Monday, September 2, 2013

Skiing - South American Style

Me on the right, with longtime ski friend Ed Farmer
   When it's the middle of August in the U.S., it's the heart of winter in South America. Since much of the continent is near the equator, we don't associate winter sports with South America. But Argentina and Chile not only extend toward Antarctica, they also have rather high peaks in the Andes.

   Portillo, Chile is the oldest and most glamorous of all the South American resorts. Most skiers spend a week in this all inclusive Chilean resort complete with ski school, spa, disco, bar, and three course meals.

   Portillo is know for it's very steep expert terrain. It's so steep that some of the runs are prone to avalanches. Because conventional lifts wouldn't last, the special 'Va et Vient' lift was invented just for the steep Portillo terrain, and is only used there. There are 10 sets of instructions to ride the lift, known also as 'The Slingshot'.
   Beware,  rule #7 is the most important: Make sure the lift has stopped before you get off


   The high point of the Portillo experience is the hospitality and customer service. There is a limit of 450 guests and a equal number of staff members. The dining room serves three course meals for lunch and dinner plus a terrific breakfast and a tea time snack to tide you over (Chileans eat dinner late). This is not your average ski fare. One night we had a Seafood Bruschetta, Leg of Lamb and cheesecake for desert. Be prepared to be spoiled.

   If you are an expert skier, the steep chutes are some of the best in the world. If you are an intermediate skier you might get bored with a week at Portillo, the blue runs are rather limited. One of my favorite is Juncarilillo, which is over a mile long and actually goes over the winding mountain highway and one of its tunnels. The ride back on the lift is one of the most unusual in the world, climbing above the switchbacks filled with heavy trucks headed to the Argentina border.



   There are a variety of activities to keep you occupied during your non skiing hours. The Portillo Hotel has everything from a cinema, game room, a full court gymnasium, a great bar to an after hours disco.
   Another highlight of your stay will be the world famous Portillo pool and hot tubs that overlook the lake. It is an incredible spot to catch the sunset.

   I would also recommend a meal in Tio Bob's, a restuarant that sits high atop the resort. When the snow is deep, the adventurous will ski off a double black diamond run off the side.

The view high atop the resort from Tio Bob's Restaurant

The hotel staff adopts a 'cruise ship' attitude, making sure that guest have a variety of activities outside of skiing. Yoga classes, nightly movies, snow shoes tours and wine tasting where all offered during my stay. On the slopes, there was also an opportunity to HeliSki and to particiapte in the Portillo Slalom. 


   Overall, it was a tremendous week of skiing and meeting new people from around the world. I met numerous travelers who had been to Portillo for multiple summers. After my stay, I could see why.

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Take A Ride on a Windsurfer Board

   I just got a GoPro camera and I mounted it on my windsurfing board one afternoon. Ever wonder what it be like to hook in, pull the sail back and take off? Come along and enjoy the ride.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Surfing With A Stand Up Paddleboard

   My nephew Casey Chai is an All Around Waterman. He surfs, dives, spearfishes, you name it. Here he is mastering the Stand Up Paddleboard in the waves of Ala Moana Beach Park on the island of Oahu


Enjoy my blog? You may also enjoy my book, 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Santa Monica to Venice on Bike - Discovering the Forgotten Canals of Venice, California

   If you are visiting Los Angeles, it is well work the time to spend a day in Santa Monica and Venice. My wife Madelyn and I rented bikes on the famous Santa Monica Pier and made it to Venice in about 45 leisurely minutes. As often with any travel experience, the journey is often the best part.

   (Note: Parking in Santa Monica is probably going to be your first concern. Turn onto the pier to find the cheapest and most abundant parking)

   The Santa Monica Pier is a great place to wander. A small amusement park sits above the Pacific. The Ferris Wheel gives you a great view of Malibu to the north, Santa Monica to the west, and Venice Beach to the South. It's well worth the price.

Madelyn on the Ferris Wheel with the Pacific Ocean in the background

The Roller Coaster on Santa Monica Pier. Not much of a thrill ride, but it is fun to ride a coaster above the Pacific Ocean

   After hanging on the Pier for a while, we rented bikes and headed south toward Venice Beach. The bike trail is wide and straight. An easy ride for all ages.

