I am lucky enough again to be testing several travel products from Lewis N Clark. I am very happy that they have decided to work with me and allow me to test products they produce primarily for traveling and the outdoors. As in my last post on their products, I will be open and forthright in regards to my impressions.
My first item is a pair of flight compression socks to keep my legs from swelling on long International flights. They are intended to help prevent deep vein thrombosis. I received a size medium, as I wear a size 9 men’s shoe and it says men’s 6-9 shoe. This was actually a little too tight for my extra large calves and I should have asked for a large. On the positive side my wife loves them and wears them constantly. So if you order these just make sure you take your calf size into consideration.
The next item shipped was a three pack of compression packers which are ideal for travel and storage of bulky items, like sweaters. The compression works best when you roll the air out, rather than folding the bags. They are great if you have additional items you are packing for and extended trip or if your trip requires several dress options. The sizes in the 3-pack set includes one of each of the following: Small: 20in x 14in, Medium: 23in x 16in, Large: 28in x 18in.
To unseal the bags just pull open the zipper from the middle. Additionally they work well for wet clothing that you do not want soiling the other clothes. They are completely reusable and protect against dust, bugs and weather. Definitely a thumbs up for the compression packers.
My next item is another hanging toiletry kit, with a different type of layout and material. Features water-resistant TPU and mesh compartments to accommodate a variety of toiletries. This brushed twill hanging toiletry kit fits anything from contact lenses and hand wipes to lotion and lip balm. It contains many zippered compartments on the interior and exterior both. It has elastic straps to hold items and has a metal hanger that fits most towel bars and knobs.
Hanging Toiletry Kit
It zips completely closed and if truth be known, I use it daily to go to the gym as a man purse to hold my wallet, keys, smartphone and everything else I would ordinarily carry in my pants pockets. I love it and trust me it travels well when you use it for a toiletry kit. It’s very compact. It only weighs 6 ounces prior to placing items in the kit. The exterior is a brushed twill.
Closed Hanging Toiletry Kit
The last item is one that I use daily and is such a convenience. Most of the adapter plugs I have bought and used were a bulky, hard to carry unit and barely fit in my backpack pocket. This adapter kit is small and has every type of plug used around the world. It’s so fantastic and even I can align the various plugs so that they fit into the carrying case, which is only 2in x 3.5in x 2.5in. It weighs 6 ounces and is light as a feather in my opinion. I love this item.
Adapter Plug Kit with Dual USB Charger
The photo above displays all the various plugs which will work in more than 175 countries, including most parts of Africa, Asia, Europe (both standard and recessed outlets), the Middle East, New Zealand, North America, and Russia. Here’s my favorite factor about the kit. It has two USB ports for charging everything from your laptop to your phone to your MP3 player. This sold it for me. I am constantly using this feature at home and while traveling.
Adapter Plug Kit with Dual USB Charger with 2 USB Ports
***All products were sponsored by Lewis N. Clark for testing and review. All opinions are as always, those of my own.
Several months ago Lewis N. Clark, a travel accessory company, asked me to try out and review four products. Since I rarely do reviews I decided to really put these items to use and give them a good workout to determine their quality and value. They have accompanied me to Asia, Europe and two of the items I use daily. I am satisfied they have all been put through a sufficient testing period.
Lewis N. Clark Featherlight Packing Cubes
The first item is the Featherlight Packing Cubes. Every trip I have made abroad I have stuffed these three cubes with my socks (small cube), my underwear (medium cube) and my undershirts (large cube). This meant, as you can see above, they were loaded with as many items or changes, as I could pack. I am not one who likes to pay exorbitant prices to have my laundry done. I also dislike washing my undies in the sink, unless there is no other choice. I like that the cube can be transferred from your luggage to the dresser, with hardly any effort.
In the past year I traveled to the Yokohama and Tokyo area of Japan; Barcelona, Costa Brava, Girona and Seville in Spain; Istanbul Turkey; Rimini, Sicily, the Aeolian Islands and Milan in Italy; London England; Budapest Hungary; Bratislava Slovakia; Vienna, Durnstein, Linz, Melk and Salzburg Austria, Passau Germany and Prague in the Czech Republic. This is over 20 cities around the world and not once did the cubes present any issues. The zippers are all in very good working order. The mesh is still in one piece on all three cubes and holding my underwear in. One can use the cubes for anything you need to stay organized while traveling. I highly recommend the Packing Cubes and they have helped me stay efficient with packing, on all my travels.
