Grenada – Barbados

We slept in a little this morning since our flight wasn’t until 11AM. We got up, showered, and did the last of our packing. We went topside, and breakfast was laid out for us. There was fruit, scrambled eggs, sausage, bread, and bagels for toast and several jellies (nutmeg & guava). Half of the passengers had left at a 7:30AM departue, but the rest of us weren’t leaving until 9:30.

We chatted with the other passengers and the crew. New supplies started to be delivered for the following weeks’ sail. It was a little hectic with bags coming out and stores coming in, so Sheri thought we would walk to the supermarket near the port for some last shopping. My foot wasn’t feeling great after the previous day, but getting off the ship was good. We walked through the port, and passed the many boats and cruisers who sailed the caribbean. We got to the market and all of the checkers were wearing Santa’s hats and there was Christmas music playing. We bought some local dark honey (that Sheri had enjoyed with her tea on the boat).

We headed back to the boat, and decided to stop by a small bakery next to the port. The Merry Baker is a small bakery run by a British woman. They had a nice selection of bread, croissants, and cookies. We bought some oatmeal cookies for later.

We got back to the boat, and there was a hum of activity as more supplies kept arriving. We said our goodbyes to the crew, and signed the passenger log, commenting on our wonderful week on the cruise. The minibus arrived, our luggage was loaded, and the passengers boarded. We headed to the airport since our plane left early, while the rest were staying on Grenada a few more days. We arrived at the airport without incident, and quickly said goodbye to our shipmates.

We checked into our LIAT flight. The airline is known for being late, but our plane was supposed to be on time. We checked in and quickly passed through security. We visited Lisa’s Jewelry and found Sheri a nice necklace of Grenadite (a local semiprecious stone). Our plane finally arrived, and it was a propeller plane. We got in line. We had been told that it was open seating, so we tried to get as close to the front as possible. We boarded, and Sheri suggested we take the two aisle seats in the second row which were open. The plane slowly filled up. The stewardess asked the man seated next to me by the window to move to the exit row as she wanted another man to sit there. A tall fat man came and sat by window. He was so big I had to raise the aisle armrest in order to have room to sit. The stewardess saw this and moved me to the exit row at the front of the plane. So I was sitting backwards, facing the rest of the passengers. We took off for the 45 minute flight to Barbados, and I was quickly asleep.

I woke up, and we were landing. We landed and quickly followed the stewardess down the stairway and across the tarmac. We quickly went through customs and picked up our bags. We found an ATM, got some local money, and found a taxi to our hotel. The weather was great, and we passed beautiful beaches. We passed Oistin’s Fish Market–where fisherman bring in their catches to sell, and multiple shacks sell fresh fish and other food (the Fish Fry is supposedly super busy on a Friday night, we just missed it). We arrived at our hotel, Southern Palms Beach Hotel in St Lawrence Gap. Our room wasn’t ready, so we grabbed several rum drinks by the bar. Our room was finally free, and we dropped off our luggage. We went to the local Internet cafe to deal with some mortgage refinancing paperwork, and then went looking for lunch. Many things were closed, so we ended up at Sweet Potatoes, a local bar/restaurant. We ordered a grilled mahimahi and fries and a Caesars salad (which had been very good in the caribbean). I also had my first Banks Beer, a really good local beer (a lot better than Carib). We tried to plan our next few days in Barbados. The bartender was nice and suggested several restaurants, including going to Oistin’s Fish Market (Saturday is almost as good as Friday night).

We walked back to the hotel and decided to spend some time on the beach. The beach next to hotel was lovely–white sand and iridescent blue water. I fell asleep and awoke to the sun setting, I took some photos, and we headed back to the room. We decided to go to Oistin’s Fish Market and see how it was.

We walked out and found a taxi. Sylvester, the driver, said it was 25 Barbados dollars to get there, but when we questioned it, he lowered it to 20. He took backroads to get there, and when we asked which of the many shack restaurants was his favorite, he said he would take us there. He parked, and led us to Pat’s Place, a busy place, with picnic tables, a several cooks standing by grills which were flaring up. We paid Sylvester, and took a seat. We ordered grilled dolphin (mahi-mahi) to split and several sides (macaroni pie, cole slaw, grilled potatoes). It arrived and was DELICIOUS! The marinade on the fish great, and everything was tasty. Probably our best meal so far on our trip.

We walked around the many shacks, and even though we weren’t that hungry, we decided to order from Rosilin’s, which had a continuos line of people waiting to order. The were pan frying their fishes in large cast iron pans next to their shack. We ordered one with everything, which was two large pieces of lightly battered marlin (the only served one fish a day), salad, pasta salad, plantain, and fries. Topped with a little hot sauce and pickled onions, the fish was really good (although Pat’s Place was better).

On one end of the fish fry zone are a few tables, all with lively games of dominoes in progress. And lots of locals gathered around to watch. We stayed to watch one of the games for abfew minutes.

We were stuffed, and decided to walk part of the way back. We saw a supermarket, and decided to grab some supplies for the next few days. We grabbed some water and juice, found a taxi, and headed back to the hotel. We decided to rent a car, since we wanted to tour different places on the island (and the roads looked a lot better than Grenada, so driving on the left should be a lot easier). We finally turned in after our busy day of traveling.

