All posts by julie

Vina del Mar, Chile

Fog lifting over Vina del Mar beach

Fog lifting over Vina del Mar beach

Vina del Mar is a popular beach resort ninety minutes from Santiago, and just north of Valparaiso. In fact they are so close, we even walked the 5+ miles one grey day (locals thought we were crazy).


The main drag, northern end of Vina where the beach areas get a bit more swanky.

Most of the walk is along a very busy road, and a bit unnerving, due to the buses that come screaming by, but we enjoyed getting some exercise, had lunch at the fish market midway, and really got a feel for the area – just another of our non-touristy days!

Nice beaches for a tanning fix, but nothing special if you are from California.

Nice beaches for a tanning fix, but nothing special if you are from California.


Freighters can be seen crossing the bay in transit from the busy port in Valparaiso

Our plan was to stay in Vina for 2 nights, to relax on the beach, then move over to Valparaiso.  Our hotel in Vina was the Cap Ducal, designed to look like a cruise ship. DSC_0886It was an experience – the staff was very nice, the restaurant good and the rooms were, well… funky, musty-smelling, 1980’s with a killer view, all for $120 a night, (which is not bad for Vina in high season.)

The view was definitely the best thing about the room!

The view was definitely the best thing about the room!

It felt like you were on a ghost ship from the 50’s – we never saw another guest in the hall, but the hotel said they were full!


The view from the bed made up for the squishy mattress!

After the bright sunshine and balmy nights in Santiago, we were not prepared for cool, foggy weather in Vina, so our plan to lounge on the beach was replaced by a lot of walking and munching.


Happy Hour overlooking the promenade


Romantic dinner ‘aboard’ the Cap Ducal

We were however very lucky with our timing, as we had spectacular views of the moon over the Pacific every night of our stay at the coast. Continue reading

Our Santiago Sunday…

Our first time on clay at the International Sporting Club, where the local players were very welcoming!

Our first time on clay at the International Sporting Club, where the local players were very welcoming!

A perfect day in Santiago… tennis with the locals (super fun old guys with all the shots in the book!) at the 100+ year old tennis club, followed by fresh lemonade, coffee, and pastel del choclo – a local favorite – corn pie, then back to our hotel for a siesta!

Sidewalk cafes are everywhere, and I want to enjoy every one of them!

Sidewalk cafes are everywhere, and I want to enjoy every one of them!

Wake up to birds chirping, the distant sound of a concert in the park below our balcony, the ice cream man’s bellow – which sounds like Hello-Hello, but is actually “helado, helado”.  Next on our busy schedule – time to hit a cafe for “onces” (elevenses) which makes no sense, since here in Santiago, they take their “once” between 6-8pm, sort of a warm up for the night out – coffee and sweets, before wine and dinner – I love this city!

Atop Cerro Santa Lucia, a short hike, up steep, worn stone stairs for views of the city.

Atop Cerro Santa Lucia, a short hike, up steep, worn stone stairs for views of the city.

After fortifying ourselves, we decided to climb up to the castle/park on the hill. Love is in full bloom in the parks of Santiago – couples laze around for hours tenderly caressing and making out – public display of affection is everywhere – I’m all for it!

A pretty standard park pose. (Sorry, I am not a voyeur, no pics of the park lovebirds)

A pretty standard park pose. (Sorry, I am not a voyeur, no pics of the park lovebirds)

View of the city from halfway up, still a little smoke from recent wild fires.

View of the city from halfway up, still a little smoke from recent wild fires.

Another thing I am enjoying – the street musicians. I think the best I have ever seen are here in Santiago. We have heard classical guitar, violin, opera, and at one point – a flutist playing Eine Kleine Nacht Music, while from the other direction, a sax putting out some mean blues.

Belly dancer with graffiti wall behind. Graffiti is ubiquitous in Santiago.

Belly dancer with graffiti wall behind. Graffiti is ubiquitous in Santiago.

These guys were great, until a VERY loud alarm went off in the museum and silenced them, bummer!

