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New Zealand trip so good, the kids liked it

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Pelletreau New Zealand 

 Contra Costa Times

Article Launched: 02/29/2008 03:18:20 AM PST

Are your teens dreading the “F” word, as in family vacation?  Lafayette’s Ernie Furtado and Barbara Pelletreau recently returned from New Zealand with rave reviews.  “Both kid’s thanked me independently for taking them on this trip,” enthused Pelletreau.  “I would return in a heartbeat!” The family hiked glaciers, drove all terrain vehicles, mountain biked, swam in waterfalls, and helicopter toured their way through Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd in the Mackenzie Country of South Island, New Zealand over Christmas break.

“I loved the bungee jumping because it was such an adrenaline rush,” says David.  An avid snowboarder, David liked free falling and flying upside down.

If your High School or college student is looking for a way to give back to the community while traveling, Lafayette’s Ibis Schlesinger has launched the non-profit Ties to the World.  The organization’s goal is to enable orphanages to be self-sustaining through the creation of social entrepreneurial businesses.  

Based in Lafayette, Schlesinger travels to her native Guatemala with groups of students. Each participant takes their unique talent like singing, painting, teaching English and shares it with the children.  Those interested in the business aspect spend time researching and meeting business people and local students who share the same zeal for entrepreneurship. There is the opportunity to meet Guatemalan people from all walks of life.

Hogar San Francisco Xavier is on Kilometer 21.5 on the way to Antigua.  The Hogar shelters 100 boys, ages 4-13.  Boys and girls from the neighboring community attend the 1-6k school.  Check Ties to the World website for information on Summer volunteer opportunities.  Applications are due February 28. Macchu Pichu

Last month I reported on Peru from an eco-tourism perspective.  This month we visit Peru with a trekker’s point-of-view.  Kelly Berry and Ed Bottoroff are a sporty couple.  You know the type; they run the Reservoir rim trail to jumpstart their morning!   In Peru they boarded the “backpacker” train for a two hour ride to Kilometer #104.   They met their guide at the Inca Trail check point after crossing the Urubamba River and began the 6.8 mile climb to Machu Picchu on an overcast day. 

The drizzle turned into a torrential downpour which flooded the trail.  They climbed rows and rows of terraces where natives grew their crops.  Finally, they reached the top of the trail known as “Sun Gate,” which could have been called “White out Gate” that afternoon.  On their decent they were rewarded with a spectacular view of Machu Picchu.  Tired and hungry, they boarded the bus for Aguas Calientes and the Inkaterra Hotel.  The Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, at $800 per night, was full.

The night’s rainfall had caused a huge landslide, closing the railway and all trains to the mountain.  Rather than the daily 2,000 visitors, the hilltop welcomed 400 people.  This was the day the Lafayette couple would conquer Wayna Picchu mountain peak as climbers 31 and 32 and take in commanding views of Machu Picchu.  And now we leave Peru’s terraced grounds to visit Sonoma’s terraced vineyards. 

 Landmark Vineyards Wagon Ride

Have you dreamed of owning a vineyard?  Imagine becoming a gentleman farmer without securing a mortgage.  Visit Kenwood’s Landmark Vineyards; take a horse drawn wagon tour and stay overnight in the cottage.   As a member of Friends of the Vineyard you’ll adopt a row of vines and in 2010 receive custom-labeled wine bearing your name.

Now take that wine and pair it with some chocolate during Concord’s Chocolate Festival, March 9 from 1-5 p.m. at the Crown Plaza Hotel.  The festival features a teen culinary competition, cooking demonstrations and of course, plenty of chocolate.        

Vacation wonderland awaits in Machu Picchu

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Contra Costa Times
Article Launched: 02/01/2008 03:11:26 AM PST

            Forget Costa Rica, South America’s Galapagos Islands and Peru’s Machu Picchu seems to be this year’s hot spots for Lamorinda travelers.  Craig and Margaret Isaacs, along with Campolindo’s Maureen & Eva, spent eight days at the Eco Hotel Finch Baywith an all inclusive package.  Margaret described their trip as, “luxury day camp for adults.  Each day was led by a naturalist, with excursions, snorkeling and lunch.  After an adventurous day, you returned to the hotel for five star dining.” 

Margaret noted that although Ecuador does accept US currency, they are reluctant to take worn or torn money because their banks won’t give them full value for “damaged” dollars.  Bring crisp $1, $5 and $10 for easy transactions.  

“For being so close to Peru, Machu Picchu was a wonder of the world that we didn’t want to miss,” added Margaret.  “We flew into Cusco to tour the area before taking the train to Aquas Calientes at Machu Picchu’s base.”  The Lafayette family cautioned to allow enough time to adjust to the extreme altitude before exploring.  Their final stop was Lake Titicaca where the highlight was visiting the floating islands of Uros.


Orinda’s Michael Chinn and Mari Kay Breazeale began their trek in the Amazon rain forest and ended in the Galapagos.  They wanted to visit the rain forest prior to the end of November when the rainy season begins.  Canadian-based Tours of Exploration put together their 15 day adventure.

“We went to an ecology research lodge, Posada de Amazonas, for five days,” remembers Breazeale.  The lodge is run jointly by the local indigenous community and a Peruvian rain forest expedition company. The intent of the lodge is to keep tourism going, educate the visitor and respect the local culture.  Part of the reason for the poverty in the area is that tourism is one of the only revenues.  In order for the community to succeed, it is vital to keep the people in the rural areas employed with joint ventures like the eco-lodge on the Tambopata River.

Next, the couple flew to Cusco and visited Machu Picchu before landing in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  There they boarded the M.S. Anahi, a 90-foot catamaran, housing eight rooms and 13 travelers. For the next five days they explored the Galapagos Islands with two zodiac equipped guides taking them to see the animals each day.

“The Galapagos wildlife is totally unafraid of humans,” marveled Breazeale.  “The snorkeling was wonderful with turtles, sharks, stingrays and lots of wonderful birds to watch.”

Unfortunately, the Galapagos is on the “World Heritage in Danger” list.  With fewer than 4% of UNESCO’s sites on this list, it could lose World Heritage designation and the accompanying tourists.  To preserve the fragile ecosystem, each tourist must be accompanied by a guide and pay $100 to enter the park. 

Campolindo Biology Teacher Amanda Renno will be leading a group of students to the Galapagos June 23 for nine days.  There are several spaces available.

Closer to home, my husband and I celebrated my birthday at Napa’s Blackbird Inn.  This was our fourth B&B adventure with the Four Sisters family of inns.  We dined at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville.  If you are looking for an affordable alternative to dinner at Keller’s French Laundry this is the place.  Call 707.944.2259 to hear the $48 nightly fix price menu. 

In other wine country news, the Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza is joining with Cyrus Restaurant to offer an epicurean indulgence package until April 30.  The $340 per couple package, offered Sunday through Thursday nights, includes a king room and five-course dinner for two.  Visit the Four Sisters Inns for more information.