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Oh they were so beautiful. And they were everywhere in Kyoto and Kanazawa and everyplace in between. We first noticed them in Kanazawa as we rounded a corner and there they were. DSC_0243We screamed with excitement for we just couldn’t believe our eyes seeing such natural awesome beauty.DSC_0070

Soon, we calmed down as we enjoyed the glory of those pink cherry blossoms in parks and gardens, alongside rivers and roads and many places in between in Japan. DSC_0935Those famous cherry blossoms provided us glorious beauty every minute for 8 days as we toured Kanazawa, Kyoto and Tokyo on the Tauck World Discovery tour.

Sharon and I just had to experience the blossoms up close and personal. DSC_0037So one day in Kyoto, the former imperial city, we enjoyed a rickshaw ride among the blossoms for 90 minutes dressed in a traditional kimono.DSC_0833 It was just outstanding and so much fun as we connected with people enjoying the blossoms everywhere we went.DSC_0696 While we were touring around Kyoto, we saw a geisha girl escorting her guest among the cherry blossoms. It was a famous Japanese icon touring a famous Japanese icon.DSC_0994

The experience began with getting dressed into a kimono. I never knew there were so many layers to a kimono. There was an under slip and another slip and then a garment that reduces the waist size. DSC_0984The two dressers pulled the strings so tight, I begged for relief and air because I had trouble breathing.

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A traditional Japanese wedding proceeding through the streets in the Geisha area.

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The cummerbund made my breathing problem continue but after adding an inch or two, I could breathe.

What relief it was when they loosened the strings a little. The kimono was wrapped last with the wide cummerbund added and pulled tight again.

 

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Our outstanding tour guide, Armin Geiger between us and Mickey-Son on the right, our Japanese national guide, were always laughing and happy which made for an even more fun trip.

Our hair was styled next and flowers and leaves were added to complete the total kimono look. Socks that worked with the sandals were donned and we were ready for our public debut.

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Our national Japanese Mickey introduced himself with a photo of Mickey Mouse so we could remember his name. Then we learned to show respect, the Japanese always add “son” to a person’s name. So from then on, we called him Mickey-son. He truly enjoyed  being our national guide, always happy, laughing, respectful, positive with a can-do attitude. He and our Tauck World Discovery Tour Director, Armin Geiger, made the trip A++ for all of us.

We first met our tour guide, Armin Geiger and our national Japanese guide, Mickey-son. They couldn’t believe our transformation and yes, we had to have our photo made with them. DSC_0032Waiting for us at the hotel entrance was our private rickshaws and the petite drivers. Now we were ready to tour Kyoto’s cherry blossoms and tour we did.

 

DSC_1057Every year those cherry blossoms pop open in late March or early April but no one knows exactly when.DSC_0202 So thousands of Japanese stage a vigil under the trees and wait for hours until just the moment the blooms pop open.

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Japan’s Mt. Fiji still had snow on it in April.

This sacred vigil tradition has been going on for thousands of years. We rode among the trees when the blooms were in full bloom and the pedals were beginning to fall.

 

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There were many Japanese families and children our to see the blossoms and get a beautiful photo.

It was like a light pink pedal rain adding to the ambience of the ride. It was the 9th of April.

DSC_0690They call it Sakura which means cherry blossom time. The moment the cherry blossom opens is a major festival in Japan that began in the Nara Period 710-794 A.D. Blooms happen February to May from south Okinawa to north Hokkaido, Japan.

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A precious little Japanese child. Children were everywhere and they were so cute.

It is a sacred time because it signals the beginning of rice planting. And thousands and thousands gather to eat and drink and be merry at this Hanami, blossom viewing because it is party time.

DSC_0807Climate conditions control the exact second the blossoms open. If it is a cold winter, the blossoms may not open until later. If it is a mild winter, the blossoms may open sooner. DSC_0826And if it is a rainy winter, the petals start to drop sooner. Because of these variables, the people watch the forecast and the blossoms by the minute. This year, the blossoms were later because it had been a colder winter.

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An ad from a Tokyo Hotel showing it and the cherry blossoms trees. The cherry trees do not produce cherries. They are only ornamental.

Everything is about cherry blossoms during this time. Special foods and drinks are made for Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing parties, for this most loved festival. There is Hanami beer, Kit Kat candy bars, dumplings, crisps, sweet alcoholic canned drinks and even Starbucks Latte.

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My soft serve ice cream cone cost $10 USD, the most expensive one I had ever eaten. But it was covered with gold leaf and Kanazawa, Japan was where they were sold. Kanazawa is known for it gold mines. It tasted great and I really couldn’t tell any difference from a gold or no-gold cone.

I ate an18-carat gold leaf ice cream cone in the Kenrokuen Gardens in Kanazawa. It was delicious and I didn’t get sick and I am still alive.DSC_1002

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Kenrokuen Gardens is the third most popular garden in Japan because it contains the 6 elements of a perfect Japanese Garden. They are spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water, and magnificent view from the garden.

DSC_0268At night, lighted lanterns under the trees shined their soft glow so the blossoms could be seen, making for a beautiful romantic and relaxing atmosphere for the night beneath the pink glow of those blossoms. And thousands came to view the beauty.DSC_1029

But there was more of this dreamy tour of Japan to come. DSC_0399And it was the onsen known as naked communion. Japanese have enjoyed hot spring onsens as an integral part of their culture forever because it breaks down barriers between others as they soak in the natural hot springs.

