LandLopers http://landlopers.com Wed, 29 Jul 2015 04:55:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Time To Answer Some Questions About My Site And Travel Blogginghttp://landlopers.com/2015/07/28/questions-travel-blogging http://landlopers.com/2015/07/28/questions-travel-blogging#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 04:55:37 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30036 Whether it’s online or when I meet people in person, I get asked a lot of questions both about travel and my business. I decided to pick a few questions … Read More

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Matt Peru

Whether it’s online or when I meet people in person, I get asked a lot of questions both about travel and my business. I decided to pick a few questions I get asked most often and answer them here, but I’m also happy to answer any other questions you might have – just ask away!

What is experiential luxury travel?

Good question, especially since for me it’s an always changing definition. I used to say that I was an adventure luxury traveler. Then after some injuries I had to scale that back a bit and while I do certainly enjoy adventure travel, it’s not what I do 100% of the time. No, instead I think it’s more appropriate to call myself an experiential luxury traveler. I define it in a couple of different ways, just to be confusing. There are some travel experiences, some entire trips even, that are so exceptional they are de facto luxury travel experiences. These run the gamut, from African safaris to a cruise around Antarctica, but their commonality is that they are once in lifetime activities that do more than just take you to a new place, they transform who you are as a person. The second definition is more normal, which is luxury travel but luxury that doesn’t cut the traveler off from the places they visit. Thankfully, this has been the norm lately and all of the luxury travel experts have been quoted saying that experiential travel is the new luxury, and I couldn’t agree more. Sure, spending some time at a nice tropical resort where you do nothing but rest by the pool can be fine, but more often people want more. They want to get out and explore, experience local communities and cultures and feel like they’ve actually traveled somewhere. Nice pools exist everywhere, but those cultural connections, those are unique. I usually explain it by saying when I’m in Bangkok I love staying at the Mandarin Oriental or the Peninsula, but during the day you’ll find me in the markets, eating $2 street food meals and getting to understand the city on a personal level.

How do you make money?

An oddly personal question I get asked almost daily, I wish I had a more succinct response. But, as any freelancer will tell you, there is no single source. I do a lot of different types of work for and on behalf of companies and destinations around the world and get paid for it. Honestly, most of what I do is editing work for corporate web sites. It’s fun, engaging work and allows me to expand my own writing abilities in the process. Is it sexy and cool? No, but that’s just fine with me. My site does generate income as well, but in the form of fully disclosed partnerships that make sense for everyone involved. That’s definitely not the bulk of my income though. Finally, I consult. I spend a lot of time in the digital space and in the 5 years since I started my web site I have learned a whole lot about it. More than I ever thought I would, to be perfectly honest. Those skills are now part of my business and I love helping others navigate the space I have come to think about day and night.

How do I start a travel blog?

There are a multitude of guides, how-to sites, courses, you name it – there is no shortage of people trying to sell you a way to start a travel blog. Some of them are good, others are cheap ways to steal your money. I’ll chat about this more in a second, but what’s most important – more than a knowledge of WordPress or sharp photography skills – is passion. Not just any kind of passion, but a deep-rooted, at the base of your soul kind of passion for all things travel. It’s the same for any niche or even any profession. If you don’t love something then you won’t excel at it, it’s as simple as that. Other than that, spend some time learning about the tech side through one of those aforementioned courses, think about a proper name (do NOT include the words travel, traveling, travels and so on) and then take a writing course. As the editor for a corporate travel blog I’ve hired a number of writers and have learned the hard way that just because someone has a travel blog does not mean they’re a good writer. Even if they are a good writer, we can all improve – so take a course and hone those skills. Then just start working. I hate seeing social media accounts that say “Blog coming soon!” Why soon? Why not now? What are you waiting for? There’s no better time than the present and the longer you wait, the longer you’ll have to wait to be (maybe) successful.

When is the best time to go to…?

