Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Jumping for joy in Tanzania

May 21, 2010

This was first published Nov. 1, 2009, in my Boston Globe column “Where they Went.”

Veronica McCormack dances with a group of Masai women

WHO: Veronica McCormack, 57, of Watertown, Mass.

WHERE: Tanzania

WHEN: Three weeks in June

WHY: “A colleague had told me about Amani Children’s Home for street kids and he got me involved in fund-raising, so I wanted to see it firsthand; also a friend invited me to visit,” she said.

FAMILIAR FACE: McCormack’s friend in Tanzania was Mustafa Mohamed, who teaches at Roxbury Community College, where McCormack heads the language department. “He was there for the summer and invited me over,” said McCormack.

SAD SIGHT: With Mohamed, she visited Bagamoyo, a former port in the slave trade in the late 1800s. “We found a local guide who took us through the village and to the fort where the slaves had been kept before being shipped out. It was very chilling.”

Giraffe on the road as seen from a bus

WITH WILDLIFE: Together they toured the Ngorongoro Crater. “It’s a huge, huge crater with nothing in it except all this wildlife and a few Masai villages. It was a really beautiful, majestic feeling to be with the wildlife,” she said. “We saw four of the big five: rhino, elephant, buffalo, and lions mating. I couldn’t believe I was seeing it with my own eyes.”

Dancing Masai women. Well, really jumping; that’s what they do.

JUMP BACK: “With a guide from the local cultural center we visited a Masai village,” she said. “We got to go inside the mud huts, and then, much to my surprise, I found myself dancing with a Masai woman. Well, really jumping; that’s what they do. She approached me and put this necklace around my neck. She had this smile as bright as the sun, held my hand, and she just started jumping, and I started jumping. They jump really high.”

Sight from the ferry to Zanzibar

ISLAND RETREAT: On her own, McCormack took the ferry to historic Stone Town in Zanzibar, the former center of the spice trade. “I visited a spice farm and walked around the city, which is like a labyrinth, narrow streets of cobblestones and surrounded by water. It has all this Muslim history. The women are veiled. It’s totally different from the rest of Tanzania.” She also stayed in Kendwa, “a beautiful beach with very few tourists. The fresh fish was fabulous.”

One of the children at Amani Children's Home blowing bubbles

SUCCESS STORY: “A major highlight was the last four days, when I volunteered at the Amani Home. I wanted to see the kind of work they were doing if I’m going to make a commitment to supporting it,” she said. “I was there as part of the ambassador program, which you apply for. I spent some time teaching English but mostly spent time with kids. I’d brought bubbles and had kids climbing over me to have their turns at blowing bubbles. I felt encouraged because what they are doing there works, and it’s run by Tanzanians.”


Aping around in Africa

July 20, 2009

(“Where they Went,” published May 24, 2009, Boston Globe)

Debra Walk on safari in Seregeti, Tanzania

Debra Walk on safari in Tanzania

WHO: Debra L. Walk, 60, of Revere.

WHERE: Tanzania and Uganda.

WHEN: Three weeks in November and December.

WHY: “When I turned 50, at a spa in Utah, I thought, in 10 years, you’ll be 60. Where do you want to be?” Walk said. An African safari was the answer. “Elephants are my favorite animal, and the thought of being so close to them was really exciting, with me being confined and not them. I saved for 10 years, and it was worth every penny.”

Debra at at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania

Posing at Ngorongoro Conservation Area

INSTANT KARMA: Walk started with a two-week “classic safari” with Thomson Safaris, which featured several days of wildlife viewing. When she spotted an elephant the first day, “I screamed,” she said. “Later we were so close to them we could see their eyelashes. Our jeeps were surrounded by them. It literally took my breath away. We spent four days on the Serengeti, and we were there during wildebeest migration.”

