Category Archives: Travel

South Africa: Safari at Sabi Sands Game Reserve


Going on a safari was always one of those things Drew and I thought we’d do when we retired. But, seeing that the kid situation didn’t quite work out as we had planned, we decided to say eff it, let’s do this safari thing. What are we waiting for? So we packed our bags and flew over to South Africa in August. Being in the opposite hemisphere, it was their winter and a great time to go because it’s not too hot and much easier to spot the animals since there’s not much vegetation to block your views.

There are a lot of amazing safari lodges and the task of choosing one can be daunting. Tripadvisor is a great place to start once you decide on where you want to go (Kruger, private game reserves, etc). We decided on Sabi Sands Game Reserve near Kruger National Park because you’re practically guaranteed to see the Big 5 there. What are the Big 5 you ask?

They’re the elephant (the real king/queen of the jungle),

lion (yikes! looks vicious, but he was just yawning),



and Cape buffalo. Don’t be fooled by that George Washington wig. The Cape buffalo has been reported to kill more hunters than any other animal.

After tons of research and lots of emails, we luckily were able to reserve 3 nights at Chitwa Chitwa Safari Lodge in South Africa. Because August is peak season, many people book a year ahead of time! Here I was hoping to score a room 3 months ahead of time…but the universe was kind and we stayed at one of the best safari lodges in Sabi Sands.

There were a million things I loved about this place. One was the watering hole where hippos and crocs loved to hang out. The perk is, you get to see hippos all day. The not so perky is you get to hear them at night making grunting noises as they graze.

There’s gorgeous deck where you can relax and view the animals. At night, they set up tables and chairs for al fresco dining here.

Chitwa Chitwa is such a well-oiled machine. Our stay could not have been better – they did everything so well from the very beginning. From Johannesburg, we took a small plane to the nearest landing strip and were picked up by our safari guide, Surprise.

We flew in with another family from Britain and shared the ride to the lodge with them in the open-aired jeep.

Settling into our room was exciting…

Our own private deck with a little dipping pool. It was definitely not hot enough for us Arizonans to dip in- my blood runneth thin now.


Warthogs right off our deck. Pumba!

Speaking of Lion King…there were a couple of Zazu’s hanging around the breakfast area.

Yep, definitely happy with our choice of safari lodge here.

Every afternoon around 3pm, all guests meet at the main lodge for cake and tea or coffee. Then it’s off to the jeeps for our game drives. It’s an open-aired jeep with 9 seats, but I love that Chitwa Chitwa never fills up those 9 seats and instead takes a 2nd jeep out so we’re not packed like sardines in the jeep and everyone has a great view of the animals. Ah yeah, mama lion waiting for dinner.

I could not stop saying “Oh my God” on our first game drive because I couldn’t believe how close we got to the animals. Sometimes we were only 5 feet away from a mama lion! Other times, elephants cruised by and we could’ve reached out and touched them…though you should never do that. Nor should you stand up in the jeep and make yourself a target for the animals, unless you want to win a Darwin award.

It’s hard picking a favorite animal, but the giraffe is definitely up there on the list. What a strange, almost mythical looking creature!

Most of the animals at Sabi Sands are used to people, so they just disregard us, or this big blob looking thing that we’re all sitting in -and they just go about their business. Eating, sitting around, sleeping. But much credit goes to our guide Surprise who is amazing and knows how to read the animals’ body language really well. He grew up in the bush and learned over the years when it’s safe to approach an animal, and when it’s better to leave them be. If you go to Chitwa Chitwa and are able to request Surprise as your guide, do it! He’s also great at helping people get over their fears. Like how he helped me get over my fear of poop by having me stand in literally a shitload of impala pellets!

So not only do you get to go on game drives that’s better than anything you’ll see on Nat Geo, but at the end of the drive, you stop in a clearing and have sundowners -cocktails, wine, beer at sunset- and talk about all the amazing things you saw on the drive!

I can’t think of a better way to end an evening game drive.

By the time you get back to the lodge, it’s dark and your guide has to walk you back to your room, just in case. There was a dead nyala hanging from a tree off the back deck of the British family’s room. A leopard, saving his meal for later. So to be safe, it’s a good idea that they have the guides walk you back to your room. You get some time to freshen up before your guide comes back to get you for dinner.

One night, we had a special dinner in the open-aired boma with a cozy fire keeping everyone warm.

After dinner, we’re walked back to our rooms by our guides again. Time for bed because the wake-up call for morning game drives is at 5:45am! Your guide comes to pick you up about 30 minutes later and you’re off on the jeep as the sun rises. It’s cold in the mornings so they have hot water bottles and fleece blankets in the jeep to keep you warm.

Every time we go out for a drive, I’m in awe. Every. Single. Time. There are moments when we get so close to the animals that I’m thinking, “Uh, please Mr. Leopard, don’t lunge at me because I’m only 10ft away.” But they never do…well, at least not on our game drives.

It was amazing to see the Big 5, but I was giddy seeing zebras and giraffes living their lives out in the wild.


Most of the animals we saw had little birds hanging out with them…eating ticks off their bodies. Can you spot the birds on the giraffe?


So I had always thought it was the lion who was the king of the jungle. Not so my friends. The elephant rules here and lions will get up and move when elephants come through.

Most of the time when we saw them, they were busy eating.

Adult males are loners while the females all hang out together with the babies. The elephant social system and matriarchy is amazing. When they’re in a group, the babies will always be in the middle.



Baby lion cubs, on the other hand, can be playing away from mama…but usually within sight.


Or feeding.

Or nuzzling up to mama.

One morning, we found the baby cubs alone on a termite mound. The two female lions went off hunting in the night and hadn’t returned yet. They left their babies alone, which could put them in danger if other predators are around.

It just so happened that on this particular morning, there were two cheetahs on the prowl for breakfast.


Oh, hello Mr. Cheetah. Please keep looking at baby lions instead of me. Surprise said we won the tourists of the year award because they hadn’t seen a cheetah in these parts in about 5 months, and we got to see not one, but TWO!

Not only that, but they were scoping out lion cubs for breakfast. Not sure if these babies had spotted the cheetahs, but to keep predators from attacking, their mamas sprayed around the perimeter of the area so any predators would pick up the scent and think that they were around, even if they couldn’t see them. Somehow, the cubs knew not to roam far from the area where their moms left them.

So the cheetahs, unsure of whether the mama lions were nearby, decided not to take chances and turned around.

One last looky loo, just in case.

Lucky baby lions!

That evening, we found the lions all feasting. The moms had been successful and hunted down two buffaloes.


Thanks Mom.

Meanwhile, in a nearby tree…

All this time, where were the male lions? During our game drives, we never saw a male hanging out with the lionesses and cubs. So when we finally saw one, we were so excited. Mufasa!!!


So sweet you just want to hug him.

On another morning, we spotted three lion brothers soaking up the sun.

Driving around, we also saw this guy. “Hmmm? What? Oh, you can see me? Damn.”

Zebras like hanging around giraffes, because they can see further and warn them of danger. “Guys, there’s something over there.”

Guess what this is.

It was once one of these guys. Impala. Very rare, Surprise likes to tell us.

The one up in the tree was this leopard’s kill. He drags it up there to keep it safe from other predators.

Like sneaky Mr. Hyena who lurks around because he smelled food. He decided it was better to turn around after spotting the leopard guarding it’s dinner.

We ended that evening’s game drive with a most amazing sundowner near the lodge.


This is biltong, South African jerky made from a variety of game, ostrich, and beef.


Amurula. A sweet cream liquer made from the fruit of the African murula tree.


Thank you Chitwa Chitwa and our guide, Surprise, for making our first safari experience out of this world! The people, the food, the environment, and the close encounters with the animals totally surpassed my expectations. They are all so unique that it’s hard to pick a favorite. I love them all!

