Friday, November 30, 2012

Non-US Focused Air Travel Search and Safety

The better known travel sites, such as Expedia, Travelocity and Kayak, all favor U.S. airlines. But there is a world of other airlines out there, many of them offering seats at a lower price and perhaps a better itinerary (such as non-stop). I discovered this big time when I was researching a flight from the U.S. to Istanbul, then flying to Bucharest and flying home from Budapest. The airfare was exhorbitant.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Buying European Train Tickets Online

If you will be traveling in Europe by train, here is some info and web sites that could be helpful.

- If you are buying your ticket in country, write down the beginning and ending destination, the date and time of travel, and, if you know it, the train number. Hand this to the ticket clerk to make it clear where you want to go and when. I have a friend who wanted to go to Evian and the first ticket she received was to Avignon.

- For research from home start with the German National railway site. It sells tickets only for Germany but it includes the schedules for all of Europe. Remember to use the non-Anglicized spellings for place names such as Moskva instead of Moscow. For Venice, you want Venezia Santa Lucia, not Venezia Mestre which is located on the mainland.

Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings.

The title of this post is the title of another travel blog that I have.

Be sure to sign up and Follow By Email so you don't miss any of the helpful information.

Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stay Healthy During Your Travels

Trying to stay healthy while traveling? Of course.

Then be aware of these very germ-y places:

Hotel room TV remote - Who cleans them? No one, unless you do with an antiseptic wipe

Hotel bedspreads - Strip it off the bed and throw it on the floor. Use only the clean sheets that are changed between guests.

Hotel light switches - Doesn't everyone entering a hotel room touch the light switch? Another place for those antiseptic wipes.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Review: Caribbean Princess Canada New England Itinerary

I need to preface this review by saying I did not go on this cruise for the ship or the itinerary. Cruising friends from California and Arizona were sailing together on this cruise and I decided to accept the invitation to join them. Traveling alone, and therefore paying 200% for my cruise fare, I booked the cheapest inside cabin -- my first time in an inside. A bit nervous about that, I figured it was worth the try.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Using Smaller Memory Cards

 I consider this topic so important that I have written several posts on it. Here's one of them: Digital Cameras: What size memory card should you buy?

And now, here is another.

The largest memory card I carry for my point and shoot camera is 4 GB. Most of my cards are 2 GB and I even have a couple of 1 GB cards. Generally when traveling I go through my 2 GB cards first. Then I'll use my 1 GB card and save the 4 GB for last. I suspect this is contrary to what most people do but I have two (what I believe) very good reasons for doing it this way.

Damage: It is not hard to damage a memory card. You can accidentally turn your camera off before a picture is completely saved. The card can get wet. It could come in contact with something magnetic. And if you have taken only one 8 GB or 16 GB card on vacation, ALL of your pictures could be gone.

Loss: This just happened to a friend of mine. Literally. She is still away and it was info in an email she sent out. She had to take a taxi back to her hotel because she was ill and, not thinking right, she left her camera in the taxi. To say she was upset was putting it mildly. At this point I don't know what size card she was using or if she had only one card with her on the trip but based on past conversations, my guess is she had all her pictures on one large card. (I sure hope I'm wrong about this but probably won't find out until she gets home.)

So my recommendation, if anyone asks, is to take several smaller cards instead of one large one. Today cards are very inexpensive, and so are SD card holders, like the one shown below. Another idea for protecting those valuable once-in-a-lifetime pictures: a portable back up device.





Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Heading to Machu Picchu?

If you will be going to Machu Picchu as an independent traveler, be sure to get your tickets early. Since mid-2011, the number of visitors at Machu Picchu has been capped at 2,500 per day and Peru requires tickets to be purchased in advance. While tour operators will handle that for their clients, independent traveler will need to make their own arrangements.

However, the official ticket website of the Peruvian Ministerio de Cultura, is difficult to navigate and currently does not accept payments by credit cards. Reservations can still be made on the website, but payments for the tickets must be made in country at one of Several Banco de la Nacion de Peru locations.

Travelers can also purchase tickets through tour operators in Lima, Cuzco and the Sacred Valley. Expect to be charged a small service fee.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Chip and Pin Credit Cards

I wrote about chip and pin cards about a year and a half ago. Finally, years after counterparts in most of the world, some U.S. banks are finally issuing credit cards that have, in addition to the usual magnetic strip, the chip and pin technology.

Bank of America is leading the way. All of its new Travel Rewards, Privileges, Virgin Atlantic and Merrill Lynch credit cards will have the chip and pin. Upon request, B of A will replace several other cards with the technology including affinity cards from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Chase is making the technology available right now only to their Palladium cardholders.

And Wells Fargo has invited 15,000 customers to they have identified as frequent international travelers to take part in a test program.

Friday, September 14, 2012

New Trekking Pole Regulations in Peru

Friend of mine is heading to Peru next month. Her itinerary will take her to the Amazon (our trip got her initial interest up) and Machu Picchu. She's been in touch with her tour company about trekking poles to use when in Machu Picchu.

Here is the reply:

Previously plastic and wooden tips were allowed but the rules have now been
changed. No poles or sticks are allowed unless you need them for a genuine
medical reason. 


