Touring Paracas Peru | Shore Excursions in Pisco

Touring Paracas Peru | Shore Excursions in Pisco

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This tiny town at the southernmost point of Peru is one of the best-held secrets. Here are a few ideas for your shore excursions in Pisco Peru that you really do not want to miss out on. While there are plenty of ideas that the ship gives you, many of them are not as relaxing, overcrowded and VASTLY overpriced.

Be sure to check out the article on Lima Peru if your ship makes a stop there, as there are some important safety tips you will need to know about.

shore excursions in Pisco Peru at Tambo Colordao

Tambo Colorado

Tambo Colorado is one of the best-preserved Inca Ruins in Peru, because of only getting 1/4″ of rainfall each year. There is still red, white, and yellow paint clearly visible along with original wood from the time of the Incas. This was a major trade route along the river, and the fertile grounds surrounding the area were a major source for religion and resources.

See The Wild Life on a Pisco Shore Excursion

The beaches of Pisco, because of the low tourism here, have been a safe haven for wildlife to have their young. There is so much wildlife, you could make 2 excursions just to see it all.

shore excursions in Pisco Peru - Baby Flamingos

Baby Flamingos

Flamingos are one of these animals that you can see their babies plodding along the shores picking at the crabs there. You can tell they are babies, by the grey color of their feathers. They only begin to turn pink once they have eaten crab for a number of weeks.

shore excursions in Pisco Peru Ballesta Island

Ballesta Island

This is home to the endangered Humbolt Penguin, who loves to make its home in the century-old Guano made from the Guanay who also frequent this island. If you have ample time, you can also catch a glimpse of the only living otter that lives in saltwater – the Gato Marino or “Sea Cat”.

While this was a viable option for our shore excursion, because it is a protected area you are not able to get out of the boats. From those who went on this excursion they reported that while it was neat to see so many animals in such a small area, and the sea wolves (or South American Sea Lions) – the sun really wore the cruisers out. The boats here don’t typically have shade, so make sure to bring an umbrella. I would also bring a mask as the smell from the Guano baking in the sun was reportedly quite pungent as well.

There are occasional Humpback whales that pass through this area on their migrational journey – but because of the busy shipping port that is Pisco, it is difficult to catch them.

Jellyfish Blooms

When our cruise ship was heading out, our ship went through a massive bloom of jellyfish. The jellyfish we were going by were so big I could clearly see their red, yellow, and white tentacles and bell-shaped heads. My master diver friend I was with, said the Jellyfish were easily 3-4 feet long if not more.

shore excursions in Pisco Peru Nazca Lines

Nazca Lines

The Nasca people of this area lived from 1 AD to 700 AD, creating mysterious designs in the desert sands in Paracas Peru. Many of the lines are formed from shallow trenches that are 4-6 inches deep (10-15cm). The top layer of the sand, made of the reddish-brown iron oxide-coated pebbles, is removed and the contrasting white sand below lets you see the lines from the air.

There are a total of 300 geometric figures, and 70 different designs of animals, plants and other items. Some of the lines are up to 30 miles long, and designs ranging from 50-1200 feet in length. Some designs are as big as the Empire State building.

This is why the designs were not well studied until the invention of flight in the 1930s. Some believe they are in line with the sun, others believe they align with the stars. There is still a lot of mystery surrounding the Nazca lines. Despite being 2000 years old, the designs still remain intact because of how minimal the rainfall is.

shore excursions in Pisco Peru Dune Buggy Riding

Dune Buggy Riding in Pisco Desert

To say I didn’t know what I was getting myself into with a Dune Buggy Ride is a vast understatement. If you have heart issues or high blood pressure, I DO NOT RECOMMEND going on one of these rides.

This is a ride that brings you to the brink of what physics allows to be possible in the presence of gravity. The hot desert sands, shift under the wheels while the demon driver in the front seems to feel he isn’t doing his job if you aren’t screaming in terror.

Not physically being able to say ‘Please stop’ because of the fear coursing through my body is literally how this ride felt. It is difficult to see and anticipate when the next drop off into oblivion is going to happen upon you.

I think they were excited to scare the crap out of us because at first, we didn’t think we needed seat belts. That is how naive we were about this ride. Please watch the video below, and watch how much the skyline pitches from one side to the other. It will give you an idea of how the ride is but is grossly under-represented.

Would I do it again? Ab-so-freaking-lutely! We rode with AdrenArena and felt completely safe the whole time.

Other Shore Excursion Options

Looking at other options on Trip Advisor, Viator, Websites – there is plenty to do in Pisco. While there aren’t many organized companies there – sometimes it can be just meeting up with locals in the town.

AdventurArena has desert dinners, there are Jet Ski Tours, you can take a drive along the coastline through the Paracas Desert National Preserve. At first, I didn’t think there was much to do in Pisco and would be one of the most boring shore excursions. Once we got there, went on our shore excursions I think Pisco became one of my favorite places we visited.

Your trip is what you make it, so don’t just follow the herd of cattle at the excursions office with the boat. The locals all know when the boats come in and how important it is to get you back to the ship in time. So take a chance and you might just find yourself on some of the greatest adventures

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Where To Stay In Pisco

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How to Communicate When Traveling in a Foreign Country

How to Communicate When Traveling in a Foreign Country

Reading Time: 9 minutes

One of the most intimidating parts of traveling can be the language barrier. Especially if you don’t know how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country. Everything seems bigger, more urgent, and the confusion that ensues can snowball to the point that you are lost and crying in the middle of the train station being consoled by policemen who don’t understand. Not that I would know how that feels….ahem….moving on.

After a couple of decades of travel, I have put together a guide on how I have learned how to better communicate when traveling. Now I’m the one consoling and helping families, crying women, and even making locals laugh.

How to Communicate Over Wifi

While for some this can be costly, there are a lot of options for finding free Wifi in restaurants/shops, etc. I typically like to book a hotel/hostel that specifically has good wifi, so I can research questions in the local language I may need to ask before I leave.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

What I Personally Use to Over Come the Language Barrier:

If you can afford a little portable Wifi device though, this will – by far – be the best investment on your trip. Personally, I use my phone, with AT&T as my carrier – they have an ‘International Passport’ option, where for $10 a day I can use my normal data, Wifi, minutes, and text messaging.

If you are going for longer than 7 days, then I recommend signing up for something a little more affordable like Tep Wireless. This pocket-sized device can be used in over 100 countries, is easily recharged (via MicroUSB Cable), you can pick the plan you want from 1GB/day for $5.95 per day all the way up to 5GB/day at $11.95/day. They also have a customer support chat available 24/7. The best part is that you can rent the Teppy Pocket, and don’t have to fork out $200 to buy it upfront.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Other Options:

Some other options you could consider if you are traveling for more than 8 days that are slightly more expensive but still relatively affordable; especially if you are a frequent international traveler.

  • Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L WiFi Hotspot (around $199 for device)
    • Verizon charges $80 per month for “unlimited” data, which includes 15 GB of 4G LTE. The battery lasts about 24 hours, is removable so you can just change it as needed. It can connect up to 16 devices at a time.
  • Skyroam Solis (Around $149 for device)
    • This one works in over 100 countries and data costs around $9 per day with a secure 4G LTE with download speeds of 500MB. It has a 16-hour battery life and can be connected to 5 devices.
  • Netgear Nighthawk LTE Mobile Hotspot ($199 for the device itself)
    • This device is more for AT&T users. It can connect up to 20 devices, has 2.4-5 GHZ Wifi. The battery lasts around 24 hours and can be used with Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0. What I really like about this one is that you can use an ethernet cord with it as well. It has a full-sized USB port, so you can share files between devices to the internet much quicker (ie/uploading videos etc..).
  • Coolpad SURF Mobile Hotspot (about $72 for the device)
    • Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n connectivity to up to 15 devices by utilizing T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network. So you are limited in certain countries, I would check the coverage map to ensure the device will work. It also only provides about 5 hours of use, and there is no signal strength display.
  • Huaawei E5770s Mobile Hotspot – ANY PROVIDER
    • This supports about 10 different devices, can be used with any service provider because it comes unlocked. It provides 4G LTE globally.
how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Use Social Media To Communicate While Traveling

Now you have several options for WiFi while traveling, you can utilize things like Facebook, Google Hangouts, Skype, WhatsApp to talk to friends at home without using your minutes or texting. Make sure you put your phone on airplane mode and then turn on the WiFi – so you don’t incur hidden fees on your telephone plan.

I think WhatsApp is one of the biggest apps used by those around the world. I used it to communicate with friends in Morocco and to coordinate my driver when going to Lake Atitlan (A very remote area) in Guatemala. So be sure to download that before you go. It does require you to give people your real telephone number, but also has a ‘block’ function if things get uncomfortable via messaging.

How To Communicate When Traveling, and Stay CALM

Whenever I start getting nervous, especially when meeting new people – I have a mantra, “We all poop on the same pot”. For some reason, it puts a smile on my face, breaks the ice inside my head and then I can proceed. If this doesn’t work, then I try my other techniques.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Make it a Game

Making it a game is the best way, for me personally, to remain calm when trying to communicate. I’m prone to anxiety, given my history, so tapping into my creative genius and making it a game is the best way for me to stay calm.

I will typically bring a pad of paper with me and if I don’t know how to pronounce the words, then I draw pictures. Most of the time, showing a picture does the trick. What if you can’t draw though?

There are cards or pre-made quick point cards that people use to communicate things they want. We use these cards all the time when we have a patient on a ventilator. There are certain human functions and needs that are very common and widely recognized. On one side of the card, there can be phrases or even an alphabet; while on the other side, there are photos of what the person needs/wants. So browse on Pinterest for quick point communication cards and I’m sure you will find exactly what you are looking for.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Be Polite

If you say the wrong thing, and they giggle – don’t be offended. For example, there are some languages like Portuguese, where ‘pickup’ can also mean ‘kill’ in a different country. So, anyone, this could be funny, or scary – and could elicit a giggle no matter what country it happened in. So take it in stride, make fun of yourself and thank them for being patient with you.

If they are not patient with you, I still thank them and politely tell them I will ask someone else, and sorry to bother them. I always try to remember that just because I am on vacation, with loads of time, the people I ask for help are taking time our of their day/vacation to help you. I have had people completely ignore me & I still offer a smile and wish them good-day. I have other locals, who walk with me from place to place, stand in line with me and get me on the right train – taking more than 45 minutes out of their day to help.

There are times you won’t be able to find help though. For my fellow Americans, DO NOT GET ANGRY NO ONE SPEAKS ENGLISH!!! There is nothing that will drive away help more, than standing at the hotel, restaurant or ticket line like an American putting their hands on their hips and loudly exclaiming, “Well this is just ridiculous, doesn’t anyone here speak English?” – no one will want to help you if you do. Saying things like this is what gives Americans a bad reputation as being, loud, rude, and snooty. Don’t be like them, please….

Don’t Be Embarrassed

There are so many other things that you could be embarrassed about – like when you think you need to fart, but it is actually a shart. If you don’t know what a shart is, consider yourself blessed – if you’re curious, use urban dictionary to look it up.

The point is, everyone expects you to not be fluent – so if you don’t get the words exactly right, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, laugh at yourself, know how to say sorry in their language. If you get too flustered, or your brain is fried from all the touring or the red-eye – revert to the Kwikpoint card (explained below) or drawing a picture.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Research Common Phrases

The number one thing to remember when beginning to learn a language is to not use big words or long phrases. Start small and use flashcards to memorize them so you aren’t fumbling and it comes second nature. If you aren’t sure how to pronounce something, Google and YouTube are going to work wonders for you. Here are a few phrases you will likely need to know when traveling, shopping, eating, meeting people, and if you run into an emergency.

  • How long (duration)?
  • What time does it leave?
  • How far?
  • I lost my…
  • I am going to…
  • I came from…
  • I leave on…
  • Where is…
  • Airport
  • Bus / train station
  • I am allergic to…
  • Where is a doctor?
  • Where is the pharmacy
  • Tampons / sanitary pads
  • Can I drink the tap water?
  • Bed bugs – or other words for dangerous bugs common to the area
  • Air conditioner/fan
  • I lost my key
  • Where is the bathroom?
  • Do I pay here, or can I have the bill?
  • Do you take credit cards or cash?
  • How much?
  • Too expensive
  • I’m not interested / No, thank you
  • Do you have change?
  • Can I try?
  • Hello, my name is…
  • Do you speak English?
  • Sorry
  • Slowly, please
  • I don’t understand
  • Goodbye!
  • Thank you and Thank You so much
  • Can I help you?
  • Where is the Embassy?

Use your Resources To Communicate While Traveling

We live in a world full of technology, and advanced communication devices. So it is so much easier to get past the language barrier than ever before. Here are a few resources I personally use to communicate in a different country.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Google Translate

My number one resource is Google Translate that I use on my phone, with the AT&T passport. The reason I like this so much is that you can do a voice to text with it. It also has a conversational function on it, where you can easily switch back and forth between languages and have them just speak into your phone. They check the text to make sure it is what they mean to say, edit what needs to be edited, and then you go back and forth.

This became very useful when I was trying to figure out what the safest way to get my friend to the airport was. It was in Santiago, I speak enough Spanish to get around, but when it comes to safety – you need details. So I was able to use Google translate, to understand how and who would take my friend to the airport. If you use Uber in the city, and the police catch you – you can get a $1000 fine. There were also reports of an unregistered Uber driver pick you up, and then take you to an obscure place in town – where they then rob you. S

I was also warned that I shouldn’t have bought the strawberries from the street vendors, because there was a big problem with diarrhea with travelers there. Apparently, turtles had invaded some of the water sources, and put Salmonella in the water systems – the locals were used to it, but travelers coming in – it was creating a big problem.

