Can’t Agree More

In the last week I have read two articles in the New York Times that caught my attention. The first was called, “Traveling Without Seeing.” This article talks about the attachment we have for the electronic devices we bring along on our travels. The author, Frank Bruni, spoke about our need to download movies, games and music in preparation for a trip. Then once we are safely tucked away in our hotel room we choose to cocoon ourselves in our room instead of adventuring out into the unknown.  When we do this, we miss opportunities to interact with others and learn about the world.

I often travel alone, and believe me, it is tempting to stay in the hotel, but then I say to myself, “What am I missing out there?” So I close my laptop or iPad, grab my camera and take off to see the sights.

This attitude has provided me with a wealth of rewarding experiences. Even eating alone in a small foreign restaurant can be adventurous.   I use to think  that eating alone would be lonely, but you wouldn’t believe how many people will start a conversation with someone who is by themself. On one occasion in Greece the waiter came over to practice his English. I learned he was from Syria and had been working in Greece for more than a year. I told him I had plans to go to Syria in the near future. He then offered tips on places I should not miss. An hour later a plate of watermelon and a small glass of ouzo came to my table free of charge. How’s that for having a friendly conversation with a stranger.  On a recent trip to  New Delhi I found myself alone in my hotel room on my last day in India. My bags were packed, I had snack food to eat, and enough entertainment options on my iPad to last for a few hours, but I didn’t come to India to stare at a small screen. Instead I spent a few hours strolling the streets taking pictures along the way. The sights I saw on the street were much better than any movie I had downloaded on my iPad.

I recommend reading Frank Bruni’s article for more insight into this topic: New York Times, Traveling without Seeing

The streets of India outside my hotel room. 

The second article called, “Tour Iran? Operators Hope So,”  spoke about traveling to Iran. Only a few weeks after the contested election in 2009, I traveled to Iran with my husband. Even though most of the protests had stopped once we arrived, a few were still continuing in Tehran.  I was fearful of how we would be treated at this turbulent time, but it turned out to be one of our most memorable vacations.  While there my husband and I toured Shiraz, Yazd, Esfahan, and the ancient site of  Persepolis. Everywhere we went, we were treated like treasured guests.  I can’t begin to guess how many times my husband was asked to pose for a picture. I made friendships that I still have today. For this reason, I highly recommend reading the New York Times article about traveling to Iran. Even though the US State Dept. still doesn’t recommend traveling to Iran, I must kindly disagree.

Take the time to read this short article about traveling to Iran: New York Times, Tour Iran? Operators Hope So

Here are 2 links to my images from Iran: http://ginalrodgers.com/images/iran/index.html  and http://ginalrodgers.com/images/persiandesigns/index.html

Just a few of the wonderful  and gracious Persians we met in Iran. 

Enjoying watermelon with our woman guide and tour operator.

Enjoying watermelon with our woman guide and tour operator Cyrus Etemadi.

Our very knowledgeable    guide for most of the trip.

Our very knowledgeable guide for most of the trip.

One of the families we met and stayed in their home. When you said "cheese" for a picture they giggled and giggled.

One of the families we met and stayed in their home. When you said “cheese” for a picture they giggled and giggled.

Another family I met near Abyaneh. The women were dressed in native dress for a family celebration.

Another family I met near Abyaneh. The women were dressed in native dress for a family celebration.

I was able to spend 3 days with this family who lived in the Zagros Mountains. One day the sisters dressed me in their traditional clothes.

I was able to spend 3 days with this family who lived in the Zagros Mountains. One day the sisters dressed me in their traditional clothes.

One of the many pictures my husband was asked to pose for.

One of the many pictures my husband was asked to pose for.

For more information about Iran contact Cyrus Etemadi. He operates the tour company used by Asian Pacific Adventures.

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Starting Something New

For the past eight years I have worked diligently trying to perfect my skills as a photographer. Step by step my skills increased and now photography is almost instinctual. Once that happened I found myself wanting a new challenge. With the help of a new SLR camera that takes stills along with video, I decided to give video a try. As I did with photography, I enrolled in classes and began to read what I could on the topic. I have a long ways to go before I will satisfy myself on my ability, but at least I have taken the leap. The most difficult decision is to shoot video or stills at any given moment. Then comes the editing, but at least it is more fun to edit a video than 3,000 still shots.

