Terra Travelers Inspiring travel
Vol.1 | October 2019
Tanzania: The Camp Elephant The Witches of Navarra, Spain An Amazonian Adventure
EXTRAORDINARy findings in the world of Travel
24 Hours in Edinburgh: The Eccentric Jewel in Scotlandâ€™s Crown
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EXTRAORDINARY FINDINGS IN TRAVEL
OUR MISSION STATEMENT
ust for a moment, stare at the picture of the earth on this page. You and I are neighbors. I can see your house from here. We think of the earth as incredibly large and very small, as the most solid entity we can imagine and the most fragile. To the best of our knowledge, it is the only place in the entire universe where dogs can be found. That in and of itself makes this a pretty special place. Add to dogs, octopuses, river otters, blue whales and, OK, cats, and it’s pretty hard to imagine a more perfect spot in the universe. During the history of the human race, we have been pilgrims, wayfarers, explorers and pioneers. Our feet and minds have carried us far. We migrated out of Africa and spread across the planet in search of food, fortune and, sometimes, just the horizon. But we did so in a thinly populated world with what seemed to be limitless resources. We are fast approaching 7.5 billion humans on the planet. Getting along with the earth, and with each other, will be increasingly important. Some would argue that travel wastes resources like vast amounts of fuel, is a privilege of the wealthy and exploits indigenous people and ecosystems.
At times, travel and tourism does all of these things and perhaps even worse than we realize. But travel also expands our understanding of other people and cultures. Travel reminds us of how alike we are. Travel reminds us of the fragility of the planet and seldom do we travel that we return unchanged. So here’s our hope. Actually, it’s our mission. Terra Travelers seeks to inspire a community of like-minded individuals that respect the road, respect the people we visit, and those with whom we travel. It’s not really THAT big a goal. But it’s ours. Please feel free to join us.
Richard B Earls
Kat Richter Richard B. Earls Travel Hippy Regina Winke-Bryan Nadia Ali Lesley Stones Cindy-Lou Dale
EDITORIAL & CREATIVE DESIGN Taylor Enos
Richard B. Earls Publisher, Terra Travelers
CIRCULATION & SUBSCRIPTION Zocha Pomp Mariana Saca Brooke Van Wyk
CUSTOMER SERVICE Erin von Scherrer
ON THE COVER The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.
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Terra Travelers seeks to inspire a community of like-minded individuals that respect the road, respect the people we visit, and those with whom we travel.
6 FINDINGS IN THIS ISSUE 2 PUBLISHER’S LETTER
16 CASTLES SERENE IN ARBERDEEN
18 AN AMAZONIAN ADVENTURE
6 TANZANIA: THE CAMP ELEPHANT 20 A DAY IN EDINBURGH
Sometimes you find yourself on the
Not only is Edinburgh a
wrong side of nature. And some-
UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s
times nature finds you.
also Scotland’s capital city and home
9 Iceland’s Blue Lagoon: Tackling the Art of Relaxation
10 THE WITCHES OF NAVARRA, SPAIN
to phenomenal festivals, which have the city buzzing with a sense of excitement all year round.
24 The Greatest Wildlife Show on Earth
12 ROVING ICELAND’S GOLDEN CIRCLE
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60 Second Geography:Scotland The Romans stopped at York - they never conquered Scotland. Gaelic language survives in the more remote areas of the country even today. The landscape is dotted with mystical pagan ruins and the people remain as independent as they are friendly. Traveling to Scotland is traveling to a land of mountains and hills, of poets and warriors, where a drive to remain free from domination by others never failed its people. • More than two thirds of Scotland is mountainous and the Highlands remain a bucolic setting for unspoiled lakes and valleys. • Scottish tourism accounts for approximately 5% of the nation’s GDP and is primarily in the hands of small business enterprises. • Homecoming Scotland is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, during 2009. • Scotland’s national drink, whisky, is uisge beatha, meaning “water of life” in the Gaelic. • Speaking of Gaelic, this vestige of the celtic heritage of Scotland is still spoken by many and road signs bear witness to the culture that underlies the modern veneer.
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City breaks in Scotland take advantage of the increased tourism and accessibility of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Stirling. There are 5 times more people of Scottish descent in other countries than there are in Scotland itself. Genealogy is one of the most often cited reasons for travel to Scotland. Learn more at www.ancestralscotland.com. Scotland boasts some of the world’s greatest freshwater and sea fishing, and different species and locales make it a yearround reason to visit. Throughout the summer season, the Highland Games take place from Cowal to Tomintoul. Historic and modern track and field events, piping and Highland dancing competitions are the major attractions for visitors from around the world. The freshwater lakes in Scotland, or “lochs” as they are known, are major attractions scattered throughout the country, with ancient castles overlooking the mysterious deeps. Skiing is a popular winter attraction from December to April. Special interest and activity holidays based on golf, heritage, the islands of Scotland, fishing and whisky are serviced by a wide variety of destination tour operators specializing in each and accessible through tour operators in the United States and Canada.
