The marabou stork, with its unmistakable pink gular sac at its throat, is among the largest birds in the world, gregarious and colonizing—one of more than a thousand avifauna that join animal life in Kenya. © Micato Safaris

Originally published January/February 2017

Where will you go in 2017?

AAA Travel Agents add significant value, convenience and peace of mind to your special holiday at the destinations listed here—value found only through one of the world’s largest leisure travel companies, AAA Travel.

This Travel Edition of EnCompass offers you places to go in 2017, in five categories: Europe, Exotics, Tropics, North America, and Central/South America.

Exotics

KENYA
NEW ZEALAND
MOROCCO
AUSTRALIA
NEPAL

 

KENYA

Africa dream come true

Jeep and hot-air balloon tours offer visitors a variety of ways to experience Maasai Mara, a game reserve in Kenya. © Denver Bryan

Whether from the air, in a hot air balloon, or on the ground, in a jeep or atop a camel, Kenya offered an experience that this Colorado dreamer could not have otherwise imagined.

By Jody Pauly

What childhood memory ignited in you a desire for adventure? Growing up, I recall watching a Sunday TV show hosted by a zoologist, the late Marlin Perkins, called Wild Kingdom. In his professorial manner, and with his regard for conservation, Perkins brought Kenya alive in my imagination, allowing me to dream of someday seeing what he saw, and more, in a way that would preserve it for future visitors to experience for themselves.

In May 2016, I had that opportunity. And like my other life journeys, first-hand encounters with people and wildlife were so much more powerful than watching them on a screen, or reading about them in a book or catalog.

Before the trip, I watched Out of Africa, the 1985 Hollywood adaptation of a memoir by Danish author Karen Blixen (also known by the pen name Osak Dinesen). The story takes place in British East Africa (now Kenya), where Blixen lived and farmed for 17 years. (The film, much of it shot in Kenya, portrays trafficking in elephant tusks, cruelty to other animals, and other scenes that will alarm many viewers today.)

Blixen wrote that she had a “strong affection for the Natives,” and wildlife, whom she said enlarged her world upon her first encounter with them.

My time in Kenya began in Nairobi, a city of more than 4 million people. With a big city comes traffic, but there is no road rage on display here. Ten kilometers outside of town, I visit Blixen’s home, now a museum. The Danish government acquired the home in 1964 and gifted it to Kenya as a gift to celebrate its independence from Great Britain.

Other memorable stops include the Giraffe Centre, a sanctuary that offers visitors a close encounter. Within a few miles, next to Nairobi National Park, is the David Sheldrick Elephant & Rhino Orphanage, which nurtures babies whose parents have been killed by illegal poaching. I was especially moved when we visited a school of children sponsored by American travelers—children from the Mukuru slum who would otherwise not receive an education. The schoolchildren ran to us—smiling, enthusiastic, and polite.

The next morning, the alarm went off at 5:45 a.m., as it would every day of the trip. Hot tea, cream and a biscuit were delivered wherever I stayed—some days left on the patio with a gentle “good morning” uttered thru the tent screen. And each day brought new adventure.

One day we departed for a bush plane ride to a dirt runway in Amboseli National Park, a 179-square-mile birders’ paradise, with more than 450 species, and nearby Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet), the highest stand-alone mountain in the world, its summit visible only 20 percent of the time. This territory is home to the Maasai, the Natives that Blixen wrote about. The government granted them control of the park in 2005.

Maasai warriors compete through adumu, what non-Maasai call a “jumping dance.” © Blaine Harrington III

We visited a Maasai village, which greeted us with a ceremony, the people speaking in Swahili and English. They displayed amazing jumping skills, powerful enough to be an alternative energy source, and then welcomed us into their huts, built of grass and cow dung, through a low entry. It is very dark inside. The Maasai seldom go to the doctor, preferring instead to use natural barks for malaria, yellow fever, flu, cold, and even a substitute for Viagra (each man has two or three wives).

I saw adult elephants and their babies, and dangerous animals too—cape buffalo, rhinos, leopard and lions. Hippos run 35 miles per hour and kill more people than any other animal in Africa.

