Detomo's Abroad

Detomos Abroad

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.

Dallas Texas

November 2, 2016 3:19 pm
Flying red horse - a Dallas icon from the 1930's

Flying red horse – a Dallas icon from the 1930’s

October 13-21, 2016

It’s been 13 years since our last visit to this Texas City and lots of changes. As with a lot of the US cities re-vitalization of downtown has come to Dallas. Uptown is the new place for millennials and broken down warehouses are replaced with lofts and upscale apartments. Residential towers are planted among high-rise office buildings. Market and Main streets and the West End are hopping with restaurants. We are here for the SEG (Society of Exploration Geophysicists) Annual Meeting and Convention. We were greeted with the SEG silhouetted on to the hotel facade. It took us a while to realize that even our hotel did not exist on our last visit. The front of the convention center has a massive bronze cattle drive sculpture and it is awesome to walk among the “cattle” in the middle of downtown.

Hotel lighting welcoming the SEG.

Hotel lighting welcoming the SEG.


Cattle sculptures at the front of the convention center.

Cattle sculptures at the front of the convention center.


I also had the opportunity to see a few local sights and to tour the Perot Museum of Nature and Science – a massive modern building offering dynamic and interactive experiences for visitors of all ages. The Earth Hall has an earthquake simulator for one to experience, and the Energy Hall has a drilling well and petroleum plant. There were fossils and gems, a hall devoted to the human body, and exhibits everywhere that encouraged touching, building and exploring. You could learn to program a robot or even pilot one around. On the basement floor was a Children’s Museum for those under 5 years and an Athletic Museum, which was a favorite with the teens. A most fascinating place to visit.


I also spent a day at the Arboretum when the autumn flowers were in bloom, and the Pumpkin Village was amazing. There were over 50 different kinds of pumpkins and 90,000 pumpkins covering everything – so many of every kind and color. There were houses built out of pumpkins as well as spirals, and there were horses made from cornstalks. The gardens were interlaced with creeks, waterfalls, and lakes, as well as eight bronze statues seated on benches throughout. It was an outing away from city noises and distractions as we saw hundreds of monarch butterflies among the fall flowers.

Pumpkin House at Pumpkin Village

Pumpkin House at Pumpkin Village

So many Pumpkins

So many Pumpkins

Cornstalk horses.

Cornstalk horses.

We attended the International Reception which included Russian dancing and food. To close the convention, we attended a the Wrap-up party which stated “bring your cowboy boots” and we had the opportunity to ride a mechanical bull and to eat Texan food while John Wayne movies played on the wall and line dancing was led on the stage.

Russian dancers

Russian dancers

Rocky riding the mechanical bull

Rocky riding the mechanical bull


Caribbean Sailing Adventure

October 25, 2016 5:50 pm

September 23- October 11, 2016

Once again this year we would have the opportunity to sail in the Caribbean with close friends, Nikki, Peter and Jackson. This time, we went “bigger & better” bareboat chartering a 56’ Dufour monohull in Grenada from Dream Yachts, and beginning our adventure sailing ~500 miles north to the British Virgin Islands. We began by flying on Friday from Orlando, through Miami, to Grenada where we had a 2-day pre-trip stay at our favorite beach resort, located between the airport and marina. Here we enjoyed the swim-up pool bar, the lush, tropical landscaping, and took a stroll up the beach to a familiar restaurant named “Umbrella’s” where we met our sail-mates for dancing & dinner. The next day was spent relaxing at the pool, while prepping for our trip with a visit to the marina, immigration, and local stores. Sunday was “boat check-out” day, where we familiarized ourselves with the generator, air conditioning, bow thrusters, desalinator water-maker, and assorted high tech devices which were part of this beautiful, large boat! That night, the 5 of us slept aboard and prepared to leave the marina early the next morning.

Our Boat and home for the next 3 weeks - "Le Titien"

Our Boat and home for the next 3 weeks –            “Le Titien”

Monday’s sail started beautifully with a dozen dolphins playing off our bow as we headed north from Grenada towards St. Vincent.

Underway with our first dolphin escort!

Underway with our first dolphin escort!

