Bartolome, Galapogos

The next morning we wake early to take our first excursion. We leave the boat at 6:30 am for a walk (actually 388 steps) on Bartolome up to the top of the island. This island also has one the most famous landmarks in the Galapagos Islands…Pinnacle Rock! It really is beautiful and we have the first of many lessons about the Galapagos and the volcanic activity. Back to the ship for breakfast before our first snorkeling excursion. We snorkeled from a beach….it was really wonderful. I felt like I was swimming around in our aquarium at home. So many coral reefs and schools of fish. There were stingrays, parrot fish, puffers and corals….the list goes on and on. I am really happy to have my 3 mm wet suit. We are well prepared and really enjoyed the dive.

Once aboard we take off our wet-suits and wash them in several baths of water and hang them to dry. There is a pot of hot chocolate waiting for us which Gianluca loves. From there we get into the Jacuzzi/hot tub which happens to be on our deck….lovely! It will become a favorite way to end the day for us or to end a snorkeling excursion. In the Jacuzzi we have met a mom and daughter from Seattle (Sophia is the same age as Gianluca and is very sweet). We also have met Abraham who is here with his family from Mexico City. A really nice man and is particularly sweet with Gianluca…and Terrence from Vancouver who is here with his wife and parents…….it’s all happening in the hot tub!

The ship offers several different levels of difficulty for the activities. The range from easy to difficult is pretty narrow. If you don’t want to snorkel for instance you can ride in a glass bottom boat. The guidelines for touring are very specific. There can only be so many snorkelers, or kayakers, or zodiacs at any one given times. Some excursions we have to sign up for but have never had a problem partaking in the activity that is our top preference.

After lunch and snorkeling Steven and Gianluca go Kayaking! It was very windy so Steven was a bit skeptical…but after learning they would be traveling with the wind and current they decided to go. Gianluca and Steven were the star kayakers. After a few lessons, hints and demonstrations by Dad, Gianluca turned out to be a great paddling partner. Most people were having a hard time….a few bailed and had to be pulled out of the kayaks….others struggled along. When Gianluca came back he walked into our statement and exclaimed “that was great!!!!!”

Each evening at 1900 hours (7:00 pm) there is a briefing for the next day’s activities. I enjoy going to these. The current day is recapped and the next day’s activities are revealed. A part of me wishes we could know the activities a few days in advance…but it works. (If I asked they would let me know.) So each night we start talking about what we are going to do the next day. If is fun. Gianluca is at the age where he wants to do everything….it all sounds like fun and he is raring to go, which of course means that Steven and I are going to do everything as well. The only thing activity that Steven and GL do on their own is kayaking because it is a two person kayak and there is no way I would do that alone…..

Following the briefing at 7:00 we are ready for dinner. This night we go to the grill which is an open restaurant on the aft of deck number 5. It was very windy. The unique twist to this restaurant is that you cook your own meet/fish/fowl on a hot brick which is delivered on a plate to each guest. It is accompanied by a baked potato and grilled vegetables. We get out there and it is pretty cold in the wind. Steven gallantly goes to get us jackets and coats and then we get smoked out from all of the various cooking plates of food. It is fun, hilarious and frustrating all at the same time! We did love it though. Nothing can compare to dining in the pitch black of the sea with the brilliant stars overhead. Full on pretty good food, wine and dessert we make our way back to our cabin for a good night’s sleep.

Overnight the ship will depart for another island and another wonderful adventure.

