Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Jenny and I were warm & cozy in our little tent high in the Andes mountains, watching in wonder as the mist lifted to reveal the splendour before us. All was still. We sighed as a porter, not an Inca warrior, tiptoed to wake us & the aroma of coffee told us breakfast was ready. Time to get back on the trail.

The view from our tent on the first night.

Can you just get your backpack & go for a hike on the Inca Trail? I’m afraid not. Access is controlled by the government & the limited spots booked about a year ahead.

Jenny & I went in September with Alpaca Expeditions. Raul Ccolque, the owner, started out as a porter & knows how hard his staff works to make Alpaca #1. We studied Alpaca’s excellent site & chatted with Raul before we decided that the 5 day 4 night trek would be best for us. Raul suggested the longer time knowing that at 75 years old, I would like to savour the experience. Which was his kind way of saying I would be slow.

The Green Machine: our porters, cook, & fabulous guide Americo.

Altitude can be a problem. The Machu Picchu Trail rises to 4200m. I took prescribed meds before I left home and arrived in Cusco the recommended three days before the trek. Jenny & I both drank a lot of the local cure, coca leaf tea. It made no difference. Jen was fine but I struggled. Americo, our fabulous guide, knew all the tricks to help: go up slowly, drink water constantly, and as a last resort have a puff from his canister of oxygen! I had no idea altitude sickness could be so debilitating. It’s a good thing we had sorted out tips for the staff before we left because when Jenny and I sat down on our sleeping bags in our little tent to figure out the money (everyone was amazing & we needed to give them more!), I simply could not count. Not at all. What a strange feeling! Thank goodness for my amazing daughter who took care of everything.

Here we go!

The first day we were up at ridiculous o’clock for our 3 hour drive from Cusco to the start of the trail. Americo weighed our bags on the scale in the lobby to make sure we did not go over the 7kg limit, and at 5:00am we were on our way. It was a beautiful drive even though it was difficult to resist sleep in the warm car. Staying in Ollantaytambo, closer to the start, might have been a good option. Once we arrived at the trail head we tried to calm our nerves to eat the big breakfast that was prepared for us. All the groups leaving that day were gathered at tables on a covered porch. It felt like a big party. Excited, nervous voices filled the air. Cooks whipped up scrambled eggs & porridge as if it was a normal day in the neighbourhood. Which I guess it was for them. We kept checking our bags, looking around at what others had brought. A few confident lads with well-worn gear headed out first. Everyone looked so young & fit & confident. Jenny & I & the ‘Green Machine’ were the last group to go. I was already in love with The Green Machine! This was the plan:

Hiking is hard work! I wish I had taken more pictures!

The last evening we spent in the little town of Aquas Callientes. It was lovely to have a shower after camping. The next morning we got one of the first buses up to Machu Picchu to see the sunrise at the citadel. Americo took us on a 2 hour tour of this mysterious site. It was hard to believe we were actually walking where the Inca people lived. Jenny climbed Huaynapicchu! It’s a steep climb that takes 2 hours to get up & back. You need to book this when you book your trip. Although we both paid for this extra challenge, there was no way this old lady was taking one more step up. I had a wander around while Jenny got to the top for the best view over the Andes Mountains, the ones we had come to experience. Mission accomplished.

Packing for the Trek

You’re going camping on a really difficult trail with high altitude & fluctuating temperatures. What would you take for a camping trip with your friends? That’s what you take for MP too.

I’m just saying this because I was obsessed with “getting it right” for this IMPORTANT trek. I read everything I could find and watched about 20 YouTube clips. It was ridiculous. It wasn’t until I was actually on the trail that I relaxed and realized it was just a camping trip. Wear the same stuff every day. Bring something warm for the high altitude and rain gear in case it rains. Period. OK, you need some equipment, you need to have broken-in boots, you need bug stuff & sunscreen. But don’t you take that on any camping trip?! I was an idiot. I admit it. So, from experience, here’s my list:

Super hero porters carry all the equipment: tents (sleeping, dining and even toilet tents), food and cooking gear so you don’t have to even think about that. You rent the sleeping bag (which includes a liner & pillow), sleeping mat, and trekking poles from Alpaca.

