Tag Archives: vacation

The Great Ocean Road Day 1: Great Otway National Park

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The Great Ocean Road is an iconic drive along the south coast of Australia. Accessing the road is relatively easy. It starts about an hour west of Melbourne. For travelers, especially international ones, I’d recommend a stop at the travel information center along highway 1 just outside of Geelong. The people there were quite friendly. They provided plenty of maps and other information about attractions, which ended up being quite useful. They told me that many visitors try to do the entire drive all in one day, particularly in summer. However, with so much to do here, I am glad we chose a three day excursion in a camper van.

Our first spotting of the ocean shore in the distance, occurred less than 2km after we passed a sign welcoming us to the Great Ocean Road. A lot of travel involves a destination that is one specific location; a museum, campground, event or city. In these cases, it is easy to know when you have “arrived” at your destination. On trips like this one, the lines can be blurred. Seeing the ocean after passing this sign gave us a clearer indication that we were now at our intended destination- The Great Ocean Road.

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A bit further West, after having already hugged the coastline for about 20 km, an even fancier welcome awaits motorists just before entering one of the larger towns along the road, Lorne.

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Passing under this arch felt reminiscent of cycling under the original gateway into Yellowstone National Park, several summers ago.

The eastern half of this scenic drive passes in and out of coastal towns like Lorne and Torquay, which are primarily known for their surfing.

It also jets in and out of Great Otway National Park, a pretty dense feeling forest with plethora of utterly amazing waterfalls. Visiting all the waterfalls in this park would likely take several days, so it’s probably good to just pick a few specific ones to visit.

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As is the case with most of the other waterfalls in the park, getting to Erskine Falls required venturing a bit off the Great Ocean Road. The trailhead is about 10 km off the road in Lorne, and the walk was about 1.5 km round trip.

Despite the raw power of a this waterfall, the place felt quite tranquil. The trees calm the air while also creating a feeling of seclusion. Below the falls, the water seemed oddly calm despite having just descended 38 m (125 ft.). There is nothing like a gentile flowing creek when it comes to feeling balanced, happy, and connected to nature. The water cycle ties our planet together, and the manner in which it retains its tranquil feeling after going over the falls is uniquely reassuring.

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Each of the waterfalls in Great Otway National Park has a pattern that is unique from one another. Yet, they are uniform in their ability to create a feeling of seclusion from the outside world which made me feel refreshingly carefree and mindful.

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We saw the sun gradually begin to descend upon the Great Ocean Road, as we approached our campsite for the first evening, in a smaller town called Wye River where it appeared as if most people live on a hill.

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We set up a table and chairs along another tranquil creek, and opened up the top, or “penthouse” of our Jucy camper van.

It was my first time traveling in a camper van, but the experience felt quite similar to the kinds of camping trips I take part in back home in Colorado (with the exception of the sunset at 5:15 creating a long night).

Trips like this, away from much of our most recent technology always make me wonder whether or not it is worth it. Sure, when we ditch some of this technology, at places like this, there are more chores to be done, and some entertainment options are not available. However, making a comparison between an evening camping and an evening in the city, it feels like much of what our newest technologies have created are only minor conveniences, like a computer algorithm to help us select music to listen to, or a way to not have to physically buy a ticket to an event in person.

In exchange, we have created hundreds of new procedures to remember, hundreds of additional hours annually in front of screens, hundreds more things to keep track of and maintain and hundreds of log-ins and passwords to various sites and apps. Maybe it all is worth it, as I am comparing a holiday to normal days where we often have to work, do some form of home maintenance or run errands. Regardless, I am glad to have had some time away from these countless complications we have recently added to our lives.

An All-Inclusive Week At Cancun’s El Dorado Royal

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Day 1: Every time I land in another country, something feels different.  I had this feeling when I first landed at the airport in Cancun, despite the fact that much of my surroundings were remarkably similar to what I experience at home.  As is the case at many U.S. airports, the airport signs are written in both English and Spanish, with the English words on top.  Even the mix of people didn’t feel too terribly different from many places around Colorado where I live. It was the little differences I observed; some different looking buildings, speed limits in kilometers per hour, and the driver of the van that took us to the resort from the airport trying to sell us Coronas (or Mexican water, as he said) that made me feel as if I had actually traveled to a place that is different than the place where I live and the places where I spend most of my time.

