About Sherry Ott
Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of http://www.briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice. She posts over on https://plus.google.com/103115118174711820529/posts as well.
Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at http://www.ottsworld.com.com.
Latest Posts by Sherry Ott
We took a left off of highway 15 and drove through the north side of town. The familiar old weathered homes were there as usual. In desperate need of paint, love, and care I couldn’t help but wonder if people were cooking up meth in those homes in this small village town in Nebraska. My mind runs wild with the thoughts of Breaking Bad as I turn to look the other way at the water tower – the one icon of the town still standing after all of these years. In a quick ¼ mile we got to the end of town by the cornfield and took the right turn as we always do when we visit my aunt and there is was. Absolutely nothing.
A wide swath of nothingness threw my brain into a confused state. It was familiar, but it wasn’t. It felt real, or was it a dream? There were no trees, no homes, no cars, no electrical poles, no life – except for a few corn stalks. We stopped the car at where my aunt’s brick home used to stand. Nothing. I looked around – nothing. It was like a airport runway as I turned and looked clear through to the Main St. area which used to be hidden by houses and trees. All of the debris had been cleared away and put in large piles on the corner of town, but I could only imagine what it looked like right after the twin tornadoes rumbled through town.
I first heard about the storm and Pilger’s destruction while I was in Peru traveling with my niece. Yes, ironically as I was on the Niece Project, my aunt’s home was being destroyed. We were getting ready to be offline for a few days for a Andes hike so was checking Facebook one last time. I saw a post from my cousin saying my aunt’s house had been destroyed but she was ok. I had no idea what he was talking about. It’s devastating hearing bad news when you are thousands of miles away in a foreign culture. You feel helpless. Luckily with internet connectivity it’s fairly easy to be in communication quickly. I immediately sent messages off to my family trying to get more information, but there was nothing I could do but watch the aftermath from afar. Digital hugs aren’t the same as the real thing – one of the downsides to always being on the move.
The image of my aunt’s home on Facebook was the only information I had
Aerial view of the path of the tornado. The town is really small and my aunt lived near the bottom left corner where everything was blown out into the fields.
In June EF4 twin tornadoes ripped through a cross section of the tiny town of Pilger Nebraska, a town where my relatives and parents called ‘home’. A shrinking population of 328 people and no new growth meant that the community already had a lot stacked against it, but now this may be the final blow. 75% of the buildings in the town were damaged or destroyed. 45 to 50 homes were completely demolished, including my aunt’s on the end of town. The tiny Main Street area and buildings were left in a pile of bricks and the main business in town – the grain elevators – were left in a pile of twisted metal as corn and soybeans covered the whole town. My aunt who hid in her closet under a pile of quilts was ok, but said that when the noise was over, she looked up and saw blue sky – her roof blown off. Two people were killed in the storm and many injured.
See Video here
As I visited family in the Midwest this month, I of course wanted to go see my aunt and the town. It had been 2 months since the tornado, so I wasn’t really sure what I’d see in the twin tornado aftermath. I was gobsmacked as I looked at what was left of the town. The brick school where my parents had graduated from had been destroyed and then torn down. Only the facade remained. There was one miraculous tree standing as the rest had been cut to stumps on the tornado’s path. The church where I played my piano recital of “Here Comes the Clowns” for my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration and subsequently the location of my grandfather’s funeral had been leveled. Only the cement foundation and the brick bell tower somehow remained. A miracle? Maybe. Main Street only had 2 buildings life – one of which was the library. The fire station and village clerk’s office was still in shambles as if people just gave up with the cleaning process and left it as is. There were American flags everywhere and the letters “OK” spray-painted on homes that looked as if they were held together by a thread. Stalks of corn and soybeans grew everywhere in the middle of this nothingness as when the grain bins were destroyed it left seed everywhere and now had taken hold in the newly upturned soil. Everywhere I looked it felt surreal, as if I were in a movie set.
One of the few buildings near main street still standing
The village clerk’s office remained as is after the tornado. The whole town looked like this, but now was demolished.
There was a single grain bin standing – a new one that had been constructed since the 10 had been destroyed. The rebuilding process had begun. But after spending the day with my aunt hearing the stories and seeing the aftermath with my own eyes, I’m left wondering if Pilger will ever really be rebuilt. I don’t have high hopes. As I wrote about a couple of years ago, the town was on a fast decline prior to the tornado – and this might just be the final blow. My aunt won’t relocate there, she’s still trying to decide what she will do, but there’s really nothing for her there any longer. I’m trying to convince her that this is a blessing really – she needed to downsize, she wanted to move, so maybe it will actually work out better for her. However at 75, she’s not quite as comfortable with nomadic living as I am.
A flag flies on a remaining tree stump. You can see the nothingness in the background. This was the direct path of the tornado.
The clean up still continues and some rebuilding has begun, but I’m left wondering what is Pilger’s next chapter? I don’t really know. I have the pictures and the memories of what this little community once was and that will have to be enough for now. My grandparents are buried there, my parents will be buried there – so I know my time with this little town isn’t finished.