   One of the first stops is the Original Muscle Beach.  Today, most of the workout buffs are in Venice Beach. This is a nice place to stop and have some fun on the rings and other various apparatus.

   Notice how large the beach is in Santa Monica. We were there in early September. With school back in session, there weren't very many people on the beach.

A little cafe about halfway to Venice where we stopped for a cold drink

   Arriving in Venice, the sidewalk gets a little more crowded. This is the famed Venice Boardwalk. Plenty of places to stop, walk and wander. One of the benefits of riding your bike here, is that you don't need to find a place to park

The Venice skateboard park, part of a large park on Venice Beach.

   It's a little hard to find, but well worth the time to search and discover the remaining canals of Venice Beach. The canals and the town Venice were built by tobacco millionaire Alfred Kinney in 1904, who wanted to recreate the atmosphere of Venice, Italy. The town along with it's amusement pier,  became a huge tourist draw.
   With the advent of the automobile, many of the canals were filled in in 1929. By the 1940's, the sidewalks had to be condemned by the city. In the 1950's, Venice became knows as the "slum by the sea".
   It wasn't until 1992 that the city of Los Angeles decided to renovate the remaining canals, draining them, rebuilding the walls, bridges and sidewalks. Today, the Venice Canal Historic District has seen it's property value's skyrocket. 
   Sadly, only about 1/4 of the original canals exist today.

One of the bridges over the canal

Google Maps: Venice Canal District

This home owner never imagined that one day, their home would be featured on the 'Travel With Hawkeye" blog

As you can tell, the homes in this former run down neighborhood have now become very desirable properties

One of a number of gondolas we saw in the canal. At one time, when Venice was mainly canals, gondolas were quite common.

A renovation project on one of the streets that cross the canals

The canal at low tide

In downtown Venice on Windward Boulevard, just off the Boardwalk, you can find remnants of Alfred Kinney's original buildings

On the far end of Windward Boulevard, some of Kinney's original structures

An old post card of an original photo from Venice, California's heyday

On the way back to Santa Monica Pier

Enjoyed my blog? 
You might also enjoy my novel, The Travis Club


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

San Antonio's Most Enigmatic Attraction: Davy Crockett's Tomb

Author's Note: Readers of The Travis Club have asked my about numerous San Antonio historical references in the book, usually presented as short excerpt's from the main characters quirky writings. Readers have written me asking what is really true?
   For the most part, all the historical excerpts are true, with some minor changes to help advance the book's plot.
   I thought I would take the opportunity to point out a few of The Travis Club's most popular historical pieces and the story behind them
The oldest active cathedral in the US, San Antonio's San Fernando Cathedral

In my book, The Travis Club, I tell the story of a young writer who discovers that the contents of Davy Crockett's tomb in San Antonio's oldest cathedral are not what they seem. He quickly realizes, there will be consequences for his discovery.

  One of the most often frequent questions I'm asked, "Is Davy Crockett's tomb really in the back of San Fernando Cathedral?"

  Yes. And no.

The Tomb at the back of San Fernando Cathedral

   Yes, there is a tomb in the back of San Fernando Cathedral. And the tomb does state that it is the final resting place of Davy Crockett, William B. Travis, Jim Bowie and the other defenders of the Alamo. But there is more to the story than meets the eye.

The outside of the tomb has photos of Travis, Crockett and Bowie.

This stone lays adjacent to the tomb.

   First we must point out that San Fernando Cathedral opened in 1728, 48 years before the birth of the United States and over 100 years before the Battle of the Alamo. But you may have noticed on the stone above, that the bodies were laid to rest in 1938, 100 years after the battle. That is our first clue that something is amiss.

  The controversy about the tomb starts in 1888, when Colonel Juan Segiun wrote a letter stating that he took the remains of the Alamo defenders and buried them beneath the altar at the cathedral. Most people dismissed the letter until nearly 50 years later, when on July 28 1936, workmen digging a foundation for a new altar, discovered charred human remains.

