LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

How LifeStraw is Saving the Planet and Lives

For many of us, clean water is so plentiful and readily available that we rarely, if ever, pause to consider what life would be like without it. – Marcus Samuelsson

Today, March 22 is World Water Day, a day designated by the United Nations to bring attention of the importance of water. Today, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water affecting their health, wellbeing, education and livelihoods. Water is life and in my opinion access to safe water is a basic human right. Water is so critical to life and wellbeing that it was added by the UN as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) which commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030, and includes measures to protect the natural environment and reduce pollution.

In my work, I’ve had several opportunities to write about water and have recently witnessed firsthand the impact of brining safe water to communities during a trip to Western Kenya last month with LifeStraw.

In light of this important day, I wanted to share with you a few shocking facts about the lack of safe water around the world, ways that single use plastic water bottles are threatening our planet and ideas on how you can help. Please feel free to share this post and help spread awareness of this critical issue.

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

Demonstrating washing hands with safe water

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

Trying out the LifeStraw Community Filter

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

The youngest child at the school, age 3, takes her first sip of safe water

Did you know….

World population impacted by unsafe water: 

  • Globally, 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services. By 2050, the world’s population will have grown by an estimated 2 billion people and global water demand could be up to 30% higher than today. (UNESCO-United Nations World Water Development Report 2018)
  • Today, around 1.9 billion people live in potentially severely water-scarce areas. By 2050, this could increase to around 3 billion people.
  • 2.5 million children miss school every day around the world due to waterborne illness
  • 29 percent of the global population (2.1 billion people), and 42 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa, lack access to safe drinking water services. (UN)
Conservation/Environment Global Health Global Issues Humanitarian Kenya SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Torrey Pines State Reserve, California

Why I’ll Always Love Torrey Pines

“When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go”.-  Alexandra Stoddard

There are some places in the world that seem to cast a spell on you, and always drive you back. For me, one of those places is Torrey Pines State Reserve in San Diego. Every time we visit San Diego, I feel an incessant pull towards visiting the park on the first night we arrive so I can watch the sunset across the beach. I am never disappointed and I am always mesmerized by the sheer beauty of this magical place.

Located along the rocky coast of the Pacific Ocean between La Jolla and Del Mar, the 2,000- acre Torrey Pines Reserve affords one of the wildest stretches of land along the Southern California coast. Named after the nation’s rare pine tree, the Pinus torreyana, this beautiful wilderness area offers several hikes affording spectacular panoramic views of the ocean and craggy cliffs leading down to a vast, unspoiled beach. It has been a favorite of mine ever since we first visited San Diego for Spring Break in 2015.

Since I am somewhat of a fanatic about sunset, we always try to plan our visits to Torrey Pines at least two hours before sunset so we can first do a hike in the park and then play on the beach before watching the sunset unfold. There are two places you can park your car depending on how long of a hike you want to take. If you want the shorter option (which is great with kids), you can drive your car all the way up to the top of the bluffs and park near the visitor center. The only downside is that someone has to hike back up to get the car at sunset. If you want a longer hike, you can park your car at the beachside parking lot or even out on the street for free. From the beachfront, you can walk up the long, winding road to the top of the bluffs and then hike down to the beach.

This time we unfortunately arrived a little too late to do the hike and only had time to play on the beach. I forgot that the sun sets very early in the winter and the park closes at sunset (which tends to be a little after 5 pm in December).  However, as soon as I saw the sky my disappointment disappeared. We were in for a special treat. The clouds, the sun and the light beams aligned. We could have had fog or no sunset at all. How lucky we were to have such good luck!

As the kids walked along the beach, playing in the water I snapped away at the changing light. Soon I realized my daughter was the perfect subject to capture the serenity of the place. Where earth meets sky, waves strike land and the smell of salt water satiates your soul.

Torrey Pines State Reserve, California

Torrey Pines State Reserve, California

Torrey Pines State Reserve, California

I watched my daughter walk along the shore and was engulfed in this moment of time and beauty. At eleven, she is still a girl but it won’t be long until she become a young lady. If only I could bottle up her innocence!

California Family Travel TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
 Citadelle Henry, Cap-Haïtien, Haiti

Discovering the Heart of Haiti’s Past at the Citadelle Henry

“Citadelle Henry is a living testimony of the determination of the people to consolidate their right to be sovereign and free, and to decide their own destiny. It is a place of remembrance and reflection, a symbol of dignity and freedom”. – Transcription on a plaque posted at the entrance to Citadelle Henry 

Perched high above the ocean within the lush green confines of the mountain Bonnet-à-L’évêque that surround the small farming community of Milot are two of Haiti’s most prized possessions and symbols of freedom, Citadelle Henry and the Palais Sans Souci. Both built in the early 1800s during the reign of Henry Christophe, an important leader of the slave rebellion that led to Haiti’s independence, these two UNESCO World Heritage sites are perhaps the most impressive and iconic monuments in all of Haiti. They are definitely worth a visit to grasp an understanding of Haiti’s tumultuous, heroic past which enabled this tiny nation to become the first free black nation in the world.