More Images of the Aftermath:
A single tree survived in the path.
Corn and soybean seeds spread throughout the town and is now growing everywhere.
The path. Standing where my aunt’s house used to be looking through the empty section of town
Before and after of my parent’s high school.
The village clerk’s office before and after
The row of grain elevators in the center of town before and after
Main street before and after
Top photo credit: Twin tornadoes heading for my aunt’s home. Image courtesy NYPost.
Getting a close up view of life in the Sacred Valley
The man with the wooden flute plays a joyful high-pitched tune; the same few bars of notes over and over again. He is dressed in multi-color clothes, a warm woolen hat, and is accompanied by another man beating out the time on his little drum. The group of us follows them down the dirt path; where we are going, we do not know. We simply follow the music as if he was the Pied Piper mesmerized by the tune and the sites around us. Luckily we don’t have the same ending as the fairy tale; we are simply heading to the fields to gather potatoes with the locals of this village community in the Chinchero District near Cusco. Potatoes are a staple in this part of the world and we are here to get more in-depth into the culture of the Sacred Valley.
We get to do what few visitors to Cusco ever do – go out and really see and interact with the locals in this region. Normally in Cusco communication with locals is mainly commerce based. The communication is one way – they have something you’d like to buy – a deal is made and very little true interaction or learning happens. Sure, you smile, laugh, and have a brief interaction as you exchange money and you may think that you’ve made some local connection – but you really haven’t.
We’ve arrived in the little community village about 90 minutes outside of Cusco on our way to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. We were to spend a half-day there interacting with the locals and learning more about village life. The air was crisp and cool, but the sun beat down on us requiring a good layer of sunscreen. As soon as we arrived we were welcomed with a flower lei placed around our necks by a group of women dressed in their colorful red felt hats and clothes. They seemed to have layers and layers upon them, not to mention children strapped to their backs with heavy blankets in the traditional Peruvian way. After a short introduction in the community center of the village, we were off to the fields to get dirty and learn about the village’s lifeline – potatoes.
Working in the fields is a daily chore
No one was there to lecture us – this day was all about participation. Soon, I found myself crouched down picking up potatoes and throwing them into a pile on the tarp. Childhood memories came rushing back to me as this used to be how I spent my summer when I was Megan’s age – working in the garden doing chores such as digging potatoes. After Megan had her fill of potatoes, she went off and started playing with a few of the kids pushing rocks around making vroom vroom car noises, and playing catch with mounds of dirt and rocks. She remarked at how easily they were entertained by the stuff around them – quite a different experience than her nanny work in Minnesota where a constant barrage of stuff is needed to entertain kids. As I watched Megan play with the two kids in the dirt field I wondered if kids in the US today have any idea how to simply entertain themselves in nature anymore. I made mud pies with my friends in the summer, they now probably have an ap for that. And yes, I feel old by simply typing those last sentences.
When it comes to raising kids America and Peru look at things quite differently. You can’t come to Peru and not be entertained and amazed at how the mothers carry kids of all ages on their backs with a heavy blanket. The kids go everywhere with them like a kangaroo and a pouch. I watched as many of the local women dug up potatoes with the children perched on their backs all snug in their cocoon blanket.
The beauty of this is that it keeps the mothers really mobile and their hands free as opposed to pushing a stroller – which would never work in a hands-on community like this. Megan had been also marveling at this unusual way to carry and keep track of kids so I told her we should see if she can carry one of the local kids on her back like they do. She thought it sounded cool and smiled a ‘yes lets try it’ message to me. This is what I love about all of my niece trips so far – they jump into things, they are bold. I mimed the question to the local woman next to me and soon Megan was surrounded by local women strapping a kid to her back! The local women were tickled with this turn of events. They had big broad smiles – a young American girl carrying a Peruvian boy the local way. And the beauty was that the local women didn’t really seem to care that a stranger had their child perched precariously on her back hiking around the village – there were no doting mothers in this village for sure!
Megan learns how to care for kids the Peruvian way!
After gathering a large tarp full of potatoes for lunch, we were off to have some fun – a little friendly football match was in order. While the World Cup enthralled everyone around the globe, we were going to have our own World Cup match between the tourists and the locals. The Pied Piper once again started his flute and we all followed him to the football field in the little village – complete with donkeys. I wondered if the flute was required to get us to move – but I enjoyed the tune, so fell into step. Megan with her new little boy in tow was climbing up and down ridges and the boy bounced merrily along without a concern.
Megan and I know very little about playing football, but we were game to try. Our Intrepid group was a mix of middle age men and women who knew much more about football then we did, and we would be playing the locals made up 90% of women! We learned that at this time of year the village population was mainly women as the men were away working as porters on the Inca Trail during the busy hiking season. There were a couple of men left in the village to take care of things – but it was mainly women and children.