This applies to both  Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman in Cusco.

Strategy For Extra Room on a Plane

If you are traveling with someone else and your flight offers a 3 - 3 or 2 - 3 - 2 configuration, book the window/aisle seat on a 3 - 3 or the two aisle seats on the 2 - 3 - 2 seating arrangement. Since middle seats are the last seats to be chosen, if the flight is not full you have the chance of getting an empty seat between you and your companion.

I recently used this technique on flights to Lima, Peru. We lucked out on both our domestic and international flights going south. Almost had it on the international flight back but seating confusion with other passengers put one of them between us.

Still, it was nice to know it works some of the time.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Correct Entry Visas Are Your Responsibility

In the end, having the correct entry visa for the countries you will be visiting is the traveler's responsibility. Many people -- ourselves included -- have used visa services to obtain what we need before departing. I have to admit, while I've looked at my passport and the visa when it was returned, I never really thought much about whether or not we really had the right visa.

How do you know if you've got the right visa? Some times it should be easy. For instance, a traveler was planning on a 9 night cruise from Singapore to Shanghai and had applied for his visa in the US. He correctly filled out the form requesting a multiple-entry, 6-month visa. Included with his form was the correct information about his date of departure -- March 11, 2011. When he went to board the ship, he was denied boarding because the visa stated he had to be in China BEFORE March 8. Specifically the visa stated ENTRIES 01 and ENTER BEFORE 08MAR2011. For whatever reason, the Chinese Consulate has issued him a 90-day-validity visa - one that is good for a single entry for a 90-day visit. In this case, close examination of the visa when received might have set off warning bells and there might have been an opportunity to get it corrected.

Another traveler was flying from the US to Minsk, Belarus via Moscow, Russia. The correct visa for Belarus was obtained. The traveler had no trouble boarding his domestic flight to JFK but was refused boarding by Aeroflot in NY because he did not have a Russian visa. Afterwards, trying to find out what went wrong, he learned that if he did not have to change terminals in Moscow he did not need a Russian visa. However, his flight arrangements involved a terminal change and therefore he did need a Russian visa. How is a US traveler supposed to know he'd be changing terminals in Moscow? Moral of this story -- if your flights take you through Moscow, play it safe and get a Russian visa.

Then there was the traveler who was going from southern Burkina Faso into northwestern Benin. When the traveler mentioned to his tour company that he would arrange his visas to those countries when getting his Togo visa he was told he did not need to get a visa for Benin. Instead he was told that he could get his Benin visa at the border when they cross. However, the visa he obtained at the border was only a 48-hour visa. He had to make a trip to the capital, a trip that took more than 48-hours, to get it extended. Besides paying for the extension and the penalty fees, he lost two days of his travel in that country. In this case, the tour company he used was a British company and their experience was with citizens of the United Kingdom. While the traveler did have a guidebook that clearly stated the policy for US citizens, he felt assured that he would have no problem at the border.

Only the embassy or consulate of a country can provide reliable information about entry visas. Visit the website of the countries you will be visiting or contact the embassy or consulate directly. Remember that, in the end, the responsibility is yours.




Friday, August 31, 2012

BackBid and LuxuryLink Can Save You Money on Hotel Rooms

 From AARP magazine:

How about letting hotel chains compete for your business? At BackBid.com, once you make a reservation, other hotels offer competing bids, often throwing in extras like free breakfast. Just pick the deal you like best. At LuxuryLink.com, you place bids on discounted rooms. Minimum bids are up to 65 percent off normal rates. A recent stay for 5 nights at an all-inclusive beach front stay on the island of St. Lucia, sold for half off the retail price.

Monday, August 20, 2012

They are charging for WHAT???

Did you know ...

that if you buy your airline ticket with a phone call to a real human being you'll be charged for it? American charges $25 per ticket and get this ... if you buy it at the counter you'll pay $35 per ticket! You can avoid all charges by buying online.

Spirit Airlines charges for carry on luggage. If you pay the fee at time you book, the charge is $30. If you wait until you do your online check in, the fee goes up to $35 and, at the airport, you could pay $40-$45 per bag. Carefully compare Spirit's supposedly very low prices with baggage fee added to the fare on another airline before booking your ticket on Spirit.

most airlines are charging for the first checked bag on a domestic flight. Fees vary. For now, the first checked bag on an international flight is still checked free. Avoid most baggage fees by 1) using only carry on luggage or 2) getting an airline affinity card. One of the newest perks on cards from American and United is no baggage fee for the first bag on a domestic flight and two checked bags for free on an international flight.

airlines are charging for the best economy seats such as bulkhead seats. Many airlines even configure their planes with economy seats that have a few extra inches of leg room ... which they charge a fee for, of course. While I suspect most passengers would just hope the plane is full and they get one of these seats by default, there are times paying extra might be worth it .... such as that international long haul. If you have a 10 hour flight, and the extra fee is $100, that's $10 per hour for a more comfortable seat. If the math makes sense to you, don't hesitate to pay the fee.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Casa Loma, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

We were in Toronto over the weekend. We've been there several times before but this is the first time we visited Casa Loma and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.


