The rare gems of Philly!

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Most of the people think about the Liberty Bell or the Independence Hall when it comes to touring Philadelphia. Although these places come under National Park Services and are highly advertised as “must go” locations when visiting the city, there are other rare places in Philly which are worth exploring.

We had a weekend to us in Philly after Ruj’s exam and decided to check out the America’s most historic prison – The Eastern State Penitentiary (or ESP). ESP as it stands today, is a ruin, but not until very long ago was most famous and expensive prison in the world holding America’s notorious criminals, including Al Capone.

 

The ideology behind starting such a prison was very unique. ESP was built in 1829 as part of a controversial movement to change the behavior of inmates through “confinement in solitude with labor”. The prison had a wagon wheel design with spokes where each spoke had a number of isolated cells. The spokes themselves were isolated from each other such that the inmates had no idea that there were more than one spokes to the prison. Each cell had an isolated yard (isolated – open to sky area)  where the inmate was allowed to spend two breaks of 30 min each day. Rest of the day the inmates were in the closed cells.

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The wagon wheel structure (form google)

 

It was such a depressing feeling just looking at the cells that I cannot imagine the psychological strength needed to thrive in such an atmosphere for multiple years, without talking a single word to anyone. The Penitentiary was intended not simply to punish, but to move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change. This hypothesis of transforming the inmate was actually never corroborated as there were no means to track the inmates after they were released from the prison. Slowly, due to the expensive nature of this type of prison system, this ideology fell apart.

 

The visitor center has a lot of statistics on prisons and how the number of inmates has exponentially grown over the last decade – It is concerning. The lobby also features a wall where the prison administration encourages visitors to write, anonymously, any unlawful activity that they might have carried out in the past. It’s fun to read some of the responses what people have done!! These are gamified by mixing with responses from convicted criminals and the readers are encouraged to guess if a particular confession is from a visitor or an inmate. [A visitor had written that he took advantage of an old lady and stole her social security, money, driving license etc….]

The other rarity of Philly is the Mutter museum. This museum of medical history displays preserved collections of anatomical specimens and medical instruments from the last century. The museum has brains, skull collections, tumour specimens and cancer exhibits. Yes.. you go to such places when you have a doctor in the family accompanying you! According to Ruj, the college of physicians in Philadelphia might have run out of space for preserving tumours and cancers and hence decided to rather open up a museum and make some money! 😛

 

(these pics are from google)

Overall, Philly is not just about cheesesteaks and liberty bell but also about these gems like the penitentiary, mutter museum and recreating the famous “Rocky” running scene at the Museum of Art staircase.

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World is a Canvas..

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Taking advantage of the MLK day long weekend, we flew Florida to escape the Boston winters. The main agenda was to explore the wet-prairie ecosystems of south Florida but we also checked out few parts of Miami as we happened to be in the neighborhood.

Apart from the regular beach attractions, one area worth mentioning is Wynwood Walls. Located in a fairly sketchy neighborhood of Miami, Wynwood features very intricate graffiti and art work on the walls of the buildings there. Tony Goldman is the man behind Wynwood with a simple idea of transforming Wynwood’s large stock of warehouse buildings, all with no windows, into giant canvases with a goal to create a center where people could gravitate to and bring to them the greatest street art ever seen in one place.

This place has a very hip culture to it. Some pretty cool restaurants and cafes are around the corner which makes old abandoned warehouse district buzzing with people checking out art and having good food.

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A must go if you are in Miami and have some time after sun bathing.

 

The Wet Prairies of Florida

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We had a good start to 2018 after getting a chance to explore the Everglades and Cypress swamps of south Florida. Home to alligators, anacondas and hundreds of species of birds and insects, these wet-prairie ecosystems of Florida feature a great variety of wildlife.

