is from the small town of Stromness.  This can be reached from mainland Scotland using Northlink Ferries which run from Thurso near John O’Groats (three hours drive north of Inverness).  The ferry takes just under 2hours.  You can also fly to Kirkwall and then drive the 40minutes to Stromness in a hire car.

Contributed by Suzanne at Meandering Wild

Batu Balong, Labuan Bajo, Flores, Indonesia

Out of all the places I’ve dived and snorkeled around the world, there’s honestly nothing that has come to close what I experienced at the Batu Balong dive site in Indonesia!  I had just finished an incredible four-day sailing trip from Lombok to Labuan Bajo, and visited the Komodo National Park (which I’d highly recommend doing as well)!

Top Diving Locations Around the World

I was traveling with a few friends, and we all decided to book a one-day diving trip with Uber Scuba in Labuan Bajo.  We visited a few different dive sites, but this one spot called Batu Balong was easily the best!  From the minute you jump in the water, you are quite literally surrounded by thousands of fish in every direction, and the colorful coral is the most vibrant I’ve ever seen!  The max depth is around 25 meters, with visibility being good to excellent year round. Honestly a perfect place for any open water certified diver.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

We saw turtles and sharks on the dive, and it was just such an amazing experience!  Labuan Bajo is on the island of Flores in Indonesia, which you can find cheap fllights to on a few different airlines.  I’d recommend staying at the Ayana Komodo Resort too, because it’s easily the best property on the island!!

Contributed by Dave from Jones Around The World

Malaysia: Perhentian Kecil, part of the Perhentian Islands

One of the places that surprised me the most in Malaysia was Perhentian Kecil, part of the Perhentian Islands. I have visited out of season, when the island was almost deserted, with probably only around 10 tourists in total. There was not much to do except for diving, snorkelling, and enjoying coconut smoothies on the beach.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

Diving in the Perhentian Islands is a magical experience because of the amazing underwater eco system that developed around old sunken ships and buoys. There are several spots where you can dive in Perhentian Islands, which you can pick in a day tour from one of the diving centres on the island.

One of the most popular dives is at the “Sugar Wreck”, a 90 meters long cargo ship which sank in 2000. There are over 20 different diving spots around, where you can observe the marine life, such as tuna, sword fish, pufferfish, black tip reef sharks, sting rays and turtles. The corals are so beautiful as well, but remember, don’t touch them.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

To reach the Perhentian Islands you need to catch a speed boat from Kuala Besut, the closest town on the mainland. I chose to stay at Maya’s Chalet, in a hut right on the Coral Bay beach.

Contributed by Joanna from The World In My Pocket

Mary’s Place, Roatán, Honduras

Just off the coast of mainland Honduras lie the Bay Islands, Roatán being the largest of the group. These Caribbean islands are set atop a 1,000-kilometer Mesoamerican barrier reef, and most of the dive sites are just a few minutes boats ride from shore.

There are hundreds of spectacular sites to choose from and Mary’s Place is one of the best. Known for its sheer vertical cracks caused by ancient volcanic activity, this site is best suited for experienced divers. With a maximum depth of 36 meters (120 feet), divers must have an advanced certification and a good handle on buoyancy. Like many dive sites in the Bay Islands, Mary’s Place is known for excellent visibility and healthy corals.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

Roatán Divers is one of the most reputable dive shops on the island. They’re very professional and well located. Plus, they have a focus on environmental responsibility, which is why we chose to dive with them. I recommend staying at Ibagari Boutique Hotel which has beautifully-designed rooms that you’ll love to relax in after a day of diving,

To get there from the city of La Ceiba, ferries depart for the Bay Islands twice daily – once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Thailand: Koh Tao

If you enjoy diving, you will love diving in Koh Tao, Thailand. This is probably the number one destination in Thailand for divers. Koh Tao is a paradise island that is home to some of the most awesome dive sights. One of the best dive sites being Sail rock. Here you get the opportunity to dive with large schools of Barracuda, other amazing fish and stunning coral.

This amazing dive actually takes you down through a rock, crazy. The dive can take you to a maximum of 18-metres deep, from the bottom you can exit the rock and ascend back to the surface. However, these depths are for advanced divers. A good depth for beginners is 5-metres.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

You will be required to have your PADI certificate if you want to dive to the deeper depths of Sail Rock. If you are new to diving, you can enjoy a fun dive to a few metres down.

How to get to Sail Rock?Your Koh Tao dive school will take you on a 1 and half hour journey via boat to the dive site.

Which dive school to choose?I would highly recommend crystal dive school which are a team of dive experts that ensure you will have an amazing dive if you choose them. Also, if you choose to a PADI certification, you should choose CrystalDive. They are known for delivering high quality and safe courses. This amazing dive company also offers accommodation within their dive school. This is a very popular option for travellers.

The best place to stay when planning to dive here is at the P.D Beach resort, which I would highly recommend.

Contributed by Louis Smith The Northern Boy

Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas, Australia 

The Great Barrier Reef is renowned for being one of the best dive locations in the world. At 2,300 km long, comprising thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands, it’s home to countless species of fish and coral, plus sharks, turtles and dolphins.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

You can dive the Great Barrier Reef all along Australia’s east coast, but one of the most popular places to go is the small resort town of Port Douglas, just north of Cairns. Port Douglas is pretty much a dedicated beach and dive town, offering easy access to the Agincourt Reef System, part of the Ribbon Reef and one of the most popular and accessible dive areas.  Agincourt Reef offers 45 different dive sites, mostly drift and wall diving, with coral gardens and shallow dive sites that are great for novice and intermediate divers. You can even do introductory dives, so everyone from complete beginners to experts is catered for.

As well as a fantastic range of coral fish, you’re likely to spot lionfish, barracudas, dogtooth tuna, reef sharks and blue spotted stingray.  Depth at the various Agincourt sites ranges from 12-40 metres, and on a good day visibility can be up to 30 metres; the average is usually about 20 metres.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

The dive company I recommed is ABC Scuba Diving or Blue Dive, I truly had a great time with them and felt cared for every step of the way.

There are loads of places to stay in Port Douglas, ranging from backpackers’ hostels to serviced apartments to expensive beach resorts with pools. We stayed in Coral Beach Lodge which was centrally located and quite affordable.

Contributed by Bella from Passports and Pixels

Silfra Fissure

The Silfra fissure sits along the mid-Atlantic ridge, a location where the earth’s plates diverge, here Iceland is being slowly ripped in two but the resulting freshwater dive in the middle of the country is bound to blow your booties off. Silfra is unique in the world, the only place in the world where you can (feasibly) dive between the earth’s tectonic plates! Running from a shallow 1m down to 40+ meters Silfra is a somewhat technical dive that you’ll need your drysuit diver certification for but with 100+m visibility its well worth the trouble.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

Staying in Reykjavik is the best option for people wanting to dive the fissure, we loved the FossHotel Reykjavik. The city is vibrant, interesting & worth exploring best of all when it comes time to go diving every tour operator out there offers hotel pickup! Arctic Adventures offers daily snorkels and dives at the fissure complete with a tour of Thingvellir national park & hot cocoa & cookies when you get out of the perpetually cool (2*c or 35F) water.

Contributed by Patrick Horsfield – Adventographer

Palancar Gardens Cozumel, Mexico.

Palancar Gardens off the coast of Isla Cozumel in Mexico is one of the best wall dive sites in the world. As Palancar is part of the National Park it is well protected and has huge healthy coral formations, multiple (optional) swim-throughs, and a wall that drops down to 130 ft. This dive site really will blow your mind. Expect to see turtles, green moray eels, eagle rays (only during the season), and nurse sharks (all year round).

Top Diving Locations Around the World

The depth of this dive is between 30- 80 feet and it is a great reef to dive for all experience levels. Beginners can stay to the side and above the reef and more experienced divers can go deeper and do the swim-throughs. The average visibility diving in Cozumel is 100ft all year round. You will need an open water certificate to dive here. Although it is possible to do this dive on a discover scuba dive as it is often used as a first dive site.

The dive company I recommend in Cozumel is Scuba Tony. I did my advanced certificate with them and I would never dive with anyone else over there. The dive masters are awesome and their equipment and boats are in top condition.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

If you are going to Cozumel to dive you are better to stay further south so you are closer to the better dive sites. Most hotels have a dock where the boats can pick you up from. If you stay further north most dive companies will not pick you up. I recommend staying at the Fiesta as it is in an ideal location and has great facilities.

Getting to Cozumel is easy as the Island has its own airport with many international direct flights. Alternatively, you can fly into Cancun and then take a connecting flight to the Island, or take a taxi or ADO bus to Playa del Carmen. From Playa you will need to take the 40-minute ferry over to Cozumel.

Contributed by Claire from Claire’s Itchy Feet

Jeju Island – South Korea

The exotic Jeju Island is a stunning and extremely popular holiday destination among Korean and foreign tourists. The island is often referred to as the Hawaii of Korea. Not only is it stunning, but it also has so much to offer, from great hikes to amazing beaches, yummy food, and great water activities like kayaking, snorkeling, diving and many more.

All around the island, there are many different diving spots and schools. But the creme de la creme diving spot is around the Seongsan Ilchulbong (sunrise peak). This natural phenomenon is a volcanic crater created more than a hundred thousand years back as a result of volcanic eruptions. This site is now a protected UNESCO heritage site.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

The warm water around the peak attracted a wide array of tropical marine life and soft corals, which are absolutely stunning. Diving in Jeju Island and the rest of South Korea is mostly a summer activity as the rest of the year the water will be too cold for divers and instructors. On top of that during autumn and winter, the currents around the island are rather strong and dangerous for inexperienced divers.

The recommended school to dive with is Seongsan Diving Resort as offers diving packages to both unlicensed and licensed divers, making this the best location for beginner and advanced divers. I recommend you rent a car and drive in Jeju, but the school is also accessible using public transportation. When visiting Jeju Island, stay in Jeju City and use this as a base to explore the island.

Contributed by Marie from Be Marie Korea

Philippines: Apo Reef

33 Km off the coast of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro Province, Philippines, you’ll find the Apo Reef. This is the largest coral reef in the Philippines, while in the world is only second to the Australian Great Barrier Reef.

The reef develops on two connecting sections divided by a channel with a white sandy bottom of 30 mt maximum depth. The variety of the flora and fauna in the protected area of the Apo Reef Natural Park is surprising and overwhelming. As you start going down inside the channel, you are instantly surrounded by clouds of snappers and will get to see jacks, barracudas trevallies, squirrel and parrotfishes, triggerfishes, gobies, groupies, reef sharks and the list of the 385 species found in the area goes on.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

It is easy to spot turtles (even the rare green turtle) and dolphins, and overall you will meet large schools of fishes. Within one dive-trip from Sablayan, you will normally arrange three dives, and you need the Advanced Open Water Certificate to dive Apo Reef. The visibility in Apo Reef is just incredible and makes for a breath-taking experience. The most visited site of the reef is South Corner.

The Mariposa diving centre on the Tiny Pandan Island is run by a mix of Philipino and European experts and has been organizing day-trips and overnights at Apo Reef for more than 20 years. The centre provides training up to dive-master and is part of the Pandan Island Resort, which offers hut-like accommodation for every budget on a semi-private island and delicious, rich buffet meals. This is your best option to stay at while you visit Apo Reef, as they can take you to the reef with a 90 minutes boat trip.

Top Diving Locations Around the World

To get to Pandan Island from Manila by plane to San Jose and by public bus/jeepney to Sablayan where a tricycle can take you exactly to ‘Punta in front of Ludi ‘s place’. From there a Bangka will cross the 300 mt of sea waters to Pandan Island.-from Manila by land and ferry: take a bus to Batangas and the Montenegro Lines ferry to Abra. From Abra, get on a bus to Sablayan, then follows the directions as per the previous point.

Contributed by Annalisa from Travel Connect Experience

BONUS: Belize Barrier Reef Reserve

The Belize Barrier Reef makes up one-third of the MesoAmerican Reef (the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef), stretching 190 miles along the Central American country’s coastline. Protected since 1996 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the reef is the #1 tourist attraction in Belize, with Scuba diving attracting nearly 50% of the country’s annual visitors. 

Thankfully removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2018, the reef’s diverse array of walls, pinnacles, holes, and reef flats are home to an exceptional array of aquatic life (including 70 hard coral species, 35 soft coral species, 500 species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrates). During our two dives (at depths ranging from 15 to 60+ feet), we had exceptional visibility and saw a Nurse Shark, Moray Eel, several Spotted Rays, a Sea Turtle, Pufferfish, Lobsters, and thousands of colorful fish. 

