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Amazing Travel Experiences

As Published In Airstream Live Riveted
Amazing Travel Experiences

Our full-timing friend and resident organizer Ramona Creel has been to some really unusual places and had a number of once-in-a-lifetime experiences while traveling in her RV! As you gear up to plan trips for the summer, we want to share a few of Ramona’s best Airstream memories. These stories are all included in her upcoming travel book, ‘Tin Can Travels: From Key West To Nova Scotia In An Airstream.’

What’s the most interesting animal encounter you’ve had?

There are lots of “swim with the dolphins” programs around the country — but Islamorada’s Theater Of The Sea (located in the upper Florida Keys) has the world’s first up-close-and-personal sea lion experience. Pinnipeds are by far my favorite marine mammals — any sea creature that can raise an eyebrow or give you those sad droopy manipulative doe eyes (in order to con you out of a fish) is at the top of my list. I presumed they were related to dogs because their behaviors (especially the begging and sucking up to humans) are so similar — but it turns out they’re actually genetically closer to raccoons. (Who’d-a-thunk-it??)

Regardless, I’m a sucker for that combination of fur, whiskers, facial expression, and personality — and Mimi (my 250-pound playmate for the morning) had all of the above (including an excess in the personality department.)

I was squeezed into a wetsuit, dropped in an extremely cold saltwater bay (I’ve still never figured out why all those Canadians think January in Florida is a good time for swimming), and shown how to “train” Mimi — although it’s pretty clear she was 100% in charge the whole time. (Training me, more like!) She let me pet her silky pelt, talked to (a.k.a. bellowed at) me, showed me her smile (more like a grimace), and even gave me a hug and a kiss — it was glorious having those bristly whiskers on my cheek, but man she needed a mint. (Bait breath!) Mimi was so patient with me during the training behaviors — the look on her face was like that of a kindergarten teacher working with a slow learner. And when we swam across the pool together (me alongside her with my hand on her shoulder), she kept glancing back to see that I was keeping up — the way a dog will do when you go for a walk, always checking to make sure you haven’t fallen behind. I felt very well-cared for that day!

How about something you’ll never be able to do again?

The shuttle program was a seminal part of my growing up years — I wrote a letter to Ronald Reagan in 1981 expressing my desire to be the first child in space, I saw Challenger explode live on TV during science class, and my marching band would stop rehearsal to watch the skies from our South Florida high school football field as each mission went up. I even marched in a parade at Kennedy Space Center when I was an early teenager!

So when the novelty of a reusable “spaceplane” was winding down, I went out of my way to make sure I was there for the antepenultimate lift-off — the final Discovery flight, to be exact. Third to last in a series of 135 launches, and probably the most significant member of NASA’s fleet. Discovery flew more times than any other shuttle — including the first post-Challenger mission in 1988, sending up of the Hubble telescope in 1990, and the first post-Columbia mission in 2005. She was the grand dame of the space program, and I didn’t want to miss her send-off! But NASA’s always been notorious for scrubbing flights at the last second, so I sweated every second leading up to launch day, worried that my only chance to see history made would be canceled. Fortunately, the boys at mission control were on track and on schedule the day I landed in Central Florida.

I didn’t even bother trying to get over to the Cape for the launch — I’d been warned in advance that every American and his mother (and all her bridge party friends) were in town for the event. Of course, for the last decade-worth of launches, the grandstands were half-empty — you could have walked right up to the KSC bleachers and grabbed a seat 15 minutes before lift-off. But once the program was about to end, suddenly everyone wanted to be there. (Me included.) I’d thought about joining the crowds that were wending their way into the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge for a good view of the launch platform — then I saw the miles-long line of cars sitting at a dead standstill on the causeway, and nixed that plan. Instead, I joined my neighbors at the RV park as we oooohed and aaaahed and commented about how we thought the engines would be louder — up and up and up until Discovery disappeared into the clouds. It truly was spectacular, and I’m sorry you couldn’t be there with me — but if you want to see her in-person, there’s still a chance. Just stop by the Udvar-Hazy wing of the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, VA.

