Linda Ballou

Air out your spirits with sunshine and sea breezes in Cambria a village in the heart of the Central Coast of California. The Olallieberry Inn resting on the sunny side of the Santa Rosa Creek is the perfect home base for explorations in the region. The Inn, in service for over 40 years, has received a facelift by new owners providing modern amenities without losing its charm. Cooks in the sparkling new kitchen deliver gourmet breakfasts at two settings each day. One at 8:00 for those eager to get out and explore this gorgeous region, and one at 9:15 for those who like to sit on the deck overlooking a sweet garden listening to the twitter of birdsong.

Nearby Fiscalini Ranch offers a hike through an enchanting old growth forest complete with lacy veils of Spanish moss dripping from the limbs of the windblown cypress. The trailhead off Highway One takes you to a vast meadow with a head-spinning view of the shining Pacific far below. I hiked down to the coastal bluff where a boardwalk loop that is wheelchair and stroller accessible winds through wildflower meadows.

Heading south on Highway One I discovered the Harmony Headlands hike that leads you through a meadow livened by birdsong to a wild walk along coastal bluffs. If you go when morning mists are rising you will spot hawks, finches, meadow larks and more. The scent of sage and meadow grasses float on the air. This is a mellow walk on a well-groomed trail with a couple of benches where you can sit a spell and enjoy canyon views. When you reach the shore, you may run into a few local joggers on the bluff walk, but you will mostly have it to yourself. Keep your eyes peeled for a small parking lot and sign that says coastal access. There is no fee to park here.

Fuel up at one of the many cozy restaurants in Cambria like the Harmony Café or Linn’s (boasting the best olallieberry pie in Cambria). Take some time to browse through art galleries displaying the work of local artisans inspired by foaming white surf crashing on black sea stacks and expanses of silver sand. Cambria is proud of the wine selections it offers with many wine tasting opportunities. I enjoyed the hospitality at the Moonstone Tasting Room where locals come to sample the delicious choices of wines from warmer inland valleys like Paso Robles and Edna Valley. I chose the Slabtown Chardonnay. In the 1800s, Cambria was known as “Slabtown” because many of the buildings were made of rough slabs of wood. Today, Main Street is lined with trendy shops, tasting rooms, boutiques and is a fun place to score antiques.

A stroll on the boardwalk that lines Moonstone Beach is mandatory. Lined with a profusion of sunny yellow wildflowers in spring, it rings a stunning cove for over a mile. This is just one of many gorgeous beaches to explore as you head north on Highway One to visit the famous elephant seal breeding grounds. These bulky beauties spend most of their time sunbathing in summer. February is when they give birth and are a raucous and rowdy site to behold.

The infamous Hearst Castle is a short ride up scenic Highway One as well as the San Simeon restaurant with humongous hamburgers made from the local grass-fed cattle on the Hearst Ranch. The trailhead on the north side of San Simeon State beach leads you through eucalyptus groves to views of the surf crashing below and the Rock in Morro Bay in the distance.

The Covell’s Clydesdale Ranch in Cambria is home to over 100 of these gentle giants. They offer rides on their 2,000 acres of privately owned land in the heart of the Central Coast. If you ever yearned to experience the vast green meadows framed in green fringes of forest and to know the intense beauty of early California, this is your chance.  If you are not a rider, tours of the ranch are offered by owner, Ralph Clovell, by request. Don’t miss this special opportunity for a totally unique experience.

Remember to get back to the Olallieberry Inn in time for happy hour with fine local wines and gourmet treats to share the day with other guests. Your most gracious hosts, Nelson and Maureen Hubbell, delight in giving pointers on how to spend quality time in Cambria. They made reservations for me at Robin’s, one of the finest dining options in town with a cozy fireplace to take the chill off when the sun goes down.

Download the Visit Cambria app. It gives detailed information on art tours, hiking trails, shops, live music, surrounding spots, events, and lodging. Everything you need to know for a wonderful week in Cambria—the toast of the Central Coast.

Olallieberry Inn https://www.olallieberry.com/

Moonstone Cellars http://www.moonstonecellars.com/

Fiscalini Ranch http://www.ffrpcambria.org/

Covell’s Clydesdale Ranch http://www.covellscaliforniaclydesdales.com/home.html

 

Puerto Varas nestled sweetly on the south shore of Llanquihue (yan key way) the largest lake in Chile is the adventure hub of the Chilean Lake District. On the far shore the snow-tipped Orsorno Volcano offers head-spinning vistas for hikers in the summer (November-March) and thrilling downhill runs for skiers in the winter. In the glacier moraine valley below lies is the gateway to Vincent Perez National Park where you can explore the Petrohue falls. Puerto Varas is also the headquarters for the Pumalin Park, a pristine wilderness area with native forests laced with cascading waterfalls. A fun day trip is a short ferry ride to the Island of Chilo’e that garners penguin sightings. Outdoor activities like, horseback riding, fly fishing, birding, trekking and wind surfing are popular pastimes for locals and tourists alike.

