June 03, 2017

RS Ireland Pre-Trip: London Eye and British Museum; Fly to Belfast

On the day we were to fly to Belfast, we arranged for AirPortr to pick up and transport our bags to Heathrow while we caught a train from St Margarets to London Waterloo.  We took advantage of the fantastic weather to ride the Eye. Seeing Parliament was nice but the real bonus was the Bird's Eye View of the Trooping the Colour (Queen's Birthday celebration) rehearsal.
We ended our London visit at the British Museum before taking the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow, turning in our Oyster Cards and picking up our bags from AirPortr (can't say enough good things about that service.)

On to Ireland!

June 02, 2017

RS Ireland Pre-Trip: St Margarets, Richmond Upon Thames to Hampton Court, Kew Village and Gardens

We scored a pleasant (and very affordable) 2-bedroom AirBnB apartment only a 5 minute walk from St Margarets Station (near Richmond).  Our pub dinner at the Turks Head was close and delicious - but later we all were reminded of the downsides of sleeping so close to a popular "local" as we were subjected to the shouts of Saturday night drinkers into the wee hours of the morning.

We took a ferry from Richmond to Hampton Court Palace since King Henry VIII and visitors would have approached by water - much more impressive than the view when arriving by bus or train.  The London sunshine felt wonderful!
Of course, I had to visit my old haunts in Kew Village and Gardens, starting with breakfast at the Kew Greenhouse.
We took the Kew Explorer Tram and toured Kew Palace, walked above the gardens on the Treetop Walkway, and meandered through gardens and glasshouses (and of course the shop).
The latest and greatest installation is The Hive.  The intensity of the sounds and light echo the activity in a real beehive.  We were also able to listen to the actual bees in that hive.
Of course, we had to rest our weary bones at the Kew Village local.  Cute name for a pub at the Kew Gardens station.

February 06, 2017

AMC Bolivia: Overview

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) “Bolivian Day Hiking Adventure” promised hiking and discovery in a country I have always wanted to visit.  Ginette and Anna of AMC and Matt of Adventurebug led 17 of us from La Paz and Valle de la Luna, to Sorata with its views of Illampu (20,892’) and Janq’u (21,086’), over Islas del Sol and de la Luna on Lake Titicaca, and into the jungles and pampas of the Amazon Basin near Rurrenabaque.  We hiked ~5-7 miles almost every day ranging from softly undulating to ascending from 11,500’ to 13,800’ in just 3 miles.  
Our group in the jungle

Best decision Susan and I made was to come two days early to our delightful hotel in La Paz to acclimate to the altitude (11,913 feet above sea level)
Hiked from 11,500' to almost 13,800' in three miles to reach lake Chilata in the Mt Illampu foothills outside Sorata

Walking the ridge of Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca in perfect weather. My favorite!

Wildlife was our reward for roughing it in the jungle.

February 04, 2017

AMC Bolivia: Rurrenabaque Jungle & Pampas

Our group filled the 19-passenger plane from La Paz over the mountains to Rurrenabaque in the Amazon Basin. Hail and turbulence made the flight more exciting but the alternative was a 12-hour bus ride. After a comfortable night in "town" we spent one night in the Alto Madidi Reserve and a second night in the Pampas del Yacuma. 
We traveled by boat on the Rio Beni before clambering uphill to hike the trail leading to our Jungle camp. Squirrel monkeys squeaked all around us in displeasure. 
We were greeted in camp by 11-month Gabby, a tapir adopted as a baby when her mother was killed by poachers.  Gabby loves to have her back scratched with a rake!
Our jungle hike was on a boardwalk ending in cliffs where macaws and green parrots dwell. Many thanks to fellow traveler Rich Willner for the wild animal shots.
The next morning, we returned by boat and then took a four hour drive to our rustic Pampas camp.
Enroute to camp we saw sloths and storks.  Later we saw caiman, pink dolphins, capybaras, howler monkeys, lizards and snakes.

February 01, 2017

AMC Bolivia: Lago Titicaca

After another 4 hour bumpy ride, we reached the ferry to Copacabana on Lago Titicaca (12,500'.) Actually, our bus rode the ferry and we took a motorboat.  Our hotel was gorgeous and we wanted to stay!  
The next morning, we hiked downhill from our hotel to board our boat to Isla del Sol. We disembarked near the Inca Palace and hiked for 2 hours to reach our guest house "Jacha Inti" in Yumani (~13,500'.)  

We got our rooms and then immediately hiked down to board our boat to Isla de la Luna.  We started our hike with a visit to Inak Uyu / "Court of Women" Inca ruins. Our local guide then led us from one side of the island over the top and down to the other side.  Our boat arrived at Yumani when people were lined up at the dock to transfer bricks. We enjoyed Happy Hour with a view of Mt Illampu.

My favorite hike was walking the length of Isla del Sol from Yumani to Roca Sagrada in the north. We climbed the imposing Inca Steps past villages and Inca ruins before descending to our boat. Most of the hike was on a well groomed "toll" trail named "Willka Thaki" and the weather was perfect.