Shannon's Latest Adventures

I have a friend who worries about where I will go to the toilet when I am on some of my more exotic adventures. On my recent trip to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, our guides provided for “Happy room stops.”  During those stops, I ran across a few toilets that are worth mentioning.  I only had to use a bush once!

With Eastern style toilets, we were left on our own. In this one, we were to place our feet on the blue part, squat, and “do our business.”  No toilet tissue is provided.  The pink pan is used to dip water out of the small reservoir to the right to “flush.”  Much nicer than some I have used which were just a hole in the cement.

Eastern style toilet

Eastern style toilet

With Western style toilets, there were directions for Asians and others who are used to squatting.

Western style toilet

Western style toilet


More directions for eastern users

More directions for eastern users

Directions for eastern users

Directions for eastern users


Most of the bathrooms in our hotels had bidet sprayers and some public toilets also had them. This happy room has a sprayer and even has toilet tissue, so it was very happy!

Happy room with bidet spray and toilet tissue

At one stop, the men’s room had some clever pictures (our [male] guide photographed it for me).

Men's Happy Room

Note the camera and measuring tape held by a couple of the girls.

We visited a shop where prostheses were made, mostly for those who lost limbs due to stepping on a land mine. The plumbing under the sink gave me quite a start!


And lastly, a toilet in the Tokyo airport. Several choices for your comfort!

Toilet in Tokyo airport

The Search for Catholic Churches in the Ancient Kingdoms of Southeast Asia

November 22, Bangkok, Thailand.  I was able to go to 5:00 pm Mass at the Church of the Redeemer.  The Mass was in English. To get to the church, I rode a motorcycle taxi!  The driver dropped me off then came back for me at the end of Mass.  I gave 10 rosaries to the priest who celebrated Mass.

Church of the Redeemer

Church of the Redeemer

On the way to the Church of the Redeemer

On the way to the Church of the Redeemer

November 24, Luang Prabang, Laos. Today was the Feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs.  I was wishing I was in Vietnam to celebrate it!  Our guide took me to a “Catholic” Church but when he introduced me to the priest’s wife, I figured out it was Christian, not Catholic.  There was a cross but no crucifix and no altar.  The wife said they had had a large celebration on Sunday with many westerners.

November 27, Vientiane, Laos.  I visited the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. I had to look quite a while to find an open door.  No one was in the church.  I said a few prayers and then found a statue of the Blessed Virgin with a plastic rosary in her hands (similar to the ones I brought.)  I left 20 rosaries on the shelf at her feet.

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

Mary with rosaries

Mary with rosaries

November 29, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I took a remok (similar to a tuk tuk) to St. Joseph Church for the 4:00 pm Mass.  Going to Mass here was special as my father’s name was Joseph and today was his birthday.  Mass was in a large chapel on the second floor. The floor was covered with woven mats; we removed our shoes before entering, then sat on the floor.  The priest, a young man, sat on a chair all during Mass except for the Consecration.  The choir was very nice with an electronic keyboard accompaniment.  This Mass was in Khmer (the official language of Cambodia).  When I first entered the chapel, there were few people there. I gave 10 rosaries to a little lady who was saying the rosary and tried to indicate that she was to give them away. Later three Missionary of Charity sisters (Mother Teresa’s community) came in and another sister whose habit I did not recognize.  Many people came to the Mass.

St. Joseph Church

St. Joseph Church

December 6, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  I walked to the Cathedral of Notre Dame for the 9:30 am Mass.  I arrived early and witnessed the baptism of about 10 babies and small children.  Mass was concelebrated in English by three priests, one of whom was from Orange County, California.  The other two were Vietnamese. I gave 10 rosaries to the celebrant, a Vietnamese priest. In our drives through the city and out into the country side, we saw many large churches.

Cathedral of Notre Dame

Cathedral of Notre Dame

Priest with rosaries

Priest with rosaries



What was interesting to me was that these were countries where 80% or more of the population are Buddhist, and maybe 1-2% are Christian.  And Cambodia and Vietnam are Communist countries!  In all the Masses I attended, the churches were full, and the people ranged from babies and young people to middle-aged and elderly.  Another thing I found interesting was that the churches contained statues of St. Joan of Arc and St. Therése, the Little Flower, probably reflecting the French influence in those countries.  Catholicism seems to be alive and well.

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Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, has 10 national parks, 17% of the world’s biodiversity, 54% of the world’s Mountain Gorillas, and 11% of the world’s mammal species.  More than 50% of Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world, is in Uganda.  Bird watching in Uganda is an African destination with over 1,200 species recorded which is 33% of the world’s birds.

My sister, Joan, from Boca Raton, FL, and I were lucky enough to visit Uganda from February 5 – 21, 2014.  The primary purpose of our trip was to go gorilla trekking, an opportunity missed when we traveled to Uganda 4 years ago.  But before we went to see the gorillas, we had many other adventures while visiting five of the national parks including Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Kibale, Bwindi, and Lake Mburo.

On our first day, a Ugandan priest we had met on a previous visit picked us up and took us to St. Augustine College to meet a young woman that I am sponsoring.  She has three more years of secondary school. We brought a large suitcase of school supplies, clothing, and sundries for her and the school.  We met the vice head master and had a brief tour of the school.  It was lovely to meet “my” student.

