The Great Elephant Encounter

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The activity that I was most looking forward to on our trip to India was riding an elephant. I have always been fascinated by elephants and the thought of riding one seemed like the coolest experience ever. But there was a problem. A big problem. I always try to be an advocate for animals and I knew all too well that elephants across Asia are not always treated well and are often exploited for tourism purposes. I certainly didn’t want to perpetuate that exploitation by paying money to individuals that don’t take good care of their animals. So what is a girl to do?

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Tourists have countless opportunities to ride elephants all across India and one of the most popular venues is at the Amber Palace in Jaipur. Everyday these elephants carry tourists up the hill to the entrance gate of the palace wearing cumbersome baskets designed to make the ride more pleasant for the tourists (pictured above). But these baskets are actually very bad for the elephants’ backs. Surprisingly, these gentle giants are not anatomically designed to carry heavy weights on their backs and the baskets make that weight even more damaging to the elephants’ spines.

So I started researching ways that I could humanely interact with an elephant while in India and luckily enough I found two options. The first option was an elephant farm in Jaipur called Elefantastic. The second option was an elephant haven outside Agra called Agra Elephant Rescue & Conservation Facility. Both of these places afford tourists a hands-on opportunity to humanely interact with elephants. We only had enough time to go to one location and we ultimately decided to go to Elefantastic because we had more time in Jaipur than we had in Agra.

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There are 24 elephants that live on the farm at Elefantastic and each one lives with a caretaker and his family. Most of the caretakers, if not all, used to work their elephants at the Amber Palace, but have given up that practice now that Elefantastic has afforded them an opportunity to support their families in a more humane way, while also offering tourists a much more personal experience with elephants. I was definitely skeptical about whether or not these elephants were cared for as well as the owner, Rahul, claimed. For example, I was told that the elephants only give tourists a ride once per day and then that elephant gets to rest the following day. That means the business operates with 12 elephants per day, rather than 24 since they only work them every other day. I found that a bit hard to believe. Nevertheless, the elephants seemed to be happy and well taken care of.

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Overall, the experience at Elefantastic was amazing! We were introduced to a 19 year old elephant named Annarkali, Anno for short. Anno had been rescued from a circus in India about a year and a half ago and she was in pretty bad shape. She suffered from toe rot on all of her feet and her toe nails were finally starting to grow back healthily. Even more sad, her hind legs were deformed from being “trained” to ride a bicycle for a circus act. We spent a good amount of time bonding with her by petting her trunk and face, and looking into her eyes. It was the most beautiful thing to have such a personal encounter with her.

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Once we were officially introduced we got to feed her a LOT of sugar cane! Her caretaker, Ramjaan, continuously handed us stalks of sugar cane to feed her.

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After feeding, we learned about the royal tradition of painting elephants in India. The colorful paints are all-natural; made from the dust of ground stones and gems. Our artistic talents were lacking, but it was still fun.

And then things got crazy….

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Ella watched me put paint on my hands so that I could put purple handprints on Anno. So Ella took that as a green light for her to put orange handprints on her face!

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The all-natural paint washed off pretty easily though, so that was good.

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After we got cleaned up, we had our chance to ride an elephant. Rob rode on Anno and Ella and I rode on a different elephant whose name I can’t remember. You’ll notice that the man riding on Anno with Rob is riding on her shoulders near her neck. That is actually the most humane way to ride an elephant because it is much easier for them to bear weight on their shoulders as opposed to their spines. I wish they would have offered us the opportunity to ride in this manner, but maybe there were safety risks involved that prohibited them from doing so?

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After our ride, we offered our friend a drink. She would fill her trunk with 6-8 liters of water and then chug it down over and over again. Good hydration is key!

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When our elephant encounter was over, we were driven to the home of Rahul’s mother who had prepared us a home-cooked vegetarian Indian meal. It was delicious!

