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K.A. BEATTIE HORTICULTURAL CONSULTANTS

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous" Aristotle

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Doc Smarty Plants' Blog

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Machu Picchu - Close Your Eyes and Step Back

Posted on March 23, 2016 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (397)

Majestic, mysterious and totally awe inspiring, this ancient site still beguiles our current sense of reality. Floating high in the Peruvian Andes, this centre of energy has been reported to revive tired souls and foster dreams for those who make the journey.

Designated by UNESCO as one of the new seven natural wonders of the world, an excursion to Machu Picchu, Peru will require some preparation and is not recommended for persons with mobility issues. First off, the most common subject to discuss is altitude sickness, and yes it is real, the locals prescribe cocoa leaves as a tea or placed in the back of the jaw like chewing tobacco. Alternatively you physician will be able to prescribe an appropriate medication and of course recommend if it is even necessary, I would not take both medications together of course. Some 3,000 stone steps of varying height, link more than 150 buildings such as temples, plazas, residences and terraces over an impressive five acre site. Expect to spend a great deal of time walking and gawking, you will certainly not be the only ones there, like so many photographs depict. Hundreds of thousand so visitors make the journey annually to the detriment of the nearby town of Cusco as well as the site itself.

Machu Picchu was built at the height of the Inca Empire during the 15th and 16th century, but was inhabited, scholars suggest, for about 100 years only. Diseases brought to the New World by conquistadors is often blamed as the culprit for the demise of the inhabitants.

Getting to Machu Picchu can be accomplished in a number of ways, some much easier than others. My personal preference is to choose the cruise line’s pre or post cruise add on. Planning the excursion on your own or with a private tour company of course works however confirmations, schedule adjustments and the accommodations are all very much “flexible”. Selecting a pre-tour is the most popular choice made by cruisers with Oceania, which once again proved true on our last voyage this January. Consider the fact that your excursion will take you high into the Andes, overnight stays, local food, water and of course visiting the site before repeating the process to get to the cruise port. It should be noted that the ship sails when the ship sails, so if your self-planned tour has a problem, or the train is not on time, heavens forbid there is nasty weather, you’re stuck. Travelling with a ship’s excursion all of these issues are taken into consideration and mitigated by the cruise line. Additionally, you will be on a mountain trek; there’s nothing nicer than coming “home” to the ship, indulging in a hot shower, clean clothes and goodness knows service to rival the very best hotels. To my way of thinking, an excellent way to start a cruise.

Machu Picchu appears on South American itineraries as well those coming from the South Pacific via Easter Island. Our last itinerary with Oceania, aboard Regatta, the delightful “R” class medium sized, luxury ship, offered pre-cruise excursions as we sailed from Miami to Lima. The reverse of this schedule allows for a post cruise excursion.

Regatta once again shone with its so typical elegance but since a refurbishment in the summer of 2014 she has even more sparkle. Smiling faces are the norm for crew and even hugs from attendants and staff who we have come to be very fond of over the years. Very much a coming home feeling as we settled into our stateroom before setting out to explore, visit and take in the beautiful scenery. “the kids” as we affectionately call many of our favourite crew go to no end to ensure that your special menu is prepared or your five o’clock cocktail, just the way you like, it is promptly shaken or stirred. The first few days are usually spent with other passengers sharing stories, photos and experiences of being high in the Andes. Naturally, Regatta has quiet little nooks and near-private enclaves around the ship so we can sit and recount our tales. We particularly like the Library with its “English Club-like” atmosphere and a super collection of reading material. Passengers often leave personal books for others forming a somewhat trading system. Let’s face it, if you have read the books, why carry them all the way back home?

Canyon Ranch Spa is heaven! This last itinerary was over 40 days so hair required cutting, nails needed attention and so on. Do NOT miss an opportunity to be pampered in the spa, after all you are on vacation. Often times the spa will post specials, typically on port days, so if you aren’t going ashore or on an excursion, treat yourself, perhaps after your excursion to Machu Picchu.

