ESCAPESEEKER is privileged to feature our outstanding Antarctica Advance Research Team member, John Hempelmann. One of our program's goals is to deliver the "JOY of TRAVEL"...and no one exudes more joy than our #brilliant, adventurous advisor and friend!

ESCAPESEEKER is privileged to feature our outstanding Antarctica Advance Research Team member, John Hempelmann. One of our program’s goals is to deliver the “JOY of TRAVEL”…and no one exudes more #joy than our #brilliant, #adventurous adviser and friend!


South Georgia Island ~ “Simply Amazing!” Add this to the superlatives in the Title above, and you have the exact sentiments expressed by our own ART [Advance Research Team] member, John Hempelmann, describing our January 5th premiere exploration of South Georgia Island via One Ocean Expeditions.

John’s report is so eloquently written, and reflective of his contagious enthusiasm for the wonders of our planet, that it seems only apropos that I share it with you verbatim!  And, yes, in case you are wondering, above is a picture of John I captured during the most flawless, unforgettable Antarctic sea-kayaking day.  More on that adventure later…but for now, please permit me to share John’s eloquent report…and you’ll understand why he is so contagiously #happy!

In his own words…

Incredible! Beyond Description! Out of this World! Amazing! These words do not begin to describe accurately our experiences today on South Georgia Island. Even the stunning pictures and videos  will not be enough to convey the majesty and uniqueness of what we have seen and experienced.

Sir Ernest Shackleton's GraveIt is so appropriate today is January 5 because that is the day Ernest Shackleton died here on South Georgia Island in 1922. It was here he started his ill-fated expedition to cross the Antarctic Continent. After his ship, the Endurance, was crushed by the ice in the Weddell Sea on Antarctica, it was here he landed after 17 days at sea in a small boat in his successful, arduous effort to save all his men. This is the 100th Anniversary of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Shackleton's VoyageWe sailed for two days and three nights, mostly in fog, to get here. We crossed the Antarctic Convergence Zone and the temperature plummeted below freezing. Finally, this morning the fog began to dissipate as we sighted icebergs, and then cliffs, waterfalls and glaciers running into the sea. (There are 160 glaciers on the Island.) The sea had come alive with many species of birds, seals and fast swimming penguins. Then the winds blew all the fog and clouds away and it was white mountains, icy glaciers and the Salisbury Plain lying before us. The Plain was left by the retreating glacier and now it is home to thousands of fur seals and more than a hundred thousand King Penguin breeding pairs (YES, more than two hundred thousand big funny birds).

King Penguins as far as the eye can see.It was a mind blowing experience coming ashore through the surf on the Zodiac and walking into this huge conglomeration of wildlife. There were darling baby fur seals and penguins everywhere.

DSC_0799[Image captured by Mel Gee Henderson]


The huge parent seals snoozed in the sun–until you got too close and then a huge mammal would  jump up and bark at you. Occasionally, a big seal would charge but we could deter them with the point of a walking stick (a ski touring pole). One big guy tried to bite the tip of my pole but I snapped back at him and he retreated. They were EVERYWHERE–hundreds of them. We walked across the Plain as King Penguins came up to check us out. We climbed a very steep hillside of tussac grass and mud to get to the edge of the penguin colony. You will find this hard to believe or envision but there were hundreds of thousands of brown furry juvenile penguins and their parents in their beautiful black and white coats and they were all jammed together like a huge river running down to the sea. It was incredible! This description is completely inadequate. We watched for a long time and looked out over the Plain at the wildlife, the craggy white mountains and our white Ship in the distance floating in a blue sea against a blue sky.

After Dinner on the Ship, we set out again in the Zodiac and explored the fur seal colonies along the shore of King Olav Inlet in Cook (yes, the Captain Cook) Bay. Our scientists carefully counted the seals and made notes. As the light faded, we cruised by an old whaling station abandoned early in the 20th Century. It was a wreck and there was an old whaling ship wrecked on the beach. After the whaling parties completely depleted the whales, they just packed up and left. Eerie!! We are in a new era and saw the history of an old era.

Tomorrow, we sail to Stromness Harbor and Grytviken Whaling Station.


Our Adventure Continues…

We hope you’ll stay tuned as our Russian vessel, the Akademik Iofee navigates across these icy waters and brings us ever closer to the GREAT WHITE CONTINENT!

Our ESCAPESEEKER TeamFrom our entire Antarctica team pictured above, yours truly, Roy Henderson, Mary McGill, and John Hempelmann…

Here’s to #blissful, #endless #ESCAPES,


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“I seemed to vow to myself that someday I would go to the region of ice and snow…” ~ Ernest Shackleton

One-hundred years later, against all odds, my ESCAPESEEKER team and I find ourselves miraculously stepping onto the same continent that drew one of the world’s greatest explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Sir Ernest Shackleton


How does one prepare for an expedition to ANTARCTICA?

If you can truthfully sign the following One Ocean Expeditions form, then you are definitely a solid candidate to embark on one of the most extraordinary voyages of your life.

I am in good general health, and capable of performing normal activities on this expedition. I further attest that I am capable of caring for myself during the expedition, and that I will not impede the progress of the expedition or the enjoyment of others on board. I understand this expedition will take me far from the nearest medical facility and that all expedition members must be self-sufficient. With that understanding, I certify that I have not been recently treated for, nor am I aware of, any physical, mental or other condition or disability that would create a hazard to myself or other members of the expedition.

Signature: ______________________

After researching the various entities that offered Antarctic adventures, we selected One Ocean Expeditions because we wanted to have an authentic up-close and personal Antarctica experience–not merely a “drive by”–or should I say, “cruise by.” I was also particularly moved by the sentiment expressed by One Ocean Expeditions‘ Founder and Managing Director, Andrew Prossin, “My Mother told me to work hard. She told me that the world is made of guts and grits and spirits, that you get out what you put in.  And, if you bring this into what you do, you can know about joy.”

I believe our Mothers are “cut from the same cloth.”  I knew that if I was going to venture for 21 days to the world’s coldest, windiest, highest continent on the planet, I wanted an organization that aspires to “knowing joy” and, is not afraid of hard work. As Sir Ernest Shackleton said, “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.” Our due diligence and research of One Ocean Expeditions revealed they possessed the “guts, grits, and spirits” to overcome any difficulty that may arise.  And, with our Antarctic-approved cold weather gear, we landed in Ushuaia, Argentina–our expedition’s embarkation port one day before our embarkation date of December 30, 2015.  To say our team is filled with anticipation would be an understatement! Thus, with the following dispatch by our ESCAPESEEKER team member, John Hempelmann to friends and family back home, we were on our way to making our lifelong dream come true–to set foot on Antarctica:

“We have started our adventure to the bottom of the World.  We left the beautiful Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, and flew another 3 hours due south to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost town in South America. Many on our flight had packs and walking sticks and they were clearly headed to backpacking to experience the exceptional beauty of the National Parks within Argentine Patagonia.  It was 85 degrees F.  yesterday in Buenos Aires and it is 40 today in Ushuaia. As I write this report, the sun has just set and it is 10:30PM. Tomorrow we board the Akademik Ioffe, our “ice hardened” expedition ship. The Ship is named after a famous Russian physicist who helped invent radar to detect German warplanes early in WW II. We can’t believe it is really happening.  What an amazing way to close 2015, and welcome 2016.  Our Seventh Continent–Antarctica, here we come!”

Akademik-Ioffe-icebreaker-shipJanuary 1, 2016 ~ Happy New Year!

We woke up this morning approaching the Falkland Islands and, as John was making the cafe mochas, Mary McGill, the 4th member of our ESCAPESEEKER team took advantage of photo opportunities of dolphins and albatross outside the port window of our cabin. Did you know the albatross has the largest wing span, 5.5 to 6 feet, of any bird in the world, and it can fly and glide hundreds of miles because, among other capabilities, it can fly while most of its brain is sleeping?

The wandering albatross, snowy albatross, white-winged albatross or goonie (Diomedea exulans) is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean.

The wandering albatross, snowy albatross, white-winged albatross or goonie (Diomedea exulans) is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean.

Yesterday we left South America and headed NE.  They say the Falklands and South Georgia are incredible and most expeditions head straight for Antarctica because they have less time allocated for use of this research ship. On board to provide passengers with daily briefings,  we have One Ocean Expeditions’ historians, geologists, naturalists, botanists, and those studying the ice and the sea. Two researchers are doing a census of various species of penguins. There are also three professional photographers, one of whom is a young Israeli, Roie Galitz, a world famous wildlife photographer, and his videos are amongst the most spectacular we have even seen. If you’re like us and thrive on mind-expanding experiences, well, we’ve found just the right “land and sea continuing ed.” One can never learn too much!

