Monday, October 12, 2009

Willowemoc Wild Forest, NY, Long Pond Shelter.

This Saturday I embarked on a 3.8 mile trek to Long Pond Shelter in the Willowemoc Wild Forest. Located in Catskill State Park between Ulster and Sullivan counties, it is only approximately a 2.5 hour drive from New York City. This weekend five humans and three dogs went on the excursion. I've attached a larger portion of the map, where I found this trail, below.

There are two approaches to this shelter. We opted for the longer route. (The first is clearly marked on the Flugertown Road.) The other way we estimated is just under two miles. We started from the parking at Black Bear Road. (Parking marked "P" on the map.)

Starting West down Basily Road, it is drivable but there is nowhere to park at the end. It follows, a red blaze the entire way. At the very beginning there is a stream that offers clear running water to pump off, if needed. It starts the steepest the trail will be at any point. This part of the trail is uneventful, other than it ends at a "Buckaroo Camp". It's nothing more than a clearing of private property with a house and some farming equipment. This is about a mile in.

Continue down Basily Road into the woods. Here the road is much less accessible other than by SUV. That said, I don't know if it's allowed to drive through, nor would I suggest it. There were tire marks on the trail, so it's obviously "doable". I consider this to be the part where we were actually getting into the woods.
Upon entering, immediately there is another running stream which looks like you can pump for water should you need it. This will be the last of the clear water we saw, before getting to Long Pond, unless you count the downhill rain run off that was running down the trail from the morning's showers. The hills are easy, but watch for mud pits after rain (I fell in up to my calf) and unsteady ground, as much of the way is littered with rocks.

After another mile, the trail "jack knifes". It is marked with signs reading "snowmobile trail", with one specifically pointing toward a lean-to shelter. The trail's blaze is still Red. Take the left hand turn onto a trail that almost doubles back the way you came on the hard left.
Here you are 1.8 miles from the shelter. Quickly after you start this way, a new clearly marked path towards the lean-to leads to the right. That will go for approximately one mile before turning again; this time to the left.
At that turn, it is posted to be .95 miles to the lean-to. It will end at the lean-to. If you miss this last turn, you will be reminded about a quarter of a mile back which way the lean-to is (behind you now). Otherwise, that is the way to the Flugertown Parking.

The lean-to shelter is in good condition and so is the fire pit (even if it is built a bit high). There is also a privy house. The open space near the shelter is limited and there is not much level ground for a tent, should you want to use one. There was an abundance of wood.
Long Pond is not really visible (at least not while the trees mostly still had their leaves) from the shelter. Directly in front of the shelter is a steep but safe walk down, about 50 yards, to the water's edge. The shoreline has lots of weeds and blueberry bushes lining it, but there are access points to pump and swim (though we didn't dare to in mid-October). The only backside is the weedy taste of pumped water.

Some extra notes: We heard coyotes all night and gun shots all day, though we had no actual encounters. Around the pond, there is an intricate system of beaver dams, if you want to take a hike around.

Happy Camping!

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Hotel Catalonia Royal Tulum, Riviera Maya, Mexico

This was my first experience in Mexico proper, discounting the quick day-trip I had previously taken to Tijuana in my teenage years. Let me begin by saying that this was an excellent introduction to the country, leaving me wanting more.

After considering a few locations, my girlfriend and I opted for flying into Cancun and and purchasing a hotel transfer to/from the airport (about 1.5hrs each way), since this was our first trip to this part of the world. We later found that we probably overpaid by about $20US, so taxi is the way to go. Our lodgings were located between Playa del Carmen and the ruins of Tulum, making access to many of the Riviera Maya's tourist sites very easily accessable.

View Hotel Catalonia Royal Tulum in a larger map

Some notes about the hotel. The adults only, all-inclusive hotel has no beach front rooms; instead every room faces a unique walkway made to resemble a tropical rainforest. Well, fact is, you really can't see the walkway due to the dense artificial and groomed jungle off your balconey. The set up leaves a short winding walk to the beach/pool area and to the lobby. The rooms are spacious but not luxurious. The food is delicious! Split between a Mexican restaurant, Tapas bar, Italian restaurant, a burger hut and the sit down grill restaurant, you can switch things up and eat well. The Tapas bar has the must exotic atmosphere, but the food needs to be worked on. The grill is by the beach and serves up fresh catch and good beef, making it our personal favorite. We stayed for nine days and still wanted more. All "top shelf" liquor is available at no extra charge. I had my fair share of Havana Club Cuba Libres and Don Julio Margaritas while sitting on the beach. Also there is a wonderful smoothie bar on the beach which is out of this world! The snorkeling equipment, sea kayaks and the hobby catamaran are all available free of charge. We thought the snorkeling right in front of the hotel was awesome after having seen a school of squid, blow fish, trumpet fish and the regular array of angels and coral. We even spotted a sea turtle while on the catamaran!