 

 

Madagascar �?? An Ancient, Living Museum

Posted on March 23, 2016 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (348)

Madagascar could be described as a floating remnant of the ancient landmass called Gondwana. This incredibly primeval ancestry provides the modern world with a glimpse of how our home may have looked long before humans ever walked the earth. Located off the eastern edge of Mozambique, there is little evidence on Madagascar that actually connects it with Africa. This island was a solid “chunk” of landmass that migrated in isolation of the massive continent of Pangea. Gondwana or Gondwanaland was the southernmost portion once Pangea drifted northward, splitting to form two super continents, the other being Laurasia, North America’s origins. The Floral and faunal inhabitants of Madagascar have long intrigued me and for little wonder. This precious piece of history boasts over 12,000 plant species of which 80% are endemic or only found on this island, making it one of the most diverse floras on earth. Comparatively and by way of scale, Tropical Africa has nearly 35,000 species of plants but the region is 35 times larger. Perhaps the most unusual and “must see” regions of Madagascar is the globally distinctive ecosystem, the “spiny forest, thicket or desert”. One of the most bizarre collections of plants that you may ever see, this refuge is a force to contend with. Prickly bits, scratchy twigs, some plants with leaves other totally void and all arranged in what could well be a diorama produced by Fred Flintstone himself. Keeping in the “prehistoric” theme the iconic Baobab trees are truly a sight to behold. One of the most amazing trees on earth, these bloated, bottle-like specimens, six of the eight species are endemic to Madagascar. Adapted over time to endure dry conditions, their swollen trunks, massive root systems and ability to drop their leaves has allowed them to remain in situ for literally centuries. These trees are utilized by locals present and ancient for healing, as repositories for safe keeping, food caches and numerous other functions. The classic forest of Baobabs is often photographed but none do justice to the majesty of these trees.

Curiosities abound in Madagascar, not the least are the amazing Lemurs. Primates by classification and “cuddlies” by definition, these animals as incredibly cute. Lemurs and their families can be seen in selected reserves and if you are fortunate enough to take an excursion from the ship, you are pretty much guaranteed sightings. I love the way some Lemus stand up on the hind legs and scramble through the forest then bounce and hop to the next tree. Giant tortoises also can be found on the islands just off the west coast of Madagascar. Booking a tour or excursion to see them is well worth it also. Some of these specimens are a century old. The many amphibians, reptiles and flocks of incredibly unusual birds are common place. Crocodiles, well yes, but not on my list of specimens to see.

Our mode of Travel to Madagascar is aboard the MS Nautica, a sister ship to our beloved Nautica of the Oceania family. The mid-sized vessels in these particular cases, carry only 684 passengers, and have an agility that the behemoth monster ships do not. Nimble and swift these “L’il Girls” can dock at some of the world’s smaller ports without the need of tenders. I personally enjoy a tender ride but for some it may be more of a challenge for some. Travelling through hot, humid, tropical climates such as Madagascar and the other exotic ports of call in the equatorial regions, can take a toll on some folks, particularly those from more temperate environments. What I relish is that I can tramp through a steamy jungle, wade up to my claves in muddy water, endure sauna-like temperatures and return “home” to the ship (looking a lot like everyone else) and relax. The intrepid explorer is now in five star luxury, several showers and tub soakings later nestled into the comfort of the Grand Dining room, awaiting the reliably excellent service. Our itinerary took us from Dubai in the UAE south and east to several ports in India. These exotic ports offer a wealth of textures, tastes, sounds and actually a veritable buffet for all the senses. Sailing onwards Nautica negotiated the Seychelles and magnificent Maldives, Zanzibar and Mombasa before arriving in Madagascar. In short, the voyage of a lifetime.

In the event that Madagascar is not on your bucket list of places to visit, amend the list. Magical, magnificent Madagascar.

 

Wine, Wonders and Whimsy

Posted on March 23, 2016 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (326)

Chile is an amazing place offering a banquet for the senses and provender a plenty for stimulating conversation. A lengthy ribbon of mountains, abrupt shorelines, magnificent plants and cultures with roots deep in a mysterious past describe Chile. As a North American I must admit that my understanding of Chile and its history was not strong and upon visiting the country this fact was underscored. Naturally I knew of Llamas from my zoo visits, great regional wines and what little I could glean from cultural displays and festivals in my home city. To my total delight Chile, from the Pacific coast vantage was unbelievably beautiful day after day getting even more outstanding. To put our voyage into perspective, from Lima, Peru to Ushuaia on the Argentine border in Tierra del Fuego took over a week; somehow our north American maps are a little shall we say, biased? Perhaps my most wondrous and indeed thought provoking find was in a tiny museum in Iquique, Chile, several well preserved human mummies. Mummified human remains, nine to ten thousand years old, are still be unearthed with incredible regularity from the Atacama Desert regions. These remains of this civilization pre-date the Inca Empire by some six thousand years. The most famous of these finds are the Chinchorro Mummies first unearthed by workers near Arica, Chile on the harsh desert coastline. The overall look of Northern Chile and Peru for that matter, was stark and desert-like. Abrupt landscapes jutting out of the Pacific with very little evidence of plants, in particular grapes. Chile is known for its wine industry and I was totally primed to sample; apparently my sad little face told it all when we looked at this rather bleak scenery of the northern portions. When in doubt, check with the excursion desk or in my case, the senior sommelier onboard. The bustling coastal city of Valparaiso offered great hope as we ventured ashore with directions and a shopping list from the sommelier. The landscape had changed dramatically offering now a “Vancouver-like” feel. Our map and directions took us to the very popular city region of Viña del Mar, even the name showed promise. As implied, there was Viña or better yet, vino and a whole lot of Mar. Robust reds abound with Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignons leading the pack according to my taste buds. Oceania is known for its extensive wine list and as we travelled the wine country, the list expanded to adopt several unusual vintages. I have a female vintner who plies her skills in the much publicized regions of Southern France, she told me once in a hushed whisper once that her best reds come from her vineyards in Chile! Chilean wines are very affordable and if you tipple a bit, they are not to be missed.

Sailing further south the weather suited our latitude in mid-February, cool with steady winds laden with salt mist. Al fresco dining, always an option aboard, clearly not a popular choice, even with the hardy Canadian stock who braved the hot tubs, scuttling to and fro in abundant terry cloth, however, there was no snow! The fiord lands started for us in the tiny city of Puerto Montt, continued to Punta Arenas and then on to the spectacularly region of Patagonia. Just saying the name “Patagonia” brought excitement to my voice, who would have thought that this corner of the globe was so outstanding? Ushuaia is a city reminiscent of Jasper, Alberta, straddling the Argentine border it boasts to be the most southern city. Charles Darwin sailed these very waters on the famous Beagle of which the channel bears the name. He and his crew actually sailed and charted along most our itinerary, journaling the diversity of flora and fauna of this great southern continent. This was just another thrill for me to sense that I was on a journey that one of my champions travelled almost two centuries ago. The great Southern Beech forests must have impressed him as well the bizarre Araucaria or Monkey Puzzle trees. Many of the plants in the furthest points south exhibit unusual floral structures and have unique adaptations to ensure pollination and survival under adverse climatic conditions. Fuchsia abound as do Barberry and a vast array of mosses and ferns, many which bear the names of explores such as Magellan and Darwin. Fascinating, breathtaking and awe inspiring are descriptors that I use frequently when asked to describe the area and my experience.

Once again Oceania offered top notch service and one of the most enticing itineraries that I have ever taken. Chocked full to overflowing with excellent excursion choices, interesting ports that many ships can’t navigate and the hallmark “family” crew who spoil us time and time again. Gracias mi amigos!

 

Chilean Fiords

Posted on March 23, 2016 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (674)

Chile is an amazing place offering a banquet for the senses and provender a plenty for stimulating conversation. A lengthy ribbon of mountains, abrupt shorelines, magnificent plants and cultures with roots deep in a mysterious past describe Chile. As a North American I must admit that my understanding of Chile and its history was not strong and upon visiting the country this fact was underscored. Naturally I knew of Llamas from my zoo visits, great regional wines and what little I could glean from cultural displays and festivals in my home city. To my total delight Chile, from the Pacific coast vantage was unbelievably beautiful day after day getting even more outstanding. To put our voyage into perspective, from Lima, Peru to Ushuaia on the Argentine border in Tierra del Fuego took over a week; somehow our north American maps are a little shall we say, biased? Perhaps my most wondrous and indeed thought provoking find was in a tiny museum in Iquique, Chile, several well preserved human mummies. Mummified human remains, nine to ten thousand years old, are still be unearthed with incredible regularity from the Atacama Desert regions. These remains of this civilization pre-date the Inca Empire by some six thousand years. The most famous of these finds are the Chinchorro Mummies first unearthed by workers near Arica, Chile on the harsh desert coastline. The overall look of Northern Chile and Peru for that matter, was stark and desert-like. Abrupt landscapes jutting out of the Pacific with very little evidence of plants, in particular grapes. Chile is known for its wine industry and I was totally primed to sample; apparently my sad little face told it all when we looked at this rather bleak scenery of the northern portions. When in doubt, check with the excursion desk or in my case, the senior sommelier onboard. The bustling coastal city of Valparaiso offered great hope as we ventured ashore with directions and a shopping list from the sommelier. The landscape had changed dramatically offering now a “Vancouver-like” feel. Our map and directions took us to the very popular city region of Viña del Mar, even the name showed promise. As implied, there was Viña or better yet, vino and a whole lot of Mar. Robust reds abound with Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignons leading the pack according to my taste buds. Oceania is known for its extensive wine list and as we travelled the wine country, the list expanded to adopt several unusual vintages. I have a female vintner who plies her skills in the much publicized regions of Southern France, she told me once in a hushed whisper once that her best reds come from her vineyards in Chile! Chilean wines are very affordable and if you tipple a bit, they are not to be missed.

Sailing further south the weather suited our latitude in mid-February, cool with steady winds laden with salt mist. Al fresco dining, always an option aboard, clearly not a popular choice, even with the hardy Canadian stock who braved the hot tubs, scuttling to and fro in abundant terry cloth, however, there was no snow! The fiord lands started for us in the tiny city of Puerto Montt, continued to Punta Arenas and then on to the spectacularly region of Patagonia. Just saying the name “Patagonia” brought excitement to my voice, who would have thought that this corner of the globe was so outstanding? Ushuaia is a city reminiscent of Jasper, Alberta, straddling the Argentine border it boasts to be the most southern city. Charles Darwin sailed these very waters on the famous Beagle of which the channel bears the name. He and his crew actually sailed and charted along most our itinerary, journaling the diversity of flora and fauna of this great southern continent. This was just another thrill for me to sense that I was on a journey that one of my champions travelled almost two centuries ago. The great Southern Beech forests must have impressed him as well the bizarre Araucaria or Monkey Puzzle trees. Many of the plants in the furthest points south exhibit unusual floral structures and have unique adaptations to ensure pollination and survival under adverse climatic conditions. Fuchsia abound as do Barberry and a vast array of mosses and ferns, many which bear the names of explores such as Magellan and Darwin. Fascinating, breathtaking and awe inspiring are descriptors that I use frequently when asked to describe the area and my experience.

Once again Oceania offered top notch service and one of the most enticing itineraries that I have ever taken. Chocked full to overflowing with excellent excursion choices, interesting ports that many ships can’t navigate and the hallmark “family” crew who spoil us time and time again. Gracias mi amigos!

 


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