Monday, July 15, 2019

Rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

When Major John Wesley Powell’s curiosity led to his 1869 expedition down the Colorado River as it flows through the Grand Canyon, he was an experienced explorer. When I decided to follow his path, I was clueless about what the adventure would entail.
A visit to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim many years ago left me fascinated with its natural beauty and magnificence.  I vowed to return and traverse the Colorado River from the depths of the canyon, to see the massive walls from the bottom up instead of top down.

But I didn’t know a thing about camping.
Amazing colors indicate archeological activity millions of years ago.
Still I was determined to try. So Larry and I embarked on a 225-mile raft trip from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek, Arizona.  I couldn’t resist the challenge—and I was willing to travel out of my comfort zone for the experience.

Hiking could be challenging, but it was a great way to explore land in the canyon.

 For 10 days my companions and I camped on the banks of the dam-fed river, hiked on narrow ledges and scrambled over jagged rocks, splashed through 160 rapids, bathed in 45 degree water (or  held-out for frolicking in waterfalls), and brushed away blowing sand.

Beautiful reflections in the morning mist
I learned skills I’d never needed before--pitch a tent, go potty in the river, brush my teeth in the dark--put up with daily hat-hair and wet feet, and listened to unfamiliar sounds while trying to snooze.
More interesting rock formations tell stories about ancient weather.
But I discovered, as did the other 14 people traveling in our group, that stretching one’s boundaries in order to view spectacularly beautiful and ever-changing vistas of canyon walls while learning history and geology of the region were worth any inconveniences.

It's impossible to describe the immense beauty all around.

If you have any inclination to take this life-changing rafting trip, I hope these photos will encourage you to do so. There are a variety of options such as different length in days, miles covered, type of raft, and whether you want to hike as well as paddle the river and the rapids. Only certain outfitters are approved to take visitors on rafting trips in the national park.

There's a new and exciting landscape to view around every bend.
Because we wanted time to explore the fascinating landscapes yet cover the most distance possible, we chose to go on a motorized raft with Arizona Raft Company.

Appropriate dress for the raft included hat, sunglasses, shirt, and life jacket.

Our days were filled with adventures and new discoveries while soaking up the incredible ever-changing views. Enjoy this small sample of photos that Larry and I took. Despite no way to recharge batteries or use cell phones, we tried to capture the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.
More magnificence of nature in the ever-changing canyon.

Our group of 14 loaded and unloaded the two rafts each day.

After making camp, we set up chairs in a circle to visit and enjoy
a sumptuous dinner prepared by the guides. When it got dark
we went to bed--no campfires allowed.
Colors of sunset captured our imaginations.

Best to keep feet (and sand) out of the tent as much as possible.

Several hikes led us to refreshing waterfalls.
Waterfalls provided an easy way to get clean,
since the river water became muddy after a few days.

Our rafts followed the river as it flowed between large rock formations.

Fun activities like jumping into a waterfall!

Everyday we packed our dry bags (our only "luggage,")
and retrieved them when we camped for the evening.

Magnificent and varied scenery kept us in awe during
our many hikes.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Read the fine print before you travel

Today’s guest post is by Christopher Elliott, author of “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). This column originally appeared in the Washington Post.

Before you embark on your summer vacation, take a few minutes to read the fine print on your airline ticket, car rental contract, vacation rental contract — or any other contract the travel industry pushes in front of you.
Cruising to Alaska is a great summer vacation.

It’s no exaggeration to say that many, if not most, travel problems start with a failure to read the terms and conditions. After years of advocating travel cases, I think I know the reason for the fine-print illiteracy. No one even knows where to find the fine print, let alone how to make sense of it. It’s so frustrating that travelers, and at least one travel insurance company, are doing something about it.

“Travelers inevitably encounter fine print,” says Karina Saranovic, a lawyer with the firm Delman Vukmanovic in Los Angeles. “The mile stretch of ink at the bottom of agreements can seem intimidating.” Saranovic remarked on how easy it is to click “accept” and finish a booking without understanding what you’re getting.

Her advice: “Comb through the terms with a magnifying glass, because you can’t always predict what you’ll find.”

For example:
You want to fly on time!

• Airline contracts, also known as “contracts of carriage,” say the airline is not required to keep its flight schedule. But you’re expected to check in on time. Otherwise, the airline will cancel your ticket and keep your money.

