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A travel blogger documents his travels to various international destinations including countries that are not frequently visited such as North Korea and Lebanon.
Related URL: Cayman Islands Travel Blog

Documents the writers experience in the Cayman Islands, a country he now lives in.
Related URL: Volunteering with leatherback sea turtles

The writer documents his experience volunteering with tagging and assisting endangered leatherback sea turtles.
Blog Added: January 08, 2017 01:47:41 AM
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Great Wall of China – Jinshanling Section

I had the pleasure of visiting 3 sections of the Great Wall of China. Jinshanling was by far my favorite, I was also blessed with perfect weather, and almost no tourists to share the wall with. This wall is located 130 kilometers (80 miles) North-East of Beijing. It took approximately 1.5 hours to drive to from our...

I had the pleasure of visiting 3 sections of the Great Wall of China. Jinshanling was by far my favorite, I was also blessed with perfect weather, and almost no tourists to share the wall with.

This wall is located 130 kilometers (80 miles) North-East of Beijing. It took approximately 1.5 hours to drive to from our hotel, but the effort to get here was rewarding.

The majority of tourists that visit Beijing flock to Mutianyu, the section of the wall that is closest to the city, but this section is overcrowded. I cannot imagine it is very enjoyable. Meanwhile Jinshanling is stunning, in some sections there were no humans to be seen.

Out of all the hikes, temples, and activities that I saw in China, this was my favorite.

It was a life long dream to hike the wall, and I can promise that it is absolutely worthwhile to visit.

The one-way hike from Jinshanling to Simatai west is approximately 8 kilometers (5 miles) which under normal circumstances is not that much… but there are a lot of stairs here.

My personal favorite picture is below.

        I hope you enjoy the remaining pictures, I look forward to returning to China.



Discovering Monaco

I recently spent a week in Monaco, and prior to visiting everyone I had spoken to raved about the country. Since the goal of my visit was to learn about Monaco as I intended to potentially relocate there, I really dug in to try and get a feel for life in the most densely populated country in...

I recently spent a week in Monaco, and prior to visiting everyone I had spoken to raved about the country. Since the goal of my visit was to learn about Monaco as I intended to potentially relocate there, I really dug in to try and get a feel for life in the most densely populated country in the world.

Monaco is shockingly small, to walk from the Western border to the Eastern border takes approximately 45 minutes, and that’s if you are taking your time. While the country is tiny it can be awkward to navigate as the city is built on a mountain and you need to go up and down different levels of the streets to access anything. On our first day we used Google Maps which caused us problems, as Google Maps could not locate elevators, and often the only way to get anywhere by foot was to take an elevator.

Once we figured out the elevators it was quite simple to navigate. Monaco is shockingly clean, it’s even cleaner than Singapore.  Unfortunately, the reason it was so clean is that everything felt very controlled.

While I quite enjoyed Monaco, it had vibes of a dystopian society. I have never seen so many cameras monitoring my every movement. Everywhere you go there are cameras, and I was told by locals that all the cameras are monitored 24/7. Also, I have never seen so many police officers in such a small space. The police officers routinely pull people over. My friend who lives in Monaco told me that after he moved there he kept getting pulled over until the police knew who he was. We also spotted some racial profiling when a vehicle with dark occupants was pulled over when they were driving the speed limit and not doing anything wrong.

Some other strange things, the wealth is quite crazy and it’s like nothing that I have ever witnessed. I live Grand Cayman which is a very wealthy country, and even here there are no crazy displays of wealth like you will see in Monaco. Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s are a dime a dozen, and after a while it’s the new norm to see them, as that is what everyone drives. What I found distasteful were dogs with diamond collars which looked like they cost more than a house. Is that really necessary?

The cost of homes is also a bit outrageous. If you want to live by the beach be prepared to spend anywhere from $20 000 to $180 000 a month in rent.

Surprisingly, the cost of restaurants was fairly reasonable, and groceries were less than what I pay at home, and even cheaper than in North America. It’s nice to see that in this dystopian society people can afford to eat.

