Detomo's Abroad

Detomos Abroad

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Visiting Colorado

January 29, 2018 3:56 pm

January 2018

During previous “Out West” adventures, (Grand Canyon and Mt. St. Helens), we connected-up with another couple Scott and Mary, who happen to live in Silverthorne, Colorado. Under the philosophy that “no authentic invite shall go unfilled”, we arranged a week trip to visit them during the Colorado winter! On Thursday, January 11th, we flew to Denver, where we rented a car and drove the 90 minutes up the mountains, through the Eisenhower Tunnel, to their house in Silverthorne. Scott and Mary have a beautiful 3-story log cabin, at 9000’ altitude, high on the side of a mountain in the Williams Fork Range, overlooking the Blue River Valley and the town of Silverthorne. The house is built on the 1.7 billion-year-old, thrusted Dakota meta-sediments, and we spent the first afternoon marveling at the views from their house of the Gore Range, with stands of Lodgepole Pine trees visited by ospreys, bald eagles, ravens, magpies and red-tailed hawks. Scott and Mary told us about their personal sightings and local encounters with foxes, brown bears, elk, deer and mountain lions! That night, we watched the sun set behind the mountains across the valley while we ate lasagna & salad and sipped nightcaps in front of the stone fireplace.


Scott & Marys House from Road Below

Thursday night, a light snow fell, and we awoke Friday morning to continued flurries and a new, white blanket covering the hillsides. After a leisurely breakfast, we set off on a gentle hike 800ft up to the top of Scott and Mary’s community, admiring the views and uniquely-constructed houses along the way. That afternoon, we headed into Frisco where we had appetizers and drinks at the Outer Range Brewing Company – a busy local brewery frequented by locals and their families, which had a style reminiscent of old English Pubs. From there, we went to the Pioneer Ski Shop to pick up Roc’s ski equipment for Saturday, and then went to the Red Mountain Grill in Silverthorne for dinner. It was then, while observing the crowd that we had realized that we had forgotten that this was a Holiday Weekend, since Monday would be MLK Day! After an excellent salmon dinner, we headed back to welcome Bill and Sandy, friends of Scott and Mary from Denver, who came up for the night to ski with us on Saturday. We all drank wine, and then socialized until we finally called it a night and went to bed content.

View of Buffalo Mountain from the Deck

Mountain Range View from across the Valley

Saturday morning, we were up, had breakfast and coffee, and then the “boys” set off for Keystone Ski Resort “Foursquare” area, for a day of downhill skiing. Scott and Mary also own a rental condo across from the lifts at Keystone and can therefore use their condo’s parking garage to stage for skiing. After dressing, we three headed to the lift-ticket office so that Rocky could get a “Buddy Pass” lift ticket, (which, unfortunately took almost an hour), and then proceeded together to the “River Run Gondola” up to the start of “School Marm Run” – a 3.5-mile long “green” run, 2040’ down from the 11.640’ start. Since Rocky had not been skiing for nearly 40 years, Scott and Bill kept a watchful eye on him, but the old skills slowly returned, and Rocky executed a careful, but successful, run down the mountain. While the boys were skiing, the women made their way to the ski route’s finish and greeted the boys when they arrived from their first run. After that, the women, Mary, Sandy and Julie, checked out the Keystone villages and shops, of which Julie particularly liked the Gorsuch Shop which had unique gifts and interesting lines of clothing. After shopping, the girls headed to the bar for drinks and snacks, and to wait for the boys. Meanwhile, Scott, Bill and Rocky made there way back up the hill on the “Summit Express Chair Lift” to the top again, where they stopped for a quick beer at the Summit House Food Court, before again skiing “School Marm Run” – this time much faster and with fewer rest stops along the way. With 2 runs under his wings, Rocky called the day “finished” while Bill and Scott headed up for one final run of the day. All finally assembled with the girls for final drinks, before we headed back to Frisco to drop off Rocky’s skis, and then back to Scott and Mary’s for a few rounds of cosmopolitans, and a fantastic dinner of grilled steak and buffet potatoes, with rum cake for dessert. After dinner, Bill and Sandy needed to head back to Denver, and so, after goodbyes, the rest of us collected our wineglasses, and moved out onto the patio in 15-degree weather for a soak in the hot tub, while looking for satellites and watching the stars above. Once completely relaxed, we exited the tub, gathered in front of the fireplace before finally heading off to bed.

The Village Shops at Keystone

Skiiers at Keystone

Ski Routes at Keystone (SchoolMarm in Black)

Sunday, after breakfast, we headed out to the Breckenridge Nordic Center. It was a beautiful sunny day, and for very little cost, we equipped ourselves with snowshoes and boots, and began our “hike” along the “Red Trail”. The snowshoeing trail wound its way through the valley floor and up into the mountain-side’s trees, before we veered-off onto the “Yellow Trail” that took us up and under Breckenridge’s gondola. From there, we headed back down through the snow-strewn trees and beside moose meadow before returning to the Nordic Center – a fun-filled, 2-hour hiking adventure! From there, we headed to the gondola to ride up and visit Breckenridge’s Peaks 7 & 8, where the Holiday Weekend and recent snow had generated considerable crowds. We stopped for drinks and appetizers in a local restaurant, before heading back to the car, and back to Scott and Mary’s to get ready to go out to dinner. Tonight, we had planned to meet and have dinner with Nancy, the acting Society of Exploration Geophysicists President, who was planning to drive down from Denver. We met at Uptown’s in Frisco, where Nancy’s daughter, Haley, also joined us. Dinner was spent with excellent food and lively discussions of nursing and geophysics.

Showshoeing View at Breckenridge

Super-Chair Lift at Breckenridge

Blowing Snow at Breckenridge Mountain Tops

Monday morning, we took a leisurely approach to breakfast, before Julie and Rocky bundled up and put on Scott and Mary’s snowshoes, and went out for a hike around their countryside. We hiked through the adjacent woods down to near the valley floor, before returning in a roundabout way over an hour later. After a quick warm-me-up, we took out our rental car for a bit of a drive-about, and to give it a “warm up.” We drove through some of the local neighborhoods and around the growing condominium and townhouse communities. The rest of that afternoon was spent lazily before a dinner of grilled salmon and veggies. Again, we spent part of the cold, crisp evening in the hot tub with our wine, and searching for satellites in the heavens above – (Julie says she saw one!)

Julie Snowshoeing near Scott’s

Rock and Julie out Snowshoeing

Tuesday morning was spent packing our belongings, before the 4 of us went outside for a 2-hr. walk along the roads, into some of the newly developing communities nearby – Hamilton Creek & Angler Mountain Subdivisions! Along the way, in addition to the majestic views, we sighted a falcon, and 3 deer! After saying our heartfelt “Thank You’s” and goodbyes, we headed off to get a hotel in Denver for one night, to be better prepared for our very early morning flight back to Florida. Along the way, we passed the ever-present Buffalo Herd – our classic reminder of the whirlwind adventure we just had.

Falcon on Neighbors Rooftop

Deer Roaming the Area

2018 New Year’s Sailing Celebration in Grand Abaco, The Bahamas

January 19, 2018 7:40 pm

It’s wonderful how life delivers a cascade of friendships that take you to unexpected places! Our friends in West Palm Beach, Peter & Nikki, connected with their friend Alex who used to be a Charter Captain in Grand Abaco Island in The Bahamas. Alex and his girlfriend, Heather, were chartering a sloop over New Year’s and needed 2 other couples to round out their crew, and so the six of us came together in West Palm Beach Airport on the morning of Thursday, December 28th, 2017 to fly to Marsh Harbor on Grand Abaco Island to pick up our 45ft Jeanneau named “Aequanimitas” – meaning “Equanimity” or “demonstrating a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed”! I’m not sure it was appropriate for the 6 of us!

Abaco Map

The trip began as these trips usually do with lunch at the marina followed by the guys checking out the boat and its equipment, and the girls gathering supplies at the nearest grocery and liquor stores! We did have time to take the boat out of the marina, get underway and travel south to Tilloo Cay, where we set anchor and ate a light dinner of freshly prepared conch salad.

The Aequanimitas

The next morning, after a breakfast onboard of coffee, eggs, bacon, potatoes and toast, we set sail south to Sandy Cay, an uninhabited spit of sand and rocks that hosts a spectacular offshore reef teeming with fish. After anchoring, we took the dingy and looked for a shore access where we all disembarked and explored the beach for sea biscuits, shells and sea fans that had washed-up. While the girls continued beach-combing, the guys took the dingy to the diving mooring balls where we tied-up and snorkeled a wall of coral. Among the multitude of fish, we came upon a couple of Sea Eagle Sting Rays with a wing-span of 3-4 ft., and a tail extending 15-20 ft. behind! After our fill of snorkeling, we went back to shore to pick up the girls, ate lunch on the boat, and then continued our sail south to Little Harbor, where we picked up a mooring ball and took the dingy over to Pete’s Pub and Gallery. Here, the water was crystal clear, the seafloor was sandy, and the harbor was filled with sea turtles and smaller sting rays. At Pete’s Pub, we had drinks and fish dinners, including trigger fish, wahoo and grouper, and we took the occasion to make the 200-ft. short walk over the dune to view the Atlantic Ocean.

