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2017 Christmas Letter

At the Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, February, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

Christmas 2017 will find us again in Menlo Park, CA, visiting daughter Rebecca and her husband Jeremy, and—still the main attraction—grand-daughter Penelope. Daughter Rachel and her husband Will will be with the Sehestedts in Missoula this Christmas, but we got to see them in DC at Thanksgiving and for a couple weeks after.

Rebecca continues teaching at the Castilleja School for Girls in Palo Alto, where she chairs the English department, and Jeremy continues his Bay area tech consulting. Rachel and Will continue their government relations work in DC, although Rachel made a big change this fall moving from Amgen after eleven years to PhRMA, where she is a director of federal relations. Will continues to work in federal and international relations for a transportation industry association. They both very much enjoy their urban lifestyle. Penelope is a first-grader now, getting pretty fluent in French (she's in an international school), and can read all by herself. In two languages. We're so amazed and impressed, and a little envious.

Last year was one of our most extensive travel years. In January, we flew to Buenos Aires and spent two months in South America: Argentina, Chile and Peru. We were traveling with suitcases and backpacks, staying in hostels and B&Bs and hotels, and getting around by plane, train and bus. We saw the sights, the great cities, Iguazu Falls, numerous volcanoes, the Andes (including Aconcagua), much of Patagonia, Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon, and Machu Picchu. On foot we did numerous day hikes as well as a week doing the “W” in the Torres del Paine and a couple days on the Inca Trail.

After a few weeks reorganizing in California, we embarked for three months in Spain and Portugal, and Andorra, traveling in our European camper. We much enjoyed the great cities and museums, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon and Porto, and especially the April fair in Seville. The highlight, however, was doing 10 days on the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James, on the Portuguese route. It was good enough we hope to do more of it sometime in the future.

We were back in California and then Montana in our American camper in July and August, at the end of which we embarked for a tour of southern Africa. In the UK last year we had learned about the escorted RV tours that one of the British camping clubs conducts, and we signed up for a 38 day road tour of South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia. We traveled in a nice, new rental RV, a bit larger than we are accustomed to, and indeed saw forests, mountains, bush, desert, and coasts of that part of the world...as well as the great Kruger and Etosha national parks, Victoria Falls, the “skeleton” coast, the Namib desert, beautiful Capetown, the Cape of Good Hope, and much of South Africa's wine country and Garden Route. Despite the fact we've never been “animal” people—mostly we like to avoid them—the big thrills were seeing the large African animals very close up, from “hides,” the camper, and on river cruises. In our group on the tour were seven British and one Australian couples, all RVers and world travelers, some of the nicer, more interesting and agreeable people we have yet met.

We flew then via Dubai—amazing architecture—to Barcelona, where we had stored our European camper three months earlier, and proceeded on a six-week re-positioning drive along the Mediterranean to Rome. Although much of this is familiar country, we enjoyed many new sites in Catalonian France, Provence, the Cote d'Azur, and Genoa, as well as visiting old favorites in Florence and Rome. Our European camper is stored in Rome for the winter.

Our return to the States brought us to Knoxville and then DC and then Menlo Park. In January, the travels will continue with three months in a rental camper in New Zealand. After that, and a month in California, we'll return to Europe and touring there, more of Italy, Sicily, the Alps, and France. And we'll celebrate our 50 anniversary somewhere in Europe (TBD) in June. People often ask when we'll finally settle down, and our usual answer is: not until we have to.

We hope this will find you enjoying the holidays and hope to hear from you. Please let us know if there is any place we might be crossing paths with you. One of the joys of retirement is finally having time to visit family and friends. We also love seeing your posts on Facebook. For Vicki especially, it has to substitute for a community.

With all the best wishes for the holidays and beyond,

Vicki and Mark

In Etosha National Park, Namibia, September, 2017