When people start to plan their vacations, they’re curious about the best time to travel to certain places, and I understand that. There are issues of weather, costs and crowds to contend with and no one wants a bad travel experience. When it comes down to it though, I think that most answers are hackneyed and really avoid the real solution, which is there is no perfect time to go anywhere. It all comes down to you and what you enjoy and look for from a trip. Travel is an intensely personal experience and we’re all different. As an example, I love traveling around Europe in the winter, when it’s rainy, cold and pretty dark. I know that this isn’t a preferred time for most people, but it works for me. So if someone told me to go to Europe in the summer and I followed that advice, I’d be pretty upset. Every destination has something going for it almost any time of year; travel beauty can be found in many different forms. Sure, prices may vary and that’s a very real consideration, but if you plan far enough in advance even these costs can be mitigated. So there’s no perfect time to go anywhere, not really, what’s most important is that you take the journey in the first place.

Should I quit college and travel?

I actually had this email and it nearly broke my heart. On the one hand, I’m personally happy that I (and a few others like me) have been able to somehow, through luck and hard work, make a career out of travel blogging. But I fear that we somehow make it seem as if it’s easy, that anyone can do it. Like any profession, some folks are better at it with others but blogging in particular is problematic. There really is no barrier to entry, anyone can start a travel blog and see how they do. The problem with that is that anyone can start a travel blog. Most will give up after seeing how much work is required and how many years it takes to go from earning nothing to earning a little more than nothing to maybe, hopefully, making a career out of it. If travel and tourism isn’t what you think about every moment you’re awake, if it’s not your true passion in life then being a travel blogger won’t work for you. That’s true for any profession really, but for some reasons bloggers get more offended than others when this issue is brought up. Back to the question at hand though, the answer is HELL NO. A college education is one of the best things you can do in life. Not only will it forever keep doors open to you that would be otherwise kept locked, but it’s a great primer for life in general. No matter what one actually studies in university, the ability to write well, to problem-solve and develop interpersonal skills is all worth every penny spent. I am a firm believer in the power of higher education, and also believe that no sacrifice is too big to make in order to achieve the goal of completing a degree.

How much do you actually travel?

It fluctuates depending on the time of year and it’s been a really hard balance to try to achieve. I understand that it’s hard on my partner when I travel a lot, so I try to limit my trips to no more than 10 days (7 is better) and not too close to each other. It’s no fun being the one at home and I try hard to respect that. We also love to travel as a couple, that’s how this site started, so I make sure we plan a few private getaways throughout the year to keep both of us sane. That being said, I travel around 25%-33% of the time. It just depends.

There you are, some honest answers to some good questions. Is there anything else you’d like to know?

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View From The Top Of Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashorehttp://landlopers.com/2015/07/28/photo-view-bodie-island-lighthouse http://landlopers.com/2015/07/28/photo-view-bodie-island-lighthouse#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 04:50:48 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30055 The post View From The Top Of Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Seashore appeared first on LandLopers.

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Bodie North Carolina

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My Favorite Adventure Travel Experiences On Every Continenthttp://landlopers.com/2015/07/27/adventure-travel-experiences http://landlopers.com/2015/07/27/adventure-travel-experiences#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 04:55:33 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30022 Over the years my own travel style has certainly evolved. From a fearful newbie who didn’t really know what was ever going on, to someone who is now comfortable being … Read More

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Continental Divide at Loveland Pass, Colorado

Over the years my own travel style has certainly evolved. From a fearful newbie who didn’t really know what was ever going on, to someone who is now comfortable being almost anywhere in the world. As I’ve gotten older I’ve also evolved from a budget student traveler to a luxury traveler, but one who enjoys immersive experiences. Many times this means adventure travel and while in the past I’ve called myself a luxury adventure traveler, that’s probably not quite accurate. What is accurate is that I love new and heart-pumping experiences and more often than not, these easily fall into the category of adventure travel. Of everything I’ve done around the world, I thought I’d share my favorite adventure travel experiences on every continent. They’re representative not just of one particular place and time, but of the destinations and how you can find transformative experiences no matter where you go. They also prove, I think, that adventure travel is about much more than getting just a quick thrill. It’s about pushing your comfort levels and hopefully learning a lot more about yourself in the process. Simply put, they are transformative experiences that leave us much better people than before we took the plunge, the leap or closed our eyes in advance of that next great adventure.

