Inspirations from a Las Vegas Breakfast

The Travel Agency sponsors an AmericaShare child

The world continues to prove itself a small place!  While attending Virtuoso’s annual Travel Mart in Las Vegas, I received an invitation, together with Lynann Mullis and Tracy Lynch, to attend a 6:30 AM breakfast at the Bellagio Hotel last Tuesday.  The breakfast was hosted by Micato Safaris, the family owned winner of Travel and Leisure’s coveted “Best Tour Operator” award for the last 8 years.  Each year this breakfast features inspiring stories from Kenya, beautiful gifts, and amazing entertainment such as Jack Hanna and his animals, the Kenyan Men Choir and this year the Kenyan Children Choir.  But this year there was an even more meaningful surprise for the audience.

A little background needs to be inserted here as Micato has a nonprofit arm in its organization called America Share ( This organization matches sponsors with children in Kenya to provide these children with the opportunity to attend a boarding school and receive a good educational experience.

Guess our delight and surprise as on Tuesday morning a 15 year old young man, Justus, stood before us and told his story that had begun in small village, orphaned early on and living with his grandfather.  The youngster had a very special relationship with his grandfather who sacrificed a lot to make it possible for him to attend school at age 6.  At the time, Justus did not totally appreciate this special opportunity, he related to the spellbound audience of travel advisors.

He skipped school to play with friends and lagged in his studies.  His wonderful grandfather then sent him to live with his aunt in the capital of Niarobi.  This aunt had eight children of her own but scraped together the resources to send Justus to school.  He didn’t speak Swahili or English. He was laughed at and again lagged in his studies.  But, with the help of his cousins, Justus quickly learned the new languages he needed to succeed and actually began to excel in his classes.  He was eventually chosen by America Share and sent to the elite boarding school.  Now, at age fifteen, Justus has identified his calling to become a physician.  By the end of his very calm and well delivered talk there was hardly a dry eye in the audience.  But then came the final surprise for our Amelia Island contingency!  The inspiration for Justus’ decision to become a doctor was the famous Dr. Ben Carson!

That name will have special meaning to all of you who attended the Nassau County Boys and Girls Club Speakers Forum ( at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island the year before last.  Dr. Carson spoke and inspired all of us with his story of a challenging boyhood, struggles with school early on, the role that the Boys and Girls Club played, and his ultimate and amazing successes as a brilliant neurosurgeon.

Now before us stood a young Kenyan student who was himself inspired by this wonderful man. Justus went on to say that Micato was flying him to New York the next day to spend a week shadowing his new mentor.  We left the breakfast enriched and inspired by this encounter with Justus and his past and future!  We feel certain that one day we will read about this young man and the good deeds he will do in his community in Kenya and the world, much just as we do now about Dr. Ben Carson.  We felt so inspired that we at The Travel Agency are committing to sponsor a child through America Share and watch another future unfold!

Blog Yourself to $80,000 in Travel Prizes

Just making sure what face to face means!

Remember the contest to become the island sitter/ambassador on an Australian Barrier Reef island last year. Well with the blogosphere and social media on the forefront of our media attention, the travel industry has been seeing the enormous advantage of this type of awareness and attraction.

As a consummate world travel and a fan of the TV show the Amazing Race, I can wholeheartedly endorse this marketing approach as interactive, educational and engaging. So when the following email entered my inbox I smiled and passed it on to a bunch of my friends who can appreciate the challenge:

THE TRAVEL AGENCY, as a preferred supplier with Backroads , O.A.R.S., Micato Safaris , Orion Expeditions , Lindblad Expeditions, Off the Beaten Path , Natural Habitat Adventures, and Canadian Mountain Holidays

invites you to enter the “BLOG YOUR WAY AROUND THE WORLD” contest!
Just write about why you should be selected to go on EIGHT world-class adventures and how you will blog from the road, and you could be on your way.
Throughout our 36 years of collaborating with our clients to create unique travel adventures around the globe, we at THE TRAVEL AGENCY truly understand the return on life these experiences can offer!  “Boundaries divide- Travel unites!”

