Tag Archives: Holiday

Christmas at Mammoth and June

10 Jan

We finally made it to Mammoth for Christmas! Last year our flight kept getting cancelled but this year we managed to get ahead of the storm (we also got upgraded! Yay!)

I always love de-planing at Mammoth. The mountains are so pretty and the air is so cold and crisp. =)
IMG_20161219_162507On James’ birthday his aunt and uncle took us out for a fancy meal which was super nice of them. We had a couple of sunny, not-too-busy days to get our snow legs back before the storm. Plus lots more eating and drinking!

On the day of the storm it was cold, wet, and the visibility was pretty bad.
IMG_20161223_120034Storm days are always my favourite because the snow keeps getting refreshed and hardly anyone is on the mountain, and everyone who is there is so happy! It was definitely the best day of the trip. =)

The weather was pretty cold this time – I wore five layers most days. My gloves are pretty ratty now, so for the next trip I bought a bright pair of mittens so I’m nice and easy to find.
IRIGLOPL

All the days leading up to Christmas were pretty decent crowd-wise – last year the Christmas to New Year period was awful, so we were pleasantly surprised.

This is James looking majestic on Christmas Day.
IMG_20161225_114911
The highlight of the day had to be meeting up with Woolly and a random Santa!
IMG_1116 (2)It was a great way to spend Christmas morning/afternoon – the snow was nice, the sun was out, and everyone was in a good mood.

But then … disaster! As we were walking back from the resort James got paged. =( He spent the rest of the day (4pm-1:30am) on a work emergency. Here he is, looking very depressed with his festive hat and champagne flute.
IMG_20161225_184938Poor thing. =( We were all eating our delicious Christmas dinner and he was in the corner on a conference call with a plate of food.

The next day Ian, James and I headed to June Mountain to escape the Boxing Day crowds. It was busier than the last time we went but not too bad.

This is the view from the resort – gorgeous!IMG_20161226_141636I can’t remember which run I took this photo on – it was a green run that had beautiful views all the way down which made up for the fact that the snow was fairly crappy.
IMG_20161226_140628Last time Ian and I were at June we took the ski-back trail, but there wasn’t enough snow this time so we had to take the chairlift back to the parking lot.

Going down was a very different experience to going up! I was holding my snowboard and had the bar down because if the chairlift suddenly stopped I didn’t want to go tumbling down the mountain.

The most nervewracking part was when I took my phone out for some photos – the board was wedged between me and the bar, and I had a death grip on my phone … which I couldn’t even feel because my hands were so cold.

No regrets!
IMG_20161226_142151Then our last day we spent at Mammoth again, and that was our Christmas holiday! I snowboarded seven out of the eight days we were there, which isn’t bad.

It was great seeing James’ relatives again, and I’m looking forward to our next trip out!

A Visit to Google NYC

15 Dec

James has to go to New York several times a year for work and sometimes I decide to tag along because we both love the city.
IMG_20160713_135543Though I love it a lot less now I know how humid it gets in summer. I’m not sure if New York is particularly disgusting when it’s hot or if living in Seattle and San Francisco has spoiled us. Probably a little from column A and a little from column B.

But yeah, James worked during the day, and in the evenings we did fun touristy things like …

Book of Mormon!
IMG_20160714_184320We got pizza afterwards. =) The top one had pepperoni and honey and it was delicious.
IMG_20160714_220500On one of James’ travel days we visited the Museum of Natural History. The insanely massive Megalodon was my favourite – it was so big its head was peeking out of the room.
PANO_20160715_114010
The t-rex was also cool.
IMG_20160715_103154But the main reason I joined James this trip was because I’d managed to get dinner reservations to Eleven Madison Park!

Here are our pre-dinner cocktails:
IMG_20160713_174615The food (and wine matching – with frequent refills!) was wonderful. These were our appetisers – the boxes were handmade and arrived stacked on top of each other.
IMG_20160713_175313When stacked, they looked like the chandeliers above us. =)
IMG_20160713_201044I am such a sucker for fancy butter – I just spoon it into my mouth like ice cream. The bread was also amazing and they kept offering me more and I kept taking it.
IMG_20160713_181022This one was really fun. A picnic basket was delivered to our table with little jars of condiments. (The drink was the only dud of the night. I thought it was cider but it was some sort of gross tomato flavoured thing)
IMG_20160713_184030
Fast forward to the end, and this was part of our dessert being made:
IMG_20160713_202649The second part was a chocolate game (apparently dessert used to involve a magic trick so I was a little bit bummed … until I saw how much chocolate they gave us!)

There were four bars of chocolate and we had to guess which was which out of coffee, smoke, maple syrup and chilli.
IMG_20160713_204922James and I guessed identically … identically wrong. We only got one out of the four correct. =(

We couldn’t finish that much chocolate so we asked for a little bag for the leftovers and they were like “oh we’ll give you a fresh set!” (We ended up taking that extra set AND our chocolate leftovers – because duh).

