Category Archives: Uncategorized

New York, New York

I have made a new reservation. I am never drinking the night before I get on a plane at 8:45 am again. It just makes the flight just too damn long.

Anyway, here we are after another joyous Air Canada flight* -delayed out of Vancouver by an hour thus arriving in Newark an hour late. AC may be the only airline unable to make up time in the air. The drive into NYC took twice as long as normal because:

1. On Sunday was the Puerto Rican Day parade thus 1,000,000 people came into the city and all sorts of streets were closed to traffic and

2. The Tony awards were that night as well, closing more streets in Manhattan. Our driver -“We New Yorkers don’t like award shows. They mess up traffic.”

After arriving at the Yotel Hotel and checking in electronically- no front desk, we dump our bags and head off in search of some edible food. (See sarcastic * above).

The view south from our 15th story perch. That’s the Hudson River and right where where Captain Sullenberger “landed” his Airbus 320 a number of years ago.

Our hotel is at 10th Avenue and 42nd Street, just 7 blocks from Times Square. It was a madhouse, and as far s I know there was nothing special going on there. At one point I thought “This is the only time I’m coming up here – just too many damn people.” That may change but still…

We found a lovely little Italian restaurant just off Broadway where we ate and Terry drank. Then it was more walking, finding the theatre where we will see Springsteen, seeing the Brill Building where Carol King and many others got their start, looking at all the other tourists looking at the lights and locating where the ball comes down. It was a lot to do when one isn’t feeling 100%, let me tell you.

Monday dawned a little cloudy and after an interesting breakfast – ever ordered an mushroom omelet with home fries and got an omelet, home fries, cold mushrooms on the side AND two sunny side up eggs?–we boarded a Hop On Hop Off tour which headed from midtown to downtown, basically along Broadway and 5th Avenue. (Those street names just roll off the tongue now.) The fascinating thing was the traffic – it is just as bad as one sees on tv/movies. Everything moves dead slow with generally no problems – just a fair amount of honking. What is interesting is that when the lights change, traffic stops immediately, pedestrians walk and no one tries to force their way through. Very civilized.

We passed an Irish pub, Empire State Building, the Flatiron building and billions more fascinating buildings before getting off at the tip of Manhattan at Battery Park.

Then we started to walk. First it was up to the Memorial which was quite an emotional site and there were a few tears shed even though we aren’t Americans. It was impossible to get it in one photo.

This is a Callery Pear tree and is called the Survivor tree. The firefighters found it damaged but still alive in all the rubble. They took it out to a nursery where it was brought back to health and ready to be planted on the tenth anniversary. However, the night before, a big storm came through and knocked it over once more. It took another two years, but it is now back at the Memorial (no longer referred to as ground zero).

This is the Oculus Shopping mall right next door – an amazing place.

All around the area, which still has parts under construction are these huge fences with murals on them.

The coolest one was this one though, particularly with the Oculus above it. Terry was wishing she’d had worn a black and white top.

Included in our hop on hop off was a tour of Hudson River and a trip around the Statue of Liberty.

Then it was off to find lunch which we had in a really nice little gyro/falafel place. You know – one that wasn’t anything special, just good food, eclectic art, and a take out counter.

And then you look at the menu.

Rib-eye $40.00? Spicy frankfurter $31.00? Lamb chops $40.00? Take another look at the room/kitchen behind Terry. OMG

After nourishing ourselves it was time to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, around Brooklyn, along the Brooklyn Promenade, back across the bridge and then 3.5 more miles back to our hotel.
The bike lane proponents in Vancouver would be so thrilled. Two equally wide lanes for both pedestrians and bike riders.
Unfortunately there are way more people than riders. Look beyond the goofy guy. There were literally thousands of people crammed into the same amount of space. The bikers were impatient–“This is a bike lane, assholes!”–if you happened to try to pass a slow walker when one of them flew past. One biker had a whistle in his mouth and just kept blowing. In the first 250-300 yards, vendors were set up in the pedestrian lane, cutting in half the room available. it was just plain stupid. I’d love to know how many accidents there are annually.

Downtown Manhattan from the bridge

Downtown Manhattan from Brooklyn. “On the Waterfront” was filmed right here – before it was developed into this leafy park.

I just liked this place.

By the time we got back to the hotel we had walked over ten miles and were quite tired.

Tomorrow is Uptown. See you then.

