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steppestravel.com

29th Nov - 12th Dec

ISSUE 2/2018

T R AV E L L E R STEPPES TRAVEL MAGAZINE

INDIA NAGALAND FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD IN PERU & CHILE ETHIOPIA TIDES OF CHANGE IN THE OMO VALLEY

Sangam Nivas Camp, Allahabad luxury tent

Chamba Camp, Diskit luxury suite tent

Chamba Camp, Thiksey campfire dinner

Kishkinda Camp, Hampi luxury suite tent

Find out more by speaking to our India specialists or visit www.steppestravel.com

Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018 | UK

The Ultimate Travelling Camp specialises in bringing luxury mobile camping to the more remote areas of India. The perfect combination of experiencing nomadic lifestyle with all the accoutrements of a luxury stay in some of the most incredible and beautiful places. Timed to coincide with events and festivals of each region. Choose from Chamba Camp, Thiksey; Chamba Camp, Diskit; Jaagir Lodge, Dudhwa, Terai; Kishkinda Camp, Hampi and Sangam Nivas Camp, Allahabad for the Kumbh Mela.


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on a private house boat. Cycle and explore the temples, churches and villages, or take walks through lush green paddy fields.

COCHIN

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PONDICHERRY What strikes you when you first visit parts of Pondicherry is it doesn’t feel like anywhere else in India. It is a city of complete contrast. On one side you walk in the shade of the tree-lined French Quarter with its colonial buildings, including French street signs and policemen wearing red berets. Once you cross the canal, you end up in a typically lively south Indian town, with all the street sellers and markets. Pondicherry is a city to explore on foot or by tuk tuk with your camera.

Set on a cluster of islands and narrow peninsulas, linked by a network of ferries and bridges, the ancient water city of Cochin (Kochi) reflects the eclecticism of Kerala perfectly. Cochin is the oldest European settlement in India, with an amazing blend of architectural styles making it a delightful place to stay. The influence of Chinese, Jews, Arabs and Europeans is evident throughout Cochin and its people, with colonial houses sitting alongside Chinese fishing nets and an ancient synagogue.

KUMBAKONAM If you love to retrace the footsteps of ancient cultures, myths and legends you certainly have to come to this part of India. The magical attraction and a must see is the Chidambaram Thillai Nataraja temple, considered to be the place where Shiva danced the celestial dance of creation. The name of the city literally means ‘atmosphere of wisdom’.

CONTENTS 04

WHERE’S HOT Our top destinations for 2019

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FEATURE | PERU & CHILE Far from the madding crowd

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WHAT’S HOT Our best experiences, openings and flight routes

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FEATURE | RWANDA Rediscovering Rwanda by Chris Johnston

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FEATURE | INDIA Nagaland by Justin Wateridge

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HOT OFF THE PRESS

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FEATURE | EGYPT Back on the map by Amy Waters

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FEATURE | CUBA Counter revolution by John Faithfull

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THE RETURN OF THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

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OUR STEPPES AROUND THE WORLD

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OUR TRAVEL READS

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FEATURE | ALASKA & CANADA Exploring the wilderness

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FAMILY FEATURE | SOUTH AFRICA Where do butterflies sleep? by Jarrod and George Kyte

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STEPPES FAMILY HOLIDAYS

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FEATURE | ETHIOPIA Tides of change in the Omo Valley by Jarrod Kyte

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FEATURE | AUSTRALIA The Outback by Amy Waters

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FEATURE | GALAPAGOS ISLANDS New experiences by Lucy Hayward

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A YEAR DOWN UNDER

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FEATURE | ROMANIA The land where the cuckoo calls by Joe Parkes

PERIYAR Travellers usually arrive at Periyar after a week or more of intense culture, temples and travel. Periyar is just the oasis you need to digest all that you have learned. Here you can dive into the sounds of nature, away from the blaring horns of day to day Indian traffic. Fill your lungs with fresh mountain air, often rich with the fragrance of flowers and the scent of spices grown here in great abundance.

THE BACKWATERS Imagine a stretch of land nourished by 44 rivers filling up a vast network of lakes and 1,500 kilometres of labyrinthine canals, all lined by palm trees and picturesque small villages. The canals come alive by occasional snake boat races, over 300 species of birds, Chinese fishing nets dipping like huge umbrellas into the sea, boats, dugouts and floating supermarkets. This is the amazing and fragile world of the Keralan backwaters. Every aspect of life here is connected to the canals. To really experience this life in full colour, it is best to spend two nights

14 days holiday to South India from £3,345pp, excluding flights.

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WELCOME

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We live on a crowded planet. The once unexplored corners of the world are all mapped and measured. To travel nowadays is to see what others have seen, to step where others have stepped. Thankfully that is not entirely true. Through our expertise, our contacts and insight around the world, we are able to travel beyond the ordinary. Whether in terms of destination to the likes of Ethiopia, Romania, Mongolia and Nagaland all featured in these pages. Or the more remote areas within countries - the less-visited parts of Peru and Chile, the peace of southern India or the space of Australia. Or the type of travel such as slow-paced in Indochina and the attention to detail in Japan. True discovery remains not only possible but is exhilarating. This magazine is for those fellow devotees of the blank spaces on a map.

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OUR EXPERT-LED TOURS FOR 2019

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LEADING LADIES

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FEATURE | MALAWI Room with a Mvuu by Rob Gardiner

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OUR HIGHLIGHTS OF JAPAN

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FEATURE | INDOCHINA The slow lane by Deborah Brock-Doyle

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FEATURE | KENYA Return to Laikipia by Jackie Devereux

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FEATURE | MONGOLIA Remote land and its people by Jarrod Kyte

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OUR EXCLUSIVE PRIVATE CHARTERS

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EXPLORE THE INCREDIBLE GANGES

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OFF THE BEATEN TRACK IN SOUTH INDIA

Justin Wateridge Managing Director

EVENTS: DATES FOR YOUR DIARY Head over to our website for a full list of upcoming events and look out for our email invites. OUR UPCOMING EVENTS Michael Palin - book launch event ‘HMS Erebus’ at the Royal Geographical Society, London. Sue Flood - book launch event ‘Emperor, the Perfect Penguin’ at The Natural History Museum, London. Rob Caskie - Going South with Shackleton at Parabola Arts, Cheltenham Benedict Allen - Ultimate Explorer theatre tour, UK

Front Cover: Chile Editorial: Steppes Team Design: Seaside Inspired Steppes Traveller is the magazine of Steppes Travel, 51 Castle Street, Cirencester, GL7 1QD, United Kingdom

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WHERE’S HOT

2019

TURKEY

BOLIVIA

We are delighted that the spotlight is back on Turkey as a key holiday destination for 2019. With revamped hotel openings and the currency devaluing, it is easy to see why. For unadulterated luxury, check-in to Six Senses Kaplankaya, newly opened in May.

Bolivia is renowned for its high-altitude vistas and remote national parks. Until now, accessing these areas has been difficult due to the lack of decent accommodation. We are excited to offer an African-style luxury mobile camping experience in Bolivia, exploring the country’s wildest and most striking regions from the comfort of your own private camp.

5 days at Kaplankaya in October in the Sea Ridge Villa from £850pp, excluding flights.

4 days glamping from £795pp depending on the location, excluding flights.

SOUTH AFRICA

RUSSIA

From the hipster art galleries of Maboneng to the raw, untamed beauty of the Wild Coast, South Africa is diverse and everchanging. Culture, history and wildlife blend together, alongside the best array of boutique accommodation that Africa has to offer. The recent weakening of the rand means that a holiday in South Africa is once again fantastic value.

Russia is still enjoying the afterglow of a compelling World Cup and holidays to St Petersburg and Moscow are in demand. If you have travelled to Russia before then how about the Crimea? Explore the Black Sea coastline, visit the second largest botanical garden in the world and visit the summer palaces of the last Russian Tsars.

12 days from £1,650pp, excluding flights.

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Register your interest for a cultural tour to the Crimea groups@steppestravel.com


WHERE’S HOT

JAPAN Japan is about to host a series of sporting events from the Rugby World Cup in 2019 to the Olympics in 2020. Go now before the crowds. While Tokyo and Osaka will not disappoint first-time visitors, think about staying overnight at a temple, doing a selfdrive holiday on the Onsen Trails or meeting with pilgrims on Shikoku Island.

11 days to Japan including Shikoku from £3,350pp, excluding flights.

ARGENTINA With a devalued peso and the recent abolishment of VAT on accommodation for overseas visitors, holidays to Argentina are back at 2014 rates. Visit Patagonia for alpine air and jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes or head to Cordoba in July next year to witness a total solar eclipse. 12 days to Argentina from £2,395pp, excluding flights.

ZIMBABWE Despite being home to Victoria Falls and countless national parks, Zimbabwe has unfortunately become known more for its politicians than its wildlife and wilderness. A safari in Zimbabwe has never gone out of fashion, but with Mugabe now gone, you can travel without fear of inadvertently funding Gucci Grace’s shopping sprees.

8 days from £2,995pp, excluding flights.

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WHAT’S HOT

NEW BOAT IN THE GALAPAGOS The brand-new Infinity luxury yacht takes to the water this autumn with Floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies in all 10 cabins. We got in early and have secured one of the first ten departures travelling in December 2018 in partnership with The Times. WHY? Not only one of the most comfortable and best equipped yachts in the Galapagos, the Infinity has a better ratio of guides to clients. Join our exclusive charter to the Galapagos Islands 9th Dec - 18th Dec from £5,995pp, excluding flights.

COLOMBIA – COROCORA CAMP A new concept for Colombia: a high-end African safari style camp with the comfort and service of a hotel. The camp is in the heart of the flooded grasslands of the Los Llanos, home to pumas, anteaters and pink river dolphins and the distinct culture of the Llanero cowboy. WHY? Spend your days horse riding looking for puma or join the Llanero cowboys, herding cattle on their private ranches. 12 days in Colombia including 3 nights at Corocora Camp from £6,595pp, excluding flights.

UNDER CANVAS IN BALI Capturing the spirit of a settler’s camp, the newly opened Capella Ubud is Bali’s first ever luxury tented hotel. Perfect for those looking for tranquillity or those wanting to explore the nearby temples and picturesque waterfalls. WHY? No trees were felled when the camp was built so nature is right on your doorstep along with the warmest of service, for which Bali is renowned. From £895pp for a three-night-stay on a bed and breakfast basis when booked as part of a longer trip.

CRUISE THE ANDAMAN ISLANDS Pandaw River Cruises are launching a new cruise around the Andaman Islands, travelling on board their luxury motor yacht, the Andaman Explorer. The emphasis will be on exploring the picturesque coastline and the wild interior. WHY? Very few expedition ships have visited this remote area. Sail from Thailand to the Andamans on a 10-night expedition or opt for a shorter seven-night round Andaman cruise. Be one of the first to cruise the Indian Andamans on board the boutique MY Andaman Explorer in 2020. 7 nights on board from £3,425pp, excluding flights.


WHAT’S HOT

2019

COSMOLEDO ECO CAMP, SEYCHELLES 1,000 kilometres from Mahe, the Seychelles’ capital, Cosmoledo Eco Camp sits on a remote atoll in the coralline Outer Islands. Close to the World Heritage Site of Aldabra, Cosmoledo Atoll is home to vast colonies of seabirds, whilst unspoilt reefs lie off its shores. WHY? Forget beach resorts and visit Cosmoledo for an island wilderness experience that makes the most of its splendid isolation.

RWANDAIR FLIGHTS TO CAPE TOWN

NEW

Combine gorilla trekking with time in the Cape, thanks to new flights between Kigali and Cape Town. With direct flights from London to Kigali already possible and flights to the US just about to launch, these new flights make it even easier to combine two of Africa’s greatest wonders on a single trip. WHY? Gorilla trekking is arguably the greatest wildlife experience in Africa, whilst Cape Town is often regarded as the continent’s modern cultural capital.

8 days from £8,795pp, excluding flights. Return flights combining both Kigali and Cape Town from £700pp.

SPLASH CAMP BOTSWANA This quirkily named camp opened this year, in a new area of the vast Kwando Concession. Bordering the Moremi Reserve, it is positioned in the heart of the Okavango Delta. The area surrounding this stylish, low-impact camp is renowned for its huge water crossings, hence the unusual name. WHY? Exclusivity is what makes a safari in Botswana special. Splash guarantees this by opening up a new part of the delta, rather than crowding existing areas. 7 days from £3,095pp, excluding flights.

MALDIVES CONRAD, RANGALI ISLANDS

NEW

An idyllic twin island retreat just 30 minutes by sea plane from Male. Expect gorgeous stretches of white sand and vivid turquoise seas. Dive with manta rays or relax at the world-class spa. WHY? The first of its kind – The Muraka residence opens in November 2018. Stay at this unique two level residence with integrated living above and below the ocean. Stay 7 nights before 21st December 2018 and save up to 30% including a complimentary nights stay. 7 nights in a beach villa in October from £2,995pp, excluding flights.

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WRITTEN BY JUSTIN WATERIDGE

NAGALAND The betel-red smile and pierced ears of a member of the Konyak tribe announce my arrival in the land of the headhunters. I am at a small outpost on the border of Nagaland.


The concrete walls of the houses in neighbouring Assam have been replaced by bamboo, solid roofs by thatch. The topography has become wilder, the flat of the plains of Assam are overshadowed by the precipitous hills of Nagaland. The flora and fauna is more unkempt, the fertile alluvial soil has given way to rocks. The road is no longer tarred but rocky, bumpy and jarring. Our speed is reduced to a standstill as we seem to literally go back in time. We bounce along a bumpy single-track road that meanders tortuously through the undergrowth and hillside. We are passed by a convoy of motorbikes, one young man resplendent in his headdress and shades as his younger sister and baby brother sit behind. I remark at the beauty of his sister and then doubt the wisdom of doing so for fear of incurring the wrath of a headhunter. We arrive at the village of Hong Phoi. My guide doesn’t know the meaning of the name due to differences of dialect – such is the nature of the terrain and the hostilities between tribes and villages over the centuries that language has evolved so differently. Thankfully the fearsome reputation of the Konyak is no longer quite what it was. Their fighting prowess was diminished in the mid nineteenth century with the introduction of opium but sadly in the 1950s, a far more powerful drug, namely religion, put paid to the last vestiges of violence as the missionaries persuaded the Konyak to put down their machetes. Notwithstanding my views on the missionaries, our reception was warm and welcoming. Indeed, we were quickly ushered into the morung, a male reserve where traditionally the elders discussed war and hostilities but nowadays far more mundane topics such as how to petition the local government to improve the roads.