Kwikpoint

If you want something super affordable, can’t speak the language, and don’t draw pictures very well – then I would suggest a Kwikpoint card. This would be the bare minimum that I would take with you in order to communicate. You can get cards with small colorful photos on them, in specific groupings that visually can be easily recognized and understood throughout the world. If they don’t have it in their country, they will likely find someone who can explain it to you – or they can use their own phone/computer to use google translate to tell you.

how to communicate when traveling in a foreign country

Find A Common Ground

Let them know you are sorry you don’t speak their language but are trying to make things as easy as possible to have a good trip. This really breaks the ice and lets them know that you don’t think you are better than they are.

There are WAY too many times that I have heard people say, “Doesn’t anyone around here speaks English?” when traveling in a foreign country. This is absurd, and wouldn’t hold up in the USA if someone came and demanded someone spoke Spanish or French. So get off your high horse, realize it isn’t the USA – and so you should at least ATTEMPT to speak the primary language of the country you are visiting.

You have to remember you a VISITOR, not a foreign dignitary or some royalty that should be cow-towed to because you are an American. So check yourself, before you wreck yourself.

Now You Know How To Communicate In A Foreign Country

While you may not be fluent in the language of the country you will visit, now you have the resources to help put your mind at ease about the language barrier. Just don’t give up, be polite, stay calm and realize we are all humans. Invest in a good Kwikpoint card, Wifi, and make sure you can access Google Translate and I promise you will have no trouble navigating the world despite your language limitations.

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Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Reading Time: 16 minutes

Choosing accommodation for your travel has gotten more complicated over the years. Often leaving folks confused and worried they will make the wrong decision. Especially with reports of travelers being attacked, personal items stolen, and even the rare occasion of someone being killed. So I put together a guide on things to look for when choosing accommodation for your travels.

From beginning to end, this will be the ultimate guide on getting started when choosing your adventure accommodation and staying safe when you do. Be sure to check out my other articles on Safety while solo traveling as well. It will give a more detailed view of tips on how to stay safe, as well as what to do if you feel you landed in an unsafe situation. So let’s dive in on choosing your perfect accommodation!

Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Your Destination – When Choosing Accommodation

  • Is it a third world country or a first world country?
    • When your choosing accommodations, look at what the place is made of. Maybe it is a wood/grass hut on the beach with opportunities for perfect pictures, but no hot shower – or the toilet is shared and across the village. Make sure you take note of what is included in the room before you book it. There are so many wannabe YouTubers out there – that you can get a general idea from videos on the area and accommodation. Even the poorest countries have a phone and Facebook so asking for a few photos or to confirm certain amenities is in your best interest.
  • Is it a remote small village or a bustling city?
    • If it is a remote village will you have a way to get there? Is that factored into your budget? If it is in a bustling city, how easy is it to find your way there and how costly. Is traffic going to be an issue? If it is then the taxi rates are going to be sky-high unless you can get them to agree on a set price before you get into the vehicle.
  • What type of activities are you going to be participating in?
    • If you are going to be visiting Macchu Picchu you will want to stay up near the entrance to get there before the crowds. Conversely, if you are only there for a short period of time, is it worth it to hotel/hostel jump from place to place? What if you are scuba diving out in Fort Lauderdale and it would be easier to get to the shop by staying on Singer Island rather than paying for a taxi multiple days to get back and forth. Are there activities at night and places to eat close to your accommodation. When you are fighting Jet Lag, you can often awake in the middle of the night with hunger pains that can have you chewing the arm of your travel companion off or eating the bar of soap.
  • Is the country conservative or are their citizens heavily restricted with rules?
    • When I was traveling with a Moroccan friend near southern Morocco, they are still ruled by strict social guidelines. So we had to pretend that he was my brother-in-law in order to be able to rent an apartment. Otherwise, they would have required to see a marriage document prior to renting the apartment. Several of them actually refused when they saw that he had a white American Female in the car. Given their point of view, I can see why several people refused (just in case he was kidnapping me – even though it wasn’t the case). Each place I stayed at also wanted a copy of my passport – which has ALL my personal information on it. So would you be comfortable letting them copy that information? Some places may refuse to rent to you if you are not comfortable giving that information. So these are just some things to think about, especially if you are a solo female traveler.
  • Are your comforts of home important to you?
    • It is important to remember that not every destination is going to have an air conditioner you can blast, fireplace you can light up, or even traditional heating. They may not even have a working toilet, or maybe you can sit on the toilet, shower, and brush your teeth all at the same time. We stayed in an apartment in Italy once as a family, where the smell of the sewer was so strong that we could barely shower. So be sure to read reviews and amenities of a location before going, so you can be well informed on what you will have to compromise and if you are willing to do that.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Time of Arrival or Departure – When Choosing Accommodation

  • Do you arrive at night or during the day?
    • I typically look for the best deal on Booking.com when I’m attempting to rent a place. I really like the filters you can choose from, and you can easily decide if a hotel/hostel/B&B is right for you all on the same platform.
    • As the years of travel have come and gone, I have gotten a lot more detailed in my approach when renting an Airbnb, Booking.com place. Sometimes it is the best deal because it is a remote part of the city that isn’t safe to lug my big suitcase and a backpack full of camera gear. So it is definitely something to consider. Another thing to consider is how accessible it is to catch a taxi, the cost of an Uber or Lyft to and from the transportation stations (airport, train, bus). There was one morning in Poland I counted on being able to catch a taxi to the train station and found that in Poland – in the center of Warsaw – no one is awake before 8 am. So I had to get access back into the building I had just deposited my room keys into, so I could get Wifi to call an Uber.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Your Budget When Choosing Accommodation

  • Does your budget include a fancy place to stay?
    • If this is going to be a relaxing vacation with lots of beach time, then maybe spending a little more on an all-inclusive resort would be worthwhile. If you are going to be out looking at historic sites in the center of the city, maybe it would be worthwhile to spend a little more of the budget to stay closer to those sites. If you are just looking to spend as little as possible, because you will be backpacking from one place to the next anyway, then maybe a hostel is your best bet.
  • Do you want to spend your vacation budget on your accommodation or on seeing the city?
    • The biggest beef I have with spending money on accommodation is that it takes away from my ability to spend money on tours, food and really experiencing the culture. So I tend to personally go for a cheaper (but comfortable) accommodation and then have loads left for tours and activities.
  • What type of vacation is this for you? Will you spend more time in a hotel (Honeymoon) or more time seeing the sites (on a group tour, or with a bunch of friends)?
    • If your vacation is going to be a romantic getaway, then I would tell you to spend a little more to have a cozy bed with a view and easy access to come back to the hotel frequently. If you will be in a tour group, they typically include the cost of the hotel, or I would get a hotel that will be close to the majority of your meeting spots.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Your Desire for Convenience When Choosing Accommodation

  • Does the destination have Taxies or Ubers?
    • Believe it or not, not every country/city has Taxies or Ubers. There are equivalents available in some countries (see my growing Worldwide Airport Transportation List) but sometimes it is just good old fashioned walking, horse and carriage or a Tuk Tuk. In certain cities in South America, if you are caught by the police taking an Uber/Lyft (like in Santiago) then you can get a $1000 fine. So I would definitely consider how you will get around the city, and to and from the airport when choosing accommodation.
  • Is there public transport? Is transportation able to handle your luggage?
    • Once you figure out your mode of transportation to and from the airport, also consider if they will be able to handle the amount of luggage you are planning on bringing. I can tell you right now, a Tuk Tuk will not be able to handle two people with their luggage. When I was in San Pedro La Laguna, near Lake Atitlan – the roads are too narrow for cars in most places, often get flooded in the rainy season. The Tuk Tuks there couldn’t hold 3 curvy women at once, so I had to squat and pray I didn’t break my ankle because my leg was hanging out of the Tuk Tuk.
    • If you are being picked up in a shared ride, or transfer service (often found on the airline websites when you book your flight) – they may have luggage restrictions to two per passenger or less.
    • If it is a shared Uber/Lyft or Taxi – you will have to be considerate of other passengers who may not be as prepared as you are – or pack as light as you do.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Your Travel Companions – Questions to Ask Before Booking

  • Do your travel companions have physical limitations? ie/ Wheelchair, bad knees, chronic pain
    • Americans are very lucky (and some countries in Europe), in that most everything is accessible to those with disabilities. Even in Scotland, there are things I took for granted in America that they do not have there due to the way the city has grown and morphed over the years. Working in the medical field it was eerie to me to not see elderly on the street – or those in wheelchairs or on crutches – there are seldom elevators unless specifically stated; Hostels, Airbnb, and B&Bs do not typically have elevators.
    • If you travel with Chronic pain and are stuck on an hour train ride in between the cars because you didn’t realize you had to reserve a seat and not just purchase a ticket – this could result in major pain that could result in a ruined vacation. So be aware of who you travel with, and have frank conversations about tolerance levels and ability to treat pain while vacationing.
    • What about those with bad joints, or those with heart or lung issues. Can they go up stairs, do they have elevators, what is the air pollution in the city like vs in the country? These are all things to consider and ask both the accommodation and your travel companions about. When I was in Edinburgh, and even in Marrakesh – I was grateful I had my inhaler because I have reactive asthma attacks. I get extremely fatigued, and a sore throat when the air quality is bad. Going up to high elevations quickly, like in Zermatt on the Little Matterhorn, at 15,000 feet – I nearly ended up in the hospital with an oxygen level of 85% because I discovered I was extremely prone to altitude sickness.
  • Do your travel companions travel light, or over pack with lots of bags?
    • Again, everything is a little bigger in America vs other countries. If you show up in Japan or China with 2 large bags and a big backpack – you may as well just buy an additional hotel room. Everything is small and jam-packed unless you know what you are getting into and can afford the larger hotel rooms.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Your Activities When Choosing Your Accommodation

  • Are you going to have a car?
    • If you are going to have a car, is there parking available at your accommodation? If there isn’t, then you have to look at costs for parking – and if you are good enough at parallel parking. In Morocco, if you decide to drive there, the parking spaces are very very tightly packed. There are certain meanings when you flash your brights or turn on your hazard lights. They even have parking assistants that you have to tip at least a dollar every time they help you, otherwise, you can get punched (saw a legit street brawl between a parking attendant and a local – lots of blood). In Edinburgh, there are no parking areas, unless you want to pay $45-$85 a night at a very limited parking center in the city. In the center of Boston, the parking at any location can be upwards of $60 a night (minimum). So be sure you check on parking availability if you choose to rent a car, otherwise, it can eat your budget rather quickly.
  • Is accommodation close to affordable public transportation?
    • If there are no parking areas, is the accommodation close enough to (and safe enough) utilize public transportation? In Guatemala, it would have been cheaper to take the 5-hour bus ride to Lake Atitlan sure. Yet hiring a private ride for $60 for the 3-hour car ride through mountain passes where falling rocks, flooded roads is much safer and more reliable at 2 am.

Your Eating Habits When Choosing Accommodation

  • Is breakfast important to you?
    • If you like to sleep in but love your breakfast, then I would make sure you click on the filter option where breakfast is included in the cost, or there is a continental breakfast available. I could eat breakfast food all day everyday if I could. Dinner I just eat Almonds or a protein bar – but in Europe, Lunch and Dinner are some of the most important meals.
  • Check Local Holidays/Religious Events
    • This is something I discovered after dating several Muslim men, when they described their countries during Ramadan. A local religious holiday that lasts a month, where stores, and local eateries often close during the day for religious reasons. If you don’t know about Ramadan, I put together a basic guide on Ramadan, and when and why they celebrate. For the purposes of this article though, you need to know that stores will open after sunset/evening prayer, and close in the AM after morning prayer. If you are ok eating all night, and sleeping during the day, there are some special dishes that come out during Ramadan, and are only made during Ramadan that would be worthwhile to check out for all my foodies.
  • Do you like to eat out?
    • Are there places nearby that you can eat? If there are places that you can eat near your accommodation, is it the type of food you can eat? Do you have any particular dietary restrictions? If so, then looking at different neighborhoods where those are more likely to be available and have more variety. If you are Vegan, Vegetarian, or have any particular allergy to certain foods – then I would recommend using Pinterest to plan out your eating excursions before you go.
  • Do you cook your own meals when vacationing?
    • If you do have severe dietary restrictions, or like to eat a little healthier while traveling – then choosing an accommodation near a supermarket may be worthwhile. Try your hand at local cuisine, or even eat with locals through EatWith.com where you can schedule a meal with a local and other travelers, take a food tour, or even learn how to cook like a local.
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Will Your Personality Fit Your Accommodation

  • Are you a quiet hermit type? Are you outgoing and lazie faire? Are you refined and love that luxury life?
    • If you don’t like chaos, or can’t sleep through drunk people coming in and out at all hours of the night – then a Hostel is not for you. Do you like to be social, but still want your privacy and a relaxed environment? Then a Bed and Breakfast may be for you. Do you love luxurious surroundings, and value your sleep above all? Then a higher-end luxury hotel might be the best choice.
  • Do you like to live like a local?
Things to Look For When Choosing Accommodation