Afterwards we went to a swanky bar with James’ coworkers and made them play the chocolate game while we all drank cocktails. It was an awesome night. =)

James also gave me a tour of the Google NY campus. He always talks about how much cooler it is than Mountain View, and how it must be so disappointing for the NY employees whenever they visit HQ.IMG_20160715_151912The building is opposite the Chelsea Market and basically takes up a whole city block:
IMG_20160713_140539There was a cool lego room where people could make and store their own lego projects:
IMG_20160714_123900And a project display wall and a weird ladder that only Google employees were allowed to climb:
IMG_20160714_123927Someone made a replica of the Google building:
IMG_20160714_124041The area also had a lego-themed micro kitchen:
IMG_20160714_124238 With brain food.IMG_20160714_124224James really liked the temporary work spaces at the New York office. He said he normally goes to a high floor and sits somewhere with a nice view of the city but he was also fond of these impressively orange honeycombs:
IMG_20160715_160841We also found a couple of trams:
IMG_20160714_124726James was super jealous that the New York office has Killer Queen. It’s an awesome 10 player arcade game that our friends introduced us to. There’s one at Brewcade in San Francisco … but it’s not free like this one! There were a couple of guys playing while we were there so our group joined in and we had a mini battle (we won, primarily because of James’ queenly skills).
IMG_20160714_130741And this is the bouldering wall. There’s also one in Mountain View but it’s so far away that James never bothers going.
IMG_20160715_162136(Oh, and you know how you travel on bikes around the Mountain View campus? In the New York building you get little kick scooters to ride around on)

Here’s James and his team on one of the decks. It was so hot and humid that we all sought shelter inside as soon as I took the photo.
IMG_20160714_131855
The New York campus has a lot of cool food options – they bring in a lot of guest chefs to cook for the employees. I saw David Chang (of Momofuku fame) featured on their wall of fame. =O

This was a food truck that was inside the building, though it was closed when we toured it at the end of the day.
IMG_20160715_153811 (1)
Above the Chelsea Market there’s a Google cafeteria decorated like a cool loft.
IMG_20160714_133046 We ate upstairs in one of the meeting rooms. I really liked the fancy animal portraits. =)IMG_20160714_133819We did a bunch of other stuff – saw Then She Fell (an interactive play like Sleep No More), ate and drank a lot, and I did some shopping while James worked. Did you know New York has no sales tax on clothing that costs less than $110? That was a pleasant surprise. =D

Cat and Mitch are planning to visit New York next year so hopefully we can time a trip to coincide with that (although ugh, it will be in summer again).

So it looks like there will be a lot of trips to NYC in our future! (Though I hope it’s not like how we visited San Francisco a lot while we lived in Seattle and then ended up moving there and thinking … well that was a waste)

Bye NYC! See you soon!
IMG_20160714_123802

Indonesia: Ayana Resort & Rock Bar

13 Sep

After a couple of days of sleeping on a boat mattress and manually flushing the toilet, James and I were ready for some luxury. So at the last minute we decided to stay at the five star Ayana Resort for our final night in Bali.
IMG_20160526_181401And it was heaven.

As soon as we got out of the taxi we were greeted with a frangipani garland (there were trees all over the grounds so everywhere you went it smelled amazing). We had a delicious welcome cocktail as we checked in, and our bags were waiting for us when we got to our room.

We were pretty tired from the flight so we decided to try out the aquataonic pool before we turned in for the night.

aquatonic_pool

image from Northstar Travel

According to Ayana’s website the aquatonic pool contains 700 million liters of water directly supplied from the nearby Indian Ocean and has 12 hydromassage stations containing over 60 individual therapeutic jet streams, micro-bubbles and geysers. So basically a fancy, massage-y hot tub.

In the pool we warmed up by walking/swimming down a lane with a strong current that pushed against us. Then we swam to different stations with jets aimed at different body parts – like one would deal with shoulders, then the next our middle back, then our lower back, etc.

I don’t know how busy it is normally but we went right before closing so there was only one other couple there and we could spend as long as we liked at each station (though they recommended 2 minutes). It was super relaxing and exactly what we needed after the plane ride.

The next day we embarked on a quest to try out every single pool at Ayana, because why not?

We woke up early and headed straight to the Ocean Pool because we’d heard it was really popular. It was overcast and raining, which was a bit of a bummer, but that meant we had the pool to ourselves, so hooray!
IMG_20160527_073431 (1)
We hung out here for ages just looking at the water. =)

The next pool we tried was the River Pool.
IMG_20160527_084216Pretty cool, huh? I was taking photos and one of the maintenance guys showed me this vantage spot and said it was the best for photos. He was right!

