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December 2008

December 30, 2008

Spending the Holidays in Mexico

By Gary Chandler

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RUNNING OF THE BURROS?: Colorful streets in San Cristóbal de las Casas (Glow Images)

I'm living in Chiapas, Mexico, right now, and had recently left my house when I saw a burro galloping down the street right at me. Chiapas has its rural areas, to be sure, but this was in the middle of San Cristóbal de las Casas, a city of 150,000 people and not a place you normally see livestock in the street. Chasing after the burro were two boys with faux beards and dressed in tunics, and that's when I understood: It's Christmastime and the burro was evidently part of a posada—a musical reenactment of Joseph and Mary looking for shelter in Bethlehem, and a popular holiday tradition in Mexico.

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Related Topics: Dispatches from the Road · Mexico Travel

December 19, 2008

Dumbest Outdoor Trends of 2008

By Brian Kevin

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Gourmet campfire cooking? Could be part of your next "glamping" trip. (Nathan Borchelt)

End-of-the-year “best” and “worst” lists are like marshmallow Peeps or trashy reality TV—everyone claims to abhor them, but year after year, we find ourselves weirdly compelled to see who People chose as the year’s best-dressed celeb and what obscure piece of avant-indie noise-rock became Pitchfork’s album of the year.

I’m going to be straight with you, though: I like these lists. I know they’re utterly arbitrary and meaningless, but I like them anyway. I look forward to arguing about them with friends and sometimes with strangers on the bus. So in that spirit, I present my own completely subjective and unempirical list of the Top Five Dumbest Outdoor Adventure Trends of 2008.

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Related Topics: From Around the Web · Outdoor Adventures · Travel Rants

December 18, 2008

You Gotta Love Kids

SKI SCHOOL: Teachers can learn from students as well (Gus Gusciorca/courtesy, Telluride Ski Resort)

Who knew a ski day could be this good? We’re on the bottom stretch of Homerun, a three-and-a-half-mile journey of joy at Park City Mountain Resort, reeling over the snow in perfect wedge turns. No poles. They’d get in the way of all the fist-to-face laughter.

I’m teaching kid's ski school. My companions are two goofy 12-year-old girls from Mexico City who have never been on snow before. To me, they’re starting to feel like the daughters I never had. If you really want to get back to the roots of skiing, forget Austria. Go ski with kids. It’s all about fun. And the best skier is always the one who has the most fun.

Paired with a professional instructor—and I work with some of the best in the country—the rate of technical improvement for kids on skis or a snowboard is unbelievable. Give me a kid at 9 a.m. and I’ll give you twice the skier back at 3 p.m. It always plays out that way.

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Skiing & Snowboarding

December 17, 2008

Confessions of an Ex-Haggler

By Gary Chandler

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Dolls and other crafts in a Mexican market (Corel)

I was at an indigenous handicraft market in Chiapas, Mexico, the other day when I spotted a little stuffed animal I thought my daughter would like. I asked the price: 40 pesos, or about four dollars. I offered 30, rather pathetically, then promptly handed over the whole amount. The seller flashed a huge smile when I did so, and I walked away wondering if I'd been had.

I've stopped bargaining. After a decade and a half of frequent travel, mostly to Latin America, I'm still drawn to the handmade toys, elaborate masks, and other market treasures, but I no longer have the heart to bargain on the price. I pay more for other things too—a US$50 hotel isn’t out of the question, nor is hopping in a cab to get there from the bus station. I remember the first time I took a suitcase instead of a backpack (gasp!) as if it were the Kennedy assassination.

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Related Topics: Dispatches from the Road · Mexico Travel

December 16, 2008

Those Little Town Blues Melting Away

NIGHT LIGHTS: Rockefeller Center lit up with holiday lights (Inti St. Clair/Photodisc/Getty)

'Tis the season to head to Manhattan with Jack Frost nipping in the air. The parties don't stop at Thanksgiving, when the immense helium balloons and the best of Broadway kick off the holidays in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; they go straight to New Year’s Eve when the ball drops in Times Square.  On Fifth Avenue, folks line up to see the elaborate Christmas window displays at stores like Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue.  Across the street from Saks on 49th Street, the Christmas Tree (a 72-foot tall Norway spruce) in front of Rockefeller Center pumped up the voltage on December 3rd.  You can show off your latest double lutz at the ice skating rink, just in front of the tree, which is always crowded with onlookers.  The Giant Menorah is lit the first day of Hanukkah on December 21st at the corner of 59th and Fifth Avenue.  Adding to the festivities this holiday season is a slew of family-friendly fare on Broadway, including The Little Mermaid, Into the Heights, and the latest from London, the hit musical, Billy Elliot.

