Before my trip to Antarctica, I had a surprising amount of people say, “Why would you want to go to Antarctica?” At that point, my answer was pretty generic. I was so excited to go, but I would just say things like, “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.” However, after traveling to Antarctica, I could talk about it for hours and give you so many specific reasons to head to the seventh continent. (It’s not technically the seventh continent, but for many travelers on our trip—who are world travelers—it was the last of the seven continents they needed to visit.)
Before we started our journey to Antarctica across the Drake Passage, we spent a couple of days touring Buenos Aires and Ushuaia in Argentina. Since it’s summertime in the Southern Hemisphere, the sun and warm weather of Buenos Aires gave us a nice break from the cold most of us had been experiencing back home, and we enjoyed a day tour of some of the region’s most famous spots. We strolled through the Plaza de Mayo to see Casa Rosada (the Presidential Palace), the National Museum of the Cabildo, the National Bank of Argentina and the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Perhaps the most colorful place to see in Buenos Aires is the La Boca neighborhood. The buildings—and even the cobblestones in the sidewalks—are painted bright colors. Artists display their work in the streets, tango dancers entertain the tourists and cafes allow you to soak in the atmosphere while enjoying a delicious empanada!
The world famous Recoleta Cemetery was a favorite for a number of travelers. The elaborate mausoleums and ornate crypts are hauntingly beautiful. Many of Argentina’s most important figures are buried there, including Eva Peron.
The next day, we departed for Ushuaia, also known as el Fin del Mundo, the end of the world. Part of the Patagonia region, Ushuaia offers beautiful views of the mountains, the Beagle Channel and forests. While waiting to board our ship, we took a tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park. It was the last time we would see grass and trees for more than a week!
Later that day, we boarded the beautiful ship Le Boreal, our home for the next nine days. The crew on the boat was wonderful, the ship was amazing and the experience ahead was one of a kind. Our first challenge was to cross the Drake Passage. All travelers who have been to Antarctica compare their voyages across the Drake. You hope for the “Drake Lake” and fear the “Drake Shake.” We had something in between with a range of 13- to 16-foot swells. Even if it had been worse, the voyage would have been worth the destination.
Antarctica can’t truly be captured in a photo, although you do go home with SO MANY frame-worthy photos. It’s hard to put down your camera and just soak in Antarctica. The pristine white of the snow, the glowing blue icebergs and glaciers, the crystal-clear water—it’s truly breathtaking.
It’s evident that Antarctica is fiercely protected by its ambassadors. You won’t find a single piece of trash on land or in the water. The dirty snow comes from penguin poop—tons of penguin poop—not from pollution. When you journey to Antarctica, you become an ambassador as well. It’s hard not to be when you are rendered speechless by the beauty of the Lemaire Channel.
Even with a group of travelers, you can find time to sit and take in the stillness and deafening silence, except for the occasional popping of the ice or calving of a glacier.
Then there’s the wildlife: Thousands of penguins. At any time, you can look out the windows on the boat and see penguins porpoising in and out of the water. Huge colonies cover the islands in the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s amazing to observe the differences in the different species of penguins: The chinstrap penguins were pretty chill, sitting with their young and heading out to the ocean to fish.
The gentoo penguins seemed to be a little ornerier, a little louder, a little more curious. They definitely looked a little different with their red-orange beaks!
The Adélie penguins are funny to watch, as they like to enter the water as a group so they can have safety in numbers. They all line up and go in at once, hoping to make it less likely to be eaten by a seal.
All of the seals we saw on this trip seemed to be way too lazy to go hunting for penguins!
I think I might have been the most excited about the whales. I spent hours on the outside decks watching whales. Not just watching for whales, but watching actual whales. We saw a group of five humpback whales bubble-feeding. One humpback whale came right up to the side of the ship and we saw countless tail-showings.
The most amazing whale encounter was coming across a pod of 31 killer whales—31! You knew it was special when the ship captain was standing on the bow of the boat, Titanic-style, trying to see them all. For about 30 to 45 minutes, the pod swam in front of the boat as if they were guiding us to our next destination.
I think if you were to ask each of the 12 Jayhawks who went on this trip what their favorite thing was, you would get 12 different answers. It might have been the penguins or the whales; the icebergs; the homemade vodka at the Ukrainian research station; the Antarctic weather, which was warmer than the weather in Kansas; watching the French broadcast of the Chiefs advancing to the Superbowl (with a group of Titans fans on board); being able to gloat just a little to all the K-State fans on board when KU came out victorious in Allen Field House during our trip; or literally any other moment of the trip.
For me, it’s impossible to pick a favorite. I think about one thing and it immediately makes me think of another amazing thing. I just can’t pick. So, from now on, when someone asks me, “Why would you want to go to Antarctica?” they better be ready for a long conversation, which will start with “Why would you not want to go to Antarctica?”
The Flying Jayhawks “Expedition to Antarctica” trip took place Jan. 15-28, 2020. The trip was hosted by Michelle Lang, b’01, the Alumni Association’s director of alumni programs. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
First, a disclaimer: This was my third Flying Jayhawks trip, but I’m not actually a Jayhawk (gasp!). My wife, son and daughter-in-law are the Jayhawks. I’m a West Point graduate, and I served more than 22 years on active duty in the Army, including fighting in Vietnam in 1971 to ’72 as an armored cavalry platoon leader, where I was wounded twice.
Tegan suggested to me that it would be interesting for the Flying Jayhawks to hear about my experiences in going back to Vietnam for the first time since 1972. I will leave it to another Flying Jayhawk to describe the entire trip, but here are my highlights.
We had a great local guide named Viet, a 40-year-old North Vietnamese man who was with us during our entire visit to Hanoi. He was smart, thoughtful and very willing to answer questions and give us his views, which sometimes didn’t correspond with the party line. He definitely was not a typical minder and was our best local guide of the entire trip.
The most interesting part of the visit to Hanoi for me was visiting the Hoa Lo Prison (the “Hanoi Hilton”). Most of the prison has been torn down and only a small part of it remains as a museum. That museum highlights how badly the French treated the Vietnamese they imprisoned there during the French colonial era and their war in Indochina and includes mannequins that show how they were shackled, how they were tortured, and how some died there, often by guillotine.
The part of the museum devoted to the “American War” was limited to a display of a few items, including a POW uniform and some photos of prisoners relaxing, playing chess, cooking and putting up Christmas decorations. It was pure propaganda and intended to contrast their “humane” treatment of the Americans with the brutality of the French. I have a good friend and West Point company mate who was shot down over North Vietnam and imprisoned there from December 1972 to February 1973. He told me that the cell where he was held, part of what the POWs called the “new guy” section, was still there. I’m not sure I was able to identify the exact cell that was his, but the prison is a dark and gloomy place that was depressing to tour.
