Archive for March, 2010

March 29, 2010

Alex’s Mitzvah Project

In August 2008 I was lucky enough to travel with a couple of terrific families on our Costa Rica Multisport Adventure. Alex Harelick, now age 15, is up to amazing things we thought we’d share with you. You go Alex!

Let us know what your family is up to – we’d love to see!

March 26, 2010

Zanzibar: The perfect finish to an amazing adventure in Tanzania!

Kirsten in Stonetown

After two and a half amazing weeks in Northern Tanzania my next stop before heading back to Boston was the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania. I only had 3 days on the island but I wish I’d had 3 weeks! My adventures in Zanzibar included a walking tour of Stone Town (which is a UNESCO World Heritage site) where I learned about the history of the island and toured the charming winding streets through town. Stone Town has a diverse flavor as it was inhabited by people from Portugal, the Middle East, and India, and architectural influences from these cultures and more can be seen throughout the city.

After Stone Town, I headed up to Nungwi on the Northern Coast for a sunset cruise on a dhow, a traditional Arabic sailing boat. We spent two hours cruising the turquoise waters of the Indian ocean, and from the boat we could see some of the reefs and quite a few fish as well. Zanzibar is a great spot for snorkeling and diving.

The morning I was to leave, I was able to fit in a spice tour, as no trip to Zanzibar is complete without seeing a spice plantation! It was amazing to see how cinnamon, vanilla, lemongrass, pepper and other herbs and spices grow. The most surprising spice to me was the nutmeg seed which is black with red stripes — the same colors as a ladybug — who knew?! Zanzibar was truly the perfect accompaniment to the safari in Tanzania and I cannot wait to go back!

Dhow sailing

March 22, 2010

Meet our Pal Kathy Kinney; Grandmother, World Traveler, Adventurer Extraordinaire. And a really nice person, to boot.


Kathy in Peru

In July Kathy Kinney will be enjoying her fourth Thomson Adventure, this time with three grandchildren ages 10, 11, and 12. Join them on our Costa Rica Multisport Adventure July 3 – 11

How did you find TFA? …. My husband and I have been blessed with nine wonderful, healthy, inquisitive grandchildren. In 2003 one of my former colleges sponsored a multi-generational trip to London, and we took two granddaughters for two weeks, having a wonderful time and discovering that with young people we experienced things that we had overlooked when traveling as regular tourists. In 2004, I wanted to take another trip, and I searched opportunities for travel with the Flying Longhorns, the Naval Academy, Stanford University, Mills College, and the Smithsonian. These are entities that have travel offices that support very good programs and who routinely send us brochures. My husband’s health was declining, and he decided that I would be the one taking the future trips, so I was thorough in my research of travel opportunities that would be of special interest to the next two grandchildren in line for trips with their grandmother. I found a trip that sounded fantastic that was sponsored by the Smithsonian. They were using a travel company that I had seen mentioned by the Stanford travel office, so I thought they would probably be very good. I chose a trip to Tanzania that included many of the national parks and offered a variety of accommodations from upscale to rustic, which had enormous appeal. I signed up through the Smithsonian, and there were about fifteen people registered. However, one family of 7 dropped out, and then another family decided to postpone their trip. This left only our small group of three. I was so disappointed, and the children were already completely hooked into the trip. The Smithsonian offered us the option to cancel the trip and get refunds for our deposits. Or, we could talk with the Thomson people to see how we could work out the travel without going through the Smithsonian. It turned out to be just a fantastic travel opportunity. I went with one eleven year old grandson and his ten year old girl cousin. We had a private tour with our own driver/guide who must have been the best guide in Africa. Thomson assured us that they never canceled a tour, even if there were only two people to go on it. This was the best trip I had ever had, so it is natural that whenever I look for family travel, I choose Thomson.I am looking forward to my fourth trip with Thomson Family Adventures this coming summer. (Costa Rica Multisport Adventure July 3 – 11)