After stopping at the island of Union to check into the country and arrange an evening lobster dinner, we proceeded to the Tobago Cays where we hooked up to a mooring ball next to the sea turtle sanctuary and swam in the crystal blue waters. The area abounded with large red starfish and sea turtles whom were calmly eating grasses from the seafloor in only 10 feet of water, and oblivious to our observations. That night, the “boys” came to the boat to “collect us” and take us to a nearby shore where they grilled a fabulous lobster dinner including salad, rice, potatoes and vegetables, all washed down with homemade rum punch. After feeding the enormous puffer fish that came to shore in curiosity, we watched the sunset before returning to our boat in the dark to prepare for tomorrow’s trip.

Our lobster feast!

Our lobster feast!

Relaxing at the Tobago Cays.

Relaxing at the Tobago Cays.

Our colorful women aboard...

Our colorful women aboard…

And the guys aboard.

And the guys aboard.


Now we had been following weather reports of an Atlantic tropical storm called Matthew which was moving our way, but next morning we left the Tobago Cays and hoped to make it north to the island of St. Lucia. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs with leftover lobster, we checked on the weather again, and called in to the boat’s home base. Unfortunately, Matthew had intensified and laid a course that would intersect us at St. Lucia, so we decided to turn back south and take refuge in a protected harbor called “Blue Lagoon” located at the southern end of the island of St. Vincent. This brought us into one of the most unique encounters we have ever had while sailing, as we came upon a single, ~45’ humpback whale heading east. He was cruising at the surface and allowed us to approach within a few hundred feet of him as we followed for 15-20 minutes. Finally, he dove deep and flipped his tail on the surface to finally vanish from our sight.

Sighting a 45"Humpback whale near St. Vincent.

Sighting a 45″Humpback whale near St. Vincent.

On this note, we returned to a journey to Blue Lagoon, where we were met by the local marina representative, who helmed us through a treacherous reef into a small protected cove where we would be connected to a mooring ball, shielded from the winds by the surrounding mountains, and protected from the waves by the surrounding shallow reef. We spent the rest of the day visiting with the locals who were in full preparation themselves for the storm. We returned to the boat where we removed everything topsides that we could, took down the bimini, dropped the sail and boom, and lashed everything tightly to the deck. That night we settled in with our generator and air conditioning to see what the coming day would bring.

All battened down for Hurricane Matthew.

All battened down for Hurricane Matthew.

Wednesday we spent the day weathering (what was now Hurricane Category 1) Matthew’s fury as it aimed for 30 miles north of us between the islands of St. Vincent and St. Lucia. The cabin was comfortable, calm and protected as we spend the day playing cards, drinking and eating.

Matthew passed during the night and early morning, as it headed off north east towards Haiti and Cuba. Accordingly, the morning’s rain slowly gave way to a calm sunny afternoon, as we then took time out on deck and worked to reassemble the boat’s gear.

We left Blue Lagoon at daybreak on Friday morning and set off on out original plan to sail to St. Lucia. Having now lost 2 days, we no longer had the extra time we had planned into the schedule for sightseeing along the way, and instead headed straight to Marigold Bay along northwest St. Lucia. Along the way, we decided to put out a handline behind the boat, and was rewarded with our first fish – a 3-foot barracuda – which we promptly turned into “barracuda bites” for a future dinner. However, in the ocean channel between the two islands where the hurricane’s eye had passed, we ran into a sea of debris full of coconuts, trees and plastic washed out to sea by the storm and requiring an extreme level of vigilance. Finally, we made it to Marigold Bay, a beautiful, picturesque inlet harbor which we had visited before. Here, we would take the opportunity to refill our fuel tanks and then took dinner onshore at Pirate’s Bay Restaurant.

Saturday morning, we left early to be sure we made it north to the island of Martinique, where we were scheduled to pick up another sailing member. Again, along the way we were escorted by about a dozen dolphins who played along the boat’s bow-wave. We made it to the port of Marin mid-afternoon, where we docked at the marina and met-up with Scott. We then proceeded to restock groceries before enjoying dinner of duck and steak upstairs at a Marina restaurant called “20”.

Sunday, we left Martinique and started heading further north towards Guadeloupe. Because this would be a very long journey, we decided to go around the island of Dominica to the east, hoping for better winds to boost us along more quickly. Initially, we ran into fields of crab traps closer to the island, and went 20 miles offshore to help avoid them. Again, we pulled a fishing line behind the boat, and again, we caught another 3-foot barracuda. That evening, while under sail, we breaded the first barracuda bites and fried them. This we served up with salad, rice and corn for a feast on-board. Unfortunately, the winds were not favorable for us, and so we were traveling at only 4 knots. Because of this, we decided to sail all night along the coast of Dominica. The night was relatively clear, but with no moon, and with the worry about potentially catching debris in the prop, we slowly sailed along with the engine off.

