Posts Tagged With: Trip Accomplice

Touring Manila Without Pushing The Envelope

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A quiet corner of Manila, Philippines

Now that I’ve been able to get the whole Manila envelope pun out of the way by means of the title, I invite you to read on about what to see and do in the Philippine capital if you’ve only got limited time.

Overview

Manila is a sprawling metropolis characteristic of many rapidly-growing Asian cities –  filled with chaotic traffic, ramshackle development and increasingly Westernized modernization in the form of glitzy shopping malls that could rival anything back home (I’m talking about you, Mall of Asia). One could rightly argue that such things are reasons why a person wouldn’t want to visit. But at the heart of it all – just a few blocks off of Manila Bay in fact – is a relatively peaceful enclave that lends character to an otherwise indistinct urban conglomeration. It’s called Intramuros, and for those with limited time, it should be at the top of your trip itinerary

Intramuros

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Step inside the walls of the past in the Intramuros, Manila Philippines

Meaning ‘inside the walls’ this is the historic center of Manila – one that was home to its colonial past, and the site of some of the most dreadful devastation the country suffered during World War II (an estimated 100K died during the ‘liberation’ of the city). In fact, most of it was leveled by the intense fighting, and what exists today are mostly reconstructions. Regardless of the exact age, the overall effect is one that gives an appropriate nod to the past and the juxtaposition with the modern development on the outside is a welcome contrast.

What to See

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Exploring the grounds of Fort Santiago, Manila, Philippines

Fort Santiago – overlooking the Pasig River – is the top draw for visitors to Intramuros. This was once the stronghold for the Spanish, Americans and Japanese as they took turns as acting overlords. Today you can admire the mossy bastions of the fort’s walls and crumbling buildings, with intermittent peeks at the darkened dungeons that sit below. It doesn’t have the gravitas of other former fortresses around the world, but is worth at least an hour’s exploration.

Just down the road is another worthy destination – the Casa Manila museum and its surrounding complex. The museum was closed the day I visited, but the network of stone courtyards, flowery passageways, small cafés and shops were right out of colonial times, and if you get the sense that you’re waiting on line on Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean you can be forgiven for the comparison.

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A rooftop view around the Casa Manila Museum, Manila, Philippines

Rizal Park

Just south of the Intramuros is Rizal Park – the Philippines’ answer to the National Mall in Washington D.C. – complete with their own obelisk. Around the open expanse of lawns and fountains are small alcoves with themed gardens accessible for nominal fees. For some relaxation amid the noisy chaos of the city, I’d recommend the Japanese gardens. For some tacky but fun photo opportunities in a Jeepney (the ubiquitous highly-artistic stretched-Jeep public transport option) or rickshaw, I’d recommend the Orchidarium, though you won’t find more than a few examples of its namesake.

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Take a ride on a Jeepney, Manila, Philippines

Practical Advice

Bear in mind that being located within the tropics, any visit to Manila is likely to be a hot one. I’d say you’d be baking in the sun, but with the humidity its more likely you’ll feel sauteed. That said, take in lots of liquids (available at one of the many 7-11s) and don’t be afraid to duck into air conditioned shops to cool down and perhaps pump a few pesos into the local economy.

There is a decidedly third-world feel in many places, and while you need not be overly concerned with safety during the day, it’s always a good idea to be mindful of your surroundings and belongings. That said, I found the Filipinos to be a friendly and engaging people and encourage you to find that out for yourself. All in all, one day is sufficient to see what needs to be seen, and if you have more time and care anything about military history, sites such as Corregidor and the military cemeteries will be worth your while.

Conclusion

With so many amazing places to see and visit in Southeast Asia, I would be hard pressed to recommend going out of your way to include Manila. Far more appealing is the resort island of Boracay not far to the south. But if your travels bring you through the Philippine capital, you might as well make the most of it, and a visit to Intramuros and Rizal Park will likely leave you feeling satisfied – without having to push the envelope.

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2016 Year in Review

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Dragon and Tiger Pagodas

2016 is gone, for better or for worse, and it is at this point that I traditionally recap the Trip Accomplice blog’s contributions in the past year (again, for better or for worse). Here’s a breakdown of what was covered, just in case you weren’t paying attention.

Destinations

This year I was a little light on dedicated destination posts – covering 5 foreign countries (3 in South America and 2 in Asia) and 5 U.S. destinations.

South America

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Check your straight-edge at the door at Casapueblo

I suppose I was feeling nostalgic for South America with three posts based on my 2008 Antarctic cruise.

