A Travellerspoint blog

Back in the U.S.S.A

sunny 28 °C
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We know....we haven't written for awhile but we did not have internet access on the cruise ship for the past week. Time has just flown by. I will try and recap our past 10 days.

We managed to get to San Juan, Puerto Rico. We had to fly from Calama Chile/Santiago Chile. Santiago/Lima Peru. Lima/Miami. Miami/San Juan Puerto Rico. It was a long 30 hour day and we were exhausted after the flight. Darwin woke up the next morning and realized he was in Bacardi Capital. So off we went and had a great afternoon touring the factory. Darwin even got to meet Jacquin Bacardi - the CEO and president. He was thrilled.

Next day was cruise day and we spent the morning on segways touring the city. We checked into our suite and then we went back into town and bought some new clothes for our cruise. We enjoyed the first night at the disco. Our first port of call was Tortola, British Virgin Islands. We did not book an excursion and spent the day touring marinas. This is a key place to charter boats in the Caribbean. We quickly found out that catamarans are the favourite choice. They offer more space for couples and because there is minimal draft, it's easier to pull up to remote beaches during your sailing adventures. Moorsings is the most expensive at approx $12K/week (we were looking at 45ft boats with 4 queen beds and private heads)and has boats less than 2 years. Sunsail is roughly $10K/week with boats 2-4 years and Footloose rentals run $8K bareboat and are 6-8 years old. We enjoyed talking to the renters as they boarded their charters for the week. It certainly sounds like an adventure we want to try.

Next day off to St. Maarten. Kim recommended the America's cup sailing race so we booked it and glad we did.... What a hoot. We actually raced in an America's cup format race. We were on the Canada II and I was selected by the skipper as the honorary captain. We raced the Stars and Stripes. What an adrenalin rush for the next hour. We won the race and I got to sail the boat back to it's mooring ball. What excitiement.

Next day was Antigua. We didn't do much here. Just walked around

St. Lucia was the fourth port of call. We hired a cab for the day and headed off to the islands active volcano where you actually drive through the caldera and get to smell the lava flowing. It was gross smelling (h2S - hydrogen sulphide gas) but interesting to see. From there off to the main attraction the peytons. We heard from most passengers this island has great beaches and was spectacular. We spent most of the day in the taxi and then the captain ended up crusing past the peytons for a sunset. So we were a bit diappointed we wasted a good beach day. Oh well.

Last port of call was Grenada. We went on a snorkelling tour on a catamaran with 2 other couples we met from Minnesota. It was a hoot and a great way to end the island tours. Last day was a sea day and we relaxed by the pool.

We flew from San Juan to Orlando and checked into our condo on Saturday. While waiting for our car rental, Darwin overheard some folks chatting up the Shuttle endeavour launch that was scheduled on Sunday morning at 04:39. We decided we had to try and see the launch. So we checked into our room and immediately starting surfing Google Earth. Darwin found a spot he thought would be a great viewpoint and then we napped for an hour. Off to Titusville Florida to watch the launch. We did not know what to expect and Darwin ended up taking us to Space View Park, a very popular destination for launches (thank you google earth).

We arrived around 02:00 and napped in the car until 03:30. Then we headed out to find our viewing spot. There had to be over 100,000 people in this area camped out with family to watch the launch. With T-9 minutes we heard through the crowd the launch was cancelled due to the low cloud cover. We were VERY disappointed by this and drove back to Orlando (about an hour). We slept for 5 hours and then checked the internet and it was confirmed the launch was rescheduled for Monday morning at 04:14. Our friends Bill and Alice were making their way towards Orlando but we did not know where they were. We left them phone/skype messages to see if they wanted to join us. they called around noon and when we explained the opportunity they said we're in. So Bill called us around 8:00 to say he was 4 hours away from Titusville. So we set up a meeting place. Meanwhile we watched the Saints win the Superbowl which was REALLY cool. Since we know the team's mascot "Da Pope"...we were very excited to see them win. We were too pumped to sleep, so headed off to Titusville. We met up with Bill and Alice around 00:30 in a parking lot. It was funny meeting up with friends you have not seen in months in a parking lot at midnight.... Caught up with them and then we made our way over to our viewing spot. There was perhaps 70% less people viewing than the night before. I'm sure the Superbowl and a worknight had alot to do with the minimal attendance. Oh well, better viewing for us. At exactly 04:14 we could see a great light appear. Then the shuttle took off. As they say here....you see it....then hear it....then feel it....and boy is that true. The sound was deafening and you could feel your chest pounding as the sound wave drove across the water.

