Posts Tagged ‘trip of a lifetime’

August 30, 2013

Another Miraculous Day in the Galapagos

A male blue-footed booby performs his mating dance

Following a 6:45 wakeup call and a 7:00 breakfast, my third day in the Galapagos started with a 10-minute panga ride to Cerro Dragón, Santa Cruz Island’s “Dragon Hill.” After a dry landing, we set out on a two-hour walk through dry, rocky trails bordered by cacti and trees oozing a delightfully fragrant sap that actually works as natural insect repellent.

This area of Santa Cruz gets the name “Dragon Hill” from the Galapagos land iguanas that make their home here, and they are definitely a sight to see. The land iguanas are enormous and very prehistoric looking – quite representative of the unique wildlife and cycle of evolution in the Galapagos.

Depending on age and gender, these dinosaur-esque reptiles are different shades and combinations of yellow, orange, brown, and red.

The Galapagos land iguanas lounged on desert-like hills and in the shade provided by cacti and other plants, and some could be seen attempting (clumsily) to climb trees and get at higher vegetation to eat – a behavior our guide told us has been a recent adaptation born out of necessity that they’re still working on. During our walk around Cerro Dragón, we also came upon lagoons inhabited by flamingos picking around for foods like shrimp and algae, high in the keratin that’s responsible for the bright pink/orange color of their feathers.

We returned to the ship to relax, and I opted to tag along for an optional deep water snorkeling excursion. We took the pangas out into open water along the lava rocks at the edge of the island and jumped straight over the side. This excursion was recommended only for reasonably strong swimmers, as the water was somewhat choppy, but the encounter I had here ended up being the highlight of my time in the Galapagos. Two adult sea lions and a pup were lounging on a rocky ledge hanging over the water, and decided to hop in and go for a swim. All three sea lions then approached the other snorkelers and I and started playing with us. They would come up to within a foot or two of me, then dart away and circle around myself and each other. Having only really had the chance to see them rest lazily onshore, I was stunned by the incredible speed and agility with which they were capable of moving all that bodily mass underwater. This is what I came to the Galapagos for.

Later, the group took the pangas out to North Seymour Island for a two-hour walking tour. As was completely expected by this point, this island was another totally new experience, and it was dominated largely by birdlife. There were plenty of sea lions around, chilling on the brownish-red dirt paths, but the real show was put on by the frigate birds and blue-footed boobies.

All around us, they put on elaborate social displays to attract mates and looked after their eggs. Male frigate birds had the giant red air sacks on their chests inflated in hopes of catching the attention of a female flying by. My guide explained that the female’s decision isn’t actually based on the pouch itself; it’s based on the location and quality of the male’s nest, and the red pouch acts as a beacon to indicate his presence and to provide the female with a chance to come down and check out the nest. After she does this, the male flies away in search of a stick to bring back as an offering. If the female approves of the stick, she agrees to mate with him, and if not, she keeps looking, and he keeps trying. Love stinks.

However, the most remarkable thing about the visit to North Seymour was the display put on by the blue-footed boobies. Myself and the other people in my group were standing a foot away from mothers looking after their eggs, and they were so comfortable with our presence that they weren’t even suspicious of us in a situation as delicate as this. Equally close to us were male boobies doing their elaborate mating dances, ruffling their feathers, hopping around and letting out loud, competitive bellows. If I haven’t made this clear yet, the Galapagos Islands archipelago is a enchanting place.



May 28, 2013

How a Family Adventure Feels at 17

Hannah and Frank

We received this email  from 17 year old Hannah whose family lives in New Jersey. We know how our guides can impact adults and children alike, and we never tire of hearing about it. These are the life changing experiences we travel for!

“I’m writing to give you feedback on one of your Tanzania staff members, Frank Julius.

I went on a family safari in Tanzania over the December holidays (2012) with my mom, dad and 15-year-old brother, and Frank came along as a mentor. We met up with a family we hadn’t met before with two kids, ages eleven and eight.