In Playful Patagonian Penguins: A Lesson in Chilean Alliteration, I had some grammatical fun recounting a trip to Seno Otway and its resident penguin colony in the remote city of Punta Arenas, Chile.

Speaking of remote, I combined an obscure Pink Floyd Song with an even more obscure travel destination in Echoes of Pink Floyd in the Falkland Islands which details what to see and do on a visit to the Falkland Islands. It also lays the basis for a unique soundtrack when doing so.

I also shared some tips for visiting a surreal Uruguayan locale in Straight Lines are Overrated in Punta del Este

Asia

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Nighttime on Lotus Lake, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

During nearly the entire month of November 2016 I was off exploring Southeast Asia with my wife and parents. Despite a wealth of new material to cover, I only got around to two of the many destinations I visited.

In Kaohsiung, Taiwan – The Nicest Little City You’ve Never Heard Of I provided practical advice for visiting this interesting ‘little’ city in Southern Taiwan.

I also shared a review of a great hotel for a relaxing stay in Bali, Indonesia in the appropriately-titled post  Hotel Review: The Samata, Bali.

You can be sure I’ll get around to some of the other spots in the months ahead.

U.S. Destinations

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Come for the sand. Stay for the sunsets.

Within the United States I shared the beauty of the Gulf Coast in the post Brazos Bend: Stars Above, Gators Below for a look at this lovely wetland landscape.

I also provided detailed information on visiting two of New Mexico’s greatest attractions in the posts Elevator Appreciation at Carlsbad Caverns National Park and White Sands: Sun, Sand &…Sledding?

Lastly, I really enjoyed reflecting on a return to my childhood stomping grounds in A Travel Snob Returns to Disney World where I shared my thoughts on Disney’s progress versus preservation.

Top Tens and Other Lists

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Anse Lazio, Praslin Island, Seychelles

The beginning of the year saw me attempting to summarize some of my favorite places in the ever-popular ‘Top Ten’ list format with My Top Ten Beaches, And Why They Should Be Yours and My Top Ten List of World Monuments (Who Said Anything About Dying?)

I also went the list route with Safety Tips for the Skittish Traveler – a rundown of simple precautions to make sure your trip stays all about having fun, along with An Apology to the 14 Countries I’ve Visited More Than Once Without Doing Them Justice which highlights the sad fact that it’s nearly impossbile to see everything a destination has to offer on one (or even multiple) trips. Just as a side note, I now have to update that number from 14 to 17.

Pet Projects

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2016 also saw me widening out my repertoire to include some pet projects. I shared my passion for travel art and showcased some of my work in Putting the ‘Art’ into the Art of Travel. And I also announced my travel-themed  public speaking business in the post I Am the Globechatter…. Both then and now, I invite you to check them out if you haven’t already done so, and share these posts with anyone you might know that would be interested in the services offered.

The Year Ahead

As mentioned before, I still have lots to share from my recent trip to Asia. Keep an eye out for more on Bali, both as a general review and site specific posts. My return to Singapore and Hong Kong will result in updated posts in the coming months, and I look forward to sharing my take on places in the Philippines and Borneo, Malaysia.

Other than that, I have nothing set in stone, as my own travel plans are wide open at this point. But as you well know by now, dear loyal readers, you can be sure of two things: 1) I’ll go somewhere, and 2) I’ll be sure to write about it.

Wishing everyone the best in the days, months and years ahead; I thank you for another year of being my travel companions.

Ben Pastore

 

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Safety Tips for the Skittish Traveler

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Be safe wherever you go.

The world is a crazy, unsafe place. At times I too wish I could just bury myself in a hole in the ground and shut out all the insanity and insecurity. But the inherent problem with holes in the ground – the Grand Canyon not withstanding – is that they usually don’t offer a very good view. For that, it requires the courage to get out there and explore. Below I’ve listed 8 steps on how to travel safely and still maintain relative peace of mind.

1) The World is Just as Crazy Where You Live

Crime, terrorism and natural disasters are not limited to those on vacation. Sadly, such risks are part of the global human experience. This goes for visiting popular tourist attractions and traveling by air just as much as going to and from your job or school. Yes, it is possible something bad might happen while traveling, but statistically it is far more likely that you’ll have a car accident on the way home from the store than experience a terrorist attack while traveling abroad. By gaining some perspective on the risks involved, you can ease your worries and take comfort in knowing that you’re likely not at any greater risk than you are in your own hometown. That is, unless you’re visiting Falluja.