The ride to Orsorno on a highway framed in brilliant yellow Scotch Broom spiked with magenta foxglove is breathtaking. The road loops around sparkling Llanquihue with puffy white clouds floating in crystalline heavens and the snow-frosted peaks of the Andes glistening in the distance. Up you go on switchbacks snaking the flank of the volcano through stunted pines and flaming red fire-bush to the chair lift and ski hut. The path through the barren lunar landscape to stunning vistas is composed of slippery crumbled lava that requires focus and sure-footedness. The head spinning panorama takes in the width of Chile, a string been country flanked by the Andes on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west. Dead ahead, the bad boy, Calbuco Volcano that blew its stack in 2015, looms on the horizon. This region is in the ring of fire with 2,000 volcanos, 43 of which are active. The threat of eruptions is real. Far below the silver strand of the Petrohue River spiraling through a verdant glacier moraine valley would be our next stop.

At the very “touristic” Petrohue Falls we shared viewing spots with other visitors. The water charging over black lava boulders reminded me of the power of the water that continues to sculpt our planet. The minerals in the water coming down from glaciers high in the clefts of the mountains churns from aquamarine, to a foamy mix of turquoise, opal and moonstone. There are trails fanning out from the falls that take hikers to tranquil lagoons. Rafting trips are popular Further down river below the rapids. Continuing up the narrow track tracing the river we met Alex, a fisherman who ferried us over to his home on the river where we were treated to a lunch of local trout.

There is a movement in Chile spearheaded by the late Douglas Tompkins and his wife Kristine, American philanthropists, who have battled for the last 25 years to preserve the wilds of Patagonia. They donated 2-million acres of land to the Chilean and Argentinian government that includes Park Pumalin in the Chile Lake District. Their hope is that creating parks will bring people into nature and inspire them to protect and preserve the natural heritage of the gorgeous region. This act spurred the Chilean government to designate an additional 11-million acres of wilderness to what is slated to become the “Route of Parks.” The plan is to have campgrounds with facilities, well-maintained trails and scenic drives modeled after the National Park system in the United States. The information center in Puerto Varas provides brochures and maps for those who have time to explore what is one of the hottest destinations for outdoor adventurers.

A 30-minute ferry ride landed us on Chilo’e, an island that evolved in isolation from the mainland. Our welcoming committee was a pair of black necked swans with a trio of cygnets trailing behind. In Castro, the largest city on the island, the San Francisco church is a UNESCO World Heritage site built entirely of wood and painted bright yellow to offset the gloom of rainy days. Carvings inside the church show how the mythology of the island’s people was integrated into the teachings of the Jesuits.  We sauntered down to the shore lined with colorfully painted pole houses. The tide was out so the table was set for many shore birds picking for morsels in the mud. The chilote’s are sea people. The most important character in their mythology is the Siren. If she faces the sea it will be a good fishing day and if she turns away the fishermen will return empty handed.

After a lunch of delicious seafood soup with all manner of shellfish laced with seaweed we were off to see the penguins. Our driver careened through lush emerald pasturelands to the Punihuil Wildlife Sanctuary on the Pacific side of the island where Magellanic and Humboldt penguins, sea otters, sea lions, and sea birds reside. We boarded a skiff and circled the sea stacks where hundreds of the flightless birds breed and find shelter from predators like sea lions who attack the chicks and gulls who steal their eggs. Chiloe’s catch-phrase is “No rain – No rainbow.” We were blessed with both on this spectacular day of bird watching.

Back in Puerto Varas, a stroll along the lake front is a nice way to end a full day. Sailboats ply the azure water as lovers stroll by hand and hand and the sun casts a pink glow that blooms into deep purple. It’s an easy walk from there over to my favorite café hidden inside a rose garden where I enjoyed King Carb in avocado salad with oyster and salmon ceviche for starters.

Thank you to Overseas Adventure Travel for including Puerto Varas in my Andes to Patagonia itinerary.

www.oattravel.com

http://www.parquepumalin.cl/visiting_ptovaras.htm

https://www.welcomechile.com/puertovaras/outings.html

To learn more about her foundation and the work Kristine Tompkins continues to create and re-wild parklands go to TompkinsConservation.org http://www.tompkinsconservation.org/who_we_are.htm

 

Immense waves crashed against black volcanic rock on the wild stretch of beach seen from Highway One. I was on my way to Piedras Blancas three miles north of the infamous Hearst Castle. Each year thousands of elephant seals haul on shore to birth their young. Friends of the Elephant Seals have built a boardwalk that allows easy viewing of the blubbery matrons and their helpless offspring. An ear piercing pandemonium had set in the day I arrived in late January. A King tide was thundering onto the shore, taking out the beach and stressing the females. Their babies cannot yet swim. It takes them six weeks to gather enough strength and bulk to enter the sea and fend for themselves. At that point their mothers, having lost thousands of pounds in the process of bringing them into the world, return to the ocean depths to feed. They will return in the summer to molt and rest up for the next round.

#2 Piedras Biancas Light Station

To see this spectacle, pull into the parking lot on the side of Hwy 1, but if you want to see these behemoths playing in tide pools, go to the parking lot about a 100 yards north of the main event and take a stroll on the bluffs. This pleasant meander through grasslands is part of the California Coastal Trail. In the distance is the Piedras Blancas Light Station, first illuminated in 1875. Life was difficult on this isolated point jutting into rough seas that brought many a ship to ruin. Electricity did not come to the families who home-schooled their children until 1939. Docent-led tours take you on an easy stroll of the grounds that are choked with wildflowers in spring.

