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Travel Visionaries Changing the World for the Better P. 43

The Ultimate Silk Road Journey P. 94


contents Novemb er/ D e c emb er 20 19



Explore a side of Puglia rarely seen by visitors. Photographs by Piero Percoco



Every country has a soundtrack. Travelers just need to open their ears. by Ryan Knighton


The ancient ruins of Petra, Jordan, were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Photograph by Alex Cretey Systermans





contents Novemb er/ D e c emb er 20 19



Bright colors, historic sites, and flavorful feasts—now is the time to discover Uzbekistan. by Anya von Bremzen









SWISS is not only our airline’s name. It’s also our standard. Enjoy Swiss hospitality and specialties on board.

Made of Switzerland.

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Four reader stories about why—and how—travel has made them happiest.









The votes are in: these are AFAR readers’ favorite hotels, cruise lines, and air travel experiences.



In the Swiss Alps, AFAR’s photography director learns you’re never too old to play in the snow.

Dream Trips We sent AFAR editors to every continent on the most spectacular, over-the-top trips we could find. Read about their adventures— and how you can take one, too.





Shared meals, sunset hikes, and folk songs: New Zealand’s Māori deliver true hospitality.



Getting up close to nature in the Galápagos is awesome—but what if nature is a shark?

An expedition goes disastrously . . . well. 10 AFAR




Adventure travel fantasy meets jungle reality in Borneo.

Want to hike in your own corner of the Canadian Rockies? Hop into a helicopter.




A safari veteran has a distinctive new experience in Kenya.




The 2019 AFAR Travel Vanguard 43

Meet the visionaries harnessing the power of travel to make a difference.

On this trip, the world’s most iconic train is the destination. ILLUSTRATION BY ZARIA FORMAN


That’s the question we asked readers in AFAR’s Travel Happiness Survey, presented by the Aruba Tourism Authority. After reading more than 15,000 happy memories, we selected a handful to turn into illustrated videos. Here are a few highlights from each. Check out the videos—and read more of the stories—at

Return to Happiness

Among Alaska’s Giants

Adventure and friendship—these are the things that draw Marilyn Foglia to Aruba time and time again. She loves mountain biking through Arikok National Park and plunging into the waters off Boca Catalina Beach, a local favorite. “I’ve made many friends in Aruba, and their laid-back, friendly attitudes keep me coming back,” she said. “The island is now my home away from home.”

There were many highlights in Matt Seaver’s story about kayaking with his family in Alaska’s Aialik Bay. Our favorite: the moment a humpback whale poked its head out of the water, just feet from his kayak. A few minutes later, the whale breached again, “this time with its calf,” Seaver said. “Then they swam out into the bay toward the sunset, which seems to last forever in Alaska.”

Norwegian Lights

Finding Kindness in Tibet

Emma Mutino’s story grabbed us from the start. She and her partner had been driving around Tromsø, Norway, searching for the northern lights. They were about to give up when, finally, the lights appeared on the horizon. We won’t spoil the ending, so let’s just say a life-changing moment ensued. “I don’t have any photographs of the moment,” Mutino said. “But I can still see the sky dancing.”

Reader Kate Byler shared a story about a stranger’s surprising act of generosity. She and her friends were hiking through the mountains of Tibet when altitude sickness set in. A drokpa, or mountain nomad, happened by, saw their distress, and invited them to his home for dinner and rest. “They even gave us their best blankets,” Byler said. “I’ll never forget that night and the kindness they showed us.”

Want to read more from our Travel Happiness Survey? Visit to learn how many trips our readers take each year (and how many they want to take), what their dream trips are (beachy island holiday or luxurious train ride?), how readers hold on to the memories once they’re home, and much more. 12 AFAR



© 2019 Aruba Tourism Authority


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Plan your happy escape at

one happy island

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@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@ @@@@@@ @@@@@@@@@@@ @@@@@@ @@@@@@ (required by Act of August 12, 1970: Section 3685, Title 39, United States Code). 1. AFAR 2. (ISSN 19474377) 3. Filing date: 10/1/19. 4. Issue frequency: Bi-Monthly. 5. Number of issues published annually: 6. 6. The annual subscription price is $ 24. 7. Complete mailing address of known office of publication: Afar Media, LLC, 130 Battery Street, 6th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94111. Contact person: Kolin Rankin. Telephone: 8. Complete mailing address of headquarters or general business office of publisher: Afar Media, LLC, 130 Battery Street, 6th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94111. 9. Full names and complete mailing addresses of publisher, editor, and managing editor. Publisher, Ellen Asmodeo-Giglio, 25 W. 43rd Street, Suite 222, New York, NY 10036. Editor, Julia Cosgrove, 130 Battery Street, 6th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94111. Managing Editor, Jeremy Saum, 130 Battery Street, 6th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94111. 10. 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I understand that anyone who furnishes false or misleading information on this form or who omits material or information requested on the form may be subject to criminal sanction and civil actions. @@@@@@@@ @@@@@@@@@AFAR® (ISSN 1947-4377), Volume 11, Number 6, is published bimonthly by AFAR Media, LLC, 130 Battery St., Sixth Floor, San Francisco, CA 94111, U.S.A. In the U.S., AFAR® is a registered trademark of AFAR Media, LLC. Publisher assumes no responsibility for return of unsolicited manuscripts, art, or any other unsolicited materials. Subscription price for U.S. residents: $24.00 for 6 issues. Canadian subscription rate: $30.00 (GST included) for 6 issues. All other countries: $40.00 for 6 issues. To order a subscription to AFAR or to inquire about an existing subscription, please write to AFAR Magazine Customer Service, P.O. Box 6265, Harlan, IA 51591-1765, or call 888-403-9001. Periodicals postage paid at San Francisco, CA, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Please send address changes to AFAR, P.O. Box 6265, Harlan, IA 51591-1765.

WHERE LUXURY MEANS Love AmaWaterways was founded in 2002 by three families with a goal of creating a river cruise experience that we, ourselves, would love. In turn, we share that same experience with our guests, and consider you an extended part of our family.

Contact your preferred Travel Advisor, call 1.888.626.0994 or visit today.



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AFAR Travel Photography Awards Oded Wagenstein’s series about a Siberian reindeer herding community and its aging female members took third place in the inaugural AFAR Travel Photography Awards, presented in partnership with LensCulture and United Airlines.

“Like Last Year’s Snow” “I ’ V E A LWAYS F E LT that photography could help me win the unwinnable war against the passing of time,” says Israeli photographer Oded Wagenstein. As part of a long-term project on aging and memory, Wagenstein made the journey to Yar-Sale, a remote Siberian village more than 60 hours from Moscow by train and seven hours more by car. There, he met women who are forced to give up the social roles they play in their nomadic reindeer-herding community as they grow older. Unlike their male counterparts, the women face the trials of aging without support from the group. His series “Like Last Year’s Snow” juxtaposes portraits of the women with shots of the tundra and traditions they once were part of. “[Wagenstein] establishes a contemplative approach to the subject matter,” says photographer Brian Finke, one of the competition judges. “The pairings of portrait and exterior landscape support his goal of showing his subjects’ relation to their land while visually representing their isolation within the larger community.” For more about this year’s contest, go to —SARA BUTTON




Third-place winner, series

from the editor



program, Learning AFAR. Committed to the idea that travel is the best form of education, Learning AFAR—with the help of our partner organization No Barriers—has so far sent more than 1,300 students from eight states on trips to destinations including Costa Rica, Belize, the American Southwest, Cambodia, Mexico, Peru, and China. Ever since the program began, we’ve seen how the young people who travel return with an expanded sense of their place in the world. After the trip, many are inspired to become leaders in their communities. Later this year, a Learning AFAR group from New Orleans will

travel to Ghana, the first African destination in the program’s history. The students, part of the Son of a Saint organization, have all lost their fathers to death or incarceration. I know the experiences they’ll have will change how they see the world—and themselves. If you’re like us and you think travel is the best form of education, you can help. I invite you to visit and contribute what you can to support Learning AFAR’s mission to share the life-changing power of travel. —JULIA COSGROVE Editor in Chief



HI S FA L L I ’M bringing my family to New York with me on a business trip; in the winter we’ll spend a month in France while I’m on sabbatical; and next spring we’ll all head to Japan to visit friends. As a parent, I’m so privileged to be able to travel with my daughters and watch them learn about the world and its people in the best way I know. But not every kid is so lucky. That’s why in 2008, when Greg Sullivan and Joe Diaz launched AFAR, they also started the AFAR Foundation, which sponsors travel for underserved students through its flagship

The Gift of Travel


Your next getaway will be pure

Spas and golf courses? You bet. But that’s just the beginning of an unforgettable trip to Scottsdale. This bustling city in the Arizona desert serves

up fascinating museums, natural beauty, delicious cuisine, and more—and it makes for an ideal travel destination, whether you’re on a quick girlfriend getaway or a weeklong adventure with the whole family. Take a deeper dive into Scottsdale’s cultural treasures, including modern architecture and interactive art, and then relax poolside at luxurious resorts. Dine on awardwinning dishes that span the range of flavors and formalities—and sometimes throw in amazing views—and follow routes devoted to exploring innovative ales and wines.

How can you experience all that Scottsdale has to offer? Start here


For the First-Timers

For the Family

For Friends

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Discover the right Scottsdale itinerary for you at, launching September 30.

founder’s note

What Makes a Dream Trip?

T “It was a dream trip because of the travelers I became friends with, the staff who looked after our every need, and the locals who shared their lives with us.”

of southern Mongolia is a land of extreme temperatures and never-ending horizons. Its people are independent and self-sufficient. So are their horses. I hadn’t been horseback riding in years, and never on a Mongolian horse, but I was in good hands with my guide, a youthful thirtysomething who called himself “Gonzo.” We set off from the Three Camel Lodge and rode together for two hours, galloping at times but more often walking and sharing stories about our lives. Gonzo told me that he and his five siblings had grown up nomads, raised by their mother and grandmother after their father left the family when Gonzo was young. I shared how instrumental my mother, grandmother, and aunt had been in raising me, and how I longed to let them know how much I appreciated them. I asked Gonzo if he had forgiven his father. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and responded, “Yes.” I was reminded how liberating forgiveness is. This was just one of the memorable moments I experienced during a trip with TCS World Travel that was unlike any I had ever taken before. Over the course of 23 days, our group of 39 shared a plane that circumnavigated the Northern Hemisphere, flying 16,738 miles and stopping in seven countries. I spent an early morning meditating with a Zen Buddhist monk in his 400-year-old temple in Kyoto. I watched Russian ballerinas while eating caviar in a St. Petersburg palace. We sailed around the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, 650 miles from the North Pole, with a man named Erlend who has spent 14 years policing and rescuing people in that wild and savage place. At midnight we watched a polar bear pace the shoreline in search of food, in light as bright as day. We flew over glaciers in Greenland and cruised by icebergs the size of Liechtenstein while drinking scotch served over 10,000-year-old ice. Such a luxurious adventure certainly qualifies as a dream trip, our theme for this issue. (Read stories about journeys to every continent starting on page 63.) But ultimately, it wasn’t because of the private jet, or the exclusive access, or the top-shelf booze. It was a dream trip because of the travelers I became friends with, the staff who looked after our every need, and the locals who shared their lives with us. As you plan your next trip, keep the people front and center: the ones you travel with, the ones you meet along the way, and the ones who help make your journey possible. I believe it will make all the difference. H E G O BI DESERT


A herd of Mongolian horses grazes below sand dunes in the Gobi Desert.





Koper, Slovenia

A New Decade Of Discovery

LET’S CELEBRATE OUR PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE. For ten years, we’ve been sailing right to the doorstep of Earth’s most hidden gems. Bringing you deeper into the heart of local culture, and continuing to evolve with over 1,700 land programs. Now, it is time to honor our past and awaken a new era of going further. Join us as we celebrate at our Ten Years Further historic event, when our three sister ships meet in Koper, Slovenia, for a once-in-a-lifetime Grand AzAmazing Evening® – a special night of cultural immersion. Embark on any of our three exclusive voyages to commemorate this milestone. Explore Further SM

3 SISTERS MEET VOYAGES 12-Night Amalfi & Dalmatian Coasts Voyage | Azamara Quest® | Departing: September 28, 2020 7-Night Amalfi To Dalmatian Voyage | Azamara PursuitSM | Departing: October 3, 2020 7-Night Adriatic Wonders Voyage | Azamara Journey® | Departing: October 3, 2020

Call 1.855.AZAMARA, your Travel Advisor, or visit to book today. Azamara® is a proud member of the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. family of cruise lines. ©2019 Azamara. Ships Registered in Malta.



2019 TRAVELERS’ CHOICE AWARDS For our fourth annual Travelers’ Choice Awards, readers cast more than 200,000 votes for their favorite hotels, cruise lines, and—for the first time— airlines. BY SARA BUTTON & BROOKE VAUGHAN



French Polynesia Cruises

Mediterranean Cruises

Azamara “Country-Intensive Voyages” dock at multiple ports in one country, allowing passengers to get to know Israel, France, Croatia, and other Mediterranean lands intimately. 28 AFAR


Alaska Cruises

Holland America Line Every HAL itinerary includes stops to gape at glaciers and spot wildlife, and guests can choose excursions that offer insight into Alaskan history, such as a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway.

Caribbean Cruises

Royal Caribbean Traveling aboard this secondtime category winner, passengers can slow down in St. Kitts; marvel at Mayan ruins on Roatán, Honduras; snorkel off Cozumel; or spot seahorses at Bonaire National Marine Park.

River Cruises

Viking Every itinerary includes cultural enrichment to deepen travelers’ understanding of a destination, whether by visiting a porcelain factory along the Elbe River or exploring 10th-century Hindu temples on the Mekong.



Paul Gauguin Cruises Cruisers can relax on a private white-sand beach in Bora Bora or get scuba training on board to experience the lagoons and coral reefs of the South Pacific.




Find Yourself Someplace New When people fly someplace new, the experience becomes even more powerful. It happened to Cici, and it can happen to you. Embrace the inspiration and travel to #LifeChangingPlaces.

ometimes, travel can turn our lives upside down. It can occur in a place like France’s wine country, where row after row of vines stretch across golden landscapes, where ancient stones adorn quaint towns, and where a rich culture has evolved over the centuries. The beauty and rhythm of life here seduce visitors, calling out to them to explore more.


That’s exactly what happened to Cici Li. While studying biochemistry in China and considering a career in the cosmetics industry, Cici decided to try something new in 2007: a semester abroad in France. Captivated by the beauty of Burgundy’s vineyards, Cici also discovered its wines: the richness of textures, the depth of flavors, the complexity of production. Her life would be forever changed.

Cici went all in, graduating from a wine university in France and becoming the only Chinese winegrower at the esteemed Château des Ferrages. She then took that knowledge home to China, where she cofounded “Wine Weekend” seminars and is an ambassador for Sainte-Victoire. To discover more #LifeChangingPlaces like France, visit

“In France, life opened something special for me,” says Cici. “Now, it makes me happy that I can give that back to the people of China.”

There is beauty in every beginning. #LifeChangingPlaces


Small Ship

Windstar Cruises Vessels with no more than 342 guests gain access to waterways and ports other cruise lines can’t visit: Travelers can see Greece via the Corinth Canal or marvel at Alaska’s landscape by way of Prince William Sound.