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The Camp Elephant
Richard B. Earls
y teenage son and I arrived at the Tarangire Treetops Safari Camp in the late afternoon. A day of safari through the Tarangire National Park had put us face-to-face with lions, elephants, baboons and a number of gazellelike creatures of varying types. It had been a terrific first day of exploring Tanzania’s Northern Circuit, and we were eager to see firsthand the camp we had heard so much about. As the Range 6 || TERRA TRAVELERS
Rover stopped, several Maasai tribesmen approached our vehicle. Without a word, they removed our bags and walked toward the camp. Hoping they were employees, I followed. In the reception area, a large open platform with a thatch roof, I signed the registration and one of the more interesting waivers I have ever seen at a lodge property: “Guest acknowledges that the possibility exists of encounters with poisonous snakes, scorpions, elephants, lions and other wild animals and hereby releases and holds harmless…” Tarangire Treetops is a tented camp, but with a difference. The tents are sturdy, permanent structures built alongside the many baobab trees on the property. Wooden steps lead from the ground to the entrance of each tent. On the interior, a large bed, an open shower and panoramic views of the countryside make the tent about
as welcome an accommodation as I have ever experienced. We had gone to the Tarangire to see lions and elephants up close, without the crowds of the Ngorongoro Crater. The Tarangire is one of Tanzania’s best-kept secrets, often overlooked as safari-seeking tourists rush to the Serengeti from Arusha. We had been told for up-close encounters with elephants, Tarangire could not be matched. The sun had set by the time we finished a dinner of beef and rice at the camp kitchen. One of the staff indicated a Maasai would escort us along the dark quarter-mile trek from the kitchen to our tent. From the edge of the shadows, a young Maasai dressed in a red blanket and sporting a rather large knife beckoned for us to follow. He directed us to our tree tent and as he left us, he used sign language and the words “no leave” in English to indicate that we should remain in the tent until
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morning. “Tembo … simba,” he said, the Swahili words for elephant and lion. Convinced, we zipped the flaps of the tent and retired for the night. Early the next day, the same Maasai, whose name we learned was Tito, stood at the foot of our tent stairs as we descended from the tree. “Tembo,” he repeated and pointed at the bush. I looked, but could see nothing through the thicket. He eyeballed my camera warily. Knowing that many Maasai did not like to have their pictures taken, I waived my hand over the lens and repeated “Tembo”. The look on Tito’s face remained impassive. As my son and I rounded the trail to the camp’s dining facilities, there stood a large bull elephant, drinking from a pool of water just beyond where we would have breakfast. The sight of an African elephant is truly awesome. Twelve thousand pounds of mammal put together in such a way as to leave no doubt who is truly the king of the jungle. No other beast confronts an elephant, and all give way. The day before, we had watched as a pride of lions calmly ceded their places under the shade of a large baobab tree to a bull elephant. As my son and I ate breakfast, the elephant placidly continued to drink and to forage on nearby trees. After finishing our bacon and eggs, we were ready for a day’s hike through the brush with a Maasai guide. My son decided to wait and watch the elephant as I headed back to the tent to retrieve our gear. Our escort was nowhere to be seen. Seeing that the camp elephant was occupied in the opposite distance, I impatiently decided to head back on my own, wanting to get a quick start on the day. I left my son at the dining platform and began the walk up the trail to our tent. As I turned a bend in the path, I heard a noise off in the bush to my left. Just ahead, through the thorn trees and low scrub, not more than 20 feet away, a large bull elephant stared intently at me. I had approached him far too quietly and now found myself suddenly closer to the real Africa than I had intended. Just prior to the moment an elephant charges — just before you realize that you are about to run as you have never run before and right after the animal visually locks in on you — just before your mind can adjust to the reality of the moment — there is a fleeting
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second of self-reprimand: you know you have screwed up in a rather significant manner. Nature is no longer “out there” but is staring at you in the form of a six-ton animal whose sole intent is to wipe his feet on your back. You try to remember the rules … drop and play dead … right? Right? escort back to the dining area. Several Contrary to myth, your life does Maasai began to berate the elephant, not pass before your eyes. There sim- tossing sticks and rocks at its hindply isn’t time. It’s flight or fight time, quarters to drive it from the area. By and fighting is pretty much out of the this time, however, humans no longer question. The elephant’s ears flared, it intimidated the elephant. He left at his raised its trunk and trumpeted. own leisurely pace, leaving a repentant and somewhat wiser me watching It charged. from my tent in a tree. It was a while I turned and ran. before I tired of the view and descendI ran for all I was worth. Behind, I ed the stairs. could hear the elephant gaining on me. Before me, 10 feet away, were They say an elephant never forgets. the stairs to the first tent on the path. Neither will I. Without touching the first two steps, I bounded up as quickly as my short 40-year-old legs would carry me. The elephant came to a stop at the bottom of the stairs and snorted. He glared at me and turned. At the edge of the path, he grabbed the railing of Richard Earls has spent the last 28 a small wooden fence, ripped it from years in the travel industry as an the ground and tossed it a dozen feet, agency owner, a technologist, a frustrated at having lost his opportupublisher and an award-winning nity to bounce me down the trail in a writer. The publishing credits to similar manner. My heart was racing Richard’s resume are many, includwildly. Safe, I could not believe that I ing Weissmann Travel Reports, had barely missed a trip back to the STAR Service, Intelliguide, BTP24, States in a shoe box. Voyager Travel Guides and Travel From the camp, I could hear the Research Online. He is currently concerned calls of the staff. I yelled that I was OK, but that I might need an self-unemployed.
About the Author: Richard B. Earls
Iceland’s Blue Lagoon: Tackling the Art of Relaxation If you don’t know any better, Iceland may seem like little more than a layover on the way the mainland Europe. But the rewards are great for those who dare to venture beyond Reykjavik’s Keflavik airport, even if only for a few hours. The small island nation’s tourism industry may be up and coming—one gets the sense that they’re not quite ready for the onslaught of eco-tourists and adrenaline junkies who have already made landfall— but the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa just a short 20 minute trip from the airport, has it down to a science. Billed as an “oasis of relaxation,” the Blue Lagoon is the perfect start to any trip, whether you’ve already reached your final destination or are just killing time between flights. Unlike Iceland’s renowned geysers, however, there’s nothing truly “natural” about this modern day wonder. The lagoon formed in 1976 thanks to a nearby geothermal plant. Locals began to bathe in the warm water and applied silica mud directly to their skin, which later proved an effective remedy for psoriasis. The spa remains dedicated to healing and throughout the 1980s and 90s, the Blue Lagoon opened its baths to the public, built a clinic for psoriasis patients, and developed a line of luxurious skin care products
(hint hint: these make great souvenirs). The Blue Lagoon has even opened its doors to photo shoots for newly married couples but most visitors come to the spa simply to relax. In order to make take advantage of all that the Blue Lagoon has to offer, you’ll want to book your visit as far in advance as possible. There are several packages available, ranging from the bare bones “Standard Entrance Ticket” which includes admission (and as much silica as you care to scrape out of the lagoon) to the slightly less Spartan “Comfort” which includes a towel, a drink from one of the lagoon’s swim up bars and an algae mask. Tickets start at €40 and €55 respectively in the off season but prices jump to €50 and €65 during the “summer” which runs from June through August. Prices are also affected by the time of day (yes, you must book for a specific slot) and how far in advance your purchase your entrance ticket. For those looking to splurge, Premium and Luxury passes come with bathrobes, slippers and sparkling wine at Lava, the spa’s on-site restaurant. There are also plenty of add-ons available, from personal massages (administered by wetsuit-wearing masseuses right in the lagoon) to spa products and entrance to an exclusive lounge. Once you’re in, you’ll make your way to a locker room, where you can stow your valuables. (There is also an on-site luggage storage facility at the entrance to the Lagoon so you can stow your suitcases if you’re coming
Kat Richter directly from the airport). Community pools are a mainstay through Iceland and just about every neighborhood in Reykjavik boasts its own. As such, Icelanders are used to the “rules of the road” when it comes to all things aquatic but some forms of local spa etiquette may baffle foreigners. For example, patrons are expected to shower naked before entering the spa. If you have long hair, you’ll want to add a protective layer of conditioner (provided for free in the locker room showers) before entering the silica-rich waters and if you have an iPhone or tablet, be sure to purchase a waterproof case if you plan to take it into the waters with you. Enjoy a drink from the swim up bar and be sure to explore the entire lagoon: there are saunas, bars, lounge chairs overlooking the lagoon, silica mud mask stations, and waterfalls that make for a great shoulder massage after a transatlantic flight.