North America – Swimming with whale sharks in Mexico

I love wildlife experiences and swimming with whale sharks in Mexico was one of my all-time favorites. I call this a luxury adventure travel experience not because of cost or even accessibility, but because just how remarkable it is. There I was in the water as hundreds of whale sharks swam by, feeding upon the flotsam and jetsam of the sea as they did so. Their size was incredible, that of a car and I felt instantly and incredibly small as these graceful giants lumbered past. Even though I knew they were harmless, I couldn’t help but feel anxious as the gaping maws barreled straight for me. It was an extraordinary moment that every adventure traveler should try at least once.

Galapagos sea lions

South America – Exploring the Galapagos

Although I’ve spent precious little time in South America, the experiences I have had there are meaningful and special to me. In particular, a trip to the Galapagos a few years ago had the unintended consequence of forever changing my life. Made famous by Darwin onboard the Beagle, the Galapagos is mecca for those of us with a passion for wildlife and natural exploration. There is nothing quite like walking through a field dotted with giant tortoises, or swimming practically nose-to-nose with playful sea lions. When I returned home a new spirit of wanderlust was reawakened, I realized how much I enjoyed adventure travel and wanted to share my experiences with as many people as I could. A few months later I started this web site; I firmly believe that trip to the Galapagos was the intellectual impetus for LandLopers. Without it, I still might be stuck in a cubicle not living the life I was meant to live.

Antarctica hike

Antarctica

If any continent lures travelers with the promise of special moments, it’s Antarctica. Hard to reach, hard to travel around it’s one of the last few truly adventurous trips still available to us in the modern era. And my own trip to Antarctica did indeed deliver those unique moments in spades. Aside from the impossibly cute (and slightly dirty) penguins though, it’s the seemingly impenetrable landscapes that impressed me the most. After hiking up a snowy switchback path to the top of a hill, I was met with one of the most impressive scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The icy waters extended into the horizon and all I could see were vast quantities of rock, ice and water. It seemed to go on forever and I have never felt smaller in my entire life. Standing there on the bottom of the world, it was an important moment to help quantify the immensity of the planet. It’s a fact that we modern travelers tend to forget. In an age when I can hop on a nonstop flight and be in Hong Kong tomorrow, it seems as if the world has never been smaller. But we forget just how massive this beautiful planet is and how many unique experiences there are to be had. We forget about the small inlets and villages forgotten to time. It was an important moment as it put into context what I do now for a living and how it isn’t just part of my life – it IS my life. This quest to seek new answers and discover new things will never end, just as that horizon in Antarctica seemed to have no boundaries.

coasteering wales

Europe – Coasteering in Wales

At first the adventure sport of coasteering seems like the bad result of a drunken wager gone wild. But it’s not and even more surprising, it’s insanely popular and a lot of fun. Coasteering is defined as “a physical activity that includes movement along the intertidal zone of a rocky coastline on foot or by swimming, without the aid of boats, surf boards or other craft. It can include swimming, climbing, scrambling, jumping and diving.” It sounds great in the middle of a hot summer, but I was there in March when the water temperatures were anything but encouraging. Located along the Irish Sea, the beauty of Anglesey can’t be denied though and I soon found myself lost in the beauty of the craggy landscapes surrounding me. The extreme experience was just as advertised and not even my two wet suits could fully keep the freezing waters at bay. In spite of the conditions though it was fun, a lot of fun and diving along the coast, swimming across the white-capped waves and pushing myself in ways I didn’t know I could was as personally gratifying as anything I have ever done. Ultimately, that’s the real thrill of adventure travel; pushing one’s comfort zones in ways you didn’t know possible.

bungee swing

Africa – World’s highest bungee swing in South Africa

I have an occasional fear of heights; tall buildings are fine but ladders for example freak me out. That means I’ve always been terrified of even the idea of bungee jumping, but while in South Africa I was determined to face that fear and take the plunge. What better place than in Durban, home to the world’s tallest bungee swing? Different from a jump, the swinger jumps feet first for a terrifying drop before the swing kicks in and arcs you to safety. I was out of my mind scared but am so very happy I faced my fears and just did it. Do I have any desire to try it again? No, not for a while.