Experiential Itineraries

Azamara By offering more overnight stays and evening shore activities, such as taekwondo demonstrations in South Korea, Azamara encourages guests to linger longer in destinations.

Medium Ship


Large Ship

Food & Beverage

Azamara Azamara features Broadwaycaliber entertainment, extensive time ashore for connecting with locals, and, as of 2019, the most pre- and postcruise programs in the industry. South Africa joins the destination list in 2020.

Celebrity Cruises This year, American Ballet Theatre dancers taught classes on board, guests sat down to a new fivecourse meal designed by chef Daniel Boulud, and the Flora, built specifically for the Galápagos Islands, set sail.

Silversea Expeditions Travelers can see puffins at a remote Norwegian outpost or take a My Photo Academy workshop on a trip to Antarctica. In 2020, they can explore the Galápagos Islands on the new fleet addition, the Silver Origin.

Oceania Cruises Executive culinary director Jacques Pépin oversees Oceania’s onboard fare, such as six-course tasting menus paired with Dom Pérignon champagnes. Onshore activities include cannoli-making in Sicily.









U.S. Airport

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Travelers can reduce stress by meditating in the Berman Reflection Room or, if flights are delayed, communing with LiLou, the world’s first certified airport therapy pig.

Delta Air Lines The Atlanta-based airline flies 180 million passengers to more than 300 destinations in 52 countries every year and partners with the Nature Conservancy so you can purchase carbon offsets for your flight.

International Airport

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) With two hotels located beyond passport control, art and science museums, and an airport library, Schiphol is larger than some Dutch cities. 34 AFAR


International Airline

U.S.-Based Reward Program

Food & Beverage

First Class

Emirates Emirates is not only a leader in service; via the Emirates Airline Foundation, rewards-program members may donate funds and miles to projects assisting children in need.

Singapore Airlines A panel of world-renowned chefs, including kaiseki master Yoshihiro Murata, Michelin star recipient Carlo Cracco, and James Beard Foundation Award–winner Suzanne Goin create recipes for in-flight meals.

American Airlines AAdvantage Earn and redeem AAdvantage miles with participating travel partners and the expansive Oneworld alliance, which comprises 13 airlines and serves more than 1,000 destinations.

Singapore Airlines The new first-class suites on select Airbus A380s include a seat and a bed complete with linens, duvets, and pillows. A retractable partition allows adjacent suites to form a double bed, ideal for couples.

Business Class

Emirates The seatside minibar is stocked with sparkling water and soda. A flat bed and a Bulgari amenity kit make for a restful night’s sleep. And Skywards loyalty program members who fly business class also enjoy free in-flight Wi-Fi.


U.S. Airline



World Leader in Exploration Travel

Discover Antarctica aboard the world’s first hybrid electric–powered cruise ships

Hurtigruten expeditions challenge perceptions and appeal to those who value meaningful life experiences, knowledge, and personal growth. You’ll find that Hurtigruten offers authentic, immersive experiences for those seeking to connect with their inner explorer.

MS ROALD AMUNDSEN & MS FRIDTJOF NANSEN Our ships feature technology that reduces emissions by 20 percent, minimizing the impact of our operations to help preserve the natural wonders that we visit so our guests of tomorrow can have the same incredible opportunities as our guests of today. Join us in Antarctica as we usher in a new era of sustainable expedition travel!

LEARN MORE at, or call us at (866) 940-7859


Premium Economy

Lufthansa In Lufthansa’s premium economy, fliers enjoy thick headrests, large entertainment screens, and affordable Wi-Fi. They also get a second free checked bag and an amenity kit stocked with an eye mask, a toothbrush, and more.


Lufthansa Wide seat cushions and adjustable headrests make long-haul journeys a bit more comfy. Slim backrests mean more legroom on shorter flights. On long hauls, live TV means passengers won’t miss their favorite sporting events.


Shipwreck Lodge The 10 en suite cabins at this ecofriendly lodge in Namibia are designed to mimic wooden ships. Each guest room looks out on the Atlantic to the west and the Skeleton Coast National Park’s expansive dunes to the east.

JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Resort & Spa Healing ingredients of the Sonoran Desert—Arizona honey, agave nectar, adobe clay, and more—infuse spa treatments at the Southwestern retreat. Guests refuel at Sprouts spa restaurant.

Grand Dame




The Peninsula Hong Kong The harborside hotel’s 91-year history speaks to its timeless commitment to elevating the traveler’s experience. Guests have access to the hotel’s fleet of Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a helicopter, and—as of 2019—a yacht.



Every island has a story. If you listen, it will speak to you. HAWAIIROOTED.COM/ MAUI


Epic Stay

Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora At the three-time Travelers’ Choice winner, guests rejuvenate during a massage in an overwater bungalow, learn traditional Polynesian fishing techniques on deep-sea expeditions, or relax in the lagoon.

Food & Wine

Le Bristol Paris In 2019 chef Eric Frechon marked his 20th anniversary at Le Bristol, where his Epicure restaurant has held three Michelin stars for a decade. The hotel’s casual brasserie, 114 Faubourg, has maintained its single star since 2013.


Turtle Island Fiji Here, sunbathe on a dozen private beaches, or sail, kayak, or go deep-sea fishing in Fiji’s clear waters. Turtle Island is powered by clean energy and works on sea turtle conservation in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund.





International City

Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo This year, all 179 guest rooms and suites got a makeover that incorporates Japanese textiles and crafts. Travelers can eat at Sushi Shin by Miyakawa, helmed by three-Michelin-star chef Masaki Miyakawa.



U.S. City

Fairmont San Francisco At Fairmont’s elegant flagship hotel, sip a mai tai next to the indoor lagoon in the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar or book a Signature Golden Gate Suite (telescope included) to watch the sunset.

Embark on the


Experience superior air travel on your way to explore Dubai, where unforgeable experiences await. From dune bashing to indoor skiing, watersports, shopping, and more, Dubai oers a wide range of activities against a spectacular backdrop. Fly Emirates to Dubai for your vacation or a quick stopover. Find out more at

Put yourself in the way of wonder

and she will follow you home.

Stay for a little or stay for a lifetime, it never leaves you. Follow our story at For real estate inquiries, call 855-437-1493. For bookings at Montage Palmetto Bluff, call 866-309-5398.

Obtain the Property Report required by federal law and read it before signing anything. No federal agency has judged the merits or value, if any, of this property. This does not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation of any offer to buy where prohibited by law. The complete offering terms are in an offering plan available from sponsor. File no. H-110005


Punta Cana



2019 AFAR TRAVEL VANGUARD Visionaries who harness the power of travel to make a difference.

W H E N W E L A U N C H E D AFAR 10 years ago, we believed we could make a positive impact on the world by inspiring and guiding people to have deeper, richer, and more fulfilling travel experiences. One of the best things we’ve been able to do since then is connect with others who share that vision. In 2016, we founded the AFAR Travel Vanguard to honor individuals who are committed to making travel a force for good in the world. The Travel Vanguard has now grown into a network of people who inspire and help each other to pursue this common goal. We gather each year in New York not only to celebrate but also to share ideas, and I am so impressed with the passion our honorees bring to their work. Read on to meet the people who are creating the travel experiences we all dream of and making sure our world remains a place worth exploring. —GREG SULLIVAN, AFAR CEO




The CEO of the Adventure Travel Trade Association is making travel more sustainable, in every sense of the word.

Shannon Stowell has sipped tea with locals in Kurdistan, floated in swimming holes in Brazil, and tracked tigers in India. And as CEO of the Adventure Travel Trade Association— an international network of tour operators, travel agents, tourism boards, and accommodations— Stowell makes it his mission to ensure


that his organization’s 1,400 members take travelers to these places responsibly. “The adventure travel industry is full of people who would like to see tourism be a positive force in the world,” says Stowell, who became president in 2004, and then CEO in 2016. “Our goal at the ATTA is to really push for tourism done right.” Under Stowell, the ATTA has increased the focus on sustainable travel practices. In June 2019, when Airbnb


launched Airbnb Adventures, multiday trips hosted by locals to off-the-beatenpath areas, it turned to the ATTA for expertise, safety tips, and best practices. Some ATTA members are pioneering zero-waste trips and biofuel-powered cruises. And the ATTA’s new Climate Action Leadership Studio, a workshop on carbon offsetting, will share practical, environmentally friendly business strategies, including cutting-edge carbon recapturing

techniques, with destinations and travel companies. Stowell didn’t intend to get into travel: He started his professional life in environmental chemistry. In the 1990s, he cofounded, an ecommerce company for outdoor gear, and joined the ATTA as a member. There he found a community of like-minded people passionate about protecting the planet and offering travelers transformative experiences.

Above: Horseback riding through canyons in Turkey.

“The adventure travel industry is full of people who would like to see tourism be a positive force in the world.”

Now Stowell takes his message beyond his own organization. He serves on the corporate advisory council of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance and on the founding board of the nonprofit Adventure Travel Conservation Fund, which supports international grassroots projects that preserve cultural and natural resources. In 2018, he gave a TEDx talk that championed our ability to change the world by choosing to travel responsibly. “[Just as] the unexamined life isn’t worth living,” Stowell says, “unexamined tourism shouldn’t be done.” —MAGGIE FULLER


The Travel Vanguard

DRY the desert is

Robin Standefer & Stephen Alesch

By designing beautiful spaces, the cofounders of Roman and Williams are connecting travelers to their destinations.

Once upon a time, the only people who hung out in hotel lobbies were tourists and business travelers—people who didn’t have a choice. Then Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch came along. As the visionary cofounders of Roman and Williams, the design firm behind such spaces as the Ace Hotels in New York and New Orleans, the Freehand Hotels, and the NoMad London (opening in 2020), they helped launch a new era of hospitality. In their hotels, even locals come to see and be seen—or at least peck away at laptops—against a stylized backdrop of vintage record players and antique curios. In short, Standefer and Alesch made hotels feel like home. The story of Standefer and Alesch’s partnership, which is both

Right: The lobby of the Hotel Emma, in San Antonio, Texas, designed by Roman and Williams.

professional and romantic, started in early 1990s Hollywood, where they worked as production designers. The couple started working on celebrity residences after Ben Stiller, star of the 2001 hit comedy Zoolander, tasked them with reimagining his Los Angeles pad. Back then, the interior design norm was “a pseudo-zen white box,” Alesch recalls. That same milquetoast aesthetic dominated hotels, too—which really nagged at the couple.

“Chateau Marmont [in Los Angeles] was one of the hotels we liked,” says Alesch. “The layers felt so real, because [hotelier] André [Balazs] never over-renovated it.” Standefer calls the Chateau cinematic, dreamy, transportive. The design tells a story. That inspired the couple to rethink what a hotel could and should be: above all else, human. In 2002, Standefer and Alesch founded Roman and Williams, named for their maternal grandfa-

thers. In addition to the Ace, they worked on other New York hospitality projects, revamping the lobby of the Royalton Hotel and designing the Standard High Line hotel. Over the years, the firm’s portfolio has grown to encompass many more hotels and restaurants as well as cruise ships (Virgin Voyages, launching in 2020), museums (the British galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), and commercial projects (the food hall for Facebook’s headquarters in San Francisco). But their most creative and transformative project yet is the Roman and Williams Guild in New York, a 7,000-square-foot brick-and-mortar store and restaurant

For every project, they draw on a vast repertoire of design references and materials, creating an aesthetic often called eclectic.

in Soho that sells their own custom furnishings and a global grab bag of artisan-made goods. “Retail is dying because we fell asleep at the wheel,” Alesch says. “Bigbox stores became so inhuman, it was easy to replace them with Amazon. But if people build stores that are comfortable and social, it could rejuvenate retail.” For every project, they draw on a vast repertoire of design references and materials, creating an aesthetic often called eclectic. “We like to master the mix,” Standefer says. She likens good design to a good soup. “You can’t quite put your finger on every ingredient, but they all work together.” —ASHLEA HALPERN


The Travel Vanguard


Enjoy your dream flight with the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

Products and services are subject to change depending on flight duration and aircraft.


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Private tours for travelers who love to learn. Discover more at AFAR.COM/CONTEXT

A SPecial note from AFAR

“Throughout my lifetime, I want to travel as much as possible. I know this about myself now, as a fact. Learning AFAR taught me that I can no longer be afraid of the unknown, but instead, I will admire it and live it.” Victoria Majerczyk, a student at a Chicago-area school who traveled to Costa Rica with Learning AFAR


Imagine a world where 1 million students travel to discover their full potential. With your help, we’ve provided Learning AFAR scholarships to over 1,000 underserved students since 2009.

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The Travel Vanguard

Christian de Boer & Dean McLachlan

Christian de Boer has led daily team riverfront cleanups as managing director of the boutique hotel Jaya House since it opened in Siem Reap, Cambodia, three years ago. “It once took hours to pick up the rubbish; now it takes 20 minutes,” he says. How did this vast improvement come about? And in Cambodia, no less, where garbage collection is unreliable and almost everything—even a banana—comes wrapped in plastic? Credit goes to Refill the World, a grassroots campaign de Boer launched in partnership with Dean McLachlan, a fellow local hotelier who runs the threeroom Meru Asia. The program, which has expanded internationally, aims to reduce the millions of plastic water bottles discarded annually by offering travelers reusable aluminum and stainless steel alternatives and access to refill stations. Here’s how it works: Upon arrival, guests receive a reus-


able metal bottle that’s stamped with a QR code. Whenever they need a refill, they can scan the code with their smartphone and be directed to nearby bars and restaurants that provide free, safe drinking water. De Boer has partnered with more than 1,200 refill stations across Southeast Asia. “We work with privately owned businesses, where people are already serving water,” de Boer says. “It’s not a major cost to the businesses, and they see incremental revenue [by selling travelers] coffee or lunch.” De Boer becomes passionate as he talks about the global potential for Refill the World, and he’s eager for it to expand. Tourism partners such as Asia-based outfitter Exo Travel are giving their own branded bottles with Refill the World’s QR code to guests at the start of their trips. Other notable partners, including Abercrombie & Kent, are committed to joining, and de Boer has begun talks with Heathrow Airport. Says de Boer: “Creating this chain could really eliminate plastic in the whole traveler journey.” —KATE APPLETON



In the wake of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, became a model for destination stewardship.

Refill the World aims to reduce the millions of plastic water bottles discarded annually by offering travelers reusable aluminum and stainless steel alternatives and access to refill stations.

Above: People gather to listen to live music in an alleyway in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

When Hurricane Maria blasted Puerto Rico in September 2017 with 155 mph winds and scouring rain, San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto hunkered down with 1,000 refugees in the Roberto Clemente Coliseum sports arena. As days passed, she organized cots, laundry, and medical services. She ultimately stayed for three months. “If there were people who had to be in shelters, living in uncomfortable situations, as the mayor I had to make sure I was there with them, to care for them, give them hope, and to

ensure that I was in the middle of San Juan,” she says. As more severe natural disasters make international headlines—many in the beautiful, tropical places travelers love to visit—leaders like Cruz Soto are on the front lines. Nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans died in Hurricane Maria, which denuded trees, flooded streets, and left parts of the island without power for nearly a year. In the aftermath, Cruz Soto immediately went to work helping the island recover and focusing the world’s attention on the challenges Puerto Rico faced. Exasperated with the failures of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a disparaging White House, she

went to the media to beg for help, raising global awareness about the consequences of massive storms linked to global warming. “Climate change is no longer something that happens to others,” she says. “We are the proof that it’s not going to happen in the future; it’s happening today.” Cruz Soto also participated in the island-wide effort to encourage tourism and harness global goodwill into volunteer opportunities. In the first quarter of 2019, Puerto Rico reported nearly 1.7 million visitors, the highest in Puerto Rico’s history, and she encourages visitors to see the island’s resiliency for themselves. “If you look at this as an opportunity not just to leave your money but to experience what it’s like to come out of darkness, then the stories you will hear are about strength and the incredible humanity we share,” she says. —ELAINE GLUSAC


The cofounders of Refill the World have created a plastic-free solution for thirsty travelers.

