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Explore Truly Unique Wildlife and Culture in Madagascar
Madagascar is a country that has remained in my heart and my thoughts ever since I visited there from top to bottom in 1995. So I am delighted to share with our readers the announcement of a new 12-day “Madagascar: Land of Lemurs” tour. It is a very challenging country to navigate independently, so finding a reliable, responsible tour operator like Wildland Adventures is highly recommended.
For those unfamiliar with Madagascar off Africa’s southeast coast, it is the world’s fourth largest island where fully 80% of its plants and animals are found nowhere else on earth. Having geologically detached from the African continent about 160 million years ago and not attracting any humans to its shores until about 2000 years ago, botany and wildlife developed virtually without interference in some very interesting ways.
“On this trip,” explains Kurt Kutay, Wildland Adventures founding President and CEO, “our guests follow an astonishing evolutionary path through one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots harboring an exotic array of fantastic creatures, epic landscapes and a blended Malagasy culture of Malayo-Indonesian and African-Arab ancestry. The island’s isolation has allowed endemic species here to thrive. Some 130 species and subspecies of lemur (Madagascar’s flagship animal) are found here, including earth’s smallest primate, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, weighing in at about 1.1 ounces and the indri or babakoto, which can weigh 21 pounds.”
Throughout this exploration, accommodations have been selected for comfort, the charm of the Malagasy (people of Madagascar) and access to nature reserves and native communities. Lodgings reflect the French colonialism that lasted until 1960: a 19th century bank building turned pension; a mountaintop lodge surrounded by rainforest; a tented, riverside camp with hand-carved furnishings; and thatched roof dwellings positioned between a rainforest, a white sand beach and the Indian Ocean. Studded with mangroves, this is the last untouched patch of coastal rainforest in southern Madagascar. There are multiple departure options in 2019 in the non-rainy months from the end of June to late November. Do discuss your fitness level with a Wildland consultant to be sure there is a good match with terrain covered to track wildlife and to accomplish elevation changes on foot.
Kurt and his wife, Anne Kutay, Vice-President, established Wildland Adventures http://www.wildland.com/ in 1987. As active managing directors, they are continuously refining and evolving their Wild Style of travel. The ‘Wild Style’ is based on an ethic of sincerity, compassion and understanding that breaks down barriers of separation to build lasting intercultural, interpersonal, and environmental bonds designed to enhance rather than exploit the people and places where they travel. Over the past ten years, 31% of Wildland clients have been ages 45 to 60 and 27% have been 61 to 75 years young.
All images ©Wildland Adventures.
Walk in the Footsteps of Alexander the Great
On March 22, 2019, scholar, archaeologist and respected tour operator, Peter Sommer wrote: “This week is the anniversary of an important event in the history, or really the prehistory, of Peter Sommer Travels. It has been exactly 25 years since my first visit to Turkey, a trip that changed my own life and led to the foundation of the company’s archaeological and cultural tours, now active in six countries. It was also the inspiration for our signature 12-day tour, In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great in Turkey, an annual adventure on which I invite travelers to join me.”
Congratulations are certainly in order for this milestone which has allowed many small-group tour participants to travel back through time, delving into Alexander’s personality and the lives of the people that inhabited his tumultuous world. Following in Alexander’s footsteps while tracking the first leg of this iconic historic figure’s journey across Turkey, travelers move from Istanbul to ancient Halicarnassus, modern day Bodrum and the site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
In fact, Peter and Alexander were both in their early twenties as they were each discovering Turkey in very different ways!
Turkey is rich with Alexander’s legacy including Troy, where Alexander ran naked around Achilles’ tomb; Sardis, kingdom of Croesus once famed as the richest man in the world; Ephesus, one of the best-preserved classical cities in the world; and Apollo’s great temple at Didyma, to stand below monumental marble columns and stroll along the sacred way. All this is topped off with magnificent landscapes, fabulous Turkish food and fine accommodations.
Recalling his 2,000-mile walk across Turkey back in 1994, retracing the route of Alexander the Great as he set out on the longest military expedition ever undertaken to this day, Peter Sommer had just completed a Master’s degree in Ancient History and Archaeology and studied Alexander’s campaigns and life in detail. Fast forward 25 years and readers who are quick to pack their bags may reserve one of the few remaining spots on the 2019 Alexander the Great tour taking place from April 29 to May 10, 2019. If that is not an option, Peter will be unveiling dates of the 2020 Spring itinerary in May 2019, so sign up for that announcement if you are interested.
Meanwhile, we invite you to read Peter’s richly-illustrated feature article in our Travel Article Library about “Istanbul: Queen of Cities” to whet your appetite.