After telling Viet that I’d fought in Vietnam, I mentioned that my friend was a POW there and I asked whether I could tell our group about his imprisonment. That was well received and a number of folks told me they appreciated my telling his story.
Cu Chi tunnels
The Cu Chi tunnels near Saigon are a massive complex of miles of tunnels stretching from the Cambodian border towards Saigon. They were designed to allow the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army to move troops into South Vietnam and provide sanctuaries where they could rest, get medical care, etc.
During the war we discovered some tunnels but were unaware of many others, including a complex directly under a major U.S. base. We had a different but also good local guide, a South Vietnamese man, who gave us a tour of the site, which is one of two they take people to (not the one that was under the big U.S. base that I’d been to at one point in 1972). They had some tunnels that we could crawl through and our guide explained the measures they took to conceal the tunnel complexes from the Americans and demonstrated the types of punji stakes and tiger traps they used to deter Americans from entering the tunnels. I crawled through the longer tunnel—about 50 yards—and had to do part of it on my hands and knees, while my wife, Sondra, did a shorter one, which was a little larger; she was able to get through by stooping over in some places.
My experience in crawling confirmed that I never could have been a tunnel rat! As I did in Hanoi, I told our guide that I’d fought nearby in 1971 to ’72 (that got a startled expression) and asked him whether I could speak with the group about my experiences. On the bus after our tour I explained how we cleared bunkers and tunnels, what tunnel rats did, and how we used smoke grenades to identify air holes and exits. Sometimes we used CS grenades if the tunnel rats had gas masks.
Throughout Vietnam, I found the Vietnamese people to be friendly and mostly too young to have experienced the war. One other highlight of the trip was having Kim Phuc with us as a lecturer. She was the “Napalm Girl” in the iconic photo, which showed her running away naked from a napalm strike, and now she is a woman in her 50s. She was badly burned over most of her back and one arm, but she has recovered after multiple operations, although she still is in a lot of pain.
She defected with her husband to Canada some years ago, has two children and is now a UNESCO Ambassador for Peace who tells her story around the world. She’s a remarkable woman, and through faith she has been able to turn her life around from anger and resentment to forgiveness. She is always smiling. Sondra and I made a personal connection with her, and I told her that I operated very near her home in Trang Bang six months before her horrific injury.
Tired of visiting temples, Sondra and I daringly broke away from the group itinerary and, at Sondra’s suggestion, took an all-day excursion with a private guide and driver to the bridge over the River Kwai.
You may know the general story of the bridge and what they call the Death Railroad from the 1957 movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” We discovered that the movie, although based in fact, is not historically accurate. The short version of the real story: the railroad was built during World War II in 1943 by the Japanese to connect existing north-south railroads in Thailand and Burma and allow the Japanese to move troops and supplies into Burma for their attack west into India.
They used around 200,000 conscripted local Thaisand other natives and more than 60,000 POWs, mainly British, Australian and Dutch, many of whom had been captured when Singapore fell, to build the railroad. Working in terrible conditions, more than 100,000 laborers (both natives and POWs) died from malnutrition, chronic dysentery, malaria, cholera, and other diseases; brutal treatment from sadistic Japanese guards; and unfortunately, from bombing by the Allied Air Forces who were unaware that the camps housed POWs.
This is one place where the movie presents an unrealistically rosy picture of the conditions in the camps. The famous bridge was built using POW forced labor (designed by Japanese engineers, not British ones as shown in the movie), and actually consisted of concrete and steel spans rather than wood scaffolding and was not blown up by British commandos but was bombed by US B-24s in June of 1945, which dropped three central spans. The bridge was rebuilt after the war by replacing the dropped spans, and the eastern two-thirds of the railroad is still in use.
We drove about three hours from Bangkok, got on a train with hordes of tourists and Thais, rode over the bridge on the train and later walked back over it. In addition to seeing the bridge, there is a superb museum there, which alone was worth the visit. Near the museum, there is a cemetery that is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and includes the graves of thousands of POWs who died building the railroad. They did an amazing job of identifying remains and collecting them in the cemetery. Apparently if they could identify family or NOK of the dead, they allowed them to include personal messages on the markers, most of which are heartbreaking. A few of the messages I read were: “A voice we love is still, a place is vacant which we can never fill,” and “We think of him still as the same and say: ‘He is not dead, he just is away.’” These messages really brought home the sacrifice and loss of those young men long before their time. The visit, although it took all day, was memorable and I’m very glad we made the trip.
Side note: People have asked me how it felt to go back to Vietnam and whether I recognized any of the places I had been. I didn’t have any extremely traumatic experiences in Vietnam, so I found I was OK with going back, although the visit to the Hanoi Hilton was emotional. Although my unit operated in an area northwest of Saigon very close to both Cu Chi and Trang Bang, I didn’t expect that I’d recognize places I had served, and that was the case. I spent almost all of my tour in the jungle, bashing through the trees on armored vehicles looking for bunker complexes or leading dismounted ambush patrols in search of Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army, and jungle looks pretty much the same, no matter where it is. My sense was that Vietnam is much more built up than when I was there in the ’70s—roads that were dirt when I was there are now paved, and there are far more buildings, small businesses and houses than there were almost 50 years ago.
Flying Jayhawks passenger, Exotic Vietnam and Angkor Wat
The Flying Jayhawks “Exotic Vietnam and Angkor Wat” trip took place Nov. 5-19, 2019. The trip was hosted by Tegan Thornberry, d’05, g’09, the Alumni Association’s director of membership. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
Sixteen lucky Jayhawks spent 12 days traveling the beautiful country of Peru!
We wandered the capital of Lima, explored the Amazon, roamed the Sacred Valley, conquered Machu Picchu and checked out Cusco.
We were so lucky to experience all the spectacular wonders of Peru with such a great diverse group of travelers. The trip was amazing, but the company of Jayhawks and friends was even better.
Day 1-2: Lima
Welcome to Peru! We took off to wander Peru’s capital city, Lima, one of South America’s largest cities with a population of nearly 9 million residents. Here we visited the beautiful Larco Museum, Lima Cathedral and the San Francisco Monastery. Concluding our tour of the capital city, we spent our evening with a local woman named Marie at her family’s historic home in the heart of Lima, Casa Garcia Alvarado.
Day 3-5: The Amazon
Next we set off to explore the Amazon. After a quick flight to Iquitos and a bus ride to Nauta, we embarked the Delfin III. During our time on the Delfin III, we explored the rainforest, kayaked with pink dolphins, bird-watched and made friends with monkeys. Our group of Jayhawks also fished for piranhas, visited a local community called San Jose, and had a champagne toast at the point where the Maranon and Ucayau rivers form the Amazon. We had so many amazing adventures during our time on the river thanks to our amazing guide, Sandro Soria!