As a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old, my brother and I weren’t in need of the same type of mentoring as the other kids were. Instead, Frank became a friend to us. He played soccer and goofed around with the younger ones, but Frank and I also had interesting intellectual conversations, discussed our lives and compared cultures. He has incredible people skills, is able to shift seamlessly between adults and children, and developed lasting relationships with each person on our trip, regardless of age. The two families went in separate trucks, and we always hoped Frank would end up in ours.

I was also incredibly impressed by Frank’s intellect. He is so well read, world-aware and ambitious. I was amazed to hear that he speaks six languages, and we enjoyed practicing Spanish together throughout the trip. As I observed with all the other Thomson staff members, he was very knowledgeable about the animals and wildlife. He went beyond just facts about the animals, permeating our observation with jokes and anecdotes.

Without Frank, this trip would have been a completely different experience for my family and I. We had amazing luck with sightings in all the parks, took incredible pictures and had wonderful stays at all of the camps, but what was most impactful to me were the people I met along the way. Everybody was lovely, but I developed an amazing friendship with Frank. We continue to keep each other updated through Facebook today, and I hope to keep in touch with him for the rest of my life. Anybody who gets to go on a Thomson Family Safari is in for an amazing experience, but a trip with Frank is guaranteed to be all the more unique and memorable.”



October 18, 2012

Memories from Father to Son

Balloons over Cappadocia

Following is a journal entry written by a father from California to his 11 year old son, while they were visiting Turkey with Thomson Family Adventures. We love that Bruce has been keeping this journal for Jacob since he was born. Do you keep a journal for your kids too? Such a great idea, and it’s not too late to start!

June 28, 2012

Weʼre having a marvelous time in Turkey. Two days in Istanbul and two in Cappadocia so far. Yesterday, we got up at 4:30 a.m. to go hot air ballooning over the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia It was surreal as we lifted off, watching the crew on the ground get smaller and smaller. We drifted all over the region, with what seemed like a hundred other colorful balloons dotting the skies. After we landed (and a short nap), we went to the underground city of Kaymakli–eight levels of rooms and “buildings” where Christians would hide from invading Arabs. Afterwards we had lunch at Mustafaʼs (our driver) house. We were served on the floor by his wife and three daughters. After lunch, the girls showed us some Turkish dancing and even you and the other boys joined in.

But it was the end of the day that was the best. We drove into town and met a group of local boys and girls, including your pen pal, Yusuf. None of them spoke English and you and your friends certainly didnʼt speak any Turkish. But it didnʼt matter. We mixed up the kids and played an exhilarating game of soccer. You were our key defensive player, and we won 9-8 (as if anyone was really keeping score). Then all of the kids; boys, girls, Turks, Americans, walked into town for ice cream All of you were completely exhausted, hot, drenched in sweat and incredibly happy. What an experience. You were so sweet and kind to your pen pal–high-fiving him and putting your arm around him while you were both eating ice cream. Sort of a dream day; Iʼll remember this one . . .



October 15, 2012

17 to Infinity: It’s a New World of Travel

Wachirathon Waterfall, Thailand

Family celebrations don’t stop just because the kids get older. Think of all the reasons: High school graduation. College graduation. Admission to college. College graduation. Admission to graduate school! Graduating from grad school. A job offer! Before they go to work for 80 hours a week. Celebrating a job well done…..

Or it’s Mom and Dad’s wedding anniversary… the 25th. The 50th. The 60th.

Or big birthdays! Their 21st, or 25th. Our 50th. 60th. 70th. 80th.

All of these occasions are times we want to gather together with family, to share and appreciate the memories we’ve built over the years. And to make new memories to carry forward. Maybe you want to be with just your family, or maybe you want to join other families at the same stage of their life. Either way, it is a pleasure to have someone else do the dirty work, while you relish the anticipation of the adventure ahead.

As our kids get older we have more flexibility to travel at the fringe of peak season, and to enjoy more sophisticated encounters. Why not take advantage of this new stage of life and learning, and explore the world together?

