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.
The Alumni Association’s very own Keon Stowers and Danny Woods hosted a fantastic group of Flying Jayhawks all the way to Egypt and back. Keon shares their adventures.
Our journey through history started at the acclaimed Egyptian Museum. This enormous facility was a relic in its own manner. The museum houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of Egyptian artifacts, spanning 5,000 years. Words simply cannot do this museum justice; it is beyond spectacular in every way. Artifacts that would be treasures in other museums are merely lining the walkway or lying to the side.
That night we got acquainted with our fellow Jayhawks at the welcome reception. After the reception we enjoyed a brisk walk through the busy Cairo streets to enjoy a traditional Lebanese dinner at the acclaimed Taboula Restaurant.
Sakkara, along with Memphis, served as one of Egypt’s first capitals. We visited the ancient Mastaba of Mereruka and the Pyramid Tomb of King Teti. The amount of detail in these reliefs in this tomb are fascinating. You will understand not just the life of Mereruka but also so much about Egyptian habits and day-to-day living, all via carvings on a wall. We were lucky enough to have a guide who could point out small details we might have missed. It was a great start to our journey through the immense burial site.
Sakkara is also home to the Step Pyramid of Djoser, considered to be the first pyramid of Egypt. We descended down the tunnel that leads to an ancient tomb, filled with colorful hieroglyphics and ancient carvings. This was definitely one of the highlights of the entire trip.
After a quick Egyptian lunch, we made our way to the ancient Pyramids of Giza. It was an amazing experience to visit the sole-surviving and oldest monument of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. After a steep climb inside the largest Pyramid, a small group of Flying Jayhawks sang the Rock Chalk chant—truly a once-in-a-lifetime Jayhawk experience.
After the Pyramids, we made a quick stop at the Solar Boat Museum to see a cedar vessel thought to be more than 4,500 years old.
One of my favorite days of the trip: the religious day. We had the chance to visit mosques, churches and temples of Islamic and Coptic Cairo. First stop was the Citadel, a beautiful, old mosque. After touring inside, we enjoyed a breathtaking view of Cairo and pyramids on the far horizon. It was a great start to what ended up being a memorable, educational day.
After touring the Citadel, we had a double dose of spectacular mosques to visit, which ended up being one of the highlights of the day. We visited the Mosque of Mohammed Ali, also known as the Alabaster Mosque, then continued to the grand Al-Rifai Mosque.
The day continued with delights like visiting Cairo’s most famous Coptic Christian church, the Hanging Church. After that, we had the unique opportunity to visit the Church of St. Sergius, which is believed to be built over the cave where Mary and Joseph once rested.
We ended the day with a delicious lunch at a nearby Egyptian restaurant. After our bellies were full, we embarked upon a wild shopping experience inside the Khan el Khalili bazaar, a traditional Egyptian market.
After an early morning checkout and flight to Luxor, we viewed the well-preserved artifacts of the Luxor museum, which displays monuments from various periods of ancient dynasties. It also contains a mummy for one of the famous kings of Egypt called Ahmous. After a quick lunch and siesta, we visited the spectacular Luxor, which was definitely a treat at night.
We bused through the city of Luxor to visit the breathtaking Valleys of the Kings and Queens. The tombs of the kings were truly magnificent. Carved from rock with beautiful wall art, the walls are full of vibrant colors, symbols and stories as if they were made yesterday.
The tomb of King Tut was by far one of the best. Then we made our way over to the Valley of the Queens, where we took in the spectacular views of Queen Nefertiti’s tomb and many more.
The Valleys were simply fantastic—one of the defining moments in the entire tour. No words, books or photographs will prepare you for this experience. It was truly a treat.
That evening we took an exclusive tour of the Chicago House in Luxor and learned about the mission to preserve Egypt’s ancient cultural heritage through documentation. We capped the day off with a delicious Egyptian dinner aboard the ship and enjoyed a traditional belly-dancing show.
The Temple of Karnak was without a doubt my favorite temple in Egypt. Boasting the biggest area , every single space was beautifully carved or engraved and has been masterfully restored. Standing inside the temple and looking up at the roof, or the tops of the pillars, it’s amazing to think how life would have been for the ancient Egyptians.
After lunch and a quick siesta, our group of flying Jayhawks gathered atop the cruise ship to take in the immaculate scenes of the Nile River and Esna Lock.
With a late start this morning, I enjoyed early views of the Nile River atop the cruise ship before heading to the Temple of Horus at Edfu. Traveling to the temple was quite the adventure, because we had to hop aboard a horse carriage and ride through the streets of Edfu—one of my favorite moments of the trip because I saw the true Egypt through the sights, sounds and smells of one its busiest cities. The temple itself is beautiful and well preserved. It was interesting to see the detailed architecture and the hieroglyphics, which remain surprisingly intact.
