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    Central America

    In the Garifuna Kitchen with Chef Gloria

    Our Belize Adventure Cooking Local

    Location: Hopkins Village, Belize

    Faithful followers of this blog are familiar with my desire to explore and embrace local cultures in my travels.  One of the absolute best ways to do that, is to spend time in the home of a local person learning how to cook the local cuisine.  There is nothing better.  Authentic, informative and delicious.  So that is how we found ourselves in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.

    We found Chef Gloria (conveniently just down the street from where we are staying in Hopkins) through

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Chef Gloria

    Taste Belize, a website connecting visiting foodies with local food adventures.  Taste Belize has several options, but the option to learn about the Garifuna culture and foods was the one for us.

    Garifuna

    If you  are not familiar with the word Garifuna, here is a brief description from Wikipedia;

    “The Garifuna (/ˌɡɑːrˈfnə/ GAR-ee-FOO-nə;[3][4] pl. Garinagu[5] in Garifuna) are an indigenous people native to the island of St. Vincent who speak an eponymous Arawakan language.

    While they are ancestrally and genealogically descended from groups that migrated from the Lesser Antilles, mainly Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, many Garifuna today are of mixed ancestry, primarily with West African, Central African, Island Carib, European, and Arawak admixture.

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Cutting the plantains

    Most Garifuna people live along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, with smaller populations in Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. They arrived there after being exiled from the islands of the Lesser Antilles by British colonial administration as “Black Caribs” after a series of slave rebellions. Those Caribs deemed to have had less African admixture were not exiled and are still present in the Caribbean. There is now also a large number that have moved to the United States.”

    Chef Gloria

    Chef Gloria met us in her brightly colored yellow Garifuna dress (yellow, black and white the official Garifuna colors) with a big smile and generous welcome to her small outdoor cooking facility.  She began our visit with a simple language lesson;

    Good Morning – Buiti Binafin

    Welcome – Buiti achüluruni

    How Are You – Ida biña?

    Thank you – Seremein

    The Garifuna language is primarily based on the Arawak language of the indigenous people of Central America, but also incorporates elements of French, Spanish, English, Carib and West African languages.

    The Garifuna cuisine, just like its language, is a colorful melding together from the history and environment

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Husking the coconuts

    of which the Garifuna people have emerged.

    Fresh and Local

    Our ingredients for the dish we were preparing on this day all came either from Gloria’s yard, or the sea in front of the kitchen.  Making the favorite Garifuna dish of Hudut (mashed plantains) with Sere (coconut fish stew) we used fresh coconut, plantain, basil, oregano, habanero and red snapper all gathered just for our feast.

    So we began our work in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.  The wood burning stove was hot when we arrived and we began by carefully using a very sharp knife to peel the plantains.  If you have never peeled a plantain

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Family Coconut Success

    you might be surprised.  The texture of both the skin and the fruit is firmer than a banana.  We used about a dozen unripe plantains and about a half a dozen softer ripe ones.  These boiled for 15 minutes (unripe) and we added the ripe at the end for five minutes.

    While the plantains were over the fire we headed out to shuck the coconuts.  Still in their green outer shells, Gloria helped us peel away the husk with the use of a wooden stake in the ground.  I broke the stake when it was my turn (I don’t know my own strength), so we then went to the sharper metal stake not usually used by the amateurs.  Once we each had a husked coconut, Gloria masterfully used a machete to open each and

    Garifuna Kitchen

    The Mennonite Coconut Drill

    we drank the delicious water inside.

    Traditional and New

    Next in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria we learned two different methods used for shredding the coconut;

    The Mennonite method created by the local Mennonite population is now the preferred method, which is an ingenious “drill” that is simple, effective and quick (see photo).

    The traditional Garifuna way, is a grater method, using a board with small pebbles embedded in it.  Effective but much more labor intensive (see photo).

    Garifuna Kitchen

    The traditional Garifuna Coconut grater

    We took all the grated coconut and hand squeezed all the milk out of it.  We added some water to the coconut and squeezed it some more.  Once the coconut was completely dry it no longer had the flavor we all know and love.  So I learned in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria that it’s all about the milk when it comes to coconut flavor.

    The milk became the base of the dish we were making and the coconut meat all went to the compost.

    To the milk over the fire we added basil, oregano and three whole habaneros.  Gloria assured me that as long as the habanero is whole, with no breaks or blemishes in the skin, it will give a wonderful flavor to the soup without adding any heat – something else I learned in the Garifuna

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Squeezing the milk from the coconut

    kitchen with Chef Gloria.

    While the coconut milk simmered we began work on turning the plantains into Hudut.  Using the mata and mata stick (a giant mortar and pestle) we smashed the plantains until they formed a ball firm like dough.  This dish was very similar in texture and flavor to the Fu Fu we ate in Burkina Faso, made from Casava.

    Casava also features prominently in Garifuna cuisine, particularly the flat Casava bread, a staple food of the Garifuna.

    It took awhile to get the texture of the Hudut just right and during that time

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Pounding the Hudut

    we added the already seared whole red snapper and then the okra to the simmering coconut milk.  And the tiny and rustic outdoor kitchen started to smell heavenly.

    The Garifuna Feast

    Gloria shooed us out of the kitchen and we sat down in the dining area and waited to enjoy the finished product.  The Hudut arrived, still warm and firm enough to eat with your fingers, then the beautiful Sere soup served in a calabash bowl, the whole fish smothered in the coconut goodness lightly fragranced with basil and oregano.  And as promised the habaneros added only flavor and no heat.

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Before serving

    Simple ingredients.  Locally sourced.  Lovingly prepared. Gratefully consumed.  Our day in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria was memorable, educational and delicious.  We will definitely make Sere and Hudut back

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Our feast

    home, and hopefully do it justice in honor of our new friend Gloria.

    We thank you.

    Seremein.

     

     

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    Inspire

    Travel is Not Always Glamorous – Despite What Instagram Says

    Memorable Moments of My Fab Fifties Life

    Location: Costa Rica

    Let’s just say it.  Sometimes a life of full-time travel or even a short vacation, can just plain suck.