Top Diving Locations Around the World

Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort caters to Scuba divers and offers a variety of daily snorkeling and diving tours. Located less than a mile from the Garifuna culture of Hopkins Village, this excellent eco-resort also boasts beautiful lodge-style rooms with hot tubs on the private patio as well as a restaurant serving up fresh seafood daily.

Domestic flights from Belize International Airport to Dangriga are available on Maya Air or Tropic Air. The staff at Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort can arrange this flight for you, as well as an airport transfer to the resort.

Contributed by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel

How Do You Choose?

With all of these great dives, it is going to be hard to choose just ONE to commit to for your next trip. I would suggest taking a cruise and hitting several, or find friends to stay with and do them all throughout your lifetime. Go with the dive that speaks to your heart, that you have the certifications for and let fate take you on an underwater journey that not many are brave enough to take.

To all my fellow divers, I salute you – happy bubble blowing!

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Florida Getaways: How To Spend An Authentic Weekend in Florida

Florida Getaways: How To Spend An Authentic Weekend in Florida

Have you ever wondered where the people who live in your vacation destination go on their vacation? Florida has a plethora of amusement parks, beaches, everglades, diving, animals, and all around fun – but when you have a short weekend, how do you choose? For those who like the more authentic experience, and doing what the locals do – here are my suggestions for your Florida getaway and how to have an authentic weekend in Florida. 

Arriving in Florida

Once arriving in Florida, I met up with some friends, and locals, Jen and Ed. We quickly grabbed our Latte’s and headed out the door towards the Devil’s Den. It is an hour and a half drive North from Orlando. You can drive straight through, or take the scenic route through Ocala National Forest (which adds an extra hour). 

There are plenty of rest stops along the way, with cute parks for picnics or for the dogs to stretch their legs. Road trips seemed quite common due to all of the RV‘s I saw on the road. 

 

The Devil’s Den

This dive is one of the more unique dive’s I have come across. We quickly paid, took some photos, checked all of our diving gear and made our way into the Devil’s Den. If this was truly the Devil’s Den, then hell has frozen over. Once you descend into this cavern the air and water get quite cold. This underground river is a consistent 72 degrees F (22 degrees C), while it doesn’t seem too cold, keep in mind you are essentially in a cave with very little light warming you or the water. 

The true reason it was called Devil’s Den, is because on cold mornings (well, as cold as Florida can get); you see smoke rising in visible plumes from the chimney opening. 

Devil’s Den is a perfect dive for new diver’s as the depth only reaches 54 feet (16.45m). It is a classic destination for Divers, and snorkelers who wish to experience its crystal clear waters and unique inverted mushroom formation. 

Fun Fact: There have been several animal fossils that have been found in these waters, dating all the way back to the Pleistocene age – displayed in the University of Florida’s Museum. 

 

What to Bring to Devil’s Den

Be sure to bring your Wetsuit! I live in a colder, and much drier climate. I was able to handle diving in this Cave with a shorty wetsuit; but I would not have been able to do another dive as I started to get cold at the end of this dive.

Bring a light, your GoPro and Diving Rig, with an experienced diver and would suggest getting your cave diving liscense unless you are diving with a Master/Rescue Diver. Luckily Ed is both of those. Some of the cave areas can get quite dark, and you squeeze through some tighter spots – so I was glad to have someone there who could navigate.

Creepy Fish and Caves

I will give you fair warning about the creepy fish in this place. Even though it is a river in Florida, don’t expect some beautiful tropical fish – expect creepy fish, huge catfish that hide in corners like a horrible underwater haunted house.

The caves are fun to explore, the water is gorgeous, experiencing a daytime dive but having to equip ourselves like it was a night dive was what was shocking to me (besides the cold water taking your breath away).

It was pretty incredible to think I was diving in a cave that was over 33 million years old. No matter what kind of dive it is, I pretty much just love blowing my bubbles. If you aren’t a diver though, you can bring some snorkel gear and just relax in the cool waters as well.

Other Amenities Available at Devil’s Den

I would make sure to head there early, as it can get quite crowded with the Dive schools and tourists headed in. You have to reserve a time slot in order to go, and they do have picnic tables available to lay your stuff on. No one will steal your belongings, but they do have lockers available. There is also a heated swimming pool if you have kiddos, 2 large makeshift changing areas and showers with bathrooms. There is an area to wash off your dive gear if needed, gear rental is available for all shapes and sizes in their office. There are more than thirty picnic tables, 5 cabanas, and assorted lawn games if you wanted to bring your family and make a weekend of it.

Get Some Authentic Southern Food in Florida

Searching on Yelp, we scrolled through some of the best restaurants near Devil’s Den. Still tired from my Red Eye, and being hungry makes me a bit grouchy – so finding some good Southern Comfort food was exactly what my taste buds were looking for. We settled on the Ivy House in Williston. 

This quaint, homey restaurant appeared to be quite popular with the locals which was not surprising once we sat down and looked at the menu. We chose to go with the Cajun Shrimp, Fried Green Tomatoes and some Hush puppies. It was the perfect blend of savory, with a little spice that made us feel warm from the inside out. 

After eating far too much, we headed back to the Hotel to check in in Crystal River Florida. My friend got a phone call from a buddy of his in the area that has a Pontoon boat and he invited us to come and relax with him and his family on the boat. 

To be honest I imagined some toothless guys, spitting their tobacco into the river wearing wife beater’s from last week, holding their fishing poles while the women sat there and listened to their pissing contest. This type of thinking tends to happen when I get tired. I was only running on 3 hours of sleep if I was lucky, and to be frank – I’m just not in my 20’s anymore and was getting cranky and tired. Yet I hate missing out, so cut the complaining and judgemental thoughts and went into auto pilot and just rolled with it. 

 

Pontoon Ride on the Homossassa River

The people we met up with were far from the chaw spittin, fly swingin people I had imagined in my head. While they are chain smokers, the amount they smoke was about how much kindness they all for each of us. Some of the most hospitable, funny, genuine people you will meet – and let me tell you – they gave all of us a run for our money. We started off just doing a leasuirely boat ride down the river, and then Katie (from The Traveling Spud) became so excited when we discovered that you can pull into pubs with your boat, buy a beer and then continue on down the river. 

Piper (the dog above) was so fluffy, and was wagging her tail like she was whacking weeds – I have never seen a dog get so excited about being on a boat. We passed by Crumps, a Tiki themed bar that is complete with huts, food trucks, white sandy beaches, night time shows and even a playground for the kids in the shape of a ship. 

Our host, Mike with his parent and friend Shelly , told us we were going to come back to this bar later as that is really when the party started. We continued to putter along the river, while Piper showed us all her fancy tricks. As the wide Homossassa River narrowed, we were told to keep an eye out for Manatees (which we were going to be swimming with the following day). In fact, we were told we were headed to the Manatee Pub….who knew these places actually existed. 

Mike’s Dad, Dick, told us that when we get to the Manatee Pub to make sure to hang onto our drinks because the Pub was damaged with the last hurricaine and the whole Pub is on a tilt. So if you don’t hang onto your drink, well, it may just slide right off the table into the water. 

Dick told us stories about what it is like to sit out a hurricaine, how the area changes after each one that comes through and many more stories for Clam hunting, diving, and so much more. (Watch the full experience on the Culture Trekking Channel). 

One such tale was of the Monkey bar, where this tiny island was built for a bar and a few monkeys were placed on it for the touristic draw. Well the pub went belly up, but the locals still take care of the monkeys, and have lovingly called this tiny island in the middle of the river – Monkey Island. The monkeys will give you quite the show in the mornings or evening when they are fed. 

We sat for a spell at the Manatee bar (on the right) while Mike, Shelly, Jan, and Dick told us more stories about the area – their son that did shipping, and the old lady who buys shrimp and ice cream for the fishermen that come into port and makes a mighty fine living doing it. 

We ended our night at Crump’s as promised listening to renditions of songs from the 80’s through the 2000’s. 

Swimming With Manatees in Crystal Rivers

The next morning we got up early to go and take a dip in Crystal River at Hunters Bay. This is where the Manatees swim, breed, and take refuge. We were taking a tour with Bird’s Underwater later that day and wanted to see if we could spot some manatees before all the crowds came. 

Hunters Bay can get quite crowded so be sure to get there early to get a good parking spot (there is a fee for parking – so make sure to bring some cash). 

We didn’t spot any manatees in Hunters Bay, but Birds Underwater took us up to the Three Sisters, and Jurassic Spring and we were able to see Mama’s with their babies. Swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers is definitely something I will never forget. 

The Last Chapter in the Florida Getaway

We had spent most of the day in the Crystal Rivers area, swimming with Manatees, stopping by the Homossassa Wildlife Refuge – and headed to St. Petersburg Florida. We were dropping Katie off there as she wanted to explore the Dali Museum, take pictures of all the wonderful street art in the area. Unfortunately I had to head home the next day and wouldn’t be able to stay in the area – as my flight was leaving from Orlando. So we decided to catch the sunset and have some dinner in the area.

I had never heard of this place in my life, so didn’t think it would be anything special to photograph or remember— but I was entirely wrong. We raced the sunset to the beach. We pulled into the parking and walking onto this beach was like I was transported to the beaches on Grand Cayman Islands. The sand was perfectly white and clean, as the sun touched the water on the horizon all of the movement on the beach slowed to a stop – there was a peaceful quiet and serene feeling that descended upon everyone there and stayed with us as we all soaked in the sacrament of the sun setting on another wonderful day with friends. 

 

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Swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

I met Jen and Ed from Coleman Concierge at a travel conference in 2017. We hit it off pretty well, considering she had lived in Utah for a while (my home state). They invited me down to Orlando and proposed we do some diving and go swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida. They had done some kayaking in Silver Springs where Manatees also visit, and raved about their experience. I decided to take them up on their offer, and promptly bought my ticket to Florida.

Knowing that Manatees are often killed by boats passing by, and they were slow and fat was about the extent of my knowledge about Manatees and their world. Luckily we were able to pair up with Birds Underwater for a tour and my knowledge about Manatees exponentially increased from one afternoon with them. So come take a virtual tour with me, Jen & Ed, and our other friend Katie from The Traveling Spud as we learn just how to ethically interact with Manatees.

swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida
From left to right: Emily, Jen, Ed, Janiel (me), Katie, Joe

The History of Hunters Springs Park

This area was previously owned by a single individual, who upon her death gifted the area to the city as long as it remained free to the public. It was utilized by the surrounding community for many years, with manatees competing for the safety and warmth of the springs.

Over time the area was inhabited by vagrants and unwanted guests that helped contribute to the death and disuse of the property. The city was able to buy an abandoned lot, gave the park a facelift with park benches, a beach, and a playground. This facelift cost around 2.2 million. In order to help maintain the new parking, and the kayak launch there is a minimal charge – but the park itself if free.

Please do not make your own parking spaces, only park in designated areas. Be sure to get there early to get a good parking space.

swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

Starting the Manatee Tour with Important Safety instructions & Ethical Interaction

While it isn’t exactly illegal to see the manatees on your own, I wouldn’t really suggest it. I thought I knew how to responsibly interact with marine life, but I learned so much by taking a guided tour.

My friends and I decided to take a tour with Bird’s Underwater, who are very dedicated to maintaining an environment that is safe for the animals. It was nice to see they were talking about the animals like they would family members they were protecting.

When you arrive, you check in at the front desk to sign a waiver and watch the instructional video on ethical interaction with manatees. The video explains how you shouldn’t dive towards the manatee, reach towards the manatee, pinch them, attempt to ride them, dive near them, wear a wetsuit, don’t kick just use your arms and loads of other things.

swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

I know it sounds like a lot, but manatees are such shy and gentle creatures actions you take are akin to jumping on their bed while they are sleeping. One individual was kicking too much, and ended up kicking a manatee in the face on accident. He got scared, and scared all the other manatees out of the area.

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

Other general rules that those who were not on a guided tour didn’t quite understand are: don’t hover or corner them, stay a body length away, do not enter the area that says ‘manatee resting zone’, do not talk through the snorkel tube or make cooing noises, be mindful of people near you so everyone has a turn to observe quietly without getting kicked in the face, don’t use underwater lights as the manatees don’t have eyelids and it can blind them.

