I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the stories we tell when we travel. Not just “we” in the sense of travel writers and bloggers, but human beings in general.
We use our cameras and mobile devices to capture snapshots of us at our idealistic best, every hair in place, smiling just so, capturing moments in which we’re “living the dream” (to quote a popular blogger cliché). It’s easy for other people to look at these photos in envy, jealous of our perfect lives and wishing they could have just a taste of the bounty we’ve been blessed with.
But while pictures like the one above may be worth a thousand words, they rarely tell the full story.
Usually I want to travel. Our trip to Belize was a rare case where I desperately needed to get away. Our end-of-year deadlines had been brutal, leaving me exhausted to the core after weeks of 12-hour days. My father passed away unexpectedly the day after Christmas, just before his 68th birthday, and his memorial service left me wrestling with a complex cauldron of emotions over the fact that I’ve been estranged from my immediate family for over two years.
By the time I got to Belize– a place I’d dreamed of visiting for 15 years– I was beyond tapped out on a physical, mental and emotional level. I was so exhausted, we nearly canceled our first day’s tour of Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (home to the world’s largest concentration of jaguars). After the second day– when I was knocked into a reef by another Scuba diver who didn’t see me beneath him, got severe leg cramps during our second dive and ultimately got seasick after my ascent– I literally broke down.
Honestly, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
You won’t see any photos of me getting sick over the side of the boat. You won’t see pictures of the ugly scar I got from scraping my elbow on the reef. And you won’t see any shots of the tears I wept when I finally let go and acknowledged that I just wasn’t able to handle all of the myriad things that had been piled upon my plate.
The photo you see above, of the beach at Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, doesn’t tell any of these stories. But that’s not the point of this post. This shot– taken after our dive, a refreshing dip in the resort pool, and a snack to settle my stomach– is incredibly symbolic for me.
This dream-like image of peace and serenity represents promise and possibility, specifically the goals that Mary and I have been working towards the last four years. There’s a chair for me, Mary and my daughter to sit in and gaze out on the gorgeous surroundings, with our dog Huckleberry at our feet. There are no laptops, phones, deadlines or other obligations to be met. Just time and space, shade from the midday sun, and remarkable natural beauty everywhere you look.
Of course, that’s not the reality behind this image: In truth, I was nauseous, sweaty and at the end of my emotional rope, trying to force myself to be OK at a time when I was decidedly not OK. I was simply trying to get a few quick shots of this beautiful beach before moving on to our next adventure. But it’s representative of the dream that I aspire to– the dream that we push ourselves to our limits to in an effort to achieve.
And I know deep in my heart that, by the next time we visit this beautiful beach in Belize, that dream will have become real… –Bret Love
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As an insatiably curious world traveler who rarely visits the same place twice, it’s odd to have the sort of connection that keeps drawing me back to Sanibel Island, Florida over and over again.
I’ve been there at least 15 times since my first visit in the early ’90s. I know the island so well that I can recall its changes over the last two decades– the massive Australian pines that were felled by Hurricane Charley in 2004, the old drawbridge that used to cause long waits when crossing the Causeway from the mainland, and old school businesses (R.I.P. McT’s) that have gradually been replaced with newer, flashier establishments.
When I first started going to Sanibel, I was shocked and amazed to discover that you could usually count on seeing Alligators in the tiny swamp right next to the historic Bailey’s shopping center, which was opened in the late 1800s. You’d most often spot them lurking in the middle of the water, still as statues, their foreboding eyes watching for prey. But occasionally you’d see them right along the bank, less than 20 yards from the movie theater parking lot.
I’ve heard stories of people being caught feeding them, of small dogs snatched from their owners as they walked along the shore, and of gators being moved deeper into the swamp to avoid human contact. I haven’t seen gators in the swamp for years. But I still visit the area every time I’m in Sanibel Island, because you never know where wildlife may turn up.
And so it was that I found myself walking along the fringe of the swamp on a recent evening. I was looking for gators right around sunset when I saw this Turtle surface in the water about 15 yards away. As he stared at me, this big orange Flame Skimmer Dragonfly landed right on his head. I snapped the photo with my 500mm lens, and before I could click the shutter a second time he was gone.
It was a perfect moment of serendipity: Not the Alligator I’d hoped for, but a reminder that Nature adapts to change and brings with it sweet surprises if you keep eyes and mind open. –Bret Love
Our trip to Sanibel Island was hosted by the Lee County Visitors Bureau. But we will never compromise our obligation to our readers. Our opinions remain our own.
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If you’ve never been on a nighttime safari drive, it’s truly a spooky spectacle to behold. The darkness lends an added air of mystery to an experience already filled with awe and wonder. And, with your tracker’s flashlight usually the only source of illumination, it can be a little scary knowing that wild things wander unseen all around you.
My memories of our game drives through South Africa’s Kruger National Park are extraordinarily vivid. I remember the racing pulse of excitement the first night, when our Londolozi Game Reserve driver struggled to find pathways through the thick underbrush as we followed a female Leopard stalking her prey just after sunset. The thunderous noises of a massive Hippopotamus crashing through a thicket and running across the road behind us, faster than you’d ever imagine a creature so large could run. The incredible sight of 13 Lions stretching lazily in the road back to our camp, looking for all the world like sleepy, overgrown house cats. And the heart-pounding intensity as we watched a pack of cackling Hyenas chasing a herd of Gazelles, which leapt and bound gracefully across the road.
But one of my favorite nighttime wildlife sightings has to be this cute little trio of Baby Cheetahs, who we found hidden amongst the grass of the open savannah late at night, nursing contentedly on their mother. Cheetahs are my favorite of South Africa’s big cats– I admire their distinctive markings, their speed, their gracefulness– but until this night they were the only species (including the rare African Wild Dog) that we hadn’t seen. To stumble upon them in the dark, late at night, and see an entire family? It felt as if we hit the jackpot.
You can read elsewhere on GGT the story of how South Africa inspired our passion for ecotourism. But, for me, this photo captures one of those indelible little moments that makes Kruger National Park such a special place. In these adorable little faces, I saw the future of sustainable travel. –text & photo by Bret Love
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We normally avoid cities like the plague. But the Big Apple? Well, that’s a whole different story.
For one thing, it’s a global hub of arts and culture. For another, it’s where Mary grew up (specifically, on Staten Island). But most importantly, we still have a ton of family and friends in the area. And so it was that we took a family road trip a few years ago to visit Mary’s dad and college friend Jill, and to find out if it was possible to Go Green in New York City.
It was a wonderful week of adventures that took us from our base in Greenwich Village to the American Museum of Natural History, from a river cruise around Manhattan to riding bikes in Central Park. But, for me, the most memorable highlight was taking Mary and my daughter to see the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks.
Jill lived right on the Hudson River, and the pier outside her building provided the perfect vantage point from which to watch the annual Independence Day spectacle. There was naturally a vast sea of people crowded shoulder-to-shoulder, but we managed to find some open space hidden behind a line of trees (talk about “Going Green“!) beside the pier. From here, we could see three of the four barges from which the fireworks were launched, with the incredible Manhattan Skyline (including the red, white and blue colors of the Empire State Building) in the background.
It was the first time we’d ever traveled anywhere for Independence Day, and the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks definitely made it one of our most memorably family vacations to date. Now, every time I see fireworks, it takes me back to that incredibly special day… –Bret Love
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We’ve been fortunate to see quite a few adorable animals over the course of our travels, from baby Rhinos in South Africa’s Londolozi Game Reserve and baby Sea Lions in the Galapagos Islands to baby Guanacos in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park and baby Penguins in Antarctica. No matter what the species may be, our soft hearts seem to melt every time we see little ones, especially the newborns.
So you can probably imagine our gushing reaction when we first laid eyes on the awkwardly adorable moose babies pictured above during our tour of Wrågården Farm in Falkoping, Sweden.
We’d already been overwhelmed with emotion when Bo Alexandersson– the father of the farm’s current 5th generation owner–introduced us to Oskar, a 2-year-old moose he had hand-raised, who now followed him around like an adoring puppy dog. As Oskar licked, nuzzled and drooled all over us like an overgrown Great Dane, we were surprised to see his lady moose, Ebba, crest the hill with two gorgeous 14-day-old calves in tow. As Ebba eyed us cautiously, the two youngsters began to nurse, and I quietly crept over to a nearby rock to snap a few shots.
We’ll have the full story– including some great GoPro video footage– on Sweden’s “Moose Whisperer,” his growing Moose family, and our incredible experience exploring Wrågården Farm (where they also raise Dum Dum deer, Canadian Bison, and Scottish Highland cattle) coming soon. In the meantime, we hope you’ll enjoy this rare shot of Moose babies nursing their mama almost as much as we enjoyed getting to hang out with them for one awesome evening in West Sweden. –by Bret Love
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