Traveling – It makes you speechless
and then turns you into a storyteller. – Ibn Battuta
After traveling for 17 years by now I want to share some of my most incredible moments. In the following post seven of our once in a lifetime experiences are listed – the order is completely random and this is just the first part – others will follow since there are so many experiences out there. So enjoy and find yourself some bucket list ideas.
- 1 Tracking for Gorillas in Bwindi NP
- 2 Searching for Sailing Stones at Racetrack Playa
- 3 Looking over Machu Picchu
- 4 Spotting a Leopard in a Tree
- 5 Calving of the Perito Moreno Glacier
- 6 Hiking to the White Domes at Canaan Mountains
- 7 Standing on Top of the World Trade Center
- 8 Momente für die Ewigkeit - Blogparade
Tracking for Gorillas in Bwindi NP
There are only a few ways you can experience those majestic beauties – in Uganda and Ruanda and theoretically also in the democratic republic of Congo. We did it at the Bwindi Nationalpark in the southwesten part of Uganda starting from the Rushaga ranger station.
Help saving the mountain gorillas
The mountain gorillas are critically endangered by the IUCN but in the last years their population raised constantly to about 900 in the year 2016. One main reason this is possible is by the money the UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) gets from people who want to visit the gorillas, because they do a lot to secure their habitat. So – yes it is expensive to do the trekking (600 USD per person in 2016) but it is totally worth it and contributes to conserve the mountain gorillas for the future.
How does the Gorilla trekking work?
The gorillas itself live in the rainforest of the Bwindi NP and the hike to get there to see them can be long – up to 10 hours of walking. We were lucky and got to a gorilla family called the Kahungye Group in about two hours. But lets start from the beginning: Trackers leave the ranger station at 6:30 am to look for the gorillas based on their last location the day before. Per trekking group only 8 people are allowed excluding the rangers, trackers and porters. So each group heads out after a briefing by the rangers at about 8 am. The hike goes through the jungle on sometimes good tracks but sometimes completely through the bush. And when the trackers broadcast to the rangers and the group gets near the family everybody has a last chance to take a last sip because the next hour only watching the gorillas and taking pictures is allowed.
The first gorilla we caught eyes on was a silverback – and not just a silverback – the dominant one of the Kahungye Group. And when the ranger cut a branch which was between us and him we saw him in his full gorgeousness just about four meters away from us – it was incredible. After that we tracked other family members including an infant gorilla – and then suddenly the time was up and the ranger said ‘one last picture’ – and we had to leave the family.
That was a truly once in a lifetime experience which we will never forget . 🙂 Everytime I look at one of the pictures I am there once again in my mind and remember them looking in my eyes.
Searching for Sailing Stones at Racetrack Playa
When doing some research for this trip I stumbled over that remote location in the Death Valley national park. It is far off the main roads and requires a long approach but I had to see this wonder with my own eyes – back then in 2008 the mystery why these stones move was not scientifically proven. It took about 100 years of research and the technology of GPS to solve that mystery.
Why do the stones actually move?
The sailing stones appear like heavy stones are moved by ghost hand and leave just the track of the stone behind in the mud. The stones don’t move all the time but rather only when specific conditions occur. So with measurements using GPS they finally could prove a theory why the stones move and leave these tracks behind. The rocks actually only move when large ice sheets just a few millimeters thick get slippery when after a cold winter night the sun breaks them up. These thin floating ice panels are driven by light winds and move the rocks slowly on the surface. If you want to know the full story – check the paper which the scientists published.
At the time we visited the playa it was completely dry on a warm September morning. When the playa is wet it is prohibited to enter it but sadly not everyone pays attention do that and this leaves deep foodprints behind. At our visit we didn’t see any other car on the 44 km long dirt road on which you should be driving carefully and only with an adequate car since it has a lot of sharp stones on its surface. Our Jeep Liberty made a great job but we were relieved when we got back after the 88 km round trip. By going there you will pass the famous Teakettle Junction at about two thirds of the way. It is not exactly clear why it is named that way. Some people passing by hang there a teakettle with personal messages – making it look a little bit surreal out there in the desert – but it’s definitely a great photo motive.
The stones itself where incredible and the location and the feeling at site can not be described with words. Beside the stones I remember the total silence I experienced there for the first time in my life – there were no birds and no sounds of the wind – it was completely calm – incredible.
Looking over Machu Picchu
Of course the journey to get there is either expansive or takes a lot of time – but in our experience it is worth all that. There are two sides of this story. First of all we were lucky to travel to Machu Picchu before the new ticket system was implemented in July 2017. Beside it was cheaper back then and there were no restrictions on what time we entered the site. We could and actually stayed from sunrise until sunset. And we could explore the site on our own – something that is very important for us. But there were downsides too – back then there where many people especially in the morning – so the new system if they do it right – will be a good thing too. But personally I am skeptical because in my experience in these countries they will not be so restrictive as the paper suggests.
Tips for your visit
Here are some tips to get most of your visit of Machu Picchu:
- Stay at least one night (better two) in Aguas Clientes to have the chance to visit Machu Picchu several times or with the best weather.
- If you have less time and/or money to spend – of course we would recommend to make time because it is in our opinion totally worth the money – you should visit in the afternoon because most travel groups visit in the morning and in the afternoon you have got the chance to enjoy Machu Picchu with far less people.
- Take at least one hike to Montana Machu Picchu or Huayana – but be aware that these hikes are strictly limited – so buy the ticket well in advance. We were too late to get tickets for Huayna Picchu but managed to get them for the Machu Picchu Mountain. The way up is a little bit exhausting but totally worth it. From up there you get a view over the hills and can only imagine how life was back then when Machu Picchu was at its prime.
And the best thing for us was watching the whole site near the guard house when the last ray of sunlight leaves the ruins. After that the park keepers will make you leave the site quickly but we were so happy not the miss out that moment.
Spotting a Leopard in a Tree
But we didn't give up - so we started out a third time - there have to be leopards out there - since we saw pictures and heard stories from other travelers.
And finally on that trip we were so lucky that we not just saw one leopard but we saw five and three of them spotted by ourselves completely on our own. 🙂 The first encounter was in Pilanesberg National Park where we made an early game drive in our own car – and the second animal we saw there after a giraffe was a family of lions lying at the shore of a small lake. By driving up a hill around the lake we saw the first leopard crossing the street but a car was in front of us so we didn’t get a good look nor a great photo. But we looked at each other – could that be possible – the first two animals of the big five were actually the cats 😮 At the moment we knew this would get special.
What actually happend
After some days outside of the parks there came the day we got into the Kruger National Park – although our second visit after 11 years – and this time we spent more time in the southern part. So we entered at the Paul Kruger Gate and there shortly after we saw some cars standing on the street. Of course we stopped too – someone from the other cars told us there is a leopard down at the river. But from the street there was no possibility to look down there – just trees and grass. But after a while scanning the area I saw something cat-like and actually there was a leopard – I took a picture and by zooming in very closely it is possible to identify the cat. Our hopes that the leopard will come to the street didn’t happen so we moved on hoping another chance will arise.
It got almost midday and the best time to see cats had already passed. So we took a detour through a small dirt road along a river and saw a good spot in a shadow to rest for a while and eat a snack. But at exactly the moment we stopped I saw a leopard quietly sitting on the other shore of the river. The third leopard, spotted by ourselves and this time nothing but air was between him and us – we were so happy and could watch him for quite some time until he laid down a few meters above the river in the grass. We stayed a bit longer and just minutes later an elephant herd came along and forced the leopard to get up and look for another place to sleep. So we tracked him further as he walked on the other side of the river and suddenly disappeared in the bush – this was a truly amazing experience. 🙂
So everything that happened after that could only be the icing on the cake anymore. After seeing a lot of game including impalas, kudus, elephants, giraffes, zebras we were on the way to our overnight camp in the park. The sun was already setting down so we should hurry but then it happened again. I saw two cars on the side of the street stopping but continuing to drive immediately and both were gone when we approached. So I thought they probably didn’t see anything and just in that moment I saw the third leopard on this day jumping on the tree right next to our car. He was amazing, so delicate – went on a branch and lied down and looked me directly in the eyes – incredible. Now I could cross ‘spotting a leopard in a tree’ from my bucket list. After a while he got up and jumped up some branches but quickly jumped down again and disappeared in the bush. So after that I could not stop my big grin and we drove on to the camp.