“The flora and fauna is more unkempt, the fertile alluvial soil has given way to rocks.”

The elders are preparing themselves for the Aoling Festival. Unlike the Hornbill Festival, a construct of the local government and tourist board to celebrate the 1st December 1963 when Nagaland came into being, Aoling is a Spring festival that is very much, and always has been, a festival celebrated by the region over a number of days. The first day is about sacrificing animals, a day of preparation. The second is one of village festivity, celebration. The third focuses on feasting with your family. And the fourth is about remembering the dead, whilst the fifth is about planting, sowing the seeds, regeneration. Today in Hong Phoi is festival day and there is a real sense of occasion and expectation among many of the elders sitting in and entering the morung dressed in their finery. In spite of their frailty – many are octogenarians – there is an evident pride in their dress. Elephant tusk bracelets adorn their upper arms. Across their left shoulder is an ancient musket. Slung diagonally across from their right shoulder to their left hip is a chung pak, >

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NAGALAND

a beautifully embroidered piece of red cloth that supports a battered old cane basket on their backs. The basket would once have been used to carry heads and trailing from the basket would have been palm leaves. Heads and palm leaves have been replaced by vegetables and shredded plastic respectively. Around their necks are brightly coloured beads traded from Burma and boar tusks hunted from the forest. On top of the beads are further necklaces of small horns and tusks and bronze trinkets, some which are in the shape of small human skulls. Their faces are tattooed blue as once was the custom. Their ear lobes are long and dangling many with boar tusks inserted into the piercing. The pièce de résistance is the headdress. A red cane hat decorated with yellow, given drama by white horns and festooned with tufts of black bear hair. The crowning glory is a long white feather with a black band on it – the distinctive feather of the hornbill. I warm to one elder in particular. He has an avuncular face, a welcoming smile and a twinkle in his eye. Moreover, he is touchingly affectionate with his young grandson, patiently helping him adjust his headdress so that it is just right. It is only when he raises his necklaces to reveal an array of faded blue tattoos, markings from a prior life that reveal that he has killed five men, that I realise appearances can be deceptive. We head outside. Anticipation is mounting. Young children eagerly rushing to be on time, not wanting to miss out. Women holding umbrellas sit calmly on old wooden benches. Children squat on the grass or adorn the crazily contorted branches of an ancient ficus tree. The blast from muskets being noisily fired by mischievous teenage boys, echoes from the fringes of the festival. This is not some celebration of the past. While dramatically photogenic, the reality is more prosaic. There is a programme of dances and dancers are carefully supervised and marshalled. There is a commentator announcing proceedings over the loudspeaker. Yet to bestow the scene with order and stage management would be going too far. At one point, the microphone is given to one of the elders to lead the dancing and singing. Unhappy that his troops are not following him as they should be, he turns round to chastise them, forgetting that he is still holding

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the microphone. His comments are broadcast to the ribald laughter and amusement of the assembled crowd. Other dances include the bamboo dance in which eight women open and close bamboo poles in metronomic rhythm. Young boys get their opportunity to please their mothers with a short dance whilst adolescent boys get to please their beaus in showcasing their process at climbing bamboo poles. But as befitting of the occasion, it is the elders who have the final dénouement with a reenactment of a hunt ending in an earsplitting fusillade that is not in unison. Time has tainted their timing. These heandhunters of old will not see many more Aoling festivals. With them will die an infamous epithet.

11 days exploring Assam Culture and the Aoling Festival, starts from £3,995pp, excluding flights.


“This is not some celebration of the past. While dramatically photogenic, the reality is more prosaic.�


WRITTEN BY AMY WATERS

O N C E CROWDED T H E N FORGOTTEN N O W IS THE TIME TO GET TO

EGYPT My mother adored the crew, whose service and attention made her feel so welcome that she quickly forgot her illjudged preconceptions of coming to Egypt. During our cruise, we visited the temples of Luxor, Karnak, Edfu, Kom Ombo and Philae. I was wowed by the Luxor Museum and an exquisite statue of Amenhotep III. Whilst nothing remains in the tomb, my mother was thrilled to be in Tutankhamun’s tomb. The landscape was forever beautiful – one vivid memory is of us driving towards the Valley of the Kings, as the sun was rising, and watching the hot air balloons, in the distance, flying over the valley.

Mums worry. It’s part of their nature, their maternal psyche. Mine was so worried about me travelling to Egypt that she decided to travel with me. Quite why she thought I needed protection and how she planned to look after me, escaped me. But as we boarded our cruiser, the Oberoi Philae, in Upper Egypt, comparisons to romance novelist Salome Otterbourne and me as her daughter Rosalie didn’t escape me. Clichéd, classic and coloured by Agatha Christie, a Nile cruise remains the most relaxing way to soak in the history, sun and atmosphere. I loved the indulgence of dining on the top deck for a leisurely three-course lunch, whilst watching the banks of the Nile pass by on either side. I liked the size of the ship with 27 cabins, it was not so big that you feel anonymous and yet not too small that I became self-conscious.

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However, it was the guides that really impressed me. They were colourful storytellers who brought the history alive, gave it perspective. Moreover, I appreciated the fact that they took us to the various sites at times to avoid the high temperatures and the few other tourists that were there – space, solitude and silence are a precious luxury at such world-renowned sites. My mother appreciated my newfound interest in history. Our last port of call was the sounds and sails of quixotic Aswan. We were sad to leave the Oberoi and the crew, who had looked after us so well and made us feel part of a family. But their hospitality and generosity had been so enriching that we wanted to see more of the country. We flew south for a short visit to the temples of Abu Simbel. Breathtaking both in their original and modern construct, they were an undoubted highlight. Our final stop was Cairo, where, again, we had our own very knowledgeable guide, who accompanied us throughout. We stayed at the incredible Mena House Hotel and from our balcony we could see the Pyramids of Giza. Whilst in >


Cairo, we went to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Throughout there were few tourists. The only place that I experienced any hustle and bustle was at Khan el Khalili, Cairo’s bazaar.

Discover five thousand years of Egyptian culture visiting ancient monuments and magnificent temples in unparalleled luxury.

On our final day, looking down the narrow entrance of the pyramid at Dashur my very first thought was, “How on earth is my mother going to cope with this? Maybe she will just wait at the entrance?” To my surprise, off she went down into the dark abyss crouching low to prevent hitting her head. I followed excitedly thinking to myself how times had changed. Just do it.

OBEROI PHILAE Cruise the majestic river Nile aboard The Oberoi Philae, a traditional looking boat with a contemporary and elegant interior of 22 cabins and suites. Enjoy a leisurely four and six night itinerary from Luxor to Aswan (and vice versa). Personalised service, spacious luxury cabins, exquisite a la carte cuisine and private therapy rooms make this Nile experience truly memorable.

Save from £450 on a six night cruise on board the Oberoi Philae for new bookings sailing between November 2018 and July 2019. From £1,695pp in a double luxury cabin during May and July, excluding flights.

OBEROI ZAHRA

12 days on a luxury Egypt cruise with Oberoi Zahra from £3,815pp, excluding flights.

The Oberoi Zahra offers some of the most spacious, private accommodation on the Nile. Large windows frame arepanoramic views while the wonderful sundeck and generous swimming pool are a rare find on the Nile. Choose from one of 27 luxury cabins and suites. Cruise from five to seven nights between Luxor and Aswan. As well as plenty of time to relax and take in signature spa treatments you will have the wealth of historical sites to experience with dedicated Egyptologist guides.

Save from £525 on a seven night cruise on board the Oberoi Zahra for all new bookings sailing between November 2018 and July 2019. From £1,950pp in a double luxury cabin during May and July, excluding flights.


THE RETURN OF THE

MIDDLE EAST A N D N O RT H A F R I C A JORDAN Established just a few years ago, the 650-kilometre Jordan Trail is a fabulous way to explore Jordan’s rich history, heritage and religious relevance. Even if hiking this extraordinary route for a day or weekend, it is a great way to experience Jordan’s diverse terrains and landscapes. Whilst on the subject of hiking, we would recommend walking Little Petra via the back door into Petra. It is much quieter and means you get to see the Treasury in the afternoon when the crowds have gone. New hotels and camps have also opened up: Aicha is a luxury camp in Wadi Rum and W Hotel in Amman. >

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WRITTEN BY CHARLOTTE LAWTON

ISRAEL We choose our ground agents around the world for their professionalism and personality. Hannah in Israel personifies this. If you’re looking for an immersive break which includes both intellectual inspiration and sensory thrills, look no further than Hannah and Israel. This tiny destination packs in an unbelievable amount of ancient history, modern geopolitics, timeless spirituality, divine cuisine, heavenly wineries, seductive beaches, infinite desert and much, much more. Hannah has helped us to curate a list of experts to help you get to grips with the country’s complexities, from renowned university professors to peace negotiators, to local celebrity chefs. Check out our small group tour in September 2019 if you want to engage, explore and experience Israel. MOROCCO Morocco is still as exotic and beguiling as it has always been, but care needs to be taken in choosing where you go these days. Cheap flights and easy access have marred some areas, with mass tourism leaving its mark. If you wish to visit Morocco, you need to look at bit deeper and go a little further to avoid the crowds and experience this magical land in all its glory. We have that expertise and knowledge to give you a more sustainable and rewarding visit. Focusing on real cultural encounters that do not disturb (but empower) local communities, finding something beyond the ordinary.

Speak to our travel experts to start planning your trip to the Middle East and North Africa.

‘Route du Sud’ is such an example. The journey offers an exhilarating five-stage expedition along vast, remote stretches known only to a very few. Valleys lush with argan bushes, ochre Atlantic coast cliffs, sculptural outcroppings of the Anti-Atlas Mountains and sun scorched flatlands dappled with palm oases lead to encampments among the vast dunes of the Sahara. Travelling with a chef, enjoy recipes that reflect the rich culinary heritage along the route. Meals are served with distinguished regional wines, and each evening they open the bar for you, to accompany Morocco’s blissful sunsets.

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ALASKA AND

CANADA ROXY AND KATE EXPLORE ALASKA AND BRITISH COLUMBIA RESPECTIVELY.


WRITTEN BY ROXY DUKES AND KATE WHARTON

Few places on earth can rival the wildlife and wilderness of Alaska and western Canada. With seasons short, booking early is essential.

ALASKA

A SMALL EXPEDITIONARY CRUISE THAT CONFOUNDS CRUISE CRITICS Heading to the small coastal town of Petersburg in southeast Alaska I am flying along the coast and immediately sense adventure. Snow-capped mountains command the skyline to the west with the vast blue Pacific stretching out to the east, broken only by an occasional deserted island. Stopping only to load locals and fishermen, this feels worlds away from civilisation. Landing in Petersburg, the charm of this small-town community is immediately welcoming. A little fishing village, the port is filled with small fishing vessels and oozes with its Norwegian heritage. Handcrafted buildings and bespoke shops dot amongst their Alaskan counterparts. I am here to travel aboard the Safari Quest, and it is not long before I spot her sleek lines sitting in the harbour. This small motor yacht is home for the next week as I explore the Inside Passage in search of the big scenery and wildlife that epitomise Alaska. Over the following week, I cruise through a maze of waterways that weaves through the thousands of islands scattered up the western coast of Canada and Alaska. The natural beauty here is undeniably spectacular. Carved by glaciers, it boasts wildlifefilled fjords, towering granite peaks and lush coastal forests of western hemlock and sitka spruce. Travelling aboard a small yacht, this cruise is anything but restrictive. Each day we hop on and off the vessel with welcomed efficiency, making the most of the plentiful daylight hours. Kayaking, beach walks and skiff tours are routine; more arduous, bushwhacking and the effort of making the first footprints in an unexplored forest.

My days are filled with new exciting wildlife sightings and large-scale scenery at every turn. Whales frequent these waters and can often be seen breaching or bubble-net feeding in groups, whilst on land bears explore the shores for their daily feast. Bald eagles, otters, sea lions and Dall’s porpoises are all common place here with booming populations being the concern, rather than declining. It is a magical setting. I have travelled widely in Alaska and few places compare. The richness of the scenery and wildlife is remarkable and boat-based adventures are incredibly rewarding. A personal recommendation is to book early. With a short season and demand well exceeding the capacity, it is best to book a year in advance to get the first choice. >

9 days around the Inside Passage of Alaska from ÂŁ7,195pp, excluding flights.

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ALASKA

BRITISH COLUMBIA

BOTTOMS UP

“If you could find us a bear and cub that would be really fantastic,” I said casually to our skipper, Alan, stepping on to the boat. We set off on a beautiful May day from the mouth of the Bedwell River, the location of Clayoquot Wilderness Resort on the British Columbian coast, in search of wildlife. Any wildlife. May is early for bear viewing. The prime months are in the autumn when the bears come in high numbers down to the rivers to feast on salmon, a final feeding hurrah before hibernation. In May they are only recently out of hibernation. Some will have cubs afoot, if they survived the winter or even managed gestation. Incredibly, the bears mate in the autumn but have something called delayed implantation where the fertilised eggs will not implant unless the mother has sufficient body fat and nutrients to grow, birth and nurse her cub(s) during hibernation. We motored away, with dramatic scenery all around us. The steep cliffs thick with pine and alder trees met the sound of water hundreds of metres below. It was low tide. “The beaches are where you see them at this time of year,” Alan explained. “Turning over rocks looking for cockles and crabs.” We scanned the shoreline furiously, trying to adjust our eyes to the light, the reflections, the shadows. Every dark mound on the shore made us gasp and point, only to discover it was just another rock. We navigated the waterways the sun on our faces, bald eagles flying overhead. Then Alan pointed, and we made for the beach on the far side. After a few minutes he shook his head and changed course. We slowed as we passed a salmon farm. There are many of them in the area and a problem. The salmon farms are often the topic for debate. There is a dilemma in British Columbia between needing to feed a growing population and the impact the farms have on wild salmon. Salmon farms, however, do make for great sunbeds for the Steller sealions. We watched a large colony lolling about grunting and barking. A fairly amusing disagreement broke out between two males who were fighting over the remaining space and took it in turns to push one another off. We continued our journey. Alan had one last location in mind and as we neared shore we saw a black mass mooching about.

