A Travellerspoint blog

October 2016

Rain and snow – hey, that was not the plan!

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

rain 5 °C
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That last night at Jasper NP we did get awfully cold. Lucky us that our van has a heating system, but as we somehow don’t want it running all night, it did eventually get just too chilly for my taste. Hadn’t we planned our tour route such that we’d be skipping winter this year?
After warming up a bit over breakfast with hot tea and hot chocolate, we headed off towards the Edith Cavell mountain and its Angel glacier. Due to recent rock fall resulting in a sudden flood and mudslide we were not allowed to get close to the lake, so we had to content ourselves with the view from the distance. It was pretty cold up at the glacier and as it had snowed in the night before, we did get to see quite a couple of small avalanches.

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As we were heading south along the Icefields Parkway, which is often dubbed to be one of the most beautiful mountain roads in the world, the Athabasca Falls were our next destination. We were lucky to stay dry during our stop there. Despite the lack of sunlight, it was surprising how intense the colors looked.

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And in regards to the scenery, we were impressed by the beautiful mountains on both sides of the huge glacier valley we were driving through. Most likely (certainly) the views would have been even more impressive if there would have been a bit more sunshine. We consoled ourselves with the fact that the nice white snowcaps of the mountains around us were a very pretty sight as well which we would have missed in warmer or nicer weather.

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As we reached the Columbia Icefield, we briefly stopped at the local visitor center, only in order to realize that it is extremely catered to everyone being willing to spend lots of money on commercial tours driving onto the Athabasca glacier and spending a couple of minutes there such they can justify buying T-Shirts and other paraphernalia saying ‘I stood on a glacier’. We skipped the questionable pleasure of doing so and rather hiked to the toe of the glacier in the next morning.

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It was actually a quite scary experience even just to drive down to the parking lot from the visitor center. Every couple of hundred meters there were signs with the year when the glacier’s toe was at that location. Quite frankly, I had not realized that the glacier had started retreating already massively since 1885 when it still reached all the way up to where today the visitor center is located.
But even more impressive was the hike up towards the glacier realizing how much the retreat of the glacier speed up in the more recent past. It was quite a hike from the 1985 sign up to the actual glacier. We hiked over large slabs of stone engraved by the glacial ice. And due to the severe winds and cold rain, I must admit that Max and I did not even complete all of the hike, but headed down again once we had reached an intermediate overlook. Sam continued and was lucky enough to catch a quick episode of sunshine on the bright glacial ice.

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As we moved on the weather got a bit more pleasant again. At least it stopped raining and we got to see a bit of the landscape around us.

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Also at the trail to the Mistaya Canyon we were lucky to have no rain. The canyon reminded us much of the Antelope Canyon in the sense that we saw how the forces of water formed a slot canyon just like there. But other than in Arizona, as long as there are glaciers around in the Canadian mountains, there’s no likelihood that in the near future anyone will be able to wander into these slot canyons without being washed away by the forces of the Athabasca River – one of the three river systems starting in the Columbia Icefield and ending in the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.

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Next on our list of destinations was a hike to Peyto Lake, that Ralf had praised already back in Zion when we talked about the Canadian National Parks. Unfortunately, when we got there it was pouring rain and there was no view whatsoever. That was quite a pity and we once again realized at that stage how lucky we had been with the weather so far during our trip. With hardly any days of rain and lots of sunshine, we had been blessed with picture perfect photo opportunities so far. And being spoiled as such, it was a bit hard to accept that we’d simply not get to see one of the highlights of the Icefields Parkway. We did get a look at bow lake though, which was pretty nice as well!

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Luckily enough, our night at Mosquito Creek Campground was absolutely free of mosquitoes. In pouring rain at temperatures just above freezing, they would have had a hard life. We did have it a bit warmer in our van, but we would not have complained about a couple of degrees more.
The next day, we realize how low the snowline had come down during the night. A pretty, but also very cold sight!

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A bit later we did get to see a very still Lake Herbert before heading to Lake Louise.

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Our guidebook claims that Lake Louise is the most visited mountain lake worldwide. Even though I’m doubting the truth of the statement, we were simply amazed about the masses of people we saw there. The massive ‘The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’ did not help either to restore a sense of romance of being at a very beautiful glacial lake. Neither did the weather: it started snowing lightly out of very low hanging clouds.
After a brief look at the lake, we gave up all sightseeing activities and headed to Banff in search of a nice and warm café. We were very happy with that choice. Being in a pleasant place having a hot tea felt much more heart-warming than continuing to be out in the cold.
But our luck was soon to turn: after grocery shopping in Canmore and checking out one of the local skate parks, we headed to our place for the night. We were invited at Carola, Uwe and Aiyana’s who we had met a week earlier in Lake Country.

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We had pizza for dinner, lots of pleasant conversations and Max enjoyed playing with Aiyana until late in the night. It was simply great. And all of us were so happy to spend the night inside in a warm and comfy bed vs. staying outside in temperatures below freezing.
Life is beautiful! Thanks, Uwe, Carola and Aiyana!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 13:56 Archived in Canada Tagged snow rain canyon lake glacier castle icefields freezing Comments (1)

Picture perfect Canadian Rockies

Canmore, Johnston Canyon, Banff, Lake Louise, Radium Hot Springs, Fort Steele

sunny 19 °C
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It was a great night staying inside Uwe, Carola and Aiyana’s house in Canmore. And luckily enough, Carola had a day off that Monday such that she and Aiyana could join us the day to do some hiking. They suggested to go to nearby Johnston Canyon and it was an excellent choice. And the weather was simply perfect!