But I’ll end with this solitary leopard at sunset. There was something so peaceful and yet so grand about this moment.




Don’t forget to watch the awesome video of all the animals in action!

P.S. I’m applying for a new job. Tracker at Chitwa Chitwa!

Havasupai Falls, AZ

In one of the most remote places in the world at the western end of the Grand Canyon is this enchanted land with blue green waters, lush greenery, and beautiful waterfalls known as…Pandora – no just kidding, this isn’t Avatar and it isn’t make-believe. The description is accurate but this heaven on Earth is actually known as Havasu Canyon. I’m not kidding when I say out of all our travels, this is the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my life so far – and according to Drew, half my life may already be over. So that’s a lot of years, though at this moment, I’m not inclined to say how many that is. Every few steps here left me in awe of my surroundings. We passed by a guy on our hike who asked, “Hey, did you see that unicorn back there?” Drew’s answer being,”Yeah, and the fairies too.” Yup, it is that magical of a place.


The experience of booking your stay here (because this is definitely not a day trip), however, may not be that magical. Here’s the official page with information on fees and numbers to call to reserve either a campsite or a room at the lodge. Note, they’re two different numbers. It’s probably best to call a few months ahead of time (3 months ahead is the earliest you can call for the campsites). And you may have to try calling back several times since sometimes the phone line could be busy or no one picks up. We really lucked out since I just called the month before and they happened to have a room in the lodge available for two nights in May. I was sooooo excited! All campsites were booked solid. We probably took someone’s room who had to cancel their trip. Two days before our trip, I looked for the paperwork they had sent that confirmed our reservation and it was nowhere to be found! Minor panic moment as I called the lodge again and again til I got someone who answered the phone. Then the lady who picked up the phone (who shall be known from this point forward as my BFF) proceeded to tell me that I only had one night booked when she looked up my name. Um, shocked silence on my end of the phone. Silence on her end as well as she waited for me to say something. All I could think of to say was that I had booked 2 nights and it was confirmed, but I had lost my paperwork. (Silence again on her end as she was probably thinking, you idiot!) Thank God I was smart enough to share this with my Instagram world and took a picture of part of the receipt which had the receipt number and deposit amount. After giving this life saving information to her, she put me on hold, came back a few minutes later, and told me we were booked for 2 nights. Jeez Louise, BFF, give me a heart attack before I even hike those 8 miles will ya?!!

If you’re calling ahead of time and want to to decide whether to camp or stay at the lodge, here are some things to consider:
1. The lodge is an 8 mile hike from the hilltop and located in Supai Village where there’s a cafe, a market, a church, and a post office (because you have to send yourself a postcard from here since there’s a special stamp and the last place in the US that still uses the “pony express”.) I’m guessing there’s no Amazon Prime here?
If you’re expecting anything remotely close to the Ritz Carlton, are you in for a surprise. But you get your own shower, toilet, and a bed to sleep on in a room. What other luxuries can you ask for here? We were quite happy with the accommodations. If you don’t feel like packing in a ton of stuff for camping and carrying it on your back for 10 miles, this might be a good option. The only drawback is that you have to hike about 2 miles to get to the enchanted falls.

The view from our picnic table at the lodge.

2. The campsites are 2 more miles further down, bringing your hiking cred up a few notches with a total of 10 miles on your first day! But once you’ve hiked 8, what’s another 2 miles? The sites are well maintained and some are right next to the crystal clear creek. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit jelly of the campers when we passed by the campsites. It was a beautiful area and campsites are lined on both sides of the creek.
Toilets were clean -at least in the morning when I went to do some recon to see if we’d consider camping next time. Clean toilets is my number one priority! No showers though. One of the best part about the campground is that there’s a spout providing fresh spring water. You don’t have to pack water for days. Just enough for your hike down and you can refill it with some of the cleanest, freshest water on Earth once you’re at the campground.
Another big bonus of being at the campgrounds is the gorgeous scenery around you and you’re within walking distance of a few of the waterfalls, with Havasu Falls being the closest. With the lodge, you have to hike a couple of miles before getting to them.

It’s a tough decision to make and I thought next time we would stay at the campsites since it’s so beautiful there, but do I want to hike down carrying food and various camping gear on my back for 10 miles? Do I remotely feel like channeling Reese Witherspoon’s character in Wild? That’s something I’m debating about for next year. The hike down actually wasn’t so bad -but I was only carrying a day pack with mostly water and snacks, so I can’t complain. The views from the top and the bottom were breathtaking. Even better than Zion, even better than Sedona and I love both those places. It isn’t 8 miles straight downhill as I had thought. From top to bottom, it’s about 2000ft. In fact, more of the hike is on flat ground once you hit the canyon floor. I’m sure the ascent isn’t too fun on foot, but hiking down wasn’t so bad. It took us about 4 hours to get to the lodge.

To start, you park your car in whatever available spot you can find at Hualapai Hilltop.

You may see some mules and horses ready to lug supplies and people down the trail.

Ok, here’s where I have to be honest and say that I didn’t do much research at all before this trip. All I knew was I saw a few images of the waterfalls here and said, “I have to go there.” Had I looked into it a bit more, I would have found out from some online comments that the horses and mules here aren’t treated very well by most of their owners. But without this information, we booked horses and a mule to take us out on the last day. We lucked out with one of the very few owners (Claudius) who actually takes care of his animals and makes sure they’re well fed. Sadly, we saw some horses down in the village that were severely malnourished – so much that you can see their ribs. I had no idea these guys were being used to carry people and food back and forth. Our guide was the one who told us that many of the animals weren’t treated well. This poor guy needs to be fed!
They’re not all like that and I don’t want to give the few good owners a bad rap, but I just don’t think Drew and I can in good conscience use any of the animals again unless all the owners start taking better care of them. There were some with visible sores on their legs. We saw a few in the village that were eating God knows what off the dirt because I didn’t see anything but their feces there. One sweet horse came up to me as I approached it and had the saddest “please help me” look in his eyes. I didn’t realize that til afterwards, thus happy ignorant me, smiling because I got to talk and pet a horse that day.

But now looking back, his eyes said it all!

I had to mention that so people know the good and the bad. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, although it may seem that way here. If you’re not a fan of hiking 8-10 miles, there’s a helicopter option to take you in and out of the canyon. Now, onto the hike!

At the trailhead, the view is already amazing.

We were so ready to start. Get there in the morning since it’s a mostly open shade hike.

Except for small areas of shade for a little break.




You’ll encounter packs of mules along the way. Make sure if you’re up on the switchbacks area that you’re standing on the inside of the trail. We saw some people standing on the outside of the trail as the mules passed and our guide always warned them of the possibility of falling off the side.

Undercover graffiti artist. JK. Drew got the artist beat out of him as a child so there’s no way he could draw that. But he can draw the Pythagorean Theorem for you.

You know you’re getting close when you see this sign. Hallelujah! But not really, because there’s still more walking to do.

Ok, a better sign that you’re close is water.

Then you see them, the Watchers, guarding the canyon.

Before you know it, you’re in Supai Village. Make a right at the church and you’ll head toward the lodge.

When we stepped into the lobby of the lodge, my BFF was sitting there, eagerly awaiting our arrival. (Actually, imagine the exact opposite!) I wasn’t expecting a friendly greeting though and neither should anyone else. I was just grateful that the Havasupai opened up their beautiful, sacred land to visitors. They could very well have kept it off limits and the world would never have known of this Garden of Eden. That’s not to say there aren’t friendly people in town. We crossed paths with many natives who smiled and said hello. It’s just like any other place in the world. You got your friendly people, and you got your grumpy people. Embrace them both and move on!

