More than an hour's trek into the rain forest of Rwanda's Virunga Mountains, the silverback, Guhonda, makes his entrance, landing out of nowhere on the ground, beating his broad chest, then running by, close enough to touch. He is the largest among the endangered mountain gorillas and the leader of the Sabyinyo Group, one of seven groups that tourists—limited to 36 each day—can visit within the Rwandan boundaries of the Virungas. About half of the world’s remaining 700 mountain gorillas live in Volcanoes National Park, two hours outside of the capital of Kigali. These are Dian Fossey's Gorillas in the Mist, and this is the only place on Earth where you can safely stand mere feet away from one in its natural habitat—watch him eat bamboo roots, carry her infant on her back, look into his eyes as he shivers in the rain.November 16, 2010 Like Add a Comment
At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, sea turtles dive and glide during swim time. Some bite rounded water jets like a dog attacking a vacuum. Others hug the salty pool’s edge like nervous ice-skaters. They have reason to be skittish. Many were rescued from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, while some were injured by fishermen or boats. At the Institute, volunteers observe and take notes informing doctors on reptile progress. They feed, clean, and tend to wounds of turtles and other ailing animals. Particularly brave assistants can help weigh a squirming 220-pound loggerhead turtle named Big Mama. Just watch out. She might splash you with her one healthy flipper or squirt water from her nostrils.November 16, 2010 Like Add a Comment
Sometimes fast is good. But more often than not, it’s worth every ounce of effort and time spent getting there—wherever that there may be—slowly. You meet people, see things you would have otherwise missed and actually enjoy the ride, not just the destination. Take for example, floating down a small, über pokey river in Vang Vieng. Highlights? Meeting new friends, chatting with an inquisitive baby goat on the bank, and quenching your thirst at a local watering hole (literally): a little old lady with a bucket of cold Beer Lao standing thigh high in the slow moving water. She’ll even fish you in with a long bamboo pole, if you’re too relaxed to paddle. So yeah, this time (and maybe next time, too) take the slow road… you’ll be glad you did.November 16, 2010 Like Add a Comment
Before dusk, saffron clouds cloak the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya, Thailand. After touring the temples, slap the dust from your shorts and leave your flipflops at the foot of the stairs. At the Luang Chumni Village bed and breakfast, settle back into Thai tradition with a cold Singha beer on your private teak balcony. Antique fans cool your face. Candles flicker against the coming twilight, and fish jump in the moat. Everything exhales and for a moment, the world goes silent in awe of the sun melting into the horizon. The heat recedes and the cicadas begin their nighttime serenade. A breeze tosses the trees and the smell of dinner floats in from nearby kitchens. You smell coconut and jasmine rice. Listening to the night, you sip your beer and smile. This is Thailand.November 15, 2010 Like Add a Comment
At the Old Talbott Tavern and Inn, history is not so much alive as undead. Since 1779, people have come to eat beside its hearthstones, rest at the pub, and sleep in four-post beds. Kentucky’s oldest stagecoach stop, the inn has lodged an eclectic list of famous figures including Abraham Lincoln, General George Rogers Clark, Daniel Boone, and exiled King Louise Phillipe—and, perhaps, some never left. At night, boots pound down shadowed halls and voices argue inside vacant rooms. So if something wakes you up mid-sleep, don’t worry. It’s probably just Jesse James shooting up his room again or honest Abe practicing a speech or maybe even his majesty Louise Phillipe bewailing his misfortune.November 15, 2010 Like Add a Comment
There’s Scotch and rye and Irish whiskey. There’s blended, single barrel and single malt. But there is only one straight Kentucky Bourbon. When the humidity smothers the verdant hills of Bourbon County, residents take refuge in their air-conditioned homes—but not the distillers at Woodford Reserve. Humidity is the secret ingredient that makes their oak barrels swell and release the Angels’ Share (evaporated alcohol). When you visit this distillery, dip a finger into a fermentation tank and see how the mash tastes like cinnamon sugar oatmeal. Sniff White Dog (un-aged whiskey) and feel it tickle your nose. After you’ve seen the cellars and touched the copper stills, reward yourself with a sample of real Kentucky Bourbon and signature bourbon pecan chocolates.November 15, 2010 Like Add a Comment
Even though you’re covered in a heaping pile of caribou pelts, you still wake up freezing. It is, after all -40, where the F and C scales collide. Your Inuit guides said to chew on a piece of frozen fish if you can’t stand the cold, so you carve off an icy chunk of the Arctic Char they left in your igloo. Nature calls and you crawl groggily onto the remote Canadian tundra. The snow squeaks and groans under mukluks that are thin leather but impossibly warm. While taking care of business, you’re elated to find you’re getting a private performance of the Northern Lights on Rankin Inlet. The dancing sky has warmed you so thoroughly that you don’t care that the hides smell rank and sweaty, and the raw fish lingers in your mouth. You realize that bed is just a state of mind, and that this might be your best sleep ever.November 15, 2010 Like Add a Comment
With more Thais than tourists, lunch in the Atrium at the Landmark Hotel is a culinary tour of the country. Light floods in through glass windows, bouncing happily off silver bowls and golden platters. Spices fill the air, transporting diners north to Chiang Mai or east to Essan. Hold on tight or the stir fries, steaks, and fresh fish will override your senses. Do a lap before you commit to the succulent raw bar or made-to-order noodle nook. The dessert table is an East-West fusion with a chocolate fountain, ice cream bar, and cookies alongside tapioca and fabulous fuoi tong, a golden custard treat. Nibble your way through the provinces and you’ll see why this is the Land of Smiles.November 15, 2010 Like Add a Comment
Light-headedness, chilly bones, and chapped skin may sound far removed from peace and enlightenment, but at 14,000 feet, it's all part of the serenity package. It's hard to know if the hundreds of Tibetan monks at the monastery—whose ages range from three to 90—achieve enlightenment through prayer or mere oxygen deprivation, but it's safe to say that their physical proximity to the heavens undoubtedly puts them at a spiritual advantage to most of us living closer to sea level. Along with a lack of vegetation and indoor plumbing, this small Tibetan village promises an inner tranquility and outer majesty entirely unique to this remote and endangered part of the world. Mountains look like watercolor, standing among the soft chants of Tibetan psalms, the laughter of children playing, and colorful medley of elderly women praying at dawn. The dreamlike quality of Golok is not one to miss, just be sure to wear your long johns.November 15, 2010 Like Add a Comment
Can travel make us better people? Can it make the world a better place? Is it possible to make a positive contribution to a community just by having traveled there? Trazzler believes that smart travel can accomplish all of this—and more—and we want to put the idea to the test on Trazzler and Twitter (and send two participants on $7500 eco-adventures to Tonga with our non-profit partner, Seacology).
The Smart Travel Contest provides anyone in the world with a platform to share meaningful travel experiences that do good and go deeper. Smart travel is active, not passive. It is often committed to economic or environmental sustainability. It could be staying at a solar-powered Colorado hotel devoted to conservation, visiting a visionary St. Louis museum with monstrous, play-friendly sculptures made from recycled industrial cast-offs, volunteering to walk rehabilitated pumas in the Costa Rican rainforest, immersing yourself in local life in a South African township, learning to make batik in Senegal, picking chestnuts on an organic farm in Corsica...
Just by sharing an smart travel experience in this Writing Contest, entrants will gain the chance to join Seacology staff and supporters on a ecotourism dream trip (valued at $7,500 each) to the South Pacific island of Tonga aboard the NAI’A, one of the world’s top dive and snorkel boats. Seacology is an award-winning charity dedicated to protecting the threatened habitats, species, and cultures of islands worldwide. Tonga is one of the few locations in the world where humans can swim with humpback whales. The 10-day trip will begin in Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital and continue north to the Ha’apai island group, where for many years, the NAI’A has been one of the only boats offering the opportunity to swim with humpback whales. In addition to up-close whale encounters, the trip will include opportunities for snorkeling and several night dives amidst Tonga's pristine coral reefs—and a visit to the Seacology project in the Ha’apai islands, where Seacology is establishing a marine reserve.
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