About Me

An avid traveler I have had the good fortune to have spent my career in the travel and vacation industry. From Bali to Copenhagen and all points between is where I have been or intend to go. This blog however is specific to the Western half of the United States as I explore this part of the world.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mary Jane Falls Hike, Mount Charleston, Las Vegas, NV


Saturday it was overcast in Las Vegas and I decided a perfect time to drive up to Mount Charleston with the dogs for hike.  Mt. Charleston is the local Las Vegas resident's escape from the heat in the summer among other things.  Only a 40 minute drive from my house I can go from 2800 feet and 110 degree weather to nearly 9,000 feet and 75 degree weather and from a martian like landscape to landscape of evergreen and aspen forests, lazy meadows and towering cliffs and in the case of Saturday's hike about 62 degrees with occasional showers.  Perfect.

To get to Mary Jane Falls you simply take 95 North out of Las Vegas and turn left on 157, also known as Kyle Canyon Road.  You follow Kyle Canyon to a split where the road veers into a left hand u curve or continues straight.  Go straight onto what is Echo Rd and when you come to a split, pavement right, gravel left, go up the gravel road until you reach a parking area with facilities.  Park there as this is the head of the Mary Jane Falls Trail.  It starts off mostly fine and large gravel, transitioning to dirt and rock with a long straight away and then several switchbacks and finally one last straight away.

This hike was an opportunity for me to forgo my big hiking boots and try out a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves, a barefoot trail shoe that I recently purchased.  I brought my big boots with me as backup in case barefoot hiking didn't work for me but they weren't needed.  Wow these shoes were comfortable and lightweight.  It almost felt like I was hiking up the trail in my bare feet and my calves were a lot more involved in the hike without the restriction big boots sometimes have on full foot extension. 

So I had my barefoot running and hiking shoes and my Cockers Jazz and Koko had the big bare feet that this breed has and off we went.

Jazz and Koko anxious to get started.
It took about one hour to reach the falls from the head of the trail and that was with water breaks for myself and the dogs.  The first half was nice and gradual, the switchbacks were not so bad and the final climb was probably the steepest.  But you know you are close when you hit the final switchback at the cliff face and can begin to hear the water fall and feel the cool moisture cascading into the canyon.

For hikes in the west I always have my camelback with me so that I make sure I remain hydrated and have extra water for the dogs beyond their own water bottle and travel dish.  I also packed a protein bar and two white peaches that seemed extra tasty and juicy upon reaching the summit. 

From the dry and dusty aroma of Vegas to the peat and evergreen scent that greets you at altitude, Mt. Charleston is truly a welcome and close by escape.  The views are amazing and the trail has a good amount of happy and sociable people getting a bit of fresh air.  I had thought about having the dogs off the leash but after hiking the first few hundred yards it was evident that about every other group had dogs with them and I wanted to avoid any potential problems, most especially on the narrower parts of the trail.

Mary Jane Falls
The falls at the end were a nice treat, still running at a decent volume even for August and I could still see snow tucked away in different nooks and crevices within the cliffs.  Beat the August heat and make your way up to Mount Charleston.  Even if you aren't a hiker, a picnic or lunch at the Mt. Charleston Inn are well worth the trip.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bali, Indonesia: Walk, Ride or Drive... that is the question.

Early Morning in Seminyak on Jalan Kayu Aya
The first thing you should know about Bali is that the roads through towns and cities and even highways are relatively narrow and in questionable condition.  Often times there is only room for one way traffic, though somehow these narrow lanes manage to support two way traffic even if that means using a sidewalk or grass.

I am more the adventurous type and found the easiest way to get around is on a scooter or motorcycle.  After my first day I was prepared to ride up into the mountains but when no less than 7 people told me I was crazy to do so I was convinced.  Their primary concern was that many people have become victims of large (for Bali) transport trucks flying up and down the inner highways.  Though after experiencing those same roads in a car, it wasn't nearly as scary as it was made out to be.

Me getting around near Nusa Dua (can't escape the golden arches)
Adventure aside, if you can ride, this is the best way to get around Bali.  Flying half way around to world for business, fun or both to wait in traffic is not cool.  Think LA in some areas.  With a motorcycle you are through the traffic pretty easily.  Maneuvering between cars is not so bad when they are stopped or moving at 5 kph.

