Posts Tagged 'active vacations'

Family Safari – The Great Rift Valley

The noise was wild and untamed — the primeval voice of Africa herself. The full-chested roars of two male lions echoed across the plain, striking terror into their prey and pumping adrenaline into our veins. Nine-year old Annalyse slipped her tiny hand into mine and squeezed it. I squeezed back with a sweaty palm. Naturally our first reaction was fear. After all, my husband, two daughters and I were in a Land Rover with our torsos emerging from the open roof, nothing more than fifty yards and a jeep door between us and these fierce predators. We were close enough to see their individual whiskers and piercing amber eyes. The two males continued to greet each other with verbal ferocity as the morning air vibrated with their deep vocalizations. “I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore,” whispered our sarcastic twelve-year-old J.C. “Keep quiet and don’t make any quick movements. They haven’t had breakfast yet,” Tanzanian guide Leonard said with the hint of a smile. Instructions understood; we remained still and silent, in heart-pounding proximity to the lions that strutted and stretched in the orange luminescence of the rising sun.

Soon our bellies growled and we headed back to camp for our own meals. Every day we kept a tally of the animals we saw; in addition to the lions, we watched twenty-one elephants ambling to the watering hole from all directions, leaping impala (we clapped for their high jumps), two loping hyenas, four comical wart hogs zigzagging through the grass with their tails pointing skyward, and dozens of zebra and Thomson’s gazelles – all before a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and cinnamon buns.

A jeep turned classroom:

At dawn and again late in the afternoon we joined our Tanzanian guide and driver in a land rover, and headed into the bush. Careening around termite mounds, up steep banks and down rutted slopes, we watched wildlife from a breathtakingly close vantage point. Sometimes we stayed with them even as they closed in on prey, other times we came upon them just after a kill.

The kids adored Leonard, the Pied Piper of African guides. They listened eagerly as he shared his extensive knowledge about the local mammals, birds and history of the Great Rift Valley; from Tarangire National Park to Olduvai Gorge, and the Serengeti to the Norgorogora Crater.

Prior to our African vacation we thought observing the big animals would be the zenith of our trip, however the camaraderie with our guides, and numerous contacts with the local people were equal highlights. One day we had lunch with our guide and his family in their home. Another day we visited a Masaai village where the homes were made of cow dung, the women wore massive bead necklaces, flies buzzed overhead and hovered around the children’s eyes. The village chief, wealthy enough to have two wives, took my husband aside for a private conversation, in which he offered him two goats for our oldest daughter.

An excerpt from the kids’ safari journals:

“Right before dinner we sneaked up to the roofless shower tent where Leonard was showering. We got a bucket of ice, filled it with cold water and I stood on a stool and dumped it over the top onto him. It was hilarious! He screeched and swore. It was awesome”, wrote JC.

“I drove for the first time today – across the Serengeti! Leonard took me out in the Land Rover and when I took the wheel we jerked and bumped through the grass. Mom and Dad applauded from the porch of their tent. It was so cool!”

On another page she describes our visit to a country school where the girls met the pen pals they corresponded with for several months.

“Children attend this school because their parents are wealthy enough to spare them from working at home. Most of them walk two miles or more each way. Hollow cement block rooms with wood benches passed as classrooms and the wild outdoors served as a bathroom. We all played soccer together. They played in their starched blue skirts and white blouses and barefooted. We wore our athletic shoes and they still pummeled us.”

Annalyse’s journal is adorned with drawings of animals, Maasai homes and smiley faces. “Today my favorite animals were the baby baboons and baby elephants. I was happy and excited (all day long!)”, she wrote.

Parent Concerns:

Our “trip of a lifetime” to Africa was a major investment in time, money and family memories, so I did extensive research to find a tour operator who specializes in family trips. We wanted Tanzanian-born guides who knew how to entertain, feed and teach young kids – and they were fabulous companions and teachers. A range of accommodations was also important. We enjoyed safari lodges, comfy rooms on a working coffee estate, and deluxe walk-in canvas tents. Camping in the bush was a highlight. Make sure not to miss it.

Preparing for your safari

Medical and safety issues were our major concerns before the trip. We were comforted by the detailed pre-departure package including; answers to our questions, check lists, recommended immunizations, packing and reading lists. We followed the advice of doctors at a travel clinic and took Larium, the strong Malaria medicine. Our nine-year-old had nightmares and walked in her sleep after taking the medicine.

We worried about our safety on safari. Would animals come into camp? All our worries were unfounded. Guards patrolled all night in every camp.

What’s the best age?

In my experience, the best age for a family safari is when your kids are 8-12 years-old. They are old enough to appreciate and remember what they’re seeing, to write about it, and learn, and yet they’re still young enough to enjoy your company, participate in all activities and be awed by the natural world. Our thirteen-day safari was the perfect length.

Don’t leave home without:

A good pair of good binoculars for each member of the family. No one should have to share their binoculars. Label each pair.