Do not attempt to feed manatees, this can decrease their fear of humans which can lead to more manatee deaths from boating propellers as they will learn to associate the bottom of the boat with food. Last but not least, don’t walk on the river bed, it is silt and if everyone walks or kicks vigorously it makes the water foggy and is more difficult to get good photos/video of the manatees.

swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

Helpful tips: Use a noodle to help float so you don’t have to kick, Gopro beeping doesn’t bother them, be calm and quiet and they will come up to you, manatees love to look at themselves in the GoPro Dome, they are also fascinated with colorful toenails. If the manatee does approach you, always keep your elbow bent and palm open – if not and someone snaps a photo of you then you will be sent a fine of up to $10,000. There are several fish and wildlife patrols in the Crystal rivers area to enforce these rules.

This is the only place in the world that you can legally swim with manatees, so please try to be respectful and not ruin this opportunity for everyone else.

Bird's Underwater on board

What Birds Underwater has OnBoard

Birds Underwater outfitted us with snorkel gear, wetsuits, and flotation devices (foam noodles). They do a guided tour up the stream, making sure we stayed together as a group and lead you to the areas where the manatees are. Onboard they have hot drinks: coffee, tea, hot cocoa, granola bars etc… (if there is a good guide) available to you free of charge.

There are typically 12 people on the tour which is a little tight when your all there with your gear on and rucksacks and such. There really isn’t a dry area on the boat, so be sure to either have a dry bag or leave your things in a locker in the store. Once your in the boat, pay attention to instructions and stay seated when the engine is in gear (this is for insurance reasons).

When is the Best Time To See Manatees in Florida?

Out of all the companies we looked at in the Crytal River area, Birds Underwater seem to be the best on all spectrums for a safe, ethical, and flexible interaction with the manatees. They are one of the only tour group that start a tour at 630am, which puts you out in the rivers before all the silt is stirred up and the manatees are scared away. It also allows you to get up to the Three Sisters area (where many manatees go to rest) before the tide comes in and boats are no longer able to get under the bridge.

The best time to go is when there is cold front coming through Florida from November through February. When the ocean waters get cold, and the Manatees search out warmer waters. This can be really hard to time perfectly, but if all else fails, Birds Underwater also has Diving excursions available.

A Short Manatee Biology Biography

Manatees have seal like bodies that taper into a flat, large rear fin; with two forefins that also aid with maneuverability. Each forefin has 2-3 nails on each.

The Manatees closest relative is actually the elephant, even though they are commonly referred to as ‘sea cows’. (Sea cows were hunted to extinction as of 1741). There are three different types: West African manatee, the Amazonian manatee, and the ones in Crystal Rivers area are mostly West Indies Manatees.

These mammals migrate mostly around the united states during the summer months have been tracked from Texas all the way up to Massachusetts. Despite popular belief, Manatees are pure muscle, which is why they have to seek those warmer waters during the winter months.

swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

Manatees eat mostly aquatic plants and must surface to breathe air. They typically rest submerged at the bottom of the river bed or just below the surface of the water. When they surface, every 3-5 minutes, for breath, it is a subconscious action that puts them at risk for boat propeller injuries. When they are migrating, they expend a great deal of energy and can surface every 30 seconds. Despite being made of pure muscle, Manatees can only swim up to 20 miles per hour, which made them perfect targets for hunters.

Swimming with the Manatees in Crystal Rivers

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

After learning all of this information about Manatees, I found myself feeling protective of these unique and gentle creatures. My new found respect for them, allowed me to have a much better experience and appreciate just how lucky we are to have these types of interactions when a few of its marine cousins are already extinct.

Getting into the water, I was very careful to not kick my legs around. Tried to relax into the floating orange noodle I had been given and followed the guide up the river to where the manatees were resting.

swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

When I fist saw the manatee, it was almost as if it wasn’t real. This giant fish, that looked like a pug nose on a walrus body was one of the cutest things I have seen. Especially since it seems they love to push their nose into the silt, or into other object when they are resting peacefully. It endeared me to them in a way, as I can’t get to sleep until my mouth is covered.

I quickly became annoyed at other people who refused to follow the rules, or even the young man who dove down right in front of the manatee with his GoPro to get a picture up close. I was grateful my guide warned us about this, and just told us to worry about how we interact and notify a guide if a manatee is encroached upon or touched and the park rangers would take care of it.

I just calmly floated, enjoying the experience and being able to witness this incredible creature tucked into its river bed sleeping. The manatee started to float towards the surface, and watching it come up for air was like watching a ballarina dance gracefully across the stage – be lifted by her partner and the last stretch to the air above before descending to the floor below. Watching this incredibly large creature be so graceful truly gave me chills.

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

Eventually the manatee swam away because of a group that came in squealing, splashing and talking underwater. I was glad I was able to get a video before they came in and be able to be witness to something so intimately impactful to me.

After re-boarding the boat, slurping down some warm hot-cocoa and traveling to Jurassic Springs – we were able to see a Mama Manatee and her baby. Our guide told us to listen for the squeaks from the baby to its mama, and I was able to capture this on camera. How sweet the playfulness of the baby, and mindfulness of the Mama to her baby was. Our guide told us about how there are different squeaks for different states that the baby manatee can be in, and demonstrated those for us. This baby manatee was happily playful and wanting to explore a little more.

swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

After quite some time observing this sweet interaction between the two, we all headed back to our boat. While waiting to reboard, our guide called out ‘hey, there are a few coming right towards you’. I ducked my head underwater again, and the water in this area was quite murky so it was difficult to see. Then the massive Mama and her baby manatee swam within two feet of me, seemingly out of nowhere – it startled me quite a bit. It hit me, that even when looking for the manatees, it is still easy to miss them when they are literally right under you. This is the very reason it is so important to use boats without propellers in these high manatee traffic areas, and to be mindful of marine life – it would be so easy to kill a mama and leave her baby to fend for itself. That is one desperate squeaking I hope I never have to hear or witness in my life.

Other Activities Near Crystal Rivers

There are quite a few activities to do near Crystal Rivers once you finish your manatee tour. Birds Underwater have Kayaks you can rent to explore the place, Stand up paddle boards as well. If you are feeling more adventurous take a drift dive tour down Rainbow River where you will see a near natural environment with plenty of fresh water fish. Maybe you would like to take your diving a little deeper out in King’s Bay where the once barren area is showing signs of the bass, crustaceans, and other marine life that should be inhabiting one of the largest remaining saltmarsh estuary systems left along the US gulf coast.

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

Take a Tour with Birds Underwater

If you would like a similar experience to mine, be sure to head to Crystal Rivers in Florida and visit Birds Underwater for a group tour or private tour.

For my fellow Scuba Divers, Birds Underwater also offers a full-service scuba diving training and is a Scubapro Platinum dealership (one of only 23 Platinum facilities in the Eastern US). They offer dive training at all levels. Bill “Bird” Oestreich is the only cave diving, Tri – Mix, and Megalodon Re-breather diving instructor in Crystal River, FL, with over 25 years of technical diving, dive training, and dive exploration conducted in over 5 countries.  I will personally be revisiting this area, as I am attempting to be a Master Diver in the near future and would love to gain some of his invaluable knowledge. (Don’t tell, but I feel like I was secretly a mermaid in my past life).

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

How to Get to Crystal Rivers in Florida

It is 1.5 hours from Orlando if you are driving by car, and car rentals are around $13-$18/day for most rental companies.

If you don’t want to drive, or rent a car; then try to take the bus. This will take a considerable amount of time, but you can take a few different bus lines to Crystal Rivers. The Crystal Rivers bus line will cost around $84 round trip, and take around 4.5 hours to get there. What is hidden within the route, is a stop in Tampa Florida where you could grab lunch and maybe stay overnight before heading to Crystal Rivers.

Jen and Ed (locals) said that the beaches on the west coast of Florida are much better than the East coast. Tampa is also close to St Petersburg Florida which is full of beautiful street art, beaches and relaxed environment.

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

What to Pack for Swimming with Manatees and What NOT to Pack

Selfie Sticks are illegal when swimming with Manatees. Please don’t bring them and ruin the privilege of swimming with these animals.

Wet suit and quality snorkel are a must, no matter what time of year you visit. I personally did not think I required a wetsuit, but was so grateful I ended up wearing my shorty wetsuit once I got in the water.

GoPro Diving Stabilizer or a Cannon with an underwater housing are what those in my group used and feel that we came out with some great shots. As I mentioned before, bringing a GoPro Dome was recommended by our guides – but with all the silt it may get dirty quite quickly.

Other items to pack: quality and eco-friendly defog, pink filter, snorkel, body glide (helps get the wetsuit on and off), microfiber towel, dry bag.

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal Rivers Florida

Where to Stay in Crystal Rivers

Booking.com

Pioneer History in Nauvoo Illinois

Pioneer History in Nauvoo Illinois

This quaint town in the middle of Illinois is one of the best replicas of life in the 1850’s. Located on the banks of the Mississippi river, this small town has homes fully restored with volunteers that re-enact the times of Pioneers. There are pioneer crafts, games, horse-drawn wagon rides, and live entertainment. Explore the Pioneer History in Nauvoo Illinois.

Fort Madison

Located just across the Mississippi River from Fort Madison, this historic town is the location of the a former U.S. Military outpost, Fort Madison. This was an active trading post between the US Military and the Native Americans between 1808 and 1813.

It was also the site of the Chief Blackhawk’s first battle against the U.S. troops. This fort was one of three Army posts established to maintain control over the Louisiana area. There were so many trade disputes between the natives, especially the Sauk Tribe, that the trade treaty of 1804 was considered invalid. The quality of goods that were being offered from the Fort vs what was being offered by Britain and France were considered to be far inferior.

pioneer history in Nauvoo Illinois

The Blackhawk’s Biography relayed their point of view of this military settlement as follows:

“A number of people immediately went down to see what was going on, myself among them.  
On our arrival we found they were building a fort.  The soldiers were busily engaged in 
cutting timber,  and I observed that they took their arms with them when they went 
into the woods.  The whole party  acted as they would do in an enemy’s country.  The chiefs 
held a council with the officers, or  head men  of the party, which I did not attend, but 
understood from them that the war chief had  said that they  were building homes for a trader 
who was coming there to live, and would sell us  goods very cheap, and the soldiers were to remain 
to keep him company.  We were pleased at this information and  hoped that it was all true, but we 
were not so credulous as to believe that all these buildings were  intended merely for the 
accommodations of a trader.  Being distrustful of their intentions, we were  anxious for them
 to leave off building and go back down river.”

The Fort location was a poor choice due to being at the base of a bluff where the local natives could safely fire at it from a distance. After multiple attacks, attempted seiges, threat of cannon fire against the natives. The War of 1812 expanded, British allied with the Sauk and other tribes in an effort to eradicate the Americans and regain control of the important trade along this major river.

Conditions became so dangerous that bodies of the dead were left outside the fort, and troops were unable to leave the fort to recover lost supplies. Instead of allowing nearby towers to fall to the natives, they were instead…burned. The Army eventually abandoned the post in 1813 and burned it to the grown as they left.

The early setters built around the ruins of this fort and a large monument was erected in the early 20th century where you can see how these early forts were built and manned.

pioneer history in Nauvoo Illinois

Mississipi River Boat Tours

For those wanting to sail along the Mississippi there are several river boat cruises available. Here are a few options:

Nauvoo Visitors Center

After a brief interlude in Fort Madison, head over to the Nauvoo Visitors Center. There are several things I want to mention before you do though. The basis of this town is from when the Mormon Pioneers (or Latter-Day Saint Pioneers) settled in the area. Because of the religious significance this town has for them, it has been well preserved and very well restored.

While some may be aversed to visiting a place with such religious significance, I would like to persuade you otherwise. It has been said that it is the best restored Pioneer type village you will see in the United States. Here is where you will learn how trade happened for the community here along the Missisippi River. There are multiple shops where uplifting messages are shared on how people during that time survived. There are restored blacksmith shops, where they are still used in the same fashion they were used during that time. There is a Brick Masons yard where they explain the different types of bricks. An Apothecary shop that shows how illness was signaled to neighbors to not visit, herbs were used, and how bees were caught.

pioneer history in Nauvoo Illinois - CultureTrekking.com - #Nauvoo #FortMadison #Pioneers

The messages provided are uplifting, and teach nothing of hard argumentative doctrine of their religion. I found the community to be warm, kind, helpful and most of all inspiring.

