Apostle Islands Ice Caves 
On Wednesday Mom, Papa, Joe and I all drove out past Cornucopia and went to the ice caves. It's been a number of years since the ice was safe enough to walk on to be able to see them. We did this back when we lived near Port Wing and it was neat then. This year it has apparently been even more popular than ever. My guess is partly because of the large span of time since you could visit them. My other guess is that social media is so much more prevalent now. The number of photos I've seen on facebook of people that have gone there is pretty impressive.
Anyway, here is just a small selection of my photos. I mostly chose the ones with people in them. I'm posting a few on the Deviant Art page, so you can check out some more there if you're interested. (http://jdurbin.deviantart.com/)

There were quite a few people there, even though it was a weekday. Temp-wise it wasn't bad. The wind was a little bad at times, but not terrible. We picked a pretty great day to go.


Joe going to check out a cave.

Some very neat ice.

Mom and Papa.

Mom on the lake with me inside the cave.

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Mini RV Trip 
On Sunday Joe decided we should head out in the RV and go to northern MN. We packed up and left. Our first stop was Eighteen Lake, which is a campground that we already knew was free and where we had internet.

On Monday morning I woke up relatively early so decided to walk the trail that goes around the lake, which is supposedly around 2.5 miles (I think it's a bit longer). My hope was to see some birds and get some photos. Unfortunately, the bugs were really awful and the trail was pretty overgrown on the edges, meaning my legs were completely soaked by the time I was done from brushing up on grass and ferns. I took a couple photos of the loon that was on the lake, but that was the only stopping I did because I would get eaten alive by mosquitoes.

We headed out that day to do some more exploring. We did find a spot where we could let the cats out for a bit. It happened to have a ton of blueberries. We picked quite a few. We got to have blueberry pancakes for dinner that night. After rounding up the cats, we headed back out. One of the roads we were planning on taking ended up being a skinny road! Grass down the center and just wide enough for us. There were some sketchy parts, but we were able to make it the whole way. Since we had found blueberries, Joe really wanted raspberries to mix with them and make a jam. There were tons of plants along one section and the road. I could see how many mosquitoes were out there, so I refused to try picking them, but Joe went anyway. They were so terrible and he barely got any berries. It was pretty sad.

Once we got to the end of that road, we were very near Clara Lake which has a free campground. We stayed there for the night. We left in the morning and found a sand pit to let the kitties out again. Along one of the edges of the pit there were tons of raspberry plants, so Joe got his raspberries. From there we headed down Honeymoon Trail to check out the campgrounds. The first one we saw was a nice one, but no internet, so we decided to move on. The next was just a mile down the road. That one was by a river and we had internet! We tried going on a walk down a gated road very nearby but had to quit after just a half mile because the mosquitoes were really, really bad. We even had bug nets on our heads and I was still being eaten alive through my shirt. The next morning, the only person there was at the very first site (we were at the last one) so we let the cats out before breakfast. Once we got them all in we headed down to Lutsen to meet up with our friend Sarah who had the day off that day. Our plan was to hike up Eagle Mountain.

Once Sarah arrived we drove up to Eagle Mountain for 6 mile hike. Surprisingly, the bugs weren't bad, which made the hike pretty enjoyable. On the way back down, Sarah went for a swim across the lake. We met her on the other side. After the hike, we headed into Grand Marais for dinner. The restaurants were all pretty packed, so it took a while before we got food, but we ate at the Gun Flint Tavern and the food was super good.

Sarah headed home after dropping us off at the RV and we drove down 61 a bit until we found a spot not far off the highway that we could park to sleep. Thursday morning we headed back home. All in all, a pretty decent week.


The loon on Eighteen Lake.

Joe blueberry picking.

Joe raspberry picking with the kitties hanging out with him. Can you spot the three? (click photo for larger image)

Coming back from our walk down the crazy buggy road. Curly did really well following us.

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Batad Rice Terraces 
We scheduled a tour for Tuesday to go to the Batad Rice Terraces. To save some money, we joined up with a group of four from Spain. The jeepney ride took about an hour down a pretty bumpy road. Well, it wasn't terrible until we turned down a smaller road towards where the trail started. It was insane! I had no idea a jeepney could handle the rocks and bumps like that.
Anyway, the trail took about 45 minutes, all downhill, to get to Batad. A small village that appears to only be reached by trail. There were little shops and restaurants there. The terraces were gorgeous. After a short break, we started the hike through the terraces. We got to actually walk through them, which was very cool, though a little freaky at times. You would be walking along an edge that was only about a foot wide. Muddy rice patty on one side and a 20 foot drop off on the other side into another rice patty. The stairs were skinny and really tall. Let's just say there could have been twice as many stairs everywhere on this trail. So hard to take such huge steps.