The next day we had a wonderful visit to a Wildlife Education Center and saw most of the animals we were going to see in the wild on our safaris over the next several days.  This made it easier to identify the animals and birds from a distance.

On Sunday we attended Mass at a local Catholic Church.  Our taxi driver came with us.  The whole congregation participated in the singing which was lovely.  Later we went to a Uganda Museum with interesting displays of the history of Uganda.  A woman played several traditional musical instruments.  We also visited the Kasubi tombs where four kings are buried.  The wives and descendants of the kings still live there and take care of the grounds.

We were joined by a couple from Germany and a woman from the U.S. who is working in Swaziland so our safari group was five which was a nice size.  We traveled in a Land Cruiser that rattled along over the very bad and dusty roads.  Even the roads that were paved had large potholes.  During the 10 days of our safari, we had two flat tires.

Our first encounter with animals was to walk around in a rhino sanctuary where there are 14 white rhinos.  Because of poaching, there are no longer any rhinos in the wild in Uganda.  Two of the rhinos came from Disney World.  One mated with a rhino from Kenya; the offspring is named Obama.  We were able to walk close to a group of seven; they are huge and we were careful to allow them their space.

By the second day, we had seen the big 5.  We saw two leopards resting in a tree and another on the ground; four lions playing around after eating; many African elephants wandering around; Cape buffalo on the ground and in the water; and the rhinos in the sanctuary.  In addition we saw eland, impala, Uganda kob, topi, bushbuck, hippopotamus, Jackson’s hartebeest, six species of monkeys, baboons, oribi, Rothchild’s giraffe, jackal, hyena, warthogs, and Akole cattle which have very large horns.  Over the ten days, we identified about 150 species of birds including bee eaters, kingfishers, storks, eagles, geese, herons, wagtails, weavers, vultures, buzzards, hornbills, flycatchers, pelicans, and egrets.

We drove through small towns and villages where clothing and some beautiful vegetables and fruits and other items were displayed.  Outside the villages small vegetable stands were along the road.  Charcoal is used for cooking in the villages; many large bags of charcoal were for sale along the roads.  Major forms of transportation are bicycles and motorcycles.  Often 3 or 4 people were squeezed onto motorcycles.  Great burdens are transported this way by men.  Women usually walk with bundles of sticks or containers of fruit or vegetables or clothing on their heads.   Many people have to go great distances for water.  They use large yellow plastic containers and walk or ride bicycles or motorcycles to a central spigot.  It was common to see 20 or more containers at a pump waiting to be filled.

I was pleased to see so many schools throughout the areas we visited; in many parts of the world, girls have limited opportunity for education.  The children were dressed in school uniforms as they walked to school.  A number of them were barefoot and our guide said it is because they have no shoes.

We took a boat ride on the Nile to Murchison Falls.  We were dropped off at a trail and then hiked about an hour to reach the top of the Falls where we had beautiful views of the area.  We then took a ferry (which didn’t look seaworthy) across the river near hippos and then went on a game drive.

One morning we had a forest walk to see chimpanzees.  We saw about 20 of them: moms with babies and large males.  They were high in the trees eating fruit.  They were happy to see us as indicated by dropping seeds and urinating on us!  Another day we went on a 3 hour swamp walk and saw some beautiful birds and women working in fields breaking up the soil with hoes prior to planting beans and tobacco.

On our way to the next lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park, a big, old, bull elephant with one tusk was in the road and did not want us to pass.  He spread his ears and came toward us so we backed up.  He kept coming and we backed up some more.  Finally we were far enough away that he turned around and challenged a car that was behind him.  That car also backed off.  Finally the elephant went into the bush.  Our driver told us to hang on tight, he was going fast—and he did.  We didn’t see that elephant again but the driver was very familiar with him.

The gorillas we visited live in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, one of the five national parks we visited.  More than half the world’s population of mountain gorillas, over 340, live in this forest.  There are nine habituated groups; we visited the Habiyanja group which has 18 members of which we were able to see 14.  The two mothers and their babies hid from us.  It took us three hours to reach the group.  Trackers were ahead of us locating the family; they communicated with our guide by walkie-talkie.  The gorillas were moving around eating.  Some youngsters were playing in the bushes.  As the gorillas moved, we followed them.  We were able to spend a little over an hour watching and taking photos.  For the most part, they just ignored us.

We also has a Batwa (pygmy) cultural experience.  We were greeted by the head man and were welcomed with two dances.  We then went to look in several of their homes—small tentlike structures made of sticks and leaves. We tried out a bow and arrow; Joan hit our target (a small wooden antelope).  My first arrow went over and the second one went under the target so I would have been hungry that night!

We visited a 112 bed hospital which has a large community outreach.  We met the medical director whose specialty is public health.  The hospital was founded in 2003 by an American doctor.  Maternal and infant mortality are high in this part of the world with births at home attended by traditional birth assistants.  Increasing numbers of pregnant moms are coming to the hospital for birth.  Since most live at a distance, they are encouraged to come two to three weeks before their due dates to ensure that the baby will be born in the hospital.  There are 105 babies born in the hospital each month and they insert 1000 IUDs per month. The hospital recently started a nursing school and admitted 14 students of which only six are women.  Interestingly, the students all have I-pads and will be taking online classes taught by American teachers.

