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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

A NEW NATIONAL PARK IN CHILE



As you read this, I will be winging my way to Santiago, Chile.  I will stop for a night in my favorite hacienda, Casa Real in the Santa Rita vineyards, for a chance to do some mountain biking and have a great dinner and glass of special Carmenere wine.  The next day I go on to a new National Park in Patagonia called Patagonia National Park.
 The great adventurers, Douglas and Kris Thompkins (founders of Northface and Esprit clothing) bought large chunks of land all over South America to preserve and protect the natural ecosystems there.   In an unfortunate kayaking accident several years ago, Mr. Thompkins died.  His wife kept on and created Conservation Patagonica to protect huge areas of land in both Chile and Argentina, to “rewild” areas that were being threatened by overgrazing and overpopulation.  Working with Chilean Park Service, and many volunteers, they purchased 174,500 acres and took down fences, built campgrounds and a visitor center with a restaurant.  In the park are all kinds of wild things like guanacos, pumas, condors and many threatened deer populations. 


In a statement from the Park’s web page www.patagoniapark.org ,“Under ever-increasing pressure, wildlands and wildlife disappear by the day: human activity now dominates 43% of Earth’s land surface and affects twice that area. The planet is now experiencing the most massive wave of extinctions since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The potential loss of as many as 30-50% of all species by mid-century severely threatens the stability of all ecosystems and life on earth. By creating a new, large-scale protected area, we're making strides toward reversing these trends, while saving one of the planet's most stunningly beautiful places.”
Patagonia National Park now encompasses more than 10 million acres. It is 3 times larger that Yellowstone National Park or Yosemite here in the US.


I am truly excited to become one of the newest visitors to the park and look forward to sharing the beautiful vistas and adventures. We need to protect these wild places for future visitors!



Monday, July 1, 2019


GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH!

I have been lucky!  Out of 195 countries in the world, I have traveled in 126 of them.  Still have more to go obviously, but among the top ranked is the one continent my feet have never touched.  Antarctica!
I haven’t gone because of the “DREADED DRAKE PASSAGE”.  In the past, there was no way to get there except board a small exploration ship (without stabilizers) in Ushuaia, Argentina or the Falkland Islands and sail for two to three days in the roughest waters in the world.  I have friends who have made this voyage several times only to be strapped in their bunks for two solid days. No meals, no service, no anything…. because who wants to eat or drink when your ship is going up and down over 40 ft. swells!
Finally however, a smart Chilean group, have made my trip possible….and no “dreaded Drake Passage”!  Flying into Punta Arenas, Chile, you spend one-night (maybe two depending on weather conditions) in this southernmost city in Chile getting your instructions, your boots and gear given you for your expedition and get a few lectures on what to expect.
Early the next day, you are driven to the airport for you flight to King George Island, on the Antarctic side of the Drake Passage.  After your two-hour flight in a military charter plane complete with deluxe seats, you walk across the ice to your waiting ship/hotel for the next few nights. Close to shore all the way…you can even make your way to the South Pole on some shore excursions.
Then the greatest show begins…. penguins, sea lions, sea birds and wonderful wildlife just waiting for you to walk up and greet face to face!  No other humans nearby…only the 70 passengers you flew over with.  You can make this experience more wonderful still by doing kayak explorations daily or even snowshoeing on your shore excursions.
So, this is my chance to eliminate the “DREADED DRAKE PASSAGE” and finally make it to the one continent I have never visited!  The Greatest Show on Earth will be me making this journey…finally!
Pam Walker is a Virtuoso travel advisor and can be reached at pam@walkeradventures.com