2) Be Shrewd, Dude

Taking practical precautions before embarking on your trip can do much to allay anxiety. Travel insurance is an increasingly good idea, not just for its practicality but also for the peace of mind. Thoroughly researching your intended destination can alert you to potential threats or dangers, both health and safety-wise, and buying a money belt or similar products can help lessen the your odds of being a victim.

3) Here’s Looking At You, Punk

Imagine for a second that you’re a pickpocket or any other variation of street criminal. Would you rather target the oblivious tourist that’s so engrossed in looking at the sights that they don’t even notice you’re there, or the wary tourist with the shifty eyes that are constantly scanning the surroundings? If you didn’t choose the former, then maybe you’re just not cut out for a life of petty crime. Yes, criminals prey on the easiest targets, and nothing says “I see you, punk. Try someone else” better than being aware of those around you and making eye contact. Sure, you might come off as paranoid but at least your message won’t be missed.

4) You’ve Got A Brain. Use It.

What you wear, bring, do and say can all have a direct bearing on your safety. Wearing expensive jewelry in poor cities is an invitation to potential muggers. Flashing costly electronics and camera equipment at inappropriate places and times can have the same effect as well. Even traveling through relatively safe areas and neighborhoods after nightfall may increase your risk, as might talking loudly in your native tongue, as nothing screams “tourist!” more than asking for directions. This is not to say that you should stay in your hotel room and not speak to anyone. Just use your head and the risks will be much lower.

5) If You’ve Got It, Don’t Flaunt It

Standards of dress and conduct vary wildly worldwide and to keep things on the up and up with the local populous it’s a good idea to learn what they are and then follow them. In many places in Latin America and India for example, women will at times draw unwanted male attention in direct proportion to the amount of skin they show. So ladies, be prepared to cover up if you don’t feel like being stared at by often not-too-subtle men. And don’t get me started on the Italians….

6) Make Friends, Not Mistakes

One of the best things about travel is the possibility of interacting with so many different people. While I heartily encourage all to mingle with the locals, this doesn’t mean drop your guard. Be mindful that some in bars and restaurants frequented by tourists may have their own agenda and be wary about what it is in (and how much) you drink. And sometimes (not all) that friendly local that just happens to strike up a conversation with you will eventually reveal that they want to take you to a “friend’s” shop where you can get bargains unheard of elsewhere. Again, you’ve got a brain, and don’t be afraid to say no. Most of all, don’t let the few bad eggs ruin the joys of cultural exchange.

7) Don’t Forget What Your Mommy Told You

As it turns out, your mom was right about a lot of things. While traveling, many of her adages still hold true if you want to come home safely: Look both ways before crossing the street (especially in London), be careful after dark, don’t walk through the woods by yourself and many more I’m sure. About the only one I would openly contest is the prohibition on going swimming for at least an hour after eating (An hour. A good hour).

8) Face Your Fears & Get Out There

With all the rampant insecurity in today’s society, it may be hard to overcome your fears to get out there and explore. But identifying your fears is a necessary step if you’re to experience peace of mind in travel or anything else. As I said in my 2015 humor/travel guide You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper, “finding the root of your fears is like giving a prostate exam–uncomfortable even if you do manage to put your finger on it.” But once you do, and you’re willing to challenge yourself, enjoying the world – risks and all – will become a whole lot easier.

Summary

Of course, despite taking all these precautions you can still get hit by a bus, but hey, a meteor strike is a possibility as well. My point is that it is impossible to eliminate all risk in this world, so you’ll just have to do your best and relax. By taking practical steps you can lower your risk of danger while traveling, and I say that  if you have to accept a level of risk, it might as well be on vacation.

Do you have any safety tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!

Categories: Travel Tips | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dude, Where’s My Ranch? – Review of Rancho Cortez, Bandera, Texas

Rancho Cortez, Bandera, Texas

Rancho Cortez, Bandera, Texas

Dude Ranch:

n. noun

  • 1. A resort patterned after a Western ranch, featuring camping, horseback riding, and other outdoor activities.

Not even two months after my move to Texas, I felt compelled to seek out a more authentic ‘Texan’ experience than just shopping and eating my way through Houston. So when my parents came to town for a visit, I knew the time was right to head out to where the stars at night, are big and bright (clap, clap, clap, clap) deep in the heart of Texas.

