Was your last vacation really all that?

A report by Travel Pulse suggested that many of us exaggerate how amazing our last trip was because of all the incredible posts on Instagram and other social media sites. They made us feel we were missing out on the “good stuff”.

I have been accused of doing the same thing with my Holiday Letter….of course we’re not going to include the bad and ugly unless we’re chatting with close friends or complaining to the airline, hotel or tour company!


Why admit that you spent all the money and you would have preferred staying home? One can’t be blamed for the bad weather or even an outbreak of the flu but we wonder, did we do our “due diligence” in planning?


Sometimes the vacation is just so bad that it is actually funny.  Hey, you survived!  You had the “time” of your life, one to be remembered always! It makes a great story!

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See The World ASAP

Here is my list of the countries that I have visited and you’ll notice that I include individual ones that are actually part of a sovereign nation (like Wales, Scotland, etc. instead of United Kingdom). My intentions are to visit at least 5 new countries every year.

North and South America: USA, Canada, Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Dominican Republic, Bermuda, Bahamas, Haiti, French Guiana, Peru, Antarctica, Suriname , Argentina, Guyana, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba and Ecuador.

Every Country in Europe: England, Scotland, Wales, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Montenegro, Holland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Macedonia, Kosovo, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Vatican City, Moldova, Albania, Andorra and Belarus.

Africa: Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia, eSwatini, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Botswana, Namibia, Tunisia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Ethiopia and sort of the Congo

Middle East:  Israel,  Bahrain, Palestine, Jordan, Oman, UAE, Lebanon, Qatar, Malta, Cyprus and Kuwait.

Oceania and Asia: Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam (both North and South).

Africa and Oceania are ripe for discovery…giving me enough opportunities for a few more years anyway.  In January of 2020 I’ll collect more island nations while on a cruise:  Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Nevis and St. Kitts, St. Vincent and St. Maartin.

It is easier now for me to count the countries I’ve not visited rather than those I’ve been fortunate to see.  I would love to hear some recommendations of places that I should add before it’s too late!

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A Unified Korea?

While visiting the  DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) on a group tour from Seoul, my guide indicated that many South Koreans would love to see one country instead of two; although she did imply that the younger generation was not as enthused about the prospect.


My first impression was of skepticism.  How could such a successful and advanced nation embrace open borders where the  economy and immigration would certainly be problematic? After visiting, I don’t think anything is going to happen anytime soon.

The new train station certainly does reflect optimism though.  And the current leadership of both are at least talking.

The highlight of the tour for me was the 3rd infiltration tunnel. It was approximately one mile in length, and about 240 feet underground.  Called the tunnel of aggression, it was built by the North, designed for a surprise attack on Seoul.  We were only allowed to get to the border of North Korea where we encountered three different blockades.


From above ground at the observation point I did get to see the countryside and of course many signs that warned one not to get any closer.  The red flags indicate land mines.


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Why is French Guiana Still a Republic ?

French Guiana is the last land in the Americas to be controlled by a foreign power.  It is also the only one where French is the official language although its close proximity to the Caribbean means the culture is more similar to theirs than that of France. So why didn’t they vote for independence? It’s complicated and sometimes conflicted; however the  mutual benefits for France and French Guiana outweigh any separation right now.  The Guiana Space Center is important to both the French and the local economy. Also, the social services offered and overall standard of living are higher here than its neighbors even though unemployment is high.

Prior to the creation of the European Space Agency, this small Republic was notable for the Devils Island Prison System which housed France’s political and dangerous criminals. The book and movie Papillon was based on this brutal operation.

My tour included a visit to Cayenne and this capital city’s most famous landmarks.  The whole “country” has less than 300,000 people so it didn’t take more than a half a day. We also visited St. Laurent, a small village that housed the transportation camps for the prisoners and saw the actual cell where Henri Charrière was held before he was sent to Devil’s Island.


I spent a fun day on the catamaran, sailing to the three islands that were all involved in this huge prison camp.  Devil’s Island is not open to tourists but we spent some time on both St. Joseph and Isle Royal.  Some of the haunted buildings have given way to a hostel, restaurant and an open camp land for visitors. The fact that I was the only female in my small group led to a few activities I might not have taken otherwise: like a climb down a path that said “no access” and an invitation to swim back to the boat instead of taking the zodiac.


Part of the space station was closed due to an impending launch but we were able to access the museum and gift shop. The replica of the Mission Control Center above is made from legos!


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Suriname Embraces its Melting Pot of Cultures and Peoples

Like Guyana, the path to independence was a difficult one due to colonization, civil uprisings, and the influx of people who were brought to the country as indentured servants or slaves. With this mix of cultures there are probably very few places with such a diverse population of races, beliefs and languages.

