World Heritage Sights Rated

My wife and I are planning our upcoming trip to Norway and we’re trying to decide whether it’s worth the effort to take a boat called the Coastal Steamer up to the Western Fjords…places with pretty much unpronounceable (and unspellable) names like Geirangerfjord and Naroyfjord (names, several letters of which, do not seem displayable here because they are, well, weird-looking letters). Well, there I was contemplating whether these places would be worth seeing, and I discover that they are both top scorers in the World Heritage Site rating piece over at National Geographic.

The whole World Heritage Site system is wonderful. Think of it as the original 1000 Things to Do Before You Die…even though there are only 833 of them currently. The process of giving places around the planet World Heritage status began back in 1973 when UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) was entrusted with administering the program in an effort to identify and protect places of “outstanding universal value.”

The list of sites ranges across a wide spectrum of both natural and man-made places from astonishing ruins like Angkor Wat to, well, as I pointed out here, the Norwegian fjords.

Anyway, these places are always worth pointing out and the nicely done ranking system here at Nat Geo is a helpful guide for anyone putting together their personal “life-lists”.

Lifelist: Mount Kilimanjaro

Folks, I’m going to resurrect our lifelist feature starting with the tallest mountain in Africa: Mount Kilimanjaro. In these lifelist features we hope to provide the How, What, Why, Where, etc. for doing spectacular things that will add to the quality of your life. Lifelist adventures are life-changing experiences that you specifically set out to do to add them to your personal list of accomplishments. Yes, that list is personal, but we are here to help.

So, first the WHAT and WHERE:
Mount Kilimanjaro is smack in the middle of Kilimanjaro National Park in Tanzania. That’s in Africa, for the less geographically-inclined. Kilimanjaro rises from the African plain near the Indian Ocean and, as I mentioned, is the highest mountain in Africa (3 1/2 miles high)…actually it is one of the largest free standing mountains in the world. Yes, if you are a climber or even an avid trekker, you must climb Kilimanjaro.

One thing about Kili, as some mountaineers know it, is that it’s not THAT hard to climb. The route is a long, often painful trudge, but it’s not highly technical, and so if you are physically fit, you can generally pull it off. The altitude may get to you, so if you experience headaches or the onset of sickness, then you may want to either rest or turn around, depending on the severity.

Most people probably don’t know that the mountain is actually made up of three volcanoes. Kibo, which rises 19,340 feet, Mawenzi which is 16,896 feet, and Shira which is 13,000 feet. Kilimanjaro is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and a lot can be learned about it by checking out the site here.

You can climb the mountain throughout the year, but if you want the best time, then head there in the first three months of the year. January, February and September are the best months, with July, August, November and December also good.

HOW: There are several outfitters at Kilimanjaro, but in clicking around, I found that Kilimanjaro Adventures is one of the top dogs. According to their site, they have been leading climbs since 1990. In 2004, they led approximately 7,000 climbers up and safely down the mountain. Not a bad record.

If you want to read more about climbing Kilimanjaro, give this piece from a read. it gives a nice overview and delivers a stirring narrative of the climb. And, of course, you can always take a look at the ever-informative Wikipedia page.

WHY: Because it’s there. Duh.

Further reading:

GORP’s Look at Kili

The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway

Some fine photos

Kili Travel Guide

Lifelist: Inca Trail

I’m dragging out another feature for our lifelist feature, this one is actually a rehash of an older post that, well, you know how quickly stuff gets lost in time. Anyway, as you will recall, a lifelist is a detailed (or not so detailed depending on how anal retentive you are) enumeration of experiences that you hope to some day complete. Everyone has different tastes and varying visions of the things they want to accomplish in life, but we try to help that process along by suggesting things you might not otherwise have thought of.

So today’s lifelist recommendation is one that will appeal to both hikers and fans of ancient South American history. The Inca Trail is a legendary trek that will have you gasping for air at high altitudes and gaping at magnificent ruins the likes of which exist nowhere else on the planet (and some believe they were actually built by aliens…I’ll not get into that, though there is a whole industry of these folks).

The culmination of the Inca Trail trip is your arrival at the ruiins of Machu Picchu. I could spend many paragraphs describing the ruins, for they are truly spectacular. Chances are you’ve seen the photos, or seen a documentary or two, but there is NOTHING quite like wandering among them for yourself. Of course, you don’t have to trek the Inca Trail to reach the ruins, but you’d have to be old and immobile, very short on time or a complete pussy not to hike the trail to reach them. And the more days you take to do this, the better.

Finding an Outfitter
As you might imagine, there are scores of outfitters who do Inca Trail trips, most of them out of Cuzco (which is itself a marvelous city). One of the best is Peru Treks and Adventure who is known for contributing to the local community. Big-time outfitter Mountain Sobek also offers a trip there that includes a five day hike to the ruins. A list of other outfitters can be found here.

The Hike
As I say, you should spend several days hiking the trail to reach Machu Picchu. You should be in passable shape as sections of the trail are actually rather difficult. At certain stages along the way you reach altitudes of almost 14,000 feet. One of the most challenging parts of the hike is ambling (and most likely chuffing) over “Dead Woman’s Pass” at 13,900 feet.

Each night (assuming good weather), you will camp beneath some of the clearest skies you have ever seen…the milky way is so thick you might have the urge to dip your cup into it. Of course, all along the way, you pass other lesser-known ruins like Runkuraqay and Sayaqmarka. For a brief overview of some of the sites you will see along the way, check out this link.

Reaching the Ruins
Now as someone who has done the Inca Trail I have one key suggestion (other than being SURE to go on a multi-day hike): reach the ruins early. One of the singular experiences of your lifetime will be passing through the Gate of the Sun on your final morning. The ruins reveal themselves at the top of a rise and will not only take your breath away, but you are also likely to wet your pants (or so happened to one of my colleagues…although some previously consumed bad water might have also had something to do with it :-)).

Other Links and Stories
Tim Leffell, who’s Cheapest Destinations site is a must for budget minded travelers, wrote this superb peice on what you need to consider when planning for and hiking the Inca Trail. World 66 offers this excellent, and quite recent overview of what to expect along the trail. Another travelogue can be found here.

So that’s that. Add a hike to the Inca Trail to your lifelist if it is not there already. And if you’ve done the trail, leave some tips and comments for folks who might be thinking about it.

Hippest Spot in… Portland, Oregon?

My husband and I are going out for a cocktail tonight. We
rarely go anywhere without the kids and I’m have a desperate need to, not just go to a hot spot, but go to the HIPPEST
spot available. I need numero uno, folks.

So help me out. Those of you who are still single and hip. Those
of you who aspire to be. Where is the absolute best, top, trendier-than-thou hipper-than-hip place to sip a cocktail in
Portland, Oregon? I’m considering the following:

Other ideas? Let me know!