Travel Spotter

Seeing the sites, One spot at a time

Staying in a Monastery, Emei Mountain, China

Part of our tour of China included a stay in a Monastery at Emei Shan. A real life monastery with monks! On one of China’s sacred mountains of Buddhism! I was very excited!

This is what I was expecting:

Bhutan trip June 2011, Tiger's Nest Monastery

Image courtesy of Michael Folley @ Flickr

Oh yes I had visions of mist, tranquil mountains and a deserted, peaceful monastery with ‘rustic’ features, a retreat from the hustle and bustle of China.

Ha! Nowhere is quiet on the eve of the National Holiday in a country of a billion people. Our bus took a long time to drive to Baoguo, one of the little towns at the base of Emei Mountain. We seemed to only go a kilometre every ten minutes thanks to the endless traffic and pedestrians. I kept thinking – boy we still have a long way to go to get to the misty lush top of the mountain! In amidst of traffic and crowds our mini bus stopped and our guide said ‘We’re here!’

Huh? All I could see were ‘Chinese looking buildings’ (educated response, I know) , tourists and cars. Surely the peaceful monastery isn’t around here?

Well yes, we are staying in this busy complex of buildings that is a working monastery and did we mention it’s also a tourist attraction? That opens at 7am… The Baoguo Temple to be exact.

I did get some funny looks walking through the grounds of the temple to the public toilets (and our  accommodation’s amenities for 2 nights) in my pyjama’s with toothbrush in hand. Sure I feature in some Chinese photo albums now too.

So yes we were woken to the sound of monks chanting at 5am, but we never got to engage or see the monks really. We did get to share the monastery with hordes of Chinese tourists there at 7am. Was it peaceful and quiet – uh no! Late at night when the tourists had gone it was quieter but the building itself is right near town at a busy spot at the base of Emei Mountain, and for China’s National Day it was pretty packed.

Rooms were dorm like for those not in a couple, 4-5 beds in one room, hard beds (like all of China) and minimal furniture. The toilets and sinks were the ones the public visitors used so late in the afternoon they were pretty bad, and not western of course. The showers were communal, with no doors (MacGyver style scarf shower curtain needed!). I still think it was pretty cool to go to the toilets one morning with 4 monks there with me in the other cubicles. That doesn’t happen very often!

It certainly didn’t live up to my expectations (oh… we’re not staying on top of the mountain…) but it was a good base for exploring the many hikes and paths of Emei Shan.

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Spotted! Elephant seal giving birth, California

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway took us past the elephant seal colony at San Simeon, where hundreds of elephant seals beach themselves for about a month each December/January. On a sunny New Years Day, we visited the beach and wandered up and down the boardwalk observing these interesting creatures.

I spotted:

– A calf giving birth to an elephant seal pup. Wow, what a rare sight. A lady who had been there for an hour pointed out this calf that was about to give birth and was having contractions. Sure enough, as I watched she continued the contractions and then pop! Out came a small, dark baby seal. The gulls went berserk, fighting over the placenta that they gobbled down like a pack of, well seagulls. Then the mother and pup make these sounds to bond with each other.

– The large, unattractive males with their proboscis noses honking and shuffling around the sand. They stay on the beach for about a month, losing half of their body weight in that time.

– Tiny, dark baby seals cuddling up to their mothers and suckling on their teats. The mothers constantly throw sand on themselves, possibly to keep the heat at bay.

– Another fine west coast sunset. Glorious!

– And then a mile down the road a field of zebras. Zebras! In California. Sure why not…

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Travel Quote of the Day… Coming Home

coming home

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Photo of the Day… Golden Gate

san francisco golden gate bridge

A friend of mine does these jumping style photos when she travels in front of many famous places. She took an awesome one on the Great Wall of China with no one else in the shot! Rare…

Anyway, we visited the Golden Gate Bridge (we actually drove across it too – cool) whilst on our recent trip to San Francisco. We drove to the end of the Crissy Field promenade in the Presidio to a little wharf that juts out right in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was extremely windy and the wind was pure ice. So cold. I decided to do a jumping shot in honour of my friend. After 3 goes, nailed it!