Monday morning sunrise came with us at the northeastern end of Dominica, where we turned northwest and headed to the islands of Guadeloupe called Isle de Saintes – a very quaint “French” town that we find enjoyable and relaxing. Unfortunately, during the night, we had broken one set of “lazy jacks”, which help guide the sail when raising and lowering it., and we had developed a small tear in the mainsail’s edge along the mast. Our generator had also stopped working. Therefore, some of us spent time at the boat waiting for a mechanic while hoisting Rocky to the top of the mast to repair the “lazy jacks”, while others went ashore to check-in and look for a sailmaker that could sell us some “sail tape” and for a store to restock our ice. The mechanic arrived and discovered a dead fuel pump for the generator, but no replacement was available. And so he “jury-rigged” it with a cheap, manual override. While there, he also found and cleaned the Desalinator filter, which brought it operationally back online. It was a busy day, and that night we relaxed on deck with a barbeque chicken dinner cooked on the boat’s grill.

Tuesday morning, we left Isle de Saintes and continued our journey north on the west side of Guadeloupe. The winds were favorable that day, but first, Rocky, Peter and Jackson repaired the sail with “sail tape” and with hand-stitching using the boat’s sail repair kit. With the repair, we averaged 7 knots, and took the time to stop at Pigeon Island, a marine sanctuary off the west coast of Guadeloupe preserved in honor of Jacques Cousteau. We picked up a mooring ball there and spent a couple of hours swimming, snorkeling and exploring the beautiful corals and fish that resided there. After a swimming, we had a quick lunch and left to continue our journey to the port city of DeShaies on the northwest coast of Guadeloupe. Here we had drinks and shopped ashore before having dinner in a fantastic little French restaurant called “la Kaz du Douanier”, where we partook of delicious veal and French red wine.

French Village on Isle de Saintes of Guadeloupe.

French Village on Isle de Saintes of Guadeloupe.

Wednesday, we sailed from the island of Guadeloupe to Antigua with excellent winds, where we entered the historic English Harbor and tied up at the Dream Yachts Fuel Dock. Again, the mechanics tried to solve the generator fuel problem, but again, they did not have the part available, as the temporary repair was now starting to leak diesel slowly into the bilge. We would have to wait until we reached the BVI to get a final repair. That night, we walked a short distance to the nearby Jolly Harbor where we had dinner and drinks at “Trappas”, a local restaurant.

Thursday we sailed from Antigua to St. Kitts (also known as St. Cristopher). Today, we hooked a 4 ½ ft. long Mahi Mahi which we cleaned and fileted while underway as the rear of the boat had a sink and cutting board hidden under one of the benches. Because we arrive there late, we dropped anchor in the bay at St. Kitts and grilled our second barracuda on the grill and enjoyed a starry night on the boat’s deck. That night, we followed the internet news as Hurricane Matthew was now getting ready to come up the Florida East Coast, potentially impacting Peter and Nikki’s and Rocky and Julie’s homes and relatives located there.

The first Mahi Mahi - the catch of the trip!

The first Mahi Mahi – the catch of the trip!

Friday, we sailed the relatively short distance to St. Bart’s, where we took up a mooring ball and went ashore in search of supplies and adventure. The girl’s enjoyed the chance to shop before we gathered at a local pub for afternoon drinks. That night we found “25” Quarter, a small “hip” restaurant for dinner where we played beer-pong with the local and left our mark on their chalkboard wall.

Saturday, we left St. Bart’s very early to sail the long distance to the British Virgin Islands. Along the way, we caught another, albeit smaller, Mahi Mahi, which along with the first catch, we proceeded to grill on the Barbeque while under sail. The fish feast was capped by a last minute small tuna catch, which we filleted into sushi for our dinner’s appetizer. Dinner was capped with after dinner drinks before we settled in for a bit more of night sailing into the BVI, where we picked up a mooring ball in the dark at ~10pm in “The Bight” bay of Norman Island.

