Israel IX: Masada and the Dead Sea

To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee
Israel VII: Golan Heights
Israel VIII: Nazareth
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This post is a photo-doozie, as exploring the Masada and the Dead Sea was so picturesque I had a hard time whittling it down. Last I left off we were in a rush to get from Nazareth to Jerusalem with enough time to return the rental car. We failed in our mission, but it all worked out thanks to the fabulous staff at our hotel, the Mamilla. But more on that in my next post.

The following morning after arriving late into Jerusalem, we didn’t explore the city at all, but instead joined a 7am group trip to Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea offered by Abraham Tours. My sister is a travel blogger (As Her World Turns) and she booked the day trip getting us a great discount too. This day trip was amazing and we all agreed was one of the best days of the trip. After driving all over northern Israel, it was so nice to have a tour guide (Alon, who was very funny and adorable) who took care of all the logistics of the day.

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Above is a general map of where we went this day.The city on the upper left of the map is Tel Aviv, for a sense of scale.

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We all met up by the Mamilla mall, a 5 minute walk from our hotel, which is where Alon arrived with a van at 7am. We all got in (12 of us?) and our day began. We exited Jerusalem through the time-warp tunnel. On one side of the tunnel is a bustling crowded Jerusalem, and the other end of the tunnel is desert. The photo above is from the desert side of the tunnel. You can see the wall marking the zone. Israel has a zone system which basically restricts who can go where. As an American, it didn’t affect me much. It’s meant to keep the peace by segregating groups of people (Palestinians and Israelis). It’s a hot button issue as it traps people.

Alon explained the zone system to us. I’m paraphrasing (and dumbing it down for my own understanding of it) but zone A would be where Israelis can go. Zone B is where Palestinians and Israelis can go. And Zone C is Palestine only. At each entrance to the zones are armed guards checking IDs. Since we were a van full of clearly westerners, the zone crossing was very easy. Alon said he can’t enter the third zone. As an American, I would be able to. It’s fascinating.

Our guide Alon was an orthodax jew who recently left his faith. That is fascinating to me because it is a completely different lifestyle that he grew up living and then at 35 (or 40?) decided it wasn’t for him. I can’t imagine at that age trying to learn what normal life is like for other people. In Israel especially, where almost everyone you see is orthodox and you’re seeing them lead a life that is so different.

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You know, just camels and Shepherds walking along the road. For realz?! This is a thing?!

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On the desert side of the “Time-warp Tunnel” you can see the edge of congested Jerusalem far off on the hillside. There really is a line where Jerusalem goes from city to desert.

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Along the highway in this desert are many Bedouin people. They live a nomadic lifestyle where the shepherd the land and move along in clans. This is really how people really still live here. It’s not homelessness, as they have several tent structures, fires going and animals to tend. It’s more elaborate and you can see kids running around and women cleaning. It’s just so different, and I love it.

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At sea level, Alon pulled the van over for photos and so people could ride camels. It was on my list of things to do in Israel and since I figured it would be my only chance, I did it. Cross that one off my bucket list.

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As the map far above shows, we took a long drive south along the Dead Sea to get to Masada (our first destination). Along the way we drove by the Qumran in the West Bank and it’s here in the photo above where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1946-1956. Yes, you read that right. It was only 60 years ago when these zillion year old scrolls were found. And they were found by Bedouins in caves up in the mountains. Who knows, there could be so many more around Israel. It’s like going for a hike and finding THE bible. Like the first bible. So crazy.

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There’s Masada above. You can see how this mountain of land stands on it’s own and why it made such a great place for a King to vacation. If anyone was going to attempt attacking, they’ed see them coming and have plenty of warning.

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Since we were on a tour and only had a set amount of time to see the top, we opted to ride up the tram instead of the hike (which is on the right of the photo). It would have been awesome to hike it but we also wanted time at the top. We decided to ride up and hike down if there was time.

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The views from the tram were incredible.

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Higher and higher we went. You can see the Dead Sea straight ahead.

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Up at the top you feel like you’re on the edge of the earth… which was so frightening for someone like me.

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We were warned that there was lots to see at the top of Masada and we ended up taking the tram down so we could spend a majority of our time exploring the top.

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It was a maze of ruins at the top, all open air. It was fun to imagine what it would have looked like as a fortress in its prime.

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The views from every side were incredible.

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This was taken in Harrods Palace at the most northern point.