We flew into Ft. Lauderdale and then drove to Homestead, which is a farmland couple hours from the airport and called “gateway to the keys”. Situated in the middle of nowhere, it features an alligator farm where controlled breeding and feeding of alligators is carried out. The farm has informational demos on alligator feeding, snake shows and also airboat rides. Airboats are something peculiar to swamp ecosystems. These are loud. The massive V8 engine gives the boat enough power to glide over the swamps. We went into the marsh land where we could see blue herons, Iguanas and lots of wild crocodiles. This is usually the easiest way to go deeper into the marshes unless you are up for a walking adventure.

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The airboat

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Anaconda

We sure were. The next day we signed up for a swamp hike at the Big Cypress national preserve. This hike went deep into the marshes were the water levels rose to our waists. The ranger, Rick, was super informative and gave us a rundown of the ecosystem as we explored it. The building blocks of this marshy ecosystem are the paraphytes which, being moist all year, hold all the nutrients and the eggs of the insects during the dry months. As it starts raining, these eggs hatch into insects, which then brings birds to the area, which in turn is food for alligators. Walking into the marshes is challenging. You are blind to what is beneath you. The ecosystem features limestone rocks which can get dissolved as you apply pressure by stepping on them – resulting in a big hole that you sink into. Walking sticks do help when this happens.

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The water levels in the marshes can vary, but usually is pretty high that camping is not an option. For spending the night hikers look for uplands. Its not easy to locate uplands, areas of higher elevation, just by looking around for higher grounds. The area is flat and here the definition of elevation differs from the traditional one. A few feet above is called an upland and here the water levels are low. This upland can be easily located by looking for palm trees. The vegetation in the localized uplands changes drastically – from Cypress, mangroves to coconut palms. As the water levels are low, this is considered a good place to camp at nights.. but one should be aware that these uplands are also home for alligators basking in the sun.

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Gator

During this walk, we saw lot of birds, orchids, paraphytes, epiphytes, located uplands and alligator caves, where gators come for breeding. Overall it was pretty adventurous but mesmerizing experience.

 

Following the hike we took the “loop road” back to our hotel. This is a 20 mile unpaved road off Rt 41 which goes deep into the everglades and Cyprus preserves. There is a lot of wildlife to see along this path and the most unforgettable experience was witnessing a snake hunt by red headed hawk. The hawk dived right in front of us, picked up a snake and went on a tree branch to have his lunch. All this happened in couple seconds.

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Hawk

This was nature at its best!

The Hiking Season of 2017

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I would call this an amazing season full of weekly hikes. After deciding to go hiking every weekend, me and wifey covered almost 10+ destinations around Boston this summer. Some were one-day getaways and a few were overnight stays. It was not only a great refresher for the lungs, but also very effective way to spend one day every week with nature not thinking about the everyday business

So here is a snapshot of some places we have been to in the summer of 2017.

Blue Hills [Easy]:

A group of small hills near Quincy, around 40 min drive from Boston (south) provides a great place for a day outing. The reservation has lots of trails. The skyline ridge trail is the longest and cuts Blue Hills horizontally. This trail has some great views of downtown Boston. This trail is also the most elevated trail and all other trails reach and/or cross this trail at some point. Other trails vary in length and elevation and you can do any of these depending on how much time you want to spend in Blue hills.

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Middlesex Fells [Easy]: 

Middlesex Fells reservation is around the same distance from Boston as Blue Hills, but towards north. This is a relatively flat terrain. A good destination for a nature walk. We walked closed to 10 miles in this reservation. This was a half day affair as our friends Sammera and Akshay had some evening plans! As most of the walking is on a flat land, you can walk much more in a day. The reservation has a great dog park at its entrance and very dog friendly.

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Wachusett Mountain [Medium]: 

Situated around 2 hrs west from Boston, Wachusett is known for its ski slopes. Wachusett is a prefered destination for skiers in winter, but features lots of trails for hikers in the summers. There is also a paved road that goes till the summit. This road is mostly occupied by bikers (cyclists) who get their weekly exercise by climbing up the 2000 footer. We encountered more cyclists than hikers at the summit. The views from the summit are gorgeous on a clear day. Climbing Wachusett means giving your body the correct amount of exercise needed for the day so that you do sweat but are not super exhausted.

