Crossing a couple more places off the bucket list…

In just a few days, I’ll be setting off on one of my biggest, most expensive, most adventurous bucket list trips yet. It is a trip that has been over a year in the planning. In the course of it, I will visit 5 different countries (7 if you count airports, 8 if you add the US) and two different continents (again, 3 if you add the US). My main destinations are ones where the locals can kill me. I’m referring to the mosquitos, in case that wasn’t clear.  

This trip actually knocks two things off my bucket list – seeing mountain gorillas and a safari to see African wildlife somewhere other than a zoo.

I have been fascinated by the mountain gorillas since seeing Gorillas in the Mist when I was in high school. I read books about Dian Fossey and the amazing animals she gave her life for. Like Jane Goodall, Jacques Cousteau and others, she inspired my commitment to threatened and endangered species. (Admittedly, I haven’t always been as good about that as I should be.) I never really thought seeing gorillas would be something I could do and I am really excited to follow in the footsteps of someone like Fossey —some of the gorillas on the Uganda side, where I am going, are related to the family she studied.   

Below is the general itinerary for my trip, which is through Photography By Leighton

Day 1 (Feb 8) – Kigali, Rwanda

I arrive a day before most of the group (at 1am in the morning, after nearly 24 hours of travel). I have arranged a private day tour of the city and will now be joined by the one other group member who is arriving early. I learned that a friend of a friend will be in Kigali at the same time as me, so we might try to have dinner. The rest of the group arrives that night.

Days 2-4 (Feb 9-11) — Mt. Mgahinga National Park, Uganda

The trip begins in earnest the next morning when we set off for 3 days and 2 nights in Uganda.

We leave Kigali early to head to Mt. Mgahinga National Park where we will go in search of the Golden Monkey, an endangered species of monkey.

The next day, part of the group (which I am joining) will go on a gorilla trek to see the mountain gorillas, a subspecies of eastern gorillas, which are listed as critically endangered. We have a 1-hour trekking permit that day which means we will have one hour to spend with the gorillas (if and when we find them).

And the following day we all go gorilla trekking and 4 of us will have a chance to participate in a gorilla “habituation” experience. According to our itinerary:

The exercise involves visiting a selected family of wild gorillas every day until it gets used to these researchers. With time, all gorilla individuals are identified in terms of their sex, age and later given names. You will visit a Gorilla Family and spend an entire day with them…

That evening, we drive back to Kigali for the night.

Day 5 (Feb 12) — On to Tanzania…

The next morning, we catch a flight from Kigali to Kilimanjaro. This appears to be a down day as those who went gorilla trekking and those who didn’t meet in Arusha. It appears to just be a travel and rest day, which will probably be needed at that point.

Days 6-7 (Feb 13-14) —Tarangire National Park

The next morning, we head to Tarangire National Park for two nights. Tarangire is the 6th-largest park in Tanzania and less well-known than Serengeti. It is best known for its large elephant population. The African elephant is considered a vulnerable species, but one whose numbers are increasing. Other animals include wildebeest, eland, gazelle, impala, zebras, kudu, rhino, hartebeest buffalo and more.

Days 8-9 (Feb 15-16) — Ngorongoro Conservation Area

After two days of game drives in Tarangire National Park, we head to Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which includes the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest unflooded and unbroken caldera. According to the Conservation Authority’s website:

The area [measuring 8,300 square kilometers] contains over 25,000 large animals including 26 black rhinoceros. There are 7,000 wildebeests, 4,000 zebras, 3,000 eland and 3,000 Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles. The crater also has the densest known population of lions, numbering 62. Higher up, in the rainforests of the crater rim, are leopards, about 30 large elephants, mountain reedbuck and more than 4,000 buffalos, spotted hyenas, jackals, rare wild dogs, cheetahs, and other felines.

The annual wildebeest and zebra migration also passes through the area.

We spend two days/nights in the Ngorongoro area, seeing both the highlands and the crater, before heading to the Serengeti. [As an aside, as a World of Warcraft player (on hiatus) it always makes me think of the Un’Goro Crater, which I am guessing was inspired by it.]

