Hotel Crashing: Lemala Kuria Hills, Tanzania

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. I was a bit bummed out by the election results.

For a variety of reasons, I’m not going to get too far into this topic, but this post from my favorite blogger, The Everywhereist, pretty much sums up EXACTLY how I feel. Go. Read it. It’s really good. Then come back here to read about luxurious lodges in Tanzania and maybe I’ll throw in a few gratuitous cute animals, just to soothe all our souls.

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See? A baby zebra and it’s mommy. Makes everything all better, right?

It was not easy leaving Leopard Hills, in part because the place and its’ staff were just so wonderful, but also, literally: it was not an easy transit. We’d had enough foresight to rent a car and drive ourselves to Sabi Sands because we knew from our last trip to South Africa just how unreliable Federal Air (the small-plane airline that flies into Sabi Sands) can be. We didn’t want to risk it.

So, on the day we left Sabi Sands, we got up at the crack of dawn so that we’d have plenty of time for the four-hour drive from Sabi Sands to Johannesburg, where we’d catch our 1:30 pm flight to Dar El Salaam, Tanzania. I had slept horribly the night before, dreaming of dead giraffes. Then, we forgot where we’d put our Sabi Sands/Kruger Park exit pass (which was my responsibility to keep track of) and had a 5 am panic attack before we finally were reminded that we’d stored them safely in the car when we arrived five days before. And then I spilled coffee all over the front of my t-shirt (the exact same t-shirt I’d spilt coffee all over at the airport before we’d even left D.C.). Oh, and then, honey badgers. Very eventful morning.

There was, of course, some confusion at the Precision Air check in at Dar El Salaam (which I described here), but we caught our 3 pm flight to Arusha (landing at 11:30 pm). Where we had the pleasure of taking a $70 cab ride along 50 kilometers of the worst road I’ve ever been on (and I’m including unpaved ranch roads in West Texas, y’all), for the honor of spending the night in Arusha ($200 basic room!) before our 8 am tiny-plane flight to Kogatende.

In case you can’t tell, I was not at all charmed by Rip-Off Arusha.

After two full, long days of not-completely-smooth travel on sketchy-ass small airplanes, we were thrilled to see the Lemala Kuria Hills Land Cruiser at the Kogatende airstrip.

Lemala Kuria Hills, Serengeti, Tanzania
A sight for sore eyes.

(I just looked it up and it’s about 4,000 miles from Sabi Sands to Kogatende and Google estimates it would take you 52 hours to drive it. We flew and it took us about 2 days, so yeah. That checks out.)

And right away, just during the drive from Kogatende to Lemala Kuria Hills, you realize that the Serengeti is about to blow your lid off. You basically do a game drive right after you get off the plane. We saw a wildebeest crossing, lions mating, and got a flat tire, all before we even arrived at the lodge. (I don’t think that last event was supposed to wow us).

Mating lions in the Serengeti
Right before the big (and very quick) main event. You can see she’s flirting with him.
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The other main event on our drive to the lodge.

We were met by the managers, Anita and Peter. I had already been in contact with Anita to arrange a few birthday surprises for XFE and she was incredibly helpful and gracious in every way. From what I understand, they took over management of the lodge about six months ago and there have been a few minor changes, from what I understand, including a new upcharge for premium alcohol—which was only a couple of extra bucks per drink, but still a bit annoying.

Main tent & bar at Lemala Kuria Hills, Serengeti
Main lodge with bar in the background. And Peter photobomb.

After getting the rundown on the schedule and amenities, we were shown to our tent, Room 12, on the far end of the camp, and it was gorgeous. Huge, comfortable bed, beautiful modern African artwork, sliding glass doors lead to an expansive deck overlooking Rift Valley with a plunge pool and outdoor shower, and huge bathroom with a giant soaking tub in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. I will say, those floor-to-ceiling windows turn out to be a bit of a negative. There’s no air conditioning in the tents and the windows really turn the room into an oven in the late afternoon.

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Here, as at the other lodges we stayed at this trip, we were told that it was high season and we had been charged high season prices. But in fact, none of the three lodges we stayed at had full occupancy on any of the nights we were there. If you aren’t going to be fully booked, maybe offer us a better deal?

The main reception/staging area at Lemala Kuria Hills is a collection of tents, including the dining tent and a large central tent with lots of nice seating areas for reading, talking, playing board games, and the long bar area on the other side. A tree-shaded deck runs along the back of the tent and leads down to a very cozy fire pit area.

