When I was knee-high to the cattle roaming near my Midwestern home, my grandfather gave me a block of old barn wood for my birthday. Burned into it was that famous Helen Keller quote, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”  My grandfather knew a thing or two about growing things in the dirt, and about his precocious granddaughter. 

Later, in a relatively abbreviated period of time, I went from a deliciously luxurious life spent marinating in grand adventures, near and far, to the sometimes austere and certainly crazed life of a single mama running her own business and running after a tiny human.

Where do great adventures factor in?

Do I still take that Chamonix ski trip, but this time pack in my kiddo instead of my ice tools?  Do I throw caution to the Montana wind and buy a ticket to New Zealand? Or do I now buy two tickets and download 20 hours of cartoons to the iPad for the flight?  And do I realize a lifelong dream of learning how to sail, press pause on my Montana life and allow the winds to carry me around the globe…albeit this time with a tiny-human sized life jacket aboard?

The answer is simple.

Yes, yes and YES!

I’ve made many mistakes at this parenting game that I've tackled on my own.

But what I am most proud of, what really sends the gooey, chocolate center of my heart into palpitation, is when my daughter runs up to me and says, “Mama, let’s go on an ADVENTURE!”

Now, to a nearly 3 year-old the term ‘adventure’ means a slew of different things.  We often load up on crusty bread and ‘adventure’ on our bikes to the MSU duck pond and share carbs with our webbed friends.  We also ‘adventure’ to nearby Yellowstone National Park for geyser gallivanting, to practice our elk calls and then spend the evening bouldering on grassy slopes high above Gardiner with Electric Peak on the horizon. 

And most recently, ‘adventuring’ has included Kaia’s inflatable dragon floatie that we’ve launched for many aquatic missions across Montana’s rivers and lakes (Lake Upsata is a recent favorite…full of lily blossoms, loons and trumpeter swans!).

As my daughter grows older, she continues to astound me with her simple wisdom.  She is correct in that ‘adventuring’ does not always have to include lengthy plane rides, schlepping gear up a far-flung mountain or river, and scaring myself silly in general.  All of that is good in moderation, but what we are so lucky to enjoy in Montana is the spectrum of adventure.  From meandering ambles scouting for bear grass on the Whitefish Trail in northwestern Montana, to leisurely canoe paddles in the stunning Missouri River breaks, to dawn patrol backcountry ski days filled with homemade muffins and fresh powder tele turns in Hyalite just south of Bozeman…we can fill our boots with adventure in any fashion we choose.

All we have to do is walk out our front door.

Becky Edwards is a runner, climber, skier and all around mountain lover who resides in the shadows of the Bridger Range with her family.  She owns a communications and marketing consulting company: www.SunSnowCreative.com and is a founder of www.MontanaMountainMamas.org

Published in Travel Essays

During a recent outing I was reminded why they call one of my favorite sports “fishing”.

And not “catching”.

Published in Adventure

Diving is a great way to discover the world and what lies beneath the surface. 

From Bonaire and Grand Cayman to Yap and Palau, Family Dive Adventures and Kids Sea Camp provide education about the underwater world and the tools needed to become safe, confident divers. In the last 15 years, the company has certified more than 5,400 kids. Children and their parents will learn about coral reefs, sharks, manta rays and the latest in global marine conservation during Kids Sea Camp weeks.

Join other families during organized group trips or customize your own getaway.

Find out more: familydivers.com

Published in Family Travel Blog

See nature from a paddler’s point of view.

Here are five places for family kayakers to consider:

Published in Adventure

From blue-footed boobies and howling monkeys to spewing volcanos and black sand beaches, a family vacation to either of these two adventure meccas is sure to create long-lasting family memories.

In Costa Rica

1. Visit Tortuguero National Park.

One of the best parks in Costa Rica, this is a major nesting area for the green sea turtle as well as home to more than 300 species of birds, including herons and kingfishers, monkeys (howler, spider, and white-faced capuchin), sloths, caiman, iguanas, frogs, and butterflies.