It was a wonderful safari and exceeded my expectations.  We saw many species of animals and birds, had lovely accommodations, interesting boat rides among the hippos, and good food.  Menus included Ugandan, Indian, British, and Chinese dishes.  This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

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We just returned from our first mother-daughter trip since the kids were born!  It was wonderful to have some time away and have a fun adventure!

Iceland was Julie’s idea as it is a land of natural wonders.  We went with a tour group of 20 and had a great time.  Our group was fun to travel with.  I think one woman was younger than Julie and the oldest was 87 years old!  One couple in our group was from Loveland!  They live only a ½ mile from us!  It is a small world.  They gave us a ride home from the airport which was great.

We flew into the capitol of Reykjavik and stayed there two nights.  Iceland is 6 hours ahead of Colorado so we were quite tired when we flew through the night and got there in the morning to tour!  We were greeted by a cold driving rain.  Yuck!  It was cold enough that most of the pictures of us are wearing our stocking hats and rain gear!

Our first day we went on a rainy walking tour of the city.  The architecture is very interesting.  There is anything from 200 year old homes to very modern buildings.  They even had and IKEA!  Ha.  I was surprised since the whole country only has 315K people there.  Our meal that night was a fish buffet.  Wonderful for most, but not my favorite!  They even served whale! :(

The next day we got out of the city and got to experience the wide open country side.  Sixty percent of the people live around Reykjavik, so the rest of the country is very open.  There are many mountains which I didn’t expect.  Lots of the landscape is covered with lava and moss.  It is a very dramatic looking place.

Unfortunately it kept raining the next day while we visited Thingvellir.  That is where the Vikings used to meet to have a type of Parliament.  It was amazing looking with a large wall of black lava that served as an amphitheater for the thousands that gathered.  It also is where tectonic plates meet that form Europe and America.  So we stood in two continents at once!

Next we drove to Geysir.  Thank goodness it stopped raining finally!  We were grateful to have only cold and wind!  Geysir was the first one named that and all other geysers are named after it!  (Liam had told me this before we left!)  Of course due to an earthquake a few years ago it no longer erupts.  But another one does and is neat as it erupts every 6 minutes!  (In the video it erupts at about 1:10)

Next we stopped at Gulfoss.  It is an enormous waterfall that rivals Niagara (without all the casinos and hotels!)  It was spectacular.

The following day we traveled north out of town to the Snaefellsnes  Peninsula.  Our bus broke down and we were stuck at a bus stop for 2 ½ hours!  But everyone stayed in good spirits and we pressed on to a cute little fishing village named Grundarfjordur.  From there we took a boat out to see a tiny island that is a bird preserve.

We searched awhile and finally saw about 5 puffins in the water and air.  They were really cute.  I was disappointed though as I thought we would get to be closer to them and on land!  Oh well.  It was quite hard to take photos of them from the boat!

After the island the boat took us further out to go fishing.  I didn’t fish, but mom did.  She caught a huge one!  It was about 11 lbs. they estimate!  It was quite heavy for her to pull up into the boat.  It was amazing as the fish were really biting and our group caught about a dozen in a short time.

The next day we stopped and tried the national dish- cured shark.  And yes, I tried it!  A very tiny bit.  It tasted like fat off of meat.  Apparently if you eat it without curing it, it is poisonous, but if you cure it is fine!  Curing is a six month process of drying it outside mostly.

We then went to the home of Eric the Red (who discovered Greenland) and his son, Leif the Lucky or as we know him, Leif Erickson (who landed in America in 1,000 A.D.).  I enjoyed the presentation of a guy pretending to be Eric the Red.  He was hilarious.  Icelanders are an interesting group and have a fun, dry sense of humor.  I liked them and enjoyed our experiences with the locals.

This was our longest day as we drove to the top of the Island to Akureyri where we stayed for two nights.  It is a city of 20K people.  There aren’t many straight roads, so it is not fast traveling through the country.  The city was quite pretty.  It was surrounded by mountains and on a fjord.

The next day Julie went for what might be her final horseback ride!  We went on Icelandic horses.  They are purebreds from the same horses the Vikings brought here over 1,000 years ago.  They are small and friendly horses and are beautiful.

Julie got a horse called Biting.  I’m not kidding.  They told me it meant something else, but I don’t believe them!  She was a feisty horse with a mind of her own.  She wandered and ate and was not very fun to ride.  My hips also were in a lot of pain riding.  I have thought that I have not been sitting correctly when riding on previous trips, but I think the arthritis in my hips will just make any riding too painful in the future.  It is too bad- I like horses.

So when were about halfway done with the ride Julie was in a lot of pain so I asked one of the guides if I could get off my horse and walk the rest of the way.  They discouraged me from that so I kept trying.  Then my horse decided to start jogging down two hills, and I got flustered when she about threw me off!  I stopped her and got off!  So I walked a mile or two while the rest rode on.  I was much happier walking and got much better photos!  Ha.  I’m sure Biting was happier as well. :)

That afternoon we had free so mom explored the town while I went looking for a bird sanctuary.  I ended up walking about 10 kilometers or so!  I was quite tired after that!  It was a lovely estuary and tons of birds, so I had a great time.  It was very peaceful.  I did not like when the Arctic Turns starting dive bombing me!  It was like a scene from “The Birds” and had me worried for a bit!

The next morning we had a nice flight back to Reykjavik and went straight to the Blue Lagoon.  It is an amazing geothermal pool that is beautiful.  Ironically it is water that is runoff from the geothermal power plant!  It is all safe and good for the skin.  It was a truly unique place with lava rocks surrounding the pools.

