National Parks Senior Pass: Get it while it’s cheap

 

The National Park Service’s Senior Pass is good for admission to all of America’s incredible national parks — for life — and it’s only $10. But only until Aug. 27. 

Remember how it felt to be a high school senior, a college senior?  It was an exalted status in large ways and small (at least until you had to start repaying your college loans).

You almost felt, dare I say it, privileged.

Well, if you’re a US citizen age 62 or older, you’re privileged again. For the cost of a Senior Pass, you get admission to more than 2,000 recreational sites run by:

  • The National Park Service
  • The US Fish & Wildlife Service
  • The Bureau of Land Management
  • The Bureau of Reclamation
  • The US Forest Service
  • The US Army Corps of Engineers

That includes all 59 national parks and 24 national recreationa areas across the United States.

For life.

The one-time cost to you: $10. That’s it, that’s all. No renewal fees.  Nothing. Ten George Washingtons. Done.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?  Well, it is. Because after Aug. 27, that $10 fee jumps to $80.

As you might expect, there currently is a run on Senior Passes across the country, but the National Park Service has plenty — and Americans are snapping them up as fast as park rangers can collect their Alexander Hamiltons.

To get one of these magically cheap lifetime tickets to America’s natural wonders, you have two options. The cheapest is to go to the nearest of those 2,000-plus national recreation properties and buy one in person.

The other option is to order your pass online. The feds will tack on an extra $10 for processing, raising the total cost to $20. Not as good as $10, but still a lot better than $80.

If neither of those options work for you, there’s one left, an annual Senior Pass for $20 a year. Still not a bad deal.

There’s one other benefit to this Senior Pass that I neglected to mention: Anybody entering the park with you gets in free. 

So not only do you get the mother of all bargains while taking in some of the world’s most spectacular sights, but you also get to be really popular with family and friends.

You can find more details on all this at the US National Park Service.

Meanwhile, as you rummage through your excuses not to check out a network of national parks that is the envy of the rest of the world, take a look at the video below of Yosemite National Park and remind yourself of something:

As an American citizen, you own this.  It belongs to you.  And your family. And your friends. Come up some time and check it out.

And bring Grandma and Grandpa with you.

The birth of a traveler

Do you remember the day you became a traveler?

Every traveler has a story. Big deal, right?. Every traveler has thousands of stories, a verbal slideshow of every place they’ve ever been. And if you’re not careful, they’ll inflict every damned one of them on you in one sitting.

Those aren’t the stories I’m talking about.

I’m talking about that special story every traveler has, the one they may not share with everybody. It’s the story of the trip that changed their lives forever.

The one that made them travelers.

I was six on, a cross-country train trip with my mother from New Orleans to Los Angeles aboard the Sunset Limited.

I’d taken a train journey before, from Chicago aboard another famous train of the time, the City of New Orleans. But in my young mind, that one didn’t count since I remembered almost none of it, having slept through virtually all of it.

A mistake I was determined not to make aboard the Sunset Limited.

Which explains why, from the moment our sleek train of passenger cars in their fluted aluminum skins began to glide away from the platform at New Orleans Union Station, my little head was swiveling back and forth like a windshield wiper — 180 degrees, left, right, left, right. Determined to see out of both sides of the train at the same time.

All things are possible when you’re six.

We rocked and rolled west out of the NOLA, over miles of seemingly endless bayou, flanked by tall cypress trees. They stood mute and resolute in a sea of motionless water covered by a layer of bright green algae, thick as icing on a cake. Spanish moss hung from their limbs like a grandmother’s shawl.

Many hours later, somewhere west of Houston the cypress gave way to cactus and bayou swamp to desert sand and rocks. Dry, A hard, harsh land. To the eyes of an unknowing child, a dead place.

Sleep is the implacable enemy of a 6-year-olds. It infiltrates under the cover of night, silent, insidious, relentless. All too soon, the eyelids fall without your knowledge or consent.

This time, though, something woke me up in the middle of the night.

It was maybe two in the morning. The passenger car was dark and silent. There was more light outside than within. A ghostly cast from the moon and stars covered the land like a smooth, thin crust of snow. It draped the rocks and the cactus the way the Spanish moss draped the bayou cypress we had left behind.

Somewhere out there was a horizon, but it was hard to tell where it was. Could this be where true desert life was hiding? Were there ghosts behind the rocks, waiting to dance in the moonlight once we had passed?

Without warning, the earth fell away. Not the ground. The planet. All below was perfect, infinite blackness. No shapes, no color, no bottom. Stars above, nothing below. Nothing. The Sunset Limited was racing over empty air.

Even at 6, I knew what gravity was, even if I couldn’t spell it. But gravity seemed to mean nothing here. How long could we keep this up before the abyss swallowed us whole?

I look around around the inside the car. Every soul was asleep. I had impending oblivion all to myself. At first, I prayed it would end. Then, overwhelmed by the sheer wonder of it all, I prayed that it wouldn’t.

Decades later, I would learn that we had crossed the Pecos High Bridge, a few miles outside Langtry, TX. Half a mile long and almost 400 feet high. All of which looks like infinity at 2 in the morning.

Especially when you’re six.

What other incredible sights were out there beyond the horizon, beyond the reach of this train, waiting to grab my imagination and run away with it?

I didn’t know it then, but that was the moment I became a traveler. Fifty-nine years, five continents and 30 countries later, I’m still trying to see out of birth sides of the train.

See you on the bridge.

Do you remember the experience that started you on the traveling life?  Share it here on IBIT!

Africa: The Brazilian Connection

The flow of culture between The Mother Continent and South America’s largest country runs both ways.

Wherever you set foot there and for as long as you live, Africa will always find ways to amaze and surprise you.

The latest surprise to me came as I was preparing information on a nine-day tour next year to the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau.

Adventure? The country boasts pristine forests, wild rivers, unspoiled beaches, the world’s largest continuous line of mangrove forest.

Culture? Try the Bijagos Islands, an archipelago of 88 islands, of which only  20 are inhabited. Because of their isolation, the tribal culture there has survived into the 21st century intact.

But this was what stopped me in my proverbial tracks: “Carnival is the main festivity in Guinea Bissau.”

We’re actually talking here about Carnaval. As in the Carnaval of Brazil.

Say what?

The African roots of Brazil’s biggest cultural festival are a well-established fact. But those roots have reached back across the Atlantic all the way rto Africa — some by choice, some not.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade took more captive Africans  to Brazil than anywhere else, upwards of 4 million over three centuries, many of whom were Muslims of the Yoruba and Hausa peoples.

It must have a been a bizarre relationship — West Africans, often Muslims literate in Arabic, being worked and brutalized by slaveholders who often couldn’t read or write in their native Portuguese.

Some fled into the jungles to form Maroon communities called quilombos. Others rebelled, most notably the Malê Revolt of 1835.

The revolt was crushed, and the open practice of Islam eradicated. Many of the surviving rebels were deported to West Africa.

Over time,  many Brazilian slaveowners — for commercial more than moral reasons — opted to free their slaves. Slavery in Brazil ended altogether in 1888 — partly in fear of another Malê Revolt.

Many of the newly freed remained in Brazil and develop today’s rich heritage of Afro-Brazilian culture. Others returned to their ancestral homelands.

Some returned to Nigeria, where they remain as both Africans and Brazilians to this day.  Others went to countries like Guinea-Bissau.

(At the same time, there are significant numbers of native-born Angolans, whose ancestors were a major source of enslaved Africans from Brazil to Louisiana, who today are opting to migrate to Brazil.  )

So around the time that Carnaval is being celebrated on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Salvador, Bahia, you’ll find similar celebrations going on in Afro-Brazilian communities up and down the coast of West Africa…including in Guinea-Bissau.

For more information on that, and other cultural tours in Africa, visit  Trips by Greg.

 

Yellow Fever: Shot shortage

If you’re planning a tropical vacation in the next year or so, especially to Africa, get your yellow fever vaccination sooner than later — if you can. 

Buried deep in the bowels of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site is the following little announcement:

“Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of the only yellow fever vaccine (YF-Vax) licensed in the United States, has announced that YF-Vax will be unavailable from mid-2017 to mid-2018 because of delays in the production process.”

According medical media reports, this all started in 2016, when Sanofi Pasteur began switching to a new manufacturing plant. In process, already manufactured doses of YF-Vax were lost.

Nobody is saying exactly how many were lost, but apparently, the number was pretty large.

By now, the country’s supply of YF-Vax may already be gone.

According to CDC, Sanofi Pasteur has offered up a French substitute, Stamaril. It’s currently used in 70 countries, but it’s not licensed in the United States.

Which means that, under federal law, it has to be treated as an experimental drug.  That means only a limited number of travel health clinics around the country —- 250 — will even be allowed to offer it.

Two hundred fifty clinics across the US with Stamaril vaccine — so what’s the big deal, right?

Compare that with the 4,000 clinics that usually have YF-Vax, and you see the problem.

This CDC page will show you where you can find the US clinics that have Stamaril.

If you’ve already been inoculated against yellow fever, you’re golden.  The vaccine is now considered to give life-long protection against the disease.

As always, check with your doctor before you travel, but so as long as you can show your signed and dated “yellow card” like the one above, you should be fine, even if the date has expired.

If you’ve never been inoculated for yellow fever before, get thee to a clinic in a hurry. Either that, or start looking elsewhere for your next big trip.

Like, maybe, the Alps?

Yellow fever was long ago eradicated in the US. Elsewhere in the world, where mosquitoes are not as well controlled, it’s still a potential scourge.  A 2013 worldwide outbreak, produced  127,000 severe/toxic cases and 45,000 deaths.

Nine out of ten of those fatalities were in Africa.

ONE DISEASE, TWO FLAVORS

Like malaria, yellow fever comes in two versions — mild and severe. The Mayo Clinic refers to the mild version of yellow fever as “acute,” and the severe version as “toxic” — which should tell you something.

The mild/acute version is like the worst flu you’ve ever had, times ten. The severe/toxic version can kill you in a few days, especially if doctors mistakenly diagnose it as something else — which happens often.

And like most other mosquito-borne diseases,  there is no cure for it.

THE TEN-DAY ITCH

These days, most African countries require visitors to show proof of vaccination against yellow fever in the form of a yellow vaccination certificate like the one shown above. If you can’t, you may be denied entry.

“Can’t I just go to a hospital and get the vaccination once I arrive in my destination country?”

No. The vaccine needs ten days to take effect.

If they’re not covered by your health insurance, these shots can be obscenely expensive. I’ve seen travel clinics charging almost $300 — and that was before the YF-Vax shortage.

Eye-watering as that price is, it still doesn’t compare to the money you would  lose if your trip was scuttled because you didn’t get  inoculated.  So get your yellow fever shot.

If you can find one.

 

 

I never really left…but I’m back, anyway!

After some months of upheaval, confusion and long periods of awkward silence, that which is old is new again here at IBIT. 

I’m still old, but as longtime readers can easily tell, the blog is new.

Greg Gross
Greg Gross

That’s partly because IBIT is sporting a fresh new look, and partly because — *drum roll* — the old IBIT is dead and gone. Literally. All of it.

It’s a long, annoying story that I will not bore you with, simply because I refuse. So don’t even ask.

If I seem strangely sanguine and serene about the reality of eight years of toil, tears and joy vanishing forever into the digital ether, it’s because…well, I am! I’m not even mildly upset over it.

This is a time for new beginnings, starting fresh.

You long-time IBIT readers out there — and we both know who you are! — welcome back. I’ve missed all my digital travel podnuhs out there.

If you’re new to this blog, get ready to laugh a lot and to learn a lot — not because I know a lot, but because I’m going to be learning right along with you, as I have been since I started this blog in 2009.

Basically, I’m following the advice of Negro League pitching great Satchel Paige, who famously said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

He was right. So from this point on, IBIT and I only have one button: Fast-Forward.

And I’m pushing the hell out of it.

So please return your seat backs, tray tables and flight attendants to their full, upright and locked positions, because IBIT is taking off.

Again.