Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cayman Islands Highlights

After visiting the Cayman Islands a little over a year ago, I highly recommend it, especially as a respite from the cold winters like we often have in Minnesota.

Grand Cayman offers so much for everyone, from beaches to snorkeling to helicopter rides over the beach to swimming with dolphins to visiting turtle farms.

If you have a week or so to visit Grand Cayman, consider these activities and attractions. I hope you enjoy the Cayman Islands as much as I did!

Helicopter Ride

This was on my bucket list. I was excited to get to go on a helicopter ride and check this one off my bucket list! Me and my friends paid for a short ride, about 45 minutes or so, over the ocean. But it was totally worth it.

The helicopter gently rose in the air, and it was so smooth I hardly realized we were so high in the air so quickly. The pilot guided the helicopter along Seven Mile Beach, and we looked down on hotels, the beach and, best of all, the ocean with clear waters, offering us views of coral and sea life from high up in the air. A little tour of Grand Cayman from the air was an awesome way to spend some time. Check out Cayman Islands Helicopters for helicopter ride options.


I had never been snorkeling, but I wanted to try it in Grand Cayman, as Grand Cayman is known for its snorkeling and scuba diving. Grand Cayman has many scuba diving operators and snorkeling operators to choose from. Some resorts even offer resort courses. If you go snorkeling, don’t miss Stingray City, where you can pet and feed stingrays.

I’d recommend Captain Marvin’s for snorkeling. The staff on our boat were very helpful to newbie snorkelers like me, pointing out and explaining the sea life to me and giving tips about how to use the snorkel tube and mask. It turned out to be a really fun experience! Here’s more about my snorkeling experience.

Night kayaking

Kayaking at night in a bioluminescent bay, with water that seemed to glow when we glided our paddles through the water, was awesome. Night kayaking in the bioluminescent bay is only offered certain nights, but it’s an experience not to be missed. We went kayaking with Cayman Kayaks. Read more about my experience kayaking in the bioluminescent bay.

Swim with the dolphins

I know this sounds a bit touristy. But, check out Dolphin Discovery. It’s well worth the money to go, especially if you’re a fan of dolphins, like me. Before this, I'd only see dolphins in Sea World or a couple times from boats in the ocean. 

At Dolphin Discovery, we interacted with the dolphins, pet the dolphins, swam with them and watched them do flips and jumps and tricks. What a fun experience! And we left with many memorable photos of our adventure.

Pet a turtle

At the Turtle Farm, you can see turtles of all sizes, from huge sea turtles to tiny turtles. You can even hold small turtles. If you go to Dolphin Discovery, ask about special discounts for the Turtle Farm.

Eat and drink by the ocean

For any island vacation, take the opportunity to eat at restaurants with views of the ocean. Try the fresh seafood. Have a specialty drink, like a refreshing fruit drink with a bit of the Cayman Tortuga rum in it.

One of the best restaurants I tried was Calypso Grill, which had an interesting d├ęcor, excellent service and fresh food. If you go, sit out on the patio along the water.

Sit in a hammock with a view of palm trees and the sea

Living in the northern United States, I don’t get to do this often. I thoroughly enjoyed lounging in a hammock with a book, with a view of the sea.

*Some photos courtesy of Marissa Fitzgibbons and Rachel Thomas.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Day with the Elephants in India

Entering into the coldest weekend this winter, it seemed like a good time for me to look back to my trip in India and think of warmer days

One of the highlights of my trip to India was our elephant adventure. One of my friends had found an elephant sanctuary online, Elefun, near Jaipur, and we decided it would be fun to go there for the day to meet and ride elephants.

Our adventure included feeding the elephants, interacting with the elephants, painting the elephants, riding the elephants and washing the elephants. If you get the chance, pay for the option that includes all of this, and also pay a bit extra for the traditional Indian dinner.

We arrived at the building where the elephants waited for us. Two elephants were there -- huge, massive, gentle giants. Their ears flapped in the breeze and tails waved, shifting weight from one foot to the other. They looked happy and relaxed, and they enjoyed all the attention! When we pet their trunks, they would look at us with their big eyes and just look content.

The team working there gave us elephants, sugarcane and bread to give to the elephants. The elephants grabbed the bundles of sugarcane with their trunk and rolled it into their trunk, and then stuck it into their large mouths. We fed them bananas- putting them right in their mouths, which were big enough to hold several mushy bananas and some sugarcane. A bag of bread could be gobbled in a couple mouthfuls.

The team gave us several cups of paint with special brushes that we could use to paint designs on the elephants, which is commonly done in India. We could paint whatever we liked. I painted some flowers and vines on one elephant and one of my friends helped me. One of my friends drew a haunted house scene on the side of another elephant (we were there around Halloween).

The guides for the elephants showed us how they climbed up an elephant’s trunk to sit on top of it. The elephant started lifting its trunk as the man grabbed the elephants' ears, placed his foot on the trunk, and then walked up the trunk and sat on the elephant. 

Then the team wanted each of us to climb the elephant’s trunk to sit on top of it. One of my friends climbed right up. But then I tried, and kept falling and letting go of the elephants’ ears as the elephant moved her trunk, landing in the sand. So then I decided I’d rather climb on from the tall platform, which worked great.

Once we were all on the elephants, we rode around a neighborhood sitting bareback on the elephants. It was comfortable and smooth, and we just moved gently with the elephant as she shifted her weight as she moved along. Kids from the neighborhood ran out in the street and waved at us as we went along. Sitting bareback on the elephant wasn’t uncomfortable, and we felt safe, even though we were so high up, as the elephant moved slowly and gracefully.

Once we got back to the building, the staff led the elephants into large pools filled with water. We were prepared for this part and had worn our swimsuits. We followed the elephants in with brushes and helped the staff clean the elephants, washing off the paint.

The elephant I was washing liked playing in the water. She would stick her trunk in the water and then spray her back, along with spraying me and my friend, with the water. We got soaked! But it was fun.

Later the host brought us to his family’s home for an Indian dinner, which was included in the option we had picked for our elephant adventure. It was a cool experience to have traditional Indian food in a local Indian’s home, and to experience their kindness and hospitality.

It was an exciting day, and very fun! Except for some bouts of motion sickness on my part (a relatively normal part of my life when traveling), it was a memorable and exciting day with the elephants.

*Some photos courtesy of Jenny Anders and Marissa Fitzgibbons.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

India-- Driving About Northern India

After arriving in India, we thankfully saw the representative from the travel company holding a sign with our names at the airport. He led us to our car, and we met our driver who would be driving us around northern India during our trip.

Hiring a car and driver was one of the best decisions I made for the trip. I’d highly recommend that anyone who is traveling to India hire a driver and car for the duration of your trip. 

It made our travels around so much easier, as we didn’t have to worry about how to get places, where places were located, where the trains or buses were located, etc. Our driver picked us up and dropped us off at all the sites and places we went, and we knew our car would always be waiting for us when we were finished visiting each place.

Our first day driving through Delhi, I noticed the hundreds of auto rickshaws in the road, yellow and orange vehicles just a bit bigger than a motorcycle, which I saw carry as many as four or five people.

Motorcyles darted in and out of traffic, often with families of three or four on a bike- a 3 or 4 year old in front, with the father driving, the mother sitting sideways behind him, sometimes holding a small child. Sometimes the  motorcyclists carried huge bags or even animals! I saw very few people wearing helmets during my travels in India.

During our time traveling to Agra and Jaipur, we would see buses filled with people, with 20 or 30 people sitting on top of the bus. Open trucks would drive by with several men standing in the truck bed in back. We would drive past colorful tractors and trucks, camels pulling carts, bicycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws and more. People would honk as they passed, sometimes with a musical tune to the honk.

After we drove outside of modern Delhi, with the skyscrapers, IT buildings, call centers, and smooth paved highways, the countryside was very different. In the country, we drove on uneven washed out roads at times, with traffic that didn’t seem to follow any rules.

We drove through villages where we would see fruit and vegetable markets and people gathered. We drove past huts or shacks, and walking paths worn into the ground. In the villages, we would see pigs foraging in the piles of rubbish along the road, goats, cows sitting in the shade or sometime in the road, and stray dogs.

We drove through rice fields and other agriculture fields, and through the countryside, very different from the big, busy cities filled with people.

Along the way, we would stop at rest areas, similar to what we have in the U.S., with restaurants, vendors trying to sell European chocolate or cookies or soda, and more.

Some roads were better than others, but my motion sickness often would come back to me. Thankfully I often had medications to help with it, and I only got really sick once; I think one bumpy road was just too much for my motion sickness!

All in all, most of the roads were better than I thought they would be. And driving through the country and the cities gave me the opportunity to look about and see how people lived, to see what the countryside looked like, how the towns were organized and more.

*Some photos courtesy of Jenny Anders and Marissa Fitzgibbons.