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Top Experiences List

Text and Images by Dick Simon

Most of the writings about our experiences have been from Patty, who has been GREAT at being prolific and sharing.  I have been busily photographing, and those images are used in conjunction with her writings throughout the blog.

I love to reflect back on a trip or experience by thinking about the Top Experiences.

For me the overall best was spending the special times with Alex, Ben and Patty in Africa, and Patty throughout this journey (and sharing all of this with her, including helping with her collecting discarded bottle cap project).


In terms of specifics, my highlights would include:

JP sharing his deeply personal genocide experiences, and helping us imagine the unimaginable.  In Kibuye, Rwanda we walked through the market in his village, realizing that many of the ‘nice’ merchants has been directly involved in slaughtering their friends and family; and seeing his home and the houses of the neighbors still living there, who had murdered his family. This surrealistic scene also hit me at a soccer game the first night in Kigali – ‘normal’ people cheering their teams – how did they become mass murderers?


Gorillas – Being face to face with these massive ‘cousins’ in the wild in Rwanda is definitely a top life experience.


Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India– Being in the midst of millions of Pilgrims coming from all over India, and thousands of Sadhus, or wise men, the first night photographing everybody walking around in a cloud of DDT, the 2am bathing day wanderings with the Sagers and being swarmed by hundreds of naked, ash covered Nagas racing in a stoned frenzy to the river.


Ulagalla Resort – The ultimate Peace Dividend in Sri Lanka –developed immediately after the war, the only Sri Lankan hotel included in a TripAdvisor Top Ten list, and for us coming at the perfect time when we needed a break. We took walks, did bicycle explorations, watched fisherman at sunset and took a morning kayak to see and photograph birds, and spent 3 days of eating our Anniversary cake, which we first got at a magical anniversary dinner on their Observation Deck.


Spending time with the Maharana of Udaipur, India in his amazing palace to brainstorm ways of working together to improve lives in that region of Rajasthan, which his family has been Custodian of the region through over 70 generations and 1400 years.

Really joining celebrations – There is something about being a foreigner with a camera which I experience as license to be in the middle of everything going on, rather than a well behaved bystander – being the only white face in the Tweede Nuwe Jaar (Second New Year) parade and celebration in Cape Town, and being invited to climb onto the parade floats with the most esteemed Hindu Sadhus at the Kumbh Mela procession (our guide said people did good deeds for a lifetime to achieve that honor – ignorance is bliss!)

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In greater Kruger National Park, South Africa – coming upon a pride of resting lions at night, who gave blood curdling roars.  (I know that for some inexplicable reason we were ‘safe’ from these apex predators in our open sided jeep, but really…)


The slow pace of traveling by houseboat in the Backwaters of Kerala.

Mumbai-with its overall intensity and contrasts, from arriving to Suki’s Protocol Officer and a sumptuous dinner in his amazing home and another with YPOers leading many of India’s major companies, to touring the slums and largest open laundry in the world, and the magnificent Hotel Oberoi as our oasis from the frenzy.

In Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, heart of Tamil Tigers during the war, befriending the officer sent to check out and potentially punish us for taking photos.  Once he became convinced we were not with an NGO there to embarrass the government, we became buddies and I took our picture together!

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Watching groups of monkeys diving from the trees into the lake at Cinnamon Lodge – I never knew they could swim!


YPO SEN Summit in Chennai and the synchronicity of the timing working out perfectly to participate with this fantastic group of business leaders and social entrepreneurs.

In a more general sense,

I love the serendipitous encounters made possible by creating space and time in travels – fisherman, watching crocodile in the ocean, happening upon the Tsunami photographic museum in Sri Lanka.

I love how photography gives me purpose and connection to what is going on around me, and really helps me ‘see’.  While I am not fond of long days in the car getting from point A to Point B, Patty has helped me see that as a movie unfolding outside our vehicle, and I have been working on a Through the Windshield photo project.

I love the fascinating people we randomly met, including Japanese photographer Dan Honda who taught me the good thing about Leica’s ‘unusefulness’ and reminded me to take long walks and shoot closer.

I love the continual learning about the world and about complexities – Does post-conflict really exist? Is the conflict over with ongoing random killings of Tutsis (Rwanda), racial strife (South Africa) and soldiers (Sri Lanka)? What was and is India’s involvement in the Sri Lanka conflict?

I love the flow of travel – multiple experiences constantly juxtaposed on each other, with a pace, intensity and stimulation on all dimensions which I rarely experience in other environments.


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Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon


Our guide for the gorilla trek, Frances, tells us we will be visiting the Amohoro group of 18 (which means ‘peace’ – befitting Rwanda’s thinking for its future).  The largest gorilla group, called Susa, has 35 members. There are 10 habituated groups and 4 or 5 others. The park divides visitors into groups of 8 people. We trekked with a Canadian, Australian and a Brazilian couple. To get to the trailhead, we have a 4-wheeler that goes on the worst rocky road ever with villagers everyday watching the rich parade up the volcanoes. There are 25,000 visitors a year @ $750 per person for permits. This is not counting paying porters and tips for guides and hotels, drivers, food and buying handicrafts. One has to feel good about this because it supports the economy, protects the gorillas and proves that Dian Fossey’s work and murder was not in vain. There has been no poaching for ten years.

After bumping along, we arrive at the start and hire 2 porters dressed in blue jumpsuits. They very politely introduce themselves. In true ‘You are Loved’ form, my porter is named Valentine. He was so very sweet, holding my hand on the steep ups and downs! We are given a well-worn walking stick and start!

We begin by going through fields of daisies used to make pyrethrum insect repellant. It was heavenly. Potato blossoms and children yelling “hello, hello”!

We are joined by 3 guards with guns to protect us from buffalo and the occasional elephant. But the real threats are not animal but vegetable… stinging nettles taller than me and giant thistle (along with bamboo) are the favorite foods of the gorillas. We climb for 2 hours. Our guide stops, tells us we are here, leave backpacks and get out our cameras. The first one appears. I am so overwhelmed by this experience, I start crying. To see this giant, healthy and happy, in its true environment and not trapped in a cement cage behind bars is quite stunning. Funny enough – I find myself not scared at all. They ignore us. I shot a lot of video. What did we see! A silverback pushing a tree trunk toward us to show who is boss.  A mother and tiny baby frolicking in the grass. Juveniles doing the monkey thing – swinging from branch to branch. The best was a huge male and female climbing and totally debarking a tree (for lunch!)

We were 5 feet away… Just watching for the allotted one magic hour! And like Cinderella, it was over! As we were going down, a guide asked “Are you satisfied”? I answered, “A thousand times yes!!!” These gorillas represented all that is possible… Especially in contrast to the rest of Rwanda’s past.