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The kids enjoyed the climbing and balancing options the trail to the upper falls had to offer and the adults were pleased with the kids entertaining themselves and therefore having enough time to enjoy the views of the canyon and the waterfalls.

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After nice lunch at the Canyon Diner, we headed back towards Banff and Carola was kind enough to stop at multiple occasions such that Sam could take nice pictures of the Rockies in sunshine. What a difference a little sun makes – not only in regards to pictures, but also in terms of our mood. It was great!

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As if the children did not have enough activity already, we got home to Canmore and headed off right away in direction of the local bike park, where Max and Aiyana were racing the hills. Eventually we had to stop them and move on. A herd of deer had come to the park and one of the deer seemed a bit nervous about all the activity going on so close by.

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So we headed back home, where Max and Aiyana had fun playing together and we enjoyed having nice conversations about Germany, Canada, cultural differences and the standards for building houses in both countries. It was a nice evening and we felt sad to say good bye again to our kind hosts. Still, there are good chances to host them again when they’ll be in Germany once we’ll be back, so we’ll be looking forward to that.
Still, Sam and I also took a bit of time to firm up our plans from there on. There were several options and after a bit of brainstorming, we decided to go back to Lake Louise once more to see it again in nice weather and to head on to Radium Hot Springs from there.
We took the scenic drive up to Lake Louise along the old parkway and luckily we did, as otherwise we’d not seen the deer crossing the river.

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Lake Louise looked quite different in nice weather than two days earlier in fog and snow. This time, we had a really nice view of the lake and Victoria glacier in the background. And at the lake shore around the Fairmont hotel, it was very crowded.

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So we did not stay for long down there, but started to hike the 3.6km up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse right away. That was not only a nice hike, but allowed us to get away from the crowds. And we were rewarded by excellent tea and cookies at the teahouse including a breath taking view Lake Agnes in the afternoon sun. And by the time we got back to the lake, there were even a bit less people there. Seems like the bus tours had left by then.

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It was late enough in the afternoon, that we enjoyed the ride through Kootenay National Park to Radium Hot Springs, but did not make any stops or hikes along the way.

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The next morning, we went from the town of Radium Hot Springs back into the National Park to the actual hot springs. And it was really relaxing to enjoy soaking in the hot water.

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After all that soaking and relaxing, we continued towards the south, which proved to be a really nice drive through the Eastern Kootenay Rockies. While we were surrounded by mountains, they were a bit in the distance such that we found ourselves driving through a long hilly landscape. We really liked the area around Lake Columbia and commented to each other that this is the kind of landscape we could see ourselves living in. Well, at least theoretically. I’m not quite sure if we’d really want to live hours away from any larger towns.

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Eventually we reached our campground at Fort Steele, a really nice spot hidden away from any roads. So it was really, really quiet. It was just a very short drive the next morning to get to the Fort Steele Heritage Site, which is more or less an outdoor museum featuring many buildings from the gold rush era. In the years around 1865, gold miners dug more gold out of Wild Horse Creek than in all of California.

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We enjoyed our day at Fort Steele and were happy that we went there. Not all attractions were still operational, but we probably preferred anyhow having less people around and more solitude. Even though the railroad was not active that day, we took the detour to have a look and that side trip clearly paid out.

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Still, eventually we had to take the decision that had been pending for the last couple of days: Option 1 would mean to continue east via Canada, passing through Fernie and then following the trans Canadian highway east towards Regina and Winnipeg. Option 2 would go down into the USA, lead us though Glacier National Park and then east along US highway 2.
We did a bit of research, found out that the Going-to-the-Sun Road through Glacier NP had just opened again today after a couple of days of being closed due to snow and ice. And we concluded we might as well go there, as we had met so many people on our travels who praised the park. So it was time to say good-bye to Canada on a gorgeous day, wondering when (there’s no question about the if) we’ll be back again.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:12 Archived in Canada Tagged springs canyon fort lake museum sun hike hot outdoor teahouse goldrush Comments (1)

Bye bye mountains, bye bye sightseeing

Whitefish Lake State Park, Glacier National Park

sunny 18 °C
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The first couple of miles back in the US looked just like Canada before the forest subsided and fields took over. We did not feel like driving much longer and eventually turned into Whitefish Lake State Park. It seemed like a nice location right next to the lake – perfectly suited to stay overnight not too far away from Glacier National Park.

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While in principle the above reasoning was right, there’s one major factor we overlooked in our decision taking: the state park was squeezed in between the lake and the railroad tracks. And the railroad tracks were unfortunately more than busy with lots and lots of freight trains all through the night. Still, the lake was nice, we saw a woodpecker, and there were some deer grazing in the park. And Max found enough building materials to build a house for his cars.

