When it comes to tourism, talk of Denmark far too often revolves around what is, perhaps, one of its most unimpressive and disappointing landmarks – the Little Mermaid. This sorrowful lass reclining by the sea is not ugly. And yet, she is not beautiful. In truth, the Little Mermaid is bland. She is a small statue crafted in a style that neither captures the entirety of the female form in vivid detail nor the essence of it through less specific but still compelling lines and curves.
She stands as an example of what happens when you take something mediocre and attempt to force it to greatness. With people, they sometimes excel – rising to the moment and to become something truly spectacular. With statues…well…they just become a disappointment. Something to take a photograph with, for the sake of taking a photograph, before moving on to the discovery of things that are more compelling and engaging.…
I was deep in thought, a conversation about something that seemed relevant at the time raging as my friend and I lugged our heavily-laden backpacks down the road toward our campsite in the B section of Roskilde’s sprawling camping area. So, it was with some surprise that I looked up and realized that the chain link fence to our right was lined by people. These people were a mixture of men and women, some in the midst of their own conversations, but all diligently focused on not falling over while peeing on the fence. The men unashamedly looked around, equipment in hand and fully exposed, as they artistically sought to wet the criss-cross of metal links. The women, casually enjoying a public squat, were a bit more furtive in their efforts. Some had friends making some effort to block their naked bodies, while most just embraced the moment with a very typical Danish pragmatism. It’s just a naked body, right?…
Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden and Denmark, have a long tradition of painting the facades of their houses bright colors. These often change from building to building creating a veritable rainbow of color as one looks down the street. While this practice is somewhat common throughout the city, there are several prime examples hidden away along the city’s historic back streets. While the most famous of these is Nyhavn which can be found on nearly ever postcard from Copenhagen, the rest are far more obscure. This list is intended as a local’s insight to showcase locations you won’t find in your average guide.…
Just around the corner from Kastellet, Copenhagen’s historic star-shaped fortress, are a series of old buildings dating to the 1600s which served as the fortress’ military barracks and naval dorms. Painted a vibrant military orange, these ancient buildings are awash in charm and character. Their brick walls and windows are all uniquely shaped having gradually sagged over the centuries as the ground shifted and changed beneath them. Today some still serve as military accommodation, though others are general residential or have been converted to small shops or restaurants. You’ll also find quite a few bikes leaning against their ancient walls…which certainly adds to the charm and makes them one of Copenhagen’s less known, but still must-see sights.
Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.
Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.
To this day I experience a strong longing to return to Argentina. It is, perhaps, one of the most over-looked destinations on earth when one considers the natural majesty, rich foods, and incredible experiences it provides. While many talk about and dream of a trip to New Zealand (I know I did) the central and southern parts of Argentina rest at the same latitude (if not further south) and are home to the equally impressive Southern Andes.
One of my favorite places in south-central Argentina is the Patagonia region and more specifically the Perito Moreno glacier. Situated in the midst of some of the most exotic barren desert you’ll find anywhere in the world, a 15 minute drive delivers you to incredible waterfalls, stunning glaciers, and mossy green forest. The easiest point of access is by way of El Calafate: a rugged windswept town perched on the side of a large glacially fed lake. Added quirk? The town has seasonal flamingos that add even more rich color to the landscape.
Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.
Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon G11, I now shoot on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.
Claustrophobia is a scary thing. Well, it ought to be it ends in phobia, right? Luckily it hasn’t ever really been something I had to worry about. Granted, I come from Arizona where we’re famous for our wide open spaces. After all “Don’t Fence Me In” could just as easily be about Arizona as Montana. Perhaps it’s no great surprise that cramped into a a tiny hole, deep under ground, in a yellow jumpsuit with a hardhat on,in a foreign country,I finally met my match. But wait! Before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.
I’d arrived in Budapest two days earlier, fresh off a flight from Copenhagen, Denmark. After years of near-misses, I’d finally managed a trip to Hungary’s famed capital. A city known for its beautiful architecture, the Danube, fantastic music, good food, decent beer, an unreal hostel and party scene (There are over 125 hostels in Buda and Pest).
My brother David who authors DavidBerger.net had suggested several ‘must-see’ stops during my stay. One of which was a cryptic suggestion to, “see the caves, they’re incredible!”.
