BootsnAll Travel Network

Trinidad and Tobago

February 7th, 2010

Well, it’s been a year since our last post and a lot has happened since then.  Shelly and I finally decided to settle down and start a family.  On May 28, 2009 Shelly gave birth to our daughter, Gabrielle (Gabi) Kurtz.  Her name, and the implied disposition, could not be more perfect for her.  She loves to talk (at this point just make sounds) and definitely has the gift of gab.  In her brief stint on Earth, she is already a frequent traveler and has visited New York City, Disneyland, and recently the country of Trinidad and Tobago.

On January 21st we flew 11 hours to stay with our friends Bruce and Julia who live on Trinidad.  We toured Trinidad and Tobago for 10 days and had an amazing adventure.The trip was divided into two halves and we spend the first 5 days in Trinidad.  This island is the economic powerhouse of the country and home to 1.5 million people.  The streets are crowded and traffic can me a mess.  We rented a car and I was able to successfully negotiate the hectic streets in a right hand drive car.

The morning of our first full day, Bruce and I went fishing for Wahoo and managed to land a 40 lb and 65 lb fish.  The fight was intense and I needed a few Caribs (the local beer) to replenish my strength after the battle.  That night we cooked an amazing dinner with our catch and I even attempted making ceviche.  It was a little acidic but overall edible and nobody got sick.



The next day we went to local beaches and had the famed, Bake n’ Shark sandwich at Richard’s fish stand.  It was easily the best thing we ate on our trip and looking back I should have opted for a second sandwich.  Keeping with the epicurean theme, over the next few days I also tried Doubles, which are curried chickpeas on fry bread, and chicken feet souse. The Doubles were very good but I’m probably “one and done” on the souse.

On our sixth day we took a ferry to Tobago and spent three days on the island.  Tobago was the opposite of Trinidad and had the laid back island feel we needed to make this a restful vacation.  Our friends owned a beachside villa, which we rented for our stay, and it was amazing.  We spent most of our time just sitting on the covered porch reading, napping, and playing with Gabi.  It was also the first time on our vacation that Shelly and I were able to spend a few date nights and had good, but very expensive, dinners and the local restaurants.





On our second to last day, we traveled back to Trinidad and went on a jungle hike with two guides named Snake and Mountain Lion.  Snake earned his name serving time in the T&T military.  Mountain Lion earned his name on our hike because Shelly felt he needed a handle if he was going to successfully guide us through the jungle.  Shelly dubbed our day hike a cultural exchange adventure, I thought it was more a slog up a semi-dry river bed.  The place we chose to hike was an old coco and nutmeg plantation so there were nutmeg seeds all through the hike, which made for some interesting foraging.



Overall, it was a successful adventure and we managed to avoid the pesky mosquitos.Our trip to Trinidad and Tobago was a fun adventure and a worthwhile travel destination.  The country speaks English and the prices are reasonable unless your talking about food and wine.  A bottle of Yellowtail red, which retails for $5 in the US, is about $20 in Trinidad.

So what’s next on our travel adventures?  We have the obligatory Las Vegas trip in March to watch the NCAA basketball tournament.  This summer we have a trip to Japan planned to revisit my favorite country on our 2008 round the world trip.  And in the works is a trip to Tuscany in 2011 where we will meet up with Bruce and Julia again.  Our plan is to rent a villa and attend a school to sharpen up our Italian cooking skills.  Bye for now…


Caye Caulker, Belize

February 22nd, 2009


Shelly at the Caye Caulker terminal, reminds me of customs at the Delhi, India airport…

It’s an understatement to say Belize was relaxing.  With caye mottos like “go slow” and “no shoes, no shirt, no problem”, our fast paced, city style came to a screeching halt when we stepped foot off the ferry and onto Caye Caulker.  Located 40 minutes by boat from Belize City and about a mile off the Belize reef, Caye Caulker is the most laid back place we’ve ever traveled.  The caye is about 4 miles long and no more than a quarter mile wide in most locations.  Transportation is basic, mainly foot and bicycle, with the occasional gas powered golf cart.  Without the noise pollution caused by cars, the caye is extremely peaceful and quiet.  The food was amazing and extremely cheap, with a nice lobster dinner and a Beliken beer to wash it down costing about $10 US.  All of the food was homemade (tortillas, salsa, bread, etc.), fresh, and simple. 