Football with a few new obstacles
Megan defending the goal
I was really intrigued to see how the local women played in their traditional dresses, hats, and rubber sandals – but it didn’t seem to hinder them one bit. Megan once again boldly jumped into the game and was put as the Intrepid team goalie for the first part of the game. The field was rough and the competition high. I loved this light and playful air – everyone was full of smiles and laughs giving you a feeling of genuine fun as opposed to a manufactured experience. Our little Tourist vs. Locals World Cup match was a highlight of my time in Peru. And yes – the Tourists lost 2 to 1; I learned to never underestimate women in local dress and their abilities!
We had worked up an appetite and sweat running around in the high altitude, and next we were treated to a lunch of the staple product – potatoes. The women had been cooking up a storm when we arrived. I am always in amazement at what they can whip up in little mud, wood-fired “stoves”, when I can’t even seem to use a real stove that effectively. Kids played around us as we cleaned up and helped serve up the meal. I never knew there were so many different ways to make potatoes!
A traditional mud oven/stove – found all over the village
Potatoes for lunch!
Disclosure: I was a guest of Intrepid Travel, however all opinions expressed here are my own.
Kings Canyon Rim Hike
I heard the howling as soon as I lay down to go to sleep. Dingoes. The sound came from my left; it felt as if it was far away. I hoped it was far away. I dozed off for a few hours, however it felt like minutes when I woke up again to more howling. I could also hear a slow whistling hum. I lay there with my mind churning on the whistling sound. What was it? Then I realized it was the wind blowing through the tough, scrubby brush trees in the outback.
I wanted an Australian Outback experience, and now I was getting it – complete with a pack of howling dingoes. Howling again. The pack was closer, but I felt safe and secure in my tent. My brain, satisfied with identifying the unknown noises, was now free to go back to sleep. I fluffed my pillow, pulled my duvet cover up to my chin and settled back into a fetal position in my big fluffy bed.
No internet, no cell or mifi signal – this camping is the real thing. Never mind that inside the tent is a queen size bed, electricity, and separate tented bathroom with shower and hairdryer. Ok – it’s just about the real thing. It’s my kind of camping.
This glamping experience was a bit ‘rougher’ than the others I experienced in Australia but there is a reason it’s called glamping…it still was glamorous. The tent was completely canvas and built on a decked platform. It was simple compared to some of the high-end glamping I had done recently. It had 5 zip up windows, a separate tent bathroom, and even a little back ‘door’ and patio to sit and look out on the scrubby bushes of the red outback.
Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge
When I arrived in Kings Creek station via bus, Lily from Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge was there to pick a few of us up. She was petite and in her 40’s with a sly smile. She drove an old dirty SUV, perfect for this desert environment. The Australian desert was not at all what I was expecting. I had expected this red wasteland – flat, red, and barren. But instead I was surprised with green plant life all around. Short, bushy, vibrant trees filled the landscape and seemed to glow against the red landscape. There was plenty of red sand and even sand dunes – but with the green trees and plants they looked like rolling hills instead of sand dunes. I was told things were greener than normal due to a very wet summer. I had arrived in the fall in the Northern Territory of Australia and I quickly determined that it’s the best time to be there – the temps were pleasant, and the flies weren’t as bad as the summer (I was told).
The outback doesn’t really have towns – they have stations. The stations (what we could call ranches) were the only things really on this land. Kings Creek Station was a camel farm and tourist bus stop. Most of the stations herd cattle and they are normally about 1,000,000 acres and can have upwards of 8,000 to 15,000 head of cattle on them. The areas are so vast that they herd them with helicopters (sounds fun huh?). Kings Creek Station was the only semblance of civilization I saw since leaving on the bus 4 hours earlier from Uluru. The station was as simple as they come – a little café, tourist shop, camels, and a place to hire helicopters and ATV’s.
Lily didn’t have us waste too much time at the station and instead whisked us away in the SUV to Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge. After settling into our tent accommodations I joined others for a communal dinner under the stars. Lily had transformed into a little black dress and was serving us drinks and canapés of smoked kangaroo, cheese, and avocado around the campfire to get things started. The juxtaposition of upscale dining with the smell of a campfire was a bit surreal, but the dinner and company was great.
Lily was our entertainment, putting logs on the fire and serving food and stories up in an equal amount in her black dress. The people who live in these remote communities fascinate me. She said that she hoards newspaper and magazines and reads them on special occasions. They get one mail delivery a week and one truck comes through a week which means that word from the outside world is minimal. This made me wish I hadn’t thrown away my newspapers before leaving Uluru. I have a hard time understanding how people can work here; Kings Creek Station and surrounds is a whole new level of remote. I don’t think I could last more than a few weeks, yet the environment seems to fit Lily perfectly.
