Archive for the ‘Adventure Sports’ Category

Life Underground

April 28, 2012

Imagine living eleven stories below ground – in an underground cave city with 50,000 of your closest friends.  It would be difficult to envision life in darkness, illuminated only by oil lamps and having to traverse a maze of tunnels and staircases etched out of a soft volcanic rock (called “tuff”).  Co-habitating down there with chickens, horses, and probably a token society weirdo or two, it’s amazing the lengths these Christians went to hide from the Romans in the Byzantine era.  Very narrow and winding hallways made attacks difficult, and large round stones were situated in key doorways to roll and block an intruder from advancing.

Life down below the ground in the Cappadocia region of Turkey included chapels, a school, winery – all of the essentials for life in the 5th Century and each carved out of the rock many levels below ground for its specific purpose.  According to a very knowledgeable tour guide, there is even a honeymoon suite or tiny private nook for newlyweds amongst the group sleeping quarters.

Think District 13 in The Hunger Games, but without elevators, electricity or Katniss.

Any claustrophobes still reading?  Well count me among you (no shame!), and I wasn’t actually aware just how claustrophobic I was until I was faced with climbing seven stories below ground with only one way out and hundreds of tourists blocking that route.  I made it about two levels down before I hit my personal emergency button and exited, leaving James alone with the camera to capture the Kaymakli Underground City.

The one photo I could muster in the Kaymakli Underground City before evacuating for fresh air. Note James is ecstatic, while I am having a panic attack.

When I saw the photos James emerged with, I was glad I didn’t stay and venture where he went – he had to crouch to even get down one winding staircase (those clever Byzantines! If I was Roman you’d be safe!).  Observe:

Long, winding staircase hundred of feet below ground in Kaymakli Underground City.

This could be a private home, a meeting place, a classroom – my guess is a death chamber. Who could live here?!?!

NO THANKS. I’ll just get killed by the Romans instead.

So after this initial panic situation, James was a bit concerned how I might react to the next TWO underground cities he had on the itinerary.  One about 10 times the size of Kaymakli.  Our solution was to find a local guide to take us around and point out what the heck we were looking at down there as well as to provide the quickest escape route possible if necessary.  Luckily, you can hire such guides right outside the entrance of the larger underground cities (Derinkuyu), and we found Mustafa who was happy to show us around for a mere 30 euro (quite a bargain).

For some reason I felt much safer with a local guide, and was able to venture a bit deeper than I had at  Kaymakli, which felt crowded and chaotic.  Derinkuyu was by far the best of the underground cities, but likely because Mustafa really brought it to life by describing the purpose of every nook and cranny in the carved city (including a place to store eggs).  Since this city was much larger, some of its rooms were also quite sizable, and Mustafa (who was well-versed in guiding claustrophobic tourists 8 stories below ground) kept us in the larger areas.

Large dining hall in Derinkuyu.

I can breathe down here…sort of.

Claustrophobia aside – really, this is just incredible.

I haven’t written much about it yet, but the Cappadocia region in Turkey is really one of the most amazing places I have ever seen.  Even traveling to Africa or Australia, I never felt so far from home as I did in this land of fairy chimneys, hidden cave churches and cities, hot air balloon rides and incredible rock formations.  And, this is the map the entire region uses (car rental places, hotels, etc):

Not really helpful and definitely not to scale.

What a fun adventure!  More to come on Turkey and Cappadocia…

Kauai Revealed…or not

August 11, 2010

I like to think I’m an adventurous person (hey, I’ve been skydiving twice and even did this), but I am constantly reminded what a scaredy cat I really am.  So many things frighten the bejeezus out of me, such as bugs, some varieties of fish, and the thought of falling off a cliff to a rocky death.  Coincidentally, all of these things also make up a trip to Kauai.

Enter Kauai Revealed – one in a set of books written by locals for tourists-who-want-to-feel-like-locals and experience things only those who have spent years exploring the island would know about. The book has special chapters just for those super adventurous people who prefer to risk death over relaxing while on vacation. The most important lesson learned while using this book as a reference is realizing that a Hawaiian’s standard for “adventurous” is likely 10X riskier than yours, wherever you happen to live.  We discovered this while struggling to accomplish even the most basic outing: hiking.

Hiking = walking with a backpack whilst surrounded by trees, no?  Not in Kauai!  This island is home to some of the most extreme hiking trails in the world, including the legendary 22-mile round trip Kalalau Trail along the cliff’s edge of the Na Pali coast:

This is definitely not me.

