Surf and Turf in Santa Teresa

Pura Vida! Pura Vida! Pura Vida!
I have heard these two words several times a day during my stay here in Costa Rica. Pura Vida is directly translated "pure life" and is used in conversation and as a greeting everywhere. Whether I am buying a bottle of water, walking past someone or out in the surf lineup, these words are spoken with dignity, pride and a clever smile.

It makes sense to me now. These words actually are everything that Costa Rica is and how Ticos (locals) live their life. They are friendly, kind and laidback people and seem to be living a healthy lifestyle. Their food is organic, fresh and fabolous. No wonder people are happy in this country.

As I get on the bus to my next destination, the driver welcomes me with the magic words: "pura vida".

A four and a half hour bus ride takes me from Tamarindo to a small surf town on the south west corner of Peninsula de Nicoya. The dusty, dirty, rugged beachtown Santa Teresa is a favorite spot among surfers and yoga enthusiasts. Being both, I am sure this place is everything I have been dreaming about and more. It is more a long strip of dirt road with surrounding cafes, hotels and restaurants, than a city center. On the left side of the road you have jungle. On the other side of the jungle you will find miles and miles of pristine beach.

In Santa Teresa you will find more ATV's than cars and more surfers and "dirty" backpackers than package tourists. The beach is crowded with surfers and dogs, and the lack of restaurants, umbrellas and sunbeds makes this area feel less touristy and less explored than Tamarindo.

The wildlife is more visible and diverse here than in Tamarindo. I see and hear both white faced capuchins and howler monkeys everywhere. There are species of birds that I did not see further north and the iguanas are bigger and more colourful.

I am realizing that good food is the standard in this country, not the exception.

I start my days with a huge and healthy breakfast at the Zwart cafe. A cool, artsy, all white and dusty vegeterian/vegan/healthy cafe. This place has a variety of tasty smoothies and coffees. It is a bit pricy, but well worth it.

A big lunch after a long day of surfing is not just a luxury, it is a necessity. A short walk from Zwart cafe you will find a great burger joint called Rancho burger. This place makes amazing vegeterian, meat, shrimp and tuna steak burgers; just what you need after a long day in the water. The staff is super friendly and it is not too expensive.

Sushi! Sushi! Sushi! I would recommend to visit Santa Teresa for several reasons, one being the fresh fish and the excellent sushi. Emo sushi located in "town" serve a great lunch box for about ten dollars. The other sushi place is a bit harder to find. For the locals or anyone carrying a Lonely Planet book it is a well known spot. Kooji sushi is run by a Japanese surfer who makes sushi so good that he can have his restaurant in the middle of nowhere and still be fully booked every night. Dont miss this one!

Santa Teresa is not just for surfers. It is a great place to stay if you want a beach that feels untouched and not too touristy.

Do:
Get up early and take advantage of the wide and long beach. Bring your running shoes or yoga mat and exercise with a view.
Score cheap deals on accommodation and splurge on the amazing food.
Rent a surfboard and learn how to surf.
Watch the amazing sunsets from the beach.

My Norwegian Roadtrip part one

Norwegians are famous for chitchatting a lot about the weather. It is perhaps not so odd when you notice how much it can change during the course of one day. It may snow in morning, rain in the afternoon and be sunny and warm at night. This is one of the reasons why so many Norwegians prefer to go overseas for their summer vacation instead of traveling in their own country.

It gets pretty cold here throughout the year so I understand why you want to go some place with consistent weather when you finally have your vacation. That does not mean that you can’t get amazing summer vacations here. At my previous job in Stavanger I would meet and talk to a lot of foreign visitors. The feedback I got from travelers varied so much and almost always the conversation came back to the weather. Some people have traveled to Lofoten or taken the Hurtigruta ferry and had amazing weather with long warm summer nights and they could not speak fonder of the country. Others come back from a 2-week trip in rain and terrible conditions and said they would never come back. 

This year I wanted to experience Norway. I wanted to see the beautiful mountains and fjords and discover more of what is right outside my doorstep. I prepared myself for unpredictable weather conditions and bought warm and waterproof clothes, hiking shoes and a tent.

Early this June I started my road trip from Folldalen in the middle of Norway. My first goal was to get to Åndalsnes. The drive from Folldalen to Åndalsnes was about 170-kilometer long. In one hour of driving the scenery changed from green forests and narrow roads to a white winter wonderland. When I approach the top end of the Romsdal Valley about 40 kilometers from Åndalsnes I made my first stop in Verma.

I stopped in Verma to check out the most photographed Railway Bridge in Norway of all time. The unusually named Chicken Bridge is a beautiful bridge in its own, but it is also a part of a spectacular train journey called The Rauma Railway. The bridge is built 200 feet above the river and underneath you have the powerful Vermafossen. To get to the bridge you must stop at the convenience store across the street and walk 250 meters down a narrow path.

