I know everyone says that Paris is beautiful in the spring, but I went for Christmas.
It’s not that they don’t have Christmas in South Korea. They do. It’s sort of a date day where you go around with your significant other and look at trees.
Korea is historically a Buddhist country, and it is only recently that Christmas even became a national holiday there because of pressure from the vocal minority who are Christian.
Anyway, instead I went to Paris.
I saw all the things you would expect, like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
However, I also ventured off the beaten path to see Oscar Wilde’s grave in one of the cemeteries.
I hate to be cliche, but the best part was definitely the food. The food in Paris really is the best.
I ate everything! There was a little bakery by our hotel, and every morning the woman there would suggest breakfast pastries and pack us a lunch of meats and cheeses. It was heavenly.
We stayed outside the city and took the train in each morning. It was much cheaper that way, and it was nice to see a little country town.
Friends had suggested this after staying in the city and being kept up all night by the noise. If you are there to party until the middle of the night, then I suppose that is okay. That’s how some people vacation.
But I went to see the sights, and so it was nice to be in a quite village.
Of course when you are in Thailand, it’s important to go see temples and soak up the different culture.
Some of the temples didn’t allow women, but I went to all the ones that did.
Thailand is a majority Buddhist county, and unlike South Korea, they really enjoy their gold.
There are golden Buddhas everywhere. Some of them are just painted that color, but others are real gold.
With the gold Buddhas, you can buy sheets of gold leaf. It helps to support the temple, and you get to press the gold right onto the Buddha.
The photo (above) is of one such Buddha, covered in real gold.
I sat down to talk to some monks at a “Monk Chat.” They couldn’t talk directly to me, so they spoke through a man who was willing to rely my questions.
Mostly, I asked about why they became monks. The answers varied, but for the most part, they had families who were poor and they needed a place to live.
Everyone tries to follow the teachings of the Buddha, but they seemed to convey the thought that becoming a monk is about finding a place in the world when you need one. They also take and care for sick people if their families can’t.
Much like in a Muslim church, it is important to be covered. When I went looking at temples, I brought a shawl with me to make sure my body was covered.
They do offer shawls at some of the temples that you can use, but I brought my own because I have sensitive skin.
The architecture is really beautiful and unique. Of course Thailand is perfectly modern and they have modern buildings which are just plain towers.
However, with temples they try to use the traditional architecture. The detail is amazing!
This is one of the temples that women weren’t allowed in (above) so I don’t know what was inside.
I thought about trying to peer in, but unfortunately it seemed disrespectful so I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Even the neighborhood shrines are really neat. I had a tuk-tuk driver who took me around for a day, and he brought me to his local neighborhood shrine to offer a prayer for a good day.
Of course I donated to the temple, as is expected. I thought it was nice that he would think of bringing tourists there as a way to help improve his neighborhood.
This is the prayer the monk offered me in thanks for my contribution. He also gave me some incense to light for the Buddha in the temple.
Each house in the nicer neighborhoods has a little miniature house in front of it.
Many are made to look like the homes they are in front of, and they are meant to be a place for spirits to stop and rest.
Offerings of food, flowers, and alcohol are often left inside.
I even visited some of the ancient temples that they are trying to restore, in order to preserve Thailand’s history.
You can see the yellow railings around it, because it’s not open to the public during restoration. But it was still cool to have a look.
This is a sign detailing the money being put into the project, and the history of different depictions of Buddha through time.
Behind most temples is a smaller and less grand building where the monks live. This is a dormitory.
I love big cities, so of course I had to hop over to Tokyo while I was living in South Korea.
Here are some Geisha (above), who were on their way to perform traditional tea ceremonies at a tea house.
This is from a traditional Shinto cemetery that I stopped at. I enjoy the different death customs from other cultures.
In a Shinto cemetery, they have sticks that knock against each other in the wind because the noise is meant to keep the dead company. I thought that was a nice thought.
