Gozalandia Waterfall…If You Can Find It, You’ll Love it!

Road trips are often an adventure. You can discover great places, and have interesting experiences along the way to your intended destination. This is our road trip to Gozalandia waterfall in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico.

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Gozalandia Waterfall

We leave San Juan bright and early, the whole family packed into the car like sardines. Happy ones, though. We have food and music and a sense of adventure. Our nephew and his girlfriend are in the car in front of us, leading the way. Somehow things go awry west of Arecibo. We should be heading inland towards San Sebastian, but we seem to be going somewhere else. We follow along until we realize that we are definitely lost. But where we are lost is amazing. We have somehow ended up in Bosque Estatal De Guajataca, a beautiful forest with a tiny winding road leading through the trees. We even find a tower to climb to further enjoy the view. Our poor young tour guides are getting stressed, but they shouldn’t be. This was worth getting lost for!IMG_0442

We eventually find ourselves on a familiar road and make it to San Sebastian and Gozalandia Waterfall. There is a parking lot where we pay $5 to park. We grab our towels and cooler full of beer and snacks and make our way down the decidedly treacherous trail to the bottom of the falls. It is muddy, steep and slippery, but manageable. It’s worth all the effort. The waterfall is beautiful, maybe 50 to 60 feet high, and cascades down over the rocks, creating hidden caves. It doesn’t take us long to drop our gear and jump into the cool water. We scramble up the rocks on the left of the waterfall and creep behind the pounding water. It’s very thrilling. From there, we watch as the bravest people jump from high up on the wall into the pool. Exploring the area, we find a small cave to the right of the falls that we can swim into. It’s small, only big enough for a few people at a time. I can’t convince some of our group to try; it just looks too scary. It isn’t a long swim to the air pocket inside, though. I’m able to grab my daughter’s hand and pull her into me. It’s a day of fun swimming, jumping and exploring.

We find out later that there is actually another waterfall farther upstream, but by then everyone is too tired to explore. Apparently there is a rope you can use to swing out into the deep pool. Next time!

Helpful info:

Obviously, I cannot give great directions here! I have researched online and found these GPS coordinates, which everyone seems to use. Try them and see –  18.358268,-66.986489

There are a lot of hiking trails and caves to explore in Bosque Estatal de Guajataca. That is next on my list when we visit again. If you are going out to Gozalandia, though, you may want to do a little research and make a day of it.

Bring snacks and drinks, as there is nothing at the falls. I don’t go anywhere without my Olympus Stylus Tough Camera, as it is water proof and shock proof. That makes it perfect for these kinds of adventures.

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Jumping off the cliff

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Behind the Falls

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The view from behind the falls

 

 

 

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Frontier Towns

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Aguas Calientes

The evening streets are chaotic. Filled with people, there is not a car in sight. Music blasts out of the open doors and windows of bars. Incredibly aggressive restaurant hosts push menus at your face as you walk by. Everyone wears rugged, hiking and trekking clothes. Many are seriously not clean. This is Aguas Calientes, Peru, the gateway to Machu Picchu.

Inaccessible except by train, which isn’t all that reliable, or by foot via the Inca Trail, Aguas Calientes is a true frontier town. Myself, I’m a mall kind of girl. I live fifteen minutes from anything I could ever need. Convenience is the name of the game. For some reason, though, I love frontier towns. They’re just so different; vibrant, exciting, colorful and unique. The difficulty of getting to them is part of the adventure. Aguas Calientes, Peru; Ushuaia, Argentina; Talkeetna, Alaska; Myvatn, Iceland and other places like them, are some of my favorite stops in our travels.

