Thursday, March 28, 2024

Colonia's charms attract international visitors to quaint historic town


Plaza de toros Real de San Carlos, the bullring in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, was built in 1909 but soon closed after prohibition of bull fighting in 1912. After a century of abandonment, it was restored in 2021, transformed into a cultural center.



VISITORS FROM                     


 Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento is one of the graceful
reminders of the long and colorful history of Colonia.



NOW A QUAINT little tourist town in southwestern Uruguay, Colonia del Sacramento has a rich and stormy history. Like many contemporary cities, one wouldn't envision war and conflict from its peaceful present facade.
Located on the vast expanses of  Rio de la Plata, Colonia faces Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is one of Uruguay's most visited and oldest towns.
It's also a popular weekend getaway for wealthy and middle-class Argentines, known as "porteños " or people of the port because so many arrived by boat.
The streets of Colonia reall an earlier time. Little shops,
eateries and old stone buildings remind of long ago.
WE FOUND two convenient ways to reach Colonia: by bus from Montevideo or by boat from Buenos Aires. Through the centuries, legions of settlers and explorers have arrived by the murky brown waters of the huge river. The quickest and easiest way is still by water, with two ferry companies operating from Buenos Aires, a pleasant 75 minute ride in one of the comfortable, frequent ships.  The bus trip from Montevideo is longer -- about two hours -- with mostly farmland and prairie out the window and not as comfortable as the ferry. These ferries are unlike others we've used in Europe or Asia. They're huge little cities, with several classes of seats (we chose the Buquebus mid-priced option.) The comfy seats recline, there's an enormous duty free shop on board and a variety of snack and beverage options.
Colonia's lighthouse dates to 1850. 

Arriving in the town, population 27,000, is a relaxing change from busy Buenos Aires.
Its historic quarter is a Unesco World Heritage Site. But besides historic buildings attracting tourism, today's  Colonia produces textiles. It also boasts a free trade zone, a busy polytechnic center and government buildings.

WHILE THE Portuguese established Colonia in 1680, it has been heavily disputed and many times brought under siege as Spain desired it, too.  Spain took the city twice -- in 1681 and 1705, claiming the area based on the Treaty of Tordesillas. But the Spanish returned it to the Portuguese by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The Spanish-Portuguese war lasted two brutal years from 1735-37, but failed. The dispute's long history stems from Colonia's river location which is still attracting explorers and investors. Uruguay has launched plans to create its version of Silicon Valley
in Colonia. ''Colonia Ala Este'' is designed by U.S. investors to attract Argentine immigrants
Colonia's pastels, stone and stucco make it an attractive
stop for tourists, who can easily spend a day or two.
who wish to escape the challenging economy in their country. The goal is to double the population -- to 60,000 people. With an initial investment of more than US$100 million, plans are to build a sustainable city open to the community to generate a hub for the knowledge- economy industry.  The designated 500-hectare site  includes forests and seven kilometers of coastline with lovely beaches including Calabrés and Fernando.
ANOTHER SIGN of growth is the impressive Plaza de Toros Real de San Carlos, a former bullring now reinvented. Built in 1909, the ring was shortly closed after prohibition of bull fighting in 1912. In 2021, after a century of abandonment, it was beautifully restored and transformed into a cultural center for musical and sports.
Colonia is a pleasant place for a stroll, with its
cobblestone, attractive architecture and great bridge. 

Colonia is truly Uruguay's shining star, a pretty little "cash cow" without being corny. It's welcoming and safe, with history at every turn, beautiful little shops and terrific dining at half the price of Buenos Aires, which we also love. We found it a pleasant complement to the bustle of the city.

We dined on tasty fish,
chicken and salad with
a river view in one of
Colonia's many eateries.

Colonia is popular with tourists from South America
and beyond, but particularly Buenos Aires and the U.S.
Colonia is a popular getaway for both Argentines and international travelers  enjoyed a day in the picturesque town where we
The drive to Colonia
offers this landscape.

strolled around low houses and quiet squares, developed centuries ago.


Tango relies on quick movement, sexy poses and agile
dancers, always backed by expert musicians.

UP NEXT: Tango, that seductive, sexy, passionate dance of Argentina and Uruguay, originated in the bordello.  It was once a dance practiced only by prostitutes, pimps and those considered "low life" by the aristocracy.  Now it is a major tourist attraction and respected artform. It is also expensive, if you frequent the clubs. But there are ways to see tango without paying through the nose.  Buskers often tango for tips, and if you're on a cruise in that part of the world, you'll have tango as part of the cruise fare. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch  us weekly for a fresh spin on performance, travel, nature, family and more: 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

End of the world in Ushuaia with wondrous birds, parks and more

Cormorants abound off the tip of South America, with a motor boat trip from Ushuaia.
From a distance they resemble penguins, which are found nearby near "the end of the world." 

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers are delighted
to be on the penguin trail, motoring out of Ushuaia, Argentina.




A giant southern sea lion sits surrounded by his harem and
young pups, while cormorants stand sentinel in the distance.

Fishing and pleasure boats can be found in the
Ushuaia harbor, at the end of the continent

was electric.  We could feel the excitement in our small touring boat, a comfy catamaran which took us from the cruise port terminal in Ushuaia toward Isla de Los Pajaros, or Bird Island. We were looking for penguins and cormorants.
Bruce Keller and Christene
"Cookie" Meyers in Ushuaia
on an outing from Celebrity.

We two sipped tea while others ordered red wine. Together we cruised the Beagle Channel and approached the island, covered with cormorants and seals. The birds fooled us at first, because they resemble penguins from a distance. But as we came closer we could see their  orange feet and large impressive wings.  Definitely not penguins. But beautiful cormorants. Penguins would come a bit later. The cormorants  are noisy, demanding critters -- fun to watch as they spread their wings, dive to feed their young, ever keeping one another in line.
WE KNEW we were in for a treat leaving windy, wild and sometimes wet Ushuaia, located at the tip of Argentina and a busy port city for Antarctica
The charm of Magellenic penguins is obvious from
the first encounter. They are captivatingly cute.

cruises. It holds the title as the southernmost town on the American continent and in the world.
Isla de los Pájaros is a rock sticking out of the Beagle Channel, several miles offshore from Ushuaia. It gets its name because it’s home to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of birds.

El Fin del Mundo -- the end of the world -- beckoned
Cookie and Keller on an adventure to view wildlife.
THE PEOPLE of Ushuaia welcome the sun because they don't always have it in their windswept town, perched on a steep hill and surrounded by the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel. It's the gateway to our tour to several islands, including  Isla Yécapasela, known as “Penguin Island” for its penguin colonies of mostly Magellenic penguins and a beautiful park, Tierra del Fuego National Park, where we also stopped.
It is closer to the Antarctic Peninsula than to Argentina’s capital city, Buenos Aires, where our adventure began on a cruise five days earlier.
MANY PEOPLE never consider a trip to this remote part of the world, but we've been many places -- including an earlier trip to this part of the planet -- and we love it.  We prepared for the dips in temperature -- from 90 degrees F in Buenos Aires, to below freezing in the Antarctic.
 I grew up in Montana, and was excited to return to this part of the subantarctic forest, with its tundra, glaciers and gorgeous coastline.
The Magellanic penguin can be recognized by his
beautiful curved markings and pink around his eyes.

Tierra del Fuego also offers jagged peaks, a thick beech forest, and a wild array of animals — including a relative of the camel, the graceful guanaco with its coveted fur.
Whether you're cruising or visiting on your own, Ushuaia is a fascinating place.
Its classic birding spots besides the islands we visited include its famous landfill where the caracara vulture abounds, the ski-lift area at the Martial Glacier, the national park, and Garibaldi Pass to the north of the city.
My birding cousin Betty would have loved our outing.  "The more remote the better," was her motto.  Remote, Ushuaia is.  And wondrous.