2. Go batty.

Learn about bats at Costa Rica’s Tirimbina Biological Reserve. Bats represent almost 50% of the mammals in Costa Rica (113 species). You’ll find out about the natural history of these curious creatures as well as their adaptations, reproduction and how they are captured for research.

3. Raft the Rio Sarapiqui   

 Enjoy the thrill of Class II and III whitewater amidst Costa Rica’s beautiful scenery while observing abundant wildlife beyond the water’s edge.

4. Explore Arenal Volcano National Park.

Hop aboard the Sky Tram Gondola and check out the Arenal Volcano and Arenal Lake.
Next up: ride ten zip lines down for the ultimate adrenaline rush.

In Ecuador

5. Discover Otavalo.

  Home to one of the most popular indigenous markets in South America, your family will long remember the colorful Ecuadoran market, brimming with handmade items sold by the native people in traditional dress.

6. Visit Punta Pitt.

 This is one of the only sites in the Galápagos where the three species of the famous boobies can be found, along with two frigate species, plus a colony of bachelor sea lions along the beach.

7. See Santa Fe Island.

Find out who will be “Beach Master” among the sea lions. Snorkel and swim or observe the sea life from a glass bottom boat. Check out the native land iguanas that are unique to this island.

8. Sleep aboard a cool ship.

Travel by night. Explore new islands and habitats by day. (Families will like the quadruple cabins) Tilt your head to see an albatross cross the sky overhead. Sleep well, rocked to sleep by extraordinary natural beauty.

Published in Go Global

Do you long to sleep under African Skies?

Check into Little Kulala, a desert eco-retreat within southern Africa’s Kulala Wilderness Reserve.

Hop aboard a Land Rover to scope out springbok, ostrich and oryx or float above the dramatic landscape in a hot air balloon. 

Visit the world’s tallest dunes amid Namibia’s famed “sand sea”. 

Then fall asleep on your rooftop Sky Bed and enjoy a late night show where shooting stars and the Milky Way serve as headliners.

Contact: www.wilderness-safaris.com/safaris/index.jspwww.TravelBeyond.com.

 

Published in Go Global

No matter what interests your clan, there is plenty of family fun to be had.

Here are five ideas:

Published in Adventure

Since the early 1900s, the Izalco Volcano northwest of San Salvador remained active, emitting steam and heat into the atmosphere. It was such a popular site from neighboring Cerro Verde Mountain that the government decided to build a resort at the top of Cerro Verde, but there was a problem. Three witches who lived at the base of the mountain asked the resort not be built because it was a sacred mountain.

Well who cares about a bunch of witches, certainly not the Salvadoran government, and it told the witches it would proceed with the development. The witches put a curse on the project and sure enough after it was completed Izalco Volcano went quiet.

Eventually the resort went quiet as well. Today, when people go to the summit of Cerro Verde, whether for a picnic or simply to enjoy the salubrious mountain air, they usually end up climbing around the boarded-up resort as if it was a Mayan ruin.

I’m not sure what happened to the resort, but to my mind it still seemed like the perfect place to have a lodge of some sort. The air is cooler than in San Salvador, the views of Izalco are still there, and the ride to the summit is absolutely a treat. 

Lake Coatepeque 

Just before the mountains is a massive crater formed by volcanic eruption years before. Over the centuries water accumulated, forming, in this almost perfectly circular geographic structure, Lake Coatepeque. From high above, as you look down into the lake, you notice a small island had formed and that the edges of the lake were dotted with private, vacation homes including one belonging to the president of the country.

From the waters of the Coatepeque, the cone rises up sharply. It’s all very wooded now, from the water’s edge to the peak circumference of the cone and as I looked about, the top of the cone seemed to be a thin line of rock, but I was wrong because the road to Cerro Verde was along one of the conical sides of the old volcano. It was a two-lane thoroughfare that followed the circumference geography and in its simplicity a nice piece of engineering, although I was fairly sure the ancient civilizations, the Mayans or the Olmecs, probably had created the first path along the very same route.

