Monday, October 19, 2015

Grand Tetons + Yellowstone: Camping, Hiking, and Tips

We spent 6 months on the road in our camper van. Hands down, the most inspiring and impressive landscape was found in Wyoming.

After driving almost 25,000kms around the USA, we concluded that Wyoming was the biggest highlight of the trip.

Grand Tetons
Campgrounds: Signal Mountain, Jenny Lake, Colter Bay, and Gros Ventre
Highlights: Beautiful hikes around Jenny Lake and a moose at Gros Ventre
Major Hikes: Lupine Meadows, Jenny Lake, Emma Matilda Lakes, Static Peak Divide
Highlights: Black bear and alpine lakes in Lupine Meadows
Tips: Emma Matilda Lakes hike was a bit of an 11 mile let down. No wildlife and similar views were found in our other epic walks.

Campgrounds: Norris, Mammoth, Bridge Bay
Highlights: Norris campground has a great atmosphere with a trail that takes you to some beautiful geyser activity at Norris Basin. We also woke up to a herd of elk meandering through Mammoth campground which was an awesome sight to see.
Major Hikes: Old Faithful, Grebe Lake, Mount Washburn, Bunson Point, Lewis Lake
Highlights: One way trek from Grebe Lake to Norris includes creek crossings across logs, lakes, ponds, pines, meadows, and we surprised a Grizzly! #adrenalinejunkie
Tips: Showers available at Mammoth... You can pay $4 at the hotel lobby, or not. No one checks. I also kept my cafeteria cup and enjoyed my free ice tea refills - it's the little things. Check out the thrift store in Gardiner (5 miles from Mammoth) - I purchased a Yellowstone t-shirt and a Patagonia fleece for $2 total! My friend found a wool sweater from Woolrich for 50 cents. Avoid Bridge Bay (and any campgrounds NOT managed by the National Park Service).

Overall, Grand Teton NP was my favorite. Every campground is beautiful and unique. The trails are out of this world. I would recommend spending most of your hiking time at this park and letting yourself get lost in the remote Teton ranges or meadows (just don't forget the bear spray!) and then going to Yellowstone for the "attractions" such as Old Faithful, the Falls, and geysers. Most of the tourist spots are less than a mile to check out.

Life in Revelstoke

It's that time of year again... the air is getting crispy, you might find a little frost in your front yard, and soon the snow will come! I would love to return to British Columbia for epic mountain views and fresh snow - can't highly recommend it enough. If you're interested in doing a snow season then Revelstoke is the place to be! It's a homey, little community where people from all over the world visit and live. It's absolutely gorgeous!

We were able to fund our season by buying our season passes early ($800), renting out two rooms on AirBNB (which were fully booked from Christmas until March) and working part-time jobs as a concierge and babysitter. We actually made a bit of a profit which helped with our fuel costs for our spring/summer road trip around the States and our surfing trip in Mexico. We've decided to head to the opposite hemisphere this month, so we'll be missing out on a winter season. It's bittersweet, but we have plenty of sunshine and surf to look forward to in a New Zealand summer!
Are you thinking of moving to British Columbia for the winter? Let me know! Would love to convince you to spend some time in Revelstoke. You can check out some previous posts on Revy here and here.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Places to visit in Oaxaca, Mexico: Puerto Escondido

For a pair of active, twenty-something year olds with minimal Spanish-speaking knowledge, Puerto Escondido is the perfect base for a Mexican retreat, especially if your priorities include surfing and keeping a low budget.

A photo posted by Raquel Minh (@globaltumbleweed) on
Puerto Escondido has a few neighborhoods, all offering their own benefits – since surf and cost were important to us, we spent our time in La Punta. The first two weeks were spent at AirBNB, Casa Kei ($10/night). This little compound is a great introduction to the beach bungalow life. Behind the gates, there is a lush garden full of mango, lime, and papaya trees alongside hammocks, an outdoor shower, and an  outdoor kitchen. Beautiful murals and colorful tiles grace almost every wall. Not for the delicate, all accommodations are open-air. At night you can hear crashing waves, and from the top room you can see the sunset over the ocean. We took a few nights adjusting to the sounds of this working class neighborhood – a rivalry of roosters, dogs, frogs like car horns, and Mexican announcements being played on loudspeakers are orchestrated at almost all times of the day… eventually, these sounds start feeling like home.

After two weeks, we looked for longer-term housing. We stumbled upon Casa Isabel (2,500p/month, Calle Michoacan) located closer to the beach and nightlife. Hands down, this place is the best value of the many hostels and casas we checked. Fan-only private doubles, multi-room suites, and air conditioning rooms are available. The shared palapa terrace has an empty bar, cable tv, and hammocks offers 360 views of La Punta. Perhaps you’ll spend time watching the exotic wildlife – hummingbirds, iguanas, tarantulas, alongside stray dogs, horses, turkeys and roosters.

The shared terrace at Casa Isabel.

Most days are spent surfing, napping, and practicing yoga.