#3 Docent Sharing Whale Trail board

The light house has been selected as a designated viewing spot on the newly initiated Whale Trail. Six sites along the Central Coast from Avila to Big Sur have been added to the list that begins in British Columbia and will extend all the way to Baja in Mexico. The practice of identifying the best places to spot spouts on the coast is an effort on the part of several non-profits to bring awareness to the public of the migrations of these creatures that can be witnessed from land. The hope is that it will generate sensitivity to the needs of the creatures to survive in our modern world with congested shipping lanes and pollutants in our oceans. The placards on the Whale Trail tell viewers what marine life they can expect to see at that point and information on how to identify the various marine mammals.

#4 San Simeon Pier

The pier in San Simeon Bay is on the Whale Trail as well as being the home of the Coastal Discovery Center. Docents take kids to the end of the pier, drop a line in the water to take a sample, and then place what they collect under a microscope to let the kids see the squiggling life forms in one drop of water. This is an effort to encourage stewardship of our precious oceans and the creatures who live in them. Locals want to show off their gorgeous region, and they love to share the trails and their knowledge of flora and fauna at no charge, but they are encouraging stewardship travel. You can pick up a Stewardship Traveler Clean-Up Kit and appreciation tote bags at Avila Beach, Cayucos, and Cambria visitor centers.

#5 San Sebastions General Store

The Sebastion General Store (built 1852) that once provided goods to whalers and fisherman working in the San Simeon Bay is now a wine tasting room and a great place to fuel up. The flavorful beef in the giant hamburgers served here comes from the Hearst Ranch. In 2007 the Hearst family sold this stretch of wild coast to the State of California preserving its rich history and rugged beauty for all of us to enjoy.

#6 Windswept Bluffs

My favorite stop on the Whale Trail is the pier at Cayucos. Not just because of the fun walk to tide pools across windswept bluffs to the north and viewing migrating whales and playful sea otters, but because it is home to Schooners Restaurant. An Oysters Rockefeller starter, followed by saucy seafood pasta, paired with a crisp chardonnay and a front row seat for the sunset is the perfect end to a day exploring highlights on the Highway 1 Discovery Route

Highway 1 Discovery Route http://highway1discoveryroute.com/. Whale Trail http://thewhaletrail.org/.

 

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Photography: courtesy of various photographers

While rounding a bend in the Okavango Delta, our open-air safari truck’s path was suddenly blocked by a wall of two hundred massive gray rocks, otherwise known as elephants. After the initial flurry of photos, we began crossing the channel where the elephants were lined up for a drink. Wise Guy, driver of the first vehicle, cautiously moved forward with his band of seven guests as our group of eight trundled behind in the second land rover. Along our slow crawl the elephants trumpeted, flapped their ears, and stamped their big-boy feet threatening to T-bone us as we forged the river. Wise Guy stopped mid-stream leaving us facing an enormous matriarch furious at us for being too close to her baby. Finally, Wise Guy surged forward as the blasting trumpets of the herd followed. Hearts were pounding as we navigated the gauntlet of normally docile creatures shuffling and snuffling in the water.

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This was one of many exciting wildlife encounters experienced on our 17-day Ultimate Safari with Overseas Adventure Travel that took us from Botswana to Zambia and Zimbabwe. We stayed three nights in each of four bush camps established in the largest wildlife preserves in Africa. Each camp is set in its own unique micro-climate. They are similar in that the main lodge with it thatched roof, teak wood floors, and open beams serves as meeting place and dining hall where delicious buffet meals are served. Screened tent homes with amenities including private baths and electricity provide glamping at its best. Guests are greeted with dancing and drumming, and the three-night stay at each camp ends with a traditional ceremony around the fire in the boma. Hosts are gracious, extending, and eager to please. Influence of past British rule is seen in formal table settings, and high tea is at 3 PM each day.

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In Botswana we saw giraffes splashing in the Chobe River with a herd of elephant grazing on an island in the background. A tender blue sky with powder-white clouds framed the river that fanned out in a wide estuary. There is no industry save for diamond mining in Botswana, so the world is the way it supposed to be. What a treasure. Large herds of Cape buffalo, famous for their nasty disposition, stared at as we lumbered by. A turn up a dusty road through tall golden grasses revealed a dazzle of zebra and a herd of impala, the fast food of the savannah, grazing peacefully.

Game drives in the Okavango Delta’s mosaic of grass and reed-lined river channels and mopane woodland garnered sightings of rare birds like the saddle-billed stork, grey-crowned crane, and the ubiquitous hornbill lifting at our approach. We tracked a pride of five lion in the Delta to where they were resting after a night of hunting. A special treat was a glide through the waterways in a mokoro, a dug-out canoe used by local tribes for transport when the waters rise over the maze of sand tracks in the park.