Mayreau – Union Island – Happy Island

We were already anchored in Mayreau Harbor, so no sailing this morning. Breakfast was an onion and cheese omelette, sausage patty and fruit. The captain told us about our busy day ahead visiting three islands.

We took the dinghy to the dock and departed with the other passengers. Islanders were working on the cover of a part of the dock as we arrived. A man was on a ladder adjusted the palm frond roof as his machete sat on the dock. We left the dock and immediately saw two large lizards rush across our path.

Mayreau is an island of bars, dogs and goats. We passed many of each as we walked up the only road through the town. The bars were still closed, but several of the passengers had enjoyed the many haunts of the island the night before. The islanders were very friendly as we climbed the steep hill, welcoming us to the island. We reached the top of the hill and visited a beautiful church–stone, stained glass, and polished wood. Behind the church was a nice overlook of the Tobago Keys where we were the previous day.

We left the church, and headed down the backside of the hill to Salt Whistle Bay. As we got to the beach the crew was dropping off the snorkel gear on the dock. We collected the gear and walked down the beach in the shade of coconut trees. Some of the village dogs had followed us, and they sat in the water and then laid in the shaded sand to stay cool. We also got into the warm, clear water to relax. Sheri and I walked to the other side of the island which was in sharp contrast to our tranquil spot, instead there were large waves crashing over the rocky reefs. After a bit of snorkeling and lounging on the beach and in the water, the dinghy came back to take us back to the boat.

We were served lunch which was spaghetti and sauce, salad, and some tasty squash. It was wonderful after a morning of exploring and snorkeling. The captain then moved the boat to the harbor at Union Island, a quick 45 minute sail. The harbor was surrounded by a protective reef and was very calm as we arrived, but the water near the reef was a brilliant blue. Launches started taking people over to the main dock. There were numerous boats we passed in the harbor, many abandoned and not weathering the storms well.

The town of Clifton was a lot larger than others we had been to; they even had their own airport. We found the main tourist market–a bunch of stalls around an open courtyard. We grabbed a glass of fresh juice and bought some apple bananas. We sat in the shade and found some free Internet to reconnect with the world. We finished our drink and walked around the town. There was a gourmet store with an amazing variety of wines; Sheri bought more crystallized ginger and a strong ginger ale (to help with her nausea). I grabbed a Carib Beer, and we hung put at one of the many bars. There were several locals sitting and talking and calling to the people passing by.

After a while we walked to where some nurse sharks were being kept in an enclosed inlet next to a hotel. It was a little sad as the sharks rested on the bottom of the dirty water. We headed back to the dock and talked to other passengers who had bought avocados for the cook. The avocado salad from the previous day’s lunch was so good, so we rushed back to the market to grab a few; they were as large as grapefruits.

We got back to the Diamant and almost immediately took the dinghy to Happy Island. Happy Island is a manmade (by Happy) island in the middle of the harbor of Union Island. It has a bar and that is pretty much it. All of the passengers went over to share rum punch. We sat and talked, and our crew brought snacks (meatballs, chicken tenders, fresh made tortilla chips, guacamole and several salsas) for happy hour. Several of the crew joined us as we lounged at the bar talking about our travels so far. While we sat there, many local sailors came by to enjoy the drinks and company of the bar. The sunset was beautiful as we soaked in the island atmosphere.

The crew took us back to the ship, and after a lounging back on the boat (reading and talking), it was time for dinner. This time dinner was fresh swordfish, with squash, and chocolate brownies for dessert. It was a perfect end to a busy day.

Bequia

It was an early morning departure again as we headed to the island of Bequia (pronounced “Beck-Wee”). We departed at 5, but after yesterday’s sickness, I decided to try to stay in my bunk and sleep until we arrived.

I got up at just before 8 as we were nearing the island, and the crew was lowering the sails. We dropped anchor and the bell called us to breakfast. The were serving pancakes, bacon and tropical fruit (Sheri had Brandon make a dish of only fruit for her). I added a little nutmeg syrup on top of my pancakes; it’s a really distinct flavor, and not overly sweet.

We finished breakfast, and got our things ready in the cabin, sunscreening ourselves for a day at the beach and in town. We got on the dinghy and headed over to town with the other passengers. Most of them were going on a tour of the island–we weren’t. We talked to Nick (who did 17 weeks on Windjammer Cruises, mixing the old and new companies), and he said we made the right decision. He gave us a few tips of stores we should visit, and we were off.

We immediately fell in love with Bequia. It was one sidewalk and one road paralleling the beach. The stores were painted bright colors, and the people were friendly. We first went into the bookstore. Sheri found a great cookbook, but decided to buy it after we returned to the states, instead of adding weight to the suitcase. The bookstore also sold scrimshaw–intricate carving on camel bone, whale bone and ivory. Bequia is one of the few places in the world that can still hunt whales (4 a year), but with the old ways of hand thrown harpoons. A local artist carves the intricate work, and we decided to buy me a small pocket knife with a island scene on one side and a dolphin on the other. Sheri always gets jewelry, and I rarely buy anything but a nicknack for the shelf.

