Mar 152012

Needless to say, the next few months is going to be incredibly busy! Starting this weekend, I have 6 big trips planned in the next three months. Short story is:

Ski and birthday weekend in Mont Tremblant, Quebec
Four days of diving in Grand Cayman, getting SCUBA certified
Then, a few days later, off to Oahu, Hawaii for a welcome home
After that, I’ll actually stay put a few days before it’s off to Nepal, Bhutan, Seychelles, Sudan, and Bulgaria
Work a few days, then off to Ottawa, Ontario to run the Ottawa marathon
…and from there, I fly straight to Longyearbyen, Norway, at 78 degrees north latitude, for the Spitsbergen Marathon 6 days later!

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Mar 092012

Count stands at 109, and in May, I have a trip to get five more countries already booked.  Nepal, Bhutan, Seychelles, Sudan, and Bulgaria (strange combo, for sure) are already done.  That marks 114.

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Mar 082012

I like to think I’ve been some pretty out of the way places – Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

However, anyone who checks out the VICE Guide travel website – especially their guide to the Democratic Republic of Congo – will realise there’s a whole different world out there that’s even more off the beaten path. This isn’t your mother’s Starbucks – even if she lives in Fairfax VA and openly totes her firearms at Starbucks. Just watch their video – it’s some pretty amazing stuff!

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Mar 072012

So far, I’ve been to 109 of the 194 UN members, which leaves me 85 countries yet to go.  I have plans for at least 7 more of them, leaving me a list of 78 to go.  So, I was thinking today – what are going to be some of the most difficult ones left for me?

A few thoughts on the matter: Continue reading »

Mar 032012

So, I told myself I would ignore this merger.  It was a bigger route network, more options, and in the end after the teething pains…it would be good!

…but then, I found an amazing fare for a trip I have planned in May, and had to get it booked before it went away.  That meant doing it before midnight when United does a giant database dump into SHARES – the Continental reservation system – and then it gets rebranded on the Interwebz as United.  So many things that can go wrong, but I choose to believe they’ve tested this to death and for those of us who already combined our United and Continental accounts online…it will hopefully be a no-brainer.  Of course…we’ll see in 90 minutes.

I have a few more tickets to book, but I’ve decided to hold off.  That may end up screwing me, or it may end up helping.  Time will tell…but after 109 countries visited I guess I’m used to a bit of risk.  Risk is a loaded term, especially in the US.  It’s taken to mean things that could go wrong…when in actuality, risk could also mean rewards.  That’s what I’m hoping we might see out of this.

On that note…how about you?  Did you go through the big Delta/Northwest merger?  Are you ready for the big United/Continental merger tonight?  Are you taking steps to protect yourself, or are you rolling the dice and hoping it all works out

Mar 022012

Initially, I wasn’t really sure if I was going to blog this trip.  After 108 countries, it felt really odd to me to do what is a bit of a stereotypical trip, and just head to a Caribbean beach resort, more or less park yourself there, and enjoy the sun, camaraderie, and cocktails.  But then again, reflecting on what an absolutely amazing trip it was…how could I not!  I’ll try and make this post an appropriate blend of airline geekery, resort reviews, and…well, everything else!

In honesty, I had no idea how to prepare for this trip.  Even after being to 108 countries, it was going to be a very new experience for me in a lot of ways.  I’m used to hopping from country to country, taking in new places.  I’m not used to parking at a resort, not planning much of anything…and just seeing what the day(s) bring.  I have to admit, it was a great experience, and I can’t wait to repeat it.  There are still several more countries in the Caribbean I need to visit, so…

Fast forward to the first flights.  Everyone had beaten me down there by a day (boo work!) so I decided to get down asap, and that meant taking the Jersey Shore express.  There was a fantastic fare which guaranteed instant upgrade on United (dba Continental) and I booked it and we were off!

ExpressJet Flight 4327 (for Continental)
Washington National (DCA) to Newark (EWR)
Depart 6:30, Arrive 7:40
Embraer ERJ-145, Registration N17984, Manufactured 2000
Seat 2A

Not terribly much if anything to say on this flight. We took off in the freezing cold 5 minutes early, landed almost 20 minutes early, and the connection at Newark was incredibly early. I think I attempted to do the crossword on the flight, but sleep definitely won out. Nothing to say, but move on to the next flight:

Continental Flight 1514
Newark (EWR) to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ)
Depart 9:22, Arrive 14:17
Boeing 737-800, Registration N33262, Manufactured 2001
Seat 1B

When I booked nearly a month out, I was surprised to find only one first class seat for sale…and soon I found out why. I was on the Jersey Shore Express, with a group of 12 guys headed down there for a bachelor party soon to be followed by a wedding. It may have been 9am, but that didn’t stop this group from drinking the plane absolutely dry by the time we landed. Ok, I admit, in the last hour I tucked into the Continental secret stash that most people don’t know about – the pre-mixed margaritas. Also, coincidentally, the only alcohol left on the plane. 😉 Crew was great dealing with a very raucous group of passengers, and soon we’d landed. Unfortunately, the meal was so unmemorable I couldn’t tell you anything about it…but as fast as the flight went by that’s probably a good thing!

Upon arrival, it was a circus like I’ve never seen. I’ve dealt with some pretty messy immigration systems that give you the run around in an attempt to extract “happy weekend money” or the like, but this was just like a mass orchestrated ATM. Get in line here, pay your “tourist card” fee there, no smiles, stamp through with no questions…it just felt like they were milking the tourists, and it wasn’t honestly a great introduction. Thanks to a friend, I’d pre-arranged a taxi to the resort which was a good thing since it seems pretty much everyone arrives here as part of a package tour. They’re just not used to independent travelers showing up. More on that later!

Soon, we arrived at the Gran Bahia Principe Resort. Check-in was easy, the “all-inclusive” wristband was applied, and it was time for a bit of fun! First, some shots of the property:

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