Hola Mexico City

Well here we are. The last few days of this wonderful adventure. From the heights of Sacsayhuaman (near Cusco and pronounced “sexy woman) elevation 12,142 feet to below sea level in the Galapagos, from seeing what brilliant ancient cultures could create to learning how the Spanish attempted to obliterate both Incans and Aztecs, from standing on the equator to standing on the peak of Huayna Picchu, it has been a fantastic experience. I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of what we saw.

We arrived in Mexico City at about 2:00 pm and got a taxi into town. Very civilized. You go to a counter at the airport, tell them where you want to go, pay them, they give you a chit, you go outside, choose a taxi to fit all your bags in and away you go.

I’m not sure when we go back to the airport if we will take the same route. I think the driver wanted us to feel we were back in China. He took us down a street where there were blocks and blocks of shoe stores.

It got narrower.

The shoes – well, some of the shoes. Men’s shoes, women’s shoes, shoes in boxes, shoes on racks…

It was at this point, while we were crawling along that an armed (ie. machine gun toting) policeman stopped us and said something to the driver. “Am I not supposed to take photos?” I naively ask. “No, he said to roll up the windows.” is the driver’s response. Oh.

We finally arrive at our very lovely yet inexpensive ($720 for 6 nights) hotel – The Historico Centrale where we are told that all of the food and non-alcoholic beverages available at the little coffee counter are free. Sandwiches, paninis, baked goods, smoothies, chips, pop – all free. It takes us two days for this to actually sink in. Welcome to Mexico City.

There is a two story living wall. Spectacular.

And a 6 story atrium.

By the time we get cleaned up and have a welcoming drink it is heading towards dinner time and we head up the three blocks to the Zocalo or main square, stopping at Pata Negra bar for the worst margarita ever served by one of the surliest bartenders ever.

She wasn’t so surly when it came time to pay the bill though. Then she was all sweetness and light. She asked if the margaritas were good and I lied and said yes very good. Martin gave her 500 pesos (about $32.00) for a 280 peso bill and she wandered off, staying at the far end of the bar for a good 5 minutes, waiting for us to leave. She finally came back with the change. No fleecing these gringos senorita.

From there it was across the street to watch these guys for awhile. Who takes a drum kit to busk? (FYI It’s only about 40 seconds long and then loops back to the beginning.)

Zocalo is the third largest square in the world, after Tiananmen and Red Squares. Obviously, it is huge. On one side is the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, on another side is the National Palace, on another is City Hall and other government buildings and on the last hotels.

At night they are all lit up. Except for the cathedral, they all change colour every few seconds or so.

The Cathedral

National Palace

City Hall


The Zocalo in daylight.

It is dominated by the largest national flag I’ve ever seen.

We had dinner at Salon Corona, thinking we had stumbled on a cool little restaurant. Yeah, right. There are at least 10 of them within a 5 minute walk of our hotel. But they serve a good draft…

and a not bad slushy margarita.

You remember Julie Andrews and “The Hills are Alive”? Well in Mexico City, it is “The Streets are Alive”. After dinner we came across this group. Subsequently when we passed this corner there were other classical music performers equally talented. This is almost 3 minutes long but I just couldn’t stop videoing. Please enjoy. (I don’t know whose finger that is!😂😂)

In addition we have also heard a couple of 5 or 6 year olds sent by their parents to perform on Calle Francisco I Madero, the main pedestrian walkway. They strum a couple of old toy guitars and yell out lyrics of some kind or other. It was disturbing to say the least but it is a necessary evil in this and many other parts of the world. (We have also heard music blasting from the 3rd and 4th floor discotheques and an incredible opera singer singing from the third floor balcony of a restaurant. Unreal or maybe surreal.)

From there it was back to the hotel for a glass of wine, a wonderfully comfortable bed and best of all no wake up call.

Buenos noches. Mañana.

And We Are Done In the Galapagos

Our last day and a half in The Galapagos was mostly just more of the same. Some kind of one hour nature walk followed by the opportunity to snorkel followed by a meal followed by…

The one exception to this was the one “attempt” I made to snorkel – well, not really snorkel. It isn’t a lot of fun to put a mask on, take a deep breath, submerge one’s self, look at as many fish as possible and then resurface and start the process all over again. This is particularly frustrating when one can’t even stand because of the rocky bottom. The others did tell me all about the wonderful things they saw which really helped.

Some of the sights:

The same sunrise on two cameras:

Frigates – they are amazing birds. They have a 7 1/2 foot wing span and can soar at incredible heights for weeks at a time. They watch for other birds to catch fish then catch the smaller bird and shake it until it drops the fish and then they swoop down to catch the catch. It was great watching them glide it

Basking sea lions

Two kinds of birds

More marine iguanas and red crabs

Tortoise bones

A super high tide, caused by the nearness of Venus the night before, which prevented the scheduled nature excursion “A walk on the beach”.

