Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hollywood Sign Hike

Hey guys,
I'm back in the United States.  Since many of you are international readers, I thought I might add some of my fun US adventures into the blog.

Over Christmas, I decided to hike to the Hollywood Sign.  There was a video circulating on Facebook that pointed out that there was a trail that could get you right up to the Hollywood sign instead of the view from the Observatory 3 miles away.

If you type in the Hollywood Sign into Google Maps, it sends you to the observatory.  So, you can either view the Hollywood sign from Lake Hollywood Park, Griffith Park or venture up through the finicky Beachwood Canyon neighborhood and get up close and personal by taking the Mount Lee Trail.

Griffith Park is a long hike.  It's approximately 6.5 miles round trip.  The trail is mostly dirt and gravel, but there is not a lot of shade along the hike. The benefit, however is that the parking situation is fairly good.

Lake Hollywood gives you a really nice view from a few miles away and again, the parking is tolerable.

But if you're in for adventure and an easier hike to the sign, you can battle parking restrictions and get to the sign fairly quickly.  Neighbors within the Beachwood Community have gone to great lakes to prevent visitors from parking on their wind-y, narrow streets.  However, if you venture up on a weekday, you're in luck as the parking is not restricted.  You can get right up to the trail opening at Deronda Dr. and Rockcliff Dr.

Here are the directions:
From the 101, get off at Beachwood Dr., take a left at Ledgewood Dr.  It will jog around for a bit and appear to dead end. Take a left for a couple of meters, then a quick left to continue onto Ledgewood Dr.  Then, you'll take a sharp U-turn to Rockcliff Dr.  Where Rockwood Dr. meets Deronda Dr., there is a white entrance...BINGO!

There is a gravel platform that gives you an amazing and unobstructed view of the Hollywood sign.  Perfect for jumping photos, selfies and other debauchery.

The only riff raff on the mountain, was us.

If you walk back down toward the front gate and take a sharp U-turn, you enter the Mount Lee Trail. This 1-mile walk takes you up and behind the Hollywood Sign.  You can literally get within 10-feet of the letters.  No, you can't sit inside the 'O' like Hollywood films like you to think you can.  There is a strict trespassing policy and violators will be cited.

You can see from downtown LA to the Pacific Ocean

This hike is definitely on the easier side.  It's a steady incline up and pets on leashes are allowed.  Everyone hiking is very friendly and it's secure and free of peddlers and riff raff.  if you make it to the top, you can see from the valley to the ocean.  You can even see the controversial vineyard on the side of the mountain.

Made it to the top!

Hike away, folks.  It really is worth the parking hassle.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Hey all, it's been a while.  I've been back to the US and apologize for never finishing my posts on Asia and South America.  I'll get to them someday.  However, I'd love to share some of the gems from my most recent adventure with you... the Middle East!

With all of the media framing and terrorist talk, I'm sure most Americans would think twice about visiting the holy land, but not me.  So, on I went again...solo... for another adventure of a lifetime. As a gesture of peace, here are some of the amazing sights from my journey to JORDAN and ISRAEL.

Definitely not lost
Rule number one in the Middle East... Hookah = YES
Hookah?  The answer is always "YES"
Petra, Jordan is also known as the "Lost City".  Petra is one of the new 7 Wonders of the World and is a national heritage site created in 1BC. Most people will recognize these photos as this is where Indiana Jones, The Mummy and Transformers was filmed. It's absolutely breath-taking. However, the ancient people wanted to make sure that anyone who were to see these ruins must earn it.  The entryway to the Treasury was about a 1-mile hike through the sweltering heat.  Also, keep in mind that ladies (that's me) had to remain covered.  Yep, sleeves and pants...FML

Hiking through 118 degree heat to get to the Lost City of Petra
 The first awe-inspiring feature was The Treasury.  It was glorious.  I can't think of another word to describe it.  Thousands of artists (Read: slaves) spent years carving this monument out of the side of a mountain.  The details are spectacular and the size is astonishing.

The Treasury

For those less agile or ambitious, there were camel rides available for $5 to take you to the Monastery. I was not witness to any angry or spitting camels.  They were actually beautiful up close and didn't smell any worse than a petting zoo.