Traveling in Belize is easy.  The locals speak great English and are very friendly, to the point where they treated us like long-lost friends.  Unlike other countries we’ve visited, people aren’t trying to sell you things you don’t want, tipping is not mandatory, and we felt very safe at all hours of the day.  Overall, I can’t say enough good things about Belize and Caye Caulker, it’s still a hidden gem but won’t be that way much longer.  You can see tourism taking hold on this sleepy little island.  I hope the citizens of Caye Caulker do what they can to preserve it as is.  The charm and appeal of the caye is that it’s undeveloped, unpretentious, and rustic.

So, what did we do for 10 days in Belize… not much.  We lounged around the pool at our hotel (Seaside Cabanas / with Steph and Cooper and read.  I finally read the Twilight series.  I know, they’re for 13 year old girls, but I had to see what the hype was about.  Our only “domestic” (or marital fight) of the trip was when Shelly tried talking to me on the exact page when Edward turned Bella into a vampire (sorry if that’s a spoiler for anyone).  When not reading, I was diving.  I dove all the famous Belizean sites like the Blue Hole and Turneffe Elbow.  For Christmas, my in-laws gave me an underwater camera case for my point and shoot and I was able to capture what it’s like 130 ft. underwater.  At night, we ate dinner at the local restaurants.  Our favorites, in order, were: Syd’s (best home cooked food on the caye), Rose’s (best lobster), Habanero’s (best fine dining), and Paradiso (brand new South Beach style dinning on the beach).  Overall, Belize was the perfect place to spend our last big vacation comes before the addition of our daughter (due June 1st).   So with that, I’ll leave you with a few diving shots and random pics from our trip.  Bye for now…

Steph, Cooper, Shelly, and I after our 2nd place finish at trivia night. All that random knowledge finally paid off (30 Belizean dollars to be exact).


Descending into the depths of the Blue Hole and me at 130 feet down…


Walking on Half Moon Key during our diving surface interval… the most pristine place I’ve been in my life. Not a palm frond out of place.


The 80 degree bathtub we dove in for 10 days.


Some parting reef shots…


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Belize… here we come!

November 3rd, 2008

The last time I posted, Shelly and I were in the Tokyo International Airport catching our final flight home from our Round the World trip.  Even to this day, we’re reminded how much fun 12 different countries and cultures can be.  People always ask “what was your favorite part of the trip?”  I’ve probably given two dozen different answers because every part of that trip was fun. From climbing Machu Picchu, to camping on the Serengeti, to cruising the backwaters in India, each day was unique and special in its own way.  

I started getting the traveler’s itch about 24 hours after landing in Seattle.  We quickly planned a trip to Vegas in September and I also had my annual salmon fishing trip with my father in July.  Both were great trips and Vegas was especially epic.  We had the opportunity to get VIP bottle service at PURE nightclub at Caesar’s Palace and it was ridiculous.  It cost more than our two week stay in Buenos Aires, but was worth every penny.  The salmon trip was also a blast and I ended up catching the biggest Chinook and Coho salmon at the lodge… worth a cool $1,200 bucks.  After splitting the pot with my dad (he netted the fish) and splitting my share with my Shelly (what’s mine is hers and what’s hers is hers), I was left with $300 and put it in the bank.  