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Lonesome Lake [Medium]: 

Situated in the white mountains around 2.5 hrs north of Boston, Lonesome lake is one of the very well known lakes in the franconia notch. The AMC hut at the lonesome lake is open all year and features camping and dining facilities. I have a detailed log here of our hike at the lonesome lake.

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Lonesome Lake – Couple Swim

Mt Hight-> Carter Dome -> Carter Notch Hut [Hard]: 

This was an unforgettable experience and wifey’s first 4000 footer. Carter notch hut is situated in a notch created by the Carter dome and the Wildcat mountain. The nearest parking lot is across Mt. Washington and is close to 3 hrs drive from Boston. Instead of directly going to the hut (where we were supposed to camp for the night) we took a longer route and climbed Mt Hight (4800′) first. My friend Andrew was kind enough to match our pace was a great company in this rather strenuous hike. Mt Hight has some breathtaking views from the top. Relatively isolated summit, there was only one other person apart from us. This guy was hiking barefoot. Upon asking the reason, he said that hiking barefoot forces him to focus on his feet to avoid stepping on sharp stones, and forget about everything else from his daily life… a great way to meditate/ concentrate and get refreshed.

After climbing Mt. Hight, we climbed Carter Dome (4900′). This summit, although 100′ taller than Mt Hight, does not have the views that the latter has. We then descended to the hut after 8 hrs of hiking. The descend is very steep (at this point we were glad that we did not do the loop in reverse fashion). The hut is literally in the middle of nowhere, does not have electricity in the bunks and featured a crystal clear sky with millions of stars and the milky way as a treat to our eyes.

 

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Mt Kearsarge [Easy]

Mt Kearsarge is around 1 hr drive from Boston (north west). The summit is close to 3000 ft in elevation. The trail is short but super steep and is great to make you huff and puff. We underestimated the effort and were drenched by the time we reached the summit.

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Franconia Ridge – Mt Little Haystack -> Mt Lincoln -> Mt Lafayette [Hard]

The season concluded with a 5000 footer across the franconia ridge trail – and in sub zero temperatures with near zero visibility. Franconia ridge trail crosses three summits – Little haystack, Lincoln and Lafayette and then descends to the Greenleaf hut. The Lafayette place parking lot is situated in the white mountains close to 2.5 hrs from Boston. We started hiking up Mt Little haystack first. Near the summit, we saw that people coming down had their winter gear on which made me realize that hiking on the ridge was going to be brutal. It was, but was as well an unforgettable experience. Completely covered in clouds, with sub zero temperatures and windchill, we started hiking on the ridge from Little haystack summit through Lincoln and finally reaching Mt Lafayette. This was a 10+ hour hike. What kept us going was the thought of a hot beverage after reaching the greenleaf hut. Although the toughest, this was the icing on the hiking-cake for this season

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On the Franconia Ridge

 

(P.S We carried all homemade meals with us which saved a lot of time and money in eating at restaurants. We started early and made use of a full day with sunlight. We also carried nutri bars, protein shakes, orange juice and a lot of water with us on most of the hikes. Yes, we were over prepared, but I guess that is better than taking chances)

 

 

Danes, Cycles and Folk High Schools

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The real color of Denmark is in its people and the folk high schools.

Very punctual (borderline annoying.. but I would take that anytime over being tardy!!) and super humorous – Danes are the people you should have in your group. These are like coconuts – hard to break in… but super friendly (not saying “juicy” for obvious reasons) once they open up. They take their time to know you. But once they do, it’s so much fun being around Danes! Yeah.. coming from the US, I was expecting a smile or some sort of a greeting from strangers while walking on the streets of Copenhagen– but all I got was stares and a couple of middle fingers after I accidentally stepped in the bike lane!

