Alex In Wanderland http://www.alexinwanderland.com Working and playing around the world Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Inside my Bag: Hawaii http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/24/inside-bag-hawaii/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/24/inside-bag-hawaii/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=28489 Packing is probably my least favorite part of travel, and even pulling together a suitcase for something as blissful as ten days in Hawaii usually leaves me writing in agony on the floor of my closet. Still, I admit that this being my second time to the Aloha State, I had a much better idea of what to bring and what to leave behind. High heels? Hell no! Copious sunscreen and an automobile iPhone charger for road trips? Check and check.

I knew I’d have a very active itinerary of hiking, biking, and enjoying the beautiful Pacific ocean but also be enjoying some higher end dining in the evening (which only goes so far in laid back Maui, of course) so needed to plan for both. I checked a suitcase I borrowed from a friend — I probably need to buy one of those things — with plenty of room left for souvenirs, and carried on my Eagle Creek Afar Backpack with all my electronics and my purse with my plane essentials.

Packing for Hawaii

Clothes and Shoes

• 4 tropical and breezy dresses

• 2 skirts

• 2 pairs of shorts

• 1 pair of black capris

• 6 tops

• 3 layering tops (one Lululemon jacket, one light sweater for evenings, and one shrug-like thing I take everywhere as seen in this post)

• 2 sets of workout gear (I’m always super active when I’m Hawaii!)

Packing for Hawaii

• 1 pair of trainers

• 1 pair of wedges (I would never pack heels for Hawaii, but wedges seem like the perfect laid back but dressy compromise for some of the nicer restaurants I knew I’d be dining in)

• 2 pairs of dress sandals (really I should have packed one, I never wore the red ones)

• 1 pair flip flops (not pictured)

• 1 clutch

• 1 bag of jewelry

• 2 pairs of sunglasses (not pictured)

• 1 Flight001 Go Clean Laundry Bag

• 1 packing cube of socks and underwear

• 1 packing cube of bras

Packing for Maui
Beach Stuff

I decided not to bring my full set of dive gear this time as I knew I’d only be diving once, but I came fully prepared for a full itinerary of aquatic activities.

• 1 set of snorkel gear (I know you can always rent but I would never dive without my own mask, and love to have my own small-foot fins)

• 1 rash guard (a must for surfing and sunburn-free snorkeling)

• 1 packing cube of bikinis

• 1 beach sarong

Sun Bum Continuous Spray Sunscreens

Sun Bum Face Stick

Sun Bum SPF Lip Balm

John Frieda Sheer Blonde Lightening Spray (I haven’t colored my hair in years — this stuff plus the sun keeps it bright and blonde!)

• Leave in conditioner (keeps my hair from drying out after too much sun and sea)

Packing for Maui

Other Toiletries

For more details on what toiletries I’m toting, check out my in depth post on the subject, plus my solid shampoo obsession update.

• 1 makeup bag

• 1 toiletry bag

• 1 shower bag

• 1 medicine bag

Packing for Hawaii

Gear and Electronics

Basically everything that went in my carry on — plus my wallet and hand lotion, of course. (Did you know I’m obsessed with dry skin and would rather hear nails on a chalk board than have unmoisturized skin?) Two things I discovered I desperately needed on this trip and obtained quickly upon return were a waterproof iPhone case (my last one broke) and an extendable arm for my GoPro.

MacBook Pro + charger (not pictured) + headphones (not pictured) + portable mouse

Canon PowerShot S100 + Charger + Spare Battery + Leather case + 16 GB Memory Card+ Underwater Housing

Dive Computer

Canon Rebel T2i + charger + 32 GB Memory Card (left the 15-85mm lens at home for this trip)

• iPhone + charging cord + car charger (I knew I’d have a rental car and be using map apps heavily, so this was a must)

Mini Memory Card Reader

• Time machine backup hard drive

GoPro + charger and accessories (in white bag)

The Moon Maui Guidebook + travel magazines for the plane

Travel pillow + eyeshade + earplugs (it is a very, very long flight from New York!)

What do you pack for Hawaii?

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Please note: I’m an affiliate of many of the products in this post and will earn a small percentage of your purchase if you buy them through these links, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting Alex in Wanderland!

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A Scuba Playground: Diving in Maui http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/22/diving-in-maui/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/22/diving-in-maui/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 15:39:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=28488 By the time I arrived in Hawaii I was so desperate to be back in the water it was a feeling akin to homesickness. I hadn’t been diving in four months, which suddenly felt like four years. I couldn’t wait to strap on a tank and descend below the surface.

On my previous trips to the islands I dived Oahu, Lana’i, and The Big Island, but Maui eluded me. This time, that would change. Pulling in to the Kihei boat launch, I was warmly waved over by my dive guide Warren and boat captain Andy. I had heard rave reviews of Mike Severns Diving from friends on the island and hoped they’d live up to the hype. As the boat was lowered into the water I chatted to my two fellow divers, who I liked immediately. We loaded onto the boat and with hopes high, I asked where we were headed (dive sites are decided on the day and depend on the conditions and experience levels and preferences of the divers).

Mike Severns Diving Maui

Diving Molokini Crater

I was holding my breath for a certain answer — the back side of Molokini Crater. Unfortunately, that site is fairly advanced and my two fellow divers for the day were recently certified. Instead, we’d check out the calmer and more sheltered waters of the inside of the crater, or more specifically, Mid Reef Molokini.

While Warren assisted the other two divers in descending, he gave me the ok to drop to the bottom and wait for them there. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a familiar fin flicking not far away. Curious, I approached the small cave and found a pair of beady eyes staring back at me — a white tip reef shark. As I peered in the cave. I sensed movement behind me and dodged just in time to allow another white tip to swerve past me into the cave. Though I know white tips are totally harmless, my heart beat a bit faster.