We spent over three hours there, wandering around the rooms and the gardens. There is parking on site at $3 per hour with a maximum of $9. When paying the entrance fee I asked about a AAA discount and got an additional 10% off. Nice.

We have visited historical estates in the past but this one was really nice. What I know enhanced our visit were the free audio guides you can pick up in the gift shop. Areas of the estate are numbered and you key the number into the guide to hear about the area you are in. The guide can be paused and it shows images. In many cases there is the option of keying in another number to hear more details about the room or history of the area, or culture of the time.

We ate lunch in the cafe which had very nice offerings plus specials of the day. We thought the prices were very reasonable. However we were very disappointed in the gift shop -- everything was Casa Loma themed except for the food (maple-flavored items). We had, for instance, hoped to have found some neat jewelry.

That said, if you are interested in restored estates, Casa Loma comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cruise Port Capacity

If you are doing a land tour and will be visiting a popular cruise stop, you may adjust your itinerary so that you are not visiting that city/town when there are several cruise ships in port.

The site Cruise TT can provide some information. Scroll down to the country, click on the city, and then click on the month and year to find out what ships are scheduled to dock.

Dubrovnik's Port Authority now lists the schedule on its web site. The link is here. Next choose the month (1 through 12) and then click on "Prikaz Izvjesca." Because of its small size and stone walls, Dubrovnik can easily be overwhelmed when several ships are in port.

Several other ports that are easily overwhelmed by cruise passengers are Venice, Italy, Rhodes, Greece and Barcelona, Spain.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Be Careful About Incurring Mini Bar Fees

Paying for snacks from the mini bar is never in my travel budget. It's kind of like the bedspread in the room ... it might be there but there is absolutely no way I'm going to make any use of it. However, it you are tempted to peek around in the little fridge, be careful. Some mini bars have sensors and by just moving things around or lifting something and putting it back could trigger a charge to your bill.


Want to avoid any problems by having your mini fridge emptied before you arrived? Ask, first, if you'll be charged a restocking fee to have them put the stuff back.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Did you know ....

that Costa Rica has no standing army? Because of that, it has been able to avoid military interference in its political affairs, unlike some of its neighboring countries.

that income from tourism is almost 70% of Costa Rica's gross domestic product. It's therefore no surprise it is a great country to visit -- they work very hard keeping tourists happy.

that many tourists come to see the magnificent Resplendent Quetzal which is actually the national bird of Guatamala ... while the national bird of Costa Rica is the dreary looking clay-colored thrush.



Join us as we head to Costa Rica in April 2013 and learn more interesting facts about this wonderful country.

Early booking deadline is August 24th with special gifts going out to whoever deposits $250 by that date.

Email me at diane.in.ny@gmail.com for a copy of the trip flyer.








Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jewish Guide to London

There is a new guidebook from Interlink Books called "Jewish London: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Visitors and Londoners." It provides information on Jewish-heritage sites and has directions and maps for several walking tours.

" The book is a must for anyone interested in exploring Jewish life in London past and present." --June Sawyers Chicago Tribune

The book can be purchased through Amazon.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

So Excited About Costa Rica

So excited to get the previous post out I obviously didn't take the time to proofread it. Fixed the post now.

And unlike my quick post, LOTS of time was spent on planning this Costa Rica trip.

Why a custom trip? Easy. The trips I found either moved at WAY to fast a pace or were ridiculously expensive for such an affordable country. I have been to Costa Rica before on one of those fast paced trips. My traveling companion handled it just well but I huffed and puffed behind the group.

I don't want to do that type of traveling anymore, yet want Jerry (with his love of photographing wildlife - he would LOVE to get his own shots of a Resplendent Quetzal) to enjoy this wonderful country. That means a slower pace. Yet, for those that like things more active, there will be lots of opportunities to purchase additional activities.

Come join us ... email me at diane.in.ny@gmail.com for details.

Costa Rica Flyer Ready

The flyer for our custom Costa Rica group trip is ready. It is geared to seeing lots of wildlife while traveling at a slower pace.

Email me at diane.in.ny@gmail.com for the details.

Early booking gift if you deposit $250 by August 24!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Vacation Rentals

If you are considering a vacation rental overseas, check out airbnb. Mentioned in several well known publications such as Newsweek, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, airbnb is a great resource for finding that perfect vacation rental location.

Based upon what I've read, the website is easy to use and is loaded with useful information.All of the properties are vetted so the descriptions are trustworthy. In fact, you will find that some apartments have unflattering comments.

What adds to the comfort level of using airbnb is that while airbnb is paid when you book, the owner doesn't get their money until after you arrive.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Keeping Food Costs Low When Traveling Internationally

Start by staying at a lodging that includes breakfast. Be sure to eat hearty so you can get by with a light -- and inexpensive -- lunch.

Buy sandwiches at the local deli or supermarket. Or the classic bread, cheese and wine.

Look for restaurants offering a "plate" or "menu" of the day which are typically cheaper than other menu items.

If the restaurant has a counter or tall tables, eating standing up is cheaper than eating sitting down.

