Exploring Kokoda Papua New Guinea

Today we hiked to Kokoda – about a 50 minute walk. Our host family in Beleni village walks this every day for vegetables and fruit as that is the main method of transportation here. They said this is very short walk for them; I hate to see what a long walk would would be like!

There is a concrete slab where ladies walk from nearby villages and sell mostly vegetables – small bundles are tied up neatly and are displayed on their plastic sheets. Nearby is one of only two trading markets in the area – it is run by some tough looking Chinese folks. A friendly local guard hangs out in the two story “guard shack” at the main gate.

Having just been in China last month I got to practice some Chinese using complex words such as Nihao (hello) and Sheshe (thank you). One guy sits on a tall chair behind bars and strong steel plates with a small hole cut so he can see you. Thick chain link and bars surround all the items for sale. You peep though to this darkened environment and tell the local ladies what you want and they pull it off the shelves and hand the items through little slots in the metal.

There is a small air strip here – that was used more often until a terrible crash killed all 13 people on board several years back (trekkers and locals). Apparently there was a shortage of pilots and a pilot who had been partying and drinking the night before was called in at the last minute. She thought she was at a higher elevation than in actuality and put the plane right into the side of the mountain during broad daylight. The brother of the boyfriend of the lady we are staying with was killed in that crash.

We are in a valley surrounded by beautiful tall mountains in all directions – Mt. Victoria towers to the south of us; this mountain has ice on top during cold spells.

This area was home to absolutely brutal battles between the Australians and the Japanese and later the Americans. There is a small war museum dedicated to the people who fought the battles here. Malaria, dysentery, torrential rains, steep thick jungles and people shooting at you made for a hellish and often fatal experience for the troops.

It was at this museum that we bumped into the lady we saw struggling to pull her vehicle and passengers out of a stream two days before. Judith was a flight attendant for many years and traveled the world. This however is her home, and she decided to recently start her own transportation company – ferrying passengers from Popondetta to Kokoda. She just started driving – and said that she now completes the one way journey in about 3.5 hours instead of 5 hours previously. What a gutsy lady to start a business like this much later in her life! Here is our interview with Judith:

On the way back we jumped into one of the worst vehicles I’ve ever been in. The battery was jury rigged so that it sat in the front passenger seat. The drivers seat had worn away its bolts and was sitting on wood which the driver had to constantly adjust. The windows were smashed in or cracked beyond repair, the sides of the doors had long ago lost all padding and were now rusted relics – and our back seats were destroyed but old old towels covering them preserved some degree of modesty.


Top 3 Las Vegas Buffets Worth Checking Out – Guest Post

There are plenty of great restaurants in Las Vegas to try out during your upcoming trip, but filling up at one of the many Las Vegas hotel buffets is worth at least one meal! Actually, you might as well count that meal as “two,” since we know you won’t be calling it quits after the first plate. It’s all about indulging yourself in Las Vegas Hotels so save the guilt for the plane ride home!

Las Vegas buffets are ideal for groups that can’t seem to agree on a cuisine for the night, or for families with picky eaters for children, or for visitors to Vegas looking to try out a variety of international dishes! Basically, there’s always a reason to go to a Las Vegas buffet. Here are our 3 favorite Las Vegas buffets and why you should check them out!

  1. Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace: New things are always fun! Maybe that’s part of the appeal with the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace: it opened less than 6 months ago. Already though, the buffet has proven that it is one of the top buffets in Las Vegas. Publications such as USA Today have praised Bacchanal for the high quality international dishes like crepes, tortillas, custom sushi cones and more. The pasta station at the Bacchanal Buffet Las Vegas is extensive and has enough pastas and sauces to make any Mario or Luigi say “a mama mia!” If you’re only going to stop at one Las Vegas buffet, make it the Bacchanal Buffet. Prices for this Las Vegas buffet range from $22.99 for weekday breakfast to $49.99 for a dinner on Friday or Saturday.

  3. Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan: If you aren’t a fan of buffets for their one-size-fits-all approach but are still interested in giving a Las Vegas buffet a chance, try Wicked Spoon. Chic presentation and quality food are what you’ll find at Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan, a more luxurious Las Vegas buffet option without the gross, cafeteria-like feel of some of the other Strip buffets. The omelette station at Wicked Spoon is worth checking out for breakfast or head in for dinner and enjoy a few plates of the always delicious Korean BBQ. Wicked Spoon’s orange-glow, upscale ambience, with many dishes served individually, will have you thinking you’re at a sit-down restaurant as opposed to a Vegas buffet. And even better, you can enjoy all this for under $40 a person!

  5. The Buffet at Bellagio: The Bellagio is one of the classiest hotels on the Las Vegas Strip so it’s fitting that the hotel’s buffet is also one of the best in town and possibly most consistent. The Bellagio Buffet Las Vegas offers international dishes from Italy, Japan and China along with other traditional American and seafood options. Some of our regular favorites include the smoked salmon and spicy tuna rolls. As always, save room for dessert! This Las Vegas buffet doesn’t offer the largest selection of desserts but they are all very high quality… give the warm bread pudding a taste! The Buffet at Bellagio costs anywhere from $17.99 for breakfast to $37.99 for gourmet dinner, depending on when you eat.

Of course, these 3 buffets are not the only buffets in Las Vegas! There are many other buffets on and off the Las Vegas Strip and also downtown. When it comes to Las Vegas buffets, the best way to find a favorite is to try out as many as possible.

