Following his retirement as CEO of Group Five at the end of last year, Mike Upton and his wife, Cathy, took a trip of a lifetime to mark this significant transition. This journey afforded them not just an opportunity to enjoy different countries and cultures, but also time to reflect on what they really wanted for this new phase of their lives.
Cathy and Mike have kindly shared their blogs about this milestone trip, which we have posted on our Retire Successfully website under the Play section. You can follow them on their journey as it unfolds – just click through to the account of the next leg of the journey … and watch that space, as Mike and Cathy will be updating us as they complete their writing and downloading their photographs.
Left: Mike and Cathy on the 17 Mile Drive
Here is the first extract from the Upton travel diary.
Following a 16-hour flight to New York, and hunting for a lost bag at JFK, we caught our connecting flight to San Francisco. Six hours with my own television screen allowed me to watch the Indian Wells tennis live, with a bit of sleep in between.
While our hotel was comfortable, our first shopping trip to the local Safeway supermarket (for apples and yoghurt) was certainly not a familiar experience. I was served by my first transgender teller: ponytail, painted nails, lipstick, huge hands flamboyantly ringing up my purchases, he was friendly and, no doubt, used to being a curiosity to first-time shoppers. We also witnessed a shoplifter trying to dodge the security guard, with six large bags of crisps … he got away, sans his plunder. We assumed he must be one of the many homeless we saw in San Francisco, lolling about the streets and parks in long dirty robes.
Our three-day Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) pass allowed us to discover Sausalito, a small pretty quaint town just across the bay and across the Golden Gate bridge. Having a chicken salad lunch looking across the bay towards the San Francisco skyline is an amazing feeling, and taking the ferry back from Sausalito made it our “bay cruise” experience.
Alcatraz is definitely worth seeing: book a time slot, board a ferry and take the 15 minute ride just offshore. You can listen to an audio account as you walk around the cell blocks, dining hall and rest of the facility. Solitary confinement was in a small cell in the pitch dark. We heard about attempted escapes: three people disappeared never to be seen again – whether they made it to shore is unknown: the icy water and strong currents indicate that anyone in the water would be swept out to sea. Others aspirant escapees were taken back to Alcatraz to be appropriately punished. Al Capone was probably the most famous inhabitant, jailed for income tax evasion.
Right:Cathy is dwarfed by the giant Redwood trees in the Muir Woods.
A highlight was going to Muir Woods to see the giant redwood trees: 1½ hours to walk on one of the many trails … being under a massive canopy of endless 1,000 year old giant redwoods reaching up 250 feet with dappled sunlight shining through creates a wonderful peaceful feeling.
San Francisco is cycling-friendly, with many “Rent a bike” shops, special bike paths along the main roads and considerate car-drivers. Thousands cycle over the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito and then take the ferry (with a separate queue for cyclists) back. The weather in San Francisco is temperate, though we bought beanies to wear on the open top HOHO bus.
Santa Monica in Los Angeles
Four days of driving (Mike did really well in hire car and driving on the right-hand side of the road) found us at our first night stop in Monterey. The two-hour guided walk on the dunes and beaches with elephant seals sunning themselves at the Ano Nuevo State Park was just a taste of the wonderful things to come.
Monterey is a pretty and quiet town; The Cannery, on the main street, is full of old warehouse buildings dolled up to become restaurants and shops. We did a lovely walk along the coast to the harbour where seals were basking on the rocks, but gave the famous Aquarium a miss. We have found the Best Western chain of hotels to be great value, and our hotel in Monterey was no exception.
17-Mile-Drive has dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean: we found Pebble Beach Golf Club where the US Open Golf was played a few years ago, and will be again in 2019 to celebrate 100 years of golf on the course. At the main club house, The Lodge, we were greeted by a chap togged up in old-fashioned golf attire who told us he had surfed with Shaun Thomson years ago – no mention of Ernie or Retief, though!
From the lounge area, we gasped at the magnificent view of the 18th green and fairway through the massive floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Imagine playing golf on that course or even just watching the pros from that vantage point: the grass was greener than you could imagine with palm trees here and there and the cliffs beyond with the blue-blue ocean sparkling down below.
Left: Pebble Beach Golf Course
Carmel is a gorgeous little town, pretty and quaint with tree-lined streets and loads of little shops and restaurants along every street in every direction. Clint Eastwood was Mayor of Carmel for many years and still lives in the area. They love their Spring in America, and we enjoyed seeing hanging baskets of flowers around all the towns.
Big Sur is Chapman’s Peak multiplied by 100 or probably 1 million! The amazing views mile after mile are difficult to believe. We stopped numerous times to take pics and found the famous Bixby Bridge, a lovely bridge with circular arches underneath.
