Designing a Gay Patagonia Tour (Part 3)

By Zachary Moses

This three-part series follows Zachary Moses as he develops HE Travel’s Adventurous Gay Patagonia Tour. Click to read PART 1 or PART 2.

Day 7: Horseback Riding and Kayaking Among Icebergs

getting ready

No gay Patagonia tour would be complete without a beautiful horseback ride through the crisp morning air with Paula, the general manager of our lodge. I can be seen in the picture getting ready for my ride.

We had three gauchos with us, who kept egging our horses on until they reached an exhilarating speed. It was amazing, with our horses at a full gallop and the wind racing by as our nimble horses navigated the twisting trails! We rode up a lush mountain and had stunning views of the three jagged peaks of Las Torres del Paine (The Towers).  Today, I wore my bike shorts and my butt thanked me for it. Note to self: bike shorts, aka horseback riding shorts, are recommended for all guests.

mounted

My back had been a little sore from riding for too long the other day, and I was reluctant to get back on a horse, but Paula insisted that my back was sore because I had never used those muscles before and that the best thing for me was to ride again. Paula also insisted that the horses here were much better horses and that I would have a much smoother ride. She was right! Within 20 minutes I was feeling much better, and I was now certain of who would be providing the horses for our tour.

rocks

My colleague (and frequent tour director) Jim Laughlin and his partner John own a horse ranch outside Chicago. Jim told me that as good as his horses are, they would never have tolerated the ground conditions that these horses put up with. The ground is covered in rocks and boulders and the horses of Patagonia were unperturbed. Jim says that his horses would be hanging back and whimpering at the idea of all these rocks chipping their hooves.

group kayak

After we returned to the lodge, we grabbed our luggage and made our way to the other side of the national park for a kayak tour on Gray Lake, a cold body of water fed by a massive glacier.

icebergs

The lake was full of gigantic crystal blue icebergs. Their color was the most amazing blue I’ve ever seen, surely intensified by the peach sky and gray water. It was raining, but we were in wetsuits with rain coats and no-one was uncomfortable. Our paddles even had special neoprene gloves built right into them to keep our hands warm. Jim and I tried to make some video recordings of our experience but the wind kept messing up the audio. We couldn’t quit comparing the lake and icebergs to a giant glass of Gin and Tonic. So we simply twisted and turned among the icebergs until the wind howled too fiercely and we reluctantly left this magical lake and paddled back to shore.

sheep

Our evening ended at a hotel that was designed to look like an eclectic retelling of a sheep ranch. It was very avant-guard: inside, it looked like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. I kept expecting Jor-El to start talking to me through glowing crystals.

We were given a tour of the hotel by the hotel manager, who looked like Helena Bonham Carter. Everyone agreed that she was super-hot. And, also … she might be crazy, like Helena’s character in Fight Club.

During the tour, she was passionately obsessing over the building. I interrupted to compliment her beautiful hair and she blushed and lost her place. After she regained her composure, she showed us the incredible spa facility, of which she was especially proud.

On the way back to the main building she said that we would now meet the woman in charge of tour excursions, who by the way had shockingly similar hair. Very seriously, she said “If you compliment her hair as well, I will know that you were lying to me.” I told her that I was sure that even if this other woman could create an amazing excursion, it was not possible that her beauty could compare. “Such a gentleman,” she said, and then told Fabian in Spanish what a Casanova she thought I was. HA! Casanova!!

I made sure not to compliment the other woman’s beautiful (and yes, very similar) hair … but only out of fear for my safety. For the rest of the tour I only complimented the men.

Day 8: Final Day and Departure to Home

Puerto Natales

This morning we decided to scrap our excursion plans from the night before and instead ride our bikes into Puerto Natales. It was the right choice to get to know this town a little better, since we will want our guys to spend their last Patagonian night at a four-star classic hotel right on the waterfront here.

chocolate

We saw the entire city of Puerto Natales, which is actually the only town within a very large area. There was a really cool fishing dock, and great little shops. We had amazing coffee, and hit a fancy little chocolate shop. I also got some seriously great gifts for my loved ones.

legroom

I was very sad for the trip to be coming to a close, and I can’t wait to go back with our guys in January, 2014. This is going to be one of our best tours yet! Here you can see how much leg room I had on the plane – along with a meal during our 3-hour flight. I like SKY Airlines in Chile!

This research in Chile led us to develop an exciting gay Patagonia Adventure, launching January 2014. For pricing and a detailed itinerary, click HERE!

If you missed my earlier blog posts about our Patagonian research tour, Find Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.

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Posted in All Welcome Tour, All Welcome Tour, Alyson Adventures, Biking, Chile, Fam Trips, HE Travel, Hiking, Kayaking, Men's Tour, Men's Tour, Multi-Sport, Patagonia, The Gay Travel Blog, Travel, Uncategorized, Women's Tour, Writings, Zachary Moses | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Designing a Gay Patagonia Tour (Part 2)

By Zachary Moses

This is Part 2 of a three-part series about developing HE Travel’s Adventurous Gay Patagonia Tour. To read Part 1 CLICK HERE.

