Monday, June 22, 2015

Honeymoon Encounter With a Hammerhead Shark in Galapagos

Vote. That's what we asked our wedding guests to do. Vote on our honeymoon destination. We gave them six options and there was a tie--my mother had voted twice.  After a brief hem and haw session, she chose Bali. Yes, Bali was the winner. But the only month we could take proper time for a honeymoon (I'm talking about 3 weeks) was during Bali's rainy season. So, Galapagos became our honeymoon destination. We also spent a few days before in Quito, Ecuador and a few days after in Banos, Ecuador, which made for the perfect itinerary.

We cruised for 7 nights/8 days on the luxury yacht, Beluga. ( on the Tower Itinerary.  If you plan a Galapagos cruise, you will soon become an expert in choosing a western itinerary, eastern or perhaps a combination.

During the first excursion, we spotted a Flamingo eating (apparently they eat about 12 hours a day). We live in Florida and had never seen one--a fact that stunned our on-board naturalist, Juan Tapia (amazing, amazing, amazing at what he does:

I made new friends, too--lots and lots and lots of sea lion friends. If only I could have gotten one home. We do have a pool and a lake right outside!  We kept away from the male seal lions, who could be a little aggressive sometimes. And who can blame them--each is on his own, protecting his whole beach-full of females against any challenging males that might swim in.


See my camera? It worked great five years ago on a safari to Tanzania (see my post "A" is for Attitude). But it paled in comparison to Juan's with its 50 zoom and crystal clear shots. So... next trip will include enough budgeting for a new camera!

The marine and land iguanas in the Galapagos were works of art. Just stunning.

Make sure to bring a waterproof camera to take snorkeling. The Beluga provided snorkeling excursions (and equipment) daily. Being in the water with these little Galapagos Penguins (and sea lions, of course) was a lot of fun.

And also fun were all the birds in the Galapagos. I could do several posts just about them. They might have been the most fascinating of the wildlife on our trip.  On the Beluga's farewell survey, we marked Genovesa Island as our favorite given the exposure to the birds.  It was hard to pick a favorite, though. Each island offers something unique. There was an excursion to Sullivan Bay at Santiago Island that made you feel as if you were walking on the moon. It had incredible lava formations and patterns. But back to the birds... there is one bird that the locals make some money on--Boobies.

Blue-Footed Boobie
Baby Boobie

Red-Footed Boobie

Pair of Nazca Boobies
Yes, I gave in... 

What wasn't all the way fun at the moment it happened was a Hammerhead Shark. Juan told us we might be seeing some on a particular snorkeling excursion. I figured they'd be deep down or that maybe it was a rare occurrence.  Well... a large gray body with fins (it seemed just about everywhere) passed under me. I stared harder, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. A head (a hammer head!) swayed left of the body. I screamed for my husband. He didn't hear at first given how far he'd drifted. When he came over, he took off in the direction of the shark. I thought he'd lost his mind. We didn't have a working underwater camera. None was needed for me. The image of that head and that body is burned into my brain (cliche, but true!)  But, guess what? I swam with a Hammerhead Shark on my honeymoon!

What memorable travel moments are burned into your brain?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

At-Home Vacation in South Florida (tips from a local, here!)

A visitor to my blog thought it would be interesting to know my perspective on the place I call home.  (That's the West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida area).  She made a point that super touristy can be fun, but they're often expensive, overcrowded and don't always paint a true picture of what a place is like.

I wondered for a moment if she was a mind reader. My husband and I take either Saturday or Sunday each weekend as a vacation day. We pretend we're tourists in our own neck of the woods. It's also one day we set aside all our cares... that is just for us. So, what have we done for our at-home vacation days?

Everglades Air Boat ride!  See various species of birds and alligators!  It's a short side trip rather than a day's adventure. So this activity can be fit in with other vacation day fun.  There are many air boat operators to choose from.

Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi!  This is an inexpensive, entertaining, eye-popping way to visit the Fort Lauderdale sites.  You can hop on and hop off as you please. During our first water taxi experience, we stayed mostly on the water taxi.  The stories were just too good. A water taxi employee narrates as you go about various sites along the intracoastal waterway, which yacht is whose (Steven Spielberg's was docked one time we went) and the history of some of the homes (and lists a who's who of its inhabitants).  This is also a fun way to see some pretty holiday lights on the mansions and yachts.

Not Steven Spielberg's. Just so pretty.

Fort Lauderdale's White House

Nature walks!  We love Green Cay in Boynton Beach, FL and Wakodahatchee in Delray Beach, FL  These are free and offer an incredible variety of plants, marine life, birds, mammals and insects. Another we enjoy is Okeeheelee in West Palm Beach.  Remember a hat, sunblock, sunglasses, water, camera and binoculars.

Japanese Gardens! One of our favorite spots for tranquility and beauty and some wildlife is Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Eat sushi there, too. The gardens flow from one theme to another. Don't miss out on feeding the enormous fish and turtles. (I always root for the turtles). You can buy food for a minimal fee at the hutch near the Bonsai Collection.  Water is provided (free) at strategic points throughout the gardens and restrooms are available at the entry and then half way through the gardens.  It has never been crowded when we visited. But you may want to check if there is a special event planned on the day you wish to. We attended the Lantern Festival a few years ago. It was beautiful. But it has become very popular. So, if you plan to attend purchase tickets real early.

Lantern Festival on a stormy night

Sushi! Our favorite place for sushi (perhaps in all our travels) is Yakitori Sake House. It is a little pricier than some sushi places in the area. But, we think it's worth it. And, we signed up for emails and receive coupons often. They offer unique and delicious sushi rolls (my favorite is Tokyo Sun) and their shrimp and lobster wonton soup, Four Seasons Roll and Mongolian Beef are other items we order over and over again.   The restaurant has indoor and outdoor (covered) seating. We have yet to sit inside. The service is impeccable.  After our meal, we enjoy walking around the Royal Palm Plaza. Quite a few shops, bars and galleries.

Other at-home vacation activities that we've enjoyed: Mini Golf in Delray Beach, FL (, Pottery Painting in Boca Raton, FL (, Vizcaya in Miami (, kayaking on the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter, FL and McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary in West Palm Beach, FL (by appointment only) (

McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary

Kennedy Space Center is a good option for a day when we want to venture out from home a bit longer. For weekend trips, we choose St. Augustine, Florida (the oldest European continuously-occupied settlement in the U.S.) and Key Largo (instead of the farther and busier Key West). 

What do you enjoy for your at-home vacations? Share with others who may visit your town.

And on that note, there was an app introduced to me the other day called Uber (  Seems like it could be handy when in someone else's neck of the woods. According to the website, by seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through their apps, they make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers.  Here's a promo code for $25 off your first ride in the US in case you want to give it a try  Might've come in handy when visiting South America recently (but those adventures are for a future post!)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Svalbard, Norway: Arctic Literally Means Arctic

My husband said let's go on vacation in Norway. I figured since he was familiar with the country and I was swamped at work, I'd let him plan and surprise me with the itinerary once we arrived there. Before our departure, he mentioned that we'd be going to the Arctic. I didn't know he meant literally. I figured Norway, as in Oslo and Bergen (which we did go to), but he truly meant this:

Svalbard is located at 78 degrees

And this:

Before we arrived in Norway, we headed to Bass Pro Shop and the one local ski store near us in South Florida. I purchased a lovely Sunice jacket. We also purchased gloves, long underwear, wool socks, a hat, water and windproof pants and several other warm weather items. (But, one of the key items I purchased was at Trapper's Hotel in Longyearbyen, Svalbard - hand warmers!  We loved our stay at Trappers Hotel. Comfortable rooms, hot drinks, cookies and friendly staff were the highlights.  You can see my reviews on TripAdvisor (I'm BornForTravel).)

At Bass Pro Shop, my husband insisted on purchasing me wind and waterproof pants.  I thought it so thoughtful of the love of my life to want me to be warm as we toured the cities of Norway. Ha!

I cannot emphasize enough that when your travel companion, who is the planner of the trip, says you are going to the Arctic, he means literally.

Wearing Bone-Dry pants from Bass Pro Shop over silk long underwear and yoga pants kept my legs and butt warm, dry and comfy the entire hike. (A tip just  for the ladies, bring a PStyle with you outdoor adventures lacking facilities. You really can pee standing up and without having to "drop-trou"!).

Since I look horrible in hats, my husband decided we should play it up. So, he chose a kid's hat for me. 

My failed attempt at a laser-eyed stare

As to our hike up a mountain (and, here, "up" literally means up) to a glacier, we used Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions Day Tours.  Ask for Alex and see if he'll bring his dog Troll.  Watching this 8 month old puppy run up and down the mountain, back and forth between us and Alex, only exaggerated our huffing and puffing as we trekked. It was hilarious and also refreshing to be around that energy.

But, be careful. He might think your mittens are his toy. 

Despite my shock at having arrived in the actual Arctic, it was a worth-while, unique and memorable adventure.  The photos above and below demonstrate this. Whether it was also a vacation is something my husband and I still debate :)


Barentsburg (a Russian settlement)
On the hike

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Scotland: Outlander's Grip Is One Reason To See For Yourself

When the company I worked for closed in 2005, we were permitted to take what we wanted from the book exchange in the kitchens. I snagged a historical novel called Dragon Fly in Amber. I stayed in my apartment like a hermit and up late nights to read these pages. Nearly burst when I got the end because of the cliffhanger.  I didn't know when I read it, but it was the second book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.

These novels include, per Ms. Gabaldon's website:

"history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul…"

All true. Don't let the time travel throw you. It's fascinating and not what you might expect. I got friends, family and co-workers hooked on this series. And, I am near dropping in anticipation of when Starz brings an adaptation of this series to its network in 2014.

So, what does this have to do with Scotland?

So much!  When I read this series, I knew Scotland would be my next trip. I used the information in the novels to form my itinerary.

At Culloden Field, employees asked if I was visiting after reading Ms. Gabaldon's novels. So, I was not the first to be enticed enough to come see for myself.  At Culloden, waves of sadness, ferocity and despair seeped into me when walking upon the battlefield.  If you go, let me know if you feel it too.

[click on any photo to enlarge]

Government and Jacobite solider

Fought April 16, 1746...
A marker for the dead of this clan on the battlefield

My stay in Edinburgh included walking the Royal Mile and a visit to Holyrood Palace. These sites are also woven into Outlander and entrenched in Scottish history.  I searched shops along the Royal Mile for the perfect souvenir. In the end, I left with nothing because I couldn't pick just one item!  My tour guide for Ghosts and Ghouls was very enthusiastic as you'll see from my photo.  This tour was not part of the Outlander series :)

Made a friend (or enemy...) on the Royal Mile

Enthusiastic guide

The grounds of Holyrood and its architecture, even what was in ruins, were quite beautiful. The museum inside equally held my interest.

What visit to Scotland is complete without Loch Ness?  In her series, Ms. Gabaldon shares a unique view of the monster's origins that I could buy into. If you're curious, read and find out! Then let me know what you think.

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

This monster is all I saw and it's not even in Loch Ness :(

What historical fiction novel has led you to travel to its settings?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Whitehall, Wisconsin: Adventures of a City Girl in the Heart of the Land of Dairy

 I arrived in Whitehall, Wisconsin not knowing exactly what to expect. I knew this is where my husband grew up and that it was estimated to be a population of 1,600.

One of the largest employers in Whitehall is Ashley Furniture. Not the retails stores, but the manufacturing  and distribution facility. A movie theater, Target, CVS, a mall and most restaurants however are an hour away. At first, the drive to the city of Eau Claire or La Crosse for shopping, dining and entertainment was like being in a foreign country. Then I realized, the farmlands surrounding Whitehall is the epitome of the heart of America. Just like what I had seen in movies. It was fascinating and beautiful.

Though I am originally from New England, this ATV and snowmobile sign on the street of my husband's childhood home was so cool. A first for me. And there was more firsts to come.

Like this traffic. The large farms had me asking "what's that?" repeatedly. What were common sites and machinery for my husband were new ones for me to learn about. 

I spent much of our extensive drive time scouting for deer. This one spooked when we slowed down for photos. I managed to capture his white fluffy tail as he bounded away. I saw several others alive and well and unfortunately several lining the sides of the road. When driving at night, we kept a lookout for shining deer eyes hoping to avoid contact. Success, quite thankfully.

Since I was in the heart of dairy, I couldn't resist taking a before and after photo:


After. When they squeak as you bite into them, that's a sign of a good cheese curd.

 My next adventure while visiting Whitehall, Wisconsin was the gun range in the nearby town of Blair.  I was outfitted to the hilt, including my new Wisconsin Badgers sweatshirt (it was cold for me here, even bought socks to wear inside the house).

I did shoot the pistol.

And I shot this rifle, which was my favorite despite the little bit of kickback. I got a bulls eye and even shot a bottle off the top of the wood target structure.

Pooft (that's me blowing off the tip of the barrel of my gun in appreciation of my good shooting).

Whitehall is also known for biking. If you happen to bike through or wish to use Whitehall as your base, check out Oak Park Inn. 

I enjoyed driving though--to see the farms, the Mississippi, the Amish and whatever wildlife chose to make an appearance. Bald eagles can be spotted along the Mississippi, but they hid from me.  Next time!

Though I am a city girl, Whitehall and the surrounding areas are a fascinating part of the US that I am glad I was able to visit.

Where in the US have you had "first" experiences?