Once settled I asked the hosts at Aboriginal Hostel what caves David might have been talking about. They immediately dug up a great flier for what looked like a fun caving expedition. It sounded great. They jokingly mentioned “I hope you’re not claustrophobic” before suggesting I wear closed-toed shoes and then booking me for the following day. The tour was cheap – less than $30 – and lasted several hours. It also had that authentic “backpacker” type of feel where you know you’re signing up for an adventure but have no clue just what it is you’ve actually signed up for. Not thinking much more about it we dove into several local spirits, some of which were marginally potable, and then headed out on the town for a fun night at a random bar’s theme party.
As you might imagine, the next morning was a bit rough. Not concerned I downed some water and struck off to meet the tour guide for our odd multi-leg public bus trip out to the caves (remember: only the most luxurious tours for me). It turned out the caves were located just outside of (and partially beneath) Budapest in the 20+ km long Pál-völgyi-Mátyás-hegyi cave system. For those interested the cave system is the longest in Hungary and located in the Duna-Ipoly National Park.
At the meeting point I connected with a fun mixture of other travelers. A number of Americans, a few Aussies, a person or two from elsewhere in Europe and no doubt at least one Kiwi. Here it’s worth noting that I was the tallest of the group by a decent margin. I’m 6’4″ (192 cm) and about 200 pounds (91 kilos). Normally not an important fact, right? Well, in retrospect it should have dawned on me that not all cavers are created equal.
Eventually our guide showed up, we caught the next local bus heading across to Buda, and the adventure began. It wasn’t until the hot bus started struggling up that hill that my hangover really set in. It wasn’t terrible, but let’s just say I turned a shade of green and was definitely keeping an eye on the absolute fastest way off the bus, just in case. Luckily, the ride was short and the fresh air left me feeling chipper and human again in short order.
Looking the Part
In quick order we were all given multi-colored full body jumpsuits and hardhats with mounted headlights. Then we were advised to leave valuables (including phones, large or expensive camera equipment) in the lockers. With heavy reservations I decided to only take my Canon G11 with me, figuring I could fit it safely inside my jumpsuit.
In these situations you never know if the nifty outfit is the tour company’s gimmick to make you feel more hardcore or if it’s genuine safety gear, necessary for what you’re about to dive into. I’ll admit, at this point I assumed it was a 50/50 split between the two. Getting into the darn thing was its own side adventure, but before long we all found ourselves suited up and ready to go.
In a last minute change of heart I decided to risk it and ran back in to grab my video camera. I’m a travel blogger after all, what kind of travel blogger would I be if I left my expensive camera equipment in a locker just because it “might” get hurt, right?
Then it was off to the cave’s mouth. A small metal door set into the side of the mountain. We paused for a brief safety brief, figured out how to turn on our headlamps, and then made our way inside. What was waiting for us was a decent sized tunnel about 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide that we were able to shuffle along before pausing in an open room for one last helmet and safety check.
Then it was time to truly start step over the threshold and get the tour kicked into full throttle. In no time we were descending a long stairwell which plunged into the darkness below us. The air was cool, but not unbearably so, and only slightly dusty.
The path from the bottom of the ladder opened up into a small room called the Chapel where German Soldiers had hidden during World War II. We paused briefly to collect ourselves and to take in the mud/sandstone cave walls before diving into what, at the time, seemed like a small tunnel into the next room.
As we slowly wound deeper into the cave system, and each narrow piece of the cave got tighter and tighter, I definitely caught myself smiling appreciatively. The heavy duty jumpsuits we were wearing were 100% utility and not just a gimmick. The same quickly became clear for the helmets, as you could regularly hear the sharp crack and corresponding “ooph” as members of the group misjudged ceiling height, or forgot to keep their head ducked.
Learning the Superman
Eventually we hit our first real challenge. One of the long, and tighter crawlspaces. The guides (both relatively small guys) pulled us into a group and explained that to get through the next space and those like it ahead we would need to go into superman position. Superman position? Yep – one arm forward to pull, one against the body to reduce space, and with our legs pushing, kicking and worming us forward through the tunnel.
