The Responsible Role of the Tourist

On my latest long trip I watched a documentary on the plane entitled The Last Tourist. It makes one think about the future of travel and whether or not we are destroying places economically or environmentally. I wished I had done a little more research beforehand but I think I lucked out!  I have always tried to book local lodging instead of chain hotels that are headquartered elsewhere.  And rather than buy souvenirs I tend to tip the local workers.  I found out years ago that some of the mementos I was buying were manufactured in some other part of the world.  I realize that there are items to buy like art or clothing that you know are  created domestically, but since I live in a small apartment I’m happy with memories.

I booked a resort because the island of Mauritius offers so many water activities and having opportunities to engage in these various endeavors right at the site is easy. And the LUX brand of resorts happen to be local.   Saving the planet for the future is another concern and the Grand Gaube Resort has made a serious commitment by joining with a community initiative to make their island more respectful of people and environment.  There was no plastic.  Their goals: To be recognized as an eco-friendly company in our country; To work in harmony with nature and the community towards a sustainable and inclusive future for Mauritius; To have our name listed alongside those who will be creating a greener environment for present and future generations.

While my main interest in going to my 150th country was to swim with the dolphins, I realize there are concerns about safety. The various charters all claim this is a safe activity for both the dolphins and the humans since it is in the wild and only takes place for two hours each day. However, upon seizing this opportunity and seeing how many boats and swimmers were involved I’m not sure that it was. My personal experience was exciting, scary and a little bit overwhelming…probably for the dolphins as well. There were 25 boats in the area along with about 5 kayaks. There were only two tourists on my boat and the plan was for us to sit on the edge with our fins dangling and masks on and jump quickly when told as the dolphins were under us at that time.

My first effort was not successful as I was so excited that I forgot to put the snorkel in my mouth and proceeded to drink seawater laced with gasoline. Choking and coughing left me no time to look around. The guide hurriedly got me back on the boat. The second attempt was futile as well since the mask slipped off my face. Ignoring these signs I tried once more. I was ready, set and when given the command, almost landed on one. I decided to spend the rest of the time on the boat watching as they dove, swam by and delighted me much more with the distance between us.

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My Untimely Trip to Tahiti

At first I checked out small cruise ships but could not find one without a steep penalty for a solo booking. I have never been to French Polynesia and due to the number of silly Facebook quizzes requiring a trip to Tahiti to get a point, I decided I would go and take a ferry from one island to another.

While the flight price was reasonable, the hotel and food were surprisingly expensive. I booked the hotel thinking I was getting breakfast but found out that no food or drink was included; however a hefty daily resort fee was added to the bill.

And it was rainy season! I knew that but decided to indulge anyway. The hotel did offer umbrellas for use free of charge…and beach towels.

I decided to stay in Papeete (thank goodness a friend taught me how to pronounce it before arriving) and do day trips from there.  Besides a great walk on the beach and a long walk to a convenience store to buy something to eat in the room, I also took the hotel bus into the town proper and walk until I got lost and had a great quiche at a local restaurant.

Another day I signed up for a group tour of Moorea where a boat took us on a tour of the island, stopping for a great encounter with sand sharks and manta rays and then landing on a small private island for a barbeque and a cultural show. The musicians that accompanied us loved their job and kept all of us delighted the entire day. The trip to and from Moorea was on the public ferry where I actually met the pilots who flew me back home the next day!

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Lipstick on a Pig

I hate to diss on my favorite airline as I work hard each year to prove my loyalty. But my trip to Sao Paulo had me more than a little discouraged. I had hoped to use my global upgrades both ways but in order to do so I had to book the next highest level. For this flight it was their new “cabin”, the Premium Select, which is saddled between their domestic first class and their Delta One.

I was fortunate to get the upgrade on the outbound but due to the 3 hour delay in Atlanta I missed my connection in Sao Paulo and lost an entire day of sightseeing in Iguazu. Ten hours in their lovely very large airport was not fun.

On the return I was first in line for the upgrade with 2 seats remaining but apparently 2 other people had paid more for their ticket or something and I missed out. Since I had already paid for the Premium Select I was somewhat hopeful but was disappointed in almost everything. The dedicated overhead bin space was stuffed with bags from everywhere, the food was not appetizing and while served with actual silverware the salad and main course appeared in cardboard containers. It was difficult to sleep more than a few minutes with the close proximity to the galley for Delta One (flight attendants were talking, working hard and making noise). And the pillow, blanket, limited recline and footrest were not sufficient. Do you remember when airlines gave everyone a pillow and blanket no matter what seat you were in? And the sparkling wine was served in paper coffee cups!

I will think twice before booking Premium Select in the future and wish I had checked reviews from others.

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The Waterfalls of the World

I like waterfalls, if you’re close enough it’s like an expensive spa treatment. But mostly I like the sound, the fury, the amazing beauty and the spritzing!

