Tag Archives: Uruguay

Traveling In the Year of The Horse.


Safari anyone?

On January 31, in galloped the Year of the Horse on the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

A 12-month cycle, the calendar is based on archetypes of 12 animals and 5 elements. 2014’s theme is actually the Yang Wood Horse. Yang represents activity, and the year is considered to be one of high energy, production, movement, and a perfect time to travel.

On that note, I figured why not focus on destinations where horses figure predominately in one way or another.

Whether you like sitting in a saddle or just gazing at these noble creatures, there’s something about being near horses that quiets us. If you’re a horse person, then you probably have an unbridled passion for these animals and know what I’m talking about. There’s something about looking at the world from between a horse’s ears that just feels right. Some folks may say yuck to the smell of a stable but to me it’s a welcoming scent, so let’s go!

The wild horses of the Carmargue.

The wild horses of the Carmargue.

Wild Horses
I’ve only ever seen the Carmargue wild horses on public television but their ghostly beauty is enough for me to get off the couch and book a trip. One of the oldest breeds in the world, they’ve been around since 50,000 B.C.  Carmargue horses live around Saintes Maries de la Mer in southern France, within an area that runs from the Rhone River to the Mediterranean. These pale grey horses roam the marshland and salt marshes of the region and are protected by French law. Their allure draws visitors far and wide who come to paint, ride, photograph or just be near these sturdy ponies. A major tourist destination, the Carmargue Natural Park includes a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve, where each year hundreds of thousands of migrating birds rest for a layover. In addition to the wild horses, the bird wildlife, especially the pink flamingoes, is a major attraction for bird-watchers. Located near Arles, if you’ve got any time on the front or back end of your next stay in Paris, consider a side trip.

Pink flamingos in Carmargue Nature Park.

Pink flamingos in Carmargue Nature Park.

Dressage & Design
Who needs an excuse to visit Italy? The food alone is enough of a reason but when you add the opportunity to take dressage lessons in a place like Castello di Reschio, sign me up. Located in Umbria, this luxurious retreat blends modernity with classic old world aesthetic design that the Italians are oh so good at creating. If you’ve got a thing for design and architecture, these digs will have you over the moon. Depending on how many folks you want around you, the Reschio farmhouse accommodations sleep anywhere between 2 to 14 and will blow you away. Once you see them, it’s a pretty sure bet they’ll have to pry you out by your fingernails. The proximity to Tuscany and the chance to explore the towns that dot its map, or take cooking classes, is another draw. Budget wise, it’s not for the faint of wallet but if you want to learn to ride, or perfect your moves, and feel it’s time to treat yourself to an all around, out of this world experience, then this might be the place for you.

All the pretty horses at Castello di Reschio.

All the pretty horses at Castello di Reschio.

A different point of view at Panagea.

A different point of view at Panagea.

If that’s too rich for your blood and you like it closer to the bone, then Panagea Estancia might be more your speed. This working cattle ranch in the north of Uruguay attracts visitors looking for the real deal of what the life of a South American gaucho, or cowboy, is really like. The ranch doesn’t promote itself from a tourist perspective, but they do welcome travelers who like to rough it. In terms of accommodations, we’re talking bare bones here but if you want to ride, or learn how, brush up on your Spanish, and live life off the grid then this is the place to do it. For $60 a day, you’ll not only get horseback riding lessons but the room and board to go with it. A steal if you ask me.

Race ya!  (Photo credit: African Horseback Safaris)

Race ya! (Photo credit: African Horseback Safaris)

Perfect after a day in the saddle.

Saddle Up On Safari
The only thing better than being on safari would be horseback riding while on safari. If you’re an experienced rider, then African Horseback Safaris can deliver that magic. With their Macatoo Camp located on the western side of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, you’ll find yourself in a mecca for wildlife as you race through floodplains, canter along side giraffes or zebra, gaze up at elephants, or follow on the heels of buffalo and antelope. With 4 to 6 hours in the saddle, you’ve got to love it and being able to ride in such a pristine environment is a dream. If your travel buddy doesn’t want to live your fantasy, no problem. Non-riders can enjoy a safari experience by boat or game drive, and whether or not you’re in the saddle the sundowners that’ll greet you at the end of the day will quench your thirst. This outfit also offers Eco-Safaris that you can tag on to your trip. If you’re looking for the ultimate riding experience, this is it.

Flirting with a friend at Flag Is Up Farms.

Flirting with a friend at Flag Is Up Farms.

Join Up
If being on the back of a horse isn’t your thing, and you’re simply looking to get a better understanding of these creatures, consider a visit to Flag Is Up Farms. Owned and operated by Monty Roberts, best-selling author of The Man Who Listens to Horses, this farm offers courses on horse behavior, horsemanship, and how to communicate with these animals through the language of Equus. Roberts’ pioneered a non-violent approach to working with horses years ago, which he eventually coined Join-Up®. It’s a philosophy based on learning the  unspoken language of horses that creates a trust-based foundation in a cooperative environment. Through subtle body movements and gestures, students work individually with horses in a high-walled, round-pen and experience for themselves this silent method of communication. It was a pretty thrilling experience for this Brooklyn girl and drinking a few juicy glasses of local red wine at the end of each night was a pretty sweet treat. Flag is Up is nicely set amongst the rolling hills of Santa Ynez wine valley and while they don’t offer accommodations, there are a variety available in the nearby towns of Solvang and Buellton. With its emphasis on communication, the real value of Join-Up® is that it can be applied to any relationship and the course attracts people from all walks of life including CEOs, veterans suffering from PTSD, abused women, children, educators, and medical clinicians.  Even the Queen of England endorses Join-Up® and over the years of his providing services to Britain’s racing establishment, in 2011 Monty was made an honorary Member of the Royal Victorian Order.

A New Forest Cottage.

A New Forest Cottage.

Pony Up
Whether you want to ride or just be around horses, the inhabitants of the New Forest, in Hampshire, England, will intrigue you. Roaming freely through the land are the famous New Forest Ponies, a band of about 3,000 whose mere presence contributes to the country’s tourism. These pretty ponies have run wild in these woodlands for 2,000 years and are cared

New Forest Ponies.

New Forest Ponies.

for by New Forest Commoners (local land owners). Visitors come just to watch the ponies, attracted by their gentle nature and beauty, as well as the romance and history of these creatures. Whether you’re a novice or advanced rider, there are a handful of stables in the forest that will saddle you up for lessons, riding, or a leisurely trek. The opportunity to enjoy a car-free journey is another plus, as you can easily hop a train from London. Once there, renting a bike is one of the most popular choices for exploring the area. There’s also a coastline where you can enjoy a shoreline stroll or hop a small ferry to Hurst Castle & Lighthouse. Book a room in one of the New Forest Cottages, and you’ll really feel like you’re in an enchanted forest.

The Chinese believe that the Horse year represents freedom and that when it comes to travel the further away you go, the better.

It’s also believed that you have to act fast in a Horse Year.  So if you’ve got an itch to go somewhere, giddy up!


Island Hopping.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

One of the gifts of working in travel is the wide network of colleagues you meet along the way.  Across air, car, cruise, destinations, hotels, travel advisors, tour companies, and event specialists—we’ve cumulatively traveled the globe!  So it’s always a treat when you run into each other because chances are someone will have just returned from a trip.  One of the features of Ports Are Calling will be a Q&A with industry insiders—or people who have a thing for travel—to spread the word, share a moment or shine a light on a particular destination or travel experience.   I recently caught up with Catherine Reilly, Managing Director, Brendan Vacations, Ireland.  When she’s not crisscrossing her motherland, Miss Reilly can often be found hiking near Lake Como or exploring a new destination experience.  Because she’s blessed to travel so much, she considers herself a “privileged delinquent” and it was good to learn about her recent visit to Easter Island.

Rapa Nui view from the top.  (Photo credit:  Explora lodge, Rapa Nui)

Rapa Nui view from the top. (Photo credit: Explora lodge, Rapa Nui)

Q:   What inspired you to travel to Easter Island?
A:   I’ve visited South America several times, places like Machu Picchu, Patagonia, Galapagos  Islands, the Amazon Rain Forrest, Iguassu Falls, and the wonderful cities of Santiago, Quito, Rio De Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Lima and more. I love this continent and this time a visit to Easter Island fitted nicely into my travel plans.

Q:  So you obviously have a thing for South America.  What is it about that continent that attracts you?
A:  Reading about South America as a child I think I was first attracted by the wonderful place names, Paraguay, Uruguay, Patagonia, and Lake Titicaca.  Now as a traveler I am inspired by its ancient civilization and culture, that’s what draws me back again and again. 

Q:  Do you think that might have something to do with the ancient history that’s in your bones as an Irish woman?
A:  In Ireland all around us we witness our ancient civilization.  At Newgrange for example we have a structure built thousands of years ago that remains today. At Machu Picchu the ancient civilization of the Incas is powerfully presented to us and through the statues on Easter Island we learn about the ancient Polynesians.  The debate continues as to whether these structures, temples, monuments were built to venerate their dead or worship their Gods, or were there other reasons? That said, the fascination is with the people who built these amazing places and things with such engineering skills, knowledge of geometry, astronomy, and respect for their environment. Today we visit, stand in awe and remind ourselves they didn’t have metal yet!

Unfinished Moai.  (Photo credit:  C. Reilly)

Unfinished Moai. (Photo credit: C. Reilly)

Q:  What about Easter Island surprised or fascinated you?
A:  The locals refer to their island as Rapa Nui and you visit to see the Moai (not statues). Interestingly, ‘Rapa Nui’ is the name of the country and the local language and ‘Rapanui’ refers to the people.  The island is so small, about 26 miles long. The biggest attraction is, of course, the Moai, there are so many of them and they are all over this little island and they’re so big.  They’re not protected in any way, so the island relies on the visitor to treat these treasures with respect. What’s fascinating is not just the monumental stonework and the amount of effort it took to build the Moai, there is also the mystery of why the islanders toppled them all over.