Despite my restless dingo filled night, I had to wake up early the next day for the real reason I came here to Kings Creek Station; the Kings Canyon Rim hike. Graham was our tour guide and drove us to Watarrka National Park where we began the 6km rim hike. The hike winds around the top of the canyon providing you vertigo type views over the sheer sandstone cliffs and into the valley 150 m below. The only taxing part of the hike was the initial 10 to 15 minute uphill climb/slog, but it weeds out the unfit people from the trail! Once you get to the top you have 3 more hours of walking and enjoying the lovely views. We had cloud cover else I was told that it can get quite hot – so it’s a good idea to go in the morning.
One of the most stunning parts of the hike was the Garden of Eden, a little valley in the canyon where water pooled and there was an abundance of green plant life. Steep wooden stairs were built along this part of the trail to get you down and back up from the Garden of Eden. It was a lovely spot to stop and enjoy a snack and thankfully there were no snakes or apples. Graham pointed out various plant life and trees during the hike – some of which was over 600 years old. I sort of fell in love with all of the old gnarly trees – it’s a weak spot for my camera and me! He also shared stories about the aboriginal culture from this area, which was quite different from the tribes around Uluru. However, overall the morning was more about hiking and less about culture.
Trees in the Outback Kings Canyon
I only stayed one night/day in the area, but I was able to get a small feel for the outback and the life around the remote stations. Graham deposited me back at the station to pick up the bus to Alice Springs. I took the opportunity to try the camel burger that Lily recommended at the station café. Camel meat is a staple out in these parts – so I figured what the heck. It tasted like a burger, however the only odd thing about this burger was the Aussie toppings. Get the true Aussie experience and order the deluxe and you’ll find a lettuce, tomato, cheese, onions, fried egg, AND a pineapple slice on your burger. After lunch I looked around the small, dusty station at the helicopter and camels and soon our bus pulled up in a cloud of dust. My short time in the outback was done, but it left me wanting more. As much as I loved the glamping at the wilderness lodge, the next time I go back to the Northern Territory, I’d love to really immerse myself in the station life without the tourism and learn more about their day to day lives and work. And yes, I want to herd cattle in a helicopter! I’m fascinated with the remoteness and lifestyle of the outback of Australia, minus the packs of dingoes.
Hiking the Rim and crossing over into the Garden of Eden
HIkers stand upon a petrified sand dune!
Don’t go too close to the edge!
I peer over the ledge to the canyon floor
Some rugged plants survive in the harsh Outback environment
The water hole at the Garden of Eden
It all started with one small crack…and millions of years later you have a canyon!
Peering over the Garden of Eden
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Tourism NT during my time in the Northern Territory of Australia. However all the opinions expressed her are solely my own!
I may look motherly – but I’m not! I never wanted kids of my own. I’m not sure why, it just never appealed to me; taking care of someone, the diapers, crying, responsibility, and especially the toddlers – I don’t do well with toddlers. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t like kids – I love other people’s kids. Yes, they still may cry, but they aren’t my responsibility 24/7.
However, over the last 3 years I found myself traveling with other people’s kids quite often and that meant taking responsibility for them for extended periods. It’s quite a challenging and enriching endeavor for me personally. Whenever I start another trip with one of my nieces for the Niece Project, I still get a moment of panic that makes my stomach flip as we’re about to take off. It’s knowing that if something goes wrong – it’s my responsibility – my family is depending on me to keep everyone safe.
Since I’ve completed 3 trips now with my nieces, I also realize that I know a lot more now then I did on my first niece trip. I noticed my stress level was much less as we worked on our preparations to leave. This was niece number 3, I had learned a lot from traveling with the last two and I felt like I was really ahead of the game on this one. When I left with Evie last year to Vietnam I was a ball of stress, it was her first time abroad, and I was worried about everything – how she’d deal with the flight, the food, the jet lag, and how I could make sure her mother was feeling ok with this whole trip. However, maybe lesson number one to traveling with someone else’s kids is to make sure they have their passport before you pull out of the garage – which is what we forgot on our recent trip to Peru with my niece Megan.
I’ve had a lot of people contact me about their own Niece and Nephew projects with questions on how to prepare and how to cope with teenagers on the road, so I started compiling my steps I used for my recent trip. Here are my top tips:
Traveling with my niece Bethany at the Vatican. A tour she chose herself after doing Italy research
For the time leading up to the trip, I try to do whatever I can to get them excited about it as normally I think they have a mixture of excitement and intrepidation. After all, for many kids this is the first time they will travel without their parents to far off places – and that can be intimidating. Get them a guidebook or send them websites or phone apps about your destination. Have them get involved in the research and decide what they want to do or see. This gives them more ownership of the trip and takes the pressure off you too.
As I said, you are responsible for the child you are traveling with and essentially their guardian for a period of time. It’s a good idea to talk with the parents ahead of time about getting a temporary guardianship document drawn up and notarized to take with you. I first did this when I started traveling to less developed countries with my nieces, but it’s a good idea to do no matter where you go. First off you’ll need this to prove you have responsibility for the child to any authorities/border regulations that might require it. In addition, you are the adult who has to potentially make split second decisions if something goes wrong from a medical emergency or country emergency. Luckily I’ve never had to pull out and use the document before – but I feel better having it.