Diving in Maui

Diving with Sharks in Maui

Soon after, my heart sunk as I realized every underwater photographer’s worst nightmare — camera malfunction. I wasn’t sure what exactly was going wrong but my camera was going a bit haywire. It shot video every time I tried to release the shutter, half my shots were out of focus, and the color balance was wildly off and appeared to be uncorrectable.

Having just replaced the camera in my underwater setup, I was not pleased, but I tried to focus on enjoying the dive nonetheless.

Diving Molokini Crater

Diving Molokini Crater

Diving in Hawaii

Not long into the dive, one of the divers in our group ran low on air, not surprising considering it was one of his first open water dives. Fully expecting to have to ascend as a group, I was beyond pleased when Warren brought the other two divers up the line for  a safety stop and then rejoined me so we could complete our dive.

And those were the best fifteen minutes of the whole thing. The highlight was an interaction I unfortunately didn’t capture with my camera. I watched intrigued as a large jack appeared to be attacking an eel, and then my regulator almost fell out of my mouth as the eel appeared to chase the jack away, free swimming out of its hole! Later Warren explained the behavior, which I had wildly misinterpreted, was the jack and the eel hunting together. That was an even cooler explanation than I could have imagined, and I was so glad I had a guide switched on enough to explain the mysteries of Maui diving.

Mike Severns Diving Maui

Diving Maui_10scuba selfie!

With our last few moments in Molokini, I returned to where I had began: in the shark cove. I took as many photos as I dared before considering that maybe shoving my lens into a shark’s hangout wasn’t the brightest idea I’ve ever had and retracted my outstretched arm.

Diving in Maui

Mike Severns Diving Maui

Diving with Sharks in Maui

Having maxed out at just 75 feet, we still decided to move to slightly shallower waters for our second dive. This one was to a site I had never heard of, Pu’u Olai, though when I repeated the name later to another diving enthusiast she clapped her hands in excitement for me. It was easy to see why. Pu’u Olai blew me away.

During the surface interval I had taken my camera out of its housing and messed around with it, unable to find what had caused it to malfunction throughout the first dive. It too must have sensed that the second dive was not to be missed, because from the first photo, it cooperated completely.

Diving in Maui

This would be one to remember. Oversized jacks, a giant frogfish, and a stately sea turtle all graced us with their presence moments into the dive.

Diving Maui_16

Diving in Hawaii

With a maximum depth of 55ft, the dive site had fabulous visibility and great light, resulting in bright and bold colors everywhere we turned our masks.

Diving Maui_18

Diving in Maui

Diving Maui_19

On this dive, I was treated to several first time sightings of species I had to file away to ask Warren about back on the boat. The first, he would later identify as a juvenile rock mover, shown below left. It was just about two inches long and the way it anxiously darted around the reef won my affections immediately.

Another underwater discovery that had me scratching my head? A pulsing pile of sea hares, a sight so strange I wondered if I was hallucinating.

Pu'uOlai Dive Site, Maui

I also delighted in finding a new variety of an old friend — a gold lace nudibranch. Or as I like to refer to them, underwater aliens.

Mike Severns Diving Maui

Nudibranch in Maui

And along with all the amazing new attention getters were the familiar favorites — wide-mouthed eels, colorful sea stars, and intricately patterned shells.

Diving in Hawaii

Starfish in Maui

And diving in Hawaii wouldn’t be diving in Hawaii without a turtle or two. Or in our case, I think up to five in this one little dive.

Pu'uOlai Dive Site, Maui

Mike Severns Diving Maui

Diving in Maui

Don’t worry — the above is only an optical illusion. No turtles were smooched in the making of those images.

Turtle in Maui

Diving in Hawaiia poor turtle suffering from a serious fungus

Pu'uOlai Dive Site, Maui

Pu'uOlai Dive Site, Maui

I just marveled over and over at how many exotic creatures we managed to meet on one tank. The icing on the cake? Our final find of the dive, a baby frog fish no longer than an inch.

Diving Maui_35

Tell me that isn’t a morning worth throwing up a shaka for. Scuba enthusiasts, do not miss Pu’u Olai when you come to Maui.

Diving in Maui

Pu'uOlai Dive Site, Maui

My Maui friends were right — I couldn’t have been happier with Mike Severns. Thus far I have a perfect record of adoring every single dive operator I’ve used in the Hawaiian islands, and I’ve noticed something several have in common: baked goods on the boat. Yes, these guys have fresh baked cinnamon rolls and cookies on board for us. A+, Captain Andy, A+.

And I really can’t say enough about my dive guide Warren. He handled the different experience levels in our group effortlessly and truly impressed with me with his breadth of knowledge about the creatures calling Maui home.

Mike Severns Diving Maui

Which of these amazing creatures would you be most excited to see under the sea?

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Many thanks to the Maui Visitors Bureau and to Mike Severns for hosting me and showing me so much aloha. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Photo of the Week 162: Malta http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/21/photo-of-the-week-162-malta/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/21/photo-of-the-week-162-malta/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=29390 Malta! I didn’t know what to expect from this tiny island nation in the Mediterranean Sea. The reality is it I probably never would have come had Anders not taken a diving job here, but wow — I’m glad I did. It’s kind of a gift to go somewhere with absolutely no expectations or preconceived notions and just let it surprise you. I’m glad I have some time to let it all sink in and process before I start writing about it in full, but for now, I’m excited to share this little preview! One thing I can confidently say is Malta is fabulously photogenic.

