Thursday, October 28, 2010

Adventure Travel- The Ultimate Adrenaline Rush

I travel to explore, to learn, and to try new things. Travel in and of itself is adventurous. While exploring somewhere different is indeed thrilling, I often ‘up the ante’ by seeking new and exciting experiences abroad that challenge my courage. Whether I’m riding elephants in Thailand, walking the canopy of the Ghanaian rainforest, or skydiving in Australia…adventure travel adds unforgettable heart-pounding memories to any trip.

High above the tropical paradise of Cains, Australia I prepare to jump from a perfectly good airplane. Newly married and on our honeymoon, my new husband and I decide to begin our lives together with adventure. We’re literally ‘taking the plunge’.

Skydiving, one of the greatest thrills of my lifetime, is made even more thrilling by the fact I honestly can’t remember all of the detailed instructions I received in my 20 minute briefing. Is 20 minutes really enough time to prepare someone for all of the intricacies of falling to the Earth at 200 kph? ‘When do I pull the ripcord? Am I supposed to arch my back or not? Did the instructor really say that my legs would snap like twigs if I didn’t bend them up at the last moment before landing?’ A flurry of panicky questions race through my mind as the airplane, a PAC Cresco 750, ascends to 14,000 feet above the ground.

Granted, I am skydiving tandem with the instructor himself but I am anxious about the waiver that I signed, heavily dotted with the words ‘injuries’ and ‘die’. The thought, ‘am I really doing this’ races through my mind. The airplane door opens and my worries are silenced by the roaring sound of the engines and the howling of the wind outside the aircraft.

With a heavy Aussie accent, my instructor tells me to put on my ‘buggers’. I slip the clear plastic goggles over my eyes and wave to my husband as I step off the edge of the airplane into a free fall. My heart beats like a hammer as I plummet to the Earth in downward somersaults, not sure which way is up and which way is down.

In a dizzy and disoriented descent, my instructor orders me to extend my arms in a V-like shape above my head to steady us out. We stabilize and begin falling at a ‘Belly to Earth’ orientation. I can feel the strong resistance of the air against me as my jumpsuit flaps in the 120 mph wind. My body reaches terminal velocity as I fall horizontally for 60 seconds though a seemingly endless sky. My vibrating cheeks and lips are plastered back in a fixed smile. I break out into a silent scream as my voice is swiftly carried away…whoosh.

At 5,500 feet my instructor calmly pulls the ripcord and the parachute opens with a jarring jolt. Suddenly the roaring of the wind quiets and the sky becomes tranquil and silent under the protection of the giant nylon canopy. The only sound I hear is my Aussie instructor’s voice proudly pointing out the breathtaking panorama below.

Cairns, Australia is one of the most beautiful places in the world to skydive. The five minute canopy ride allows spectacular views of Cairns, a cosmopolitan city in far North Queensland and the surrounding natural wonders of the Daintree tropical rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

I soar through the air with ease as I soak up the bird’s eye view of the area. Gravity pulls us toward the Earth and this exhilarating experience comes to an end. I see the ground and begin to fold up my legs for landing. ‘Not yet mate’, my instructor says. I wait for his cue and do as he instructs. We land by bending our legs up and skid along the ground on our backsides.

The adrenaline pumps through my veins and I feel a buzz I can’t justly explain with words. My husband safely lands minutes after I do. I run to him and jump in his arms, clinging to him like a koala. ‘What a rush!’ I excitedly shout.

While the reality is that driving a car is more dangerous than most of the adventures you will experience abroad, adventure travel shouldn’t be reckless or put you in any real danger. Check safety records, do your research, and be sure your memories are good ones and not of assorted hospitals around the world.

Travel and do whatever qualifies as exciting to you. ‘Life shouldn’t be measured the number of breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away’.

For more information on skydiving in Australia: The Australian Parachute Federation online at

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time Travel

Hey, ‘Doc’…power up the Delorean because this week’s post is about time travel. Not to worry if you don’t have the legendary time machine from the 1985 film Back to the Future, you can take a trip to the past with a little imagination and an ordinary automobile.

My husband and I pack up our car, neither a Delorean nor a time machine, and hit the open road. We drive for three hours south through Virginia’s beautiful green woodlands. Coincidentally we’re pushing 88 miles per hour, the speed the Delorean time machine must reach to travel to a programmed date. I imagine that our little yellow sports car also has the capacity to zoom through the space-time continuum to travel to the past. We’re taking this weekend getaway to discover our nation’s turbulent beginnings in one of the most prominent cities of the Revolutionary War; home to notables as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Mason and other Virginia patriots.