These guys were great, until a VERY loud alarm went off in the museum and silenced them, bummer!

For cocktails and snacks, we found “Bar the Clinic”, named after the local socialist newspaper, with drinks named after famous rebels, and walls decorated with political cartoons, that we really wished we could understand!

Michele Bachelet was just reelected, so I assume that is her face imposed here, leapfrogging over ?

Michele Bachelet was just reelected, so I assume that is her face imposed here, leapfrogging over ?

Gotta have some reference to Havana in a rebel socialist themed bar!

Gotta have some reference to Havana in a rebel socialist themed bar!

My drink was named after some guerrilla group that fought to get rid of Pinochet. It was pisco, with limon, fresa (strawberry) and aji’! (chili peppers!) Buenos Noches!


Patagonia adventures!

Five years ago I had the privilege of filming 2 Passport to Adventure episodes in the Aysen region of Chilean Patagonia. I fell in love with the raw beauty of the place, and met so many wonderful people, I have returned with David, to visit and explore the region further! The more I explore, the more I realize there is so much more to see…

First stop, reconnect with friends at Cinco Rios lodge!

First stop, reconnect with friends at Cinco Rios lodge!

We are not much for checking stuff off a list, and we never have an agenda, which leaves us free to accept spontaneous offers. Our first choice is always to hang with the locals. Boy did we score – we were invited to join in the family reunion weekend out at Estancia del Zorro (their ranch).

Such a fun family - all 23 that we spent the weekend with!

Such a fun family – all 23 that we spent the weekend with!

We went horseback riding, watched the alpaca shearing, learned to play Chilean liars dice with the entire extended family, helped cook, practiced our meager Spanish, and shared homemade schnaps, wine and lots of laughs. We enjoy activities and sightseeing, but for us, getting to know the people is always the priority. For this type of travel, you must be flexible, not be in a rush, and not get too attached to seeing certain sights. For us, it’s all about connecting, that is why we travel.

David studying the family tree he requested, and Nacha drew up for us.

David studying the family tree he requested, and Nacha drew up for us.


big news!

1993 - former soviet republic of Georgia, still some of my best memories!

1993 – former soviet republic of Georgia, still some of my best memories!

After 20 years of hosting, producing & marketing Passport to Adventure, I have decided the time is right to hand over the reins, in hopes that new blood, fresh ideas, and increased capital, will allow the program to continue growing and reaching fans around the world.

Montana, at the Mountain Man Rendezvou, in a native American deer skin dress loaned to me. It was SO soft!

Montana, at the Mountain Man Rendezvou, in a native American deer skin dress loaned to me. It was SO soft!

I am happy to announce that Passport to Adventure has been purchased by NC2 Media, who also just purchased Lonely Planet, so we are keeping good company.

The folks at NC2 are good people with plans to further develop the worldwide audience for travel programming.  I wish them great success, and look forward to Passport to Adventure gaining expanded exposure.

Chillin' on the Li River, China. Loved Yangshou, need to go back!

Chillin’ on the Li River, China. Loved Yangshou, need to go back!

I hope to continue writing travel tips and tales for the Passport blog and website, so please stay ‘tuned in’ and in touch with me!

As NC2’s plans develop, I will keep you informed here on the blog, and hope to be able to tell you where you can watch the show on a regular basis.

If I get my wish, there will finally be a channel, both on the web and on TV, for American’s to watch real travel programs. I am hoping NC2 is the company that can make this happen.

Just think, maybe if Americans had the opportunity to watch the type of travel shows that can be seen everywhere else in the world, people would lose their fear of venturing beyond our borders? We would become a nation of travelers! Maybe we could get the number of passport holders in the U.S. up to over 50%! And then, maybe people would start demanding 4-6 weeks (for a start) of vacation time, like every other civilized country! Just think where all of this could lead! I’ve always thought Passport could play a small role in changing the world, or at least American culture, and I have not given up. I will continue to look for ways to be a part of that change – to promote “GAP years” – for college students, as a right of passage for 20-somethings, and for people my age, as a break from their careers, or as a retirement option. The latter is something David and I will be exploring!