   Excitement in San Antonio grew as church officials realized the importance of their discovery. The remains were exhumed with a variety of witnesses on hand, including writer Frederick C. Chabot, Mayor C. K. Quinn, Postmaster D. J. Quill, Adina DeZavala, daughter of Lorenzo DeZavala and Mrs. Leita Small, caretaker of the Alamo.

   The remains were placed on public display for a year, then entombed on May 11, 1938. To quell rumors surrounding the findings, the diocese published a now rare book entitled The Truth About The Burial of the Remains of the Alamo Heroes.

   Most historians doubt that the remains of Crockett, Travis, Bowie are buried in the tomb. First of all, Santa Anna ordered the cremation of all bodies left at the Alamo. Most likely Mexican and Texan soldiers were burned and buried together.

   Secondly, Seguin did not return to the Alamo until after the Battle of San Jacinto, almost a month later. There is an argument that the remains are those of Alamo defenders, but it would be a bit presumptuous to assume they are the actual remains of Davy Crockett.

    In my fictional work, The Travis Club, a young writer discovers for the first time, the real story behind the tomb and the consequences behind his discovery.

Enjoy the story of Davy Crockett's Tomb? You might also enjoy my new novel, The Travis Club


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

San Antonio's Most Unusual Attraction: The Ghost Crossing

For years, San Antonio teenagers have headed to the south side to experience the "Ghost Crossing." Local legend states that a school bus stalled on the tracks and was hit by a train at this crossing. Today if you leave your car in neutral, the ghost of those school children will push you across the tracks to safely.

Where: The crossing is on Shane Road where it intersects with the Southern Pacific Rail Line. Take Presa south off SE Military Drive. Turn right on Southton Road, travel under Loop 410 and right again on Shane Road. Continue to the train tracks.

What to do next: Turn off your engine. Put your car in neutral. Your car will mysteriously start to roll from a dead stop over the tracks.

Scary Scooby Doo Stuff:  After your car is pushed over the tracks, take some baby powder and dust the back of your car. You will find finger prints of the ghosts that pushed your car across the tracks.

Reality Check: Chances are pretty high that those fingerprints are yours, from the last time you got into your car's truck, unless of course, you wipe your trunk of fingerprints every time you access your hatchback.

More Scary Stuff: The subdivision nearby has streets named after the children who died at the tracks.

Reality Check: The streets are named after children. However, Bobbie Allen, Cindy Sue, Laura Lee, Nancy Carroll and Richey Otis are actually the names of the developer's grandchildren.

Even More Scary Stuff: If you listen closely, you can hear the cries of the ghost children in the distance.

Reality Check: There is a nearby farm, which has peacocks. The haunting noise you hear is actually the cries of the peacocks.

History of the Ghost Crossing: There is no record of a bus accident at the rail crossing. The story of the Ghost Crossing goes back many years. At one time, there was a version that a horse drawn cart was caught on the tracks.
There was a school bus that was caught on tracks in Salt Lake City in 1938. Twenty six children lost their lives in the accident, and the story was front page news across the nation.  Today it is law that school buses must stop at rail crossings and look for trains before crossing the tracks.

Reality Check: The Ghost Crossing - A Scientific Explanation: The Ghost Crossing is an optical illusion. The road is actually at a slight decline which causes your car to roll over the track. However, the horizon gives the impression that the car is actually being pushed uphill.

Similar Legends: Gravity Road in New Jersey is quite similar to the Ghost Crossing. Notice how close that legend parallels the San Antonio tale

The Ghost Crossing has received interest from a number of Television shows. Here is an excellent clip from one national broadcast which debunks the local legend.


Enjoy My Blog? You might also enjoy my book, The Travis Club


Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Working Bunnies of Eureka Springs

   Eureka Springs, Arkansas might be the most unusual city in America. Built on the side of a mountain, its Victorian downtown is both charming and quirky. One odd attraction is the Working Bunnies of the East by West Store. So popular, they even have their own Facebook Page. Check out their work.


If you like my blog, you may also enjoy my new book The Travis Club


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Crested Butte's Last Day of Skiing - Pond Skimming Crazies

    Crested Butte Resort always celebrates the last weekend of the ski season by going a little crazy. One of my favorite 'Last Weekend" events is Pond Skimming. Though I've never had the courage to try it, it is certainly fun to watch. Enjoy