Day 4: Enter the Estancias

breakfast

After waking up to a beautiful Patagonian dawn we got up and had breakfast in our hotel. I ordered carrot juice that was mixed with grapefruit… don’t try this, bleh, what a horrible combination. Later, our driver came to fetch us, and we made our way deeper into Patagonia to visit our first estancia (the local equivalent of a ranch).

coffee shop

The drive was not nearly as long as yesterday’s and we also had the opportunity to stop at a local handicraft shop. I found a fantastic painting of a naked demon with a bag on his head. We cracked all kinds of hilarious jokes about the local demons being so ugly that they had to be represented with bags on their heads. At some point someone made a crack that the bag-covered demon would be an improvement over the guys we had flirted with in the bar.

opened sky

As we continued toward the estancia, the clouds opened up for an amazing view of the iconic peaks of Torres del Paine with the three towers exposed. When we got to our estancia, a ranch larger in acreage than Belgium, we quickly changed so that we could go out for our first session of horseback riding.

goucho

The views were absolutely stunning. The horses were fast and in great shape. The Gauchos are real cowboys, just like the American cowboys used to be (and as I am sure some still are). These guys don’t commonly deal with tourists, and had no interest in babysitting us, so our guide let us do pretty much whatever we wanted. We chased cows and sheep all afternoon. At one point my horse and I snuck up on a hawk. When the hawk noticed me, it flipped out! Have you ever seen a fierce bird of prey run along the ground like a chicken? It was hilarious!

I had some trouble at times getting my horse to go where I wanted. He really wanted to follow with his nose buried in the rear end of the Gaucho’s horse. That was also where the lead horse wanted us to be. Whenever I would pull ahead, the Gaucho’s horse would get upset and walk in crazy circles until my horse returned to its proper place.

wool

Back at the lodge, we were taken on a fascinating walking tour of our tiny corner of the estancia. This is a working ranch, and we watched how they process wool: the same way it was done a hundred years ago. There is not a lot of money in producing wool, so this practice is mainly maintained for tradition.

Tonight we had dinner at the estancia’s restaurant and proceeded to stay up way too late… again.

Day 5: Into the Heart of Torres Del Paine 

Our next lodge was about an hour away from where we started. My butt was soooo sore from horseback riding. I’m not used to sitting in a saddle – the last time I rode a horse, I was 12 years old. I was not looking forward to sitting in a van on dirt roads for an hour. Luckily  we were using a new van with excellent suspension. We stopped for a panoramic view across from the cliffs, and observed several condors flying overhead.

waterfall

When we arrived at the lodge, it reminded me of Park City, Utah, with a Chilean flair. The owner and manager themselves came out to meet us. We made plans for dinner, then prepped ourselves for a hike to a nearby waterfall. The drive to the cascadas took about an hour in pouring rain. When we arrived, we donned our rain gear and walked along a fairly easy, beautiful path. We were soaked, but having a blast.

hiking

Jim and I often fell behind as we paused to make funny promotional videos and take loads of pictures so we would have plenty to share with you, our loyal readers (and travelers). The guide kept glaring at us as we lagged behind making videos and goofing off, but each time she looked at us, we made a show of helping a really slow woman that was hiking with our group. The slow hiker was wearing a green coat that stood out amazingly, so we referred to her as the scary cat lady in green. (Because for some reason we were all just sure she had at least nine cats at home.) Today we were drawn to make a lot of videos based on bathroom humor. Why, when two grown men play with a camera, does it always devolve into bathroom humor? I’m not sharing these videos. Bathroom humor isn’t professional.

guitar

Back at the hotel, we had a lovely lunch with Sergio, the owner, and Paola, the general manager. At night we watched Sergio play his guitar, and I played some tunes myself.

Day 6: Trek to the Three Towers

alvaro hiking

Alvero met us this morning and we set off on foot from the hotel. The hotel is situated right at the base of the mountain, giving unparalleled access to the hiking.

chilleno lodge

The day started off beautifully as we climbed toward our first waypoint. However, the weather soon turned foul. I put on my raingear, and marveled at how rapidly the day had changed. About a third of the way up, we came to the Chillano refuge camp, where we had hot cocoa and socialized with backpackers. I sat for a while and listened to a group of Californians trying to explain to a girl from Spain about Mormons and Utah. I grew up Mormon, and can say that everything they told her was not true… But I was laughing so hard at their version, I decided to let it fly.

Shortly after departing from the refuge we entered an enchanted forest. The trees were covered in eerie mosses, and I kept expecting there to be Smurfs living in mushroom houses around every bend.

The mountains flanking us were massive, with waterfalls everywhere. The rainfall was creating hundreds of spontaneous waterfalls as well. Even with the cloud cover the view was awe-inspiring.

towers

When we reached the two-thirds point, we could tell we were climbing into a snowy storm at the top. The next leg of the climb was across a field of giant granite boulders. When we reached the top, the towers were shrouded in clouds. The effect made for an amazing view. Below the towers is a green lagoon fed by glacial runoff.

at the boulders

The wind was up, so we climbed to a large boulder for a sheltered place to eat our lunch, then continued down to the lake. I found a beautiful condor feather floating in the lake. I reached to get the feather out, and the water was so cold that I felt like I had just placed my hand in liquid nitrogen. I swear if I had smacked my hand on a rock it would have shattered like glass.

snowflakes

Coming back down the mountain and into the forest, the scene was magical. Falling all around us were huge fluffy snowflakes. Jim ran out of water and we filled a container with fresh glacier melt-off. It was interesting to think that we could be drinking water that has been here for thousands of years.

When we returned to the Chillano refuge for more cocoa, the staff explained that a 2-km-long zipline is under construction, to fly hikers back down to the base of the mountain. I can’t wait to return in 2014!

Tonight we got drinks and went to another part of the lodge to relax near the huge, medieval-looking fireplace. Jim and Fabian talked for hours moving in and out of Spanish. I realized that I had followed about 90% of the conversation. My Spanish is really improving! All this world traveling is starting to leave its mark on me.

[to be continued…]

CLICK HERE for part 1

To read more about the tour inspired by this trip CLICK HERE!