The hotel staff was very friendly and multilingual. They have shows every night which basically are mimed or done in numerous language
s, much like all of the daily entertainment, such as pool side Bingo. If you do want to get away from being asked to participate in the dance lessons, wateraerobics, waterpolo, volleyball, horseshoes, bocci or whatever other activities they have, I suggest going just beyond the volleyball net by dragging your chair 20ft. to sit in front of the abandoned hotel next door. Its much quieter and less crowded.

We made two excursions away from the confines of the hotel. The first was what we felt the manditory trip to the Ruins of Tulum. Since we were staying at a hotel named after them, we set out one morning shortly after breakfast by waiting across the street from the hotel for a "colectivo" or collective ride van costing only 20 pesos each way.

Once there, you'll find a number of shops lining the unpaved road down to the site, though we found the majority of the merchants to be rude and very unlike the rest of the warm, welcoming locals. One girl, after following my girlfriend around in the shop as if she was going to heist one of the bobbles (she really was looking at bobble head items) changed her price from the floor's 17 pesos to an even 20 at the register. I would save your shopping for the airports duty free, where they sell the same items for the same price.
The tours at the ruins are on the pricy side for Mexican standards. Depending on the number of people in your group, the price goes down per person, so a couple is disenfranchised by this price scheme. We opted to only do the walk through, which in retrospect we should have hired the guide because there is not much in the way of signs to describe what you are looking at or the significance of the site or buildings. The beach there is nice and cool, despite the guards making sure you don't do anything too risky, like go beyond the roped off area or swim too far out snorkeling. Personally, I'd take the beach in front of our resort any day. After braving iguana farm that the site seems to be, the hot sun and the minor rain shower without any shelter, we were back on the trail towards the "colectivo". Before we jumped into one of the waiting vans, we had a bit to eat at a local bar and had what my girlfriend claims the best Mexican meal she ever had with a burrito and some Victoria beer. The 25 minute ride is well worth the trip, however you do it.

The second side trip we took fell into our laps. We were thinking about which of the local parks we should visit and one night at the Tapas bar a man named Tom (I wish I had his last name) gave us a paid for pass for two to Xcaret (pronounced sh-kah-ret) which included food and snorkeling within the park. A trolly bus picks you up at the roadside entrance to the actual park entrance. Inside, don't miss the Mayan huts, or the Mexican mock cemetary. We spent most of the day, after snorkeling through the Cenotes, in the aquarium area. The show at the end of the night is cool and is included in your cost of admission. They have pyrotechnics, falconry and ancient games played in the "native" garb.

So after nine days in the sun, we took it easy most of the time, but had a couple of cool out of resort adventures. The "colectivos" are safe and will take you to Playa or to any of the other surrounding attractions for a fraction of the cost of a taxi. The other folks who had come to the Riviera Maya on previous trips said that in front of the Catalonia Royal Tulum was the best beach they had seen in the area. That, the warmth of Mexican hospitality and the many unexplored attractions has left me with a thirst to see more of what our southern neighbor has to offer.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Oxshoe Pond, NY

It has been a while since I've had a good trip in, so I'm glad to report on a camping excursion 12 of us took to Pharoah Wilderness Area. The trails are well maintained and marked, as well as being of different lengths and difficulty levels. In short, this backcountry camping destination is perfect for all backpacking needs.

Of the many lakes and ponds to chose from in the area, we chose the closest location with a lean-to at Oxshoe pond. From the trailhead, this was just over a mile hike in. It is mostly a wide, even trail. As I was to arrive at night, with backpacking/camping virgins, I chose this easy locale. If you have a truck or a all-wheel-drive vehicle, you can drive right up to the trailhead to park. Otherwise, from where I've marked "parking" on the map, its approximately a mile. The road is full of pot holes, rocks and at the very end (we parked before this point, since we only had 4-wheel-drive cars, not SUVs) there is a flooded area that is about 2 ft. deep.

