Sometimes my husband plans adventures, and I just have to try really hard not to think about them before they happen: adventures like riding elephants in Chiang Mai; cliff jumping in Jamaica; or kayaking in the ocean.
HELLO! Whales and sharks people!
There are even times when I am moderately okay with the activity and then all of a sudden a huge curveball comes at me. That was the case when we ziplined through the jungles of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
1. Ziplining Through the Jungles of Chiang Mai, Thailand
In 2014, Chris had planned an afternoon of ziplining through the jungles outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had ziplined before, so I was not too worried about this excursion.
We arrived at Eagle Track for our zip-line adventure, signed waivers, filled out some forms, and then suited up. I will just post a disclaimer here. I had no idea how stupid I looked with the crazy hair net we had to wear. We all looked crazy, except Chris who was able to wear his hat and didn’t have to worry about long hair. I looked stupid. Just saying.
We drove a short distance up the mountain and jumped out of the transport truck with our two guides, Owen and Johnny.
So Owen begins by asking if we know what the forked-shaped bamboo sticks are that hang from our gear. We shake our heads and with a very serious face he says they are for killing snakes in the jungle. Say what! “Just kidding,” he smirked, “they are meant to be used as a break on the zip-line. As you near the platform after a long run, you hold the bamboo stick against the line and it will slow you down.” Whew.
The setting was beautiful. We were surrounded by lush trees, a waterfall rushed somewhere close by, and the sun shone brightly on the terraced rice fields surrounding us. So cool. We had about ten runs on the ziplines, some crazy rope bridges to cross, a 40-foot vertical drop by rope, and then a 120-foot drop!
You want me to what? This is a ziplining adventure people, not crashing to the jungle floor.
Christopher!!! (That’s what I call him sometimes when I am freaked out. It comes out kind of like a swear word maybe.)
When we first got to the 40-foot drop, I calmed myself by thinking positive thoughts, “Ok, I can do this,” as the employees attached my harness to ropes and let me drop. I remembered to bend my knees as I landed. Then we came to the 120-foot drop. Seriously? This was NOT in the brochure! Pretty sure I just closed my eyes and plunged.
2. Riding Elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Our next outlandish adventure? Riding elephants. Yep.
Chris researched a lot to find this particular elephant training center in Chiang Mai. It offered a cruelty-free opportunity to interact with the elephants in a more natural habitat.
Here at Ran-Tong you will learn about taking care of an elephant and their well being, our main focus is educating visitors.
WE DON’T use elephants for tricks such as painting, dancing or other unnatural positions.
WE DON’T separate the elephant babies from their mother.
At Ran-Tong camp we are really trying to ensure a better quality of life for the elephants in their natural environment, providing the right amount of food, water and not long hours of hard work.Ran-Tong Elephant Centre
Our guide, Gaan from Sweden, sat us down to teach a few commands that the elephants might understand.
I thought I memorized them pretty well, but once I was on the elephant I quickly forgot everything but “me long”. It meant sit down, and I was pretty sure I didn’t want the elephant to sit down so soon.
We rode the elephants bare back with only a rope to hang on to. It was a whole lot unnerving. I was sitting up on the neck of the elephant with my knees tucked behind its ears and you can bet I was hanging on tight.
I think my elephant was the spunky one.
We rode up the hill for about a half an hour. My elephant, Kumoon, was rather hungry and kept going off the path to find more food or grab at a tree limb and crack if off. All I could remember to say was, “Hey!!” and hope that the mahout (elephant trainer) would redirect the elephant before it took off back down the hillside.
The mahouts led the elephants to water. These smart elephants didn’t want to go in this water. I didn’t want to go in this water. It was filthy with elephant dung floating in it. There was a pooper scooper lady trying to scoop the poop out, but seriously? They finally coaxed the elephant in and I slid off the elephant.
I actually helped scoop water on to the elephant’s back to help cool it off, but I didn’t stay in the water too long. Then the elephants were led out of the water and directed to bend their heads down. You want me to climb on the elephant over his trunk? I made the mahout stick out his knee so that I could climb on it first and step up. And then I had to maneuver myself around so that I was facing forward.
We walked to an arena area where we dismounted for the final time. I was pretty happy to say, “me long” at this point. My legs were quivering as I got my feet under me again.
