Take a Walk on the Wild Side

29 Oct

by Nancy Bestor

deerI’m always surprised when I see tourists getting up close and personal with “wild” animals. In Costa Rica, I remember a woman feeding an iguana bits of her bread. Bits that is, until another iguana launched itself from a tree branch into her lap and took the whole sandwich. The deer in Nara, Japan are also a hit with the tourist crowd. Thousands of these animals, sacred to the residents of Nara, roam the streets, eating as much as tourists are willing to feed them with special food purchased from carts and vending machines. It was cute at first, but when I saw aggressive deer nipping at tourists hands, and trying to eat their purses and bags, the cute factor was replaced by the fear factor. And don’t get me started on the deer poop. Let’s just say, like the thousands of deer, the poop was also prolific.

monkeyOn our recent trip to Bali, we ventured through the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary of Ubud. More than 500 Balinese long tailed Macaques (monkeys) live in the Sanctuary, and as stunning as the temples inside the Forest are, most tourists seemed preoccupied with taking photos of the monkeys and feeding them bananas. The Forest boasts Indiana Jones like temples and statues, surrounded by rope-like tree branches. I expected to see Harrison Ford (in his ahem, younger days) hurtling down at any moment. But these fantastic surroundings were lost to many tourists in the shuffle of trying to get up close and personal with the Macaques.

sarah_editNow it’s one thing to hand a banana to a monkey, or even an elephant, as we did once in Thailand. But, in my humble human opinion, it’s quite another thing to badger a monkey into shaking hands with you until it hisses and bears its teeth at you (witnessed in Ubud), or encourage monkeys to jump onto your traveling companion’s head so you can have a perfect photo opportunity (true story). Wild monkeys are just that – wild. It’s true that some may be desensitized and therefore gentler from spending so much time around humans. But I’m here to tell you, when they hiss and try to scratch you with lightning speed I’m reminded that they are referred to as wild for a reason. With the exception of my children, I’ll stick to appreciating wild animals from afar.

It’s The Way You Ride the Trail That Counts

28 Oct

by Nancy Bestor

lake1My sister’s happy place is Lake Tahoe. Her family vacations there about once a year, mostly in the summer, but I haven’t managed to get there for almost 20 years. However, after spending a week hiking Tahoe with my girlfriends last month, I finally understand why it’s her happy place. Lake Tahoe and its surrounding lakes, peaks and trails is one of the most beautiful spots in the US. If you just visit Lake Tahoe to ski, when it’s covered with snow, let me tell you, you’re missing out (cue my sister saying I told you so).

My gal pals and I try and get together for a week every fall to complain about our husbands to enjoy each others company and catch up on our respective lives. Most often we choose a warm-weather destination, like Mexico, where we sit on the beach and drink cocktails and eat delicious and filling Mexican food most of the day. But this year, we were ready to burn calories instead of consume them, and Lake Tahoe sounded like the place to get that done in the great outdoors.

lake3The five and a half hour drive from my hometown of Ashland, OR, and the short plane ride for one of our group traveling from San Diego made it a good location to spend a week hiking, cooking and eating great food, sipping cucumber & basil infused martinis, and talk—and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. We stayed at the Marriott Timber Lodge in South Lake Tahoe, a lovely vacation rental just a short distance from the many hiking trails we would tackle during the week. South Lake Tahoe borders Nevada and California, so if you’re a gambler, there are plenty of places you can stop in to lose your money. Lady luck is not my middle name, so when we weren’t hiking we were sitting in our hot tub, or catching up on our favorite Netflix programs. Our adventures on the trail tired us out though, and we often found ourselves in bed by 10pm (this comes as “shocking” news to my family, as it’s rare that I’m not in bed by 10pm even if I sit on the couch all day).