More ‘Live small, Travel BIG’ adventures to come!!

Aysen, Patagonia, shooting our most recent HD episodes

Aysen, Patagonia, shooting our most recent HD episodes

The road less traveled, our favorite place to be!

The road less traveled, our favorite place to be!

Which one are you?

Are you a human being, or a human doing?

Just hangin'. Muang Ngoi district, Laos

Just hangin’. Muang Ngoi district, Laos

Is your life an endless series of planning and to-do lists?

What percentage of your time is spent just BEING?

Based on the number of talk shows and self-help books on the subject, it appears that we are taking that first step toward breaking the addiction – admitting we have a problem.  Only eleven more steps to go! If you are in the Passport to Adventure recovery program, the next step is – GO TO LAOS! (Recommended dosage is 3 weeks. WARNING: Staying longer may lead to an uncomfortable sense of well being, and diminished desire compete in the rat race)


Minding little sister and the herd. Laos

If Bhutan can market their “Gross National Happiness”, then Laos needs to brand its laid-backness. It’s too bad that so many visitors rush through the country – most spend a few days in the UNESCO world heritage city of Luang Prabang, then fly to neighboring Vietnam, Thailand or Cambodia. They are missing a real opportunity to understand that there IS a different way to live this life. If there was ever a place to “chillax”, Laos is it.


Proud Grandpa, Luang Prabang, Laos.

This was our third trip to Laos – we were there 12 years ago, and 5 years ago. On each trip we spent 3 weeks, and covered different areas of the country, always returning to Luang Prabang. So, “how has it changed?”, you ask. Well, there are more tourists, more hotels and guesthouses, cars and motorcycles have replaced some of the bicycles, everyone has a cell phone, but aside from that, I did not detect any major changes the Lao people and their attitudes.

If you are planning to visit Southeast Asia, do not make the mistake of assuming the cultures are the same, or even similar. They are not. The main thing that makes the Lao people different is their complete lack of materialism. I think we are so consumed by consumerism, and our capitalist nirvana notions, that it’s really, really tough for most Westerners to fathom this non-attachment to earning money. Working hard, and getting bigger, better stuff is admired in our culture, but I saw no indication that the Lao have embraced this philosophy. We had more than one smile and tell us frankly, and even proudly, “we are lazy”.

It doesn’t look like laziness to me, it appears they just would rather enjoy life with little, than work hard for more. Their lifestyle seems to make a clear statement: we value time over money, and laughter over perfection. Lao culture is strongly influenced by Buddhist teachings, with acceptance of circumstances, detachment from outcomes, and the belief that ‘all is as it should be’ shaping attitudes. Western directness, planning, and problem-solving are truly foreign concepts.

After a couple weeks of travel in Cambodia, (which comes right after Laos on the “chillax” list) I was slowing down – lingering at cafés, not planning our next move, wandering aimlessly, taking naps, reading novels (instead of guidebooks) in the middle of the day – all stuff that should be part of every day, right!?

Well in Laos, they are. Neighbors hang out on the front step chatting, shop keepers don’t hassle you, children don’t have tantrums, people giggle a lot, they don’t hurry, they nap in hammocks or on the office floor, they celebrate often, they play music loudly, and they prepare food anywhere and everywhere all the time.


Making yummy coconut crisps on the street.

Your meals will rarely be delivered quickly – the prospect of getting a tip does not seem to motivate servers. In my opinion, they like tips as much as anyone would, but they see it as more of a gift, as in, those that have should share with those that have less, a common tribal ethic. They do not get the idea of trying to earn a tip – if they give good service, and you are financially able to tip, great, but they will never be solicitous, rushed or stressed out about it, nor angry if you do not leave one. They enjoy the opportunity to chat with you more than they covet thy money.