The staff is amazing and everyone—from the management to our guide (Nahume) to the housekeeping staff to the bartenders and waiters—went above and beyond to make sure XFE’s 40th birthday was celebrated in fine African style. So for that, I will be forever grateful. It was a great, great night.

Guide at Lemala Kuria Hills, Serengeti, Tanzania
Our guide, Nahume, during an amazing sundowner on top of a rock.

There are, however, a couple of areas that could be improved at Lemala Kuria Hills. We thought their safari trucks had seen better days – in addition to the flat we got on day one, our truck also got stuck in a mud hole another day, and there was a super annoying, persistent and loud squeak along the pop-up part of our Land Cruiser where the joists meet the top of the vehicle. Three days in and we were hearing that squeak in our sleep.

And, unfortunately, the food was not that great. Or, I should say, the food at the lodge wasn’t that great. The food out on the bush was just fine. Simple, but fine. Most days, you’re up and out early (6 am) and you eat a bush breakfast of pancakes/crepes, bacon/sausage, hard boiled eggs, homemade granola with milk and fruit and coffee. I actually liked the bush breakfast very much. Then you’d stop midday for a bush lunch, which would be maybe some tortilla-type rollups of some sort, strips of grilled chicken, pasta and vegetable salad, some cookies and again, I liked that a lot.

Bush lunch in Tanzania, Lemala Kuria Hills

But the dinners were kind of a disaster – meats were often overcooked, sides were a bit lackluster, potatoes tasted slightly off. I probably would have just written it off as some difficulties in logistics except when we finished our trip with a two-night stay just down the valley at Bushtops Serengeti, we found the food there to be really, really excellent.

Sundowner at Lemala Kuria Hills, Serengeti, Tanzania

Still, a beautiful, friendly lodge in a gorgeous setting. Just bring some earplugs for the squeak!

Lemala Kuria Hills, Serengeti, Tanzania

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Hotel Crashing: Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve, South Africa

In case you are wondering, yes, you will definitely see leopards at Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s Sabi Sands.

Leopard at Leopard Hills on safari
A little Leopard Hills branding opportunity right there. Clearly, a stunt leopard.

 

And a whole lot of other animals, including (if you’re very lucky like we were) the very rare African wild dog.

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We actually saw three generations of the adorable calico-spotted dogs a ton during our first couple of days on safari in South Africa. I mean, a ton. To the point where I was like, “OK, got it. Dogs. Yeah. Can we please see something else?”

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Then our guide Stefan explained to us just how rare African wild dogs are. They’re the second most endangered species in Africa after the Ethiopian wolf. There are only around 6,000 African wild dogs worldwide and less than 500 in South Africa. Human encroachment is one part of the problem—more people means less land for these shy creatures. And, because they are such effective hunters and they hunt several times a day, African wild dogs are being killed by humans seeking to protect their own animals and livestock. Hence, looming extinction.

And here we were, watching a pack of around 25 of them (including baby pups) frolicking around their den (a renovated termite mound) and even (one morning) the older dogs out hunting (successfully) for food.

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Suddenly, I saw the dogs in a whole new light and I remembered just what makes safari in Sabi Sands, and at Leopard Hills in particular, so special.

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Leopard Hills is a five-star luxury lodge located in the Western Sector of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, bordering the Kruger National Park. The lodge is situated on top of a rocky outcrop, with most (if not all) of the eight luxury suites offering spectacular views over the bush and the natural waterhole on the plains below.

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Each suite has its own plunge pool, deck and outdoor shower, and yes, the suites are air conditioned. In fact, pretty much every modern hotel amenity is available at Leopard Hills, including a gym, a spa and complimentary daily laundry service.

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The rooms are decorated just as you’d expect a safari lodge to be decorated – Ralph Lauren-meets-Out-of-Africa, with mosquito nets, lots of wood and wicker.

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They also provide a variety of books to help you learn more about some of the animals you see on the game drives and a handy checklist to tick off the ones you’ve seen. But, if you’d like more reading material (or to catch a soccer game on TV), there’s a very good library onsite.

The lodge is pretty much all inclusive, including the mini-bar in your suite and all of the meals and drinks. And man, do they stuff you with the delicious food and drink! There’s morning coffee before the 5:30 am game drive, coffee and muffins or biscuits during the 4-hour game drive, breakfast ordered off the menu when you get back from the morning game drive, lunch later in the afternoon, tea with snacks before the evening game drive, sundowners with snacks during the evening game drive and then dinner (which you ordered from a list of two options per course while you were busy stuffing your face with tea sandwiches before the game drive) when your return to the lodge.

