Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit--Good or Bad?

I want to address a subject that is very important to me today. I awoke this morning to learn that the UK's citizens have voted overwhelmingly to withdraw from the European Union.

This news came as a shocking surprise to pollsters who assumed the vote would maintain the status quo, but not to me. There is an undeniable parallel between the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. and this historic vote on the "other side of the pond." No establishment figures, be they politicians or the media, took Trump's candidacy seriously either, yet he has attracted a record number of new voters on the way to becoming the GOP nominee.

Too many critics focus on The Donald's oversized personality and sometimes outlandish statements while ignoring the underlying discontent that has propelled his candidacy. There appears to be a shift in global consciousness occurring where people have reached a breaking point regarding their frustration with unresponsive government. They are fed up with the loss of personal freedom through overreaching government intrusions into their lives and the arrogant attitude of elected representatives that signals "be quiet--we know what's best for you."

Trump's appeal to his supporters is not so much exactly what he will or won't do but that he can be counted on to do something. They believed that a vote for more experienced establishment opponents in the primaries, and now for Hillary in November, is a choice to continue along the same "do nothing" path with which they are supremely dissatisfied. And their unhappiness is so intense they are willing to take a chance and boldly move the country in a new direction.

The same mindset has prevailed in the UK. The EU experiment from the outset was a monetary initiative cloaked in the same "safety and security" fabrication as our own Patriot Act. In the end each has been revealed to be more about government control than the welfare of the citizenry.

In both cases the immigration issue stands at the forefront, but it is a mistake to lionize this one aspect of a much broader feeling of disgruntlement. Famous author Stephen Covey reminds us to "keep the main thing the main thing." The main thing right now is that people worldwide are standing at the window like the guy in the movie Network and shouting, "I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!"

Has the UK made a wise decision? Time will tell. The great news is if this turns out to be a mistake they can decide something different.

I believe the vast majority of us are good and decent, and that we are perfectly capable of deciding what is best for ourselves. I fervently believe in democracy. I believe that the will of the people must prevail.

And for that reason I celebrate yesterday's vote as a win for the people. Let freedom ring!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Full Moon Horseriding Adventure

We recently enjoyed a very special weekend that I'd like to share with you. Through our good friends at TerraDiversa tour company Cynthia and I have had the pleasure of several horseback riding trips over the years through the beautiful Ecuadorian countryside.

Last month we took these excursions to a whole different level with a full moon ride.


Joined by another fun-loving couple we all were driven to Hacienda Totorillas


where we would be staying overnight in a lovely, rustic casita on the property.





Even these photos can't fully capture the beauty of this place. And to think it's only a short distance from the city!



Shortly after getting settled another group arrived to join us for the ride. We all got outfitted with boots and safety helmets



and at dusk we were off!

Our steady horses climbed upwards along narrow ancient trails used by the CaƱari people long before the arrival of the Incas. Then just as we came into a high clearing the full moon slowly rose over the mountains as seen in the first photo.

It was a sight so truly magnificent that all of us sat silently on our saddles in awe. Then our guide Carlos told us to turn around and there behind us were the twinkling lights of Cuenca!

On the way back in a pasture Carlos asked if we wanted to go faster for a bit. Everyone said "yes," and off we went galloping through the night. A little scary? Sure was. An unforgettable memory? Absolutely!!

Once we returned a ceremony was held around a bonfire as our group enjoyed wine and refreshments.


Afterwards our riding companions left and the four of us pretty quickly fell into bed. The next day we took a leisurely hike to once more take in the breathtaking scenery before heading home.




If you'd like to experience the beauty of Ecuador from a unique perspective, consider going for a horseback ride even if you've never been on a horse in your life. All the horses are matched to the size of the rider and each tour is tailored to the skill and experience of the group. Contact MontaRuna Tours for more details.

The casita we stayed in is available for rental whether or not you want to ride. It has two bedrooms and is fully furnished. All you need to bring are food and clothing, and if, like us, you don't own a vehicle, transportation can be arranged. Cynthia and I love to go there occasionally just to relax and remind ourselves what a gorgeous country Ecuador is. Check with TerraDiversa for more info.





Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sometimes We Lose Our Minds

On Sunday we often hang out at home and don't even unlock the door. For "retired people" we're often quite busy during the week and this day of R&R really suits us.

Today began with that exact vibe. I got up early, had a relaxing yoga session, and sat down to watch the finals of the French Open. Cynthia slept in and piddled around, while I actually crawled back into bed for a late morning nap.

A-h-h-h---life is good!

Shortly after my shower Cynthia asked me to help her turn our king size mattress. Sure, no problem. Somehow that involved us moving the bed out from the wall, which caused us to discover that the area back there hadn't been cleaned in awhile.

This triggered a chain reaction of thinking about all the other places in the house that needed attention, and we suddenly were off on a full court press deep cleaning project. I'm talking about up on ladders and down on hands and knees stuff. Tops of kitchen cabinets--behind the sofa--cleaning the sofa--tops of tall furniture--scrubbing the grout.

I don't know what the hell got into us, but a second shower, ibuprofen, and a cocktail later, I have to admit it feels good to know we got all of that done with one massive effort.

And it was still kind of like a normal Sunday--we haven't unlocked the front door.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Galapagos--Final Thoughts


Did we really go to Galapagos two weeks ago? Cynthia especially had dreamed of this trip for so many years. And no matter how many photos you've seen of other people standing right next to the animals, it still almost seems incredible to realize we did exactly the same thing.

