Maui Fails To Make List Of Top 100 Beaches

Ever since 1991 when the legendary “Dr. Beach” started ranking the best beaches in America, the island of Maui has had four different beaches take home the coveted title.

What’s more, noted early travel scribes such as Mark Twain and James Michener referred to Hamoa Bay on the island’s east shore (which is pictured here) as the one the nicest beaches of anywhere in the world.

In a new article by CNN which boldly ranks the top 100 beaches in the world, however, there isn’t a single beach from the island of Maui to be found anywhere on the list. The state of Hawaii makes an appearance on the list twice (with the black sand beach at Punalu’u on the Big Island of Hawaii and Hanalei Bay on the island of Kauai taking home numbers 70 and 27, respectively), but perennial favorites such as Hamoa, Ka’anapali, Wailea, Napili, Fleming, and Kapalua have been scrapped from the list.

In their place, selections of beaches from Lampedua (Rabbit Beach, #2) to Little Corn (#53) populate the international list, but there is no mention of the island which has been voted by Conde Naste readers as the “best island in the world” an astonishing 19 years in a row. Places with beaches making the list also include everywhere from Malawi to Oregon and Northern Ireland to Denmark, but yet again, no Maui.

I’ve personally visited 22 out of the 100, and while are definitely some worthy selections, I question the decision to omit a stalwart in lieu of an international novelty.

What do you think? Should Maui have a selection among the world’s top 100 beaches?

#OnTheRoad On Instagram: Paris And Italy

This week on the Gadling Instagram feed, we were so inspired by Anna Brones’ week of photos from Paris, France, that we decided to go back.

Actually, pulling a page from the itinerary of a backpacking college student, we’ll only be stopping in Paris for a day while en route to the cities and hamlets of Italy. Expect a week full of photos that range from ruins and relics to hidden restaurants where there will be more than a few shots of pizza and wine. From the hilltop villages of Tuscany to the fabled coastline of Cinque Terre, follow the #OntheRoad Instagram feed for a peek into where our travels have managed to take us.

[Photo Credit: Kyle Ellison]

Vagabond Tales: Where Is The Roof Of North America?

For some reason, every continent seems to have a roof.

Bolivia is known as “the roof of South America” for its high, empty and multi-colored altiplano that has an average elevation of 12,300 feet.

Mt. Kilimanjaro has been called “the roof of Africa” for its glacial, 19,340-foot summit that presides over the equatorial plains.

The Tibetan plateau, meanwhile, is such an expanse of high altitude emptiness it’s not only regarded as the roof of Asia, but it’s gained the lofty title as “the roof of the World.”

So if South America, Africa and Asia all get a roof, can North America have one too? Moreover, if North America were to have a roof, where exactly would it be?

Basic statistics point to Mt. McKinley, the 20,320-foot pinnacle that stoically dominates the center of Alaska. Since McKinley is the highest point in the North American continent, it seems it would only make sense. As with California’s Mt. Whitney, however, (which at 14,505 feet is the highest point in the continental United States), the promontory is too much of a lone pinnacle to ever be considered a proper roof (thereby throwing the Kilimanjaro title out the window as well, I suppose).

Would it be the Great Basin of Nevada, a seemingly lifeless expanse of rock and sand that hovers silently around 7,000 feet? Would it be the spine of the Colorado Rockies that somehow manage to cram 53 different mountains of 14,000 feet into an area the size of Maine? Or would it be the Yukon Territory and the St. Elias Mountain Range – places, which contain the 18 highest peaks in Canada, 12 of which are higher than anywhere found in the Lower 48?

While all could be considered as viable options (I suppose the Great Basin is a stretch), I’m going to propose an alternative, which has not yet been mentioned, but could make a strong case for keeping the title in a trophy case on its windswept, high-altitude plateau.That place – that Roof of North America – would be right on the border of Montana and Wyoming along a stretch of road known as the Beartooth Highway. Snaking its way from Cooke City, Montana, to Red Lodge, Montana, this 69-mile stretch of road tops out at 10,947 feet and is so high, so remote and so gloriously empty that the famous Charles Kuralt once referred to this juncture of heaven and Earth as “the most beautiful drive in America.”

What’s more, the locals – what few of them there are – aren’t fazed by the fact that it snows in the middle of August, as it did when I was last there.

When I asked the woman working the counter at the “Top of the World Store,” elevation 9,400 feet, about if they had really just gotten snow the evening before (as I had seen on the regional weather forecast), she looked at me as if I had just asked if Hawaii had recently been sunny.

“Yeah,” she drawled in an I haven’t-seen-a-customer-in-two-hours-and-now-I-have-to-deal-with-you sort of apathy. “We get a lot of that up here. Don’t even notice any more.”

