When I was tagged by Katy Stuart from Starry Eyed Travels, who’s championing Team Red to write my top three travel memories, I initially found it very hard to do. That’s like picking your favorite child! But nevertheless I decided to give it a go here are my three favorite travel memories from several years of traveling, which now equal well over 25. Thank you Katie and Low Cost Holidays.
Travel Memory #1: Walking with the Lions at Kruger National Park
My first unforgettable travel memory was the summer of 2000. Fresh off the heels of my sister’s wedding in Johannesburg, South Africa, a group of us rented a car and drove to Kruger National Park—a no brainer considering our love for safaris. Determined not to visit the most popular resorts, we had picked out a small lodge on the less-frequented Mozambique border called Elephant Walk. Bhilly, our tour guide, proved to be a visionary. Born and raised on the Reserve since he was five years old, he was familiar with virtually every path and road not taken.
We were there for four days, and on the first day we saw so many of the animals that were easy to spot, from the gazelles to the rhinoceros. Day two: we spotted some slender, amiable giraffes whose skin blended with the dry-green veldt. Day three, and still no lions. We had given up hope of spotting the leopard but since we were growing cranky, we wanted to see one lion. Bhilly somehow sensed our despair and promise us that we would see something by sundown.
Somewhat disillusioned yet hopeful, we waited. At precisely 6:30pm, Bhilly drove our open-top jeep off the main road into one of the more narrow sideroads, and parked. “Just sit still,” he said. We could have been anywhere. We didn’t even have our compass or GPS with us to give us any idea of our location. Almost-bare pale blue sky. A bead of sweat trickled down my forehead.
At 7:00pm we heard a rustle in the bushes, and then, silence. “Be very quiet,” Bhilly warned. I was afraid to even take a sip of water. But then one giant lioness and her three young lions came out of the bushes. The young lions weren’t cubs—they were more the equivalent of teenagers. But they had giant paws that could have easily dwarfed my palm.
We were arm’s length away from these brown, magnificent creatures. Bhilly had a rifle—cocked and ready to go—on the dashboard of our open top jeep, just in case. The lions didn’t care one bit about us, they were just interested taking their siesta on the road. After a few minutes, they got up. Bhilly turned on the jeep engine. I was petrified.
As the lions walked, we followed them side by side, for an entire mile. I could have stretched out my arm and touched one…we were that close.
Travel Memory #2: A Brush with Butterflies in Aruba
My second most unforgettable travel memory involved—you guessed it—butterflies. I love butterflies, because they’re glorious, colorful, and so diverse. Plus, they’re very elegant in the way they float from one flower to another. The way they travel is an example of how I think the quintessential trip should be: elegant, unhurried, focused, colorful.
Aruba is a favorite destination of Matt and mine, and we keep going back whenever we get the chance. One often overlooked attraction is the Butterfly Farm, which has every romantic ingredient there is: a bridge, pool, waterfall, and dense foliage. When you enter, the Farm is filled with native and imported butterfly species from Atlas Moths, Scarlett Butterflies to Monarchs.
I had ordered a special dress with butterfly motifs printed all over the chiffon. I wasn’t expecting the warm greeting but within a few minutes of my arriving there, butterflies started flocking to my dress, and several sat on the chiffon thinking they were brightly colored flowers! It was truly an Alice in Wonderland moment for me because I don’t attract that many animals (except dogs). It made me realize that Nature is so intelligent that you can seldom fool her. Within seconds of landing on my dress, the butterflies knew they had been tricked and floated away.
Travel Memory #3: Witnessing the Feminine Spirit in Jordan
My last unforgettable travel memory was during my recent trip to Jordan. This was my first I had spent any extensive time in the Middle East, and I was 28 weeks pregnant. So many people told me not to go and to take it easy, but I was very glad I went. What surprised me most were the Jordanian women, who were so outspoken and open minded.
I remember the trip we took to Jerash, one of Jordan’s historical and architectural gems. While we ascended to the Temple of Zeus, I could hear loud music and plenty of people laughing and dancing. A group of young school kids—they couldn’t have been more than 12 years old—were shouting the local equivalent of “Long Live the King” in Arabic. A feisty young school kid showed her spirit and love for her country by rallying her other schoolmates and showing her support for King Abdullah.
It was great to see how much freedom of speech these girls had been given, and that experience itself defined the Jordanian dimension for me, and a testament to the growing Jordanian literacy rate and number of women college graduates. In fact, I loved the way Jordanian women allowed themselves to be photographed, and were less inhibited in their lifestyle than I had previously thought. The fact that these young women were so proud of their country and heritage is an inspiring sentiment—who among us has such passion for their country anymore?
So there’s my entry for Team Red, and I’d like to pass the baton in true Olympic fashion to the Usain Bolt of our team: Kit Whelan of SeekNewTravel.com. I cannot wait to see what you come up with, Kit!