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Copenhagen – Nyhavn

Copenhagen is all about bikes. Danes take biking seriously. So seriously that after asking why electric bikes are not seen as frequently as regular ones, the response I got was that the culture is to see an electric biker “unfit” for regular biking. Yeah.. bikes are a prestige issue in that part of the world. Denmark’s problems have even surpassed first world problems – these guys have traffic jams on bike lanes and running out of bicycle parking spaces!

Another unique aspect of beautiful Denmark countryside is the folk school. As they describe it – folk schools are the schools which cannot be described. So let me try to  do my best to describe them. I had a privilege to stay at Ostersoen folk highschool for a week. These are “open syllabus – open age group” schools where life skills are taught – and there are no exams. This sounds perfect isn’t it! No exams, no syllabus – and you get a certificate at the end! …and there is no catch! Seriously! (Except that you have to sing everyday!

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Beautiful Sunrise from Ostersoen Folk Highschool

Everyday we had a morning assembly after breakfast. Then we started our day with a song! Danes like to sing. They sing when they are happy, they sing when they are sad, they sing when they are in love and they even sing when they are mad (wait.. did I just compose a song!!)  ..Oh I loved singing with Danes! I might start singing Bollywood 90s songs every day when after I wake up!

(these videos are recorded by Jimmy from Ostersoen folk school as a part of Unleash 2017)

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Aarhus – The 2017 cultural capital of Europe

Sunny Day at Lonesome Lake

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Unlike hiking in the snow, this time it was a summer hike. In the hopes of getting a campsite in the woods, we left early on a Saturday. White Mountain campgrounds are first come first serve so we had done our homework and shortlisted the campgrounds we preferred. At the visitor center we were told all the sites were full the previous night but worth giving a shot is anyone is leaving. So we headed to the Hancock campground. (The other options were Wildwoods, Big Rock and Campton grounds)

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One couple was leaving in few minutes, so one of us stayed there while we looked for other open spots. We saw one more free spot, beautifully located in the woods with a trail going towards the river. Campsite 47.. we claimed the site, put up a chair there and started setting up the temp. After setting up the tent and paying camping fees, we embarked our hike to the lonesome lake.

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We decided to take the Cascade Brook trail, which is around 7 miles out and back and goes alongside a brook. There was a place where we had to cross the brook to go on the other side, which we missed conveniently. In no time, we ended up in think dense forest, with no trail markings and wet/marshy ground beneath us. Dodging the dirt, taking hold of roots and trunks of trees, we kept marching slowly, to finally reach the place where we found the trail again.

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Then it was easy. Clean waters, white mountains at the backdrop and hot beverage were waiting for us at the lonesome lake summit. Time was well spent at the lake, chilling, swimming and chatting on various topics with fellow hikers!

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We descended down by dusk and headed to our tent. After an unsuccessful attempt to cook food on the camp fire, we decided to eat sandwiches and call it a day.

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Lowdown:

  • It takes around 2.5 hrs from Boston to reach the trail head
  • White mountain state campsites are first come first serve. So reach there early. Weekends are usually tough days to find a campsite. Call the visitor center ahead of time to see the real-time availability
  • Lonesome lake can be reached via the Cascade brook trail from the Basin parking lot (longer, but less steep) or the Lonesome lake trail from Lafayette campground (short, but steep). You can lso descend to the lake from Canon mountain
  • Lonesome lake has AMC hut where you can buy food and drinks during season (June-Oct).
  • Swimming is allowed in the lake, so keep your swim wear with you.
  • Wrap your food in aluminum foil and put it in the campfire to cook

 

Tropics, Monsoon and Pawankhinda

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Chatrapati Shivaji has always been an inspiration to us, so the vacation cannot get more exciting when you are actually visiting a site which tells a story of a heroic battle. Pavan khinda (originally known as Ghodkhinda) is located around 250kms from Pune and we had planned a weekend getaway around that place. We drove to “Jungle Resort” where we had our accommodation reserved. The package included accommodation, food and guided tours for a couple different places near the area.