If you want to experience this adventure: Ran-Tong Elephant Centre
3. White Water Rafting on the Rangitikei River in New Zealand
Interested in Class 5 river rafting? Chris discovered River Valley Adventure Lodge in New Zealand as he planned for our trip.
For our wet suit attire to raft the Rangitikei River, Chris and I were outfitted in a long-sleeved shirt, a fleece long sleeve, a wet suit, booties, a helmet, and then another jacket before a thirty-minute bus ride to the drop off point.
Our guides gave instructions to all in our group before we climbed into our rafts and starting down the river. Besides our guide, Spencer, there were five of us in the raft. Chris and I along with three girls–Matilda and Josie from Norway and Anna from America.
Anna was the first to be dumped from the raft, almost as soon as we got going. She was a little embarrassed.
I was the next one to get dumped from the raft as we went down our first rapid.
Another boat came up behind us and scrunched me against the side of our raft. Chris was quick to haul me back in to the boat. Refreshing, but I would have preferred staying in the raft—at least the wet suit kept me warm.
We rode through class three to class five rapids for two and half hours.
Conveniently, we floated up to the river bank right next to River Valley Lodge to finish our adventure.
If you want to experience this adventure: River Valley Adventure Lodge
3. Jeep Ride in Sedona, Arizona
Chris and I surprised the girls with a jeep tour while visiting Sedona, Arizona. They thought it was a very welcome break from all the hikes we were “making” them do.
Our driver, Mike, from “A Day in the West” helped us get settled in the open-air 4×4 vehicle for a one-of-a-kind jeep adventure. Our youngest was six at the time and loved the experience.
“Gaze in awe as you drive through Sedona’s Seven Canyons, where you’ll get a chance to see Lizard Head Rock & Balancing Rock. This trail will surely amaze you with its twist and turns as you make your way through the base of the canyon. See the red rock formations towering above you as you listen to your guide talk about the different varieties of trees and plant life that makes Sedona’s landscape. Hear tales of Sedona’s wild west and native culture.”A Day in the West
We all loved the jostling of the jeep interspersed with the history and lore of the area. We bounced around so much that my children dubbed me the “bobblehead”.
If you want to experience this adventure: A Day in the West
4. Boat Tour of the Amalfi Coast
We had a scheduled boat tour of the Amalfi Coast with transfer service from a hotel just down the hill from our Airbnb while staying in Sant’Agnello, Italy.
Chris and I packed our backpacks with snacks, drinks, and my camera.
It looked like it would be an epic adventure.
After our pick up, our driver took off driving through the back streets of Sant’Agnello, dropping us off at the head of an alley. From there we were handed off to another worker (and Chris joked that we were part of some elaborate kidnapping scheme).
That worker sent us down an elevator that was built into the side of the cliff. Upon exiting the elevator we were met by another employee of the tour company. The boat tour offices were a short distance further where we met up with more employees, signed waivers, and waited to be assigned to a boat and skipper.
Our skipper, Flavio, did his best to navigate the choppy waters of the peninsula so that we were experiencing the least amount of rocking. One of his coworkers purposely drove close to our boat creating a lot more choppiness with his wake.
Flavio scoffed, “He isa stupida skipper.”
As we reached the end of the peninsula and headed to the Amalfi Coast, Flavio pulled the boat into a quiet cove and announced it was time to swim. He brought out pool noodles, snorkels, and chips. He also offered a variety of drinks and snacks throughout the day.
Our youngest daughter, Kristen, was the first to jump in the water followed by Chris. Even our second oldest, Misha, jumped in. The water wasn’t terrifically warm, but Kristen had been looking forward to swimming for days. Flavio threw small bits of biscuits in the water and blue fish swarmed. Lots of smiles.
Our next stop was Amalfi for about 60 minutes. It wasn’t a lot of time and we needed to get some lunch. We found a small takeaway place called Fior di Pizza for a delicious Margherita pizza.
From Amalfi we headed to Positano where we had a little more time to either shop and explore or enjoy the beach. Kristen swam at the beach while Chris kept an eye on her. Misha and I explored Positano and discovered lots of photo opportunities.
Our tour followed the coastline back to Sorrento with one more stop to swim.
If you want to experience this adventure: Amalfi Coast Boat Tour
6. Normandy on the 4th of July
Chris and I were looking forward to our tour of Normandy.