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In Zambia our luxurious tent homes overlooked the Lafupa River. During an afternoon siesta a platoon of curious vervet monkeys eyed me through the screened windows. To the delight of the birdwatchers in our group, we spent an entire day on the river. Thick water berry trees with roots much like the mangrove hug the shoreline where crocs and hippos rest in the shade. Bubbles told us hippos were submerged within feet of us. Round ears and flared nostrils were all that we could see on the surface. Hippos stay cool during the day by walking the river bottom, and then broach the shore to graze all night.

At our fourth camp In Hwange, Zimbabwe’s largest park founded in 1928, my tent house set high on a plateau overlooking an expanse of basalt mopane woodland. Vast herds of elephant, buffalo, zebra, and large predators like lion and cheetah roam freely here. Birds chirped sweetly as I surveyed the rugged landscape resulting from volcanic action millions of years ago. May is winter in Hwange, but it feels and looks like fall with its golden leaves and champagne-colored grasses.

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On our morning drive we passed the usual flocks of Guinea fowl whose peacock colored heads signify that they have reached “self- esteem.” It was not long before we had a hallelujah moment as a bold cheetah casually strolled through a dry patch to a shady tree where he sprawled to rest. He rolled over and looked at us over his shoulder letting us see his tear drop markings clearly. Around the next bend by the rhino boma, we ran into mating warthogs—a sight to behold! Black rhinos reintroduced in Hwange are known to run themselves to death if care is not taken in their adjustment. The park closes at 6 p.m. when armed rangers begin patrolling to protect against poachers.

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Our last stop was Victoria Falls, the largest curtain of water in the world. It is a wild and untamable torrent that charges through a deep gorge sending spray 1,500 feet into the air. The mist from the falls nourishes a rain forest of tropical foliage that seems out of place in this mostly arid region. A path tracing the gorge takes one to Dangerous Point where a deluge drenches the undaunted tourist. I lunched on crocodile salad on the terrace of the Victoria Falls Hotel overlooking the falls where heads of nations come to relax in a remnant of colonial splendor. One can see the smoke and hear the thunder of the falls in the distance and give homage to a body of water that knows no master.

 

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Rain is pattering on the roof as the wind whips the palms outside my window. A dark cloud hovers over Green Cay Bay. Just an hour ago I was padding over lavender and green fan coral doing a graceful underwater ballet beneath the bay’s translucent waters. Blue see-through fishes darted among enormous brain corals and other-worldly creatures. One coral looked like a pipe organ and another, the queen’s wave. A baby green turtle swam with us briefly showing off the black mottled markings on his head and flippers before wafting away. I breathed in sync with the wash of the waves as we glided over the reef balanced on foam tubes called noodles.

The day had begun with a relaxed breakfast at Dirty Nate’s on the boardwalk in the colonial Dutch town of Christiansted. A seaplane landed upon the aquamarine waters bringing in a few tourists from St. Thomas just 40 miles away. It’s September’s high humidity and threats of hurricanes that keep the boats of “yachties” moored in the safe harbor. This makes it lovely for those who stay and breathe in the serenity of St. Croix this time of year. A stroll through vine-covered arcades of the colonial buildings left over from the 1700s when the Dutch ruled over a thriving slave trade garnered some great bargains in the shops.

Beach with Christiansted behind_#2 Sharon Pohl

St. Croix’s rolling hills and vast meadows made it easier to cultivate than other islands in the West Indies. The Danish divided the countryside into 375 plantations of about 150 acres each. The landscape is still punctuated with the remains of sugar mills. Windmills where sugar cane was pressed and boiled down to molasses and rum that have survived hurricanes due to their cylindrical shape are scattered about the Island. Slaves captured by black birders in Africa were brought here and sold in the marketplace to harvest the sugar cane and process it in mills.

We visited the Whim Museum where a restored plantation house with period furnishings   allow you to envision the grand lifestyle of the masters. Orange and yellow blooms of the Flamboyant trees dress up the grounds dotted with relics of the past. Nearby, the St. George Village Botanical Garden, a 16-acre private park with a collection of tropical flora growing in the crumbling ruins, is worth a stop. It is said that the 200-year old Boab tree in the garden was planted from seeds carried in the teeth of slaves on the 78-day passage. A block building that once housed slaves has been turned into an orchid garden.

arcades  Christiansted_#3 Linda Ballou

My hostess, Sharon North Pohl owner of Zealloushorses.com, wanted me to have an equestrian experience while on the Island. The ride with Jill, a real “Cruzan” character, is worth the price of admission. We trammeled through shady tree tunnels with tendrils hanging down from giant Rain Trees. Jill has been taking tourists out since she was 5. Her father and grandfather have lived on this land. She has a maze of trails through the jungle that grows back at about a foot a day. We passed remnants of trees blown down when Hugo flattened the Island in 1989, turning buildings into rubble and spitting boats out of the marinas.

Jill on the Beach_#4 Linda Balloiu

Our ride was capped off with a glorious lope on the beach. Tantalizing turquoise waters lifting foamy waves landed on the white sand shore. The cooling spray was a welcome respite from the tropical sun overhead. Back in the cool of the forest Jill shared her limitless knowledge of plants and local lore that included passing a shack where slaves lived in quiet desperation for hundreds of years until their revolt and emancipation in 1848.