We set off after breakfast from our hotel in Cap-Haïtien towards Milot. Although Milot is only about 17 miles south of Cap-Haïtien, it of course took an hour to navigate through the swarms of pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, and rough roads to reach Milot, a small town located at the base of the mountain and the entry point for Citadelle Henry and the Palais Sans Souci. Thankfully we had our trusted driver Nixon at the wheel of our six-passenger van steering the way through the madness. Yet of course it didn’t fail that we got lost trying to get our of town and had to hire another motorcyclist to show us the way. It was becoming a common trend!

Cap-Haïtien, Haiti 

Leaving Cap-Haïtien and heading north to Citadelle Henry.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While the Palais Sans Sousi is located within the folds of the Bonnet-à-L’évêque mountain on the edge of town, the Citadelle Henry is perched high above Milot (over five miles up) on top of the mountain and requires quite an effort to get there. Given the heat and the potential for crowds, we decided to visit the Citadelle Henry first.

Reaching the Citadelle Henry is not for the faint at heart. There are basically two ways you can do it: On foot or on horse. If you go on foot, it is requires a couple of hours to reach the top depending upon your fitness level and the heat. If you go on horse, it is quite easy and only requires your patience dealing with squabbling horse handlers trying to continually negotiate a higher tip for the 30 minute ride up.  We opted to ride the horses which ended up being a great decision given the hot and humid weather.

Haiti TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Finding my soul at the Playa San Josecito

“Witness and stand back from nature. That is the first step to the soul’s freedom.” – Sri Aurobindo

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine setting off into the afternoon sun horseback along a remote beach in the heart of the Osa Peninsula. The ocean air gently caresses your face while you slowly ride along the beach. Only the sound of the waves splashing  against the shore and the rustle of the monkeys playing in the trees remind you that you are truly in a magical place where jungle meets the sea. The beauty surrounds you and touches your soul with purity and ease. For that moment in time, you feel truly alive and free. 

Then, the roar of the howler monkeys make you open your eyes and smile. Your horse senses your excitement and begins to trot. You give your horse a gentle squeeze, and you are off, galloping as the wind whips your hair, your camera rocks back and forth against your chest and you let out a loud, exuberant scream. Ah so this is what it is like to feel 16 again, young, happy, pure and free. 

We set off around four o’clock down the steep gravel road that leads to Playa San Jocesito. The air was thick with humidity, blanketing my sunscreen arms with a thin layer of heat. It had been a long time since I had last rode a horse which seemed funny to me since I grew up loving horses so much and being an avid rider.

Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The steep gravel road leading down to the remote beach.

I was filled with an energy and playfulness that I hadn’t felt in years. Was it being on a horse that made me feel so joyous? Or was it the fact that after an entire week in Costa Rica, I finally would get to go for a swim in the ocean and watch the sun set at the beach? I couldn’t stop smiling.

At the bottom of the road, we arrived at the entrance to the beach. Except for a couple of cars, there was no one else there. It seemed surreal to have such a beautiful place all to ourselves. But given the isolation and remoteness of the beach, few people came.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It would take us an hour to reach a special cove along the beach that was known for its swimming. There are no roads to this beach and the only way you can reach it is on horse, on foot or by boat.

While we rode along the shore, some of our group embraced in lively conversation while I remained quiet, deep in thought. I grew up riding horses and spent several summers going to a sleep-away horseback riding camp that felt worlds away from my home. At the camp, we were each assigned our own horse to care for and ride the entire week. I started going when I was nine and went every summer until I was 13. I loved it and especially enjoyed the feeling of responsibility and pride at having a horse to call my own if only for a week. When I hit puberty and was no longer that wide-eyed little girl, my passions changed. I no longer rode horses.

Along the beach, I relished the feeling of riding with no trail, no single file line and no rules. When it came time to run I embraced it, letting go of all my inhibitions as my horse raced effortlessly into the horizon. I was aghast by the liberating feeling that swept over me. I was young once again, with pigtails and free.

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The jungle literally travels down to the sea. There were tons of scarlet macaws and monkeys within.

When we reached the cove, we got off our horses, tied them up and got ready for a swim. Slightly off the beach, a group of monkeys were quite excited about our arrival and decided to put on a little show. We watched for a few moments but the lure of the water didn’t keep us long. It was time to dive in and swim like a fish.
Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa RicaPlaya San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The water felt absolutely amazing. It was perfect — warm, calm and silky soft. I floated, I swam and when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I grabbed my camera to take a few shots of the beach from the water. It was too beautiful to resist.