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From there it was just a short distance to reach the west entrance to Glacier National Park. We were planning to take the Going-to-the-Sun Road which is famed to be one of the most scenic drives through the Rockies.
It was a nice day to take the drive with a good share of sunshine. Even though it was the shoulder season and a weekday, the road was still very busy. In retrospect we were very happy that we had not gone there on our way from Yellowstone towards Washington, where we would have ended up on a weekend during vacation period. The road started as a nice and easy drive along some lakes and rivers.

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Eventually the road indeed went to the sun: it turned into a narrow and windy road taking us all the way up to the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. The further we got up, the more impressive were the views of the valleys and mountains below and around us.

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At our lunch location just below Logans Pass we were really impressed: we met a very nice couple and got to talk. Eventually we found out that they were the parents of 13 kids (of which two are adopted) between 32 and 9 years of age. We were thunderstruck. That is just too much to even imagine…

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Eventually we headed up all the way across the Logans Pass and hiked to Hidden Lake Overlook. It was a nice hike and brought us one last time up to the continental divide before we headed down towards St. Mary’s Lake.

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Down at the lake we were extremely lucky and got the last available campsite at the National Park campground. Lucky us! And even more lucky that on our walks through the campground we only encountered fairly fresh bear poo and not the bear that belonged to it.

Glacier National Park had been worthwhile seeing and we’re glad we took the detour vs. having continued straight east within Canada. And it marked a nice end point to our travels to date. Our trip down to St. Mary was the last stretch of road in the mountains, as we’d now be hitting the great plains. And it marks also the end of our sightseeing, as we’ll now try to simply get to the Great Lakes in as little time as possible in order to enjoy two weeks with friends and family.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:27 Archived in USA Tagged mountains lake road sightseeing hike railroad pass whitefish divide Comments (0)

Heading East along US Route 2

Glasgow, Granville, Bena, Iron River (MI)

sunny 23 °C
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The next morning, we left our campground in Glacier National Park and we headed towards Browning through a nice and hilly landscape. There we turned left onto US Route 2 which we wanted to follow east all the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Admittedly, the drive through the great plains was not too exciting, but still very pleasant. Even though the road was only a two-lane highway, we were not inconvenienced by that in any way. After all, there was hardly any traffic on the road. It caused a rush of excitement when there was another car or truck in front of us. Unfortunately, the excitement happened not very often and once we had passed, there was nothing happening anymore for a long time.
And our van had a great day: it completed its 100,000th mile of driving through beautiful landscapes.

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We passed through endless stretches of agricultural land with lot sizes, but also tractors and equipment in enormous sizes that we had never seen back home in Germany.

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Most of the time the railroad tracks ran alongside the road. And the trains seemed to be endlessly long - mostly with over 100 wagons and a total of five locomotives at the front and rear of the train. You need to look closely, but the black line in the picture is one of these long trains:

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We also passed through a string of small towns. They were not too exciting, but at least gave us a bit to see that was more interesting than just fairly flat farmland. And all of the towns provided us with stop opportunities for getting gas or taking a break next to a park with playground.
That evening we stopped for the night in Glasgow. And lucky us that we turned north into one of the signposted RV parks and not into the one south of the road – otherwise we would have ended up right next to the train tracks once again (and we were able to still hear it and imagined vividly how it would be being right next to them!). And otherwise we might have missed the beautiful Centennial Park where we had lots of fun playing a round of frisbee golf and where Sam ran two miles before heading off in the next morning.
It did not take long to reach North Dakota, which marked the last of our ten changes in time zone on the North American continent. The area around Williston was truly amazing: a modern kind of gold rush with oil pumps, storage and refining all over the place in what seemed to have been quiet fields until not too long ago.

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While fascinating, we were not tempted to stop and rather continued onwards to the tiny towns of Ray for lunch and Granville for staying overnight. Both featured large parks with big playgrounds and were conveniently located not too far from the highway, but just far enough for not having the noise. But of course, there were the railroad tracks! Fortunately enough, this part of the railroad system seemed to get much less traffic vs. Glasgow, so we were not bothered too much.

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On our next day of driving we got an early start and coincidentally passed through the town of Rugby, which marks the geographical center of North America. And once more we realized that despite five months of traveling the continent, we did only get to see a small portion of the enormous continent. With the mainland of Mexico, northern Canada and Alaska and the whole East and South of the USA, there’s so much more to see on future adventures.

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Still, at that stage we were not looking for big adventures, but tried to cover as many miles as possible. After a quick lunch break in one of Grand Forks’ huge parks, we reached Minnesota and realized that contrary to all states we had passed since leaving Canada, we finally had T Mobile service again. We used that luxury right away to do some research on the internet and to do some WhatsApp calls with folks at home.

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Unfortunately, the nicely located National Forest campground we chose for the night, was closed already. So we just took the first RV park we found along the road. It was not too far from the lake and provided a nice place to visit in the late afternoon sun.