Porters carry your personal belongings *up to 7kg (15 pounds). This is how it works: Alpaca gives you a big duffel with your sleeping bag, pad, & pillow already in it. You add anything you want for the trip that you are not wearing or carrying yourself. This includes your extra socks, camp sandals, extra fleece, toiletries, an extra outfit if you like, etc. You leave all your other belongings either at your hotel or with Alpaca. Everyone does it & the hotels are prepared.

You wear most of your clothes and carry your own Day Pack. I took a 15L pack & it was too small. Jenny took a 25L & it was perfect. They warn that pack sizes are checked & big ones (45L is the limit I think) are not allowed but in truth they rarely check.

Your Day Pack has every single thing you think you will need for the day. Water. Do you know how heavy water is?! We used the ‘bladder system’ & it was great. The cook boils water for you to refill your pouch every morning & noon. You also carry your snacks which are provided by the cook. That was heavy enough for me! But you still need lots of things: rain gear (Americo insisted!), sunscreen, bug repellent, meds, blister patches, toilet paper, sunglasses, flashlight in case you’re still on the trail when it gets dark (!), gloves & your fleece in case it gets cold. You get the idea.

*I didn’t think of it until it was too late but I could have hired my very own personal porter to stay with me & CARRY MY PACK! You must book this when you book the trip so Alpaca can put another person on the permit. We went to Patagonia on our next trip & experience taught me to book my own porter!

So here’s my list: good but lightweight trail boots – broken in; good socks – I took 4 pr of light merino liners & 2 pr of boot socks (changed the liners every day) & it was perfect; your favourite pair of comfy, synthetic trail pants (not jeans, not shorts – the sand flies are awful); comfy leggings/running tights that can be used as a base layer, jammies, or regular pants; undies – a pr of pants for each day + 2 sports bras; t shirts – 2 short sleeve & 1 long sleeved (not cotton!); hat, fleece, puffy jacket – the kind that scrunches into nothing, gloves, lightweight rain jacket & pants; stuff – headlamp, light camp shoes, meds, personal wipes, sunscreen & bug repellent (we took Ben’s bug wipes) & toiletries (lip balm, deodorant, kleenex, toothpaste & brush (I like Lush tooth tablets), moleskin for blisters, advil, etc.

I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything. If you need something, someone else for sure has brought it. It’s a really difficult climbing trek but you’re camping. Enjoy!

A Few Days in Chiang Mai

When you volunteer at Elephant Nature Park you get picked up Monday morning if you are staying within the walls of the old city. So I booked in at Parasol Inn at the corner of Praprokklao Rd. & Rachadamnoen Rd.

Chiang Mai was interesting, inexpensive, & friendly. Have a look at the map. You can see the ‘Elephant Nature Park Office‘ in the bottom right corner. You can go and get t-shirts, coffee, etc., & talk to the office people. They were very busy when I dropped in so I went across the road to the highly recommended Taste From Heaven for a nice vegetarian lunch instead.

There were so many restaurants! I stuck pretty close to ‘home’, enjoying the corner restaurant attached to the hotel, & my favourite spot The Writers Club and Wine Bar which was just a few steps away on Rachadamnoen Rd.

I even ate street food! How can you not? I’m very nervous about getting ill on a trip but the street markets do pull you in. It must be safe if you watch fresh ingredients being cooked right in front of you, right?

The Street Markets are an excuse for a big party & Chiang Mai people take full advantage of the occasion. There’s a big Saturday Night one which I missed. But look on the map. do you see ‘The Pae Sunday Walking Street’? That’s the Sunday Night Market & you do not want to miss it! You can’t tell from the map but the market took up the entire streets along both sides of my hotel!

The Famous Sunday Night Market, called The Pae Sunday Walking Street on the map, was so much fun. It doesn’t look like it on the map but the market is huge, stretching all along both the streets around my hotel! I stepped out & was surrounded by the aroma of delicious food being prepared to order, musicians playing and laughing, and vendors selling everything from exotic hand carved soaps to useful sun hats and inexpensive summer clothes. I felt like I was part of a giant party.

I really wanted a hat to take home to my hubby so I asked the lady, ‘How much?’ (Thao-rai ka). She told me the cost which was ridiculously cheap but I still asked, quite proud of myself for knowing the words, ‘Can you lower the price?’ (Lot-noy dai-mai ka). The sweet wee lady looked at me with surprise & then chattered away in very fast Thai. As soon as she realized I had used my entire Thai vocabulary, we looked at each other & started to laugh. I think I paid her double for the hat because I was so pleased with the experience.

