Travel Club


Meeting Archive


January, 2007:

On Safari in Kenya
Adele Birnbaum

In this talk I will report on insights into human and animal life from my August, 2004 safari in Kenya.

When I anticipated going to Kenya, my goal was to see at last, free and in the wild, the “Big Five” animals in the vast Game Parks: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo. The giraffe, not even on the official list, was among the first we saw, which was just fine with me and my five travel companions: four of us friends from college days, and David Kamweti, our Kenyan guide and driver. From day one we saw all the promised animals, both in and out of the parks, and all but the endangered black rhino in great profusion.

From the opening lines of my Kenyan daily journal it is clear that the humans I met were equally fascinating to me. We were most fortunate to get to know the very hospitable extended family of our Kikuyu guide, David. While on safari in the countryside we met tall slender Masai with red cloth draped over their shoulders, Samburu with elaborate beaded jewelry, and at David’s mother’s farmhouse Kikiyu who had prepared an elaborate feast for us. Along the way I learned about some modern heroes of Kenya, including Jomo Kenyatta, the revolutionary and later the first president, the 2005 Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathi, and the half-American, half-Kenyan Barack Obama, currently senator from Illinois.


February, 2007:

The Galapagos Islands:
A Biology Teacher’s Experience of a Lifetime


Chris & Louise Brantley

The Galapagos Islands hold a special place in the hearts and minds of biology teachers. They represent the epitome of a science lab, a place so remote from the traffic of the world that the flora and fauna are unique and unconcerned with unusual travelers amongst them. Chris and Louise were among ten retired biology teachers and six of their spouses who spent eleven days there soon after Chris’s retirement from a career in education, almost half of which was spent as a biology teacher. It was the trip of a lifetime.

The Galapagos Islands sit in a unique spot on the globe, where the ocean currents and trade winds isolate them from the migration of plants and animals. As a result, the theory goes, the species that populate those islands are unique. They have been left alone for so many generations, in so confined an area, that one can witness evolution in action. The famous Galapagos finches are but one of hundreds of examples of how the life on these islands has adapted to fill the niches made available by a unique physical environment.

The Ecuadorian government has taken steps to assure that the islands remain pristine. The establishment of the Charles Darwin Research Station, along with strict restrictions on travel in the islands assures that this place remains populated with the plants and animals that make it special, and as isolated as possible. The result is both a naturalist’s and a photographer’s dream. When one can walk (or swim) right up to the animals and take one’s time composing and capturing images without the animals' running away, they can be studied unlike in any other place. The population density, diversity of species, and rarity of theses animals make it a unique experience.

We’ll share with you a look at the experience of traveling among these creatures. We’ll show you how one travels through the islands, how one experiences the wildlife, and a little about the obvious side-trip, Quito, Ecuador.


March, 2007:

The British Coast and Countryside
Chuck & Cherie Bennett

Great Britain. It’s a small island with a big name, but a deserved name. It has over 12,000 miles of coastline. Despite its 70 million people in a space the size of Oregon, it is the most agricultural country in Europe. Escape the tourist triangle! Join Chuck and Cherie Bennett to explore the land between London, Bath and Edinburgh. This is the Britain of hamlets, of tiny tidal fishing harbors, of thatched cottages along footpaths traveled by saints and the builders of Stonehenge.

It’s a countryside crisscrossed with canals, filled with relics of the past and a wealth of geologic diversity that is extraordinary for its size. At times it seems that everywhere you turn is the site of an historic event or a scene from literature. There’s Wordsworth’s Lake District, the Peak District of the Brontes, the steep Devon combes of Lorna Doone, Thomas Hardy’s Dorset, the shires of Tolkein, the historic battlefields of Shakespeare, and the pastoral scenes celebrated in artworks by Turner and Constable.

Ruins and remnants of great castles and greater abbeys are part of what makes the British landscape so romantic and spectacular. Ancient stone fences and hedgerows give the countryside much of its character. It’s in the countryside that you’ll find the stately homes, grand gardens, and landscape parks. The countryside also is the home of the small-town market, where fresh foods and household goods have been sold from open stalls for centuries. Thousands of medieval country churches are like cultural time capsules throughout Britain.

Trains and buses can only give you glimpses of the countryside’s delights. Chuck and Cherie have driven more than 10,000 miles on British back roads, and have spent many weeks afoot exploring "this green and pleasant land."

Shakespeare said it best, in Richard II :

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,—
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

This summary of best of seven visits presents the Britain you won't see from a tour bus, including beautiful scenery, cottages, hamlets, well-kept farms, secluded prehistoric sites, amazing geology, widely varied coastline and harbors, "this green and pleasant land" at its best. The Bennetts use special maps for navigating unnumbered back roads and exploring the dense, ancient network of country footpaths.

Cherie is the founder of our companion organization, "British Travel Fans." She has made 14 trips so far!


April, 2007:

Kyrgizstan: The Russian Bear on the Ancient Silk Road
Franca Hernandez

Franca, a former Peace Corps volunteer, will illustrate her experience in Kyrgyzstan, one of the smaller Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union, now an independent nation.

Although way off the beaten track, Kyrgyzstan offers incredible natural beauty, with breathtaking 22,000 foot snow-capped mountains over which climbs the ancient Silk Road. The Kyrgyz had once been nomads, free to call their home the limitless landscape and vaulted sky. They were expert horseman, herded sheep and cattle, and lived in yurts.

The Kyrgyz are predominately Islamic. They use two languages: Russian and Kyrgyz. The latter is a traditional language classed in the Turkic family of languages. They also have a culture rich in music and poetry.

The 80-year Soviet experience changed them substantially, and when they achieved nationhood after the break-up of the former Soviet Union, they were plunged into an economic, cultural, and identity tailspin. They are still attempting to understand who they are today.

Kyrgyzstan is relatively inexpensive and welcomes tourists with an adventurous spirit.


May, 2007:

New Zealand: "Land of the Long White Cloud"
Tom & Verna Morrison

Wilbur & Lela Jackson

The Morrisons know New Zealand almost as well as the locals ("No Worries, Mate"), since their son has lived in Auckland with his family for many years. Their extensive travels in the North Island (exquisite coastline, ancient forests, Maori culture,and bubbling geothermal activity, etc.) and the South Island (glaciers, fjords, yellow-eyed penguins, royal albatross, and the world's best Sauvignon Blanc, etc.) will be supplemented by the Jacksons' first visit, particularly their hikes on the Queen Charlotte Walkway and the much more arduous Routeborn and Milford Tracks (wimps need not apply!)


JUNE, 2007:

Yellowstone Adventure
Don & Judy Jacobsen

Don & Judy, avid hikers and photographers, will illustrate their almost perfect summer week ("almost", because a week is never enough for Yellowstone), staying at Grant Village, an ideal location at the southern end of Yellowstone Lake. Their hikes included Elephant Back Mountain trail to 8600 ft., giving the hiker great views of Yellowstone Lake; Avalanche Peak trail (up to 10,500 ft.); Pelican Valley trail; Riddle Lake; and a loop at Storm Point, at the north end of Yellowstone Lake. They saw bison in most areas of the park, as well as bighorn sheep; coyotes; marmots; and a variety of birds, and walked both sides of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, admiring spectacular falls, colorful canyon walls, and viewpoints with names like Artists Point. Other visits included the Mammoth Hot Springs, with interesting geologic formations like Sheep Eater Cliff and Roaring Mountain, and the Old Faithful area with mineral pools, steaming geysers, and resident elks.


September, 2007:

The Oracle Speaks: Delphi and Athens
(plus Santorini in Winter)
Tom Cattrall

Not just another foreign travel destination, Ancient Greece is the birthplace of democracy and the cradle of Western Civilization, with major contributions to philosophy, literature, science, drama, and our own language. Modern Greece has emerged from a rocky 20th Century into thriving EU membership.

Delphi was the site of the Delphic Oracle, revered by ancient Greeks as the center of the universe. Its well-preserved ruins and mountainous setting have made Delphi a UNESCO World Heritage site,

Athens, one of the oldest capitals in the world, offers much more than the Acropolis (another UNESCO World Heritage site), with manageable museums, tempting tavernas, and oodles of Ouzo. Even the air quality has improved!

The picturesque island of Santorini has been presented recently, but my visit was in winter, the only time when construction is allowed. Building on the steep cliff-sides is a fascinating spectacle.


October, 2007:


Burma: The Road to Mandalay
Gene Davis

"By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm trees, and the temple-bells they say:
'Come you back, you British Soldier; come you back to Mandalay!
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you 'ear their paddles clunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
where the flyin'-fishes play.
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!'....." (Rudyard Kipling)

As a child, I first became aware of Burma from WWII news reports of the building of the "Burma Road" over the Himalayas, intended to replace hazardous flights over those high peaks. From then on, I had dreamt of visiting Burma (renamed "Myanmar" by the current government), a dream achieved in 1996, as part of a trip to much of Southeast Asia with my wife, Trina.

My program will try to convey both the culture and the beauty of the countryside and its people. Our journey will include Mandalay; an Irrawaddy river cruise; Mingun Temple; the 729 tall marble slabs, inscribed with the Buddhist Tipitaka Scripture, which together create "the world's largest book"; Pyin oo lwin, a high hill town with a popular market; Sagaing; Taungthaman Lake; Pagan (Bagan); Pindaya; Inle Lake; and finally the capital,Yangon (Rangoon), with Burma's most famous temple, the Shwedagon. I hope that my images and commentary will provide both an enjoyable experience and a feeling for just how lovely the country and its people really are!

Gene is both an avid international traveler and a very serious amateur photographer.


November, 2007:

Costa Rica Perspectives
Anita & Clark Blanchard

Clark first visited Costa Rica in in 1972 as part of a hitchhiking trip with a friend. He spent 6 weeks in the country, one month with only a hammock, poncho and backpack, at the Playas de Manuel Antonio, near Quepos on the West Coast. In 1977 he and his new wife, Anita, returned and spent two weeks at Manuel Antonio for their honeymoon; no hitchhiking this time, just harrowing bus and plane rides and a tent to shelter their backpacks. They traveled another two weeks in the country, getting to the volcano Irazu, the East Coast, and of course, San Jose, the jumping off point for all travel in Costa Rica. For their 25th anniversary in 2002, they returned to Manuel Antonio, which by then had become a National Park and a major travel destination. In addition, they traveled to the Drake Bay Wilderness Resort, Corcovado National Park and Isla de Cano, located on the Osa Peninsula. They were seeking the wild Costa Rica they had enjoyed 25 years earlier.

They will offer their perspective on Costa Rica's changes in 25 years, using both images and brief video clips.


December, 2007:

Tibet: Visions from the Top of the World
Kris Gorsuch

Kris writes:
I was born in 1953, shortly after Hillary and Norgay reached the summit of Mt. Everest, on the border between Nepal and Tibet. I have always had a fascination for this mountain and all it represents to the culture and environment of Tibet. My trek to the North Base Camp, at age 53, was truly one of the "high"-lights of my life.

The journey also provided us with an inner glimpse of a people and landscape undergoing incendiary sociopolitical changes. Lhasa, the "Forbidden City," symbolized a country that had banned outside visitors for hundreds of years. The speed with which Han Chinese settlers are arriving on the new train line from Beijing is matched only by that of westward migration across the U.S., 100 or more years ago.

Finally, the religiosity of the people wonderfully survives. The monasteries have been rebuilt after Mao's purges, and the relics have returned from hiding. Tibetans uniquely fuse Buddhist spiritualism with ancient pagan beliefs, resulting in a pervasive, mystical religion which I, and probably most Westerners, fail to truly understand.

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Mid-Valley Travel Club