travel, music, food

We all have passions. Mine are travel, music and food. I have traveled much of the World and invite you to join me on a upcoming Bradley Walters Journey. Follow my blog as I take you on my journeys around the World!

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Tuna Fishing Capital of the World = Ecuador

Sunday, March 26

Ecuador is the World capital for Tuna fishing. The tuna is shipped primarily to Japan and also the USA. When we pulled into port early this morning we were surrounded by fishing boats. The tuna fishing boats are large and the fisherman are very professionally dressed. It was amazing watching one truck after another leaving the port filled with Tuna.

Manta, Ecuador is attracting many retirees from Canada and the USA. It recently won an award for one of the best places to retire in South America.

Tourism is just starting here. There is one 5 star hotel and recently there has been foreign investment in a golf community development. Many of the foreign owned homes are in gated communities.

There was a major earthquake here last April 16th and it is shocking to see how many buildings are now inhabitable. I’m sure the government is working on solving this problem but I imagine these buildings will need to knocked down and the big question is, who is going to pay the bill.

The coast is filled with wide beaches. The one closest to the cruise dock was packed early in the morning with locals enjoying a beautiful Sunday.

Whale watching brings in the tourists during June and July.

There is a Cloud Forest 30 minutes away with holler monkeys – reminded me of my recent journey to Costa Rica where we stayed in casitas in a cloud forest.

The biggest exports are bananas (the green gold), Cacau, Petroleum, Seafood, Shrimp and Roses.

The biggest event of the year is New Years Eve when everyone dresses in their finest. Fireworks light the dark sky and people burn figures of ex-spouses etc – this is mean’t to be humorous.

The main religion is Catholic but our guide said that most people are Catholic, “only on Sundays”. Everyone chuckled.

Whiskey is the locals drink of choice but it is reserved for special parties. For tourists Chocolate liquors is popular.

Like all of the South American countries we have visited on this cruise, this one is also very clean.

Due to currency issues in 1999, Ecuador introduced the American Dollar as their currency which wasn’t ideal for the locals but their economy is much more stable because of it.

Our tour took us to Montecristi, the town made famous as the birthplace of the Panama Hat. These traditionally brimmed straw hats, known as toquillas were produced here as early as the 1700’s. It can take anywhere from 4-6 months to make one of the better quality ones. The labor intensive process to make one was shown to us. Ladies lean over in an awkward position in order to weave the hats, its a back-breaking job.

The quality of the weaving determines the cost of the hat. You can buy them starting at $20.00 but a tight weave that lets no light in starts at $200.00 plus. I ended up buying one at a good discount with help from one of the tour guides. The young male vendor’s, Grandmother was the one that weaved it. This is definitely a dying craft as its so much work for little pay – so the younger generation is not interested.

The craftsman also turn a large tree seed into carvings – they call this vegetable ivory – for a couple of dollars you can purchase a nice carving as a souvenir.

Like in much of the World, the family unit is very important so generations live together in one home – they often add a second story on their original home to accommodate newly married family members. You usually need to work at least 15 years before qualifying for a mortgage so young people don’t own homes.

Our guide told us that “face beauty” is a priority here so the town is filled with beauty parlors. She said even those that are disadvantaged find funds for their appearance.

Coffee is sold here but our guide said its not well known because of limited Marketing but their current government has started to put funds into such initiatives. An election is being held next month – our guide said they are told to be neutral when hosting a tour so she didn’t share her political views.

A typical meal is soup followed by rice with meat – in a local restaurant you will pay $3. for this meal. Ceviche is also very popular but it’s a unique version served in a bowl, sometimes in a tomato sauce or marinated with beer.

Our group enjoyed dinner in the Tuscan Grille Speciality Restaurant on board the Infinity. We were well looked after by server, Eddie and sat at a massive dining table. Everyone enjoyed the evening. This Italian/Steak house cuisine is excellent.

At 10:30pm we passed the Equator and there was a party on open air decks to celebrate – the traditional “kiss the fish” event was a highlight.
Monday March 27

Its a day at sea.

This evening we all gather at QSINE, my favourite Speciality restaurant on board for a special Bradley Walters Journeys evening.