When I was quite young my folks took us to Niagara Falls and made sure we saw them from both New York and Ontario. What I remember about them are the stories of the crazy people who attempted to go over them in a wooden barrel and the first one to succeed was a woman!

Since then I’ve visited some of the most famous in the World for one reason or another. Maybe it is the tallest or the most water or the widest or an incredible view….I don’t exactly have a list of all those I’m missing but I’ve enjoyed Gullfoss in Iceland, Murchison Falls in Uganda, Havasu Falls in Arizona, Yosemite Falls in California, Kaieteur Falls in Guyana, Victoria Falls in both Zimbabwe and Zambia, and finally Iguazu Falls on the Brazil side. On hikes and road trips through other countries I’ve also watched the water fall in South Africa, New Zealand and Croatia. However, the one that is often ranked number one is Angel Falls in Venezuela and I’ve not been there YET!

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Cape Coast Tour of Ghana

It’s a day long drive from Accra but worth every minute. You’ll go through multiple small villages and window shop the markets as you breeze by. The small goats are ubiquitous and I worried that they wouldn’t know their way home but was assured it’s routine for them to end the day at their pen regardless of where their curiosity took them.

I was with Stephen and Patrick again in their comfortable SUV with air conditioning and clean windows. It was fun to listen to the two of them speaking both English and their indigenous language, intermixed without skipping a beat. When I asked one of my frequent questions Stephen answered in perfect English. He has been guiding tourists for over 20 years and was most knowledgeable about both his country and mine. We also discussed problems and accomplishments of many African nations.

On our way to the coast we stopped at Kakum National Park known for its suspension bridges high above the forest floor among 300 year old trees. The park also houses a museum with information and exhibits about the flora and fauna. If one is even more adventurous they can spend the night in the tree house!

After working up a sweat and a little anxiety on the single plank walkway we got back into the car for another few hours to the Cape Coast Castle. Along the way we saw a boat building yard, many more villages, more goats and many entrepreneurs.

 I learned a great deal about the horrific Atlantic Slave trade.  A special guide took us through this compound and pointed out the total dichotomy of life above and below ground.  There was a church, school, luxurious lodging that sat atop the dark, dingy cells where many Africans suffered for months before their  horrendous journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

This guide wanted us to experience just a little of the horrendous pain that the men and women endured for months before embarking on the long journey across the Atlantic in the bowels of some ship. She had us all step into a tiny cell and closed the door and turned off the light. It was hot, humid, stinky and quite unsettling. Her point was well taken. I literally thought I would faint and could not wait for the moment to be over.

It was a long trip back to the hotel.

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Accra, the Capital of Ghana

It’s been awhile since I’ve visited a new country and luckily for me I found a good fare for Ghana.  As I was traveling alone and was not sure how best to  get around, I contacted my hotel, the Movenpick, for assistance.  Their transport desk was happy to oblige and set up tours that fit both my schedule and desires. I was thrilled with my guide, Stephen Komla Kpogoh  (In Ghana the children are often named after the day of the week that they were born)and driver, Patrick.  They were fantastic.

Ghana, once called the Gold Coast is now known for its color, music and artwork. It’s also almost the center of the World! While they have many natural resources besides gold they do have problems with unemployment and rising debt. However it is considered a safer country to visit than the U.S!

Accra is actually the second most expensive  city in Africa but has many immigrants who come here looking for a better life.  Due to cost of living many of the locals work at more than one job to survive, often setting up “shop” on the streets to sell something or offer some service.  It is illegal so they often  start early and close up before the city is completely awake.

My first tour was of the city proper and Stephen had the answer for everyone of my questions.  I knew that Ghana had been colonized by the Brits but didn’t know they had been subjects to the Portuguese, Dutch, and others as well. I was surprised that they drove on the right since they gained their independence from the British in 1957 but Stephen said they were excited to change everything.

The history of this country was memorialized in the museums I visited, the National Museum and the  W.E.B. DuBois Centre which contains memorabilia and his personal library. I also spent some time at the famous market, the Makola, which is quite large and the Black Star Square which overlooks the Sea.

I didn’t have to go far to see some incredible art as my hotel had local works throughout.  There were sculptures, paintings, and artifacts on each floor, in the lobby, and in all hallways.  Many were for sale and others were permanent. I opted to skip out on their vibrant music scene that was  part of the nightlife but understand they do have festivals featuring their music periodically, the next one in the Black Star Square December 29th and 30th!

My next blog will cover my full day tour out of the city to Kakum National Park and the Cape Coast Castle.



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House Sitting

While I just spent 3 weeks in the Pacific Northwest dog-sitting two adorable and well behaved dogs (although they do bark occasionally), it ended up costing my hosts a pretty penny due to changing airfare, the cost of bringing my dog along, and supplying me with groceries and wine.