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The Jungle Resort

Situated in the Sahyadris, Jungle resort is a quiet place off Amba Ghat. The keepers have preserved the natural habitat and the resort features variety of flora and wildlife.

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Our cottage

We checked-in in the morning and went to visit a couple local places. The pristine temple of Ambeshwar and the neighboring forest made me fell in love with the place. A perfect place for meditation, Ambeshwar surroundings also provide a way to connect with nature.

 

We had a tour planned to Pawan Khind the following day. After breakfast, the guide showed us the vehicles in which we were supposed to travel. A 4×4 Mahindra with roof top seating arrangements made me feel like I was about to begin a hunting trip. It was raining heavily and but we still decided to sit on the roof and enjoy nature.

We made a pit stop in the western ghats and decided to do a small hike there through the lush green dense forest to get a feel of how Raje would have made his way to Vishalgad. Monsoon is the season of leeches and our guide had warned us about leech bites. Well, even that was an experience not worth missing, so we signed up for the hike. I found 3 leeches which made way into my shoes and one on my arm after the hike.

Tip: Salt usually helps to remove the stuck leach, but the blood will not clot after a leech bite. So it’s ok if some blood flows.. we have lots of blood in our system!

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The hike..

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Completely drenched in rain, travelling for about an hour on a gravel road through the forests of the Sahyadris we reached the place where Baji Prabhu had put up an epic battle with the Mughals in the 17th century. Standing in front of the smarak I was thinking to myself, how difficult it could have been for handful of Marathas to halt the aggressive Mughal army. I was thinking how impressive a leader Chatrapati Shivaji could be to train such a heroic army of locals who had devoted their entire life for Swaraj.

[Video: PawanKhinda story narration by Tanaji, our driver, Language: Marathi]

[the audio vol in this video is low, so best heard with earphones]

The narration of the tale by our guide Tanaji took my emotions to another level. Completely immersed in the context, Tanaji was telling how Raje escaped from Panhalgad, how Baji Prabhu encountered Mughals in GhodKhinda and how he, until his last breath, fought tirelessly, with swords in both the hands until Raje reached Vishalgad. The heroic battle fought by Baji Prabhu purified GhodKinda and hence the locals started referring to it as the Pawan (pure) Khinda.

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Descending down pawan khinda

On our return journey, we stopped at a local village to grab lunch. Home cooked food by the villagers was a nice treat to our city-trained taste buds.

The state of Maharashtra is rich with such epic tales. The regions have seen such battles, the forts tell hundreds of such stories on how Raje planned, executed and expanded his empire. Such field trips rekindle the interest in history. Pawankhinda is just one such place, but visiting such places is when we realize how great our leaders were and how they kept us safe.

Lowdown:

Pune – Ambaghat : Takes about 4/5 hrs by road. (Pune -Satara Highway)

Jungle Resort: Place where we stayed. It offers 2day or 3 day package and the package includes food, accommodation and tours to nearby attractions. Food at the resort is spicy. 

Must watch: Sunset in Ambaghat, Ambeshwar temple, Pawankhinda

If visiting during monsoon (June/July) be prepared for heavy rains and thunderstorms. Monsoon brings lot of leeches so be prepared for a leech bite. Usually salt helps removing the leech.

Pitstop near Amba: Shailesh Nursery (spread over massive 35 acres)

A foot on the Mayan Soil

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Most of the people going to Cancun, Mexico book an all-inclusive resort in Zona Hoteleria (Hotel Zone) and chill there for the entire vacation. It’s a great deal where you pay everything upfront and then there’s unlimited food, liquor, beach and sun waiting for you. Getting away from cold in the months of December is just an excuse for the people from New England. In reality, it is the infinite Tequila waiting for them! But, spoiler alert : Hotel Zone is just another American city inside Mexico. You will get every single thing which can get in big cities in the US. They have malls, factory outlets, Starbucks and Panera Breads, and everything else except the real Mexican flavor. Staying in the zone is like staying in the US. It is not Mexico!