New Country New Adventure – Quito to the Galapagos

We get onto the bus and head to the airport. “We” are two large buses filled with SilverSea Galapagos bound travelers. We stay to ourselves pretty much and are trying to adhere to all of the group travel guidelines. Stay together, move as one entity, stop as a unit, wait, go stop…….on and on and on. It all makes sense but it is hard to do. We get to our gate and wait. Soon we are boarding our flight to Guayaquil and then onto Baltra. Once in Guayaquil we cannot get off the plane. It was an okay wait. I would say about 40 minutes or so. We survived! Then we take off one more time and are in the air for 2 hours as we make our way to Baltra, Galapagos.
We land in barren land that is part desert part lava flow. Really nothing is there ….it is not the most welcoming arrival. The air is heavy with moisture, the landscape bleak and the sky gray. We go through immigration one more time and then wait in room for our shorty bus ride to the port. We are on the first zodiac to the ship……..YAY! We are welcomed with a glass of water or champagne…….champagne for me and quickly find our stateroom. It is nice with a big window and we are starving for lunch. We find our way to the 5th deck to enjoy lunch al fresco as we wait for our luggage to find its way to our room.
The first day is about discovering the boat, life aboard the ship and the people. All is good and we are pleased to be staying unpacked and in one floating hotel for a week.

Cuzco – Lima – Quito

Today we left Cuzco… was another very early morning in order to catch our 9:30 flight to Lima. (Although we will have been to Lima three times on this trip never once did set foot in the city…..always catching a flight to another place) As a footnote the mornings and evenings were quite cool in Cuzco. Always needed jackets and sweaters. So this morning we were picked up by our guide Janet and our driver Willie to transfer us to the airport. I would like to take the time to mention that our guides were amazing. Our team of guides consisted of our driver Willie; the team coordinator, Janet; and our faithful companion, Eynor. The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu would not have been the wonderful experience it was without Willie and especially Eynor. They became our family in Peru and treated us with such warmth and respect. I will send photos on a separate blog……They deserve a blog all onto themselves.

Once again in the airport we boarded our flight to Lima and then once in Lima we boarded another flighty to Quito. It turned out to be another long day of travel, which none of us were quite prepared for. We hadn’t set up that expectation for Gianluca so he found it to be a tough day. (I have to agree with him.) It was very confusing at the gate because the gate had not yet been confirmed and there were a lot of travelers waiting at the gate that had been assigned to our flight, but it had a different airline and time posted. Also, there was not a screen with the departures listed on it, so we just had to listen for the gate assignment. We met and started speaking to a young couple from the U.S. who were traveling through South America. They were on the same flight and every once in a while he would get up to listen to the announcements and he came back with no new info. So Steven said I think I will do some reconnaissance and he quickly comes back to let us know that our flight is boarding! We may have missed that one! Once in Quito, Ecuador (the capital of Ecuador) we of course had to go through immigration…..a long line and Gianluca was really feeling sick. Nothing you can do when you are in that line. He found that pacing back and forth was a way to manage how he felt. The color returned to his cheeks and the red left his eyes….he had managed to recycle and ground himself. Once through the long line we found our luggage got water and were quite happy to be off of airplanes and on our way out of the airport!!!!

We met our next guide Diana who got our van and got us on our way to Quito. The good news is that there is a new airport in Quito, (about 15 months since it’s opening) the bad news is that it takes forever to get into the city. So there we are at 4:00 in the afternoon in rush hour traffic finding our way out of the country into the city with all the other Ecuadorians. We learned quickly that they do not have emissions standards on their vehicles and the fumes make you want to pass out……ha! Then we learn that in order to get to Quito we have to cross a bridge which is completely insufficient to manage the traffic in and out of the city. So the traffic is stopped, the fumes are fuming, the sun is hot, the traffic is at its height and we are so wanting to be at our next hotel. (They are constructing a new bridge that is scheduled to open December 15 of this year. So if you are planning a trip to Quito wait until after the New Year!)

Finally we arrive at our hotel, a Marriott, which was actually nice. We quickly go to our room and try to settle in. We don’t’ unpack as we have to be ready to leave by 7:00 the next morning. The registration for the boat trip starts at 6:00 am the next morning and goes until 7:00am. The clincher is that we had to have all of our luggage outside of our door by 5:30 am. So the reality sunk in that we had to be ready to go by 5:30 the next morning…groan! Fortunately I had taken the time to really organize all our luggage in Cuzco so that what we needed was on top so the getting-ready was easy to do. (Thank goodness for me!!!!) Going back to the afternoon we arrived, once we made it to our room Gianluca does not want to move…he has Wi-Fi and just wants to get on his computer and watch his shows as he knows that he will be on the internet wagon (withdrawal from connectivity) once we get on-board. Steven and I, with Gianluca’s blessing) take a short walk in search of an ice cream cone! We saw someone eating one in the lobby and thought we could find one in the hotel. No such luck. With a bit of help from doormen and drivers we ascertained the name of an ice cream place… we just had to find it. It is called Waffles and Cones. After a few wrong turns we came across it. It was wonderful. A huge restaurant/ice cream shop. The handmade waffle cones could be filled with 3 dozen different flavors of gelato. Very fun and good and necessary after that long day.