Lunch of jerk chicken tacos with lobster salsa and a mango daiquiri at laid-back Rhythms on Rainbow Beach followed by a swim in lapis lazuli waters was nothing short of heavenly. In the distance we could see the pier in Fredericksted, another charming colonial town where cruise ships dock about once a week. A palm-lined green belt sprinkled with a row of shops and eateries graces the shore.

Best Linda at Rhythems_#5 Sharon Pohl

The Fredericksted fort built in 1760 houses a fine museum. The horrors of slavery during the plantation hey-day are detailed in a room with two-foot-thick walls that keep the enclosure bearably cool. Upstairs, the commander’s quarters enjoyed airy windows and a sea breeze. There is a wonderful display of sea shells from the around the world collected by yachties who have come to call St. Croix home. Local artisans also share their wares here at surprisingly reasonable prices. In the courtyard a battery of cannons line the walls to fend off attacks from marine invaders.

A highlight of my week with Sharon was hiking through a sub-tropical forest with vistas of the azure sea sparkling far below to the tide-pools. There we stripped down to our bathing suits and took a leisurely soak in tepid waters populated by tiny fishes. At high tide the pools are refreshed with crashing waves over the sea wall that form waterfalls.

Another outing took us to Point Udall, the most easterly point in the United States and trailhead to Isaac and Jacks Bay. Deep aquamarine waters beckoned as we made the leisurely hike through waist-high grasses down to the undeveloped marine sanctuary for fishes and nesting turtles. A snorkel here garnered sightings of parrot fish and shoals of blue tang darting in and out of brain coral. A picnic and a snooze later, we headed back to civilization.

Killer sunset_#6 Linda Ballou

Mounds of white taffy are overtaking the pastel blue heavens. Only traces of gray linger as I write this story. How astounding it is that this transformation takes place in such a short time. A rainbow is fanning across the sky. I love the tropics for their moodiness and their splendid celestial panoramas. Nature presents herself more intensely beautiful here in sublime St. Croix.

Note: My hostess, Sharon North Pohl owner of Zealoushorses.com, is happy to assist traveler’s venturing to her Island Home. You may contact her directly through her site.

 

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     Photography by Linda Ballou

A hipster hangout with shops dressed up in shocks of pink and bright yellow, a couple of good eateries, and two fantastic beaches within walking distance make laid-back Pa’ia a great place to call home while on Maui. Strategically located in central Maui, Pa’ia is a springboard to up-country explorations—day trips to Kihei and Makena; Wailuku, home to the sacred Iao Valley—and is gateway to the splendid drive on the coast-hugging Hana Highway.

BLUSTERY BALDWIN BEACH

My first stop in Pa’ia was Mana Foods featuring plentiful organic fruits and vegetables from local farms, and a deli counter with hot prepared dishes. I stocked up on breakfast treats, fruits, and local coffee to ensure a leisurely rise at the Bicycle Inn and to reduce the number of costly meals out. Kuau Store, just steps away from the Inn, carries selections of my favorite local food: poke—spicy chunks of raw tuna, fresh garden salads, and sandwiches perfect for a picnic.

I woke to the patter of a tropical shower, so headed up-country on scenic Hwy 398 to tiny Makawao where the rain subsided. There I visited Maui Hands, an art gallery displaying exquisite work of local artists, and several shops with tropical beach wear at bargain prices.  After taking in a generous fish filet taco at Polli’s Mexican Restaurant, I headed for the highlands along Hwy 377  that sport lush, green pastures spiked with yellow gorse and misty views reminiscent of Ireland. I made a happy stop at the Kula Lodge with its luscious garden overlooking West Maui.  With little round cupolas for seating jutting into the view, it’s perfect for that special lunch to share with a friend.

A bit further up the old Haleakala Road (Hwy 377) is Kulu Botanical Garden. It is not huge, but it is chock full of delightful displays of tropical foliage lining manicured paths. Mist-loving plants on the flank of Haleakala Crater bloom in abundance, including giant protea, poinsettia, hibiscus, bromeliads, and more.

KULU GARDEN

Makena Beach is a mile-long crescent of deep sand licked by turquoise curls of foamy white waves. It is one of the most beautiful (and swimmable) beaches in the Islands.  About a forty-minute drive from Pa’ia, it is well worth the effort. I felt the stress of the journey melt away as I dallied in the delicious, healing waters. Kihei, off the Piilani Hwy on the way to Makena, is laced with welcoming green beach parks shaded by banyan trees with surf tame enough for toddlers. There are a host of casual eateries lining the shoreline drive.

Kona Winds blew me off of blustery Pa’ia Bay forcing me to venture to the sheltered Ioa valley, once home to Kahekili, the arch rival of Kamehameha the Great. When I arrived, the iconic Iao needle, often obscured by thick clouds, flashed a brilliant green spotlighted by afternoon sun. The sheer 3,000-foot pali that protects the valley is sheathed in thick blue-green verdure and is impossible to climb.  Water whispers sweetly through taro ponds edged with rust-red ti leaves creating an Eden-like setting for a Hawaiian village. Four streams merge here to form the Wailuku River that was clogged with bodies and ran red when Kamehameha’s warriors finally did conquer the Maui forces in 1790 after many failed attempts.