What an incredible sight. Our pictures do not do this justice and this should be one of the 7 technology wonders of the world. An absolute thrill to see and one of our trip highlights.... I know we keep saying this, but this one is a definite.

Today we headed off to Kennedy Space Center for a tour to better understand what we witnessed the day before. It was a great day. the most interesting tidbit we learned was that during a launch the animal kingdom is also affected. If you are near water during a launch, watch out for the jumping fish, dolphins and aligators. They are not sure what is happening so they all react in flight. Never thought of that before.

We went to the Astronaut Hall of Fame and went in a 4G-force simulation ride and regretted it afterwards. Boy does that get the stomach turning. How astronauts can handle 16G force is beyond us.

We are all tired tonight as we have not really slept the past 3 days, so off to bed early. We are travelling to St. Petersburg tomorrow to Derby Lane dog track. My dad loved watching the dogs here, so we are going to enjoy an afternoon of gambling.

Good night... Happy Birthday Mom Durnie

Posted by winmouse 20:00 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Atacama Desert - Day 3

Moon walking

sunny 34 °C
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Well this place continues to impress us. last night we went to the third largest salt flats in the world (Bolivia #1 and Utah #2) to watch the flamingos. WE had a spectacular sunset and a wonderful sundowner (spread of food with beverage selection watching the sunset). We were the only tour company who offered this service. It was a great night.

Back to our hotel and then off early this morning to hike the ridge along death valley (valle de muerto). This was by far our best excursion. It almost compares to our day seeing the blue footed boobies in the Galapogos. The scenery was outstanding. We saw fabulous sand dunes, craters, hoodos and it was shared with 3 other people (our guide and a couple from Brazil who have been on all our hikes). We had a blast moon walking down the sand dune. Wait until we can post the pictures.

We got back to our hotel and had a message from Kim that our travels to Macchu Pichu have been interupted. We had sent her a note earlier asking about the weather and we found out there are floods in the Peru area. So total world travel has done a great job finding us a contingency plan......www.totalworldtravel.com
they are the best agents in the world. We are not sure what we are doing yet, but in case you heard the news, we are safe and won't be travelling to Peru this trip....oh well. must have been in the cards.

We are relaxing in this great desert area and enjoying the scenery. so no worries. Will keep you posted when we know our next destination.

Posted by winmouse 13:58 Archived in Chile Comments (3)

Atacama Desert - Day 2

Darwin gets his groove back

27 °C
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Wow. we have been treated to two spectacular hikes. Yesterday afternoon, we took a 6 km hike through the desert, climbing over sand dunes, desert cliffs and seeing fantastic scenery. I climbed a small sand dune and had to moon walk down. Reminded me of my younger days climbing gravel pits with the neighbours. After our hike, we drove to death valley to get a spectacular view of the topogrpahy and then off to moon valley for a fantastic sunset. This place is a mini grand canyon. Our guide did not have wine, and after our 6km hike, I actually drank part of darwins beer (cerveza) and it tasted GREAT.

Back to the room for dinner and a shower. We downloaded our photos to watch our daily slide show and started to fall asleep before we could look at them. A very exhausting day.

This morning we had a three hour hike through cactus gorge. Here we started at 3200m and went down to 3000m as we hiked through this amazing cactus gorge. We saw vegeatation and waterfalls. Imagine yesterday was pure desert sun and this morning a fabulous vegetated gorge. This was a great demonstration of the two different topographies in this region. Quite stunning.

Jim we thought of you the past two hikes. You would have enjoyed these immensely. It would have been difficult to carry the bottle of wine with us on our hike this morning, but I`m sure you would have figured it out. Darwin was amazing climbing over the rocks and sand dunes. He was like spiderman.

This has been fun. Now we are off to lunch and this afternoon we will be enjoying the pools and then we go to the salt flats tonight to watch the flamingos and the sunset.