An accomplished cast presents a polished production
of  "Tartuffe," Moliere's masterful satire. Director
Richard Baird works magic in this satirical comedy.
                                                          --photo by Aaron Rumley
A first-rate production of "Tartuffe," Moliere's satirical comedy on religious hypocrisy, is selling out in San Diego. The work, at always inventive North Coast Repertory Theatre, features Richard Baird's imaginative direction.  His impeccable actor's timing shines on the other side of the footlights in this timely 17th Century romp. It's brilliantly acted with belly laughs aplenty as the fraud Tartuffe worms his way into a wealthy French home, fooling the lord of the manor and his mother, but not every member of the household. The production is a breakneck ride of wit, wigs and naughty merriment. Poet Richard Wilbur's translation preserves the playwright's delightful rhyming couplets and double entendres. Baird and his virtuoso cast deliver Moliere in all his bawdy brilliance.  Through April 7. 858 481-1055.    
Colonia in Uruguay, is known for its historic quarter
and beautiful Portuguese and Spanish buildings. Many
museums sport gorgeous ceramic tiles, a Colonia specialty

UP NEXT: Colonia in southwestern Uruguay, by the Río de la Plata, faces Buenos Aires, Argentina and is one of the oldest towns in Uruguay. We found it charming and inviting, not as "touristy" as we'd expected. The lovely village is the departmental capital,  Colonia del Sacramento, known for its cobbled historic quarter and colonial Portuguese and Spanish buildings. Many museums are also on view, including the Museo del Azulejo, filled with ceramic tiles. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, performance, family and more:

Thursday, March 14, 2024

On the penguin trail: fascinating tours go far into the southern hemisphere for treasured viewing opportunities


Gentoo penguins are recognized by their bright orange feet and their reddish beaks.
They are a bit over three feet tall when mature and keep their single egg, then their young chick
warm in the folds above their feet. It's an ingenious, generations old technique that mostly works. 

 Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Bruce Keller tour at Bluff Cove
in the Falklands (Las Malvinas), surrounded by Gentoo Penguins


I HAVE A LOVE affair with penguins. Since childhood, I've admired these beautiful and complex creatures.
Years ago, near Three Forks, Montana, my parents paid 50 cents a head for our family to step inside a large trailer and view two forlorn penguins on a block of ice.

King penguins are distinguished by their
bright orange markings. Here they are
communicating with one another. Each
has a unique sound and pitch so parents
and young can find one another in crowds.
They just sat stoically on the ice and I envisioned them free, doing what penguins do. This wouldn't happen now -- it shouldn't have happened then. But it propelled me into a lifetime of animal advocacy, animal love and respect. It encouraged me to travel thousands of miles -- twice -- to view penguins in their native habitat of the vast Antarctic.
PENGUINS ARE charming, resilient, and adorable.  They make us laugh as they move, and their young are captivatingly cute.  We chose a Celebrity cruise out of Buenos Aires to travel to Buenos Aires and on south.  The purpose was to see wildlife, primarily penguins. Penguins are at the top of my "favorite wildlife" list.  Of the 18 species on the planet, 11 are threatened, so we wanted to see them again while we're still agile enough to make the difficult 8,600 mile trip from San Diego.  

WE BOOKED a two-week cruise out of Buenos Aires, aboard the beautiful Celebrity Eclipse.  We choose it because we love the ship and it went where we wanted to explore, with a fine focus on wildlife.
Our driver's jacket
shows "penguin pride."
The largest colony of Magellanic penguins is found on
Punta Tombo, where this pair seems content and healthy
and did not shy away from our cameras.
The route allowed us to spend several days watching three main species, although we saw others. Today's feature will focus on the King, Gentoo and Magellanic -- the latter named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who led five ships to South America in 1519, eventually opening trade routes across the oceans to the East Indies.
Getting to penguins involves a long journey to the southern
hemisphere, then a cruise out of Buenos Aires, then boarding
tenders or zodiacs to search for the penguin colonies.

There are 8 species of penguins in Antarctica and the surrounding region: Emperor, Adélie, Gentoo, Rockhopper, Macaroni, Magellanic, Chinstrap and King. All are devoted to their young, and mostly monogamous, at least during pregnancy and until the youngster is able to fend for himself. "Then it's up to them," our guide said. 