After a delicious dinner aboard the ship, we spent a good chunk of time picking the brain of our Egyptologist with questions about what we had learned so far. It was a great refresher at the midpoint of the trip.
We took a quick flight to Abu Simbel to see the colossal Great Temple of Ramses II and Temple of The Goddess Hathor. The Temple of Ramses ll is one of the most beautiful monuments in the world—an architectural miracle. It is a place that you should experience firsthand to realize the great artistic and historical splendor the ancient Egyptians embodied to build this colossal masterpiece.
We ended the night with a fantastic Egyptian dinner and farewell reception. At the reception Danny and I, along with most of our flying Jayhawks group, enjoyed wearing our galabayas while dancing to some traditional Egyptian tunes. It was the perfect finale to a wonderful Egyptian adventure.
We boarded a felucca boat and sailed to the island temple complex of Philae and the Aswan High Dam, where we saw the rising waters of the dam crashing up against the breathtaking complex of Philae. Later we visited a unique shop to learn about the ancient process of handcrafting papyrus.
Before making our last stop at the massive Russian Monument, we took in the immaculate views to the Aswan High Dam. This dam has been very important to Egypt because it has helped control the Nile’s annual flooding and has improved the nation’s power supply. After this tour, we headed back to Aswan for a quick flight back to Cairo to start our journey back to Kansas.
Travel day! Although this day was long and filled with travel and layovers, it gave me a chance to reflect on everything I had just experienced on our trip. At any moment throughout the day I would close my eyes for a few seconds and I swear I could quietly hear the hustle and bustle of Cairo: the constant traffic sounds, the beeping of horns.
The Legends of the Nile trip is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you get a chance to book this trip, don’t pass it up!
The Flying Jayhawks trip “Legends of the Nile” took place Jan. 29-Feb. 9, 2018. The trip was hosted by Keon Stowers, assistant director of student programs, and Danny Woods, assistant director of legacy and 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.
If I were to make a souvenir T-shirt for our Amalfi Coast trip, it would say “Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto.” Translated, that means “Eat well, laugh often, love much.”
The love part was easy.
Well, to be clear, it was easy after 20 hours of traveling. The Hotel Raito is built into the hillside above the charming village of Vietri sul Mare. From my balcony I sat and stared at the village below with its red tile roofs and terraced groves of lemon trees. The Tyrrhenian Sea faded into the horizon while the Apennine Mountains loomed in the distance. I could have sat on that balcony for hours, but there was too much to see.
By day two, we were ready to travel by boat to Positano. Seeing the Amalfi Coast by boat is a must. There is no better way to take in the sweeping views of the villages cut into the cliffs above the sea. It’s hard to imagine the first settlers arriving and deciding it would be a great place to build. Seeing it now, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place to live.
Stepping off the boat in Positano was like stepping back in time. The cobblestone streets lead into the heart of the vertical city, painted in vibrant colors. Outdoor cafes line the coast and small shops selling linen clothing, handmade leather sandals, pottery and all things lemon, line the walkways. Trellises of wisteria cover the paths up the hill to provide a little shade for hiking up into the village.
The next day, we went to a farm that produces mozzarella di bufala. Yes, that is mozzarella cheese made with the milk from water buffalo. According to our travel director, it’s the only real mozzarella. The buffalo on the farm are pampered after milking-they actually line up waiting for their turn! After seeing the whole process, we sampled the final product. There’s no doubt it’s the freshest mozzarella di bufala I will ever have!
Down the road, we explored the ancient city of Paestum. It was built by the Greeks more than 2,500 years ago. The city has has three temples that are still very well preserved, as well as an amphitheater and many of the surrounding walls. We were also able to see many of the artifacts from the site in the accompanying museum.
Naples & Pompeii
After spending a day in the countryside, it was time to head into the city. We got a nickel tour of Naples and stopped to visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. The museum houses hundreds of marble statues and thousands of artifacts from Herculaneum and Pompeii. The mosaics preserved from Pompeii were some of the most impressive pieces.
Pre-trip, I was most excited to visit Pompeii and it did not disappoint. Pompeii is such an amazing archeological site. We strolled up and down the cobblestone streets, toured the homes and the Forum, learned so much of the history from our guide and saw the plaster casts of those who didn’t escape the eruption. It was such an unbelievably unique opportunity.
There was so much beauty among the ruins. From the well preserved paintings to the poppies that thrive in the volcanic soil. If I ever make it back, it will definitely be on my list to revisit.
Although Pompeii was fantastic, I think I enjoyed Herculaneum more. Although it’s a fraction of the size of Pompeii, it is better preserved due to the fact that it was destroyed more by pyroclastic flows than by falling ash. Standing in the streets of Herculaneum with Mount Vesuvius towering in the distance behind us made me feel as though I could see the Romans from 2000 years ago, going about their day with no idea of the fate that was about to befall them.
