Friday, December 20, 2013

What To Know About Snorkeling With Whale Sharks in La Paz, Mexico

You've probably seen photos of snorkelers with a giant whale shark, right (like this, for example)? Well, you can do that not too far from Los Angeles: in La Paz, Mexico! Here are some things you should know before you go:

1. Most people who go snorkeling with whale sharks in La Paz are probably tourists from Cabo San Lucas, just like I was. The price including transportation from Cabo is around $160 (e.g. Cabo Expeditions), but if you book just the snorkel itself (I booked with Marlin Adventures) then it's only $48 per person. My rental car for 2 days including all insurance was $180 which also got me from the airport to Cabo and back, so this ended up being much cheaper for us.
2. If you think you'll get to leisurely pose for the camera with the big whale shark in the background, think again. You won't have that much time, so be ready with your camera on before you jump in the water. You'll jump straight from the side of the boat once they spot the whale shark, at which point you'll need to swim towards it and take in the sights and photos before the fish swims away. Which it will do, and rather quickly at that. That doesn't mean you won't get a good look, though. During the 2 hour trip you will jump in half a dozen times, and every once in a while you'll get lucky with a great view and a relaxed whale shark. You might even get that perfect shot in. I was unfortunately too slow, and was also freaked out the first time I saw it head on. No, they don't eat people, but that's a big mouth.

3. Getting back to jumping in half a dozen times during the trip: the water in the Sea of Cortez in the winter (that's whale season) isn't all that warm and the sea can be rough during windy days. You think 2 hours is short, but you'll get pretty exhausted.

4. Again, the sea can be rough, and the boats they take are small (6 snorkelers per boat). Might want to take some dramamine, just in case. I usually don't get sea sick, but I was borderline this time.

5. This last one is just a bit of an observation. There's a rule that states there should be one boat per whale shark, and maximum of 6 snorkelers per whale shark. But, this is Mexico ... what this ended up meaning is that there are half a dozen boats waiting around a whale shark, and the snorkelers in each boat take turns jumping in (i.e. racing) ..

Well, there's that! It's not a leisurely activity but well worth doing! You most likely will get to take a good, long look at a whale shark during those 2 hours!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Temecula Valley

I recently went on a press trip to Temecula Valley to visit their wineries and attend the CRUSH gala, but on the last morning I also had the chance to go on a sunrise hot air balloon ride!

We got picked up super early, because they have to drive around to find the right wind conditions somewhere they can set up.
The setup takes a bit of time. The had to lay out a large tarp on the ground first so the balloon doesn't get damaged. The workers are all buff guys. At first I was wondering why, but seeing them at work made me understand. You really need to be fit to deal with that giant balloon.
Blowing up the balloon ... first with a giant fan, then start the "hot air" bit.
After they're done inflating the balloon, they set it upright and we got in. The basket is actually compartmentalized and each compartment fits 2-3 people. I guess that makes sense, they don't want you running around all over while flying? Perhaps there are other reasons for them, but regardless, there's not much room to move around.
With where we took, one of the first sights was the orange grove. At one point we got so low that the basket grazed the top of the trees and you can smell the wonderful citrus.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Baggage Fee Pitfalls with United and ANA Long Layover Flights

If you're looking into booking a flight with a long or overnight layover and carrying more than 1 bag, think twice ...
First off, you should know that even for international flights, United Airlines and ANA (All Nippon Airways) now only allow one free check-in luggage (I'm used to 2 free luggage on Singapore Air or Cathay Pacific). The second bag is $100. So on my last trip home to Indonesia, I flew United/ANA home for the first time, because the flight was $300 cheaper than Singapore Air's. This itinerary included an 18-hour overnight layover in Tokyo on the way there and a 10-hour layover (again in Tokyo) on return flight. Usually I'm a light packer and only travel with carry-on, but my trips home are different, with my family and so many relatives wanting me to bring this and that (shoes, Disney toys, Flamin' Hot Cheetos ...) and I always end up with a check-in luggage.
So. The long layover was attractive at first, allowing me to see a bit of Tokyo, but beware before you book a flight like this next time.
Apparently when your layover is more than 12 hours, they cannot check you in for your next leg, so I had to take my luggage out and put them in storage at the airport before going to Tokyo for the night. Fast forward to the next morning when I checked in for my next leg of the itinerary to Jakarta .... guess what? They said I need to pay the extra baggage fee AGAIN. Never mind that it was on the same itinerary and that I had already paid $100 in Los Angeles, because I was only checked in to Narita before, my $100 was only valid for LA-Narita. So now they've tacked on $200 already for the flight that was only $300 than Singapore Air! Not to mention the service sucked and the food was not as good. With a 11+ hour flight from LA to Narita they managed not to have time to give me the arrival forms on the plane, despite having asked for them.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Knott's Scary Farm: Haunted Mazes for 2013

Have you started thinking about Halloween yet? Because Scary Farm has started at Knott's with their haunted mazes.

