Fellow traveller e mag issue 06

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China's Legendary Kawa Karbo

The Greatest Journey on Earth



Welcome to Fellow Traveller

Essaouira – and the colour purple

Cover: Cortina d’Ampezzo Fellow Traveller is a periodic eMag published by Nomads Secrets and dedicated to the Art of Exploration Lucia O’Connell Tony Sernack John Harber Tony Sernack

Founder Editor Design Photography

Additional photography in this issue Greg Slick Diego Bandion Fiona Dodsworth Theresa Spatt Stephen Oachs Alex Berger

I Witness – Singular views from around the world

Le Pays Bleu – Summer in Provence


Cortina d’Ampezzo – A destination for all seasons 3

Travelling with Nomads Secrets


We create highly customised trips and meticulously planned itineraries that reveal the world through the eyes of our local and trusted experts. You will experience the true essence and very best of the places you visit. Great trips require an adequate budget and time to plan so that your desires are fulfilled. We will do everything we can to ensure your journey becomes an enduring memory. This is Nomads Secrets’ pledge to you.

welcome to

Fellow Traveller

I am in love with Travel To passionately declare my love with travel sounds like a cliché but I can’t express it more plainly. As a child, my sister and I would sit at the dining room table listening to my father talk of his travels that came with his job as a naval architect. Whether he recounted tales of eating ants in a sweet sauce in Singapore or frustratingly slamming Mao’s little “Red Book” on a party official’s table in Canton or stories from the Ivory Coast of Africa, I was wide-eyed and fascinated and wanted to follow in his footsteps. At high school I concentrated on learning several languages, geography literature and history over maths, physics and all the clever stuff. When it was time to go to university I made sure I took every opportunity to study abroad. Being in a foreign land always felt exciting while home felt familiar and ordinary. Even though I was born in the north of Italy, a region the world loves to visit over and over again. My mother called me “a renegade” jokingly, when I decided to move abroad to live in the US and UK and eventually migrate to Australia. Since then I have been fortunate to spend time in many countries. The more I see, the more people I meet and the more I learn about their world, the more my love for travel and curiosity grows. I have always found that every place has something memorable and special to make my visit worthwhile as long as I had done my homework and know where and how to look. Some places however have had me transfixed whether because of their striking beauty, exotic atmosphere or warmth of their people.

Unfortunately today some parts of the world have become unsafe, some very dangerous. Places that, in my younger days, were marvellous to visit like Syria, Kashmir, North Pakistan, Kenya, Mali, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey are off the agenda for most travellers. On the other hand countries like Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Albania, Romania, Iran and China now allow the independent traveller to explore often nearly untouched worlds that for a long time have laid silent under the weight of an oppressive regime. So as the curtain comes down on one world, it is lifted on another. Many seasoned travellers pine for a return to the grand age of exploration where the world felt bigger, largely unknown and unspoilt by mass tourism. They seem to forget that most travellers only venture to the most obvious locations, because they do not know what lies beyond. Take your own city as an example. How many places are there you have never visited? After many years of travelling I realise that one of my valuable possessions is a bank of memories that I want to continue to build and use to ensure our clients get to realise everything they want in their own travels. In this issue of Fellow Traveller we explore a sacred mountain in China, the summer in the blue heart of Provence, skiing in Cortina, the secret behind Cleopatra’s success with Mark Anthony and the Great Migration in the Serengeti. Happy reading! Best wishes Lucia O’Connell



EXPLORE THE WORLD Nomads Secrets create unique and exclusive luxury journeys that unveil the heart and soul of the worlds most alluring destinations

Contact Lucia today to plan your next adventure lc@nomadssecrets.com www.nomadssecrets.com 1300 670 000 (Australia) +61 (1) 400 741 930 (Worldwide) 1 888 408 2480 (USA and Canada)





Lucia O’Connell discovers the deep spirituality of one of China’s highest peaks.





HERE are sacred mountains across the world from the Andes to the Himalayas. They shape the lives of those who live in their shadow eliciting reverence, awe and fear. These gargantuan peaks dot those inhospitable regions where the Earth’s crust seems to have suffered the most tormented geological upheavals. Their mysterious power inspires local populations to worship them and pay tribute to the gods and spirits who inhabit them.