Aguas Calientes stands out because of how remote it is, how hard it is to get to, and the kind of people who frequent it. The atmosphere is one of relief to have arrived and anticipation of what is to come. Machu Picchu sits high above the town, visible from the window of our little Inn. The imposing mountains are part of the town, closing it in, making it seem even smaller than it actually is. The trekkers who have just arrived from the Inca Trail seem to make their way directly to a bar to celebrate. We ride the train, as our daughter, Rachel, is a bit young for a three-day hike. The train may be easier, but it sure isn’t seamless! The tracks are covered in debris from a recent rock slide so they pack the train passengers into vans to drive beyond the slide. Only, there are no roads. We bump through fields, along streams and even on the tracks. It takes forever and is nausea-inducing. It feels like paradise when Rafael, Rachel and I finally board the train.

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Machu Picchu

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The thing about frontier towns is that they’re there for a reason. Something amazing is nearby. Machu Picchu is an experience of a lifetime. The beauty, the history and the way the sun hits the ruins, makes it almost otherworldly. In Ushuaia, you have the southernmost city in the world, “El Fin del Mundo,” an amazing National Park, and the last port before Antarctica. Talkeetna, a picturesque, fun town, is the staging area for those who are climbing Denali, and a great place to float down the river.  Myvatn has natural hot spas, set in a stark volcanic landscape, far from the crowds of the Blue Lagoon in the south. These towns attract people who are looking for something amazing. And they find it.

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Myvatn hot springs

When we travel, we try to experience as much of a place as we can; its food and drink, music and dance, wildlife and scenery. There are new experiences to be had everywhere, from big cities like Buenos Aires to small islands like Santa Cruz, Galapagos. For us, it’s all about finding out what is unique about a place and then experiencing it. Frontier towns are a great way to do this. They offer up a unique and interesting view of a people and place. Go the extra mile (or hundred) and see for yourselves!

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Myvatn

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Myvatn

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Ushuaia

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The southernmost post office in the world!

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penguins live outside Ushuaia

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overlooking town

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hiking in the National Park

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climbing the glacier above town

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Talkeetna. Ready to float.

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the view on the river

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.

Courage Level: 2 Most of these towns are easy enough to get to if you’re willing to drive. Aguas Calientes is the only one you will need to have a bit of fortitude to reach. Anyone can do it, though!

Fitness Level: 2 Again, only Aguas Calientes will make you work a bit. The rest you just need to be willing to drive!

More info?

When we flew into Lima, Peru, we stayed overnight at the airport hotel and then flew out the next morning to Cusco. From there, we were picked up at the airport by a driver from El Albergue Inn, located in a Sacred Valley town called Ollantaytambo. We spent a couple nights there, acclimating to the altitude and enjoying this amazing Incan town. The Inn was just perfect – wonderful people, beautiful room and grounds and delicious food. We walked everywhere we wanted to go. Here is the link: http://www.elalbergue.com/en/

In Aguas Calientes we stayed at the Rupa Wasi Eco Lodge. We loved it there. It is set on a hill, away from the craziness of town, but close enough to walk to everything. It’s rustic, but everything there is! They have a high quality restaurant, with some tasty passion fruit offerings. http://rupawasi.net/ingles/index.html

In Iceland, you will find that once you leave Reykjavik, there are not a lot of choices in where to stay. As you get as far northeast as Myvatn, the options are down to one or two. We chose Skutustadir Farm. The rooms are clean and comfortable, the views are spectacular and breakfast is tasty. http://skutustadir.is/en/

Talkeetna, Alaska had more options for lodging. We stayed at the Denali Fireside Cabins, which was perfect for us. We had room to spread out and relax and the location was great. We even got takeout and ate in the cabin as it was so nice! http://www.denalifireside.com/

Ushuaia, Argentina also has a lot of options for lodging, many with a high price tag, as it is the jumping off point for travel to Antarctica. We chose something that was family friendly and affordable for the five nights we were there. The Tango Bed and Breakfast was great. The room was small, but ensuite. The breakfasts were good and, best of all, there was a tango night! The owner plays the accordion and teaches guests who stay for more than three nights how to tango. There is also plentiful wine! http://www.tangobyb.com.ar/index.php