Posted in All Welcome Tour, All Welcome Tour, Alyson Adventures, Biking, Chile, Essays, Group Tour, HE Travel, Men's Tour, Men's Tour, Patagonia, The Gay Travel Blog, Travel, Uncategorized, Women's Tour, Writings, Zachary Moses | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Designing a Gay Patagonia Tour (Part 1)

By Zachary Moses

Last January I left on one of my most ambitious expeditions to date. A gay Patagonia tour; a tour at the bottom of the world. The last touch of greenery before the vast frozen white and deep blue landscapes of Antarctica. I flew on New Year’s Eve and practically had the airports to myself. While everyone was out partying, I was toiling over my “work”. I was one of just ten people flying on a 50-passenger jet (usually sold out) from Key West to Miami. In Miami the airport was a ghost town. Everything reminded me of Steven King’s made-for-TV-movie The Langoliers.

The flight from Miami to Santiago was practically empty as well, so I took one of twelve completely empty middle rows and stretched out to go to sleep. Nice!

Day 1 Arrival in Santiago Chile

"Sanhatten" The Financial District of Santiago

“Sanhatten” The Financial District of Santiago

The city of Santiago is bordered on the east by huge mountains that reminded me of the Wasatch Mountains back home, surrounding Salt Lake City.

I didn’t know what to expect of Chile, but I’ve always assumed that it was a third-world country. I couldn’t have been more surprised! The airport was super modern, and the city was very clean. We drove past what looked like some very poor shanty towns, but my driver explained to me that the residents there refuse to be relocated into modern houses, preferring their traditional way of life and the comfort of knowing their close-by neighbors.

Santiago, I learned, is home to a fascinating underground freeway which we rode through – very cool, very futuristic. There are palm trees all over the city. This surprised me, since I was traveling to frozen Patagonia not that far away (I thought), but then the driver pointed out to me that Chile is so long that it stretches from tropical to tundra along its length.

Food Platter

Assorted Local Fruits, Cheeses and Meats

The city of Santiago is really cool. It reminds me of a grungier younger version of Paris, without the iconic monuments. I had lunch in the garden of our hotel. I got the fruit platter, which was absolutely fantastic. The produce in Chile is really high quality. Apparently the fruit that they export to the US is not even the best fruit they produce!

I wandered around the city on foot checking out the views. This was what other people were doing as well. In fact, some guy nearly got in an accident trying to slow down and whistle at me…ego boost! I took some evocative photos and made a couple of promo videos.

Touring Around Old Santiago, Looking at Model of "Old Santiago"

Looking at Model of “Old Santiago”

At 5:00 Patricia and Fabian (our local ground operators) showed up to take me on a bike tour of Santiago. I’m used to Key West sunset times, so I figured this would be some quick, hour-long sunset ride. This was high summer in South America and the sun didn’t set until 10:30 pm, so the ride turned out to be 4.5 hours of really thorough touring. We rode all over the beautiful modern parts of the city as well as the quaint old downtown. Everything was empty and quiet because it was New Year’s Day. Normally 2 million people a day filter through the streets.

Enjoying Mote After a Long Day of Riding

Enjoying Mote After a Long Day of Riding

We rode up a mountain in the center of the city. At the top Patricia and Fabian bought me a Mote, which is a sugary drink made with rehydrated peaches and boiled wheat. When I bring our tour group through here, all our guys will have to try this Chilean specialty. From on top of the mountain we got the most amazing view of “Sanhatten” – Santiago’s high-rise financial district.

Day 2 Glacier Hike

Plums Collected From Old Tree in Town Square

Plums Collected From Old Tree in Town Square

This morning we drove 2.5 hours into the Andes Central Valley for a hike up to Morado Glacier. On the way, we stopped in San Jose, originally a mining town that was settled by the Spanish after discovering silver in the area. The Spanish would use the local indigenous people to harvest the ore for them. We stopped and picked plums in the town square before continuing on to our mountain range.

Dirt Roads Leading Into Andes Central Valley

Dirt Roads Leading Into Andes Central Valley

The smooth pavement changed over to dirt roads after a little way. There were huge trucks heading to the base of the volcanoes, where they mine gypsum out of the rock wall. We took a left and headed up an uninhabited valley. The mountain peaks became massive monuments in front of us. These are easily the biggest mountains that I have ever seen. On the way in, there were lots of road crews using backhoes to clear away dirt from recent mudslides.

Our Local Hiking Guide

Our Local Hiking Guide

We drove up as far as we could take the truck, and from there we hiked for two glorious hours through pristine mountains, before eventually rounding a corner to see Morado Glacier. I had not expected the huge lagoon and icebergs; it looked like pictures I’ve seen of Alaska. The glacier itself was amazing, with its huge wall of ice. I witnessed sections of the glacier breaking off and plunging down the mountainside.

Zach Washes His Hands In 10 Million Year Old Stagnant Water.

Zach Washes His Hands In 10 Million Year Old Stagnant Water.

We had a lovely lunch that our guide Alberto prepared for us: sandwiches, fruit juice, and chocolates. Alberto is a Spaniard now living in Chile, originally from Barcelona. We hiked down to the water’s edge and washed our hands in the icy water… It seemed so perfect and wonderful… until I had an allergic reaction to something in the glacial water, and suddenly my hands had rashes on them. I suppose it could have been that, or something I ate, or another lagoon that I washed my hands in… I should stop washing my hands in all these lagoons!

More Hand Washing Water!

More Hand Washing Water!

At the end of our hike we ate again (fresh bread, French cheeses, cured meats, wine, and more chocolate). I washed my hands in this lagoon, too, by the way.

So Much Better Than Peruvian Ones... Trust Me

So Much Better Than Peruvian Ones… Trust Me

On the way back into Santiago, we stopped and I had Chilean empanadas, which I far preferred to the Peruvian ones. So moist and tender. I want another one! (Of course the Peruvian ones I have had, have never been at any restaurants that are actually in Peru, so I may change my mind when I have a chance to try one in Peru itself!)