Our final morning was a scheduled panga, or dinghy, ride. This was by far the best excursion.

After another spectacular sunrise,

We went into Black Turtle Cove

where we saw:

Tiger Rays,

Lots of White Tipped Sharks,

Giant Tortoises

Pelicans by the dozens

and, of course, the famous Blue Footed Booby.

After the morning’s excitement – you join 12 people trying to get pictures, moving from side to side on a panga, in shark infested water and tell me that’s not excitement, it was back to the ship to say farewell to our new good friends Carol and Mike,

and the flight out to start on the last leg of this incredible adventure.

Next time – Hola Mexico City.

A Brief History of Time – Or Our Time in the Galapagos

This trip has had many incredible moments and experiences. The experiences of early morning wake up calls (I know, I have whined about them before, but it’s my blog) have not been among the incredible though. We anticipated our time on the ship assuming we would have some time to unwind and relax. Not so grasshopper. Think for a moment that you are lying in bed deep in sleep. Think that the ceiling in your room is about 7 1/2 feet instead of the standard 8 feet. Now imagine a white disk approximately 8″ across directly above your head. Finally imagine that it is 7am and suddenly La Cucuracha is blaring at full volume from that little white disk. That was our first wake up call on the Coral I. This is followed by the Ship Manager inviting all the “Dear Passengers” to come to breakfast for 7:30 and that at 8am we will be departing for Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz Island to see the iguanas and the mockingbirds. So much for the relaxation part.

Arriving at Santa Cruz we disembark onto a lava field (similar to the one below) and have to navigate across approximately 30 meters of this. Now we are relatively fit, but compared to the majority of our fellow passengers, we are highly tuned star athletes. Just before reaching the sand, the fellow front of me took a bad fall and was lucky to come away with only a scraped arm.

The Marine iguana had no problem with the lava though.

There are 35 of us on board the ship and they divide us into three equal groups and each group has its one guide. Yesterday we had Billy and so made sure we didn’t get into his dinghy today. Instead we jumped in with Lola.

Lola is a nice enough person, but as a guide she was not terribly effective. For example “Today we will see land iguanas and marine iguanas. The land iguanas live on the land and do not go in the water. Marine iguanas go in the water and today we will see both marine iguanas, which go in the water and land iguanas which stay on the land.” I am not using hyperbole here either.

Every piece of information she gave us she repeated at least 3 times. We think it was because she didn’t know enough to fill the hour long tour.

Anyway, here are all the animals we saw in our first excursion into the wild. The yellow ones are the land iguana and the black are the marine iguanas. The trail behind them is caused by the tail which drags along the sand. Marine iguanas spend the night on land and then head back to the water in the morning.

We saw lots and lots of red crabs.

We saw pelicans, a heron, and finches.

Then it was back to the ship so that those who wanted to could go snorkeling. Terry, Lynne and Martin all went. Those who know me know there is no way I can put that mouthpiece in my mouth without gagging, so I stayed on board. Unfortunately the area where they were taken was quite murky and they saw very very little.

After lunch we were off to Bartolome Island – an island with no animals, which isn’t exactly why we came here. Nevertheless we took the challenge of the 375 steps to the top. It was interesting – very much a moonscape.

From there it was off to see the “pinguins” aka penguins, just around Siwash Rock’s big brother – check out the rock sticking up in two of the last three photos.

Tomorrow’s another day…

Off to Quito – The Middle of The World and The Galapagos Too!

After the wonders of Machu and Huayna Picchu it will be hard to have an equivalent awe inspiring experience, but we four intrepid travellers will give it our best shot.

Starting with a 4:00am wake up call will make it that just much more difficult though. We fly from Cusco to Lima to Quito arriving just after 1pm. It’s already been a long day when we are met by Odette, our guide for the following day. We are pretty much exhausted and decide to relax for the night. Odette picks us up at 9 – a very civilized hour and we are off for a visit to Latitude 00° 00′ 00′, more commonly known as the equator.

I admit that I was a little sceptical – after all, how can you see something that doesn’t exist. However, it was quite entertaining right from Lynne having a shrunken head placed on her hand – after an initial reaction, the guide pointed out it was a plastic facsimile – to watching Lynne and Terry walk the equator while trying to remain balanced.