This was a weirdly shaped pool at the sister hotel, Rimba. It was still raining on and off so again we were the only ones there.
IMG_20160527_101618
That pool overlooked several other pools. The lower pool was pretty huge – it wrapped around to the right and had a bunch of cabanas around it.
pool2To the left of the bridge there was a hot tub nook and a bar. The hot tub was great but the pool water was freezing immediately after! James had a soak right before he swam over for a morning coffee.IMG_20160527_095630We explored a couple of other pools (all the other pools!) but those were our favourites. James tried to go down the kiddy waterslide but they wouldn’t let him. =(

By the time we hit the main pool at Ayana the sun was out and it was pretty busy. The upper pool had a gorgeous view of the ocean and the hotel grounds but was super packed. We took this photo at the lower pool which was completely empty, probably it was really deep and looked more like a lap pool. In the photo you can see a bunch of people lounging at the upper edge.
IMG_20160527_115423We also dropped by the hotel’s private beach which looked nice, but no beach can really compare after the Komodo Islands. We did see some monkeys though, which was pretty cool.

And one last visit to the Ocean Pool!

IMG_20160527_121157

Then it was time to check out and have lunch.
IMG_20160527_135622We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and exploring.
IMG_20160527_153010Until Rock Bar opened. =D

It is built on a cliff face, looking out to the ocean. And insanely gorgeous!

The Rock Bar

image from Ayana

It’s accessed by a funicular which is also pretty cool. Right before the bar opened the staff used it to transport all the ingredients and ice (soooo many bags of ice).
IMG_20160527_080758Here we are inside it earlier in the day. I think this was after our second trip to the Ocean Pool, which is why we’re looking a bit damp. Though it was super humid, so who am I kidding – we were constantly looking a bit damp. =(
funicular2There was a long line for the funicular, unless you were a hotel guest in which case you had priority access. You could get there faster via some stairs, but I guess the trip down is half the fun!

This is the other half of Rock Bar taken from near the actual bar. Our waitress said that the fancy area across the bridge was for people staying at the villas (the super premium rooms).
IMG_20160527_155819She also said that all the good seats are reserved for hotel guests and visitors get the seats at the back, so I’m glad we didn’t go at the start of our trip when we were at a different hotel.

Look at the crazy waves!
IMG_20160527_162608Some of the tables closer to the water couldn’t be used because they were soaked. I got sprayed several times trying to time the waves for a photo, which wasn’t terrible considering how brutally hot it was.

When we were seated our waitress gave us some cold towels and an umbrella to keep the sun off. They came in very handy.
IMG_20160527_160725
And then we sat there and drank aaaaaalll evening. =) To be honest the drinks were pretty bad, but everyone was there for the ambiance anyway.

Our waitress was lovely – she offered to take a photo for us. Then she insisted on taking a billion pictures with us posing at different places around the bar which was very sweet but also very unnecessary.

I felt bad telling her that we didn’t really need that many photos so just went along with it. And then I felt bad just deleting them so here they are (or like, 1/20th of them anyway)!

At our seats (sorry, everything looking into the sun is just super washed out – but how great are those seats??):
IMG_20160527_171018Left of the bar:
IMG_20160527_171147At the bar:
IMG_20160527_171241Right of the bar. Our waitress/photographer told us to hold hands and look into each other’s eyes. And then we had to stand there for several minutes staring at each other while she took sooo many photos, which cracked us up.IMG_20160527_171435
It was really sweet of her. And it is nice to have (200) souvenir photos of us at Rock Bar. =) Though I was a bit photographed out when James tried to take a selfie later:
IMG_20160527_180116 (1)
From memory, the giant, dark hand underneath is me trying to take the phone away and the curiously pale hand on top is James trying to stop me. We may or may not have had a few by then. Good times.

And here is the bar, all pretty and glowy at night!
IMG_20160527_183043There wasn’t much of a sunset to see which was disappointing. =( But we still got to drink and admire the view until it was time for us to head to the airport, which was not a bad way to go.

I wish we could have had a couple more days at the resort to soak everything up. When we got home I told James that I don’t want to go back to Indonesia when there are so many other countries to explore, but I really want to go back to Ayana! Everything about it was perfect – the hotel was gorgeous, the restaurants were great, everyone who worked there was amazing – and it was a wonderful, luxurious end to our holiday!

Indonesia: Adventure Tour of the Komodo Islands

18 Aug

James really wanted to see the Komodo dragons while we were in Indonesia. There are heaps of tour companies offering multi-day trips but we ended up going with FloresXP because they seemed like a decent compromise between the overcrowded budget tours and the $10,000 luxury tours. The owner Max was great to communicate with, the website was easy to navigate, group sizes were small (ours was 6 people), and the reviews were great.

