Daily Wanderlust: A Hut in Rwanda

 En route to finding gorillas during our trek in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, we had to hike uphill, through mountainous farmland.

With clouds hanging low in the sky, and the air thick with humidity and burning, we plowed through fields, climbing ever higher to the bamboo forest and then the jungle.

Along the way, we passed a few grass huts where children poked their heads out to take a look at us.

It wasn’t the easiest hike, that’s for sure. But, the end result and the sights (like this) along the way? Totally worth it.

A hut in Volcanoes National Park

Destinations

Escape of the Week: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Less than a two-hour drive from the rolling hills of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, is Volcanoes National Park. Also known as Parc National des Volcans, it spans 77-miles in the Virunga Mountains.

The park is home to five of the Virunga Mountain range's eight volcanoes.

Bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, Volcanoes National Park is made up of lush rainforests, volcanoes … and gorillas.

It was the first park created in Africa and has overcome struggles to become the tourist attraction it is today. In 1992, it became a battlefield for the Civil War, halting it’s tours because of the dangerous times. It did not open to tourists again until 1999, when it was once again safe for visitors to explore the mountainous region.

Today, visitors come from around the world to catch their own glimpse of a family of mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. With eight family groups in the park, each day guides take visitors on treks up to high altitudes so they can enjoy an hour watching the families interact with each other. Treks to and from these animals can last anywhere from one to four hours, depending on the family’s location.

There are many rules to remember when trekking for gorillas, such as staying more than 7 meters from them at all times.

 

The treks begin with a climb through farmland.

 

En route to the next leg of the journey, children emerge from their huts and working to watch the tourists.

One little boy stands back from the others, watching trekkers from a distance.

The farmland, dotted with huts, provides an up-close look at life in the country.

After the farmland, trekkers enter the thick bamboo forest, where day turns to night and shoots tower high into the air.

The bamboo forest makes up 30 percent of the park's area.

And then … after a strenuous trek … come the gorillas.

The park was home to renowned gorilla research Dian Fossey. She dedicated her life to these creatures and is buried nearby the park's research center.

A gorilla poses for the camera.

There is only one silverback in a gorilla family, and he's the one in charge.

A mom and baby survey their habitat.

Planning a trip?

Only 64 visitors are given permits (which cost around $500 each for non-nationals) each day to trek for gorillas. To request a permit, people must go through the Rwanda Tourism Board and make reservations. For more information, e-mail reservations@rwandatourism.com.

For those trekking, it is important to pack right. Sturdy shoes and long pants (to protect against ant bites and nettles) are a must. Comfortable clothing (that can get dirty) and layers are ideal, as the climate will change from the base to where the gorillas are located.

Ruhengeri is located near the park and offers a variety of lodging options for different budgets.

Want a first-hand experience? Click here to read about my trekking adventure.

 

How do you get from place to place? There are plenty of options to get around,  like deciding on a cheap car hire on holiday.

 

Destinations Travel Tips

The A-Z of D Travels ‘Round

Happy 2012!

Well, Happy 2012 a few days early. While everyone is either dragging themselves into work for the short week, or spending time on a lil’ holiday, I figured now is the time for some fun travel stories. I’m not doing a “Best of” this year, but when the opportunity to participate in the A-Z post came up, I decided it would be a fun little read (plus, a nice trip down memory lane for me).

Thanks, Nomadic Samuel and Adventurous Kate for nominating me to partake in the A- Z Travel fun.

So, without further adieu, the A – Z’s of D’s Travels ‘Round! (PS — there are five of my favorite bloggers tagged below, so at least scroll down to see other bloggers you should definitely check out in 2012).

A: Age you made your first international trip

Don’t get mad, Canada. I totally heart you, but I’m not going to count you as my first international trip since back then, I didn’t even need a passport to cross into your beautiful, clean country.

Therefore, travel back with me to 1995. It’s summertime. I’m an actress with dreams of winning an Emmy for playing the part of drama queen in a (now canceled) soap opera on ABC. Despite being located in the middle of a cornfield, my high school, Magruder if you really want to know, is 1 of 10 schools chosen to participate in the first ever high school leg of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

We receive the packets announcing this opportunity to perform in a play “over there” and I somehow manage to convince my parents it’s the best thing in the world for me to do. So, half-a-year later, I’m getting stamped into the United Kingdom. We stop at Buckingham on the way, then fly on up to Edinburgh. I grace the stage. It does not result in any acting contracts, but it feels damn good. Then, we bop back down to London for a few days before we return to Maryland.