So, last night I landed in Brussels which is off to a rough start. I arrived to the news that my box of Tomorrowland stuff (costumes, camping supplies, festival necessities, etc.) is lost in the mail, which I am beside myself thinking about replacing — not to mention all the time and money I’ve lost now already. Then I discovered that once again my email server has been flagged for spam, meaning half the emails I’ve sent out in the past week didn’t go through and I missed countless others incoming — who knows what opportunities have passed me by! And to top it off, my ultra modern, ultra expensive design hostel with no windows or fans has a broken air conditioning, meaning I spent a sleepless night sweating it out with eight strangers in a room approximately the temperature of the surface of the sun while fretting over the first two issues. Welcome to Belgium! I pray that this is not an omen and when I report back next week things have turned around in a big way.

Onto more pleasant things, memories of Malta…

Photo A
Marsaxlokk Fish MarketThe fishing village of Marsaxlokk

Photo B
Diving The Azure WindowGozo’s Azure Window, from below and above

Photo C
Scuba Diving in MaltaDiving off Ċirkewwa

Photo D
Sunset in MaltaSunset in Għajn Tuffieħa Bay

Photo E
Beautiful Colors in MaltaThe many colors of Malta

Photo F
Summer Festa in MaltaArchitecture and traditional in Malta’s ancient cities of Mdina and Valleta

Which photo is your favorite?

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Catching Waves with Maui Surfer Girls http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/18/maui-surfer-girls-lesson/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/18/maui-surfer-girls-lesson/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=28490 I have a goal. Someday, at some point in my life, I am going to head somewhere with great waves, rent a shack for a month or two, and surf every single day. At the end of the month I hope to emerge a decent enough surfer that along my travels, I can confidently rent a board for a day that combines two of my favorite things to do: being active and being in the water.

That day has not yet come. Thus far the ratio of times I’ve gone surfing to times I’ve sat on the beach and watched forlornly as others paddle out is about one to one billion. So when I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon taking a lesson with Maui Surf Girls and some of my #seeMaui team, I literally could not slap my rashguard on fast enough. (Which okay, isn’t actually that fast. Have you ever tried one of those things on? They are tight.)

Surfing Lessons Maui

Thus far my trip to Maui had been surprisingly un-aquatic, and I beamed happiness when we pulled up at the beach and plopped down for a theory lesson. My one and only previous surf lesson had been on the neighboring isle of Maui a year and a half ago, so I was definitely reader for a refresher.

Our two instructors Lucy and Kelly lived to the level of cool Blue Crush instilled in me regarding female surfers. My girl crush was officially cemented when, while describing why we don’t stand up out on the water, Lucy assured us that “there might be coral, and if you step on that coral it will not be stoked.”

Maui Surfer Girls

Maui Surfer Girls

I admit that I occasionally had trouble concentrating on the briefing, but I don’t think I can really be held responsible for that because ADORABLE WAVE CHASING DOG ALERT! See what I mean? How can anyone concentrate when this much cuteness is taking place? Luna is a big part of the Maui Surfer Girl family.

Learning to Surf in Maui

Learning to Surf in Maui

Maui Surfer Girls

After practicing a few pop ups on the beach — where you go through the motions of popping into standing position on dry land to build muscle memory — it was time to ride. As we waded out, I confessed to Lucy my dream of really learning to surf someday, and her response was that all it really takes is dedication — and not wussing out on the paddling out part. Of course we were having this conversation just as my arm muscles were beginning to deteriorate into tissue paper and others in the group were taking advantage of tow-assisted paddling from the instructors. Not wanting to reveal my inner whiner quite so quickly, I responded enthusiastically that I absolutely loved upper arm workouts while silently weeping inside.

Guys. The arm burn is real!

Learning to Surf in Maui

Surfing Lessons Maui

Maui Surfer Girls Lessons

What got me through was staring back at those West Maui mountains. Man, if there is a more scenic surf spot on this Earth please tell me. These following photos, courtesy of Chris at Captain and Clark, really sum up the beauty that was fueling me out on the board.

Maui Surfer Girls

Surfing Lessons Maui

Maui Surfer Girls Lessons

Because our timing wasn’t ideal — mornings are much calmer and better for beginners, Lucy explained — we spent a lot of time paddling against the current, which left us pretty exhausted. But I’m proud to say I was one of the last ones out of the water, catching every wave I could despite somewhat limited success.

I love these photos my girl Tawny caught from the beach on my final ride, but I highly recommend going for the upgrade to have a professional photographer attend your lesson like I did for my first lesson on Oahu. It’s $40 and they even throw in beach portraits too. Believe me, when you catch that wave, you’re going to want to commemorate the moment in the most sacred way possible — making it your Facebook profile picture.

Maui Surfer Girls Lessons

Surfing Lessons Maui

Maui Surfer Girls

Maui Surfer Girls Lessons

When I finally paddled in I felt exhausted — and exhilarated. There is nothing like being out on the water, pushing your body to its limits, feeling connected to the sea, and staring out at beautiful mountains ahead. Oh, and being cheered on by an adorable surfing dog. That too.

Surfing Lessons Maui

Maui Surfer Girls Lessons

Maui Beaches

I’m still looking forward to that month or two someday dedicated to nothing but waves. I’m still not sure when it will be or when it will take place, but I do know one thing for sure — Maui just made it to the short list.

Where would you head to learn to surf?