Asia – Jungle trek in Taiwan

Most people probably don’t realize that there are a variety of indigenous ethnic groups in Taiwan who have called the island home for centuries. While their lives have of course changed dramatically over the last 100 years or so, members of these tribes are working diligently to ensure that the unique customs and practices of their people aren’t lost to time. One of these groups is the Bunun people represented by the always interesting Mr. Aliman Madiklan. A few years ago he rescued some land that had at one time belonged to his people and established a living museum to celebrate Bunun customs. Today thousands of visitors every year visit this jungle location for an unusual day in the forest. The most adventurous part of the day is an intense jungle trek led by native guides. This isn’t your average walk in the woods; this is an active, strenuous trek over felled logs, up 20-foot trees and under streams of ivy longer than a football field. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s a great afternoon in the jungle and a fun way to learn more about the native peoples of Taiwan.

Reefsleep Queensland Australia

Australia & Oceania – Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia

In a country and even entire region where adventure travel reigns supreme, it was exceptionally hard to narrow down all of the experiences to just one. But upon reflection there is just one, I think, that best captures the spirit and energy of Australia – diving along the Great Barrier Reef. One of the primary reasons why I wanted to visit Queensland was to experience the Great Barrier Reef. It’s long been on my own travel bucket list, and even though I’d visited Australia a couple of times before, I never made it to the Reef. Luckily, the years of anticipation were worth it and seeing one of the world’s truly great natural wonders was everything it promised to be and more. I experienced the reef in a few different ways several times throughout my trip, it’s just that big, but my favorite way to enjoy the mighty reef was through a scuba dive. This wasn’t just any scuba dive though, it was my first attempt and I was pretty nervous. I love snorkeling, but the thought of breathing underwater freaked me out to be honest. It was a mental hang-up and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to shake it. But there I was, at the Great Barrier Reef and I figured if I was going to try it anywhere, that was the place. And I’m so glad I set aside my fears and gave it a chance. I traveled out to the Reef with the company Cruise Whitsundays, and their team of expert divers were all used to first-timers like me and showed more patience than I’ve seen any tour operator show in recent memory. It was thanks to their insistence and instruction that I was able to literally take the plunge, my fears instantly vanishing as soon as I was underwater. I’ve snorkeled all over the world, but the Great Barrier Reef is without a doubt the best I’ve ever seen. The sheer abundance of fish and coral in every color of the rainbow was extraordinary and I could’ve spent hours exploring it to new depths while scuba diving. This is just one of those once in a lifetime experiences that aren’t only nice to do, I think they are important to do.

So there you have it, my personal list of my favorite adventure travel experiences on all seven continents. You probably don’t agree with some or all of them and that’s fine. Travel in general is an intensely personal experience, and how we experience the world even more so. What is important is that you continue to push your travel comfort zone, keep doing things that challenge you because that really is the only way we continue to grow and evolve to become the better people we all want to be.

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Walking Up The Massive Dunes of Jockey’s Ridge, North Carolinahttp://landlopers.com/2015/07/27/photo-jockeys-ridge-nc http://landlopers.com/2015/07/27/photo-jockeys-ridge-nc#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 04:50:10 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30052 The post Walking Up The Massive Dunes of Jockey’s Ridge, North Carolina appeared first on LandLopers.

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Jockeys Ridge North Carolina

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Three UNESCO Cities In Italy You Don’t Know But Should Visithttp://landlopers.com/2015/07/26/unesco-cities-in-italy http://landlopers.com/2015/07/26/unesco-cities-in-italy#comments Sun, 26 Jul 2015 17:55:58 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30021 I love Italy and I love UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so combining the two is always a personal treat when I travel the country. And there’s plenty from which to … Read More

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Crespi d’Adda, Italy

I love Italy and I love UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so combining the two is always a personal treat when I travel the country. And there’s plenty from which to choose, not surprisingly Italy has more UNESCO designated sites than any country in the world; confirming its place as the cornerstone of Western Civilization. Not every site is as well known as Rome or Florence though. No, in fact many of the sites listed in Italy are ones most of us have never even heard of, much less thought about actually visiting. Last year though I had the chance to visit several of these “smaller” sites that also encompass cities and what I learned is that they are no less interesting than some of the bigger names on the list. In fact, visiting them was more enjoyable than the larger cities because they weren’t teeming with tourists like in Florence or the center of Rome. Not only are these fun UNESCO sites, but they’re also nice cities to visit in their own right meaning that your overall experience won’t just be educational, it’ll be a lot of fun too.