On one particularly early morning, at 4:15 a.m., we were whisked off for a hot air balloon ride with champagne breakfast, and flew low enough to see two lions enjoying an al fresco breakfast of cape buffalo tartar.

Perhaps the most memorable time of the entire trip was the moment when multiple herds of zebras headed out from low grass, where they had slept, and walked in mass exodus to the long grass. We watched a baby zebra suckling her mom, and 20 gazelles race like the wind, jumping over mounds, gracefully.

Jody Pauly is a travel agent in the AAA Colorado Southwest Metro office.

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NEW ZEALAND

The magic of Milford Sound

Hiking the Milford Track, deep into the Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand. © Blaine Harrington III

By Vanessa Day

Carved by glaciers into New Zealand’s South Island, Milford Sound remained hidden from explorers for hundreds of years. Since its discovery, it’s been hard to keep people away from its towering cliffs, covered in dense rainforests, rising straight up from deep blue water.

The morning of our cruise, gloomy grey clouds drifted over Te Anau, the closest township to the sound. The woman at the hotel told us that the weather on the other side of the mountains could be different. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

We drove through the tunnel to reach the Sound, and were greeted by a wall of rain. I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering Milford Sound is known for its wet climate. In fact, it gets 268 inches annually, so it’s common for visitors to see it on a rainy day.

We could have turned around and spent the day indoors somewhere, but this was our one day to see Milford Sound, and the weather was not going to deter us. We climbed aboard the tour boat, and the guide came over the speaker, acknowledging the weather. To our surprise, he was ecstatic. New Zealand had been in a drought, and this was the first decent rain in weeks.

The boat drifted to one of the cliffs, and through the fog I caught a glimpse of a waterfall, then another. And then, thanks to the rain, dozens of temporary waterfalls cascaded down the cliffs, a mystical world right before our eyes. The nose of the boat skimmed under a waterfall, drenching all of us as we rushed out to take photos.

Even though it wasn’t what I had pictured, the spectacle left me in awe. Even in less-than-desirable conditions, Milford Sound does not disappoint. As the New Zealanders would say, it’s totally choice.

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MOROCCO

Hitchcock’s square

Jemma el Fna Square, Marrakesh—scene of a murder in the Alfred Hitchcock classic A Man Who Knew Too Much. © Alamy/Jan Wlodarczyk

By Blaine Harrington III

Marrakech has been a lifelong fixation. As a child, I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, which begins with a murder in Jemma el Fna square. The 1969 song “Marrakesh Express” was written about a train ride that the musician Graham Nash, of CSN&Y, had taken. Then came James Michener’s The Drifters, the story of a group of young people who traveled together across Europe. Marrakech was their last stop before they disbanded and went opposite directions. Ironically, in 1976, I was traveling across Europe with friends in a VW bus. We decided to drive to Algeciras, Spain, and take the ferry across to Morocco. En route, the van’s engine blew up, ending that attempt.

I’ve made several trips to Morocco since then, and on every visit, my favorite place to go is the Jemma el Fna, the place I first saw in the Hitchcock movie many years before. It is a prime spot for people-watching, where acrobats and snake charmers perform, and water sellers in bright costumes clang brass cups together.

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AUSTRALIA

Ringside at a penguin march

Philip Island Nature Park is habitat for 32,000 small penguins, thousands of which return from the sea every night—an enchanting parade viewable from open-air platforms above and enclosed spaces below ground. © Phillip Island Nature Parks

By Jeff Mahoney

Drive south from Melbourne, and cross the San Remo Bridge to Philip Island for a chance to walk along tree-top boardwalks and observe the koala in a refuge, on land donated for their study. The koala, territorial marsupials, occupy a few “homes.” You’ll also see wallabies, a smaller relative of the kangaroo, also in the marsupial family.

A short distance away is Churchill Island Heritage Farm, a 37-hectare plantation that dates back to the 1850s. The property extends to the southern Tasmanian Sea, where the Pacific Ocean meets Indian Ocean. Check out interactive demonstrations on milking cows, sheep shearing, Australian sheep dogs, and lessons on how to crack a bull whip.