About the Author: Kat Richter Kat Richter is a cultural anthropologist and freelance writer who suffers from acute wanderlust and an obsession with all things foreign. She completed her first solo backpacking trip at 17 and has lived in both London and Oxford (which might explain why she is still mourning the marriage of Prince William). While not off gallivanting, Kat divides her time between writing and teaching in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. Her award-winning blog can be found at www.fieldworkinstilettos.com. TERRA TRAVLERS || 9
The Witches of Navarra, Spain Regina Winkle-Bryan
Hidden in the Baztan Valley near the southwestern French border, and a few miles away from the pristine shores of the Bay of Biscay, sits a little village with a big secret. Removed from the bustle of the Basque Country’s San Sebastian and the glitz of Biarritz, Zugarramurdi is a tranquil town where not too much has happened in the last four-hundred years. This lush area of Navarra is an ideal blend of French, Spanish and Basque culture, and this mix is especially evident in the local architecture. Painted clean white and adorned with red wooden shutters, bountiful flowerpots filled with pansies and geraniums spill from all the windows along Zugarramurdi’s streets. As I drove from Ainhoa to Sare to Zugarramurdi, I admired the picture-perfect countryside. There were fluffy sheep in the greenest grass on bulbous hills and manicured, yet unpretentious, farmhouses around every bend. It is easy to see why the Spanish say this region and, the Baztan Valley in general, is enchanted. 10 || TERRA TRAVELERS
I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to become spellbound by Zugarramurdi. For hundreds of years the town was home to witches and warlocks who used its natural caves as their meeting point for magical rituals. Up until 1610, the Witch Caves of Zugarramurdi were a happening place, and upon touring the caves it is easy to see why yesterday’s witches chose Zugarramurdi to hold their covens. More like a tunnel than a cave, Zugarramurdi’s Witch Cave is enormous; 40 feet high and 394 feet across at its widest. A stream, aptly named Hell’s River, runs through the cave and around it into the village, adding to the cave’s aesthetic beauty. Zugarramurdi’s Witch Cave is surrounded by thick forest replete with cherry trees, wild strawberries and purple figs which hung like weird decorations from slender limbs. Those who visit the cave are given a map of the area and take a self-guided tour through the cave and the woods encompassing it. Markers show where magic ceremonies were held, and point out medicinal
plants along the way. Everything was going swimmingly for the village folk of Zugarramurdi until the beginning of the 17th century when Don Juan del Valle Alvarado and the Spanish Inquisition was called to town. During his stay in Zugarramurdi, Valle Alvarado found witches and warlocks doing the craziest things, such as casting spells on crops, people and animals, shape shifting, being vampires, causing storms and creating shipwrecks, and basically worshipping Satan as their god… By November 7th of 1610, three-hundred citizens had been accused of witchcraft. Of these, forty were taken to Logrono to stand trial. Once in Logrono, the Spanish Inquisition acquitted eighteen of them, burned eleven at the stake, and handed the rest sentences such as life in prison, torture and hefty fines. Looking around Zugarramurdi and the fertile land it rest on, it crossed my mind that if I was a jealous neighbor
or despicable individual trying to increase my land holdings, crying witch might just have been the ticket back then. Old traditions die hard in Spain. Inquisition or not, Zugarramurdi continues its magical practices and has protected its haunted history. While in Zugarramurdi last June, I happen to visit the Witch Caves and village on the Summer Solstice. Clearly, I should have realized that the Summer Solstice, that is, the 21st of June, would be a special day in these pagan parts. The holiday of sorts had slipped my mind, and so I was surprised and delighted to come upon Zugarramurdi in full celebratory mode when I arrived early Saturday morning. The village looked much like the set for a Harry Potter movie. There was a royal purple tent filled with messenger owls sitting on scraggly perches, there were women dressed in tied-up bodices and fabulous hats, Medieval games were set up in the streets for kids, psychics waited at folding tables selling the future, and naturopaths sold herbs and oils to cure coughs and break spells. Throughout the day presentations on natural remedies and the history of witchcraft were given in the town’s center square (in Spanish), and in the evenings concerts were held inside the echoing Zugarramurdi Witch Cave. Wanting to take part in the paranormal offerings put on by the festival, I bought some artisan bread and then decided to have my palm read. Palm reading is common in Spain, as is tarot card reading and talk of the occult. For a country that was die-hard Catholic for so long, it is sometimes surprising to see such reverence for pagan traditions. I waited my turn, (there was a line to see the palm reader) and then was finally seated across from my fortune teller, a man in his fifties wearing an orange kaftan. Besides many other juicy tidbits, my kaftan man told me that I would soon mary a ninja, learn Russian, and become pregnant. He said my future child would do great things, and that a relative of mine was Jesse James in a past life. He read my palm dutifully, sometimes going into a sort of trance, and sometimes being interrupted
by customers who wanted to buy a crystal from him (his side business). At the end of our session he charged me more than it said on his sign, and when I protested he gave me a talisman. Not wanting to invoke some sort of hoodoo, I took my talisman and decided to check out Zugarramurdi’s Witch Museum.
Located in Zugarramurdi’s old hospital, the Witch Museum (Museo de las Brujas) was opened in 2007. It makes a nice stopping off point on the way back from the Witch Caves and attempts to show the true history of the witches of Zugarramurdi. The museum also looks at the Spanish Inquisition in the Basque Country and Navarra in detail. For such a tiny village, there’s much to see in Zugarramurdi, and its tale and Solstice festival kept me entertained most of the day. I left the village as the sun was setting and drove through the quiet hills back to Bera, a moss-covered village where I had a hotel room. It began to rain, as is common in this region, and I got to thinking that Zugarramurdi is the definition of that old saying, ‘Small town, Big Infierno’. While all of my travels in Navarra left me enchanted, it was only in Zugarramurdi that I felt a bit bewitched.
P.S. Six months later, I still haven’t met my future ninja, nor have I learned a word of Russian.