As an added bonus of the One Ocean Expeditions, we have an opportunity to continually improve our photography skills by learning from the pros.

As an added bonus of the One Ocean Expeditions, we have an opportunity to continually improve our photography skills by learning from the pros.

The Akademik Ioffe is an amazing ship crewed entirely by Russians. It is based in Kaliningrad in the Baltic. It was specifically designed for polar exploration and research and thus we can go places the “cruise ships” cannot go near. There are “rumors” this ship was designed to locate other “boats” like the USSB Henry M. Jackson but the Ohio Class boomers run so deep, so fast and so quietly that even the US Navy cannot find them. Apparently, this ship gave up trying. Now this ship takes scientists of all kinds to the polar regions to study the sea, the ice, the geology, the birds, mammals and other creatures.

We had two spectacular shore landings today in the West Falkland Islands. Except for our visit to Stanley (Pop: 2220, half of whom are British military), which has a pier (weather permitting), we go ashore in Zodiac inflatables. We are outfitted in complete water/wind proof expedition suits and boots.

Our first shore landing is on West Point Island:

Falkland Islands mapThere is a resident couple who are “Island Sitting” and have been on the Island for 3 years. They have already sailed their 30 foot sailboat 300,000 miles (that is NOT a typo). We hiked about two miles across the Island and encountered an incredible colony of thousands of rock hopper penguins nesting with black browed albatross. As you’ll note, they all had little ones.

Images captured by Mel Gee Henderson at West Point Island, The Falklands.

Images captured by Mel Gee Henderson at West Point Island, The Falklands.Before we left for the Ship, the local couple invited us to join them for tea and cookies in their little English cottage where they receive provisions by boat from Stanley every few months.

After returning to the Ship and lunch, we landed on Carcass Island. The winds had increased to 30 knots so we had a wild, wet and bumpy trip into the beach. It was worth it! We had marvelous encounters with Magellinac penguins (named by Ferdinand Magellan) and the classic Gentoo penguins (the waddling guys in dinner suits).

Magellanic Penguins on the Falkland Islands. [Image by Roie Galitz]

Magellanic Penguins on the Falkland Islands. [Image by Roie Galitz]

OOE Zodiac


We are safely returned to the Akademik Ioffee by our skilled One Ocean Expeditions’ zodiac navigator, Ian Peck.

The anchor has been hoisted and we now prepare for what would become one of many unforgettable evenings of story-sharing as we break bread with our new found friends from around the world.

Wow, this is definitely a New Years Day we will never forget!

Stay tuned as we continue on our epic ESCAPESEEKER expedition to the bottom of the world!


ESCAPESEEKER...Tracing the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

ESCAPESEEKER…Tracing the amazing footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

 King Penguin Colony   Image captured by Mel Gee Henderson

You too, can follow in our ESCAPESEEKER adventure:

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001 collage (1)

 [Above Images captured by Israel-based photographer, Roie Galitz,]


On January 11, 2016, a special member of our ESCAPESEEKER ANTARCTICA ADVANCE RESEARCH TEAM, John Hempelmann, submitted the following report:


As we arrive in Antarctica, the seas are stormy and it is snowing. Snow in January makes sense but it is Summer here now! Here are a few facts about Antarctica to put everything in context.

Mother Nature's Monuments leave us breathless.

Mother Nature’s Monuments leave us breathless.

Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, highest and driest of all the Continents. It can be 80 degrees below zero in the winter. The average elevation is 7500 feet. In the winter (March-October), the ice spreads over the sea essentially doubling the size of the Continent. Ice covers 99% of the Continent. In some places, the ice is 3 miles thick and over a million years old. Because there are so many mountains here, the ice “flows” down to the sea as glaciers or forms “ice shelves” that float on the sea. Some of the ice shelves are huge like the Ross Ice Shelf which has hundreds of square miles of area. Because they float on the sea, the ice shelves move around. Icebergs are formed when wave action moves the edges of glaciers or ice shelves up and down and pieces break off. These icebergs have incredibly dense ice so they last a long time and can travel hundreds of miles in the currents. We have seen many very large icebergs during our 72 hour sail from South Georgia Island to Antarctica. Fortunately, they show up really well on the radar.  (We can go up to the Bridge most any time we wish,  and that is a neat place to watch over the bow and see all the instruments used by the crew.) About 90% of all the world’s ice is in Antarctica and it locks up almost 70% of all the surface fresh water in the world. Even with all the snow and ice, Antarctica has deserts–dry valleys–but I will explain that strange fact at another time.

Despite the ice and the harsh conditions, Antarctica is rich in wildlife, especially whales, seals, penguins and sea birds. This is primarily the result of a sea that is rich in Krill, a tiny crustacean that is produced in the billions here. As the ice melts into the sea, the cold water drops to the bottom and warmer water rises to the surface. The ice shelves form an insulating layer under which the krill grow and thrive. All the mammals feed on the krill and the seals eat the penguins, the whales eat the seals, etc.

250,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins as far as the eye can see.

250,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins as far as the eye can see.

As you know, very few people ever get to the Antarctic. We are told only .0004% of the people in the world get here (and even fewer get to South Georgia Island). We are SO fortunate.  ~ John Hempelmann


On December 30, 2015, our ESCAPESEEKER team began an epic voyage to ANTARCTICA with ONE OCEAN EXPEDITIONS‘ Russian research vessel, Akademik Iofee.  For the next several days, we will be posting daily journal reports penned during our voyage as we made our way to the GREAT WHITE CONTINENT!  We will include images captured throughout our expedition by team members, Mary McGill, Roy A. Henderson, John Hempelmann, and yours truly, Mel Gee Henderson.

Bidding Farewell to Ushuaia, Argentina. The excitement is evident on everyone's happy faces.

Bidding Farewell to Ushuaia, Argentina. The excitement is evident on everyone’s happy faces.

Please stay tuned as we sort through thousands of stunning images, film clips, and beautiful reports penned straight from our hearts!

Here’s to #endless, #blissful, #aweinspiring ESCAPES!



Walking in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton...100 years later.

Walking in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton…100 years later.

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Anthem, Arizona ~ My day began at 0300 when I tried to balance my groggy self in front of my desk to continue scripting our ESCAPESEEKER episodes on ‪#‎phenomenalperu‬. One of the most challenging part of this assignment is finding a new angle to present Peru–beyond its camera-ready iconic ancient Inca monuments that dot its mountainous landscape and document a culture light years ahead of its time; or, its giant blue lake the size of an ocean presiding at 12,500 feet; or, its thick, towering rainforest caressing the life-source headwaters of the mighty Peruvian Amazon.

12046709_10156315005620105_8457267183934608170_n (1) gallery-fieldnotetiticaca2I did not have to go far to find the answer–it came in the form of a request from someone who spent 18 full months dedicating her life to voluntarily serving the people of Peru. This was no simple transition for this youngest of six children, completely adored by her older siblings, and totally embracing her fun Southern California lifestyle. Saying goodbye to it all was difficult, but saying goodbye to the love of her life, Chandler, for several seasons was heartbreaking. Nevertheless, following the promptings of her soul, she heed the call to serve.

Upon learning that I was returning to Peru specifically to find the destinations and compelling stories to fill almost two broadcast hours, Gabrielle Gee Chow had but one request: “Mom, please make sure you tell the story through their eyes.” While serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Hermana Gee developed such a deep respect, and abiding love for the resilient, caring people of Peru–from it’s bustling Capital of Lima, home to over nine million Peruvians and a sprinkling of global expats–to the high jungle plateaus of Tarapoto, the link to the upper Amazon-Hermana focused on being the hardest-working missionary she could be–hoping to be even better than her two elder missionary brothers,Brennen Gee, who served in the Czech Republic and Garrett Gee who served in Russia–both learning equally challenging languages–never mind the cultural adjustments that entailed.

11062133_10154238260293032_1607182564311704531_nHermana Gee’s missionary shoes may be a good testament that she achieved her goal–but these faces I captured in the Spring of 2013 when I traveled to Peru to “walk in her shoes” for a very brief moment speak volumes. I was granted a tiny glimpse of what her Peruvian Missionary life was like, and more importantly, I began to understand why Hermana Gee cares so deeply about Peru…and why it is so important to her that I get my story right!

12079298_10154238261993032_258971816976609284_nMuchas Gracias Hija! Eres mi inspiración. Siempre te quiero! Soy una Mama bendita y agradecida.