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Croatia from the Deck of a Sailboat – Cruise the Adriatic Islands off Croatia

Crystal clear seas and more than 1,000 islands make Croatia one of the world’s best cruising destinations. The water is clean and unspoiled; nature reigns supreme. Last summer my husband and I chartered a 42-foot Jenneau sloop for a sailing holiday among these idyllic islands. Our two teenage daughters accompanied us – spending most of their time sunning on the deck, reading, listening to music or occasionally jumping off the stern into the deep blue water to swim.

Although Croatia has been a favorite getaway for “in the know” Brits and other Europeans, it is just hitting the radar for American travelers. When European tourists started going to the Croatia, (formerly Yugoslavia) in the 20th century, it wasn’t for the historic and cultural attractions of fortified towns, Roman ruins, or museums, they came to bask in the sun along hundreds of miles of jagged coastline, and bathe in the pristine Adriatic waters.

Why, you may wonder, would we travel so far to cruise when we live in San Francisco Bay Area, where it’s possible to sail every weekend of the year? Here are ten reasons why we chose Croatia and why we fell in love it:

1. Following the Wind. There was an exhilarating feeling of freedom to chart our own course and sail where we wanted, when we wanted, and to anchor wherever we wished. We moved to the rhythm of nature — at the mercy of the wind and waves, sailing every day. We discovered that one of the most restful ways to enjoy a vacation is to lounge on the deck of a sailboat; indulge in leisurely meals in the open air; watch the vastness of the sea; and rock to sleep to the gentle movement of the waves.

2. Cooking is Optional. So I opted out. I did not prepare one dinner aboard. Every night we anchored in a different bay or along the waterfront of a small village. We always had a selection of open air restaurants with fresh fish, caught by local fishermen hours earlier. Cold beer, local wine and delectable pastas topped off dinner.

3. Great Food in Every Village. Every morning I went ashore and joined a group of village ladies at the local bakery to buy fresh bread, warm rolls, croissants and pastries. In some villages we frequented French-inspired pastry shops and Italian ice cream stands. Small markets sold regional cheeses, wines, olive oils and hams as well as vegetables and fruit recently picked from local organic gardens.

4. Savor the Sunny Season. Thanks to Croatia’s balmy climate from April to November, mostly rain-free days, sea breezes, clear, clean warm water, and relaxed atmosphere, water buffs can soak up the sun and swim for hours.

5. Revel in the Rich History. Many of the coastal towns we visited were surrounded by thick stone walls, round watch towers, town gates too narrow for today’s vehicles, and cobblestone pedestrian streets through the historic town center. In medieval Trogir we wandered through the labyrinth of ancient streets and into piazzas filled with colorful umbrellas, outdoor cafes and gelato shops tempting us to try every flavor (Tiramisu was my favorite). Quaint shops offered soft leather products, the latest European fashions, and silver jewelry. During the peak summer season, July and August, the streets swam with visitors, but in June, when we went ashore mornings and evenings, it was quiet. The outdoor bazaar and farmers market, located across the bridge from the island, is where you’ll find inexpensive sandals, sundresses, t-shirts, and organic vegetables. The tiny strawberries were so fragrant we couldn’t resist. The colorful seaside promenade is lined with outdoor cafes and restaurants. Trogir, founded in the third century BC by Greek colonists, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place not to be missed.

6. Architectural Splendor. Dubrovnik, known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” is one of the world’s most spectacular and best preserved fortified cities. Massive thick walls and medieval fortress towers circle the historic center. We walked through the old town on shining smooth limestone pedestrian streets and lingered in open-air cafés (you won’t miss Starbucks, the espresso is delicious), and stopped to shop small boutiques. With teens in tow, we often stopped to shop.

One morning we hiked up steep steps to the top of the thick walls encircling the old town and were rewarded with panoramic views of the sea, over the terracotta roofed town houses, cloistered gardens and copper domes of Baroque churches. The damage from the 1991-1992 War for Independence has been painstakingly restored and Dubrovnik has regained its former magnificence. Cruise ships from Venice and the Greek Islands stop here and almost every tourist makes a stop in Dubrovnik so expect crowds, especially from July and August. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit in the spring or fall.

7. Search for Treasure. Located on Hvar Island, the historic town of Hvar was our favorite. It is nestled beneath three mountains and crowned by an old Venetian fortress, which is illuminated by yellow floodlights after dark. Hvar was first settled by the ancient Greeks and later inhabited the Venetians. In the 15th century the town was built by the Venetians as a port of call for their trade ships between Venice and the Black Sea. Today the charming harbor is filled with fishing boats, yachts and water taxis. The town of Hvar boasts elegant hotels, fashionable shops, lively nightlife and exquisite restaurants. Vineyards, lavender fields and small coastal villages dot the thin, long island.

8. Melt into the Mediterranean Pace of Life. Sailing along the Croatian Coast and among its multitude of islands is a slow-paced vacation. We sailed into deep blue bays, backed by fields of olive groves and vineyards and dropped anchor, took a swim and napped while the only sound we heard was the gentle lapping of the sea. Far from the crowds, noise, cars, roads, and traffic, we slowed down and found the peace and solitude that replenishes the body and soul.