That night we had dinner in that restaurant in the hotel, The Hacienda, an Argentinian Steak House. It was actually really good. Great dinner and dessert and then into bed for the “evil” early wake up call.

Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu to Agua Caliente

We left the Sacred Valley Tuesday at 8:53 a.m. aboard the Vista Dome with two very small overnight bags. (The train does not have much storage for luggage.) It was a beautiful 90 minute 27 mile train ride to Agua Caliente. The changing landscape from the drier higher altitude to the lush jungle vegetation at a slightly lower altitude was a delight. We saw local people in their mud brick one room “homes” and witnessed three men slaughtering a bull…….exactly where we stopped for an oncoming train…..much more entertainment then I needed…..but could I stop watching?….no!

Snacks were offered and souvenirs sold. It was all really lovely. At the train station someone from the hotel met us to whisk away our bags as we made our way to the bus stop to start the journey up to Machu Picchu. Bus after bus lined up and opened their doors to the many Machu Picchu seekers. The excitement was building. Once aboard and on our way the road narrowed and the cobblestone gave way to mud. Over narrow bridges that you would hesitate to walk over the bus pushed through. One hairpin turn than two, then a long 25 minute serpentine bus-ride to Machu Picchu. Finally at the top….teased by glimpses of the amazing terraces we get off the bus at 11:30 am and then have to make the decision to have lunch first or start the journey…..can you believe that we chose to have lunch? This was our thinking……once into Machu Picchu there are no bathrooms, no food concessions no souvenirs…nada…..and we would most likely spend 2 – 3 hours in there. So thinking of my stomach and my bladder (not necessarily in that order) we opted for lunch which was a great decision as the restaurant opened at 11:30 and we were the only ones there. It was perfect. We filled up on the delicious food and many desserts. We felt adequately prepared for the journey.

Then we walked through the gates. We had to have our passports to get in…..interesting. And you walk…and then you walk a bit further….and you see a national monument sign and you see a terrace or two and then you see a Hiram Bingham sign and then you turn a corner and there it is. The site of the Quechua people. There was only one ruler who was called Inca. All fascinating……but I have sidetracked. Okay, another decision. Go high and difficult or middle and moderate or low and easy. I say that I am up for high and difficult…..Gianluca says he is okay with that…..Steven says “I thought you were thinking moderate.” So high and difficult it is. Ha! So much for democracy. Up we go…..stone steps of differing heights and depths but up we go. Steven stays slow and steady…..Gianluca and I go and then stop…..stop and go……Fortunately he would find a bug or a flower to photograph. Steven is still going slow and steady.

It was the way to go. We marveled at the site below. It is too hard to put into words as I’m afraid it would sound corny. The structures and the engineering and the lasting quality of the mountain top city is breathtaking. From high above we descended to the city below. Often times walking along drop offs that had my fear of height meter going off the charts. I would hang onto whatever I could. I got better as the day went on feeling more confident. Oftentimes Gianluca would stand at the edge of a drop off and I could barely stand it.

We walked like the many other visitors through rooms and corridors and secret passages to wonder at the type of people with the ability to construct the walls the steps and the terraces out of a mountain top without metal tools and create a spiritual retreat that honored the heavens, the sun the moon and the beauty of life. They built a place that harnessed the sun. They built trapezoidal windows to allow the sun to come into a certain ‘sun’ room on the winter solstice. Everything as in balance…..mountains to the north and south and to the east and west. There was a condor room that has to be my favorite. Please check out my best interpretation of a condor! They carved a stone to replicate a mountain directly behind it. The stories go on and on.