DSC_0402This Tauck tour included an onsen bath for every guest, But I was not certain I would enjoy one as I had been to Japan three times before and passed on one each time when I learned I had to do it NAKED. DSC_0409Swim suits were not allowed. I wasn’t sure I could take a bath nude along with other people in the nude. But this tour could be my last tour of Japan and if I was going to do one, I better do it now, I reasoned. DSC_0403So, I grieved and grieved over doing the onsen for days. But now the final chance had come to do it or not.

DSC_0675To check out one, I went to the onsen for a tour to see what it was like as we were staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. I learned that the Japanese have separate men and women onsens which helped my decision somewhat. DSC_0672And I learned I had to take a bath before I used the onsen.  Bathers could not get the spring water dirty and could not use a towel.

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Only a small cloth approximately 10×12 inches could be used to dry off and to cover any body parts getting in and out of the onsen. And when in the hot springs, the cloth was kept on the head so as not to dirty the water. That was it.

Now that I had seen the onsen, I decided to try it when everyone was at dinner. Then there would not be anyone using the onsen, I reasoned. After eating an early dinner, it was off to the onsen and there was no one there. DSC_0415

Hurriedly, I showered by the onsen and then made it into the hot spring. It was nice and not too hot. To my surprise, I floated and could not stay below the water but the water was warm and wonderful. After 10 minutes, it was time for my adventure to end. DSC_0689

After dressing, I made my way back to my room pleased that I had experienced a centuries old tradition of a Japanese onsen in cherry blossom time. And I was evenDSC_0671

more pleased and happy that we experienced so many more adventures and things. It was 2 weeks of heaven in Japan at cherry blossom time.DSC_0217

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Our bus driver was dressed professional at all times. And every taxi we took, the driver looked the same. Plus the seats were covered with white lace.

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This was the first sign I had seen like this in the world.

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Another precious little Japanese child and her Mother. Many people were wearing masks during this cherry blossom time. I learned that the blossoms produce pollen and some people are allergic to it.

And I was pleased that I had enjoyed Kyoto, Japan riding in a rickshaw dressed in a kimono while enjoying the people along the way who were also enjoying the enchanting and glorious cherry blossoms.

Photo Copy ©  2017 carolyntravels.com 

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Japanese ladies made the white Dove of Peace using Origami and gave each one of us this memento gift.

 

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Every dish we had of the Japanese food was delicious. But we did not know what we were eating even though Tauck provided the name of each dish. Still, each meal was a wonderful surprise.

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These 3 ladies rented their kimonos for the day and walked around and under the cherry blossoms all day. It added so much to the festivities for them and us.

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We had never seen a sign like this one either. I thought it was wonderful.

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Aren’t these 2 little dolls precious. They were with their grandfather who bought them an ice cream and he said I could take their photo.

 

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This dessert was light and delicious and my favorite. It was like a soft gelatin and I could have eaten many more of them..

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Inside our ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, where guests sleep on a futon on the floor.

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Sharon and I learned to make Japanese Ikebana flower arrangements. We also learned to make Sushi for one lunch and it was delicious.

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At our Farewell Dinner, we watched these Sumo wrestlers in a match.

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This little Japanese garden was our scenery as we ate a typical Japanese lunch. It was delicious.

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This wall of Japanese vending machines had every kind of food or item one might want.

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People raised their hands and arms high in the air wanting more and more trinkets and then surrounding our pedicab and begging for more. Why are these trinkets wanted so much, I wondered.DSC_0367

It is the human exchange of value from one person to another, I was told by natives of New Orleans. And it is the thrill of catching those beads, plush toys, necklaces, plastic cups, doubloons (Krewe coins), and shells and getting a little gift during this time of celebration. It is the tradition of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.DSC_0310

And catching and throwing trinkets has been going on at Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, since 1870 when the Krewe of Twelfth Night Revelers became the first Krewe (crew) to throw Mardi Gras “throws”. And the Krewes have been throwing them ever since. And the people love it, both the throwers and the receivers, for this is celebration time in New Orleans before the fast begins for Easter.DSC_0038

Mardi Gras began in 1703 in Mobile, Alabama and soon was celebrated in New Orleans by the 1730’s where it became the premier celebration in the USA to this day. Mardi Gras is always held 47 days before Easter in the Christian religion. It begins Jan. 6 each year on the Feast of Epiphany or King’s Day. Parades are held all over New Orleans during this 47-day period by scores and scores of Krewes.DSC_0096

And it all culminates on the last day, Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French) when people stuff themselves, before the start of Lent on the next day, Ash Wednesday, where all begin to fast or give up something for Lent for 46 days to Easter. Mardi Gras is the time of parties, celebrations, food and drinks to the max before the fasting begins. And everyone joins in with the Krewes to party.DSC_0052

A Krewe is a group of revelers that band together to host a Mardi Gras ball, ride on a Mardi Gras parade float, and participates in social gatherings. So Sharon and I joined the Krewe of Tucks which began in 1969 by a group of students from Loyola University who came up with the name “Tuck” from a no-name pub. It started as a rag-tag group or animal house “theme” where anything goes yet keeps its sense of humor on everything.Carolyn-Sharon together-Mardi Gras 2017

We were told we would be lionesses, queens of the jungle, and each would ride in a pedicab “float”. So we arrived the day the final 5-day festivities began. Awaiting us was our costumes, designed by Mardi Gras costume designer, Alan. We laughed and laughed and took photos as we put on each costume piece. As luck would have it, that stash of large safety pins that had been riding in the checked bag for months came in handy as we pinned the lion’s furry “legs” to our black sweat clothes to keep them from falling off. More pins kept the lion’s ears in place. With all on and pinned, it was show time.DSC_0812

Arriving at out parade gathering location around 10 am, we saw some of the other funny characters in our parade. As we waited for the parade, we learned that it would be delayed for hours because a float in the parade before ours had a tire bend under the float. It was so bad; the repair man had to come to the float because it could not be moved.DSC_0734