The Moai.  (Photo credit:  C. Reilly)

The Moai. (Photo credit: C. Reilly)

Q:  They’re statues but the Moai sound like more of a presence?
A:  Oh, absolutely, yes, the energy on the island is amazing.  It’s like when I walk around some places in Ireland, I feel like I’m walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.  There is a presence on Easter Island and when you visit Rano Raraku, the quarry where there’s something like 400 of these statues still there in various stages of carving, some are half-finished and some are just heads, it’s like one day, the people making them just all up and left.

Easter Island.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Easter Island. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

Q:  Aside from the Moai, were you drawn to any particular part of the island?
A:  My favorite place on the island was the Rano Kau, a crater shaped like an amphitheater. When I arrived at the crater it was clear just how remote it all is, truly wonderful, you’re just surrounded by the big, blue ocean.  The island is Ireland green, and the ocean around it is all different kinds of blue and turquoise, and every time you look at it you can see a different color.

Catherine at Rano Kau on Easter Island.  (Photo credit:  A. Reilly)

Catherine at Rano Kau on Easter Island. (Photo credit: A. Reilly)

Q:  How’s the island hospitality?
A:  It’s fantastic, super friendly.  The population on Easter Island is approximately 5,500.  It’s governed by Chili and 60% of the islanders are Rapanui, and the rest are from the mainland. Most of our guides were Rapanui and they were all very proud to share their stories.  The islanders are extremely welcoming. The post office will even stamp your passport with a Rapa Nui stamp!

Q:  Where did you stay?
A:  I stayed at the Explora lodge, which is five miles from Hanga Roa, where 95% of the population lives and the only place on the island with electricity and running water. There are hotels, restaurants, mini markets and the usual souvenir shops. The local currency is the Chilean peso but you can easily use US dollars. 

Q:  How’s the local cuisine?
A: The food was excellent, great variety, with lots of fresh fish and vegetables. It was all very tasty and healthy. 

Q:  Any interesting experiences?
A:  One of the traditions on the Island is a triathlon with the difference being that it takes place during the Tapati festival in February. It’s only open to Rapanui men, and one of our guides participates each year so it was interesting to hear about it from his perspective. It’s a race that requires extreme stamina. The contestants paddle across the lake 650m in canoes made out of reeds. They then pick up enormous heads of bananas and run one and a half times the circumference of the lake. They then swim and surf across the lake atop a reed surfboard. The men are very scantily clad for this competition.

Q:  How many days do you recommend to visit and what time of the year is the best to go?
A:  I travelled there with LAN, a South American Airline from Santiago.  The flight was just under six hours and there’s daily service. I travelled in the off-season in April, there was some rain but I was able to see the Moai practically alone. It’s quite remote, the island is situated in the Pacific Ocean, half way from the coast of Chile and Tahiti, three full days are a must. The Tapati Festival happens in February and that’s peak time to visit.

Q:  Most people over pack for trips, what do you recommend for an Easter Island visit?
A:  You’re visiting a special place that so few others have ever set foot, so bring an open mind.  After that, all you need is casual clothes and comfortable walking shoes—something closed toe is good, not flip-flops or sandals. High season is January through March but the weather is fairly good for the remainder of the year, so I’d recommend sunscreen and a hat.  Pack a light rain jacket for an off-season trip.  It’s an island so there are beaches where you can swim, and for divers there are caves to explore.  Make sure you have plenty of memory card space and batteries for your camera.

Q:  Why should people visit Easter Island?
A:  Because it’s one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world with a unique history and archaeological wealth greatly disproportionate to its size. A visit to the island will unlock some of the mysteries associated with Rapa Nui, sort out the facts and fiction.  

Q:  Do you recommend hooking a visit to Easter Island onto any other destinations?
A:  For sure—Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil.  Chile and Easter Island for example.  Chile is home to some of the most beautiful and exotic scenery in the world, from the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth, to the magnificent Torres del Paine National Park in the Extreme South, not far from Antarctica, to the beautiful city of Santiago and the nearby vineyards—the itinerary choices we can design here are as diverse as they are endless.  Brendan’s team, Boutique Journeys, creates amazing South American itineraries and extensions to Easter Island.

Empire of the Incas, Peru.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Empire of the Incas, Peru. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

Q:  Easter Island is considered something of a “bucket list” destination.  How popular is it for Brendan customers?
A:  It used to be difficult to get there but flights have increased and it’s becoming more popular for us each year. When you consider that only a total 4,000 travelers visited the island in 1989 from all over the world and in 2012 that number increased to 85,000.  That’s still a small number in global tourism terms, but when you think of the size of the island and the number of inhabitants a different picture emerges.  If tourism continues to grow, they’re going to have to protect the island in some way because it’s a heritage site. They will probably have to restrict visits, like they do on the Galapagos and on the Inca trail. It’s not a place that you can get to easily so the folks who book with us tend to have a traveler, not a tourist, mindset. They’re not looking for the creature comforts—they’re looking for an experience.  The Brendan team does an excellent job in managing expectations and matching the needs of the customer with the experience

Q:  So it sounds like the ideal thing would be to figure which South American country you’d like to explore and build Easter Island into the itinerary.  If anyone is interested in booking a trip with Brendan to discover Easter Island, what should they do?
A:  That’s easy, they just talk to their travel agent!