Debra with guides before boarding the plane to leave the Serengeti to Arusha, Tanzania

Debra with her Serengeti guides before boarding the bush plane for Arusha

KINFOLK: Walk arranged for her final week to be in Uganda, and set up gorilla and chimpanzee activities through Adventure Trails. She’s drawn to the animals because “they’re our cousins and I think eventually they’re not going to exist anymore out in the wild. Humans are destroying their habitat.”

GROUP OUTING: She spent the first few days in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a rain forest known for its mountain gorilla population. “You’re allowed to spend up to an hour with them. You can’t eat anything, run around, or make eye contact with the silverback, the leader, and you can’t use a flash. There’s a good chance you’ll see them, but it’s not guaranteed.” Walk was lucky enough to see gorillas on both outings. “We spent an hour with the second group. The silverback’s first-in-command was no more than five feet from us and actually posed for us.”

Debra standing on the equator in Uganda

Debra straddles the equator in Uganda

PERSONAL ATTENTION: Her trip ended with three nights at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Lake Victoria. “Even though elephants are my favorite animal, my favorite day was on Ngamba when I got to walk with the chimpanzees. One of them jumped on my back and I gave her a piggyback ride. I have a tattoo on my wrist, and she was grooming me, trying to get it off with her fingernails. She untied my shoes, pulled out my laces, and tried to relace them.”

She can’t believe it’s accessible

June 30, 2009

I share my blog today with Candy B. Harrington, a fellow member in the Society of American Travel Writers, who is an expert on accessible travel, from people using wheelchairs to slow walkers. Her slogan: Have Disability, Will Travel, and she’s giving us a Top-10 list of little-known accessible places. I haven’t met Candy, who writes from California, but for years I’ve been impressed with her work and uncompromising dedication to her topic. In the world of travel, staying uncompromised is a major feat. She recently released the third edition of her classic book “Barrier Free Travel: A Nuts And Bolts Guide For Wheelers And Slow Walkers.” From the book site, you can check out Candy’s own blog. Photos (except Lake Powell)  are by Mr. Candy, aka Charles Pannell.

Heeeeeere’s, Candy:

Candy Harrington with her favorite chicken Agnes

Candy Harrington with her favorite chicken, Agnes

During the past 16 years I’ve traveled the world in search of appropriate vacation choices for my readers. Although they have a wide range of tastes, preferences and budgets, my readers all have one thing in common; for the most part they are physically disabled — slow walkers to wheelchair-users.

Over the course of my travels I’ve seen a good number of accessible hotels, attractions, resorts, spas and even bus tours, but I’ve also discovered some unconventional accessible finds along the way. These are the things, that really made me step back and say “Wow, I can’t believe they made that accessible.” And although I keep adding to my wow list, here’s my current Top 10.

View of Yaquina Head Tidepools

Walkways lead to Yaquina Head tide pools

Yaquina Head tide pools

Located just three miles north of Newport, Ore., this Bureau of Reclamation project features barrier-free access on paved walkways down into the Quarry Cove tidepool area.


Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

These gardens in Richmond, Va.,  feature a cool treehouse with ramped access to all areas. Think Swiss Family Robinson on steroids.

White Water Rafting

In Northern California, everyone can enjoy white water rafting on the American River, thanks to the folks at Environmental Traveling Companions. This San Francisco based company can accommodate wheelchair-users (even folks who use a power wheelchair) and slow walkers on their exciting white water rating trips.

Aerial view from Lake Powell (photo Wikipedia)

Lake Powell (photo Wikipedia)

Houseboating on Lake Powell

Forever Resorts  offers a wheelchair-accessible houseboat on Lake Powell, in Utah. You can rent the houseboat for a few days or a week. The accessible model features level boarding, a bathroom with a roll-in shower, an oversized master suite complete with a portable hoyer lift, elevator access to the top deck and a beach wheelchair.

C&O Canal Boat

Docked at the Great Falls Tavern, near Potomac, Md., the replica Charles F. Mercer canal boat features incline lift access to both decks and an accessible restroom on the lower deck. The canal boat is pulled along by mules and offers passengers a colorful look at 1870s canal life.