Quick trip. Bitten by the travel bug.

B: My first Guinness in Ireland.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where

Well, B is not easy at all. I’m going to go with Guinness. In Dublin. At St. James Gate. Yeah. I didn’t like Guinness, or Jameson, for that matter, until I landed in Dublin. Then, my German – Russian – Romanian – Polish self became a bit o’ Irish at first swig. Love.

C: The brilliant and delightful Chef Maria Jose San Ramon at Monastrell

C: Cuisine (Favorite)

I’ve had some of the most amazing food in the world in Spain, courtesy of Chef Maria Jose San Ramon of Hospes Amerigo’s Monastrell. In fact, the entire time I was a part of #blogtripf1 (thank you, Land of Valencia for the amazing opportunity to see the region!), I ate well. Nay, damn well. I even wrote a post over at Matador Network on all of the damn well eating I was doing.

Other than that, I was a sucker for the fresh fish, homemade EVOO and jugs of wine in plastic bottles made by store owners in Croatia, particularly on Solta, a little slice of island heaven on the Adriatic.

D: Destinations. Favorite. Least Favorite. Why.

I operate in life without favorites, which is weird because, as my friend Katie says, I am in love with the hyperbole. When people ask me my favorite place, I spout off a list. Which is the same list I am going to spout out now, only with brief explanations.

Madrid: Vibrant, alive city with easy transportation. If I could live anywhere in the world, Madrid or anywhere in Spain would be the top of my wish list.

Berlin: Holy crap, the amount of culture, art, eco-friendly living here, just blows me away. I love the little nooks and crannies I discovered and the history. There’s something about WWII that really intrigues me.

Sarajevo: This one makes people scratch their heads. But, for me, seeing a city that is still so scarred from ethnic cleansing and a brutal war be so alive now, just warms my heart. The people here are friendly and kind. And, I just fell in love with the city.

Split, Croatia: Split is where my life changed. And, along with its beautiful Adriatic beauty, holds a very special place in my heart.

Least favorite? Now, that’s much easier. Turkey. Not because the country isn’t awesome, because it is. But, because I had a hell of a time there. Between a hotel owner and a restaurant worker who didn’t understand “no” means “no,” to nearly dying in an attempt to paraglide, Turkey beat the crap out of me. Would I go back? Yes. However, the first experience did one big number on me.

E: Living with elephants for a week at Elephant Nature Park.

E: Event you experienced that made you say ‘Wow’

Ah, one event that made me say “wow” is difficult, to say the least. That being said, the first thing that comes to mind would be the first time I fed elephants at Elephant Nature Park, just north of Chiang Mai, Thailand. At ENP, the elephants get to live the rest of their lives without having to give rides, perform in circuses or paint (if you want to know why you shouldn’t support such outlets, click here). I spent a week with these elephants and it was magical, life-changing.

F: Train or bus? I don't know ...

F: Favorite mode of transportation

I like planes because they get me to places fast. But, I like buses and trains because I can see the world at the ground level instead of thousands of feet up in the air. Of the two — buses or trains — which do I like better? It’s a toss up. I think it’s safe to say that in Western and Central Europe, I like the trains. But, in the Balkans, where they are unreliable and late, I opt for buses.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling

There are so many feelings I experience when I travel. But, the most spellbinding is the one at the beginning — the idea that anything is possible. Travel is an unwritten story, and I have nearly full control of what I want those blank pages to be filled with.

H: Hottest place I’ve traveled to

I’ve been to a few hot places. Europe in the summer, with no air-con is dreadful. I remember dripping, dripping, dripping sweat in many Eastern European hostels. The worst was in Istanbul and later in Varna. Being in a dorm room, with no air-con, in the dead of summer in thick summer heat is absolutely horrible.

On a completely different level, Chiang Mai during the rainy season was really hot. And humid. It was impossible to walk out into the Sunday Night Market without sweat trickling down my face and soaking my clothing. I know. Attractive.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where

The people in Thailand are so kind, so considerate, so attentive. One instance that comes to mind was my recent visit to Chiang Mai. I found a spa and went to get a foot massage. At the end of the hour, my  masseuse sat me in a stool and told me she was going to do my arms to. The reason? She had no other customers and wanted to be nice. Yup. Great service.