Later, on the road back from Cerro Verde, my guide and I would stop for a lunch at a restaurant with an overlook of the lake – one of the great sites in a land of many great vistas not much visited by non-Salvadorans. 

A Land of Volcanoes 

I’m told by my guide that El Salvador counts 25 volcanoes, which is an extraordinary for such a small country. The land there is restless. Every once in a while it all comes to life either through an eruption, earthquake, landslide or any combination thereof. We are not talking dinosaur life but in modern times. The last volcanic eruption in El Salvador was in 2005.

If one looks at the topography of the capital city, the population sits in a broad valley between a couple of high peaks, one of which is a volcano, and the other, La Puerta Del Diablo (The Devil’s Door) is a popular park area that really completed its geographic formation early in the 1700s when landslides reformed the mountainside. Today, La Puerta Del Diablo is framed by two immense rock formations, the highest of which is 3,250 feet and is a major climbing location. For the rest of us, there is a short trail to a cavern. Make the walk because the view from there is stunning. On a clear day, you may not be able to see forever, but you can see to the Pacific Ocean.

The most visible volcano from the city is the defining peak of San Salvador, the Boqueron Volcano at Cerro El Picacho at almost 6,328 feet. At the summit is the popular El Boqueron National Park, with the most visible attraction being the immense crater. A tourist trail with look-out points wraps around the conical summit. The crater can’t be entered without a guide, but even without that excitement the view from the top is worth it as oddly, within the larger crater is a smaller, distinctive crater at the bottom of the formation.

El Salvador’s volcanic peaks seem to come in bunches. Probably the most accessible, historically significant and picturesque are in the mountain ranges to west. I skirted the mountains, heading along what is sometimes called the Mayan Route, since this was an area settled by the Mayans after the volcanic eruption in a nearby lake region. My first stop was the ruins of Joya de Ceren, a relatively recent discovery. Unlike the big Mayan ruins stretching throughout Central America from Honduras to southern Mexico, Joya de Ceren, was not a ceremonial place but a living area that was covered by volcanic ash. As a result, this site is one the few places where archaeologists go to learn what common-folk, Mayan life was life. 

The Ruins of El Tazumal 

Further to the northwest can be found the much grander ruins of El Tazumal, which looks much like the great Mayan ruins of ceremonial places found elsewhere in Central America. Tazumsl is not as tall, as say, Tikal in Guatemala, looking more like a squat palace, but its impressive nevertheless. There is a small but wonderful museum on the site, where resides the largest Mayan ceramic statue ever found.

After La Tazumal, I headed southwest in the heart of Mayan mountain country, but now dotted by many small villages, basically unchanged from their Spanish heritage. I stayed two nights in the cheery Ahuachapan, temporarily residing in the town’s fanciest accommodation, but in American lexicon, just a bed & breakfast, which was built out of a traditional, one-story colonial habitat. The proprietress, a former beauty queen, decorated the place with bits of antiques, arts and crafts and family heirlooms.

From my base in Ahuachapan, I spent a day visiting the villages of Apaneca, Juayua, Salcoatitan and Nahuizalco. All the villages are connected by a two-lane mountain road that looked precarious at best, but never slowed down the local drivers or pedestrians. On the road out of Nuizalco you should actually slow down and find the overlook along the side of the road. From this single spot you can see seven volcanoes. Five in a long line and two more in the distance.

Coffee Country

This is coffee country and just for something different to do, I stopped by the coffee plantation called the Carmen Estate for a lesson as to how coffee is grown and prepared – and I have to say, to get from seed to the coffee bean we know, is a lot more complicated than I imagined. I got to help “sweep” the seedlings into drying position using not a traditional broom, but one with a flat wooden face instead of a brush. My reward, a fresh-brewed coffee from locally grown beans. It was like drinking a fine cognac.

