From Morro Bay to Monterey on Big Sur

by Eliza Myers 31. May 2012 23:33



I looked and looked, but the view at McWay Cove in Julia Pfeiffer State Park did not feel real. The impossible beauty I beheld had to be part of some highly imaginative dream. Or I had been suddenly whisked up to heaven. Since neither of those seemed true, I had to accept the most likely scenario: I had fallen into a screen saver picture.

The little cove’s rocky cliffs, hills blanked with colorful flowers and 80-foot waterfall that flows into bright turquoise waters is unbelievably gorgeous. I knew I had found my new mental happy place. This breathtaking view stood out among numerous other immaculate vistas along the Big Sur route that goes up the coastal Highway One from Morro Bay to Monterey.

The elephant seals agree that this coast is pretty close to paradise. For April and May, the Piedras Blancas beach is covered with hundreds of female and juvenile elephant seals.

For a second, I entertained the horrifying idea that the elephant seals laying along the beach may all be dead from their absolute lack of movement. However, I soon learned that these seals were only very, very tired. Apparently months of hunting and giving birth in the ocean really tires you out. They hardly budged except to nestle further in the sand and the occasional sparring (play fighting). Some seals seeking an ocean swim would move a couple of feet toward the water before having to stop and take a short nap before moving again.

Along with elephant seals, I spotted harbor seals, sea lions, incredibly cute sea otters and two humpback whales on a whale watching trip in Monterey. The whales became an immediate trip highlight for me, since I had always wanted to see a whale in the wild after watching hours of National Geographic shows on these giant creatures. Watching them play next to the boat and occasionally look at us with curiosity was more than I ever hoped for.

Saying goodbye to the coast was difficult, but I took with me the ability to close my eyes and picture McWay Cove any time of day.


All photos by Jeremiah Myers

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Yosemite, Big Sur and Whale Watching

Yosemite National Park

by Eliza Myers 31. May 2012 22:26



While stopping a minute to look up the endless stone steps cut into the cliff’s side, I felt certain the upcoming Vernal and Nevada waterfalls would be worth the climb. I knew this not just because of the occasional glimpses of the powerful Vernal Falls, but also because I was standing in a rainbow.

Wind blasts Vernal Falls’ spray far down the mountain, giving the Yosemite hike the name Mist Trail. It felt like a sideways downpour, although looking up revealed only blue skies. The wind-blown water produced vibrant rainbows that appeared to follow me up the trail.

The sublime waterfall views that followed are typical of Yosemite. Everywhere you turn is larger-than-life scenery too magnificent to believe. You might spend twenty minutes soaking up the majesty of a waterfall before turning around and spying a towering dome filling the skies.

My favorite view, Glacier Point, allowed me to look at the landscape seemingly from the top of the world. Many of the domes, waterfalls and valleys of Yosemite lay before me in a dazzling vista waiting to be explored.

After four days of hiking every trail I could, I had already made plans to return some day. I can’t feel totally satisfied I’ve seen it all in Yosemite till I’ve climbed every mountain and looked up every waterfall.


All photos by Jeremiah Myers

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Yosemite, Big Sur and Whale Watching

Ceviche and the CIA

by Brian Jewell 31. May 2012 20:03

Today I donned an apron, toque and rubber gloves for an intense training session at the CIA. The mission: South American ceviche.

I'm not at Langley, but in San Antonio, at the "other" CIA — the Culinary Institute of America. The organization is recognized as one of the foremust culinary schools in the United States. In addition to its campuses in Hyde Park, New York, and Napa Valley, California, the school runs an outpost here in San Antonio, where students and professors specialize in food techniques from Central and South America.

In addition to training future chefs, the CIA offers a number of continuing education courses that are available to community members (visiting groups can arrange to take a class as well). Today, I joined a group of about a dozen other food enthusiasts for a hands-on class on South American ceviche. We entered the institute's brightly-colored Latin demonstration kitchen, where the staff had prepared aprons, toques (chef's hats) and recipe packets for us.