 

Penguins…the Stars of the Show

My heart starts to pound in excitement as our raft eases closer to the island. The breeze has died down and the temperature is a comfortable 50 degrees F. The sun is trying to come out from behind the gray and white clouds that fill the sky. We don’t really care what the weather is. We have traveled so far and we are finally here! The zodiac raft cuts its engine and glides very slowly to shore. The sight before us is as delightful as we’d hoped. We are in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, and we are here to see penguins!Picture 033

Martillo Island, where we have pulled ashore, is home to thousands of Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. The Magellanic penguins are all over the beach and are curious about our boat. We quietly disembark and walk with our guide. We don’t get too close as we don’t want to disturb them. We would rather see and photograph happy penguins than angry ones! Picture 039They are small, maybe a little over two feet tall, and have black fur with white markings that circle their faces and cover their stomachs. Too cute! After spending a few minutes on the beach, we walk inland where we see the Gentoo penguins sitting on their nests. The males and females take turns incubating the eggs in the nest. We can’t tell the difference; they all look the same to us!

We peek into the burrows in the sand and grass to see the nests of the Magellanic penguins. They do a better job than the Gentoo of hiding their eggs from the Skua, a marine bird that feeds on them. Our guide tells us that the week before there were two leopard seals who came to the island from Antarctica, which is unusual. I’m glad we missed that, as the seals made a meal out of many of the penguins before moving on. Not something I want to see!Picture 061

The views around us are amazing, snow-capped mountains, green grass, the blue-gray ocean and the adorable penguins. It is worth the effort to get here to experience this.

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.

Courage Level: 1 This is an easy trip, nothing to be afraid of!

Fitness Level: 1 This is not physically taxing, as long as you can walk around mildly hilly terrain.

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Do I need special gear?

If you have a good camera, bring it. It won’t get wet and the photo opportunities are amazing. Wear layers as the weather can change to chilly without warning. We went in November and the weather was fine.

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There are a lot of tour groups that take visitors out to the Beagle Channel. Look for the ones that have permission to walk on the penguin’s island. Only two agencies will have permission at a time, and it changes. All the agencies have kiosks in downtown Ushuaia. Take the time to visit them all, until you find what you are looking for.

We stayed at the Tango B&B in Ushuaia. The rooms are very basic, but there are ensuite bathrooms, and a continental breakfast. A good reason to stay there is for the tango lesson and accordion concert that you are treated to one night (if you stay more than 3 nights.) The guests can learn how to do the tango while sipping wine and enjoying each other. The innkeeper, Raul, even helped us with renting a car for a few days so that we could easily explore the area.  http://www.tangobyb.com.ar/index.php

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Scotland…Where I Learned to Drink Scotch Like a Pro

wallace1In 2003, Rafael, Rachel (then 4-years old,) her older brother Gabe and I took a journey to Scotland. It was then, and is still, a land of incredible beauty, mysterious lochs and ancient history. We loved everything about it…including the whiskey. It didn’t start out that way, though. Here is the story….

I remember being a little kid and begging and harassing my father for a sip of his whiskey. He didn’t give it often, but when he did, the thrill for me to take a bit of that magical liquid on my tongue was not to be missed. I wanted it because it made my mouth burn and my breath escape in a rush. I hated the taste, though.  Fast forward a couple decades. I tried my husband’s Scotch, with the same result; I hated it and loved it. I just had no appreciation for this so-adult beverage!