Day 6 & 7: Cusco (Sacred Valley)
After a hard goodbye to the crew on the Delfin III, we set off to “The Sacred Valley of the Incas.” Here we visited the Ollantaytambo ruins, ate a delicious meal at the Wayra Restaurant with a Peruvian horse show and visited Chincheros to get an authentic weaving demonstration. Our guides Wilson and Queoma were so passionate and filled us with so much knowledge on the history of this region of Peru.
Day 8: Machu Picchu
The day we had all been waiting for! We headed off to the Ollantaytambo train station to board our train on the Inka Rail to Machu Picchu. The train ride in itself was gorgeous: the views of the mountains and the changing countryside was fascinating.
Upon arrival we headed up the mountain on a bus to enter into Machu Picchu. It truly was amazing; words do not do it justice. We were so lucky to have a perfect day learning about its history and seeing its beauty. We finished off with a great meal at the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, where many of us had guinea pig, a Peruvian delicacy.
Day 9-11: Cusco City
Our final stop in Peru was Cusco City. We visited the Koricancha Temple (Sun Temple, now the Santo Domingo Monastery, Sacsahuaman archeological area) and the Cusco Cathedral. The city was filled with gorgeous architecture, engaging history and delightful food.
We finished off the trip with farewell cocktail hour, where the entire group got to say final goodbyes and our good friend Rowe lead the Jayhawks in the Rock Chalk Chant! The perfect way to end the trip.
The Flying Jayhawks “Wonders of Peru” trip took place Sept. 27-Oct. 7, 2019. The trip was hosted by Merideth Warinner, d’16, the Alumni Association’s operations and membership coordinator. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
Seventeen KU alumni shared the extraordinary experience of visiting Normandy, as the Flying Jayhawks took part in our nation’s continued commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
“Homebased” out of the picturesque city of Honfleur, we spent eight days covering the Normandy region, including walking the hallowed ground of the Normandy invasion—the beaches of Utah, Omaha and Pointe-du-Hoc. Joined by 12 alumni from the University of Nebraska (who all were highly impressed with the great support we received from the KU Alumni Association), our group of 29 gained a newfound appreciation for the incredible sacrifices that the “Greatest Generation” made in liberating France and Europe.
As I reflect back on our trip, I don’t believe our eight-day visit could have been planned or executed any better—just like a military operation! We owe a huge shout out to the KU Alumni Association (thanks Tegan!); our intrepid travel leader, Emiliano “Emi” Rio; our daily tour guides, William, Claire and Marie; and the entire team from AHI Travel – you all rocked! As Emi continually reminded us in his perfect Argentinian, French and Belgian cocktail of an accent: “Dress like onions—many layers!” (The Jayhawks had to interpret for the Cornhuskers.)
While the beaches and the D-Day Memorial were certainly our primary calling, let’s be honest, everyone on the trip was a foodie. So let’s start there.
Each morning we awoke in our lovely hotel to the smell of a breakfast—and there was nothing “petit” about this petit déjeuner. The local cheeses, flaky chocolate-filled croissants, baguettes slathered with Normandy butter, fresh fruits (something had to be approved by our cardiologists!), the spécialté de la maison, Teurgoule. Stick a fork in me; I’m done!
Okay, back to the trip. We were treated with a “soft landing” on Monday, our first day in Normandy. We were led through the streets and rich history of Honfleur, which included Saint Catherine, which is quite an unusual wooden church. Saint Catherine looks a bit like an upside down boat, largely because the local shipbuilders constructed it in the 1500s. And perhaps most importantly, our local guide pointed out the “must dine” restaurants in Honfleur.
Tuesday, was completely dedicated to visiting Mont Saint-Michel: amazing. Mont Saint-Michel looks like something straight out of a Hollywood studio—a fantastical city rising from Normandy’s tidal marshes with towering spires and ramparts.
As we quickly discovered, the Mont is not for the faint of heart, it was a bit of a workout traversing from our shuttle stop to the Mont’s entrance, and then onward and upward through the steep winding village street lined by museums, restaurants and shops. Finally, the “Grand Degre” stairs (350 steps) gateway led to the goal of our hike, the imposing abbey which has served as the goal for pilgrims since the 8th century. You cannot visit Mont Saint Michel without reflecting on Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth and the improbable craftsmanship and ingenuity of 8th-century church-builders.
Wednesday was jam-packed and included one of the best meals we had as a group. (Did we mention we enjoyed the food?)
The day began with a visit to the Caen Memorial, which was thoughtfully placed at the beginning of our World War II battlefield study. The museum included an overview of the beginnings of World War II, which provided us with a strong educational foundation for our upcoming walks along the D-Day landing beaches.
Following Caen, we drove to Les Vergers de Ducy, a family farm, which makes classic fortified apple cider and our group’s new favorite liquors: Normandy Pommeau and the famous apple brandy, Calvados. We were treated to a tour of the distillery and then shared an delectable French dejeuner of rooster, meats, local cheeses, fresh salads, another Teurgoule recipe, and of course, baguettes with butter! After lunch, we “sampled” the Poummeau and Calvados, and then made a beeline to their gift shop.
Wednesday afternoon continued our D-Day study, with visits to Utah Beach, the landing site of the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division (led by Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.), and Sainte-Mère-Église, the first town liberated by Operation Overlord.
We walked along reflectively, considering the lost youth and innocence of the young men who stormed ashore in 1944, supported by air assaults conducted by units from the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions. During our bus ride back to Honfleur, our tour guide William Jordan provided us a moving rendition of speeches given by Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery, as our group quietly considered our first experience of the D-Day invasion.
Again, I have to tip my chapeau to the trip organizer: Thursday was a day afforded to each traveler to do as they please!
After the emotional visit to the beaches, each of us was ready for a day to recharge and refit for the rest of the week. The world’s greatest travel director, Emi, worked with several groups to help them schedule visits to the art museums of Rouen; the modern-looking church of Eglise Jeanne d’Arc, which sits on the site of Joan of Arc’s burning; Lisieux, the home of the Catholic saint, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who founded “the Little Way”; and of course, several chose to hang in Honfleur to take in a day cruise on the Seine and a bucket of mussels for lunch. (I’m not sure what the Nebraska group did on their day off—shucked some corn?)
Friday was our capstone event: the trip to Pegasus Bridge, Arromanches, Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc.
On this day, we came to appreciate the herculean effort involved in the allied amphibious invasion to liberate France and the rest of Western Europe. From the implausible construction feat of the “mulberries” to Colonel Rudder’s Ranger assault on the formidable cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, our travel guide and military historian introduced us to the everyday men and women who served our country with the highest valor.