It was tempting to not share any of my videos until I felt they were of high quality, but then, I would have missed out on showing my growth.  So here is my first attempt.  It’s a 4 and half minutes video about Madagascar. It is interesting how it shows a place in a whole different light from still images. Check them out and see how you feel. Will you like video or stills better?

Madagascar video link: https://vimeo.com/72945357

Here is the link to my still images from the same trip:  http://ginalrodgers.com/ginalrodgerswebsite/images/madagascar/index.htm

Few Expectations but High Rewards in Madagascar

Once in a while, you just pack your bags and go on a whim that it will be a great trip. It’s a bit like going to the movie theater knowing little more than the title of the movie. The advantage to this strategy, is that you have few expectations; therefore, few disappointments.  The disadvantage, you will miss out on something great or not be fully prepared. But hey, this was Africa, there is only so much planning and preparing that you can do once the proper clothes are packed and all valuable camera & electronic equipment is secured in the carry-on bag.   I am happy to report, another African country has proven its worthiness as a great travel destination.

We were greeted at the airport by our courteous driver-guide who would be with us for most of the next 17 days. Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world and the best way to see it is with a 4WD vehicle. Our itinerary included visiting the four national parks, Andasibe, Ranomafana, Isalo, and Kirindy with a few relaxing days on the white sandy beaches of Morondava and Ifaty.

For me,  the acme of the trip was seeing the lemurs. From my first sighting I could not get enough of their cleaver antics and big marble size eyes. The ancient authors Virgil & Ovid mentioned the Festival of Lemuria during which “ghosts” referred to as “lemures” were exorcised. As an analogy to these ghosts from Roman mythology, the name “Lemur” was given to the entire species due to their nocturnal habits & noiseless movement at night, reflective eyes, and ghostly cries. Scientists believe there are over  80 lemur species, new species are still being discovered by primatologist.  [Check out this NG video of a new discovery.] Lemurs vary in size, the smallest being the mouse lemur and the largest being the Indri which looks like a very large black and white teddy bear. The Indri are considered to be sacred with folktales adding to their enchantment. One story told to us by our guide was about  a boy who went into the forest to collect honey, was stung by bees, and fell from a tree.  An Indri caught him and carried him to safety. From what I have learned about animals, I tend to believe this is true and not a myth.  To see the Indri you need to visit Andasibe National Park. Once there you will hear their haunting, yet beautiful whale cry. [Watch this video to see the Indri and hear their cry.] Each national park we visited had lemurs to observe. When visiting a national park we were always accompanied by a park guide, this is very important since they know how to find the lemurs and sometimes carry bananas that the lemurs love. Our park guides also provided night walks at Andasibe and Ranomafana and were excellent chameleon spotters during the day and night. If seeing a lemur is on your “must see and do” list, then Madagascar is the only place where you can see them in the wild. [Read here to learn why.]

At one time almost every inch of the African continent was a European colony. Madagascar was a french colony from 1890-1960. Today French is still widely spoken by the educated Malagasy.  French food, including the bread, is widely served. You can also see the French influence in the housing architecture. In the highlands you will see many brick houses containing columns and west-facing verandas. Train stations and churches look as though they were taken from a French countryside.

Traveling around the country it felt like a large melting-pot of cultures. Indeed this is true because today’s population  is a mixture of Austronesian (origins from Borneo), North Indian, Arab, Somali and Bantu settlers. I enjoyed looking at the various hair styles and clothing worn by the women in the regions we visited.  The most interesting tradition practiced all over the country was the ritual of washing laundry by a river then stringing it among the rocks and plants to dry. Our guide told us that many believe that washing clothes by the river washes away their sins.

Madagascar has an incredible diverse landscape. Each travel day I enjoyed watching the terrain change from cultivated fields, to dense rainforest, and into a sandy desert. In the highlands many of the hills are terraced like those in southeast Asia to support the number one grown crop, rice. The south contains large grassy plateaus with the occasional granite domes to complete a Georgia O’Keeffe setting. For most tourist, the Avenue of the Baobabs near Morondave is an incredible sight in the morning and evening. Then when you need a little relaxation, there are long white sandy beaches with lovely bungalows next to the Mozambique Strait.