I walked everywhere! Of course you always are aware of your surroundings, do not look lost, & keep your phone & money safely tucked away in hidden zippered pockets but I never felt unsafe. One day I went down to the Tha Phae Gate & loved watching the people. Then I followed the footprint of the old city walls, enjoying the summer day in January (!), discovering a wonderful park & wandering through interesting areas. I must admit I gave up & headed for home before I got all the way around but it was a good way to get to know the inner city. And I did pull out my phone & skyped my family at home! Very exciting!

Jack, my wonderful guide took me on adventures. I know I could have done it on my own, studied what temples to see & what markets to visit. But really? For 2500 baht for a day (about $100!) why would you not take advantage of a local’s expertise, driving, & guidance? I always like to take a day tour, hoping I’m contributing something to the economy of the country I’m visiting. I figure it’s a win/win – great for both of us.

The first day we left at 6:00AM to see the monks at the ‘Morning Alms Ceremony‘. I was very happy to be in a van as we climbed steep curvy roads to reach these young lads walking down the mountain gathering their breakfast. Jack was determined to have me blessed by a monk (thank you Jack!) but then I insisted it was time for coffee & he took me to the loveliest spot!

I got mixed up with all the temples. We saw quite a few, including the gold one, the silver one, the one with the bells, & the one where you wrote a blessing. I left a prayer for my family in a temple in Chiang Mai. That was pretty special.

Warorot Market in Chinatown and Somphet Market, a small food market, were fascinating visits. I liked the people. Some of the things they were selling, not so much.

I needed to visit the only elephant hospital in Chiang Mai. There we met Mosha, who lost her foot when she stepped on a land mine that exploded. The hospital fitted her with a prosthetic leg, & cares for her there.

I never did ride a Tuk Tuk or go on a Songthaew but wouldn’t it be fun? Maybe next time!

Monday morning I was ready & waiting to head out to Elephant Nature Park for a week. If you’d like to visit a sanctuary, it’s at evspath.com

Thanks for reading about my adventures.

Visit An Elephant Sanctuary

  1. Choose a Sanctuary to Visit

Google ‘elephant sanctuaries’ & ‘blogs elephant sanctuaries’

 

Get a map of Thailand & figure out where the sanctuaries are. 

elephantnaturepark.org is an excellent site & details many sanctuaries they support. 

There are other places to consider such as Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES), http://www.phuketelephantsanctuary.org (Phuket Elephant Sanctuary), & Burn and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (http://www.bees-elesanctuary.org). Keep track of all your research!

I use a small notebook.

I’m sure you can find more, but by now you will have a feel for your project & need to make some decisions:

  • Are you OK with  ‘basic’ or do you need a little pampering as well?  I met a lady who had spent a week in a hut with a Thai family.  What an experience!
  • How long do you want to stay at one location?  Can you manage a week or just an overnight stay?
  • Would you prefer to watch many elephants or get involved with a few?
  • Does a smaller setting appeal to you or are you looking for a large facility with many people visiting?

2. Decide when to go.

Google ‘weather Chiang Mai’. January works for me.

Then check availability at ENP. I booked the last week in January. You pay in baht so google ‘baht to USD’. These were my figures: ENP for a week – B12,000 ($435), Deposit – B2400 ($92), Balance – B9600 ($350)

3. Search for flights.

Go to momondo, sky scanner, google flights & even expedia.  Get a feel for what’s available & what it’s going to cost.  Keep track in your notebook. Delete the cookies as you go, just in case they recognize you when you return & give you a higher price.  I don’t know if that’s true but why take a chance. 

I like google flights because I can check prices around my dates & set a flight tracker to notify me of changes. I thought I might stay in Bangkok a couple of days & take the train up to Chiang Mai so I put in my dates for Toronto to Bangkok & Toronto to Chiang Mai. Don’t forget you’ll have an overnight flight so you need to leave the day before you’d like to arrive. 

To explore the train idea go to seat61.com.  The overnight sleeper might be an experience!  In the end I chickened out & decided to go straight to Chiang Mai.

Once you think you’ve got the route & price that works, go directly to the airline. You sometimes get a better price & it’s easier to change things, choose your seat, etc. if you’re dealing with the airline rather than another source.  

I ended up going Air Canada Toronto to Chiang Mai.  This was going to be a long trip so I went on seat guru.com to find the best seats & paid for my seat on all 3 flights.