Why do you like to travel? …. I grew up living in the same house in the same small town in Texas until I left to go away to college. My father worked all the time, and we did not travel except to drive a short distance to visit my grandparents. When I went away to college in California, I realized that there was a lot more to see than just Texas. Eventually I met my “Prince Charming” who was a midshipman cadet at the United States Naval Academy. We married shortly after his graduation, and launched a thirty-year military career. The navy was very good to us, and his career included two 6-month tours in Japan; two two-year tours in Hawaii; duty in Whidbey Island, Washington; Bellevue, Nebraska; Alameda, California; Monterey, California; Moffett Field, California; Corpus Christi, Texas; two tours to Pensacola, Florida; Milton, Florida; Foley, Alabama; Fairfax County, Virginia for the mandatory Washington, D.C. experience; and the best time of our lives was four years in Germany. From our base in Stuttgart, Germany we could travel all over the European Continent, and we were off on adventures every chance we got. Our children adapted so well, and they planned many of our trips. We lived almost like Gypsies. We definitely had the travel bug. I have now been to all seven continents, and I know that I will want to travel as long as I have breath to keep me going.

What was your first trip outside the USA? … Early in my married life my husbands navy flight squadron was ordered to deploy to Iwakuni, Japan. He flew seaplanes, and these planes do not land on aircraft carriers, so they are actually land-based. We decided that I would go to Iwakuni and set up housekeeping out in the Japanese economy. This was in 1958, and Japan had not yet recuperated from the devastation they experienced during the war years. The navy discouraged wives from following the squadrons, as their feeling was that wives would be a distraction from the duty for which the men were expected to perform. However, this was such a great experience for us. We did not get married to have me sitting somewhere in the continental U.S. while he was off in Southeast Asia. And this gave me an opportunity to travel all over Japan during our 6 months there. The following year, when the squadron again deployed to Japan, I took our new son and returned to Iwakuni. I discovered that living in other countries gives the traveler a whole new perspective about people and the ways they are alike or different from ourselves.

What is your favorite travel moment? … It would be very difficult to name one moment that was really greater than all the others. I believe that my most exciting trip was the one I took to Tanzania. There, the drive from the top of the ridge to the bottom of the valley in Ngorongoro and seeing all of the wildlife there was something that took my breath away. One night there we had a full moon. Benjamin and Kathleen and I sat out on our little deck that overlooked the canyon and watched that moon rise to light up the whole valley This was something I will never forget. Happily, I am reminded of this experience each month when we are blessed with another full moon. And I believe that the greatest thrill of that trip was when we were returning to the Thomson tented camp in the Serengeti after a very full day of animal viewing, and we came upon a pride of lions enjoying a feast. They had killed a large water buffalo, and we stopped very close to where they were enjoying the feast. The adult males ate first. Then the mothers, and then the cubs were allowed to eat till they were satisfied. We observed them for quite a long time. There was much more food than that group could devour. The next morning as we started our days experience, our guide drove us back to the spot where the lions had been feasting. There was not a single bone or piece of skin or anything left of that huge animal. The other animals came after the lions, and the birds also came to do the final cleanup. It was fascinating to observe how the food chain works to feed everyone. The lions walked right next to our jeep, close enough that we could have reached out to pet them. this was an amazing trip.

What is your favorite hobby and why. … It must be obvious to you by now that my favorite hobby is traveling to different parts of the world. Each time I get to a new place and experience a new culture I feel enriched and invigorated. There are so many National Heritage sites scattered around the globe, and I would like to see them all. Each one is unique and special in its own right. I also feel that watching my grandchildren is a special hobby. Observing them as they grow and learn from their travel experiences is exciting and rewarding to me. As each grandchild is different, I learn so much from watching their different reactions to the new situations that unfold through travel. Travel is such a great learning experience, and it is amazing to see the growth in the young people as they are introduced to new things, new people, new foods, new surroundings, new ways to approach things, new challenges. I will also say that traveling with my grandchildren has been a very positive bonding experience. I feel very close to each of my grands.