Rendering subject to change.

(un)spoil yourself Located on an unspoiled beach in Michès, Dominican Republic, Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda will be an eco-chic resort featuring four boutique villages designed for adventurers seeking the unexplored. From oceanfront suites with private pools specially designed for couples, to an interactive family restaurant featuring a “speakeasy” Secret Chocolate Room, discover an all-inclusive vacation unlike any other. Opening November 2019 | 1-800-CLUB MED

The Travel Vanguard



Kristine McDivitt



The cofounder of Tompkins Conservation is helping to rewild South America.

The first time Kristine McDivitt Tompkins saw Patagonia, she felt like she had found her place. “I have a visceral connection to that landscape that is undeniable,” she says. “The wildness, vast open spaces, and wildlife lodged themselves in my heart.” On that trip in 1990, the former CEO of the Patagonia clothing and gear company had no way of knowing how deeply entwined her heart would become with the region in southern Argentina and Chile—nor that she and her husband, the North Face cofounder Doug Tompkins, would become pioneers of grand-scale conservation there. Kristine is now the president of Tompkins Conservation, the charity she and Doug founded in 1992. (Tragically, Doug died in a kayaking accident in 2015.) Tompkins Conservation has collaborated with NGOs, governments, and other philan-

thropists to acquire, conserve, and rewild 14.2 million acres of land in Argentina and Chile. The organization has helped to expand 4 national parks and create 11 new ones in both countries, all of which are open to the public. Kristine recalls the countless obstacles she and Doug faced working in the remote landscape: no roads, no phone service, and not least, suspicion from locals. As they bought land from ranchers, removed cattle fences and invasive species, and planted endangered flora, the Tomp-

“I have a visceral connection to Patagonia that is undeniable. The wildness, vast open spaces, and wildlife lodged themselves in my heart.”

Left: The confluence of the Baker and Chacabuco Rivers in Patagonia National Park, Chile.

kinses were variously accused of creating a vast nuclear waste dump, establishing a new Jewish state, and scheming to ship the region’s water to China. The opposition abated over time, especially in 2018, when the charity made one of the largest private land donations in history, giving 1 million acres to Chile’s national park system. Kristine continues to build the Tompkins’ conservation legacy. The charity has reintroduced jaguars, green-tipped macaws, and giant river otters to marshes and grasslands in Argentina and secured more than 30 million marine acres to create Argentina’s first two national marine parks. With the help of the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Chilean government, and other NGOs, Tompkins Conservation has also established a fund for long-term financial support for the country’s parks. Kristine’s ultimate hope is to ensure that people in Chile, Argentina, and around the world understand the value of keeping land wild. —SARA CLEMENCE




has it,

the weekend


can start at the start of the week.

In the Napa Valley, there’s no such thing as a Monday—there’s only today. And today, you can do anything. Wander through beautiful vineyards or a Main Street gallery, enjoy a full body massage or a full-bodied red. Whatever you choose, the day is yours for the making. START YOUR JOURNEY AT VISITNAPAVALLEY.COM










Cabernet Season Is the Best Time to Visit The Napa Valley


he Napa Valley is blooming and beautiful throughout winter and spring. It’s this time of year that we refer to as Cabernet Season. After the grapes are harvested, the valley takes on a slower pace than usual.

and coral. Winter is known for the beauty of the blooming yellow mustard in the vineyards and vibrant green mountains. No matter the season, it’s the perfect backdrop for photos or to simply admire.



Enjoy intimate wine tasting experiences like sipping Cabernet straight from the barrel, blending your own bottle, or sampling wine using all five of your senses in a sensory room experience.


Crackling fires and cozy moments replace the hustle and bustle of summer. And when you’re looking to escape the record lows elsewhere in the country, our mild Mediterranean climate assures Cabernet Season is just as perfect for a mid-week retreat or a long weekend getaway as it is throughout the rest of the year.

ADMIRE THE ARTS Overflowing with culture and creative minds, the valley is perfect for pondering art’s greater meanings. City art walks are made to meander, sculptures rise above many a vineyard, and in the evenings jazz clubs, bars, and performing art centers come alive with live music.

There are few places more romantic than sipping a glass of wine by a crackling fire. From the blazing indoor hearths to outdoor fire pits and the ultra-desirable restaurant tables seated fireside, the possibilities for romance are endless.

BIG, BOLD COLORS Go for a joyride down Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. During the fall, the valley is awash with bright golds, vibrant reds, russets LEGENDARY NAPA VALLE Y



Amid a fast-growing industry, the cofounders of AmaWaterways have kept their cruises personalized and intimate.

Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst spent their honeymoon on the 28-passenger Zambezi Queen, one of the most luxurious vessels to ply the scenic, hippo- and croc-filled waters of Botswana’s Chobe River. “We fell in love with it,” Karst recalls.


They weren’t just any honeymooners. They also happened to have cofounded AmaWaterways, the company that takes 85,000 travelers a year on river cruises around the world. It was only a matter of time before they established a charter agreement with the Zambezi Queen’s owners that allows Schreiner and Karst to offer AmaWaterways customers the chance to enjoy the


Chobe experience they had. That personal touch is what makes AmaWaterways stand out. Schreiner and Karst base all itineraries on the places they themselves feel deeply passionate about. The couple also tailor each of their 23 river cruise ships to their own standards, from the furniture in the staterooms to the informal, familylike atmosphere

they and their staff create. Schreiner and Karst launched AmaWaterways in 2002 with their partner, travel industry veteran Jimmy Murphy, who passed away in 2014. Although the company has grown considerably, Schreiner and Karst remain as closely involved as ever. It’s not uncommon for guests to run into either or both of them on one of

Above: The Zambezi Queen cruises the Chobe River in Botswana.

“If we treat the crew as our family, then the crew will treat the guests as their family.”

AmaWaterways’ 700 annual sailings on the rivers of Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa. When they are onboard, you’ll find them interacting enthusiastically with passengers, sitting down to a meal with them, riding alongside them during bike tours, or giving them insider tips about the best local watering holes. It’s their continued hands-on approach that keeps that warm and friendly vibe alive among their staff. “If we treat the crew as our family,” Karst says, “then the crew will treat the guests as their family.” —MICHELLE BARAN


The Travel Vanguard


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The Travel Vanguard


Fred Swaniker

The founder of African Leadership University is cultivating the people who will shape the Africa of tomorrow.

out of coworking spaces. Swaniker aims to have 100 ALX sites across Africa by 2025 and, by a decade later, to have matriculated 3 million students. Though ALU is only four years old, its students are already making a difference. Conservation student Noel Mbise is earning his MBA while working as head of research and monitoring at the Tanzania-based nonprofit Grumeti Fund, which manages conservation projects on the 350,000-acre Grumeti Reserve. Fellow student Phillip Kuvawoga, a wildlife specialist at World Wildlife Fund Zimbabwe, founded a travel company for middle-income Africans. It’s this entrepreneurial spirit that Swaniker wants to see blossom across the continent. —HEATHER RICHARDSON

The president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises is bringing diversity and inclusion to the cruise industry.

“As we develop well-designed cities with good infrastructure and creative industries, you’re going to see African cities becoming much more vibrant tourist hubs.”

Below: The African Leadership University campus on the island of Mauritius.

When Nicholine Tifuh Azirh graduated from the Regional Maritime University in Ghana, she dreamed of working on a cruise ship. But she thought it would never happen. “She was always told by the men at the university that she needed to go home and have babies,” recalls Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, the president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises. “After five minutes of her telling me her story, my heart broke. I said, ‘Let me see if I can help you.’” In 2017, LutoffPerlo hired Tifuh Azirh as part of the Celebrity Cadet Program, an initiative led by LutoffPerlo to recruit more female graduates from maritime universities around the world. Tifuh Azirh became the first woman from Africa to become a bridge officer for a major cruise ship, the Celebrity Equinox, and in 2018, Tifuh Azirh was promoted to second officer for the Celebrity Edge, one of the cruise

line’s newest vessels. As of December 2019, that ship will be captained by Kate McCue, whom Lutoff-Perlo tapped as the first American woman to helm a mega-cruise ship back in 2015. It’s all part of Lutoff-Perlo’s mission to bring more female leadership into a maledominated field. She’s no stranger to smashing glass ceilings: When she assumed her current role at Celebrity Cruises in 2014, she was the first woman to lead a cruise line at its parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises, and the first to join the company’s C-suite. Prior to her promotion, she had been the first woman to run marine operations for Royal Caribbean International. Women now constitute 22 percent of bridge positions at Celebrity Cruises. “[We need] to get more women in at entry-level positions,” Lutoff-Perlo says, “so they can work their way up to the career or position they are interested in.” —MICHELLE BARAN


Fred Swaniker wants to change your perception of Africa. The 42-year-old Ghana native knows that for many travelers, Africa means “safari.” He also knows it can mean much more than that. The founder of African Leadership University sees a continent that lures visitors not only with its wildlife but also with cities that brim with culture and energy. His goal is to train the next generation of people who will shape that future. “That ‘ecosystem’ they’re creating will make Africa a much more pleasurable place to visit,” he says, adding that sub-Saharan Africa will have the world’s largest workforce by

2035. “As we develop well-designed cities with good infrastructure and creative industries, you’re going to see African cities becoming much more vibrant tourist hubs.” In 2015, African Leadership University opened its first campus on the island of Mauritius. The school offers bachelor’s and MBA programs that emphasize building skills in real-world settings. Students focus on challenges African countries face—transportation, clean water, health care, and yes, wildlife conservation—and spend summers doing rigorous internships. In 2017, a second ALU campus opened in Kigali, Rwanda, and last year, Nairobi, Kenya, welcomed the first site of ALX, which offers sixmonth postgraduate leadership programs



AN EXPERIENCE SO UNIQUELY REFINED THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE . The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston is the city’s only AAA Five-Diamond destination boasting elegant accommodations masterfully blended with extensive conference space, designer fashion, signature dining and sophisticated amenities all in one tower. Upon arrival, the intuitive personalized service sets the tone for a unique experience, one of unrivaled quality and pleasure. Whether savoring the unmatched culinary excellence of Mastro’s Steakhouse, indulging in a world of unparalleled wellness with ancient healing practices at The Spa, arriving in style by way of helicopter, or discovering new levels of beauty at the two-story Rolls-Royce showroom, The Post Oak Hotel is sure to embrace every desire of savvy business and leisure travelers alike.



The president and COO of Alaska Airlines wants flyers to feel human.

Not long after he joined Alaska Airlines in 2004, Ben Minicucci, now its president and chief operating officer, stood with a cluster of fellow passengers at a baggage claim carousel. As the wait for their luggage stretched past 20 minutes, he listened to the grousing around him.


As he rose in the ranks at the airline, he never forgot it. The carrier now guarantees baggage will arrive in 20 minutes, or travelers get a $25 discount on a future flight. This is just one way that Minicucci, a leader in a brutally competitive industry, has shaped Alaska into the compassionate carrier. “Our values,” says Minicucci, “are about people.” Minicucci oversaw the 2016 merger of Alaska and Virgin


America, which created the fifth-largest airline in the country. He didn’t want the airline to lose its personal touch, so he attended each of the 60 workshops the company held for its 9,000 frontline employees. The workshops empowered staff to look for ways to make flying more pleasant. That might include waiving an overweight-bag fee on an item slightly above the 50-pound limit, or changing a ticket without

penalty for a traveler in an emergency. “What we want is for customers to say, ‘I know airlines aren’t perfect, but at least when something goes wrong, I’d rather be on Alaska Airlines because I know they’re going to take care of me the right way.’” Minicucci’s leadership has brought results. For the past 12 years, Alaska has held the top spot among traditional carriers in the J.D. Power North

Above: Alaska Airlines is now the fifth-largest airline in the United States.

“What we want is for customers to say, ‘I know airlines aren’t perfect, but at least when something goes wrong, I’d rather be on Alaska Airlines because I know they’re going to take care of me the right way.’ ”

America Airline Satisfaction Study. And frequent fliers praise its loyalty program, which bucks industry norms by rewarding travelers for miles flown rather than money spent and offers generous upgrades. Progressive policies extend beyond customers. Last year, the airline donated $17 million to charitable programs. And its new pledge with Sisters of the Skies, a nonprofit devoted to pilot diversity, aims to increase the number of black female pilots in the next six years. “We are stronger the more diverse we are,” Minicucci says. —ELAINE GLUSAC


The Travel Vanguard


Stories to Inspire Your Next Adventure AFAR’s Travel Tales program is celebrating the inspirational power of transformative travel stories. We dug into the AFAR archives to curate a collection of our most boundless stories, then asked our contributing writers to share those stories live on stage earlier this year, at exciting events in Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; and Chicago. We also asked you, our AFAR readers, for your own tales of transformation—and we’ve been amazed by your evocative travel stories. It’s further evidence that when we all embrace the power of travel, unforgettable experiences can be the result. Here’s one of these inspirational tales.

A Local Welcome in Spain While eating at a tiny restaurant in Santiago de Compostela, I mentioned to the owner that I was from the U.S. He asked me to come back the following day; when I did, I was surprised to find he had closed his restaurant. The surprises continued. He loaded me in his car along with his wife and child and took me all over, showing me their own personal Galicia. It was amazing. It turned out he had spent time in the U.S. as a young Spanish sailor and experienced kindness from Americans. He vowed to return the favor—and recognized the opportunity to do so with me. Seeing Spain through the eyes of a native was an unforgettable privilege, and I have always tried to honor his generosity by showing the same kindness to those who visit the United States. —By Phyllis Peterson

Do this yourself: While you never know when magic will strike with locals, Santiago de Compostela—the end of the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, in Spain’s Galicia region—offers plenty of magical experiences that are literally set in stone. Visit the elaborately carved stone facades of the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela and check out the medieval walls of the old town. Then, like the writer of this story, sample the delicious restaurants serving local specialties like octopus, steamed mussels, and Galician stew. And never be afraid to start a conversation with a restaurant owner or any local—after all, that first step out of our comfort zone is the first step toward transformation.

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7 DREAM TRIPS 7 continents

For this year’s Dream Trips issue, we went big. As big as the whole, wide world. We sought out the most over-the-top, once-in-a-lifetime journeys we could find on each continent and sent our editors out to experience them all. The good news is that each trip is bookable, so read on to get inspired to go. ILLUSTRATION BY ELISABETH MCBRIEN



Sea of Tranquility

An unlikely polar explorer asks: Do you have to struggle to truly understand Antarctica? by Aislyn Greene

E R N E ST S H A C K L E TO N , forgive me.

