Reflections and images from my travels

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Back in Scotland!

Hello again. It is now July 13, 2014 and I find myself back in Scotland yet again. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a very good thing. This is the third time that I have traveled to this wonderful country. Yesterday was a day of travel with one slight delay in our flight from London, Heathrow to Glasgow, Scotland.  As soon as I got in I went for a run in the rain and then enjoyed a nice meal with my travel mates Ron, Lorraine and Scott.

We are scheduled to meet up with Teresa, Scotty and Andy today to start our tour of the West Coast of Scotland.

Even though I was quite tired last night after all of the traveling and the run and went to sleep early, I was up bright and early this morning at 4 AM. I laid in bed contemplating life and eventually decided the best thing to do was to go for my long run and I left the hotel at 5:30 AM. As opposed to the overcast skies and drizzle yesterday, it was beautiful this morning with some of that magical light that occurs after it has rained. It was a great run passing through Paisley, Renfrewshire and discovering a beautiful rails to trail pathway to run on. I did get a little turned around on the way back which extended my run by about 30 minutes which was not a bad thing. I met up with Ron, Lorraine and Scott for a nice breakfast. Teresa, Scotty and Andy were slightly delayed getting to the hotel to pick us up so here I am starting the initial blog post for our Scotland 2014 tour. Glasgow is hosting the Commonwealth games starting July 23, 2014. It looks like the city is ready for this major sporting event. We, thankfully, will be missing the crowds.

Today we depart Glasgow in Scotty’s and Andy’s vehicles and we will be traveling on to Rothiemurcus, Aviemore and then Stirling Castle. It should be fun. This evening we will be staying at the Hilton Coylumbridge Hotel.  I will try to post some initial pictures for you to enjoy.  Come along and tour Scotland with us!

Odds and Ends May 18-20 2014

I won’t have any pictures to post for this entry. Believe it or not, I was done with photography after completing our tour of Santa Cruz Island. We left Santa Cruz Island May 17th and anchored in the bay outside Puerto Baquerizo Moreno that evening.

The next day, May 18th, we regrettably left the Flamingo I and its able crew for Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to visit a newly opened historic museum just outside of town followed by a final walk and coffee in town with most of our tour members. It was a nice quiet way to wrap things up. We were then transported back to the airstrip and bid farewell to both Orlando and Ivan who took care of us right until the end. We boarded our plane and flew back to the mainland with a short stop in Guayaquil to refuel and pick up additional passengers for the flight to Quito. After landing, a bus was waiting and transported us back to our hotel. We said goodbye to Michael, Jennifer, Stephen and Caroline at the airport as they were staying at a different hotel that night and would leave earlier than us the next day. The rest of us decided to have a final Ecuadorian dinner at a nearby restaurant once we arrived at the Mecure. The food was fabulous, stories were recounted as beer and sangria lubricated our tongues. We returned to the hotel to do a final re-pack of our luggage for the next day’s flight home.

The next morning we said goodbye to Richard and his family as they were continuing their travels to the Cloud Forest for an additional four days of enjoyment.

The rest of us stayed around the hotel or went out for a walk at a local Quito park as our flight did not leave until 11:30 PM. We all had a final lunch at a local square that afternoon. Arrangements were made for a bus to take us from the hotel to the international airport at 6:30 PM. We arrived at the airport, checked in and quickly had a meal. Most of us had different flights depending on where we were returning to so we parted with heartfelt goodbyes. Again, the group had been fantastic to travel with. Anna and I were thankful to have such great travel mates for the Galapagos portion of our South American adventure.

Anna and I had an overnight flight (without sleep) and a three-hour layover in Houston, Texas prior to boarding a flight back home to Calgary. We arrived back home May 20th at 12:15 PM. We had no problems going through customs.

Alas, our adventure was over. Despite saying that, I was happy to return to Calgary. I feel blessed to live in Canada and I have not found anywhere else in the world that I would rather live. Even though this appears to be the end of this particular blog, please come back and visit over the next two weeks as I may upload some videos and other data (I didn’t carry around all of this technology for nothing!).

Until we meet again. Did I mention I will be traveling to Scotland this July 2014? Single malt scotch, more adventure and photography beckons! I hope you will join me.

The Salkantay Trek Highlights!

