Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Nature springs to life at Grand Mesa, Colorado

Entering Grand Mesa National Forest
Delta County invites visitors to revel in the wonders of nature as it springs to life on Colorado’s western slope at the base of Grand Mesa. Nestled against the world's largest flattop mountain on a vast spread of public lands, springtime on "Our Side of the Divide" means the blossoming beauty of canyons, rivers, mountains and forests – on a grand scale.

Outdoor activities like fishing, hiking, and golfing
abound in Delta County.
Three National Conservation Areas – Delta County is sitting right in the middle of some impressive canyons. These canyons include, rafting, fishing, hiking and mountain biking. The Sidewinder Trail is a technical multi-use trail that covers 20 miles, one way, of the Gunnison Gorge. Several loops and trailheads allow you to choose a shorter trail experience. The Canyons also have rock art, dinosaur track sites and historic cabins.

Reflections of aspens in autumn 
Grand Mesa – Topped with spruce-fir trees and aspen groves, more than 300 lakes, and an extensive trail system, Grand Mesa provides a magnificent playground for springtime exploration. Take a scenic drive to the top and stay at one of the three lodges on the Mesa, each under new ownership this year: Grand Mesa Lodge, Lake Lodge, and Mesa Lakes Lodge.

Beautiful landscapes along the Grand Mesa Byway
Byway in the Sky – Drivers can take in Grand Mesa in its entirety on the Grand Mesa National Scenic and Historic Byway, a 63-mile route that merits its nickname, "The Alpine Oasis in the Sapphire Sky." Traversing fruit-filled orchards and verdant hillsides that lead to vistas of majestic canyons and the forested heights of the mighty plateau, the route peaks at Land's End Overlook. Contemplate the beauty of the world from 10,000 feet above sea level.

Bird watching – Delta County is a birding haven. Whether it's a big year or just a splendid spring, hikers will want to keep an eye, camera and binoculars out for the winged heralds of springtime. High-elevation birds soar above Grand Mesa, and hikers who wait till dark can specialize in "owling." Additionally, White Pelicans, Wild Turkeys, Bald Eagles and many other birds of prey encourage birders to flock to Delta County.
Overview of Colorado's Grand Mesa

For a day in town, Cedaredge, Crawford, Delta, Hotchkiss, Orchard City and Paonia offer old-time charm on quaint main streets within this agricultural region. Lovely spring weather makes a visit to these towns' local wineries, golf courses and parks a pleasant affair with nightly accommodations easily accessible.

Information and photos courtesy of Gaylene Ore, Ore Communications
Other photos from Bing images

Monday, May 19, 2014

Cruising the mighty Amazon River in Peru

“I never thought I’d be cold in the Amazon,” my husband quips as he buttons up his long-sleeved shirt. It’s August, but cool breezes keep us comfortable as our guide motors the skiff we’re riding in towards a tributary of the Amazon River. The weather is just one of the pleasant surprises during our week-long adventure with tour company International Expeditions.
Clear reflections on an Amazon tributary

We’re on an early morning excursion traveling up river from where our floating hotel, on the 24-passenger La Amatista, is anchored. Along with 13 other people and two guides, my husband and I will travel 65 miles this day deep into the protected Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, the largest protected wetland reserve in the world.
La Amatista, our ship, at sunset

The headwaters of the Amazon originate from glaciers high in the Andes Mountains, and the section through which we’ll travel is entirely in Peru. From there, the river flows eastward for more than 4,000 miles before spreading across miles and surging into the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil. Not just one river, the Amazon includes more than 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are over 1,000 miles long. The immensity of this river system, largest in the world, is truly hard to comprehend.

Riberenos fishing in the Amazon
During our first full day on the river our ship splits off from the main channel to a course on one of the largest tributaries, the 300-mile Ucayali River. From there, we board the skiff which cuts cleanly through chocolate-colored water, passing riberenos--river people--trolling from handmade canoes and farming rice on muddy river ledges. Fishermen on flat rafts float down river to Iquitos, a six-day journey, with net enclosures full of catfish they will sell in the city.
Birds including parrots make their home in the rainforest.

We soon discover why this is a bird-watchers paradise. Thousands of species live in the protected canopy of the rain forest. Several people on our tour really know their stuff and identify dozens of birds including snowy egrets, puffins, king birds, great black hawks, white-winged swallows, terns, and more. To me the birds are simply “the brown one” or “the yellow-beaked one.” We’re amused when Johnny, one of our native guides, excitedly exclaims, “Oh my god, I think I’m going to die!” as he spies a rare bird species.

Sunset on the Amazon River
Twice a day naturalist guides take guests on excursions to visit local villages, swim in the Amazon, search for wildlife, fish for piranhas, or trek in the jungle. Even though we’re in a primitive area we’re not really roughing it. The crew provides daily meals and laundry service as well as nightly entertainment. The observation deck is a fine place to relax and visit with other guests as we take in stunning scenery of this great wilderness region.
Our crew entertained us with Peruvian music.
Breakfast onboard the skiff

One morning we leave early on a sunrise cruise. When the skiffs come to a section of flat water the guides serve a full breakfast in style on china plates and lace placemats. Above us on the bank, graceful blue and yellow macaws provide an unforgettable show as they flit from tree to tree in a mating ritual.