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Resort in the hotel zone

Our goal is to experience the local beauty and hence we avoided the hotel zone. Our resort (still all inclusive) was outside the hotel zone. The resort had a private beach, open bars, unlimited liquor and a wide variety of cuisines. All these resorts have various tour company outlet stations to help you book local tours. Usually these are shit expensive. Actually everything is shit expensive because the locals know the incoming tourists are Americans with dollars. And to top it off there is no free wifi in any resort. You can buy it which is expensive, or decide not to check your emails and have a great time without it. For the first time in several years, I was out of cell phone and internet coverage for full 4 days! The first and last day was hard. First day because this all came up very unexpectedly as I had taken free wifi for granted. I mean, c’mon, even a crappy motel in the US has complimentary breakfast and free wifi. Never thought wifi would be a source of income to Mexicans. And last day because I started visualizing my exploded inbox and resuming work from next day. But in between those days, living without internet was the best part of the adventure.

We rented a car to get around and drive to nearby provinces. This proved to be cheaper. Secondly we look like Hispanics and I had learnt a few Spanish phrases to start a dialogue which helped in some instances. Yes, only in a few instances. Looking like one of their own, when Mexicans started talking colloquial Spanish with us, that too with lightning speed, tab ho gaya doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani.

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Chichen Itza

We drove to Chechen Itza Mayan ruins. Yeah, the same Mayans which f*ed up in 2012.  Following speed limits is very important in Mexico. The cops will pull you over just so that they can get some green bills under the table. Bargain hard if that happens. Pulling you over for over speeding I think is the best thing that can happen to you while driving. Things can get worse! Chechen Itza is a well-oiled tourist location. If you want time to yourselves, reach the place before 9am. All the local tourist busses start showing up by 10 and it can get super crowded. There are hundreds of local vendors where you can buy souvenirs – masks, skulls, hand crafted articles etc. Beautiful local stuff. Mexicans consider death as a transition of a person from this life into a better one. Hence they celebrate death and have a wide variety of skulls as gift items.

We took the back roads on our way back. Bright sunshine and beautiful rustic landscape through these small Mexicans villages like Xcan, Kaua, Catzin made the drive amazing. Experiencing the local food in the town of Valladolid is encouraged. On our way back we stopped at Xkeken Cenote. Cenotes are something very popular places in Mexico. It is an underground reservoir of water. The natural beauty of such underground Cenotes is just mesmerizing. We were the only ones at Xkeken. Pin drop silence greeted us when we climbed down the cave. The waters were still and so clear that I could see the bottom. After sitting there for a few minutes appreciating the silence of nature, I jumped into the waters while wifey clicked pictures.

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Cenote Xkeken

In the next couple days we did snorkeling, swimming and also visited the nearby island Isla Mujares (or the woman island). We sailed on the Catamaran towards Isla Mujares and jumped into the waters in mid ocean to see the oceanic life. The boat captain had some fish food which attracted the local fauna. Isla Mujares is known for its clear turquoise waters. Playa Norte (the north beach) is where we docked and got some tan. Being brown I don’t need to get tanned, it is just the American way of saying we chilled on the beach. The island is full of tourists and souvenir shops. But unless you want to spend 8 times more, Mercado 28 is the way to go.

Mercado 28 is the local market in Cancun. For Punekar’s it’s the Tulshi Baug (a very similar local market in Pune jyacha amhala jajwalya abhimaan ahe). Bargaining is the way to go here. We also bought a Mayan mask. The mask has a Mayan ruin, a mayan god and a couple Mayan ritualistic animals carved in stone. Mayan Calendars (carved in wood or stone) was also a good option, but given their 2012 fiasco, I went with the mask.

Overall, Mexican adventure was interesting. Coming from India, it felt similar to home, but frankly cleaner. The same equatorial weather, trees like coconut, papaya, almond, gulmohor, mango, roadside stalls, “yethe puncture kadhun milel” shops, mopeds like Activa, Dio and even cars like Matiz brought back some childhood memories.

