My first trip since COVID, Denver, Colorado, and … wow. Just wow.

Let’s get this out of the way: it is still dangerous to travel, and if you don’t have to, then don’t put yourself, and more importantly others at risk.

While everyone is hurting, and tourist destinations especially feeling the brunt of this lock down, it is a double edged sword to even mention tourism these days. Yes, the economy is important for people to survive, but so is their health. That said, what I found in Denver was inspiring; everyone very conscious of the world condition and doing their absolute best to minimize risk, while still being able to offer access to this amazing city. Open air electric tour busses, timed museum tickets, and tons of fantastic outdoor dining all offer some protection that allow tourism to happen safely.

Denver, the city with the least oxygen but the most love in the continental United States is definitely a magical place. I recently got to explore this and a few other Colorado gems, so lets get to the highlights.

First we descended upon the prim and polished Cherry Creek neighborhood which is full of shopping, fun eats, and our hotel, the Moxy.
This hip little Marriott owned boutique play-and-stay is a faithful rendition of your favorite hipster hotel right down to the reproduction vintage phot booth in the lobby.

One thing that you’ll notice (but not remember) is that the check in desk is actually the bar, a feature that I suggest be standardized in all hotels, and DMV locations. You immediately get that Denver is a beer town as the hotel is attached to a beer garden, you get beers in the elevator, and even beers waiting in the room for you. The rooms are cool and modern, with great views and great loo’s. There is a definite nod to being funky fun,
from the bath product, to the verbiage and even the funky windows. It’s a functionally smart hotel that makes maximum use of it’s minimal footprint with a surprisingly ingenious array of furnishing trickery.

Overall we were super comfortable in our new lil’ home but it was time to explore this cool city, so we headed to the famed Union Station in the heart of downtown Denver. Truly a charming and stylish building inside it’s art deco / beaux arts beauty will impress you making it a great place to chill out or check out the fun and funky art. One fun fact is that there used to be a great big arch at the entrance that said Mizpah, or welcome in Hebrew, and while the arch is no longer with us, Union Station now has Snooze, a must brunch place for anyone visiting Denver.

In this colorful-retro-casual brunch hot-spot you will find long waits for one of their coveted outdoor tables, and for good reason. The breakfast here is an event from their decadent flavor bomb pancakes to their elaborate savory eggs benny which require, for health reasons, one of their loaded Bloody Mary’s to make it all go down right.

Completely stuffed, we decided to be carted around in style while not leaving even one carbon footprint. Introducing ETUK Denver’s premiere fully environmentally friendly tour company sponsored by Bud Light Selzer which is White Claw for people with day jobs. These Denver made, fully electric Tuks come with heated seats and fantastic views of the city. In no time we were whipping around downtown taking in all the sites as our guide pointed out some of the finer features Denver had to offer, like the Cherry Creek pedestrian bridge perfect for morning runs, the decadent Cruise Room located in the Oxford Hotel, the lovely Larimar pedestrian mall and the opulent Performing Arts Center, which proudly showcases two giant Botero sculptures (which are miniscule compared to Denver’s giant blue peeping tom bear who’s origin story is so long winded and wildly convoluted I wont bore you with it but look it up).

Then across the street from a legendary house of ill repute, we got to adventure into the Brown palace. Despite a very unfortunate name, the Brown Palace is a very cool place to take in, with a simply cavernous atrium that will leave you spellbound. Denver’s old world origin charm drips from the walls to the floors here as you can see in every aspect of the lobby’s attention to architectural detail meant to impress even the most snobby of Easterners. Here’s a pro tip: head up to the top floor to get an entirely different view of the Brown Palace and test to see if your brunch at Snooze is still in your stomach. Perhaps the most interesting facet of the palace is its water fountain, where you can drink, get this, actual Denver artesian water from the original 1892 well dug 750 feet below the hotel. That’s something.

Leaving the old-school charm of downtown Denver we popped over to the River North or hip RiNo district famed for it’s abundant world class street art and super hobo-chic restaurants and cafe’s. A trip to RiNo isn’t complete I’m told without hitting up the Denver Central Market which is located in a beautiful reclaimed warehouse. Chuck full of anything you could possibly want to eat or drink, this is a great place to explore and even throw back a few before picking something up for dinner. Don’t forget dessert either. I mean look at these things! Do you eat them or wear them?

From RiNo We headed cross the Platte River to the hip Highland district, which has some very photogenic spots, like Happy Camper,
which is like an Instagram post that serves food. With its giant disco ball, garden nooks, and dripping bokeh it’s hard not to get a bunch of likes. There is also little man ice cream, which besides mixing up the craziest flavors, is housed in the largest milk pail I’ve ever seen. Photo ops aside we were here for lunch and to check out Avanti which is a collective eatery.