Even after all this strangeness, I still feel like I want to move to Monaco. The reason is the location is impeccable. It’s located in the middle of France, with easy access to all of Europe, especially Italy and Switzerland. I feel like living in Europe for 1 or 2 years would be an amazing experience. Monaco is also a nice walking city, something that I miss from living in the Caribbean.

Monaco was not perfect but it has a lot to offer. The restaurants are decent, the scenery is stunning, the people were friendly for the most part, and as stated earlier the location cannot be beat. I did one of the local hikes and it was a beautiful hike, and I was told there’s a huge number of hiking trails within easy access. I can’t wait to live somewhere where I can go on regular hikes, something that I loved when I lived in Vancouver, BC.

I also fell in love with the weather, it was the perfect temperature, as it never gets too cold and rarely gets too hot.

 



Visiting a Tribe in Embera Village – Panama

Panama is renowned for its ancient tribes living in pristine jungles. The problem is to visit these tribes you need to take a tour, as finding them on your own can be difficult. I completely avoid tours when possibly, but luckily I found a tour company that was founded and operated by Anne Gorden, an...

Panama is renowned for its ancient tribes living in pristine jungles. The problem is to visit these tribes you need to take a tour, as finding them on your own can be difficult.

I completely avoid tours when possibly, but luckily I found a tour company that was founded and operated by Anne Gorden, an American woman who is married to an Embera Villager. This meant she had inside access to the culture.

Embera village, is far enough away from Panama City that it’s not flooded with tourists. To reach this village is a one hour drive from Panama City, followed by a one hour canoe ride. The village is located inside the protected Chagres National Park. Considering it’s only 2 hours away from civilization it feels very secluded.

The entire tour was designed to financially assist the Embera people. Our canoe was piloted by two men from this tribe and part of our tour fee was donated to the tribe.

As soon as the village came into view it was a magical moment. The tribe stood there to greet us and were extremely welcoming.

I was smitten with how social the tribe members were. Families were the core dynamic here, and teenagers took care of young children, and in turn those younger children helped with the babies. All this while having fun, the children were laughing, and playing, something that is rarely seen in today’s technology obsessed society.

It was a welcome journey into a simpler time, when people were not distracted by the latest toys, or by trying to “get ahead”. Here people helped one another, and everyone was a true equal.

I loved how happy everyone was. One young boy was completely distracted by a soccer ball and was having a blast by himself.

This is one of those tours that should absolutely be done when visiting Panama. Going to see the Panama canal was underwhelming compared to this experience.

 



Smuggling a Video Out of North Korea

After returning from the DMZ we were scheduled to visit the war museum. This is the pride and joy of the DPRK, as this is where they collect the spoils of victory to showcase to the world. Outside the war museum, a huge number of statues feature the victorious DPRK battling back the imperialistic Americans....

After returning from the DMZ we were scheduled to visit the war museum. This is the pride and joy of the DPRK, as this is where they collect the spoils of victory to showcase to the world.

Outside the war museum, a huge number of statues feature the victorious DPRK battling back the imperialistic Americans. As in all art in North Korea, the North Koreans are shown to be strong, courageous, and fearless.

With delight, they allowed us to take endless pictures of tanks, jeeps, trucks, planes and weapons that were confiscated from American forces.

We were informed of how the mighty DPRK not only survived a surprise US attack, but managed to successfully repel the invaders. This with little loss of life on the DPRK side, and a huge number of casualties on the American side.

We visited the entire museum which featured endless propaganda. The main story being told was that the DPRK had the strongest army in the world, and no one would ever be able to defeat them.

It was a story that was told for our entire trip and it was nothing new. It’s just at this point in my trip, I was getting a bit exhausted at how brainwashed these poor people were.

I also learned, that as a Non-American I was being shown footage that was withheld from American tourists. I learned this by chance after talking to some Americans who visited the same places as me but were never shown the same footage.