So we had time to see other floats like the man riding in a recliner chair on wheels complete with beer and cigarettes. And a group of bicycles that became a dinosaur, an elephant, a tiger and other fun designer animals. It was hodge-podge and it was so much fun.DSC_0303

But I didn’t realize what fun was to come as the parade finally started 1 ½ hours late. As our pedicab advanced along the parade route, we were inundated by revelers, one after the other. Soon our bag full of beads and shells and necklaces was empty.Carolyn Blows Kiss to Black Lady at Mardi Gras 2017

Talking to the people, seeing them in their creative costumes and interacting with them was the ultimate fun. And we did this for 6 miles and almost 4 hours. DSC_0528

When it ended, we did walk and move our arms slowly but we were very happy to have had a one-of-a-kind experience. And the people seemed to enjoy our costumes and pedicab “floats” as they took many photos of us..

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Even the trees catch the trinkets. But after Mardi Gras, the person who owns the tree cleans all the beads off so it doesn’t harm the tree.

We thought we had seen all the Mardi Gras parades until we attended the Mardi Gras Indian parade. It began by meeting the big chief, Shaka Zulu, a Mardi Gras Indian, in Congo Square in the French Quarter where he told us about the Indians and showed his elaborate costume. Shaka Zulu explained that the Indians began doing their own celebrations and parade because the Indians felt they could not do Mardi Gras with the American Sector of New Orleans.

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Chief of the Mardi Gras Indians is Shaka Zulu who also made his costume and personally hand beaded all accents. Then he added the feathers to make his costume an outstanding piece of art.

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So the 42 tribes started their own mask making, creating and hand sewing their beaded costume and finishing it with elaborate colored feathers. Then, each put it all together to wear and show in their “Black Parade.”DSC_0157

“We used to burn our costumes after Mardi Gras so no evidence existed of us.  And, we would make a new one anyway for the next year’s Mardi Gras, “Shaka Zulu said. But now their incredibly gorgeous costumes are placed in the Backstreet Museum for all to see.DSC_0908

Before or during parades, each day we attended a party along a parade route at a private home all decorated up with Mardi gras colors of purple signifying justice, green for faith and gold for power. At these private home parties, we also viewed a major Krewe’s night lighted parade while sitting on the front porch or balcony in perfect viewing seats.DSC_0166

At one parade, Sharon and I were sitting on the front porch of a gorgeous 1850’s home watching the parade go by. Sharon stood up one time with her hands in the air begging for a trinket. A man on a float saw her and threw her a bag of beads full of many necklaces and it landed on my foot. It was like a large rock had landed on my foot/ankle. My foot hurt so much and so long that I had to have a bag of ice applied to stop the pain. And it worked and I was fine.DSC_0912

When we watched parades, we were eating delicious New Orleans dishes like Jumbo, Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffee, Red Beans and Rice, PoBoys, or Muffelettas, with King Cakes and Beignets for dessert. This Virtuoso trip was a dream to experience plus we had a major adventure with Mardi Gras.mardi Gras

And all I did was ask that my travel agent Maureen Paap (mpaap@departurelounge.com) book a hotel for us during Mardi Gras. And we got wonderful revelers begging us for trinkets as we rode in costume in our pedicab with the Krewe of Tucks, went to parties at private homes, watched many parades, enjoyed our own parade as we participated in Fat Tuesday in our pedicab, and other experiences of a lifetime during Mardi Gras in New Orleans.DSC_0931

Contact your travel agent for this Virtuoso experience.

Photo Copy ©  2017 carolyntravels.com 

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Sharon didn’t catch that bag of necklaces that hit my foot so she went into the shrubbery to get other trinkets that had been thrown and also missed their intended recipient.

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When I took a Deviled Egg from this beautiful plate and complemented the hostess of the party that is was so delicious, she said that deviled eggs were back in style now. I was so amazed because I didn’t know they were ever out of style. As I left the party, the plate was empty.

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Another thing that caught my eye was these 6 foot (2 meters) wooden ladders that parents brought to the parade. They had a box mounted to the top of the ladder with wheels on the box and they pushed the entire thing like a wheelbarrow. The parents put their small children in them so they could see and enjoy the parades.

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Carolyn waistup in pedicab at Mardi Gras 2017

In the 4-hour parade, I carried snacks and water to keep up my strength. My favorite quick snack is baby food in a pouch. It is so convenient and only takes a minute for a mid-day picker-upper.

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“How did you get up here?” I asked her. The lady replied, “They carried me.” As we continued our travels around Ethiopia, she was in the same places as we were, Lalibela, the Omo Valley and Addis Abba. 13-2I began speaking with her and learned this lady travels all over the world just like we do.pic7

But this lady travels in a wheelchair. Soon we became friends and I started asking how she makes it because I might need to know one day myself. And while we discussed all of her tips and ideas, I thought how many other people would like to know how she does it so successfully.

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Even the cattle were wondering how she made it to many countries around the world HANDICAPPED.