J: Journey that took you the longest

Oh lord! The most recent long-haul trip was the longest I have ever experienced. Thank you, United, for the awesome itinerary. It went something like this:

– Flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco: Delayed on runway one hour. Two hour flight.

– Flight from San Francisco to (surprise) Narita, Japan: Delayed one hour. Nine-and-a-half hour flight. Five hour stopover. Which was not on my itinerary.

– Flight from Narita to Bangkok: A little more than six hours. Plus, overnight at the Bangkok airport. So, another six hours.

– Flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai: One hour.

THEN, on the way back, it was less painful, but still sucky.

– Flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok: One hour.

– Flight from Bangkok to Los Angeles: Fourteen-and-a-half hours. Overnight at LAX — an additional six hours.

– Flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas: One hour.

Yuck.

K: Hand-carved elephants at Elephant Nature Park

K: Keepsake from your travels

Because most of my travels are longer-term, I don’t really buy a lot of things. When I do, they are special and remind me of special moments. I have a bracelet with the Madrid Metro map plastered to it. I have a little carpet I bought in Chefchauen, Morocco. I have hand-carved wooden elephants done by mahouts at Elephant Nature Park. Those are probably the things that mean the most to me and conjure up detailed memories — the thoughts, the feelings, the smells, the atmosphere — of the moment I was in when I purchased each of them.

L: Let down sight. Why and where?

The biggest let down for me was Dubrovnik. Every traveler I spoke with when in Croatia sang such high praises of the city. Yes, it is absolutely magnificent, beautiful, charming … but it is also crowded and expensive. After spending a lot of time in the other cities in Croatia, Dubrovnik was my last stop on vacation and it was so built-up that by the time I got there, it wasn’t nearly what I imagined it to be.

M: The moment I fell in love with Spain.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel

I can’t recall the first moment I fell in love, but I can recall a moment I was reminded of why I travel. After a day of traveling from Galway to Dublin to Madrid, I arrived at my hostel after dark. Filled with warnings about the city and getting my bag slashed, I arrived to the hostel after dark. My little private room had a balcony overlooking a bustling plaza. I flung open those doors and was greeted with the most magnificent view of the square, glowing with colors, pulsing with people. It was magical. And, in that moment, despite all of the negatives I heard about the city, I was enamored.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in

Kismet Dao in Brasov, Romania. It rocked. Free beers. Free nights if you stay a certain amount of time. Great staff. Chill travelers. Free breakfast. Common room with hundreds of movies to watch. A basement to party in. A backyard with a grill. Awesomeness.

O: I can't stop snapping shots of doors and windows.

O: Obsession. What are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?

Doors, windows, street lamps and clothing hanging from clothing lines. I am pretty sure I could do quite a few essays of just these images. They tell stories landscapes and normal shots of places can’t.

P: Passport stamps. How many and from where?

This passport has UK, Ireland, Spain, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Spain, Belgium, Rwanda, Belgium, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Germany, America, Thailand, America. I think. There might be a few more from train/car travel over borders, but I don’t remember.

Q: Bran's was a quirky let-down.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where.

I don’t know how quirky it is, but Bran’s Castle in Romania was … interesting. They removed all of the old furniture and replaced it with antiques instead.

R: Recommended sight, event, or experience.

Pay to have a guide in Auschwitz. Take SA Guesthouse’s tour of Sarajevo. Madja’s Guest House’s tour of Mostar in Bosnia and Hercegovina. The free alternative tour in Berlin. They all rock and all are historic and fascinating.

S: Splurge. Something you have no problem forking over for while traveling.

It depends on my mood. Sometimes, it’s a good meal. Sometimes, it’s a bottle of wine. Other times, it’s just for the privilege of enjoying “free” wifi at an outdoor cafe with a cup of coffee or a Coke Light. Oh, and tours of places that really move me, like the ones I took in Bosnia.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done

The historical free tour I took in Berlin that took us to Checkpoint Charlie. Oh, and running through the Lourve so I could snap a photo of Mona Lisa but not sticking around the museum because it was so crowded with school children I thought I would pass out.

U: Unforgettable travel memory

So many! Kayaking in circles in Spain. Falling off a cliff in an attempt to paraglide in Turkey. A night of sultry flamenco in Granada. Teaching English in Spain and living with locals there. Bonding with elephants at Elephant Nature Park. I could go on and on.

V: Visas. How many of them and for where.

Turkey.

W: Wine, best glass while traveling and where.