Friday, March 8, 2019





CABO AND THE GREAT WHALES OF MEXICO






I don’t know why, but I always feel at home in Mexico.  This time, flying all the way across the US to arrive in Cabo San Lucas, I almost felt like I was coming home.  I hadn’t been to Cabo in several years and the sight that awaited me was astounding.
When I had been there about 10 years ago, there was a small town with beach bars and fishing boats pulled into docks waiting for customers, who back then were few and far between.  There was little beyond that and one had to take a boat out to the giant arch that the area is known for.
Today’s Cabo is a huge bustling city with condos everywhere and the rich “whales” from “el Otro Lado (the other side of the border) are bait for locals.  Stores selling designer clothes, hotels almost on top of the arch and reaching way beyond it and bars everywhere, keep things hopping…. both day and night.  The place has become a mecca of sorts for  Californiacs who drop in for the weekend to drop out at local spots that are as famous as those in Hollywood.
So…did I say I felt at home?  In Mexico maybe, but not this place that has become an extension of the United States.  That said…. a short drive north took me back to the Mexico I know…. little towns with quaint squares…churches at one end and police station at the other.  Here too are the wilds…. wild beaches, wild scenery and miles and miles of desert. I hiked 40 ft sand dunes, took little pangas out into the Sea of Cortez, saw Humpbacks and Grey whales giving birth and coming home to their breeding grounds and the locals so willing to share their way of life.
This is the Mexico I know so well and where I will come back to in the future.
Pam Walker is a Virtuoso Travel Advisor and can be reached at pam@walkeradventures.com

Monday, September 17, 2018

FALL ESCAPES

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BACK TO SCHOOL ESCAPE
It’s so hard, after such a short time off, that we go back to our yearly schedule of school and work.  Fall is coming on with its beautiful colors and then the holiday season is right around the corner.
From September to the end of October, there is little to celebrate and no 3 day weekends (except maybe Columbus Day on Oct 8).  What better way to make your own celebration than to a weekend getaway?
There are several places that I have in mind.  One of course would be to the Georgia coastline to St. Simons Island or the Cloister for golf or a fabulous spa visit.  There is nothing like walking on the beach at this time of year when the sunsets are long and the waves slowly caress the shores.   Few people are on the beach at this time of year. Just a quick 4 plus hour drive and you can be fishing or boating as well.  Jekyll Island is also great at this time of year as the warm days are always blessed with sea breezes to keep you cool in the evening.
Another lovely spot to get away for the weekend is as close as Greensboro, Ga.  Just over a 1 hr. drive can get you to the Ritz Carlton at Reynolds Plantation with its great golf courses and spectacular spa.  You can even have s’mores lakeside over a roaring fire pit in the cool evenings.
Or go north to the Chattahoochee National Forest near Amicalola Falls and hike the beginnings of the Appalachian Trail. You might even see a black bear or two before they settle down for the winter.  There are also cabins that you can rent through the forest service if you don’t want to put up a tent for the night.
If hiking and camping isn’t your thing….there are lovely resorts all over the North Georgia Mountains.  Barnseley Gardens in Adairsville is a super resort with a great golf course and other fun activities.  There is also a beer garden to help celebrate Oktoberfest in style.  Best of all Barnseley has wonderful little period style cottages complete with fireplaces and claw foot tubs for a truly romantic getaway.  And those spooky ruins of “The Woodlands”, (Godfrey Barnesley’s original home) are a great place for a game of family “hide and seek” around Halloween.  Barnseley even has a “fairy Godmother” that makes all your wishes come true.
The Lake Lanier Islands Resort is a great place for the family to get away for a short escape.  Again…golf is a great activity and the hotel has an indoor pool for those cool nights. 
Most all of the places mentioned above are filled with activities for all ages.  Some have kids clubs and still others provide nature activities, games and fun things for kids from 3 to 93, as they say.
So if your weekend is looking bleak with homework, housework or other tasks….just think about getting away from it all….. very close to home.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

GOLFING THE GREENS OF IRELAND

Vacation ..oh vacation!  For myself, a vacation is actually staying home and not going anywahere.  But for my family it means a chance to get away to someplace beautiful surrounded by golf courses.
Ireland is one of those special places where you can play golf to your hearts content.
Of course no one prepares you for the winds of this lovely island in the North Atlantic, nor for the terribly long rough that these folks cherish.