After two weeks in Cambodia and three in Laos, I had completely shed any urgent need to do anything. I found that the “eh, whatever, whenever” shoulder-shrug was becoming quite natural for me. Now that I have experienced true laid-backness, I’m really going to work hard on keeping it. (pun intended) And whenever I feel stress creeping in, I’ll just shrug my shoulders, remember the wonderful people of Laos, and recite my new mantra “baw pen nyang” – no problem!

Watch this fascinating TED talk: “What Makes Us Happy?”!


Travel in the year 1982 B.C.

Before Computers (& Cell Phones)

Cycling Europe, 1982

Cycling Europe, 1982

In ancient times, (the 1980’s) travel meant being disconnected from everything you knew. You had no choice but to “Be Here Now”. Keeping track of your kids meant parents had to settle for the occasional postcard from their 20-something backpackers, or in our case, cyclists. When the only way for travelers to get word from home, was to retrieve snail mail at American Express offices, or make a very expensive phone call.

I have a vivid memory of waiting in the Paris post office for my name to be called. That’s how Eurailers phoned home in 1982. You went to the post office, wrote your name, and the number you wanted to call, on a scrap of paper, waited in line, handed it over to an operator, then sat and waited some more, wondering if your mom, dad, or boyfriend would be home to accept the collect call charges. If your timing was good, you’d hear announced: “Julie Conover, cabine trios”. In the small phone booth, a wooden cabin, you’d pick up the receiver and hopefully hear the correct voice. Then, anxious over the per-minute charges ticking away, you’d hurriedly give an account of your recent adventures, ask for money to be wired from your savings account to the Western Union office, or find out that your boyfriend wasn’t necessarily waiting for you anymore. (Oh well, c’est la vie, he was a world away, and you had more exciting experiences ahead)

Sangria-soaked in Pamplona Spain, Running of the Bulls

Sangria-soaked in Pamplona Spain, Running of the Bulls

Getting mail was a real crap shoot, but amazingly worked pretty well. You had to tell your friends and family approximately when you would be in a certain city, then they had to mail their letter in plenty of time, and hope that it would end up in the right pile, at the right AmEx office, where you’d show up to cash a travelers check. It was always so exciting when you gave them your name and there was actually something for you. I can still picture the scruffy-looking, weary travelers sitting on the AmEx steps, the curb, a park bench; smiling or crying, over a letter from home.

GPS? Ah, negative. We rode bicycles for 6 months using a AAA road map showing the whole of Europe, and a dissected “Lets Go” guide – we would tear out the parts we had no use for, carrying only the currently relevant sections. When we needed directions, we asked locals. Getting lost was part of the fun. Ya think? Actually, no, getting lost on bikes is typically not fun.

Powerless = Powerfull! Munag Ngoi, Laos

Powerless = Powerfull! Muang Ngoi, Laos

Fast forward 30 years… I miss that kind of travel. Being so disconnected from home, friends, family, our native tongue, we were much more connected to our surroundings. I guess that is why I gravitate towards off-the-beaten-path places, I am subconsciously trying to create that feeling again. I actually hate having a TV a hotel room, and see clearly how the ubiquitous wifi of Southeast Asia, is more of a curse than a blessing. My favorite place in Laos this trip was a small village, only accessible by boat, with no electricity. I hung out for hours at candle lit restaurants chatting with travelers, star gazed, walked to neighboring villages, read, and, downloaded pictures to my laptop.

Yes, even savvy travelers blow it…

Love, love, love the holiday spirit in Southeast Asia!

In my experience, this is when most travel screw-ups happen – when you are disembarking in a jet lag stupor and excited to have arrived.

In the rush to “stow personal articles for landing” in HKK, I shoved our “pill bag” into the shoe cabinet and forgot it there! (beware of the handy little nooks for storage in biz class) Yes, it had ALL of our vitamins, prescription meds, and first aid supplies that I have carefully assembled over my years of travel. I realized it pretty quickly and ran back to the gate, but it was already gone.  That the Cathy Pacific staff did not share my shock that it had disappeared, is what annoyed me the most. And it’s worthless to whomever end up with it, as all the pills are in tiny plastic bags, most unlabeled. Only I know what they are.