The final day for our group mom and I split up.  She went deep sea fishing and caught another fish.  They also saw more puffins.  Sigh.  I went hiking in a lava cave!  It was quite an adventure.  The cave was a hole in the ground.  They gave us a flashlight and helmet and we climbed down into the cave!  It was stark and cold.

In many places we had to stoop over- we were rarely standing up.  In a couple we had to crawl and one was only 51cm tall!  We had to either army crawl or roll to get through!  I did ok considering I am a little claustrophobic.  The 87 year old in our group did this hike as well!

Our final day, mom and I took a city bus (an adventure!) to a peninsula with a lighthouse where I hoped to see more birds.  We did see a few although the lighthouse was closed for the nesting birds.  We walked on the black sand beach and saw a golf course.  I had wanted to see what golf was like there, so we checked it out.  It was a pretty nine hole course next to the water.  I was surprised at how many women and kids were playing!  The course is known for their Arctic Turns and they chased us again!

We had a great time.  I was able to talk on the phone often to Darren which made me feel better to know how the kids were doing.  It sounded like they were doing pretty well, so that was reassuring.  It was also fun to Skype once with the kids.  Zoe was so excited to see us that she waved and waved!

I was most grateful that Darren was willing to watch the kids for the nine days we were gone.  That is the most I have been away from the kids ever!  It was very relaxing and nice to do stuff without worrying about them.  I didn’t miss them as much as I thought I would have, but maybe that was because they have been kind of difficult lately!  Ha.

We also got to see Greenland from the airplane!  We enjoyed the trip enough that we hope to return someday! – Julie

We got home safely, but were met by two sick kids!  Sigh, back to reality.

I joined 47 other adventurous Christian women in the Freedom Climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, at 19,340 ft, the highest mountain in Africa.  The purpose of the climb was to raise awareness of human trafficking and to raise funds to support projects to combat human trafficking.  Each of us had a goal of raising $10,000.  And we came close; as a group we raised over $325,000!  Several months later, I met my goal.

The projects we supported are those funded through Operation Mobilization, the umbrella organization for the climb.  The projects are in 118 countries and include provision of basic shelter and necessities, long term rehabilitation, trauma counseling, life skills training, micro-loans for small business start-up, education, prenatal care, and basic support for the women and children affected. Why would we do this?  Climbers were from 10 states in the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Kosovo, Cambodia, South Africa, Russia, New Zealand, and Gambia.  Each of us had her own reasons, but I had thought about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro for several years.

When I learned of this group and the great cause for which they were climbing, it was a perfect match.  Others in the group had served as missionaries and had seen the effects of human trafficking or worked with victims.  The youngest of the group was 18; the oldest (me) was 73.  Most of the climbers were in their 40s and 50s; one was 62, two were 65, and one was 70. I spent several months in Colorado before the climb, living at an elevation of 5000 ft.  I trained by hiking Pikes Peak with about half of the women who participated in the climb.  I also hiked 6 to 10 miles three to four times a week in the hills and trails around where I was living in Colorado.  Others worked out in gyms with trainers and hiked wherever they lived.

We flew from our various starting points to Nairobi, Kenya, where we spent the night in a hotel.  The next morning, we had an orientation meeting, were divided into four teams of 12 each (I was on the Red Team), and met our guides.  We drove in vans to Kibo Slopes Lodge in Loitokitok, Tanzania, 143 miles southeast of Nairobi.  On the way, we saw many cows and goats, a few sheep, a herd of donkeys, a giraffe, some zebra, and marabou storks.  At the Lodge, we met the prayer group, 10 women who were going to pray for us during the climb.  We repacked our day packs and duffel bags (maximum weight 8 kgs [17.6 lbs]) and weighed them to make sure they did not exceed the weight limit.

On January 11, 2012, a National Day of Awareness of Human Trafficking in the U.S.,  we drove to the starting point and met our crew of about 130 guides, porters, and cooks, distributed our duffel bags among the porters, and started on the trek at 1:05 pm.  We each carried a day pack with at least 3 liters of water, snacks, rain gear, hand sanitizer, toilet tissue, sunscreen, and first aid supplies. Porters carried the tents, food, and other supplies.  One of the porters carried a medical kit of emergency supplies.  We were always to stay behind the guide who led the way reminding us to walk “pole, pole” (slowly, slowly).  We were to take 4 ½ days to reach the point of the start of the final ascent.  The slow pace was to help us acclimate to the change in altitude and decrease in oxygen in the air we were breathing. We started at 6890 ft. elevation and had a fairly smooth path through trees so it was cool and shady but became rocky later in the day.

The rocks were 4 to 8 inches in diameter with no spaces in between which made for difficult walking. I saw a couple of colobus monkeys. There were some beautiful bright colored flowers peeking through the bushes along the way.  We walked 1 ½ hours then stopped for lunch at a picnic table and had a lunch of salad, avocado, mango, banana, tea, coffee, and  hot chocolate set up by the porters.

A permanent toilet (similar to one in a campground in the U.S) was available. (The rest of the day, we went behind trees or bushes for our toilet.  We had to carry toilet tissue and a plastic bag to carry the tissue out.) The last part of the path was covered with good sized rocks.  When we reached our campsite after a 6.2 mile hike, the sleeping tents with our duffel bags inside, cook tents, dining tents, and portable toilets were set up.  At the end of the day’s trek, we were invited into the dining tent for tea.  This consisted of popcorn, cookies, tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.

