Banff in September: Moraine Lake, Larch Valley & Sentinel Pass

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For my birthday last year, I decided to check out the Canadian Rockies. We stayed in Calgary the first night. The drive from Calgary to Banff was only 1.5 hours. I liked Calgary a lot – there were a lot of hip restaurants and bars, and outdoor art installations (free interactive musical see-saws!) at the Riverwalk.

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First thing we did after arriving in Banff: went on a boat and cruised around Lake Minnewanka. Then we walked around the town of Banff. I was unprepared for the cold weather in September, which gave me an excuse to buy a new down jacket (love shopping in Canada, feels like a bargain with the Canadian dollar: 1USD=1.3CAD).

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Lunch at Park Distillery – pretty good meal and extremely friendly service. Highly recommended.

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Did the touristy gondola thing.

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This view though.

We camped out that night at Tunnel Mountain Village 1 Campground – it was perfect, clean, and I highly recommend it. Much better than Lake Louise Campground which we later on discovered.

Breakfast at The Bison – pretty good bison burger!

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We passed by the parking lot leading to Lake Louise and there were long lines of cars outside the entrance waiting to get in. For Moraine Lake, we got lucky. If you wait a bit inside the parking lot, you’ll eventually get a spot – seems like there were fast turnover rates for people visiting the lakes.

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Moraine Lake – where you go to start the hike to Larch Valley. September is the perfect time to see the golden larch trees!

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Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley

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Those larch trees.

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Loved the wide open landscape here.

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Hiking through Larch Valley was easy, but going up to Sentinel Pass was a little more strenuous. Worth it though.

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After this point, turn around and proceed to the top…

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Waiting for sunset at Moraine. There was a huge rock pile for people to scramble up. The higher you go, the bluer the lake looks. It was nice to relax here after the hike.

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Cuba: strolling through the streets of Trinidad

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I hired a taxi through BestCubaGuide.com. They emailed me to make the arrangements. The price for a Modern Taxi from Havana to Trinidad was 160cuc(160 USD) back in May of 2017.  We paid the driver directly in CUC. When the driver arrived, he had his wife/partner with him. He didn’t speak much English so we communicated in Spanish. Afterwards, I made arrangements with him directly to come back the next day to pick us up.

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Havana to Trinidad by car: 4-5 hours. In between, we stopped for a bathroom/snack break. Bought a hot dog for $1 and it tasted very strange… We saw a lot of local people getting it but it didn’t jive well with us.

Once we arrived at our casa (also through Airbnb, and I highly recommend this one!), our host Yacquelin presented us with ice cold fresh mango juice which was amazing. She didn’t speak English at all so we communicated through Spanish. For some reason, I understood her more than I understood the driver — maybe she was used to tourists so she spoke slower and used more simple vocabulary? Yacquelin was the perfect host.

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The casa was a house connected to their family-owned ceramics factory, where people took tours! You can also buy souvenirs here.

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After our mini tour, Yacquelin helped us order a taxi to go hiking.

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We hiked to this waterfall and spent some time in the water.

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Our casa was about 15 minutes walking distance away from the city center (Plaza Mayor), so we walked through the neighborhood, which was interesting.

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My favorite part of the Cuba experience was live street music.

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What I noticed while walking through the neighborhood was that you can see through most homes and stores – there were no glass, no curtains. We saw family pictures, furniture, beds, people sitting on their couches watching television — everything could be seen from the outside. It was bizarre, like looking into someone else’s life. Passing through the neighborhood, we saw a lot of locals sitting in front of their houses just chatting and spending time with each other. It was nice to see that they weren’t on their phones typing away in silence, like we often see in the U.S. When we went back to our casa that night, we hung out on the balcony, sitting outside feeling the breezes, just like the local people. Even though it was hot, the breeze felt nicer than the AC.

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We encountered a couple of local Cuban people who asked us for our “things” — my friend’s plastic wrist band, my pusheen keychain hanging off my bag, in exchange for some goods that they were selling. It broke my heart when a father of a little boy begged and said “please, we can never get it here…” A little girl asked my friend defiantly for his wrist band, and her mother said it was her birthday (the father of the little boy also pulled the birthday card). We got the feeling that it was a common thing to do — foreigners would give away “things”, just little things that we usually don’t even notice, but they would treasure them because it was nearly impossible for them to get them. They never asked for money, just things.

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Our host recommended this restaurant, Esquerra – right next to Casa de la Musica, and they had a live band too!

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Complimentary drinks.

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Ropa Vieja

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Casa de la musica at night.

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Casa de la musica during the day time.

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Staying at a casa meant home-cooked breakfast for $5! Our breakfast here was the best meal we had in retrospect. Yacquelin prepared all this for four of us. I LOVED THE FRESH MANGOES.

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Trinidad was my favorite part of Cuba. Definitely worth the trek.

Travelogue: Arizona: Camelback Mtn & Grand Canyon (April 2016)

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Solotrips are fun in that you get to do whatever you want whenever you want. Naptime anytime. The only downside is not having a consistent photographer to take pictures of you. I loveeeeeeed Arizona and will definitely have to go back. There’s so much to do and eat.

For this trip, I booked 2 Airbnbs. One was in Paradise Valley and the other in Downtown Phoenix (for the next post). I took an Uber from the airport (prices are really cheap there). There are specific pick-up areas called “prearranged vehicles” that are basically designated just for Ubers.

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Paradise Valley is a really nice neighborhood, and I chose it because I wanted to hike up Camelback Mountain as soon as I landed. My Airbnb place was right near the Echo Canyon trailhead.

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This is where I stayed for 2 nights!

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It was only 10AM and the parking lot was full already. Good thing I only had to walk from my Airbnb.

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It was 90 degrees and sunny. Bring lots of water!!! The Echo Canyon Trail is very steep with lots of scrambling. It was a lot of fun and I met people from all over the country along the way.

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There were stairs and then there were railings to hold onto…

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Some wildlife.

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This was not an easy hike, especially in 90 degree weather. But I loved it.

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At the summit, you can see the city of Phoenix.

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It took about an hour & a half to get up there (stopped to take pictures) and faster to go down. Be careful, as it can be very steep.

The next day, I took a Viator tour to Sedona and the Grand Canyon.

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(The view from my Airbnb at sunrise)

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Walked through some residential areas to go to the meeting place. The tour guide/driver, Robert, picked me up right on time at 6:40AM. The company that Viator used was Detours of Arizona. I didn’t want to drive 3 hours to the Grand Canyon and only had a day to spare, so this was a great way of seeing it (next time, I’ll go back to hike & camp).

Sedona first.

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Robert gave us time to wander and showed us cool places to take photos. And then gift shops, of course.

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This was half of my gigantic sandwich that was included in lunch. So tasty.

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When in Arizona…

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Next, we drove to the Grand Canyon.

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

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We went along the South Rim and stopped at different spots to take pictures.

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

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Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

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Definitely coming back to the Canyon. It sure is grand.

I loved living next to a mountain. On my last night, my Airbnb hosts gave me a homemade blueberry protein shake. They were both ultra-athletes and told me about the running routes nearby, so I took their advice the next morning.

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The neighborhood was really something. Although it was hot, it wasn’t humid. “Paradise Valley” was aptly named. I felt like I was in Hawaii again.

Downtown Phoenix coming up next! To be continued…

Travelogue: Vancouver, British Columbia (Part 2)

We started off the morning with breakfast. Lido has the best bolo bao (菠蘿包) AKA pineapple buns — WITH BUTTER.

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Then we drove about an hour+ to Squamish to hike the Stawamus Chief.

The Stawamus Chief is a granite dome located adjacent to the town of Squamish, British Columbia. It towers over 700 m (2,297 ft) above the waters of nearby Howe Sound. It is often claimed to be the “second largest granite monolith in the world”. (Wiki)

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Shannon Falls.

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It was a strenuous hike, but the view was amazing. The water was a color I had never seen before. These pictures can’t capture the beauty that only exists in my memory now.

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Famished, we went to Guu with Garlic for some Japanese tapas:

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The menu

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We sat at the bar where we could see everything they were making.

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Ramune soda brings back childhood memories.

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Uni!

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Miso black cod

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They make the best eggplant ever.

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Grownup’s melon soda float. (alcoholic)

Richmond Night Market! (They only run in the summertime on weekends) We were lucky to have picked a hotel that was right across the street. So many vendors, so much food!

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So. Much. Food.

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Mango everything.

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Hiking: Breakneck Ridge, Hudson Valley New York (Phone pics)

I’ve been meaning to hike up to the Breakneck Ridge for a while, since a bunch of my friends have done it and recommended it. According to this helpful website, its difficulty is rated as 10/10 due to the steepness and rock scrambling (which I love).

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We started off with breakfast at 168 Tea Shop. Then we drove for about an hour and a half (from Queens) and took the wrong turn — the sign for “Cold Spring” seemed to have come out of nowhere and we couldn’t make the turn in time. But after the detour, here we were! We parked right next to the tunnel:

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There were a few parking spots here, and to the right began our trail (follow the white markers).

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Take a map here or print it beforehand.

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Now, I usually LOVE rock scrambling and climbing up big rocks. I love the challenge of using my arms to hoist myself up and looking for places to put my feet on. But because of the snow and ice (it was 30 degrees F), I had to be more careful in looking for rocks to step on, especially since they were covered. I would like to come back in the spring/summer/fall.

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There were some parts of just straight climbing.

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This was a beautiful lookout point. The snow covered some trees… but this was only the beginning.

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At some parts we had to figure out alternative routes to go around the thick snow.

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A sign! Telling us there is a less steep way.

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After lots of scrambling over snow covered rocks, we finally got the the turning point: the red trail aka “Breakneck Bypass”! This was the descent part of the route, which was actually more tough for me to go through because the snow was up to my calves at some parts. Going downhill in snow and ice was frustrating because it was VERY easy to slip and slide; for half the trek I just sat and slid down, which resulted in bruises on my behind.

Note: before we got to this red marker, there was a sign pointing to the right for the yellow trail — that’s not the way to go if you want to make a loop to go back to your car…

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And here ends the red trail, back to the “Route 9D” trail aka back to the starting point! This was another descent that was a little bit less annoying (less slippery I suppose) with the hope that we were almost back to civilization.

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Here we are! I hiked this with new hiking boots that I just purchased the day before, the Salomon Quest 4D GTX. The high tops definitely helped prevent the snow from invading my socks and feet. The reviews were mixed on the waterproofness of it but I can say thank God I wore these! I could NOT have done this with sneakers (which we saw a few hikers wore).

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We walked a small section of this road back to the car. Overall, it was an exhausting hike and not that many great lookout points; only one beautiful view which was seen in the beginning. Probably would not make it to my list of top hikes, but it IS a short drive from NYC — I will make another assessment when I come back under better weather conditions.

After a long hike (4-5 hours?), we went to the nearby Hudson House in Cold Spring for steak as per recommendation from my friend. Great complimentary popovers with strawberry butter to start with. I enjoyed my rib-eye more than the T-bone.

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Hiking Mohonk: Labyrinth, Lemon Squeeze, Skytop

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We went on a Friday — the entrance fee was $21 as opposed to $26 on the weekends. Our goal of the day was to find the Sky Top Tower while scrambling and squeezing through/under/over rocks. You can call Mohonk for a recorded message on hiking conditions at 845-256-2197. We called before we left in case it closed for inclement weather.

 

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Lots of lookouts. We wanted to see the fall foliage and there it was!

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They provided us with a map.

 

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There were a bunch of trails that led to Sky Top.

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“Dawn seat”, I read as “Damn seat”…

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There’s the Mohonk Mountain House.

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This is where it gets difficult. Especially for me, since I’m afraid of heights. Like panic-attack-hyperventilating-legs-giving-out afraid.

 

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There were lots of short and long ladders, at one point I had to crawl to get up through rocks. Lots of deep crevices.

 

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When we got close, there was a long ladder that made me hyperventilate because it went over a deep crevice. I panicked but got through it. While we were in between that ladder and the next one, it suddenly started hailing. We debated whether to continue or turn back, since everything started getting wet. I did not want to hyperventilate again, so we continued. The second ladder was not bad at all because it was a more narrow passageway, so you can lean on the rocks as you ascend up the ladder. After that, the “lemon squeeze” or “fat man’s misery” was the narrow space where we had to climb up (we had to take off our backpacks in order to fit), and also my favorite part of the hike!

 

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Victory!

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This was the crevice… I couldn’t even take a picture of it straight down without getting dizzy.

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This bridge led us to the Sky Top Tower.

 

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Go inside…

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I just love this picture, taken from inside the tower.

 

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We took in the view before heading back. The sun came out from the clouds and the air was crisp and fresh.

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And don’t worry, there are restrooms at the start and at the mountain house.

Travelogue: Maine Day 4 (hiking & eating)

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We start the day off with breakfast in Bar Harbor. 2 Cats, a cute brunch place with bright decor.

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I was looking forward to their lobster benedict (above) and lobster omelette (below), but their strawberry butter turned out to be the best thing there.

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Inside the omelette were big chunks of lobster meat. The egg was a strange texture though, so I didn’t care much for it. After fueling up, we were ready for another day of hiking.

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We planned to hike up to the Cadillac Mountain this time, but one section of the trail was closed so we took a detour.

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Lots of blueberries on the way.

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We went up Dorr Mountain and it was pretty fun; lots of scrambling and big rocks to climb. We reached the Cadillac and went back the long route.

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It took us about 5-6 hours to complete the hike this time, and after that we looked for food on Route 3 again. But everything was closed except…

Shinbashi.

I know. Japanese food in Maine of all places?! It was pretty good!

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Lobster tempura!

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Sashimi was super fresh. Thumbs up for sushi in Maine!

Travelogue: Maine Day 3 (Acadia & Bar Harbor)

From Bangor to Acadia, we took state route 3.

We had passed by many lobster joints on this route on the previous day, so our mission the next morning was to hit up one spot that was intriguing: Lobster Pound & Real Pit BBQ. Lobster and BBQ? I’m game.

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Of course I had to get a blueberry soda! It’s what Bar Harbor is famous for. Blueberry everything.

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Crab dip.

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This was probably our 5th lobster roll on the trip. Not bad.

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The brisket was kind of dry.

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Yes, a real pit.

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After our “breakfast/brunch”, we had to fight through food coma and take advantage of daylight for our hike.

Hello again, Acadia.

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Bubble pond. I wondered why they named this bubble pond, and then I saw:

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At the highest peak of every mountain, there’s a sign that tells you you’re at the summit. So if you have to wonder if you’re “there yet”, you’re most likely not.

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Relaxing on top of the Pemetic Mountain.

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I loved this view. So peaceful. There weren’t many people crowding around during any of our hikes, so we got to take pictures without much interference.

After a day of hiking, we drove to Bar Harbor to wait for my friends. We had some time to kill, so we got some ice cream…

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There are several locations of Mount Desert Ice Cream in Maine.

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Really digging the unique flavors they offer.

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I believe I got cucumber lime, buttermint, blueberry sour cream crumble, and butterbeer.

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Bar Harbor was peaceful and quiet. We strolled by many restaurants and a park where we sat down to eat a lobster roll from Downeast Deli.