We stopped by the tourist office for a map. Sheri found a flyer on the local restaurants, and it said that Mac’s Pizza (which everyone had raved about, but had said was closed for a few weeks) was actually open. The tourist rep called, but there wasn’t any answer. We decided to try it for lunch (since we weren’t sure what we were doing for dinner). As we left, a man offered to sell us fresh lobster–oh if we only lived here!

We kept strolling through town. None of the stands were selling apple bananas, but we kept on a lookout. We passed on store where the owner was sitting on the front step planing wood off his miniature sailboat–Bequia is known for their craftsmen who make replicas of boats. The store looked small and we decided to keep going.

We walked up a hill and saw Nick who told us a better shop was around the corner which was good, because we were close to turning around. We topped the hill and kept going to the end of the stores and restaurants, where a more residential area began. We are intermittently checking fir wireless connections, and I finally found an open one. So we sat on a bench next to a dock, and reconnected to the web for a little while. The sun reflected on the water. People were coming and going on their daily errands. A man came up to the dock to clean his fishes.

We finally left and headed back the way we came. We stopped in the second boat replica store/museum. We entered, and saw the tables full of one foot to several foot tall replicas of ships. They were amazing detailed, with full rigging and small details. We met Augustine on the back of the shop working on a boat, and he said it takes home about three months to do one of the replicas. It was amazing work, but nothing we could get in a suitcase.

We walked back through town, and to the other side of town where there were more restaurants (many closed for hurricane season which was just ending) and hotels. We walked along this brick walkway, chasing away the scurrying crabs and trying not to slip on the mossy parts. We found Mac’s Pizza, and decided to have lunch here. We ordered the lobster pizza that everyone had raved about. Sheri saw the ships dinghy and rushed to tell them that we wouldn’t be back for lunch. The pizza came and it was delicious–perfectly cooked lobster topping a thin crust pizza and a mild cheese. For dessert we had the key lime pie, which was also wonderful. We were getting ready to leave when a storm moved through and it started pouring. An hour later, it was dry and sunny again.

We headed back to the dock, but instead of heading on to the beach (with sand and bugs), we decided to go back to the boat, and swim over the side. We got back, dropped of our stuff.the crew put the ladder over the side,and pulled out the rope swing. Sheri went first and then I went. Soon a handful of other passengers were also swinging off the boat and dropping into the warm water; Scott, the captain-in-training, even donned his swimsuit and joined the passengers.. Sheri was definitely the best as she kept improving her form.

We headed finally tired and went to our cabin to shower. When I went up to the top deck, Sheri had been making everyone drinks with the Liquor 43 that we brought from the US to share. The nice mixture of Liquor 43, orange juice and club soda was great, and everyone seemed to love the drink.

At 4:30, Brandon served us up wine, fruit and cheese. There were several good red wines. And the cheese was from a woman on Bequia that specializes in cheese and wine. The cheeses were many: Gouda, Manchego, Brie, Jack, and a really good local goat cheese.

The cook had the night off as all the passengers felt like having dinner onshore. Half were going to Coco’s Restaurant and the other half were going to Mac’s Pizza, even though we had it for lunch, we decided to go back for pizza. We joined four other passengers in the dinghy along with Scott who decided to join us for dinner. The dinghy took us to a dark dock, and luckily Nick had brought flashlight for the walk to the restaurant (no extra light along the path, as most restaurants were closed. We arrived at Mac’s and told them we now had 7 people and they quickly rearranged for us. The table split a large lobster pizza and a medium fish pizza (the captain’s favorite–which had mahi mahi, garlic and cheese). We had a lively conversation, and were ultimately too stuffed to even have dessert. We called back to the boat for the dinghy, and we headed back to the dock. We went straight to our cabin, exhausted from the busy day.

Boarding the Diamant

I got up early and decided to go for a run. I dropped the car keys off under the mat and left the car unlocked for Lorry to pick up later. He said he wasn’t afraid of the car being stolen (not much crime on Grenada), and often just left the car running with the keys in it. I guess it is an island, not many places to take it.

I headed north towards St Georges., running along the sidewalk. It quickly warmed up, and I realized that I wasn’t used to running in humidity. I ran past the port where we would be leaving later that day and into the Carenage itself. There were people heading to church and fishermen coming back on boats. The port was quiet on an early Sunday morning. I turned around after two and a half miles and headed back. On my way back, I stopped at a fruit stand and picked up some apple bananas, so sweet, for our breakfast. I awkwardly ran back with my little feast.

I got back and Sheri was outside reading. I presented her our simple breakfast which she loved, while I headed for a shower. We dressed and packed, and called the front desk for a late checkout, but they never called back.

At noon, we finally went down to the front desk,to swap our towels for dry ones, and they decided to let us check out late for free. The hotel was empty, so it wasn’t a great issue for them, while we spent time at the pool.

