It’s All About the Flight!

Delta advertises its service on their new Airbus 350 as “like flying on a cloud.” Really? This I needed to try. Their service from Los Angeles to Shanghai started a few months ago and they offered 3 different classes, all supposed to be superior to the old 747 that they have retired. Often times one can find a great deal on a new route or new service.  I did just that.

    

The 306 seats include two newer additions to Delta.  The first cabin is actually 32 suites where you can close a door for more privacy and a premium economy section offering a leg rest as well as an amenity kit for those 48 seats.  While this plane has at least 100 fewer seats than the 747, it has been calculated that because the plane is lighter and more fuel efficient it will be more profitable.

    

I thought it was difficult to get in and out of that pod and I’m relatively small. With the door closed it was almost claustrophobic.  However, it’s pretty tough to complain when you can stretch out, actually sleep and watch current movies on a much larger screen!

 

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Flashpacking or Not

It’s not like I’ve never been camping.  As a kid my folks would load all of us in a refurbished school bus with a huge tent in the luggage compartment underneath and we’d be off usually for the entire month of June.  I could pitch or strike that tent in 30 minutes by myself!  I’m talking about real camping too, not a KOA or other site that offers showers and indoor toilets.

       

I’ve used squatter toilets, out-houses, loos with a view as well as a few make-shift devices throughout a few continents.  I’ve carried my belongings on my back many times as well. When I was 20 years old I took my first transatlantic flight with the book, Europe on $5 a Day, as my only guide-book.  When necessary due to no other accommodations on treks in the Himalayas or Kilimanjaro it is still worth it, BUT I really do prefer a little more flash and style in my tent, hotel and bathrooms!

    

 

 

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Adventures in Africa: Arduous but Awesome!

When I first discovered Helen in Wonderlust’s Rock my Adventure Tours, I was super  excited about the possibility of  trekking with gorillas, a definite bucket list topper. The fact that the itinerary included countries that I had never visited was an added bonus.  I didn’t hesitate to sign up knowing that she only had 7 spots available.

   

The price was right and the other activities planned were not discouraging; however, I was somewhat concerned about the age of the other travelers. I suspected this was not an excursion for elders.  My group turned out to be incredibly well-traveled and younger than me by decades.  But as we all were willing participants we dove right into all the action with true gusto!  The very active pursuits were matched by some extraordinary cultural events like the Rwanda Genocide Memorial, visits with local families and meals taken as their guests.

    

One of the first fitness tests was our mountain bike ride along the Congo Nile River, a 43 kilometer tortuous dirt and rock trail that almost killed me.  Only three of our eight finished.  I walked over half and even found a youngster willing to push my bike for a few dollars. Although in fairness, he did ask me to carry his school bag.

Two days later we hiked up Mt. Bisoke where each of us had our own porter to assist with our backpacks and hold our hands on the slippery rocks. It turned out to be a long day! We climbed into the van without cleaning up and drove hours crossing the border into Uganda and then boarding a boat after midnight to get to our camp!

        

After a full day of rest on Lake Bunyoni we made our way to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to find the gorillas! While heading in the direction the trackers suggested we were unable to keep up with those fast-moving creatures. Time and again we’d arrive at a spot just deserted. A few hours later our guide decided to engage one of the trackers to assist us as we were showing out disappointment with each grueling step. This new guy moved as fast as the gorillas!  In fact, my group was unsettled with the pace as he kept disappearing in the jungle’s high growth.  We had to manage as we wanted to see the gorillas as much as we didn’t want to be lost. Once we located the extended family we were allowed to stay with them for a full hour.  Heaven.

      

Safari time in the van and on a boat in Queen Elizabeth National Park was next on the itinerary. We looked for the tree climbing lions and instead happened upon a pair mating in the tall grass. Quite an experience! We also saw a charging young elephant who went after all animals and birds who were basking near the water. Nature is fascinating to say the least.  This is one time in my life when I am capable of staying completely still for hours, just watching in wonder.

    

We then traveled to Kibale National Park where chimpanzees are protected in their habitat.  The trek was not nearly as difficult and we discovered a couple of families quickly.  Our guide, upon noticing my inefficiency taking pictures with my phone, confiscated it and took some of my best photos!  I was way too excited.

    

The next night we went to another sanctuary, this one for the white rhino….and spent the next morning tracking them expecting one of them to give birth any moment.  Unfortunately, we missed that, but one did enter the camp making us stay in the bar for a second drink!

   

Adventures were not over. The last day I was able to paddle board on the River Nile!! FYI, I’m still recovering….but home does offer a few missed amenities.

    

 

 

 

 

 

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Calling on the Congo

My African adventure was to include a hike up Mount Nyiragongo, an active 2 mile high volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and spend the night camping at the rim and seeing the fiery lava lake in the darkness.