Fair enough, right? We were here to do proper caving after all. So, eager to push on but feeling slight trepidation as I dripped sweat from the exertion of getting through the areas we had already covered, I could feel my hungover muscles cry out in protest. I shrugged it off and dove head first into the next hole. It was tight. Really tight. As in, I was temporarily stuck tight. Feet pumping, arm scrambling for hold on the slick clay and smooth sandstone, I inched and wriggled my way forward as the small hole slowly arced forward and then up into the new open space. Luckily the person behind me was able to brace my feet slightly allowing me the traction to push myself the rest of the way through and out. It was fantastic. It was difficult. I was starting to shake a bit.
As we paused on the other side recovering, I looked down to see the yellow of my sleeves along my arms had turned a darker color. The dust in the air quickly turned to a soft layer of mud as it met my face and I panted, recovering from the physical exertion of pulling myself through the hole. But, I wasn’t truly concerned. After all, my brother had done this already, right? He’s my height, has 40 pounds on me, and a more muscular build. If he hadn’t had issues, then it was time to double down and push forward. There’s nothing like a little sibling rivalry to get you to push on in a moment like that.
We continued on through wider chambers, other narrow rooms, and odd spaces that while fairly tight were more challenging because of the way you’d enter them. One required sliding down feet forward, standing up, then turning sideways, squeezing through a narrow area and then semi-falling/semi-lowering oneself into a face-forward push-up position before crawling forward, down and then back up through a hole.
We walked, we slid, we butt-scooted, we crawled and we squirmed our way along until we paused a second time before another tight space. The guides told us we’d have to superman through this one, as with the other ones, but that it was the tightest we’d be doing on the trip. They also mentioned that we’d have to turn our helmets sideways in one part to fit through properly. I could feel my heart beat surge. My muscles were throbbing in protest, threatening to cramp. I was drenched in sweat. David did it. I can do it. It was time to put my game face on.
A Lump in my Throat
We slowly crawled forward, waiting for the person in front of us to squirm forward. All the while being mindful to avoid their flailing feet and offering a head for them to push against as needed. Then it was my turn. The first part was tight, but manageable. I had to be extra careful as I had both my digital camera and video camera strapped to my chest inside my jumpsuit. They made me wider and also meant I couldn’t rest all my weight on my stomach. Just what the largest guy in the group needed, right? In surges of energy I slowly wriggled my way forward, kicking and pulling before resting briefly to catch my breath. Head turned sideways, lamp light offering only a partially illuminated view of the space I crawled forward, and upward. I felt stuck even while moving. The space was too tight. I was too tired. The muscles in my core screamed in protest. Was I stuck? What would I do if I was? Was I going to throw up? Then, finally, I was partially through and could bring my other arm to play. Slowly I dragged myself out of the 10 or so foot long tunnel and out into a larger crawlway.
I was shaking visibly. My mind raced running through how I might get out, my palms were sweaty and muddy as I wiped them on my yellow jumpsuit leaving long streaks. Adrenaline surged through my body. I wanted OUT. Slowly I collected myself, I slowed my breathing, relaxed my muscles, and took control of my thoughts. It had happened, I’d finally experienced and now truly understood claustrophobia.
As we paused and several of the guys tried squeezing through a tiny hole only our guide could manage I waged an internal war. My dignity, my pride, my mind fought the primal urge to get out, to quit and a deep fear that I would get stuck in the next tunnel. It’s that feeling you feel right before riding a massive roller-coaster the first time. It left me shaken. I wasn’t a quiter. People did this all the time. Some had to be bigger than I was and they must have made it without issue. I could do it. I had to do it. What was my other option? Going BACK the way I’d come? Not likely. All the while I tried to figure out just how my brother had made his way through it before me. He was my size after all and far more muscular. Tentatively, hands still shaking slightly I asked the guide if there were any more like the last tight hole ahead of us. “Only the Sandwich” he responded, but that’s optional. Relieved I made the decision to suck it up and to push ahead.
I’m not sure there was really an alternative option, but either way I’m glad I did. Instead of giving in to the fear I mastered and conquered it. I pushed through, fought through a few more tight spaces (though none were as tight as the last) and enjoyed the experience as we paused to look at deep-sea fossils, random rock formations that looked (and had been shaped into faces), and explored larger galleries that felt like lavatubes.