I’ve sipped champagne on an ice floe in Wilhelmina Bay. I’ve savored a croissant while watching penguins porpoise through glinting Antarctic waves. I’ve even received a full-body massage from a French therapist with an iron grip while our ship sailed smoothly across the Drake Passage. Before my 11-day expedition cruise to Antarctica with the French cruise line Ponant, I had read the journeys of great polar explorers. I knew that Shackleton spent 497 days trapped at sea before crossing the passage— one of the world’s most notorious bodies of water—in nothing but a 23-foot lifeboat. I knew that long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox swam more than a mile (without a wet suit!) in frigid Antarctic waters in 2002. And I knew that the late polar explorer Henry Worsley and his team faced debilitating whiteouts, hidden crevasses, and near-constant fatigue on their pioneering two-month trek through the Transantarctic Mountains in 2008. In short, I was ready to suffer. I expected to suffer. I wanted to suffer. I arrived in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina and the launch point for most journeys to Antarctica, with a dozen different treatments for seasickness, approximately 45 layers of polar fleece and silk long underwear, and a healthy amount of fear. But the only disconcerting thing about boarding Le Boréal, a gleaming, 132-cabin marvel of engineering, was how easy it was. I was immediately relieved of my luggage, handed a hot towel and a glass of champagne, and whisked to the passport station. Within 10 minutes I was standing in my cabin, admiring the spacious room and adjoining private balcony. In my mind, the ghost of Shackleton 64 AFAR


gazed at the plush surrounds, chuckled, and said, “You know that after the Endurance sank, my most prized possession was a spoon.” The evening passed in a blur of bubbles, French cheeses, and new acquaintances. As we churned out of Ushuaia, I stood on the stern of Le Boréal, wrapped in my insulated, Ponant-issued red parka, a heated swimming pool rippling in the light behind me. Later that night, I woke to the sounds of Le

Boréal creaking and groaning, the ship rolling and pitching like a toy boat in Poseidon’s tub. I slid out of bed and staggered toward my balcony, pulling open the heavy glass door—engineered to create a watertight seal in case of flooding. Once outside, I peered into a darkness so fathomless I felt momentarily dizzy. There were no lights, nothing to ground my vision, just an ear-splitting wind and a cold so intense it immediately pushed ILLUSTRATION BY ZARIA FORMAN

me back inside. I crawled into bed, gripped by the knowledge that there were more than 11,000 feet of water between Le Boréal and the seafloor and hundreds of miles between us and land. And there again was the ghost of Shackleton, whispering the same rhythmic quote from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that he’d whispered to himself on his first journey to Antarctica: “Alone, alone, all, all alone, alone on a wide wide sea.”


• Alone in Antarctica: The First Woman to Ski Solo Across the Southern Ice Felicity Aston shares the physical and psychological challenges she faced while traversing the continent in 2012.

• Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent Writer Gabrielle Walker reveals the lives of the scientists and other people who choose to live at the South Pole.

• The White Darkness David Grann, a writer for the New Yorker, chronicles the solo trek retired British military officer Henry Worsley undertook in 2015.



A S I CHE WED MY CHOCOL ATE CROISSANT AND NURSED MY C AFÉ AU L AIT, I COULDN’ T HELP BUT WONDER: WHEN WOULD THE MISERY BEGIN? By morning, I felt decidedly less alone. The voices of happy mariners trickled in from the ship’s passageways. The skies had cleared, the seas had calmed. In fact, crackled Captain Christophe Colaris over the ship’s sound system, we had such good weather, we would reach the Antarctic Peninsula 12 hours early. Instead of the Drake Shake—a violent, spiteful sea where waves can reach as high as a four-story building— we’d encountered the Drake Lake, a tamed beast, with rolling aquatic hills that carried us sedately toward the White Continent. I walked into the dining room to find a dizzying array of breakfast options, including a table practically sagging under the weight of French pastries: apple-filled turnovers, raisin-freckled buns, croissants shining with butter, all conjured that morning by our Parisian baker, Paul. As I chewed my chocolate croissant and nursed my café au lait, I couldn’t help but wonder: When would the misery begin?







Our first continental landing—Brown Bluff Beach, a windy stretch of rock and ice in the Antarctic Sound—had potential. The Zodiac ride from the ship to the shore was wild and bumpy. Suddenly we hit an especially rough patch and a rogue wave of salt water slapped me in the face. Icy water dripped down my cheek in numbing tracks. My face remained numb as the Zodiac neared the shore, where I was smacked by another wave, this time an olfactory one: a heady, unforgettable mix of penguin urine and guano. As we stepped onto Antarctic soil for the first time, I touched my nose to make sure it was still there. But before long, my body had warmed in the summer sun, and we passed the afternoon wandering the beach, the basalt cliffs towering above us, white petrels soaring in the distance, and all around us, penguins: orange-beaked gentoos and ring-eyed Adélies, waddling back and forth on snowy highways as busy and fascinating as the streets of New York. At our appointed hour, guides ushered us back to the ship, the ride smooth and dry. The days passed in a similar sea of ease. On Deception Island, we hiked through the Mars-like terrain of a former whaling site— and still active volcano—trekking up and down dark hills sugared with snow. At every point where we could take a wrong, and potentially deadly, turn, there was a helpful, well-educated guide offering tips about the wildlife or geology while gently keeping us on course. We saw whales every night, a Disney-like spectacle of orcas with their calves and humpbacks nosing up to feed. The weather remained docile, allowing us to hike every day—to penguin rookeries on windy peaks, to a shore where the mammoth skeleton of a beached whale remained. “We never get this many continental landings,” exclaimed one seasoned guide. One day, I felt the shudder of ship against ice. I scrambled to my balcony to see if maybe (maybe!) we’d hit an iceberg. Well, yes, we had—kind of. Turns out, our captain had intentionally anchored the ship on an ice floe,

so that we travelers could set foot on a piece of untouched Antarctica. An hour later, I was standing on a five-foot-thick hunk of ice, clutching another glass of champagne as my cohorts took snow-angel selfies and a lone penguin crossed in the distance. On our last day in Antarctica, we took Zodiac tours of Paradise Bay, where we zoomed for hours through fields of ice. There were arcs as blue as the sky, and fat slabs home to lounging leopard seals, and in the water, a mosaic of perfectly clear chunks, diamonds bobbing in a gray sea. I was totally mesmerized. Well, almost totally. A tiny part of me hoped that a glacier would calve and capsize our Zodiac. It would be a brief capsize, righted quickly, and we’d be swiftly rescued and rewarmed. But I would have a story of near danger to carry home, to prove that I’d experienced, and survived, the true heart of Antarctica. Spoiler alert: We did not capsize. As I climbed back onto our beautiful ship, returned to my beautiful room, ate my beautiful meal, I was surprised to find I was a little deflated. And as we again crossed the relatively calm Drake Passage, I felt guilty that I felt deflated. It was only months later, as I sat down to write this, that I finally brokered a truce with myself. OK, so maybe I didn’t contribute to the polar legacy, I admitted. Maybe I didn’t experience katabatic winds, or suffer frostbite, or get lost on Deception Island. But really, who was I kidding? I’m not a polar explorer. In fact, I hate being cold. I like a little pampering—and I love French pastries. The fact that someone like me—who, let’s face it, is a little soft—was able to travel to this fearsome, unforgiving, magnificent continent in utter safety and comfort is something of a miracle. And it’s because of all those people who suffered before me. So forgive me, Ernest. And thank you.

H OW TO D O THIS TRIP Senior editor Aislyn Greene journeyed to Antarctica with the French cruise company Ponant, which offers multiple Antarctic expedition cruises each year, typically from November through March. The 11-day “New Year’s Day and the Magic of the

White Continent” sailing—the trip featured in this story—offers the chance to celebrate the new year in Antarctic waters with passengers from around the world. From $13,990, all-inclusive (and yes, there’s a nightly French cheese buffet).

A Kiwi Welcome

A Māori proverb comes to define days spent exploring New Zealand with some of its indigenous people. by Sarah Buder

I ST E P P E D I N T O the dim foyer of Hiakai, the restaurant owned by Monique Fiso, one of New Zealand’s most buzzed about chefs, and took a moment to fix myself up. A day spent wandering “Windy Wellington” hadn’t done my hair any favors, and I was jet-lagged, disheveled, and late. But as I ascended a staircase toward the 30-seat dining room, I was immediately soothed by the sounds of the New Zealand psych-rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra emanating from the stereo in the pared-down space. I found my seat at the chef’s counter, a four-person bar made from smooth, dark stone. I took a breath. Hiakai means “having a craving for food” in Māori, the language (and ethnicity) of 68 AFAR


New Zealand’s indigenous people, and Fiso— whose mother is Māori and whose father is Samoan—treats guests to traditional Māori flavors and methods at her restaurant. I had come to New Zealand with a basic understanding of Māori culture—that the indigenous people consider themselves to be one with the natural world. My hope was to leave with a better sense of how Māori beliefs shape the nation we know today. I observed Fiso carefully squeeze puréed ūūūūūū (a fern used in Māori traditional medicine) onto a thin slice of beef, then raise her tattooed arm to signal that the dish was ready. Kūmara (sweet potato) gnocchi prepared over a hāngi (pit oven) soon appeared in front of me, and I let its sweet, smoky

flavors linger in my mouth. Fiso sprinkled small, white ūūūūūūūūflower petals on a plate of oysters from Kaipara Harbor, an inlet in the region where Māori tribes settled after arriving from Polynesia by ūūūū (canoe). I downed an oyster expecting a briny tang but was surprised by a piquant kick from the ūūūūūūūū (pepper tree) mignonette granita. Toward the end of the evening, the kitchen slowed as I ate a mānuka (tea tree)-smoked chocolate truffle with toasted ūūūūūūūū(New Zealand flax) seeds. Fiso and I chatted about my trip from New York City, where she first made her name as a chef in Michelin-star restaurants. I learned that her favorite arepa joint is near my apartment, and at that moment I didn’t feel so far from home. ILLUSTRATIONS BY DAN BRANSFIELD


Dana Point is where you


Southern California’s original surf town brings together the best of luxury amenities and laid-back beach culture to create one idyllic destination. 6.5 MILES OF CALIFORNIA COASTLINE • 6 STUNNING BEACHES 4 L U X U R Y R E S O R T S • 2 , 5 0 0 - B O AT- S L I P R E C R E AT I O N A L H A R B O R

A F E W D AYS L AT E R , I took a 30-minute flight

in a four-seater plane to Great Barrier Island, a 110-square-mile island 60 miles across the Hauraki Gulf from Auckland. Its vast beaches, dense forests, and green pastures are shared by fewer than 1,000 human residents, as well as cows, sheep, and a native owl species named for the sound of their calls: In English, they’re known as ōōōōōōōō; in Māori, ōōōō. On the Barrier (ōōōōōin Māori), there are no streetlights, road dividers, banks, or ATMs. There ōōa café called My Fat Puku, and that’s where I met Opo and his wife, Elaine. We began to chat on the outdoor patio after I sat down with my flat white coffee. Opo told me that he is a Māori elder, responsible for maintaining the traditions of hisōōōō(tribe) and ōōōō (related clan). He teaches young members of the island’s Māori community how to navigate, calculate seasons, and tell time by using the stars. Celestial knowledge is especially relevant on Aotea, which—thanks to minimal light pollution—was designated one of the world’s few International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in 2017. Our conversation about stars made me realize it was time to meet Benny, my guide from Star Treks tour company, who was waiting for me at Trillium Lodge across the island. We were scheduled for an evening hike. Before I left, Elaine asked, “Do you mind if I sing you a quick Māori proverb?” Elaine took a deep breath and closed her eyes. When she opened them, we made eye contact, and she began to sing in a soft tone. “He aha te mea nui o te ao / He tāngata, heō tāngata, he tāngata.ō Elaine smiled before repeating the words. I smiled back. Then she taught me what the proverb meant:ōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōō ōōōōō

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I S P E N T M Y last day in a native forest on the North Island granted special protections because of its significance to the resident Tūhoe Māori tribe. To access certain parts of the land, called Te Urewera, you must be formally welcomed. Hinewai, the lead guide of the company Te Urewera Treks, greeted me at the end of a long dirt driveway before leading me down a path toward her camp. I stood on a dewy patch of grass beside a trickling stream while Hinewai recited a songlike ōōōōōōō. She told me to dip my hands into the creek and splash my face three times. That final flick of water completed the pōwhiri (welcome) and cleared me to pass through to the Te Urewera Treks Bush Camp, where modest tented structures sit amid the rain forest. Before we started our trek, Hinewai explained that by tradition, food and drinks must be shared by host and guest. “If you don’t mind me asking, exactly which Māori tradition is this?” I inquired. “You haven’t been told about ōōōōōōōō ōōōōō?” she asked. “The idea is to show others care and consideration to the extent that you’d transform a stranger into family.” I bit into the toast that Hinewai had preōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōō ō pared and thought, “That’s what I’ve been ō ōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōōō experiencing in New Zealand at every turn.” M Y F E E T S Q U I S H E D in the swampy wetlands as Benny led us to the Kaitoke Hot Springs. Behind me were Benny’s childhood friend William and Carol, a photographer who had moved to the area from Auckland a few years back. As we passed beneath tall umbrella ferns and thick kānuka trees, they asked what I thought of their home. “Well, I’ve noticed that everyone waves at each other’s cars in passing,” I said. They all laughed. Benny explained that there are different waving “styles,” including the peace sign, the full hand wave, and the nod and smile. We reached a clearing near the hot springs just before sunset, and Benny laid out a homecooked dinner that his wife, Eve, had prepared. We devoured freshly foraged mussels with brown rice, and fresh lettuce mixed with bell peppers and carrots. After we ate, we took a long, moonlit soak. I leaned back against the earthy edge of the pool and concentrated on the cloud of steam rising from the water. While the lower half of my body simmered, a light drizzle cleared the smell of sulfur in the air and cooled my upper half. On the walk home, we stopped along a boardwalk built to help hikers traverse the thick swamp. There, we had an unobstructed view of the sky. We sat down on our backpacks while Benny prepared peppery ōōōōōōōō tea from an endemic plant used by New Zealand’s indigenous people to treat digestive issues. “How wild is it that Māori navigators virtually transformed this night sky into a compass?” William said. We tilted our heads back to take in the thousands of glistening stars.

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J O R DA N Where an unforgettable experience awaits you in this land of hospitality!


Explore Jordan 4 different ways at JordanJourneys.