Arriving in Edinburgh, Scotland in November, 2003, the air was crisp and cool. It was perfect for walking and exploring or for sitting snug in a pub on the Royal Mile. When we finished our meal and a dessert of sticky toffee pudding (which became a staple of our diet yum,) I asked the bartender to pour me a Scotch that would be good for beginners.  He poured me a 15-year old Dalwhinnie. I tried to take a whiff, like it was a glass of wine, and my eyes watered and I felt like coughing. Okay, we won’t do that for now. I took a small sip. Hey, that wasn’t too bad! I sipped again and again until my first glass of Scotch was history. I loved the burn in my throat and the warmth in my belly. There was hope for me!kinloch3

From Edinburgh, we took a road trip west to the Trossachs and then north through the Highlands. I tried a new Scotch at every stop. As my palate started to acclimate to the new tastes, I was able to expand my repertoire of whiskeys. While staying at the home of Clan MacDonald on the Isle of Skye, I tried Talisker for the first time. Oh, it was like sitting by a peat fire! The smokiness just exploded on my tongue. It’s the only single malt made in Skye, so it was a perfect place to try it. I had a dram before we headed out for some exploring and munro bagging (that would be hiking a hill.) I stayed warm and happy with a bit of Scotch in my stomach.

As we made our way back south after extensively exploring the Highlands, we arrived in Pitlochry and the Edradour Distillery. It was (and still is) the smallest in Scotland and unique in that the Scotch was still made in small batches from a farm distillery. We took an amazing tour that ended with a tasting. When someone asked if they should add water to their single-malt, our guide laughed and said that they had just spent 10 years getting all the water out, don’t pour it back in!

Leaving Scotland, we brought a few bottles of Scotch home with us. In the 11 years since, I have formed a real love affair with the fiery drink. Many cold winter nights will find me curled on the couch with my glass of 16-year-old Lagavulin, or the 10 year-old Talisker or Edradour. Although very different in taste, they all bring my mind back to the lochs and glens, the smoky pubs, the wonderful people and beautiful mountains of Scotland. The best place in the world to learn to love Scotch is in Scotland! I highly recommend it.

Eileen Donan Castle, Scotland

Eileen Donan Castle, Scotland

More info?

We stayed at little B&B’s all around Scotland. As it has been so long, I hesitate to recommend any in particular except for Kinloch Lodge. This is the seat of the Clan MacDonald and an amazing place to stay on Skye. It was the most expensive place we stayed, but the experience was worth it.

http://www.kinloch-lodge.co.uk/

The Edradour Distillery had a great tour if you are going to be in that area.

http://www.edradour.com/

Sharks! A diving adventure in Bora Bora

I peer through the clear, salty water to see my husband descending alone to the sandy bottom 18 meters below. I reach out to grab him, but he slips away too fast. I try to catch his attention but have no way to make noise (I really need to work on that problem!) I put my regulator in my mouth, go down a couple meters and yell. Of course, that doesn’t work. He keeps going. I can clearly see the three huge lemon sharks gliding through the water below him. Can’t he? The Dive Master said anyone who was feeling queasy in the swells could drop down out of them. Rafael should know he didn’t mean to go all the way to the bottom alone!

The rest of us start our descent. It’s a perfect day for a dive; clear, 85 degrees, light wind. The water is 80 degrees, so Rafael and I don’t wear wet suits. The water is clear for at least 18 meters, so I can easily keep an eye on Rafael. He now hovers on the clear, sandy bottom. It’s nice and flat, with no flora around. The two sharks are circling him. He is turning like a wheel, watching them as well. The only sound I hear is my breath through the regulator. It’s very calming, unlike what I’m watching. In. Out. In. Out. When the sound starts to fade away, I pinch my nose with my fingertips and blow hard. Crackle. Pop. My ears clear and I can hear again. I continue my descent and perform an ungainly pirouette, feet first, to see what’s behind me. I see other divers, some small fish and clear water reaching out forever.

In less than a minute, I make it to the bottom. Rafael joins me. I try to give him a wifely disgusted face, but it’s hard in a mask and regulator under water, so I give up and enjoy the view. Sharks! They circle us all now. The lemon sharks are wonderfully ferocious looking, with a blunt head and round eyes, and the much-expected mouth full of teeth. These are big, maybe 3 meters, and have a second dorsal fin. An entourage of small fish stay so close, they look to be attached. The sharks watch us closely but make no aggressive moves. We continue our dive, checking out other interesting flora and fauna. A moray eel sighting is cool, but nothing comes close to the excitement of the sharks. We are at dive site Tapu in Bora Bora, it is the first time we have seen sharks, and it is thrilling!