A weekend at Trump International at Doonbeg was enough to teach me that low and straight is the way to go.  Not allowing golf carts, you get a pull cart for all 18 holes of this long course alongside the sea.  9 holes out with the wind and 9 holes back into the wind.  If you hit the ball too high....you are in trouble. You think you see where you ball lands?  Well forget that.  I knew exactly where my ball dropped into the tall grass, but when I went to look for it, my poor ball was nowhere to be seen.  Here you can also ride horseback along the windswept beach, go kayaking and fishing or visit some of the tourist spots like The Cliffs of Moeher.
At Waterville Golf Links at the tip of the Ring of Kerry, the rough is more forgiving but you still have all the holes alongside the sea with gale force winds.  This is one of the 50 best courses in the world.  At least here I had a golf cart, which they call a buggy, which made play easier.

Next we played Mount Juliet Course.  This lovely resort and course designed by Jack Nicklaus, also allowed carts and was beautifully groomed.  This spectacular spot near Cork has specatuculr views and is a challenge.  After few Guinnesses in the club house, we could go skeet shooting, do some falconry, ride horses and more.  Dinner her was in their Micheline Start restaurant, so this was a happy ending for a perfect vacation.

Friday, December 29, 2017


                       
 
    “BABY  ITS  COLD  OUTSIDE!”

 

I know, I know......its cold outside!  The words of that old Dean Martin holiday song are not far from my mind at this time of year,

“The weather outside is frightful”, baby it's cold outside”, “I've got to go away “
“but  baby it's cold outside”...and so on.

.........and so goes the dreary winter weather....even here in Florida.  Today it is 48 degrees with a cold mist coming in from the ocean.
 
What better time to get out of town and retreat to the Caribbean on a sensational cruise or just a nice resort with a beautiful beach?

Yes the kids may be in school, but there are spring breaks and also long weekend cruises too. Disney Cruises does a quick 3 night cruise to the Bahamas complete with all the Disney Characters.  I took my girls on this one when they were about 7 years old and they talk about it even today.    To see the Princesses...yes all of them....descending the grand staircase to meet the children the night before we returned to Port Canaveral was almost as special as all the characters lining the path on the Disney’s Castaway Key for a day in the sun.   I will never forget when one of the girls told me that Captain Hook was just a man dressed in a costume.  When Mickey & Minney appeared, I asked “What about them?”.....”No Mom....THEY ARE REAL!”, my daughter told me with distain.

Port Canaveral is easily accessible from Orlando and flights to that city are even sometimes subsidized by Disney. You can combine your cruise and a visit to any of the theme parks for additional days. Port Canaveral is also the home port for many of the new larger megaships.

Royal Caribbean also has the megaship Enchantment of the Seas sailing from Canaveral. Carnival Cruise Lines and several others sail to the Eastern  and Western Caribbean each weekend from here too.

 Enchantment is a popular ship with all ages.  Most passengers are North Americans, but notoriety has also brought South Americans and some Europeans who also visit the theme parks.  Most foreigners (non  US citizens) have 3 weeks to a month of vacation annually..so continue their vacations

So.....why stay in cold dreary weather when you can be having a ball on board a floating city in the sun?  So no more excuses....get out and have some fun! Enjoy a cruise or a Caribbean Island as the hurricanes are gone and all the islands are back in business!

 

 

 

 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

VARIATIONS ON VIENNA


A CRUISE ON THE DANUBE!


Who would of thought that I would come halfway around the world to see new places and experience wonderful music and on first night I sit down to dinner I meet a couple from home. River cruising has become so popular there are hundreds of ships on the Danube at any one time.

There are way too many coincidences on this trip, but the couple from home are the icing on the cake. It is great seeing and doing things from a similar perspective...but there are many, many people doing the same thing.

After dinner we had an early evening and as the water of the Danube sloshed by alongside...I drifted off to sleep with visions of Vienna Austria, concerts and beautiful palaces and gardens to see.

This is not the 1st time I am in  Vienna. I was here years ago and I must say there are still as many tourists here as I saw in Paris a few days ago.  It is reassuring that so many people still want to come and see the beautiful churches and hear the wonderful music of Mozart and Beethoven and see and be seen in Europe.