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We were aware that this would mark our last night camping and sleeping in the van. So we consciously lit a campfire and stayed out longer than usual, our way of saying good bye to camping. After almost five months of sleeping in our van with only four nights sleeping elsewhere, we can truly say that our Westy was ‘home’. And it had served us so well and never let us down.
On our last leg of the journey east, we passed close by the Mississippi headwaters. It takes quite some imagination that the little creek we passed over would end up being the fourth longest river in the world.
Like all other days, we passed a dead skunk along the road and were still just as much amazed in regards to how badly it stinks for miles.
What was supposed to be the final spurt to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, did not really work out as such: already the previous afternoon the well-kept four lane divided highway had turned into a two lane highway. And as the road got more and more bumpy, the speed limits continued to decrease from the 70 we started at to eventually just 55 when we passed along Lake Superior – the largest freshwater body in the world – into Wisconsin and later into Michigan.
And finally we passed the town sign of Iron River, Michigan. Carol (my host mother Janis’ sister) already waited for us at our agreed meeting point and greeted us with still warm home-made chocolate chip cookies – what a nice surprise! She led us the way to their cabin on Hagerman Lake where Pete (her husband) waited already to show us around.
So after 1330 miles since leaving St. Mary in Glacier National Park of which we drove probably more than 1280 on US highway number 2, we made it back to the Great Lakes and almost closed the loop back to our starting place in Chicago.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:15 Archived in USA Tagged lakes great highway drive route railroad oil frisbee plains farmland Comments (0)

Life in the cabin at the lake

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

semi-overcast 15 °C
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It was a great feeling to know that we had made it all the way to Carol and Pete’s place on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Even though all of us had enjoyed the last months of living in the camper van, none of us was sad to move into a room and sleep in a proper bed. Rather the opposite: We were all really looking forward to some time without any driving and just being in one and the same place.

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And what should I say: it is a really nice place. Once we arrived, Pete and Carol showed us around their cabin and the surroundings. Admittedly, the cabin could probably be also called a house and it is situated very nicely in the woods right above Hagerman Lake. Before even looking around the house, our first destination was the pier with the motorboat, the kayaks, the stand-up paddleboard and the water bike.

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We really enjoyed our days at Carol and Pete’s. There was so much to see and to do that there was no way for getting bored.
Whenever the weather was nice enough to do so, we headed out on the lake. After a short round alone in the kayak, Max decided to rather opt for the motorboat. Even though he clearly wanted to go out alone with the motorboat, he was not allowed to do so. But he really enjoyed going out with Pete and was thrilled to being allowed to even steer the boat himself. Sam preferred the water bike, and I mostly used the kayak.

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Whenever we were not out on the water, we took long hikes through the woods and into the nearby Ottawa National Forest. With Max using his bike, we were able to cover quite some distances. Along the way we found lots of mushrooms - not edible, but very pretty!

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The first couple of days, we enjoyed very nice and sunny fall weather. And with the leaves turning colors, this was a marvelous sight. Not to forget about the fabulous sunsets!

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But there was much more as well to keep us busy: Sam decided to get an appointment with a local dentist. The good news was that he confirmed after an x-ray scan that there only seems to be an irritated nerve and no real major issue.
And we had long expected visitors coming in: Janis arrived on Friday evening with her son Charles and my parents. It was so good to have them around. After all, it had been five months since we last met. Max had been already excited for the last couple of days that his Opa and Oma would be coming. And Sam and I were glad to see how much fun Max had when Pete or his grandparents spent time with him.
But even when the weather turned to be a bit more unpleasant with rainy cool days, there were lots of options to keep us entertained. While Max and Sam built LEGO castles, trucks and star ships, I got started with some puzzles eventually culminating in a 1000-piece puzzle of Yosemite. And once almost everyone had helped to finally get the puzzle completed, we started playing Farkle and Herzeln.

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Had I mentioned already the hot tub and the sauna or the open chimney? The cooler weather was the perfect excuse for our almost daily dip in the hot tub.

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And let me also mention the food: There was also no possible way of ever staying hungry. After breakfast, we did not have to wait too long for lunch. In the afternoons, there was classical German ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ (even though we stuck to tea vs. coffee) and in the evening there was once dinner. And no matter what Carol prepared or Pete put onto the BBQ, it was excellent: steaks, shish kebabs, taco salad, sloppy joes, local pasties, bratwurst… And as soon as we thought, we’re just absolutely stuffed, there was some kind of dessert coming our way, such that we ate as if we had been starved for weeks: lots of varieties of cookies, plum cake, brownies, icecream, chocolate fondue – you name it.
The food we had in town one day was ok, but there was no way whatsoever to live up to the cooking of Carol. Still, it was the perfect opportunity to combine the trip into Iron River with a trip to the car wash to vacuum our van. And we spent quite a lot of time in the garage trying to get the insides of the van as clean as possible. To make sure that the van is also well maintained, we had one last oil change done and eventually were happy that we were done.
As if all of that would not have been enough, one evening we got a heads up that there was a chance of seeing Northern Lights as south as Michigan. So we checked it out and in fact saw a slight glow towards the north. Nothing absolutely spectacular, but still quite cool. And as it was a nice and clear night, we even got to see the Milky Way as well.