We both have an interest in World War II history and Inspiring War Memorials Around the World and were anticipating the day-long tour. Visiting the beaches of Normandy and learning more about the D-Day invasion seemed a most fitting way to celebrate the 4th of July.
We had a number of stops in our itinerary that day:
The German cemetery
This cemetery had been temporarily used for American soldiers until a permanent place was given to them.
An important city for the Allied soldiers during the invasion of Normandy, becoming the first town in France to be liberated.
An effigy of John Steele, a paratrooper with his snagged parachute that caught on the church’s spire, is maintained on the church even today. Check out the day our family Toured Normandy on the Best 4th of July Ever.
One theory for the reason for calling the beaches Utah and Omaha was because Dwight D. Eisenhower had to come up with two code names and asked his aides where they were from–Utah and Omaha. Today, as you visit the beaches, beautiful white sand stretches for miles, families enjoy the beautiful weather, and children splash in the water.
We stopped for lunch at a little diner across the street from the Utah Beach. We gave our order and then Adrien, our guide, took us down in to a well-camouflaged bunker under the cafe that was taken by US Soldiers from the Germans.
We spent an extra bit of time at Omaha Beach. It was a beautiful sea-side, summer destination. So different now. Tractors sat on the sand with boat trailers attached to make an easy way to launch and load up boats. Paragliders floated gracefully in the sky.
Halfway between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach was our next stop—Pointe du Hoc.
Our final stop for the day was at the American Cemetery.
We arrived after 4 pm. There was a peaceful grace that fell over us.
The crosses of the cemetery stretched as far as you could see, perfectly aligned to the right, left, diagonally, and horizontally. We viewed the wall of soldiers’ names who had never been found.
From there, Misha and I wandered through the cemetery together, while Amy and Kristen wandered in another direction. Chris took his time reading plaques. When Taps played at 5:00 pm, and the flags were lowered, all of the people in the cemetery respectfully turned to watch in silence.
If you want to experience this adventure: Normandy Sightseeing Tours
7. Hiking to Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines
Sonya, from the trek company, drove 75 minutes to pick us up at 4:45 am for our hiking adventure. We were headed to Santa Juliana in the province of Tarlac. As a bonus, we watched the sun rise as we traveled.
We arrived at the starting point for our trek to Mt. Pinatubo (an inactive volcano) and gathered our gear for the day. Chris filled out paperwork and waivers; we were ready to go by 6:30 am as we packed into a 4×4 jeep with our driver and guide and were off.
Early morning was a perfect time to set off as it was not yet too hot. We forded streams, passed caribou, and bounced around for a short while until our driver stopped for us to have breakfast. Our tour included breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
We continued on our way and spent the next couple of hours hanging on jostling around in the jeep. For the final portion of the trek, we set off on a 30-minute hike along a lush mountain path toward the crater of the volcano with our guide, Audi.
We arrived at the crater and climbed stones steps that opened up the vista of the volcano. A large lake glistened before us surrounded by mountains. We took a few pictures and then found a place next to the lake to enjoy our day.
Since swimming was no longer allowed, the girls waded along the edge of the water, Misha sharpened a bamboo pole, and Chris created a bed in the vegetation.
The trek company provided rice, adobo chicken, bananas, and a packaged pastry. Audi shared the meal with us.
Later in the afternoon, we started our hike back up the stone steps. Even for one who regularly exercises, I was breathing heavily by the time we reached the top.
Our jeep driver dropped us off at Sonya’s house where we had the opportunity to rest, shower if we wanted, and enjoy the coolness of her home. We decided not to shower since we would just be putting dirty clothes back on. We washed down arms and legs as best we could and then removed our wet socks. Much better.
If you want to experience this adventure: Mt. Pinatubo Tour and Homestay
8. Touring Versailles, France
Our tour of the King Louis the XV and XVI apartments allowed us to skip the huge lines to tour the castle and gave us a better look at the life of two kings. Their life was lavish and…well, just over the top lavish.
Each member of the tour group was given headphones so that we could easily hear our tour guide. We visited the Opera House, the chapel, the Kings’ bedrooms and chambers, music rooms, and toilets.
Following the formal tour, we were able to continue on in the castle without standing in the queue again.