Nothing better encapsulates the image of Texas more than staying on a ranch (except, perhaps, clapping along to the aforementioned song). So as I planned our jitney into the famed hill country, I settled on a place called Rancho Cortez, located on the periphery of Bandera, Texas – the self-proclaimed “cowboy capital of the world”. As it turns out, I chose wisely, and the experience had was both fun and authentic. The follow is a breakdown as to why.

The Ranch

Check in at the General Store

Check in at the General Store

Bandera is set some 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio. It features a small main street brimming with Western facades and numerous souvenir shops to go along with a few eateries. Rancho Cortez is perhaps a ten minute drive out of town, nestled in the rolling hills that characterize the region. Coming from Houston, ANY hill was a welcome sight, as a little topographical variety is good for the soul.

Check in takes place in the main office/general store that looks like it was lifted right out of a ghost town. Here you can buy sundries and souvenirs – including an authentic cowboy hat, which I might add, will actually come in handy during your stay. Guest cabins of varying sizes dot the property, many of which are great for families as they contain kitchenettes and bunk beds for the kids. There’s a large barn structure housing a game room in the event that you’d like to stay indoors (?!) as well as an outdoor pool. A covered hot tub is available for a post-ride soak, and since the ranch also doubles as a fitness spa (with extensive programs and training) there is a well-equipped fitness center and an indoor pool as well.

Meals (generally included depending on your package) are served in a no-frills dining hall where you can interact with fellow guests, or even ranch owner Larry Cortez, whose Texas-size personality feels right out of the movie City Slickers. The food is basic but tasty, and I was glad I was not here on a fitness program, as those guests had a far more restrictive diet.

Of course, the real reason for visiting a dude ranch is the horses, and I am happy to say that all of the many horses I encountered were well-cared for and in good health. It was easy to see the handlers’ genuine respect and concern for the animals, and this of course assuaged my guilty conscience for having some poor horse have to walk around with someone the size of me on its back. Which brings me to the next point…

The Horseback Riding

Horseback riding, Rancho Cortez

Horseback riding, Rancho Cortez

Guests are divvied into riding parties so that there’s never an exceptionally large group out at one time (and so that the horses are not overworked either). The guides will lead the posse through groves of trees, expansive meadows, and lovely hilltop vistas. Rides will last about an hour unless prior arrangements have been made. As any non-rider can attest, an hour is enough time to enjoy the experience without feeling overly saddle-sore. For guests on the all-inclusive package, they are entitled to two rides a day – plus a hay ride through the property, which at times will include a visit to the impressive herd of cows on site.

Off the Horse Activities

Since horseback riding will only take up about two hours of your day, the ranch does offer other diversions to pass the time. There’s a scenic trail that winds across the hill overlooking the property, where at the top guests can play in the obstacle course put there for those on a fitness package. Or you can do what I did, which was to walk past and shake my head at doing that stuff under a hot Texas sun.

How to catch a woman - Texas style

How to catch a woman – Texas style

The ranch hands will also tutor interested guests in the art of roping. It took a little while but eventually I got the hang of it. In the event that I were tasked with lassoing an absolutely stationary colt from a few feet away, I’d feel pretty certain about my chances of success. As for moving targets, not so much so, though one of the cowboys very nonchalantly lassoed my wife mid-step and attempted to teach me how to do it. Call me a Neanderthal, but it dawned on me that such a skill would be quite useful, not to mention a very effective way to meet more women after she leaves me for lassoing her in public.

DSC_2836Perhaps the most enjoyable of all activities offered at Rancho Cortez takes place at dusk. This is when they get a fire started in the stone fire pit, allowing guests to pull up their chairs and enjoy the ambiance as the stars start blinking on one by one. On some evenings they have a singer drop by, who will regale guests with folk songs and other ditties accompanied by guitar. Between the twang of the voice, the crackling of the fire, and the mix of starlight and firelight, there’s no mistaking that you are truly (clap, clap, clap, clap) deep in the heart of Texas.

The Conclusion

I came to Rancho Cortez for a genuine, non-touristy ranch stay, and I didn’t leave disappointed. The price was quite reasonable, the staff friendly and personable, and the scenery was all I could hope for. I would heartily recommend it to anyone seeking a cowboy experience in the Lone Star State. In fact, I can’t wait to receive other visitors, as it will give me an excuse to come back. Dude, that’s something to look forward to.


For a witty tour of the planet, don’t forget to download a copy of my travel guide You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper, available at most major online retailers.

Categories: Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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