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Above you can get a sense of scale with the people in view. There were many school groups at Masada, and I imagine everyday tour groups and school groups liter the mountain. Alon said it was a common field trip activity.

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After taking the tram back down to be back at the van on time, we piled in and headed on back north to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.

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This reserve features many water falls and a short easy hike (as well as a much longer hike for people who want to make a full day out of it). The group split up and went at their own pace. Some people wore bathing suits and got into the water at each of the waterfalls.

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Personally I was more interested in the wildlife. Signs around the entrance talk about what types of animals live in the area and I really wanted to see them all.

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So I was quiet and on a hunt.

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Come on animals… peak out!

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The views were stunning and this truly was a waterfall oasis in the middle of this desert.

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Here’s my uncle by the largest and final falls on our quick hike. We looped back and met up with the group where we continued on to our last destination: the Dead Sea!

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Alon explained to us that when he was a teenager, the Dead Sea used to come up to the road, it was so high. In Alon’s lifetime, the water level has dropped dramatically. It’s a big issue in Israel.

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We stopped on the road for some photos.

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We arrived at our swimming spot, which is on the north end of the Dead Sea. I completely forgot to bring my waterproof camera (it was back at the hotel) so I didn’t get any shots of us in the water. Thankfully, my sister brought hers:

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Here we all are floating together and using the mud to make masks. Check out more of As Her World Turns photos here. It was a lot of fun floating and very difficult to get your feet lowered without it spinning you around. Also, don’t get the water near your eyes! It burns!

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After we finished up our floating, mud baths, and dried off we got in the fan and headed back to the Mamilla Mall where we had been picked up 10 hours earlier. The above photo shows the old war bunkers we drove by. This was one of the most fun days on the trip and I highly recommend Abraham Tours. Try to get Alon as a guide if you can.

Next up, we get back to Jerusalem where I venture off to explore the Old City by myself at night and we also end up having dinner next to a former Prime Minister. Pretty exciting!

Israel VIII: Nazareth

To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee
Israel VII: Golan Heights
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We spent a little too much time in Golan Heights, so when we got to Nazareth we had to marathon it through the city. The map above shows you just how many sites there are to see here, but we drove through the city looking specifically for the Basilica of the Annunciation, which was on our “Top 10” list of Israel. We had time for only one site, so we knew it had to be the one from the “Top 10”. 

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At least to get to the Basilica it meant we had to drive through Nazareth, so we did get to see the city from the car. Up until now, everywhere we visited felt predominately either Jewish or Christian and as we entered Nazareth we could tell this city was predominately Muslim by the dress code. It’s funny how in every city, the clothing “gives away” the religion of that area. 

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NY Pizza in Nazareth. We had to get a photo. 

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The streets in Nazareth are winding, hilly, and narrow. We got a little lost searching for the  Bascilica. We could see it from afar (it has a huge domed steeple) but it was hard to find the streets that would take us closer to it. Once we saw tour groups on foot, we figured we were close, parked the car and started walking. 

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I love the narrow passages throughout the older cities in Israel. It feels European with a Middle Eastern flare. It’s just not something you would find in the US. Above you can see we are getting closer to the Basilica. 

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Alas we’ve made it to the Basilica of the Annunciation. This building is a Roman Catholic place where in the Catholic faith, Mary was contacted by the angel Gabriel and told she would conceive and become Jesus’ mother. This place also sits on top of where Mary lived. I should note that different religions have their different places in Nazareth where they believed this happened. For example, there is a Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation nearby in Nazareth where they believe this took place. This was our first taste of how the religions each have their own “this happened here” landmark for the same historical story. 

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In the upper level, we could hear music being played as part of a mass. On the lower level you can see this shrine set up outside of the ruin believed to be where Mary lived. 

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The reason this building was on the “Top 10” guide was for architectural reasons (the top 10 includes sites of all religions). It really is a beautifully made building. 

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From behind an iron gate tourists like myself could see into Mary’s dwelling (depending on your faith). 

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It’s so hard to envision this space as a house, but everything was so different back then. 

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You can see they built around the ruins. 

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The photo above and below are taken on the upper level, where mass is held. When we arrived the mass was ending, so we were able to enter the upper level. 

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This building is quite large and it is one not to be missed if you’re traveling through Nazareth. 

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I love that in the design of the building, they preserved the ruins that they were building over. Later in the trip we saw Jerusalem, and how in most cases things where built right on top of the buildings below. In this case they designed the building to showcase these ruins instead of covering them up. 

In Israel political power and agenda has changed hands so many times, and when a new regime takes over, their religion becomes the most important politically and it is in their best interest to cover up historically significant buildings of the other faiths that threaten their faith. This is true of all the faiths. It’s why a historically important mosque, is also a historically important church, and also a historically important temple.

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We had to get back on the road after our short Nazareth stop in order to get the rental car back to Jerusalem by the end of their working day. On we went! The next several posts will be of Old and New Jerusalem, Masada, and the Dead Sea.

 

Israel VII: Golan Heights

To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee
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Off we go, leaving Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee behind as we head north into Golan Heights (A to B on the map). Our next destination was Mt. Bental, right on the edge of the UNDOF Zone in Golan Heights. Golan Heights is where Syria, Lebanon and Jordan meet Israel and has been occupied by Israel since the Six Day War in 1967 (a CIA map shows that It’s Syria, but occupied by Israel). Lets just say it’s a peaceful place but also very much an active military zone, where you don’t want to wander off the road (land mines). I was very excited to see this section of Israel, not just because of the history, but because it’s an area known for it’s wine and chocolate. Plus it’s the closest I’ve been to an active military zone, and I felt like I needed to see it.

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I was in the front passenger seat, so I was able to take some fun landscape shots from the road.

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You can see above that there are remnants of war still left behind, as well as the military academy actively training in those spaces. While on this drive we had a white UN vehicle who was behind us most of the way, headed to the United Nations zone that separates Syria and Israel to keep the peace.

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This horse was just after we missed the road to go up Mt. Bental. Which by the way, you don’t want to get lost in this area, not due to fear (as it’s not scary, the photos are proof of this) but because you really are right on the border of the UN zone which keeps Israel and Syria from attacking each other. As my sister put it “How adventurous are we feeling today?”

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I loved visiting Golan Heights and the views from Mt. Bental (above) are amazing. There’s a great sandwich shop at the top of the mountain, as well as old war bunkers from the Six Day War and incredible views.

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Here’s the view across to Syria. You can see the white buildings on the left are UN buildings.

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There are also large creative metal sculptures around the top of the mountain.

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We went down into the maze of bunkers underground in the mountain. We were following a family who had a tour guide, so it was handy listening into the history he was explaining. There isn’t much up here explaining the history (at least not in English).

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It’s wild to think this was once used by military personal to view Syria during war.

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This is in the bunker, with a narrow opening to see (and my guess- shoot) at Syria.

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After our meal and exploring the mountain, we had to retrace our steps south west to visit Nazareth. On our way back through Golan, we saw more and more ruins from a war that was only 60 years ago.

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Everywhere we went in Golan Heights, there were “tank crossing” signs, and military personnel passing us. On our way back south, we decided to stop and take pictures of these tanks near the side of the road. We thought the were inactive old tanks, so we thought it would be okay to see them closer. Just to the left of this photo, in a lower ditch where several soldiers with large guns. This was a reminder that even though it’s calm and quiet, we were still very much in an active military zone. These are not old tanks, but new tanks that are ready to go.

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We exited Golan Heights behind a large truck with a tank on it. I highly recommend visiting Golan Heights. The history and beautifully unique landscape made this place one of my favorite sites along the entire trip. But alas, we were behind schedule and still had to visit Nazareth and travel into Jerusalem by 6pm (to return the car). On we went! Next up: Nazareth!

Visiting Home 4: The Joys of Home

To catch you up on my Connecticut trip check out Visiting Home: Getting There, Exploration and Touring Wallingford. This is the last installment of my week long trip home. It’s a hodge-podge of some of my favorite parts.

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I got to paint Grandma Gertrude’s nails one day. Gosh she’s so cute. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but it was a sparkling light pink (on of grandma’s favorite colors).

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I got in a game night with my parents. I (we) LOVE board games. Love them. We have so many because it’s one of our favorite past times. The above photo is of my favorite game (and my father’s least favorite game), Masterpiece. This board game is all about collecting and selling paintings (based off the Chicago Institutes Collection of classics).

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Another day I got to layout in the sun in our backyard (notice David Sedaris’ new book? Amazing).

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While laying out side I was being watched by a curious cat.

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My mom brought me to a place in Hamden CT called Urban Miners. I want to own a store like this. It’s filled with recycled architectural materials. Just walking around this place the creative part of my brain was freaking out. So many ideas!

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I could use this whole stack of wood. Badly.