After a short stop I continue driving through The Romsdalen valley. This long and narrow road with majestic towering mountains on each side was seriously affecting my driving. I drove past Trollveggen, Europe’s tallest vertical, overhanging rock face. On the opposite side of the valley, the Romsdalshorn peak towers. I was blown away by the majestic looking mountains on both sides. It is definitely hard to keep your eyes on the road when the scenery is that breathtaking.

After about 2 hours of driving I arrived in Åndalsnes. I drove around to find a campsite and a tourist office. My main reason for visiting Åndalsnes was to hike Romsdalseggen. Romsdalseggen is a mountain ridge that runs between Venjesdalen and Åndalsnes. It offers splendid views of some of the wildest mountains in Norway. The hike takes about 7-8 hours and you can choose between 3 different tracks. Usually a bus from the center of Åndalsnes takes you to Venjesdal and you walk over the mountain and end up back in Åndalsnes.

Unfortunately, this year the bus did not start running until the 01st of July and the locals told me that there was too much snow on the mountain to walk safely yet. Again we come back to Norway and weather. The year before people hiked Romsdalseggen without problems in late May.

Luckily there is plenty of other cool stuff to do in Åndalsnes. 537 meters above sea level they have built a lookout tower that is nothing less than spectacular. The hike is classified as a moderate hike, however I found it to be quite steep. I would say the whole hike takes about 2-3 hours. The trail made from excellent Sherpa architecture makes it easier to climb. When you reach the tower walk all the way out to the tip and enjoy a breathtaking view over the valley and Åndalsnes town.

If you are traveling to Norway in July or August this year Åndalsnes and the areas around is worth checking out. There is a music festival in Åndalsnes from the 30th of July to the 01st of August with scandinavian bands and hopefully nice weather.

 

Incredible India

Forget everything familiar, forget toilet paper, clean air and traffic rules.

Buckle up and get ready for a real culture shock. Welcome to my favorite country, India !

Two pale Norwegians stand stunned in the streets of New Delhi whilst looking at the chaos that has surrounded them. Hundreds of "rickshaws " ( India's answer to taxis ) , sacred cows and monkeys. There is garbage and people everywhere. Our noses now have a black interior cause of all exhaust, it is 45 degrees and we are to put it lightly; pretty damn confused. This is as far from Norway and Norwegian culture that I have ever been.

Everywhere you hear honking from cars andj buses. After having seen a sign behind the bus that says "Horn Please" understands why. Indians use the horn to signal the most, and it is perhaps not so surprising when none of the cars have side mirrors and no one seems to follow traffic rules. We put ourselves into a taxi, and the man behind the wheel tells us that there are three things you need in order to survive as a taxi driver in New Delhi: "good horn , good breaks and good luck ." During an hour of driving, we were confident that we saw our life in revue at least five times.


Like so many other tourists before us , we came to New Delhi to travel around in the " golden triangle ". To see the world famous temples and experience this country that so many are talking about. Taj Mahal, Agra Fort , Jama Masjid Mosque , the pink old city of Jaipur, the list is endless . And the temples are amazing! It is not without reason that the Taj Mahal is on the list of the seven manmade wonders.


But India has more than just temples to show off . Here are the people least equally fascinating , because of their English - Indian accent , strange hodevugging (which we today do not know about means yes , no or maybe) , their way of staring at (preferably in a few hours and with mouth open), and their unfathomable funny way and haggle over . The lovely ladies with gold jewelry in the face, long black braids and beautiful saris in all colors of the rainbow . Children playing cricket and men hanging in the streets and spitting red after chewing " pan " in too many hours . India is undoubtedly a photographer dream place


When strolling along the streets in India will be encountered and constantly hit by fumes from spice mixes that make you hungry, even if you've just eaten . Indians are known for their pureness with recipes that have been passed down through generations , including Masalaa , chutneys and naan bread in all varieties. In addition there are so cheap that you almost do not believe it is possible . For two Norwegians who are accustomed to frozen pizza and ketchup result was two months of burning stomach and frequent toilet visits. Yet it must be said : better food should look long for !


The food was actually so good that we decided to take a cooking course while we were in India. We had gotten tips from other backpackers to visit a lady named Shashi, a woman who turned out and have an incredible life story. Many years back, her husband was killed and she was left with three young boys whom she had raising alone. In a year she had to sit in his apartment wearing a black sari and grieve, which is "normal" practice of a widow who has been married to a Brahmin (the top of castes in India). It had so happened that the widows could not work in this period, she was dependent for survival. The house Sashi and her children lived in belonged to her husband's family, who would not have anything to do with them. Water and electricity supply was turned off, and therefore had Shashi start working in the alley as a Husvask. At four o'clock in the morning, every day, she sneaked out to wash people's houses, and snuck back before anyone could see her. This she did for until one day she got an idea to teach tourists how to make Indian food. This proved to be a business she could live well off and she got sent all three sons in college. Shashi was just one of the wonderful people we met on our journey, which made the impression of India into something quite special.