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Many thanks to the Maui Visitors Bureau and to Maui Surfer Girls for hosting me and showing me so much aloha. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Lead the Way: A Review of the Sygic Navigation App http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/17/sygic-navigation-app/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/17/sygic-navigation-app/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=27704 I’m the kind of driver who uses Google Maps to navigate around my hometown. I have a poor sense of direction and never quite trust myself that I know the best route. Having just arrived in Malta with a rental car generously provided by the MTA, you can only imagine how overwhelmed I was at the idea of not just driving on the left alongside reportedly erratic drivers, but also navigating sans technology. I was getting so stressed at the thought I briefly considered turning down the rental car and getting around by bus instead! But in what I can only describe as divine intervention, I was saved from inevitable roadside meltdowns by Sygic Navigation, who contacted me about testing their offline GPS system app. Um, yes please.

Sygic works by downloading and storing maps on your smartphone for offline use — so you can have a fully functioning GPS with no internet connection. When I started researching the app for this review, I grew more and more surprised I had never heard of it before. Launched in 2004, it didn’t take long for Sygic to become the most downloaded offline navigation app of all times with over 30 million unique users! And I was about to become one of them.

Sygic Navigation AppShotgun selfies made possible by Sygic

Features

Free map updates are available several times a year, and unless otherwise noted, the app license lasts for life. The main screen display shows the route ahead, the local speed limit and your own speed, the distance and time until destination, and your expected arrival time. Some of my favorite features include an alert that beeps when you’ve topped the local speed limit, and a warning when there is a speed camera ahead (a common problem in Europe!) This app is truly global — directions are available in ten languages.

I also loved that you can drag and drop the route easily, which came in handy when I occasionally couldn’t get the app to register my destination (see below). You can also plan multi-stop routes and plan to avoid tolls and highways. Quick links allow easy access to the nearest parking and petrol stations.

Sygic Navigation App

There are also premium features you can upgrade to for a fee:

• Heads up Navigation: This is by far my favorite premium feature of the app. Anyone who has tried to juggle keeping their eyes on the road and reading their GPS will appreciate it — you can lie your phone down on your dashboard and the directions and route are projected onto the windshield in front of you! So clever.

• Traffic Updates: Traffic updates are available but require internet connection, which to me is a moot feature because if I had internet connection I would simply use Google Maps.

• Celebrity Voices: I laughed when I saw the option to upgrade to celebrity voices. While I’m not a huge Simpsons fan I think it would be kind of fun to have Snoop Dog guiding me around Europe.

• Premium Speed Cameras: For an additional monthly fee the app can warn you whenever a new speed trap appears on your route. This unfortunately also requires internet connection, because it would be a fabulous feature for someone like me who has a penchant for racking up tickets.

Design

Because of its numerous features, Sygic has a complex navigation system. While it took a bit of getting used to, it’s intuitive enough. The maps for Malta were basic and not the fancy 3D ones advertised by the app, but that may be because it’s a less visited destination.

Sygic Navigation App

Price

You can download by continent, by country or by the whole world. Some example prices are below, and reflect the current summer sale of 40% off (plus free Heads Up Display for Android!)

North America – $33.99

Europe – $41.99

Australia and New Zealand – $36.99

Thailand – $30.99

World – $69.99 (or $16.99 for one month)

You can also take advantage of several upgrade options.

Head up display – $10.99

Speed Cameras – $10.99 (or $2.79 for one month)

Celebrity voices – $4.99

Traffic updates – $16.99-27.99 per year

Sygic Navigation App

Room for Improvement

I did occasionally run into some bugs using Sygic. Sometimes the app’s speed limit didn’t match what was posted on the road, and once I got an error message when I tried to navigate to somewhere I’d been before.

The biggest issue I encountered, however, was that often the search function didn’t turn up the destination I was looking for, even when it was something basic like a post office or a beach that I could clearly see when I searched the map manually. It was simple enough to work around this in most cases — in the beach example, I manually selected the road closest to the beach and had the app navigate to that road. However, if I had been totally offline I wouldn’t have been able to find the post office that was right around the corner from me.

Also, note that like any navigation app this one does use a heavy amount of battery, however I planned ahead and had no issues — I slapped my Mophie battery case on my phone and brought along one of those $5 cheapie car chargers that plugs into the cigarette lighter as well.

Conclusion

Without question, this app has vastly improved my time in Europe. Being able to remove the stress of getting lost from the equation while driving around Malta and knowing I’ll be able to find my way around by foot in Belgium has been an absolute weight lifted off my shoulders. There are certainly a few bugs and limitations to this app that I hope they’ll keep improving, but in the meantime having an offline GPS and map system is a new must for me in my international travels, especially when I’ll be driving a rental car. This one was kind of a game changer for me.

Sygic Navigation App

 How do you navigate — especially on the road — when you’re traveling abroad?

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Download Sygic on your Android and on your iPhone. I was provided with a free access code in order to test this app and compensated for my time in doing so.

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Taking a Bite Out of Maui http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/15/taking-bite-maui/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/15/taking-bite-maui/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=24045 Did you know Hawaii imports 85-90% of its food? As the local food movement has taught us, eating food grown in our own communities is important for the economy, the environment, our health, and our ability to brag about our localganic diets. Snarking aside, one of the highlights of my trip to The Big Island in 2012 was learning about the island’s lively agricultural scene, which I thought at the time was a distinctive feature of that particular isle. So I was particularly intrigued to find that boutique farming is alive and well on Maui too, and set off to spend a day exploring three of Upcounty’s many unique farms with my partners-in-crime Chris and Tawny.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm

Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm Maui

Maui Lavender Farm

Ali’i Kula Lavender‘s motto is “bringing sustainable aloha to the world.” What a beautiful sentiment for an absolutely stunning property. The lavender farm was just downhill from the meeting point for our paragliding adventure, making it the perfect place for a post-adrenaline cool-down stroll. While our visit didn’t align with one of the farm’s five thirty minute walking tours per day ($12 for walk ins, $10 for advance reservations), we had a ball just wandering the grounds and going camera crazy on the scenic tableaus. We also may or may not have enthusiastically participated in the Lavender Treasure Hunt most certainly intended for children under the age of ten.