Crespi d’Adda

Located near Milan and Bergamo in Northern Italy, I was surprised by this small, planned city in nearly every way. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, industrialists around the world created what became known as ‘company towns.’ These small communities centered around a particular company gave workers everything they needed, from housing to stores and even cemeteries. Many of these towns were nothing but a way for the company owners to further control their workers, keeping them under their proverbial heels, but some became enlightened examples of proper labor management. Crespi d’Adda is one such enlightened community and instead of seeking to subjugate their employees, the town was created to provide them with a better quality of life. This small town is on the UNESCO list because it still exists mostly intact and looks like it did nearly a century ago. While the company has long since shuttered, people still call this town home and walking through the planned community it’s easy to imagine the well-ordered life that once existed here. Crespi d’Adda is easy to reach from Bergamo and if 20th century history is your thing, then this is a must visit site.

Sabbioneta, Italy

Sabbioneta

Not far from the bustling city of Mantua is a far different town, one that when I visited was oddly quiet but captivating thanks to the unique lines and angles of the architecture and public spaces. I was in Sabbioneta, an early example of urban planning from the 15th century. More fortress than town, Sabbioneta was built by the powerful Gonzagas and the thick city walls and ramparts are all still completely intact. It was more than the defenses that interested me though, the grid pattern of the streets and the impressive sqaures and monuments are all what drew my attention almost immediately. Meant to impress, the Duke’s palace, the theater, churches and more are all on a scale and designed with a level of beauty that may have been representative of the era, but which are rare to find today. I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of time there, but if you’re in Mantua definitely spend an afternoon or even a day exploring the strange little town of Sabbioneta.

Capo di Ponte Italy

Capo di Ponte

The train ride from Milan through the Italian countryside, past lakes and vacation homes was well worth the trip to Capo di Ponte by itself. But as I left the train station in what is really a sleepy mountain village, I knew that the best was yet to come. People have always lived in this spot along the River Oglio in the valley known as Valcamonica. Hundreds of thousands of petroglyphs dating back more than 10,000 years can be found around the valley, which is why it isn’t just a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it was the first UNESCO designated site in Italy. One of the best places to see these drawings left by our ancient relatives is the small town of Capo di Ponte, as picturesque a mountain village as you could ever hope to find. Walking through town I noticed that everyone seemed to wave hello to everyone else, undoubtedly the residents all know each other by name. Colorful homes and shops line the river as I followed the path through town and up to the rocky outcroppings to see those famous drawings for myself. I love ancient history, to feel connected to people and communities long since gone from the face of the planet is a thrill. I always wonder what their lives were like, what they did every day and what their fears and worries were that occupied their waking thoughts. That’s one reason why these petroglyphs are so very important. They offer clues to not just another era, but a completely different way of living that we have practically no comprehension of. Add to that the fact that the petroglyphs are situated in a beautiful field, encircled by trees and when enjoyed on a sunny summer’s day, there was no better place in the world to be.

Italy has so much to offer from its towns and cities to those world famous UNESCO sites that it would take years, decades to experience them all. But you have to start somewhere and for my money these three cities, each important in the flow of world history, are also a lot of fun to explore in their own right.

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Port Douglas Queensland Australia

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Photo Series: Capturing Candid Travel Momentshttp://landlopers.com/2015/07/23/candid http://landlopers.com/2015/07/23/candid#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 04:55:31 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30030 I’m always amazed that most of my favorite photos come not from iconic tourist sites or from well planned shoots. No, they are usually very candid moments that I was … Read More

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I’m always amazed that most of my favorite photos come not from iconic tourist sites or from well planned shoots. No, they are usually very candid moments that I was fortunate enough to capture on film. Some are of people, others animals and still other photos are just special moments. That’s why I’m glad CANDID is the #FriFotos theme this week, so that I can share a few of those moments that have honestly come to define the travel experience for me almost entirely.