Terry is like a rock…

while Lynne, not so much.

On the other hand, when I was standing on the equator, the guide was able to push my fist down from over my head with one finger.

We were in two different hemispheres. Aahhh romance.

From the equator it was off to a short, but informative walking tour of historic Quito. Nothing too much to write about though – just another really old South American city. I was able, though, to try on a hat.

What’s so special about this Panama hat, you ask. It cost $5700US! The shop owners were okay with me trying it on, but were pretty much apoplectic when I handled it by the crease on the top. “Only brim sir”

Final stop was for lunch. Freudian slip?

Sunday brought a 3:45 wake-up call for pick up at 4:20 in order to catch a 6:50 flight to The Galapagos – after all, at that time of the morning the traffic to the airport (30 minutes away) can be brutal. Just not that morning.

We took a van, a plane, a bus and a kodiak/dinghy to get to the Coral I, (our home for the next 72 hours or 4 days, 3 nights depending on the marketing) where they served us a lovely lunch. This is Coral II – the sister ship to ours.

Before I go any further, do you recall my comment about fate as we took the train back from Machu Picchu? One of the couples across the aisle from us was in line to get on the boat with us. Lynne, being the outgoing person she is, chatted them up while we waited. Turns out Carol and Mike are transplanted English, now living in Grenada. A number of years ago (2013 I think), with the assistance of a couple of friends they sailed across the Atlantic, fell in love with Grenada sold their boat and moved. Now that’s an adventure. Anyway the six of us have become fast friends and had a great time on the boat.

After lunch, despite the fact that everyone had had an early start, they put us back into the dinghy or pangas, took us ashore and drove us in a bus the 45 minutes across Santa Cruz Island to the Charles Darwin Research Centre to see giant tortoises. Along the way we received almost no information from our guide. It was so bad that Terry finally tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he was a guide and if he could provide us with some information about what we were seeing. “There are no tortoises here” is his response. Hmmm…

These two were preparing for a little romance of their own. It takes four hours and is very noisy. She doesn’t look like she is looking forward to the experience, does she?

A couple of baby Giant Tortoises.

As we were leaving the research centre we came across a small family of black iguanas.

Then we were dropped off in the village to “Do some shopping and support the local economy.” Instead we hit one of the local bars for some refreshing cuervsas before the 45 minute bus ride back. Now I’m not saying there were a lot of disgruntled passengers about how we spent our afternoon, but then again I’m not saying there weren’t any, either.

Tomorrow – land iguanas, marine iguanas, black iguanas, yellow iguanas, red crabs and a visit to an island with no animals. (Which isn’t exactly why we came to the Galapagos…)

The Feat of the Climb of Huayna Picchu

Machu Picchu means “Big Mountain” and nearby is Huayna Picchu or “Little Mountain”. There are only 400 people a day -200 at 8am and 200 at 10am, allowed to climb Huayna Picchu, as opposed to an unlimited amount who can presently access Machu Picchu. In the booking of the trip, our travel agent must have gotten some erroneous information about her clients, since we were given the opportunity to climb it. Now, the day before when we were looking at it from M.P. we mentioned to Terry that we would be climbing it – “Are you crazy?” was her response – and a legitimate response it was. As you view it from a distance, it does appear to be quite vertical and easy to fall off.

Nevertheless, a spectacularly clear and warm Thursday morning found us at the 2nd control centre signing in for our opportunity of a lifetime. In the line of eager participants in this folly were us, and 196 people between the ages of 20 and 40. As we looked around, I am confident that we were all quietly echoing Terry’s sentiments from the day before.

When we were in Portugal, it always seemed that we had to go down in order to go up, to go right in order to go left. Climbing Huayna was the same. Now when you are looking up and see how high you have to go in the next hour and a half, it is disconcerting that the first 5 to 10 minutes you go down. This is problematic for two reasons. 1. You have to climb that distance again just to get back to the elevation you started from and 2. in the back of your mind as you climb up and up and up is the realization that when you come back down from the peak, you still have to go up in order to finish.

Some information about Huayna Picchu:

1. The elevation is 8835 feet which is approximately half the elevation of Machu Picchu mountain itself

2. It takes roughly 2100 steps to cover the 850 feet to the top from the “village” of Machu Picchu where most people go.

3. No two steps seem to be the same height. They range from perhaps 6″ to 14″ or 15″.

4. There are many places where cables have been installed to hold onto as you go up.

5. There is no safety netting.

6. In many areas the rocks are quite slippery.

7. One section of the steps are nicknamed “The Death Steps”. Luckily they are in the section that is separated into “one way” only. There would be nowhere to go if someone was coming down while you were going up.