If given the opportunity to start over, I would visit Elephant Haven in Agra instead of Elefantastic in Jaipur. While I do believe the elephants at Elefantastic are well cared for, I think the elephants at Elephant Haven are in a more natural habitat. They are free roaming and are not considered “property” to a specific family or caretaker. It really is a “haven” for elephants. Visitors of Elephant Haven are afforded a very similar personal encounter with elephants, at a fraction of the cost! (Elefantastic was the most expensive thing we did in India!) Elefantastic is a business, whereas Elephant Haven is a non-profit run by Wildlife SOS. The other key difference between the two is that Elephant Haven does not offer an elephant ride because of their stance on the humane treatment of elephants. Instead, they offer visitors to walk alongside their elephants. Even though riding an elephant was something I so desperately wanted to do while in India…it really wasn’t that exciting. Every other way we interacted with Anno was more meaningful because it was much more personal and affectionate than the actual ride.

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Categories: Destinations, India | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

India Welcomes Ella

  

We kept our schedule pretty breezy for our first couple of days in Delhi because we knew we were going to need time to recover from jet lag. One of the things we did during those first couple of days was visit a local craft market. Dilli Haat is a craft market that allows you to ease into shopping in India because there is a small entrance fee which eliminates the hawkers and riff-raff that are commonly found in the open markets. Rather than being bombarded by people trying to sell us crappy souvenirs, Ella was bombarded by people that were dying to have a photo taken with her.
  

  

India has a deep-rooted belief in reincarnation. It is a subject that I don’t really know much about, but I think Ella might have been a rock star in a former life! Everywhere we went in India we were constantly approached by people that wanted to have their picture taken with Ella. It was the strangest thing, but we generally obliged. As a result, Ella is most likely plastered on Facebook pages across the world.

  
 It seriously happened everywhere we went! It didn’t matter if we were checking out the sites, or checking into our hotel! At restaurants, our waiters wanted to carry Ella around the restaurant or show her the kitchen. People would just reach out to her with open arms and say “Come.” And off Ella went. She often came back with gifts from whomever she was visiting.

  

  

If strangers approached our daughter while at home in the US, it seems unlikely that we would be so willing to just let some random person walk away with our baby. But in India…it seemed ok. Of course we weren’t completely negligent parents. We never let her completely out of our site, even if she did get 50 feet away. Has anyone ever experienced a phenomenon like this elsewhere while traveling? And were you as willing as we were to let strangers take selfies with your toddler?

  

  

Categories: Destinations, India | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

We Went to India!

What do you do when your dear friend abandons you accepts a 2 year job position in India? You cash in your frequent flier miles and you travel halfway across the world, duh! When my friend Brie told me about her upcoming job in Delhi I was very excited for her and I told her that I would definitely be inviting myself over for a visit. She probably heard that from a lot of different people, but I doubt any of them were as serious as I was! I have always wanted to travel to India and going at a time when I actually knew someone there seemed kismet. So dates were set, flights were booked and an itinerary was planned. We enjoyed 16 days in India and we were able to see and do some really amazing things. Stay tuned for posts covering our time in Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Ranthambore National Park, and Goa. And then there was a bonus stop in Qatar, where we had an overnight layover before returning home. 

Oh, in case you were wondering…yes, we traveled to India with our toddler! That kind of travel clearly is not for everyone; adults and children alike. But if you are adventurous and keep an open mind, let us be your proof that it is possible to travel halfway across the world with a toddler…if you dare.

 Namaste!

   

 

Categories: Destinations, India | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Aruban Sunsets

One of the ways we save money when we travel is to book a private rental vs. a hotel. The rental properties are usually much cheaper than hotel stays and they are usually equipped with a full kitchen, which saves us even more money by not eating out every meal of the day.  Rental properties are also great options for families in need of more than one bedroom. We have had great success renting properties from vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and we have saved a lot of money in the process. Our temporary home in Aruba was on the northwest coast of the island, right across the street from Boca Catalina. This small beach cove is said to be the best spot for snorkeling on the island. Additionally, this property was just a short 5 minute walk to my precious, Arashi Beach, mentioned in yesterday’s post. Aruba’s hotels are all crammed on one small strip of the island and we were able to avoid the crowds by renting a property that was located away from the high rises. This also meant there were fewer people I had to share Arashi Beach with!  