Family adventures are not just for kids anymore.



October 11, 2012

Five Things to Think About Before You Book Online

Oh, China!

Do you wonder why experts say you should book an international adventure through a professional based in your home country? Maybe you think you will save by going direct to someone ‘at the source’? After all, the internet gives us access to millions of options. Too many! But when you travel to exotic locales it really makes a difference to plan with someone who understands your own ‘native culture’, as well as the place you are traveling to. Think about:

5) Oh the misunderstandings you can encounter! A Five Star hotel in another country is not necessarily a Five Star hotel to our North American standards. Even ‘clean and comfortable’ can mean something very different in another culture. In fact, many countries cannot even rate their hotels on any standardized system we know. (And believe me, peanut butter there is nothing like peanut butter here.)

4) Different cultures have different expectations, rules, and customs. Sometimes you don’t mind winging it, to see what you’ll find. It’s part of the adventure, especially when you are young, single and carefree. But when you’re with the kids it’s comforting to have a solid interpretation of what you are heading into – and a local guide with enough experience to manage your expectations appropriately.

3) Maybe you have a food allergy, a sleep disorder, an aversion to bugs in your room. You’ll fully appreciate discussing your concerns with a friendly expert who speaks your language and understands your sensibilities, someone who will give you straight answers and solid advice – not gloss over the particular challenges of your destination.

2) The currency, the packing list, the information on charging your iPod…don’t you want that from someone who understands what you expect and need? Don’t guess at what it will be like, or spend hours researching online. Just refer to the complete predeparture booklet we’ll send you!

1) Internet Advice? Fun to search for late at night, but does it really pertain to you? Remember, you don’t know who is reporting, what they value, and whether their comments accurately address your needs. It is so much more useful to have a conversation in your native language with a professional who has been where you’re going. Someone who can listen to your needs and interests, and deliver the right things to you.

How much risk do you want to take? You probably (hopefully) wouldn’t hand over your savings to something you read about in a Yahoo forum (no offense, Yahoo). Likewise, be sure you invest your valuable vacation dollars and time so you can get the best return available. Look for an expert who has been there. And always ask for references!



September 11, 2012

Tanzania: Hippos, Lions & Elephants, Oh My!

The hippo pool!

The following is a reprint of Edward Prutschi’s story about his Thomson Family Safari July, 2012. Ed is a criminal defense lawyer in Toronto, and wrote this article for Precedent Magazine. Be sure to check back for part 2!

****

It’s 4:46 a.m. on the Serengeti plains in Tanzania, Africa. I’m lying on my back staring at the roof of my tent. The unusual-for-August torrential lightning storm that swept across the savannah earlier in the evening has almost entirely subsided when I hear the piercing cry of a wounded animal just metres from my tent’s entry flap. I stare through the screened canvass window into utter blackness. The kerosene lanterns of our camp and the small bonfire have both long since burned out.

I feel a sharp pain stinging my left forearm as a human hand extends in a vice grip. Apparently my wife heard it, too.

We now stare together, unblinking and unmoving out the window. We can hear a distinct chuffing sound. It reminds me of the tiny sneezes my cat back home in Toronto used to make as he licked at his food bowl. Typical feline sounds. Except these aren’t tiny.

I can make out the cast-iron bell on the small wooden night table beside me in our tent. “Ring if you need anything,” our camp guide had said before we tucked in for the night. What if I need a pride of lions relocated from the stoop of my tent? Do lions react well to ringing bells? I wish I had asked these questions six hours ago.

The chuffing is getting closer. We can make out the sound of grass bending and snapping. Something is purring loudly. I think my arm is bleeding now. The sounds continue for the longest 12 minutes of my life.

In the morning, we emerge from our tent to a glorious African sunrise. Next door, I poke my head into the tent of my nine- and seven-year-old daughters. The decision to allow them to bunk together in their own neighbouring tents in the middle of the bush for the past week now seems a bit ill-considered. Yet, they’re sound asleep. As I poke and prod them to get ready for today’s game drive, they claim to have heard nothing last night. No buckets of rain. No lions. “Can we have hot chocolate for breakfast?” Suddenly my concern seems misplaced.