Days 10-13 (Feb 17-20)— Serengeti National Park

Our last stop is Serengeti National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has the largest concentration of large mammals on the planet, including 2,500 lions, a vulnerable species whose numbers are —decreasing.

We are spending 4 nights at the Kati Kati Tented Camp – a camp with 10 safari tents with flushing toilets and bucket showers. According to reviews, you can’t leave the tent alone at night because the animals,  including buffalo and hyenas, prowl the camp. Did I mention I have a single room, meaning I will be all alone listening to the crying of hyenas and possibly roaring of lions off in the distance?  

We have 3 full days of game drives, including a chance to witness the wildebeest migration.

Day 14 (Feb 21) — Tour ends; on to the next part of my adventure

We catch a flight leaving from an airstrip near our camp back to Kilimanjaro. From there, I have a short flight back to Kigali, a 4+ hour layover, and then a red eye flight to Dubai.

Day 15-17 (Feb 22-24) – Dubai

I arrive in Dubai at 9am and will be there until the evening of February 24. I still don’t have specific plans for that time but I will likely do a day tour to Abu Dhabi on my second day.

I did not originally plan to go to Dubai. When I was booking my flights, my friend who organized the trip mentioned his flight left Kilimanjaro late in the evening and went through Dubai. As one of the latest flights in the day, it made sense to take the same flight out of Africa, giving me a chance to extend my trip by a couple days and see some of the UAE (which I likely would not otherwise visit). Unfortunately, the flight we had all booked from Kilimanjaro to Dubai got canceled (no reason given, but the airline appears to have discontinued that route — maybe the Boeing 737 Max issue?). So I had to find another route.

Day 17-18 (Feb 24-25) – On to Helsinki and home

This is where the already crazy itinerary gets crazier. I booked my flights on miles – United and its partners on the way to Rwanda, American and its partners (FinnAir, specifically) from Dubai to the US. My flight from Dubai went via Helsinki with a long layover —it was scheduled to arrive around 10:30 pm with an overnight layover and a flight to LAX at 4:40 pm the next day. Cool – a chance to do a quick stop in Helsinki, maybe see a museum or such. Well, that flight also got changed. My direct flight to Helsinki (with business class seating) became a flight via  Hurghada, Egypt (the business class seating is basically economy class with the middle seat left unfilled), a 45 minute layover before continuing on to Helsinki. My flight now arrives at around 3:30 am. I tried to change it, but the only other options were flights via London which would have meant over $500 in taxes on my “free” ticket.

The flight home is still at 4:40 pm, arriving the same day at around 8pm local time (and, yes, it has lie-flat business class on that flight)

In total, I have 19 days of travel, including flights. It’s going to be an adventure…

And, don’t tell them, but I’m gonna miss my demon kitties. Shhh…

Travel on the horizon…

The last quarter of 2018 left much to be desired. But it could have been worse, I suppose. I am still dealing with the medical issues that, and treatment is delayed due to the joy of insurance (as bad as it normally is, try adding a specialty medication to the mix). On the other hand, my medical bills would have been well into the 6-figures without insurance and my total responsibility is less than 2% of the billed total. So there is that.

But I am not letting those issues stop me from traveling. Over Christmas, I went up to Portland for a few days to visit my cousin. I had a chance to do a little hiking to waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge.

Next up is Japan in less than 2 weeks. I’m not sure how I’ll actually pay for the trip, but I am mostly staying in pretty low-budget accommodations. I’ll be in Tokyo for a few days, with a detour to the Shibu-Onsen area to see the snow monkeys. I’m looking forward to photographing those guys. Then it is up to Sapporro for the snow festival. Check those off my bucket list.

I just booked a trip to Edinburgh in May. I’ll be going to the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Europe chapter’s annual conference. Then I plan to spend a few days at the university library researching for my dissertation, whatever the topic ends up being. So it isn’t really a vacation (although I do intend to get in at least a little fun -and definitely some photography).

