It has been a while since I have updated these pages. But that is not because nothing has been happening. Far from it. After having walked and cycled my way around Germany's Black Forest for 2 years I now have a book to show for it, so you can do the same. Hiking and Biking in the Black Forest has just been released at Cicerone Press:
My trail has also taken me to Nepal (not on foot all the way ;-) ) where I trekked around Manaslu, the eigth highest mountain in the world. It was a fantastic journey, a beautiful, varied trek, with awesome nature and rich cultural encounters. This is a real trek, not glamping, but although conditions are extremely basic, it is a 'tea-house trek', which means that nights are spent at basic hostels, some of which even have hot showers. It is as comfortable as a real adventure trip could be, as long as you don't expect the Hilton at the end of the day.
But one thing is for certain, there is no better way to really get to know the lay of the land, culture and place, than by travelling on foot. The landscape and everything within it somehow is absorbed by the soul and forever resonates within.
To honour this mode of slow travel even more we will soon be launching a dedicated website, Sacred Earth Trails...watch this space.
Wherever your path will take you this year, I wish you happy trails, and don't hesitate to contact Sacred Earth Travel for help with arranging your trips.
Kat Morgenstern, May 2014
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Our culture is still dominated by the concept of 'more is better', and while that sometimes may hold true, in the case of travel it usually does not. The effort to cram ever more into a limited amount travel time has inspired the joke about the whirlwind 'Europe in a week' type of tours:
'Honey, do you know what day it is?'
The stack of photographs we bring back with us may serve to prove to those who stayed at home that we have really been some place else, but were we really there? Did we really experience it? Feel it? Let it touch our souls? Or did we just pass through?
Slow Travel is rooted in the idea of engaging with a place, its people and its culture. It is rooted in 'being there' - to taste, feel and smell a place, to meet the locals and to experience the essence of a place - not just snapping photographs for later review.
These are the thoughts and ideas that have inspired us to develop a range of unique travel itineraries - slow travel itineraries that are rich in interaction and experiences - that consider the traveller a participant, rather than just an onlooker. The focus of these journeys will be on 'plants and people' as the fundamental basis of all cultures, and even all life on the planet we all share.
Our first journey goes to Peru, a country with a full spectrum of extreme environments, where people have developed many ingenious ways to cultivate the land and utilise plants for almost all their daily needs.
This special tour is a custom made journey for people who are interested in plants and culture - not the'preserved culture' of centuries past, to be marvelled from behind a barrier of glass, but the real, living cultures of today; traditions that have been passed down through countless generations. Culture that can be experienced and even tasted.
A bilingual local guide will accompany the group and share his knowledge of the agricultural traditions and plant uses of the Andes. You will visit the less touristy islands of Lake Titikaka and stay at rural homes. From here the journey continues to Cusco and the Sacred Valley where you can learn about the uses of plants in the context of the rich textile traditions of the Andes. Explore native highland crops and agricultural methods and cuisine. We will visit the botanical garden of Pisac and a project initiated by the first graduates of the Waldorf Andina Kusi Kawsay School that produces organic vegetables and medicinal plants. You will evenhave the opportunity to learn about Andean cuisine and help to prepare dishes with distinctive local crops.
At the end of the trip we will visit Machu Picchu, the famous sacred citadel of the Inkas. (Those who book early may be able to do this part as a one-day hike to the ruins, depending on availability of trekking licenses at the time of booking. )
Optional extension: For an even deeper insight into the diversity of plants and their uses in Peru, you can add a 5 days/ 4 nights extension to the Amazon. Here we will travel to Iquitos, and from there take a 4 hour boat ride to reach Tahuayo Lodge where we will be explore the plant traditions of the Amazon. We will visit local villages, learn about planting a garden in the rainforest, meet with local curanderas and shamans who will share some of their plant knowledge with you and learn about Amazonian food plants by preparing a meal with a native family.