GIANT PROTEA

The road to Hana is a heart-catching experience that should not be missed. It is detailed in my piece “Doing the Hana Highway My Way”  You may be frustrated by rubber necking tourists, but if you slow down and take your time to explore the many sites along the way to Hana, you won’t be disappointed.

Iao Stream with Iao Needle in background, Iao Valley, Maui

Be sure to stop at Ho’okipa Lookout, just before the 9 mile marker on the Hana Hwy, to watch world-class surfers ride enormous swells. Expert windsurfers come here to streak across the waves in a colorful display of daring and skill.

I ended each day in Pa’ia at Baldwin Beach, a favorite of local families. At both ends of the mile-long crescent there are “baby beaches” safe for swimming beside the energetic surf. Every Friday night local conga drummers congregate at sunset and add a jungle beat as you gaze upon vivid skies.

HO'OKIPA LOOKOUT

My favorite evening was spent at open air Café Des Amis in Paia, sweetened by a sultry songstress serenading us with South American tunes. The spicy seafood stew made from local catch was divine and within reach of this budget-minded solo traveler.

Maui Visitors Bureau www.mauivb.com

Budget Rent a Car www.budget.com

Air B&B www.airbnb.com

Elowah Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge cascades in endless curtains of white. I sat mesmerized in the cooling mist and relished the sight of it being whipped sideways by a wild wind. While I could have lingered in this amphitheater of yellow lichen and green moss, there was far more to see and my New England Hiking Holiday companions and I had to go.

The hike here had taken us on a narrow ledge overlooking the impressive Columbia River dotted with islands. Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery was known to have camped on one of them directly below.
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The muscular Columbia River flows more than 1,200 miles from the base of the Canadian Rockies to the coast of Oregon. Being dammed in eleven places today makes it a tamed house cat compared to the raging torrent it was when early explorers arrived. The Columbia River Gorge was declared a national scenic area in 1986 and spans 292,000 acres of wildness. Train rails on both sides of the river transport goods from the interior to the coast, and Highway 84 on the Oregon side is a busy thoroughfare with access to numerous foot trails leading to over forty waterfalls. Yes, you can read one of the numerous hiking guide books for the region, but having a seasoned guide who has tried them all and knows the special treats in store on each one is a wonderful thing. New England Hiking Holidays is staffed with competent guides who are sensitive to the varying degrees of hiking abilities of their guests and able to select the perfect experience guaranteed to leave you smiling.
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Our shakedown run took us up canyon through towering Douglas fir and stands of alder. The song of the well-hidden feathered set kept us company on the ascent overlooking a creek carving a path through luxuriant foliage. Tender meadow rue and the sweet white blooms of Miners Lettuce and trillium lined the path. In the distance, the rumble of a great fall pulled us onward and upward over sometimes rocky terrain. The lush coolness of the forest glens soothed and refreshed. I loved hiking in the deepening silence of the trees and away from the rushing traffic falling behind us.

The mean age of our group of twelve was about 50. Most of these experienced hikers had traveled with NEHH before at various locations around the U.S. and Europe. This is not a competitive event. “Easy-peasy” options are given at the onset of each outing. I scored about a five on the one-to-ten fitness scale in our group of hikers, preferring to dawdle behind taking snaps and smelling the profusion of wild blooms. One of the guests, a young man from Phoenix who was used to climbing in the slot canyons of Arizona, wanted to experience Oneonta Gorge that required swimming—yes swimming!—to reach the base of a thundering cascade. A special outing was arranged for him so he would not go home disappointed.
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After a day of exploring, we crossed over the Bridge of the Gods to the Washington side of the Columbia to our digs overlooking the Cascade Range. Stately Skamania Lodge boasts gourmet cuisine, zip lines, an 18-hole golf course, and four miles of hiking trails. I couldn’t wait to slip into the outdoor spa and listen to the wind stirring the trees under pure blue skies. With the tension melted from my body followed by a swim in the Olympic-sized pool, I felt born again.

