20 Years of Travel #14 – Galapagos

321037_10150282405697986_8079591_nThe 20 Years of Travel series continues with a very memorable family trip we took in 2011 to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. This adventure cruise was established with a partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic. This would not be your typical vacation with lots of relaxation. We were there to explore islands filled with unique creatures that are endemic to the Galapagos. Our days were filled with nature walks, snorkeling and lessons on Darwin, geology and photography. It was one of the most exhausting and rewarding trips we have ever experienced.

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We flew to Guayaquil, Ecuador (pictured above) and then flew to San Cristobal (pictured below), where we would pick up our boat that would be our home for a little more than a week.

The National Geographic Endeavour (pictured on the right) was a smaller boat but had326327_10150281751942986_1913629_o everything we needed. Anyway, we wouldn’t spend a lot of time on the boat, except to eat and sleep.  Through an intercom radio in everyone’s room, the program director, Carlos, would make a morning announcement/wake-up call. These announcements would come normally between 5-7am in the morning.

Espanola Island

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We took many nature walking tours on Espanola. Our first stop was a beach full of lounging sea lions. Then we walked through piles of marine iguanas – never want to be that close to iguanas again if I can help it – to find one of the largest flying birds in the world…the albatross. We got to witness the albatross mating ritual, which was really fascinating. Our final stop lead us to some blue-footed boobies. These are marine birds that are known for their blue feet, hence the name. We got to see some babies that just look like little cotton balls – so adorable.

Champion Island

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We took smaller rafts around Champion Island to get a better visual of some of the water animals. The highlight was seeing penguins. After the rafting tour, we went snorkeling with all the amazing fish, penguins, and sea lions that like to play with you in the water.

Floreana Island

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On Floreana, we stopped to visit Old Post Office Bay. This post office box (which looks more like a barrel) has been there for hundreds of years. This postal system does not require stamps, you just leave cards for your family and friends and pick up other individuals’ cards who have addresses near you that you can hand deliver. This post office continues to operate just like this. We delivered cards and my family received their card as well.

Santa Cruz Island

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Santa Cruz is one of the four islands of the Galapagos that are inhabited by people. There is a lot to see and experience on this island. Here are some highlights from our time on Santa Cruz:

  • The Charles Darwin Research Station. At this station they look to provide safety and protection to grow endangered species. This was where Lonesome George lived, who was the last survivor of the dynasty of land tortoises from Pinta Island. While we did get to see him, he did unfortunately die one year later. It is estimated that he lived for almost 100 years.
  • The fish market. This market was bustling with activity and we were thoroughly entertained by pelicans and sea lions begging for fish scraps. Yet, the fisherman had no problem doing their work.
  • Sugar cane production. We visited a family’s farm that produced sugar cane in an old fashion style. They let us try some of their 65% alcoholic drink (130-proof) that they can produced from the sugar cane. They also produce their own coffee beans and chocolate there which were fantastic.
  • Giant tortoises. With our giant rubber boots, we wandered around in a field full of giant tortoises, who were bigger than us and didn’t mind us hanging out with them.
  • Twin Craters. We continued to enjoy the natural lushness and greenery of Santa Cruz by taking a hike to two huge craters, that were caused by the sinking of empty magma chambers.
  • Cerro Dragon. On the opposite side of Santa Cruz is a place called Cerro Dragon, where you can see an abundance of boobies, frigate birds and land iguanas.

Bartolome Island

We had more opportunities for snorkeling off of Bartolome Island. On one of these snorkeling excursions, white-tipped reef sharks were spotted. We also got to enjoy a presentation by two authors, Jonathan Weiner and Deborah Heiligman, who wrote about Charles Darwin and his research (specifically regarding his interest in the finches). As a book lover, this was a huge highlight for me. I own books by both authors (see picture above).

Genovesa Island

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The highlight of this island was the red-footed boobies and the nazca boobies.

This was such an amazing trip for so many reasons, but mostly because we found ourselves doing things we had never done. I, personally, was never an animal person, but on these islands we were walking side by side with iguanas, tortoises and hundreds of other creatures. We had only been snorkeling once before but went multiple times in the Galapagos. There is nothing like snorkeling with sea lions that are blowing bubbles in your face. We learned so much about the evolution of nature on these islands thanks to our fantastic guides and experts. These guides also gave us photography lessons that helped us capture all of these amazing moments. This was such a memorable experience!

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HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

20 Years of Travel #9: African Safari

The 20 Years of Travel series continues with an African Safari. Below you will see pictures from our adventures in the Serengeti, Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater in 2014. If you want a bit more detail of this our adventures through Tanzania, please see the blog links at the bottom of the page for other posts related to this.

