Moments of beauty to last a lifetime

Sometimes I think of what Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, “Oh world, I cannot hold thee close enough!” because when we go to magnificent places and see nature at its best, I want so much to capture those moments, those feelings.

One of the most magnificent places I have been is the Galapagos Islands.  Six hundred miles west of the coast of Ecuador, these islands hold treasures of nature seen nowhere else.

The feelings of peace and serenity wash over me seeing this beautiful landscape.

The vegetation is unusual and very special.

I think the lava gulls were enjoying the scenery as well.

Imagine the feeling of calmness in this setting.

Every island, of course, needs someone in authority.


Our walks on the island are always guided by licensed naturalists, trained by the government of Ecuador.  They tell us interesting facts about the flora and fauna and make the tour very enjoyable.


And we are left with images like this.

Cusco and the Sacred Valley, Peru

Join us in November for this amazing tour!!!
One of the most beautiful places I’ve visited is Cusco, Peru.

It is located in the Andes, amid snow-capped mountains, and it has been well preserved and exudes its native charm. There are no tall buildings in Cusco. It is a real treat to visit by day and by night, it is almost magical.

When we ventured out of Cusco, we saw magnificent Inca ruins, usually remains of their temples which reflected their reverence for nature. They built temples in caves, at tops of mountains, at springs of water, and they built temples out of huge rocks. They took into account the movement of the earth and position of the sun at the equinoxes and solstices. And even today, there are celebrations based on these events. A couple of years ago, I was there at the winter solstice in June and there were great festivities.

Outside of Cusco is also the Sacred Valley, a rich and fertile valley along the Urubamba River. In it, the people raise corn and potatoes.

One of our stops there is Chinchero, a colorful village.

Aside from the setting, Chinchero offered us the opportunity to see how the lovely tapestries made locally are produced. We watched the process from the preparation of the wool to the dyeing process (using all natural dyes) to the weaving.

Chinchero, remote as it is from commercial centers, is no amateur in exploiting its advantages. There is a lively market that sells not only local products, but also a wide variety of goods that are brought from outside the area.

One other wonderful place to visit is Maras. There we found salt evaporation ponds terraced along a mountain. Each pond or several ponds is owned by a local family that takes the salt from it and sells it. The water comes from deep in the mountain and trickles out into these ponds.
This is what they look like from a distance.

As one walks beside the ponds, the beauty of the setting and sound of the trickling water combine to make it a very relaxing visit.

We look forward to every visit to this special part of the world!

Machu Picchu

When in Peru, one of the most beautiful and impressive places to visit is Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was an Incan city whose location had been unknown until 1911 when discovered by Hiram Bingham. Hiram Bingham was educated at Yale (BA) and at Harvard (PhD). He was appointed a lecturer in South American history at Yale. After Bingham discovered Machu Picchu, he and his team excavated and extracted somewhere between 4,000 and 40,000 (depending on who is counting 🙂 ) artifacts– including mummies, ceramics and bones. He later served as the Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and after that, as a US senator.

Machu Picchu is a very beautiful location, accessible by walking the Inca Trail (about 4 days’ journey) or by railway. Our travelers, for some reason, seem to favor the railway. We pass through the Sacred Valley on our way. The valley is so named because it was a rich and fertile source of food. The Incas, using clever agricultural methods, domesticated and cultivated over 1,500 varieties of corn and more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes in the Sacred Valley.

Method for acclimating plants to altitude

There is a lot to see in the Sacred Valley and I will write about it in the future, but first, let’s go to Machu Picchu. Here you see my colleague Rita and me relaxing on the train on the way to Machu Picchu.

The ride is very pleasant and lasts under 2 hours, and we arrive at Aguas Calientes. We are greeted by the requisite Peruvian market,

but we restrain ourselves because we are ripe for adventure. We ride a small bus to the top of the mountain (about a 15 minute ride)

and this is what we see:

Everywhere we look there are magnificent structures framed by lush mountains.

The sights we see are incomparable. The city was built by the Incas some time around the year 1400. These stones were transported without the benefit of use of the wheel, which the Incans did not have. They also did not have animals capable of hauling these huge boulders. It is thought that they must have used large numbers of men who pushed the boulders up inclined planes.

The truth is, to truly enjoy it, you must see it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!

Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru

Girl with her pet, in Cusco, Peru

Come join us on a magnificent tour.  It is not only beautiful and exciting, but people find it to be a spiritually significant tour as we see the unspoiled creation of the Galapagos Islands, not to mention the Amazon Rain Forest and amazing Machu Picchu.


Details of the itinerary and the cost are on this page….

1000 words about why I love to travel

Well, only in the metaphoric sense, that is.

I love to travel for many many reasons. I love seeing new people and places. I love learning about other cultures and countries. I enjoy learning their history and seeing their customs and their handicrafts. I love learning their legends and folktales. Perhaps, most of all, I enjoy the magnificent sights I see. And so, here in a picture is a thousand words about why I love to travel.