This is Uneo Park, which I enjoyed visiting. There is a little zoo there that I saw, and of course, the swan boats were a good time as well.
It was spring, so the park was ringed with cherry trees. I missed the best of the blossoms, but there were still some left.
In my hotel desk drawer, there was a book. In the USA, it would have been a Gideon’s bible. But of course, this was Tokyo. So to my amusement, there was instead a book on the teachings of the Buddha.
I took it with me (the hotel assured me that I could) and it was a good read. I can’t say I agree with all of Buddhism, but there are some good points.
Everything under about $10 US is coins, which is a difficult adjustment. I am so used to thinking of change as not being very important, but change in Japan can easily add up to $50 if you’re not paying attention.
I guess my point is, don’t just give your spare change to the homeless (a habit of mine in the US) because you might need it.
There are vending machines all over Tokyo. Even in little neighborhoods where you wouldn’t expect a vending machine, they always seem to be there.
This one had Kit Kat soda. I was amused to discover that the Japanese are in love with Kit Kats, because the sound of the words is similar to the sound of the words for good fortune in Japanese.
This is Arisugawa-no-miya Park in the Rappongi Hills. At one time, it belonged to the royal family of Japan, but now it is a public park where all are welcome.
The Rappongi Hills are notorious for being a great place to party at night. There is a wonderful night life. But, I went to see the famous shopping and the sights.
In Asia, you run into shrines everywhere. Some of them are really beautiful. It felt disrespectful to take pictures inside, because there always seemed to be people praying.
I did take a lot of pictures of the outsides of the temples, because they are impressive in detail and I love the colors.
Here’s a shot of me by the pond near my hotel. I had a lot of fun, and I hope you’ll all consider a trip to Tokyo if you are able to.
The hike into the Grand Canyon to Havasu falls is a hard, 20 mile trek. It is very worth it.
It took me awhile to recover enough to write about the hike through the Grand Canyon to Havasu falls. I do a lot of hiking, and I run at the gym every morning. But nothing prepared me for the level of insane required to do this hike through the Havasupai Reservation. It was the hardest hike I have ever done. It was also the most worth it. Here’s how to do it:
Getting there is not half the fun. It’s about a 5 hour drive from Phoenix. The I-17 takes you to Flagstaff, where you meet the historic route 66 and take it to a tiny Highway known as the 18. Highway 18 is a barren stretch of road with no gas stations or rest stops, and a bad paving job, so be ready for that.
Highway 18 ends at a place the Havasupai tribe call “Hilltop.” There is really nothing there, so I guess that’s all you need to say. We got there around 3am and napped in the back of the Expedition before beginning the hike. If you want to be a pro about it, I recommend staying the night in Kingman so you can arrive refreshed instead of cramped from sleeping in a car. I’m on a budget myself, so a sleeping bag is the hight of luxury for me.
We left Hilltop and started down the switchbacks into the canyon at 7:30am. We told the lady at the top that we were doing a day hike, and she looked at us like we were crazy. She also told us we were getting a late start.
We each carried a gallon of water, trail mix, dried apricots, nuts, and beef jerky. Our packs were about 35 lbs each. We took no camping equipment, just food, water, swimsuits, and water shoes for the falls. Oh, and sunscreen. I can not stress enough how important the sunscreen is!
At the end of the switchbacks we started walking the canyon floor. At first, it’s really cool. There are all kinds of neat rocks and the sandstone is brilliant colors. But it’s 7 miles inside the canyon to get to Supai village, and I must admit, I got a little tired of dusty sandstone after all that walking. Also, the Havasupai drive their horses up the canyon in the morning, so the smell of manure gets really old too.
When you get to Supai you just want to keep walking. There aren’t any signs, but if you keep going, you get to the tourism office (on the left.) Pay them, or they will fine you when they catch you at the falls without passes. It’s $35, and it’s a steal considering what you are about to see.