Lewis N. Clark 2-in-1 Neck/Lumbar Pillow
The second item is a 2-in1 Neck/Lumbar Pillow. Pardon my face in the photo above, but I think I was tired and falling asleep. This product works very well and I have used it on every plane trip I have taken since acquiring the items to test. It is very comfortable and meshes well around your neck to any position you need. The pillow has many uses. In addition to the obvious neck rest, it can be unzipped, turned inside out and rolled into a lumbar support, which works very well. This comes from an individual with five back surgeries. The last option is to turn it inside out and it turns into a pillow. So if you are in need of any three options I recommend the Neck/Lumbar pillow. It is still in top notch condition after at least eighteen flights.
Lewis N. Clark Hanging Toiletry Kit
If any of the items have been over tested, it is surely my hanging toiletry kit. I have used this everyday since I received it and everything is still in great working order. I also have maxed out the supplies in my toiletry kit and it holds up to stretching, heavy weight and sharp items. I carry everything I could use in this kit and the ability to hang it on a towel rod is fantastic. No counter space needed. I carry my aerosol shaving cream, my after shave, bath soap and all sorts of grooming needs, plus my toothbrush and toothpaste. Everything I need can fit in the kit including my mouthwash, shampoo and conditioner. All the clasps, zippers and casings are in good working order and I use it daily. It is a very durable item.
Lewis N. Clark RFID Tri-Fold Wallet
My last item is the RFID Tri-Fold Wallet. Some men like a dual fold, but for some reason I have always carried a tri-fold. It holds all the credit cards, ID’s and information a person needs. Trust me I carry a large amount of domestic and International cards and I have two medical alert cards inside the cash area, just in case. As you can see above it has 6 credit/business card slots, 2 full-sized bill sections and and ID window, perfect for my business card. It is made from Lambskin and blocks unauthorized scanning of RFID chips, which we use more and more these days! Very helpful in protecting the theft of your identification, from the despicable individuals that thrive on stealing other people’s identities!
Overall I was more than satisfied with all four items and would recommend them to anyone in the market for these items. Lewis N. Clark is obviously a very quality company and stands behind its products. I would like to thank Mary Chong, of The Calculated Traveller, for sending Lewis N. Clark in my direction. I am now going to look into more of their products as the need arises and I recommend you do also.
***All products were sponsored by Lewis N. Clark for testing and review. All opinions are as always, those of my own.
My recent excursion to Thailand and Malaysia was a trip of a lifetime and I owe a great deal of gratitude to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thai Airways and Tourism Malaysia USA. The trip was full of 5-Star hotels, restaurants and some of the most fabulous tours I have ever been on, but staying at this hotel was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. The Centara Grand Beach Resort was one of the top five hotels I have stayed at in my entire life, including my many trips to Asia, as a buyer for Six Flags amusement parks in the seventies.
Centara Grand Beach Resort in Phuket
Flying in from Bangkok we saw a view of Phang Nga Bay and all the wonderful islands. We had a bus waiting and drove through old town Phuket for a quick shopping spree and drove up to this entrance. It made a statement and everything had been prepared for us and we immediately were prepared to be taken to our rooms. Before I go any farther I will tell you this post will have more photos, than any post I have published. I think I took around 200 total of just the hotel, spa, beach and grounds.
If you know me, you know I have a very weak bladder, so before the tram took us to our rooms, I used the facilities. My word it was like I was outdoors and we even had a waterfall, just in case we needed any coaxing. Not an issue with me!
Mens Restroom Waterfall
I walked out and one of the ladies was coming out of their restroom and asked if I would like to see it. She assured me it was vacant. Well of course I said yes. Their view was similar except their sinks looked out over the waterfalls. I was so blown away that it is included in my video later on in the post.
Ladies Restroom Sinks
We had our luggage loaded on trams and were taken to our “rooms”, passing several buildings on the way. This section appeared to be similar to the area we were staying in, but not as secluded. You can see the rooms on the bottom floor had pools or Jacuzzi’s by the tile.
Typical Centara Rooms
Every morning when we came down to eat breakfast at The Cove Restaurant, we roamed along this lovely courtyard and glimpsed the beach. The view was magnificent and literally took your breath away! It was a short hike from the room, so each of us really worked up an appetite, as we strolled daily.
Courtyard to Dining at The Cove
This photo is of the Omelet station and of course I ate my share while we were there. This gentleman had the preparation down to an art and never made any mistakes. He had a lot of satisfied customers.
Omelet Station at The Cove
They make a crepe like item that is sparsely spread on the large griddle in the middle and cooks very quickly. It can be topped off with jams or have products inserted while cooking. It was a daily ritual for me and tasted so good. I hope I am not getting the name wrong, but it reminded of me and was similar to a product we ate, named Roti Canai, later in our trip. If I am incorrect I apologize to my readers. If you know the true name please leave a comment below the post and share with my readers.
Fresh Roti Canai or Crepes (Bread Stuffed with Sweets) Station at The Cove
Inside there were so many stations with fruits, breads, various traditional Thai breakfast soups served over or with rice and just about anything you can imagine that one would eat at breakfast whether normal or not to you.
Various Local Broths and Rice at The Cove
My room was very spacious and had a coffee area with refrigerator stocked to the limit. The work area or desk was phenomenal and had enough electric outlets to charge every piece of equipment I had at one time. The view out the sliding glass doors was tremendous and inspiring. It may not look like it but this King size bed was huge and very comfy.
Desk Area in Room Behind King Size Bed
How many photos can one take of their room? I knew it would be hard, but I had to include the glorious shower with a high pressure rain head. It was spectacular and really had an aggressive spray. My tired and aching body loved it for sure, every day I jumped in.
In Room Shower with a Great Rain Head
What’s this? I walked out my sliding glass doors and found a unimaginable patio setup complete with a huge swimming pool and Jacuzzi. I was blown away that they would have this type of arrangement and I found out we all had a similar room. The privacy curtain could be raised at your discretion to keep nosy passers by from observing your activity. My only regret is I didn’t take a photo at night with the pool lit up. It was stunning.
In Room Swimming Pool
The Centara’s spa was named Cenvaree. It is out of this world, with first class amenities and options that one could use the entire day. Again, my issue was how many photos do I share? I decided I would let you see what the waiting area looked like. We were served water prior to our wonderful massages and a warm tea afterwards. I truly love having my body beat up and my muscles dug into. It is so relaxing. I had a traditional Thai massage, in which they use their elbows and get deep into the tissue. It hurt substantially at first, but as it progressed I grew used to it and had all my stress and sore muscles relaxed afterwards.
Spa Cenvaree Waiting area
This is what the pedicure room looked like, but I only had so much time and couldn’t take advantage of the therapy. I did later at another hotel. There is nothing like having your feet massaged to relieve your body’s stress. Okay go ahead call me a Metro-Sexual. I really don’t care. I love spas.
Spa Cenvaree Pedicure Station
The Centara is located right on the water and you just have to walk just across the entry road to reach their fantastic beach. On my first visit I was totally surprised at the size, the beauty and all the normal chairs, umbrellas and beach lounges. I had no idea it was so large. Of course I took around 30 to 40 photos and had a dickens of a time trying to decide which to keep. So I decided on these three with the first one showing just the beach and a great wave.
This one show you what the chair and umbrella arrangement looked like looking to the south and kind of back towards the hotel entrance. I could have stayed on this beach all day for our entire visit, but we had tours and restaurants and shopping to participate with.
Karon Beach Lounge Chairs with Umbrellas
The last photo, yes I said last, was of the beach facing north and giving you a taste of the cove we were located in. In addition you can see the view that a few locals had from their wonderful villas up the side of the hill.
Karon Beach Chaise Lounge Chairs with Umbrellas
All good things must come to an end, but I cannot rave enough about this hotel. A friend ask recently about what accommodations were available in Phuket, as she had a friend getting married and they wanted it to be on the beach. They had broken it down to Phuket and an island area in Thailand. I couldn’t type fast enough. I recommend the Centara Grand Beach Resort and told her that her friend would remember her wedding forever, just like I will remember my stay at this luxurious establishment forever.
*** My trip to Thailand and Malaysia was sponsored by Thai Airways, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Tourism Malaysia USA. All opinions are solely mine and as always, generated without any influence.
Heading out of Cuenca early last Wednesday morning, we passed the Feria Libre Market. This is the biggest market in the city and one can wonder for hours, bartering, looking and touching everything from quinoa, rice, fish, pork, to fruits and vegetables. It is a magical place. I could not believe the amount of activity at this time of the morning. People were unloading trucks and carrying merchandise to their stalls.
We headed out to the lower portion of Azuay Province. I displayed the geographical lay of the land in my Banana blog, but one item I didn’t show you is below. It seems that a large portion of the chocolate beans are brought up to this region from the Coastal growing area and the beans are laid out to dry in the sun for two days. They have to be brought in at night to avoid the moisture in the air and placed back on the concrete drying beds again the next day. They are then bagged 100lb bags and transported to their processors.