When we land in port we are not the first ship here. As a matter of fact...river cruising is alive and well on the Danube. This is almost like the Nile where the hotel ships line up one alongside the other. To disembark, you get a tour of the lobbies of several ships on your way to the dock itself. This is not all bad.....but today there are a total of 8 river ships docked here. Needless to say....Vienna is crowded.

But this is a city of huge parks, wide avenues and pedestrian streets. There are gold leaved monuments around every turn and photo ops are continual. Representatives of various concert halls dot the corners spreading information about the wonderful musical entertainment available in this city of music. These are cute young men dressed in period dress complete with white wigs and leggings( yes and also the pants and silk coats).

As are most cities in Europe, Vienna is a walking city and we are no exception. They drop us at St. Stephens Church, and give us a chance to visit on our own.  Such a lovely city, but even now in the "off season" there are busloads and busloads of tourists from those same river ships that we had to walk across to board our bus.

We head back to the ship in time for dinner then board the bus once more to head off to the old Vienna for a concert of the masters most well known pieces.  We are  in a line of buses like the old "gravy train" commercial on TV.  In the building, there are guides with signs pointing to where each ship has seats.  The more you pay, the closer you get to the musicians.

Back on the boat, my head is filled with the lovely music as we slosh along to the next port on this amazing Danube cruise.

Friday, November 17, 2017


          HIKING WITH THE CONDORS IN PERU'S COLCA CANYON

 

 

In Southeastern Peru there exists a little known canyon that is one of the most spectacular hiking destinations in the world.   The Colca Canyon not only is the deepest canyon the world. …it is home to the Andean Condor. 

 

 

The Colca Canyon at its deepest is 3000 ft above sea level and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. It rises to its highest point at 20,630 ft at the summit of the Ambato Volcano where the famous "Inca Ice Maiden" was found.  Sacrificed to the ancient Gods over 500 years ago, her discovery highlighted the beginning of tourism to this remote area of Peru.  The area is now a hiking destination par excellence to those adventurers who seek to discover their own Incan adventure in this valley of ancient ruins, high mountains, vertical cliffs and live volcanoes

 

The adventure begins in the southern city of Arequipa, Peru.  Called the White City (most of the buildings were once painted that color); it is now the jumping off point to visit the Colca Canyon.  Landing in Arequipa, it is a four hour drive up and over the Peruvian Andes to the town of Chivay at 10, 899 ft.  The Canyon has become so popular that there are several new hotels in the area. These hotels are not only catering to the hiking crowd but to those just interested in the Andean villages with their colorful inhabitants as well as those coming to see the Condors.

 

Further into the Canyon the winding dirt road takes you to a wonderful new Orient Express Hotel and a real "jewel" in the OE crown.  The Casitas del Colca is a spectacular new hiking resort…complete with Peruvian Paso horses for riding, its own herd of alpacas, guinea pigs, cows and rabbits as well as three trout ponds for fishing.   It also has its own farm where they grow organic produce to support the gourmet kitchen (where you also can take Peruvian cooking lessons).  The staff is wonderful and when you are not enjoying other pursuits, you can assist by feeding the livestock or helping in the kitchen.  There is also an excellent fly fishing guide to help you find the perfect rods in the river at the base of the canyon.   The wellness spa is a unique addition to any resort in this area with its use of Andean grown herbs and grasses and shamanic treatments to cleanse the soul.

 

 

Each room at Casitas is a little private house…complete with sitting room, fireplace, and private terrace with a heated plunge pool.  There is also a huge dressing area and bath. Surrounded by glass, the Jacuzzi tub and indoor shower are complemented by a walled outdoor garden and shower to bathe under the stars at night.

 

Daytime activities include walking and trekking, fly fishing, horseback riding and cycling, as well as bird watching…the real reason for coming to the Colca.

 

 

The Condors of Peru are considered to be the largest flying land birds in the world. Every morning at around 10AM, along a lonely cliffside at the edge of the canyon, there is a magnificent display of these giant birds rising from the canyon bottom to soar in the thermals and warm air currents above.  It's a spectacular site to see these ancient birds…some with wing spans of over 12 feet in length…..flying just above your head.   In some places in the world you may see one or two flying high above the mountains….but here in the Colca ….there is a minimum of 10 each morning.  The sight has become so wonderful that people come from all over the world to hike and see the Condors.