There isn’t much that can compare to the beauty of Capri. Yes, you can find the designer shops in Anacapri or sit at a café and people watch all day. But, if it were up to me, I would spend all my time in the water surrounding Capri. The crystal-clear blue green water juxtaposed against the sheer white cliffs is a sight to behold. The many grottoes, arches and at the time, hundreds, if not thousands, of migrating jellyfish, kept me entertained all day.
We spent our last full day in Italy visiting the mountain town of Ravello. It is an inspiration to all kinds of artists, writers and musicians and it’s easy to see why. It’s a great place to sit and get lost in your thoughts, with its sweeping views of the coast and mountainside, ornate gardens and a charming town square.
I’m sure you can imagine how easy it was to “eat well.”
(We were eating gelato nearly every day…twice on one day. But, I stuck with the fruit flavors so it was basically a health food.) We went to an amazing pizza restaurant in Naples called Mammina. We sat and talked while the wine flowed (and the pizza did, too). I don’t ever order a traditional Neapolitan pizza at home and I’m not sure that I ever can now.
We spent hours laughing around Italy.
Limoneto is another great restaurant in Vietri sul Mare. I had fresh fish, pasta, bread and wonderful company. A great part about traveling with the Flying Jayhawks is all of the people you meet-alumni who have a passion for traveling and a love for KU.
We had a wonderful travel director and a great group of Jayhawks. Visiting beautiful places and sharing so many good meals bonds people together.
I leave you with a quote from an Italian writer, Francesco Guicciardini, “Poiché non c’è null ache vale così tanto la pena di avere come gli amici, non perdere mai l’occasione di farne di nuovi.” It means, “Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends, never lose a chance to make them.” That is exactly what you do on a Flying Jayhawks trip, make friends, and I’m ready for my next opportunity.
The Flying Jayhawks trip “Amalfi Coast” took place April 17-25, 2018. The trip was hosted by Michelle Lang, 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.
The great Tina Turner knew what she was talking about when she said, “I never saw the good side of the city, ’til I hitched a ride on a river boat queen.” If you’ve never had the chance to set sail, here are four good reasons why your next vacation should be a river boat cruise in Holland.
1. The Dutch know water.
If there’s one thing the Dutch have mastered, it’s water. The Netherlands sits among hundreds of canals. Actually, the Canals of Amsterdam are a real thing, as real as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Amsterdam has more than 62 miles of canals, resulting in nearly 100 islands and 1,500 bridges.
Furthermore, all of the water locks (including the famous Delta Works) work as Holland’s barriers to the sea. These water blockades have been magnificently crafted to keep the water flowing steadily and save harbor towns from high tides. However, if the docks were to fail, the towns themselves have their own safeguards: nine-foot walls surrounding the city with manual locks that require an army of locals to raise and lower in the case of a flood.
All of these waterways make for some beautiful scenery including gorgeous landscapes, glamorously constructed bridges and numerous opportunities for drinks and dinner on a houseboat-turned-patio.
2. You are here.
Because of the Dutch people’s extensive knowledge of waterworks, nearly all of the docks are within walking distance to the city centers. It’s as easy as that: walk off the boat, take a five-minute walk into town and find yourself surrounded by 400 year-old city halls, guildhalls, and housing.
Visit the Beguinage in Bruges, originally built in the 1300s for women that opposed the Catholic Church; cathedrals housing masterpieces by Rubens and Michelangelo; and weigh stations from the 1600s.
3. What’s on tomorrow’s agenda?
During a quick seven days abroad, our group of Jayhawks visited seven cities, three cathedrals, one enormous tulip garden, one art museum, one city exclusively accessible by water, one World War II memorial cemetery, multiple famous works of art, lots of leaning buildings (because of the wet soil), multiple dams and locks, and lots and lots of bridges. Did I mention anything about the famous canals?
4. Jayhawks are everywhere.
The days are fast and furious and your options to explore cities are endless. But you can always count on ending the day with a dinner cruise down the river next to some of the finest Jayhawks. Actually, breakfast, lunch and dinner aboard the Amadeus Brilliant allowed for plenty of time to cozy up and listen to to the stories of fellow Jayhawks.
It also didn’t hurt that our group of 18 ’Hawks left a little bit of Kansas wherever we went. We showed our pride with Jayhawk door tags, place cards and even a KU flag waving in the wind. Everyone arrived to enjoy a vacation but, at the heart of it, we shared a common love for our alma mater, which put the icing on the cake of this river boat cruise.
The Flying Jayhawks trip “River Life along the Dutch Waterways” took place April 18-26, 2018. The trip was hosted by Kara Rodriguez, assistant director of digital media. 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.