When I got back to the hotel, Jim Laughlin was there. He is one of our Tour Directors who also helps us develop new tours. We had gin and tonics (or Jim and Tonics, as Jim’s tour groups like to call them) then went out for dinner. We spent a lot of time talking shop and exchanging ideas. When we got back to the hotel, we both conked right out.

Day 3 Off to Patagonia.

Flying Over the Andes!

Flying Over the Andes!

Jim and I met Fabian at the airport, and we all checked in for our flights. We had coffee and chatted about our mothers forcing us to clear our plates (something none of us did today). Our plane was delayed so we sat in the airport chatting for a long time. The flight over the Andes was long and beautiful. They fed us twice, and we had to make a stop in Puerto Montt, but we stayed on the plane and continued to Punta Arenas.

Aren't His Eyes Just Lovely... *sigh*

Aren’t His Eyes Just Lovely… *sigh*

Our guide in Patagonia was Alvaro and he is beautiful. He’s rugged and handsome, and a lot of fun, with big brown expressive eyes…. And… oh right, expansive knowledge of the region.  We stopped at a penguin colony. I made a cute video, and got to see piles and piles of penguins. We then drove forever… Patagonia is HUGE!! The trees were really cool looking, all bent over and in one direction from the constant winds. We drove past Fire Island (not the gay one) that got its name from sailors who spotted fires that the indigenous tribes were burning, when they thought the place was uninhibited.

The Old Equipment inside the Singular Hotel

The Old Equipment inside the Singular Hotel

When we arrived in Puerto Natales I was blown away by the beauty of the town. The fields were full of wild flowers, and the houses were painted in vivid colors.  Our hotel for this night was The Singular, which was amazing – and indeed a singular hotel. This hotel is remodeled from an old textile factory, and much of the old equipment is still present. They have built glass rooms and glass bridges for guests to move throughout the hotel. We stayed up way too late after dinner watching the vivid eternal sunset evolving right outside the giant windows. The alcohol in Patagonia is poured steep. When you ask for a Jim and Tonic, they bring you a bottle of tonic to go with your 12 ounce glass of gin. But the real adventure begins tomorrow. Our guys are going to love Patagonia!

[to be continued…]

To read about the tour inspired by this trip CLICK HERE!

Posted in All Welcome Tour, All Welcome Tour, Alyson Adventures, Biking, Chile, Essays, Group Tour, HE Travel, Hiking, Kayaking, Men's Tour, Men's Tour, Multi-Sport, Patagonia, The Gay Travel Blog, Travel, Uncategorized, Women's Tour, Writings, Zachary Moses | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Researching a Gay Multisport Tour From Miami to Gay Key West (Part 3)

This is Part Three of the research expedition that inspired the our fabulous South Beach to Gay Key West multi-sport tour. Click here to read (Part 1), Click here for (Part 2)

Day 3: Begin the Kayaking

OMG!!! We stayed up way too late last night celebrating our 100+ mile bike ride to get from Key West to Key Largo … aurgghhh such a headache! Was this the best way to start 120 nautical miles of kayaking? What were we thinking??

We enjoyed a breakfast of dried meat, fruit and watery oatmeal. (Why watery? Because Daisson made it, and straight guys don’t need to follow directions. He can make anything with his Colombian machismo …*eye roll*)  …Daisson also made some more of his burned coffee. But he made our breakfast and I didn’t have to, so l gracelessly accepted the fruits of his labor.

Moving the Kayaks

After a befuddled morning spent packing and repacking the kayaks, Daisson and I wrapped up our preparations and launched around 10:30 am. From here we paddled out into the mangrove channels of John Pennekamp State Park. It was an amazing maze of twists and turns that eventually led out into the open ocean.

Mangrove Maze

The water was a perfect aquamarine, and as smooth as glass. We made good time on our first day. Daisson and I made no stops whatsoever, because we had been so relaxed about our launch time and now needed to paddle like super humans in order to make it to our campsite for the evening.

My favorite part of the kayaking was when we would stop paddling while on the open water between islands to take potty breaks. It was a brief interlude where I could cool off, and take in my surroundings. We had to execute strange acrobatic maneuvers to accomplish this necessary task, resulting in a good number of capsizings. There are few things funnier than watching a grown man try to relieve himself while standing in a kayak in the middle of the open ocean.

Open Ocean

Our eating stops were so much fun too! We would link up our kayaks and make jokes about our ridiculous undertaking, “Why, oh WHY did we schedule 20 miles a day??” By the time we got to Coconut Cove, I was so sore and tired that I decided I would pay the extra money in order to sleep in the hotel room instead of camping for the night. It was wonderful: soft sheets, plush pillows and a nice hot bath. Daisson tried to tease me for pampering myself, and I just decided that I didn’t care what he said – I would treat myself to the same quality my clients would expect. It was heaven – no wonder our guys love 5-star lodgings!

ending a day

Day 4: The Paddling Comes to an End (so soon?!)

Daisson woke me up at 6:15. I would have happily slept until noon, but I was on a trip with Mr. Military, and we needed to get up and have a flag ceremony.

We got on the water by about 7:30 am for a beautiful crisp morning paddle. We crossed under the bridge to the gulf side, then zigzagged between islands. I decided I wanted to have more fun today, so I pulled right up into the mangroves. I got a great picture of a dragon fly that decided to land on my water bottle.

into mangroves

dragonfly

We paddled between mangrove islands, and even eventually made our way to Shell Island, where people are not allowed to set foot since it is a wildlife sanctuary. I paddled into the beautiful mangrove tunnels and did indeed attempt to set foot on the island until some huge prehistoric bird scared the living Sh** out of me. From that point on, I followed all the rules.

