10 Adventurous Tourist Attractions in China

10 Adventurous Tourist Attractions in China

The last post I wrote was called 101 Travel Experiences in China. Excited to share all of the experiences I had in China, both good and bad, I poured weeks worth of work into that post. But nobody read it. It was just too long. Plus, I made the mistake of putting in tourist attractions in China that were not worth doing. People don’t care about those – they just want to know what to do… not what not to do. So being the industrious fellow that I am, I condensed my 10,000 word behemoth to only those experiences that were truly adventurous (this is, after all, an adventure travel blog). They are the Best of the Best; the Eric Roberts of travel experiences if you will. So please enjoy. 1) Walk the Plank Road in the Sky on Mount Hua Located a short day trip outside of Xian, Mount Hua is one of the five sacred mountains of China and has a long history of religious and historical significance. Reaching the northern summit takes approximately 5 hours and requires ascending a series of steep stone staircases (like most mountains in China). Mount Hua’s crags and spines make for a beautiful, all be it, precipitous trek. So much so, that its been labeled the world’s most dangerous hike. Probably the most infamous of all the attractions is the Plank Road in the sky, located on Mount Hua’s south Peak. Fifty meters of wood precariously nailed to the side of a cliff takes you on a stroll 1000 meters above a spiky mountain range below. I was scared shitless before doing it, but I found that once I got there, it wasn’t nearly as bad...
101 Travel Experiences in China

101 Travel Experiences in China

Author’s Note: Recently, I spent 40 days traveling through China. I traveled mostly by train and hiked as often as I could, mostly on China’s five sacred mountains. In this post, I share with you both my positive and negative travel experiences. I took most of the photos – the exception being in the Potpourri section and a few other sporadic experiences. Thanks for reading and I hope you find this post a valuable resource for planning your journey through China. p.s. That’s a picture of me gagging on the gelatinous skin of an unidentified, fried...
Walking the Plank Road in the Sky: A Lesson in Overcoming Fear

Walking the Plank Road in the Sky: A Lesson in Overcoming Fear

Think of something you fear. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Conjure up the images, sounds and smells that accompany that fear. Did your hands start to sweat? Or your stomach turn flips? That’s how I felt whenever I thought about doing the Plank Road in the sky on a mountain called Huashan in China. Now that we are on the same page, What is the Plank Road in the Sky? Picture a two foot wide plank of wood stitched together with huge, but rusty, nails suspended 1,000 meters above a craggy mountain range. The 60 meter long Plank Road in the Sky, located on the South Peak of Huashan (near Xian, China), is a major draw on the backpacking circuit.  It is an attraction akin to the Death Road in Bolivia – a borderline right of passage for those that make a trip to the respective areas.  The mountain itself is no slouch. It is one of the five sacred mountains of China and is considered one of the most beautiful mountains in all of China. Just look at the sunrise from the South Peak (The sunrise from a Sacred Mountain is kind of a big deal to the Chinese). So I knew I had to hike Huashan. I just had to. What I didn’t know was whether or not I would be able to do the optional Plank Road section while I was there.  In the months and days leading up to the hike, I went back and forth in my mind about whether I could do it. Some people may find the Plank Road nothing more than an elevated stroll with a beautiful view.  Let me...
Inspire me! Top travel bloggers share their most inspiring travel destinations.

Inspire me! Top travel bloggers share their most inspiring travel destinations.

Looking for a destination that will leave you breathless or change your perspective on life? I asked 17 bloggers about their most inspiring travel destinations.  In search of the next great travel experience, I asked 17 travel bloggers a simple question “What is the most inspiring destination you’ve been to and why”? I thought I did some serious, badass traveling, but their answers truly humbled me.  I haven’t begun to crack open this world. Of the 17 destinations, I have visited only one (South Africa). I mean, how can I even compete with Brad’s entry of participating in a ritual of corpse dancing in Madagascar? Unbelievable! But I didn’t just receive destinations filled with adventure. No, I got some beautifully introspective answers as well. Like how Candice felt a deeper sense of appreciation in the once war-torn Bosnia & Herzegovina. She writes: There was a genuine feeling of gratefulness for life, and I feel it’s so unappreciated elsewhere. There is so much out there to see, taste, touch and experience in this big, beautiful world that it’s impossible to cram it all in. So hopefully these bloggers can narrow the field a tiny bit and give you the same case of wanderlust as they gave me. And so without further ado, check out some really inspiring travel destinations for 2015: The Phillippines Humanity shines even brighter amidst poverty.  I visited one of the biggest Slums in the Philippines earlier this year and it really taught me a lesson. Thousands of kids are living in Manila’s largest dumpsite and making their livelihood by picking up garbage. The living conditions in these slums are one of the worst I’ve ever seen. The people living there don’t really have...
The mostly overlooked, but greatly underestimated Mount Heng

The mostly overlooked, but greatly underestimated Mount Heng

A sixty-degree incline of stone stairs stood in front of me – 103 stairs to be exact. Atop the stairs was Beiyue Hall, a splendid Daoist temple halfway up Mount Heng in the Shanxi province of China. Mount Heng, or Hengshan, is one of the five sacred mountains of China. Already, I could smell the incense burning inside the temple. Standing just outside was my taxi driver and a woman from Sevilla I met the day before. I was surprised that Oscar, our middle-aged, portly taxi driver, was making the trek with us. When I reached the top, I found Oscar drenched in sweat; the last time he made the climb was 10 years ago. Still, he told me later, he would like to visit all five of the sacred mountains. The five mountains were the favorite pilgrimage points of Chinese emperors during the last 2,000 years. The five mountains are delineated by their direction: North (Hengshan), South (Hengshan as well, confusing right?), East (Taishan), West (Huashan) and Center (Songshan). Emperors from all major dynasties made pilgrimages to the mountains. They were, in effect, surveying the edges of their empire. Supposedly, Hengshan is the least important Sacred Mountain. The five mountains are strongholds of Taoist temples, although they also contain smatterings of Buddhism as well. Due to Hengshan’s northerly location, Chinese commoners mostly overlooked it in favor of the other, more accessible mountains. According to Wikipedia, Hengshan is the least important religiously of them all. Which makes Hengshan less crowded. As we hiked up, we passed a few groups of Chinese tourists on their way down. Since it was late in the day,...
37 Things Backpacking has taught me to be grateful for

37 Things Backpacking has taught me to be grateful for

I’ve lived outside the US for over 7 years. Most Thanksgivings, I was fortunate enough to spend time with other expats. Often, somewhere between carving the turkey and seconds of cranberry sauce, someone would inevitably bring up what they are thankful for. I always enjoy this part of Thanksgiving because it’s cathartic. But this year, I am backpacking through China and will not have a proper Thanksgiving with all of the literal, and metaphorical, trimmings. So, instead, I decided to write down some of the small things that have made me happy while backpacking. Most of these things are small; but I believe their sum is bigger than the addition of their parts. So here are 37 things that backpacking has taught me to be grateful for: My sense of direction – when it works. Acts of kindness from strangers because without them, I would be lost. Literally. A good book for those long flights and days of travel. Fully charged devices so I don’t run out of juice while taking photos or posting to social media. An extra battery pack for when I do run out. Being fluent in the international travel language (English). Sorry French, German and Spanish! Trains because they are so much more convenient than planes. My ability to go multiple days without a shower. The ability for those around me to cope with me going multiple days without a shower. My ability to eat almost anything. Seriously, I’m like a goat. Local markets and all of their rich, exotic and tasty food. Remembering Immodium and Pepcid AC for after the local market. Leaving cold weather...
How to eat Scorpion in Beijing

How to eat Scorpion in Beijing

In the heart of Beijing, off the side of one of its busiest streets, lies a peculiar market. It’s where tourists go to test the saying that the Chinese will eat anything with four legs and isn’t a table. Actually, the saying shouldn’t be restricted to only four legs, really anything that lives and breathes is a potential food for the Chinese. Flying lizards, beetles, grasshoppers, snakes, scorpions, organs of cow, pig and chicken – the Chinese are not restricted to one Phylum let alone one Class of food. I have my eye on a row of black scorpions. The street vendor notices immediately and begins his pitch. “Scorpion good. Taste like Chicken. You try. Come.” I am still a bit nervous from a run in twenty minutes earlier I had with a snake. It had a slimy, gelatinous texture and even the four scoops of chill sauce dumped on top couldn’t suppress an overtly reptilian taste; something like fish that had gone rotten. Part of the problem was that I couldn’t seem to locate any actual meat, just the scaly, translucent skin. I ate two bites and chucked it in the trash-bin. “Come, come. You try.” He diverts my attention away from the huge black scorpions, to the smaller, brownish variety. The scorpions are skewered on small wooden dowels and displayed in rows. The wiggles of tails and clamping of claws prove their freshness to connoisseurs of scorpion in Beijing, before they are unceremoniously fried. I am no connoisseur, just a tourist with a peaked interest. On my first day in China, I posted on Facebook that I was starting with...
Inside the Mountain that Eats Men: A Photo Tour of the Potosi mines

Inside the Mountain that Eats Men: A Photo Tour of the Potosi mines

The deep thud of the blast ripples along the stone walls of the mineshaft. The walls are laced with moisture, the liquid appearing out of nowhere and everywhere. The explosion brings with it a light breeze and the earth shakes around me. It is hot, damp and hard to breathe 30 meters below the earth’s surface. The mask that I wear, made of a material similar to cardboard, is now more black than white. Only 45 minutes earlier our tour group had witnessed the placement of 10 sticks of dynamite. To maximize the explosion’s effectiveness, each stick was muzzle-loaded into its own two foot hole using a makeshift metal rammer. The men stuffing the holes are dinosaurs in the mine, close to 40 years old. The BBC reports that the average lifespan of the miners is 35. Nine more explosions sound off in rapid fire, like an underground 21 gun-salute. Then silence. The blast unearths the bounty of tin, zinc, magnesium and silver encased within the walls. The minerals are collected by the lowest laborers on the totem pole and hauled up to the surface in iron carts. When compared to the young faces pushing them, the carts seem positively ancient. History To history buffs and avid South American travellers, the Potosi mine or Cerro Rico “Rich Mountain” needs no introduction. Up until recently, I was neither, so taking a tour of the mine was an eye-opening experience. Potosi mine has been in operation since 1546, originally under the auspices of the Spanish crown. The silver rush exploded here and buoyed the rise of the Spanish state. Potosi city held the largest industrial...
10 Things that are different in Germany compared to the US

10 Things that are different in Germany compared to the US

1) You can’t name your kid Blanket In Germany, the local Stadsamt can veto the name of your child if the proposed name doesn’t reflect the sex of the child or if it may endanger the well-being of the child. So sadly little Espn and his sister Yoga will probably not be getting their birth certificates in Germany. Then again, Helmut, Mechtchild and Waltraut will pass with flying colors, so maybe it’s better to skip the approval process entirely. 2) Animal sounds In Germany, animals may look the same and even sound the same to you, but the “Ol’ McDonald had a farm” song sounds completely different. A rooster doesn’t say “Cockle a doodle doo”, to a German they say “kikiriki”. Whaaa? Oh and as a bonus, Germans don’t say “Ouch” or “Ow” when they get hurt, they say “Aua” (pronounced like “Ow-wah”). To an American, it’s very weird. 3) Time commitment to Hobbies Germany is a land of regulation. It’s not so easy to just pick up a hobby like it is in the US. Want to play golf? You need to take lessons, get a handicap and join a club. Public courses are few and far between and most of them require a proof of handicap card anyways. You have to invest a lot of time in your hobby of choice, so it is my experience that Germans are usually very good at their free time diversions. Whether it be singing in a barber shop quartet, horseback riding or having an awesome mustache, the time commitment for your favorite hobby is no laughing matter. 4) American Pop culture references are...
25 Reasons why you should visit the Salar de Uyuni

25 Reasons why you should visit the Salar de Uyuni

1) To climb on modern ruins The first stop on our journey into the Salar de Uyuni was the Railroad Cemetery. You are free to explore these modern ruins, climbing on top of them or searching out their gutted innards. Our guide Abel, explained to us that the area was used by American Engineers during the silver rush here in the 1860s. Decommissioned trains were stashed here and used for parts. Eventually the Silver-mine closest to the cemetery was closed down and the trains were left to wither and become part of the barren landscape. In the picture below, you can see that it’s not only trains that the Salar has claimed, a dog has also succumb to the harsh environment. 2) To feel a deep connection with nature Now don’t go and call me a hippy just yet. Hear me out. The Inca and other indigenous tribes have held pagan beliefs in Bolivia for a thousand years. Although Christianity was introduced by the Spanish 500 hundred years ago, today the connection with nature is as palpable in Bolivia as pop culture is in the United States. Need an example? Pachamama, or mother earth, still receives sacrifices in the form of Llama fetuses before any construction is undertaken in Bolivia. The landscape is so beautiful and awesome (and I believe I am using awesome in it’s proper form here), you begin to understand their veneration. 3) Because Zorro is here Well, Zorro just means fox in Spanish, but still! Officially the Andean Fox is a protected animal. Unofficially, some locals chop off their tails or noses because they are considered lucky. Run Zorro, Run! 4) To let your...
How to conquer the death road (and live to tell the tale)

How to conquer the death road (and live to tell the tale)

Feed Pachamama what she needs! After two hours in the bus, we finally reached our destination, a parking lot at the summit of the Death Road. The 15 of us filed out of the van as our driver spryly scampered up to the top of it and started loosening the bungie cords from the bikes. After testing out our bikes around the parking lot, we assembled around our young, be-freckled guide. He gave us the first of a series of safety briefings and afterwards, ironically, pulled out a bottle of 100% alcohol for us to consume. We all took a shot and poured a little out for a homie. That homies name was Pachamama, the Inca God of Mother-Earth. Our guide explained that it was a tradition to pour out a little liquor so that Pachamama would be appeased and wouldn’t take out a blood offering instead. Maybe we should have poured out a little more – Pachamama would have her blood offering...
5 World Travelers That Will Inspire You (and how to follow in their footsteps)

5 World Travelers That Will Inspire You (and how to follow in their footsteps)

Ah, the World Traveler. Just invoking the word probably brings up a stock image to your mind. For some, it may be a picture of Indiana Jones – rugged, resourceful, intelligent and never left without a witty comeback due to his years of worldly experience. To others, it may be a feminine role model. Again, maybe we dream up something from pop culture and insert Julia Roberts from Eat. Pray. Love. as the quintessential representation of the benefits of world travel. But these representation have become clichés (even if Eat Pray Love was the memoir of Elizabeth Gilbert, the idea of the transformed person through travel has taken on a life of its own and become overused to ad nauseam). What we need are real travel heroes. People that are much more human and don’t have hollywood producers behind them. At least not yet…. (Click the title at the top of the email to read the rest of this...
Thank you Bolivia for Reminding me

Thank you Bolivia for Reminding me

“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas Thank you, Bolivia, for reminding me of who and what I am. I had forgotten. It’s been a slow process and I can’t pinpoint when it was that I started to forget. Maybe sometime during college, maybe even before. Perhaps during high school when I was trying to get over my lanky awkwardness. Perhaps it was later, when I was working at a multinational company, a small cog in a giant machine. And I don’t know why I forgot either. Maybe it was because I was too busy going to parties and having a good time during school. Maybe it was because, afterwards I was too obsessed with my career. Maybe, it’s simply because that’s what you are expected to do when you grow up. In any case, I forgot. Thank you, Bolivia, for reminding me that I like being outside. I forgot how good the sun feels in the early morning, right when the coolness of night is just a faint breath in the air, and the earth is starting to soak up the life-giving heat. Or the way the wind feels when it rushes past me as I ride a bike downhill, the wind whipping my cheeks and shouting in my ear something that only I can hear. Thank you, Bolivia for holding me in the dance of the earth. I remember the feeling. On your ground, I really looked at the stars. I used to do that when I was a kid – look up at them and take in all of the possibilities of what could be out there – contemplate how...

Samaipata, Bolivia – Markets and Ruins

We arrived in Samaipata late at night. The chill of the night reminded us that we should be finding accommodations quickly, preferably somewhere that had central heating… Then we remembered, finding central heating in Bolivia is about as common as spotting a jaguar at a national park (Jaguars are hard to spot if you didn’t catch my drift)… Click on the title at the top of this page to read the entire...
Santiago de Chiquitos – A little town with a big view

Santiago de Chiquitos – A little town with a big view

Santiago de Chiquitos is stuck fifty years ago in time. But it’s not a bad thing. Come to think of it, outside of the major cities (Sucre, La Paz, Santa Cruz) most of Bolivia is beautifully stuck. Cows and donkeys have as much right to the road as cars.  Laundry is often done in flowing streams and horses are a valid form of transportation.… (Click the title at the top of the email to read the rest of this...
US Citizen’s Visa Requirements for entry into Bolivia

US Citizen’s Visa Requirements for entry into Bolivia

Arrival at Port of Entry We arrived at the dusty border town of Corumba, Brazil in our silver 2011 Chevrolet around 3 pm, ready to start our epic road trip through Bolivia. But first, the small matter of getting into said country. I knew it was going to be a pain in the ass to cross the border to Bolivia when the owner of a small currency exchange shop remarked with a shake of his head “You are American? Muy Complicado…”. Up until a couple of years ago, Americans didn’t require a Visa to visit Bolivia. However, that all changed when the president, Evo Morales, decided that it was unfair that Bolivians were required to obtain a visa to travel to the US, but it wasn’t so the other way around. “Fair is fair”, I am sure he thought. And to be honest, if you have all your ducks in a row before you get to the border (unlike me), you should get through without too much trouble. Visa Requirements for entry into Bolivia: Yellow fever certificate Economic solvency (a copy of a credit card sufficed) Passport (valid for at least six months) Hotel / hostel reservations or invitation from a host family Return ticket home 135 USD No Passport Photo was required of me, but officially they can request it Bring two photocopies of everything During my initial research on the border crossing, I had read that Bolivia’s border guards could be pretty lax; sometimes they didn’t request anything except for the 135 USD. That was wrong. They wanted it all, in duplicate, and I didn’t have anything...