Take Along Insurance Information
Insurance is always a good idea…Of course if you are responsible for them you’ll want to ensure you have their insurance information and proper coverage. But if you are traveling internationally, then the first step is to talk to their parents and make sure they contact their insurance company and find out what their kid’s international coverage entails. And if you are traveling remotely or doing adventure travel like I recently did with my niece Megan in Peru, you’ll want to ensure they have emergency evacuation insurance and all of the international coverage boxes ticked.
Before you leave make sure that you have digital copies of their passports and insurance cards (as well as yours!) and leave them in your email or cloud storage AND also with their parents.
Enroll in STEP
If you are traveling internationally, it’s always a good idea to register with the STEP program with the US State Department (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). STEP is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. It’s a good habit to develop and I normally make my nieces go and do this step themselves so that learn about the process and will use it as they continue to travel by themselves as they get older.
We all know how picky kids can be when it comes to eating food that looks foreign to them. I always try to encourage my nieces to try new things, however it’s still a good idea to pack some ‘emergency’ snacks for flight delays, long train rides or buses. I normally ensure that we have nuts and Cliff Bars from home so that they at least have something familiar with them if they are having one of those picky eater days.
Megan chatting with her friends on her phone. Her lifeline to not getting homesick
I mainly travel with teenagers, and you know how connected teenagers are to their phones – it’s their lifeline. I understand that the point of traveling with them is to transport them into another world, but they are still kids, and they do still want to stay in touch with their friends – especially if gone for a long time. I always carry a personal internet device (mifi) with me, which allows us to both connect to internet wirelessly. This way they can still get messages from their friends and more importantly share their experiences with their friends and family. It’s also a great way for them to stay in touch with their parents to let them now what they are doing
Share your Itinerary
I’m used to traveling solo and I practically never make an itinerary. However, to ease the parent’s concern and to let them know where you are, make sure they have all of your flight information as well as your itinerary of where you’ll be staying and any emergency numbers or ways to get a hold of you.
Make a Communication Plan
Before you leave talk with the parents to make a plan on how often you are going to contact them so that they feel comfortable. Also discuss the mode of preferred communication (email, skype, sms, phone calls) and test it out before you go. This includes the kid too – they should work out with their parents how they are going to communicate with them – especially if you are doing international travel. Before I left on my most recent niece trip to Peru, Megan had planned to use imessage to stay in touch with her parents and text them updates. We tested this out before we left and utilized the mifi device while in Peru to ensure she had internet connectivity to use the application. Just remember, every parent’s comfort level is different. Last summer my sister-in-law asked to have an email update every day. No problem – keep the parents happy is my main rule.
When you travel together for a while 24/7 it’s pretty easy to get tired of each other, I love to use tours to kind of mix it up and give each other another social outlet. I’ve used Intrepid small group tours as a great way for my nieces to meet other adults and kids while getting to know a more local side of a country.
Your Daughter/Son is So Cute!
Daughter – what? “No, no, she’s not my daughter, she’s my niece.” I have finally gotten used to this exchange on the road. People will of course think that you are the parent. Even though this seems really strange to me (after all I don’t think I look like a parent – or that’s what I tell myself), it’s of course natural for people to think that. As much as I would like to believe that it’s normal for aunts and uncles to travel with their nieces and nephews, it’s not. Maybe one day the Niece Project will really take off and that will be the case – but until then graciously accept that you will look like a parent during your travels.
Make a Money Plan
Sit down and discuss with the parents how you will handle the access to cash and spending. If you are traveling internationally, this becomes a little more challenging. Many kids these days do have debit cards or prepay cards – but you have to make sure they are useable in other countries. Does their bankcard work as an ATM card and will it work overseas? What are the international charges? Make sure someone contacts the bank and works this out as well as letting them know where you’ll be traveling so they don’t put a fraud hold on the card. Sometimes parents would rather not have the kid responsible for money and they’d like you to take out the money and dole it out accordingly.
Be Prepared for Queasiness
Evie holding an important pack item!
I know this sounds strange – but on 2 of the 3 trips I took with my nieces it left me frantically searching for a vomit bag; not for me, for them. It took me completely by surprise, but kids are kids and they tend to get motion sick, nervous, and generally sick. After a few times caught by surprise – now I always have a barf bag with me and a pack of Dramamine. And while you are stocking the first aid kit, make sure you know of any allergies or medical issues they may have before you go. You don’t want to be surprised by a bee sting or nut allergy!
Do you have any other tips for traveling with kids you’d like to share?
I continued my seafood-a-palooza this week on Prince Edward Island in Canada. What’s that? You haven’t heard of PEI? Well – if you are a foodie I’ll tell you a secret – get here now…it’s an island full of food that will tantalize your taste buds and warm your heart thanks to all of the local love going on. The island’s top 3 industries are fishing, farming, and tourism – mix that together in a geographically beautiful landscape and you’ve got a culinary destination!