As we walked along, we couldn’t help consider the juxtaposition of the serene beaches we experienced, with those blood-stained and scarred beaches of 1944. Perhaps the height of this juxtaposition was experienced during the last component of our Normandy battle visit—the visit to the iconic American Cemetery. Situated on a bluff overlooking Omaha beach, the American Cemetery is a solemn site. We are all transfixed by the green fields filled with seemingly endless ranks of white Christian crosses and Jewish Stars of David, especially when we consider they represent only a small fraction of the Americans who died here.
Containing the graves of more than 9,380 of our military dead and the engraved names of the 1,557 American soldiers whose bodies were never identified or found, the cemetery memorializes the human cost of the Normandy invasion with unimaginable peace and tranquility. The statue “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” symbolizes the thousands of men who sacrificed their lives in Normandy for a people they never knew.
As we leave this cemetery this moving and somewhat haunting statue is our last stop. Rightfully so, as we complete the World War II component of our trip, we are left to ponder the incalculable cost of freedom: the lives lost, the dreams incomplete and families left behind.
We leave our incredible journey on a lighter note with a trip to a town that managed to avoid bombing in World War II, the city of Bayeux.
It is here that we visit the best-known piece of embroidery in the world, the Bayeux Tapestry. Intended for an illiterate audience, the tapestry commemorates King William’s conquest of England. The tapestry is 230 feet long and contains exquisitely detailed scenes embroidered with tiny, precise stitches. Saturday evening provides our group one last opportunity to celebrate our combined Jayhawk camaraderie, reflect on the incredible travel experience we shared and bid farewell to one another and to our effervescent host, Emi.
As part of our farewell reception, we broke down in small groups and enjoyed a “Jeopardy-like” trivia contest to determine who had the best grasp of renowned KU trivia and important tidbits from the trip.
Question: “This classic hangout has served as the beginning of many long-term relationships to include that of your hosts”
Answer: “What is the Wheel?!”
(Sorry, Cornhuskers, missed that one?)
After recognizing the winning team with a bottle of Pommeau and some of Honfleur’s finest shot glasses, our group headed out for a wonderful meal in the heart of the dining district. Did I mention that we were all foodies?
Mike and Karen
The Flying Jayhawks “Normandy” trip took place Aug. 17-25, 2019. The trip was hosted by Mike Denning, c’83, a retired Marine Corps colonel and director of the KU Office of Graduate Military Programs, and his wife, Karen Abram Denning, c’83. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
From Zurich, to Bern, to Lucern, the Flying Jayhawks made their way through Switzerland and back during their week-long journey abroad.
Day 1 | Gateway to the Bernese Oberland
After arriving in Zurich, the group of Flying Jayhawks enjoyed a walking tour of Thun, learning about the gateway to the Bernese Oberland while walking below the picturesque Thun castle and along the Aare River.
The evening brought our entire travel party together for a reception at the hotel, followed by dinner on the banks of the Aare.
Day 2 | Oberhofen Castle
The Flying Jayhawks hopped on a ferry to tour the Oberhofen castle. The historic five-story castle has been preserved and now functions as a modern-day museum, offering a glimpse into the lives of the nobles and servants who once traversed the many halls and rooms of this lakefront property.
Nothing whets an appetite quite like storming the castle, so our flying Jayhawks set sail once again, this time destined for Spiez for a local lunch and an opportunity to freely explore the Spiez castle.
Day 3 | All aboard!
Trains, trains and more trains ruled the day as the jolly Jayhawks took to the rails and Brienz, Switzerland.
Following a quick ride on Switzerland’s public train system, the group of tireless travelers boarded a steam train for an hour climb up Brienzer Rothorn. Once atop the mountain, the view of low hanging clouds was impressive. Although our time atop the mountain was short, spirits remained high … although that may have been the altitude.
A stop along our descent at Planalp made for a delicious midday, authentic homemade mountain meal. Our day ended in Interlaken with Jayhawks free to explore the popular tourist city found between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.
Day 4 | Tour of Bern, Switzerland
Take us to your leaders! Or, at least to the buildings your leaders work in.
Having mastered the Swiss public rail transit, our flock of Hawks traveled east to Bern, the capital of Switzerland. Built around a crook in the Aare River, with its origins dating back to the 12th century, Bern Switzerland is home to more than 125,000 Swiss citizens.
Our walking tour included stops at the Parliament building, the Cathedral of Bern and the Zytglogge, a medieval tower built in the 13th century that has served as a guard tower, prison and now a clock tower.
Day 5 | Kandersteg to Oeschinen Lake
The mountain is calling, and I must go.
Mountaineering was the theme of the day as we traveled to the high-altitude resort village of Kandersteg. A quick and scenic gondola ride from Kandersteg further up the Alps led to Oeschinen Lake. This turquoise-colored lake is elevated over 5,000 feet in the Alps. The lake is filled through a series of mountain streams and it drains underground.
Day 6 | Tour of Lucerne
A morning full of rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of our Flying Jayhawks in Lucerne. Upon emerging from the train station and crossing the Reuss river, we looked upon the gothic towers of the Church of St. Leodegar, built between 1633 and 1639.
A quick jaunt took us to the Lion Monument, or the Lion of Lucerne. This beautiful relief carving was designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen and created by Lukas Ahorn in 1820. The monument stands as a tribute to the Swiss Guards massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris.
Our guided time in Lucerne culminated with a stroll across the landmark covered wooden Chapel Bridge, and a quick stop in the first large baroque church built in Switzerland, the Jesuit Church of Lucerne.
Day 7 | Muerren, Schilthorn and Gimmewald
All good things must come to an end, but this trip could not have ended in a more scenic location. Our final excursion took us once again high in the Swiss Alps, first to Lauterbrunnen, then on to Murren, a small mountain town of 300, with 1,200 beds for tourists.
After a leisurely stroll through this quaint and welcoming town, the Flying Jayhawks could once again board a gondola if they chose to climb even higher in the Alps with a 30-minute ride to Birg, then onto Schilthorn.
The Schilthorn is a summit in the Bernese Alps with an elevation over 9,700 feet. From this majestic summit, visitors can view Switzerland’s three largest mountains, the Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger.
The Jungfrau registers as Europe’s highest point. Since 1969, the Schilthorn has also been known for its appearance in the James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. No trip to this summit is complete without a spin in the rotating restaurant and a trip through their 007 museum.