Beachcombing Sandy Cay

Swimming with the Rays

On Saturday morning, we motored north early to Lynyard Cay to take advantage of the higher tides, where we set anchor and ate a leisurely breakfast on the boat! After cleaning-up, we set sail north to Elbow Cay where we would have to slowly motor through a very shallow passage. Along our sail, the bottom was clear to view, and we saw numerous sharks ranging 3 – 6 ½ ft. in length, a school of small tuna, sea cucumbers, and sea turtles. We even saw a small group of 6 dolphins leisurely exploring our boat. However, with the tide too low, we could not successfully cross the shallows on our way to Elbow Cay, and so, having to wait for the tide to come in, we anchored nearby at south of Lubbers at Tavern Cay for snorkeling and lunch. At Tavern Cay, a series of small rock outcrops, “Fish Hotel Rocks”, serve as home to small corals, sting rays, conchs, and bigeye fish. After snorkeling and having lunch on-board, we slowly motored on the higher tide to Hope Town on Elbow Cay. The harbor of Hope Town is a beautiful and quaint area, and after picking up our designated Abaco Charter mooring ball, we restocked groceries and liquor, before returning to shore for drinks, conch fritters and wings on the dock at “The Harbour’s Edge”, and then eating dinner aboard.

Diving for Coral

Sunday was New Year’s Eve, and most stores and shops were closed. However, after a light breakfast on-board, we all went to the Elbow Reef Lighthouse. This lighthouse was erected in 1864 and is the world’s last working kerosene lighthouse of its kind! With its octagonal mirror structure, it gives a group of 5 white flashes every 15 seconds. We climbed the 101 steps to the observation deck and took in the beautiful panoramic view of the area, before descending and leaving Hope Town to sail north to Guana Cay – home to both “Nippers Beach Bar & Grill” and “Grabbers Bed, Bar and Grille”. After setting anchor at the outer edge of the harbor, we took the dingy to the City Dock and took a golf cart across the narrow island to Nippers – a multilevel deck bar overlooking the famous “Seven-Mile Beach” on the Atlantic Ocean with loud music and 100’s of young adults drinking and dancing! After sampling the famous “Nipper’s Juice Cocktail” and joining in the party, we were getting ready to leave when two girls sitting on the railing, tumbled-over from 8 ft. up and were seriously injured. While medical attended to them, we walked back across the island to “Grabbers at Sunset Beach” where we sampled a frozen drink called the “Guana Grabber”, ate pizza, chicken tender and fish finger appetizers, and marveled at the largest catamaran “Raft-Up” any of us had ever seen – 36 catamarans in two rows of 18 – all anchored and roped together! After a bit of shopping, we returned to the boat where we enjoyed a late, light diner, and enjoyed music and cards until 11:00pm, when the first round of fireworks over the island were set off. Then, at midnight, we popped-open our champagne, enjoyed the next round of fireworks and celebrated the beginning of 2018!

Elbow Reef Lighthouse

View of Hope Town

Party at Nippers

New Years Eve Fireworks

Massive Catamaran Raft

Monday morning and a Happy New Year to everyone! After a light breakfast, we continued to motor-sail north, past the huge raft-up, to Treasure Cay. Unfortunately, a low-pressure front was moving in making for a very light wind day! But, that would be reversed with the storm that was forecast for tomorrow. Since today was a holiday, we picked up a mooring ball and went ashore to the “Coco Beach Bar at Treasure Bay Beach Resort” where we ate a lunch of mahi- and cheese-burgers, drank Gin & Tonics, rented beach lounges and an umbrella, and spent the afternoon enjoying the surf, sand, and sun. While beach-combing, we saw starfish, sting rays, sand dollars and delicate, fragile shells. We returned late in the afternoon for showers and a boat-cooked meal of chicken, potatoes, corn and beans before settling in for an early night.

The night brought the expected storm, and Tuesday we awoke to 30 mph winds out of the north, with gusts to 35 mph, and a driving rainstorm. Even though we had one day on the charter remaining, in respect for the predicted bad weather getting worse, we charted a course back south for Marsh Harbor to the south. We raised the main to before its first reefing point, and put the genoa out to its first reefing point, which is all the sail we were willing to expose, giving us a speed of over 7 knots over land! However, the mast-self-furling main jammed and the shackle holding the furling line broke off leaving the self-furling jammed and disabled! This was not too much problem while sailing and tacking towards the harbor in the south, but had to be resolved before we could enter the marina in those conditions! Finally, when we approached the harbor, we furled the genoa, and motored into the lee of an island where we set anchor, and, in a driving rainstorm, the boys wrestled the exposed mainsail to wrap it around the mast, and secure it with a maypole of the spinnaker halyard. This allowed us to motor into the Boat Harbor Marina where we docked at the T-dock and battened down for the storm. That evening, we hunkered down for the storm in the boat, cooking the foodstuff that we had left for dinner, and having a nightcap of Grand Marnier at the Marina’s Poolside Bar.

Securing the Sail in a Storm

The storm howled all night, but showed signs of let-up the next morning, allowing us to all walk to a local restaurant called “Jamie’s”, where all we had a hot breakfast. After breakfast, Alex and Heather took the ferry to visit with old friend back on Elbow Cay, and the rest of us played cards and enjoyed the facilities offered by the Boat Harbor Marina. The winds remained in the 30-40 mph range until late that evening, and with the occasional rain shower, kept us close to the boat until a break later that evening, when we walked to a local restaurant called “Snappa’s”. There we ate salads and drank wine and beer before returning to the boat. We “camped” that night on the boat, enduring the rest of the storm by playing cards and preparing to leave the next day by starting our packing.

Sunset at Abaco

Thursday morning, Alex and Heather rejoined us, and we all went to “Jamie’s” again for brunch before catching a cab to the airport and our flight back to West Palm Beach. From there, it was a short, 2-hour drive north back to our home in Indialantic. Another fantastic trip with high adventure, good close friends and new friends – what could be better!

Kauai, Hawaii

November 27, 2017 9:23 pm

We are fortunate to have good friends who kindly invited us to spend the week of November 4-11, 2017 with them at their timeshare resort in Kauai – the “Garden Island”. Bob and Diana allowed us to share a 2-bedroom/2-bath unit in Poipu that was on the water’s edge and that overlooked the beautiful southern volcanic coast, (“R” on map). The view allowed us to daily watch the many large sea turtles which came into the numerous craggy coves to feed.
The last time we were in Hawaii was in 1988, also in Poipu, when we took our young boys on their first adventure vacation. Back then, we hiked the Na Pali coast, viewed the Waimea Canyon, swam at Poipu Beach and enjoyed the quiet, sparely populated island that was still-off-the-beaten-trail. This time would be quite different.

Map of Kauai showing key places referenced in the web log

After a direct flight on Saturday from Atlanta to Honolulu and a short air-flight to Kauai, we were greeted at the airport by our friends and settled into our “home” for the next week. After the long trip, a night out to dinner at Keoki’s for fresh fish and calamari was finished off with a huge piece of Hula Cake completed the evening.
Sunday, after a brief stop at Brennaki’s of Poipu, (“1” on map), we ate breakfast at Kalapaki Joe’s – the most western-located sports bar in the United States – where the two of us split a Loco Kalua – a breakfast of rice overlain by sautéed onions, pulled pork and covered in brown gravy and finished with a fried egg! After washing it all down with coffee and mimosas, we headed west on highway 540 to Kalaheo where we toured the Kauai Coffee Company, (“3” on map). Coffee is now the key cash crop of Kauai since the exodus of pineapples and sugar cane years ago from the islands. After walking the fields, touring the gift shop and drinking our fill of free coffee, we headed back on the road west through Hanapepe to Port Allen where we stopped and explored Salt Pond Beach, named for the nearby commercial salt pond business. Then, we stopped in the town of Port Allen for lunch and beer at the Kauai Island Brewery, (“3” on map). After lunch, we shopped at the famous “Red Dirt” store, well known from a “Dirtiest Job” episode, and where the shirts and clothes have been permanently stained by the islands red soil. From here, we headed back to the town of Koloa where we grocery shopped for steaks that we grilled poolside that evening, accompanied by shrimp, mushrooms salad! The night was finished off with wine while resting in the resort’s spa before our pillows finally called our name.

Pictures taken in 1988 during family vacation on Poipu Beach


View of resort’s pool

On Monday, we awoke to sip our coffee while watching the sunrise and sea turtles coming to feed. When the local fish market opened, we bought fresh fish for dinner, and then drove the coastal road to its end at Spouting Horn Beach Park, (“2” on map), a place we had visited 29 years earlier. Today, the hole in the lava rock still spouted the ocean swells, but the park was now encircled with vendors and typical tourist venues. From here, we went onto the island’s Kaumualii Highway, past Hanapepe to the coastal town of Waimea where we stopped for lunch at “The Shrimp Station”, (“5” on map), a little drive-up that serves the very best shrimp tacos any of us have ever had! After lunch, we turned north onto the Waimea Canyon Drive, where we drove up the scenic west side of the spectacular Waimea Canyon, the largest canyon outside of The Grand Canyon in the United States, and commonly known as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. Waimea Canyon is 15 miles long, about 1 mile wide and up to 3000’ deep, and offers challenging hikes as well as unmatched views, (“6” on map). We were lucky to have great weather and perfect visibility during most of our ascent through viewpoints and overlooks. However, by the time we arrived at the summit, fog rolled in from the north spoiling our view of the Na Pali Coast. There are no roads in the northwest corner of the island as the rugged topography has made the area accessible only by hiking treacherous trails or by boat. We called it a day, drove back to our resort, and grilled our fish for the evening’s dinner, and prepared for a day at the beach tomorrow.