As dusk approaches, it is time to travel to the western point of the island. Why dusk?  That is the best time of the day for the Penguin Parade—the march home of thousands of Australian Small Penguins from a day of fishing. Philip Island Nature Park offers many vantage points for watching the procession, including an underground area for an up-close look.

The best way to reflect on the day is with a dark malt toffee ale or koala pale ale at the Rusty Water Brewery along the Highway B420 on Philip Island. The menu includes Australian dishes, such as seafood fillets, Rusty beef pie, and—for the adventurous—kangaroo.

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NEPAL

Hippie trail

Durbar Square (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Patan, Nepal. © Blaine Harrington III

By Blaine Harrington III

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I knew people who took the “Hippie Trail,” from Europe, across Iran and Afghanistan, to India. Some made it as far as Goa, but the end of the trail was Kathmandu, Nepal. Many Westerners had come to Kathmandu this way and once there, they stayed in the Thamel District, the center of the tourist industry for more than 40 years. Like Amsterdam on the other end, Thamel had inexpensive hotels and restaurants of all sorts. Then many of these tourists took it one step further, getting outfitted with hiking gear and joining organized trips to trek in the nearby Himalayas.

Kathmandu is a busy, bustling city where it’s not uncommon to dodge both motorcycles and cows. Bicycle rickshaws ply the narrow streets. Must-dos include the Buddhist temples of Boudhanath and Swayanbhunath, and walking down the Basmati River to the Hindu Pashupathinath Temple (Nepal is 80 percent Hindu), where it’s not uncommon to witness a cremation ceremony atop a funeral pyre.

The must-do in Kathmandu is to fly over most of the highest peaks of the Himalayas, including Mt. Everest. Even when you cannot see the peaks from below, because of low clouds, once in the air they are clearly visible.

After a few days in Kathmandu, I recommend moving on to the medieval city of Bhaktapur, eight miles away. Many tourists visit on a day trip, but I found it especially nice to walk the city’s streets in late afternoon, when I was the only Westerner in sight. The city is ringed by Himalayan peaks. The best time to visit is November, when the air is crystal clear. Also worth visiting is nearby Patan.

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EXPLORER’S HUB

Simple precautions

Traveling outside the United States is thrilling and educational, but there are some simple precautions that should be taken whenever you travel.

Make a copy of your passport. If you lose it, having a photocopy will make your visit to the U.S. Embassy or Customs Office much easier. Store it separately from your passport, and give a copy to a trusted friend or family member not traveling with you. If you can also store it on a secure online service like Dropbox. Also, don’t carry your passport everywhere you go, and don’t keep it with your driver’s license. If you lose one, the other will be critically important.

Don’t stand out Your Apple Watch can be a beacon to thieves. The same is true for expensive jewelry, cameras, or purses. Best to leave them at home.

Lock your hotel room Most hotel rooms offer a door lock and secondary security device—a requirement of all AAA-approved hotels. Use them anytime you are in your room.

Don’t keep all your cash, cards, and IDs together If you do fall victim to a pick pocket or worse, limit what they get from one pocket or bag by separating your cards, cash, and IDs. Make certain not to use your back pocket; that’s the thieves’ easiest target. Some people keep a small amount of cash or credit card under the insole of their shoe for emergencies. You might also choose to keep items in a neck wallet worn under your clothing; these can be purchased at a AAA Travel store or online via eBags, which offers AAA Members a 20 percent discount.

Be aware of your surroundings Talk with the hotel staff about your sightseeing plans and ask them about areas tourists should avoid or be more cautious when visiting. Hotel staff can also assist with pointing out legitimate taxi services and safe transportation options. Pay attention to your senses; if a place doesn’t feel right, leave. Avoid heavily congested areas where close body proximity makes pickpocketing easy. While looking at the beautiful scenery, use your peripheral vision to keep an eye on the people around you.

Have fun! Exploring a new city, or foreign country is exciting and, with a few simple precautions, generally safe.
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AAA Connection

Find more helpful tips at Explorer’s Hub—your source for the latest AAA Colorado news on travel, discounts, auto, member benefits and more. Visit AAA.com for more articles.

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