On a previous trip I had learned about the bravery of the great plant hunters from Jesuit priests to the French, Danish, Swedish, American and British botanists who fought bandits, made deals with emperors and ingratiated themselves to the locals to bring back to the West the marvellous plants that grew wild in this part of China and now adorn our private and botanical gardens. I was eager to follow in their footsteps and personally live some of the adventures described in their accounts.

I have always been fascinated by the legends of the mountains and the spell-binding power they exert. In my travels I have often searched for the history and myths that forge the pageantry and rituals of the people who share their living space with these enigmatic giants.

I got in touch with the head of the Botanical Gardens in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, who put me in contact with his colleague Sun, a PhD in botany and an eager mountaineer who became my guide. We were joined by another very charismatic personality, a senior Lama from Zhōngdiàn’s Ganden Sumtseling Buddhist Temple who would help us explore the sacredness and mysticism of this fascinating region.

A couple of years ago I made a return visit to the north-western corner of China’s Yunnan province, part of the spectacular UNESCOprotected watershed of the Three Parallel Rivers: the Yangtze (Jinsha) the Mekong and Salween. I had been to this vast region of approximately 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) several times before and explored the canyons carved out by the headwaters of three of Asia’s great rivers.

Over the next six weeks we followed in the footsteps of Buddhist monks, the famous botanists and the everyday Bon, Tibetan and other minority peoples who for centuries have trodden the wild and foreboding treks of the Three Parallel Rivers Watershed.


Our journey started in Zhōngdiàn the gateway to the Tibetan Plateau lying at an altitude of 3,200m/10,500ft above sea level. By a pure stroke of luck two days after our arrival we were treated to a glamorous and totally unexpected Tibetan Horse Festival. The Chinese government tries to impair the Tibetan people’s efforts to gather in large numbers for fear of unrest and unwanted demonstrations, but Zhōngdiàn, lies just outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region and manages to get away from the stricter rules that apply to its less fortunate neighbour.


As the Heavenly Steed Festival unfolded, the horsemen’s skills seemed superhuman as they rode their spirited horses at full gallop and left in me a sense of total admiration. Our local guide,

Eddy, a Han Chinese, introduced us to some of them over dinner. Despite not being able to converse directly, relying on my companions for assistance, I felt very privileged to share their table and learn something of their nomadic life and the way they become as one with their horses as their predecessors have done for centuries. Zhōngdiàn was recently renamed Shangri-la the mythical place described by author James Hilton in his 1933 novel Lost Horizon. The Chinese are trying to capitalise on its location to expand the footprint of tourist destinations. It is nestled amongst the mountains and lakes of the Tibetan Plateau and endowed with some of the most beautiful monasteries in the region. The real Shangri-la however lies

further west in the district of Deqin. Here the landscape becomes very steep and wild and large boulders fallen from the cliffs overhead sometimes block the road. On this occasion I wanted to see more of the great mountain Kawa Karpo (6,740m/22,112ft) also known at Kawagebo, that rises dominantly from the plateau crossed by the Three Parallel Rivers watershed. Chomolungma (8,848m/29,000ft), better known as Mt. Everest, Kailash (6,638m/21780ft) and Kawa Karpo are the three most sacred mountains to Tibetan Buddhists. Kawa Karpo is probably one of the less known but most beautiful and spectacular natural wonders to westerners. Indeed few westerners realise that these three mountains are sacred to nearly a fifth of mankind.



We drove north west. The awesome and familiar sight of the Meili Snow Mountain range comes into view. Legend has it that a long, long time ago the resident spirit was given an army by Buddha to protect the area from intruders. Their presence is very real to the local residents who burn juniper offerings every morning and evening to venerate and appease them. To get the best view of the tallest peak Kawa Karpo and his consort Miacimu, we drive on to Feilai Si where eight magnificent stupas adorn the landscape. The stupas are believed to radiate healing energy because they contain the relics of wise and enlightened beings. Locals tend to them with loving care and devotion and come here to pray to the mountain and its spirits.

This was the beginning of the real adventure! For the next two weeks I will follow the legendary route first opened by Karma Pakshi in the 13th century. The child prodigy and illustrious Lama spent considerable time in deep meditation in these environs, resting and praying in caves, bathing in waterfalls and streams while travelling across China, Mongolia and Tibet rebuilding and erecting monasteries and spreading the faith.