12063628_10154238264598032_742936429991009774_nI’m going on week three of very little sleep, as my ESCAPESEEKER film team and I prepare for one of our most arduous assignments–filming/producing four 27-minute episodes under the feature title of “Phenomenal Peru.”  I’ve been fine-tuning pages and pages of scripts, which I’ve written under the on-going instruction of Gabrielle Gee echoing “to get it right.”  Now, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that all the puzzle pieces will come together, including the multiple film permits required by the Peruvian government for our crew to film per site location–you can only begin to imagine how many we’re covering in almost a month of filming–plus the logistical planning that goes into moving our crew from place to place.

It does take a village to produce our program…and in Peru’s case, it will take village after village of native land support for us to get our story right!  We thank you all in advance for your tremendous support:  Thank you @LAN Airlines for making sure we are where we are supposed to be throughout our Peruvian filming adventure!  After working with so many wonderful Peruvians during the Advance Research Phase, I can totally understand why Gabrielle Gee holds such a special place in her heart for Peru and the loving, kind-hearted Peruvians she thinks of every day.

We hope you’ll follow our #peruvian #adventures as we prove once again that there’s no destination on earth too far, too difficult, or too phenomenal to reach!

With kindness and gratitude,


PS:  We can’t wait to see our dear friends at the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco  We are so very appreciative of all of your unwavering support.


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Phoenix, AZ ~ It’s 2:54 a.m. and I’m wide awake on this starry Sonoran Desert pre-dawn Tuesday reflecting upon our latest ESCAPESEEKER cruising adventure on board the Paul Gauguin Cruises’ m/v Tere Moana. Our journey began on July 30th, when my traveling companions and I arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport at 5:00 a.m. with the desert temperature already on the rise, and so was the excitement and wide-eyed anticipation for my two beautiful ESCAPESEEKER guests–after all this was their premiere visit to the most floating city in the world–Yes, Katy Miyasaki Craner, Christina Gee Noakes, and their  ESCAPESEEKER host were bound for VENEZIA, Italy!

The JOYS of TRAVEL is multiplied 10-fold when it is shared with your best friend!

The JOYS of TRAVEL is multiplied 10-fold when it is shared with your best friend!

My two ESCAPESEEKER guests eagerly boarded their US Airways flight, departing on time, and arriving Venice exactly as planned.  Their VIP transfer service which I had pre-arranged with the seasoned concierge Michele [Mikele] at the was there ready to assist and transport them to the beautiful private island resort.  And, thank goodness they were, and my two extremely competent travelers knew just how to navigate their way out of the Marco Polo Venice International Airport.  My Delta flight encountered some “mechanical issues” and I was put on a later flight and re-routed through Minneapolis, and Paris-Charles de Gaulle to Venice. I need to give a shout out to Mehdi and Vernon at Paris-CDG for their special “aircraft to aircraft assistance” and ensuring I made my Air France/Delta Venice connection.  And,  thank goodness, once again for the JW Marriott concierge, I, too, had been extended their VIP transfer service, and ultimately joining my patient ESCAPESEEKER group later that afternoon.

Sunkissed Welcome Brunch at the JW Marriott Venice "Sagra" Rooftop Restaurant.

Sunkissed Welcome Brunch at the JW Marriott Venice “Sagra” Rooftop Restaurant.

ESCAPESEEKERISMS:  If you really want to know a person’s heart, travel with them!

You may think you know someone, but until you travel with them, you may be surprised by what you discover.  For this ESCAPESEEKER, I quickly learned just how special and incredibly competent, joyful, über fun, extremely kind and soulful my two traveling companions would be throughout our 12-day “Land and Sea” European Adriatic voyage!  Did I forget to mention, these two young Moms had to go to great lengths to make all the proper arrangements to ensure their young children (4 + 3)  would be cared for properly during their extended absence:  Enter–two very supportive, albeit extremely busy working husbands!  As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones bonding–as the two newly made,  full-time fathers combined their parenting efforts and would enjoy several joint family pool/pizza parties while their Mommies were away! As back-up,  Christina also recruited the support of a very kind and loving sister-in-law, McKell Dilg Gee; and, Katy found two willing Church friends who jointly agreed to take turns covering her family should her anesthesiologist husband, Dr. Craner be called to surgery. Sound complicated?  Well, it is. But then again, what in a mother’s life isn’t complicated? These two are seasoned multi-taskers and their attention to details when it comes to their children knows no bounds.

Thank you Dads for being so supportive!As a Mom who gave birth and raised six children of my own, I too,  know that even though you may be physically absent, your heart is never really far from home.  This is also true with my two young Mama traveling companions. They savored all of the amazing, exclusive Yachting experiences afforded us on board our sleek m/v Tere Moana, as well as all of the postcard-perfect ports we visited along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. However, ultimately,  almost every dinner conversation would  lead to discussions about their beautiful children, their respective “awesome” husband, and how much they missed seeing them on a daily basis, proving that you can take Mama out of her beautiful nest, but her heart and mind will never really ever be far from home!


The above became another on-going topic we discussed throughout our voyage.  It is clear that it takes so much work and expense to make all the necessary arrangements for home to run as smoothly as it can–after all, what Mother doesn’t wear a dozen hats?  You’re the chauffeur, the chef, the housemaid, the referee, the peacemaker, the fitness instructor, the swimming instructor, the grocery shopper, the spiritual leader, and the wife, etc., etc. Why even go through all that work to “escape” for even a short trip with your BFF?  Here are some of the personal reasons given:

1.  Even Moms need to continually learn, so we can better teach our children.  I’m blown away by how much I’m discovering and learning on this trip about other cultures, other engaging people! (Craner)

2.  I cannot remember when it was that I actually slept through the night! (Craner)

3.  I feel so re-charged.  Traveling makes me remember that I’m also an individual, still evolving, developing my talents, and continually learning things about myself…and giving me a new perspective on the world. (Noakes)

4.  Everyone needs time to laugh, to explore, to take in the world with your BFF! (Craner & Noakes)

5.  Traveling with the right people makes all the difference in the world.  It is the most amazing experience:  mind-expanding, life-changing, soul-enriching, and most importantly, friendship-building! (Noakes)


I must interject how much my two companions continually inspired me, and everyone around them.  Their kind spirit and joyful attitude towards life, their compassion for others, their desire to learn and experience all that is good in this world was simply contagious! Let me say no more, and allow the following images to tell the story of one of the most wonderfully uplifting, truly marvelous voyages I have ever undertaken.  And, those of you who know how many voyages I’ve been on, that is saying a lot! Take a look for yourselves with a click of the thumb:  A YACHT, A HAT, AND MY BFF: Our Beautiful Voyage Across the Adriactic


Thank you Katy and Christina for being such tremendous members of the ESCAPESEEKER traveling team…for sharing my insatiable wanderlust, and most importantly, for seeing, experiencing, embracing the places we visited respectfully through our many, new-found native friends’ eyes. You touched so many hearts during our journey.  You are both remarkable, exemplary American women–outstanding ambassadors of friendship and goodwill on behalf of the country we love.  I feel very blessed to glean so much from each of you!  And, to think, I actually thought I was leading this European Summer Adventure?



ESCAPESEEKERISMS   A very special ESCAPESEEKER THANK YOU to the following:

Paul Gauguin Cruises‘ President, Diane Moore, Master Captain Rajko Zupan and Hotel Director, Nelson Trindade, and the entire indefatigable staff and crew of the  m/v TERE MOANA for creating one unforgettable  “2015 Reunion” Venice to Venice Yachting Adventure for all of us extremely fortunate, grateful guests. Your hospitality is truly legendary!

Paul Gauguin Cruises' Tere Moana TeamJW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa for the kind outstanding upgrade to our stunning “Loft”–it is absolutely perfect for gal pals who need a lot more space, especially with all the outstanding shopping in Venice! Your concierge service and Bell staff were incredibly quick to assist us in every way. Thank you Cristiano Cabutti for the wonderful ESCAPESEEKER welcome!

JW Marriott Venice Resort Loft: Our home away from home

Belmond HOTEL CIPRIANI Venice…Any day spent with you is absolutely REGAL! Roberto’s warm Italian greeting could not be any sweeter; It’s also easy to understand why Walter’s signature beverages are world-renowned; and the entire staff at ORO Restaurant, well, they made the entire delicious dining experience simply “Golden!” Thank you Laura di Bert for orchestrating our Unforgettable Cipriani Day!

Our Special Cipriani Day

Paula Parmeggiani, it meant so much to us that you would invite us into your beautiful Venetian home, and prepare the most incredible feast! What a stunning (full) moon-lit Venetian night…you are absolutely right Paula… when you told me, “Mel, why not dine at my home.  After all, I have a fantastic [birdseye] view of Venice!” Paula, you made us feel like family, living like true Venetian natives! What a beautiful welcome.  It is an evening we will always remember!