Madagascar is still off the beaten path for most travelers, but well worth the trouble. Because we missed seeing the lemurs do a dance, we just might have to go again. To see what I mean check out the following video, then I think you will agree, Madagacar is a ‘Must See’ destination. [Dancing lemurs video.]

To see images from my trip to Madagascar, visit my photography website: http://ginalrodgers.com/ginalrodgerswebsite/images/madagascar/index.html

Travel Tips:

  • For photographing lemurs, a small island at Andasibe was ideal for photographing and feeding the Brown and Ruffed Lemurs. The best opportunity for photographing the Ring-tailed lemur was at the Anja Reserve and a camp ground in Isalo National Park.  Remember to always focus first on the eyes and make sure you are using a fast shutter speed. I believe they move too quickly to use a tripod.
  • If you don’t speak French, a French phrase book or a French translation app will come in handy.
  • Make sure to bring along your favorite hiking shoes. The national parks can be wet and dusty.
  • For charging your electronics, bring along your plug adapters used in France and most of Europe. [Madagascar plug outlets.]
  • Madagascar is a very poor country. Our guide highly recommend not carrying our good cameras when we left our hotel in the capital, Antananarivo. A cheap disposal camera that you can buy in any grocery store is one way to take pictures worry free. (We never had a problem in the rest of the country.)
  • I’m a vegetarian, and never had any trouble finding food to eat. Pizzerias are in abundance in Antananarivo and Antsirabe. Sometimes hotels have a set menu. If I told them I was a vegetarian they were happy to substitute the meat on the menu.
  • We did not drink water from the tap, but always felt that the food was safe in the restaurants. Try and buy your bottle water from the small shops on the street. They are half the price of those sold at the hotel.
  • Many hotels provide free wi-fi.
  • On our last day in the country, I decide I must have one of those unique Madagascar folding wooden chairs. No problem, our driver took us to the craft market in Antananarivo. Everything from vanilla to wooden chairs could be found in this open market. Don’t forget to barter, I was able to get most items that we bought at one-third of the original asking price.
  • Do you like gems, over 50% of the world’s sapphires come from Madagascar.  Ask your guide for the best place to buy. I bought my gems from Chez Joseph in Antsirabe.

Our tour operator:

Jenman Tours – I would highly recommend this company. We had an excellent driver-guide. He spoke very good English, always kept us safe, and was able to answer all of our questions. He kept his Toyota Land Cruiser in perfect condition for the entire trip.  The company also arranged very comfortable and nice accommodations.

Ruffed lemur in Andasibe National Park

Ruffed lemur in Andasibe National Park

Bamboo lemur Bamboo lemur

Verreaux’s Sifaka in Kirindy National Park

Chameleon

Chameleon

Typical styled home in Madagascar containing columns and west-facing verandas.

Georgia O’Keeffe setting

Church in Ambositra

Church in Ambositra

Avenue of the Baobobs

Avenue of the Baobobs

Sunset at Avenue of the Baobabs

Sunset at Avenue of the Baobabs

Drying clothes near the river.

Drying clothes near the river.

The author with the lemurs in Andasibe National Park

The author with the lemurs in Andasibe National Park

One Amazing Place to Stay – Giraffe Manor

Maybe you are sitting at the doctor’s office one day leafing through a travel magazines when you see an article about a really incredible place to stay. Or, maybe the next time you are on the treadmill at the gym you see this unbelievable destination on the travel channel. However it happens, you make plans to visit this one amazing special place. After all that planning and saving money you get there only to find it wasn’t exactly what you expected.

Thankfully none of this is true for Giraffe Manor! It is ever bit as idealistic in person as it is on TV or in an article. Yes, it is expensive, but I felt it was worth every penny I paid. I have dreamed of going for over 10 years, happy to say, dreams do come true. From the moment I stepped out of the dusty Land Cruiser I had been traveling in for the past 12 days, I felt like royalty. I was greeted by Tony as my bags were whisked away and shown around the manor and the grounds.  I was given a quick run down on the proper way to greet the giraffes, which would arrive for their evening feeding around 5:00 in the afternoon. Tony quickly realized that I might just be a little hungry since I had traveled by car from Nanyuki that morning. He quickly ordered a nice green salad to be made on my behalf.