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The last group of people on the beach were getting picked up by the water taxi. Soon we had the entire place to ourselves!

And too beautiful not to capture it and share in this short video.

We swam and played in the water for a little over an hour. I could have stayed longer, but the sun was beginning to set and before long it would be pitch black. It was time to get back on our horses and head back.

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Central America Costa Rica Osa Peninsula TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, Osa Península, Costa Rica

A Stay in the Jungle at Amazonita Lodge

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more”. –  Lord Byron

By four o’clock, I was hot, dirty and exhausted after such a thrilling day that begin with watching the sun rise over the Osa Peninsula and ended with a six-hour remote trek through the thick jungle of the Corcovado National Park. I can’t quite remember ever having a past twenty-four hours so incredibly invigorating and succinct to Mother Nature. I’d seen sloths, a troupe of collared peccary, pizotes, a mating pair of scarlet macaws, monkeys and more. Yet best of all, it was only us and the wildlife. Not another soul had ventured into this part of the park and for that I was truly blessed.

p1120153-1


Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, Osa Península, Costa Rica

We left Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre saying goodbye to our newly made friends and traveled the short distance down gravel roads to a locally-owned eco lodge located on the outskirts of town, surrounded by tropical rainforest jungle. I would soon discover that the Amazonita Lodge was the ultimate nature lover’s paradise.

Adventure Travel Costa Rica TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Kilimanjaro hike to Barranco Camp Machame Route

Why Using Local Guides Matters

Over the past twenty years, the world has truly become a smaller place. Once hard to reach, remote parts of the planet that used to be only for the most adventurous of tourists, have become more accessible. Places like the Himalayas of Nepal, the tiny fishing villages of Southeast Asia and the bushland of the Maasai have opened their doors for travelers,  allowing us to see their beautiful unique cultures as never before.

Although it is wonderful that more of the remote corners of the world are now accessible, it comes with a price. The negative impact of tourism on the environment, culture and people of a place, threatens it’s very own authenticity and landscape. This is why choosing sustainable travel is critical if we want to preserve and protect these destinations for the future.

My father and I have been trekking in remote places for decades and every place we go we use local trekking guides and companies. I honestly admit that the initial reasons behind our choice were purely convenience and economical.  However, the more we began using local guides, it became clear how incredibly rewarding and important it is to hire locally. Not only do you get a more intimate cultural experience by getting to see a country through their eyes, your investment also greatly supports the local community in which you are visiting. By hiring local, all money you spend on your trip is directly reinvested back in that very place that is so special instead of profiting an international corporation who only has financial interests to gain.

Furthermore, the cross-cultural friendships and understanding that are made and shared by hiring local are priceless. Not only does it create goodwill, it brings a new perspective and understanding on both sides of the relationship. As a client, you get to learn as much as possible about a culture, history, society, life, flora and fauna and environment. As a guide, you gain a better understanding of people who are so different from those portrayed in the media. Together, you can create life-long friendships that promote cultural understanding and peace.

Kilimanjaro hike to Barranco Camp Machame Route

Our group heading down the trail on Kilimanjaro.

Here are three examples of why supporting local guides matters.

Adventure Travel Africa Bolivia Nepal Tanzania TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL RESOURCES Trekking/Hiking
Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Breathless in Bolivia

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. – Helen Keller

Almost a year ago today I was climbing up high into the Bolivian Andes in Condoriri Valley with my dad. It was an unforgettable trip in many regards. First and foremost, it was only six months after my father completed chemotherapy. To climb two mountains over 16,000 feet in two days is quite a remarkable recovery to say the least. I am so grateful that we were able to go on another amazing hike together. I don’t seem to have any other hiking partner as adventurous and fit as my dad. Second, for me it was proof that I could mentally and physically climb at high altitude. Landing in La Paz at one of the highest international airports in the world and then promptly driving to our base camp at 15,000 feet proved that my body could adjust and handle the thin air. It was the determining factor in my decision to climb Kilimanjaro this past July.

While I don’t have any climbing trips planned at the moment I still enjoy remembering and reflecting on my trips to the mountains. I have recently decided to revamp my Instagram account and slowly add new photos to my gallery. I feel these two pictures from my trip last November to Bolivia are right up there among my personal best. They inspire me to chase my dreams and never give up. I hope to be climbing again soon somewhere in the world.

If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit, you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards. – Paul Bryant

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

This photo was taken as we were leaving our base camp in Condoriri Valley. In high season there can be hundreds of tents and climbers however we were the only ones there. It was quite cold in November dropping down to 15 degrees farenheit at night. But we had the entire place to ourselves. How lucky!