Love the results… it’s all about the leg placement! I could get use to taking these… now to just convince The Artist to be my patient photographer each time…

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Travel Essentials… Lip Balm

Whether flying, hiking, sunbaking, skiing or just sightseeing every day, you really do need to pack a good, long lasting moistursing lip balm. A tinted one is even better, meaning you can take one less lipstick or lip gloss. The Burt’s Bees tinted lip balms are exceptionally good, cheap and delicious tasting and genuinely give you some colour.

I always take more than one travelling with me (and if going to the USA I’ll always buy some more as they are super cheap, especially the EOS Smooth Spheres) as I tend to lose them all the time.

favourite lip balmsGreat to take the smaller, Chapstick varieties too to fit in pockets and tiny pouches in backpacks.

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McWay Falls, Big Sur California

I thought driving the Big Sur coastline from Monterey to Santa Barbara during Winter would allow us the place to ourselves mostly. Even though it was the New Year period, I still thought it wouldn’t be crowded and we could see the ‘hidden gems’ I had seen online and was eagerly awaiting the chance to explore.

However I was wrong. Ok so New Years Day probably wasn’t the best time to ensure ‘crowd free’ sightseeing, but it was unbelievable the amount of tourists on the Pacific Coast Drive that day. The car park for McWay falls was well overflowing, and cars lined the road for nearly half a mile in each direction. I guess seeing as this attraction is visible from the Highway it’s not missed by many, 99% of cars and tourists would be stopping here. I was already crowd forlorn by the time we joined the pilgrimage down to the boardwalk that snakes around the headland to see views of McWay falls, an 80 ft stream of water that flows right onto the sand. We didn’t even get into the road to see China Cove in Point Lobos National Park, and the road to Pfieiffer beach was closed so I had very high expectations of McWay Falls fulfilling my nature needs.

Luckily the beach and falls are very picturesque and a great vista to look out on from the boardwalk. The trillion visitors treading the planks got great photos of the view, like I did above. Not a very unique experience but a special place nonetheless.

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Santa Cruz Boardwalk

On our epic drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles, we stopped in for a quick visit to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. A film scene from one of my all time favourite movies ‘The Lost Boys’ I was keen to feel the seaside carnival love.

We arrived late in the afternoon and the sun was just setting off the beach, which you can access from the boardwalk. As it was New Years Eve there were quite a few riders hanging around, but it wasn’t too crowded.

I was mainly disappointed with the Boardwalk. It felt a little rundown, a little seedy and shabby. The whole area surrounding the boardwalk also seemed a bit questionable, somewhere I wouldn’t like to be at night. Most of the crowd going on the rides were teenagers, it didn’t have many families like you may find at Santa Monica Pier. Maybe earlier in the day or when it is busier (like summer) it has a nicer feel. As it was a weekday not all of the rides were open either. We only were there about 20 minutes, got some lovely late afternoon light for photographs and then moved on, continuing our drive to Monterey.

Sometimes you can have an experience somewhere that is completely different to others on a different day, or time of year. I was happy that I got my ‘Lost Boy’s’ fix in the end. Out of our drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, it wasn’t one of the highlights (though it’s hard to compete with Carmel-By-The-Sea and the coastline of the Big Sur!)

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Travel Quote of the Day…Photographs

photographs

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Photo of the Day… Bamboo Rafting

Bamboo rafting Yangshuo China

Bamboo rafting Yangshuo China

China is such a big place, and in 3 weeks I only saw a tiny part of it. I did hit up all the major tourist attractions and was super excited – ticking off my bucket list The Great Wall of China and The Terracotta Warriors.