Shell Key

From Shell Key we paddled on and eventually landed on Lignumvitae Key, an island that is still home to an original, intact keys tropical forest. Then we paddled on to Robbie’s Marina. At this point my shoulder had started to give out from an old climbing injury and Sara was waiting to pluck me, my kayak, and my bruised ego from the water.

Daisson paddled on while we went out to lunch. As the rest of the day wore on, I began to realize that my shoulder injury was going to prevent me from continuing. I didn’t want to tell Daisson, and I asked Sara how on earth I was going to get out of tomorrow’s kayaking. She advised me to “Cry, Zach. Just bring on the tears.” We met Daisson at the campsite on Long Key and watched him set up camp. I told him that my shoulder just couldn’t take more of this journey and I suffered through his mockeries before I headed home to Key West for a wonderful night’s sleep in my own bed.

Day 5: The End of the World Brings an End to the Trip

Our intention had been to party hard at Knight’s Key, since it was the last night of the Mayan Calendar (yeah, remember when the End of the World didn’t happen?). If the Mayans were wrong, and the world continued the next day, we would paddle parallel to the Seven Mile Bridge and bee line it to Bahia Honda State Park. We had already bought a netted mosquito enclosure and more honey whiskey to celebrate the world ending.

daisson on his own

That morning, the wind started picking up really heavily and I saw that the Coast Guard had issued a small craft advisory. Safely at home, I started to worry about Daisson out on the water with no support. Around 1:00, he called me and told me he was going to have to call it quits on the trip. The weather was turning too foul and he no longer felt safe continuing with the Kayak portion of the trip.

I drove out to Curry Hammock to pluck Daisson out of harm’s way. On the way out there, the wind was blowing so hard that I feared I would lose the kayak once it was loaded on top of the truck. As I drove over the Seven Mile Bridge, I understood why he had decided to call the trip. The usually calm waters of the Florida Keys were raging into 4- and 5-foot swells.

Daisson looked exhausted and broken. We loaded up his kayak, then headed back to Key West to celebrate the world’s end (and the end of our adventure) at Irish Kevins in Key West.

loading to go

As we sat out the storm in a warm, dry pub, Daisson was clearly in a glum mood from not completing the trip that he had dreamed of for so long. I reminded him that plenty of expeditions or extreme sports get canceled or delayed because of injury or natural forces. I still loved the adventure! Getting out on my bike and on the water all along the Keys reenergized my love for my island paradise, and I came home with a lot of great ideas for making a Keys Adventure Tour that our clients would really love.

Below are some highlights from our Adventure Tour of the Fabulous Florida Keys and Gay Key West coming up in November/December, 2013. For more details, please click here.

Explore gay South Beach, enjoying the public art, architecture, & eye-candy of this trendy, gay-friendly island city.
Delve into the delicious tropical flavors of the local fruits and specialty wines of southern Florida.
Zip through the unique Everglades ecosystem on an airboat.
Scuba or snorkel to see Christ of the Abyss, a bronze statue submerged in the crystal clear water off of Key Largo.
Kayak through quiet tunnels of mangroves and underneath the bridge to nearby Indian Key.
Bicycle southwest along the Overseas Highway, through areas of native plant life as well as immaculately landscaped subtropical gardens.
Marvel at the expanse of shallow, shimmering water dotted with hundreds of islands and mangrove stands from the tiptop of the Seven Mile Bridge.
See endangered Key Deer in their native habitat (just a few of the thousands of islands host this rare species).
Wind your way through back-country scenery on a private, clothing-optional, gay paddleboarding tour.
Experience one of Key West’s famous drag shows and dive into the gay club scene with a local guide who can introduce you to everybody!
Live it up aboard a catamaran which sets sail for an all-day adventure full of jetskiing, parasailing, snorkeling, and just goofing off in the water.
Eat, play, and stay at gay-owned and gay-friendly restaurants, bars, and businesses throughout the tour. The Keys and especially Key West are tremendously welcoming of gay visitors who come from around the world to enjoy the warm, accepting atmosphere in addition to the amazing natural beauty of the island.
*For those who’d like to spend another day in paradise, we are offering an optional extension to visit Dry Tortugas National Park, a pristine island 70 miles west of Key West, and site of 19th century Fort Jefferson.

Posted in All Welcome Tour, All Welcome Tour, Alyson Adventures, Biking, Essays, Florida Keys & Key West, HE Travel, Hiking, Kayaking, Men's Tour, Men's Tour, Multi-Sport, Travel, Uncategorized, USA, Women's Tour, Writings, Zachary Moses | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gay Bike Tour and Kayak the Keys Research Tour (Part 2)

This is Part 2. To read Part 1, Click HERE.

To read about the tour that was inspired by this research trip, Click HERE.

Day Two: Curry Hammock State Park to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

What a gorgeous morning to continue researching our new gay bike tour! We walked to the beach where the water was as still as glass. The colors of the sky mixed with the colors of the ocean: pink and purple, pale blue and gray. The sun was piercing through the clouds and reflecting off the water, tropical birds were all around us, and everything was almost perfect as we sat back and enjoyed our horrible burnt coffee (Daisson was having a little trouble with his Bunsen Burner and stovetop espresso maker).

The coffee was terrible, but neither of us cared, because we were camping, and everything tastes amazing when you are camping and off on an adventure! We made videos and took pictures… People try to say that there are no beaches in the Keys. I have to say that this morning I was standing on one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever seen. My first job was as a professional beach attendant, then a decade later I was a professional surfing instructor, so I think I know a thing or two about beaches…even if I did recently say that the beach on Culebra was the prettiest ever.

We ate a simple breakfast this morning (which may not have been the best idea since it was 20 miles to our lunch stop), loaded our gear onto our bikes, and got on our way. Today opened with even more beauty than yesterday. There were far more bike paths and dedicated bike and fishing bridges than on yesterday’s ride, allowing us to ride away from the traffic on the Overseas Highway, as US Route 1 is called here in the Keys. The woods that lined the path opened up at regular intervals, providing us with beautiful vistas of the ocean. I was really starting to get excited about our kayaking tomorrow; the conditions of the water were absolutely perfect.

We continued to see amazing vistas with each small bend in the path and we eventually reached Habanos Oceanside Grill for a real breakfast/lunch. I was so hungry, I would have eaten practically anything. Honestly, the waitress could have brought me a bowl of fish fins and a pork bone and I would have been happy.

We sat next to a window and made jokes about each other’s outfits until the waitress took our orders. My fashionable biking attire was a bit gay for my straight friend Daisson’s taste… and I felt the least he could do is put on a clean shirt! The view of the Marina was spectacular and the food was fantastic. I got pork chops smothered in onions with a side of mashed potatoes and fried sweet plantains. I ate everything in 5 minutes, like some kind of ravenous wolf… a ravenous wolf with a pink bandana tied around his forehead.

Daisson had a fish sandwich which he said was so good that he ordered another one to go! He said he was going to put it in his pack and eat it in a few hours. Ughh… I was just sure he was going to get some kind of fish poisoning and I would have to give him mouth to mouth resuscitation. (I can just imagine the horror on his face when he wakes up to that! HA HA!)

Now that we were all rested and re-energized, we continued on with our day. At one point we were able to pull off onto a separate bike path with lush vegetation between us and the roadway. This is where we rode past beautiful multi-million dollar houses that you never see from the highway. I had not tied down my gear properly though, and at one point I almost lost my pack. I stopped to tie everything on more carefully, and realized that I had once again lost my honey bear.

Grrrr, this was now three honey bears lost along the way. At this rate I would never get to have any honey! Poor, poor bears.

In Tavenier the bike path ended, so we meandered through neighborhoods to avoid the highway. We stopped at a little place called Café Moka. Here we had fresh baked croissants and chai lattes. The girl at the counter told me that the owners of the café were French. I told her “that’s funny, because my boyfriend is French” and rolled my eyes toward Daisson. She smiled really big at him. He threw his arms up in his annoyed-at-Zach-gesture and cried “Really?? Why do you have to make every moment awkward for me!?”. I replied “Because it’s so EASY, Daisson.” I really have a knack for making my hetero friend uncomfortable; I mean, come on… he doesn’t even look French.

Back in the saddle, eventually the road opened back up into bike lanes with the occasional scenic byway where we could ride on the well-paved route that used to carry all the traffic through the Keys. The biking on this tour has been spectacular. I had no idea how great it would be before I made this test ride.

When we finally reached mile marker 100, we took all kinds of sexy(?) pictures and videos commemorating this momentous occasion.

We arrived at John Pennekamp Park and started the packing of our kayaks. We had left the majority of our kayak gear here the week before and now we were just making last-minute adjustments to the plan. We needed to move the kayaks closer to the water, so the park ranger let us load them in the back of a pickup truck and haul them over to the water’s edge.

Tonight Sara came up from the office and met us with some last minute supplies. We all went out for a celebratory dinner at a fabulous local Thai restaurant, (which is now a must for our tour) then made a last-minute run to the grocery store for supplies (and honey bears). I had no idea just how much food I would be consuming on this trip.

Tonight we all shared a celebratory flask of Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey Whiskey and stayed up late at our camp telling stories and cheering for our success.

Tonight I slept in a hammock completely encased in mosquito netting. I promise this is the most comfortable way to camp in our climate.

Tomorrow? Kayaking the Keys!

(to be continued…)

Posted in All Welcome Tour, All Welcome Tour, Alyson Adventures, Biking, Essays, Florida Keys & Key West, HE Travel, Hiking, Kayaking, Men's Tour, Men's Tour, Multi-Sport, Travel, Uncategorized, USA, Women's Tour, Writings, Zachary Moses | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Gay Date Through the Streets of Cairo.

Reblogged with permission by the Breakaway Backpacker, Jaime Davila

The door-opened lights went on in the dorm as if it was not 2am. I woke up pissed, but was freezing cold and needed to pee. I realized it was the hostel worker showing people the dorm. I handled my business, and then went up to him and asked him for an extra blanket. I thought, “hmmm he is cute”. We gave each other a look, but wasn’t sure if it was the “oh hey I am gay too look” or the “oh hey we accidentally caught each other looking at each other look”. He asked me to follow him to the closet. He made small talk… “Where are you from?” “What’s your name?” I didn’t think anything of it, and then in the closet for a split second we looked at each other and I swear he was going to reach out and kiss me. Me on the other hand thought “OMG I WANT TO JUMP HIS BONES”, but thought to myself “Jaime you are half asleep and just got here in Egypt don’t get crazy calm the fuck down”. So I got my blanket and went back to sleep.

I got up in the morning to enjoy my free breakfast; he was still around and I swear we were looking at each other like “hey lets fuck”, but ugh I have horrible gay-dar so never take action until I know. I had my free breakfast and went back to sleep (as usual). I finally got out of bed and went to the lobby with my daypack and had planned to work on my blog a bit before heading out and exploring Cairo. Moments later he sat near me and asked me what I had seen of Cairo I mentioned not much. He then offered to take me out and show me a bit. I thought “okay I can’t pass this up… he is cute, a local and I am pretty sure on my team”. I packed up my stuff and got ready for a mini date through the streets of Cairo.

So there we were… outside of the hostel and he asked me what I wanted to do. I had no clue… I know I wanted to explore Cairo, but was not sure what to do or see. He said, “we’ll start by visiting Tahrir Square and go from there”. We made our way to the Square and along the way I had him repeat his name like a million times because I didn’t remember it from the morning and couldn’t pronounce it to save my life. I felt like such an idiot… at one point he even told me to call him whatever I wanted. I felt horrible… (Now a few days later I can pronounce it well). We made it to the Square and he pointed out some key points from the revolution and he told me that he was there too fighting along the rest of the people. I was in awe… I couldn’t believe it.