For many tourists are India either somewhere you love , or a place you hate . There is so much of everything, and it can quickly become very intense . There are moments where you think , " what the hell have I gotten myself into ?" . For those considering a trip to India , I have some tips : " go with the flow " of meanings and add Jante Law and rules your home. Then you will find a country that surprises and charms you. A land full of colors, sounds and smells that your senses will never forget.

Around the world for free

Sometimes I meet people that say: “oh, I wish I had more money so I could travel more”
I respond: “you don’t need money to travel; you just need internet and some imagination”

WWOOFING
WWOOF is short for World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farms. Their concept is; you work on a farm in exchange for food and accommodation. On their website wwoof.net you can find information on each country and which farms are in the program. I clicked on my own country, Norway and was redirected to their Norwegian page. This page had a map that showed the different farms around the country, information about transportation and our food traditions and customs. It costs 15 euros per year to be a member. If you want to travel for free in a relatively expensive country like Norway, this might be the way to go.

http://www.wwoof.net/welcome-to-wwoof/

WORKAWAY

At workaway.info you will find families, organizations and people from all over the world who offer accommodation and food in return for manual labour. You can work with anything from painting, planting flowers, carpentry work, , cooking, babysitting to helping out with web design. Their philosophy is: "A few hours honest help per day in exchange for food and accommodation and an opportunity to learn about the local lifestyle and community, with friendly hosts in varying situations and surroundings". Again I looked up my own country and under the lists of hosts I fond and opportunity to work with husky’s and reindeer in the Northern parts of Norway. Talk about a win-win situation. I`m in!

http://www.workaway.info/

COUCHSURFING
If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past years you have probably heard about couch surfing. Their website has over 7 million users in more than 100.000 cities. Their concept is basically, you sleep on someone couch or where they have a place for you, for free. To do this you have to have faith in the fact that there are nice people just like you around the world, who just wants to get to know other travelers and that are happy to help out. I know a lot of people who use this regularly when traveling and they have gotten to know some nice people and seen some awesome places, without spending money on accommodation. Couch surfing can also give you an inside look into the locals way of life.

https://www.couchsurfing.org/

HITCHHIKING

When I tell my friends and family about the time I picked up a hitchhiker in Australia they say: “are you crazy? That could have been dangerous”. Yes, hitchhiking or picking up a stranger can be dangerous, but it can also be a really cool and inexpensive way to travel the world. The rule her is don’t do it alone and choose the right country and place for it. In some countries, such as New Zealand, France or Spain it is quite common and accepted to hitchhike. I have picked up hitchhikers in Norway and I have never had any problems. Again you have to trust the fact that there are nice, friendly people everywhere and be willing to try something new.

BLABLACAR

If you find hitchhiking to scary there are other, inexpensive ways to get around. BlaBlaCar is a website where you can find people offering a seat in their car, in exchange for gas money. I went on their website today and found 13 cars driving from Oslo, Norway to places like Lofoten Islands, Gothenburg and even Paris. One car offered a ride to Gothenburg for 1 pound. It does not get much cheaper than that.

http://www.blablacar.com/

GOMORE

In Denmark this website has become very popular. It is, like blablacar a way for people to hitch rides with one another in exchange for gas money. It is inexpensive and helps save the environment. Definitely worth checking out if you are ever in Scandinavia.

https://gomore.no

Good Luck!

Where to go in 2015

Despite both terrorist threats and the Ebola virus, over 1.1 billion people chose to travel in 2014. Now it's 2015's and the tourism industry is predicting the best destinations and countries to travel to this year. "The cheapest places to travel in 2015, "the best places to go in 2015" and " this years travel trends are," to name a few. I wanted to make my own list.

My list consists of places I want to travel to in 2015. It is a mix of beach, nature, city, wildlife, sports and arctic paradise. I have chosen these places after getting advice from friends, reading articles and books that inspired me and exciting lectures I have attended.

Where I would like to go in 2015:

Cuba
In light of recent political changes, Cuba is my first destination. After decades of disagreements and conflicts between the US and Cuba it seems like they have finally started to negotiate and communicate again. Making it possible for Americans to go to the country that is so close yet has been so far away for such a long time. The Cuban government is now making it possible for private companies to develop and offer tourist experiences. Most likely the country will go through several changes in the years to come. Making this the perfect year to visit “the old Cuba”, before it is too late.