After taking a shower I joined the others on the front lawn to relax and enjoy watching the giraffes a short distance away. Within moments I was offered afternoon tea or a glass of wine, along with delicious carrot and chocolate cake. Then as if they had a time clock, the giraffes moved toward us ready for some tasty treats right on schedule. All the giraffes were incredibly gentle that I fed, and I didn’t mind getting the giraffe kiss more than once. I believe my first kiss came from Edd, followed by Lynn.  In case you are wondering, this is done by placing a pellet in your mouth and sticking out your neck just a bit. Even though I was on my own, the staff quickly took my camera and began snapping pictures.

As the sun began to fade into the horizon, the giraffes moved off into the forest for the evening. That evening we were served a delicious 3 course meal around a large mahogany table. It was fun to be able to share past and future African travels with the other guests. The chef was able to easily adjust the menu to accompany my vegetarian diet. (Gluten free and vegan diets are also provided upon request.)

Now the big show is in the morning for breakfast.  The staff is happy to wake you up at 6:30 to make sure you don’t miss a single minute of it.  A bit like Christmas morning on safari. As soon as I was dressed and downstairs at 6:45 the giraffes were approaching. My favorite image is with the front door of the manor open and a giraffe sticking its head in the door ready for a treat. Most of the feeding goes on in the breakfast room.  A breakfast I won’t soon forget, just incredible to have 3 to 4 giraffe heads sticking their necks in the windows. Frankly, it is hard to decide, do I eat, take pictures or feed the giraffes.  Oh, I almost forgot, the grounds are also home to some wart hogs who like to eat every giraffe pellet that falls to the ground like a pet dog picking up the straps under the table. They are right there to enjoy your breakfast meal as well.

I will be honest, Giraffe Manor is not cheap and it is not easy to get a booking. But, if you love giraffes, it is worth it. The staff goes the extra mile to make sure you have a pleasant stay and my room was adorable with every need pacified. The stay included 3 meals, laundry, and afternoon tea.  A portion of the cost goes to run the Giraffe Center and protect the Rothschild giraffe which is endangered because of the lost of its habitat. The staff at Giraffe Manor will also drive you to Karen Blinxen’s house  or the Elephant Orphanage at no extra cost.  If you arrive early enough, the staff will walk you over to the Giraffe Center which is less than 5 minutes away. There you will be given lectures about the giraffes in Kenya and a naturalist walk to learn about the native plants used by the Maasai.

Keep in mind, the website often shows the manor to be completely booked, but don’t give up hope. I was able to get into the manor on a cancellation. The best method for booking a room is to use email: giraffe@giraffemanor.com You can also use the their website: http://www.tamimiea.com/ Still no luck, you can always enjoy afternoon tea at Giraffe Manor after visiting the Giraffe Center, also known as the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife started by Jock and Betty Leslie-Melville in 1979.

My first giraffe feeding.

My first giraffe feeding.

This giraffe was just walking up to the door as I came down the stairs for breakfast.

This giraffe was just walking up to the door as I came down the stairs for breakfast.

Giraffe ready for a treat in the Breakfast Room

Giraffe ready for a treat in the Breakfast Room

Even though my husband could not accompany me on this trip, I still got a good morning kiss.

Feeding a giraffe at breakfast.

Giraffe Kiss

Even though my husband could not accompany me on this trip, I still got a good morning kiss.

Beautiful grounds for enjoying when you aren't feeding the giraffes.

Beautiful grounds for enjoying when you aren’t feeding the giraffes.

Any food for me?

Any food for me?

 

Getting Started / Why Blog?

I have pondered doing a travel blog for years, but allowed too many excuses to keep me from getting started. So, no more excuses.

My goal is to provide information about  trips I have taken, along with tips in case you ever want to follow in my footsteps. I hope my travels will encourage you to take the leap and travel yourself with a group, a friend or even alone. I’m also looking forward to having another format besides my website to post images and videos from my adventures. Since I often see articles in the news about my past destinations, I will include links to those when possible.

So let’s get started. I hope you find this blog enjoyable and helpful to your own future travels.  I also welcome those that just like to live vicariously through those that suffer from wonderlust.

I encourage comments that will add to the reader’s enjoyment and knowledge.

Gina