Georgia Road Trip: Part 1

I’ve been back in the USA over 7 months and COVID has hit the world. I’ve spent many months quarantined in my room or doing an occasional outdoor activity. I haven’t actually caught covid so far but I am still scared to travel (I had one pretty nasty illness in May that my doctor insisted was not COVID). I really need to get out of the house for a week or so. I finally get the courage to book a solo road trip to the nearby state of Georgia. I’ve noticed a couple of friends taking trips up there to do day hikes and it looks like a safe and interesting thing to do.

My first stop is southwestern Georgia at Providence Canyon State Park, a place many refer to as a mini grand canyon. It is a canyon caused by erosion from poor farming practices. Fortunately/unfortunately the end result is a neat little place to visit for the day to view and take a hike.

I am driving in from central Florida and arrive in the evening. I book a hotel in a nearby town that is actually in Alabama. Eufaula, Alabama is a small town that is very low-key and seems safe enough to stay for an evening or two (it is a good thing I booked two evenings, more on that later).

Driving into Alabama from western Georgia

The drive north, mostly highway miles, is where I think I notice a strange noise from my car (my car is quite old but a very reliable model and current on maintenance). I essentially do the equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and try to ignore it. If I pretend the noise doesn’t exist will it go away on its own? I eventually arrive at my hotel and my car still sounds strange as I pull in the parking lot. “Maybe it is just tired and if I let it rest for the night it will be fine”. I check into my hotel room and rest for the evening. The next morning I am heading to the Providence Canyon. I wake up and start the 30 minute drive to the canyon, still ignoring the noise (I know, totally irresponsible). I arrive as the canyon is opening (since I read warnings that there can be crowds and they limit visitors for the day). It is impossible to ignore the noise anymore. As I park I get weird looks from others in the parking lot. I do an inspection to see what the problem might be. Luckily another visitor in the parking lot is knowledgeable of my issue and points it out right away. I have eroded a break pad and that is what is causing the noise. I am confused because I didn’t think my break pads were that old. This seems like a problem I need to resolve right away. I find a repair place who will take me immediately and drive back 30 minutes to the town I am staying. I need new break pads and rotor. The cost is ridiculously expensive to fix but it isn’t like I can comparison shop at this point. I get the service done and pay the price. I could head back to the canyon but it is already late in the day. I decide to wander around Eufaula instead. Luckily I have one more night scheduled in my hotel here.

I end up on a little paved trail that is mostly empty. This town is on the water so I can see boats on the water from the trail.

After my walk I order a pizza to take back to the hotel and go to bed early to return to the canyon in the morning.

The next morning my brakes are working great again and come in handy when I need to stop to make sure I don’t runover a parade of hogs on the road.

I am back at the canyon, this time for good. I start along the loop trail which slowly descends into the canyon.

I have the choice to explore the inside of the canyons from below or head up the incline to do the 2.5 mile loop trail. Today I decide to do only the 2.5 mile trail because I am out of hiking shape and I have longer hikes ahead of me on this trip.

The area used to be a settlement that had to be abandoned due to the earth collapsing. Left behind are some old cars.

Most of the loop is shaded and like a forest hike but the last part is mostly open but offers great vistas of the canyon.

There is an old church and cemetery on the walk back to the parking lot. I can never resist a peek at an old cemetery.

Overall it is a great visit. My only wish is that I would have spent the time to hike some of the canyons. Perhaps if I didn’t have the car issues I could have split the hikes over two days to make it more manageable.

I drove up to north Georgia afterwards to be closer to Amicalola Falls, the place I will start my adventure for the next couple days.

The Limelight Inn in Dahlonega, Georgia is a beautiful place to spend the night.

I enjoy my lovely porch view of the fall for a little bit then head into the town of Dahlonega for dinner. I find a nice little outdoor restaurant to enjoy dinner in this cute college town.

Gyro at Capers on the Square

After dinner I head back to my Inn and enjoy the sunset from my porch since it is COVID times and most places appear to close early. It seems like a cute town to do some shopping in, maybe during another visit.

Tomorrow I head out on a 5 mile hike to a lodge I will be staying for two nights. More on that later.

Arrived in Bogota

Market in Bogota

I just spent a couple days in Santiago Chile getting over jetlag from the time zone change. I wasted all those days in Chile but fortunately I am rested up for the beginning of my travels to Colombia. As it turns out Colombia will be the last country on my world tour. I will be returning home at the end of the month at the same time as my friend who is coming to travel with me the last part of the trip. I want to keep traveling but I really need to get back to the USA to take care of business. The world ends up shutting down two weeks after I return home (due to COVID) so my timing couldn’t have been better….more on that later.

Now I am in Bogota, my first stop in Colombia. I can’t visit everywhere I want while here but I hope to experience a large part of the country during my travels.

Growing up I learned to fear Colombia, with good reason: Colombia was a very dangerous country until recently. I longed to visit as a child after the 1980’s movie Romancing the Stone that is based partially in the country (which wasn’t actually filmed in Colombia I later learned). Doing research for my sabbatical I wanted to visit a couple different South American countries I had not yet visited (I’ve already been to Brazil, Peru and briefly to Venezuela for business). In my research I settled on Ecuador/Galapagos and Colombia. Unfortunately I cut Ecuador because I didn’t want to rush my travels. Plus I have a friend who is willing to meet me for part of my trip in Colombia – decision made!