After that, it is Slovenia in June. Part of that trip is planned because it is a group trip for my friend’s birthday. The trip ends at Lake Bled – another bucket list spot. I am contemplating renting a car and making my way down to Dubrovnik, Croatia (aka King’s Landing from GoT). We’ll see – I still have a little time to sort out all those details.

Of course, July means San Diego Comic-Con.

Later in the year, it is back to Edinburgh for my graduation. My mom and brother plan to join for that trip. I will probably want to rent a car and drive (on the wrong side of the road) around the Highlands a bit. That has been on my bucket list for a while.

And next February, will take me to Africa to see the mountain gorillas and the Serengeti migration. That’s still a year away, but I have to scrap up the deposit soon (unfortunately, I don’t expect quite as high of a tax refund as usual thanks to the Trump tax reform/scam that eliminated my biggest deductions).

I also didn’t let health stop me from launching my photography/greeting card business. I haven’t sold much yet, but I have had a few sales and a few people have expressed interest. I don’t expect much to come of it, but maybe it will help me pay for the travel or a new lens or something.

Keep an eye out for travel updates, time permitting.

Bucket lists (travel)

Eight days ago, I returned from a trip to Iceland where I checked some boxes off my travel bucket list. Chief among those was a chance to see the northern lights / aurora borealis (they were oddly underwhelming in person – they looked more like thin, barely visible clouds than the bright green you see in photos – until I looked at my photos and realized I got some good ones).

The other day, I was thinking about bucket lists and, for a short moment, I thought I had put a serious dent in my bucket list over the last three years – Yellowstone, Rome, Venice, Pompeii, Florence, Iceland, the aurora… Why the sudden burst of travel? After my divorce, and after a few friends died too young, I realized I needed to do a little more to enjoy life today and to do things for myself.

I have been at my current job for over 17 years and have been working at a below-market salary (for many years it was quite significantly below market) for all those years. I have been doing that, in part, with an eye toward my future in the form of a fairly generous (particularly by today’s standards) pension and also toward the present in the form of above-market benefits. Among those benefits is very robust vacation accrual, which I rarely took in my first 10 years.

My future was accounted for, but what was I doing in the present? In 2010, I started taking advantage of my vacation time, with a 2-1/2 week trip to Japan, a place that feels like a second home to me. My next trip was 2011, to see the Kings open the season in Berlin and then to travel around France with a friend. And it was around that time that I met my now-ex, who lives in Stockholm (yes, Sweden).  For the next 3 years, my vacation time was spent almost exclusively visiting my ex or spending time with my ex here in LA. But that was okay, because I was planning a life with this person – a life that would eventually be based in Europe where, I thought, I’d be close enough to many of the places I hoped to see someday. Plus, my ex and I had some of the same places on our bucket lists and had planned to visit them some day, as well. I figured I had plenty of time to whittle down my list. But then my marriage ended and, with it, so did those plans for the future.

About a year and half later, an opportunity presented itself in the form of a conference in Rome. I had the chance to both check Rome (and a few other cities) off my bucket list and to learn something. So I took it. And I realized around that time that I could make my own opportunities. And when some friends passed away suddenly, I realized life was short. I had been working hard to ensure my future, but I needed to start considering the present. So I started checking places and travel experiences off my bucket list.

But was I really just down to just two more, one of which I anticipate knocking out next year, after just a few years of travel? As I started talking about travel I realized there were so many other places and experiences still on that list.

Among the remaining bucket list items:

  • Cambodia and the Angkor temples
  • The Galapagos Islands
  • The ancient ruins in Greece
  • Israel (with a detour to Petra, Jordan)
  • A safari in Africa
  • The Scottish Highlands
  • Stonehenge (yes, I know it’s underwhelming), Bath and other sites in England
  • Castles throughout Europe
  • The rain forests in Costa Rica
  • Snow monkeys in Japan and the Sapporo Snow Festival
  • The pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt
  • Iguazu Falls
  • Auschwitz (not so much a bucket list item as something I feel I need to see in my lifetime)
  • The national parks and national monuments in Utah

I am sure there are others and new ones will replace the ones I check off. But it looks like I have some busy years of travel still ahead…