Salween River bend

We embarked on this fairly arduous 240km/150mile circumambulation of Kawa Karpo on foot with Eddy as our trekking guide and with packhorses in tow to assist in the endeavour. Sun the expert botanist and our companion Lama who would explain the complex symbolism and significance of this sacred way for Tibetan Buddhists

and Bons worldwide. We would soon discover that we would not be alone in our endeavour! Some 20,000 or so Buddhist pilgrims walk the route (the sacred kora) every year to enrich their souls and get closer to the their gods and their ancestors. In the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama: “In Buddhist tradition, the goal of pilgrimage is not so much to reach a particular destination as to awaken within oneself the qualities and energies of the sacred site, which ultimately lie within our own minds�. With this thought deeply embedded in my mind we hiked across the silent landscape, sharing our path with devout pilgrims, listening to their chants, observing them meditating in holy locations, some prostrating at every step. In the evening we shared meals and stories together around the campfire and enjoyed the simplicity and serenity that surrounded us. As we progressed the lush and thick vegetation of the lower slopes, with its abundance of orchids, rhododendrons, lichens, mosses and conifers, gave way to a stark and soaring landscape where rock faces were adorned with prayers and flags. Far in the distance we could see the meanderings of the Mekong and the Selwyn reminding us that Burma and Vietnam were just a day travel away.



Songzaling Temple Complex, Shangri-la

I learned that sacred mountains are never summited as it is seen as a sign of extreme disrespect that awakens and angers the resident deities. I was told of the conflict between modern foreign mountaineers and the religious groups that worship these peaks and how the deities unleashed their wrath on mountaineers who attempted to climb the peaks. The first attempt on Kawa Karpo was made in 1987 by a party from the Joetsu Alpine Club of Japan and failed. In the winter of 1990–91 a group from the Academic Alpine Club of Kyoto University attempted

to summit Kawagebo’s peak in conjunction with a Chinese party. Their expeditions caused heavy protests from the local Tibetan community. On 3 January 1991, an overnight avalanche killed all seventeen members of the expedition, one of the worst mountaineering accidents in history. After other unsuccessful attempts the local government, under pressure from the Tibetan Community, banned any future climbing in 2001.


Right: Mekong River

During our kora I got to understand what makes this wonderful region so special and why the unique combination of geography, beauty and the historical religious figures who found enlightenment along these slopes, have created an intricate web of circumstances tying the Tibetan people inextricably to the Three Parallel Rivers watershed where sacred Mountain Kawa Karpo rises. On our last day of our trek, as we returned to the village of Feilai Si and said goodbye to the catering crew and their horses that made the journey very comfortable. I realised that beyond exploring a magnificent part of the world, I had had the wonderful opportunity to examine my own beliefs and, thanks to my mentors, to understand the deep spiritual and natural significance that this place holds. The memories from this truly amazing journey accompany me every time I step into a botanical garden or park and see one of the many plants that have been imported from this area. Whenever I hear the sound of wind chimes my mind immediately goes back to the foothills of that Sacred Mountain in China. PS: China is an ancient land with a multitude of interesting things to experience and savour. If you are interested to explore it in depth and on a fully customised basis, please send me an email at: mail to: contact@nomadssecrets.com




OLD HAVANA – Waterfront Cuba is a photographer's dream. It's a chance to capture coloursaturated images of grand but dilapidated architecture, lush cane fields and swaying palms, handsome people (and beautiful women), afro-latin musicians and sultry dancers, old cars and monuments to heroes of the Revolution. All that on the island of rum mojitos, the world's finest cigars and locals who find almost any excuse to party. Everyone who goes to Cuba will tell you the same thing. Go now.


Havana Harbour is being expanded to cope with cruise ships and more buildings are being restored. With more tourism the pace of change will undoubtedly quicken.




NEW ZEALAND – Cape Reinga At the top of the north island of New Zealand, Cape Reinga is remote but well worth the trip, especially at sunset. This is where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean in a swirl of currents. It is the place where Maori spirits begin their final journey from an 800 year old pohutukawa tree on the tip of the Cape to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki. North Cape is actually a little further north than Cape Reinga but it isn’t open to the public.



SAMOA – The Coconut Man


At Taga on the south coast the ‘coconut man’ drops coconuts into the Alofaaga Blowholes ahead of the incoming waves. They are then spectacularly fired up to 40metres into the air.



d’Ampezzo A destination for all seasons Each summer and winter Cortina d’Ampezzo plays host to the cream of Roman, Milanese and International society.


