Right On - Off-Season!

Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park

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Walking the road at Grand Teton National Park.

Walking the road at Grand Teton National Park.

Last fall at the Nature Photographers of the Pacific North West Conference (NPPNW), I won a door prize. It was tuition to the 3rd annual Yellowstone Photo Symposium in West Yellowstone sponsored by Perfect Light Camera. I usually would not consider visiting West Yellowstone during the last week of April while there is still snow lingering in depressions and many of the roads and trails are not open.

But a paid tuition was something I could not pass up. We booked our room at the Three Bear Lodge, reserved an Airbnb to add-on a short visit to Grand Teton National Park, and off we drove across the Palouse of western Washington, through the Idaho panhandle, into the Rockies.

Through the Palouse and on to Grand Teton National Park.

Through the Palouse and on to Grand Teton National Park.

Grand Teton National Park was accessible by road, but most of the trails were closed due to snow. We discovered a unique gem when we found that Teton Park Road from the Craig Thomas Visitor Center to Jenny Lake was closed to vehicle traffic, but open for walking and bicycling. We put on our snow boots, grabbed our picnic lunch and had a quiet walk; just us, the snow, the Tetons, and a few bicyclists who also were out for the beautiful day.

Grand Teton National Park landscape photography: “Always look for the foreground, middle-ground and background.”

Grand Teton National Park landscape photography: “Always look for the foreground, middle-ground and background.”

The Yellowstone Symposium was the first time I had an opportunity to spend one solid week focusing on photography. The photographs by the instructors were awe-inspiring. Throughout the week, I wavered back and forth between wanting to sell my camera and quit taking photos because "I could never be that good," and wanting to head out in search of wildlife with my camera in hand, shouting "If they can do it, so can I!"

Caryn Esplin, Professor of Visual Communications at Brigham Young University was my favorite presenter. As an educator, she had a great attitude, perfect delivery, and practical information. One of her main points was following the four P's: Plan, Photograph, Polish and Publish. I can do that! I also signed up for her critique session and a class in studio lighting.

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Wild bison. My photos seem so ho-hum.

Wild bison. My photos seem so ho-hum.

Practice with my iPhone and studio lighting. Model is photographer  Kaili Orchard

Practice with my iPhone and studio lighting. Model is photographer Kaili Orchard

Photographed at the  Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center,  West Yellowstone.

Photographed at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone.

Pam Hoaglund (also from the Olympia Camera Club) and I went to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center to practice what we learned at the symposium. There were less than a dozen other visitors at the center and only one other photographer. We had the place all to ourselves and the animals were beautiful.

Photographed at the  Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center,  West Yellowstone.

Photographed at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone.

I like taking photographs when the animals are close and standing still. But alas, they are in a zoo.

“You looking at me?” Photographed at the  Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center,  West Yellowstone.

“You looking at me?” Photographed at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone.

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It was cold at Old Faithful.

It was cold at Old Faithful.

In addition to the Symposium, I found an added bonus and the best value of the trip - off-season travel. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park are great places to visit when the weather is cold and the crowds have not moved into the area.

In the off-season, the main roads are open, Old Faithful is active, the geyser basin is steaming, the lodgepole pine are recovering from fires, the skies are sometimes clear, and there are no crowds or lines! Some of the businesses were closed, but we had a nice room and a selection of places to eat. There was no wait at the West Yellowstone entrance station and traffic was light even when bison were trudging in a line down the middle of the road.

I would not have considered traveling for a photography week so early in the spring. But everything was right on!

If I had not won such a prize I might have missed the gift of off-season travel in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

Thank you Perfect Light Camera.

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Not Old Faithful, but still amazing.

Not Old Faithful, but still amazing.

One of the first signs of spring, the robin.

One of the first signs of spring, the robin.

Flip Flop Envy

Bocas del Toro, Panama

While visiting friends in Bocas del Toro, Panama, I was reminded that I am healthy, wealthy and wise. I am fortunate to travel with the body I have. 

I’m ready with my mosquito protection.

I’m ready with my mosquito protection.

Bocas is remote. I need to take three flights to meet with friends for a week in a tropical paradise; Seattle to Houston, Houston to Panama City, Panama City to Bocas del Toro. 

On the last leg of my flight to Isla Colon, I notice the cute clothes of my fellow female travelers; bright floral flowing dresses, worn soft cut-off shorts, Panama hats, tanks tops big enough to peep-show fleshy pits of cleavage, revealing spaghetti-strap t-shirts, and thin little flip flops. I think "That looks like a lot of fun to wear; contemporary tropical island costumes.”

Now boarding on the tarmac, Panama Airlines, at the Bocas del Toro airport.

Now boarding on the tarmac, Panama Airlines, at the Bocas del Toro airport.

“I could wear those cute little outfits.” I work out, take long walks, watch my caloric intake, and my weight is well within the recommended healthy range for my age. So even at 60 years old, I can comfortably wear the current fashions.

But looks can be deceiving. What I can do, is not necessarily what I want to do. 

My favorite beach bar on Bluff Beach, Bocas del Toro.

My favorite beach bar on Bluff Beach, Bocas del Toro.

Bocas del Toro is a small island on the Caribbean side of Panama and an excellent travel value, suitable for digital nomads and travel bloggers. Low rise with no franchise, there are plenty of inexpensive lodging and food options.  There is an excellent travel infrastructure, and the ex-pat community assures that there is plenty of English written and spoken. Bocas is shabby sheik for the traveler, not many tourist attractions, but it does attract surfers, musicians, retirees, and pirates. 

I’m here for a week to enjoy the island life, visit old friends, and make a few new ones. 

The road less traveled is full of creatures ready to eat me alive.

The road less traveled is full of creatures ready to eat me alive.

Before heading to the white sand beach for a swim at Island Plantation on Bluff Beach, I wonder "Which should I apply first, sunscreen or insect repellant?" I need to do both. Does sequence matter? I slather up and hope that combining the chemicals won't melt my clothes or mutate my skin. I reinforce with a long sleeve shirt and long pants. 

I find that mixing chemicals isn’t my only concern. 

Listening to live music at Pier 19, the musicians sing out “, and the living is easy.” I can hear the music, but I have a tough time understanding the conversation. Separating sounds is challenging. I love live music, so I wait for the break to catch up with friends. 

I can either listen to music, or concentrate on a conversation, but not both at the same time. 

Bocas Yoga was a great reminder to be mindful.

Bocas Yoga was a great reminder to be mindful.

After a year hiatus, I just started back with my yoga practice, and I was very thankful to go to Bocas Yoga. Not all poses are suitable for my current physical condition, and I need to continually remind myself to be "non-judgmental, and it is all good.” Modification of poses is part of the journey. 

I also had two insights during my practice. “Physical and mental modifications are valuable. I must leave one place before I can go to another place. Every day we go forward, and we leave something behind.”  

I have left a few things behind. 

After taking a water taxi to Carenero Island to visit friends, we hike through a jungle swamp to a favorite local hangout, Bibi's Beach Bar. As I step over mud and muck on the trail, am glad to be fully dressed in my Permethrin treated long pants and long sleeve shirt. Again, still, I'm bitten by bugs!

I was glad to have something between me and the mosquitos. 

The swamp was crawling with critters ready to eat me.

The swamp was crawling with critters ready to eat me.

One of the few tourist attractions on Bocas, “Castilo Inspirrcion, Museo del Plastico.” A castle made of plastic bottles.

One of the few tourist attractions on Bocas, “Castilo Inspirrcion, Museo del Plastico.” A castle made of plastic bottles.

Inexpensive, excellent authentic food.

Inexpensive, excellent authentic food.

On our way to lunch at Yaris Nori,  I sit in the back seat. The drive is beautiful, but motion sickness begins to cloud my head and spin my stomach. I don’t mention it to my friends, but I am glad to sit still at a beachside table with a margarita. 

I can’t ride on twisty roads without rising motion sickness. 

This blog may sound like a list of complaints, but it is not.

Getting sunburnt hurts and has lasting health risks. Being bit by mosquitoes is playing Russian roulette with the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes including: malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, chikungunya, yellow fever, filariasis, tularemia, dirofilariasis....  the list is too long!

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Physical fitness is a necessary journey. Motion sickness isn’t fun. Being uncomfortable brings out The Snarky Traveler and can ruin a beautiful day at the beach. 

With flip flops or hiking boots, a tank top or long sleeves, a cover-up or a bikini, I don't need to dress like "The Blond Abroad" to be an interesting international traveler blogger. 

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I am healthy, wealthy and wise enough to know how to travel with my body and its nuances. It will take me where I want to wander. I don’t need flip flops or form fitting fashions.

I can be myself, "Whelan on Walkabout” no matter what I am wearing. 

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Not The Target Tourist

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

After being sick for a week in Penang, we needed some time to chill. We wanted to stop hiding under the humming motors of air conditioning. We wanted to go someplace cool. 

When I think about Malaysia, I don’t think of “Bashful,” or any of the other six dwarfs.

When I think about Malaysia, I don’t think of “Bashful,” or any of the other six dwarfs.

Looking through the tour books, blogs, and Trip Advisor, we found mixed reviews and recommendations for visiting Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. 

Our homework wasn't promising us much, but we had the time and hey, we were in Malaysia. What's not to like?  It is listed as a top thing to do in Malaysia, and it wasn’t 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity.

So we booked a room, and got on a bus.

The hills above the coastal urban areas are known for strawberry farms, tea plantations, agriculture, and a mild, comfortable climate. 

We committed to our Airbnb with only a little information about the area. The room had a small kitchen, a nice sitting area and a balcony overlooking a berry farm. It was close to shops and restaurants, and it would be good for our last two days in Malaysia. 

 

When we got there, we found the area very developed. The Butterfly Farm, the Cactus garden, the Bee Farm, the Strawberry Farm, tea plantation tours, the "Time Machine Museum" and other human-constructed attractions have overshadowed the natural beauty of the high jungle. I'm really not interested in spending time and money at those attractions.  

From our room, we had a view overlooking the famous Cameron Highlands’ strawberry farms.

From our room, we had a view overlooking the famous Cameron Highlands’ strawberry farms.

Rows of new corn in the Cameron Highlands.

Rows of new corn in the Cameron Highlands.

We were disappointed to find no trails and very few ways to access natural areas. The Highlands is clearly catering to the weekend tourist who is willing to pay a few dollars to be entertained for a few hours.  I also expect that numerous large bus tours stop at the shops and tourist attractions. 

Not to be deterred from seeing something 'real,' we hired a guide from Eco Tours Cameron for the day to take us out to see the Highlands' jungle. Keith was very excited about the opportunity to see more birds, so he hired a guide for a half day birding tour. 

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The guide picked us up before dawn and took us to a city park, not far from the local High School. There we were able to hike a trail through a section of the rare remaining jungle. We walked along a path that followed a small stream, past campsites, and picnic areas. It was quiet, and I like taking hikes in new places.  We found no mention of this place in our pre-trip homework. 

While on the trail, our guide would call out "there's a 'so-and-so' bird" and point at a tree or shrub.  Keith would find it in his binoculars and repeat the bird's name with much satisfaction.  

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Next Keith would call out  "there's a 'so-and-so' bird" and point at a tree or shrub. They were having a great time taking turns finding little peeps hidden in the jungle. 

I had fun just being there, outside, on a trail, surrounded by exotic native vegetation, and not sweating.  That's what I wanted to do. 

We hiked along a small jungle stream and listened to the noises of the natural landscape.

We hiked along a small jungle stream and listened to the noises of the natural landscape.

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Aside from the day with the guide, we didn't find much appealing about Cameron Highlands. We had a tough time finding food, and what we finally selected to eat was not good.  In fact, our two meals were the worst of our entire trip to Asia. 

I like pine cones.

I like pine cones.

I'm sorry that they chose development and tourist attractions rather than taking advantage of the area's natural beauty and wild spaces.  I wouldn't call it ecotourism or sustainable tourism. 

I'm not sure what I would call it; maybe "Tourist Tourism"? I could call it "something for somebody else, not me." 

How many people travel to buy keychains and cactus plants?

Not this wanderer. I already have a keychain. 

Anyone need a strawberry key chain?

Anyone need a strawberry key chain?

I’m glad I saw the Cameron Highlands, but it isn’t on my list of favorites.

I hope their target tourist has a great time.

A “Steven King IT” clown in the hotel lobby.

A “Steven King IT” clown in the hotel lobby.

Double Whammy

Chinese New Year In Penang, Malaysia

It all started with a beautiful ferry ride to the island of Penang, Malaysia. But, things didn’t go as planned.

It all started with a beautiful ferry ride to the island of Penang, Malaysia. But, things didn’t go as planned.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. And I don’t mean “better” than expected.

Both of us got sick. Not one at a time, so well could help the ill, but overlapping sick for Chinese New Year.

Two of us sick, each with two ailments.

We alternated between intestinal discomfort, then coughing and aching. I am weak and tired, thinking, “I am dying,” and my dear traveling partner starts in with the same routine.

Our view from our bed. Some days we didn’t get out of our apartment.

Our view from our bed. Some days we didn’t get out of our apartment.

I missed seeing Wonderfood and the Trick Art Museum!

I missed seeing Wonderfood and the Trick Art Museum!

Being sick sucks. But getting sick while traveling really double sucks. It’s a double whammy.

When I wasn’t sleeping, I took a look at the pile of tourist brochures in our Airbnb. Penang is set-up and ready to collect every available tourist dollar brought to the island. I found the number of tourist attractions staggering.

Here are some of the places I didn’t visit while I was sick: The Asia Camera Museum, the Ghost Museum, the Ibox Glass Museum, the Made In Penang Interactive Museum, the Penang 3D Trick Art Museum, the 3-D Floressent Art Museum, the Upside Down Museum, the PG Gold Museum, The Phantamania Illusion Castle, the Sun Yat-sen Museum, the Live Magic Show, the Penang Time Tunnel History Museum, the Owl Museum, the Zombie Museum, the Toy Museum and The Lost World of Tambun Theme Park Hotel and Spa.

Look across the tree canopy.

Look across the tree canopy.

And that doesn’t include any of the shopping and dining locations I missed!

On one day between my feeling ‘better’ and Keith getting miserably sick, we did get to visit The Habitat.

We stood in line for one hour before we got on the funicular to the top of Penang Hill.

At the top, it is like a County Fair. Food vendors, balloon vendors, a place to take a photo of you and your sweetie under a plastic flower heart, clowns with balloons, and that guy that draws funny cartoon characters that are supposed to look like you. Not my type of place.

But after we leave the circus, there is the rich second growth jungle, the giant black squirrels, the monkeys, well paved meandering trails, and walks that take you above the forest canopy.

The canopy walkway at the top of Penang Hill, The Habitat.

The canopy walkway at the top of Penang Hill, The Habitat.

Look up! Wow. That’s tall.

Look up! Wow. That’s tall.

Look down. (Did I mention that I like ferns? )

Look down. (Did I mention that I like ferns? )

The experience is both big and small. Trees tower overhead, and lizards scurry away. Views stretch to the ocean, and running water trickles under nearby foliage.

Just when I thought I was getting better, Keith got miserably sick. While my sick as a dog traveling partner slept, I had a chance to visit the Heritage Precinct of Georgetown’s New Year Celebration.

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Four large city blocks were closed to traffic, and most of the historic family temples were open to the public.

There was the Heaven Region, the Earth Region, The Human Region, and the Harmony Region. Each with cultural exhibitions by Clan Houses. Stage names included the Stage of Cantonese, the Stage of Hainan, the Stage of Wushu, the Stage of Hokken Opera, and the Stage of Loyalty and Ambiguity just to name a few of the interesting titles.

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Seventeen stages of activities, each one with three or more performances every hour from 4:00 till midnight. Despite the numerous opportunities, I was disappointed that I missed all Lion Dance performances.

The streets were packed with families eagerly supporting their performers. I saw grannies dancing, traditional musical instrument performances, and I was amazed when six young children dressed in their Sunday best tried to remember their dance moves to Pit Bull’s “Fireball.” They were so cute! They had no idea what that song is about.

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I saw a Diabolo performance by young men on the Stage of Thanksgiving, and on another stage, I watched what had to be a High School Musical Theatrical song and dance complete with teenage boy meets girl angst. There were traditional musicians, a harmonica player or two, several youthful singers, and some things I just didn’t understand at all.

This had to be “High School Musical” for the Year of the Pig.

This had to be “High School Musical” for the Year of the Pig.

My favorites were the groups of ‘mature’ women all dressed in matching outfits doing dances as best as they could remember. Their supporters cheered them on from the crowd below.

Now appearing on Stage 3… and on the sidelines “I don’t think that is appropriate.”

Now appearing on Stage 3… and on the sidelines “I don’t think that is appropriate.”

Games for the kids.

Games for the kids.

One of the most prominent activities, by far, was having your photo taken, or taking a selfie. First, there is the selfie alone, then with friends, next serious, and lastly a silly selfie.

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The next day, another call to prayer echoes across the city and another shop keeper sets off fireworks to clear away any evil spirits. I fell asleep after lunch, and slowly I wake to again watch the pigeons on the rooftop below.

I was at the Chinese New Year Celebration for only a few hours, but I felt like I was partying all night long.

Seven nights in Penang, and I leave wishing I visited more than two activities. It was a comfortable place to be sick, but given a choice, I would opt out of getting sick.

My New Year’s resolution for the Year of the Pig is: Don’t get sick while traveling.

Anyway, that’s my plan.

Happy New Year.

Happy New Year.