Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category


Lemur in Ankarana National Park

2013 is the first time since the year before I left for the Peace Corps (2004) that I did not spend the holidays with my immediate family. It made more sense for me to go home for Thanksgiving this year instead, which freed me up for traveling in the region of Christmas. My friends Brian, David and I started making plans to travel together way back in August. When we started talking about beach locations I suggested Madagascar as it’s one of the final countries in the region I haven’t been to and we had mutual friends who went in 2012 and raved about their trip. Once it was decided where we would go we added Kameko – a friend and former CHAI Lesotho colleague – to make an even group of four.

Everyone asks “How was your trip?” which is an impossible question to answer. How to you justice to summarizing two weeks in paradise? Amazing? Great? Fantastic? Once in a lifetime? (Although I hope that’s not true. We only saw a small part of Madagascar; I’d love to go back and see other parts sometime.)

In three words: friends, lemurs and beach.

Christmas, of course, did not feel like Christmas. We spent the morning hiking through Parc National Montagne D’Ambre in search of lemurs and the world’s second smallest chameleon and the evening playing Uno and drinking Duty Free vodka tonics. New Years Even we spent at our lodge on an island (Sakatia), off an island (Nosy Be), off an island (Madagascar) eating delicious seafood – possibly the largest lobster I’ve ever seen – and saving the night by stepping up as honorary DJ. The Black Eyed Peas and KC & the Sunshine Band were big hits. šŸ™‚ In between was more hiking, geographical wonders, snorkeling and relaxing.

For more photos check out my Facebook album where I posted 60+ of the 450+ photos I took and stay tuned for plenty of scrapbook pages attempting to document the trip!

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My blog posts have been decidedly scrapbooking heavy recently. Taking the guided study critique class definitely had my attention drawn to scrapbooking and it was fun for me to share the changes to help me process what I was learning. I’ve created 27 layouts since January – compared to 89 for all of 2012. I’m definitely on a roll. The class is over and while it’s nice to have a small break I’m hoping it will reconvene soon!

I promise, however, that my life is not ALL scrapbook, scrapbook, scrapbook. The last two weekends, in fact, have been filled with great weekend trips. They have been the kind of trips where I reflect on just how great my life is here. First a group of friends made the 9-10 hour drive out to Sehlabathebe National Park in the south east corner of Lesotho. When we arrived our views started out like this:


Fog. The same problem I had the one other time I’ve been to Sehlabathebe in October 2011. Unlike last time, however, the park staff said it would be okay to hike out to the waterfall. (Last time they told us that we would get lost in the fog and that they wouldn’t come find us.) The hike was not as difficult as the park staff made it out to be last time. This time they pointed us towards a rock that looks like a surfboard on top of a mountain and said it’s on the other side of the next hill. We ended up on top of the wrong mountain at one point, found a “phantom” waterfall and then eventually the right one:


We got back from our hike just in time for really heavy fog to roll in. So heavy that we couldn’t see the house from 10 meters away. So we spent the afternoon and evening hanging out in the living room with the fireplace blazing, cooking, drinking and playing games. (I taught some unwilling participants to play Bohnanza, I love that game!) Since we weren’t able to hike out to the rock formations on the other side of the lodge on Saturday afternoon we made plans to get up early for a sunrise hike. This ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever done in Lesotho because it started with views like this:


and then turned into these views:




Some of the most stunning panoramas I have ever seen. It was a photographers DREAM. I took so many pictures trying to capture what I was seeing and I’m so glad that we got up early to do the hike. I was in AWE. We returned around 8am, packed up and made the 9 hour drive back to Maseru stopping for this last group shot on the way out of the park:


Sehlabathebe is remote even by Lesotho standards and in a country that isn’t exactly a hot spot for tourism making the park a place that very few people in the world are ever going to see. There are no villages near the waterfall or the lodge. I wonder if people who live in the nearest village even know that the waterfall is there? How did they find it in the first place? It was Lesotho’s first national park – established in the late 1960s – so obviously someone had the foresight to protect the land. I’m really glad that I made the trip again out there to get the views that we had this time. I think it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.


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Kili FAQs

The Maseru Crew – Katie, Bhavya and me – at the beginning of Day 1.

Last Kilimanjaro related post, I promise. Besides “How was it?” there are several questions that I get asked most commonly and I thought it would be nice to document them here:

Which route did you choose and why?
We narrowed our choices down to Machame and Rongai and ultimately went with Rongai because Andrew had previously summited using Lemosho, which shares a significant amount of trail with Machame. From base camp (Kibo Hut) there were only 3 or 4 other groups who summited with us – so maybe 20 people max. On the other hand, the summit route used by Machame/Lemosho et al had probably almost 100 people so I was really happy with our choice. Rongai descends using Marangu (aka the Coca Cola route) and I thought the views we had on Rongai were better.

