Monday, November 29, 2021

Swimming with whale sharks

Our day begins at sunrise. We are 13 adventurers on a trip with Natural Habitat Adventures to swim with whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. Anticipation is high as we are anxious to get started on our excursion.

Whale sharks are 5 time my length.

Our group had arrived on the tiny fishing island of Holbox (pronounced Ol-bosh) by ferry the day before. Situated off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, this laid-back village has quiet beaches but no paved roads. Transportation is by golf cart, substitute for a traditional taxi.

Larry rides from the ferry to our hotel via taxi.

On our way

Golf carts shuttle us the short distance from our hotel to the main dock of Holbox where we board two boats that will take us 20 miles out to sea. The ride will take about two hours and pass through the Gulf of Mexico into the Caribbean Sea. Around 8:00 a.m. we stop and consume breakfast sandwiches and juice on the boat to fortify us for the rest of the trip.

I'm forming the l in Holbox sign at the beach where we board our boat.

It’s a warm, sunny day in August--ideal conditions for locating whale sharks. Soon we arrive at an area where plankton, food for the sharks, are plentiful and near the surface. Dozens of whale sharks have gathered here to feed. Everyone is ecstatic since this means that opportunities to spot and then follow sharks in the water is great.

However, we are not alone. Many other boats have gathered in the same location. The tourist industry has recognized the economic value of tourists swimming with the sharks over fishing for them and reducing their numbers. The sharks are now protected in their native environment.

We go out to sea in search of whale sharks.

Everyone is eager to jump in the water, but that’s not how it happens. Regulations apply, so boats take turns allowing their guests into the water to avoid overcrowding.

Ready to swim

The process goes like this: Whoever is going into the water next sits on the edge of the boat, ready and fully outfitted with snorkel, mask, and fins until the guide spots a shark fin nearby above water and determines which way it is swimming. Quickly he orders “Go,” and you plunge into the water while trying to follow the guide who is swimming to in front of the shark.

Fins above water indicate where the whale sharks are.

We learn that when we hit the water it’s best to look up to see where the shark’s fin is rather than turning face down as for usual snorkeling. Otherwise, you might not know the direction the shark is swimming—and your turn is over very quickly if the shark swims out of view or decides to dive deeper.

Once in the water it’s quite a thrill to realize you are just a few feet—sometimes just inches—away from these magnificent creatures. Watching their bulky dot-patterned bodies maneuver so smoothly in the water is simply amazing.

Magnificent creatures!

Despite their size, whale sharks are gentle creatures. But close encounters are discouraged because the sharks are so large they could knock a person silly if there was a collision, and they have really big mouths!

It’s possible to try to swim to where a shark is, but you’re not likely to catch up or get a good look, so following the guide’s lead is important. Despite their length—up to 40 feet—the sharks swim fast. I quickly realized there would be no photography to record this adventure for posterity!

The first time Larry and I go we get caught in a tangle of thick yellow seaweed that obstructs our views. I go again, and this time is simply awesome—a close-up look at two sharks during the hectic—and tiring--few minutes of bobbing face down in ocean waves.

Larry and me scoping out the swimming whale sharks.

The next day we follow the same process, with each person getting two or three turns to be in the water. On one of our turns the shark swims extremely close to the boat just as Larry and I jump in the water. His movements are unpredictable, and I find myself literally staring into his mouth while frantically paddling to move away. I see his large tail flipping back and forth and just imagine the slap I might get if I’m in his path. I’m a minnow against the broad body of this giant fish!

Swim close but don't get in the way!

My last swim is the very best. With the guide showing me the way, I swim alongside the graceful whale shark for what seems like a long time but is probably only a few minutes.  I try to soak in every aspect of the magical experience—the shimmer of its skin in sunlight, the swish of its body turning in the water, and the thrill of interacting closely with one of nature’s special creatures in its home environment.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier and free sources.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Take a holiday drive in these national parks

Consider a holiday road trip to and through several colorful national parks. 


Bring in the autumnal vibes by visiting sunset-tinted canyons on a spectacular drive through Colorado National Monument. Situated in the greater Colorado Plateau, this park features breathtaking landscapes of sheer-walled, red rock canyons hundreds of millions of years old. 

Canyons visible along Rim Rock Drive, Colorado

Tour the park by driving along Rim Rock Drive, a 23-mile trek that offers a bird’s eye view of the canyons. You might spot bighorn sheep or eagles soaring across the Colorado sky. Stop at scenic overlook spots to capture the perfect photo and learn more about the canyons. Some bits of Rim Rock Drive can be challenging, narrow, and steep, so you need to exercise caution along the road and share with bicyclists.


Get ready to see some iconic American wildlife when you cruise through Great Smoky Mountains National Park along Cades Cove Loop Road. A one-way, 11-mile loop through the park’s broad valley, surrounded by mountains and flecked with autumnal-tinged trees, this drive is one of the best ways to see the park’s wildlife, including white-tailed deer, turkeys, black bears, coyotes and more. 

Look for wildlife along Cades Cove Loop.