In the afternoon we travel back into the Reserve on the Pacaya River, a branch off the Ucayali. Sustainable living practices—hunting and fishing for personal use—are allowed for the thousands of people who live in and around the Reserve, mostly in small, isolated communities. These riberenos live as their ancestors did, unaffected by modern lifestyles. 

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Five tips for smooth sailing when you cruise

Cruising has gained enormous popularity in recent years—for good reason. It’s basically an all-inclusive vacation—accommodations, meals, activities, and entertainment are part of the package—and you only unpack once even though you travel to a variety of ports and countries.  If your budget allows, you can choose extras—spa services, shore excursions, specialty dining, and shopping.
If this sounds like the ideal vacation for your family, here are a few tips to make sailing on a ship even better.

Cruises sail to beautiful islands in the Caribbean or South Pacific

Choose your cabin wisely.  Cabins in the middle of the ship, both front to back (fore to aft) and top to bottom are the quickest to book. If you are picky about where you stay, book early for the best selection. Lower decks generally have the least motion and are quieter because there are no public areas on these decks. If you’re traveling with children who are old enough to sleep in a separate room, adjoining cabins are wonderful. You can leave the door between rooms open or close it for privacy.
Pack lightly.  The days of cruises requiring fancy formal wear are gone. Even if your ship has “elegant” nights, the standard of dress is much more casual than it used to be. Many ships, especially for voyages more than a week in length, have self-service laundromats, so you can wash clothes and wear them again, if necessary. Although most beds onboard are high enough to slip luggage underneath, you don’t want to take up valuable closet space storing multiple suitcases. Nesting pieces, where one fits inside another, are a good way to conserve space.

Bring your own drinks. Most cruise lines allow one bottle of wine per person to be brought onboard. Some ships also allow passengers to bring limited bottled water and soda onboard at embarkation only. Check on your specific ship’s policy. However, if you take a bottle of wine into a dining room or bar area, expect to pay a corkage fee. Better to enjoy a pre-dinner drink on your balcony or by the pool and avoid the extra charge.
Larry and I enjoy a pre-dinner glass of wine
that we brought onboard the ship.
Skip long lines. Everyone is excited to start their vacation, so lines can get long during embarkation. Print your boarding pass at home and arrive before the first hour of embarkation (sometimes you can board before the stated time), and you’ll likely avoid the longest lines and standing for what seems like hours. When disembarking at a port—if you don’t have a planned excursion to meet—wait until most of the passengers have gone ashore. Later, you’ll be able to walk right off the ship and start exploring on your own. A bonus: You’ll have the ship’s amenities to yourself for a couple of hours. In fact, some passengers stay on board while the ship is in port just to enjoy the peace and quiet and lack of crowds.

Stay healthy. If you need patches or medication for motion sickness, be sure to bring these with you. Bring allergy meds and extra of any prescriptions you need. A good basic first aid kit with bandages, something for sniffles or a mild cough, upset stomach, headache, and other common travel maladies will keep you from needing attention from the ship’s doctor, which can be expensive (but a godsend if you really need medical attention).  Avoid over-imbibing on food or drink. It’s your vacation, so take time to rest and relax.



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Malta: a stunning port entrance

As I glanced out the ship’s window during breakfast, I realized we were approaching the city of Valletta, Malta. I grabbed my camera and headed out to the nearest deck. The previous night the cruise director on our Adriatic Sea cruise told us that entrance to this city was one of the most spectacular of any European port. So a few remaining bites of muffin weren’t enough to keep me from hurrying outside to watch the dramatic entrance.
Massive fortifications protected the ancient port of Valletta, Malta.
Founded during the Crusades by aristocratic families (called a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen), Valletta was developed by Knightsof the Order of St. John, who fortified the harbor to defend against pirates in the 16th century. Named for Jean de la Valletta, Grand Master of the order and hero during the Turkish Ottoman war, the city retains these massive fortresses and walls on both sides of the inlet.

The heavy fortifications instituted by de la Valletta were utilized over many centuries as protection against invasions from Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Berbers, Turks, and the British. Why did so many civilizations attack Malta? Because of its strategic location in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Located 52 miles south of Sicily, the island was important to invading nations, even as recent as World War II.  
The protected inlet made Malta a preferred destination.

These ancient stone fortifications truly were incredible, a sight not to be missed as the ship moved slowly into the harbor. Large, craggy walls and imposing buildings made of cream-colored limestone contrasted with the blue-green of the sea creating a scene that could have come straight from a Medieval-era  movie. The harbor is still a busy place today filled with cranes loading and unloading multitudes of ships that use the port.
The port is filled with ships and boats today as the city
extends inland.
During a tour around the island by jeep, we learned that the Maltese archipelago consists of three inhabited islands of which Malta, population is 370,000, is the largest. Valletta is the capital and largest city of this independent nation. Built on rocks at the water’s edge, the city extends above the sea on a secondary level accessed by a steep path—or a modern lift (elevator). Since the island is composed of limestone, many buildings are constructed to blend into the landscape, which gives it a clean and neat appearance. A modern highway winds through newer government buildings, schools, and shops on the upper level.

Valletta extends onto a second level above the sea.
Malta became part of the British Empire in the early 1800s, so there is a large British influence, and most tourists are from the UK. During our jeep tour, we met a British family who had relocated to a small waterfront town to experience a slower pace of life. They were somewhat surprised to see American visitors, but we found Malta to be delightful, and I’ll tell more about our tour in another article.
Photos by Beverly Burmeier