We arrived at the resort in the middle of the afternoon.  A resort this size takes a little bit of time to become acquainted with, as it has multiple sections, with different types of travelers having different types of experiences, a whole bunch of pools, and a ton of restaurants.  One of the great things about being at an all inclusive resort is the fact that, once guests arrive at the resort, everything, particularly food and drink, is taken care of.  This is good because I arrived hungry.  It would be the last time I would really experience hunger for the duration of the week.

Day 2: Like most Americans, a majority of my travel involves an itinerary of some sorts.  This makes the transition from what is referred to as the “real world” to the world of that particular voyage seamless.  The normal day-to-day concerns, work, schedules, responsibilities, etc. are replaced by the schedule- the itinerary of the trip.  Today I have meetings at 9,10, and 11, and a document that needs to be finalized by the end of the day transitions smoothly to tonight we are staying at this hotel, they have a continental breakfast, than we’re gonna get to this attraction by 10:30-ish.

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On this vacation, there was no itinerary; at least not at first.  There was just enjoying the weather, enjoying the beach, the pool, the activities, and a week off of not just work but many other sources of stress, such as chores, social situations, etc.  This often leads to a gradual process of letting go.  Over the course of roughly 36 hours these concerns gradually slip out of the mind, to be replaced, miraculously, with nothing!  I bet there are some people that do not even know what that feels like anymore.

Day 3: I decided I wanted to go the full day without taking any pictures.  Now that the process of disconnecting from the “real world” was complete, it was a good time to live in the moment, and, not think about anything else, not even what I would write in this blog!  It was on this day that two of the things that typically happen during longer resort trips happened.

First, I actually started to settle into a quazi-routine. El Dorado Royale offers a lot of activities, activities I more or less took advantage of.  At 8 A.M., there was yoga on the pier.  9 A.M. Spanish lessons.  11:00 volleyball.  12:00 Aqua-aerobics.

Since guests do not need to cary around money, ID, and such at an all-inclusive resort, these resorts can offer amenities such as swim up bars.  We found ourselves, after the noon Aqua-aerobics, swimming up to the bar to have some drinks in the pool.  And since I was typically eating breakfast a bit later (10 A.M.), an hour or so of drinks would then be followed by lunch, and then the day’s afternoon activities, which varied a bit more day-to-day.

Day 3 was also when I began to make vacation friends; other tourists who had also managed to disconnect from their “real world” concerns, and had been drinking and enjoying themselves in the pool.

The resort has a lot of great restaurants, but their signature restaurant is one called Fuentes. This restaurant is a dinner show, with a famous chef that demonstrates how each course is cooked while serving the food.  The dinner and cooking demonstration lasted two and a half hours.  Each course featured food from a different region of Mexico.  It was not just a meal, but also lessons about both geography and cooking technique.

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Every evening at El Dorado Royale, there is a show.  It typically starts at around 9:45 and lasts about an hour.  This is followed by dancing.  I found the meal/cooking demonstration exhausting!  I ended up electing to skip the dancing, calling it a night earlier than I typically do.

Day 4: A strange thing started happening on the fourth day.  Each day, I got drunker than the last.  On this day, after noon Aqua-aerobics, I took multiple shots at the swim up bar, and then took part in tequila tasting.  Yet, my hangovers were not getting any worse.  In fact, they were getting easier.  It was like I was hitting some sort of groove, which also involved the consumption of alcohol.

Also, having taken advantage of the 9:00 Spanish lessons, and through some conversation with the resort’s staff, whose company I truly enjoyed this week, I was suddenly getting back into the groove speaking Spanish.  Those that do not know Spanish could easily get by at this resort, as nearly all of the staff speaks English.  But, the lessons ended up being a great opportunity to speak Spanish with some native speakers and recover some lost knowledge.  By the end of the 4th day, I was instinctively starting to blurt out phrases such as “querimos jugar al volleyball por la playa ayer, per due demaciado ventido”.

Day 5: This day began to feel like the apex of the trip.  By the middle of the day I had made a good number of vacation friends, I was given two different nicknames by the other guests at the resort; “Denver” after where I am from (as it is hard to remember a lot of names), and “Maya Riviera”, after a rainbow colored drink that the resort offers.  It is a very sweet beverage, but I still managed to drink a ton of them.  In fact, one of my favorite things to do was to bring this drink under this fountain in the center of the pool, and drink it feeling as if I could not be doing anything more tropical at that particular moment.