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There’s a beautiful main lodge area where you have your meals and gather for morning coffee or a quick tea/snack before the game drives. Breakfast and lunch were usually served on the outside terrace (if the resident vervet monkeys weren’t too aggressive) and dinner at one of the three long, communal tables inside.

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To change things up a bit, the lodge also had boma nights, which are outdoor barbecues a couple of nights a week in an outdoor enclosure made just for it and featuring a large, central fire pit.

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But as great as all these luxuries and amenities were, (and they seriously were) what really makes Leopard Hills (and Sabi Sands, in general) stand out, are the people. Yes, I know it’s a cliché, but it’s really true. The people at Leopard Hills are awesome. From general manager Duncan Rodgers and his daughter, Meaghan, to the incredible guides and trackers (we had Stefan/Sipho for a couple of days and then Hugo/Moelle) to the excellent chef (Jock) and waitstaff (including Millet, Sam and Neville), it was clear that everyone who worked there took a great deal of pride in their work and really wanted us to have the best possible experience. They were always professional but very friendly and welcoming. The perfect hosts for our stay in every way.

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That’s Stefan on the left, Hugo on the right.

After six days at Leopard Hills, we were genuinely sad to leave and had already began planning our next trip back before we’d even finished packing. After all, we’ve got to come back and check in on the African wild dog pack. There aren’t too many places left where you can get that opportunity.

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Hotel Crashing: Westin Playa Conchal, Costa Rica

I’ve got an impressive assortment of bug bites on my legs (and, probably zika), a bruise from ramming right into a concrete stool at the swim-up bar, and a right ear that’s still ringing after a scuba dive.

I have survived another beach resort vacation.

(Actually, we got back from Costa Rica a week ago and luckily, all of those vacation-related injuries have subsided. Especially the ringing right ear, which went on for several days and had me all sorts of freaked out.)

We spent six glorious days at the Westin Golf Resort & Spa, (also known as the Westin Playa Conchal), Starwood’s first Costa Rica all-inclusive property. It’s on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, up north in an area known as Guanacaste. We flew into the Liberia airport, which is about an hour’s drive from the resort.

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Yep, it really does look like that (Image courtesy of Visual Itineraries)

This was actually our third time at this particular property. We first went in 2012 (when I also sustained a few vacation-related injuries) and in 2014, where I don’t remember if I sustained any injuries, so that probably means I absolutely did.

Our first trip, in 2012, we stayed at one of the regular rooms/bungalows (“Deluxe Junior Suite”), which was located on the far northern end of the property (near the beach access).

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Like one of these (Image via Starwood)

It was fine, but when we went back in 2014, we upgraded to the adults-only section known as the Royal Beach Club, which was fabulous! It has its own designated check-in area/lounge, adults-only pool and restaurant with no kids, other than the numerous, painfully young honeymooners we met over the six days.

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RBC area (Image via WestJet.com)

(I will say, the rest of the property is very family-friendly and I highly recommend this place for families).

The rooms at the RBC, as us hipsters call it, were pretty nice in 2014 (I think we stayed in a “Royal Beach Suite,” from what I can remember. We had a balcony with a Jacuzzi tub on it, which seemed a bit odd in a hot, humid, jungle/beach setting.

I’d show you photos except ALL of my previous Costa Rica photos were part of the Great Laptop Meltdown of 2014 and I, quite literally, have no Costa Rica photos…..not from 2012 and not from 2014. It’s all very odd. (And yes, I am currently backing up my photo folders onto an external hard drive as we speak. Thanks for the reminder, Costa Rica)

But, right after our 2014 visit, the property owners closed down both RBC towers and completely renovated the rooms. And they did an amazing job, incorporating lots of really nice (presumably local?) wood, updating the floors and furniture, and replacing the Jacuzzis with cool, modern bathtubs (I still think it’s weird to have an outdoor bathtub on your patio, but XFE used it and was happy).

A lot of the staff at the Westin Playa Conchal and at the Royal Beach Club specifically, remembered us from our previous visits and treated us like total VIPs. We felt really well taken care of.

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Our favorite vacation game at our favorite spot: dominoes at the main lobby bar. 