Birdseye View of Venice

Osteria IL MILION …Roberto Bocus, our Venetian visit would be incomplete without you!  With a tradition extending back more than 300 years, it’s no wonder your Osteria, IL MILION is a favorite amongst the gondoliers.  Thank you for welcoming ESCAPESEEKER back time and time again.  Grazie mille!











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with select images by ESCAPESEEKER Photographer, Miristi Gee MiristiGeeImagery

Punta Arenas, Chile ~ Ok, let me begin by admitting, I am addicted to “Experiential Travel,” and I believe I am not alone. For those of you who are not familiar with this current phrase that’s sweeping across the travel universe,  please permit me to explain.  Experiential travel is a trend in tourism (also known as immersion travel) which focuses on experiencing a country, city or particular place by connecting to its history, people and culture. It is about valuing the experiences you actually have versus what you’re being told you should be having as described in the travel brochures. For example, everyone who travels to Paris normally stands in the incredibly long lines just to get into the Musée du Louvre, only to find more long lines and crowds just to get a glimpse of their favorite works of art.  Well, how about sitting on the bench along the River Seine and observing a local artist paint the iconic vista of the Eiffel Tower reigning over the magnificent City of Lights? I’ve even discovered a few who are more than happy to explain their art and share their deep passion for their city. 

It’s a fact.  We’re all different, we all enjoy different things and our travel choices should be reflective of our respective passions and interests.  Well, lucky for me and my ESCAPESEEKER team, we thrive on finding the unexpected, and seek out travel experiences that are truly a cut above the rest.  That brings me to my latest report– Our Bucket List, Cruise Expedition to the “End of the World” on board the m/s Stella Australis! I would tell you what Bucket List # it is–but my list has grown so long, that I’ve honestly lost count–clearly indicative of my travel-passion-driven life! :-)

The Australis Is No Ordinary Cruise

11034281_10155427927140105_3861473284065647837_nOnce  you’re on board the Australis, and after you settle in to your comfortable staterooms with its big picture windows, you’ll be introduced to numerous nature guides–extremely knowledgeable Chilean natives who have come to know every corner of this pristine region of Chilean Patagonia.  They can retell its unique history in such a captivating way.  They make it come alive.  Each night, they’ll enthusiastically recap all of the various daily adventures they have strategically lined up for you–but here’s where the Experiential travel kicks in. Now matter how well designed/scripted the excursions are–you realize the real MAGIC in the entire expedition experience is that at the end of the day, it is Mother Nature who is the real the boss.  Mother Nature is also ever present, driving the WOW FACTOR and delighting at every turn.  You’ll witness ancient glaciers as we pass Glacier Alley suddenly calving right before your eyes, as it thunders down the mountain and lands into the frigid Patagonian waters.

pia-1You may pass through the legendary Cape Horn amidst a morning shower only to be welcomed by a magnificent rainbow!


Observing the Magellanic penguins, also known as Spheniscus magellanicus–which reside exclusively in the southern hemisphere– from our special zodiacs is an unforgettable experience. Forget my annual pilgrimage to the Cannes Film Festival, for this has now become my favorite “Black-Tie” event! :-)

It is the most numerous of the Spheniscus penguins. Its nearest relatives are the African, the Humboldt and the Galapagos penguins. The Magellanic penguin was named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan,  who spotted the birds in 1520.

The guides continually impart their knowledge while we observe, clicking away with our cameras. My favorite factoid about the Magellanic penguins–they mate with the same partner year after year. The male reclaims his burrow from the previous year and waits to reconnect with his female partner. The females are able to recognize their mates through their call alone. Now that’s what I call true love!


4stella-australisIt not unusual to hear the Captain announce, “I recommend passengers come up to the open deck or if you prefer to be indoors, the Darwin Lounge, and remember to bring your cameras as  we’ve spotted some native whales enjoying the sunset as much as we are. Take a look for yourselves!”


10431448_10155201572230105_8753376283438270471_nSpeaking of sunsets–that’s my other addiction–glorious daily sunsets that just make you gasp!  If you lack gratitude in any way shape or form–I promise that by the time you disembark–your heart will be overflowing with gratitude for this tremendous planet of ours…for the gift of sight…for the gift of life…and let me not forget…for the gift of forging new friendships…because you’ll quickly discover that almost every nation is represented on the Australis guests list.  Can you imagine discovering that there are people from other countries, from varied cultures, speaking foreign languages, but who absolutely share your same passion for our universe? I should warn you–you will wish you could take them home after the cruise is through because all of a sudden all these strangers will begin to feel like your family! You hike together…you compare photos and stories…you break bread together and raise a glass or two to your wondrous lives…and close each day as if it’s Christmas Eve…knowing that the morning light brings yet another adventure…scripted by Mother Nature…and chances are very good, it’s another series of “Pinch Me Moments.”

11094768_10153729968633032_608894613346060905_oThis is Experiential travel at its finest!  It is up to you to determine how much mind-expansion you’re willing to allow; how much soul-enrichment you’re open to; and equally important, how much room is there in your heart to embrace new friendships with kind, engaging people you’ve discovered are not so different from you after all.  These are all the reasons I am addicted to #travel. I hope you’ ll follow in our ESCAPESEEKER footsteps.  It is as easy as clicking on the following link with your right thumb!

11011109_10155563807005105_4380763350239580009_oAnd, just one more requests, be sure you write me ( and tell me how amazing your experience is ok?  Let’s definitely compare notes!

11136226_10153729974438032_6982682011641658571_oI cannot wait to return to capture the Australis Expedition Experience in all its splendor on film as I return on October 3-10th with my entire talented film crew! As a journalist and TV host of the ESCAPESEEKER Travel Series, nothing brings me greater #joy than to share our travel discoveries with the rest of the world.  Honestly, it multiplies the #joyoftravel 10-fold!

Here’s to Blissful, Endless ESCAPES!

And, remember, no matter where you go, be the kindest person you know!

With love,


Notes:  How to get there: From the USA, we traveled via LAN AIRLINES: from Miami (MIA) to Santiago (SCL) to Punta Arenas (PUQ).

Where did we go? We embarked in Punta Arenas, and disembarked at the same port 7 nights later.



DSC_0220 (1)My ESCAPESEEKER theory holds true on the Australis:  The world is full of wonderful, engaging friends, just waiting to be met!

Why I am not surprised to find our photog, Miristi jumping for joy during our Australis Expedition?  If you want to find out why, best you stay tuned as we continue our #neverendingadventure to the #endoftheworld in our special coverage of CHILE: Long, Lean, and Simply Spectacular!


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The Continuing Saga of our South American Odyssey…Stranded in Punta Arenas: A Blessing in Disguise

Story by Mel Gee Henderson

MiristiGeeImagerywith Select Images by ESCAPESEEKER Photographer, Miristi Gee

37656_10150215979400462_7830764_nand, Guest Photographer/Canadian Global Adventurer, Calvin Hass.





“Sorry, Your Flight Has Been Cancelled!” Not exactly the words we wanted to hear!

Punta Arenas, Chile ~ Have you ever been stranded at an airport in a foreign country due to inclement weather? After our three-week exploration of Chilean Patagonia, covering the astonishing Torres del Paine National Park, as well as the mind-expanding Australis cruise expedition through the Strait of Magellan comprised of the mythical and challenging Cape Horn, an almost vertical 425 meter high cliff discovered in 1616,  we were definitely beginning to feel the longing for a more familiar environment called home. That homesickness was only fueled further by a wonderful invitation we received from Sergio Solar Ramirez and Paola Milosevic, Co-Founders and Directors of Punta Arenas’ newest Boutique Hotel, La Yegua Loca. Yes, it fueled our ESCAPESEEKER team’s longing for home because that’s exactly what it feels like–a cozy, warm, comfortable familial home.

We elected to depart Las Torres Patagonia one day earlier than planned so we could take in their new hotel, and also enjoy the convenience of already being in Punta Arenas, where we were set to begin our journey back to the U.S.A. the very next afternoon, via Chile’s capital of Santiago.  Sounds like a great plan right?Well enter, Mother Nature.  More on that later, but first let me tell you about this charming 8-suite hotel nestled on the hilltop overlooking Punta Arenas. It is an artistically curated living museum–a living legacy, a hotel that pays homage to the incredibly courageous pioneer ancestors who carved this untamed region of the world, which by the way did not receive the nickname “El Fin del Mundo” (The End of the World) for no apparent reason.  It is literally on the very southern tip of the South American continent! But how can we refuse the invitation to explore Punta Arenas when everything I had read from guide pamphlets made it sound like a ready-made ESCAPESEEKER script as illustrated below, that merely needed some slight tweaking:

Live the adventure of navigating the main natural route between the two largest oceans of the world: the Strait of Magellan, whose coasts are formed by the extreme south of the American continent and the island of Tierra del Fuego. On the banks of this mythical inter-oceanic passage is Punta Arenas, where you can experience the charm of a small European town in which a cosmopolitan population, an interesting history and modern facilities are combined with a wide range of tourist attractions, including one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world!  [Pictured below] We invite you to be part of the history of the Magellan immigrants who formed this beautiful city and infused with their customs and traditions.  