If your travel dreams include exploring Europe by bike, traversing African savannahs, coming face to face with a polar bear, and taking the roads way less traveled…then get writing!

Backroads will take you to the Czech Republic and Austria, OARS obviously has a rafting adventure waiting for you, Canadian Mountain Holidays wil start up the helicopter for you and Natural Habitat Adventures will bring you face to face with polar bears. Off the Beaten Path takes you to the magnificent rainforests of Costa Rica while Lindblad Expeditions will cruise you to the fascinating world of the Galapagos. Orion Expeditions will familiarize you with exotic Borneo and Micato Safaris rules the world of Safaris in east Africa.
You write and win and take a companion of your choice with you. Blog your entry on Twitter and Facebook and have your friends vote for you.

CLICK HERE for all the details. It’s easy and fun! Submissions must be received by midnight December 31, 2010 ET. Oh and when you submit your 400 word “plea of insanity” don’t mind sending us a copy.
Good luck! we hope to see you out there.

Who is in Charge Here – Part II

Scootertje, his Royal Highness

Having a dog control the family is the result of a faulty upbringing. Unfortunately it is almost always the dog who will be suffering in the end, as they are being rid off, sent to the pond or neglected and abused. A dog is your best friend, always and without exception, as long as you raise him or her correctly or, if the dog enters your life at a more grown up phase, you may have to enroll your friend into an Alpha Attitude Adjustment Boot Camp.

Here is the continuation of yesterday Part I of “Who is in Charge Here”. It’s called:

Canine Boot Camp for Alpha Attitude Adjustment

From this day forward, you are going to teach  your dog that he is a dog, not a miniature human being in a furry suit. His  mother taught him how to be a dog once and how to take orders. Along the  way, through lack of training or misunderstood intentions, he  has forgotten. With your help, he is going to remember what he/she is and how he/she fits into the world. Before long, he is even going to like it!

Dogs were bred to look to humans for food, companionship and guidance. An alpha  dog does not ask for what he wants, he demands it. He lets you know clearly  that he wants his dinner, that he wants to go out, that he wants to play and  be petted and that he wants these things right now.

You are going to  teach him that from now on, he has to earn what he gets. No more free rides.  This is going to be a shock to his system at first, but you will be surprised  how quickly he will catch on and that he will actually become eager to please  you.

If your dog does not already know the simple command SIT, teach  it to him. Reward him with praise and a tidbit. Do not go overboard with  the praise. A simple “Good boy!” in a happy voice is enough.
Now, every time  your dog wants something – his dinner, a trip outside, a walk, some  attention, anything – tell him (remember don’t ask him, tell him) to SIT  first. When he does, praise him with a “Good Boy!” then tell him OKAY and  give him whatever it is he wants as a reward. If he refuses to SIT, walk away  and ignore him.

No SIT, no reward.

If you do not think he understands the  command, work on his training some more. If he just does not want to  obey, ignore him – do not give him what he wants or reward him in  any fashion.

Make him sit before giving him his dinner, make him sit  at the door before going outside, make him sit in front of you to be  petted, make him sit before giving him his toy. If you normally leave  food out for him all the time, stop. Go to a twice daily feeding and  you decide what time of day he will be fed. Make him sit for his  dinner. If he will not obey the command — no dinner. Walk away and  ignore him. Bring the food out later and tell him again to SIT. If  he understands the command, do not tell him more than once. He heard you  the first time. Give commands from a standing position and use a deep, firm  tone of voice.

If the dog respects certain members of the family but not  others, let the others be the ones to feed him and bring the good things  to his life for now. Show them how to make him obey the SIT command  and how to walk away and ignore him if he will not do as he is told. It is  important that your whole family follows this program. Dogs are like kids –  if they cannot have their way with Mom, they will go ask Dad.

In your dog’s  case, if he finds a member of the family that he can dominate, he will  continue to do so. You want your dog to learn
that he has to respect and obey  everyone. Remember – his place is at the bottom of the totem pole. Bouncing  him from the top spot helps but if he thinks he is anywhere in the middle,  you are still going to have problems.