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Don’t Be Afraid of the Shark

There are life lessons to be learned from the famously fearless creatures of the Galápagos Islands.



by Lyndsey Matthews

A S I A DJ U S T my snorkeling mask and take in the jagged cliffs of dark red lava rock looming high above me on Santiago Island—a place Charles Darwin described as “altogether both picturesque and curious” during his 1835 visit to the Galápagos Islands—other snorkelers pop to the surface of the water and start sputtering all at once: “Sharks!” “Two of them!” “Right below you!” A sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach replaces the awe I felt seconds earlier. I plunge my face underwater, and the bulletlike forms of two whitetip reef sharks come into focus. As they slowly swim along the sandy seafloor, all I can think is: Just 20 feet of water separates me from sharks. Sharks. I’ve always been anxious about getting into the ocean. Whenever I think about how much lies in that deep blue expanse that I cannot see—animals, strong currents—and how powerless I am against that vast unknown, my mind spirals. But my fear wasn’t going to keep me from visiting one of the world’s most incredible destinations, which is how I find myself on a 10-day cruise in the Galápagos on board Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Endeavour II, staring down sharks. Knowing this trip is likely a once-in-alifetime experience, I don’t want to miss out on anything, so I’ve forced myself into the water at every opportunity. A few days earlier, we were anchored off the red-sand shores of Rábida Island for our first snorkeling session. As soon as I slid into the ocean, I nervously twisted the mouthpiece of my snorkel and



accidentally inhaled a mouthful of salt water. I choked and sputtered, and the fear of what could be lurking below gnawed at me. But as the week went on, my fear gradually diminished. I got comfortable swimming in shallow waters alongside gentle sea turtles and marine iguanas that looked like Godzilla but were too small to be scary. Still, I dreaded that I would panic if a shark appeared. Now that moment is here. I swim in place—eyes locked on the sharks— and it starts to rain. The raindrops splat on the surface of the ocean, reverberating deep inside my head like the boom of a timpani. I could swim back to the Zodiac boat that’s following my group. But I remember what the naturalists have repeatedly told us: These sharks eat only mollusks, crustaceans, and fish. I remind myself that I am none of these. I look down at the sharks as they settle onto the seafloor. My mind is racing, but I convince myself that as long as they don’t make any fast movements, I’m safe. Keeping our naturalist’s neon yellow snorkel tube in the corner of my eye, I listen to the reassuring beat of the rain and slowly let the knot of dread in my stomach unravel. I think back to my first morning in the Galápagos. We were on North Seymour Island, a small, flat piece of land created by an uplifting of lava millions of years ago. As my hiking group carefully moved along the rocky trail, watching frigatebirds fly overhead, I squatted down and focused my zoom lens on a bluefooted booby standing about 10 feet away. Suddenly, it flew toward me and landed on a rock so close that I could make out the dirt on its feet with my naked eye. Having no natural predators, this bird wasn’t scared of me or the dozen other people nearby. Our group’s naturalist, Socrates Tomala, explained why most creatures in the Galápagos Islands are either deeply curious or generally indifferent toward humans. “They choose not to fear at all,” Tomala said as we turned to the other side of the trail to observe another blue-footed booby sitting on two eggs resting in a depression in the dirt. “Being fearful requires energy, and everything in life is energy. If you don’t have to fear, there’s no point in being fearful. So what they’re doing is saving energy, because here they can afford it.” Over the course of the trip, I had come face to face with dozens of animals: an octogenarian giant tortoise that ambled right by us without



a care; male frigatebirds eager to show off their bright red throat pouches; mockingbirds so curious they hopped right up on our shoes. I watch the sharks for another minute before swimming on with the rest of my group to look at the iridescent blues and oranges of parrotfish up ahead. As we round the bend of the island, two sea lions zoom past us like tiny torpedoes in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. Here, the seafloor abruptly drops down 60 feet. I can’t see the bottom, just an endless void of blue. Turquoise deepens into navy, and schools of fish fade away into nothingness. This would have terrified me before, but now that I’ve been swimming with sharks, I head back to the Zodiac giddy with excitement. As I climb into the boat, I decide I will no longer waste energy on fear.

H OW TO D O THIS TRIP Destination news editor Lyndsey Matthews sailed the Galápagos Islands as a guest of Lindblad Expeditions. Lindblad offers 7- to 16-day Galápagos trips throughout the year on its ships National Geographic Islander, which holds 48 passengers, and National Geographic Endeavour II, which holds 96 passengers. Itineraries include a stop at Santa

Cruz Island, where travelers can watch giant tortoises roam, and may include a visit to Fernandina Island, where snorkelers swim alongside marine iguanas. Onboard naturalists talk about Charles Darwin and the human history of the archipelago and offer their expertise on the bird and marine life encountered on daily hikes and aquatic excursions. From $5,800.



Welcome to the Jungle

In the rain forests of Borneo, it’s safest to admire the bugs and beasts from a distance. But sometimes Mother Nature can’t be contained. by Maggie Fuller

A F E W Y E A R S ago, I was researching jungle trips when I came across a photo that looked to me like pure adventure. It showed a young woman in hiking boots and utility shorts standing in a shallow creek, surrounded by rain forest. Her hair was in a loose braid, her hands grasped the straps of a canvas 74 AFAR


rucksack, and she gazed up in wonder at the greenery towering over her. I was sure she was about to slip between the tree trunks that stretched all the way out of the frame and enter a world of tangled vines that hid leeches, fanged mammals, and probably some ancient ruins. I looked up from my paper-covered

desk at the office buildings blocking my view of the sky and decided I’d watched one too many adventure movies. But still, when I started preparing for a nearly two-week trip through the wilds of Borneo with the travel company GeoEx, I envisioned myself quite literally in that woman’s shoes: ILLUSTRATIONS BY LESLIE WHITE

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I bought a pair of similar hiking boots, dug out my canvas backpack, and practiced my French braid. My first day in a Bornean rain forest looked . . . nothing like that photograph. I was no fresh-faced figure in shorts, engulfed by thick, untamed undergrowth. No, I stood sweating in 90 percent humidity on a tidy boardwalk in Bako National Park, hoping that my neckerchief, long-sleeved shirt awkwardly tucked into hiking pants, and dorky cap would thwart mosquitoes. And I didn’t feel much like an adventurer either. Sure, it was a delightful day: My travel companions and I came nose to bulbous nose with placid proboscis monkeys and found a delicate emerald-green pit viper curled around a branch. Our guide pointed out yards-long rattan palm fronds, which local craftspeople weave into mats and baskets, and introduced us to the tall ironwood and dipterocarp trees that anchor the rain forest canopy to the earth. But hand-painted signs continually reminded us to stay on the boardwalk. I was not to go crashing off into the jungle like some crazy lady Tarzan wannabe. I get it. Borneo’s incredible biodiversity needs to be protected from the eager, bumbling feet of humans. And those same humans need to be protected from reticulated pythons, fire ants, poisonous centipedes, and the jungle’s many other dangers. So I understood why, over the next week, we mostly interacted with Borneo’s nature in a safe, controlled way. In Gunung Mulu National Park, we followed sparsely lit, roped-off trails through some of the largest caves in the world, keeping our headlamps lowered out of respect 76 AFAR


for the colonies of wrinkle-lipped bats that hung from the ceilings. We flew 40 minutes to Sandakan, where we visited the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and got our first look at the famous endangered apes. The lanky, semi-wild creatures swung languidly out of the jungle and onto feeding platforms about 10 yards from our viewing spot. And on dawn and evening cruises up the nearby Kinabatangan River we stayed in our boat, training binoculars and cameras on storkbilled kingfishers while listening for the rhinoceros hornbill’s weird call and the whoosh of its huge, powerful wings. But I relished the moments when the divide was breached: when a band of scruffy long-tailed macaques descended screeching, with teeth bared, on a hapless tourist in front of us in Bako; when I floated in the chilly, mineral-rich water of a natural river that ran through Clearwater Cave in Gunung Mulu, under a complicated atrium of electric-green boughs; and the many, many times a bat swooped too close as I walked to and from dinner on the Kinabatangan River. Our jungle journey ended at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the heart of the Danum Valley Conservation Area, one of Southeast Asia’s last strongholds of virtually undisturbed lowland rain forest. Here the trees stretch up as if racing each other to the canopy, breaking through the draping vines and lesser trees, out into the sunlight 200 to 300 feet above the forest floor. They grow so massive that on





Associate editor Maggie Fuller traveled through Borneo with the luxury travel company GeoEx. The 13-day, smallgroup “Rivers and Jungles of Borneo” itinerary begins in Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak. There, travelers get an introduction to the area’s history and people and take a boat trip to nearby Bako National Park to spot proboscis monkeys. Guests then travel by air to explore the caves of Gunung

Mulu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. From there, they fly to the state of Sabah to visit an orangutan rehabilitation center and to look for pygmy elephants and eight types of hornbills on wildlife cruises up the Kinabatangan River. The trip culminates in the Danum Valley Conservation Area, where, on jungle hikes, travelers may spot wild orangutans and reticulated pythons. From $8,945.

our two-and-a-half-hour drive to the lodge, the 4x4 vehicle in front of mine looked like a Matchbox car. “Here,” I thought. “There’s adventure here.” The jungle spilled over its boundaries— and not just the foliage. One afternoon, after watching a wild orangutan and her baby rustle the treetops over my villa, I nearly stepped on a tree snake no bigger than a shoelace as I made my way to the open-air common area; when I got there, I found a family of seven small, fuzzy red leaf monkeys sitting unperturbed on a railing. On our second morning at the lodge, we hiked. Even with a guide, the route was treacherous. We clambered up a narrow, rain-slicked dirt trail and sidestepped down a steep, overgrown hill, clutching at rope handrails and stopping periodically to check for tiger leeches. After two hours, we reached a waterfall. About 15 feet tall, the cascade rained cool, wispy spray down on us like confetti in a ticker-tape parade as we emerged from the bushes. I unshouldered my sweat-soaked backpack and stepped over to dip the toes of my boots in the water. I stood for a while looking up at the place where the falls spilled out onto the flat, mossy rock face, at the trees pushing skyward, and the small patch of blue directly above me. And I felt the jungle swallow me whole.

Connecting in Kenya

It’s hard to forget a lesson you learn by putting your foot in your mouth. by Jennifer Flowers

I T H A P P E N E D I N the middle of the vast savanna of Kenya’s Maasai Mara. I was sitting on a portable stool in the shade of an acacia tree, eating breakfast with Nelson, my Maasai guide, and Peter, the safari director from Micato Safaris, who was traveling with me. Nelson had just told me that he moonlights as a livestock herder. “So,” I asked him, “how many cattle do you have?” Peter began to chuckle over his Scotch 78 AFAR


egg. Soon Nelson joined in. I wondered what was so funny. “Never ask a Maasai how many cattle they own!” Peter exclaimed. “That’s like asking someone how much money they have in the bank,” Nelson said. I didn’t know, but livestock are a checking account that grazes. There’s no way I would compare balances with friends at a cocktail party back home in New York City, and Nelson certainly wasn’t about to do the equivalent at

a bush breakfast in the Mara. I was on a roll. Just minutes earlier, I had tried to use Swahili to ask for a cup of coffee— kahawa—but had asked instead for kuhara— diarrhea. With a few safaris under my belt, I had come to Kenya ready to shake up the traditional game drive routine. I wanted to see the country through the lens of its people and cultures—while also taking in the incredible flora and fauna that keep bringing me back ILLUSTRATION BY ERIN FITZPATRICK


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TIPS FOR BEING A GOOD G U E S T I N K E N YA When you encounter remote communities in Kenya, there are a few things to keep in mind. Ask permission before taking pictures in villages, Micato Safaris managing

director Dennis Pinto recommends. “Reactions may range from people wanting to look their best to an expectation of a small token amount in exchange for a photo ses-

to Africa—and let my curiosity lead the way. I turned to Micato Safaris, a Nairobi-based luxury company that specializes in custombuilt safaris. The plan: Get me out of the vehicle, away from other tourists, and put me in the hands of extraordinary Kenyans who could tell me the story of who they are. But back to diarrhea. Asking for it during breakfast was actually quite fitting, because over the course of my trip, I had become something of an expert on poop. Before I committed my cultural blunders in the Maasai Mara, I had first traveled to Laikipia County, a 3,650-square-mile patchwork of agricultural communities north of Nairobi where relatively few tourists go. On a walking safari at Elewana Loisaba Tented Camp, a property the Nature Conservancy has worked to protect, I was delighted as always by sightings of zebras, giraffes, and elephants, but what had really grabbed my attention was the weird, wondrous, and often impressively abundant piles of animal defecation. Under the tutelage of Samuel Lengalai, my Samburu guide who goes by the nickname






sion,” he says. If you are approached by a local for money, Pinto recommends politely declining and instead donating to a reputable nonprofit group doing work in the region. Pinto also encourages travelers to learn a few words

of Swahili, one of Kenya’s national languages: “Even a simple ‘jambo’ [hello] or ‘asante’ [thank you] helps travelers show that they’re respectful and appreciative of the locals’ culture.”

“Brown,” I could soon identify hyena poop (chalky white from the bones they munch on); recognize elephant poop (enormous piles—up to hundreds of pounds a day per animal!); and—I’m really proud of this one—distinguish between plains zebra and Grevy’s zebra droppings. (Both are kidney shaped; the latter is slightly larger.) I started putting my new skill to work, making educated guesses about how long it had been since a particular animal had passed by. A desire to learn about daily life in Kenya’s remotest corners had led me to this part of the country. For generations, the communities on the Laikipia Plateau, with their own individual cultures and traditions—Samburu, Maasai, Kikuyu, to name a few—have coexisted with white farmers, some of whom now run tourism lodges or cattle ranches on the land. Before my time at Elewana Loisaba, I got a glimpse of that system at Ol Malo Lodge, where owners Colin Francombe and his wife, Rocky, hosted me. The Francombes, who have worked as farm managers in the area for decades, have a reputation for maintaining good relations with the area’s Samburu leaders. They hire Samburu to work at the lodge, and they help their neighbors with resources such as water in the inevitable times of scarcity. In exchange, the Samburu open their doors to guests who stay at the four-bedroom Ol Malo Lodge, inviting them to visit their homes or the school that Julia Francombe, Colin and Rocky’s daughter, created through the Samburu Trust, her nonprofit foundation. In the Samburu-owned land surrounding Ol Malo, life seems to hum along without much interruption from outsiders. I saw this firsthand at the market in a tiny town called Kirimon, a half-hour drive from Ol Malo, where the only other traffic we passed was an enormous herd of bull elephants near the road. Leading the way was Laban, who has worked as a guide at Ol Malo for the last decade. I had noticed Laban’s rungu, a clublike weapon made of wood that hangs on the belts of Samburu and Maasai men, who use it for the occasional run-in with wildlife when protecting their herds. As a martial artist with

a thing for weaponry, I had my heart set on buying my own rungu. They were in short supply at the market that day, but we finally found a man who sold me a beautiful piece made of acacia wood for a mere three dollars. A day later, Laban took me to a neighbor’s manyatta, a Maasai home composed of a small enclosure with several huts. The occasion for our visit: a courting dance between young men and women in the area. Wary of the cliché of cultural performances staged for paying tourists, I asked Laban on the hour-long drive to the manyatta whether the courting dance was being performed for my visit. He assured me that, as it was a full moon night, there was bound to be a courtship dance, visitor or no. The only courtesy the family had offered to Ol Malo was to call the lodge and let them know about the event, in case someone like me wanted to observe. When I arrived, I saw each young man take the arm of a girl decked out in disc-shaped beaded necklaces made large enough to cover her breasts. The couples moved rhythmically in a circle, single file, while the older men, with their deep bellowing voices, chanted a song in unison. Every now and then, the women would gather around the young men, who would each take turns jumping as high as they could—a gauge of their worthiness as a mate. After a few minutes I lost myself in the rich sensory landscape: the sound of the chanting, the smell of a fire burning in the eldest wife’s hut nearby, the golden light of dusk creating long shadows at the feet of the dancers. This wasn’t the typical safari experience. In fact, none of my favorite memories of my Kenya trip were. They were something better. They were moments when I revealed who I truly was—a scatalogically curious martial-arts geek who needs to work on her Swahili—and connected with people who revealed who they were, too.