Driving up from NYC, took around 4 hours on Friday evening. We knew we'd be hiking at night, so we prepared for it with the proper lighting equipment. The trail changed from a red blaze to a blue blaze about half way in. We missed the turn towards the lean-to area, but were alerted to this mishap with the changing of the blaze to yellows and back-tracked. When we got there, the novices were unaware of the beauty that surrounded them. The four gentlemen who had come in that morning to secure the lean-to for our party were waiting on us.

When they woke up to find the pond just steps from the lean-to, they were happy that the "hardships" they endured were well worth the rewards. Those that didn't fit in the wooden structure pitched tents in the surrounding areas. The fire ring is well weathered and sturdy. There are different level ground areas along the way to accommodate other campers.

Just across the pond from the camp site is a rock ledge that is deep enough for a safe jump, but low enough to get people to actually do it. There are signs for fishing permits being required. We had them and the poles, but didn't catch anything, despite their taunting jumps mid-water. We did see some fun wildlife, including an enormous alligator snapper in the water.

During the day, a small delegation from our group took it upon themselves to summit Mt. Pharoah. I opted for the sit by the water and pretend to fish with a glass of bourbon choice for the day. Grueling through a steep upward climb, sometimes having to use their hands, those that finally peaked over the Wilderness area were rewarded with a grand view of their surroundings. Luckily, I'd done it before and got to be reminded with pictures.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Stowe, Vermont

We left NYC on Friday afternoon after our workday and grabbed our gear and pointed the cars North on the Thruway. Our destination this time would be the snowy winter resort town of Stowe, VT. The drive up from NY was perhaps the most prolonged frightening experience of my life as it was coming down with freezing rain, the road signs said we should watch out for drunken, sideways riding bicyclists and falling rocks and the visibility was close to nothing. Six hours later, at quarter-after-two, we arrived.

My buddy had made reservations at a house which we rented for the entire party which consisted of 11 people including three couples all carpooling up. It is conveniently located only 30 minutes away from the Stowe resort area. The view from the place was phenomenal as the wood lined cabin was on the top of a hill over the tree line exposing the beautiful horizon. There were three main bedrooms upstairs and one "commoner" room, with four twin beds in the comfortable basement, allowing us to house a small army. If you do the math, one was on the couch.

Since it rained all of Saturday, we made the best of the situation and enjoyed VT's selection of brews, like Otter Creek and Switchback. The latter was particularly tasty.

Sunday, before we made the trek South, we opted to do what we had come to do: hit the slopes. We took the short trip to Stowe and paid the $80 for the lift ticket and the $45 for the board rentals. The lower trails were icy and dangerous. I've got the bruises to prove it. The fun started when we took the gondola up to the top of the mountain where the powder made it easy for even a beginner like myself (it was only my second time ever strapped to a board) to learn more comfortably. It was intimidating, but the soft snow up there made every crash landing bearable. If I did it again, I would have gone straight up there.

Before we left town, we had a bite to eat at Harrison's. The food was well presented, good portion sizes and was good enough to eat. The ambiance was like that of a low lit library, so it made it very relaxing.

We made it back to NYC at 2:30 AM after two of the three cars caught flat tires. We live to work another day.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Grand Bahama Island, the Bahamas

My girlfriend and I caught a 6am Delta flight from La Guardia
(LGA) connecting through Atlanta to arrive in Freeport (FPO) on Thursday morning just before noon. We paid the $19 for the taxi to drop us in front of the Westin, since there was no shuttle. Our room did not face the beach, but the balcony did offer a spectacular vantage point that drew us off of the beach nightly (a hard feat) to watch the sun set.

The resort area consists of a Sheraton, a Westin and their Casino. There are a number of bars and restaurants on the grounds, but all are costly and include a 15% tip on every bill. Across the street from the resort area, there is a tourist trap market with trinkets and restaurants. If the electric slide is your idea of a good time, the bandstand there will make you happy at night.
My girl and I decided to be more frugal and bought a case of a newly established brew called Eclipse for $24, a bottle of Dark Ole Bahama rum and some Pineapple juice (double up the coffee cups, throw some ice in and mix your own drink to avoid the $8 sugary mess they serve downstairs). This served our pregame just fine. Kalik is another well established Bahamanian beer, though their cases went for $46. If you do op
t for the Kalik, get the gold, it has more body and flavor. Sands beer is another new, cheap and better-than-bud choice. The brewery opened its doors in Freeport in December of 2007, so support their local economy.
The prop club seemed to be the best bet for cheaper meals in the resort, while some cheaper options could be found across the street. Definitely forgo the Willy broadleaf $20 per person breakfast and eat across the street in one of the "local" cafes.