We made it to an upper lookout where we then started going down a lot of steps eventually to a little hut. Sandra decided to stay there while we went farther to the waterfall. That turned out to not be the best idea. Super steep to get to it and we were already pretty tired and super sweaty by this time. Joe and I did go swimming, which felt amazing. Unfortunately, we were so hot and sweaty again by the time we got back to Sandra that it really negated the whole waterfall swim. It was still pretty neat though.

We were going to originally go through the village (you can see in the middle of the terraces near the bottom) but we asked the guide if we could just take the 'middle road' which would have the least amount of elevation change.

We ended up getting back to Banaue around 4pm. Our overnight bus was leaving at 7, so we paid for a shower (which we severely needed), had dinner then got on the bus.

The bus was awful. Since we were in the mountains, it was constantly going back and forth, which was annoying anyway, but then they were randomly picking people up until at least midnight. It got to the point where people were standing in the isle, which, when you're trying to sleep, is annoying. They keep bumping the seat, or are standing right next to you, which is sort of creepy. I had gotten maybe a few hours of sleep. Joe and Sandra got barely any though. We got to Manilla at around 5am. From there we eventually found a bus that would get us close to the airport. We hopped on that, where Joe managed to get another hour of sleep. We got off in Dau where we got a tricycle to a jeepney area. Then we took a jeepney to the airport. We were about three hours early, which wasn't too bad.

The flight was just under 4 hours, but we ended up having to circle for about 15 minutes because of too much air traffic. We finally landed, then got to immigration, where there was an insanely long line. Unfortunately, they had two lines (which is weird, inefficient, and kind of dumb) and of course we picked the wrong line... We ended up waiting in line for an hour and a half. We got our luggage, walked through customs, and caught a bus to Chinatown. We finally made it to the hostel in Kuala Lumpur at about 7pm. Yes, that means we traveled for 24 hours....


Joe, Sandra and me in front of the Batand Rice Terraces. (Click to enlarge.)

View of the terraces. (Click to enlarge.)

Some of the stairs down. (Click to enlarge.)

Waterfall at the end of the trail. (Click to enlarge.)

The approximate path we took through the rice terraces. (Click to enlarge)

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We spent the following day working and relaxing around the hostel since it was raining. However, on Wednesday, we headed back out for a hike. This time, we went down a different staircase and worked out way back to the "Great Staircase". The walk was gorgeous with some pretty waterfalls along the way.

There is a veggie and fruit shop next door where the prices don't seem too bad. We found dinner of gnocchi and veggies, which turned out super delicious.

Today, we decided to take the train to Blackheath. From there we walked about 7k down a road to a spectacular look out. We had heard the "hanging rock" was there, so we searched for that, which was just a short trail away. We climbed out onto it to get an amazing view of the valley. A bit freaky, but very neat. The walk was tiring, but we finally didn't have to walk up or down any stairs.

We were thinking of going out for dinner, but then Joe mentioned making nachos. So, we found corn chips (surprisingly, Doritoes makes plain, salted chips), some beans, cheese, lettuce, olives, an avocado and a tomato. They were super yummy. :D


A better photo of the same type of parrot.

Purty waterfall.

The hanging rock. Joe is on the left. Unfortunately, I didn't get any good photos of it since I can't see what I'm taking a photo of. :)

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Blue Mountains 
This morning we got up, packed and headed for Central Station. We rode the train to Katoomba and found a hostel to stay at. Unfortunately, their private rooms were all booked, but the dorm we're in is really quiet. Their internet is free and they have free breakfast in the morning, so that will be a nice change.

Once we got set up, we headed to Echo Point where the start of walks into the valley and into the national park are. The hike really wasn't long, but you had to walk down stairs that went down the valley wall. They were super steep. There were apparently 900 steps. That was just going down. The trail was very pretty and had a view of a gorgeous waterfall.

From there we reached the place to head back up the valley wall. We could cheat and take the sky tram, but we decided to take the Furber Stairs instead. There were some beautiful sites along the way, so even though it was pretty tough, we're definitely glad we went that route. Along the trail we ended up seeing a few parrots. They were bright red with blue on the tail, head and wings. We also got to see (and hear) Black Cockatoos. Very fun.

After we completed the hike (it took us 3.5 hours), we headed back into town to find dinner. The Thai restaurant we found was very good. They didn't include rice with their meals, which was a little odd, but it was still delicious.


A view of the Three Sisters. They're a main land formation in this area of the park.

A small section of the stairs on the way back up. Some of the stairs were metal, but most were carved directly out of the stone wall.

Some more stairs. If you click on the photo and then look near the patch of sunshine, you might be able to see two red spots. Those are parrots. ;) That's what I get for breaking my camera.

An amusing sign telling us which way the trail goes.

Another view of the Three Sisters while the sun was working on setting.

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