Did you use Diamox and did it work?
Diamox is a medicine that is used to prevent high altitude sickness. I don’t understand why it works, but it is pretty commonly recommended. I was on the fence about using it until 2 days before the climb when I met someone who said that her use of diamox during a high altitude climb was the difference between everyone else in her group hating life and her singing show tunes to keep their spirits up. Our lead guide, August, also recommended using it. There were a couple of people in our group who had to stop using it because of bad side effects (mainly gastrointestinal). Obviously I have no idea whether it made a difference for me or not, but I like to think that it did. My best advice is to do what your guide tells you .

View of Kilimanjaro on Day 4.

What do you wish you had known before?

Besides how hard it is? So many things:

  1. I wish I had known how awesome hiking poles are because I should have been using them in my everyday life for hiking. Holy cow they give you so much more stability! IĀ  read that using them takes a significant amount of pressure off your joints on the descent, and was planning to use them specifically for that but they were also really great for the regular hiking as well. After my experience on Kili I will definitely be investing in a pair.
  2. I wish I had known that our guide company would issue us all standard duffle bags to put our things in. You could literally show up with a rolling suitcase and be fine. Instead I had packed my large backpacking backpack and large duffle bag to give them options of what to carry and we used neither of those.
  3. Pack baby wipes for cleaning up as there are no showers on the trails. Thankfully others in my group had packed plenty, but you may not be so lucky!
  4. Pack 2-3 energy bars per day. I was fortunate that I brought a bunch back from the US with me, but others were definitely missing them on summit night especially. My favorite was Luna’s Peanut Honey Pretzel, yum.
  5. Pack a nail brush. I trimmed my nails down as far as I could and there was STILL dirt underneath them. So gross. I would have paid to use somebody’s nail brush, or traded an energy bar šŸ™‚
  6. Don’t forget that you’re going to need clean clothes for after the hike. That was definitely an after thought for me, but since I was visiting friends before the climb I had extra clothes. Others were relegated to wearing the same clothes for the two days before we traveled home.

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Morocco Trip April 2011

This week is the one-year anniversary of the beginning of my Morocco trip with my sister Allison. I realized that I never shared much about my trip on the blog because I wasn’t in a pattern of writing here at the time. Better late than never, right?

In general Fes was my most favorite city. It’s where we had the best food, stayed in the best hotel/dar and had the best experiences.

Casablanca was my least favorite city. The only thing worth seeing there is the Hassan II Mosque, then you should book it right back to Rabat.

Restaurant Dar Hatim in Fes was the best food we had on the trip, plus it was an amazing experience. The restaurant is inside the proprietor’s (Fouad) home and after they make amazing homemade food they show you around the house and the kitchen. Plus they picked us up at our hotel and took us back at the end of the evening.

Also in Fes Allison and I tried out a very traditional hammam. It was sooo cool. We were nervous beforehand, and did a bunch of research online about what to expect. My best advice? Just do it. The place was recommended by the owner of where we were staying as the place where his wife goes.

We also loved the little pizza place that was directly across the street from where we stayed in Fes. We spent several evenings on their rooftop, eating margarita pizza and reading while we waited for the sunset and evening call the prayer.

In Rabat we got to have lunch with my Country Director from Peace Corps. What a small world, right?

Fes was far less touristy than Marrakech, although Marrakech itself was not as hectic was it had been described. By the end of our trip we were sick and tired of negotiating prices for everything. It made me grateful that I live somewhere I can just shop at a grocery store and everything has a set price.

We had delicious street food in Marrakech. I loved how when the sun went down the whole square lit up with stalls selling food.

I did try out “snake charming” in Marrakech, totally worth the price for priceless pictures.

Favorite Facebook status update from our trip: “Why is it that only 20 yr old Moroccan shop keepers grab my ass and call me beautiful? (Although he did offer 40 camels…)”

I took enough pictures of stray cats to fill a photo album on Facebook

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It was so great to be back in the U.S. for the holidays. Not only did I get to see almost all of my immediate family (the exception being my youngest sister who lives in Germany) I also got to see a huge chunk of my girlfriends who are living in the U.S. It was rejuvenating to get to talk to people in person, instead of over Skype. By the end of my trip, however, I was ready to be back home in Lesotho. Here are some random stats of my visit:

Airports Visited: 8 (BFN, JNB, CDG, SLC, SEA, BWI, JFK, and MSU)

Cities Visited: 4 (Salt Lake City, Seattle, Baltimore, NYC and Paris)

Flights Taken: 10

Hours Spent on a Plane: ~55 (does not include layovers)

Movies Seen: 11 (2 on a plane, 4 in a theatre, and 5 at home)

Days in the U.S.: 26

Friends Seen: 12

Amount of snow falling from the sky: 0. This was the driest December in Utah on record.