Sunrise and daytime view from below our resort balcony

Entrance to Kauai Coffee Company

Two views of Spouting Horn from 1988 & from 2017

A view of Waimea Canyon from Overlook

Tuesday, we woke, had coffee and breakfast, and then headed a short walking distance to Poipu Beach, (“1” on map), where we swam, snorkeled and laid on the sand. The water visibility was excellent, and all sizes and colors of fish ventured into the shallows to visit the reefs. After such a relaxing morning, we returned to the resort for a refreshing fish salad late lunch and began to get ready for our evening entertainment – a Luau Kalamaku at historic Kilohana Plantation! This Luau presents like a musical play that pays homage to the earliest discovery and settlement of the Hawaiian Islands by Polynesians from Tahiti. Since the Luau includes an open bar, we all took a charter bus to the event located east on Highway 50 just before the city of Lihue. While bussing there, it began to rain, making us more thankful for the arranged transportation. We arrived at the Kilohana Plantation, (“7” on map), and were greeted with a ranch-type complex including a real train & depot, craft fair, restaurant and Event Main Stage Pavillion. After sightseeing and enjoying the open bar, Rocky was convinced to join the stage group and learn the Luau. We sat with some young people from Portland, and had a buffet dinner of salads, rice, poi, sweet potatoes, fish, pork, chicken and desserts. Dinner was followed by the show that included dramatic re-enactments, traditional music and fire dances. It was late when we left, and we were grateful for the bus ride home to complete our day.

Colorful Angelfish at Poipu Beach

Luau Kalamaku at Kilohana Plantation

On Wednesday, Julie and I decided to “recreate” our hike along the Na Pali Coast that we did 29 years ago! The trip begins with a 2-hour car ride counterclockwise around the island past the towns of Lihue, Wailua, Anahola, Kilauea and Hanalei, (the home of Puff, The Magic Dragon!) At the end of the road, at the trail head, the Park Ranger checked our plans and reminded us that it was a 2-hour, 2.5 -mile-one-way hike to the “hidden beach” – Hanakapiai Beach – located in the Kalalau Valley and only accessible by hiking the ancient trail, or by boat. If we wanted to additionally hike to the Hanakapiai Water Fall, it would be another 2-hour-one-way hike up an even more challenging trail. Since it had rained the night before, the trail was slippery and muddy, so we took our time and decided that we would not try to go to the Falls. The trail wanders up and down clay-covered, slippery rocks, around a series of ravines and ridges, (each with a unique view of the coast), and across two running streams over which we tip-toed on the tops of boulders. In 105 minutes, we arrived at the beach, “10” on map), which was much smaller and rock-strewn than it was 29 years ago. We were greeted by a park ranger at this end, as well, along with more people than we might have expected. We had packed a lunch of salami and crackers, chips and water, which we enjoyed, while wading in the surf and exploring the coastal caves. Finally, the time came to begin the hike back, which started with a stream crossing and a ½ mile climb up from the shore, before walking the way out in time to meet Bob and Diana who had agreed to pick us up at a set time. Upon return at the trail-head, we washed the mud off our shoes and ourselves, and had a chance to get cleaned up before joining our friends for the ride back. After returning to the resort, we showered, and all went to dinner at Brennecke’s Restaurant – the same place we took our two boys to eat 29 years ago!

View of the Na Pali Coast Trail and the coastal hike ahead

Views of the rainbow and Kee Beach

Brenneke’s Grill still sitting in the same spot 30+ years

On Thursday, November 9th, after breakfast, we returned to the Koloa Fish Market to purchase dinner, before driving back to Salt Pond Bay for another day at the beach, swimming and snorkeling, (“4” on map). After picking out a nice spot under the local palm trees, we spied a rare Monk Seal resting on the beach. The Monk Seal is endangered with only 1300 of them left in the islands, and the beachgoers a seal respectfully tolerated each other’s space. Meanwhile, we snorkeled behind a lava rock breakwater where reef fish abounded, although the visibility was reduced by the water breaking over the rocks. After exploring the beach for sea-glass and taking in the views of the Salt Pond and Southern Shore, we returned to the resort for a late snack and drinks in the hot tub spa before cooking fish dinner on the grill, and enjoying an evening of good friends and wine.

Julie and Monk seal on the beach at Salt Pond

Friday would be our last full day in Kauai, and we decided to go somewhere none of us had ever been! A friend recommended that we visit a Hindi Temple located in Kapaa just north of Wailua. On the way there, we stopped to view Opaekaa Falls, (“8” on map), and river just outside of Wailua, when the mist started to roll in. At Kauai’s Hindu Monastery, (“9” on map), we all put on sarongs and explored the grounds. The Monastery was founded in 1970 by a monk named Gurudeva, who raised funds to purchase the grounds and grew the complex to include an Indian Banyan Tree, Temple, Library, Meditation Center and Visitor’s Gift Shop. In the Temple is located one of the largest single-crystal quartz stones in the world, “The Earthkeeper” that stands 39” high and weighs 500 lbs! After exploring the Temple grounds, we headed back to the Kilohana Plantation for the free rum tasting at the Koloa Rum Company’s store. Today’s special was “coffee rum”, and after tasting it, along with 4 other rums, we shopped before having lunch of fish tacos and shrimp spring-rolls at Gaylord’s Restaurant, located next door. After finishing with Mai Tai’s, we shopped the shops there before returning to our resort to enjoy the hot tub spa and starting to pack. Bob and Rocky went to the Koloa grocery for shrimp and wine, and after a fine dinner, we finished our packing for our trip tomorrow.

Pictures of the Opaekaa Water Falls from 1988 & today

November 11th would be our day to leave and head home. After completing our packing, we all went back to Kalapaki Joe’s for breakfast and our last taste of a Loco Kalua. From there, we checked out of the Resort and started heading to the airport located at Lihue. However, since we had plenty of time, we decided to stop one more time at The Koloa Rum Company’s Tasting Room for a round of dark, spice, coconut and passion fruit rum. From there, it was on to the airport to catch a flight to Honolulu, and a subsequent flight back to Atlanta and onto Florida. A great holiday in Paradise!


Cycling the Canadian Rockies – From Banff to Jasper

July 22, 2017 5:25 pm

July 2017

Julie’s sister and brother-in-law invited us to join them on a Backroads cycling trip in the Canadian Rockies. The trip would be 7 days from Banff to Jasper with some side-trips and other activities. On Saturday, July 8th, we flew from Orlando to Calgary via Houston, where we caught a 90-minute shuttle to The Buffalo Mountain Lodge in Banff. There, we met up with Julie’s sister, Pam, and her husband, AJ., for a walk through town and a light shawarma dinner. After dinner, we took advantage of the late setting sun and the free bus service to visit Lake Minnewanka. Many things in Canada were free or reduced this year since it was Canada’s 150th anniversary! At the Lake, we saw deer and a mountain goat, and enjoyed a brief walk, although many trails were closed due to the extensive bear activity in the area.
Sunday morning, after breakfast, we met our Backroads guides, a Canadian named Cameron and the leader, a woman from California named Hannah. They would work the week with us, along with logistics support from Samantha. After a brief safety talk and overview, it was off to fit our bikes and to start our first trip. As always, the Backroads bikes are excellent, custom titanium frames with carbon-fiber forks and Garmin GPS route electronics. The 4 of us were joined by 9 others – 3 couples and 3 singles. Julie and Pam, and another guest, Kathy, rode e-bikes – bikes with a battery-powered “assist” that is applied to each pedaled stroke. We then rode a route of 22km out of Banff, past Two Jacks and MInnewanka Lakes, to a picnic spot for lunch. After lunch, we rode another 25km up a 1300’ climb up Mount Norquay, a popular winter ski resort, before heading back to the Buffalo Mountain Lodge. Rocky actually rode an extra 12km, having returned to the hotel first before following the correct course. On Julie’s the way down Mount Norquay, a downhill skateboarder crashed, was bleeding from his head and needed medical attention. But our group all did well, and then met later for an excellent “Welcome Dinner”. (59km daily, 59km total)

Ascent of Mount Norquay


View of Banff from Mount Norquay

July 10th would start early with breakfast and picture-taking of a herd of elk grazing behind our room while we were prepping for the day’s ride.

Roaming Banff Elk Herd

We started riding in a light rainfall, as we left Banff, circled the golf course and then passed Vermillion Lakes, before heading north on Highway 1A through beautiful forested hills and valleys. On the way out of town, we passed a large bull elk with a full rack. After cycling 36km, we stopped for lunch at Johnston Campgrounds, where we ate and also took a short 2-mile hike to Johnston Falls, a popular tourist attraction along a narrow, suspended walkway through the canyon. The afternoon we rode another 37km to Deer Lodge at Lake Louise. Along the way, we saw another bull elk, and watched helicopters longline-ferrying supplies over the rough terrain. After checking in to Deer Lodge, we explored the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a famous original hotel located next door. Then, after a fine dinner of Walleye Pike and Bison steak, we walked halfway around the north side of the lake before returning to our rooms after 10pm. (73km daily, 132km total)

Lake Louise


View Back of Lake Louise & Chateau Fairmont

Tuesday, after breakfast, we rode the challenging 14km up to Moraine Lake and the Valley of Ten Peaks. From here, one gets the spectacular view recreated on the former Canadian $20 bill.

Picturesque Moraine Lake

From there, we descended and rode another 20km, entering the Icefields Parkway (93N), to our original planned lunch stop at Herbert Lake. However, since our group was relatively fast and it was so early, we continued another 21km to Mosquito Creek Campground. After lunch, it was a short 12km ride past the Crowfoot and Bow Lake Glaciers to the Num Ti Jah Lodge, located on the shores of Bow Lake, and the headwaters of the south-flowing Bow River. This Lodge is an original log cabin building with many stuffed animal heads and a long, colorful history. After checking-in, a group of us assembled at the lake’s edge for a polar plunge into the 40-degree water. Since we arrived early, there was still time for the 5-mile hike around the lake to the Bow Falls overlook. The hike took 2-hours and took us over braided stream moraines and up a cliff bluff via a ridiculous set of “stairs”! After fighting off the hordes of mosquitoes, we arrived back in time to clean-up and enjoy an excellent dinner of mushroom soup, venison and lentil loaf. (67km daily, 199km total)

Bow Lake


Polar Swim in Bow Lake


Climbing the stairs to Bow Falls

Wednesday, July 12th started with a 4am fire alarm and evacuation from the hotel! Apparently, someone left a pot and burner on in the kitchen, creating smoke that set off the alarm. After 30-minutes, we returned to our rooms, cold and groggy. With breakfast at 7am, we got ready for the longest day, yet. Today’s route would take us further along 93N Icefields Parkway, but started with a 5km climb to the Peyto Lake viewpoint. Including another brief stop at Saskatchewan Crossing for hot coffees, we rode the next 59km to our lunch stop at Coleman Creek. Along the way, riders saw bears, deer, elk and goats, as this remote area is home to a variety of wildlife. After lunch, there was a brutal 2000’ ascent of Sunwapta Pass, (a 7-9% grade), at an elevation of 6675ft. After completing the 37km after-lunch ride through weather ranging from 90-degree heat to near-freezing rain, we arrived at the Glacier View Lodge, at the base of the Athabasca Glacier. At 5pm, our group met for our tour and walk on the Athabasca Glacier. Buses took us from the hotel to the “Glacier Entry” Center, where we transferred onto special “ice crawlers” – 6-wheel drive vehicles specially made for ascending and descending the lateral moraines, and for transporting over ice. We traveled out onto the Glacier, where we had ½-hour to walk around and take pictures. Since we were here 13 months ago, the Glacier has receded nearly another 60ft, causing the visiting area to be moved, and giving estimates are that these types of tours have only 10-15 years left available. That night, we had dinner at the hotel’s “Altitude” restaurant while watching the sun set on the Glacier. (90km daily, 289km total)

View of Athabasca Glacier


Athabasca Glacier Up Close


Walking on Athabasca Glacier

Thursday morning, we left the hotel soon after breakfast, and began the 52km ride to Honeymoon Lake for lunch. This route gave views to the most wildlife, yet, with roadside viewings of bears, elk, deer and goats. After a picnic lunch, we began the afternoon 53km ride by leaving the newer Highway 93 for the original Highway 93A, a bumpy, isolated ride with very little traffic. However, this road also gave access to quite a bit of wildlife viewing. Along the way, we stopped at the Athabasca Falls where we walked to the scenic bridges and overviews, and had a quick snack. At the end of the route, we entered the town of Jasper, we cruised past quaint stores and country-style shops. After leaving town, we rode to the Tekarra Lodge, overlooking the Athabasca River. After checking in, we walked to mile back into town to explore further and to shop. That evening we ate Boar Belly and Bison short-ribs followed by specialty coffees. Our rooms were small efficiencies with stove, refrigerator and microwave and fireplaces for the chilly evenings. (105km daily, 394km total)

Roadside Black Bear

Friday, we had the option to take a short bike ride, or to raft the Class 2 Rapids of the Athabasca River. Eight people chose the rafting trip, while three chose to ride bicycles, two went exploring/hiking. The rafting trip was a great experience, with our guide, a young woman named Emma from Adelaide, Australia. The trip took about 1-hour and journeyed us past the Tekarra Lodge. After returning to the hotel, everyone assembled for the journey via vans back to Banff. The four of us were dropped off at the Fox Hotel for the night, where we shopped the stores of Banff, and ate a dinner of pizza and beer!

Rafting in the Athabasca River


Taking a Wave while Rafting on the Athabasca River

Relaxing by the Athabasca River

Saturday started with an early shuttle back to the airport in Calgary, and flights back to Houston and Orlando. After arriving home at 1am Sunday morning, we settled in for a well-deserved good-night’s sleep in our own bed.

Young Male Elk Graces our Departure

Tahiti – Part 3 – In the Footsteps of Captain Cook

May 24, 2017 10:22 pm

In the Footsteps of Captain Cook
Part 3 – Moorea

Map of the Island of Moorea

The island of Moorea has a much less extensive and mature reef system than many of The Society Islands, and there are only a few motu’s around this island. The airport is located on the northeast corner of the island’s mainland, and, after collecting our luggage, we took a 30-minute bus ride from the airport, west, to the central north coast of the island where the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort is located, and where we would spend the next 3 nights in onshore bungalows. Here, each bungalow has its own secluded patio area with a private plunge-pool! The resort’s restaurant bar overlooks the ocean, with Bora Bora in the background, providing a great sunset view at evening Happy Hour. After unpacking, we met for drinks and dinner of shrimp, swordfish and tuna, before taking a leisurely stroll and calling it a night.

Coast Line of the Island from the Air


The Hilton Resort Pool


The Hilton Koi Pond


Sunset from The Hilton Bar Restaurant

Wednesday morning, we were awakened at daybreak by a local, roaming rooster. It turns out that roosters roaming loose on the island are the norm, as they are protected by law and are a growing nuisance. After taking a tremendous buffet breakfast on the restaurant’s balcony, we took up lounges under a beach hut and snorkeled off the beach to the resort’s mini “coral gardens”. The coral here is much more mature and readily accessible that at our Bora Bora Resort, and the sea life is very abundant.

Bungalows with Rainbow


Reef Parrot Fish


Reef Trigger Fish


Reef Coral

Later in the morning, a mist flowed down over the mountains from the south, and we took a modest lunch and got ready for our afternoon adventure. After lunch, we took a transport around the bay to the west to The Hotel Intercontinental Resort, where there is located both a Turtle Preserve, and a Bottlenose Dolphin Center. The afternoon would be spent with a Trainer and Bottlenose Dolphin named “Kuohoa”, a 19-year-old male that was rescued from the U.S. Navy. Kuokoa was ~8 ft. long and weighed ~210 lbs., but was gentle interacting with us, allowing us to pet and kiss him, and playfully interacting with us in the water for over ½ hour. After our “Dolphin Adventure” we returned to the Hilton for a Polynesian Buffer Dinner accompanied with Polynesian dancing and a fire-dancing on the beach.

Bungalows with Rainbow


Bottlenose Dolphin Kuokoa


Kuokoa Grees the Group


Julie with Kuokoa

On Thursday, May 11th, Rocky got up early and hike 90 minutes up the Opunoho Valley into the island’s center to the archeological ruins of Marae Ahu a Mahine, and on to a lookout at over 800 meter high. Nowadays, most inhabitants of the island live along the coast, but the ancient Tahitians populated many inland parts of the island.

View from Overlook in Moorea

After returning to the resort, Rocky met the others for breakfast, and then took up on the beach under the shady beach hut before snorkeling out to the very outer edges of the reef. In these deeper waters, the mature and beautiful assortment of coral was extensive and populated with some of the most diverse and larger fish that we had seen on the trip. After lunch at our lounges on the beach, we took a kayak out to the same outer reef location before ending the afternoon in the swimming pool.

View from the Hilton Pool

After a quick plunge at our bungalow and a leisurely shower, we me for drinks and dinner at the Crepes Restaurant located out over the water in the lagoon on the dock near the overwater bungalows. The crepes were enormous and worth sharing, and after meeting the Chef, we all shared a dessert crepe of bananas, chocolate and coconut ice cream. At the end of dinner, we spent time observing the 4-5 ft. bull sharks that were exploring the area underneath us.

