Archive for April, 2010

April 29, 2010

How it Rolls in Peru: The April Update

Training to Machu Picchu Town

After severe flooding in January washed out the tracks, train service to Machu Picchu was interrupted and the sanctuary closed. Many families scheduled to travel in February and March had to scramble, shifting their vacations to other destinations and putting their Peru plans on hold. Let us promise you none of this was fun, but least of all for the residents of Peru who lost homes and livelihoods as a result of the floods.

Now we are glad to say we’ve had our first family reach Machu Picchu since this disaster happened! Tourism is getting back on track and repairs to the rails are progressing, with partial service between Cusco and Machu Picchu Town (Aguas Calientes). Peru Rail is running buses to connect tourists, but Thomson guests have the benefit of private van service to get them to and from the trains. Predictions have the Vistadome train as well as the Hiram Bingham back in action along their full routes by June when our families are next traveling.

The biggest inconvenience to tourists will be the luggage restrictions; with fewer trains running there is less room for bags. Currently there is a limit of 5kg (11lbs) per person on the train to Machu Picchu- needless to say this does not equal a suitcase! If this rule is still in place in June we’ll do our best to minimize the complications. In the worst case scenario you’ll be parted from the bulk of your luggage for the two days at Machu Picchu… you can handle that, right?

This is why it’s called adventure!

April 27, 2010

Life in Motion – Without Turning Green

Turkish gulet

Several of our Thomson Family Adventures involve time on boats, or in vans on mountain roads… Ah yes, just this first sentence makes me feel queasy. And indeed we spend a lot of time chatting with families about how to combat the effects of motion.

I’ve been plagued by motion sickness my whole life. When I was a little girl the 15 minute drive to ballet lessons left me so green I couldn’t participate in the class I’d looked forward to all week. Products like Dramamine provided some relief, but mostly because I’d be passed out cold as a side effect. Over the years I learned some coping techniques – sleeping, meditation, avoidance – all of which did nothing to help me join in on the things I wanted to do. Does this sound like familiar?

Lucky for me and my traveling heart, I found a formula and a solution that works for me. Boats, cars, planes – now I am fearless, and use those little bags only for writing notes (not – you know). Maybe it can work for you too. There are three important components to this fix:

1) Stock up on Bonine, an over the counter, non drowsy anti-motion sickness medication. I’ve also found the generic drug store chain versions just as effective; look for the non drowsy label. It’s a small chewable tablet and you only need to take it once a day!

2) Take this little miracle tablet well before you step foot on a boat or car. One thing I know for sure is as soon as I begin to feel poorly there is no going back to feeling terrific. Nip it in the bud! If you’re heading out early in the morning, you might even begin taking it the night before.

3) Keep taking it once a day for as long as you are on that boat, or facing bumpy car rides. Don’t stop because you feel good! In fact you may be feeling good because of the drug. It is true you may also get your sea legs after a few days on a boat, but do you want to take the chance of ruining your good time??

Following these simple steps have allowed me to sail on small boats for days on end, and even enjoy long, bumpy, winding car rides to interesting places all while staying alert. Well, except for nap time which is mandatory on a vacation, right?

Bonine or its generic version is inexpensive, simple to use, and transformed my life. Your results (and side effects) could be different so try it out for yourselves before deciding if this is your solution too. Happy sailing!

April 21, 2010

Meet Our Pal, Barbara Ruttenberg

Another is our ocassional series of interviews with our past guests. Barbara began her Thomson travels on a Thomson Safari in 2000, and has been on 3 Thomson Family Adventures with her grandchildren since; and we hope there will be many more!

How / when did you find TFA? My first trip with TFA was in 2002 with my granddaughter Kayla. She had selected Africa as her chosen destination for her Bat Mitzvah gift. Internet research indicated to me that TFA had the best family trip to Tanzania so off we went. It was an amazing experience and convinced me that TFA was the best organization for traveling with my grandkids. Since then TFA has taken me and one of my grandkids to Panama, China, and Turkey, and each trip has provided a gift of learning and adventure. These trips have encouraged my grandchildren to experience fascination, not fear, when confronting difference, and I am grateful.