9. Island Hopping Made Easy. Ferries depart cities and towns frequently, so day-trips are a breeze or select a few islands and settle in. There are regular ferries from Split to the island of Hvar’s main port of Hvar and the small towns of Stari and Grad. Or, if you’re a sailor, charter a yacht for a week or month and sail on your own wherever the wind blows you. Another option is to hire a captain and crew.

Visit Croatia while it’s still affordable and before Starbucks, McDonalds, Costco and other prominent U.S. vendors arrive.

Ten Tips for Women’s Travel Health

(photo credit: onlymyhealth.com)

Women, if you’re like me, when planning to travel, you’ve got your agenda planned, your wardrobe to match the adventure you are about to embark upon and a child-like smile plastered to your face thinking about the sites you are about to see. Health issues while traveling could put a serious damper on your anticipated plans.  We asked Founder of Women’s Travel Club, Phyllis Stroller, to share a few health tips for women travelers:

1.     Menstruating Overseas:    Tampons are not sold in many countries. Pads, which come in a long roll and are cut by a pharmacist, are NOT sanitary. Bring your own supplies.
2.     Yeast infections and UTI’s:   Women get urinary infections due to skimping on drinking water.  Yeast infections also occur after one has taken or is taking an antibiotic. Carry Monistat, Canestan cream, or a single dose tablet, Diflucan. Eat yogurt if available.
3.     Safe sex, even with your husband:    Carry birth control pills, do not pack them. Lock medicines in the hotel safe.  If you use a diaphram, do not wash it in iffy water. Bring trustworthy condoms; local products may be harmful.
4.     Medical records:   Always visit a travel doctor before taking a trip, especially to an exotic locale.  List all vaccinations + medicines  (the latter in the generic).  Bring your eyeglass prescription.
5.     Dress modestly:   Notice and adhere to local customs.  Scarves, that cover shoulders and heads, are invaluable and light. Pack socks for walking shoe-less in temples and mosques.
6.     Protect your skin:  Carry a foldable hat. Sun-proof clothes with RIT Sunguard Laundry Treatment. In insect  areas, slather on high SPF lotion, spray yourself and clothes with DEET.  Remember the higher the DEET, the longer the protection-make sure to read the labels!
7.     Proof of parentage:   If you plan to cross borders with children, be prepared with proof of parentage or guardianship. Single parents need a letter from the absent parent with permission for children to leave the country. If separated or divorced, have copies of legal documents regarding custody rights for minors traveling with you. These are important if children need medical treatment abroad.
8.     Wedding rings and jewelry:   Ward off unwanted male attention by wearing a wedding band.  Make sure it is not tight; many women find feet and hands swell on long flights.
9.     The bathroom:    We’ve all hovered over filthy toilets. Welcome PMate, a nifty light invention (fits into an envelope), made of a sturdy disposable coated cardboard- very discreet.
10.  Clean water and avoiding buying water:   Consider purchasing a simple water filtration system. SteriPEN  has many options at www.steripen.com.

Useful Health Tips for Women Travelers provided by Phyllis Stroller. For more women travel tips please visit: www.womentravelclub.com  

Hawaii Lomi Lomi Chocolate Wrap

Blissed-Out with a Chocolate Body Wrap

Lomi Lomi is Hawaiian massage. Practioners of this ancient Polynesian healing technique use not only palms, but also the forearm, fingers, knuckles and elbows. The Hawaiian phrase, Lomi Lomi, means, literally, to rub, knead, massage.

The Sheraton Ho’ola Spa offers open-air massage on private patios where your mind and body will melt into the soundtrack of waves and birdsong. Zen-out with a Chocolate Body Wrap; warm Hershey’s chocolate is brushed all over your body, and a soft Vichy shower completes the decadence.  It sounds other worldly because it is.

Their custom aroma-chroma facial is the latest and greatest treatment out of Switzerland. It too is a “must try.”

Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Ho’ola Spa

www.sheratonkeauhou.com 808-930-4900

Massage as magnificent as the Hawaiian flowers

Hawaii Five O -5 Outstanding Adventures on the Big Island of Hawaii

If you think Hawaii is only about resorts, pools and beaches, think again. The Big Island of Hawaii has so many active adventures outside the gates of the resort. You can hike to waterfalls, bike volcanoes, paddle with dolphins, and snorkel with Manta Rays.
www.bigisland.org

Hawaiian sunset.

To get a feel for the rich diversity of the island, fly into Hilo and out of Kona.
As the jet makes its arching descent across Hilo Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii, we‘re mesmerized by the tropical tableau below – translucent blue water fringed with green rolling hills. The couple across the aisle compares the scenery to Ireland. But when my husband and I step off the plane the floral fragrances and warm trade winds leave no doubt that we’re in Hawaii.
Next blog: Where to stay to get the feel for the real Hawaii.


About Marybeth Bond

Marybeth Bond is the nation’s preeminent expert on women travel. She is the award-winning
author-editor of 11 books.

Marybeth has hiked, cycled, climbed, dived and kayaked her way through more than seventy countries around the world.

She was a featured guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Marybeth has appeared on CBS News, CNN, ABC, NBC, National Public Radio and National Geographic Weekend.