About the Author: Regina Winkle-Bryan Regina Winkle-Bryan is a Barcelona-based freelance writer and photographer. When not eating tapas and exploring Europe, she is tending her balcony veggie garden and practicing Catalan. She writes on all things Spain at The Spain Scoop and Uptake. She has published in Islands, Spa, Hotelier, Adbusters, Afar, and many others. TERRA TRAVLERS || 11
Roving Iceland’s Golden Circle Travel Hippy
It’s just after midnight, June 21, 2016, and I’m standing on the street outside the Reykjavik pub from which I have just emerged. The sky above is clear and bright. Perhaps not as bright as when I went into the pub three hours ago but, then again, neither am I. In the last 24 hours, I rafted (and swam) a glacial river, photographed a massive waterfall from dozens of angles, explored a terrain pitted with geysers and geothermal vents and walked between the European and North American tectonic plates, touching each continent. I had been off-roading through the lava fields. Best, I had been expertly schooled in Icelandic culture. As midnight approached, I stopped to enjoy the summer solstice with several bottles of the nicely hoppy local micro-brew, Úlfur India Pale Ale. I’m glad I did. I needed the break and – well, back off, I’m on vacation. Later today, I will go whale watching in the harbor. Sleep is optional in Reykjavik. Twenty-four hours of daylight are a pleasant resource in a land so oriented to being outdoors. The summers in Iceland are short, and the inhabitants make good use of every moment. Reykjavik has the unassuming look of a small town somewhere in Colorado more than it does a national capital. Yet, the essence of its Viking heritage is unavoidable and, unlike many of 12 || TERRA TRAVELERS
Europe’s larger cities, Reykjavik exudes a sense of place that leaves no doubt about its Scandinavian identity. The people who live here are as much a part of the land as the land is of them, there’s no separating the two. “We all know each other,” my 25 year-old guide Robert Halldorsson, said to me as we left town earlier that morning on our drive. “We go to school together, socialize, we’re probably related! There are only 320,000 of us in the entire country after a thousand years, and two-thirds of them live in Reykjavik.” Like most here, Robert knows his Icelandic history and culture, and knows it well. Indeed, few cultures on the planet today are as homogenous as the native Icelanders. There has been very little immigration for more than 1,000 years when the first Vikings arrived, and nearly 80% of the population can trace their family histories back to the original settlers. No easy task considering there are no family names. Robert’s father had the first name of “Halldor” and Robert’s son will have the last name of “Robertsson”. Better than 85% of the males on the island share a genetic make-up with modern day Norwegians. Interestingly, however, more than 60% of the females share genetics with modern women from Ireland and Scotland. “The Vikings left Norway alone and picked up their women along the way,” says Robert.
“They only took the pretty ones, as you can see.” He’s serious. “They left the ugly ones behind and the ones who got seasick, they threw off on the Faroe Islands along the way.” He grins at me broadly. “It’s true, you know.” Icelandic humor. ￼ Robert is handling the four-wheel drive Toyota with oversized tires on these narrow roads with the ease of someone who has been doing this a long time and knows exactly where they are going. We round a turn in the road and the hillside across the valley is pockmarked with a dozen or more steaming thermal vents. The ground is alive, breathing, exhaling steam as the glacial water table hits the near surface magma. A t-shirt in a window-front in Reykjavik says simply “Ash happens”.
Iceland’s cultural and genetic markers are well known. They are among the largest people on the planet, and some of the most attractive. Robert is tall, with a ruddy complexion and blondish–red hair and beard. Having been a former Boy Scout in Iceland, he has spent many years backpacking the most remote corners of the island. Robert’s lightly accented English is near perfect. Like many Icelanders, he speaks his native tongue, Danish, English and often another thrown in for good measure. The literacy rate in Iceland is the highest in the world at over 99%. Almost 10% of the population authors a book during their lifetime. Although only 25, Robert has just returned from Alaska where he undertook filming a documentary about Mount McKinley. Iceland is apparently a nation of very easy-going overachievers. We are traveling today a part of Iceland’s Golden Circle. If you have 24 hours of daylight and want to get out into the countryside, this is an easy and accessible way to do it. Many enterprising travelers rent a vehicle and self-drive the 190 mile route that glances off many of Western Iceland’s most famous landmarks. A first timer, however, I’ve decided to take a guided tour both for the efficiency and for the lessons in Icelandic culture and nature Robert provides. The temperature on this last day of spring is a balmy 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat or warm sweater not optional. We touch on a lot of topics during our drive, and Robert’s pride in Iceland is evident. Iceland represents the first and longest existing parliament government, formed in 930 AD. In the year 999 AD, the country peacefully, though under some force of threat, transitioned to Christianity from the old Norse religion
– Odin, Thor and the rest of the Asgard pantheon. The state church now is Lutheran, but Robert says he’s not been to church in a very, very long time. “It’s like a hat” he said. “You wear it when you need to. Weddings, funerals, that sort of thing.” Robert points to a small group of Icelandic horses standing in a field by the highway. Sturdy and broad across the back, their coats are still shaggy from the colder winter weather. “They are amazing animals. Unlike most horses, they have five gaits, not the usual four. They developed the extra gate for stepping across the lava fields. ” I ask about native wild animals, but apparently there’s only the artic fox and field mice, along with the birds, fish and whales. By the way, in Iceland both whales and horses can find their way onto the dinner plate in many restaurants, a testament to the earlier scarcities of native land animals to feed the population. Robert and I discuss whaling only briefly as we are pretty clearly on differing sides of the issue. Robert says whale tastes like steak. There are not many trees either. The once expansive forests of Iceland are now gone, the victim of exploitation by humans and the impact of successive volcano eruptions through the centuries. Much of the topsoil disappeared as well and attempts
to re-forest with birches are evident everywhere along the way. Groves of birch trees spring up around clusters of summer homes in the country. Icelandic joke: What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest? Answer: Stand up. Leaving out of Reykjavik, we head east toward the rafting base camp on the Hvítá (pronounced: Kveetau) River. The word “Hvítá” means “white”, so named for the fine ash and mineral sediment that color the glacial waters from which it flows. “How cold is the water?” I ask Robert, half fearing the answer. “It’s about 2 degrees, or so,” he says, “quiet warm.” 35.5 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s that Icelandic humor thing again. We are the last to arrive at base camp. This section of the Hvítá is only a 2+ river, a very mild raft ride. The frigid waters, however, require a wet suit. The scenery along the way is both stark and beautiful, with the narrow river bounded on either side by 30-foot high walls of dark, volcanic stone.