Check the menu if you want to eat outside. In Lisbon we discovered (fortunately not too late) that it was more expensive to eat outside.

If food or water is placed on the table without your ordering it, be sure to ask if there is a charge before touching it. Americans, used to having bread placed on the table, typically dig right in, only to discover the bread is not free. If you don't want the item, politely ask the waiter to take it away.

Check the menu to determine if tax and/or tip is included or if they will automatically be added to the bill. In Iceland, both tax and tip are included in the menu price. Nice!

Stay young and eat at a university cafeteria. This is also an opportunity to have some interesting conversations.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings.

That is the title of another travel blog I've been working on.

While I could be wrong, I believe most of my Travel Snippets subscribers are interested in reading about my personal travels. While it is nice to post a travel hint or tip here or there, I have turned up several resources that are providing me with a lot of tidbits of information and I don't want to clutter my personal travel blog. So Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings. evolved.

If you have enjoyed reading my Travel Tips in this blog, then you'll definitely want to subscribe to Travel Ideas. Travel Tips. Travel Warnings. New posts drop there every couple of days. Looking for ideas on places to go and things to do? You'll find it there. Want tips to make travel easier? You'll find that there also. And you'll also find warnings about problems in countries around the world to help keep your travel safe.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Travel Insurance - What Happens If You Just Don't Go

Travel insurance can cover a lot of things. It can cover the cost of the trip if you can't go because of illness or death. It can cover flight interruptions, lost luggage, medical expense and evacuation costs.

But what happens to your insurance payment if you just cancel the trip. Well, it depends upon which insurance company you use.

Allianz, formally Access America, will allow you to transfer the coverge, once, to another trip.

With Travelguard you'll lose the premium totally unless (from a question I emailed to Travelguard):


If you have set travel dates for an alternate trip, we can generally modify the purchased policy’s travel dates, destination, etc with a request in writing to match the new trip’s information.

Travelex said it would be refunded if there were "no penalties incurred" (whatever that means) and the trip was cancelled by the tour company due to lack of participation -- not by you.

Anyone have any information about other travel insurance companies?

Looks like this is a good question to ask before buying your travel insurance.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Join Us - We'll Be Heading to Costa Rica!

Jerry and I started looking at tours to Costa Rica. What we found for a small group with a standard fixed itinerary would cost around $3600 per person based on double occupancy (air and insurance not included) for nine days. Not what we are looking for.

First, if we are going to go that distance, I don't want to spend only 9 days. Second, the per diem is a bit on the high side. So instead, I’ve decided to work with my travel agent on a totally customized 14 night itinerary, where the cost will be under $2900 per person based on double occupancy (air and insurance not included). 

The group will be small and personalized -- and the pace will be slower (mostly active seniors) with a focus on wildlife including Tortuguero, Arenal, Monteverde and Manual Antonio.  For those who like a little more on their daily agenda, optional activities will be available to fill out your day.  The plan right now is departure in early April 2013.  Singles are welcome although there is a single supplement.  Final itinerary and cost will be available in a few weeks and the number of participants will be limited.

We hope you'll think about joining us. Please contact me at fourmyblog@gmail.com if you'd like your name put on the interest list! Remember it will be a small group and when reservations open, it will be on a first come, first served basis. So get your request for information in early and you'll be in the first group that receives details.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Buying in the Duty Free Shop - Don't Forget 3-1-1

I had been talking with my daughter about buying stuff in the duty free shop when we flew from Lima after our Amazon trip. She reminded me that I would have to consider the TSA liquids and gels 3-1-1 rule.

When she few from Italy she saw several people had bought alcohol in the duty free shop which is delivered to them directly on the airplane. After they went through customs in the U.S., if they had a connecting flight, they had to pack the liquid in their checked suitcase. This caught several people off guard.

For one, some were traveling only with only carry ons -- like we do -- and really didn't want to check their bag. And others had bags they were checking that were already stuffed to the gills. So there they all sat on the floor in the airport, rearranging their packed suitcases to make room for the bottles they had bought in the duty free shop.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Protecting Your Identity

Since 2007, all US passports have carried Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips. Some credit cards also have them. Unfortunately, these devices can be scanned by a nearby person with the right equipment, raising concerns about identity theft. Fortunately, there are now many products available to protect your information and they are not expensive. Here are a sampling of the types of wallets available:





Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ever Want to Visit LEGOLAND?

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The winner will receive a hotel room for two nights, a voucher for a car rental and will also have a Meet and Greet with a LEGOLAND Master Model Builder. My grandkids will love the new water park that opened in May of this year. It’s got a wave pool, tube slides and body slides. We can create, design and then build our very own LEGO vessel that we can sail down 1,000 feet of lazy river. Funny thing about LEGOS … one never seems to really outgrow them.

Plus, the winner will receive a free set of Atlantic luggage. I have used Atlantic luggage in the past and love it. It is affordable, durable and lightweight – just perfect for families that love to travel. There are several collections to choose from and each includes a variety of sizes and styles. This makes sure there is something that is just perfect for everyone.
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Friday, June 29, 2012

Cruising? There's an app for that.