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We could have spent lots more time at the cabin and it felt great to take a break from traveling. We had not done so few miles for ages – probably not even during the last couple of months back in Germany. Still, after ten days it was time to go back to Chicago respectively Glenview.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:38 Archived in USA Tagged food lake sauna kayak hike forest cabin puzzle tub lego waterbike Comments (0)

Back to the starting point and lots of good byes

In Milwaukee, Glenview, Oak Lawn, Los Angeles

rain 17 °C
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We loved our time at the lake in the cabin and could have spent much more time there. Especially as it was perfect fall weather and the leaves just started to turn colors and it would have been just another week or so for being even more colorful.
Eventually we headed off and drove south into Wisconsin. It was a beautiful drive, passing through colourful forests and alongside of a couple of lakes. As we approached Lake Michigan, the sun was covered by heavy clouds and the interstate was not nearly as nice as the smaller backroads had been.
As we plotted out where to stop along the way, Sam realized that we’d be passing through Milwaukee, the home of Harley Davidson. And anyone who knows Sam a bit, suspects already that we would not pass this perfect opportunity to stop at the Harley Davidson museum.
Upstairs all the history of HD was on display starting with the first motorcycle created in 1903 and subsequent developments including some army versions produced for both world wars and racing bikes that set long distance speed records.

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Max enjoyed the collection of fuel tanks in all different colors, the kids’ corner and the movie scenes featuring Harley Davidsons. That left enough time for Sam to stroll around and take pictures of the rather unusual models on display. Last but not least, all of us got to try out and sit on the newest 2017 models such that we could imagine owning and riding them around the world.

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With the stop in Milwaukee, it got late and dark already as we headed into Glenview, where we had headed off for our big journey in early May. About a mile before parking the van the last time, we almost got into an accident – what a shock, just shortly before arriving.
It was good to be ‘home’ and Janis had dinner waiting for us already. So life was good again.
The next morning, we had to get our van ready for potential buyers to have a look. It was the worst possible weather for cleaning the van. By the time the outsides of the van were shining, Sam was soaking wet from the torrential rain and I was the lucky one to finish the insides of the van. At noon, the first couple of interested people had a look at the van and we spent the afternoon talking with some more interested people on the phone.
After that much effort, we went bowling together with Janis. We had lots of fun and also Max enjoyed his first ever game of bowline. With the special slide for the ball and the bumpers up, Max managed to even come in second place behind Sam.

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The next day we were invited at Carol’s birthday party. After great (and too much!) Mexican food, we could not resist to eat large amounts of angel food cake with chocolate cream and berries – yummy! But eventually we had to leave and say good bye to Carol, Pete and the kids. Let’s hope it’s not too long until we’ll see each other again!
That evening we watched ‘Easy Rider’ – the Harley museum in Milwaukee had inspired us. The popcorn was great, some of the pictures of the American west reminded us of our trip, but overall we were a bit overwhelmed. Crazy times.
Our last full day in the US was pretty much dedicated to packing and getting paperwork sorted. These rather tedious tasks were only interrupted by long walks in the park and excellent lunch. My mom had brought all the ingredients for making my favourite food: plum dumplings (Zwetschgenknödel). As she was unable to find the usual kind of plums we use in the stores, we used what was available and it was great. Thanks, mom!
While we had contemplated five months back that it would be nice to spend another day in Chicago towards the end of our trip, by now our interests had shifted. We enjoyed being around our and Janis’ family and had not the slightest interest in doing any sightseeing.
The next morning, we tried to stay as much outside as possible. We’d be spending anyhow lots of time inside of airports and planes. Janis treated us to Mexican food for lunch – including my favourite refried beans. It was great and once more tempted us to eat much more than needed. Both Sam and I agree, that the last two weeks of our stay in the US, we both gained a bit of weight. It was just too good!
After lunch Janis made already the first tour to the airport and we had to say good bye to my parents. It was great that they had come. And while we (ab-)used the opportunity to get rid of many things we did not need on our further trip anymore, I do feel sorry that they had to take baggage home at the absolute upper limit of what’s allowed.
Until Janis came back for the second trip to the airport with us, we enjoyed one last hour at home. We hugged the van good bye one last time and exchanged hopes with Phil, Sam and Janis that we’d hopefully see each other again before too long. One last wave back and off we went to the airport.
In a certain way this was a déjà vu, going back to the starting point. It felt not too different from going to the airport in Munich those five months ago. Once again, we’d have new adventures, and a new continent waiting for us.
At the airport we were a bit disappointed that American Airlines had recently implemented a practice of not checking bags through whenever flights have not been purchased at the same time. So in retrospect it did not help us to book with them, even though they are affiliated with Air Tahiti Nui in the Oneworld Alliance.
So once we arrived in Los Angeles, we had to retrieve our bags and the car seat, haul them into the next terminal and check them in again. But as we had enough time to do so, this did only represent an inconvenience and no real issue. And we even found a kind employee of Air Tahiti Nui who offered to post our postcards for us (since 9/11 there seem to be no mailboxes at US airports anymore) - written last minute like in every vacation.
We have travelled via plane very often with Max before and visited lots of countries. At practically all airports so far he had been our super joker: we were usually allowed to skip waiting lines and to board first. Not so in the USA: it's first the people who booked first class, then those with senator status, then those with other miles status, then the holder of certain credit cards - you get the message.
As our flight only left LAX at 11:40pm but despite the two-hour time difference vs. Chicago, Max had managed well to stay up as long. But by the time of boarding he was really tired. So it took a bit of convincing to be allowed to board in wave 1 of the non-priority economy passengers instead of wave 2. And it was good that we did that: Max fell asleep pretty much as soon as we had found our seats in the plane and slept until breakfast was served.
One last wave back towards the continent that hosted us so nicely during more than five months and off we go...

