Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Wild Animal Sanctuary in Salinas (Monterey Zoo)

Vision Quest Ranch - a.k.a. Monterey Zoo

Our friends, Mike and Venessa, wanted an African experience without having to fly all the way to Africa, so we proposed an overnight stay at Vision Quest Ranch in Salinas, now known more as the Monterey Zoo.

We met at their house in Morro Bay since Mike had volunteered to drive. Once on the road, it was a straight drive north on 101 for about two hours. Along the way, we stopped at Hahn Winery, one of the Santa Lucia Range wineries. Their tasting room has panoramic mountain views of the Gabilan Range on the east side of 101. We enjoyed their wines, particularly the Cabernet Savignon, of which we purchased a couple of bottles.

We got to the ranch by 3pm and were able to check right in. We had tent/cabins that overlooked the sandy area where the elephants, water buffalos and a solitary zebra hung out during the day. We found out later, that the zebra befriended the alpha elephant "Butch". They hung out together during the day. 

Our cabins were rustic looking on the outside, but lacked little once inside. King sized beds, hot showers, refrigerators, robes and coffee makers made the Salinas "jungle" very manageable. Breakfasts were brought to our cabins at 9a.m.

View of Mike and Venessa's cabin from our cabin.

Mike and Venessa's cabin had a superb view of the spot where the elephants like to hang. Perhaps it had something to do with food? 

The zebra and his buddy, Butch, enjoying mid-afternoon snacks.

The cabins were quite comfortable. In the evening, the four of us got together for dinner.

Diane and George with Butch looming large behind us. The elephant handlers have you feed them carrots and slices of apples. Butch waits until you put enough carrots and apple slices in his trunk - he's thinking efficiency.

Mike and Venessa posing with Butch.

Butch was all to happy to show off his mouth full of teeth in trade for a few nuts. 

This mountain lion really wanted to make "friends" with a little girl on our tour. I'm sure the girl would have been dinner or perhaps a mid-afternoon snack had she been on her way to grandma's house when she encountered this mountain lion.

I recall that our guide told us these two tigers were good friends. They were fun to watch. 

There was a very thick piece of glass separating this female lion from us. Although the lion looks very serene and tame, as soon as a little girl in our tour approached, it became visibly ready to pounce on her. As she got closer, the lion went ballistic, clawing ferociously at the glass, hoping to get tender morsels for lunch. In the background, her brother is visible on his perch.

After our tour of the wild animals, it was time to go home. 

We were home by early evening, in time to to experience yet another lovely sunset in Shell Beach.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Camping at Pfeiffer Big Sur

Camping with Mike & Venessa at Pfeiffer Big Sur.

In mid-October, we met our friends, Mike and Venessa in Moro Bay and caravanned up to Big Sur. The weather was ideal for camping. There wasn’t even any fog. 

Mike and Venessa had their newly purchased camper/trailer - we had our old tent. 

We each were in charge of cooking one dinner and one breakfast. Lunch was on our own. Above, Mike struts his keen abilities to fry up some potatoes.

Mike and I took a hike up to Buzzard’s Roost, about a four mile round trip that provided beautiful views and a good cardio workout. It was peculiar too - a number of people asked us about the distance of the hike.  

The wine made its appearance as soon as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. In the evenings, we had a warm campfire. We actually were surprised that we could even have one!

Our camp site was adjacent to this serene creek.

After breaking camp and saying our good-byes, we did encounter some headwinds - our car wouldn’t start! But with the help of the folks at the lodge, who googled how to jumpstart a hybrid car, and a helpful fellow that just happened to have jumper cables and a battery pack, we were soon on our way home.

We made one stop for coffee - Ragged Point. We walked around their ocean front gardens and enjoyed the ocean panoramas. It was a proper ending to another Big Sur camping adventure.

Monday, October 8, 2018

2018 - Chesapeake Bay Cruise

After last year's abbreviated cruise to Bermuda due to dismasting offshore, my friend Wes put quite a bit of time and effort locating replacement masts, stepping the masts, outfitting the boat with new standing and running rigging and rebuilding the bowsprit. Sails had to be replaced, as well as some electrical components that were on the old masts (that were left afloat in the Atlantic).

That's not to say that the boat was flawless - it is, after all, a fifty year old boat. After heading out of Havre de Grace, MD, we had a comfortable motor sail to Annapolis.