The sleeping quarters were pretty basic. This photo was taken before they put sheets on the mattresses, but you get the idea – we were all sleeping in the same room together.
IMG_20160521_081612

And the combined shower/toilet room was a little offputting. Think of those teeny tiny powder rooms with a toilet. You had to manually flush the toilet by pouring water in (there was a tub of water with a scoop floating inside), and the toilet paper was disposed of in a bin. There was a handheld shower at the opposite end and when you wanted hot water you had to let the captain know so he could run the generator. The toilet was so close to the shower I was worried it would splash all over but the water pressure was so low that it wasn’t a problem if you were careful.

I’m not going to lie – I was bloody worried. This is not the Diary of a Deprived Housewife. But wow, was it worth it! The trip was packed with trekking and snorkeling, and the physical exertion and crazy natural beauty made for a memorable four days.

Day 1

We were picked up from our hotel and taken to the boat. The crew introduced themselves, explained the itinerary and boat rules, then we headed to Rinca Island to check out the Komodo dragons.

A pod of dolphins escorted us part of the way. Awesome.

IMG_0575

photo from Justin

We went to the park office to pay the fees allowing us to trek and snorkel the national park that day. This was easily the most unpleasant part of the trip (yes, I’m including using the marine toilet).

The fees are ridiculously high but hey, whatever, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, they need the money and rich foreigners can afford it. But it was insult to injury that if you didn’t have exact change the staff (the fat old guys in the office – not the young guides working outside) would keep the extra for themselves – they called it a “tip”. Ugh. I think it’s just one of those things that’s really annoying but you have to learn to let it go because ultimately it’s a few dollars and just what happens to tourists. =/

The Komodo dragons mainly lazed around the office so you didn’t need to walk far to see them.

IMG_0461

photo from Justin

We also did a light hike (maybe 45 minutes?) around part of the island where they showed us some dragon nests. It was soo hot – no wonder the Komodo dragons just lie around all day.
IMG_20160521_125506We had lunch and did some snorkeling afterwards to search for manta rays but no dice. =(

We couldn’t linger too long because we had to go to Padar Island for a hike to see the sun set. Here we are at the top:

IMG_1850

photo from Ciara

Our group was James, me, Ben, Ciara and Justin. We are missing one member because even though he was a strong hiker he didn’t like the height and the tiny ridges we had to walk to get up there. He missed this gorgeous view.

Padar Sunset II

photo from Ben

It was actually a pretty short hike distance-wise but it was very uphill – remember we started at sea level! Going up was fine – just a matter of cardio and leg strength – but going down steep hills in the dark was pretty dicey and I kept skidding on the dirt/gravel and making our poor guide very nervous. But I made it back to the boat in one piece and we had dinner before showering and going to bed.

Day 2

I didn’t realise this at the time, but we had signed up for the 4 hour adventure trek on Komodo Island (in hindsight it’s obvious – it’s the name of the tour!). There were no bullshit “tips” to the office staff this time but the fees were doubled because it was a Sunday so we were all a bit unthrilled with that. =/

Like with Rinca Island we saw a lot of Komodo dragons at the start, but we were also fortunate enough to see some more about 30 minutes into our hike. We asked the guide how he could tell the males and females apart and he said that the females were smaller and had “a more beautiful shaped head”. So I think this one was female?

IMG_0456

photo from Justin

I checked the weather and it was 33C but apparently because of the humidity it “felt like” 45C which sounds about right. It was one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever done. We didn’t have enough water – maybe 1 litre each – and had all pretty much run out before the halfway mark. I actually left my second water bottle on the boat because like I said earlier, I hadn’t realised we were going out for 4 hours!

I think the head guide told us that the distance was 10km and we went up about 200 meters (it’s been awhile so I might have that elevation wrong). We were all in reasonable shape but humidity makes weaklings of us all.

Check out James’ intense torso sweat:IMG_20160522_110754(I was no better. I looked like I’d been swimming in a pool.)

This next photo was about the halfway point – lots of downhill to go. The sweat has reached the crotch but James still has some pep left in him:
IMG_20160522_110345Our two guides were machines – they barely broke a sweat, shared their water with us, plus after we reached the boat pickup point they had to turn around and do the hike again in reverse. We all did the super American thing and tipped them heavily because they deserved it way more than those desk guys did.

It sounds weird, but the experience of pushing through the dehydration, tiredness and humidity was one of my favourite parts of the trip. Or maybe my favourite part was getting back to the boat and drinking my bodyweight in water.

After lunch we set off to Batu Bolong for some snorkeling. James and I were still exhausted from the hike and almost decided to just stay on the boat, but the crew told us we’d be missing out if we didn’t.
underwaterWhoa.

From the surface it looked like nothing special – just a giant rock in the middle of the ocean – but underneath it was a watery paradise! There were so many species of fish and all this gorgeous colourful coral. I also saw some eels and a turtle.