This year, they've added a secret room to each maze that you can unlock with a "skeleton key". With this you go in from a separate line in small groups (up to 6) for a short interactive experience. You can buy this as a combo with the Fright Pass (like a fast pass but only for the mazes), or book a dinner "boo-fet" that lets you into the park earlier.
Personally, though, if you have to choose where to splurge, I would opt for "Trapped", where the whole maze is interactive. The Trapped maze is $60 for up to 6 people (so if you can get a group of 6 together that's only $10 per person). I was lucky enough to be invited into this maze last year and it was quite fun (i.e. scary). You may have to do some scary things, though, like getting into a coffin ... the eating crickets part was easy.
Some of the new mazes this year is raven-filled Forevermore.
Knott's Scary Farm

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Trek to Mendenhall Glacier (Juneau, Alaska)

One thing I wanted to do in Alaska was the glacier trek. In Juneau you can go with the tour group Above and Beyond Alaska. It's an 8 hour hike/trek for $199 per person so it's not cheap, but I think it's well worth doing. The hiking bit isn't actually that long but it takes longer because of the rock scrambling and you spend a lot of time on the glacier so the total trip is 8 hours. They'll pick you up at a hotel and provide you with rain gear, a day pack with a bottle or water and snacks, and hiking poles should you need one. Oh, and of course crampons and ice axe for walking on the glacier later. You need to come prepared with your own good hiking shoes, though.

The trek started easy with a flat trail through a temperate rainforest. 
One of the reasons you might not want to attempt this trek on your own as a tourist is because the trail changes all the time. When I did the hike the main trail was flooded so we had to do a lot of bush whacking around. This is when you need a local guide!
There was some steep descent on volcanic rock, then some rock scrambling after the forest trail ends.
At the top, you'll finally see Mendenhall glacier! It's about a mile in width and stops at the lake (so, another option as I've found out later is that you can kayak to the glacier via the lake, which would be a lot shorter at 45-60 minutes).
Almost there!
There's a lot of silt around the edges, but you can already see some beautiful white and blue parts. And caves! 
It's time to put on the crampons and walk on the glacier.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Jet Ski Tour Around Key West, Florida

If you're looking for something to do in Key West, consider taking a jet ski tour. I did one through a company called Fury, which cost $129.95 per jet ski (you can go tandem for the same price) although they have a discounted price of $99.95 you manage to snag the first tour out at 8:30 am. You can also get a discount if you book online on
Too bad I didn't know beforehand!
When I rented jet skis in California they usually tell you can go around a small area of the ocean, which is fine for trying out jet skis. With this tour, though, they actually take you on a 28-mile loop around the island of Key West!

You take off along with about ten other jet skis, forming a well separated line, slow at first until you exit the marina. Then they will tell you that the minimum speed you should maintain is 30 mph and that the faster you go the easier it is to make tight turns. Those who want to go full throttle (that's 45 mph) go first behind the first guide.
For the first half of the tour you enter the Gulf of Mexico. The waves are smaller here, so the ride's not too bumpy. "This is easy", I thought! Until I entered the open ocean ...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Trying Hydrobikes in Long Beach

What's a hydrobike? Just like the name says, it's a bicycle you ride on water. Basically it's a bike propped on top of floats and instead of wheels the pedals connect to a little propeller in the back. You can rent hydrobikes in Long Beach from $20 per hour (as usual, I got a Groupon and the deal is still available for $10 an hour here) per person, and you can either get a single bike or a tandem.
It works just like a bike, except for turning on a tandem bike. To turn right on the tandem, instead of steering to the right, the one on the right stops pedaling while the one on the left pedal. 