What’s a collective eatery you ask?

Well its like you die and go to comfort food heaven. This place is a foodies paradise, with amazing dishes from around the world to make it super easy to forget about your diet. Add in a killer space with lots of seating both indoor and out to nosh on you new favorite nibbles and you got it made. South American arepas, Kimchi scallion pancakes and Southern spicy fried chicken all washed down with local amazing beer will definitely satisfy.

Full on good eats, we decided to take in some culture at Denver’s world class art museum. This institution boasts some of the most outrageous exhibitions, this one was called simply Light which allowed for some
amazing artist interpretations of what light means to them. From Keith herring triptychs to skull riding cryptic this was a visual wonderland that gave good cause for Colorado’s stance on legal mamajuana. Minds properly blown it was time to take a quick trip out of the city to visit the infamous Red Rocks Amphitheater, which is by far the most
beautiful naturally occurring theater I’ve ever seen in my life. When not rocking out, locals use this breathtaking location as a giant gym. Try
that at Madison Square Garden.

It is a truly stunning place that will simply take your breath away, so unique and majestic, and when you consider its just a 20 minutes drive from downtown, it’s a no brainer to fit it into your itinerary.

As the sun set on the queen city of the plains, we submerged ourselves once more into downtown for dinner. Sure you could keep it low key and hit up Duffy’s Cherry Cricket who’s no frills charm is overturned by their delicious burgers and boozy milkshakes but we decided to class it up a bit and check out Rioja on Larimer. This class act of fine dining is one of the best restaurants to experience Denver’s cultured cuisine.

From delicate amuse bouche, to savory pork belly appetizers, and perfectly grilled Colorado rack of lamb to decadent deserts this my friends is the perfect way to end a perfect trip to the great city of Denver Colorado. Onward onto Telluride, possibly the best place to visit during COVID!


Rs

AMAZING AMAZON

As a native New Yorker, I am no stranger to long commutes, however, 8 hours traveling up-river on a flat-bottom diesel boat to the heart of the Peruvian rainforest was a test of endurance even for a experienced G train rider. Once at our destination however, it became immediate clear to me that I was in a world untouched by any human about to have my mind blown, and definitely would find it near impossible to find a good slice.

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The Tambopata Research Center (TRC) is located deep within the Madre de Dios province of the Peruvian rainforest, a protected wildlife area founded in 1977. It is home to tens of thousands of animal and plant specie, from macaw to monkey, Jaguar to giant turtle. It is so prolific in fact, that while I was there, two new specie of spiders were discovered … walking from the boat to the lodge. It’s basically like God’s test kitchen that you can visit.

Getting there is not the easiest, which is why I absolutely love it. Upon flying into Puerto Maldonado, you are met by your personal guide, and brought by bus to the aptly named “town” of inferno, which seemed to consist of a bodega, bathroom, and small dock. There my personal Virgil (who’s name was Ramón and amazing) and a dozen other travelers jump on a 3-hour cruise to our first lodge, the Refugio Amazonas.

This remote outpost, with its shellacked dark wood, thatched roofs, and tall, cool drinks awaiting you upon arrival, echoes the romance and adventure that you would find in a Hemingway novel or an early Cary Grant film. After a warm reception, you are given the key to your room, which to me was curious considering you only have three walls; one wall is completely missing allowing the surrounding nature to engross you, which it does. The materials the lodge is composed of, the gently swinging hammocks, the fresh meals prepared for us, the fact that power is only offered for a certain number of hours a day, all truly thrust you into this beautiful experience without any delay. You are immersed in pristine nature, and you are only a third of the way to your final destination.

The next day you spend with your guide exploring the backcountry, trekking to an observation tower, which if you have the testicular fortitude to climb you are rewarded a sublime view of the 40 meter high Rainforest canopy. Traveling back you stop at a large lake, where a small man powered boat takes you across to view dozens of species of birds that make the watering hole their home. “Shall we fish for piranha?” our guide asks which of course the answer is “hell yes”. Soon he is carefully affixing a small morsel of meat on the end of a hook and line that look like Huckleberry Finn had just put down. “Here, just drop it in. Gently.” He handed it over to me as I placed it in the water cautiously having watched Shark Week one too many times, and before I knew it I had a small piranha on the end of my fishing pole. Our guide grabbed it and removed the hook, and let us all get a close look at the sushi that eats you back before returning it to the lake. I will have to switch to a California roll.