4. Find a place to stay in the city closest to your sanctuary.

ENP picks you up if you’re hotel is within the city walls of Chiang Mai.

Google ‘places to stay Chiang Mai’. A guest house or hostel is a good choice when you’re travelling by yourself.  Blogs often recommend places such as Rendezvous Guesthouse & Smile House Guesthouse. Booking.com and trip advisor are good places to search. Be sure to check trip advisor reviews before you book. 

My daughter & her husband had visited Chiang Mai & stayed at Parasol Inn Hotel.  It was reasonable, recommended & city centre so I stayed there. I liked it. Sunday night was amazing when I discovered it was smack dab in the middle of the famous Night Market,

I knew I could find a guide after I arrived but I searched on the Chiang Mai forum & found Jack. He was wonderful.

http://ptttour.com/

5. Learn some Thai. ‘Hello, Thank you, Where is the bathroom?, Can you help me?’ are good phrases to know. I love the smiles I get when people see you are trying to speak their language. Youtube is your friend for this!

That’s it. You’re ready to go. Stay healthy, plan your packing so you take as little as possible, follow the social media posts for the site you’ve chosen, & have a great adventure. You might read about MaeDoe & ENP on my Thailand blogs.

Volunteer at Elephant Nature Park

Our Big Group of volunteers



Each small group worked with their own guide doing jobs around the sanctuary. That’s our fabulous guide on the far right in the pink ENP shirt.

The jobs change with the time of year, what foods are available, and whatever needs doing around the property. You will definitely help prepare food and scoop poop. You might weed gardens, build fences, or even build sand beds for the older elephants. A few lucky volunteers actually get to go and help bring rescues home.

Number One Job: Food

Work on the loading dock or in the kitchen.

Take a ride in the truck to a farmer’s field.

Number Two Job: Scoop Poop This was actually an easy task.

Sometimes the big jobs were all taken so we had an afternoon to explore.

You could also choose to play with the cats or walk the dogs.

My favourite time was spent with three old ladies spending their safe retirement days together.

There are many reputable sanctuaries in Thailand and Cambodia. Read the information on web pages, Facebook pages and forums, and decide what sort of adventure suits you.

http://elephantnaturepark.org This link will give you so much information! You can read about all their sanctuaries, what types of visits they offer, and what to expect at each facility. I chose to go to ENP for a week in January. You pay in Thailand bahts. It costs 12,000B (about $375USD) for a week which includes basic accommodation and all meals. You send a deposit of 2,400B (about $75USD) and the rest you pay in cash when you arrive at ENP.

https://www.facebook.com/TheElephantNaturePark/?ref=br_tf&epa=SEARCH_BOX

It’s fun to explore all the places you can go. There are so many sanctuaries struggling to help their elephants. They need you to visit and would love to hear from you.

When you go, be prepared for hot days and cold nights. You need t-shirts and shorts as well as long sleeves and long pants. Take things you don’t care about & donate them as you leave. Or buy really inexpensive things at the Chiang Mai Sunday night market before you travel to ENP on Monday. Closed toe shoes, a hat & a flashlight are important. Bring your own toiletries, sunscreen, insect repellent & towel.

What a thrill it was to get a picture with Lek Chailert, the wonderful lady who started saving the elephants and runs ENP!

My one bit of advice would be to plan to spend more time in Asia. It’s a long way to go for only one week. Thailand is the cheapest place I’ve ever visited so take advantage of the good weather, good food, and inexpensive accommodation. Enjoy!

An Elephant Story

MaeDoe was a baby elephant.

MaeDoe

MaeDoe was loved and protected by her mother, her sisters, and her auntie.

The little family walked many miles each day finding their favourite food of leaves and grass.

They met other elephant families at the pond.

MaeDoe loved to play in the water and roll in the mud. The mud protected her skin from the hot sun.

Then one day something happened.

While MaeDoe was deep in the pond the elephants on the shore started trumpeting and stomping their feet. “Danger!” They turned and ran away.

MaeDoe’s mother frantically called to her, “Come, MaeDoe, come!”

MaeDoe hurried to get out of the pond to her mother but the water made her slow and the mud was slippery.

With one last loud trumpet, MaeDoe’s mother, her eyes wide with fright, turned and ran. MaeDoe watched her mother, her auntie, and her sisters all disappear into the forest.