The Flying Jayhawks “Switzerland” trip took place July 31-August 8, 2019. The trip was hosted by Angie Storey, senior vice president of donor & member relations along with Dan Storey, photographer & videographer. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
I recently was given the opportunity to host KU alumni on a Flying Jayhawks trip across Celtic Lands, visiting the ports of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France and England. The rich history and colorful culture of the Scottish highlands, Dublin, Great Britain and the French countryside would be enough to sell anyone on taking a European vacation with fellow Jayhawks, but the real treat came in the form of a front-row seat to history, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We would visit Normandy in the days leading up to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and our guide would be none other than David Eisenhower Jr., grandson of President Dwight David Eisenhower, who commanded the D-Day invasion.
Historians agree that D-Day, June 6, 1944, was one of the most important events of the 20th century, and perhaps THE most significant day in American history. Coordinated under the command of native Kansan Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, the D-Day invasion (code named Overlord) was by far the largest organized military offensive in the history of modern warfare, an operation conducted on a massive scale.
Our tour group visited the sacred sites of Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument, Mulberry Harbor at Arromanches, Sainte-Mère-Église, Utah Beach, Angoville-au-Plain, and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, among other historic sites. Before each stop on our memorable trip, we heard lectures from leading historians and guides, including Allen Packwood, director of the Churchill Archives Centre at Cambridge, and David Eisenhower.
During a special ceremony at the American Military Cemetery with our group, Eisenhower and his wife, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, the daughter of former president Richard Nixon, led us in honoring our veterans and fallen heroes. With global interest and world leaders–including President Trump and Queen Elizabeth–participating in D-Day commemoration ceremonies, our small, private ceremony was solemn and intimate. This was due largely to the humble and unassuming nature of Eisenhower’s personality. As he walked among thousands of tourists and veterans, few realized they were standing near the grandson of Ike, who liberated France and saved the free world.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace, they fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They yearn but for the end of battle. For their return to the haven of home. –Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States
From an inscription at the D-Day Museum at Pointe du Hoc.
Probably the most surprising moment of the trip was watching David Eisenhower quietly wait his turn to purchase a ticket to visit the D-Day museum at Sainte-Mère-Église. The French cashier had no idea who she was meeting that day–amid the chaos of the thousands of visitors descending upon the small village for the 75th anniversary of D-Day–and Eisenhower wasn’t about to tell her. No special “family-member-of-the-supreme-allied-commander” discount was available, and David Eisenhower wouldn’t want it. He dutifully bought his own ticket, and the unassuming man with the famous name walked in with the crowd. He was there to remember and learn, like the rest of us.
Speaking to our Flying Jayhawks in a special “D-Day plus 75” lecture, Eisenhower talked about how his grandfather didn’t openly share his reflections of D-Day when David was a young boy. Ike just didn’t talk about it much, at least to his grandson. As a result, David soaked up all he could, becoming one of the foremost experts on the subject of D-Day, much of which he chronicled in his award-winning book, Eisenhower at War, a New York Times best-seller and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.
Eisenhower treated our travelers to his vast knowledge of D-Day by conveying both incredible details about the strategic and logistical activity involved in Operation Overlord and the broader, global implications of the victory. Through facts and figures and stories from the people who lived it, Eisenhower gave us a glimpse into the minds of the men who changed history, and the experience was riveting, humbling and profound. The resemblance David shares with his grandfather is unmistakable, most evident in his punchy and personable speaking style that commands interest and attention. One of our KU alumni travelers remarked, “I could listen to him tell stories all day.”
We conclude our Flying Jayhawks trip tomorrow in Portsmouth, where tens of thousands of allied soldiers assembled, preparing for the invasion. In discussing Portsmouth, Eisenhower relayed a poignant vignette about the Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who also had supervised the British withdrawal at Dunkirk in 1940. It was an emotional moment for Ramsay, Eisenhower shared, given that this was his return to the continent—to organize the vast armada preparing to launch.
“He asks his driver to pull over,” Eisenhower explained, “and he steps out and looks over the harbor at Portsmouth at all these extraordinary preparations being finalized at that moment, and he says to no one in particular: ‘It is tragic and ironic that the stage is being set for great sacrifice, but if out of it comes peace and happiness, who would have it otherwise?’”
KU Alumni’s own Joy Maxwell recent hosted a group of Flying Jayhawks on a trip through Spain, France and more. Enjoy the trip through the eyes of the host.
There’s something quite special about seeing places you’ve heard about your entire life alongside Jayhawks who share your passion for KU. Don’t ask me to name the best stop on the trip, because every destination on the Flying Jayhawks: Mediterranean Collage was amazing.
Our group of 30 Flying Jayhawk passengers came from all across the United States – Oregon, California, Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Florida, the KC area and beyond. Our first chance to meet each other came at the welcome reception as the Riviera set sail from Barcelona. Such a treat to swap travel stories and talk about what we looked forward to most in the week to come.
What a great spot to start. The island of Mallorca boasts history, charm and gorgeous countryside filled with olive and citrus trees. I would have loved to spend more time here. With so many incredible excursions to choose from, it’s hard to pick just one! We’ll definitely take time to experience the exquisite Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma on our next trip to Mallorca. Our experience at Els Calderers and the Castell de Bellver kept our group of Jayhawks busy exploring and taking in amazing weather that would last the duration of the trip. It was fun to “cheers” at end the day at the Captains Reception that evening!
• What to eat/drink: fresh fish
• What to buy: a ticket on the Soller Vintage Train Ride — our Flying Jayhawks passengers had great things to say about this excursion — or maybe a ticket to tour the Rafa Nadal Tennis Academy where you can drink and eat with a view of Rafael Nadal’s own center court.
• What to see: Els Calderers – the benefit of driving past the grandeur of the Cathedral was getting out into the Spanish countryside and getting to experience Els Calderers. We could have spent the whole day at this 1700s rural manor. It was charming and beautiful – the perfect location. Also be sure to put the Castell de Bellver on your list as it provides a breathtaking view of Palma.
Our time in Provence lived up to my every expectation. It’s easy to see why artists, including Van Gogh, looked no further than the rolling hills of Provence. The light when it meets the landscape is breathtaking. Our hours melted away as we experienced the fairytale charm of this part of the world. The Rock Chalk chant could be heard at the end of the day from the KU private reception.
• What to eat/drink: a warm baguette and chocolat chaud (hot chocolate)
• What to buy: more time, so much more time — a day is not close to enough in Provence
• What to see: Stop at the amazing hilltop city of Les Baux-de-Provence on your way to St Remy de Provence, and then allow yourself time to get lost in its charming streets before you follow the footsteps of Van Gogh to see the exact spots where he painted The Starry Night and Irises.
Monaco is flat-out splendid and glamorous. It’s easy to navigate and see in a day, and it’s fascinating to learn how such a tiny country has managed to survive and thrive. Don’t let your jaw drop when you see the luxe hairpin curves of the Grand Prix or when your guide tells you that the top two floors of the newest blue glass building sold for 300 million euro. This country is the second smallest in the world, but absolutely over the top.
