Wednesday, December 28, 2011

To Make Music With The Heart.

On our first trip to Peru in July of  2000 we sailed the waters of the Amazon River on a beautiful 16 passenger private boat.  Along the way we met two young women, teachers from a village we had just visited, who needed a ride to a larger town so they could buy supplies for their small primitive school.  Our guide discretely asked Gene and I if we wouldn't mind helping them out by allowing them to board the boat then take them to town.  Of course we didn't mind...such a simple thing to do!  But Gene and I wanted to do more.  So through translation we made private arrangements to help buy the supplies. 

School in Peruvian Amazon, July 2000
When we returned from this trip we received a note with a check attached from one of our guests. Unbeknownst to us, she had observed what we had done and wanted to help us help others.  "I know the good you do, here is something to help you carry on."  Through the years we have continued to seek out opportunities wherever we are to make a difference however small.  Many times we have asked our traveling companions if they would like to come with us to a school in Bali, Costa Rica or Nicaragua, a clinic in Africa, an orphanage in China to help us help others.  Always the response has been generous.

Joanne Young handing out pencils in Bali.
This past November when we returned from Ecuador, again we received a note (from the same friend) with a check attached.  "Enclosed is a cheque to help support the charitable work you do on behalf of The Walking Connection.  Thank you for being a part of this global community."  What should we do, we pondered...

The next day I read an article in our local newspaper talking about our growing population of homeless and the great need at this time of year for blankets and warm clothing.  This was it!  This was how we could help NOW.  So I scoured all of the holiday ads looking for deals and headed out into the dreaded frenzy.  Blankets, gloves, hats and socks were purchased.  Cleaned out my closet. How many sweatshirts do I really need?  Gene did the same.  We filled our trunk, then our back seat and headed off to make our delivery.  This time not on the other side of the world, just a short journey about 30 minutes away. As we left the facility, once again I thought I want to do more. 

So as we travel the world we will carry on and continue to do what we do, near and far....To make music with the heart...
When the song of the angel is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepards are back with the flocks,
The work of Christmas begins;
To find the lost, to heal the broken,
To feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the peoples,
To make music with the heart. *

P.S.: To "our friend" that keeps encouraging us and letting us know that what we do really matters.  THANK YOU!

*poem by Howard Thurman

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Missed You! Wish You Were There!

Jet black lava glistening as hovering bright red and blue crabs 
scatter out of the way. 

Our first dry landing a success, we are soon distracted by the approaching iguanas. Unlike the brilliant crabs, they become one with the rock. Blink once, twice to focus and they are everywhere!

It's a beautiful evening in the Galapagos as we are guided through a grove of Incense Trees. Now barren, but a promise that they will flourish with green when the rain returns. Stillness except for rustling in the brush. Stop. Quietly wait...

A golden 4 foot Land Iguana emerges. He carries on and so do we...

To the top of Dragon Hill, we look out at the unique and otherworldly atmosphere. Am I really here? I remind myself, "be in the moment" as we casually walk back to where the white sand and black rock engage. The sun is setting, but we don't feel rushed or hurried. Our yacht is patiently waiting, an ebony silhouette against the pink sky...and this is only day one...

Click on image to view our video!

Missed You! Wish you were there!

Monday, November 7, 2011

It's Puzzling

When I put an itinerary together for the Walking Connection it is like a HUGE jigsaw puzzle spread out before me. You start out with thousands of scattered oddly shaped pieces, find the corners, organize the edges, make sure that everything that was originally jumbled interlocks perfectly together and then when end up with a masterpiece!

So I have to admit that right before a trip, that sometimes I get a little frantic making sure that I haven't lost a piece creating a big hole in the middle! That was this week's mission - checking for holes.  With our upcoming trip to the Galapagos Islands, I needed to review a couple hundred e-mails, reconfirm details with contacts in Ecuador, check in with guests, answer last minute questions and then start to think about getting myself ready. Done, done, done - no holes.  Though getting myself ready is never done until my suitcase is locked and we are headed to the airport!