Upon arriving our tour guide extraordinaire, Sieglien, took us on a city tour of Paramaribo where we discovered a Hindu temple, Jewish synagogue, Christian church and a Mosque all within walking distance of each other. The city’s inhabitants decided to live in peace; respecting and embracing each other’s differences.


We also visited two markets, side by side; one full of vegetables, fruit and basic staples and the other was the Maroon market, with herbs, oils and additional natural medicines found in the jungle. The Maroon’s are descendants of African slaves that escaped from the plantations and started a new life deep in the jungle.

The city has many wooden buildings that have weathered but are slowly being restored. Among them is one that was owned by Elisabeth Samson, the daughter of a freed slave who became the owner of many plantations.  She was quite controversial at the time due to her wealth and the fact that she married a white man.


Close to the city proper was the Peperpot Nature Park where many people see monkeys, sloths, birds etc., unfortunately I only saw a couple of iguanas. We finished the busy day with a boat ride in the Commewijne River where we encountered pods of dolphins flirting with us for over an hour.

The next morning we boarded a bus to take us on a four hour trip to the busy port on the Suriname River where we loaded ourselves into a large wooden canoe to spend a few nights in the jungle where at night you could see more than a million stars including the milky way. This area is where the Maroons settled centuries ago.


The cabins, the parrots, the hospitality of the staff at the Knini Paati River Lodge and the local guide were exceptional. We did a jungle walk where we learned survival skills in addition to info on the local flora and fauna. 


Another highlight was our visit to a village nearby. Some adventurers at this camp opted to hike 4 and 1/2 miles deep into the jungle and spend the night in hammocks pretending to sleep while they kept one eye open for the jaguars and snakes.

Suriname has the most flourishing tourism of the three Guianas as they have international hotels, a thriving capital city, a jungle and beaches while still being “off the beaten path”.  The many varied activities we did here was due to Dinesh Ramlal and his team at Travel the Guianas. Next stop: French Guiana!




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Guyana is Much More than the Jonestown Massacre

The first thing the local guides have to address is the tragedy that happened over 40 years ago. It took place in a remote area in the Northwest and certainly is not why I would recommend you go visit Guyana!


I arrived at the Georgetown International Airport late in the day but was fortunately picked up by my tour guide and during the hour drive to the hotel was introduced to the country’s history and its recent status. Guyana was named by the indigenous people living there before the Europeans occupied it, meaning “land of water”.  Settled first by the Dutch then the English and due to the many plantations on its western border the territory brought in both indentured servants from East India and slaves from Africa.  It wasn’t until the 1830’s that slaves were freed and it took another 130 years or so before Guyana became independent. While the country is rich in its natural resources like rain forests, sugar cane, rice and some minerals it is still considered one of the poorest nations in South America.

The next morning I met the 5 others who were joining me for the better part of a week even though we would only be spending about 36 hours in Guyana.  We did a city tour of Georgetown ( a small city of about only 200,000) taking in the usual sites of the city hall, the parliament building, the waterfront, the cathedral, and the National Museum. 


That afternoon we took a small plane along with 5 others to visit Kaieteur Falls, one of the most powerful in the world and twice as high as Victoria Falls or four times as high as Niagara Falls. It is located on the Potaro River in a section of the Amazon rainforest.  


After a few hours touring the park and taking many photos we returned to the city for the night before departing by plane again for our next country: Suriname.

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ABC’s of Traveling the Guianas

With airplanes, boats and cars one can actually see all three of these countries (French Guiana is actually a Republic) in a week!  Luckily I discovered a travel agency called “Travel the Guianas” that not only made this possible but did it with nonchalance. While there were different guides and drivers in each area they offered  adventures, cultural experiences, and history lessons throughout the tour.


The logistics of arranging a rather complicated trip for us was made much simpler due to the excellent guides and an abundance of cell towers, even in the jungle.  Because everyone was connected there were no mishaps in getting us to where we needed to be even though we crossed borders four times. 

While I did not know any of my fellow travelers ahead of time, we shared many commonalities; love of exploring and visiting new places were definitely in our DNA.  In fact four of them left their spouses at home knowing this trip was a little more adventurous than they preferred. I never felt in danger but food and lodging were not exactly 5 star.  Fresh fruit was always available as were proper toilets and AC at night. Local beer was plentiful as well.


I will cover Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana separately in upcoming blogs. Tourism is relatively new to the area but I hope it will be flourishing in the near future.  Right now Europeans, Chinese and people who were descendants of past residents are more typical but hopefully word of mouth will bring more people to this delightful area.


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