Chile, without a doubt is one South America's most diverse and amazing places. The long, thin country stretches from the Atacama desert, the driest place on earth, in the north, to the legendary Patagonia at the 'end of the world'. In between in features stunning scenery of forests, glaciers, volcanoes and lakes. Also part of Chile, although more than 2000 miles away from the mainland, lies the enigmatic Easter Island, where the Moi statues left by an ancient civilisation still baffle archaeologists today. Both, the Atacama and Patagonia are extremely remote, but Easter Island is the remotest inhabited place on earth. Each of these places is stunning in their own way, the colourful altiplano mountains and salt lakes of the north, the vast clear skies, the icefields, glaciers and pampas of Patagonia and the tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Explora has lodges in all three locations from which travelers can explore the terrain. The explora philosophy is to offer far more than what you would at an hotel an intimate immersion in the landscapes and cultures, adventures in small groups with first rate guides and top notch accommodations and food. It is an exclusive experience and one of the best adventure travel has to offer
Every journey we offer has been thought of as an exploration to enable you to get to know and, at the same time to experience. We want you to unfurl and satisfy your curiosity, to learn about nature and people, to get to know the geology, flora, fauna and culture of the places you visit. We are not satisfied with simply offering passive contemplation from a distance: we want things to happen.
We decided to offer in-depth exploration because we wanted our travelers to be able to interact with their environment and establish relationships with other people and to be a part of, rather than observing, each situation they encounter - engaging not only with reason but also with the senses and with emotions. We believe that every journey is also internal one, that as we move from one place to another, we are also moving somewhere within ourselves; that getting to know the world around us helps usto get to know ourselves.
For us, luxury is about the experience, not appearance. We seek to offer luxury by focusing on the essential, on providing exactly what our travelers need to make every aspect of their journey as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible. For us, luxury is in the simple details, which are never superfluous. Its value does not depend on how much it costs but on its ability to enrich your experience. We believe that the essential is also that which is authentic. In a world where imitations and copies proliferate, we offer you the luxury of getting close to something in its original state.
Architecture in keeping with its surroundings. Each of our architectural projects is designed to bring urban visitors close to the natural and cultural diversity of remote places. They act as a base for exploring the remote and are also a meeting point for people from very different backgrounds, of diverse ages and experiences, but who share a common passion.
Torres del Paine National Park, San Pedro de Atacama and Rapa Nui have all posed the same challenges. At each lodge, we have sought to create a unique architectural work which contributes significantly to the experience of the journey. The awards and recognition we have received in specialist architecture publications attest to this. We have given special care to the design of both function and construction, seeking to optimize energy efficiency and care for the environment.
When the exploration ends Each of our lodges is designed to act as a center of operations for exploring the surroundings, but of course it is also there for you to enjoy, rest and have a good time. The lodges are intimate, family environments and full of activity. At the end of the exploration, the lodge’s indoor spaces light up with other activities. This is the time for friendly meetings and conversations, where languages and nationalities are intertwined.
Our concept of the luxury of the essential also inspires the food we prepare. We seek to enhance the original flavors of selected ingredients, avoiding excess and alteration. Many of our recipes use ingredients which are traditional to the area and have been used for centuries by the local people, such as quinoa, cochayuyo (sea-vegetable) and mote (boiled wheat). Our cuisine is designed to be healthy and well-balanced, ideal for people who are trekking, horseback riding or exploring by bicycle.
If you want to visit all three of these lodges you can get an 'explora pass', which get reduced rates. They also offer 'travesia', special journeys in exploratory style where participants spend some nights at either the Patagonia or Atacama Lodge and then travel from there. In the Atacama there are excursions into Argentina to visit Uyuni and other remote places in the Atacama, where participants will be camping at explora's campsites. In Patagonia travesias also cross the border into Argentina to visit Los Glaciares National Park and El Chalten. Itineraries range from 11-9 days.
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The far flung archipelago in the middle of the Pacific where Darwin made his breakthrough discoveries are always a popular destination, and never more so than at Christmas. If you want to visit them at that time make sure to book at least a year in advance if you are hoping to cruise on one of the better boats. Yes, really, they get booked up that far ahead of time - sometimes even two years ahead of time, so you can never book too early. At other times of the year you may be luckyer and six months my suffice to find you a space on the yacht you want.
But, there are alternatives. Increasingly, island-hopping tours are becoming more popular. For those on a budget the best option is a fixed group departure Island Hopping tour. You can choose your comfort level for the hotel. Excursions are in small groups and small vessel, but you wll be sleeping at small hotels in the islands, rather than on a cruise ship. That means you will not see as many sights and islands as you would on a the longer cruisse, because the distances are too great. But you still get to see quite a lot and maybe get more of a sense of being there' , than you do when you just hop off your yacht here and there for a few hours to explore the different sites.