    Travel is not always glamorous

    Clinic in Namibia

    Despite what everyone tries to make you believe through social media – travel, like everything else in life, can and will involve many less-than-glamorous moments.

    Travel is not always glamorous

    Bad hair day in Denmark

    You will puke.  You will have diarrhea.  You will be exhausted.  You will snore and or drool on an airplane.  You will fall off your paddle board and lose your swim top.  You will have horrendous humidity hair. You will not shave your legs for weeks at a time. You will sweat. You will cough so hard you pee.  You will fall

    Humidity hair in Costa Rica

    on your face even though you are sober. You will get caught in a downpour in your only nice shoes. You will get sunburned. You will get a thousand bug bites. You will lose your luggage. You will inevitably need to see a pharmacist, doctor or dentist in a foreign country.

    Travel is not always glamorous despite what Instagram says.

    Travel is not always glamorous

    Not figure flattering in Chile

    Travel is real.  And though it is, for the most part, a wonderful and fun adventure, it is not always perfect.

    Take yesterday for example. After a year and a half of babying along a bad tooth, I spent six hours in a dentist chair in Costa Rica.  They cleaned me, extracted the bad tooth, did a bone graft and gave me an implant.  It was a  long and painful way to spend Valentines Day.  But it was necessary.  And much cheaper than doing it in the USA.

    Not too glamorous as I sat there with the dentist prodding and poking

    Best and Worst airports

    Motion sickness in Seychelles

    and prying me all day long.  I did walk away with some good pain meds.  I’m putting those to good use right now.

    Travel is not always glamorous

    Cold and wet in Spain

    No, travel is not always glamorous, despite what Instagram says.  I’ve written blogs before about how frustrating I find so-called “influencers” on Instagram who make it look like travel is perfect every day.  Who make every destination look like a magazine cover.    Who are young, thin and glamorous in every shot. It is not reality. It is not authentic.  It is all fake news.

    I am not now, nor will I ever be “thin”.  I am, shall we say, endowed.  But I am not

    Walk On

    Covered with flies in Australia

    ashamed.  This is me, real in the flesh, not a made up version for Instagram.  Glamorous? No.  And I sure didn’t feel glamorous in the dentist chair, or when I was sick in the bathroom, or covered with sweat, or drenched from the rain, or laying on the

    Not so glamorous swimsuit shot in Costa Rica

    sidewalk wondering “how did I get down here?”

    Don’t believe everything you see on Social Media.  I think most of you know this already.  Instead, get out and see the real authentic

    Not so glamorous at the dentist in Costa Rica

    world yourself – it will be amazing, if not glamorous, and you will be a better person for the experience. Real, authentic and fabulous travel.  It’s the best kind.

    Just remember to bring your Imodium.

    Be fabulous (not glamorous).

     

     

     

     

     

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    Central America

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    A Step Back in Time

    Location: Malpais Costa Rica

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    No matter how you spell it, it’s laid back.

     

    Getting here isn’t easy.  We found ourselves bumping along dusty dirt roads on the six-hour drive from Coco Beach.  With each passing mile we were transported back to another time.  A slower time.  Malpais is lost in time.  It’s time to slow down in Malpais Costa Rica.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Rocky beaches

    Long just a fishing and cattle-farming village, Malpais (often spelled Mal Pais) has become popular among surfers and adventure travelers around the world. Recently, Forbes Magazine voted the beaches of Malpais and neighboring Santa Teresa as “One of the ten most beautiful in the world.”

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Our beachfront Airbnb

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Amazing sunsets

    I don’t know if I would put the beaches on my top ten beach list, but I would definitely rank it at the top for sunsets.  Our fabulous little hidden Airbnb offers a spectacular west-facing view of the Pacific and the nightly sunset show is sublime.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Dusty roads

    Malpais means “bad land” or “bad country”, with the name originating from the dry dusty waterless conditions during the summer.  The town of Malpais is teeny, stretching only about 6km from the village of Santa Teresa to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve.  Santa Teresa is about 2km from our Airbnb.  Because Malpais is so small (just a tiny convenience store, a church, a school and one restaurant), we walk to Santa Teresa for our groceries and restaurant needs.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Surfer paradise

    This part of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is often referred to as Malpais – inclusive of Playa Carmen, Santa Teresa and Malpais.

    Surfing is now king in the area, taking over from to the old days of farming.  Fishing still also reigns and fresh fish is available most days at the pier. Don’t ask what time though – when the fisherman come.  That’s what time.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve

    In Santa Teresa shops and restaurants, hostels and a few hotels cater to the twenty-something surfing crowd.  Young kids outnumber us fabulous fifties 100 to one.  I can’t help wonder where are these kids all from and how do they sustain this lifestyle?

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Tide pools

    There is a long sandy beach at Santa Teresa (where most the surfing takes place) but in Malpais the beach is mostly of unique rock formations pocked with deep holes where both fish and humans soak the day away in the bathtub-like water.  Well, until the tide comes in and covers these pools until the next day.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Tide pool

    No watch needed, your day consists of morning yoga, noon tide pools, dinner following the sunset.  Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

    What do you do if you aren’t a surfer in Malpais?  Relax. Read. Soak in the pools.  Yoga at sunrise and drink gin and tonic at sunset.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Howler Monkey

    Monkey watching is another favorite pastime.  Howler Monkeys are abundant (and loud) and a family of ten visit our Airbnb often.  White faced monkeys (smaller and squeaky) also make their home in the trees around the area.  There are butterflies and birds galore.  There are iguanas and many other lizards.  A fascinating collection of nature, including wild horses, pass through our little paradise.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Moctezuma waterfall

    Paddle Boarding

    Fresh catch

    You can hike about 3 miles from Malpais to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve and beach.  Or rent an ATV and go to Moctezuma on the other side of the Nicoya Peninsula and make a visit to the Moctezuma waterfall (a past Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Edition shoot location). Its’ a lot of fun to rent stand up paddle boards and have a fun day out on the water.  Maybe consider a guided beach horse back ride, ziplining or go charter fishing.