With all the wildlife spotting opportunities it offers, this drive can be a popular destination for park visitors and does see congestion during peak hours. Make sure to give yourself enough time to complete the loop – at least two to four hours – and be courteous to other park visitors along the way.


If you want to experience fall colors in a unique setting, make a trip to Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah. Cedar Mountain is often considered one of the best places to experience bursts of fall colors, and with many scenic highways near the park, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy colors of the season. 

Hoodoos in Cedar Breaks National Monument

Try the five-mile scenic drive on Utah Highway 148, heading north, to see some of the park’s main attractions, including the North View and Sunset overlooks and Point Supreme campground and picnic area. Along this path, you’ll enjoy the scenery of both the lush meadow and subalpine forests of the Markagunt Plateau as well as the coral and orange hues of the park's geologic amphitheater.


Though not leaf-peeping, you can still get your fill of national park orange landscapes when you visit Arches National Park. The park is home to over 2,000 orange-brown natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of pinnacles, fins, and giant balanced rocks, making it the perfect out of this world experience to trek through this fall. 

You can hike to Delicate Arch or see it at the viewpoint.

Taking a scenic drive along the park’s paved roads is one way to get a lot out of the park if time or physical ability is limited. If you’re visiting the park plan to visit the Windows section to peer at some of the largest arches in the park. Don’t miss Delicate Arch Viewpoint for a look at the world’s most famous stone arch.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Information courtesy of Rebecca Watson, National Parks Foundation blog






Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Belfast recognized as rocking music city


Belfast at night


After Liverpool and Glasgow, Belfast is only the third city in the UK to be given the designation of UNESCO City of Music status. There are just 59 Cities of Music worldwide forming part of the prestigious UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Belfast is also the first city on the island of Ireland to receive City of Music status, which celebrates the city’s rich musical heritage and recognizes its outstanding contribution to music.

Belfast City of Music

Various home-grown musicians were involved in making the successful bid to UNESCO, including Gary Lightbody, best known as a vocalist and guitarist in the band Snow Patrol, as well as Emmy-nominated composer Hannah Peel. Having supported and committed to the delivery of the Belfast City Council bid, the pair have now been appointed official Belfast Music patrons.

As a holder of the title, and as part of UNESCO’s City of Music program and the wider Creative Cities Network, Belfast will deliver a series of major music events over the next few years.

The events will aim to build an infrastructure to further support music creators, and will also see music woven into public spaces to ensure the power and benefits of music can be felt by all who live, work in, or visit Belfast.

Cathedral Quarter in Belfast

Music has long been recognized as a distinctive aspect of Belfast's cultural profile. A sister city of Nashville, the world’s country music capital, Belfast has nurtured diverse music scenes and artists ranging from harpists and counter-culture punks, to rock legends, ravers and outstanding trad musicians.

The city’s musical roots run deep, and more and more talent continues to emerge.

The capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast is dotted with live music venues suitable for small and intimate gigs as well as the big sets of international superstars. The city regularly hosts top-notch music festivals such as the MTV European Music Awards in 2011.

Oh Yeah Music Centre is a creative hub.

Among the musical highlights visitors won’t want to miss on a trip to Belfast is the Oh Yeah Music Centre, a three-storied creative hub for musicians housed in what used to be a bonded whiskey warehouse.

Here you’ll be able to enjoy an exhibition and learn about the depth and breadth of creative talent that has originated from Belfast and Northern Ireland, including top DJs, world-famous bands such Snow Patrol, Thin Lizzy and The Undertones, the legendary Sir Van Morrison plus a modern scene that includes the likes of Foy Vance, Ryan McMullan and Two Door Cinema Club.

A great way to experience Belfast as a music city is to take the Belfast Traditional Music Trail, which starts in The Dirty Onion bar in the buzzing Cathedral Quarter.

Traditional music involves many different insturments.

You can also delve into Belfast’s musical heritage with a trip to EastSide Visitor Centre, just a short distance from the childhood home of Van Morrison, or take the self-guided Van Morrison Trail which reveals a wealth of information about his life and links to the city.

Information courtesy of Ruth Moran, Tourism Ireland For more information on visiting Ireland click

Photos from free sites.


Thursday, November 11, 2021

How to feel younger on vacation

When you hear the term “adventure vacation,” what comes to mind? Is it bicycling across Spain? Sea kayaking off the coast of Croatia? Hiking up one of the 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet elevation) in Colorado?

I applaud if you can and do take this kind of vacation. Most boomer travelers would probably consider that a little ambitious. But there’s still plenty of adventure to be had without pushing your body to unrealistic limits.

Driving through beautiful scenery is the start of an adventure.

Whenever you spend time experiencing the beauty and inspiration found in nature that’s a win for any age. You expand your world and get connected on a deeper level when exploring places like our national parks. Rivers, mountains, trees, and wild places become your playground—and you’ll start to feel free enough to express new-found joy.

Here’s how an adventure, including soft adventure, vacation can help you fee younger!

Autumn color of trees can awake the senses.

Breathing fresh air: Scents of blooming flowers, falling leaves in autumn, wet earth, hot dust, and cool mountain breezes can bring back memories of climbing trees, romping outdoors, and digging in the dirt—activities you probably did when you were young. After all, the sense of smell is can evoke powerful memories.

