Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Japanese Garden, Singapore

The whole of Singapore island is urban++. There are sky-scraping apartment buildings everywhere. There are also parks and green patches that help break up the concrete jungle. Jurong Lake is a freshwater reservoir in the western part of the island. Surrounding the lake are the Chinese Gardens and the Japanese Gardens. Both are delights to visit.

Ray and I took Drake to the turtle and tortoise farm in the Chinese Garden last month. It was a very interesting exhibit and the rest of the gardens were great, too. That large tortoise with Drake was just walking around, greeting the visitors. He ate some lettuce Drake held out to him and didn't seem to mind being used as a drum.

Last Saturday Ray and I headed out to visit the Japanese Gardens. The park was full of picnicking families under shade trees and in the pretty gazebos. The setting in both parks is very calm and relaxing.

What really caught our attention was the series of stone lanterns. We collected photos of some of them to share with you. They all had plaques with the installation date of 2008 and a name - we aren't sure if it's the type of lantern or the sculptor. Each one had such a unique character. We hope you enjoy them too. Remember you can click on any of these photos to see a larger version of the image.

Maru Yukimi

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Pulau Ubin Saturday

We have been wanting to visit Pulau Ubin since we arrived in Singapore. Getting there is not very easy. It's across the island about an hour bus + a 15 minute bumboat ride away. We made the bus trek once already but I got distracted by the beaches along the Changi Village shore and we never got all the way over.

Well today we did. I kept looking towards the island and away from the beaches. We got there this time!

We finally made it!
The locals live a simple life.

It is an island that is cut off from the civilization-crazy Singapore. There is a small population living here with well water and generator electricity. Tourists come for the great biking and hiking trails.

We enjoyed hiking around ponds, mangroves, and tidal pools. There weren't as many other visitors as we expected. Lots of people renting bikes but they went one way and we went another.

Only heavy commerce on the island.
We found two geocaches along the way which was fun. Finally got rid of a pesky travel bug we've been lugging around since October. We wanted to place it in a cache in South America but it was way to big for the containers we found there.

Ran into a few monkeys along one path, several local dogs who were having way to much fun in the tidal pools, and some rather large spiders.

Simple beauty everywhere
These guys were all over the place. I had to hang onto my camera in fear they may grab it.
Ray finally had to ask me to stop photographing so many flowers but they were everywhere and hard to resist. See for yourself:

Not sure what this fruit is
I do love a water lily

No matter what the color

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Home again in Singapore

Ray and I are back in Singapore filled with memories and jet lag. We were in airports and airplanes for the last 43 hours. Enough of that for awhile...

Our Patagonia trip was exciting, educational, and fulfilling. We saw volcanoes, glaciers, and mating guanacos. We drank mate (Yerba Mate) like the locals, ate Argentinian beef and lamb, and met new traveling friends. We were as South in South America as you can go. Punta Arenas was one of our brief stops and is the last large city in Argentina however we did get to fly even more South into the Ushuaia airport which is really down there.

Once we go through all of our photos and journal scribbles we will post more. Right now we need more tea and have lots of laundry to do.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Trip to Patagonia - Jan 4-5, 2015 - Fly to Buenos Aires; Tour Parana Delta; Return to Singapore

- from the Itinerary:

Jan 4 - We depart Calafate for the airport after breakfast today, boarding our flight north to rejoin the porte├▒os in Buenos Aires. Once there, we’ll check into our hotel and have the day at leisure to absorb more of the culture, architecture, and character of this memorable port city before gathering for a night of reminiscing with fellow travelers over a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

Jan 5 - After breakfast, we spend this morning touring the area where the Parana River empties into the Rio de la Plata on its way into the Atlantic, forming a huge delta. This exotic landscape is just half an hour from the city but seems a million miles away. Traditional houses on stilts (pilotes) are surrounded by lush subtropical vegetation and built on islands that are separated by a twisting maze of waterways. Enjoy a relaxing boat ride in this scenic area, which is one of Latin America’s unique environments. We’ll have an included lunch after this tour.

In the afternoon, we transfer to the airport for our flight home.

Jan 4  - Although our itinerary indicated we would have free time in the afternoon when we arrived in Buenos Aires, the flight stopped in Ushuia on the way and delayed our arrival in BA. Ushuia is the Southernmost city in South America. We wished we could have left the plane. Maybe we will have to come back some time.

We went directly to the restaurant where we were having our farewell dinner - Cabana Villegas. The restaurant was in an old warehouse along the river which was at one time a active shipping port. We had a great steak dinner and another Malbec, a great final dinner indeed. Only after dinner did we get to the hotel.

Farewell Dinner

Jan 5 - Our last event with OAT was a boat trip on the Rio de la Plata delta. Many people live along the delta on the various islands. Therefore, they need a taxi service to get around and a floating grocery store to get some of their supplies.

Argentina's Naval Training Ship

Looking back towards Buenos Aires

A water taxi

A market boat
We had lunch in Tigre, a suburb of Buenos Aires, up river from the city. Then back to the hotel to gather our things, say our goodbyes and head to the airport for the return to Singapore. We arranged to share a ride with Barbara, who was heading for Atlanta.

We got to the airport very early for our flight back to Singapore, via Doha. From the time we got to the airport, until we arrived at our apartment, 42 hours past! On the plane, I watched 6-7 movies and read! I couldn't sleep, so when I got home, I was exhausted!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Trip to Patagonia - Jan 3, 2015 - Explore Los Glaciares National Park

- from the Itinerary:

Today, we embark upon a full-day excursion to Los Glaciares National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Los Glaciares is the second-largest national park in Argentina, and comprises more than 1,700 square miles and nearly 50 large glaciers. These glaciers are fed by a giant ice cap (the largest continental ice extension after Antarctica) that begins in the Andes and occupies well over a third of the park’s total area.

During our explorations, we’ll discover the wondrous Perito Moreno Glacier, a pristine marvel towering nearly 200 feet above Lake Argentino. It is named after Francisco Moreno, a 19th-century Argentinean explorer who helped resolve his country’s border dispute with neighboring Chile. The constant, cyclical movement of Perito Moreno’s ice mass often forces the glacier to “calve” — an iceberg “birthing” process in which smaller chunks of ice fracture and break off from the glacier to thunderous  accompaniment.  This spectacle can occur at any time, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that we’ll be lucky enough to witness an iceberg calve as we enjoy a boxed lunch in front of Perito Moreno.

However, ice isn’t the only thing we’ll see today. Just east of the ice fields are areas of southern beech forest and windswept steppe. As we journey overland to and from Perito Moreno, we’ll pass through scenic forests filled with lively birds.

We got to see another glacier from a different perspective - from land, rather than from a boat. We hiked for an hour along a platform built along the shore with great views of the glacier. We heard the sounds of "calving", but were often too late to see the ice break off. Sound does not travel as fast as light, so by the time you here the crack/boom, the event has already happened.

We completed the hike ahead of many in our group, so we bought a bottle of wine to share with Jodie and Bill, whom we had walked with most of the time.

Back in El Calafate, free time and dinner was spent with Bill and Jodie again. While Pat and Jodie shopped, Bill and I just wandered around. At dinner we shared another bottle of wine.

As you can see, we drank a lot of Malbec today and on the trip overall. Malbec is an Argentinean wine, usually from Mendoza in Northern  Agentina. Everyone we tried we liked.

Happy New Year from Patagonia

Glaciers, mountains, & icebergs. Visiting these are our first New Years resolution for 2015.

Done!! Lagos Grey, Chile.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Trip to Patagonia - Jan 2, 2015 - Overland to El Calafate, Argentina

- from the Itinerary:

After breakfast, we depart Torres del Paine National Park and cross the Andes once again as we transfer by coach to El Calafate, a town in Argentina that serves as the gateway to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.