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Lowdown

1) Must do: Any one Mayan ruin (Chechen Itza, Merida, Coba, Tulum etc). Any one Cenote (Xkeken, Mayas, Suy Tum), Snorkeling, Scuba diving, Isla Mujares, Tulum. Daily tours are available to all these places. Driving your own vehicle can be cheaper. Xcaret is a theme park which is amazing but very expensive.

2) Car rental is cheap, but mandatory car insurance is expensive. We paid $40/ day when car rental was $2/day. Rest was insurance.

3) Gas is very expensive. It is almost $4/gal. Tolls are unrealistic. One way toll for go to Chechen Itza from Cancun was $20.

4) Cash (in $ or pesos) is accepted everywhere. But things are overpriced. Bargain hard

5) Take foreign currency from you bank well before travel. Exchange rates at airports are not favorable, exchange rates in Mexico are random.

6) Water is very bad. Drink only bottled water. Avoid ice.

7) Although it is a different country, Delta charges $25/bag for checking in bags. Travel to Mexico is considered “domestic” in that sense. Valid US visa holders do not need Mexican visa to travel for a few days.

8) Stay away from timeshares. Stay away from all sorts of people who would approach you with “we have selected you for…” or “you are getting a complimentary day pass for…” or “your name came up in a lucky draw..” etc

Colorado II : The Land of Ute’s

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Maroon bells was on the cards for day 3. It is that place which is on every single Colorado postcard. Slow clad peaks on the backdrop of a scenic, crystal clear lake is supposedly a treat to everyone’s eyes. We planned to spend a day there and then drive to Colorado springs. It is a four hour drive which we had decided to do at the night.

We started early.  After handing over $10 to the ranger at the entrance and coming across some Llamas and sheep on the way, we reached the point only to realize that it was a complete flop show. Fall was over, trees had shed leaves, lake was shrunken and the snow clad peaks were not impressive. We kept wondering why we wasted $10 and how were we going to spend the rest of the day. As there was nothing else to do there, we decided we would rather reach C-Springs early and spend an evening there. And thus we started that four hour journey which in retrospect turned out to be the highlight of the entire trip!

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The road to C-springs goes via the independence pass crossing the White River National Forest. The Independence pass was an unexpected delight. The one lane road climbs the the mountains passing the abandoned dwellings of the Ute tribe. Ute tribes are one of the first Spanish settlers in Colorado and once had a major presence there. We happened to witness a “song in the making” in the craziest circumstances possible. Barry Sparks, a guitarist, was on a top of a snowy peak with his guitar recording for his upcoming Christmas album while his wife and kids waited at the roadside where we had pulled over. Curious about this whole thing we took a few pictures and chatted with his wife while she waited for her man.

The journey through the pass started with sunny surroundings. Then it started raining. As we reached the peak, we got to experience a snow blizzard. The snow petered out turned into rain as we started descending and finally it was again sunny at the other side of the pass in Buena Vista. It would have been a total nightmare had we done this at night as planned before. Experiencing all seasons in this one road trip was amazing. The road from Buena Vista to C-springs goes via middle of nowhere. Driving on miles and miles of straight road with acres of nothing on both sides will be checked off my bucket list.

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Buena Vista

The final day was busy. Early morning we visited garden of gods. This is a garden having groups of massive rock formations. The peaks of these rocks disappeared in the clouds as if it is a path to heaven. Next visit was at the Manitou cliff dwellings. Preserved under red sandstone overhang, these Anasazi cliff dwellings were built more than 700 years ago. It was interesting to see two bedroom houses carved in the rocks by these ancient tribes. The Grand Mesa national park has more of such original dwellings.