Shinkansen

Waiting for the Shinkansen train in Japan

Egypt

Egypt

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Blue Footed Boobies

Galapagos

Mosque, Amman Jordan

Jordan

Thailand

Marrakech

Kayamandi Township Stellenbosch South Africa

South Africa

Egypt Nile

Egypt

Melbourne, Australia

 

Tone Le Sap Cambodia

Cambodia

Dubrovnik cafe

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Canadian sled dog

Canada

Machu PIcchu Peru

Believe it or not this was indeed candid – Peru

Taiwan

Italy

Healesville Sanctuary melbourne

Australia

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New Adventure: North Carolina Road Triphttp://landlopers.com/2015/07/23/new-adventure-north-carolina-road-trip http://landlopers.com/2015/07/23/new-adventure-north-carolina-road-trip#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 04:50:17 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30035 Earlier this year I made a couple of promises to myself: 1) see more of my own country and 2) go on a great road trip. Well, I’m excited to … Read More

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Credit: Bill Russ — VisitNC.com

Credit: Bill Russ — VisitNC.com

Earlier this year I made a couple of promises to myself: 1) see more of my own country and 2) go on a great road trip. Well, I’m excited to announce that all next week I’ll be doing both as I explore areas in a nearby state – North Carolina. I’m originally from Southwest Virginia, I went both to high school and undergrad in Virginia so North Carolina isn’t a new place for me. But, believe it or not, it’s been 15 years or more since I last spent any time outside of an airport in North Carolina and I’m excited to reconnect with what is a beautiful state, and to retrace some familiar (and much loved) areas from my youth. I’m working with Visit North Carolina on this trip and am so thankful for their support on what will be a fun adventure.

The Sights

When I was in college I attended the so-called Beach Week trip every year. Hundreds of students descended on the Outer Banks for a week of fun in the sun. Those days spent in a rented house with my fellow fraternity brothers is still a treasured memory. I love the Outer Banks, I think it’s the best beach destination on the East Coast and I’m excited to return and reconnect with this region 17 years after my last visit. What a lot of people may not realize is that the Outer Banks is a deceptively large area, and you can spend a lot of time exploring the many sights and communities along the barrier island. I’m not going to share everything right now, but some of my highlights in the Outer Banks include: visiting Corolla and the historic lighthouses, climbing the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge and experiencing the best of beach life in this part of the world. I’m also exploring the so-called Piedmont area of North Carolina though, including the towns of Edenton, Kinston, Durham and Pittsboro. It’s a good mix of exploring life in small towns, learning about their histories and attractions while also seeing the more modern side of life in North Carolina with world-class museums and galleries. I have a lot planned in these towns and I can’t wait to share them with you.

The Food

Food is an integral part of any trip, but it may be the aspect I’m most excited about as I pack the car for North Carolina. As a good southerner, my favorite American food is well-done BBQ, and North Carolina has a lot to offer. As a Virginian, I’m used to a more ketchup-based BBQ and while North Carolina’s preparation of this hearty meal is different, that’s what makes it so good. I recently learned that North Carolina has a BBQ Trail; a driving route through the state highlighting some of the best BBQ found anywhere. While I don’t have time to do the entire driving route, I will be stopping off at some of the key points and I can’t wait to taste everything and compare them to other great BBQ meals I’ve enjoyed around the country. A large state, North Carolina is about much more than just BBQ and along the Outer Banks I’m excited to return to some of my old haunts, from great German restaurants to beachside grills that are perfect for a warm summer’s evening. Inland, the foodie scene in Durham especially has seen a lot of change in recent years, and I’m curious to find out why it has been called one of the top foodie cities in the country.

Follow Along

These as just a few of the many experiences I’ll be enjoying in North Carolina. I have a packed agenda and I can’t wait to start driving and exploring on my own. As always, please follow along as I learn more about this beautiful state by following me on all of my social media channels including: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and also search for the #VisitNC tag on all platforms. Also, if you have any suggestions for me I’d love to hear them! I want as much information as possible before I hit the road and start my North Carolina road trip.