 

The Colca Canyon of Peru is a spectacular place to visit and the Casitas del Colca a wonderful place to base an adventure.   As a destination or as an additional part of a trip to Peru to visit the famed ruins of Machu Picchu…there is so much to enjoy in Colca….and hiking with the Condors flying overhead is the high point of any adventure.

 

Pamela Walker is a Virtuoso travel consultant and can be reached at pam@walkeradventures.com.  You can follow her travels by visiting Pam's blog at http://pamwalkers.blogspot.com .

 

 

Friday, June 2, 2017


FLY-FISHING PATAGONIA!

 

What I know about Fly-Fishing you could put on the head of a strait pin.  So when asked to visit Patagonia, I thought …this is my chance to learn!

In early March I flew to Buenos Aires and then to Bariloche and an hour drive to Villa Angostura.  Aroyo Verde, the famed Fly- fishing lodge, was further on down a dirt road.

No signs, no directions, just a general sense of where we were going, Anthony my naturalist guide, headed into the Traful river canyon. 15 minutes later we were greeted first by an authentic gaucho and then riders on horseback. After another 20 minutes, in the distance was a lovely chalet with a sculpture garden along a stream. Estancia Aroyo Verde! 

This private fishing and riding estancia is home of one of Argentina’s most elite families.  Located within the Nahuel Huapi National Park, the family managed lodge hosts visitors from across the globe.  The Traful River is also home to land-locked salmon, brown and rainbow trout.  This is a catch and release river with a season from November through April. In this remote setting, the fish, (some reaching 28 in. for salmon and 29 in. for Rainbows and Browns) swim right up to you in the crystal clear water.  Best of all, bring only your favorite fly rod.  Everything else is available on site. Imagine standing in the river surrounded by the Andes…what more could you ask for?  Miles of nothingness surrounds this pristine spot.

Rooms are cozy (all with private baths) and meals served family style. If lucky join the family for an Argentine style barbeque (Parillada) cooked outdoors by one of the resident gauchos. 

Fishing, horseback riding even mountain bikes are here for enjoyment.  Too bad I had to come back!

 

EATING MY WAY THRU NORTHERN SPAIN

 
Fact: Spain has more Michelin Star Restaurants than any other country outside of France.
Fact: Spanish wines and Cavas (sparkling wines) are some of the best in the world.


Fact: Northern Spain has some of the most beautiful scenery on the Iberian Peninsula!

 

With that knowledge in hand, when a friend asked me to travel to the land just south of the Pyrenees and to the Costa Brava….my answer was yes yes yes.

 

First stop, San Sebastien - located on a beautiful bay with green mountains for a backdrop, it was once the undiscovered playground of the rich and famous. Now lovely mid-century buildings make it look for all the world like a little Paris or Cannes.

The fresh seafood here is not only copious, but delicious. Everything from Sea Urchins to lovely grouper and snapper top the tables of several Michelin star restaurants.

 

Bilbao was next and a visit to the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank O. Gehry and an architectural masterpiece.  Dinner at Extranobe (on the list of the World’s best restaurants) surpassed expectations. Each dish hand crafted with locally sourced products and presented with artistry.

 

A 2-hr. drive past Castles and green farms we visited the Rioja region where the grapes of the same name are grown.  Special tour through the Maques de Riscal vineyard and wine tasting surpassed expectations.

 

On to the Costa Brava, where Spain connects with France. Lined with spectacular cliffs cascading down into the Mediterranean far below offered spectacular vistas. Walking next to the sea learning about plants and herbs to pair with wine, world renowned gastro-botanical consultant Evarist March had much to teach. Evarist is part of the team at Cellar de Can Roca, named second best restaurant in the world!

Wonderful Northern Spain and the Costa Brava means lazy days of 3 hour lunches, great wines and amazing creativity of its famed chefs. Thank you, Spain, for this lovely learning experience!