Tomorrow we’ll transit the Panama Canal – can’t wait!
Tuns Japan usa
Best place to retire
Whale watching June-July
Coast beautiful beaches
Cloud Forest 30 min away holler monkeys
Import cars technology
Export fruit banana the green gold, Cacau and petro roses seafood shrimp

New Years party lots of fireworks dressed up burn paper mache

12 beaches close

Catholics on Sunday

Like whiskey – served special parties

Clean

16th April earthquake

Vegetable ivory

Sable tree – cotton

Us 1999 dollar
More security
SpAin and Italy

Family live together
Parents first floor younger people work
Not enough credit for homes

Lots of beauty parlor
Well groomed
Face culture call it

Amazon jungle
Jaguars

Moist material from Cloud Forest – hat
Light through it
100-200 tightly weaved

Coffee but not well marketed
Make coffee bags

Soup and rice with meat 3.

15-20 yrs can get loan

Colourful, LIMA PERU

March 23 –

What a fantastic day at sea.

Many of my passengers are the first ones to arrive at BLU for breakfast everyday. We nab the window view seats. BLU restaurant is the perfect location for the first meal of the day – its so relaxing, because it’s a small, intimate dining experience.

I arranged a number of activities for my passengers today.

We were welcomed with champagne prior to our private Galley Tour. The Galley (kitchen) staff was in full operation as it was just an hour prior to lunch service. They didn’t rush us and unlike the last Galley tour I did with Celebrity they allowed us to take as many pictures as we wanted. The staff was really friendly – we had a great time!

This was followed by our group luncheon in the main dining room. This is a very social event for my passengers. We are always the first ones to be seated in the dining room and they always give us the same two large tables. Today’s waiter was exceptionally good. The food was delicious as always. Those that ordered the beef ribs had trouble finishing them as the portions were huge!

An hour later we enjoyed a private Martini Tasting just for my group – let me tell you this was the hit of the day. We all sat around the martini ice bar which had been reserved just for us and my passengers wrote messages in the frost on the ice. Our two servers entertained us royally. One of the them put on a show when he poured 15 martini’s at one time! I took plenty of pictures and a video of his performance so he was so pleased when I was able to “airdrop” him copies. We each received 6 different flavoured, 1/2 glass martini’s – yes, that is a total of 3 full size Martini’s. There was a wide variety from dry to sweet and one was prepared with gin – it was recommended that we drank them in a certain order. What a terrific, “bonding” experience but hey, we are already a close traveling, Canadian family. A few of my passengers finished what others couldn’t and then the servers poured 15 extra glasses that we could help ourselves with – they disappeared almost as quick as they poured them. Our martini experience lasted well over an hour and I just hope my passengers found their way back to their staterooms ok – grin! For many of my passengers this was their first Martini trying experience and I think some of them are now hooked and will be regulars at the Martini lounge. Everyone truly enjoyed this afternoon “surprise” activity. I constantly try to find new surprises and this one rates an A+!

The weather today was once again perfect – around 82F – blue skies – very smooth seas.

Tomorrow we dock in Lima, Peru. There were many rumors that we would not make this port of call. Its next to impossible to hear any international news as Trump news now dominates the airwaves so…. you may not of heard that Peru has experienced massive flooding for a few weeks. The high humidity this created caused the foothills of the Chilean Andes mountains that we saw yesterday to turn green and wildflowers were starting to bloom. For Peru the flooding has been devastating – they haven’t experienced anything like this in years and are expecting it to continue for a couple more weeks.

I spoke with a fellow passenger from San Francisco who was in Peru prior to this cruise. He explained that Lima did not experience flooding but much of the country has no drinking water as the floods have destroyed the water system. The army has been called into certain areas to help.

We may not notice anything out of the ordinary while on our tour tomorrow. I have reminded my passengers to bring bottled water from the ship. On land bottled water will be very hard to find, if not impossible.

Tomorrows tour is a shorter 1/2 day one – we will all travel together.

I look forward to returning to Lima. Its been 30 years since I last visited this city. I remember it well but expect to see many changes, 3 decades later….

March 24 – LIMA, Peru

I started the day early – time went back another hour last night … second night in a row with a time change.

BLU opened at 7:30pm but my group was meeting for our tour at 8am so I decided to order 7am room service which was served on my stateroom balcony – I really enjoyed it. Aqua Class offers an upgraded room service menu so I was able to order fruit smoothies, my fav!

We docked in a port area and were surrounded by containers – this is a very active port.

The weather today was perfect – 29C blue skies but a little humid.