Making the best of a travel delay in Chapada dos Veadeiros

I arrived shortly after 6 pm. The sky was a haze of red, yellow and blue, punctuated by wind swept clouds and palm trees that dotted the horizon. Although it was a nine hour drive from Uberlandia to Chapada Dos Veadeiros, a table top mountain near Brasilia, I looked out over the expansive landscape with satisfaction. I was happy that things were working out. After the World Cup ended, my plan was to join two Brazilian friends on an epic road trip across South America. Ahead of us lay Bolivia, Peru and Chile. Unfortunately, beaurcratic documentation issues set road blocks in our path. Our trip would be delayed by a week so that everything could be sorted out. There was little I could do from my side. I don’t speak Portuguese and these were matters with the Brazilian state. Wheels needed greasing, and when gringo hands are involved, the cost of lubricant increases significantly. So I reviewed the surrounding area, picked a place that I had never been before, rented a car and 9 hours later I was in the Chapada dos Veadeiros. I had done minimal research on my destination. I made it to my hostel in the town of Alto Pariso, located on the outskirts of the Chapada, shortly after 8pm. I parked opposite my accommodations near an open square the size of a suburban back yard, mostly brown, with patches of green, a seesaw and bouncy horse. To my surprise the park was inhabited by a score of hippies. Was some jam band having a concert in the immediate vicinity? I strode over to gawk and investigate further. Dreadlocks, sundresses and Rastafarian colors were...
What’s it like to attend a world cup match: part 2 of 3

What’s it like to attend a world cup match: part 2 of 3

Bosnia vs. Nigeria You arrive at the stadium in your Duplo rental car. It’s not the sexiest car in the world, but it does the job of transporting you and your 5 other friends to the stadium. If it gets you from A to B, what else matters, you always say. After you park your car, you realize that the car hasn’t done it’s job completely. A lock on the door isn’t working. Have a friend return the car to the airport, while you and the others scope out the bars near the stadium. Easy to get along In the bar you are at, you count at least 7 different nationalities. Your group accounts for 3 of them. Bosnians, Nigerians and Germans all want a picture with you. Your not sure why it is so easy for everyone to get along at the World Cup. It’s different than club soccer, where the pride in a team can turn violent much quicker. You think about it long and hard. Why is the atmosphere at a World Cup game so inviting? What is it about the event that makes people buy you beers, give you jerseys from their home country and want to learn your nation’s chants? And why is that guy dressed up like a nun? You figure you have drank too much beer, so the answers are not going to come to you now. You instead, learn a Bosnian chant, forget it five minutes later, down your last beer and walk on towards the stadium. Stadium security You approach the security line. It snakes back and forth through 10 rows...
World Cup Memes: How Brazilians take the piss during the Cup

World Cup Memes: How Brazilians take the piss during the Cup

Ah, the World Cup. A time of fierce competition, where heroes are created and unknowns become household names. The World Cup is a time for people to come together to watch games and show their patriotism. It’s also a great time to take the piss. And Brazilians seem to be quite good at it too. Below is a selection of Brazilian World Cup Memes currently circulating around whatsapp, forums and blogs. 1) Useless Fred World Cup Memes Fred is a player on the Brazilian national team that gets dissed so often, I am starting to feel really bad for the guy. Generally, they think he is useless. It’s not that he plays bad, it’s just like he isn’t playing at all. Translation: Fred being carried off the field   Translation: Good one, Thiago Silva   Translation: I’ll go directly to the club… didn’t even sweat.   2) Neymar getting hurt Neymar’s back injury (broken vertebrae) is certainly a topic that everyone is talking about in Brazil. Can Brazil win without him? Shouldn’t the player that injured him from Colombia be suspended? (Ok, so these memes are also about Fred, but now they incorporate something new: Neymar’s injury.) Translation: Campaign – Fred, donate a vertebrae to Neymar   Translation: Brazil already had Hulk, also had the Invisible Man and now we will have Professor X (This Cup is already in our pocket).   3) Making fun of Dilma Before the World Cup, there was constant chatter about Brazil “buying” their 6th championship. In the game against Mexico, Brazil failed to pull out a win. Thus, a thread of memes came out...