Why do you like to travel? Travel is one of my passions and sharing it with my grandchildren makes it extra special. Travel provides a kind of learning that far surpasses what we gain from books or media. We not only learn firsthand about other cultures, but we come home with a different vision of ourselves. When I am standing on the Great Wall of China or staring at Turkey’s Hagia Sophia at sunset, I experience a sense of joy and wonder that cannot be replicated any other way. Travel is an amazing tonic for the spirit. The whole idea after the journey is to return home, not just with souvenirs, but as a changed and more conscious human being.

What was your first trip outside the USA? In 1975 I visited several European countries. Back then Europe was not so westernized so it was my first taste of the newness and strangeness of a foreign culture. The enchantment hooked me and I’ve been traveling ever since.

What is your favorite travel moment? My favorite travel moment always involves interaction with the people of the country I’m visiting. I am mostly interested in the human landscape, learning about the myriad ways we humans meet the challenges of living on this earth. One of the things I love about TFA is that they encourage this aspect of travel. There have been many moments of serendipity when I’ve interacted with people of the country we’re visiting and I’ve never felt rushed to move on to the next activity. I travel to open myself to the endless diversity found on our planet……to experience it, relish it, celebrate it.

What is your favorite hobby/ activity / passion and why? My passion is people – my family, my friends, the children I serve in my work as a special educator, and the people I connect with in the world through travel and charitable giving.

Anything else you want us to know about you? Just one of my favorite quotes: Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body. But rather to skid in sideways, chardonnay in one hand, strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up – totally worn out, and screaming “WOO HOO! What a Ride!”

April 12, 2010

Alaska and a Small World

Arctic swim – just before the jump

Saturday evening I went to the High School Gospel Fest concert at Tufts University. Eight or nine different area schools had come together for the day to meet and inspire each other with music; their sessions were capped off by an evening concert of wonderful music, which is the part I went to. Through an evening of foot tapping and singing I kept looking over my shoulder wondering why everyone looked so familiar. Well maybe not everyone, but SOME of them.

End of the evening, the lights came up and it clicked. Mike, Anne, Conor and Molly – new friends made years ago on my first Thomson Family Adventure, in Alaska. We all live in the Boston area, but I guess we had to travel to Glacier Bay National Park to meet.

This is one of the amazing things I’ve discovered about a Thomson trip, that like minds find like adventures. And on these adventures families who might never have found each other do meet, and children make friends they’ll remember through their lives. Most importantly the memories formed on these great discovery trips are imbedded in a way so that you are bonded forever, whether you maintain a close relationship through the years or simply bump into each other every so often. The stories remain part of all of us, and visit our dinner table on a regular basis.

So this night at Tufts, true to form, we instantly burst into excited chatter about our memories from Alaska, and we all exclaimed it was still the best we’d ever done (I guess I say that a lot – but it really was fantastic!). Immediately we all remembered my favorite story that I’ve told many times. How my daughter Mira – then 15 – took little Molly – then 7 – under her wing and protectively said “Molly, if you want to jump into the water for the Arctic swim, I’ll go with you” Mind you, that water was about 40 degrees, and Mira had no interest at all in going in – and of course she thought Molly wouldn’t either. But Molly had proven herself that week, and was committed to keeping up with everyone on board, and so she said: SURE LET’S GO! Well they did jump holding hands, but while Molly paddled around, Mira shot straight back up out of the water and on deck almost before she submerged. She wrapped herself in blankets and hibernated in her cabin until her body temperature rose again – poor thing!

My Mira, hearing I saw Molly this weekend, immediately said “OH MOLLY!” and asked a hundred questions about the family and how they are and what they’re doing, with all the excitement and enthusiasm of speaking of any of her favorite things. And this is exactly what I love about a Thomson trip. It makes my heart swell that I have such a lovely, caring daughter and that I’ve been able to give her this gift of discovering the world and the many people in it, all of whom have helped shaped who she is today and who she’ll become in all the years of her life.

Mira and Molly

Thank you Molly, and to all the great friends we’ve made in our travels.

April 7, 2010

St Catherine’s Monastery

Saint Catherine’s Monastery

At Thomson Family Adventures we always try to mix up the must-see sights with the lesser traveled path. This is especially true in Egypt where we begin in Cairo, end in Luxor, and in the middle: Sharm el Sheik! This gives all ages a breather from the antiquities and dense history of the pharaohs, and gives the hearty an opportunity to climb to the top of Mt Sinai, sometimes even for a sunrise or sunset view from the summit.