The Monastery is absolutely incredible.  It's gigantic!  If you look at the photo below, those specs are FULL-SIZED HORSES so you can see the enormity of this beautiful tomb.  How the heck did I manage to get a shot without people in it?  Well, it was 118 degrees and a Wednesday.  Ain't nobody silly enough to trek 4 miles through a canyon and up 800 stairs to see this bad boy.  We did see a few other tourists taking donkeys up, but unfortunately some little girl fell off her donkey about 20 steps from the top and they turned back and never made it up.  I feel sorry for them because it was stunning.

The Monastery, Petra, Jordan
I actually hiked the entire day, but having never been on a camel, I couldn't help but pay $5 for a photo and a pack of postcards. I logged over 20,000 steps, I earned the right to be cheesy.

Being a tourist and supporting the local economy
 Beyond the Monastery, another half a mile up the mountain was an amazing view of valley below. I decided to give my brother a shout-out with my Detroit Lions Nintendo Techmo Bowl T-shirt atop the mountain with the Jordanian flag.

Petra was a long day, but there was plenty more in Jordan to see.  A short drive away from Petra headed north toward Amman is a small town called Madaba.  The Greek Orthodox Church of St. George houses a mosaic map of the holy land (Jerusalem) from the 6th Century.

Mosaic map of Jerusalem from the 6 AD
 Madaba loves their mosaics.  The entire church was filled with them as were every chochki shop in town.

Next up, Mt. Nebo.  We headed to Mt. Nebo to check out Moses' view of the holy land.  Look over the valley my friend, it's breath taking.

Moses' view of the holy land

Here's the really big rock that blocked the door
Surprise!  I got invited to take photos at a baptism in the River Jordan.  Boom!  I was super excited until I saw how nasty the water was.  I still had to remain covered so thank goodness my hiking leggings looked good with my long sleeve dress.  I could only bring myself to dip a toe in. I didn't contract any funk, so maybe I was even blessed by it?

Wading in the River Jordan
 Back to Amman.  What can I say about Amman?  It's a giant congested city.  There is nothing spectacular or beautiful about its sand colored buildings, un-policed streets and unruly driving habits.  The food was phenomenal and made up for the stressful driving situations.

There are no lanes in the road and people generally don't abide by any reason or laws other than drive forward.  If there is a collision between a local and a foreigner, it is ALWAYS the foreigner's fault so make sure you have cash on hand to avoid potential issues.  Also, there are a MILLION speed bumps on the highways and random checks for vehicles about every 30-50 miles.

Camel on the side of the road

You can't go to Jordan without visiting the Dead Sea.  In fact, aside from seeing my friends there, that was my top priority.  YES YOU REALLY CAN FLOAT WITH NO HANDS OR FEET.  The Dead Sea is awesome.  It is over 383 feet below sea level and is almost 10x saltier than the ocean.   It's so salty that nearly nothing can survive in it.

With that being said, the salinity and high concentration of magnesium and other minerals create healing properties in its mud and water.  So of course I went in and bathed in the mud.

I had a major wipeout on my bike 2 days before leaving that left a gaping wound on my knee, ankle and skidded of an entire toenail.  Nothing was going to stop me from going in the dead sea - extreme salinity or not - so I brought along this super rad cast cover and it worked like a charm!  No salt bites for me.

 Next up... Israel

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Koh Tao, Thailand

I was skeptical of Koh Tao, but was dragged there by the familiarity of old friends, mountain high stories of debauchery and a reputation for having the cheapest PADI diving certification in the world.

Getting to Koh Tao is not that easy.  Perhaps that is why it is so rad.  I had to take a 4 hour bus ride from Krabi across the peninsula, a 2-hour layover and then an overnight boat. I'm not sure what I had expected, but it sure wasn't this…

When I opted on the boat, which looked like a car carrying ferry, I dropped my bag off on the deck (sketchy), left my flip flops at the front door (who knows if I'll ever see them again) and searched for my "seat" number.  When I walked up the stairs, I saw a line of mattresses on the floor with sketchy flimsy pillows at the head.

Oh dear, I did not want to lay on that.  Who knew when the last time those sheets were changed?  I laid my sarong over the sheet (pretending like that was a sufficient barrier) and put my backpack under my head.  I used my pashmina as a blanket and went to sleep.  I figured the faster I fell asleep the less creeped out I would be by whomever was going to be laying beside me.

I woke up 10 minutes before the boat docked to this…

OMG, dirty backpackers everywhere! The guy next to me was definitely a bit sketchy, but hey they probably thought the same of me. I am proud to say, I made it all the way around the world without picking up bedbugs! Although, I'm not sure how.

Looking out the window made me forget all about the creepy sleeping situation.  Look how beautiful the harbor is in the morning!