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Exploring Strange Aguas Calientes: Machu Picchu Town in Peruhttp://landlopers.com/2015/07/22/aguas-calientes http://landlopers.com/2015/07/22/aguas-calientes#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 04:55:52 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30019 I stepped off the Machu Picchu train after an hour and a half scenic ride through the Andes leading from the small town of Ollantaytambo arriving at an even smaller … Read More

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Aguas Calientes Peru

I stepped off the Machu Picchu train after an hour and a half scenic ride through the Andes leading from the small town of Ollantaytambo arriving at an even smaller town along with the other folks on my Intrepid Travel tour of Peru. The train was packed and everyone crowded the platforms not sure where to go, little did they know there really wasn’t much of a choice. There was only one way out into the town of Aguas Calientes itself, and once I erupted from the station I couldn’t help but gawk at the strange little town perched high in the mountains of Peru. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that began my visit to Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Town – one of the strangest little towns in the world.

Aguas Calientes, which means Hot Waters in Spanish, is nowadays most often referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo or Machu Picchu Town. It began life early in the 20th century when the railroad was constructed through the mountains. Just 68 miles from Cuzco, it still seems like a world away from anything and that certainly must have been the case in 1901 when it was little more than a tented railroad camp for workers. It wasn’t until the 1970s though when things really took off in town as tourists started arriving, all wanting to visit one place – Machu Picchu, located just a few miles away. It was the ideal point from which to visit this now UNESCO World Heritage listed site and almost overnight the scores of tourists led to the development of hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and everything else that a good tourist needs. Domestic terrorism in the 1980s, which was rampant throughout Peru, retarded growth but once Shining Path was dealt with, tourism once again began in earnest in the 1990s and onward. Today more than 1,500 tourists arrive by train every day and the village exists solely for tourism; quiet streams turned into plazas and seemingly every square inch of hillside transformed into a shop or restaurant. It’s because of these odd growth spurts I think that I found it so very strange, but intriguing at the same time.

The town isn’t a big one and is built into the surrounding hillside. Running through the middle of Aguas Calientes are train tracks, a perfect metaphor since the train really is the lifeblood of this community. The town produces nothing, so everything is shipped in via train and every visitor, whether it’s someone just there for the day or hikers finishing up the 4-day experience known as the Inca Trail, everyone will spend at least a little time in town. So what is there to do exactly? Not a lot to be honest, but then again there really doesn’t have to be. This isn’t a place where many people spend more than 1-2 days. There’s nothing to do around the town and Machu Picchu really only takes one day to explore. People arrive by train, spend the night, tour Machu Picchu and then leave again by the same train. That means Aguas Calientes has a limited time frame during which the residents have to grab the attention of the tourists and make their sales before the tourists once again leave for the safe and warm embrace of civilization. And based on my own exploration of the town, this has been turned into an art form.

Labyrinthine

Aguas Calientes may not be big, but it’s confusing as hell. Probably not by design but rather a function of the town’s growth spurts, for the first time visitor (which is everyone) trying to apply order and reason to the streets and alleys is at first a challenge. A series of bridges connect both sides of the town, each of which features scores of shops and restaurants in nearly every size and style. Small side streets suddenly lead into local markets, which somehow morph into promenades with yet even more stores and places to eat. It’s just an endless array truly of restaurants, convenience stores and massage parlors. Taking advantage of the fact that hikers will be sore and tired, the parlors offer much-needed rubdowns at reasonable rates. But if you’re not in the mood for a massage, then there really aren’t a lot of other options for entertainment around.

