Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cash Cabs

When I was living in Alabama my friends and I hardly ever took taxis. It really is a wonder I never got pulled over after a few drinks in my college or post-college years and for that I am grateful. After all a cab costs maybe $10 while a DUI costs $10,000+. Moving to a bigger city and traveling has changed the way I view taxis as well as the frequency of which I use them. I've learned that different cities have different taxi standards which probably coincides with how much they are used.
In Birmingham there are taxis outside of the bars at 2am but no one really takes them because most people drive to the bar in the first place (bad idea). In Denver you can call a cab to your house to come and pick you up but depending on the night it can take 15 minutes or an hour and sometimes they never show. St. Patrick's day, halloween, new years, opening day for baseball, you can forget trying to get a taxi to show up at your house when you need one. Of course when you are out and about you can find plenty but most of the time you can't leave your car anywhere overnight in the downtown area. Which means if you drive to the bar you are probably driving home (again a terrible idea if you've been drinking!) because they will boot your car if you leave it parked.
Washington, DC has plenty of cabs but you can't call one to come to your place you have to walk out on the street and find them. I think this is a bit of a hassle especially if you are trying to go to the airport and don't want to walk all over the streets with your suitcase. Unlike Denver, none of them take credit cards which is also a bit of a pain, requiring a possible ATM stop if you never carry cash like I do. Of course with the exception of the airport, you can always take their metro anyplace you need to go. New York is probably the best city I've visited for taxis as they outnumber the amount of cars on the streets. However, they are also the most expensive I've found and a bit shady. They will have credit card machines in the back but the driver will tell you it's broken and then when you insist you have no cash they will finally relent and let you pay with your card.
Traveling internationally I have found presents a whole new challenge where taxis are concerned because if you don't speak the language your biggest worry is getting ripped off and getting where you actually want to go.

(pictured: a taxi in Thailand) Besides the tuk tuks in Thailand there are standard taxis and you have two types, metered and non-metered. Although I'm pretty sure all of them actually do have a meter installed, only some of the drivers use them. So if you get in a metered taxi, you pay by the mile. In any other case you bargain with the driver how much it will cost. At the airport we were told before we got in exactly how much it would be and same for our ride to the patong hospital in Phuket. Of course, when you aren't from that country you have no idea how much a taxi ride SHOULD cost so you are pretty much at the mercy of the driver. While they are a little more pricey than the tuk tuks, they at least take you to your location and do not stop at five gem stores along the way. The worst part is traffic can get pretty bad in Bangkok so you must time your taxi trips accordingly if you don't want to pay to sit in traffic.
(picture: motortaxi driver) Thailand also has motorbike taxis which are cheaper than the metered car taxis. You simply flag one down, negotiate a price then hop on the back of this motorbike and away you go. Given the traffic in Bangkok and how dangerous motorbikes are, I would never recommend this way to anyone. I am sure it is the fastest way to get around but definitely not for the faint of heart. We only saw locals riding on the back of these taxi bikes so I'm pretty sure either most tourists don't know about them or wouldn't dare the risk either. Of course being that only one person can ride on the back it's not the most convenient way to travel for large groups anyhow.

(picture on right: typical costa rican taxi)

Costa Rica was by far the easiest country I have traveled to navigate. Generally there aren't any cars in th beach towns and everyone gets from place to place on 4 wheelers. San Jose and Liberia are the only major cities where you are likely to even see taxi cab like the one pictured. When we went, a few summers ago we flew into San Jose then took a van which we had booked prior down to Santa Theresa which took about five hours. It wasn't a bad drive, but on our way back to the airport our van didn't have air conditioning and in the hot rainy season this made for some unpleasant conditions. The seats were also bench seats facing one another so the person riding backwards had to have a strong stomach to avoid car sickness. I did read that the taxis in Costa Rica can rip you off if you aren't watching and you must tell them "ponta la meter" or "put on the meter" so they will turn it on and you'll get a decent fare. In Thailand the same rule applied and you had to watch and make sure they wouldn't turn the meter off and tell you it was broken to rip you off. Usually threatening to get out did the trick to get the meter to magically work again.

If it's anything I have learned in life it's that a taxi is a taxi no matter where you travel in the world. The drivers are always looking to earn an extra buck or two by going the long way or charging you extra fees for passengers or bags, etc. Some have air conditioning and others don't and nearly all are awkward to ride in. But despite everything sometimes they are the easiest and cheapest way to get around and the one way to assure you don't get a DUI if you have been out drinking. I expect I'll take many more cabs in years to come and while I may never arrive in luxury or style, it's good enough I suppose to just get where I'm going....in sort of a timely fashion.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In a perfect world my husband and I would be able to travel to an exotic location every month. Unfortunately, even though we fly for practically pennies, you still have to spend money on hotels, lodging etc. which gets expensive especially if you'd perhaps like to own a home someday. So when we can't fly out of the country or even out of the state, my husband and I have taken to traveling the state we live in Colorado.
Neither of us is originally from the state so it seems there is always some place new to explore. Last fall was when we got engaged so we spent a lot of time in the mountains driving all to different spots looking for a place to hold our wedding. Ultimately we decided not to get married in Colorado but we did experience the Aspens in the fall when we went to take our engagement photos:
These pictures were taken up near Evergreen in early October of last year. Aspens are my favorite tree and each fall they go from green to this brilliant yellow color. Because Aspens are all on the same root system, they always appear in clusters mixed in with the spruces and evergreen trees. So driving through the mountains you will see this amazing mix of yellow and green and even some reds on the slopes. The downside to Aspens is the leaves fall off really easily so one big storm and all the yellow is gone. We didn't get to make it up there before the snow hit this year and took all the yellow from the mountains.