They found a new option for their next trip. Since I’m a relative I arrived a few days early to visit and was able to meet the new dog sitters they hoped would fill my shoes next year. This couple saw their home, met the dogs and committed for the time period needed. He is a retired tech guy, she is a retired physician and with family nearby they considered this a “win-win” for all.

My brother-in-law had just signed up for TrustedHousesitters,
where for an annual fee you can request a sitter for your home and your pets. They are vetted and agree to stay for free and help you out.
It’s certainly worth considering. You can sign up to be a sitter, get one or both. This couple finds someone to stay at their home to take care of their plants while they travel/sit all around the world.

I’m guessing that both location and home matter when the sitter is looking for a unique travel experience and are willing to do so with no charge to you. When I lived in Panama there was a woman who had lived there for a couple of years and had only spent a few nights paying for a hotel. She was in such demand as a trusted pet-sitter that you had to book her at least a year ahead!

While I have plenty of family in my area there are times when they simply cannot help out. So this is something I plan to investigate for myself!

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More Feral Camels than People

I flew the 2000 miles from Sydney to Darwin over the vast, mostly uninhabited, semiarid desert and just saw landscape that was clearly rust or red in color, aptly called the Australian Outback. There are more camels, yes camels, than people. I knew about the kangaroos but was surprised to hear about some million dromedaries. Apparently years ago when they were settling new areas they imported this animal because they could carry more weight and more easily navigate the terrain. The story I heard was that when they were done with the last encampment the handlers were asked to take the camels out back and shoot them, but instead, the men let them free. That year was particularly wet and the camels reproduced, and now double their population every 8 to 10 years. There are only about 250,000 people in the whole of the Northern Territory (3rd largest territory in Australia).

While here I did not see either a kangaroo or a camel but I met some amazing people. Upon leaving the plane in Darwin I asked a young woman about taxis into the city as it was too late for the last shuttle. She kindly invited me to share her cab and made sure the driver dropped me off first and she wouldn’t take any money from me. Fortuitous, huh? Every one I met was incredibly kind, nice and interesting. I walked the city harbor and to the Market in the park where they had the best food trucks! In between these jaunts I took the on/off bus and saw the rest of the town.

After two days I flew to Alice Springs, or Alice as the locals say, in order to take a bus tour out to Uluru. The trip included pick-up at the hotel, a 5 and 1/2 hour drive with a breakfast stop, two walks with a park ranger and a sunset barbeque overlooking the monument. We also had time to see the museum and gift shop before the dark ride home. People are warned not to drive at night due to animals on the road but to my somewhat disappointment we only had to stop for cattle. This was a quick trip that probably amounted to as much time in the air as I was on land, but it was well worth it.

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On Becoming that Little Old Lady

I am old and female but I still have more travelling to do. When a woman said that my smile was bigger than I was…perhaps she knew I was shrinking? My goal is to see all the countries of the World before I die but Covid-19 put me behind schedule. Usually I try and amass 5 new ones each year. Right now travel is difficult and challenging for everyone and while I consider myself somewhat of an expert I recently found myself making some “rookie” mistakes.

I forgot to pack a converter plug for Australia. I paid extra for the Qantas lounge but didn’t check the operating hours. I reserved a shuttle to the hotel but neglected to ask the name of the shuttle company, assuming it would have the name of the hotel on the bus. The worst was when I decided to wash up after the first 15 hours of flight and opened my suitcase on the sink as there was no other option. I didn’t consider the automatic faucets until my clothes started floating. Oops. Am I out of practice or am I just old?

While these blunders didn’t ruin my trip they did scare me a little. Inconveniences for sure. My next trip is longer and I’m taking my dog. While it’s almost a month off I’m thinking I should start making a list?

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It was so great to see the old people cleaning up the beach!

The Captain spoke these words over the Public Address System of the ship. At first I laughed as most of us were older than 60, well maybe 70; at least 3 in their 80’s. Even though English is not his first language I still found it a bit odd that he would phrase it so. However, I realized that, yes, it was fantastic that old people who would not be around in 20 or so years were still concerned enough about our planet to help protect it for the future travelers. It only took one to start this effort.

Sandy is one of those women who cares about everyone and everything. The first day on land she just stuffed her pockets with debris and encouraged others to do the same. The next time she came prepared with huge burlap bags and left them in a pile. Within minutes every one of us were picking up the garbage that had washed to shore from fishing boats….and with the currents in the Arctic Circle they may have floated from a great distance. We were all pretty pleased with ourselves and are hoping this will become a thing. There are cloth laundry bags in each cabin which can be washed and reused multiple times. It is a small thing that can have huge consequences.

This is Sandy!
This is Sandy! Thank you from all of us!
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