Friends sailing - Rocky & Peter

Friends sailing – Rocky & Peter

Sunday, we had to deliver Scott and Jackson to The U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas for Scott’s morning airplane departure. After rising at 4:30am, we sailed around St. John’s to Crown Bay Marina in Charlotte Amalie near the airport on St. Thomas. After dropping them at the fuel dock, we ran afoul of the Port when diesel from our bilge and fueling created a sheen that required reporting to the Coast Guard, and then a short boat “impoundment” while we checked-in with U.S. Immigration. After straightening out all of the requirements and formalities, we took brunch at the Marina during a huge downpour before leaving and sailing to the Dream Yacht Base at Hodge’s Creek Marina on Tortola in the BVI. That night, the remaining four of us taxied into town for drinks and dinner at Pusser’s before returning to the boat for the night.

Julie relaxing at sunset.

Julie relaxing at sunset.

Monday, the boat finally got its generator fuel pump replaced, and the bilge cleaned up from the diesel that had been deposited there. That afternoon, Walt and Allison, and their friends, Jay and Kathy arrived to join us on the boat, and after settling in, we all went back to Pusser’s again for dinner. That night was spent telling stories and drinking, before an evening of sleep – the last on the boat for Julie and Rocky, as the next morning saw us saying our goodbyes as their adventure was just beginning.

Sanibel Island Florida

September 7, 2016 5:16 pm

August 2016

Rocky moved to the East Coast of Florida over 50 years ago, but in all that time had never been to Sanibel Island, the USA Capital for Seashell collecting. Julie, being an avid beachcomber, had also never been to the southwest coast of Florida, and so it seemed appropriate for a short trip to the Island. Sanibel Island is a 4-hour drive from our home on the east coast across the south-central part of the state. It is a “sleepy” community of hardy locals during the summer, that grows into a crowded retreat from the north during the winter for weary “snowbirds”. The relaxing morning drive takes us just north of Lake Okeechobee, through expansive orange groves and grazing cattle pastures, until we reach Fort Meyers, and then a short trip south to Sanibel Island. Island access is over a toll bridge that costs $6, but once on the Island, we were prepared to stay a couple of days with a hotel reservation in the center of the Island right on the beach.

Julie at the connection between Sanibel Island onto Captiva Island

Julie at the connection between Sanibel Island onto Captiva Island

We used the afternoon to explore the Island and its adjoining northern extension, Captiva Island. Sanibel Island is a narrow sandbar about 10 miles long and never more than 2 miles wide, that connects over a narrow channel to Captiva Island, about 5 miles long, located to the north. The islands have maintained their classic, nostalgic charm from the 1950’s and 1960’s, with many small bungalows hidden among the low-rise resorts and hotels. Before having lunch at Th Mucky Duck on the beach in Captiva, we went to Bowman Beach, where we recovered a nice collection of Florida Fighting Conch shells. After lunch, we checked into our hotel, and after checking out the local beach, took a drive through the local wildlife preserve, J.N. “Ding” Darling, where we saw local snakes, manatees and gators. Then we drove to the Sanibel Lighthouse on the southern tip of the Island to walk “the flats” during low-tide. The area was full of swimmers and shell-seekers, and covered with so many sand-dollars that one could barely walk without stepping on them. That night we had dinner at a local restaurant, Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, before settling in back at the hotel for a western shore sunset and a nice bottle of wine.

“Booty” found on the beach during our brief visit, including a number of beautiful Florida Fighting Conch and Lightning Whelk shells.

“Booty” found on the beach during our brief visit, including a number of beautiful Florida Fighting Conch and Lightning Whelk shells.


A look northwest along Bowman’s where few people visit.

A look northwest along Bowman’s where few people visit.


A view of our hotel, The West Wind Inn, located between Tarpon Bay Beach and Bowman’s Beach facing south on the Gulf of Mexico

A view of our hotel, The West Wind Inn, located between Tarpon Bay Beach and Bowman’s Beach facing south on the Gulf of Mexico

The next morning, we had breakfast at a spectacular, local establishment, The OEC (Over Easy Cafe), before traveling back to the north end of the Island to explore the Turners Beach and Blind Pass Beach. By now, our shell collection was growing quite large, and so we decided a visit to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum would be appropriate. The Museum is also located on the Island, and has world-class examples of seashells from the local area and from around the world. After one last beach visit, we then left the island and began the drive home. A short but wonderful excursion into a “backyard” spot that we will likely come visit again.


Sunday morning breakfast at “The OEC”, The Over Easy Café, where visitors and local both congregate

Sunday morning breakfast at “The OEC”, The Over Easy Café, where visitors and locals both congregate.