Hiking in South Mountain Reservation.
Today I decided to go for a short two mile hike. Nothing to long. Just wanted to get outside. I have recently purchase a Canon T6 DLSR(review will be coming) and I want to try it out. The only way I know how to is by just by getting outside and exploring. Decided to go over to South Mountain Reservation in West Orange NJ. I was only able to walk around for an about 2 hours because the weather started turning and I wasn’t prepared for rain. Ended up driving down Brookside Drive, to a point I know where I could park and get out and walking around. The first place I was able to get to quickly was this small creek with a very small man made dam. This creek or river is part of the Rahway River system. But today, most of the river was dried up and not really moving. Was able to take some good pictures. Ended up crossing over the rock bed onto the other side of the river and walking down a trail for about half a mile, before I came across another trail. This trail sparked my interest. This trail seemed wide enough for a jeep and on top of that I saw a lot of tire track. So I decided to follow it for about a mile or so. This place was complete silent. The most I heard was two squirrels fights over a nut or something. I am pretty much a quite person when I am out walking in the woods. But this was strange. So I would about a 100 feet stop, look and listen. I did this for about three hundred yards. And still heard and saw nothing. Maybe I smelled bad, lol. So I followed this trail to a rocky river. Took off my shoes rolled up my pants and crossed it. I felt like I just wanted to see how fart this trail went or where did it go. After I cross the shallow rocky river I came to a dead end. However, after looking about, I did come across some animal tracks, some deer tracks and what looks like a coyote tracks.( look below at picture). So after look around some and not seeing any other way, of getting back to my Jeep. I knew I had to cross back through this rocky river again, but than I realized that the river had tire tracks running through it. So this meant that a jeep or truck had passed by here many times. After cross back through the river, I looked at the weather and saw that I didn’t have much time before the rain came in. So I started my way back to my Jeep. By the time I got back to my Jeep it started rain really hard. After getting myself together and with the help of google maps, I was able to figure out what trail I was on. The trail I was on was called Lenape Trail. The Lenape Trail was established in 1982. This is the fifth largest trail in NJ(please see link below for full history). So after doing more research. That tire tracks I did see, where mostly service trucks. But it would have been nice if there was another off-roading trail that no one really knew about, to explore.
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My wife and I decide instead of fighting traffic, trying to a spot on one of the many overly crowed New Jersey beaches, we headed North to Crater Lake. A Lot of drive up with highway. But as soon as we got off our exit on RT 80, that changed. Most of these backroads are beautiful. Going from two lanes to sometimes single lane, you forget you are in NJ. One of the most over populated states in the country. The Northern park of New Jersey this time of year for very green. Trees and plants in full bloom, deer and birds everywhere. You just want to slow down just so you can take it all in, which we did. I don’t even think most people in NJ know how vast in wilderness is up here, and maybe most shouldn’t. The peace a quite and a slower pace are needed after working 40-60 a week. I know these area some what. There used to be a lot of open off-roading trails up here. However, over the past couple of years. Most have been closed down my the rangers due to some people needlessly damaging the wood and trails. Taking chain saw, cutting down trees to make new trails. I can go on for hours about this. But lets keep on course. Driving up here like I have written is great. However, some of the roads are not well or at all maintained. So driving a little bit slower might keep you from damaging your Jeep or hitting a bump or a hole the wrong way and fly off a cliff. Also the other reason you might want to take is slower is because there are a lot of deer and bear around. You might be driving around one of the many blind curves and not see the animal standing right in the middle of the road. So after about 30 minutes on the back roads we turn onto the dirt/rock/gravel road that leads to Crater Lake. This road is not well maintained at all. With all the rain we have had this summer there are a lot of wash out. Also this road gets very thin at points. So I would be careful when driving. So cars will be coming there other way and the decision might have to be made of who is going into the grass to let the other one pass. Before you ask, “do you need to put it into 4wd?”. I say yes and no. The road is pretty hard pack, however, in some turn can be a little bit slippery with the rocks. I put it in 4wd high just to be safe and in case I need to let someone pass going the opposite way. Fun fact: I have been up here before and have had to help pull some people out, because they went into the grass, didn’t see the hole there were parked in and couldn’t get out. So after we got on the trail to Crater Lake it only took us about 10 minutes to get to our destination. We were glade we when got there. We didn’t see to many other cars, and I took a quick walk to the lake while my wife was in the bathroom. There were only a couple of people around. After we got setup and ate lunch and I jump in the lake. This lake is almost crystal clear and the water temp is prefect this time a year. As soon as you get in, all the sunnies and blue gill will follow you around. Mostly looking for any food you will drop. Theres a lot of wildlife in and round the lake. This time a around we saw two water snakes, one salamander two of the biggest tadpoles I have ever seen and a lot of fish. I alway from my snorkeling/free diving gear with me when I go to this lake. Once you get a little ways from shore, you will only see the green of hydrilla. However, I have heard and read that there is a car somewhere in the lake that I keep searching for, but have never found it yet. Side Note: NO motorize boats can be on this lake of any type. So this is a great place to bring you kayaks, SUP boards or canoes. If you are looking to do a little fishing, I think the only thing you might catches are the sunnies and blue gills. I haven’t seen anything bigger than them in the lake. Now for us we wanted to leave before sun down, I had the doors off the jeep and my wife gets cold very easily, and I knew that the temp up here was going to get into the high 50’s at night. So after spending all day relaxing swimming and just getting a little peace and quite we left. Here are some tip, one, try to make it up there early, theres not that many good spots to get. Two, DO NOT put a hammock up between two tree. For some reason this is against the law and you will be fined. Three, DO NOT bring beer, it is a federal forest and they do not allow it. The Rangers do come by from time to time and will ask to open your cooler. Last hole park closes at sun down so the Rangers will get on you if your not already pack up and moving on.