I think it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Every direction we turned it was unbelievably gorgeous; we were giddy swimming around just staring at everything.
jamesfish2
This black brainy thing in the bottom right was one of my favourite things. I don’t know what it was (I found it in the marine life guide afterwards but it’s slipping my mind now). You can’t really tell from the picture but in real life it was glowing like crazy and just so, so pretty.
prettyseaurchin2So yeah, that was pretty amazing! I can’t remember what we did afterwards – I think we might have gone somewhere else to snorkel and then we docked at Gili Lawa for some swimming while the crew prepared dinner.

Day 3

We woke up early in the morning for a hike on Gili Lawa to see the sunrise. It was nonstop steep uphill, but because the sun hadn’t risen it was a cakewalk compared to the day before.
IMG_20160523_060115Steep gravelly path – my downhill nemesis!

Again we were treated to gorgeous views where you felt like you were on top of the world. IMG_20160523_061242In the photo below you can see the sun rising on the left at the same time as the moon setting on the right. I think it’s kind of cool that James is lit from the sun and I’m still kind of in shadow.
IMG_20160523_062054
I felt simultaneously wholesome for hiking before breakfast but kind of gross from the dirt and sweat.

After breakfast we went on another search for manta rays. The captain went looking for one of their feeding channels so we could see a lot of mantas without expending too much effort. And this time we hit jackpot!

You might remember we saw some manta rays in Hawaii and I fucked up with the GoPro and didn’t have the camera running. This time I wasn’t taking any chances and gave the GoPro to James. Afterwards he was super excited and was like “I got some awesome footage!”

I couldn’t believe how close they got to us – pretty much within touching distance.

Here is a manta ray, a whole bunch of fish, and even a jellyfish. We got stung a couple of times by jellyfish in the water but it wasn’t too bad. Totally worth it to see the mantas!
mantafishandjellyAfterwards it was time for lunch and then snorkeling at Sebayur Island. It was this protected little area with really calm water.

There was a lot of cool stuff to see – lots of fish (including a barramundi!), sea cucumbers, coral, a couple of eels, an octopus, and a cool blue starfish.
starfishjames
I got separated from James and started following a trigger fish around. I must have gotten too close to its … I want to say … nest? – do fish have nests? Anyway, I got too close to where it didn’t want me, so it full on attacked. (FYI: mute the video if you don’t want to hear a LOT of shrieking)


What a mean fish.

(Also I showed this video to James and he laughed and laughed. James, you are no better than that dickhead fish.)

No wait, he’s OK. Here he is getting revenge for me. It’s probably not the same one, but it’ll pass on the message.

m4oc6plpz8ahg

After all the excitement at Sebayur it was time to head to a pirate island to spend the night on land. On the way we saw more manta rays and some flying fish.

The island had a separate shower and toilet – luxury. And a hammock!
IMG_20160523_173054These were the sleeping cabins which all had ocean views. The building on the right was the kitchen and communal eating area.IMG_20160523_173511The hills behind the camp had goats. Goats! (I don’t know why that excited me so much since we’d probably seen hundreds of mantas that day)

We were climbing before dinner and heard some bleating which we all thought was one of the other group members. So we kept bleating at each other until we figured out we were actually having a conversation with the hill goats.

And this is where we watched the sun set.
IMG_20160523_173534James getting some meditation in before dinner (also you can see our boat in the background!)
IMG_20160523_180340

Surprisingly, sleeping in the cabin was less comfortable than sleeping on the boat – it was much hotter (it took me forever to get to sleep) and I missed the ocean breeze. But still, it was still a fun experience and a nice way to end the day.

Day 4

The next morning we did some more snorkeling and saw some more manta rays. They are so chill and graceful in the water – I could spend all day watching them! In the video below there was just one manta to begin with but he lead us to a big group.

Then it was time for lunch and off to Mawan Island for some free time. Look how gorgeous and secluded it was! We were the only ones there the whole time.
IMG_20160524_130614Ben was off scuba diving and the others were resting on the boat which was their loss because I saw a freaking shark. It was just a little one, but still really cool.

We spent the next hour or so relaxing and exploring the beach. James is wearing Justin’s spare pair of bathers because he left his on pirate island. =(
IMG_2901
Also at the top of my leg where it meets my bikini you can kind of see my original skin colour to get an idea of how dark I got! The backs of my legs were another few shades darker than the front since that was where the sun hit the most while I was swimming.

It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo but the wet sand has a slightly pink hue from the mix of the white and red coral. If you grabbed a handful of it you could see the individual flecks of red that gave it the pinkish tint.

IMG_2885

photo from Nicola

After our beach time we visited Rinca village and did another short (but so hot and so humid) hike to visit a bat cave. Then it was time for our Komodo adventure to come to an end. =( We sat on the roof of the boat in the dark, watching the stars and and flying foxes as we headed back to Labuan Bajo.

