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Category: Adventure Activities & Experiences Bucket List

The Adventure Activities & Experiences Bucket list will share with you exciting adventures activities and experiences that need to be on your Bucket List. Discover unique activities and experiences from around the world. These are the type of activities that you need to experience and participate in before you die.

To See My Adventure Activities & Experiences Bucket list CLICK HERE

The Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge

The Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge

Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge

People are often asking me how I learn about these crazy adventures, experiences, or places to travel that are on my Bucket List.  Well, the internet of course! I not only scour the internet but I subscribe to numerous travel and adventure blogs out there to learn about the world.  That is how I found out about The Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge!

The Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge is the brain child of  travel blogger, Stephanie Fox.  Aimed at rounding up 2016 and looking towards 2017, she created 10 out of the ordinary travel questions that would not only share your personal insights on traveling but also introduce other travel bloggers to your readers.  At the bottom of this post, I will list several travel bloggers who are participating as well.  So after reading, please check them out too.  You might find some exciting new bloggers to follow and some great travel ideas for the future!  Also, you can find them across Twitter and Instagram by using the hashtag #TravelWhispers.

When The Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge was passed on to me by Sara & Nacho of I Do What I Want To, I was a  bit nervous to say the least since The Bucket List Project is still a newbie in the blogging world.  However, I found the questions a great way to learn & share not only about myself but my hopes for The Bucket List Project.

Reading The Bucket List Project's answers to the Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge #TravelWhispers Click To Tweet

So with bated breath, here are The Bucket List Project’s answers to The Travel Whispers Blogger Challenge:

1. If you had to move to a country that you’ve NEVER been to, and live there for ten years, where would you go?

I think I would want to go to Cuba since it is where my mother and family are from originally.  To live in such an exotic environment that offers an unbelievable culture all while seeing where my family grew up, would be amazing.  Plus, being ideally located in the Gulf of Mexico, it would allow me the ability to travel home to see my family in the US, while also, being able to explore other parts of Central and South America.

2. If you had to live in a hotel for the rest of your life, which hotel would you choose and why?

Not gonna lie, I would take a hostel, airbnb, a guest house, or even a tent over most hotels any day. To me, most hotels are just places to store my stuff while I am out and about exploring. However, if I had to be sentenced to a hotel I think I would either want to live in the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans or the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego.

Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California

3. If you could only eat the cuisine of one nationality forever more, which would you choose?

This question is tough.  If I could only eat the cuisine of one nationality forever, I would have to either say food from Spain or Thailand (minus the Scorpion on a Stick…been there done that).

When it comes to Spain, I think they offer some of the greatest variety as Barcelona has unbelievable seafood with a Mediterranean flair while up North the pork is phenomenal.  With Thailand, I think it offers a great infusion of Asian styles while also finding some modern flavors from around the world in their more metropolitan cities like Bangkok.

4. Who has given you ‘holiday envy’ this year, and how?

Oddly enough there is a couple who I met in Chiang Mai, Thailand during a holiday festival in 2015, called Yi Peng/Loy Krathong. Hands down Chelsea and Mark give me ‘holiday envy’ for all the holidays and festivals they attend.  Though they currently living in Dubai, they travel all over the place.  In 2016, amid all their awesome travels, I most envied their adventure at Oktoberfest in Munich, which now is on my 2017 Bucket List!

5. If you had to look at the same sunrise or the same sunset every day, where in the world would you never get bored of seeing? Please don’t say sitting outside Cafe Mambo in Ibiza.

I don’t think anything has ever beaten the sunset I saw in Oporto, Portugal.  For the rest of my life, I could easily sit amid the tourists, with a cigar and a glass of port wine, just watching the sun set along the Douro River .

The Sunset along the Douro River in Oporto, Portugal (NO FILTER)

6. If you were taking a ‘staycation’ in your hometown, where would it be and what would you recommend others do?

I am from New Orleans, Louisiana where there is a ton to see, experience, and most importantly EAT! First, if possible, stay at the Hotel Monteleone.  Its one of the older hotels in the French Quarter blocks away from all the fun and action.  However, the most important thing to do is to go down to the famous Carousel Bar and ride the Carousel while having a Sazerac, a Vieux Carre, or any cocktail bartender Marvin Allen recommends.

During the day, you need to explore the art galleries on Royal Street, see St. Louis Cathedral, wander around Jackson square, find treasures in the French Market, and stroll the Moon Walk along the mighty Mississippi River.

At night, you need to stroll Bourbon Street (even us locals do it from time to time), walk through Pat O’Briens courtyard, listen to old school jazz at Preservation Hall, or head over to Frenchman Street to hear some modern Jazz and New Orleans Funk Music. Drink Sazeracs, Pimm’s Cups, Daquiris, Hurricanes, any beer from Abita Brewery or explore any of the pre-prohibition cocktails served throughout the city.

To eat, it really doesn’t matter cause it’s all great! Head over to Café du Monde for beignets if you want a light breakfast.  Though you may want Stanley’s for a hearty breakfast by the cathedral.  For lunch grab yourself a poboy or even better, head over to Central Grocery for a muffuletta sandwich, a bottle of Barqs Rootbeer, and a bag of Zaps Crawtators and head up to the river to eat and watch the river boats!  As for dinner Antoine’s is by far the #1 fine dining restaurant in all of New Orleans in my opinion.

7. Describe your perfect travel day of the year?

My summer was packed with unbelievable days on the Camino and in Portugal afterwards.  But if I had to choose a perfect day, it would be with Darcee in Nassau, Bahamas this past March. We had taken a boat out to the coral reefs for snorkeling and then to scratch off Bucket List #202) Ride in a S.U.B. (Scenic Underwater Bubble).  It was amazing.

8. What have you ticked off your bucket list in 2016?

2016 was a very exciting year for The Bucket List Project as we added many items to the 2016 Completed Items list!  However, I would say the highlight was my pilgrimage along the entire Camino de Santiago.  Not only was it amazing to explore all of Northern Spain, but along my “Walk,” I learned a lot about myself and met some amazing friends. You can read Excerpts from My Personal Diary Along the Camino here.

9. What is top of your travel bucket list for 2017?

I tend to be ambitious and perhaps a bit over zealous when it comes to planning out my Bucket List travel plans every year. 2017 is no different.  When I wrote my 2017 Bucket List Hopes and Goals I realized that I had listed 7 countries outside the US & at least 3 different states from Louisiana.  But I guess that is because I am one of those Shoot for Stars kind of guys. With that said I would have to say which of the 10 destinations is top on my list this year it would be a tie between Alberta, Canada and Morocco.

Alberta escaped me last year, but this year it’s a must for me, if not for Banff National Park alone. We have all seen the remarkable photos of Lake Louise in Banff and that marvelous mountain skyline. Well, I want to see that in person.  Plus Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary of their National Parks. So all entry is free for the entire year of 2017! You can get your Free Pass HERE!

As for Morocco, exploring the Blue City of Chefchaouen, checking out the markets of Casablanca, and taking a camel safari into the desert are all hot on my list!

10. Share your favorite Instagram photo of 2016?

So The Bucket List Project only started on Instagram in September of 2016.  But slowly I have been posting up some of my favorite Bucket List Project pictures from the past.  In November 2015, I was fortunate enough to go to Thailand’s Lantern Festivals of Yi Peng & Loy Krathong.  It was probably one of the best experiences of my life.  While we were all lighting and setting sail to our balloons, I was able to catch this mother and daughter sending off their hopes and dreams into the sky!