    Or you can do nothing at all.  Just slow down in Malpais Costa Rica.  And that’s alright with me.

    Fabuloso!

     

     

     

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    Adventure Travel  --  Inspire

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Memorable Moments of My Fab Fifties Life

    Yesterday we spent the morning on a private snorkel tour from our beach here in Ocotal in Costa Rica.  We had a very enjoyable time on what was a really good value tour ($65 per person), and even though we didn’t see a lot of sea life, we did see a variety.  The water was bit murky but we saw a dozen or more varieties of fish, one eel, one sea snake, a puffer fish, starfish and lots of interesting sea anemones.

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Galapagos

    From the boat we also saw hundreds of “flying” devil rays, several dolphins and a turtle.  It was a lot of fun.

    It got me to thinking and comparing different snorkel tours we have taken over the years so I decided to  share about some of our various snorkeling adventures.  I’m not a diver but I really enjoy snorkeling and have enjoyed some

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Costa Rica

    wonderful opportunities in our travels.

    Here is our list of Snorkeling Around the World – Memorable Moments;

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Maldives

    Sand  Island Maldives – My favorite snorkeling day ever was our morning on the tiny (50×75 yards) sand island about an hour boat ride from the island of Huraa in the Maldives.  Known for the spectacular crystal clear blue water, the Maldives are a divers paradise.  Our snorkeling day rewarded us with a vast collection of sea life, but the more amazing part of this day was the stunningly beautiful coral reef.  I’ve never witnessed anything like it before or since.

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Australia with Wally

    Great Barrier Reef Australia – Memorable, iconic and expensive, our day on the Great Barrier Reef out of Cairns was fun.  An overcast day made for some murky water and rough seas but we enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime experience with a nice selection of interesting coral and fish including the resident Maori Wrasse named Wally (see photo). Read more about it here.

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Galapagos

    Galapagos Ecuador – Everything about the Galapagos Islands is unique and memorable – both on land and in the sea. One of our favorite trips of all time.  The day we snorkled in the Galapagos was the only time I have ever swam with seals who danced a playful ballet around us as we swam. We also encountered baby seals, beautiful turtles and small sharks.  Just one remarkable event in a very remarkable place.

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Dhow in Zanzibar

    Zanzibar – possibly my worst sunburn in my life occurred the day I snorkeled with my sister in Zanzibar.  My sister’s first time snorkeling and in our excitement we both forgot to lube up.  The waters off of Zanzibar are incredibly beautiful, but we actually didn’t see that many fish. As memorable as the sunburn was the rickety Dhow boat (traditional Zanzibar wooden fishing boat) that took us off the beach out to the snorkel area.

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Galapagos

    Hawaii – I’ve been to Hawaii so many times I’ve lost track and it’s here I’ve enjoyed some of the best snorkeling ever.  We went to Hawaii a lot when our kids were small, and for family snorkeling Hawaii can’t be beat.  Our favorites are;

    Molokini (Maui) – our favorite island is Maui and when in Maui snorkeling at Molokini is a highlight. Depending on the time of day you go, it can be pretty crowded but you will see such a great variety of colorful tropical fish it’s worth it. And if you can, book a tour that also goes to Turtle Island so you can see these magnificent creatures.

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Australia

    Captain Cook (Big Island) – We have snorkeled in the Captain Cook bay on the Big Island twice. Once we came on a tour boat and once we did the steep hike down (and eventually back up) to the bay.  The bay doesn’t have much coral but lots and lots of beautiful fish make the bay their home.

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Hawaii

    Kona Manta Ray Snorkeling (Big Island)– one of the funnest, most breathtaking and most amazing things I have ever done was the nighttime snorkel in Kona to swim with the amazing and giant (up to 20 feet wingspan) Manta Rays. These gentle giants are graceful and harmless and truly spectacular. Read more about it here.

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Thailand

    Black Rock (Maui) – my son Dane and I had a remarkable experience at Black Rock while snorkeling

    just off the beach. We encountered a solo turtle which let us swim and follow him for more than half an hour.  Just me, my son and this beautiful creature.  I’ll never forget it.

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Zanzibar

    Koh Phi Phi Thailand – very crowded and somewhat overrated was our snorkel tour adventure to Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. Although the beautiful blue water is warm and fun to swim in, we didn’t see much of a variety of fish and there were so many tour boats there it was ridiculous. We did enjoy the water though and most of all having fun with our adult sons in the gorgeous tropical Thailand waters.

    Snorkeling Around the World

    Maldives Sand Island

    There you go, our list of of favorite snorkeling around the world sites.  Some of our most memorable travel days have included snorkelin

    I hope you too will have the chance to visit one or more of these beautiful and amazing snorkeling places.  I have no doubt you will remember it forever.

    Fabulous!

    Manta Ray image from Pixabay

    Note – double click on any photo in this blog for a larger version!

     

     

     

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    Inspire

    Second Annual My Fab Fifties Life World Travel Awards

    And the Winner is…

    Location: Around the World

    And the Winner Is…

    If you’ve been following My Fab Fifties Life for awhile you will remember our 2017 World Travel Awards from last January.  I definitely feel with all of our travels in 2018 (covering 57,000 miles and 26 countries) we are well positioned to bestow the World Travel Awards – our version of the Oscar or the Razzy – on many people, places and travel experiences that have touched us this past year.  Just like the famous movie awards, we have seen a world of real life

    Word Travel Awards

    Australia

    drama, fantasy, comedy, mystery, nature and animation.  Enough to last a lifetime.

    Word Travel Awards

    Berlin Germany

    This is a long blog. But I believe it offers some valuable travel insight to the world. I hope you will find it informative and entertaining. So in keeping with the time of year for awards,  I give to you our picks for World Travel Awards, Best and Worst of 2018 – My Fab Fifties Life.

