The Land of Oz

As a kid, I was always fascinated by the Wizard of Oz. In addition to watching the movie multiple times, I read every single Oz book our library carried. So, I was quite excited when I stumbled upon the PBS series entitled The Magical Land of Oz . To my surprise, it wasn’t about Dorothy or the wizard at all, but was instead three wonderful shows about Australia, where we will be heading shortly. (No tornado required, and, I hope, none expected).

Why is Australia called the Land of Oz? I didn’t know, so I asked Mr. Google, the source of much of my wisdom. Turns out, it has to do with the way it sounds when you say the first three letters of the continent’s name. Give it a try. Anyway, the shows are visually spectacular, much better than anything I can hope to capture with my photos.

Speaking of photos, this is the first trip I will make without bringing a camera. Yes, I will still take photos, but I will be using my new iPhone 11 pro. After our son sent us photos he had taken with the wide angle, telephoto and regular lenses, and showed us what the camera can do with night shots, I was intrigued. It was definitely worth a trip to the nearby Apple store to just take a look. Silly me. I really thought I would be able to leave the store without making a purchase!

Another purchase for the trip was a “lipstick” charger from Amazon. My friend Sally had been using one on our recent bike trip and I was quite taken with the little gadget. Even though the iPhone 11 is supposed to have a robust battery, I didn’t want to take a chance of running out of juice should I encounter a once in a lifetime photo op.

Of course, that wasn’t the only gadget that captured my attention. I also HAD to have the Lencent adaptor I stumbled upon when purchasing the lipstick charger. They both come with cute little storage sacks and don’t take up much room in my gadget bag.

Because my replaced iPhone is few generations old, I decided not to turn it in, but instead plan to purchase a prepaid sim card for use in Australia. (Yes, my buying frenzy continues). After learning that, like New Zealand, free, unlimited WiFi isn’t widely available in Australia, I figured it was worthwhile to give a foreign sim card a try, using THAT older phone for accessing the internet. (An idea I picked up from one of the travel forums I follow).

Here’s what my research uncovered: you need to pay attention to “credit validity”, which was a new term for me. I have since learned that it refers to the number of days the prepayment option has purchased, starting from the day you first use it. So, if you purchase a card with a credit validity of 7 days, and you use it on the 1st of the month, regardless of the gigabytes purchased, you are done on the 8th, and need to “recharge” (pay more).

Why not go with Verizon’s travel pass? Well, if you use the internet ONCE during a 24 hour period, you get charged $10 for that day. It seemed like a better deal to get a prepaid sim card for 28 days for $30 Australian dollars (about $20 US, or two days worth of Verizon Travel Pass.

Why wouldn’t I just use the Australian sim card, in my new iPhone, you ask? Good question. Here’s why: I know myself well enough to recognize that it is entirely possible for me to lose my original sim card, a significant concern.

There are three mobile phone networks in Australia. Telestra, Optus and Vodaphone all offer coverage in the most traveled parts of Australia. Of the three, Optus is the only network that has a store in Melbourne Airport. So, given that this is a new experience for me, I decided that I wanted to interact with a human rather than purchase a card in advance from the internet (Amazon)and hope for the best. That way, I can have someone exchange the cards for me, and make sure that the phone is functioning correctly before we leave the airport.

Thanks to the internet, I was able to check the coverage map for Optus, where I learned that coverage varies by type of device, something I never would have considered. It appears that the iPhone 7 may not have great coverage throughout Tasmania and parts of the interior where we will be visiting. Big decision: will I decide to be without WiFi when in those uncovered areas? Or will I trust myself not to lose my original sim card and just use my new iPhone? Bet you can’t wait for this cliff hanger to be resolved in a future post.

Another cliff hanger: Will we get off the wait list for an upgrade to United’s business class? Here’s the deal. A free round trip ticket would have cost 240,000 miles each, whereas an upgrade is only 60,000 miles each, plus the price of an economy ticket and an additional cash payment. Given that we had nowhere near the miles needed for a free ticket, we opted for the upgrade, resulting in our waiting to see whether United can sell those seats for more than what we paid in cash and miles. It’s a gamble–one that does not make me a happy, loyal United customer. BUT, the other option would have been paying almost $8,000 each for business class. Of course, we could always stuff ourselves into economy for 6 hours to LA and 16 more hours to Melbourne. Yeah, we sure HOPE that’s not happening.

Finally, we learned from our trip leader that during our tour, we can expect temperatures to vary from a potential low of 30 F to highs in the 90’s, with varying degrees of humidity. Hey, its a big continent, and we are covering a lot of ground. That makes packing even more of a challenge. This time, I’m using different packing cubes for cold, temperate and hot areas.

Theoretically, the blue cubes can be compressed. Realistically, the plastic compression bags do a much better job so that’s what I used for my jacket. It is great for travel because the lining zips out, transforming the shell into a light weight rain jacket. Plus, the lining can be worn alone for cool days and shell plus lining will keep me toasty during those 30 F days and nights. Yes, it all fit into my duffel, was under 50 pounds, PLUS my backpack (carry on) had plenty of room to spare.

Here’s the route we, and 10 other travelers, will be taking on our Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) tour. Six of us have opted for the pre trip to Tasmania.

See you in Oz!

Towers of the Emerald Blue

“Paine” is a Mapuche word meaning emerald blue, or, if you prefer, blue green. So “Torres del Paine” gets its name from the towering, unusually shaped mountains and the icy clear Lake Pehoe.

Normally, this area is buffeted by high winds and lots of rain. Laura and Maria, our guides, have reminded us how very fortunate we are to be experiencing this incredible weather. It could change at any moment, but so far we have beaten the odds.

Last night we took advantage of having an astrophysicist in our midst and persuaded Mike to give the group an impromptu lecture on the southern skies. We were so very lucky: the phase of the moon was perfect for viewing. It wasn’t so bright that it obscured the stars. We saw the Milky Way and the Magellanic Cloud, a rare treat. Too dark for photos–you just have to take my word that it was magnificent. And Mike was really pretty amazing too.

I DO have other photos that will give you an idea of the grandeur and beauty of this National Park.

During yesterday afternoon’s first hike, we battled head winds that made those two miles feel a whole lot longer.

The sun wasn’t in the best position for photos, but I liked this shot of some of our group admiring the view.

One advantage of staying at one of the three hotels within the park was getting an early start. THAT allowed us to hike to the perfect spot so we could catch this gorgeous reflection on the lake.

It was a 4 mile hike that, according to my Fitbit, was the equivalent of climbing 43 flights of stairs. Believe it or not, it was a much easier than yesterday’s shorter hike because the wind wasn’t blowing.

We were able to see this waterfall from a distance AND up close.

Once again, our timing was perfect. On our return trip the light was just right for the mist to create rainbow after rainbow.

Okay, so the surrounding area wasn’t picture perfect, but that was the best angle to capture the rainbow.

Another amazing day in Patagonia, and it’s not even over yet. One more hike this afternoon.

Punta Arenas

Trivia question for you. Where can you find replicas of the ships of Magellan and Darwin, the ship used to claim this area for Chile, and the lifeboat that Shackleton used to get to the mainland to get help for his crew stranded in Antarctica? I’ll give you a hint. It’s the title of this post.

Magellan’s ship, Victoria

Darwin’s ship, The Beagle.

The small boat in the foreground was the one Shackleton used after The Endurance sank. The bigger one got the Chileans to this area so they could claim it for Chile.

Other notable images from Punta Arenas follow:

The huge monument to Magellan in the main square across from our hotel has carvings on all four sides, with a rather arrogant Magellan atop.

Punta Arenas was a very wealthy area at one time, and the cemetery reflects that abundance.

This mural honoring Gabriela Mistral is on the side of the school she founded (more about her later)

Sara Braun’s mansion faces the main square. This is ANOTHER good story that has to wait till I get home.

This morning, we are heading to remote areas where Wi-Fi could be nonexistent.

Although the distances don’t appear to be great, this appearance definitely IS deceiving. We will spend most of today traveling to Torres del Paine, stopping along the way for a hike, weather permitting.

Two days later, we will be on a longer drive, to El Calafate. From there we fly to Buenos Aires.

For all the map lovers, that one is for you. ❤️

The ADVENTURE part of Overseas Adventure Travels

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” according to Laura, our wonderful guide.

Were we prepared for our walk in the rain forest? Thanks to Laura’s excellent instructions, we most certainly were.

We are wearing our waterproof pants, boots, ponchos and parkas.

Puerto Montt is usually very rainy, and today was no exception. That means we had an authentic experience, which got even MORE authentic as the day wore on.

First, we had an interpretive walk through Chile’s first National Park, Vicente Perez Rosales. The water is normally a clear blue, but rain and wind has carried volcanic ash into the water resulting in this brown color.

My new partner in crime, Janis, is another Massachusetts gal.

In other parts of the park, however, the water was a beautiful clear greenish blue.

While we were sauntering through the park, a light rain was falling. That changed to a torrential downpour while we were at lunch. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Lunch was quite a novel experience. First, it was a short boat ride away.