Baja Sport Fishing

Larry Cooper designed his En Caliente  sport fishing boat with access in mind. Docked in Los Barriles, Mexico, it features removable lockdowns, hoist access to the flying bridge and custom tackle designed for anglers of all abilities.

Wheelchair-accessible back country lean-tos at John Dillon Park

Accessible lean-tos at John Dillon Park

Adirondack Camping

John Dillon Park , near Tupper Lake in upstate New York, features wheelchair-accessible back country lean-tos.

African Safari

Endeavour Safaris  offers wheelchair-accessible safaris in a ramped Toyota Landcruiser, through Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa.

In a Cavern

Billed as America’s only ride through caverns, Fantastic Caverns  features ramped access to their tour vehicles. Just roll-on and enjoy this cool site near Springfield, Mo.

Bungy Jumping

If you want a little adventure, the folks at Taupo Bungy  in New Zealand can accommodate you. It takes very little adaptive equipment, but a whole lot of guts!

Thanks, Candy. The world of travel (and beyond) needs you and your advocacy work!

Wedding guests get best gift: Namibia

October 21, 2008

What a great opportunity the Bergs had!  As “destination weddings” go, this one may take the prize. Roger took phenomenal photos, some of which are below.

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
Published Sept. 28, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

Roger and Marilyn Berg in the Namib Desert, Namibia

Roger and Marilyn Berg in the Namib Desert, Namibia

WHO: Roger and Marilyn Berg, 67 and 64, of Plymouth, Mass.

WHERE: Namibia.

WHEN: Three weeks in April.

WHY: For the wedding of their nephew, Steven Neri, formerly of Kingston, Mass., to a woman from Namibia. They traveled there with Steven’s parents, Alan and Ellie Neri, of Kingston.

LOCAL GUIDES: “Steven had been stationed in the Peace Corps for two years in northern Namibia near Angola,” Marilyn said. The Bergs decided to attend the wedding then travel with the Neris, including Steven and his wife, Magano. (The newlyweds now live in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.) “That made things easy for us because for them it was familiar country,” she said.

Sesriem Canyon in Namib Desert

Sesriem Canyon in Namib Desert

NICE RECEPTION: They stayed at a hotel in Ondangwa, the closest town to the wedding. “In Namibia there are 4,000 miles of paved road, 40,000 of unpaved roads. Magano’s family lives about 13 miles off any road,” Roger said. “We were picked up in a Land Cruiser. The way there was sandy but with some greenery and a lot of water holes. The village was a collection of homesteads and the father, a local leader, had gotten electricity and water and a cellphone tower, and he built a school for 700 children.”

Giraffes in Etosha National Park

Giraffes in Etosha National Park

TASTES LIKE…: The Americans were treated to several days of welcome and wedding rituals held at the family’s compound, including songs, chants, and traditional dances. “One day we went to a few different home sites and watched people catch chickens for the bride and groom,” Marilyn said. The wedding was held in a Lutheran church, “from when a bunch of Finnish Lutherans came here hundreds of years ago,” Roger said. The ceremony was in both the local language and English, Namibia’s official language. At the reception, Roger nibbled on dried caterpillar snacks, thinking they were something else. “I’ve since read they’re 60 percent protein,” he reported.

Zebra in Etosha park, Namibia

Zebras in Etosha National Park

NIGHT LIFE: After the wedding, the three couples spent more than a week traveling. They made several stops to watch wildlife, including Etosha National Park. “It’s one of the best places for wildlife in South Africa. We stayed there, at Okaukuejo Resort, and they had a flood-lit watering hole to see the animals at night,” Marilyn said. “We saw a family of rhinos, a herd of zebra, wildebeest, and five male lions. I felt like I was on a National Geographic photo shoot.”

