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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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The Morning On The Water

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon
Sri Lanka


We found ourselves in a magical haven tucked into the countryside of Sri Lanka. I am writing this entry in honor of my dear mermaid friends whose love of nature; water and birds find me wishing they were right with me this very minute.

This is our second day. We knew yesterday at breakfast, as we were dining on the open terrace overlooking the pool and rice paddies watching pairs of brilliant blue and green parrots and black-hooded golden orioles fly back and forth, that we were in ‘bird country’.

We are so lucky. We end up at the right place at the right time. Little did we know that the two lakes surrounding this property turn to mud in the dry season around August and therefore there are no shore birds or lush green topical plants to see.

The sounds… ahhhh, the symphony of sounds – the catlike call of the peacocks in the trees looking for mates, the cuckoo, parrots and hundreds others that impart a very different melody than at home. I wake up early just to go out and listen!

As we were biking yesterday, a very sweet “recreation guide” approached us… led us on a bike ride skirting the lake right at sunset to look for birds and watch a local put an inner tube in the water to wade out a long fishing net he would leave all night, catch the fish in the morning to sell at the local market. He convinced us to take an early morning kayak birding expedition the next day. He didn’t have to do too much convincing.

***But before we get to the next morning, I must tell you of our magical dinner. The resort calls it a “Signature Dining”. We could pick anywhere “outside” to dine alone… well, not exactly alone – a BBQ chef, a waiter, a ‘helper’ and, of course, the general manager magically appear to see how everything is – we tell him “heaven” could not be better – and, for Dick – not one mosquito!!! This puzzles us as we are surrounded by lots of water everywhere so we ask… answer… since this resort is “green” (solar panels, methane gas from compost, hot water from air conditioners, fiber building materials, organic food and filtered water coming out of taps) they put fish in waterways and rice paddies to eat the mosquito larvae…it works! Dick is in his own heaven. We dine under the stars and moon and paper lanterns to a feast of grilled prawns, fish kabobs, chicken sausage, drumsticks, grilled fresh pineapple and tomatoes with homemade BBQ sauce (Dick ate a bowl of it!), jacket potatoes with sour cream, and something which for me is gold… an array of cooked vegetables including pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots and more. The whole time you are eating, you wonder where on earth do they get all this to a resort which is so deeply remote. Dick had mentioned it was our 30th anniversary so after two desserts of homemade strawberry ice cream and cheese cake, they present us with a Linzer torte cake with “Happy Anniversary” written in chocolate and lined with fresh strawberries. The lit candle only made the evening sky that much more brilliant.

We wake up early… the pastel cool air drawing me outside to just listen and look. Our guide shows up with binoculars and we set off… on the way seeing a male peacock fly up in a tree (a first!) and all sorts of birds. I have to apologize to Lidia right now. I cannot remember many names but will research the bird book and give you a full report. I see two kayaks for 4 people and panic… I want to paddle not be Cleopatra… so Dick has a very sweet way of making this so… I am happy as a clam… Dick has his great big camera and skirts the shore shooting thousands of juicy shots. I get to paddle across the lake to an island to see the prize… a pair of pelicans with their fuzzy grey heads and baby cormorants nesting in the tree. We see flocks and ducks and big and little… the next exciting sighting is a flamingo… pink, white and black with its deep yellow bill… 3 types of blue and red kingfishers with their massive straight bills, tons of egrets so pure and white… and flycatchers with the long red tails.

*** Another confession… sometimes I get tired of being “guided”. I like the quiet, the exploring, and the being in a place without having to know the facts. My kayak guide picked up on this immediately. He gave me a few facts and a lot of “space” – just to experience the peace, the quiet, and the beauty.

And at the end of the ride, as I was coming to shore thru the water lilies… just for an instant but long enough to feel wistful… I felt as if I was at Tunk with all of you! But instead, was given a beautiful lotus flower by my guide to take back to our chalet.