If you start out at the Visitors Center; it will give you an overview of who these people were and how they cleared the swampy area to make it into a thriving trade community.

Nauvoo Temple

This Mormon Temple has been restored to it’s grand and original design. A Temple to the Mormon’s is a house in which they believe the Spirit of God resides if those who enter are worthy. There are prayers offered within this building, and a reverence in which it’s members talk about it because of the peace they feel when entering this Temple.

pioneer history in Nauvoo Illinois - CultureTrekking.com - #Nauvoo #FortMadison #Pioneers

I feel the reverence in which they talk about this building is compounded by the fact that despite it being destroyed by mobs so long ago; the original structure has been fully restored and is fully operational for their worship. It is thought as sort of a memorial in addition to a place of worship for those who sacrificed so much for what they believed in, in the mid 1800’s.

While those who are not members of the Mormon, or rather the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, are not allowed to enter. There are plenty of their members who have black name tags pinned to their shirts to show you what the inside looks like and answer questions about what goes on inside. They want me to emphasize, that while they do not wish to exclude anyone or make those who are not members feel like there are secrets being withheld from them; there is a certain sacred nature that needs to be upheld for those who come there to worship instead of it being a tourist center.

To learn about the struggle the founding members of this church experienced when trying to establish their community and build their temple. Be sure to stay for the free shows offered during the summer. These include the story of their Prophet Joseph Smith, and about those who immigrated from overseas to this city and then how they were forced out by angry mobs.

Joseph Smith Historic Properties

Learning about another religion can be a touchy subject for many, but it is important when understanding where another person’s point of view comes from. The history that shaped them, and how to explain things in ways that they can relate to and understand.

So for those who would like to know more about the Latter-Day Saint Prophet Joseph Smith; be sure to visit the homes where he and his family stayed. They are the original height, size, and layout of the home. It shows how meat was stored, where they went to the loo, and how they preserved food.

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Cultural Hall

The town’s gathering place where square dancing, sermons, and now nightly shows of the city during its ‘Golden Age’ occur. If you go up to the second floor of this building you can see a pioneer quilt museum. Learn about the different patterns, how they made their fabrics, and what a pioneer bedroom set would have looked like.

It was fun to imagine the room full of shy young women and men who were attempting to dance around here. The show was quaint but entertaining, and I was very grateful to let my feet rest for a bit and escape the humid summer air.

Family Living Center

You can learn how to make rope and barrels at the Family Living center as they did in the day of the American Pioneers, who trekked across the great plains. You can also get a recipe for pioneer bread, and make your own candlestick and so much more

I was surprised at how much I felt like a child discovering something for the first time when I was here. Participating in these activities, learning how to be self sustaining during a time when technology didn’t run their lives. How they entertained themselves. But what struck me the most, was how much of their day was dedicated to creating, and survival for the winter months. Volunteers are there to help, dressed in time period clothing and full of historical knowledge of how things were done and made during the early 1800’s.

The best part is that you get a free memento in this shop, where you get to take home the rope that you make and a slice of the bread.

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Jonathan Browning Gun Shop

Jonathan Browning was a Tennessee native, who started out as a Blacksmith and then later started to make guns. It wasn’t that he just made guns, but invented different types and mechanisms of the gun. His most notable inventions were the sliding breech repeating rifle, or the Harmonica gun. The army took note of his invention and utilized his guns for many years. Each one of the Harmonica guns took 2 weeks to make, and sold for $24 (today this would equate to $456.96 per gun).

Some of his guns are on display here, and you can also see how rifle barrels in the 1800’s were made.

Lyon Drug Store and Herb Garden

Medical care before 1820 was mostly by trial and error, with apprenticeships passing down knowledge increased and collected year after year. Medical schools didn’t emerge until the 1840’s, and so most of the medicines used were strictly herbal.

So for common ailments or for symptoms of a disease process that is more insidious, any member of the community could come into the Drug Store or Apothecary and request a concoction to help alleviate certain symptoms.

There were, however, some very interesting concoctions that were used then that are quite shocking to us today – now that we have science to back up the dilitirous effects. One of these concoctions was Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, used to sooth teething toddlers. What was the key ingredient? Morphine. Opium was commonly used to treat coughing fits and diarrhea – it was used as an all purpose drug back in the day. It was also common to treat syphilis with arsenic and mercury. Blood letting was used to break fevers, and calomel was used to induce vomiting that would help expel the bad blood and toxins from the body.

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Much of what you see in this Drug Store is herbal based; though these would often be mixed with water or alcohol.

This store was by far the most fascinating for me, given my medical background. It made me chuckle and at the same time horrified what the people here likely endured. To be situated right near the Mississippi River, where Malarial mosquitos roamed during that time. Yet I was thouroghly impressed at how they made due with the resources and knowledge they had during that period of time.

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Brickyard

Brick making will never be so fascinating as when you visit this shop. You have to enter a small room where a brick mason will show you how bricks are made, how they were cooked, how much they cost, and how long it would take to build a home in the 1800’s.

I didn’t realize that the different color of bricks signified their relative strength due to the placement in the fire. The sturdier bricks also cost more and possessed more color. If you are the type that likes to watch the show ‘How it’s made’ then Historic Nauvoo is the place for you!

Once you are done learning about how the bricks are made, you are given a brick, made in the ovens at this location with a memorial stamp on it for free. Just one more free memento of the plethora here.

Blacksmith Shop

Walking into the Blacksmith shop was VERY warm, as it should be when your trying to bend and melt metal. An elderly gentleman was there with little children crowding up in the front, curious and enthralled by the metal working and instruction. He captivated the children, by telling them (and the other adults in the room) how hot the metal had to be in order for it to bend, what types of things can cause impurities in the metal, and what types of things they would utilize a Blacksmith’s shop for back then.

He then told us a story of how young men who were wanting to wed, but did not have the money for a gold ring would use an old silver nail to propose to their brides. The ring they would use to propose is lovingly called a ‘Prairie Diamond’. Each single woman was invited to come up and receive one of these fire forged rings (thrown in Lord of Rings Meme here), and leave with a smile on her face.

Scovil Bakery

After boiling in the Blacksmith shop, head over to another cook off at the Scovil Bakery. This is a rather small shop, but you get to see how a Bakery was set up, where they would cook items that could be purchased by the community – and they even offer a home baked treat. The Scovil cookies are delicious and packed full of love from the elderly women in this store. Best part is, the cookies are free!

Trail of Hope

Once called the trail of tears, you walk along a dirt road leading from the town to the river. Every ten feet or so is a new sign, with a story of how the pioneers of that time were persecuted by mobs for their beliefs. For those who are part of this Latter Day Saint Religion, this is a very moving trail – as it tells a story of courage, loss, and ultimately hope for a future free of torture, death, and constant re-establishment in new country.

This town for them, was the last town before making the trek out of the – at the time- United States to a land out west. Through storms, rain, snow, starvation, disease, and summiting mountain passes with wooden wagons and handcarts – they were able to live in freedom, and peace in a place now called Utah.

No matter if you are a member of this religion or not, their story of courage in the face of adversity is inspiring. With so much hate then, and even now – it is important to remember the lessons of our past – and learn from them.

So if you find yourself in Illinois on a road trip, or want to see how the West was truly won and explored. Visit Nauvoo Illinois and see just how courage in the hearts of Americans was truly forged.

Where to Stay: 

Woodruff Hotel (4-star)

Nauvoo Grand – Bed & Breakfast (3-star)

Nauvoo Log Cabins

Nauvoo Family Inn & Suites

10 Unique Things to do in Austin Texas

10 Unique Things to do in Austin Texas

Austin Texas the music capital of the south, home of artists, vagrants, and those who have a passion for beer and all things weird. Should you find yourself in this eclectic capital of the world, here are 10 Unique Things to do in Austin Texas:

1- The Bats

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After living in Dallas for two years, and having made several trips to Austin….I had never heard of the ‘Bats of Austin’. So this is why I’m including this on my list of Unique things, because if I didn’t know about it, maybe someone else wouldn’t have known about it. The story of the Bats is that somewhere south of Austin the natural caves that these bats lived in was destroyed. This caused a mass migration of these bats to somewhere safe, naturally, they picked Congress bridge…..because where else would creatures of the night feel more comfortable than a bridge associated with politics.

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Austin Texas Bats

If you get a chance to, wander down to Congress bridge around the time the sun goes down you will be greeted by a swarm of 1.5 million bats exiting the bellows of Congress bridge. These bats exit from beneath the bridge all at one time, giving those on the bat viewing platform below quite the show. Once they exit, they swarm in a circle until most of the bats have exited the bridge then as one bat cloud swarm their way up and down the Colorado River eating around 1000 mosquitos each. It is very difficult to get a clear picture of this swarm when they emerge, due to it being so dark. Another way to see these blind fuzzy creatures is by participating in our next Unique thing to do in Austin Texas The Bike Tour.

2- The Bike Tour

I was so nervous to go on this bike tour, my internal dialogue went something like this, “Your over-weight, you have a bad back, what if you have to pee? They are going to leave you and charge you more for how slow you are. It is too hot and you won’t enjoy it. Remember how you almost passed out the last time you got overheated?”.

Austin - Infinity Bike and Me - Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird
Infinity Bike Sculpture

This is what the mind does my friends, it tries to limit me in an effort to protect me from any additional pain. What my job is, is to create a mantra to be able to push through that protective barrier (reasonably) and allow myself to take the risk to enjoy something I otherwise would have limited myself from experiencing.

Yes, the bike ride was hot, I was sweating like a blacksmith wearing wool on a summer day, BUT as soon as you start riding you get the wind in your face and it’s really not as bad. Austin is relatively flat with minimal hills, so it is the perfect place to do your first bike tour. You will see Congress Bridge, several statues of important figures of Austin, The Capital Building, Wildlife, beautiful skylines, Hope Gallery and so much more.

I took Barton Springs Bike Tour (Austin, in a Nutshell, is the Tour I did) and the guys were so incredibly helpful, they can pick you up and drop you off at your hotel/Airbnb etc.. They do have water, but if you are planning on going during the summer, make sure you eat first and hydrate well as it is a 2.5-hour bike ride (comparatively you get more bang for your buck by going with these guys).

3- Mexican American Cultural Center in Austin

Austin - Trail of Tejano Legends-Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

I can’t mention Austin without mentioning the cultural aspects that helped create this unique city. The Hispanic Culture is still alive and well in Austin and throughout much of Texas.

Austin - Mexican American Heritage Center- Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

Here you will be able to see cultural art pieces by the Mexo-American Community, participate in activities like Dia De Los Muertos. They also are host to teen development programs, creative arts programs and offer a variety of ways to connect with the local community.

So maybe try something a little different in your travels and utilize your time to volunteer and connect with the cultural community of Austin.

4- Climb a ‘Mountain’ in Texas

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This is as much of a Mountain as you can get when visiting the flatlands of Texas, Mount Bonell.  It was a tad difficult to find, and the stairs are a lot steeper than you would think, but the views are well worth it.

There is plenty of shade on the way up, and some covered picnic areas once you get to the top. So get in that workout gear, run up and down the steps a few times and then sit down with your classic BBQ taco picnic with a wonderful view of the Colorado River.

Fun Fact: Mount Bonnell was the site of many of the May Pole events in the 1850’s.

5- SUP to the Skyline of Austin

Austin Skyline and SUP - Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

This is something I didn’t get to experience while in Austin, but really wish I had the time to do so. SUP or Stand Up PaddleBoarding on the Colorado River is a MUST during a Summer visit.

You get to rent this board, get your suntan on, and see incredible views of the Austin Skyline, turtles, and all the wildlife surrounding the Colorado River. They also have tubing, but I personally like to be able to maneuver myself around.

6- Take a Tour of the Capitol and Dress Up Like a Pioneer

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No matter where you go in the city, you cannot miss the iconic Capital Building. It is an odd Pink color from the Red Granite from the nearby Granite Mountain. The contents of this mountain are what is known as ‘Texas Pink’, a certain compound within this Granite gives it the characteristic pink hue. It was originally going to be built out of Limestone, but due to the Iron within the Limestone and potentially causing instability after the Iron were to break down over time — the owners of the Granite Mountain donated the contents of the area to this $3 million dollar project.