Streets of Cairo, Egypt!

We had a tea and then he showed me around the back neighborhoods where you can see signs of the revolution. I asked so many questions and learned so much about it. He recognizes that the people of Egypt have come a long way since the start of the revolution, but still have a long way to go to be where they want to be.

We were making our way to a locals market and I still wasn’t sure if he was or wasn’t on my team. Then finally after dropping a few hints my self we started talking about our sexuality. I asked him how it was to be gay in Egypt. He let me know it’s very hard, because no one can find out. If someone does you will be shamed from your family, be beat or could even be killed for being so. My heart sank when I heard this as it does every time I hear this. I also learned a bit about what is required of the men during and after school in Egypt. They must finish University in a career that is not chosen by them and then serve in the military for a year before they can decide what to do with their lives.

Streets of Cairo, Egypt!

We continued chatting away making our way through areas of Cairo I’m sure I would have never seen on my own. We then had lunch before calling it a day. He hadn’t slept and I was a bit tired from walking about 5 hours. We made plans to meet up later that night.

Streets of Cairo, Egypt!

We met up later that night and made our way to a free live Egyptian dance show that is shown in a theatre nearby. On this night it was a mix of Egyptian & Indian music. It was very interesting and nice to see. He then took me and showed me around another market and mosque. While we were walking around the market he put his arm around mine. I was a bit shocked… never had I held a guys arm wondering around a city (not even at home), but then I remembered that in Arabic countries it’s normal. For them it is a sign of friendship and can be seen everywhere. I loved everything about this, it was all too sweet and a beautiful feeling.

We then met up with his friends and enjoyed some tea and chatted away. It was already getting late, but I was having a good time and wasn’t worried. He then invited me over to his friend’s house for a beer and to chat a bit more. It was so nice to be welcomed into an Egyptian home. We ended up having a beer along with some finger food and after a while of chatting decided to call it a night.

Streets of Cairo, Egypt!

His friend had a spare bedroom so we decided to take advantage of it. We had our first kiss and one thing led to another. Even though we were both exhausted we ended up not sleeping much and spent the night chatting away and enjoying each others company.

I love that this is how I spent my 1st full day in Cairo. I have always wanted to visit Egypt and Cairo is city I have wanted to visit my entire life. I don’t believe in luck, but everything about this was pure luck. I had no clue a simple blanket request and a few looks would lead to such an amazing experience. I know it may not sound amazing in writing, but for me it truly was. This guy is a sweet heart and I like him a lot, but we both know we are just having fun and enjoying each others company. We’ve spent several days since then together and exploring Cairo. The thing is I am loving Egypt so far, but it’s not giving me the same feeling Nicaragua or Turkey gave me in the essence of I must come back (at least not yet). So for now I am going to enjoy this and cherish every minute of it while I can.

************************

Thanks, Jaime, for letting us share your sweet story of romance on the road! –HE Travel

Posted in Egypt, Guest Blog, Travel, Uncategorized, Writings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Miami South Beach to Gay Key West Research Tour (Part 1)

By Zachary Moses

A gay multi-sport tour of the keys? Why didn’t we think of it before? Of course we should do a gay Keys and Key West tour! HE Travel has been headquartered on this sunny, gay-friendly island for 30 of our 40 years in the gay travel business.

Behind the scenes: Creation of an innovative new gay tour

In the office, we’ve never really been able to agree on the best way bring our own group of visitors to Key West, even though our town is world famous for being a great gay destination. The idea and jumpstart for the new tour came from my eccentric military buddy Daisson. His plan was to ride his bike from Key West to Key Largo, trade the bike for a fully loaded sea kayak, then paddle the entire way back to Key West … all 100 nautical miles.  And all of this in the EIGHT days before Christmas. He asked me if I wanted to be in on his harebrained scheme, and I thought “why not?”. I’ve been dreaming of a Keys tour for years, so why not get out and do a little research? Maybe take a little mini-vacation from my office and experience first-hand the beauty that makes the Florida Keys a famous destination for outdoor enthusiasts from all around the world.

Did I mention Daisson is a true-blue Army dude? I had no idea just what I was signing up for. This was no vacation, this was more like what I can imagine boot camp is like! Daisson had been planning his trip for about a year, and wanted to show me his notes. He took me onto the military base and he showed me his “command center.” Wow, it was like walking into mission control in a military movie. He had charts and maps taped to the walls, piles of outdoor gear, vacuum sealed bags of dried meat and fruit, notes, journals and logs, and every electronic military gadget he thought he might need. “This is an expedition,” he told me. “I want to be prepared for anything.” This was really a show of commitment… or a mental disorder… but I love Daisson, so I figured I would go with the former and trust his well-trained judgment.

Daisson poses next to the food we prepared for our 8 day research for HE Travel’s Gay South Beach to Gay Key West tour. Our rations included homemade beef jerky, every kind of raw nut and seed, and dried fruits and coconut.

 

We spent the week leading up to the trip frantically getting my supplies together and my bike outfitted with packs for the journey. We pre-packed our kayaks with our equipment and drove them up to Key Largo, where we stowed them in a storage shed at John Pennekamp State Park. On the drive south toward home, we took copious notes and GPS data points for emergency supplies, medical facilities, and most importantly, good Cuban restaurants and cheeseburgers.

Day 1: Key West to Curry Hammock by Bike

Phil, Zach, and Daisson in Key West getting ready to launch the research tour for HE Travel’s Gay South Beach to Gay Key West tour.