The hall of mirrors was amazing and beautiful and our final stop before going outside to check out the gardens.
We visited Versailles on day where there was a musical tour of the gardens. We enjoyed that tour immensely. If you wanted to imagine what the gardens might look like and have access to the newest Beauty and the Beast movie, check out the gardens outside the castle at the end of the movie. They were expansive and so beautiful.
If you want to experience this adventure: Versailles
9. Cliff Jumping in Jamaica
Each group coming to the Blue Hole had a guide, so after paying our entrance fee, our guide, Val, directed us down to the water. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but I thought maybe a nice swimming hole.
I need to read up on these things more. No. It was a series of jumps into cascading pools of water.
First we took some pictures. Chris’ brother and his wife climbed down into the water to sit on a rock. As we were taking pictures, Val reached over and changed the flow of the water so that it totally sprayed and drenched Kevin and Candace.
Next, it was our turn. As Chris and I sat on the same rock, I turned to Val, pointing my finger, and said, “Don’t!”
Don’t even think about touching that water!
The girls then climbed in around us, and we all tried to hang on to each other for a few pictures.
From there, the jumping began. Now, let’s just say, I am not a fan of swimming and surely not jumping from heights. But I did it. In fact, the thought went through my head, “I rode an elephant. I can do this.” Val did his best to keep our group together and to horn his way in front of other groups.
Amy, Chris, and Kevin were the only ones brave enough for the walk down the side of a waterfall holding on to a rope. I watched as one lady slipped and was saved as her guide grabbed on to her arm. The guides would walk barefoot down the front of the falls without any rope, carrying smaller children in their arms.
The last jump of the day was from a cliff 15-feet above the water. Kristen was so brave that she went twice. Misha, Candace, and I declined.
If you want to experience this adventure: Excursions in Jamaica
10. Kayaking in the Ocean
For this adventure, we chose partial wet suits for the girls and I to avoid the chill of the ocean. Chris opted to just wear swim trunks.
For some reason, there was a miscommunication and we were given helmets as well by the employees at Bike and Kayak tours. Stylin’.
Hmmmmmm. Falling in the ocean could be a dangerous sport. When the workers finally realized that we didn’t need the helmets, they retrieved them and sent us on our way down to the beach at La Jolla cove.
We were scheduled to have two double kayaks and a single. Amy was to be on her own. I personally was concerned. When Chris and I kayaked together a couple of years ago, I needed his strength to paddle through the surf. I wasn’t sure how Amy was going to make it.
The employees at the beach seemed to agree with us because when I suggested that we have a two-seater and a three-seater kayak, they readily made the change for us. So now Amy and I and were in a kayak together and Chris had the younger two. It worked so much better.
We had two hours on the ocean (I think one hour would be adequate). It took a little while for Amy and I to get the hang of paddling together, but finally we were successful.
We saw a seal that kept popping above the water and a number of people swimming quite far out. Crazy!
Again. Whales and sharks people!
We went in a little early because Misha wanted to ride the surf in the kayak a couple more times. I don’t believe she counted on being dumped in the ocean on their ride in. Amy and I sat and watched them. Kristen was not happy at all! AT ALL!
Amy and I took a deep breath vowing to stay upright. We were heading in straight as can be when all of a sudden a wave just dumped us over. Shoot!
All I remember is suddenly going under and then getting thumped in the head by the kayak. My first thought was, “I hope we are in far enough that we can both stand.” One of the workers came out to help retrieve the kayak and we sloshed in to the beach. I found Kristen shivering on the beach crying because she didn’t like all the little flies buzzing about her.
Because Misha had wanted to go out in the kayak again, Chris had dropped Kristen off on the beach and went back out again. It was a decision he would come to rue. In fact, I happened to snap a photo the exact moment he and Misha resurfaced a second time with Chris frantically reaching for his hat, the locker key from the kayak shop, AND his prescription sunglasses. He managed to only salvage the hat.
Chris motioned to me that he had lost his glasses. I tucked Kristen in by the kayaks where it was a little warmer in the sunshine and there were no flies and headed back out to help Chris.
We looked for twenty minutes without any success. The loss of the key cost us another $15 bucks; the glasses were gone.
If you want to experience this adventure, but not lose your glasses!: Bike and Kayak