Also, if you decide to ride around Bali, carry cash.  While there are a decent amount of ATM's, enough vendors don't take plastic to make carrying cash necessary.  With the exchange rate, even if you are carrying a Balinese fortune it doesn't really translate into that much in US dollars.  Motorcycles and Scooters can be rented for roughly $30-$50 (30,000 to 50,000 rupiah) per week which is a killer deal.  You can rent 150cc Scooters up to 250cc motorcycles.  I recall reading an article around the same time about motorcycles in India having very manly names like Talon and Lion and Bali isn't different in this respect.  The hot motorcycle during the time I was there was the Honda Tiger (250) and it may still be today.  You won't find anything bigger than this to rent because they aren't allowed to be imported.  I did spot a Harley or Ninja now and again but after inquiring they are apparently black market or were imported as parts and rebuilt in Bali which is apparently a loophole in the law.
When cruising around Bali you will eventually need gas and there are two types of stations.  The more traditional gas station and the street vendor.  The few actual gas stations that I used were very nice.  They reminded me of the early days of auto transport in the United States.  The stations I saw were all well done, very clean and each pump had a smartly uniformed attendant standing almost at attention next to each pump, all lined up in the same holding position ready to serve. 

Notice the attendant at each pump
The other, more common place to get gas was with street vendors.  The street vendors can be found at intersections around the various towns and they look much like hot dog vendors with a cart and sometimes umbrella. The primary difference here is that the cart or stand is filled with liter bottles of fuel and the liter bottle container of choice is the standard Absolut Vodka bottle.  Ride up, hand over a few rupiah and enjoy full service where they open the cap, insert funnel and strainer and pour the gas, close the cap and wipe any spillage.  In some of my more lengthy explorations these vendors were life savers as my fuel needle dipped toward empty while I was in the middle on nowhere.  And thank you also to Google Maps which was very helpful on my Blackberry in determining where I was.

Full Service
The motor scooter is the primary mode of transportation for the Balinese and it fills the role of sole transport, economy vehicle, cool ride, family transport, off road vehicle and finally work vehicle.  I was at first amazed at the sheer number of motor scooters on the road.  I have watched scenes in movies or documentaries that showed this type of congestion and density of bikes but never have I been in the middle of it.  Beyond that, the versatility of use is amazing.  It was common to see entire nuclear families on a single scooter in the order of child, parent, child, parent all wearing helmets. 

Who needs a 4-door?

And then there were the labor crews that managed somehow to fit all of their tools and equipment on their scooters.

Where there's a will, there's a way.
There is so much to see in Bali straddled on a two wheeler that you wont see staying near a resort or taking taxis and tour buses to your destination.  More detailed coverage of areas I visited will come in a later post but from rural to city there are fantastic places to explore.

Canggu, north of Seminyak

Kuta Square
Beach at Candidasa

As always with adventure comes some risk, and it was my third trip out that I had a painful motorcycle wreck that left me with a very large hematoma

While recovering and as a promise to my wife on the next trip I made sure I was on 4 wheels (though I did sneak some two wheel time in).  I found four wheel to be more difficult than a bike with right hand drive in the car and left lane drive on the road.  I used a Toyota Yaris and on more than one occasion smacked side view mirrors with oncoming traffic on those narrow roads.  I did appreciate the AC though as living in Las Vegas, Bali is a humid and sticky place... any escape from humidity was appreciated.

If you are adventurous, experienced on a bike and like to get outside the tourist corridors or just see Bali on your terms; two wheels is the way to go.  However, if you don't have much experience or are a timid driver firmly plant yourself in the passenger seat of a taxi or friends car and enjoy the ride. 

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Getting there: Bali, Indonesia

Now that we have completed our business in Bali it is finally time to write about what a fabulous place this is.  From my time at RCI developing new business to my current consulting business I have always been cautious about leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for the competition.  After the fact... no worries.  ;)
The bartenders at Harry Juku playing up for Mr. Ted as I was known

My first trip to Bali was really my first foray into Asia.  I've been to Europe, Caribbean, Central and South America but never Asia.  My first trip out was with business associates David Berg and Craig Harada, meeting my business partner Randy You and Marketing Director Marcus Ito in Bali.  Our client had a single resort called Bali Island Villas that primarily catered to Japanese tourists and we were hired to build a brand, a product and rules for use, setting up sales in marketing in Bali, Japan, etc.  For those RCI members out there it is affiliated so you have an opportunity to exchange.  Follow this link to see The Island Regency Club now.