Hard to stay upset for long once we arrived at our favorite little bungalow resort!

As with all travel mishaps, good people appear when you need them. I mention my problem to the guy that picked us up at the airport here on Phu Quoc, he says his wife is a doctor, and he will see what he can do. The next day, someone appears at my beach chair, with my prescription medication in hand!! And when I try to pay, he hands me his cell phone, I thank Nghe (sp?) and he says it is a “gift”! He also says if it is the correct medication, (it is) he will get me 20 more, so I will have enough to finish our trip, and again, he won’t let me pay.

The bungalows are basic, but the beach is stellar!

Another example of why we travel – it forces you to be vulnerable, and to accept the kindness of strangers. And now, we have a new adventure – visiting local pharmacies, trying to decipher which pills are what, to restock a new “pill bag”. I’ve already found the Vietnamese version of Claratin, one down!




Cambodia for Christmas?

Christmas dinner at a rooftop restaurant in Pakse, Laos.

This will probably sound strange, or even blasphemous, to some, but the merry Christmas I dream of, is not white, it’s palm fringed along the Mekong.  I guess most people look forward to the holidays all year, and would never consider missing cherished family traditions, and I completely understand that. This post is for those that share my wanderlust, and may wonder what it is like to skip our version of X’mas one year, in favor of an adventure!

Traveling during the Christmas season is a great way to stretch your minimal vacation time, escape the expensive December shopping frenzy, and for me, relax and embrace the JOY of the season. The downside is that it’s high season in Southeast Asia, so you will need to book early. And, of course, if you have a family that requires your attendance at holiday festivities, this may not work for you. But, I say, if you are one of those over-worked Americans with only 2 or 3 weeks vacation, give it some consideration, your family can probably live without you for one holiday season, and you will have a “proper” holiday! (proper, as in longer than 2 weeks!)

Santa on the Mekong!

Why am I drawn to Southeast Asia for the Christian holiday season?? Honestly, I am not really sure how this happened. Christmas was a big deal at our house growing up. All I know, is after honeymooning in Thailand and Vietnam over the holidays almost twenty years ago, I wanted to go back every year.

Need reasons?….The countries of Southeast Asia are predominantly Buddhist, but they love any excuse to put up colorful decorations, and wear Santa hats. Not to mention, the weather is delightful in Dec-Jan (if you like warm and humid) and shopping is WAY more fun (and a heck of a lot cheaper!). Plus, there are enough expats from Western countries, that you can easily find traditional Christian festivities, even church services, if you want them. I think the main draw for me, particularly at this time of year,  is he “vibe” – in contrast to our hectic, often exhausting, holiday rush, Southeast Asia is very relaxed – everyday life flows gently along the Mekong, and we happily fall right into this laid-back pace.

X'mas fun with the always-smiling locals.

We have spent several Christmas holidays in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. At home, the decorations, and shopping ads that appear just after Halloween, drive me nuts. They make me want to leave the country (almost as much as the politcal ads) In Asia, it’s not about gifts, it’s just a celebration! Most of the hotels have tastefully decorated trees in the lobby, and many offer western style Christmas dinners. We prefer to find a cute French restaurant and use the holiday as an excuse to treat ourselves to a nice bottle of Bordeaux and a pepper steak, at half the price of a similar meal at home. We have watched spectacular New Years Eve fireworks displays in Bangkok & Phnom Penh, even though they celebrate the Chinese, or Lunar New Year, which falls typically in late Jan or early Feb. One of my favorite memories – hanging out at sidewalk bar in Vientienne, on X’mas day, drinking “Beer Lao” with locals in Santa hats – it was classic!

Another thing we enjoy about holiday travel in Southeast Asia is that many of the foreigners working in Asia and the Middle East, instead of returning home for the holidays, use their vacation to explore neighboring countries. So you get to meet interesting expats, that have lived all over the world, wherever you go.

David and his elves awaiting their martinis.

There is nothing more exciting to me than having a ticket to BKK (Bangkok) in December! My mind spins with the options – so many places we have yet to visit, and so many we love to return to. I feel so at home there, and have so many great memories, and I am looking forward to creating many more this Dec-January! Watch for my posts starting SOON!


Our Bear Visit…

This was taken 10 feet from our deck, after his dinner in our condo!

In some places they have “fish stories”, in Tahoe, we have bear stories. It’s a classic tale of best intentions, producing unexpected, undesirable consequences. Twenty years ago, it was rare to even see a bear in Tahoe, unless you were in the back country.

Getting as far away as possible from that damn dog!

The way I understand it, at some point some mama bear figured out that it was easier to eat garbage out of the trash cans, or the dumpsters behind restaurants, than it was to forage. She taught her cubs this nifty trick, they taught their cubs, and voila’! – we have a bear population that no longer knows how to feed themselves in the wild. The problem is, that in an effort to stop the bears from eating trash, everyone installed “bear-proof bins” and now lock their dumpsters, so, the bears have no choice now, but to go into houses looking for food. And it is getting worse every year.

Bears are now a regular fixture in neighborhoods – strolling down the street, thru yards, and along fences. Once I watched a mother and her 2 cubs climb on top of a wooden fence and walk along the top like a tightrope! They are smart and very agile. They open home, garage and car doors, and can navigate refrigerators quite well.

OK, dog seems to be safely behind glass door...

The new millennium bear diet – fat & sugar – just like humans! The bear in our house ate a jar of honey, then put the jar in the sink, with the lid back on it!! It took the lid off of the ceramic butter dish, ate the butter, without harming the dish. It opened the freezer and ate frozen organic blueberries, but left a whole container of fresh blueberries on the counter! (Apparently they only know human food, and no longer recognize fresh berries?) He also enjoyed avocados, and my precious farmer’s market peaches. At least he left the wild prawns I had marinating in the fridge for dinner! He left us his calling card – a large pile of poop in the living room – before the neighbors dog “got wind of him” and went crazy. Maybe “scared the crap” outta the bear?

Mom never said it'd be this tough getting food from houses!

The number of home invasions by bears in the Tahoe Basin is increasing every year, and the bears get smarter, and bolder all the time. Lucky for us, they are California Brown Bears (not Grizzlies) so they tend to avoid confrontation with humans. The best tip I was given to avoid tangling with a bear, was “once they have your food, it is theirs, so don’t even think about trying to get it back!” Mark had one drag a 5lb bag of dog food out of his garage, dump it on the lawn in a neat pile, where he sat, legs spread around the pile of food, and chowed down, while the dogs were going crazy in the house! Another bear climbed into a car, the car door closed on him, and in his panic to get out, the bear totaled the inside. The car had to be towed away – steering wheel & stick shift bent, windows broken.

We live in such a small, safe community, is it really a big lifestyle change for me to remember to lock all of the doors and windows when we go out, but I guess I am going to have to get better about that. (The bear slid the bedroom screen door open, cruised through the downstairs and went up the stairs to the kitchen. We arrived home just as he was exiting the same way. If we had come home 2 minutes sooner, we would have been face to face with him in the stairwell! Not a good situation.

I guess if we all lock down our garbage, houses and cars, eventually they will be reconditioned to live in the forest and eat bugs?? Or will they just get more and more aggressive about getting into homes? I don’t know what the solution is. It seems the more we deprive them of the food they have now become accustomed to, the more they break into homes. Quite a conundrum… as much as I love seeing them around, I hope we can find a way to get them ‘back to nature’, otherwise many more will be tagged as “repeat offenders” and could be killed. A sad state of affairs.


Drought driving wildlife into residential areas, from NY Times, Sept 2012

Mountain Lion in downtown Reno!