Your choices for waves are at La Punta – the far southeast end of the town where the point surf break is a bit more predictable and tamer compared to it’s neighbor, Playa Zicatela. Playa Zicatela hosts more surfers and is located at the most commercial strip of the beach.
We brought our surfboards from Florida, but in retrospect, I would have purchased a board in Puerto. Summertime is considered low-season, so there are plenty of boards on sale at reasonable prices. Or you can also purchase a brand new board from world-reknowned shaper, Ody at Ody Boards in La Punta.

@stular in La Punta, Puerto Escondido. Captured by @thecockandcarrot

Most popular evenings are salsa nights on Wednesday at Congo in Bahia Principal or Kabbalah on the beach. On Fridays at Casa Babylon’s there is Hip Hop Night and the after party continues at Fly Bar where expats rub shoulders with each other until 5am. Thursday nights are a chance for 2 for 1 sushi at Sumaray Sushi if you need a break from Mexican food. We purchased most of our groceries from the local veggie and fruit stand or at the superstore, Chedraui… although a visit to SuperChe was often just an excuse for a moment in air conditioning. Everywhere in Puerto is just a short colectivo/shared taxi (7 pesos) or taxi ride (35 pesos at most) and walk away.

From Puerto Escondido, there are multiple first class buses and minibuses to neighboring beach towns and mountain villages. If you don’t have much time (or money) I would still try to make Oaxaca City and San Jose del Pacifico a priority.

Casa Isabel: Phone Lupe & Luis at 954 136 2279
Casa Kei: Instagram, @casakei_airbnb
Photos: Rene Vincit - Instagram, @thecockandcarrot

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Camper Vans and Digital Nomads

A photo posted by Raquel Minh (@globaltumbleweed) on
I'm heading down a state highway with loud tunes playing above the sound of air rushing through open windows, sunnies covering my face while my hair whips around me, and I have the satisfaction of knowing there are cold beers stowed in the chilly bin. The road atlas is splayed across my lap, as my eyes follow the highlighted route we've already taken.

I'm at home right now - in the belly of Doug, our 1988 Chevy conversion van. Luckily, we didn't have to do any conversions ourselves. This machine seats 6 (legally) and then at night transforms into a metal cabin with a queen-size bed and another three lazy-boy style chairs which swivel towards each other to form a lounge for a convenient game of gin rummy or a shared late-night toke (if you're in Washington or Colorado).

A photo posted by Raquel Minh (@globaltumbleweed) on

Doug has been through a lot in the last few years. Before we bought him, he made at least two trips to Burning Man, among other festivals, and lived in the remote hills of Northern California where he was owned by a farmer who grew herbal product. Apparently before that, he sat in the backyard of an old woman. For a 27 year old camper van, this guy only has 180k kilometers (110,000 miles) and has been reliable for the last two months of travel across the United States.

While I've been in the passenger seat, Doug has crossed international borders (where his exhaust embarrassingly fell off due to rust and a nasty speed bump), parked in Walmart parking lots and coastal cliffs, rested peacefully in many national and state parks, was filled with at least a dozen boozy Coachella-ers, skidded through a random snowstorm in Colorado, drove through a flooded bridge in Texas, powered through a hailstorm in Florida, and provided stealth camping on the city streets of Eugene, New Orleans, and Miami.

Doug provided the opportunity to live like the quintessential hippie / vagabond / wanderer that many of us dream of being. Travel plans? What travel plans? Many days we didn't know where we wanted to go or how long we wanted to stay. We lived in the moment. On the west coast, our deadlines were ruled by music festivals and concerts. Around the center of the country, our departure times depended more on the weather. By the time we made it to the far, southeast where heat and humidity made Doug a bit more uncomfortable to travel in - we established dates to meet up with friends and family but our days were still filled with balancing time in the shade and in the water. Our towels were damp for days on end.

A photo posted by Raquel Minh (@globaltumbleweed) on

I hope everyone gets the opportunity to take a few weeks off and enjoy life on the road. I imagine it still holds the same amount of adventure and romance of road trips from the 60s and 70s... but with much more convenience.

I'm sitting in my brown velvet seat with wood accents, stickers from past music festivals stuck to the dash (which has no air bags), and the A/C barely functioning. It could easily be a scene from the 70s, except the GPS is mounted to the window, our iPods are connected via Bluetooth to our portable speakers, our action cameras, tablets, and Kindles are plugged into the inverter so we're all fully charged and connected. We look up tasty cheap eats and book last minute accommodations on our cell phones. We get on wi-fi wherever we can so we can stay in touch with friends and family and upload photos on to our Instagram accounts.

A photo posted by Raquel Minh (@globaltumbleweed) on

I wish I could be the person who is proud to put the digital screen away... but I'm not. I love that I can read my Kindle at night, take snorkeling photos with my waterproofed iPhone, and book 4-star hotels last minute for cheap online. I want to be the crunchy-granola type, but I'm also happy to be on the grid. It's an amazing time to be a nomad when you can have the best of both worlds.

Doug will be resting for a month or two. We've traded our van for two surfboards and a one way ticket to Mexico. I'm going to miss the freedom of having my little home on wheels, but I'm quite excited to post up at a surf beach and live in one spot for a bit (if only for 6 weeks.)