The gift shop was an impressive demonstration of exactly how many products can be lavender infused, while a darling cafe offered flavored tea, scones, and lemonade. One of my favorite nods to sustainability? Free tee or coffee for anyone carrying there own cup. As someone who compulsively carries my own acrylic tumbler around New York, it was a touch I loved.

Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm Maui

Maui Lavender Farm

Ali'i Kula Lavender FarmFrom meandering through the gardens to learning about the surprising health benefits of lavender, I left Ali’i Kula thoroughly impressed by our short visit. Whether you come for a full tour or pay the bargain $3 for a self-guided entry (free for all you paragliders!) you won’t regret the beautiful trip up the slopes of Haleakala.

Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm Maui

Maui Lavender Farm

Organic Ocean Vodka

Wineries are nice and all but when I saw Maui was home to a brand new organic vodka farm and distillery, I really got excited. Opened in 2005, Ocean Vodka is dedicated to organic and sustainable farming practices, from using 100% solar power to bottling their product exclusively in recycled glass and everything green inbetween.

Ocean Vodka Maui

Ocean Vodka Maui

Ocean Vodka Maui

When we arrived at Ocean Vodka we found we had just missed the tour start time. While $10 tours run every half hour we were on a tight schedule and when the staff realized we wouldn’t be able to wait for the next one, they enthusiastically ran us a private tour on the spot (having no idea, by the way, that we were working with the Maui Visitor’s Bureau). That’s the aloha that I love.

I warmed to our guide immediately as he launched into an upbeat explanation of the distillery process while we munched on raw sugarcane.  Interesting as the science-y bits were, I was equally interested in the unique work dynamics at Ocean Vodka. With just 20 employees, many of them biologically related, the team really does function as a family, with our guide going as far as to call the bosses “mom” and “dad.” When he moved to Hawaii specifically to join the team at Ocean, they gifted him with a surf board upon arrival.

Ocean Vodka Maui

Ocean Vodka Maui

Ocean Vodka is sugar cane based, and they cultivate a number of indigenous varieties. One of my favorite parts of the tour was learning how local Hawaiians often come by with stalks of sugarcane in their pickups, having heard what they are doing at the farm and being excited to be a part of bringing responsible agriculture back to Maui.

Ocean Vodka Maui

Ocean Vodka Maui

Wait, did I say something else was my favorite part? Because clearly that was the tasting. As soon as we got to the bottling room I knew I’d seen the brand before and soon learned why — Ocean Vodka has been the exclusive vodka on Hawaiian Airlines since 2007. Heading out to the Martini Garden, where guests are free to pick fresh, local ingredients such as Kula lavender, local citrus, passion fruit, pineapple and strawberries for their drinks, we were finally treated to a taste of the smooth vodka.

All tour guests are gifted a shot glass upon departure which I quickly supplemented with all kinds of souvenirs from the gift shop. I left Ocean Vodka inspired by the passion of the employees, the dedication to community and sustainable living, and the hardcore aloha we felt all around.

Want more about Ocean Vodka? Check out Chris and Tawny’s hilarious Alco-HAUL episode featuring it!

Ocean Vodka Maui

Surfing Goat Dairy

Literally right next door to Ocean Vodka sits the biggest draw of all the farms in Upcountry: Surfing Goat Dairy (there could be some seriously tipsy goats running around if they ever got out of their pens.) Started in 1999 by a German couple with roots in the surfing community, Surfing Goat Dairy produces award-winning gourmet cheeses and truffles. Surfing Goat cheese is ubiquitous in Maui — not only was it used in our welcome reception at the Grand Wailea, but it was also served at Obama’s inauguration ball! Which are more or less comparative events, obviously.

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

Surfing Goat offers an extensive menu of tours, from twenty minute casual tours run throughout the day to a more extensive hour-long evening chores tour every afternoon to BBQs and private tours by the owner upon request. But from the briefest to the biggest tours, all give a taste of what Surfing Goat Dairy is all about — cute goats, humane and sustainable farming, and delicious cheese.

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

The highlight for me was of course meeting the little guys. I was amazed by how much personality they had — they reminded me of my dog Tucker the way they came running when our tour guide called out to them! Of course they went pretty wild when they saw we had hay, which must be like the McFlurries of goatsville or something.

There are usually around 200 goats at Surfing Dairy, and the guide assured us that the owners know each and every adult goat by name. That’s love.

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

The biggest laugh of the day came when I heard Tawny asking, “Do they bite?,” cut off by a sharp “OW!” They might not mean to, but these little guys can get a bit overexcited when treats are involved. I understand, goaties, I do.

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

When our guide managed to drag us away from the spacious goat fields, we made our way to the barn for a little behind-the-scenes action. Interesting as that was, my stomach suspected that the cheese tasting bit would be coming up next, which admittedly made it somewhat hard to focus.

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

It was worth the wait. While we snacked and sampled, the three of us agreed — the best part about this cheese was all the love that went into it.

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

Surfing Goat Dairy Maui

Other Upcountry Farms

Kula Country Farms

O’o Farm

Tedeschi Vineyards

I didn’t get a chance to visit the following upcountry farms on this particular visit, but I’m looking forward to checking them out on my next visit. All these Upcountry farms are doing important, commendable work and spending a day visiting them is the kind of travel you can feel good about.