4 Seasons Dock

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Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.

Courage Level: 2 – If you scuba dive, this is a great place to do it. The water is clear, warm and full of amazing things!

Fitness Level: 2 – This is no different from any other dive. All diving requires some basic level of fitness, but nothing crazy.

Do I need special gear?

A few bathing suits and lots of sunscreen!

We also brought our snorkel and mask but we dd not need them because they had them in the rooms. Although we didn’t have a camera for our dive, we did bring our Olympus Tough camera to take lots of other underwater pictures. It was great for snorkeling and when we fed the sharks and rays.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA stingray and suckerfish

More info?

We use Top Dive, a PADI 5 Star dive shop. We do a two tank dive, our first to Tapu and our second dive to Toopua. Tapu takes you out of the reef that surrounds Bora Bora so you see bigger sharks, but the sea can get rougher. The other is a beautiful coral garden.  http://www.topdive.com/bora-bora-diving.html#dive-sites

This is not our typical adventure trip. It is the only trip we have taken without our daughter since she was born and it is very luxurious. We still have some great adventures, but it is not exactly budget -friendly as a whole! On that note, we stay at the Four Seasons, which is out of this world. The bungalows over the water, the treatment by staff, the views, the ocean, it is all amazing. For us, probably a once in a lifetime trip!  http://www.fourseasons.com/borabora/

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Hey Bear, Ho Bear…an Alaskan Adventure

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We hike up the switchback trail alone. My husband Rafael, our 8-year-old daughter Rachel, and I leave the Park Ranger guide with the other travelers down at the bottom. They’re too slow! We know where we’re going. We make the hairpin turn and come to an abrupt stop. On the trail, fewer than 30 feet in front of us, is a mother brown bear and her cub.  She startles us, but fortunately for us, we don’t startle her. Rachel has been singing the bear song – “Hey bear, ho bear. What you gonna do? I’m here, you’re there. I’m just passing through. Hey bear, ho bear. It’s such a lovely day. This is your land, I understand, so I’ll be on my way!”

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We are in the incredible Katmai National Park in Alaska, home to many brown bears (also called grizzly bears.) We wait for the bear to move along, which she does. As we wait, our guide catches up to us. She doesn’t have a gun; she has no intention of hurting the animal. Here, we are the trespassers. The Park Rangers gave us our lesson about bear safety when a float plane landed us on the beach at this magical place. This included the bear song. Make noise. You don’t want to surprise a bear.

We keep singing and hiking. When there is a break in the trees, I see the fantastic view of the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. A volcanic eruption in 1912 created ash deposits as high as 700 feet. The wind blew the ash into columns, cliffs and beautiful formations that solidified over the years.327

We make another turn as we head back up the trail away from the valley, and the bear is standing there again. Her cub stands close to her, leaning against her leg, watching us. The mother is unconcerned. She eats the vegetation on the ground and rubs against a tree trunk. The guide unclips her bear spray, which can be unleashed from 50 feet away, just in case. We wait some more. The bear starts in our direction and we all back up without turning around. She goes off the trail and heads down. She’ll probably meet up with the trail again at the next switchback. Bears are not dumb, like us they would rather follow a trail than bushwhack, too!

330We give a small sigh of relief. We have conflicting thoughts. It’s nice not worrying about the bear, it’s great seeing her, but we really don’t want her to go. We continue our climb until we get to a small clearing. We stop to enjoy the views. The sun is shining. The lupines color the hills in purple. We are covered in bug spray, so the infamous Alaskan mosquitoes, aka giant, aren’t too bad. The not-too-warm temperature is perfect for a hike. We grab a drink of water. No snacks are allowed as that would tempt bears to come too close to you and your backpack – not even gum!362

Suddenly six gray wolves trot across the clearing right in from of us. They are maybe twenty yards away, watching us while they move past. Gone as quickly as they appear, our Guide is jubilant at the rare sighting. Most everyone is fumbling for their cameras, in shock. Rachel is fast, though. She got a picture!