Punta Arenas Cemetery“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.” – Alex Haley

“Bienvenido a Nuestra Casa”

Paola MilosevicAfter a long, albeit pleasant journey from Torres del Paine National Park to Punta Arenas  with our new friend, Martina Ablinger,  she introduced us to Paola Milosevic, a beautiful native Chilean with a warmth, smile and disposition so kind, she defied the chilly, rainy day that greeted us as we entered the city.

Paola gave us a thorough tour of La Yegua Loca, even giving us the option to select the room we preferred, as she explained the motivations behind each individually designed suite:

“The Hotel and Pulpería La Yegua Loca is a dream born from the passion and love we feel for this wonderful land. It was here, in the mid-1800’s–at the end of the world–where Croatian, English, Chilotes, and many other courageous pioneers and explorers  who brought their traditions and combined their efforts to conquer, and reshape the destiny of the Magellanes region, bequeathing an invaluable social and cultural wealth for future generations, of which I am part. Our grandparents were Croatian pioneers. Our parents were born here, and this is the land where we grew up, amongst the simplicity, yet often difficult country life.  We learned to work hard, respect the land, and revere our family’s traditions.  With our Hotel and Pulpería La Yegua Loca, we want to share and impart the true essence of our culture.”

La Yegua Loca Suite

Paola continued to describe: “Our eight suites have been designed to represent either a typical job or a ranch area such as The Shearing Shed, The Coachman , The Orchard, The Blacksmith, The Dairy, The Carpenter, The Stable and The Braider. We included these traditional, familiar occupations, and places of the ranch, displaying them in an innovative and artistic way to surprise and delight you with our treasured, family antiques.

La Yegua Loca


Being with Paola, and hearing her speak proudly of her grandparents and parents who paved an exemplary path for her to follow, I am quickly reminded of another quote from “Roots” author and dear friend, Alex Haley with whom I had the honor and privilege to work in the early 90’s on a special PBS Series “Ancestors,” wherein he expressed,  “The family is our refuge and our springboard; nourished on it, we can advance to new horizons. In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”

La Yegua Dining Room

Paola admits, “We painstakingly remodeled this heritage home which was built in 1929. We instantly fell in-love with its hilltop panoramic view of our historic and colorful Punta Arenas, the Strait of Magellan, and Tierra del Fuego. We want all our guests to truly comprehend what it is like to reside at the end of the South American continent!”

Hilltop View of Punta Arenas“When the weather is good, it is really good.  When it is bad, well, you have no choice but to just wait it out, and at La Yegua Loca, you know they’ll pamper you! Besides, it will give you the opportunity to sample all of the Chef’s delicious, native Chilean dishes. ” ~ ESCAPESEEKER


For those of you who don’t remember your grade school history and geography lessons, there is a region of the Antarctic Ocean known as the  Drake Passage–the treacherous stretch of ocean between the southern tip of South America (at Cape Horn) and the northernmost reaches of Antarctica.  There, the otherwise unimpeded waves of the vast Southern Ocean squeeze through the relatively narrow and shallow bottleneck of the Drake Passage, and in the process, generate complicated, unpredictable and often brutal weather. Well, we got a taste of Mother Nature’s unpredictable side when we tried to depart Punta Arenas as scheduled on our LAN flight to Santiago, Chile where we would then catch our connection back to the USA.  The otherwise pleasant, efficient Presidente Carlos Ibáñez International Airport  (Aeropuerto Internacional Presidente Carlos Ibáñez) [ PUQ] serving the city of Punta Arenas was totally socked in with dense fog–flights could neither safely land, nor take off.  And, because of high amounts of tourism into Patagonia’s National Parks, the airport handles a large number of passengers daily. So, there we were, waiting in long lines amongst strangers – other stranded passengers – waiting to receive new future  flight assignments.  Well, some of us did not remain strangers for long.  I felt compelled to ask another friendly American family, Dr. and Mrs. Pat Beaumier who were also traveling with their teenage son, Nick  if they needed a place to stay for the night. Plus, we met this super friendly Canadian, Calvin Hass who was wrapping up a very exciting multi-country South American adventure, if he too, needed a home for the evening. I was so enamored with La Yegua Loca that I couldn’t think of a better place to be on this cold, foggy night.  Thankfully, Paola had given me her private mobile number just in case we were not able to depart as scheduled.  So, I called her, woke her, and explained what had happened.  Then, I kindly asked, “May I bring a few extra friends home?”

Paola, not only acquiesced, she offered a “special friend’s rate” and then even returned to the hotel so that she could welcome me, and our newfound friends properly, with true Chilean hospitality, making sure everyone was comfortably settled in after our long, surprising day.

Having the extra day or two in Punta Arenas gave us all more time to explore this historic city, and also spend more time getting to know each other.  It wasn’t long before the entire hotel was reverberating with laughter and story after adventure story shared.  I realized this would have never happened had we all not been stranded at PUQ–Punta Arenas’ airport.  And, had Paola not given me her private mobile number, I would not have known to bring them “home” with me.  Yes, Mother Nature granted us a “Blessing in Disguise.” Interestingly enough, one of my newfound friends would bear the name of “Blesie?”  Lesson Learned?  “No matter where you go, be the kindest person you know,” because you may soon discover that you have just gained some new  brilliant  friends who also share your indefatigable passion for travel!

It only seems apropos that Punta Arenas magically bids us farewell with a stunning rainbow on the eve of our departure, as if to signal, “Yes, your LAN jet will be free to soar safely across these Patagonian skies once again!”

Where is our next reunion Blesie, Pat and Nick Beaumier? I’m fairly confident that we can convince our Canadian friend, Calvin Hass to join us. And, between Calvin and our photographer Miristi Gee, the entire adventure will certainly be stunningly documented with countless images.


For those of you who are traveling to Punta Arenas and wish to experience Paola Milosevic’s and Sergio Solar Ramirez’s new beautiful boutique hotel, better book it now.  With only 8 suites, you don’t want to take any chance that you’re going to miss out on one very special, and may I add, delicious experience!

Chilean cuisine La Yegua Loca

Hotel La Yegua Loca
Fagnano 310
Punta Arenas, Magallanes, Chile
+56 61 2371734 | +56 61 2371735 | +56 61 2371736
Paola Milosevic, [3rd from R], Sergio Solar Ramirez, [3rd in from L],  and their friendly staff at La Yegua Loca are ready and waiting to welcome you!
La Yegua Loca Family
We extend our heartfelt gratitude to LAN Airlines for always putting SAFETY FIRST!
And, for giving us the unexpected opportunity to make new friends! :-)
LAN on approach to PUQ
LAN on approach to PUQ [Punta Arenas]. It’s easy to understand why visibility is crucial when landing at Punta Arenas!


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CHILE: Long, Lean, and Simply Spectacular…Our ESCAPESEEKER South American Odyssey Continues into the Heart of Patagonia

By Mel Gee Henderson

With select images by ESCAPESEEKER Photographer, Miristi GeeDSC_0358

11001647_1627407797487815_6003666140581740289_oand, baqueano photos captured  by Miguel Angel Fuentealba,  Las Torres Hotel Patagonia

Torres del Paine Parque Nacional, Patagonia

With Torres del Paine Parque Nacional* measuring approximately 242,242 hectares, one of the largest and most visited parks in Chile, one ESCAPESEEKER episode could hardly do it justice!  We are thrilled to learn that we are being afforded an opportunity to return, explore and capture on film other facets of this magnificent nature’s wonder! Declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1978, the Torres del Paine National Park is internationally recognized as one of the most beautiful, pristine destinations on the planet!

My first view of Torres del Paine!Torres del Paine National Park is located between Cordillera de Los Andes and Patagonian Steppe. This view was captured as I stood on the shores of Lago Sarmiento.

d-a-a-de-campo-en-la-estancia-1940But even more priceless, we are given the chance to experience it through the eyes of the family and friends of Antonio Kusanovic Senkovic, the son of Croatian immigrants who arrived with his parents in the Magallanes Region as a teen.  Following his parents’ exemplary work ethic and immense sacrifice, Antonio became a highly successful cattle farmer, and in 1976 he bought the beautiful Cerro Paine Estancia, located at the foot of the majestic Torres del Paine mountain range. It was here at this 8,000-acre ranch that Antonio began his cattle breeding business.