We chose to return to this property because it’s just an easy fly-and-flop option for us. We know exactly what to expect. We don’t have to make a whole bunch of plans and reservations, which suited us fine since we’re belly-deep in planning our next big trip….to South Africa/Tanzania/Zanzibar.

We did go scuba diving again one morning, mostly as a refresher since we plan to dive in Zanzibar. We went with Pacific Coast Diving, which we used in 2014. Still a good outfit that’s responsive over email, is located close to the hotel, and picks you up and drops you off in a nice, air-conditioned van. Anyone who’s done a bit of scuba diving knows how rare an air-conditioned dive van is! The diving, however, was a bit meh, and the snorkelers said similar.

And there was the whole ear-ringing thing, which I could have done without. I noticed it after our second dive and it got a bit louder over the course of the evening. By the next morning, it had lowered to a semi-tolerable, steady, annoying pitch that could be drowned out in areas with ambient noise in the background (talking, music, dishes clattering). But at night, when things were quiet? Really, really distracting and disturbing. That lasted about a week or so.

We spent most of our time by the RBC pool, reading books, drinking frosty drinks (like the popular Dirty Monkey – a sort of banana/coffee/chocolate/rum smoothie) and avoiding direct sunlight so I wouldn’t spontaneously combust (ie: burn to a crisp).

We did, however, go to the beautiful Playa Conchal beach early one morning so I could try jet skiing for the first time. I’ve got to say: I’m not really a fan. I guess I just don’t feel the need for speed. Any activity where the instructions start with, “It’s much easier/better if you go faster,” isn’t likely to win me over. I prefer life in the slow-to-medium lane. Adventure-man and James Bond-look-a-like XFE, however, took off like a madman and was killing it all over the ocean waves. He’s clearly not afraid of the throttle (seriously, my hands and arms were so sore from squeezing so tightly in the slow, mid-throttle position).

So that’s it. A brief recap of our brief visit to the Westin Playa Conchal. Now the compulsive obsessing about South Africa/Tanzania/Zanzibar can truly begin (and has).

Back to the Basque

Hola, mis gentes. And Happy New Year! (Where did 2015 go? Seriously. I can’t believe it’s a new year. I’m woefully unprepared.)

My travel-compadre-for-life and I have had a sort of travel rule for the last 10 years, which is: “Let’s go to new places. Places that neither of us have ever been.” After all, the world is a large, wonderful and varied place. We’ve hardly exhausted our options. There’s always some place new to go.

It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s one we’ve generally followed.

Poe at soccer
Me at an Athletic Bilboa game in 2012. Per XFE’s preference, he’s cropped out. Except the tip of his thumb.

The thing is, as we get to a stage where we’ve done quite a bit of traveling, we find ourselves wanting to go back to places we’ve already been. We want a second chance at something, maybe it was another day at that secluded beach in Vieques or a trip to the Big Easy without stitches.

And so, in December, while the rest of the world was buying Christmas presents and attending holiday parties, we instead found ourselves revisiting the Basque region of northern Spain. We just had to go to our favorite pinxto place in San Sebastian again. And recreate that wonderful day of soccer in Bilboa. And stay in my favorite hotel again in my favorite European city.

La Cuchara san Telmo
A nice moody picture of La Cuchara San Telmo, our favorite restaurant in San Sebastian.

You know what? It wasn’t exactly the same as that first magical trip, when everything was unknown and each experience was completely new. For example, the late-night kebab place next to our hotel in Bilboa wasn’t as delectable as it was when we went there after the soccer match on our last trip (for one thing, I had had quite a few gin and tonics that evening….). But it was pretty fantastic, and in some ways, even better.

We did go to our favorite pinxto place in San Sebastian again. Twice. And it was freaking phenomenal. (Don’t worry: We also hit up a whole bunch of new-to-us places as well. We ate all of the pinxtos. All of them.)

My favorite hotel upgraded us to an even more ridiculously luxurious room than last time.

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This was our terrace. Just ours. We didn’t have to share it or anything.

We pretty much recreated that wonderful day of pub crawling and soccer in Bilboa, not once, but twice, watching two Athletic Bilboa games in the team’s fancy new stadium. We even got tickets to the swanky VIP suite for one of the games, which has completely spoiled me for any future soccer matches. Plus, we saw a match in San Sebastian, so we basically tripled our soccer gluttony compared to our 2012 visit.