So yeah, it was a pretty intense few days. I’m pretty sure we stank at the end of it. I’m definitely not used to the humidity and lack of mod cons, but the FloresXP crew took such wonderful care of us that the boat felt a lot more luxurious than it actually was. I can’t believe how much amazing stuff we got to see in just a few days and what a beautiful world we live in.

A Week on the Big Island

9 May

In March this year we went to Hawaii for James’ aunt’s wedding. We stayed on the East side of the Big Island which is the volcanic side versus the beachier West side.

We did drive to Kona our first day, which was 2.5 hours (each way!) to swim with dolphins and manta rays. Unfortunately I am a GoPro noob and it turns out the times I thought I had the video running I, um, didn’t. =(

We did get some dolphin footage, though not the pod of hundreds of dolphins that we were right in the middle of. Gah. Gah! But anyway here is a tiny fraction of the dolphins we saw.
Frame-09-05-2016-11-05-49Sometimes you could hear the dolphin echolocation before you actually saw them. You can hear it in the (unfortunately shitty – sorry!) video below of James swimming alongside them.

 

Whenever the dolphins felt annoyed they would just dive down (or speed up) so it was pretty cool they let James swim with them. (Dear Diary, today the dolphins accepted me as one of their own). James said that he was kicking frantically to keep up the whole time.

I was more bummed that I didn’t have any usable footage of the manta rays. We went at 8pm so our group was the only one out there and we had all the manta rays to ourselves. They were so big and so close and doing loop de loops right underneath us!! They swooped about 30cm away from our stomachs and I kept hearing James exclaim through his snorkel mask.

It was an incredibly memorable day – definitely two experiences to put on your bucket list! It was also a super long day (something like 4am-midnight!) and we didn’t even get to sleep in because the next day because we went on a hike to some active lava flows. After a long hike we emerged from a forest to see this: IMG_20160229_141641The ground was lava that had cooled and become hard but was still emitting lots of heat; the newer the crust was the hotter it was – and some of it was just a day old! James was wearing his hiking vibrams and if he stood still for too long on yesterday’s lava his feet would get uncomfortable. Later he had the bright idea to pour water over his feet to cool them off, and when the water hit the ground it sizzled, turned into steam, and burned him. =/

Even moving around was challenging because we were carrying long, awkward sticks, trying to move quickly across uneven terrain, and if we fell we’d land on a hot, brittle surface that would basically cut us like glass while it burned us.

At times we had to hop over lava (the floor is lava!): IMG_20160229_141617While dead trees burned on contact with the lava. IMG_20160229_133112You can see the lava wasn’t that molten stuff that sprays everywhere like in the movies. The black stuff was old and the light silver stuff was the active flow but even as it slowly oozed it was already hardening.

We poked the lava with sticks – really long sticks because it was crazy fucking hot (it’s hard to tell from the photo but that stick is almost twice my height). IMG_20160229_130023The outer layer would be like thick, viscous honey and the molten lava inside was more liquidy, and much hotter – every time I poked a hole I’d get a burst of intense heat. Even a fair distance from the active flow it was like standing next to an open oven and nobody could stand next to the lava for very long. I tried at one point and it felt like my ankles (which were exposed) caught on fire.

James had a pretty hard time because he really doesn’t like heat and had to keep his feet moving because of his shoes. One guy in old hiking boots had his sole detach from one of his shoes because the glue melted. Luckily this happens a lot so the guides had duct tape. After a couple of token lava pokes James retreated to a safe distance. I think this photo is of him telling me to hurry up. IMG_20160229_125931His loss though, because he missed out on making lava marshmallows. IMG_20160229_132325They were weird and crunchy.

The next day we went with James’ family to the Volcanoes National Park. The crater (the bit in the middle right with the steam) was cool but we missed the lava being 20 meters from the rim by one day. =( PANO_20160301_102837 We explored the museum and walked through some cave-like lava tubes. This is us in front of one of the steam vents. The steam was super humid (obviously) and smelled like Chinese food (less obviously).IMG_20160301_101743 And here we are again after the wedding a couple of days later, in the same pose and both still doing the same hang loose gesture. IMG_20160303_183656 The day after was our last full day and we’d planned an open door helicopter ride but it was cancelled because of the weather. Pro tip: never leave anything you really want to do for the last day. The manta ray people told us that 20% of their trips don’t see any manta rays, and those people get a free do-over, but a lot of the time they’ve left it for their last night and can’t go.

Instead we did a bunch of snorkeling with James’ family where we saw some turtles fighting underwater (OMG it is like seeing a fight in slow motion. A turtle bites and smacks sooooo slowly that the only thing that can’t avoid it is, I guess, another turtle).

Frame-10-05-2016-08-41-51This turtle was unrelated to the fight but he swam right up to the GoPro camera!

Then in the late afternoon/early evening we headed to Mauna Kea with James’ parents. Like Haleakala it was cold on top (apparently they get snow in the winter!) so we made sure to rug up.