I have never been to the Congo and was excited to add it to my growing list of countries.  A month or so before departure,Helen, our tour leader, informed us that some British tourists had been abducted in the Virunga National Park (where we were going) and the gunmen killed a park ranger.  She followed the situation letting us know that she may have to change the itinerary. She suggested that if we still wanted to go we should consider kidnapping insurance and apply for an additional visa to get back into Rwanda afterwards. Without any proper thought I purchased both of those. Who knew? Kidnapping insurance is a thing!

                  

Luckily for me, Helen put forth an alternate plan when the park decided to stay closed for the rest of this year.  We would now climb Mount Bisoke, a volcano within site of the DRC in Rwanda with a lovely crater lake and an easier ascent.

    

Upon reaching the summit one of the park rangers told me that the border between the two countries was within a few 100 feet and they agreed to take those who wanted across that invisible line. Of course! I had someone take my photo as proof. One of the tech-savvy youngsters who had joined me suggested that once I had WiFi I could double-check the coordinates on the picture. Unfortunately I didn’t do this until I returned home only to find out that I was still an additional 100 feet short…..last photograph is actually our group’s pizza delivery for lunch, a porter was paid to carry it up!

           

 

 

 

 

 

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Revisiting the Past

Approximately 45 years ago my parents purchased a home in Ajijic, Mexico in order to spend the winter in a much nicer climate than Minnesota. Three of my youngest siblings who were still in elementary school joined them.  The rest of us (13 kids in all) would visit when possible, sometimes bringing friends, in-laws and our own children.

Mexico was a real adventure and one didn’t even need a passport back then.  My Dad absolutely loved the village life, the people, the culture and started every morning with a ” Another beautiful day in Ajijic!” His enthusiasm was contagious and his growing group of eclectic friends made life both interesting and fun!

   

Unfortunately he succumbed to cancer at the early age of 59 and my mother ended up selling the home a few years later.

Earlier this year my sister who was one of those spending her winters there found the same home on VRBO.  Along with my youngest brother they suggested a reunion to celebrate the 100th anniversary of my dad’s birth.

Since the remodeled estate now included two additional bedrooms and a swimming pool, the possibility became a realty for seven of us! The small town was now about 5 times larger with an abundance of great restaurants, near-by pickleball courts, and even a Wal-Mart….

We were able to connect with a woman who lived behind our home and owned a beauty salon.  She remembered our mother fondly and was thrilled that we were able to visit this haven once again.

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Pollution and Priuses

I always check ahead of time on best ways (cheapest)to get to the city from the airport and discovered that Ulaanbaatar had both regular taxis and entrepreneurial drivers with prices  anywhere from $8 to $20.  I was bombarded with offers upon leaving customs but I still needed to change money.  One driver patiently waited and agreed to the lowest fare.  He escorted me out to his waiting Prius.  I was quite surprised but even more so when I noticed that almost every other car was one.

    

Given the popularity of this vehicle the terrible pollution offending both my eyes and nose was unexpected.  We passed the city’s power plants spewing coal dust (combustion residuals) and I guessed that was the problem.  Later I discovered that the real issue was the number of people who had moved close to the city due to economic and climate change and used coal and wood burning stoves in their gers for heat and cooking.  According to WHO this is the cause of  80% of Ulaanbaatar’s pollution.

    

About those Prii (supposedly the correct plural form of the car Prius) and why they are the unofficial Mongolian car. First of all, they are relatively cheap as Mongolia does not charge excise or air pollution tax on them and most are used cars from Japan and have the steering wheel on the right side. Secondly, this car always starts even in the cold harsh winters.

 

 

 

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Who the Hell Goes to Mongolia?

I was talking about my latest trip and overheard someone utter that statement.  An interesting thought even to Mongolians who now list tourism as their third most important industry after agriculture and mining. Most of  these travelers are from China, Russia and Korea.  They list the following  reasons for visiting: to see the beautiful nature, partake in adventure travel,  experience traditional culture and learn more about Genghis Khan.

    

Further research shows, however, that a majority of the visitors don’t venture out of Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, and unfortunately with more pollution than Beijing and New Delhi!

   

In 1990 when the Soviets and Communism pulled out of the country the economic depression caused many people to move to the city. The country suffered greatly for the next ten years due to a deep recession and natural disasters.  Reviving the economy is a top priority.

    

This modern city showcases their country’s rich heritage in its many museums and sculptures but one would  have to travel far and wide in order to understand their nomadic history. What I saw are many four-star hotels, an abundance of karaoke bars ( apparently not so popular anymore), and  an abundance of coffee shops also serving wine or cocktails!

   

Cities are like shopping malls….a similarity you feel no matter where in the world you are.  I wish I had visited the Gobi desert or ridden a horse.

 

 

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