MaeDoe was left behind. She was all alone.

Strange men caught her and took her away. MaeDoe’s life was very sad after that.

A mean man made her walk along noisy busy streets. He hurt her if she didn’t walk with him. People gave the man money to pat her head and feed her fruit from his basket.

At night MaeDoe was tied with a painful chain so she could not go and search for her family.

MaeDoe grew bigger and bigger. Soon the people were afraid of her and ran away instead of smiling and paying to feed her. So the man sold her.

After a long frightening ride in a big truck, MaeDoe found herself back in a forest. But it was not her forest. Her family was not there. She heard elephant trumpets. She heard elephant cries.

MaeDoe was afraid.

A new man put a big rope around MaeDoe. He pushed her with a pointed stick. It hurt. MaeDoe tried to get away but something very heavy pulled her back.

MaeDoe was in a logging forest. When the trees were cut down, elephants pulled the huge logs to be loaded on trucks. The trees were gone so there was no shade. The rains came and the muddy hills were slippery. It was very hard work for MaeDoe.

One day MaeDoe slipped and fell. She couldn’t get up. The man was angry and hit her and poked her with his sharp stick. MaeDoe tried and tried but she was badly hurt. Finally she managed to stand but she had broken a big bone and she couldn’t pull any more. The man sold her.

MaeDoe stood alone under a little roof for a long time. She wanted so badly to go home to her family.

One day a little lady came and put her hand gently on MaeDoe’s trunk and looked into her sad, lonely eyes. The look reminded MaeDoe of the way her mother and her auntie looked at her, a long time ago.

MaeDoe looked into eyes that loved her.

MaeDoe reached out her trunk and touched the lady very carefully.

The lady cried and reached her arms around as much of MaeDoe as she could reach and held MaeDoe in her arms. She sang a lullaby to MaeDoe. Tears fell from MaeDoe’s eyes too.

“You’re safe now, my little one,” the lady whispered. “You’re safe. I will take you home with me. You will sleep without a chain. You will bathe in the river again. You will roll in the mud. You will find a friend. You will be loved.”

And so it happened. MaeDoe went with the lady whose name was Lek Chailert. They went home to Elephant Nature Park. MaeDoe had trouble walking but she had a friend, she bathed in the river, she had rice balls and watermelon treats to eat, and she slept on a soft sand bed.

MaeDoe never forgot her mother and her sisters and her auntie but she was loved again. She was a happy elephant.

MaeDoe at Elephant Nature Park

More information, volunteer opportunities and donations are accepted at https://www.saveelephant.org/

Packing for a Safari

In general, do as my son Jason suggests, take the clothes you love.
Please don’t go out & buy fancy safari clothes. People are not impressed with ‘the safari look’!
Make do with what you wear at home – your favourite shorts & tops & sweater & hat.
Wear your heaviest stuff on the plane so all you need is your lightweight carry-on.

See the little plane? You may only take a small soft bag. (24″x12″x10″)

You’ll need loose fitting summer wear for day & something warm for evenings & early morning game drives.
*Neutral, natural colours are best. Choose khaki, off white, olive green, etc.
Red frightens animals. Blue attracts biting insects.

Mornings are cold. Everyone has warm sweaters. Even though our guide is in shorts, we were happy with our long pants.

During the afternoon you can do other activities – swim if there’s a pool, read, do your journal, edit pictures, have a shower, etc. Maybe go for a trail walk. And it’s hot. You’ll want your shorts & a light top & your sandals.

If you go out on a Sundowner wear your warm clothes again.

So, here’s what I’d pack:

  • undies & socks – 3 days worth
  • 3 short sleeved shirts, 1 long sleeved shirt
  • 2 pr shorts, 1 pr trousers
  • I’d also tuck in a comfy yoga outfit if it packed up small
  • 1 fleece (or just buy one there, camps have gift shops)
  • jammies, bathing suit
  • running shoes, sandals
  • shampoo bar, moisturizer bar, toothbrush & tabs, deodorant, comb
  • hat, sunglasses

Then there’s the stuff that you need but takes up room:

  • camera &/or phone + chargers & adaptor (for 220/240AC)
  • binoculars & small flashlight
  • day backpack (for use in the jeep & on walks)
  • wet wipes, kleenex packets, insect repellent, sunscreen, lip balm
  • journal/planner, pens, pencils
  • meds: band-aids, Gravol, antibiotics, paracetamol, Immodium, eye drops, anti-histamine pills & cream, etc.
  • I like to take a travel clock as well