Lion in Etosha park, Namibia

Lion in Etosha (as seen from inside car!)

SEEING RED: Also amazing were the red sand dunes of Sossusvlei, said to be the world’s largest, rising to 985 feet. “They were breathtaking,” Roger said. “We climbed one for a bit, but slogging through the sand isn’t my idea of fun.” They took a jeep tour through the barren Dead Vlei, a famous desert area scattered with ancient trees. “It was gorgeous,” Marilyn said. “They looked like skeletons.”

Help Caitlin help Mali

July 10, 2008

There’s an important update to this “Where they Went” I wrote for the Boston Globe. It was published Dec. 30, 2007, just before I started this blog, so I’m going to share Caitlin’s amazing story now. Below it is information on how every day until Aug. 4, 2008, you can help her nonprofit agency win a $100,000 award to continue its work to bring health care to the slums of Mali. Please spread the word if you’re so inclined!

WHO: Caitlin Cohen, 22, of Providence, Rhode Island

WHERE: West Africa.

WHEN: June 2006 to August 2007 (and she’s been back since)

WHY: “I really fell in love with Mali when I went 2 1/2 years ago to do research on AIDS with the Global Alliance to Immunize Against AIDS,” Cohen said. That group was founded by a professor at Brown University, where Cohen is getting (just got!) a degree in international development studies and will attend medical school. “I went back to start the Mali Health Organizing Project  with two other students.” She also visited other African countries and lived in Rwanda for four months.

Caitlin Cohen in Mali

Caitlin Cohen on child vaccination day, with Lindsay Ryan, co-founder of Mali Health Organizing Project

OPTIMISM AND OPENNESS: “The people are dirt poor, but so energetic and lively and optimistic,” she said. “They have a national philosophy of hospitality, and that openness was compelling. The impact of health issues and the child mortality rate is really depressing, but they’re very supportive of each other. They’re very practical and they seek their own social solutions, like sharing of wealth.”

NATIVE TONGUE: In Mali, Cohen lived in Sikoroni, an impoverished area outside of the capital of Bamako. “Most of the official business in Mali is in French, but in my town nobody spoke French, only Bambara,” she said. “It’s fun and it gains you so much credibility instantaneously.” She learned the dialect through usage and a Peace Corps manual.

Sali Diarra (left) and Caitlin Cohen. Sali moved to Mali from Burkina Faso and was the host-sister for Caitlin in Mali.

Sali Diarra (left) and Caitlin Cohen. Sali moved to Mali from Burkina Faso and was the host-sister for Caitlin in Mali.

MALI TIME: Getting a nonprofit off the ground was challenging, she said. “The time thing is very, very different. It’s hard going from an Ivy League environment, when your days are planned in five- minute increments to waiting two weeks for a document to arrive.” They formed their public health group using a community committee that involves locals. “We have a full-time Malian director and had three volunteers this summer from US colleges.”

ACROSS BORDERS: While in Mali, Cohen traveled to Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, and Benin. “They’re so different; it’s incredible. Some depends on whether they’re French vs. English. In Ghana the weather is nice, and it’s so beautiful. Togo is very French. Benin is a small, long country, and people live in stilted villages. It was the origin of voodoo and a major place of the slave trade.” She has applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to study there. Cohen was in Burkina Faso when civil unrest broke out. “It was a small skirmish, but there was machine-gun firing two blocks from where I was staying.”

Allison Huggins (left) and Caitlin Cohen at Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Allison Huggins (left) and Caitlin Cohen at Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

TO RWANDA: Not wanting her experience to be based on West Africa only, Cohen visited Rwanda, where she worked with WE-ACT, or  Women’s Equity in Access to Care and Treatment, which mostly helps those who are HIV- positive from genocide-related rape. “The people are very vivacious and the southwest part of the country is beautiful,” she said. She visited the Democratic Republic of Congo with a friend, where they hiked up Nyiragongo volcano. “The intense militarization there was oppression, just the sheer number of guns.”

PARENTS ON BOARD: Cohen grew up in Westminster Station, Vt., where her parents, both artists, still live. “The first time I went to Africa they were very concerned, but once they learned I was capable of taking care of myself, they felt better. Now my father helps with the NGO. He’s our logistics coordinator.”




Caitlin has been named by FOX’s Teen Choice Awards and Do Something Inc as one of the top nine youth activists in the US! Online voting until Aug. 4, 2008, will determine if she wins $100,000 to build a health system in the slums of Mali. One in four children dies before his or her fifth birthday and 93 percent of urban Malians live in slums.

 1) VOTE NOW AND EVERY DAY UNTIL AUGUST 4 by visiting You get one vote per email address per day, you must enter a birthday between 1989 and 1995 for your vote to count. (That leaves out yours truly!)


3) BECOME A G.O.T.V. TEAM CAPTAIN: Email for a  kit on how to get out the vote! The top five captains will receive prizes, such as VIP tickets to the celeb-filled Teen Choice pre-party, as well as Malian jewelry, music, and fabric.

 Go, Caitlin, Go!!!

Have ticket, will travel the world

March 3, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published March 2, 2008, in the Boston Globe) 

From Di’s eyes: A round-the-world trip is just the thing to kick off a law career and is much more interesting and educational than the typical week in the Caribbean. Here’s to great jobs and a wonderful life for these two young adventurers!

WHO: Andrew Hass, 26, of Acton, Mass. and Lauren Hager, 25, of Sacramento, Calif.

WHERE: Around the world.

WHEN: Nine weeks from August to October.

Andrew Hass and Lauren Hager; CLICK TO ENLARGEWHY: The friends, fellow law students at the University of Miami, decided to reward themselves for finishing school and the bar exam by taking a trip. “Most students do, but not like this,” said Hass, who attended Boston University for undergraduate studies.

WITH A MAP AND A WISH LIST: “We basically sat down with a map and alternated places we wanted to go,” Hass said of their planning. They booked what’s called a Blue Ticket through the Student Travel Agency. “If you keep going in the same direction you can get great fares,” said Hass, who paid about $4,500 for all his flights. They visited 11 countries, starting in Peru and then going to Argentina, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Israel, Russia, Mauritius, India, China, and Japan, spending four days to a week in each. Their luggage was lost – and found – twice.

PLOTTING IT OUT: “We got our tickets first, and once we knew where we’d be, we scheduled budget hotels and hostels,” Hass said. In harder-to-navigate countries, such as India and China, they set up personal tours and drivers. By the end of the trip, they’d seen many of the world’s great sites, including the pyramids at Giza, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China, as well as glaciers, deserts, oceans, and mountains. “Our top three places as far as activities and overall fun were Peru, South Africa, and Japan.”

Andrew Hass at Machu Picchu, Peru; CLICK TO ENLARGEANDES FANS: “Machu Picchu is an experience in and of itself,” Hass said. “It’s in the middle of nowhere, up this winding road. It’s so magnificent and breathtaking.” Their favorite view of the ancient ruins was from Putukusi Mountain. “It was a three-hour hike to the top and you had to go up hundreds of feet of wooden ladders, straight up, without a rope or a net. It was quite a rush.”

GREAT FRIGHT: From their favorite hostel, the Ashanti Lodge in Cape Town, the adventure seekers booked a cage dive among great white sharks. “It was quite an experience,” Hass said of being surrounded by sharks. “They throw chum in the water and the sharks dive at it with their jaws open. It was scary and awe-inspiring.”

Andrew Hass at the Great Wall of China; CLICK TO ENLARGESECOND WIND: By the time they reached Japan, after fleeing a typhoon in China, they were ready to get home, but the country invigorated them. “We spent a night in Tokyo, then took the trail to Kyoto. Our hostel was typical Asian budget. You sleep on the floor, and low on amenities, but not in a bad way. It really catches the local flavor.” They spent a somber day touring Hiroshima. “Even 60 years after it happened, it really hits you.” On a lighter note, they were thrilled to attend a major league baseball game. And Hass traveled all the way to Japan to discover he actually liked sushi.