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At one point my rafting companions and I stop to jump into the river from the cliff face. I leap feet first, and the shocking chill of the water temporarily causes me to forget to begin swimming. It carries me quickly downstream for a few yards before I regain my senses and stroke for the banks and our raft. Once out of the water, however, the wetsuit does its trick and I’m no colder than before I jumped in. Seven kilometers later, we are back at base camp, dried off and loaded into our Toyota for the short drive to Gullfoss, a waterfall of tremendous proportion on the same river I rafted moments before. More than 100 feet tall with twin cascades, Gullfoss is a force to witness. It is possible to walk out on rocks to the very edge, and there are dozens of excellent photography spots along the cliffs. Approximately 11% of Iceland is covered by glaciers, and from the cliffs overlooking Gullfoss the Langjökull Glacier occupies much of the horizon. It is this glacier whose melting waters fill the Hvítá River. Today, we won’t be venturing onto Langjökull Glacier, but we will be traveling a short distance to see not a geyser, but the Geysir. The Icelandic word geysir (“to gush”), from which the English word geyser is derived, is the name of one particular geyser. As we pull into the parking area, signs caution against trespassing too close to the geysers or treading across the lightly colored ground. Many hikers in the area have been badly burned when their feet broke through the clay surface into chambers of soil and water registering temperatures near boiling. Stokkur, Geysir’s little brother, puts on a show for us. There is a deeply odd psychology to the anticipation of the geyser’s eruption. Suddenly the water in the caldron begins to mound then 14 || TERRA TRAVELERS
bursts forth, shooting a spray of sulphur water and steam in a column over the heads of the crowd gathered to watch. There is a visible joy on everyone’s face as the mist settles back to ground. Iceland is situated directly atop the juncture of the North American and European tectonic plates, cutting through the middle of the island, slowly pulling apart at the rate of 2 centimetres per year. It is this geological phenomenon responsible for the country’s volcanic activity. In the year 930 AD, the early Icelanders chose a natural amphitheatre on this ￼ great rift between the two continental shelves to hold their first Althing, or parliament. A sheer cliff face on the eastern edge of the rift provided a dramatic acoustical backdrop where leaders were elected, laws developed and disputes settled. The waters that rise to the surface are both cobalt blue and clear, revealing a small fortune in coins tossed by visitors in homage to the mysterious power of the natural setting. Thingvellir National Park, home to the ancient Althing, sits next to Thingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. In earliest times, the people would travel from the corners of Iceland to gather at Thingvellir. Its location and the necessity of cross-country travel prompted many of the real property laws of Iceland which allow free egress across private property by any person so long as no damage is done. From Thingvellir, Robert pointed us back toward Reykjavik via unpaved back roads. We travelled through moss covered lava fields containing some of the impressive geo-thermal plants that power Iceland. These high-tech facilities are only lightly manned, sitting atop natural hot springs gathering steam that is piped into the countryside and cities alike to generate electricity, heat water
and supply a clean source of power to the Icelanders. So abundant is the available supply, Reykjavik actually pumps hot water under city streets to keep them free of ice in the winter. Dropping me off at the Holt Hotel, Robert provided a few restaurant suggestions that included the Sea Barron, owned by his uncle. I mentioned one other that had been recommended. “I hear many people eat there,” he said. “Mostly tourists.” I made a mental note to check out the Sea Barron. Later that evening, I reflected on the 12 hours of sightseeing with Robert. It was a fine introduction to the countryside and culture, a way of seeing through to the heart of a destination in a way I had seldom experienced elsewhere. I glanced at my watch, it was after midnight and the sun still hung high in the night-time sky. I ordered another Ulfar. Around me the city of Reykjavik was awake and alive. I have a test for how successful any trip to a new destination might be, and seldom has any destination so completely satisfied the criteria. Quite simply, I was exactly where I wanted to be.
About the Author: Travel Hippy Travel Hippy is a slightly road worn, cranky individual setting out to spend all of his children’s inheritence on travel. He is especially fond of the music, pubs and people of Northern Europe and Ireland, though he’s been spotted in Peru and Thailand as well.
Iceland and the Natural Wonders of Greenland Cruise Duration: 12 Days | Prices from: US $4,795
Cruise along the North Atlantic, exploring the Arctic landscapes of western Iceland and Greenland to discover Viking history and floating icebergs. From the cosmopolitan capital of Reykjavik, board the Ocean Diamond to cross the Denmark Strait to Greenland where you’ll follow in the footsteps of Erik the Red and survey the glaciers, fjords, and Inuit settlements that define this ancient island.
This 12-day tour takes you across the North Atlantic, from the Nordic landscape of Iceland to the glacial reaches of Greenland. Your Icelandic tour begins in the capital of Reykjavik, a small city that boasts big culture. Take in the National Museum to learn about the nation’s founding or relax in the smoky hot springs that surround the town or sample its vibrant nightlife before taking to the sea aboard the Ocean Diamond. The Ocean Diamond is a modern super-yacht capable of carrying 189 passengers in maximum comfort across the ice-clogged seas of the North Atlantic. Relax in the charming common spaces, from the club lounge to the spacious restaurants, or spend your time on deck watching for dolphins or whales as you head towards Greenland. Pass through the imposing Vestmannaeyjar or Westman Islands, jagged black rocks jutting out of the ocean. Land on
inhabited Heimaey to spot the volcanoes, Eldfell and Helgafell, and witness half-buried houses from an eruption in the seventies. Cross the Denmark Strait that connects Iceland to Greenland, charting the course laid out by Vikings over 900 years ago. If you chance upon mild weather, pass through the Prins Christian Sound to cruise through a sea of icebergs. Reach land at the town of Narsarsuaq, very close to the settlement of Qassiarsuk, founded by Erik the Red. The green and verdant landscape around here inspired the name “Greenland,” even though the island as a whole is mostly snow-covered and desolate. Head up to the capital city of Nuuk to discover a cosmopolitan town set amongst a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and icy fjords. Visit the National Museum then pass onto Sisimut, where the island’s fishing industry thrives.
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Castles Serene in Aberdeen
Located in the northeast of Scotland is the port city of Aberdeen. It is home to over 300 castles. The epic scenery brings to mind scenes from the silver-screen such as Harry Potter, James Bond 007 films, the Kingsman and Outlander to name a few. The hidden forests green meadows, moors and castles are a traditional part of Scotland. Aberdeen’s castles carry from the whimsical 16th century fairytale-looking Crathes Castle to the stately castle of the Earl of Huntly known as Huntly Castle. It takes about eight hours to drive a distance of 545 miles from London. The best way to experience the rolling fields of green dotted with balls of easily visible thick woolly sheep is by either driving mostly on the M6 motorway, or going by the train which takes about seven and a half hours. Flying is just about an hour and a half.
Crathes Castle Located at just 20 miles from Aberdeen, the Scottish town of Banchory is home to Crathes Castle. From the roadside and even the driveway leading to this rather stately looking castle, you can only spy a tower in the sky, as it is housed on an enclosed compound comprising of 530 acres of green grass meadows. Crathes Castle is reminiscent of the Disney fairytale palace complete with towers, turrets and a flag pole. This historical example of a Scottish tower castle was built in the 16th century. Tour guides do an excellent job of showing you around as they relate facts, information and ghost stories. Visitors can take a piece of history home with them from the castle gift shop. There is also a picnic area with a kid’s mini-play park next to the River Dee, where fishing is allowed. Don’t forget to visit the topiary hedges in the stately gardens.
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Stonehaven is the location of Dunnottar Castle. As you park, you walk up towards a rugged cliff coastline where the wind whistles past your ears and hair. Perched on the edge of the cliff overlooking the North Sea, the only way in to Dunnottar Castle is through winding staircases that lead down into the entrance. It endured the siege of Oliver Cromwell, who fought a furious battle for the Scottish crown jewels, but was defeated at this location. Dunnottar was recently the inspiration for the making of the animated movie Brave.
Balmoral Castle If you’re thinking Balmoral Castle sounds familiar it’s because it’s the holiday home in Scotland for the Queen and the Royal Family. Prince Albert bought it for Queen Victoria in 1852. It is open to the public during certain times of the year, so make sure to check before making the trip. Visitors can enjoy grounds, gardens, exhibitions, and the coffee shop. You must visit the gift shop, as it offers unique items. The walking tour is recommended. Not only do you see the majestic interior of the Ballroom, with its collection of paintings, sculptures, and the Balmoral Tartan Collection, but also the glorious exterior of the Carriage Hall Courtyard with its exhibition of Royal Heraldry grounds, and the formal Garden that is located on three acres of land.