All that being said, "Its A Wrap!"  We're off to Ecuador.  Soon we will be walking with the giant tortoises along with 14 awesome friends. New fabulous stories and photos soon to come...


Saturday, November 5, 2011

What Goes Up, Must Come Down...and then up again!

What goes from the desert at 1135' of elevation to 9350' on the slopes of a volcano, then north to 10,000' + in the highlands of the Andes, back to 9350  down to sea level, up to 9350' over to 3000' in the high Amazon region, again to 9350', continuing west to a hummingbird sanctuary in a cloud forest at 5800', on to an orchid reserve in subtropical rainforest at 3,000',  then finally rest at 9870' in a botanical reserve?


Friday, October 7, 2011

Year Two - Whoo Hoo!!!

On November 1st, I will celebrate having walked 
every day in a row for 2 years!

 Whoo Hoo!

It started out as a 30-day goal just to get myself back on track! Well it turns out that one day leads to another and another....A few times along the way I told Gene (my husband and co-founder of the Walking Connection) that I didn't feel like walking and anymore. He would just respond by saying, "So tomorrow morning you are going to say Day 1, Whoo Hoo!?" Yep he always knows how to get me going, in a good way of course :)

So here I am with almost two full years of days - of walks - of hikes - of miles, sometimes only ten minutes, but an accomplishment none-the-less. WOW! I really did this and now I want to share this milestone with everyone! To celebrate I am inviting all of my friends from around the world to go for at least a 10-minute walk on November 1. It can be anywhere, any place YOU are. It doesn't have to be far or fast, just walk with a purpose. Just Walk for YOU!

So far, friends that are joining this 10 minute walk are located in the states of AZ, CA, CT, NY, MD, VA, NC, SC, SD, HI, TX, OH, GA, MA, MT, MO, OR, WA, FL, MI and NE They'll be joined by my international friends in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia. As well as the far off lands of Costa Rica, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Morocco, Iceland and Australia. Amazing!
For those of you on Facebook, I ask for you to post a comment, or even better, a picture or video on the Walking Connection page. Or check out this blog and post away! Or just send me an e-mail and let me know where you are walking. 
Invite your friends to come walk with YOU. We are going to make this a real walking connection and who knows, maybe it will be your "Day 1 - Whoo Hoo!"
Are YOU in?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Back To Right Side Up

We are back from Australia and still catching up!       
Don't even know where to begin. We have so many things to tell you about - the places we saw, the friends we made, the trails we walked and most importantly when we are going back....                 

But for now I thought I would share just a few things I learned on our Aussie Adventure: 

Koalas' pouches are backwards.  
Aussies shorten most words containing more than 2 syllables. Thus a Roo is not a rooster, but yes of course a Kangaroo.  
Watch out for "Roo doo" when Gene kindly asks you to go sit in a field to take your picture.  
The Remarkable Rocks have a fitting name. 
Tasmanian Devils are ornery little guys, but I would be ticked off too if I was looking at possible extinction.   
Still don't know what a wombat looks like in real life.  
The last known Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) died in 1936.      
If somebody tells you that you are going to need to "rag up", wear 3 layers.         
Little Penguins gather out at sea, form a raft, surf in together then en mass walk up the beach to find their burrows.  And it is actually some body's job to count thousands of them as they come ashore each evening at sunset.

Oh yeah and I almost forgot...Kangaroo meat is pretty tasty!

Whoo Hoo!

Click above to view my walks from down under!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Walking in Your Shoes Down Under

Gene and I will be heading off to Australia soon!  We were invited by the Australian State Tourism Committee to come experience an Aussie adventure.  The Tarkine Rainforest on Tasmania, Kangaroo Island in South Australia and the Great Ocean Walk of Victoria are just a few of the highlights.