Don’t leave home without:

  • passport, + photocopy of your passport (I carry a laminated copy)
  • visas – yes, you need a visa for Kenya – I tried to get one online & gave up but it was easy to get it at the airport when I arrived.
  • immunization card – you don’t need yellow fever for Kenya but shots for typhoid, hepatitis A&B, meningitis, tetanus, & polio are recommended.  Check on your country’s travel guidelines site.
  • malaria pills – again, check with your health site
  • copies (in a separate place) of all your important information (credit cards, health card, insurance numbers, airline information, immunization card, etc.) + leave a copy of your itinerary & your important numbers with a family member at home

It’s nice to bring gifts:

  • You give tips at the end of your stay in each place so bring a pack of small thank you cards from the dollar store – a personal note is very much appreciated & it’s good to have an envelope for money
  • little things from your country are fun to give – I try to find small Canada pins & maple sugar candy
  • the staff liked the gum I brought, which was a surprise & they also love hard candies
  • a soccer ball is a prized gift (& no, I didn’t take one)

Wear your heaviest stuff on the plane – your long pants, long sleeved shirts, jacket or fleece, & running shoes so all you need is your lightweight carry-on.

My 40L pack weighs practically nothing. It fits in any plane so I never need to check a bag. It’s soft so it works well on safari. My daypack is in it as well. I take this wee bag everywhere. It’s stuffed here because I was going trekking in Patagonia & needed a few more things.

Wear your heavy clothes when you travel. Not all this. It was February in Canada. The top layer is my safari jacket.

Let’s go to Kenya and Uganda!

Kenya

Following our trip to track the mountain gorillas in Uganda, we arrived in Nairobi to continue our adventure planned by Patrick at Journeys Discovering Africa.

Giraffe Manor Lodge was originally built in 1932 in the style of a Scottish hunting lodge. Set on 115 acres, the manor provides security to a number of endangered Rothschilds Giraffe, most of which were translocated when their home in northern Kenya was destroyed. The Manor has six bedrooms, one of which is furnished with the belongings of Karen Blixen, of ‘Out of Africa’ fame.

The next day we flew to The Masai Mara to begin our safari.

We get picked up at the airfield.

The Masai Mara and adjoining conservancies form the northern portion of the 25,000 square kilometre Mara-Serengeti ecosystem that lies to the west of the Great Rift Valley, and extends south into Tanzania. The thin cover of volcanic soils of the area can only support grassland, with riverine forest along some of the seasonal stream beds. What the ecosystem does support is wildlife. On a normal day’s game drive, you are likely to see a large variety of plains game, as well as the predators that stalk them.

We are based at Kicheche Bush Camp, a classic bush camp with six tents, completely unfenced. Our tent has an en-suite bathroom and a safari bucket shower. The conservancy we are in is a partnership with the local Maasai, where in return for keeping the land aside for wildlife, they receive revenue from our stay here.

Charles makes us breakfast on the Mara and then takes us on an amazing game drive.

A Giraffe Family

We see the animals that migrate each year, like the wildebeest, gazelle and zebra.

Charles was keen to find “The Big Five”: lion, elephant, leopard, cape buffalo, and rhino. There were at least two lion families in the area, & a gorgeous pair of cheetahs. Charles knew there was a leopard but he eluded us. Sadly, there were no rhinos.

We were surrounded by elephants on our first Sundowner.

Dinner at the camp was fun, sitting around the table with professional photographers, everyone telling about their day’s finds. After an evening around the glowing bonfire, Joseph got us safely back to our beds. We had to be ready for another early wake-up call the next day. There was still lots to see.

Our last Sundowner with sunset on the Mara.

We were sad to say goodbye to Charles and our fabulous safari adventure.

Back in Nairobi we visited The Giraffe Centre & fed the same giraffes we had visited at Giraffe Manor. There was a lovely gift shop for little presents to take home.

Then we visited the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. I returned to Kenya a few years later to visit all the Sheldrick Camps and see how our adopted babies were doing.

Best known for their work to protect elephants, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust operates the most successful orphan elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world. To get an almost private visit, you book a time for 5:00, when the orphans are returning home for their evening milk bottle. When they go to their own secure stockade you visit them all and choose one to adopt for the year ($50). You get progress reports every month.