After researching the different parts of town of Bogota I end up staying in the upscale Chapinero. I book an apartment hotel room for my time in the city. My booking gets switched on me last minute which seems suspect but the room check into is pretty nice. I am in an apartment/condo building where many of the apartments are actually vacation rentals. There is a restaurant downstairs that I could visit but I decide to eat out elsewhere or in my apartment instead.

I later learn about the neighborhood from a tour guide and how some higher priced zones have a higher tax structure to subsidize living in poorer neighborhoods or favelas.

I am in Colombia so naturally hesitant to just start wandering around; however I am more intimidated about public transport at this point so I head out to walk down the street to find a place to eat dinner. I settle on something that looks friendly to tourists Andrés D.C.- Bogotá. The walk seems safe enough. I take precautions like not being flashy but I feel like crime really isn’t a big issue in this part of town. The restaurant is fun and flashy. As expected my server does not speak English. My Spanish is really rusty but this is the perfect time to practice. I seem to be much better with remembering nouns over verbs (especially food) – grammar is hard but I get by.

My first dish in Colombia

The food is just ok at the restaurant. It is what to expect at a chain. Hopefully soon I’ll get to try some local stuff.

Did I mention that I love the temperatures so far in this city? I am hitting my sweet spot weather-wise: sunny and cooler.

I head back early to my room to rest. I end up booking a pretty expensive day tour through the lobby. The tour is with a private driver so I would have control over my day. I don’t feel like researching and organizing other plans so I book the tour for tomorrow.

In the morning my driver picks me up and our first stop is a local market.

First I get introduced to Colombia coffee and get to try some.

Next I am taken to a fruit stand where I am introduced to many new fruits. I should be more hesitant to eat them (the whole thing about eating raw produce in other countries can cause stomach issues) but I try them anyway. Luckily they have no affect. I later find that water in Bogota is quite good due to its elevation. I don’t risk drinking tap water but I also don’t have to be as cautious.

After the visit to the market we head back on the road. On the highway there are many pedestrians walking along with luggage. My driver tells me about the Venezuelan refugees and how they walk along the highways from Venezuela to find a better life since the country of Venezuela is in pretty bad shape right now. Colombia is very accepting of the refugees, mostly because Venezuela was very accepting of refugees from Colombia when their own country was dangerous and war torn. Many of the poor you see on the sidewalk trying to sell handmade goods or even Venezuelan bolívar (not really worth much) are actual refugees just trying to get by.

My driver also points out Butterfly favelas I see off to the distance. It is a project to beautify the poor area of Usaquén. It is quite visibly appealing. I didn’t snap any photos but here is a good representation.

My driver heads to the Guatavita region. Guatavita is a town where I learn about the history of Muisca (the indigenous people of the area) and their plight before and after the Spanish invasion. The Muisca were quite crafty at hiding their gold from the Spanish. I learn a story how they hid their gold in the nearby lake.

My driver takes me on a long dirt road and stops to talk about some of the plants along the way such as this Frailejón plant which adapted to the high humidity by absorbing moisture in its furry leaves. It is also said to live up to a hundred years.

Frailejón. Things seem pretty dry today.

We get a view of the town of Guatavita.

I then head over to the Laguna De Guatavita where I await for my one way tour through the nature preserve. Unfortunately for me the tour is in complete Spanish. I can understand some Spanish but not enough to pick up information about plant descriptions and history lessons. I understand some of the tour and my driver helps fill in the gaps as much as possible afterwards. It is a beautiful nature hike anyway.

Brugmansia versicolor or “angel’s trumpets”. Plant can be used for drugging individuals.
Ceremonial House for Muisca people

The guide speaks for a long period of time in the ceremonial house. Unfortunately I only pick up a little bit of what is said. I really need to brush up on my Spanish.

I reach the end of the tour and my driver is waiting for me. He takes me to a restaurant where I get some BBQ samples and order some delicious trout.

After lunch I am heading to the Salt Cathedral. More on the Salt Cathedral later….

Arrived in Yogyakarta

I am in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I chose to visit this city to get a different feel of Indonesia, specifically Javanese culture.

The small plane I take to get here is a scary bumpy ride but I arrive safe enough.

I find a hostel with a private room with air conditioning at Good Karma Hostel Yogyakarta.

The hostel room is satisfactory but with an outdoor bathroom that proves challenging during rain storms (rivaling my Florida rain storms). Not sure why I thought an outdoor bathroom in 90% humidity would be charming but it is all part of the experience.

As I arrive it starts raining so I don’t do too much exploring on my day of arrival. I concentrate on settling in and preparing for my early trip to Borobudur tomorrow.

I am easily able to book the tour through my hostel which is very convenient!

