Grandeur of Ethiopia well worth the effort

World traveler and Moraga resident Margaret Stithem entertained her fellow Planned Parenthood Auxiliary members at a meeting sharing slides from a recent trip to Ethiopia. This African adventure composed of 17 travelers was an Elder Hostel trip planned by Destination Horizons. They took the historic route to the Land of Queen of Sheba, visiting many different sights including churches built down into the rock with gorgeous artwork inside. "I wouldn't go for the food and the water is a terrible problem," notes Stithem. Yet she adds that this is a land of beautiful people.

Two times the size of Texas, Ethiopia is composed of seventy ethnic groups where English is widely spoken. The economy is supported largely by agriculture and coffee. The economy is not prosperous and young children can be found herding goats to help support the family. Stithem remarked that they are trying to modernize the cities but the area has been plagued by terrible droughts.

She particularly enjoyed Gonder's Lake Tana which serves as the headwaters of the Blue Nile and is surrounded by magnificent twelfth century castles. Some structures span 60 feet in height, are carved of granite and are 1,800 years old.

It wasn't bad water nor did foul weather leave fellow Auxiliary member Lorelee Mogg shanghaied in her Holland America cabin with husband Bob. While sailing the cruise ship to China, Moraga's Mogg fell captive to the Norwalk Flu. "We had been instructed to report immediately to the staff if we experienced any symptoms," reflects Mogg. "A nurse came promptly with pills and told us that we would be quarantined for 48 hours so we missed two days in Shanghai."

Bob had to be quarantined with Lorelee, but did not get the flu. "The ship did everything they could to make our 48 hours comfortable and compensated us financially," reflects Mogg. And what if the Mogg's decided to mutiny and leave the cabin? "They could put us off the ship!" exclaims Lorelee. In fact, Mogg tells a similar story of a flu-struck passenger's wife leaving the cabin on the last day of quarantine to have a drink in the ships bar, as she was healthy and felt it safe to leave her husband. The cruise ship company, who will remain anonymous, withdrew the compensation from their bill.

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So how can you minimize your chance of contracting Viral Gastroenteritis, the gastrointestinal illness known as norovirus? According to industry newsletter Cruise Week, cruise any time from June through October. Norovirus is seasonal, and there are very few outbreaks in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Flu season, especially January and February, brings the greatest number of outbreaks. Also consider a small luxury ship. Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea have never had norovirus outbreaks. By contrast, within the past five-plus years (Jan. 2002 through May 2007), there have been 23 outbreaks on Holland America, 18 on Princess, 13 on Carnival, 12 on Royal Caribbean, 11 on Celebrity, 10 on Norwegian Cruise Line, 4 on Cunard, and 1 on Disney in 2002, according to Centers for Disease Control records.

If you're looking for outdoor adventures closer to home, check out Weekend Sherpa. The weekly e-newsletter gives insiders' recommendations on the Bay Area's best outdoor pursuits and little known adventures. Ever slept in a yurt in Big Sur or wanted to volunteer to help Mother Earth? Weekend Sherpa leads the way.

Next month well visit the 49th state admitted to the Union. That's right, we're Alaska bound! Where have you been lately? Drop me an e-mail of your travels.

Nancy Brown grew up in Moraga and lives in Lafayette with her husband and children. She looks forward to hearing of your adventures at

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