Do you ever take part in agro-tourism? I have to say, it’s growing on me (and my stomach!)

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Many thanks to the Maui Visitors Bureau and the Surfing Goat Dairy for hosting me and showing me so much aloha. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Photo of the Week 161 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/13/photo-week-161/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/13/photo-week-161/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 14:50:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=28485 Greetings from London! I wave goodbye to this city with a heavy heart and a very, very full stomach — at times it seems my mission was to do little more than eat and drink my way through England’s epic capital. It was a week full of reunions and reminiscing as I bounced from one sleepover to the next with three of my favorite girls I’ve meet along the road, who all happen to call London home. While I loved catching up with them and exploring new sides to the city I once misguidedly declared was a bore, I did find the weather and the prices to be somewhat of a shock to the system and am looking forward to my move to sunnier and hopefully marginally more affordable pastures in Malta today.

Wishing you a beautiful Monday, and looking forward to your votes!

Photo A
London from AboveLondon from above

Photo B
London Street ScenesScenes from the street

Photo C
Love Locks in LondonLocks for love

Photo D
Scenes of LondonIntensely English

Photo E
Hyde Park in LondonHyde Park highlights

Photo F
Shoreditch LondonChic Shoreditch

Which photo is your favorite?

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Happiness High above Haleakala http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/11/getting-high-haleakala/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/11/getting-high-haleakala/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=24047 It’s hauntingly beautiful, immensely geographically and culturally significant, and home to more adrenaline-boosting activity options than you could cram into a week. The massive Haleakala volcano is Maui’s highest peak and makes up 75% of the island’s landmass — Haleakala is Maui, in so many ways. Hiking through the Haleakala National Park was one of the undisputed highlights of my first trip to Hawaii, so I couldn’t have been happier when my first order of business on my first morning of this trip to Maui was flinging myself off of the top of it.

Paragliding off Haleakala

Paragliding Over HaleakalaPhotos courtesy of Captain and Clark

I’ve actually been itching to try paragliding for a while now — my many attempts in Peru were thwarted by bad weather, and then scheduling conflicts kept me on the ground in Ecuador. But now I realize that that was all part of the plan. It was meant to be; the universe wanted me to try paragliding for the first time in the capable hands of the team at Proflyght Paragliding alongside my dear, special fabulous friends Chris and Tawny. (Who, by the way, made a fabulous video of our adventures that you can watch here!)

Proflyght Paragliding

Proflyght Paragliding

Unlike that time I jumped out of a plane in Hawaii, I had absolutely no fear about running off a cliff and flinging myself into the sky. Maybe it was the thorough safety briefing we received, maybe it was the friendly accent of the Brazilian instructor I was tandem flying with, maybe it was the views that just melted me.

The instructors asked us who wanted to go first and I generously volunteered Chris.

Paragliding in Maui

Paragliding in Maui

Watching him take off, I started to feel butterflies. But I didn’t have too long to reflect, because it was time to run. And this is where things got comical. My instructor kept yelling for me to “Run, run!” and I kept yelling back “I’m trying!” Because here’s the thing — we had a bit of a height difference, and at this point my feet were not even a little bit touching the ground. So I was basically running in place like some kind of cartoon character on an invisible hamster wheel while my instructor carried me off the cliff.

#shortpeopleproblems

Paragliding Over Haleakala

Paragliding in Maui

Paragliding Over Haleakala

All was pretty soon forgotten once we were airborne. I gasped and gaped at the views, all while fumbling with my GoPro and trying in vain to capture what it felt like to be flying. Needless to say, it was pretty magical.

Paragliding in Maui

Proflyght Paragliding

I watched as Chris and Tawny bobbed in the distance, and gave a gleeful affirmative when my instructor offered to do an aerial roller coaster ride. As we twisted and twirled, I let out a few shrieks for good measure, and thankfully did not throw up.

Proflyght Paragliding

DCIM100GOPRO

Paragliding in Maui

Landing was a comical repeat of our taking off experience. My instructor screaming “run!,” me flailing my floating legs, both of us out of breath from laughter.

Paraglide LandingTawny coming in for the gold!

Paragliding Over Haleakala

Paragliding Over HaleakalaPhotos courtesy of Captain and Clark

I cannot more highly recommend conquering Haleakala by paraglide. It was safe, it was fun, and it showed me the best views of Maui I’ve ever seen. But my adventures on the volcano were far from over — the next day, we found yet another creative way to make our way down the mountain.

Biking Down Haleakala

Maui Easy Riders

If I can explore a place by two wheels, I am always in. I’ve taken bike tours everywhere from Reykjavik to Bangkok, and so when I had the opportunity to sign on for Maui’s most famous ride, I gave an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Biking down Haleakala can be done a multitude of ways — you can be led by a local expert of dropped off and for a self-guided ride, you can go hardcore or take it slow, and you can wake up in the middle of the night to catch sunrise or you can leave at a normal human hour. We chose a non-insane wake up call, a guided ride, and full speed ahead.

Maui Easy Riders

Biking Mount Haleakala

As Maui Easy Riders team Billy and Billy (true story) collected us from Paia Town Beach for the long crawl up the mountain, I warmed to them immediately. They were basically the definition of laid-back island bros and I loved exchanging notes with them on our various travel and adventure experiences. They didn’t bat an eye when I introduced myself as Chris and Tawny’s blogging sister wife (long story), or when I announced that I was basically terrified of going downhill at a speed faster than 5mph.

I got over that fear real quick.