All images ©Peter Sommer Travels.
Colorado’s Mesa Verde Country Announces Unique Tours for Visitors in 2019
Just in time for summer vacation planning season, Mesa Verde Country, https://www.mesaverdecountry.com/, located in southwest Colorado, has announced the unique tours travelers can take when visiting the area. The tours – which fill up quickly and should be booked in advance – offer an in-depth look at this culturally-rich area of the country. Like me, you will fall in love with this part of the U.S., a hidden gem of activities, accommodation and dining opportunities that require a week or two to explore.
Here is a summary of the entertaining and educational tours that are available in Mesa Verde Country.
Mesa Verde Farm & Ranch Tours
The farming history in Mesa Verde Country dates back to Ancestral Puebloan times. Mesa Verde Country’s hands-on Farm and Ranch Tours help visitors learn about the area’s agriculture history and modern-day farming and ranching. Discover how agriculture has shaped Montezuma County while taking in the beauty of the high desert topography. The tours include historical sights, one-on-one time with the farmers and ranchers, lunch and an optional local wine and beer tasting. Book agritourism/farm/ranch tours here or here (May through September).
Mesa Verde National Park
Throughout the year, Mesa Verde National Park offers a number of self- and ranger-guided tours and programs to help travelers get the most out of their visit to this cultural wonder of the world.
700 Years Tour (April 14-October 20)
The 700 Years Tour provides a complete historical view of the Ancestral Puebloans’ architectural, horticultural, cultural and religious dimensions. The four-hour guided excursion follows a chronological journey of the sites in the park, which has been named one of the top 10 places to visit in a lifetime. Call 800-449-2288 to book.
Summer & Fall Solstice Tour (June 21-22 and Sept. 22-23) For centuries, Pueblo farmers have been observing the sky and the change of seasons. Take the Sunrise Tour of Balcony House – the only site in the park that faces east – during summer or fall solstice and join in the long tradition of sky-watching at Mesa Verde. Call 877-444-6777 to book.
Balcony House Sunrise Tour (June-September) You don’t have to make it to the park on the solstice to enjoy sunrise at Balcony House. Tours are offered June through September and feature the benefits of a small group size, cooler temperatures and more time in the dwelling than the regular tour. Participants will climb up a 32-foot ladder, through a tunnels, and up a 60-foot open cliff face with stone steps. The 90-minute tour is also available for advance, online reservations.
Hovenweep Dark Sky Events
During the summer, Hovenweep National Monument hosts a free astronomy program that enables visitors to check out the gold-tier dark sky Hovenweep has to offer. Join rangers to learn about the night sky and take a constellation tour. Bring a small flashlight with red covering, a chair or blanket to sit on, and your sense of wonder! Check here for details.
For hands-on archeology fans, nothing could be better than a stay on the delightful campus of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, http://www.crowcanyon.org/ where weeklong archaeological learning and excavation programs are offered for Lifelong Learners (mostly seniors and teachers) and for families each June September and October. As a lifelong learner I spent a week on campus enjoying fabulous meals, sleeping in circular Navajo-style tented hogans and participating in the state-of-the-art lab activities as well as excavation digs in the field. A great experience!
About Mesa Verde Country
Mesa Verde Country www.mesaverdecountry.com in Southwest Colorado is the gateway to the magnificent Mesa Verde National Park. Named the “Number One Historic Monument in the World” by Conde Nast Traveler and one of the “50 Places of a Lifetime -The World’s Greatest Destinations” by National Geographic, the park is one of the nation’s first UNESCO World Heritage sites and the largest archaeological preserve in the country. In addition to the national park, Mesa Verde Country is loaded with other archaeological attractions: Hovenweep National Monument, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Ute Mountain Tribal Park, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, the Anasazi Heritage Center and the Cortez Cultural Center.
Announcing the World’s Most Livable Cities
For 2018, Vienna claimed the title of the world’s most livable city in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual index after Melbourne, Australia, topped the list for seven consecutive years in a row. Vienna has been very near the top in the decade I have followed this important index, but this is the first time it has made top spot with a score of 99.1 out of 100.
What makes Vienna outrank all the other great cities of the world? The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) bases its annual rankings of 140 cities around the world on stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. We invite you to read our city destination story about getting the most out of Vienna on a tight budget, and you will start to get an idea of why it is so outstanding. And there is another Vienna story about spending a day with Mozart. In light of our final story on “Overtourism” in this issue of the TravelWatch newsletter, it is worth noting the following tourist-friendly survey taken in 2016 among more than 2,000 residents of Vienna by the Vienna Tourist Board. Ninety percent of local respondents said that the city, its residents, and its economy benefit from tourism and 82 percent believed that their everyday lives were not disrupted by tourists.
