Unique Places in North America

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    Volunteer Service Travel

    by glabah Updated Dec 24, 2011

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    The resources available here on VirtualTourist are aimed at people giving specific tips about a place. Resources aimed at allowing us to give tips about our methods, technique, approaches and useful resources generally fall outside the boxes provided here at VirtualTourist.

    Such is the case with this tip, which is aimed at giving some insight into volunteer travel to those in North America headed overseas. Despite it not fitting into the VT system too well, I feel moved to create it anyway: as of November of 2011, all of my outside the USA travels have involved some portion of the trip being part of a volunteer group of some sort or another. In my case, all of these involved some sort of Christian ministry group, but this need not be the case. There are many non-religious volunteer service groups, as well as religious groups that welcome those who are not religious.

    Here are some things to consider when choosing a volunteer group of any sort to serve with:

    1. To really have impact in people's lives, a volunteer group should spend at least some of its time in the culture it is visiting. This goes for domestic service as well as foreign service, but it is especially true of foreign service. Many countries have cultures that revolve around people, while those from English speaking North America tend to be more project and activity oriented. The people you are visiting want to talk and get to know you and come to understand Americans or Canadians better. In the meantime, the American or Canadian hasn't adjusted to the new culture, and is thinking more like an employment type job back home: the primary task is to get a particular job done. The job to be done is only part of the task. The real purpose of the trip is to make a difference in someone's life, or lives. Only part of this is the task at hand, which will be the stated purpose of the group going. Interacting with those in the visited culture has a huge impact in cultures where people rather than work is the primary importance. Be sure to choose a group and team leader that adequately understands the importance of personal interaction in the culture.

    2. Hand in hand with the above, it is vital to make sure that it is not just the wealthy country people who have come to work, and that there are some nationals working with the Americans / Canadians if possible. The fact is that if you have no contact with the national culture, and all the work is stuff that could have been done by nationals anyway, it would have been better to just stay home and send money. On the other hand, by working with nationals on a project where both work side by side, a considerable amount of cultural interaction happens.

    3. For those that are Christian in their focus, remember the message in the Gospels that say "The greatest among you will be the servant of all." There is a huge difference in attitude between coming in with an attitude of superiority and lording over the poorer nationals, and coming to serve them as fellow Christians. Even if you are working with a group belonging to another religion or a secular group, it is highly important to make sure that the attitude of the workings of the group once they arrive are genuine helping, rather than one of arrogance.

    4. Indeed, as part of the above paragraph, the service performed should not violate the primary purposes of the reason for coming. No matter what the religious or lack of religious focus of the organization may be, it is all very easy to come into one of these countries that need help, perform a certain task, and really not leave the country that much better off. Inspiring the local population in some way or another while at the location must be part of the work, or the people in that country may actually wind up worse because the work someone else does for them makes them feel all the more useless or uneducated or otherwise lesser able to assist in rebuilding their country. Thus, the purpose of the trip are violated by not approaching it properly.

    5. Understand that things may change once you arrive. Sometimes materials don't arrive to complete a building project, or some vital piece of paperwork can not be obtained, or the weather does not cooperate. Don't be surprised if you are supposed to help build a wall, but the decision is made to help out a class of students learn English instead simply by having a conversation with them.

    6. The more the involvement with local people the better, and thus it is best to search out organizations that have a well established network of local people helping them. For example, if you are going with a church group, you want to have a group that has an already established set of churches it is working with. If they already have good experience hosting foreign volunteers that is a good thing too, but if you are adventurous don't necessarily shy away from those situations where a foreign volunteer has never been.

    7. It helps a great deal to learn a few simple phases in the language. Don't worry too much if you can't pronounce things very well, as even the effort to learn a few things will have a huge impact. Especially if you will be working with locals on a project of some sort, such things as "please", "thank you", "stop", "more", and a few other words relevant to project work could be very helpful.

    8. Don't be afraid to ask questions about the project and about the results of past projects. If the organization doesn't like answering questions then perhaps it isn't an organization that deserves to be supported by your volunteer hours - or perhaps it is just very understaffed (which unfortunately is far too common).

    9. Make sure you are covered by some sort of medical insurance. For many volunteer organizations, this coverage really isn't that expensive. In early 2011, for one of the trips I volunteered with, medical insurance for the trip was some $3 a day. Especially if you are involved in some sort of construction project and/or are going into a Malaria, Yellow Fever or Dengue Fever area it is extremely desirable to have this coverage.

    10. Some groups consider a "short term" trip to be 6 months, where normally their volunteers sign up to go for several years. Other groups have two week volunteer periods, or even a several day trip if is to somewhere close to North America, such as Haiti or Mexico. I suggest something in the two weeks or less range to make sure this is your type of thing before signing up for a much longer period.

    11. It really helps if you can find a group that has good introductions to the cultures you will be visiting. World Gospel Mission and OMS (see below) both have good but small books that summarize the culture for the purpose of someone doing day to day interactions in the culture (ie, incoming missionaries). I have found these books to contain far more useful information about the countries than the average tourist guide, as they are written to introduce both the country AND the culture(s).

    Organizations I Have Traveled With:

    Your experience will vary depending on the team leader, the country to which you travel, and the people you travel with or if you go alone. Just because I have gone on short term trips with them does not necessarily mean I suggest they are good groups for everyone. Also, as these are religious organizations, if you have no interest in the particular religion involved make sure that this is understood. Some teams do activities (water well drilling, construction, etc.) where someone who is non-religious is welcome to participate. However, if the team primarily involves religious activities it is probably not the right fit for your volunteer time.

    + OMS - Today called the One Mission Society. Their short term teams are: MFM (officially Men For Missions, but women have participated in these teams for a long time), which helps with medical, church construction, and many other activities. OMS also has a short term group called Team~Link, which is primarily aimed at university ages, but groups of all ages have participated in teams.

    + WGM - World Gospel Mission. Short term teams and assignments happen in a number of different ways, but for those not participating in actual church work there is Men For Missions - which form what I understand has had women as the majority participant for some years now. These groups help with construction and otherwise helping in locations where WGM missionaries are posted.

    + Evangelical Church Missions - operated by a small denomination, this group has churches in several countries including Bolivia, Brazil and others, as well as missions work in the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. Their short term trips to the Navajo may be worth looking at for those who do not want to try to go overseas on their first volunteer service.

    Related to:
    • Adventure Travel
    • Arts and Culture
    • Budget Travel

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  • Nashville, TN (Woody's Steak House)

    by BW02 Written Sep 20, 2009

    While in Nashville checked out some of the local eaterys and found the oldest family owned and operated restaurants. Woody's Steak House, this place is very good. Sign said it was started in 1946, service was good, food good, drinks very good. Loved it.

    Related to:
    • Food and Dining

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    Meet lions and tigers - up close and personal!

    by mandymatson Written Sep 14, 2009

    The Conservators' Center, in rural Caswell County, North Carolina, is a fabulous place to go meet interesting animals. Home to the biggest collection of large cats in North Carolina, this exotic animal sanctuary is an undiscovered gem. Because it's a private, nonprofit sanctuary with a limited staff, you need to schedule your tour. Most people take the educational tour, which is offered mostly on weekends. You can also choose a twilight tour, that allows you to see some of the nocturnal animals when they're most active and to hear the lions, wolves, and singing dogs when they're most likely to vocalize (it's quite a cacophony when they all get going at one time!); or a photo tour, which is the best way to get great wildlife shots. I volunteer at the Conservators' Center and really enjoy watching first-time visitors the first time they look a lion or tiger in the eye, or meet some of our more offbeat characters, such as binturongs and New Guinea singing dogs. Our lemurs (small primates) are the clowns of the compound. And our servals and caracals (mid-sized African cats) are simply elegant. I've included a photo of Arthur, the white tiger I sponsor, and a binturong - because I think they're among the most interesting creatures we've got. Come visit!

    Related to:
    • Photography
    • Zoo

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    Canadian Rockies

    by Odinnthor Updated Aug 30, 2009

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    A question was asked regarding the type of wardrope to use during late September. This was my comment: Yes, it will be cold enough so prepare for it. You will reach considerate altitutes there. Just wanted to point out the absolutely magnificent Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Aside from the hotel itself, which is a masterpiece, there are untold things to do there. Please check ot the following sites for further affirmations. I have been there both in winter and summer, and the place is truly inspirational. be safe and enjoy. You will not regret it.

    Related to:
    • Adventure Travel

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    Great Website for Route 66 Enthusiast

    by riorich55 Written Feb 22, 2009

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    A couple of ideas for you on your trip.

    First, check out this excellent website on Route 66, it lists where the road actually exists, state by state and has a number of interesting facts and things you should be looking for along the way.


    As a previous poster stated there are some areas where Route 66 really doesn't exist except as a bumpy road along a major interstate. But, I think if you take a good look at the website I mentioned this should help you to identify some of the times you should stay on the interstate.

    I think the trip you are planning should be doable in a month, just be sure to loosely map out what you would like to see and how many miles you want to cover each day.

    As far as cost goes, that really depends on what types of accomodations you want to stay at, what type of food you want to eat, side trips, etc. Reply back to this forum and I'm sure we can give you a very rough idea on some of the costs.

    Related to:
    • Seniors
    • Budget Travel
    • Road Trip

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    Getting to Mt Baker

    by llauraa Written Nov 28, 2004

    My only disapointment in travelling around the Bellingham area is that there was no tourist travel access to the beautiful Mt Baker about 45 mins drive west of the township. Unfortunately hiring a car to get out into the local and spectacular countryside is a must

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    Tobermory, Canada

    by sim1 Written Feb 25, 2003

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    The lighthouse is just outside the harbour of Tobermory in Ontario, Canada, and you can see it when you take a boattour. It's a nice little lighthouse to see.

    In 1885, due to the dangerous passageways ships had to pass through from Lake Huron and Georgian Bay to reach the harbour, the Department of Marine and Fisheries purchased three lots on the west side of the entrance to Big Tub harbour in Tobermory for a lighthouse. The lots were purchased for $18.00. The first lighthouse, costing $675.00, was erected that same year by John George and David Currie of Port Elgin who were contracted to do the job.

    Previously, during the 1870's, Charles Earl--one of the area's first settlers--hung a lantern on a tree branch to guide the ships to the harbour's refuge. The tree's location later became the site of the lighthouse itself. Earl was paid the grand sum of $100 per year for this duty. In September 1885, Abraham Davis was appointed permanent keeper of the light.

    The first lighthouse was later replaced by the present-day structure, a six-sided wooden tower, 43' from the ground to the lantern vane, with a red iron lantern room at the top.

    At one time, the coal oil standing lamp shed its light from the harbour entrance. It had a large burner which was turned up or down, according to the lamp brightness desired. Today, an automated red harbour light acts as a guide for boaters. The lighthouse became automated and electrified in 1952.

    Tobermory's light still guides boats through powerful currents, frequent fogs and numerous shoals to the safety of Big Tub Harbour. The number of shipwrecks offshore testify to the dangers of these waters.

    Opening times :
    May 1st to Thanksgiving : Seven days a week, 9 a.m. to sunset

    Related to:
    • Family Travel

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    Brockton Point lighthouse, Canada%s

    by sim1 Written Sep 30, 2002

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    This lighthouse is located in beautiful Stanley Park in Vancouver. It is a very small lighthouse, not really impressive, but it is still a lighthouse! The lighthouse is from 1915 and is still in use. When you go for a walk around Stanley Park you can’t really miss it; there is a footpath that passes this lighthouse.

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    Bass Harbour Head Light, USA

    by sim1 Written Sep 30, 2002

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    This lighthouse is in Acadia National Park in Maine, USA. It is a white brick cylindrical tower and attached to the keeper`s house. The light is operational and was automated in 1974.

    Besides the lighthouse there is also a 1.5 story wood frame T-shape keeper`s house from 1858, a brick oil house from 1902 and a fog bell building from 1898.

    Only the surrounding area of the station is open to the public. There is a footpath and some stairs that bring you down to the rocks below, from where you have this nice view. Acadia is a very busy park, so it is hard to get a clear view off the lighthouse. And for me, that really takes something off the charm of seeing a lighthouse. I have to admit though that I was there when it was almost high season, so maybe it is not always that busy.

    Follow ME 3 south from US Route 1 in Ellsworth onto Mount Desert Island. At the intersection with Route 198 (where Route 3 turns left to Bar Harbor), take Route 198 to its intersection with Route 102. Continue through Somesville and Southwest Harbor and on to Bass Harbor. You will come to a fork with a dirt road going straight ahead; the left fork is Route 102A. Take the dirt road straight ahead. Follow the signs to the lighthouse. There is limited free parking at the station and a trail leads to the rocks below for good views. Another trail leads next to the lighthouse.

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    Admirality Head Lighthouse, USA

    by sim1 Written Sep 30, 2002

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    This lighthouse is Whidbey Island, Washington, USA. It is loctated at Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve and is now a museum. If you want to read more about this lighthouse, you can take a look at the following website

    This lighthouse dates back to1860, but the present tower was built in 1903. It was deactivated in 1922. The lantern from this lighthouse was transferred to the New Dungeness Lighthouse in 1927. The lighthouse station was used by the Army as a K-9 training site during World War II. The station was transfered to the State of Washington in 1950.

    You can visit the museum in :
    April and May, Thursday through Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
    June through September: Wednesday through Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
    October: Saturday & Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
    Holiday Hours: From Thanksgiving through Christmas, open weekends 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 pm . The admission is free.

    Fort Casey State Park and the lighthouse are on State Highway 20, three miles south of Coupeville on Whidbey Island, Island County. Whidbey Island can be accessed from three directions: 1) from the northeast on SR-20 via the Deception Pass Bridge, 2) from the south on SR-525 via the Clinton-Mukilteo Ferry, and 3) via the Keystone-Port Townsend Ferry from the Olympic Peninsula.

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    Cape Breton National Park, Canada%s

    by sim1 Written Sep 30, 2002

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    I saw this little lighthouse in a little village in Cape Breton National park in Nova Scotia. I not only enjoyed the lighthouse but even more the little pictoresque harbour that was right underneath it. There were only a few fisherman still at work, because it was getting evening already. The eveninglight was beautiful and we couldn`t stop our camera`s from clicking. Totally taken by this little harbour and the fishing boats we almost forgot to take a picture of the lighthouse. But you can still see it, hidden behind this fishing boat :-)

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    Alcatraz, San Francisco, USA

    by sim1 Written Sep 30, 2002

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    Alcatraz Island was the site of the west coast`s first lighthouse. The present lighthouse is adjacent to a former fort and prison. It is a reinforced concrete octagonal/pyramidal tower with masonry foundation.

    In this picture you can see the wardens house and the lighthouse of Alcatraz. The wardens house was built in the 1920`s and had seventeen large rooms. In 1970 a fire swept through te abandoned building, leaving the shell you see on the picture.

    The lighthouse is from 1854 and still shines nowadays. Not only the lighthouse is worth a look at but the whole visit to Alcatraz is something you shouldn`t miss doing when you are in San Francisco. If you want to read more about my visit to Alcatraz you should take a look at my San Francisco page. I have quite a lot of pictures, information and stories of Alcatraz on that page.

    For more information on the lighthouse and Alcatraz Island : http://www.nps.gov/alcatraz/

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    Fisgard lighthouse, Canada

    by sim1 Written Sep 30, 2002

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    This is the oldest lighthouse on the west coast of Canada. It is a White, conical brick tower with a red lantern. Next to it is the two story high keeper`s house.The lighthouse is from 1860 and was automated in 1929.

    This lighthouse is operational, but it is also open to the public. It is openend daily :
    from March 01 - Oct. 31 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, weekends Nov. 1 - Feb. 28 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

    We were just too late to visit the lighthouse and that is why we were only able to see it from a distance. That was a real shame, because I would have loved to take a look inside this lighthouse. It really looked beautiful!

    Inside the keeper`s house are two floors of exhibits, dealing with shipwrecks, storms, lighthouses, and the everyday working equipment of the lightkeeper a century ago.

    The lighthouse is on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, not so very far from Victoria. Head north on Douglas Street (Victoria`s main street) until it turns into Highway 1. Take the Colwood exit (exit #10). Follow Highway 1A, then turn left at the third traffic light onto Ocean Boulevard. Follow the signs to the lighthouse site.

    You can find more information about this lighthouse on this website : http://parkscan.harbour.com/frh/

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    The lighthouse at Matane, Canada

    by sim1 Written Sep 27, 2002

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    Another lighthouse on the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. This is not my favourite lighthouse, because it is on the corner of a busy intersection. Not the most beautiful place to see a lighthouse. But I had to stop for the trafficlights anyway, so I decided to make an extra stop so I could make a picture of the lighthouse.

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    Peggy's Cove, Canada

    by sim1 Updated Sep 27, 2002

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    This lighthouse is one of the most famous lighthouses in the world. The location is really stunning! It is situated on the cliffs of a really pictoresque fishing village : Peggy`s Cove in Nova Scotia, Canada. Because it is so pictoresque it is really flooded with tourists! But I loved my visit here. I didn`t expect I would, I thought I would hate it because it was swamped by the tourists. But when you get on those great big rocks and watch how the sea is banging against the coast, the sheer power of nature, wow! You really have to be impressed! When you don`t like the tourists, just walk a little further on the cliffs. There are not a lot of people that do that, and that way you can enjoy this piece of nature almost by yourself.

    The lighthouse is not only so famous because of it`s location, but also because it is a postoffice. And yes, I did it too!!!! I posted my cards from here, LOL. Some of them even went to a couple of VT members. But unlike the postcards the sun wasn`t shining, but we had a thick fog on that day. Maybe this way it was even more beautiful, it really made it all look very spooky and mysterious.

    The light is from 1915 and is still operational.

    Turn south off Route 103 onto Route 333 at Exit 2A or Exit 5. Continue on St. Margaret`s Bay Road for 3 kilometers (1.6 miles). Turn west onto Prospect Road for about 40 kilometers (25 miles) and continue to Peggy`s Cove.

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North America Off The Beaten Path

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