We set up our sleeping bags, set out clothes for the next day, then had a typical dinner; soup followed by a high carbohydrate meal for energy (pasta or rice and bread) with a sauce of vegetables and chicken or tomato sauce and often fresh fruit, usually oranges and avocados.  We were to bed early to be prepared to get up and continue our trek in the morning. In the morning, Day 2, porters brought us basins of warm water and we had a quick wash of our face and hands.  We had a big breakfast of porridge, fried eggs, toast, fruit, and coffee, tea or hot chocolate.  We then started hiking. We walked through several ecosystems; the vegetation changed as we increased in elevation.  Trees gave way to bushes.  We stopped at some caves at 11,811 ft for a short rest then continued on a short way to the second set of caves at 10,827 ft. and had lunch.  The path today was rocky the whole way which made for a difficult hike.

We walked pole, pole for 8.7 miles which took us 10 ½ hours.  (The longest I had ever walked prior to this trek was a 10 mile hike that took 4 ½ hours!). At our camp that night we had a good view of Mawenzi peak, a rugged peak a distance from Mt. Kilimanjaro.  After our tea, filling of our water containers with boiled water (and adding iodine tablets), and dinner, we went to bed.  We overnighted at the edge of the forest belt.  We slept in our clothes, the same ones for the last couple of days.  It was cold at night so uncomfortable to change.

Day 3 we hiked 5 hours to Tarn Hut (a tarn is a small lake formed by glaciers).  We reached the foot of Mawenzi Peak at 14,206 ft.  Some parts of the hike were hard up and down and some real rock climbing going hand over hand.  I had to be helped over some of the rocks (I have short legs). We had radio contact with the prayer group and I was able to speak with them. They were anxious to hear of our progress and to let us know that prayers for us continue. We also always prayed before meals and if one of us had an ache or pain or was discouraged, others laid hands on us and prayed.  It was a spiritual journey as well as a physical one.  Sheila was my prayer buddy and prayed for me during the climb.

Day 4 we hiked across Kibo Saddle a barren, fairly level stretch of sand with occasional very large rocks.  We had long views across the sand.  I felt like we were in a desert as we were above all vegetation.  It was hot sometimes and cold and windy at other times.  We descended to about 13,123 ft then up to 15,583 ft. at the School Hut.  This was a long hard day but I was able to keep up although I was very tired at the end of the day.

At 4 pm, we lined up like sausages in our sleeping bags to try to nap, two to a mattress, on five twin-sized mattresses that were lined up side by side.  We were roused for dinner at 6. I wasn’t hungry and didn’t eat very much.  We went back to bed to try to sleep till 11 with plans to start the ascent at 12 midnight. Then it was time for the final attempt to summit!  When they called us at 11, I just couldn’t do it.  I had not slept, was tired, and looking at another 12 hours or so of hiking.  Of course, I wish now someone had urged me to get up and go for it!!  Another hiker, Sue, also didn’t do the ascent she had not slept for 4 days and was exhausted.  I did have a headache but an acetaminophen took care of it.  The Red Team left about 12:30 am and I tried to go to sleep.  We learned later that 7 of the 12 of the Red Team summitted at Uhuru Peak, the highest point, a remarkable accomplishment. I didn’t sleep well and we had no breakfast because we were supposed to be climbing the mountain!  A porter took Sue and me directly to our camp for that night.

The climbers descended to an intermediate camp for a meal and a rest before hiking the rest of the way to our campsite.  Sue and I walked from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm to our camp at 12,205 ft.  Climbers started coming down; Cynthia was last and arrived at 9:30 pm after a hike of 21 hours!  Two of the climbers had to be carried down the mountain from the campsite; one was exhausted and one was hypothermic.  Incredibly, 43 of the 48 climbers summitted.  We set a record for the largest all-women group to attempt the climb and for the largest percentage (90%) of people who summitted.

Afterward the climbers told stories of the difficulty of the climb to the summit with many manifesting altitude sickness by vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and hallucinations.  Near the top, they had to cross a glacier and walk on ice and snow. The courage of  the women continuing to climb in spite of the difficulties is incredible. The last day, we had a 6+ hour walk to Marangu Gate through forest.  I saw some blue monkeys.  My feet were really sore after the downhill.  They were fine till about the last hour.  When we reached base, we gathered by teams and gave out the tips and gifts we’d brought: shirts, pens, and souvenirs of home.  Many of the climbers gave some of their socks, shirts, and climbing gear to the porters.  We then drove to Loitokitok cottages where we had stayed before the climb.

We arrived about 9 pm; I was too tired to eat dinner so took a shower and went to bed. Would I do it again?  Yes, in a heart beat!! But this time I would hire a porter to carry my day pack and would try to summit.  Before we left, we were advised that “No matter how much it hurts, keep going.  If you don’t continue, it will hurt worse to come home and say you didn’t make it.”  That was to be my mantra, but I forgot it!  And yes, it does hurt to say, I didn’t reach the top.  But I did climb further, longer, and higher than I have ever done before and I am proud of that effort! Check out for more information about the projects and a video of an interview on Fox TV (the footage shows me climbing, hat, white shirt in front of some climbers.)