lake2We hiked several gorgeous trails over the week, including the Echo Lake Trail, the Rubicon Trail, and my absolute favorite, the Flume/Tahoe Rim Trail. Popular with mountain bikers, the 14 mile one-way Flume Trail offers spectacular views of both Lake Tahoe and Marlette Lake. The most scenic part of the hike is about nine miles in, so rather than try a round trip hike of 18 miles, we opted for a one way shuttle ($10 each), from Flume Trail Mountain Bikes Shuttle http://flumetrailtahoe.com/. They picked us up at Spooner Lake, the spot we would end our hike, and shuttled us to the trailhead in Incline Village. We saw at least a dozen mountain bikers that day, riding their bikes on the narrow dirt trail that often runs very close to the cliff’s edge. (I’ll stick to hiking thank you very much.) Other than the bike riders, we were all alone under a big blue sky. It was a gorgeous fall day, and the leaves were changing colors ranging from yellow to orange to brown. The lakes were a deep, clear blue and I felt grateful to be hiking in such a beautiful spot, with such great friends.

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We were tired at the end of our day, and the last couple of miles seemed to go on forever. But water never tasted better, and I swear that the homemade sandwiches we made to eat on the trail were as good or better than the delicious Mexican food we’ve eaten on the beach in Puerto Vallarta on other girls’ trips. I think I’ll call Lake Tahoe my happy place too, that is if my sister is willing to share.

How To Speed Thru Airport Security

30 Sep

by Nancy Bestor

airport1We’ve all been behind someone who takes an extraordinarily long and frazzled time getting through an airport security checkpoint. Maybe they didn’t know there was a rule about carrying large shampoo bottles on board a plane, or carrying on large scissors or razor blades. Or perhaps they were unaware that their jewelry, belt, shoes, watch, keys, cell phone and pocket change all had to get put into the bin? The truth is that getting behind a slow moving traveler can’t be helped. But if we all prepare ourselves better for airport security, maybe we’ll offset the slowpokes, speed things up for everyone and ease our own stress. Here are a few tips to make your airport security experience go quicker and more efficiently.

Take a look at the TSA’s list of prohibited items for luggage carried on a plane. You might be surprised to learn that snow globes larger than a golf ball are prohibited, but knitting needles are okay. The TSA mobile phone app has a handy “Can I Bring” feature where you can type what you hope to carry on and make sure it is legal.

Give yourself plenty of time to get through security. This will certainly make the whole process less stressful, and give you more opportunity to people watch at the airport. The TSA mobile phone app gives you live, current wait times at airport security locations, which is handy for letting you know how far in advance you might need to arrive at the airport.

Take everything out of your pockets and put it into a small pocket of your suitcase or carry on bag before you get to the front of the security line. This way you won’t have to put your change, Chapstick, keys, etc. into a bowl, and you won’t have to waste time at the opposite end of the security checkpoint scrambling like Lucy Ricardo to retrieve all those items individually as they slide by on the conveyor belt. You can even take your belt off and put it into the same pocket. Again, it will save you time and stress at the pick-up end of the line. Put these items back into your pocket or loop your belt back onto your pants after you’re out of the line.

Wear slip on shoes, and either bring or wear socks! I often fly in sandals, but I always throw a pair of socks into my purse, so I can put them on in the security line. I do not want to think about the germs that may be floating around on the security checkpoint mats.

If you have a choice between two lines, studies say the one on the left will be shorter. Research shows that right handed people tend to go right more often than left, and there are far more right handed people in the world. Are there facts to back up this tip? Probably not, but it sounds pretty good to me.

airport2Finally, if you join the TSA’s pre-check program you’ll whisk yourself into the pre-check line wherever one is offered, and you’ll avoid having to take off your shoes and belt, and take your quart sized liquids bags out of your carry on, among other things. This is a great program if you’re a frequent traveler, and willing to pay the $85 fee and go to a TSA interview.

When going through TSA lines I’ve wondered how something so slow moving can feel so hectic. But just a little bit of pre-planning can make a big difference.

I Need A Photo Opportunity

30 Sep

by Nancy Bestor

One part of traveling in a foreign country that always surprises me is how fascinated locals seem to be with my family. The looks many give us make me feel like some of them have never seen a Caucasian tourist before. This happened quite frequently in parts of Bali this past summer, particularly to my 19 and 17-year-old daughters. You would think they’d be used to it though, because it’s been happening all their lives as we’ve taken them on travels around the world.