The steep mountains look lush and green, but if you look closely this is mostly coffee being grown on the mountainsides and divided into plots by other types of vegetation. Coffee has been a blessing and a curse to El Salvador. Beginning in the late 1800s, it became the country’s first major cash crop, but when the market collapsed after World War I and with the coming of the global depression, thousands of native peoples were thrown out of work. They rebelled only to be slaughtered by the tens of thousands.

There is a small cultural center in Juayua that is in effect a museum of the genocide.

The conflicts of the 1930s in a sense festered and grew until the 1980s when the country entered into 12-year civil war.

In Apaneca, my guide took me to visit the home a friend who had been part of the guerilla support network during the civil war. Surprisingly, the home was chock-a-block with crafts, collectibles and bits of antiquity. With thousands of years of Mayan civilization and then Spanish domination beginning the 1500s, there seems to be so much antiquity about that I had not gone into an El Salvadoran home that didn’t have something that looked like it belonged in a museum.

Although the old revolutionary was quite proud of his collection, I took a picture of him not alongside his treasures but standing near a large, iconic photograph – of Che Guevara.  

IF YOU GO:  

GETTING THERE:

Coming from Phoenix, I flew first to Los Angeles International where I got a direct flight to San Salvador via Taca Airlines. www.taca.com 

WHERE TO STAY:

My first two nights in San Salvador, I stayed at the Holiday Inn, near to the American Embassy (www.holidayinn.com). In San Salvador, I also stayed one night at the Hotel Mirador Plaza, a beautiful, boutique hotel favored by businessmen and occasional celebrities (www.miradorplaza.com). In the village of Ahuachapan, my accommodation was the Hotel Casa de Mamapan, a pleasant Salvadoran version of a historic inn ( http://lacasademamapan.com). Finally, a real surprise was the ultra-modern La Cocotera Resort on the shores of the Pacific Ocean (http://www.lacocoteraresort.com). 

GUIDES:

I was traveling alone and Salvadorean Tours (www.salvadoreantours.com ) arranged not only my itinerary but furnished me with a car and driver the whole time I was in El Salvador. Excellent service all around.

Published in Go Global

family travel segue fun segway fun

Segue into adventure by booking one of the more than 200 Segway tours operating around the world. Introduced by American Dean Kamen in 1999, the company announced hopes the electric powered, human transporter would change the way we worked, lived and traveled. Here are five places you can take a guided tour aboard an emissions-free, two-wheeled Segway:

1.       Washington DC.

Hop aboard your Segway for a unique tour of our nation’s capital. Consider enjoying the sweet smells and picturesque views of the popular National Cherry Blossom festival from your transporter. Or sign up for “The Lost Symbol” tour and get an insider’s take on the sights and sounds described within Dan Brown’s novel of the same name. Your tour guide will be a member of Washington DC’s oldest Mason lodge and will lead you through a maze of more than 20 historic monuments and memorials including the White House, The Scottish Rite House of the Temple and the Smithsonian Museums on the Mall. Contact: 202.682-1980; www.capitalsegway.com/

2.       Los Angeles, CA.

Cruise along the beaches of Santa Monica and Venice, people watching from the comfort of your Segway. Take time for a photo stop, capturing the sea-faring surfers, the volley ball matches on the sand and the street performers entertaining on the sidewalk. Wind your way through the canals of Venice, tuning in as your guide lists the famous films that have been made in the area. Enjoy the Southern California sun and the laid back atmosphere of these famed beach communities. Riders must be 12 and over and weigh 100 lbs or more. Contact: 310.395-1395; www.segway.la

3.       San Juan, PR.

Experience an alfresco tour of Puerto Rico’s capital, a city rich in Spanish culture and history. Glide through “The Walled City” and learn why the Spaniards built a series of forts and walls to protect their treasures. The sightseeing tour also includes visits to the Darsenas Square, the Governor’s Mansion and other significant sites in the area. Young people will also enjoy the Fortifications Tour, which provides an inside glide through the San Felipe del Morro Fort. Built in 1540, this hefty fortress offers dungeons, tunnels, lookouts and ramps to intrigue the curious traveler. Contact: 787-598-9455; www.SegwayToursPR.com