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:42 Archived in USA Tagged rain airport museum leaving harley birthday van bowling sale bye Comments (1)

Maeva / Bienvenue / Welcome French Polynesia

In Tahiti

semi-overcast 29 °C
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On long distance flights, for us most airlines are pretty much the same: there’s individual in-flight entertainment, mediocre food and some kind of cheap toy article handed out for kids. But this time, there was a first: never before did we get a flower handed out in a plane. In this case it was even a Tahitian Tiaré which was extremely fragrant with a very pleasant smell.

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Upon our arrival, we were pleased once more about a distinctive difference vs. other airports: at the entrance to the main terminal, there was a couple playing music and dancing for us. I found it funny to see that they were wearing official airport employee badges on their traditional costumes.
Passport control was not more than just a quick glance – after all we were just official entering France, i.e. an EU country. The airport is small by comparison and consequently our bags arrived in no time.
As it was just a bit after 5am in the morning local time, we decided to have a break at the airport snack bar. Max was excited to get his favourite drink, real ‘Apfelschorle’ imported from Germany and we tried to wake up by drinking some tea.
A bit after 7am it seemed late enough to take a taxi to our home for the next two nights, the Inaiti Lodge. Marceline, the owner greeted us warmly and invited us to have some tea and hot chocolate. She explained all we needed to know about our surroundings and shared the great news with us that our room was already available for us and we did not have to wait until the official check in time of 2pm.
We were excited to hear that: all of us were a bit exhausted from the long overnight flight. And after a while even Max went to sleep. By noon we had rested enough to start exploring and to have something to eat. An outside nearby snack bar was easily found and we had great fresh food underneath a tree in full bloom.

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For shopping we headed to the local Carrefour market which reminded us a lot of the Carrefour we used to shop at when we still lived in Romania.
A bit later in the day we took a walk to the Tahiti Yacht Club. There we had a nice view of the sailboats, the sea and the sunset behind the neighbouring island of Moorea. We even spotted a typical outrigger canoe training in the evening sun.

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In the evening we stayed up until after 8pm and rested well until the next morning. And with that we were practically adjusted to the new time zone – five hours behind the Chicago time we were used to.
It did take us a bit longer to get adjusted to the heat though. At 30 °C / 86 °F it was actually not too unpleasant, but we were simply not used to such temperatures anymore.
There were also lots of other things we were not used to anymore after our long stay in North America: typical French baguette for breakfast, seemingly crazy car drivers (of which more than 50% seem to be driving Renault / Dacia, Peugeot or Citroen) and people speaking exclusively French. In fact, many of them probably know how to speak other languages as well, but they usually chose not to do so. So it was time for me to resurface my French skills, while Sam and Max were pretty much at my mercy to get translations.
We ventured into Papeete by taking the local bus into town. Our first destination was the central market, where we had excellent food and had fun people watching.

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From there we headed from the pier with its cruise ships, sailboats and colorful fish to the parks along the sea promenade where we easily found a playground for Max to get rid of some of his excess energy.

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Back in the center of town we had a peak into the cathedral and walked by the town hall, but actually preferred to watch the artists decorating large surfaces all over the town as part of the annual street art festival.

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That evening we were knackered and happy to just sit in our little hut outside, have some baguette with camembert cheese and local Hinano beer. If I wouldn’t have read the label, I could have easily believed it to be Bavarian beer, a typical ‘Helles’ – a nice surprise.
At night, it was raining heavily and we were able to experience a short and intense tropical rain shower also that morning. Once again, we were extremely lucky, as Marceline was able to let us stay in our room until she took us to the airport around noon. Check in was very quick and we took the advice to stay outside the gate area until 10 min before boarding would start. What seems like an impossible idea in most large airports, was easily done: there was no one waiting in front of us at the security check.
And our joker Max did an excellent job again: having a child below 12 years of age, we were allowed to board the tiny ATR 42 turboprop plane first – a big plus considering that there were no seats assigned and we wanted to make sure that we’ll get good seats for taking pictures.
And the views from the plane were beautiful indeed. We got to see all major islands of the Society Islands. We started right next to the sea in Tahiti and soon got to see Moorea and later Huahine below us.

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After just 35 min of flight, our plane made a planned stop in Raiatea, where we got treated to an excellent close up view of Raiatea and neighboring Tahaa. Many people left the plane and a couple of new passengers joined. Still, of the 48 seats in the plane 13 had to stay empty, as the short runway in Maupiti only allows for a limited payload.

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Along the way to our left, Bora Bora was lying peacefully below us giving us already an impressive first glimpse into where we’ll be in a couple of days’ time.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 15:16 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged sea beer sunset flight island outrigger baguette heat eu Comments (0)

Perfect island paradise

Maupiti

sunny 28 °C
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It was love at first sight. Already from the air Maupiti looked simply perfect: a volcanic island with a high peak surrounded by an emerald lagoon and five rather flat coral islands.

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Despite the short runway on one of the northern coral islands, our landing was very smooth. Consequently, the presence of a large fire truck was only a reassurance and it was not required to take any action. The airport building itself was tiny, not much more than a covered passageway. But the waiting area was exceptional: small benches in the shade of palm trees right next to the lagoon.