In fact, the Beartooth Highway gets so much snow that the road itself is only open for a few months out of the year. According to the official website for the Beartooth Highway (real roads have websites), opening day for 2013 is slated for June 14.

What makes this remote plateau the roof of North America, however, is the dramatic ascent that is required to reach the summit. This, and the way in which the Beartooth Pass has a way of making you feel small.

When many people stand on the summit of mountains, there is an instinct to unleash a guttural scream as an auditory manifestation of your accomplishment. And why not? You’ve climbed a mountain, and you are on top of the world.

As Ray Smith, one of the legendary characters of Kerouac’s novel “Dharma Bums” claims to his climbing partner, Japhy Ryder, upon summiting a mountain in the Sierras, “Dammit, that yodel of triumph of yours was the most beautiful thing I ever heard in my life.”

On the upper reaches of the Beartooth’s, however, you are not struck by the urge to scream. If anything, total silence is the communicative method of choice.

Whether you begin the drive in Red Lodge, Montana, or on the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park, the road keeps climbing higher, and higher, and higher yet still, until you have climbed so far into Montana’s famous Big Sky that you swear you’ll find the Hubble Telescope orbiting just around the next bend.

The road makes its way past alpine lakes and forested groves, which cling to what little oxygen is left at these heights. Slowly the tree line fades away behind you, but yet the road climbs higher still like an asphalt serpent reaching out for the clouds. The rocky terrain begins to look somewhere between Hobbitton and the surface of the Moon, and 20 peaks surround you, which all stretch to over 12,000 feet.

In the far distance, Granite Peak – the highest peak in Montana at 12,799 feet – stands lonely, cold, isolated and challenging. Even though there are eight states with mountains that are higher, Granite Peak remained unclimbed until 1923, thereby making it the last “highest mountain” to be conquered in any state.

Considering that most geologists place the age of the Beartooth Mountains at an astounding two billions years old, the 90 years that have passed since man conquered that summit barely even register on the historical time log. If two billion years were to be the height of Granite Peak, then the time in which man has known the view from the top equates to .25 percent of one millimeter – smaller in height than the depth of a snowflake falling in the middle of August.

To once again quote Ray Smith, Kerouac’s protagonist who just set up camp in the upper reaches of the mountains: “the rocks, they were just solid rock covered with atoms of dust accumulated there since the beginningless time. In fact, I was afraid of those jagged monstrosities all around and over heads. They’re so silent.”

This is why the Beartooth Pass gets my vote for the “Roof of North America.” Not because of the scream you’ll let out when you’ve finally reached the top, but the overwhelming silence that comes with not knowing what you’re supposed to do when you get there.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the Vagabond Tales over here.

[Photo Credits by Heather Ellison and Shiny Things on Flickr]

Vagabond Tales: Fear And Loathing In San Felipe

The strip clubs in San Felipe, Mexico, aren’t open on Tuesdays.

For most travelers to Baja, this isn’t overly concerning. After all, with all of the surfing, fishing, diving and fish taco eating that can easily consumer your entire day, the fact that strip clubs are closed for one day of the week shouldn’t be a point of concern.

If, however, you’ve descended upon San Felipe after three days of camping in the desert with a reclusive, one-legged hermit (a story for a different time), and it happens to be a bachelor party, the fact that it’s a Tuesday suddenly becomes an issue.

This, however, is not a tale about strip clubs or hermits. It’s a tale about safety, and how the road to bad decisions can be a very gradual slope.

As I’ve mentioned before in the “2013 International Adventure Guide to Baja” and articles such as “I Traveled to Mexico and Came Back Alive“, the only way you’re going to get in trouble as a visitor to Baja is if you do something stupid like engage in drug deals in a back alley of a border town with unsavory characters in the middle of the night.

This isn’t a Mexico thing, mind you; this is an everywhere thing. Whether you’re in Mexico or Chicago, back alleys at 2 a.m. are potential staging areas for the next morning’s headlines. When you hear a report that two tourists were stabbed or robbed, and then find out that it was in a back alley of a border town at 2 a.m., a small part of you thinks they had it coming.

Just like no one plans on an accident, however, you don’t always plan on ending up in a back alley of a border town-sometimes it just happens. While you would never jump from Point A (land of good decisions) directly to Point D (land of horrendous decisions), sometimes the smaller jumps from A to B and B to C put you in striking range of Point D, the slippery slope of how you got there blurred by the casual descent.

Throw in a Mexican army general and a moonlighting prostitute, and you’ve created a mezcal-flavored cocktail for disaster.With regards to the San Felipe situation, one thing you should never do in a border town is publicly complain. (For the record, San Felipe is not officially classified as a border town. It’s actually two and half hours south of the border on the Sea of Cortez, but as a popular weekend destination it can come with its share of tourist town perils).