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It took nearly 15,700 train cars worth of granite to complete the project, it is estimated that 188,158 cubic feet of granite was used. The building is truly a spectacle that many come to see, but many people miss the tour inside the building.

Go inside, there are choirs on the weekends and holidays that come to sing. Attend a session of debate like the townsfolk used to & see if you can spot the lightbulbs that spell out T-E-X-A-S. Dress up like Pioneers and take fun photos with your friends. Wander through the 22 acres surrounding this building and catch the Capitol from all sides.

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See if you can find the 17 monuments on the grounds and learn even more about what shaped Austin into the weird and proud city it is today. There is so much symbolism in the building, the hinges, and even in the tiles within the building that spending an hour or two here is well worth the time.

7- Take a Ghost Tour

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The first time I took a ghost tour was in Edinburgh Scotland. The only reason I went, was because it was the only thing to do besides drinking at 9pm on the Royal Mile. Ever since then I have come to appreciate just how much the backstory behind streets, bars, buildings, and areas have helped shape them into what they are today.

Now whenever possible, I try to fit in a Ghost Tour, just because it brings a unique flavor to my trips and history that not many know of. I also think it is important to see that not all cities are frills, fun, and perfect shots. Every person has a story, I think the same thing can be said of each city.

If you haven’t read my post about the Ghost Tour in Austin, be sure to head there and learn just how wild the west really was.

8- Visit A Festival

Austin - 6th Street at Night - Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

Austin is the music capital of the World (according to them anyway), gotta love that Texas Pride. There are so many Festivals in Austin that it is hard to keep track of them. This is a fantastic way of connecting to the locals and maybe even make a friend to be able to do a house swap in the future.

No matter what festival you choose it is sure to be BIG, BOLD and all out fun. While I was there I was able to attend the Pecan Festival. The infamous 6th street was lined with local vendors, music, and fun for all ages. Once the sun goes down, it turns into a more adult-friendly area as the local bars start to open up and the guzzling games begin.

9- Go On a Graffiti Tour

Austin - Hope Outdoor Graffiti Gallery- Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

Take a tour of the Hope Gallery, an apartment complex went wrong, then turned into a gallery of art that has been a hallmark for Austin. There are all sorts of characters that congregate here and even a local artist that will teach you how to graffiti!

Get in on the action and create your own work of art while feeling like a rebel. If you are lucky, you will spot the man in the castle above the Hope Gallery who owns this spot. Allegedly he is not a very kind fellow (according to locals) and is quite adamant about his feelings regarding this area. Apparently, he is selling the area off and the Hope Gallery will no longer exist. This is a sore spot for the locals as it is such an iconic spot. There are talks of moving the walls into another area, but only time will tell if that will happen. So be sure to stop by this area and take a few photos, it might be the last chance you get.

10- Take a Photo Tour

Austin is one of the few cities that donates money for street art to be produced throughout the city. Only the locals are going to know the best spots, so I highly suggest taking a photo tour.

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There are plenty of bright colorful walls, murals, funky statues on balconies, and even colorful stonework at crosswalks. Get out and exercise that creative eye, and maybe even learn a thing or two about how to capture great street photography.

Austin - Photography Tour - Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird
Because why wouldn’t you have a statue of Willie

In Summary:

You can walk down any street in Austin and your sure to find something to do, see, or experience. Austin is weird and takes pride in keeping it that way through art donations, cultural celebrations and holding unique festivals for just about every subject you could imagine. No matter what you decide to do, I’m sure you’re going to have a fantastic time deep in the heart of Texas.

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As always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.


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Returning to the Texas Nightmare |A Personal Journey of Facing My Rape & Healing From it

Returning to the Texas Nightmare |A Personal Journey of Facing My Rape & Healing From it

I grab my water bottle and take a few deliberate swallows of the ice-cold water I keep by my bed. I call out, ‘Zoey’, my cute dog, that has been by my side through each and every one of these terrible moments. She helped me survive in Texas when I was too afraid to go to sleep. I would place my hand on her back and concentrate on her slow and easy breathing until my own matched hers. She is so small, yet so fierce, maybe there is a part of her that feels she has to be now — because I was so broken back then. She responded immediately to my voice and army-crawled over to me, too sleepy to stand up fully. I smile, and a giggle escapes, oh my sweet puppy. She knows exactly what to do, I lay on my left side, lift up the sheet for her to climb under and she lays right near my belly. Now that she has comforted me out of the nightmare, it is time to pet her. She scoots her nose beneath my hand and pushes it up quickly several times until I give in with a smile and scratch her soft fur methodically. I am calm again, I just have to get my mind to stop spinning over the ‘next thing’.

My trip to Austin for Travel Con was going to be more than just a trip for my website development, it is a trip of significant progress for me. It was just a year ago that even seeing, hearing, or having someone mention Texas sent the flashbacks flooding in and the panic tightening all my joints in the fight or flight physiological response. Now I was going back, maybe not to Dallas – the place that it happened, but to Austin – a city I often used for escape. The last time I was there, was two days before I moved back to Utah. I was still in a trauma fog back then and don’t remember much, but my mind is still afraid of being back in that State. Some people think it is easy to just ‘control your thoughts’, or that you ‘have an agenda for attention’, or…..well I could go on and on — but what most don’t realize is that PTSD is completely and utterly up to your subconscious mind trying to protect you from those terrible things again. What terrible thing? I was raped when I lived in Texas, a week after my trauma a 21-year-old friend from my church was kidnapped and brutally murdered and left in a van in a ditch — 2 weeks before she was to serve a religious mission.

Returning to the Texas Nightmare

Another week passed and my Dad flew into town for an event, and told me (without knowing what had happened) that he and my Mom didn’t love each other anymore and to not be surprised if something happens between them. I couldn’t work because I would have panic attacks trying to see my male patients. I pretended really well for a long time until I finally broke…..I came back home and found Sam….my therapist at the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City Utah.
I remember her asking me, ‘What does ‘finishing therapy’ look like to you?’ — I won’t tell you exactly what I said, but I did tell her that going back to Texas was a goal to face the past and be at peace with it. It was two months ago, that I was finally able to stop blaming myself …..it took two whole years to get to this point.

Returning to the Texas Nightmare

I had led a very sheltered life in Utah, people were kind, they cared about what was going on in your life. I never thought that sort of thing would happen to me, but it did, and it is not my fault no matter what the courts ruled. The one thing I KNEW I could always hang my hat on, was the sweet Nurse who examined me in the Emergency Room at 2am — fiercely hugging me while I wept she said, “I’m so sorry sweety, you were raped, no matter what anyone else says — the damage I saw on you is evidence that this was in no way consensual. I need you to believe me when I say that”, she wouldn’t let me go until I told her I believed her and let me cry into her shoulder for several minutes. I was bruised, had scratches on my face, and it was too painful to shower. I had to tell my boss and take two weeks off of work…..I had antibiotics, injections, pregnancy tests, mental battles….I made it through the fog of trauma, the floating through life praying the Lord would take me—but not believing he would hear me. I don’t know that I will ever see her again, but I know that her words are what kept me alive. Now I’m on the other side, I know what that nurse told me was the truth.

Returning to the Texas Nightmare

I recreated the scenario of that night with my best friend and travel companion Breanna. Funny thing, I was still able to move my arms and legs, relay complex thought processes to her, I was able to tell her no when she asked me questions she knew I wouldn’t like. I hugged her at the end of that experiment, sobbing to her that I finally believed it wasn’t my fault……I knew without a shadow of a doubt I had been drugged. My cloak of shame was removed and the shame turned to anger & now I am reassigning many of those terrible memories a very different emotion.

The next step was to revisit my personal nightmare in Texas with a new set of glasses I had just put on. I was combining my love for travel writing, education, and meeting supportive travel blogger friends in Texas. No one knew how much this meant to me, how many nights before my flight I woke up sweating from the nightmares — I was finally strong enough to sit with my feelings and mourn for all that was lost & was going to Austin to claim my future back. Starting this website was a healthier way to cope than alcohol, overeating, or overspending to numb the pain and loss. It has given me hope again in humanity, reminds me that the world is my oyster and my story is not over yet.

I packed my things mechanically a few days later, I couldn’t chicken out now….I was so close. I packed, unpacked, repacked, unpacked, downsized, had my roommates tell me what to wear. I dove into preparation for my first travel conference, TravelCon 2018 with Nomadic Matt. This gives me something to create, to look forward to and be proud of. Now I want it to grow as I am growing, so I can use it for good & help those who may not be as lucky as I am for being able to have a fresh start.

Returning to the Texas Nightmare

I got on the plane and couldn’t sleep, so I bought a Scientific America magazine, and started reading about a dry and watered down subject I was totally uninterested in. It worked like a charm, and soon I was drooling onto my shirt with the gentle hum of the propellers outside of my window as my white noise.
I awoke to the intercom blaring and the all too familiar ‘bing-bing-bing’ with the flashing seat-belt sign. We were starting our descent into my memories of Texas. I refused to cry on the plane, so took out my hand sanitizer, put a generous helping on my hands and let the pungent alcohol acost my nostrils. I thought about the bike ride I had signed up for at 330pm. I knew it would be hot and humid, but I was so ready to create some fun memories. (I will do a separate post on this, but for comic relief — I had died my hair the day before, and it has a red tint to it. Ladies, you know what happens when you sweat after dying your hair……yep, it was pouring down my face tinted red like the movie Carrie .)

TravelCon 2018

This is where the magic happens for me. Hearing the speakers, listening to their struggles, their fears, and being in a space of learning filled me and exhausted me. There is still so much to do and things I do not know. One class is all it took for me to have the courage to share this story.

Thomas Swick

It was a writing class with Thomas Swick, former Editor for the Florida Sun. I sat in this room of 12-13 women who were all there to learn how to share their stories. He asked us to share our ‘human element’ that is so often missing in travel writing. There are so many frills, flowing dresses, perfect scenes created….that we have forgotten what it is like to be expressive.
He painted a picture with words like an artist paints on canvas…..being an artist, I finally was able to see how writing could be an art as well. I thought of my Grandfather before he passed away he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You are so talented and so special to me, promise me that you will take art lessons or do something artistic. That’s the only thing I want you to promise me”. I have often thought I had failed him in this promise, but now I see I am creating a masterful work of art by creating this website and sharing it with the world.
I felt that sinking feeling of truth that comes into your heart when you know you have to do something, even if it is terrifying. The thing that was at the forefront of my mind, my story, my trauma, my healing, my promises…..I knew I needed to write this…..but how much was too much? I asked Mr. Swick, if there were taboo topics, or if he felt disturbing topics needed a trigger warning…..he said no, so if you are disturbed, I’m sorry…..blame him, lol.

Returning to the Texas Nightmare

I could tell he was a little uncomfortable when I asked him this, he was a former editor (they don’t typically like it when things were vague). So I took the first step of courage, and asked him, “Being fully transparent about this is really difficult for me, because I’m terrified of what will be said about me or to me, but here it goes. I was raped in Texas, and this is my first time being back here since it happened. Is sharing that story inappropriate or sharing too much?”
The room fell silent, and I didn’t dare look around the room. Mr. Swick sat back in his chair, stared at me with his wisened eyes, and gently stated, “I’m so sorry………I think your story could help a lot of people and needs to be told”. I fought back the tears when he said this, I was so afraid of being seen as damaged, or that I was doing this for the attention. This was such a HUGE journey for me to come back to Austin or even Texas and I needed to release the pain, fear, joy, and pride I was feeling in an artistic way.
After he said this, the other women in the room began to speak words of encouragement. They shared their story of mental health challenges, and how important it is to not be ashamed to write about it…..but just be ready for the internet trolls. The feeling in the room was such, that we went over time, and lingered after for a little while, sharing in a shared truth. I was humbled, overwhelmed and astonished at the reactions I received.

Sailing in Seattle

I went back to my Airbnb and started to think about what I was going to share, and not share. I started reading Mr. Swick’s book, The Joy’s of Travel; and while reading a thought popped into my head, “Share your truth”. I started to silently cry (well maybe not quite silent, lol) in my room at this thought. So many years of self-doubt and torture, so many sleepless nights and self-destructive behavior due to poor choices OTHER people had made. I don’t want revenge anymore, I just want to feel whole again, feel like I have reclaimed my future and know exactly what a ‘life worth living’ is for myself. All of this came crashing down on me at that moment when I realized…..I needed to share my story, my truth.
I hope in sharing my truth, it allows you to face those demons within yourself. You aren’t alone, it is bloody scary to face those demons, but you can do it. I guarantee that the battle is worse when you try and do it alone…..reach out…..get the support that is there…..you got this.

