Torres del Paine

view of the Torres del Paine mountains from our room

We stayed at the most incredible accommodation in Torres del Paine. The view from our room was stunning and we could even see a fox and her cubs playing in the grass just below us. After each long day of hiking and exploring the vast wilderness we always returned to pure luxury. I have not slept on a better bed in all my travels. The hotel accommodates 100 guests and it was completely full. The location is so remote that every guest stays for the same duration and we were all there together for six nights. We met a lot of fascinating people. There were a few other couples around the same age as us that, like us, had splurged for the experience, including a couple on their honeymoon. For others it was just another get away like for Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, and her husband who stayed a few rooms down from us. Some guests were pretentious but most were incredibly friendly. We often didn’t know the extent of their wealth until after having spent days chatting with them. There were a number of families with young children there as well.

Base of the Towers

In all, we hiked over 50 kilometres of trails during our stay. We did two ends of the famous “W” hike out to the glacier gray and also to the base of the towers. The latter we started while the mountain was covered by cloud. It snowed on the first part of the hike and the trail was nearly empty except for occasional hikers with Santa hats. It was December 25th after all. Leanne and I were the only ones to go from the hotel and we had one guide, a lovely young lady named Sole, to ourselves. The three of us had a great time and Sole said it was so much more fun to go with just two people. We agreed. We did the trip in great time and were rewarded with the sky clearing for perfect views of the towers.

Fox cubs playing

We also did a few boat trips, a horse-back ride, a bbq lunch with lambs splayed out at a distant ranch with gauchos, and a driving photo tour with another couple. We drove around the park looking at wildlife and saw plenty of rheas, guanacos, condors and other local animals. At one area where we had stopped the wind gusted above 100 kmh. It was easily the strongest wind I have ever experienced outside of an indoor sky-diving wind tunnel. It pushed me back two steps and Leanne and the other lady with us were pushed up a hill and down the road against their will. When we managed to get into the shelter of the vehicle we all laughed at the craziness of it. The whole region is windy, particularly during this time of year.

On our last full day we did another hike with just one other guest. On this hike we went into an unmapped section of the park and saw no one else. It was windy and the trail was overgrown in sections, but it made us feel like we were in true wilderness.

It was a fantastic week of sleeping on a heavenly bed, having phenomenal meals, and an all inclusive open bar all the while surrounded by stunning scenery. It was like we were living in a painting. We couldn’t have felt more spoiled and will miss the place tremendously.

The Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier, a 250 square kilometer ice formation

Leanne Glacier Trekking

We spent two nights in El Calafate with the primary purpose of visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier before heading into Chile to stay in Torres del Paine national park. The Perito Moreno Glacier is impressive for many reasons. It is one of the few glaciers that is not receeding and it is stands an average of 74 meters out of the water and is five km wide at the end. We took a boat to the base of the glacier before docking beside it and we saw a number of ice calvings during the visit. Leanne and I had ice crampons strapped to our shoes so we could walk on top of this formation. We had a magnificent day walking on clear blue ice, exploring crevasses, and we finished it off drinking scotch chilled on ice broken off the glacier.


Leanne and Michael enjoying the view after snowshoeing in Antarctica

This is a long overdue post about our Antarctica experience. I went into the trip with some reservations despite having heard from people who had been and have raved about it, and it has a lofty position in the top ten (#8) of the top hundred world wonders. There were phenomenal parts to the trip and parts I could do without. We travelled over 3,600km by ship over 11 days and spent close to five of those days in open waters of the rough Drake Passage. I’ll be honest, crossing the Drake is not fun whatsoever, and we were very fortunate to have had reasonable conditions. Most of the time was spent lying down, getting up for meals and then returning to bed. I wasn’t comfortable reading or writing while the ship bobbed in four meter swells across the ocean, so it wasn’t even productive time. Just before we left Ushuaia and just after we reached Antarctica there were hurricane force winds in the Drake. One cruise ship was severely damaged and made headlines across the world. Ships that left a couple days after us had to return back to Ushuaia and we heard stories of significant passenger injuries. We couldn’t have been much luckier with the weather we had.