    (For reference – our 2018 countries visited were; India, Bangladesh, Maldives, Singapore, Guam, Australia, Indonesia, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, USA, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Romania, Greece, Egypt, Jordan, Portugal, Spain, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil.

    DESTINATIONS

    26 Countries

    Word Travel Awards

    Australia

    Favorite Overall Country – Australia

    Australia takes the top award this year edging out a few others (Greece, Poland) but we both agreed.  Australia is the best.  The only negative about Australia is it’s expensive.  But we believe the beauty, culture, nature and environmental awareness helped us choose it as our favorite destination of 2018.  We plan to return in 2019.

    Favorite City – Sydney and Krakow

    Well there it is again – Australia.  Sydney Australia and Krakow Poland take our award this year for favorite city, and basically for the same reason.  Both offer a variety of cultural, historic and scenic options for visitors.  Sydney also has beaches while Krakow has great food.

    Most Beautiful City – Singapore

    Word Travel Awards

    Singapore

    Everything you ever heard about Singapore is true – sparkling clean, stunningly beautiful (especially at night), easy to maneuver and very pedestrian friendly, Singapore was our favorite beautiful city of the year.

    Cutest Town – Brugge

    Word Travel Awards

    Brugge Belgium

    Singapore might take the big city award but we are more small town folks, and Brugge was a perfect little package of history, beauty, beer, delicious food and very friendly people.  We spent four days and could easily have stayed on even longer.

    Most Expensive Country – Australia

    Australia has so much to offer, but inexpensive it is not.

    Least Expensive Country – Indonesia

    Finding an oasis

    Mount Batur Bali

    With some of the nicest people and most beautiful scenery Indonesia is a bargain, and we loved our time there.

    Most Disappointing City – Ubud (Bali Indonesia) Ubud is no longer the sweet little artists/yoga village we all imagine from Eat Pray Love.  When I saw the American brand chain stores I was so disappointed (Ralph Lauren, Starbucks, Nike).

     

    ACCOMMODATIONS

    29 Airbnbs, 42 hotels, 5 boats

    Word Travel Awards

    Airbnb Antiparos

    Best Airbnb OverallAntiparos, Greece. We loved our relaxing three weeks in this gorgeous, private, and big airbnb with a stunning view and wonderful host.  I hope to return someday. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/20657689

    Best Airbnb for ServiceRio de Janeiro.  Our short visit to Rio (we really should have stayed longer) was extra special due to the hospitable and generous host at our sweet Airbnb.  She was one of the most thoughtful hosts we have ever had. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1149627 

    Best Airbnb for AuthenticitySantorini

    Santorini short and sweet

    Santorini

    Greece. Hands down the most expensive Airbnb we have ever stayed in, and yet it was also incredibly authentic Greek cliffside dwelling with a stunning crater view. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15926564

    Most Expensive AirbnbSantorini $220 a night (see above)

    Word Travel Awards

    Maldives

    Best Value AirbnbMaldives our tiny room

    in a tiny resort on the tiny island of Huraa was $90 a night but included three meals a day for both of us. We loved our relaxing three weeks here. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4490934

    Word Travel Awards

    Lombok

    Most Rustic AirbnbLombok, Indonesia. spending a week in a traditional Javenese cottage far from civilization was a favorite experience. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15991971

    Least Expensive AirbnbLombok at only $52 was a bargain and so relaxing (see above)

    Most Unique AirbnbKey West, USA I thought spending four days onboard a 30 foot sailboat would be fun.  Not so much.  It was definitely unique. And cute.  But also uncomfortable.

    Favorite HotelPuri Lumbung Cottage, Bali this beautiful hotel complex made out of

    Word Travel Awards

    Puri Lumbung Cottage Bali

    traditional rice barns was not only beautiful, but it offered so many activities as part of our package and an incredible view at a bargain price.  We loved our time here with our friends John and Carol

    Worst HotelSingapore.  Because Singapore is so expensive we booked this inexpensive $117 hotel and our room was literally a closet in the attic with no windows.  It felt like a jail cell.

    Friendliest Airbnb FamilyExmouth, Western Australia.  We spent ten days in the

    Word Travel Awards

    Exmouth Australia

    tiny Western Australia town of Exmouth and we loved our little Airbnb and the darling family that lived next door.  We would love to go back. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/18258544

    Worst Hotel Experience – Bucharest Romania. Arriving at our booked and paid-for hotel near the Bucharest Airport, we learned there was a “septic” problem.  No room at the inn.  Nearly five hours later we finally laid our heads on a FUTON, in a teeny apartment of some guy who wasn’t using it, well away from the airport but grateful to just go to sleep.  We had a very early flight and it was not a great way to end our three weeks in Romania.

     

    FOOD

    Favorite Country Cuisine Poland, rich and

    The Foods of Poland

    Poland

    hearty comfort foods make Poland our fav in 2018. But Greece comes in a close second.

    Word Travel Awards

    Spanish Tapas

    Best MealTapas Tour in Sevilla Spain our self guided Tapas Tour in Sevilla’s Triana neighborhood was so delicious and fun. A perfect Spanish memory.

    Best Cooking ClassKrakow Poland I really enjoyed learning to make handmade Pierogi in the tiny communist era apartment of our sweet cooking instructor.

    Best BeerBrugge runs away with this

    Word Travel Awards

    Brugge beer

    award, nowhere else even in the running.  Brugge is a beer lovers town and we are beer lovers.  Our visit to Brugge was memorable for many reasons including the wonderful selection of really outstanding beer.

    Best Food Experience/TourBrugge wins this one too! We really enjoyed having dinner in the home of a lovely Brugge couple who through the website With Locals offered a home cooked Belgian meal in a typical Belgian home.  What a lovely treat.

    Word Travel Awards

    Port Wine

    Best Drinks TourPort Tour Porto Portugal.  I wasn’t sure I was going to like this tour but it ended up being so wonderful, educational, delicious and fun.  I highly recommend this if you are in the beautiful Portuguese city of Porto.