We flew Cathay for our first trip out and had a layover in Hong Kong.  I was surprised by the airport.  It was like any other airport and that was the strange thing... like any other airport in the States.  From Burger King to Dunkin Donuts many western brands were represented.  It took me a bit to try to find the most authentic Chinese food I could... for an airport. 

Enjoying Airport Chinese in Hong Kong

Notice in the background in the photo, specifically the Dior poster.  Something else that surprised me, all the models in the ads were westerners.  To me that would be like going to Las Vegas Airport and finding only Asian models on all the posters.  The Western Culture really is permeating everything.  I realize that Hong Kong was a former British territory but I saw this same trend in Singapore, Seoul, Bali, etc.  Trying to keep big money westerners comfortable or something else?

Craig Harada joining me and David Berg
The flight was great.  After flying internationally, it was truly depressing to realize the state of our domestic airline services.  In the US you have to pay $5 for a crappy, stale cold cut sandwich.  Cathay, Singapore Airlines and Korean Airlines provide open bar, choice of multiple hot meals and snacks both western and eastern, hot towels and a complete entertainment console at each seat from games to over 150 movies from all over the world.  While flying for 24-32 hours depending on layovers, it made the flight very comfortable.  The flight attendants were top notch, better than first class in the US.

I plan on heading out to France in the next 12 months and it will be interesting to compare Atlantic, international carriers vs Pacific as it has been a long time since I flew to Europe.  I did have experience with South American carriers like Copa and they were still nicer than the US.

This was the only layover on our first trip to Bali and wasn't two horribly long for international flights.  Even if you have a long layover, of which I had a few, there are always excellent mini hotels and private shower areas where you can get cleaned up or sleep for a few hours between flights.  After sitting on a plane for 16-20 hours there is nothing like taking a hot shower and wearing clean clothes so pack a change in your carryon.

Hong Kong Airport towers

When we finally arrived in Denpasar, Bali were were greeted by a partially open air airport not too much different from Kauai for instance. Customs on the other hand was super congested with tourists from around the world crowded together in a hot and humid waiting area as perhaps 8 lines were open to check passports.  Entry visa was about $12.

Flight arrivals waiting in the stuffy customs area

I apologize for the blur of the pictures here but I was trying to snap them on the down low as you never really know each countries policy concerning photographs in the customs area.  I didn't want to find out but my urge to photograph the experience led to this compromise.  Then I was greeted with this sign. 
Spicoli beware!
Death Penalty for drug traffickers... what about unauthorized picture takers?  IPhone slides into pocket...

Funny thing about this.  I had to overlook a lot of good timeshare sales executives because I didn't want them to be put to death for their vices.

As for our arrival, our client had a particularly good arrangement for arriving business clients that we integrated into the club as a major benefit to ownership.  We were greeted upon arrival by an agent of the resort, and whisked through the VIP section of customs with all documentation, visa's etc. being handled by our guide.  While other tourists perspired in line for perhaps an hour waiting to get through customs, we got our bags and were through in 10 minutes, escorted to a waiting van where our driver greeted us with cold towels and bottled water that was icy cold. 
I'm not driving... right hand drive
We were driven to the best money changers in the area.  FYI if you don't know already, don't change your money at the airport.  While it may be convenient the conversion rate isn't the best.  I recall that Denpasar airport exchange was about 8,500 rupiah to the US Dollar... about a mile out it was 8,900 rupiah to the dollar.  And in case you are wondering, you can get a meal like this: Fresh sword fish or tuna, veggies, rice a few beers and desert for about 30,000 rupiah or $3 US.  In Vegas I would probably pay at least $50 for a meal like this.  This fish was right off the boat... literally.

Freshly caught and grilled swordfish and Bintang in Padangbai

More Bali to come in future posts... Seminyak, Kuta, Padangbai... people, culture, hotspots and adventure.

The Video above is of Padangbai at an IRC building site.

Out of curiosity I checked Dream Vacation Network for availability next month and found 191 resorts in the most demanded locations in Bali like Ubud and Kuta starting at $41 per night.  Cheap for some eat, pray and love in your life if you can get a good deal on a flight!