Following is her story and photos of her various trips around the world to Austria, Japan, Mongolia, Namibia, Norway, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, China, Myanmar, Antarctica, Trans Siberian Express, Argentina, Bermuda and more.pic6

By Cynthia Henry

“Physically handicapped,” “disabled,” “physically challenged,” “differently abled”….. I have yet to find any term that feels comfortable for a life-changing condition that no one expects.  But, I no longer need to!  Thanks to Journeys International and API Tours of Indonesia (JI’s overseas operator), Focus Tours and more, I now use “World Traveler!”  What a thrill to return from two and a half weeks in Indonesia and say, “What a grand trip—and it was do-able!”pic1

Were there challenges? Well, sure.  Did they work out?  Yes, with the help of my traveling companions, Molly and Carolynne, and the operators, drivers, guides, boatmen and local people of Journeys/API and Focus Tours.  Were the challenges overwhelming?  NO!  Could I do every single activity that Molly and Carolynne did?  I never planned to and did sit out some, but was thrilled and amazed at what everyone made possible!pic5

I had done much traveling over the years and planned to continue as I eased into retirement in 2003.  I got in four overseas trips until… March 2005.  Who was to know that I would then topple off an exercise ball and suffer a spinal cord injury? As I lay paralyzed in rehab, thoughts of going to such remote places flowed out of my head while I instead worked on feeding myself a cheese sandwich. 

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Does this look handicapped accessible? It is if you have several strong wonderful men helping you in every way.

Well, movement came back.  I eventually returned home, learned how to live from a wheelchair and soon “graduated” to a walker.  I continue to use the walker and always will; I take a wheelchair on trips, which I use as a walker when not being pushed.   I can go up and down steps, either with a railing or with support from two companions and someone hauling the wheelchair up.    I am slow, awkward and have a variety of physical issues, but…I can also travel around the world! 

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My wheelchair was welcomed in all countries I visited and so was I. We both were treated with a “can do” attitude and they figured out every way to make the trip an enjoyable experience.

After I began experimenting with shorter and then longer excursions and finding out I could fly (get down the aisle and use the bathroom), a major life goal, I began thinking of the possibility of travel outside the country.  Since then, I have been on several overseas trips!  Five of my trips have been with Journeys International, that company rep providing the warmest and most hopeful and helpful response to my tentative query of  “….uh….what do you think?  Here’s what I can do.”   Pat’s response, in essence, were six magic words, “Our guides will get you up.”  And, they did!

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Stairs were no problem. Several men just picked me up in my wheelchair and carried me right up the stairs perfectly. But many times I was able to climb a few stairs using handrails and a helper.

JI’s philosophy is that people with special needs have rights—the right to travel, the right to have “inaccessible” places made accessible, the freedom to go places they may have thought impossible… They then provide the support of so many staff to make this happen.  Each JI agent has been wonderful in working with me.  They assure me this will work and take every step necessary to see that it does.  Many thanks to them!

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My traveling companions and good friends, Molly and Carolynne are always willing to travel with me and assist me

So, how did the staff on the ground make all this possible? First, the spirit of Journey’s International/API/Focus Tours was there.  I felt only support and no apprehension or dismay at the extra responsibilities that my situation meant for so many people. Every guide, driver (van or boat), hotel staff member and all others were kind, patient and helpful.Pic26.png

Bali, Indonesia had long been a goal, and so we finally booked it.  But, then, Molly called and said, “Guess what!!!  They have extensions to see the orangutans on Borneo and the Komodo dragons on Komodo Island!”  My immediate thought, was “Oh, no, extensive sitting in a van or on a boat or alongside the trail while my two friends go traipsing off on marvelous adventures.”  But, I weakly responded, “Uh, sure…take lots of pictures for me.”pic36

I generally have a “rule” of no pictures of me in the wheelchair, but the ingenuity, the creativity, the physical strength, the dedication of everyone, the incongruousness of it all—well, no choice this time around!  And, thank goodness, we did document, so that when our final guide, Yansur, asked that I do a report as a traveler with a disability, we were ready to say, “You bet!”    He hoped it would inspire more people with special needs to venture to the far corners of the globe.  I hope that will be the case.pic37

Now to my report on this specific trip, especially the parts that I had no expectations of seeing–the orangutans and the Komodo dragons…. Bali was lovely, fairly routine sightseeing , and we enjoyed the ease of driving around and staying at marvelous hotels.  Budi was our outstanding guide.  I did have to stay in the van for a few off-the-road surprises, but, am used to that.pic24 The main help provided that made a huge difference was our wonderful driver coming up with a step to make my way into the van without such massive bottom boosts.  Some vans are easier than others, and our driver throughout Bali converted this one into the “easy” category.  He and all drivers were so kind to wrestle that wheelchair in and out of the back area so I could enjoy the monkey forest near Ubud and a Rhesus monkey on my head.pic33

We flew to Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo, for our orangutan experience  Again, I did not expect to see any, except possibly swinging through the jungle trees during the boat journeys or from the boat at the get-in site, both of which actually did happen.  Pic27.png

However, while still in Bali, my hopes were raised with a message from our wonderful companies that they were confident they had a plan to make it work!!! The word “palanquin” does not often come up in my vocabulary, but the written description brought it forth.  Sure enough…oh, my…  and my dream was accomplished well beyond anything I imagined.

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Momma and Baby at eating station in Camp Leakey. Photo by Carolyn

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With my usual awkwardness and trepidation (all this isn’t emotionally stress-free), and with many hands helping many body parts, I am loaded bit by bit onto the boat, get comfy in my chair—and ponder my latest wheelchair riding in first class… rigged up with a rope loop handle attached to each of the four corners.pic34

After two hours, with a couple of orangutans along the way, we reach delightful Rimba Lodge and enough adventures for us all!  First by my just getting there…!   We begin with a nice boardwalk and board-carrying me in my wheelchair. And, off we go—some bare feet, tree roots, bumps, streams, slippery slopes…hard work, indeed!pic35

Success!   It can be handy to bring your own ringside seat for watching orangutans at a feeding station or mother and baby right in front of you.