PENGUINS ARE amazing animals. Their characteristics have long fascinated millions of us, that brotherhood of animal lovers around the world. They go incredible distances to find food for their young, sharing responsibility for maturing each precious egg. 
"Keller and Cookie" enjoy communion with
the Magellanic penguins of the Falklands.
The Emperor penguin marches -- some say "waddles" -- 75 miles one way to find food for his or her baby. In all the species we viewed, both parents participate in the care of the egg and feeding of the chick once hatched. Among other fascinating evolutionary traits, their stomachs have adapted to allow them to drink saltwater.
Each species is unique its appearance and habits.
THE FIRST ones we met were the Gentoo penguins. With flamboyant red-orange beaks, white-feather caps, and peach-colored feet, Gentoos stand out against their drab, rock-strewn Antarctic habitat.
 At Bluff Cove, they share the space with King 
A mother King penguin tends to her plump little chick.
The parents may lose up to half of their body weight
during the first year of feeding their young
penguins, the second largest species of penguin, slightly smaller, but similar in appearance to the Emperor penguin. We found these guys and gals irresistible with their shiny black heads, chins, and throats.  A distinctive mark is the vivid orange, tear-shaped patches on each side of the head. This striking tangerine hued coloration extends to the upper chest. 
Most of them came up to my shoulder -- about 38 inches. The young are furry, and develop the waterproof skin as they get closer to their diving and swimming debut with the water. 
What is magical about being with penguins is the rapport with these splendid creatures. As Keller said, "Viewing them in a majestic place,  we feel the remote locale and the unique experience of communion."  The tranquility and order -- with everything in place as nature takes its course -- lingers in our hearts, minds and memories.

More information:


From a distance, these resemble penguins, but they are
cormorants, great divers, near the town of Ushuaia.

UP NEXT: While we're way south of Buenos Aires, we take readers on our next foray to Ushuaia, which beckons us to explore and enjoy the wildlife there. Ushuaia is a pretty resort town in Argentina, where residents crave the sun which seems to visit only occasionally. It's located on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, the southernmost tip of South America, nicknamed the “End of the World.” The windswept and tidy town, perched on a steep hill, is surrounded by the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel. It's the gateway to Antarctica, where we took a day-long boat trip from our cruise ship. The nearby Isla Yécapasela is known as “Penguin Island” for its penguin colonies and stunning cormorants.   Join us, remembering to explore, learn and live. Soon, we'll visit stately Colonia in Uruguay, the magnificent opera house, Colon, in Buenos Aires, and the turtles of Poipu on the island of Kauai. 

BEST BET:  An ensemble of gifted 
Sharp direction and a knock-out cast make "Hand to God" a
must see theater experience. It's provocative, funny yet
 poignant, connecting with the audience on many levels.  
actors brings "Hand to God" to life in a hilarious yet poignant production by Roustabouts Theatre Company in San Diego. It's a sardonic, over-the-top study of morality, faith and the human condition. Eye-popping antics unfold on the intimate Diversionary Theatre stage. It's an adult comedy with dark undertones featuring an x-rated puppet whose foul mouth expresses a sardonic flip side to its mild-mannered owner.  Roustabouts founder Phil Johnson employs his evocative direction to bring New York playwright Robert Askins's work to southern California. An exceptional cast of five shines with perfect timing and physical innuendo. Rebecca Crigler, Adam Daniel, Samantha Ginn, Dave Rivas and Devin Wade obviously enjoy their craft as they fine-tune each move and wisecrack. "Hand to God" is thought provoking, asking its audience between laughs, to consider the hypocrisy of religion and moral codes which ultimately contradict themselves.  The characters' body language and facial movements create a vernacular of their own.  Don't miss it if you're anywhere in the state, country or planet. A must for the thinking theater goer. (619) 569-5800 or visit

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Palm Springs drag show marks six years of fun, community service


Oscar's is a fun gig for both full-house audiences and performers, who rake in tips and work hard for them. The "Bitchiest Brunch" features emcee Anita Rose, right, and below ready for her close-up in another costume with  writer Christene "Cookie" Meyers. On Sunday,        March 10,
  the "Bitchiest Brunch" features Oscar's owner Dan Gore in drag on a zip line to celebrate six years of crowd pleasing brunches, at both the
10 a.m. and 1 p.m. shows.







OSCAR'S in downtown Palm Springs is more than a nightclub, a restaurant, or a fun place to see a show.  It's part of the soul of this interesting and diverse city, a mecca for the rich and famous, a place for sun, golf and R&R, and a well known gay and trans-friendly town.