Approaching the Bay Bridge - Annapolis is just beyond it.

Snacks, lunch and a beer.

It was a clear day and as we approached Annapolis harbor, Wes noticed some smoke coming from the engine compartment. Initially, we were alarmed that it could be a fire, but upon further inspection, it turned out to be a broken muffler fitting.

Things didn't look too good from the cockpit.

Several boats approached us and asked if we were okay. We assured them we were and gave them a thumbs up. We probably left them wondering. We managed to hobble in to Annapolis running the engine on low RPM's.

Fortunately, we encountered the problem in Annapolis, where there were all kinds of repair facilities. The next day, we set about addressing the issue and determining a remedy. (I use the "we" lightly, since it was Wes who mostly had his body contorted into the engine compartment wrestling the broken muffler piece off the exhaust manifold.

It took trips to Home Depot, a plumbing shop and a welding shop to get things repaired.

In the end, we still had to jury rig the job because one of the pipes was too corroded to be removed properly. But the fix seem to hold at low RPM's.

Annapolis with sunset approaching.

Annapolis after sunset, looking towards the capitol building.

After several days in Annapolis, we headed back in the bay. There wasn't much wind so we decided to stay on the west side of the bay and head for Galesville.

The anchorage in Galesville.

A beer on the waterfront of Galesville. 

We spent a couple of days in Galesville before heading out again. Then the winds changed and rounded to the NW, perfect for a sail across the bay to Oxford. After a slow morning start, we had a superb sail all the way to near the entrance of Oxford. The next day called for rain.

Oxford has a quaint waterfront with beautiful homes.

This was the old Oxford Customs House - looks more like a "tiny" house.

The Oxford Museum is meticulously looked after.
What to do on a rainy day!

With weather predictions of southerly winds for the next two days, we decided to leave Oxford and head north. For one night we anchored near Worton Creek. The following day, we continued to take advantage of the southern winds and returned to Havre de Grace.

Dinner at Wes' home.
After a night in Port Deposit at Wes' home, we drove to Linda's home in northern Baltimore. With more activities planned around the Baltimore area, we enjoyed lap swimming at their swim club, a hike to Cunningham Falls in Catoctin Mountain Park, Catoctin Breeze Winery and a visit to the inner harbor district in Baltimore.

After a few days of those activities, it was time to fly home, leaving Wes with a few additional items to his list of "boat to-do's".

A hike in Catoctin Mountain Park to Cunningham Falls.

Wine tasting at Catoctin Breeze Winery.

On our walk in Baltimore, we met up with Wes' daughter, Janette.

The USS Constellation docked in the inner harbor.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Scotland - June 2018

A Journey Around Scotland

We flew from Amsterdam to Edinburgh in a little over an hour. All went smoothly until we tried to find our Airbnb - it was more like one of those geo-cache games in which you have to look for a landmark, then find a lockbox, open it to find a key, then find the right door to open. We wouldn’t have won a race, but in the end we did manage to find our place.

The weather was a bit on the cool side with a little drizzle - we figured “What else do you expect - this is Scotland!”

The Edinburgh Castle is the dominant feature of Edinburgh. Although few of the buildings one sees on Castle Hill are older than the 16th century, people have been living on the hill since the 2nd century.

I was quite intrigued by how they blended the castle’s structure to the hill’s rock, an old volcano.

Standing in front of main gate to the castle.

Just outside of the castle’s gates is a shop in which the basement floor is a place where they make tartans, the criss-crossed woven fabric they make the kilts out of and lots of other garments. The machines looked fairly intricate and not simple to run.

David Hume, best known for his “A Treatise of Human Nature” was born in the early 1700’s and was one of the most influential British philosophers. 

I suppose every bronze statue with toes showing will have one its toes shiny. It seems irresistible to tourists. Hume’s statue was not spared the tradition.

We had a pint at the Tolbooth Tavern, one of the oldest buildings in the area. At one time (a few hundred years ago) it really was a toll booth.

Edinburgh is full of these alley ways that they call “close”. They’re intriguing to go through - you never know what you’ll find. Near the flat we stayed at, a close led to the writer’s museum. In the concrete blocks were names of well known writers with a quote from them.

Above is the quintessential Scottish meal of haggis, neeps and tattles. Haggis is minced sheep heart, liver and lung mixed with oatmeal and spices. Neeps are mashed turnips. Tatties are of course potatoes.

