By Gray Zurbruegg
Drifting off course during a voyage from Panama to Peru in 1535, Spanish sailors discovered an archipelago about 900 miles from the Ecuadorian coast.
As these trailblazers explored what’s now Santa Cruz Island, they quickly stumbled upon its most famous inhabitants. In a letter to Charles VI of Spain, the expedition’s leader, Bishop Tomás de Berlanga, informed His Majesty of what he’d seen:
… muchos lobos marinos, tortugas, higuanas, galapagos…
Translated, that’s many sea lions, turtles, iguanas, tortoises…
And that’s exactly what we saw on our recent visit to the “Island of Tortoises.”
We began our 10-day adventure in Quito, Ecuador – the world’s highest capital city. We didn’t feel the altitude until our 3,000-foot gondola ride to the city’s highest point, a towering 14,000 feet.
One of the effects of high altitude is drowsiness… Your body is simply exhausted from working harder to circulate blood and oxygen.
Fortunately, Casa Gangotena provided a perfect place to rest our heads. The three-story Renaissance-inspired structure, originally built as a home in 1534, combines classical elements with a modern touch. Located in Quito’s Old Town, the hotel is a peaceful hideaway for international travelers.
Then as folks acclimatized, we took off for the “Home of Evolution.”
It requires a two-hour plane flight, a ferry ride, and a 40-minute drive to reach the Pikaia Lodge. Yes, it’s a tiring process. But the trek also serves as a visual introduction to the islands’ Martian landscape…
The Galapagos are far more than lushly vegetated, tropical islands.
They’re otherworldly… an equal mixture of African plains, equatorial forests, and igneous rock formations.
The Galapagos’ geography and biodiversity require encyclopedic length for a complete description. If you’re so inclined, check out Galapagos: A Natural History.
But geology and conservation are far from my core competency in curating the good life.
As president of The Atlas 400, an international wealth and travel club, it’s my job to create incredible experiences. In doing so, I’ve discovered the world’s best hotels, exclusive and adrenaline-fueled activities, and some of the finest things money can buy.
So I’ll leave the explanation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection to the scientists. Instead, here are three of my favorite recent travel discoveries…
Located on Galapagos’ Santa Cruz Island, the Pikaia Lodge sits 2,000 feet above sea level. The lodge boasts commanding 360-degree views of a landscape I can only liken to the Serengeti.
Upon arrival, the stillness is striking. Unlike most modern hotels, there’s no electronic background music. It’s tranquil – a constant breeze and occasional chirping bird.
Pikaia’s design is based entirely on one clause: If its existence causes a negative ecological impact, it will be shut down. The architectural design isn’t the only low-impact aspect. Every detail – from the matte-black, round stones in every manicured flower bed to the soft color palette of décor – is geared toward the main attraction… the natural surroundings.
In the Galapagos, June is the beginning of winter. It’s a slightly different winter than most are accustomed… highs in the upper 70s and lows around 60. Perfect for cracking the windows in Pikaia’s well-appointed rooms.
In many places, “farm to table” is a reference simply to fresh vegetables. But Pikaia executes the practice to a T… part of their emphasis on sustainability and minimal impact. All produce comes from farms within a 10-mile radius. Though, while I appreciate their local grass-fed beef, there’s something about a steak from a corn-fed cow.
Fortunately, to make up for lean beef, Pikaia boasts an impressive wine cellar stocked exclusively with Argentine and Chilean varietals.
Now, I’ve drunk a lot of wine. Over the course of my “education,” high-end South American labels have never quite carried their weight in price comparisons. But thanks to Pikaia’s sommelier, I’ve found El Dorado.
Luca’s 2004 Nico malbec currently drinks at the same level as famous first-growth Bordeaux.
Laura Catena, of Argentina’s well-known Catena Vineyard, named the wine after her son. The personal project has created a malbec that could be used in an inkwell. Wine legend Robert Parker describes it best, “… concentrated and improbably deep, with an almost liqueur-like richness.”
Nico’s annual production hovers around 2000 cases. Retailing at $120 per bottle and $360 in restaurants, it’s far from the bargain bin. But it’s a steal compared with its competition from the “Right Bank,” that often fetches prices upward of $1,000 a bottle.
If you’re a wine lover – or you’re like me, and simply enjoy the occasional splurge – I’d urge you to try it.
These trips wear me down… long flights, social drinking, equatorial sun exposure.
Hard life, I know.
And while maintaining a constant workload and rapier fitness regimen, the early mornings and late nights quickly empty the tank. So I’ve been on a quest to find an edge on efficiency and stamina.
Fortunately, I recently stumbled upon my secret weapon…
Everyone is impacted by some lifestyle imbalance. We cope with stress in different ways… But none of us are immune to it. It’s part of our design for survival – the “fight or flight” mechanism.
Research shows that managing stress is perhaps the single most important element of staying well. And I’ve been testing out a new product system that helps manage my stress… It’s called NuCalm.
I’m no scientist. So please excuse the brevity in explanation. The company describes itself as the world’s first and only patented system for “balancing and maintaining the health of the human autonomic nervous system.”
By guiding you into deep relaxation, NuCalm allows your mind and body to relax, recover, and restore. It provides the ability to slow down and recharge when you need to… at home, on a plane, or the office couch.
FDA findings show that using NuCalm for 40 minutes is equal to two hours of the deepest state of restorative sleep – I can attest to the claim.
Explaining how the system works and the benefits of use would take pages… It’s that scientifically and mathematically complex. It’s an investment, too, at about $4,300 (what I paid). But it’s relatively simple. And in my seven months of using it, I’ve benefitted. Here’s an analogy to describe its effects…
Imagine a teacup filled to the brim… It may handle one more drop, but that’s it. Five more tea drops? Well, you’ve got a mess on your hands.
Living during a time of constant stimulation, we maintain heightened levels of alertness. Electronic screens are always in our face. There’s an immediacy expected of us. Most folks check e-mails before bed and upon waking. What this does to our bodies is deadly…
The stimulation causes an increase in nervous system activity. If active for extended periods, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol. Cortisol increases the usage of adrenaline. The byproduct of increased adrenaline production is inflammation.
Your body doesn’t mind causing high amounts of inflammation if it means you’ll survive another day. However, high amounts of inflammation for prolonged periods can be lethal.
NuCalm doesn’t eliminate stress from my life… It allows me to unemotionally tackle it. Through daily usage, I’m able to recharge, decrease harmful cortisol levels, and create plenty of room “in my cup.”
Traveling with high-achieving, busy individuals, I’ve noticed most folks would benefit from increasing their investment in health and wellness. That doesn’t just mean working less and vacationing more. It’s making the conscious decision to focus on your longevity.
Think of it as a contrary investment.
If you allocate a fraction of your time to wellness, you’ll likely see far higher returns than the market will bring you. Because what good are the fine things in life – like tropical lodges and exceptional wines – if you’re not around to enjoy them?
This column is about seeing how much we can achieve in our lifetime. It’s about building a wealth of life experience. It’s about surrounding yourself with quality people and pursuing the best the world offers.
That’s the good life.