H OW TO D O THIS TRIP Deputy editor Jennifer Flowers traveled through Kenya as a guest of Micato Safaris. Micato specializes in custom-designed safaris in Africa and India and also organizes a handful of set departures

for groups. A safari director travels with the guest or group for the duration of the trip, and all vehicles are private. Jennifer’s itinerary focused on cultural encounters in Nairobi, the Laikipia Plateau, and the iconic Maasai Mara. From $10,050.

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Meet Me in the Bar Car An elegant journey from Venice to London takes a traveler into the past. But not the one she imagined. by Sara Button

T H E D I N O F Venice’s Santa Lucia station surrounded me as I clung to a card with my cabin assignment: D8. Amid the faint aroma of espresso mixed with exhaust, I looked at the other passengers on the platform. A man 82 AFAR


in a trench coat chatted loudly to his wife, whose waist was cinched by a giant Gucci belt. A woman wearing a fur stole and heels moved to take her photo with the six staff members who had lined up to welcome us.

They smiled in their uniforms, styled straight out of the Golden Age of Travel: The chef in a white toque and double-breasted top; a steward in a royal blue jacket, trousers, and cap, all trimmed with gold piping. A man in a crisp ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALICE TYE



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white tuxedo jacket looked like he belonged in a speakeasy; another wore a bow tie and tails. I smoothed my dress, adjusted the brim of my hat, and stood up straighter. I spotted my car a few doors over and made my way toward a freckled young steward, who introduced himself as Rory. “Welcome to the Venice SimplonOrient-Express,” he said, as he stretched out a white-gloved hand. I took it, feeling every inch the ingenue, and climbed aboard. “Wow,” was all I could say when Rory opened the door to my cabin and offered me a glass of sparkling wine. As I sipped, I took in the details of the room, originally built in 1929: wood paneling so polished I could see my reflection; a washbasin hidden in a cabinet; a large window that invited gazing at the passing landscape. Though I knew Agatha Christie hadn’t ridden on this particular train, I could picture one like it inspiring her to write Murder on the Orient Express. The last couple times I’d traipsed around Europe, I’d been in my 20s, bouncing between friends’ sofas and hostel dormitories. I traveled by bus or Ryanair, definitely not in an elegantly restored early 20th-century train car with art deco details. Back then, every day was a fresh start, every common room an opportunity to make new—albeit temporary—friends. Starting conversations felt easy. “Where are you coming from?” could blossom into late-night political discussions over cheap beer. Strangers I met at breakfast in a shared kitchen in Prague became companions for a day of gallivanting. We didn’t need to know each other’s last names; more important was a shared openness, saying yes to the world. Now I was in my 30s, on my second glass of prosecco aboard a sumptuous train that was pulling away from the station and picking up speed on its way to Vienna. From my seat I spied some of the highway drivers admiring my ride. Emboldened by the glamour (and probably the bubbly), I waved. After a dinner of sea bass and sautéed duck, I teetered to the bar car, trying to stay 84 AFAR


upright on my high heels as the train hurtled along the tracks. Everyone was dressed to the nines: One woman wore a 1920s headpiece, the men were in suits and tuxedos. Cocktail servers weaved between banquettes taking orders and delivering snacks. Over the chatter, a pianist maneuvered from an ABBA song to “Bésame Mucho.” I ordered a drink and found a seat near a few women I recognized from dinner. The youngest, who looked to be around my age, was wearing a floor-length ball gown. She scooted over to make room for me, and I raised my martini glass in salute. “Where are you guys from?” I asked. Mickey was a denim designer in Los Angeles, and her mother, Sharon, also seated nearby, had retired to the Carolinas, but both were originally from Texas. They had been planning the trip for almost a year. They would be disembarking in Budapest, the train’s second stop, Mickey told me, and were looking forward to wandering the market there or maybe going to the city’s famous baths. When Mickey and Sharon went to bed, I moved closer to the pianist, who was still going strong. The trench coat man and his Gucci-belt wife appeared. “Let’s have some Elvis!” he exclaimed. “A little rock and roll!” “Chattanooga Choo Choo!” she slurred, shaking her hips


Follow these tips to fully enjoy a trip on the Venice SimplonOrient-Express.

Dress the part. Nothing is too glamorous. Bring the tux and the vintage gown. During the day, ditch the jeans

and sneakers for more upscale casual wear. Pack light. These are historic train cars from the 1920s and 30s; sleeping compartments are small. We suggest packing everything

next to the baby grand. As they danced, I talked to Jo, a die-hard Agatha Christie fan. “I got emotional when I saw the train pull up,” she confessed. Around 11:30 I returned to my cabin, where the daybed had been converted to a twin-size bed. I fell asleep to the ca-thunk, ca-thunk of the locomotive barreling through the night. The next morning I disembarked in Vienna. While checking in to the Grand Ferdinand Hotel, I ran into Val and Steven, whom I’d met the day before on the train. Steven wanted to try Vienna’s famous Sachertorte, so we set out for lunch. After getting a little turned around, we found ourselves at Hotel Sacher eating goulash, cabbage with noodles, and the chocolaty, jammy cake the hotel is known for. Val and Steven regaled me with tales from their travels. Steven’s job organizing conferences had taken them from their home in a village outside London all over the world. They were also doting grandparents. “We’re very lucky,” Steven said a couple times as they told me about their lives. I licked the last crumbs from my fork, looked out the window at the blue spring sky, and then around the table at my companions. I felt pretty lucky, too. After two days in Vienna exploring art in the MuseumsQuartier, it was time for our last night aboard. When I arrived in the bar car, it was mostly empty. “Another martini for Signora Bond,” said the waiter as he brought me my drink. Val and Steven came in and I waved them over; a pair of Greek Australians settled in with us, and then some Londoners, too. We talked, ate a four-course dinner, and, suddenly, it was midnight. A dozen or so other stalwarts and I weren’t ready to call it a night just yet. The familiar first chords of “Unforgettable” streamed out, and one of my new train friends, an American woman on the trip with her former roommate, stood next to the piano and started to sing. “Unforgetta-

for the ride in a standard airline carry-on bag and a piece of hand luggage. During the ride, guests will not have access to their large suitcases, which will be put into the baggage car. Prepare to share. Every cabin has a wash basin, but lav-

atories are located at the end of each car. Dry shampoo and cleansing facial wipes are handy. Rest well. Light sleepers should bring earplugs to block out the sound of the train on the tracks.




ble, that’s what you are.” Her buddy joined in. “Unforgettable, though near or far. . . .” They realized neither knew the rest of the words and trailed off into laughter. Next to me, Mickey cheered. The pianist got up for his break, but the vibe had been set: This was a sing-along. A woman played “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen on her phone and sang into a bar spoon. We joined in, and when she sat down and exclaimed, “What else would I want to do on the Orient-Express?!” a sense of déjà vu hit me. I had been on a trip like this before. Many times, actually. It was the kind of travel where, by sharing close quarters and new-to-us places, I’d gotten to know fellow travelers. We had commiserated over quirks of the journey (like the difficulties of applying makeup on a moving train). We had become entwined in each other’s travel memories even though we’d known each other only a day or two. The only difference was that we were camouflaged in formal wear. The pianist came back and started to play again. At the first notes of “New York, New York,” a wave of recognition rippled through us. The train rumbled on. We began to sing.

H OW TO D O THIS TRIP Assistant editor Sara Button rode the Venice SimplonOrient-Express as a guest of Belmond on their Venice-ViennaLondon itinerary. From March to November, Belmond offers trips on the historic train, which holds 173 passengers. The signature route is an overnight ride between London and Venice, with a brief stop in Paris, but other itineraries take travelers from

London to Berlin, Venice, Prague, and other cities. For the ultimate rail adventure, book a 10-night round-trip journey from Paris to Istanbul. Onboard, passengers enjoy four-course dinners and, depending on the itinerary, threecourse brunches, continental breakfasts, and afternoon teas. A resident pianist plays in the bar car, which only closes when the last patron leaves. From $2,425.

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TRAVEL TALES Bringing inspirational stories of wanderlust to life: That was the goal of our Travel Tales storytelling event series. Guests were treated to tales of life-changing trips from some of AFAR’s best writers and photographers, presented by the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Card from Chase and hosted by Dhaya Lakshminarayanan, an award-winning comedian and storyteller. The event series kicked off on August 1 in Washington, D.C., at the W Hotel, where we heard stories from Eric Weiner, an esteemed journalist and best-selling author; Sally Kohn, one of the leading progressive voices in America today; and Negin Farsad, a distinguished writer and comedian who was one of the Huffington Post’s 50 Funniest Women. Then, on August 7, we headed to the JW Marriott in Los Angeles. Guests mingled over beverages and light bites, then heard transformative travel stories from Francis Lam, an award-winning author and radio host; Peggy Orenstein, a best-selling writer; and Peter Bohler, a Swiss American photographer. For the final event of the series, we gathered at The Gwen Hotel in Chicago on September 18. Storytellers included Emma John, an AFAR contributing writer and an award-winning author and journalist; Charmaine Craig, a former actor and distinguished author; and João Canziani, a lifelong traveler and esteemed photographer. Each event included musicians, who played in between storytellers (including one who played an original song inspired by the reader-submitted boundless stories), and illustrators, who created original artwork inspired by destinations featured in the stories. After hearing tales of transformative travel, guests left feeling empowered to create their own Boundless travel moments.

Top center left: Sally Kohn, Washington D.C. Storyteller; Dhaya Lakshminarayanan, AFAR Travel Tales Host; Eric Weiner, Washington D.C. Storyteller; Negin Farsad, Washington D.C. Storyteller. Top center right: Audra Dallitis, Senior Director, Financial Partnerships, Global Marketing, Marriott; Nicole Ellingson, Creative Director, Quigley-Simpson; Alissa Stakgold, President, Strategy and Creative Services, Quigley-Simpson; Greg Stranz, Executive Director, JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Matt Schlitz, General Manager Card Business Unit, Chase; Bryan Kinkade, VP Publisher, AFAR. Top right: Peter Bohler, Los Angeles Storyteller; Francis Lam, Los Angeles Storyteller; Dhaya Lakshminarayanan, AFAR Travel Tales Host; Peggy Orenstein, Los Angeles Storyteller.

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From our partners: your guide to the best the world has to offer


1. Visit in shoulder season for good weather with lower prices. 2. Book a villa for more space at less cost. 3. Create multiple looks by packing mix-and-match layers. 4. Hydrate when flying with plenty of smartwater. 5. Hire local guides to get the inside scoop. For more smart ideas, visit

Top left: Jeff Nese, Manager of IT, Connecticut Underwriters Inc.; Joette Schmidt, Managing Director, Banker, JPMorgan Private Bank; Kent Derdivanis, Former Play-by-Play Radio and TV Sportscaster. Top center: Sam Leizorek, Founder and CEO, Las Alcobas Hotels; Jan Fenster, Yoga Instructor; Ellen Asmodeo-Giglio, EVP and CRO, AFAR; Daniel Fenster, Clinic Director, Chiropractor, Complete Wellness; Barbara Aaron, Superior Court Judge; Jeff Nese, Manager of IT, Connecticut Underwriters Inc. Bottom right: Curt Kirschner, Labor & Employment Partner, Jones Day; Jennifer Fox; Christy Reuter, Partner and Chair of Hotel and Hospitality Group, Meister Seelig & Fein LLP; Nick Augustinos, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Aver Inc.; Ellen Asmodeo-Giglio, EVP and CRO, AFAR; Jack Calhoun, Senior Advisor, McKinsey & Company.


This summer, we embarked on the maiden voyage of AFAR Sailings, the newest way to travel with AFAR. Between July 27 and August 3, we sailed from Barcelona to Rome aboard Silversea’s luxurious Silver Shadow, exploring some of the Mediterranean’s most idyllic ports along the way. On tap were curated private excursions, including an exclusive wine tasting at the renowned Antinori Estate in Tuscany and a private yacht trip along the Amalfi Coast followed by a scenic lunch at the awardwinning Hotel Santa Caterina. The experience was designed to allow guests to travel the AFAR way—deeply immersing them in destinations and creating memories of an unforgettable adventure.


Founded as the capital of Japan more than 400 years ago, Tokyo has a rich history and a sophisticated culture, along with an innovative spirit that keeps it in a constant state of evolution. How can travelers truly appreciate the charm of this centuries-old, multilayered city? One way is through the “Timeless Tokyo” website, launched earlier this year by the Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau; it showcases Tokyo as a luxury travel destination full of remarkable attractions both old and new. Primarily created as a planning tool for luxury travel specialists outside Japan, the website features themes (history, tradition, art, architecture, food and drink, outdoor activities, and exclusive experiences) that touch upon all travelers’ interests and pique their curiosity. The “Timeless Tokyo” website also offers suggested travel itineraries and includes information on local hospitality outlets—like luxury hotels and destination management companies—that can assist luxury travel specialists who are planning trips to Tokyo. Let this website be a bountiful resource when designing unique Tokyo tours!

Such Great Heights

Flying over dramatic alpine scenery to remote ridges in the Canadian Rockies offers thrills and vantage points that few have experienced. by Tim Chester

“ L U N C H ? ” O U R G U I D E casually suggested.

Normally I’m not one to decline food, but the locale, a fist of granite 8,000 feet in the sky, with vertiginous drops in every direction, had subdued my appetite. The helicopter that brought us here had barely disappeared back into the clouds. Wind whipped around my hiking poles, causing me to stumble to the ground in a pathetic crouch. A squirrel poked its head out and regarded me mockingly. But my 10 fellow hikers seemed less bothered by the surrounding abyss, so we settled down to enjoy our beetroot and hummus wraps with a side of acrophobia. I was on this peak, on a Backroads helihiking tour in British Columbia and Alberta,



because I’d wanted to take the standard hiking experience and turn it up to 11. To find places untrammeled by humanity, where my mind and feet could roam. To experience some of the excitement felt by the early explorers in this indescribably beautiful part of the world. OK, so maybe the excitement of getting fast-tracked to the mountaintop by helicopter is a little different from what those explorers felt. But just getting on and off the thing was wild. Each morning our group would assemble outside the Canadian Mountain Holidays Bugaboo Lodge, at the edge of Bugaboo Provincial Park, where heli-skiing was pretty much invented in the 1960s. We’d then hunch together and say a few

prayers as a Bell 212 helicopter landed in a whoosh of air inches away from us, blowing away hats and sunglasses, before our guide would slide the door open and we’d pile in. We would then fly over dense pine forests and craggy, snow-dusted mountaintops to land on an improbable piece of rock or at the top of a waterfall, where we’d jump out, get back in our crouch formation, and hope the downdraft didn’t blow us off the edge. From these drop-off points, adventure was waiting at every switchback. We picked our way along precarious ridges where a stumble could send us free-falling several hundred feet. We scrambled down steep slopes in wide zigzags, pieces of loose rock tumbling away


be soundtracked by Player, Ace, and Hall & Oates. Such is the danger of emptying your mind of quotidian concerns. Being ferried around by helicopter disconnected us further from our everyday world than a typical hike would have. Up here, time was measured in Mars bar breaks (Backroads is jokingly referred to as Snackroads) and distance by the clicks of a hiking pole. Each day passed quickly, and soon we were back in the lodge’s rooftop hot tub, replaying our escapades to other guests. On the final day, we took one last helicopter ride, this time down from the lodge to reality. We drove to some nearby hot springs for a ramble through the forest. It was a lovely, meandering hike that culminated in goodbyes over mimosas by a gurgling stream. But I couldn’t help wishing to hear the distant rumble of unseen rotor blades coming to whisk me to somewhere far away.


with every step. We donned waterproof pants and slid down snowy banks so high in the clouds we couldn’t know just where our jostled bodies would end up. I often found myself trekking out of my comfort zone. Pushing the vertigo (and, annoyingly, the sounds of Bono singing “Vertigo”) out of my head meant I could witness some spectacular landscapes. Like the view that snuck up on us during Day Four, as we hiked skyward beside a waterfall before turning around to see the water gushing down into a vivid green valley dotted with fir trees, against a backdrop of rocky peaks emerging from drifting clouds. These were the kinds of vistas I normally see only on a screen saver. Slowly, we learned the secrets of the mountains: why glacier melt and snowmelt produce different-colored lakes (it’s about the sediment and particles); the distinction between slopes of talus (rocks) and scree (smaller rocks); how the kinnikinnick plant grows where bears have defecated its seeds (yes, often in the woods). 92 AFAR


On the penultimate day of our trip, at Cobalt Lake, in the shadow of several granite spires, I stripped down and swam in clear, ice-flecked water. As we were walking away from the shore, our guide’s radio crackled to warn of a grizzly bear heading our way. I never saw the bear—someone else spotted it, standing on its hind legs—but the area was declared off-limits to hikers for 48 hours to give it space. Otherwise, wildlife was generally as scarce as Wi-Fi. An eagle here, a mountain goat there. The lack of distractions fostered a rare chance to disconnect and reflect. Though when my mind got a chance to wander, I spent an inordinate amount of time on mundane reflections. Which Game of Thrones kingdom or region am I walking through? Maybe Winterfell on the left and Wildling territory on the right? So I’m on the Wall? That’s cool. Do mountain goats enjoy the view? I’d also brought along a few yacht rock tunes in my pop culture–addled brain. I hadn’t anticipated that my wandering would

Senior editor Tim Chester explored the Canadian wilderness with Backroads. In July and August, the tour company offers six-day, five-night trips that begin with two nights at Moraine Lake Lodge in Banff and include day hikes at both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Guests are then taken to a helicopter pickup

point and flown to Canadian Mountain Holidays’ Bugaboo Lodge, on the edge of Bugaboo Provincial Park, for three days of heli-hiking. Groups are divided by interest and ability and flown out with CMH guides each morning to explore untouched parts of the Purcell Mountains. From $5,299. backroads .com






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Writer Anya von Bremzen reveals why now is the time to experience the ancient colors, flavors, and traditions of Uzbekistan. PHOTOGRAPHS BY RENA EFFENDI










I T W A S W H E N T H E B L U E B O W L fell and broke that a desire to revisit

Uzbekistan swept over me in a sudden tremor of remembered colors and patterns. The bowl, made from fragile, salty clay by the masters of Khorezm, a historic pottery center in western Uzbekistan, sported an intricate, pale azure design I could gaze at forever. It was my trophy from a trip I made in 1990 to Uzbekistan, the history-saturated crossroads of the Silk Road. That trip was an act of homage. My beloved paternal grandmother, Alla, was born in 1917 in the fertile Fergana Valley east of Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital. She was raised there by her grandmother, Anna, a prominent Bolshevik women’s rights activist. In the 1930s, Anna was transferred to a political job in Moscow, and later, like many Bolshevik activists, she ended up in a gulag. Alla never talked about Anna—except on those special occasions when she got very drunk and

Previous spread: The Uzbek city of Samarkand has been a trading center on the Silk Road for more than a thousand years. The city’s Shah-i-Zinda necropolis, pictured, was built between the 11th and 19th centuries. Above: A madrassa (school) in Registan Square in Samarkand. Left: Visitors to the Naqshband Muslim shrine in Bukhara. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2019


made great fragrant mounds of plov, the carrot-strewn Uzbek lamb pilaf. Though she lived in Moscow most of her life, Alla never lost touch with Uzbekistan. She visited often and returned with packets of intensely smelly zeera (wild cumin), green tea, shriveled black barberries, and striped fabrics from which she’d sew my pajamas. When my mother and I moved to the United States as refugees in 1974, Alla stayed behind. And when she died at age 60, I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye. And so, on that 1990 visit, I ate buckets of plov and drank liters of vodka in Alla’s honor. The memories of that trip remain in my mind as a chaotic swirl of battered blue-tiled domes, Soviet exhaust fumes mingling with the smoky scent of street-grilled kebabs, bazaars exploding with striped winter melons, Feast for the Eyes From left: Relatives gather on the outskirts of Bukhara for a Sallabandon Tuy, a rite of passage ceremony for elder women; a meal at the Naqshband shrine; preparing for the Sallabandon Tuy festivities.



and such ethnic diversity—Uzbeks, Tajiks, Koreans, Tatars, Russians, Ukrainians, Uighurs—as I’d never encountered even in polyglot Moscow. For decades, politics put on hold any possible repeat of that dream visit. Uzbekistan didn’t improve once it quit being Soviet in 1991. The subsequent 25 years under President Islam Karimov featured harsh repression, restrictive borders, poverty, and forced labor in cotton fields. But when Karimov finally died, in 2016, he was replaced by the reform-minded Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who talked of an “Uzbek spring” for his country of 31 million. Uzbekistan began to loosen up and court Western investors and tourists. I’d heard about e-visas; a newly hospitable vibe; boutique hotels; and a bullet train connecting Tashkent with the country’s most interesting and historic destinations. Finally, it seemed, the moment was ripe for return. For my week’s journey earlier this year I decided on a circuit of Tashkent, a modern

metropolis of striking late-Soviet urbanism; Bukhara, the ancient center of religion and learning, full of heritage mosques and madrassas (schools); and Samarkand, the majestic seat of Timur, the 14th-century conqueror who reigned over great swaths of Asia. It would be a mini Silk Road sampler— all in one country.


y usual rule is carry-on only. But for Uzbekistan? For Uzbekistan I am hauling a mammoth suitcase, empty but for some expandable duffel bags. Because I’m not out to just replace my blue bowl. Bolts of wildly patterned ikat silk, suzani embroideries, carpets, more ceramics—I want it all. But at the airport check-in, my jumbo Travelpro turns out to be the daintiest suitcase by far. My boyfriend, Barry, and I are flying to Tashkent from Istanbul, where we have an apartment, and at the airport, we join a throng of headscarved babushkas (grandmas) with fierce, charcoaled unibrows and smiles full of 24-karat

gold teeth. They slop along in fur vests and sparkly slippers worn over socks, apparently the Uzbek babushka uniform, dwarfed by their plastic-wrapped baggage, cumbersome as refrigerators on wheels. “Chelnoki [suitcase traders],” a slim, wellheeled Uzbek girl informs me in Russian. Turkish clothing, apparently, is much more desirable than the “cheap Chinese crap” now fl oding Uzbekistan. Chatter in the line revolves around wedding outfits, or so I gather from snippets of Turkic Uzbek, Farsi-related Tajik, and Russian—the linguistic stew of Uzbekistan.


n our first morning in Tashkent— population 2.86 million—our Samarkand-born guide, Abdu Samadov, orients us at the outdoor Courage Monument. It presents an outsize bronze couple from socialist realist central casting, striding heroically with babe in arms over a fissured base—memorializing the disaster that literally transformed Tashkent’s identity. On April 25, 1966, a ferocious earthquake,

followed by weeks of aftershocks, obliterated most of the historic area and left 300,000 people homeless. Comrades and aid from all quarters of the Red Empire poured into the USSR’s fourth-largest city to reformat it, bang, into a Soviet-modernist showcase. Now, boulevards of existential vastness stretch out in front of buildings in a style one critic calls “seismic modernism,” a sort of Soviet concrete brutalism lightened with latticework. “The city with the world’s most beautiful prefabricated buildings,” Tashkent has been called. Keeping Tashkent spic and span? Babushkas dressed in eye-popping hues who sweep everywhere with bizarrely elongated twig brooms. “We like our cities clean,” Abdu declares, redundantly. In Soviet days, he adds, local grandmas dressed in sad socialist grays, but a newfound pride in the national dress of independent Uzbekistan turned them into the world’s brightest babushkas. As we drive through town, we pass a billboard touting Tashkent’s new urban showcase, an internationally financed

lollapalooza called Tashkent City. The billboard stars a celeb condo purchaser. Mike Tyson. “Mike must like all the gold teeth,” Barry muses. If so, Mike would love the vendors at Chorsu Bazaar, one of Central Asia’s largest marketplaces, massed under a sprawling green-and-blue late-Soviet dome. I beeline through the battalions of tables to the bright orange haystacks of grated carrots, part of the kimchi displays by Koreans, who flash their own 24-karat smiles. In the late 1930s, Stalin deported the USSR’s entire Korean population to the harsh Central Asian steppes; in time they became model farmers. Each vendor’s pickles I sample involve some unspeakable innards: bits of lung, stomach, spleen. In front of us spreads a vast section of Chorsu devoted to strangely textured, lurid-red cuts of meat. Horsemeat. It’s the specialty of Kazakhs. The butchers stand dragging on quick cigarettes between customers under big signs featuring bridled heads you’d expect to see in bluegrass NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2019


In Bukhara, plates of fruit are set out as part of a Sallabandon Tuy ceremony, which celebrates community matriarchs.

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AFAR 101

One of the three 15th- and 17th-century madrassas on Registan Square in Samarkand.

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Abdu runs into a friend, a celebrated master of the doira, a beautiful, musically serious relative of the tambourine. He and his assistant are playing at a wedding that evening. And just like that, we’re on the guest list. We arrive at the wedding house slightly late, so we miss the ancient Zoroastrian ritual of the bride and groom circling a bonfire outside. “Tonight’s ceremony is traditional,” Abdu annotates, “tomorrow comes civil, next day religious.” Our hostess, the groom’s mother, happily shoves us into a jam-packed side room where ladies in a riot of sequins, furs, and shiny, patterned Uzbek khan atlas silks sip tea and eat Soviet-style candy on floor cushions. The bride is brought in, with her gauzy white veil and robe of heavy burgundy velvet. Two loaves of naan (flatbread) are held over her head—a prosperity symbol—as she’s maneuvered into a curtained corner while the mistress of ceremony recites Koran verses. Now the groom is led in, cheeks damp with emotion, robed in sumptuous blue encrusted with gold embroidery. Loaves over his skullcapped head, he’s led to the bride’s side. The doira master and his assistant burst into percussion. Jubilant whoops erupt. Barry and I join the tight-squeezed cavorting and dancing as the groom’s beaming dad hands out money to dancers. After the festivities, Abdu does a quick count of our wad of Uzbek banknotes. “Wow,” he says, “you guys scored 10 bucks’ worth!”

whose bloody conquests ranged from western Turkey to India, had this showstopper built for his fallen intended heir. But Timur, too, wound up in the shimmering, faceted chamber where horsehair dangles from a slender pole, an austere totem of Timur’s nomadic heritage. Our gawking continues at Samarkand’s monumental official square, Registan, which means “sandy place” in Persian. Tonight its grandiose trio of 15th- and 17th-century madrassas has been commandeered for a 3-D light show. I shiver in the desert wind as strobe lights suddenly blind us. The history of civilization, no less, launches across madrassa portals and arches. We start with cave painters, move on to Silk Road camels, then zero in on Samarkand: Genghis Khan’s Mongolian horsemen sweep in, Timur’s TurcoMongolian horsemen sweep them out, then Timur appears mounted in glory. Now the starry heavens wheel over Samarkand’s turbaned 15th-century astronomers, starring Ulugh Beg, Timur’s astral-scientist grandson. From here, history pole-vaults right to “1991” projected in grandiloquent numerals, and straight on to today, where young Uzbek

scientists with microscopes study cotton bolls, and kids in party clothes shake and jive. “XUSH KELİBSİZ!” blazes the giant text. “WELCOME!” “Never seen such lights, even in Moscow,” a uniformed guard nearby exclaims. “What, in this frigging cold?” grumbles his colleague. Next morning we’re back on the road, warmed by a plastic bottle of homemade brandy from Akram, our middle-aged, Chopin-loving driver. Next stop: the mountainous Bibi Khanym Mosque. One of the several legends about its origins claims that Timur had the mosque built to honor his favorite wife, a Chinese beauty, and that the architect fell madly in love with her while Timur was off expanding his empire. The mosque’s tremendous, mosaic-clad entry portal that now shines under the bright winter sun was a shabby ruin when I saw it back in 1990. Uzbekistan’s independence sparked a fervor of restoration. Timur, depicted as a murderous monster in Soviet history books, transformed overnight, airbrushed into the shining national hero of independent Uzbekistan. At a nearby


n route to Samarkand we stop in the famous ceramics town of Gijduvan to visit the venerable Narzulaev family’s workshop. And there it is! My blue bowl! The exact specimen! Unfortunately, it’s on display in the Narzulaevs’ small private museum. “Sorry, my beauty,” I’m told, “even if you go to Khorezm for your bowl, you won’t find it; their potters have long ago switched to [making] tiles.” I’m crushed. But then we’re in Samarkand, Timur’s great capital, a center of Silk Road trade for over a thousand years. We gawk at the Gur-i Amir mausoleum, its lit-up blue-green dome like a titan’s pleated stocking cap gleaming in the dusk. Timur, the ferocious warrior-ruler

Rakhmon Toshev, a master in hand-embroidered suzani textiles, works in his home in Bukhara. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2019

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Children rehearse for a public concert outside the walls of the 5th-century Ark of Bukhara fortress, one of the city’s oldest structures.

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How to Visit Uzbekistan by Brooke Vaughan

Located in Central Asia, this iconic stop along the historic Silk Road is famous for its palatial architecture, bustling bazaars, and multicultural locals. Uzbekistan Airways offers direct flights between New York City’s JFK airport and Tashkent. As of 2018, U.S. travelers can apply for 30-day e-visas at ($20; allow two to three business days). Writer Anya von Bremzen booked her trip with U.S.-based MIR Corporation, which specializes in Central Asia and Russia. For a customized trip, contact a member of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council at   WHERE TO GO


In the capital of Uzbekistan, ancient mosques and sprawling bazaars are juxtaposed with Soviet buildings and modern skyscrapers. For a glimpse of daily life, head to Chorsu Bazaar, one of Central Asia’s

largest farmers’ markets, housed beneath a bluegreen dome. For a taste of the country’s most famous dish, visit the Central Asian Plov Center and sample plov, a cumin-laced rice pilaf made in enormous, wood-fired kazans, wok-like cooking vessels. Come early evening, artists

teahouse, over a bracing yogurt and rice soup we pose for a selfie with a group of elderly Afghan War vets. “America?” one of them asks. “Does it even have cities?” Finally, it’s time to feed my suitcase. We end our trip at the cacophonous sprawl of the Urgut market, an hour’s drive southeast, with me bargaining hard for suzanis at a cubbyhole antique-fabric shop. A gold-toothed crowd of vendor ladies squeezes in to watch the transaction. I settle on three beauties—red, dove gray, sunflower yellow—50 bucks for the lot. And then things go haywire. The ladies pursue me outside, tugging hard at my sleeve, scrambling along, unfurling their textiles while running. With stunning naïveté, Barry tells someone my name, and the whole posse erupts with cackling cries: “Anya! Anya!” More vendors come running up. I stop, look, attempt to resist, buy another suzani, then scurry

and performers congregate along pedestrians-only Sailgokh Street. To escape the crowds, head to Alisher Navoi National Park, replete with fountains and a man-made lake.