When the time came to split off and to do the “Sandwich” I did opt out. I figured I’d had my fun and there was no sense pushing my luck. As we sat waiting in a small space where the two routes re-connected I remember hearing one of the smallest girls on the trip call out from in the midst of the sandwich. “I’m stuck”. Luckily before long she’d squeezed through and rejoined the rest of us.
The trip was an amazing experience. Despite (or perhaps because of) the hangover, the brush with claustrophobia, and the bucket full of dust I inhaled it was a thrilling adventure. It teased us, challenged us, threatened us, and eventually applauded us for our effort. It was amazing and hands down one of the best adventure tours I’ve been on. It shared some commonalities with the amazing flooded ATM cave tour I had done in Belize, but had its own unique and very different feel.
A few weeks later I had the opportunity to chat with my brother. Apparently there are two caves in Budapest you can do as a tourist. He’d never heard of the cave tour I did. The one he had suggested was heavily stabilized, wide open and naturally beautiful. Oops. When I told him about the spaces I’d squeezed through he physically shivered, chuckled and muttered “I’ll pass, thanks!”.
On returning to the hostel and chatting about the cave, one of the hostel employees mentioned that on his trip a guy with shoulder issues had signed up and gotten stuck/thrown out his shoulder halfway in. They had to bring in a huge cave rescue team to get him out and the tour took several hours beyond the norm.
If you find yourself in Budapest, are in decent shape, think you can brave tight spaces and don’t have any shoulder or knee issues I strongly suggest taking the caving tour. It really was spectacular!
Like the photos and video in this post? The photos were taken on a Canon G11, see the newer Canon G12 on amazon. The video was shot on a Canon Vixia HF200, view the newer HF R200.
My legs pumped furiously. The burn forced a slight grimace. Mossy step after mossy step I launched my 6’4″ 200 pound frame up the narrow staircase. Still damp from my swim in the falls and in a subtle supplication to the region’s tropic environment, I’d long since sacrificed my t-shirt. My jeans were darker around my waist, revealing where I’d lazily pulled them on over my still-wet boxer briefs. Pausing briefly to look up and take stock of my location, I quickly realized I was nearing the top of the island – the Isla de San Martin. A gorgeous spire of land that stands resolute against the falls. Located smack dab in the center of the river, the one-time peninsula has gradually been overwhelmed leaving a small island with steep cliff faces, a wealth of local wildlife, and incredible views of the falls.
As I reached the top and the narrow stairs gave way to a wider path, I found my attention swinging sharply to my right as a rustle in the underbrush startled me to alertness. As I hopped back slightly a large lizard about the same size as a fully grown iguana slowly stalked its way out of the underbrush. Harmless (to the best of my knowledge) I still kept my distance, quickly reaching for my camera and video equipment. All the while eyes locked with the creatures armored scaly flesh and piercing dark eyes. Tongue periodically flicking out, it carefully stalked across the path before being startled in turn by a passing tourist, at which point it launched itself forward and into the brush.
What had started as a perfectly cloudless day had now evolved into something far more picturesque. Still sweltering hot with leave-you-drenched humidity, puffy made-for-Hollywood clouds had formed up and drifted in. I found myself facing a fork in the road. Two paths, each to different sides of the island and different views of the falls.
With a chuckle at the decision facing me I quickly started to meander happily along the path to the right with a gentle hum on my lips and a skip to my step. My initial fears had been proven completely unfounded. This truly was a natural wonder of the world and a destination that I’d already realized would go down as one of my favorite experiences to date.
As the jungle gave way to bushes, small pools, and grassy areas it was obvious I had entered the more recently cut/oft flooded area of the island. I could hear – almost feel – the roar of the falls and found my glasses constantly misted by the water in the air.
Iguazu’s charm isn’t just that it’s one of the largest waterfalls in the world. It’s the contrast of stunning rich green moss and vegetation cut by vibrant white falls all set against incredibly blue skies. In some areas large clumps of moss and flower-covered stone appear to hover in space, suspended by white pillars of water.