We went to a different pool this time–another waterfall, but two (cold water) jaccuzzis this time. We ordered drinks (I had a rum punch and Sheri had a Yellow Bird Cocktail). For food, we ordered a grilled fish sandwich and fries (it was so good last night), and chicken wings. While we waited for our food, a quick storm came through, so we moved from our pool chairs to a covered table. The bartender talked to us about Grenada and the weather and the other islands; it must be a pretty boring job in the off season with not many customers. The food came and was again pretty good.

The storms passed and we returned to the beach chairs for reading and Internet. Someone was cleaning the pool, and actually had goggles and a snorkel to clean the deep corners. I tried out the jaccuzzis, and the jets were nice. At 2:30 we headed back to our room for a quick shower, and then back to the lobby. We hung out for a while, and finally had them order us a taxi. It arrived and took us to the port. We went straight to the boat.

We boarded around 4, and were the first passengers to arrive. We met Crystal, who did the paperwork for departure and credit cards, and Brandon, the steward. We were served rum swizzles.There was a mixup and people were supposed to show up at 3 and not 5. We took our bags down to our cabin. Bunk beds with a wide lower bunk, and a small bathroom. Cozy, but lots of storage and better than the Windjammer Barefoot Cruise where the toilet and shower was all in one room.

We dropped off our stuff and went back topside for drinks. The sky opened up with pouring rain, and we were glad we went early. Slowly the other passengers arrived and dropped off their things in their cabins. Ultimately, there were twelve passengers, and six crew. We enjoyed an appetizer of calamari, shrimp on a potato with cheese, and fruit. We enjoyed the food and mingled with the other passengers,

At 7, dinner was served. We had a salad, black beans and rice, and pork. Dessert was a piece of apple-cranberry pie. It was very tasty. Captain Nervo told us about the plan for the next day and a little bit about the week. After much conversation, we finally headed back to our cabin to rest.

Grenada, Day 2

We got packed up for a day on the road by 8am, when our rental car guy, Lorry, showed up. But first – breakfast on our patio using ingredients provided by the hotel. Fresh squeezed, orange juice, soft boiled eggs, buttered toast. Heaven.

We thought the rental car would be dropped off at the hotel, but we were wrong. First we we were driven to the local police station to get me a local driver’s license. We have International Permits, but sometimes that’s not enough – which is the case in Grenada. We had decided Larry would drive. Normally Sheri drives and I navigate – she can drive a manual transmission better than me, and I’m a much better navigator. But this time, we got an automatic and I drove – on the left! Sheri drove on the left once, and thought it was scary. And we can’t imagine shifting with the left hand.

After we got the license, Lorry drove us to a local shopping center, where we filled out our rental contact. No need to pay, we can take care of it through the hotel. We’re pretty sure it’s just Lorry renting out his personal car. We found his sunglasses, old-school iPod, CD and giant knife in the glove compartment. At least we were well armed.

I took a couple of practice laps around the parking lot while Sheri got more cash out of the ATM, then we nervously headed out onto the open road to explore the island.

We had to navigate though the crowded city of St. Georges almost immediately. It’s a charming port city that has narrow, one-way streets and lots of pedestrians. And Grenadian drivers are scary, with a lot of roads only wide enough for one car width.. But I did a pretty good job, only touching the left curb a few times. We headed up the windy west coast of the island. The road before Gouyave was washed out, and only dirt for about a mile. Finally, delivered us to another crowded city, Gouyave, safe and sound.

Our target in Gouyave was the nutmeg plant. It’s a crumbling warehouse building smack In the middle of town, build in the late 1940’s. And probably not maintained very well. Whole nutmeg gets delivered from the fields here and it goes through a a process to remove the tough outer shell (mace) before being manually sorted by size. The largest is for culinary use, and the others are for toiletries, medicine and soap. We had a short tour by a man named Frank. They lost 90% of their nutmeg crop in 2004’s Hurricane Ivan. The whole place smelled incredible, like we were immersed in nutmeg we bought some nutmeg jelly and nutmeg (of course). We headed back to the car, and called our next stop Belmont Estate, a chocolate plantation, for lunch reservations.

We headed to the north point before going south to the estate. We got stopped in traffic in Sauteurs, and decided on a lark to visit Leaper’s Hill. I drove up a hill to a red brick church overlooking the coast. We were given a quick tour of the cemetery tour. The man who was first diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia, Walter Clement Noel, is buried there.

We then got back in the car and headed south. There were some discrepancies between Google Maps and reality, but we finally found our way to Belmont Estate. It was a working plantation. We took a quick look around and then headed to the second floor for lunch. It was a buffet. We had a pumpkin soup, and then were served a mixture of local food–rice, beef stew, callalou, salad, curry chicken. An average meal. For dessert, we had nutmeg ice cream which was good, and somewhat dry chocolate cake. The wind picked up during our meal, and we fought to keep our soup and salad on our silverware. We went down to chocolate store, and bought some of the locally made chocolates and bars. Sheri talked with one of the workers about a quick tour. And he showed us how the process cocoa; the building smelled just like a winery. We tried the moist cocoa seeds and then saw how the aged, and then dried the cocoa beans. The tour ended with sampling their cocoa tea, which was more like hot chocolate with island spices. We then sampled the chocolates they made– a much better dessert to our meal.