My parents and I continued to satisfy our seafood itch and not only enjoyed eating seafood on PEI, but we also did some great hands on experiences. – We went out on a lobster boat and pulled traps as well as visited an Oyster farm and learned about aquafarming. Much more to come on that in future writing – but just know that many days I had oysters for breakfast…nuff said.
We also got dirty in the local farms of PEI and then cooked up a feast at a cooking class. But mostly we just drove around the island on the various scenic routes stopping at fishing villages along the way talking to fisherman, and farmers. “Everyone is so nice here!” my dad exclaimed in the car today. And he’s right – nice people, scrumptious food, fantastic hands-on experiences, beautiful national parks, sweeping landscapes, and a tight-knit community = a great travel destination! And that’s how I spent my week!
The dune hike at PEI national Park in Greenwich was a highlight for me. You hike on a floating boardwalk to get to the dunes. Gorgeous!
Raspberry mint ice cream made today at our cooking class @AnniesTable – we even picked the raspberries ourselves!
The colorful fishing village of French River
#PEI has an abundance of lighthouses but I loved this one w the Canada maple leaf at Covehead Bay.
My morning shooter from Colville Bay Oyster Company in Souris. Better than cereal
Wandering aimlessly around the @gentleisland PEI near Kensington
Tools of the fishing trade in #PEI . Each fisherman has his own color so that he knows which traps are his.
I walked into foodie heaven today @LiquidGoldCTown in #Charlottetown PEI. An olive oil & balsamic store offering tons of amazing varieties to try and mix. Flavors like blood Orange, maple, coconut, espresso, butternut squash, and Persian lime. It was 20 times better than an ice cream store as I sampled a ridiculous amount and wanted them all. Recipes are on their website www.allthingsolive.ca and if you are in the maritimes definitely make the trip here to try and buy!
Hiking through the wetland dune trail @ParksCanadaPEI
Colorful apples and colorful arms at Annie’s Table Farm to Table Cooking Class
Disclosure: I was invited to enjoy Prince Edward Island by Tourism PEI. However all the opinions expressed her are solely my own!
The first time I ever went up in a hot air balloon we had a crash landing. Ok – maybe that’s a bit melodramatic but I did end up with a bloody knee and a whole bunch of people on top of me as the basket drug along the ground. I called it a crash landing, the captain called it an ‘engergy disapation landing’…tomato…tomaaato.
However, somehow I’ve been able to shake that experience off and get back off the ground. Why would I do such a thing?
Because floating silently above the ground like a drone taking pictures is just that much fun.
Doing photography from above is one of my favorite things to do. I must be the luckiest person around as I was able to go hot air ballooning in Australia not once, but twice! I feel like pretty soon I’ll be captaining them myself! Then again if I want to avoid more crash landings, it’s probably best if I stick to the photography.
Gold Coast in Queensland
If you are going to float above the beautiful Australian landscapes you have to get up early. The first morning in Southern Queensland near the Gold Coast I had my alarm set for 4 AM. I groggily woke up, put on warm clothes, gathered up all of my electronics and slept walk my way to the Hot Air Gold Coast bus that would take us away from the coast and into the hinterlands for a sunrise float. Luckily it was an hour drive so I was able to sleep on the bus after the safety video.
We arrived as they were filling the balloon. In the inky blue darkness all of a sudden you’d see a bright flame in the distance. It looked like a fire breathing dragon with knights surrounding it trying to get it under control. Maybe I had been reading too much Game of Thrones before bedtime? As the balloon filled up, it slowly lifted off the ground and became upright. The guide called us over one by one to climb into the basket. I was pretty loaded down by all of my camera equipment, but I managed to sling my leg over the basket somehow.
The ride was spectacular – and the whole time I had the song “Up Up and Away in my Beautiful Balloon” running through my head. We climbed quite high on this flight. You could see all the way to the Gold Coast once you got up there in altitude. The sunrise was a bit cloudy – but the views were still great. We were able to see the mountains of the Great Dividing Range as well as a number of farms and small towns. We had a nice ‘safe’ landing and then spent time helping them load the balloon back on the truck. After that it was off to a champagne breakfast at a local winery.
A cloudy sunrise above the hinterlands
Farmland below. The balloon scared the cows!
Great Dividing Range of Queensland
Where fields collide…
Everyone chips in to deflate the balloon
Outback Ballooning Northern Territory
My second hot air flight was over the outback in the Northern Territory with Outback Ballooning. This was also a sunrise flight and we started in the complete darkness in the dusty orange outback outside of Alice Springs. This was a smaller group and a bit smaller basket. The sunrise was a golden orange without a cloud in the sky. It lit up the outback with long mystical shadows. This pilot took us much lower – in fact so low that it made me pretty nervous based on my first balloon experience. However he had it under control the whole time. We were even able to chase a few kangaroos through the outback!