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Day Seven 7/6 Thursday
This day became our busiest day since it was out last day in Colombia. We wanted to pack as much as we could before leaving. First stop was a long walk to the fort “Castillo de San Felipe”. Since we knew it was going to be a bit of a hike from the hotel, we took a short cut through a mall to take advantage of the AC. The fort is a great piece of architecture and it encases the Spanish fight to keep the city safe from investors like the British and the French. The walk to the top was long but it was worth it. The views were amazing, you could see the old walled city and the new high rise city. Perfect marriage between the old and the new. After venturing around the fort for a while, we decided to make our way back to the hotel. After getting back to the hotel, and resting a bit we rented bikes. This was a interesting adventure, we got tandem bikes and rode around the city right as the sun was going down. Fun fact, the roads in Cartagena are very small, all one ways and most of the time barely fit a car. So when riding any bike you must be completely aware of what is going on around you. We rode around for little over an hour, took some great pictures, had some fun then went back to the hotel to shower and get ready for our last night. We went to dinner at “Alquimico”. This place was very cool. They had a list of mixed house infused drinks. Ask the server, what they recommend, they won’t steer you wrong. The food menu was small but the food itself was good, nothing to brag about. However, want put this place on the top three places that you must go to. After you have dinner, head to the roof. They have a great roof top patio. At the end of our diner, the waitress came over the table with four mystery infused rums. We played a little game called: name the flavor that the rum is infused with. After sipping and smelling them, we got the ingredients right. Ginger, pineapple, anise and mint. I must say ginger was horribly strong.
And just like that our trip came to an end. While I wish I had done more research to plan my days to visit Parque Tairona and other surrounding areas, this trip was one to remember. I will definitely be coming back to Colombia.
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ay Six 7/5 Wednesday
Today was all about shopping and buying gifts. I felt like we couldn’t get into each store quick enough, because it was hot. Today might have been the hottest day that we felt yet. It was about 95 degrees and 90% humidity. We had an amazing lunch at “La Mulata”. This place is super affordable and the food is delicious. As usual, they greeted you at the table with some Sancocho and your drink of choice. I ordered fish in a coconut sauce. The fish was so flaky and flavorful, and it had an amazing avocado salsa and rice on the side. After more walking and buying souvenirs, we went back to the hotel and jump in the pool to cool off. That night we went out to a bit more relaxed placed called “Juan Del Mar”. This restaurant is located across from Plaza de San Diego. If you sit outside by the sidewalk, you can watch all the street performers. The only downside is that they only serve pizza, otherwise they offer a full menu inside. After dinner, we went to an outdoor bar called “Donde Fidel” and listened to live music as we watch people passing by. It was super chilled and finally there was some cool breezy that felt wonderful.
*Tip of the day. Enjoy the first part of the day to explode and then take some shelter during the peak of the afternoon. The temperatures can get pretty steamy. This way you will have enough energy to enjoy the cooler nights, which are full of life, music and adventure.