Around August, we started to think about where we should go in February when the Seattle weather starts to take its toll on the human soul.   Costa Rica, Hawaii, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Cayman Islands all made our short list of possible vacations.  Airfare at the time was still crazy expensive and flights were in the $800 range for most destinations.  I checked about once a week and fares remained constant until last Thursday when I checked on flights to Belize.  The fares suddenly dropped and a round-trip ticket cost $350!  In about 2.5 seconds Shelly and I discussed Belize, agreed this sounds like fun, and booked a 10-day trip in February.  We are excited to get back out and experience a new country, not to mention get a little sun.  

We’re spending 7 days on Caye Caulker to soak up some rays and go diving in the morning.  Our final 3 days will be in-land in the jungle where we hope to see some Mayan ruins and perhaps try cave tubing.  Overall, we’re excited to go and February can’t get here soon enough.  For now, though, I’ll leave you with a few pictures from this summer and we’ll try to post an entry before leaving for Belize.   

Bottle service at PURE (Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas) and the money fish (North King Lodge, British Columbia)…

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Kyoto, Japan

April 7th, 2008

It’s hard to believe, but this is our last post from “the field”.  98 days and 12 countries later, Shelly and I are at the Tokyo airport about to catch our flight home.  We’ve enjoyed a week of wonderful weather and experiences in Tokyo and Kyoto.  But, I think Japan is telling us that it is time to go home.  Within the last hour, the clouds rolled in and it’s raining pretty hard.  The travel gods must be preparing us for the weather back home in Seattle.   Since our last post, we spent one more day in Tokyo and then took the Shinkansen Nozomi bullet train down to Kyoto.  On our last night in Tokyo, we experienced a typical Japanese send off with an earthquake during dinner.  It was probably around a 4 on the Richter scale and shook the restaurant pretty good.  It was also our last meal with Josh, Shelly, and Calla Freeman before they returned home.  It was great seeing them and Japan wouldn’t have been the same without them.  


The next morning, we departed for Kyoto.  It took a little over 2 hours to go 600 km and the ride was much better than our TGV experience in France.  Around noon, we arrive at our hotel, took a quick breather, and then headed out to explore the town.  Shelly and I were thoroughly impressed with Kyoto and would recommend this city for anyone traveling through Japan.  There are tons of sites, restaurants, and night spots to please any crowd.  When we were there, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom so the temples and historical sites were amazing.   On our first day, we walked through Nijo Castle and the Imperial Palace.  On day two, we went to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which was the only Japanese site in the recent running of the New 7 Wonders of the World contest.  In-between sight-seeing, we also managed to eat some great food.  For our last dinner of the trip we bellied up to a sushi bar one last time to eat fatty tuna and drink Asahi beer until we were stuffed.  On our walk back to the hotel, we stopped at a local cocktail bar and were surprised to find El Dorado rum from Guyana, South America.  In 2006, we visited our friends in Guyana and they introduced us to this rum.  We’ve never seen it outside Guyana and were shocked that a small bar in Kyoto, Japan would have it.  In honor of our friends Bruce and Julia we had a send off drink (don’t worry Bruce, we didn’t add Coke    ;-)).  Overall, our Kyoto experience was well worth the effort and it was a nice break from crazy city life. 



Well, I think that’s about it.  Sorry I can’t post any pictures.  The computer I’m using in the airport is locked down so I can’t upload them.  When we get back home I’ll add some photos and make one last post to close out our trip.  See you in Seattle! 



Tokyo, Japan

April 3rd, 2008

Our timing was perfect for a stop in Japan.  We arrived on March 31st, just in time for the daytime highs to reach 60 degrees and the cherry blossoms to be in full bloom.  Our friends from Seattle, Josh and Shelly, were also in town for a wedding so we’ve been able to spend a few days with them touring the city.  Josh happens to also speak fluent Japanese, which is a real asset in this country.  Unlike most countries, where English is fairly prevalent, Japan is still very much a one language country.  That’s not to say we couldn’t get around, but having someone decipher a menu in kanji makes eating a much more pleasurable experience.