Croatia. My last night of my trip. Sitting by myself at a restaurant enjoying homemade noodles and a view of Zadar’s harbor.

X: View of Goreme.

X: eXcellent view and from where

Coming in to Goreme at sunrise. The reds and oranges turning the fairy chimneys the same color as the sky, and hot air balloons beginning to lift off. Mesmerizing.

Y: Years spent traveling

Collectively? About one year. My longest trip was almost seven months.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where

The F-1 race in Valencia. Hands down. Oh, and every game I watched at bars during the World Cup, particularly the games in Spain with Spain playing. The passion and enthusiasm from those fans turned me into a futbol fan!

Now, the fun part! I nominate the following superb travel bloggers to share their A-Z’s:

Abby, The Jungle Princess

Lindsey, The Traveller World Guide

Erica, Overyonderlust

Bobbie Lee, Heels and Wheels

Jade, Our Oyster

30 Life Crisis

The Adventures of D — A Retrospect

Oh, my little blog. It’s been around since before I decided to take my career break and travel. It’s been around since I one sleepless October night in Atlanta when, around midnight, the words to the start of my story I wanted to share just popped into my head. Then, I was up. Out of bed. Laptop open. WordPress blog created.

And the rest is history.

Now, nearly two years later, I certainly have shared. At times, I’ve shared too much. At times, I haven’t shared enough.

Regardless, this ride has been the highlight of my life, taking me through moments, through happy, through sad, that have left me wanting more … and ready to start the next chapter in “The Adventures of D.”

So, when Jason from Jason’s Travels, asked if he could nominate me for this fun little project, My 7 Links, put on by Trip Base, of course I said “yes.” I mean … I get to relive some of my favorite posts!

Without further adieu, My 7 Links:

The Most Beautiful Post:

I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers

It’s not a beautiful photo essay. But it is an example of the beauty and generosity that still exists in this world. It is also one of the many reasons I fell in love with Croatia.

The Most Popular Post:

How to barter like a pro

I spent a good amount of time in Turkey during my trip, where negotiating is a part of the package. It constantly awed me that people could go in to a restaurant and negotiate the cost of their meal. While that wasn’t for me so much, it was fun to go back and forth with the shopkeepers at the Grand Bazaar and elsewhere.

The Most Controversial Post:

My 30-Life-Crisis … Solved?

It wasn’t controversial in the sense it started a heated debate, but to my family and friends, this post was controversial because I was throwing away a comfortable life for the unknown. I was … LIVING instead of deciding to just go through the motions.

The Most Helpful Post:

Airport Sleeping 101

Oh, the beauty of backpacking and being on a budget. There were a few times when I had stop-overs that, while they were 12 or so hours, were overnight. Rather then haul my 40 kilo backpack and my tired self to a hostel in the city, I opted to just crash out on the floor … or a bench … in the airport. This post gives tips on how to make the best of airport sleeping.

The Post Whose Success Surprised Me:

Dude, don’t be a Hostel Dick

Yes, it’s meant to be funny. I just didn’t realize this post with these tips would be one of my most popular posts of all time. In all seriousness though, every backpacker who stays in hostels should read this.

The Post That Didn’t Get the Attention I Feel it Deserved:

The Best of … Madrid

It’s got some pretty good tips in the post and in the comments for anyone headed to Madrid.

The Post I Am Most Proud Of:

Love, Life and Loss … on the Road

By far, this was the hardest post I have ever written. It took every ounce of me to pull myself together to write this.

****

And now comes the fun part. Here are the five bloggers I want to do this on their site, too. These folks are some of the best out there! Be sure to check their sites for the My 7 Links project soon!

Adam from The Travels of Adam

Anna from Frill Seeker Diary

Candice from Candice Does the World

Lindsay AKA Hogga from The Traveller

Margo from The Travel Belles

30 Life Crisis Africa Americas Blog Croatia Morocco Rwanda Spain Travel Travel Tips Turkey

Escape of the Week: Walls of Chauen

Perhaps one of the most stunningly colored cities I have ever visited, Chefchauen, Morocco, provided me with a photo opp around every winding road, narrow alley and blue-walled building.

The entire medina is a refreshing bright blue stacked with white half-way up nearly every building’s wall. And then there are gorgeous splatters of color — souks with bright magenta leather sandals, electric turquoise wallets; scarves lining the walls; rich table cloths draped under plates of deep green salads and pink watermelon.