Safety Concerns To Be Aware Of

  • When staying in any location, it is important to know if you have the only key to the house, apartment, or room.
    • If you don’t, then I would suggest to my Solo Female Travelers that you demand this, or just look for another accommodation. If it is a Bed and Breakfast type home, where other people will be staying, this is fine, but you still want to ensure that you will be safe while you are sleeping – and there is lockbox for your passport.
  • Will you be alone or with other people?
    • If you will be alone in a dangerous neighborhood, then I would suggest getting a hotel closer to the city – and make sure there is good lighting on the street. Using Google maps street view is a good way to take a look at the neighborhood you will be going.
    • If you will be staying with other people, such as in a hostel, do they have lockers you can use? If so, are there locks you can rent, or do you need to bring your own lock?
  • Is the community gated/barb wire fencing?
    • When I was staying in Guatemala City, there were a lot of reports online that theft and muggings were common with tourists. Arriving late at night from San Pedro made me a bit nervous, as I didn’t properly scope out my accommodation. Driving into the complex though, provided a lot of ease of mind when I saw that there was a security guard, cement fencing with barbed wire on the top, and good lighting in the streets. So it really depends on the safety level of the country you are going to, how cautious you need to be, and how much research you need to do prior to finalizing your booking.
    • There are certain countries where tourists have to stay inside a compound for safety reasons. So for my adrenaline junkies out there, make sure that you understand the risks. If there is a safety advisory by your state/country department for that particular country – and you decide to go anyway; it could limit their ability and willingness to help you if you decide to ignore those warnings.
  • Do they have safety measures for fire hazards, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes?
    • If you are staying in a wooden bungalow in the Maldives, and a hurricane blows through while you’re there – because the prices were cheaper in the rainy season – do they provide, or have a safe spot or emergency evacuation plan/supplies to aid their guests? This is something that happened to a friend when in Jamaica, and they had to fend for themselves until the communities were stabilized. Luckily they were in a hotel, not a bungalow, and had some granola bars to tide them over while electricity was restored in the kitchens.
  • Getting Travel Insurance is a great way to ease the mind.
    • I typically will use World Nomads as my Travel Insurance for medical evacuation or any emergency needs/delays/cancellations. Something you will have to ensure with medical, natural disaster, or political unrest evacuations – is that the fine writing often says ‘will evacuate you to the nearest USA location or airport’. Well that doesn’t help you much if you are vacationing in South America, and they send you to a hospital in Atlanta – but your house is in Oregon. Medical Transport on a ventilator from one area of the USA to another is done by helicopter with a specialized team and starts at $15,000 depending on the team needed and flight time. So if you are from the USA, or are purchasing the insurance through your own country – I highly suggest you read the fine print on this particular portion.
  • Will you need to get vaccines prior to going?
    • If you are a US Citizen, there are certain vaccines that are mandatory if you visit a country where a disease is prevalent.
    • Some of the vaccines can be out of stock or on back order – so it could take months until you receive it. Be sure to check with your local health department on these specialty vaccines.
    • Getting the vaccines within a certain time period PRIOR to your departure is imperative. Your immune system needs time to work, and what if you have a bad reaction? The earlier you can do it the better is what I highly suggest.
  • Are there animals or insects that could come in while sleeping? Do they carry diseases? Does the accommodation have mechanisms to prevent this?
    • If you are terrified of snakes or creepy crawlies coming into your room at night – then any tropical environment, even Australia may not be for you, unless you stay in a place where this can’t happen.
    • If you are in Africa, having a mosquito net is essential as many parasitic diseases including Malaria are transmitted there.
    • If you are staying in a grass hut in South American, there is a bug called the Kissing Bug (bites near nose/eyes/mouth at night), that transmits a parasite that can live in you for decades before showing up as a major heart issue.
    • In hostels, there is a growing issue with Bed Bugs. I was attacked by Bed Bugs in a Hostel in Prague a few years ago. I had 32 bites all up and down my arms, legs, chest and even a few on my face. Little did I know that I was allergic to the bites, and ended up swelling at each bite, felt like I was hit by a bus for the entire time I was backpacking through Europe.
    • It isn’t just hostels though, Bed Bug reports in New York City were up by 40% in 2018. If you bring those little bastards home with you, guess what….it can cost anywhere from $1600 to $5200 to get rid of them. Often it results in you having to replace furniture, beds, clothes and other items that they squeeze into and lay hundreds of eggs. So consider yourself warned, research how to spot bed bugs, and make a rule that you put your bags outside the room until your inspection is complete. It only took once, to learn this very painful and difficult lesson.
  • Are there restrictions on staying with those of the opposite sex?
    • I touched on this previously when I was traveling with a local in Morocco. But I bring it up again here because some countries do not allow you to stay with the opposite sex unless you are married or have the same last name. So just inquire, before you book if you are concerned.
  • Is the destination friendly to the LGBTQI community? Would you be allowed to stay in the same room as your partner?
    • This one, unfortunately, is still not accepted worldwide. While the courageous individuals who are traveling to the more close-minded countries, and are helping to try to educate on this particular point – I would advise you to research this extensively. While I don’t really feel it is necessary to call out specific countries, I wanted to put this in this guide – because it can pose a security risk to members of the LGBTQI community.
    • A good resource for those in the LGBTQI community that want to travel is ‘Dopes On The Road‘ – this website will give you Safety Tips to Consider, questions to ask, and how to plan a honeymoon as a LGBT.
  • What about racial discrimination?
    • While I am a white American female, I do have plenty of inspirational women of color that I highly admire and look up to. One such person is, Glo, from the Blog Abroad – who is very frank, honest and open about facing discrimination while traveling and how she handles it. Another great resource for what it is like to travel like a black man is Erik Prince from Minority Nomad. His goal is to be the first black man to travel to every country and would be a great resource because so far (as of August 2019) he has visited 90 countries. Because of my own ethnicity, I think it is a subject that I regrettably have been ignorant of for my readers. So to those who are concerned about this, hearing it from a white woman isn’t going to ease your mind – so look up Glo and Erik – you won’t regret it.

Information Overload?

I know these are a lot of questions to process and take in, so it may feel like information overload. This is why I broke it down into bullet points because once you choose your destination, know your budget, and limitations or preferences of the people you travel with – it will be easy to skip over some of the questions.

I tried to include every question I ask when approaching a booking, or choosing an accommodation (traveling with my dog is a whole other article that I didn’t address). So if you are trying to book something luxurious, then you will have a guide – if you are finding accommodation in a busy city or a remote village in Africa then you will have a resource to remind you of how to best approach it and make the most informed decision possible.

Would you include any tips/tricks or advice to those who are just starting out booking their own accommodation?

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A New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

A New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Going to Boston was not something I hadn’t really planned on doing in the middle of summer. I was going for a Travel Conference and knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to see the sites around or near the venue. So I got online and found that Grayline had a New England Coast Day Trip from Boston that left at a few hours after I arrived. I was coming in on a Red-Eye flight, and knew I wouldn’t have a lot of energy to walk the Freedom Trail, but didn’t want to waste the time sleeping in a hotel lobby somewhere. The bus seemed like a perfect mix of relaxation, and effective use of time.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Arriving in Boston

The flight there was TERRIBLE! The guy next to me wouldn’t quit fidgeting, moving, coughing, and was one of those people that puts their elbows out as far as they can to have more space. So I didn’t sleep that well on the flight out and was even more grateful I was going to have a relaxing morning on my New England Coast Day Trip from Boston.

Getting to the Boston airport, was truly a beautiful approach into the city with the Boston Bay below and the city surrounded by water. I knew it was a port city but didn’t realize just how much the city revolves around the water. From the nights by the Charles River Esplanade to the massive ponds, lakes and reflecting pools dotting the city – it is a photographer’s dream.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Meeting Our Grayline Bus Pilot

This was my first time taking a Grayline Bus for a tour along the New England Coast. The only other tour I have taken where a bus was involved was when I was touring Jordan. I still remember how badly I had to battle motion sickness on that trip, I made sure I picked a seat near the front of the bus.

Our driver for the day, was a quiet, focused, and friendly former 747 retired pilot, who was also in the Air Force back in the day. I can’t recall his name right now but will call him Paul the Pilot.

Paul towered above me about 6’1″, to my 5’4″ frame. He wore glasses, had a wide mouth, and a kindly Grandpa like face. He had squinty eyes, grey hair, and was constantly looking at his watch, with the timeliness of departures, and schedules just as you would expect from someone with his background.

Hampton Beach, New Hampshire

After all passengers were accounted for Paul introduced himself and we were on the road to tour the New England Coast. On the way to Hampton Beach, we passed by New Hampshire Harbor, where the movie, The Perfect Storm, was based. The Perfect Storm follows the true story of men who were from Massachusetts that had been out fishing for Swordfish. They had gone out to check the Swordfish lines, pulled in their catch, and were heading back to shore when the low-pressure system started to encroach on their fishing grounds. A hurricane came racing up the coast catching many people off guard, and because their ice machine broke down, they were not able to seek a safe harbor; otherwise, they would lose their catch and all the money with it. Unfortunately, the men never made it back to land.

New England Coast Tour Sand Art Competition in New Hampshire

Our first official stop was the Sand Art Competition at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. The sand art competition is in its 19th year, where master sculptors from around the world come together to create masterpieces. It started out as a commissioned piece for celebrating the newly minted coin of New Hampshire and has since turned into a visual spectacle every year.

It isn’t just sand art that you can enjoy though, there are plenty of activities at Hampton Beach. You can visit the arcade, try saltwater taffy, fry bread, and plenty of delicious seafood for even the pickiest palate. You can also volunteer to pick up trash, catch a show on the beach, or visit the Discovery Ocean Center (open 12-7).

New England Coast Tour Sand Art Competition at Hampton Beach

You can swim in the ocean here, but I would highly recommend using a wet suit, because of how cold the water is. This area can also be quite dangerous with the strong rip tides, so be sure to watch the flag warnings. There are also a lot of sea lions in the area, which also attract Great White sharks for feeding. So be aware, and be safe should you choose to take a dip in the ocean.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Nubble Lighthouse in York Maine

With Maines rocky shoreline, and the economy relying heavily on the imports, it was very important to its citizens to have a lighthouse. After a passionate petition to the government, they were granted $15,000 to complete the lighthouse. The Nubble Lighthouse was completed July 1, 1879, and has since become a symbol of both unity and community.

New England Coast Tour - the Nubble Lighthouse

The Lighthouse was initially manned by the US coastguard and their families. After the lighthouse became automated, the last keeper of the lighthouse left in 1987. After which the lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places to help preserve it. The only time you can walk to the lighthouse is when it is low tide, otherwise, you would have to get there by a small boat.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

The lighthouse is very unique in that instead of the traditional yellow light, the light is red. The red helps to cut through the fog at night that tends to commonly roll into Maine, with even the slightest change in temperature. The light rotates every 2 seconds day and night.

If you get a chance to visit the gift shop, be sure to say hello Prince of New England, Bill Thompson. This 93-year-old gem paints pictures of the lighthouse and sells them for $10-$15 apiece to help upkeep and maintain the lighthouse.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Each painting has a story behind it, and The Prince of New England makes sure you know what the story is prior to letting you purchase the painting. He showed me one painting that depicted a seagull named Charlie. Charlie would follow the postmaster from his truck to the gift shop every day. He would wait until the postmaster was finished and then follow him back out to his car. One day the postmaster forgot to roll up his window before going into the gift shop, and when he came back out – Charlie was sitting in the front seat. The postmaster said, ‘ok, well, let’s go Charlie’ and they drove to the next stop.

The Prince of New England concluded his story about Charlie then grabbed my hand. He explained how he was grateful he met me because I have a light in my eyes that he said made his day.

These are the type of connections that really make traveling worthwhile to me. When you can meet a random stranger, who has a kind soul, and words don’t necessarily need to be said – but you understand them, and they understand you. This is why I agree wholeheartedly in calling Mr. Bill Thompson the Prince of New England.

Kennebunkport Maine

I was reluctant to leave the Nubble Lighthouse but was excited for our next stop on our New England Coast Day Trip to Kennebunkport Maine. This was once a bustling harbor in the 1890s. It offered a safe place for shipbuilders to build new ships with deep water access to the ocean during high tide. A bridge in the middle of town was once a drawbridge used to let the ships pass from Kennebunkport to the lower town of Kennebunk. Be sure you don’t call it Kennebunk, as the locals are very proud to call it Kennebunkport and feel the towns are very different (especially the people in them).

The shipbuilders would typically haul coal, pine, and cotton to locations around the world. If you want to learn more about the shipping industry of days past, I would suggest visiting the Kennebunkport historical society and the Brick store museum. There are so many hidden gems like the White House and the public library, just wandering through town is the best way to see Kennebunkport.

White House

The White House is one of the most unique buildings in Kennebunkport (or at least I think so). It is the same home that has been in this area for the last 130 years. The last known Perkins relative to live in the home kept all the clothing, furniture, and mementos in the home and gifted the home with all the contents to the Kennebunkport Historical Society. However, she required that all items within the home, stay in the home permanently.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

So when you visit, be sure to go on a tour of the home (the last tour is at 3 pm) – you will feel that you have been transported back 130 years when you enter the home. While I missed the last tour by 15 minutes the lady at the gift shop told me all about the home, the town and why the house was so important. I really want to go back and do a proper tour of the house, because it sounds fascinating that even the clothes from when her, and her siblings were small children are still eerily preserved.

Public Library

As I walked along the streets, I couldn’t believe how incredible each corner of the town was for photos. I guess you could say it is one of the most Instagrammable towns I have ever been to. The cottages lining the streets looked like houses that could be in a Christmas Storybook, the yards were perfectly manicured, and the people were incredibly friendly.

I let myself get lost in the city and found a great little Public Library. I took a few pictures of the outside, then started to talk to some people decorating the patio. They were locals and explained the history of the building. It was built in 1813 as a bank originally, then turned into a customs office for the ship cargo that would come into town.

It was then turned into a free public library. If you go up into the Children’s area, you will see some impressionistic paintings by Louis T Graves from the 1930s that show popular children’s stories scenes depicted. These paintings are still incredibly vivid and have never been retouched.

