ESCAPESEEKER Team Discovers the Vast Seemingly Endless Richness of Australia

18953535_10154742822112711_1961532902770320287_o (1)Indian Pacific panorama captured by passenger, Ian Quatermass

BY TRAIN, BY PLANE, BY BOATS, OR ANYTHING THAT FLOATS; ON FOOT, ON WHEELS, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN, MY ESCAPESEEKER ADVANCE RESEARCH TEAM ENTHUSIASTICALLY SAID ‘YES’ TO EVERY EPIC ADVENTURE!

My indefatigable “Astonishing Australia” Advance Research Team is comprised of yours truly, ESCAPESEEKER series scriptwriter/photojournalist/Executive Producer; Roy A. Henderson, Executive Producer/Pilot/Aerial Photographer; Jim Jones, Stills Photographer and Program Advisory Team Member; Peg Whisler Jones, iPhone photog specialist/emphasis-social media [Team, Thank you for making every assignment a joyful experience.]
Qantas, Australia's flagship airline--you'll feel that signature Aussie hospitality the minute you board.

Qantas, Australia’s flagship airline–you’ll feel that undeniable Aussie hospitality the minute you board.

We embarked on our Sailaway Sunset Sail at Port Douglas, Queensland, and the goosebumps begin the minute you realize, I'm headed to the Great Barrier Reef!

We embarked on our Sailaway Sunset Sail at Port Douglas, Queensland, and the goosebumps begin the minute you realize, I’m headed to the iconic Great Barrier Reef (on the World Heritage List).

We said goodbye to the big city life and stepped back in time when riverboat trade only happened along the Murray River when this beautiful 'Princess' moved between small town ports.

We said goodbye to the big city life and stepped back in time when riverboat trade only happened along the Murray River when this beautiful ‘Princess’ moved between small town ports.

Watching the sun rise slowly peek through the mountain tops as we sailed high above the fertile Mareeba Valley with Hot Air Balloon Cairns made the 3:55 a.m. pick up time absolutely worth it!

Watching the sun rise slowly peek through the mountain tops as we sailed high above the fertile Mareeba Valley with Hot Air Balloon Cairns made the rather painful 3:55 a.m. pick up time absolutely worth it!

They should rename the "Raging Thunder Adventures" "Raging Laughter Adventures" because that's exactly what our footage from our white water rafting trip on the Barron River sounded like! I would do it again in a heartbeat

They should rename the “Raging Thunder Adventures” “Raging Laughter Adventures” because that’s exactly what our footage from our white water rafting trip on the Barron River sounded like! I would do it again in a heartbeat

Keeping Rottness Island Green requires you explore with a darling electric car, or on foot, or our favorite form--a bicycle!

Keeping Rottness Island Green requires we explore with a darling electric car, or on foot, or our favorite form–a bicycle!

How can we not accept the challenge to climb the iconic landmark, Sydney Harbor Bridge? If you're looking for a true HIGH--this is an absolute must do! #bestviewofyourlife

How can we not accept the challenge to climb the iconic landmark, Sydney Harbor Bridge? If you’re looking for a true HIGH–this is an absolute must do! #bestviewofyourlife

When your hear "Australia" you immediately think, "Kangaroo" right? So, of course we decide to begin our epic Advance Research assignment on Australia's southern KANGAROO ISLAND with Nikki Redman, the island's legendary native guide!  The minute we met her, we knew we were in for a brilliant experience!

When your hear “Australia” you immediately think, “Kangaroo” right? So, of course we decide to begin our epic Advance Research assignment on Australia’s southern KANGAROO ISLAND with Nikki Redman, the island’s legendary native guide! The minute we met her, we knew we were in for a brilliant experience!

Los Angeles, California ~ Ok, I have a confession.  After being in Australia for nearly a month, I’m definitely showing signs of Aussie withdrawal symptoms.  No more morning greeting with “How you goin’?”

No daily infusion of non-stop wit from our many, many, coast to coast, Australian guides who make you beg to ask, “How in the world did you all get to be so much fun?” Their general reply, “We’ve just learned not to take ourselves too seriously!” But seriously, what I’m about to recap for you in the next five minutes of some interesting travel reading (I hope)–is one of the most enjoyable, enriching, and exciting ESCAPESEEKER assignments we have ever undertaken.  So let me not waste any more of your precious seconds, and begin to articulate WHY AUSTRALIA IS ABSOLUTELY WORTH GOING THE DISTANCE (especially for North Americans).

First stop:  Hello Kangaroo Island

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After being transported by the SeaLink coach from Adelaide to Cape Jervis through the Fleurieu Peninsula, about 1.30 hours scenic drive, we arrived at the Ferry Terminal, proceeded to check-in, and shortly thereafter boarded the SeaLink Ferry for the 45-minute crossing to Kangaroo Island.  Upon arrival we were met by Kangaroo Island native, and seasoned guide, Nikki Redman, holding up our beautiful frequent sight–the ESCAPESEEKER welcome sign!

After the usual intros, we set off on our first day of Kangaroo Island Odysseys‘ exploration on board a super roomie, luxurious Mercedes 4-wheel drive vehicle, which we would soon discover Nikki handled with total ease as she multi-tasked:  talking in her melodic Aussie accent as she briefed us on everything we ever wanted to know about Kangaroo Island–including all those interesting facts only local insiders know; driving confidently no matter the road conditions as some of the roads are unsealed, and extra care must be taken; and Nikki has this amazing ability to spot wildlife, no matter where they’re hiding–and sometimes, this is while she’s navigating enthusiastically behind the wheel!

Kangaroo Island, Australia’s third-largest island, is 155 km (96 miles long and 55 km (34 miles wide. Located 16 km (10 miles) off the Fleurie Peninsula, the island was the site of South Australia’s first official colonial settlement, established at Reeves Point in 1836. However, the settlement was short-lived, and within just four years had been virtually abandoned. The island was then settled during the remainder of the 19th century as communications improved with the new mainland settlements.

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 Travel Alert: There is no public transport on Kangaroo Island

Visitors must travel on a tour or by car. If you really prefer to focus on having the best wildlife sightings, I highly recommend going the tour route, and if you can, do as my team and I did, and booking a private tour guide.  One outstanding perk with your private tour guide–Nikki prepared some amazing meals for us during our time with her, so delicious we would almost forget that we are actually on a specific work assignment to find the interesting facts, experiences that will fill a future 27-minute episode for our special transcontinental coverage of ESCAPESEEKER: Astonishing Australia.

We've never met a guide who can multi-task like Nikki--talk about #wonderwoman!

I can tell you this in advance–Kangaroo Island doesn’t lack program content.  I can’t share everything we learned, or else you would not have any further reasons to watch the Kangaroo Island episode starring our brilliant, exceptionally fun, and witty guide, Nikki Redman.  But here’s a little teaser you might not already know:  Are you aware that Kangaroo Island is home to well over a million Tammar wallabies? Or that female wallabies actually put their pregnancies on hold if conditions aren’t suitable for the baby joey to be born?

Our first wildlife sighting shortly after arriving at Kangaroo Island: #wondrouswallaby (I couldn't resist the hashtag and alliteration) The name "wallaby" comes from Dharug 'walabi' or 'waliba'.  Young wallabies are known as "joeys", like many other marsupials. Adult male wallabies are referred to as bucks, boomers, or jacks. An adult female wallaby is known as a doe, flyer, or jill.  A group of wallabies is called a court, mob, or troupe. [Moment captured by ESCAPESEEKER photog, Jim Jones]

Our first wildlife sighting shortly after arriving at Kangaroo Island: #wondrouswallaby (I just couldn’t resist the hashtag and alliteration) The name “wallaby” comes from Dharug ‘walabi’ or ‘waliba’. Young wallabies are known as “joeys”, like many other marsupials. Adult male wallabies are referred to as bucks, boomers, or jacks. An adult female wallaby is known as a doe, flyer, or jill. A group of wallabies is called a court, mob, or troupe. [Photocred: Jim Jones]

Did you also know that the sea lions on Kangaroo Island make the 120 kilometre return journey to the continental shelf looking for food every six days, themselves risking becoming food for hungry Great White Sharks and Orcas?

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Our guide knew so much about Kangaroo Island’s flora and fauna that when Nikki described them in great detail, it was already  like watching a Nature segment on PBS!  The more we discovered about Kangaroo Island’s unique wildlife, and indigenous plants, as well as its stunning geography, also carved out by the forces of Nature–wind, rain, and sea–the more inspired we are to capture the endless beauty of this incredibly pristine, revered island.  It is Australia’s own version of the Galapagos in all its wondrous glory. From Koalas napping peacefully on their native tree branch,  to silhouettes of kangaroos grazing across the meadow at sunset, to pristine beaches that caress a vast panorama of the deep blue Southern Ocean, our multi-Emmy-award winning cinematographer, Evan Zissimopulos is surely going to think he died and went to heaven!

Kangaroo Island has always fascinated me ever since my eldest daughter, Joanna Gee who at 15 was awarded “Science Student of the Year” at her High School and subsequently selected to be part of the People to People International Student Travel Program. Joanna chose to travel to Kangaroo Island to study Marine Biology.  Joanna even made sure she was scuba-certified by her departure date, even if it meant passing her open dives in the frigid winter waters of Flaming Gorge in Utah! Well, fast forward, today Joanna is a Financial Analyst for a major tech company, but to this day, she has never forgotten her amazing time at Kangaroo Island. “Mom, t’s a haven for wildlife.  The air is fresher, the skies are bluer, and the Aussies are just the nicest people on earth.”  On that note, how can I not include Kangaroo Island on our epic #astonishingaustralia special series? Consider it done, Joanna! Thank you for inspiring me all those years ago.  What took me so long?

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 Second Stop:  Alluring Adelaide:  Artistry by Design

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Once our Kangaroo Island Odysseys adventure was completed, we returned to the mainland via SeaLink Ferry, and once again picked up by SeaLink coach and guest by guest returned to our respective Adelaide hotel.

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Our choice–the redesigned, and meticulously preserved,  luxurious 5-star Mayfair Hotel. 

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Wait until you sink your tired body  into their luxuriously famous king size bed after a long day of exploration.  We’ve never felt anything like it, and we understand the beds are manufactured right in Adelaide. Honestly, I slept like a baby!

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Adelaide’s abuzz about The Hennessy, Mayfair Hotel’s hottest Rooftop Bar.

Why visit Adelaide?

Adelaide, the state capital of the Southeast region is rich with pine forests; world-class wineries in its surrounding hills that are dotted with fertile vineyards from the Barossa Valley to McLaren Vale; to the east, the great Murray River meanders from the Victoria border down to the Southern Ocean (more on that later), and the topping on the cake for beach lovers like me–Adelaide boasts a spectacular coastline including the popular white sandy beaches of Gulf St. Vincent.

Did you know no convicts were transported here?

Home to Aborigines for more than 10,000 years, the region was settled by Europeans in 1836 when Governor John Hindmarsh proclaimed the area a British colony. William Light, the Surveyor General, chose the site of the city of Adelaide.  The settlement was based on a theory of free colonization funded solely by land sales, and no convicts were transported here.  Adelaide was carefully planned by Colonel Light with its ordered grid pattern, anchored by pretty squares and gardens, the city is surrounded by luscious green parkland.