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It was all slightly familiar and comforting in a lot of ways. While it wasn’t what some travel guides would call a “journey of discovery,” it was great to cut through all the angst of getting somewhere and not knowing what you want to do first or where to go for dinner. The whole trip had a bit of nostalgia to it. Almost every sentence began with, “Well, when we were here last time…”

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Another XFE hand shot. I feel like we’ve been here before….

The world is a very big and varied place and there are plenty of places to go, but sometimes, going to a place you’ve been before offers up the opportunity to take a little trip down memory lane and revisit old favorites. After all, we don’t stay the same and neither do our favorite destinations. And that late-night kebab place deserves a second, more sober visit (but probably not a third visit. I think we’re good on that one).

Back to Vieques

Photo: DesignBoom

We’re off again to Vieques, Puerto Rico. So, I thought it might be fun to revisit our last trip there in December 2011.

Hotel Crashing: The St. Regis in Nusa Dua, Bali

When I was a young, sprightly Poe running wild and breaking hearts (ie: dating), I went out for a bit with a bartender/soccer player named Ian. He was pretty hot with dark curly hair and piercing blue eyes. And very fit, obviously. Ian was sleek, sexy, laid back, and a ton of fun. He was also far too cool for my nerdy self. We dated for a summer and that was it.

A little while later, I dated Alistair (yep, I was in the throws of my British dating phase). Alistair was also gorgeous, but in a far more patrician way. He was calmer, more established and successful, very classy act. Well, classy except for the fact that I found out soon after we started dating that he had a live-in girlfriend. That was the end of that.

What I’m getting at is this: If the slick and cool W Hotel in Seminyak, Bali was Ian, then the St. Regis in Nusa Dua was all Alistair. Minus the live-in girlfriend.

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The view from the lobby down through the length of the property. Yep, those are fire dancers.

Continue reading Hotel Crashing: The St. Regis in Nusa Dua, Bali

Hotel Crashing: W Hotel in Seminyak, Bali

It’s cold here in D.C., y’all. Like, eye-tearing, nose-running, teeth-achingly cold. Yes, the cold makes even your teeth hurt. It’s crazy.

And I won’t even get into my whole frozen fingers and toes situation.

So, with that in mind. I thought we might go back in time (to around August or so). Time to revisit someplace more forgiving and less frigid. Someplace where the gentle breezes warmly caressed our pale, pale, Northeastern skin. Ah, Bali.

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Bali sunset.

Our first couple of nights in Bali were spent at the W Hotel in Seminyak, a very fun and touristy little town down on the coast. Think lots of hotels, restaurants, bars, boutique stores.

We love W Hotels and have stayed in lots of them (including the one in Istanbul right after it opened. Oh, and the one in the French Quarter where I split my head open.), so we knew a bit what we were in for. And the W Hotel in Bali definitely lived up to the brand.

bag of beach goodies
Bag of beach goodies

Check in was smooth and easy. We cooled off with a cucumber/minty/lemony type drink and a wet cloth while they processed our upgrade to a private villa.

Reception at the W Hotel Bali
Reception at the W Hotel Bali

Then we went to our villa, opened the gate and saw all this.

private pool

private pool again

Private pool again again

Then we basically disappeared and barely emerged from our villa. And lived happily ever after.

The Villa at Bali W

I’m just kidding. Sort of. We did spend a lot of time in our room.

Room view at the W Hotel Bali

Bathroom at the W Hotel Bali

Oh, actually, our villa had two rooms to choose from. A master and then another, slightly less opulent room with two beds.

Second room at our villa

For just the two of us. Crazy.

Bar area between the rooms
Outdoor living area between the rooms

But when we did leave our little bit of paradise, we found the W Hotel to be just gorgeous. And the staff were amazing. So friendly and helpful. We even had the GM come out and say goodbye to us as we were sadly leaving.

W Hotel Bali

W Hotel outdoor bar

W Hotel Bali deck bar

The perfect oasis. I would probably chop off one of my frostbitten ears to be in one of those loungers right now.

W Hotel Bali Private Villa loungers

Totally Random Search Terms for November

Guess what time it is? Well, perhaps it is indeed Hammer Time, somewhere, say in like, an alternative universe where Aresenio Hall is still cool, Bill Cosby’s only major crime is wearing ugly sweaters, and baggy-crotched satiny pants are the thing. Oh wait. Those pants are actually back. Allegedly.

No, it’s time for Totally Random Search Terms that Brought Someone to thePoeLog this month! For those who don’t remember, here’s a couple of posts that explain it.