A two-hour drive from the canals of Venice and Marco Polo airport, Cortina is definitely a place to visit. Nicknamed the “Pearl of the Dolomites” by proud locals, this elegant resort rises around its swish town centre dominated by a magnificent green and white bell tower. Grand 19th-century mansions adorned with Tyrolean-style frescos house chic boutiques, glittering restaurants and exclusive hotels.

At sunset the dolomitic sandstone cathedrals that soar to over 3000m as become tinged in surreal shades of bubble-gum pink and powder blue.



riving into Cortina has always given me a thrill but also some trepidation. You have to negotiate a narrow one-way road system that leads you right around the town to eventually arrive at your accommodation. If you do not trust your nerves when sharing the road with impatient Italian drivers and revved up Ferraris sitting on your tail, I suggest you hire a driver, sit back and enjoy the show. I first came to Cortina during school holidays with my parents. This year, over the New Year, I brought my two daughters. At first the girls were sceptical doubting there would be enough to do in Cortina for the 20 something crowd. None of their friends had even heard about Cortina so not taking my word for it, they went to the Google God to find their answers. They soon changed their minds.



The town that hosted the winter Olympics in 1956 has plenty to offer people of all ages and tastes. You can be as active or as lazy and you like and at the end of each day you will look forward to start all over again the next.

(divas most twenty something-year olds do not have a clue about). As the night draws on, the current glitterati can be spotted in party mode at the sophisticated nightclubs around town, many accessible only through prior booking or if you know someone. When you have The actual business of skiing, mountaineering, hiking, playing tennis, had enough you can repair to your or basking in the sun or having a day private villa or luxury hotel to enjoy a at the spa, plays second fiddle to the nightcap by the open fire. game of seeing and being seen in The skiing infrastructure in Cortina the elegant boutiques, antique shops is comparable to St Moritz, Aspen and galleries that line the pedestrian or Whistler. There are 36 lifts and Corso Italia. cable cars serving around 175km At twilight everybody comes out for the traditional evening passeggiata dressed in eye catching après ski fur coats in winter or chic designer cashmere and silk in summer and congregate in streetside bars for an aperitivo. By early evening the alpine resort comes alive with the buzz of a holiday crowd who seem to have not a care in the world. The Michelin-starred restaurants and more casual pizzerias fill their tables with patrons some with their well-mannered precious pooches often poking their tiny heads out from Prada and Fendi bags (this part takes some getting used to if you are not European!). On the walls are black and white autographed photos of Gina Lollobridiga, Brigit Bardot, Liz Taylor, Rachel Welch amongst many others

of ski runs. The area is also part of the giant 1220km Dolomiti Superski area. With its old world architecture, gastronomic excellence and refined flair and chic, Cortina offers a superior destination. In summer the alpine lakes are beautiful backdrops to spending time hiking or simply enjoying a sumptuous lunch in a great rifugio with family and friends. Whether you fancy skiing on pristine morning powder runs in February or hiking amongst glorious pine forests in July in search of an elusive chamois or scattering marmot, you will never be disappointed by a holiday in Cortina. Happy hour here is every moment of the day. Lucia O’Connell

If you are interested in spending time in Cortina and the Veneto region or visit other parts of Italy you wish to explore on a fully customised basis, please contact me by email at: mailto:contact@nomadssecrets.com 30



UNCOVER THE SECRETS OF NEW WORLDS Nomads Secrets' expert guides and subject matter specialists are at your service to show you there world in insightful and unique ways.

Contact Lucia today to plan your next adventure lc@nomadssecrets.com www.nomadssecrets.com 1300 670 000 (Australia) +61 (1) 400 741 930 (Worldwide) 1 888 408 2480 (USA and Canada)


Essaouira An ancient place with an extraordinary history



couple of years ago, as a birthday present, I invited my mother to come from her home in Genoa and meet me in Morocco. I planned to follow the ancient trade routes along the shores of the West Mediterranean and the Eastern Atlantic. The goal was to explore the stories about the discovery and pursuit of the precious scents, oils, metals and spices that made the region famous and prosperous. Not just enriching merchants and the local communities but bringing an elegance and sophistication to the world. We set off in early April for a fiveweek journey. Spring is the perfect time to visit as temperatures are still mild and nature is in bloom. After a week in Tangier we travelled south covering around 800km and winding our way past Rabat, Casablanca and a myriad of seaside villages rising from long sandy beaches the colour of burnt caramel. We were headed for the small seaside port of Essaouira, formerly known as Mogador. I first heard of Essaouira when I was studying English literature at school. Our teacher made us watch a 1951 movie of Othello directed by Orson Wells who also played the lead role. Othello, the Moorish General was commanding the Venetian troops at the height of that city’s power. A time when Venetian nobility indulged in a lavish lifestyle made possible by the precious cargos its merchants imported from the Orient and North Africa.


Wells chose Essaouria as the set for the film as he thought the Bay of Mogador and its former pirate stronghold was a far more authentic backdrop than Cyprus. When we arrived at the walled seaside town it was late afternoon. Essaouira sits behind huge defensive ramparts and gates and we were immediately struck by its beauty and character. I had booked our week's stay in a riad in the Medina and we spent our first evening on the roof terrace watching the setting sun casting its last rays across the bay and over the two Purple Islands. They got their name because, in antiquity, highly precious Tyrian purple dye was made here. The next morning our guide joined us for breakfast. She told us about the very colourful history of the riad - a former inn where caravaneers stopped to rest and change their animals. It was later converted into a spice store before being bought by the current owners who first used it as their home before transforming it into a magnificent retreat for travellers. The old town is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways and small squares where local women wearing colourful hijabs and men in djellabas go about their business. For the visitor there is a diversity of craft and spice shops, small boutiques, food stores and workshops. Goods are still moved around by donkey and cart. Berber rugs hang from the hinges of elaborate doors while other traders sell dyes of every hue set out in small glass jars. Our guide took us around Moorish, Arab, Jewish and French-style buildings that line the different quarters of the Old Town. Massive ramparts built in 1765 by Théodore Cornut, a French specialist in military fortification, encircle it. He also built the famous Scala - a grand 200m long esplanade complete with cannon and a fort designed to impress and warn off any potential invader. Since 2001 Essaouira has been UNESCO protected as an “exceptional example of a late-18th-century fortified town in North Africa…. in perfect harmony with the precepts of Arabo-Muslim architecture and town-planning”. There is a lot to enjoy in Essaouira. Located in the southern part of Morocco on the way to Marrakech, it is a great place to take a break for a few days and unwind. Take a relaxed stroll along the beachfront and stop at one of the many lovely restaurants serving fresh fish and crisp white wine. 36

The town has also a wonderful musical tradition. Here you can listen to local sufi musicians and gnaoua drummers whose music inspired famous names like Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens. Both spent considerable time in Essaouira in the 70’s and local sounds became an intrinsic part of their music. Morocco is a fascinating country and one that has so much to offer any traveller. If you decide to visit, the historic seaside town of Essaouira, the home of purple, should be part of your plan.




How Essaouira played a role in Cleopatra’s seduction of Mark Antony


n our first day we walked down to the port at the end of the esplanade. It was filled with hundreds of blue fishing boats. The fishermen, having unloaded their catch, were busy fixing nets and cleaning up. I arranged through our guide for one of the boatman to take us to the Purple Islands when the fleet left port early the next day. My mother decided to stay on dry land! We bought a couple of lobsters and took them back to our riad where they were deliciously prepared for our dinner. My alarm woke me 6.00 am, well before sunrise at this time of year. The streets of the old city were quiet but once we got to the port it was full of noise and action. We found our boatman and he steered the small craft away from its mooring and out amongst the larger fishing trawlers. I had been warned the journey was not going to be


comfortable (something my mother quickly picked up). The persistent trade winds make the sea in the Bay of Mogador choppy and we donned wet weather gear against the spray. As we crossed the Bay with the Purple Islands bobbing up and down in front of us and leaving Essaouira behind, our boatman pointed to the sea below us. We were above a colony of murex - the mollusc from which purple dye was extracted. He explained that these ‘sea snails’ were caught in baited traps suspended from floats and taken ashore on the Purple Islands. The Phoenicians first founded a settlement there in the 6th century BC, which flourished until the first century AD. Phoenicia with its capital Tyre, was located in the Eastern Mediterranean on the coastline of modern day Lebanon and Israel. The Greek name Phoenicia means purple country, as cloth dyed with Tyrian

purple from the Murex mollusc was a major export. When the Phoenicians exhausted the local shellfish they sought new supply, leading to the establishment of production on the Purple Islands. The shells were laid out to dry in the sun on the islands and the purple liquid extracted from their hypobranchial glands was mixed with salt and other fixing agents to

create a stable and highly durable dye. The colour ranged from pink to violet. Historical accounts indicate about 10,000 shellfish were needed to produce just 1 gram of dye. By the time the Romans defeated the Phoenicians and adopted purple as the hallmark of imperial power purple was worth three times its weight in gold. The Romans decreed the dye could only be used for the garments of the emperor and his family, senators and victorious generals. In today’s money one gram of purple, barely enough for dying the trim of a single garment the size of the Roman toga, would be worth US$420. And what of Antony and Cleopatra? Purple from Mogador was used to dye the silk sails of Queen Cleopatra’s royal barge when she met Mark Antony at Tarsus (in modern day southern Turkey). Using the colour of imperial Rome, Cleopatra set out to both impress and seduce the Roman General and gain his support for her continued rule over Egypt. Such lavish use of purple would have been designed to show the Queen’s power and also her respect for Rome. It certainly worked!

Whether for the robes of kings and bishops of the church or in the décor of palaces, the heritage of Essaouira and the majesty of the colour purple remains very much alive. Wagner composed his music in rooms festooned with purple drapes inspiring a sense of opulence and grandeur. Today the two islands, once a hub of activity, are uninhabited. They are sanctuaries for an endangered species of seagull and also the Eleonora’s falcon. General access is forbidden to protect nesting sites and they attract keen birdwatchers in search of these rare birds. Before we returned to port, we stopped in the tiny Roman port on the main island where we could see the ruins of the ancient workshops. There is also the tower of the mosque and the austere remains of a prison built towards the end of the 19th century by the sultan of the day to incarcerate exiled rebels. The work of extracting the dye was hardly easy or pleasant. While the workers who lived on the island undoubtedly enjoyed higher rewards than regular fisherman, they had to deal with huge numbers of rotting, smelly molluscs in harsh conditions. The stench stayed with them and they were not welcome

in the mainland town, albeit that it prospered as a result of their work. The trade in the precious dye made fortunes for the merchants and brought considerable wealth to Essaouira. One of the wonderful experiences of travel is to be able to see and understand where our customs and traditions have come from. My trip in that small blue boat was one of those immersive occasions that are at the core of why we travel.



orocco is a country where surprising discoveries await at almost every turn. Its location, on the north-western corner of Africa, made it one of antiquity’s natural outposts where the trade routes between Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt converged. Its territory has been traversed, invaded and colonised by Phoenicians, Berbers, ancient Romans and Muslims. The conquest of the Maghreb, in the 7th and 8th centuries, brought both Islam and the Arabic language to the region. Morocco literally means the West in Arabic. While the predominant religion became Islam, Morocco also became home to Jews fleeing persecution in arch-catholic Spain. In 1912 the Treaty of Fez saw Morocco become a protectorate of France with Spain taking similar control of regions in the Sahara. This led to a whole new influx of colonists from Europe however following decades of continued unrest the independent Kingdom of Morocco was reestablished in 1956.


History has endowed Morocco with great richness and culture. It is an exotic place that fires the imagination of travellers.

If you are interested in a fully customised and authentic journey through Morocco, send me an email at: contact@nomadssecrets.com





It’s mid February and something magical is taking place before our eyes.



ur small group is sitting in two Land Rovers on Tanzania’s Serengeti Plain where 1.3 million wildebeest have gathered to give birth to their young. A female some 50 metres in front of us has just given birth and we watch spellbound as her calf struggles to stand and then does do awkwardly. In a place where predators await the weak or slow, getting moving quickly is an imperative. The vast herds are feeding happily on some of the richest grasses in the world. And with their new-born they are about to embark on one of the greatest journeys on Earth. More than half a million wildebeest calves will start on an epic 2,000-km migration across East Africa. It is a right of passage that many will not survive. Despite their great agility and speed, nearly one third of them will perish in the jaws of a predator Those that do survive will return to these same plains next year, stronger, experienced and prepared to start a new cycle of life.


The wildebeest are not alone on their way across Kenya and Tanzania. They share their odyssey with other herbivores, hundreds of thousands of zebra, every species of antelope, gazelles and elephants, as well having to contend with lions, cheetahs, wild dogs, hyenas and leopards. And, when they cross the Mara, crocodiles.

Ol Doinyo Lengai, the Mountain of God


I am very excited to again be in East Africa. To some extent there is a sense of déjà vu as I first witnessed the migration some years ago. For others in our group what they previously had only seen in documentaries is now real and right before them. The scene is both hypnotic and magic and also foreboding as we understand the hard and epic journey that is ahead. This is the best time for the vast herds. They arrived in the Serengeti at the foothills of the mighty Ol Doinyo Lengai (or Mountain of God to the Maasai) in December. On the plains around this active volcano the herd numbers start to explode from late January/early February when the females gave birth to the first calves. Over the next two or three weeks 500,000 calves will be born. Protected by sheer numbers, 90% of will survive the first two months of their lives. The male calf near us is now running alongside his mother within minutes of his birth. To our right, on the edge of the wildebeest super herd, a female zebra is giving birth. This huge mixed herd will stay feeding here on the short grasses until the end of April however as time passes, the super herd will divide into smaller groupings. Wildebeest milk is rich in potassium, calcium and sodium, perfect food for their youngsters’ bones to develop properly and support them during their first migration. However to produce sufficient milk requires the mothers to drink copious amounts of water every day. When the wet season comes to an end the herds will need to move on. We are fortunate to have a wonderful guide. He worked for the BBC during the filming of their documentary on the migration. We learn that the oldest wildebeest will have made this journey more than 20 times. He tells us “When the herds leave these plains, they will live like nomads facing incredible dangers for the next seven months and 4 in 5 of the young will not make it ”. Once the Plain has dried out and the grasses go to seed the herds will move on, driven by the smell of rain and the need for fresh feed. As we watch the spectacle of birth and plenty on the rich volcanic soils around the Mountain of God, we can’t help feel apprehension for the calves we have seen just take their first steps. 46

Nature is both remarkable and cruel.

PS: Interested in experiencing the migration and wild wonders of Tanzania with expert guides and the best accommodation? Do not hesitate to send me an email at: contact@nomadssecrets.com


Notre-Dame de SĂŠnanque Abbey is home to a community of Cistercian Monks near the village of Gordes. The


Abbey sits in a stunningly beautiful valley.

Le Pays Bleu Summer in Provence


Gordes, Luberon


The region is one of France’s most beautiful where you can still experience the charm captured in Peter Mayle’s autobiographical book, A Year in Provence.


One département, the Vaucluse, is at the heart of lavender production. In summer it becomes awash with colour. Vaucluse boasts 7 villages ranked as the “Most beautiful villages in France”. You can explore a maze of narrow stone streets; relax over a cool drink in shaded squares with their fountains of crystal water and of course enjoy wonderful local cuisine. From around mid June through July these medieval hilltop towns, like Aurel and Sault, overlook a patchwork of blue lavender fields, golden wheat and spelt and yellow sunflowers in the valley below. The time to go is during the lavender harvest that generally runs between mid July through into August depending on variety and altitude. The flowers are then distilled to extract their essential oils used in perfume or prepared for sale in bunches or bags. The harvest culminates in the Fête de la Lavande in the village of Sault, held on August 15th every year, being on a French national holiday (Assumption Day, when the Virgin Mary died and was ‘assumed’ into heaven). Visitors mix with local farmers, compete in harvesting competitions (with a sickle) and enjoy traditional country fare. Whether at the well-trodden tourist attractions or away from the maddening crowd, there is much to explore and enjoy. Stunning scenery, forests of cedar and oak, historic towns like Avignon, the home of Popes or the beautiful Roussillon, the red village once the source of ochre and to the west, the famous vineyards of the Rhône valley. Here in the heart of the Côtes du Rhone is the Roman town of Orange, built in the reign of Augustus with its UNESCO listed amphitheatre and Triumphal Arch. 52

Le Pays Bleu is a must for any summer visit to France.


As a young girl I spent entire summers in Provence at my uncle’s farm near Avignon. I have vivid memories of giant haystacks of newly harvested wheat and the scent of the lavender in the air. It is a wonderful time to see this part of France. Good forward planning is essential given the high demand for accommodation and at the regions Michelin hatted restaurants. L O’C




The world is a book and those

who do not travel


read only one page.

St. Augustine