Berlitz offers a full cruising guide which has route maps and details on 285 cruise ships. It also has information on specialized cruises and cruise trends.



Now, there is an app for that. The ship data is also available for $9.99 as an app for Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Look for "Berlitz Cruise Ships" in the app store.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Visa and Passport Help

If you will be traveling overseas and have questions about visa requirements, an excellent resource is the U.S. Department of State American Traveling Aboard website. You can also get passport information from the State Department's website.

If you have any additional questions, you can check the website for the foreign embassy of the country you will be visiting. A list of these websites can also be found on the State Department site.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Unusual Airport Amenities

My daughter sent me the following link. Nice that some airports recognize the stress of air travel and try to make the long waits go a little faster.

And if I have to be stranded for a bunch of hours, I hope it is at Changi Airport in Singapore.

14 airport amenities that will make you long for a layover

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cartegena, Columbia Ferry to Old City

I was reading on a travel forum that there is now ferry service from the cruise port to the Old City. According to the forum poster, it provided a nice alternative to the taxis waiting at the port gate.

However, I have searched extensively and have not been able to turn up any official site or further information. If anyone can provide details, please post a Comment to this post.

Thanks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Flying With Only Carry-ons

My husband and I try, whenever possible, to travel with just carry-ons. Flying from the U.S., the typical allowance is two carry-ons: a personal item (like a purse or briefcase) that will fit under the seat in front of us and another bag that meets airline specifications (typically a small rolling suitcase) which will go in the overhead bin.

The only time I ran into a problem in the U.S. was when I was returning from a visit to my Dad in Florida. And it wasn't the airline that stopped me ... it was a TSA agent. I had a very small rolling suitcase, my backpack and a small purse. Nope ... I could only have two bags. So I took my jacket out of my backpack, put my purse into the empty space and, with my two bags and my jacket (instead of my purse) slung over my arm, I was good to go. DUMB!

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to remind travelers to check the carry-on regulations for their return airline. Several years ago we traveled to Peru with backpacks and a rolling suitcase. No problem going south. However, when it was time to check in for returning home (we were flying Lan Peru), we were told all carry-ons had to be 15 lbs or less. While our backpacks weren't weighed, it was obvious our rolling bags were more than 15 lbs and we had to check them.




Friday, June 8, 2012

Our Amazon Voyage - Pictures



We arrived in Iquitos and were greeted with a torrential downpour. By the time we got to the harbor to board La Aquamarina, the sky was dramatic.





The cooler next to the bar was always kept full with beer, soft drinks (Inka Kola, anyone) and water. Help yourself. Water was free. Write down on the Bar List anything else you took. Both of us had Amazonia beer and liked it.





Wildlife could be found everywhere, including my shoulder and Jerry's hat.






Our naturalists - Segundo and Johnny







A local fisherman display and selling his catch to us.
One of the larger villages along the Amazon as we got closer to Iquitos.


The colors caught my attention.



Thursday, June 7, 2012

Our Amazon Voyage - More Daily Details - Final Two Days

Friday
Friday was to be our hike on terra firma -- some of the high ground that doesn't get flooded. Again we dressed in jungle attire. While hats were not necessary for keeping off the sun, it was suggested we might want to wear them to keep things out of our hair. When we disembarked the skiffs, walking sticks were offered. Jerry and I each took one as we knew the trail might be steep and knew for sure it would be wet and muddy. (This was the walk we had been advised to bring old shoes or sneakers for.)

It was promised to be a slow paced walk and it was as promised. With the heat and humidity I'm not sure we could have moved faster. Our group of 25 was split up in 12 and 13 -- one group going clockwise on the circular trail and the other group going counterclockwise. Each group had a local guide who would go off into the brush, looking for things to show us.

yellow striped frog

leaf mimic lizard

leaf mimic frog
carefully watching our steps





That afternoon we were treated to a towel folding demonstration as we sailed back to Iquitos. As the sun set, we were treated to a glorious sunset.


Saturday
We are back in Iquitos and this morning we were picked up by a tour boat and taken to see the floating part of the city. Quite interesting with houses and shops that, literally, rise and fall with the water.




Next we are treated to a visit to one of the local schools. As was our previous experience with the children in the area, these children also were a delight. They loved having their picture taken so they could view themselves on the digital camera screen. They took our hands to walk with us.



We were here to lean about a garden project that the children manage ... some really unusual and beautiful flowers. Produce from the garden is sold to help pay for special projects.



















Next on the itinerary was lunch and a day room at the El Dorato hotel. I was more interested in shopping, so after lunch, and instead of resting, headed off with a guide to the Artisan Marketplace, an easy walk from the hotel.

Then our flight back to Lima, where we all congregated so those leaving the group (most going onto Machu Picchu) could say goodbye. We also got our Amazon t-shirts and our passes for using the VIP lounge at the Lima airport.