Adventure Travel Bolivia TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking
Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, SolarSisterSummit

Reaching up to the sky on top of Kilimanjaro

If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. – Bruce Lee

What are the boundaries we make for our lives? I know for myself, I have certain boundaries I will not cross. I will not be dishonest, disrespectful, or full of hate. Instead, I will be as open-minded as I can, as loving, loyal and honest as possible. I have set my standards high at trying to be the best “me” I can humanly be. Do I make mistakes? Of course! We all do. Yet I strive to correct them, to push ahead and to always try to improve myself to make me a better person and human being.

While I may be an adventurous person who is driven to explore, wander and challenge myself physically there are other aspects of my life that are relatively structured and risk free. I have my boundaries on what kinds of risks I want to take and what kind of life I want to live. My family always comes first. Yet thankfully I have the most incredible, supportive husband possible who encourages me to follow my dreams and challenge my boundaries. Climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro is one such boundary I had dreamed to conquer, and thankfully with plenty of hurdles and obstacles along the way I fulfilled my dream at the end of July.

I have written a lot about each day of my Kilimanjaro climb. But I have not written yet about the hardest, most difficult day of all. The Summit. So here the story goes.

Shira Camp, Machame Route, Kilimanjaro

Sunset at Shira Camp. 12,600 feet/3,840 m

Adventure Travel Africa Tanzania TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Trekking/Hiking Weekly Photo Challenges
South Kaibab trail Grand Canyon Arizona

Exploring the Grand Canyon: A Hike Down the Rim to Ooh Aah Point

On the last day of our October visit to the Grand Canyon, I decided it was time to take a hike down off the rim and explore. After a taste of hiking down the Bright Angel Trail, I agreed with everything I’d read. Getting below the rim was the way to truly see the magical colors, depth and splendors of the Grand Canyon.

Although we had seen some families with children hiking below the rim, I personally did not feel comfortable bringing my children. Not only was it incredibly steep, there was no protection. One slip and down you go. Thus, I decided to do a short 1.8 mile hike myself, on the South Kaibab trail to the OOH AHH Lookout Point.

South Kaibab trail Grand Canyon Arizona

Start of the trailhead

My husband and kids dropped me off and away I went, elated to be doing one of the things I love most: Hike!  I had the next hour and a half to hike before they would come back to pick me up. I could hardly wait.

South Kaibab trail Grand Canyon Arizona

Getting ready to go!

Adventure Travel Arizona TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking United States
Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson Arizona

An Afternoon Hiking at Mount Lemmon

If you have never been to Arizona, you may be surprised to know that the state is not only covered in cactus and canyons. Known as one of the sunniest places in United States with its fair share of desert landscape, Arizona is also home to over 193 mountain ranges with several over 10,000 feet and the highest point being Humphrey’s Peak ( elevation 12,633 feet) near Flagstaff.

Home to the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the United States, the flora and fauna of Arizona is quite diverse and offers a fantastic number of amazing hikes ranging from the immense Grand Canyon, to the cactus-coated desert and rugged, pine-scented mountain tops.

The Southwestern city of Tucson where my parents live, is a true hikers’ paradise as the city is almost completely surrounded by mountains. There are five major mountain ranges in Tucson, each with its own flavor and appeal. To the north of downtown Tucson lies the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains which slowly rise to almost nine thousand feet. To the east lies the Rincons which are less rugged than the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Santa Rita Mountains which rise to the south. To the west lie the craggy Tucson Mountains and to the northwest lie the fifth mountain range, the Tortolita mountains.

Nestled high above the Catalina Foothills lies a spectacular place for a day trip: Mount Lemmon. At 9,157 feet, Mount Lemmon is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains and is part of the Coronado National Forest. It is a special place affording stunning views and a nature lover’s retreat.

A drive from balmy, sunny Tucson up to Mount Lemmon is the perfect way to find peace and also a little winter in Arizona. On top of Mount Lemmon is an actual ski resort which is hard to believe. Yet the Mount Lemmon Ski Area receives about 57 inches of snow annually and its short but steep runs offers “winter on demand” for those living in the desert town below.

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway Tucson Arizona

The last look at the desert landscape before the cactus disappear and the pines arrive.

Around an hour and fifteen minute picturesque drive from Tucson brings you to another world. As you climb up the breathtaking Santa Cathalina Mountains following the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, slowly the desert landscape begins to disappear and suddenly majestic ponderosa pines line the road. The views along the way are arguably some of the best in Southwestern Arizona with sensational views of the city below and the shadowed mountains in the distance.

Drive to Mount Lemmon. Tucson, Arizona

The drive from Tucson to Mount Lemmon is breathtaking and there are many lookout stops to pull over and take pictures.

The landscape is dramatic. I find the raw beauty to be serenely peaceful and divine. As you climb higher and leave behind the cactus, you enter instant winter or “winter on demand” as my parents like to call it.

Adventure Travel Arizona TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking United States