View from our apartment

In addition to being right across the street from the best snorkeling spot on the island and near the best beach on the island, we were also in a great location to enjoy the beautiful Aruban sunsets. 

  

    
  

 

 

 

 

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Aruba is My Paradise

In August, we took a family vacation to Aruba and it was paradise! Well…it was paradise for me. Rob, on the other hand, wasn’t Aruba’s biggest fan. He didn’t quite understand why I was so ready to put a Monopoly-money down payment on a vacation home there. I can understand his point of view though. The island terrain is not very appealing. Aruba is essentially a dessert, covered in cacti and dirt. But who cares? The weather is basically perfect there all year long and I would spend all my time on it’s pristine beaches with the clearest water I have ever seen!   
 You see, I have a very intense fear of sharks and I almost never go in the water. I have to be able to see my feet in any body of water or else there is no way I am stepping in. And even then, I am usually filled with anxiety. Constantly looking around, waiting to see that iconic dorsal fin appear, heading in my direction. Jumping out of my bathing suit every time a piece of seaweed brushes past my leg. Ridiculous, right? I know it’s ridiculous, but it’s probably not going to change. I have gone to so many beach locales, but I could never truly enjoy the ocean because I would be overcome by my fear and anxiety. Until Aruba!

  

   
 

We spent most of our beach time at Arashi Beach. The water was crystal clear and I could see everything around me in the water, in all directions. The ocean floor was soft white sand without a single piece of seaweed in site. It was glorious! I could actually play with Ella in the water without worrying what might be lurking nearby. I could actually lounge on a raft, enjoy a beer, and even close my eyes and still not feel an ounce of anxiety! Well, that is until the kids playing in the water start yelling SHARK, SHARK!!! I almost spill my beer as I heave myself off my raft to make my escape to shore, only to realize the kids are playing a game with one another. Seriously though….that shit should be illegal. You should not be allowed to yell shark in open waters! Doesn’t that fall into the yelling FIRE in a movie theater category? No? Well, it should.

 

   

  

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Sunshine Meadows, Minus the Sunshine

   
Our last hike in Banff National Park was not quite what we had expected. Sunshine Meadows was rated the #1 hike in ALL of Canada by Lonely Planet. Canada is a huge country, so if this was supposed to be the best hike in the entire country (not just Banff National Park), well then my expectations were pretty high. To begin the hike, we arrived at the Sunshine ski area and parked our car. From here you have two options. You can either, a) hike more than 3 miles uphill just to get to the beginning of the trail, or b) take a shuttle to the trail center. Option A would add about 90 minutes (one way) to our hike. Option B cost 27 CAD per person. We chose option B, but I think 27 CAD for a 3 mile drive is highway (a.k.a. trail) robbery.

Once the shuttle bus dropped us off at the trail center, we started our hike uphill via the Rock Isle Trail. About 1 kilometer into the hike we reached the Continental Divide. At this point we had officially left Alberta and crossed into British Columbia territory.

  
 

Another ½ kilometer and we had reached Rock Isle Lake.

  
Our initial plan was to continue on this trail which would have led us to Larix Lake and Grizzly Lake. However, we were ill prepared for the Canadian “summer” weather of Sunshine Meadows. Even though it was mid-July, we encountered both sleet and snow and none of us were dressed appropriately for inclement weather. Luckily, our hiking pack for Ella has a built in weather shield, so we were able to keep her pretty well protected from the elements. But, it was still much colder than we had anticipated, so we had to end our hike early and head back to the trail center to catch the next shuttle down the mountain.