Kodachrome Basin State Park

Don’t give pre-determined labels to people based on your previous experience. What you deem to be cookie cutter definition may not always be what the real truth is. I was a triathlete, and now have health problems from putting on so much weight after my trauma. I was a kind, bubbly, giving person that was known as the anchor for my friends; now I get anxiety from being in a crowd of people. Mother Teresa said, “The hardest battles fought are the ones inside our own mind”, this has never been truer for me than now. I am winning my battle though, I am fighting the good fight, I’m not giving up because Zoey needs me, my sister needs me, and I know that by speaking my truth I will help others as well.

I don’t know that my voice will change the global conversation about this. I don’t know that comments or responses to this will be kind. What I do know, is that I have remained true to my own voice……I have shared my truth……and want you to know that there is hope. If you have nothing else, don’t lose hope.

As Always……Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side. 

Ghost Tour in Austin Texas |Learn Just How Wild the West Really Was

Ghost Tour in Austin Texas |Learn Just How Wild the West Really Was

Ghost Tours in Austin Texas

Meeting Our Ghost Tour Guide

The gothic clad couple disappeared around the corner near the elevators, at the same time my friends rounded the corner and broke into a grin at seeing me. We talked for a while, awaiting our guide, and then a voice boomed out from behind me suddenly. I was glad I had used the ladies room prior to this. I jumped and quickly turned around to the black-clad male I had seen moments before. His arms opened wide, a rueful grin split his face and he bellowed, “WELCOME TO THE AUSTIN GHOST TOURS! Gather round as I tell you how you can safely enjoy this trip, and not give me one more grizzly story to tell the ghosts and guests. Although I wouldn’t be opposed to another tale of woe; I don’t think that sort of story would be good for business”. Ahhhh, a character indeed, I found myself mirroring his grin and became fully engaged in his performance and instruction.

Ghost Tours in Austin Texas

Beginning the Tour:

After a debriefing for safety on the streets, when we would be traveling near 6th street (notorious in Austin for drinking games and accidents) we headed out the painful slow revolving door into the night. The air was thick and muggy, it perfectly set the stage for our walk among the haunted buildings of this strange city. Our guide led the group with the same purposeful walk I had seen him exhibit in the lobby. Why are people always in a hurry? Maybe he truly knew there were ghosts in this city and by keeping the group moving, we would avoid any tragedies or encounters along the way.


Handlebar

Ghost Tours in Austin Texas

Our first stop was at HandleBar. This establishment was formerly a Blacksmith shop, according to our guide. A well known local patron died haphazardly (I forget the exact story of his demise), after weeks of the body sitting in the coffin on the sidewalk in the middle of August’s heat, it was finally agreed that cremation would be the best option. This was unprecedented! A cremation in Austin (then named Waterloo) had never been done before! Our guide continued looking all too pleased with the rapt attention we were giving him. He continued,  “Please note that in order to burn bone properly heat must reach upwards of 1900 degrees Fahrenheit (1037C).

A typical blacksmith shop during that time period would typically only reach 1500 degrees Fahrenheit (815C). The first cremation turned out to be a little, shall we say, chunkier than what you would experience today”. The cremation, done so haphazardly, is now the reason this poor patron is doomed to wander around Handlebar at night. While our guide had not personally experienced any hauntings, he reported that there are multiple accounts of strange things happening within the bar itself & all we had to do was ask the staff to get all the ghoulish details.

Ghost Tours in Austin Texas

He also suggested to get a Pizza next door, this is where the blacksmith forge turned crematorium was allegedly placed. So you can get a Pizza from the forge, and a beer with the ghost. If that is macabre I don’t know what is. For the non-believing patrons: Handlebar is well known in the city for its Wine, and rotating craft beers.  Happy Hour is typically from 4-8 PM, Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday. They also have a free barbecue on Sundays at 4:30 for some authentic Texas brisket and pulled pork. Just don’t think too hard about this story when you go for the BBQ.


Buffalo Billiards

Our next stop was over at the infamous Buffalo Billiards, where hauntings, screams and unexplained phenomenon happen routinely. This place was built in 1861 by the Ziller family and reportedly was the town brothel back in the day. The ghost in this place has been named Bill, and even pulled out a chair for our guide when they did their team investigation. This happened after a scream was heard downstairs by his colleague, and he has sent his safety partner down to investigate. Walking along the bar, all the barstools were upturned on the counter as he ran his hand along the polished wood praying he wouldn’t die from boredom.

Ghost Tours in Austin Texas

He turned around and started pacing his way back along the bar, and all of the sudden a barstool that was once on the counter was now on the floor in his path. While most people would be frightened by this, our guide reportedly called out, ‘Oh, Thank You!’ — and sat down. Nothing else happened that night to our guide. If you ask those who work at Buffalo Billiards if they think the place is haunted, you are sure to get a full accounting of the many many supernatural things that happen there. For those who still are having trouble believing in ghostly encounters: Buffalo Billiards is a great place to stop for beers and a friendly game of pool, foosball, darts, and multiple HD TV’s to catch your favorite football team.


Driskill Hotel

We approached the Driskill Hotel and were greeted with the Romanesque revival type architecture complete with white trim and three grand archways leading into the hotel lobby. It was built in 1886 by a cattle rancher, who spent his entire fortune on this hotel. As people began to stay in this historic hotel, strange apparitions, sensations, and unexplained incidents began to happen to the guests.   Room 525 is said to be the most haunted of all the rooms within this structure. It is said that two brides, on two different occasions, newly married, committed suicide in the bathroom of this room.

There were so many reports of hauntings, that the room was indefinitely closed until 1998 when renovations commenced. Even during the renovation, there were strange sensations, unexplained leaks, and visions reported by the construction workers. If you dare to try this room out, make sure not to bring any usable weapons into the room, lest you fall prey to the spirits enticings of woe. Oh, you want a few more modern stories? Ok, well our guide said that after he emailed a member of Concrete Blonde Band who stayed here years before – she related a chilling tale. She had a cat that was quite sassy and would bounce off the walls when she would bring it into a hotel room.

As she opened the door of the cat carrier, the cat did not come out, it did not move. She had to fight to get it out of her carrier and then hide the carrier so that it wouldn’t go back in. According to her email, this is something the cat NEVER did….and then as she climbed into bed, the cat jumped on the bed like a flash of lightning, curled up at her side under the blankets and did not move the whole night….again something the cat NEVER did.

Ghost Tours in Austin Texas

I believe animals know when there is danger, and can sense things that we cannot. So for a sassy cat to behave in this manner…..it would make me question the safety of the place I was staying at. Other descriptions of ghosts seen at the hotel range from children to men and women.  There is said to be a former housekeeper in a long gown arranging flowers in the lobby, a man who checks his pocket watch on the elevator and the little girl that chased her ball to the grand staircase to meet her untimely death is still chasing after that ball.

Who would like to stay at the Driskill Hotel? The rooms here are considered upper-class, and can cost $243-$628 per night depending on how much you want to treat yourself. If you are brave enough, call the hotel, and ask for room 525 for your own ghoulish encounter. You cannot come to Austin without at least walking in the doors of this iconic building.


Republic Square

Here we stopped to have our guide recount the tales of public hangings that allegedly happened in this park. This is where criminals, murderers, and thieves were publicly executed for their crimes. Our guide recounted how it would have been to have your last meal of rice and beans, to ask to lay down in the grass prior to being hung….and then to have hundreds of people watch as you slowly suffocated at the end of the rope. It is reported that 200 people were hung in this square, and at night you can still feel their presence.

Ghost Tours in Austin Texas

It was then that things got really spooky for me, he started to talk about the servant girl murders. These murders are well documented in history, and it is said that the first serial killer was born in Austin. Our guide recounted a gruesome and gory tale in such detail I had to walk away from our group for a few minutes to let my stomach settle down. I am a Physician Assistant, and have seen plenty of gore, guts, and trauma to last me a lifetime – but when it comes to brutality for no other reason than being a sick, twisted and demented monster……I can’t stomach it. I was grateful my guide was kind enough to warn me and gave me time to walk away briefly — to be honest, it triggered my own memories of trauma.

After a brief stint looking at the random, and oddly carved pigeon at the other side of the park – I wandered back to the group just in time to hear what the townspeople tried to do to catch this serial killer. Several options were proposed, a bell to sound when a body had been found. The problem with this was that they would have to wait until someone else was killed to raise the warning. The next option was moon towers, only 15 remain standing in the city today, but these 165-foot towers were the first electric use in a United States City. These huge monoliths were used to help light the city at night so that prowlers and possibly the serial killer could be caught. One tower, in particular, the Guadalupe and West 9th street moon tower is associated with the Servant Girl Murders.

Ghost Tours in Austin Texas

This was one of the last murders that occurred, and the Serial Killer was never found. In total, seven females (five black and two white) and one black male were murdered by the Servant Girl Murderer. Some speculate, although historians may argue this, that the Servant Girl Serial Killer fled to London and became Jack the Ripper. I will leave this up to you, but it does seem suspicious that the Servant Girl murders only happened 3 years before Jack the Ripper murders began happening.

Still not spooked? Then you should check out the wholesome and delightful Farmers Market that happens every Sat at Republic Square Park. It is truly delightful and you can serve yourself some delicious ice cream, and pick your own organically grown vegetable victims to snack on.


SpeakEasy

Our last stop was my least favorite location to stop due to the smell of the garbage cans, the loud music blaring behind me, the lack of breeze and the uncomfortable sick sensation from the last story. Needless to say, stopping at SpeakEasy, made me feel uneasy.
This is where post-mortem photography would happen at the turn of the century. Coffins rolled in, pictures taken for the loved ones before being sealed in their graves forever. One night a fire broke out, and the diligent fire department showed up. This is when things took a turn for the worst for them.

Ghost Tours in Austin Texas

The blaze was out of control, a scream was heard from the upper floors and the firefighters rushed up the stairs to investigate. One of these firefighters was named Jimmy Glass. As they pounded up the wooden stairs in their boots, the scream was heard again…..but from the lower floor as the flames licked the stairs. As the intended rescuers turned to head back down the stairs, there was a loud CRACK and the staircase collapsed taking all three to the ground floor instantly. Jimmy Glass became a victim of the flames as he was the lead, and plummeted straight into the flames that caused the staircase to collapse. It was too late for Jimmy, rescue efforts were attempted, but the flames were more intense and his firefighting brothers could not reach him. Thus Jimmy Glass became a victim, and the source of the blood-curdling scream that had prompted his bold rescue efforts was never found.

Our guide has had several conversations with the managers of SpeakEasy over the years. Recounting unexplained phenomenon of lights burning out within days, right below where Jimmy was said to have fallen to his death. Firefighters showing up at the SpeakEasy Bar multiple times over the years, when no fire alarm was said to have been pulled. Glasses shaking and rattling one night when it was thought an earthquake had hit; later to discover that no seismic activity had been registered in the area. Last but not least, the manager of SpeakEasy hearing a blood-curdling scream after things had closed down and he was finishing his books. He wandered the building, and as he went to look in the massive beverage cooler…..it shut behind him. After shouting for help for at least a half hour, the bartender went to lock up the merchandise and was able to release his boss who was chilled in more ways than one.   

Ghost Tours in Austin Texas

So should you find yourself, wandering the streets near this bar. Avoid the alley, and peer inside this popular place of local beverage worshipping. Who knows, you may even share your glass with Jimmy Glass himself.
For those who want a more practical visit to SpeakEasy Bar & Music Venue: This is a great bar for live music, great historical value, carefully crafted cocktails, a bowling alley overlooking the stage in this three-story local favorite. If you are brave enough, take the 59 steps carefully to the outdoor terrace for an incredible view of the Austin skyline – raise your glass and make a toast to Austin.


Heading Back to Safety: 

We concluded our tour and quickly huddled into pairs for safety sake as we made our way back to the JW Marriot hotel. I was very grateful for the comfort of the lights on the cars that passed by us. All in all, I truly enjoyed the Austin Ghost Tours Guide, his stories, and his passion for performing in an engaging way. There were only two stops that while I enjoyed the story, I didn’t entirely enjoy the location of the stop. Bottom line, I would recommend this as a 7/10 and would do it again purely for how entertaining our guide was.

