I am a very lucky lady. Life is good right now and I love what I do, which is anything donkey!
Over the past couple of years I have had the pleasure of sending three donkeys to Belgium and one to England. European breeders have a big task ahead of them as the United States is where they must buy their donkeys, for the most part. The shipping is expensive ($3000 per animal roughly) and usually they must trust the seller as to the quality of the donkey they are purchasing because they are buying off of the internet. The donkeys they bring home are now forming the nucleus of their future breeding population, much as was the case with Robert Green as he brought the first Miniature Donkeys to the US in 1929. I am proud to be able to contribute to such an undertaking. In an effort to support my European buyers, and to know how to better serve them, I have planned the trip of a lifetime.
I am going to Belgium, Holland, England, and possibly Ireland to tour donkey farms for 13 days!
I have so many questions about the differences between how we raise Miniature Donkeys here and the challenges European breeders face, and just in case anyone else is as fascinated as I am I have decided to journal this trip on my web site.
I will fly out of the Medford, Oregon airport August 11th at 6:00am……….
I am on my way! I left the house this morning at 4:00am and boarded the two hour flight to San Francisco with no challenges. I am writing to you from my plane headed to Chicago and on to Brussels. While I pass the time on the plane I thought this might be a good time to provide a little background on how my trip came about. In May 2009 Dirk Hendrickx and his wife Kristel flew all the way from Belgium to our ranch just to see a weanling jack I had for sale. We had been in contact via e-mail for several weeks and Dirk had made it clear that his breeding program goals were ambitious and that he would make no compromises in quality. He understood that his herd sire would be the cornerstone of his new breeding program. So, he and Kristel made the very long voyage from Brussels to the tiny Medford airport to spend a few days with Mitch and I and the Benson Ranch herd. They wanted to learn everything: Dirk even suggested we get out the flashlights so that we could keep working in the dark. He pointed out that he could sleep when he got home!
Dirk settled on my lovely young Jack “BR Lotta Chrome”. Once home, he and Kristel have shown and promoted Lotta (as he calls him) to full advantage. Dirk told me he thought I should come to Belgium to support him and to learn about the donkey industry in Belgium. I told him I would and a little more than a year later here I am on a plane! I left Medford Wednesday morning at 6 am and will arrive in Brussels Thursday morning at 10 am. My plan is to visit Miniature Donkey farms with Dirk and Kristel in Belgium and Holland until the 18th and then fly to England for the remainder of my trip.
Day 2 – Belgium
I arrived in Brussels as planned with no problems. Brussels is the capitol of Belgium, a country of 10 million people divided into a Flemish part and a French part. Dirk and Kristel picked me up from the airport and took me to their home. I was one tired traveler! They have a small property in a suburban area where they have a lovely landscaped yard, a few Ouessant sheep, and 2-4 Miniature Donkeys at home at any given time. They have about 30 sheep which are farmed out to neighbors for weed control, and a total of four donkeys. They have access to a large field with a barn and rotate the donkeys between the field and the pasture behind the house.
We took a two mile walk to see the other two donkeys, one of which is my jack Lotta Chrome. They all looked great and it was wonderful for me to see Chrome again – and so far from home!
Prior to my arrival in Brussels Dirk made contact with as many donkey breeders as he could find and he set up quite an ambitious schedule for us.This is the day we began and our first stop was to meet Guido Meul, who is the secretary of the Belgium association of donkeys – de belgische elzeverenigin – www.bev.be. Guido raises standard donkeys and clearly loves them. He has also become an advocate of the Miniature Donkeys and is passionate about his commitment to this organization.
The trailer that you can see in the background is typical of what I saw in Belgium. The streets are very narrow. I have been everywhere with my four door truck and 20′ extra wide horse trailer and I wouldn’t want to try it. Many, many of the streets are narrow two lane streets. It is legal to park on either side facing either direction, so in practical terms you are often driving on one lane and playing chicken with the oncoming drivers – and they drive fast! I almost never saw dented cars and scraped paint so they get it done, and Dirk was the best, but I had no desire to drive!
After we visited Guido, and I took a short nap, we visited the town of Leuven. Leuven was founded in 1425 and is pretty incredible. We walked in the Old Market and I wondered at the beautiful surreal architecture. We pretty much had the Market to ourselves and I have wonderful memories of this evening.
We went into a beautiful, rustic little pub and had a local beer. Much to Dirk’s disgust I had broccoli soup with my beer. I’m not sure why he thought it was awful but I heard about it several times during the rest of my visit! The lovely lady next me me is Dirk’s wife Kristel.
Dirk and Kristel have become dear friends of ours and I sure wish it was easier for us to spend time together. It was so special to me to be able to spend five days with them in their part of the world.
Day 3 Belgium
Bright and early we headed off to the farm of Raymond Dauw who lives in Boortmeerbeek. Raymond raises and shows top quality standard donkeys, along with Scotch Highland cattle, and I am sure he has his hand in many other things on his beautiful spacious property.
Our next stop was with Inez Creemers and her husband. Inez has three jennets and loves them completely.
The view here is of an open area that the donkeys can use at will. Around the other side there is a row of small stalls. Here at the ranch we have wood framed barns and pole barns. The barn of Inez Creemers is older that she is! I really enjoyed seeing all the old, grand, buildings. At one point Dirk told me that it is illegal to build a home in Belgium with wood structure because of the fire danger. He is an architect and should know!
For lunch we had Chardonnay! What fun! We talked about the vision Inez has for her growing donkey herd and husbandry differences. It was such a special time to settle like this and get to know one another. The building we were in has 3″ walls on the sides and is open otherwise. At the opposite end was a four post bed with filmy drapes and many pillows. I thought it a sweet way for a husband and wife to relax and take a break in a busy day. They must know how to slow down which I do not!
Note: A few days after my return to the states Inez purchased BR Headliner from us as her herd sire. Headliner is a Circle C Legend son and I feel certain he will do a good job for her. One of the reasons I felt it was important to make this trip overseas is that I wanted to see for myself what kinds of homes my overseas donkeys were going into. They spend a lot of money to import donkeys and I know they are important to them but most of the buyers that I have dealt with are fairly new. As we all know it can take some time to get good at knowing how to care for our donkeys. I am very pleased to say that in the 13 days of the trip every farm we visited had well cared for and loved donkeys. Inez was extraordinary in her love for her donkeys and my beautiful Headliner is a lucky boy!
Our final stop of the day was with Anthon and Veronique Greevelink. They have a small group of jennets.
I was often in a situation where, as much as people tried, I was outside of a conversation due to the language barrier. What was common to every donkey visit though was their language. Every one of the donkeys had the same favorite spots for snuggles. Ears were almost always a favorite. Many of the donkey owners that we met were somewhat isolated from each other and are learning as they go along.
Day 4 Belgium
We began this day with a visit to Johan and Sandra Lateur-Pierreux who live in Scheldewindeke with their sons Jeans and Yentl. They are a wonderful family and you will see more of them in other photos as they traveled with us a bit. They have one very nice jennet at this point and were in the process of purchasing a jack and two jennets. There donkeys have all come from Sharon Cooke. Johan and Dirk are good friends so the learning curve has not been so steep for him. Dirk has helped him find top donkeys and they are really off to a good start. Johan and Sandra also raise Ouessant sheep – and two young sons!
Look at that wonderful hip and correct legs! This jennet was worth the trouble of importing her, in my opinion. Dirk has also purchased a high quality jennet from Sharon to cross on the jack he bought from me. I think these two friends are going to have fun with their donkeys as the years go by.
Next we visited the farm of Niek Maes. This is the day the earth shifted and I will never be the same…. I met my first Poitou donkeys. I have known about them for many years but had never seen one. Our visit with Niek was partly so that I could touch one myself.
OK. It is time to confess. At this point I forgot all about my 100 Miniature Donkeys at home due to my zeal for the Poitou. Kristel took 84 photos of the Poitou and four of the mini donkeys; she was following me! I sped through them shamefully. And now let me introduce you to the Poitou…..
When we came into the field they surrounded us just like my donkeys at home do. They were slow and gentle and never once fussed with each other. They were soulful and wanted to be near us and cuddled. They are incredible to look at but the way it felt to be near them I cannot describe. I felt it right in the middle of my chest and I could not stop glowing at them. I could not get enough.
I will never, ever, ever, forget meeting these remarkable donkeys. They are considered a rare breed and nearly became extinct. They were used in France to produce mules from a specific breed of horse. When mules were no longer needed many farmers ate their Poitou, leaving only 44 in existence anywhere. A large effort was made to protect the Poitou and at this point in time there are approximately 400 anywhere, with 100 of them living in the US. I am on a fact finding mission! I hope I will be able to begin a breeding program here in Gold Hill……
We next visited Falcoo Farm and the home of Christine De Meyer. Christine lives near Damme, a small country near Bruges well known for it’s handmade silk carpets. In the middle ages Damme was near to the sea but in modern times the sea is gone and a reservoir is left behind. Dirk says lots of sea birds are there and that it is a marvelous place to walk. I wish we had been able to do that but I’ll be back!
Here we are walking from the parked car towards her donkey fields. One is to the left of us and one is ahead. To our right is a wonderful brick barn.
Above and below are two of Christine’s pens. Notice again the quaint split rail fencing. The rails are not chewed on at all but the trees are protected so maybe it is the type of wood the rails are made of that the donkeys don’t like. I wonder if my donkeys would be that well behaved.
One of the benefits of these farm tours for Dirk and Johan was to find breeders they can network with. This jack might be a lovely cross with future BR Lotta Chrome daughters or for Johan’s future jennets.
***NOTE: Christine sent me an e-mail a month or so after our visit to let me know Two Riffic won his 3 and Under class and was Reserve of the whole show. This show was for all types of donkeys, standards included, so this was a huge win. Go Christine!!
Christine’s donkey’s hooves were trimmed very well and I was impressed. I did not see hooves uncared for in any of the farms I visited, here or in England, but most of them were trimmed like horses in spite of the pleas of the donkey owners.
Our next stop was to visit STAL den Tijl. This is the home of Frank Casteleyn, his wife Mieke, and son Tijl.
They live in Belgium in the town of Snellegem. You may learn more about Frank’s donkey program by going to: www.mini-ezel-snellegem.be. By the way, “ezel” means “donkey”.
Frank bought two yearling jennets from me in 2009 and I was excited to be able to see them again so far from where they were born. One is a Future Link daughter and the other is a Legend daughter. They have matured well and I think they will do a good job for him.
Notice the stone just in front of it and the artwork overhead. Frank is a creative guy! The hay feeder out front is lined with wire to keep the hay from falling through. I use this idea at our farm as well. My husband says donkeys are happy when they are chewing and slowing down the rate they can consume their hay is a good way to do this in many cases.
Notice the wire he has used to protect his new tasty wood. Again a good idea! The jennet in this photo is Circle C Cameo, the Legend daughter I sent him.
This is one of the nicest trailers I saw on my trip and one that is the most like what we use here. Frank is a brave driver and this is good because he needs to be while driving on narrow roads with a trailer of this size!
Frank’s passion is to breed high quality spotted donkeys and that is a challenging goal even in our country with many spotted donkeys to choose from. A lot of Frank’s dreams rest on the shoulders of this jack. The shelter in the background is one of Frank’s temporary solutions to protect from the elements. Much of his farm is in progress in terms of fencing and barns which is true of most of us I think!
The mom of this foal is my favorite spotted donkey that Frank owns. She is beautiful! This is a nice foal as well. It costs so much to import these donkeys and breeders in the US don’t always send their best which is a truth I find offensive. I don’t remember where this jennet came from but she is an exception to that rule.
It was late in the day when we finally arrived at Frank’s home and we ran out of daylight but headed indoors and did our best to get by with more Champagne and tasty goodies. Can you tell Champagne is one of my favorite things…..??
Frank is a very generous and thoughtful man and he had made big plans for us for our time with him. He had written to me in e-mails telling me he wanted to show me “the most beautiful city in Belgium” and that he did. He took us to the city of Brugges and hired a tour guide just for us so that we could learn a lot about this incredible city. I could use a web button all it’s own just to describe this experience. What a gift from Frank.
Brugge was established between the 7th and 9th century on the shores of the Zwin. The photo above is of the Market Place which is of major importance to the town of Brugge and is an incredible place to visit. I just do not have the words to describe what I saw there. The street is cobblestones and the architecture is truly unbelievable. The time and love that it must have taken to create such a place was overwhelming to think of. Even in today’s world of mechanism I don’t think it would be possible to create such a place.
This is real gold leaf that you are looking at, and notice the carving detail. Remember how old these buildings are. It is amazing to me that they can look this good after the 100’s of years of storms and harsh weather they have seen. This Market Place is immaculately clean and there is NO graffiti. The pride of the Belgium people is evident here.
The Market Place was cleaned at some point (Dirk told me but I don’t remember when…) and they left this small square as a reminder of what the walls looked like before they were cleaned.
Brugge is known for the textile craft of lace-making and it was known as “Flanders Lace” until the 17th century. The most sought after is created with the “Toveressesteek” (Soceress stich) which calls for from between 300 and 700 bobbins. I am a seamstress, professional at one time, and I cannot even imagine this. I wanted to spend LOTS of money here but Kristel saved me, I am sure in part because she has seen our ranch life of dirt and dog hair!
I feel like I am fairly well traveled and have had the pleasure of dining in some fancy places but this experience was amazing. The food was incredible and diverse and much of what I ate I had never eaten before. In many cases I had no idea what it was but I enjoyed it all. There was so much glass on this table!
Frank spent a good part of time here entertaining us with stories about his donkeys and in particular the exploits of his unwilling gelding and his jack in a frustrated mood. He did this with many gestures and much enthusiasm! I laughed till I had tears running down my face. Frank is a character and truly one of a kind!
After dinner we bid goodnight and headed for home. We got to bed at 2:00 am! This day was the best of my whole experience overseas and I will never forget it. Thank you my friends!
Day 7 Holland
She and her husband Aad have a farm they call Hove Noordhoek, which is a lovely little acreage where they raise a small group of donkeys and deer. Ineke loves her donkeys! If you will look at the fence to the right of Ineke you will see a broom lashed to the fence for the donkeys to scratch on! I didn’t see it when I was there but noticed it when I was tuning up this photo. What a great idea!
Her fences are all chain link and her pastures immaculate. At least one of the jennets above is a 758 girl. They are so distinctive and I was able to tell Ineke that I value my Banner daughters very much. It truly is a small world.
The photos below are of their sons who spent the day with us. These boys were great and fun to have along! They learned to “do the ears” as I call it and were appreciated by Ineke’s jennet!
Being invited into people’s homes was really special and the hospitality we met everywhere we went was amazing. We were treated like royalty. This is such an intimate time to share and I cherish the memories.
You can learn more about Ineke and her donkeys by visiting her web site: www.mini-ezels.nl
It was with regret, and promises of returning someday, that we moved on to the next farm.
Our next stop was to visit Jan and Hanneke Louwman and Piccolo Farm. They live in Holland near Den Haag. She was the first breeder to import Miniature Donkeys into Holland. Hanneke and her husband also owned and managed the Wassenaar Zoo and the Wassenaar Wildlife Breeding Centre where they had a very renowned Cheetah breeding program for many years. She and Jan are fascinating people.
This photo is the epitome of Hanneke as it shows her sheer joy in life and her huge heart. Can you tell I am very fond of her?? I am.
We have just walked into her donkey field and are greeted by her Legend jack Piccante’. Notice the cage in the background as evidence of the prior zoo. Hanneke says this is the kennel for her puppy but it reminded me of “Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!”.
He is a sweet boy and I could see Legend in him. I think he is a good match for Hanneke. Notice Kristel in the background. She is holding my camera and has a red shirt on. If you are enjoying these photos remember that almost all of them were taken by her and I think they are wonderful. Thank you so much Kristel!!
The gentleman in the background is Hanneke’s husband Jan (pronounced yawn). He is a lovely man and I enjoyed getting to know him a little. He currently has a very successful breeding program with huge land turtles. I was fortunate to be able to see them. They were impressive!
This statue sits right outside her front door. Those of you who attended the last Rio Brazos event will recognize this. No, she didn’t win it and there is quite a story as to how it found it’s way to Holland!
We were invited in for a bite to eat and some time to visit. I wish we could have stayed much longer and next time I will! I hope she will be in my life for many years to come.
*****Hanneke came to visit me less than a month after we visited her farm. She stayed with Mitch and me for several days and it was a very special time for us all. She then came back for the 2011 GHTC! !!*****
You may contact Hanneke through her web site: www.piccolofarm.nl. She is quite happy to talk donkeys!
Our next farm was that of Bianca Peertjes in Assendelft near Amsterdam.
Bianca and her husband have a very pretty farm as you can see! If memory serves me, and I will try to find out for sure, she is mounted police for the Amsterdam airport and he works there as well. We are standing in one of her donkey fields with her spotted jack. Notice the vinyl fencing and open shelter barns.
This is a view of the back field looking towards the house and barn. Notice the waterway at the lower right edge of the photo. Below is a better view.
Dirk is saying hello to Bianca’s jack. In my opinion and experience it is difficult to find high quality spotted donkeys. This jack was the nicest spot I saw in Europe. Bianca is a responsible breeder and this jack should do some good things for their gene pool.
As I have said, sometimes US breeders don’t send their best but in this case I think Bianca was well treated.
And, interestingly enough, this ivory jack is the nicest I have personally seen. I have not seen many as this is not a color I care for but this is a well conformed jack.
I liked these signs, and so did Kristel! Bianca had made us soup for dinner so we were invited in for dinner and conversation which was wonderful. After dinner we bid farewell and headed in to Amsterdam to spend the night as we planned to be tourists for a bit the next morning.
So, off we went. Dirk had made reservations for us at a nice hotel in downtown Amsterdam so that we could all be tourists for part of the following day. He and Kristel had never been there so this seemed a good time. Amsterdam is the home of the famous Van Gogh museum which Dirk very much wanted to see.
These previous photos are all of the lobby of the Rho Hotel. Can you tell that Kristel and I liked it??
Day 8 Holland
Our experience of Amsterdam was not great. My lasting impression of where we were was that it is dirty and crowded. I am certain there are pretty parts of it but we didn’t see them. Our hotel was in the hub of Amsterdam and within walking distance of spectacular museums and cultural opportunities but it was so overpopulated that we chose not to take part. The wait for the Van Gogh museum was several hours long before it opened, after it opened it was worse, and that was what we found with the other places we were interested in. We did a walking tour for a bit.
Dirk asked me if I knew what a coffee shop was. Who doesn’t?? Ah but no, these are not quite like we have at home…. There is a tolerance and acceptance of drugs, and nudity, in Holland. I am not sure where the legal line is drawn but there were coffee shops all over the place and lots of drunk looking people in the streets. The town was dirty and I felt claustrophobic due to the narrow streets and tall buildings.
The area you are looking down is the street – not the sidewalk and the drivers don’t slow down much so we frequently hopped up onto the narrow walkway.
There are waterways everywhere and boat rides are an option but the water was very foul and the boats sit low in the water. It didn’t tempt me. And not to belabor the point the street is between the parked cars and tall buildings. I live in the country so maybe my impression is out of the ordinary but I could not imagine living this way.
Dirk has a thing for the Hard Rock Cafe so we went in search of one, had a quick lunch, he bought a T-shirt, and we headed out of Amsterdam for sanity and donkeys.
Our next farm was that of Huub and Nicole Huibers. She and her husband have a farm they share with the public as well as raise and compete with Miniature Donkeys.
This jack’s name is “Little Dipper”. He is Nicole’s primary herd sire and has also done very well in the show ring for her.
This is Nicole’s fancy hot walker. I would love to see my donkeys try to find a way to fool around with it!
After a little snack and hospitality we said good-bye and were on our way to the last of our farms.
Our evening was spent with Rene’ and Lilian Mejis. They are sweet, sweet people and it was a privilege to meet them. Both are teachers who work with special needs children and adults and that they would have the heart for such work is in their eyes, I think.
We got to their farm just as it was getting dark which was unfortunate but we really tried to do better!
Lilian has three donkeys, or two and a quarter as it stands now. She told us she was “nobody” because of this and was touched we took the time to include her in our farm tours. We are the fortunate ones! Lilian has not had donkeys very long and is carving a niche out of a challenging piece of land in terms of space and a lack of level ground. Donkeys being the gentle creatures that they are are fine with it! Because of her proximity to the road her donkeys get lots of attention and she is popular when she takes them for walks into town.
…..and this is Lilian’s dog! He was pure exuberance. If Rene’ had not been involved he would have been over that gate and on me looking for a good game. He was cool!
I love this photo. After it got too dark to see we were invited in for dessert and coffee, which was good because we were a long drive from home. As always, it was tough to say goodbye and I hope to see these folks again someday.
This was the end of our time for donkeys as Dirk and Kristel both had to return to their real lives and work. They were exhausted and I am sure it was hard on them but I hope it was also worth it. I know I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. These memories are a treasure.
Day 9 Belgium
This was a day to sleep in for me. I was able to go outside and take some thorough photos of Dirk and Kristel’s home and yard. Their house was designed by Dirk and is both lovely and unique. It is a home to be comfortable in.
Maraeka (sp), their 19 yr old daughter, and I went in to Leuven to do some shopping. She is a smart, beautiful young lady and I am glad to have had this alone time with her. We wandered in and out of shops and I bought the expected boxes of Belgium chocolates to take home to family and friends. I bought my plane ticket to fly from Brussles to London in the evening. The ticket cost me $29 basically, and I was delighted, but there was to be a surprise…..
Dirk and his brother held an anniversary party for his parents and I had the honor of attending as well before Dirk and Kristel whisked me off to the airport. It was one more of the many special times and I remember them fondly. I hope they have many more. Letting go of Dirk and Kristel at the airport was really hard for me. I am soooo fond of them and we all knew it might be goodbye for a long, long time but as they say it is better to have loved and lost…….. I hold them in my heart.
I was to board my plane to London at 7:00 pm. I checked in with my carry on and small suitcase to find that it was going to cost me $120 to bring my luggage to England with me. That plane ticket was not looking so good at this point! But onward. When I arrived in London I hopped on the first hotel shuttle and got off at one of the first opportunities, which really confused and bothered the driver as I did not have a plan, but it was all the same to me as I just wanted to go to sleep and begin the next morning and chapter of my trip. I paid roughly $6 to ride the bus for less than 5 minutes and the value for cost remained much the same for most of my English experience.
Day 10 England
AUGUST 20 I am now on the show grounds for England’s most important donkey show of the year. It is the DBS (Donkey Breed Society) Championship. It is being held on an equine College campus, complete with dorm rooms. I am writing to you from mine! There are 120 donkeys entered in the show, which is a mix of standard and miniature donkeys. There are a large group of donkey drivers, and I have been told that the competition is fierce, but none of them drive miniatures! The campus is 15 minutes from Stratford – Upon – Avon; no kidding. I had breakfast in a pub built in the 1500’s and spent the first part of my day being a tourist. I saw where Shakespeare was born, the boats on the river, and bought fruit from a street market. This is the first time I have paused to be a tourist. I have met several Miniature Donkey breeders, including Sarah and Mandy Friend, and Ann French. Ann made my housing arrangements for me long before I came over which was VERY nice of her! Staying on the grounds and visiting with people is great. The show begins at 8:45 am and I am looking forward to it.
And now on to the donkey show!
All the show participants wore heavy wool tweed jackets with their numbers tied around their waists facing backwards. It was hot. Also notice Mandy is carrying a whip. I never saw anyone use theirs but most people carried them. In the case of the young animals the bit seemed huge in their mouths. With the jacks two handlers were required, and using a bit so no stud chain. Several of the jacks shown were all over the place with the handlers not being able to do much about it.
When the donkeys in the ring are asked to trot they all circle at once, over and over, round they go. It looked like work! The judge was able to get a good look at the quality of movement of the donkeys this way though. Remember these showman are running wearing those tweed jackets….they earn their ribbons!
The show started on a Saturday. Sunday morning brought something unexpected by me, and is one of my fondest memories of my time in England. On Saturday I spent some time visiting with an elderly man in a wheelchair as he watched the show. He was sweet and interesting. I was glad I had slowed down enough to take time for him. Little did I know….. In England it is traditional to bless the animals so on Sunday morning all the handlers brought their donkeys into the indoor arena to be blessed by the priest; none other than the man I had visited with the day before. There were 120 donkeys in attendance at this show, and I am pretty sure they all took part in the blessing ceremony. When the donkeys had all been blessed they called me down from the stands and blessed me. I was the only person they did this with. It was quite an honor and I was moved to tears. I will never forget it.
Then back out to the driving competition, in the rain….
These next few photos are of the costume class. Many of them were spectacular!!!!
This ends my pictorial tour…. I spent several more days in England but didn’t take any more photos! I visited Poitou donkeys wherever I could, and was able to visit Sarah Friend and her family at their farm which was very special. This was the trip of a lifetime probably, although I do hope to go back someday. I hope you enjoyed the stories and photos!!!!!