In the early 90´s Antonio and his wife Amor Eliana Marusic decided to build nine rooms with a small restaurant to welcome the many tourists arriving from around the world, attracted by the sheer legendary beauty of Torres del Paine. Today,  the Hotel Las Torres Patagonia has grown in size and scope, but still retains the original goal of the Antonio Kusanovic Senkovic Family: to afford each guest an authentic Chilean Patagonian experience, “by sharing the warmth of the people and customs of Patagonia.”

Baqueano Por Un Día | Baqueano For A Day

One of the ways guests are able to get a first hand glimpse into their unique Patagonian lifestyle is well, frankly, mount a horse! Take a look:

 More on how to  follow in the footsteps of the Cowboys of Patagonia:

Chile’s Baqueanos

The word “baqueano” is usually easily translated as “cowboy” which is its closest equivalent outside of Chile.  But in reality a baqueano is so much more than just a cowboy.  Please permit me to share what I’ve learned about the rich cultural tradition of the baqueano of Patagonia:

10506951_555047434601419_6101872349018842064_oThe Baqueano

“Strong, reserved, silent, proud, courteous, loyal”  are just some of the words used by Hotel Las Torres guests to describe the characteristics of the baqueano with whom they’ve eagerly explored the mountains and valleys of Torres del Paine.   Above all things, they say “a baqueano is a man connected to the land with a detailed knowledge about their revered stunning expanse of  Patagonian soil.” It is easy to see he is a skillful rider, with an almost telepathic connection to his horse. Dressed in worn leather riding boots, baggy trousers, a beret and neckerchief, and when needed for warmth, an added wool poncho tied in a knot under his right arm so as not to fly in the wind and unduly alarm his horse, he wanders at will through the untamed wilderness, even across cold raging rivers. It is simply a striking image that you’ll not easily forget!
Even today,  Patagonia still represents a frontier many people merely dream of exploring. Its tempestuous, unpredictable weather presents a challenge  for many, but the bagueano remains undeterred,  heading deep into Patagonia, always exploring and rediscovering its mysteries. First and foremost, the baqueano has always been a pathfinder.  A true baqueano knows how to orient himself at all times, using the sun, the stars and the landscape to find his way. They are renowned for knowing how to find shelter and clean drinking water in the middle of nowhere, and how to avoid natural hazards such as swamps and quaking bogs. It is said that they can find their way anywhere, even in the all-encompassing darkness of the Patagonian night. These are the very reasons they are so sought after as expert guides by Europeans and Americans seeking to experience a true, authentic, goosebump producing Patagonian adventure!
10547973_555041727935323_1316245774360426479_o 2The Chilean Horse
A baqueano’s horse is his proudest and perhaps, dare I say his most prized possession, since it is his favorite mode of travel, his work source and, at times may even be his only traveling companion. The Chilean horse is one of the oldest breeds on the South American continent and after centuries of breeding it is perfectly adapted to life in Patagonia. Chilean horses tend to be slightly smaller than many North American or European breeds, at about 14 hands high on average.  They are muscular and built for endurance with a very thick hair coat that protects them both from extreme cold and intense heat. They are born and grow up on the Patagonian plains and in the foothills of the Andes, so they are naturally sure-footed and at ease in their environment. Descended from generation upon generation of working horses, they are incredibly responsive, reacting to the lightest touch of the rein. This is just as well, since most baqueanos ride ‘one-handed’ using their spare hand for balance and for other needs that may arise.


The baqueanos revere their land…in their new-found country of Chile. This is the estancia where it all began for the Antonio Kusanovic Senkovic Family.

 IMG_6261Upon setting foot on this untamed land, and witnessing the sheep farmer sheer his sheep, I am reminded of something I read:  “To husband is to use with care, to keep, to save, to make last, to conserve. Old usage tells us that there is a husbandry also of the land, of the soil, of the domestic plants and animals – obviously because of the importance of these things to the household…Husbandry is the name of all practices that sustain life by connecting us conservationly to our places and our world; it is the art of keeping tied all the strands in the living network that sustains us.” ~ Wendell Berry, writings from  Bringing it to the Table


Continuing The Antonio Kusanovic Senkovic Family Legacy

001 facebook_cover (1)

A welcoming home built against all odds…

in the wild, untamed Patagonian Prairie

001 facebook_cover (1)It is always a cherished privilege when my ESCAPESEEKER film team is given the opportunity to share the inspiring story of dynamic individuals who helped shape the unique landscape of a region or a country we are featuring. So it is with our in-depth look at Torres del Paine.  We’ve shared our wildlife discoveries in Episode 1 of Chile: Long, Lean, and Simply Spectacular. During our 2015-2016 Season, we will take you deeper into Torres del Paine with the people who proudly reside in its midst. They will share what it is like to grow up in the shadow of the Grand Massif as they invite us to share in this unique “Estancia Experience” of Las Torres Patagonia, a place we quickly discovered makes all who visit feel like a member of the family! Honestly, the aroma of the Chilean cuisine prepared by the talented Chef derived from original family recipes alone is enough to beckon you to Las Torres‘ welcoming doors!  We hope you’ll tune in, because that’s all I’m going to share with you for now.  Some things in life are truly worth the wait!


toma-general-hotel-las-torres-patagonia-1.JPG.1920x807_0_134_10000Hotel Las Torres guests find its privileged location especially convenient because many of the different trails to the most renowned places of the park start just a short walk from their rooms, like the trail to the base of the iconic towers. And, after a full day of strenuous hiking, Hotel Las Torres is indeed a welcome sight!

Torres del Paine National Park,
Magallanes and Antartica Chilena Region, Chile
+56 61 2617450

PS: STAY TUNED:  As ESCAPESEEKER continues our South American Odyssey. Our next stop:  PUNTA ARENAS…Wait until you meet the amazing, brilliant, young Chileans behind this brand new, charming BOUTIQUE HOTEL at the most southern tip of Chile– LA YEGUA LOCA…with an artistically curated, uniquely created one-of-a-kind furnishings, remnants from their ancestors’ lives, and beautifully transformed into a LIVING HOMAGE TO THEIR LASTING LEGACY! 11081310_345987045609677_7189951443939767339_nHILLTOP VIEW OF PUNTA ARENAS FROM LA YEGUA LOCA



Until then, remember, no matter where you go, be the kindest person you know.

With love,


IMG_6547*The park is one of the 11 protected areas of the Magallanes Region and Chilean Antarctica. Together with four national parks, three national reserves, and three national monuments, the protected forested areas comprise about 51% of the land of the region (6,728,744 hectares).
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 by Mel Gee Henderson with select images captured by Miristi Gee DSC_0358

MasterfulArt: Remota HotelModern Art In Harmony With Patagonia’s Wild Horizon


Puerto Natales, Chile ~ It is dusk and we arrive at Remota hotel just as the sun is bidding the day adieu.  One can’t help but gaze at the way the hundreds of windows reflect the events taking place outside its walls. And, what are those events?  It’s Mother Nature’s own works of art on display day after day in this, the most remote and only outpost town of significant size in Chilean Patagonia, Puerto Natales.


Architect Germán Del Sol, who is also a professor at the Universidad de Chile, wanted to conceal the luxury that awaits the traveler, “to lower the expectations, so its interior will appear unexpectedly in all its splendor.” It’s all about the element of surprise—including the fact that even with its innovative design and lavish comforts, the hotel was built with a conscious effort to care for nature, striving to use minimal energy.  Congratulations Mr. Del Sol. Mission accomplished. The minute one walks into Remota Hotel, you feel as though you’ve walked into an expansive living, breathing Museum of Modern Art. If it hadn’t been for the instant welcoming staff eager to make us feel right at home, I would have immediately begun exploring every corner of this innovative hotel on my own!

Golden Hue Remota Hotel exudes a warm golden hue exceeded only by the genuine warmth of its caring staff.


Recognizing my childlike curiosity, Marisa Pugliese, who serves as the General Manager’s international guests liaison–in great part due to her command of the English language–invited me to tour the hotel early the next morning, vividly explaining the philosophy behind each area of this masterful work of art.

No stone turned...Marisa pointed out that the empty central courtyard or plaza, introduces the vast wilderness of Patagonia at the core of the hotel.

It is surrounded in three sides by two guest rooms buildings, and the main one in the back a little higher, where the common areas of the hotel are placed.