As always…..Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See YOU on the Flipside 😉

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Sailing in Seattle – Tips for First Time Sailing

Sailing in Seattle – Tips for First Time Sailing

Sailing in Seattle seemed like the perfect activity to experience what those in Seattle call a right of passage to being a true Seattleite.

Note: This post is NOT, I repeat…NOT sponsored — I am simply sharing my love for Sailing after my first experience with the best Captain & Sail boat on the planet.

Booking a Sailing in Seattle Trip:

Sailing in Seattle

When you decide to book your sailing, I would highly recommend the captain and SY Cynthia R Boat (unless you have a group of more than 6 people). I found the captain through the Airbnb experience page, but he also has a website Emerald City Sailing you can book your unique adventure through. If you do have more than six people just let Michael know and he can make arrangements for parties of 12, 18 and 24 on other ships that have that capacity.

Traveler Tip: Never tried Airbnb Experience? Get $40 off your first stay by signing up with this Airbnb link.

Getting to SY Cynthia R Boat:

Sailing in Seattle

The Pier that the boat departs from is north of Seattle, about a 25-minute ride from Pike’s Place Market. I took an Uber Shared ride and it cost me about $14, but I would allow for extra time. Once you get to the Pier, there are private docks that you have to have a card to get into; so be sure to get Captain Michael’s number. It is a short walk to the boat itself, and then you have to board the boat via a small plastic step stool with 2 steps. Your captain can help ensure you get on safely. We had one passenger who recently had a pelvic fracture was on crutches and still was able to safely get on the boat. Once on the boat, you want to make sure you have your footing, so hang onto something as you make your way around the boat.

Meeting the Captain

Sailing in Seattle

Captain Michael Schaible was born in Seattle Washington. He is a certified PADI Master Diver, licensed boat captain and was part of the US Coast Guard in 2014. He is certified with the American Sailing Association levels 101, 103, 104 barebones charters and 105 coastal navigation, Instructor level 201-204. So needless to say he has quite the resume and knows what he is doing. The thing I found fascinating about the Captain was that he can read the wind based on the texture of the water.

Sounds like a false claim doesn’t it? Nope, I was able to identify what he was talking about based on the water texture, but my goodness, to have the razor sharp eyesight to see that far ahead of the boat (I’m talking several miles) without binoculars was quite impressive. He is a second generation vendor at the world famous Pike Place Market. His family runs a textile business that his father established in 1973, El Gringo Imports. He is very excited about this textile business, and even has some amazing sweaters to keep you warm while on the boat — which are also available for purchase, should you so desire. For those traveling from abroad, he also speaks Spanish fluently, so can accommodate International passengers as well.

The History of the Boat

Sailing in Seattle

Cynthia R is a historic and classic modern sailing yacht measuring 44.4 feet long. Designed by John Alden Company as a ketch rigged Pearson custom center cockpit sailboat. She was first launched in Thomaston Main by the Morse boat building company in 1967! You wouldn’t think she is this old when looking at her, but age is just a number, she is beautiful just the way she is 😉 If you go below deck, ask Michael for the history of the boat book collection he always has stored on board. Here reflections of the original owner’s voyages across the Atlantic four times, the sailing path of his trip with his wife through the Mediterranean and across the world are laid out in a storybook-like way to keep you enthralled for hours.

These voyages are also chronicled in Robert Carter’s book: Sail Far Away, Reflections of Life Afloat. This non-fiction book is an account of the 10 years in Europe Robert spent with his wife, sailing Parts of the Boat It is important to know what the parts of the boat are, especially when sailing in such frigid waters in Seattle. I personally didn’t realize that if someone falls into the water here (even if it is in summer) without a wetsuit that they can go into hypothermia very quickly. So in order to not get knocked into the water here are some main points.

Rule One: Stay in the boat

Rule two: Stay behind the Mast when the wind is blowing

Rule three: Don’t get on the boat if you have problems with dizziness or can’t keep your balance on solid ground.

Rule Four: Stay in the boat (there are loads of jellyfish right off the coast of Seattle)

Other than that, its all a matter of getting to know the boat. Michael is actually a sailing teacher and is really patient and open-minded about those who want to learn. He even let me cinch down the jib halyard and jib sheet (aka the ropes that tighten down the sails and control them). Here is what I personally learned on my first sailing trip about the boat and all its parts:

  • Mainsail: Catches the wind
  • Jib: Helps with turning the boat and also catches some wind
  • Mast: Holds up the sail
  • Boom: keeps mainsail stationary and helps to keep constant sail trim
    • This is what will hit you push you right off the boat should the boat need to turn quickly to not run into a sandbar or rocks. So as I pointed out before, stay behind the mast & the anchor point of the boom if the sails are out.
  • Keel: Stabilizes boat and also uses water pressure to propel the boat forward.
  • Tacking: turning the boat through the wind (but requires a lot of velocity to do this)
  • Jibing: turning the boat through downwind point of sail, requires a lot of weight management and distribution.
    • So ladies, don’t be offended if he asks you to step into a certain spot to help maintain the boat direction. It is for your safety and has nothing to do with you being fat or the anchor of the boat — it could be he is trying to even out the heavy stove downstairs.
  • Trim: A way of sailing the boat so as to create less resistance and faster sailing time like they do in racing.
Sailing in Seattle

If the sails are too tight the wind will bounce off of them like bouncing off a brick wall. If the sails are too loose they will ‘luff’ is the technical word, but I prefer ‘laugh’ at you by flapping in the wind. When they flap I feel like they are saying, ‘HA! You think you’re going anywhere? THINK AGAIN!’. Lastly, make sure you bring a snack, something warm to wear (that is wind resistant), and be sure whatever you bring (including cameras/hats/shoes etc…) are secure and won’t roll off the boat when you start sailing. The flat floor of the boat when sailing goes to about a 50-degree angle at times to help with speed and trim.

Passengers on the Boat

In total there were 6 passengers on the sailboat, and it was just the right amount for everyone to have a place to sit. One thing I would mention, don’t expect a cushioned seat of gold with servants to place grapes in your mouth gingerly. This is a boat, with a place up front for about 5 people to sit/lay (Michael does provide cushions, but no gold or servants). There is a place for 3 people to sit behind the wheel, although you will have to move quite a bit for Michael to be able to actually sail the boat.

Sailing in Seattle

The other 5 passengers were all from the Greater Seattle area. There were two other couples and then 2 single women. I became friends with one of them, Berkley, she had this bubbly personality that was so infectious. I personally get nervous in groups of people more than three, so it was nice to have someone to connect to. Berkley was so interested in my website and instantly wanted my Instagram handle. She didn’t care to talk much about herself, just wanted to know everything about me. She helped me take photos, asked about trips I was going on – and each time I tried to ask a question about her…..she played it off as if she wasn’t that important.
So Berkley, on this public platform, I want to thank you for being so kind and making me feel included and comfortable with your group. I think you have are a beautiful human being inside and out & hope we can have another grand adventure in the future.
You see, my Culture Trekking friends, it doesn’t matter if you travel solo or in a group — there will always be a kindred spirit whom you can connect with. They will teach you how to be a better friend, and maybe even become a lifelong friend. So please do not be afraid to travel alone — or start a conversation with a local. In doing so, it enriches your soul and provides a memory that will be forever burned in your mind.

Helping Sail the Boat

Sailing in Seattle

Not only was Berkley kind and inclusive, but Michael was a fascinating individual as well. If you put a California Surfer Yogi Master onto a sailboat…..Micheal would be the definition of that image you just conjured up.


He had a Jewish Star with each of the Chakra stones in it on a leather cord, a hat to control the long slightly curly sun-bleached hair, sunglasses and a smile that took up his whole face. Although there was a certain amount of shyness that was hard to pinpoint. So I decided to try and make everyone feel more comfortable by doing something a little silly, try to help out on the boat.

Michael let me cinch down several lines, and the rest of the group watched as I put my back into it. If you try and do this, just know your triceps are going to be in outright protest when you do. Luckily I had Berkley and the rest of the group as my cheerleaders, which ended up putting a huge smile on my face. I even got to sit behind the wheel!!!!! I steered us out to the Puget Sound while Michael got our sails ready to go, and then BOOM! Sails were out, lines were tight, and I WAS SAILING A BOAT!!!! GAHHHH!!!
I became so comfortable about an hour into it, I just felt like jumping into the water (fully clothed mind you). We were relaxing in front of the gorgeous view of the Seattle skyline and I just wanted to jump in. Luckily, Michael told me, ‘uuuuhhhh, that wouldn’t be a good idea, but I mean if you really want to I guess we could make it work.

The problem is, the water is cold enough that you could only be in there for about two minutes before I would have to pull you out because you could easily get hypothermia’.
So professional of him to say not say what he likely should have said ‘that’s a stupid and dangerous idea’ in such a nice way. Thus the Rule ONE from above, stay in the boat with your seatbelt fastened and arms and legs inside the ride at all times (unless your in warmer waters that is).

Embracing Freedom and Feeling

Sailing in Seattle

When you get me on any kind of boat, I feel like I am home. When we were kids my parents had a boat, most of our summers we were out on the water trying out the latest water toys. I remember the air chair, the chariot, the doughnut tube roller coaster thing that would spin you over the wake & roll you over and over until you finally just drop out the back of it because you get so dizzy.

So as soon as I stepped on Michaels boat, I felt at home, I felt peaceful and immediately took my shoes off and walked every inch of the boat. (I’m a little nosy and slightly impaired when it comes to being appropriate in social situations). Luckily Michael was laid back and let me snoop around his boat home.

Once we got out to the water, surrounded by the serene beauty of the Puget Sound and the Seattle Skyline — I couldn’t help the feeling of freedom. There was an inherent sense of feeling free — like I was away from the crowds, the cruise ships, the taxi’s the muggy heat of the city. I had the wind blowing in my hair, a fabulous group of passengers around me, a Captain who regaled us with stories of the boat crossing the Atlantic four times….I felt at peace there. I could have stayed out on the ocean for hours on end. At one point I even thought, ‘I need to get my own sailboat so I can live in it like Michael’.
Once the wind hits those sails, and you feel the boat tilt, the water lapping at the sides of the boat, the sun glistens on the water, and the only sound you hear is the wind whistling in your ears telling tales of adventure……nothing can beat this feeling.

It was the perfect timing for me to experience sailing. My Mom had just discovered after 35 years of marriage that my Dad had been living a double life. They were in the process of getting divorced and all the drama that comes with that. No matter how old you get, finding out your Dad was not who you thought he was, is always hard, and I was going through a significant mourning period.

So being able to be on this boat, imagining disappearing into the great blue beyond was just what my soul needed. I can’t tell you how grateful I was for this experience, for the freedom I felt and it truly helped peace return to my soul. One of Michael’s goals for his passengers is to have this type of spiritual experience. To have a sense of calm in a world that never has enough time for the quiet moments of life that are so precious and rare.

In Summary

Sailing in Seattle

If you are going to Seattle, and have a chance to hang with Michael on his boat…..do it…..no matter what the cost is. I promise you won’t regret sailing in Seattle with him. It isn’t like the commercialized sailings that are right off the main pier, this experience is unique because he and his boat are unique.

Michael has been sailing for so long, through so many countries, has so many adventures to tell — there was not one minute I felt bored. You will get to help sail the boat, feel peaceful away from the rat race of life, and see the Seattle Skyline without having to fight others for the perfect picture. You will capture moments that more commercialized boats don’t allow the time or space for. Most importantly, it gives you the perfect setting to connect with people in a way that will make your trip to Seattle even more memorable.

This was NOT a sponsored post, everything in this post I shared with you was to help you see how doing the unique things…..even if they are a little more expensive, can have the greatest return in meaningful memories that will fill your soul. Personally, I cannot wait to book an overnight (or maybe a few nights) sailing trip up through Canada and through the plethora of islands that surround Seattle.

As Always Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side. 


Where to Stay in Seattle

Booking.com

To book a Sailing in Seattle Tour with Michael visit Emerald City Sailing Website.


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Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour with Tim Menzen. What a great opportunity for me to see the hot spots of Seattle, not get lost, and maybe get some good ideas on how to be a better photographer. I booked the experience (which was ~$50 at the time), and a Sailing in Seattle Experience (article on this to be posted next week). I was finally set for my three day weekend in Seattle.

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

Traveler Tip: Don’t have an Airbnb account yet, here is $55 off your first Airbnb stay.