At the end of this flight we all helped pack up the balloon again and we even got to witness the captain delicately lift the balloon and basket back onto the truck flatbed – not an easy task. Afterward we were all treated to champagne and biscuits to toast our safe flight.
Take of from Australia’s Red Centre
A perfectly orange sunrise in a clear morning sky.
Bushy trees start to light up in the sunrise
Long shadows form across the outback as the sun rises
Tracking kangaroos from above!
A perfect landing!
These were two iconic places and landscapes to capture from above. And the good news is that it looks like my days of crash landings are past me!
If you could go ballooning anywhere in the world – where would you go? Please answer in the comments!
More Australian Ballooning Info:
Hot Air Gold Coast Website – www.hotair.com.au/goldcoast
Cost: Sunrise ballooning and vineyard breakfast $250 AU
Outback Ballooning Website – www.outbackballooning.com.au
Cost: 30 minutes $290 AU
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Tourism NT and Queensland Tourism during my time in the Australia. However all the opinions expressed her are solely my own!
New Brunswick. That week was the perfect storm of Maritime Canada – seafood, whales, boating, tides, Celtic heritage, and family.
My week of New Brunswick goodness started in the capital city of Fredericton with a big dose of the Scottish heritage unique to the Maritime Provinces. Then we went to the famous Bay of Fundy to spend some time observing the highest tides in the world (changes of 30+ feet) in this unique environment. We got our sea legs out on the water and have spent every evening eating seafood feasts.
With my parents along, I can say that we may not agree on all things – but we can all agree on seafood. The fresher the better and there is never such a thing as too much lobster. That why today we are spending our day in the little fishing village of Alma learning about the lobster fishing industry and stuffing our faces with the freshest catch around!
I love traveling seaside! New Brunswick lobster! What’s your favorite thing to dip it in?
St Andrews By-The-Sea truly is a picture perfect town! Loved doing a morning run down main street.
The @NBHighlandGames are in full swing. I love kilts! #BeAScot
Every night should begin with an oyster shooter. Who agrees?!
An old railway bridge converted to pedestrian use in Fredericton – one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world!
Took a stroll thru the meticulously landscaped @KingsbraeGarden in St. Andrews – beautiful buds all around!
Every morning should begin w a Minke whale saying hello!
Spent the evening soaking in an old wood fired hot tub @ridgebacklodge – surrounded by my glamping dome & pine trees!
Disclosure: I was invited to enjoy New Brunswick by Tourism New Brunswick. However all the opinions expressed her are solely my own!
I found myself wandering around the aisles glancing at magazines while trying to listen to the announcements on the airport PA system. As my eyes rolled over the massive amount of paparazzi photos and ridiculous headlines, one cover with a reddish-orange glow caught my eye. Prince William and Kate were impeccably dressed and lighted in the vibrant glow of the Australian Red Centre.
Considering this was the destination I was headed to on my flight today, I picked up the magazine and started paging through it to see more pictures. To my surprise the royal couple had just visited the spiritual sight of Uluru and stayed at the exact place I was booked at for the next two nights – Longitude 131. If glamping was good enough for the royal couple, then it would definitely be good enough for me.
As soon as I arrived at the Red Centre and saw the 15 little tent tops peaking out of the brush in the desert I knew this would be a unique experience. Most people are enticed to the area by the views and culture of Uluru, the largest monolith in the world. However I was enticed by the chance to stay at Longitude 131, the premier glamping experience in Australia. I was intrigued at how this property that hosts the Royal Family and people such as Oprah could pull off luxury in such a remote and barren desert location.
My Love of Nowhere
Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park is the spiritual center of Australia and it’s conveniently located about dead center in Australia as part of the Northern Territory. This was my first trip to the Northern Territory and I was excited to see this barren land. I’m inexplicably drawn to these environments – the nowhere environments such as Kazakhstan, the steppe of Mongolia, the Meseta of Spain, and the Great Plains of the US.
I love wide open space where the clouds string out endlessly and the culture is rugged because it has to be. I love to see for miles and miles, and to experience the challenges that remoteness brings. And here I was in the heart of remoteness for Australia, eager to learn about the history and culture, but equally eager to learn how people live out here modern day and how a glamping resort can offer up unparalleled luxury experiences in…well…nowhere.
Each Longitude 131 tent was a nod to the great pioneers and explorers of the area. The interior design had an old world charm, yet a mix of new world technology. There were maps, magnifying glasses and telescopes for your inner old world explorer. However the iPad and Bose speakers in each tent provided access to the modern world, while you gazed out on Uluru, the spiritual Anangu world. Each tent was actually part tent, part cottage with a canvas roof, 3 solid walls, and 1 full window for the 4th wall. This layout provided the perfect private view of Uluru. Touches of luxury were everywhere – from the view, to the turn down service with fur hot water bottles, to the complimentary mini bar, and finally to the Nespresso teas/coffees.