You’re ready to go! Have a look at Packing for a Safari

Uganda

In January, 2014, Rachel, Jenny and I took an overnight flight to Jomo Kenyatta International airport in Nairobi, Kenya. It felt like a long wait for our connecting flight to Uganda. Our trip was planned by Patrick at Journeys Discovering Africa.

When we arrived at Entebbe airport we faced a big hot room filled with many pushy people, papers in hand, all aiming for the two customs agents. Thankfully we already had our yellow fever shots or would have had to stand in another line and get stuck with a needle right there! There was one guy trying to direct the crowd. He’d point to his buddies, wherever they were in the line, & call them to go first. Our little group was definitely not in his preferred list so we waited forever. When we were finally released into the sunshine, the two people waiting for us, HAZZARD sign in hand, sighed, “We’ve been waiting forever!”. No worries, we were really, finally, in Uganda!

Our very first overnight stay in Africa was at the Boma Guesthouse, a rustic boutique hotel in the leafy suburb of Entebbe. It was HOT. We skyped the folks at home in Canada, happy to be avoiding their snow covered streets, & then headed straight to the pool. We were ready to start our big adventure.

The next morning we flew to Kasese where we met our guide James, for our 2 hour drive to Kyaninga Lodge.

Kyaninga Lodge is perched on the rim of an ancient volcanic crater lake with views of the Mountains of the Moon in the distance. Raised on stilts and entirely built from hand carved eucalyptus logs, the main lodge is a stunning engineering achievement, as are the eight thatched cabins with their private terraces. The lodge is the result of six years of labour by master carpenter and owner Steve Williams who used all local people to help build his dream.

Chimp Tracking in Kibale Forest

Kibale Forest is a 766-square-kilometer nature habitat for 12 primate species, & contains the highest primate density of any area on earth. Some of the trees are 50 to 60 meters in height, & provide a canopy for the profusion of rain forest life, including 325 bird species. It is home to a large number of endangered chimpanzees as well as the endangered colobus monkey.

It was a bit of an adventure taking our scheduled flight from the tiny Kasese airfield to Kihihi.

Tracking Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

From Kihini Airfield we drive two hours to Bwindi National Park, climbing through the Kigezi Highlands that form part of the eastern wall of the Albertine Rift. We pass small villages, plantations, and fields on the way, through one of Uganda’s most densely populated regions. As we near the end of our climb, we begin to see the mountainous, mist covered forest of the park, located more than a mile above sea level.

Our base is Mahogany Springs situated in lush gardens on the banks of the Munyanga River with views of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with the sounds of the forest all around you.

We go gorilla tracking in two days. We have an early start from the lodge, walking to the nearby park headquarters where we receive a briefing and select our porters for the day. On our first day we head straight into the forest and on the second day we drive up to a higher altitude before we start our gorilla track. Initially, we walk along established paths, our ranger coordinating with the advance trackers by radio to guide us in to the gorillas last known location. As we get to where the gorillas are, we leave the paths and begin hacking our way through the slippery underbrush. Our porters stay back as only our party of 8 and our ranger approach the gorillas to spend our magical hour with them.

And then Kihihi to Nairobi and our Kenya adventure begins.

Continue on with us to Kenya

Patagonia Packing List

“Don’t spend money on things that you don’t need before you go. And don’t pack clothes that you don’t wear in your everyday life. You know what I mean? It’s so tempting to pull stuff out of the closet that you haven’t worn in months and jam it in your bag because… well, it’s a nice pair of pants and I never get to wear them! When the reality is that you almost always do much better with the tried and true stuff that you wear every day. Because NOBODY cares what you wear!”

My son, Jason
On My Way!

If you go trekking in the Patagonian summer, November to March, be prepared for all kinds of weather & strong winds. You can start your day in glorious sunshine, be caught in a ferocious squall, battle a head wind, feel a snow flurry on your cheeks & emerge an hour later back to that glorious warming sun. So plan for layers.

It might be a really warm day & you just need a short sleeve shirt.

Keep everything lightweight & either waterproof or fast drying. Instead of your heavy cotton t-shirts & your favourite jeans pack synthetic t’s & soft-shell trekking trousers.
You’re camping. This is not a fashion show. Hikers wear comfy, serviceable clothes. And they wear the same thing for days!