Excited?  YES!
But after we made the commitment to go, I felt something else.  Something I don't think I have ever felt before in regards to my travels.  First of all, I am placing myself in the hopefully capable hands of a guide I trust, but do not personally know.  I won't be in charge or responsible for others and I'm not  running the show.  WOW!  I don't have to worry about the details?  How strange, but I think I can handle that -- for a while anyway.  

Then maybe I felt a bit nervous...what if I can't keep up?  What if the others are fitter, faster, stronger, younger and can leap tall buildings in a single bound? Who else is going?  What are they like? What if I am not comfortable with the people I am traveling with? What if we are doing something that I don't want to do?  What do I bring? What should I wear? (Yea that's a girl thing.) So many questions!

Then it hit me.  I realised that this must be how many of you feel the first time you sign up for a trip with us. Unsure? Uneasy? O.K., now I get that. So what can I learn from this personal experience to make your travels with the Walking Connection even better?   As we set out for our adventure down under, by walking in your shoes, I'll learn many new things I am sure. As I do, I'll keep you posted on how it is going with stories right here on my blog, images on Facebook and video on YouTube!   So check back, OK?

And for now I better get back to packing...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Whale of a Tale

You are never going to believe this, but it is for real...

We were taking the trail down to the beach for one last walk before heading home after a wonderful week in Todos Santos.  All of a sudden we heard a powerful whooosh.  Looked up and there was a spout from a whale right off the beach.  I mean -- RIGHT THERE!  So excited we hurried the rest of the way.  It was sooo close.  And then...we saw another whale and another and another.  There we were right in the midst of an unbelievable show and Gene without his camera that he ALWAYS carries.

Photo by Wendy Greenberg

Because the drop off from the beach is so deep they could swim right up almost to shore. They stuck their noses up in the air (do whales have noses?) and looked at us. We looked back.  They rolled in the sand, floated awhile and glided. We walked along beside them as they headed north. I think they liked our company.  They flipped their tales and waved.  We reluctantly turned away. Dragging our feet we had a plane to catch, a plane back to reality.

Photo provided by Todos Santos Eco Adventures

But I AM going back
so that perhaps I can walk with the whales once again... 
Come Walk With Me!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Best Cookies and my new most favorite hiking trail for the moment....

It is hard to pick which ones I want!
OK first the most important part: BEST COOKIES

1.  Sugar Mamas Bakery in Binghamton, NY owned by baking goddesses Marie Lupo Lawton and Susan Lupo Schofield (hoping this free plug will get some cookies sent our way)

2. Jacob Lake Inn's Bakery on the way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon - it is a must stop.

3. The ones Janet Kummer is making for Gene's birthday this weekend!
Now on to how we earn our cookies - by going for a hike!  Recently we hosted a group at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  (If you haven't been to the North Rim you must go!  It is nothing like the South Rim, very quiet, very peaceful)  This is our third year that we have gathered a group together on "the other side".  Always looking for something new we decided to hike a trail that we had not done before -  The Ken Patrick Trail.  It is a 10 mile trail one way, but I only had plans to go as far as I felt like and then turn around.

I love this trail!  And I always love doing a trail that I have never hiked before.  Nobody else was on it besides us. (Thank you Kevin, Kathy, Sam, Wendy and Suzi for joining me)  It went up and down and up and down, rambling through pine forest then opening up to the new green growth of old burn areas. Fields of ferns topped by my favorite treat from nature -  wildflowers.  Purples and pinks, orange and yellows all embellished with lacy whites. Wildflowers make me smile... And then at the 3 and a half mile point the ground opened up before us, as GRAND as could be.  Silence.

Now back to cookies...nothing like sitting at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon watching the sun set after a full day of hiking savoring a Ginger Snap from Jacob Lake with a cup of tea.  Ahhhh...TITL (This Is The Life)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Safari Time

Maasai Mara, Kenya
If you have been to Africa once, you will understand...Africa gets in your blood. You long to go back. Images of the tawny landscape stretching deep into the hazy distance draw you in.  You crave the anticipation of what gift from nature a new day will bring. Elephants wallowing in the mud around a reed-fringed waterhole as a warning cry echoes across the water. A herd of waterbuck crash through the shallows at the sight of a wandering lion. You have to go back...

The Walking Connection has traveled to Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, South Africa and Zimbabwe in the past. This time we want to do something different... BOTSWANA! 

Botswana is one of Africa's success stories. It is a stable country with a booming economy. After their independence in 1966, its forward thinking leaders secured Botswana's borders from poachers.  The game concentrations multiplied and flourished.  Since then the country abandoned mass tourism and focused on high quality / low volume tourism as the best way to create a sustainable industry that would employ a large percentage of its people, while still preserving the environment.

Low volume tourism = a more intimate and personal experience.  Sounds perfect for the Walking Connection!  We are working on an itinerary for June 2012.  Are you interested?  e-mail me!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why We Go Where We Go!

I am asked all of the time where am I going next and why am I going there?  Well the short answer is... next I am going to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon because it is cool, quiet and I find it very peaceful.  After that, possibly Australia to take a look at some new Walking Connection Adventures. In November it is off to the Galapagos Islands with Walking Connection friends followed by more of an exploration of Ecuador in search of another volcano to conquer! (See Conquer the Volcano)

In regards to what trips I plan for The Walking Connection and why, it's simple:
Jo Ann & Gene at the North Rim 2010
timing, gut, my dream, you asked for it, new discovery, friendship with locals, up and coming destination, contacts, curiosity, media article that is intriguing, currency fluctuation in the right direction, something different and unique, a cool/interesting/special place to walk or hike and occasionally I ask Gene's opinion.

Do you have a destination on your bucket list that you think would be a great Walking Connection Adventure? If so e-mail me.  The World Is Our Limit! (At least for now...)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Celebrating Mandela Day - July 18

We traveled to South Africa for the first time in July of 2007.  In preparing for the trip I read a lot about Nelson Mandela, one of the world's greatest and most inspirational leaders.  He gave 67 years of his life in the struggle for justice.

"We can change the world and make of it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference." ~ Nelson Mandela

Mandela is celebrated globally each year on July 18th in hopes to inspire others to embrace the values that he shared: freedom, equality, reconciliation, respect and peace.  It is a call to action for people everywhere to take responsibility for making the world a better place, one step at a time.

In his honor I  thought I would share his favorite poem:

Invictus by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What I learned on a 4 hour plane ride.

Flight delayed... Walked around airport (my Day 571 of walking). Finally in my seat. For some reason I thought flying from Houston to Boston was much shorter. Wishful thinking? At least I scored an aisle seat! The very well-dressed elderly woman sitting in the middle seat was eyeing me. Oh no I thought. I just know she wants to talk. Shall I close my eyes and pretend to sleep? Pick up something to read? I need to be focused on the four days ahead and meeting the group for our Walking Weekend in Boston. 

Too late. She smiled at me, I smiled back...and that was the beginning of a wonderful, interesting and very short 4 hours... 

After a bit of introductory chit chat, my seat mate says to me "My darling we only have this moment." Just a simple statement, but for some reason it resonated. Turns out my 88 year old friend, Helen Colin is a Holocaust survivor. She was imprisoned at age 16 and released on her 21st birthday. Since then it has been her mission to speak out about the effects of what she calls “unchecked hate and intolerance.”

"There is no way we can go on and sit silent and allow any prejudice to carry on,” she said. “We must be extremely, extremely vigilant. I learned to have a heart, compassion, respect and love. There is so much in all of us to give, and by giving, you will always receive 10 times more in return. You have to give respect to get respect.”

The time flew as we shared philosophies. We bonded...

I told Helen that I traveled for a living, but it was more than just taking people on vacation. I expressed to her that my vision of crossing borders and connecting face-to-face has always been to reinforce my belief in our shared humanity. When you are invited in to someone's home for a cup of yak butter tea in the mountains of Shangri-la, or singing songs with the children at a primitive school on the banks of the Amazon River, we open our hearts to the fullness of life. Sharing in daily lives of the people we meet as we walk the world creates an understanding, and in some ways that understanding promotes tolerance.

The plane landed. We hugged good bye.

Though I doubt our paths will ever cross again, I know it is a forever friendship.  Each day when I go for my walk, my kind and wise friend with the twinkle in her eye always comes to mind.  I can almost hear her reminding me,
"After all my darling, we only have this moment." 

                                                                       photo credit: Ena Nielsen

Monday, May 16, 2011

I am not a very good tourist...

I am not a very good "tourist".  I don't like doing the same old, same old.  I can feel claustrophobic if  I am being herded with a large group of people.  I  just want to break out and walk a different trail, turn right instead of left, go up instead of down and open that door to see what is really behind it. And so it is with that sense of independence that I go in search of something new or unusual as I plan itineraries for the Walking Connection.

I was on the same old, same old path when I began to plan the Galapagos.  I had checked out what all of the "others" were doing and was in the final planning stages when low and behold I came across something new and different.  A safari camp in the highlands of the Galapagos?  We (and I know many of you) have loved the safaris we have done in various countries of Africa.  I had to look at it more closely. 

After many phone calls to Ecuador, I knew we were on to something exceptional.  So I scrapped everything I was doing and started all over again.  NOW this "feels' right. NOW I am really excited.  NOW I can't wait to go!  And NOW I hope you will join me on this unique adventure to the "Enchanted Islands" of Galapagos! 

When was the last time you saw something for the first time?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Difference Is Us!

I was asked a great question recently that got me thinking....
The question was, "What differentiates going Heli-hiking with you than booking directly?"

Hmmm...had to think for only a brief moment.  My answer applies to more than just heli-hiking. And more than just price comparison.  There is the value of your experience, wherever we are! 

So consider this analogy: You are thinking about making reservations for dinner at an exclusive restaurant that you have heard great things about and have been wanting to try.  You have a friend that you know has been dining there for years and has gotten to know the owner and management team well.  You call your friend and he says, "Let me make your reservation for you, I have an "in".  Or better yet, I am going on Friday, come with me!"

As you arrive you are all greeted as old friends and made to feel right at home.  You are seated at a premier table (preferred lodge room) with the best wait staff (personally selected guides for you) and your meal is specially prepared to your specific tastes (assured to hike the terrain you like at your pace). Then a little extra something is delivered to your table, compliments of the chef (little extras compliments of the Walking Connection). Though the restaurant is very busy the owner that now seems like an old friend, stops by your table giving special attention that everything is beyond your expectations! (Whether you are on a heli-hiking trip with me or booked through me I make sure the management takes special care of Walking Connection guests) Ends up being one of the best dining experiences ever.(A vacation you will remember for a lifetime!)

So there you have it! Very simple.  The difference is us!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Up Up and Away

Time flies.  This summer is going to be our 18th year of going heli-hiking in Canada. When I first found out about this unique adventure it was through the now defunct Walking Magazine.  I thought it sounded so cool to have a helicopter take you into the mountains, drop you off (but not literally) so you could hike, walk, climb, meander through pristine terrain with a knowledgeable guide leading the way all at your own pace. Well it is even better than WAY cool!
I can still remember my first exciting it was to be  whisked away, adrenaline pumping, rhythmic thumping, wind swirling, we're huddling as the helicopter leaves us.  Then...silence.   You slowly stand up and again your breath is taken away.  This time by the views, 360 degrees of views!  Layers of mountain peaks reaching into forever.  I felt so small in the grandeur of nature.  A sense of peace sets in.  What was all that stress about at the office?  I forgot, it"s meaningless here.

For those of you that are thinking, "Sounds nice, but I couldn't do that."  I've heard it before yet I have taken hundreds of people to this special place from ages 12 - 86.  From the very fit to the never have hiked before in their life.  From the triathlete to just wanna get out of their seat.  If you love the beauty of nature, you will love heli-hiking.  Have confidence, I will be with you to make sure of it!