We continue our hike back to the top and return to Brooks Lodge, a collection of small, rustic cabins and a common dining room for meals. There we will see lots more bears at the river catching salmon. But that’s another story……

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most challenging:

Courage Level: 2 – Everything, from the float plane to the bears, is more exciting than scary. Yes, being on a trail with a huge bear can be intimidating, but you actually get used to it quickly here! The cabins for sleeping are very secure and the Park Rangers give very detailed information about safety. There has never been a bear attack in Katmai National Park.

Fitness Level: 2 – As long as you are capable of hiking, this trip will be pleasurable. You don’t have to worry about overheating or high altitudes. My parents did this same trip in their 70’s (they are very active) and they loved it.

Do I need special gear?263

Brooks Lodge gives you a list of things to bring. This is a “pack light” kind of trip. Your bag is weighed before getting on the float plane and it can’t weigh too much.

As with everywhere in Alaska, it’s all about layers for clothes. A base layer of wicking fabric, maybe short sleeve like you would wear to the gym. Then a light-weight but warmer layer on top. My husband likes fleece. I have a thin down jacket from North Face I like. We have very cheap poncho style rain gear that fold very small.  We take them everywhere when we travel because we can fit 3 of them in a day pack with lots of other gear. They can also fit over backpacks to keep them dry and if you sit down they can cover your legs. They cost about $5 at Wal-Mart and have been all over the world with us.

Hiking boots are a must. We all have different brands with no particular loyalty.457

Bring binoculars, whichever ones you have that are small enough to carry around, but powerful.

You need bug spray with Deet. You can spray it on your clothes. We had socks and pants with bug spray built in. These are expensive items, but if you are going to be traveling to places with lots of bugs, it’s worth it. We used them in the Amazon as well. Also, bring a hat and a mosquito net for your head. On hikes or when at the falls watching the bears, it keeps bugs from flying around your face, which is annoying! You can get these things at REI, EMS, LL Bean and many other stores.

For a camera, we use the Stylus Tough by Olympus. We use it because it is shock proof and water proof. We do not want to worry about a camera or lug around a huge camera bag. We are on our trips for the experience, not photography. This is not the camera for a real photographer. It’s point and shoot, which is why we like it. We are always moving too fast for anything else. It takes great memory photos, though!

Any more info I need?

To get to Katmai National Park, you take a float plane to Brooks Lodge. The flight goes from Anchorage to Salmon (in a bigger plane) and then on to Katmai in the small float plane. That, in and of itself is an adventure!  http://www.katmailand.com/lodging/brooks.html

Before you get to Brooks Lodge:237

If, like us, you are spending a fair amount of time in Alaska exploring (and you should!) then you need a place to stay in Anchorage. You also need a place to store the rest of your bags. We stayed at two places that were nice. They are owned by the same people, and both are bed and breakfasts, which is what we prefer. The first was early on in our trip. http://www.alaska-wildflower-inn.com/index.html  It was very nice, great location, delicious food.

The second place, http://www.arcticfoxinn.com/  we stayed at the night before and the night after our trip to Katmai. Our room was more like an apartment, but it also included breakfast. It was a slightly longer walk, but was still close enough to downtown. The food was really good here as well. We got to eat reindeer sausage, which was cool! We were able to leave our bags there while in Katmai. You can read about both places on TripAdvisor.