   

During the summer, Sunshine Meadows is said to be carpeted with alpine wildflowers. While we did see some alpine wildflowers, “carpeted” is an exaggeration to say the least. It was more like a few patches of small throw rugs!

 There were some wildflowers that looked like they were waiting to bloom, but I think it was just too cold so we didn’t get to see their true potential.  I am disappointed that I didn’t get to see the masses of beautiful flowers that might have been on a warmer day.

  

   

 

Categories: Canada, Destinations | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Twenty Dollar View

When visiting lakes in Banff National Park, people typically think about Lake Louise. It’s almost as if Moraine Lake is the younger, overlooked sister to the prom queen, Lake Louise. Before arriving in Banff, I had never even heard of Moraine Lake, but I am so glad that I didn’t leave without seeing it! It is absolutely magnificent! The brilliant, blue color of the lake is caused by the refraction of light off glacial rock flour deposited into the lake. The view of the mountains beyond the lake is the Valley of the Ten Peaks. It is also known as the “Twenty Dollar View” because it used to be pictured on the reverse side of a Canadian twenty dollar bill.  
There are several hiking trails around the lake, but the most popular one is the Rockpile Trail. The trail itself is short and you will only gain elevation of about 80 feet as you work your way to the top of the giant rock pile (as the trail is so appropriately named) overlooking the lake. The view from the top of the rock pile (pictured above) is one of the most photographed sites in all of Canada.

   
 After the Rockpile Trail, we walked along the Shoreline Trail. This leisurely trail is on flat ground and is a great way to see more of the lake as well as the Ten Peaks. 

    
You can also rent canoes at Moraine Lake and the rates are slightly cheaper than at Lake Louise. Not only will you save some cash, but you will likely avoid the crowds as well. The picture below shows the rock pile that we hiked to the top of.

  

Categories: Canada, Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tea Time at Lake Agnes

Lake Louise is well-known for two alpine tea houses; the Lake Agnes Tea House and the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. The hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House is one of the most famous trails in Banff National Park. The 4.5 mile hike (roundtrip) begins at Lake Louise and winds uphill until you arrive at a beautiful log cabin hidden in the forest alongside Lake Agnes. The cabin was originally built in 1901 as a refuge for hikers. In 1905, they began serving tea and they have continued to serve visitors from around the world for more than 100 years! This family-run tea house is situated at an altitude of just over 7,000 feet.  

  

  

The trail was very easy to navigate, however the hike was moderately challenging due to the 1,300 foot elevation gain. But, it was well worth the effort because the views along the way were magnificent! Part of the trail overlooks Lake Louise, which of course, is just as stunning from above. 

  

  

The trail also passes Mirror Lake. This trio of lakes (Louise, Mirror & Agnes) is often referred to as the “Lakes in the Clouds.”

  

  

While hiking between each of the Lakes in the Clouds, you will also have fantastic views of the Canadian Rockies.

  

  

As you are nearing the tea house, you will see the waterfall that cascades from Lake Agnes. Once you reach this waterfall, you are nearly there! Just a few more steps to climb.

  

  

By the time we reached the tea house, I was ready to indulge in a tasty treat. They offer a menu of fresh, homemade goods, all made on-site. Rob enjoyed a hearty bowl of soup coupled with their homemade oatmeal brown bread. I opted for the sweeter side and chose the apple crumble (a local favorite – rightfully so). And while at a tea house, of course we had to get some tea! They offer more than 100 varieties of loose leaf teas, which makes it difficult to choose. Being in Canada, we figured you can’t go wrong with anything maple, so we shared a small pot of the Maple Black Tea and it was delicious! Note to visitors: The Lake Agnes Tea House only accepts cash (Canadian & American). It would be an awful shame to hike all that way only to realize at the top that you only have plastic!

  

   
 

While there, enjoy the view down below of Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau.

  

  

If you are feeling really adventurous, try the “Tea House Challenge” and visit both tea houses in one day. The Highline Trail connects both tea houses to form a 9 mile loop. Or if hiking just isn’t your thing, but you really want to see an alpine tea house, then you can make the trek on horseback. Note to visitors: There are horses on the trail, so watch your step!

  

  

 

 

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Majestic Lake Louise

While in Banff National Park, a visit to Lake Louise cannot be missed. This majestic lake was named after Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, and the mesmerizing turquoise water is the crowning jewel of the park. The scenic background of Lake Louise is comprised of the snow-capped mountains of Mount Temple, Mount Whyte and Mount Niblock of the Canadian Rockies.   

 

There are wonderful hiking trails around the lake, or you can pay to rent a canoe and coast across the turquoise water. The canoe rentals weren’t cheap, but definitely worth it! A half hour rental cost 55 CAD and a full hour was just 10 CAD more. 

   

  

Clearly the full hour is the better deal, but we didn’t think Ella would sit still for that long so we opted for the 30 minute ride. I got to relax in the canoe, while Rob did all the hard work rowing. 

  But, I did have the very important job of making sure Ella didn’t throw herself overboard!  

  

Ella did start getting antsy towards the end of our term, so opting for the shorter rental was definitely the right call. And I’m fairly certain that Rob was ready to stop rowing by that point anyway. As we arrived back at the dock, there was a photographer standing by to capture a group shot. Normally I don’t get suckered into buying these over-priced photos, but this time the magic of the lake made me do it. So we shelled out an additional 20 CAD so that we could keep the only available picture containing all 3 of us on this canoe.  

  

Categories: Canada, Destinations | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Where in the World Have I Been???

I don’t mean in the traveling sense (although I do need to catch you up on that). I am referring to my absence in the blogosphere! It has been almost 20 months since my last post. So where the heck have I been? Well, I am excited to report that I have embarked on my greatest adventure yet…..MOTHERHOOD!

My lack of blogging does not mean I have not been traveling. Let’s just say that becoming a parent was allconsuming for quite some time. From the moment I knew I was pregnant, all of my focus revolved around my baby and keeping her safe. I simply didn’t have the mental capacity to keep up with this blog. Maybe it was the hormones? I don’t think I am too off the mark in admitting pregnancy-brain probably wouldn’t have permitted me to write coherently anyway. (Pregnancy-brain is a real thing!) Needless to say, after our daughter was born things just got worse, as far as this blog was concerned. Pregnancy-brain promptly turned into Mommy-brain (also real) and no matter how much I wanted to keep this blog updated, I just couldn’t make it happen. But Ella is about to celebrate her first birthday and I am finally feeling like I might just be able to do this thing again. So bear with me while I try to learn how to blog again.

Back to traveling – people always say that traveling is a dream instead of a reality once you have children. Clearly those people have never met me. I am determined to prove them wrong and continue my quest to see the world! And so far, I think it is safe to say that I am actually making it happen. When Ella was just 2 months old we took a road trip to Bar Harbor, Maine to hike in Acadia National Park. When Ella was 6 months old she took her first flight and she traveled like a champ! More recently, we traveled to Chicago and I was even brave enough to fly one leg of that trip with an infant, by myself.

Ella's very first flight

Ella’s very first flight – 6 months

Our solo flight home from Chicago

Our solo flight home from Chicago – 11 months

This summer we have lots of travel plans on the books. In just a couple of days Ella will get her first passport stamp when we fly to Canada to go hiking in Banff National Park. Later in July, we are taking a road trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Finally, in August we are going to Aruba. And we might actually be a bit crazy for this last one, but we are in the early planning stages for a trip to INDIA next winter! So stay tuned to hear about our upcoming travels and hopefully I will even get around to catching you up on these last couple of years.  And maybe I can inspire others with children to travel too!

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