     

    CULTURAL AND NATURAL EXPERIENCES

    Word Travel Awards

    Guam

    Best SunsetGuam. With Gin and Tonic in hand and enjoying some family time while visiting my niece Bekah and her husband Davy, we enjoyed our favorite sunset of the year on the little Dungcas beach in Guam.

    Most Authentic Cultural ExperienceBangladesh Tour. Who goes to Bangladesh?  Well just about no one, and it is exactly the

    Word Travel Awards

    Bangladesh

    reason we enjoyed our time there so very much.  By far the most authentic and least touristy country we have been to in a long time. The people were so interested and amazed by us and they treated us like celebrities.  We loved our time there.

    Word Travel Awards

    Antiparos

    Best Beach – It’s a tie!  Antiparos, Greece and Ilha Grande, Brazil both deserve to be winners, even though they were quit different.  Antiparos was amazing for the solitude, beauty and spectacular turquoise water.  Ilha Grande had such warm water and the beaches were clean and beautiful despite being challenging to get to, we loved exploring the Ilha Grande beaches

    Word Travel Awards

    Egypt

    Best TourMemphis Tours Egypt was one of the best tour companies we have ever dealt with providing us incredible detail prior to arriving, and being present and on top of every detail throughout our ten-day visit to Egypt and Jordan.  Our guides, drivers, accommodations and everything else were flawless.

    Best DriverKadek in Bali. I found Kadek on Trip Advisor and he served as our driver for our entire three weeks on the island of Bali.  He was a very good driver, spoke great English and in addition to picking us and dropping us at our destination he made sure we saw lots of interesting things along the way.  I hope to meet Kadek again some day.

    Word Travel Awards

    Berlin Germany

    Best Free Walking TourBerlin Germany. We have done so many free walking tours over the past several years and only once did we NOT like our guide.  But the young lady we had in Berlin was hands down one of the most charming, interesting, factual, fun and entertaining humans I have ever met.  It made for a most memorable experience and a big tip for her.

    Best Tour GuideCristian, Santiago Chile.  Cristian was our guide on a bus tour we took the day we left our cruise ship and headed to Santiago for our flight.  We spent the day touring the wine region of Chile as well as seeing a small authentic rodeo and dancing. Cristian was patient,

    Hard to answer questions to a travel nomad

    India

    informative, interesting and entertaining.

    Best Bucket List Historic SiteWinner Taj Mahal.  Runner-ups The Great Pyramids and Petra. I cried the day I stood in front of the Taj Mahal.  It was even more beautiful than I imagined.  And lucky for us, we hit it on an unusually clear blue sunny day with hardly any people.  Magnificent site to

    The Magical History Tour

    Cairo

    behold.  Totally worth it.  Of course the Pyramids and Petra are a close second.  After seeing these sites your whole life in pictures, it’s surreal to finally see, touch and feel such awesome history and beauty first hand.

    Best SnorkelingMaldives. You might be surprised we aren’t giving this award to The Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  Yes that was amazing.  But our best one day snorkeling actually took place in the crystal clear

    Word Travel Awards

    Maldives

    blue waters of the Maldives, on a tiny sand island of only about 20 yards wide and 75 yards long. Here we witnessed the most beautiful coral reef I’ve ever seen, and the most amazing variety of fish and sealife.

    Best Natural Site Uluru Australia.  It’s a trek to get to Uluru.  And like everything in Australia it will be expensive.

    Word Travel Awards

    Uluru

    But standing next that incredible natural phenomenon will be something you will never forget.

    Best Manmade SitePanama Canal Panama.  I had no idea how much I was going to enjoy our eleven hour crossing of the amazing Panama Canal.  Truly a modern day wonder of the world.

    Word Travel Awards

    Malaga Cathedral, Spain

    Best CathedralMalaga Spain.  We see a lot of cathedrals.  Sometimes individual ones are difficult to remember. Malaga is not one of those. A distinctively beautiful design inside makes it my favorite and most memorable cathedral in 2018.

    Word Travel Awards

    7 Ladders, Brasov Romania

    Best Day HikeWe have a three way tie for this one with 1. Canyon of the Seven Ladders, Brasov Romania 2. Campuhan trail in the rice fields outside of Ubud, Bali. 3. Coogee to Bondi Beach ocean trail Australia. All providing us wonderful days outdoors in three very distinctively different natural settings.

    Best Multi-Day Hike – Well, the Camino Portuguese of course!

    Most Exhilarating Outdoor ExperienceMorning swim Denmark.  Even though it was August, jumping into the North Sea before breakfast was an eye-popping way to start your day – and a very Danish thing to do!

    Word Travel Awards

    Australia

    Expensive but Worth itClimbing the Harbor Bridge Sydney Australia $467. I had to really convince Arne to do this because it was outrageously expensive.  But in the end he agreed it was worth it.   An impressively well done and safe operation with a spectacular view to boot.

    Word Travel Awards

    Platypus Australia

    Best Wildlife Experience  1. Platypus spotting Australia 2. Aligator Spotting Florida. We love it when we can see wildlife in its natural habitat, untouched by humans.  Seeing a wild platypus in Australia was so incredible.  I still can hardly believe our luck and timing to spot the elusive and shy creature.  On the other hand, seeing literally dozens and dozens of alligators within just a few feet of us as we rode bikes on the Shark Valley trail in the Florida Everglades was one of the strangest experiences of my life.

    Word Travel Awards

    Auschwitz

    Most Moving ExperienceAuschwitz, Poland Hands down – seeing and learning about the extermination of Jews in Auschwitz and in Krakow was the most astonishing and moving experience in all of our travels.  I tried to put it into perspective in a blog.  It was difficult.  Some people choose not to visit.  For us it was the reason for going to Poland and I believe EVERYONE should go.

