travel

Faux Inflatable Ducks

Remember that amazing, giant inflatable rubber duck that was hanging out in Sydney Harbor a while back? It’s still making its way around the world—Florentijn Hofman’s sculpture also made a stop in Hong Kong this year:

duck_hong kong 1

duck_hong kong 2

(How I wish I could have seen it in my second favorite city!)

But the funny thing is, since then,В China’s knockoff industry has been churning out look-a-like ducks. Though Chinese officials aren’t thrilled about that, at least 10 replicas have been spotted inВ Wenzhou

Visitors look at a scaled replica of the rubber duck by Dutch conceptual artist Florentijn Hofman as employees try to pull it upright on a lake at a park in Shenyang

Shanghai…

A scaled replica of the "Rubber Duck" by Dutch conceptual artist Florentijn Hofman is seen along a street next to a vendor waiting for customers in Shanghai

and Luoyang, to name a few places.

A labourer walks in water after setting up a scaled replica of the rubber duck, by Dutch conceptual artist Hofman, on an artificial lake in Luoyang

I’m wondering how many more are floating (ha) around out there!

(Top two photos viaВ Florentijn Hofman; bottom three by Reuters via Atlantic Cities)

Pig Beach

It’s a good thing I didn’t know about Big Major Cay a few months ago. Because otherwise, I might have ended up there, instead of Eleuthera.

Located in the Exumas, an archipelago of 365 cays and islands in the Bahamas, Big Major Cay is also known as “Pig Beach.”В This tiny island is uninhabited—except for a group of feral pigs. No one knows how they got there, but when boats approach, they swim out to greet them—and beg for food.

I wouldn’t have minded jumping in and swimming with these guys!

big major cay

Cat Island, Pig Beach…who knew the Bahamas were such a haven for animal lovers?

(Photo by cdorobek via Wikipedia; thanks to Mal and Peter for this amazing find!)

Fall Travel Fantasies

For the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling “meh”—struggling to feel excited about anything, bored with my everyday routine. (Well, except for ballet—the sole bright spots.) Looking at my calendar, and counting down to some upcoming, fun summer events, helped a bit. But the looming shadow of fall and the endless weeks filled with the same old routine just seemed overwhelmingly depressing.

It took me a while to realize I’ve gotten stuck in a rut.

A non-traveling rut.

Last year, at my old job, I had five weeks of vacation—plus five summer Fridays—and I used every single one of those days. At this time, one year ago, I’d already spent a week inВ Panama, had a girls’ weekend inВ Chicago, another one inВ Boston, tookВ a three-day running trip, and was taking lots of three-day weekends to visit Mal and Peter inВ Maryland. Plus, I had two weeks inВ GuatemalaВ on the horizon.

I’ve just realized that this year is half-over and I’ve only taken three days to go toВ Eleuthera. And I have no big trip planned for the fall. Part of this is due to having a new job and far fewer vacation days, and feeling hesitant to take any. But I’ve realized that because of this, I’ve been reading less travel articles, daydreaming less about where to go next—and dragging myself down, as a result.

My blog tagline pretty much sums me up: I love travel, ballet and my hometown of NYC. I need them all in a way that’s hard to articulate and, I assume, difficult for other people to understand,В unless they feel the same way about something. I can’t be without any of the three for an extended amount of time without feeling off. (When it comes to travel, I don’t need to go far or spend tons of money—if that were the case, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere during the last 10 years. I just need to goВ somewhere…every few weeks, if possible!)

So yesterday, I decided to pull myself out of my travel rut. I decided I would definitely plan a fall trip—even if it ends up being another solo journey. And IВ started to think about all the places I could explore. I took a Chile travel guide off my bookshelf and read it on the subway. (I’ve still yet to go there.) Just envisioning Torres del Paine and Parque NacionalВ Los Glaciares lifted my spirits. And since then, I’ve felt more energized and optimistic than I have in ages.

Pretty amazing what a little determination and positive thinking can do.

torres del paine

…if you have any ideas about where I should go, please let me know! I’m still figuring it out and would love some suggestions.

(Torres del Paine photo byВ Steffen Sauder via Wikitravel)

Runways of the World

This is pretty astounding.

Using data from ourairports.com, James Davenport,В a Ph.D. candidate in astronomy at the University of Washington, plotted the locations of 45,132 runways around the world. The result: a map of the world.В (I know it’s a little hard to see, so please click on the image to view the high res version.)

airports of the world

As Davenport puts it:

Think about that number for a moment: there areВ at leastВ 45,000 places to land an airplane!В These range from small dirt fields to LAX, and the data seems to be more complete in the USA. Still, runways on every continent, seemingly every country.

Incredible!

I wholeheartedly agree.

(Image by James Davenport)

A Week in Africa with Obama

…I’m not there, of course!

But Ari Shapiro,В NPR’s White House correspondent, is. And he’s documenting the trip on his fabulous Tumblr, “Ari in Africa.”В It’s a fascinating (and often funny) behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to travel in the presidential press corps. As Shapiro puts it:

Traveling in the presidential bubble is not exactly tourism. Exotic cities whiz by on streets that have been cleared of traffic. Hours that a tourist might spend wandering museum halls instead tick by in “press filing centers,” which tend to be windowless hotel ballrooms.

Days are booked from early in the morning until late at night. But if they’re lucky, reporters manage to break away from all that and get a “15-minute vacation”—a real taste of local culture via a meal in a neighborhood joint that hasn’t been prearranged for them, a quick walk on the beach, etc. (As someone who’s been on numerous press tours, I can certainly attest to how precious those moments are—they really make the whole trip worth it!)

Shapiro’s Tumblr has funny insights about reporting from the corps, interesting factoids about Africa, great snapshots of ObamaВ and gorgeous photos from when he can find those “15-minute vacations”—like the one below.

senegal sunset

Definitely check it out, while he—and Obama—are still there.

(Photo by Ari Shapiro via Ari in Africa)

Verdon Gorge

Um, can I go here ASAP?!

verdon gorge

That’s Verdon Gorge, in Provence, France. (Click on the photo to get a better view!) I stumbled upon this snapshot, the other day, and was instantly transfixed.

Verdon Gorge is often referred to as Europe’s Grand Canyon, though at 16 miles long and 2,300 feet deep, it’s not quite as large. (The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and a mile deep!) Still, as far as I know, the Colorado River in our stateside canyon isn’t asВ magnificently blue as the Verdon River.В Its water gets its stunning color from microalgae and fluoride.

I was struck by Verdon Gorge’s sheer beauty—and how idyllic it looks to spend a day there, drifting downstream in a raft. It reminds me of a much more dramatic variation on the annual tubing outing we embark on every year!

Besides rafting, you can also go kayaking, paragliding, climbing and a number of other outdoor activities in and around the gorge.

I’ve already added it to my travel wishlist.

(Photo via bippity boppity boo)

A Few Days on Eleuthera

water cay

Recently, Mal, Peter, and our friends, Virginia and Doug, and I went to Eleuthera, one of the Bahamas’ “Out Islands.” True to that designation, Eleuthera felt wonderfully removed from everything. There were no cruise ships or mega resorts. We saw barely any other people during our time there—and, better yet, even fewer tourists. And since the island is so sparsely populated, most of the beaches we visited were pristine, and we had them to ourselves. And you know how much I love wild, isolated beaches!

Some highlights:

Our Cotton Bay Rental

Eleuthera is a long, skinny string bean of an island. It’s approximately 110 miles in length and two miles wide. Initially, I leaned toward staying in central Eleuthera, where Governor’s Harbour, the island’s largest town, is located. Most vacation rentals are there, and many, like this one, are gorgeous. Plus, the pink sand beaches of Harbour Island, which I’d written about, are not far away.