I participated with eight other women from various parts of the U.S. in 2010 as a Global Volunteer in Calderon, Ecuador.  We were the 136th group of Global Volunteers to Ecuador.  We worked in two child care centers that were founded by a group of women from Calderon to provide assistance to single and low-income mothers.  Global Volunteers assisted in building the centers.  A second story is being added to one of the centers which will enable them to double the number of children they can care for at that center.  We were there to help in any way the director and tias (teachers) wanted help.  The children were 7 months to 4 years old.

Center #2 is organized into a nursery (7 months to 2 years), an art room, a construction room, a home room (set up as a home), and a kitchen and a large common area where meals are served.  There is one tia in each classroom with approximately 15 children.  All the tias, kitchen workers, and children spoke only Spanish.  We helped diaper, wash hands and faces, comb hair, feed, play with the children, and practice our Spanish.  We traced pictures so that all the children would have the same picture to color or to paste pretty paper pieces on. We read books to the children (upside down and in Spanish: quite a feat), swept the floor after meals, and put the children down for naps (8 children per bed; lined up crosswise).

I loved working with the babies.  One day Tia Paty called roll (remember these children are 7 months to 2 years).  She read out their whole names.  The children were to raise their hand and say “presente” and most of them did it!  She also called our names and we raised our hand and said presente which the children thought was quite funny.  By the time these children reach their second birthday and are moved to the next room, they are potty trained.  Tia Paty works very hard to ensure this.

We rotated through the various rooms and took our turn in the kitchen, peeling, cutting, dicing, and slicing vegetables for the meals.  One woman installed toilet seats on new toilets, two grouted a newly laid tile floor, and two worked in the yard.  One of the requests of the director was to paint murals on two walls of one of the rooms in the new second story.  With trepidation, two of the volunteers started the project.  By the end of the two weeks we had two beautiful princesses, a care bear, and another bear on the walls.  These were perfect for the room which is to be used for nap time for girls.

The last day we worked in the Center, the children performed traditional dances while dressed in their traditional clothing.  It was absolutely charming.

We also took time to explore Quito and Ecuador.  One evening we went to Jacchigua, a national folklore ballet, which was wonderful.  Colorful costumes, beautiful music, and graceful dancing.  We had a salsa lesson, went exploring in La Ronda, a section of Quito that used to be an artists’ colony, and had dinner in a building that once was the Archbishop’s Palace.  On the weekend, we traveled to Otovalo where there is a large market.  We had fun bargaining and buying souvenirs. We stopped at the equator and had a picture taken with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern hemisphere.  We visited extinct volcanoes including one in which people live and work.  We visited Mindo and the cloud forest where we saw many and varied hummingbirds.  We drove on to see a waterfall.  To reach the waterfall we had to use a zip line or a cable car. We opted for the cable car which was put together with pipes.  A couple of us who were afraid of heights sat on the floor facing backwards during the ride.  The car went over a deep ravine with a river running through it.  It was beautiful.  We stopped at a coffee plantation and bought freshly roasted coffee beans, which were still warm, or ground coffee.

We had a wonderful time with the tias and the children and the Ecuadorean people we met.  We improved our Spanish, enjoyed getting to know the other volunteers, and experienced some wonderful parts of Ecuador which is a beautiful country.  Check out to learn of opportunities to volunteer in many countries or in the U.S.A.  They were founded in 1984, are well-organized, and provide much needed services around the world.

Pat Hess, a friend from San Francisco, and I spent two weeks in New Zealand in February.  We flew from Los Angeles to Auckland which took a little over 12 hours.  We toured both the north and the south islands. In Auckland, we visited a marvelous museum with many Maori artifacts.  We had a talk by a Maori woman which started with a traditional Maori greeting.  Our “chief” (one of our group) responded with complimentary comments. This was followed by our chief and the Maori touching noses and foreheads twice.

We drove through beautiful country with dairy and beef cattle, sheep, and blood stock (race horses).  We stopped for lunch at an organic dairy farm with 150 jersey cows and learned that New Zealand produces 40% of the milk consumed in the world.  We were given a talk about organic dairy farming and learned that milk from New Zealand organic dairies goes to Trader Joe’s in the U.S.   McDonald’s obtains its beef from New Zealand.

In Rotorua, our hotel was next to bubbling mud and steam geysers.  It reminded me of the geysers in YellowstoneNational Park.  A grove of California redwoods was nearby. The trees are just over 100 years old but are very large; they grow faster in New Zealand than in California.  A most interesting experience was Te Puia where we had a Maori experience with a traditional greeting and a musical performance of singing and dancing.  Afterwards we went to a boiling pool used for cooking and had a snack of sweet corn, shrimp, and green-lipped mussels that had been cooked in the pool—a traditional Maori way of cooking.

One of the most memorable experiences was driving up to Mt.Tarawera, a volcano.  Four of us walked down to the volcano bottom.  The downhill part was through scree—very fine, loose stones.  We walked slowly and carefully down the trail.  Our feet sank into the scree with each step and we slid several inches.  One man stepped off the track, slipped, and fell onto his back.  He then slid about a third of the way to the bottom.  Fortunately, he was not injured, but it was difficult for him to regain his footing and make his way back to the trail.  The footing on the walk up was much firmer and we made it without difficulty.

