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The Galapagos Affair – Satan Came to Eden

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Most of the visitors who have the good fortune to visit the ‘enchanted islands’ of the Galapagos archipelago know precious little about the human history. I have taken tour groups there over the years and many of them believed that the only inhabitants were reptiles, birds and a few sea lions. Those that did their reading knew about Darwin and his short, but hugely significant visit on the Beagle, some knew perhaps about the pirates and the whalers – but few knew of the true pioneers – the first settlers who eked out a living on these inhospitable arid volcanic shores. Not to mention brutal penal colonies which are all Ecuador thought that the islands were good for until the late 20th century.

I arrived in 1978, when tourism was just taking off. In those days the boats were Spartan affairs, our yacht had no fridge and a shower was a shared trickle of rusty brackish water. It took 5 hours to get there in a propeller aircraft from Ecuador. (Today it is only an hour and a half in one of several daily jets). The yachts now rival those found in many sophisticated marinas and hotels are springing up on all of the four inhabited islands.

One of the non-wildlife visits we did was to a place called Black Beach on the island of Floreana, here was a tiny naval base and a handful of settlers and farmers. One of these was a little old lady called Mrs Wittmer who ran a basic guest house and restaurant. She had been there since the early 1930’s and must have been in her 70’s when I knew her. She certainly had a lot of stories to tell, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye as she gave us her home-made orange wine and cookies; she was the first woman to give birth on Floreana, her now grown-up son was captain of one of the first tour boats; but only the brave would mention the Baroness and the scandalous events of half a century earlier… I don’t want to spoil the story told in the film – but as they say: truth is stranger than fiction – no Agatha Christie novel could compete with this tale.

Imagine a desert island; put ashore 3 disparate families each with their own stubborn ideas of what island life should amount to and add a generous dose of ego-mania and the result is an unhappy end, as sexual intrigue, jealousy and unsolved murder take place, with the mysterious disappearances of the aforementioned Baroness. Less ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ and more ‘Lord of the Flies’ for adults. Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden opens 25th July in UK cinemas, with myself introducing the film and partaking in a Q & A session afterwards. There will be other UK screenings and a DVD/Blue-Ray out in September.

100 year anniversary of the Panama Canal

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The Panama Canal celebrates its 100 year anniversary on the 15 August 2014. This 48 mile shipping canal connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and was built to reduce the lengthy and hazardous journey around Cape Horn, the southernmost point in South America. Its story began in 1881 was France started construction of the canal only to stop work due to engineering problems. The US continued the project in 1904 and it was to take another decade before completion. When it opened the canal saw just 1000 ships traverse the locks annually. This has now increased to almost 15 thousand. Work continues on the canal with a wider lane due to open next year.  To celebrate the 100 year anniversary we’re offering a special seven day package designed specifically for those wishing to learn more about the canal and its history. For more details get in touch here.

Braving the spray of Iguazú Falls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI recently re-visited the Iguazú Falls in Argentina and Brazil. Justifiably said to be one of the natural wonders of the world and a World Heritage site. Earlier this year, after months of drought, the falls had been reduced to a dribble in places; recently the rains came back with a vengeance and the flow became the highest on record. The average flow is 1.7 million litres a second but in June this was up to more than 5 million, more than three times than usual rate. The result is that some of the walkways on the Argentine side have been washed away, including the one that takes you to the ‘Devil’s Throat’ the U-shaped head of the falls. There is still plenty to see and do. I do recommend a plastic poncho when you go to Iguazú, as there is a lot of spray over the walkways and at the many viewpoints. Colourful butterflies abound and cute coati mundi racoons sniff your bags for any tit-bits. The constant shifting light provides mesmerising rainbows when the sun comes out. The word Iguazú, means “big water” in Guaraní the native Indian language, the water flows over 275 separate rocky cascades. At the Devil’s Throat, It is 82 metres (269 feet) high. The falls mark the border between Argentina and Brazil. It is worth seeing both sides, the Brazilian one giving an overall panoramic view, the Argentine a more immersive experience with surrounding jungle. For a high adrenalin adventure we rode an inflatable Zodiac boat ride through the rapids to right below the falls (and got soaked in the process), it was such good fun that we demanded an encore. To plan your adventure click here.

Weird creatures from the Cocos Island in Costa Rica

The Cocos Island is a National Park located 550 kilometres from the mainland and uninhabited other than park rangers. The islands are particularly good for scuba divers who come to see the many populations of hammerhead sharks, rays and dolphins which pass through the region. There are however two much stranger creatures that also inhabit the waters around the Cocos Island; the rosy-lipped batfish and the frogfish.

Rosy-lipped batfish
The rosy-lipped batfish is known for its bright red lips closely related to the Galapagos Island’s red-lipped batfish. These poor swimmers have specially adapted fins which they use to walk along the ocean bed.

Frogfish
Frogfishes are masters of camouflage which they use to both protect themselves from predators and lure in prey. Some subspecies of frogfish can even change colour. Typically they move very slowly and then strike at their prey in as little a 6 milliseconds.

If you would like to visit the Cocos Island in Costa Rica and see both these species for yourself get in touch.

The Firefly Sanctuary

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Head outside of Mexico City to nearby Tlaxcala between June and August and you can witness one of the world’s greatest natural shows. Thousands of fireflies (luciérnagas) descend around the thick forest of conifer trees. No one is certain why fireflies create the light but it is commonly accepted that it is a way of females attracting a mate and reproducing. This two hundred hectares of humid woodland are the ideal conditions and there is plenty of food for the young larvae. Hiking the trails at night lit only by the stars and luminescence of the fireflies is a moment that is a unforgettable experience. To start planning your firefly adventure get in touch.

Pão de Queijo (Cheese bread) Recipe

pao_de_queijoPhoto: Rodrigo Gianesi

These delicious little cheese breads are popular throughout Brazil, particularly in the state of Minas Gerais where they supposedly were invented. They can be purchased from street stalls or bakeries but are also surprisingly easy to make at home.  The smell of freshly baked pão de queijo is phenomenal.

Ingredients
260g of manioc or cassava flour
240ml full fat milk
2 large eggs
60ml vegetable or rapeseed oil
60ml water
90g grated strong, hard cheese
A pinch of salt

Method
Begin by preheating the oven 230°c or gas mark 8. Add the milk, water, oil and a pinch of salt into a saucepan and bring to the boil, removing as soon as it does. Quickly add the manioc or cassava flour to the mixture and stir into a paste. Transfer the mixture into a large mixing bowl and add the beaten eggs and cheese. Mix well. Pour the mixture into mini cake tins and cook in the oven for around 25-30 minutes.

Select Latin America 2014 Awards Top 50 Most Luxurious Hotels

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We’ve been up and down through Latin America is search of the most luxurious hotels the region has too offer. The world luxury can mean different things to different people; it maybe the setting of a hotel, the size or simply complete opulence. Here our our 2014 awards for more luxurious hotels in Latin America. We hope you find it useful.

Faena – Buenos Aires, Argentina
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Alvear Palace – Buenos Aires, Argentina
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Eolo – Patagonia, Argentina
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Cavas Wine Lodge – Mendoza, Argentina
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Colome – Salta, Argentina
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Grace Cafayate – Salta, Argentina
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House of Jasmines – Salta, Argentina
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Cayo Espanto – The Cayes, BelizeCayo_espanto

Blancaneaux – Cayo & Mountain Pine Ridge, Belize
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Turtle Inn – Plancenia, Belizelodge_belize_turtle_inn

Airstream – Uyuni Salt Flats, BoliviaCampervan_tour_bolivia

Cristal Samana Salt Hotel – Uyuni Salt Flats – Bolivia
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Santa Teresa – Rio de Janeiro, Brazilpool_santa_teresa

Copacabana Palace – Rio de Janeiro, BrazilCopacabana_hotel_brazil

Fasano – Rio de Janeiro, Brazilbest_hotel_in_rio_de_janeiro

Emiliano – São Paulo, BrazilEmiliano_Hotel_sao_paulo

Fasano Boa Vista – São Paulo State, Brazil
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Cristalino Amazon Lodge – Alta Floresta, Brazilluxury_amazon_lodge_brazil

Convento do Carmo – Salvador, BrazilConvento do Carmo

Casa UXUA – Trancoso, Brazilshabby_chic_hotel_brazil

Das Cataratas – Iguaçu Falls, Brazilbest_hotel_iguazu

Pousada Ibitipoca – Minas Gerais, BrazilPousada_Ibitipoca_Brazil

Alto Atacama – San Pedro de Atacama, Chileatacama_desert

Noi Vitacura – Santiago, Chile
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The Aubrey – Santiago, Chile
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Explora – Patagonia, Chile
Explora Patagonia

Tcherassi - Cartagena, Colombiatcherassi_hotel_spa
Ananda Boutique – Cartagena, Colombia
Interior terrace

Lapa Rios – Corcovado, Costa RicaLapa Rios Room

Punta Islita – Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Ricabest_hotel_in_costa_rica

Finca Rosa Blanca – Central Valley, Costa Ricapool_finca_rosa_blanca

Casa Gangotena – Quito, EcuadorMTE3926

Mashpi Lodge – Cloud Forest, Ecuador
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Galapagos Safari Camp – Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, Ecuadortent_galapagos_lodge

El Convento – Antigua, Guatemala
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Casa Encantada – Antigua, Guatemala
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Capella Pedregal – Baja California, Mexicocapella_pedregal_baja

W Mexico – Mexico City, MexicoHotel W

Hacienda Uayamon – Yucatan, Mexico
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Hacienda Temozon – Yucatan, Mexico
Hacienda Temozón

American Trade Hotel - Panama City, PanamaAmerica_trade_hotel

Miraflores Park Hotel – Lima, Peru
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Sanctuary Lodge – Machu Picchu, Peru
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Monasterio del Cuzco – Cuzco, Peruhotel_boutique_monasterio

Palacio Nazarenas – Cuzco, Perupalacio_belmond

Titilaka – Lake Titicaca, Peru
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Playa VIK – Jose Ignacio, Uruguayplaya_vik_hotels

Estancia VIK – Jose Ignacio, Uruguayestancia_VIK_pool

Fasano las Peidras – Punta del Este, Uruguayluxury_fasona_las_piedras

Las Cumbres – Punta del Este, Uruguay
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Pucón, the mecca for outdoor activities in South America

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This small town located in the Chilean Lake District, 710 km south of the country’s capital city Santiago, is recognized for being one of the world-class destinations for adventure activity lovers. Once a summer destination for rich Chilean families, the town now is an all-year-round spot for people with a love of wilderness and adrenaline sports. It’s in a perfect setting on the shore of the Lake Villarrica, under the active Villarrica Volcano and in an area surrounded by a large variety of natural resources which enables tourists to have unforgettable experiences and a relaxing time.

There is a large range of activities including white water rafting, kayaking, trekking, volcano climbing, snowboarding and skiing, horseback riding, etc. These activities can be combined with a relaxing afternoon visit to some of the natural hot springs. Despite being a small town, Pucón has the facilities of a big city and provides high quality accommodation and delicious cuisine.

Although the main attractions for visitors are the adventure activities (in particular the volcano climb) the town has an interesting offering of cultural activities with indigenous Mapuche families.

To start organizing your activity holiday to Pucón get in touch.

The traditional chilean pit-bake

Curanto al hoyo (Chilean pit-bake) is a traditional and delicious food from the Chiloe archipelago in Chile. When and how this cooking method started is unknown, although it is believed that in Chile this ancient way to prepare food belongs to the Chono, an Indigenous group which inhabited the southern coastal part of the country.

When the Spanish Conquistadores arrived to the Chiloe Island, new ingredients such as meat and potatoes were added to the original preparation resulting in what is currently known as Curanto. But what is the Curanto al hoyo? It is a traditional Chilote (people born in Chiloe island) meal prepared in a hole of about one and a half metres deep.

Firstly the hole is filled with stones which are heated with a bonfire. Once the stones are red hot, the remaining wood is removed and ingredients such us shellfish, chicken, pork chops, sausages, potatoes, chapaleles (boiled potato and wheat flour dumpling), milcao (potato dumpling) are added. Some type of shellfish can vary, however, clams, mussels and giant barnacles are a must. Each layer of ingredients is separated with the local Nalca leaves, Finally everything is covered with wet bags held down with turf in order to create the effect of a pressure cooker. After approximately an hour of cooking, the delicious Curanto is ready to be opened and eaten (carefully) with a glass of Chilean white wine.

Want to try a Chilean pit-bake in Chiloe? Contact us here.

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