Galapagos Islands
Galapagos is a volcanic paradise in the Pacific. This place has long been at the top of my bucket list. The island is protected and has a strict policy when it comes to tourism. It is one of few places in the world that has put a price tag and population/tourist limit on admission. The limit is 60,000 people per year, and with an ever-increasing population growth, and interest in authentic nature experiences, I see the Galapagos as a place one should travel before it becomes too difficult or too expensive to go. Galapagos is known for its rare animal species, flora and fauna. On the archipelago, one can find the world's smallest penguins, sea lions, land and sea turtles, flamingos and in the ocean you will find schools of hammerheads and manta rays. If you love nature and wildlife this could be your dream destination.

Kauai,
For a lot of people and myself included Hawaii is the ultimate holiday destination. Kauai is one of the places I would like to put a red pin on in 2015. Here you can soar over tropical valleys, paddle onto small and virtually inaccessible beaches, go swimming in caves and surf fantastic waves. The culture of the island is very much influenced by ancient Hawaiian traditions. Here you will find families living a very relaxed life and the place is known for its hospitality. No buildings are higher than coconut trees and the cities have less than 10.000 inhabitants. This small island has managed to preserve something that very few places in the world have. A calm and balanced paradise, where only the luckiest live and tourists visiting get to see a small glimpse of.

Morocco
I was recently in Morocco and I fell in love with this exciting country. I'd really like to go back and experience more areas and cities. I would love to walk the streets of Marrakesh, go skiing in the Atlas Mountains, eat amazing food in Fez, take photos in the blue city Chefchaouen and surf on the many magnificent beaches. For people living in Europe, Morocco has become a more accessible destination in recent years. The Norwegian Airline Norwegian is one of many budget airlines offering affordable travel to both Agadir and Marrakesh throughout the year. Hurry up and travel to this superb country before the rest of Europe finds out how good it is.

Japan
The mixture of old culture and new is something that fascinates me. Japan is a great example of a country that mixes ancient traditions with modern technology. I would love to attend one of the many music festivals in Japan, photograph the colorful and beautiful Harajuku ladies in Tokyo, get a real bamboo tattoo from an old Japanese tattoo artist in the old district of Kyoto, eat the best sushi in the world and take the fast and very punctual Shinkansen that is said to be an attraction as much as a means of transportation.

 
Myanmar
After decades of military rule and civil war Myanmar is finally a relatively peaceful country. Since 2011, the country has taken small steps towards democracy, with the release of Daw Aung San Su Kyi and the inauguration of new representatives in the parliament. Myanmar has to a certain extent been cut off from tourism, which has made the country a well-preserved Asian gem. Myanmar has beautiful beaches like and longer coastline than Thailand. Wild jungle, beautiful pagodas scattered across the country and an old and well-preserved culture. Last year Myanmar had a record high number of tourists and I think this is an absolute must-see country for 2015. Maybe Myanmar can give travelers the experience backpackers had arriving in Thailand 30-40 years ago.

Sri Lanka
East of India's southern tip lays this exciting country formerly known as Ceylon. Sinhalese and Tamils onstitute a large part of the population, which holds just over 20 million people. The country has for several years been characterized by ethnic and religious differences, which have led to several violent battles. In 2009 the civil war ended and Sri Lanka was a "safe" place travel. Because of the civil war Sri Lanka has not had as much tourism as the country's climate, beaches and natural resources would suggest. And when the great tsunami hit in 2004 it destroyed over 70% of the coastal areas, killing thousands of people. Over the past five years this country has slowly piled itself back on its feet.

In Sri Lanka there are large climatic differences between the rain forests in the southwest, mountainous areas in the middle of the island and the somewhat drier areas in the north and east. These differences make Sri Lanka a great destination year round. The west coast rainy season starts in May and ends in October and the east coast gets most of the rain from November to January. Like I have said in previous blog posts I am a huge fan of India and Indian culture, food and traditions, and according to friends who have traveled to both India and Sri Lanka; it is very similar in many ways. I am convinced that this is THE place to go in 2015 and I am hoping I get a chance to go this year.

Helsinki, Finland
When I travel in Northern Europe, it is often to Denmark. But this year, I would like to take a trip to the magnificent capital of Finland, to find out if Helsinki is more than just heavy metal and sauna. People I have talked to brag about how great the capitol is with its free museums, special shopping experiences and bustling nightlife. I would like to see the hip and up and coming area of Kallio's hip that was named one of the world's coolest new neighborhoods in the same competition to as Grünerløkka.

Greenland
The world's largest ice-covered island ironically named Greenland. The island has an extremely low population density, which is perhaps not so surprising, considering temperatures never rise above 20 degrees. As described in the countries official website the local depends on hunting, fishing, Internet and each other. Apart from the beautiful scenery and exciting wildlife, including musk oxen and polar bears, the island offers a whole range of extreme sport- and adventure activities for visitors and locals. In recent years Greenland has invested heavily in adventure based tourism and offers mountaineering, heli-skiing, diving, sailing, ski touring, kayaking and whale watching, to name a few. If you like extreme sports (as I do), wild and beautiful scenery and want to get away from city life this might be the place you should visit in 2015.

