Today Kaitlin and I drove up to St. Augustine, FL to attend a friends morning wedding which left us an afternoon to explore around St. Augustine, FL, the oldest city in Florida. While we didn’t have lots of time, we did manage to see Castillo de San Marcos and the Spanish Military Hospital Museum.
Since the post wedding transportation trolly dropped us off at the public paid parking garage, we decided to walk down to Castillo de San Marcos first. The Fort is a US National Park, and admission was $7/person, or if you have an annual pass you can take 4 people in for free. While our schedule didn’t allow for it, the Fort hosts ranger talks, as well as demonstrations of how the cannons were fired during the era of Spanish rule over Florida. I have attended one of the cannon firing events in the past, and it’s pretty neat to watch, but not something I would come back and do again. Other exhibits include wall graffiti, soldier bunks, powder room, etc.
The Spanish Military Hospital Museum is almost more of a tour than really a museum. There aren’t many things to see here, but the tour guides do an excellent job and share lots of knowledge that I don’t think I would have gained walking through a traditional museum, as my attention span for reading displays isn’t the longest. During the tour, topics discussed included: sanitation and it’s importance to the Spanish, how tooth extractions and amputations were handled and why, and medication from the era and how it was bought and sold. All in all I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest someone visiting for a weekend stop by for the tour.
Last week Antonio, a coworker turned good friend, asked if I would be interested in flying somewhere this morning. Of course the answer was yes! We rented a Diamond DA-20 from TraxAir, a training facility located at Orlando Executive Airport. I had ridden in an ultralight sport aircraft before, but never a general aviation aircraft. The difference in how smooth the ride was surprised me, the DA20 was incredible! We landed in Winter Haven (GIF) and then ate at Pappy’s Grill, which served a very reasonably priced and delicious breakfast. After we were done with breakfast, we headed over to Lake Jessup and practiced a few stalls, then headed back to Orlando Executive and returned the plane.
I have to start this post by saying this– Grand Teton was an afterthought to Yellowstone, and had I known how amazing it was going to be, I would have spent an extra day here. We woke up early morning and drive from Yellowstone towards the south entrance which is where Grand Teton National Park starts. This Park doesn’t really get all the fame of Yellowstone and I don’t honestly know why. The mountains are stunning, we saw almost as much variety of wildlife here on one drive as we did in 3 days at Yellowstone. The Jackson Lake Lodge was an extremely nice lodge, and had a great breakfast. After we were done eating, we continued our drive towards the south end of the park, taking photos as we went.
After a day sightseeing in Las Vegas, we headed to the airport and caught an Allegiant Flight to Idaho Falls. If there ever was a competition for most terrible flying experience, flying on Allegiant Air would win the grand prize. Idaho Falls Airport (IDA) is very small, and we were able to quickly grab a rental car from the Hertz Gold area while waiting for luggage to arrive. Once we had our luggage, we headed to Walmart to grab some hiking snacks and grabbed lunch at a local BBQ restaurant. From there it was a very easy drive, some interstate and quite a bit of vacant back roads.
After arriving in Yellowstone via the West entrance, we headed towards Old Faithful. Old Faithful isn’t the most active, or the largest geyser in the park, but it’s one of the most active large geysers, so it’s perhaps the best known tourist destination in the park. Along the way, we stopped to take photos at a few of the parking areas along the lower geyser basin. Just before Old Faithful, I chose a quiet trail to propose to Kaitlin on 🙂 (see photos in gallery). We arrived at Old Faithful just in time, it started to erupt within only a few minutes of waiting. That night we stayed in the Lake Yellowstone Hotel area, but in a frontier cabin instead of the hotel. I had read mixed reviews on these cabins, but they were very clean and very basic. No wifi access. We ate in the dining hall and the dinner was fantastic.
The next morning we headed towards Hayden and Lamar Valley’s looking for wildlife. If you’re looking for wildlife spotting tips– stop reading here, we didn’t have much luck this trip. We saw tons of bison, a few female elk, a couple of prong horn, and that was it. We did see plenty of stunning scenery however. The next two nights we stayed in a Frontier Cabin at Canyon Lodge. This cabin was set back in the woods a little ways away from the dining hall, but it was only a couple minutes drive to dinner, or they’d even pick you up with a free shuttle (although we never used it). The food here was a lot more basic than what we experienced at Lake Hotel, but I had a bison burger which was very reasonably priced and also tasty.