At Piedras Blancas we saw elephant seals, and several adult males with the huge probiscus nose, some even fighting for territory and females. To think we went all the way to Antarctica to see them only to be there in the wrong season.
Elephant seals lolling in the sun, Elephant seal colony, Pull up a seat and watch the sun set in Cambria
We reached Cambria for our overnight stop. It has one main street along the coast filled with lodgings, one after another, all low rise. The boardwalk across the street and on the coast side was a lovely walk and we enjoyed the natural spring flowers all around us. Each hotel places a couple of deck chairs on their front lawns to view the sunset … quite odd to see these chairs placed randomly on the grass near the main street, but they were well-used.
Via the Trolley Tour, we saw what we have seen in California all along, just a more gorgeous version: rows of tall palm trees with a sprout of leaves at the very top, a lovely small harbour, rows of volleyball nets on the beach, cycle paths alongside the streets. Montecito, Santa Barbara is where Oprah has a house – I can see why she likes it there. It’s cleaner than most: the buildings are painted white, Spanish-style architecture with red tiled roofs, lots of green lawns and palm trees everywhere. We saw a young dead seal pup in the sea next to the pier and within 5 minutes, a huge grader rolled across the beach to pluck him out of the water and bury him deep in the sand. Instant attention when needed.
The next day we found a little inlet, like a plaza, leading to a statue surrounded by a fountain and real live tiny turtles sunning themselves on rocks in the water. Americans love flags so there were a few flags flying high up on the buildings. We found a lovely bistro called Jeannine’s for a delicious salad. Mike says he feels like a rabbit, we have eaten so many salads!
When we continued along the PCH or Pacific Coast Highway 1 along the coast, we saw hundreds of RV’s parked bumper to bumper for miles along the road near Ventura. We think people rent them and they are permanently parked there, what a way to holiday … oh no! RVs are ubiquitous in California.
Ready to go to LAX (Los Angeles Airport) for our midnight flight to Tahiti. We spent time re-packing to bring our big cases down to the 23kg allowed: I am wearing two t-shirts, two belts, two watches underneath my jacket! Our jacket pockets are bulging with camera cables and adaptors. You would think we were going to Alaska and not to the tropics!
Tahiti – a paradise
The flight from LAX to Tahiti was 8 ½ hours, with a 3-hour time difference.
On arrival in Tahiti, we took a taxi to the ferry port and 45 minutes later the ferry deposited us on Moorea – oh, what heaven … talk about a beautiful tropical island! We liked Moorea the best of all the six French Polynesian islands we visited, even more than Bora Bora: very green, lots of forests, jagged peaks, amazing blue sea all around.
Our hotel, the Pearl Resort Moorea, was lovely. We had sourced an overwater bungalow on booking.com at a good price so everything was perfect.
How did we spend our 4 days on beautiful Moorea?
- diving and jumping off the deck of our bungalow into the warmest blue sea;
- Snorkelling around the legs of the bungalows, though the fish weren’t plentiful;
- Kayaking around the hotel’s waters;
- Walking to the little town of Maharepa on hot humid days, wishing for shade;
- Sitting on the ocean edge under cream-coloured umbrellas having fish lunch at the Moorea Beach Café;
- Trying to find affordable lunch and dinner venues. A bad decision was quiche and lettuce leaves – US$5 for the lettuce leaves (that’s R60 … for lettuce leaves! Their version of salad!)
- Shopping for Tahitian black pearls (so-called for their dark coloured outer shells) and finding the perfect pendant;
- Standing in waist-deep water with stingrays and black-tip sharks swarming around our ankles while the tour guide fed them;
- Stroking the stingrays’ slimy backs time and again (we know scuba divers don’t usually touch!);
- Jetski tandem ride across the lagoon, the best fun;
- Watching little fish swim below in the glass window on our bungalow’s floor;
- Watching the hotel’s FP dancers at dinner one evening;
- Beautiful sunsets (but those in Cape Town are nicer);
- Scuba diving one day;
- Wishing the FP knew how to make a yummy cappuccino.
Before the cruise, I had enrolled on Cruise Critic which enables you to find your cruise line (Oceania) and your ship (Marina) and your sail date (4 April) and chat to fellow guests online. This is called the Roll Call and ours was very active with close to 3,000 posts. I would say there are usually a few hundred posts per cruise. Right: Cathy in scuba diving kit
The most active lady, Karen from Vancouver, arranged for a group of us to get together for dinner on Moorea as, like us, a lot of people arrived ahead of the cruise date to enjoy a few days on the islands. We joined about 20 fellow passengers ahead of our cruise and got to meet them and chat over dinner. This was such a good idea as we have had constant friends to say hello to on board and chat about our excursions, meet for trivia, and so on.