If Galapagos is on your bucket list, know that there are basically three different ways to visit the islands: a land-based stay on one island, island hopping, and a cruise. If your budget and schedule allow we definitely recommend the cruise option. Numerous species are endemic to a specific island, and cruise ships are the only way to reach the farthest, often uninhabited islands in the archipelago to observe them. Metropolitan Touring, owner of the Santa Cruz II ship that was our home in Galapagos, lists what they call the "Big 15" endemic species. We saw 12 of them on our western itinerary cruise.

Another recommendation for a trip of this nature is to s-t-r-e-t-c-h your pocketbook. In the case of a cruise, the nicer boats allow you a better level of food and accommodation. And most importantly, they employ the most qualified guides, which adds immeasurably to the depth of your experience.

Finally, Galapagos or not, whatever it is you want to do in this world, stop making excuses and delaying your joy. Get out there and do it! I urge you to live a life of no regrets--tomorrow is promised to no one.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Galapagos--Day Five

The last day of the cruise was predictably filled with activities. We had arrived at Isla Floreana, an outpost for pirates, whalers, and sealers back in the day. After observing sea lions lounging on the rocks



we took a short hike at Post Office Bay. For centuries it has been a tradition to leave letters in a barrel there and anyone going to the recipients’ location delivers them upon returning home.


We sent four postcards to friends and family in the States. Will be interesting to see if they are ever received.


After that passengers had a choice of hanging out on the beach, kayaking, or snorkeling.


We chose the last option and had a fab time, spotting lots of beautiful fish and a couple of turtles. We went back to the ship a bit early to rest before heading out again TWICE during the afternoon.

First excursion: more snorkeling for me and a glass bottom boat ride for Cynthia. Then back to the boat for a quick change of clothes and returning to observe sea turtle nesting areas and pink flamingos. We hiked to the beach


just in time to see a baby turtle hatch—and promptly be eaten by a frigate bird that swooped down and gobbled it up. Yikes!

Nearing sunset while returning to the pangas we saw the flamingos in a lagoon and rushed to an observation area for some quick final photos. Sadly mine didn't turn out but it was still a great way to end the cruise excursions.

We had a pleasant final evening exchanging contact info and saying goodbye to new friends. There was quite a show in the waters beside the boat where lots of BIG sharks and sea lions competed for flying fish. Dinner, drinks and what?!?---karaoke (I did a mean Pretty Woman), then time to pack before bed.

A farewell pic from Floreana.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Galapagos--Day Four

We woke up today amazed that this was only our third full day of the cruise. We’ve been kept so busy that it seemed like we’d been on the boat MUCH longer. That’s a good thing, and today was no different.

An early wake up and into the pangas by 8 to go into Puerto Ayora, the largest town (population 20,000) on Santa Cruz, the most populous island in Galapagos. First stop, the Charles Darwin Research Station.


The facility itself isn’t open to the public; we were there to visit the breeding grounds of the giant tortoises.

And we weren’t disappointed as a couple in one of the pens was going at it.


Our guide said mating can last up to three hours! Granted it’s not easy maneuvering with those massive shells involved, but, hey, maybe they just enjoy it!

We then had some free time to wander around town and purchase souvenirs before boarding a bus to visit a plantation producing artisanal coffee and sugar cane liquor. We stumbled upon a little fresh seafood stand serving both customers and critters!




I had signed up to ride a mountain bike to the plantation but we were both so hot and sweaty from the steamy weather that I changed my mind and rode the bus. Good call. Samples of coffee and the sugar cane products were for sale, and we got to raise a toast with the alcohol, which was 130 proof!

See where the beaker measures 65? That's the percentage of alcohol.


Oh, my!


Next we were driven to a buffet lunch at a hacienda in the highlands with a view of the Pacific.


After our meal and a bit of relaxing on to a long cave formed by the rapid flow of lava eons ago. Too dark for decent photos here.Then the highlight of the day—getting up close and personal with giant tortoises!


This was for us the iconic and quintessential Galapagos experience. We’d seen the photos of others doing it and now here we were taking our own pictures of these magnificent animals. It truly felt like we had been transported back into prehistoric times.





After crawling inside some empty shells and taking silly photos



we headed back to the ship. Being ashore all day without a break was exhausting, but after dinner there was a show with local musicians and dancers that we couldn’t miss. In fact we somehow got our second wind and found ourselves up dancing with lots of our fellow passengers.


Quite a day!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Galapagos--Day Three

And an early start today because of a very busy morning itinerary. First a steep, somewhat challenging vertical hike


to Darwin Lake, a super-salty crater lake on Isabela.


Great views and a cool surprise—a flightless cormorant family had built a nest right on the steps where we got off the panga!


After returning to the boat and changing clothes, we went back to Isabela to kayak along the shore. Very peaceful and fun. Several cormorants popped up next to our kayak, a Galapagos penguin was hanging out, and at one point a quite large stingray glided underneath us.



After nothing but perfect weather the sky got unexpectedly cloudy, and the crew decided the water was too choppy for the first afternoon excursion of more snorkeling. We chose to forego the hike scheduled afterwards in favor of sitting in the Jacuzzi and relaxing in our room with a bottle of wine.


The day ended with a sunset cocktail party and dinner.