Huntly Castle Located just outside the town of Huntly, the castle is in ruins but still maintains the main framework of the interior walkways, dungeon and small chambers where occupants once hid from attacks. Once a stately palace, you can still get a sense of what this medieval castle used to be. Built around 1450 by the Earl of Huntly, today it is said to have a ghostly figure known as the White Lady occupying it. There are guided tours for a minimal price, a gift shop and adequate parking.
Craigievar Castle Castle Fraser Located about 16 miles away from the city of Aberdeen, and set on a 140-hectare estate, is the majestic Castle Fraser. It was built around the 16th century by Michael Fraser, the 6th laird. Visitors pay a minimal fee to self-tour the castle, but with well-informed staff members, and information points dotted around the various six floors, you can explore the fully furnished interior rooms at your own pace. The immaculate grounds have an enclosed flower garden and fish pond. Don’t forget to go up to the roof for spectacular views. Oh and yes – there’s an unnamed princess who haunts the castle’s Green Room.
This pink-colored baronial castle resembles a typical fairytale castle with its towers and turrets. Located 20 miles from Inverurie, it was built in 1626 by Master William Forbes Danzig Willie. Today it is owned by the Scottish Trust who operates small guided tours. And, yes there’s a red haired ghost known as “Red” Sir John the grandson of Master William who haunts the castle.
About the Author: Nadia Ali Nadia Ali is a freelance writer born in London, UK and now lives in the Caribbean. Her work has been published both online and in print. TERRA TRAVLERS || 17
An Amazonian Adventure Lesley Stones I wake up suddenly just as daylight is sneaking into my room, startled by an otherworldly noise disturbing my dreams. At first I think the plumbing is playing up and a drain is painfully protesting. Except I’m in the jungle, where the plumbing facilities are minimal. The sound is spooky and ethereal, as if a vortex has opened to the underworld and a ghoul is calling me in. It’s the weirdest noise I’ve ever heard, and I was awestruck. Not for the sound alone, but for what it signified – I was in the magical, magnificent Amazon. This vast rainforest gives the world its oxygen and contains creatures, plants and entire tribes never encountered anywhere else. It’s an endless mass that you fly over realising that if your plane goes down, there’s a good chance
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they’re never going to find you. Its estimated 390 billion trees protect 1,300 bird species and more than 430 types of mammals. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says millions of its species are still undescribed, and between 20142015, a new plant or animal was discovered every two days. Male howler monkeys are the source of the-ghouls-are-coming-to-get-you yodeling that woke me, and we see them on a jungle walk that morning. They’re large monkeys living in families in the treetops, which makes us an easy target far below when the dominant male urinates on us, in case we didn’t get the vocal memo about this being his territory. The Amazon covers eight countries, and I was staying in Tambopata National
Reserve in Peru. I flew in from Lima on a small plane above the snowy Andes that looked unnervingly close. Finally the snow gave way to browns again, then the mountains flattened out into green rainforest. We left the bulk of our luggage at the offices of EcoAmazonia in the town of Puerto Maldonado, taking only a backpack. You don’t need much for three days in the jungle. Mostly just a camera, torch, sun lotion and lashings of insect repellent. Then we boarded a boat on the caramel-coloured Rio Bajo Madre de Dios, which meets the actual Amazon River hundreds of miles downstream. This particular part of the jungle is less dense and intimidating than expected. I’d imagined canoeing by hand through narrow channels, push-
ing through tangled foliage on muddy paths, and picking leeches off our clothing. Instead we’d flown in, caught a motorised longboat and docked at a very civilised lodge with a huge indoor swimming pool and half-price cocktails at happy hour. But a slight disappointment at the lack of Indiana Jones escapades was quickly dispelled by the joy of not even spotting a mosquito, which was fortunate since the Amazon boasts about 2,5 million types of insects. The density of the tree-top canopy al-
The ants feed the leaves to a fungus that they deliberately cultivate to feed their larvae. Our guide spoke of other weird and wonderful creatures, let us taste exotic berries, and showed us squabbling parakeets and a kingfisher. Even the trees are fascinating, with strangler figs and walking palms among enormous 800-year-old ironwood trees. Strangler figs start out as seeds deposited in the crook of another tree innocently minding its own business. As the
skittering along the shiny wooden floor. He makes a beeline for me and tugs my shoelaces. Then he grabs the strap of my camera and almost yanks it off the table. I threaten to get cross with him, but he tilts his banana-sized yellow and black beak to one side to make me laugh instead.
lows the animals and birds to be pretty good at hiding, and we didn’t see much of the wildlife, although its noises had us surrounded. Our guide pointed out a sloth in a tree, doing nothing, as sloths tend to do. Then she signaled for us to stop and stand still, amid mighty trees, lush ferns and clambouring creepers. As our human noises ceased, the jungle chorus returned with its buzzings and chirpings, drones, squawks and warbles. High above we could hear capuchin and squirrel monkeys, and they were just as curious as we were. Leaves were shaking to my left and right, then wide-eyed squirrel monkeys peered out at us. So cute! A playful trio were swinging between two trees over and again, putting on a show for the tourists. Soon we were watching maybe 50 of them, all going about their monkey business and paying us no regard. I looked down and saw the path was moving, as a parade of cutter ants carried bright green segments of leaves they had sawn out with their gnashers.
sapling grows, its aerial roots wend towards the ground and snake around the host, eventually fusing together in a shell that completely covers the tree. Eventually the host dies from insufficient light and nutrients, and our guide tells us the strangler dies too, a few years later. We ponder that destructive behaviour, and joke about humans in similar relationships, being loved to death by over-controlling partners. The EcoAmazonia lodge has been open for 20 years and is owned by Peruvians, unlike many rival lodges owned by foreigners. Its 50 wooden chalets are raised on steps – a smart plan in a jungle full of snakes and scorpions. Each has a shower, sink and toilet, rails to hang your clothes, and electricity from 5pm to 10pm. Communal meals include dishes like fish cooked in a banana leaf, or chicken, rice and plantains. A long, shady terrace looks out onto the river and I’m swinging in a hammock when I hear a tap-tap-tap coming towards me. It’s the resident toucan,
About the Author: Lesley Stones
I go back to watching the lazy river, while the toucan twiddles with my toes.