• Car rental agreements stipulate that if you damage a vehicle, you owe the company for repairs, plus “loss of use” — or what the car rental company would have earned had the car not been in the shop.
Car rental agreements vary widely, so
know what you are getting.

• Cruise contracts say the staff may search your cabin for any reason at any time. The cruise line can also use your image for any purpose without compensation.

“While it’s a good idea to read the entire contract, you’d be forgiven if you don’t,” says Tanner Callais, the founder of, a cruise site. “After all, if you want to cruise, then you have to agree to their terms.”

It’s that way for virtually all travel purchases. The agreement, known as an “adhesion” contract, is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. If you don’t click “accept,” you’re not traveling.
Check for extra fees with hotel stays.

So how do you read the contract? And what do you do when you find something objectionable?

Knowing that there is a contract is the first step. And even if they are aware of it, they have no idea how to find it.

Sometimes, knowing the terminology is useful. An airline contract, for example, can be called a “contract of carriage” or “conditions of carriage,” depending on the company. Hotels are a little trickier. Technically, your reservation is your contract, although you may find additional terms and conditions on the hotel site. Knowing the lingo can help you quickly find the contract when you’re doing your due diligence.

Once you’ve found the contract, experts say you should take your time reviewing it. Contracts typically outline deadlines for cancellation refunds, rescheduling or promotional qualifications. If you’re buying travel insurance, you should read the contract twice. Travel insurance policies are written in gibberish. Even if you think you understand what you’ve read, you might want to read it again.

Almost every contract you read will be one-sided and nonnegotiable. Which is to say, you can’t ask the airline or hotel for a revision — it doesn’t work that way. If you press the “book” button, you agree to the terms. (Oh, and the terms can change at any time, for any reason, to which you also agree.)

Reading the fine print
takes time and persistence.
But you can say no, and if you don’t like what you read, you should say no. This is particularly true when buying products for which you have many options, such as travel insurance or vacation rentals. If your policy doesn’t look right, walk away.

For some travel companies, the fine print is part of the business model. As they teach you in consumer advocacy school, the large print giveth and the small print taketh away. (Tom Waits sang about it, too.) Simply put, travel companies make more money when they slip a term into the fine print that makes your airfare nonrefundable or add a mandatory tip to your cruise ticket.

But some travel businesses — the ones caught between the consumers and the companies — are tired of the confusion. So earlier this year, the travel insurance website decided to do something about it. The company inserted a notification at the end of its contracts, giving $10,000 to the first person to read to the end.

Squaremouth estimates that fewer than 1 percent of travelers who buy travel insurance read all of their policy information. “We’re working to change that,” Squaremouth CEO Chris Harvey told me.

Harvey expected the contest to last a year. But Donna Andrews, a high school teacher from Thomaston, Ga., discovered the contest in less than 24 hours and won. I asked her why, and she said it was a habit. A self-described “nerd” who keeps a file with all of her contracts, she says she’s done that since studying consumer economics at the University of Georgia.

“I always fully read contracts before signing to ensure I know what is covered and what is not,” she adds.

Maybe there’s a lesson in there for the rest of us. “Gotchas” infest virtually all travel contracts. If you don’t want to get ripped off, you have to follow Andrews’ example. Make a habit of reading the entire contract — unless you like surprises.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Amazing tiger sighting in India

One of the main reasons Larry and I decided to go to India was to see tigers in the wild. We chose a tour that allowed us to have eight different wildlife safaris in two of India’s fifty-plus national parks. Protecting this powerful and beautiful animal is a main effort of the Indian government, and these efforts have been significant in improving the count of Bengal tigers in the country from around 1400 in 2006 to 2226 in 2018.
One cub cautiously came out of the bush.
During the trip we had many sightings of this legendary species, both males and females. One of our greatest thrills was watching a mother tiger and her four cubs interacting while we were on a safari drive in Khana Reserve and National Park.

Look closely to spot all four cubs.
The mother tiger, whom we had seen alone the previous day, was lying nonchantly at the edge of the brush until the cubs come out of the thicket to play. Estimated by our guide to be about 7-8 months old, the cubs climbed on the tigress, jumped at each other, scampered away, and teased—just like children at play.
Play time for the cubs
As you can imagine, we felt very privileged to have that remarkable experience and wish to share it with others. I hope you enjoy this photo essay.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, May 31, 2019

Costa del Sol is Spain's premier resort region

During one of the port stops on a Mediterranean cruise we took a few years ago we spent a  delightful day visiting Malaga and Mijas, Spain. These two cities take advantage of the beautiful Mediterranean coastal region of Andalusia where they are located.
Malaga: Southernmost large city in Europe and one of the oldest in the world, Malaga lies on Costadel Sol (Coast of the Sun).