You probably will not believe what we saw next – the sun already set and we should go directly to the camp to arrive before closing time. But we saw another leopard in a tree – actually we saw two hyenas first walking around a tree and by looking up we noticed why. There was a leopard with his dinner – an impala – lying in the tree and the hyenas were circling around the tree hoping to get something to eat. Freaking unbelievable and the best safari day ever. Of course we got to the camp too late and the gate was already closed. But I apologized first when the gate keeper came to the car and she was really kind and let us in – I guess we had the luck of our lifetime. 🙂
Calving of the Perito Moreno Glacier
A special thing about the Perito Moreno is that it lies at the Lago Argentino and grows towards a peninsula from where you can watch it very closely. By growing it sometimes interrupts the water flow from the northern to the southern part which increases the pressure and leads to a rupture of the glacier which happens on average about every four years.
The process of calving when large pieces of ice collapse into the lake and cause the typical noise which sounds a little bit like thunder can be watched very often at the Perito Moreno. Apart from the constantly calving I was totally fascinated by the about 70 meter high blue and white colors of the ice raising from the green lake in front of it. Unfortunately on this day trip we didn’t have time to fully explore the glacier so 5 years later we went there again and spent a whole day around the glacier. And I can say it never gets boring to watch the ice and enjoying this miracle of nature.
Hiking to the White Domes at Canaan Mountains
The hike starts north of Hildale at Water Canyon trailhead. From there the way goes some time through a canyon and then straight up to a plateau. From there you can already see the White domes although it is quite a way up and down from there. When we were there nobody else was there and we enjoyed the hike very much.
The last meters I went alone to explore this magnificent cones which emerge mostly in white color from the mostly orange layers. It was an incredible hike and travel experience. You should pack some snacks and water since there is nothing but nature out there. The whole hike is about 14 kilometer long and includes about 600 meter climbing in height – so no problem for the normal hiker although the part out of the canyon can be very steep and the way is sometimes a little bit tricky to find.
Standing on Top of the World Trade Center
On this trip many things went wrong – I will probably write about that in another post – just one thing – our journey took place between the end of your school days and the start of our studies at the university and that was the beginning of September 2001. So when we got up the World Trade Center of course we didn’t know that on the next day the whole building will not be there anymore and the world will change after that. 🙁 And almost wanted to postpone the visit to the next day as is was raining and we thought about waiting for a better weather.
We had a great time overlooking Manhattan and enjoying the view. Nowadays such viewing platforms where you have no glass or bars became very rare. But recently we were in Frankfurt and from the Maintower you can get a similar experience.
The view was amazing and what happened the next day was really scary at that moment but didn’t hold us back from travelling around the world to collect more unique once in a lifetime experiences. Collect moments, not things. So get out there and enjoy – it only ends once, everything that happens before that is just progress.
Momente für die Ewigkeit - Blogparade
Reisewut hat kürzlich zur Blogparade 'Deine schönsten Erlebnisse auf Reisen' aufgerufen. Dafür gibt es eigentlich neben den üblichen Rahmenbedingung für solche Blogparaden keine Einschränkungen. Daher freuen wir uns besonders mitzumachen, passt dies doch perfekt in unsere Moments Serie. Somit werfen wir unseren ersten Artikel der Serie 'Once In A Lifetime Experiences' ins Rennen und wünschen unseren Lesern viel Spass und hoffen, dass das eine oder andere Erlebnis eine Inspiration für deine nächste Reise sind.
Das waren unsere Geschichten. Was waren deine Orte, wo es dir die Sprache verschlagen hat und du aus dem Staunen nicht mehr rausgekommen bist?