At the foot of Mt Sinai is St Catherine’s Monastery, the oldest working Christian monastery in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. St Catherine’s was built on the site where Moses saw the burning bush, and the original still grows here today. Let’s just say this is a pretty fascinating spot!

This Easter week we had a small group of Thomson guests scheduled to be at Mt Sinai when the monastery was closed for the holidays. Luckily we managed to pull off a private visit for our families. They were greeted and escorted by Father Johnston, the most important monk at the monastery, and given a very special look at the history and workings of this ancient, sacred place. Eventually Father Johnston did relinquish his tour guide status back to our guide Mohamed, but not before wowing the group with his unique perspective.

Even without this sort of private escort through history the visit to Mt Sinai is considered the unexpected high point of Egypt. Oops, am I ruining the surprise? Well perhaps you’d like to come find out for yourselves…

The journey to get to Mt Sinai and St Catherine’s as well as the climb itself all offer some challenges, but give us a call and we’ll be glad to help you figure out if this is the right trip of a lifetime for your family. Beth and Nancy both have first hand experience in Egypt and would be glad to speak with you about it. 800-262-6255

April 2, 2010

School of Thought: 8 Things Costa Rica Taught Me


capuchin monkey, with feelings

Thomson Family Adventures partners with many educational institutions on the family travel programs they offer to their members. Thanks to Elissa Leibowitz Poma from the World Wildlife Fund Travel Program for sharing her blog post from her recent trip to Costa Rica:

8. Monteverde was founded by Quakers. Back in the 1950s, a group of U.S. Quakers avoided being drafted in the Korean War by fleeing into the lush cloud forests of Costa Rica. They chose Costa Rica because it was a pacifist nation, settling in to what is now Monteverde. They began by farming the land then smartly decided to set aside the land for conservation. It later became the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve.

7. “Pura vida” is not just a tourism slogan. It’s a way of expressing just how good you are – and how well your spirit and your community and your life are in general. Literally meaning “pure life,” Costa Ricans use the phrase as a way of saying “hello,” good morning or even answering the question “how are you?” I felt like I fit in when some asked me “Como esta?” and I answered “Pura vida.”

6. Nearly a mile across, the Poas Volcano crater is the most active crater in the world. We were lucky to see the action when the fog burned off during a short visit to the volcano near San Jose. We caught a small glimpse of the emerald green, burbling, sulfuric lake below the observation deck. Steam snaked its way up through the fumaroles in the ground.

5. The Jesus Christ lizard actually can walk on water. When the punk rocker-looking lizard – more commonly called a common basilisk – feels threatened, it can splay out large fringes on its hind legs, increasing the surface area of its feet, and run across the surface of a river for 65 feet or so.

4. Education is highly valued in Costa Rica. The nation has one of the highest literacy rates in the world – 96 percent – and school is mandatory through 11th or 12th grade. It was clear that the “Ticas” value not only their own people learning but also seeing travelers learn in their land as well.

3. Accupressure bands are excellent at preventing motion sickness. The roads up the mountains to Monteverde are bumpy, unpaved and narrow. Those very few of us (read: me and one eight year old) with sensitive dispositions were well off sitting in the front of the bus, munching on salty plaintain chips and keeping our eyes firmly fixed on the gorgeous views out the the front window.

2. The quetzal is easier heard than seen. We tuned in to the suave, melodious songs of the Technicolor trogon echoing through the trees during a trek through the Monteverde Cloud Forest, but we never laid eyes on him. They tend to hang out high in the canopy, swooping down to human eye level on occasion – mostly when chasing a female.

1. Even monkeys have feelings, too. After lunch one afternoon at a local hacienda, we ventured out back to walk among the hard-dirt trails that wove through a small grove. We happened upon a group of 15 or so howler monkeys, crawling through a scratchy mess of branches maybe 25 feet up. One howler monkey caught our attention in particular – a mother with an unusual white mass clinging to her breast. Turns out, it was a baby capuchin monkey, and the female howler appeared to have adopted him. Our native Costa Rican guides Jenny and Gustavo said it was the first time they ever saw that.