Note about restaurants

Not unlike the main tourist areas in Cuzco, most of the restaurants in Aguas Calientes are carbon copies of each other; each offering the same generic tourist menu. The major difference between Aguas Calientes and Cuzco though are the prices. Because everything has to be shipped in and because they have a very captive audience, prices for everything in Aguas Calientes will be the highest you’ll find anywhere during your trip around Peru – in some cases double. The same goes for items in shops and conveniences stores, from bottles of water to snacks. There are a few exceptions to the generic restaurants and cafes though, including a French bakery I found while trying to get unlost one afternoon. La Boulangerie de Paris is a welcome deviation from the norm in Aguas Calientes and while the prices for their coffees and desserts are absurdly high, they are well worth it. After suffering through horrible hotel coffee, it was nice to spend some time enjoying a hot beverage along with a surprisingly well done chocolate croissant, all the while roaming the internet on the café’s free WiFi. It was a calm moment in an otherwise confusing town.

What to do that’s not Machu Picchu

Aguas Calientes exists for one reason and one reason only, to cater to those tourists visiting the legendary site of Machu Picchu. But there is (a little) more to the town than catching those shuttle buses up to the Inca site. It’s called Hot Waters for a reason, and most visitors to the town will spend some time soaking in the warm natural waters for which it is named. About a ten-minute walk up the mountain from the center of town, the hot springs facility isn’t fancy, but it doesn’t have to be in order to soothe the aching muscles of hikers who completed the Inca Trail. For just a couple of bucks you can soak in the curative waters of the springs in an open-air facility with the amazing Andes as backdrop. By far the most popular in-town activity, that’s probably because it’s also the only in-town activity, but a nice rite of passage for those who visit.

More interesting, to me at least, was touring the Machu Picchu Museum that no one visits. What visitors to the actual site of Machu Picchu itself may notice is that there’s no interpretation of the site. At many world famous destinations, there’s something explaining to people what it is exactly they’re seeing and visiting. Not so at Machu Picchu, but there is a small museum that details the use and function of Machu Picchu, how it was re-discovered and how it is preserved today. It’s the museum that every visitor should spend some time in, but the problem is that almost no one knows about it. That’s because the Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon or Machu Picchu Site Museum, isn’t actually at Machu Picchu itself. It’s not in the town of Aguas Calientes either. It’s in a hard to reach no man’s land ensuring that only a few intrepid travelers like myself will ever visit.

The museum’s location a mile away from the city center doesn’t sound inconvenient at first, but you need to also understand how people get around in this weird place. Everyone is there to see Machu Picchu and if they aren’t hiking, then they take the buses up the mountain to the main site. The buses don’t stop anywhere; they merely convey people from the town to the UNESCO site and back. In town there aren’t cabs (no need really since it’s all a pedestrian zone) and really the only way to explore Aguas Calientes is by foot. So, on the off chance you ever do want to leave then your two feet are the only option. Knowing all this, I decided to visit the museum before leaving town, curious more than anything else. The walk along the main road took about 25 minutes or so, past hotels, campgrounds, a butterfly sanctuary and even botanical gardens, all perched along the beautiful river that flows through the mountains. A nice walk, it was interesting to see things from a different point of view and it made finally arriving at the museum in the jungle seem like a well-earned prize. And you know what? It was the best-run museum I visited in Peru. Modern, well curated and interesting – it may be a little small, but it shares information about Machu Picchu that is oddly enough lacking at Machu Picchu itself. I personally think every visitor to the site should incorporate a museum visit, but its odd location means that only a few visit every day.

Overall

No one really wants to go to Aguas Calientes, not really. It’s not a destination in its own right, it doesn’t have postcards and few reflect fondly on their time spent there. But that’s not to say it’s not a special place, I think it is. There are few places in the world teeming with as much excitement and anticipation as does Aguas Calientes. Everyone is there for one reason and one reason only – to finally tick an item off of their bucket list and visit the legendary site of Machu Picchu. For many, myself included, it’s a special moment and one that all who visit will remember until the end of their days. So while few may want to spend time in Machu Picchu Town, what little time they do spend there is special and will hopefully be recollected with as much fondness, if not some smirks and laughs, as their adventures in and around Machu Picchu itself.

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Mesmerizing Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodiahttp://landlopers.com/2015/07/22/photo-lake-cambodia http://landlopers.com/2015/07/22/photo-lake-cambodia#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 04:50:16 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=30008 The post Mesmerizing Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia appeared first on LandLopers.

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Cambodia

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