Anything else you want us to know about you? … You probably know more than you wanted to know already. Thanks, TFA

March 14, 2010

Kirsten and Mt Meru

Kirsten at Mirikamba

Hello from the foot of Mt. Meru near Arusha! I had an exciting morning heading to Mt. Meru and setting off on a hike with one of the park’s rangers. We visited the Mirikamba huts (anyone interested in the Family Safari for Teens call me and I’ll tell you all about them!). The weather was warm and clear and we had a great view of Kilimanjaro. On the hike we found some elephant bones, and got a good look at the Ash Cone which formed in the crater of the former volcano. I would have loved to have climbed to the top of Meru but it takes 3 full days – including one day starting at 1AM! Maybe next time :)

I’m now at Mt. Meru Game Lodge awaiting the rest of the family safari group. There are some beautiful animals in the game reserve here – including a number of zebras! There are also monkeys swinging in the trees on the grounds, and they sometimes jump onto the roof of the buildings!

I’ll try and check in again but I may be out of touch in the parks for a few days.

March 12, 2010

Jambo from Arusha, Tanzania

Kirsten at the hippo pools

Hello from Arusha! I’ve been in Tanzania for 7 days studying tourism development in the country and I have to say — I love this place!! My journey has included a visit to the Ngorongoro crater where I saw my first Zebra (punda milia in Swahili), the Serengeti where I visited the hippo pool and a number of visits to local villages including two Maasai schools . I also had the privilege of meeting with conservation authorities and representatives from some local villages. I have loved learning about this beautiful country and meeting local Tanzanian people.

One of the surprises I have found in Tanzania is how green this country is. The soil is red clay but there are grass, trees, and rolling hills everywhere — it does not fit the arid, desert image of Africa. The weather has been perfect so far – warm and dry, which feels especially great after a cold Boston winter!

visiting with the local children

March 10, 2010

Thomson Family Adventures and Avatar

Southern Sky Column, Zhangjiajie China

Truth is I have not yet seen the movie Avatar, but everyone I know who has says it is awesome. Just this week I learned that the very beautiful national park of Zhangjiajie in the Hunan province of China has been credited with inspiring the scenic landscape of Pandora. Wow!

This is ‘wow’ because we’ve found ourselves over and over having to convince our traveling families that this is a place worth visiting, even though almost no other Westerners are ever found here and previously no one else had ever heard of it. It was one of our true ‘off the beaten path’ spots we could quietly share with families who would then share the pathways with the Chinese and Koreans who frequent this lovely place. In fact one could Google ‘Zhangjiajie” and come up with … nothing. I’m pretty sure along the way we’ve been accused of making it up. But not any more!

Now it seems Hollywood has discovered this amazing sliver of nature and things will be changing fast. Avatar is the biggest selling movie in China, ever. Just this week the Chinese had a ceremony, and the once Southern Sky Column in Zhangjiajie will now be known as the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain.

What does this all mean? Maybe that you want to go to China this summer and see it for yourself! I can pretty honestly say you’ve never seen anything like it. This is the very place I learned I could sweat so much as to soak through my back pack as I climbed the approximately 3, 275 stairs to the top, with amazing views the whole way. Don’t get me wrong – Mira and I thought it was the coolest thing we ever did. The best part is you don’t even have to do the walk up – you can ride an elevator!

So if you always wanted to go to China, and your kids are enthralled with Avatar – you just gained a new edge for taking them. Let us show you how fabulous this can be; no special effects, just pure, awesome nature.

March 1, 2010

Mouse Stories

Cordless Mouse in its natural setting

This event happened awhile back, but frankly I needed some distance before being able to talk about it. (And we wanted to be sure we had Kirsten signed on before she heard about it!). It’s true, we had a mouse problem at the office. Now I love little critters and fully support all animals’ rights to good food and clean water. Just not if they’re going to leave their footprints all over my DESK.

First we noticed maybe some of the dog food we have around the office was getting pilfered over night. Then we noticed several quite bold mice strolling around the office during business hours. This was not sanctioned by management AT ALL. We set out traps, but truthfully trying to work with a dead mouse peering out from behind the computer monitor – that wasn’t so effective. In fact, that may have been my personal last straw. Even Jessie, Henry, and Benson – the office dogs – were none too pleased.

If they had been a bit tidier or even a tiny bit more subtle we might not have had to call in the exterminator. But alas these mice were not holding any respect for our work environment.

Enter professional burly men with flashlights, wait a few days and…voila! No more mice.

That we can see anyway.