Chinstrap Penguin

Our ship was a nice size with around one hundred passengers, plenty of outdoor deck space, and we had as good a room as one could ask for. We had a big suite next to the library and observation lounge. We liked the people on board and fell into a bit of a group with fellow travellers from New Zealand, Australia, the US and Germany. The amount of travel some of the people on this ship have done is impressive and a reminder that I’m young and there is a lot to this world I haven’t seen. I spoke with people who have done ridiculously expensive expeditions to the North Pole, and others scheduled to do orbital space flights when they start in a couple of years. Fascinating people and it was great to spend time with them.

a young crab eater seal

Our time in Antarctica was sensational and truly a life highlight. I tried to capture some of the special moments as best as I could with my camera, but there is just no way to convey the majesty and enormity of the landscapes. Another thing that is missing from those photos is the atrocious smell of the penguin rookeries. The sounds are part of the experience as well. Those of ice cracking, penguins yelling, seals wailing, and birds cooing, all of which contributed to the atmosphere. We spent plenty of time on shore and travelling through icebergs on zodiacs. We did a four-hour hike at Deception Island on some dangerously steep hills. We did a lot of snowshoeing at other locations and had plenty of freedom to explore around. We even attended the wedding of a couple from Hawaii who got married on shore.

camping in Antarctica

A couple of unique experiences included me camping under the stars for one night. Leanne was far to smart for this and stayed on board and took a photo of the camping area from the distance. I should point out that it is actually impossible to see stars from Antarctica in December as it never gets dark. The conditions were perfect and I opted to not use a tent. There are no bathroom facilities and we aren’t allowed to go outside. Additionally we could spend no more than ten hours on shore in any particular place, so we arrived in the evening and were picked up exactly ten hours later to go back to the ship. It was cold, but not too bad. During the whole trip the temperatures ranged from about -4C at night to about +6C during the day.

dangerous zodiac conditions

Another moment that we will long remember was taking a zodiac trip into a bay off of the Lemmaire Channel. The water was so calm it was mirror-like. We felt miniscule next to the mountains and ice fields that we passed. When we finally left the bay back to the channel we discovered sheets of ice flowing extremely fast towards the ship, and it looked like getting back might be difficult to impossible. We were a little tense as we navigated back into the channel. At one point ice sheets moved together so quickly we couldn’t follow the zodiacs in front of us. At another point we lost the ability to steer when we were caught on top of one of the huge pieces of ice.

We saw countless penguins, seals, and whales. Penguins are so incredibly entertaining: waddling through their penguin highways, coming up close to check us out, and jumping out of the water as they swim along. We visited one of the research stations and had our passports stamped. We also were unable to land on three occasions, once due to too much ice, and twice due to wind and snow.

Would I recommend this trip for others? Yes. I absolutely loved it and will never forget it. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this experience, however, it is not fun getting there and is not inexpensive either. It is in my top ten favourite trip highlights but there are others I’d recommend ahead of it.

Our photos are posted here:

penguins swimming toward our boat, the m/v Plancuis

Quick update after returning from Antarctica

Penguins on a dramatic iceberg in Antarctica

We have safely returned from our sensational trip to Antarctica. We are currently waiting in the Ushuaia airport for our flight to El Calafate. The Internet here is very painful to use and nearly impossible to download anything but text, however it does seem to be allowing me to upload…  so I’m trying to post photos to Facebook while we wait in the airport cafe.  I hope to revise this entry with a proper post in the next couple of days.

Some of our photos are posted here:

The end of the world

The view at 10PM from our hotel in Ushuaia

We made it to Ushuaia, the southern most city on earth, sometimes referred to as the end of the world. This afternoon we are boarding our boat as we head to the South Shetland Islands and on to Antarctica. We are excited, but apprehensive about our crossing of the Drake passage. Two days ago a cruise ship had a 30 foot rogue wave breach its deck. Windows broke, they lost an engine, power, and communication. The captain said it was the worst weather he had experienced in 160 crossings. When we flew here yesterday the weather was so bad they turned our plane away and we were forced to land in a town called Rio Grande about 200km north of Ushuaia. We eventually were given clearance to return to Ushuaia.

Gardens around Buenos Aires

Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella

The temperature was a cold 4C and it was windy and raining when we arrived. We are staying at a beautiful inn of five rooms up on a view point to the far side of town so we organized a rental car to get around. It was a stark contrast to Buenos Aires where we had perfect summer weather, sunny with a slight breeze around 27C and sunsets after 8PM. We spent our time there enjoying the atmosphere of the Palermo Soho district. It is a trendy and popular neighborhood with amazing little shops, restaurants, and bars. Our best meal came on the second night at a place called Crizia. Beyond the the pasta served in a copper pot, the argentinean steak, the malbec wine, the highlight of the meal was the fresh (less than 48hrs old) Buffalo Mozzerella. It was unbelievably good.

This morning we are lucky to have sunny skies and we plan to drive to the Tierra Del Feugo National Park before heading back to the pier to board our boat. We will likely be out of contact for the next ten nights while on board. Here’s hoping it is a great adventure.

