An Eco-Adventure in Senegal?

Africa is a place that I have always wanted to visit.  Senegal is on the west coast, making it one of the closest African destinations to North America.  Senegal has several interesting attractions for eco-travelers; here are some of the things I am adding to my bucket list:

I really had to dig deep to find out about this and I’m still waiting to hear back from Senegal tourism for all the fine details, but what better way can there be to find all of the best spots in Senegal than with the people that live there!  The small village of Kédougou, offers eco-tourists an experience you won’t find too often, a chance to be a part of the village.  For the cost of $40 U.S., the village will take you in for a week as one of their own.  The $40 is paid directly to the villagers themselves and has allowed them to greatly increase their quality of life.  Mind you, this village is not going to provide the level of comfort amenities that will be found at the average tourist attraction, but I am thinking that this will be the best way to be able to see all of the hidden secrets of the landscape and wildlife that I am looking for.

Lake Retba (the Pink Lake)

Probably the most well-known of Senegal’s tourist attractions is Lake Retba known as the pink lake.  This lake, which looks like it is filled with Pepto Bismal, is colored pink because of a breed of rare algae that is found in the water.  The algae are attracted, because the lake contains an extremely high salt content in the water, which also allows people to float on the surface of the water effortlessly.  I didn’t see terribly much to do at this location but I would surely want to stop and take some pictures.  This lake is also located nearby the Village des tortues (turtle sanctuary), which would be a great spot to check out on the same day as the lake and make a full day’s trip.

The African Renaissance Monument
The statue, unveiled April 3, 2010, has sparked a lot of controversy in Senegal.  So many residents of Senegal live in poverty that the statue is widely criticized as a poor choice of Government spending.  However, that controversy does not take anything away from the magnificence of the art.  The figures depicted in the artwork clearly illustrate pride, success, momentum and companionship, so I can see exactly why it was built.  It is a shame that the standard of life within the country is at a level that would take away from the pride that should be associated with this piece.  People sometimes need a symbol to associate with a region, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, or the Pyramids, maybe this artwork could attract much needed attention to Senegal and end up being worth the money.  The statue is larger than the Statue of Liberty and I consider on the must see list for a Senegalese tour.

Gorée Island
This island is well known as being a symbol of liberation from the Atlantic slave trade.  It has been argued by historians that this island was not actually nearly as active a hub for slave-trading as the nearby island of St. Louise, but this theory remains disputed by the locals.  Gorée Island is home to the Statue Des Esclaves (The Slave Statue) and the Maison des Esclavesthe (House of Slaves) where it is said that millions of abducted Africans were held while waiting to be shipped to the western hemisphere to serve as slaves.  I am particularly interested in the Statue which looks to be a very inspirational piece.  Aside from all of the historical items, Gorée Island has a beautiful landscape and beach.

#GreenHouston Contest Update

This summer Dispenser Amenities: The Eco-Travelers Club ran the #GreenHouston Sweepstakes and Design Your Own Eco-Vacation Contest.  Our contest winners were out enjoying their prizes last month. 

Our grand prize winner Kathy Davis was unable to make it to Houston because of a personal commitment so we randomly selected a new winner – Shaun Brown of Winnipeg Manitoba.  Shaun and his wife Crystal loved their prize of a round trip flight to Houston to stay at the Element Vintage Park Hotel, with tickets to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers live at the Houston Toyota Center.  He had a chance to tell me about it when he got back:

We loved the Element Hotel especially the Full Kitchen. We had our own dishes/cutlery and even a dishwasher… so we were able to grab food and bring it back to our room.  We checked out the USS Texas Saturday morning, it is huge! We must have spent 3 hours there, wandering all the bottom decks, a couple of the top decks and checking out all the different rooms, and equipment.  We got a first-hand account of what it must have been like to live on this piece of solid metal at sea.

We then headed south, grabbed a cold drink and toured the Kemah Boardwalk visiting all the small little shops. After that, we finished off the afternoon with some seafood at Joe’s crab shack overlooking Galveston bay.

The concert was great!  Honestly, I was not a huge Red Hot Chili Peppers fan coming into this, but the show and their older songs were great.  

Emilia Turner was the winner of our Design Your Own Eco-Vacation Contest.  She is a true eco-traveler and chose to spend her weekend vacation prize in Vancouver, Canada, on her way to another scheduled vacation in Glasgow, Scotland.  Emilia is in Scotland now but took the time to send us a little update of how everything went for her:

Coming to back to Vancouver is always a thrill for me.  Thanks to The Eco-Travelers Club my weekend with my husband very memorable.  Vancouver is a very walkable city.  From our hotel we walked to Granville St heading north to the beautifully restored Waterfront Station building where the Seabus, Canada Line and Westcoast express meet.  There is always a buzz of movement here.   Restaurants, shops and easy access to Gastown make this stop exciting.  It is very easy to get to all points of the city, airport and suburbs from here, which makes this an important hub for me because I don’t own a car.

I then walked along Coal Harbor, a stunning walkway with no cars.  It is perfect for bike riding, roller blading, or just strolling for hours and is right beside the water with open views of the North Shore Mountains.  As you walk you come across the marina with beautiful yachts.  Shops, public cared for washrooms make this walk very comfortable.  For lunch, I stopped in the “Lift Bar Grill” which had an assortment of seafood and pasta, with stunning views of Stanley Park, the mountains and marine life.  It was delicious and the presentation was beautiful and to top it off, for menus, they handed out iPads.  As we continued our walk Coal Harbor takes you to English Bay which is full open spaces and views and even features palm trees in Canada!  This is a great safe place for bike riding, walking, rollerblading with no interference from cars.  After spending hours walking we went back to the hotel for a nap.

Night life in Vancouver is always fun.  Granville St. and Yaletown are my favorites.  The next day I went to Pacific Centre, a mall with all my favorite shops.  For lunch we went to the Vancouver Art Gallery.  A must for tourists in Vancouver, is to try the sushi; there are tons of sushi places at a reasonable price.

I wanted to visit Stanley Park but decided against it.  I would need a whole day there and a bicycle to get through it, it’s huge.

I went to bed early as I had to catch a flight to Scotland the next morning.  I am quite proud that I took the greyhound to Vancouver, walked to the hotel, Canada Line to Airport.  In Scotland, I took the shuttle bus to Glasgow Queens St train Station, the train up to Inverness, then walked across the street to the Inverness bus station and took a one hour bus ride to Dornach.  These buses are beautiful.  

Emilia also promised me some pictures from her Scottish adventure once she’s had a chance to take some.  I’ve heard great stories from her about the beauty of the local Castle and Cathedral with the back lighting at night as well as the beaches and highlands, so make sure to keep an eye out for those in upcoming posts.  If anyone has any comments or suggestions for future contests, be sure to give us a tweet @disp_amenities.

Four Great Travel-Worthy Events for Remembrance Day or Veteran’s Day

Belgium – Menin Gate Memorial Ceremony
Since November eleventh, Armistice Day, is a public holiday in Belgium, there are a great number of people able to attend ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the end of World War 1.  One of the most prestigious ceremonies is a special church service at St. George’s Church preceding the famous Poppy Parade.  Attendance at this event has become so popular that invitation to the church ceremony is now available by ticket only.  After the service, everybody then joins the Poppy Parade, which begins at St. Martin’s Cathedral and leads to the Menin Gate Memorial of the Missing.  At the gate, there is a special version of a daily ceremony known as the Last Post Ceremony.  This ceremony is a tribute to the missing soldiers of World War 1, many of whom have their names listed on the gate.  Usually done as a daily routine at 8pm, on November 11, the ceremony takes place in the morning and has a much larger crowd than usual.  It has become such an event that the city of Ypres has had to take extra measures to accommodate the large crowd.  There are speeches and music followed by the laying of the wreaths, where members of the public may lay a family wreath in honor of fallen soldiers.  (


New York City – The Veteran’s Day Parade

The Veteran’s Day Parade in New York City is a huge 4 hour event.  Starting in 1929, the parade has since been a yearly tradition in New York.  It is the U.S.A.’s largest veteran’s day ceremony and one of the largest November 11th ceremonies in the entire world!  It is a nationally televised event with well over half a million spectators expected to attend with 25,000 people participating in the parade alone.  The parade exhibits representatives from each element of the American Military and Law Enforcement, many of whom display their weapons and vehicles.  In 2011, former Miss New York, Alyse Zwick, was a guest reporter covering the event and hosting interviews for FOX News. The 2012 theme will be “United We Stand”, a theme dedicated to encourage the nation to stand behind America’s veterans. This event also features a wreath laying ceremony at the Eternal Flame in Madison Square Park. (













Ottawa – National Ceremony of Remembrance at the National War Memorial

Every year Ottawa hosts the National Ceremony of Remembrance at the National War Memorial.  In this nationally televised event, starting at Cartier Square Drill Hall, a parade of Canadian Military and Law Enforment marches through the streets of Ottawa to the National War Memorial.  During the ceremony, speeches are followed by wreaths being placed on the Memorial by Canadian dignitaries including the Governor General and the Prime Minister.  A salute to the fallen soldiers is marked by the firing of artillery.  Members of the public place their poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which holds the remains of an unidentified Canadian soldier who died in France during World War I.  The Governor General also takes some time to speak with Silver Cross mothers and veterans.  The parade features units from all sections of the Canadian Military in full gear, military vehicles, and the R.C.M.P in shining red uniforms. (











London – Remembrance Sunday Ceremony at the Cenotaph

In England, Remembrance Day or “Poppy Day” is recognized on the eleventh of November.  However, the biggest ceremony takes place on the closest Sunday to the eleventh known as Remembrance Sunday.  A national ceremony takes place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, where the Queen of England lays the first wreath and is followed by a countless number of royal and parliamentary wreath-layers.  This is one of the biggest and oldest Remembrance Day events, worldwide, and receives international viewership on the BBC.  A true sense of tradition is illustrated by the style of the event and traditional uniforms sported by the British Military.  (

Dispenser Amenities Pairs With The Nature Conservancy in The Pelee Island Project

This summer we sat down with Linda Branderhorst of The Nature Conservancy after meeting her while organizing our event for the 2012 Nature Conservancy “Picnic for the Planet” which was an attempt to set a world record of Picnickers around the world on Earth Day.  Due to poor weather conditions, unfortunately, the record was not obtained but instead, a wonderful relationship with Linda and The Nature Conservancy began.  During our meeting with Linda this summer, we agreed to make a commitment to their efforts on the conservation of Pelee Island.  Dispenser Amenities will begin by renovating the Ivey Research Center which is a key location that allows Nature Conservancy researchers to live and work on the island.  We have also made a five year financial commitment to support The Nature Conservancy’s effort to monitor and protect the over 200 species of plants and animals that are considered of conservation significance.

Dispenser Amenities’ love affair with Pelee Island actually began 15 years ago.  Senior staff here all share a lifelong passion – Birding!  Sales and Administration expert at Dispenser Amenities, Heather, told me “Birding is something I’ve done my whole life.  Officially I started birding as a hobby around 15 years ago, but I have always noticed birds and been interested in birds for as long as I remember.  Ian (company President), Liz (Executive Accounts Manager) and I started birding on Pelee Island because it is unique, quiet and beautiful.” 

Shortly after they started birding on the Island, the Spring Migration became an official event known now as “Spring Song”.  This event is a celebration of birding and a fundraiser for the Island.  Recently hosted by celebrities such as Wayne Grady, Merilyn Simonds, Margret Atwood and Ian Davidson, the event has become a hit in the birding community.  Heather recalls the past when she worked for a wild animal rehabilitation center, how she was able to get Robert Bateman (shown left) involved in a fundraiser for the animals.  After meeting him at a Spring Song event, Heather contacted him and he agreed to sign 20 of his books to be used as prizes for the fundraiser.  Liz, who is a huge David Suzuki fan, remembers the 2007 Spring Song event where David Suzuki was a guest speaker.  “He is just so passionate about the environment and has kept up his efforts for such a long time.” says Liz.  “He seems to know everything there is to know about nature and sustainability.  To have him come and speak at my favorite birding function just blew me away – what a great surprise!” 

We are making this commitment not only because we love the island but because we feel that Pelee Island is such an important place to preserve.  Aside from being our favorite birding destination and key stopover for the so many species of bird’s migration, Pelee Island has what is considered a Carolinian Climate Zone, which is a rare habitat to find in Canada and supports a number of animals many of which are at the northern limit of their range.  The Blue Racer snake and Small-mouthed Salamander for example cannot be found anywhere else in Canada.  The Lake Erie Water Snake have populations on Pelee Island as well as other small southern extremities of Canada.  The Grey Fox  has been sighted in Canada close to U.S. access points like Windsor, but the population on Pelee Island is considered the only Canadian resident breeding population. (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources)  All of these species are listed as endangered and have suffered greatly because of habitat destruction.  The Blanchard’s Cricket Frog, Fowler’s Toad and the Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake are all believed to be extirpated from the island (Nature Conservancy) and we want to prevent any other species from meeting that same fate.

From our years of spring migration bird watching on Pelee Island, we have come to love the island, its people and its superb environmental uniqueness.  The marvel that is spring and fall migration and the habitat that the island affords these avian long-distance travelers must be preserved.  “Dispenser Amenities is committed to protecting the very special ecological environment of Pelee Island and the Nature Conservancy already has significant human and financial resources committed to this conservation challenge.  They have the ability to take our contribution and allocate it where the greatest needs exist.  Their stewardship of the Island will ensure that the special areas like the wetlands, the alvars and the forests will thrive for all time,” says Ian Wallace, President of Dispenser Amenities Inc.  “We are proud to be able to support their work in keeping Pelee Island such a special place in Nature.” 

The Vacation That Lasted a Lifetime

What started as a casual conversation between guest and staff on a Baltic Cruise has landed a Room Stewardess in Canada on a life changing course.

In 2008, my wife Judy and I, Dispenser Amenities’ President, Ian Wallace, were on a Baltic Cruise, enjoying three days in St. Petersburg as well as stops in Helsinki, Estonia, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Belgium.  During this cruise, we struck up a conversation with an employee of the cruise line, which was the beginning of a relationship that would become a life changing journey for both of us.

That employee was our Cabin Attendant, Tetyana, from Ukraine.  “Both she and her assistant, an Indian gentleman named Vijay, were simply delightful people who greeted us with the biggest, happiest smiles every time we saw them,” says Judy.  In chatting with them further, it was learned that they had become more than just working associates and had become a couple.  Over a quick glass of wine one afternoon, we learned that Tetyana had been working at sea since 2003 to support her son who lived with his grandmother in Ukraine.  Tetyana was an Electrical Engineer by trade, but she could not find a job in that field within Ukraine, so she began taking jobs aboard cruise ships out of necessity.  That however, left her little or no time to see her family, so she regularly sent money home to help support her son Andrusha and her mother.  Likewise, Vijay sent money home to India to help support his parents and siblings.

Both said they would love to start a new life that would be a better life for them in a new country like Canada.  It was a dream and the seeds were planted on that cruise.

For a year and a half, we continued communication with Tetyana and Vijay by Skype.  When we began planning a cruise in Asia, we told Tetyana our plans to be on a different ship for this trip.  By true coincidence Tetyana and Vijay had also changed ships and, sure enough, they would be on the same cruise voyage through Asia.  During check-in, cabin attendants assist the travellers to find their cabins and probably twenty attendants rotated through the newly arriving passengers. Who was waiting for the next passengers when it was our turn? Tetyana.   Great joy and hugs ensued and it was such a treat to see each other again.  The discussion about Canada continued but it was apparent that the couple could not leave their jobs because their families needed the money they sent back home.

We planned another cruise in 2011, this time in the Mediterranean on a new ship.  Fate again intervened and Tetyana and Vijay had changed to this ship, so we would see them again!  Amazing!  Once again, as we boarded the ship, you guessed it, Tetyana’s turn to take the guests to their cabin coincided with our timing at arrival, so another round of hugs and joy was exchanged.  By now, Vijay had been promoted to a Butler and looked a most handsome guy in his stunning black tuxedo.

Now after having worked on cruise ships for 8 years away from her family, Tetyana was really ready to do whatever it took to find a way to be with her son and live a normal life.  After more talk about the possibilities of coming to Canada, it was determined that the only viable approach  was if they could get an international student Visa to attend college.  So, against all odds, we set about to try to make it happen.  Tetyana had to pass English proficiency in written and oral ability and she was successful in that test.  She was conditionally admitted to the accounting program at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario but still had to obtain a Visa from the Canadian Embassy in Kiev.  Time passed and it was looking as if the school year would start before the Visa would be approved, if it even would be approved.  But on Friday, August 31st, a delighted Tetyana called to say that she and Andrusha had their Visas to come to Canada.

Judy immediately sent emails to everyone we knew asking for help with anything anybody had, to set up an apartment.  The tired travellers arrived at Toronto airport the next Wednesday evening where we picked them up to begin their new life.  We had found a nice two bedroom apartment close to our home and on Saturday morning, just eight days after the Visa phone call, they moved into an apartment that had been completely furnished and outfitted by donations!

They are so completely amazed and thankful to everyone who had helped to make this amazing day possible.  Tetyana is enjoying her accounting classes and learning about strange English terms like Assets and Liabilities.  “Andy”, who is now a ‘Canadian boy’ is in ninth grade, starting secondary school.  Their most used word is “unbelievable!”

Vijay, is still on the ship and everyone hopes that he will be able to join the family in London in the New Year to study Hotel Management in the same college.  Hopefully there will be more happy chapters to this story, all started over a glass of wine.

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