This includes the footage that was shown to us aboard the USS Pueblo. This is a United States Navy Intelligence Vessel that was captured by the DPRK in January 1968.

The USS Pueblo is the centerpiece of the war museum. This is their proudest achievement and the entire capture has been turned into a propaganda story.

We were to watch a propaganda video which told the story of how those aboard the USS Pueblo were caught trespassing in DPRK water. The captured Americans then confessed to their war crimes, including spying on the DPRK. We were shown the verbal and written confessions.

Since I had a small camera, I decided to record this video. To sneak it out of the country I would later transfer the video it to a hidden folder on my computer. I then proceeded to delete the video from my camera. We were not allowed to take videos so at this point I was being a little bit reckless.

Near the quarter mark of the video I turned my camera off as a soldier approached. If you watch the beginning of the video, it gives you a great idea of the type of propaganda that is broadcast within the borders of North Korea.

After we watched the video a female guide asked if we had any questions. This is where we are supposed to nod and tell them how mighty their forces are, or that America was in the wrong.

Instead, I mentioned casually that this was not the history that I learned while visiting America. I insinuated that perhaps some parts of the video could be wrong. Angry, the guide informed me that it must be true if it is in the video. The entire concept of video evidence being fabricated did not exist in her mind.

I then suggested that maybe both countries had different sides to the same story. She did not like this response. My girlfriend pinched me to be quiet, and after watching my guide get even more flustered and angry, I realized that maybe I should shut-up. After all, saying anything that could be construed as negative to the DPRK could land you in a labor camp, and I was taking an unnecessary risk by trying to “defend” America.

I resigned myself to acknowledging that it was possible that I was lied to by the US government and I thanked my guide for showing me around.

Afterwards, when we visited the war museum in Dandong, China, we realized the entire war museum in Pyongyang was a clone of the museum in Dandong. The only difference, was the reporting in China was much more balanced. They also did not have the USS Pueblo as the centerpiece.



Visiting Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary

I’m usually apprehensive about visiting animal sanctuaries, as too many road-size zoos call themselves sanctuaries to make a quick dollar. As soon as I set foot at the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary, which is located halfway between Uvita, and Dominical, my worries were laid to rest. This is clearly somewhere that cares about the welfare of...

I’m usually apprehensive about visiting animal sanctuaries, as too many road-size zoos call themselves sanctuaries to make a quick dollar.

As soon as I set foot at the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary, which is located halfway between Uvita, and Dominical, my worries were laid to rest.

This is clearly somewhere that cares about the welfare of animals, and they had all types of Costa Rican wildlife, including some that were not popular such as raccoons. The nocturnal anteater stole the show as he performed acrobatics in the middle of the day and seemed to be thriving on the attention from our small group of six visitors.

Also included were many varieties of bird species such as macaws, and toucans.

Most of the animals had sad stories. One bird was shot in the eye by a pellet gun, one bird was found trapped in a 2 liter bottle as an attempt was made to smuggle him out of the country.

It was the talk of smugglers that really got my attention. The trafficking of wildlife in Costa Rica exists to supply an insatiable demand in the United States and Canada. I’m quite familiar with the barbaric practice of smuggling animals across borders, but for some reason it was something that I associated almost exclusively to Asia and Africa. Fortunately, it sounds like Costa Rica is being very proactive in stopping this shameful practice.

Learning about the trade to me was the take away from my visit. While I enjoyed viewing the sloths, raccoons, white-faced monkeys, and the myriads of birds, it was learning the inner stories of all these individual animals that resonated with me. It was a lesson in the ways that humans can be so cruel to animals, while at the same time observing the complete polar opposite, how another segment of humans can be so selfless as to volunteer so much time to rehabilitating and hopefully releasing these poor animals.

I would recommend Alturas to anyone in the Uvita/Dominical area. It’s a great way to spend 2 hours, and a fantastic way to support a non-profit organization. To enter a donation is required, which was $25 at the time of this writing.