Think – you know your dog and  know what he is likely to do under most circumstances. Stay a step ahead of  him and anticipate his behavior so you can avoid or correct it. If he gets  into the trash and growls when scolded, make the trash can inaccessible. If  he
likes to bolt out the door ahead of you, put a leash on him. Make him sit and wait while you open the door and give him permission. OKAY! – to go  out. If your alpha dog does not like to come when he is called (and he  probably doesn’t!), do not let him outside off the leash. Without a leash, you  have no control over him and he knows it.

Petting and Attention

Alpha dogs are used to being fussed over. In a real dog pack, subordinate dogs are forever touching, licking and grooming  the
alpha dog. It is a show of respect and submission. For now, until his  attitude has shown improvement, cut down on the amount of
cuddling your dog  gets. When he wants attention, make him to SIT first, give him a few kind words  and pats, and then stop. Go back to whatever it was you were doing and ignore  him. If he pesters you, tell him NO! in a firm voice and ignore him some  more. Pet him when you want to, not just because he wants you to. Also, for  the time being, do not get down on the floor or on your knees to pet  your dog. That, too, is a show of submission. Give praise, petting  and rewards from a position that is higher than the  dog.


If you or anyone in your family wrestles, roughhouses  or plays tug of war with your dog, stop! These games encourage dogs to  dominate people physically and to use their teeth. In a dog pack or in  a litter, these games are more than just playing – they help to
establish  pack order based on physical strength. Especially if your dog is already stronger and quicker than you are. Rough, physical games may prove that to him. He does not need to be reminded of it! Find new games for him to play. Hide &  seek, fetch or Frisbee catching are more appropriate. Make sure you are the  one who starts and ends the game, not the dog. Stop playing before the dog  gets bored and is inclined to try to keep the ball or Frisbee.

Where does your dog sleep?

Not in your bedroom and especially not on your bed!  Your bedroom is a special place – it is your “den”. An alpha dog thinks he  has a right to sleep in your den because he considers himself your  equal.
In fact, he may have already taken over your bed, refusing to  get off when told or growling and snapping when anyone asks him to  make room for the humans. Until your dog’s alpha problems are fully  under control, the bedroom should be off-limits! The same goes  for sleeping on furniture. If you cannot keep him off the couch without a fight, deny him access to the room until his behavior and  training has improved.

Crate Training

Dog crates have 1,000  uses and working with an alpha dog is one of them. It is a great place for  your dog to sleep at night, to eat in and just to stay in when he needs to  chill out and be reminded that he is a dog. The crate is your dog’s “den”.  Start crate training by feeding him his dinner in his crate. Close the door  and let him stay there for an hour afterwards. If he throws a tantrum, ignore  him. Do not let your dog out of his crate until he is quiet and settled.  At bedtime, show him an irresistible goodie, tell him to SIT and when he  does, throw the goodie into the crate. When he dives in for the treat, tell  him what a good boy he is and close the door.

Graduating from Boot Camp: What’s Next?

Just like in the army, boot camp is really just an  introduction to a new career and new way of doing things. A tour through boot  camp is not going to solve your alpha dog’s problems forever. It is a way  to get basic respect from a dog that has been bullying you without having  to resort to physical force.

How long should boot camp last? That depends  on the dog. Some will show an improvement right away, others may take much  longer. For really tough cookies, natural leaders that need constant  reminders of their place in the pack, Alpha Dog Boot Camp will become a way  of life. Social climbers may need periodic trips through boot camp if you  get lax and accidentally let them climb back up a notch or two in the family  pack order.

How do you know if you are making a difference?

If boot camp  has been successful, your dog should start looking to you for  directions and permission. He will show an eagerness to please. Watch how  your dog approaches and greets you. Does he come to you “standing  tall”, with his head and ears held high and erect? It may look  impressive and proud but it means he’s still alpha and you still have  problems!
A dog who accepts humans as superiors will approach you with  his head slightly lowered and his ears back or off to the sides. He

will  “shrink” his whole body a little in a show of submission. Watch how he greets  all the members of the family. If he displays this
submissive posture to some  of them, but not others, those are the ones who still need to work on their own alpha posture and methods.
They should take him back through another tour  of boot camp with support from the rest of the family.

Obedience Training

Once your dog has begun to accept this new way of life and his  new position in the family, you should take him through an obedience course with a qualified trainer. All dogs need to be trained  and alpha dogs need training most of all! You do not have to wait until he  is through with boot camp to start this training but it is important that he  respects at least one member of the family and is willing to take direction  from them.

Obedience class teaches you to train your dog. It teaches you  how to be alpha, how to enforce commands and rules, how to get respect and to keep it. All family members who are old enough to understand  and control the dog should participate in the class.

Obedience  training is a lifelong process. One obedience course does not a trained dog make! Obedience commands need to be practiced and incorporated into your  daily life. In a dog pack, the alpha animal uses occasional reminders to  reinforce his authority. Certain commands, like DOWN/STAY, are especially  effective, nonviolent reminders of a dog’s place in the family pack order and  who is really in charge here.

A well-trained obedient dog is a happy  dog and a joy to live with. Dogs want to please and need a job to do.  Training gives them the opportunity to do both. A well-trained dog has more  freedom. He can go more places and do more things with you because he knows  how to behave. A well-trained dog that is secure in his place within  the family pack is comfortable and confident. He knows what is expected of  him. He knows his limits and who his leaders are. He is free from the  responsibility of running the household and making decisions. He is free to  be your loving companion and not your boss. He is free to be a dog – what he  was born to be and what he always wanted to be in the first  place!

When You Need Professional Help

If your dog has already  injured you or someone else or if you are afraid of your dog, you should  consult with a qualified professional dog trainer or behaviorist before  starting Canine Boot Camp. Your dog should also have an exam by your vet to  make sure there are no physical causes for his behavior. To find a qualified  trainer or behaviorist near you, contact your veterinarian or the  American Kennel Club for a list of obedience training clubs in your  area.

This article was written by  Vicki Rodenberg De Gruy, Chairman of the Chow Chow Club Inc.’s Welfare  Committee, submitted by Ange Wallace, owner of the Travel Agency and a huge animal lover and uploaded with permission from the author.

Who is in Charge Here – Part I

His name is Scootertje and he is AA - Alpha Anonimous

“My dog just  tried to bite me! All I did was tell him to move over so I could sit on the  couch next to him.” “My dog got into the trash can and when I scolded her,  she growled at me. What’s wrong with her? I thought she loved me!” “Our dog  is very affectionate most of the time but when we try to make him do  something he doesn’t want to do, he snaps at us.” What do these three dogs  have in common? Are they nasty or downright vicious? No – they are “alpha”.

They have taken over the leadership of the families that love them. Instead  of taking orders from their people, these dogs are giving orders! Your dog  can love you very much and still try to dominate you or other members of your  family.

Dogs are social creatures and believers in social order. A  dog’s social system is a “pack” with a well-defined pecking order.  The leader of the pack is the alpha, supreme boss, Top Dog. He (or  she) gets the best of everything – the best food, the best place to sleep,  the best toy, etc. The leader also gets to be first in everything – he gets  to eat first, to leave first and to get attention first. All the other dogs  in the pack respect the alpha dog’s wishes. Any dog that challenges the  alpha’s authority gets a swift physical reminder of just where his place in  the pack really is.

Your family is your dog’s “pack”. Many dogs fit  easily into the lower levels of their human pack’s pecking order and do not  make waves. They do what they are told and do not challenge  authority. Other dogs do not fit in quite as well. Some of them are  natural born leaders and are always challenging their human alphas.  Other dogs are social climbers – they are always looking for ways to get  a little closer to the top of the family ladder. These natural leaders and  the social climbers can become problems to an unsuspecting family that is not  aware of the dog’s natural pack instincts.

Some families encourage their  dogs to take over the “pack” without realizing it. They treat their dogs as  equals, not as subordinates. They give them special privileges like sleeping  on the bed or couch. They do not train their dogs and let them get away with  disobeying commands. In a real dog pack, no one but the alpha dog would  get this kind of treatment. Alpha does not have anything to do with size.  The tiniest Chihuahua can be a canine Hitler. In fact, the smaller the dog,  the more people tend to baby them and cater to them – making the dog feel  even more dominant and in control of his humans.

Alpha dogs often seem  to make good pets. They are confident, smarter than average, and  affectionate. They can be wonderful with children and good with strangers.  Everything seems to be great with the relationship – until someone crosses  him or makes him do something he does not want to do. Then, suddenly, this  wonderful dog growls or tries to bite someone and no one understands  why.

In a real dog pack, the alpha dog does not have to answer to  anyone. No one gives him orders or tells him what to do. The other dogs  in the pack respect his position. If another dog is foolish enough  to challenge the alpha by trying to take his bone or his favorite sleeping  place, the alpha dog will quickly put him in his place with a hard stare or a  growl. If this does not work, the alpha dog will enforce his leadership with  his teeth. This is all natural, instinctive behavior – in a dog’s world. In a  human family, though, this behavior is unacceptable and  dangerous.

Dogs need and want leaders. They have an instinctive need to  fit into a pack. They want the security of knowing their place and what is  expected of them. Most of them do not want to be alpha – they want someone  else to give the orders and make the decisions. If his humans do not provide  that leadership, the dog will take over the role himself. If you have allowed  your dog to become alpha, you are at his mercy and as a leader, he may be  either a benevolent king or a tyrant!

If you think your dog is alpha  in your household, he probably is. If your dog respects only one or two  members of the family but dominates the others, you still have a problem. The  dog’s place should be at the -bottom- of your human family’s pack order, not  at the top or somewhere in between. In order to reclaim your family’s  rightful place as leaders of the pack, your dog needs some lessons in how to  be a subordinate, not an equal. You are going to show him what it means to be  a dog again. Your dog’s mother showed him very early in life that -she- was  alpha and that he had to respect her.

As a puppy, he was given a  secure place in his litter’s pack and because of that security, he was free  to concentrate on growing, learning, playing, loving and just being a dog.  Your dog does not really want the responsibility of being alpha, having to  make the decisions and defend his position at the top. He wants a leader  to follow and worship so he can have the freedom of just being a dog again.


Your dog  watches you constantly and reads your body language. He knows if you are  insecure, uncomfortable in a leadership role or will not enforce a command.  This behavior confuses him, makes -him- insecure and if he is a natural  leader or has a social-climbing personality, it will encourage him to assume  the alpha position and tell -you- what to do.

“Alpha” is an attitude.  It involves quiet confidence, dignity, intelligence, and an air of authority.  A dog can sense this attitude almost immediately – it is how his mother acted  towards him. Watch a professional trainer or a good obedience instructor.  They stand tall and use their voices and eyes to project the idea that  they are capable of getting what they want. They are gentle but  firm, loving but tough, all at the same time. Most dogs are  immediately submissive towards this type of personality because they  recognize and respect alpha when they see it.

Practice being alpha.

Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Walk tall. Practice using a new  tone of voice, one that is deep and firm. Do not ask your dog to do something  – tell him. There is a difference. He knows the difference, too! Remember  that, as alpha, you are entitled to make the rules and give the orders. Your  dog understands that instinctively.
With most dogs, just this change  in your attitude and an obedience- training course will be enough to turn  things around. With a dog that has already taken over the household, has enforced his position by growling or biting, and has been allowed to get away  with it, you will need to do more than just decide to be alpha. The dog is  going to need an attitude adjustment as well.

Natural leaders and  social climbers are not going to want to give up their alpha position. Your  sudden change in behavior is going to shock and threaten them. Your dog might  act even more aggressively than before. An alpha dog will instinctively  respond to challenges to his authority. It is his nature to want to put down  revolutionary uprisings by the peasants! Do not worry; there is a way around  it.

An alpha dog already knows that he can beat you in a physical  fight so returning his aggression with violence of your own won’t  work. Until you’ve successfully established your position as  alpha, corrections like hitting, shaking, or using the  “rollover” techniques described in some books will not work and can  be downright dangerous to you. An alpha dog will respond to these methods  with violence and you could be seriously hurt.

What you need to do is use  your brain! You are smarter than he is and you can out think him. You will  also need to be more stubborn than he is. What I’m about to describe here is  an effective, non-violent method of removing your dog from alpha status and  putting him back at the bottom of the family totem pole where he belongs  and where he needs to be. In order for this method to work, your  whole family has to be involved. It requires an attitude adjustment  from everyone and a new way of working with your dog.

This is serious  business.

A dog that bites or threatens people is a dangerous dog, no matter  how much you love him. If treating your dog like a dog and not an equal seems harsh to you, keep in mind that our society no longer tolerates dangerous  dogs. Lawsuits from dog bites are now settling for millions of dollars – you  could lose your home and everything else you own if your dog injures someone.  You or your children could be permanently disfigured. Moreover, your  dog could lose his life. That is the bottom line.

This article was written by  Vicki Rodenberg De Gruy, Chairman of the Chow Chow Club Inc.’s Welfare Committee and submitted by Ange Wallace of The Travel Agency, a committed animal lover and owner of two Giant Schnauzers among horses and other domesticated species.

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As Airline Deregulation Comes Full Circle

The concept is only one step away

When we opened The Travel Agency in 1974, airlines were regulated by the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board).  All intrastate flights were regulated as to the fares charged, number and times of flights, airlines approved to fly any given route and other such details.  Fares were held as low as possible while responsibly giving the airlines a reasonable return on their investments.  One of the most significant by-products of this system was that fares were held down for short haul markets and subsidized by the long haul markets.  Then in 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Alfred Kahn as chair of the CAB.  Under great pressure to remove the rigid controls of the CAB, legislation was introduced as the Airline Deregulation Act and signed into being by Carter in Oct, 1978.

At about this time a travel industry visionary, Joel Abels,  wrote a “crystal ball” article predicting the results of this new “free market” environment on the airline industry.  The short version would go like this.  First, fares would tumble as airlines raced to claim their fair market share.  This would be beneficial in the short term to the traveling public.  This happened.

Then, short haul flights would be dropped and/or prices would remain high causing many small airports to lose service.  That happened as evidenced by airports like Patrick Henry in New Port News, Va.

Next there would be a plethora of new entry airlines (i.e. Air Florida) but would eventually result in the demise of many companies in the brutal competition.  That also occurred and between 1978 and mid-2001 nine major carriers (including Eastern, Midway, Braniff, Pan Am, Continental, America West Airlines, and TWA) and more than 100 smaller airlines went bankrupt or were liquidated—including most of the dozens of new airlines founded in deregulation’s aftermath.

Finally, Abels believed, the remaining airlines would rush to merge creating two or three mega airlines.  This would result in an almost monopolistic rise in fares, dropping of unprofitable routes, less convenient flight schedules.  Finally the experiment would come full circle to some form or government regulation to bring the behemoth companies back in line.  Joel passed away on January 31, 2007, and so will not be here to see the final stages of his predictions coming to pass.

Passenger are devalued to freight

The catalyst that brought all this to mind is, of course, the recently announced merger of United Airlines and Continental Airlines.  This will be the largest airline in the world.  They had to seek this status to compete with the “new Delta” (Delta and Northwest recently merged).  Now everyone in the arena is speculating that US Air and American will have to seek solace in each others arms while “smaller regional” carriers will be less a threat on high volume routes and fares will become less competitive on less lucrative, shorter hauls.

The airlines “mentality” has become one of bean counters where passengers are merely live freight.  Not making enough money?  Take something away!  Take away pillows, blankets, food, choices!  Nothing left to remove?  Start charging for all remaining “services”!  Gone are the days when flying was part of the fun in traveling!  There are very few carriers that understand, or believe, that they can still be a positive part of the travel experience!!  Try one of Branson’s Virgin products, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand if you long for a bit of nostalgic glamour or fun!   Maybe it is time to go back to developing a high speed train network to compete with the mega airlines!  My own personal dream is to have the first teleportation unit on Amelia Island!  Beam me up, Scottie!!  (But don’t forget the bug spray!)

Eye to Eye with African Gorillas

As the Gorilla family slowly shows signs of intoxication

A runner materialized at the edge of a thickening forest and spoke soft to the guide at the head of our group, all the while glancing at us. John, our lead guide, smiled reassuringly as he turned to us. It seemed, he said, that the gorilla family we sought had moved well on up the trail and it would be another hour and a half of hiking up the muddy steep trail.  How many wanted to continue? Already a bit tired and hungry like most people with a daily routine of 3 meals and snacks in between, we all knew that meant a very late lunch and more sore muscles.

Still, we all agreed we had not come this far and paid for the precious permit, to give up with no visit to our coveted family of mountain gorillas. We would continue on. John is a mischievous man however. When he witnessed our stubborn commitment to pursue, which was the reaction he was looking for, he began to chuckle, followed by the admittance that the gorillas we sought, were actually just beyond the next thicket. His chuckle turned to a grin when he announced that we were especially lucky that day as the gorillas had stopped to feast on bamboo and that he explained has the same effect on them that a few cold beers would on us.  He was right as we soon experienced and personally I got a good taste of it!

The family consisted of a very impressive “silver back”, or mature male leader, several females, a few juveniles i.e. teenagers, and Big Ben, the “terrible” two year old. We approached with quiet caution after John’s briefing regarding how to conduct ourselves in the presence of the family. There was to be no touching or pointing at the gorillas and we were to keep a safe distance. We were all slightly awed and feeling perhaps a little vulnerable as we began taking pictures and observing these amazing creatures. All the while they ignored our presence and continued their contented munching of the bamboo.
Soon it became apparent that Big Ben was coming “under the influence”! He began climbing up a low tree and falling out then putting one hand on the ground to steady himself and running quick circles around it then tumbling along like a kid doing summersaults. We got to observe Big Ben beating his chest in imitation of his awesome father, then run fast as he could to escape any ire he may have raised. By this time Dad was too mellowed out to bother reprimanding the disrespect!  We could see that their eyes were losing focus and the eye-lids became a wee bit heavy.

Next one of the juveniles began to charge parts of our group in a sort of “lets have some fun” manner.  John had instructed us that if this happened we should not look them in the eye, but back slowly away and do not speak to them or make any noise.  Eric and I were standing side by side observing the behavior while Eric continued to take pictures.  Suddenly we realized we had become the next target of this tipsy teen.  As we began to back away, somehow Eric went a bit to one side and I to the other until I found myself standing alone.  Our young admirer continued his advance on me until he stood beside me and walked all the way around me brushing my body deliberately as he went!  To my sudden relief one of the rangers noticed the antics and came to my rescue uttering some gorilla sounds that apparently told the youngster to go away and behave!  He did!  About this same time Daddy Silverback also noticed the misbehaving teen and gave him a good scolding as well.

Eric and I. Nervous? Me? Uh Uh.

John let us know that our allotted time was up but he was giving us 5 more minutes for photos and soaking in the nuances of “our”  little family.  Right at the end of the 5 minutes, the magnificent Silverback rose to full height, beat on his chest and the entire family dissolved into the surrounding forest.  Immediately we began to chatter, sharing our impressions and feelings at having experienced this unique time with creatures at once entirely wild and yet tolerant of our visit.  The walk back to the lodge seemed much shorter as we mulled over the encounter and its profound effect on each of us.

Eric and I chose the mountains of Rwanda for our Gorilla trekking experience with Volcano Safaris.  It is possible to base out of a similar lodge in Uganda. Even though it is not a simple trip as the air schedules in this part of Africa can be challenging, the destination lavishly rewards the patience!  In addition to actually visiting with the gorillas, hiking is in a beautiful setting with many animal sightings among which chimpanzees and other primates as well as uncountable bird species. And the local people are very interesting and wonderfully warm and friendly despite the extreme difficulties they have seen in recent times.  Back in camp that day, a number of villagers came and sang and danced for us.  They were smiling happy people who enjoyed the time they were sharing with us. In the end we had to admit that we went to see the animals, but the people left such vivid impressions on us that we know we will return.

Angela Wallace – Pierson

Travel is Growing Sensitive to the Environment

Leave the Beach as you found it, please!

Leisure travel has apparently been taking place for thousands of years, as is becoming evident by discoveries of places such as Machu Picchu where the Incas vacationed in the summer or down the Nile River where royalty in ancient Egypt spent their summers. As the word travel originates from the French word for the word “WORK” (travail), it has become more clear and publicized in the last few decades that travel has now reached a critical impact level, both good or bad, on the environment and standard of living of many destinations.

My eyes were first opened to the issue of travel impact on a trip to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Famous for its pristine nature and wildlife and strict visit requirements, Ecuadorian naturalists went to great lengths to make sure we did not so much as remove one grain of sand from one of the islands we visited. They explained that in this amazing place, there were literally different species of tortoise on each island and we must be absolutely sure to “take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints”.  It left a lasting impression on me that since has been reiterated on many of my travels.

Rafting through Nature's unspoiled regions

On an all girls whitewater rafting trip with O.A.R.S. for example, the guides carried all waste, including the ashes from all of our camp fires, so we left each beach as beautiful for the next explorers as we ourselves had found it. When witnessing this care, I had a very vivid and horrible image in my mind of the beach with camp fire remnants everywhere, leftover food rotting and too many signs of human presence. If we think about it, we do have SUCH an impact!


I am also extremely proud that Amelia Island’s The Travel Agency was welcomed to become a part of Virtuoso,  as this organization introduced me to the Pinto family who run Micato Safaris in Kenya . The family, originating from India, moved to Kenya and besides big agricultural interests now operates African Safaris since 1966. The parents not only invite each traveler into their home for a private dinner, they also spend much of their time and money giving back to the African communities in the areas that they visit with tourists. Over the years the Pinto family has opened schools and libraries in various locations throughout Africa.
At the end of every safari, guests are given the opportunity to visit one of these schools and meet these amazing students. The students must sign a contract with the Pinto family that they will keep good grades and good behavior and when they graduate, they will return to their birth ground and give back in some fashion to their community.

Some key people in the Virtuoso consortium, including hoteliers, tour operators and travel advisors, have started an organization called Bhodi Tree Foundation . This Organization operating under the motto “Travelers Unite to Preserve the Places We Love”, is also a strong believer in this type of travel recently coined “Sustainable Travel”.  Sustainable travel is referring to the impact we have, not only on the trees and the water and the air, but also on the people and cultures we touch while traveling.
The Bodhi Tree Foundation raises funds to promote education, healthcare, environmental initiatives, historic preservation and economic development in underserved areas and is currently operating a major relief and education effort in Haiti in conjunction with The Edeyo Foundation.

Trekking the Gorillas

This brings to mind another environmentally sustainable trips my husband Eric and I were fortunate enough to take in 2007! We traveled to Rwanda with Volcano Safaris. This amazing company not only has a 5 star Ecolodge with solar power and bag showers, but also takes amazing strides in the community. They had built the first hospital, paved the road so supply trucks could get to that hospital and tourists would feel more comfortable to visit this magnificent isolated location.

Showers from solar powered water bags

Volcano Safaris also spends much time, energy and money educating the locals to the fact that keeping the gorillas alive will mean tourist dollars for generations to come, whereas poaching the gorillas so they could burn the forest for charcoal would only bring money into the community once and never again.
Volcano Safaris also collected the school supplies people like Eric and I brought and rather than simply hand them to children we saw on the road or in the fields while we were traveling, they would take them to the schools
when they had enough for each student to get one of each type of item. They explained to us that this provide incentive for the children to always come to school, as they never knew when the items would be delivered. We were so impressed at all of the efforts they took to better the lives!

Travel is an ever changing industry with a lot of impact on the destinations!  I for one will be proud to watch the sustainable travel sector grow and gain more influence. We have already witnessed many improvements such as cruise lines investing millions to add water purification systems onboard and repower vessels with more efficient, environmentally sensitive systems.  Hotels are not only changing the way they operate, but are even changing the materials they build with, to be environmentally sustainable!

For more information on what is happening in the travel industry with environmentally sustainable travel we suggest you click on:

Angela Wallace Pierson – The Travel Agency