Lesley Stones is a former Brit who is now proudly South African. She started her career by reviewing rock bands for a national UK music paper, then worked for various newspapers before spending four fun-filled years in Cairo, where she ended up editing a technology magazine. A follow-the-sun policy took her to South Africa, where she became the Information Technology Editor for Business Day. After 12 years with the paper Lesley quit to go freelance, specialising in travel and leisure writing and being opinionated about life in general. She writes in a quirky, humorous style and her absolute passions are travel, theatre, the cinema, wining and dining. TERRA TRAVLERS || 19
24 Hours in Edinburgh:
The Eccentric Jewel in Scotland’s Crown Not only is Edinburgh a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s also Scotland’s capital city and home to phenomenal festivals, which have the city buzzing with a sense of excitement all year round. Packed with medieval tenements, narrow streets through the Old Town and a sweeping elegance which swathes the Georgian New Town, there’s no question that Edinburgh deserves its reputation as one of the most stunning 20 || TERRA TRAVELERS
and enthralling cities in the world. Sightseeing in Edinburgh is pretty easy. You can experience different centuries of history without even moving! Head to the bottom of the famous Royal Mile where you’ll find the 17th century Palace of Holyroodhouse, the modern parliament building and the prehistoric extinct volcano famously known as Arthur’s Seat – all proudly standing next to each other.
Make this your first port of call. It sits at the top of the historic Royal Mile on a volcanic plug, and is perhaps the most famous landmark on the Edinburgh skyline. Beat the crowds and get there for opening at 9.30am. The views over the city are spectacular. There is so much to take in at the castle – the National Museum of War, the National War Monument and the Honours of Scotland, the county’s Crown Jewels.
The Royal Mile is the heart of Scotland’s historic capital. It runs through the centre of Edinburgh’s Old Town, connecting the magnificent Edinburgh Castle with the splendorous Palace of Holyroodhouse. The Mile is overlooked by impressive, towering tenements, between which cobbled closes and narrow stairways interlock to create a secret underground world. Beneath the City Chambers on the Royal Mile lies Edinburgh’s deepest secret – Mary King’s Close. Back in the 1600’s, Mary King’s Close and neighbouring Closes were Edinburgh’s busiest and most vibrant streets, open to the skies and bustling with traders selling their wares to the Old Town’s residents. Now Mary King’s Close is a warren of narrow underground alleys and spaces shrouded in myths, mysteries and tales of ghosts. Urban legend claims plague victims were quarantined and left to die, then their corpses were used to build the walls.
Just a short walk away is the eclectic Grassmarket, once a medieval marketplace and site for public executions. Now the Grassmarket is a vibrant area buzzing with lively drinking spots and eclectic shops. Its detailed medieval architecture, stunning castle views and dynamic atmosphere make it one of the city’s most-loved places. Though Grassmarket executions ceased in the 1700s, some of the traditional pubs in the area
still keep the tales of its chequered past alive. If you’re strapped for time but want to see a lot of the sights, then the one-hour open top hopon-hop-off City Sightseeing Bus Tour is ideal. Get a bird’s-eye view from the top deck and explore sights including Edinburgh Castle, Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Edinburgh is famed for being the world’s leading festival city. During festival season it feels as if every shop, bar and available space has become a venue. This summer sees outstanding festivals flood the city with colour and heart-thumping excitement, while the autumn nights are illuminated by the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. International Film Festival (15-26 June) Launched in 1947, the prestigious Edinburgh International Film Festival is the world’s longest running film festival and continues to showcase some of the best emerging and established talent in the movie industry.
Jazz and Blues Festival (15-24 July) The 70’s saw the birth of Edinburgh’s first Jazz and Blues Festival, which was set up in 1978 by banjo player and guitarist, Mike Hart. The festival initially focused on traditional jazz with a range of free events held in pubs, but by the mid80’s had grown to envelop swing, blues and mainstream jazz. Art Festival (28 July-28 August) Edinburgh’s Art Festival has grown to become the UKs largest annual festival of visual art. This year, taking place in partner galleries and pop-up venues throughout the city, Edinburgh’s creative spirit lives on with Art Late – a series of late night openings and events, combining the city’s vibrant art scene, live music, performances, artist talks and art tours.
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Royal Edinburgh Festival Tattoo (5-27 August) Each year the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo bring together thousands of people for this annual celebration of music. It’s very much a ‘global gathering’ as it showcases the talents of musicians and performers from every corner of the globe. International Festival (5-29 August) This year’s International Festival will have you see Edinburgh Castle in a whole new light. It’s an epic, outdoor, public artwork which will bring together spectacular animation, lighting and music, delving deep into 350-million years of Edinburgh’s history. Stunning animations will be projected onto the side of Edinburgh Castle, accompanied by a specially compiled soundtrack of music by Scottish rock band Mogwai.
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Festival Fringe (5-29 August) a stunning panoramic view across the Every Wednesday and Friday city’s spires, domes, towers and turrets. throughout the Festival Fringe you get Tucked down a hidden close off the to solve an intriguing puzzle down in Royal Mile is the Writers Museum, which the depths of the Edinburgh Dungeons any devotee of Rabbie Burns, Sir Walter with a Deadly Dungeon Murder Mystery. Scott or Robert Louis Stevenson will want You’ll be investigating the shocking mur- to browse. der of Judge Mental. Watch out though Edinburgh has a wealth of green – you might encounter a few unsavoury spaces. There’s the huge green sward characters from Edinburgh’s past along of Holyrood Park where you can skirt the the way. volcanic heights of Arthur’s Seat on a International Book Festival (13-29 Au- pleasant stroll to Duddingston village – gust) and lunch at the characterful Sheep Heid Set in a specially created tented vil- Inn – Edinburgh’s oldest-surviving pub. lage in Charlotte Square Gardens in the The point is that Edinburgh does have heart of Edinburgh’s New Town, the Ed- all the tantalising set pieces: the castle inburgh International Book Festival has and the palace, grand galleries and grasomething for just about every age and cious streets, designer shops and Micheevery interest. This is where avid book- lin stars. But there’s so much more to it. worms, budding writers and talented storytellers gather. Mela (27-28 August) The Edinburgh Mela is a two-day festival celebrating Scotland’s diverse culture through its music, dance and wider Cindy-Lou Dale is a freelance arts from around the world all with the writer who originates from a small express purpose of promoting commufarming community in Southern nity cohesion. Africa, which possibly contributed But Edinburgh is about far more than its famous attractions or its festivals. to her adventurous spirit and led her There are hidden museums, surprise to become an internationally acviews, secret gardens, quirky buildings – claimed photojournalist. Her career including a clutch of castles – and some has moved her around the world but lovely walks. Yes, in the heart of the city. currently she lives in a picture postEven the major museums and gallercard village in England, surrounded ies can surprise. The Scottish National by rolling green hills and ancient Portrait Gallery, for example, has a rooftop garden showcasing the country’s parish churches. Her work is featured in numerous international magarich variety of habitats, from the alpine zines, including TIME and National flowers of its mountains to the grasses of its coastal habitats. The rooftop also has Geographic.
About the Author: Cindy-Lou Dale
Scotland, Escape to the Edge (Orkney & Outer Hebrides Small Group): Edinburgh to Edinburgh Duration: 12 Days | Prices from: $US 2,550
This Scotland tour takes you to the outer reaches of the beautiful north, including the Orkneys, the Isle of Skye, and Lewis Island, all on a round trip from Scotland’s most fascinating city, Edinburgh.
