Tag Archives: travel tip

Denali National Park, Alaska

Here’s the three-minute overview in video form:

Why it’s Amazing

Two words: Park Rangers. They have set up a system that is very successful at protecting the wildlife and the ecology of Denali.

Although there is a road that goes 90 miles into the park, you’re generally not allowed to drive on it. Within the first 15 miles, private vehicles are allowed, but after Savage River, only authorized buses, and special cases.

There is one campground beyond Savage River to which they will let you drive if you are lucky enough to get a reservation. It’s usually booked a full six months in advance. The other exception is if you win a lottery for a one-day pass. The downside is the road has hair-pin turns, without guardrails and is mostly unpaved. You can’t see much if you’re focused on the driving.

Backpackers and campers are allowed to wander in the wilderness, and camp anywhere so long as their camp cannot be seen from the road.

Hiking Trails

Past the 15-mile no-drive barrier, hiking trails are discouraged.  Backpacking hikers are encouraged not to create trails nor use a trail. Groups of hikers are asked not to walk in the same path (footsteps) so there will be less human impact on the ecosystem.

We wore our bear spray, as did most other hikers. Bear bells that jangled were commonly used by everyone also.  Nearly all bears will avoid human contact though, when they hear voices, so the best way to protect yourself from an inadvertent bear encounter is to bring along a non-stop chatting companion.

Before Savage River (15 mile mark), there are a multitude of shorter trails around the main ranger station. There are also two trails at Savage River – the river walk which is mercifully flat, and the Savage River Arctic Trail. We tried the Arctic Trail starting at the Mountain Vista Trail hiking toward the Savage River.

We may have made a mistake going in that direction. It’s a gentle rise in that direction but a hell of a descent. A nice mature ranger told us after the hike that she really preferred the hike in the other direction because it was easier on her knees. Where was she when we started, huh?

Park Buses

The Park Service has many fine old school buses painted Ranger-olive, that run a shuttle service over the length of the park road. The cool part is that they will let you off anywhere along the road if you want to do a wild-life hike where there are no trails.

Buses on the return trip will pick up hikers and backpackers on the road that flag them down for a ride. If you want to take a ride into the park from the main Ranger Station, you’ll have to reserve a seat on the bus because they fill up.

There are two ways to get a wildlife “tour”. One is to book a tour company that has permits from the Park Service. The other is to get a seat on a Park Service bus going deep into the park (for about one-third the price).

The bus drivers stop for animals within sight of the road. All passengers are encouraged to shout out if they see wildlife or even think they see something. Then everyone can pile onto one side of the bus to get the photo. As a result of these rules that protect the ecosystem, the animals are really not afraid of vehicles nor people. This makes for incredible wildlife viewing.

We were lucky to book seats for the ride to Eielson Station for the next morning. They often fill up days ahead. It’s about a four hour ride to the Ranger Station 60 miles in. If you are not going to  camp overnight, you have to turn around and ride the bus back.  It’s another four hours back so an early start is a must.

RV Camping

The Denali Campgrounds fill up way in advance of the summer. Since we travel without an agenda, we, of course, could not reserve ahead. No problem. We drove up the road to the 49th State Brewing Company, enjoyed a craft brew and some delicious bar food, and then slept in their parking lot.

Mountain Climbing

It’s a shame we didn’t arrive in Alaska in time to scale Denali’s peaks, which must be done in spring. All climbers begin at the Talkeetna Ranger Station. So having missed the registration for the climb, we opted to visit the Talkeetna Ranger Station instead. Talkeetna, an hour south of Denali Park entrance, is a cute little town with a brewpub. We bought a bottle of birch syrup at the farm there, a common delicacy in the area, which incidentally goes really well with bourbon or whiskey. (Try using a little birch syrup in your Manhattan instead of the grenadine!) Perhaps you can see where our priorities lie … we felt amply compensated for not planting our flag on Denali’s peak, the most difficult in the world because of the mountain’s weather system and lack of porters.

We really enjoyed visiting the Ranger Station where they have flags from teams worldwide that have successfully scaled Denali. Since we were there well after climbing season, the rangers weren’t too busy and we had a fantastic conversation with one of them. We learned about the history of scaling Denali and the kind of equipment the climbers needed.

During climbing season the National Park Service Rangers keep a fully manned Ranger Station at the base camp of Denali. They work both to protect the mountain from becoming trashed like Everest, and to rescue climbers who get into trouble. Until we visited Denali, we’d never heard of Leave-No-Trace mountain climbing. It was just one more thing that makes Denali amazing.

View the photo gallery – click on image below:

 

 

 

 

Our Worst Travel Moments — Robbed by a Gang at an ATM

We’ve had so many fantastic moments traveling the world continuously for the past five years. In spite of all the “regular” living, there have been challenging moments when things have gone wrong. To be fair, things go wrong even if you live in one place for five years.

We’re just thankful that it hasn’t been one of us waking up and asking the other “Who are you?” And we won’t write about the tsunami alert in Indonesia that turned out to be a huge wave of … wait for it … 2½ inches.

This is one of a series of accounts of our worst moments. In spite of these few misadventures, we are still loving the life of continuous travel!

Robbed by a Gang at an ATM

Cape Town, South Africa

How did it happen?

We like to think of ourselves as savvy travelers when it comes to making cash withdrawals at ATM’s around the world, but damn, we were outnumbered by slick thieves and there really was no recourse. We used an ATM in a sort of empty mall on a Sunday, which was our first mistake; and it’s the last time we’ll do that!

Cape Town panorama from our front balcony.

After we made our withdrawal, received our money and began to leave the area, the problem began. Someone called out to us that he was unable to use the machine because we had not completed the transaction and signed out correctly. He adamantly argued that whenever a foreigner uses the machine, there is always a problem afterward. He loudly beckoned us to return and while we hesitated, the queue of customers grew. They were all dressed like prosperous businessmen. Each of them complained that the machine would not allow them to use it now. Against our better judgement, we reluctantly returned and put our card back in.

The penguins of Boulders Beach near Cape Town

As soon as Ivan put the card back in, he had a sinking feeling. He knew this was wrong, but not quite sure why. Meanwhile, I let him know that there were many now queued and complaining about us ‘breaking the machine’. This prompted Ivan to take a cursive glance behind to see the mob of guys. That’s when the guy in front must have grabbed the card from the slot but neither of us noticed anything. While Ivan was trying to find his card, everyone quietly and suddenly disappeared. We now realized for sure that they probably had our card and the PIN.

We were getting money to buy a SIM card for our phone. So not having a working phone, we had to run back to our place to call the bank. By the time we could check our bank account, they had already taken out $400.

Resolution

Our stolen money was replaced by the bank after explaining the circumstances.

Lesson Learned

Cape Town, standing on Table Mountain

We are even more vigilant near ATM’s and use only the ones situated inside banks with security officers during daytime hours. Even so, we inspect the card reader to make sure a skimmer hasn’t been installed. You can read about this scam by searching for “ATM skimmer scams.”

In spite of our best precautions, we still became the subject of credit card number theft in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It happened twice and we never figured out how because the card never left our sight. Our bank caught it each time, blocked our card and sent us an email. After talking to us, they had to overnight a new card.

Other stories in “Our Worst Travel Moments”:

Modus Transportandi

Due to a certain confluence of destinies, we have decided to remain in North America for a year or more before continuing our adventures in strange lands. But of course, considering who is President of the USA, perhaps it’s the strangest land of all!

When we were in New Zealand, we saw for the first time a Mercedes Sprinter camper conversion. It left an indelible impression. So when we landed in South Florida last January, we started scouring the ads.

We now own the perfect conversion van for two people. It has a good size refrigerator/freezer, two-burner stove, big hanging locker (closet), bathroom, heat, air conditioning, microwave, hot and cold running water and tons of cabinet space. We have so much more room than we had in our two suitcases and backpacks that we must have almost doubled our possessions!!

After South Florida, we spent four months in Toronto with Deena’s new granddaughter. Then we hurried off to Missouri to visit friends that just happened to live in the path of total eclipse. I didn’t have much faith that summer plains-weather would be cooperative and I was right. But for us, its always about the people anyway. We had a great tailgate party under the clouds. It got dark. It got light. We weren’t chased out of town by torch-carrying crowds blaming Yankee white liberals for their crop loss or something. It was a great visit.

We then took Horace Greeley’s advice and headed west for Burning Man.