Posted by winmouse 08:08 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

Atacama Desert

Unbelievable

sunny 25 °C
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We need to catch up on some former dates, but since I have internet here at Alta Atacama, thought we would take a few moments to comment on this place. Flying into Calama yesterday afternoon reminded us of the James Bond movies when you get dropped off in the middle of the desert to perish. We had no clue where we were and just hoped that our hotel knew to pick us up. And yep they did. Once we got into the small terminal there was a check in desk for Alto Atacama and our name was on a sign with a driver waiting for us. We had a 1 hour drive to our hotel and what a drive. The first 20 minutes was like being on the moon with no vegetation or hills - just a landfill site that we drove through. Then we made a turn and headed into this spectacular valley. Words cannot describe this other than take Drumheller-Sedonna-Moab-Grand Canyon and mix them together and voila -Atacama Desert.

Our accommodations are quite simple (just kidding). This facility can hold a maximum of 80 guests and there are currently 25 of us here. Each room has their own private patio overlooking the hills. There are several splash pools and a fabulous spa (yep we will be partaking in this). We have three meals served to us a day - all beverages are included except premium wines. We wonder if they have enough rum for the next 3 days. Each day you meet with the excursion captains and the group decides which tours to take everyday. The tours are conducted in great Ford vans fully air conditioned and loaded with water, soft drinks, beer, nuts, chocolate bars to get you through your excursion.

We took a quick tour of the facility and met with the excursion team and confirmed star gazing at 22:30. So had some dinner and unpacked. Walked up to this great observation platform that had lounge chairs. You laid back in a lounge chair and spun it to whatever direction you wanted and watched the stars. We were lucky to see stars as we are about 5 days before a full moon. Then the telescope was opened and what a view we got of the moon, mars, orions belt, and southern cross. I have never seen stars that close before, nor seen them twinkle so bright. This is truly the best place to see stars in the world. Absolutely amazing.

Up early today and off to our first official excursion (medium intensity). All excursion are based on days of acclimatisation. Even though we are at 2500m (top of lake louise), we could still feel some altitude adjustments last night. as we have been travelling closer to sea level for the past month, we needed to acclimitize ourselves again.
So this morning was a light tour. We went to the Hierbas Buenas area where we enjoyed petroglyphs from over 2,000 years ago (llamas, fox, snake, flamingos). We walked amongst these rocks and then headed to a Rio Grande, on of the oldest settlements in the area dn still a working agricultural town. Our guides family comes from this village. We fed llamas and took photos of a small village church. then we walked along another spectacular formation area called rainbow valley because of all the colours.

Once again, the camera just does not do these photos justice. We will try later tonight to download some photos.

For anyone who has an appreciation for geology and likes the badlands, this is a MUST destination. Darwin is like a little kid with all the formations and talking to our guide. As usual, they like hearing the name Darwin but love it when he actually answers their geology questions.

Off to our 4-course lunch and a nap before we head to a sunset excursion in moon valley tonight.

Life is GOOD.