I shuffle over to the dining tent, noticing for the first time that these safari camps lack any sort of fencing. I accept a cup of steaming Tanzanian coffee from our guide, Charles, and can hear eggs frying on the propane grill out back. The memory of three hours ago feels cloudy and fuzzy in my mind. Did we really hear what I thought we heard? Must just be a silly tourist dream. Maybe I have malaria, I muse when my reverie is interrupted. “Did you hear the lions hunting that zebra?” Charles is gulping his own coffee with a big grin on his face. “Pretty amazing. They were so close! Would you like more coffee?”

On a Tanzanian safari, even when you can’t see anything at all, the sights are absolutely awe-inspiring.

And what we saw was absolutely incredible. In the days before my nocturnal brush with nature, we watched in rapt amazement as a lioness zig-zagged madly at high speed in a failed chase with a wildebeest who had strayed a few feet too far from his herd. My girls’ eyes popped out of their heads when we came across a massive male lion sitting regally in front of a fresh buffalo carcass. The buffalo’s face had been eviscerated and its entrails were spilled out over the golden grass as the lion tore strips of flesh from its belly. Further down the road our luck with lions continued as we stopped within three metres of a honeymooning pair. The male mounted his lioness and the two took turns roaring at each other, completely ignoring the sounds of human jaws clanging off the metal floor of our safari trucks.

We stopped at a fetid pool overflowing with gargantuan hippopotami stacked on top of each other like a giant fleshy Jenga tower. The hippos slapped the water loudly with their powerful stubby tails giving off regular guffaws sounding eerily like Jabba the Hutt laughing to the entertaining contortions of slave Leia. Every so often an errant hoof accidentally pressed into the face of some hippo lower down on the tower and all hell broke loose as the pool erupted into a seething cauldron of hippo madness. Giant mouths flexed open as if on hinges to reveal stained yellow teeth the size of steak knives.

One day the kids committed to counting the number of elephants we could spot. They gave up at 176. We hadn’t yet stopped for lunch.

He came for the wildlife but fell in love with the people. Stay tuned for part two in this ongoing series as The Crime Traveller introduces you to the children of Tanzania and the Maasai tribe. Follow Ed’s criminal law commentary (@prutschi) and The Crime Traveller’s adventures (@crimetraveller) on Twitter, read his Crime Traveller blog, or emailed@thecrimetraveller.com.



August 20, 2012

10 Things Kids Bring Home from a Family Trip

Jessie, Ed, and Lillie in their front yard.

Thanks to Jessie Voigts, our special Guest Blogger for this excellent perspective on family travel:

You spend a lot of time planning family trips – and coordinating said trips! Between teens off with their ipods to dealing with toddlers and diapers, how do you KNOW that these family trips are worth it? But wait – your kids bring home a lot more from family trips than you think. Take a look…

1) Memories. Of course! But it might not be the memories you suspect – of whitewater rafting, or seeing the Eiffel Tower, or hanging with their cousins. It might be the cute squirrels at the local park, the best meal ever, discovering a new food they love, or learning something new.

2) Photos. Be sure to give your kids a camera to take photos. You will be surprised at both the angles (closer to the ground? Or super high, if you’ve got a teen taller than you are!), and the subject matter. Our daughter takes a little stuffed ugly with her, and photographs it wherever we go. Little Ugly has been in a lot of strange places.

3) Humanity. Whether your kids are upset about the stray or mistreated dogs in Nepal, Barbados, or Bahrain; or visibly learn about animal and human rights wherever you are (we’ve all fielded the homeless question), travel is a great chance to teach about humanity. By learning that others are less fortunate than we are, and trying to act on such knowledge, they are on their way to becoming good global citizens.