Costa Rica
After dreaming of going to this country for a long time this February I finally got to go.  I wanted to experience this eco paradise with jungle, sloths, beautiful beaches and pleasant climate. Costa Rica is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and I can understand why. One of the country's main incomes is precisely tourism and the markets itself as a leader in ecotourism. They are helping to promote a sustainable way to develop tourism on, which is reflected in the activities they offer. Despite the size of this small country, they contain 5% of the world's biodiversity and a quarter of the country's protected areas and national parks. I got the pleasure of spending a whole month in this wonderful country, and used our days to surf, do yoga on the beach, the better Spanish my skills, get to know great people from around the world and last but not least, enjoy life.

 

Planning my Norwegian Adventure

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G.K Chesterton wrote:

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot  on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

It is presisely this I have been doing over the last few years. I have focused so much on traveling to other countries that I havent noticed what's right outside my own doorstep. Now that the Norwegian currency is relatively low compared to what is has been, and traveling abroad is more expensive, it is the perfect time for Norwegians to make their own country their next holiday destination. For the next two months I will explore what Norway has to offer. I have spent the last two weeks researching where to go, what sort of transportation I should use and what kind of activities I would like to try. I love extreeme sports and challenging activities. So the main focus for this first trip is mountain hiking, kajaking, rock climbing, snowboarding and trying out Europe's longest suspension bridge.

When I was reading about what kind of activities the different regions in Norway has to offer, I was pleasantly surprised. There has been a tremendous improvement in tourism management in Norway and it is definetely showing. Norway is to many foreign visitors a dream destination and I feel incredibly lucky and privileged that I can spend two months exploring my own country this summer.
For transportation I will be using my own car and for accommodation I will be camping with a tent. I have purchased an outdoor cooker and some easy to cook camping meals. After this trip I hope I will be able to show both Norwegian and foreign tourists that anyone can travel around in Norway on a budget.

My plan for the first three weeks are:

Romsdalseggen

Romsdalseggen is a mountain ridge that lies between Venjesdale, Åndalsnes and Romsdal. The hike up the mountains is approximately 10 kilometers long and the highest peak is at about 1300 m.

Trollstigen

Trollstigen is one of the 18 national tourist routes and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Historic Trollstigen has 11 turns and runs between deep fjords and valleys. The 106 kilometer long trip starts off at Sogge Bridge in Romsdalen and ends up at Langvatnet on Strynefjellet.

Geirangerfjord

This 15 km long fjord is located in Sunnmøre, Møre and Romsdal. The fjord is also a world heritage site and in 2006 it was voted the best-preserved World Heritage site by National Geographic. The fjord is one of Norway's most visited tourist destinations with more than 700,000 tourists each year.

Via Ferrata Loen

In Loen there is a newly built climbing route that takes you 1010 meter above sea level. This route takes you to a wonderful viewpoint, but also the longest suspension bridge in Europe. Opened in 2013, this 160 meters long spectacular bridge provides views of Lodalen, Oldedalen, Skåla and mountains towards Jostedalsbreen.

Stryn summer ski

Skiing in shorts and a t-shirt? In Norway, this is possible. 45 km east of Stryn you will find Tystigbreen glacier situated more than 1000 meters above sea level. The ski resort offers varoius terrain, tour and freeride opportunities.

Voss ekstremsportveko

Voss has long been the center for extreme sports in Norway. Every year, since 1998, the city arranges an extreme sport festival in late June. It has become one of the world's largest and most successful sporting events.

Flåmsbanen

Flam Railway is one of the worlds most spectacular train journeys. The 20-kilometer long train ride runs between Flåm deep in Aurlandsfjord to the mountain station Myrdal 866 meters above sea level. Along the ride you will see rivers that cut through deep ravines, waterfalls cascading down steep mountain sides, and small farms clinging to steep slopes. Travel giant Lonely Planet set Flåmsbana in first place on their list "The World's most incredible train journeys in 2014".

Folgefonna ski center

Folgefonna is Norway's third largest glacier. It is located on the Folgefonn peninsula in Hardanger and covers areas in Jondal, Ullensvang, Odda, Etne and Kvinnherad.  Like Stryn it is the perfect destination for skiing and snowboarding in the summertime.

Trolltunga

Spectacular Trolltunga has gotten everyone attention. This huge piece of rock "hanging" about 700 meters above Ringedalsvannet in Skjeggedal is both breathtaking and scary at the same time. The view from Trolltunga is mildly spectacular and is the perfect place to take pictures. The hike up takes about 8-10 hours and is regarded as a relatively challlenging route.