We got back in the car and headed east for the rum plantation. Sheri expertly navigated us to Rivers Rum Plantation. We parked the car, and joined a tour that had just started. The guide showed us how they process the sugarcane into rum. There were huge stacks of sugarcane next to the building. We saw the sugar water and yeast fermenting in large cement vats. It was then distiller in metal vats from Louisville, Kentucky. We ended the tour by seeing where the run was bottled, and got to sample some. We tried several small glasses, some of it was too flammable that they won’t allow you to take it on the plane.

We got back on the road and headed to Grand Etang Preserve. The roadsides were lush, as we entered the rain forest portion of the island. We found Grand Etang Lake, but couldn’t find the hiking trail that was supposed to be there. We went a little further and found a series of restaurants and parked. A monkey was on a structure as we got out of our car. A store owner gave a small fig banana to Sheri to give to the monkey. It’s always interesting to watch monkeys. We took a quick look around and found another monkey eating a banana. Before we left we asked the shop owner if we could buy some of her bananas, but she just gave Sheri handful. After then being accosted by two monkeys wanting our bananas, we got in our car and drove off. The bananas were REALLY GOOD, and we were glad we kept them from the monkeys.

We drove south along twisty, narrow roads. We finally made it back to the hotel without incident. With the weather still sunny, we went on walk along the beach before the sun set. We ended back in the Aquarium Restaurant. We had Planters Punch and a Rum Punch, and some delicious calamari. After the sun set, we headed deeper into the restaurant, and had some scallops three ways (blackened, tempera and grilled). We finally paid our bill and walked back up the hill for a rest after our busy day.

SFO – Grenada

We stayed up the night before we left, since we had a 3:30am car picking us up for a 6AM flight (we could have left later since it was considered a national flight to Miami instead of an international one to Grenada). Poor Coco was not happy as we either sat on our laptops doing mainly last minute work or collected items for the final packing.

The car was right on time and took us to SFO with no traffic on the dark, early morning roads. We ended up in Terminal 2, the new terminal at SFO. We checked in and quickly got through security. We were so early that most stores weren’t open yet. When they finally did, I grabbed a breakfast burrito and Sheri had a hot chocolate at The Plant. We boarded our plane and luckily no one sat between us. We were both quickly sleeping after our sleepless night, and we slept most of the flight to Miami.

We landed early and had about 2 hours until our next flight. We walked around the airport to stretch our legs and finally chose lunch at Icebox–the cakes out front drew us in. We shared a pulled pork sandwich and a piece of key lime pie, we were in south Florida after all. Both were delicious, and pretty good for airport food. We sat and enjoyed the free wireless and then headed for our plane.

As we waited to board (and sat charging our electronics), we watched a lady with two chihuahuas croon over them and then let one of them charge and snap at several people who walked by. As dog owners, nothing annoys us more than bad dog owners.

We finally boarded the plane, and unluckily had a tall man sitting between us for this leg. I slept, while Sheri read most of the way to Grenada. We had the first Caribbean sunset on he plane as we went from sunny Miami to the cloudy Caribbean.

We landed to rainy weather at 8:45pm, after about twelve hours of traveling. We stood in line waiting to get through customs close to the back of the line. While I was pulling something else from the bag, one of our cameras fell out and cracked the display screen–that’s why we always carry two cameras on trips. It still works, but isn’t as easy to use.

We got through Customs, collected our bags and were met by our taxi driver who had been waiting for us. He drove us to Maca Bana Hotel, only about a five minute drive from the airport. The owner showed us our villa which was very impressive. It had a full, well-stocked kitchen, an outside sitting area and hot tub, comfortable bedroom and bathroom with a walk-in shower that Sheri loves. It was almost 10:30pm, and we decided to forego dinner, and not to go out after our long day traveling. Instead, we headed to bed.

Sintra, Cascais & Lisbon

It was Sunday, and we decided to take a day trip from Lisbon. We got up and the weather was warm, so we decided to travel light to Sintra (and then go on to the beaches of Cascais). We headed to the train station and grabbed a ‘nata’ (the ever-present pastry in Portugal) and some coffee.

After about a half hour train-ride (which was covered under our transportation pass), we ended up in Sintra. We started walking from the train station to the city itself. There was interesting art all along the road the led up to the town square. We took a quick look around, and then started walking the road up to Pena Palace. The wind was a little cold (we hadn’t brought our heavy jackets thinking the good weather would be everywhere). After walking for about half an hour continuing to progress upwards without even an easy shoulder and no end in sight, we re-read the tour book, and realized we needed to take the bus. We walked back to the closest busstop and waited. After a few minutes, the bus showed up and whisked us up the hills–luckily we stopped when we did.

We skipped the Moorish Castle (as Steve’s suggests) and went on to Pena Palace. We paid our entrance and walked up the path to the palace sitting on a plateau around the countryside. It was AMAZING! It was a mix of styles and colors–just like a castle from Disneyland with minarets and interesting sculptures everywhere (lions, crocodiles, etc.). It was windy, and getting cooler, so we quickly circled the castle walls. We then went inside, and toured the unique collection of antiques filling the many rooms of the palace. It was like a miniature Versailles–grand, but in a lot more intimate setting.