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I also got accustomed to some of the other specifics about taking this kind of worry free vacation.  One which tragically took too long for me to adjust to is the proper application of sun screen.  Unfortunately, I got quite burnt over the course of this trip.

The other is something I wish I could do more of in normal daily life.  In most situations, when eating at restaurants, it is most cost effective to order one item.  Without such concern, most meals involved multiple items of food.  Additionally, the portion sizes at El Dorado Royale are such that it is typically possible to eat 4 or 5 course meals.  The resort has two Italian restaurants.  Traditional Italian meals involve an antipasto (appetizer), a soup, a primo (first, which usually involves pasta or risotto), and a secondi (second, usually a pice of meat of some kind).  Here, there was absolutely no reason not to order one of each.

At the end of the evening, though, I got slowed down again, this time by heart burn.  Apparently, there is a limit, as well, it had been quite some time since I had drank five days in a row, and I do not plan on becoming a “functioning alcoholic”.

Day 6: The previous early night made it easy to wake up in time to watch the sun rise over the ocean.  As someone who lives in a land locked city, this is something I try to do, if possible (last time it wasn’t), any time I am on the East Coast.

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The early start changed my routine up a little, but this turned out to be another fabulous day of activities, both in the pool and by the beach (beach volleyball).  I even amazed myself with my confidence levels.  Mexico has a warm place in my heart for this reason.  When I was younger, I had a very poor self image, and low confidence levels.  Then I got a part time job working at a restaurant, where most of the staff was (still is) Mexican.  I achieved my first real boost in confidence at the age of 16 when I was welcomed and appreciated by that community.  I thought about that experience, as once again in Mexico, I was feeling welcomed and appreciated, by the other guests as well as the resort’s staff.

But, I knew the “real world” would find a way to make a comeback.  At the start of this trip, I made a conscious decision to take a true holiday and stay away from reading about, taking about, or thinking about two things; work and current events.  Those were the two things that had been most likely to cause me angst over the past few months, and my mind needed a holiday from that way more than my body needed any kind of rest.  However, I did start to become curious when I saw a newspaper that reported that the president-elect had selected a treasury secretary.  I couldn’t help but wonder what it meant, even though I was wanting to not think at all about that stuff.

It’s also all but inevitable that something will happen over the course of a trip like this that will trigger a concern from “normal life”.  After all, these concerns do not go away, they are just temporarily out of one’s thoughts, and if something triggers it, the mind will come to the realization that there’s concerns will have to be addressed upon return.  This is more likely to happen to closer one gets to the end of their vacation.  Luckily for me, this was just a brief moment in a week that otherwise felt amazing!

Day 7: Sometimes it can be a real challenge to enjoy the last day of a trip.  Everything I am doing, I have been enjoying all week, and know it is the last time.  We all know it’s best not to think about this, but, it is inevitable. It ended up being the perfect day for a side excursion.

El Dorado Royale offers a lot of side excursions, for an extra charge. These include activities as simple as jet skiing to the more involved (and more expensive) voyage to the Mayan Ruins.  This is what is not part of the all-inclusive aspect of the resort.  It doesn’t cost any extra money to play volleyball, go to the batting cages, or take part in one of the many other activities, but it does cost for excursions like deep sea fishing, or swimming with the dolphins.

It’s possible to have a great week without doing any of these extra cash, but we finally decided to go parasailing, on the last day, which is one of the quickest excursions available.  With this excursion, we kind of got a two-for-one, as it both started and ended with a short ride on a jet ski to get to the boat.

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The activity ended up being one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.  It is surprisingly easy.  Some would see how high in the air para sailors gets done be intimidated by the activity.  I honestly expected to have to use a bit more energy holding on to the rope that attaches me to the sail.  But, it is actually quite safe, and is possible to let go of the ropes and just enjoy the ride.  It was a particularly spectacular view of the coast from several hundred feet in the air.

Due to the sunburn and travel, my body is exhausted.  My mind is neither exhausted nor refreshed.  But, my spirit is refreshed in a way it has not felt in quite some time.  The question now is, how to bring that spirit with me back home and keep it as long as I can.