The Culinary Innovator
The Dune House was the communal lodge where you could relax, read papers, socialize with guests, review maps, talk with the guides, and pour yourself a drink at the self serve bar complete with drink recipes at your disposal. This was also where you ate your meals. One would think that in a remote location (the closest town was 280 miles away) with one road running through it and a delivery truck that actually stopped twice a week with food/produce, it might be hard to create inventive menus to go along with the luxury experience.
However, Chef Seona Moss knows how to make the most of her remote location. She uses the remoteness to inspire her thereby creating beautiful platings that are reminiscent of the landscape and area. She relies on the deliveries for fresh produce, but she also utilizes the expertise of the local Anangu people to infuse seasonal desert plants and fruits into the dishes. Her use of the local quandongs, a red fruit used by the Anangu were delicious in our dinner under the stars the first night.
Chef Moss’s creations take skill to cook and present, but to me the real skill is coming up with innovative dishes and mastering the logistics of her remote location and supplies. I love the fact she has made Uluru her home and has really embraced the local culture and techniques into her food.
Being a nomad myself for years, I am always fascinated learning about nomadic groups –historical and modern day. The Anangu people were nomads roaming as family groups (aprox. 50 people in a family group) around the desert outback only utilizing what they needed and always respecting the land. This is how most of the nomadic cultures survive; with a simple lifestyle and respect for the land that gives them life. Unlike many nomadic cultures I come across, the Anangu owned no livestock and instead lived off the land and only killed what they needed to feed the group. Uluru was an important source of water and animals for them, it was their rock of life.
However what surprised me most was the modern day nomads – the guides of Longitude 131 were living out here in nowhere and their stories seemed all the same. They were roaming Australia, or the world, and came across the Northern Territory and it called them. Most would stay for a year working in the Uluru area, and some stayed for longer. Regardless – these were not city people, they were people who loved the outdoors and remoteness of Uluru. And loved sharing the culture and history even more. They didn’t need much to be happy. I actually wondered if I could hack it out in the desert for a year working in a remote location – I’m not sure I could.
It seemed like every guide I had was either coming or going – some it was their last day and some it was the first day. On each outing we had a different guide for the experience – this was done on purpose so we could get different perspectives. I really liked this aspect as each guide’s passion and interest seemed to come out in their stories – some of them I connected to more than others – but all were extremely knowledgeable and professional.
How do you add luxury to the desert environment? It’s all about service. Each morning and evening there was an exclusive experience that you could participate in with fellow guests. These experiences were about physically exploring the living and cultural landscapes of Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
The Uluru Sunrise Walk allowed you to view the sight of one of the famous Anangu song lines (stories) of Kiniya Liru. I was able to get a good feel for the beliefs of the Anangu and the importance of Uluru for their survival through the stories.
The Kata Tjuta Valley of the Winds Hike (aprox. 4 miles) was by far my favorite morning exploration activity. It was a chance to hike through the magnificent Olgas comprising of 36 dome-like rock formations. There were valleys and gorges and amazing flower and fauna to explore.
The sunset activities with Longitude 131 provided a way to get a close up as well as a wide perspective. The first night we watched sunset from a distance in order to take in the whole environment. We were supplied with champagne and canapés as we watched the clouds swirl in color about Uluru. The second night we actually walked around the base of Uluru on the path.
This gave us a chance to see the rock formation up close. Wind had carved many interesting wave-like caves which were used as gathering areas for the men, women, and elders of the ancient Ananagu. We ended our walk once again with beer, champagne, and canapés at Kantju Gorge. I took my glass of champagne and camera into the gorge with me and sat and watched the walls of Uluru light up like a blazing fire and then die down as the sun set.
Finally we had the ultimate luxury eating experience – Table 131 – dining under the stars in the desert. A long communal table was set and we all gathered around to feast on a 4-course meal and wine paring all in the desert darkness. At the end of the dinner we were served a lovely port and then treated to explore the southern hemisphere night sky as guide Andy led us through a stargazing activity.
The Modern Day Pioneer
Being surrounded by explorers, nomads, and innovators for two days was a highlight for me in the Northern Territory. It satiated my need for experiencing a popular location in a new, unique way. As I sat in my tent sipping a drink admiring the beauty of nowhere I realized that in a way Longitude 131 was a real pioneer in the Red Centre. Pioneers are not only people who discover a place, but they are also people who develop or apply new methods and activities. Longitude131 had successfully developed a full luxury experience in a harsh environment while staying true to the culture. There is nothing else like it in the area – it’s a special experience in the middle of nowhere.
With a price tag of $1100 per person and a minimum 2 night stay (all inclusive), it’s a hefty price tag for glamping. However Longitude 131 has the chops to pull it off due to it’s unique location and specialized offerings.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Tourism NT during my time in the Northern Territory of Australia. However all the opinions expressed her are solely my own!