Beauty at the middle of the world

Beauty at the middle of the world

The Jews of Quito

One of the joys of visiting and revisiting places is that I get to see the same people time after time. I will be talking about the people I met in Quito, but to preserve their privacy, I won’t identify any of them.

The Quito Jewish Community has two major elements:

1. The large indigenous community that has a beautiful community center and a synagogue and lovely grounds. People in the community are of European origin, most of their families arriving before or during the Second World War. They number around 500 and have a community school of high academic quality that has a non-Jewish majority and afternoon religious school for other children in the Jewish community. The community is a Conservative community and so people who live throughout the Quito area can belong and attend services there. We were lucky enough to visit their complex and to see their synagogue.

After entering the complex, one sees two buildings with a patio area between them. To the left is the huge auditorium/banquet hall, said to the be second largest banquet hall in Quito. On the lower floor is a room that we used for lunch. It was also large and because the building was built on the side of a hill, it had large windows and an outdoor area as well. Further to the left outside is the swimming pool.

On the right is the synagogue building itself. Although the congregation president did speak with us about the community, we were not able to take a full tour of the facilities since we still had a lot to do and wanted to get back to the hotel well before shabbat so that people would have time to prepare.

The synagogue grounds

The synagogue grounds

The doors and entrance hall

The doors and entrance hall

The synagogue interior

The synagogue interior

Synagogue under attack by camera-wielding tourists

Synagogue under attack by camera-wielding tourists

The inside of the domed roof

The inside of the domed roof

2. The Israeli/Orthodox element
The first two times I visited Quito, I became acquainted with these people. They are almost all ex-patriots living in Quito for various reasons. Although it is possible to acquire many kosher products in Quito, the lack of the thriving Orthodox community means that they need to rely on each other to be neighbors, friends, and family. They do not have a synagogue and so they lean on each other when they need strength. Watching them interacting with each other is something special. They have become a family, accepting of each other, caring, and warm. They enjoy seeing and playing with each other’s children. When they came to spend shabbat with us, the visiting Israelis/ Australians/ Americans they were open and friendly and simply nice people. They joined in our tfilot (prayers), zmirot (songs), and divrei torah (homilies.) By now, returning to Quito is a bit like visiting family.

Steak for dinner or no dinner at all?

On my recent tour of Ecuador and Peru, our travelers had requested to see a bullfight. Traditional bullfights being rather bloody and gory and altogether inappropriate for a religious group, we chose instead to go to a bloodless bullfight.

We went to a beautiful hacienda not far from Otavalo, Ecuador, and had lunch there, prepared by our own chef, Boaz under the supervision of our mashgiach, Eyal. Lunch was delicious.

After lunch we were invited to the bull ring. We were told that this is a place where aspiring bullfighters are trained and the bull itself is being trained for bullfighting. The bull was kind of small and didn’t have much desire to perform, but he was persuaded by waves of the cape and the footwork of the matador.

After a demonstration, volunteers were solicited. To my dismay, our chef and our mashgiach both volunteered to fight the bull. Someone rightly called out, “anyone but the chef, please!” The chef was a pleasant young man who produced fantastic meals in the most unlikely places. The mashgiach was a delightful young man whose wife is soon expecting their first baby. Neither one was expendable.

But fight they did. Here’s how it started:

And here’s how it ended:

As we say in Hebrew, Kol HaKavod! Way to go, guys!

Who was that masked man?

At about 8:00 p.m. Monday, I left my home for the airport for the trek to South America. I met my colleague who also will be working on the tour with me. After an easy check-in, we boarded the plane close to on time and settled into our seats. The configuration of the plane was 3/3/3. She and I had the two aisle seats on one row in the center section. For a long time it appeared that the middle seat might remain unoccupied. The only tell-tale clue was someone who had walked past us and when asked by the flight attendant where his seat was, he replied, “it’s the jump seat.” Yes, the plane was that packed, and so in a while we greeted the person who was to sit between us on this 15 hour trip.

He was a young man who had come to Israel as a tourist and to visit friends. He is an English teacher in Sao Paulo, and his English was pretty good. Of course, over the duration of the flight, we had some time to talk. When he heard that we had some hours in Sao Paulo, he wrote down for me information about where we should go and how to get there and back.

When finally we reached Sao Paulo and ascertained that our luggage had been checked through, he said that perhaps instead of taking the bus that he had originally recommended, we join him in his taxi that he had ordered. He said that they would be passing through the center of the city and it was not a problem to drop us off.

Of course we agreed. He told us that this taxi driver was wonderful, very reliable- and that’s why he had him pick him up at the airport. As we rode, our friend told us about Sao Paulo—what a huge city it is! He also told us a lot about the Jewish community which has 5 non-ultra-Orthodox day schools! He didn’t know how many ultra-Orthodox day schools there are. One school, established by Safra for his sister’s children, hires teachers who will teach in English so the children become fluent in English and are able to study abroad. Of course the children also learn Hebrew.