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An excited squeal. There on the beach was a black bear and her cub. A warm smile came over Alan who clearly delighted in the sighting as much as we did. “It never gets old” he said. He cut the engines and we drifted gently along the shoreline watching the wonderful pair digging about the beach in search of whatever they could find. They were not in the least concerned about our presence and the female continued to teach her small cub (just a few months old) how to turn the rocks. The small bear copied her every move. They were completely synchronised. Bottoms up. Bottoms down. We remained a respectful distance, but we were close enough to hear the cracking of the crabs, the tearing of skin and the clacking of rocks as they dug about. Their black glossy coats shone in the sunlight, a striking contrast to the illuminous green seaweed that clung to the boulders they turned. We stayed with them for nearly an hour before the small cub, tired from the morning’s lesson retreated to the treeline and out of sight. The mother rolled her last rock and with a soft call to her cub, she too retreated to the cool of the forest. The show was over. I glanced at Alan, thrilled. “There you go” he said, “that was your bear and cub”.


15 day holiday including the Rockies and Vancouver Island from ÂŁ4,695pp, excluding flights.


WRITTEN BY JARROD KYTE

TIDES OF CHANGE IN THE

OMO VALLEY The hum of affable conversation is in the air as the village of Dus gathers to prepare for a ceremony. The Kara tribe love nothing more than a raucous dance-off and I have been invited to witness the pre-party preparations.

The men are putting on make-up. They have exchanged their coveted AK47s for tiny paint brushes and sticks which they use to delicately apply a mixture of ash, clay, crushed charcoal and ochre to themselves and to each other. Vanity mirrors are passed around and the men coquettishly admire their reflections. They look exquisite and they know it. No more than 10 metres from the cluster of men, the women and children are gathered under a fig tree. The sound of easy laughter is indicative of their mood, no doubt enhanced by the cool shade and the anticipation of the ceremony to come. The children form a bridge between the two groups with the older boys eager to associate themselves with the men. A couple of 12-year-old boys practise their make-up techniques on an unsuspecting toddler. He is happy to receive their attention, blissfully unaware that the young boys have a long way to go before they match the cosmetic skills of their respected elders. The toddler catches me watching and smiles gleefully from behind his haphazard make up. >

01285 601 070 | inspireme@steppestravel.com | steppestravel.com | Steppes Traveller 21


ETHIOPIA

“The apocalyptic vision of the Omo is of vast swathes of commercially farmed land.”

I am travelling across the Omo Valley, a remote south-western enclave of Ethiopia, home to some of Africa’s oldest and most fascinating tribes. The Omo River is the lifeline of the region, meandering from north to south where it empties into Lake Turkana on the Kenyan border. For as long as any of the tribes of the Omo can remember, the river annually breaks its banks and in doing so creates silt-rich, fertile grounds for the people to plant essential crops. That was until a few years ago when three giant hydroelectric dams were installed on the Omo. In conjunction with the dams, three huge plots of land have been ringfenced for commercial agricultural use, growing both cotton and sugar cane. “The apocalyptic vision of the Omo is of vast swathes of commercially farmed land” says my local guide Lale. The Ethiopian government has big plans for this region, harnessing the awesome power of the Omo River to provide irrigation for massive commercial farms and to generate hydro-electric power on an unprecedented level. The last dam to be built, Gibe III, generates more kilowatts of electricity than Kenya 22 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018

currently uses and there are two more dams still to be implemented. Ethiopia is positioning itself as a key provider of power but at what cost to the lifestyles of the people of the Omo? I ask Lale, a proud Kara from the village of Dus, what the people in the Omo think of the government’s plans. “The people in the valley want food not electricity” he replies witheringly. I have been invited to spend a couple of days with the Mursi. The Mursi community are already feeling the negative impact of the Gibe dam project and have migrated from their traditional home beside the Omo River. “The river no longer floods here and so the people have moved up into the mountains where the south facing slopes offer them a better chance of growing sorghum and millet.” Lale explains. We have traded sorghum and coffee with the Mursi elders in exchange for their permission for us to put up a temporary mobile camp on their land, next to the river. They have come to the camp to collect their trade-off and spend time with us. The Mursi men

sit together on their traditional stools and chat with ease while cleaning their prized AK47s. Two of the men share out the coffee husks. There are smiles all around as the water boils on the fire in preparation for a brew. A group of young girls find the shade of a tree and make lip plates out of clay. I watch as they carefully smooth the edges of the discs and inscribe simple patterns on the flat surfaces. The girls use the excess clay from their lip plates to make small marbles which are used to play a game like jacks. The girls throw the marbles from their cupped hands into the air and catch them on the backs of their hands with ease. They invite me to have a go, but their effortless dexterity makes my clumsy attempts look ham-fisted, much to their amusement. I don’t mind being the butt of the joke though as I am touched by the ease with which I am accepted into their social circle. >

“A group of young girls find the shade of a tree and make lip plates out of clay.”


My status is enhanced by the video I take on my phone, of the girls playing with the marbles. I use time-lapse and when the girls watch themselves playing the game at quick speed, they laugh so hard, I fear they may choke on their lip plates. My last night in the Omo is spent back in Dus at the Kara ceremony. The men and women I watched prepare for the celebration look resplendent in their make-up and are now fully ensconced in a riotous dance. The women ululate and jump. The men join arms and stand on the outer ring of this commotion watching intently. As the women’s dancing reaches a climax, the men burst into the middle of the circle, with arms still linked and indulge in outrageous pelvic thrusting that is like an X-rated school disco. One man breaks off from the line and repeatedly bounces bolt upright in front of the women who laugh and jeer. I bump into Lale who is enjoying the opportunity to reconnect with his fellow villagers. “I watched these ceremonies when I was a young boy,” he says, laughing “and they haven’t changed…” Change is on the horizon though for the Omo Valley. In a region where ceremony and ritual are essential manifestations of culture and identity, I wonder if the new order will allow time for such expression.

7 days in Ethiopia from £3,650pp, excluding flights.

01285 601 070 | inspireme@steppestravel.com | steppestravel.com | Steppes Traveller 23


THE

OUTBACK

Driving down the dusty track two emus cross our path - what a welcome to the Outback. There is nothing else in sight aside from vast mountain ranges and I wonder if we are headed in the right direction. Suddenly we catch a glimpse of the Arkaba homestead, beautifully hidden amidst the Flinders Range. No Wi-Fi and no telephone signal means from the second you arrive you are completely immersed in the environment - for me this was a perfect way to start our holiday in Australia. Meghan our guide takes us out on a safari drive that evening. As we pass through the high ranges I cannot believe the abundance of wildlife foraging in the dusk, thriving as the sun goes down and the temperature drops. It feels like an Australian equivalent of being on safari in Africa. We see wallabies, wedge-tailed eagles and more species of kangaroo than I even knew 24 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018


AUSTRALIA

existed. As the sunset approaches we stop high on the ridgetop. As I look over Wilpena Pound, the scene has the most magnificent orange glow as the final rays of sunshine hit the mountain. In a different setting, I get the same feeling of space walking into the entrance of Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island. My eyes are wide open as I stare straight ahead out of the sweeping floor-to-ceiling windows onto the turquoise waters of the Southern Ocean - nothing but ocean between me and Antarctica. “Look at that view,” I say out loud, Is that not one of the best views you have ever seen?” The lady sitting with us couldn’t agree more, “That’s why I work here,” she replies with a smile on her face.

Although I feel I could stay in the lobby all day just sitting and absorbing the view, I am shown to my room. I look left at the endless wilderness that sweeps to the horizon. There are no roads, no buildings, telegraph wires or shops, that’s when you realise just how perfectly the lodge has been designed to blend into the environment. We reach my room – Kona – so named, as with the other suites, after shipwrecks along the treacherous reefs of Kangaroo Island. I spend time taking in my new space, a sunken lounge and open plan bathroom. No need to draw blinds or curtains, undisturbed panoramas continue for that perfect view. Whilst here, we take in different parts of Kangaroo Island. A headland walk along the cliffs with a knowledgeable nature guide, where we spot an

echidna snuffling in the leaves. A morning walk along the beach and excursions to Seal Bay with its resident seals, Admirals Arch and Remarkable Rocks. Back at the lodge there is more time to relax. Early evening kangaroo watching with canapés are on the agenda and the field is brim-full with kangaroos. We spot a koala perched high in a tree on the way back to the lodge, all gasping that we have managed to see one in the wild. Southern Ocean Lodge provides more than a lodge experience. The coastal views are simply captivating, emphasising the uplifting luxury of space.

10 days to South Australia and Kangaroo Island from £5,995pp, excluding flights.

01285 601 070 | inspireme@steppestravel.com | steppestravel.com | Steppes Traveller 25


A YEAR DOWN UNDER Whatever time of year you wish to holiday to Australia, there will always be somewhere that the sun is shining or maybe whales migrating or wild flowers blooming…

JANUARY LORD HOWE ISLAND, NSW Dominated by the jagged volcanic peak of Mt Gower, the island is home to the world’s southernmost reef and welcomes just 400 visitors at one time.

FEBRUARY MARGARET RIVER, WESTERN AUSTRALIA Fly direct from London to Perth, pick up a hire car and journey south to Margaret River to sample world-class wines, hunt for truffles and laze on beautiful beaches.

MARCH GREAT OCEAN ROAD, MELBOURNE A stronghold for one of Australia’s most iconic animals, get hands on assisting with koala conservation, learning about their social life, history and behaviour.

APRIL FLINDERS RANGES, SOUTH AUSTRALIA Speak to our Australia experts to start planning your next trip.

26 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018

Experience the Outback from a different perspective – on foot on the four-day Arkaba Walk.


MAY GAWLER RANGES, SOUTH AUSTRALIA Visit vast salt pans, see mobs of kangaroos and swim with sea lions in Baird Bay.

FEBRUARY JUNE WESTERN AUSTRALIA

JULY

Explore the vast, ancient wilderness of the Kimberley, home to outback stations, croc filled mangroves and towering waterfalls, before kicking back on the Ningaloo Reef.

KAKADU NATIONAL PARK True Crocodile Dundee territory, this beautiful national park boasts a rich Aboriginal culture, ancient rock art, winding river systems, floodplains and panoramic views with the most amazing sunsets.

AUGUST QUEENSLAND The perfect time to sail the Whitsundays, search the rainforest for the prehistoric cassowary or fly to a private island on the Great Barrier Reef.

SEPTEMBER ULURU, THE RED CENTRE Travel in comfort on the Ghan from Darwin to Alice Springs and take a scenic flight over the iconic form of Uluru.

OCTOBER KANGAROO ISLAND, SOUTH AUSTRALIA Clifftop walks, kayaking, artisan food and prolific wildlife abound on this dramatic island.

NOVEMBER

DECEMBER

TASMANIA

SYDNEY

Search for marsupials and monotremes in Tasmania with wildlife photographer Sue Flood.

Explore the harbour by kayak, see in the New Year as fireworks light up the skyline or stay in a bubble in the Blue Mountains overlooking the second biggest canyon in the world. 01285 601 070 | inspireme@steppestravel.com | steppestravel.com | Steppes Traveller 27


FAR FROM THE

MADDING CROWD Overtourism is a buzz word in the media. Read how Paul and Lucy avoid the crowds in Peru and Chile respectively.

28 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018


WRITTEN BY PAUL BIRD AND LUCY HAYWARD


PERU, CHILE

THE QUIET SIDE OF THE SACRED VALLEY “Oh. I’m sorry, we’ve come on a busy day,” quipped my guide Carlos, entering the Pumamarca Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley. Walking amongst the hilltop ruins with their tall perfectly formed walls, symmetrical windows and commanding position at the fork of the valley, I noticed one other person. Having visited the Sacred Valley ten years ago, the feeling I remember was of being whisked along with other tourists going to all the must-see sites. This time I did things differently, I still went to many of the highlights in the valley but just timed my visits well to avoid the busy times, had a private guide giving the flexibility to stop when wanted and travelled at times on foot and by bike. We spent three hours walking an Inca trail along terraced farmland, through native forest stunted in growth due to the altitude, dripping with lichen and bromeliads and offering jawdropping views. During this time, the only company, apart from my guide, was a tumbling glacial stream dancing over boulders as the path wove higher up the valley. A curious cow and a fleeting glimpse of a grey-tailed Andean deer were seen but we didn’t pass any people for the entire time. It is incredible to think we were less than 20 miles from a more familiar Inca trail that leads to the world-renowned Inca ruins, where restrictions are in place to limit the number of daily walkers to 500. My visit to the Inca site of Moray, with its decreasing concentric stone circles carpeted with grass, was by mountain bike. A slow way to travel but one that gave me more time to admire the surroundings. Cycling on a dirt track with no roads, cars or buildings for as far as the eye could see made me feel privileged to have this scenery all to myself. Rural life stretched out around like a tapestry woven with every shade of green. To say it was relaxing would not be completely truthful, every slight incline in the path was a reminder of the altitude as I puffed for much needed oxygen, but with a back-up vehicle on call I could go as little or far as I wanted. Close to Moray, I met with a shaman and had a traditional ceremony giving offerings to Pachamama – Mother Earth. I sat in the sun surrounded by 5,000 metre mountains as the shaman chanted in Quechuan, an indigenous language of the Andes, to all four corners of the earth and gave offerings of coca leaves and flowers. A musician played traditional instruments of bells and various pipes and flutes during the ceremony. Initially sceptical as to the authenticity of the ceremony, the experience made me stop, look around and appreciate where I was and to think about family at home. I understood why many in Peru still made regular offerings to Pachamama to ask for blessings for new homes, health for loved ones or success in business.