What to Eat in Kennebunkport

The seafood here is incredible, and I would definitely plan on getting some sort of clam and lobster. The Lobster in Maine is some of the best, because of the cold waters off their coastline – it causes the Lobster to be very sweet to the taste and not as rubbery.

Pilot House

Our guide highly recommended the Pilot House. This family-owned and run restaurant is just behind the CITI gas station as you are coming into town. It is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it but is right by where you catch the whale watching tours. The Lobster dinners, Lobster rolls, and other meals are VERY reasonably priced from $8.99 to $18.99. I did look at some of the other places in town and the meals were far more expensive for the same kind of food. The Lobster is locally caught by those from Kennebunkport, so it is less of an impact on the marine ecosystems.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

The locals come to this place to grab a beer, a bite to eat, and to watch a game. The waiters and waitresses make you feel as if you are part of the family when you walk in the door, even some giving you a side hug as you leave. I know this is weird, but if you go into the bathroom, they have a huge frame full of different types of knots that are used on a ship.

Spirit of Massachusetts

If you are able to stay into the early evening, then I suggest stopping by one of the most unique bars I have been to – the Spirit of Massachusetts. This 125 foot Schooner was first introduced in 1984 and has both food and drink available, along with a series of different events and shows they regularly put on.

Ice Cream and Blue Berries

New England Coast Tour - Blueberry Ice Cream in Maine

A huge surprise to me was that Blueberries are a big deal in Maine because of the sweetness. In fact, Dreyers Ice Cream gets its supply of blueberries from Maine. So while in town, finish off your visit with a sweet treat from Aunt Marie’s Ice Cream. This little shop is tucked away into a corner behind all the shops on the main stretch of road, and there were about 15-20 locals consistently coming through at any given point. (Address: 10 Ocean Ave Kennebunkport Maine 04046)

Patten’s Berry Farm with the Princess of New England

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Our bus driver also claims that there is a Princess of New England Coast as well. When you head back to Boston, there is a small fruit and flower stand on the side of the road called Patten’s Berry Farm.

Mrs. Patten, 92 years old, has been tending the family farm, canning and selling the products at the fruit stand since she was a girl. If you stop, you will see just how much care she puts into making every flower pot perfect, each can of fruit is perfectly positioned, and large blueberry and apple pies are placed near the register.

Walker Point

Making our way further along the New England Coast – we stopped briefly across the way from Walker Point. The temperature had changed, and of course, the fog rolled so apologizes for the poor photo. This is the summer residence of former US President George Bush.

New England Coast Tour - Walker Point

Their family bought this area 120 years ago and has morphed into a place of refuge for the Bushs. When we drove by this place, we were able to see that there were three secret service cars near the entrance. There was also an American Flag on the building as well. Paul the Pilot (our guide), told us this is how you can tell that the Bushs were at Walker Point that day.

Back to Boston

After a long, but wonderful, day of our New England Coast Day Trip from Boston, Paul the Pilot gave us an opportunity to take a snooze on the way back into Boston. I zonked out quickly and enjoyed the downtime to refresh before a hectic week at the conference.

New England Coast Day Trip from Boston

Paul dropped us off at key points within the city, close to our respective hotels, where the bus was able to fit. I was reluctant to leave because he was so kind and it had been such a relaxing day. For the cost, I think the trip was well worth it. The pick-up and drop-off were seamless, the time at each stop was perfect, and we were able to get back to Boston at a reasonable time around 7-8pm. Just in time for me to meet up with friends attending the conference, for dinner. So if you are in the Boston area, and are looking for a New England Coast Tour Day Trip from Boston. I cannot recommend utilizing this company and service enough. This was not a sponsored trip in any way, I genuinely enjoyed my time on my New England Coast Tour with Grayline.

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Empowering Mayan Women in San Pedro

Empowering Mayan Women in San Pedro

Reading Time: 12 minutes

“You have to howl!” Sheri screamed up at me as I summited my first climbing route in Joshua Tree National Park. This would make a lasting impression on me for the rest of my life, to throw caution to the wind and celebrate the accomplishments we have in life, out loud and proud. I could write a book about Sheri, following her adventures of van life from San Diego to San Pedro, and making her home in Lake Atitlan. The story I want to tell you about though is one of true compassion, connecting cultures, and empowering the women in San Pedro La Laguna with Sheri’s Company – She Rides Dragons.

Sheri Keller and She Rides Dragons

Sheri is a wanderer at heart, but somehow San Pedro and the people in this town stole her heart and she chose to stay. Once there, it wasn’t long before she started making friends. One of her closest friends is Dora, a Spanish teacher, and seamstress who has a smile that will light up the whole room when she allows you to see it.

After several months exploring San Pedro and the other small villages in Lake Atitlan, Sheri discovered the Mayan textiles and an idea began to form. After a lot of trial and error, and drawing on her resources in San Diego, she was able to set up a clothing company called She Rides Dragons. I will explain that name a little later.

Sheri is a Yoga teacher, juggler and all-out fabulous performer that brings magic with her wherever she goes, which fits in perfectly with the backpacking town of San Pedro. So naturally making yoga bags, and other clothing items with Mayan adorned symbols was the next step along her incredible journey.

Collaborating For A Cause

Little did I know, that after following Sheri’s journey of fulfilling her dreams – she had started to follow me as I pursued my dreams of being a travel writer, photographer, and videographer – She would ask me to be a brand ambassador for her company, She Rides Dragons.

I was just starting out but flabbergasted that this woman that I had held in my mind as a goddess of adventure was asking me to collaborate with her for a cause. I, of course, agreed, right after I pulled my jaw back up off the floor and re-attached it to my face.

I received one of her clothing items, a full-length ritual robe, exquisitely hand-crafted and designed with more attention to detail than some of the best brands I have seen. Colors are perfectly matched, the fabric is thick, heavy, and you can almost feel the magic of Lake Atitlan flowing out it.

I immediately messaged her when I received it and thanked her profusely. “Sheri I cannot believe how well made this is!” I was nearly bubbling over with excitement, she replied in her usual cool-as-a-cat way “I know, the women here do such a great job. I hope we can continue to make these because the money is so vital for these families”. This piqued my interest, as my first love has always been humanitarian work and travel for a cause.

Sheri explained that the culture in Lake Atitlan is one of strong patriarchal power. The men often drink, and work is often hard to find, with very little pay. For this reason, she specifically buys the fabric for her company from local women and hires local women as seamstresses to make the clothing and bags, weave the ‘tehido’ that become the tassels on those bags, and as translators to assist with different Mayan languages, of which there are many. Some of the Mayan women Sheri works with speak little or no Spanish and having a translator has been crucial in learning about the different textiles, peoples, and towns around Guatemala. The money that the women make goes straight into their pockets, not their husbands, and they decide how it gets spent.

The women put a lot of their income toward their children and putting food on the table. Many of the women have to weave and sew by the light of the fires they burn near their homes as they cannot afford electricity. If a guest comes, they will feed the guest before they feed the children. The families in Lake Atitlan are not beggars, they work for what they have…sometimes to their own detriment.

Sheri has a gift for observational power and has often found families in need of help. With connections all around the lake, she is constantly on the phone, in her ‘magic makers’ circle – trying to help the families and animals that need it the most. I think she tries to fix the major issues in San Pedro and Lake Atitlan because of how much love she has for this place. Her home has been a haven, an animal rescue, a place of creativity and love – and the people in the city all know her as a giving wonderful human being with boundless love and charity. It is hard for her to walk down the streets without people coming and thanking her for one thing or another.

Yet if you point these things out to her, she will often dismiss it as ‘oh its nothing’, or ‘it isn’t as much as I want to do here’.

Meet Dora – A Seamstress and Spanish Teacher extraordinaire

Dora was born and raised in San Pedro La Laguna. She is Sheri’s friend, a seamstress for She Rides Dragons and so much more. Sheri and Dora met at a Spanish school in San Pedro where Dora taught Spanish. It wasn’t until months later that Sheri discovered Dora was also a seamstress and the two of them began working together on She Rides Dragons.

Dora is so proud that she is able to provide food for her family, can afford electricity, has her own stove, and lives in a very good part of San Pedro. She is able to do much of this because of her work with She Rides Dragons, where she receives pay directly for her work.

Her greatest pride and joy though, is being able to provide a good education for her boys so they can have the best life possible. The best way to ensure survival in Lake Atitlan for the children is to provide education, otherwise, they will be forced to work in the cornfields and coffee farms on the steep slopes of the mountains and volcanoes that surround Lake Atitlan.

Dora is now trying to pass on the love, by getting her Aunt involved. Her sweet Aunt Maria only speaks Mayan and lives high up on the mountain. The home she lived in before her current one was no better than a shanty house with a roof. While she still cannot afford electricity at this time, she was able to afford cinder block floors, walls and a decent roof over her head with a real door. There is a small wood-burning stove on the balcony that she makes tortillas from every morning at 3 am to sell to the local shops so that her daughter can go to school.

There are 36 different dialects of the Mayan language that have survived in this area, and luckily Dora was able to translate from Mayan into Spanish and Sheri then translated into English for me. So trying to communicate in 3 different languages, and get the meaning across was quite comical but we made it work.

Maria, weaves all the tassels for the yoga bags by hand for Sheri. There are many different types of loom weaving that happen and the tradition is passed down over many generations. There are some loom weaving classes in the San Pedro area for tourists, but these women are the real heroes of this story.

Where Does the Fabric Come From?

The fabric for She Rides Dragons comes from all over Guatemala. Fortunately for Sheri, there are fabric markets that offer up incredible inventories so that she doesn’t have to travel to each town when she wants that town’s specific style of weaving or embroidery. There are also traveling saleswomen who visit San Pedro La Laguna. These women make their living by selling second-hand fabrics that their hometowns. The fabric markets, as well, mostly offer second-hand fabrics with a much smaller inventory of new fabrics. When the Mayan fabrics and clothing, huipils (blouses) and Cortes (dresses), are new they are so colorful and bright that you have shield your eyes from their glare when the sunlight touches them.

In order to get the best quality fabric, Sheri takes a 30-minute boat ride across Lake Atitlan – sometimes with waves so bad that people drop on their knees and start to pray (not joking) – to another town called Panajachel (Pa-na-ha-chel). Then it is a long hike up a hill to the fabric market. The market takes place twice a week at the fire station. Sheri has been coming here for four years and has developed a familiar relationship with one of the families that sell fabrics such that when she arrives they know exactly how much fabric Sheri needs, the kind she likes, and it is already, awaiting her inspection.

Sheri sifts through the fabric, sorting, swapping, matching, inspecting for frayed ends or imperfect patterns. After about an hour or so of choosing fabric, then it is a call to her partner, John to check on fabric funds. It is difficult to get cash in San Pedro, they do have an ATM, but can be spotty at best on if it is broken or not.

After some negotiating with the women for the amount of fabric she buys, the fabric is then loaded into large bags for transport back across the lake. I bought a few pieces myself while there because how can you resist the Mayan symbols of Dogs and Dragons!

Grabbing a Tuk-Tuk, we headed back to the dock to take a launcha (boat) back across the lake to San Pedro.

Sewing the Clothing

We hauled the bags back up the hill in San Pedro, grabbed another Tuk-Tuk, and went to Dora’s house to deliver the fabric. Sheri instructs Dora in Spanish once we arrive on the ideas she has for each set of fabric pieces she picked out. Dora makes notes, and patterns are pulled out and set near each pile of fabric.

After a long day, and the afternoon rains coming in we finally get to rest and eat some food. We head back to Sheri’s House. Yet the day doesn’t end there for Sheri, she isn’t one that can sit still for long – despite sometimes needing to. So she gets on the phone with Dora again, to see if she can arrange for another woman who sells huipils – the traditional blouses worn by the Mayan women in Guatemala – to meet with us the next day.

A Long Journey

The next day we head back to Dora’s House to meet with another inspirational woman, Rosa. It is a long journey for Rosa to meet with Sheri. She comes from a small town called Chajul (Cha-hool) that is about twelves hours away by bus. This is how Rosa makes her living, traveling around Guatemala and selling fabrics from her hometown of Chajul. The fabrics are gorgeous and coveted by many women all over Guatemala for their soft feel and durability. Sheri met Rosa 3 years ago when Rosa was traveling though San Pedro and selling fabrics at the Sunday market in San Pedro. Since that time they have developed a beautiful working relationship and Sheri is one of Rosa’s best customers, which is why she is willing to travel all the way from her home to see us.

Rosa arrives at Dora’s house with two large bags full of fabric, Cortes, and huipils. After greetings, how-are-yous, and some water to drink, Sheri, Dora, and Rosa begin looking through the bags. Sheri picks out the fabrics she thinks would be a perfect match for the Yoga bags. Carefully choosing symbols that she thinks would resonate with her ideal customers. After paying her for the items, Rosa takes the remaining fabrics and clothing to Panajachel to sell what she can at the fabric market. Then it is another long journey home, all to help feed her children and keep them from having to work on the farms.

Creating The Clothing Infused With Magic

There are many reports from those who visit Lake Atitlan that there is some kind of magical pull there. They have ‘odd’ dreams, and tend to live more on the wild side of life – yet the local community is very conservative and Catholic.

It sounds a little odd, and I didn’t believe it at first – but waking up the morning after I arrived and seeing the incredible Lake, it made me wonder if it was true. Lake Atitlan was made after a Super Volcano erupted, then imploded creating a caldera for the lake to be born. The lake itself is 1115 feet (389 meters) deep, and 11.2 mi × 5.0 mi (18 km × 8 km) surface.