8. It took us 1:30 to get to the top – apparently the Incans used to have races to the top. Now, although the Incans didn’t have stopwatches, we were told one did it in 15 minutes.

9. We couldn’t believe how they could have carried the stones up to build all those steps.

10. The view was absolutely spectacular.

11. It was the most challenging physical endeavour any of us had ever done and man are we proud of ourselves.

The photos which need no words, but I’ll supply some anyway.

From a distance, on a spectacular day, it doesn’t look like much does it.

All full of vim and vinegar – at least before the start.

Yes, that’s where we’re going.

How daunting is it? Look carefully on the left side, about half way up – which really is only about 1/4 of the way. There is someone in a blue shirt on his – or her – way up.

Some of the good steps…

…the not so good steps…(Note the steel cable rail and Terry at the top)…

…and a section of the aforementioned “Death Stairs” and, believe me this doesn’t do them justice.

Two guys with a little less vim – and no vinegar!

This is actually a cruel joke since even though it seems you are at the top, you aren’t.

Looking down from almost the top to where the above sign is.

Okay we have “Reached for the Top” and there’s no vim left either.

Now, it is a little sketchy up there, and although it was quite safe, neither Terry nor Lynne wanted to sit on the rock for the photo op.

Looking back down on the village.

The views were truly spectacular.

A view of the road up with ten of the 13 hairpin turns. The peak is the top of Machu Picchu Mountain. I know that’s redundant, but it differentiates it from the village.

Photographic evidence that we all did reach the top.

(Apparently, climbing 2100 steps does not help one’s waistline)

The path down leads through this very narrow choke point. You can just see a yellow backpack about to enter the passageway.

The Incas built it in order to ensure no army could get through anymore than one at a time.

And at the bottom. Tired? Who’s tired? One of the women in the background came up to Terry to see if everything was all right. She said Terry was looking very worried. We think she was likely a nurse. Very nice of her.

By the time we got back down all we wanted to do was to catch the bus down to Agua Calientes and have a beer which is exactly what we did. Unfortunately we also had to wait for about 2 1/2 hours for the train to take us on a 1 1/2 hour ride back to Ollantaytambo where we got on the bus for the 2 hour ride back to Cusco. On the train they put on a cultural dance for us, followed by a fashion show – I kid you not, of clothing we could purchase. Please forgive the 2 cameo appearances.

And tired? Some of us slept right through the 10 minute dance and 10 minute fashion show despite the loud music, rhythmic clapping and caterwauling- yes caterwauling!

And trust me, despite how it may look, those little peepers were firmly closed.

Who among you believes in fate? Well, sitting across the aisle from us on the train were two couples. And with that I bid you adieu.

The Magic of Machu Picchu

There are very few words which can effectively describe Machu Picchu – but magical, mystical and ethereal are a beginning.

We took a bus from Aqua Calientes for about 30 minutes, up a rough, narrow road which has 13 hairpin turns. In many spots if you come across a bus going the opposite direction, one of you has to back up. On one bend in the road we came face to face – stopping with 20 feet to spare.

Once at the “control centre” we went through an orientation with Marco, our guide, about the logistics of what we would see. There are a number of “circuits” one can follow and these range from easy to difficult in terms of steepness. Thank goodness Marco chose the easy one. The amazing thing is that once you walk through the control centre – think PNE entrance gate, and travel maybe a hundred yards you are in the “middle” of the Machu Picchu village. I say middle because it falls away down the mountain to your right and goes up the mountain to your left as well as extending out in front of you. The elevation of Machu Picchu at this point is 7970 feet.

Our first day was somewhat overcast with periods of drizzle as well as having wispy bits of clouds drifting through the peaks of the surrounding mountains. It definitely felt surreal at times.

Marco took us on a two to two and a half hour tour, which was most informative, although there was so much information presented we all became overloaded and I’m not sure how much was actually absorbed.

The steps were quite steep in places.

This is a small example of the “quarry” where the stones for construction came from.

All of the construction were blocks of stone simply fitted together – no mortar was used.

After the official tour, we had lunch and carried on with a self-guided effort. In the background is Huayna Picchu, elevation 8835 feet.

There were several llamas roaming around the grounds, feeding freely.

This llama stood absolutely stock still for at least 15 minutes. It was as though he – or she was either on guard or surveying its domain.

Tomorrow we go for a hike.