It was super overcast and looking really dire on the drive up. It was still cloudy at sunset and I was worried we wouldn’t be able to see any stars. Everyone kept looking up at the sky worriedly. At least we got one more piggyback in. IMG_20160304_181528Mauna Kea was chosen as the location for a bunch of observatories because it is hardly ever overcast. Luckily that night was not an exception, and as the sun set the sky slowly but surely cleared.IMG_20160304_182520And we saw sooo many stars! The stargazing volunteers brought out a bunch of telescopes that people could look through and they gave a talk about the different constellations that were visible. The highlight for me was seeing a shooting star through a telescope and being able to see two of the moons of Jupiter.

It was a gorgeous way to spend our last night. The Big Island wasn’t on our must-do travel list and we mainly went to see James’ family, and I’m really glad we did! We got to do some really amazing stuff – swim with hundreds of dolphins! Look down the throat of a manta ray! Poke lava with a stick! – and it was all super amazing. =)

Yes We Cancun!

9 Dec

A couple of months ago James and I went to Cancun to attend Luke and Madeleine’s wedding. We went for a week, which was perfect – enough time to catch up with friends but not long enough to get bored of the resort (which was so lovely – just look at it!).

01

image from Valentin Imperial Maya

This was really different from our usual holidays; normally I like to be a bit more active, and spend months researching the best things to do. But since it was a resort and the main reason we were going was for the wedding (and seeing our friends!) I was happy to just go with the flow this time.

The most exciting part for me was that it was all-inclusive. You know how I pig out whenever I visit James at work? Yeah, I went nuts. I had 10 cocktails the first day. We arrived in the afternoon so it wasn’t even a full day.
IMG_20151030_185119
James: (when taking the photo) Try looking a little less drunk.

A lot of stuff happened that first day though. For instance, Quincy got stuck in the women’s bathroom (the door jammed) and the guys had to sneak in and help her out.
IMG_20151030_231932Also James found a cat.
IMG_20151030_184209And he found another one a couple of days later. Finding vacation cats is like his lame superpower.
IMG_20151101_132929
No James! That’s not a cat!
IMG_20151103_120517
We were really excited by the coatis. We saw them wandering around the grounds but this is the best photo James got of them:
IMG_20151030_182051We found out later from Mike that if you rustle a bag of chips you can get this photo:
IMG_20151105_075427
I kind of cheated with this photo, because this is Pancho and he lived at the outdoor buffet restaurant.
IMG_20151101_131648He looks happy because he’s basically the coati equivalent of a billionaire; the waiters fed him a lot. I know this because whenever you said his name he would perk up, turn his head and then look disappointed.

It was such a weird experience being able to order without paying. We could get room service whenever we wanted and raided our room’s mini fridge.

At the breakfast buffets they would make omelettes to order, and there was a fajita station at the lunch buffet, which is basically what I had every day because they were amazing. James also made many visits to the breakfast crepe lady.
IMG_20151102_095918This is the baked Alaska from the fancy French restaurant we went to on (I think) our second night there.
IMG_20151031_194828Guy in the orange top is so jelly. You know he’s totally going to order one.

And here is the hibachi grill that we went to for Madeleine’s hens night.
IMG_20151101_214212

I have two cups of sake in front of me: one hot and one cold. Also some sushi.

IMG_20151101_213020I think my favourite restaurant experience was actually the last night. We went to the Mexican restaurant and the food was great! We also had the best waiter – he was so funny and took great care of James when he found out he was lactose intolerant. Here he is preparing my fajitas:
IMG_20151105_225359We had 10 people so our group was split in half. We sent tequila shots to the other table, because why not! Jenny had the idea to make three of them tequila and one water and when they drank them we could hear Quincy say “I don’t think mine was anything!”

Other than gorging ourselves we also went to the beach a lot. My favourite thing to do was feed the fish. They would leap out of the water to snatch bread from your fingers!
IMG_20151031_110049Even when James went back in the water later (breadless) the fish swarmed him.

James: Noo they recognise my brightly coloured shorts!
IMG_20151104_090353The breeze from the ocean made the beach one of the least humid places to hang out and the umbrella chairs were quite coveted.

The regular umbrella chairs weren’t good enough for James; he decided to take the lifeguard’s spot.
IMG_20151031_121032Plus of course there was booze service. I think we had some big tippers in our group because sometimes the waiter would just bring us impromptu tequila shots.

The pool was also popular because it wasn’t sandy, was faster to get to,  and had two swim up bars.
IMG_20151031_162903Mike had a fancy suite with a pool right next to it, so sometimes we’d swim at his pool then order a crapload of room service (quesadillas and burgers and nachos, oh my!) and booze.