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Sadly, it was the most disappointing lobster roll of this trip. Bread was weak, meat was weird in texture, but I guess now we have a reference point for comparison.

We took a stroll.

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Then we met our friends at Stewman’s Lobster Pound for dinner.

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Blueberry ale. Tasted like regular beer with some blueberries on top.

I liked the outdoor seating at first, but then as it got dark it also got chilly and the lighting was so bad we almost couldn’t see what we were eating…

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Next post: final day of hiking at Acadia. And more eating.

Travelogue: Maine Day 2 (Acadia National Park)

On Day 2, we drove from Bangor to Acadia National Park. We bought an all week access parking pass for $20 — well worth it. I didn’t bring my DSLR on the trails, so here are some phone pictures.

We started off at Sand Beach and walked along the shore — there were many cliffs for you to explore. Loved the thrill of going to the edge!

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This was on a trail called the “Beehive” — there were multiple iron rungs for you to climb. We got through 2 sets of them and I couldn’t get past the 3rd set, even though we were SO close to finishing the route! All I saw ahead was a straight cliff and I couldn’t proceed. My fear of heights won this time.

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After our hike, we decided to drive up to the Cadillac Mountain… and we saw this:

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Clouds reflected in a body of water… sun shining in front of our eyes.

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When we got to the top of the Cadillac, all we saw were clouds below where we were standing.

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Obligatory yoga pose.

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Everyone was trying to savor this moment.

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It was like we were driving above the clouds.

After sunset, we drove around to look for food. Apparently, everything closes at sun down. We were lucky enough to find one place still opened:

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Next up: Day 3 of Maine — more hiking and eating.

Travelogue: Antigua, Guatemala (Nov 2013)

We arrived in Antigua Friday afternoon.

First thing I did after we checked into the hotel was exchange money at the bank. I only did $50 because most places there accept American dollars and credit cards. Antigua is very touristy and most people speak English.

Lunch was so good! We got seated in an outdoor garden, surrounded by birds in cages and exotic flora.

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After lunch, we went to the Mayan spa to book our massages for the next day.

Our group went our separate ways. I walked around with Rob and we explored the city. It’s totally walkable. Antigua is full of history and architectural gems.

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There are many markets where you can haggle for the souvenirs you want.

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It was a beautiful city at night, but definitely need to exercise caution when walking by yourself.

The next morning, we woke up early for a volcano hike at 6am. We booked through the hotel for $15 American dollars and then had to pay 50 Quetzales ($1=q7) at the hike. Our van driver picked us up from the hotel. It was a bit of a drive.

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The hike was only 3 miles, but it took us about 3 hours to complete it because of all the rocks and horse poop.

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(horse poop not pictured here)

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This was one of my favorite parts: there was only a narrow strip that you could walk on without tumbling down the volcano side.

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There was a cute little store almost to the top of our destination where you could purchase bracelets, necklaces, rings made with “lava” and coconut shells. Every piece of jewelry comes with a handmade baggie. They accept American dollars.

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This was my favorite part! Our tour guide saw how excited I was at seeing him roast the marshmallows that he gave me another one to roast! The natural heat from volcano rocks was actually hot enough to toast them to perfection. Delicious.

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Going down hill was more difficult but we held onto each other… great teamwork!

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We were famished after the hike, so we went back to the same outdoor garden as the day before. BEST potatoes ever. And unexpectedly, best fish sandwich I’ve ever had! (I might have been biased by excessive hunger, though)

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Mayan Spa — I purchased a package: body scrub, massage and pedicure. SO good after the hike. It cost about $60.

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After the spa, I walked around the markets some more. Night had fallen once again…

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We went to a fancy restaurant for our last night there.

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We salsa’ed the night away.

Sunday breakfast:

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I loved the Bagel Barn! Amazing bagel sandwiches. Guac! They have some unique cream cheese spreads too. Plus free wifi.

After breakfast, I decided to walk around some more.

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It was time to say goodbye.