Despite those appealing factors, we ended up rentingВ Sanderling, a house in Cotton Bay, on the southern part of the island. Unlike the Governor’s Harbour options, this place was on the beach. (As opposed to a few minutes’ walk away—I know, so far.) All the bedrooms had private bathrooms.В Plus, there were no other rentals in Cotton Bay, and we wanted to be around as few other people as possible. And, best of all, the rental fee included a cook, who’d received rave reviews. Um, not having to prepare meals for a group every day? Sold!

Sanderling wasn’t swank and modern; the one-story, yellow house was built in 1959. But it was comfortably furnished, bright, airy and well-kept. Coconut trees grew on the property…

sanderling

…and a small dock out front led to a calm cove. From there, we (well, everyone but me) launched kayaks and paddled them into the ocean. Another night, we went swimming—and later found out that’s prohibited because sharks lurk there, once the sun sets! Luckily, we made it out with all of our limbs intact.

cove

The front patio had a few lounge chairs and a small table…

front porch

…and the porch, right behind it, had an additional seating area, where we played several hilarious rounds ofВ Cards Against Humanity—helped by cocktails made with Ole Nassau, a Bahamian rum.

The dining table is where we ate all the meals Ruth, the cook, prepared for us. She was lovely and her food was delicious—lots of fresh fish and veggies. Plus, Ruth hadВ worked at Sanderling for 22 years and told us about the family that owned it, as well as bits and pieces of local news and history.

sanderling porch

From the front porch, you could see through to the ocean side of the house…

sanderling

…where we spent most of our free time, just reading, relaxing and enjoying the view.

back porch

And—this was my favorite part—a short staircase led down to our very own private beach, which was beautiful and spotless.

private beach

sanderling beach

While I couldn’t have been happier with our rental, I did feel a little sad seeing how the surrounding neighborhood had deteriorated. Cotton Bay was once a fancy resort community. In 1959, Juan Trippe, founder of Pan Am, opened the exclusive Cotton Bay Club and golf course. However, after the airline went bust and hurricanes ravaged the island, the resort was abandoned. Ownership changed hands a few times, and the current owner has let it fall into disrepair. The hotel is covered in brush, and golf course looks like Jurassic Park.

cotton bay golf course

The single road winding through Cotton Bay is full of giant potholes. Half the houses are well-kept and the rest are run-down. (Despite that, we never felt unsafe.) Ruth told us that she’d like more tourism to boost the area’s economy, but not so much that it erodes the area’s peaceful setting or strains its natural resources. I couldn’t agree more.

* * *

Water Cay

Our rental came with one more amazing perk that we didn’t even know about until we got there: the use of the owner’s deep sea fishing boat and a captain!

The guys were instantly ready to fish. Given my history of seasickness in nearly every country I visited, I was a little hesitant. But once Sydney, the captain, mentioned that we’d stop at a small island to hang out and go snorkeling, as well, I was game. Besides, I figured that I’m an old pro at leaning out the back, “feeding the fish,” then getting on with a trip!

So the next morning, we boarded our boat, the Shady Lady…

shady lady

…and got on our way.

leaving the harbor

For about 20 minutes, I felt great! I was thrilled to be bouncing over the waves, watching the water turn deep blue. But once the fishing part started, things went downhill. Deep sea fishing, I learned, involves lots of slowly motoring around, trying to get fish to bite. And if a boat isn’t moving fast, I’m not feeling too well. Plus, the smell of fuel was getting to me.

I was trying to keep my breakfast down, when we got our first bite. In fact, I was so intently staring at the horizon that I didn’t even hear Sydney yell for someone to reel it in. Luckily, Peter jumped into the chair and pulled in a giant mahi. (Which I, unfortunately, didn’t get a photo of, for obvious reasons—the one below is the best I could do, in my compromised state!)

peter deep sea fishing

Sydney speared the fish, which then splattered blood all over the deck. Between that, the nausea and the fumes, I nearly lost it. Mal was feeling just as bad, as well. I don’t know who made the executive decision to take a break from fishing, but someone secured the poles and we were moving at a faster clip.

Eventually we reached paradise.