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Trip Ideas

"Share Your Adventure" Contest: And the Winners Are...

By awayblog

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No doubt, you lot are an adventure-loving crew! Over 120 entries came in for our recent "Share Your Adventure" contest, with globe-trotting tales that featured everything from Moab singletrack to Costa Rican surf to a very close encounter with a scorpion on some unnamed tropical isle.

Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to enter. After much deliberation amongst the editors here (and some winnowing down of entries that, although interesting and well-written, went over our limit of 100 words per entry), we have selected the below five entries as the finalists in our "Share Your Adventure" contest. The winners will each receive a copy Riding the Hulahula to the Arctic Ocean from National Geographic Books, plus they'll be contributing a longer post about their adventures to this blog in the week of January 19-23, 2009. (We had originally planned for a week in December, but we decided that the later January date will give everyone time to get through the festive season!)

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Related Topics: News · Free Stuff

December 15, 2008

Machu Picchu Part 1: Trying to Get Off the Beaten Track


When I visited Machu Picchu for the first time this past October, I never imagined I would have one of the New Seven Wonders of the World all to myself for a couple hours. Considering that South America's most visited attraction receives nearly 2,500 tourists a day, I felt the spirit of the Incas must have been watching over me during my amazing day trip to this sacred site in Peru.

Like the majority of visitors to Machu Picchu, I had only one day to explore the architectural marvel constructed in 1460 and made known to the world at large by American scholar Hiram Bingham in 1911. While some travelers arrive at Machu Picchu by foot after multi-day treks on Inca trails, I followed the traditional route of taking a train, then a bus—both of which offered breathtaking views along the way.

The night before my excursion to Machu Picchu, which means "old peak" in the Quechua language, I stayed in a hotel in the town of Ollantaytambo, a common launching point for visits to Machu Picchu. At dawn the next morning, I caught a train to Aguas Calientes (officially renamed Machu Picchu Pueblo). From there, I took the winding and scenic bus ride to the site. As we drew closer, I was thrilled that I was finally going to visit one of the world's most magnificent and awe-inspiring places.

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Related Topics: Dispatches from the Road · Outdoor Adventures · Trip Ideas

December 12, 2008

How to Store Your Gear for Winter

PACK IT UP: Put your gear away for the winter—but not in the bed of your truck (Kate Chandler)

You know how it is—summer and fall end, the weather turns lousy, and all your hiking and camping gear gets left exactly where you last put it—heaped in a pile in the garage. You’ll get around to sorting it out and cleaning it in the spring, you figure.

But there's still time to properly store gear so it’s ready to go when the sun comes back out. Here are some tips on how to ensure your gear survives the winter:

Sleeping bags: Bags need a little special care—they can get mildewy easily, or their filling compressed, so do NOT store them in a stuff stack. This can damage both synthetic and down bags, plus trap moisture. Instead, place loosely in a large cotton sack (if you don’t have one, REI sells sleeping bag storage bags for $10), then store in a dry place. An indoor closet is a good place; a dry attic also a good second option.

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December 11, 2008

Ideas for What to Do With Your Vacation Photos

By Guest Blogger

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Playing on the beach at Cape May (Craig Terry/courtesy, Cape May Country Tourism)

When I had my first child, my sister advised me to buy plenty of blank photo albums and fill them as soon as the pictures were developed. In a perfect world—sans procrastination—that would have been fine for our vacation photos. That was, of course, ten years ago before we became a digital nation.

Today, with families gathering for the holidays, your memory cards will surely fill with a bank of great shots. So now is the perfect time to begin plotting what to do with your winter holiday photos.

Here are a few creative ideas that will inspire you as well as maybe give you a few gift items to cross off your list. After all, spending time collating a scrapbook for someone is one of the most personal gifts you can give.

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Travel Photography · Travel Tips

December 10, 2008

Tuning Your Skis and Gifts for the Skier

TIME FOR A TUNE-UP: Prep your skis before taking them on the slopes (Digital Vision)

Let’s get this one out of the way early in the season. To ski and ride well, and even enjoy the slopes more, you need to tune your equipment. For skiers, that means sharp edges and fast wax. You’ll pay a minimum of $20 for a tune; a quality tune runs about $75. But since everyone's trying to save a buck or two these days, try to prep your skis yourself.

Make it a habit and part of the sport. All you need are a few tools: a file, file guides, a variety of temperature-graded ski wax, as well as an iron to apply the wax and a workbench. To sharpen your edges, follow this excellent instructional video.

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Related Topics: Skiing & Snowboarding

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