Beautifully Spanish city of Malaga
Thanks to surrounding mountains, temperatures are moderate. With a summer season that lasts eight months—from April to November, and a history that spans 2,800 years, there is plenty to draw visitors here. Archaeological remains and monuments from Phoenician, Roman, and Arabic civilizations, make Malaga an open museum. If you enjoy Pablo Picasso’s style of cubist art (he was born in Malaga) you should visit a small museum that contains 200 of his works.
Resort view in Malaga, Spain
As the capital of Andalusia, Malaga is the economic and financial center of southern Spain. To aid the tourist industry, the government built Avenue Andulasia and lined it with ficus trees brought from American more than 110 years ago. Together with a waterfront park, this has become a popular resort area.

As more people discovered the charms of Costa del Sol, little fishing villages were transformed into fancy resorts. Not all developers were honest which led to prolific corruption in 1950s to 1970s.  But the city and its beaches (all of which are free and topless) are booming now, with expensive high rise apartments lining the coast.
Blue flower pots contrast with
white houses.
Mijas: I’ll always remember Mijas as the place where I bought a gorgeous red leather jacket. How could I resist with vendors selling a variety of handmade goods scattered all through the shopping section of this lovely town. The capital of Costa del Sol, Mijas attracts upper class visitors, many of whom come here to shop for high quality leather, porcelain, and jewelry.

Overview of Migas, which is built on a hill.
A typical Mediterranean town, it is built on a mountainside with winding roads that lead to beautiful homes and resorts. Seven churches, two museums, and only one hotel grace this small, clean town, so it feels more relaxed and casual than a city like Malaga. Many small restaurants attract visitors to the beach area for delicious seafood cuisine.

Purple jaranda blooms profusely
in Migas, Spain.
Most buildings are painted white because of the heat, which gives the town a pristine appearance. Olive trees grow everywhere (50 percent of the world’s olive oil production is from Spain), with citrus fruits like oranges and lemons grown a little more inland. Many of these are use to produce sweet dessert wines like sherry.

We thoroughly enjoyed this refreshing slice of Spanish Mediterranean landscape.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


Friday, May 24, 2019

Away from the beach--Hawaii's other amazing sights

Sun and surf.
That’s what many people go to Hawaii for. Not a bad idea, as the islands have some of the most spectacular beaches in the world. But there is so much more to discover about the beauty of this state. Here is a quick sample:

Waimea Canyon is a sightseer’s paradise—a mile wide, 10 miles long, and more than 3,500 feet deep. Rust-colored rock formations punctuated by patches of deep green make this one of Kauai’s most impressive landscapes. In fact, it is often called the Grand Canyon of Hawaii since it is the largest canyon in the Pacific.
Canyon walls sculpted centuries ago by rivers and floods and layered in different shades of red often hide waterfalls spouting from the jagged cliffs. Hike into the crater or take a picnic lunch to enjoy at the top in Koke’e State Park. There, Kalalau Lookout and other points provide stunning views of the crimson walls and once-cultivated valley of this canyon that extends to the Pacific Ocean.


It’s easy to spend the day discovering the riches of Maui, a shimmering green island with scenic emerald peaks and flowing waterfalls. Being adventurous—and not intimidated by deep curves and hilly terrain—we decided to drive the Road to Hanna. Our plan was to stop at Wai’anapanapa State Park to see the sparkling black pebble beach set against contrasting blue ocean waters. Although we missed it at mile 32 we eventually back-tracked and enjoyed a pleasant picnic lunch amid the park’s rugged coastline, lush greenery, and piles of black lava rocks.
Following lunch, we tramped over the shoreline rocks that have been polished to a shine and are more than finely ground than sand. You can take a dip in the turquoise water or spend time exploring caves and a lava tube--marvels of this park.

Big Island
Easy blowing trade winds often bring clouds and rain to the east side where Hilo is the main city. That makes it lush and green--in contrast with the leeward western side (Kona is the main city) which is much dryer and tends to be sunnier and warm. Both are worth exploring.
Leave the splendor of Maui behind and hop over to the Big Island, a land of contrasts.