IMG_1949

I happily jumped off the boat…

jumping in

…and headed to shore.

water cay

This was the highlight of my trip. We’d landed at a deserted island with a spectacular beach—one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. The sand was perfectly round, soft white grains, and the water was amazingly clear and calm. (The only beach that might top it is Australia’sВ Whitehaven Beach.)

water cay

I found out, from Sydney, that we were on Water Cay, a tiny island that’s one-third of Schooner Cays, off the coast of Cape Eleuthera, on the island’s Caribbean side.

water cay

We snorkeled around the Shady Lady, but the only fish I saw was a barracuda—which I seem to encounter on every trip!

shady lady at water cay

And we took lots of photos.

water cay

I could have stayed forever.

But eventually, we swam back to the boat and returned to the open water. We fished long enough for Doug to catch another mahi—but not so long that I got sick—then headed back to Cotton Bay…where Ruth cooked up some of that mahi for lunch. (And lunch and dinner the day after, too!)

mahi

* * *

Governor’s Harbour Fish Fry

After our deep sea fishing excursion, we took naps, then drove an hour north to Governor’s Harbour’s Friday fish fry. (Along the way, we had trouble with our car’s radiator. Everyone who passed stopped and offered help. In what seemed like a crazy coincidence, the owner of the car rental place happened to be driving by—even though we were miles away from his town—and fixed the car. But, as Ruth later told, us, that’s Eleuthera!)

The fish fry was smaller than I expected it to be. A wooden shack near the water served food and drinks, and a DJ played music in the streets. Though it felt touristy, there were just as many, if not more, locals there. (Maybe it seemed that way because this was the first time we’d seen other groups of travelers!)

fish fry

At the stand, you had a choice of a whole fried fish (or BBQ chicken) and sides, like rice and peas, mac and cheese and potato salad.

fish fry

The fry’s signature drink is the “Rum Bubba,” a (very potent!) bright red punch spiked with lots of its namesake alcohol.

rum bubbas

The food was delicious! We each got one of these plates and devoured everything with our hands—the only way to eat a meal like that, by the beach.

fried fish

We also had conch salad. The conch man pulled the mollusk from its shell…

fresh conch

…and chopped it, along with onion, tomatoes, celery and an insanely potent pepper.

conch salad

I like spicy food, but I’ll be honest—I only had one bite! The pepper immediately spread across my tongue, and I spent the next few minutes guzzling my Rum Bubba!

conch salad

We hung around for a little, taking in the scene, chatting with other fish fry goers, and listening to the DJ. Then we hopped back in the car and drove an hour south, back to Cotton Bay.

* * *

Sammy’s Place

Besides the fish fry, we ate out one other time. Sammy’s Place is one of the few restaurants on the southern part of the island.

sammy's place

It’s a nondescript place a few blocks off the main road.

sammy's place

The lunch menu offers staples like sandwiches and burgers, along with Bahamian comfort food, like fried conch, conch fritters and mac and cheese. I enjoyed every bite of my meal, accompanied by a Kalik beer.

fried conch

* * *

Lighthouse Beach

Due to distance and time, we never made it to Harbour Island’s pink sands. But on our last day, we visited Lighthouse Beach, another pink(ish) beach at Eleuthera’s southern tip.

Lighthouse Beach is accessible via a rough, badly potholed two-mile “road.”

lighthouse beach

The bumpy ride was well-worth it, though.

lighthouse beach

Like pretty much everywhere else we went on the island, the gorgeous beach was nearly deserted; we saw only two other people.

We immediately went for a dip in the clear, calm water.

lighthouse beach

Afterwards, we walked up a small hill to enjoy the view…

lighthouse beach

…and reach two other parts of the beach.

lighthouse beach

lighthouse beach

We couldn’t resist taking photos on the weathered rocks that jutted out onto the sand.

lighthouse beach

We stayed at Lighthouse Beach until the sun started setting. I had to drag myself away from it—and from Eleuthera, itself, when it came time to fly back home, the next morning.

lighthouse beach