• What to eat/drink: a cup of coffee at the Café de Paris
• What to buy: a small bag of patisseries to munch on as you stroll around the cliff-side gardens near Saint Nicholas Cathedral and oceanographic museum
• What to see: See it all in a day! That’s part of what makes this tiny country so incredible.
Arrive into Antibes, France and be prepared to open your eyes and see white-capped mountains above the blue of the Mediterranean. The best part? Getting back to the ship and seeing the KU flag perched above the deck. We put on our KU finest and met on the grand staircase for a photo followed by dinner at the end of our day.
• What to eat/drink: fresh fruit — the oranges and strawberries burst with flavor — buy as much as you can carry and treat yourself before you go through security at the airport — this beats airport food
• What to buy: the bottled up scents (lotions, soaps, perfumes) of the Cote d’Azur
• What to see: Walk through the open market and narrow bustling shop-filled streets of Cannes before you arrive onto the red carpet at the venue for the Cannes Film Festival.
Napoleon had it all wrong. I see little reason to leave the island of Corsica. The port of Ajaccio is gorgeous, and beautiful coastal lines give way to a mountainous island. Perfect for our group of Jayhawks, who all seemed to love the outdoors.
• What to eat/drink: the veal stew (trust me – it was to die for)
• What to buy: real estate (you won’t want to leave)
• What to see: It would be easy to stay put in Ajaccio, but do yourself a huge favor and see the Calanche of Piana and the Spelunca Gorges. What a gorgeous island.
Port of Liverno, Italy
Land in Liverno, and you have a hard decision to make. Our Flying Jayhawks spent time in the Tuscan countryside, strolling through Florence, holding up the leaning tower of Pisa and exploring the amazing coastal towns of Cinque Terre. We capped off our last night on board with karaoke in between bouts of packing to disembark.
• What to eat/drink: lemon drops (there is something next level about these)
• What to buy: just about anything in the quaint little shops that line the streets of Vernazza in Cinque Terre
• What to see: just the tip of the iceberg – you need two weeks to experience all there is to see in this region of Italy
Last stop meant farewell to our beautiful ship – the Riviera – and the amazing Flying Jayhawks passengers with whom we spent the week sightseeing. We had great weather on our trip and incredible dining aboard the Riviera. Now for a day in Roma!
• What to eat/drink: all the pizza and pasta you can absolutely manage plus ice cream regardless of how full you are
• What to buy: a ticket on the hop-on hop-off bus — SO WORTH IT
• What to see: the highlights of Rome (the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and Vatican City) are easy to visit with the convenience of a bus pass. Walk and eat your way through this city, and don’t leave until you absolutely must. Ciao!
If you are considering a Flying Jayhawks trip, an itinerary like the Mediterranean Collage would be a great way to get your feet wet. Our flock of Jayhawks got to see so much, enjoy remarkable cuisine, return to the comfort of their rooms every night and greet each other with “Rock Chalk” every morning. It’s such a fun way to see the world. What are you waiting for? Pack up your crimson and blue and set sail. Bon Voyage!
The Flying Jayhawks trip “Mediterranean Collage” took place April 25-May 3 2019. The trip was hosted by Joy Maxwell, director of legacy relations. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
If you’re like me, your bucket list consists of many different places. After my most recent trip to Provence with Flying Jayhawks, I can share a few insights for travelers.
If you are a historian, artist and/or wine lover and Jayhawk, Provence should be your next adventure!
A staple in this area of France, wine appears to be in unlimited supply. Vineyards stretch for miles, can be found on hillsides (where some of the most valuable wines come from) and all along the Rhone River.
Châteaus sit on hilltops offering breathtaking views, long family history and of course, excellent wine. Our group of Jayhawks was lucky to begin our seven-day adventure with visits to two chateaus.
First stop: Château de Rully.
This castle has been kept in the same family since it was built in the 12th century!
Our private tour was led by Count de Ternay, a member of the family who owns the estate. After learning a little more about his family’s long history, our tour concluded with a welcomed wine tasting.
Second stop: Château de Montmelas en Beaujolais.
At another family-run chateau, we toured the grounds and learned of the family’s history, plus we got to enjoy a private piano concert. Of course, no tour is complete without a wine tasting!
Even though these were our only two major stops for wine tastings, we certainly got our fill of great wine for the remainder of the trip!
2. The Roman Empire’s best work
I didn’t imagine that my time in France would take us to so many Roman landmarks. After all it does makes sense—the Roman influence was very strong throughout Europe and many structures that were built in France are still standing today. But don’t be fooled, these Roman landmarks and cities have their own French flair.
For example, traditional Roman temples now sit alongside modern artwork:
The famous Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard is considered one of the most beautiful Roman constructions in the region:
Roman amphitheaters still stand but are now surrounded by French homes and businesses:
3. Picturesque countryside
The views are breathtaking, the churches are covered in intricate detail that tell Biblical stories, and the towns are patriotic. Provence offers all the best views, from atop the rolling hills and through the narrow streets.
But don’t take my word for it—see the Flying Jayhawks adventure for yourself!
The Flying Jayhawks trip “Springtime in Provence” was May 8-16, 2019. The trip was hosted by Crysta Moon, coordinator of marketing and business development. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
We all began our journey to Brussels from different places across the country, excited for our week ahead exploring Belgium and the Netherlands. We had little idea what all was in store for the week. One thing was for sure, this group of Jayhawks would share memorable experiences together. We would come home with stories to share and pictures that couldn’t even begin to depict the beauty we would encounter. Let me share my adventure with you …
Day 2: Brussels, Belgium
After meeting up with a few of the Flying Jayhawks in Brussels we boarded a bus for a short excursion. In the downtown market square we walked past not one, not two, but what seemed like hundreds of chocolate shops, each unique in its own way. Chocolate Easter bunnies, chocolate eggs, chocolate covered bunnies, chocolate sculptures … every type of chocolate you could imagine!
The beautiful weather was perfect for walking the cobblestone streets and enjoying the architecture of the city. Next, we hopped back on the bus for the drive to Antwerp, where we would board the ship that we’d call home for the next seven nights.
Our group of 10 Jayhawks ventured out to meander through Antwerp’s quaint squares and cobblestone streets and see more medieval architecture. Our tour guide took us to the Great Market Square, past the Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady and then back to board the place we would be calling home. Once back on the ship, we all gathered for a delicious dinner, shared stories and connected with our new friends.
Day 3: Bruges, Belgium
We were excited for a full day visiting Bruges! The romantic city with an ambiance that has earned it the nickname, “Venice of the North.” The city is filled with tranquil canals, sturdy stone bridges and winding cobblestone streets.