Chef Elizabeth Johnson-Kossick introduced herself as our instructor for the afternoon. A CIA professor, Chef Johnson-Kossick has spent large portions of time living in South America, and was intimately familiar with the details of the cuisine throughout the region. She spent a few minutes introducing us to the concept of ceviche — fresh fish flash-cured in lime juice — and teaching us about its different varieties in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. She also gave us an introduction to some of the ingredients we would be using, such as striped bass, shrimp, Mexican limes and plantains.

After the overview, we split up into four smaller groups to prepare a variety of ceviches in the well-outfitted instructional kitchen. Each team got a specific recipe to work from, along with a tray full of all the ingredients and tools we would need.

My team was tasked with making two ceviches — an Ecuadorian-style shrimp ceviche and a Colombian-style ceviche with striped bass and coconut milk. Chef guided us through the steps of mashing garlic cloves into paste, cutting cubes of fish and combinging the multitude of ingredients to taste. It was amazing to watch as raw fish cured into a safe, edible food after just a few minutes of marinating in the lime juice.

After an hour or so of hard work, the teams reconvened to sample all of the different ceviches we had made. We topped the five different dishes with some traditional South American ingreidients, including chopped peanutes, fried plantains, toasted coconut shavings and popcorn. Each variety of ceviche brought its own blend of flavors and textures, but they were all cool, delicious and remarkably fresh.

One afternoon at the CIA didn't turn me into a world-renowned chef, but it did give me and my compatriots an introduction to a new favorite food, and the courage to try the recipes out at home.

 

Chef Johnson-Kossick gives an overview of South Ameican pepers.


Ahi tuna "tiradito" — a sashimi-style raw fish dish.

 

My plate of four ceviches and a fried plantain chip.

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Tasting San Antonio

A Border Brunch

by Brian Jewell 30. May 2012 23:07

Sometimes a good meal can take you places. Today, brunch transported me from Texas into the colonial heart of Mexico.

I'm in San Antonio for a few days doing research for an upcoming magazine article. It just so happens that my trip coincides with Culinaria, a four-day foodie event that highlights some of the best flavors of San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country. So in addtion to visiting tourist spots like the River Walk and the Alamo, I'm taking advantage of some of the delicious opportunities that Culinaria offers.

The events at Culinaria range from large-scale gourmet tasting fairs to small, intimate winemakers dinners. Today's event might be my favorite of all. Called "Sabado at Casa Herman," this small brunch took place in an intimate new restaurant called Casa Hernan. The restaurant is owned by chef Johnny Hernandez, who has made a reputation as one of San Antonio's foremost purveyors of authentic Mexican cuisine. This new restaurant is located in the ground floor of Hernandez' personal home, and features architecture and artwork that you would find in many of Mexico's colonial towns.

Hernandez hosted this "Sabado" (or "Saturday") event to showcase one of his favorite styles of Mexican cuisine — traditional barbecue. Unlike American barbecue, which focuses on pork prepared in large smokers, Mexican barbecue features lamb and beef, which are smoked for hours in holes dug in the ground. A traditionalist, Hernandez dug pits in his own backyard to smoke the lamb and beef head that he served for brunch. As several dozen guests arrived at the event, Hernandez took them each out back to show them his barbecue pits and explain his traditional techniques.

Barbecue was the highlight of the brunch, but certainly not the only component. Our brunch buffet featured many other classic Mexican dishes, including tamales from Oaxaca and Veracruz, black-beans hand-made tourtillas and black beans with queso fresco. My favorite dish was the chilaquiles, a chicken and tortilla caserole traditionally served as a breakfast item in Mexico. The deep, complex and authentic flavors took me back 12 years and thousands of miles to my days as a student living in Morelia, a colonial Mexican city.

I ate as much as I could muster at brunch, washing it down with traditioanal "aguas" — Mexican fruit drinks made from coconut and guava — and finishing with colorful sweat bread pastries. For a blisfull noon hour on a May Saturday in San Antonio, I got to taste the best of Mexico all over again.

Traditional Mexian limes — a condiment for all occsions.

 

"Pan dulce" — Mexican sweet bread pastries

 

Authentic tamales wrapped in banana leaves

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Tasting San Antonio

Why travel and insurance go hand in hand

by Herb Sparrow 11. May 2012 22:50



The excitement of preparing for a trip, especially one that is out of the country, should also include careful planning. One of the most critical things any overseas traveler should have is travel insurance that covers trip interruptions and medical emergencies.

I had a firsthand experience about the benefits of insurance on a 10-day Panama Canal cruise on the Island Princess with cruise-operator specialists Susan and Russ Rosenberry of Islands in the Sun. I purchased a policy from Travel Guard, one of several capable and reliable companies, on my own, although you can purchase insurance through a tour operator or the cruise line.

The second night at sea, after a long and enjoyable dinner with Susan and Russ, I began getting a pain in my lower abdomen that became progressively more intense as the night wore on. Having had an attack of pancreatitis three years before, I suspected I was having another attack. Pancreatitis is not something to take lightly.

I finally dialed the emergency number around 5 a.m. and went to the ship’s medical center, where they put me on intravenous pain medicine and did blood tests and X-rays. By midafternoon, the ship’s chief medical office determined I needed to be put ashore at our first stop in Aruba for further tests.

I was taken by ambulance to the Dr. Horacio E. Oduber Hospital in Oranjestad, where I spent nearly four days.

Travel Guard, which is picking up all of my medical expenses on the ship and at the hospital, was in daily touch, monitoring my situation. The company arranged for a hotel room after I was discharged and arranged for my return flight home in business class along with a ticket for my daughter, who flew down to accompany me home.

I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn’t purchased the insurance. Since it was an emergency, my health insurance might have reimbursed me for the medical costs, which I would have had to pay upfront, but I doubt it would have helped me get home.

I would also like to thank Princess Cruises, whose U.S.-based passenger assistance officers Mary Kessler and Don O’Neal were also in daily contact to offer any assistance I needed and called to make sure I had gotten home OK.

The medical staff on board, headed by Dr. Deon Venter, were very professional and competent in stabilizing my condition and making me as comfortable as possible for a full day and night at sea.

In Aruba, Carol Angie, managing director of the port agency, and Henry van Loon, the agency’s boarding officer, also looked after me, getting my luggage off the ship and storing it. Carol brought my carry-on with my toiletries to the hospital and took me to the hotel after my discharge and to a pharmacy to have a prescription (they call it a recipe there) filled.

I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped me.

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Travel Thoughts

Go Peru culminates with a cleanup project at Mercado San Pedro in Cusco

by Mac Lacy 10. May 2012 21:33

                  *The five photos in this blog from our cleanup project were provided courtesy of Terrapin Blue

Local tourism leader Rogers Valencia Espinoza addresses the gathering.  Tourism Cares CEO Bruce Beckham is shown at right.


Our whirlwind adventure in Peru was wrapped up with a boisterous welcome back to Cusco for a cleanup project at Mercado San Pedro, a major downtown market in this mountain city.  Following official welcomes from local tourism leaders and remarks by Tourism Cares CEO Bruce Beckham, we got started.

Tourism Cares teams supplemented by lots of local volunteers addressed numerous facilities at this busy park.  Some crews painted light poles, while others painted kiosks.  Other groups went to work painting the marketplace's exterior walls, while others painted and filled flower pots that had long ago become filled with trash.  We worked hard for a couple of hours before taking a wonderful lunch break that included sandwiches and the local specialty, Peruvian corn on the cob.  These ears of corn feature huge kernals--some the size of marbles--and are served hot.  All of us were hooked on this local delicacy by the time we left the country.

That afternoon, we went back to work and put second coats on many items and did a lot of trim work around railings and windows.  Our video crew, Terrapin Blue, out of Athens, Georgia, got lots of great video of the event, plus many stills.  Since I was working, I did not shoot any photos of this event and want to give thanks to Ryan and Jill Kelly, the company's owners, for sending these shots for this final blog.


About 40 Tourism Cares volunteers from the U.S. participated in the restoration



This passerby wore a typical tall hat that offers protection from the sun's rays in Cusco, which sits at 11,000 feet elevation in the Andes



Volunteers of all ages donned painting gloves and went to work to restore the city marketplace


Many prominent travel industry companies were sponsors of Tourism Cares' first international project

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Tourism Cares: Peru 2012

Visiting the "lost city of the Incas"

by Mac Lacy 9. May 2012 19:15

Terraced hillsides step downward from the city's walls and courtyards


Understandably, Machu Picchu regularly rests atop the various bucket lists of worldwide travelers published by magazines and websites.  Its iconic images of a "lost world" resting high in the Andean mountain range are immediately recognizeable to most of us, like the Taj Mahal or Egyptian pyramids would be.  We took a winding bus ride up the mountain from the small village of the same name after an hour and a half train ride from Ollantaytambo to get here.

Our guide was careful to point out the variations in stone architecture that separated the living quarters here from the sacred temples or structures that addressed the Inca's spiritual beliefs.  As with Christianity, the number three was sacred to this culture and was represented in various ways--the sun, mother earth and water, for instance, or their elevation of three creatures to spiritual status--the condor, the puma and the snake.

The Incas were master architects and builders, and they built Machu Picchu with earthquakes in mind, using distinct angles for windows and doors that would allow stones to compress into one another as opposed to away from one another in the event of a tremor or worse.  Their craftsmanship as masons was extraordinary.  Thus, 600 years later, many structures in this citadel are entirely or almost entirely intact.  The Incas used a calendar they created from the movement of the sun through the seasons which allowed them to build sacred windows that were positioned to capture the sun's direct light on specific days of the year.  Their calendar was remarkably similar to the one we use today.

Peruvian tourism leaders have done much to recondition the citadel's lawns


Distant peaks give some idea of just how inaccessible this archaeological marvel really was


The Incas were master craftsmen and built "quake resistant" structures


Most of these structures date to the 15th century

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Tourism Cares: Peru 2012

2012 Cactus League Baseball

by Bob Hoelscher 7. May 2012 20:15



During the second half of February, the “Boys of Summer” traditionally report to training camp in either Florida or Arizona to get in shape and hone their skills for the upcoming Major League Baseball season. March, however, features a full schedule of “practice” games which allows managers and coaches to evaluate their minor league talent and determine which “rookies” are likely to best complement the team’s established major leaguers.

Nobody takes these “Grapefruit League” and “Cactus League” contests too seriously. The weather is not only nice, but fans can also get relatively close to their favorite stars. Consequently, the annual one-month spring training season has been the primary reason underlying a tourist “migration” for decades. 

This spring I was able to make a substantial number of Cactus League games, all held in ten different stadiums throughout the Phoenix “Valley of the Sun” area, due in part to accompanying groups for tour operator friends who offer packages featuring their favorite teams. Attendance in general this year appeared to be up substantially over last with numerous “sell-outs” being recorded. Major attractions included Albert Pujols, the top slugger lured away from the St. Louis Cardinals by a $240 million, 10-year deal by the Los Angeles Angels, the unexpected success of the home-town Arizona Diamondbacks, who won the 2011 National League Western Division Championship, as well as the sometimes laughable but ever-lovable Chicago Cubs, who, other than the aforementioned “D-backs,” can apparently claim the biggest Arizona fan base.  

A disappointing situation that came to light, however, unrelated to baseball, is the apparent passing of any value in using the once universally popular Traveler’s Checks due their advertised capability of being “easily replaced if lost or stolen.” One of the members of a Mayflower Tours group that I assisted was a charming and well-spoken older lady from Chicago, who encountered nothing but grief in attempting to get an American Express Traveler’s Check cashed, not in some place like Outer Mongolia, but in a major U.S. city!  First, I found it strange that the Hampton Inn where the group stayed for five nights declined to cash the T.C. for a registered guest. 

Next the nearby local bank refused to do anything for someone who did not have an account there.  Finally, her last option was the branch of a national bank (Wells Fargo), which would only cash the check for a 10% service fee ($10 on a $100 T.C.!), which, at least in my humble opinion, is outrageous. Has our society really sunk to the point where common courtesy and modest service to one’s fellow man (woman, in this case) have taken back seats to indifference and corporate greed?  I sure hope not!