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Anasazi cliff dwellings

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The path to Heaven – Garden of Gods

Our plan was to visit the Pikes peak. It was cloudy in the town and hence we were contemplating about going up. We took our chance and surprisingly at the summit it was extremely clear and sunny . Pikes peak forms a stunning backdrop for C-springs and Garden of Gods with an altitude of 14115 ft above the sea level. We drove up to the top, spent some time there and came back… we did not get “This car climbed Pikes Peak” sticker :/

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From the top of Pikes Peak

After doing Rocky mountains, colorado national monument, maroon bells, independence pass, garden of gods, pikes peak and cliff dwellings, the last leg for the trip was the icing on the cake. A delicious Paav Bhaaji at Kaustubh’s place and lots of Marathi gappa reviving the good old college days!

The trip was worth it!

Colorado Part I : The color “RED”

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We always wanted to visit the beautiful mountainous state of Colorado. Colorado is a Spanish word for the color Red! This Columbus day, we finally embarked on our vacation which turned out to be an exciting journey experiencing all four seasons on a 1000+ mile drive across four different national parks.

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A well fed wife is always a happy wife! Keeping this mantra in mind, we had packed sandwiches for breakfast and also finished our lunch before we entered the Rocky Mountains. This was the Elk mating season and we were hoping to see some Elk action in the meadows but ran out of luck! After several minutes of straining our eyes to catch a glimpse of at least one of them, we decided to leave the Elk’s alone and continued our journey on the Trail Ridge Road across the Rockies. To drive on the Trail Ridge Road is like to leave this world and enter another. It carries you, breathless in wonder and altitude, towards a fragile Alpine realm, the Tundra. We recollected the 6th grade geography lessons about Tundra and Taiga and had a good laugh. The trail ridge drive is very scenic. We stopped at various places to capture the views before finally reaching the Alpine visitor center at the summit. There was a half a mile trail from the summit to experience the effect on thinner air on your body! Half a mile looked like forever and wifey cherished that moment of reaching to the top!

On our way down to Glenwood springs, as we were exiting the Rockies at dusk time, there was a treat waiting for us! All of a sudden an Elk jumped out from the woods in front of us. Panicked, we pulled over and waited patiently till it took its own time to cross the road. Few minutes later, we saw a huge herd of female Elks in a meadow, waiting for their man! We were even fortunate to hear the “mating call” of the male Elk summoning 40-60 females. That satisfied our Elk viewing desire and then we continued to Glenwood Springs.

GPS lady tried to navigate us via an unnamed unpaved 13 mile road in the dark, which was gated! I don’t think I am still at a stage to have that much of a faith on machines and automation and hence decided to take a well defined free way (read this as : this was a road trip with wife sitting besides me and not a group of bachelors)

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The Balanced Rock

Colorado national monument was on next day’s agenda. We started early and drove west to reach the park by noon. Colorado national monument is a treat of magnificent views stretched from sheer walled canyons and towering masses of naturally sculpted rocks due to soil erosion. The huge flat topped mountain is the Grand Mesa and the most famous attraction is the Independence peak. It is mesmerizing to see how water and air can erode huge mountains to create these formations. Colorado national monument is nature at its best!

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The Independence Monument

As we stood staring at the independence monument, wondering how many millions of years nature must have taken to give it it’s current unique shape, we noticed an elderly couple, may be in their 80s, also lingering at the same spot. We overheard the grandpa, dressed in an “english gentleman” ly manner asking his wife if she would like to climb the peak! To which the she chuckled and replied “I was thinking may be on our next visit!” 🙂 Such a cute couple deeply and madly in love even at an age of 80!

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O mere.. dil ke chiaan

Back at Glenwood springs, after having delicious Mexican cuisine at the Tequila’s we decided to spend some quiet moments alongside the colorado river. The Hanging lake trail is a strenuous 1-mile hike up the mountain. It was already dark by the time we reached the base and hence could not make it! It will remain on our bucket list. Polish cuisine for dinner made up for what we missed! After a sumptuous dinner, we cuddled up in bed, getting ready for the next adventure.

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Polanka – Polish Cuisine – Expensive, but worth it