Hours spent watching Teen Mom 2: I didn’t count, but enough to know that I should never be allowed to have cable TV.

Miles I Drove a Car: less than 1. I’ve realized that driving on the right side of the road just isn’t natural for me anymore. Every time I was in a moving vehicle and it made a turn I had to think twice about it.

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At the end of August I met up with my friend Wendy – who recently finished a Peace Corps Response project in Malawi – to see the gorillas in Rwanda. When Wendy came back to Africa at the end of last year she said that one of the things she wanted to do was see the gorillas. I said, “sign me up!” Going gorilla tracking is one of those things that can languish on your “to do” list. It’s not cheap. So having a friend who was committed to making it happen was just what I needed.

We booked our tour through Bizidanny – recommended to me by a former colleague. I would also recommend them. They were very responsive to emails and everything was well organized. Ask for Sam as your guide. We had him for our city tour of Kigali and absolutely loved him. Learned more in that 1/2 day with him than we did the rest of our trip.

Traditional dancing by the local school kids at Mountain Gorilla Lodge

We stayed at the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge in Ruhengeri – just a 5 minute drive from park headquarters. Every afternoon at 4:30 the local school kids do traditional dancing for the guests. It was pretty cheesy. They smiled kind of creepily at us and kept saying “Welcome to Rwanda!” over and over again. Then there was the stern school teacher glaring over them as they performed. Maybe I’ve lived in Africa for too long; the other guests probably liked it.

Our guide, Francois, who has worked for 29 years and worked with Dian Fossey

Sunday was our day for tracking. We purchased our permits in February because July/August are supposed to be the high season. We met a woman who was able to get 2 permits just a few weeks before, but I wouldn’t risk it. Plus it costs the same whether you buy early or buy late. We were picked up by our guide from Bizidanny – Tarza – and taken to the Parc National des Volcans headquarters. We milled around the grounds while he joined the other guides to negotiate a place for us in a group. There are only 64 permits sold each day – so 8 groups of 8 people. We told Tarza to get us in a group with an easy or medium hike. While we were waiting I randomly ran into Gilbert who was the Administrative Officer for Peace Corps in Botswana and is currently the Country Director in Namibia. It was SO random. I love those small world moments. The group we were placed in had a family of 3 from Boston plus 3 younger guys from Europe.

From the park headquarters we had to drive 20-30 minutes to the trail head. From there we hiked for about 1.5 hours into the forest to find the gorillas. Before I went to Rwanda many people asked me questions along the lines of “Are you guaranteed to see the gorillas?” and I always told people that they are wild animals – so, no – but that I hadn’t heard any stories of people going and not seeing them. I know enough people – either directly or indirectly – who have been so I figured if that was a possibility I would probably have heard about it. Now I know why that doesn’t happen. There are two men with big guns – called trackers – who stay with each of the gorilla groups 24 hrs/7 days a week. They protect them from poachers, watch their health and let the guides from the park know the groups location on a day-to-day basis.

Speaking of guide, we were really lucky and got someone who is one of the more famous guides – Francois. He’s worked as a guide for 29 years and even worked with Dian Fossey. He was fantastic. Along the hike he stopped several times to show us the various plants that gorillas eat – often eating them himself! He was also great at making sure that everyone was staying with the group.

When we first approached the gorillas they were all up in the trees. You could see fuzzy black hair through little, tiny holes in the leaves. My first thought was, great, this is not what I was expecting. My second thought was, “I hope those bamboo trees can hold hundreds of pounds of gorilla!” It was a little unnerving for them to be climbing directly overhead. In terms of my expectations, I thought that we’d come across the group sitting in a clearing where we’d sit 20 feet away and watch them eat and play for an hour. Our experience was much cooler than that.

After Francois convinced the gorillas to come out of the tree we got to watch them eat and interact with each other. Moving from place to place through the thick forest. If we had been 20 feet away we wouldn’t have been able to see anything. Instead Francois took us within 5 feet of the silverback – Guhonda – the largest silverback in the park. He was ENORMOUS, but totally chill. He mostly just sat on the ground with his arms crossed while we took hundreds of pictures of him. (No, seriously, I took almost 300 pictures in that 1 hour just myself!) There was a baby who came down from the trees and played a little bit. We also saw several females, although they all look the same to me so I lost track of who was who. Altogether I think we saw about 6-7 of the 12 gorillas in the group. (Did you know that gorilla nose prints are all different, like human fingerprints? Not that that’s helpful to me in identifying them.)