The view from the lookout was incredible. Located immediately next to and over parts of one of the major falls the sound was thunderous, the spray from the falls invigorating, and the plant life in bloom. All the while, inexplicably, a small army of gorgeously colored butterflies survived the humid river air and waterfall spray, to flutter in and around my head.
After a few minutes spent in consideration and perhaps relaxed meditation I struck back to the center of the island where I came across the most peculiar of wild birds. Mostly black, the little creature had two vibrantly colored blue eyebrows which left it looking more like a comedian than avian predator. I slowly stalked the strange creature pausing to take several photos and enjoy its odd coloring before striking down the island’s second path.
The route wound me along the opposite side of the island and gave me a view of the Brazilian side of the falls, as well as my first taste of what I’d later come to learn was fondly called the Devil’s Throat. As I walked I paused, once again, to capture an incredible combination of sights. A large vulture was resting in one of the branches which left a view of the falls perfectly framed. All the while one of the local tour boats – boats like the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls – rushed at, and into one of the smaller falls before being driven back by the force of the water. Though obviously modern, I couldn’t help but feel as though I’d been transported back through time to a distant, wild, and undiscovered jungle. Places such as this must have served as ample inspiration for authors writing great romanticized texts like the Lost World.
As I wound back down, caught the small ferry back to the mainland and began my trek back up towards the top of the main falls I found the path full of wonderful delights. Small places that demand a brief pause, some to enjoy the brightly colored flowers, lazy fluttering of butterflies, and others a beautifully framed view of the falls.
The path back towards the top of the falls offered fantastic close-up views of the falls. The amount of water, and the sheer power of the falls themselves is staggering. It left me feeling small, insignificant, and fragile.
One of the things that makes the falls so gorgeous is the different types of falls present. Some are mighty chutes, others are long thin curtains, yet others are tiny streamers spitting out tiny trails of water.
Growing a bit tired from my hike and having already burned through my entire bottle of water I was thrilled to stumble across a small store and food stand sandwiched back and away from the falls. For a relatively reasonable price I was able to buy a mediocre sandwich, new bottle of water, and small soda. As I ravenously set upon my sandwich I quickly discovered a new friend – an odd grasshopper/cricket with incredibly long legs and antenna. As we enjoyed brunch together another of the area’s local creatures, a Coati, emerged from the underbrush and began to make his rounds. The raccoon-like creatures are the size of a mid-sized dog or large cat, have long noses, large tails and tend to be particularly friendly, though I avoided trying to give him a scratch on the head.
Re-fueled and ready to renew my adventure I struck out along the path that offered an incredible look out over/along the leading face of the falls. Viewed from the top, rather than the middle or bottom, it really dawned on me just how expansive the falls were and how much water was passing over them.
My next destination was the fall’s main cutting edge – the Devil’s Throat. The path to it was a small adventure in and of itself. A raised metal walkway which cut out and across the massive shallow-water river. The walk spanned a number of small islands, was mostly raised over the water, and lasted some 5-10 minutes. The small islands along the route (most the size of a small house) were full of gorgeous butterflies, and the water offered the periodic sight of a large catfish or turtle lazily relaxing in the gentle current.
As I approached the throat I could hear it roar, and see a small plume of mist. Obscured by the smooth curvature of the water’s forward face as it gently bent before breaking completely into a churning cauldron the true size of the Devil’s Throat was invisible until I got closer.
A giant V, there is a semi-dry island which serves as the secure base for the raised platform which stretches along one side of Devil’s Throat offering otherwise incredible views of the falls.
The thunder of the falls made conversation difficult as I paused to talk to several other travelers. The view out over the falls was spectacular. With thick mist obscuring everything down river, the whole area was turned into a magical wonderland. Decorated by rainbows, birds were diving in and out of the mists. It left me feeling as though I was floating in a magical city.
As spectacular as the rest of the falls were, I think the most magical part of Iguazu was the view out over Devil’s Throat. The way the water was ejected out off of moss and grass covered cliffs into the mists, with bottom in sight left me feeling as though I was on one of the floating islands from the recent blockbuster Avatar, or the magical Cloud City in Star Wars. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was….dare I say it? Mist-ical.