Once we dropped our bags and settled in, we donned our water shoes and headed over to the falls. At almost 2 miles, we saw our first waterfall, New Navajo Falls. Our jaws dropped and we were in awe.
What is this place? Why is the water so beautifully blue and clear at the same time so that I could see the lush vegetation growing underneath it in the pool while still admiring this amazing turquoise color? Well, if you really must know, the color is due to the high concentration of lime -not lemons.
We walked around the area to get different vantage points of this wide waterfall. One girl in a group told us some of them swam by the falls and if you dive underneath, there’s a small little cave there. I wanted to check it out, but when I dipped my foot in the water, it was cold and I wasn’t hot enough to jump in yet. Maybe if we hadn’t checked into the lodge, I’d be more ready and willing to dive right in.


The water from New Navajo Falls flows over a few terraces over to Rock Falls (or Lower Navajo Falls).

Again, awe. I’ll stop writing that from now on…just know that every waterfall we saw, our jaws dropped. Apparently the pool at this fall was calling my name loudly because I decided to jump in. Took a quick, invigorating swim and was right back up. The water was just cold enough so that my body automatically swam back to shore before it froze in the water. (Actually, since the water originates from a spring, it tends to stay around 70 degrees year round -I’m just a wimp when it comes to cold.)

While we were there, a couple of teen daredevils decided to jump off the falls. I looked at Drew and said, “I like my life.” As scary and exhilarating as that might have been, it’s just not worth it to me. I can easily say I’m a chicken shit when it comes to jumping off high waterfalls. Fifteen feet is probably my max. The town of Supai doesn’t allow jumping off the falls, but it’s too enticing for some, and I totally get it. It’s FUN. There are injuries and fatalities here of course. If you’re on the luckier side, you’ll just be stuck with a $20,000 helicopter bill as they lift your butt to the nearest trauma center. Ok, and if you’re really lucky, you get a huge thrill out of it that people like me won’t get.

Walk along a bit and you’ll get this view looking back on the falls, one after the other. Ooooh…if you look carefully, you can see another person jumping off of Rock Falls. My timing is impeccable.

And the view of red rocks of the canyon. It’s so cool, this canyon within a canyon.

Onward to the next one, Havasu Falls!

This here be the money maker. The one that makes everyone say, “I want to go there!” when they see pictures of it. And I do mean money maker because tourism is the leading industry in the small town of Supai. Dare I say, it may be the only industry? But I digress. Just a few short steps from the campgrounds, is this AWE-some waterfall.

You see it from the top and then walk the gentle slope down to the bottom. (Note, as a photographer, I must say there are some iPhone images sprinkled throughout this post and this is one of them…thus not the most spectacular quality, but the subjects in them are pretty spectacular!)

By the time we made it down on the first day, we felt pretty badass.

Exploring the area around Havasu Falls, you’ll be even more amazed.


We ended Day 1 here since the next falls were a bit further down. It was time to get back to the lodge, hopefully in time before the cafe closed so we could get a hot meal. On our way back, we saw a horse running off on its own.
Note to self: Ask someone who this horse belongs to. I found out later that their owners sometimes let them go when they don’t have enough to feed them that week.


Day 2. We got up early and went to the cafe for breakfast. My coffee and egg muffin was five stars all the way considering we didn’t make it in time for dinner at the cafe the day before. We then headed out along the same trail again to continue our explorations. A bit after Havasu is Mooney Falls. It’s so interesting how this canyon within a canyon creates so many different waterfalls. As you approach Mooney Falls, you’re actually standing on the top of it.


You can even walk up to the edge of the falls if you want, which we saw a couple of people do. Again, daredevils, not me since it’s a 200ft drop down to the bottom and I don’t want them to have to change the namesake of the falls from Mooney to Dao Falls. Mooney Falls is named after a miner who fell to his death here back in 1882.

To get down to the bottom of Mooney Falls is quite an adventure. Be ready to scale some rocks and hold on for dear life to chains and a giant-sized ladder. There’s even a sign to warn you of what’s ahead.

The adventure starts when you see this hole in the rock carved by miners. Go in that hole.


Go through a couple of tunnels and viola!


But wait, it’s not over yet. Then you have to descend some more!


Once you’re down there, your reward awaits!

After taking a break and soaking in the scenery, we continued on, hoping to reach Beaver Falls, the last of the falls belonging to the Havasupai nation. We weren’t in a hurry to get there and this hike now ranks as the best hike I’ve ever done in my life! Here’s why.




There are times when you have to cross the creek…some of my favorite parts!




And times when you have to walk carefully across a plank of wood. It’s a decent drop from here.

The surprise came when we entered what we called The Green Room. Part of the canyon is covered in wild grapes, so you’re walking through a sea of green.

Even without the water, the views are incredible.

But throw in cascading falls here and there, and this place is heavenly.




When you get to the one random huge palm tree, you can either stay on the right side and go up a ladder or cross the creek.

We decided to take the easier path and crossed the creek. Then you’ve got some scaling down to do to get to the falls.

You can start to see the top of Beaver Falls here.

Next time, I’d do the exact opposite and climb the ladder because of where we ended up at Beaver Falls. Not quite on the side that affords the best views of it, but we didn’t know that. It’s incredible to be up so close to the falls, but there was more of it to see that we couldn’t from that side. Oh well, leave something new and exciting for next time we come back!


We went as far as this rope existed. You kind of need it so you don’t fall off the narrow 40ft ledge and become part of Beaver Falls. This was our turnaround point. Especially since I saw drops of blood every few inches, indicating that someone had gotten hurt not too long ago.

Yep, we’re done…let’s head back!

One last looky loo before we go though. After all, we hiked all that way.

We had five miles to cover for our way back to the lodge and not wanting to miss out on a hot meal again, we stopped a little less this time. When we got to the campgrounds, one frybread stall was still open. Praise the Lord!

We ordered a savory and a sweet, which you can dazzle up with honey and a cinnamon sugar mix they had on the table. I’ve never had frybread before but that was the best tasting thing I had since my breakfast egg muffin!

On Day 3, we packed up and rode out on horseback with a mule to carry one pack. (Remember when I said we didn’t know any better about the horses?) Well, I can’t take it back so I’ll say it was a beautiful ride and we were lucky enough to have David (the camp ranger) be our guide back up. It’s not his regular job- he was moonlighting so I don’t know if every ride has someone who is as friendly and energetic as David. He was chock full of information and I felt like I was on a tour of Supai instead of just taking a horse back ride up. We learned a little bit of the Supai history, its people and culture, the surrounding area and what’s beyond Beaver Falls.

David rarely takes people back up on horseback anymore, so we felt really blessed to have the best man in town take us up. He will answer any questions you might have about Supai and I had a LOT of questions (Like, why are there stray horses around? What’s the school system like? What do people do for a living here? Why is there a man who looks like Snoop Dog in town? -He’s actually part of the Head Start program for kids in the village!). David’s life story is one crazy adventure too. A Mexican Dutch who’s ex-military, lived with the Apaches, traveled the world doing all sorts of different lines of work, now married to a Supai woman, working as a ranger, writing a book on ornithology of Supai, and enjoying every minute of his life. This man’s life amazed me.

I don’t regret taking the horses. Ours actually looked strong and healthy. I would love for most of the horse & mule owners to start taking better care of their horses. Even David agrees, but there doesn’t seem to be any incentive for them to do that he says. If there’s a way to ask for Claudius’ horses, please do so if you’re planning on riding horses. Maybe that will encourage other horse owners to start taking care of theirs. If that’s not possible, then consider walking back up or taking the helicopter. Just make sure if you’re planning on using the heli that it’s on a day that they operate!


Thank you David for an amazing horseback ride, and thank you Havasupai (people of the blue green waters) for opening up one of the most beautiful places on Earth and sharing it with the rest of the world.

