I starkly remember the first time I ever saw (and heard) a hot air balloon. I was playing basketball in my backyard when I heard a “whooshing” overhead. I looked up as a hot air balloon appeared from over the woods behind our house and continued overhead. Minutes later it landed in one of our neighbors’ backyard.

Ever since I’ve had a preoccupation with air travel, not the least of which has been hot air ballooning. However, as much air travel as I’ve done, via helicopter, airplane, and airship, I had yet to travel by hot air balloon. It was in part, because if I was going to do it, I wanted to do it right. And what I always envisioned was not just a hot air balloon ride, but a hot air balloon ride in Africa…over the African bush…while making out (shooting for the stars here). However, when you get invited to go hot air ballooning over South Africa, you do it.

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I felt so Bilbo-esque four years ago when I said to myself, “Let’s go on an adventure.” Maybe Bilbo even felt like me, as if his life should have more meaning than it did. On paper, the age of 27 saw me with a philosophy degree, a divorce, debt, a recently deceased father, and a resume that most recently included video store clerk after being laid off from my dream job. So what was the natural thing to do? I’ll tell you what the natural thing was NOT to do. It’s not to quit the only job you have to start your own business as a freelance writer/consultant, leave all of your possessions, and then travel the world without any saved money.

But I did just those things. But while I’ve been fortunate enough to travel my entire life, I always viewed travel as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. A trip was simply the collection of experiences between the time I stepped onto the plane (or into the car) until I stepped off. I didn’t see travel as something that affected my life beyond the actual trip itself. That all changed, however, when I bought a one-way ticket to Central America.

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There are no hidden meanings here. As I discovered last month on my trip to Cayman Islands, Stingray City is literally a city of stingrays along a series of sandbars just off the coast of Grand Cayman. As the story goes, decades ago, fishing boats would stop in the shallow waters to clean the fish they had caught for the day. What was the inedible, disposable parts for fishers, was dinner for the abundance of stingrays that would gather here. Over the years they’ve continued to congregate, even while it’s become the most popular thing to do on Grand Cayman.

I did quite a bit of research, even more than normal, about Stingray City before my excursion to find out  about the integrity and general consensus about the attraction, being the most popular thing to do on Grand Cayman. And I was pleased with what I found both in my research and on the trip itself. It is a popular destination, but the stingrays come and go as they please. Nonetheless, I’m glad I went when I did, mid-week when there weren’t any docked cruise ships, as there were just 10-15 of us. But rather then bore you with any more details, I’ll just show you in photos. I believe the photos speak for themselves!

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