30 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018

My new memories of the Sacred Valley and Peru are now about the beauty of the scenery, the space and serenity, the variety and richness of experiences and the warmth of the people, a contrast to my previous trip. By stepping a short distance from the well-worn path, you can have the privilege of finding your own piece of Andean life.

QUIET SIDE OF CHILE As welcome signs go they don’t come much bigger or more impressive than the Andes Mountains, appearing out of nowhere, rugged and gnarly as though they have been squeezed out of the flat Pampas surrounding them. I was driving on the Carretera Austral, the southern highway that snakes through the Andes. The Carretera Austral is Chile’s 770 mile Route 7 in northern Patagonia, running from the Chilean Lake district of Puerto Montt to the small village of Villa O’Higgins at the foot of the southern Patagonian ice fields. From the small town of Balmaceda, which houses the region’s main airport, I travelled south to the stilted coastal village of Tortel, only accessible by air or boat until 2003 when the road was built. The Carretera Austral itself is a gravel road which winds through stunning scenery, small villages and remote settlements. With every turn the scenery changes, from tree-shrouded valleys to rocky snowcapped mountains, from emerald rivers to turquoise glacial-fed streams. Crystal clear lakes reflect the surrounding mountains, amplifying the magnificence of the scenery. It’s a true adventure driving down the seemingly endless Carretera without a car in sight. The area receives few tourists each year so you will enjoy the stunning scenery pretty much to yourself. Travelling in this area is easy with a hire car, and with one road, the only thing to get lost are your thoughts. Whilst the scenery is raw and untouched the level of accommodation is far from this. With wonderful lodges all within their own beautiful setting, they offer a dusty and happy traveller a welcome place to stay each night. Not only is the accommodation of a high standard offering great local food and wine, the owners are incredibly friendly and are proud to share their knowledge of the area. If you want to see some of the last true wilderness areas without having to rough it, travelling through Chile on the Carretera has much to offer.


12 days self drive along the Carretera Austral, Chile from ÂŁ2,595pp, excluding flights. 13 days in the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, Peru from ÂŁ3,500pp, excluding flights.


RWANDA

RWANDA

32 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018


WRITTEN BY CHRIS JOHNSTON

“I will remember this moment for the rest of my life.” David, my fellow trekker, has just summed up how you feel, the first time you see a mountain gorilla. High in the bamboo rainforests of northern Rwanda, six overexcited, muddy tourists are squeezed together, trying to stay calm and upright in a tiny forest clearing that has attracted an entire family of apes. No one dares move as the silverback ambles past. He is enormous and, even walking on his knuckles, stands shoulder high. Two young juveniles roll down the muddy slope behind him ending up in a tangled ball of furry arms and legs. These are the same muddy slopes trodden by Fossey and Attenborough, who brought gorillas to the world’s attention. They now draw primate pilgrims from across the globe. This rise in tourism, to the tune of $300 million last year alone, is bringing stability and growth. $50 million of this is generated from the sale of the actual gorilla permits, which are the most expensive in the world at $1,500 per person. For this, you get what is surely the quickest 60 minutes of your life but the most human of all wildlife encounters. Despite these costs, demand for permits regularly outstrips supply. A handful of sensitively designed, luxury lodges are now catering for the more affluent keen to make inroads into Central Africa. With just three national parks, each one completely different and all offering beautiful safari lodges, Rwanda is positioning itself as a luxury wildlife destination. Singita, Wilderness Safaris and One & Only – names long associated with East and Southern Africa – are falling over themselves to gain a foothold here. If you want a more affordable gorilla experience, then look to Uganda or, when circumstances allow, DRC. Both are cheaper and excellent. But, consequently, they are busier. If you want to avoid the crowds, come to Rwanda. >


RWANDA

“The forest here is dark and inviting with streams and waterfalls adding to the sense of adventure.”

This is the reason for my latest visit and exploring what is on offer beyond the gorillas. My first stop is Nyungwe Forest National Park in the southwest of the country. Full of dazzling birdlife, chameleons and chimpanzee, the forest here is dark and inviting with streams and waterfalls adding to the sense of adventure. Tourist numbers here are also strictly limited, with a maximum of just eight people allowed on chimpanzee treks. Yes, the chimps are not as close, but the experience is far more intimate. Back at the lodge that night, the wonderful One & Only staff are engaging and welcoming, offering mouth-watering dishes served up with never-ending drinks. Despite these luxuries, nature still rules supreme and a spectacular electrical storm lights up the night sky as the power fails for a short while. Ever resourceful, the staff treat me to an impromptu lesson in Kinyarwanda by candlelight. The following morning, I leave the cool clear air. I drive through tea plantations, fresh from last night’s storm and head east to Akagera National Park, on the border with Tanzania. Like Rwanda, Akagera is a success story. Pretty much destroyed during 34 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018

the 1990s, this wild park is now a beautiful wilderness of shimmering lakes, epic savannahs and shady woodland. Imagine a reserve roughly the size of the Masai Mara but home to just two lodges. Home to the Big Five, Akagera is run by conservation NGO African Parks and here you find rhinos hiding in the shadows, lions stalking the plains and rare shoebill storks hunting in the marshes. In the afternoon, I take to the largest lake, Ihema, in a small, shaded boat as enormous crocodiles lie camouflaged on the shore and curious hippos bob up and down on the surface. After a night spent around the campfire watching stars reflected in the lake, I follow a ridge through the centre of the park, passing swamps and springs, which opens out onto sweeping plains, ringed by a series of low mountains. Towers of giraffe glide past in slow motion as sitatungas graze in the marshes. My presence startles a flock of grey-crowned cranes, which take flight. Leaving the savannah behind, I continue north, through a series of spectacular switchbacks, winding through fertile valleys with banana and avocado plantations bursting from the dark, rich soil.

A series of endless hills fade into the distance like rolling green waves against a bright blue sky. It is mesmerizing and easy to see why Rwanda has earned the epithet ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’. As I pass through smaller villages, some of the homes are decorated with striking red and black geometric designs called imigongo, believed to possess magic powers of protection. It is Sunday, so the streets are filled with people in their Sunday best. Seeming to hover above these crowds are the ubiquitous agaseke peace baskets, balanced beautifully atop heads, filled with gifts. This tiny kingdom has a big heart and big aspirations. I am struck by the fact that, despite huge investment and grand initiatives, Rwanda never loses sight of itself. Throughout my journey, everyone I speak to is immensely proud of a shared Rwandan identity. Offering premium experiences at a high cost in a country such as Rwanda, will always attract a degree of criticism but, as in Botswana, high-yield, lowimpact tourism is working. For the first time since records began, the mountain gorilla population has surpassed 1,000 >


individuals. There is free education and healthcare for everyone. Given where Rwanda was less than 25 years ago, this turnaround is nothing short of remarkable. I contemplate this as I climb a hill behind my lodge, that evening. It is time to rethink this beautiful, gentle country. Daily life here is still hard for many, but tourism continues to bring opportunities. There is a famous Kinyarwanda proverb: “Even climbing a small hill brings you to a higher point.” By that reckoning, the harder the climb, the better the view. Given the transformation taking place here and sitting atop this particular hill, to me, Rwanda looks spectacular.

“It is mesmerizing and easy to see why Rwanda has earned the epithet ‘Land of a Thousand Hills.”

7 days in Rwanda with 3 nights staying at Magashi Camp (opening from December 2018) from £7,395pp, excluding flights.

NEW


HOT OFF THE

PRESS Each year we create exceptional journeys for travel writers and top journalists, see a selection below and read the articles online.

SPITSBERGEN

JOHN WILMOTT IN THE TELEGRAPH ‘An Arctic cruise in search of whales, walruses and the mighty polar bear’

USA

LUCIA VAN DER PROST IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES ‘Exploring the secrets of the American West’

MEXICO

JAMES HENDERSON IN THE TELEGRAPH ‘How the crumbling haciendas of the Yucatan have been reinvented as ultra-stylish hideaways’

PERU

MARTIN FLETCHER IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES ‘A Top Gear’-style road trip through Peru’

CHILE

STANLEY STEWART IN CONDE NAST TRAVELLER MAGAZINE ‘Carretera Austral’

36 Steppes Traveller | Autumn 2018

COLOMBIA

MARTIN FLETCHER IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES ‘Colombia’s Darién Gap opens up to tourists’


HOT OFF THE PRESS

ITALY

SARAH MARSHALL IN THE TELEGRAPH ‘Searching for the soul of Florence – the travel secrets of a local’

GEORGIA

STANLEY STEWART IN THE SUNDAY TIMES ‘A wild journey through Georgia’

ROMANIA

CHRIS HASLAM IN THE SUNDAY TIMES ‘Step back in time in Romania’

ETHIOPIA

DAVID PILLING IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES ‘The world until yesterday: meeting the tribes of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley’

INDIA

MIKE UNWIN IN THE TELEGRAPH ‘Tracking the elusive snow leopard in India – just how hard are they to spot?’

NAMIBIA

HORATIA HARROD IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES ‘Namibia and a safari at the end of the world’

AUSTRALIA

MIKE CARTER IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES ‘A journey through crocodile country’

01285 601 070 | inspireme@steppestravel.com | steppestravel.com | Steppes Traveller 37


WRITTEN BY JOHN FAITHFULL

CUBA COUNTER REVOLUTION

My first trip to Cuba was in 1998 when Cubans joked about their country’s three great successes and three great disasters. The former were health care, social welfare and education. The latter were breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was towards the end of the ‘special period’ of economic reform. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s main trading partner, Fidel Castro reluctantly turned to tourism to bolster the economy. My fly-drive around the island became an exercise in trying to find fuel and restaurants that had food. In June 2018, I returned for a fourth visit. Times have changed. Fidel has gone (legacy and reputation largely intact) and brother, Raul, has started a period of liberalisation that has transformed the country. Don’t get me wrong – vintage American cars still rumble past crumbling Baroque and Neoclassical buildings, tobacco is farmed, cigars are smoked, mojitos are sipped, salsa, sun and rumba are always in the air - but scratch the surface and you’ll discover a new, dynamic and creative country that is grabbing every opportunity to craft an imaginative future.

38 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018

And so back to the joke. Of course, you can still dine on disastrous Cuban cuisine. If you fancy a little austeritynostalgia, try some of the unreconstructed state-run restaurants but with a little guidance (and a reservation) there are some tremendous private eateries (paladares) that serve up thoughtful cuisine that is very easy on the eye and the palate. Among many belt-stretching experiences, I indulged at Grados, in the Vedado suburb of Havana. You are greeted as a house guest and dine along the colonnaded veranda of an early twentieth century villa. Raulito welcomes you into his kitchen to discuss his creations, often based on traditional Cuban dishes but with a ‘Raulito twist’. A three-piece band performs rumba on the porch and rum and cigars are paired. This kind of openness and interaction is new. Innovation and individuality was previously stifled in Cuba but is now finding its voice and, good God, the Cubans have plenty to say. >


CUBA

Cuba’s creative revolution is innovatively brought to life through the country’s new wave of artists. Modern art (with a small ‘m’) is beginning to express feelings, thoughts and ideas that have been repressed for generations. Artists have wedged open the doors to self-expression and are having their say in a fashion that would not have been tolerated just a few years ago. New galleries and workshops are opening (mainly in the capital) and it’s possible to meet artists and discuss work that reflects on Cuba’s colonial and modern history but with an eye firmly focused on the future. Large triptychs recreate traditional landscapes of colonial slave plantations with repeated Mickey Mouses representing the slave workforce, kitsch glasswear encases iconic photographs of the revolution and huge canvases create pastoral scenes crafted from thousands of tiny fishhooks. Cuban artists are beginning to rock the international art scene but are keen to meet and interact with those interested in their work and what they have to say. The Fabrica de Arte Cubano in Havana is a wonderful warren of spaces and stages that showcases the best of Cuba’s young artists and musicians.

Malecon (Havana’s famous seafront that’s known locally as the Big Sofa). It was only when we were on the backroads of Havana that he started playing Bob Marley and old ska songs through his secret back-pack speaker. Martin’s kitsch redstar Che hat and our musical convoy were designed to court attention and a twenty-minute coast through this crumbling city turned into an hour of mickey-taking “hey Che” calls and consequent conversations with locals about our Easy-Rider style steeds.

Tourism has thankfully not escaped the creative flourish of Cuba’s new entrepreneurs. Hotels used to be drab and functional. The impressive facades of Havana’s finest historic properties belied barely functional rooms and apathetic service. But now there is a new five-star Kempinski with a rooftop pool commanding epic views across Havana’s skyline and excellent service to boot. It is the new wave of private guesthouses and apartments that are truly revolutionary and some of which can finally be described as offering a boutique experience. They are small, often in historic buildings and many are artistically furnished and decorated. Malecon 663 is a great example of this new wave – located in a stunning old building along Havana’s seafront with just four eclectically decorated rooms including a suite with a sea view to die for. The bar opens onto the malecon and the bar stools are bicycles.

As well as designing tailor-made trips to Cuba (i.e. bespoke to you, your timetable and modus operandi), in April 2019 we are running a special small-group tour of the western half of the island that will include some very exciting behind-the-scenes experiences. These include a private audience with Valerie Hemingway within Ernest’s house (Finca Vigia) and a tour of Havana’s architecture with renowned architect and designer, Hermes Mallea.

Speaking of bicycles, electric bike tours are the next thing. I purposefully avoided mojitos at lunchtime knowing that I would be ‘cycling’ in the afternoon. However, my guide, Martin, insisted that we have beers and cigars in order to get to know each other before heading out. Turns out that it’s a doddle cycling with a little electric assistance. We took the Havana ferry across the harbour to Casablanca and then switched to ‘full electrical assistance’ for the hill-climb to Morro Castle, followed by a ride back into Havana along the

2019 marks 60 years since Fidel swept into Havana to claim the island. The revolution has left an indelible impression on every walk of life in Cuba and it’s fascinating to try and unpackage and understand this unique country that has existed in relative isolation for over half a century. Don’t listen to the curmudgeons who insist that Cuba should have been visited ten years ago. Revolution is being replaced by an evolutionary wave of private enterprise, self-expression and creativity. This is exactly what makes Cuba such an exciting place to visit right now.

Join our 12-day Hemingway and Highlights group tour from £5,995pp, excluding flights.


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Our specialists have a wealth of travel experience under their belts and revisit their own areas of expertise each year to refresh their minds and discover new opportunities. They will tell you about those intimate, friendly hotels, introduce you to charismatic guides and our hidden gems – those extra qualities that make your holiday both unique and special. Many have been with us for more than 15 years and have developed a following of clients who trust their judgement and will travel with no one else. We hope you will join those ranks. See below for some of their travel highlights over the last year.

AMY WATERS NEW ZEALAND

DEBORAH BROCK-DOYLE PAPUA NEW GUINEA

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Kayaking in Marlborough Sounds with two bottlenose dolphins swimming and playing in front of our kayaks in the bay.

BRIDGET COHEN BOTSWANA

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Staring at a three-eyed lizard and realising Madagascar is as bizarre as it gets.

CLARE HIGGINSON CHINA

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Being enchanted by the lighting and choreography during the Impression Sanjie Liu show in Yangshuo performed on the Li River.

JENN EVANS BELIZE

The Sepik, a fun-loving boat captain and expectant, thrill-seeking children rafting and bobbing in our wake, on an otherwise still river.

SUE GRIMWOOD 7 CANADIAN ARCTIC

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Swimming in the Okavango Delta after an exciting day on safari in 45-degree heat.

CHRIS JOHNSTON MADAGASCAR

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Nearly an hour of swimming, wading and scrambling through the caves of Actun Tunichil Muknal to discover ancient Mayan ruins.

The surreal experience of no depth perception while walking out over the frozen sea of Cunningham Inlet.

KATIE BENDEN ITALY

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Cycling through the olive groves and poppy fields in the Puglian countryside.

JAMES ARMITAGE PERU

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Driving a 4x4 vehicle off-piste around Peru, travelling through the desert, Andean mountains and the lush Amazon Rainforest.

ROXY DUKES 10 CANADA Kayaking silently in the glassy waters between the islands of the Johnstone’s Strait, watching as bald eagles dived for their morning feast.


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PAUL CRAVEN 11 PAKISTAN, CHINA, KYRGYZSTAN A melting pot of ethnic groups and stunning mountain scenary make this one of my all-time favourite trips.

JOE PARKES 12 ROMANIA Hiking past wolf and bear prints in the remote Apeseni Mountains.

PAUL BIRD 13 ECUADOR Reaching the summit of a canopy tower to truly appreciate the scale of the wilderness of the Amazon surrounding me.

ILLONA CROSS 14 NAMIBIA After kayaking close to seals off the desert coast and an epic 4x4 dune safari to Sandwich harbour, my 13-yearold son proclaimed it to be the best day of his life.

JOHN FAITHFULL 15 CUBA

JACKIE DEVEREUX 16 ZAMBIA Hot-air ballooning in Kafue National Park where I was soaring 1,000ft above the vast, open Busanga plains, teeming with wildlife and lagoons, tree islands and floodplains.

HAVE YOU DISCOVERED…? STEPPES TRAVEL APP Every time you travel with us you will have access to your very own personalised travel app. It’s free and easy to use, allowing you to stay organised whilst you’re away. The latest version allows you to even get flight information before anyone else at the airport, including gate numbers and baggage reclaim. YOU CAN ACCESS: • Your holiday itinerary • Information about your destination • Flight hub updates • Map available offline with personalised recommendations of where to eat • The weather at your destination

Being privately serenaded by Eliades Ochoa, one of the three surviving original members of the Buena Vista Social Club. 01285 601 070 | inspireme@steppestravel.com | steppestravel.com | Steppes Traveller 41


WRITTEN BY JUSTIN WATERIDGE

OUR RECOMMENDED

TRAVEL READS Other than my family, travel and books are the two great passions of my life. Perhaps feeling threatened, my wife thinks that I am guilty of tsundoku – the art of buying books and not reading them. Whilst the pile of books on my bedside table is towering, that would be unfair: I do read all of my books, although some not always in entirety. Here are some of the books that a) I have read this year b) have done so from cover to cover c) been totally absorbed by and d) are travel related…

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OUR TRAVEL READS

THE SPACE BETWEEN US THRITY UMRIGAR A beautifully crafted book about the interlinked lives of two women, an uppermiddle class housewife and her domestic servant. The novel explores the complex relationships between the classes in India. If you enjoyed ‘Kite Runner’ or ‘Cutting for Stone’, you will love ‘The Space Between Us’.

TO THE RIVER OLIVIA LAING A wonderfully lyrical and stirring book about a cathartic journey that Olivia Laing undertakes to trace the River Ouse. Along the way, she explores the roles that rivers play in our lives, from literature to civilisations, from mythology and folklore. Remember William Fiennes’s ‘Snow Geese’? This is a similar journey (not of destination) and equally absorbing.

ROAD OF BONES FERGAL KEANE Next year is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Kohima, North East India’s equivalent of Rorke’s Drift. Fergal Keane’s compelling account of the follies, the campaign and the courage of the soldier is fascinating and well worth reading.

THE IMMEASURABLE WORLD – JOURNEYS IN DESERT PLACES WILLIAM ATKINS One third of the earth’s land surface is desert. Travelling to five continents, visiting deserts both iconic and little-known, William Atkins discovers a realm that is as much internal as physical. In doing so he revives the art of travel writing focusing on the people, history, topography and symbolism of these harsh but captivating environments.

HMS EREBUS: THE STORY OF A SHIP MICHAEL PALIN I would love to be privileged enough to have read an early draft but will have to wait until publication this autumn and hopefully get Michael to sign a copy at our event at the Royal Geographical Society on Thursday 20th September.

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW AMOR TOWLES Beautifully observed, this has to be one of my favourite books that I have read recently. The (fictional) life of a Count – Alexander Rostov – in the Metropol Hotel might not sound gripping or engaging but the wit and charm of the Count are just that.

01285 601 070 | inspireme@steppestravel.com | steppestravel.com | Steppes Traveller 43


WRITTEN BY JARROD AND GEORGE KYTE

WHERE DO BUTTERFLIES SLEEP? A FAMILY HOLIDAY IN SOUTH AFRICA

“A cheetah, smoking a cigar, wearing leather slippers” retorts my son. Our guide Vicky, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed city-girl turned bush-ranger, has just asked my twelve-year old son George what animals he was hoping to see. Vicky laughs and gives George a look that tells me she has immediately got the measure of him. Children on safari are the ultimate cerebral workout for guides. An inquisitive mind coupled with a vivid imagination can produce questions that few guides could ever anticipate. On our safari that afternoon, we drive through a forest teeming with small yellow and white butterflies that flutter through the air like falling confetti. “Where do butterflies go at night?” asks George. “I’ll come back to you on that one” Vicky replies with a wry smile. Manyoni Reserve is 23,000 hectares of riverine forest, rolling hills and open plains, home to elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions, cheetahs, leopards and antelopes. While the reserve is fenced it 44 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018

is big enough to feel wild and untamed and it is not overrun with safari vehicles as the reserve is only accessible to a total of seven small camps and lodges. That afternoon we head out to open savannah and before too long, Vicky has located two young male cheetahs, walking purposefully across the open plains through the long grass. The iconic nature of the sight before us is not lost on George, whom excitedly takes photographs with his new camera. “No leather slippers and no cigars…I must try harder, eh George?” George gives Vicky a bashful smile. Our journey back to camp is a night safari and Vicky is adept at using a flashlight to spot nightjars, owls and even a small chameleon hanging from a tree. We stop by a large croton thicket and Vicky shines the torch onto it. “Here you are George - the answer to your earlier question.” It takes a moment and George is the first to realise – every inch of the bush is occupied by sleeping butterflies. George has met his match.

The next morning, we are up before the butterflies, united in our desire to find big cats. The sun has not yet risen and within five minutes of leaving camp, we drive through long, thick grass which lets off a nutty, sweet smell not dissimilar to popcorn. We learn this is the distinctive aroma of leopard urine and given the smell’s pungency, Vicky is sure the cat has only recently scent-marked this area. Our unaccustomed eyes do their best to pierce the dawn gloom, but the shadows reveal no feline shapes and the leopard remains only an aroma, albeit a strangely pleasant one. As the sun rises, Vicky tells us to keep our eyes glued to the trees that dot the open plain in front of us. “Leopards take to the trees once the sun has come up” she says. With noses twitching and eyes straining we are rewarded with the sight of a big cat in a tree. Vicky sees it first but allows George the bragging rights of calling it in. She is doing her best to stifle a laugh, as the cat before us is not a muscular leopard, insouciantly draped over a tree branch like you see in the pages of National Geographic magazine but a subadult male lion that has climbed a tree >


that can barely accommodate his sizeable belly. The lion has clearly made a kill in the night and has eaten way more than he should. His distended belly is stuck between the ‘V’ of two branches and it is hard to imagine how he could look any more uncomfortable or undignified. More obese cat than big cat, his weight eventually breaks the branch on which he is resting, and he falls to the ground in a humiliating heap. As George’s first ever sighting of the king of the jungle, it is hardly auspicious but as the stifled giggles break into full-blown belly laughs it is an apt reminder of the guiding principle of travelling with children - learn to see things through their eyes rather than forcing them to see things through yours. Photographs by George Kyte, aged 12.

9 days in South Africa, including Rhino River Lodge from £1,495pp, excluding flights.


FAMILY HOLIDAYS

OUR TOP PICKS FOR THE

SCHOOL HOLIDAYS

We believe there is no such thing as an off-the-shelf family holiday. All our family holidays are designed with your interests in mind. As parents ourselves we understand the need to get it right and please all ages including Mum and Dad. So whether you have a budding wildlife ranger, a junior historian or an Egyptologist in your ranks we can create experiences that will resonate long after you all return home. See a few of our favourite destinations but better still get in touch to plan your next family adventure.


EGYPT – Take a Nile cruise and learn about the pharaohs or dive in the Red Sea MADAGASCAR – Search for pirate graves and snorkel over submerged shipwrecks. Meet the indigenous wildlife such as chameleons and lemur BRAZIL – Discover the Amazon rainforest, track jaguars in the Pantanal wetlands or surf, swim and relax on one of the many beaches

EASTER BREAKS

CHRISTMAS BREAKS

SOUTH AFRICA – Become a junior ranger and track meerkats and rhino

GALAPAGOS – Discover wildlife, found nowhere else in the world, with no fear of humans

COSTA RICA – Explore the rainforest and zip-line through the jungle canopy

INDIA – For a real life Jungle Book experience, track a wild tiger with a naturalist. Cruise the backwaters of Kerala or horseride in the land of the Rajput kings.

NAMIBIA – Try sand boarding on the huge dunes or quad biking in the desert JAPAN – Learn samurai sword skills, take a martial arts lesson or see the snow monkeys bathing in the warm springs

TANZANIA – Meet the Maasai, take a mountain bike trail, canoe on Lake Manyara or drive amongst the wildebeest as they are calving in the short grass plains.

SPRING HALF TERM AUSTRALIA – Learn about bush tucker in the outback, snorkel with turtles or hike in the Blue Mountains PERU – Play Tarzan in the Amazon, meet the communities of the Sacred Valley. Find out where chocolate comes from and taste the real thing KENYA – Learn bush skills with the Maasai, spot big cats and meet the resident giraffes at Giraffe Manor ITALY – Learn to be a gladiator for a day in Rome, try your hand at pizza throwing in Naples or get away from it all on the Amalfi coast

SUMMER HOLIDAYS CANADA – White water raft, bob sleigh, take to the saddle or go in search of grizzly bears INDONESIA – Charter a private yacht to explore the less visited islands USA – Hire an Airstream trailer, explore the national parks or take the family to a ranch for a whole host of activities CHINA – Learn to make a kite and fly it at the Great Wall

AUTUMN HALF TERM OMAN – Camp under the stars, cruise on a traditional dhow or cycle the trails in the Jebel Akhdar

01285 601 070 | inspireme@steppestravel.com | steppestravel.com | Steppes Traveller 47


WRITTEN BY LUCY HAYWARD

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS NEW EXPERIENCES TO ADD TO MY MEMORIES

“This is a good spot to find turtles,” Bolivar our guide said as we adjusted our masks and put our flippers on, “but the water might be cold.” Those were the last words I heard as I slid from the panga into the water. He wasn’t wrong on either front. Submerging into the bay, my lungs tightened and breath become shorter. Wow, this water was more than cold. I started to swim furiously to warm up. As I did so, my breath started to regulate and my eyes adjusted to the silent underwater world. With childlike curiosity and expectation, I looked eagerly around me. A dark round shape came into view. A turtle. I looked excitedly towards my husband - he was nodding in animated agreement, a huge smile on his face. We swam slowly along, not more than an arms-length from the gentle creature, just floating in the current. More and more turtles came into view. There were three, four, five, six of these giant animals just floating beside us. Looking around, we were totally surrounded - there were turtles in every direction, from the sea bed to the surface of the water. They were not in the slightest bit disturbed by us, just floating gently backwards and forwards in the current grazing on algae with old wise eyes. The serenity of these ancient creatures, the silence of being underwater and the swaying in the rhythmic pattern of the waves was almost meditative. >

48 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018


HERE - ARTICLE NAME OR SECTION IT BELONGS TO?

