End of the World!
December 4, 2015
After nearly a year of counting the days, we are down to just one!
In only a few hours our group will be off to Buenos Aires, then Ushuaia, the town nicknamed the End of the World.
Ushuaia is at the southernmost tip of South America, and is the starting point for our voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula.
If all goes well, we should get there late Sunday afternoon -- only a five hour time difference -- so no major jet lag to worry about.
In addition to Teresa and our three adult children, Christopher, Brandon and Katie, we are also traveling with our friends Carol and Laura. You may recall that Carol, our artist-in-residence at South Lake Tahoe, joined us four years ago on our Asia discovery adventure. Carol is also a superb journalist -- she wrote much of this blog back then -- and is planning on doing it again!
Laura is our tech whiz. Although she is an experienced world traveler, this is her first time joining us. Normally she lives and breathes computers, but on this adventure she is looking forward to cutting the cord -- well, trying, anyway!
We'll have a satellite Internet...
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July 10, 2015
Although there are a number of organizations that do Antarctica cruises, only a handful of operators own and operate their own ships.
I prefer the concept of an integrated tour with a support staff who are geographically well-informed, and are knowledgeable and sensitive regarding environmental issues.
Although none of the small-ship Antarctica cruises are inexpensive, my research narrowed the choice to G-Adventures or National Geographic, with G-Adventures appearing to offer a better value.
When I was getting ready to book our Antarctica trip I was especially impressed with the description and photos of their ship. You can check out their glossy brochure on-line at www.gadventures.com/expedition.
"The G Expedition provides an intimate small-ship cruising experience. Completely refurbished in 2009, she boasts spacious cabins, each featuring ocean-facing windows or portholes and private en-suite facilities. Large common areas and observation decks provide panoramic views of the distinctive landscapes of some of the world's most remote regions. "
For some reason, the word "refurbished" caught my attention and apparently jogged my memory, prompting me to do a little research.
I only had to search as far as my own archives: www.traveladventurejournal.com/2008 where on January 7th, 2008, I wrote the following:...
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The last day
May 2, 2015
This morning, on the last day of our Ecuador adventure, we set out to see what we could find at the Saturday Otovalo market, ostensibly the largest artisan market in Ecuador. Because this adventure has been so fast-paced, there just hasn’t been much time for shopping!
The market was quieter than we expected – busy, but no crowds. Over the next few hours, we navigated an area of several blocks that comprised mostly crafts and textiles, choosing to bypass the parts of the market with the food stalls, fruits and vegetables, and animals for sale or barter. There was lots of stuff, but we’re pretty selective about what we buy… we discovered long ago that what seems cute or quaint on the spot often ends up in a box relegated to a back room at home. But Teresa and Katie did some serious negotiating, and eventually they walked away with a tablecloth, a hammock, a purse, and several other prized items.
After lunch, we met up with our group for the ride back to our hotel in Quito. We repacked our belongings, cleaned up, and gathered for our farewell dinner in the busy Mariscal Sucre area.
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A short night
May 1, 2015
We bade farewell to Susanna and Oscar and rejoined our group for the short ride to Otavalo, arriving just before 11 AM.
Nathalie had arranged an afternoon sightseeing trip to Cotacachi, a small town located at the base of the Cotacachi volcano. A few miles past the town, we entered the Cotacachi Ecological Preserve. Nathalie purchased tickets for a boat tour of Lake Cuicocha, a volcanic crater lake within the cone of the Cotacachi volcano, at an elevation of more than ten and a half thousand feet.
Although the volcano is dormant, Nathalie pointed to gas bubbles emerging from beneath the surface of the lake, indicating residual volcanic activity. She also pointed to a trail that ran around the rim of the lake, about a five hour hike, if anyone was interested. (It looked like a great hike but I doubt I could have walked more than a quarter mile at that elevation without getting winded!)
We passed by two small islands in the center of the lake, apparently formed by the lava flow, and actually connected beneath the surface. We followed a narrow channel between the islands that Nathalie told us was called the Channel of...
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April 30, 2015
Other than the city lights twinkling below, we hadn’t been able to see much of the surrounding landscape last evening. But this morning, under a mostly cloudless sky, Mount Imbabura had emerged from the low clouds, towering at least five thousand feet above us in the distance – truly a breathtaking sight!
Nathalie had offered last evening to arrange a trek to the summit with a local guide – about five hours hiking to an elevation of fourteen thousand feet.
Several members of the group, Brandon and I included, stared up at the summit. Even at sea level this would be a tough one, but starting at nine thousand feet, even the hardy were hesitant. As for me, I could hardly catch my breath after five minutes walking uphill at this elevation.
So there were no takers!
Instead, we spent the day with several members of the indigenous community learning about their culture and traditions.
We walked with Juan to a nearby farm where several women were manually harvesting potatoes from a freshly plowed field. I don’t know the proper terminology to describe the plow but it basically consisted of two bulls pulling a wooden shaft attached to a...