Before we met up with Josh and Shelly, my Shelly was attempting to decipher what was in her ramen noodles

Yesterday, we spent most of the day sitting under the cherry trees in the Ueno district, drinking Asahi beer and eating okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake filled with egg, shredded cabbage, and squid).  It sounds a little strange but actually tasted really good.  We sat for hours watching thousands of people pass by and just enjoyed the afternoon. 




Josh serving up our okonomiyaki

Today we spent most of our time touring the Harajuku district in T0kyo.  This area is known for its trendy young crowd and their fashion.  Simply put, in 32 years, I’ve never seen outfits like this.  It was facinating to see the clothes in the stores and on the people.  Josh put it best when he said “it’s a cross between a French maid’s outfit and gothic”.  The picture below gives you some idea of the style.


After three days in Tokyo this may be the the most facinating stop on our trip.  Everything here is unique and different from the places we’ve been.  Unlike most countries, there seems to be very little western influence.  The product brands, food choices, etc. are all 100% Japanese.  About the only familiar thing you can find with any certainty is a Coke.   Another thing that’s great is the number of vending machines.  No longer do I have to wait for the cranky 7-11 clerk to ring up a bottle of water.  There are rows of vending machines on every street corner just waiting for my loose change.


Lastly, we’re still deciding on whether to travel down to Kyoto for a few days before our flight back home or just stay in Tokyo.  It’s very hard to find lodging right now with the cherry trees in bloom and the bullet train down is very pricey.  We hope everyone is doing well back in Seattle and we’ll see you in a few days.   



Beijing, China

April 1st, 2008


After 5 days in Beijing, we arrived into Tokyo yesterday for the last leg of our international adventure.  Being in Beijing during this time of Olympic preparation was a very unique experience. 


The National Stadium or “Bird’s Nest” and Aquatic Center – both are still under construction for this summer’s Olympics.  

We really enjoyed our time in Beijing and saw a lot of things that surprised us.  As foreigners, we were somewhat taken aback to see all of the capitalism…literally. From the airport, called “Capital Airport”, to a huge building called “CapitaLand” to a hotel called “Capital Hotel”, everything was about capital.   We realize that Beijing is the capital of China and that was the reference point for the names, but the irony was still there.  There were many brand name stores, massive indoor shopping malls, Starbucks on almost every corner, and even a Wal-Mart.  Consumerism is everywhere in today’s China.  Even the designer knock-off stalls that are usually relegated to back alleys of downtown streets in other major cities are enclosed in beautiful multi-floor retail centers.  Our favorite of these Pearl Markets was only a block away from our hotel and happened to have the most famous Peking Duck restaurant inside on the 6th floor.  The restaurant, called Quanjude, has been around since the 1860’s and has served everyone from heads of state to Henry Kissinger.  We can definitely understand why they have been so successful for almost 150 years.  The Peking Duck was so good that we ate there twice.  Both times, we ordered a half duck along with a couple other dishes.  In lightening fast speed, a chef brings the perfectly roasted duck tableside where he delicately carves it into thin, golden slices of crispy skin and juicy meat—-absolute heaven.  ((Sorry to our vegetarian friends.))


Besides the shopping and the eating, no visit to Beijing would be complete without visiting their amazing historic cultural sites.  We saw everything from the embalmed body of Chairman Mao (on display in a clear crystal coffin inside Tiananmen Square) to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall to the new Olympic stadiums.

The weather was really nice on the days we spent sight-seeing in Beijing, but we encountered a whole other type of weather on the day we went out to see the Great Wall.  It was freezing.  There was so much snow on the ground and the wall was so icy that we could barely walk up it.  But, we had strength in numbers.  We were lucky enough to tag along with a small group from the Nike corporate office in Oregon, thanks to our friend Kelcey who happened to be in China on a work trip and invited us to come along for their excursion.  (Thanks, Kelcey!  Great to see you!)