On Saturday, having been disappointed with the fact that the swim-up bar was closed and had lounged around the pool and on the resort's beach front enough, it was time to explore farther than our feet would carry us. We rented a car from a local agent suggested by the concierge for $77 including the insurance and headed East. Make sure to pack everything you will need on the beach, including food and drink as there is little to nothing past the resort. We had planned on pulling over somewhere to buy a sandwich and some refreshments, but could only find a small gas station shop past Gold rock beach that was poorly stocked. We were at least able to get some water and a powerbar.

Turning back from there we decided to first check out Lucayan National Park. A few cool inundated caves on the parking lot side were accessable through easy to handle short loop trails. They were a cool quick picture opportunity. The real treat comes when you cross the street and head down the boardwalk style trail to the beach about a mile hike in (the creek side trail's bridge is out, so you'll have to go swampside through the mangroves).
You'll find that tours come and go, but if you go down far enough,
you will find a delectably serene location for yourself. I suppose you should know, since we did walk all the way around to the East where the bend beyond the original line of sight goes and the sand gives way to rocks, which may be good for snorkeling, but is no longer good for wading and barefooted walks.
Leaving the park and pointing the "compact sized" Suzuki East again. We saw many inlets for off road trails, some of which we explored to find dead ends or something just as exciting, like a swamp that would not allow beach access. What we did find was a lonely beach for the two of us to watch that dusk's sun set, yet unbeknown to us was full of sand mites. We also stumbled upon Bishop's Restaurant and bar which is as authentic a Bahamanian meal we had the entire trip. My Snapper was cooked perfectly. On the topic of food, we ate at Becky's on E. Sunrise Hwy in Freeport. We were the only ones in the establishment and the door was locked behind us, which was rather shady. Food was mediocre, but the service was Bahamanian-nice. Outside of this day's excursions, we stayed at the resort.

Before I close the chapter to my 4 night adventures of Grand Bahama Island, I'll share a few more tid-bits that I found and would have liked to have known. Don't ask for a fruit drink at the hotel, as you'll get the sugary mix they give for the mixed drinks, not a real fruit smoothie. That you can find in the market across the street from the vendors with the fruit piled high. Fine, call it common sense, but that's what they call impaired judgment a few drinks in. The Westin side of the beach is an older more relaxed crowd, while the Sheraton side is more youthful and vibrant. We grabbed a bag of ice, tossed some beers into it and pulled up to a bench and played cards and were not disturbed on by the Sheraton.

We got to see very little of the enormous island. I hope to return to see more of Grand Bahama some day, as well as more of the 700-some other islands that create the archipelago of the Bahamas. It was much more, as the locals will tell you, "laid back" than New Providence and Paradise Islands by Nassau, but also much less fruitful if looking for local dives. KFC, Burger King and other franchises run the food industry around Freeport. If they served Conch fritters and Crack Conch, the locals would give up altogether with opening up their own "mom and pop" restaurants. Lastly, the trampolines off of the resort's shores don't have much spring to them. I was disappointed in that.

Overall, we enjoyed our trip. I hope your travels are just as pleasant.

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Coming from an international family, I was born into traveling. Over my 20-some-odd years, I have visited 27 countries, including island nations and city states. You can find an updated list below. It is my intention, going forward, to log my experiences for my own nostalgia and hopefully you will be able to benefit from the details somehow as well.

My parents raised me to be multilingual. Aside from having a personal interest in all things foreign, I also studied International Studies in College. I've worked in a luxury hotel in New York City (my hometown), but have back-packed through Europe (based in Luxembourg). All-in-all, I have a decent range.

I hope you find my accounts helpful or at least entertaining. Happy trails!

The countries I've visited in alphabetical order:
the Bahamas
Czech Republic


the Netherlands
St. Barthelemy
St. Maarten
Vatican City

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