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It started in Thailand, when the girls were 7 and 5. Two Caucasian girls visiting somewhat remote islands in Thailand gave many people pause. They would stare, smile, wave, sometimes touch them, and frequently ask to have their pictures taken with them. Often times they’d offer the girls gum, candy, fruit, and more. It wasn’t just locals either. Tourists, particularly those from Japan, also wanted their pictures taken with Emily and Sarah.

People in Vietnam were very friendly to our girls as well. And it appeared to be even more unusual for a Caucasian family to be visiting this country. I’ll never forget being in a local outdoor market outside of Nha Trang where we were definitely the only tourists, and it felt like the Vietnamese could not take their eyes off of us. I swear a woman started following us there too, but that is another story. Locals stared in Turkey as well. The only ones brave enough to ask for a picture though, were a group of about seven girls, ranging in age from 8-16.

turkey photo

Fast-forward 12 years to our trip this past summer to Bali. Locals and tourists are still staring at our girls, sometimes smiling and waving, and still asking for pictures with them. We met a family who insisted that their younger daughters (who they said were “grumpy today”) take a picture with our daughters. Emily was asked by a man to have his picture taken with her, and then he brought over the rest of his family to take a full on family portrait with her as well.

It’s not always just our girls though. A group of Japanese tourists in Bali were delighted when Bob and I passed by them on the beach, and they enthusiastically motioned him over for a photo opportunity. Bob is certain they had mistaken him for George Clooney.

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The folks we’ve met in these impromptu photo sessions over the years rarely speak much English, but they almost always ask us where we are from. Interestingly, when we answer “the United States”, they tend to look at us a bit blankly. We quickly learned that the best way to answer the “where are you from” question is to say “America.” Nine times out of ten, in whatever country we are visiting or whomever we are talking with, the locals reply with a big smile and an “Ohhhhh…….America!”

I’d like to think this is what Heidi Klum and her family feel like when they vacation. I’d like to think I look a little something like Heidi Klum too. No comments from the peanut gallery please.

She’s Touching My Butt

30 Sep

by Sarah Bestor

DSC00811One of the first things my parents told me when they announced we would be going to Bali in the summer was that there would be massages involved. The average price of an hour-long Balinese massage is around $10, so my parents decided they could spring for massages for the whole family. Until our trip, I had never had a massage, and there was an abundance of nervous thoughts running through my mind. Would I be uncomfortable? Would it hurt? Would I have to talk to the masseuse?

It sure did take a while for the massage to actually happen. Every place we went, I would ask, “is this where we’re getting massages?” And the response would be no. But, on one of our last days in the city of Ubud, we finally booked our rub downs. Professional Balinese massage and spa parlors are all over Ubud. You can’t walk down a main street without having someone standing in front of their business asking you if you want a massage. We chose the Verona Spa, based on a recommendation from the villa where we stayed.

My sister Emily and I were in one private room, and our parents in another. Private, however, is a little bit of a misnomer, as one wall only went up halfway, thus taking advantage of the beautiful rice field view.

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At first I thought, oh this is so beautiful, but then I remembered how young boys were always playing in the rice fields by our hotel and turned to Emily. She obviously had a similar thought, but before we could talk about it, the masseuses walked in. The two women asked us dress down and get under the blankets, and as they exited the room we did as we were told. When they walked back in, they said nothing and just began.

I’m not kidding when I say that the first place her hands went were to the upper part of my butt. It was instant tension as I was thinking was “oh my goodness, this stranger is touching my butt.” But then, just as quickly, I realized “YES, she is touching my butt, and it feels quite nice.” Throughout the massage, whenever she moved to a new part of my body, I had feelings like this. When she started massaging my calves I realized that they were the sorest part of my body (thanks for making me walk so much, parents). And I swear that the woman had at least five hands, because somehow her hands were on every part of my back at the same time.