This is what you mostly see on the trail. Be sure to pack a fleece or sweatshirt.

Lightweight layers will get you through this. You’ll want a next-to-skin base layer, a mid-weight insulating layer (fleece and/or puffy), and a weatherproof shell. All as lightweight as possible. Here’s what I took for 2 weeks, from the inside out:

Look at what the guides are wearing. They know! I have a waterproof jacket & my sweatshirt. Jenny has a puffy & her fleece.
Everything fits in the carry-on pack.
  • undies – 5 pr nylon briefs & 2 sports bras
  • socks – 4 pr merino liners, 2 pr trekking socks, 2 pr slipons
  • thin merino wool long sleeved top & tights
  • t-shirts (not cotton) – 3 short sleeved & 1 long sleeved
  • pants – 1 pr trekking, 1 pr yoga
  • fleece
  • puffy jacket
  • Gore-Tex waterproof jacket with hood
  • Gore-Tex waterproof over pants
  • gloves, buff* (use as a headband over your hat to keep it on in the wind)
  • trekking boots, running shoes, flip flops

You need a bit of equipment. Here’s the list of required equipment from Serac with my comments:
• 40 litres backpack. You will also need a smaller daypack
• medium trekking/mountain boots, ideally with Gore-Tex
• trekking poles – rented them in El Chalten
• sun-glasses – I just took a ball cap
• headlamp – never used it. I did use a little flashlight from the dollar store
• 1-litre bottle. I gave it away & got a smaller one
• sunblock (35+ or more) – used Jenny’s!
• lips sunblock
• personal hygiene items. Remember, you’re wearing the same shirts for days!
• dry bags to protect your stuff. Covers flap in the wind – line your pack with a garbage bag

More Stuff I brought

  • an old pair of glasses & hearing aids, hearing aid batteries
  • meds (puffers, melatonin, Gravol, Tylenol, Advil, cold FX, echinacea, bandaids, moleskin)
  • Kleenex (lots of little packs), face wipes, lysol wipes
  • toothbrush & toothpaste pills (from Lush), flossers
  • shampoo bar, moisturizer bar (from Lush)

And of course

  • Passport! (make sure it’s good for 60 days after your trip)
  • iPad & phone + chargers/connectors
  • electrical convertor (South America uses the slanted prong one)
  • money – USD will be fine almost anywhere & everyone prefers it for tips, credit cards are accepted but charge a hefty fee, pesos are needed for anything that has a menu like the ice cream place, & you need to stock up on them before you get to El Chalten (in Buenos Aries).

Ushuaia

The Penguins!

“We can’t go all the way to Patagonia & not see penguins”


Ushuaia is pretty much ‘The End of the World.’ the Straits of Magellan. The Beagle Channel. We have to go.

So… Jenny & I took the short flight from El Calafate to Ushuaia to see the penguins. We stayed an extra day to trek in the Tierra del Fuego National Park.

A small boat took our group to the island of Ushuaia. Filled with Magellanic & Gentoo penguin colonies. Tours are capped at 20 humans at a time in order to limit any impact on the bird’s habitat. We spent an hour watching these truly delightful fellows as they ran in & out of the water, dug their burrows in the dunes & called out to their friends. Phenomenal. Well worth the extra flight & extra day.

The rest … not so much. Ah well. We went, we saw, we took the pictures.
Maybe it was the weather (cold & wet) maybe it was the town. Just one main street filled with tourists. Maybe it was us.

Coming from wonderful experiences & expecting more of the same. Alas – Ushuaia is about the penguins. We loved seeing the penguins! 🙂

On our last afternoon Jenny went for a run along the Beagle Channel waterfront. I attempted Spanish at the post office mailing a present to my grandson and again at a bakery requesting ‘pain & queso’.


We found a sunny spot on our hotel’s enclosed rooftop space & enjoyed a picnic with a chilled wine that we had been saving. It was lovely to have time to relax, read our books and look through our many pictures… remembering our big adventure.

  • Tierra Turismo did an excellent job managing everything for us
  • Hotel Alto Andino was fine & had a seating area overlooking the harbour.
  • The restaurants Ramos Generales on the harbour & Tante Sara on the main street were good.  
  • Our Trek in Tierra del Fuego National Park was a pleasant walk.
  • Visit Estancia Harberton. An historic farmhouse with a coffee shop.