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Day Five 7/4 Tuesday
We took a walking tour of the city. Meli was our tour guide, she took us to all the squares, convents, forts, theaters and every iconic spot while giving us the complete history of each spot. The tour took about two hours, and after we were all done we went for lunch to a different area of Cartagena called”Getsemani”. There we grabbed lunch at “La Casa de Socorro”. Cute place with great food, I had fish cooked in a tomato broth accompanied by patacones and rice. After lunch we walked around Getsemani in search for a famous park (which we never found). Either way, as we were walking around we saw this dinosaur looking birds and to our surprise they were Andean Condors. The wing span is about 10 feet, it was fantastic.
As we made our way back to the hotel, we stoped at one of the corner street vendors to get some sweets and replenish our energy to be ready for the night. After a well deserved nap, we went for dinner to “1621”, probably the fanciest place we went to. This restaurant is located inside one of the old convents (Convento de Santa Clara). They have a beautiful garden where you can enjoy a magical dinner with your loved one. Although it was a bit pricy and the ambiance was amazing, the food wasn’t as good as El Santisimo. They combine Colombian and French techniques, using all fresh local fruits and seafood. We tried the smoked octopus and oxtail. Both very tender and savory. Definitely worth the try, at least for the beautiful candlelight garden.
*Tip of the day. Be sure to call ahead to any restaurant and make reservations, most places require a reservation. If you don’t think you can get through a whole phone conversation in Spanish, ask your hotel concierge for help.
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Day Four 7/3 Monday
For today we booked a day tour to “Islas Rosario” through our hotel concierge. We had looked into booking it on TripAdvisor but I’m glad we didn’t. The price online for any tour to the islands was double of what we paid. A van picked us up at the hotel and brought us to the port where all the boats to the islands leave from, from there it was about a one hour boat ride. The island we went to is called “Isla del Sol”, it is one of 23 islands off the coast of Cartagena. This small island has a small boutique hotel, the rooms are just bungalows that sit along the beach. Once we arrived to the island and got all set up, we jumped in the ocean since it looked so calm and refreshing. The snorkeling was amazing, I saw a couple schools of fish, coral and lots of wild life in the water. After we relaxed for a while (had some drinks, patacon and arepas) we asked one of the locals if we could be granted permission to visit the town, to what he responded very happy that it was his pleasure to show us around. This island has a population of 200 people give or take, 90% of those people never leave the island. It was definitely a great experience to see how they live, and how they are basically self sustainable. There are no motorized vehicles, and the only means of electricity are solar panels. As we walked through the town we saw the little town center, and the small town church. At the end of the trail a canoe was awaiting to take us through the mangroves. This was pretty cool and a bit creepy. Very quite and calm, the only thing we saw were these little crabs, birds and the biggest termite mounds I have ever seen. So after about 2 hours of venturing around we made it back to the beach for lunch, beer and a long nap. And just like that before we know it, it was time to go back to the mainland.
As usual, we went out for dinner but since we were tired from the long day all we decide to try Colombian hot dogs. They put small skinny French fries, cheese and bacon, a little different but good. Tonight was an early night since we were beat from the sun and the long day.
*Tip of the day. Ask your hotel for options and ideas for tours. They usually know someone in town that does tours and can get you a better price than booking it online or buying it from a random person on the street offering tours.
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Day three 7/2 Sunday.
We ended up, getting up early to take a taxi to what I would call a locals only beach (Bocagrande), in a section of Cartenga called the new city or Miami. This was an experience on its own. While walking to the beach from the taxi, we got approached by a man stating that he run the beach. His name was Cuco, his services included setting up an umbrella with chairs, a table and table service for whatever we needed. So that just what we did. The price wasn’t to bad, approximately $20 USD for the entire day. He even offered to scare away any vendors that harassed us. First things first, we ordered a cooler of beer, you get a cooler full of beer and only pay for the beers you drink. Over all it was about $5 USD for a twelve pack. Colombia has a delicious refreshing beer called “Club Colombia” be sure to try it. After a few beers we decided to cool off and jumped in the ocean. After a little swim, hunger kicked in so we order food from Cuco. He recommended getting grilled fish. This was absolutely one of the best fish I’ve ever had, it came with yuca fries and Sancocho (fish soup), although it was a little too hot for soup it is a Colombian tradition. It was a hole fish grilled, salted, so simple yet so delicious. It was the perfect lunch on the beach. As the sun started to go down, we decided to head back to the hotel to get ready for another night our in town.
We decided to go back to Mistura that night and enjoy a couple tapas while listening to the live salsa band. That night we took it slow since we had a long day planed ahead for the following day.
*Tip of the day. Don’t be afraid to ask the locals where to hang out. Every place we went, we felt safe and people were friendly all around. Even if you don’t speak Spanish. Trying to speak a few words, people definitely appreciate the effort.
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