No trip to the Gorge is complete without a hike up popular Eagle Creek. The moment you enter the well-groomed path, you are swallowed in green. Chatty smaller streams join the run through the majestic forest. The drop-off naturally becomes more precipitous as you climb up canyon. Often the trail narrows to a ledge with a well-placed handrail to steady your nerves. Sprays of pink and white flowers nestled in ferns cling to the basalt canyon walls, and around each bend is another stunning view of the deepening chasm. Devils Punchbowl is the first of three falls along the way to High Bridge, our lunch destination. Rock walls deep in the canyon are matted with mosses, ferns, and lichens. With abundant life all about, I felt refreshed, soothed, restored, and deliriously happy to be here. Four-miles in, we crossed over a heart-catching cleft in basalt walls with black water flowing far below. At our lunch stop I shed my boots and dangled my dogs in the tingling water while our guides laid out a delicious spread.
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Not to be outdone by the beauty of the Gorge, Washington’s majestic, white-caped Mt. Hood towers over nearby Hood River Valley. A serene walk around Lost Lake garnered a shot of the icon reflected in still waters. While other hikers did the more dramatic Lost Lake Butte hike with even more stunning panoramas, I fended off scrappy chipmunks threatening to invade our picnic table.
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Before heading back to civilization, a brisk walk along the banks of the rushing Salmon River was in order. We could see the rocks on the bottom of the clear river where rainbow trout lurked. It was raining in earnest on this walk, but the canopy of the old growth forest took the brunt of the weather. The limbs of the monster trees sheathed in moss and draped in old man’s beard, are twisted into alien forms. We puddle-jumped up the soggy trail and got quite lost in the fecund smells of this wet world. It is an undulating track that leaves your mind free to wonder at the bizarre formations of the trees and makes you glad to know they have been spared the logger’s axe. The trees were witness to the native peoples fishing for salmon on the shores of these bountiful waters, and the early explorers and homesteaders who struggled to survive the Oregon Trail to make this place their home. Happily, they are with us still and can been enjoyed by moderns wanting to reconnect with nature and their own primal yearnings.

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We cantered along the ancient Inca trade routes with vistas stretching to eternity. While descending on a narrow track into the less-traveled Zuleta Valley, the sky darkened. A mist hit us and a few drops fell on my cheeks. Instead of the threatened downpour, the sun burst through the gray curtain sending shafts of light upon the golden fields and a broad-banded rainbow arced over the pastoral valley.
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This romp with a band of nine merry women began in Quito, the gateway to outdoor adventures in Ecuador. It is good to take a day to adjust to the altitude (9,300 ft.) and rest before joining Sally on the ride between restored 17th century Colonial haciendas that climaxes on the wild slopes of Cotapaxi (19,350 ft.) volcano. While in Quito, I arranged for a guide to explore Old Town, a recently restored UNESCO world heritage site, and to take the cable car up to 13,000 feet overlooking the expanse of Ecuador’s second largest city nestled between towering snow-capped volcanoes.

Sally picked me up at the Hotel Sierra Madre, a comfortable safe haven with a helpful English-speaking staff near the new town center. The first stop on the journey with Sally is the Otavalo Valley, one of the last strongholds for indigenous people who share their wares in the largest outdoor marketplace in South America. The scent of roasting pig and exotic spices floats on the air. Colorful ponchos and scarves of the villagers famous for their weaving lift on a light breeze like flags. I purchased hand-carved gourds at bargain prices as gifts to take home.
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Our first night was spent at Hacienda Pinsaqui, a gracious oasis with all the trappings of the Spanish aristocracy who ruled here with an iron fist for 300 years (1542 to 1822). Delightful gardens surround the haciendas that are decorated with massive carved wood furnishings and murals and tapestries reminiscent of glamorous days gone by. After a dinner of local specialties, a serenade beside a warming fire by Andean musicians, and an early turn-in, I was ready to ride.
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We trotted in the crisp morning air on cobblestone streets through villages. Shouts of ”hola” came from smiling children waving to us from rooftops of adobe abodes. Once upon the flanks of the mountains overlooking the valley we were greeted by Santiago, dressed in a royal red poncho and riding his prized pony. He led us to his modest Tuscan-yellow home where his wife awaited us with tasty treats from their garden. He then took us on a ride even higher through billowing grasses to the primary forest above his ranch. Riding through a tunnel of mountain bamboo listening to the clip of dive-bombing hummers gave me a sense of what it was like here before hundreds of years of cultivation changed the look of the arid landscape.
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Today the flanks of the volcanoes, held sacred to the Incas who ruled here for 100 years before the Spanish conquest, are a colorful tapestry of purple, gold, and green plots. Mama Cotacachi reigns to the west of Otavalo Valley while Taita Imbabura dominates the east. Incas sacrificed maidens to the mountain gods to bring rain and keep the valley fertile. Today, a few drops of trago, a fierce liquor, sprinkled on the ground will do. We passed cattle, pigs, and goats staked to graze along the trails that locals traverse daily to tend their crops on tiny inherited plots.

Spirits soared as I galloped through undulating fields of shimmering wheat beneath a brilliant sun in the highlands of the Northern Andes. The sound of my steady mount’s hoofs upon the grassy lane and the brisk wind cooling my cheeks were all I thought of as I followed Sally Vergette’s lead across the top of the world.

The Colonial hacienda ride is for intermediate riders who can handle mounts at all gaits, but Sally has more relaxed, shorter rides on horses suitable for children and inexperienced riders in this region. She keeps a constant vigil on her rides, checking tack often and making sure that horse and rider is a good match. After twenty years in South America, Sally learned the language, the ways of the people, and earned the respect of local horsemen who also act as guides. This is a rare and wonderful way to explore Ecuador; it gets you into the countryside and gives you a chance to meet the people who call it home.

To learn more about Sally Vergette and the rides she offers in Ecuador, Chili, Brazil, and Uruguay please refer to our interview in my September post and go to www.RideAndes.com.

