Nerdy Cat Scuba Travels

A Cat Lovin' Engineer taking a career break by traveling, doing a divemaster internship, and diving around the world

Category: Travels (page 2 of 3)

Experiences associated with traveling

How to get a refund from Hotwire Hotrates

Teaching in Monterey and living in San Jose can be inconvenient when I’m assisting both open water and advanced water courses. I used to drive back and forth but recently I started to stay at hotels for convenience.

Priceline and Hotwire

This is where Priceline and Hotwire come into play. Oftentimes I can book on these sites and save about $20-30 a night. The risk is that there is no cancellation.

I always have trip insurance (currently world nomads) so I’m covered for natural disasters and what not.

Trip insurance covers the following:

  • trip cancellation due to weather (flights only)
  • stolen / list items
  • medical coverage for unexpected events

My scuba course was recently canceled due to high waves/ swell in the area. I called world nomads and they said it wasn’t covered. So much for trip insurance.

I googled ways to get a hot rates Hotwire refund and found that some people were able to plead with the customer service representative for mercy. I tried my best and called customer service. Pleaded my case. Nope. The response was “my hands are tied with hot rates hotel reservations. We have a contract with he hotel that can not be broken.”

Well rats.

I waited a few days and called the hotel and explained to them that I was teaching a scuba course that got canceled at the last minute. I could reschedule when the class is sorted out. The woman was really nice and said to call her reservations department to cancel. So then another phone call and same explain to the reservations department. The woman was understanding and said she would cancel if she could, but the reservation is paid to Hotwire. I thought I was stuck but then she said something new….

I could call Hotwire back and explain that I talked with her and that the hotel approved of my cancellation and would allow me to get a refund. She gave me her name and contact info for reference.

The Solution: How to get a Refund

Next step- call Hotwire. I get another customer service agent. Instead of giving a sob story, I go staring into the information.

I understand it’s hot rates and no cancellation, but I spoke with the hotel and they agreed to cancel my reservation and that Hotwire can call them back for confirmation.

Instead of the usual “my hands are tied” he asks for the name of he representative I spoke with at the hotel and to wait a moment. He then puts me on hold while he calls the hotel.

Five minutes later he says they are going to refund me. Yay! So – in essence the hotrates hotel reservations can be canceled in the event that the hotel agrees to the cancellation and hasn’t received payment from Hotwire.

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-6-41-42-pm

I was so relieved. I haven’t tried this again, but I’m hoping I don’t have to. In some cases, I bet the customer service at other hotels might not be so accommodating.

Must See in Seattle

Every year my friends from Elementary school meet up for an anniversary celebration of friendship. This year was our 27th year anniversary. Usually for big anniversaries we go big, like 20th anniversary: Costa Rica. #25: Santa Barbara. This year we chose Seattle.

Here’s a quick video of all the fun we had while in the city:

We all have been to Seattle before, and did the usual tourist stuff. So for those interested in doing other things… here are some “not so obvious” things to do in Seattle.

Recommended Touristy Seattle Sights

1. Go in the summer time. The weather is perfect and the sun stays up late. Everyone seems to be in an overall happy mood.
2. Pikes Place. Everyone has to come here at least once. The fish market guys toss fish around while everyone has their iPhone out to capture the fun toss. Next to it you can take a pic next to a fat bronze pig.
Just a few steps down some stairs you can chew some gum and stick it on the wall with all the other tourists. I don’t know if Seattle occasionally chips off the gum, but the wall doesn’t look dramatically different from a few years ago.
Piroshky Piroshky: absolutely the most delicious flakey tasty treats on the block. The store is guaranteed to have a line wrap around, But it doesn’t seem to take so long before you can start chomping down.
3. Seattle Needle. A great view of the Seattle skyline. I bought tickets online and was able to skip most of the line.
4. Fremont Troll. The troll under the bridge. At first when someone told me about this, I thought they were joking. Some say a volkswagon bus was about to fall the road and a troll appeared from under the bridge and grabbed the bus to save it. By doing this, the troll froze from the morning light and turned into stone.
5. Lake Union. This is a fun spot to picnic and hang out.  A few years ago I went to Seattle for the Fourth of July and was able to grab some kettle corn and watch the fireworks.

Off The Beaten Path Seattle Sights

1. Tacoma, Owens Beach. My first thought when I got here was that this would be a great “date” spot. Its beautifully romantic.
2. Mt. Rainer National Park. This isn’t really off the beaten path. Its just far away from Seattle. It costs $25 per car to get into the park and is about a 1.5- 2 hours to get there. Once you make it to the park, there are lots and lots of different hiking trails.  We packed a picnic and did a loop hike for about 3 hours and then had lunch at a nice shady picnic table.  Afterwards we drove to another spot for a quick hike by a river.
3. Warren G. Magnuson Park. Similar to Lake Union, this park is north of the city with plenty of spots to relax and lay down. We saw people swimming and playing in the water. However, we decided to keep the ducks company and hang out on the grass. Seattle has plenty of places to relax and enjoy nature.
4. Sund Rock. This is actually a scuba diving spot outside of Seattle. Check out my experience if you fancy a dip.

Sund Rock Scuba Diving in Pacific Northwest

scuba-hoodsport

Recently I made my way up to the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, to visit some close friends.  My close friends weren’t keen to the idea of scuba diving in the cold water, and instead, let me go on a solo field trip in the outer Seattle area to do some diving.

Using the meetup app, I joined the Pacific Northwest Scuba Diving Group.  The moderators and members gave me great advice and helpful tips around the area. In fact, I became friends with Phil Berg, who offered to meet up with me on my one day Scuba Trip. Coincidentally worked at Hoodsport N’ Dive. This shop leases the land up the street to make Sund Rock an easy shore dive.  Currently the shop sells day passes to the site for $20 a pop. Not bad for the location.  I’d really rather pay $20 than have to walk with all my scuba gear a long ways.

Doing some research on the Scuba scene in Seattle, I found that there were two locations I really wanted to check out:

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Day 2- Grand Teton National Park

So after the check engine light problem was solved we made it pretty easily to Jackson Wyoming and Grand Tetons National Park. For those that don’t know the local geography there- GTNP is another national park south of Yellowstone National Park. GTNP Is surrounded by the Tetons mountains. We talk to the visitor information guy and he suggests the Gros Venture campground just south of the park.  It’s $25 a night with a personal bear locker, flushable toilets, and a personal fire pit. We love it.

We set up camp and it starts to rain. Trung and I over-analyze the set up of a rain covering tarp area. We keep trying to secure and make a false ceiling to keep dry… By the time we finish the rain stops and we never actually use the dry area.

Next stop- the park. The sun is setting and we pull over to a turnout spot and listen for animals. On the way back to the camp site we some sort of deer running along the road.

Back at the camp, we use our skillet and cook up some awesome thick pork chops with a side of rice and potatoes. Crack open a bottle of wine and sit by the camp fire. The dinner tastes better than if we cooked it at home. We toast some s’mores and get all sticky and gooey from the marshmallows. The night sky is bright with all the stars shining down on us. You can see the Milky Way and we use an app to find some constellations.

Next morning- Trung looks at the car. A flat. Ok no big deal, we start to get the donut out and the crow bar… Uh oh. We can’t find the key to the lug nut on the rim. We search and search. NADA. So then I call AAA and explain the situation. They call the tow company and a local car repair shop back in Jackson that can fix the tire and get the rim off without a key.

I cook breakfast and the tow truck guy, Victor shows up. He’s a self-proclaimed redneck from Florida Everglades. I offer him breakfast but he declines. He gets to work and we clean up the site so bears won’t come and eat our stuff.

We get in the car and the guy is in disbelief that Trung likes country music. They talk about Tim McGraw and some other artists and he blasts country the entire way to the shop. We talk about the federal lands and the good sites to see around the area. Locals like to camp, drink and shoot guns. He shows us his Instagram of a video the captured last week of his buddy sheriff shooting a deer in he neck. The deer was hit by a car and had broken its nose and bit its tongue off. The deer couldn’t walk or move. One second you see the deer on the road, BANG, it tumbled over. Dang. That’s crazy. He says there’s a school bus across the street full of middle school ages kids. They all bust out screaming and crying.

We get to the shop (mom and pop local shop) and everyone is pretty friendly. They are able to get the rim off without the key,but he tire is toast. Two nails are in the tire and there’s a slow leak on the inside side wall of the tire. Apparently we drove on a jacked up tire for 50 miles and didn’t know it. It’s fucked. Then choices: $250 for a Bridgestone tire with afternoon replacement at 3pm or a Goodrich tire from Salt Lake City that will get there at 8am the next day. They can get us a local discount on a rental car for $36. Ok- we choose the cheaper option.

By noon we take off to the park and do a 4-5 hour hike around lake Jenny to inspiration point. We are hiking high up. The steepness is making me pant like a dog. I stop, catch my breath and a grizzly bear cub is staring at me. Oh wow! Cute! Wait… Aren’t bears dangerous? Crap- do I play dead? Or run away?

Trung catches up and then starts telling me to take a pic. I grab my phone and do a really quick one because I don’t know if he will get offended. Finally he looks away and we tip toe off higher on the mountain. We pass three hikers and tell them in hiker sign language whisper… There’s a bear down there!!! They look really excited and walk down. They make a lot of noise. The bear doesn’t care.

We get to the top and instantly the clouds turn grey. We take photos of a nice Japanese family and they take our pic. Boom…. The rain is here. I scramble to try my raincoat on and we run down the mountain in record time.

The rain stops and it’s starting to look pretty again. The backdrop of the sun setting and the fall leaves are breath taking. Every area looks so beautiful it’s looks fake. We see more wild buffalo running around on the drive back.

For dinner we cook up some spaghetti and squash veggies. I don’t know if I’m starving, or if I’m just a really good cook.i can’t stop eating.

We play around and the fire and look for animals in the back area. I get scared and run back. We both sleep pretty easily in the tent.

Good night GTNP.

Day one- road trip to Yellowstone National park

After a really fun weekend in Seattle area with my old friends from elementary school, Trung and I set off on a 12 hour road trip to Yellowstone. I’ve been wanting to come up where for a long time and never found a convenient time to go or someone to go with.  Now that I don’t work- Yellowstone is perfect.

Trung and I download a comprehensive camping list. We start packing all sorts of stuff I never thought I would need. A bucket. String. Duct tape. Compass. The list goes on and on. 

I wake up at 8am… Pack some stuff and then make breakfast. I make the left over beef pho and then we head out.

Bring me- I forgot my glasses and toothbrush and we go back to the house. 30 minutes lost.

We drive for about an hour, stop for Starbucks and then keep going. I drive down a hill and get a glimpse of two SUVs on the opposite side of the median. Crap. How fast am I going? Crap- 80 ish. I hit the brakes and look in my mirror for the cop to turn around. He does. He catches up and the red and blues are flashing.

Shoot. Oh well. There goes $$$$. He pulls up and asks me to get out of the car. I thank my lucky stars that I’m Asian and not a threat. I walk over and he tells me I’m being recorded. Ok. 

  
“Do you know why I pulled you over?”

Me-“Yes- I was speeding”

“Do you know how fast?”

Me-“80???”

“82”

“Can I see your license?” – I hand him my license.

“Where you going?” 

Me-“road trip to Yellowstone”

“Why were you driving so fast?”

Me- “no reason. I should know better. I’m driving my friends car and I was coming down the hill and trying to break but not that well.”

“How old are you?”

Me-“36. I know. I’m old enough to know better.”

“Who are you traveling with?”

“My friend Trung troung.”

“How well do you know him? ”

“We went to college together. 16 years”

We do more chatting and then he talks to Trung in the passenger seat. He asks for registration and insurance.

He comes back to me and asks what I do for work. I tell him I quit my job and am trying to find something else. Life choices and figure out stuff, hence Yellowstone.

He says – drive slower. Don’t speed. I say I will. “Have a good day. You can go now.”

I walk back to the car and sit there. Trung is in disbelief. Did I get a ticket? No. Thank god. I didn’t have the money for a ticket. Hey everyone! Honesty pays off!! Hip hop hooray!

We keep driving towards Idaho and decide to stop at a nuclear reactor tourist site. 20 minutes on the way there and we realize you have to do a 4 hour your. Ain’t nobody got time for that. We turn around and decide to get lunch. 

The Check engine light comes on. Really?? We drive to oreillys and they say they never seen that code. P0126. A quick Google search shows that it’s 90%chance it’s the thermostat.

We are 3-4 hours away from Boise Idaho. The two shops in this road stop town are busy till tomorrow. The mechanic says we can make it if we drive slow and monitor the temp and pull over if need be. We keep ok truck in’.

I use Yelp and find a shop in Boise. 5 stars. I call the guy and explain our situation and that we are trying to get to Yellowstone. He says we can bring it in first thing in the morning and he will get a tech on it. I call 3 other places and they all are about $100 more expensive. We decide to use my hotel points and we stay at holiday inn at Boise. It’s a nice city and we make it there without issue.

Next morning bright and early I get to the shop at 7:55am. They fix everything within 3 hours and we are a GO!

We leave Boise about 11am and then drive straight to Jackson (just south of grand Teton national park). 

It starts to rain as soon as we get to the camp site. I frantically start to put up the tent. I lose a pole and can’t find it. Trung had dropped it somewhere. We search for a while and I finally find it under the tent. Go figure. The last pole goes up in the middle of the tent to create a gap for rain protection. When I’m done there’s a nice puddle where I’m gonna sleep. I use a shammy to clean it up. 

We finally drive to the park and watch twiligh turn into darkness. We hear some animals in the background and stare at the bright night sky.

Back at the campsite we make a fire and some dinner. It’s nice to relax. 

Good night. 

TBT- When I hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro Camp

When I decided to take a sabbatical from work, one of the first things I did was research amazing things to do around the world. I quickly found Mt. Kilimanjaro. 1. I’ve never been to Africa 2. Its the highest summit available to hike without oxygen assistance. 3. Why not?

And so it began. I hiked and summited Uhuru Peak Mount Kilimanjaro.

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Get Me-oowww out! My poor Cat on a Plane

In returning to California, the first thing I had to do was pick up my cat and get her to San Jose to stay with me.  I booked a Southwest flight for myself and also a one way pet fare ($95).  Southwest is pretty chill about pets in the cabin. As of now the rule is that you must book ahead, and check in with the pet the day of travel. I didn’t even need to show them my vaccination page.

First Phase: The Car Ride in the Carrier

I decide to go to the airport extra early because I wasn’t sure of the shenanigans she was going to get into.  I had put the carrier out by her favorite chill spot the day before. Jade didn’t seem to care about this one way or another.  I pick up the cat and boom, drop her into the bag and quickly zip it up as she tries to shove her head out of the opening.

Once we got in the car, she started to let me know she was annoyed. Meow. Meow. Meow. So I let her out and had her sit in my lap.

Second Phase: The Airport and Security with my Feline Friend

Once we got to the airport, she was pretty good. Just a meow every now and again to let me know she was not feeling the airport. The check-in took about 2 minutes.  Southwest Airlines took my money and put a tag on the carrier. Boom. End Checkin Process. So easy.

The security check was pretty fun. There was no line in security and I had TSA precheck so I didn’t need to take off my shoes. I grabbed the bag and took Jade out of the carrier and walked through. Then I had to stand there holding Jade as she looked puzzled. Her little body dangling down. Some lady said, ” wow, my cat would never be so chill,” I felt like we bonded of crazy cat lady life. Little did anyone know the trouble ahead of me.

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What would a local recommend: My top spots and favorites to check out in Iceland!

Since getting back to the States, people have been asking me if I had any recommendations for Iceland. And I do! I love Iceland. It’s a small town city with lots to do. Within the city, you can ride your bike everywhere while feeling safe and secure. Outside the city, you can drive in any direction for 1-2 hours and have plenty of activities to do.

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I love you, Global Entry!

southwest boarding tsa precheck

One item I invested in before I left my job was Global Entry. I was on the fence about it for a year. I wasn’t sure if it was worth my time and effort to spend $100. Global Entry is card that gets Americans a “front of the line” pass when coming from international flights and a “front of the line” pass going through security when flying domestically.

The application process is similar to a job security clearance screening. You will have to give information on your job, you previous addresses, income and other similar information.  I had most of it already since I had to have it for my defense contracting job, so it wasn’t that inconvenient.  If approved, the $100 fee is valid for 5 years. I was approved within a month and then kept checking the interview website for openings for a few days before I got my appointment.  Within another week of the interview I got my shiny ID card.

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The Truth will set you free- Overstaying a Visa

map-of-the-schengen-area-svg_orig

Key:Blue area are countries within Schengen and Orange Areas are “to be added” countries. Grey Countries are not part of this treaty.  (Map from Wikipedia)

This map would have been useful to me before I started traveling. Whoops. When I took a leave of absence, I flew to Finland, then Holland, then to Africa, then to Madrid, then to France before settling down to Iceland.

When I had planned my Iceland Divemaster program, I checked the Icelandic immigration website and found that I could stay in the country on Tourist Visa for 90 days. This worked for me because I was paying for the Divemaster program and I was not working. I didn’t need any special visa. Once I got to Iceland I met a lot of tourists. One couple in particular told me of their one year sabbatical and how it was hard to get around the Schengen area. Huh? That’s when I felt a deep lump forming in my belly.  I went home and googled “Schengen.” Oh to my stupid American surprise that I found this map.

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