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Cresswind at Lake Lanier residents take dream tour through South America

Clint Owens didn’t realize it at the time, but the older folks he was traveling with were an adventurous crew.

As he and the group of 13 senior-aged Cresswind at Lake Lanier residents arrived in South America and set out on their first journey through the landmarks of Quito, Ecuador, he knew he had underestimated them.

“Initially, when we were going on the trip, I had the suspicion they were suspecting it would be some kind of luxury cruise,” said Owens, the 24-year-old son of fellow traveler and Cresswind resident Christi Lazear.

“It ended up being more like hardcore backpacking and nonstop moving. There was a lot of time spent traveling from place to place without much time to sleep, but everybody was gung-ho about it from the start. That really impressed me.”

From Sept. 28 through Oct. 8, the group — ranging in age from 24 to late 70s — made the kinds of memories only possible through international travel: they dined on guinea pig; they trekked through lava fields; they snorkeled with marine iguanas and giant turtles; and, they hiked a 9,000-foot peak from Machu Picchu.

Owens said this trip, like all travel, was “eye-opening.”

After sightseeing their way through Quito on the second day, they flew to Santa Cruz and visited the Galapagos, witnessing the famous giant tortoises there.

Donna Mincey, a traveler with the Cresswind group, described the trip as interesting and educational.

“I was impressed particularly with the Galapagos,” she said. “It was so beautiful. Everything there was unspoiled and looked the same way it probably would have looked 50 years ago.”

Next, the group visited Cape Rose for a full-day guided excursion. From there: Isabela Island, Santa Cruz Island, Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Lima.

The 14 Georgians visited the Darwin Research Center on the island of Santa Cruz. They “drank in” Peruvian culture — snacking on rich chocolate and marveling at the cultural festivals. They hiked through ruins in Machu Picchu and trekked up to the Sun Gate — a pass above the Incan citadel — through 300 meters of winding, rocky paths.

Cresswind resident Sue Wells said she was fascinated by the wildlife in Ecuador, especially the prehistoric-looking iguanas.

“We’d go snorkeling and all of a sudden, there would be this horrific looking iguana swimming right past us,” she said.

Added Wells: “It was very interesting, and overall it was the trip of a lifetime.”

They did a lot in 10 days, Owens said, reiterating the older adults — the youngest of which was four decades his senior — were impressive in their adventurous spirits.

“I’ve done backpacking across Europe, and I’ve traveled with much younger people who were less enthused about the trip and the whole traveling experience,” Owens said. “Really, this group was amazing.”

With Cresswind being billed as an active-adult community, he said it made sense.

“Most people move here with the mindset that they’re going to be surrounded by people who will also want to be active,” Owens said. “Trips like this give them the opportunity to keep doing what they’re doing ... they know there are other people who want to go on adventures like this.”

His mother, Lazear — who organized the trip — said it was indeed an active group.

“They’re retired, so they have the time,” she said.

The thing about travel, Owens said, “it changes your perspective ... but you don’t realize the ways it’s changed you until later. It opens your eyes to the way the world is beyond

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