Japan in Three Weeks – The Quickie Version

One of the best things about traveling to another country is that you get to hear and maybe try to speak a different language. It’s fun and even though you may butcher it a little (or a lot) and maybe say the wrong things, the locals usually appreciate a good effort. Reading a language that is completely different than yours though is a whole other story. In this case, I say “Thank God for the internet.” Not that it helped us read any of the Japanese characters on streets and shops, but that we were able to use our GPS and not get lost since we couldn’t read anything! (If anyone knows what that graffiti says, let me know!)


The first thing you need to know as an English speaker tackling this insane and beautiful country is RENT A POCKET WIFI. We rented ours from HERE and they mailed it to our hotel. You can also pick it up at the airport once you arrive and viola, you have instant wifi – which means instant GPS!

If you’re planning to get around by train, the best method is to buy a Japan Rail Pass (aka JR). You have to get this BEFORE you enter Japan. Yep, once you’re there, you can’t get it. And if you’re getting the rail pass, then download this app called HyperDia. It gives you train routes and timetables.

One last thing if you’re traveling by train – pack everything into a carry-on bag. You’ll be lugging that thing around up and down stairs sometimes, and the smaller the luggage, the easier it is to store on a train. Sorry kids, not all trains in Japan are Thomas the Train…but I’m sure glad we got the chance to ride this one!


Now that you’re prepared, let’s start exploring!


First stop, TOKYO – the most populous metropolitan area in the world! Bright lights, big city, food & shopping everywhere you look and very big on its own unique culture.


If you’re a travelmonger, you probably love trying all sorts of food. Well guess what? The Japanese aren’t just good at making Japanese food, they also excel at French, Italian, Spanish… They take food seriously here and Michelin has taken notice a while back, awarding Japan with more Michelin stars than France at one point. As of 2015, Japan has 12 three-star restaurants. Wow! (Not that any of these were from a 3 star restaurant, but they still tasted good. Clockwise from top left: yakitori, burnt miso ramen, green tea oreos, and red clam sushi -that was still moving when it was served – talk about fresh!)

Our first destination in Tokyo the morning after we arrived was Tsukiji Market. It’s more known for the famous fish auction, but there’s restaurants and shops there as well. People come here early to line up for some of the freshest sushi you can find on this planet. For breakfast. And by early, I mean 4am. Our lazy butts got there at 8. There was no way we would stay in line for 3 hours to wait for Sushi Dai to seat us in its small little 12 seat restaurant. (Or so we thought…)

Here’s what it’s like to try and cross from the shops & restaurants over to the actual fish market area. Remember that video arcade game Frogger?

I’m not sure why Asians love doing this, but hey, when in Rome. Or should I say, Japan. Plus, I’m Asian so I guess it works! 😛

Being there in November, red maple leaves were for sale. The cute little panda and friends are glutinous rice with a sweet red bean paste inside. Top left: wasabi root!

What’s great about this market is that even though it’s a real place of business for people in the industry, they actually let tourists walk around and peer at all the different forms of sea life caught offshore ready to be bought, cooked, and served in a multitude of ways.

Besides Tsukiji Market, the other must-do item on our Tokyo list was Robot Restaurant. We had seen it featured in Bourdain’s No Reservations and had to see it for ourselves. It was every bit as bizarre and nonsensical as he said it was. You have to see it to believe it though. Katy Perry’s halftime show has nothing on this production!


Our last must-see in Tokyo? Cat cafe. Apparently there’s at least 39 of them in Tokyo. It’s becoming popular world-wide and I hear San Diego has one now. But when I’m home, I live in my own cat cafe with my two kitties. =)

Being in Tokyo for a few days, you feel the need for space. For greenery. Or at least we did. So we took a few side trips that were quick bullet train rides. (More details and Tokyo fun coming in a separate blog post.)


If I had done more research, I would’ve spent at least one night in Nikko instead of making it just a day trip. There’s a great deal to see there and one day just isn’t enough. But I was happy we ended up seeing the Kanmangafuchi Abyss and Toshogu Shrine. My favorite was the abyss since there was barely anyone there, unlike every else we went in Japan. November is when the Japanese maples show off their brilliant fall colors and attract a TON of visitors, from within the country and neighboring countries. Most places you go, you’ll be with everyone else and their mothers and brothers – and aunts, cousins, and grandmas too! But for some reason, there were only a handful of people at Kanmangafuchi Abyss. And it was heavenly.

Toshogu Shrine – a shinto shrine dedicated to Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years. There’s over 2.5 million sheets of gold leaf used at this shrine.

We also made it to the summer residence of the Imperial family. The fall colors here blew our minds. More so than the actual tour of the residence!


(More photos of this beautiful town coming in a separate blog post.)


Ever since he saw an episode of snow monkeys bathing in hot springs on some nature channel, Drew’s had that on his bucket list. So a face-to-face encounter with snow monkeys was a must!


These guys are such gossip mongers!

Fuji Five Lakes / Fuji Kawaguchiko

A great way to see Mt Fuji (if you’re not planning on climbing it) is to head to one of the Fuji Five Lakes and stay the night. We chose to stay near Lake Kawaguchiko because it was easily accessible by train (about a 3 hour train ride). This is one place you definitely want to spend the night. We stayed at our first ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) here and it was one of the highlights of our trip!


It’s hit or miss, seeing Mt Fuji, and our morning started off with it enshrouded by clouds. But with lots of luck and some sunshine, Mt Fuji came out to greet everyone that day. Bonus: Japanese maples in full color mode!


(More on Nagano & Fuji Kawaguchiko coming in a separate blog post.)


You can’t visit Japan without spending a few days in Kyoto, the former imperial capital. We loved this bike-friendly city with lots of old world charm. There’s much to see here and great little side trips too.


Kyoto is known for its abundance of temples and shrines. There’s practically one on every block like Starbucks here in the States, but a lot more meaningful of course.



On a sunny day, this town gets crowded – with tourists out visiting different temples, and all the shops surrounding the temples…man there’s a LOT of shopping here.

We stayed in the Gion district while here and rented bikes for a few days. Gion’s fun to explore at night as you try to get a glimpse of the elusive geisha.
You won’t find them walking around town with each other, but you may be lucky enough to spot one getting in or out of a taxi or restaurant/tea house.

About a 45 minute train ride away is a huge bamboo grove in Arashiyama. Worth the day trip visit to be surrounded by all this green!

Keep walking around the area and you end up in this beautiful park area where you can rent boats and float down the river.

A must-see when you’re in Kyoto is a day trip to Fushimi Inari Taisha, the shinto shrine dedicated to Inari, god of rice, sake, and fertility. I’m sure every photographer who comes to Japan has this on their must-see list. It was definitely on mine (and this other photographer)!


It’s impressive in photos, but even more so walking underneath thousands of these tori gates. Inari is considered the patron of merchants and businesses. Each tori is donated by a business and the writing on the gate is of the business name.

(Much more on Kyoto and its side trips in a later post!)

Another great side-trip from Kyoto is OSAKA. This city is a food lover’s destination. It’s smaller than Tokyo, but still has a vibrant nightlife.

Also known as “the nation’s kitchen”, Osaka is most famous for its okonomiyaki, a cross between an omlet and a pancake, with different meats, seafood, and vegetables thrown in. To be honest, we weren’t that impressed. I think it’s a late night drunk food and we weren’t drunk enough.


I think all we did in Osaka was eat.


Our last stop before heading back to Tokyo was Miyajima (The shrine island), a small island south of Hiroshima. This is where the famous floating tori gate resides, though I discovered that it’s not always “floating”, only at high tide. At low tide, you can walk right up to it, which is what just about everybody did. Thus, no pic of this gate from me at low tide. It was a mad house! But when the tide gets higher…you get this.


More pics, tips, and highlights from each town coming in separate posts so stay tuned!