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Katmai, Alaska

Katmai, Alaska

Spiders, Sharks and a Revelation; an adventure in the Peruvian Amazon

The tarantulas are as big as my hand and creep along the trunk of the tree we are standing beside. Our guide Paul helpfully shines a flashlight on the creatures a couple of feet from my head. It’s our first night at Explorer’s Inn, a research station and guest lodge in the Peruvian Amazon. This is what I’d been dreading since I planned and booked this trip. I love adventure, exploring new places, learning about different cultures. I do not like spiders. At all. Even as a kid, I would make my younger sister come into my room to kill any spider who dared to take up residence. Being in the Amazon, surrounded by the creatures? I was not in my happy place.

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My husband Rafael, our 10-year-old daughter Rachel, and I had arrived in Puerto Maldonado that afternoon from Cuzco. We already hiked around Machu Picchu and attended the Inti Raymi festival so were riding the high of those experiences. We met our guide Paul and drove to Infierno (which means Hell – a not so auspicious start) and then took a motorized canoe for a three-hour trip up the Tambopata River. It was a beautiful ride; exotic and unique. Oropendula birds’ nests hang from trees. Caimans line the banks of the murky river. Turtles rest in the sun with butterflies sipping their tears. Beautiful birds fly overhead.

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The main lodge at Explorer’s Inn

When we arrive at Explorer’s Inn, it’s what I expect from my research, rustic but comfortable enough. There is no electricity in the cabins but there is running water. Yay, showers and toilets! Other lodges I looked at had one wall opened to the outside so that you could be one with nature. Yeah, that’s too much for me. I like screens if they can help keep the spiders out! We settle in, eat dinner at the main lodge and get ready for the night hike.

118_5874 We cover as much skin as possible; long pants, long sleeves, hats and rubber boots that go up to our knees. We also have mosquito netting for our hats. We’re dressed like this whenever we hike in the jungle, no matter how hot it gets. The creepy crawlies here mean business. There is an ant they call the bullet ant because if it bites you it feels like you’ve been shot. In the beginning of our hike my daughter and I are tense and trying to see every direction at once. We’re convinced a spider or something is going to drop down for a bite. Eventually, though, we relax and just start to enjoy how amazing and beautiful the jungle is at night. There are all kinds of chirping, fluttering, croaking and flapping sounds around us. At one point a howler monkey starts roaring and it’s scary. Chills run down my spine (supposedly they used howler monkey calls as the dinosaur sounds in the Jurassic Park movies to give you an idea how scary they are!)

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A Capybara family by the river bank.

The next day we go another few hours up river in the canoe and camp in a tent. We are right in the thick of the jungle. Our guide uses a machete to hack a trail for us to hike. The critters are everywhere, from the wild hogs who scare even our guide to the ants marching up the trees. Spiders, snakes and more insects than I can count surround us. Birds fly overhead and monkeys swing in the trees. Many spiders come out at night so, of course, Rachel, who never does this at home, needs to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. We unzip the tent, bang our boots to make sure nothing is in them and head to the “bathroom” (read that to be a hole in the ground with a sheet around it!) 118_5962On the way back is when I have my revelation. I realize I am actually enjoying myself. The world I am in at that moment is so foreign to me, so amazing and full of life. The sounds, the smells, even the air just feel so alive. I cannot help feeling the same way. This is exactly why we travel and bring Rachel. At that moment there is nowhere else on earth I would rather be. I realize that maybe I’m not as afraid of spiders as I thought. I let it go and open myself up to the wonder around me and it is incredibly liberating. It’s a great lesson for me and Rachel. We are never too old to challenge ourselves and overcome what scares us most. That means I have only one more fear left to conquer. It is something that has been holding Rafael back from doing what he wants to do!118_5976

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Watch out for the Piranha!

I’m from the Jaws generation. I remember seeing that movie and being afraid to swim over the deep end of the pool in swim team practice. Never mind the ocean! My husband has been after me for years to get our scuba diving certification, but I was too afraid to go in the deep ocean. After we return home from Peru, we sign up and get certified. Now, sharks are one of my favorite dive sightings. From Bora Bora to Galapagos, we have been thrilled to watch them glide effortlessly through the water. When I was riding in that canoe in the Peruvian Amazon, I never would have believed it would lead me to the incredible world of scuba diving. Life is such an interesting journey.