Second, lunch was in a private home in the middle of the National Park. How a private home ended up in the middle of a private part, I could probably remember if I hadn’t had that second glass of wine. But the “how” is not essential to the rest of our story.

What started as an Overseas Adventure Travel home hosted meal became so successful, the host built this addition on to his home, and transformed the addition into a restaurant, now open to other travelers.

Third, the menu consisted of whatever our host caught. For us, today it was rainbow trout.

And yes, it was every bit as good as it looked.

By the time lunch was over, the rain had let up a bit, but our adventure was far from over. You see, there is only ONE road into and out of the park, and when there are torrential rains, THIS is what could (and did) happen.

The guys in the foreground are on OUR side of the street. The ones in the background are where we need to be. And in between? Well take a good look.

Remember our motto “expect the unexpected”? Well, once again, we weren’t disappointed.

My new friend Janis, also known as my “partner in crime” and I were first off the bus to size up the situation. Braving rain and wind, we returned with this video.

Fortunately, heavy equipment magically appeared to do whatever heavy equipment does,

and within two hours we were on our way. I’m thinking Janis and I have a future in cable news. Whadda ya think?

What a great group to travel with! No one complained. Here are some of fellow travelers’ comments: “How lucky are we to be in such a warm, comfortable bus”, ” Good thing we used the baño before we left the restaurant”,”It’s an adventure!”

I LOVE this group!

Here’s how our day ended.

The lake across the street from the Radisson Hotel.

Tomorrow we hit the road again, so I will hit “publish” and hope for the best!

From Bariloche to Puerto Varas

We were forewarned: this OAT trip would include several long travel days, some by plane, some by bus. Today’s transfer from Bariloche to Puerto Varas was expected to take from 8 AM to 4 PM, including the border crossings. We need to pass thru security for BOTH Chile AND Argentina, and depending on the mood of the guards, that could be brief or it could take hours.

Our route. Laura thoughtfully marked it with yellow “stickies” We started in the lower right hand corner and ended in the left lower corner, going up and around.

But that’s okay. Days in transit allow us to see the country and decompress. Our time in Bariloche was so jam packed, a day to chill was most welcome. The beautiful pool, spa and terrace at our hotel? I had no opportunity (and no energy) to try them

During our stay, we were treated to two very interesting lectures. The first, a talk by Hans Schultz about Nazis in Patagonia, was fascinating. The second took place the next morning. We learned about the “people of the land” from a member of the Mapuche tribe.

I can’t do either speaker justice blogging from my iPhone, so those stories will have to wait till I get home. I’ll also be sure to include the stories our local guide, Fernando, told us during our bus ride. Coming attractions include highlights of those two lectures plus stories about a Texas cowboy (Jarod Jones) the famous bandits, (Butch and Sundance)and a local boy(Ernesto Che Guevara).

But let’s get back to our second day in Bariloche . After the Mapuche talk, we ALL decided to take the optional trip: a float down the Limay (Crystal) River. Our group of 12 is very cohesive and very active. We all are opting to do EVERYTHING together!

Could that be a Moai atop that mountain?

Mike and I went in different rafts so we could photograph each other and our friends.

In addition to gorgeous scenery and crystal clear water, we also saw beautiful birds, like this kingfisher that Mike photographed.

I was never fast enough. My bird photos are mainly empty branches!

We were told that at the end of the trip, we would have a “snack”. Well, that “snack” turned out to be delicious quiche, the very best empanadas we’ve had (so far), delicious fried dough pastries, breads and jams, AND a wine tasting.

Next stop, horseback riding at a family owned ranch.

Mike’s horse allergy meant that we had a skilled photographer taking shots of our group.

By the end of our ride, we were all pretty hungry. What could be better than authentic Argentinian barbecue of beef, lamb and chorizo.

What is Mike doing? He’s throwing meat on the roof of the barbecue.

Why? To get this bird to come out of the tree so we could photograph it.

Fortunately, he stayed still long enough so that even I could photograph him!

By the time we returned to the hotel, I was as too tired to take advantage of the two for one drinks at the hotel bar!

What about that long ride to Puerto Varas? It wasn’t boring at all. The scenery was beautiful, plus Laura had a few surprises for us.

First was our celebratory drink when we crossed the border into Chile. Their Dulce de Leche is their equivalent to our Bailey’s Irish Creme.

Then, our lunch stop provided more than just great food. It was also the site of a self described car museum.

But it was so much more! There was also a model train village and ancient household tools that made out grandmothers’ lives “easier”

An old fashioned wringer washing machine

My favorite part, however, was hanging with this sweet little guy who wanted me to admire his hot wheels collection.

Can you figure out why I decided to end this post?