    Word Travel Awards

    Performance, Ubud Bali

    Best Performance 1. Bali 2. Sydney 3. Krakow  It’s one of our favorite things to do when traveling, attending a local performance.  And this past year we saw several remarkable shows including two fascinating and authentic indigenous dance shows in Ubud Bali, a circus/dance show at the Sydney Opera House as well as an outdoor spectacle of La Boheme on Sydney Harbor.  In Krakow we enjoyed a piano solo performance of Krakow’s favorite son Chopin and LOVED a string quartet concert inside the tiniest historic chapel.

    Best Museum Skagen Denmark A surprising find in this tiny historic seaside town in Northern Denmark, Skagens Museum featured the remarkable art of the amazing talents of the area’s 1800’s artist colony.

    Word Travel Awards

    Ecuador

    Best Cultural Art Experience Ecuador Panama Hat Making in the tiny mountain town of Monticristi a tradition endures where skilled artists produce these works of beauty known as Panama Hats.

    Word Travel Awards

    Berlin Wall

    Best Historical Art Experience Berlin Wall  The reason we came to Berlin was to see the iconic wall, which did not disappoint, and the rest of this amazing city made it one of our favorite stops on European adventure.

    Word Travel Awards

    Count Dracula Romania

    Kitsch Award – we make an effort to avoid tourist kitsch, but sometimes we fall for it, as we did in Sighisoara Romania.  Touted as the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (Count Dracula), we paid a couple of dollars to walk into a dark and spooky room where an open coffin waited with the Count himself asleep.  Well until he jumped up and scared me to death.  LOL.

    Least English SpokenBrazil.  Portuguese is the official language of Brazil and we found through out the country even in high tourist areas English is rare.  Much like in Portugal and in Spain, there are few fluent English speakers.  Even in the airport and on the flights English is unusual.

     

    WEATHER

    Hottest Day: Ilha Grande Brazil 95 degrees F and 76 degree dew point.  We swooned.

    Word Travel Awards

    Muxia Spain

    Coldest Day: Pontevedra Spain 39 degrees F on our Camino de Santiago we froze and this was the start of my chest cold that lasted 8 weeks.

    Wettest Day: Muxia Spain a four day monsoon kept us indoors, stuffing paper towels into the frames of the windows to keep the water from pouring in.

    Windiest Day: Antiparos Greece – a rare October cyclone closed down shops, the ferry, and toppled trees.

     

     

    TRAVEL

    30 flights, 8 train rides, lots of small boat rides, one river cruise, two ocean cruises

    Smallest AirportParos Greece

    Worst Flight ExperienceIceland Air lost luggage. It took three days before we saw our luggage again.

    Word Travel Awards

    Worst AirlineScoot. Worst flight I can remember in a while from Singapore to Perth.  Everything cost extra including baggage, drinks, food and even a blanket.

    Word Travel Awards

    Train Travel

    Best Travel ExperienceEurope Train Travel. We had a wonderful experience using the trains from Belgium to Germany to Poland and throughout Andalucia and I would do that again in a minute.

    Worst AirportManila We had a long layover here and there was nowhere to sit.  There was no ATM to get local currency and none of the concessionaires took credit cards.  The part of the airport we saw was old and dirty.

    Word Travel Awards

    Camino de Santiago Portugal

    Best Airport – In contrast and like everything else in Singapore, the airport is new, shiny, efficient and beautiful.

    Word Travel Awards

    Dead Sea Jordan

    Worst Security Line – Seattle WA USA.  Way to go USA.  My flight from Seattle to Nashville was a near disaster when I arrived more than two hours ahead of schedule to find a more than two-hour security line.  Seattle’s inability to separate out domestic and international travelers and offer expanded security lanes has made it one of my least favorite airports in the entire world.

    Worst Travel Experiencemissing our flight in Perth.  Expedia took the blame and even gave us a $200 credit for this flight debacle, but it didn’t help our situation as we had to stay an additional day in Perth and did not get to see the town of Alice Springs before heading on to visit Uluru.  Hope to see you again someday Alice Springs.

    So there you have it.  The winner of the Fab Fifties version of the Oscars for 2018.  But you do know, the real winner is me.  Me and my husband.  The luckiest people on the planet. Who needs a little gold statue when you have a Fab Fifties Life?

    What a fabulous life it is.

    Please comment and share.  We appreciate your love.

     

    Adventure Travel  --  South America Travel

    Let’s Bungle in the Amazon Jungle

    A Brazilian Dream Come True

    Location: Amazon Jungle Brazil

    It’s  a gigantic place. Huge. Impossible to see it all. But the tiny piece of the Amazon Jungle we experienced was a privilege that will stay with us forever.

    Numbers

    First let’s talk numbers in the Amazon Jungle; 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles); one fifth of the freshwater flowing into the Earth’s oceans comes from the Amazon River; there are more than 40,000 different kinds of trees and plants; 2.5 millions kinds of insects; 3000 freshwater fish; 427 mammals; 378 reptiles; 400 amphibians; and 1300 kinds of birds. It is the greatest biodiversity area on the earth.

    Multiple rivers feed the jungle emptying eventually into the giant Amazon, which can be as wide as 20 miles in some places. The Amazon is the greatest river of South America and the largest drainage system in the world in terms of the volume of its flow and the area of basin. The total length of the river from the headwaters in southern Peru, is at least 4,000 miles (6,400 km), which makes it slightly shorter than the Nile River but still the equivalent of the distance from New York City to Rome (source Britannica.com)

    Amazon Jungle

    So many birds

    The Amazon Jungle Basin can average rainfall of approximately 2300 mm (7.5 feet). In some areas of the northwest portion of the Amazon basin, yearly rainfall can exceed 6000 mm (almost 20′), often flooding the civilizations that make Amazonia their home. In 2012 the highest flood level ever recorded in Manaus reached 29.97 meters (93 feet).