It’s the year 1774 in Williamsburg, the thriving capitol of the Virginia Colony. Though the town of 2,000 people is on the brink of revolution, horses’ hooves beat down on the dusty street with the familiar rhythm of everyday life. Wafting smells of roast goose allure hungry townspeople to the genteel surroundings of the King’s Arms Tavern. Sounds of the English organ resonate from the open doors of the Bruton Parish Church like welcoming arms. Young boys roll hoops along the sidewalk in front of the L-shaped Geddy House. Williamsburg’s gentlemen and politicians gather at R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse to make deals, discuss business, learn the news from England and exchange the latest gossip. In the busy coffeehouse heated debate ensues between friends over the King’s latest tax on tea.

A gentry man orders a pot of tea from Sally Charlton, wife of the coffeehouse proprietor. He offers tea from his pot to his friends and business associates. Tea is served to each of the wigged men one by one. Suddenly one man abruptly places his hand over his empty teacup refusing the hot tea. He apologizes to Mrs. Charlton, ‘Pardon Ma’am, I was only thinking of the carpet’. ‘The carpet?’ asks Mrs. Charlton. ‘Yes indeed’, he says with his nose up in the air. ‘I didn’t want to have to toss the tea on your fine carpet’. Each of the men turns fiery red with passion as they debate boycotts on every-day, British, pleasures such as tea.

The people who lived in Williamsburg during Revolutionary times and their patriotism made this town significant and it’s the people that work here today that bring it back to life. Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg, the nation’s largest living history museum, can tour the buildings alongside colonial characters and craftsmen in period costume. As ‘Doc’ from Back to the Future would say, ‘Great Scott, it works…the time machine really works’! It really feels as if you have taken a time machine back to the 18th century.

The historic area of Colonial Williamsburg sits upon 301 acres and includes 88 original 18th century structures. Hundreds of other houses, shops and public buildings have been carefully reconstructed on their original foundations. Many of these buildings are open to the public and can be toured with admission to the historic area. These buildings of mere brink and mortar housed Virginia patriots and their ideas that lead to the American Revolution.

Visit the cobbler and see real colonial shoes being made in the working shop. Stop in the silversmith’s shop and watch as a real silversmith forges a spoon from silver right before your very eyes. Visit the apothecary and learn colonial remedies such as chalk for heartburn, vinegar of rose petals for a headache, calamine for skin irritations, and cinchona bark for fevers. Twenty trades are practiced in historic Williamsburg using colonial tools and methods.

After visiting the various trade shops, enjoy authentic cuisine of the Virginia colony. Take pleasure in fresh Virginia seafood at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern as George Washington did many times during his travels throughout the colonies. Christiana Campbell’s Tavern is one of four historic dining taverns; Chowning’s Tavern, King’s Arms Tavern, and Shield’s Tavern also offer authentic dining experiences from the 18th century.

In addition to visiting restored trade shops and eateries, visitors can walk the same streets as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Patrick Henry did. Better yet, walk alongside them. Costumed interpreters undertake years of study to render the founding fathers in first person every day. In addition to the framers of the US constitution, meet common colonial folk such as farmers, craftsmen, preachers, slaves and hear their stories as they use authentic colonial grammar and diction to realistically play their parts.

Stories are what keep this place alive. The motto of Colonial Williamsburg is ‘The future may learn from the past’. Over the past 240 years Williamsburg has maintained its charm, authenticity, and cultural significance by embracing the anecdotes that make this place so meaningful to the founding of the United States of America. Here, where many of America's early founding fathers debated the ideas of liberty, independence and freedom, democracy took root. It’s in the buildings and on the streets of this attractive Southern town that political debate became the catalyst for change in the colonies.

Following a wonderful and educational experience in Williamsburg we hop back into our wannabe time machine and return to the present day. We experience a traffic jam on the 3 hour drive home and I jokingly say, ‘where we're going, we don't need roads’, a play on the ending phrase in the movie, Back to the Future. Though our experience would have been more authentic if we were actually able to travel back in time, (our car wasn’t able to generate 1.21 gigawats of power into the Flux Capacitor in order to cross the schism between past and present), our trip to Williamsburg provided valuable insight into the patriotic creation of our great country. A fantastic destination for kids, patriots, history buffs, and weekend adventure seekers alike; Williamsburg is a not to be missed American destination.

Photo credits in order of appearence:,,,,, Bethany Smith