Can I do this trip?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most challenging:

Courage Level: 3 – As we saw, there really wasn’t anything to be afraid of, except for the unknown. However, you need the courage to get there and figure that out!

Fitness Level: 2-3 – You don’t need to be truly athletic to do this trip, but you do need to be able to hike for fairly long periods in high heat. We left for our hikes very early in the morning to beat the worst of the heat, and would walk for 4-5 hours. Luckily, there were not a lot of elevation changes. Afternoons would include rest times.118_5849

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Do I need special gear?

You want light clothes in the jungle, but you need to be covered. I wore a long sleeve shirt from Exofficio that had SPF in it with a bikini top under it – mostly because I could wash the bathing suit out at night and it would dry by morning or at least not feel awful damp. My husband wore a long sleeve shirt with wicking fabric. For pants we used thin, long pants that had bug repellent built in. Use the same clothes every day for hiking. Bring something else to change into when you are done and showered – shorts and workout tops worked for us. They give you high boots to use, but bring sandals for hanging around or to walk to dinner on the boardwalk. You don’t need any nice clothes here.

We always bring our cheap $5 Wal-Mart rain ponchos – we can fit 3 in one day pack easily with all our other stuff.118_5810

We use the Olympus Stylus Tough Camera. This is not the camera for photographers, but it is great for adventurers. It takes great pictures and causes you no worries. You can drop it, get it wet and bang it into trees and rocks. Nothing we have done to it has hurt it yet. It’s perfect for memory photos. Make sure you have enough memory cards because you won’t have your laptop here to upload pictures. They do have a generator for you to charge your camera.

Bring a hat and mosquito net for your head.

Get a small headlamp that will light your way at night. There is no electricity in the cabins. Bring a book for relaxing and a journal for recording your experiences.

A small pocket notebook is helpful on your hikes because your guide is full of information about plants. The Amazon has so many medicinal plants and he will be naming them left and right. You will never remember them all if you don’t write them down!

You will need sunscreen and insect repellent with Deet.

Bring a sense of adventure because you are going to love it!!

Any more useful info? (Always!)118_5779

Here is a link to a blog that has a photo and recording of the call of the Oropendula, a beautiful bird and an amazing nest builder!

http://oropendolaproductions.com/listen/

Here is a link so you can see some of the spiders in the Peruvian Amazon. Luckily, none of these were crawling on us (that we know of!) http://thinkjungle.com/amazon-rainforest-life/amazon-rainforest-spiders/

We stayed at the Explorer’s Inn, where we did a 5 day/ 4 night package. One night was three hours farther down river in a tent near a clay lick that macaws visit in the morning. We highly recommend this as we saw a lot of animals while so far out in the jungle. It was just my husband, daughter and I, and our guide, the cook and porters.  http://www.explorersinn.com/#

I mention Inti Raymi in my article. Inti Raymi is the Incan festival to the Sun God that is held in Cusco on June 24, the Summer Solstice. It is a huge event and well worth attending in Cusco, which was the Capital of the Incan Empire. The party goes on for days, culminating on the 24th with a ceremony at Saqsayhuaman, a Sun Temple about 2 km walk from the Old Town. Here is a link to learn about it:

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Inti Raymi

http://www.amautaspanish.com/destinations/learn-spanish-in-peru/peru-overview/festivals/inti-raymi-149.html

In Cusco, where we were prior to our trip into the jungle, we stayed at Second Home B&B, which we highly recommend. It is in the old section of the city, in walking distance to everything.  The prices were extremely reasonable, the rooms were very comfortable, they had WIFI, and breakfast was included. You can read about them on TripAdvisor.  http://www.secondhomecusco.com/en/bed-breakfast-cusco

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Second Home B&B

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