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Another day I met up with friends and went to Hubbard Park in Meriden.

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We just laid out on the lawn like bums. It was awesome.

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Such excellent weather in the park.

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On my last night I got to see my good friends Alex and Jess play hockey (they are in a coed league). They didn’t win, but they played well and we tailgated under the stars afterword.

It was hard to say goodbye, but it was time to get back to normal life. This was a special trip home and I hope to sneak another one in before we approach 2014.

The Channel Islands… Just A Taste

I survived! Can you guess where I went? The Channel Islands! Specifically, Santa Cruz Island (the largest one). I’ll have a full report for you soon, as it’ll take me a little while to sort through and edit all the photos from this kayaking/camping/hiking adventure. More to come soon 🙂

Catalina Getaway

In addition to the Huntington Gardens, another great place to take visitors (or if you need a local getaway) is Catalina! The beautiful island is just an hour ride away, but it feels worlds away. Leave the smog behind and just relax at the fun beach town of Avalon. We recently took our parents visiting from out of town here, and had a great time.

For our Catalina getaway, we took the Catalina Express out of the Port of San Pedro. I’ve used them before and it’s an excellent line. They have parking (for a fee) and it’s not too far outside of Los Angeles. We also tend to take the ferry out early, which means avoiding rush hour traffic. This ferry just redid it’s offices and is now very luxurious, with clean bathrooms and food options. I highly recommend this company.

Anticipation building, as we get closer to our arrival.

Arriving at paradise.

Catalina has strict rules, making it difficult to bring a car out to the island. Golf carts are their form of transportation and you can rent them on the island. We didn’t really find this necessary, as we stayed within Avalon (the biggest town) the entire time.

The Pier.

This is a popular cruise ship stopping point, but that’s not why I included this picture. See that parasailing person high above the ship? That was us about two hours after this photo was taken. We got a good groupon deal for parasailing and our parents agreed. I don’t have photos from the boat (as I was worried about splashing and ruining my camera). But yes, this was my second time parasailing and my parents first time. We all really enjoyed it.

This reminds me so much of Hawaii. When packing for your trip to Catalina, be sure to include beach stuff, as well as water shoes (or at least flip flops) because the beaches are rocky. My feet were aching. We brought our own snorkeling gear and got to see many colorful and large fish. There are places to rent gear if you don’t already own the gear.

It’s hard to believe this paradise is only an hour ferry ride away!

It’s time to head back to Los Angeles, as our day-getaway came to an end.

Bye, bye Catalina!

This last photo was taken as we reached San Pedro. I find these vessels so fascinating. Each of those colorful boxes, when off loaded, becomes a giant truck. The coordination in must take to move and track each of these shipments is mind boggling to me. I really could spend all day watching how these companies work.

Tubing the Kern River

This past weekend I was invited to rapids/lazy river that is the Kern. My last experience with the Kern River was 2 years ago, when my boyfriend at the time and I joined a meetup group to experience a whitewater rafting adventure. Doing these type of meetups (through meetup.com) are awesome. You get to meet a group of cool people who also live in Southern California and want to experience adventure. It’s like a weekend at summer camp, and when you leave you’ve made life friends. This first trip is where I met Amber (who I’ve written about here before and who was also on this trip) and many others I still keep in touch with. If you want to explore the outdoors but don’t have anyone to do it with, join these trips. They are often lead by super experienced guides who want to teach you, so newbies are very welcomed.

This trip, almost exactly 2 years later, was less of a whitewater rafting trip and instead a tubing adventure. This past winter Southern California got very little rain/snow in the mountains and this river is powered by that melting snow. You can imagine, the water was very low.

We camped at the Frandy Campground, which is a great place to stay. It’s right along the river, so if you drive up the road and get into the water you can end at the campsite (where you have another car waiting to pick-up the other car). It’s a lot of coordinating to make sure the pick-up/drop-off works out.

Here you can see the challenge of getting the tubes to the launch site. The Frandy
Campground has a very powerful pump, which makes blowing up tubes fast and easy. But this also means you have to bring them to the river blown up. The photo below was taken by a member of our group. This was also a successful ride with the tubes. We had one drive where they all came undone in the street. Oh well, we did your best.

The next two photos were also taken by people in our group. I was too worried about my camera to bring it since it’s not waterproof. Their GoPro’s got some great shots! You can see the river is perfect for lounging…

…and then it gets rocky and wild! That’s me folks, and I LOVED taking on the rapids in the tube. So much fun. And yes, I did fall out once, but it was worth the bruises.