SUSPENSEFUL JOURNEY: Because they left the country a few days after taking the bar exam, they didn’t know their outcomes. “Lauren found out she passed when we were in China,” said Hass, who was in suspense until he returned home – to good news.

Mother/daughter climb Kilimanjaro

October 22, 2007

Where they Went by Diane Daniel
(published Oct. 21, Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: I was surprised that the mother was facing her retirement as the end of something, not the beginning. She told me she was viewing the mountaintop as “well, it will be all downhill from here.” Instead, she ended up seeing  it as one of many mountains to climb. An exciting turnaround! Also, I have a fondness for parent/child travel, probably because my trips with my parents were torturous affairs, mostly from the backseat of the car. As an adult, I never traveled with my mother and father, so I’m a bit in awe of those who do, and have fun along the way!

Who: Meredith Dana Krauss, 30, of Waltham, and her mother,  Natalie Dana, 60, of Marlborough, Conn.

Where: Tanzania and Zanzibar

When: Two weeks in July 2007

Why: “I was retiring and turning 60 and I felt like I needed something to knock my socks off, something to fill the void,” Dana said. “I knew that climbing  Kilimanjaro was doable, that it’s a nontechnical climb.”

Meredith and Natalie camping on Mount KilimanjaroMother and daughter: “I was going to go with a friend and when I said to Meredith, ‘Guess what I’m going to do?’ she said, ‘Oh, I want to do that.’ To me, the thought of summitting with my daughter was just amazing.” The friend later had to cancel. Krauss, not a big hiker, trained only a little, keeping in mind “you can’t train for the altitude.” Her mother, meanwhile, ran and backpacked to prepare.

Leading the way: Dana’s online research led her to Tusker Trail of Nevada. “They talked about the treatment of their porters and the detail to our medical condition. They check your oxygen level twice a day and carry a hyperbolic chamber.” Dana chose a nine-day climb so they would have plenty of time to acclimate.

Shaky start: They met their two other group members, a 22-year-old woman from New York and a 65-year-old woman from Louisiana, and their three guides in Tanzania. Their first night of camping, they felt the mountain shake. The guides downplayed it, but a guest swore it was an earthquake. The next day they found out she was correct. A quake in nearby Arusha had shaken the mountain.

Step by step: “We went up the mountain one step a second,” Dana said. “There were a lot of rocks and you really had to watch where you were hiking. We would hike five to nine hours a day. They would break up the long and short days. I was not ever sore.” They were accompanied by 24 porters. “At first I felt like I was exploiting them, but then later I felt good that they were being employed,” she said. Krauss was impressed that the porters brought up a portable toilet for the four women to share. “No other groups had that,” she said of the other hikers camping at the same overnight stops.

Lunar and lofty: “Every day was different,” Krauss said. “First the trees were higher than us, then lower, then there were lava rocks and slate. They say it’s like going from the equator to the arctic. The landscape was “like being on the moon, with black lava rock,” Dana said. “It‘s so vast, a haunting beauty. When we got above the clouds, I thought, ‘I walked over these clouds’ It was just thrilling, a real sense of accomplishment.”

Natalie and Meredith on Mount KilimanjaroTo the tiptop: On summit day, they wore crampons to walk along the icy glacier at top to reach the top, at 19,341 feet. They didn’t stay long because the youngest hiker had altitude sickness. That night they camped at  18,300 feet and were down the mountain in two days. To decompress, mother and daughter spent three days on the beach in Zanzibar, which they called a perfect ending. Once home, Krauss started to hike around Boston. As for Dana, Kilimanjaro was “really empowering and life altering. I’m ready to go again.”