    Mosquitos

    Amazon Jungle

    Golden Hawk

    A word about mosquitos.  We were prepared to take malaria meds the entire time we were in the Amazon Jungle.  We began our meds the day before arrival and immediately I suffered from stomach upset.  When we arrived at Manati Lodge we learned that this particular area of Amazonia on the Rio Negro is generally mosquito free.  Due to the decomposing material from flora (which also gives the river a coffee color thus the name) the Rio Negro is naturally acidic, with ph ranging 2.4 – 4.9,  thus preventing mosquito larvae from developing.  Although some people still may want to take the malaria meds, I chose to stop taking them as soon as I learned this information – and me and my tummy were both grateful.  Each person should make their own decision and consult with their doctor.  I did receive a handful of bug bites – unknown to me from what kind of bugs.  They have healed quickly.

    The People

    Amazon Jungle

    Colorful Chief

    Today at least 400 indigenous tribes live in the jungle, much as they have for millennia.  The Brazilian government works to protect the rights and traditions of these tribes, all while also trying to help them find diverse ways to earn and survive.  Additionally a handful of tribes still live untouched from any interference by the civilized world and they wish to remain so.

    Manati Lodge

    Amazon Jungle

    Manati Lodge

    For our visit to this fascinating place we chose to spend five days at the Manati Lodge, a simple but comfortable and very well run small lodge about two hours from the city of Manaus.

    Amazon Jungle

    Manati Lodge

    Manaus (population 1.8 million) is the major city of the state of Amazonas, and the jumping-off point for most visitors to the Amazon. From here you can begin your journey to multiple lodges and resorts inside the protected area. A variety of styles and price ranges are available for lodging. For us Manati was just what we needed. All inclusive (transport, comfortable room, all meals and all tours) for two people for five days cost $1100. We spent an additional $20 on alcohol (we did not drink very much by choice)  and $75 on gratuity. For what we got, an absolute bargain.

    Manati has 6 rooms that can sleep four each. During our five days, guests on two, three and five-day tours revolved  in and out.  We met a nice variety of world travelers from Brazil, Canada, England, Italy, France, Croatia and the USA.

    Our Guide

    Amazon Jungle

    Isaac, right, shows me how to weave

    Our guide Isaac was wonderfully full of enthusiasm, stories and wisdom about his native region. Some days we had Isaac all to ourselves and other days we shared him with other guests.

    Amazon Jungle

    New Years Eve

    Isaac made sure we saw and did so much. We began with a serene and beautiful tour by boat to enjoy the jungle from the water. There is green, and then there is Amazon jungle green – an indescribable range of hues I never knew existed on the planet. Throw in the remarkable rainbow and it was such a pleasant way to start our adventure.

    A special celebration on our first night for New Year’s Eve was totally unexpected and so wonderful. The staff decorated with palms and flowers we ate and toasted with sangria and champagne and even had midnight fireworks. Not at all what I expected in the middle of the jungle. It was wonderful.

    So much to see

    Amazon Jungle

    Piranha catch

    Over the next four days we had a huge variety of experiences, but also plenty of downtime to relax and read. I had neither WiFi or cell service over the five days which turned out to be a blessing – giving me a news and social media break I didn’t even realize I desperately needed.

    Surprise Encounters

    Amazon Jungle

    Sloth trying to hide

    A visit to a local village provided us our first spotting of a sloth in the wild – a lifelong dream for me.  Going piranha fishing had never been on my lifelong dream list but it turned out to be very entertaining and fun.

    Medicine

    Amazon Jungle

    Jungle hike

    I really enjoyed our three-hour jungle walk, where we were introduced to a fascinating variety of flora, including dozens of plants that are used in medicines we know and use regularly from Vick’s Vapor Rub to Milk of Magnesia. We saw wild acai, Brazil nuts, palms used for roofs, plants the indigenous people used for poison and hunting and other plants used for survival in the Amazon jungle.  And some in our group even ate butterfly larvae.  I declined the offer.

    Animals

    Later that same day, under thankfully sunny skies we swam with the famous Amazon pink dolphins.  The government allows the dolphins to be fed four days a week, this is how the tourists get to see them.  The rest of the time they are left alone so they do not grow overly dependent on humans.  They are not in a pen.  They swim freely and come to the platform when fish is available. They were large and incredibly strong, but also gentle.  They enjoy being petted.  And they smile.

    Amazon Jungle

    Pink dolphin

    I swam with dolphins once before, in Zanzibar.  But this was different.  In Zanzibar we did not touch them.  I enjoyed both experiences for different reasons. The dolphin skin is soft like a baby.  Their eyes are so tiny.  Also known as botos, they are born grey and become pinker with age. As they mature its skin becomes more translucent allowing the blood to show through. When excited, they will flush to a bright pink , like your face might when you get embarrassed or excited.

    After saying farewell to our new dolphin friends we took a beautiful boat ride to another part of the river.  We parked the boat on the river’s edge and watched as dozens of inquisitive little squirrel monkeys cautiously approached and then, when realizing we had bananas, jumped right on board.

    I’ve seen monkeys big and small all over the world, and generally am not a fan.  They can be mean and smelly.  But the Amazon Jungle squirrel monkey was by far the cutest and sweetest I have met.

    Amazon Jungle

    Squirrel mo key

    We ended this amazing day with a sunset swim in the warm Rio Negro before returning to Manati.

    The next morning we woke at 5am to clear skies so we groggily (before coffee!) headed out to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful and worth getting up for.

    Plants

    Amazon Jungle

    Water is life

    Amazon Jungle

    Sunset swim

    After breakfast we visited a local family home where we learned more about plants used for medicine in the jungle.  We also learned all about the staple native food of manioc, a tuber that is the source of tapioca as well as numerous other products.  Manioc is part of the daily diet not only of the indigenous people but nearly everyone in Brazil.

    Snake

    Amazon Jungle

    One big snake

    We ended this day with a visit to another local home.  Here an anaconda that was  accidentally caught in a fishing net is being nursed before being released back into the wild Amazon jungle.  Those who wanted to were allowed to hold the beast.  It was about eight feet long.  Damp.  And strong.  Another once in a lifetime experience.  I think once is enough.