After a Saturday full of tubing (we did 2 long runs) we washed up and decided to take a tour around the cute little town of Kernville. It’s not very big so it didn’t take long at all, but there’s something really fun about a small town. And you know how I love to walk.

See, it’s like a ghost town! Doesn’t it look like a movie set? I should mention that my car registered it was 112 degrees at high noon on Saturday. It probably averaged around 100 for the weekend. This meant you needed to be in the water because the bathwater temperature of the river felt so refreshing. I mention this now, because the above photo of the “ICE” sign was taken when we would have loved to pour it over our heads.

A western easily could shoot here. Swap the cars for horses and maybe we’d catch a glimpse of John Wayne.

We stopped in what looked like a tiny gift shop, which ended up being quite large as it just kept going and going. “Howdy,” says the bear.

That night we had a celebratory dinner at the Kern River Brewing Company. If you like dark beer, try their Class V Stout. Quite tasty!

This was the place ot be on a Saturday Night and you could tell the locals love this bar/restaurant. They even had live music. You can see below, Jacqueline Taylor (a mother of two) was raising money to audition on American Idol in Oklahoma. She was a fine singer but I don’t get why she couldn’t audition in LA. It’s a three hour drive away, which is basically a half a tank of gas away. She was trying to raise $3000 (?) to get to Oklahoma. Why? Well, good luck to Jacqueline. Maybe you’ll be the next American Idol.

I had to add this photo, as all of the food we served in bowls, so we had a table full of bowls. I got the fish tacos with a side of the cheesy garlic fries. It was I’m sure high in calorie, and totally worth it. The fries were especially tasty. After getting such a workout on the river (hand-paddling takes a lot of arm work) this was a nice celebratory meal.

It’s campfire time!!

We played The Cards Against Humanity (like I played in Chicago) and I tied for first place. I must have a sick mind. We played while wearing headlamps. I’m sure we looked like geeks but we had a blast. And of course, no camping trip would be complete without s’mores!

I had such a great trip and I hope to do many more activities with this group of people. Maybe even some canyoneering! Getting out of LA was so easy and camping is so cheap once you own the gear (which I do). It’s shocking to me that this was my first camping trip of the year and I hope to go on more this summer. This was also on my list of goals for the year, so already I’m crossing things off. At the end of the month I’ll take another look at that list of goals, since 2012 is flying by!

Cape Cod Kayaking Adventures

This is my last post about my Cape Cod trip. I’ve talked with people who were confused about all the timing, but I assure you I’m back in LA and up to my usual tricks. When I travel I can’t give you the lengthy posts that require a lot of time and attention, so I usually write them once I’m back on Los Angeles soil. So sure enough, I’m back and as of tomorrow I’ll be back to my usual postings. Infact, tomorrow is Wednesday which means it’s time for Comedy Wednesdays! That’s right, I have Comedy Bang Bang tickets tonight, so expect a full report.

Now, back to a topic I love, kayaking in Cape Cod. I did this twice while on my last trip and each of these makes for a great afternoon activity. It also gives my arms an excellent workout, which often get ignored on my stair walks.

These photos were taken mid-kayak on Seymour Pond. The photo above makes it look very still, which it was at times, but don’t take that for granted. All it takes is a big gust of wind to feel yourself swiftly moving in a direction you don’t want to go. In the below photo you can see my dad waving behind me.

While on the opposite end of the pond the clouds rolled in and before we knew it, we could hear thunder. You can guess, we high-tailed it back to shore. It got pretty dark after that, but these intermittent thunderstorms are common on the Cape.

Our next kayaking adventure (on a different day with sunny skies) took place at Scargo Lake. This gorgeous lake had extremely warm, clear water. This was such a joy. We often paddled with our feet over the sides of the kayak. We are not residents of Denis, so we are not permitted to park in the beach lot (see the beach way on the opposite side of the lake?), so instead we park in a public area on the opposite shore. Here they have a boat launch and small shorefront.

This day was perfect for kayaking. So still, so it wasn’t much of a workout but such a delightful glide around the lake.

Teens were practicing their boating skills in the center while us kayakers were doing loops around the perimeter of the lake.

You can even see the tower over looking the lake along the tree-line on the right side of the photo.

So calm. If I didn’t have a flight to catch later that afternoon, I would have stayed here all day. If you own kayaks, or want to even go swimming, visit Scargo Lake!