“A dark round shape came into view.”


GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

The numbness in the fingers and the tightness in the cold muscles was the only reason to force us from the water. As we got back into the panga, cold and shivering, I knew we had just witnessed a special moment - one of many - the enchanting Galapagos Islands have to offer. The Galapagos archipelago straddles the equator, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. A national park, marine reserve and truly special place. A 90-minute flight over the Pacific Ocean brings you to the islands, you can feel the excitement levels build inside the plane as they come into view and people clamber to get a glimpse of the much-anticipated islands. I have been fortunate to visit these islands a few times before and wondered whether the magic would still be there for me? Is there anything new the islands have to offer? Stepping off the plane onto the runway, I felt the same buzz and thrill as a decade ago and knew the answer to my first question was definitely yes. Our seven-day aquatic adventure took in several Galapagos islands offering a glimpse into the different ecosystems of the famed islands, brilliantly narrated and educated by our superb guides and with inspiring evening lectures from evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins. Whilst taking the short crossing to the island of Fernandina, the western-most, youngest and most volcanically-active of the islands, our guide noticed something unusual in the behaviour of the birds. A quick detour took us to an area where blue-footed boobies were flying in ever increasing numbers above our heads. “There must be sardines in the area,” said Bolivar “the birds have all come for lunch.” There were vast numbers of blue-footed boobies, brown pelicans and frigate birds; the sky was full. The birds seemed to hover, stop and fall from the sky as if someone turned gravity off, hitting the water like arrow heads. It was as if it was raining birds. No sooner had they dived than they resurfaced and regrouped like a synchronised air display. The birds fly overhead looking at the school of fish. One of the boobies gives the signal and then they all dive at the

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same time, startling and scattering the fish, which in turn means a better chance of a catch. Half an hour passed as we gazed in awe at this fascinating behaviour, including the guides who were equally excited by this rare spectacle. After a week cruising in these enchanting islands, they did not disappoint, with so many new experiences to add to my memories. The Galapagos still hold the magic and the answers to my initial questions were a big yes and yes.

10 days around the Galapagos Islands by boat from £4,285pp, excluding flights.


“The birds seemed to hover, stop and fall from the sky as if someone turned gravity off, hitting the water like arrow heads.�


ROMANIA

T H E L A N D W H E R E T H E C U C KO O C A L L S Mile upon mile of land begs to be explored. Fields full of wild flowers, wild strawberries and colourful butterflies are punctuated here and there by tall hayricks and people scything by hand. Dogs in the villages are huge and fierce. Their chief job after all is to fend off the wolves and bears that lope down after dark looking to score an easy meal. The modern world, cut off for so long by the topography and communism, is here. Older people spoke of children working in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Many of the houses in the Maramures are wooden but more and more are concrete. Indeed, a common greeting to friends and family is, “May your house be brick.”

Two and a half hours flying time from London lies a wild land inhabited by bear, wolf, lynx and Romani people who can trace their lineage back 1,000 years to the desert villages of Rajasthan. And to me at times, Romania felt a land more south Asian than European. So much so that, for me, Romania is the most exciting destination you can fly to in less than three hours from the UK. With the razor-sharp, humorous, “hold on I’ve left my passport and wallet back at the hotel” company of Sunday Times Chief Travel Writer Chris Haslam, I explored northern Transylvania and the Maramures. On Maramures I could follow in the footsteps of others before me and write of a ‘fairy tale’ landscape and of ‘stepping back in time’ but will struggle instead, in my own somewhat clumsy way, to be unique. Maramures was quiet, peaceful, yet spoke of adventure. Every day the unmistakeable song of a cuckoo, the rattle and bounce of a horse cart, the swish of the long grass. The forests and hills touched a nerve and had me figuratively and literally lacing up my running trainers to kick up some dust and see what I could find.

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However, away from the larger towns and cities, out here in the countryside, one can still glimpse a life where money isn’t king and where time moves slowly. Tourism exists in the quiet corners of Romania, away from the coaches on the Dracula circuit, but is low key and feels exploratory. There’s more than a whiff of adventure but with a comfy bed and a good plate of food at the end of the day. Romania is a country perfect for slow travel. When I go back I will pick a spot in the hills and stay for a week. Walk, read, chat with villagers, explore the wooden churches, sample the latest batch of fiery home distilled horinca. For me luxury travel is not a flashy hotel but a chance to sit in the sunshine and listen to the cuckoos.


WRITTEN BY JOE PARKES

10 days touring the highlights of Romania with a private driver starts from ÂŁ2,795pp, excluding flights.

01285 601 070 | inspireme@steppestravel.com | steppestravel.com | Steppes Traveller 53


OUR EXPERT-LED

TOURS FOR 2019 We are recognised as one of the UK’s leading specialists in cultural, and wildlife small group tours. We have developed an enviable pool of tour experts, whom we carefully select based on their knowledge, companionship and personality. Below are just a selection of our portfolio for 2019, more can be viewed online or in our brochure. Where and who would you like to travel with next? Let us know groups@steppestravel.com.

CUBA - HEMINGWAY AND HIGHLIGHTS WITH LYDIA BELL  4th – 15th April 2019 | £5,995pp Carefully crafted to include many behind-the-scenes visits, private dining experiences and musical performances, including meeting Valerie Hemingway with rare access inside his house.  • Meet Valerie Hemingway for exclusive access to Ernest’s house  • Discover the history, architecture, culture and wildlife of Cuba  • Join journalist and Cuba resident Lydia Bell 

COSTA RICA - IN SEARCH OF SPINNER DOLPHINS WITH HUGH PEARSON  22nd January – 2nd February 2019 | £6,295pp The highlight has to be boat trips in search of the spinner dolphins, with a real possibility of entering the water with them.  • Travel with BBC natural history producer, Hugh Pearson  • Sail off the Osa Peninsula in search of super-pods of dolphins  • Hike through cloud forests in search of the resplendent quetzal 

ALBANIA – ORIGINS OF ILLYRIA   WITH CAROLYN PERRY  31st May – 8th June 2019 | £1,795pp  This new tour explores Albania’s lesser known sites, including rock-cut tombs, quarries full of inscriptions and a Bronze Age site overlooking the sea.  • Take an in-depth tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Butrint  • Soak up stunning mountain scenery and hidden villages  • Travel by boat to Grama Bay, site of more than 1,500 inscriptions 


OUR EXPERT-LED TOURS FOR 2019

RUSSIA - JEWELS OF ST PETERSBURG WITH KATYA GALITZINE 27th February – 3rd March 2019 | £2,295pp Explore the city with Katya Galitzine whose expertise and insight will open doors and your eyes to a very different side of St Petersburg.  • See hidden treasures of the Hermitage  • Discover delicate jewels at the Fabergé Museum  • Take tea at the Prince George Galitzine Memorial Library 

ISRAEL & PALESTINE - JOURNEY THROUGH BIBLICAL LANDS    WITH LOCAL EXPERT 

INDIA - TIGER CONSERVATION AND WALKING SAFARI  WITH KARTIKEYA SINGH  3rd – 15th March 2019 | £4,595pp Escorted by award-winning naturalist, Kartikeya Singh, search for the iconic tiger as well as discovering the region’s rich history and culture at Sanchi and Bhimbetka.  • Hike, canoe and drive through Tadoba, Pench  and Satpura National Parks in Central India  • Hands-on experiences of setting camera traps and learning tracking skills  • Meet conservation experts and hear of the current ongoing projects 

20th – 30th September 2019 | £4,995pp Part of what makes Israel so exciting is its complexity and there is no better way to truly engage with the country than with the help of curated experts.   • Gain insight via geopolitical regional specialists   • Explore Tel Aviv Museum of Art with a resident Art Historian   • Spend time with an archaeology curator from the Israel Museum 

MALAWI - CONSERVATION SAFARI WITH AFRICAN PARKS   WITH DEREK MACPHERSON  7th – 16th Aug 2019 | £5,695pp Explore Malawi and see the work of African Parks. Discover Majete, Malawi’s most established park and home to the Big Five.  • Explore Malawi and learn about the work of African Parks  • Meet the park managers at three parks, gaining insights into their work  • Cruise on the Shire River in Liwonde and spot the Big Five in Majete 

01285 601 070 | inspireme@steppestravel.com | steppestravel.com | Steppes Traveller 55


LEADING LEADIES

LEADING LADIES

Q&A WITH CAROLYN PERRY, OUR STEPPES TOUR EXPERT

Carolyn Perry is an archaeologist with long experience of the Mediterranean World. A lecturer in Greek History and Mythology for the University of London, Carolyn was formerly Education Officer of the British Museum’s Arab World programme where she led one of the first UK groups to visit Saudi Arabia. She is now Director of the MBI Al Jaber Foundation and Chair of the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia.

What was your earliest or childhood ambition?

Carolyn has led several tours for Steppes Travel to Albania, Iran and Greece and our clients always return in awe of her knowledge and insight. Read more about her to find out why.

There are lots of places I’d still like to visit. I’d like to complete the ‘Alexander the Great trail’, that is to follow in Alexander’s footsteps from Macedonia in Greece all the way to Afghanistan and India. I’ve done quite a lot of the trail but sadly some parts of his journey are too dangerous to visit at the moment.

When I was very young I used to do the weeding for people who lived next door. I wasn’t a budding gardener – all I wanted to do was to find shards of broken pottery in the soil. I was being an archaeologist before I knew what one was.

What ambitions do you still have?


If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think? When I was 20 I was studying Classics and Archaeology at the University of London. I loved it so much and it was such a voyage of discovery. I think that I am the only one of my peers that is still directly involved in the subject and I think I’d be very proud that this turned out to be the case. At the same time, I’m pleased that I’ve had such a varied career: I’ve taught at university and in primary school, I’ve worked at the British Museum, managed the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and also been lucky enough to work in philanthropy. Being responsible for giving grants and working for a good cause, as I do in my current job at the MBI Al Jaber Foundation, is a career turn I really hadn’t anticipated.

What advice would you give to young ladies wishing to follow in your footsteps?

Who has inspired you to do what you do? I’ve had some inspirational teachers, for example my Latin teacher at Secondary School, Mrs Stevens who wore Chanelstyle suits and taught me that you can be glamorous and studious at the same time At the moment I am Chair of the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia, and our President, Beatrice de Cardi, is a real inspiration. She is dubbed ‘the world’s oldest archaeologist’ and at almost 102 is still attending lectures and keeping up to date with developments in the field. But my strongest inspiration has come from the characters who populate history – they lead me on a quest to try and find out more about them and what they did. To read the sources, consider the archaeological evidence and then put all the clues together to form an objective picture is so exciting. And there is so much still to find out.

I don’t think I’ve done anything in my career that anyone else couldn’t do, and I wouldn’t presume to give anyone advice – everyone needs to find their own way. However, if young women need some inspiration, they could check out the Trowelblazers website (http://trowelblazers.com/) and see the careers pioneer women in archaeology, geology, and paleontology.

What motivates you to do what you do? I consider myself to be a communicator. I’ve taught five-yearolds and in Further Education. I get very enthusiastic about things, and I like to pass that on. If I can enthuse people about Islamic pottery, or Arabic calligraphy, then that makes me very happy. One of my favourite pieces of feedback ever is this extract of a letter from someone I took to Albania: “I do want to thank you for interpreting all the very complicated history we met with daily so clearly and memorably - I may have mixed up Illyrian kings, Roman emperors, Greek sages and Turkish beys in my head, but in my visual memory they are marching and fighting and living and dying across a sunlit background of mountains and valleys, remote villages and endless roads, so vividly that the unknown country of Albania is now familiar territory, and somewhere I shall always want to go back to.”

Travel to Albania and Greece with Carolyn Perry on our group tours.

01285 601 070 | inspireme@steppestravel.com | steppestravel.com | Steppes Traveller 57


WRITTEN BY ROB GARDINER

ROOM WITH A MVUU

MALAWI LIWONDE

I’m lying on hot wood. Cormorant droppings stain the edges and the occasional insect scuttles past. The sun is high in the sky, but the hippos in front of me are unconcerned. Working their way across the lagoon, a mother and her calf munch on weeds with an almost mechanical rhythm. Cattle egrets perch on their backs, as they splash through shallow water. Peering through my camera, I focus on the mother. Then, suddenly, action erupts. A nearby male strays too close to the pair. The mother launches a furious attack. She surges forward, jaws wide apart. The male responds with a lunge and their heads clash. He is larger, but she is angrier. The waters splash and torn weeds fly up as they trade snapping thrusts with their enormous heads. Their long curving teeth strike glancing blows, threatening to gouge dark-pink skin. After a few vicious seconds, the male retreats, clearly not relishing the fight. At a distance, they lock eyes for several minutes, their bodies tense and glistening, ready for the next round. Eventually, all three relax and slowly return to filling their rotund bellies with weeds. Calm embraces the lagoon, as the hippos once again masquerade as peace-loving herbivores. >

01285 601 070 | inspireme@steppestravel.com | steppestravel.com | Steppes Traveller 59


MALAWI

“My vision takes a few seconds to adjust, but my ears pick up the sounds of splashing and tearing.”

I’m at Mvuu Lodge, in Liwonde National Park, in Malawi. In Chichewa, the local language, ‘mvuu’ means hippo. And the choice of name could not be more apt. Beyond the recent battleground of the lagoon lies the Shire River, where countless more pods of hippos float just beneath the surface, only eyes and nostrils protruding. This spectacular scene has unfolded right in front of the lodge, just before I set off by boat. Stepping aboard, it feels anticlimactic. The serenity and beauty of the riverine landscape are captivating, but they hardly compare with the adrenalin-fuelled clash of minutes earlier. But the fight is forgotten as I head upriver. Tall palms line the banks and David, my guide, says, “There are two palm species here – one native and one introduced by Arab traders. The white staining that you see on their fronds is from roosting cormorants. They always use the same trees, so their droppings build up over time.” This bright white deposit coats the leaves of numerous trees, not just

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palms, along the river and it contrasts vividly with the lush greens of this verdant park. As the boat heads further up the river, the sun slowly begins to set. Turning the rippling water golden orange, it is squeezed between a ceiling of cloud and the Rift Escarpment. The engine of the boat cuts out and we glide over the fiery, dancing water. Dragging my eyes away from the beautiful sunset, I look towards the east. My vision takes a few seconds to adjust, but my ears pick up the sounds of splashing and tearing. As the lights dancing over my eyes fade, I spot the source of the noise. A herd of elephants – at least 60 individuals – is positioned in the reeds beside the bank. Stationary, they are slowly ripping out huge clumps of vegetation with their trunks. Still dripping wet, these are skilfully deposited into their mouths. The boat slides into the reeds, almost noiselessly coming to a stop. By now, the last light is fading. Photography impossible, I sit there watching the nearest elephants at work, with the

sounds of dozens more filling the darkness. It is both relaxing and compelling. But slowly night descends and even the closest elephants become little more than dark, shifting outlines. The following morning, we swap water for wheels and I head out on a morning game drive, into the interior of the park. David is again at the wheel, as he guides our 4x4 down a succession of winding tracks. We pass between invasive palms, through dense mopane woodland and beneath ancient baobabs. Eventually, we come out on a beautiful savannah, punctuated by pinnacle-like termite mounds, dark brown against the rich green. Male impalas roar and clash horns, fighting over a harem, as a family of warthogs dart for cover. We drive over the grassland and towards a large, isolated tree with a pale, almost greenish trunk. Stepping out of the vehicle, David places his palm on the tree and brings it away. “Look at that.” He says. And I see a fine, yellowish dust coating his hands. “This coating protects the chlorophyll found in the fever tree’s bark. Unlike in


Absorbing this flawed colonial logic, I stare out across the savannah and wonder what the first visitors to Liwonde would have made of it. Fever trees aside, the beautiful scenery would have surely have amazed them. Even now, looking around, I feel a sense of isolation and privilege. David and I have this sight to ourselves. Of course, things are changing; Liwonde is now under the management of African Parks. An NGO redefining conservation in Africa, African Parks is ambitious in its holistic, rejuvenating approach to park management. Already, cheetahs have been reintroduced to Liwonde and the first pair of lions arrived just a few weeks before me.

most trees, photosynthesis occurs in the bark of the tree and not in the leaves.”

With the return of these predators, the park’s profile will increase. And African Parks will get the plaudits it certainly deserves. But part of me – a very small, selfish part – does not want the secret of Liwonde to get out. Because here there is a luxury that is incredibly precious. In this beautiful, undisturbed landscape, I don’t feel like a tourist; I still feel like an explorer.

He pauses, “Do you know where it gets its name?” I shake my head and David continues, “The first explorers in Africa used to think that camping beneath these trees caused malaria. They were wrong, of course. The problem was that fever trees mainly grow near water, where mosquitoes breed. In fact, the bark of the fever tree contains quinine and can actually be used to treat malaria.”

10 days on a conservation safari with African Parks group tour from £5,695pp, excluding flights.

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JAPAN

IDIOSYNCRATIC

JAPAN Original, distinctive and loveable, Japan is all about the detail. On her travels Clare, highlights two such elements: the food and the temples.

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WRITTEN BY CLARE HIGGINSON


JAPAN

having been expertly sliced off, lying neatly next to it. More sashimi but the only difference this time was that this fish had been alive just minutes before arriving at our table. How was I so sure? Because the head and tail were still twitching. I’m sure it would have been delicious but this time I bowed out.  

FOOD There was no denying it, I was nervous. I was nervous that every meal on the street food tour around Tokyo would be fish. Perhaps a ridiculous thing to be anxious about, but as it’s rarely my food of choice, I was delighted to hear that a yakitori bar, specialising in skewered chicken, was to be our first stop. Our guide, Nimo, directed us through some curtains which opened out into a small atmospheric bar. We sat around the bar on stools and watched mesmerised as the yakitori chef deftly cooked the skewered meat on the barbecue before serving it to us. Tender and well-seasoned, the appetisers soon disappeared, washed down with a cold Asahi beer. Maybe I could just stay here. This was my kind of food.

It was then time to travel onto our third destination of the evening: the yokocho or otherwise known as the alleyways. As we squeezed through the crowds, we emerged amongst myriad small open-fronted bars, packed solid with people eating and drinking. This felt like the place to be in Tokyo. I would have had very little chance of finding this place without Nimo. We settled into our reserved spots in a tiny bar and almost immediately a tapas-esque selection of dishes appeared on our table. A squid-filled omelette, prawns and avocado mixed in a mayonnaise sauce, fried dough balls filled with minced octopus. I was eating more fish and seafood than I ever had. As I delved in, I took in the atmosphere, which was buzzing with Saturday night chat. I strangely felt quite proud of myself. From a fish disbeliever it seems I had been thoroughly converted.

Apparently not, as a few moments later it was time to move on. The nervous fish dread was back. This time I was right to be worried as the next bar specialised in sashimi. After Nimo had detailed some of the strong Japanese hierarchical traditions and the important part hierarchy plays in the eating and drinking habits of Japan, the fish arrived. Or to be more specific, the raw fish.  There were four different types of fish placed in front of me along with a bowl of soy sauce and a helping of wasabi. The others were already digging in; I simply looked at my plate. They were all displaying signs of enjoyment, so I had to try it, didn’t I?  I decided yes, I did. I gingerly picked up a piece of raw tuna with my chopsticks, dunked it in the soy sauce and took a bite. Wow. Not what I had expected. It just melted in my mouth and tasted .... well... not particularly fishy. I was so impressed I went back for more and soon enough my plate was empty. I was seemingly loving this sashimi thing. That was until the next plate arrived. On this plate was a whole fish with a skewer threaded through it and its meat,

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TEMPLES The 33 Interval Temple. Such a humble name for such an impressive place. It wasn’t a temple that I knew anything about before arriving in Kyoto but the impact it’s had on me will undoubtedly remain with me for a long time to come it’s easily the most awe-inspiring temple I have ever seen.


From the outside, the Sanjūsangen-dō Temple structure is the longest in Japan, measuring a length of 120 metres. The usual ritual of removing shoes over with, we were then told very insistently that no photos could be taken in the main hall and that cameras will be checked on departure. This piqued my interest - in a society where the mobile phone is constantly at hand for the next selfie opportunity, I was astonished and delighted to be told that everyone must put them away. An experience that was to be enjoyed and also savoured by allowing yourself to be in the moment with no distractions. Brilliant. After a brief historical explanation from our guide Chiaki, I walked into the main hall, having no idea what to expect. I turned the corner and tried to process what I was seeing. I had been told that the figures inside had all been handmade from wood and clad in gold leaf and depicted Kannon, the goddess of mercy. I was impressed by the detail on each figure, finding it hard to comprehend how the carvers had managed to duplicate such an exact copy on each statue. Despite being a Buddhist temple, each statue reminded me of the Hindu God Durga as each had 42 arms holding something different, 11 heads to better witness the suffering of humans plus an intricate crown. Standing at the same height as a typical Japanese person, each statue was stood on a lotus flower, as it was believed that us humans live underneath. I allowed my eyes to travel down the length of the temple. Incredible. Row upon row of identical, humansized statues. Numbering 1,001 in total, it took 100 years to accomplish this feat, meaning that the original shogun who commissioned the temple was not alive to see the finished product. The task of putting into words the feeling of surprise, beauty and awe is not easy. It was such a personally emotive feeling that it is hard to describe. To be honest, I would rather leave it unsaid and simply encourage you to go and experience it for yourself. And don’t worry, I’ve deliberately not described the whole temple so there’s still an element of surprise left for you too.

11 days to Japan including Tokyo and Kyoto from £3,795pp, excluding flights.

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THE SLOW LANE IN

INDOCHINA

Indochina lends itself to slow travel – think Graham Greene’s Quiet American, slow river boats gently meandering down the Mekong with ao dai clad women cycling along rubbly paths and iconic images of limestone cliffs. This wonderful part of South East Asia should be savoured and explored, not treated as a list of boxes to be ticked. My travels started in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand, with a two-day journey along the Mekong to Luang Prabang. I sailed past paddy fields, caves brimming with Buddha statues and small riverside villages where children rushed out to wave me past. Arriving in Luang Prabang, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, I’m greeted by the serenity of the temples with their gold tiles glistening in the sun, traditional street markets bursting with local fabrics and hot steaming pots of noodles waiting to be tasted. Watching the monks at alms, walking silently through the streets, collecting their offerings of food, must be one of Asia’s iconic sights. 66 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018

From Luang Prabang, I fly to Hanoi in Vietnam where my senses are bombarded with a different sound – that of motorcycles jostling for position on its busy roads. I spend a few days wandering the streets ranging from small alleyways, home to traditional merchants to large French boulevards with relics of a former colonial time. I stroll along the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake, watching the gentle tai chi classes and exploring the Quan Ba Flower market. I travel south on the Reunification Express train to Hue and into Hoi An, both worthy of their UNESCO status. With Hue’s Imperial Citadel, sitting proudly on the Perfume River, and the Tu Hieu Pagoda, home to dedicated monks, the town is steeped in tradition and atmosphere. A charming and historical Cham trading port, Hoi An is brimming with preserved trading houses, showcasing traditional architecture, decorated with silk lanterns and intricate wood carved doors. >


WRITTEN BY DEBORAH BROCK-DOYLE

My final stop in Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. This city is the dynamic, commercial heart of Vietnam and, while it may lack the historic impact of Hanoi, it has a charm of its own, buzzing with life and, plenty of places to eat and explore. I sail upstream to Cambodia watching river life unfold. After a relaxing few days on the Mekong River, sailing into the centre of Phnom Penh is an extraordinary experience. The river is the heartbeat of the capital, providing a wonderful chance to join the local people as they promenade along the corniche in the evening. I visit the harrowing reminders of the civil war, horrifying and fascinating, but remark on the optimism of the people as this is left behind and the future enthusiastically embraced. The reward of a visit to Cambodia is witnessing the wonderous temples lying just outside the city of Siem Reap. The grandeur and elegance of Angkor Wat contrasts with the mystery of Ta Prohm, glimpsed through dappled shade and giant tree roots. I carefully choose the time of day and through which entrance to approach each temple to ensure that, as much as possible, I have them to myself. A peaceful end to an iconic journey.

19 days through Indochina from ÂŁ4,390pp, excluding flights.

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WRITTEN BY JACKIE DEVEREUX

KENYA

RETURN TO L AIKIPIA

Stretching from the slopes of Mount Kenya to the rim of the Great Rift Valley, the Laikipia Plateau is one of East Africa’s most spectacular natural wildernesses. Rising to 2,000 metres and taking its name from the resident Laikipiak tribe, this plateau is decorated with plains, rolling hills and even forests. As I arrive in Kenya, questions about safety and security fill my head - last year in Laikipia, instability and unrest brought on by drought and pre-election tensions led to several incidents of violence. I know that I’m being irrational. And, sure enough, as soon as I get to Laikipia, everything is calm and peaceful. For one thing, I had not realised how big the county is. Covering nearly 9,000 square kilometres, it occupies a huge swathe of northern Kenya. The incidents that blighted Laikipia last year were limited to a tiny part of this huge area. The green, lush grasses that greet me also demonstrate that the drought is over. It is so good to see that the area has received so much rain. The cattle herders are happy, the animals are free to roam and the locals are upbeat. My first stop is the famous Lewa Conservancy. This protected area is hillier than the surrounding landscape and is dotted with thicket, swamps and fever trees. Lewa is renowned for its black rhino conservation, which began with 15 individuals in 1984. Now, it is home to more than 150 black and white rhinos. And in the last three years, not a single rhino has been poached - a credit to the commitment of their rangers. Whilst known for its community work, providing educational facilities for around 6,000 children, it is the wildlife that draws people to Lewa. I set out on a spectacular game drive spotting black and white rhinos, buffalos, reticulated giraffes, elephants, Grevy’s zebras and numerous bird species. My home for two nights is the luxurious Kifaru House, with its enchanting views of Mount Kenya. The individual

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chalets are complete with four-poster beds, whilst two large fireplaces heat the lounge area during the surprisingly cool evenings. My next stop is the Loisaba Conservancy, in the more rugged north of the county. I am blown away by the scenery. It is 23,000 hectares of sustainably managed habitat, operated in a way that benefits the local community, allowing people and animals to coexist. As an African who was born and raised living close to the wildlife areas, I feel that this model works and I hope that other African countries will adopt it. Loisaba is also packed with wildlife, especially elephants - more than 800 roam the conservancy. There is an abundance of other species, including lions, wild dogs, leopards and cheetahs, as well as more than 260 bird species. >


I stay at Loisaba Starbeds, a highlight of my trip. As the name suggests, the camp offers the opportunity to sleep under the stars on roll-out, four-poster beds. The location - on top of a kopje with views over the conservancy - is beautiful. At night, I hear the sounds of the animals and, in the morning, I awake to the most beautiful sunrise, which illuminates the spectacular Laikipia landscape, looking as peaceful as ever.

9 days in Laikipia holiday from ÂŁ4,695pp, excluding flights.


MONGOLIA

MONGOLIA REMOTE L AND AND ITS PEOPLE I am flying from Ulaanbataar to Uglii in the far west of Mongolia. Beneath me, dark patches of forest, multi-coloured lakes and strips of undulating, bronze sand give colour and depth to the otherwise desolate landscape. Unbelievably, next to these features – on the edges of the forests, by the shores of the lakes and in the shadows of the dunes - are people. The tops of their gers reflect in the sun and shine like beacons from a forgotten world. In contrast to their natural surroundings these fabric homes are tiny but their presence out here in the silence, speaks volumes about a people with an innate will to survive, living a life far removed from the rest of the world. My anticipation builds at the prospect of exploring the wild country beneath me and meeting the extraordinary nomads who call it home. >


WRITTEN BY JARROD KYTE

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MONGOLIA

romanticise the life of a nomad. Living on the Mongolian steppes is harsh, especially in the winter when the cold is inescapable and bone-achingly cruel. It may be a life without complication and superfluity, but it is often a life lived on the very edge at the mercy of the elements. I am reminded of this when we meet with a herdsman, just outside the village of Deluun, on the outskirts of Hukh Serkhiin Nuruu National Park. We learn that he lost more than half of his livestock in the winter just passed and now his animals are in desperate need of fresh grass which is in short supply as the rains have yet to fall. He is stoic, and he deems our meeting as being auspicious. He gestures towards the sky where clouds are building and tells us that yesterday, he called on the local lama to give the pastures a blessing and to pray for rain. “The rain is coming” he says with conviction and a big smile. Hope is eternal on the Mongolian steppes. It is the belief of a better day tomorrow that propels the nomadic way of life. I think back to what Jan, Steppes’ partner in Mongolia, said to me when we were planning our trip together. “How do you spell Chigertei? I can’t find it on Google Maps…” I said to him. “Forget Google Maps, they haven’t discovered this part of Mongolia yet, you’ll just have to trust me” he said with a mischievous laugh. Walking through the bucolic valley of Chigertei I am glad I placed my trust in Jan. Two figures on horseback are ahead of us, adeptly corralling a large herd of goats. In front of the livestock is a small lake on which terns, cormorants and gulls feed. On the near horizon, the snow-capped Altai mountains that form the boundary between Mongolia and China, are pin sharp in the silvery light of late morning. The distant bleating of goats and the odd whistle and shout of the herdsmen are the only sounds to break the serene silence. My senses are acutely attuned to the simple panorama in front of me, as if I am watching this timeless scene unfurl on an enormous high-definition screen with surround sound. The two herdsmen dismount from their horses and it becomes apparent that one of them is in fact a young boy, no more than ten years old. Having effortlessly manoeuvred their livestock onto a fertile pasture, the father and son take time out together and lie down by the lake shore, propping themselves up with their elbows, one eye on their animals and the other eye on the Altai mountains that tower above them. It is a scene that conveys the essence of simple contentment. The luxury of space and fresh air combined with a simple, pastoral lifestyle seems the perfect antidote to the stresses of the overpopulated western world. But it is all too easy to

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Bulgan is a big woman with gold teeth and a kind face topped with a colourful headscarf. Formidable looking but soft around the edges, her young grandchildren gravitate towards her as we take our seats at the north end of the ger (as Kazakh tradition dictates). We have been invited for tea with Bulgan and her family, whom, like all the communities

“Forget Google Maps, they haven’t discovered this part of Mongolia yet, you’ll just have to trust me.”


in this part of Mongolia are Kazakh. Bulgan’s daughter > serves milky tea and bread with a fermented, salty butter that is strangely good. Bulgan tells us that she and her family only set up their summer camp here yesterday and will likely remain at this location for three months. She seems happy at this prospect and mentions how hard the recent winter was for all the people in the valley. Much of the livestock was lost, not only to the weather but also to predators such as wolves and eagles. Last night, we were looking at images of snow leopards captured by camera-traps positioned by researchers in the mountains just above Bulgan’s summer camp. I ask Bulgan if she has ever seen a snow leopard and she looks at me pensively. After a long pause, she tells us a story of another family who had to migrate their camp to a different valley because of a snow leopard encounter. One of the men, caught a snow leopard skulking around camp at night. He killed the animal, skinned it and ate some of the meat. The next night, two snow leopards came into camp and killed every single animal. The legend of the snow leopard looms large in the Altai. This is an animal worthy of fear and respect in equal measure. Our flight back to Ulaanbaatar is in the dead of night. I look out of the window but see no lights and therefore no sign of life. But I know it is there. I think about Bulgan, the strong matriarch and her family. I think about the smile of the hopeful herdsman and the lama praying for rain. But most of all, I think about the bond I witnessed between the father and son on horseback, sat in the sun, dwarfed by the enormity of the Altai mountains.

12 days exploring Western Mongolia (Group Tour - July 2019) from ÂŁ6,495pp, excluding flights.


WHY JOIN A

STEPPES CHARTER Our contacts and connections enable us to offer you exclusive charters to some of the world’s most exciting destinations. Our experts include conservationists, filmmakers, academics, authors and explorers, hand-picked by us for an insight during your journey. You can be sure to travel with like-minded individuals – this is something that you, our clients, comment on year after year, namely how much you enjoyed the company of each other - in comfort and style on the best available vessels and trains. If there is a charter you would like to see happen and a particular expert you would like to travel with that we have not included then please let us know.

ANTARCTICA, FALKLANDS AND SOUTH GEORGIA EXPEDITION CRUISE WITH SUE FLOOD, , SUE STEPHEN VENABLES AND WADE DAVIS 30th Jan - 17th Feb 2019 from £13,995pp excluding flights WHY JOIN THIS CRUISE? If you have a love of wildlife and wild places this is the ultimate journey for you. Nothing quite prepares you for the epic scale and prolific wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula. • Explore the wildlife hotspots of South Georgia and the Falkland Islands • Wonder at the scenery of the Antarctic Peninsula • Travel in the company of outstanding experts

Please call our travel experts on 01285 601 070 or visit: steppestravel.com for more information.

74 Steppes Traveller | Autumn 2018


GALAPAGOS ISLANDS WITH THE TIMES 9th Dec – 18th Dec from £5,995 pp excluding flights WHY JOIN THIS CRUISE? Join fellow Times readers on board The Infinity, a leading luxury motor boat chartered exclusively for The Times. You can expect utmost comfort as you discover this extraordinary archipelago which captivated Charles Darwin and continues to fascinate wildlife lovers today. • Join an exclusive Times charter on board the newest luxury boat • Explore seven of the Galapagos Islands including Espanola and Genovesa • Travel with two dedicated naturalist guides

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS CRUISE WITH JONATHAN GREEN 13th- 22nd April 2019 from £6,695pp excluding flights WHY JOIN THIS CRUISE? Join naturalist and Galapagos National Park guide, Jonathan Green to explore the marine-rich western islands of the Galapagos archipelago, visiting seven different islands. • Eight days sailing on the Alya, a spacious and stylish catamaran • Exclusive access at the Charles Darwin Research Centre • Optimum water visibility and warm days in April

ALASKA CRUISE WITH CHRIS PACKHAM 1st - 9th August 2019 from £7,195pp excluding flights WHY JOIN THIS CRUISE? This is a rare opportunity to spend time in the company of Chris Packham, whilst surrounded by the spectacular wilderness of Alaska. • Capture images of Alaska’s wildlife under the tutelage of Chris Packham • View humpback whales bubble-net feeding • The Safari Quest allows access to Alaska’s less visited areas

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EXPLORE THE INCREDIBLE

GANGES

NEW

UPPER GANGES RIVER CRUISE 2019 sees the first ‘all Ganges’ voyage of one thousand miles from Kolkata to Varanasi. This is a unique way to experience India at a relaxed pace and in comfort. Starting from Kolkata, immerse yourself in the history, culture and architecture of this city. Journey along the holy river, visiting important Buddhist sites including, Sarnath, Nalanda and Bodh Gaya. Apart from these pilgrim sites the river expanses are teeming with both bird and rural life and the chance to glimpse the rare Gangetic dolphin. End your journey in Varanasi, the remarkable city of lights, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and one of the most sacred.

Cruise on the new ‘all Ganges’ voyage from Kolkata to Varanasi, a journey of 14 nights. Save up to 10% and no single supplement on selected dates. Rates from £3,895pp based on two people sharing a main deck cabin. 76 Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018


INDIA

EXPLORE THE ANDAMAN ARCHIPELAGO

NEW

For the first time ever, Pandaw cruises will be offering the chance to explore the length of the east coast of the Andaman archipelago. An area rich in scenic, ethnographic and marine interest with an eclectic mix of Indian, Burmese and Malay influences. Now governed from India, the ethnographically-distinct aboriginal peoples of these mysterious Eden-like islands thrived for many centuries without contact with the rest of the world. Expect a warm welcome from various tribal groups, uninhabited islands with coral reefs and rich marine life. There is a terrific biodiversity of plant life and tropical forest on the main islands. Travel on board the stylish motor yacht MY Andaman Explorer and her twelve sumptuous staterooms. This is a rare opportunity so we advise early booking to become one of the few who have visited this remote area. Sailing options include a seven night cruise around the Andamans flying in and out of India.

7 nights sailing the east coast of Andamans from £3,425pp based on two people haring a main deck cabin. Availability going fast. Book now for 2020.

LOWER GANGES RIVER CRUISE

NEW

There can be no river in the world as sacred as the Ganges and an expedition on the Lower Ganges or Hooghly is one of the prettiest river journeys imaginable. Journey on board the Orient Pandaw as the river winds its way through the lush countryside of West Bengal visiting the region’s cultural riches including many palaces and temples set amidst an idyllic rural landscape.

7-night-cruise exploring the Lower Ganges on board the RV Orient Pandaw from Kolkata to Farakka from £2,000pp, excluding flights. Save 10% and no Single Cabin supplements on selected dates. Departures throughout the year. Throughout July kids go free.

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INDIA

HIGHLIGHTS OF

SOUTHERN INDIA


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on a private house boat. Cycle and explore the temples, churches and villages, or take walks through lush green paddy fields.

COCHIN

58

PONDICHERRY What strikes you when you first visit parts of Pondicherry is it doesn’t feel like anywhere else in India. It is a city of complete contrast. On one side you walk in the shade of the tree-lined French Quarter with its colonial buildings, including French street signs and policemen wearing red berets. Once you cross the canal, you end up in a typically lively south Indian town, with all the street sellers and markets. Pondicherry is a city to explore on foot or by tuk tuk with your camera.

Set on a cluster of islands and narrow peninsulas, linked by a network of ferries and bridges, the ancient water city of Cochin (Kochi) reflects the eclecticism of Kerala perfectly. Cochin is the oldest European settlement in India, with an amazing blend of architectural styles making it a delightful place to stay. The influence of Chinese, Jews, Arabs and Europeans is evident throughout Cochin and its people, with colonial houses sitting alongside Chinese fishing nets and an ancient synagogue.

KUMBAKONAM If you love to retrace the footsteps of ancient cultures, myths and legends you certainly have to come to this part of India. The magical attraction and a must see is the Chidambaram Thillai Nataraja temple, considered to be the place where Shiva danced the celestial dance of creation. The name of the city literally means ‘atmosphere of wisdom’.

CONTENTS 04

WHERE’S HOT Our top destinations for 2019

28

FEATURE | PERU & CHILE Far from the madding crowd

06

WHAT’S HOT Our best experiences, openings and flight routes

32

FEATURE | RWANDA Rediscovering Rwanda by Chris Johnston

08

FEATURE | INDIA Nagaland by Justin Wateridge

36

HOT OFF THE PRESS

12

FEATURE | EGYPT Back on the map by Amy Waters

38

FEATURE | CUBA Counter revolution by John Faithfull

14

THE RETURN OF THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

40

OUR STEPPES AROUND THE WORLD

42

OUR TRAVEL READS

16

FEATURE | ALASKA & CANADA Exploring the wilderness

44

FAMILY FEATURE | SOUTH AFRICA Where do butterflies sleep? by Jarrod and George Kyte

46

STEPPES FAMILY HOLIDAYS

20

FEATURE | ETHIOPIA Tides of change in the Omo Valley by Jarrod Kyte

24

FEATURE | AUSTRALIA The Outback by Amy Waters

48

FEATURE | GALAPAGOS ISLANDS New experiences by Lucy Hayward

26

A YEAR DOWN UNDER

52

FEATURE | ROMANIA The land where the cuckoo calls by Joe Parkes

PERIYAR Travellers usually arrive at Periyar after a week or more of intense culture, temples and travel. Periyar is just the oasis you need to digest all that you have learned. Here you can dive into the sounds of nature, away from the blaring horns of day to day Indian traffic. Fill your lungs with fresh mountain air, often rich with the fragrance of flowers and the scent of spices grown here in great abundance.

THE BACKWATERS Imagine a stretch of land nourished by 44 rivers filling up a vast network of lakes and 1,500 kilometres of labyrinthine canals, all lined by palm trees and picturesque small villages. The canals come alive by occasional snake boat races, over 300 species of birds, Chinese fishing nets dipping like huge umbrellas into the sea, boats, dugouts and floating supermarkets. This is the amazing and fragile world of the Keralan backwaters. Every aspect of life here is connected to the canals. To really experience this life in full colour, it is best to spend two nights

14 days holiday to South India from £3,345pp, excluding flights.

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steppestravel.com

29th Nov - 12th Dec

ISSUE 2/2018

T R AV E L L E R STEPPES TRAVEL MAGAZINE

INDIA NAGALAND FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD IN PERU & CHILE ETHIOPIA TIDES OF CHANGE IN THE OMO VALLEY

Sangam Nivas Camp, Allahabad luxury tent

Chamba Camp, Diskit luxury suite tent

Chamba Camp, Thiksey campfire dinner

Kishkinda Camp, Hampi luxury suite tent

Find out more by speaking to our India specialists or visit www.steppestravel.com

Steppes Traveller | Issue 2/2018 | UK

The Ultimate Travelling Camp specialises in bringing luxury mobile camping to the more remote areas of India. The perfect combination of experiencing nomadic lifestyle with all the accoutrements of a luxury stay in some of the most incredible and beautiful places. Timed to coincide with events and festivals of each region. Choose from Chamba Camp, Thiksey; Chamba Camp, Diskit; Jaagir Lodge, Dudhwa, Terai; Kishkinda Camp, Hampi and Sangam Nivas Camp, Allahabad for the Kumbh Mela.

Steppes Traveller Magazine Autumn 2018 UK  

Read our latest travel features and see our hot destinations for 2019.

Steppes Traveller Magazine Autumn 2018 UK  

Read our latest travel features and see our hot destinations for 2019.