“The plaza is empty, except for a few big boulders, but is full of suggestions- like the clear cut that one makes to see the forest. It lets one see what one wishes, whether it is the natural environment, or the strong culture that has allowed men, women and children to enjoy  life–the unique life found only in Patagonia.  The main plaza is an invitation to leave the warm environment of the hotel, and go wandering into the wild, unworried whether the day is windy or cold, keeping in mind that all the comforts of home await you at Remota when you return,” Marisa adds.

 MiristiGeeImageryThe ever-changing Patagonia light enters the building through the sequence of vertical cuts of the window panes granting guests the feeling of open space.


The strong and spartan geometric furniture was made by carpenters at the job site out of big pieces of dead native wood recovered from the big forests of Lenga trees that still thrive close to the sea in the Patagonian low lands.

In all the furnishings, the handwork expressed by the craftsmen is clearly evident, the fruit of their labors document the year-long challenge of ultimately bringing the hotel to life.

IMG_0254Remota affords so many options for guests to find their own favorite space to gather with family and friends or just merely close your eyes to ponder and reflect upon the beauty of life.  It’s easy to do when every day you’re given an opportunity to get up close to the world’s most iconic natural wonders, many of which some people can merely dream of visiting.

Let nature's light shine throughA Chilean poet describes, “What is important is not the light that one turns on every night, but the light that one once turned off allows the memory of light….”
A place to rest...After a day of exploring Puerto Natales and its nearby sites, it’s a welcome reprieve to be able to sink into our luscious beds!


Enter Marisa Pugliese, a beautiful Latina who embodies all the extraordinary qualities we associate with being Latina, especially after we learned of her family’s famed Argentine Tango roots.  She gave up dancing the Tango long ago, but she puts the same focus and passion the dance requires towards her hospitality duties as she serves as the liaison for all international visitors.  No matter what arises, Marisa is all about “Mission Possible”…and when you’re visiting a place as remote as Patagonia, you want someone at the helm with a total “can do” attitude!

Understanding that my ESCAPESEEKER team is on a quest to find the compelling stories to build a new episode featuring Puerto Natales, Marisa quickly introduced us to native Chilean guide, Javier Lazo.  My photographer, Miristi’s first reaction, “Ok, she knows how to be a “casting agent” too.”  Our guide definitely has a camera-friendly face! Now, the big test–will he have the encyclopedic knowledge of the area that our PBS program standard requires? Well, we were about to find out:



We arose early to enjoy Remota’s bounteous breakfast to ensure we were properly fueled for our full day’s exploration with our expert guide, Javier Lazo.  Our first stop, Cueva del Milodón Natural Monument located  24 km (15 mi) northwest of Puerto Natales.

The monument is situated along the flanks of Cerro Benitez, and comprised of several caves and a rock formation called Silla del Diablo (Devil’s Chair). The monument also includes the largest 200 meter long cave discovered in 1895 by German explorer, Hermann Eberhard who found a large, seemingly fresh piece of skin of an unidentified animal. In 1896 the cave was again explored by Otto Nordenskjold who later recognized that the skin belonged to Mylodon, a giant ground sloth animal which became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch,the geological epoch which lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the world’s most recent glacial era.

MilodonDarwiniAfter our mind-expanding geological history lesson, Javier led us further up the Cerro Benitez, continually teaching us about the flora and fauna.

10258344_10153704860798032_4915237461637036254_oThe higher we hiked, the more dramatically beautiful the vistas. I have an acronym for times like these, TYGM or “Thank You God” Moments!

Cerro Benitez8381-two-condors-soaring-below

I noticed we were not the only ones enjoying the view above Lago Sofia as we witnessed Andean Condors soaring below the cliff top where we stood.

Exploring on foot guided by an enthusiastic native guide is the fastest way to help modern travelers, especially those of us coming from big cities to relate with the natural environment and enjoy an enriching, mind-expanding, breathtaking experience.

Thank you Javier for fueling our curiosity and helping restore our childlike wonder.

Our dedicated Remota driver was waiting for us near Lago Sofia’s shoreline ready to take us back to Remota, just a short drive awaywhere we had no doubt another of Chef René Espinoza’s delightful dinner offerings were being skillfully prepared. What’s our first hint? Well, for one, the incredible aroma of hot Chilean bread baking in the kitchen is enough to make one want to steal a few loaves!


42-34986576As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so please permit me to allow this photo montage of the images captured by our own talented photographer, Miristi Gee to tell our delicious story of our nightly dining experiences. Chef Espinoza uses only the freshest ingredients–his baked crab casserole is out of this world–and, I’ve personally witnessed his bread makers and pastry chefs in action–they’ve gotta be the best bakers in Puerto Natales.

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 LIFE IMITATING ARTMany Puerto Natales newly arrived adventure-seeking residents are drawn to the natural, inspiring beauty of this remote land.

Puerto Natales collage (1)


punta-arenas-mapPuerto Natales is located in the province of  Última Esperanza (Last Hope), named by Juan Ladrilleros, the sailor who was seeking the Strait of Magellan in the year 1557. It was his “last hope” to find the Strait after exploring the maze of channels between the waters of the Pacific and the mainland. It was not until three centuries later, in 1830, that another major expedition sailed through the fjords and channels of Última Esperanza: the British expedition of the sloop HMS Beagle. Some of the expedition members, Robert FitzRoy, William Skyring and James Kirke as well as their senior officers are remembered by several place-names in the Puerto Natales area. Commander Fitzroy was the captain during the Second voyage of HMS Beagle (1831–1836).

In 1870, interest in the Ultima Esperanza region was rekindled. Among the daring travelers who ventured to these desolate lands was Santiago Zamora, also known as ‘Baqueano’ Zamora. He discovered the lakes of the Torres del Paine area. Another was the English traveler and writer Lady Florence Dixie, commemorated in the city’s present-day Hotel Lady Florence Dixie. Dixie authored the book Across Patagonia, where she describes the first tourist expedition to Torres del Paine and the Three Horns (the three granite spires) which she named as Cleopatra’s Needles.

Puerto Natales was founded on May 1911 as a port for the sheep industry. During the last half of the 20th century the sheep industry declined and many people from Puerto Natales started to work in the coal mines of Río Turbio in Argentina. During the peak of the sheep industry in Patagonia, two large “frigorificos” or cold-storage plants were constructed in the Natales area, of which one still stands.


Puerto Natales has many tourist facilities to meet every budget,  including sporting goods stores carrying popular global brands, i.e. Solomon for the serious outdoor enthusiasts.   It has become a common base for excursions to the world-famous Torres del Paine National Park, one of the most visited national parks in Chile, in great part due to its  impressive, towering rock formations.  Named a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the park is home to hundreds of different birds and many mammal species, as well as the third largest ice field on the planetThe national park is open all year round, but the best season to visit the park is from October to April, the southern hemisphere’s spring and summer season, the latter of which has more than 16 hours of daylight–a mountaineer’s delight!


Stay tuned for our next report…when we discover what it’s like to reside at a true Chilean “Estancia” located within the shadow of the Torres del Paine!

Until then, here’s to #Blissful, #Endless #Escapes…

With love,

Mel Gee Henderson aka The ESCAPESEEKER

DSC_0105How we got there: via LAN Airlines: MIA/SCL/PUQ

Upon arrival in Punta Arenas, we were picked up by TURISMO BOULDER

Contact: Gonzalo Ginouves @ +56 9 79572915 or


Ruta 9 Norte, km 1.5

Puerto Natales, Chile

+56 2 23871500

Architect: German del Sol
Location: Provincia de Última Esperanza, Magallanes, Patagonia,
Project team: José Luis Ibañez G. / Architect, Francisca Schüler M. / Architect, Carlos Venegas / Architect, Rodrigo Arenas P. / Graphics Arts
Contractor: Salfa, Punta Arenas
Constructed Area: 5,213.46 sqm
Project year: 2004 – 2005
Construction year: 2004 – 2005
Photographs by Guy Wenborne, Felipe Camus.










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#ConsistencyIsEverything: My cover story in 2007 is still deserving of a cover story today! WELCOME TO THE SANCTUARY CAMELBACK MOUNTAIN RESORT AND SPA.

Sanctuary Signature Infinity-Pool PhotoThe postcard-perfect setting of the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa continues to draw guests from around the world seeking to find their #dreamdesert escape.

I hope you’ll take a moment to read the ESCAPE Magazine cover story I wrote back in June, 2007 at the end of this latest review. In the meantime, please permit me to focus on the present–my latest findings on my recent visit to the Sanctuary.