This month was particularly interesting for two reasons. 1) I got a ridiculous number of people who found the blog while trying to solve the mystery of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding. Well, not the mystery of how that show exists, but rather, a murder mystery that was totally mentioned and glossed over on one of the episodes. Someone was beyond passionately curious about what had happened to gypsy Baby Pat’s baby sister. As far as I can tell, that episode isn’t in heavy rotation or anything, so I have no idea why so many people were looking for that information in November.

The other weird outlier falls into the category I call perverts. I, along with a lot of the Internet, I’m sure, get a lot of folks who – well, let’s just say, they’re not here to read about my excellent eggplant parmigiana. But this past month, there was someone/something looking diligently for any information/pictures of Indian women going to the bathroom. All kinds of “going to the bathroom” activities. But very specifically, Indian women. Or Indian aunties. Or Indian girls.

I just can’t. I don’t even. I can’t.

I can't even.

Anyway. That seems like an incredibly awkward transition to the work at hand here: a Q&A using a small sampling of Totally Random Search Terms that Brought Someone to thePoeLog in November.

What to pack for 18 day vacation? – First of all, that is awesome. I’m totally jealous. No idea where you’re going but an 18-day vacation sounds amazing. Unless you’re going to like, Stolipinova in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Apparently, that place is not very nice. And it is the home to a whole bunch of Romani, as in GYPSIES, which would make me kinda excited, but the whole rubbish-lined stinky streets thing does put me off. And the violence.

But back to your question. I have spent many a sleepless night fretting over what to pack for a trip, as you can see here, here and here. Hopefully, this post helped you out a bit as well.

My most recent strategy (and one I’ll use for my upcoming trip to Italy) has been to take everything I wore today, yesterday, and the day before, toss them in a suitcase, add toiletries, clean undies, and a blazer, and go. At least then I know I’m taking stuff I actually wear, instead of inspirational, Pinterest-inspired nonsense.

Are the American Pickers worried about hantavirus? – Ah yes, the hantavirus. I remember this threat from the Summer of Disease Outbreaks. The Wikipedia informs us:

Human infections of hantaviruses have almost entirely been linked to human contact with rodent excrement, but recent human-to-human transmission has been reported with the Andes virus in South America.

We still regularly watch American Pickers around these parts, and I have to agree: with all the disgusting foraging those guys do in really questionably conditions, they should indeed be worried about getting a disease carried by rodent excrement. They should also worry about collapsing piles of trash. That show, while enjoyable, gives me the heeby-jeebies. I can’t handle hoarders, even in the name of “collecting.” Makes me itchy.

Wikipedia also suggests some ways to prevent contact with the hantavirus. I find the last one particularly reassuring:

General prevention can be accomplished by disposing of rodent nests, sealing any cracks and holes in homes where mice or rats could get in, setting up traps, laying down poisons or using natural predators such as cats in the home.

Maybe the American Picker guys should bring a cat along on their trips. Kitty cats + foraging through junk = ratings gold.

Is Judge Loren Lake a little person? – First of all, it’s Lauren Lake. Not Loren. Second, hmmm, that’s kinda rude, dontcha think? I agree completely with calling into question her experience and qualifications as a judge, but I don’t know why her stature is under question.

Although, she does look a bit shrunken behind that ginormous “Paternity Court” bench.

Judge Lauren Lake on Paternity Court

Best Vegas hotel bathrooms. – I have spent a lot of time in many Vegas hotel bathrooms. Wait. That sounds weird.

I’ve stayed in a fair number of Vegas hotels, and many of them had very nice bathrooms. I have not, however, stayed at every hotel, so I don’t know if I can be considered an authority on them.

Of the one’s I have enjoyed, I’d probably pick the Cosmopolitan, which I think definitely had the best hotel bathrobe I’ve ever experienced. I also really liked the lady silhouette wallpaper in the separate toilet area. Very chic. Oh, and the Venetian. That bathroom was amazing. And I haven’t written about it, but the Wynn had gorgeous bathrooms as well, if memory serves.

Luckily, there are other folks who have waded through the Strip powder rooms and come up with lists. I especially like this one from RefinedGuy.com. My favorite in his list is the Ivory Tower Suite bathroom at the Palms. I. Die.