One of the most spectacular adventures you can have is a helicopter ride over one of Hawaii’s live volcanoes hissing with steam and spitting fiery lava. It’s a sight you won’t soon forget. After visiting Volcanoes National Park, find different views of the island at stunning Akaka Falls State Park and rugged Laupahoehoe Point Park. Remote Waipi’o Vallley is brimming with history and untouched natural beauty including cascading waterfalls, verdant valleys, and dramatic black sand beaches, much of which can be seen from Waipi’o Lookout.


When you've had enough beach time, walk through paradise as you take a guided nature hike into a thick rainforest. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn more about Oahu’s botanical delights, as well as geology, history, and mythology. 

For three hours we trekked through a tropical rainforest while listening to our guide’s knowledgeable commentary about every plant, large and small, and exotic fruits like mountain apples and strawberry guavas.  We learned that Ti plants, whose leaves, when wrapped around money, are said to bring good fortune.  Thick bamboo stands shielded us only slightly from frequent showers—this was the rainforest, after all--as we squished along now-muddy trails. 

After about an hour, the sound of rushing water led us to a clearing, where 300-foot waterfalls crashed and splashed into a rocky freshwater pool.  Ignoring the bone-chilling temperature of the water, I slid gingerly off a small boulder--and gasped as the icy water swirled around me.  The exhilaration lasted a few breath-taking moments, enough for my husband to snap photos proving my bravery.  

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier





Thursday, May 16, 2019

Historic Bath in England is delightful

When visiting London, you’ll probably want to escape the big city vibe at least once, so check out destinations for a day trip into the countryside. One of the most delightful places to visit is beautiful, historic Bath, just a two-hour drive from the city.
Site of the Roman baths
 Bath is a popular tourist spot and can be crowded, but it’s still more relaxed than the hustle and bustle of London. You can take a train, bus, or book a tour to this city named for the ancient Roman baths built over its supposedly healing mineral springs. Today there is a square with a fine museum surrounding the ancient underground bathing site.

There you can see displays, Roman artifacts, and excavated foundations of the mouth of the health-giving spring. Today you can bathe in the modern Thermae Bath, the only natural hot springs in Britain that you can bathe in. A good view from the inside, if you don't care to participate in a steaming bath, can be enjoyed over coffee and sweets at the Pump House Restaurant.

Inside Bath Abbey
Eventually the wool industry helped Bath to grow and prosper even more. During this time, about 500 years ago, the town built its grand abbey, the last great medieval church built in England. A visit to the ornate Bath Abbey with beautiful fan-shaped vaulted ceiling and elaborate stained glass windows at both east and west ends is a must.

Bath’s popularity diminished by the middle of the 1600s—until King James II’s wife, Queen Mary, went there to bathe in hopes of getting pregnant. Since she gave birth 10 months later, there was renewed interest in Bath’s healing properties, and a resort was built.

Our visit happened following a cruise that ended in London.  We hired a driver to meet us at the port as we disembarked from the ship and spent the day touring a different part of England. The rural scenery was stunning--gently rolling hills with farms and pasture land made the drive especially pleasant.
Royal Crescent
Free town walks are offered in Bath every day, led by volunteers who enjoy describing highlights of the city’s honey-colored Georgian heritage. Highlights are the Circus (like a coliseum) and the Royal Crescent building where the wealthy lived in 18th century Bath. Today anyone can live in this huge crescent-shaped complex that is an excellent representative of medieval architecture.
Park in Bath
We decided on a self-guided walk about in Bath, so we could cover not only the square but go a few streets over to the Putteney Bridge at River Avon and take a walk through the pretty park.
Bridge on the River Avon
After window shopping a bit, I bought a beautiful glass pendant (glass shops and artisans are abundant in Bath). Before leaving we tucked into a candy shop to purchase some of the city’s renowned chocolate. As we drove out of the city we stopped for a late lunch just outside Bath at a family restaurant and pub where we enjoyed delicious plates of traditional (and superbly fresh) fish and chips and some local ale.
Agriculture is prominent in rural areas.
While we didn’t indulge in “baths” we did enjoy our visit to a place drenched in history and elegant architecture. Our drive continued through the pastoral Cotswolds region before returning to our hotel and a next-day flight to Switzerland.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier