When One Door Closes, Fly To Australia

In 2014, after my traditional travel agent position I had held for twelve years ended, I took a brave step and ventured out as an independent travel counselor, launching Adventure Marketplace.  

I was encouraged by a few colleagues and travel professionals to stay in the travel business and go out on my own.  They said “You have to stay in the travel business, it is in your blood” and “We need you” and “YOU can do it!”   Four years later…I’ve learned a lot and I’m still doing it.

Early that spring, a window opened and I was invited by the rep of one of my preferred tour operators (GAdventures), to join in on their educational journey to the outback of Australia. On the morning of April 24th, I flew from Boston via Toronto, Vancouver and Sydney (a 15+ hour flight) onto Adelaide.

Including all layovers, the journey lasted approximately 35 hours. April 25th disappeared while crossing the time zones and I landed in Adelaide on my birthday, April 26th, making this the longest birthday of my life…close to 36 hours.

Our Awesomestralia experience began in Adelaide, a town originally built as a defense presence; it is now known as the city of churches, a produce mecca and one of the top wine regions in the world!  We enjoyed an amazing welcome dinner and I had a most delicious birthday Paella!

We headed north the next morning into the “Red Center” of the continent or OUTBACK, traveling through the Clare Valley Wine region enjoying a wine tasting and tour at Seven Hill Winery built by Jesuit priests which is where I spotted my first kangaroo hopping amongst their grape vines.

Our gallant guide Damian prepared a phenomenal lunch at a public Barbie where he grilled giant prawns, salt/pepper calamari and steamed barramundi which was served along with fresh local fruits and salads.

That evening we arrived at Beltana Ranch; a sheep and cattle ranch run by Laura and Graham!  Travelers are welcome to come and stay for a night or longer and might be put to work if they are willing. We were treated to a feast of roasted lamb, kangaroo, beef, potatoes, veggies, a yummy native peach/coconut dessert and a ranch style bonfire!

As the starting point for expeditions to Western Australia, some of the first camels were imported to S. Australia at Beltana Station which in 1870’s became the largest depot for camels!  Who knew?

Jetlag had me wide awake before dawn and so I took a walk-about the ranch and watched the sunrise. As I breathed in the view of the vast horizon and pastel sky I was surprised by a loud TWANG, then a thump, thump, thump. Again, Twang…thump, thump, thump. I wasn’t afraid, just curious and then it became clear…a kangaroo had jumped over the barbed wire fencing and hit his hind legs on the top wire, creating a sound like that of a base guitar. He looked at me and then continued along his way…having treated me to this early morning song of the wild Outback.

From Beltana to Flinders Ranges towards Williams Creek, we worked our way north, stopping for a tromp at Great Salt Lake Eyre and the Bubbler thermal springs. On to Coober Pedy with its underground town, cave hotel and opal mines, a visit to a kangaroo orphanage and rescue/rehab center and then to Uluru or Ayers Rock which is sacred to the Aboriginal Ananu people, is a World Heritage site and home to over 130 bird species and reptiles.  

Leaving the outback, we flew from Uluru to Cairns, the kick off point for adventure tours to the Great Barrier Reef, rainforests and indigenous inland people!

Perhaps I’ll share more details of the rest of my journey from Cairns to Cape Tribulation in another article…for now I’m savoring the memories of this adventure and the song of an Australian Outback kangaroo at dawn that only came my way after one door closed.

Cultural Immersion and Hospitality

My love of the African people, cultures and continent began in 1994. At that time, I was a senior at Suffolk University in Boston studying to become a certified social studies teacher.

I applied and had been accepted into a study abroad program called “Inter-Future” (Intercultural Studies for the Future) to conduct an independent research project on a topic of my interest and coursework. I traveled for two semesters that year; first to the Netherlands and then to Zimbabwe.

I had always wanted to go to Africa and was thrilled by the opportunity to go to Zimbabwe and to meet with educators, teachers and students and experience true cultural immersion. Upon arrival, I applied and was accepted into the University of Zimbabwe so that I could accompany the education professor on his rounds to visit his student teachers in the rural areas.

In Harare, I arranged an interview with Mr. Steven Chifunyise, the Deputy Secretary of Education and Culture, the equivalent to our United States Secretary of Education. Mr. Chifunyise was a proud and joyful man and so eager to engage and answer my questions. While he lived in Harare, Mr. Chifunyise was from Bulawayo and part of the Ndebele tribe. He told me I couldn’t leave Zimbabwe without having experienced the hospitality from his side of the country. He called a teacher friend of his and arranged for me to visit her. I took the bus across the country and arrived in Bulawayo, called my host, but there was no one home.

I had lunch, walked around town and tried her again but still no answer. I needed to find a place to stay and noticed in my Zimbabwe travel guidebook there was a National Park nearby and found a public bus heading out that way that afternoon. I assumed there would be a hotel or lodge in the park. I bought a ticket and boarded the bus along with many families heading back to the rural areas after doing their weekend shopping.

A herd of African Elephants on the move, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

The driver dropped me where I pointed to on the map and pulled away. The sun had set and the sky was turning a huge beautiful African twilight blue. I saw a shooting star that lit up the entire sky. I looked around for a lodge or hotel and there was none. I was on “National land” but it wasn’t the park I had imagined. I heard two dogs barking and noticed they were running towards me. They were friendly but I was now alone in the dark with two stray dogs. I wasn’t afraid, just wondered how long it might take for the bus to come back.

It was then I noticed a light flickering on the other side of the road. I walked across the road and heard voices on the other side of a fence. Several men were sitting around a small fire. I said hello and met Sam, a nice man who was quite surprised to see me. I told him my story. He said the bus was probably not returning that night but workers would be coming back from the rural areas to town and I could catch a ride back that way. Turns out, the park was a national wildlife preserve and Sam and his friends were poacher patrolmen, protecting the Rhinoceros.

As I stood waiting by the road with the dogs by my side, Sam called out to me again. “Nancy, are those your dogs?” As it turned out, Sam the poacher patrolman was afraid of dogs… Anyway, as the story goes he came out to the road and waited with me and the dogs until I caught a ride in a white pick-up truck full of workers heading back to town. I sat in front between the driver and his sidekick. They dropped me in town and I called my host again. This time she answered. “Oh, I’m sorry I wasn’t home when you arrived…where have you been?” All I could say was “I took the wrong bus”

The story of my bus ride out of Bulawayo may sound familiar and it remains one of my favorite traveling adventure stories to date. It is a true story of cultural immersion and hospitality!

Africa keeps calling me and I have plans to return again this summer, this time to Tanzania and the spice island of Zanzibar. If you’ve always dreamed of Africa, now is someday! Details at www.adventure-marketplace.com/adventures/tanzania

Treasuring Every Moment of 2017

So long 2017. You’ve introduced me some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met and taken me to new places only dreamed of. To kick it off, we marched in DC and have since “Marched Forth” for justice and action, locally and beyond. From the winter wonderland of Quebec City’s Carnival to winter fun in Maine and the White Mountains of New Hampshire at Loon Mountain as a volunteer coach for New England Disabled Sports, the crisp winter air and mountains embraced me and my friendships and community grew. In the middle of the long Northern New England winter, Bermuda invited me to experience their colorful, delightful, active tasty island “Beyond the Beach” Back from Bermuda a late season snow storm blanketed Maine as it welcomed and stranded my friend Bill Johnson just back from Cambodia, “a bit too soon” he said after I shoveled him out of his front door in South Portland order to open the front door.

Springtime came early as I headed south for an Easter visit with family and friends at Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky. A vast variety of wildflowers were in bloom; Trillium (white and red), Dwarf Iris, Blue Phlox, Pennywort, Showy Orchids, Wild Geraniums, and many others. A late April spring Adventure Marketplace weekend tour to New York City, gave a small group from Southern Maine Health Care the opportunity to kick up their heels for Kinky Boots on Broadway.

If April brings wildflowers and Kinky Boots, May brought birthdays, house music concerts and another small Adventure Marketplace group to Africa to experience the wonder and contrast of Namibia and Botswana. Our journey began in Namibia with stunning desert landscapes, and the towering sand dunes at Sossusvlei. From there heading westward through canyon passes we spent two days along the Namibian Coast. As the road stretched far into the horizon, we drove across the vast lands to Etosha National park and encountered many species of wild animals roaming freely. Entering Botswana offered us the opportunity to interact with the Koi San Bush people and spend two nights camping in the Kalahari bush. More game drives, an Okavango Delta scenic flight, a sunset cruise on the magnificent Chobe River left us longing for more. The journey gave me and my six travel companions an unforgettable experience… from the herds of elephants to the beautiful people, the African country of Botswana offered so much wonder as it celebrated 50 years of proud independence.

I’m sure we all understand the beauty of Maine in June, July and August and much of my summer was spent enjoying the local natural su

rroundings, tending to my community garden on Crescent Street and enjoying the colorful and delicious bounty of our efforts. Mix in some quality outdoor adventure time at friends’ camps, the Tall Ships in Casco Bay, camping at Thomas Point Beach, the new rooftop at Bayside Bowl, The North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland, hosting Warmshower biking guests and hearing tales of their rides across continents and a week on Star Island off the coast of Portsmouth all left me feeling blessed.

Autumn began with an Adventure Marketplace small group tour (off the beaten path) Icelandic journey in early September in search of Iceland’s “hidden people”. A seemingly endless vastness of glaciers, mountains, whales and hot springs, the Icelandic land is rich in history, outlaws, mystery, sheep, horses, beauty and intrigue.