Palms bathroom Las

Things to put on Facebook. – Well, if my feed is any indication, what people choose to put on Facebook are their idiotic rants about politics, race in America, immigration and guns, along with pictures of the same sunsets we all saw on our way home that day, and children in apple orchards/pumpkin patches/Christmas tree farms and the family pets. The truly surprising part is that it’s the exact same group of people posting in both of those categories. Sunsets and race in America. Same person. Weird.

You know, the first rule in writing is to know your audience. There’s no easier place to know your audience than on Facebook. They’re your family and friends. You should have a pretty good idea of their tolerance level for political rants and/or cutesy stuff. But at the end of the day, Facebook is social, so be social. Whatever that means to you. For most people, it means, don’t be annoying or provoke people into fighting with you. That’s not “social.”

And, we’re all adults. If we’re fed up with your “prescription for what’s wrong with America,” we’ll unfriend or block your posts. No biggie. I do it all the time.

So post whatever you want. Maybe even some nonsense on Indian women pooping in Vegas bathrooms while on an 18-day vacation.

Fantasy v. Reality: Work Trips

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My enamorado XFE has deserted me once again.

OK, fine, that’s a bit dramatic, I suppose. He’s travelling for work this week.

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(picture courtesy of Donny Miller/MisterUnicorn.com)

It’s actually been several months since XFE has been a work-road-warrior. I’d gotten pretty comfortable with him around all the time.

Which is why it feels like total desertion.

Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s leaving the frigid Arctic of D.C. for the sunny shores of California this week.

I’m more than a bit jealous. But I do have to admit, sometimes having perspective on these things is a bit difficult.

For example, there’s what I imagine his flight and arrival are like:

After five hours of guzzling champagne and imbibing in warm macadamia nuts, XFE lands in California, picks up his convertible, and armed with a miraculously traffic-avoiding GPS, arrives minutes later at his luxury hotel, where check in is immediate and completely painless and includes an upgrade to a top floor suite complete with a 1,000-foot deck overlooking ocean waves.

XFE riding his ocean-wave loving unicorn. In his suit. 

Here’s the likely reality:

XFE arrives at Dulles at the crack of dawn, his wallet $100 lighter after his 45-minute cab ride. After a pre-dawn rubdown by TSA, he makes his way to the gate area, where he finds that his flight has been delayed. His breakfast options at this hour are Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. So he can have a scone with his coffee or a doughnut with his coffee. Did I mention that XFE doesn’t drink coffee?

Finally, his flight begins to board. Thanks to his ever-vigilant miles hoarding, he is upgraded and allowed to board in the first group. After wedging his suitcase in the overhead compartment, he settles in to his aisle seat, while the stewardess leans perilously over him and plays overhead Tetris with two other pieces of oversized luggage that ultimately will be gate-checked. Boarding continues, with XFE being whacked repeatedly by backpacks of disgruntled coach passengers passing him on their way to the back of the plane.

Upon landing, XFE will navigate the unknown airport to find the car rental garage and retrieve his lime green Chevy Spark which is a hybrid vehicle and as such, will shut off at every stop light. It also contains a GPS that is determined to drive XFE and his luggage into every available body of water along the route. There will, of course, be tons of traffic, lots of detours, and streets that are one-way between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 a.m. on all days ending with “y.”

XFE will arrive at the hotel where he will be told that yes, he has been upgraded to a suite, thanks to all his Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty, but his suite won’t be ready for another two hours. He’s welcome to wait at the bar. Or, check in to a smaller room and move all his stuff tomorrow morning before he starts his work day.

Continue reading Fantasy v. Reality: Work Trips

Balinese Eats that Will (Probably) Not Result in a Spider Body Possession

Babi guling

When I came across this article about Bali, I had to click on it, even though I knew I didn’t really have the “stomach” to do so. (PUN INTENDED) Also: (Heads up: the article I’m referring to involves an Australian tourist and stomach-burrowing tropical spiders. Soooo….yeah. Nothing fun there.)

You see, we went to Bali a few months ago. Actually, we went to Bali exactly two weeks after this event and stayed in the exact same hotel. (Heads up: the article I’m now referring to involves a daughter and her boyfriend murdering her socialite mother and stuffing her in a suitcase. You’ve been warned.)

Anyway, the coincidence of that event and our trip timing was incredibly creepy and weird. Creepy because, well, there had just recently been a murder in what I would positively call the least murder-y type place ever. I mean, seriously, the St. Regis in Bali is amazing. Wonderful. Tranquil. Everything and everyone is peaceful and cheerful and willing to help you with absolutely anything. If you even mentioned, for example, that you liked a particular fruit, that fruit would then appear every damn day nestled in a beautiful wooden bowl, just especially for you.