So ends the day to day report of our trip. I am planning on posting some additional photos and videos over the next couple of days. Hope you enjoyed reading.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Our Amazon Voyage - More Daily Details - Continued

Thursday (continued)
Thursday afternoon was our visit to a shaman or maestro. The shaman's home had been flooded out and the village mayor took us to the home that was hosting the shaman until the waters receded. All 25 of us, plus both our guides, packed ourselves into a room that ended up being hot with no breeze. For some of us, including myself, it was a difficult hour. Towards the end I was beginning to feel queasy and I thought it was the shaman's smoke (see video) but once outside Jerry insisted I drink some water (I was soaking wet). That took care of the queasiness ... I was getting dehydrated.

Johnny, one of our naturalist guides, explained what the shaman does. There were samples of plants and roots curing in bottles and they were passed around for us to smell. There was no question that Johnny thoroughly believes in the shaman's skills. (He and Segundo, our other naturalist guide, will be spending several months with the shaman to transcribe his knowledge into a book.)

After the explanations, and a question and answer time, the shaman blessed Johnny and each of us received the same blessing as the shaman worked his way around the room.

video

As we started to leave the village, the mayor came after us in his boat. He had almost forgotten to show us something.

He had found a baby capybara in the jungle ... apparently its mother had been killed ... and he was raising it in his home. It was placed in the bottom of our skiff and, because it was no longer going to be returned to the jungle, we were allowed to handle it. I have seen them full grown and they aren't very attractive but, like any animal, the baby was adorable.

That night we had a power point presentation on the geographical diversity of Peru.










Sunday, June 3, 2012

More Videos From Our Amazon Cruise

(Note: Videos don't always come through on email subscriptions. To see the videos, go to the actual post by clicking the post title.)

Our first day out of Iquitos, sailing on the flooded Amazon River.


video

When we started out on our excursions, the guides were in a hurry to get us to our destination ... some small tributary along the Amazon. Note the muddy brown water. I'll point out, later, the mirror-like black water we also saw.


video


Once we got there, the skiffs slowed to a crawl as we searched for wildlife and listened to the sounds of the jungle.


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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cruise The West Coast of Africa

Found some information on cruises that sail along the west coast of Africa. Thought my regular readers, some of whom I know are pretty adventurous, might be interested in reading about them.

Actually, the concept of West Africa cruising is kind of new to the word of travel. With this type of cruise you can discover this under-explored area of the continent with ease, while uncovering West Africa's unique and varied historical, cultural and natural landscapes in comfort and in style.

There are three itineraries available in April 2013 that will allow you to visit 10 African nations. The itineraries combine activity and leisure including, bird watching with naturalists, local market visits, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and visiting the birthplace of voodoo.

You can learn from the ship's experienced staff, including historians, anthropologists and ornithologists

And you will also have the opportunity to explore unreachable coastlines and traditional villages via a fleet of Zodiacs including the Bijagos Archipelago off the coast of Guinea-Bissau

Interested in more details? Click on the link below. Book by June 30, 2012 and save up to 25%.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Our Amazon Voyage - More Daily Details

Wednesday 


Kitchen and eating area at station 1.5.
This was the day to actually enter the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve. We stopped at Ranger Station 1.5 which is staffed by volunteers, living in very spartan conditions. It provided a potty break for those in need.





 

Our second stop was Ranger Station 2, a much more substantial structure. We had lunch there, brought from the ship. We were all very hot and very thirsty and I did something I don't usually do ... I had an ice cold beer. Tasted great!







In between our visits to the ranger stations we saw and heard red howler monkeys and horned screamers ... huge birds with very loud screeching calls.








We returned to La Aquamarina in time for siesta. Afterwards we had a cooking lesson. I forgot the name of what we made but it was partially cooked rice mixed with raw egg scooped onto a leaf and then added was a hard boiled egg, chicken, olives and a bunch of spices -- all tied up in the leaf -- and everything boiled for 30 minutes. Everyone had a chance to get a scoop and taste it at dinner that night -- very mild tasting. We all did a good job tying the leaf closed -- nothing came apart in the water.  :)


Thursday 
We left at 6:30 a.m. again to make our first village visit. This was only the third time La Aquamarina was stopping here. I had brought a box of school supplies and our guide told me I had brought enough for the entire school. It was delivered to the head man of this village. I was pleased of course.

We visited the home of one of the families and learned about their life from the woman head of household. Her husband is the second most important man in the village and he was out fishing. We were honored (and I mean that literally) with a visit from the village matriarch. The two women had such stunning features, I couldn't stop taking pictures.




The highlight of this visit was the children. All along the river, in this village and another village we visited, the children were all laughing and carefree. At the school, our guide, Johnny, led the children through some impromptu singing. He was wonderful with them and, based upon all the laughter, the children loved it too.




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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Our Amazon Voyage - Some Daily Details

We boarded La Aquamarina Saturday evening to find our luggage already in our cabin. One of the first orders of business was a safety drill.

We then had welcome aboard pisco sours and our first dinner. As was to be typical at dinner for the remainder of the trip, our IE expedition leader, Renzo, would give us the itinerary for the next morning. (At lunch we would get the agenda for the afternoon and evening.)

Sunday

We had rain (our only significant rain) which tapered off as the morning wore on. It was much cooler than I thought it would be -- perhaps because the sun was hidden by clouds. We were on board the skiffs, starting our search for wildlife.

In the afternoon, we went piranha fishing for red belly piranha. Might be hard to believe but my fisherman husband and I got skunked. Still, it was fun. And guess what was added to the dinner menu ...







Monday
 We had an optional 6:30 a.m. excursion. I thought it was funny they called it optional because, in reality, all the excursions are optional. Anyway, Jerry thought he'd be leaving me in bed that early in the morning. Not so! I didn't come to the Amazon to sleep.

That evening we were entertained by "the band" and we had a power point presentation on the rainforest. Then to bed. Not too many people hang around to socialize at night. It is hot, muggy and buggy.


Tuesday 
This time it was a not-optional 6:30 a.m. departure. Unlike Monday where we returned to La Aquamarina for breakfast, this time we had breakfast in the skiff.






Because we would be out for a bunch of hours, there was some concern about a bathroom break. Have no fear. IE thinks of everything, including an Amazon porta-potty, with privacy provided by a poncho curtain.  :)








We returned to La Aquamarina for a late lunch, siesta time and then a late afternoon lecture about the reserve we would be visiting and conservation efforts in the area.
After dinner we headed out for a night excursion. We settled in to wait for the sunset with ginger tea sweetened with molasses, yucca chips, peanuts and cookies. We saw giant water lily pads and, as night settled in, frogs, crickets and a baby cayman.









The blossoms open white, then turn purple after they are fertilized.


We could only touch it if we had no insect repellent on our hands.

Returned to the water very close to where it was removed.

















Viewing the Videos

While typically the photos come through to my readers who subscribe by email, I have learned that the video links don't always drop through.

To view the original post, and the videos, simply click on the post title to be taken directly to the blog post.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Videos From Our Amazon Cruise

This is from Saturday morning when we toured downtown Lima -- an old and beautiful plaza.


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Below, we are at Iquitos harbor and La Aquamarina is docked where we can't access it by foot. One of the skiffs picks us all up to take us to our home for the next week.


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(More videos coming. I know they take a long time to load and I don't want to slow the blog down by putting too many in one post.)


Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: International Expeditions – Amazon Voyage Aboard The Aquamarina

I am going to try and do a very through review here but for those that want the answer in a nutshell -- this trip was fantastic -- with International Expeditions providing a great experience. I have no hesitation recommending them and hope to be able to take another trip with them in the near future.

Note high water mark on tree in center of picture.

I spent a lot of time researching a provider and time of year for this trip. Deciding the time of year was easy -- end of the rainy season in May. Typically at the end of the rainy season the water is about 35 to 45 feet higher than in the dry season. This meant we would be 35 to 45 feet closer to the canopy and, therefore, to the birds. It also meant being able to get deeper into the tributaries on the skiffs. This year the water was even higher, at about 50 feet above dry season level. For us it was a benefit. No so for the people who lived close to the water and were flooded out.




The skiffs used for excursions were another reason I picked IE. Very broad beamed, with handrails at the bow and seats along each side, they were easy to embark and disembark, comfortable and very stable – allowing passengers to stand and turn without rocking the boat. Even though one skiff could hold all passengers, two skiffs were used, each with a naturalist guide.











Finally, another factor setting IE off from the competition is that IE travels the furthest up the Ucayali River, the only boat that visits Ranger Station # 2 in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve. Our guides pointed out to us that the list of tourists in the guest book were all visitors from La Aquamarina.


Service started before we even left home. In our pre-trip package was a personalized trip itinerary. There were extra copies of the itinerary and contact information to pass along to a friend/relative. And there was a list of the names of all of the trip participants.

When we arrived at the Lima airport, we were met as promised by a representative from Lima Tour’s, IE’s local representative. A 45-minute taxi ride took us to our pre-cruise hotel.



PRE-CRUISE

Accommodations were at the Swissotel in Lima. We had booked an extra night pre-IE trip and there was a bit of confusion at the hotel about whether we were booked one night (our pre-night) or two nights (pre-night plus IE standard pre-cruise night). I don’t know where the confusion came from since we had booked the extra night through IE but it was quickly straightened out and we did have the same room for both nights with an upgrade to the executive floor. Plus we had a regular reminder that Lima is in an earthquake zone.


The hotel is located in the business area of Lima and there wasn’t much to see or do in the area – not that we planned on doing anything in the hotel area. We had made other arrangements (see post – In Lima, Birding).

Breakfast was included and was excellent with Peruvian dishes, eggs, omelets, meats, French toast, fresh fruit (my first taste of passion fruit), juices (papaya, guava, grapefruit, etc.), muesli, yogurt, etc. What we noticed was that the selection of pastry was very small. Guess Peruvians do not eat pastry for breakfast. We ate dinner Friday night at the hotel's Gourmet Deli. With the 20% off coupon we got at check-in, we had a nice late night dinner for all of 55 Soles (about $19).








The tour officially started Saturday morning when we all boarded a luxurious bus for a morning tour of Lima. Having already toured downtown Lima on our previous visit, I expected this to be same-old, same-old. The bus took us to the main plaza where we disembarked for a two hour walking tour.



Well we were surprised when one of the places we walked to was a private house, originally owned by one of Pizzaro’s commanders. We got to see the inside of this beautifully maintained home. What a treat!














The remainder of the tour around central Lima were places we had already been to -- the Cathedral and the Catacombs, to name just two.  We simply waited it out, enjoying the people watching. Shortly before noon our bus picked us up and we were taken to the airport Ramada for a very nice lunch to be followed by our flight to Iquitos.

THE SHIP 

La Aquamarina is a small ship, with 12 cabins. One cabin on our sailing was a triple so we had 25 passengers. Cabins are on the main deck and one level up is an open seating area and the dining room.

The cabins are small, each holding two twin beds. But we had plenty of room. Our suitcases fit under the beds. The open “closet” had a hanging area (plenty of hangers), a shelf area below, then two small drawers and two larger drawers below that. Along with a desk and chair, and how light we travel, we had plenty of room. We hung most of our clothes, needing only one drawer apiece. I used the shelf below the hanging clothes for my “dresser top” and Jerry used the desk. There were also drawers in the desk and a night table between the beds.

The room had a safe and there was a key for the door. While we know some passengers used both, we used neither and had no problems. Generally, items could be left around (cameras, binoculars, books, etc.) and you would find them again right where you left them. Many people left cameras in the open seating area instead of taking them back into their air conditioned cabin -- thus avoiding the problem of a cold lens hitting the hot, muggy air and fogging up.

The outside seating area had a bar at one end and there was a cooler next to the bar that held beer, soda and water. Water was free and plentifully available throughout the trip. The cooler was on an honor basis, with passengers writing down what they took on a clipboard located on top of the bar. Also on the bar, during the day, were snacks like chips and nuts. At night, there were hot hors d’ouevres.



The dining room was small but comfortable, with food served buffet style. It was also where we had two power point presentations and where the band played at night. Coffee and tea were always available but I have to admit that the coffee needed a good dose from the nearby canister of Nestle chocolate to be palatable.

Food was mostly Peruvian style. Always a choice for vegetarians plus chicken and/or beef. It was delicious and there was never a shortage.

At breakfast and lunch we had a choice of two juices such as papaya, guava and mango. At dinner it was water unless you got an alcoholic beverage at the bar. The first night we were treated to a Welcome Aboard pisco sour and the last night we were treated to a glass of wine.

DAILY ROUTINE

Of course each day had special highlights but in general, the first part of the trip was strictly nature. From Sunday through Wednesday we made a minimum of two skiff excursions per day. Some days we made three, with an early morning departure (6:30 a.m.) and one night departure (7:30 p.m.). We would return for a meal and after lunch there was time for a siesta.

One day we left early ate breakfast on the skiff. Another time we left ate lunch at Ranger Station # 2 in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve.



The second part of the trip included culture, where we visited a village and had a wonderful time with the children, and also visited a shaman, where we learned about what he does and each of us received a blessing. (Later, there will be more detailed posts on these visits.)

Before dinner most nights there was a “battle of the bands.” Of course it was the same crew members each night but it was fun with the band having a different name each night. Three crew members plus our two naturalist guides entertained us. What talent!!! The story we were told is that one of the naturalist guides “found” the three musicians who were playing in bars, the airport and places like that. He persuaded the boat company to hire them and, once on board, they received training as cabin stewards, etc. At night they played and boy, it was a treat. I will be posting a video and I hope you come back to my blog and take a moment to watch it.

POST-CRUISE

We had a brief tour of Iquitos and a visit to a school. Lunch was at the top hotel in Iquitos. Guests were given their own room for a few hours, to freshen up and relax before flying back to Lima. I wanted to do some last minute shopping and arrangements were made for a guide to go with me to a local craft market.

Upon arrival in Lima, several passengers, including us, were going separate ways. We said goodbye in the lobby of the airport Ramada (where some where staying before their extension to Machu Picchu) and we were given passes to the airport's VIP lounge while we waited for our flight. (I spoke with my TA and she said she has NEVER heard of a tour company providing VIP passes -- IE is definitely a class act.)

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FINAL NOTES

In all fairness, I do need to write that not everything was 100% perfect but it was all minor.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post there was some confusion about our two night stay at the Swissotel. When we returned from our day of birding our key cards didn't work and we had to get them re-keyed.

We did not receive our Welcome letter from IE with departure information for Saturday morning (the day we were flying to Iquitos) until late on Friday. I would have felt more comfortable if it had been waiting for us when we checked in, especially with the confusion about the length of our stay.

Information we received from IE was that there was free laundry on board La Aquamarina on Wednesday. Actually, there was free laundry available every day. (If we had known this I would have brought even less clothes.....).

We were told the bar bill needed to be settled with a VISA card and only a VISA card. That turned out to be incorrect as the bar bill could also be settled with MasterCard and cash (either soles and dollars).

Finally, our lunch at El Dorado Hotel in Iquitos the last day, while tasty, was cold. The rooms, though, were more than adequate and Jerry enjoyed relaxing there while I was out shopping.

(There will be additional posts about this trip. All will have the Label "May 2012" so just click that at the bottom of this post to read more.)