Posted by winmouse 08:11 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

Mendoza

Well worth the visit

sunny 35 °C
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We have been busy the past few days to catch up on posts, so I’ll quickly summarize to get caught up.
After our last post, we checked out Azafran, a great little restaurant. What was neat about this place is it is actually a wine store as well as a restaurant. They state on the menu, they would rather boast about their wines in the store, rather than a list. So off we went to the wine store, to pick out a bottle. We weren’t sure what we were looking for, so Darwin suggested a whole new grape and we found Bronada. So we bought the Trapiche 2006 and sat down for dinner. They charge you $2.00 corkage and the bottle was $25.00. What a nice surprise. It’s very much like a Tempernillo, and is the second most popular grape planted in Mendoza. However, it is mostly used for blending Malbec and is just starting to stand as it’s own varietal. We thoroughly enjoyed our bottle and vowed to find more during our tastings. Turned out later we found the bottle we picked was an award winner.
We spent the next day on a great wine tour. Because all vineyards require appointments, we decided to book with a tour company instead of make reservations and drive to them on our own. Besides, this way we did not have to drink and drive. The following are the vineyards we visited.
Bodega Benegas – the oldest traditional vineyard and one we really enjoyed. The house was beautiful and we sampled Sangiovese, Syrah and a Meritage. The latter was the best of the bunch.
Terrazas de los Andes – tried Torrontes (very dry white. It’s called the liar wine because the nose is like a wonderful crisp sauvignon blanc and then you take a sip and it sucks your cheeks in. Way too dry for mouse Darwin loved it)
Ruta Malen (lunch) – this was a lovely spot for lunch (Dwayne you were right). The wines were ok, but the lunch was wonderful.
Alta Vista - We tried some Malbec, Torrontes, a rose and Cabernet Savignon. Darwin loved the 2006 Alta Vista Grand Reserve Malbec, but I did not care for it.
Back to the room and we crashed. After the long drive the day before, we needed a good sleep.
The next morning we toured around the city and headed to the outdoor mall to hunt for a sun dress, so I did not have to keep wearing black. After a long hunt, we finally found 2 cute little dresses for me. It was very hard to find a dress, as fall clothes were starting to arrive and it appears their main trend right now is the loose top worn with black or white tights. With 35+ degree temperatures, I was not interested in tights.
With some new clothes purchased (Darwin got a great pair of shoes and a fabulous polo shirt), we headed off to the Hyatt spa for the afternoon. We each had a pedicure and a massage for a very reasonable price. It was a nice place and a great way to relax for an afternoon. Back to our room (Hotel Argentina. Had to switch after one night at plaza italia) and got changed. Then headed off to The Vines.The only sampling room in the city to try some flights. We each had a flight and shared the wines. We sampled 10 wines and must admit nothing rocked our socks off. They were nice, but we have had much better.
Then we went to a great asado (bar-b-que) spot and enjoyed a fabulous meal. Darwin sampled 15 different cuts of meat, while I had a huge sirloin steak. Could only eat half of the steak. We had a great Luigi Bosca Malbec. The entire meal was $75 with wine.
Yesterday, we were up early to catch our taxi to the riding stables. These stables were about 25 minutes from town in a gated community. It was very rustic and Diego our guide was fantastic. He was definitely a local gaucho. Three girls from Germany joined us on a great ride through the desert area in the foothills of the Andes. It was a wonderful ride. My horse Charcoal was excellent and Darwin looked like he was a kid again, enjoying his surroundings. We had a 2 ½ hour ride and then Darwin and I were treated to a typical Asado. It is a bar-b-que on a large concrete pad. You light a fire in a cradle with very hard wood. Let the wood burn and as the coal chips drop onto the concrete pad, you transfer these coals with a large bent branding iron to the grille area, where our beef was waiting to be cooked. It took about ½ hour to cook our meat . We had a great tomato salad, bread, meat, wine, coke, water. According to Diego, this is how they eat every day.
It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Today was another wine tour. Javiar was our driver.He is the son of Mercedes who owns Plaza Italia. Even though we did not stay at their B&B for the entire length of our stay, they still booked all our tours and recommended fabulous restaurants. Talk about great service.
Javiar took us to the Uco Valley. This area is closer to the Andes and is not to be missed. These were fabulous vineyards with exceptional architecture. We went to :
Pulenta – a boutique vineyard that made good Savignon Blanc and their 2007 Grand Cabernet Franc was our favourite wine of Mendoza. It is a MUST to find back in Canada
Salentein – this vineyard was all about architecture and quality of wine. They show you a video before you tour the vineyard and we laughed that they definitely believe you should not bring a knife to a gun fight. They are definitely in the serious business of making wine. We only sampled their reserve collection and not their premium wines (as we had another appointment), but we both believe their premium Savignon Blanc and Pinot Noir would have been fantastic.
Andeluna – this vineyard had the best view and was our favourite sampling spot because we sat on this great couch out by the vineyard overlooking the Andes Mountains. Yes we had some great wine cellars to taste wine, but doesn’t get much better than a mountain view. The wines here were good, not great. Our favourite was their 2004 Pasionada. This is a blend that changes every year. Similar to a meritage. We will try to find this wine as well.
O.Fournier – Gord strongly suggested we check out this vineyard and we are glad we made the extra 45 minute drive to this location. We had a fabulous lunch in a vineyard that looks like the USS Enterprise. It can give Vulcan a run for it’s money. The vineyard is all about the southern cross and astronomy. The storage room (single largest room in America for wine storage) is designed so the light from above reflects a cross. we managed to get a great shot of this that we will post. Their Alpha Crux Premium Malbec was a GREAT wine. We had a bottle of this in Buenos Aires and knew we had to visit the vineyard.
Again another great day.

Getting ready to pack now and drive to Chile. Not sure where we will end up.

Posted by winmouse 16:10 Archived in Argentina Comments (3)

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