That one was definitely out of our league, so one day while exploring the island we attempted to find something that was more suitable to our minimal hiking experience (we live in the urban jungle of NYC). The Kauai Revealed book talked about a nice trail that led to the famous Wailua Falls of Fantasy Island fame, but it was supposedly unmarked and therefore unknown to most tourists (and discouraged by officials).  All we had to do was count 100 meters backwards from the guardrail by the falls and there would be an unmarked but well-traveled opening.  After a bit of searching, we found the spot that would seem most obvious, mainly identified by – what else – an open air Jeep.

We assume the Jeep people have the same book we do, so we embark down the trail – and dooooown it goes.  We climb down to the riverbed, grasping onto tree roots and slipping on the clay-like soil. James finds a walking stick the size of a small tree, which saved my life about 4 times.  We finally reach the leafy bottom near the river and follow the water towards the falls.  Easy! Except then the trail kinda sorta disappears. So we try to figure out the most obvious way one would get to the falls (which we could literally hear!), but each route we tried ended in almost falling to our deaths.

While contemplating whether to forge ahead or turn back, we hear noises and realize it’s the people from the open air Jeep.  Lo and behold, an older man and an even older woman come hiking along from the opposite direction. We make polite conversation and ask about the remaining trail, and find out that there is one point that has only ropes to help you traverse a rock wall (hm, totally not mentioned in the Kauai Revealed book) and we also discover that this woman is 82 years old and hiked further than we were able to!  I had to ask her secret (aerobics!), and then we made one more attempt to make it to the falls so we weren’t shown up by an octogenarian (albeit a very likable one).

An 82-yr old woman did this??

Alas, we never made it to the bottom of the falls, but it was such an adventure regardless.  The best part was that the hike uphill from the riverbed was much easier than going down, so we survived!  Maybe next time, we’ll heed the signs from the beginning…

Binoculars – Check!

June 17, 2010

I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice (you might remember the dire oversight I made on my trip to Botswana by forgetting binoculars on safari).  In the event of a majestic breach by one of the thousands of Maui humpback whales, I wasn’t going to miss it!

A quick primer on buying a pair of binoculars:

  • What the numbers mean when looking at binoculars: 8X32 essentially means 8X magnification and 32mm lens.
  • Don’t go crazy for magnification – the higher the number, the shakier the view will be.  For whale watching, stick to around 7-12X magnification.
  • The bigger the lens, the more light you will get, but they will also get bulkier the larger you go.
  • We found this Tasco 8X25 pair to be ideal for travel – durable, with a neck strap, and comfort lenses for easy viewing on a moving boat.

Spotting whales from the shore in Maui.

We booked a whale watching cruise through the Pacific Whale Foundation.  The price was super reasonable, and they had several knowledgeable experts explaining the behaviors and biology about humpbacks.  They even dropped a “hydrophone” into the water so we could listen to their whale songs.  Being that it was the very tail-end of the season, we weren’t expecting to see much of anything (however, they do guarantee sightings through May).  We spotted several different groups of whales – first evident by their exhalations (BLOWHOLE!) – typically a mother and her calf, since the calm waters of Maui are ideal for nursing.  Immediately after the blowhole sighting, you’ll see their “humped back” as they swim along, and then after a few exhalations they usually dive back down hundreds of feet under the water.  This is the point at which you’ll see their flukes, or tail. Sometimes they’ll play at the surface and wave a fin in the air, and on very special occasions a whale will excitedly breach above the water. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to see this from start to finish close up, but we saw some breaches from far away and caught the tail end of a few.  It must really be a sight to see right by the boat (if you’re as obsessed with whales as I am).

I sooo did not take this photo, but whoever did is a very lucky (and talented) person.

In traveling to Hawaii during whale season – October through May – there’s a good chance you’ll have a sighting just from shore, if not from a whale watch cruise.  You can park along the Maui bay and just wait for the action, like James here:


Even with the clear waters of Maui, it’s still difficult to see the entire creature and appreciate its enormity. I sometimes wish I had the means (and courage) to see a whale up close, but in the meantime I’ll get my fix from Youtube:

Underwater Cameras Suck

May 5, 2010

Well, the disposable ones do (I mean you, Kodak!). Seriously though, we were actually snorkeling in crystal clear water with visibility of 100+ feet, and this is what we got (James was the photographer):

The "best" of the bunch...

There's a turtle in there somewhere. Really! mean you can't see the two turtles near this large coral mass? I swear they were awesome!

Definitely a turtle! I think?

I am sure you can buy a nice digital camera with a clear waterproof case and all, but I think I snorkel once every two years, so is it too much to ask for a disposable camera with a range of more than 4 feet?

I heart snorkeling?

In a Few Days…

April 14, 2010

I’ll be here. Sigh.