If you’re considering moving abroad, the ranking quality-of-life screenings are all something to be considered when picking a city to begin expat life. But even if you only considering a city vacation, the EIU has done all the hard work of finding you a place to enjoy in the best possible ways.
1. Vienna, Austria
2. Melbourne, Australia
3. Osaka, Japan
4. Calgary, Canada
5. Sydney, Australia
6. Vancouver, Canada
7. Toronto, Canada
8. Tokyo, Japan
9. Copenhagen, Denmark
10. Adelaide, Australia
The rest of the top 10 is dominated by cities in Japan (Osaka and Tokyo), Canada (Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto), and Australia (Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide). In fact, the only other European city to make the top 10 list is Copenhagen, Denmark, which came in ninth with a score of 96.8, and the first American city to appear was Honolulu at 23rd. Canada and Australia have held three spots each for as long as I can remember which is a remarkable achievement when competing against so many other cities analyzed in such detail. Congratulations to all! Please see our feature articles about Vancouver and what it has to offer as a four season destination: story 1 and story 2.
A Brief Introduction to Overtourism
If you haven’t already encountered Overtourism in media stories or on your vacation, you soon will. It is a growing challenge in many parts of the world and the consequences can be predictably uncomfortable for both the visitor and the locals who are trying to cope.
The term has only been used since 2015, referring to situations in which conflicts arise between locals and visitors at popular tourism destinations. The problem can be a great threat to natural environments or to communities that see their “home” spaces becoming increasingly difficult to live, work or thrive in. In order to protect such popular attractions from overcrowding and even destruction, an increasing number of local governments and tourism boards are starting to take action. Where they have not chosen to do so, mainly motivated by a desire to maintain the tourism cash flow at all cost, international outcry and grassroots action within impacted communities are resulting in protests demanding better management of visitors for the benefit of all.
Here are a few examples of overtourism unfolding in Europe and what is happening to reduce its effects in specific destinations:
The exquisite Croatian island of Hvar with its fortress and cobbled streets became a heavily-visited, lively spot for hard-partying and bad behavior of its visitors. Island administrators drew international attention with the creation of a series of local bylaws in 2017, including the requirement for men to wear shirts while in town and for visitors to refrain from sleeping, eating or drinking in public. These infractions, carrying hefty fines for 500 euros and 700 euros respectively, have attracted a more respectful, civilized visiting public, returning tourism to something that residents can handle.
Benidorm, a popular tourist hotspot on the coast of southern Spain has recently cracked down on “uncivic tourism” by banning people from using mobility scooters, electric scooters and Segways on pavements. Tourists in particular have been criticized for using such vehicles to get around when they don’t physically need them and for driving recklessly. City councillors have voted unanimously to approve laws to impose a 12mph speed limit on scooters, with 499 Euros fines for offenders. Riders will also need insurance, they will have to wear helmets, and have either a fluorescent vest or bell to alert the public. Barcelona and Madrid have already introduced similar legislation and other towns and resorts, including Palma de Majorca, are considering following suit.
On the Greek Island of Santorini, donkey rides that some travelers from cruise ships and ferries choose to take up the steep cliff paths and steps from the shore to the villages perched on top of the cliffs have come under fire from animal welfare groups in 2018. Under new rules implemented by the Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food, anyone who wishes to ride the donkeys must weigh less than 100 kilograms (or 220 pounds) or one-fifth of the animal’s body weight which is the recommended amount that a donkey can carry. The government has also implemented rules to make sure the donkeys get properly fed and have access to a steady supply of drinking water. The donkey rides aren’t the only issue Santorini has had to deal with recently. Overtourism has become such an issue that Santorini has capped the number of cruise ship visitors at 8,000 people daily.
I have long drawn reader attention to the severe cruise ship overtourism that Venice with over 20 million visitors annually has been trying to control with limited success (see our article on the subject), but let’s look at what laws the city of Florence has recently introduced to cope with its overtourism. A new regulation bans sitting/standing and eating on curbs and store doorsteps on four streets in the city center with fines from 150 to 500 Euros, applicable only during prime lunch and dinner hours. Rome has also enacted a similar ban on eating and drinking near 15 of the city’s most popular fountains during their high travel season.
It is important for travelers abroad to understand that they, individually, are not really the enemy, but rather it is in their numbers where problems escalates to bring very necessary reactive actions. Visitors can be helpful in reducing the massive threat to fragile places by behaving responsibly at all times, by choosing to visit during a less popular season or by researching an equally attractive but not such high profile destination perhaps nearby to drink in the ambience they are wanting to experience.