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Travel Briefs: Pristine park in Florida Keys, zip lining in Laos, tips for women travellers

January 15, 2015 - 0 comments

Pristine park in Florida Keys

Dry Tortugas, the westernmost of the Florida Keys, lies just 160 kilometres north of Cuba. Named by Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon in 1513, it is one of the remotest places in the United States.

Accessible only by boat or seaplane, Dry Tortugas is really a small cluster of islands garlanded with coral reefs and beds of seaweed that draw many species of tropical fish. Snorkelers can find fish right off the beach while divers can explore ancient shipwrecks.

Among the species of migrating avians that stop over here are frigate birds, masked boobies, brown noddies and sooty terns. Spring and fall are the best seasons to see them.

Visitors land for the day, or take sleeping gear and a tent to enjoy the sparkling beach by day and starlight by night. Camping is allowed for up to 14 days. However, there are no services on the islands, so take everything you need, and be prepared to take everything with you when you leave.

The park’s centrepiece is Fort Jefferson, which occupies its own island – Garden Key. Cited as the country’s third-largest all-masonry seacoast stronghold, the massive brown-and-red walls were the anchor for a redoubt whose guns were available to protect shipping access to the Gulf of Mexico. The citadel also served as a military prison during the Civil War.

To get to Dry Tortugas, you can take the Yankee Freedom III catamaran ferry service from Key West or one of the float planes operated by Key West Seaplane Adventures. Its several species of turtles, including loggerhead, green, leatherback and hawksbill are best seen from the air or from the ferry.

The best months for viewing sea life are May through October, which is also hurricane season. Before leaving for the islands, you can find out more about the wildlife and natural attractions by visiting the free-admission Florida Eco Discovery Center in downtown Key West. For more information, visit

Zip-lining through gibbon country in Laos

For bragging rights alone, it’s worth the experience to listen to black-crested gibbon monkeys sing love duets as the mist burns off in the Laotian rainforest.

Getting to Laos is the easy part. Book a jetliner to Bangkok, Thailand, followed by a local flight north to Chaing Rai.  From there, ground transport takes you across the border to the nearby Bokeo Nature Reserve in Laos.

Getting to the gibbons is another matter altogether. You start off with a 1 1/2-hour hike, mostly uphill, to reach the first of several zip-line platforms. You climb up and are buckled into a safety harness attached to the cable. Step off the platform, and you’re speeding along a cable for some 450 metres to reach your home more than 120 metres above the forest floor for the next two nights.

You will want to rise at dawn to listen. Somewhere out there, male and female gibbons sing to each other. If you are lucky, you may even catch sight of one or more of these creatures, who spend most of their time deep in the forest foliage.

The heart of the gibbon adventure is experiencing life high up in the tropical rainforest. The tree houses are fitted with mattresses, shower, toilet and a mosquito canopy. Cooked meals are delivered to you, by zipline, of course.

The Gibbon Experience, which starts and ends in Chaing Mai, takes five days that includes a night there before and a night after the tree houses, staying at what is listed as a boutique spa hotel. For rates and more information, visit Or, call (415) 925-4300.

Tips for women travellers

A free publication designed to educate women in their travels is also entertaining.

Prepared by Grand Circle Travel, 101 "Tips for Women Travelers" has packaged its travel tips with short sketches of famous women globe-trotters throughout history.

Compiled from suggestions received from scores of the organization’s trip leaders and past participants, the advice starts with preparing and packing for your journey and moves on to maintaining your health while travelling and staying safe travelling solo and in exotic locales.

Scattered through the pages are inspirational travel tidbits about such famous women as the Queen of Sheba, Cleopatra, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Lewis and Clark’s Shoshone Indian guide Sacajawea and Gertrude Bell, a compatriot of Lawrence of Arabia and often referred to as the mother of the nation of Iraq.

Among the suggestions in the 125-page booklet is to consider respect for other cultures when selecting what you will wear in foreign areas.

Skimpy tops, bare arms and short hemlines may be acceptable in many Western countries, but they’re frowned upon in much of the rest of the world – especially in places of worship.

Attire accepted in urban areas of countries such as India and Tunisia is not proper in rural areas.

Here in Canada, it’s not a good idea to be seen in animal skins or furs, the book says.

The Grand Circle Travel booklet is available free by calling (800) 248-3737.

– Cecil Scaglione


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