Arrived in Siem Reap

Preah Khan Temple

Ho Chi Minh airport drama

I am flying to Cambodia today. It is an international flight to Siem Reap so I arrive early hoping to take advantage of the lounge at the airport. Unfortunately the window to check into the flight doesn’t open until 2 hours before the flight leaves. For the airline Cambodia Angkor Air it opens even later than that. Also there is a tour group that has arrived before me and they have already made the check in line quite long. I hope the line moves swiftly when it opens; but it doesn’t. I notice every passenger is at the check in window for an excessive amount of time. People are arguing with the customer rep; suitcases are being opened and items are being shuffled around. Line is moving at a snail’s pace. I am annoyed at my fellow passengers but my anger is misplaced. It is the airline. I realized Cambodia Angkor Air is a discount airline when booking my ticket. I knew there are additional charges for luggage when I booked my ticket but I believed I purchased a ticket at a price that included luggage. Unfortunately my ticket nor my receipt reflected this fact. I had no proof that I already paid for my luggage. When it is my turn at the counter the agent tells me my flight price only included 7 kg of luggage. Who the hell only has 7 kg of luggage for an international flight???? I had no proof that I already paid so there is a charge of $65 USD for luggage at check in. Highway robbery but this kind of crap is part of traveling right? I am annoyed as I take out my credit card. “No, we don’t take credit card. We take cash only and in US dollars.” I am livid at this point. I had spent down most the US dollars I did have and have not had a chance to replenish my cash yet. Am I going to miss my flight to Cambodia because I don’t have enough cash? It is getting dangerously closer to flight time as a ruffle through my things for cash. I find $60 USD hidden in my backpack and exclaim it is all I got and I get a a disappointing look from the agent. Finally I find a 5 euro I had leftover from Europe. They happily take the 5 euro to complete my fee. I am visibly angry at the airline, as are most others in line. I have never dealt with such a corrupt airline in my life. I check my bag and hurry to the gate. There are still so many people behind me in line that probably still have to deal with this nonsense.

Once on the flight it is uneventful and pretty typical for a discount airline.

Arrival in Siem Reap

I arrive in Siem Reap. The airport is small. I am able to go through customs pretty quickly since I booked my visa in advance. I exit outside. I struggle to find an ATM. I wander around and around and can’t find one. I discover the only ATM are by the departure terminal. I am hot and sweaty pulling my luggage around. American dollars are widely accepted in Siem Reap but only crisp clean and nice dollars. When you receive change upon making purchases you need to make sure that someone doesn’t try to pawn off a crumbly, ripped bill because you will be stuck with it (at least until you return to the USA). Luckily the ATM distribute american dollars and Cambodian Riel. Most places prefer USD.

I wait forever for my tuk tuk and it never comes. After a few failed attempts I finally get a hold of my hotel. It is miscommunication. They finally send someone. He is really nice. I find out he is my assigned driver for my stay. When I book tours from hotel he is there to take me around.

My ride from the airport
All the different tour options in USD.

It has been a long day and I am hot and sweaty. I am happy to check into my room but I soon learn how annoying the steps are to my room. I am on the third floor and it is a climb up steep steps to get to my room. I am generally in good health so I shouldn’t complain. Less mobile individuals would not be able to stay here. The climb would be too challenging.

My room is satisfactory. It seems safe and there is working AC. The two disadvantages are the little ants that destroyed my coconut candy I purchased in Vietnam and the two mating geckos that live in my room. If you haven’t heard a gecko the sound is like a loud annoying bird. It took me a couple nights to figure out what was going on. I would hear a loud sound randomly in the night. I thought there was some stupid bird living outside my window. I eventually discovered it is the jerk geckos. I would wake up periodically in the night when they decided to talk. I could hear dogs and heritage music outside but nothing compares to the noise of the geckos.

Nice pool for hot afternoons

Tomorrow I start my first day tour of the iconic temples of Angkor. I scheduled the Big Circuit tour with a sunset so luckily I don’t have to wake up too early tomorrow.

Arrived in Chiang Mai

When researching my trip to Thailand I knew I wanted to some chill time in Chiang Mai. After some research I learn the Nimman neighborhood is highly recommended. Nimman is a hip new area at the bottom of Doi Suthep Mountain. It has all the creature comforts for western travelers and it quieter than the hustle and bustle of the main tourist areas. I booked about a week at the Nimman House guesthouse in the Nimman nieghborhood. I must have been visiting in off season because I had the entire place to myself most of the week (a local in Bangkok told me they visit Chiang Mai in winter to escape the city heat and this week in Chiang Mai is hot as Bangkok). In fact I only saw the hotel staff once and that was at check in – however they were accessible by email if I needed them. It did get lonely though. One of the reasons I chose a guesthouse is the hope to interact with other travelers. The only other girls I saw in my hotel had no interest in talking to me whatsoever.

hotel lobby

After checking into my hotel I went out wandering around the neighborhood and ended up Jarid Thai for Roti Massaman Gai (Chicken curry served with Roti).

Most nights I ended up walking by this cafe called SS1254372 Cafe. It is funky and had these male and female robots that had certain body parts light up at certain times. I ended up ordering a yummy brunch there one day.

Ordered a yummy vegetable benedict. Craving vegetables.

I call it an early night. Tomorrow I will wander around town and try to see some temples.