There is a café (I use the term loosely) in the village. I had been warned against eating there because a group of hikers I spoke to claim to have gotten food poisoning. While I have a cast-iron stomach with no fear or parasites, I felt that a 20 mile round trip hike in 100 degree weather was hard enough without trying out new food. So no food reviews today. We passed up the café and went strait to the falls.
First you come upon Navajo Falls. This is a series of small waterfalls that flow into pools of clear turquoise water. They are beautiful in all the pictures I have seen, but they will never look as good as they do after you just walked 10 miles through a dusty canyon to get to them. Remember a bathing suit and water shoes! That is very important. And don’t forget to re-apply your sunscreen often.
Next up is Havasu Falls. We decided in advance that this is as far as we would go, since this was day hike. If you are willing to pack in a tent, you can go on further to the spectacular Moony Falls and Beaver Falls (both are featured over and over in Arizona Highways calendars.)
Havasu Falls is less amazing than before the 2008 flood, because the pools below have washed away. However, the upper and lower falls are still just as amazing as they always were. The lower part of Havasu falls is a giant curtain of water which is all the more impressive because of the dry canyon that serves as its backdrop. My friend Carl said that it looks like something that belongs in Maui, not in the desert. I have to agree.
The upper falls are hard to get to, but it’s worth a little climbing and struggle. The many jets of water jutting over the edge of the cliff create a growing place for all kind of moss, which is a real treat for a desert dweller.
After some wadding around we turned around and headed back. The hike out is the same 10 miles as before, but in the later part of the day you use twice as much water. I am happy to say that the store in Supai sells water at reasonable prices. I am unhappy to say that the way it gets there is on the backs of pack-horses. If I could have carried two gallons of water in, I would have. I hate to think of what those poor horses go through every afternoon as they are herded back down the canyon laden with far too much weight.
The one plus on a day hike that I wouldn’t count on (but that we were grateful for) is that some of the horses throw their saddles. We ran across two horses which we had to save (one tangled in barb wire and one stuck dragging its saddle and load.) But there were bottles of water along the trail that had fallen off the horses, and it was like water from heaven. I tried to plan this hike on a cloudy day. I even picked a day where light showers were expected. But it was full sun all day, to my dismay. Water is so valuable at the bottom of the canyon in the full sun in August!
A few words of caution, because it is such a tough hike:
-Please remember sunscreen.
-Please take lots of water- more than you think you will need.
-Please take lots of food. Nuts for long-term energy and fruit for a sugar-shake when you’re wearing out.
-Do NOT go on a day when heavy rain is expected. The canyon has flash floods.
-There are no medical services. Bring a first aid kit and do not be reckless like me and stop to help horses. I could have been kicked and died down there.
-Remember the reason to do this hike in August is so the cold Colorado river is refreshing, so make sure you bring water shoes and a swimsuit. If you’re not going to swim, you may as well hike it in December when it’s cooler out.
The most important thing I brought was Carl. He didn’t complain once, even though he must have been miserable. And his encouragement kept me going when I wanted to nap on my swimming towel and hike out in the morning. Also, I brought an MP3 player. This is the only way I made it up the switchbacks to the car. It’s a mile up, and after an all-day hike in the sun, you need a little music to help you get back out of the canyon. We made is out by 7pm, meanning we did the whole 20 miles (with rest at the falls) in 12 hours. Wow.
There is a helicopter that I am told you can make reservations with if you call far enough in advance. You need reservations for the camp ground too, and for the primitive lodge where you can stay. Another thing you can do is make reservations to ride a horse out in the morning (they are not carrying anything when they drive them up to be loaded with goods in the morning.)
I am sure all of these things make the trip easier. But Carl and I did the whole trip from Phoenix to Havasu Falls for about $100 each, including gas. So really, it’s all about your budget.
The hike we did was 20 miles. It was 100 degrees in the canyon on Aug. 26th. The cliffs are just as bad as you would imagine. But of all the rural and hard-to-get-to places in Arizona, Havasu Falls has to be the most worth it. The pictures are stunning, but being there is beyond cool. Happy hiking!