I ventured to the De Halve Maan Brewery with fellow Jayhawks to learn about the strong tradition of brewing that dates to the 12th century. Belgium embraces its national drink and it definitely tastes better in Bruges! We climbed up a winding staircase (200 stairs in all) to take in the panoramic view of the city.
After the tour we had free time to explore the city and enjoyed lunch at a cafe along one of the canals. Jayhawks enjoyed some sunshine on the top deck as we began sailing down the river. For dinner we all met in the Panorama Lounge for the captain’s welcome reception, cocktails and a fantastic dinner.
Day 4: Veere, Netherlands
I couldn’t resist going out for a run along the river experiencing the Netherlands exactly how I had imagined it: Quiet little grass-lined paths surrounded by pastures of lazy sheep, a canal lined with boats and the fog slowly rising from the water. It was a picturesque morning.
After breakfast, some passengers embarked on the elective excursion to visit the Delta Works. The series of massive dams and storm surge barriers is an engineering masterpiece that protects the Netherlands: One-third of the nation’s landmass sits below sea level. In 1953, the North Sea waves wiped out part of the country.
For those who stayed aboard the ship, one of our AHI directors took us on a guided stroll through Veere, which included more cobblestone streets, quaint little shops and pop-up bakeries filled with samplings of fresh herring, too. Not everyone was brave enough to give it a try, but that left more for the rest of us. It was delicious! Our afternoon was split between more free time in the little village of Veere and setting sail back down the river towards Willemstad.
The evening was filled with an educational session about Dutch architecture, cocktails and another amazing dinner.
Day 5: Schoonhoven/Kampen
The excursion choices today included a trip to the Hague and Mauritshuis or the Royal Delft and porcelain factory. I chose to visit the Hague’s landmark buildings with several couples from my group. We saw the Binnenhof, which is home to the Dutch parliament. Plus, we saw the Peace Palace, which is the seat of the United Nations’ International Court of Justice.
Our stroll continued on the streets of Hague to the Mauritshuis, which houses works by Dutch and Flemish masters, most notably Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” We were all awed by the beauty of the works before us and could have spent hours viewing the art.
The evening included our very own cocktail reception! Jayhawks shared stories from their days on campus, favorite memories of Lawrence and a common love for our University. We had the staff doing the Rock Chalk chant, wearing Jayhawk stickers and learning just a small part of what makes the Jayhawks so special. (We may have even converted one Hokie, who was traveling alone and quickly became a part of our group.)
Day 6: Giethoorn
No one knew what this magical day would include. We boarded buses to the winsome little village of Giethoorn, which is free of cars and interlaced with footpaths and narrow canals.
The tiny wooden bridges, 18th-century farmhouses that lined the canals and the small-town Dutch life made it feel like a fairy tale. Despite the traffic jams along the canal, we enjoyed every minute we spent in this village.
The afternoon included a walking tour of Kampen and some free time to explore on our own. Since this was Easter Monday, many shops were closed, leaving the city quieter than usual. It was so fascinating to explore at a time when we felt more like a local than a tourist.
Once back on the ship, we set sail toward Amsterdam and enjoyed our dinner while sailing down the river to the most picturesque view of the North Sea.
Day 7: Amsterdam
We woke up in the morning to the lights of the city of Amsterdam. We were surrounded by other ships, filled with tourists excited to venture in to the capital of the Netherlands. After breakfast we ventured off the ship for a unique tour of Amsterdam. We saw a glimpse of the 60-plus miles of tree-lined canals that make this romantic city so unforgettable.
The afternoon was spent at leisure exploring Amsterdam. The streets were littered with bicycles and we were all warned: The bicycles will stop for no one! As one Jayhawk couple said upon their return, we all “cheated death” that afternoon! Amsterdam is filled with interesting neighborhoods and architectural gems: the Anne Frank House, the Tulip Museum, Rijksmuseum, Dutch Resistance Museum, the Floating Flower Market and much more!
We began the evening with a cocktail hour, stories to share from the day and much laughter among strangers that quickly became friends.
Day 8: Amsterdam – Kuekenhof Gardens
This 80-acre paradise included brightly colored tulips plus many other gorgeous blooms: hyacinths, orchids, hydrangeas, daffodils and many others. No picture could even begin to portray the magnificent beauty of the gardens or the fragrant smell. The masses of people that visit the garden each year are testament to its beauty.
Our last afternoon in the Netherlands came to an end and we all felt blessed to experience so many wonderful sites together. I enjoyed one more run along the canal-lined streets, visited Central Station and dodged a few bicycles along the way.
Our final night on the ship was a celebration of new friendships. The Netherlands is a small country overflowing with picturesque landscapes, amazing architecture, incredibly delicious cuisine, and the people are pretty amazing, too!
We enjoyed a week of unseasonably warm temperatures and not a single drop of rain! I’m certain it’s because we all packed our umbrellas, rain boots and rain coats. This trip once again reminded me of the power of the Jayhawk network. We boarded the ship as strangers and ended as friends who shared an amazing journey along the Dutch Waterways.
The Flying Jayhawks trip “Dutch Waterways” was April 17-25, 2019. The trip was hosted by Jodi Nachtigal, the Alumni Association’s controller. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.
Trust me, the Galápagos Islands need to be on your bucket list. They offer an experience unlike any other. During the Flying Jayhawks trip to the islands, we were told by our naturalist before leaving Quito, Ecuador: “No place on earth is like any other place. But the Galápagos are less like all the others.” She was absolutely right. Let me start at the beginning…
Day 1-2: Quito, Ecuador
Driving from the airport to Quito, Ecuador, I could tell from the lights across the hillsides that this was going to be a beautiful start to the trip. After a short night, we began our morning meeting and mingled with the rest of our group.
This Flying Jayhawks trip included 13 great folks from across the country—all on their first excursion to the Galápagos. Our first day was spent learning about the history and culture of Quito and South America. We explored historical sites and gorgeous downtown Quito, walking along the colorful paved streets and enjoying the sun.
We ventured to the official Quito market, tasting some of the fresh fruits and vegetables local to the area. Next we visited a local hat maker and learned about the origin of the Panama Hat—which was indeed Ecuador!
We had delicious meals, some free time to shop and then returned to our hotel for a gorgeous sunset and a reception.
Day 3: Baltra/Santa Cruz
Despite the wakeup call in the wee hours of the morning, the first day in the islands was worth it! First we flew from Quito to Baltra. Then we ventured by boat to Santa Cruz to see the infamous giant tortoises for which the islands are named: Galápagos.