Palermo Soho district


Leanne crossing Ocean Dr. South Beach, Miami

Our first stop on the way to Antarctica was Miami. We stayed three nights to help split up the flights south. We rented a new Buick Enclave for a couple of days and woke up early on our first morning for a long road trip from Miami through Key Largo and all the way south to Key West. We had clear skies and warm weather and were surprised by the ridiculously long bridges that connect all of the tiny islands. The old decommissioned bridges that ran parallel to the highway were lined with all sorts of birds waiting, just like a number of people, for easy fishing out of the tropical waters below. It is a scenic drive and a great road trip. We had lunch near the southern most point of the USA at an awesome little place called Banana Café. I had a delicious savoury crepe with sautéed apples, warm chevre and caramelized pecans as we ate outside on the rooftop patio. We enjoyed the town’s laid back feel and warm climate. After some exploring and sharing a shaved ice on the beaches we returned to Miami. It was about six hours of driving for the round trip. It was long, but I’m glad we did it.

Art Deco, Miami

photo shoot

The following day we ventured into downtown Miami before heading over to South Beach. We had brunch at a popular café along Ocean Drive, right across from the park that leads to the enormous beaches. There were swimsuit models across the street offering plenty of eye candy while doing a photo shoot. It was actually chilly that day and we weren’t dressed warm enough, but it was nothing a shopping excursion on Collins Drive couldn’t fix. Even with the cold wind there were still a few brave topless sunbathers on the beach. That evening we went back to Coral Gables for dinner along the Miracle Mile. The previous night we had found a fantastic place but it was packed and we couldn’t get in. It was worth returning for the tender BBQ pork ribs and the key lime pie.

We returned the rental car that evening and had an amazing string of good timing with transit back to the hotel. We had drinks around the Christmas Tree in the lounge before retiring early to be ready for our flight the next morning. We are currently about three hours out of Buenos Aires as I type this. I just watched two bad movies while passing time on this 9 hour flight. The plane is half empty and we have plenty of room to stretch out in our bulkhead seats.

Fall 2010

Mumford and Sons at the Vogue

I am writing this while we are midflight on our way to Dallas where we will connect to Miami. We are travelling for five weeks as we head south all the way to Antarctica before returning north and coming home. We are excited to be travelling again.

I’ve had a number of memorable experiences this fall and thought I’d journal a few of them here for future reference. One of my favorite moments was on Oct. 15th when I rolled triple ones after a four way roll-off in the greatest “gooch” game of all time. Only friends from work will understand this one. I was so excited about that morning that I’ve joked about writing a book about the event, so it seems fitting to immortalize it here.

Another highlight was being in the same room with US President, Barrack Obama, for a speech he was giving. This opportunity was entirely by chance. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I attended without any political interest, purely for the opportunity to see such an iconic figure and charismatic speaker in person. The whole experience was surreal. While waiting outside in the security screening lineup I, and the other people attending, were harassed by demonstrators. It ran the gamut from calling us communists to seeking our support for legalizing drugs. Inside was also awkward for me. While the attendees exuberantly sang the national anthem and pledged allegiance to the flag, I stayed silent and realized that my lack of participation hadn’t gone unnoticed by the secret service. I’m sure they had me marked while the president was in the room. Some of those around me were invited to get close enough to shake his hand while I was never permitted to be closer than a shoes-throw away.

The Fraggle and The Hobo Clown heading to a Halloween party

On that same trip, the hotel I was staying in checked another person into my room while I was out for dinner. Rather than switching rooms, the new tenant packed my luggage and dropped it at the front desk and wouldn’t let anyone into the room until the morning. I was without my passport, keys, computer, etc. as they were still in the safe. It was an unbelievable and frustrating situation. Imagine my surprise when I returned to find my key didn’t work for the room and when I went to the front desk they told me, that’s right we are giving you a different room, here are some of your belongings. For reference, it was the Heathman Hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon. The director of operations has since apologized profusely, but not until after numerous complaints over the situation occurring and how it was handled.

The last couple of months have included many great live events including one of my all-time favorites in what turned out to be a surprisingly fantastic venue: Mumford and Sons at The Vogue. Leanne and I stood about twelve rows back on the center aisle watching the crowd and band dancing and singing their hearts out. I also saw the epic performance of Pink Floyd’s The Wall album at Madison Square Garden in New York, and Leanne and I went to the symphony of the Lord of the Rings which was performed by 200 artists. I had some great hockey highlights as well. I went to a Washington Capitals home game and saw Ovechkin and Semin win in overtime over the Philadelphia Flyers, and I’ve been to numerous Canucks games including the season opener.

My joy for great food was also satisfied many times. A couple memorable highlights include dining at Bar Masa in NYC and having mouth watering dishes such as Peking duck with foie gras in moo-shu ski. Leanne and I also had an amazing meal visiting Kim and Tim at his house and where we had an impressive multi-course dinner prepared for us by his phenomenal, personal French chef.

For travel I did revisit NYC and Washington DC travelling between the two by train from Penn Station in Manhattan to Union Station. Other than trips to Portland, that was it for being on the road.

We hope to post some updates over the next few weeks during our adventure.

The Wall in NYC, Hockey in DC, VSO in Vancouver