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“The Earth has music, for those who listen” – William Shakespeare

I leaned back on the comfy seat of a canoe shared with five other travelers in the magical maze of canals at Sacha Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon basin and watched a troop of squirrel monkeys overhead. With death-defying leaps they sprang from branch to branch forming a super highway through the tropical foliage. Bets were taken on who would become the first to have a monkey land on their head as the creatures peered at us with the comical faces of a curious child. After four days of total immersion in the rain forests surrounding the lodge, I felt I was a part of the scene.
This adventure begins in Coca, a gritty oil town where the Coca and Napo rivers collide and proceed to the mighty Amazon River. A motorized canoe awaited us on the banks of the Napo, the main artery in the region. On the way to the lodge about three hours downstream, we passed barges carrying heavy equipment to oil depots and locals in canoes fishing as they have done for thousands of years. Children waved to us as we passed remote villages tucked in the impenetrable sea of green foliage. We hiked on a boardwalk through a flooded forest to Pilchicocha Lake, aka the Black Lagoon, where canoes and guides were waiting. After a serene glide over the lake lined with rhododendron leaves as big as elephant ears and reeds where Caiman (a member of the alligator family) lurk, we arrived at the miracle of Sacha Lodge.
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Nestled in a 5,000-acre preserve, this Robinson Crusoe fantasy made from local wood covered in a shaggy palm roof and staffed by 65 indigenous workers, is totally self-sufficient. The lounge upstairs overlooking the lagoon is cooled by most-welcome fans after a session of hiking in equatorial heat. Raised walkways lead to spacious rooms with open beam, wood floors, and inviting hammocks on the deck. There is nothing but a screen between you and the wild mish-mash of jungle trees and plants that are home to millions of thrumming insects, barking tree frogs, clicking cicadas, and the sharp whistles of birds that make up the chorus that intensifies as night draws nigh.
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An early rise increases your chances of spotting some of the 600 species of birds counted at the lodge as well as other wildlife. Forest walks are the classroom for naturalist guides who point out medicinal properties in plants and how they were used by “the people.” They explain the symbiotic relationships between plants and insects that have evolved over the ages. Our guide carried an iPod downloaded with calls to attract the mot mots, toucans, and many more birds, while he talked to other creatures in their language trying to draw them near.
“Friends, look at this mandible ant,” our guide Marco said as he pointed to a stream of insects on the jungle floor. “He can be used to suture wounds. Just let him clamp the wound with his mandible and then pinch off his head.”
“Friends, you see the kapok tree? This one is centuries old. He is the tallest tree of the jungle. If he were to be cut down it would take hundred year for the forest floor to recover. His canopy provides shade for the plants below. Competition for light and nutrients is fierce in the rain forest.”
Like Jack on the beanstalk, we climbed up a giant wooden stairwell wrapping the kapok tree. A drenching rain set in before we reached a viewing platform above the protective canopy. We stood atop what must be the 9th wonder of the world with our heads tucked into the hood of our ponchos waiting for the weather to change. Soon, blue skies opened over the platinum Napo River. Pink flamingo hues softened gray layers of clouds. Shafts of light streamed down upon the primal forest and mist began to rise from the verdant green canopy of the forest below. Orange, crimson, and yellow blooms that rest on the crown of trees brightened the scene. Birds begin to stir once again. A flock of toucans flew swiftly by and the droplet song of the industrious weaver bird was heard. The sun set with a tender sigh in soft pastels as we left our perch and canoed home through the tranquil channels to the lodge and another fabulous meal.
Healthful salads of shredded cabbages, carrot, tree tomatoes, and avocado served with a tangy lime dressing were just a few of the choices. Entrees include tender beef in a peppercorn sauce, chicken, pork and tilapia fish prepared with a unique seasoning known only to our native chef. Wonderful desserts like strawberry mousse, caramel flan, exotic fruits, and walnut cakes were served buffet style in the lodge.
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On our night canoe, the heavens opened wide with a neon crescent moon hanging in a crackling sky. Marco pointed out different constellations with his powerful green laser. The glide around the lake in splendid silence looking up to the southern sky listening to the serenade of the cicadas and frogs is a treasured memory.
Thankfully there are no radios or televisions, no boom boxes, no leaf blowers or car alarms at Sacha. The promise is that the lodge will build more exciting features like the longest (1,000 ft.) and highest (120 ft.) canopy walk unique to Ecuador, the Kapok Tower, and trails that enable people to experience the forests in an intimate way. They will not, however, add to the 26 private rooms ensconced in green. This spectacular eco-lodge exists because of the dream of Arnold Ammeter, more commonly known as Benny. He purchased the land surrounding the black water lagoon in 1991 and began construction of the now famous lodge. It will remain a very special place if it is protected from encroachment of oil companies that cut roads into the forest creating access for poachers and inevitable spills that threaten the entire Amazon basin. www.sachalodge.com

 

IF YOU GO: Cafe Cultura, a boutique hotel in Quito situated walking distance to a farmers market and art in the park, is a perfect place to rest from a long flight. A charming restaurant with tasty selections, a welcoming study, and gracious hosts make this a comfortable safe haven. The staff arranged for an English-speaking guide who took me on a tour of Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which recently received a 250-million-dollar facelift. They also made arrangements for the driver waiting for me at the new Quito Airport.
www.cafecultura.com