Cacao Drying Beds in the Dry Area of Azuay Province
We did the banana tour and headed 30 minutes away to Santa Rosa with the Cacao Plantation’s owner in our car. We had time to discuss why he had resumed his cacao business seven years ago and Byron Trujillo Erazo told us it was simple mathematics. The chocolate industry was booming and he wanted to get back in it again after a forty-year lay off. We arrived at the Casa Ostrica and it was similar to what I expected. It had a tropical look and was filled with all kinds of plants and flowers that one would expect in a tropical setting. This is an example of the orchids growing on the entry poles that line the driveway. Amazing in my opinion!
Orchids Growing on the Entry Poles
The resort was constructed with a great deal of bamboo, which grows in large clumps on the Plantation and is used for a majority of the wood needs. This photo is what you see as you enter and arrive at the lodge. There are little cabanas all over the resort. I am guessing the resort can handle about 75 people at one time. Enough of this talk. Let’s head out to the Cacao Plantation ane see the process in action.
The Casa Ostrica Lodge
As you enter the Cacao section and look ahead all you can see is a plethora of trees filled with varying colors of the Cacao seed pods. The bright red ones are the ripe pods and are ready for harvesting. Each day the workers journey through the Cacao trees and harvest the ripe seed pods for processing.
One Red Seed Pod Ready for Harvest
Our guide showed us the method used to harvest the pods. He had a huge machete and I had no reservations about letting him do the cutting. Knowing how much a klutz I am, I figured it would very easy for me to lose a finger or two and I let him do the job.
Harvesting the Seed Pod
He then started the process of cutting the seed pod off and making the delicious fruit inside available. A lot of people are more than likely not familiar with the fact that the huge seed pod has fruit that surrounds the interior smaller beans.
Staring the Process of Harvesting the Fruit
He hacked into the seed pod and tore away a section of the outer shell. The seed pod is actually quite hard and he does not hack gingerly. I know I would slip and hurt myself, if it was left to me. I had an idea what the interior looked like, but had no idea of the taste. There is a white fruit that surrounds the beans and this has to be removed to get to the beans. The guide gave us a sample and I was floored. Once in my life have I had such a delicious morsel of fruit. That was in the Philippines when I tasted Mongusteen for the first time. I was addicted immediately. I scooped out about half the beans and ate them one at a time as we walked the Plantation. I cannot describe in mere words how wonderful the beans fruit tasted. It made the whole day worth the drive, etc.
Interior Cacao Beans with Fruit
Normally the beans are taken up to the drier climate and sun-dried for two days, but they had a quick way to dry the beans and that was using a wok like skillet over a bed of coals. You stir the beans over the heat until the outer shell becomes brittle.
A Shortcut to Drying the Beans
When the beans are ready you individually shell each bean. At first it seems a very daunting task and I couldn’t get it right. I kept breaking the beans apart and not harvesting solid beans. I tasted one of the beans after shelling and it was very bitter. I couldn’t believe that this would turn out to be a tasty treat. One of the ladies helped me and showed me how to snap the bean which left you with the entire bean in one piece. A much better step and saved the beans.
Diana Shelling the Beans.
The next step was to place the beans in a contraption that had been used for a long time and physically break the beans down into chocolate. I though, okay once through the grinder and it would be a piece of cake. Oh contraire. I had to keep scooping the chocolate residue back into the grinder and re-grind the concoction about six times. By the ends of the process I was hot, sweating and thankful I had my Tilley Hat to block out the sun from my face. The young lady broke down and the crew got her a hat, as she was starting to sunburn. By the time we got through I was worn out and my arms ached.
Nomadic Texan Grinding the Beans
After I finished the grinding it was time for a chocolate drink. This photo shows that they do not waste the seed pods and use them to serve the drinks in. One also receives a dark chocolate bar from their cacao plantation and the illustration shows a cross-cut of the seed pod.
Interior of the Seed Pod, Candy Bar and a Chocolate Drink
Okay I had worked up an appetite and it was time to eat a traditional meal from Casa Ostrica. Obviously Mr. Erazo wanted us to taste ostrich and that was what we were served along with rice, salad and fried plantains. I have taken a liking to the plantains and didn’t think I would. For the record the ostrich tasted just like beef to me. The others thought it had a gamey taste. Before the meal they served us a hot chocolate drink made from the chocolate shavings. It was so good I had to have a second cup. It also acted to drive my temperature down as the Green Tea in Asia does. Caught me off guard.
Traditional Meal of Ostrich, Rice, Salad and Fried Plantains
I talked with my wife Kim prior to our trip and she asked me to bring back some of the cacao beans if at all possible. I obtained a bag and literally scooped the remaining beans from the wok like pan over the BBQ and let them cool down. They gave me the large ball of chocolate from all my efforts and I will try to bring it home. Wish me luck as I am not sure they will allow this to enter the US. We will see. Please cross your fingers for me. I hope I can and that way my family can sample the dark chocolate. I wish that there was some way to bring home a seed pod and let Kim try the taste of that fruit. It is one of the highlights of my trip to Ecuador.
My Chocolate Ball and Cacao Beans for Kim
I am thankful that Mio Tours allowed me to accompany them on this fabulous trip and I learned so much about Bananas and Cacao. This El Oro Province is amazing and you drive and drive through a vast amount of banana plantations, the number one export of Ecuador, but you also are privy to all kinds of fruit trees growing wild alongside the highway. For the purposes of full disclosure both Mio Tours and Tilley Hats are sponsors. Regardless I have to say that this a fabulous tour and tasting the Cacao fruit is worth the entire trip. I also have to say a tour of Casa Ostrica is a fabulous way to spend a day in Ecuador. If you get the opportunity to take this tour, jump on it! Saludos mi amigos.
Every time I visit Ecuador I fly into Guayaquil and stay over night. There are no “direct” flights to Cuenca from current airline operations. I can either fly back to Quito spend the night and then fly into Cuenca or I can stay overnight and take a shuttle to Cuenca the next day. At my age the Quito route is about 25 hours total and too taxing on my body. So I opt for the shuttle from Guayaquil. Besides, I would miss all the gorgeous scenery if I flew into Cuenca.
Mangoes Growing Beside the Road
I always know that I can count on my friends at Mio Tours to insure my safety and guaranteed arrival. Lately some of the more illegal shuttle companies have been falling into trouble with the government militia, as they are not official and have not secured the appropriate licenses to transport individuals along this route. I would caution you to investigate this issue and make sure your shuttle service is licensed. Other wise you just might be stranded alongside the road, as a few tourists have been lately.
Toll Booths at Puerto Inca
The road is nice and there are a few tolls, but you go from sea level basically to a high of about 13,000 feet in the Cajas National Park. Along the way you pass many items of interest. The current road is great, but the Ecuadorian Government is widening the road to four lanes and it will be a smooth ride from Guayaquil. We usually obtain lunch in Puerto Inca about and hour into the ride and the special is $3.00 per person.
Government is Improving the Highway & making it Four Lane Like an Interstate in the US
You pass through many small towns that have various methods of shuttling their population around and one can only guess what the experience is like. Unless you have been to Asia and are familiar with the Tuk Tuks, then you are very acquainted with this system. The taxis vary in color and structure, but are usually built in the same manner and have the same open door look for passengers, with a motorbike front for the driver.
Tuk Tuk Like Taxi in Rural Area Towns
As you move into the more remote areas you see a different style of taxi as pictured below. They run around the countryside on motorbikes and shuttle the locals back and forth to their homes along the dirt roads. It is difficult for me to imagine there is enough business for this many “taxis”, but apparently its a lucrative operation.
A Form of Taxi for the Locals at the Base of the Andes in the Country
You also find open fish markets where the locals buy their fresh catch. The fish are transported from the coast and made available to the locals for a reasonable price. It is a very unique approach and has been the same for all the years I have visited Ecuador. I just would like to see a little ice under the fish for safekeeping.
Local Rural Fish Market
We always stop at several random spots so that I can take photos and this one is a reflection of the valley below and the cloud structure that covers Guayaquil at higher elevations. One begins the ascension and starts to have indications of altitude by ears popping, etc. The vehicle struggles a little more and doesn’t have the same get up and go as it does at sea level, but it is more than adequate to navigate the Andes. After you rise above the clouds (yes that is at a very high elevation) the view is magnificent and the skies are clear. Many photo opportunities exist at this altitude and the guides from Mio Tours always stop when I ask to take photos or if I need a bathroom break.
Looking Out Over Guayaquil
As you hit the continental divide in Cajas National Park, you know its all downhill from there and you will be in Cuenca within an hour. The anticipation starts to rise and my thoughts increase as the wonderful city approaches. I am and always will be, totally in love with this city, its people, its culture and its lovely food. The great thing about driving is it gives you three and a half hours to prepare yourself and anticipate how wonderful it is to be in Cuenca. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
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