The problem with complaining in a budget international tourist town is there is a buck to be made in “solving the problem”. If you’re piecing the breadcrumbs together, when someone offers to “solve the problem” of a closed strip club it can only lead to bad places.

Which, as it turns out, is exactly how we met Emilio.

Casually seated on a motorcycle whose best miles were clearly behind it, Emilio told us he could help with our apparent dilemma.

“You need girls?” he asked, the words rolling off his mustachioed upper lip with the class of a human trafficker.

Despite the fact that half of our troupe soberly recoiled at the offer, two of our them, presumably spurred on by breakfast beers which are a staple of Mexican bachelor parties, decided to run with the offer to see how it would play out.

After a cryptic conversation which contained far too much dirty laughter, it was determined we would meet Emilio at 8 p.m. that evening at a bar that tourists don’t normally frequent. He asked for a deposit. We declined. Shockingly, he never showed.

Having been stood up by Emilio, I slid some crumpled pesos across a bar of even worse shape and ordered a round of Tecate’s for the table. In the dingy atmosphere of the poorly-lit cantina there was an aura of two parts disappointment and three parts relief. We never had any real plans about what we would actually do with Emilio and whoever walked through the door with him, and his failure to appear at the agreed upon destination was probably for the best.

The problem, however, is that seven American men in a seedy local establishment can draw a fair bit of attention. In our case, that attention happened to manifest itself in the form of a 250 lb. Mexican army general named Miguel who was in town on leave before returning back to active service. Or so he said.

Miguel joined our table, and by the time the sticky plastic square on legs could fit no more empty cans, shot glasses, or broken dreams, three things had become hazily apparent: Miguel “had our back”, he was taking us to another bar, and he’d made a call about some “girls”.

Following Miguel into the dark recesses of San Felipe, three wrong turns and numerous back alleyways led to a place no visitor should ever go. This place had no music. This place had no windows. This place was not the place to be. Ever. Luckily, we were cruising with a Mexican army general, so we would be fine. Right?

Settling uncomfortably into the den of sorrows, matters only became compounded when a shy and husky twenty-something female entered the den and sat at our table. This was curious, of course, because no one knew this woman, nor did she seem to have any plans of engaging in conversation.

Apparently the only one who knew what was happening was Miguel, and he couldn’t have been more pleased at the situation he had arranged.

It was then that we realized that there in that cartel-controlled (not a fact), disease-infested (potentially a fact), parlor of illicit underworld, a Mexican army general had made some phone calls and actually ordered us a prostitute (unfortunately, fact).

This, it should go without saying, is not where you want to find yourself.

With the next round of beers also came the terms: There was a motel across the street. The room would be $20. The remaining price was to be negotiable upon services. After an awkward and tequila-induced back and forth of potential costs, it was collectively determined that we had to get the hell out of Dodge.

One by one we made our escape, the fear of letting down Miguel blending with the fear of being shanked with a rusty fork the moment we stepped outside. The last we saw of our female companion she was sitting at a bus stop with a forlorn sense of failure. She had left when she realized the night was going nowhere, and my heart goes out to that girl at the bus stop wherever she might be today.

Thankfully, all seven of us would wake up in the tent-less, sandy campground we had opted to call home for the night. In an evening that could have gone any number of disastrous directions, the only direction we wanted to go was home.

Five hours and two taco shops later, we would cross the border into San Diego definitively worse for the wear but happy we weren’t a headline.

Besides, we had other problems to worry about now, like how to pay for the $8,000 in damages we had caused to the rental cars.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

[Photo Credits: Kyle Ellison]

Jet Surfing: The World’s Next Watersport?

If history is any indicator, the North Shore of Maui is the tinkering ground for the world’s next generation of watersports. Both stand up paddling and kitesurfing can trace their roots to this fabled stretch of coastline, and new footage coming out of the Valley Isle shows some of Hawaii’s best watermen testing out what could potentially be the world’s next watersport.

In a weird, hybrid cross between jet skiing, race car driving and surfing, jet surfing employs a mechanically operated board that is equipped with a two-stroke engine, which can propel the board to speeds up to 35 mph. There isn’t any paddling involved in the process whatsoever, and with the use of a handheld accelerator the rider can adjust their speed to cater to the speed of the wave.

While the boards, which are the design of Jet Surf, have been around for a couple of years, this is the first footage we’ve seen of them being tested in what has historically been the proving ground for the “next big thing” of watersports.

Granted, the $12,000 price point is out of range for most of the world’s surfers, but if the trend catches on there is a good chance the prices will fall as the popularity increases.

What do you think? The future of watersports, or just another gimmick?