The next day we made the next leg to our final destination, the TRC, one, if not the most remote Amazon lodges in the world. As our repurposed truck engine blended us deeper up river, the nature completely took over. On the banks we saw Jaguars and Peccarie and Caimans, trees that came right to the river’s edge, their root system grasping on to whatever land the river allowed them to take. At times we would pass small barges with pumps on them shooting river water through a giant slanted sieve. “Those are illegal gold miners. This river is rich with gold.” Dangerous work, but apparently very well paid if you are lucky and not caught. About three hours in there was a fork in the river, and we docked at a weathered old landing that jetted out into the Tambopata River. We were at the Malinowki River Control Station, which looked like something out of the film Apocalypse Now. Screened in shacks strewn together, with bottle caps nailed into boards for traction, and a make-shift basketball hoop that defied attrition hanging on the side of a slanted tree, this was a mandatory control stop to enforce legal river traffic. In the small office, lined with weathered maps and young men with firearms, I had them stamp my passport to memorialize the event. I figured I’d never be this deep again in the rainforest; best have some ink to prove it.

Another two hours up-river and we finally reach the research center. Porters run out to grab our sacks, and we make our way through the lush forest, which is alive with noise. Boar-like peccaries bark at each other and shuffle through the low-lying bush, while howler monkeys scream to a rival tribe across the treetops. Graced with the grand entrance to the TRC lodge, it is even more majestic and beautifully organic then the last lodge, and would make for a fine base for the next three days where I would have the pleasure of exploring one of the most remote portions of the rainforest with some of the worlds most interesting people.

What Rainforest Expeditions offers that separates it from other tours is that you are in a functioning research facility staying with actual researchers and field scientists. This is more then eco-tourism, this boarders on getting actual college credit to go toward your doctorate. In the morning we visited one of the more active salt licks where my guide said we might see a few specie of Macaw feeding. By a “few” he meant a few hundred, and the colors, reds, blues, greens and yellows blurred before me like a Gaspar Noé titles sequence (Enter The Void, look it up). The shear volume of bio-diversity here is mind blowing, beyond any zoo, any safari on earth, and no SD card in the world has enough capacity to capture it all.

Dinners were exceptionally exciting as this was a prime time to mingle with not only the other travelers, but also the researchers and scientist that also stayed at the lodge. Here they would swap stories of what animals were seen, or new discoveries were made, or secret locations to best capture that perfect photograph. It was here I a young researcher and photographer, that invited me on what they called a “rainforest rave”.

“We go out at night, with UV lights, and discover bioluminescent insects. It’s a riot.” Basically this was the equivalent to telling a frat boy that there was a well-organized pub-crawl planned. After dinner we made our way out with blacklights in the pitch of night and let the forest put a show on for us that would have blown the mind of any burning man participant. Spiders that look like the 80’s puked all over them. Frogs that radiated pink and green like a neon sign. Did you know scorpions glow bright blue in UV light like a toy out of one of those grocery store vending machines? No. I didn’t think they could be any cooler either.

During the following days we explored riverbeds and trekked inland to natural waterholes, seeing all sorts of bats, turtles, barking caterpillars, and dozens and dozens of butterflies. 600 specie of bird, 200 of mammal, 1,000 of butterfly, and thousands of insects definitely keeps your neck loose as you constantly turn to see something new and amazing. My guide and I would travel downriver to a “Spiritual Retreat” that was being built for Ayahuasca ceremonies among other things. We met with the shaman, and saw the massive construction, and even took a tour of the jungle “garden”, getting face to face with the mind-altering hallucinogenic vine itself. Perhaps the most interesting interaction I had was after having met three young post-grads, I helped climb a 30 meter tree to hang an Macaw nest with a camera in it so that they could research the nesting habits. Of course assisting the researchers with manual labor is not something on the planned itinerary; it is something that was amazingly rewarding for me, and indicative of the type of immersive experience that only Rainforest Expiations can provide.

After 5 days deep in the rainforest it was finally time to say goodbye. We made our way back downstream to lovely downtown Inferno to reunite us with civilization. I had been to remote, wild places on earth before, but this however had changed me in a way that was wholly unexpected; the combination of sublimely, comfortable accommodations while being completely submerged in the most bio-diverse locations on the planet, surrounded by people who’s knowledge was so vast, that their entire existence was dedicated to the cultivation of yet more knowledge, was too much for my city forged mind to handle. I returned to my small apartment, 24 hour electricity and high speed internet a bit shaken, a bit more skeptical of packaged food, and much more enlightened. It would seem that Rainforest Expeditions doesn’t just take you to one of the most remote places on the planet, they take you deep down into your own soul, to places you might not have known even exist.

Go to www.getlostmagazine.com right now to continue the adventure and read more great places to go explore. Also, here is a little video postcard I put together for you. Enjoy;)

Rs