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Dr. Birute Galdikas is the number one orangutan expert in the world and the creator of Camp Leakey. Photo by Carolyn

I had long wanted to see where Birute Galdikas, one of the three Leakey women primate researchers, did her thing, along with Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall doing theirs in Africa.  And, here I am at Camp Leakey, thanks to my “four strong men” as Erwin reassured me!pic42

On to the Komodo dragons on Rinca Island, Indonesia…another “impossible” feat to get me to these remarkable creatures..pic41

My wheelchair and a vegetable cart are loaded onto the boat. The cart was unloaded, and then fitted with a lounge chair so that I could follow the path of this prehistoric reptile waddling ahead of me. We made it to the ranger station for some fun viewing while the others trekked through the wilderness, seeing six in the wild.pic44

The four men from API Tours who met with us in the lobby of our hotel in Santur, at the end of our Indonesia journey emphasized that dealing with my specials needs, and working along with staff on the ground to solve the issues required was not a burden, but an exhilarating challenge to be creative and to work out plans for me to see the animals.a-196

And then there was Harbin, China and the world famous Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival where my wheelchair was fitted with skis that I was told to bring with me so my helper could just push me on ice around the awesomely incredible illuminated sculptures in below freezing temperature.2017-wheelchair-skis-closeup

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And then there was Antarctica where I thought I would just see it. But, no. The ship crew saw to it that I would experience and stand on THE island and even enjoy a glass of champagne to celebrate making it.cynthia-on-cont

Our experience in Mongolia was another great experience. Several times, I left the wheelchair and one time I would be surprised when I returned to it, like the time a precious Mongolian boy taking a nap or working on a game. mongolia-2009

And in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, an iguana was resting on the chair’s arm and a chameleon sat on my arm.pic23

In Myanmar/Burma, we watched an ox harvest peanut oil while walking around and around. Afterwards, we could buy it and sample it. What an experience that was.burma-2013-3

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And in Papua New Guinea, we were so fortunate to experience the Asaro Mudmen. Amazing! I am so grateful for all who made feasible these incredible experiences that I never imagined would happen.

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Watching the tango being danced in Buenos Aires, Argentina was one highlight of our trip there. Photo by Carolyn.

I encourage anyone to contact me should you have questions or need additional information. Perhaps by knowing as much as possible about my physical situation and adaptations, this will help you judge your ability to travel to “far away places with strange sounding names!” If anyone can get you there, Journeys International/API Tours, Focus Tours and others can if you ask!

Cynthia Henry     cynthiahenry819@gmail.com

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Here we are going into Camp Leakey to see those orangutans up close and personal.

 

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When I visited the wild mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda, I learned they are equipped with a chair to carry handicapped persons up the mountain to be with the gorillas. So, I hired a crew of 8-12 men to carry me up the mountain for a one-hour trek. Four men rotated every 10 minutes. The experience was unbelievable and the scenery up and back was so beautiful and interesting. With those men carrying me, we crossed a creek like it wasn’t there in Uganda. Waiting for us was a family of gorillas going about their daily life for us to enjoy. It was worth every penny and a once in a lifetime experience I will treasure always. Emmy Maseruka (emmymaseruka@gmail.com) of Afrikan Wildlife Safaris, was our guide for the entire safari and visit to the gorillas. He did an A+ job for us. Emmy will take 2 persons or more to see the gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda for 10 days for $4851.00 per person, (plus government gorilla permits in Uganda and Rwanda are separate). Carolyn

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Here I am in Lhasa, Tibet enjoying my favorite chocolate ice cream while riding in a wheelchair the entire 3 days because of my broken foot. My 2 helpers took me all over the nearly 11,500 feet high city. It was a wonderful experience.

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While sitting in a wheelchair, this beautiful lady in Saudi Arabia put henna on my hands. It was at one of the booths at an entertainment park during a special festival for the families around Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. June Landrum, my adventurous travel companion and I were honored to attend this special festival. The people were as happy to meet us as we were to meet them and we took photos of each other on our cell phones! I was in a wheelchair for this event because I could not walk for 4 hours non-stop due to my chronic arthritic back pain.

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And yes, June Landrum and I had to have an ice cream like we do in every country we visit in the world. And everyone is delicious! Of, course, we are stared at everywhere we go and we become friends with them all. This Saudi Arabia tour with Spiekermann Tours (mideastrvl.com)  was a delightful, fun experience with the incredible country and we were welcomed everywhere we went.

 

Photo Copy ©  2017 carolyntravels.com

Photos taken for Cynthia’s story were by Molly.

 

 

As we entered the Harishchandra Ghat in Varanasi, India, we noticed the heat and we were 20-25 feet away. Then, we saw a group of people watching from a step high above the sacred Ganges River.dsc_0124 And all along the river for several Ghats, thousands and thousands people were everywhere. It was then that we learned everything that was happening.india-jan-2008-1-886-2

What were we’re seeing, Ajay Pandey with Bestway Tours and Safaris told us, were Hindu ceremonies at the most sacred place in India that take place 24/7 each and every day. “No other place on Earth, Ajay said, “holds daily cremations at Varanasi like this right by the sacred Ganges River for the devout Hindu.” Over 80 cremations are performed daily on bodies brought by family members from everywhere any way they can to reach the cremation site because this Ghat and the Manikarnika Ghat are the main places where Hindu can reach Moksha. Cremation must occur within 24 hours of death.

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Ladies observing  Chhath Puja.

In addition, on this particular day, several Ghats( concrete steps on the bank down to the Ganges River) were packed with people observing Chhath Puja, a yearly 4-day observation where the faithful Hindu pay obedience to the Sun God. And this event was separate from the daily cremations. It just so happened that the 2 events shared the same area of the Ganges River. Married men and women observing the 36-hour fast prayed for the well being and prosperity of their families.dsc_0248

This age-old observance on the Ghats by the Ganges River was one of the many sites in eastern India where the festival was observed. The puja starts with the ritual of ‘Nahai-Khai’, in which devotees prepare traditional food after bathing. The second day is ‘Kharna’, during which devotees observe a 36-hour-long fast which starts from the second day evening onwards and continues till the fourth day sunrise.The third day, the devotees stand in water and offer ‘Arghya’ to the setting sun God.dsc_0255

On the fourth and final day of puja, devotees and their friends and relatives assembled at the Ghats on the river bank before sunrise and offer ‘Arghya’ to the rising sun God.dsc_0240

These devotees and others all watched the cremations and final day of the Chhath Puja, a once a year happening at Varanasi and all of East India. Several of the 87 Ghats along the Ganges River in Varanasi were full of people, and the river close to the cremation ceremonies was full of boats full of people observing it all.india-jan-2008-1-984

As cremations were on going 24/7, we saw only males watching their loved one being cremated on a pyre. Hindu accepts death as a positive event on the way to Moksha and peace. Hindus believe the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives -samsara- and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived -karma. Hinduism is not only a religion, it is a cultural way of life.

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This Rangoli is an Indian art form on the floor using petals, rice, flour, colored sand, and other materials. It is thought to bring good luck and reflect traditional folklore and practices unique to an area. A Rangoli can be done in flower shapes, deity impressions, or flower or petal shapes.

Before each cremation began, the male survivors took the body wrapped in a gold or white cloth topped with ribbons,  marigolds and other flowers to the sacred river for washing to relieve the body of its sins.india-jan-2008-1-861

Then the body was placed on a wooden pyre and the #1 male survivor, dressed in white, set the wood on fire. Prayers are said to Yarma, the god of death. The body is now an offering to Agni, the god of fire. Cremation takes 3-4 hours. When the skull explodes, it signifies that the soul had been released to heaven. The Dom keeps the fire going during the entire cremation and cows strolled around some of the pyres eating the marigolds and other flowers on the ground.dsc_0123-2

Many of these family members saved money for years to be able to buy the wood for their cremation. The most expensive wood is sandalwood and teak. Mango is the cheapest. The untouchables of society, called Dom, oversee each cremation and charge a fee to do so. They also charge for wood and weigh each log. Many of these Dom make a lot of money from the cremations.dsc_0121

The Dom stacks the wood into a pyre. Then the body is unwrapped and placed on the pyre. To keep it flat during cremation, more wood is placed on top of the body. The attending Dom then gives the #1 male survivor the flame with which he sets the pyre afire. Dry wood ignites immediately with flames leaping into the air and covering the body.dsc_0118

Should a person not have enough money to buy all the needed wood, the body is partially cremated with the amount of wood they can afford. Then the ashes and remaining body parts are put into the Ganges River where the soul is transported to heaven to escape the cycle of rebirth. The holier the place the better the chance the soul will achieve “Moksha” or cycle of rebirth and avoid returning to earth as an animal or insect.

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The red line into a woman’s hair indicates she is married.

Women are not allowed at the cremation because it is believed that their cries will interrupt the cremation and cause the soul to not make it to moksha. The transfer must be pure, and not sad or painful. We were allowed to pass through Harishchandra Ghat by keeping a respectable distance. And photographs are allowed only from a respectable distance.dsc_0288

Because of pollution concern, some cremations are performed in other locations and then the ashes are put into the Ganges River. But most Hindu choose the traditional cremation that has been carried out for thousands of years. After cremation, the ashes are searched for gold, and if any is found, it is given to the poor for purchasing wood.dsc_0206-2

After observing cremations from afar, we reached the Ganges River where a small wooden boat was waiting to take us to observe the “Prayer of the Ganges” to make the Ganges River happy to receive bodies into Moksha. This was at the Dashashwamegh Ghat. My first tour of India with Tauck.com included this Prayer of the Ganges ceremony and I was so impressed I decided to visit again on my private Bestway tour.

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dsc_0241Lasting for 1 hour each night, the Prayers are watched by scores of boats full of observers floating on the Ganges River. And we were one of them. The 9 Hindu priests perform the worship arti of the river Ganges to fire where a dedication is made to the Ganges River, Lord Shiva, the Sun, Fire and the whole universe.india-jan-2008-1-888

Under powerful lights that illuminate the Ghat, rhythmic chants and offerings are made by the nine priests to the river to accept the soul of the deceased on their journey to Moksha. We floated oil lamp candles in the river meaning light, happiness and knowledge. It was a most reverend ceremony.india-jan-2008-1-862

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One of the neon umbrellas under which a guru will celebrate the Prayer of the Ganges, which makes the River happy to receive the body into Moksha.

dsc_0210-2This one particular evening once a year, 2 events occurred at the same time, the daily cremation ceremony and Chhath Puja, the last day of the 36-hour fast that pays obedience to the Sun God. Hundreds of Hindu devotees packed the Ghats with baskets of food and flowers and family and friends to break that fast.dsc_0259

Watching the deceased take the journey to Moksha and the Hindu break the Chhath Puja fast was a total experience like no other in the world. Being able to observe both ceremonies in Varanasi, India, the holiest city in India, at the same time was a total honor.

Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com 

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The sacred Ganges River the morning after a night of cremations.

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Every morning the Hindu bath in the sacred Ganges River to wash away their sins.

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A man and his Cobra.

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At the ceremony was a Sadhus (Religious man) or Guru.

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This young man was selling marigolds and candles to put into the river to honor the dead.

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Cattle are everywhere all the time eating anything they can find, such as the flowers left over from the bodies while they were being cremated. All animals are sacred.

