August 26, 2016

Tracking elusive pumas in Patagonia, Summer 2016

Typically when traveling overseas I like to stay a while. But when an editor emailed and asked if I’d be willilng to travel to Patagonia to track pumas for a week in the dead of the southern hemisphere’s winter, I leapt at the chance even though I couldn’t extend my stay. The journey involved an overnight flight to Santiago, Chile, another flight south to almost polar town Punta Arenas and then a four-hour drive north to Torres del Paine, the national park in Chilean Patagonia. It was a long way to go but well worth it to see the park’s legendary mountains, cobalt lakes, ubiquitous guanaco, and to wake before dawn in hopes of sighting a puma.

By Michael Shapiro

Well before dawn our Jeep crawls over the deserted roads that traverse southern Chile’s Torres del Paine national park, searching for pumas. The day before, my guide and I had spotted puma tracks and scat while hiking, lending support to another guide’s comment that “puma are everywhere” in this park, the jewel of Chile’s Patagonia region.

To read the full story, click the link above.

Vancouver leads Canada’s sustainable seafood movement, Spring 2016

Though most of humanity doesn’t realize it, our survival depends on our oceans. During the past couple of centuries we’ve overfished and polluted oceans to the point where many aquatic species are on the verge of collapse. But most of us love wild seafood and have no intention of curtailing our appetite. That’s why the sustainable seafood movement is essential. In the U.S. it’s been led by the Monterey Bay Aquarium; the Canadian counterpart is the Vancouver-based Seafood Watch but the true stars of the movement there are the top chefs who insist on serving fish whose stocks are not depleted. Last fall I spent a few days in Vancouver tracing sustainable seafood from fishing boats to markets to the city’s finest restaurants.

Global Soul: Chilean author Isabel Allende at home in SF Bay Area, 2016

Ever since I read The House of the Spirits in the 1980s I’ve adored Isabel Allende. She’s a natural-born storyteller, warm-hearted and insightful with a wicked sense of fun. I had the opportunity to interview her for my 2004 book of interviews with writers, A Sense of Place. I was elated last year when a magazine asked me to write about her adopted home, the San Francisco Bay Area, and how Allende has found her place so many mile from home. Ultimately this story is about Allende and her remarkable ability to transcend tragedy.

Halfway through an hourlong talk to a group of aspiring writers last August, Chilean author Isabel Allende was asked: “If you were a character in an Isabel Allende novel, where would you put yourself?”

Without missing a beat the petite writer said: “First of all, I would have long legs, I would be beautiful, I would be stunning, and smart, very strong and independent. What was the question?”

“Location: where would you be?”

“In bed with someone,” she shot back. “It doesn’t matter the town.”

Hanging on the beloved author’s every word, the audience in Marin County (just north of San Francisco) erupted in laughter. And just about everyone who asked her a question that day at Book Passage, a bookstore in Corte Madera, addressed her simply as “Isabel” as if they were talking to an old friend.

Good Call: Las Vegas with Antonio Esfandiari, Inspirato, Winter 2016

In 2012, the World Series of Poker held its most expensive tournament ever: it cost $1 million to buy into it and the top prize was more than $18 million. Antonio Esfandiari, who emigrated from Iran to the U.S. when he was a boy, finished on top and instantly became one of the best known poker players in the world. I met him in Las Vegas in October 2012 and we spent about an hour talking over an early dinner. He had the poker player’s stare; when we discussed the possibility of me writing about him his look bore through me; there was a power in his assessing that I’m sure serves him well at the poker table. Ultimately he chose to trust me with his story and I went on to play poker that night at Wynn and later at Caesar’s, where a few winning hands covered all my costs for the trip.

Esalen: Retreat on Big Sur Coast, Press Democrat, Jan. 2016

After failing to get through the gates to paradise years ago, I finally made it to Esalen. To see the story on The Press Democrat’s site with some pictures, click here.   By MICHAEL SHAPIRO I couldn’t wait to get to Esalen on the Big Sur coast. I love hot springs and though I wasn’t […]

Ultimate Tequila Tour with Julio Bermejo, American Way (American Airlines)

Over the course of two whirlwind days in Tequila and one in the highlands town of Arandas, I visit eight distilleries with Julio Bermejo.

Kayaking to see bears at Alaska’s Pack Creek, Alaska magazine, Aug. 2015

Our guide had us check every pocket to make sure we weren’t carrying any food that might attract bears. Yet the grizzlies seem to be running through the drizzly afternoon straight at us.

Winged Wonders: Great migrations of sandhill cranes, Horizons, March 2014

With an assist from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, crane populations have rebounded dramatically, though habitat loss and hunting continue to imperil these graceful birds.

Yosemite with Ansel Adams, Press Democrat (Aug. 2015)

With Yosemite preparing to celebrate its 125th anniversary (Oct. 1, 2015), my wife and I spent four days there in midsummer seeking new perspectives on the park.

Paul Theroux’s Cape Cod, Inspirato, Summer 2015

I first interviewed Paul Theroux in 2004 for my book, A Sense of Place, a collection of interviews with the world’s leading travel writers. Though some consider him brusque, blunt and — this irritates him the most — curmudgeonly, I found him to be engaging and genuinely interested in me when we met in San Francisco a couple of weeks after the interview. We spoke again in 2015 for this story on Cape Cod and how his adopted home has become so important not just for his personal happiness but for his writing life.

Here’s an excerpt from the story: Theroux said the potential dangers of paddling around the Cape tuned his senses to hazards while traveling abroad. “This complex landscape has taught me ways of measuring the world of risk,” he writes in “The True Size of Cape Cod,” an essay in Fresh Air Fiend. “But the word ‘landscape’ presents a problem on the Cape. I find it hard to separate the land from the water, or the water from the winds.”

In our interview Theroux noted that the “Cape waters, and Nantucket Sound especially, can be dangerous in a small boat – even in a big boat.” The ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II ran aground 10 miles west of Martha’s Vineyard in August 1992, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,800 passengers, according to the New York Times, and knocking the ship out of commission for a year.