Hilton Overwater Bungalows at Sunset

Friday morning, it was time to pack and end our adventure. After meeting in the lobby and checking out, we bused back to the airport for the very short (15 minute) flight back to Papeete, Tahiti, where our international flight back to the U.S. would leave that evening. Since we had several hours before check-in in Papeete, Jeff, Debbie, Rocky and Julie put their luggage in storage and took a taxi into town to sample the local food, brew, and deserts. After short visits at several bars and restaurants, and having lunch, we returned to the airport to check in for our flight, and spent the last few hours in the Priority Lounge. The flight back to Los Angeles was only 8 hours, but was followed by layovers and a stop in Houston, before returning to Orlando for the hour’s drive home.

Brewery for Lunch in Papeete

A very excellent adventure!

Tahiti – Part 2 – In the Footsteps of Captain Cook

7:48 pm

In the Footsteps of Captain Cook
Part 2 – Bora Bora

Our flight from Raiatea to Bora Bora was only 50 minutes, (145 miles), as the view of the iconic Mt. Otemanu and Mt. Pahia of Bora Bora has been clear to us for the past week from Raiatea. The airport for Bora Bora was originally built by the U.S. Military at the beginning of World War II, but the island never saw any action as the fighting rapidly moved west. The airport is located on a motu, an island on the northern outer edges of the ringing coral reef.

Map of Bora Bora


Motu at Bora Bora

After landing and being greeted with the traditional leis, we took a boat ferry to our resort for the next 4 days, – The Pearl Beach Resort – also located on a motu at the northwestern end of the island. Here, each couple had a ~700 sq. ft. “bungalow” over water, complete with bar, TV, a spacious bath and shower, an outdoor balcony and a second dock level with stairs down to the water, including an outdoor shower. Inside the bungalow was a central glass-top table that slid open to view a coral head and reef fish in the sea below. The vanities, nightstands, sinks and tubs all were surrounded with views of the water underneath, and with the under-cabin lights, one could view the marine life whenever one desired. That night, we had dinner ashore poolside.

Pearl Beach Resort Entryway


Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort Overwater Bungalows


View Through the Bungalow Table


Rocky on the Bungalow Deck


Julie on the Bungalow Deck

Saturday morning after a huge buffet breakfast, we caught the hotel boat ferry to the main island, where the hotel provided bus transport to the town of Vaitape, located on the west side of the island. Vaitape is a typical island tourist town populated with small souvenir, jewelry and craft shops. It was also “Election Day” for the Polynesian French citizens, and festivities abounded as they we busy voting for the next French President. Unfortunately, this also meant it was a “dry” day – no alcohol available locally! After visiting most of the shops and buying a few souvenirs, we stopped for an ice cream before returning to the resort for a margarita and calamari lunch. That afternoon, we met up with Bob and Diane for afternoon cocktails and a snorkeling adventure, swimming ¼ mile to the southern end of the motu and looking for coral heads and sea life. This area was very shallow (< 5 ft.), and the warmer water limited the number of species to be seen. After the disappointment, it was only fitting that we saw and followed a large stingray while returning to our bungalow. That evening, as the next Oceania cruise ship was coming into port, we all caught a boat ferry and bus to the famous restaurant of “Bloody Mary’s”, located on the far southwest end of Bora Bora. There, we were met by the hostess and an ice bar of available appetizers – meats, fish and shellfish – from which we could select our evening meal. The shrimp, marlin, mahi and tuna were excellent, as was the sherbet and coconut ice creams for desert, and the evening was late by the time we got back to our bungalows.

The Bloody Mary Restuarant

Sunday, Julie and Rocky explored the motu, while Bob, Diane, Jeff and Debbie took a jeep adventure around Bora Bora.

Fashionable Jeep Road Trip

We walked the motu’s eastern beach, explored the extent of the offshore and onshore bungalows, walked the extensive gardens and visited the resort’s spa. That rest of the morning was spent relaxing on the beach and swimming in the pool. After a pizza lunch, we snorkeled the central “baby coral gardens” that the resort was raising among the bungalows. Surprisingly, these coral heads are “electrified”, assisting the growth and development of the coral and attracting significant numbers of reef fish! That afternoon was drinks again with Bob and Diane, who had returned from an excellent island tour! this gave way to “Happy Hour” at the poolside bar, and then to dinner at the resort’s French restaurant where we had scallops, pasta and mahi mahi.

Butterfly Fish


Coral Heads


The Pearl Beach Resort Beach

Monday began with a relaxing day on the beach, including kayaking and paddle-boarding around the lagoon. After some brief gift-shop shopping, Rocky explored the trails that crossed the motu to the western side, and then Julie and Rocky snorkeled the larger coral heads north of the resort, where the sea life was much more plentiful. For lunch, we ate our leftover pizza and spent more time snorkeling and exploring the resorts coral “farming”. After another poolside happy hour, we joined Jeff and Debbie for dinner at the resort’s Sushi Restaurant, before enjoying an evening nightcap with them and retiring to our bungalow to pack for our last night there.

Rocky on Resort Paddleboard


Julie on the Outrigger Canoe

May 9th, we were up with sun and on the way to breakfast, saw a huge stingray circling under the bungalows.

Stingray cruising the bungalows

After breakfast, it was time to check-out and catch the boat ferry to the airport for our flight to the island of Moorea. While waiting for the boat taxi, we were hit with our first real rainstorm of the trip, a windy downpour that ultimately delayed our flight by 1 hour. Graciously, the airline offered everyone a free soda while waiting on the delay. The flight would stop first on the island of Hinehua, before them jumping a short distance to Moorea.  –

Tahiti – Part 1 – In the Footsteps of Captain Cook

7:25 pm

In the Footsteps of Captain Cook
Part 1 – Raiatea & Tahaa

We were fortunate enough to have good friends, Bob and Diane, who invited us and another couple to join them on a dream holiday to Tahiti. Our travels began with a Thursday flight from Orlando to Los Angeles, where we boarded an 8-hour, overnight flight on Tahiti Air to Papeete, the capitol of Tahiti.

Map of Raiatea & Tahaa Sail Plan

Tahiti is one of “The Society Islands”, part of French Polynesia that is still maintained as part of France. After being greeted in Papeete with beautiful fresh leis, we caught a short turbojet flight on local Tahiti Nui Airlines to the nearby island of Raiatea. From there, it was a short transport ride to Marina Apooiti, where we boarded our Lagoon 40 Catamaran from Tahiti Yacht Charters. After “check-out”, loading supplies, and unpacking, we set out into the lagoon at ~1:00pm for our first sail. The boat is fairly modern, with 4 double cabins, (2 in each pontoon), including another small “bow cabin” in each, and 4 bathrooms with electric toilets. Each cabin is equipped with an air conditioner, and the boat also has a generator, microwave, dingy with motor, stand-up paddleboard, and kayak.


Our Catamaran for 1 Week

The Society Islands are part of a volcanic arc, created as the earth’s crust moves over a “hot spot” that periodically results in a sea mount that emerges from the deep ocean. These islands are all ringed by coral reefs that mostly surrounds them and limits the approached to the islands. The island of Raiatea, and the very nearby island of Tahaa, are surrounded by a single coral reef that rings them nearly 1-mile offshore, leaving a 300’ deep navigable lagoon between the island and the reef. Occasionally, small pieces of land appear as islands out on the exposed coral reef, commonly referred to as “motu’s”. Since we only have the boat chartered for a week, we decide to spend our time circumnavigating these 2 island within their lagoon. For our first night, we sail and motor a short way to the southern end of Tahaa, where we pick up a mooring ball in Apu Bay to partake in the weekly Friday night beach feast and show at “La Ficus”, hosted by a local named Jerimiah, his family and friends. The food is typical Polynesian fare, prepared on hot rocks and wrapped in banana leaves. It included fish, chicken, beef, beans, potatoes, plantains, eggplant, “barrel root” (cassava), and a variety of fruits. All served with local juice, beer and wine, and accompanied by Polynesian dancing, singing and fire play, for a wonderful evening.

Entertainment at La Ficus

Saturday morning, we took a leisurely breakfast on-board, and then went to investigate a local, family-run pearl farm on Apu Point called Champon Pearls. The Society Islands provide most of the world’s cultured black pearls. Champon nurtures about 30,000 black-lip oysters. The oysters are purchased as “spat” and raised for 18 months in hanging baskets to maturity. Every few months, they are brought up and cleaned from algae and other organisms. At ~18 months, the oysters are brought up and opened slightly, where a “foreign” piece of flesh, (grafts), from another oyster is implanted along with a small, spherical piece of shell from Louisiana oysters. The oyster’s immune system build a sack around the foreign material and coats the Louisiana nucleus with its own mother-of-pearl. Each oyster has a unique mother-of-pearl color ranging from pink to green to blue to bronze to black. The oysters are returned to the lagoon waters where it takes another 18 months for the pearl to develop. They are again taken up, opened slightly, and the pearl is extracted. In its place, another Louisiana nucleus of the now larger size is emplaced. Then the process is repeated to create a larger size pearl. An oyster can produce for about 3-to-5 cycles, with each cycle creating a larger pearl-coating over an ever-larger nucleus. Only about 30% on the pearls of are gem quality, with spherical shape, uniform color and no flaws. The others are also used in jewelry, but are of lesser value.