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The Serengeti

First of all, I am not known among my friends as a person who loves camping. However, I loved this kind of camping, which I would classify as glamping. I did have to figure out how to take a shower with only two buckets of water, but I learned quickly and the water was a warm temperature. Plus, a tray with a pot of coffee would be waiting for us in the morning just outside our tent. It was lovely!

Second, I feel like I have a whole new respect for wildebeest. I just thought they were ugly large goats, but I miss waking up to their sounds. I wish I had recorded them and could set their sounds as my alarm clock in the morning. If you can plan your Serengeti adventure to include the Wildebeest Migration, I highly recommend it. It is absolutely thrilling!

Finally, I loved watching all the different animals from just a few feet away. They didn’t seem all that concerned with us, which allowed us to watch them for long periods of time. You definitely get to witness the circle of life up close and personal.

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 Lake Manyara

My takeaways from our time at Lake Manyara was how much I adore baby monkeys, and that you should always have your camera ready in case thousands of birds get scared and take flight all at once.

The Ngorongoro Crater

Who doesn’t enjoy a crater filled with beautiful animals, including lion cubs and a pond filled with hippos?!

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If you would like to read more about our amazing experience in Tanzania, please see the following posts:

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HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania (August 2014)

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For people traveling to Tanzania and the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater is a must. However, I would recommend starting your African Safari with the Crater. We did the Crater at the end of our safari, and it was a bit of a let down after the tranquil vastness of the Serengeti.

All accommodations are outside the Crater, so we took a very early drive to get there and then to get down into the Crater. There was no visibility due to an immense fog, which made me happy that I was not driving. You can only enter the Crater through a tour company.

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The Ngorongoro Crater is rich with vegetation and water, which is why many creatures have made this their permanent home. We mostly wanted to see lion cubs as we missed that in the Serengeti, and that was one of the first things we saw (pictured above). There were three adorable cubs playing with each other. The hippo pool is wonderful as well. You could spend hours there watching them play (pictured below). I think the only thing I really disliked about the adventure in the Ngorongoro Crater was the fact that it is pretty crowded with tourists. After a week in the Serengeti, where it felt like it was just you and the animals, the Crater was heavily populated with humans. We had to wait to get a spot to view the hippos. I still find the place very interesting and feel that it is a must see.

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If you are looking for a nice place to stay while you visit the Ngorongoro Crater, I highly recommend Gibbs Farm. Gibbs Farm (pictured on the right) is located on a coffee gibbs farmplantation, which you can venture through. It is a simple yet luxurious retreat. Wi-fi is a bit unreliable, but with all the beautiful scenery, delicious foods, and fun activities, who needs Wi-fi? Each room is like your own secluded bungalow, where I enjoyed my first outdoor bathing experience. After a week in the wilderness, it was a welcome relaxing retreat.

I would say that a couple days of viewing the Ngorongoro Crater is all you need, but it is worth it!

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Serengeti – Tanzania (August 2014)

Serengeti_RhinoAs we flew in a tiny plane from Kilimanjaro, Tanzania to the Serengeti National Park, I had no idea what to expect from the upcoming adventure. I had never done an African safari before, though it was always at the top of my travel bucket list. Our adventures in the Serengeti far surpassed anything I could have ever imagined. As we flew over the vast lands, I could see the almost perfect lines of migrating wildebeests. In just a few short hours, we would be riding in a jeep among the wildebeests. (See here for more details regarding the Wildebeest Migration experience.)

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Ker & Downey organized our Tanzania adventure. We stayed at the Serengeti Safari Camp, and they arranged a personal guide for us. Our guide was named, Nathan, and he quickly became a wonderful addition to our family. He took such good care of us. He tolerated our wackiness, educated us on the animals and their behaviorjeep (I learned more about the circle of life than I ever wanted to know), prepared and arranged wonderful private breakfast locations, and even accommodated the photographers in our group by placing the vehicle in the right position to get the best photographs. When we first started traveling through the Serengeti in the jeep, we were so excited about everything we saw. We took tons of pictures of this multi-colored, tiny lizard. Nathan thought we were so strange, taking pictures of a little lizard. We clearly didn’t understand what we were about to experience. Within the first few hours, through Nathan’s amazing guidance, we got more than a taste. We saw hippos, giraffes, elephants, zebras, buffalo, ostriches, lions (one pictured above), and even a river crossing by the wildebeest migration.

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The following days were filled with more river crossings, rhinos, cheetahs, monkeys, and so much more. I never pictured myself being the kind of person that could do the wholesunset camping thing (even glamping) with wild animals all around or taking showers where the water comes out of a bucket, but I loved it. The sounds that the wildebeests made always put me to sleep, and I would wake up refreshed, very early in the morning, ready for new adventures. I was never disappointed. The sunrises and sunsets were just glorious. For my first safari experience, this was absolutely the best. I can’t imagine any travel adventure topping this one.

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