Biking Mount Haleakala

Maui Easy Riders

The slightly later departure had the benefit of not just not waking up in the middle of the night, but also the roads being a lot less crowded. So without the fear of cars we whipped down the winding turns at gleeful speeds, stopping occasionally for photos or water.

Eventually we stopped for a spin around the town of Makawao, upcountry’s most adorable wild west movie set. Just kidding. It’s real. Between Makawao and my beloved Paia, I think I can safely declare Upcountry Maui my favorite part of the whole island. And since it’s fairly underrated, I get to have whole lots of it to myself.

Makawao town in Maui

Antiques in Makawao town in Maui

Alice in Hulaland Maui

My highlight of the day? Meeting this guy, who was crawling in the road in front of us and was saved from impending tire-smooshing-doom thanks to the keen eye of Billy 1. I strongly considered bringing him home as the ultimate souvenir but the logic of my fellow riders won out and he was returned to his rightful home along the slopes of Haleakala.

Maui Reptile

Believe it or not, I actually had a third Haleakala adventure planned — a helictoper ride over the volcano! It was cancelled due to bad weather, which I’m actually not too bummed about because it’s yet another reason to return. But it is a good reminder to book weather-dependent activities early in your trip so you have plenty of time to reschedule if necessary.

Regardless of which method you choose, you’d be missing a big part of Maui if you skip Mount Haleakala — a full 75%, in fact.

Which way would you explore Haleakala — hiking, biking, helicopter riding or paragliding? Or maybe all four?

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Many thanks to the Maui Visitors Bureau for hosting me and showing me so much aloha. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Making My Way Back to Maui http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/10/back-to-maui/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/10/back-to-maui/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=24044 Those of you who have been around for a while know that Hawaii is a place of almost spiritual significance to me. It brought me back to life at a time when I was feeling lost, and I’ve been scheming how to get back ever since the moment my six week stint there in late 2012 was over. But while Hawaii occupies a permanent corner in the back of my heart and mind, it’s not exactly the kind of place you can just, like, pop over to, you know?

Then finally, in late May, it was time to return.

Flying to Maui

Hawaii License Plate

It took me all of about five minutes of being back on Maui before I was on the phone with my airline (seriously, I called from my rental car), trying to see if I could extend my ten day trip to, I don’t know, foreverish? All those first flushes of love came rushing back right away. Windows down, music tuned to island radio, driving past turquoise beaches, waiting in line for a tropical fruit smoothie with barefoot surf bums, warm alohas and a conversation about GMO-free foods and fighting The Man in the parking lot — I belong here, I thought.

I’d been on island for less than an hour.

Practice Aloha Mailbox

Maui Beach

So many themes of this trip echoed my first — the stunning beaches and smoldering volcanoes, the quirky characters, the adrenaline filled adventures, the deep respect for culture and stewardship of the land among locals. But one aspect was very, very different. On my first trip to Hawaii, I spent six weeks sleeping in the guest rooms and on the couches of family and friends, and in one fabulous hostel. On this trip, as a guest of the Maui Visitors Bureau, I got a taste of the other side of the Maui accommodation scene.

The one that looks like this.

Grand Wailea Pool

Grand Wailea Room

Grand Wailea Room

Grand Wailea Bathroom

Grand Wailea Balcony

The Grand Wailea, our base for the first three nights of the trip, was about as grand as they come. I think the photos of the place kind of speak for themselves; it’s the kind of paradise they make movie sets of. But what really blew me away was the service. The exuberant alohas from the staff, the beautiful leis upon arrival, the thoughtful touches from the valet… actually, guys, we need to talk about the valet for a minute.

Because when I got the chance to speak to the Director of Public Relations for the hotel, I couldn’t stop talking about the valet service. To the point where she looked at me a bit funny, but perhaps that was because I asked her if one of the guys wouldn’t want to just possibly come back to New York with me and work out of my house or….? But seriously, every time I went to pick up my car they had cleaned out the trash, left me cold water bottles and warm towels, asked me if I needed directions anymore, and waved me off like a dear friend. And when I returned, they were waiting there to warmly welcome me back and whisk me out of the driver seat. I felt like I needed to write them a thank you note at the end of it (though I settled on reciprocating my warm fuzzy feelings with generous tips.)

Grand Wailea Welcome Basket

Grand Wailea Dining

Grand Wailea Dining

Grand Wailea Restaurant

Yes, The Grand Wailea was a special place and I was not ready to leave when it was time to make my way to West Maui. After waving goodbye to my new BFFs on the valet team one final time and watching the hotel shrink in the distance, I vowed that someday I’d return with my family in tow.

Grand Wailea Reception

Grand Wailea Maui

And soon I’d be adding another destination to that fantasy future holiday — my digs at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas were equally drool-worthy. I’m a huge fan of Starwood ever since my travel hacking score with them, and I loved that this property had a completely different feel to it than any of the ones I’ve stayed at before. As an all-villa property, each and every room has a kitchen and living room and there’s even a small market on site. I got the sense that guests really make themselves at home here, and I loved walking around one evening and seeing all the families barbequing out on the open air grilling stations.

And yeah, it wasn’t exactly hard to look at, either.

Westin KOR Villas

Westin KOR Villas Pool

Westin KOR Villas Pool

Westin KOR Villas Beach

Westin KOR Villas Restaurant

I had this really glorious Forgetting Sarah Marshal style moment where I’m checking into this beautiful and enormous villa and the very sweet local bellboy is asking me, “So, is your family meeting you later or…?” And I said, “It’s actually just me!,” and he looked simultaneously very sad for me and embarrassed for himself and I couldn’t stop laughing so I tipped him enormously too much.