Searching for Killer Whales in the San Juan Islands

When Drew and I visited San Juan Island 14 years ago with friends, I learned that orcas cruised by the island at times, especially in the summer when the salmon run is at its peak. I knew right then and there that we had to come back and kayak with the orcas one day. You know – like how they did on the Discovery Channel. Well, that day came this past July when we spent a week in Washington. I decided to book 2 nights on San Juan Island so we could kayak in the Haro Strait (on the western shore of SJI) where resident orcas spent much of their time. To be in the water with these majestic creatures was going to be a dream come true (among many dreams)!

To get to San Juan Island, you drive north from Seattle to Anacortes and then take a ferry over to San Juan Island. Of course, we got there right as the ferry was leaving, so we had a short wait in Anacortes before the next one arrived. No biggie – it gave us some time to wander around this cute little town. One thing we noticed that was huge here (no pun intended) was Bigfoot, aka Sasquatch. I guess he and his clan (there’s more than one right?) live up in the Pac Northwest, but apparently they love Anacortes – and books!

This cool piece of art was on top of a truck.

Just passin’ time…

We found a great spot for lunch.

It’s about an hour ferry ride to Friday Harbor (on San Juan Island) if you book the straight shot with no stops at other islands. We made it over and checked into our awesome hotel The Island Inn. The view from our room…aaaaaaahhh….

After settling in, we took a quick drive to the western shore to see if we could spot any whales.

This was our first time seeing round bales of hay. Kinda neat!

We didn’t see any whales, but had a great sunset though.

Next day, we decided to rent bikes and bike to Lime Kiln State Park, the it spot for whale watching on the island.


Little did we know, it was a LOT of uphill, and 18.5 miles to get there! We were totally unprepared and our weak asses decided to turn around after, oh, about 4 miles. Following one of my favorite mottos, “know thyself”, we knew ourselves and knew that this was not for us. At least not that day. Eight hilly miles was plenty as this next image clearly shows. =)

After our reality check, we headed back to town to rent mopeds instead.

Susie’s Mopeds is the place to go & we ended up opting for this super cool scooter coupe instead…yeah baby. It was the best way for me to take pics and video while Drew drove. I’m sure all the island residents LOVE it when tourists rent these things & go really slow on the roads.

If you have all day, you can ride around the whole island and explore.

Me, trying to make it up the boulder in less than 10 seconds to beat the camera timer. There’s no other decent explanation for that pose.

Embracing the nerdiness of our ride!

Our second stop was at Pelindaba Lavender Farm. Pelindaba means “place of great gatherings” in Zulu – incorporating the founder’s idea of great gatherings of people and crops.


I’m thinking of sending this one off to Hurley. 😉



After getting our fill of lavender, we stopped by Lime Kiln State Park to look for whales again. First thing we spotted was this little guy – a harbor seal.


Keeping our eyes open, we finally saw a whale! Not a killer whale, but a minke whale. How’d we know it was a minke from just seeing the top? Well if you must know, on our spare time, we’re Pacific Northwest whale researchers. Ok, not really. We overheard this old lady who looked like a regular whale watcher and San Juan resident tell her friends it was a minke whale. Yes, we’re eavesdroppers, but hey, we learned something from it!

Later that evening, we embarked on our sunset kayak trip in hopes of finding one of the 3 resident orca pods in the area, named J, K, and L pods, otherwise known as “The Southern Residents”. These resident orcas eat mainly salmon, unlike some of the transient orca pods that feed on mammals such as seals. For more info on the orcas around San Juan Island, click here.


Unfortunately, no luck with the orca pods. I guess it’s a bit hard when you’re kayaking to cover a great distance – and you kind of need that in this huge body of water if you want a higher chance of spotting these guys. Next time, I think we’ll book a charter boat ride. Ah well…it was still a beautiful kayaking trip, especially with the sun setting over the water.

We did find a huge purple sea star though!



On our last morning, we had a most delicious brunch at San Juan Island Cheese. It’s great to see a restaurant, in a heavy tourist area, care about the quality of their food. It’s not all like that in Friday Harbor, but San Juan Island Cheese is definitely worth a visit – maybe even more than once, when you’re on the island.



Til next time…Happy Travels to you!

Seattle – Chihuly Museum, Space Needle, Pike Place Market, & the Gum Wall

Seattle – The Emerald City! If you love greenery, you’ll love this city – at least in the summer months of July, August, and September. We ventured here in mid-July to cool off from Arizona’s outdoor sauna (because it’s like walking around in a giant sauna every time you step outside) and had the most beautiful weather the entire week we were in Washington. It felt great to be enjoying the outdoors again!

We crammed a bit of Seattle, San Juan Islands, and Olympic National Park all in a week. It was a go-go-go vacation packed with lots of adventure. So much that I’m splitting our trip into 2 posts. We’ll start with this amazing city in the Pacific Northwest. It’s got everything, and if it weren’t for all the rainy and gray days they get, we’d probably consider living up there. But an average of 226 cloudy days and 155 rainy days is a bit too much for us sun lovers, though we’ll happily visit in the sunny summer months!

Seattle has started to become a food destination – we didn’t have one bad meal while in this city. Because we have a ridiculous appetite for raw oysters (especially from the Pac Northwest), our first stop right after checking into the hotel was Taylor Shellfish Farms. We lucked out since they had just opened up this location in the Queen Anne neighborhood near the Maxwell Hotel where we stayed.


So yes, I died and went to oyster heaven that day. It was that good. After gorging on oysters, we walked across the street to the Seattle Center, built in 1962 for the World’s Fair. Filled with plenty of entertainment choices, you can easily spend a day here. We encountered the International Fountain first and found dozens of people soaking up the warm rays and cool water from the fountain. They have the water programmed to spout out in different directions and timed to music too. Not a bad place to lounge around and get some Vitamin D.


After we had enough lounging, we continued on in the park and happened upon this thing. What the? Is that a huge silver Darth Vader helmet? I had to investigate. Turns out, it’s the EMP Museum (Experience Music Project & Science Fiction Museum), founded by Paul Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder. The creative design of this building had me intrigued.


There’s an area by the gift shop where visitors can wander around and look at musical and sci-fi items. I guess I was more interested in the colored glass (yes, boudoir posing has become ingrained in me).

The giant mirrored ceiling.

We didn’t enter EMP and instead decided to check out the Chihuly Museum instead. Wow, if you’re a fan of color, go here!

Dale Chihuly was born in Tacoma and graduated from University of Washington in Seattle, thus the Chihuly museum is in Seattle, but his work spans the globe.

At the age of 35, he became blinded in his left eye after being thrown through the windshield in a head-on collision. So the eye-patch, if you’ve ever seen any recent photographs of him.

After a body surfing accident dislocated his right shoulder in 1979, he was no longer able to hold a glass blow pipe and thereafter hired others to blow glass for him using some of his trademarked techniques. This has caused many to call him the Thomas Kinkade of glass art. It seems some in the glass art world think he’s a better business man and marketer than an artist.


Say what you will about the man and his talents, but I know the words of Drew Dao would be “Haters gonna hate!” So his work may not be as incredible as some lesser known glass artist, but can’t we give him credit for being a genius businessman then? He’s obviously creating art installations that still wow the general public, so props Mr. Chihuly!

If you do visit the Chihuly museum, make sure you visit at night when the outdoor garden area turns into a lit up wonderland.

They even have a pro photographer inside to take pictures of guests – for free!

Kind of a neat perspective on the Space Needle from in here.

So we debated about going up the Space Needle for a few seconds before deciding, why not? It’s touristy, but I wouldn’t consider it a tourist trap. You get an incredible 360 degree view of Seattle from up there.



Wow, and all this was just in our first day of landing in Seattle! We left for San Juan Islands the next day and came back to Seattle a couple of days later. This time we explored Olympic Sculpture Park, though we didn’t have time to cover all 9 acres!





On a beautiful day in the city, it’s a great place to spend some time outdoors.