Lets start with the PADI certification.  Easy Peasy.  Ban's Diving (http://www.bansdivingresortkohtao.com) in Sairee Beach made my PADI certification fun and easy!  For $300 (9800 THB), you can get your Open Water certification and lodging for 4 days.


Our instructor, Antony, was absolutely historical.  He drew the winning lotto ticket of teaching 9 girls ages 18-34, and one super rad dude, Simon.

Scuba class. Photo by Annick Beryl
This course was phenomenal.  Antony and his fellow instructors were very experienced.  They stressed safety checks and buddy safety extensively.  They married instructional material with dirty jokes in a way that tiptoed the line, but never actually crossed over it.  I felt very comfortable diving with all of them and enjoyed the double entendres, everyone did.

My diving buddy Jenaya was confident and of the same skill level so it was a great pairing. My two favorite people in the class were British, Annick and Simon.  They were hilarious. They got a taste of my blunt American demeanor and laughed with me along the way.  Cheers to you guys!

Simon and Annick
I enjoyed the Open Water class so much that I was contemplating taking the Advanced Open Water class.  The tipping point on this decision was basically that I didn't want any restrictions for diving in the Galpagos.  So I shelled out another $100 and took 2 more days of class.  The Advanced Open water class included 5 more dives.  The coolest of them were the night dive and the ship wreck dive. Unfortunately, the visibility for the ship wreck was kind of crappy, but it was cool to be down there anyway.

"Ok" with the tank gun!
Crappy visibility on the ship wreck dive
After I completed all of the PADI certifications, I could finally play with my friends.  My friend Sylvia that I met in Ios, Greece 4 years ago lived on Koh Tao.  So, I decided to spend an extra 4 days on the island and am I glad I did.  Sylvia is an amazing hostess.  She has lived on the island off and on for nearly a decade.

Em and Sylvia
Plus, her view wasn't too shabby.

First up, Sylvia and I participated in the Koh Tao Pub Crawl (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Koh-Tao-Pub-Crawl/195259667186954).

The Koh Tao Pub Crawl has an excellent business model.  For 380 THB ($11 USD), you get a Koh Tao Pub Crawl tank top, a bucket of liquor, a schedule of 5 bars to crawl to and entrance into an outstanding drag show.  The pub craw runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If you participate a second time and bring your existing tank top, you get to crawl for 280 THB and then every time after that is free…for life.

 Needless to say, Sylvia has about 50 crawls under her belt…and I am free for life. So, if I ever go back I'll share my bucket with you.

The drag show was phenomenal!


The ladyboys put on great performances and they even drew in a little crowd participation.  They pulled people from the audience to break dance for miniature golf tickets, beer and a discount on a tattoo.  Then they pulled other guys onstage to dress in drag and perform to close out the show.

 The pub crawl always heads to Choppers for live music...

 And then to Fish Bowl for a fire show on the beach…

Photo courtesy of Annick Beryl's FB

At some point, they bring out the flaming jumprope for all of the drunk idiots to try out.  The best part of the night is sitting there watching people fail at jumprope, limbo and jumping through a flaming hoop.

Drunk, flaming jumprope

Drunk flaming limbo
Sylvia took us on the most amazing adventures ever!  She took us for a jungle hike to the Banana Rock Bar on a secret deserted beach.  The Banana Rock Bar is an honor system, serve yourself bar.  Super rad!

Barefoot hiking, lets go!

Just found this beautiful little inlet on the way

Serve yourself, bitches!
No shoes, no shirt required...
On my last day on the island, Sylvia organized a private boat tour to some of the best snorkel spots in Koh Tao.  We went to Mango Bay and Nang Yuan.

Mango Bay
Mango Bay
Emily and Sylvia at Mango Bay
so many fish….
Snorkeling with turtles, pike fish and trumpet fish
Road to the lookout point in Nang Yuan

Phillip, Em, Sylvia and Craig and his girlfriend
View from atop Nang Yuan lookout!

Wearing my new swimsuit by Flip Flop and Treacle! (http://www.flipflopandtreacle.co.uk)
Phillippe made it to the top!
Koh Tao excels in fun, PADI certification and sunsets.  They were incredible.  Here are some of my favorites!

If you're planning to go to Koh Tao, you need to reach out to Sylvia.  She organizes amazing tour packages and can provide you with the best itineraries, lodging, discounts and overall guidance of this amazing island.  (http://mj.sotulife.mobi)