But my favourite place that I visited in China? Yangshuo and the famous Karst limestone mountains.  The scenery is divine, made even more breathtaking as you take a cruise down the Lei River.

But then we did a 90 minute bamboo rafting trip down a smaller river, wow! My favourite activity and place of the trip. You get punted down the river one way on a bamboo raft, complete with umbrella and drinks delivered from nearby boats (if you’re lucky!)

What a lovely memory, thankfully I have about 500 photos of that day!

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Travel Essentials… The Shrug

Call it what you will, shrug, bolero, cropped cardigan. Casual cotton or knit, or fancy with lace and sequins, the humble shrug is the perfect clothing item to pack for travel.

Long sleeved or short sleeved, the shrug can change an outfit instantly, freshening up your look when you feel you have been in the same dang outfit for 3 days (Hello, Contiki 2005). Great for mixing it up day to night. A fancier shrug can dress up jeans and a tank top, a cream lacy shrug and some neutral flats and you can head out for the night not feeling like a dirty backpacker (or less of one).

They are also great for those destinations where you will probably live in singlets and sleeveless tops but may need something to warm you up on a cooler day or if the nightly temperature drops. A shrug keeps the shoulders and back warm but won’t overheat you. Great for air conditioned places too.

A pair of sisters I know packed 4 different shrugs each (well they do take up less room than the average cardigan or jacket!) for a 4 week Europe trip, then borrowed each others to mix and match with the rest of their tops and dresses. Literally created a tonne of outfit choices. Genius!

Shrugs

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Travel Quote of the Day… The Book

travel book

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Photo of the Day – Croatia

Flashback to my Croatian cruise – Split to Dubrovnik and back in August 2007. Glorious weather, with plenty of sunbaking, swimming and sailing, interspersed with wandering around gorgeous little towns and eating all sorts of Mediterranean / Greek / Adriatic inspired food.

096 Zlatni Rat - one of croatia's most famous beaches

Croatia has to be one of my favourite countries, I had very little knowledge of the country or the specific places I was going to visit before landing in Split on a balmy Tuesday night, around 35 degrees Celsius at 9pm. Sometimes its best when you know little, you then usually have a fantastic experience.

Especially one that starts with climbing 5 storeys to stay in some old lady’s attic with UK Michael and American ‘Reckless Maggie’ who then take you on a 2 km bar hopping adventure, wading in the ocean at 10pm and having drinks with random Croatian strangers…

But that night is a tale for another day!

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Spotted! Cattle on the move, Mexico

While turboing through the Mexican countryside of Puerto Vallarta on a Quad bike day tour, we stopped at a tiny farming village for a much needed coke and to rest our bottoms from the bumpy workout on the ‘off road’ track.

I spotted:

- some cute-as-all-hell kids playing on a dilapidated playground

- what appeared to be a coke bottle opener nailed to a tree

- a farmer just herding his cattle through the village like you do on a Monday afternoon in Mexico.

After our stop we headed down to a swollen river to do burnouts through the run off and a few splash-worthy creek crossings. Was an awesome day!

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Travel Essentials – Neck Pillow

Anyone who does long haul flights realises just how different the sleep portion of the flight can be with the right neck pillow. Or if you are like me the ‘eyes are closed and trying to sleep but cannot sleep’ portion of the flight. I normally take a blow up / inflatable neck pillow to save space in bags. Which of course, has its benefits. But I stare enviously at those with snuggly, squishy bean bag style pillows and curse for not ever buying one!

For my upcoming 35 day trip I AM going to try out one of these, despite the obvious ‘where do you put it between flights issue’. I chose a black and white striped one, like below. I’ll report back on the success! However if I ditch it mid trip we may be rethinking the idea ie:  not a success!

 "Neck Pillows - Flying Essentials" by beavercity on Polyvore

 

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Travel Quote of the Day…Learning

Travel-Quotes-Oliom-Travel-Clean

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