There is now also the unique Galapagos Safari Camp, a luxury tented camp in the island of Santa Cruz. This beautiful, serene place is a perfect retreat for those who want a unique experience in the Galapagos Islands offering flexible itineraries and highly personalised service. Choose a land-based safari or a safari with visits to another island, a dive safari (land-based rather than on a lifeboat), special interest safaris (e.g. photography) or add a few days in this unique setting before or after your regular Galapagos cruise.
|Galapagos Tent Camp|
I am often asked, 'when is the best time to go to the Galapagos?'
Well, that all depends on what you want to see. Everything in nature has its cycles and seasons. The GalapagosIslands are no exception. Even though they are located pretty much bang on the equator, they islands are in a dry zone of the Pacific and don't experience the hot and humid climate normally associated with tropical countires. There are still two distinct seasons.
From June to November is cool and dry. As the Humboldt current sweeps north the southest tradewinds push its current towards the Galapagos islands. In lower regions it is often dry, but in the highlands there is often a misty fog known as 'Garua'.
From December to May it is warm and wet. The Humboldt current subsides and gives way to warmer water coming in from Panama. There can be heavy showers at times, but they are usually of short durations. Both air and sea temperatures are warmer.
The Galapagos Islands are like no other place on earth. The place where Darwin realised the amazing adaptive power of nature through the processes of evolution is a sactuary for marine wildlife and a unique place to learn about natural history. Innumerable companies offer cruises to the islands with visits to different interesting sites on land. But there is one company that offers such cruises especially designed for families with children and teens. Children from the age of 12 are allowed on all cruises, but families with children ages five and up can travel on any designated Family Departures. Family departures, including Family TEEN departures and Family College departure are geared towards families who prefer to travel with other families with similar aged children. Designated family departures are offered over school breaks and feature age-appropriate activities depending on the ages and number of children on board. The naturalist guides know how to bring these Islands they love to life and to balance learning with fun for the entire family.
MOST of family departures are families with teenage children age 12 to 17 and even college age 18 to early twenties and these trips will be more physically active than most. The guides will optimize the longest trails and all kayaking and snorkeling opportunities, with less down time mid-day. You will be in the company of other families with children of similar ages. If there is sufficient demand, there may be two yachts with families on board. Every effort to assign similar ages of children together on the same yacht is made. At the time of booking, you can inquire about the ages of the children already confirmed.
The latest innovation by this company is to offer a cultural exchange and scientific project with local students from Galapgaos through Ecology Project International (EPI) on their itinerary A the weeks of March 23-30, April 6-13 and June 29-06 July. And a cultural exchange the weeks of June 15-22 and July 13-20. The scientific project is offered at the EPI camp 'Reserva Parajo Brujo' followed by lunch. The cultural exchange is a tour given by the EPI Eology Club students in the afternoon offering a unique perspective of the town of Puerto Ayora.
Hard-core adventurers and spiritual seekers have been flocking to Nepal for years. Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, has an irresistible allure, not only for climbers, but also for trekkers, who hike up to the base camp just to get a glimpse of the hundreds of hopefuls that are waiting each day for their chance to climb to the top.
Last year saw the 60th anniversary of the first successful ascent by Hillary and Tenzing. The onslaught of ambitious would-be mountaineers was even more overwhelming than in previous years. Some people relish such excesses of mass tourism, but others seek a more serene atonement with nature. If you are one of those kinds of nature lovers, you might be pleased to know, that high up in the Himalayas, far away from the crowds, there are still some truly authentic and marvelously peaceful places, where trekking is more about the inner and outer adventure of experiencing different cultures and amazing nature than about ego-boasting record setting.
Reputedly the overall 'best' trek in Nepal is the Manaslu Circuit located in the east/central region of Nepal. Manaslu, which means 'Spirit Mountain', is the eights highest mountain in the world, and indeed, it is a truly majestic massif, situated just off the main tourist routes through Annapurna and Everest region. The route follows deep gorges into the mountains where cars and mopeds have no access. Walking is the only means of transport – or mule transport, for goods.
Slowly the trail winds up towards the Tibetan/Chinese border, passing many improbably situated villages that cling to the steep mountains like hawks nests. Tourism is in its infancy in these remote areas, which means that the trails are much less busy than in neighboring Annapurna, yet there are quite a few new hostels (referred to as ‘teahouses’ or ‘lodges’) along the trek. Some are quite basic and not vastly different from camping, except that trekkers don’t have to worry about food or the logistics of bringing kitchen equipment and staff, which usually make trekking in remote areas expensive.