We luckily happened upon the inaugural free summer concert series there too! There were so many people out on picnic blankets with food & wine sprawled upon the lawn area.

It was awesome to see so many people gettin’ down.

If I lived near this park, I’d probably go for daily evening jogs…well, at least on the non-rainy days.

Or look out at the water as I contemplate life, or what I want to eat for dinner, like how Drew’s doing here.



On our last day before flying out, we took a tour with Savor Seattle Food Tours through Pike Place Market, the longest running farmer’s market in the U.S., founded in 1907.


I know we could’ve gone through and sampled tons of great food on our own, but it was a richer experience going with a guide who could tell you about the history of the market and the different vendors we visited. We met the guide in the Market theater by the famous gum wall. Or should I say walls since gum is everywhere in this alleyway that was named the 2nd germiest tourist attraction in the world. The number one spot goes to…the Blarney Stone. Our guide explained that the first gum was from a guy who was pissed because he couldn’t chew gum in the theater and was asked to spit it out. In spite, he stuck his gum on the wall outside the theater. Others followed in support, and now Seattle has another major tourist attraction. =)


Our first stop on the food tour was Daily Dozen Doughnuts. Yes, I love donuts. Yes, their donuts rock.

The fruit at the market during the summer is insanely divine. We bought a ton of cherries (yes, a ton!) and had the best giant peaches I’ve ever tasted.

There’s a little secret garden in the market area called Pike Place Market Urban Garden, where produce harvested goes to a local food bank. Love that!

There’s a system in place for musicians here as well. They each have an hour at designated spots throughout the market area and must rotate around since some locations are more prime than others.

Back to food…top images: Multiple award winning Beecher’s Cheese and their famous mac n cheese. Bottom images: BB Ranch Butcher. It’s definitely worth a click to read more on William and his views on sustainable, quality meats – his butcher shop processes whole animals so parts aren’t wasted.

Of course, no trip to Pike Place is complete without witnessing a fish toss. You can even ask to toss the fish to one of the guys working there too, which one brave girl on our tour did. I would’ve, but I didn’t want my camera to smell all fishy afterwards. 😉 Oh, and that nasty looking thing on the right, that’s a monk fish. Looks disgusting, but its liver tastes oooh so good. If you’re wondering about the taste, it’s been described as the “foie gras of the sea”. I don’t know who decided to keep this monstrous looking fish after hooking it, and then open it up to discover its liver was super tasty, but thank you.

And thank YOU, Seattle, for being a world-class city with damn good coffee (which I hadn’t mentioned because I figured it’s well known they have great coffee up there), incredible food, and plenty of awesome outdoor spaces for people to enjoy. After this trip, we’re planning on making you a yearly summer destination and can’t wait to come back!

South Padre Island : Kiteboarding

Last summer, Drew and I tried a new sport that a friend of ours has been talking up for years – kitesurfing! South Padre Island in Texas was the perfect place to learn too because there’s a huge bay with very shallow water, great for beginners! We booked lessons for the week, but everything was contingent on weather, or wind to be exact. No wind, no kiting.

Sunsets on the bayside were gorgeous though. You can walk out for miles during low tide it seems.

Our instructor was excellent. Very step-by-step guided instruction and all about safety. Day 1, we stayed on land and practiced controlling the kite. It took a little getting used to, but was easy once we got the hang of it.

We felt like we were on call the whole week, depending on when the winds were cooperating, and when our instructor had time for us. Sometimes we’d take nice long strolls on the ocean side while we waited. We ended up seeing the most beautiful sea creatures washed up on the sand. Portugese man-of-war. So Wikipedia just schooled me because I thought they were jellyfish since I knew their tentacles are poisonous.

“The Portuguese man o’ war is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, which differs from jellyfish in that it is not actually a single multicellular organism but a colonial organism made up of many highly specialized minute individuals called zooids.” – Wikipedia

Got that kids? Good. Thanks Wikipedia. Now I know this one animal is actually made up of a bunch of living organisms, which the nerd in me totally appreciates!

What was really cool was that some of them were still alive and moving on the beach. You had to watch where you step, but they are such strangely beautiful creatures, it was kind of exciting looking out for them as we walked.


On Day 2, our instructor had us practice flying the kite while standing in knee deep water. Day 3, we went body dragging. That was kinda fun! You hold onto the kite and let it drag you across the water while controlling your kite. If you wanted to, you could make the kite lift you up out of the water for some air!

Unfortunately, Day 4, where we would’ve learned how to get up on the board and actually ride never came. No wind. But we still had a GREAT time learning and will be back to pick up where we left off – some day.


Watson Lake, Prescott, Arizona

After 5 years of living in AZ, Drew & I finally got ourselves to explore Prescott, mainly Lake Watson. I love water, but combine that with these rock formations called the Granite Dells and I’m in heaven! We went on a weekday, and there were no kayak rentals during that time, so we hiked around and found so much to stop and gaze upon – up close & from afar. This place is unlike any other I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing. I say definitely hike it and if you have time, go back & rent a kayak for a whole different experience.

This was in September and we lucked out with fields of yellow sunflowers!!!



Cute little bug friends we found along the way.



Heading back into town, we passed by Whiskey Row…which deserves a good exploration in itself, and went back to our adorable B&B called Prescott Pine Inns.

Had to take a picture of their rubber ducky fountain in front of the B&B.

As Drew slept in that morning, I decided to head out for sunrise photos of Lake Watson. With the way it’s situated, it’s more of a sunset photo sort of place, so I headed down the road (& got a bit lost!) to find Willow Lake. Plenty of hikers out there savoring the beautiful morning weather. Not as many dells on this side, but the tall green grass made up for it all.



If you ever want to just get away for a bit and soak in some natural gorgeousness, head up to Prescott & these lakes. During sunset time, there’s a group of retired folks playing in their drum circle. See if you can catch them playing!

Arches National Park, Utah

Back in 2010, a friend of mine told me that the arch had collapsed in Arches National Park. I had never been there and thought there was only one or two huge arches that everyone drove to see. With its collapse, I put Arches National Park low on my bucket list. Little did I know, there are TONS of arches at Arches National Park. The one that collapsed was called Wall Arch, though the famous one that everyone sees and is on the Utah license plate is Delicate Arch, pictured below. This summer, we put Arches on our list and the more I looked into it, the more I wanted to explore this park. It’s huge, and there’s so much more to it than just the arches.


Arches National Park from LYNN DAO on Vimeo.

On our drive up from Monument Valley, we stopped by Natural Bridges National Monument first since it was along the way. A nice welcome from Mr. Raven.

We’re here! Chest bump excitement!

Since we didn’t have much time, we stopped by the visitor center to look around and then drove to two out of the three natural bridges. They planned the park out well, so you can hike down to see the bridges up close and personal, or park at designated stops to see them from afar.

At the third bridge, Owachomo, we decided to hike down. It’s the smallest and thinnest of the three and therefore considered to be the oldest.

Imagine thousands of years ago, water probably started seeping through a tiny crack in the rock wall. Rain brought floods and now we have this huge, amazing bridge.

When we got to Moab, we checked into our place at Cliffrose Flats. Anytime we stay somewhere for a few days, we like to (if we can) get a place with a kitchen. Cliffrose Flats was perfect! Clean, new, and the perfect amount of space for two. The owners Ellyn and Michael are super friendly and there’s even a washer & dryer for guests to use. Our place had a grill and a nice little outdoor patio in the backyard area where we could dine al fresco.


Full kitchen. Got everything we needed.