We walked back to the Moorish Castle, and realized that we didn’t want tour ruins in the wind. We grabbed the bus, and headed back to town. We crossed the now busy square, and went to the National Palace. This is was a Gothic/Moorish design. Each ceiling had a different design. Many of the walls were covered with murals. It was a nice stop (once we got past the touring crowds).

We were hungry and decided upon a Lojo do Vinho in main square (suggested by Frommer’s). We had some nice wine (Tinto da Anfora), olives, bread, and some great sausage (which they covered with alcohol and lit aflame in order to cook them). We were alone for a while, until the tourists started to show up for lunch and the restroom. We paid and headed down the hill back to the train station, to catch the bus to Cascais.

We tried napping on busride to Cascais as we round through the hills toward the beaches. We arrived at the beachtown (after guessing correctly on the right busstop), and exited into a very touristy little area. The cold was here too, so we headed to McDonald’s for some quick intranet and a soda. We searched for the beach, and finally found it. It was only a few tourists, and a lot of onlookers, enjoying the beach. It reminded me a lot of the French Rivierra with boats in the harbor and building ringing the water. We decided to walk the beach area, seeing some interesting wavy brickwork in the pedestrian zone. We finally settled on a coffee shop for some pastries and some dark hot chocolate at Pastelaria a Bijou de Cascai–they had multiple types of hot chocolate and a mix of pastries to enjoy.

We then grabbed the train back to Lisbon (still covered by our tour card), went back to the hotel and took a quick nap. We got up and went to the walking to the Figuera district looking for a restaurant listed in Frommers (Faz). Several restaurants were overflowing with people watching the Lisbon/Porto soccer match on TV. We walked through the Alfama District as it got darker. It was a quiet Sunday night where people were out at the local restaurant or home watching the soccer game. We finally heard the famous Fado music that Lisbon is famous for (forlorn folk singing) as we passed by the neighborhood establishments. We got to Faz and saw it was too fancy for what we were looking for, and decided to go back to a small place that we had passed long before.

We headed back to “Ho Caldas”, a small neighborhood restaurant that was full of locals and no English menu in sight. We figured out what we wanted, breaded pork and chicken, both accompanied with potatoes and rice. The portions were large, and the prices cheap–we wished we had split one dish. We watched the rest of the soccer game as Porto ended up winning to the local’s disdain.

We walked more through the city. We went back and had coffee at Nicola, a cafe that was always busy near the hotel. After hanging out at the coffee shop for an hour or two, we finally headed back to the hotel.

Luton to Lisbon

We woke up early (setting multiple alarms, so we wouldn´t miss another flight). We showered, finished packing, checked-out, and headed to the airport. It was a quick 15 minute walk from the hotel, and soon we were checked in for our EasyJet flight to Lisbon.

We went around the airport, looking for breakfast. We finally happened upon the Marks and Spencer “Simply Food” Store. I normally have an aversion to the concept of pre-packaged sandwiches. However, everything looked fresh that morning. Sheri had a good free range eggsalad and rocket sandwich, and I had a chicken tika tortilla wrap. Both were GREAT! I´ll reconsider the value of the traingularly packaged sandwiches in future–there are some fresh sandwiches out there.

We checked into our EasyJet plane. It was a LOT different than the Virgin flight. They offered us food and drinks, if we wanted to pay for them. We were well-fed after the breakfast at the airport, so we sat reading up on our Portugese destinations. After a few hours, we landed in Lisbon. We had finally made it to Portugal. We got through Customs–it was a VERY long line, much different than the speedy efficiency in London. We picked up our bags, and looked for a taxi to our hotel. We were in Lisbon, only about 12 hours late, after our screw-up of the day before.

We saw the long line for getting a taxi, and looked for a second level of taxis which Rick Steve´s travel book had suggested. We never found it, and drug our bags back to the long line. The line moved quickly and soon we were being driven to our hotel. The sites were amazing: big walking zones, tall statues in open parks, and lots of roundabouts. The taxi driver seemed nice (talking about the sites), but when he got to the airport, he said the bill was 24 Euros (about 10 Euros more than it should have been). He said it was because of the “bag charge”, so we begrudgingly paid it. NO TIP FOR YOU! (next time we need to remember to get a receipt, so that we can report the taxi driver to the city service).

We entered the VIP Eden Hotel which was right on the Restauradores Square. Our room wasn´t ready, so we dropped our bags and decided to head out into the city. We were getting hungry, so we went searching for lunch. One place, Bota Alta, was recommended by several bloggers and Frommers. So… we went searching for it. The roads zigzagged and climbed over many hills and steep streets, but we finally arrived at the right location. It was fairly busy, and they led us to our table. They brought multiple things to the table for appetizers, but we pushed most away. If you sample anything on a plate, then you pay for the plate (as we had read in the tour guides). We had a hard cheese for an appetizer that was good. Sheri ordered the “bacalhau real“, a mix of fried codfish, egg, and potatoes–it was tasty. I ordered the dorado that was a little too bony for my liking, but still very fresh fish.

We made a circuitous way back to the hotel, checked-in, and visited our room. We went up to the hotel roof, and saw the amazing views of Lisbon; this was definitely an amazing city. We decided to nap for a few hours, it had taken more than 24 hours to make it to Portugal.

We got up and decded to go to the Port Wine Institute. It was in Barrio Alta, the same district where we had had lunch. It was in an old building and the furniture was all leather. It was still busy at 11PM at night. Sheri had done her homework on Port wines (really 3 best years, and 4 names). We had two 20 year old tawnys and one 30 year old tawny. They were all great (differing styles, but all still good). It was 11:45PM when we left the Port Institute, and decided to go looking for some snacks. We exited and noticed the revelers filling the streets.

It seems like Friday/Saturday night in Lisbon is one amazing pub crawl, with many rowdy drinkers filling the streets, singing yelling, etc. We made our way through the crowds and finally decided on a Tapas Restaurant with outdoor seating and live music. Our waiter didn´t like our “Mexican Spanish” (Portugese is similarly spelled to Spanish, but pronounced VERY different) and kept trying to pawn us off on another ex-US waiter. We ordered beer, water, pimentos padron (which we love) and patatas bravas. While waiting there, I realized that I had forgottent my iPhone back at the Port Wine Institute!!! I ran through the streets back to the location, but they had already closed at midnight. I knocked on the door to no avail. I gave up, and then I had to search through the crowds to refind the tapas restaurant where I had left Sheri. I told Sheri the bad news, and we hoped that the phone was left behind and not stolen in the crowd.

We finished our tapas and headed back to the hotel after 1AM. I was bummed to have lost my phone, but we had made it to Portugal/Spain. We were already getting into the rhythm of Portugal and being on vacation. We went to sleep after the long day.

SFO to London

After being delayed by a week by an Icelandic volcano, we FINALLY get to head to Europe, and better yet, it´s first class on Virgin Airlines. We took the Supershuttle to the airport without problem. It was mid-afternoon, so we thought we would grab a snack since we didn´t have lunch. We had a great burger and fries at the Burger Joint at the airport. It was perfectly cooked and fresh, definitely worth the stop.

Since we were on Virgin First Class, we thought we would go to the Virgin Lounge. They offered us free drinks (beer and mixed drinks) as well as snacks (cheese and manchego quesadillas). It was a comfortable wait before the flight.

We finally went to the plane and boarded when our gate opened. We walked to our individual cubicles with partitions separating the passengers. There was a nice footrest, and the seat converted into a bed… no this is the way to fly!!!! The stewardess offered us drinks and gave us our sleeping suits (black long sleeve shirt and sweatpants). The captain spoke up and said that the plane was delayed taking off since they didn´t refill the oxygen. Better than another volcanic explosion, and we took off almost an hour late. The seats had individual monitors to watch on-demand movies/TV shows/etc. This was the life of comfort. The stewardesses (stewardi?) came around offering us drinks and snacks until dinner a few hours later. Dinner was very good, asparagus soup for Larry and salad for Sheri. For the main meal we both had pork medallions, mashed potatoes. And the desserts (creme caramel and cheesecake were also good).

After dinner, we closed all the windows and dimmed the lights. We converted our reclined seats to lay flat. There were even covers and a duvet to keep warm during the overnight flights to London. We were definitely on our way to Portugal. After a while we dozed as we headed to our final destination.

Tambopata to Lima

We were up early, yet again.  We quickly dressed and walked down to the boat by 5AM.  It was dark, and clouds had engulfed the jungle and the river.  However, we were finally heading home (only a day and a half to go).

We started down the river in the cold, misty morning.  About half an hour from the lodge, the engine broke down.  As one boatman took apart the engine trying to see what was wrong, the other pulled out an oar to adjust our coarse floating downriver through the branches and rocks that littered the river (luckily we weren’t trying to do this in dry season).  After about 20 minutes of trying different things, the motor finally sputtered into operation. Thankfully, we had left early.  We all sat there drowsy and quiet in the morning mist as the motor chugged in the background.

After about 10 minutes of powering down the river, Sheri gave out a high pitched scream.  She jumped up and rushed to the aft of the boat.  A large spider had started climbing over the railing next to the seat in front of her; the long legs were creeping over the edge.  Leon quickly jumped up and swatted it with his shoe, finally getting it to fall into the river.  Afterwards, he said it was a BrazilianWandering Spider (very poisonous); Sheri thought she saw something coming across the water while the motor was being fixed.  We were all awake now :)

At 7AM we finally made it to the mouth of the Heath River (where it merged with Rio Madre De Dios).  We forced the boat up a small stream, and one of the boatmen jumped off and tied it off to some shrubs.  He took the paperwork up to a Peruvian border station at Puerto Paldo, since we were now permanently in Peru (as opposed to balancing on the Peruvian/Bolivian border as the Heath River is defined).  We went ahead and had our pre-packed breakfast (pancakes, fruit, hard-boiled eggs).  After waiting for 10 minutes, the paperwork was resolved, and we were ready to go.  However, the motor wouldn’t start again.  It was another 10 minutes of tinkering with the motor and priming in more gasoline, before the motor finally churned to life.  We backed out into the river and were on our way upriver on the Rio Madre De Dios back to Puerto Maldonado.

The clouds cleared a little, but the river was mainly empty of other watercraft.  We made our way back to Puerto Maldonado without incident.  It was about 80 miles over five hours.  The boatman wedged our boat amongst all of the other boats. We disembarked and gave a tip to the boatmen who seemed suprised about getting anything. We hopped into a Inka Natura tourist van and went back to their business compound. We used the restroom, washed up, and collected our remaining bags.  Back in the tourist van, and off to the airport we went.  It was amazing seeing all of the motorcycles in Puerto Maldonado–the main mode of transportation.  Men, women, kids were all traveling around on motorcycles; it was amazing to see.  After about ten minutes, we made it to airport.  We quickly checked in, said goodbye to Leon and tipped him, and went to the waiting area for our plane.

We waited for an hour at the airport and finally our LAN flight was available.  We boarded and were off, rising above the jungle.  The LAN flight was wonderful as always–good leg room although all they give you for snacks is hard candy (no other food, no drinks).  We landed in Cusco, and we were back again.  We wondered around the airport looking for some lunch while waiting for our next flight to Lima.  After two hours, we boarded our flight to Lima.

We landed in Lima at 4 in the afternoon.  It was warm, and we had already been traveling for 12 hours.  We cleaned up and changed our clothes in the restroom at the airport, and then we checked our bags into baggage storage.  We went searching for a taxi.  The guidebook said that taxi prices were VERY flexible in Lima, and that it was a requirement to haggle.  The 40 sol fair went to 30 and finally to 25.  However, the driver who was assigned to us was hoping for a better fare, and after sitting in the taxi for 2 minutes and not going, we got out and made our way back through the lines of taxis.  A taxi passing asked if we needed a ride, and we said yes and negotiated for 20 sol to the Plaza de Armas.  We got in and off we went.

Our taxi driver wanted to practice his English, and he attempted to describe the sites in the sprawling city of Lima.  All of sudden he pulls into a gas station and tells us to get out.  We noticed that his hatchback area had a big tank, and we ultimately learned that it was a propane powered car.  The majority of cars in Lima seemed to be propane-powered (unlike the rest of taxis we had seen in Peru which were standard gasoline).  He refilled his propane, and then he continued on to Plaza de Armas.  Lima looked like an interesting city, with many interesting plazas and architecture–one square was completely surrounded by blue buildings… it was stunning.  Definitely the rush hour traffic in the Peruvian capital was worst we had seen.  As we got closer to the Plaza de Armas the roads were under construction and traffic was being re-routed.  Finally, we just told him to let us out, and we would walk the rest of the way to the plaza.  The plaza had an impressive fountain in the center, and it was ringed by old architecture.  The sun was setting, and numerous people were snapping photos of the reddish sky.

After walking through the pedestrian shopping area, we found another taxi and headed to Miraflores for dinner.  It was another circuitous journey across the city in heavy traffic as we closed in on the touristy Miraflores district.  The Parque Central was bustling with people, a lot of them snacking on the multitude of food carts sprinkled through the park.  We wondered around and found the restaurant which didn’t open until 7:30 (and might never open; at 6:30PM, the antique shutters and doors closed to the world). We decided to wait and see if it would ever open, so we found a cafe nearby where Sheri had a pisco sour and Larry had a mate de coca (as usual).  As we waited, we noticed that people were lining up outside the restaurant; we finished our drinks and joined them.

At 7:30, Astrid y Gastón opened.  The restaurant is run by Gastón Acurio, a celebrity chef that Sheri had heard of who also had opened a restaurant in San Francisco that she wanted to try.  We were going to have dinner in the bar since we didn’t have reservations, however, the hostess gave us the option to sit at a table as long as we were done by 9:30.  So… we took her up on the offer.  We were seated, and watched as the numerous waiters watched us and waited on our needs.  They brought some wonderful breads which we rapidly ate after not having a real meal all day.  Sheri had a suckling pig rib and chicken entree that was good; Larry had seared tuna with sweet potatoes three ways which was wonderful.  For dessert, we had a lemon tart and classic bonuelos. We finished, paid and went in search of a taxi.  Our driver took us past the coastline on the way back to the airport which had a lot less traffic, and the sea air was a nice change.  Ultimately, we decided we wished we had spent a day or two in Lima (to hell with the crime warnings), and enjoyed the restaurants, atmosphere, and beaches to be found there.

We got back to the airport, collected our bags from storage, checked-in to our flight, and went through security.  We did some final purchases, trying to get rid of the last of our Peruvian money.  We were going to buy water for the plane, but the merchant warned us that Delta would confiscate our bottled water, even though we were in a secure zone… damn them!  So… we finally made our way to the flight (where they did search our bags for liquids), boarded our plane for our midnight departure back to the US.  By noon tomorrow we would finally land in San Francisco–our vacation was over, however, we were both ready to be home.