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Once we had our baggage, it was only a really short walk over to the boat that should take us onto the main island. Once we, our baggage, a French couple that looked like honeymooners and a few locals were waiting in the boat, we soon realized that the boat also doubled as the postal service boat carrying all air freight onto the main island. And a bit later, we realized that it was also the employee shuttle for the whole airport crew of Air Tahiti – consisting of a total of six people.
The ferry ride was a good introduction to Maupiti and its crystal clear water. Before too long, we arrived in the village and were greeted by Sandra, the owner of Pension Tereia with flower garlands. We loaded our baggage onto her truck and she took us to the pension. She showed us around and we had some coconut and water before heading to the nearby beach where we stayed until after the sunset.

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By that time, we were already more than hungry and keen to have dinner which was to be served at 7pm. And it was simply excellent: for starters we had tuna sashimi with an excellent soy based sauce, followed by steaks of parrot fish with vanilla sauce and rice. And fresh mango from the tree next to the house as dessert. Simply perfect.
Sandra's son then showed us how to open a coconut with a single hit of a hand. Sam tried the technique successfully and we enjoyed the coconut water - at that stage we were too full to have anything else to eat.
The next morning, we had breakfast and were ready to leave at 8:30 for our excursion. Together with Claire and Adrien, the other guests in the pension we wanted to go snorkelling with manta rays and have lunch on a ‘motu’ – a small coral islet next to the only shippable pass into the inner lagoon of Maupiti.
Sandra’s husband Kété was steering the motorboat out into the lagoon supported by Max.

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Eventually we stopped rather abruptly, as there were manta rays underneath us. So we got our snorkelling gear and jumped into the water to have a closer look. The rays were enormous and it was hard to believe that Kété said that these were rather small, as their wingspan can get as big as 7m / 23 ft. Max and I preferred to have a look from the surface only, but Sam ventured down to the bottom of the sea at 5 or 6 m depth to have a look from below. It’s always impressive to see such gigantic animals and how small we humans are in comparison.

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After all of us were back in the boat and Kété’s son headed off with his harpoon to catch a fish for our dinner. And no worries, in Maupiti neither rays, nor sharks or whales are being caught – it’s not part of their tradition as we were told - there are way too many other fish around. And we simply marvelled at the sights around us.

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We then traversed through the only pass of Maupiti connecting the lagoon with the open sea. It is a narrow and rather long pass which is quite dangerous for larger boats. Consequently, in adverse weather the only freight boat coming to the island once per month will not attempt the passage with the result that it will only come back a month later and supplies in the stores might get low.

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Kété did a good job and soon enough we were out in the open sea. The waves were significantly bigger than inside the lagoon and we started making our plans just in case something would happen – after all it seemed that there were no life jackets available on the boat.
While we still wondered why we even went out to the open sea, suddenly Kété alerted us that just in front of the boat he had spotted the fountain of a whale and we got to see the backside of two humpback whales. When we thought already that they had dived down and would not resurface for the next couple of minutes, Kété turned and had us observe a spot and make sure that we had our cameras ready. And he was right: just seconds later one of the whales surfaced, blew air out (which was much louder than expected!) and showed his nice tail before heading down. Wow!

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That was already much more than expected, but we made one more snorkelling stop in a beautiful coral garden.

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After all these impressions, we headed for lunch on the small island east of the pass. And what a great location - just beautiful!

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Just like us, most other tourists on the island seemed to be there. After all, it was Saturday, the only day in the week when the typical Tahitian underground sand oven is put into action. Soon after we arrived, it was ceremonially opened and all the procedures and traditions were explained – in French, without any hesitation or thought about people potentially not being able to understand.

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So I unearthed my French skills to understand that we had pork, mussels and chicken as main courses together with cooked bananas and breadfruit. In addition, there was typical raw fish in coconut milk (which was excellent) and fermented fish with fermented coconut milk. The latter smelled much worse than it tasted. Without knowing what it is, we would have probably rather put it into the ‘cheese’ category than assuming that it is fish. For dessert, there was some kind of fruit jelly once again in coconut milk. All in all, the food was very different from what we know and had a distinct smoky flavour to it from the way it was prepared. Not bad, but it will also never be our favourite food.

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What followed, was not really what Sam and I are keen on: tourist entertainment at its best: it started with a competition in throwing coconuts into a hole 8m / 25ft away. The guests of all ten pensions on the island were to compete against each other. As we did not get into the round of the last three and consequently were done rather soon. While that exercise was actually fun, we both declined the next session of Polynesian dancing. We rather did it like the locals and took a dip in the water to cool off. We even spotted a couple of leopard whiptail rays while doing so.

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The excursion was excellent and we had really enjoyed our time on the trip. But after so much sun, we were glad to eventually to take the trip back home. That was fun as well - some of us had to sit in the back of the truck, including Kété who nicely played his ukulele along the way.

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We played a round of Farkle with Claire and Adrien before dinner, which was fun once again.
Even though Maupiti is small and remote and not nearly as touristy as all the other Society Islands, we were amazed to have excellent wireless internet in our pension. It seems that this luxury is a must have by now for all places hosting tourists. In comparison: drinking water on the island is available at five stations around the island where we often saw people or kids filling their canisters or bottles.

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On our last day in Maupiti, Sam and Claire climbed Mount Teurufaaiu (385m / 1280ft). A steep direct route secured by ropes led them all the way to the top to take in breath taking views of the island from above.