    Indigenous Tribe

    Our final day dawned stormy so our hour-long boat ride to visit an indigenous village was down right painful as we crossed the giant Rio Negro in a healthy wind and serious chop.  But I’m glad we did.

    Amazon Jungle

    The tribe we visited

    The village of the Dessana people accepts visitors as a way to earn money and to share their culture.  Originally found in their ancestral home 600 miles (965km) away in the dense remote jungle of northwestern Brazil, they came to the Tupe region for a better life to fish and farm. Dessana began benefiting from tourist who were curious to see their ancient traditions (source theCultureTrip.com.)

    The Chief explained in detail (through an interpreter) many of their rituals about boys initiation to manhood, marriage, leadership, food, hunting and celebrations.

    Amazon Jungle

    Dancing with the Chief

    The Chief and about twenty-five people from the tribe including men, women and children then  performed for us several ritual dances and songs with handmade instruments.  We then were invited to dance with them.  The Chief took my hand and he was amazingly strong as he led (well, dragged) me alongside him as I tried to follow the intricate steps of the dance.  Arne was also dancing, although I was too busy to see him trying.  Luckily Isaac snapped a few photos.

    Amazon Jungle

    Arne dancing too

    Before leaving we purchased a few handmade items from the tribe and thanked them for sharing.  It was a great way to end our amazing Amazon visit.

    Farewell

    Amazon Jungle

    One of my fav photos

    After lunch we headed back to Manaus and civilization, forever changed by the experience.  Just one more remarkable memory and a spectacular way to begin 2019.

    Fabulous! 

     

    South America Travel

    The World’s Greatest Shortcut – Crossing the Panama Canal

    Location: Panama Canal

    What a fascinating experience it was to cross through the Panama Canal on board the Norwegian Sun.  I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I was going to.  Absolutely a fascinating experience, in a life full of fascinating experiences.  My Fab Fifties Life.  

    Panama Canal

    Approaching Gatun Locks

    Incredibly we had a glorious sunny and hot day (the next day was cloudy, wet and stormy), so we felt lucky as we stumbled out of our stateroom a little after 6:00am, for what would be about an eleven hour excursion through the 80km  canal – an engineering wonder of the world.

    Panama Canal

    Inside Gatun Locks

    The Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, cut through one of the narrowest saddles of the isthmus that joins North and South America.  The Canal uses a system of locks with entrance and exit gates that function to raise the ships from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake (a man-made lake) 26 meters above sea level.  

    We began on the Atlantic side passing first through the Gatun Locks (named for the town located here) at 7:00am.  It took about two hours to pass through this first set of three locks (see video). 

    Our ship, the Norwegian Sun, is a relatively small cruise ship, just under 900 feet long.  The locks we passed through are the original locks – the longest ship that can pass through these locks is 1000 feet (304.8 meters).  Curiously the Panama Transit Authority uses feet and inches rather than meters in all transit communication.

    Panama Canal

    Panama Sunrise

    A new set of locks (opened in 2016) now can accommodate larger vessels,  up to 1200 feet long and 158 feet wide known as Neopanamax ships.  Norwegian’s newest ship, Bliss, which is 1100 feet uses the new canal.

    Panama Canal

    Our stateroom view when the water was lowered

    The water used to raise and lower the ships in the locks comes from Gatun Lake by gravity; it comes into the locks through a system of main culverts that extend under the lock chambers from the sidewalls and center wall.  The narrowest portion of the canal is the Culebra Cut, which extends from the north end of Pedro Migues Locks to the south edge of Gatun Lake.  It is approximately 8.5 miles carved through the rock and shale of the Continental Divide. 

    Panama Canal

    Jockeying for a good view

    The Panama Canal is a saga of human ingenuity and courage that dates back to the early 16th century when the Spaniards arrived to the Isthmus.  Since then, the idea of building a route that would link the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans was discussed.

    The French began the first effort in 1880, but abandoned the effort when financial problems as well as tropical diseases made it impossible to continue. 

    At the urging of the United States, Panama broke from Colombia and declared its independence in 1903, resulting in the partnership with the USA to begin construction once again on the passage.  The canal was completed in August 1914 and as per the original agreement the USA administered the canal until December 31, 1999 when Panama assumed full operation.

    The world’s greatest shortcut provided a boost to world trade and transit, by cutting transit time from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and vice versa) by approximately three weeks.

    A private yacht may pay $2000 or less and a large commercial ship up to $150,000. The cost is still less than sailing around South America. Interesting fact: Panama Canal authorities used to charge swimmers 36 cents to pass through.

    Panama Canal

    Culebra Cut

    Toll for crossing through the canal for a ship the size of the Norwegian Sun is approximately $250,000 (1500 passengers).  A giant cruise ship such as the Bliss, will pay $890,000 (4000 passengers).  The tolls are calculated with numerous factors including size, revenue earnings and number of passengers.  A universal measurement system is used, taxing every 100 cubic feet of passenger space (cabins, dining, entertainment areas) but not bridge or crew areas.  Usually $5 per cubic foot.

    Panama Canal

    The Norwegian Sun

    Cruise operators will often include in the cost of the cruise approximately $140 per person as a surcharge.

    Panama is now one of the fastest expanding countries in world trade.  The canal generates 2 billion dollars for Panama annually.  The canal is vital to the world’s prosperity and is clearly an enormous feat of humanity, linking the world.  

    As we exited the final locks on the Pacific side (Pedro Miguel) at 5:30pm we completed more than ten hours of transiting through one of the wonders of the world – the world’s greatest shortcut.  As the world moves through the challenges of nationalism versus globalization, as well as the impending and potentially disastrous effects of climate change, new and expanded canals are being considered.  The wildly successful Panama Canal has sparked interest in Nicaragua for possible construction of a new canal there.  China is poised to capitalize as a world power in potential new canals around the world,  with the construction knowhow and trade-savvy chops to lead in the building of such a canal.  

    Cruising through the Panama Canal was certainly the highlight of our 15 days onboard the Norwegian Sun.  Fabulous !

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