 

Sun and Surf in Taghazout

Lonely Planet recently named Morocco among its “Top Ten Countries to Visit in 2015.” I was able to beat them to it, and experience a small part of this country before 2014 had passed.

There are many reasons why Morocco makes this list. The country has spectacular mountains and deserts, exciting markets, charming cities, and a coastline with beautiful beaches.

To me, Morocco is synonymous with surfing. This country’s coast has perfect conditions for beginners and professionals alike. Beach and point breaks in warm waters offers us northerners a cheap and easy excuse to get out of our thick winter wetsuits.

As a result of increased and cheaper flights, Morocco has become an increasingly popular destination amongst Europeans. For us Norwegians, budget airlines such as Norwegian has direct flights to both Marrakech and Agadir from Oslo.

We arrive at Agadir and travel by taxi to our final destination: A charming little surf village. It is only a short distance away from Agadir, but is more relaxing and also less modern than Agadir. Morocco is a country where you can find big, modern cities, as well as smaller - almost untouched - villages, such as Taghazout. The trip here is a gift to my partner. After having heard all kinds of praise about this place over the last four years, I simply had to see it with my own eyes.

The little town is colored by its tourism: Surfing and backpacking. Its cafés and restaurants serve food and drinks inspired by this, and every store on every corner is both selling and renting surfboards and wetsuits. There are many surf schools and hostels here that offer surf deals and courses to travelers. I often see both Western and Moroccan youths with boards under their arms and wetsuits around their waists. There’s a soothing, laidback atmosphere here that is quite different from what you hear tourists visiting Marrakech or Agadir have experienced.

There’s something special about old traditions meeting modern trends. It is fascinating to watch surfers stroll down the beach next to camels, and how they still make tagine in simple earthenware pots, while the restaurant next door serves double cheeseburgers with fries and milkshake. Taghazout is one of many tourist destinations where old traditions meets the new and modern, but I feel this clash was more present here than any other place I’ve been. The old traditional Muslim culture meets, both with and without resistance, the new Western inspired culture. The young Moroccan guys wear surfshorts and baseball caps, speak good English, and spend their day surfing and working with tourists. They have dogs as pets, and eat burgers at night. They don’t necessarily go to prayer five times a day, even though they call themselves believers. There is a generation gap, and a culture in change - with or without help from tourists.

You won’t notice the same nagging from hawkers and vendors here as in the bigger cities or more popular tourist destinations. A man comes by us with his camel, wondering if we would like a ride in the sunset. Later on, another man asks if we would like to ride his horse along the shore. An elderly man would like to sell us some assorted nuts, but otherwise we’re mostly left alone to enjoy the sun and the beach with other surfers from around the world. I asked the men offering rides if I could photograph them riding in exchange for the nuts I bought earlier. Confused, they wondered why I wanted to photograph them instead of me.

It’s easy to notice that we’re in a Muslim country. Several times a day you hear prayer from a speaker that sounds all over the village. Perhaps the most sensational, and to me most positive, about Moroccan culture is the absence of alcohol and drunk people. It’s quite special to be in a small town with this many young tourists, that is so calm at night. The absence of alcohol keeps places like this from being ruined by drunk youths, something that’s unfortunately not that uncommon for tourist destinations where young people gathers.

I also feel I have to advertise our living arrangements in Taghazout a little. As it were, we lived at a friend of my partner’s, who he’d met four years ago when he last visited Taghazout.

Jamal, a young guy from Morocco started a backpacker hostel a little over a year ago. Since then, he has been host to backpackers and surfers from all over the world. This wonderful and hospitable boy makes the hostel a “home away from home” that it is difficult to leave. The hostel has two big terraces, and the absolute best of it is that one of them is at the rooftop with a splendid view of the town and ocean. It is perfect for morning yoga, watching the waves, eating breakfast, or watching the sunset. It is everything you can ever dream of.

The area surrounding Taghazout is quickly changing. The government has started building large hotels and golf resorts in an area dubbed Taghazout Bay. It may look as if this will become a copy of the tourist city Agadir.

Hopefully, Taghazout village will stay the pearl that it is. It is just dirty enough for backpackers to find it okay, and it is just cheap enough to attract non-professional surfers from around the world to revel in its waves and waters, and it more than charming enough for adventurous travelers like myself to visit and dream of returning soon.

One week passed, and I never traveled outside Taghazout. I had big plans to travel around and at least visit Marrakech, but the beauty of this place blew me away. I simply could not leave.

Rock Climbing Cat Ba Island

Extreme sports, like traveling have been a big part of my life. As a rock climbing instructor, a snowboarder and surfer, I usually travel somewhere I can practice at least one of the activities I like.

