#AtoZChallenge | Travel gallery wall puts our memories on display

I use to travel with a large black camera bag. It had padded dividers that you could move around and secure with velcro to change the storage configuration. There was enough space to hold my 35 mm camera along with a telephoto lens and multiple rolls of film. Depending on the destination, I needed to have enough film for the entire trip. When I was finished shooting a roll, I would insert the end of the film all the way into the canister so I wouldn’t mistakenly use it again. The system worked for me although it was heavy to carry around.

During our trip to Costa Rica, after one long transfer that included crossing a lake by boat, I realized after arriving at our hotel, that I had left my camera bag on the boat. While heartbroken at losing my camera, it also meant all of my pictures that I had taken of our trip up to that point were also lost. For a memory keeper like me, that was the truly devastating part.

The hotel called the tour company that managed the boat transfer and they located the bag. We were only at this stop for another day but the tour company promised they would send the camera bag on their next transfer. Miraculously, the camera bag showed up at the hotel the morning before we moved onto the next stop on our itinerary. Everything was still in the bag including all of my film. It was such a happy surprise. I really thought it was lost forever. Continue reading

A sad goodbye to Goecco. You were one of the best!

The best travel tour I ever took doesn’t exist anymore. All that is left are the memories of one spectacular two day adventure that I’ll never be able to duplicate. I should be happy that I still have the photos to fill in the spaces as my memory fades but today I’m sad.

We are scheduled to go to Scotland this coming August but with the continued uptick in positive COVID-19 cases and delayed re-opening of the entire world, it is becoming less likely that we will be able to go on our planned vacation. While I’ve spent months meticulously planning every moment of our trip, at least for now, the itinerary will remain untested. Probably. I’m still holding out hope that with a negative COVID-19 test in hand, we might still be able to go.

But, practicality is taking over and I’ve started looking at alternatives. Maybe an elaborate staycation exploring those more remote areas of Maine that we can’t easily get to during day trips or long weekends. It’s on the list of possibilities. Or, maybe a quarantine friendly destination, if any really exist. A remote island perhaps?  I’m not typically a beach girl but I can adapt.

As I researched alternative options, I came across a random search result that Iceland is allowing travelers into the country as long as they get tested for COVID-19 upon arrival. Right now, entry is limited to EEA and EFTA countries although they will be issuing new guidelines on July 1 and potentially expanding entry to other countries. With the United State’s current spike, we may be barred from that expansion list but maybe we’ll make the nice list.

Obviously, the current pandemic leaves our plans in flux and we won’t be able to make a final decision until much closer to our actual departure date. As part of my Plan B research, I decided to see what my favorite tour company might be offering for late summer adventures in Iceland. My previous trip to Iceland had been in January. I’d love to see Iceland during the summer although I’d go back in January too. It was spectacular.

I did a quick google search for Goecco. The usual SEO heavy hitters, TripAdvisor and LinkedIn, rose to the top but no website. Hmm. Maybe they re-branded. It has been five years since my previous visit.

More internet searching only uncovered a domain name for sale and broken links on every reference or article I could find posted by happy bloggers and travel review sites.  A few of the later TripAdvisor reviews indicated last minute cancellations and a possible bankruptcy. I know I shouldn’t be surprised. Businesses fail all the time. They fade away. But, I wasn’t ready for this tour to be a memory. I was ready to schedule my next adventure.

Instead, my memories will have to be enough.

Here is the memory that will stay with me forever. After landing in Iceland, we headed to the bus station to wait for the Goecco jeep to pick us up. There is always that moment of fear that no matter how well planned something will go wrong and we’ll be stranded: no tour, no hotel, no place to go. Abandoned in a tiny bus station in a foreign city where it’s too early for anything but the coffee shop to be open.

Fortunately, the jeep eventually showed up. With some difficulty, our luggage was loaded up into the storage containers strapped to the roof and we were ready to meet our fellow passengers. We spent the day driving south exploring ice caves and black beaches, climbing up to frozen waterfalls and visiting with Icelandic horses.

After a full day, we arrived at base camp. The simple white, two-story building seemed so small sitting quietly in front of the snow covered mountains and rugged landscape beyond but somehow it fit perfectly in that space.  It was an old camp that the tour company had bought and converted into accommodations for their tour guests. There were no other guests. It was just us. After dragging our luggage up the narrow staircase and settling into our room, we grabbed our wine and headed to the common area.

The tour guides were preparing a traditional Icelandic meal for us in the kitchen and the long family style dining table was set and ready for conversation. The wine allowed me to be more adventurous with food than usual. I confidently swallowed the gelatinous sheep’s head that was offered as an appetizer letting it slide down my throat without having to actually taste it. I opted not to try the fermented shark. There isn’t enough wine for that.

We all pitched in on the cleanup. There was ping-pong, more wine and lots of conversation. We stayed up way too late. Drank too much. Laughed a lot. One of the guides sang us an Icelandic drinking song that sounded suspiciously like “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain'”.

We felt like we were visiting friends and not as if we were on the first day of a random tour with strangers.

I think it is impossible to know in the middle of a moment the significance it will have in your life. Some moments that you think you’ll never forget do eventually fade or get relegated to just a footnote. Others that seem insignificant never actually leave you and some just make you smile when you think of them even years after they happen. This tour was one of the latter. It always makes me smile when I think about it.

RIP Goecco. Vagabond Tours, please don’t go. I have happy memories of my time in Ireland with you too. But, that’s a story for another day.

Do you have a favorite tour or travel adventure?


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AtoZChallenge | V is for Vacation and obsessively planning our Scottish adventure.

When my alarm went off at 4:00 am, I was immediately awake and hit off rather than snooze. An unusual move for me. I grabbed my phone, turning on the flashlight feature so I could see my way downstairs without waking up my sleeping family members. When I reached our home office, I sat in front of our desktop computer hitting the escape key to wake it up. I navigated quickly to the website I needed and got into the virtual queue to buy tickets. Even though I’d logged in within five minutes of tickets going on sale, the covered grandstand was already sold out. I grabbed two for the uncovered section and felt a sense of relief once I finished entering my credit card information through paypal and saw the pop up message that everything had been processed successfully. On a whim, I also emailed them to ask if there was a wait list for the covered section and quickly got a reply that they would put me on it. We had our tickets to the Braemar Gathering for the Highland Games this coming September.

I have spent so much time planning our upcoming trip to Scotland that we will actually spend less time in the country than the time I’ve invested in mapping out our adventures. The Braemar games also weren’t the only time I got up during the night to buy tickets for a planned vacation. I’m sure it won’t be my last.

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