This small group experience (maximum 16 participants) gets you off the beaten track so you get a real feel for the country. Our guides are hand-picked for their pride and passion for their country. Transportation is in modern Mercedes Benz mini-coaches and accommodation is in a combination of guest houses and B&Bs. This 12-day Scotland trip sets out from Edinburgh, taking you to the furthest corners of the country, via some familiar Scottish icons. Head straight for the Lochs on your first day, including Loch Luibnaig, Loch Earn, and of course the famous Loch Ness. We can’t promise a Nessie sighting, but you’ll have plenty of opportunity before an overnight stay in Inverness. Then cross the Black Isle and follow the northeast coast, keeping a lookout for Golden Eagles or Red Deer, making your eventual rendezvous with the Orkney Islands ferry. The Orkney’s are an archipelago rich in Viking lore and ancient history. Stay in Kirkwall, a former Viking stronghold, then trek out to visit a 5000 year old village, mystical stone circles, and other archaeological sites. On your way back to the mainland, visit Ben Loyal and Ben Hope mountains, along with the 15th century ruins of Ardvrek. Overnight, settle into the fishing village of Ullapool on the edge of Loch Broom. TERRA TRAVLERS || 23
The Greatest Wildlife Show on Earth Lesley Stones The annual migration of almost two million wildebeest across the Serengeti is the most spectacular wildlife show on Earth. It’s an amazing sight, with animals filling the vast plains of Africa from horizon to horizon, following an instinctive, primal pattern in the Great Migration. Walking for months as they follow the rains in search of lush vegetation. Dodging carnivorous crocodiles that hungrily lay in wait as they surge across deadly rivers. Giving birth on the hoof, and chivvying the new-born calves to keep up as they traverse the savannah. Prides of lions and stealthy leopards trail in their wake, picking off the weakest for the ultimate fast-food takeaway. For tourists it’s not only an amazing spectacle, it’s also a bit of a gamble. If the rains come early, or late, the animals may be on the move and miles away from your carefully chosen safari lodge. If this is your once-in-a-lifetime trip, it’s a heck of a shame to miss it.
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A clever way of avoiding that risk is to book with Nasikia Camps, a Tanzanian company that operates five tented lodges in various locations, so you can ask to be placed in the midst of the action at any time of year. Four sites are permanent, while Nasikia Mobile Camp literally packs up twice a year and moves in tandem with the herds. Nasikia Camps is an offshoot of Maasai Wanderings, a tour operator that handles bookings and transport logistics, and developed its own accommodation to give guests a five-star experience. Between them these sister companies can organise a full safari with all the travel, guides and accommodation taken care of. The gorgeous tents have evolved a long way from traditional camping, with wooden floors, en suite bathrooms, comfy double beds, lounge areas and private decks overlooking the rolling plains. It’s luxurious yet unobtrusive, delivering an excellent experience with
a low environmental impact. The communal dining and lounge tents have settees facing the bush, and bars where you can hop on a stool and order a Gin & Tonic from the smiling barman. Absolute bliss! Kaskaz Mara Camp in the northern Serengeti is close to the Mara River where the wildebeest brave the perilous crossing into Kenya. We set off one morning on a game drive and stop at a favourite river crossing point. It’s eerily quiet now and the water is low. A few skulls on the rocks are all that remain of wildebeest that drowned or were dragged under by crocs during last year’s migration. Soon this golden savannah will be covered by close to two million wildebeest and assorted zebra and gazelles. Already the outliers are arriving, and a line of wildebeest plods past us in a neat row. Our guide drives us to a rocky
crop where huge granite boulders thrust up into the sky. It’s a popular hangout for lions, he says, and he’s right. We spot one lounging on a boulder, then see another sleeping behind it. At the bottom of the rocks an older lioness scratches herself languidly, and a young cub delights us by climbing into a tree right in front of our vehicle. They’re all over-full and lazy in the late afternoon heat, with their fat bellies almost scraping on the ground. They’ve gorged on a wildebeest, and have dragged its carcass into the rocks so they can defend it from scavenging hyenas that will soon sniff it out We watch them for ages with no other vehicles jostling for position like they do in busier safari zones. Eventually we drive away, thirsty for some sundowners, but we spot an old male lion fast asleep in a clump of bushes nearby. We drive on for a discreet distance before we jump out for wine and snacks as the sun turns the sky a beautiful blazing pink. Kaskaz is so remote that I arrive in a Cessna operated by Air Excel, flying low over ancient volcanic craters and vast expanses of wilderness. Landing at Kogatende airstrip is delightful, since the only formalities are sipping wine served by the guides before you hop in a safari vehicle for the 90-minute drive to the camp.
Later I flew to Ehlane Plains Camp, a new site constructed in just four weeks in the eastern Serengeti. A brilliant attraction here is to sleep under the stars on a bed high on a platform draped with a mosquito net. If the wildlife sounds a little too wild in the night, you can quickly come down the stairs and zip yourself back inside the sturdy tent. As you lie listening to the yelp of hyenas, the roar of lion and the whistling wind, you can’t help grinning as you fall asleep and wonder what the next day will have in store.
When to see the Great Migration
Close to two million wildebeest can be seen at any time of year if you’re in the right place, but catching them on the move is the ultimate goal. They gather in Tanzania’s eastern Serengeti in January, then move south to lusher plains in February to give birth. By April and May they’re heading north west, and by June as their calves mature the herds are moving at their fastest. In July they begin crossing the Mara River, which is most spectacular in August when the bulk of the beasts arrive. September sees the last of the river crossings into Kenya’s Maasai Mara. By October they’re moving south again, gradually drifting further down week by week until the cycle starts again.
Another great resource is Herd Tracker, a website and an app that shows the precise location of the herds using information from pilots who fly over the Serengeti, safari guides on the ground and Tanzania National Parks Authority. It also shows the nearest lodges and camps in Tanzania and Kenya, and offers a last-minute booking service.
About the Author: Lesley Stones Lesley Stones is a former Brit who is now proudly South African. She started her career by reviewing rock bands for a national UK music paper, then worked for various newspapers before spending four fun-filled years in Cairo, where she ended up editing a technology magazine. A follow-the-sun policy took her to South Africa, where she became the Information Technology Editor for Business Day. After 12 years with the paper Lesley quit to go freelance, specialising in travel and leisure writing and being opinionated about life in general. She writes in a quirky, humorous style and her absolute passions are travel, theatre, the cinema, wining and dining. TERRA TRAVLERS || 25
Vol.1 | October 2019
Exploring Buddhist Asia
Pictured: Silhouette of the Buddha statue of Wat Muang at sunset with beautiful light in the sky, Hua Taphan, Wiset Chai Chan,Thailand
For 417 years, Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand. Ruined temples and palaces that have either been eroded naturally over time or by wars, are now seen as a fitting example of a legendary history.
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