Black Pearl Oysters

After shopping at Champon Pearl Farm, we returned to the boat, and continued our journey south to the east coast on Raiatea. The wind was perfect, and we got the boat up to ~7 knots while sailing. Halfway down the island, we entered Faaroa Bay where we again picked up a mooring ball, and then decided to explore up the Faaroa River by dingy. After braving a brief rainstorm, we were met on the river by a local fisherman in a kayak, James, who offered to take us to his home and show us his crops and plantation. We followed James in his kayak with our dingy up river to a landing where we walked through beautifully tended grounds of gardens, small crops and trees. James gathered local bananas, grapefruit and coconuts for us, while telling us of his family’s house and lands, showing off the scenery, introducing us to his dogs, and described the details of the local flora. He then ducked into his family’s vanilla bean greenhouse and shared a few mature vanilla beans with us, which we would make use of that night on board our boat. We finally thanked him and took our leave back to the boat where we prepared a dinner of mahi-mahi with a salad and homemade sauce of milk, vanilla, coconut and olive oil that was delicious!

James’ Plantation Up The Raiatea River

Sunday morning, we continued south to Opoa Bay to look for a mooring ball from which we could go to shore to investigate the archeological Marae Taputapuatea. A Polynesian Marae is a stone structure that was used as a site of gathering to worship and meet with the many tribes. Marae Taputapuatea is one of the most important preserved sites as it is believed to be the site from which Polynesian ocean excursions left to populate the Hawaiian Islands, New Zealand and most of Polynesia. Unfortunately, there were no mooring balls or anchorages there, so we continued south to the next bay, Hotopuu Bay. Here we found a mooring ball, and, after taking the dingy to shore, we made our way along the local coastal road by walking ~30 minutes to Marae Taputapuatea.

Marae Taputapuatea Archeological Site

At the Marae, we explored the ruins, the flora, and read the placards that were conveniently in Polynesian, French and English. It is reported that when Captain James Cook discovered these islands in 1779, that he witnessed a human sacrifice here! After fully exploring the site, we interrupted our walk back for a stop for nibbles and drinks at the Hotel Atiapiti, a quaint establishment on the point with a modest number of cabins. The owner was extremely gracious and after sampling the local beer, Hinano, and a local vodka-infused beer, Tabu, we bought a few bottles of liquor and made our way back to the boat, and set a course continuing south to Nao coral reef for snorkeling. After setting anchor, we took the dingy to the motu island of Haio where we snorkeled for an hour among the coral heads, colorful reef fish and blue-lipped clams.

Julie Snorkling at Nao Nao


The Beautiful Blue-Lipped Clam

After returning to the boat, we motored a short way to Tuatua Bay to get a mooring ball for the night, and watch the local village having a barbeque picnic onshore and preparing for an outrigger canoe race in the coming week. We passed the evening with nightcaps and a rousing game of cards – “Uno”!
Monday is “May Day” and a National Holiday in French Polynesia. In the morning, our generator stopped working, so we headed north to the port of Utoroa, where the Charter Company sent a repairman to discover is was a blown fuse. While repairs were being made, the girls went shopping for supplies at the local market, and the boys refueled the boat. When all was complete, we continued our journey north to the island of Tahaa and into Haamene Bay for the night. This evening, we went ashore to the classic restaurant “Hibiscus” for dinner, operated by an old Frenchman and his family. After a great fish dinner and bantering with the locals, we finished off the evening back at the boat with a fine port and another round of cards.
Tuesday is May 2nd, and today we traveled a short distance to the “Mahaea” reef, dropped anchor and took the dingy ashore on a “private” motu generally used by “Windstar Sailing Cruises” for guests when then are in the area. Since it was deserted now, we went ashore and used it as a base for snorkeling all around the island seeing many coral heads, fish, nautilus shells and sea creatures of all kinds. Stranded on the motu is also a stray cat, whom we fed and gave water to, and after Bob practiced his native coconut opening skills, we headed back to the boat for lunch, and then continued sailing to the town of Patio located on the north end of Tahaa. Patio is a very small town, but with a grocery where we could resupply our provisions. That night, we stayed at a mooring ball within the lagoon, but just off the village’s coast and enjoyed a dinner of grilled lamb chops with scalloped potatoes. However, at 2:00am, we were suddenly awakened as the catamaran violently pitched exactly once. We immediately went on deck to see what caused the huge disturbance only to find no vessels, no wakes and nothing but complete, moonlit calm. We found this situation very strange, and, after talking with locals, considered the possibility that we were “bumped” by a whale who occasionally traverse the lagoon’s waterways! Who knows?
Wednesday, May 3rd was Debbie’s birthday, and we started the morning with balloons, party hats and a birthday breakfast. After festivities, we set off to continue our counterclockwise circumnavigation of Tahaa. After a short trip, we stopped at the Love Pearl Farm where we had the opportunity to watch a Chinese professional inserting grafts into oysters. From there, we went a short ways to another commercial establishment, Orina Pearl Farm, where they were actively harvesting pearls from a set of their 300,000 oysters. After shopping there, we sailed to Tapuimae Bay, where we picked up a mooring ball opposite the island’s cargo dock. From here, we took the dingy all the way across the lagoon to a deserted motu next to Tautau motu where a large, private resort was located with overwater cabins. Between the motu’s is an area of tremendous coral growth known as “the Coral Gardens”. We landed the dingy on the south end of the motu, and then walked with our snorkel gear to the north end of the motu, where we entered the “Coral Garden” and used the local current to take us back towards our dingy. “The Coral Garden” was certainly one of the most amazing snorkeling experiences we had ever experienced, with narrow canyons winding through colorful coral that reaches to the surface, and abundant reef fish everywhere. We even encountered a massive Moray Eel that measured over 8 inches in diameter and nearly 5 feet long! The snorkel trek back took us over an hour after which we collected up our belongings and began the long dingy ride in the rain, back to our boat across the lagoon. That night, we had a birthday celebration on board with chicken, veggies, a banana desert and chocolate.

Curious Fish at Coral Gardens


Sea Anemonae at Coral Gardens


The Coral Gardens


Moray Eel at Coral Gardens


The Coral Gardens

Thursday, we were up early for a short resupply trip to the dock for eggs, wine and ice, and to dispose of our recyclables and trash. There, we met a local young woman, Jessica” who ran a little shop and told us where to find the Peri-Peri Rhum Distillery and Vanilla Farm on the opposite shore. We took the dingy there, and after traversing the shallows, made our way to the establishment where we were greeted by the French Manager, who took us on a tour and tasting of their use of coconuts for oils and soaps, their raising of vanilla used in their rum, creams and vinegar, and the processing of their sugar cane into 70, 75 and 80 proof rum.

Pari Pari Rhum Distillary

After buying samples, we set sail for Hurepiti Bay where we had lunch on board, and then explored the shore via kayak looking for the local horticultural tours. After locating “Vanilla Tours” proprietor, Noah (+689-40-65-6246), we were disappointed to learn that his tours include the whole island and take over ½ a day. However, Diane negotiated a more compressed version that would include a stroll around his property and the local area with description of the local flora. Noah was born in Tahaa of French parents who visited there and stayed years before. After studying in University in Paris, he returned to take over the family’s business and introduced us to the wide variety of garden plants, fruits and trees that populate the island. At the end of the tour, he sent us on our way with a collection of coconut, grapefruit, guava and papaya. From there, we completed our circumnavigation of Tahaa by again taking a mooring ball in Apu Bay, and arranging a “private” dinner for the night at “La Ficus”. Jerimiah was the consummate host, opening the establishment just for us 6, and providing not only a fantastic meal of beef, pork, ceviche and a revered crustacean, “skee” (a sort of Polynesian lobster that actually is a large Mantis Shrimp), but also talked, played instruments and sang with his family for us for most the night. A truly magical evening! That night, the generator failed again for unknown reasons, but our final night on board was cool and comfortable.
The next morning, the generator started back up fine and we took the boat back to the marina in Raiatea to turn it in, ending the first leg of our Polynesian adventure. After successfully checking the boat in, getting cleaned up and eating lunch at the marina, we took a transport back to the airport for our short flight from Raiatea to the nearby island of Bora Bora!

2017 Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands – Part 1

March 14, 2017 6:22 pm

It is Sunday morning, February 5th, 2017, and we have left our Peruvian Guide and traveled with our 11 other adventurer travelers from Cusco to Lima then on to Quito, Ecuador. Here, we are met by our new Country Guide, Louis. Louis is a certified Galapagos naturalist who was born and raised on the Galapagos Island of San Cristobal, where his family still owns and operates a farm. Louis is married with a daughter, and lives on the mainland in Ecuador’s largest city of Guayaquil. After collecting up our group, we head downtown to our hotel, The Mercure Alameda. From here, we have a few hours to explore the area, so a group of us walk down to Ejido Park where weekends are bustling with artists, food vendors and handicraft markets. Quito is Ecuador’s capital city and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It sits in a long, narrow valley, 30 miles long by 3 miles wide, between a number of active volcanos. After a “Welcome Dinner” in the hotel, we rush off to watch The Super Bowl and Lady Gaga’s spectacular halftime show – broadcast in English and in Spanish!