Once you are finished with the sanctuary, take a minute to visit the restaurant to enjoy the spectacular view below.



Visiting the DMZ and a public library, in North Korea

To access the DMZ from Pyongyang entails several hours of driving on a large 10 lane highway that often only has one vehicle on the highway. The highway is large to impress outsiders, but because it is so large it is not maintained properly. The most interesting part of this drive was when we stopped...

To access the DMZ from Pyongyang entails several hours of driving on a large 10 lane highway that often only has one vehicle on the highway. The highway is large to impress outsiders, but because it is so large it is not maintained properly.

The most interesting part of this drive was when we stopped for drinks. I learned all about the different types of beer as well as how some beers come with extras inside them as is shown in the picture below.

We stayed in the nearby city of Pyongsong, in a hotel with traditional North Korean bedding. It was bedding on the floor with mosquito netting. It was probably my most uncomfortable sleep during my stay. Of course, as a tourist I didn’t complain about anything being uncomfortable, as I knew this was still better than 99% of the accommodations the locals were used to. It was also the worse food that I had during my stay. For breakfast, I could not bite into the toast they served me, and the only thing I ended up eating that morning was one egg.

After staying in Pyongsong, I was to see the DMZ from the North Korean side. Of course, North Korea takes advantage of every opportunity to give us lectures on how great the Dear Leaders are, and how evil the imperialistic Americans are.

We were lectured about how America was the mastermind against the reunification of Korea, and how South Koreans were puppets to the United States. This artwork depicts how the average North Korean wants to reunite. It stands for “One” unified Korea.

The propaganda was strong at the DMZ. At one point one of the DMZ guides shouted for us to look at a wall that featured a dozen flags. She then informed us, that if our flag was on this wall, our nation was responsible for the war against North Korea. When I saw some countries such as New Zealand and Norway, I had an internal chuckle.

What was most interesting was a conversation with a guard, who guarded the border. He took us aside, introduced himself, and started asking some very deep questions. You could tell that the wheels were spinning inside his head and that he was curious about the outside world. He kept asking us how outsiders perceived North Koreans, and that he was getting conflicting information. We both tried to be as honest as we could without bashing the North Korean government. It was times like these where I felt that us tourists were the only access to the outside world for these people. I felt there was a possibility that potentially we could assist someone with realizing how much their government was deceiving them.

What was even more interesting than the DMZ, was visiting the public library upon our return to Pyongyang. How can this be more interesting? For one, our guides made a big show of letting us know how access to the library was provided to everyone for free.

If you live in Pyongyang, you have access to the library. They then made a show of how there were books and music CDs from all over the world.

The library is like something out of a bad science fiction movie. You go to the ordering desk and you request a book from a specific country. To show us they had books that originated from everywhere, they showed us the process of ordering books that were published in the United States.

With pride, they showed us these books. One was a nature book and the other book was an encyclopedia on different breeds of chickens. Both books would only be read by farmers. In other words, neither book had anything that could be considered offensive to the DPRK.

When it came to music CDs a similar demonstration was given. The examples of music CDs was the Beetles for the United Kingdom, and nature music from Canada. Again, both CD selections could not compromise the propaganda.

Unlike a regular library, books and CDs could not be taken home. You could listen to the music or read your book at a designated reading or listening station.

What was left out of our demonstration, is that while the public library is accessible, only the most elite of North Koreans live in the capital. For most North Koreans, to visit Pyongyang they require special travel permits. Moving between different regions of the country is very difficult. On our way to the DMZ we witnessed a woman being pulled out of a bus crying as she was turned away from a border crossing. I assumed this was because her travel permit was rejected or her papers were out of order. She was clearly devastated and it looked like her world had ended. I felt horrible and powerless, as well as very resentful of the situation.

Like the rest of North Korea, visiting the DMZ was not so much about the actual location and the buildings, but more about the interactions with the locals.



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