I was last in Lima, Peru 3 decades ago… with my friend Chris Schroeder. I recall our final meal was at a military installation where the view was stunning overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I had been so careful the entire time we had been away with what I ate but that night I couldn’t resist a salad topped with deep red, juicy tomatoes. That night I was SO ill – I blame it on those tomatoes. Even though this happened 30 years ago I never forgot that evening. Today, Peru is well known as a culinary city. In order to get into its famous 2 star Michelin restaurant you need to reserve 1 year in advance.

There are approximately 10 million people living in Lima but 6 million of them can be found in the Shanty Towns that surround the city so our first views of Lima were not the best but the city grew on me throughout the day and I wish to return to explore more.

Even the shanty towns are full of colour – bright splashes of paint cover the homes and the locals have a warm personality. As we traveled in the poorer areas it was not unusual to see them waving at us. In fact one man came out of his house when he saw the convoy of tourist motor coaches and had the biggest smile as he waved. It was obvious that he was proud that we were visiting his country.

Our first stop was at the historical city centre square which is referred to as Plaza Mayor – surrounding this square was the Government Palace, City Hall, Cathedral and Archbishop’s Palace.

We spent some time in the main square which was loaded with police, some carried riot shields and there was even a water bomber but this area can be compared to the White House in Washington so it shouldn’t seem unusual to see so much security – we felt “well” protected.

From the Main Square we walked to a former very impressive, historic post office.

We then continued to a church monastery, made famous as the former home of the Saint, Santa Rosa de Lima. It was a very beautiful place. I took a detour during our tour and walked down a very narrow stairway with next to no headroom in order to see her tomb. Architecturally it was impressive – human bones could be seen via a mirror and the sun lit a set of stairs. The monument was decorated with flowers that people have left. Probably my description sounds a little strange but its something I won’t soon forget. When I’m able to post pictures when I get back to Canada you’ll have a much better idea what I am trying to describe.

In the cathedral next door there was service going on. A framed picture of who I feel was another saint was paraded by the many parishioners and eventually it was paraded through the main square in the monetary.

The tour finished in the Mira Flores area, the exclusive part of Lima. This area hugs the Ocean, the Love Statue is a big tourist draw and the many surfers look like dots from a distance.

Back at the pier, vendors did a brisk business as there was no shopping time on the excursion.

Saturday, March 25

Today is a day at sea.

After our group luncheon I’ve arranged a private backstage tour for my passengers.

This evening is a dressier, “Evening Chic” affair.

The weather remains perfect – sea is like glass – temps in the mid 80’s.

Tomorrow we visit, “Manta, Ecuador” our group excursion takes us to Montecristi and where they make the famous, Panama Hats.

Our Tour Guide has NEVER seen it RAIN!

Arica, Chile – Wednesday March 22nd

I could never imagine that I would meet a 39 year old that has never seen it rain. I have often heard people say that they have never seen snow before but this was a first!

This area has a desert landscape so it never rains and they have no wind.

Jessica was our guide for the day and her rain story was one of first things she shared with us.

Our excursion reached new heights as we ascended into the Chilean Altiplano where we enjoyed spectacular views of the World Below. We began in the foothills of the Andes and quickly climbed to 14000 feet. Highlights included seeing the magnificent Chungara Lake and Lauca National Park – where we were surrounded by snow capped mountains, lamas, alpacas and many varieties of flamingos!

The average wage here is $320.00. Our guides family pays $500. a month for rent so in order to make ends meet she has 3 jobs and her husband makes his money as a miner (the primary job for men in this area). He was without work for 11 months so the two of them would go into the agricultural areas on weekends and would work in the fields in return for produce and fruit.

She’s a secretary during the week, she pointed out the restaurant she works at during the weekends as a waitress and when the cruise ships arrive twice a month (only during the high season) she is a tour guide.

This part of Chile is geographically unique – so close to both Peru and Bolivia. The 3 cultures intertwine and customs mix.

Life is simple here.

The city of Arica, is surrounded by the driest desert in the World and the World’s oldest mummies are found here, not in Egypt.

Many locals use an ancient calendar so they feel its the year 5524.

We travelled on one of the 5 most dangerous highways in the World during the duration of our excursion. To be honest I’m surprised this highway is rated so dangerous as I’ve travelled on many roads that I feel are much worse but we did see a number of major transport vehicle wrecks that have been left on the mountainsides – probably a good reminder to be careful but overall the highway was in tip-top condition, I never felt nervous and our driver was excellent.

The scenery changed many times throughout the day… so much so it was hard to imagine that we were in the same region. I just re-looked at the pictures I took throughout the day and was in awe once again. We even experienced a magnetic hill similar to the one in Moncton, where our coach did some bizarre things by travelled an unnatural way on a hill – probably was an optical illusion.

Surprisingly in the dessert landscape we came across a few fertile green valleys that are irrigated by wells – remember there is no rain. The farmers are typically from Bolivia – its obvious that farming these lands is not an easy chore.

We came across the valley town of Putre where most of the 1700 residence are involved with farming.

We stopped at a higher elevation plateau to take pictures of the town below and a couple local ladies were selling their crafts. I had my eye on what I would use as a table runner and when I first asked the vendor a price she wanted $40USD, that sounded high so just before we left I called Jessica over and she managed to negotiate in Spanish, a $20.00 price so I purchased it.

When we re boarded the coach and started on our way, Jessica asked to see my purchase and she showed it to everyone on the coach. She explained that I got a real deal – she said that Dorita, the vendor that sold it to me was 87 years old but it wouldn’t have been made by her but her Mother as she used a handmade method that is no longer used as its too labor intensive. She estimated that the alpaca wool handicraft I purchased was at least 25 years old. I then felt guilty knowing that purchased something special that had been made by the 87 year old’s, Mother but I will find an ideal place in my home to display it and will share its story with those that see it.

I purchased a couple other items at our stops throughout the day after having Jessica verify that they were handmade. She explained that one item I bought would have taken 3 weeks to make – if it was done by machine it would be completed in one day.

Our final stop was just 20 minutes from the Bolivian border. We enjoyed a modest box lunch on a lake overlooking a famous snow covered volcano – part of the Andes mountains. The temp was a little chilly but I arrived back at the ship with a bit of a sunburn.

We came across a major transport traffic jam – the Bolivian Border Agricultural department is on strike so the truckers are waiting 2-4 days to cross….. we were told 1500 transports use this highway daily, traveling between the 2 countries. A rail system was established between the two countries after a war but Bolivia does not keep it up so it can’t be used.

On the way back to the port we stopped at the 2nd oldest church in the country – it was modest and charming. I wish we would have had more time to explore the cemetery – it was well maintained – some graves were marked only with crosses, no name were displayed at some graves – plastic flowers everywhere – desert landscape.

Earthquakes are common here. Our guide spoke of some bad ones that threw her to ground and she just couldn’t get up. Luckily modern day construction protects most buildings but anything that is breakable inside a home is usually destroyed. Children are taught about earthquakes in school so they know what to do in case of a major one. In case of a tsunami, warning sirens go off and everyone needs to head to the surrounding desert sandy hills within “15 minutes” by walking…. as if they drive it clogs up the roads – last year they heard siren a warning after an earthquake, luckily the tsunami didn’t transpire but even with the amount of education they receive, it was still mass chaos – I can understand why – moving 190,000 residence within 15 minutes is a monumental task….

Arica has the 3rd biggest Carnival in South America. This event puts them on the map every year.

The trendy food, Quinoa has been a staple food in this area of Chile for decades and unlike at home its a very inexpensive food item. Corn pie is a local food speciality.

They are building a modern shopping mall in Arica – our guide doesn’t think it will survive as the locals are use to supporting the local small store owners that offer reasonable prices. She feels that most locals won’t be able to afford shopping mall prices.

She is excited that the mall is going to offer a multi-screen movie theatre. Right now there is just 1 cinema in town – with one screen.

We arrived back at the Infinity dock right at departure time 530pm – I believe it was a high school band and dancers that entertained us – their costumes were beautiful – every colour of the rainbow.

My passengers that picked shorter excursions today all had a great time.

My passengers are very much enjoying their on-board experience in BLU restaurant, the major perk of Aqua Class. We are getting to know all the excellent waiters. Fresh orange juice and mango smoothies during breakfast are a big hit with all of us. I had a long chat with my waiter from the Ukraine about perogies and Beet/Green Borsch – made us both hungry….

Fall has arrived in this part of the World

Sunday, March 19

We enjoyed a relaxing breakfast on the top floor of our Santiago hotel where the views overlooking the city and majestic snow covered mountains are outstanding. The extensive buffet consisted of Western dishes (eggs, sausage, tomato), European (cold cuts, cheeses) plus a variety of tropical fruits and pastries.

The gentleman that looked after collecting our luggage was excited to learn that we are a Canadian group because he lived in Montreal for two years. He told me that he yearns to come back.

Our guide, Victor meet our coach driver prior to coming to the hotel so they arrived together. We had an on-time 9am departure. Victor advised me that I should budget 2 hours for the journey to the Pacific Coast and the important port city of Valparaiso but there was little traffic so it didn’t take that long to arrive.

I asked Victor if he could arrange our morning break stop at a winery because todays journey was going through the Casablanca Valley, which is famous for its vineyards and wine production. He was pleased to arrange this and the winery he picked, Casona Veramonte, was a magnificent choice – it was so beautiful we didn’t want to leave. Almost all of us bought a bottle of wine to bring on the ship. Chilean wines as you know have become famous World-wide.

When we left Santiago we drove through vast desert landscape before arriving in the fertile Casablanca Valley. The scenery changed as soon as we left the valley – palm trees swayed next to the stately pine trees – we were in a dense forest.

Soon the city of Valparaiso came into view. There are many cities called Valparaiso throughout the World but this is the most famous one. I think it’s because of its unique location – the residential areas line very steep hills. We drove past one of the largest flea markets I have ever seen. There is still damage that needs to be repaired in this city from the major Earthquake of 7 years ago. They hope to eventually re-build a Catholic Church that was majorly damaged.

Chile is prone to earthquakes – there are over 200 tremors every day and a big one, typically occurs every 15-20 years. I had a group in Buenos Aires when the last big one hit and it was a challenge getting home as we were scheduled to fly through Santiago – luck was on my side and I managed to solve that problem and got everyone home earlier than originally scheduled but that stressful challenge added a few more grey hairs.

There were luggage handlers waiting for us when we arrived at the pier. They quickly started unloading the luggage from the coach and once they received a generous gratuity from me they assured me that our luggage would be well looked after.

Even though we arrived at the pier early, it was already busy but check-in was very well organized and we were quickly processed. Since this is a large container port after check-in, we boarded tourist coaches for a 5 minute drive to the Celebrity Infinity.

Champagne was served when we boarded.

I was able to get through most of my appointments with ships staff during the afternoon. When I called each of my passengers they proudly told me that they had received their luggage and it was unpacked – this is the advantage of a cruise – you feel very settled knowing that you are not living out of a suitcase.

There was the mandatory lifeboat drill at 5:15pm and by 6:15pm we sailed away from the port and started our cruise journey. The Celebrity Infinity is at capacity. At first glance I’ve noticed that this sailing has attracted a mix of passengers from all over the World – every age group is represented.

I enjoyed dinner at Qsine, the Speciality restaurant that is found on most Celebrity Cruise ships. Its a tapas style restaurant with an iPad menu that features specialities from many regions of the World. The concept is very unique – I’m surprised that a mainland restaurant hasn’t copied it. For 2 hours I casually enjoyed a variety of creatively prepared and presented tapas entrees.

This cruise is special because my group and I will be dining nightly, at the upscale Blu restaurant on board – it’s part of Aqua Class. I’ll be dining in this fancy restaurant starting tomorrow night and am so looking forward to it.

—-

Monday, March 20 – First Day of Fall in this Part of the World – First Day of Spring at Home

We’ll be enjoying a number of Sea Days during this cruise. When chatting with my passengers, one of the reasons why they booked this cruise is because of the sea days. Once you have cruised a few times you soon appreciate the relaxing Days at Sea.

Our first port of call is on Wednesday.

There were a number of activities on board today, plus the highly anticipated $10.00 sale in the gift shop – passenger, Jim Mitchell won 2 free gifts at it.

Almost all us gathered for lunch in the Main Dining Room. My passengers always like to do things together so every Sea day those that are interested meet 10 minutes before the dining room opens so I can arrange tables with the staff. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch filled with intriguing conversations.

Today was a strange weather day – the temperature reached 70F. It was cloudy, then blue sky and sunny. As we head North the temperature will construe to rise.

Its optional dress up night. Since its an international crowd on board the dress is more formal than I have seen on recent cruises. Quite a few ladies are wearing long dresses and many of the men including me…. have bow ties on.

The menu at Blu Restaurant matched the formal occasion – pheasant and lamb were two of the many entrees offered. I enjoyed the Macadamia Nut Crusted Scallops, Blue Crab Soup and Salmon Main Course – the Blu Experience is very much an upscale dining experience – my passengers are raving about the experience.

Tonight’s production show, Boogie Wonderland from the West End, in the main theatre appealed to all – many costume changes, familiar disco songs – great fun!

Santiago Chile – Surrounded by the Andes

We enjoyed a comfortable, direct 10 hour flight from Toronto to Santiago.  After clearing immigration and customs our friendly guide, Victor was waiting for us.

Many of my passengers have commented how impressed they are with this beautiful city.

Our welcome luncheon, in one of Santiago’s best restaurants was a feast.  The surroundings were special,  service  excellent and food superb.  Of course the included Chile wines were the perfect accompaniment.

We then traveled through many exclusive neighbourhoods – a number of Canadians have 2nd homes here.

This is a very green, clean city that is filled with parks.

Our deluxe hotel is one of the newest in the city.  The upscale rooms are very comforting.   The views of the majestic Andes surround us.

Our banquet dinner was in a private room in the hotel and was another scrumptious affair.

After dinner we enjoyed another welcome glass of wine on the 17th floor outdoor lounge patio, where we were mesmerized by the city lights.

What a picture perfect day.  Temperatures reached 93F – a dry not humid heat but its been a long travel day so we are looking forward to a restful sleep.

This is a boutique, small group departure as tomorrow we board the Celebrity Infinity to experience their Aqua Class – reserved for a small number of their passengers.

Everyone is very excited.

We will cruise North up the West coast of South America stopping at some interesting ports of call.  A highlight will be our Panama Canal transit.  We will then cruise the Caribbean waters before finishing in Miami.

 

Exciting Sighting during the Sky Forest Hike!

We enjoyed a terrific day – our last full day of this journey.

Last night was a stormy evening – heavy rains and strong winds – many of us commented that it sounded like a winter storm! When we got up this morning we noticed that clouds had surrounded us and it was quite cool but it didn’t take long and the clouds dissipated, the sun came out, the temps increased and the sky turned blue – another shorts and t-shirt weather day.

After an excellent breakfast – many items were homemade including – two types of yogurt, granola, cheese and a variety of pastries plus hot items – eggs, rice and beans, fried plantains and home-fried potatoes.

I sat in the beautiful main lodge sitting area warmed by the roaring fireplace while I “FaceTime”d” my Mother, Sister and Brother. When we connected it was almost as if they were right next to me. Many of my passengers said hi to them, so did Rudy our guide who told them he plans on coming to Ontario to see us perform at the Walters Theatre.

Soon guests for todays 10am wedding in the resorts chapel started to arrive. The waiters in the resort restaurant were busy arranging flowers for the reception. The 80 guests were well dressed for this special occasion.

A representative at the hotel had us gather in the resorts theatre room for a presentation. This hotel is rated the 5th best in Costa Rica and is a leader in conservation, recycling and ecotourism. His inspiring talk was followed by a a tour at the research centre at the hotel and finally a hike in the Cloud Forest.

Our feel-good Group Project of the day was planting a tree.

The scenery during the hike was spectacular and the path was well groomed.

The guide told us it has been a couple months since he last saw a snake and only seconds later one of my passengers Liz, looked horrified and exclaimed – “THERE IS ONE”.

Just a couple feet from us was a Coral Snake – one of the deadliest in the World – its bright colors makes it look “almost” attractive. A coral snake is not aggressive but would bite if it was threatened or stepped on. I just could not believe how close it was to us….. but eventually it scurried away…… We were then told the slogan – Red and Yellow KILL the Fellow – in other words if a snake is covered in red and yellow stripes its poisonous. You need to look carefully in the attached picture to spot it as it blends in with the surroundings.

After seeing the snake I reminded the guide that we were scheduled for 12pm lunch – the coral snake sighting was enough excitement for the morning – grin!

The big talk at lunch was of course about that Coral Snake. We were quite excited that we saw a snake that very few will ever see – this area doesn’t have near as many snakes because of the cooler climate so even our guide, Rudy couldn’t believe we saw one of the deadliest ones. He said he often guides tourists that want to see snakes and will even take them on night hikes to increase their chances but they very seldom ever see one.

The Wedding reception luncheon was held in the hotel dining room so we were seated in the “Silence Room” a smaller room with amazing views of the surrounding scenery.

Lunch took a while because the kitchen was looking after the wedding at the same time. A tropical fruit juice is always served – today’s selections were strawberry or passionfruit with mint.

I selected the tomato soup appetizer and fish of the day for my entree. Dessert was the same one that they were serving at the wedding reception – a 7 layer caramel torte.

After lunch we took a scenic one hour drive to the closest town, San Ramon where a big town square overlooks the Catholic Church.

I treated our guide, Rudy and driver, San Carlos to, “Pops Coconut Ice Cream Cones” a favourite of Rudy’s. Its amazing taste verified that it is homemade.

I felt bad for our coach driver because on the narrow roads leading to our hotel we came across many of the wedding guests heading home. Its not easy passing vehicles on these narrow roads especially when you are navigating a motor coach.

Our tasty farewell dinner was at 6pm. I must sound like a broken record as you have heard this from me before, but this group like all of mine turned into a family. Everyone got along so well and I appreciate them so much.

What an amazing journey!

Thank you Costa Rica.

 

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Our Journey to Costa Rica’s Cloud Forest

During breakfast a troupe of monkeys showed up to entertain us – the dining room was filled to capacity with a number of families. The kids were so excited.

We departed at 8am but after an hour the heavy traffic came to a solid stop. Sadly a transport truck driver rammed into the back of another one just a few minutes ahead of us – this very tragic accident set us back 3 hours. The line-up of vehicles on both sides of the road continued for miles. Since we were delayed we went for a walk along the road where we met a number of locals and a friendly gentleman from Utah. Everyone was putting in time. One guy was selling watermelons from the back of his truck. Our passenger, Wayne snapped a great picture of a truck driver who set up a hammock on the side of his vehicle so he could lay in it and relax while he waited.

Some 4×4 vehicles tried to navigate through a nearby river to reach another road and 4 of them got stuck in the river. Another guy went to check out the accident and locked his keys in his work van. There was an alternative route that we could have taken if worse came to worse but it consisted of poor gravel roads and would take a number of extra hours to navigate so we decided to wait it out.

Lunch was worth waiting for. A mother and 2 daughters prepared a typical Costa Rican meal especially for us, in a building next to their family home. This family arrived in Costa Rica from Spain many decades ago. They run a lovely large souvenir store so after we finished eating wemade a number of purchases. There have been very few shopping opportunities during this journey. Canada customs won’t believe that I’ve hardly spent any money on this journey.

After lunch we continually climbed in elevation and when we reached 1000 meters we were surrounded by coffee plantations.

The guided tour that we took at Cafe Naranjo Coffee Plantation was just excellent. Many of my group purchased the peaberry variety coffee – this small bean makes up only 1-2% of the entire crop. We saw how the Costa Rican’s brew their coffee – they don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on fancy machines like we do. Coffee beans are hand-picked – when the bean turns red its ready – the beans ripen at different times so that is why they need to be picked by hand. Three thousand coffee plants cover an acre and are grown on steep terraces. Picking is a grueling job. Our coffee tour guide picked when he was going to school for extra money and would make $2.00 for every basket full – when full the basket weighs 25 pounds – he could pick 3 baskets a day. A professional picks up to 20 baskets a day – its tough work so many of the laborers  are brought in from Nicaragua.

Our hotel for the next 2 nights is another very unique one as it’s located in the Cloud Forest. There are very few Cloud Forests in the World.

To reach this isolated resort we left a secondary road and continued 45 minutes down poorly maintained roads. Dusk had surrounded us so it was a tough go for our excellent driver, San Carlos.

We passed a few farm homes at the start of the journey but then we were in no mans land for a number of miles.

This resort was built by a former President of Costa Rica. He built a large home which is now the resort lobby, games and movie room, lounge, formal restaurant, meeting room and 2nd level breakfast room.

Surrounding the original home is a number of villas or casitas. These casitas are modest in comparison to the others on this journey – its the surrounding scenery that so spectacular. At this elevation the evening was cool enough that we were all able to light our fireplaces. What a treat!

When the past Costa Rica President and his wife celebrated 50 years of marriage he built her a Chapel on the grounds. It is beautiful – the ceiling consists of over 600 pieces of ceramics hand painted by the Presidents sister-in-law.

Dinner was wonderful as always – the dining room is charming – lodge looking – sea bass was the fish of the day.