My state of awe seemed to slow time and left me enjoying the sheer wonder of the falls for what may have been a few minutes, but was more than likely closer to half an hour. Even now, several months later, as I think back to that moment I can close my eyes and feel a sense of awe wash over me. Aware that I was burning, hungry, and exhausted I eventually tore myself away from the falls, made the walk back to the small in-park shuttle train, and then found the bus back to Puerto Iguazu.
The falls at Iguazu are one of those places that I hope everyone will visit in their lifetime. The weather can be problematic, the route to get there expensive and time consuming, but I can say with complete confidence that it’s all worth it. Travel always touches us and leaves us changed. There are some places, however, that go beyond that and captivate our hearts. For me, Iguazu Falls was one such place.
Questions? Have your own experiences at the falls? Please share them in a comment or as a tweet and remember, you can subscribe to this blog by RSS OR get my updates delivered directly to your e-mail. Thanks for reading!
Like the photos in this post? They were shot on a Canon G11, check out the latest version the Canon G12 on Amazon.
It’s not something widely mentioned. However, get a few travelers gathered around a fire or in a circle at the hostel bar, and you’ll start to hear it talked about: the surprising regularity at which travelers run into each other. Often these reunions happen several times over the course of a trip, sometimes hundreds (thousands?) of miles and countries apart. It’s always a surprise, though it shouldn’t be, and is usually a welcome occurrence. It happens in internet cafes, hostel common rooms, and even at random on the city streets. It seems to defy common sense – after all, the world is a big place, isn’t it?
The truth is, we make the world we explore significantly smaller by following pre-established paths. The most significant of which is what I’ve come to call the Lonely Planet Trail (LPT). If you’re like most20-30 somethings planning a backpacking/hosteling style trip you probably opted for a Lonely Planet guide book. Why? Because frankly Fodor’s, Rick Steves‘ etc. have done an excellent job servicing their own niches but lack real value for the average backpacker. Meanwhile Lonely Planet has targeted backpackers and done a great job developing a useful resource. A resource which has become the go-to guide for backpackers the world over and holds a special spot in most backpacker’s packs, right next to their socks and underwear.
It makes sense when you think about it – no matter how random or willing we are to go off the beaten path, we’ll still take all the help we can get. That help (hostel information, things to see/do, even a map) typically comes in the form of a blue book with big white text on it. Which, comically enough, adds a certain level of standardization to our travel route. The most entertaining part is, that it’s almost inescapable. I can be a bit of an Ox at times and it’s not unusual for me to take off on a trip without doing a lot of research, having an itinerary or taking a guide book and yet, I’ll still find myself on the Lonely Planet Trail. Why? Because the recommendations I receive, tips and must sees are all driven, in large part, by Lonely Planet.
Going to Guatemala? What should you see? What should you do? Where should you stay? It’s all there, just a few well worn pages away. Ask ten backpackers and you’ll probably find that 80% of their responses are similar/nearly identical and not without good reason. Lonely Planet does make very legitimate recommendations. But, those recommendations are also something to be very mindful of when charting your trip. There’s a lot of stuff out there that didn’t make it into LP or that the author’s might not have liked/missed. Don’t assume that if it’s not in the book, it’s not worth seeing.
Personally, I enjoy traveling along the LPT – in no small part because it ensures a more social experience. It’s not, however, ideal for those who are really looking to break free and engage with the local population. People often complain about how little time they spent away from other travelers. I’d suggest that it’s often because they mistake hostel travel for truly immersive travel – which isn’t always the same.
My biggest suggestion for people who find themselves traveling the LPT is to take a critical look at the suggestions before making decisions. Is LP great for finding accommodation? Yes. Is it good for finding local “must see” attractions? Usually. Is it good for budget/authentic food recommendations? Definitely not. Tour companies? Hit or miss.
At the end of the day, I think the thing to keep in mind is that once a company/venue is featured by Lonely Planet, they’ve become the default go-to source for that service. Which often results in a decrease in quality, increase in prices, and a decrease in availability.
As you chart the course for your next trip, make sure to take these factors into consideration. Remember, your ultimate goal is to get what YOU want out of the trip and the best way to do that, is to examine even our most trusty travel tools with a skeptical eye.
Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye out for YOU on the Lonely Planet Trail. No doubt, we’ll share a pint soon!