But man, I didn’t feel sad for me one little bit. I was all about these little homes away from home, and even more so when I read about the hotel’s dedication to sustainability. I loved that there were recycling bins everywhere there were trash bins, including in the villa kitchens, and that unopened food left in the villa kitchens at check out are donated to the Maui Food Bank. More warm fuzzies!

Westin KOR Villas Suite

Westin KOR Villas Suite

Westin KOR Villas Suite Bathroom

Westin KOR Villas Suite

But the very best part of my trip to Maui had nothing to do with fancy hotels (which frankly, I spent very little time in as I was so busy out exploring!) or insanely delicious meals — it had to do with these people. I absolutely loved getting to know each and every person on the #seeMaui team, and to see the love our hosts had for their island.

Trilogy Sailing Excursion

Trilogy Sailing ExcursionRocking out on a fabulous live music sunset sail with Trilogy

Over the next two weeks, I’m looking forward to sharing all the new sides of Maui I explored on this trip. Though technically quite a small island, I was absolutely amazed all over again at the diversity of activities and adventures on offer, and the wide array of interests catered to. Last time I was writing about Hawaii I got quite a few emails from readers who told me I’d finally convinced them to take a trip there of their own, which filled me with all kinds of happy. So that is my goal once again, to convince you all to come over the the Aloha side with me.

And when you see what I got up to, I don’t think it’s going to be hard.

Aloha Sign Maui

Maui Sunset

Maui Blog Post

Mahalo for being amazing, Maui!

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Many thanks to the Maui Visitors Bureau for hosting me and showing me so much aloha. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Love in Lake George http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/08/lake-george-wedding/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2014/07/08/lake-george-wedding/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=24126 Between my back-to-back trips to Las Vegas and Maui, I had a very important reason to return to the East Coast for a mere fifty-two hours. The very first of my high school crew was getting hitched, and there was no way I was going to miss it. Amanda is one of my favorite people to catch up with whenever our busy schedules overlap, and reminiscing over our younger year antics — like our high school exchange trip to Costa Rica, or our wild after-prom weekend  — always makes me laugh.

The weather in Upstate New York can be pretty hit or miss in May, so I was overjoyed to see nothing but bright blue skies and fluffy white clouds as hometown bestie Kristin and I road tripped up to Lake George for the wedding. Lake George is an incredibly popular Adirondacks getaway, and I’ve spent surprisingly little time there in my life considering how close it is to Albany — this was the perfect excuse to return.

Sacred Heart Lake George

Just Married Cadillac Getaway Car

Sacred Heart Lake George Wedding

The highlight of the ceremony was seeing Amanda in her dress, and seeing Chris see her in her dress, and of course waving obnoxiously to our friend Michelle, who was killing it in her role as hot bridesmaid.

Sacred Heart Lake George Wedding

Sacred Heart Lake George Wedding

Post-ceremony the bride and groom peeled out in Chris’s own baby blue Cadillac, which was just about as charming as charming can possibly be. I’m bummed I didn’t get a picture of the adorable trolleys they hired to take us to the reception site, or, now that I think about it, an exterior shot of the beautiful Inn at Erlowest itself. Let’s just say the appetizers and champagne bar were a little too distracting. Though really, it was impossible not to notice all the heart-filled details Amanda put into the day, or the stunning setting she and Chris had chosen.

Wedding at Inn at Erlowest

Wedding Guests at Inn at Erlowest

Wedding at Inn at Erlowest

Wedding at Inn at Erlowest

Key and Luggage Tag Escort Cards

After a lovely cocktail hour on the deck, it was time to get the party started! Amanda made the wise choice to sit Kristin and I directly next to the cake and the dance floor, which I like to think is a sign of how well she knows me.

Love Wedding Cake

Wedding at Inn at Erlowest

Wedding at Lake George

Inn at Erlowest Bride and Groom

Wedding at Lake George

Inn at Erlowest Bride and Groom

Once the heart-melting first dance was complete, the dance floor was officially open. I had already been super excited for the wedding when I was informed that favorite local band The Accents would be playing, which seriously upped the I-can’t-wait-factor. You know those weddings where there are just a few lively guests on the dance floor, constantly trying to coax the reluctant crowds up to do a rendition of the Chicken Dance? (I mean, I know them from movies. My friends tend to throw really good parties, just sayin’.) This was not one of those weddings. We rocked that reception to the ground.

The Accents Albany

Dancing at Wedding at the Inn at Erlowest, Lake George

Dancing at Wedding at the Inn at Erlowest, Lake George

The Accents Wedding Band, Albany

The Accents Wedding Band, Albany

Yup, that is in fact the bride breaking it down with the cowbell. Have I mentioned Amanda knows how to have a good time? Now, please hold for a serious collection of prop-fueled party pictures. It was one for the books.

Dancing at Wedding at the Inn at Erlowest, Lake George

Dancing at Wedding at the Inn at Erlowest, Lake George

Dancing at Wedding at the Inn at Erlowest, Lake George

Dancing at Wedding at the Inn at Erlowest, Lake George

Dancing at Wedding at the Inn at Erlowest, Lake George

Dancing at Wedding at the Inn at Erlowest, Lake George

Dancing at Wedding at the Inn at Erlowest, Lake George

Dancing at Wedding at the Inn at Erlowest, Lake George

Dancing at Wedding at the Inn at Erlowest, Lake George

Dancing at Wedding at the Inn at Erlowest, Lake George

 

As always, it meant to much to me to be able to be physically present for such a monumental moment in one of my dear friend’s lives. Chris and Amanda, thank you for letting us all be a part of it! I wish you a lifetime of laughter and a fabulous honeymoon in Italy.

Congratulations Chris and Amanda!

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