St. Regis beach
See? Totally peaceful and gorgeous. Not at all murder-y.

Weird because we spent a good part of everyday wondering if any of the staff we were encountering had known or waited on the victim and her murderers. When we saw a sign in the lobby about the area being monitored by cameras, we wondered if those signs were new or if they had been there the whole time. We suspiciously eyed every single heavy decorative object in our bungalow as a potential bludgeoning device. It was all very at odds with a vacation mentality.

Anyway, I’ll talk about the St. Regis in Bali a bit more in another post. Well, probably a lot more, since staying there was one of the best vacation experiences we’ve ever had (We flew a kite! We released a sea turtle! These are not euphemisms! These are legitimate activities we participated in!).

But for today, let’s just explore some of Bali’s best eats in pictures and be glad that no one got invaded by tropical spiders. Also, no giardia, so nothing but unicorns and rainbows as far as I’m concerned.

drinks and sambal

Sambal – This is the first thing we ate in Bali. It was served in a small dish next to these amazing peanut crackers. Sambal is sauce typically made from a variety of chili peppers and secondary ingredients such as shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, shallot, scallion, sugar, lime juice, and rice vinegar or other vinegars.

Nasi Goreng at St. Regis
(Photo not mine. I was too busy eating to take pictures http://www.foodnut.com/i/St-Regis-Boneka-Sunday-Brunch-Bali/St-Regis-Boneka-Sunday-Brunch-Buffet-Bali-nasi-goreng.jpg)

Nasi Goreng – I had this for brunch one morning at the St. Regis in Nusa Dua. It’s a fried rice dish, with shrimp crackers and sliced up omelet, and a side condiment of spicy red paste.

bubur ayem
Photo not mine. I was…well, you know. Click on photo for link/credit.

Bubur ayam – This was another St. Regis brunch special. It was like congee – a non-sweet porridge, with shredded chicken, green onions, sambal and eggs, I think. It was ok, not my favorite.

Satay – The Balinese love their satay. It’s exactly what you think it is: skewers of grilled meat slathered in a peanut sauce. We even ate these on the dive boat lunch (along with a variation of nasi goring).

Babi guling

Babi guling – The Balinese national dish: roasted whole pig. I really wanted to try this, but never got to. We hired a driver to take us around the island one day and he had his own agenda. When I asked about getting babi guling, he said the place he goes to was too far out of the way. Meanwhile, we must have passed about 50 roadside places specializing in babi guling over the course of the next eight hours. I really should have been more insistent. Especially in light of our own Porktober event.

pomelo salad

Rujak jeruk bali – Pomelo salad. Actually, I’m not sure this is a Balinese dish per se. I think it’s Thai. But we fell for it hard. We had it at breakfast and it came in these little glass jars at the W Hotel in Seminyak. A pomelo is like a grapefruit on steroids, and it’s cut up and combined with cilantro, peanuts, green beans, carrots. So refreshing and not unlike green papaya salad, only more citrus-y.

snakeskin fruit

Salak – Snakeskin fruit. It is indigenous to Bali and is related to the palm tree, somehow. It had an easy to peel, flaky outerskin. The inside fruit was segmented, and had a firm flesh similar to an apple, and a small dark pit in each segment. In fact, it tasted a lot like a cross between an apple and a pear, but much neater (less juicy). We loved them and ate a ton of them. Our butler at the St. Regis made sure we were well stocked.

Rambutan - the hairy, scary Balinese fruit
Again, not my photo. Click on image for link.

Rambutan – This hairy, scary-looking fruit was in our fruit bowl, but we didn’t even attempt to eat it.

Bitang - Balinese beer
This one, totally is my picture. Amazingly.

Bitang – Balinese beer. Nuff said.

There was one other dish that I ate twice and loudly declared them to be the best I’d ever had: nachos at the St. Regis. Usually at lunch, by our pool, after drinking many Bitangs and/or glasses of wine. At first, we ordered them out of morbid curiosity, certain that there was no way they’d be any good. But they were. They were delicious. Then I had to order them a second time, just to make sure. They had shredded chicken and a cheese sauce made out of béchamel and they were actually really, really good. I guess sometimes a girl just wants a taste of home.

St. Regis nachos. The. Best.
Amazingly, I stopped shoving these into my mouth long enough to take a picture. Note glass of rose in the background.