We visited the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz and hiked through the island among hundreds of slow-moving, but fascinating, creatures! Hiking down the cool lava caves and tunnels we learned more about the climate and history of this island.
Lunch was at the home of a local family with food directly from their farm. After another bus ride and free time, it was time to embark our home for the bulk of the trip: the Yacht Isabella II. We met for a Captain’s welcome reception followed with delicious dinner on board.
Day 4: Floreana and Post Office Bay
Overnight we sailed away from Santa Cruz and the civilized islands while also sailing away from our connection to WiFi, email and the connection back home. Instead we moved into the most gorgeous, uninhabited, natural beauty among the South Pacific.
We woke up on Floreana Island and set out early on a panga ride to see the creatures of this area. Immediately, among the crystal clear waters (so magnificently colored in turquoise and sapphire), we saw hundreds of sea lions in the distance.
As we got closer to shore, the sea lions danced for us, and we saw the bright red crabs showing off on the dark rocks. We saw beautiful blue-footed boobies and bright red and green “Christmas Iguanas” sunning themselves. Our exploring continued when in the (not too far) distance, we saw a magnificent creature come out of the water and quickly back down—an Orca whale!
Our naturalists (also shocked and excited), chased down the whale and followed him around the ocean, watching him crest and return dozens of times—just yards from our panga! It was absolutely breathtaking and an experience of a lifetime. If the trip had ended right there, I think most of us would have said we got more than we bargained for!
And there was more!
We continued on to land to see the historic Old Post Office Bay, the site where ships would leave postcards and mail for the next ship to stop, pick up the mail, and deliver it to its destination if possible. That tradition continues now with thousands of visitors coming to leave their postcards, hoping that the next wave of tourists collects the mail and delivers it (ideally face to face) to its destination.
After the mail barrel, we snorkeled off the beach to swim with the sea turtles! They were beautiful creatures, and it was amazing to be floating above them.
We returned to ship for an incredible lunch al fresco on the top deck while the ship moved a bit around the island. The afternoon consisted of more snorkeling with unbelievable aquatic wildlife in Technicolor and face-to-face swimming with the sea lions! These playful creatures had no problem coming over to say hello to their new human friends!
After snorkeling, we had the evening to take a guided hike on the island, seeing sea turtles mating and the females coming to land to lay their eggs. We also ended the evening seeing the gorgeous pink flamingos glisten in the sunset.
An Orca whale, sea turtles, crabs, iguanas, blue footed boobies, sea lions nibbling at my fins while snorkeling, flamingos … you would think that is enough for the day, right? Oh no—there was more!
After an incredible dinner and debrief, the captain announced that sharks were behind the boat. As I walked up the stairs, I wondered, “Will I be able to see through the darkness? Will I look in the right direction? What if I miss the sharks?”
The moment I reached the top, I looked down to see hundreds of sharks, so crystal clear they seem to be glowing. It gave me goosebumps (and nearly brought me to tears wishing I could photograph and share this moment!). The naturalists explained that the sharks are following the wake and eating the fish off the back of the boat.
We watched for what seemed like hours as a “flying fish” scurried across the water while a group of sharks dashed to get it. A brave sea lion was willing to get in the fray and steal dinner from the sharks a few times. (Thankfully, the sea lions are so fast, they’re not in danger of becoming the sharks meal. Whew!)
Since we were on the top deck, our naturalists volunteered to lead a conversation on the stars with the clear night’s sky. They turned out the lights and millions of bright stars covered every inch of the sky. The naturalists pointed out constellations and told the stories of the astrological signs. It was a day for the ages.
Day 5: Espanola
We embarked on a hike through Espaneola, on the lava and boulder terrain, where we connected with the blue footed boobies and many other birds at all stages of life.
The beautiful terrain led us to the natural “blowholes” in the lava formations on the other side of the island. It was an incredible sight! We hiked among iguanas and stepped over baby seals sunning themselves. After lunch, more snorkeling (or an optional glass-bottom boat ride). I have to admit, I was a little more skittish to snorkel after last night’s display of sharks! I was so glad I went with another gorgeous display of wildlife and a sea lion playing with an octopus!
The evening consisted of kayaking and a white, sandy beach walk among the Gardner Bay sea lions. We also saw the humpback whale skeleton on the shore. It was an incredibly relaxing and peaceful way to end the day on this gorgeous island.
Day 6: San Cristobal
Our final full day on the island started out with another gorgeous hike. This one took us to new heights, and I felt like we were flying with the island birds! Although the hike was a bit more difficult, the views made it worth every step.
We saw new vegetation and more wildlife up-close and in-person. This is the only island where all of the three types of boobies are found together: red-footed boobies, blue-footed boobies, and Nazca boobies. We saw them dancing together in their mating rituals and learned more about the evolution of wildlife on the island.
After the hike, we had an opportunity to snorkel off the beach one final time. We returned to the ship for lunch followed by another adventure through rock formations and lava cutouts. This was the only day we experienced any real rain, and it was very light and manageable. In fact, it seemed fitting learning about Darwin’s exploration and seeing a glimpse of his view of the islands nearly a century before.
We hiked on the beach—this time barefoot in the rain—and the colors seemed to come alive through the drizzle.
As we got back on board, we witnessed the most magnificent sunset. We watched the sun drop near the blue water as we circled around key hole rock. The captain perfectly lined up the rock, the sun and the opening in the formation to give us a work of art. It was the perfect conclusion to this breathtaking excursion.
Day 7: San Cristobal and Guayaquil
It was finally time to disembark. It was bittersweet to be back on land, and we were welcomed there by the capital city of the islands. We learned a little more history but also had some by free time to purchase our Galápagos souvenirs before heading home.
After flying back to mainland Ecuador, we had a final night to explore Guayaquil, say our farewells and enjoy a traditional Ecuadorian meal.
What are you waiting for?
The trip was an incredible experience. The ship was quaint, 36-passenger boat, allowing us to make new friends of all ages. The food was incredible with many options at each meal. We had buffet style breakfast and lunch and a plated dinner each night. All of the meals and attire were casual and made you feel at home. The staff on the ship could not have been more friendly and personable.
And the naturalists! We had three on our trip, and they exceeded expectations in every way. The weather was as picture-perfect as you would imagine. Even for the “rainy season,” we had sunshine and mild temperatures every day with only an occasional, very light shower.
If the Galápagos Islands are not on your bucket list yet, you are missing out! It was an escape and an intimate look at nature like I’ve never had before. I came back feeling refreshed, amazed and wanting to do it all again.
The Flying Jayhawks trip “The Galápagos Islands” took place Jan. 23-30, 2018. The trip was hosted by Angie Storey, vice president of donor relations. View more photos from the trip; pictures may be downloaded for personal use. Find more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, or sign up for travel emails.