The Sierra de Los Cuchumatanes mountain range surrounds this lake with the highest mountain, Atitlan Volcano, reaching an elevation of 12,588 feet (3,837 m).  The name Atitlan is a Mayan word that means “the place where the rainbow gets its colors.” There are two other volcanoes that are also part of this range, Toliman volcano, and San Pedro Volcano.

There is so much Mayan folklore and stories that the local Mayans still believe about this place it is hard not to believe it yourself when you are there. The local mythology considers Lake Atitlan to be the birthplace of all creation.

So not only is the clothing and yoga bags that Sheri makes selectively handcrafted, it is done so in a place and by the people that have lived in this area since 300 BC. I really hate describing a place as ‘magical’ because I feel it is often overused – but there are two places I have been so far that I can truly use this with – one is Scotland, and the other is now Lake Atitlan.

A Force For Change

There aren’t many people I have met in my life that have inspired me as much as Sheri and the women of Lake Atitlan who help her. They have a hard life, compared to the rest of the world.

I asked Sheri why she named her company ‘She Rides Dragons’ and she explained the strength of Dragons and their ties to Magic. I think it is more than that though, she is a strong, beautiful woman who is tackling the problems in San Pedro that are much bigger than what one person should handle on their own. She is helping to empower Mayan women to create change in their hearts, their homes, and provides food for the table their children eat at. The children also get to have an education, giving them a chance at a better future than poverty and starvation. If this wasn’t enough, she also rescues dogs and cats in the area – pooling resources to help treat for worms, feeds them, bathes then and raises money to help neuter them. She is known for her healing abilities, yet has seen many animals not make it because of lack of education in the community.

This isn’t about a clothing company, it is about women in Lake Atitlan trying to ride these giant problems – dragon-sized problems. These problems are unruly, difficult beasts that tend to bury most people in depression and anxiety of the acutest kind. Yet Sheri has collected a group of people, women, and literally a whole community to help fight them and she is succeeding at it – even if she doesn’t always give herself credit for doing so.

How Can You Contribute?

Take a look at She Rides Dragons, buy some of the clothing she offers. Now that you know the attention to detail, the love poured into the clothing, and the magical place these items come from – it will be an item that will hold more meaning for you than any other piece in your closet.

If there isn’t anything, in particular, you would like to buy you can also donate to her cause. Her dream is to be able to hire 8 women, to change their lives, and so their children’s lives can change and it will balloon from there. If you would like to donate for Maria the weaver to get electricity, send the donation via PayPal to SheRidesDragons@gmail.com – and make a note for something, in particular, you would like to donate to.

If you would like to help with funding or volunteering at an animal hospital or donate to help with education on how to care for animals and recognize diseases – email SheRidesDragons@gmail.com and she can get you in touch with the right people there.

Also, if you are interested in learning Spanish, Dora is an excellent Spanish teacher and does online classes starting at $10 an hour. Please contact send me an email (culturetrekking196@gmail.com) and I will connect you to her. I started taking lessons from her and think she is an absolutely incredible Spanish teacher. It is difficult but immersive and I’m learning quickly.

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Where To Stay in San Pedro

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Backpacking Eastern Europe: 12 Hours in Berlin

Backpacking Eastern Europe: 12 Hours in Berlin

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In a whirlwind backpacking Eastern Europe trip, I made sure to include Berlin on my MUST SEE places to visit. With missing my train in Prague, because it was my first time using the train in Europe. Then the next train I boarded on caught on fire, making me miss my original tour. Berlin Historical Walks came in for the save! Sean Stewart (my tour guide) taught me how to tour Berlin in 12 Hours or less.

If you book directly through Berlin Historical Walks it is going to be a fraction of the cost that Viator sells it at. Being able to sit down with Sean, interview him about the people of Berlin, and what it was like being an expat in Germany was invaluable. He has two masters degrees one of them in History, I had so many questions. The interview I did with him was one of the most fascinating conversations I have had in my life. So be sure to check that interview out on my YouTube Channel.

I gave Sean the task of convincing me that Berlin was more complex than what the History Channel teaches. I remember sitting with my Grandma and Grandpa on weekends watching movies about the history of Berlin, and WWII movies.

I also gave him the task of convincing me that the German people weren’t rude, and aloof like I had been told they were before visiting. So come with me, as I go on a walking tour of Berlin with Sean, and learn just how much this country has been through.

Map of the Walking Tour

The purple and orange are where I would suggest you visit. If you plan to visit a museum, you must weigh and measure the amount of time you would like to spend there. Also, factor in a time to grab some street food along the way because all the walking is going to make you hungry. The Yellow is where you can find a bathroom. The Black are other important sites I would suggest you visit if you have the time to travel that distance. Otherwise, all of this can be reached on foot.

Luggage Storage and the Train Station

Arriving at the Train station is going to be very confusing, especially for Americans who are used to driving their cars or taking the subway. This is a whole other animal in public transportation. This train station is complex and easy to get lost in. The ticket counters are on the main level, I suggest you buy your ticket prior to leaving on any tour so you don’t get stuck there overnight – even with a EURail Pass you must have a seat reservation or you can get fined.

The luggage locker is about 2-6 Euros depending on how much time you want to store your luggage. Smaller the luggage the better, because then you can empty out your squishable bags into the smaller lockers that are usually leftover. If you arrive early in the morning, you might get a larger luggage locker – but don’t count on it.

There are four different levels to this train station and is one of the main hubs of connection for much of Europe. Do not expect people to speak English, I can’t recall if they have Wifi or not – but I would get Google translate access on your phone just in case. You don’t want to end up on the wrong train to your next destination. Google translate will be your best friend when getting onto the right train, the right car, and in a good seat.

If you book with Sean (no I’m not sponsored to say this- but I should have been, lol) – he will meet you at the train station to help you figure it out and help you to store your luggage. He will also help you get onto the right train/bus to get back to the station or the airport.

Sites To See During 12 Hours in Berlin

We started our 12-hour tour of Berlin near the Brandenburg Gate then wound our way on foot throughout the town. If you go in the off-season (early spring/late fall), it is not going to be crowded and you can really take it all in without fighting hoards of tourists.

Brandenburg Gate

Built around 1790 by Prussian King Frederick William II as the main entry point to the city of Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate. If you look at the top of the gate, there is a large statue, the Quadriga. It is said to represent the statue of the goddess of victory, as she appears to be barreling into the city on her chariot pulled by four horses. I’m a little bit vertically challenged and it was starting to rain, so this picture is as good as you will get of that statue.

backpacking Eastern Europe 12 hours in berlin and what to see. Here is the Brandenburg Gate

This gate has survived and been witness to Napoleon’s seizure of the city, Hitler’s propaganda parade to the presidential palace, World War II. This was on the side of East Berlin and stood firm against all the tragedies of the Cold War. It has morphed, been repaired, altered, and throughout it all still stands as a monument to the resilience of Germany and its people to come back from dark places of history.

Photography tip: The Brandenburg Gate is best shot from Pariser Platz, facing west.  I would suggest photographing it at sunset (not pictured) as you get the sun shining through the columns, or during the blue hour with the sky is a brilliant blue and the lights on the gate light up. If you don’t want people in your shot, be sure to take multiple long exposure shots and stack them together in Photoshop.

Memorial of the Berlin Wall

The Memorial of the Berlin Wall is located along the historic Bernauer Strasse, extending 0.86 miles (1.4km) with the preserved grounds behind the last remaining piece of the Berlin Wall.

This memorial reviews the function of this border, how it separated families and destroyed lives. Keeping people from East Berlin, separate from West Berlin. Photographs, oral quotes from speeches, histories written and passed down. The photographs show people trying to escape from East Berlin by jumping from windows, rooftops. East German Police attempting to jump the barbed wire fencing.

backpacking Eastern Europe 12 hours in berlin and what to see. This shows the no mans land as seen from the Berlin Wall Memorial

The reconciliation church was also blown up after being stuck in the death strip when the wall was built. The Reconciliation chapel is now rebuilt in the same location where the prior chapel was built.

There is also the window of remembrance commemorates the deaths that occurred at the Berlin Wall. While there has been much debate about how many deaths actually occurred. A study done in 2017 estimates that nearly 327 people died at or because of trying to escape past the Berlin Wall. Many of those who died were young men between 18-25 and 10% of them women, one report stated that there was a baby that suffocated inside of a boot in the back of a car.

There were many ways the East Germans tried to escape like on air mattresses, paddleboards (the antique kind, not the new kind), a home built hot-air balloon (where is the movie of that!) and my favorite – a man who shot an arrow across the death zone and zip lined his way across to West Germany.

I highly suggest visiting this memorial and reading the chilling and heroic stories that surround the history of this important place.

Topography of Terror

Located on the former site of the headquarters of the Gestapo and Secret State Police. The original building was badly damaged during WWII, and the remains were demolished after the war ended. When the Cold War began, this area became a fortified area. The building remained rubble until the final structure was formed in 2010 and opened to the public.

The museum is free and well worth the effort to walk through and see some of the darkest days of Germany.

Hitler’s Bunker

While the location of Hitler’s Bunker, where he took his own life, was highly debated for some time. The final place of the bunker was determined (in 2006) and in one of the oddest places for such a historical site, you will ever see. While it isn’t technically much to see, it is interesting to see how East Germany built the ‘saving face’ apartments right near the Berlin Wall that stood just feet away from West Berlin. Even though the rest of East Germany was starving, they made the appearance that everything was fine and refined in the decadant apartments. Only the most elite and elected were allowed to stay in these apartments, as it was so close to the wall, they didn’t want more people escaping.

backpacking Eastern Europe 12 hours in berlin and what to see. A picture of a parking lot, where Hitlers Bunker once was

There is a sign here to explain how the bunker system was laid out and which bunker was assigned specifically to Hitler. The oddest thing about the former bunker? It is now a parking spot for one of the former East German ranking society members descendants who became million-dollar apartment holders overnight when the wall was torn down. If that isn’t the oddest historical story you have heard, I don’t know what is.

Gendarmenmarkt

No matter what time of year you visit, this is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful squares in Berlin. The concert hall (the center building) is a perfect balance between the French and German churches. During the summer there are open-air concerts, and during the winter you will find the square transformed into a Christmas Market.

The square was built during the 17th century and the French Protestant community was given one church in the square. The Luthern congregation the other church on the opposite end. Interestingly, the two congregations funded each others church. Sean explained how this would be akin to a Christian building a Mosque. The churches at the time where so at odds with each other, that it shows just how tolerant and inclusive Germans were at that time.

In between the two churches once resided a stable for the regimental horses. This was torn down by Fredrich II and the concert hall was built. If you look at the base of the concert hall steps on the right, you will see a white statue of Fredrich Schiller, a passionate French poet. After the Second World War, the square was in ruins. In the 1970s, the East Berlin government had it rebuilt to how it looks today.

The Holocaust Memorial- Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe

When I first saw a photo of this memorial, I did not realize these weren’t Jewish graves. These are slabs of concrete arranged in a way to create an interactive art piece, that is meant to cause reflection on what it was like to be a Jew during the Holocaust.

The designer of this Memorial did not give his meaning or interpretation of this piece so that each person visiting could draw their own conclusions. I like to think of it as the outer slabs that are very close to the ground are meant to represent racial slurs, and jokes. As the racial slurs became more severe, they then became accusations that rose too high for any one person to control.

backpacking Eastern Europe 12 hours in Berlin and what to see. Large concrete slabs of varying sizes that resemble Jewish graves

As you walk between the stone slabs they rise higher and higher overhead, until you are standing in the center of the piece and can barely hear the sounds of the city. There is a feeling of apprehension as you are walking through this maze, not knowing who is going to come around the next corner- and really have no place to hide. The only way to stay hidden is to keep moving and hope you don’t run into someone around the next corner.

It was odd walking through this maze as I’m typically very self-aware, and can feel people near me without even opening my eyes. Yet walking among these slabs, I was shocked that someone could round the corner at any intersection and I could barely hear them until we were nearly on top of each other.

After walking through this area, I had an eery sense of dread and felt very disconcerted. The message of the artist certainly affected me and still does to this day.

Berlin Cathedral

This beautiful cathedral is located on Museum Island, a central location I highly suggest at least passing by on your way to the other sites. This cathedral was originally built in 1895 but was so heavily damaged during World War II that it was just reopened to the public in 1993.

backpacking Eastern Europe 12 hours in berlin and what to see. A church steeple in green topped with a cross and a radio tower in the back

The first church built on this site was in the 14th century and was used by the Hohenzollern family, whose palace was just across the street. The mausoleum of this family that was housed in this church for centuries has now been moved due to reconstruction. There are still 94 sarcophagi’ of Royal Family members that are housed here today. The main piece to see in this cathedral is the 7,000 pipe organ that hosts over 100 concerts every year.

The Dome of the cathedral is open every day from 9 am to 8 pm (except State Holidays). The admission is 7 Euros, and there are also guided tours you can take as well. If you are only there for a short time I would just pay for a one time pass. If you have more time in Berlin, I would suggest getting the Berlin Pass, because you get access to 200 different sites and public transport.

DDR Museum

If you want a realistic view of what life was like in the 1940s under the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or DDR – this is the place to visit. It takes you into the lives of the people of Germany. From 35 different stations, you can see what it felt like to be ‘bugged’ or ‘wiretapped’, watch TV in a recreated homeroom of the 1940s. I personally didn’t have time to pop in and see this, because I had arrived so much later than planned – but it came highly recommended and is great for families as well.

There are also areas to teach about Media, literature, music, culture, family, private niche, health, equality, diet, childhood, youth, partnership, fashion, border, Berlin, education, and work during that time. You experience first hand what daily life was like from the household citizen to a ranking member of the DDR.

