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

 

Beneath the Volcano

After a summer off, I am finally back to writing. I dedicate this story to our friend Virginia Maxwell, who was taken from us far too soon. We love her and miss her.virginia

 

We walk along the jungle path, the greenery closing in around us. Birds call and insects buzz. Reaching a large, dark hole in the ground, we begin our descent into the longest and deepest lava tube in the world. The air is immediately cooler, dropping about 20 degrees to the low 60’s (Fahrenheit,) which makes me glad I have on a sweatshirt. As we slowly move away from the cave opening, the sunlight disappears. Only flashlights and headlamps penetrate the inky blackness. This is the Kazamura lava tube on the Big Island of Hawaii, and it is unlike any cave we have ever seen.

misc 112Over the years, we have toured a lot of different kinds of caves.  From Iceland to Tennessee, Puerto Rico to Texas, we have explored caves. We even went deep into a coal mine in Nova Scotia, which is basically a man-made cave. The Kazamura cave is different from them all. The stalactites and stalagmites were made from flowing lava, not water. That changes everything!misc 116

The cave rests beneath Kilauea Iki, which is still a very active volcano. An eruption 700 years ago started the slow process of creating the cave system. We see amazing sights as we walk through with our guide. There are “lava roses,” which are rare. They are formed when lava from a tube below fills up and then oozes through a small opening in the floor. As it bubbles up it creates a rose-like shape. There are also lava straws that hang from the ceiling; lava ripples along the floor, where a rock fell into a pool of lava; and lavafalls along the walls. Many of the formations are chocolate brown in color and look almost shiny, which is caused by minerals and the way the lava cools. It’s all really beautiful and different.misc 117

Our guide tells us that two creatures live here in the deep: an albino spider and an albino cricket. They feed on the minerals in the water. Of course, just after hearing about the bugs that could be surrounding us, our guide has us turn out our lights so that we can experience true darkness. That is always an amazing experience, leaving  you a little breathless and profoundly glad that there are always back-up flashlights! Rachel, age 8, is beyond happy to have the lights back on.misc 063

We end our tour back where we started; in the jungle. The air is warm and the sun is shining. It’s time to explore the volcano from the outside. We are heading off to hike the Kilauea Iki trail into the big crater. Can’t wait!

Can I do this adventure?

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

Courage Level: 2 The only issue is if you are seriously afraid of the dark or claustrophobic. If you are, caving may not be for you!

Fitness Level: 1 This is an easy, one-hour tour. The guide will go at your speed.misc 055

More info?

There were only the three of us on our tour, which was great. Tours are run by Kilauea Caverns of Fire http://www.kilaueacavernsoffire.com/  You have to call and make an appointment. We did the one hour tour, which is perfect for anyone with kids.

We stayed at the Kahi Malu Guest Cottage in Volcano Village while we were exploring Volcano National Park. With two bedrooms, it’s great for a family. There is also a kitchen so you can save on dining if you want.  https://www.volcanogallery.com/lodging/KahiMalu.htm

 

 

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A Day in El Yunque National Rainforest

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La Coca Falls

The jungle closes in quickly. Huge green leaves, bamboo trees and vines surround us. The sun is blocked by the green canopy overhead. Underfoot is a slightly muddy trail that zig-zags down the hill. I see a few snails clinging to the tree when I stop to wait for the others. My family is in El Yunque National Rainforest on La Coca Trail, hiking to our ultimate destination, a waterfall hidden in the jungle.

Well, it’s not really hidden, but this trail is seldom used and doesn’t even appear on some of the maps of the Park. That is what makes it so great! It is a short hike down to a river crossing – maybe a bit more than a half mile. Once there, we turn left and walk on the rocks up the river to the waterfall. We are, as usual, the only people here. It is a two-tiered waterfall, and you can climb to the middle of it using the rocks on the right. There are hand and foot holds in the black rock that make it possible to get up and down. Not without some danger, however. I stand in the middle of the river, with part of the waterfall behind me and the rest flowing in front of me. Suddenly I lose my footing on the slippery rock and crash to the ground. Ouch. Rock doesn’t have much give to it!

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Big Tree Trail

After playing in the water for a while, we climb up the trail that was so easy coming down. We make good time, so we get back in the car and drive to our next hike. The Big Tree Trail leads to La Mina waterfall. It is a nice trail, very well marked, with lots of big trees, snails, vines and Jurassic-looking leaves to keep us entertained. At the bottom is the very popular waterfall, La Mina. We take pictures and the brave ones go swimming up under the falls. The water is pushing hard so you can’t handle being under it for long. There are two trails to reach the waterfall, Big Tree and La Mina. Both are nice, but Big Tree is more interesting, in my opinion. La Mina trail is paved in some places and has stairs in others.

If you are still feeling energetic, there is another hike we like. This one takes us up into the clouds (and rain, of course – this is a rainforest!) The Mount Britton trail has a stone walkway that leads us through more great jungle scenery, gives access to a river to cool off and affords us nice scenic vistas along the way. At the top, we climb the Mount Britton tower, but we can’t see anything but clouds. The way they are moving so fast around us is beautiful and, surprisingly for the tropics, cold!

After a full day of hiking, we are ready to hit the beach and have a piña colada. We drive back down out of the hills and head to the balneario (public beach) at Luquillo. This is a perfect place to have a drink, soak in the sun and eat some tasty empanadas.  Another great day in paradise!