This article was written by Eric White, editor of several Las Vegas travel websites including CheapoVegas.com. Eric lives in San Diego, digs traveling and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.


Dalian China Greetings

Greetings from Dalian China. This and the last city we visited of Shenyang would EACH be the second largest city in all of the USA! Here is a stat to chew on that I read in the latest issue of Conde Naste Traveler, not sure if its true or not, but it read something like this, “China has 370 cities with populations of between 1 and 5 million, the United States has eight – nineteen China cities have populations of more than 10 million – more than any US city.”

And most westerners couldn’t name more than two of them.

I will never again think Los Angeles is a large city – it is a town in comparison to these numbers.

Dalian is a seaport – but certainly not a sleepy one. This city is *huge* and wraps around the coastline for miles with amazing modern architecture and hundreds of high rise residential buildings. Unlike Shenyang which is an un-inspirational industrial city located inland – Dalian has influences that only a city can have by being an International seaport.

It is so nice to every once in a while be hosted first class such as on this trip! I’m staying in a large suite in Dalian’s tallest hotel, the Intercontintal. Christmas has arrived in the hotel in a big way – about 15 staff were dancing some silly dance to Jingle Bells in the Lobby and a live Santa is already here, surrounded by presents.

We went out to a high end Sushi Restaurant last night and gorged ourselves for 2 hours in a private room sitting on mats. Sea cucumber and sea urchins – not to mention plate after plate of Sashimi. I can eat the stuff for hours! From what little we have seen of Dalian – it seems to be a city setup for tourism. The city contains a number of fun parks, a huge aquarium and other architectural delights. What is also nice about Dalian is while much of the city is very new, there is an old part that features old European architecture – some amazing residential neighborhoods with huge homes – as well as very old European looking business buildings. There are influences here from occupations by the Japanese, Russians and the British.

It was white out conditions early this morning from the snow storm – still snowing but the cloud level has raised a bit and if the roads are ok, we will head out in our 4wd to the North Korean border.

Here are a few pics of the skyline (note there is even the National bird of China in one – the crane!) and our sushi dinner.


Antiquing & Wine Tasting in Shenyang

Today was another fun filled day in Shenyang. The group that is hosting us owns a number of incredible antique stores – featuring some of China’s finest wood furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties. A couple of pieces certainly stand out: the largest ancient sandalwood closet in all of China, an amazing large piece of amber with a million year old scorpion preserved perfectly inside, and a huge quartz crystal rock with a number of partially formed quartz crystals inside as well as water inside the rock that moves back and forth when you shake it!

Some of the pieces were several million US dollars – many were in the hundreds of thousands. This was better than a museum!

Later in the day we went into the countryside and visited a massive four story wine shop and hospitality center where we enjoyed a number of wines we brought from the Napa Valley as well as a 7 course dinner! Check out the photos!


Shenyang Cold Weather

Shenyang, where we are currently, is considered just a small to medium sized city in China; it has a population of around 9 million people. Ummm, this would be the second largest city if it was located in the USA, behind NYC and ahead of LA! This is a very wealthy city; we counted 5 different Louis Vuitton shops, a Maserati, Ferrari and Bentley dealerships. Several streets have major name brand after name brand lined up.

Cold is the name of the game in this part of the China right now. We are staying in a 23 story hotel on the top floor – and the heat in the entire hotel has been out for the past 10 hours. Just came back from breakie on the 2nd floor overlooking the grand foyer and the revolving entrance doors. It was so cold could see breath. Its about minus 10 C right now outside – the hotel is still warmer but its all layers on board and the thick jacket on as well.

For one who is California born and raised the temperatures here right now in early December are brutal. The large ponds are frozen solid all the way across – I even walked out on the edges of one yesterday. Even one of the normally lazy moving rivers through central Shenyang is already frozen solid!

Normally the most important item I bring on any trip is my computer, not so this trip, it is my 850 fill down north face jacket!

Made a skype call to my brother on other side of world. He kept holding up portable space heaters in front of his laptop camera.

The visually unique "tire" building in Shenyang

The neat “tire” building in Shenyang

Gourmet selection of veggies in local supermarket

Gourmet selection of veggies in local supermarket



Hanging out in North Eastern China

I am currently in North Eastern China for some wine and tourism related fun. I’m with Sandi and John, the owners of Arns Winery and Bob and Nancy of Montagana Estate (both premium Napa wineries). We spent the day shopping around Beijing and trying to stay indoors out of the frigid cold. Headed up to Shenyang in the evening – where the temperatures are even colder than Beijing! Today we walked around Shenyang’s version of Beijing’s Forbidden City (much smaller) but very well preserved. There was still snow on some of the roofs – its supposed to snow here in the next few days which might actually be quite nice as it would warm things up a bit.

We are being treated like rock stars! The highlight today was the visit and hospitality we received at a new private members only wine club along Shenyang’s riverfront. This was the reason for this trip – they just opened and are focusing their efforts on premium wines from the Napa Valley – hence the appropriate name of their club, The Napa Valley Wine Club.

They rolled out the red carpet for us – literally. The inside of this opulent club is plush yet elegantly decorated – there are four floors, a commercial kitchen and a number of private rooms for tasting or dining.

Here are some photos from a wonderful day!