Instagram: @TheBucketListProjectBlog

 

 

 

Now since this is a Whispers challenge, I would first like to thank by Sara & Nacho of IDoWhatIWantTo who inspired me to participate.  You can read their responses by CLICKING HERE!

You can find more travel whispers at the links below:

Stephanie Fox

Josie Wanders

Young and Undecided

My Own True North

If you are a travel blogger and want to take part in the fun, then join the facebook group here.

A Bucket List Adventure Race – The Rickshaw Run

A Bucket List Adventure Race – The Rickshaw Run

Merriam-Webster defines an “adventurer” as someone who likes dangerous or exciting experiences; a person who looks for adventures! Well there is no doubt that in creating the Bucket List Project several years ago, I have sought out adventures of all types. I would spend hours scouring the internet, reading about the experiences of other “adventurers.” Many of these adventure activities and travels were typical to a person with wanderlust. However, there is one adventure that caught my eye and has totally stoked the insatiable adventurer in me, a Bucket List adventure race called The Rickshaw Run.

What is the Rickshaw Run?

The Rickshaw Run is a 14-day Bucket List adventure race that began 10 years ago by a group of crazed people who called themselves the Adventurists! With the hope of making the world less boring, they strive to create adventures where you don’t know what will happen tomorrow or if you’ll even finish the race.

I finally found the un-suspecting co-pilot I needed to join me in the January 2017 Rickshaw Run. Darcee and I will begin the race on January 2nd from Fort Kochi near the bottom of India. For the next two weeks we will race along the west coast toward Jaisalmer in a 3-wheeled Tuk Tuk (a tricycle with an engine). There will likely be many wrong turns, mechanical and mental breakdowns, mutinies and a love-hate relationship with Indian food, all while we are raising money for two charities dear to us.

We will race our highly unstable glorified tricycle, that will break down continuously. While travelling without a set of directions, we will attempt to overcome more obstacles in our path than contestants on a Japanese game show. We will battle the 1.2 billion people and 140 million vehicles in India while experiencing one crazy adventure and trying not to die!

So why on Earth am I doing this?

The short answer – Why not?

Those of you who know me, know that each year I actively tackle many of the over 200+ items in the Bucket List Project as well as try to assist others in going after their personal bucket list dreams.  It’s driven me to accomplish my dreams as well as given me the opportunity to help others!  The Rickshaw Run is helping me accomplish several of my Bucket List items:

14) Participate in 1 Adventurist Race: the Rickshaw Run

165) Learn & Play Cricket with Locals in a Foreign Country

69) Travel to the Taj Mahal, India

199) Raise thousands of dollars for charity

Now of course adventure is the name of the game when it comes to the Rickshaw Run. However, amid the insanity, it has allowed me to do something amazing before even starting the race, give back! One of the major pre-requisites of the Rickshaw Run is to raise funds for charity. Together with friends, family, and even some generous strangers, I was able to raise over $5,600 for both Angels’ Place New Orleans & Cool Earth! You can see & still donate to these great causes via our GoFundMe page at www.GoFundMe.com/EricGamble

The Rickshaw Run looks like the ultimate Bucket List Adventure Race! #RickshawRun #bucketlist Click To Tweet

Still don’t understand what we are about to do?

Still not sure what exactly this Bucket List Adventure Race will look like? Then watch this promo from the Adventurists themselves.

 

Bonfires on the Levee – A Louisiana Christmas Tradition

Bonfires on the Levee – A Louisiana Christmas Tradition

Joyeux Noel!

December is a magical time of year as many people celebrate the holiday season with traditional customs passed down from generations of their family and community! In Louisiana, this is especially true as we celebrate the coming of Christmas and the New Year in beautiful and unique ways.  One of the rarest ways locals show their holiday spirit is through a Christmas tradition known as ‘the Bonfires on the Levee.’

The History of Bonfires

The history behind how the Christmas bonfires began is a bit blurry.  This is perhaps due to the fact that the area of Louisiana now known as the River Parishes were settled by both French and German settlers who celebrated the holidays in various traditions. According to research, when they first arrived, the people of the area often only celebrated Christmas as a church obligation while New Year’s Eve was the time of gift giving and revelry. According to local history, families and friends would gather on New Years Eve for a feast of gumbo and eggnog. Then they would gather on the levee to watch the burning of a large cone-shaped bonfire to say goodbye to the previous year while celebrating the coming of new one. As with many traditions, this revelry gradually evolved toward what we now know as a Christmas celebration.

The more common modern and most cherished story is that the Christmas Bonfires on the Levee is a Cajun tradition developed to celebrate the coming of “Papa Noël,” the Cajun Santa Claus. It is said that the residents of the River Parishes (St. James, St. John and St. Charles) would light bonfires along the levees of the Mississippi River to light the way for Papa Noël with his pirogue drawn by alligators named Gaston, Ninette, TiBoy, Celeste, Suzette, etc. as they would deliver gifts.  This wonderful story is recounted in the popular children’s book, Cajun Night Before Christmas.

Gettin in the Holiday Spirit reading Bonfires on the Levee - A Louisiana Christmas Tradition! Click To Tweet

Building of the Bonfires

The residents of the River Parishes take great pride in the building of their bonfires. To create a bonfire, a family must first file a permit with Pontchartrain Levee Board. This is to be insured in case of an accident as well as notifying proper safety authorities.  Then teams called the ‘Boys of the Bonfire Club’ will deliver logs, branches, kindling, and spars to help the families create their bonfires.

Each family often creates the traditional conical style – a center spar planted dead center in the ground while 3 or 4 other long spars are used as corner edges – meeting at the top of the center spar to create a pyramid.  Next, shorter logs are stacked log cabin style to develop the outer wall of the pyramid. It is then filled with kindling, cotton doused in kerosene, and left over pieces of wood.  Each bonfire averages about 20 feet high.

In recent years, whether it was to celebrate the holidays, their favorite sports teams, or unique Louisiana symbol, families have become more creative with their designs, adding a little flare to the tradition.

How to Experience the Bonfires on the Levee

If you can make it, the most popular way to experience the Bonfires on the Levee is as a family gathering on Christmas Eve. You should arrive at sunset, around 7pm, when the bonfires are set ablaze and bowls of hot gumbo and eggnog are served. However, if you can’t make it on Christmas Eve, there are also 2 other ways to experience the Bonfires on the Levee earlier in December:

  1. Oak Alley Plantation’s Annual Christmas Bonfire Party: Usually held the 1st Saturday in December, this is a bit more of an organized event held in nearby Vacherie, Louisiana at the famous Oak Alley Plantation.  The party starts at 7pm where you are treated to an unbelievable Cajun/creole buffet style feast by workers in period plantation style costumes. Then around 8pm the brass quintet second line parades everyone to the levee where the bonfire is lit and Christmas carols are sung.  From there, you can stay or return to the plantation for more great food, dancing, and fun. Don’t lollygag though because every year this event sells out quick and reservations are required. Please call 800-44ALLEY to purchase your tickets.  Otherwise to learn more about the event, visit online at Oak Alley Plantation.
  2. Festival of the Bonfires: The Festival of the Bonfires is a wonderful small festival usually held the 2nd full weekend (Friday – Sunday) of December in Lutcher, Louisiana.  Their slogan is “CHRISTMAS ON THE RIVER…CAJUN STYLE!” and they live up to the hype.  Of course, you are there to see the bonfires, but the festival offers fun for the whole family.  With live entertainment, crafts, Santa’s Very Merry Forest and carnival rides, it is easy to get in the holiday spirit as you wait for the lighting of the bonfire.  Be ready to eat. There is a large variety of main courses like gumbo, jambalaya, boudin sausage, potato salads, and miscellaneous fried foods. But leave room for dessert as the Cajun Christmas treats arrive in full force with various types of bread pudding, brownies, funnel cakes, and even deep fried Oreos and Twinkies for the adventurous soul. Make sure you grab some hot cocoa or eggnog around 6:30pm. Then head outside to special buses that will shuttle you to the levee. Here at 7pm the Queens of the Festival will light the Bonfires. From there you can catch any of the shuttles back to the Festival to enjoy more food or dance the night away to live music. To see a calendar of events, visit Festival of the Bonfires.