We got to see and do many things in Beijing, but we are definitely looking forward to returning and truly sinking our teeth into the city.  We will also be curious to see how the city changes in the future—from the skyline (CCTV tower completion) to the infrastructure (subway extension).  We also hope that the Olympics helps to make the city a little more English-friendly, or that we are able to pick up Chinese by the time we return.  Of all of the cities we have visited, the language barrier was the greatest here.  But, with the help of some friendly locals, a little patience and some creativity, it all worked out.  We enjoyed everything about our trip to China and only wished we would have had more room in our luggage to bring back more treasures!


Hong Kong, China

March 28th, 2008


Hong Kong is about the coolest city on Earth.  From the public subway system to the shops and local attractions, everything is nice and state-of-the-art.  One of my co-workers (“hi” Donna) has talked many times before about Hong Kong and I never understood the appeal until after having experienced it.  And any city that names one of its main thoroughfares “Nathan Road” can’t be all that bad…


Of all the places we’ve visited in the past 3 months, Hong Kong was the first stop where we seriously considered postponing our outbound flight because there is so much to do and see.  In the end, we decided to fly on to Beijing, but this is one city we are returning to. 

On our first full day we toured around Hong Kong Island, popping in and out of shops and ate lunch in the SoHo district.  I was still recovering from some bad food we’d had the day before so we decided to call the day short and head back to our room. 

On day two, we took the train to Hong Kong Disneyland and spent most of the day touring the park.  It’s a lot like Disneyland in California except about 1/5 th the size.  The other big difference is the snacking options.  Instead of the customary hot dogs and nachos, it’s fried squid and fish balls on a stick.  Shelly tried out some of the regional cuisine as my stomach still wasn’t right.  As far as rides went, our all-time favorite, Space Mountain, was here and we rode it twice.


After Disneyland we took the train south and caught the Ngong Ping 360 gondola to the Big Buddha.   This gondola starts near the Hong Kong airport and takes the rider through some nearby hills to the largest bronze sitting buddha in the world.  It was late afternoon when we took the ride so the sunset made for some amazing photos. 


On our third and final day, no stop in Hong Kong would have been complete without a pilgrimage to Macau.  Another co-worker (“hi” Carl) is always raving about his Macau Wynn experience, so Shelly and I had to see it for ourselves.  Armed with every lucky charm we brought or acquired on the trip and some spending cash, we tried our luck at blackjack.  The night started great and we doubled our money.  However, all good things must come to an end and the odds finally caught up to us.  When we lost all of our “seed money” and went to the ATM to reload, none of our bankcards worked.  There was something wrong with the banking connection that night and in hindsight, it was probably the best thing that could have happened.  I guess Macau will keep our Hong Kong dollars safe until the next time we return. 

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A Thai Goodbye

March 24th, 2008


This is Shelly, reporting in for the country wrap-up.   After 3 weeks relaxing in Thailand, we finally had to say goodbye to the “Land of a Thousand Smiles” as it is popularly known. 

We spent our last two nights in Bangkok before bidding farewell to our friendly travel partners, Billy & Tri.  After a sensory overload through the streets of Bangkok, we decided to opt for a day spent warming our souls with some familiarities of our homeland.  This included going to an area of Bangkok called CentralWorld, which we renamed “America Town” because of the many Western stores, restaurants, and conveniences (including A&W Root Beer, 7-11, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts & more).  After having a pizza lunch at none other than….don’t judge us….Pizza Hut, our happy foursome headed into the air-conditioned mecca of a movie theater where we saw an American movie.  Which one did we choose???  How about Step Up 2: The Streets, anyone?  Why not!  It actually turned out to be very entertaining for us…..maybe our judgment was skewed a little :). 

Our patriotic day continued at dinner where we settled in for a long night at the Roadhouse BBQ.  After buffalo wings, potato skins, beef brisket and an assortment of other Southern delicacies, we ventured upstairs to check out the bar scene.  About 4 hours later, we emerged tired and sore from countless games of shuffleboard and fooseball, where the head-to-head Shelly/Nate vs. Tri/Billy competition was fierce and relentless.