Ha! It is as close to heaven as I will ever get……I loved being that close and writing about it!!
Perfect timing – a light rain has started and it is time to take the bus back down the serpentine roads to our hotel. The rain only enhanced our arrival as we crossed the Urubamba River and climbed rock steps. The rain water was running along the edges of the walkway that mimicked the Inca stonework we just witnessed above… we enter cloud forest….

The Inkaterra Hotel in Agua Caliente is a sweet town nestled along the banks of the Urubamba River. The hotel is nestled in the tree overlooks the Peru Rail train system which glides along that same river. On the other side of the river the spectacle bear climbs trees looking for vegetation-quite shy, it still is over 6 feet tall. Even though not a carnivore by nature, I still would not want to run into one. Its name comes from the cream colored patches around its eyes. The River rushes by huge boulders and winds its way by the town. It is striking that the town is oriented away from the river-crazy as this sounds. Fun to walk over the many bridges to be reminded of the beautiful river below. Aqua Caliente has warm springs about 20 minutes away. We did not visit the springs as we were too busy scaling Machu Picchu and enjoying the flora and insects around the hotel, which has a natural habitat for the over 400 species of orchids. The dry season is not the best time to see most of the orchids, but we certainly saw enough to keep Gianluca’s mouth hanging open.

We had a lovely dinner in the Dining Room…..Gianluca and I get a big kick out of the name of the hotel restaurants… was The Restaurant and the other The Dining Room. Need some marketing help here. We came up with 100 names from which to choose. After dinner we put Steven to bed and Gianluca and I went to the gift shop. Our peaceful walk was abruptly halted by a huge tarantula. Again, Gianluca thought he had just gone to heaven. No camera, no picture so you are just going to have to believe us……really it was huge.

Back in our room ready to settle-in we did anything but settle. Gianluca was as restless as restless can be. He could not fall asleep. Guess who stays up with him….yep, me! One Benadryl later and we fell asleep…….oh, wait…that was AFTER we had to call housekeeping because the toilet was plugged up. Okay, who made that happen????? No confessions but someone was guilty!!!!!
(Chelsea Handler where are you now? If you did not read her book Uganda be kidding, then please ignore the reference above!!!!)

Okay, plumber and plunger gone NOW we can sleep. Zzzzzzz


What a whirlwind. Many wonderful stories already and special memories. We are worlds away from you all experiencing a culture that feels as if we are going back in time. Today in Ollantaytambo we found a formidable stone structures that climbs massive terraces to the top of a very high peak. It was slow going but we made it. The return trip down was frightening for me. Steep narrow steps… I used Steven as my walking stick. Ollantayambo was the site of the Inca’s greatest victory against the Spanish during the wars of conquest. It is still inhabited with all of the original architecture. The long narrow streets with running rivers of water down the center are fascinating.

We had lunch back at our hotel at Rancho Wayra. We enjoyed local fare (the avocados are amazing) that included steamed corn kernels the size of grapes (delicious) 20 kinds of potatoes and, of course, beef heart!!!! We all ate it and were happy we tried it but don’t’ think we will order it out. Oh, by the way, the popular dish around here is guinea pig…raised in the locals homes and then selectively caught and cooked…Yum!!!!

That was followed by a horse demonstration. Gianluca and I rode horses….it was great fun!
Then we left the hotel for Chincheros at 13,000 feet. Gianluca got very sick. We quickly got him to our van and got him on oxygen. He recovered pretty quickly but took a long nap once we were home.

Tomorrow the train leave at 8:30 in the morning for Machu Picchu…..acutually we go down in elevation.,….welcomed by all.
Everyone has been a great traveler so far. We have covered a lot of territory after a very long series of flights to get here.
we love you all and just wanted to get something posted so that you know we are all well and very happy.

Much Love,
The Blogger

South America Here We Come

Arrived at SFO on time and according to plan. Steven and I are taking pills to prevent any adverse effects from the very high altitude…….I think they are diuretics so he almost did not make it to the airport with dry pants. Good to drink water in preparation but it travels fast!