Helpful info:

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La Mina

http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque

El Yunque is about 30 – 40 minutes from San Juan. Take Route 66 until it ends at Route 3. Continue on Route 3 East until you see the large sign on your right advertising El Yunque. Take a right on Route 191 and follow it as it winds up the mountain. Once in the Park, you will see a sign for El Portal Visitor’s Center. http://www.elyunque.com/elportal.htm  They have a lot of information, a gift shop and bathrooms, if you want to visit it. There is a $3 per person fee to enter the Center. You can print trail maps online if you do not want to go into El Portal. You can also find bathrooms at some of the larger trailheads, like La Mina.

La Coca Trail is just after La Coca Falls, which you can’t miss because they are right by the road. Look for the sign at around km 8 on the left. There is a small parking area and a trail map. The actual trail is much longer that what we did. If you are really looking to go adventuring, keep going past the first river crossing. The whole trail takes between 3 and 4 hours.

Big Tree Trail is at km 10.2 on Route 191. There is parking at the trailhead. First you pass the Yokahú Tower, which is nice to climb if you have time.

To get to the Mount Britton Trail, you need to go to km 12 and take a right onto Route 930. There is a sign for the trailhead and parking. At one point in the trail, you will reach a service road. If you continue up it and then to the right, you will get to the tower. Come back down the way you came up.

The rain forest is a great place to have a waterproof camera. We use the Stylus Olympus Tough and love it.

Good luck and happy hiking!

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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.

Any more info?Picture 055

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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Over the Edge in Zion

The cool air blows my hair into my face as I push off the canyon wall with my feet. The rope sliding through my hand, I land back on the rock with a small jolt. Relaxing back into the harness, gravity takes control and I “sit” to look around. The slot canyon is surrounded on all sides by red rock walls.  These canyons are narrow, and made by the wear of water running through them. IMG_1826The canyon floor is dirt, about 40 yards long and 2 to 5 yards wide. I see a small path that must lead to our next rappel. Gripping the rope behind me to control my descent, I take off again for the bottom of the wall, 100 feet below me. A few more big jumps and I’m down. That is so much fun! Rafael, Rachel and I are canyoneering and repelling in Zion National Park, Utah and we love it!

IMG_1804 - CopyOur adventure starts with a scramble up the rocks, searching for hand and foot holds. The red rock is fairly smooth, making the climbs a little bit challenging. At the top, our guide teaches us everything we need to know to enjoy our day rappelling. We practice the techniques on a small, 50 foot wall until we are confident. Then the fun really starts. Squeezing through a narrow crevice in the slot canyon, we look out at the amazing view of rocks, canyon and bright blue sky. Rachel, attached to the anchor on the wall, leans way out to see the bottom of the cliff we are on. I love her courage. You have to trust the equipment! She scurries over the side and disappears from sight, rappelling the wall. Our guide takes us to higher and higher rappels because we are enjoying them so much.IMG_1806

Our last climb takes us to a slot canyon where we have choices on how to descend. If we go down low, we could walk and climb over the rocks on the canyon floor. Rafael and Rachel choose this route. The guide shows me another way, which is to use my back and feet to slowly inch my way across. Using the strength in my legs, I push them against the rock and lean my back against the wall. I’m high enough off the ground that it is a little harrowing when I get tired about three quarters of the way through. Pushing on, I make it to the other side and feel a great sense of accomplishment!IMG_1838

After this adventure is done, we walk out with our guide to our car. After such an amazing morning, we are ready to conquer some difficult trails for the afternoon. Angels Landing, here we come!

 

Can I do this adventure?

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

Courage Level: 4 This is not for someone afraid of heights. The key is to trust that the equipment will hold you. If you do not think that you can manage that, this may not be a great way to spend your day!

Fitness Level: 3 Canyoneering is not that physically taxing (unless you decide to go through the last slot canyon the way I did!) My Mother, who is in her seventies, managed to do this adventure with some minor assistance from the guide.

Do I need special gear?IMG_1829

As always, a shock proof camera is great for a trip like this. We use our Olympus Tough, which I often carry around my wrist, letting it bang into the rocks.

Our trip was in November, which is a great time because there are fewer people in the Park, and it is not too warm to do hiking and other strenuous activities. Just wear layers, because you will heat up as you are climbing and cool off when you are rappelling.

We have collapsible water bottles that we refill. They’re great for travel and you are not hurting the environment with single use water bottles. Make sure you have enough water with you, as well as a snack.

Any more info?

IMG_1796We used Zion Adventure Company. They are located right in town, not far from the Park entrance. They were very professional, knowledgeable and friendly. I would recommend them. We did the half day canyoneering package. If we had known how much Rachel would love it, we would have gone for the whole day. Next time! http://www.zionadventures.com/courses-trips/zion-park-tours/trips/

We stayed at the Red Rock Inn B&B Cottages. This is a great place to stay, in walking distance to everything in town and close to the Park entrance. Breakfast is delivered to your door in a picnic basket. It was delicious and different every day.  http://www.redrockinn.com/default.htm

Angels Landing is an amazing hike. If you are looking for a challenge, this is it!  http://www.utah.com/nationalparks/zion/angels_landing.htm

 

 

 

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/