He and the taxi driver (who spoke no English) talked about our taking a bus back to the airport and about where we might find the bus. Then the taxi driver suggested that he transport us back to the airport for less than we would have to pay for a bus. Naturally, we agreed. After all, our friend had told us that the driver was reliable.

As we neared the center of the city, the taxi driver suggested that he keep our carry on bags for us. The truth was that our carry on bags were pretty heavy and we knew that it would make things easier for us. He told us that he would not be transporting anyone with luggage and that our bags would be safe.

We had his business card and we had the recommendation; it sounded good. As we left the taxi, we agreed to meet at the same location at 3 p.m. As we left, the driver gave us an umbrella to use since it was drizzling.

We walked through the park and then saw across the street an amazing building that our friend recommended we visit. It was the Museum of Contemporary Art. Museum of Art, Sao Paulo There was a long line of people waiting to get in. I went to ask how much a ticket was. It turned out that today, entrance to the museum was free.

The exhibit was wonderful. There were both European and South American artists represented and the exhibit was well narrated in English as well as Spanish. There was even a wonderful exhibit and video on the restoration of one of the pieces that was exhibited.

After our museum visit, we just walked and looked at the city. Close to 3 o’clock the two of us started to think about what we had done—leaving our carry-on bags (each containing our notebook computers and all of the information relevant to our tour) in the taxi of a person we didn’t know. Yes, we had his card and I had taken a photo of his license plate (because I wanted a photo of a Brazilian license plate), but how much good would that do us if we wanted to be on a plane in 2 hours…

We waited from about 10 minutes to the hour. We watched taxi after taxi pass. We began to doubt ourselves and then, on the dot of 3 o’clock, the driver pulled up to the curb and took us to the airport. He charged exactly what he said he would charge and our carry-ons were completely intact.

It was perfect.

Our only question… we never got the name of our benefactor from the plane. Who was that masked man?

A digression about Peru

I have been extremely busy for the last 3 weeks, having just returned from South America. Now, 2 surgeries (one mine, one my grandson’s), two sets of guests at my home, one major surprise birthday party (my husband’s) and 9 days of mourning ending on Tisha B’av– later, I am about to leave for my next tour to the same area. So, instead of continuing with the saga, I want to tell you about something that happened during my most recent tour.

Our group was an amazing collection of people. Most were Australians with some Anglo-Israelis, some Americans, and others. They were intelligent and fun-loving and they behaved like one big happy family. Traveling with them was delightful.

One day we went to a town in Peru called Pisac. It is located in the Sacred Valley and it has Incan ruins and a beautiful market. While there, one of the ladies saw a skirt that one of the local ladies was wearing and she really wanted to buy one like it. I assume that she looked for it in the market, but she obviously didn’t find it.

She finally asked our Peruvian guide to help her buy it from the woman who was wearing it. Peruvian women wear straight skirts under their brightly colored, embroidered outer dirndl skirts, so when they reached an agreeable price, the Peruvian woman removed her skirt and gave it to our traveler. When she got on the bus and told us that she had successfully purchased the skirt, everyone laughed and also applauded. Then someone said, “Well, that’s great, but what is she going to say when she gets home and her husband wants to know what happened to her skirt.” Our traveler said, “That’s not a problem; after I bought her skirt, he offered to sell me his pants!”

Women in market at Pisac

Women in market at Pisac

Note the beautiful skirt. Note also that one Peruvian woman was carrying her pet llama and the other has a child who is carrying one. The people posing with the Peruvian women were members of our group, but not the proud owners of a Peruvian skirt.

Galapagos Islands, Part 12 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, Peru Tour

The islands are alive. One feels there like a visitor and often like an interloper. On Espanola Island, we encountered a greeting party. Of course we saw the sea lions who as always were playful and fun. They always are either playing or lazing around in the sun. Maybe that’s why I find them so amusing. They live a life most humans would envy. These guys were taking it easy.

Seal lions on a break

Sea lions on a break

We also were greeted by marine iguanas

Marine iguanas

Marine iguanas

But most surprising was the blue footed booby welcoming committee. About every 10 feet, there was a couple of blue footed boobies standing along the trail. It was as if someone had placed them at their posts. Here they are:

Blue footed booby welcoming committee

Blue footed booby welcoming committee

Another couple

Another couple

And another

And another

The big treat, though, was to see the albatrosses. In June, they were everywhere. In January, there had been only one or two sighted. So here is one, up close and personal:

An Albatross

An Albatross

Even closer

Even closer

Of course, once again we saw the Nazca boobies, really beautiful white birds.

Nazca boobies

Nazca boobies

Unfortunately, our visit to the Galapagos had to come to an end, but next is a glimpse at Lima, Peru!

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