ChefBeauMacLOVE AT FIRST BITE…All Over Again

I’m happy to discover upon my return to the Sanctuary that nothing has changed, including the ingeniously delicious signature dishes of renowned Food Network celebrity chef and Iron Chef America winner, Sanctuary’s Executive Chef Beau MacMillan. Our evening at Elements brought the memories of my premiere dining experience in 2007 with Chef Beau instantly back to life at first bite! Chef Beau believes, now more than ever, that food should not be overworked, but rather appreciated for its simplicity and natural perfection. This philosophy is evident in Chef Beau MacMillan’s innovative seasonal menus that focus on fresh, local ingredients procured from a network of artisans and organic farmers.


salmonduckIn case you’re looking for ways to justify why it’s ok to savor all of Chef Beau’s award-winning dishes, here are a few action-packed suggestions I derived from serious Arizona recreationists on how you easily burn some calories having a wonderful time in sunny Scotssdale:


Being in the heart of the rugged Sonoran Desert, Scottsdale is no stranger to adventure. Parks and soaring mountains provide an abundance of thrill-seeking activities. With summer on the horizon, break out your hiking boots and hit the trails.

Lady on Mountain Stretching
Although canyoneering may be a new word for your vocabulary, you’ll be talking about your adventure exploring pine forest pools and hidden desert passages with 360 Adventures for years to come. As you journey to the Roosevelt Lake area with your guide, you’ll become immersed in some of the world’s premier canyoneering playgrounds. Whether rappelling 40-80 feet into a canyon pool or descending through beautiful natural gorges, this extreme geology lesson will leave you with the feeling of accomplishment, having experienced an adventure unlike any other.
Why experience the Sonoran Desert in the backseat when you can be sitting in the driver’s seat? Desert Wolf Tours puts the best of desert exploration in your hands, literally. This guided adventure leads you deep into the desert in a Tomcar, originally developed as Israeli Defense vehicles. As you explore, you may even catch a glimpse of some desert natives such as javelinas, coyotes, wild burros and other indigenous creatures. Take it up a notch with a Tomcar sunset tour and you’re sure to witness a breathtaking Arizona sunset. With the help of fully-equipped off-road LED lights, you’ll experience the desert like never before while driving under twinkling stars.
Can’t decide between mountain biking, rafting, hiking or kayaking? Arizona Outback Adventures has you covered by combining two adventurous activities of your choice into one exciting day. Take full advantage of the cool mornings while hiking the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and spend the afternoon kayaking on the Lower Salt River. As you glide down some of the best trails in Scottsdale, your guides will share their knowledge of the local flora and fauna, while providing helpful tips for navigating the terrain. This full-day tour is guaranteed to satisfy your all of your adventure needs.


The best part for adventure seekers like me is knowing there’s a cool oasis waiting–your own private cozy casita after all is said and done.

Mountain Vista Casita


If your body, albeit youthful, is not quite as young as your robust heart, and you require some muscle soothing after your active day, pampering is at your beck and call through these doors at the intimate setting of the Sanctuary Spa, one of the top destination spas in the U.S.  The Sanctuary’s luxurious spa offers a menu of Asian–inspired services in twelve indoor/outdoor treatment rooms. Enhanced by distinctive architecture and a splendid desert setting, the relaxing zen meditation garden, tranquil reflecting pond, and Watsu® pool provide a soothing way to begin or wrap up your Arizona day.

JPG F Spa 2I always like to end every escape on a sweet note.  May I recommend you do not leave the Sanctuary without experiencing this totally blissful dessert at Element…how apropos because I did feel very much in my ESCAPESEEKER element.  Thank you Chef Beau! Here’s to BLISSFUL, ENDLESS, ESCAPES. And, remember, no matter where you go, #BeTheKindestPersonYouKnow!





Cover 2

After logging 35,000 fre­quent flier miles in just three months, I needed to find a place where I could plant myself for a weekend where I could rejuvenate both mind and body. Being extremely fatigued, I definitely wasn’t looking for a fit­ness retreat where I would be treated like GI Jane. I wanted a spa retreat that would combine pampering with a low to moderate fitness routine. And, after consuming airline meals I also wanted to find one with a legendary reputa­tion for fine dining. Tired west coast road warriors looking for restorative solitude have to look no further than the Sanctuary Resort and Spa, located on the north slope of Arizona’s famed Camelback Mountain.

Being raised and spoiled by Southern California’s own beach, ‘Riviera’ desert destinations were never the ones to top my ‘100 places to see before I die’ list! And, who knew that on the edge of Scottsdale and Phoenix’s bustling city life, in an area called Paradise Val­ley, 53 breathtaking acres of pure sun drenched Arizona desert would emerge and allow this tired and weary traveler as much relaxation, serenity, and tran­quility that I could possibly handle.

The minute I turned into the desert-scape designed driveway of The Sanc­tuary I was greeted by several tanned smiling faces (who appeared oblivious to the heat) asking me if I would like a nice cold bottle of water even before checking in. Within minutes I was guided to my own weekend ‘mountain casita’ terraced naturally into the rug­ged slope of the mountain.

The steep location of my little casita af­forded me a beautiful postcard perfect view of Paradise Valley complete with its imposing and shifting mountain silhou­ette that reached peak beauty at sunset— absolutely worth the daily mini-trek up and down to the resort’s base.

The Sanctuary has extracted the refined elements commonly associated with exclusive spa resorts in Asia and brought them to the Arizona desert

Desert Zen

The mountain casita is its own sanctuary and self-con­tained villa. It comes complete with feather beds and sprawling bathrooms appointed with showers and tubs for those long after hour soaks, but let’s face it—beauti­ful interiors are easy to come by in top resort destina­tions. What truly sets the Sanctuary apart is an almost inexplicable feeling of nature’s balance- one that touch­es your spirit and reminds you of the most important priorities in life. Some people may associate words like barren, lifeless, and dead heat to the desert. But, the Sanctuary has created an intimate retreat utilizing life affirming architecture complete with meditation gar­den, reflecting ponds, watsu pool, indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, all united with what nature gener­ously offers—the overwhelming views.


It’s truly Zen-like and then some. It has extracted the refined elements commonly associated with exclusive spa resorts found in Asia and transplanted them to the Arizona desert! Among its Asian-inspired treatments is Luk Pra Kope, which I immediately booked. Luk Pra Kope is a Thai expression that means “to massage with medicinal herbs.” It is exactly what my jet-lagged body needed. I learned the treatment has been used in Thai­land for centuries.

My therapist began by soaking my feet in a fresh lime and essential-oil bath, and then followed it up with an exfoliation treatment using fine, white clay and fresh lime. And if that wasn’t blissful enough, it was com­bined with Thai massage—a medicinal blend of steamy, organically grown herbs, rolled, and massaged and pressed into my aching tight muscles and other prob­lem areas. The heated compress soothes, enhances cir­culation and reduces joint stiffness and before I knew it I found myself drifting into “never never land” during my 120 minute treatment. The indoor/outdoor layout of the spa allowed for what landscapers call “borrowed landscape” compliments of mother nature. You can hear the birds chirping—it was so pleasant that I had to ask if it was generated from a CD.

Iron Chef Delights

Untitled4I was ready to venture out, but not before I sampled some of the Sanctuary’s dining in Elements’ celebrated Chef Beau’s signature dishes

-like the pan seared wild king salmon dish, presented with bok choy, udon noodles, snow peas, and just a touch of sesame and ginger make it one of the best dining spots in Phoenix. I was not surprised to learn that Chef Beau (MacMillan) recently dethroned Iron Chef America’s Grill Master, Bobby Flay, on the popular hit reality show, Iron Chef. If you should ever find yourself dining poolside by the Sanctuary’s

peaceful infinity pool, remember to order the seared ahi salad with avocado and ginger vinaigrette. It’s tasty and light—just the right blend for a work out in the desert.


Ballet Stars Aglow




These desert communities are richly connected by one emerald green golf course after another, but they are also rich in culture. Ballet Arizona’s world premiere performance, PLAY, has been described by Arizona Republic’s dance critic as ‘7-courses of artis­tic delight that both plays with its name and plays off it.’

Accompanied by the Phoenix Symphony under conductor Timothy Russell, the first half il­luminates the brilliant artistic di­rection of the lighting director as the dancers begin in a star-lit stage to Mozart’s variations of ‘Twinkle Twinkle little Star’ and builds into the passionate heat of a pas de deux by Ballet Arizona’s danseur, Astrit Zejnati and ballerina, Na­talia Magnicaballi. Dressed in the briefest of costumes, Zejnaati and Magnicaballi dance entwining their bodies slowly and sinuously, never breaking body contact.



Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain is located eight miles north of Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport and less than five minutes from downtown Scottsdale.

For your own desert escape experience at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa, contact:

Reservations: 1-800-245-2051 Sanctuary Camelback Mountain 5700 East McDonald Drive Paradise Valley, Arizona 85253

For Ballet Arizona tickets and info:

Ballet Arizona Box Office +1 602 381 1096






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