Besides, it's too damn hot in Doug for the summer. I think we'll come back in the fall and make one last trip back north to Canada. Now accepting travel companions.

If you'd also like to have a camper van adventure, please consider voting for our side project, Doug Honey - an online booking service for privately-owned campers and RVs. We need to be in the top 12 for Kickstarter mentorship!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Vietnam Adventure

It's been almost one year since Stu and I left our jobs and headed for our first major destination - Vietnam. Since then, we've been all around the world and will continue our adventure to Mexico (in two weeks)

Check out some of the major sights and sounds of our Vietnam trip in our video below. And feel free to reach out if you have any questions about your visit to the country! Happy to help - or check out some of my Vietnam posts in Ho Chi MinhDalat, and Nha Trang to Hoi An.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Packing Light Essentials

I'm back on the road again, but this time, literally. My partner and I are leaving Canada and starting our road trip down the west coast in our camper van, Doug.

This is the first time we've owned a van and we're looking forward to the travel opportunities Doug will give us. We're leaving Vancouver for Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, with a big pit-stop in Palm Springs for Coachella (and my birthday!) before heading out to Joshua Tree and Las Vegas.

The camper van is awesome because we have SO MUCH ROOM compared to the typical two-bag limit we adhere to so we can fly anywhere. I think I've mastered packing light for business and pleasure, so I feel a bit spoiled now that we have the flexibility to pack more... a whole bag just for shoes?! what!

But with packing light on my mind, I was excited to collaborate with Gale Straub at about my travel essentials. I even put a little video together. Hop on over to her site and check it out! 

A photo posted by Raquel Minh (@globaltumbleweed) on

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Nha Trang to Hoi An

After Dalat, we headed to Nha Trang by bus. Nha Trang is a popular beach destination for Vietnamese... and Russians. Our hotel seemed to be in the center of Little Russia - all store fronts, menus, and street names were translated for Russian tourists.

Although the beach was nice, we spent most of our time letting our stomachs adjust to the Vietnamese diet - which meant time spent near a bathroom...

One night, we stopped at an outdoor restaurant and were immediately invited to sit with a rambunctious Vietnamese family consisting of 4 adults and 3 kids. After some roasted duck, a few beers and shots, three of the locals (all motorcycle guides) had persuaded us to join their Easy Rider tour to Hoi An - leaving the next day.

After a bit of a delay (due to funky guts from another pair who were joining us) and a 20 minute tutorial on how to drive a motorcycle, we embarked on our 5 day journey with just our backpacks strapped to our cycles and faith in our guides.

We spent every day cruising through the Central Highlands along barely patched roads full of potholes, mud, and cattle. We passed through rural villages and small but busy suburban towns, wide-open rice fields and green, lush mountains, and stayed in every type of accommodation imaginable - from a cot in a longhouse to a 3-star hotel.
A photo posted by Raquel Minh (@globaltumbleweed) on

Our mornings started with a bowl of pho or egg banh-mi sandwich and our evenings ended with family-style dinners with our red-faced tour guides who kept the rice wine and cheap beer flowing.

A photo posted by Raquel Minh (@globaltumbleweed) on

We stopped at beautiful natural landscapes of lakes, waterfalls, and a giant boulder called Elephant Rock with the most amazing view. We also visited homes and shops of tradesmen to learn how rice paper, clay bricks, water buffalo drums, and rice wine are made... all simple and rustic operations where the blood, sweat, and tears of making a living is evident. I was surprised to find how physically hard the women and children work compared to the men who tend to the business negotiations.

A video posted by Raquel Minh (@globaltumbleweed) on

There were a few situations during our trip when the cultural divide caused some confusion. For example, on the first day, our guides encouraged us to crash a wedding where it seemed the whole town was attending. We politely declined, but not after standing in front of the venue while 100 Vietnamese faces stared at us. Another time, we spent hours drinking and singing in a karaoke room with our guides and then all the expats were surprised by the bill we racked up because no one bothered to tell us we were paying for the whole venue since they had stayed open especially for us... And then there was the afternoon when Rumblesteeze and I were left behind at a busy traffic circle and our guides couldn't find us for almost two hours but then tried to convince us we needed to pay extra since we "wasted their time"...
A photo posted by Raquel Minh (@globaltumbleweed) on

Overall, the Easy Rider tour was an amazing experience and opportunity to explore outside our comfort zones and view the "real" Vietnam. The rural and small-town lifestyle, which makes up a majority of Vietnamese culture, is full of hard-working people amongst a beautiful landscape.

But by the end, we were quite happy to arrive in Hoi An, a coastal town listed as a World Heritage site, for it's beautiful and quaint architecture. Hoi An is a popular spot to purchase tailor-made outfits, go to the beach, and enjoy lantern festivities which light up the roads of the Old Quarter. We took a few days to relax in our comfortable hotels, wait for our clothes to be made, and bike around town taking in the beach scenes and glow of lights before heading north to Hanoi.