The following morning we once again went looking (without success) for wildlife along Hayden and Lamar Valleys. Still beautiful landscapes, but no wildlife. We then headed to Mammoth Hot Springs, which turned out to be the name of the town and not actually a large hot spring as we had expected. On the way back we stopped to see Yellowstone Falls. This sit was extremely crowded, but the view was amazing. We pushed ourselves in for a quick photo. Around here was the first time I “got” why they called it YELLOWstone, the canyon walls carved by the river were yellow. Same formations as what you always see around the Grand Canyon, but the walls were yellow instead of read– super neat.
Everyone knows it– the Tulum and Akumal areas of Mexico are a cave diver’s dream. I’ve wanted to go to dive in the cenotes since I first got intro certified back in 2007, but for whatever reason never managed the trip. For convenience, we stayed at Villas De Rosa, which is privately owned by Tony out of Utah, and has had a reputation for being a great place to base a cave trip out of. Villas De Rosa is located in Akumal, which is close to a lot of the caves. They also rent out doubles, side mount tanks and stage bottles for a fairly reasonable fee. While they don’t have a compressor on site, they get all their rental tanks filled nightly, and allow you to swap the tanks out during the day which is much faster than waiting for fills anyways.
Day 1 – Sistema Nohoch Nah Chich
Limited on time after landing, getting the rental car and checking in, we decided to do a cave which Phil had dove on a previous trip. Nohoch is one of the best known “tourist” caves in Mexico. It’s fairly far down a teeth grinding dirt road which will do a number on any rental car, but the road is well marked. Upon arriving, there’s diver only parking, and someone standing by to take your money for diving. The mainline is easily found, and since we were low on time, we just followed that until another small cenote. These caves were so much more decorated than anything I had ever seen before that I didn’t really mind.
Day 2 – Pet Cemetery and Gran Cenote
This morning we decided to head to Pet Cemetery, which was absolutely mind blowing. The entry fee is $250 pesos, so it’s on the expensive side, but “Oh my!” it was quite amazing! I think this is my favorite cave to date. We did the “Dark Side of the Moon” passage, and a little bit of the iHop passage. This cave is white, highly decorated, warm, and fresh water.
After the dive, we headed back to Villas De Rosa where we had the Pollo (chicken) tacos from the beach bar. These were the best tacos I’ve had, much healthier than what you have here in the US, relying heavily on cilantro for their flavor. With full tummys, we grabbed a fresh set of tanks and headed to Grand Cenote due to its close proximity and running out of time. The main line here is slightly harder to find than what you would encounter in the US, but if you look to the far left side of the cenote (from where you enter) and look out for the cave warning sign, you’ll have no issues finding it. This site supposedly has some amazing passage, but since we were on mainline because we didn’t have any specific directions, we didn’t see anything that spectacular compared to Pet Cemetery.
Day 3 – Chan Hol
John Sampson was kind enough to offer to guide us in Chan Hol, so we met up with him at 10am just south of Tulum. This cave is slightly darker than what we had been seeing, but was beautiful. The entrance fee is $150 pesos (around $15 USD at the time) and paid to the property owners. You head down a slope into a small pool, which has been dug out for easier entry. Upon entering, you head down a narrow slope which quickly opens into a large room and a T. We headed left as this was the easier passage, but the right side also connects back around we were told.
This weekend Kaitlin and decided to use a Groupon for the Travelodge Niagara Falls Bonaventure that a friend gave her before it expired. We hopped on a 2:05pm JetBlue flight out of MCO and arrived on time just 2 hours later into BUF International Airport, then picked up our rental car from Avis. This was my first time using Avis, who doesn’t charge an under 25 fee if you use a corporate rental code. We grabbed our rental car and within about 15 minutes of landing were heading out of the airport.
The drive to the border was quick, with light traffic the whole way and took around 30 minutes because of the traffic. Getting across was very fast (3-4 cars ahead of us) compared to what I was used to at airports, and we were asked the typical questions that are on your customs form, where are you going, why, how long, etc. After that, we headed to the hotel to check in, and then went to Mick & Angelo’s for dinner. Mick & Angelo’s was very reasonably priced and had decent food. We then headed towards the falls.
Tonight was the last night of the summer fireworks, and it was cold and rainy so attendance was less than stellar. Because of the rain, I couldn’t quite get the angle I wanted for the photos, so some of the fireworks images you’ll see are cut off.
Finally, a vacation which doesn’t consist of two days of traveling and one day of sight seeing! I had two round trip buddy passes on Southwest, so I decided to use them to get out to Denver, Co, since JetBlue’s schedule from Orlando to Colorado isn’t the most convenient. We left on the Orlando to Knoxville flight, where there were a total of 21 people on the flight, the easiest non rev trip I’ve ever done! The Knoxville to Denver flight wasn’t much more booked, but at least full enough to justify the flight.