Overall, I would say that I had a quite fantastic first massage experience. It was certainly eye opening and now, all that I would like is to go back and get another butt massage.

Sarah Bestor is a senior at Ashland High School. She is the co-editor of the Rogue News Online, plays guitar and sings in a band.

When an Expiration Date is not Really an Expiration Date

28 Aug

by Nancy Bestor

passportUS passports for adults are good for 10 years. I got mine in December of 2007 which means it will expire in December, 2017. But if I want to travel to say, Ecuador, my passport really will expire on June 1, 2017. Huh? It is somewhat confusing, but a growing number of countries (currently more than 50) require US Citizens to have at least six months remaining on their passport upon entry into their country. The reason for this is a little vague to me. One thing I’ve heard is that the US started requiring foreign citizens to have at least six months on their passports when visiting the US, so other countries are just returning the favor. Other things I’ve read says it keeps tourists from staying over their allotted number of days on a visa, which for many of these countries is good for six months. Whatever the reason, many travelers have realized too late that their passport expiration date is not good enough when traveling to a pretty good sized list of countries around the world.

The best advice I can give regarding passport expiration is that you should renew your passport about nine months before it is set to expire. Write it down on your calendar, or set your Smartphone calendar app to give you a message at the nine month mark. This way you’ll have plenty of time to send your passport in for renewal, and you won’t have to worry about your passport “expiring” if a last minute trip to Thailand or Trinidad & Tobago comes up. Oh to be so fortunate.

And since countries always seem to be altering their entry requirements, you can get the most up to date information for any country at the US State Department’s website. Just type in the country you are interested in to find out exactly what you’ll need to visit. I’m gonna look up French Polynesia and hope that a last minute trip magically appears in my near future.

Lend Me Your Books

28 Aug

by Nancy Bestor

DSCN1472When I was young, my summer days were rarely spent outside. Instead, my mom would drop me off at our local library while she went grocery shopping. I would come out a half hour later with a huge stack of books that I would read while sitting in a chair in the living room. I loved books, and still do.

Fast forward a few years to when I was sixteen and my sister and I were backpacking through Europe. At that time nearly every other student traveler carried the Let’s Go Europe guidebook. I was horrified to learn that my fellow travelers would rip out entire sections of their book just to make their backpacks lighter, only taking the parts they would need for the countries they would be visiting. It’s one thing to mark in a book, or dog-ear a page, (and if I’m being honest, I will admit that even this makes me a little uncomfortable) but to rip a book apart…..sacrilege!

It’s not just the folding, spindling and mutilating of books that makes me sad—having to part with a book makes me sad too. So while I love the idea of lending libraries in the hostels, hotels, and B&B’s around the world, I’m hesitant to actually leave any books, even though the sign always says “take a book, leave a book.” Frankly, I’d rather just take a book. But, being the rule abiding person that I am, I do leave a book when I take one—at least most of the time. On our recent trip to Bali, most hotels we stayed in had free book exchanges. It always feels a little like finding treasure to me, because even if I don’t have a book to leave, I can and will read a book (or even skim it, as I am, after all, on vacation) while I’m staying at the hotel, then just put it back on the shelf for the next person.

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Of course, the available books to exchange are not always in English, although the covers often look the same as their English counterpart, so I’m often initially excited to see a particular book, then sad when I discover it is in German or French. There always seems to be at least one of the Harry Potter books in most hotel book exchange libraries, and I’m always happy to read a little J.K. Rowling. There’s also almost always some kind of trashy beach read, and if you can’t justify a trashy beach read when you’re on vacation, I don’t know when you can justify it. And of course, there’s usually a Dan Brown or John Grisham mystery/thriller thrown in for good measure. A hotel book exchange library can be a good place to look for local guidebooks too, as guests often leave their books behind when leaving a country.

But the best thing EVER is when I can pick up a great find and leave a terrible paperback behind. And don’t you know, my great find was more than likely left by another hotel guest as a terrible paperback.

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