The Library Memorial: Bebelplatz

This is not a traditional memorial, in that it is actually underground. If you are strolling across Bebelplatz, you might miss it because you can walk right over it. If you see people looking at the ground, this is what they are looking at here. It is a memorial to the books that were burned in this spot by the Nazi Germans as a nationwide act against the ‘un-German spirit’.

As you look down through the glass plate, there are white shelves, empty of anything. What should be on these shelves are the 20,000 books they burnt that day on May 10, 1933. The books they burnt were those of independent authors, journalists, philosophers and academics that did not coincide with the regime message.

The bronze plaques you see near this memorial read:

That was but a prelude;
where they burn books,
they will ultimately burn people as well.
Heinrich Heine 1820

If you walk across the square, you might see a pop-up stand of a few people selling books. These are copies of the books that were burned that day, available for purchase at a discounted price.

Soviet War Memorial

The Red Army or Soviet Soldiers are honored in this park. I didn’t realize personally, how much Russia played a part in liberating Germany. There were 80,000 Soviet Soldiers who died fighting to liberate Germany; with 7,000 of them being buried at Treptow park. Treptow park is where the Soviet War Memorial is now housed. It has a triumphal gate entrance and peaceful park that wreaths and flowers are laid on the steps every year.

backpacking Eastern Europe 12 hours in berlin and what to see. Picture of grey soviet memorial with wreaths lain at the base

Just to give you an idea of how many people died in World War II per country (to name a few):

Soviet Union 24,000,000

United Kingdom 450,700

United States 418,500

Yugoslavia 1,000,000

Unter den Linden

This has been the ‘main drag’ of Berlin since 1791 when the Brandenburg gate was completed. It morphed and changed over the years, until the 1920s when it was a bustling, anything goes type boulevard. The 250-year-old trees adorned this beautiful street, and time period shops glittered at night over the passing crowds. When Hitler took power, he ripped out all the trees and put up Nazi flags, much to the discontent of the public. Hitler later replanted the trees, and after Berlin was liberated the crowds washed through the Brandenburg gate like leaves blowing in the wind.

If you follow this road from Brandenburg gate, you will come across museum island, the memorial to the Jews of the Holocaust, and even a ghost subway, a statue of Frederick the Great, and the tomb of the unknown soldiers and unknown Holocaust victim.

You eventually end up at the Lustgarten park, which was once a military parade route, now turned (and to remain) a beautiful park for the public to enjoy a sunny afternoon.

Friedrichstraße

Named after Elector Friedrich III, who ruled here from 1688 to 1713. This area, once full of Royal Apartments and surrounding fields, is now a lively amusement part of Berlin. This is where many of the tourists flock to shop, visit theatres, and to see the famous Checkpoint Charlie, romanticized by spy book novels.

This area may have been my least favorite area, because of how many tourists were here. They all come in droves to see the gimmicky Checkpoint Charlie, that if you actually look at it – doesn’t resemble a true checkpoint at all. There are pictures of an American Solider and a Soviet Soldier, both who have the wrong time period uniforms on. The American Soldier pictured, actually has a military ribbon on his uniform from Desert Storm….which hadn’t even happened yet.

backpacking Eastern Europe 12 hours in berlin and what to see.

Sean, my guide, jokingly said that Germany models are paid to stand there with an American Flag and expect a tip to do it. If despite knowing this, you would still like to visit then feel free. Yet, I preferred to take a seat at the cafe across the street and watch the hoards of tourists take their photographic momentos. I refused to take a picture of this, as I don’t really want to encourage people to visit this site and instead visit key points to the winning the war like this bridge that played a huge role in the battles of liberating Berlin.

Sammlung Boros Bunker

It was a little chilling for me to stand on the street corner and see this, now converted, bunker. Sean said that he had a visitor who came, and he started to explain what it was and what it is now used for. A woman in the group chimed in with a shocking revelation. She explained how it felt to be in the bunker with her Mother and sisters hunkered down and feeling the vibrations of the bombs landing.

backpacking Eastern Europe 12 hours in berlin and what to see.

It gave me chills to think of how scary it must have been for them, yet torn over the crimes their leaders committed against the Jewish people. Yet, as with most of Berlin – they are moving away from their past and repurposing the dark into light.

This bunker now houses a contemporary art collection from international artists’ from the 1990s onward. While I didn’t have time to go in, it is definitely on a ‘must-see’ list for me when I return.

Wrapping Up My Tour of Berlin in 12 Hours – Moving on to Backpacking Eastern Europe

While there was so much more I was able to explore and discuss with Sean (see the video above) this will give you some ideas on how to best explore Berlin in one day. Despite hearing how boring, and rude Germans were/are – I found it to be quite the opposite. The city holds a special place in my heart because of the things I learned.

The people there are private, and passionate and want to move forward from their past – which is what most tourists come there to see. So if you have limited time to see Berlin, I would highly recommend choosing from the map above, book with Berlin Historical Walks (not sponsored to say this ), and I guarantee Sean will be able to change your mind about this city and its people.

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Traveler Tip: Make sure you reserve your seat on the train prior to leaving the train station when you arrive. This will either give you more time, or save you from camping overnight at one of the busiest and most complicated train stations in Europe.

How to Get Around Berlin

The train system in Europe and walking is my preferred method, as it is cheaper than flying to each individual country when backpacking eastern Europe and attempting to get around Berlin.

They also have the Berlin Welcome Card, that for around 20 Euros you can get unlimited public transport and entrance to 200 sites.

Accessibility

What I really appreciated about Berlin, being a Physician Assistant that works with the Elderly, I loved how accessible everything was. There is a real emphasis on allowing everyone to enjoy Berlin. They even have tours specifically for those with disabilities in mind.

Where To Stay in Berlin, If You Have More Time

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Where To Take A Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

Where To Take A Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

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Fall is one of my favorite times of year, a season of warm blankets, hot chocolate, Halloween and beautiful color. It might be hard to pick where to take a scenic road trip for fall colors in the USA. I have put together the top 15 places to see fall colors in the United States for you to make it easy and a dreamy vacation. So grab your cup of hot cocoa, light the fire, and let us explore where your next adventure will be.

Utah Road Trips for Fall Colors

American Fork Canyon, Logan Canyon, Park City Utah, Sundance Utah these are all the places I can unequivocally recommend for seeing Fall colors for the entire family.

Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

American Fork Canyon

This can just be a drive through the Alpine loop where Aspens grace the steep slopes. Pull off on the side of the road under the fall foliage to have some ‘hobo dinners’ complete with meat, carrots, potatoes and your favorite seasonings over a fire. Finish off with a hike and sm’ores over the embers.

Logan Canyon

This is also a great drive through, a lot more of an open space where you can see fields of oranges, fiery reds. Hike up to the wind caves, visit the nature center, hike along the limber pine trail with an overlook of Bear Lake – one of the clearest lakes in Utah. Rent a cabin and make a weekend of it on your fall color road trip!

Park City and Sundance Utah

Take an easy walk up to the ski lifts, where you can enjoy a 30 minute ski lift ride right over the fields of wild flowers in the summer, or fall colors. The crisp mountain air, places to shop and dine along with the last remnants of the summer farmers markets will make for a perfect Fall getaway before the winds of winter arrive.

Colombia River Gorge, Oregon

This Gorge is about 2,100 feet deep with waterfalls, and fall foliage galore! Hike the challenging Hamilton Mountain, about 9.4 miles in passing 2 waterfalls ( Rodney and Hardy Falls ) along the way.

Participate in part of the PCT along the 5 mile out and back Dry creek falls. Despite being called a ‘creek’ this 75-foot waterfall will impress even the most negative hikers.

Lastly, end your day with a picnic at Pioneer Point on the 1.3 mile Cape Horn Loop. Where you will bask in the beauty of the Colombia River adorned with a spectacular spectacle of fall colors. Bring your thermos full of hot cocoa, you will want to stay here and drink in the view for awhile.

Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

Kennebunkport, Maine

Maine is known as the ‘vacation state’ to many East Coasters. Vast landscapes packed with adventures for all. Yet, Kennebunkport Main stole my heart when searching for the perfect fall getaway. I would suggest visiting in September specifically as many of the local shops begin to close around the first week of October.

This quaint fishing village was known for its shipping, and packs a punch when it comes to historical value – including being the home town of one of one of the former President’s of the United States.

Be sure to wander the city on foot, take a whale watching boat ride, jump on a lobster boat and catch your meal for the day, and finish up with some blue berry ice cream, or a cuppa tea.

Ozark National Forest, Arkansas

I mistakenly thought that Arkansas didn’t have much to offer in the way of beauty. Yet it is like finding Where’s Waldo when going hiking. The trees cover all the hidden gems like hidden waterfalls, caves used by slaves to hide while getting to freedom, a Popeye Statue in the middle of a small town city and all sorts of down to earth people to talk to. The best part is that this great state is filled with trees that turn into beautiful fall colors – not to miss when fulfilling your fall colors bucketlist.

Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

The iconic Whitaker Point hike with trees in reds, yellows, and oranges as far as the eye can see. A perfect time to hike in the Southern United States, because the humidity will be a lot less potent than in the throws of summer in this area.

There are plenty of hikes to enjoy here like Compton’s Double Falls, Sam’s Throne, and the Narrows with a fabulous display of nature’s beauty.

Catskill Mountains, New York

One word will convince you to visit the Castskill Mountains in Fall….Octoberfest. Beginning the end of September there are 4 weeks of Bavarian festivities held at Hunter Mountain. What is unique to this area is that it grows crisp, juicy, flavorful apples for a perfect hard apple cider. If festivals aren’t your thing, then stop by Delhi’s picturesque Wayside Cider for a more refined sip of these suds.

You can also drive the scenic route of the Catskill Mountains, hitting a round of golf, or spending the night camping in the cool autumn air. If you take a look at all the festivals held in the Catskill Mountains, you are sure to find something for everyone. My favorite is their lumberjack festival, I never realized just how intense the competition was until I saw one of these.

Enchanted Circle of New Mexico

Many people think of the East Coast as the only place with beautiful fall colors. Suprisingly New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle will give you a whole new perspective on Fall in the desert.

This is a circle you will need your RV for, or at the very least a tent as it is 84 miles of exploration. The circular route takes you around Wheeler Mountain ( 13,161 feet – 4.011 meters), and through the lush Hondo Valley blazing with colors of fall.

Stop at the Red River Fish Hatchery and take a self-guided tour. Enchant your children with the large rainbow trout pond. Maybe even travel down stream and try to catch a fish or two.

Carry on around to Questa, to visit Artesanos de Questa, where woodworkers, tinsmiths, painters, stained glass workers and sculptors show their work at this cooperative.

You will get an array of fall festivities, art shows, animal encounters and gorgeous scenery as you take a very memorable and enchanting drive around this circle.

Stowe Vermont Road Trip For Fall Colors

Known as the Fall Color Capital, is a time of vibrant colors that your eyes drink in calming the soul. There are many ways to see the breathtaking fall foliage here through the extensive network of hiking trails, kayaking down the reservoir, or just taking a leisurely scenic drive.

Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

Despite the plethora of mountain biking paths, I recommend the leisurely ‘Rec Path’ for your fall foliage leaf peeping. This path is one the whole family or group of friends can enjoy no matter what their physical skill level is. For the more adventurous, I would take a zip line through the fall foliage, a guided tour, or a  Stowe, at Night, Lantern Tour where you are regaled with tales of ghost stories.

Festivals such as the Stowe Tango Music Festival, Stowe Jazz Festival, Stowe Foliage Arts Festival, Stowe Arts Week, Art on Park and the outdoor art exhibit, ‘Exposed’ are just a few events that grace the artistic stages in this small town.

North Conway, New Hampshire

This is one of the more unique and off the beaten path places to visit for fall foliage. North Conway in New Hampshire may not be the first destination you would choose, but for train lovers it should be. There is a historic Victorian Station built in 1974 and on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States.

Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

When you jump on the this train there are different lengths of time you can enjoy the fall foliage in comfort and class. If you like the spooky and scary, like me – try the Murder Mystery Dinner Train in October. Be sure to plan ahead as it only runs on certain weekends in october, and only in certain cars on the train so space is limited.

Massachusetts

You cannot mention fall to me without immediately thinking about Halloween. There is no other town more fit to celebrate all Hallo’s Eve than Salem. Discover what it was like to live in New England during the time of the Salem witch trials. Take a ghost tour, explore the museums, meet real practicing witches, attend a play about witches – there are so many ghoulishly great activities you may forget you traveled there to see fall foliage as well.

Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

The color palette along the New England Coastline is one you will never forget. An array of colors even the witches of Salem would have in their cauldrons. No matter where you go in this town, you will be surrounded by brilliant fall colors. Take a ferry down to Boston from Salem (30 min and $25 for one way) to avoid the incredible parking fees. Stroll along Beacon Hill, or Boston Commons two iconic places both photographically and historically. This where the warmth of the color of the trees matches the picturesque buildings of the 1700’s full of history and divine food – it is a perfect way to end your fall foliage frolicking.

Yellowstone National Park Road Trip for Fall Colors

Many people visit Yellowstone National Park in the Summer to see the buffalo, bears, and new babies emerging to find food after the long winter. Yet they often forget just how incredible the colors in the fall can be. It can get a bit chilly in the fall, and even snow if there is an early winter.

Seeing Old Faithful when the crowds are not as oppressive amid the backdrop of beautiful fall colors – should be on everyone’s bucketlist. This is one place that fall hits a bit earlier than the rest of the country, being early August/late August. Be sure that you check on hotels/camping sites you plan to stay at as there are many staggered closings up until Oct 20th.

The reason this is such a wonderful time to see the rutting season. The bison rutting season starts in August, and the Elk rutting season is in September. The park rangers admit, that it is not unusual to see the massive elk sparring and fighting throughout the season. I recommend visiting Mammoth Hot Springs for the best Elk Rutting shows, as this tends to be a place the congregate.

If watching the rutting season isn’t your thing, then maybe catching a fish is! Fishermen from around the world are drawn here for the Brown Trout spawning season. You are guaranteed to have a fish dinner every night that your heart desires. I would recommend Madison and Gardner rivers for the best trout fishing for the fall season.

Jackson Hole National Park

The swarms of summer visitors are gone, and a cornucopia of fall festivities is now in full swing. I would plan a visit in September for the best chance to see the full variety of fall foliage, as the parks will still be open and so will many of the best hikes. Take a ride through Grand Teton National Park full of aspens suffused with brilliant yellows of fall. Go on a wildlife viewing tour (which happen all year round) where the dark colors of elk, deer, and even bears pop out in your photos against the backdrop of fall colors.

Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

Bundle up and catch one of the tram rides up Rendezvous Mountain at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village. Grab a cup of hot chocolate, and drink in the fresh crisp fall air. Make your way back down to Jackson Hole and reserve a uniquely western experience for dinner, with a Chuck Wagon Supper.

Fall in Jackson Hole is any photographer enthusiasts dream, with wild colors amid wildlife at their peak for mating season – there is no other time I would rather go.

Colorado

Colorado is often known for the skiing in the fall, but it is one of my favorite places to see Fall Foliage. The people are very down to earth, you can take a horse back ride through Aspen Falls and Estes Park to see the best of the fall foliage without even breaking a sweat. Home to Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest, with a massive network of mountain biking, and heart warming food – it truly is a fall foliage paradise.

Estes Park is a more luxurious and relaxing way to spend your time seeing fall foliage in Colorado. It is a Swiss inspired town, with songs, shows, and plenty of activities when the sun sets. It is also home to thousands of Elk that will be in the rutting season just like Yellowstone, and Jackson Hole – yet with more of the luxury comfort.

Washington State Road Trip for Fall Colors

I cannot say it enough, I love Washington! The first (of many times) I visited was when I went on my first sailing trip in Seattle. I was hooked and am already planning a trip back to experience fall foliage in Leavenworth. This small town has its own Autumn Leaf Festival. Where a parade full of fall colors and even Lady Fall Royalty is crowned in this small town.

Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

Take a scenic road trip for fall colors through Mt Rainer National Park and see just how incredible the colors light up the land. While it is a very touristic area in the summer, many children are back in school. So it is a great camping getaway for both single and couples alike. Nothing is better than cuddling up in a blanket or next to your loved one than during fall.

The best places to take your epic fall foliage road trip in Washington are Paradise, Reflection Lakes, Bench and Snow Lakes for fabulous fall reflections. Get spiritual at the Grove of the Patriarchs, where you can worship giant Redwood trees. Drive along Chinook Pass on State Route 410 or the White Pass Scenic Byway on U.S. Highway 12 for vast landscape views unlike anything you have ever experienced.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

This is where you will find the iconic old, dark colored mills against the flaming red colors of aspens. Because of the iconic nature along this drive, I highly recommend making reservations months in advance (especially for October). The best time to see the fall colors here is in mid to late October when the colors are at their peak.

Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

When driving this parkway, you will be surrounded by foliage on east and west facing slopes. A perfect drive for the morning, or during golden hour especially along James River. As you travel south you will gain about 6,000 feet of elevation (1828 meteres) up to Mt. Pisgah into North Carolina.

This is one destination that you will need to plan on a journey to see the fall foliage at its best. Due to the varying elevations along this parkway, the peak fall foliage is going to be dependent upon the elevation.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia

Located along the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, this is a fabulous place for fall photography. It is four parks from four different States in one, with massive historical ties to the Civil War. Due to this, the parking can be limited with narrow stalls. So I wouldn’t suggest bringing your RV on this one, unless you have a boat load of patience. Alternatively, I would bring/rent a small car and use the shuttle while here.

Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

Be sure to jump off at the footbridge to the C&O Canal stop, as this is where the rivers meet, and give a view like none other. The two rivers collide here, with an island like center, full of fall foliage and color to satisfy any leaf peeper. I highly recommend going to Maryland Heights viewpoint as this is going to be the most iconic and stunning view of the park during fall.

Even though I don’t have children of my own, I really appreciate it when parks provide things like passport stamps to kids, and junior ranger badges, historical tours that the whole family can enjoy. I think it is important to teach the younger generations the beauty that can come from traveling, and especially from traveling responsibly. Showing them and even our own friends just how beautiful nature can be when we take care of it. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park offers all of these things – which is why I highly recommend this place. You are going to need at least 4-5 days to properly explore the fall foliage, hiking, and historic parts of this town.

Scenic Road Trip For Fall Colors In The USA

Gathering Up the Best Fall Leaves

Fall is my favorite time of year. There is not other time that you are still relaxed before Thanksgiving, or Christmas, and can celebrate creativity during Halloween. The crisp air and crisp apples contrast with the warmth of fires, warm drinks and warm fall colors.

No matter where you live, or where you visit in the United States – I hope you are able to visit one of these places during your search for the best places to see fall foliage. From the East Coast to the West Coast, from North to South, from High to Low- there are plenty of scenic road trips for fall colors in the USA for everyone.

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What To Pack For Boston in Summer

What To Pack For Boston in Summer

Reading Time: 7 minutes

There are hundreds of articles on ‘What To Pack for Boston’, but most of them focus on what to pack for winter not in summer. Boston can get hot and muggy, with all the water surrounding it – so it is important to plan accordingly. Here are my suggestions on what to pack for Boston in Summer, especially for those who don’t tolerate humidity very well like me.

Body Glide

My number one item for any trip that has increased humidity is body glide. This stuff saves me every single trip! For curvy girls, and men alike, this will save you from chafing. Boston is said to be one of the most walk-able cities in the United States, so be prepared for the dreaded chaffe. This is the first thing to add to your bag when planning on what to pack for Boston.

An App To ‘Pack’ for Boston

While this isn’t really a clothing item, it is something you definitely need to pack for Boston. With the walk-ability rating of this city, you have the option to take the underground T (or Train). There is an app you should get in order to get around town, it can be extremely confusing at first where to enter the subway. The train system isn’t like train travel in Europe. There is no where to cross to the other side, without entering the proper stairwell. Once you are past the ticket machine, the doors open to let you pass, then close, and your ticket is used up. If you have to turn around and go out again, then try to use the same ticket to get on the correct side for your train – well you will have to pay again.

What to Pack For Boston in Summer

So I would suggest getting this free app, it gives you a map of where to enter, times when the train is coming, and then where to get off.

You can also get a Charlie Card, where you pay about $22 for a 7 day pass, that you can use unlimited times in the subway. You can get these at any ticket station, but they don’t take cash, so make sure to have a card.

Traveler Tip: They have elevators, but be warned they are often used by the homeless as urinals; so on hot summer days you may want to just take the stairs.

Cool Classy Shirts

Keep in mind that when you are visiting this city you will be among all the Harvard and MIT smarty pants. I was glad I brought some casual business outfits to help me fit in. Cool shirts with pastel colors of pink, green, and blue will make you feel summery – but also stand out, at least in the center of Boston. Many people wear dresses, low heels, business attire – so you can choose what you would like to wear.

What to Pack For Boston in Summer

For the best pictures along Beacon Hill in front of the Red Brick houses, I would bring black, white, tan, or dark green to help you pop in the photos you are bound to take.

Most of what I packed for Boston in the way of shirts came from LOFT – where sizes range from 4-26. Another reason I love to promote them is no one is excluded from wanting to feel like a goddess in her photos. Guys, if you drop by the website – let me know your review of their clothing below in the comments or who you would recommend.

A Bit of Flair

For me spending $350 on a brand name shirt is just not in my budget, but props to you if you can throw money away like that. I like to feel fancy with my sunglasses, or a unique piece of jewelry.

So I will typically get my sun glasses from a place like Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, or have even found some good ones at Ross. You can get some really nice brand name ones for an affordable price. The one reason I invest in a good pair of these, for two reasons. One, I don’t mess with my eyeballs – and don’t want to have cataracts, so getting good UV protection is important.

Second, people are mostly looking at your face when they meet you, not the brand name label on your butt (if you are you might get slapped). So when they are staring at your face, and notice the fancy brand name on it – humans have a funny way of assuming everything else must be just as posh. (Your welcome for this little luxury hack of mine).

What to Pack For Boston in Summer

The other thing I bring that is both practical and will make you feel fancy is a quality watch. Now don’t click off of the article yet, I will tell you why I don’t think watches are out of date. Phones notoriously get the battery life sucked out of them with every update. With all the tours, appointments, subway arrivals/departures etc… I am constantly looking at the time. So in order to save as much battery life as possible, I always bring a watch with me.

A brand I recently partnered with, JORD watches, has some eco-friendly, unique watches to match any flavor. It is made out of wood from trees that have naturally fallen, no chemicals are used in the process, there is no plastic, only metal and wood. It stays on my wrist, no matter if I’m running for the train, tossing in my sleep, or messing with it nervously during an interview. They even engrave messages on the back of the watch if you wanted to give this as a gift.

For Your Bottom

Capri’s or midi dresses for the ladies. Guys, you will want to try and avoid jeans or pants that don’t breathe. Comfortable slacks, or the stretchy jeans might be better options. For the guys who don’t care about epic or perfectly curated pictures and just want the boys to be comfortable, go with black basketball shorts.

Personally, I regretted bringing the white and black pairs of jeans that I did. However, they did look stellar in photos, so I suffered through it, lol.

What to Pack For Boston in Summer

Shoes to Bring

Flats are what most Bostonians wear, but because of my plantar fasciitis, I wore Taos sandals. Don’t wear heels unless you plan on breaking an ankle. The sidewalks tend reach out and grab you at any moment attempting to get you to face plant in front of the many pedestrians about. (Not that I know from experience….ahem….). So if you don’t want to face plant or break your ankle, wear sturdy sandals, flats, or even classy tennis shoes. Make sure whatever you bring is breathable so that you don’t get blisters.

The Weather

Rain, Fog, Wind, Sun, and reflective heat from all the cement and pavement in the city are all possible and all in the same day. What I observed by my long weekend there in June was a Fog rolls in overnight, it burns off when the sun comes up. Then you are broiled to death in the middle of the day (85-90F with 60-70% humidity). In the afternoon and evening you can have torrential down pour, think huge raindrops.

Then in the evening, a breeze rolls in and the sky clears up, for a nice evening by the Charles River Esplanade. So really, I would bring a cute poncho, or if you want to pack super light and thrifty, just bring a large garbage bag to throw on. You can also bring an umbrella, but with luggage restrictions I’m starting to move more towards ponchos, and rain jackets because umbrellas just take up too much valuable luggage space now.

Other Recommendations

These are the major changes I would recommend bringing from my Basic Packing Checklist when choosing what to pack for Boston.

Be sure to pack your camera gear, here are some things I keep in my bag. Boston is very good for both Day and Night photography. There is plenty to see and do while here. Everything from the food, the streets, the backstreets, the bridges, and the coastline sunset cruises will have you filling up your SD cards quickly.

So if you plan to travel to Boston in Summer, make sure you prepare to the heat, fog, and rain. Realize many people there are dressed classy, and in business casual in the center of the city. If you go outside of the center of town, you will find people dressed a little more, or a lot more casual. It depends on where you are staying.

Have more recommendations for What To Pack for Boston in the Summer? Drop them down below!

Saving Sea Turtles with STOP in Fort Lauderdale

Saving Sea Turtles with STOP in Fort Lauderdale

Reading Time: 14 minutes

There are some things in life that worm their way into your heart, and start pulling heartstrings you didn’t even know existed. Sea Turtles, and especially baby sea turtles are one of these things for me. I didn’t really know much about the life cycle of turtles, what the biological reasons they were disappearing were – nor that a major issue was a threat to the nesting grounds. After visiting the Loggerhead Marine Life Center, and Gumbo Limbo, these educational facilities set the stage to saving sea turtles with the Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (STOP) in Fort Lauderdale Florida.

Different Types of Sea Turtles

There are several different types of Sea Turtles, some more endangered than others. There is the Loggerhead, Leatherback, Greenback, Hawksbill, and the very rare Kemp’s Ridley.

The most common type of Sea Turtle along the Florida Coastline is the Loggerhead Sea turtle. The main diet of this type of sea turtle is shellfish, they love the Conch shells. It is listed as a threatened species, due to the major coastal developments, coastal fishing, and pollution (both chemical and garbage).

The Less common is the Green Sea Turtle, likely because it is now listed as endangered. These eat mainly seagrass, seaweed, and algae. For the same reasons that the loggerhead sea turtle is endangered, so is this one.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is considered a vulnerable species as its population is currently decreasing. It feeds primarily on Jellyfish, can weight up to 550 – 1,500 lbs! As a Scuba Diver, Jellyfish are not my friends, so I want to really see these Leatherback Sea Turtles flourish!

The incubation time for the Green and Loggerhead Turtle eggs is around 45-55 days, while the Leatherback Sea Turtle eggs can reach up to 70-90 days.

The Turtle Nesting Season

While visiting STOP I learned that each type of turtle has different times it likes to nest, and each female can lay multiple nests in a season with multiple different male partners. The Leatherback lays her eggs primarily in March to June, the Loggerhead from May to August, and the Green Turtle from June to September.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

I happened to join Richard and his team at STOP near the end of June. We learned that each nest has about a 51-day gestational period, and there was one nest that was on day 54. I couldn’t stop smiling, I was taking part or at the very least contributing to spreading knowledge about these wonderful animals, and may just be able to see them be born. Being able to help in a small way to saving sea turtles is a pretty incredible responsibility.