Apartment buildings in Quito

The next day, after breakfast, we go to a special school to watch, and participate, in a presentation by the Sinamune Disabled Children’s Orchestra. This Orchestra was founded by Maestro Edgar Palacios, a famed musician who gave up his personal career to lead this group. Since 2005, Grand Circle Tours had partnered with them to help support the group. They demonstrated tremendous musical ability in playing instruments, singing and dancing, and in their interaction with the audience. After the concert, we went to Quito’s historic section and saw La Basilica and toured the Plaza de La Independenzia. Here, under a winged-statue of Freedom, all sorts of activities were underway, including a march supporting a woman candidate in the soon-to-be Country’s elections. We entered the Presidential Palace and took pictures with the stoic Palace Guards, before walking further to San Francisco Square. Here we ate lunch at Hotel Casa Gangotena, a beautiful colonial residence turned boutique establishment. After lunch, we strolled and shopped on the narrow lane of La Ronda, before finally returning to the hotel and having dinner.

Sinamune Disabled Children”s Orchestra


Politics in Plaza de La Independenzia

On Tuesday morning, we collected up just what we need for the next 5 days and traveled to the airport for the trip to the Galapagos Islands, located over 600 miles offshore Ecuador. Our flight was delayed, so we enjoyed lunch at the airport, and instead of flying via Guayaquil, we would fly directly to Baltra, Galapagos.
The Galapagos Islands were undiscovered until 1535 when Spaniard Fray Tomás de Berlanga, the fourth Bishop of Panama, sailed to Peru to settle a dispute between Francisco Pizarro and his lieutenants. De Berlanga’s vessel drifted off course, and his party reached the islands on 10 March. Until the early 19th century, the islands were used by English pirates who robbed Spanish galleons carrying gold and silver from South America to Spain. Throughout the 1700’s and 1800’s, the islands were a way-station for fleets of whaling vessels. They used the great Galapagos Tortoises as their main source on meat, since they would survive on-board for up to a year without food or water. This led to the extinction of some of the species, and near extinction of almost all the tortoises, until the widespread use of petroleum oil made whaling in these remote waters too expensive. Ecuador annexed the Galápagos Islands in 1832, and in 1835, the voyage of the Beagle brought the survey ship HMS Beagle, to the Galapagos with young naturalist, Charles Darwin, aboard. In the early 1900’s Ecuador tried repeatedly to sell the islands, but with their limited resources and remote access, there were no takers. In the 1920s and 1930s, a small wave of European settlers arrived in the islands, principally from Scandinavia, and settled in Floreana, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz, creating the core of the settlements that remain today. In the 1940’s, the USA paid a lease for a military base on the island of Baltra to aid in protecting the Panama Canal. In 1959, The Galápagos Islands became a national park, and tourism began in the 1960s.

Galapagos Map Part 1

Upon landing at Baltra, one is struck by the landscape of nothing but volcanic rock with few scrubs and bushes. The airport is built upon the old USA military landing strip, and the base housing has long since been scavenged to their slabs. There is nothing actually on the island, so we immediate bus to the local ferry dock to transfer to the more populated island of Santa Cruz. Here we board a bus, and travel across the island to our ship waiting in Porto Ayora on the southern coast. Along the way, we travel through the area of Bellavista and Tunels de Lava where we stop to see Galapagos tortoises in a park in the wild, and walk 200 yards through an underground lava tunnel. The number of tortoises in this area were significant, since the adults travel up to these highlands during this season for food, the cool air, and mating. We saw a pair mating, and watched as another male chased-down a shy female before achieving success. Here, the males grow to 750 lbs. and the females to upwards of 400 lbs., with the females laying 10-15 eggs that hatch in about 4 months. When we arrive in Porto Ayora, we are greeted by sea lions lying about the dock. We boarded our ship’s 2 pangas, (inflatable zodiacs), and board our home for the next 5 days, a cabin cruiser with 9 cabins that can tour up to 16 passengers, named “Carina”. On board Carina, we occupy cabin #7, and have time to unpack before taking dinner in the dining room. The rooms are all air conditioned, and the boat is manned by a crew of 9. We pull anchor and get underway as soon as everyone is on board, as we will travel all night to our next destination, near Puerto Villamil, at the southern end of Isabela Island.

Giant Tortoises Mating on Santa Cruz Island

Julie & guide Louis in the lava cave

Carina – our Galapagos ship

Because the heat of the day drives the land animals to rest at those times, we wake-up early and take a 6am pre-breakfast excursion via the pangas through the wetlands surrounding us. Along the way, we spot a Galapagos penguin, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, and bright-red sally-light-foot crabs. We make a dry-landing ashore where a nature trail through the rough volcanic rocks is maintained, and take a walk past nesting iguanas and resting sea lions. Along the way, we pass two large green sea turtles caught in the low-tide estuary waiting for high-tide to escape, and a colony of 100’s of marine iguanas all moving begrudgedly from our path. We return on-board for breakfast, and then leave again at 10am for our first snorkeling trip in a large estuary surrounded by mangroves. We are greeted at the snorkeling dock by the ever-present sea lions snoozing on the benches and steps. After making our way past them, we enter the underwater world of the Galapagos, and although the water is not Caribbean-clear in this estuary, it is warm – ~80 degrees Fahrenheit, and we still see lots of tropical reef fish, eagle stingrays, green sea turtles, white-tipped sharks and playful sea lions swimming among us.

Swimming with a 200 hundred pound green turtle

Swimming with a Spotted Eagle Ray

After an hour and a half of snorkeling, we head back to the boat for lunch and a brief rest, before leaving again in the afternoon to go back to the docks, but this time to catch a bus to go to the Charles Darwin Research Center Breeding Station, where we get to see Galapagos tortoises from each island, in captivity, including eggs and even a baby tortoise only one month old.

The red mature Sally Lightfoot Crab

Female Galapagos Marine Ignuana

Baby Tortoise at the Darwin Breeding Station

Next to the Center, is a nature walk through some of the island’s wetlands, among hundreds of Darwin finches, and past Flamingo Lake where pink flamingos sift for brine shrimp in the brackish waters. Finally, we emerge at the beach at the town of Puerto Villamil, where we take a casual stroll down the white sandy beach before stopping at a local beach-bar for a rum coconut, and finally boarding our panga for the ride back to the boat. Dinner is buffet style with an excellent assortment of vegetables, meats and fish, all expertly cooked by our onboard chef. As we finish dinner, the Carina hauls up anchor to begin our next overnight travel to tomorrow’s destination.

Pink Flamingo on Isabela Island

Peru & Machu Picchu – Part 2

5:52 pm

Today we would go to Machu Picchu! The morning was Wednesday, February 1st, 2017, and after checking out of the hotel and taking only what we really needed, we again took the bus to Ollantaytambo. We left earlier than we had planned because of reports of protesters from Cusco who would be trying to shut down the highways! After weaving the bus through various boulders and tree stumps in the road, we made it to Ollantaytambo, where we caught the train for a 90-minute ride down the Willkanuta River in the Sacred Valley, through tall trees, rocky outcrops with hanging orchids and bromeliads to the village of Aguas Calientes. All along the way there is evidence of the Incas reforming the landscape with terraces, villages and ruins. This Village is the closest access point to Machu Picchu, which is still ~3.7 miles away, and can only be accessed via Park bus and by foot. The town is named for some warm natural springs located there, but we did not visit these. Upon arriving, we checked into the El Mapi Hotel, located in the center of town, near the town square. Since we ate a box lunch aboard the train, we immediately caught the Park Bus for the “switch-back” ride up the side of the mountain to the Park’s Entrance, and then climbed another 500’ up to the “overlook” to survey the sight of Machu Picchu. Cesar took us on a 3-hour walking investigation of the ancient city, its history, rediscovery and significance. After the tour, we returned to the hotel to enjoy a free drink and Happy Hour, before assembling for a short walk across the street to the Inca Wasi Restaurant and Pizzeria.

Machu Picchu from the Caretakers Hut.

Machu Picchu from the Caretakers Hut.


Machu Picchu with the Huayna Picchu Mountain.

Machu Picchu with the Huayna Picchu Mountain.

Thursday morning, after breakfast, Julie and I chose to go back up to Machu Picchu to hike up to the Sun Gate, “Inti Punku”. We were joined by a local OAT guide, Yessica, and one other traveler, Nancy. After getting to the “Caretaker’s Hut” past the “overlook” we began the ascent to the Sun Gate. From there, the trail followed the originally-placed stones of the Inca Trail. The Sun Gate trail follows a path which is is modest in angle, and offers spectacular views of the valley, surrounding mountains, and Machu Picchu all along the way. We passed dozens of types of orchids, and stopped regularly to take pictures of them and the view. As we approached the Sun Gate, the trail became a little steeper. Reportedly, Incan Imperial guards used the Sun Gate to control entrance to Machu Picchu, and for this reason it was believed that Machu Picchu only welcomed selected visitors of the imperial elite. We made it to the Gate in a little over 90 minutes, spent a half-hour there, and then descended to Machu Picchu before returning to the hotel and meeting the rest of our group for lunch. After lunch, we caught the train for the 2-hour ride back to Ollantaytambo, where we re-boarded our bus, picked-up the rest of our luggage, and made the trip back to Cusco, and re-checked back in to the Jose Antonio hotel where we all gathered for dinner.