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April 29, 2015
Our destination today, the small indigenous community of San Clemente, is only a few miles outside the city of Ibarra in the Andes. The journey from Quito to Ibarra, a distance of 75 miles, took about three hours – it’s easy to forget how long it takes to get places with no freeways!
According to Juan, our host, San Clemente consists of 168 indigenous families, about 800 people in all, clustered in an area of roughly six square kilometers. The community is relatively self-contained, relying on traditional farming and handicrafts to support itself.
Our group was split up and placed with several families – Teresa, Katie, Brandon and I stayed with Susanna and her eleven year old son Oscar. Her home actually consisted of three small brick buildings, one with the kitchen and dining room, one with two family bedrooms, and one with a guest bedroom. Maria, Susanna’s sister-in-law who lived next door, had prepared lunch for us: a thick soup made with local herbs, potatoes and vegetables; fried pork; and for dessert, a fruit compote made from tree tomatoes and cloves.
After getting settled, we hiked about half a mile down a narrow trail through the forest behind Susanna’s home until...
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Confusion at the equator
April 28, 2015
As I mentioned in the last post, the overnight bus ride had been a major concern when I’d booked this trip. While the fear of getting robbed was clearly justified, in general I think that overnight rides, whether by rail or bus, or even by air, offer a false economy.
Yes, you save the time you’ve traveled during the night, but the downside is that you are too tired when you arrive to really appreciate the next day. While those who fly first-class enjoy lay-flat seats and arrive feeling rested, the rest of us (in steerage) arrive cognitively impaired.
Yes, we started out with an overnight flight to Quito, but we had nothing planned when we arrived in mid-afternoon. On the other hand, when we arrived today, our only full day in Quito, we had a full itinerary.
Brandon and Katie headed straight to their hotel room – fortunately Nathalie had arranged for an early check-in – they (wisely) spent the next two hours getting some sleep.
Teresa and I, addicts that we are, headed straight to the restaurant and loaded up on some very strong Ecuadorian coffee, then grazed at the breakfast buffet. It had been a long night!
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April 27, 2015
Our last full day in Puerto Lopez was a kick-back sort of day.
Nathalie explained that we’d be taking the night bus back to Quito, a nearly ten hour ride, departing at 8 PM. Although we’d have the entire day to do as we pleased, we had to be out of our rooms by noon, leaving our bags in storage throughout the day.
This required a bit of tricky planning. Swimsuits, etc., during the day, but something comfortable yet appropriate to wear overnight. Nathalie pointed out that there was an cold outdoor shower by the pool area that we could use after returning from the beach.
Several of our group, including Brandon, had signed up for scuba diving – basically an introductory lesson for novices. After they headed off (early) we spent the remainder of the day relaxing at the beach and having a leisurely (late) lunch – no activities involving any exertion!
I’d been dreading this overnight bus ride almost from the moment I’d booked this trip. It was the only thing on the itinerary that had given me cause for hesitation. In the past, similar excursions had proven to be less than comfortable, with the odds of getting...
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Lifeís a beach!
April 26, 2015
Teresa decided she’d prefer a day at the beach, so she and Brandon spent the day building sandcastles and bodysurfing the breakers.
Katie and I chose to go horseback riding in Machalilla National Park where there is a tropical dry forest along the coastline adjacent to Puerto Lopez, that also stretches inland. The goal was to look for monkeys and other wildlife in their native habitat, and Sylbano, our guide, led us along an extensive trail that took us deep into the forest in service of this quest.
We rode, with intermittent breaks, for about four hours. Sylbano pointed out many unusual varieties of plant life, and although we enjoyed some spectacular scenery, we didn’t have much success in spotting wildlife. We came across a small band of howler monkeys who ignored us at first, but after being prompted by Sylbano (who did a passable impersonation), eventually responded in kind.
The outing lasted a little too long, and our small group was hot, hungry, and thirsty by the time the horses brought us back to the barn.
While we were washing our hands in the bathroom, just before sitting down to a homemade lunch prepared by...
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The poor manís Galapagos
April 25, 2015
On the agenda for today was a hiking and snorkeling adventure at Isla de la Plata, also known as The Poor Man’s Galapagos because according to Lonely Planet “[It] is a reasonably accurate facsimile of an island in the Galapagos.” And while the Galapagos is on my never-ending list of places to see, it’s not on the current agenda, so why not check it out?
We boarded a high speed double-decker cruiser with two huge outboard motors, and flew across the thirty-eight kilometers of open ocean while the crew provided snacks including banana cake and pineapple slices. When we were just offshore, our naturalist guide, Jonny, outlined several hiking options to various island locations, depending on how far and how long we were willing to hike. The group selected the intermediate trail, about a two hour round trip hike to the western end of the island.
Setting foot on shore in front of the administration building, my first impression was that this island was incredibly dry and nearly lifeless. It was an arduous hike, mostly uphill, and with no shade and a hot sun, we were soon baking in the heat. As it turned out, I was correct...
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