Of course, you can only hang out at the pool and beach so much. So here’s James at one of the shooting activities with a (BB?) gun in one hand, margarita in the other.
IMG_20151102_111824We also went snorkeling one day, which was kind of meh because it had been raining and the visibility was poor, but it was cheap and I was going a bit stir crazy. We also tried some hookah that was in the cigar bar at the resort. Verdict: interesting, but not for us.

After the wedding we did a big group trip which was super fun. First we went to the Tulum ruins:
IMG_20151105_152206James at one of the temples (I want to say it’s the God of Winds temple?) with our ponchos in his pockets:
IMG_20151105_151356Afterwards we had lunch and drove ATVs through the jungle to get to a bunch of hidden cenotes (cave pools).
IMG_20151105_180604Then we ATV’d to a cave that we had to zipline into, which was really fun. The only slight bummer was that we started late in the afternoon so by the time we hit the cenotes it was dark outside and starting to get a bit cold. Luckily the life jackets kept us warm enough as we snorkeled around in the cave. It was pretty eerie and we had to be careful not to snag ourselves on the rock formations.

And here we are at dinner: homemade tamales!
IMG_20151105_194056The all-inclusive format really worked well for a group trip since we could just eat and drink and hang out. It was so great to see all of our Seattle friends and I’m looking forward to the next wedding (which a little birdie told me might be in Bali next year!).

A Great Time at Mammoth Mountain

24 Jan

James’ uncle and aunt have a cabin in Mammoth, and they very nicely offered to let us use it. So we bought tickets (using James’ $500 credit from our detoured United flight) and planned a Thursday to Tuesday trip. Unfortunately for us, the storm that was supposed to happen petered out – that’s one of the luxuries I miss about being 1.5 hours from the snow – you could decide the night before (or the morning of!) whether it was worth making the trip.

But anyway, the Mammoth airport is freaking adorable. It’s really small and there what looks like a conveyor belt which is basically just a gate they put your luggage through (so there’d be a backlog if like … five people were slow picking up their bags).

IMG_20150115_163205We took a taxi to the cabin and were greeted by two bears carved out of tree trunks in the front garden. The driver, a Mammoth local, chuckled and said “we like our bears around here.”

We drove to the local Vons (which apparently is the same thing as Safeway) to stock up on supplies. The selection was just as good, if not better, than my local Safeway and the prices were similar – maybe a bit higher but not noticeably so.

Also, a couple of years ago Vons made the news because a bear walked in, stole some apples and left!

bearinvons-223x300

image from the Sierra Times

(“We like our bears around here”)

On Friday morning Steve made us pancakes and we headed to Mammoth. The cabin was within walking distance to a gondola that took us to Canyon Lodge which was very convenient. Cath and Steve were really disappointed with the snow, which apparently hadn’t been added to since Christmas. Admittedly conditions were pretty crap (a lot of rocks even on the groomers, with the added annoyance that I’d see one and go “better avoid that rock”, and then go right over it because I was staring at it) but that was mitigated by the excitement of discovering a new mountain. James and I boarded the whole day and when we got back Cath and Steve made falafels and plied us with wine.

Ohhhhh my God.

Snowboarding all day and walking back to a delicious homecooked meal? Heaven! This was a pattern that would repeat most days we were there. We’d get back, Steve would make us cocktails, and then we’d have dinner and sooo much wine. Then snowboarding the next day!

I discovered that my favourite runs were also Ian and Steve’s favourites. I can’t wait to see what they’re like with more snow.

This was at the summit (11,053 feet). I’ve seen photos where the snow covers most of that pole so you can see what a slow start to the season it’s been.

IMG_20150117_150518James was tired and actually having a bit of trouble at the elevation so he took the gondola back down while I explored on my own for the rest of the day. I also got the impression that he wasn’t having the best time. =( He said “I’m slowing you down. I don’t think you realise just how much better than me you’ve gotten”, which made me simultaneously sad and pleased.

He wants to bring his skis next time because Mammoth has a lot more flats than Stevens. Cath and Steve let us keep our boards at their cabin, so James thinks he might save his board for powder days and ski the rest of the time.

On Sunday James and I had already snowboarded two days in a row, and we weren’t keen on fighting crowds for crappy snow.
IMG_20150117_111538Instead, Cath, Steve and Ian showed us around the area, which was really nice of them. We went to see the tufas at Mono Lake:

IMG_20150118_112736And also to an abandoned mining town:
IMG_20150118_140757

Unfortunately Cath, Steve and Ian were so disappointed with the snow that apart from a couple of hours the first day where they showed us the ropes we didn’t get to ride with them. Hopefully by the time Chris comes to visit the conditions will be better and we can all get out together. I’ve snowboarded in worse, though admittedly not much worse. But even though the snow was crap I still had a really great time catching up with family.

Goodbye Mammoth! Fingers crossed next time you have some more snow for us!
IMG_20150117_150910