Aruba, a small Caribbean island 29 km north of Venezuela, is a part of the ABC islands – Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, which forms the Dutch Caribbean and is a part of the Netherlands. It is famous for its white-sand beaches.
Egypt, locally known as Misr (मिस्र) is world-famous for its pyramids and ancient polytheist temples. I made a trip to Egypt in Nov 2020, during the COVID-19 era. Given the general lack of tourism, it was a great time to travel since I didn’t face any queues and in many temples, I was the sole visitor.
Very few people outside of the tourism industry understand English, so, it is good to make yourself aware of a few basic phrases. The equivalent of “hello” is “As-salamu alaykum”. To ask for a price, say “bekam da“. And of course learn the common numbers like five (hamza), three (thlath), ten (ashri), and twenty (ashrin) since these are what you will encounter on the street. And “I don’t understand Arabic” is “Ana mish fahem al Arabee”.
As a vegetarian, I did not face any problems finding food since Falafel and Ful sandwiches are aplenty and available for cheap (1-5 EGP per sandwich). The national dish Koshari is neither delicious nor nutritious. The Egyptian Pizza, Feteer, however, is darn delicious.
Glacier National Park, Montana is considered to be one of the most gorgeous national parks in the US. We went there in September 2020. It wasn’t snowing but the weather was still pretty erratic with random cold showers during the day. So, I would recommend going no later than August. Also, the east side, which has native American reservations were closed to prevent COVID-19 spread.
Dressing in at least three layers is highly recommended as the weather changes dramatically with heights and the time of the day.
- Dominica, the nature island, is not easily accessible via the mainland United States. The airport is small and only propeller planes can land here.
- The island is beautiful and is the only Caribbean island to have a rainforest. It is known to have 365 rivers.
- The currency is East Caribbean Dollar (1 USD = 2.7 XCD). The USD has full acceptance, though.
- Kalalau is the national dish. Its a soup made from Dakshin, and I would recommend trying it out.
- Public transport is better than most other islands but is still limiting if your itinerary is jam-packed.
- There are two towns, Roseau and Portsmouth. I would recommend staying in Roseau if you don’t have a rental car since most tours, taxis, and buses depart from there.
- Most good activities are on the south side of the island. The south faces the calmer Caribbean sea while the north side faces a more turbulent the Atlantic Ocean.
Cancun, or, more precisely, Cancún, is a coastal tourist city on the Caribbean (eastern) side of Mexico. There are two significant areas, Punta Cancun (tip of Cancun), also known as the Hotel Zone and Playa Del Carmen. We chose to stay in Punta Cancun. The Hotel Zone is walkable and you don’t need to rent a car if you are staying there. Buses are always available to go to other parts of Cancun though you rarely will.
After renting a moped in Thailand, I stopped at a small shop to ask for a petrol pump/gas station. Instead, the shop owner handed me a bottle of gasoline for purchase.
“Must be a peaceful country where they can sell gasoline in bottles.”, I said to myself, “In most parts of the world, people would use this as a petrol bomb during violent protests and riots.”
Cusco or Cuszo, an Andean city in South America, was the seat of the Inca empire and is home to world-famous Machu Picchu. I would recommend staying near the city center of Plaza De Armas (“Parade Square”). Most tourist activities are in and around the area.
Lassen Volcanic Park has a lot to offer for everyone. The park has wide roads, and most tourist spots are easily accessible. Here’s what I would recommend
- Subway cave Lava tubes – easy 1/3 mile underground hike
- Hydrothermal Areas – Hydrothermal areas from where Sulpher escapes regularly. Some right next to the road and some accessible via a short hike.
- Walk and play on snow-covered areas – all along the park
There are three strenuous hikes. I would only recommend one or two of these
- Lassen Peak – this one is snow-covered almost year-round
- Cinder Cone Nature Trail – This one is less strenuous compared to the other two. It is still hard due to the gravel-covered surfaceCinder Cone seen from the bottom
- Brokeoff Mountain Trail – this can be snow-covered hike depending on the time of the year
Half Dome hike
17-miles 12-hours with a breath-taking dangerous climb holding chains on the majestic half dome at the end. This hike requires a permit for the final half dome climb.
12-miles 7-hours hike. The trail ends at a point higher than the Half dome. One gets a great view of the park as well as the Half dome from here.
I would recommend doing only one of these two hikes in a single trip.
Scenic viewpoints and Small hikes
The lower falls are easily accessible with a short walk. The upper falls require a 6-mile hike. I only did the former.
Another gorgeous falls accessible with a short 10-minute walk.
Glacier Point provides a great view of the half dome for non-hikers. It is located about an hour away from Yosemite Valley and close to south exit towards Fresno. For hikers, I would recommend doing Sentinel Dome or Taft point; both are one-mile hikes with starting point about 2-miles drive from the Glacier Point.
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
Mariposa Grove has multiple hikes ranging from short walks to 7-mile hikes where one can see the giant sequoias. Due to time constraints, I only did the short hike here.
Where to stay
If you are doing in the Half Dome, then stay at the Yosemite Valley the previous night to start hiking early morning (4-5 AM). Curry Village has the cheapest lodging, and the camps are located conveniently inside the Yosemite valley. Book well in advance.
The park is huge. Roads wind around mountains and hilly. Driving inside the park can consume significant time, I would recommend planning for that in advance.
If you are arriving at MSP airport, then start your journey with the Mall of America. It is the largest shopping mall in the United States and is pretty close to the airport. Next, head to Minnehaha falls. It is the favorite fishing spot for the locals.
Start your day with Mill City Museum. The museum shows the history of Minnesota. You can see a beautiful view of St. Anthony’s Falls, the only natural waterfall on river Mississippi. St. Anthony’s Falls provided hydropower and made Minnesota the hub of white flour production in the world. The museum gives a beautiful view of the Stone Arch Bridge as well.
From there on, head to the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota. It is free and worth a small visit if you have time. Coming back to the downtown, Sidewalk Harp and Sculpture Clock are worth a shortstop.
Note: Most of the city, including the main airport, MSP, is well-connected via inexpensive public transport. So, you don’t need a rental car to get around.