Meeting Tim Menzen, My Tour Guide:

Tim Menzen is a Photographing Camera genius, well at least to me. He often is recruited to do videography for local news stations, shoots for sports teams, car racing, rallies, and so much more. The man is legit and knows his stuff. Take a look at his Facebook and Instagram posts to get a better idea.

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

I met Tim at the Art Museum in Downtown Seattle (appropriate for the type of tour we were doing). He was very communicative, told me what he would be wearing, what to expect, and was flexible when my Uber was late.
He shoots with a Cannon 1DX (the beast of all beasts of a camera), and was really jealous about that honestly. I shoot with a Sony DSC M3 (which has an incredibly steep learning curve with the technology), yet he really helped me discover how much more technical I can get with my camera.

The Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour isn’t just about going to the hot spots, tourist traps, or getting those Instagram worthy photos. He teaches you to utilize your camera and finally get out of the Auto mode – resulting in less grainy photos with darker pictures, the play of light to your advantage, helping you be more aware of your surroundings fostering the creative edge, and takes you around the more unique areas of downtown Seattle.

Walking the Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

I was a little nervous about how much walking we would have to do, not because I can’t physically do it, only because I was afraid of getting hopelessly lost in the end. Just to calm those fears, please know that he takes you right back to the Art Museum so you can get your bearings again.

The walking itself was not that strenuous, you do have to go up and down several flights of stairs, so those with bad knees beware.
It was a Saturday that I chose to do my tour, and unfortunately, there were 2 cruise ships in port, and loads of tourists. As we walked into the hoard I turned to Tim and said, “I hate crowds, it makes me nervous – so if we can avoid them a little for this particular tour and see the more unique things about Seattle that revolve around the culture in Seattle – I’m happy to do that”. He happily agreed to get out of the crowds and showed me the more artistic side of Seattle.
Winding through alleyways and backstreets, I was able to see the best and the worst of what is…..Seattle.

Getting To Know My Camera

The first couple of stops I had my camera on Auto mode, I had told Tim about my background as a travel writer and photographer. A part of me was a little nervous to look stupid in front of this professional, but we all have to start somewhere right? I told him that I felt like my composition in my photos was horrible, I try to be a cutesy fartsy Instagram babe and usually fail miserably at it, and then told him that I really didn’t understand how to control the lighting with my camera other than the dial on top. I’m pretty sure this rough introduction helped break the ice, and he took it all in stride and we got to work.

He had me stand in one spot, showed me how his Cannon worked, stood behind me as I tried to find the same settings. Refreshed me the in’s and out’s of Time value and aperture & how the photography world trends have changed since I took my photography course in college (where we were still shooting on film— yes, I realize this makes me sound ancient).
Shooting the Parking sign, again and again, changing different settings, zooming in and seeing the grain that resulted from those changes was very beneficial to me personally.

It’s hard to start exploring the settings in the camera, not because it is hard intellectually. I am so afraid of screwing up my camera (when I use it so often) and not being able to get it back to where I need it to be for other shoots. Having someone guide you through it, tell you its ok when you (insert preferred cuss word), and then help you fix it – really helps with the nerves.

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

Not only did he help with the technical aspect, but he also validated me as a photographer. I showed him my own Culture Trekking Instagram, and he said, “I think your composition looks great” — now I just need to work on telling a story with my photos instead of just shooting fun ads for those destinations.

Here’s the thing, anyone can be a photographer….you take out your phone, take a photo of your pet, apply a filter and there you go…your a photographer. Most people can become professional photographers without much training, or rather get that training via Udemy or YouTube. However, a real artist or artistic photographer….will incorporate all of these things and capture the viewer with a suggested story with one click of the shutter button. Having an ability, eye, and sense of the story within a setting is the way to really make a name for who you are and the message you want to create. Do you want the story to be of the game, or do you want to show the more human side of the teammates hugging after a goal, a player running to his partner/child after they cross the finish line? Human moments are the best sort of moments for me, but telling the story is what makes it true Art.

Seattle Sightseeing

For this tour though, I tried to focus on implementing the techniques he showed me while touring downtown Seattle. So here are a few of the places we visited, and some of the good photos as well as some of the…..well….not so good photos. Just to help you see that out of 500 photos there are only a few that are worthwhile sharing due to composition, storyline, lack of graininess, and my own personal preference to what I deem to be an ‘ok photo’.

The Gum Wall

Taking the back road from the Art Museum, you find some classic Seattle Liberal stickers and signs (which I thought were quite comical). Everything was relatively clean and orderly, then you start to see it….The Gum Wall. This iconic spot started in the mid-1990’s outside the Theatre, Unexpected Productions. The Theatre didn’t allow gum inside, the most logical solution was to stick it on the wall outside as you entered and put a quarter on it to thank whoever had to clean it up.

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

The gum literally stuck….with now 50 feet of wall on either side of this theatre covered in second hand chewed gum. There are surrounding businesses selling the gum to help the disgusting artistic expression of defiance, and now it is now an iconic part of the city.

The quarters have disappeared, and historically appears it has only been cleaned once in November of 2015. When the cleaning began, I don’t think they realized what they were getting into. There were several inches of gum stuck to the wall with the deterioration of the brick happening underneath. They scraped and steam cleaned the walls for weeks, it took 130 hours to clean the wall. The next month, you could hardly tell that it had been cleaned as loads of tourists came to take part in the mastication party.
 
Selfies abound and I just couldn’t bring myself to participate in this right of passage. My medical background and the roiling stomach and heebie-jeebies I was experiencing from this disgusting attraction made taking photos of the pretty girls taking selfies totally adequate. Needless to say, I took the obligatory photos at the wall and then told Tim I was ready to move on. (Still get a lump in my throat thinking about this).

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

As you make your way up the slope and take a right up towards Pike Avenue, you will see artistic ‘posts’ of different artistic events located in town. SO MANY COLORS! I WAS DYING! Turn around and appreciate Ghost Alley Espresso, this lovely coffee shop was formerly the first Public Male Restroom (for my UK readers… the Loo). Yep, go in and help yourself to a brown cuppa coffee and think of how many…….never mind….just enjoy your coffee.

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

As you walk up the slope of Pike Ave, you will start to hear the hustle and bustle of Pike Place Market. Fun Fact: the slope you are walking on was formerly where they would hold the soap car races (back in the day). Once you reach the top of the slope, STOP, turn around…..this is the best place to take a photo that doesn’t require you to have 500 other people in the photo with you in front of the Pike Place Sign. There are plenty of fresh flowers for you to buy and hold in the surrounding shops. I personally didn’t feel the need to do this, but apparently its a ‘thing’ to do this.

Walking Pike’s Place Market:

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

There are a few places you should visit, or at least see if you like the tourist traps and tasting original or local cuisine. See the Pike’s Place Market directory to plan your visit and hit the best of the best.

  • The Original Starbucks Coffee
    • I personally didn’t feel the need to indulge, especially with how long that line was. This is where the original Starbucks Coffee store originated before becoming a global phenomenon. I would suggest going to the Starbucks Reserve instead at a location within walking distance of Pike’s Place, where you can sit down and be educated and taste different coffee beans and roasts from around the world. These highly specialized roasts are variable depending on the week & what their researchers send in. There is no menu or cash register (you pay a flat fee), you sit down/explore the store and just indulge in the Starbucks Brand like never before.
Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle
  • Piroshki Piroshki’s
    • A Russian classic passed down from Babushka to her Grandchildren. This particular pastry shop will delight you with the authenticity and handmade Russian pastries. The line for this shop was also quite long, so I again passed it up given I only had two hours with Tim. Check out the Piroshki Piroshki’s Menu for all the delicate delights they have to offer.
Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle
  • Pike Place Fish Market
    • I personally call this place the Fisherman’s Bar because you step right up, order your fish and a show ensues. The show of throwing the slippery slimy fishy’s across the bar to each other, while yelling what the fish is, who ordered it and how many. It is hard to miss should you find yourself in Pike’s Place. If you have an Airbnb, typically you can have the Fish cleaned and skinned for you, then take it back to your rental and cook up a great meal. There are plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs in the market to really cook up something good. I would suggest taking a look at the Fish Market Menu before approaching the bar, as they move very quick, and you don’t want to accidentally get hit with a fish while trying to decide what to order.
Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle
  • Artisan Crafts and more
    • Tim and I made our way into the market itself, right under the Restroom sign there are some stairs that lead you down underneath the busiest part of Pike’s Place Market. Here you will find all those items you could wish for as souvenirs at a much more reasonable price than those shops above. You also get an added bonus of seeing the photos of what the market looked like back in the day, before it became Instagram famous.
    • For more information on Unique Photo Stops near Pike’s Place, Check out The View From Right Here – where a local lays out her glimpses of the beautiful Seattle Region.
Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

Post-Alley:

There are not very many Alley’s that are named in Seattle, this particular alley was named due to the Post that was produced and sold along this alley. The alley begins at the North End of Virginia Street, between first and western avenues running all the way to main street at the South end. The alley is not continuous as it has had apartments built, sectioning it off.

We walked all along Post Alley, and it was the perfect way to avoid the worst of the crowds in downtown Seattle. It also has some of the cutest boutique shops, photo ops, unique structures and a fabulous Irish Pub and Wine Bar in Seattle. I would suggest coming here instead of in the heart of Pike’s Place Market. If you notice a super long line of patrons waiting at the North End, that particular line is apparently for some Clam Chowder.

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

I’m not a foodie per se, so I get a bit snarky when it comes to waiting in lines to taste food. Personally, I feel you waste your time for something that will just end up in the toilet in the end. I know I know, gross Janiel (insert laughing)- I’m a medical person…. we talk about shit all day.

The Pier

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

We made our way down to the Pier where we got some fabulous views of the Puget Sound. He gave me some tips on how to shoot on cloudy days and the layout of the surrounding mountains.

Pre-Photo Tour tidbit: When driving into town via Uber, my driver said that the Ferris Wheel on the Pier isn’t really worth it. The part that he said was MUCH better and more affordable was Wings Over Washington, this was built like the ride in Disneyland Soarin’ Around the World – and he said that this will give you all sorts of visions of how beautiful Washington can be, is indoors, and perfect for those rainy days.

Other activities on the Pier include Washington State Ferry Ride across the Puget Sound (sit on the back and avoid the wind while taking a photo), Seattle Aquarium, Olympic Sculpture Park, Bike around Myrtle Edwards Park. 

Traveler Tip: Check out Seven Hidden Gems in Washington State, from a Local

The Art, Murals, and Courtyards

The biggest charm factor for me during this tour was the plethora of courtyards with lush foliage, cute cafes, murals and a general ‘live your life well’ relaxing feeling. While you will have to take the Tour with Tim (that has a nice ring to it doesn’t it), to find all these courtyards – you can really find murals and fantastic places to exercise those photography skills by just wandering downtown Seattle.

I did find a fantastic map of different murals throughout the city at The Evergrey with the histories behind each mural (if you love street art like I do).  There is also the article from the Seattle Met on ‘The City Is a Canvas’ which has some great advice on where to find the best murals.

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

Safety in Seattle

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

Not all of Seattle is safe, so as a general rule daytime is safe, nighttime is not. If you like the Party scene go up to Capitol Hill where most of the college crowd hangs out and there are a lot of the LGBTQ bars and such are as well.

If you find one of these, just leave it, if you find a man/woman passed out with one of these near them….just make sure they are breathing – drop a Tylenol and a bottle of water and then keep walking.

Ending the Tour

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

Seattle stole my heart because of this tour. I was able to see the best of the best, and even the underbelly that is also iconically part of what Seattle is.

There is a plethora of conflicting representations here with a general feeling of embracing not only the fickle weather patterns but also Art, Technology, History and the Present – all which make a great big interactive platform to discovering the best of what Seattle has to offer.

Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour - Culture Trekking - #Seattle

I did not get paid to tell you to book a tour with Tim but appreciated his validation of my work, the tools that he taught me and the patience he had while I took my sweet time with getting it right. I will definitely be back to Seattle, I hope very soon.
Have you been to Seattle? What was your favorite part? Have you tried an Airbnb Experience before?
To Book a Tour with Tim Menzen visit Airbnb Experience Photography Tour with a Pro. New to Airbnb? Sign up with this link and get $40 towards your next Airbnb experience. Stay tuned for my Sailing in Seattle Airbnb experience & don’t forget to PIN this article below.

As Always……Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side. 


Where to Stay

Booking.com

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