Have you ever seen the Bonfires on the Levee in the River Parishes of Louisiana? Do you have Christmas traditions that are unique to your family or community? Tell us all about them in the comments below.

And as Papa Noël says at the end of the Cajun Night Before Christmas:

“An’ I hear him shout loud

As a splashin’ he go

‘Merry Christmas to all

‘Til I say you some mo’!”

 

6 Reasons You Need To Attend The Louisiana Renaissance Festival

6 Reasons You Need To Attend The Louisiana Renaissance Festival

wp-1479856762992.jpg

Every weekend in November the small town of Hammond, Louisiana, takes people back in time to a historical 16th century village (Albright) in England.  The Louisiana Renaissance Festival (aka: RenFest) has been a popular destination since the year 2000, celebrating all things from the renaissance era.  Here are the top 6 Reasons You Need To Attend The Louisiana Renaissance Festival:

1) The Shows & Events – There is no lack of entertainment at RenFest.  At the festival (open at 10am) you’ll find many free shows that will transport you back to days of old.  Whether you like comedy, music, juggling, or action, there is something for all ages.  Each show lasts 20 – 40 minutes depending on the show.  I recommend that you acquire a map & schedule of daily events at the entrance (for free) so you know when and where things are going on.  Also, if you want a seat, you should get to the shows about 5 to 10 minutes early.  Some of the fan favorite shows and events at RenFest are:

  • wp-1479856810163.jpgJousting: This is by far the top event to see.  The Jousting Arena is set up at the far end of the property and has several bleachers set up for viewers.  The show is great.  There is an emcee who narrates the events as two knights come out bearing their colors and the narrator divides the crowd to root for their knight!  Of course, there is actual jousting as the knights race toward each other with their lances and strike each other for points.  There is also hand to hand combat as well.  Besides the action, you will find yourself laughing as the two knights play to the crowd.
  • Falconry Show: Another great show at the Jousting arena that has owls, hawks and falcons flying freely in this demonstration.  Nearby is a tent where you can see these magnificent birds on their perches before and after performances. You can also have your picture taken with some of them.
  • Pandorium Belly Dancing: Over by the Lakeview stage, you can watch gypsies belly dancing.  What is great is not only do they do the typical belly dancing to the accompanying troubadour band but they also tell stories with their dances that kids of all ages enjoy.
  • Shakespeare Approves: This show replaces the Robin Hood Presents at the Queen’s stage.  If you want to experience Hamlet in a comedic fashion, then this is the show for you.  the-duelistsWilliam Shakespeare hosts as he tells the story of Hamlet using people from the audience to as his characters.  Its a great way to get the family involved and laugh the whole time.
  • The Duelists: Outside of Jousting, this may be one of the best shows at RenFest.  You can find 3 showings of The Duelists at the King’s stage.  The Duelists demonstrate the 10 steps in every epic duel.  They showcase hand to hand combat using a variety of weapons—rapiers, daggers, swords and shields, axes, the halberd, maces, whips and more.  On top of the exciting sword play, the show is chocked with humor and innuendo that will make you laugh out loud.  Be warned, although they invite hecklers to jab at them throughout the show, they do jab back in a fun and comedic way.

2) The Food & Drink – No festival in Louisiana would be worth its salt if it didn’t have unbelievable food and drinks – RenFest doesn’t disappoint.  At the fest you will find all kinds of fair and festival foods typical of both Louisiana and the Renaissance era.

For unique Renaissance foods, look for Turkey Legs, Pretzels, Scotch Eggs, Beef on a Stick, Shepard’s Pie, and a variety of warm soups served in bread bowls.  If that doesn’t appease you, there are burgers, nachos, Chinese food, Mexican food, and even a donut tent.  For dessert, you can find an array of treats like fudge, cotton candy, brownies, candy apples and frozen chocolate covered cheese cakes, among the many options.

To wet your whistle, you will find plenty of beer and wine options throughout the fest.  They even have several pubs in Albright Village where you can grab a pint, sit, and listen to troubadours or catch a show.  For non alcoholic options they have root beer floats, bubble tea, and a make your own flavor of soda booth. For the less adventurous drinker, colas, water, tea, and coffee are also available.

3) archeryRides and Games – At any festival or school fair you can always expect to see rides and games of chance or skill.  However, at the Louisiana Renaissance Festival expect to see unique versions that test your medieval skills.

The rides are not only a sight to witness, but fun to experience.  You might recognize various carnival rides from modern festivals, but with the twist of old school mechanics.  You will see merry go rounds with powered by small horses, the swinging sea dragon ride made to look like a hippogriff and swung with pullies, or a tea cup like ride called the Crow’s nest spun by men around a pole with ropes and pegs.  There are also a couple of renaissance era themed rides such as a Sliding Joust where you ride a wooden horse and slide down a track while holding a lance hoping to spear the hoop against an opponent coming from the opposite direction.

As for carnival games, there are tons of options for the knight in training.  You can showcase your skills at archery, knife throwing, axe throwing, blow darts, cross bow shooting, catapults, and a rotten tomato throw at the village jester.  If you have little ones that you don’t want hurling weapons around, don’t fret there are plenty of fun activities for the wee ones as well.

4) The Shopping – One of the fun things to do at any festival is window shop the various arts, crafts of miscellaneous merchants pawning their wares.  At The Louisiana Renaissance Festival you won’t be disappointed in the merchants and what they have to offer.  RenFest offers everything from jewelry, hats, and toys to weapons, magic wands, kilts, and period costumes. It is one of the few places perhaps in the world where even children will be happy to explore the shopping booths.

Now I want to go to the Louisiana Renaissance Festival. Want to come with me? Click To Tweet

5) louisiana renaissance festival costumed-musiciansThe Costumes – As you would expect, there are countless volunteers and workers decked out in full costumes throughout The Louisiana Renaissance Festival.  Dress includes a wide assortment of costumes from pirates, knights in armor, simple medieval renaissance peasants, scots in kilts, and characters dressed as royalty.

What is interesting, is that not only are the workers of RenFest dressed in costumes, but also many attendees.  You will see men walking into the festival wearing a kilt while holding the hands of little princesses and even a little Iron Man.  Feel free to wear your favorite renaissance costume to the festival, you will fit in just fine as it is actually encouraged by RenFest with their daily costume contest held at the Queen’s Stage.

6) Ye Royal Village of Albright – As said earlier, The Louisiana Renaissance Festival has created a historical 16th century English village (Albright) on their 16 acre property in Hammond, Louisiana.  The village is built around a small wp-1479856779682.jpglake located in the center of the property.  The experience the beauty of the property as you stroll amid pine trees.