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In the meantime, the rest of us took it easy: we had a late breakfast and played some games. Once Sam was back, we went to the white beach and admired the beautiful water again.
We got food at the snack bar along the beach and soon enough had to leave towards the ferry and the airport.

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There we got the excellent hint from Claire to ask for ‘Maupiti’ stamps in our passports. After all, we had not even gotten any stamps into our passports upon our arrival – we’re in the European Union after all.
Still, the airport was clearly not up to the usual European standards and we simply loved sitting under the palm trees some 30m / 90ft from the landing strip (without any fence or the like in between). When it got hot, we just walked a couple of steps to stand in the clear water of the lagoon.

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With Max we were able to skip the line and get first onto the plane again and only realized when walking up to it that there had not been any security control. Life is beautiful and we decided that Maupiti clearly is a place to come back to one day.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:49 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged traditional mountain island paradise lagoon hike coconut snorkel whale coral manta ray islet oven motu Comments (0)

The classical honeymoon destination

Bora Bora

semi-overcast 28 °C
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It was just a 10 min hop from Maupiti to Bora Bora. So before we knew it, we were there already.

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It did not take long to get our bags and to board the ferry to Bora Bora’s main island.

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We were picked up by our host Gérard at the ferry terminal and took over our nice apartment in the ‘Sunset Hill Lodge’ with a view of the sea and some of the outer islands. We immediately left again, headed towards the supermarket, as we were extremely hungry.
Seeing the prices in the supermarket, we realized that Bora Bora is not only more touristy, but also more expensive than the other islands. We shopped for dinner and stocked up our supplies of baguette.
After a relaxing long breakfast on our terrace with view of the lagoon, we planned our excursions for the day: a walk to the local supermarket and in the evening a stroll into Bora Bora’s main village Vaitape. It was fun seeing a bit of local life.

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We watched the locals playing football on a small field next to the sea, their girl friends chatting away close to the sea. We observed how quickly others were gliding on the water in their outrigger canoes and got treated to a great sunset.

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For dinner we went to the local fast food places, called ‘roulottes’. The roulottes are colorfully decorated mobile food vans that serve as snack bars, located in the center of most French Polynesian towns and villages. The food was quickly served, excellent fresh quality and affordable compared to the local standard. Everything we had was good, but we particularly liked the classical Tahitian raw fish in coconut milk.

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On our walk home, we passed a large group of women studying their new Polynesian dance routines and four locals sitting close to the lagoon, singing and playing the ukulele. But also the cruise ship that anchored that evening in the lagoon helped us to enjoy simply being where we were.

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Gérard also had good news for us when we came home: he had kayaks that he’d be happy for us to use for free. That was excellent news and we were thrilled by the prospects of going kayaking one day.
The next morning, Gérard offered to drive us to Matira Beach, the nicest beach in Bora Bora. So we spent a wonderful day at the beach, snorkelling, swimming, building sand castles and playing in the sand.
The culinary highlight of the day was Sam’s excellent tomato soup with couscous. With full stomachs we played a round of dice before getting Max to bed and eventually heading off to bed ourselves.
This way we were up early enough to do some kayaking. Gérard recommended that we cross the lagoon and go to a little motu. It was an excellent recommendation and we enjoyed the trip there and also the islet itself. It is in fact a private island which the guests of one of the super luxury hotels may use. Luckily enough we were alone and had the whole island for ourselves.

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On our paddle back home, we passed anchored sailboats from all around the world. Sam spotted one flying the Austrian flag – even though I have the suspicion that it was just a charter boat. And there was another sailboat from La Paz, Mexico. It’s four months that we were there and potentially this trip could easily be done by boat in this time. Still, Sam and I agreed that neither of us would have been tempted by a sailing trip of such dimensions. Coming from mountainous areas, we feel much more grounded on land and would feel rather intimidated to have only water around us – much deeper than an anchor could reach.
After our intense paddling (more for me than for Sam who would have had still enough reserves to paddle around the cruise ship), we had a quiet afternoon and a good sleep – at least Sam and I. Max has completely given up on his afternoon sleeps by now and prefers to play quietly on his own vs. sleeping like we do.

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We spent our last day in Bora Bora at Matira beach again, thanks to Gérard taking us there again. We enjoyed just being there, looking out onto the lagoon and taking an occasional swim to cool off.

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We watched two obviously rather rich girls being brought to the beach in a boat of one of the large luxury hotels. As they were not allowed on the hotel beach to use their drone, they had to come to the public beach to do so. Once they were gone, we were fascinated about the German couple who sat down close to us in the shade. They were the first Germans we had seen in Bora Bora, as over 80% if not 90% of all tourists we met so far seemed to be French. As we got to talk, we learned that they are on a round the world trip as well: in two and a half weeks and stops in Hong Kong, Auckland, Bora Bora, Hawaii and Los Angeles. As much as I love traveling, I don’t think that this is what I’d ever like to do!
Eventually we headed to the ferry which treated us to nice views of Bora Bora’s central island on the way to the airport.

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Our flight was after sunset, consequently there was not too much to be seen. And we were looking forward to Raiatea – the sacred island.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 16:37 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged sunset beach cruise dance kayak ferry expensive snack motu roulotte Comments (1)

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