Over the years I have climbed various places around the world including Southeast Asia and Oceania. For me one of the most exciting parts of rock climbing in another country is meeting other local climbers and traveling to places that I normally wouldn't go.

I have traveled through Southeast Asia with my climbing shoes in my backpack, trying to find new places to climb. I went to the beautiful beaches of Ton Sai and Railay. I traveled north to the mountains around Chiang Mai. All of these places are well known to rock climbers around the world, and famous for the dry, hot weather, the Limestone Mountains and the beautiful scenery. There are other destinations in Southeast Asia that are lesser known for rock climbing, small towns in Laos and Vietnam with mountains and caves just ready to be explored. I found my favorite place in one of the most beautiful places on earth; Cat Ba Island in Vietnam. This place is perfect for rock climbing and over the last decade it has slowly become a popular destination for adventure travelers.

 

Cat Ba Island is the largest of 2000 limestone islands situated in The Gulf of Tonkin. These beautiful shaped islands rice up from the blue green ocean and form the famous Halong Bay. Halong Bay receives more than two million tourists per year. It was recently awarded with the prestigious new 7 wonders of nature and it has been on the UNESCO world heritage site list since 1994. Halong Bay is located on the northeast side of Vietnam, a three and a half hour drive outside of Hanoi.

 

Many years ago two American rock climbers cofounded a company called Slo Pony Adventures in the city center of Cat Ba Island. This was the first licensed rock climbing company in Vietnam. The company has been renamed  Asia Outdoor, and their office is located in a nice hotel in the city center. They rent out climbing gear, teach various levels of climbing courses, and offer trips and packages that involve climbing around the area. The instructors working at Asia Outdoor are both local Vietnamese climbers as well as international. They know the places on the island very well and they are talented, nice people. 

I stayed at this hotel for two weeks and tried both their courses and their trips. My favorite package was the full day boat trip. The boat would leave the harbor early in the morning, and slowly make its way out to Lan Ha Bay, a more quiet and less touristy are of Halong Bay. We had kayaks on the boat that we used to paddle into caves and onto beautiful small beaches. On these trips we would also use the kayaks to paddle towards the pillars and Deep Water Solo. Deep Water Soloing basically means climbing up from the ocean, without rope, as far up as you are able to and then jumping off the cliff into the ocean. This was so much fun!

On the boat we had a wonderful lunch with authentic, Vietnamese dishes and it was without a doubt one of the highlights of the trip. What I loved about this experience was meeting so many wonderful people from all over the world. On the boat we were always 6-10 people and we would spend the whole day together talking about out travels and listen to stories from all over the world.

Some days a group of us staying at the hotel would rent scooters and drive to a place called Butterfly Valley. Butterfly Valley is this beautiful lush, green area in the middle of the island, with a huge mountain wall perfect for rock climbing. This wall has routes for both beginners and advanced climbers and you can climb as high as 30 meters.

 

If you are not into rock climbing, don’t worry. Cat Ba Island has a lot to offer. There are pristine beaches around the island, perfect for relaxing, reading a book or going for a swim. I really liked the atmosphere on these beaches. Not to touristy, not to crowded. Just calm, quiet and beautiful.

If you want to be more active you can go on hiking trips in Cat Ba Islands National park. Asia Outdoor offers guided trips around the island that are well worth your time and money.

 

How much does this cost?

There are many hotels in the area to choose from, we payed around 70-80 kroner per night at the "climbers hotel". They also had an amazing dinner buffet for around 50 kroner per person.

The climbing trips and courses vary in price but expect somewhere between 200-300 kroner for a whole day, food and climbing gear included.

 

If you want to learn how to rock climb and experience one of the most beautiful places in the world at the same time, I really recommend making your way to Cat Ba Island. My plan was to stay in Halong Bay for a couple of days, and I ended up staying for two weeks.

For more information on Asia Outdoor click on the link:

http://www.asiaoutdoors.com.vn/

Tacos in touristy Tamarindo

After a 16 hour flight, I finally landed in Costa Rica. This country has been on my bucket list for years, and I am beyond excited to be here. I am on a one month journey around this green, wild, exotic, paradise of a country. Right now it is high season in Costa Rica and the climate is hot and dry. My plan for this month is to travel down the westcoast, starting off in the Nicoya Peninsula.

As I am writing this my first week has come to an end. During this week I have made my way from Liberia Airport to Tamarindo.

Tamarindo is Costa Ricas top surf and party destination, welcoming backpackers and holiday tourists from all over the world. It is the most developed beach on the Nicoya Peninsula with plenty of shops, restaurants, hostels, bars and five star hotels.