It was fun and it was different. And my feet were massaged in a way much different than any other massage. All of my thoughts were focused on just the stomping and smashing. But my feet felt more.

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When I went to Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley, California, to stomp grapes like Lucy did on the “I Love Lucy” TV show, an iconic episode of all time, I saw a 3-foot diameter wooden barrel that was about 18 inches tall.dsc_0938

In the barrel were grapes ready to crush. But to my amazement, the grapes were on the stems just like they had been cut off the vines. “What?” I said to Sean Hubbard, the handsome young man who helped me with the grape stomping. “Why are the grapes still on the stems?”dsc_0958

Come to find out, that was the way the grapes have always been smashed since the Romans began stomping grapes in 300 A.D. But I had never heard or considered that. So after my shock, and with Sharon Mason Davis taking photos with my camera, I lifted my bare feet into the barrel and stepped onto the cold grapes. My feet did not sink far into the grapes because there were just a few layers of grapes, but there were enough to get the feeling of stomping grapes.dsc_0896

My feet noticed a soft and hard feeling because those soft squishy grapes instantly smashed flat but the stems didn’t. It was like stepping on lots of twigs with mush in between and around them. I then wondered how the stomping was done many years ago if many layers of grapes were to be stomped in the barrel. How did they stand up, and did they have to hold on to the side of the barrel, I wondered.dsc_0847

Finally, after my eye-opening and foot massaging experience of smashing those grapes, it was time to end the experience by stepping out of the barrel onto a white t-shirt with my grape-colored feet. So one foot at a time I landed on the t-shirt and then I had a priceless souvenir.dsc_0090dsc_0062

The next stop was stepping into a #3 washtub full of cold water to rinse the grape juice off of my feet, dry them and put my shoes on. The end of my grape stomping experience was over at Grgich Hills Estate but another visit was just beginning.

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After the stomping, we were given a glass of award winning chardonnay and the glass as a souvenir of the stomp. Plus Linda gave me a tour of the vineyard.

Sharon and I met Linda Whitted, with Grgich Hills Estate, for our wine tasting appointment by introducing us to the grapes in the vineyard where the grape stomping was being held. And we sampled Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that were hanging on the vines in the vineyard nearby. Each one tasted and looked different from each other.

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Linda Whitted, Sharon Mason-Davis and me loving the wine samples. And so was the cheese.

Then we all entered the winery headquarters sales room, cellar and tasting room. And there, Linda had samples for us to try, complete with cheese and crackers.

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Award winning Miljenko “Mike” Grgich’s bottle of Chardonnay revolutionized the world of wine. And he continues producing the wine today.

She began by telling us the five “S” of wine tasting – See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Savor. And we enjoyed doing them very much. The first sampling was 2014 Chardonnay Miljenko’s Selection, which was like the wine at Miljenko “Mike” Grgich’s first victory in Paris May 24, 1976 when the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that he crafted outscored the best wines of France in the 1976 historic Paris wine tasting that revolutionized the world of wine.

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This is the bottle of wine on display at Grgich Hills Estate that changed the wine world in 1975. Shortly thereafter, Mike Grgich started his own winery.

It was delicious and wonderful to know I was sampling the best Chardonnay in the world. Then Linda told us to take a bite of the first sample of cheese and crackers and then taste the Chardonnay again. It totally changed the taste of the wine and was even more delicious.yountville

Then we tasted 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley and then the second sample of cheese and crackers. Next was 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley followed by the third delicious cheese, and finally 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville Selection, followed by an awesome cheese. All were outstanding and we wanted to continue sipping and sampling and each time cheese and crackers changed the taste of the wine. As a result, the cheese and crackers were all gone. And, we had to buy several bottles to take home for sampling with family and friends and get back to San Francisco.dsc_0901

Grgich Hills Estate was founded in 1977 by Vintners Hall of Fame inductee Miljenko “Mike” Grgich and Austin Hills, formerly of Hills Bros. Coffee Co. The winery farms 366 acres of vineyards naturally without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides in the Napa Valley, and uses its passion and art to handcraft food-friendly, balanced, and elegant wines. His daughter, Violet Grgich, Vice President of Operations and Operations, and his nephew, Ivo Jeremaz, Vice President of Vineyards and Production, assist Mike.violet_vineyard_2016

Ivo met with us and told us a story of his Uncle Miljenko and the times when he had to stomp grapes in a barrel while everyone worked in his native Croatia. “That way, everyone knew where he was and that he was safe while they worked in the vineyards. Grapes and wine were always in his life,” Ivo said.

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Ivo Jeremaz, Mike Grgich’s nephew, examines the soil in the vineyard to make sure it is top shape for the grapes to grow. There are 300 kinds of soils in the world and Napa Valley has 100 of them.

Stomping grapes like Lucy did was something I always wanted to do and it wasn’t exactly as I imagined it to be. But sampling the Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignons was truly a fun and favorable adventure that we will continue to enjoy with each glass of their wine.

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Rudy was our tour guide with Napa Valley Tours which specializes in taking guests to the wineries in the Napa Valley.

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This beautiful lady from Trinadad followed me in the grape stomping at Grgich Hills and she enjoyed it also.

Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com 

When we entered, it looked like an outside man cave or party room underneath a palm tree.

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Hussen invites us into his outdoor coffee “room” under the palm tree.

Seating was set up around the perimeter of the room, incense burners were sitting on the shelves ­­­­­­and assortment of objects and handmade carpets were covering the floor of the room.

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The outside coffee “room” complete with TV.

If there wasn’t a wall, carpets where hanging to make us think there was one and all kinds of old items used in life were sitting everywhere. After we were invited to sit, we began to notice this might not be a party room either because in the corner was a gas grill, pots and cups.

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Here’s Hussen again pouring his wonderful coffee for us.

 

And it was not a man cave either, Khalid Alqahtani, our Saudi Arabia tour guide, explained. This was a private coffee ceremony “room” on a driveway where Hussen, a retired mechanic, and his male friends could share one of the best coffees in the world, Yemeni Arabica coffee. In the corner, a grill was set up to roast fresh coffee beans until they were just right. Then he allowed the beans to cool in a tray.

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Chopping up the coffee beans outside.

 

And when cool, the beans were ground using a mortar and pestle. Grinding the roasted beans is very noisy, which says to all, “Come to my house I am making coffee,” Hussen explained.

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Khalid Alqahtani, our Saudi guide, shows and explains all about the coffee ceremony.

 

Coffee making was next as Hussen poured the ground beans into boiling hot water and let them sit about 5 minutes for that perfect cup of coffee. But, before we could take a sip, Hussen tasted the coffee so we knew the coffee was safe and good. Following tradition, the oldest man at the ceremony was served coffee first, then the rest of the guests. Oh, the coffee was so delicious because it was flavored with a hint of cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.

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Coffee Room # 2 in Hussen’s house.

 

After we had coffee in this outdoor ceremony “room“, we entered the house, and another coffee room. This one had a large flat panel TV screen hanging on the wall, plus wild goat skulls, antique janbiya knives, and it was full of more antiques, handmade carpets and an assortment of other collectibles. The display of many coffee pots on the shelf shines in every coffee room.

Then we visited another room of Hussen’s house and it was his third coffee room full of antiques and carpets displayed in places of honor all around the room. A collection of old coffee pots set regally in a row on a shelf while an assortment of janbiya knives hung in a row above them.dsc_0606

We loved the shape of the Saudi coffee pot so much we began visiting places that sell real authentic handmade coffee pots.

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In one shop we visited, we watched this man make a copper coffee pot.

Shop after shop was checked out and several had a coffee ceremony in progress where 8-10 men were sitting on the carpeted floor in a circle drinking coffee and visiting. At each shop we visited, men were sharing a cup of coffee on a short break.dsc_0566

 

Women also have their own coffee ceremonies with their female friends at locations where and when the ladies specify during the day. But we did not attend one. It is tradition in Saudi Arabia that men and women have separate coffee ceremonies.

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Khalid’s son, Mujeb(in the middle), greeted us at the door as is tradition for the oldest son.

 

Earlier in the week, we had visited our first coffee ceremony at Khalid’s home in Abha, Saudi Arabia. This coffee ceremony was held in the public receiving room of his house, where 3 walls were lined with couches and cabinets full of collectibles from his family. Khalid showed us his trophy he received for being named the No. 1 travel guide in Saudi Arabia.

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Khalid showed us his prized trophy of being named No. 1 tour guide in Saudi Arabia while his son served us coffee.

 

Serving us coffee was Khalid’s son, Mujeb, following the tradition and duty of a man’s oldest son. He graciously and patiently offered each one of us a fourth of a cup of coffee over and over because we all drank it so fast. The cups were small and the coffee was so delicious I must have had 7 refills which indicated to the host that I really liked his coffee.dsc_0666

It is tradition in Saudi Arabia that the cup be small without handles. And it is tradition that the little cup be filled one-fourth so the guest can take a sip, not burn the fingers and not waste the coffee because the price of it can be expensive.dsc_0550

The coffee ceremony is one of the ways men and guests and women and their guests get together to socialize, communicate, relax and unwind. And women do the same at their own coffee ceremonies. In Saudi Arabia, alcohol is not consumed. So the coffee ceremony is a very important social event.

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June Landrum found just the coffee pot she was wanting.

 

Finally, after 2 weeks visiting Saudi Arabia and the many coffee ceremonies, the ladies just had to have a coffee pot with cups as a souvenir of the custom practiced in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi coffee pot is so beautiful we just had to show it to all. So Khalid, our tour guide, took us coffee pot shopping and we found a custom made metal shop that had pots made of all kinds of metals. The one I chose was brass.dsc_0002

At each coffee ceremony, a dish full of native Saudi Arabian dates was waiting for us to enjoy. They were so delicious and fresh I had to have several with each cup of coffee. At one ceremony we attended, we were offered fruits, nuts, pastries and dates to accompany that perfect cup of coffee.dsc_0330dsc_0328

Our visit to Saudi Arabia was enjoyable and fun as we met people and experienced their culture and life while learning how they live and make it in life. One way we enjoyed being with them several times a day was at the traditional coffee ceremony where we drank many cups of their tasty and refreshing Yemeni Arabica coffee brewed to perfection each time in their ceremonial coffee rooms. And the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon flavor made the coffee irresistible.

Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com

 

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This nice and beautiful lady put henna in Saudi style on my hands and it was so much fun visiting with and greeting the ladies as they came into the shop.

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Kim-Kay Randt of Houston, Texas Executive Director of Travelers Century Club, an International travel club, presented Carolyn with a certificate certifying  she has visited 251 countries and territories in this wonderful world. And it only took Carolyn 45 years to accomplish that goal.

“It has been unbelievable experiencing and enjoying the different customs and peoples on this planet. And following on my international travel blog are many stories and photos of the encounters I have enjoyed,” Carolyn said. “I hope you enjoy the world with me as I show and tell you of my many adventures.”

Travelers Century Club, an international travel club, lists 325 countries and territories for its members to visit. Carolyn has 74 more to visit. So keep following her to see how many more countries she will visit.