There is so much to do around Moab besides going to Arches NP. Canyonlands NP is also nearby, though we didn’t have time for it on this trip. It’s an outdoors lover’s paradise. There’s great mountain biking, river rafting, tons of scenic hikes, fishing, and… base jumping anybody? Yup, you can do a tandem base jump in Moab. Um, I loved skydiving, but that was in Hawaii, near the ocean water so in case my chute didn’t open I would hope to fall into the ocean. Not to say I’d live, but it’s still more comforting than falling 900ft straight onto hard rock! Maybe when I’m 80…

The drive into Arches NP is breathtaking. With over 2,000 natural stone arches and hundreds of pinnacles, fins, and balanced rocks, your jaw will drop at every turn. 2,000 arches?!!! That’s a lot of arches you might say. Well, they consider an arch any rock formation with an opening over 3ft.

What’s a fin you ask? This, I learned, is a fin.

Balanced Rock. Wow. I wanted to get closer, but just in case it was the day the top rock decided to tip over, I decided to take the picture from afar.

The hike up to Delicate Arch is only 3 miles roundtrip on slickrock.

If you get there in time before the huge crowds arrive, you might be able to get a few pictures of the arch without anyone in it. Hallelujah!

Once the masses arrive though, there’ll be people scrambling on the side of the arch or standing underneath it to take their pictures. It was a huge turnoff for people who were there to just appreciate and soak in the beauty of the arch on its own. But I guess everyone’s different, and some people traveled long distances to get there, so why not climb up on the side of it, or stand right underneath? Um, because it’s rude for everyone else there who’s trying to take a picture of the arch without strangers in it before the sun goes down. Ok, vent session over. Thanks for indulging me, and sorry if I sounded like a huge B. 😛

There are tons of other places to see and hike in the park, but if you come in the middle of a heat wave, it’s hard to get out there in the middle of the day to hike since there’s barely any shade. So our hike at Devil’s Garden started in the early morning. The trail is about 7 miles long and takes you to some incredible rock formations.

The first arch you’ll come across is Landscape Arch. It’s the longest arch in the park and in the world, measuring at 290ft.

This hike at Devil’s Garden has got to be one of my all-time favorite hikes. It’s fun climbing, jumping, and sliding over slickrock. The scenery is awe inspiring.

Yup, I repeat, awe-inspiring.

Why does it look like everyone’s waiting to see if I tumble down this rock?



Once it gets too hot to hike out, it’s time to head indoors til evening. The Windows is a nice, easy one mile hike. Great done around sunset when you don’t have much daylight left.




Double Arch.

The drives back to our place at night were always my favorite. Windows rolled down, warm wind blowing, music playing, and singing as the scenery passed us by.


Lake Powell & Monument Valley

For those who would rather watch a video…

Lake Powell & Monument Valley from LYNN DAO on Vimeo.

There’s something about road trips, whether you’re taking one alone or with someone else. It’s a time to not only see new sights, but to get to know yourself and whoever else you’re with a little more. You can’t help but feel this sense of freedom when you’re out on the road, singing, laughing, or savoring the moment in silence. This summer we decided to drive up north to Lake Powell, Monument Valley, and Arches National Park for a week. Incredible places that all deserved more time than we had allotted, so that just means we’re going to have to make another trip back!

Our first stop was Lake Powell. We have friends that used to hold an annual Lake Powell Houseboating trip and always invited us along, but we never really saw what the big deal was. Man, did we MISS OUT! Once we arrived at Lake Powell, we totally understood. It’s not just the lake, it’s the crazy canyon – Glen Canyon- that’s so awe-some. You feel like you’ve just stepped onto another planet when you get there. Star Wars anyone?

The best way to explore this canyon area is by boat over the course of a few days, so you have the opportunity to dock in different places and explore the lands. This area goes far back in time, like 300 million years back. Glen Canyon was so many things – an ocean, a forest, a swamp. Fossils are common here and according to the National Park Service, if you find one, take a picture of it and let the ranger know where you found it. Do not take it home with you. Though I’m sure if someone found a fossil, the temptation would be really high to stuff it in a backpack.


Since we only had one night here, we stayed at Lake Powell Resort right on the marina. From there, they have boat tours of the canyon. We took the one to Antelope canyon, which was the shortest tour (1.5hr).





About two hours east of Lake Powell is Monument Valley, UT. This Navajo Tribal Park has been in tons of films from Stagecoach to Forrest Gump to the more recent Lone Ranger. John Wayne claimed, “Monument Valley is the place where God put the West.” Damn right.


We stayed at The View Hotel, where every room has a view of the famous Mittens buttes. (Here’s my “you learn something new everyday”: The difference between a butte and a mesa. Both are flat topped hills or mountains, just a butte is smaller.) Another check mark off the “I’ve always wondered…” list. But back to the hotel, which was seamlessly built into the landscape. There is only one hotel here, thank goodness, and they did it right.


Sunrise here is spectacular.

So much so that I had a hard time narrowing down my shots because of the ever changing colors of the sky.




You can drive through certain parts of the park on your own to see many of the famous formations, but I highly suggest taking a tour with Navajo Spirit Tours. Not only will you get to see parts of the park that others don’t get to venture to without a guide, but you get to learn so much about the Navajo people and the land here.

If you do book with Navajo Spirit Tours, ask for Don. He has an amazingly rich history and can tell you so much about his people and their beliefs.


We feel really blessed to have had Don as our guide. He had so much to tell us about his past and his people. It was mesmerizing listening to him sing songs and speak in the Navajo language. While sitting in the Big Hogan, Don told us he was going to sing us a Navajo song to bless travelers. We were super excited.

When he sang, it was like we were transported back in time, or like we were in a movie. Needless to say, the song was beautiful and I wish I could share it with everyone. But here’s the video blooper footage that came out of this. Yup, my man recorded everything before and after the song was sung because he confused the record button with the off button! (Insert your favorite expletive here). I was so sad about this at first, but can only laugh hysterically now that I’m writing this. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be captured on film. Maybe it’s something that everyone should experience firsthand. It’d send chills down your spine – in a good way.

Navajo Tour Bloopers from LYNN DAO on Vimeo.

From where we were sitting, look up and you can clearly see the eagle. It’s amazing how this land befits the people living on it, people whose beliefs are just so in tune with their natural surroundings. The Navajo actually call themselves Dine (pronounced Dineh), meaning the People. However, Don explained that it’s much deeper than that. It also means Mother Earth and Father Sky coming together, man and woman are equal and one.

Navajo Nation is the largest Native American reservation in the United States, spanning about 25,000 miles, or the size of West Virginia. Their story, and the story of every other Native American tribe is a sad one. After the U.S. defeated Mexico, the Navajos were rounded up and forced to walk 300 miles (known as “The Long Walk”) from their homeland to Fort Sumner, New Mexico where they stayed at an internment camp with an Apache tribe. Deaths occurred, not only during the march, but at the internment camp as well. Four years later, the Navajo signed a treaty with the US government and were able to return to their sacred land.


The Sun’s Eye. I hadn’t expected to see as much beauty as I did in Monument Valley. Before we came, I thought it was just the famous buttes we saw in the movies. But it was sooooo much more. The rocks, the earth, the formations all lend you to feel this surreal sense of being one with the natural surroundings here. It’s like the spirit of the universe speaks to you and is within you all at once. Hard to explain without sounding a bit cheesy I guess, but if you go, you’ll see what I mean.

What was a total unexpected surprise for me were all the Anasazi petroglyphs we saw here. I knew this ancient civilization was somewhere in the southwest, just didn’t know that they had lived in what is now Monument Valley. Below is a petroglyph of big horned sheep.


Ancient Anasazi dwelling.

This is such a beautiful and sacred land. For anyone interested in nature, Native American/Navajo culture, or western movies, Monument Valley is definitely worth a visit. Peace & love my friends.

The Big Island: Volcano Lava Hike

Volcanoes National Park. This is definitely a must see when you come to the island, so I had planned for 2 nights near the park, but things don’t always go according to plan. We rented another home through VRBO about 5-10 minutes from the park. From the pictures, I loved how the home sits in the middle of the rainforest it seems like, with these huge windows all around.