The beach in Tamarindo is long, wide and beautiful. Here you will find surfers, families and Ticos(locals) enjoying the sun and the warm, turquoise water. Like most touristy beaches you will also find sunbeds, umbrellas and people selling various items on the beach. The beach is perfect for anyone who would like to learn to surf. With small, mellow waves and warm water you can learn to pop up with or without help from the many surf schools in town.

The amazing thing about Tamarindo, besides the colourful sunsets you will see every night, is the delicious food. I did not know that I was going to experience food like this in a small surftown in Costa Rica. Being vegetarian, it is sometimes difficult to find good food when traveling. This was certainly not the case in Tamarindo. I followed my lonely planet guidebook of Costa Rica and went to a restaurant they recommended called Green Papaya. This hidden gem is tucked away from the main street, and not the easiest to find. But make sure you look for it, because the tacos and tortillas they serve will blow your mind! If you are feeling thirsty, try their homemade lemonade.

My next meal turned out to be even better. Following my LP book I went to Falafel Bar. This little middle eastern bar/cafe served the best falafel I have ever had. I also tried their delicious homemade hummus and Pita bread roasted in garlic. The owner is super friendly and the vibe is chill.

In a country like Costa Rica, wildlife surrounds you and is present everywhere. Waking up in the morning to the sound of monkeys. Watching and listening to the amazing varieties of birds. Squirrels playing and jumping from tree to tree and huge lizards sprinting through the grass and scaring the tourists after dark. I am blown away by the number and variety of animals, even in a touristy place like Tamarindo. I cannot wait to see what the rest of this country has to offer.

For a first-timer to central America, Tamarindo was a great way to start off, but as I moved further south I realized that this peninsula and this country has much more to offer. To me Tamarindo felt like a lesser developed Kuta Beach, a little too touristy and missing the local charm that I have been reading so much about.

Do: Buy a coconut on the beach, helps you hydrate and tastes damn good!
Rent a big surfboard and have fun in the warm water.
Eat at Green Papaya or Falafel Bar.
Watch the sunset while having a drink at one of the restaurants on the
beach.

Laos in my heart and in my mind

Mai 2009

A few days ago we spontaneously jumped on a flight from Bangkok to Laos. Without a guidebook or any  expectations we arrived in the capital Vientiane. It was early in may and the weather was amazing.

Vientiane was not the most exciting city I have been to, with the exception of Skandinavian Bakery and finally getting our hands on some "Norwegian" breakfast.  We rented a bicycle and went sightseeing for a couple of days before we decided to move on.

Our next stop was a destination we had heard a lot about from other backpackers traveling through South-East Asia. Some travelers described it as the best party place in the world. While others told us it was hell on earth. This crazy place was Vang Vieng. A tiny village in the mountains that became one of the biggest party places in all of South-East Asia.

In Vang Vieng Tubing is basically sitting inside of a blown up tire, floating down the river and in the case of Vang Vieng you float from bar to bar and get as drunk as possible. When you get back from a long day of tubing you can hang out at the many sandwich bars around town while watching friends on TV for hours and hours.

After a few days in Vang Vieng we had had more than enough and put us finally on a bus further north to Luang Prabang. This proved to be a charming little French-inspired city with exciting markets and nice cafes. From Luang Prabang we rented scooters and drove to a stunning waterfall, Kuang Si Falls. Both scooter ride up and the waterfall was absolutely stunning and without a doubt the highlight so far.

After a few lazy days in Luang Prabang we headed further north to a small town called Nong Kiawe. In Laos it is clear that the further north you go, the greener and more beautiful it becomes. There was generally little tourism and the local was incredibly nice and much appreciated to get tourists to visit. Here we finally got used climbing gear and explored the cliffs and caves. We bathed in the creeks and looked at the stars. It was the most starry sky I've ever seen.

We were a few extra days in Luang Prabang before we took a slow boat further upriver to a slightly smaller village. We have beautiful scenery in Norway, but this area was at least as beautiful and I imagine that it was the way it looked in parts of Thailand in the past. This small village had fantastic local food, lots of untouched forest and nature and the journey ended with a bit of an adventure.

Round the world tickets

Just decided to travel the world, and not yet booked your ticket? I have some advice that helped me when I was in the same situation.

A few years ago I bought a round the world ticket and it was the most inexpensive way I have ever traveled. I flew to 12 different countries, located in different continents and with great award winning airlines such as New Zealand and Singapore Airlines.

So instead of booking your flights with different airlines and paying more than you should, try an agency that specializes in round the world tickets.

Travel Nation is a British company that sells countless variations of round the world tickets at reasonable prices. They have great customer service and they will help you tailor the trip of your dreams. What I loved about Travel Nation was the inexpensive and easy way to change dates while traveling.

All round the world tickets booked with Travel Nation starts and ends in England. So for people living in Europe, it is just one short plane ride away.

They always have special offers under 1000 pounds.

https://www.travelnation.co.uk/