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Beyond the well-designed public parklands, one of the vivid character traits Adelaide possesses which visitors quickly note upon arrival is the abundance of architectural wonders.  The city is like a blank canvas for modern architects, and what they’ve designed and engineered is pretty amazing!  Here are just a few total stand-outs: [L to R]  UoA Adelaide Medical & Nursing School;  South Australian Health and Medical Institute, (SAHMI, also nicknamed “The Grater”)  [Bottom L] Rundle Mall

The State Capital, Adelaide is a brilliant,  living Architectural Museum!

The State Capital, Adelaide is a brilliant, living Architectural Museum!

The city reflects the residents forward thinking attitude, as well as their youthful approach to maintaining a high quality of life–and that means living well, eating healthy, staying fit, and taking the time to smell the roses. And, there’s no better place to get a whiff of the floral varieties than at the spectacular glasshouse at Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

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Nothing fuels our appetites than a full day of exploration. We love knowing our Mayfair Hotel boasts one of Adelaide’s most highly-regarded culinary artist–Chef Bethany Finn at The Mayflower Restaurant and Bar.

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A fun insider info–Chef Bethany nurtures her very own Beehives on the Rooftop of the Mayfair Hotel, which produces the most exquisite honey I’ve ever tasted. Perhaps it’s because these bees reside in luxury?  Chef Bethany finds numerous tasty ways to  brilliantly weave her freshly harvested, purest honey into both the Bar’s signature drinks,  and the mouth-watering recipes she prepares at the Mayflower Restaurant! Livin’ is definitely sweeter at the Mayfair.  And, less you forget, when the day is over we also get to sink ourselves into one of the Mayfair‘s  heavenly beds! #tia: #ThisIsAustralia. Hospitality Extraordinaire!

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Goodnight.  Please stay tuned for more amazing adventure updates as we report on:

> Southern Australia’s food and wine connoisseur’s mecca–the fertile hillsides, vineyard-dotted,  Barossa Valley–an easy hour’s drive from Adelaide;

> the many things we learned from our pleasantly soothing River Cruise on board the p/s  Murray Princess.

> our unforgettable, adventure-filled week in Queensland at Thala Beach Nature Reserve and the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia’s greatest treasure;

> our epic Great Southern Rail transcontinental journey on the Indian Pacific “Platinum Service” across the Great Outback, from Sydney to Perth;

> our wildly pristine surprise at Rottnest Island;

> and, Perth Perfect is exactly that–Perfect!  Take a sunset cruise on board Captain Cook Cruises, and you’ll understand what I mean.

> And, less I forget, our beautiful stay in the most envied postcard-perfect Harbour capital in the world–Splendid Sydney!

If you’re starting to think Australia just might have it all, may I simply say you could well be on the right track indeed. This may also explain the very reason visitors have been known to arrive in Australia and never leave!

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In the interim, here’s to Blissful, Endless Escapes…and, remember, no matter where you go, be the kindest person you know.

With love,

Mel, THE ESCAPESEEKER

 

BREAKING NEWS: ESCAPESEEKER “ECUADOR UNEQUALED” EPIC SEASON PROMO UNVEILED

ESCAPESEEKER POST PRODUCTION  ~ They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Accordingly,  moving pictures must then be worth a thousand stories right? My amazing ESCAPESEEKER film team and I are thrilled  to share the following first look at our Ecuador Unequaled promo, which I am confident will help illustrate how we capture each destination’s unique stories. As the ESCAPESEEKER series’ writer and host, I’m a firm believer that the stories are best told by the actual inhabitants–joyful, kind-hearted, generous, engaging–we seek out those  who know best, and who proudly cherish their native land.

The Amazon grabs at your heart and never lets go. Our authentic Amazon experience during our stay at  La Selva Amazon Eco-Lodge & Spa is something we will always cherish.

The Amazon grabs at your heart and never lets go. Our authentic Amazon experience during our stay at La Selva Amazon Eco-Lodge & Spa is something we will always cherish.

#intheirownwords…

I continually strive to utilize my interviewing skills a seasoned global journalist to present the right questions and allow our featured native “stars” to speak straight from their heart. Combined with my passion-driven,  Emmy award-winning team’s photographic talents and artistry, I hope you’ll agree after viewing the promo that we achieved our lofty objective! We’ll keep you updated as to the exact broadcast dates and times of our brand new ESCAPESEEKER 2017 PBS Fall Season launch as soon as it becomes available.  In the meantime, dream…and we hope you too, will be inspired to explore and discover this enticing, unequaled country we call ECUADOR!  There’s no other place in the world that can compare.

We wish to express our gratitude to all of our many Ecuadorian newfound friends who opened your doors to us, welcomed us warmly, and granted us an honest and rare insider’s glimpse into your extraordinary, inspiring lives.

#musicistheuniversallanguage: We had the privilege of witnessing the most fabulous evening immersed in beautiful Ecuadorian folk music at MISQUILLA with its Founder, Juan Fernando Velasco, Latin Grammy Nominated artist, who also featured his gifted Ecuadorian talents. #ittakesavillagetoproduceESCAPESEEKER

#musicistheuniversallanguage: We had the privilege of witnessing the most fabulous evening immersed in beautiful Ecuadorian folk music at MISQUILLA with its Founder, Juan Fernando Velasco, Latin Grammy Nominated Artist, who also featured his gifted, fellow-Ecuadorian talents. #ittakesavillagetoproduceESCAPESEEKER

#envision. #explore. #embrace.

For a country its size, Ecuador offers an incredible list of #unequaledexperiences.  With its Andean peaks, Amazon rainforest, indigenous markets, colonial towns–not to mention one of the most famous chains of volcanic islands in the world, inhabited by fascinating wildlife, some of which are found only in the Galapagos!

The Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center, a long-term program run jointly by the Galapagos National Park Directorate and the Charles Darwin Foundation, began in 1965 to save the giant tortoise population on Pinzón. It was quickly expanded to include other populations, in particular that of Española where only 14 individuals remained. As of 2008, more than 4,000 young tortoises from eight different populations have been repatriated to their island of origin, with nearly 1,500 going back to Española.

The Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center, a long-term program run jointly by the Galapagos National Park Directorate and the Charles Darwin Foundation, began in 1965 to save the giant tortoise population on Pinzón. It was quickly expanded to include other populations, in particular that of Española where only 14 individuals remained. As of 2008, more than 4,000 young tortoises from eight different populations have been repatriated to their island of origin, with nearly 1,500 going back to Española.

 

 

Charles Darwin described them as "hideous-looking" and "most disgusting, clumsy lizards." It's true, they're not pretty, with their wide-set eyes, smashed-in faces, spiky dorsal scales, and knotty, salt-encrusted heads. But what these unusual creatures lack in looks they make up for with their amazing and unique ecological adaptations. Wait until you see the fascinating footage we captured! I personally think 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder'--do you agree?

Charles Darwin described them as “hideous-looking” and “most disgusting, clumsy lizards.”
It’s true, some may say decide they’re not pretty, with their wide-set eyes, smashed-in faces, spiky dorsal scales, and knotty, salt-encrusted heads. But what these unusual creatures lack in looks they make up for with their amazing and unique ecological adaptations. Wait until you see the fascinating footage we captured! I personally think ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’–do you agree?

We feel it an absolute privilege to share Ecuador’s unique character, soulful heart, and unequaled beauty with the rest of the world. We could not have done it without your invaluable and generous support. On behalf of my entire ESCAPESEEKER team, Muchas Gracias!

Our destinations featured:

Quito:  Casa Gangotena, [casagangotena.com] with music segment at Misquilla, [www.misquilla.com]

The High Andes’ Rainforest: Mashpi Lodge [www.mashpi.com]

The Ecuadorian Amazon: La Selva Amazon Eco-Lodge & Spa [www.laselvajunglelodge.com]

The Galapagos Islands: Haugan Cruises’ catamaran, “Petrel” [www.haugancruises.com]

Our heartfelt Thank you also to our brilliant, indefatigable ESCAPESEEKER Ecuador Unequaled “Guest Talents” who fuel our innate wanderlust and beautifully manifest their insatiable passion for travel:

#thewindbeneathmywings:  Evan Zissimopulos, Jacob Voelzke, Roy Henderson, John Hempellman, Mary McGill, Dawn Adams, J. Dann Adams, Marjorie MacArthur, Tom Whittier, Christine Hedges, [Not pictured: Mimmie Byrne, Byrne, Melody Clyde]

#thewindbeneathmywings: Evan Zissimopulos, Jacob Voelzke, Roy Henderson, John Hempellman, Mary McGill, Dawn Adams, J. Dann Adams, Marjorie MacArthur, Tom Whittier, Christine Hedges, [Not pictured: Mimmie Byrne, Byrne, Melody Clyde]

Interested in joining our amazing team? FYI…Our #1 Rule we require all to adhere–You must take off your [American] lenses and see, feel, taste, embrace the country respectfully through the eyes of the natives.

Would you like more details or have questions regarding our #ecuadorunequaled adventure?

 

Feel free to write me at:  escapeseeker@gmail.com or let’s chat via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ESCAPESEEKER-367501815104/

I would love to hear from you!

Here’s to Blissful, Endless ESCAPES…

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

Mel aka ESCAPESEEKER

Saying Goodbye to Ecuador with a heart full of #gratitude #unequaled...

Saying Adios to Ecuador with a heart full of #gratitude #unequaled…

 

 

#Envision #Work #Achieve: UNITING TWO GREAT HEARTS AT THE 2016 UNITED NATIONS AMBASSADORS’ BALL

December 2016: The Year I Brought The Rock Star Humanitarian,

STEVEN TYLER

Face to Face with the World’s #1 Diplomat,

H.E. MR. BAN KI-MOON,

Secretary General of the United Nations

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New York City ~ On December 3, 2016, His Excellency, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations bestowed upon iconic Aerosmith frontman and Rock Legend, Steven Tyler the HCUND* 2016 Humanitarian Award at the United Nations Ambassadors’ Ball for his tireless efforts as the Founder of humanitarian initiative, Janiesfund.org.

The honor is in recognition of the musician’s philanthropic partnership with Youth Villages through Janie’s Fund, created by Tyler in 2015 to give his voice to vulnerable girls who have experienced the trauma of abuse and neglect and are being helped by Youth Villages.

“As a father to three daughters, a son, and, now a grandfather, it broke my heart to learn that each year in America alone 700,000 children are victims of serious abuse or neglect and 68,000 will be sexually abused,” Tyler said. “All abuse is wrong — verbal, physical, sexual, emotional. We need to have better ways as parents to help our children and support them. Way too many kids are experiencing abuse, and we want to change that. Enough is enough.”

In its first year, Janie’s Fund has gained 2,700 supporters from 38 countries who have contributed more than $1.9 million to help girls receive evidence-based help so that they can overcome the trauma of abuse and neglect. This year, Janie’s Fund will allow Youth Villages to provide more than 18,000 days of care to girls in need, directly helping more than 300 girls.

Tyler has long had a desire to help with this issue, dating back to the 1980s when he was in a program for his own recovery. Hearing the personal accounts of women who had experienced incredibly painful and debilitating sexual abuse as children, he saw how the abuse put them on a path of suffering, post-traumatic stress and other disorders that eventually led to substance problems. It was their plight that inspired Tyler to compose the song, “Janie’s Got A Gun.”

“I personally know how addiction can fracture lives,” Tyler said. “I don’t wish that on anyone. To use my voice and the voices of many others to help these girls once again find their voice is my mission.”

THE BACK STORY….

img_7774In October I boarded a plane to Mexico City. My mission–to meet our honoree face to face. After all, as the Chair of the 2016 U.N. Ambassadors’ Ball Steering Committee entrusted with the responsibility of selecting the 2016 Humanitarian Award Recipient, I had lobbied diligently several weeks prior for Steven’s nomination.  And, now, with the big day fast approaching when I would actually be introducing him to the Secretary General plus a host of Ambassadors from around the world, I decided it was definitely time to look him in the eye.  After all,  I had never introduced someone I had never met. I had conducted countless researches on Steven. But, I wanted to get beyond what all of us music fans already knew: His remarkable global success as the dynamic front-man of the legendary rock band, Aerosmith; and Hailed by Rolling Stone Magazine as “one of the greatest singers of all time.” He and his band have sold more than 150 million records; won 4 Grammy Awards, 6 American Music Awards, 4 Billboard Music Awards, and let’s not forget his own Emmy Award too! In addition to having number one hits, gold, platinum and multi-platinum album certifications, he and his band are on the highly coveted wall of inductees–the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!

With all of his hard-earned success, the world-wide adulation and fame, one would think that our honoree would be content to just bask in his beloved Hawaiian sunshine long into his Golden years right? Au Contraire!

For nearly an hour, I was granted a one-on-one talk with Mr. Steven Tyler, and this is what I learned: The proud father, and now a grandfather too, is applying his BIG VOICE recognized the world over, to raise awareness, bring hope and healing to a sector of our society that desperately need to be heard: the broken, the neglected, the forgotten victims of sexual abuse—young girls and young women whose entire lives have been altered from the trauma forcefully inflicted upon them.

As he spoke I listened intently to know whether what I was hearing was coming from his heart. There was no publicist or manager in the room, no one to filter his thoughts; no cameras rolling — Just a simple heart to heart conversation. He told me of the early 70’s when his Rock-N-Roll lifestyle was very different than it is today. And, he openly shared the toll that lifestyle brought upon him, his family, and even his relationship with his Band. But it is also those incredibly difficult seasons in his life that have given him a magnified dose of compassion… of genuine empathy for those suffering…and transformed his Big Voice into a fine tuned instrument for good.

Steven Tyler with Aerosmith leading a packed arena of avid fans to a chorus after chorus of "Dream On!"

Steven Tyler with Aerosmith leading a packed arena of avid fans to a chorus after chorus of “Dream On!”

Thereafter, I joined a concert packed with 23,000 Spanish-speaking fans singing in total harmony, every English word memorized verbatim. It is clear that Steven continues to inspire millions through his music—and through his personal example—of triumphantly overcoming life’s refiner’s fire– that each of us can find the strength to rise above, even life’s toughest challenges to help others find their own path to healing and live productive lives.

We reviewed several candidates for this award, with causes in harmony with what our Secretary General has tirelessly championed. We sought authenticity—not just a “lent” famous face because his/her publicist thought it’s “good for your image.” And, I was directed to the story of a broken girl…who told her story to someone who truly listened…so moved and haunted was Steven Tyler by her story that he wrote a song… and, the song resonated around the world. Her name was Janie.

I know there are women around the world who will jointly celebrate Steven’s Humanitarian Award because Janie’s story is part of their story too…and they too prayed someone would come to their rescue.

Yes, we all know about his iconic RockStar Big Voice—but now the rest of the world will learn he possesses an even BIGGER HEART! As a mother of 4 grown daughters, and 8 granddaughters,  it brings me great comfort knowing there is someone like Steven who has made it his life’s mission to stop the horrific abuse suffered by girls for as he and the Secretary General jointly proclaim “It has to stop! Enough is Enough.”

Seeing this image captured by photographer, Don Pollard during my introduction of Steven Tyler at the 2016 United Nations Ambassadors' Ball. Those are my words, penned on Friday, submitted to the Secretary General's team for approval then sent on Saturday at 2 a.m. the day of the event to Steven's Production Manager to add to their teleprompter operator's roster. And, these are the very sentiments I expressed and which Steven was hearing for the very first time when this moment was captured.

Seeing this image captured by photographer, Don Pollard during my introduction of Steven Tyler at the 2016 United Nations Ambassadors’ Ball. Those are my words, penned on Friday, submitted to the Secretary General’s team for approval then sent on Saturday at 2 a.m. the day of the event to Steven’s Production Manager to add to their teleprompter operator’s roster. And, the above are the very sentiments I expressed, and which Steven was hearing for the very first time when this moment was captured.

This is but one of my 2016 “Pinch Me Moments,” and it is my hope  that you too may be inspired by Steven’s determination and tireless focus to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  May we each strive to be #instrumentsforgood. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

During this Christmas Season, I cannot think of a more appropriate way to honor the birth of Jesus Christ than to love and care for one another.  As Steven has proven, no matter our chosen profession, there is something we can all do to help those in need;  all we have to do is commit to live a purpose-driven life…a soulful life tuned in to the needs of the broken amongst us.  After all, haven’t we all walked that difficult path, at least once in our lives? I believe compassion is nurtured…nurtured by our own personal sufferings. May we all find a way to lend a helping hand…and make this world a brighter, kinder place.

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To share this extraordinary event with my 4 daughters and eldest granddaughter made it even more unforgettable.  It's so important to me that they too become a force for good.

To share this extraordinary event with my 4 daughters–Joanna Fankhauser, Gabrielle Chow, Christina Noakes, Miristi Gee,  and my eldest granddaughter, Leah Boice made it even more unforgettable. It’s so important to me that they too strive to be a force for good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     ANOTHER JOURNALIST’S PERSPECTIVE ON OUR HUMANITARIAN AWARDEE…

 

 

#tremendoustuesdaytip: ROBERT Restaurant NYC ~ Delicious and Inspiring!

robertColumbus Circle, NYC ~ I have a new favorite restaurant, thanks to my dear friend, Marlon Corvera, Jeffrey Rüdes’ world-renowned “Style Advisor to the Stars” who clearly has the talents and palate for discovering NYC’s finest Chefs too! Marlon and I serve on the Steering Committee for the 2016 United Nations Ambassadors’ Ball and he has taken on the task of making sure we are able to multi-task during his rare vacant time slots on his incredibly packed schedule. The result–we dine at establishments that are also engaged in our highly-anticipated charity event–while we meet with some of NYC’s finest talents too.  Yes, Marlon leads the way in the “art of time management” and that leads me to today’s “delicious and inspiring” story.  The gathering place — Robert restaurant on Columbus Circle.  The cast–Marlon Corvera, Luz Thoron MacArthur [Chair, 2016 United Nations Ambassadors’ Ball]; Inga Ramos, Lanvin Paris Store Director; Ana Harris, Robert NYC; and its star Executive Chef Luísa Fernandes! Oh, less I forget, yes, the ESCAPESEEKER is present too, this time I’m serving as Chair of the Steering Committee as noted above, and Vice-Chairman of the 2016 United Nations Ambassadors’ Ball.  I also serve on the Advisory Council of the  Hospitality Committee for United Nations Delegations [HCUND] under whose umbrella the entire orchestration of the Ball is conducted.  Yes, it’s a lot of hats for one person.  But then again, why not wear three hats when you’re in NYC where there are so many, many talented individuals from which to draw outstanding ideas and continuous inspiration.  And, #inspiration is exactly what I derived from speaking to Executive Chef Luísa Fernandes.

In Pursuit of her Passion:  An Extraordinary Journey

You may recognize Portuguese Chef Luísa Fernandes on the Food Network’s Chopped episode back in November, 2009, where viewers  were instantly enamored by the passion and love the joyful Chef Luísa puts into the three dishes each contestant was required to prepare. Chef Luísa’s innovative cooking skills and calm, confident demeanor earned her the day’s top prize of $10,000.

Chef Luisa Fernandes

”I think that the victory is not mine, but all of ours [Portugal’s], because I’m Portuguese and proud when people recognize our cuisine. That’s why I will never enter another contest unless I can cook the cuisine from our country” said Luisa, during the post interview. One year later, on September 14, 2010 she returned as one of the four contestants of Chopped Champions.

Today, I had the privilege of learning more from Chef Luisa; there is definitely more to this talented Portuguese Chef than just winning Chopped. She is an inspiration to women everywhere, including this ESCAPESEEKER!

Be Willing to Re-Write Your Life’s Script

Chef Luísa was born in Monte Real, Leiria, Portugal. For the first 30 years of her career, she was an orthopedic surgery assistant nurse in which two of those years, she served as a parachute nurse. Luisa traveled throughout Europe, Malta, Morocco, Canada, Mexico, Sudan and Rwanda where she learned many cooking techniques from these cultures. With her passion for cooking she followed her dream and opened her own restaurant called Tachos de São Bento in Lisbon, Portugal. The restaurant proved a big hit with the locals, which included influential politicians. Restaurant consulting opportunities quickly followed, as well as television appearances. Luísa and her restaurant were featured in French Elle magazine.

Portuguese-Dinner1Although Luísa was enjoying her success in Portugal, in 2003 she decided to pursue her dream of moving to New York City. When she arrived at Kennedy Airport, not knowing any English, and without any job prospects she thought to herself, “If I find a job working in a restaurant I’ll stay in New York. If not, then I’ll spend three weeks vacationing in NY, then return home.”

Six days later, she landed a job at the Portuguese restaurant Alfama. Two years later she moved on to Galitos Restuarant in Mount Vernon NY. In August 2005 Westchester Magazine named her as one of the “The Top 10 Best Chefs” of Westchester, NY.

Luísa’s ambition is evident in her extensive resume which includes working as pastry chef at the United Nations, many New York restaurants such as Park Blue, Tintol, Georgia’s Cafe, Bairrada Restaurant, Nomad, and at Best Chocolate Cake In the World. She has hosted several events at Jame Bear, Cordon Bleu Institute (Boston), William Sonoma, New York Volunteer of America and Portugal Day in Central park. She was a private chef for pearl and jewelry mogul, Salvador Assael. She has also catered private parties for celebrities i.e., Johnny Dep, and for Portuguese government entities. Chef Luísa has been featured in numerous publications including the the New York Times, Diners Journal, Plate Magazine, Specialty Food Magazine, Luso Americano, Jornal Expresso, Mundo Português, Jornal de Economia, and Ionline.

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the-fantastic-vewChef Luísa continues her successful journey in the highly competitive, world-class culinary universe as Executive Chef of NYC’s popular gathering place, Robert restaurant atop The Museum of Arts and Design [MAD] on Columbus Circle.

The restaurant offers diners spectacular views of Central Park, Broadway, Central Park West and Columbus Circle while savoring the delectable, mouth-watering creations of Chef Luísa. I like to call it, “Inspired Dining!” Bon appetit or as the Portuguese would say, “Bom apetite! Vamos comer!”

If you’re looking for an inspiring gathering place with a spectacular view of one of the most iconic “cityscapes” in the world, I highly recommend you book a table, or the entire restaurant for your next unforgettable celebration.  Even regular business meetings and event planning like ours become a celebration with Chef Luísa at Robert restaurant! www.robertnyc.com

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 There’s Nothing Ordinary About Dining at Robert

[pictured: ESCAPESEEKER, Marlon Corvera, Inga Ramos, Chef Luísa, and Luz Thoron MacArthur]

Dining at Robert IMG_3777

 

A special Thank you Marlon Corvera [center] for orchestrating yet another unforgettable and productive luncheon gathering.  Thank you Anna Harris [left] for the exquisite VIP welcome. And, Thank you Inga Ramos [right] for your most generous surprise! I’m finding time and time again that New York City residents sure know how to treat their guests! How am I ever going to leave this magnificent city? Maybe I should just follow Chef Luísa’s example and become a New Yorker?

Here’s to inspiring women living extraordinary lives!

Yours truly,

Mel Gee Henderson aka The ESCAPESEEKER

Background Story Resource Cred:  Tia Maria, Portugal

 

A LUXURIOUS FLOATING HOTEL + BREATHTAKING LANDSCAPES + ENGAGING NEW FRIENDS = AMAWATERWAYS’ AMAPRIMA RIVER CRUISE

Spring has sprung.  And, nowhere is this more evident than in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Amsterdam, here we come!

With select images by Jim Jones…

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Peg Whisler Jones, and yours truly, the ESCAPESEEKER

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 Introducing my ESCAPESEEKER Team to the Art of River Cruising

Amsterdam, here we come!Amsterdam, Netherlands ~ Ok, I have a confession:  I’ve always been hesitant to go on a river cruise because I’ve had the conception that I would be stuck on a boat for seven days or more with senior cruisers, so senior that they would not be up for doing  much of anything.  And, the last thing I need right now is to be reminded of how old, I too,  am becoming!  Well, WOW!  Was my conception a total MISconception! What I discovered and experienced has changed my view of River Cruising forever.

A bit of background: My ESCAPESEEKER Advisory Team

Three of my ESCAPESEEKER travel companions are members of my TV Program Advisory Team.  They’re seasoned global travelers.  And, they’re fearless, ready and eager to experience the very best in travel.  Based on the activities we continually engage in–climbing mountains, white-water rafting, canoeing in the Amazon, scuba-diving in French Polynesia–you may never guess from our adventurous behavior that two of us are in our early 60’s, while the other two are in the prime of their seventh decade!  And, the main trait we all share–we’re passionate about travel and the people who reside with us on this majestic planet! Oh yes, one more common trait–we have all managed to raise one huge family (each).

 

Our Big Family965582_10202540215885388_1749892738_o So when we’re not engaged in our extensive grand-parenting duties, we are conducting our ESCAPESEEKER advance research, and yes, the destination and experiences need to be simply amazing to make our time away from our families worth every second.

 In figuring out which of the plethora of river cruising options we wanted to try, one in particular stood out from all the rest:  AmaWaterways’ AmaPrima Tulip Cruise! After all it’s Spring time and we were advised everything is blooming in the Kingdom of the Netherlands!

AMAPrima Entrance

Why AmaWaterways?  It’s more than just about the destination–AmaWaterways is all about the complete journey.

We landed at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol around 8:30 a.m. and I have to say Schiphol is about the easiest airport to navigate. We were in the city being treated to a wonderful “Welcome ESCAPESEEKER breakfast” at the Hoofstad Brasserie overlooking the Amstel River, and located in the historic De L’Europe Amsterdam [http://www.deleurope.com/the “Grand Dame” of luxury hotels in Amsterdam by 10 a.m.  I highly recommend their delectable Spinach Eggs Benedict!

Hotel De L'Europe

Dutch Masters Wing - Junior Suite 2We had reserved two Junior Suites for the day, complete with a 6 pm late check-out in case we should need the extra time exploring the city before joining the AmaPrima later that same afternoon.  It proved to be exactly what we needed to fuel up, freshen up, and get rid of any signs of jet lag.  The city beckoned us, and we quickly acquiesced!

There’s nothing like walking and getting up close and personal to quickly orient yourself to the rhythm of the city.

 

AmaWaterways’ AmaPrima…River vessels are not created equal

AMAPrima Jim

Inspired by classic ocean yachts, the AmaPrima strives to provide the most distinctive river cruise experience. As you board, the magnificent glass elevator will catch your eye, hinting of the unique design elements you’ll continue to discover onboard. Being the lover of a well sunlit rooms, I was delighted to see our cabin had their exclusive “Twin Balconies” to allow for more private, friendly-viewing of the Netherland’s gorgeous landscapes. By the way, I soon discovered that certain ports required us to be tied to another commercial river boat.  What an outstanding way to get a sneak peak of the competition, and I noted, we on the AmaPrima were the only ones who can relax in a heated Sun Deck swimming pool with a “swim-up” bar after our energizing bike rides–yes, AmaWaterways provides a fleet of bicycles for guests to enjoy–free of charge!  Our ship also featured a Fitness Center, Massage, Hair and Beauty salon–and I was too busy having fun to take in any of it.  You’ll have to test it out for me when it’s your turn to go river cruising on the AmaPrima ok?  

Our Sweet Suite

Suite-on-the-AmaPrima.

It’s a given, most people who sign up for a River Cruise do not expect to find an extra large stateroom.  After all, these river boats have their size limits so they are able to navigate the many locks throughout the voyage.  What AmaWaterways did to make the cabins look and feel more expansive–they added the “twin balcony” concept for the majority of staterooms.  It lets so much more light in, and combined with white on white plush bedding, it simply evokes what you would expect to find in a luxury 5-star hotel. Yes, it’s all there–the flat-screen TV, with local and satellite channels, spacious bathrooms with multi-jet showerheads, even the luxurious terry bathrobes! All combined, definitely keeps with my lux-seeking ESCAPESEEKER mantra!

Feasting our way through the Kingdom of the Netherlands…tough assignment right?

Feasting our Way through the Netherlands

AmaWaterways offers an array of dining options for your culinary enjoyment. Enjoy Chaîne des Rôtisseurs culinary creations in the main dining room, or in the Chef’s Table restaurant with its own private chef.

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AmaWaterways is proud to be the only river cruise line invited to join one of the world’s most prestigious culinary organizations founded in 1950 in Paris. Every AmaWaterways vessel cruising in Europe is an official member of La Chaine des Rotisseurs. Membership is considered an achievement of world-class culinary acumen.It was tough to distinguish the offerings on our floating restaurant from the land-based award-winning variety! After trying to control my intake and appetites I finally decided to just surrender, and just sign up for more excursions and activities that would help me physically burn the calories so I could “earn” the next amazing spread!

IMG_2518Burning calories with mind-expanding excursions

Are you a “gentle” take everything in kind of walker?  Or are you an “active” fast walker that can’t wait to get to your target destination? Perhaps, you’re the kind of “late starter” tourist that’s in no hurry to get anywhere, even preferring to get your beauty sleep while on vacation? Well, no worries to all of the above because AmaPrima allowed us to set our own pace on shore excursions by signing up for the ones that describe our particular category–in my case–I definitely want to earn the evening’s dessert–I signed up for “active.”  All AmaWaterways voyages ensure that you’re treated with personalized attention, on land, as well as on the river. The complimentary Shore Excursions provide an an immersive introduction land tour to every destination. The local guides did inspire me to dig deeper, immerse myself more into the history of the places we visited once we returned to our boat.  If I could have my wish, I would wish we could stay longer at each location.  Just when I was savoring the moment, it seemed, it was time to untie the boat and cruise onward. 

Day 2      AMSTERDAM – VOLENDAM – EDAM

 IMG_2269We cruised the Ijsselmeer towards Volendam, enjoying a late afternoon tour of Volendam Harbor.

Then, we continued by motor coach to Edam, a total postcard-perfect, picturesque town.  I do not know how the Dutch maintain such immaculate homes and gardens.  Our guide hinted “we’re all born with a green finger.” Is that the same as a green thumb? After tasting the local Edam cheese, we know they have a gift for cheese-making too. We walked by the Old Quarter’s beautiful houses, canals, bridges and churches with towering steeples, including one of the largest in Holland, the Grote Kerk (Great Church).

We finished off our tour with a brief visit to the shoreline at Volendam.  If there’s one thing you absolutely must try, it’s the tiny, dollar size Dutch pancakes. It is served with fresh whipped cream…to die for…I kid you not!

It’s astounding to note that flood control is an important issue for the Netherlands, as about two thirds of its area is vulnerable to flooding, while the country is among the most densely populated on Earth. Natural sand dunes and constructed dikes, dams, and floodgates provide defense storm surges from the sea.  River dikes prevent flooding from water flowing into the country by the major rivers Rhine and Meuse, while complicated system of drainage ditches, canals, and pumping stations (historically windmills) keep the low-lying parts dry for habitation and agriculture.  Water control boards are the independent local government bodies responsible for maintaining this system. In modern times, flood disasters coupled with technological developments have led to large construction works to reduce the influence of the sea and prevent floods.  In the interim, the Dutch became astute, expert sailors from residing by the sea, a trait that is evident everywhere we looked.

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Day 3       ARNHEM – NIJMEGEN
Hallowed Ground

We arrived early, in beautiful Arnhem. The perfect weather we were blessed with only magnified how charming this small town is.  Since my ESCAPESEEKER traveling companions are avid supporters of WWII veterans, we chose  to see the monument commemorating the Battle of Arnhem Bridge made famous by the classic film “A Bridge Too Far.” Such a humbling sight to walk amidst the rows and rows of tombstones bearing the name of soldiers who sacrificed their lives to liberate Arnhem.  We also visited the Airborne Museum to learn more about the Battle of Arnhem, one of the major campaigns of World War II.  This was well worth the time.  The town’s respect and reverence for those who died is clearly evident in this museum.  After our tour, we returned to the ship for lunch and a stunning cruise to Nijmegen. Mother Nature was definitely on our  side. The weather could not be any more fabulous as we cruised through the Netherlands en route to Belgium.IMG_2315

Day 4

     ANTWERP, BELGIUMIMG_2358 (1)We awoke to yet another glorious day, as we are welcomed to Antwerp.  A walking tour of Antwerp helped us get oriented to the layout of the main square, displaying the city’s superb architecture. In the afternoon we bravely explored Antwerp on bicycles with our two local guides, following each through the charming streets of Antwerp, passing impressive historical sites such as Cogels Osylei, Waterloo House, St. Jacob’s Church and the Museum Ridder Smidt van Gelder. It was especially enjoyable to see the different neighborhoods, some established by early Jewish settlers that continue to this day.  We returned to the ship with hearty appetites and our Chef definitely did not disappoint with yet, another amazing delectable spread.13164237_10154801999673032_6800186081863567539_n 2

Day 5

     GHENT AND BRUGESIMG_2393The evening’s cruised brought us to Ghent. A town I’ve only read about, I was eager to join the walked tour through the city,  which included the Belfry Hall, the Koornlei, the Graslei and the Castle of the Counts. My camera was going on overdrive as I captured one gorgeous image after another.  My only complain about Ghent?  The city council had instituted these public, open air urinals, and honestly, the scent destroys you even before you get close enough to realize what you were about to encounter.  Ghent, whatever where you thinking?  Please, there must be another option besides ruining the beautiful ambiance of your camera-ready city? We couldn’t board our buses fast enough as we headed to Bruges for the afternoon–one of Europe’s most perfectly preserved medieval cities, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It did not take long for my team to realize that it was a Belgian holiday and everyone had the same idea–to take in beautiful Bruges.  I had been to Bruges many times before, and I had never encountered such a crowd.  So, my recommendation to you if you wish to visit Bruges–make sure it is not a Belgian holiday.  After all, it is clear they love their impressive historic town as much as we do.IMG_2418By early evening, we were back on the beautiful AmaPrima cruising through the Dutch region of Zeeland, home to one of the world’s most complex engineering projects, the Delta Works, which took more than 30 years to complete!Engineering Feat in the Netherlands

Day 6

WILLEMSTAD, THE NETHERLANDS – KINDERDIJK – SCHOONHOVENIMG_2431Once again, we were so excited knowing the morning light would find us biking through the charming 400-year old town of Willemstad. As we’ve discovered from previous tours, the Dutch are simply immaculate. No matter where we cycled, there was always a pleasant garden to greet our sight. I also conducted my own little test to see how friendly the Willemstad natives really are.  Whenever I encountered one on our bike path, I would call out an enthusiastic “Hello from America!” They would always have such a surprise look on their face, and immediately respond with, “Hello!”  Some would even add, “Thank you for visiting!” Or, “Please stay a while.”  Yes, I found myself falling in-love with this beautifully manicured country.  The hard-working people also inspire me.  Who would have ever thought from their humble beginnings and challenging environments (“the Netherlands” means “the low lands” and the land only rises, on average, 1 meter above the sea level, with one third of the land is below sea level) would rise a country that once ruled an empire. In the 17th century,  the Netherlands was the richest and one of the most powerful countries in the world. Thus,  the Dutch call the 17th century the Golden Age.  Their Dutch Empire had possessions around the world. The most important possession were the East Indies, a country that is now called Indonesia. And in case you are not aware, the Dutch also founded New Netherland, which is now known as New York.  Yes, I guess we can say, the Big Apple was once a Dutch Apple! Here’s a little interesting Dutch trivia for you: In 2004 the  United Nations declared that the Netherlands was the 5th best country to live in, in the world! I can totally understand why. Just think, if you’re English-speaking, and you moved to the Netherlands,  you wouldn’t even need to learn Dutch any time soon because every native I’ve encountered thus far speaks fluent English. I can tell, I have a lot to learn from the unique lifestyles of the Dutch. In the meantime, I better keep biking. The AmaPrima awaits.

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IMG_2513In the afternoon, after another delicious lunch on the AmaPrima, we were transported in equally impeccable tour buses to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk, a lovely village renowned for having the country’s greatest concentration of windmills, all dating from the 18th century. The windmills at Kinderdijk are a group of 19 monumental windmills in the Alblasserwaard polder, in the province of South Holland, Netherlands.  Built in 1738 and 1740, to keep water out of the polder, it is the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands and one of the best-known Dutch tourist sites. The mills are listed as national monuments and the entire area is a protected village view since 1993. They have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.

One of the first things you’ll notice when entering one of the Kinderdijk windmills, is the low door opening. In the early days the diets of the inhabitants of the windmills were not as well balanced as we are used to now. This caused the people to stay small, which resulted in low door openings.  Working and living in a windmill is not easy. For instance, the windmills can only be reached by foot or bicycle. But even in the past, life was very difficult. The millers used to have large families, 10 to 12 children was no exception. There a several reasons for these large families: The influence of the church, no birth control, children often died in their first years, and the more sons, the more labor could be done in the mill and the land surrounding the windmill. However, because of their bad circumstances, the millers became self supporting, and they would grow their own vegetables, and raise their own livestock.

Fast forward, present day, I’m reviewing our windmill photos, and I think they convey one clear, simple message:  “Hello from Holland!”

IMG_2455After our informative afternoon at Kinderdijk, we returned to our ship and as we dined at the Chef’s table, our ship cruised to Schoonhoven, where we moored until midnight. I can’t believe how quickly our time on the beautiful AmaPrima cruise is passing.  All I want to do is freeze-frame to allow my memory more time to soak it all in. How in the world will I give up the “AmaZing” royal treatment we’re getting from the AmaPrima staff and crew? Please stop the clock!

Day 7 Park-Keukenhof     AMSTERDAM- KEUKENHOF – AMSTERDAM

We arrived in Amsterdam the next morning, just in time to admire the spectacular display of millions of flowering tulips during our morning excursion to the famous 79-acre Keukenhof Gardens. Talk about color-overload! You cannot begin to comprehend its plethora of rainbow blooms unless you see it for yourselves.

Also known as the Garden of Europe, it is one of the world’s largest flower gardens. It is situated in Lisse, southwest of Amsterdam. It is accessible by bus from the train stations of Haarlem, Leiden and Schiphol.   According to the official website of the Keukenhof Park, approximately seven million flower bulbs are planted annually in the park, which covers an area of 32 hectares (79 acres).

Keukenhof is open annually from mid-March to mid-May. The best time to view the tulips is around mid-April, depending on the weather.

Keukenhof is situated on 15th-century hunting grounds. It was also a source of herbs for Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut’s castle, which is the source of the name Keukenhof (it served to provide herbs for the castle’s kitchen). Rich merchants took over the grounds after the Countess’s death. Dutch East India Company Captain and Governor, Adriaen Maertensz Block lived there in his retirement years in the 17th century in the country house (now known as Castle Keukenhof) which he had let built in 1641.

In the 19th century, the Baron and Baroness Van Pallandt assigned the landscape architect Jan David Zocher and his son Louis Paul Zocher, who had also worked on the Vondelpark, to design the grounds around the castle.

The garden was established in 1949 by the then mayor of Lisse. The idea was to present a flower exhibit where growers from all over the Netherlands and Europe could show off their hybrids – and help the Dutch export industry. The Netherlands is the world’s largest exporter of flowers. Their plan clearly succeeded!

Keukenhof-Gardens-of-HollandAll previous photos I had seen just cannot compare to seeing it in person, up close and personal!

In the afternoon, all of our fellow passengers  joined in a scenic sunset cruise through the historic harbor and canals of Amsterdam. Once again, my camera could not click fast enough. Amsterdam’s unique beauty grabs at my imagination. It’s a total movie-set, and yes, it makes me want to stay, rent a tiny alcove apartment where I can write my best-selling suspense novel. But then again, these historic houses do not come cheap.  The better plan would be to write the best seller, make a ton of money, and then I can purchase that sweet alcove with a gorgeous view of the canal!amsterdam-bicyclesniederlande_amsterdam_kanal_gracht_grossIMG_2239There’s so much to see and do in Amsterdam, especially if you’re an artist, or just enjoy seeing the works of the Masters–Rembrandt, Van Gogh for starters.  The Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, and the Stedelijk Museum are the  most popular choices, but there are many interesting small museums. There are seventy five Amsterdam museums, which attract almost seven million visitors every year. Alongside the wealth of majestic Golden Age paintings, you’ll find exciting modern art, press, film, theater, photography museums and some unique Dutch treats like the Heineken, Ajax Arena Tours, and the Houseboat museum.

And, Amsterdam wouldn’t be Amsterdam without the tourist appeal for the other eclectic side: Yes, you’ll also find the Sex, Erotic, Hash, or Torture museums.

My entire team realized that one week in Amsterdam alone is necessary, no matter your taste in art, to dedicate and explore the incredible museum offerings.

13103312_10154811523658032_1667017073633928299_nAlas, the evening would find us being treated to a final evening’s walk through Amsterdam, this time led by our dearest Amsterdammer friends, Robin Post van der Burg and Hanneke van Weel. Truly, such a special way to end our voyage, breaking bread with friends who treat us like family, while recalling our priceless Netherland experiences, all of which only fueled our desire to become new subjects in the Kingdom of the Netherlands! Yes, you can definitely count on us returning, sooner rather than later.  Thank you AmaWaterways’ AmaPrima for an unforgettable voyage.  To Captain Gerd, Cruise Manager, Rolfe, Hotel Manager, Gemma, Chef Jossef, Maitre d’ Romeo, and to our personal waiter Gabor, who took impeccable care of us at every meal, we extend our utmost heartfelt gratitude for granting us a  River Cruise to remember!

A Few Parting Words From Our Entire Team…

“Cruising is such a tremendous way to make new friends, and connect with dear ones too.  The AmaPrima’s size made making new friends so easy.”~ Mel Gee Henderson

13124730_10154802287648032_2056998124209403176_n“I never expected that we would be dipping into AmaPrima’s pool in the early days of Spring in the Netherlands! It was wonderful after our bike rides!”

~ Peg Whisler Jones

ESCAPESEEKER photogs“Absolutely fantastic boat, fantastic trip with fantastic friends for a fantastic experience. THANK YOU. again.” ~ Jim Jones

Volendam stroll “The AmaPrima exceeded my expectations…I’m definitely a River Cruise convert! By the way, if you’re an avid biker, here’s a terrific biking map for Amsterdam that will come in handy! You’ll feel like a native Amsterdammer by the time you’re finished!” ~ Roy A. Henderson

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Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, received the 2016 Travvy Awards in New York City where AmaWaterways was honored to receive 6 Gold trophies including the coveted Best River Cruise Line Overall and Most Innovative Executive.

Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, received the 2016 Travvy Awards in New York City where AmaWaterways was honored to receive 6 Gold trophies including the coveted Best River Cruise Line Overall and Most Innovative Executive.

AmaWaterways was founded in 2002 by Rudi Schreiner, Kristin Karst and Jimmy Murphy. All Three brought tremendous experience, knowledge and dedication to the venture. Rudi was one of river cruising’s pioneers, having introduced the modern-day river cruise concept to the world of travel. Kristin brought with her vast sales and customer service experience.   And, the third member,  Jimmy Murphy is the founder and former owner of Brendan Vacations. Their combined expertise and passion for the river cruise business has resulted in a river cruise vacation experience that strives to exceed customer expectations. The toughest part of our team’s decision–with more than 20 different itineraries to choose from, which one would you pick? www.amawaterways.com

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#throwbackthursday USA: No Passport? No Problem! Welcome to Laguna Beach, California

Laguna Beach, California ~ With Spring Break just around the corner for many students and families across the USA, many are asking me for recommendations for a fun escape they can do that doesn’t require going abroad.  Well, here’s one of my #throwbackthursday or #forwardfriday California favorites that I love visiting again and again–LAGUNA BEACH!

Laguna Beach Iconic ViewWith beautiful weather, postcard-perfect beaches and numerous hotel offerings, this is the ideal destination for students on spring break, a romantic couples’ getaway, girls get together, a family staycation, or a warm retreat for snowbirds craving to escape winter’s chill.

Here are some of my tried and true Laguna Beach activities that even Southern California locals enjoy doing on a regular basis:

LET YOUR ARTISTIC SIDE SHINE

Be an Artist for a day! Workshops welcome visitors and locals (from novice to advanced) to create a unique art piece to wear or share. Two-hour sessions led by a professional artist take place Fridays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Spring Workshop Schedule: Coloring with Fire, an Introduction to Enameling on Metal (Friday, March 11 and Friday, April 29, 2016). Cost: $95; Watercolor Keep-scapes: (Saturday, April 23, 2016). Cost: $95; and Glass Mosaic: (Saturday/Sunday, March 19 and 20, 2016. Cost: $130. All materials and supplies are provided. Takes place on the Sawdust Art Festival grounds. www.sawduststudioartclasses.com

First Thursdays Art Walk. April 7, 2016 – Takes place from 6-9 p.m., with more than 40 galleries participating around town. Enjoy artist receptions, demonstrations, refreshments and live music. Free trolley service runs throughout the evening, and the Laguna Art Museum is open free of charge from 5-9 p.m. www.firsthursdaysartwalk.org

Take a Self-Guided Public Art Tour – Laguna Beach has more than 80 pieces of public art throughout town that were designed and created specifically for the community. Discover the many murals, statues, sculptures and benches with a Public Art Map that can be picked up at the Official Visitors Center, located at 381 Forest Ave. Or, view a digital map on your phone by visiting www.visitlagunabeach.com/things-to-do/art-culture/public-art/.

Laguna Art Museum’s Kids’ Art Studio, March 20, 2016 from 2-4 p.m. Create artwork based on an exhibition on view at the museum. Free for children with accompanying adults with museum admission; walk-in basis. http://lagunaartmuseum.org/education/kids-art-studio/

FOR THE BUDDING MARINE BIOLOGIST

Explore Tide Pools – View amazing marine life hidden just below the waves. Laguna Beach boasts impressive tide pooling opportunities, giving you an up-close look at various sea creatures from sea stars and hermit crabs to anemones and coralline algae. Pick up an illustrated brochure at the Official Visitors Center, 381 Forest Ave., to help you identify the sea life you might spot. Download the Visit Laguna Beach app to view the current tide schedule. www.visitlagunabeach.com/things-to-do/outdoors/tide-pools/

Whale Watching and Dolphin Cruises – The whale watching off Laguna Beach is exceptional with year-round opportunities. View gray whales in the spring. Finback whales, minke whales, humpbacks and several species of dolphin might also be spotted. Fun Fact: The dolphin population off Laguna’s coastline exceeds more than that of Florida, Hawaii and the Caribbean combined! For whale-watching/dolphin excursions: www.newportlanding.com; www.dolphinsafari.com; www.danawharf.com

Tour the Pacific Marine Mammal Center – the only facility of its kind in Orange County for pinnipeds stranded along 42 miles of Southern California coast. It is dedicated to rescue, rehabilitation and release back into the wild of marine mammals. Admission is free, but donations are welcomed. www.pacificmmc.org

STAY FIT WHILE ENJOYING THE CALIFORNIA SUNSHINE

Rent bicycles then tour the charming village or the backroads. Riding maps and tours available for all skill levels. www.lagunabeachcyclery.com. Take a 7.5 mile guided bike tour (for groups up to eight) exploring the downtown, quaint neighborhoods and canyons, with views of the Laguna coastline. www.lavidalaguna.com

Embark on a guided two-hour kayak eco-tour to explore hidden coves, beaches and kelp beds, and view sea life up close. Single and tandem kayak tours available through La Vida Laguna. Great for families! www.lavidalaguna.com

FOR THE CRUISERS IN THE FAMILY

Hop aboard and ride the free weekend trolley to get around Laguna Beach. Service hours: Friday, 4-11 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Trolley Information: (949) 497-0766; www.visitlagunabeach.com/trolley
Download the official Visit Laguna Beach app and use the “Trolley Tracker” function to access real-time trolley information.

WHERE TO STAY

OUR TOP PICK, since our ESCAPESEEKER mantra is #luxury,   MONTAGE LAGUNA BEACH (Advance Warning, the impeccable staff makes going home really tough!)

Montage Laguna Beach

Here are a few current MONTAGE PACKAGES:

“Experience California” Luxury Coastal Picnic Experience

This experience allows guests to indulge in a picnic that showcases the best coastal views and cuisine in Southern California. The day starts with a private helicopter tour of the Southern California coastline, followed by an afternoon picnic atop a cliff catered by renowned Montage Laguna Beach chefs. Guests will end the day with more culinary artistry at Montage Laguna Beach’s oceanfront, signature restaurant, Studio, with a private dining experience and a visit from Studio’s Executive Chef Craig Strong. The following morning, guests will end their adventure with a Coastal Shores Stone Massage at Spa Montage. Pricing begins at $2,845; available April 1-June 15, 2016.

Award-winning STUDIO restaurant where Executive Chef Craig Strong and his exquisite California culinary artistry reigns supreme.

Award-winning STUDIO restaurant where Executive Chef Craig Strong and his exquisite California culinary artistry reigns supreme.

 

Spring Getaway – Montage Memories Package

Enjoy one night’s accommodations in an oceanfront guest room with access to all resort amenities, plus one $60 breakfast credit at The Loft or In-Room Dining and complimentary valet parking. A complimentary 45-minute photo session captures your stay, with a $50 print credit included and no sitting fee required. For more information and to reserve your stay, click here. Just for Kids! During your stay, children are invited to Paintbox (ages 5-12) & Paintbox Petite (ages 2-5). Activities include cookie decorating, tie dye, egg hunt, petting zoo and more. To view the Paintbox activities calendar click here. For more information and to make a reservation for your child, please call (949) 715-6005.

Family Fun Package

paintbox.tif_finalBring the entire family for the ultimate getaway. They’ll take care of breakfast and entertainment for the kids while you relax and enjoy the sweeping panoramas of the Pacific. Includes: One night’s accommodations in an oceanfront guest room; one $60 dining credit for breakfast at The Loft or In-Room dining; complimentary half-day Paintbox admission for one youngster ($70 value); and access to all resort amenities. Rate based on availability. Additional restrictions may apply. Valid through Dec. 31, 2016. www.montagehotels.com

For additional hotel packages, visit www.VisitLagunaBeach.com.

 

ABOUT LAGUNA BEACH

LagunaBeachPostcard

Laguna Beach is Southern California’s premier coastal destination located midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, and along the southern coast of Orange County.  Known as home to hundreds of local artists, and set amid 20,000 acres of wilderness, Laguna Beach is primarily served by John Wayne Airport in Orange County (SNA) located just a short 20 minutes drive away.

laguna_beach_map2

Here’s to #blissful, #endless #escapes…and remember, no matter where you go, be the kindest person you know.

Making Memories is what it’s all about.

With love,

Mel aka The ESCAPESEEKER

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WHALERS’ WOES: Ruins of an Industry Rusting at the Bottom of the World; And, the GREATEST WILDLIFE GATHERING I’ve Ever Witnessed!

southWriter’s Notes:  On January 6, 2016, our One Ocean Expedition made several visits to South Georgia Island.  Prior to our arrival, I became absorbed in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s book, “South” wherein he vividly chronicled their Antarctic expedition, their failed attempt to reach the South Pole, and his unbelievable, triumphant rescue of his men. Between Shackleton’s book and One Ocean Expeditions’ daily lectures from the on-board Antarctic scholars, my thirst for further Antarctic history and knowledge continued to deepen.  I read just about everything I could get my hands on during sea-days.  And, to have it all come alive during our South Georgia Island visits was better than any university class I could have taken.  If you’re the kind of traveler who demands more than just a drive-by cruise experience in Antarctica, then I highly recommend you seek out the authentic expedition companies like One Ocean Expeditions that fuel the imagination, and brings the history/nature books to life. ~ Mel Gee Henderson

PS:  Your hunger for knowledge does not end when you disembark at the end of the epic expedition.  As I’ve discovered, the more I’ve learned, the more I hunger for more.  And, honestly, isn’t that what travel is designed to do?  Make us all brighter at the end of the day!

Quote of the Day:  “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” ~ Mohammed

South Georgia Island ~ At the start of the last century, dozens of companies set up whaling operations on South Georgia Island. After several highly profitable decades, however, they became victims of  their own success and modernization. If these walls could talk, what stories they would tell?  Welcome to Grytviken. Grytviken

2000px-South_georgia_Islands_map-en.svgGrytviken was the first whaling station to launch operations on the British island of South Georgia, lying in the South Atlantic roughly 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) due east of the bottom boot tip of Argentina. For 58 years, Grytviken was in continuous operation. It survived two world wars and a global economic crisis, greeted expeditions to Antarctica that had gotten stuck in pack ice and processed an enormous number of whales into oil and meat. In more than half a century, it handled 53,761 slaughtered whales, producing 455,000 metric tons of whale oil and 192,000 metric tons of whale meat. Then Grytviken became the icy ghost town that it is today. This fate was shared by all the whaling stations in the Antarctic. As the whaling industry boomed at the beginning of the 20th century, dozens of companies set up whaling operations here. When it became clear that whaling could fetch hefty profits, six permanent whaling stations were set up on South Georgia alone. Grytviken was the last to close up shop.

Museum GrytvikenToday, all that remains is a movie theater, a church, a museum and a cemetery. All the cozy homes have been buried and destroyed by snow and ice. All the original residents have moved away, or died long ago. A landscape once filled by 500 men and their families is now inhabited by at most a few penguins, seals and tourists like me. And what was a remote stronghold of industrial whaling roughly a century ago is now nothing more than a city of ice, snow and rubble, and a handful of incredibly resilient, hardy caretakers who ensure that the island’s unique history isn’t totally lost.

 Whaling Where Only The Fearless Go

The prevailing view at the time was that whaling around the South Pole promised little.  Nonetheless, the pioneers of Antarctic whaling were convinced that whaling  would still be a good idea because Europe’s northern seas had largely been emptied of whales by the turn of the century. On November 16, 1904, the Fortuna and another ship dropped anchor off Grytviken, and the station’s new 80-member crew set to work. It didn’t take long before the station was up and running. By Christmas Eve, the men had produced the first barrel of whale oil. Within a year’s time, that figure was meant to skyrocket to 7,000.

Whale Oil To Light The World

The whales were hunted down on the open seas, shot with harpoons, dragged to port and heaved onto shore at the stations. They were particularly prized for their blubber, the white layer of fat beneath the skin. At the time, the glycerin derived from this blubber was the main element used in cosmetic products like soaps and lotions, but it also formed the basis of fuels for oil lamps and boilers.

Whale hunters are dwarfed by their huge catch, a fin whale, on the whaler 'Q Plain' off Crytoiken or Grytviken, South Georgia.   (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Whale hunters are dwarfed by their huge catch, a fin whale, on the whaler ‘Q Plain’ off Crytoiken or Grytviken, South Georgia. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

As time went on, the competing whaling stations continued to boost their capacities. At times, they even had to lend each other empty barrels when stations had more fat than containers to store it in. Between 1907 and 1908, the station at Grytviken produced more than 27,000 barrels of oil, after having filled only about 12,000 the previous year. These years in the first decade of the 20th century were also a golden era for those who invested in such operations: Within a single year, their dividends rose a mighty 15 percent, to reach 32.5 percent.

Even after Europe slid into war in 1914, things continued to go comparatively well for the whale hunters in the Antarctic. The supply of coal needed to fire the blubber-melting boilers admittedly got tighter. But the general shortage of resources simultaneously drove the price of whale oil up. Indeed, at times Grytviken could fetch up to 90 British pounds for a metric ton of whale oil — more than they had ever earned before. The whale fat also found use in the war effort, with blubber-produced nitroglycerin being used in explosive artillery shells and bombs. What’s more, there was growing demand in war-plagued Europe for cheap, but nutritious whale meat.

Butchering the whales at the stations was hard work done by hand. After being harpooned and towed to port, the whales were winched up a ramp and onto shore to die. Using sharp blades, two men made incisions on both sides of the whale along its entire length. From these, the white blubber would then pour out to the left and right. In the end, the men would strip the skin of the whale and separate the blubber from the meat.

A rusty whaling ship lies at the abandoned Husvik whaling station in Stromness Bay, South Georgia Island. When the whaling industry boomed at the beginning of the 20th century, dozens of companies set up whaling operations here. When it became clear that whaling could fetch hefty profits, six permanent whaling stations were set up on South Georgia alone.

A rusty whaling ship lies at the abandoned Husvik whaling station in Stromness Bay, South Georgia Island. When the whaling industry boomed at the beginning of the 20th century, dozens of companies set up whaling operations here. When it became clear that whaling could fetch hefty profits, six permanent whaling stations were set up on South Georgia alone.

Lured by high oil prices, some 19 companies set up whaling operations in the Antarctic at the beginning of World War I. Many of them wanted to speed up the killing process by going out on the high sea to hunt without a permit or dedicated processing stations. In doing so, they also cut into the business of land-based competitors, such as the Grytviken station.

40,000 Hunted Whales in a Single Season

The situation came to a head the following year, with whales becoming increasingly scarce and the storage rooms filling with unsold oil. In the 1930/31 season, the slaughter at the South Pole reached its zenith: A total of 40,201 whales were killed, about 32,000 of which were killed by unlicensed hunters on the open sea. By way of comparison, when Grytviken heralded in the era of industrial whaling in the Antarctic in 1904, whalers killed only 183 whales in the initial year.

The companies agreed to voluntary quotas for the next season, but the limits came too late for many species. By the mid-1930s, the humpback whale was virtually extinct in the Antarctic. At the same time, overproduction drove the price of whale oil to a record low. One station after another on South Georgia went under. By the time World War II broke out, only two were still active: Grytviken and Leith Harbour, whose cold warehouse also stored tons of whale oil produced in Grytviken.

Grytviken stayed afloat only because it still had financial reserves left from the golden years to temporarily cushion its losses. But the few successful years couldn’t make up for the fact that the company needed restructuring and to update its dilapidated station. In 1950, for example, Grytviken was being served by six harpoon boats that had been in service for more than 20 years.One last attempt at modernization in 1962 came too late.

Note:  My special thanks to einestages.de, SPIEGEL ONLINE’s history portal for being a tremendous Grytviken research source.

POSTCRIPT to GRYTVIKEN

Grytviken has been cleaned up and restored to a great degree by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. We learned that the Norwegian Government has also provided some level of funding because the total annual Budget of the Government in South Georgia is $9 million. They run a tight and efficient staff with only seven employees. We met one Government Official named, Simon, and the rest are in Stanley or on their Fisheries Patrol Boats. Almost all the Government revenue comes from the sale of fisheries licenses, and visitors’ fees which are $60 per day, per person. We were happy to do our part.  They’ve also recruited a Museum Intern, Matthew, who gave us an in-depth tour and enlightened briefing on how the old whaling station used to operate. The Museum is sponsored by the University of St. Andrews and students like Matthew are selected to spend 6 months in Grytviken. After our adventures on shore we returned to our Ship for a delightful dinner.  We were joined by several of the Museum and government staff at Grytviken, including Simon and Matthew, and some of the scientists from the nearby British Station.  Once again, we made new friends. It was difficult to say goodbye to  our brilliant Grytviken friends!

After sailing all night, we landed at St. Andrews Bay where three large glaciers reach and caress the frosty sea. The surf was roaring as if to share in our excitement at reaching land. As we approached the shore, words from our King Penguin lecturer echoed in my mind, “You will witness what may be the largest colony of King Penguins on earth!” Well, our young Biologist, Kathryn was right.  The King Penguins seem to carpet the entire South Georgia landscape!   We were also greeted by HUGE (spoken in Trump fashion) Elephant Seals and a scattering of Fur Seals too. If ever I felt like a total alien on another planet, this was the day! Nothing could prepare me for this incredible experience. What an absolute “Pinch Me Moment!” Thank you Mother Nature.  Once again, my heart overflows with gratitude for eyes that can witness the grandeur of our majestic Planet Earth.

"Row upon row of king penguins stretching off into the distance. This colony in Salisbury Plain, South Georgia, has hundreds of thousands of inhabitants! The brown chicks creche together and stand out from the tuxedoed adults." ~Photo and caption by Craig Tomsett

“Row upon row of king penguins stretching off into the distance. This colony in Salisbury Plain, South Georgia, has hundreds of thousands of inhabitants! The brown chicks creche together and stand out from the tuxedoed adults.” ~Photo and caption by Craig Tomsett

 

We have one more day on South Georgia and then we sail to Antarctica–my 7th Continent.  My heart is that of a teen in-love for the very first time…it’s throbbing with anticipation!

If you wish to follow in my ESCAPESEEKER footsteps, the easiest way to begin is by clicking on the following link:  oneoceanexpeditions.com

Remember, no matter where you go, be the kindest person you know…and yes, that includes ALL living creatures you shall encounter.

Here’s to #blissful, #mindexpanding #soulenriching ESCAPES,

Mel aka The ESCAPESEEKER

ESCAPESEEKER Priceless moment captured by Craig Tomsett. [Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island]

ESCAPESEEKER Priceless moment captured by Craig Tomsett. [Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island]

INCREDIBLE! BEYOND DESCRIPTION! OUT OF THIS WORLD!

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,

Mel aka the ESCAPESEEKER

“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!

antarctica-map

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:  www.oneoceanexpeditions.com

AWESTRUCK BY ANTARCTICA! ESCAPESEEKER CELEBRATES 7TH CONTINENT!

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 [Above Images captured by Israel-based photographer, Roie Galitz, http://www.roiegalitz.com/]

 

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

DSC_0830

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!

HAPPY NEW YEAR,

The ESCAPESEEKER Team

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

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

HOW I CAME TO ACQUIRE A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON PERU: KNOWLEDGE = UNDERSTANDING

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,

Mel aka ESCAPESEEKER

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.

 

A YACHT, A HAT, AND MY BFF: LIFE’S LESSONS GLEANED FROM TWO JOYFUL YOUNG MOMS

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 http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/vcejw-jw-marriott-venice-resort-and-spa/ 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!

WHY SHOULD YOUNG MAMAS FIND A WAY TO TRAVEL? IS IT WORTH ALL THE TROUBLE AND EXPENSE?

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)

CHOOSING HAPPY, GRATEFUL, KIND, POSITIVE TRAVELING COMPANIONS = SUCCESSFUL JOURNEY

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 TO ALL WHO MADE OUR REMARKABLE VOYAGE POSSIBLE

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?

JUMPING FOR JOY ACROSS THE ADRIATIC

“REMEMBER, NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO, BE THE KINDEST PERSON YOU KNOW. ” ~ Mel Gee Henderson

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!

Osteria IL MILION

 

 

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ESCAPESEEKER JOURNEYS TO THE END OF THE WORLD ~ Bucket List #…

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!

cape-horn

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!

tuckers-1

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!  www.australis.com

11011109_10155563807005105_4380763350239580009_oAnd, just one more requests, be sure you write me (escapeseeker@gmail.com) 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,

The ESCAPESEEKER

Notes:  How to get there: From the USA, we traveled via LAN AIRLINES: www.lan.com 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.

 

PUQ-USH-PUQ_7N

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!

DSC_0314

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

LA YEGUA LOCA PAYS HOMAGE TO THEIR ANCESTRAL ROOTS

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

Now back to my WEATHER STORY entitled, BLESSING IN DISGUISE.

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.

BlessedWithNewFriends

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!

 

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!
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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.

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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
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IT IS ALL IN THE FAMILY: 

Continuing The Antonio Kusanovic Senkovic Family Legacy

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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!

THIS IS AUTHENTIC PATAGONIA: RELIVE THE TRUE SPIRIT OF ESTANCIA LIVING AT HOTEL LAS TORRES PATAGONIA!

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!

www.lastorres.com

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

AFFORDS GUESTS THE MOST STUNNING SUNSETS AS IT COLORS THE SEA.

Here’s to BLISSFUL, ENDLESS ESCAPES…

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

With love,

Mel aka The ESCAPESEEKER

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).

A MASTERFUL WORK OF ART PROUDLY RESTS UPON A REMOTE PATAGONIAN TOWN

 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.

AN ARCHITECT’S MISSION:  RESIDING IN HARMONY WITH NATURE

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.

A LABOR OF LOVE…GIFTS FOUND IN NATURE

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!

NO MATTER HOW GRAND THE HOTEL, IT’S THE PEOPLE WHO ULTIMATELY MAKE IT STAND OUT ABOVE THE REST

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:

ANCIENT CAVES, CONDOR CLIFFS, and ETHNOBOTANY

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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!

OUR THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE IS ONLY MATCHED BY OUR HUNGER FOR CHEF ESPINOZA’S CULINARY ARTISTRY

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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PUERTO NATALES: A PORT TOWN BORN OF RUGGED, RESOURCEFUL,  IMMIGRANT PIONEERS WITH A WORK ETHIC THAT KNEW NO BOUNDS…

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

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A LOOK BACK TO THE PAST…

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.

TODAY and TOMORROW…

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!

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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:   www.lanairlines.com MIA/SCL/PUQ

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

Contact: Gonzalo Ginouves @ +56 9 79572915 or turismoboulder@gmail.com

REMOTA

www.remotahotel.com

Ruta 9 Norte, km 1.5

Puerto Natales, Chile

info@remota.net

+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
Additional
Photographs by Guy Wenborne, Felipe Camus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#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.

oysters

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:

SCOTTSDALE FOR FUN SEEKERS

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 HiRes.com
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 SANCTUARY CONTINUES TO LIVE UP TO ITS NAME

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

A PLACE TO RELAX THE MIND AND SOOTHE THE SOUL

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!

chocolate_dessert

#FLASHBACK2007:

CoverPicAZstory

 

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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.

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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

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3Ballet

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.

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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

www.sanctuaryaz.com

For Ballet Arizona tickets and info:

Ballet Arizona Box Office +1 602 381 1096 www.balletaz.org

 

 

 

 

 

SPRING MEANS BASEBALL…AND SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA IS THE PLACE TO BE!

Scottsdale, Arizona ~ One of the perks of being a member of the Travel Media–I get all the latest updates from Tourism Boards and Travel Bureaus across the nation and the world.  And, sometimes, the exciting updates feature my own backyard!  Take a look…especially if you’re a baseball fan like me and my family! Spring is an absolutely beautiful time to visit Arizona! Just ask any of the pro baseball players. They’ll be the first to tell you they have it good!  My special thanks to the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau for keeping this ESCAPESEEKER in the know! 

scottsdale-stadium

ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD AND HEAVEN AT YOUR HOTEL
Baseball fans, can we get a hallelujah? The 2015 Cactus League Spring Training season is nearly upon us. Fifteen teams will converge on greater Scottsdale March 3-April 4, including the World Champion San Francisco Giants,who call Scottsdale Stadium their spring training home. Just down the street at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies will be hitting balls out of the park.  And when you’re not at the game, let the good times roll like a ground ball to outfield with a stay at one of 70 impressive Scottsdale hotels and resorts. Check out a sampling of accommodation packages below and visit the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau’s spring training website for a complete list.cr

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sfgBook the “Play Ball” package at The Hermosa Inn and receive a breakfast credit for the resort’s signature restaurant, LON’s at the Hermosa, baseball-themed snacks, sunscreen, a Cactus League game schedule, and two drink vouchers per night at Last Drop at the Hermosa. Rates start at $417 per night Feb. 28-March 30.
Stay a MLB pitcher’s throw from Scottsdale Stadium at Hotel Valley Ho. Stretch you budget further with spring training weekday specials that are good every Sunday through Wednesday Feb. 24-March 31. In addition to receiving 15 percent off the best available room rate, you’ll receive a welcome amenity and two complimentary drinks upon arrival.
The Scottsdale Plaza Resort’s “Spring Training Stay and Play” package offers the best gift of all – transportation to Salt River Field at Talking Stick or the nearby Sloan Park, host of the Chicago Cubs. Plus, get the party started with a welcome gift that includes three Coronas and chips and salsa. Rates start at $229 per night for a stay between March 3 and April 5.
Show off your blackjack talents at We-Ko-Pa Resort & Conference Center when you book the “Spring Training Stay and Play” package Feb. 23-April 30. Take advantage of a $75 resort credit, $10 free slot play at neighboring Fort McDowell Casino and a 20 percent discount on spa services. Package rates start at $269.

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W Scottsdale is in the heart of Scottsdale’s downtown nightlife district and just minutes from Scottsdale Stadium. Take advantage of the hotel’s “Spring Training Package,” which includes two cocktail tickets and a W hat and bag. Rates start at $439 per night Feb. 26 through March 31. who1736gr.74574_lg
March 15 will be a special “Bike to the Ballpark” day for the Giants-Diamondbacks matchup at Scottsdale Stadium. Skip the hassle and expense of parking a car, and enjoy riding your bicycle to the ballpark. Volunteers will staff a free, first-come, first-served “bike valet” parking service right inside the stadium gates, and you can get maps and other info about great places to ride in Scottsdale.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS…”PARADISE FOUND” by MICHAEL PARKS and KATRINA DRABKIN PARKS with ‘wombmate’ BABY PARKS (in a supporting role).

PARADISE FOUND!

Hollywood, California — A huge thanks to Mel Gee Henderson and  Roy Henderson,  Executive Producers of the extraordinary new television travel show Escapeseeker for the Grand Prize luxury trip we won to the French Polynesian Islands!!! Talk about the trip of a lifetime! Here’s how it all began…

POP STAR SENSATION, EMII ROCKEDTHE CROWD WITH HER EXHILIRATING VOICE!

 

ESCAPESEEKER PREMIERE PARTY VIP's ARRIVE! Little did we know what good fortune the night would bring...

For those who don’t know the story, my wife Katrina and I were guests at the Escapeseeker Fall Season Premiere Launch party held  on August 26, 2011.  This gala event was both fun and, like Escapeseeker, wonderfully exciting, combining a great venue, delicious cuisine, many Hollywood movers and shakers, a fantastic sneak preview of the Escapeseeker series, the amazing recording artist Emii who preformed live for us and a drawing for a grand prize trip to Tahiti!

EMII…A BIG VOICE with A BIG HEART TO MATCH!
EMII EAGERLY SIFTS THROUGH THE BAG OF NUMBERS TO SELECT THE WINNING NUMBER…#11, belonging to Michael Parks!

I should mention that at the time of the party Katrina was already 7 months pregnant with our first baby. This is important because we are sure that it was the rubbing of her pregnant belly for good luck, just prior to the drawing that helped us to win the trip.

ESCAPESEEKER aka Mel Gee Henderson congratulates the night’s GRAND PRIZE WINNER. Yes, #11…ME!!!

The crazy part is the winning number was 11 and guess what the baby’s due date is: 11/11/11!!! To say we were awestruck is an understatement.

With the baby coming soon, we knew we had to act quickly. Two weeks later, we were whisked to the airport by our good friend Rochelle Vallese (an actress who guest stars  in the Escapeseeker Fiji episode), and we were finally en route to Tahiti.  The eight hour direct flight from Los Angeles is a breeze on Air Tahiti Nui.  We arrived in Papeete and had a delightful night at the Radisson Plaza Resort overlooking the most  beautiful black sand beach of Matavai Bay.  After a morning stroll, we departed for the airport and flew via Tahiti’s domestic airline, Air Tahiti, to the island of Raiatea.

Le Taha’a Island Resort’s Private Boat…gives whole new meaning to ‘airport transfers’ doesn’t it?

 

Now, here’s where the trip really reaches new heights!  At the Raiatea airport, we were greeted by a private boat service that ferried us to Taha’a, a remote and exquisitely beautiful island.  The five star resort, (the only Relais & Châteaux in French Polynesia)  Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa perfectly combines luxury with the exotic and breezy charm of French Polynesia. 

The stunning architecture of the resort is the perfect compliment to a location that can only be described as paradise.

 

The sea is a shining gem that changes from shades of turquoise and emerald to a deep lapis as the sun and breezes play overhead.

 

 

Ahhh! The best cure for expectant Moms who need some relief from the extra (albeit temporary) weight they’re carrying…a week in Paradise!

 

After we had settled into the tranquility of our over the water bungalow, we took our first swim off our private porch.  Apparently, floating is good for ‘preggers’ eager to get off their feet, and so that’s exactly what my wife, Katrina, did at least three times a day.  The temperature of Taha’a’s waters are blissful – cool enough to be refreshing and warm enough to be comfortable for long periods of floating and snorkeling.

 

We were delighted to discover that Taha’a  has one of the most amazing coral reefs, filled with tropical fish that seem eager to swim right up to your goggles and check you out!  You can literally start snorkeling at one end of the island and drift leisurely down stream with a  current for hours as new species of fish, each one more intriguing and colorful than the next introduce themselves.  After our first snorkeling adventure, we decided to make this part of our daily ritual.  What’s not to love about these amazing conditions?

 

We should mention that Le Taha’a’s  staff are eager to assist their guests in doing as much or as little as they like.  We decided to air on the side of doing very little because we just couldn’t bare to tare ourselves away from the resort.  I did, however, go for a spectacular deep water scuba dive off the coast during which I swam with sharks and heard a nearby humpback whale sing.  Katrina wisely opted out of this adventure and spent the day by the infinity pool drinking refreshing fruit juices, reading and occasionally gazing out at the horizon of the pool which seamlessly blends into the ocean beyond.

 

Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa…Yes, it is as BLISSFUL as it looks! Just ask Katrina Parks!!!

 

Daily HEALTHY Fare to meet even the most exquisite cravings!

The hotel’s three restaurants offer the perfect balance French and Tahitian inspired cuisine that takes the best of both cultures and makes something even better…..  We started each day with the most amazing breakfast buffet we have ever encountered.  Being consummately picky coffee drinkers, we are hardly ever pleased by the coffee we encounter on our travels, but this coffee (made in a stainless French press at our table) was rich and  just caffeinated enough to enable us to take full advantage of the bountiful fruit, cheese, yogurt and pastry selections… not to mention the delicious crepes and waffles we ordered!  Of course, even though we were stuffed after breakfast, we managed – it’s important to keep a pregnant woman’s blood sugar up – to indulge in the most incredible seafood for the rest of the day.  The smoked salmon, the fresh lobster and crab, just melted in your mouth at every meal.

From reading about the food, you may imagine that we were too stuffed to do anything for the rest of the day, but fear not….

Ahhh…now this is the most inviting stroll back to our over-the-water bungalow!

We had to stroll back to our over the water bungalow, where we could gaze through a glass floor panel as Manta Ray’s and fish slowly cruised by,  we had to swim off our private dock and stroll to the infinity pool,  and we most certainly had to  watch the sun as it crossed overhead and went out in a spectacular display of reds and golds as we watched in our white bathrobes while holding hands.

OUR ULTIMATE PRIVATE RETREAT!
No caption needed…I shall allow this picture to tell our heartfelt story!

 

THE LOOK OF CONTENTMENT AT LE TAHA’A…

This phenomenal routine went on for five extremely relaxing and soul reviving day,  after which, we truly mourned having to leave Le Taha’a.   Once back at Papeete, we decided to make the most of our last day and sojourned to the island of Moorea, which is a brief ferry ride away.  We sadly took our last swim in Tahitian waters and had one more delicious meal, before boarding our plane back to Los Angeles.

 

Our only consolation is knowing that we can return someday.

We already eagerly await our return to Paradise!

 

LE TAHA’A ISLAND RESORT AND SPA…HEAVENLY PARADISE…PURE AND SIMPLE! 

Book your own slice of PARADISE: http://www.relaischateaux.com/letahaa 

 

“Making Of” Slideshow

Here is an interesting “Making of Video” captured of our team during our Tour de France shoot in Provence:

http://www.denizsaylan.com/sources/frontsite/display_file.php?file=slideshow/4/Infiniti37conv.mov

ESCAPESEEKER Cover Story

The ESCAPESEEKER cover feature entitled, “A Thing of Beauty” appeared in the October issue of the INFINITI luxury global magazine, ADEYAKA Magazine. You may download the article directly via the following link:

Adeyaka Infiniti Escapeseeker Feature Story

Radio France

This recent ESCAPESEEKER news feature was broadcast on RADIO FRANCE.   RADIO FRANCE is the french version of NPR. One of their reporters, Sébastien LOF-LECOQ, followed us around for a day, and this is his report:  Enjoy!
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