When we actually got engaged it was on a hike of Hanging Lake trail which is a few hours away from Denver. It's a fairly short hike, under 2 miles but it's very steep and so full of rocks that you almost need leeky poles to maintain your balance. What's unique about the trail is that it's right off the highway and if you weren't looking for it you probably wouldn't know it was there, although it always seems to attract the tourists to and from Glenwood Springs. Dogs also aren't allowed either which is a shame because I love taking my dog hiking but also a blessing because animals don't tend to stay on the trail and mess up the foliage. Once you reach the top of the climb you are greeted by this:

It's probably not a climb worth doing in the winter, but in the summer it was fantastic. The water is crystal green and blue and so special you can't even stick a toe in there or you will damage the ecosystem that makes it this way. The waterfalls weren't really running at full force this day due to lack of rain, but if you climb around them there are actually a few smaller waterfalls that feed into them at the top. A great day trip from the city especially since there aren't too many natural bodies of water like this in Colorado.

Ever since my mom and I went to Paris for my 26th Birthday, I have made it a tradition to leave town to celebrate. I prefer to spend several days celebrating the occasion so what could be more perfect than a vacation? Well last year we went to Costa Rica (a separate blog post altogether) but this year we had to choose a place a little closer to home since we were on a wedding budget. Being that the flight loads were looking horrible to all the Caribbean destinations we decided to google Colorado and see where we could go for a weekend getaway. What we found was this:
In the picture I'm actually standing in the Uti pool, one of 26 at the hot sulfur springs in hot sulfur springs Colorado. I never knew such a place existed before this and I've lived in Colorado almost 5 years now! Of course we have been to the Indian sulfur springs in Idaho Falls (a great place to stop on your way home from skiing but a little hokey) and Glenwood Springs after we hiked hanging lake (it's an Olympic sized swimming pool fed by a natural hot springs underground) but never a place like this. What makes this place so wonderful is that kids aren't allowed, it's quiet, there's a huge range in pools temperature wise (from 98 to over 108) and it's open late into the night. At the Indian hot springs you have to rent a private cave pool otherwise men and women are separated because you have to be butt naked. At Glenwood it's more like a theme park, but at these hot springs you can choose whatever pool you want for as long as you want and you can even leave and come back anytime when you buy a day pass. The downfall is, you smell like sulfur and so does your bathing suit and the smell never really comes out of your swimsuit or towel. The waters are full of minerals so they are excellent for your skin though so you leave feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. I also got a sea salt and lemon oil massage when I was there which was a total body exfoliation although it's a little harsh on the skin (not quite so relaxing as it is beneficial). Hot Sulfur Springs, Colorado is a tiny town located outside of winter park so I'm hoping we can go back in the winter after a day of skiing. Nothing is more fantasatic than soaking in a hot spring after a full day of skiing. It's also great for hiking and seeing wildlife (we saw a bear running through town and a moose on the side of the road) and though I don't fish I saw several people doing so.

I love living in a state that affords me the opportunity to experience something completely out of my element without me having to go through airport security or worry about who can babysit my dog. I know with the economy being what it is, a lot of people are looking towards "stay-cations" to save money but still get out of the house. I can definitely attest to the fact that it's well worth googling your city for things to do next time you are bored and want to get away.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy Halloween!

(picture: the Hindu Goddess Kali)
When I'm not traveling the world one of my hobbies is yoga. I find it not only challenging but also a great workout and way to rejuvenate. On Halloween this past Saturday I went to a yoga fusion class which mixes some flow as well as meditation and inversions, basically whatever the teacher is feeling like that day. Well my teacher was a really cool girl who incorporated the Hindu Goddess Kali into our practice. She described Kali to us as this wild spirit who is a very fearsome goddess who has few devoted worshipers because she is so benevolent. She is also described as a slayer of demons and identified as the supreme mistress of the universe, associated with the five elements. Well after finding a few pictures of her on the internet, she definitely is scary in the looks department and more than appropriate for Halloween. The basic mindset we were to be in during this yoga practice was to think of Kali and to tap into our own side that we keep locked up on a day to day basis. To let something out and let something go. To go, in our minds, to another place. Yoga incorporates meditation and breathing, which if you've never done yoga before, you might find it a little difficult to free your mind and shut off the chatter. But that's why they call it "yoga practice."
Halloween is the perfect time, I believe to let your inner Kali goddess out. To dress up and be someone else for a night. I always wondered though, if other countries celebrated this "holiday" as well. I knew Mexico celebrates a day of the dead, but as I found out through a little research the United States isn't the only country with a day of ghouls and goblins. Whereas we carve pumpkins and give out candy, China has a Ghost Festival where they put out water and food in front of pictures of deceased loved ones. In Italy on November 1st, children wake up to candies which they believe are left by the dead on All Saints Day. The Germans put away all their knives so as not to harm the spirits on their return. Even Thailand has a festival called Phi Ta Khon but it's celebrated in May, June or July. While we may not all have exactly the same traditions, it seems that other cultures certainly do come closer to recognizing the dead than just hanging a skeleton on their door.
While my husband and I dressed up as ghostbusters, I can't help to wish I could have heard about Kali sooner because it would have made a great costume. Heidi Klum apparently thought so too:
I think she makes a fabulous Kali, even if she did offend the Hindus and apparently now they want her to apologize. I say if Kali has a problem with it, let her deal with Heidi herself.
Happy Halloween to all, in whatever way you chose to celebrate. Now I know what to expect should I ever decide to spend this ghostly holiday abroad!