After a short wait for luggage we headed to Hertz and picked up our rental car, which was ready and only had 8 miles on it. We headed towards Estes Park, CO, which was less than a 2 hour drive, and with the new toll roads, very easy driving at that. Along the way we stopped at Pepper Jacks, a fast food diner that we don’t have in FL, but it was very good, especially for the price. Once we got off the interstate, we stopped at Walmart for some hiking snacks, bottled water and other misc items, and then headed to the Rocky Mountain Park Inn, which allowed us to check in early. While the property isn’t what you expect of a resort, the staff there was extremely helpful the entire time we’re there, and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again. That afternoon we did a quick drive through Rocky Mountain National Park and then headed back to the hotel to shower, grab dinner, and go to bed early so we could wake up for a morning hike.
Since we spent a few days in the park, I won’t list each day by day account, but we did the following trails, with Emerald Lake being my favorite by far.
After leaving Estes Park, we went back to Denver and met with Kaitlin’s Aunt who works at the Denver Zoo and gave us a tour, then we met up with her Uncle and went downtown for dinner and a tour of the downtown district. The following day we woke up early to go whitewater rafting, which was a ton of fun, and the rafting company we chose was excellent. The following day we went to Garden of the Gods, Seven Falls, and Cave of the Winds. The lantern tour at Cave of the Winds was VERY cool!
This weekend we decided to head to Manuel Antonio National Park for our one year. We caught a morning flight Thursday morning out of Orlando direct on JetBlue and arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica around noon. Unfortunately we weren’t prepared for driving in Costa Rica, and spent nearly 5 hours getting to the La Colina hotel. The drive was beautiful, but when you’re on a dirt road and the sun is setting, you get nervous and it’s hard to enjoy it. On the way back, we had GPS working, thanks to this website’s free Garmin GPS format maps, and the drive took less than 2 hours. Upon arriving at the hotel, we unloaded bags and grabbed snacks at the poolside restaurant.
The following day we took the time to explore Manuel Antonio National Park. There are guides all around the park entrance, trying to sell walking tours. Unless you’re completely new to wildlife spotting I wouldn’t recommend paying anyone, as there are so many guides in the park that you can easily see what they’re directing people to, plus most of the larger wildlife is easy to spot on your own anyways. We had time to hike almost all the trails in around 4 hours, and ended up seeing monkeys, a distant sloth, and a toucan. The views are amazing, and the beaches aren’t all that crowded as long as you don’t go to the main beach where all the guides take everyone to.
Saturday morning we woke up early for ziplining, which Kaitlin had done and I had not. Tons of fun! We booked the later morning trip since the first one was full and had the entire trip to ourselves. The drive was over an hour, down a palm tree farm which consisted of driving through several small streams without a bridge, a “sweet baby Jesus” bridge which, as you can tell by the name, was a little scary. We spent the rest of the day finding a place for dinner with the best view and then packing for the trip home.
This weekend Kaitlin and I decided to take the later flight from MCO (Orlando, FL) to BVT (Burlington, VT). The weather was incredibly bumpy, and I think this might have been the first jet I’ve been on where passengers have gotten sick. Upon arrival, we rented a car from Hertz and headed to the Holiday Inn Express, which had a great rate, was very clean, and the location was convenient. We dropped our stuff off and headed downtown, which was a neat experience, mostly college students.
The following day we woke up to SNOW! It wasn’t much, but being from Florida, seeing snow is still fun no matter how much it is. We had a quick snowball fight and then headed towards Stowe, VT, where we walked around the city, and then ate at The Blue Donkey, which was a very good local burger shack. After lunch, we headed over to Gentle Giants, not far away, for a sleigh ride. I don’t know if people from Vermont would care much for this, but since we’re new to snow and the winter scene, it was a ton of fun. The driver was very friendly and told us lots about the horses, local area, traditions, etc.
After this, we started heading home, stopping at a local Apple Mill, where they had delicious fresh Apple Cider. As a last stop for the day, we headed to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory tour, which was neat, and focused a lot on the history of the company, their support for fair wage, and how they develop new flavors.
This weekend one of my coworkers who’s a private pilot instructor invited me to go flying with him in a single engine aircraft. We met up at Kissimmee Airport around 8am, where Brian showed me the facility as well as the plane and how to go over the check list before flight. He wanted to see a testing facility that Mercury had, and I wanted to see UCF from the air, so that was our flight plan. Total flight time was around 1hr 15minutes.