For 65 million years, the land here evolved from chaotic volcanic eruption and massive glaciers, creating a jagged landscape of interconnected fjords, channels, and mountainside  glacial lakes. We’ll enjoy another chance to view the scenery and wildlife of the Patagonian steppe during our drive and make a stop for lunch en route.

This evening we arrive at our hotel in Calafate, where we’ll take a short orientation walk upon arrival. The town takes its name from the calafate bush — locals say eating its berries will ensure your return to this mystical region. Dinner is on your own this evening.

We are leaving Torres del Paine National Park today and heading north to El Calafate, Argentina. Along the way we will have to cross the border from Chile in to Argentina, change the bus and get a new local guide. But we stopped for a couple parting views and for a group photo with the mountains in the back while we hold the Patagonian flag.

A last look at Torres del Paine

With our traveling companions
Before reaching the border, we passed a gaucho riding in a field and our trip leader decided to see if he would stop and talk to us. He was happy to visit with us and answered several of our questions, including "how long have you been working on this estate?" He told us he had been here for 23 years, but lived there only during the week. He then went to see his family far from here in one of the widely-scattered towns. It was certainly an unexpected treat to meet him.

Our next stop was adjacent to the Chilean border at a restaurant and shop where we had lunch. The sign outside the shop indicates this is the road at the end of the world.

The last stop before leaving Chile

Road at the end of the world
As we crossed into Argentina, we all had to present ourselves to the Argentinean Border Control Officers. When I got off the bus, I reached for my passport, but it was gone! I searched my pockets, got back on the bus and emptied my backpack - no luck! Now I'm beginning to panic...leave the bus to make sure Pat doesn't have it - she doesn't. I get back on the bus and finally locate the passport on the floor, under my seat. What a relief!

Just after the border, we changed buses and got a new local guide, Gordie, for El Calafate. We drove for another couple of hours and finally arrived at our hotel, a short walk from the center of town.

For dinner, Pat and I walked into town and found a brew pub, Cerveceria Artesanal, where the first thing they do when you're seated is bring a sampler of their beers. We picked the 2 darkest of the 4 samples, an IPA for me and a Porter for Pat. The beer was good, the food okay.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Trip to Patagonia - Jan 1, 2015 - Lago Grey Glacier Cruise; Lago Grey Trek

- from the Itinerary:

This morning we’ll explore Lago Grey, which is one of the park’s largest and most famous lakes, boarding a small boat for a closer view of the enormous icebergs, calved from Glacier Grey, that float on the lake’s surface. Weather permitting, we’ll navigate around the icebergs and chart a course for Glacier Grey itself, where we’ll enjoy magnificent views of its jagged blue-white walls rising to the sky.

We then go for a trek along the shores of Lago Grey, where gigantic blue icebergs rest against sandy beaches while Glacier Grey stretches into the distance through the towering peaks of the surrounding mountains, before returning to our hotel for dinner.

Happy New Year! We weren't able to stay up last night to see in the New Year. Fresh air and hiking will do this every time.

We left the hotel at 7:30 this morning to go for a boat tour of the Lago Grey glacier. As you can see in the pictures, I was very cold and layered as many clothes as I had packed. It was mighty cold on the lake and as the boat turned so did the gusts of wind sometimes right in our faces.

I love glaciers with their blue colors and the great shapes. This is beautiful!

Approaching the glacier

It's cold!

When we finished the boat trip, we walked back to the hotel through a Patagonian forest. It was a short walk and not at all strenuous - just very pretty. Snagged a geocache along the way and initiated three of our companions to geocaching. They seemed to enjoy the idea.

Back at the hotel we picked up a box lunch and got back on the bus for a hike near the Salto Grande, a waterfall we had seen yesterday as we drove into the park. This hike to Mirador Cuernos took about 1 1/2 hours to complete. Much of the landscape in this area was devastated by a large fire in 2008, started by a careless camper. Trees were scorched but the wild flowers have taken over so the beauty was still there.

Salto Grande

Starting the hike after viewing the falls

Eerie remains of a forest