It is always difficult to try and pick the highlights of any particular adventure. I imagine it would be like trying to pick your favourite child. When I initially planned this trip the Salkantay Trek was what I was most looking forward to experience. The entire Salkantay trek was amazing and certainly lived up to expectations.  Having said that, the following represents a listing of experiences/individuals that were particularly special:

1).  Enjoying a “refreshing” dip in Humantay Lake at 4200 m Day 2. Swimming in a fresh, cold mountain lake is my idea of heaven. Fortunately, I was joined in this “baptism” by Anna, Cindy and Steve from Ottawa. Unsurprisingly, this was mainly a Canadian contingent except for Cindy- who is from Hawaii- but has now been made an official Canadian citizen (it is just that easy). Below is photographic proof of this momentous accomplishment just so you don’t think I am making this up.

2).  Enjoying a remarkably relaxing afternoon with Anna Day 2 after the hike to Humantay Lake. Prior to coming on this adventure, things were particularly challenging and stressful for both Anna and I. The hike to Humantay Lake was accomplished in the morning so we had a free afternoon to enjoy ourselves prior to the hike to the summit of Salkantay Pass the following day. The afternoon was spent under the brilliant sun on the grass in front of Salkantay Lodge with a view of Salkantay Mountain before us. Anna was meditating to the sound of numerous songbirds and I was gently stretching on a yoga mat completely “in the moment” listening to my “Relaxed” playlist. Our minds were completely emptied of all concerns and were simply focused on the natural sights and sounds surrounding us. Whenever we opened our eyes we were greeted with the surrounding grandeur of Salkantay Mountain. Just so you think we are not too “granola” this was followed by a rather boisterous hot tub party with Pisco sours and beers! The evening was spent enjoying a fabulous meal with fellow hikers and an early to bed in preparation for the summit attempt the next day. A perfect afternoon!

3).  Summiting Salkantay Pass 4638 m Day 3. Anytime you undertake a multi-day trek, the focus always seems to be on the summit. Our group was split into two as some of the hikers were going to take a longer time to achieve the summit. Our two groups were expertly managed by Raul and Ricky so that we would arrive at the summit at approximately the same time. There was genuine joy, and a few tears, when we all arrived at the summit very proud of our accomplishment. The fact that we were able to enjoy it with others of similar disposition made it all the more special.

4). The hot tub the evening of Day 3 Wayra Lodge. After the physical and emotional stress of the long hike up to Salkantay Pass, everyone’s spirits were on a natural high despite our tired and aching bodies. Just as we were arriving at Wayra Lodge (the most remote lodge) it started to rain and we were enveloped by mist and grey clouds. The lodge was welcoming and warm. Georgia, as per her nature, was first to get into her swim suit and surrender herself to the warm, bubbling waters as well as a cool Pisco sour! A few of us were still checking out the lodge when we saw her alone soaking in utter contentment in the churning waters (see picture below). As a photographer, I felt it was my duty to try and capture this moment. Soon afterwards, the rest of us joined her full of pride in what we had just accomplished. Who would’ve thought you could fit fourteen people into a hot tub designed for eight! A special experience.

5). The descent through the Cloud Forest and a Pachamanca lunch BBQ Colpa Lodge Day 4. For most of us, this was the first time we had truly hiked and experienced a Cloud Forest. Going downhill for most of the way certainly added to the pleasure. The Cloud Forest was amazing. Because of the water content within the clouds, rather lush vegetation is able to grow at elevations unheard of back home. The low-lying cloud, and at times gentle rain, added to the mystical feel. As we were descending, the temperature and humidity rose. It was amazing to all of us that you could move from one ecological zone to such a different zone in less than one day. At the end of the hike we were rewarded with an utterly amazing traditional Peruvian barbecue. Preparations prior took four hours (while we were hiking) but as we arrived they placed the numerous vegetables and meats (including guinea pig) into the earth on hot coals and thirty minutes afterwards we were enjoying one of the best meals we had ever eaten.

6). Lucma Lodge day 5 (see pictures below). All of the lodges were amazing, however, we were all absolutely enamoured with this lodge. It was located in surrounding fertile farmland bursting with fruit, vegetable and coffee trees. The sweet air was thick with moisture and enveloped us like a cozy blanket. The lodge itself was absolutely beautiful despite the lack of a hot tub. The surrounding gardens were also gorgeous. We had arrived at this lodge around midday allowing us to relax and really enjoy and experience all it had to offer. Heaven!