 

Daisson and I met at my house and prepped the last of our gear. Phil (HE Travel CEO) came by to bid us Bon Voyage. Phil really put the pressure on me when he stated to me that he was sure I would design the best gay vacation ever with this one.

We then rode from my house at mile marker 1 (MM1) to the famous MM0 sign for pictures. Mile Zero, we had decided, had to be the official start of our research tour, or the tour wouldn’t have that “authentic” feel to it.

We departed along the south side of the island and rode past the monument for the Southernmost Point in the continental USA. We then continued on the waterfront bike path past the beaches and airport and out onto the Overseas Highway. Leaving Key West and entering neighboring  Stock Island, we took a detour to have coffee with our friends Jess and Casey who live at the Golf Course.

Sara from the office sent us a text to tell us how great our GPS tracker was working, because she checked it and could tell that we were NOT actually doing our research ride, and she knew damn well that we were lollygagging, and by the way, “How are Jess and Casey?”… oops! Busted!

Gay Key West Tour

After our scolding, we downed our coffee and took off up the Keys. At one point we decided to cut across some grass and Daisson had the first and only flat of the trip, at MM10. I spent a good deal of time fixing his flat tire (Mr. Military Preparedness had overlooked this particular skill). Plus, he had just gotten a new pair of really tight fitting gator tires, and getting the bead to go over the rim was an absolute nightmare.

Luckily, I am a bike guide, and if there is anything I know tricks for, it’s changing a flat tire. I had to unpack my shaving soap and smear it all over the wheel: I was able to use this slickness to convince the tire over the rim. I only had a hand pump and could not get the tire pressure as high as I would have liked. I would have used a compressor at a gas station to make up the difference, but unfortunately when I went to grab it, I realized someone had stolen my the adapter right off my tire stem…grrrr. We rode a bit up the road to try and find a bike shop. When we checked at a visitor center to ask where the closest one was, they said it was either backtrack the 10 miles to Key West, or continue 20 miles to MM31 on Big Pine Key. I just about broke my hand trying to fill the tire as full as I could, so that Daisson could make it without having to backtrack. This is my level of commitment to non-backtracking.

When we pulled into Big Pine Key we stopped at the Good Food Conspiracy Health Food Store for snacks, directions to the bike shop, and a bottle of honey for quick energy replenishing. Next we stopped at the little bike shop and used their compressor to bring Daisson’s tire pressure up and bought some new adapters for any future flats.

From here we continued through the rest of Big Pine Key, which was a really beautiful stretch complete with a half a dozen endangered Key Deer sightings! We crossed the bridge and soon made it to Bahia Honda State Park, known for having the most beautiful beaches in the Keys. We stopped to take photos of the original bridge built by Henry Flagler for the overseas railroad. It was one of the few iron truss bridges of the original railroad and designed for a single rail track inside the bridge. When the Overseas Highway was built on the original railbed in 1938, the highway deck was actually built on top of this bridge.

From Bahia Honda Key we continued a short distance to neighboring Ohio Key where there is a resort and a gas station. We had been riding way too hard for the last two hours, due to the lazy start we had this morning. With the six or seven coffee stops that we’d made, and our tendency to dilly-dally, we were just running out of time. We were both suffering from blood sugar lows and we still had 15 miles left to go for the day! We entered the gas station and wolfed down a dozen chocolate bars and a half gallon of Gatorade. These are the sugary things I would normally never eat or drink, but they were so delicious and just what I needed! I felt re-energized and ready to tackle the Seven Mile Bridge.

A couple more tiny bridges, and we made our way to the entrance of the famous Seven Mile Bridge (shown being blown up in “True Lies!” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis).

Gay Key West and the Seven Mile Bridge

We took a few pictures at the entrance to the Seven Mile Bridge, adjusted our rear view mirrors, then set off single-file. We were not really looking forward to this unbroken stretch of bridge, expecting the traffic to be bad and the ride boring. On the contrary, it turned out to be the most beautiful Keys view I’ve ever experienced. When we topped the high section of the bridge the view was absolutely spectacular, with visibility for miles in all directions. We got a true appreciation for the beauty of the 1700 or so islands that make up the Florida Keys.

At the peak of the bridge there was a plaque commemorating the life of a man Peter C Fancher the bridge tender who lost his life in a tragic accident on the old bridge in 1981. I never knew this sign was here. I’ve driven this route dozens of times and never saw the sign until now.

On the far side of the bridge we came to the unbroken bike paths of Marathon. It was lovely riding through Marathon on these winding pathways. We stopped to get dinner at the Publix (already tired of our rations of jerky), and darkness fell while we were in the store. We had to ride the last few miles to our campground at Curry Hammock State Park in the dark. Part of what I do in research is to figure out how much time activities take. This way my group never has to repeat my errors and ride in the dark.

We arrived at our campground exhausted, and still had to find the park ranger’s place. When we finally got our camp set up, I was sooo hungry. I had tied my bag of groceries to the back of my bike rack, and it was at this point that I discovered that that I had lost my orange…Damn It!!! I wanted that orange like nobody’s business. Plus, I would have killed for a bathtub to soak in. It was at this point I realized that, in designing our Gay Keys Tour, I would absolutely NOT be asking our guys to sleep on the ground, and there would be hot baths (or at least showers) at the end of every day! However, it was nice to know that one could sleep naked in a mosquito tent in December; the weather was lovely.

For more information about the tour that this research inspired click here!

Curry Hammock state park Gay Key West tour

 

Posted in All Welcome Tour, All Welcome Tour, Alyson Adventures, Biking, Essays, Florida Keys & Key West, HE Travel, Kayaking, Men's Tour, Men's Tour, Multi-Sport, Philip Sheldon, Travel, Uncategorized, Women's Tour, Writings, Zachary Moses | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments