Shirley’s Story: 15 TourMagination Tours and Counting!

Recently, we talked to TourMagination traveller Shirley Ratzlaff about her travels with TourMagination. She has been on 15 tours and counting. Listen in on our conversation to hear about some of Shirley’s incredible experiences.

Tour #1: Australia

“My mom invited me to join her on a three-week tour to Australia and New Zealand in 2008,” says Shirley Ratzlaff. “I loved her dearly, but I wasn’t sure about travelling together because we hadn’t lived together for 40 years.” Encouraged by her husband, Don, and two sons, Shirley joined her mom, Margaret, on the epic tour. Shirley remembers seeing kangaroos, the Great Barrier Reef, the Sydney Opera House and Uluru (the giant red rock in the middle of the desert) in Australia. “Mom and I both rode camels. It was wonderful!” Margaret was 86 at the time of the tour.

In 2012, Shirley and Margaret went on TourMagination’s Waterways of Russia Cruise, travelling up the Volga River from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

Continuing the Travel Legacy

After Margaret passed away, Shirley continued travelling—sometimes alone or with a family member or friend. Shirley took her granddaughters on their own trip to Alaska—one went when she was 12 and the other when she was 14. In addition, her younger son Dean travelled on two trips with her. “Dean is interested in Mennonite family history and absorbs everything he sees.”

Shirley and Dean travelled with tour leader Len Friesen on the Mennonite History in Ukraine Tour. “Dean peppered Len with questions. He can still regurgitate to me what he learned on that tour!” Dean also joined Shirley on the Mennonite Story in Poland Tour.

Adventure in India

On a trip to India with TourMagination, Shirley remembers staying in a hotel room close to the Taj Mahal. “You could open the drapes and see that big, beautiful building all lit up at night—that was fantastic.” The group took a jungle jeep ride on the same tour to find tigers. Never one to miss an experience, Shirley asked a young local girl to decorate her arms with an intricate henna design. On her return, students at the school where she worked in food services were curious to hear about her henna and her visit to India.

Learning About Mennonites Around the World

Shirley recently finished reading one of her mom’s books, Up From the Rubble, by Peter J. Dyck. The book details the harrowing days after World War II when Peter and his wife Elfrieda helped Mennonite refugees leave war-devastated Europe and live in South America and Canada. The book reminded her of her 2015 Explore South America Tour that included visiting the Mennonite colonies of Sommerfeld, Fernheim, Menno, and Neuland in Paraguay, seeing the Iguazu Falls from the Brazil side, and a hike up Machu Picchu in Peru. “That’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed about TourMagination: tours that connect us with Mennonites in other parts of the world.” The South America trip, led by Edgar Stoesz, seeded her interest in the later Mennonite heritage tours to Ukraine and Poland and the European Anabaptist Heritage Tour.

Shirley’s Favourite Tour

“Antarctica—oh my. I think that was probably my most favourite trip!” She remembers leaving the ship every day in rubberized zodiac boats. “It was cold, and we were dodging icebergs and ice flows. Penguins were everywhere! The sounds, and smells and watching how they lived was fascinating to me.”

Most recently, Shirley travelled on the Natural Wonders of Iceland Tour with her husband Don. She was pleased to be about 25 miles from the Arctic Circle in northern Iceland. “I have been [close to] both poles!” They saw more icebergs in Iceland, which reminded them of their first year of marriage when they volunteered with MCC in a rural northern community on the tip of Newfoundland in Canada.

What Shirley Loves About TourMagination

“It was the leaders who made TourMagination tours so special. And the in-country guides.” Shirley also appreciates travelling with like-minded people from North America. “[Travelling] has helped me develop a world view of how Mennonites and other people live all over the world.” Observing people who are happy—though they live with much less than North Americans—made an impression on Shirley. She also fondly remembers worshipping with Mennonites in many countries—even when she couldn’t understand the singing and the sermon.

To date, Shirley has been on 15 TourMagination tours—spanning all seven continents! With her usual open-hearted curiosity, Shirley is ready to embrace her next adventures on the Beautiful British Isles Cruise in May.

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