7). Machu Picchu Day 7. To be honest, I did not have a lot of expectations for Machu Picchu. I thought it would be overrun by tourists and not the special and peaceful place I expected it should be. Needless to say I was wrong. Certainly, there are quite a few people but usually by mid day. Our guide Raul took us up early and we were able to experience it in relative solitude. Visually, it is stunning. Architecturally, it is a masterpiece. It boggles the mind to think that a “primitive” race was responsible for this magnificence. Raul was able to guide us to areas that were not heavily visited and provided a coherent and enriching explanation of the culture and intricacies involved in its construction. This added to the overall experience. Truly worthwhile!

8). Our guides Raul and Ricky. Having guided and provided medical services to the Skyline Hikers of the Canadian Rockies for years, I can appreciate the work and expertise involved in group hiking. Our guides were professional, personable, passionate, extremely well prepared and informed. Our experiences during this trek were augmented by their presence. They worked together extremely well and insured that everyone in the group, regardless of ability, were able to enjoy the trek. To both of them I will always be grateful.

9). Our fellow hikers- Cindy and Alan, Steve and Shawn, Peggy, Georgia, Tim and Lisa as well as Mike and Karen. As mentioned previously, one cannot always predict how different personalities will get along on such an adventure. I really felt that our group connected on numerous levels. Everyone was supportive, welcoming, personable and felt a deep responsibility to ensure others had as good a time as they were having. Everyone demonstrated an openness and deep love of the outdoors. My life has been enriched by sharing this experience with you all. Thank you.

10). Anna. One of my closest and dearest friends. Life has not been particularly supportive or easy over the last several years for either of us. I realize the trek challenged you at a time when you were already feeling challenged. The fact that you undertook this challenge and succeeded speaks to your fortitude. My life has been enriched by your presence and your willingness to invariably say “yes” to the adventures I keep involving you in continues to strengthen the bond that we share. Hopefully, Lake Titicaca and Galapagos will provide you with ample respite.

The Top 10 List and a few words about Richard Berry

Here is my top 10 list of experiences for this South African adventure (including London):

10. The initial drive through Moremi Game Reserve viewing wild African animals for the first time

9.  The early morning run through the Royal Parks in London before it awakened

8.  The rainy walk through St. James Park with views of a shrouded Big Ben that last night in London

7.  Sitting around a campfire in the Botswana bush with friends enjoying the sounds of nature and a wee nip of scotch

6.  Enjoying a glass of champagne in the Botswana bush with Brian and friends as the sun set over the African plain

5.  The hike up to Lions Head

4.  The early morning run from Camps Bay to downtown Cape Town with the sun rising over Table Mountain

3.  Lying on a boulder on the top of Table Mountain with Anna simply looking at clouds

2.  Floating down the calm, glass like Zambezi River in a canoe raft with friends at sunset

and can I have a drumroll please…..

1. Playing “Pig” in the Zambezi River- what can I say, I felt like a kid again!

To conclude, I just want to say a few words regarding Richard Berry. As I mentioned previously, Richard Berry is a professional photographer whom I often travel with and who accompanied us on this trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe. He was responsible for organizing this portion of the trip and always does this professionally. I am often asked about Richard and why I continue to travel with him on his photography tours. Certainly I have developed an interest, and I hope some skill, in photography. Much of the credit for my photographic development has to go to Richard. I think one of his strongest assets is his ability to teach what is often a confusing and technical subject. The sign of a great teacher is to make complex things simple and understandable. In this regard Richard is very successful. A more important aspect to me, however, is the opportunity to step outside the reality that I have created in my current life in order to enrich my personal and world view. I crave going to new locations that I have never visited and experiencing things I have not yet done. Richard’s photographic tours provide these opportunities in addition to the photographic aspect. Personally, I find this an irresistible combination. Over time I have come to know Richard and am proud to now call him a friend. Perhaps this provides some insight as to why I keep attending his photographic tours and workshops. If you have any interest in developing your skills in photography or are just looking for a great adventure I again urge you to check out his website :

Until next time goodbye. Oh, by the way, do not delete the link to this blog. I plan to keep it active for future adventures and will continue to contribute to it. There is also a nasty rumour circulating that I will be traveling to Bhutan this October 2011. Could it be true? Please check back at that time to find out (tease).

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