Finally, our trip to Thailand ended with a truly legendary Thai experience.  I thought we could play a little guessing game…

Which one of the following activities capped off our trip to Thailand?

a) Attending a Muy Thai boxing match

b) Going to a Ping Pong Show

c) Seeing Siamese cats and Siamese twins

d) Drinking Mai Tais together at sunset

Although we would have enjoyed all four of the above, we sadly only had a chance to do (b).  For those of you who have never seen one of these shows, I will warn you that they are not for the faint of heart.  But, if you are in the right place at the right time, (or more likely the wrong place at the wrong time), this is quite a memorable experience.  I will leave it at that and let your imagination fill in the blanks.

P.S. Check out the new pictures added to our last post.

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Chiang Mai, Thailand

March 22nd, 2008

Sometimes the most fun can be had at the most unexpected places.  A few days ago, Shelly, Billy, Tri and I decided to spend a day golfing at one of Chiang Mai’s local courses and it was one of the best times we’ve had in Thailand. 


We arrived at Royal Chiang Mai Golf Course around 11:59 a.m., just in time for a noon tee time.  In the pro shop we paid our greens fees, rented clubs, and also opted for two power carts because it was about 90 degrees outside and getting warmer with each passing minute.  As we walked out to the first tee we noticed four women, each ranging in height from 4’9″-5’0″, dressed in green pants, blazing yellow shirts, and large green billed hats.  We quickly found out that in Thailand, each golfer gets their own personal caddy (who also happen to be women) to help them around the course.  And looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.


These women could read the greens without even bending down behind the ball.  My caddy, Miwal, could quickly size up a 20 ft. putt and tell me “6 cups to the left” or “one ball to the right”.  Her reads were flawless and I was draining putts all afternoon. 



Billy (a.k.a. Willy Wonka) standing next to two caddies (a.k.a. Oompah Loompahs)

Caddy’s in Thailand are also not used to the Billy Knotts way of golfing, which involves drinking beer at a rate of about 1 can a hole.  At the beginning of the round, his caddy was telling him to “drink more beer”.  Then, on the back nine, Billy and I decided to start wagering on closest to the pin shots, with our winnings going to our caddies.  Billy’s caddy quickly changed her tune to “no more Singha… you drink water… play better”.  Unfortunately for Billy’s caddy, the only thing that could stop him was the clubhouse because by the 16th hole, the course had run out of beer!  My caddy was also feeling pretty good having won 200 baht (about $7 US) on my winning golf shots.  Overall, it was a great experience and we may try to play another round of golf when we arrive in China.  



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Chiang Mai, Thailand

March 18th, 2008

Well, it’s been a week since our last post and a week since Billy and Tri arrived… coincidence, I think not.  We’ve spent the past week lounging on the beaches in Ko Samui and experiencing the wonderful sights of Chiang Mai.  We are all doing well and are about to depart our hotel for a noon tee time at the Royal Chiang Mai Golf Club.  This will be the first time we’ve golfed on this trip and I’m very excited about doing something different.  In the few minutes I have, below are some highlights thus far with Tri and Billy:

  • We rode elephants around the hills surrounding Chiang Mai.  It was the most uncomfortable experience I’ve had in a long time.  My groin area is still sore.


  • We went white water rafting down a river near Chiang Mai.  Since it’s the dry season the going was very difficult.  Shelly said it was more like “rock climbing on water” than charging the rapids.  
  • Billy and Tri each bought two custom made suites from a tailor in Chiang Mai.  Will NYC know how to handle Billy Knotts in pinstrips?  I guess we’ll find out…


Billy getting “sized up” and Tri getting “sized down”

  • We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Thailand the only way we could… by drinking green beer!


  • We toured a local butterfly and orchid farm outside Chiang Mai


  • And finally, I captured Shelly in front of another roasted street pig.