4.       Daytona Beach, FL.

Choose to ride at sunset or when the sun is high in the sky. Either way, you’ll enjoy the sea breeze, people watching and the views along the “World’s Most Famous Beach”. Learn about the famous boardwalk, the clock tower, the city’s racing history and enjoy a stop by some of the city’s local hot spots. You’ll get a 30 minute orientation before hitting the streets aboard your high-tech transporter. Contact: 386-239-7158; www.daytonasegsonthebeach.com

5.       San Francisco, CA.

Enjoy the hills of scenic San Francisco the easy way. Wind your way through Fisherman’s Wharf and the Dungeness crab stands. Check out Ghirardelli Square, the Municipal Pier and Aquatic Park. Catch a glimpse of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Don’t miss the National Maritime Museum and listen up as your guide fills you in on the historic ships that have sailed into the harbor. Before long, your crew will be turning heads as you glide through Little Italy on your eco-friendly, self-balancing transporter. Contact: 415-474-3130; www.electrictourcompany.com.

Note: Most tours require children to be 12 years of age, weigh 100 pounds and be accompanied by an adult. Safety instructions and gear are provided.

 

Published in Family Travel Blog

Summer is a time for exploration.

Check out these five places to uncover grand, new adventures:

1 Learn about life in Cuba.

With a strong focus on lifelong learning, Road Scholar educational adventures provide multigenerational travel opportunities in 50 states and 150 countries around the world. Now, you can travel to Cuba, where you’ll have the opportunity to meet with local community leaders, artists and local families to discuss the changes under way. Crafted for children 9 and older, and their adult family members, you’ll also visit local landmarks and sample local dance, music and cuisine.

Contact: 1-800-454-5768; www.roadscholar.org

2 Head south to ski.

Consider trading ho-hum summer heat for the thrill of South American high country. From June through October, you can access premier powder in Chile and Argentina. The pros from U.S.-based Powder Quest can help you choose from snow ski tours, instruction-based outings and snowboard adventures in pristine mountain environments. There are also cat-skiing and heli-skiing options to provide a dual altitude and adrenaline fix.

Contact: 1-888-565-7158; www.powderquest.com

3 Dive the Great Blue Hole, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Scuba enthusiasts are eager to dive this large submarine sinkhole once explored by Jacques Cousteau. Located near the center of Lighthouse Reef, the Great Blue Hole is part of the large Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage site.

Experienced divers have the opportunity to see remarkable limestone formations as well as several species of shark in the crystal waters. The dive destination is 60 miles from Ambergris Caye; working with an experienced and reputable outfitter is essential. Las Terrazas Resort is a family-friendly condo-style hotel adjacent to the White Sands Dive Shop, where Professional Association of Diving Instructors-certified owner Elbert Greer will ensure your dive experience is top-notch.

Contact: www.lasterrazasresort.com; www.whitesandsdiveshop.com; www.travelbelize.org

4 Visit a castle, County Mayo, Ireland.

Ashford Castle, built in the 13th century on the banks of the Lough Corrib and the River Cong, was once a monastery and later served as the Guinness family home.

Check in with children 2 and younger and you’ll find a teddy bear and a full supply of baby care items waiting. Older children have their own bathrobes to get cozy after a day spent exploring the spacious grounds. Go for a private Hawk Walk, ride horses or learn the history of falconry with on-site experts. Plan to fly-fish for brown trout and salmon with Orvis-endorsed guides.

Contact: ashford.ie; www.discoverireland.com

5 Relax on the Long Beach Peninsula, Wash. A longtime favorite family beach destination, Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula is known for its lodging options, great birding, digging for razor clams, fishing and kite-flying.

It’s also known for beach-driving. You can ride horses on the beach, go whale watching, enjoy area festivals and hike nearby trails.

Contact: 1-800-451-2542; funbeach.com

Published in Go Global
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