Have you had any unusual foods on the road?

When you tell someone that you’ve dined at an embassy, their first reaction is usually, “Oh wow — so which dignitary muckity-muck’s palm did you grease to get that kind of an invitation?” What the vast majority of Americans don’t realize is that foreign embassies are open to the public — it’s the diplomatic community’s job to educate folks about their various ways of life, and they do so by welcoming hordes of sweaty tourists into their collective bosom on an almost daily basis. Events (that absolutely anyone can attend) are held all throughout the year at embassies around the country — performances, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, exhibits, lectures, you name it. But the best way to cram a pile of disparate cultural experiences into one day is the “Around The World” embassy tour in Washington, DC.

Each May, more than 40 goodwill ambassadors open their doors to the masses — sharing their food, drink, music, dance, visual art, fashion, history, pets, toys, storytelling, native ceremonies, and interior decor with literally tens of thousands of curiosity-seekers. I love it all — the sights, the sounds, the smells, chatting with consuls, adding a ridiculous number of new travel items to my bucket list. But I have to admit, my favorite part of any embassy visit is the food. Nothing connects me to a foreign land like my tastebuds! While RVing through DC, I snacked on Turkish delight (not at all how I imagined it when reading “The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe” as an elementary school student) in Serbia — ate kosheri (basmati rice, lentils, chick peas, macaroni, and fried onions topped with garlicky tomato sauce) in Egypt — drank luwak coffee (made of berries that have been eaten by small raccoon-looking creatures known as civets, fermented in their digestive tract, pooped back out again, presumably cleaned, then brewed into a hot beverage) in Indonesia — enjoyed potato chop and tuna kabob in Bangladesh — and nearly got myself deported after being offered an unlimited amount of a delicious elixir called “sky juice” (made of golden coconut milk and gin) in the Bahamas. But the weirdest thing I (almost) ingested that day, was a marombe worm in Ghana.

It happened like this. I was standing there, talking with the ambassador’s wife about why they had a huge display in the lobby on The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books (when the series is set in Botswana) and eying an amazing banquet spread — featuring beef stew, millet soup, fufu (plantain mashed with cassava), a corn and yam casserole, and dish made of spinach, mushrooms, and peanut sauce served over rice. That’s when I noticed something odd in a stir-fry pan at the far end of the table — some sort of nut? Or maybe a smallish tuber? Nope — really really big grub worms. A lovely woman in a beautiful dress and head wrap made of kente cloth explained to me that these were marombe worms — delicious when sauteed and seasoned properly. I’m a “when in Rome” kind of a gal (and they weren’t actually squirming or making noise or anything) — but I wasn’t going to go it alone! I glanced over at the patchouli-infused-birkenstock-and-hemp-wearing-blonde-dredlocked chick next to me in line (who seemed to be eyeing this delicacy with a mixture of interest and trepidation) and said, “I will if you will.” She grinned, grabbed 2 plates for us, and we each stuck a marombe in our mouths. I tried, I really did — but I just couldn’t make it happen. It was somewhere between a dense gummy worm and the tough end of a stalk of asparagus — the best I could manage was to chew on him for a bit then spit him out. My compadre did much better than I — she actually swallowed the whole thing. (Although I have no idea how she was feeling later in the day!)

Have you gotten to do any fun sports activities?

Yep — I got to fly. So when the Wright Brothers needed a spot to test their new-fangled flying machine, they had two requirements — nearly constant head-winds and a soft landing if they crashed. More than 100 years later, I developed an intimate appreciation for the endless breeze and mountains of sand on the Outer Banks of North Carolina — as I spent the morning plunging head-first off a 40-foot dune while holding onto nothing more than a single aluminum-framed fabric wing.

My adventure started as most do in this country — sitting in a portable trailer (the kind schools buy when they need more classrooms and have no money). I filled out forms, I watched the obligatory completely useless safety video, I signed my life away — assuring these folks that I wasn’t going to die of a heart attack or stroke on their watch (and that if I did succumb to massive head trauma due to my own stupidity, I wouldn’t hold them liable). Once the legalities were taken care of, a dozen of us trudged through the blazing sunlight over what seemed to be an endless coastal scrub desert, until we reached just the right spot for first flight. I was strapped into a harness-type-thing that allowed for very little movement and next-to-no lower-extremity blood-flow and was told to wait. But it was a glorious day, and the combined breeze/view at dune-top made the fact that I was covered in sweat and had sand in my shoes completely irrelevant.

When it was finally my turn, I was told to run as fast as I could toward a dropoff while holding onto my hang glider — I was then supposed to lift my feet off the ground behind me, rest on the support bar, relax, and enjoy the ride. Oh, except at the end (just before I’m about to crash back to earth), when I was instructed to “flare” my glider as a braking maneuver — push away on the support bar so my wing would turn perpendicular to the ground, stopping all air flow and allowing me to land on my feet. I explained to the kind gentleman wearing kahki shorts and holding a clipboard that I was a veteran player of “Pilot Wings” (old school Nintendo game) — and every time I “flared,” I died. He promised me that wouldn’t happen here, but I remained unconvinced. After much cajoling (and watching all other 11 people in front of me land, some spectacularly un-gracefully, but all without a broken bone or trip to the morgue), I finally took the leap — flying through the air with the greatest of ease for about 100 yards, hovering no more than 15 feet above the ground the whole way down. And even though my flare was less-than-stellar, I did not die — I didn’t even end up with a face full of sand. I would describe the experience as exhilarating yet safe — frankly, the hardest part is climbing that behemoth ridge of sand over and over and over again to reach your take-off point. And unlike hang-gliding off a cliff, it’s moderately reassuring to know you aren’t going to fall far if you do bite it! Just don’t bring your camera with you (as I learned the hard way) — electronic devices don’t like sand, and there isn’t a single repair shop in the whole Outer Banks.

Anything on a boat?

Few people I’ve spoken to have ever heard of “Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia” — let alone been there. But if you’re willing to drive to the middle of nowhere more than an hour outside of Halifax (and get really really wet), you’re in for the ride of your life! The Bay Of Fundy is home of the most extreme tides in the world — a 40-foot rise and drop, twice each day. An interesting phenomenon occurs at the point where the bay meets the Shubenacadie River — when the tide goes out, it empties the river almost completely. I’m talking football-field lengths of bare sandbar with just a teeny trickle of water running on either side of it. Then when the tide comes back in, the sea water fills it back up again, creating a series of stationary rapids.

One fine fall afternoon, a boat full of us puttered our way up a nearly dry river bed in a motorized zodiac raft. We reached our destination and got out to walk on what I can only describe as a beach — a huge swatch of sand in a place that should have been full of water. As we wandered around, we heard a low rumbling noise in the distance — at the far end of the river, you could see a 5-foot high wall of water rolling in. We got back in the boat and headed into the oncoming tide — within five minutes, the spot we had been standing on was covered in an undulating washboard of waves. Our guide drove us through the rapids — we were lifted 10-15 feet up in the air and then plunged underwater, over and over again. (The only thing that kept me from going flying overboard was my death-grip on the boat’s support ropes!) We were drenched to our underwear (even wearing waterproofs), gasping for air (we had to time our breaths to the wave cycle), and loving it. Then we motored back around and did it again. And again. And again. We must have gone through those rapids more than a dozen times before the river calmed back down and went to sleep. I don’t know when I’ll make it to Nova Scotia again, but I hope to be able to return to the Shubenacadie before I die — I’d hate for this to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Wow — Ramona sure has had a ton of incredible travel experiences! If you need her help planning your next trip so it’s filled with amazing sites and locations, contact her!

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.

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