We visited a middle school that is 70% Maori.  Again a welcoming ceremony, the men touched noses and foreheads, and the children sang a couple of songs for us.  We then sang two songs we had prepared (Ghost Riders in the Sky and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands).  Our guide was fond of old western songs!  The school has an innovative curriculum and strongly encourages parent involvement.

We flew from Rotorua to Queenstown in the south island.  We checked in and went through security as a group.  No one checked our IDs and there was no screening of us or our luggage–an unusual experience for travelers from the U.S.

From Queenstown we drove to Milford Sound on the west coast and had a delightful sail in the Sound and out to the TasminSea.  We saw New Zealand fur seals, a school of bottle-nosed dolphins, and many sea birds.  We saw a number of glaciers on the mountains and several waterfalls—just beautiful. This is the part of the country where “Lord of the Rings” and many other movies were filmed.

At Franz Joseph Glacier, a few of us went on a helicopter ride to the top of the glacier.  We flew near Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest point, and landed in a snow field where we threw a few snowballs and made a small snowman.  It was a spectacular ride with stunning views of the mountains and glaciers.

On our way to Christchurch, we visited a high country sheep station.  The farmer raises Merino sheep which live high in the mountains and produce very fine wool, black-faced Suffolk sheep which have good meat (their wool is used for carpets), and a Suffolk/Merino mix which produces meat and wool.  We watched the dogs work the sheep.  An Australian pushaway barked to encourage the sheep to gather in a group, then the border collie brought them in.  It was fun to watch.  We were each given a whistle like the farmer used to direct the dogs.  I still haven’t figured out how to make a sound on it!

Christchurch is the place from which the early explorers of the Antarctic “jumped off.” We stopped at the InternationalAntarcticCenter and experienced a summer storm and learned about living and working in Antartica.  The U.S. program is based there.  That evening we had dinner at Bailie’s Irish pub where Shackleton, Scott, and other explorers had their last dinner before leaving for the Antarctic.

We drove to Akaroa which is a peninsula where Maori lived.  We had a lovely sail out to the Pacific Ocean.  We saw New Zealand fur seals, little blue penguins, Hector’s dolphins which are the smallest dolphins, and many seabirds.  We also saw where salmon and mussels are farm-raised.

During our travels, we were introduced to pounamu, a native greenstone that was sacred to the Maori.  We visited a shop and watch artisans make beautiful jewelry from it.  We also visited the Blue Pearl Gallery and learned how these pearls, unique to New Zealand, are raised and harvested.

Some memorable hikes were in the Te Puia Thermal Valley to see the geysers and mud pools, a walk in the redwood forest where we also saw some glowworms, a glacier valley guided walk, a walk along the Cape Foulwind coastal track to the Tauranga Bay seal colony and the Punakaiki Pancake rocks, and an Alpine Forest walk which was quite difficult.  I was able to get my feet wet in the Tasmin Sea.

This was a wonderful, entertaining, and educational trip in the company of some interesting people from various parts of the U.S.  We saw beautiful country and experienced some of the Maori culture. If you have a chance to visit New Zealand, seize the opportunity; it will be well worth it.

My husband, daughter, son-in-law, grandson, and I spent a four day weekend in Wyoming and South Dakota in 2009.  Before we went, we watched “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” since DevilsTower figures so prominently in the movie.  Devils Tower, Wyoming, is 1237 feet tall and was designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 as the first national monument.  My son-in-law thought that DevilsTower was made up for the movie so he was thrilled to learn a few years ago that it is real.  There is a nice 1.3 mile trail around the monument.  While we walked it, we were able to see a number of climbers working their way up or down the Tower—it looked scary to me!  The ranger said that I would be able to climb it; women are good climbers because their legs are stronger than men’s in relation to their body weight and they follow directions.  For inexperienced climbers, there is a 2 day orientation, instruction, and practice, and then they are led in the climb by a ranger.  I will leave that for younger climbers.

We drove on to Deadwood, South Dakota, where Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed while playing poker.  He was playing five card stud and held a pair of aces and a pair of eights, known today as “dead man’s hand.”  There are frequent reenactments of the shooting and the apprehension of his killer which are kind of fun to watch.  We visited Wild Bill’s grave and that of Calamity Jane who is buried next to him.  Deadwood today is a tourist town with many casinos.

The next major site we visited was Mount Rushmore.  There is a wonderful museum and history of the carving of the mountain which was an incredible undertaking.  The faces are over 50 feet tall but they are dwarfed by the mountains around them and don’t look as big as they really are.  There is a nice trail to walk along to obtain different perspectives of the faces.  We enjoyed the visit and watching the people who had come from all over the world to see the monument.

We next visited the Crazy Horse monument which will be even bigger than Mount Rushmore when it is completed.  The carving has been ongoing for over 50 years and there are still many more years left before it is completed.  It is most appropriate that a Native American is commemorated in the Black Hills of South Dakota which belonged to the native people for so many centuries.  We enjoyed visiting the museum and learning about the people who did and are doing the carving.  Incredibly, this monument is funded by private funds.

On the way home, we drove through CusterState Park in South Dakota which is home to about 1500 head of bison.  A number of times, we stopped and took pictures of bison crossing the road.  Most of the cows had calves so the herd will grow.  We also saw many pronghorn antelope, deer, prairie dogs, a marmot, and a coyote and a badger.  We later learned that coyotes and badgers work together to hunt prairie dogs—most interesting to see.