The trek around Manaslu crosses a Larke pass at 5135m, but thanks to the slow ascend (it starts at about 800m) the body has plenty of time to adjust to the altitude and the physical demands of trekking. And the path rather than the pass is the real destination - the villages where time seems to be standing still, the rhododendron forests, the awesome cliffs and mountain scenery are nothing but mind boggling.
Read more about the Manaslu Circuit
Best times to go: October/ November and April/May
The main trekking season in Nepal is in October/November. It can get quite cold at this time, especially at higher elevations and at night, but the skies are generally clear, offering fantastic views. April and May is early spring in the mountains. It is great for wildflowers and to see the rhododendron forests in bloom. In the lower elevations it can get quite hot and steamy, as well as hazey, and the views are not as clear. However, temperatures in the higher elevations will also be a bit warmer.
Self-drives are fast becoming the most popular way to explore Latin Amerian countires from Costa Rica to Chile. Other countires are following suite. Costa Rica has become a little overcrowded in recent years, as more and more people are flocking to see its natural treasures. For those who are seeking a slightly more tranquil and authentic option, Nicaragua is a fantastic country to explore with a self-drive itinerary. The accessible regions are mostly concentrated along the Pacific and the volcanic mountain chain.
Due to the civil unrest during the 80s Nicaragua is still relatively undiscovered - a hidden paradise for more intrepid travellers. Beautiful colonial towns and miles of undisturbed coastline with fantastic surf, easily accessible cloud forests, beautiful crafts villages and coffee plantations as well as nature reserves are waiting to be discovered. Nicaragua is also has a few good diving and snorkling spots, though the best, Corn Island and Little Corn Island are not accessible by car.
Explore Nicaragua self-drive itineraries:
For those who prefer a more active travelling style there is no better option than to explore the varied topography of this amazingly diverse country on foot. We now offer supported hiking itineraries that let you discover a more private side of Nicaragua as you explore the natural and cultural riches on foot. One of our itineraries is designed to combine with a similar package in Costa Rica. There is no better way to really get to know a place.
If hiking isn't enough adrenalin for you, how about a multi-sports itinerary?
Not far from the modern metropolis of Panama City, lies an entirely different world, the idyllic San Blas Archipelago. This area is actually autnomously run by the Kuna people who never surrendered to the Spaniards. Even now they control their territory and they have decided they like it just the way it is - without hotel complexes and all the rest of it. As a result the facilities here are very simple. They offer the chance to really switch off and get away from it all - no internet here! The picture perfect archipelago with its palm studded coral islands is a dream for kayakers. But all tourism is tightly controlled and only a handful of kayaking companies are allowed to run trips in the islands. This is a 'down to water' experience like few others.
The region is home to many Kuna communities—some of which we will have the good fortune to visit. The cultural interaction on this journey is unprecedented. It's an experience like no other in the world - and this is the only trip permitted by the Kuna for such an intimate experience of their homeland. We will be accompanied by a community motorized dugout canoe (panga) that transports our water, food, and the much of the equipment.
We’ll paddle (winds and waves directing a bit) across channels, among distant archipelagoes, behind offshore sand cays and up crystal clear fresh water rivers. After more than a week as guests in the Comarca – you will be picked up by a small airplane and flown back to Panama City.
NOTE: Season for sea-kayaking in Central America is from January - end of April
Costa Rica Aims For Carbon Neutrality With Payments For Ecosystem Services
The government announcing their goal of becoming carbon neutral and laying out steps needed to fulfill this goal. They made good on one promise by establishing BanC02 in October 2013, an environmental bank focused on climate change mitigation and low carbon development.
Outrageous: Canadian Mining Company takes Costa Rica to court
Calgary-based Infinito is suing the Costa Rican government for over $1 billion because it rejected the company’s plan to build an open-pit gold mine in a tropical forest. Canadian organizations including MiningWatch Canada, Common Frontiers, Sierra Club Canada, Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine (CDHAL), the Council of Canadians, the United Steelworkers (USW), the Polaris Institute, and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), have called on Infinito to drop its threat of international arbitration three times already this year, with no response.