There isn’t one moment that stands out from the hour we spent with the gorillas. Nobody did anything spectacular. No fights. No chest thumping. Just gorillas doing there thing with 8 people snapping pictures. It was darn cool.

More to come in another post on the other places we visited during our trip.


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I had a bunch of video (thanks to Wendy) of our encounter with the gorillas of Sabyinyo group so I pieced together some of the best shots into a little 3 minute video. Enjoy! More details on the trip to come.

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Germany and Switzerland December 2010

It’s after midnight and I’m procrastinating dealing with the 3-days worth of work emails sitting in my inbox to share my scrapbook pages from my trip to Germany and Switzerland in December 2010. As I mentioned earlier, this book is more of my typical style for documenting trips – i.e. chronological. I actually worked on several of these spreads during the trip, got bogged down in something I didn’t like about the design and left it until a few weeks ago. My favorite digi scrapbooking site – Designer Digitals – had a Christmas in July sale that was just the incentive I needed to finish it up. I’ll get these pages printed individually when I do my next order of digi scrapbook pages later this year.

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Morocco Photobook Pages

I have been overwhelemd with the 100s of pictures that Allison and I took during our trip to Morocco in April.Ā  There were many stories I wanted to tell and also beautiful pictures to use but they didn’t necessarily match up. When I have done scrapbooks of big trips in the past I typically tell the story chronologically using a template with the same number of pictures for each day. I did that for my trip to Germany and Switzerland over Christmas and just finished the pages. (This reminds me that I need to share those here, too.)

In the case of Morocco, however, that didn’t work for me because some days I had many, many more pictures than other days. Some of the extra pictures were beautiful that I just wanted to display while other pictures were great for telling a very specific story but not necessarily good quality. I’ve been pondering this issue for a while when I came across Shimelle’s Q&A post about her round the world trip. Someone asked how she was going to document the trip she wrote that she was creating scrapbook pages as she fancied them but also working on a photobook to display her favorite/best pictures. When I read her idea it totally clicked for me and I decided to copy the idea for my Morocco pictures. Once I decided on my approach, putting together the pages was easy. I picked a series of templates that were very basic to show case the pictures and put all 46 pages together in a few evenings. You can click on the link above to see the pages as that I uploaded to Picasa, or follow this link.

Now that I feel like I’ve done something with my favorite pictures I can move on to telling the other stories from our trip like: our hammam experience in Fes, our favorite pizza joint in Fes across the street from where we stayed, how many stray cats were around in the medinas, having lunch with my Peace Corps Country Director in Rabat, how much I love traveling on trains, etc.

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Maliba weekend

I spent this last weekend making new friends at Maliba Mountain Lodge. In attendance were Sara, Nora & Ethan from Maseru plus Sara’s friends Elysia, Ben & Joel from Pretoria. Sara was the only person I knew very well before the trip, so it was fun to get to know a new group of people.

Highlights of the weekend included:

  • An exploding squash Friday night after we pressure cooked it too long in the convection oven without poking holes in it. As Ethan cut each squash the amount of pressure it released got worse and worse until the last one exploded everywhere. Fortunately, the squash that made it was some of the yummiest squash ever.
  • Hiking in Tsehlanyane National Park. If Lesotho has one thing going for it, it’s that the country is beautiful. We took the lower trail to the Black Pools and then continued on to the 3 Cascades. It took us about 4 hours round trip.
  • Celebrating The Rapture at 6pm local time by cheering to the end of the world. Of course since we had no cell phone reception we would have had no idea if the world really did end …
  • Being warmer in our chalet than at home thanks to floor heating under the carpet, wall heaters and electric mattress cover heaters.

  • Eating tons of delicious food: Barbeque chicken, roasted veggies and S’Mores Friday night; eggs/bacon/toast/beans Saturday morning; made-from-scratch fettuccine alfredo with salad and garlic bread Saturday night; latkes/eggs/bacon plus homemade apple cinnamon cinnamon rolls Sunday morning. We had so much food planned we didn’t even get to the huge pot of chili I planned.
  • Playing the UK version of “Trivial Pursuit” where we only knew the answers to about 2/3rds of the questions. Couples vs. Singles. Then the Quebecois version of “Taboo” – boys vs girls. Then back to “Trivial Pursuit” but this time as a free-for-all drinking game.
  • Lots of good laughs with a really fun group of people!

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