4) Funny stories. Nothing brings a family together more than camaraderie, which is, in turn, fostered by going through experiences together. From the funny assistant at the airport, to ordering a meal in a foreign language (mostly via sign language), to finding out that people in a certain country just LOVE babies and will hold them for hours and parade them around like a rock star, travel is packed with experiences that will provide great stories…for life.

5) A desire for peace. Our daughter, when seeing cultural differences up close, has gained a strong desire for peace and people to get along. She thinks that intercultural differences are fascinating, and has pledged to learn more about different people and cultures around the world, firsthand.

6) New Experiences, new friends. Whether it’s ziplining, scuba diving, hiking, camping, snorkeling with turtles, or viewing great art, new experiences bring people together and can foster a lifelong fascination or hobby. As well, you can make new friends from group travel, or through meeting locals. These can become friends for life.

7) Learning more about your family. You can learn a lot about people from being in close proximity to each other for an extended period of time. You can also learn about how people react in any situation – often surprising us, how well they can deal with a crisis. By learning more about your family, everyone becomes closer due to these shared experiences. Your teen might ask you to read and talk together about a book about a place you’ve visited, or your 5 year old might surprise you by painting, from memory, a piece of art they saw in an art museum on your travels. You might surprise your kids and husband by jumping first off the cliff into the deep water below, or your father might show unexpected depths while riding a chicken bus.

8) New cultures. Our daughter’s best friend, when asked this question, noted that in Hawaii, she was amazed to learn of the Hawaiian culture. She loved the luaus, the colorful fabrics, and how they utilized the hibiscus flowers in welcoming people. Our daughter loved watching kids tv shows in Ireland – she learned some Gaelic, as well as how kids learn and play in a different country.

9) Love of new foods. It might be roasted tarantula (doubt it), Thai food, boiled peanuts in the south, new jams and pickles, or recipes. Wherever you go, I’m sure you’re eating locally – and shopping at the grocery store whenever possible! You’ll find new foods you love (and probably new foods you dislike). Bring them home, and incorporate these new foods into your meals and snacks!

10) A desire to travel more. Long after the sand has disappeared from your swimsuits and suitcases, and the special candy you brought back is digested, you’ll find something not so surprising. Your whole family will have a desire to travel more – to learn and play and experience the world together. And that’s what family travel is all about – having new experiences, and discovering new cultures and people – together.

Jessie Voigts is a mom who loves sharing the world with her daughter. She has a PhD in International Education, and is constantly looking for ways to increase intercultural understanding, especially with kids (it’s never too young to start!). She has lived and worked in Japan and London, and traveled around the world. Jessie is the publisher of Wandering Educators, a travel library for people curious about the world. She founded the Family Travel Bloggers Association, and the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program. She’s published two books about travel and intercultural learning, with more on the way. You can usually find her family by water – anywhere in the world.



August 3, 2012

How Good Can it Be?

Action on the Mediterranean

I try to speak with each family when they return from their Thomson Family Adventure, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. I’ve always known it’s never too late to hear the stories and see the photos, but today I got a great reminder of that. Here’s the email I received from Lisa in Virginia who traveled with her family last summer to Turkey:

Dear Moo,

I know its been almost a year since we came back from Turkey and I’m just now getting around to sending you our pics and thoughts. Time really gets away from you. I guess the best way to sum up the trip was when it was time to plan this year’s vacation, both my kids and my husband all said, “Can we go back to Turkey?”

It was an absolutely amazing trip and I can’t thank you enough for recommending it. Every single person we told that we were going, or had gone, to Turkey had the exact same reaction……Turkey??? with a look on their face somewhere between confusion, disbelief, and “are you serious?” Which was coincidentally my same reaction when you suggested it. If I had had to name a top 20 list of places to visit, I can pretty much guarantee that Turkey would not have made the list.

Now, looking back, I can say that I have never been on a more enjoyable or diverse trip. I’m sending just a few of our favorite pictures for you to post or pass on to anyone else who may have the same uncertainties that we had.

My daughter, 10 years old, downloaded an iPad app to learn some Turkish before we went, and she was right in the Grand Bazaar bartering away for what she wanted. It was such a thrill to see a foreign culture through the eyes of our kids. Even our son, who is bored by everything it seems, had a phenomenal time. I was surprised, but they both said the 5 days on the gulet was their favorite part.

Thanks again for the wonderful, unforgettable vacation.

Lisa



July 31, 2012

Look Who is Multi Sporting in the Galapagos…

Karen, Elaine, Rachel, and Ben - Let's Go!

Meet Karen and her fabulous kids Rachel, Ben, and Elaine. They’re excitedly getting ready to explore the Galapagos Islands in December. They’ll fly into Quito and spend a few nights on the mailand. They’ll horseback ride, hike, and visit the Equator, small villages and famed Otovalo Market. Then off to the Galapagos Islands for a unique land -based discovery: kayaking, snorkeling, communing with fascinating sea life and watching soaring birds like they”ve never seen before. With two nights in a hotel and two nights camping under the Southern sky, plus a private catamaran to cruise the best spots for snorkeling this is a fantastic, up-close way to play in these islands. They’re looking forward to being a small flexible group, avoiding the crowds, finding unique adventure in out of the way places.

Now, who wouldn’t want to join them?

You can!!! December 25 – January 2. Call us now!

800-262-6255



July 26, 2012

A Safari Cabbage Soup Recipe

Cooking Adventures on Safari

Catch the video here! (And bear with our technical difficulties)

Some of our families just returned from a awe-inspiring, heart-stopping, life-altering safari this week (they’d be glad to chat with you if you want more information!) I always love the stories and the photos, but what came back with this group really got me excited. Read on to see what they were up to at Gibb’s Farm (told by 13 year old Maxwell in an email to his friends and family):

Hi Everyone,

As you all know, I was in Tanzania on a Safari. One of the lodges we stayed at was called Gibb’s Farm. Gibbs Farm is in the mountains of Tanzania. It is a fantastic place to stay with a farm, coffee plantation, livestock and much more. On my trip Sofia and I met some really nice kids around our age. Their names are Rada, Allison, and Isabella. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the vegetable garden. We were running around the huge vegetable part of the farm wondering what to do. Then we came up with an idea to make cabbage soup. All of us got supplies from the nice Scottish chef and we went around the farm picking veagetables such as carrots, turnips, corn, cucumber and etc.. They let us cook the soup at the staff kitchen. We renamed the farm in our own minds and called it IRASM’S FARM & CO. Me and the rest of the kids could pretty much conclude that this was probably the best part of the trip. Here is the recipe. We hope you enjoy!

IRASM’S CABBAGE SOUP: ( pronounced IRSAM’s) THIS SERVES ABOUT THIRTEEN PEOPLE

- One large green cabbage sliced into thin shreds

-Six big red potatoes chopped in small bits

-Seven large carrots cut in thin circles

-Two white onions diced

-A handful of chives , cut it with a scissor

-A few strands of anise leaves only, do not add the bulb

-Six cobs of corn, slice off the kernels and don’t keep the cob

-Two or three cucumbers sliced in thin circles

- Three turnips chopped thinly

-Three small pieces of garlic

-salt and pepper to taste [pepper it generously]

-1/8 a cup of olive oil

-One large pot

-Fill pot half with water and the other half with chicken broth

—Put all the vegetables washed, chopped, sliced, and diced in a bowl together. Fill a large pot half with chicken broth and the other half with water. Put all the vegetables in the pot and cook on a high flame until all the vegetable are cooked thoroughly. Every five minutes poke a fork through the vegetables to see how they’re cooking. If it cooks too fast, lower the flame down to a medium heat level. This whole cooking process of the soup will take about 40 to 45 min. We hope you enjoy your soup. Make it on a chilly day when it will warm you up and taste at its best! Thank You!

Sincerely,

Maxwell, Sofia, Rada, Alison, & Isabella :)