Snorkeling is a great way to play in the water. 

Getting wet: Immersing yourself in water is soothing and relaxing. Whether you’re swimming in a lake, tubing down a river, or just pampering your feet by wading in cool water after a hike, water encourages you to mentally go with the flow. You’ll relive memories of the fun you had splashing in a pool or local swimming hole when you were a kid.

Hiking can be dirty work!
Getting dirty: Whether you’ve tried camping, hiking, or something else in nature, you probably got dirt on your hands or sand in your shoes  But who cares? Getting outside allows you to disregard how you look (or smell) while doing your favorite activity. Make it a time for no worries or cares, just as when you were a child.

Eating outside:
That’s the best place for a meal when you are hungry! Cooking a self-caught fish over a campfire or dining from a sack lunch at a roadside park with an amazing view—what could be better? Imagine you’re having a picnic every day.

Preparing a picnic lunch with mountains for background.

Slowing down:  Ditch the alarm clock. Wake up with the sun shine to catch a beautiful sunrise. End your day when the sun goes down and stars start twinkling overhead. Eat when you’re hungry, and explore all the world has to offer during the day. It’s an easy timetable, a schedule without clocks like when you were a child. Stay in the moment, and focus on enjoyment.

Find hiking trails with good paths. 

Moving more:  Being outside and active means your body must move. Muscles get stronger, circulation improves, and mental attitude becomes more positive when you’re busy doing things. Find your happy place, breathe deeply, feel rejuvenated, and keep smiling.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

What do women travelers want?

Today’s post is by Stephanie Diamond, a veteran international human resources expert who has lived and worked in several different countries. She’s currently VP Human Capital Management for Global Rescue, a provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services.

Solo women travelers is an increasing sector of the travel industry.

Total solo travel can be refreshing.

Today, 56 percent of leisure travelers are women; and over the past five years, they have steadily held this majority stake. Women make close to 85 percent of all travel decisions: where to go, when to fly, where to stay, what to see. Importantly, women also live longer than men and outnumber them in a crucial travel bracket—retirees—making them an investment that yields greater, and longer, returns.

Find your own way.
The travel and tourism industry has responded with significant growth of women-only tour operators. According to 2020–21 data by Condor Ferries, travel companies dedicated to woman-only customers have increased by 230% over the past few years. 

Sisterhood of the Outdoors has guided hunting and fishing trips to women who love the outdoors. WHOA Travel, a boutique adventure company for women by women, offers adventures on four continents. Women’s Hiking Crew is a hiking community for women. Finatical Flyfishing provides women-only worldwide fly fishing trips, complete with female guides.  

New experiences and making connections

Travel with friends 

The travel experiences women are looking for today focus on learning new activities and reconnecting with nature and people. Many who viewed the 2021 Olympic summer games watched the debut of the female surfing competition and were inspired to learn the sport. It is what 60% of the guests do at Costa Rica’s Kalon Surf, a luxury resort and surf camp. 

“We have built an experience that helps our guests to relax and recharge by learning or improving their surfing in a beautiful, paradise-like setting full of comfort,” said Kjeld Schigt, founder of Kalon.

Mature women enjoy traveling togethr.

Traveling solo doesn’t mean you are always traveling as a party of one. Sixty percent of female travelers who sign up for WHOA Travel’s classic adventures — group travel adventure tour with pre-set dates — come solo, meaning they arrive knowing no one. But by the time the program ends, they leave with a new set of friends – and a totally new sense of competence. 

“When you face a challenge, like summiting Africa’s Kilimanjaro or trekking Iceland’s glacial terrain, and have these other women to lift you along the way, it forms an incredible bond that lasts,” said Allison Fleece, who co-founded the woman-focused adventure travel company in 2015 with fellow adventure enthusiast Danielle Thornton.  

Link up with a group.

“It can be intimidating to take the plunge and sign up for these kinds of activities,” Fleece said. “But when you know you’re doing it with like-bodied or similar-in-age women, you’re all the more encouraged and empowered.” 

Self-care, or reconnecting with yourself, is a growing travel goal for women. Imagine staying at a retreat hidden in a 22-acre jungle oasis in Costa Rica. You’re 10 minutes from the beach, steps away from nature paths and a private waterfall and treated to meals crafted by a five-star vegan chef. Pair it with yoga for an amazing experience at the Imiloa Institute. 

Relinking with nature is another priority among female travelers. Saint Brandon is an ideal place for a digital detox. Located to the northeast of Mauritius, Saint Brandon is a paradise-like island country in the Indian Ocean well-suited for anglers, free divers, kite surfers and nature lovers.

Reconnect during travel. 

Unfortunately, women of all ages must contend with certain risks on the road. Solo travel--for women and men--requires some additional precautions. Having a communications device that works under all circumstances and obtaining emergency medical evacuation protection are essential. Completing deep research about your destination will help prevent cultural faux pas. Keeping your family or friends aware of your itinerary with schedule check-in is an important lifeline to help you stay active.

Photos from free sites.