Walking the Royal Village of Albright is an experience in itself.  Of course there are shops, food booths, rides, games, and shows but the village comes alive as characters reenact the renaissance period.

You will various period demonstrations, including baking, butter churning, glass blowing, blacksmithing, and sewing. You can even take a tour of a medieval dungeon museum where you can learn different torture techniques used during the renaissance era.

prisoner

For more information about purchasing tickets or seeing the schedule of events about the Louisiana Renaissance Festival visit their website at www.Larf.net. However, if you would like to ask us questions or share with us your RenFest experiences, leave a comment below!  Huzzah to the Commenters!

 

The Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival

The Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival

chiang mai floating lanterns in the sky

On the evening of the full moon of the 12th month (November) of the Thai lunar calendar, the city of Chiang Mai celebrates The Thailand Lantern Festivals of Loy Krathong and Yi Peng.  It is an experience that should be on everyone’s Bucket List.  Hopefully the Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival will inspire you to attend this amazing festival of lights.

The Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival: Loy Krathong and Yi Peng 

When is it?

The city of Chiang Mai celebrates both Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festivals simultaneously over several days during the week of the full moon in November.  Actual dates in November fluctuate each year depending on the cycle of the moon.  The festivities are said to be over the course of a week but essentially the entire festival takes place over three days.  The dates for the few years is as follows:

  • Loy Krathong date in 2016: November 14, 2016
  • Loy Krathong date in 2017: November 4, 2017
  • Loy Krathong date in 2018: November 23, 2018
  • Loy Krathong date in 2019: November 13, 2019
  • Loy Krathong date in 2020: November 1, 2020

 

Enjoying the Celebration

When in Chiang Mai, we recommend you find a list of events for Loy Krathong/Yi Peng as they seem to shuffle around each year.  But for the most part, the days were filled with Food, Bazaars, Parades, Pageants, and of course lights!

The Lightslights-along-the-river

During the 3 days of the festival, the city of Chiang Mai is covered in lights. Interestingly, the city still uses candles to light the majority of the lanterns used in the celebration.  To begin the festival, university students will light candles along the rivers surrounding the old town. The entire Ping River area and bridges around the old city are lit up with hundreds and hundreds of small candles.

leaving-a-little-candleMuch of the surrounding old wall in the original city is dilapidated, however the university students use these ruins to set up dedication sites, where visitors can leave a candle as a devotion to someone not able to be there or whatever they wish.

The tea lights are handed out for free, so feel free to ask some of the students for a candle and always be respectful of others who may be praying as they leave their devotional.

The Pageants and Activities

miss-yi-pengDuring the 3 days of celebration there are many activities to enjoy.  They have Handmade Krathong Contests, Yi Peng Kids contests, Boat Races, and small Aot Air Balloon Contests. The majority of these events can be seen near the Office of Chiang Mai Municipality.

The Thapae Gate, and entrance to the old city, is also a hot spot for many activities.  Here you can witness the Miss Yi Peng Pageants.  Though not unlike typical beauty pageants, what is interesting is the traditional costumes, head pieces, and dance routines.

The Parade

floats-of-yi-peng-paradeThe Loy Krathong parade is a beautiful spectacle for all ages.  Starting around sunset, many groups line up in traditional costumes with bands of flutes and drums blasting away fun and entertaining music.  Gorgeous floats are made to look like Krathongs floating on the Ping river with unbelievable details and thousands of lights.

The parade starts at the Thapae Gate and rolls through a street route to the Office of Chiang Mai Municipality.

Loy Krathong Floating Lantern Launch

loy-krathongs-on-the-riverOn one of the days there will be an official start of Loy Krathong.  Throughout the day there will be plenty of activities going on.  However, an official launch starts at Nawarat bridge & Office of Chiang Mai Municipality at about sunset along the Ping River.

You can easily find people selling Krathongs or “decorative floats” around the city through the day for around $5 USD.  Each one is made uniquely of a banana tree base and covered with banana leaves, decorations, incense sticks, and a candle.  Once you find one that you like, make your way down along the banks of the Ping River.  Be careful as it can be slippery on the mud and rocks along the Ping.

When at the river, light the candle, take a moment to reflect.  The modern history of Loy Krathong is  that the lights that are floated down the rivers are meant to symbolize the drifting away of bad luck and misfortune.  However, for many Thai people it is also an opportunity to honor the goddess of water.  So please remember to be respectful of the many others that will line the banks of the river with you.

Yi Peng Sky Lantern Releases

little-girl-with-her-lanternYou have a couple of options when dealing with the Yi Peng Sky Lantern Release.  First, you can participate in the tourist only lantern release held at Mae Jo University in Chiang Mai that requires you to book tickets from $100 USD per person. It is by far the biggest release around with often 500+ people participating.

Another option is to participate in the melee of people releasing from around the Nawarat bridge.   You can find vendors selling the paper hot air balloons around the city for about $5-$10 USD.  They are essentially paper cylinders held together with light metal wiring.  At the bottom there will be a metal ring of cotton that is soaked in kerosene.  At 9pm you are allowed to open up and then light your sky lanterns.  It tends to take about two people to manage the balloon.  When you feel that your balloon is filled with enough hot air and can float away, let go. You are supposed to make a wish for the new year while asking for forgiveness for the faults of the last year.

Warnings: It is illegal to fly lanterns before the city has stopped air traffic for the night.  Also, please note that these balloons are highly flammable, therefore it is recommended to be far away from tree lines, electrical areas, or other flammable sources.

The Thailand Lantern Festival is definitely on my Bucket List Now! Click To Tweet

The Food

street-food-of-chiang-maiThai food is arguably some of the best food in the world and Chiang Mai is no exception!  Whether its during the festival or not you will always find a great assortment of street food available for cheap.

What is unique is that these Thai chefs bring out their own little tables and set them up next to their booths so that you can join them for dinner.  Just walk up to the booth, tell them what you want, sit down, and wait to be fed!

Around the main entrance to the city (during the festival) you will find countless booths selling skewers of meat, dumplings, mixed stir fry noodles and yes even sushi.  You will also find a a small assortment of desserts like ice cream, sweet sticky rice, fried bananas, and small sweet cakes

khao-soiIf at all possible we highly recommend you find and try Traditional Khao Soi. It’s an egg noodle mixed with chicken where you can add crunchy pickled veggies, sliced shallots and a lime in a spicy curry Broth.  One of the interesting things is to watch them make and cut the rice noodles from scratch.

Other Things to do in The City of Chiang Maithe-walled-city-of-chiang-mai

In 2014, TripAdvisor listed Chiang Mai as number 24 of 25 Best Destinations in the World.  Founded in in 1296 the “New City” was developed due to its location near the Ping river and many trade routes.

The old city is beautiful and easy to navigate.  With the many temples and museums there is plenty there to keep someone occupied.  The original city was built within a wall surrounded by a small river or moat.

The Temples (the Wats)

Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples (“wat” in Thai).  Each are open to the public and nearly all are free to enter and explore.  Most are located within the original walled city and have their own unique personalities worth exploring.  Here is a list of some that should be seen:

  • Wat Muen Toom: Wat Muen Toom was built by the soldier “Toom” around 2012 B.C., or 1478 C.E.  It is said that before being enthroned, every king of Lanna Kingdom wore white and came to Wat Muen Toom to have a three day-retreat in order to practice meditation and participate in the Long Live Ceremony.
  • Wat Pan Tao: Wat Pan Tao is one of the only wooden wats built from teakwood in Chiang Mai.  Its name, meaning “temple of a thousand kilns,” probably derives its name from the ovens used to cast Buddha images for another temple.  During the festivals they hold a beautiful night time celebration of light.
  • Wat Chiang Man: Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai.  The temple houses two important and venerated Buddha figures, one in marble and another in crystal.
  • Wat Bupbharan: Wat Bupbharan is home to the largest Teak Buddha in the world
  • Wat Chedi Luang: Wat Chedi Luang houses the biggest and most famous pagoda in Chiang Mai.
  • Wat SriSupan: Built in 1502, Wat SriSupan is Chiang Mai’s silver temple.  The attention that was given to the detail within the silver work is amazing.
  • Wat Phra Doi Suthep: Wat Phra Doi Suthep which is about 40 minutes outside of town up in the mountains overlooking the city. It is famous for its 344 + steps leading to the temple and is guarded by two dragons that line the stairs all the way up.

As you can see, The Thailand Lantern Festival needs to be on everyone’s Bucket List.  Whether you just want the chance to witness thousands of beautiful lanterns in the sky and floating lanterns down the Ping River or you want to participate because you need to find a way to start off the new year with a clean slate , it is definitely worth it.

Hopefully, The Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival will get you excited about attending the next festival in Chiang Mai. However, if there is something you’re still curious about, or if you have any follow up questions, please feel free to reach out in the comments below.

asian-couple-with-their-lantern

 

 

My Ultimate Baseball Bucketlist

My Ultimate Baseball Bucketlist

jj-and-dad
My Dad, Mom, and Me

I am the middle kid in my family.  When I was a kid I felt that my dad and I weren’t that close, but somehow we had a common interest, the awesome game of Baseball. My dad was a big baseball fan and frustrated baseball player. He grew up idolizing players like Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle and Joe Di Maggio. He tried his hardest to get into the big leagues, but somehow his father pushed him to go to the military instead.

Baseball became my dad and I’s connection. He taught me the basics of baseball…how to throw and how to bat. When I won my first little league game, I will never forget it, he told me that I was finally ready to attend my first big league baseball game. Fortunately, we got to travel to New York City and the game was in the Original Yankee Stadium, “The House that Ruth Built.”

At the New Yankee Stadium
At the New Yankee Stadium

I remember every detail of that day: stepping out of the #7 Train; the anticipation; the overwhelming feeling of “baseball energy;” the goose bumps when entering gate #3; and the euphoric excitement when the crowd started cheering.  Wow, that was it. That’s when I was hooked.

Together, my dad and I enjoyed numerous games.  We visited close to 17 cities and he always made sure we caught a game while we were there together. In every moment my dad and I spent together, I was happy.

Visiting every baseball stadium is definitely on my Bucket List! #bucketlist #Baseball Click To Tweet
citizen-park
Citizen Bank Park Home of the Phillies

Then one day, we had a different conversation. He told me he would be going for his yearly checkup and he hadn’t been feeling well lately. We took him to the hospital for his checkup, and I sat in the waiting room – and waited – for what seemed like forever. After seeing the doctor, my dad told me he had to stay in the hospital over night to have more tests. At first, I couldn’t understand why he had to stay longer and I never really asked why. Months passed and finally we were told that he was really very sick. He was diagnosed with Colon Cancer.

Years of treatment went by. As with a lot of cancer patients, my dad had a lot of weight and at times it was startling how drained and weak he was. He always told me that as soon as he got out of the hospital, we would visit every baseball stadium and historic site from the past, present and future (they are always building somewhere).

A few days after he passed away, I vowed that I would continue his wish – complete his dream in his honor.

Years have passed and I have slowly started fulfilling his wish. One city, one stadium, one baseball site at a time, I am getting closer to accomplishing his dream. One of his favorite stadiums was the Original Tiger Stadium in Detroit, I journeyed through barbwire, rocks and tall grass to find this field – what was once the Original Tigers Stadium – and it was worth every cut and scrape. It was 2010 when I got to visit this holy baseball land where greats like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente all played. It’s weird, but I felt a surge of energy in this sacred land.

original-tigers-stadium-field
Site of the Original Tiger Stadium in Detroit
I feel that he is with me whenever I am in one of those places – it always brings me back to those good times and good moments. I know visiting every ballpark both past and present is a really hard task to complete but I am getting closer every year and I am cherishing the journey!
new-tigers-stadium
Comerica Park Home of the Detroit Tigers

About Our Guest Poster:

John Alo-Sweeney, aka: Mana’Olanakeiki Alo, is the Owner and CEO ALOGRAPHICS Unlimited.  With his background and wide range of influences – from Comic Books to Japanese Animation to German Pop Art to Dutch Graffiti to Extreme Sports to New York City Urban Street Wear, his experience expands many media platforms. He has done custom designs for athletes, local surf and skate shops and has established himself in the music industry in Web Design, Album Covers and merchandising for various musical artists like N.E.R.D, Linkin Park, and Stone Temple Pilots, to name a few. He designs for various brands such as Quiksilver, Billabong, Volcom, Vans, Zoo York Institute and also does digital work and occasional inking work for DC Comics Media. John is also the CEO & Founder of Project ALO, a charitable project which gives used and still functional computers to people who need them – such as veterans, the elderly and the less fortunate, giving them professional opportunities and connecting them to their love ones and to the world.

Angola Prison Rodeo

Angola Prison Rodeo

Being from New Orleans, I never really experienced rodeos or any professional bull riding type events first hand.  However, every year around October there is a slight buzz in the air about the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana (and NO I am not referring to the buzz of the infamous electric chair, Gruesome Gertie)!wp-1475613510047.jpgThe Angola Prison Rodeo is an annual event located on the grounds of the Louisiana State Penitentiary commonly known as “The Farm.” The rodeo is held every Sunday during October and one weekend in April and is worth the drive.

So, why should it be on everyone’s bucket list – especially if you live in Louisiana?  Well, after experiencing it, here are my top reasons:

The Rodeo Itself 

Angola Prison RodeoThe rodeo is comprised of many different events including the familiar bull riding as well as numerous unexpected entertaining events.  What is unique is that the majority of the events are run and participated in by the inmates themselves.  These inmates have no experience, but volunteer to participate for both prizes and “glory.”  In total, the inmates participate in about 10 events including: The Grand Entry (Seen Left), Bust Out, Bareback Riding, Wild Horse Race, Bull-Dogging, Inmate Pinball, Chariot Races, Wild Cow Milking, Bull Riding, Convict Poker, & Guts and Glory.

There are several other events that are run by and participated by professionals such as barrel racing by women competing on the professional tour.  Plus you may get a chance to see some professional trick riders or a motorcycle daredevil.  For the safety of the inmates and the entertainment of the onlookers, there are also professional rodeo clowns running around and adding friendly banter with the announcer.

The Arts & Craft Show

Before entering the Rodeo, I recommend getting there at least an hour early to explore the outdoor arts and craft show.  There are paintings, leather goods, jewelry, woodwork, and even beautiful wooden furniture like handmade rocking chairs.  Many stalls are selling items made by the convicts themselves. It’s a unique experience as you walk around the outdoor stalls.  If you decide you want to buy something, you get a purchase ticket from an inmate and take it to the cashier.  Then return with your purchase receipt and can return your item to your car.  At first you may seem a bit put off as you walk amid some free roaming inmates and others behind a metal fence.  However, you soon relax as you explore the beauty of their handiwork.

I am learning about the Biggest Prison Rodeo in the United States! #AngolaPrisonRodeo Click To Tweet

The FOODDeep Fried Coke

Don’t go to the prison rodeo expecting to eat anything healthy.  But do expect to enjoy the smells and flavors of some of the best fair/rodeo food in the world!  From gigantic smoked turkey legs to bowls of jambalaya to tamales and much more, you can find nearly anything your heart desires (and clog it up) while you eat at this event.

The highlight…DEEP FRIED COKE.  That is right, I said it, DEEP FRIED COCA COLA!!  Essentially, what they do is take coca cola and add it to a batter mixture.  Then they drop the batter ball into a deep fryer and viola, you have DEEP FRIED COKE!  Then they serve you several of the Fried Coke Balls in a cup, cover it with powdered sugar and whip cream and drop a cherry on top.  It tastes like a coke infused beignet or perhaps a funnel cake ball for you folk outside of Louisiana, just sweeter.

The Neighborhood

Ok so “the Farm” doesn’t have any direct neighbors but St. Francisville is about 20 minutes away. St. Francisville is a popular tourist destination, with a number of restored historic plantations open daily for tours, including Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site, Audubon State Historic Site, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Haunted Myrtles Plantation, as well as several antebellum gardens.  Since the rodeo is on Sunday, why not make a weekend of it by showing up on Friday night and staying in one of St. Francisville’s beautiful Bed and Breakfasts, explore the plantations on Saturday, and then end your weekend tunicafalls-700x525at the Angola Rodeo on Sunday before heading home.

Another thing to do Sunday morning before getting to the rodeo is to explore the hidden Tunica Falls between St. Francisville and Angola. Clark Creek Natural Area, sometimes referred to as Tunica Falls, is a natural haven for bird watching, hiking, photography, botanizing and nature lovers.  There are two trails you can take to reach the falls: the primitive trail or the improved pea graveled trail.  It should take you about 2 hours if you take the improved trail.

The Angola Prison Rodeo is truly not to be missed. It has a little something for everyone – rodeo lovers, comedy/live entertainment aficionados, foodies and art collectors alike will enjoy the event. The rodeo is also kid friendly – so the whole family can come!

For more information visit the Angola Prison Rodeo website, or its Facebook page. The event often sells out so be sure to buy your tickets online in advance. Happy trails!

 

 

 

Funny But True Things about the Camino de Santiago

Funny But True Things about the Camino de Santiago

wp-1471473731096.jpgOn Monday, June 27th, 2016, I embarked on perhaps one of my greatest adventures of 2016, to fulfill Bucketlist item #109) Walk the Camino de Santiago from France to Santiago, Espana.

The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, is 490+ mile pilgrimage often starting in St Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, Spain where it is believed that the remains of the Apostle St. James the Greater are buried.

People make the pilgrimage for many reasons: a retreat for their spiritual growth, to discover their past or reveal their future, in hopes that a miracle will touch them or someone they love, and many other reasons.

It all kind of sounds like some mystical, religious, self-discovery adventure right out of a C.S. Lewis or Paulo Coehlo novel and there can be some of that if that is what you truly seek.  But while you walk on the Camino for days on end, there are also many real life quirks, funny truths, and even insanities that accompany you on this journey.

Here are some of the major ones, Enjoy!

You will give away the deed to your house back home for a bottom bunk

It doesn’t seem to matter if you are 18 or 80, the idea of climbing up to the top bunk at the end of a hard day of walking is enough to make anyone cry! In most albergues, it is kind of a first come first serve situation, while in others they have an over 40 rule.  However, you will bargain your treasures for the bottom bunk. If you are unfortunate enough to get the top bunk, then you must take care of everything before the climb because you will then enter the contest of “how long can I hold it before I have to climb back down to use the bathroom!”

You will politely HATE ALL CYCLISTS!

The first time you see a cyclist struggling to push their bicycles loaded with their saddle bags up a mountain, a sense of pity will encompass you.  Don’t fret, that will only last about 4 hours because then you will pray for them to crash down a mountain.  Why? Because these cyclist will come zipping by you, out of no where, at top speeds nearly clipping your arms and shoving you off the trail as they happily shout, “Buen Camino!” It’s insanity to say the least.  They own a $1,000 bicycle and can’t afford an effing $2.00 bell to warn you!  Stupid Cyclists…”Buen effin Camino!!”bikes on the camino

By day 3 everyone qualifies as a registered podiatrist

Feet, feet, feet!  Everyone discusses their feet or the feet of others on the Camino.  Between blisters, bruises, twisted ankles, and lost toe nails every possible subject regarding feet is discussed – by everyone!  The earliest records of visits paid to the shrine dedicated to St. James at Santiago de Compostela date from the 9th century. So, as you walk you will start to wonder what type of space aged leather the pilgrims used for shoes as the Roman roads beat your feet into mush like Ivan Drago beat Apollo Creed’s face in Rocky IV!

Everyone admits to seeing The Way, reading The Pilgrimage, or owning a Brierly guidebook

You are so excited to start walking in the beginning, especially after seeing THE WAY or reading The Pilgrimage or your Brierly guidebook!  You will ask everyone if they have seen or read them and openly admit that you they are the catalyst to this adventure for you.  I mean why not, they make it seem so wonderful and easy!  But by the first week, you will wonder what map Martin Sheen had because his character was all over the place! On day 2 you will start to create voodoo dolls of John Brierly and wonder if he has ever even walked the Camino because this is way harder than he describes.  With regards to The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coehlo, you will think he must have been tripping out on some serious shrooms as you walk through towns he visited and had his visions yet see nothing that resembles the mystical world!

Spain’s metric system is more of a general average rather than an exact science 

kilometers

Spain’s definition of 1 kilometer seems to vary from place to place and sign to sign with a +/- variance of +4 or +10! Wait or was it -22?

But seriously, reading your guidebook or maps will drive you insane as you walk for endless kilometers on end with no similar scale from day to day.  Even legitimate government road signs will vary along the many hours you spend walking toward Santiago, only to find out the next sign added 5 kilometers to the initial sign you read that morning!

The Funny But True Things about the Camino de Santiago is really funny! #Camino #travel Click To Tweet

You will hate energy & water conservation, but only in the bathroom

Spain seems to be doing wonderful work with energy conservation as you see the beautiful horizons lined with windmills.  However, after awhile you are willing to sign any petition that will get the timers off the bathroom lights or the shower water button to last longer than 38 seconds!

No one will question that you are following graffiti to your destinationyellow-arros

The Camino de Santiago might be the only time in your life where you will deliberately follow crappy yellow spray painted arrows across an entire country and no one will think you are crazy!  I mean imagine if you were back home and you told your parents that you found some spray paint markings under some bridges or on random trees & you wanted to see where they led. They would definitely try to talk you out of it! But on the Camino, you search for them and start get nervous when you don’t see them after awhile!

You will carry the Camino with you every day

No this isn’t some sort of deep thought! This is a literal statement.  Every time you take off your boots you will pour out pounds of dirt, rocks, and unknown particles!  Suddenly you will feel like Andy from the Shawshank Redemption as he emptied his escape route into the prison yard.

You will become a Pyrenees Snob

Well you might become a Pamplona snob, a Burgos snob, a Leon snob, or another location snob to anyone who starts after you! I mean come on, you suffered far harder circumstances and have become an expert on the Camino in the 3 days before they started! Well, everyone can agree that the jerks that start in Sarria will never understand! It’s weird when you realize your contempt for those who start in Sarria as they complete the bare minimum length of the Camino.  Even in John Brierly’s guidebook, he warns to “Beware of signs of irritation at the intrusion on ‘my’ camino…” as new pilgrims enter at Sarria!

You will Gain Weight

wp-1468854786206.jpgThe Camino de Santiago must be the only event where you will burn 9 million calories a day hiking and come home 15 lbs. heavier! How? Perhaps, it is because the only things to do besides walking is eating & drinking!  Every day you stop for a second and third breakfast before lunch. Then, there is the pilgrim’s menu served everyday for $10 or less where you eat like Arnold getting ready for a Mr. Universe body building competition.  Plus, with 95% of the Camino participating in Siesta, the only thing you have to do in the afternoons is eat and drink wine or ice cold pints of beer!

Everyone smiles in the same language

It doesn’t matter where people are from or how good your foreign language skills are, you will be able to talk to anyone – if you want. Don’t get me wrong, you may become an expert at charades by the end of the Camino, but it will be worth all the laughter and memories!

smiles

EXCERPTS FROM MY CAMINO DIARY – WEEK 5

EXCERPTS FROM MY CAMINO DIARY – WEEK 5

** let me start off by saying that I am writing these diary posts from my cell . So please excuse the format, look, possible grammatical errors, and feel of this presentation for normally I would have a laptop but wanted to disconnect is much as possible while walking the Camino de Santiago

July 29, 2016: Sarria – Gonzar

Today started out stressful. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to get back into my albergue but to no avail.  That is until one of the girls heard me yelling from the street and let me in finally!

From there we walked in the dark. It was the first time I actually needed my headlamp. Because we couldn’t see anything, the walk started out kind of boring.

Later, James and I met up with an Italian woman named Angy who talked with us a bit.  She was doing the Camino for religious reasons which was kind of refreshing to hear. She told me how at the age of 4 she received a personal blessing from Pope John Paul II and it changed her life.

Then we finally made it to the 100 kilometer marker. I didn’t know how to take this milestone. Most of the markers have been counting down and it’s kind of made me sad. There are two types of people that walk the Camino I guess, those that run to the finish line and those who love the race itself. I guess I’m the latter.

From here, we finally made it to Gonzar which is a rundown village but our albergue was a fun community set up. Everyone was hanging out at the little bar relieving the stress of their walk with friendship, laughter, and wine.

July 30, 2016: Gonzar – Melide

We started out at the butt crack of dawn and left in a cold heavy fog and darkness again. Although we walked through the darkness trying not to get lost, it was kind of fun.

There wasn’t much to see in my opinion accept other newer pilgrims entering the Camino. I keep thinking that if I had done just the minimum Sarria to Santiago which often Americans do, I would never want to come back because it’s kind of boring.

Finally we made it to Melide where we ate Pulpo and hung out with even more Irish people.  Melide is a cool small town what was hopping on the Saturday night as we came across several groups of Bachelor parties running around the streets.

I'm reading EXCERPTS FROM MY CAMINO DIARY-Week 5 about the walk from Sarria to Santiago! Click To Tweet

July 31, 2016: Melide – Salcedo

Today was another long rough day. I can tell it’s hard for everyone due to the fact that our bodies have been worked for 31 days straight, this last section is boring compared to the previous weeks, or perhaps we’re all just realizing that the end is near and it’s tiring us down.

We walked through many little Villages that offered some minor views. One of the nerdy highlights for me where these many shelters called Hórreos.   Essentially they are like little sheds raised up about 4 feet off the ground in people’s yards.  Historically they are used for storing corn in order to keep it dry and away from rodents. However I was told that sometimes pilgrims would sneak into them to sleep at night when they couldn’t find a place to stay. To me they’re very cool looking as they look like Cemetery tombs. Though they don’t seem to be of use anymore, they offer a unique look into the traditions of the farmers of Galicia.

Finally we made it into the small town of Salcedo.  Tonight will be our last family dinner before heading into San Diego tomorrow. The thought of this ending kind of saddens me.

August 1, 2016: Salcedo – Santiago

It was a cold slow-moving morning. I have never liked when a vacation, adventure, or anything fun comes to an end and this was no exception.

So we trudged from town to town in the cold stopping from time to time to eat, rest, or just because.  

One of the highlights is near the end called Monte De Gozo. It’s a monument to St. John Paul II and St. Francis of Assisi that overlooks the city of Santiago.

From there we made our descent into the city. We walked through the suburbs following James which is good since the markings were few and he had been there twice before.

Finally we entered Old Town Santiago. The old town is classic which I love. We would wander through the small streets amid the big crowds making our way to the cathedral. Finally we walked through the city arches into the main plaza before the cathedral. It was weird as I looked around at the random pockets of people and the million emotions that were flooding the streets. Some hugged their loved ones, others cheered, a few cried, and all while I sat in silence just observing.

From here we found our pensione and cleaned up before returning to the square to make our way to the pilgrims office to receive a certificate of completion.

From that point, James and I ran into previous characters from The Walk including Athena, Emily, Marie, Denis, Brian, and many others. It was great to see them all again and in such a happy moods.

That evening, James, Brian, Denis, and I celebrated with lots of beer and laughter as we all relaxed… Damn Irish!!

August 2, 2016: Santiago de Compostela

This morning was kind of a dream. I woke up around 8 a.m. and just kind of laid in bed. It’s kind of weird not getting up and walking. Around 10:30, I packed and went to the cathedral. It’s kind of an old-looking Cathedral inside compared to the others we had visited but it was nice nonetheless. After walking around, I got in line to see the Sepulchre of St. James. You enter from behind the Altar and climb first up to the big statue where I touched it while others hugged it. Then you go down beneath the altar to see the tomb of St. James.  You enter into a small room where you look through iron bars at his tomb.  To be honest, it was kind of anti-climactic for me. I guess I will always remember the walk far more than the destination.

Then I went to the pilgrim mass at noon. We were all there. The mass was nice but the highlight was at the end when they swung the giant incense burner.  As everyone watched it all, I finally felt something…a second of soft happiness.

After mass, I ran back to my pensione to grab my gear. It was time for me to leave. I said goodbye to Susanne and Ayeisha first and then James and Saoirse.  They all meant a lot to me on this walk and it was hard to say goodbye as I hug them. Perhaps I will be lucky enough to meet them again in life but for now, they will all be great characters in my life story.

Now it is time to walk the Camino Finisterre & Muxia.

Excerpts from my Camino Diary – Week 4

Excerpts from my Camino Diary – Week 4

** let me start off by saying that I am writing these diary posts from my cell . So please excuse the format, look, possible grammatical errors, and feel of this presentation for normally I would have a laptop but wanted to disconnect is much as possible while walking the Camino de Santiago

July 22, 2016: St. Martin del Camino – Astorga

Today we we returned to the beautiful walk as we walked with Maya, Amelia, and their SoCal family from town to town and through the farms between them.

Our first highlight was Puente de Orbigo. This is one of the longest and rather beautiful bridges along walk. The story goes that this preachers often used for knights to joust to gain honor or settle disputes and as you walked across you could easily imagine the scene.

The second highlight was La Casa de Los Dioses Cantina.  Basically this guy David was living the hippie life in the middle of the wheat fields offering places to sit and relax while he gave away free fruit juices, fruits and vegetables, and time to enjoy his little playful kittens as they reminded you of what is important in life.  His Cantina was perfect and across was the most beautifully tall wheat.  I walked across into the field and looked up as the blue sky hovered so close I could touch it.

As I walked into Astorga, I realized that this may have been the first day where all of us were joyful and silly together all the once.  It was amazing as silly photos, singing, word games, and lots of laughter filled the days walk.

After arriving, I went to explore.  Astorga is a classic and clean city with a plaza that is full of life. It even has the building designed by Gaudi next to their cathedral. Later we were treated to a great family dinner cooked by the Irish family and then returned to the plaza for ice cream while watching the locals celebrate their Friday night.

July 23, 2016: Astorga – Foncebadon

Last night I froze again!

We left really early again. I think the heat is too much for some people and others seem to be done walking. Everyone always seems shocked when I tell them I would love to do this longer, or I don’t mind the heat, or I’m not home sick at all.

The walk out of Astorga was relatively easy as we drifted in the cool morning. Even the moon refused to leave us as it guided us until noon.

Apparently we passed the area where a few years back a female pilgrim was misled by fake markers, kidnapped, and then murdered.  We walked through this supposed zone quietly.

Now Rabanal was our main stop for lunch.  It’s a beautiful town that made me feel like we entered a small alpine village. Apparently there’s up Benedictine monastery there that accepts pilgrims for a silent 2 night  retreat.  Perhaps next time.

From here we left toward Foncebadon. The climb was hard and reminded me of our first weekend the Pyrenees.  Personally, I loved it.  Sure it was hot and the path was extremely slippery and rocky, but I loved the challenge.

Finally we made it to this small hamlet.  It was basically a small area of several albergues amid ruins of other buildings on the side of the mountain…it was perfect.  This is perhaps the town where Paolo Coelho battles the devil dog in his book The Pilgrimage. We just sat outside enjoying the view of the valley below and the cool breeze.

July 24, 2016: Foncebadon – Ponferrada

The beautiful morning walk!

I awoke in a great mood.  We left and proceeded up the mountain under an amazing sky.  As the sun rose slowly, we witnessed unbelievable colors crossing through the sky.  We were all in awe.

As we continued, we arrived at the famous Cruz de Ferro.  People often leave a stone or a token at the foot of the cross.  I personally just left my thoughts.

It was a hard walk down Alto Altar, but the beautiful scenery, cool weather, and small villages kept us in good spirits along the way.

By around lunchtime we made it to Molinaseca.  The town has a classic old town but what I really thought was cool was how they created a public swimming area in the Rio Meruelo.  We ate lunch and watched pilgrims and locals alike jumping into the crystal clear cold river to cool off or relieve their aches.

Now the walk to Ponferrada was boring, long, and hot along the highway.  We finally made it to St. Nicholas de Flue, an albergue run by Franciscans.  

Ponferrada was also a boring town.  The only highlight was a giant castle built by the Knights Templar but it was closed.

Later I joined up with Fr Jeff and his friend Jared to celebrate his birthday. While celebrating, we met a girl from Dublin named Sinead.  She was eating all alone in nice clothes reading a Camino guidebook while the three of us looked sun beaten, dusty, and run down.  Fr Jeff asked her to join us and she revealed that tomorrow would be her first day walking the Camino and she was so nervous.  It was fun to see her like this as I tried to think about how I was 24 days prior in St. Jean when I started.

July 25, 2016: Ponferrada – Trabadelo

Herman the German Snored!!!

Last night was a horrible night’s sleep!  For the first time in a while, I got a bottom bunk which was great.  However, Herman the German, as we called him, had the top bunk.  He would toss and turn or jump in and out of bed several times for the first two hours.  It felt like an earthquake as he would shake the wobbly metal bunk bed.  Then after he finally settled, the snoring commenced!  He was so loud that everyone in the dorm room heard him.  I think in total I slept for one hour!

Then we left.  The day was hot and long.  Couple that with my lack of sleep led to a cranky morning.

Finally we reached Trabadelo.  There isn’t much to this village but our albergue hosts were great.  They allowed us to use their private pool to cool off and then cooked us a great dinner.  

Later I crashed into my soft bed.

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July 26, 2016: Trabadelo – O’Cebreiro

I woke up refreshed and happy.

The walk was beautiful as we followed the Rio Pereje through many little villages.  They all had unique personality as we moved closer to the Galicia border.

Then the climb came as we went up 700 meters away from the Castille y Leon region and into Galicia.

Finally we made it to O’Cebreiro atop the mountain.  This area has a unique Celtic feel to it.  After checking into the pension, I found a beautiful spot overlooking the valley to sit and smoke a cigar as the cool breeze relaxed me.

For dinner, I joined a group from Denmark and Holland as we discussed the world, travel, and life.  I’m always impressed that so many foreigners can speak English so well and how I struggle to speak minimalistic Spanish.

July 27, 2016: O’Cebreiro – Triacastela

A walk in the Fog!

Today started out with a snafu.  After hiking up the mountain for about 1 kilometer, I realized I had forgotten my cell phone and had to go back.  Luckily, I was feeling great and was able to run back down and then back up fast enough to catch up with everyone.

It was great though as I was able to witness a beautiful sunrise over the massive fog.  We were so high up that some of the other mountain peaks looked like islands floating in the sea of fog.

Soon though, the fog would overtake us.  But it was actually a blessing as it cooled us off during the hard uphills and downhills.

Finally we arrived at Triacastela.  This town is beautiful as it follows along a small river.  Everywhere you hear Galician music and see celtic symbols.  

I did a little exploring and later went to mass at their “Cathedral” de Santiago.  Then, we enjoyed a home cooked dinner as sat in the beautiful yard of our albergue.

July 28, 2016: Triacastela – Sarria

Today we had decided to finally take one of the scenic routes to see an ancient Benedictine monastery.  It would add an extra 6km to our walk but it seemed worth it.  Sadly, it was kind of a let down.  We walked in cool temperatures passed farms but there were no towns to stop in, so it felt like a very long walk. Finally we got to the Monastery.  Walking down towards it was amazing as it looked like a fortress.  It is reported as one of the oldest in all Europe so I was excited to see its history.  But to no avail.  The monastery is pretty much closed off except for the gift shop.  You can take a tour but it was at specific times and only in spanish, so we passed.

From there we took the long “scenic” path back to the main Camino and on to Sarria.  Sarria was a nice town and soon we met up with Fr Jeff, Jared, and Sinead.

Then my disastrous night began. Fr Jeff, Jared, Sinead, and I hadn’t eaten so we left to find food.  The guys wanted burgers buy Sinead and I wanted Pulpo (octopus).  So we went down to restaurant row by the river, ate, and returned.  Sinead went to her pension and I went up to my albergue only to find it locked!!  I hadn’t realized that we had a curfew especially since it was just the Irish family, James, and I in the place.  So I started knocking on the front door and yelling to the second floor where my roommates were.  After an hour, I desperately needed a bathroom, so I went in search of that and a place to stay.  I first checked the pension that Sinead was staying at.  When I walked in looking for the hospitelero, Sinead was there.  I told her that I was locked out and was desperate for a bathroom and she offered to help.  She was a life saver.  

Throughout the Camino, it would amaze me how pilgrims would often help each other out.  No one seemed a stranger on the walk, always looking out for one another.  Though I didn’t sleep due to the stress of the situation, I felt lucky.