Oscar's Owner Dan Gore, aka Cheyenne Demuir,
left and right. He'll headline this weekend's
"Bitchiest Brunch" Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

This weekend marks the sixth  anniversary of
Miss Bee Hiven takes a few
green kudos from happy fans.
Dan Gore has a long career
in the entertainment business,
from promoter to filmmaker.
He produces the shows and
owns Oscar's Cabaret.
 Oscar's weekend Saturday and Sunday drag show's, "Bitchiest Brunch," and owner Dan Gore is celebrating in style. The show is sure to sell out on Sunday, March 10, with producer and entrepreneur Gore dressing for the occasion and whizzing onto the stage on a zip line for two "Bitchiest Brunch" performances, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Emcee Anita Rose has been with him since the brunch's beginning in Palm Springs, a town with a long, proud history as a gay friendly village.  In the 1970s and 1980s during the AIDS crisis, it was a place for gay men to seek treatment and refuge. Hundreds of people were treated at its medical centers where living costs and medical care were more accessible and cheaper than in New York  or San Francisco.

When the dancers' bosoms are
full, the tip overflow goes into
a money box carried by a rover.

THUS, THRU THE YEARS, the city developed a strong reputation as an LGBT-friendly destination.

The greenbacks roll in during a performance,
as dancers and agile gymnasts shake, rattle,
 roll, do splits, kicks, spins and turns for tips.
Here Luna Lafierce collects gratuities
while dancing and miming all the time. 
Today, the Palm Springs area has a flourishing LGBTQ base, and Oscar's celebrates that. We love to visit the venue.  It's lively, friendly and fun.  People smile and laugh. It's an oasis of kindness, acceptance and folks just out to have a good time. Many gay couples choose this desert city for their elderly years. Part of the weekend's proceeds go to the area's LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert, which provides a welcoming environment for all members of the community. Oscar's paves the way for understanding.

John Eltinge was born
William Dalton and was a
  famous 1920s drag queen
playing in New York and
London. He performed
 for King Edward II.

Dancing with audience members is
part of the fun at Oscar's with
quick costume and wig changes.
Here's Luna Lafierce again
with a new hairdo. 

Wigs are big, boobies are
sometimes pointed, and a
good time is had by all,
here with Diamond Evvon.


 SAYS GORE,"There's a real need for a platform for this caliber of entertainment." Does Oscar's have its detractors?  "Oh, sure," says Gore. "But of the skeptics who come in for a show, 70 per cent leave changed and accepting; 30 per cent just don't get it or buy it." 
Part of the fun at Oscar's is tipping the dancers.
Here a bride-to-be offers tips from her dress.
Oscar's -- named for a favorite dog -- is known for its programming diversity which welcomes both straight and gay audiences for its drag cabaret. Besides funding to the LGBTQ Center, Oscar's is also a generous donor to other Palm Springs activities and organizations.  On Christmas Day, Gore and his staff offer a free holiday meal with all the trimmings.  "Anyone can come and it's always packed," he says.  Other ways Oscar's gives back is through contributions to the local food bank, to Boys and Girls Clubs
Oscars brunches give way to
evening entertainment.
and other civic enterprises. Plaques of gratitude are framed inside with a wall of Hollywood performers who have visited. "We try to be generous to the community," says Gore, in the spirit of "giving back."
Tickets and info:

We photographed these charming Gentoo penguins at
Bluff Cover in the Falkland Islands, known as Islas Malvinas
to the Argentine people.  

UP NEXT:   We're on the penguin trail. From a popular Palm Springs drag show to penguins, we're at the tip of South America photographing those enchanting penguins. Depending on your source, there are either 17 or 18 species of penguins on the planet, 5 of which live in Antarctica. Another 4 species live on sub-Antarctic islands. We saw four species, and observed three up close and personal on a recent trip to the Antarctic. Penguins are charming, resilient and adorable. They were the main reason we traveled thousands of miles, cruising from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to see them and other wildlife. We hope you'll enjoy our upcoming story, remembering to explore, learn and live, and catch us weekly for a unique spin on travel, nature, performance, family, the arts and more.