A four-hour train ride from Tashkent, Bukhara offers deep immersion in the country’s religious and cultural worlds. Just outside the city center, the Samanid Mausoleum, with its intricate brick exterior, is the family crypt of Ismail Samani, a 9thcentury aristocrat. Within the city center sprawls the Fayzulla Khodjaev House Museum, the 19th-century home of a former Bukharan politician

and activist, which features handpainted carved-wood walls throughout.  


This UNESCO World Heritage site, about two hours by train from Tashkent, was a key post along the Silk Road. Shahi-Zinda, in the northeastern part of the city, is a complex of grand, centuriesold mausoleums; it’s now an important pilgrimage stop for local Muslims. In the ancient center, Registan, a collection of three mosaic-clad madrassas, or schools, are located on a large public square. On Saturdays and Sundays, Urgut market fills with vendors of handcrafted souvenirs, including colorful textiles, jewelry, and ceramics.

along muddy lanes past flocks of sellers of quilted robes, past vats of chickpeas steaming away like locomotives—pursued by sellers and their flapping suzanis. I stop again, buy another, then more. Still they swarm. I dash to the toilet, but they clamber along, insisting on paying my toilet fee. “ANYA! ANYA!” An impassable wall of proffered fabric awaits when I emerge from the bathroom. I manage to scare them off by losing my temper, and madly we run back to Abdu, who waits in a faraway parking lot. I am now the beleaguered possessor of 11 gorgeous suzanis. My jumbo Travelpro is happy at last. And really, so am I. Contributing writer Anya von Bremzen’s most recent AFAR story, about Venice, appeared in the May/June 2019 issue. Photographer Rena Effendi shot a story on Cairo for the January/February 2012 issue. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2019

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H E N P I E R O P E R C O C O signed up for Instagram in 2013, he loved that he could take photos of quotidian details in his village, Sannicandro di Bari in Puglia, Italy, and anyone in the world could see them. “It was a certain type of noncommercial tourism,” the selftaught photographer explains. “Not just the postcard-perfect places. There are so many beautiful things that go unnoticed.” His latest photo book, The Rainbow Is Underestimated, celebrates that everyday beauty: locals at the beach, ripening fruit, a toy dinosaur left on his dinner plate by children at a wedding. The images’ color, playfulness, and intimacy show a Puglia that can be captured only by someone who knows it well. To see more of Percoco’s work, follow @therainbow_is_underestimated on Instagram. —SARA BUTTON

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A self-taught photographer uses his iPhone to share small-town Puglia with the world. PHOTOGRAPHS BY PIERO PERCOCO


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Jordan conjures images of the Dead Sea or the colossal sandstone ruins of Petra. But not for me. I have absolutely no images and no ability to seek them out. In my mind’s eye, my flight to Amman was carrying me to a blank slate. As we touched down, I wondered if sighted travelers, living in a Google Earth world, could ever experience the epic thrill of entering such an unknown. A few hours later, from one of Amman’s many hilltops, my friend Matthew Teller described the city. I pictured it flowing like water down from its ancient citadel to snake between the hills where the city was founded and gather in the valley basin. But when you’re blind, as I am, such a vista reveals itself differently. Up here, Amman peeked at me from behind its sounds, unfolding an acoustic map dotted by life. I could hear pigeons in rooftop nooks, pigeon-raising being a popular Ammanian pastime. Farther to my left, a vegetable truck weaved through a neighborhood, broadcasting its sales pitch over a tinny PA system. Traffic was bad on the distant west side, dense flocks of cars honking like pissed-off geese. And just over there, the public market faintly buzzed. Earlier, I had walked amidst its crowded stalls, jostled by men’s voices calling prices, radios playing music, and customers bartering for hot peanuts. With so much coming at me at once, I struggled to focus. A specific sound must guide me and my curiosity. As I ate pomegranate seeds and listened, my fixer for the week, Sanad, placed my hand on what felt like a potato. It was actually a desert truffle. To find them, foragers keep track of the rains, watch for lightning, and listen for thunder. They believe that Built during the 2nd century, truffles will grow where they hear the Roman Theater in Jordan’s it. Sounds reveal things you didn’t capital, Amman, is still used today as a concert venue. know you weren’t seeing. 114 AFAR



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The road known as the King’s Highway leads from Amman to the Petra region and winds through the hills of southwest Jordan, above the Dead Sea rift. 116 AFAR


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Heights, is nothing like the country’s southern dunes. The summer heat spares the low mountain villages such as Umm Qais. Day-trippers from Amman drive here for some respite among cool oak forests and olive groves. Cautiously, wearing space suits and mesh hats, Matthew, Sanad, and I walked into one of these forests with a man named Yousef Sayah, who had invited us to hear honey being made. His honey had sweetened the yogurt on our table that morning at Beit Al Baraka, or “House of Blessings,” a bed-and-breakfast Muna had established so that visitors to the nearby Roman ruins could stay longer, thereby creating more economic opportunities for local villagers such as Yousef. Now I had my ear just inches from the 5,000 bees that had made part of my breakfast. The noise of a hive up close was overwhelming, its choral buzz like the roar of a jet engine. Not a single sting was visited upon me, other than the shock of a revelation. Yousef had me taste honey from hives situated on different bluffs. One presented a rich, warm, carob flavor; another, a bright perfume of spring flowers. I never did see the views of Umm Qais, but I did taste their startling difference. Tastes are landscapes, too. Beside Umm Qais are the Roman and Byzantine ruins of Gadara, or “the city of philosophers,” a winding assemblage of stone dwellings, mosaics, theaters, and baths that was once home to more than 30,000 people and a key city in the Roman Decapolis. My site guide, Ahmad, drew my fingers along the ancient grooves left by chariot wheels in the street and helped me crank a perfectly preserved stone mill. As we walked through the grasses and overgrowth, he picked crown daisies and stripped their stems for me to taste. These were the foraged snacks of his childhood, he explained, then continued telling the history of the Ottomans and the Romans and the 118 AFAR


rubble around us. But Ahmad told another story, too. “And in here, this is where my family and I lived until I was 14,” he said, pointing to an empty stone room. “I can still smell the smoke in my mother’s dress from the fire when she made bread for us each morning.” Many of the families of Umm Qais had lived for generations in the ruins. But in 1987, the government moved everyone to the neighboring village in order to develop the site for tourism. That development never really happened, but locals have since opened their own shops for visitors. Ahmad pointed my hand at the roof of his old home. “I slept up there in a tent in protest until they finally forced me to leave.” Down the path from his childhood house, which before that could have been an Ottoman home, and before that a Roman stable, we wandered into the crumbling ancient theater, once a gathering place for poetry readings and lectures, and hundreds of years later the place where Ahmad and his friends played hide-and-seek. I stood center stage, at the mathematically defined point where a voice is amplified and returns in a perfect echo. I smacked the floor with my white cane; the walls brought it back from every direction. I thought about Ahmad’s life and the history of this place. I had heard two stories at once. Something like an echo, but deeper. More layered. Something other than the way time is told by a museum. My day with Khammash had almost arrived. But first, a surprise stop. Matthew, Sanad, Muna, and I drove three hours south from Umm Qais to an area called Al Beida, nicknamed Little Petra. Climbing out of the van, I could feel cool evening air. Sand was already in my teeth. No more mountains, no more groves. Then a roar in the distance, louder, closer, as two trucks rumbled out of the horizon. These were our Bedouin hosts, a family of seminomadic shepherds.

The Dead Sea, the lowest body of water on Earth, forms part of Jordan’s western border.


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Top: The drive from Amman to Petra leads travelers to the ancient city of Madaba, past castles built by Crusaders, and through daunting stretches of desert. Bottom: Three women take a break from their work at Beit Al Baraka, a bed-and-breakfast in the village of Umm Qais.

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Top: Shoppers and vendors do business along King Talal Street in downtown Amman. Bottom: On a hillside in Pella stands the Beit Al Fannan guesthouse, designed by artist Ammar Khammash, a 2019 laureate of the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture.


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How to Visit Jordan BY BROOKE VAUGHAN

Most first-time visitors spend about a week exploring the country’s iconic sights, often as part of an itinerary that includes Egypt. Writer Ryan Knighton stayed within Jordan, checking out the famous sites before he ventured into less-visited areas. HOW TO GO


Knighton worked with Baraka Destinations, an Amman-based travel consulting firm, to create his itinerary. U.S.-based travel companies such as Intrepid Travel, GeoEx, and Abercrombie & Kent offer guided trips that vary from 7 to 14 days. For a customized trip, contact a member of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council at

For 40 Jordanian dinars (about US$57), travelers can get a single-entry visa valid for one month at Queen Alia International Airport in the capital city of Amman and at most border crossings. Multipleentry visas are also available. ESSENTIAL STOPS

• Amman In Jordan’s capital city, public markets sit alongside ancient Roman temples and the remains of an 8th-century palace

They had come to take us off the grid to join them for the night. Habu, one of the guides, wrapped his immense hand around mine. Soon we were off, Sanad and me bouncing across the desert in the back of Habu’s truck under what I imagine was an open sky. Perhaps 15 travelers stayed that night in a traditional tent made of goat hair. A fire burned in the middle of the room as I drank three cups of coffee during my ritual welcome. As the sky darkened and the rains came, we ate bread that I had made with a Bedouin elder over the fire, both of us kneading flour and water and salt into a flat loaf that took on the smoky flavor of the coals in the few minutes it took to cook. This, I learned, is how shepherds often eat as they wander with their goats and sheep in search of plants to graze. 122 AFAR


complex. Visitors take in sprawling urban panoramas from the surrounding hills. • Petra and Al Beida (Little Petra) The former trade capital in the southwestern desert is an archaeological site of tombs and buildings carved into sandstone rock face that dates to the 1st century b.c.e. • Dead Sea The high salinity of the famous lake makes it easy for bathers to float on the surface of its dense waters; it sits more than 1,300 feet below sea level.

You can’t stop for long when your animals are on the move. After a night of stories and songs and more coffee, we unrolled mats to sleep. But my ears were too busy. The dogs howled in the distance and chased whatever they found lurking. At one point, I heard a fox scratch the tent wall by my head. Soon it tried to slip inside to join us, only to be chased away by the dogs. Later it returned to try to take a chicken. A baby goat mewled most of the night. The donkey was unhappy. Until dawn I just lay still and listened to the theater of animals. On my final day, Ammar Khammash, the artist and architect of the Pella house, picked me up at the Marriott Hotel in Amman for our expedition. Together we were going to hunt a particular sound, the way other people might forage for truffles or chase tornadoes.

• Wadi Rum Located two hours south of Petra, the red-rock desert is filled with natural arches, sand dunes, and prehistoric carvings. OFF THE BEATEN PATH

• Pella One of the Decapolis cities of the Roman Empire, Pella is known for its archaeological remains, including Byzantine churches, a theater, and a public fountain. • Umm Qais The northwestern town enveloped by fertile hills offers views of Syria, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. Nearby stands the ancient city of Gadara, with ruins that include a 4th-century basilica.

Immediately I liked him. He had the intense character of a man who chooses words with care. A craftsman of talk. For a couple of hours we drove east into the desert, toward Iraq, chatting the time away, his polymath mind taking us through topics ranging from architecture to writing to botany. The eastern desert, I learned, is geologically nothing like the rolling dunes of the south made famous in films such as The Martian. Rather, we were driving into an ancient seabed abundant with fossils. As he described the geology around us, I could hear his attention scanning for something, his voice turning away as he surveyed the horizon. Then he found what he was looking for. We made a hard left and offroaded across the landscape. “Go ahead. Open your window,” he told me, as he continued driving. His voice had a smile in it.

When I did, the ground beneath the car came alive with music. Here, the desert surface was an endless sheet of limestone plates topped with flint that snapped and shattered under our tires, each one setting off its own ringing note. I was on top of the pottery heap in Pella again, only here it was the size of the world itself, an instrument being played by the weight of our car. We stopped and climbed out. Without a word, Khammash uncoiled a long foam tube on the ground and wandered off, returning now and then with pieces of flint. Pancakes of stone the size of small plates. He arranged them on top of the foam tube and placed a set of wooden wands in my hands, inviting me to play. So I did. I drummed the stone plates, tapping and rubbing them, their glassy chime nothing like a marimba’s wooden thunk, nor a glockenspiel’s metallic ring. Back in Khammash’s home in Amman, he has built an instrument from these stones. Called a lithophone, it hangs on a metal rack in his living room, with a range 60 percent that of a grand piano, each note perfectly in tune. Khammash scoured the desert for years until he had collected a set of rocks that naturally vibrated to the frequencies of a Western scale. He even added stones above and below the main keys to lend a range of sharper and flatter microtones. Later, when I visited his house in the city to play his invention, I raked my wand up and down its keys as if I were playing slide guitar. But out amid the fossils, I just listened in awe to what geological time had gifted us. Sure, I have never seen Jordan. But I have played its eastern desert. Writer Ryan Knighton wrote about Bhutan for AFAR’s September/ October 2019 issue. Photographer Alex Cretey Systermans shot Sardinia for the May/June 2018 issue.

Revealed through the sandstone SÎq gorge, Al-Khazneh (The Treasury) is the most famous facade within Petra. Carved from the rose-colored rock, it’s thought to date to the 1st century b.c.e.

just back from


Adulting in the Alps I started skiing at five years old. When my twin sisters turned five, they did too. The playtime that began in New Hampshire’s White Mountains gradually migrated west to slopes in Wyoming and California. As we moved into adulthood, we realized that in American ski culture—with its beer, après-ski pizza, and persistent Grateful Dead soundtrack—no one grew up. Ever. For the twins’ 40th birthday, we decided to abandon the adolescent lifestyle and have an adult ski and snowboard trip to the Swiss 124 AFAR


Alps. Our crew landed in Klosters, a village 15 minutes from Davos, the famed resort town where members of the gray-haired global elite rub wrinkled elbows and discuss business dealings. Seriously mature stuff. When I got to the slopes, I couldn’t believe how vast it all was—and how sophisticated. By day, we would glide to the Iglu-Dorf ice hotel bar and stop for a spritz. Our guide from Pollux Adventures would lead us through backwoods, over empty peaks, and down to lattice-rimmed lodges hidden in the pines.

But when evening came, we raced toboggans, zipped through the 80-meter indoor waterslide at Eau-là-là wellness center, and bounced about like teenagers in an alpine disco before collapsing into bed drained, dreaming of chocolate and cheese. Near the end of our trip, we saw that miles of fresh powder, laid by a recent storm, was still untouched. Why did others stay on piste when fluffy snow awaited? I guess staying on trails was the adult thing to do. We laughed and went back to carving fresh tracks.


Tara Guertin, Director of Photography

mindful sips for upcoming trips.

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