Located in Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat, is the highest hill in Edinburgh. It is an extinct volcano and yields great views. We couldn’t have picked a more perfect day for our hike. 

Victoria Street was one of the most aesthetically pleasing streets in Edinburgh, with a little more color than one finds in most streets.

After three days of Edinburgh, we rented a VW Golf and began our road trip north, known as the Highlands. Unbeknownst to me, I picked a rental car that provided additional challenges to driving on the left hand side of the road - a six speed manual transmission.

Our first stop was the coastal village of St. Andrews, known for its historic golf course. Although we stopped by to see the “link”, we were more impressed with what remains of St. Andrews Cathedral, a remarkable site. If nothing else, its sheer size is daunting. It must have made quite an impression on those attending a service at the cathedral in medieval times. The nave was 20 meters high and 50 meters long!

Diane spotted this mini version of a VW van. She wanted to take home.

Although not too vibrant, the village of Lossiemouth had a nice waterfront boardwalk. Nearby, the town of Elgin is home to the Glen Moray distillery where we had a fun and informative tour/tasting. 

This is where it all starts - with barley and the peat, if the scotch is to be peaty. 

The mash is then put in these giant stainless steel containers to which water and yeast is added. After about sixty hours of fermentation, the resulting liquid called mash is pumped into the vats to the right. From there it goes to the stills (below) where the mash is distilled resulting in nearly pure alcohol. 

Water is then added to the alcohol before its placed into various types of barrels. Distilleries use barrels that were used to make other spirits such as port, sherry and bourbon. The alcohol sits in these barrels for many years. Each year, 3-4% of the alcohol evaporates (or as they say, the angels take their share). This is one reason older whiskeys cost more - it’s not just the cost of the aging process.

The “Dipping Dog” was used by workers to steal whisky out of barrels. They’d hand it in their pants to avoid getting caught. It was called a dipping dog because it was a man’s best friend.

We also toured the Strathisla distillery in Keith, one of the oldest and part of the Chivas Brothers dozen or so distilleries. We had a posh setting for the tasting. If you didn’t want to drink all of your tasting (because you were driving), the distilleries all sold “driver packs”, a set of plastic or glass bottles to keep the tastings in. The alcohol threshold for drivers was .01%, so a good whiff of a barrel would likely put you over it, much less a couple of tastings.

Upon the recommendation of friends (the Nielsens), we visited the Mash Tun pub in Aberlour. Great place - as long as you want to either have scotch, scotch or, yes, scotch. They did serve some wine and beer. They had an entire glass display devoted only to Glenfarclas scotch from 1952 on up. From their “menu” one could choose from over 300 whiskeys. 

Outside of the Mash Tun we encountered some of the regular village people - after they had enjoyed a bit of juice. Very friendly. 

The typical Scottish breakfast is far from my everyday oatmeal routine but easy to get used to. The round paddy on the left is black pudding, a combination of pork blood, fat, oatmeal and spices - pretty tasty.

On our last day in the Highlands, we took a drive along the shoreline stopping at Macduff, Banff, Portsoy, Cullen, Portnockie, Findochty, Portessie, Beckie and Portgordon. I list these mostly for their unique sounding names. And no, I did not recall them from memory. 

The rock above is known as “Fiddler’s Bow”. Quite striking. It was then time to leave our wonderful B&B - the Crooksmill. Elizabeth, the hostess, treated us royally. The B&B was adjacent to the River Isla. (Photo below) 

After our stay in Keith, we drove west through Inverness then south through Loch Ness, Fort Augustus and Loch Lochy ending up in Fort William, where we spent one night. 

In spite of no sign of the Loch Ness monster, we still enjoyed our tour of the Urquhart Castle. The castle was a fortress from the 16th century, the site of many bloody sieges and battles. It was around these areas that the “clans” were very powerful and would battle the kingdom.

The following day we drove eastward through Glencoe, Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. We found the drive around Glencoe to be the most beautiful part of the drive. Of volcanic origin, with lots of help from past glaciers and erosion, today the area consists of lush green valleys with streams, lakes and waterfalls.

The Highland cow is a unique looking cow, with a long hairy coat and horns. 

Going counter-clockwise, the red line denotes our driving route. The next time we visit Scotland we will have to visit the west coast.