The start of the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate

The start of the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate


Julie & Nancy hiking to the Sun Gate

Julie & Nancy hiking to the Sun Gate


The switchback road leading from Aquas Calientes

The switchback road leading from Aquas Calientes


At the Sun Gate

At the Sun Gate


Yessica, Julie, Rocky and Nancy at the sun Gate with Machu Picchu below

Yessica, Julie, Rocky and Nancy at the sun Gate with Machu Picchu below

On Friday, after breakfast, we took a walking tour to the main square, Plaza de Armes, which was beautifully landscaped, surrounded by shops and restaurants, and full of people. From here, we toured the Cathedral and then walked to the historic Plaza Regocijo, surrounded by its churches, government buildings and shops.

Plaza Regocijo in Cusco

Plaza Regocijo in Cusco

We were then on our own, and so a group of us made our way to Cicciolina’s for lunch. Afterwards, Julie and I went on to explore and shop at the local Artisan’s Market, before returning to the hotel and going out with friends for a relaxed Italian meal.
Saturday, we traveled to a steep hill that overlooks the city which contains a series of fortified archeological sites. The first site, Sacsayhuaman, dates to the 13th century, and is a series of huge stone mounds that once housed great towers.

One of the mounds at Sacsayhuaman

One of the mounds at Sacsayhuaman

Many of the stones have long-since been taken and used in construction within the town, but the larger carved and fit stones remain. Here we were treated to a local scouting group or children sponsored by the town’s Fire Department, hiking and singing as they made their way. We also were reluctant witnesses to Llama’s mating, the first in a long string of animal mating observations along our trip. Love must have been in the air! After visiting Sacsayhuaman, we traveled a very short distance to Qenqo, a labyrinth of tunnels and altars carved in the stone whose historic use is still unclear. From there, we went to an Alpaca shop that offer all types of Alpaca clothing and linens of a range of quality and prices. For lunch, we decided to check out a restaurant located near the Main Square named “Baco”, on recommendation of a friend. Unfortunately, it was closed until 3pm, and so we ate at a restaurant on the Square called “The Inca Grill”, where a very nice meal before spending the afternoon shopping and packing. That night was our “Farewell Dinner” for Peru, but since we were all traveling to Ecuador, it was really a farewell to our Guide, Cesar!

Cesar describing the stones at Qenqo

Cesar describing the stones at Qenqo

On Sunday morning, we all went to the airport and caught a flight from Cusco to Lima and then to the city of Quito in Ecuador, from which we would enjoy the second leg of our adventure.

Peru & Machu Picchu – Part 1

5:51 pm

One of our long-held dreams was to visit both Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands, and, after almost a year of research and planning, we finally chose Overseas Adventure Travel for our trip. We started our trip on Saturday by driving a short distance south to Miami’s Airport and flying the 5-hour trip to Lima, the capital of Peru. There we were met by our first OAT Representative, Cesar, who collected us up for the short bus trip to our hotel, The Jose Antonio.

The Pacific Coast - Lima

The Pacific Coast – Lima

In the morning, Julie and I walked the 4 blocks to the Pacific Coast to get a coffee at Starbucks, and to enjoy the great vistas and views afforded us on the bluffs overlooking their Pacific Coast highway and the morning surfing crowd. After breakfast, back at the hotel, we gathered our group of 13, (5 couples and 3 singles), with Cesar for introductions and questions and answers, and then began our facilitated adventure with a short bus ride to the historic center of town where we learned of much of the history of the country of Peru. For lunch, we were back to a restaurant on the coast where we were treated to the “national” alcoholic drink, a Pisco Sour, a buffet of local foods, and cultural dancing by professional dancers.

Traditional Dancing

Traditional Dancing

After lunch, we were off to an Inca Archeological Museum that captured artifacts and recovered tombs from the Inca civilization. Since it was Sunday afternoon, we visited Saint Martin’s Square, and then the main square in the center of town, which was fronted by The Presidential Palace, and The Bishop’s Palace, and was full of people visiting churches, listening to music and enjoying the beautiful weather.

Bishop's Palace in the main square of Lima

Bishop’s Palace in the main square of Lima

We walked to tour the active Saint Francis Monastery and Convent, including the catacombs, before returning to the hotel. The Church and Monastery were consecrated in 1673 and completed in 1774, built in the Spanish Baroque style, and is listed as a World Heritage Site as part of historic Lima. Although Cusco was the historic capital of the Incan Empire, Francisco Pizarro founded Lima as the new capital in 1535 after conquering the Incans, and a Spanish Colonial city was created. That night was our “Welcome Dinner” where we all got to know each other better before our travels inland tomorrow.
Monday morning, we arose early and caught a Lantum Airline flight from Lima to the historic Inca capital city of Cusco. Cusco sits at 11,150’ altitude, and one could definitely tell that the air was thinner from the sea level we had just left. At the Cusco airport, we boarded a touring bus and started the trip to the city of Urubamba, within the Sacred Valley. Along the way, we traveled through the town of Chinchero, our trip’s highest point, where we stopped for a “healing ceremony” with a local medicine man. He assembled a variety of items to represent all aspects of “life” and then burned them, blessed each of us, giving “thanks” to the great mountains surrounding us, and then would bury the ash remains.

Andean medicine man performing healing

Andean medicine man performing healing

Following this, we participated in a traditional weaving demonstration starting with Alpaca wool, involving brushing, spinning, coloring and weaving of the wool to make beautiful clothes.

Local village weavers

Local village weavers

From there, we continued down into the Sacred Valley, but with a short stop to meet a local roadside farmer with a very old steer-pulled plow. The Sacred Valley was lush with fruit trees and crops that provide food for much of Peru and for its export. All along the way, the hillsides were terraced by ancient Incas, and we passed many remnant historic grain store-houses strategically placed high on the slopes. In Urubamba, (down in the valley at elevation 9,420’), we entered the enclosed Hotel Villa Urubamba, a set of cabins scattered across a beautiful, lush set of gardens with hundreds of types of blooming flowers, stone walkways and flowing water. That night we ate at the hotel, completely filling their small but very nice dining room.

Tuesday, after breakfast at the hotel, we took a day to visit and sightsee the local town. First, we visited a modest home of a local single mother with 3 daughters, who would be making us lunch that day. She demonstrated the killing and preparation of a guinea pig, a traditional, celebratory dish in Peru. In their country, guinea pigs are raised for meat, much like chicken are in most places. When one of our travel companions asked “Why would you eat our pets?” the Peruvians responded with “Why would you pet our food?”! She killed it quickly, removed the fur after a quick dip in boiling water, gutted and cleaned it, and then rubbed it with spices and oils, before stuffing it with herbs, and putting it into the oven to cook.

Emma, Our Urubamba Home Host making Guinea Pig

Emma, Our Urubamba Home Host making Guinea Pig

Meanwhile, we left to take the bus a short way down the valley to the town of Ollantaytambo, the entry way to Machu Picchu, since there are no roads that travel to the lost Incan City. The town includes an Inca archaeological site at an altitude of 9,160’ which we ascended. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Incan Emperor, who built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru it served as a stronghold for the Inca resistance, and, today, it is one of the most common starting points for hiking the Inca Trail, or catching the train there.

Incan Ruins at Ollantaytambo

Incan Ruins at Ollantaytambo

On the way there, we went to a local bar where we played a game tossing “coins” at a small table with slots and holes that carried value, and we tasted the local “hooch”, a corn-beer called “chichi”, historically drunken by the locals. From here, we left for the local market to purchase side-dish items for lunch. Cesar provided each person with a piece of paper on which was written the Spanish name of a local ingredient, (e.g. chocio = corn), and we were each sent off with a 2 Soles limit (~$0.60 USD) to find, negotiate and purchase the ingredient. The local market vendors were very helpful, and everyone completed the challenge within 10-15 minutes. Then we conversed with a local supplier of coco leaves, the local “drug” of choice to deal with altitude and sicknesses of all kinds!

The local market in Urabamba

The local market in Urabamba

From the market, we all got into tuk-tuks, (a small 3-wheel taxi), for a short ride to a local Chapel of the Lord of Torrechayoc, where a huge cross was once left and the church was subsequently built on-top-of it. Like most churches in this country, everything is only covered in gold-leaf, as most of the solid gold was taken by the Spaniards. Finally, we returned to our host’s house for lunch, helped prepare homemade tortillas, and celebrated with her and her 3 daughters a wonderful meal or guinea pig, chicken, potatoes, tortillas, squash, and salad with roasted peach for desert. After thanking our hosts, we traveled to the home and shop of local artist, Pablo Seminarios. This region provides inspiration to many artists who make their home here. Pablo’s works are on display in Chicago and at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and he discussed with us the evolution in his work and his inspirations, while walking us through his workshop and gallery.

Pablo Seminarios discussing his Art

Pablo Seminarios discussing his Art

After a brief stop at the hotel, we assembled for a short ride to dinner, hosted by another artist, Oscar, at his home/restaurant, Wallpa Wasi. He specialized in clay-oven rotisserie chicken, which was spectacular! After dinner, he took us for a tour of his house where his collectables, and some of his and his wife’s art, are proudly on display.
Tomorrow we would go on to Machu Picchu!

Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.

Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.