Pickoff Play at First Base


Troy Tulowitzki Awaits His Turn at the Plate


Here Comes the Pitch

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Springtime in the Southwest

Hoover Dam no longer a desert bottleneck

by Bob Hoelscher 7. May 2012 20:13



If you haven’t been to Las Vegas recently, you may be unaware that the monumental traffic jams that formerly accumulated on U.S. 93 at Hoover Dam are now a thing of the past. In the fall of 2010, the extremely impressive Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge opened over the gaping chasm, about 3/10 of a mile downstream from the dam. This replaced the narrow, winding and steep two-lane roadway that descended into Black Canyon, crossed the dam and ascended on the opposite side. 

The original road itself was definitely on the challenging side, since you had to contend with tourists, local traffic and security measures that bogged things down even further. Unless one planned to travel across the dam well after sunset, a delay of a full hour sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic could almost always be expected. On top of that, motorcoaches traveling to or from such points as Phoenix or the Grand Canyon weren’t even allowed to cross the dam, but were detoured about 23 miles out of the way via U.S. 95, NV 163, and AZ 68 through Laughlin. It was a bad situation.     

Now, traveling past the dam area is a breeze. Unless you are particularly observant when traveling by auto, or have access to elevated motorcoach windows, you’ll never even know that you are passing the dam, since high walls have been erected on the bridge to make sure that “rubbernecking” tourists don’t drive their cars into the canyon while attempting to get scenic views from above.

 The good news is that a convenient parking lot, accessible only from the Nevada side, has been built for visitors wishing to experience the spectacular panorama of Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, Black Canyon and the Colorado River, almost 900 feet below the bridge. From the lot, it is an uphill but relatively easy walk to the 1,900-foor-long, six-foot-long sidewalk that extends the bridge’s full length on the other side of the aforementioned “high wall,” facing north. There is no better place to get the full measure of the dam and its surroundings.


Visitors on the Bridge Walkway


Informational Plaque along the Walkway

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Springtime in the Southwest

Las Vegas welcomes the Smith Center

by Bob Hoelscher 7. May 2012 20:00



Despite the numerous visitor attractions for which Las Vegas is famous, one thing that the city did not have until recently was a first-class performing arts complex. This March all of that all changed with the opening of the $450 million Smith Center for the Performing Arts, located at Symphony Park, a new downtown development that was formerly occupied by extensive railroad yards. I got to visit this truly impressive facility this spring to explore the Smith Center’s performance venues. 
   
Like his other well-known projects, the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth and Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, the architect, David M. Schwarz, has designed the Smith Center in art deco style. For this design, he incorporated design elements that pay homage to the art deco features of Hoover Dam. No expense was spared in obtaining Indiana limestone for the exterior, fine Italian marble for the lobbies and foyers, plus custom fixtures, decorative artwork and sculpture, as well as state of the art technical resources. Crowning the center is a 47-bell Carillon Tower. Across the entrance driveway sits the lovely Symphony Park for another special outdoor events and exhibitions venue.  

The Smith Center intends to host a wide variety of performances, ranging from “Broadway” theatre productions (The Color Purple was in the midst of a one-week run during my visit), to popular, jazz, classical and “crossover” music artists, as well as other special attractions. Resident companies include the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Nevada Ballet Theatre. 

An initial challenge with an overly “hot” sound (as the stage manager termed it) and the reported lack of bass response have apparently led to some mixed and negative reviews of the Reynolds Hall acoustics. However, the extensive efforts required to assure that any new performance space is optimally “tuned” are still underway, and the acoustics are sure to be improved as that process nears completion. Additional information is available through Amber Stidham, Public Relations Manager, who graciously guided me on an extended tour in early April.  Amber can be reached at astidham@thesmithcenter.com.


Exterior Art Deco Building Detail


Smith Center as Viewed from from Symphony Park


Reynolds Hall Lobby

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Springtime in the Southwest

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