The Perfect Conditions

When a female sea turtle comes ashore to lay her eggs there are a few things she looks for. She will typically come when the moon is full or nearly full, when it is high tide, and the waves are just right.

When the ocean conditions are right, the turtle then has to feel as if she is coming home. They are, in general, very shy creatures, and spook easily. If there are parties every night on the beaches, flashlights, Iphones, loud music, then the female won’t lay her eggs and will wait.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

If you were coming to a hospital to give birth and your doctor was drinking alcohol, your husband was blasting Metallica in your ear, and the Nurse was snapping selfies. You wouldn’t want to give birth either or would give the entire room an earful about ruining the moment. It is the same idea with turtles if there is too much noise, fires, flashing lights, or large groups of people near the shore – it won’t come to shore. Eventually, it will just dump the eggs into the ocean, losing the precious and endangered cargo.

If she does come ashore, imagine dragging your pregnant body 300 yards, weighing 450-1000 lbs using only walking sticks to do it. It is dark, if there are sandcastles, holes dug in the sand, beach chairs, or anything that they can get stuck under – this kills the mama sea turtles folks.

Saving Sea Turtles, and the Mama

Richard told us about how people on the beach dig holes, and a turtle came up, laid her eggs, and on her way back to shore, fell into a hole dug into the sand, breaking her neck and killing her.

He also told us there was a mama turtle that came ashore the night before I arrived. She became stuck under a stack of beach chairs. The hotels along Fort Lauderdale Beach rammed metal poles into the ground, chained the beach chairs – and thought to leave them on their side was ‘good enough’. Well, the turtle made her way up the beach, got stuck under a stack of chairs, the chain wrapped around her neck. Luckily STOP was there to rescue her or she would have died. They were able to calm her enough for him to go and ask the hotel for a key to unlock the beach chairs and free her. The night crew didn’t know where it was, so he used a chain cutter and let the turtle free.

What the most amazing part of this story was, is that the turtle ended up laying her eggs anyway! Despite all of the trauma from getting stuck and nearly being suffocated to death. I think, in a way, she knew Richard and his team were there trying to do whatever they could to help her.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

Location of the Nests

Did you know that turtles are able to map out beaches based on magnets? They are able to navigate their way back to the same beach where they were born from to lay their own eggs!

There are many facets that go into making a beach feel like a good nesting ground; that turtles will return to over and over again.

Nest Temperatures

What scientists have observed, is that the turtles will go and seek dark objects to lay their eggs under. The temperature of the nest determines the gender of the baby turtles. Nests than incubate below 81.86F (27.7C) then they will be male. Nests that incubate at 87.8F (31C).

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

The turtles who are born from warm nests, end up being much slower swimmers, they can’t make it past the break line of waves. Gumbo Limbo and the Loggerhead Marine life center help to rehab these baby turtles so that they can make it out in the ocean. They do this by tying tethers to the baby turtles who then, when strong enough, are released back into the wild.

The problem that is being faced with warmer nests, especially in places like Australia, is that only females are being born. Australia has one of the largest Green Sea Turtle populations, but 99% of the turtles being born are female. There needs to be enough genetic diversity within a species so that deformities and susceptibility to disease are less likely.

There are certain measures Australia is implementing to help more males being born. They are using artificial shade over the nest or spraying artificial rain to cool the temperature of the nests. There is a lot of fear, that when the people who are implementing these measures leave. What if Administration positions change, then funding could be lost and these measures will stop – this could cause this species of turtles to become extinct.

Barriers for Sea Turtles on the Beaches

When the mothers seek the shade, they often encounter barriers. Things like large sandcastles can appear as adequate shade, umbrellas or life guardhouses. Other barriers for turtles that are commonly found on beaches are cabanas, umbrellas, Hobie cats, canoes, small boats, and beach cycles.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

Some beaches even rake their sand, to create a nice flat beach. This creates a ledge at the end of the beach that the mothers are unable to get up over because the tide bites at the edge of the beach over and over again.

The mothers think they have gone far enough, and end up laying their eggs right in the grip of the tide line. These nests have to then be dug up, replanted in an area that is safely away from the tide so that the eggs don’t suffocate in the water before they hatch.

Predators on the Beach

Then there are new invasive species onto the beaches because of increased housing developments. Pet dogs and cats eat the eggs and hatchlings and even attack nesting turtles.

Those that leave trash behind lure animals that typically reside inland migrate to the beaches for that food. They may encounter mama turtles and/or hatchlings and kill them. So think of picking up after yourself when you are on the beach or visit the beach as a way in doing your part to save sea turtles.

Major Nesting Beaches Around the World

There are lots of nesting sites around the world, but as coastal development remains ever coveted and popular – the areas that turtles can lay their eggs is shrinking rapidly.

SWOT is a global database that allows volunteers to input different nest sites, sea turtle spotting etc… They have interactive maps of the sea turtle nesting sites, and how you can contribute to helping save even just one turtle.

sea-turtle-database-maps.png

The Nest

If you visit Florida, there is a major conservation effort through mass volunteering and even city ordinances to help contribute to the cause of protecting the nests. Each nest is taped off (at least in Florida) with bright pink tape. A sign is posted stating that disturbing the nest will result in a massive fine and/or imprisonment.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

As the eggs incubate, it is important to not shoot off fireworks near them, nor stomp or jump on or around them. The baby turtles have a biological ability to sense vibration as a trigger to break free from the egg. Having just a few eggs hatch won’t be enough vibration to make the whole nest hatch, there has to be many. Once there are enough vibrations, then the race is on.

The baby turtles, wriggle their way through the sand that causes other eggs to hatch. Once enough of the little ones are free it causes the center of the sandy nest to drop. The turtles then climb over each other up the sloping edges of the sand and then follow the brightest lights.

Confusing Bright Lights

The problem with this is that they often end up following the bright lights of the hotels, and cars near the beach. They get lost under beach chairs, stuck behind garbage cans, make their way to the car lights and ultimately are smashed in the road.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

Something fascinating about Sea Turtles is that they are unable to see Orange or Red Lights. So driving along with certain coastal areas in Florida, you will see hotels beaming the orange lights (after a long fight with them to do so).

There are still certain shops, restaurants, and people who refuse to not use orange lights – so there will continue to be baby sea turtles that die. This is tragic and unfortunate that these humans refuse to do small things to help preserve these endangered animals.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida fwcordinances

Richard explained that there are people, businesses and hotels he has offered to pay to switch the lights out. He even offered to go and install the lights himself. The people, shops, and owners down-right refuse to take him up on his offer.

While this is aggravating and selfish; the only thing that we can continue to do as the Culture Trekking Community is to share, educate, and spread awareness. If enough people write emails, letters, or voice their opinion – we truly can create change that will save lives.

STOP

Richard and his team of Volunteers decided that if the hotels and businesses will not do their part, then they will pick up the slack. While the government supplies protection during the day, Richard and his handful of volunteers provide protection at night.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

These volunteers spend countless nights sitting on the beach next to nests protecting and waiting for when they hatch. These volunteers and those who sign up for their turtle treks help guide the baby sea turtles away from the deadly road, and back to the ocean.

Each nest and the expected due date is charted in the new database STOP created. The nests are then color-coded by the number of days of gestation, and those in red are due soon. The nests that are nearing their 45-55 day window, are then guarded and babysat until the turtle’s hatch. Sometimes there are stragglers, and the nests are seen as ‘active’ and not to be disturbed, for at least 3 days after the initial hatching.

Once the Active period has ended, the nest is then evaluated, and eggs that are remaining or baby turtles that didn’t make it are counted. Unfortunately, the eggs at the bottom of the nest don’t get the necessary oxygen, or can be crushed by the weight of the other eggs – so there will always be some that do not survive.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

Saving Sea Turtles

Richard and the STOP volunteers, along with those like me who signed up for the Turtle Trek will comb the beach looking for sandcastles to knockdown. They pick up garbage and items that could impede a mama turtle or a baby turtle from completing their biological tasks. They remind and educate party-goers on the beach to not use phones, flashlights, yell, or play loud music.

During nesting season, they allow people to sign up for Turtle Treks for a fee of $25 or more to help guard, and maybe save baby sea turtles from wandering into the road.

There is a circle around the nest that is drawn to keep the Turtle Trekkers at a safe distance to not create vibrations. Then there is a 10-foot perimeter drawn around the circle. This perimeter is drawn so that scientists can draw conclusions and collect data on the progress they are making in saving the turtles. The marine biologists also want to give the turtles a chance to turn around if they get confused. Volunteers are advised to not pick up the baby turtles until they reach the 10 Foot perimeter.

Once the baby turtles hatch and they reach the perimeter, they are then put into buckets, and placed back into the ocean.

Volunteering to Save Sea Turtles

Being able to be a part of this Turtle Trek is something I will never forget. There are many nights the volunteers see amazing things. As Richard said, “Each time we see these tiny turtles emerge from the nest, it is a new experience. Each one has his/her own personality and you can see it by how they interact”.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

The night I was there we were able to fill in a few holes in the sand. We listened to the stories Richard has collected through the years. Unfortunately, the nest they had anticipated hatching, hatched at 7 pm, just the time we were meeting at the gathering place. This was likely due to the cooler than normal weather, and the cloud cover from the rain making it a little darker a little earlier than normal.

We sat around another nest all night, it was on day 49, and sometimes they are known to hatch a little early. Blessedly the little turtles stayed tucked in their sand bed, and it just gives me another reason to come back and participate again.

Anyone can volunteer, anyone can go on a Turtle Trek. While it does have a fee associated with it, please know that all proceeds go towards protecting the animals.

Richard and his STOP volunteers work tirelessly to protect the nests, fight for the rights of the turtles against the big hotel chains that run along Broward County coastline. The work they do today, will help protect these animals for your children’s, children’s, children – they don’t get paid to do this – they volunteer to be on-call, out late at night. They have been spit at, yelled at, and even stalked because of their efforts – so $25 is not a lot to ask for the experience and education provided.

What Can You Do At Home To Save Sea Turtles?

Living in Utah, there aren’t a whole lot of oceans around. Yet there are things that I can personally do to help with the cause. The first being, use less plastic as much as possible.

There is nearly 8 million tons of garbage that end up in the ocean each year. Each item of garbage has different rates of decomposition, plastic is the longest of all of them. Hundreds of thousands of sea life die each year from garbage that is consumed.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

It isn’t just Sea Turtles, it is whales, seals, and fish. I’m sure we have all seen at least one article about garbage being found in a dead whale – or a plastic straw lodged into a sea turtles nose. So hang those reusable bags near your door, take one with you on your vacation, buy a few for a friend.

Choose the milk in the paper carton, instead of the plastic carton, get reusable straws (they even have portable ones), use bamboo forks/spoons and keep one in your purse. Email locations, theaters or even local coffee shops that don’t offer more environmentally friendly container options. If you go out to eat, bring a glass Tupperware to bring home leftovers.

Chemicals

Pay attention to the chemicals that you use. What kind of chemicals do you use in your laundry detergent, what about your dish soap, shampoo, conditioner, or body wash. Think about those items you use the most frequently and make better choices. Sometimes that is all it takes, is a better choice, not a drastic change. Each month you can commit to making a better choice than last month. Eventually, it will become second nature to you.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

Staying on Coastlines

If you are staying at any coastline hotel near the regions highlighted above – close your curtains after the sun goes down. Ask the hotel why they don’t have orange lighting to help protect against sea turtles getting confused. Send emails, be a voice, be a force.

If you decide to go out on the beach at night, do not use your phone on the beach nor near nesting turtles. Don’t play loud music, or light a fire that could deter turtles from coming ashore to lay their eggs.

Other Ideas for Doing Our Part At Home

Replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones, this can decrease your carbon footprint by 150 pounds per year. Driving less, taking a bike to the store instead of driving can save one pound of carbon for every mile you don’t drive.

Recycling can potentially save you up to 2400 pounds of carbon dioxide per year by recycling just half of what you use in your daily life.

Checking the tires on your car so your gas mileage is more efficient saves 20 pounds of carbon per gallon per year. Use less hot water, by taking shorter showers can save 500 pounds of carbon per year. This can also apply to washing your clothes in cooler water as well.

Planting one tree can absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of the tree.

If you aren’t using your computer, television, DVD player, stereo or computer then turn them off. You can save yourself thousands of pounds of Carbon Dioxide a year by doing this.

These are just a few ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint while you are in this world. What we do today can impact our descendants for decades to come.

A Duty to Save Baby Sea Turtles

We as a human race, are the biggest threat to Sea Turtles becoming extinct. Imagine your Grandchildren watching Finding Nemo, and then they ask ‘Are Sea Turtles Real?’ – I for one, hope I never have to answer, ‘Well….they were real, but they all died’.

Saving Sea Turtles in Florida

We have a duty to protect, save, and educate not just ourselves but spread the news in a positive and constructive way to those who may just not know any better. Get involved with a volunteer group, go on a Scuba Diving Ocean extravaganza, pick up trash, move those beach chairs.

If you would like to go on a Turtle Trek and save sea turtles, visit STOP in Florida or donate today.

***Please note that all photos of turtles taken at night and hatching from the nests were taken by Richard Whitecloud who is licensed by the State of Florida to do so. Lights of any kind are not allowed on beaches as listed above. Please do not attempt to film, or photograph any nests during the evening***

Where to Stay Near the Turtle Trek

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