Back to New England, I embraced the colors, foliage and flavors of New England with hikes in the Whites, a weekend retreat at Baxter State Park and into Grand Falls hut with a hearty group of MOACers (Maine Outdoor Adventure Club). Guests from away, an invitation to Colombia (see last month’s story for more on the emerging South American country), another jaunt to NYC during the Hap-happiest time of the year to see the high kicking Rockettes, an early Christmas in Ohio and Michigan with my family and extensive family extensions and again I’m blessed.

Now as I reflect, 2017 has been quite a year and did I say I am grateful, and blessed. The year has been full of adventure and also full of emotions… I have cried for those I know and love that are sick and recently departed. I’m praying for peace, strength and like Carole King I’m going to do my best to “wake up every morning, put a smile on my face and show the world…all the love in my heart”

Happy New Year – Take good care of yourselves and Treasure every moment.

Back to Biking Basics

Nancy Dorrans

There’s a sense of freedom and control that wraps around me as I pump up my tires, don my helmet and head out and off the Portland peninsula on my bicycle. I don’t ride to race. I don’t ride in a pack. Sometimes, I ride with friends, but often it is just me and my bike.

My “go-to” ride is from my West End condo on High Street, over the bridge to South Portland, down and off the Eastern Trail through Wainwright Fields to Highland Avenue. Then left on Pleasant Hill Road, and right on Route 77 to Higgins Beach. The total trek is about eighteen miles round trip, or twenty miles if I return via Crescent Beach State Park. This ride never gets old or redundant. As I visit the ocean, I take a deep breath and feel grateful to live here with this ride at my back door! Continue reading…

Bucket Lists and Tips for Senior Travelers

Nancy Dorrans (third from left) with tour group. Cape of Good Hope, South Africa (May 2016).

What is on your bucket list? Or maybe I should start with, “What is a Bucket List?”

According to Travis Bell, the Bucket List Guy, “A bucket list is, by definition, a list of things that you want to do before you die.  The term gained in popularity after the 2007 movie “The Bucket List” where Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson (both of whose characters are dying of cancer) create a bucket list of things to do before they die – and then actually do them.  But where did the term come from?  Better yet, what kinds of things would you put on a bucket list?”

I suppose the term or idea of Bucket Lists, while fairly new and now quite mainstream to some may seem a bit silly and daunting to others. Consider my previous articleabout how positive posts helped create a shift in my attitude. Similarly, writing down or having a mental list of the things and places you want to go or have always wanted to visit is the first step to getting there. To quote my new Adventure Marketplace mantra, “NOW is SOMEDAY.” Continue reading…

Spring Camping at Kentucky’s Natural Bridge State Resort

Last month I traveled south just before Easter. While it was still cool, damp and gray/brown in Portland, where I was headed spring was in full bloom. My sister had invited me to join her and her husband along with my father, nephew and his girlfriend, and some other family friends for a three-night camping adventure. We headed to Natural Bridge Kentucky State Resort Park, about three and half hours northeast of Knoxville. The park is adjacent to the Red River Gorge geological area and Daniel Boone National Forest.

The Shasta camper.

Natural Bridge State Resort

The park has a campground, and this is where my sister and her husband set up with their recently renovated Shasta Compact 1963.

The resort also has a lodge and cabins for rent, which is where my dad and I stayed. All told, for our Kentucky Easter camping adventure there were thirteen of us plus three dogs crammed into two cabins, two campsites and one lodge room.

The Red River Gorge in Kentucky is “Gorge-ous” and quite popular with rock climbers and hikers of all ages and abilities. A few trails allow hiking with dogs. The area boasts over 500 miles of trails through rugged terrain made of limestone cliffs and exposed limestone rock faces.

According to Hiking the Red, a complete trail guide to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge written by Bluegrass Group Sierra Club, “…this trail network is larger than any other National Forest in Kentucky. Activities include hiking, camping, picnicking, hunting, fishing, boating, swimming, horseback riding, bicycling, rock climbing, spelunking, bird watching, photography, nature study, and more.” Continue reading…

Susan, Nancy and Kelly at the Ice Boat Races – Feb 4, 2018

Winter Carnival in Quebec City was amazing! A spur of the moment trip for me and Nancy at Adventure Marketplace made it terrific. I have only taken 1 other bus trip, but for the Carnival, it was the perfect option. I didn’t have to worry about parking, my luggage, or arranging transportation. All done flawlessly. Although several group activities were scheduled, I especially appreciated the detailed information Nancy provided and the opportunity to explore the carnival at my own pace. I would definitely take another trip with Adventure Marketplace!  

- Susan Holton

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