This was a wonderful trip to some parts of America that are truly “larger than life.”

In October of 2009, my husband, Bill, and I, and two friends from Bloomington, IL, took a cruise from New York north to the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City and back.  We were celebrating our 39th wedding anniversary and our friends, Helen and Jim McCalla, were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

We flew to New York and spent a couple of days sightseeing.  We had a tour of the city, went to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty, and saw “Billy Elliott”, a wonderful play about a young English boy whose father wanted him to take boxing lessons and he wanted to be a dancer.  The music and dancing were marvelous.

We boarded our ship and started sailing.  Our first stop was in Boston where I toured Lexington and Concord and the other three toured Boston.  I learned more about the American Revolution and saw the impressive statue of a Minuteman.  Back on the ship, we set sail for Halifax.  Three of us took a bus tour to Peggy’s Cove, a tiny fishing village with a small lighthouse.  Very picturesque (even in the rain).  After a full day’s sail, we arrived in Quebec City.  The passage down (up?) the St. Lawrence was just beautiful.  The leaves were very colorful and there were scattered houses and churches visible among the trees.

We visited MontmorencyFalls and St. Anne de Beaupre Shrine, a beautiful Catholic Church with wonderful, colorful mosaics throughout the church.  After a tour of Quebec City and a stop in the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, an impressive hotel on top of a hill, we reboarded the ship and sailed back out to sea and a stop at Charlottetown.  Helen and I took a lovely tour of the countryside, had a delicious lobster lunch, and then went to Green Gables.  The author of Anne of Green Gables lived in Charlottetown.  We visited “Green Gables”, a house in which cousins of her grandparents, a sister and brother, lived.  The house and the people must have been the inspiration for characters in the books.  We also went for a walk in the Haunted Wood.  If you haven’t read Anne of Green Gables, check it out.  It is a cute story and being in the house and woods made the characters come to life.

The next port of call was Sydney, a small town.  We went on a walking tour with a guide dressed in period costume.  We had four stops on our tour; the 1787 Jost House, the 1828 St. Patrick’s Museum, the 1785 Cassit House, and the 1904 Lyceum.  Most guides were in period costume.  (After the Revolution, many loyalists fled to Canada.)  The largest fiddle in the world stands on the waterfront.

After another day at sea, we returned to New York and caught our planes for home.  It was a wonderful trip and a lovely way to celebrate our anniversaries.

A friend and I went to Belgium and the Netherlands to tour and see the tulips.  We spent four days in Bruges, Belgium, and were inundated with chocolates and lace.  We had a demonstration of bobbin lace which is an art form that is dying.  Most lace today is machine made in China.  We had a lovely boat ride in the canals and visited the VermeerMuseum which has a copy of each of his paintings in the same size as the originals.  It provided a wonderful learning experience about Vermeer’s technique.  We were able to see some of his originals in the MauritshuisMuseum in The Hague and in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

We went to Flanders fields where major World War I battles were fought and an incredible number of soldiers were killed, both Allied and German.  There are 155 cemeteries in Flanders: 137 British, 13 Belgian, 1 French, and 4 German.  We visited the cemetery where John McCrae, a Canadian military surgeon, wrote the World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields,” (“In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row…”) after his friend was killed.  Dr. McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service because the chaplain had been called away.  We toured a wonderful World War I Flanders Fields Museum and that evening went to the Last Post (similar to taps) at the Menin Gate on the edge of Ypres.  The ceremony has been carried every night since July 2, 1928, to honor the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in fighting around Ypres.

We boarded our ship in Antwerp and sailed the next nine days with stops each day for tours at various towns and villages.  As we drove through the countryside, we saw fields of red and yellow tulips.  But for the real flower show, we went to KeukenhofGardens in Lisse which is near Amsterdam.  It is the world’s largest flower garden; every year approximately 7,000,000 flower bulbs are planted.  The flowers were just spectacular.  In addition to tulips of all colors and varieties, there were narcissus, jonquils, azaleas, and hyacinth and probably others that I didn’t recognize.  There were ponds scattered throughout the park with swans swimming leisurely around.  We were able to buy new bulbs that will be ready in October and have them shipped home (mine will be shipped to Colorado where my daughter lives).  They are to be planted at that time.  That afternoon we sailed through what used to be the Zuider Zee and is now an artificial lake.  Later we went to the Aalsmeer flower auction which is the largest flower auction in the world.  The flowers are brought in one evening, auctioned off the next day, and shipped out that evening.  The warehouse was full of dollies with flats of cut flowers.  People were moving the flowers around to be bid on and then taken to trucks.  It was an amazing sight.

To see windmills up close, we sailed to Kinderdjik (children’s dyke).  There are 19 mills still at this site.  At one time there were 10,000 mills in the country; now there are 1000.  They were built in the 1730s and are now UNESCO sites.  Mills in the Netherlands pump water only.  They are built in a variety of styles.  Hitler bombed many of the mills because they were used for communication.  The position of the blades had various meanings.  We saw an Archimedes screw which is used now; it moves 400,000 gallons/minute.  The miller and his family live free in the mill but they must keep it up.  We were able to tour one of the mills to see how people lived in the mill and how the mill worked.  There are quite a few turbine mills in the Netherlands used to generate electricity.  It was interesting to see the contrast between the old and the new.

All in all, a wonderful experience.