Read more http://www.miningwatch.ca/node/7199
Nicaragua forges ahead with environmentally damaging canal construction plans
Hoping to cash in on trans-atlantic traffic Nicaragua has given the concession to build a $40 billion waterway project to a Chinese firm. The proposed waterway would lead ships into Lago de Nicaragua, the nation’s largest fresh water source, and require approximately 120 miles of excavation through sparsely populated jungles in the Nicaragua’s southeastern region, as well as, excavation on the Pacific Coast. Along with the canal, Wang plans to build an oil pipeline, an overland route for vehicles, two deepwater ports, two airports and establish duty-free zones in Nicaragua. HKDN Group representatives said revenue from interoceanic traffic could lift Nicaragua out of poverty. The nation has long been listed as the second poorest economy in the western hemisphere after Haiti. If the plan succeeds this would propel Nicaragua from being the second poorest country of the region after Haiti, to becoming its richest - at a devastating environmental cost. Read more: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/nicaragua-archives-62/4653-construction-of-nicaraguan-canal-to-begin-in-late-2014
Tropic Air now flies direct from Merida to Belize
Starting on March 3rd, you will be able to get to Belize in less than 2 hours, since the Belizean company Tropic Air is now offering 3 weekly direct flights from Mérida, Yucatan to Belize, according to the Tourism Promotion Secretary.
All three explora lodges honoured with awards on tripadvisor
For two decades, the company has revolutionized and enhanced the travel experience within the continent: First with explora Patagonia in Torres del Paine National Park, then with explora Atacama at an oasis in the heart of the Atacama desert, and finally with explora Rapa Nui on Easter Island. Meanwhile, explora Travesias inspired by the ancient ideal of the “nomadic journey” and the freedom of discovery it affords, offer awe-inspiring expeditions as an indispensable complement to a journey to South America.
Good News for Patagonia:
Say 'no' to plastics
Our favorite cruise company is taking a stance against plastics - in particular, plastic water bottles."They have become a growing problem in the Galapagos, not only are they hard on the environment, but they must be flown in and then recycled. Starting with our cruise on February 9th, passengers will receive a collapsible water bottle they can fill with our filtered water to drink during the cruise and then take home with them as a souvenir. This will reduce our usage by 80%, representing over 40,000 less plastic bottles in Galapagos. Our goals is to eventually eliminate 100% plastic water bottles on board all of our yachts." Yeah!! Way to go!
Galapagos voted 'Top Bucket List' Destination
QUITO, Ecuador - The Galapagos Islands have been voted the Top Bucket List Destination in the 10Best Readers' Choice awards. Galapagos was selected as the leading Bucket List Destination in a survey of 10Best.com and USA Today readers. "From scuba diving with sharks to hiking along volcanoes, with the extraordinary biodiversity that inspired Charles Darwin, the wonders of Ecuador's Galapagos Islands continue to inspire travelers from around the world," said Ecuador Minister of Tourism Vinicio Alvarado.
Activists Ask Ecuador Not to Drill at Oil Block
Quito, Ecuador – Environmental activists called on Ecuador's President Rafael Correa to abandon plans to develop the Ishpingo-Tambocoha-Tiputini oil block.
A portion of the ITT oil block, as it is known, is located within Yasuni National Park, the country's largest nature reserve and considered one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Last August, Mr. Correa abandoned the so-called Yasuni-ITT initiative, a plan to refrain from drilling for oil in the block if international donors pledged $3.6 billion over 12 years to finance renewable energy projects and protect nature reserves, among other proposals. The Yasuni-ITT initiative was announced by Mr. Correa's government in 2007, but the trust established to protect the land received just $13.3 million.
It's official: Manu National Park in Peru has the highest diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the world
Surveys of the park, which extends from high Andean cloud forests down into the tropical rainforest of the Western Amazon, and its buffer zone turned up 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species, 16 more than the 271 species documented in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park in 2010. Read more at http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0128-manu-world-record-herps.html".
Despite the obvious value of the National Park as a sanctuary for wildlife and native forest dwelling people (some as yet uncontacted), the government of Peru is planning to go ahead with gas exploitation in the buffer zone of the park. This is really tragic and of deep concern to conservationists. The approval follows the government rescinding a highly critical report on the potential impacts of the operations by the Culture Ministry (MINCU), the resignation of the Culture Minister and other Ministry personnel, and repeated criticism from Peruvian and international civil society. Read more at http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0204-hill-gas-manu.html#QyFlkBzjQ2KJAPX4.99