Big Island-111-Edit

A few steps right outside…yup, in the thick of it. This home is actually in a real neighborhood. It’s just that your neighbors are not right next to you up in your business.
Big Island-112-Edit

We got there in the late evening and tried to go to Volcanoes that night after dinner to see some lava. The park is open 24/7! Unfortunately, it was soooo foggy that we couldn’t see 3 feet past our car when we tried to drive out. So we turned back around and stayed in. The house itself was kinda quirky, borderline creepy. I didn’t see pictures of the weird stone head propped up on a high pillar outside the upstairs bedroom. It faced the bed (from outside) and had a light shining on it at night, so you can’t help but be creeped out. We ended up sleeping downstairs on the futon! There was another one of those creepy heads facing the bathtub. Then there’s the bathroom accessories themselves. Of course, to each their own, but I’m not a huge fan of body parts on my bathroom walls. The toilet paper hand holders was one thing.

But the finger towel holders was on another level. Is it Halloween? What the?

As nice as the view was of the forest outside, we decided to leave a day early and check into a resort the second day. Upon a local’s recommendation, we checked into the Kalani Retreat Center in Pahoa. This place is on 120 acres of land, huge! It is apparently a huge yoga retreat center offering yoga classes, and other workshops and events such as aerial dance and ecstatic dance (not quite sure what ecstatic dance is, but I’m sure we can all take a guess). Lunch is served cafeteria style almost, with very healthy fare. There’s one huge line that everyone gets in to get their food. A lot of the people there were volunteers, I think. Honestly, I felt a bit out of place at lunch time because I wasn’t “hippie” looking enough. But that’s my problem. What wasn’t a problem was our awesome bungalow! No more being creeped out by random body parts all over the place. We were able to comfortably nap in our room after lunch while we waited for our volcano tour.
Big Island-185-Edit

Since it was so hot, we decided to go for a little swim first in the half-Olympic pool. Little did we know, it was clothing optional. Surprise, surprise! Or should I say, many surprises everywhere we looked. This was the first time we had ever been at a clothing optional place, so we opted to leave our clothes on. More power to those who free willied, but we’re not quite there yet. :p

At 3 in the afternoon, we met up with our Volcano Discovery group and guide, Neil, who is a geologist so you know the stuff he says is legit. We signed up for the Lava Proximity tour which includes a 6 mile roundtrip hike on lava to see the red, hot lava flows from Kilauea volcano. I had no idea that we would also get a chance to see lava flowing into the ocean. We had the choice of which one we wanted to see first and opted for the ocean lava. I think if I could do it over again, I’d see the lava flow first in daylight and then hike over to the ocean lava since that looked a lot more spectacular after sunset.

The hike itself was like walking on another planet. It’s on lava, which was very uneven, and if you fall, it’s like falling on broken glass. Every step you take sounds like you’re crushing glass. So don’t fall! They recommend wearing long pants, but it was so hot that all six of us wore shorts. Neil was the only one in pants. And a gigantic backpack that carried water, snacks, headlamps, and umbrellas (in case it rained) for all of us. Props! We all got hiking sticks and headed out onto the black lava fields.

Big Island-116-Edit

Want to buy a piece of lava land? Only $5000 for an acre!
Big Island-113-Edit

Big Island-131-Edit

The hike itself was already pretty amazing, seeing all the different lava formations.
Big Island-123-Edit

This is the Hawaiin Ohia tree. The red flowers on the tree are called Lehua (“sacred flowers of the Gods”), and it’s also the official flower of the Big Island. Legend goes that Ohia (male) and Lehua (female) were lovers. The volcano goddess, Pele, wanted Ohia for herself, but Ohia was in love with Lehua and rejected Pele. Not one to be spurned, Pele turned Ohia into a tree so the two couldn’t be together. Seeing the sadness in Lehua, the other gods took pity on her and turned her into the red flower that grows on the Ohia tree so the two could be together forever. Hawaiians say when it rains that someone has picked a Lehua flower from the Ohia tree, separating the lovers and causing tears to flow from the heavens.
Big Island-118-Edit

The bottom of this tree got taken down by the lava flow. Neil had explained why the rest of the tree is still intact, but I honestly can’t remember what it was. :\
Big Island-132-Edit

We made it to the ocean! It was pretty spectacular seeing not one, but TWO flows into the ocean. Well, we could see two huge plumes of steam coming from the points where hot lava met ocean waters.
Big Island-136-Edit


It gets better and better as the sun goes down. (Notice the boat just a few meters away. There were times when the lava spewed out of the ocean and seemed to hit the boat, but I’m sure they were all safe. I’m sure it must’ve been a great view up close.

Afterwards, we all put on our headlamps and carefully hiked on that uneven lava terrain over to a lava flow.
Big Island-184

Hallelujah! We found one, or should I say, Neil found it.
Big Island-175-Edit-Edit

It’s amazing that you can get up soooo close to flowing lava. But it’s moving so slow that you’re not in any danger. It’s just feels like you’re in a 1000 degree oven, that’s all.
Big Island-182-Edit-Edit

We didn’t finish our tour that night until 10pm…7 hours. But we did spend a good amount of time watching the lava flow into the ocean. It was so mesmerizing, which made it hard to leave the area. When we got back to our room, all we could hear were the millions of coqui frogs singing their songs. It sounded like birds chirping and was a wonderful way to fall asleep. Like listening to a mass frog symphony. Click here to hear what they sound like. Imagine sleeping to the sound of millions of those…I loved it, but there are plenty of natives who feel this invasive species (accidentally transported here from Puerto Rico with plants around 1988) are a HUGE nuisance.

The next morning before we left the Kalani retreat center in Pahoa, we had to do a little walk across this street to take a look at the ocean. This is one of those places where you want to just set up a hammock and lay there for an hour or two.
Big Island-186-Edit

There’s not many beaches on this side of the island and it rains a whole heck of a lot (3rd wettest in the nation), so land is much more affordable.
Big Island-188-Edit

On our way out, we picked up this hitchhiker lady who needed a ride to Pahoa town. Quite an interesting character I must say, as were a lot of people we saw in town. The “Big Island Revealed” author describes Pahoa as so: “Known as the Big Island’s outlaw town, this is where guerrilla gardeners (pakalolo farmers), dreadlock enthusiasts, FBI fugitives and the never-bathe crowd coexist…” And we have to say, he’s pretty dead on. Pahoa is definitely worth a visit, not just for its natural wonders, but to also see a whole different culture. If anything, it’ll give you a lot to talk about and a little chuckle too.

Driving up the east coast of the Big Island was like driving through the Garden of Eden. Lush green trees & flowers abound. We stopped for a little picnic lunch at a small park where the river runs into the ocean.
Big Island-205

On our second to last full day, we decided to change course a bit and head back to the west side to treat ourselves with a stay at the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala coast. All I have to say is, it’s niiiiiice. Loved the grounds, the gigantic pool, the food, and the room. Didn’t love the nickel and diming game from an upscale resort. We did their floating yoga class in the morning (yoga on a stand up paddle board). That was one of the coolest yoga experiences just for the mere fact that you see turtles and tropical fish swimming around you as you’re holding your yoga poses.
Big Island-207-Edit

Back to Kona for our last day. Drew snapped a picture of this vibrant little guy with my phone. Did I mention his phone got soaked in the ocean water on Day 1 of snorkeling? So much for the waterproof zip bag!

Also in Kona, lots of proud fishermen who like to display their huge tuna catches for the world to see. Kind of like proud hunters on the mainland who hang deer antlers on their walls.

The end to another outta this world travel excursion with unforgettable experiences. We’re now toying with the idea of starting a yearly (or bi-yearly) travel retreat where a few others come along with us to explore new destinations. And you’ll have a professional photographer who will take pictures of you along the way! Who’s in? Contact me if you’re interested!
Big Island-213