They give you a map to tell you where to go for that one hour, which is around this inlet of Naples Island - a three-island neighborhood in Alamitos Bay. You will pass under five bridges and see some nice homes and boats, along with people kayaking, paddle boarding, and swimming.
Someone had a Bob's Big Boy statue next to his boat, nice!

It turned out to be quite a workout, though - pedaling through water wasn't all that easy! But, hey, a much better view than spin class. I even saw a seal on the way back, the little guy was playing near the beach!
Nice view, nice workout - not bad for $20.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

La Jolla Sea Caves Kayak

I recently bought a deal from Travelzoo (really, I never do anything at full price these days ... ) for a kayaking tour of La Jolla Sea Caves. We first met at the tour office (the deal was for OEX Dive & Kayak) and walked to the beach with the guide. Almost everyone got a tandem kayak.
The kayaking is very safe, but the time where you are most likely to flip over is when you first get on the kayak and take off from the beach. Especially for tandem kayaks, since both of you are trying to get on while maintaining balance and the waves are rougher near the shore. Yes, we flipped over! But that was the first and last time we flipped.
The tour takes about an hour - it's quite a workout for my arms! It was the first time I was in the back and it was my friend's first kayaking experience, so I had to figure out how to give directions :P

The tour guide gave a lot of tidbits about the houses we see on the shore. That white house with the slanted roof below was Dr. Seuss' house!
He told us stories about how one of the homeowners here had to pay a fine when birds crashed into his glass windows. The glass and other things fell into the water and he had to pay a fine because it's a marine preserve. You really have to be rich and then some to own a house here.

For the kayaking tour, I was rather disappointed that we didn't get closer to the sea caves. There were people who were swimming through one of the caves but I think for that you're supposed to buy the kayak and snorkel tour combo. I didn't know! For the kayak tour, we just kayak alongside the caves and turned back. Still, it was a nice view and a good workout.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Windsports Hang Gliding Beach Lesson

I recently took an introductory hang gliding lesson with Windsports Hang Gliding (another Groupon buy!). The introductory lesson takes place on Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey and gets you seven flights. If you'd rather run off a cliff instead of the beach, they do have mountain tandem lessons. In the beach lesson you kind of fly off on your own, but the instructor runs alongside you.

The best part is that you  get to fly off in the very first lesson, so you get to feel the action immediately. First they teach you the basic of how to strap yourself in, lift the glide to get ready, and handle the glide. This was only a 15 minute talk or so, and the rest is practice. Surprisingly, the glide is very sensitive and you must handle it very lightly to maneuver.
My friend Jenny getting ready for a run
One of my better runs: 
It may seem short on the video, but it was awesome to glide "alone" in the air. Hang gliding seems to be a great new activity to pick up. With Dockweiler Beach nearby, you can practice on your own safely before taking mountain lessons. You *do* have to carry the glide back up, though. Man, that thing was heavy!

Paragliding or hang gliding? Can't decide ...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Malibu Tandem Paragliding

The best part of those Groupon-like websites for me is the opportunity to try random adventures for cheaper! I got a Gilt City deal for a paragliding lesson with Malibu Paragliding. It's run by just one guy - he's not exactly the most organized but I ended up having a lot of fun anyway.

I thought it was supposed to be a lesson on the beach but I ended up doing a tandem paragliding from a cliff. This is actually better if you just wanted to try it out instead of trying to be a full fledged paraglider since you won't be able to with just one lesson anyway. 

So we met with the instructor at a house near the beach. I don't know how it would work if you're by yourself but when there were two of us it worked like this: The three of us drove up a winding road to the cliffs where one of us got set up and did the tandem flight. The other drove back down the road to the house and waited for the gliders to land. Then we drove back up for the other person's flight.

The scariest part of the flight was running off the cliff! At least I didn't have to worry too much about all the equipment being set up properly since the instructor took care of that. He told me to run and keep running until we took off, so I did. I think you can still see me running even when were already up in the air!
After that, all I had to do was sit and float! When the wind conditions are good and you know what you're doing you can stay up for a long time. Beware if you're prone to seasickness, though, as you do sway around in the air. I was up for about 30 minutes I think and loved it! It was a great feeling floating in the air with the view of Malibu all around me.
(Thanks to Virgil for taking the videos)

 The landing is a little tricky but as long as you follow his instruction you should be fine! Paragliding was certainly worth trying. It tends to be pricey but if you can find deals like I did, it's well worth it.