Top 10 Castles in and around Lisbon

Lisbon is prime territory for people like us, devoted castle hunters who long for turrets and palatial grandeur. The moment we arrived in the city, the impressive stone walls of the Moorish Castle San Jorge looming over the city announced we had come to the right place. The capital of Portugal and the surrounding region boast so many extraordinary fortresses, palaces and royal villas that you can literally spend weeks bouncing from one to another. Actually, psycho architecture junkies that we are, we did just that.

What surprised us most was the diversity of what we found. You can literally go to every castle because they are Continue…

The Antarctica Experience

Many visitors to Antarctica say the experience changes you. It’s true, but it’s hard to describe exactly how and why it has such an impact. Of course, it’s beyond beautiful – that goes without saying. The otherworldly panorama of snow and stone backed by the huge slopes of the continent’s ice domes are a sight to behold. But visiting the world’s last great wilderness has an existential effect as well.

It feels a bit like you are an ant standing next to an elephant. It’s humbling. The sheer power and scale of Mother Nature overwhelms you. And yet on some level, you feel connected to it. The continent awakens a long dormant survival instinct born in a world of glaciated extremes. An adventure here reverberates with the collective memories of a world man has not experienced in 10,000 years… of a glacier-covered Europe… of man crossing the Bering Strait. You feel it in your bones: stepping onto the continent is like waking Continue…

The Titilaka Experience

We’re soaring along ten feet above the surface of Lake Titicaca basking in the high-altitude sun. The Titilaka hotel boat feels like our own private yacht; there are no other passengers onboard. Our guide Armando is below preparing some snacks, so Thomas and I have the roof deck all to ourselves.

The views are out of this world. The waters glisten with a muted palette of blues; the islands dazzle with a patchwork of rusts and greens. Surreal stone ridges and huge vertical upthrusts of solid rock run along the southern shore. To the north, a wall of clouds breaks to reveal the snow-covered peaks of the Cordillera Real. It feels like the setting in a National Geographic dream. Ahead of us, our destination floats on the surface of Titicaca. It’s the man-made reed islands of Uros, one of the strangest UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the planet Continue…

Colca Zip-Lining: Meet the Monster

Thrill-seekers and adventure junkies, drop what you’re doing, it’s time to meet the Monster. Think you’ve been on a zip line before? Yeah, unless you’ve been to Colca Canyon recently, I don’t think so.

The brainchild of the completely insane and totally cool Peruvian American Natan, Colca Zip-Lining takes the art of cabled flight to awesome extremes. Natan is kind of like the Picasso of zip lines: he stands back, stares at the cliffs and then lays a stretch of line that makes people go, “Whaaat?!” Continue…

Canyon Adventures at Colca Lodge

The landscapes around Colca Canyon are savage and raw. Here, the Peruvian Altiplano plummets thousands of feet into the meandering Colca River. It’s a stunningly harsh region where villagers cling to the slopes in a cultivated tapestry of  geniusly terraced farms. In the distance, Mt. Sabancaya erupts sending a column of smoke high into the air. Just next to it looms Nevado Ampato, the volcano where the famous Ice Maiden was found.

The scenery is wild and striking. Huge, spectacular cracks along the road prove that those old B-grade movie earthquakes do exist. Volcanic waters burst from the earth and stream down the cliffs forcing your bus to slam on the brakes. The shifting earth is alive here. It’s beautiful, but not the kind of place that you expect to find luxury. Then again, Colca Lodge is not your typical hotel Continue…

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is spectacular… so spectacular that we needed to visit the super-monument twice. The first time was in July during a visit by friends Lisa and Garrett, who pop up on this blog once or twice a year. The second time was the last day of our incredible Salkantay Lodge Trek with Mountain Lodges of Peru.

In some ways, it almost feels ridiculous writing about one of the most photographed and documented places on the planet. Volumes have been written about how beautiful and mysterious the site is. Article after article invokes images of “the lost city of the Incas,”  which was never really all that lost. (Locals living in the area knew it was here.) So what is there to write? Can Thomas and I really add anything that hasn’t been said a thousand times? Perhaps.

One thing we can Continue…

The Ultimate Amazon Adventure (Part 1)

Thomas slides the paddleboard off the muddy riverbank into the slow-flowing river.

“What about piranha?” I ask as Thomas climbs onto the board, “This isn’t going to be like one of those ’70s horror movies if we lose our balance, is it?”

“No, piranha almost never attack people, especially in rivers,” answers our guide Pepe smiling at what is clearly a common question, “Those horror stories you hear are usually rare cases where piranha have been trapped in small bodies of water. I’ve been swimming in these rivers for years, and nothing has ever happened to me.”

Confident that bad balance won’t prove fatal, I push my paddleboard off the bank and follow Thomas downriver. Pepe and Angel, our sports guide, follow. The scene is like something out of a movie: a winding jungle river, steep red-clay riverbanks, a towering canopy of rainforest trees. Two scarlet macaws fly overhead and a chorus of gurgling oropendolas Continue…

Birders Flock to Tambopata

I still remember the first time I ever saw pictures of the Tambopata region. It was the January 1994 issue of National Geographic in the cover story titled “Macaws: Winged Rainbows” featuring stunning photography by Frans Lanting. One beautiful image of a clay wall covered with red and green macaws seared the concept of a “clay lick” into my mind forever.

Scientists still debate the purpose of clay licks, but leading theories suggest that a lack of sodium in the diet of parrots and macaws in the western Amazon causes the birds to eat sodium-rich clay to supplement their diets. (It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of birds eating dirt.)

Because of the sodium level in local soils, most large clay licks are located in southeastern Peru. The most celebrated of them all – the one made famous by National Geographic – is the Colpa Colorado clay lick near the Tambopata Research Center. There are so many macaws Continue…

Hangin’ at the Hacienda

Our-door family area and dining area
Outdoor family area and dining area

When Tony wrote up Ten Things we Loved about Merida, he totally overlooked my favorite thing here – our beautiful casa. Casa Iberica, named after the nearby Iberica Park, served as our home in Merida for a luxurious three weeks. We nick-named the lavish pad “our little hacienda” because after the small apartments we had in Playa del Carmen, Casa Iberica felt like a sprawling palace. Decked out with an entry foyer, two bedrooms, a living room, an outdoor family room / dining area, and a very well equipped kitchen, the casa had everything we needed and more. Even better, there was a beautiful little garden area with a dipping pool in the “shape of the pyramid at Chichen Itza” (we’re not making that up). That pool was a major blessing as the mercury hit Continue…

Cozumel Carnival 2014

While visiting Isla Cozumel, Tony and I got swept up in the colorful Carnival celebrations of the small island. On our first night there, everyone was out in the streets watching the parade with gyrating men and women in gold lamé, disco sequins and feather boas. We had so much fun seeing the locals embrace their inner Liberace, we put together an impromptu video of the spectacle.