The day I spent wandering this city was my first in Morocco. I arrived via ferry from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier, Morocco, hopped a cab to the bus station and then hopped a locals bus (think rickety tin box with windows I thought would pop out) to Chefchauen.

I had heard about the magic of this city. How it enchants. Mesmerizes. It did just that for me as well.

I love this photo because the sun beaming in is just so, making every color just pop.

Africa Destinations Morocco

How to have a Travel Adventure without Adventure Travel

 

 

Adventure. It’s a pretty hefty word with a lot behind it.

To me, adventure is more than just jumping out of airplanes … more than climbing a mountain. I’m so not that girl. In my world adventure is about taking risks. Going off my beaten path to experience something new.

As a traveler, each day is an adventure. Whether it is getting off a bus before check-in time at a hostel and trying to find something to do, or kayaking in the Mediterranean.

I tried to be adventurous each day on my trip. And, unlike the time I fell off the cliff while embracing adventure/sports, I normally was met with pretty great results.

So, how can someone have an adventure without raising your pulse?

Well …

1. Don’t plan. Well, plan a little. But, don’t feel the need to always stick to the plan. There were plenty of times when I would wake up in the morning and decide I wanted a different view, so would ask around to other people in the hostel, find out where they were going/coming from, and then make a game-time decision as to where  I would go later that day. To ensure I wasn’t bed-less for the night, I would book a room, but that’s it.

Really, I’m a Planner

2. Book a hostel, not a hotel. Hostels are much more social than hotels. At hostels, you are much more likely to meet like-minded people who want to check out A, B or C. Some of my closest friends today have come from hostels. Just be sure you follow hostel protocol during your stay. Nothing sucks worse than being That Guy/Girl at a hostel.

Dude, don’t be a hostel dick

3. Try the local cuisine. I didn’t really venture anywhere with cuisine that was too out of my comfort zone, but I can assure you eating bugs AND snake are both on my list when I hit Asia this year.

Para morirse — food to die for in Valencia

4. Get lost. Within reason. Pop on some good music, grab the camera and wander. Take note — don’t be ignorant about wandering. Find out the safe places to go before you leave your room. Ladies, keep your purses under your arms. And don’t broadcast your riches.

Being Jewish in the Krakow Jewish District

5. Hit the local markets. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of fresh fruits, veggies, flowers and crafts. Super easy. And, most times you can actually purchase items at these markets without spending a lot of money.

6. Rent an apartment for a little. If you want to spend more than a night or two in a city, rent an apartment. All over the world, there are apartments to rent for a few nights to months or longer. When I traveled, I rented a gorgeous little place on the Adriatic for a few nights with some friends. It was amazing.

Living in Technicolor

7. Talk to the locals. Nothing can make an experience in a foreign place better than having a local’s insight. The more locals you meet, the more opportunities you have to really get the flavor of a place.

A week of Spanish

8. Volunteer. There are plenty of options for short-term volunteer work all over the world. Plus, volunteering opens you up to meet other travelers and locals. And, its totally good karma.

The only English-speaking town in Spain

9. Take a class. Learn how to make sushi or prepare Thai dishes. Or do a language exchange.

10. Rent a car. This may be a little bit risky, but it lets you travel places you might not normally see.

Steering wheel death grips and driving in Romania

11. Go camping. Get a cheap tent and fork out the few bucks to camp instead of stay at a hostel.

12. Use a squat toilet. Seriously. You haven’t lived until you use one.

13. Go to a nudie beach. Or a topless beach. If necessary, grab some tall boys before hitting the surf. Just make sure you do it. And use sunscreen to prevent burning of the bits.

To be or not to be … topless

14. Find a festival or event that sounds good and go. Like La Tomatina in Spain, or Exit Festival in Serbia. Or Fringe in Scotland. This would require a little planning, but still. Go.

15. Don’t book a return ticket. Until you have to.

What do you think makes for a travel adventure?

This post was sponsored by InsureandGo Travel Insurance.

Africa Europe Travel Travel Tips

Interview: Adrenaline Living

I had the pleasure today of being interviewed by Angelia Miller on her Adrenaline Living Talk Show. It’s my first interview, and quite a change from being the person pitching to the person being interviewed. If you have the time, give it a listen. It’s insight into quitting your job, traveling and my experiences traveling long-term, along with the hardships of returning to America. Check the interview out here: Adrenaline Living with DTravelsRound

30 Life Crisis Africa Americas Blog Croatia Morocco Nevada Spain Travel