Author: Richard Telling

Encountering the Iberian Lynx

The Coto Donana

This part of Spain is considered to be one of the most important of the world’s protected areas. It provides a crucial habitat for those migratory birds that pass by on their way from Europe to Africa and, of course, is the only place on the planet that the Lynx still survives. The spectacular landscape is made up of two major ecosystems: the Mediterranean pinewoods and scrubland, and the huge salt marshes, which are part of a large floodplain. The scrubland is supported by one of the largest aquifers in Spain and, consequently, the area sees many species of plants, including rockroses, rosemary and the mastic tree.

The Iberian Lynx and Other Creatures

Definitely the most biodiverse area in Europe, the Donana is a wonderful place to explore on a wildlife holiday. There are over 300 species of birds that can be seen, and 130 of those make this place their home during the breeding season. There are also 37 species of mammals, 21 different reptiles, 11 amphibians and plenty of freshwater fish species. The number of insects is still debated but it is certainly enormous.

The king of the Donana is definitely the Iberian Lynx and is certainly the star on any wildlife holiday. These timid creatures have steadily decreased in number over the last 200 years and southern Spain is the only place where isolated breeding populations have been seen. Heavily spotted and with long legs, the feline has a short tail and a distinct beard around its face. They also have prominent black spots on the ears.

Other creatures to look out for on a wildlife holiday to this area of Spain include the Spanish Imperial Eagle, which is another of this area’s most famous inhabitants. There are only around 10 pairs living in the park and the bird is also considered endangered.

The Spur-thighed Tortoise joins the group of species whose existence is threatened and which has found refuge in this region. There is something quite magical about these ancient looking reptiles and it is hard to believe that one day they may no longer be with us.

Identify Perfect Cruise Agent

Identify and make a short list of travel professionals.

Do not limit yourself to agents from “brick and mortal” locations, large offices or corporate agencies. Many small office agencies and home based travel agents are very, very good cruise planners.

Contact each person on your list.

Prioritize your list based on your initial personal reactions to the person you met or talked with via telephone.

Use a sliding scale of one through ten, with ten as the high number.

For the moment, this is strictly subjective on your part, your “gut” reaction.

Evaluate each candidate.

LOOK FOR TWO TYPES OF INFORMATION

1). The first type of information you are looking for pertains to credentials, such as professional associations, cruise experience, licensing (if applicable), years as an agent, and so on.

2). The second, and more elusive, type of information pertains to intangible factors.
Your approach when determining intangible factors is to observe behavior and to pay careful attention to questions.

For example:

  • Did the agent greet you by standing up, smiling warmly, and perhaps offering to shake your hand?
  • If your evaluation took place via telephone, did you sense an upbeat voice and warm smile?
  • Did you receive the cruise agent’s undivided attention, from start to finish? If not, did the agent ask permission to answer another call or to perform another task?
  • After informing the agent of your desire to take a cruise, did s/he give you literature, other information or simply a sales pitch prior to asking you any profile questions?
  • Primarily, if the agent attempts to sell you any cruise product before asking you a single question (getting a profile), immediately say goodbye!
  • Among the first things a good cruise agent does is to provide you with his/her credentials and to obtain profile information on you.
  • An agent that asks questions and writes down the information is preferable to one that simply gives you a questionnaire.

In summary, a cruise agent’s true desire to assist you in every way possible will shine through their behavior, and their profile questions.

Based on his or her profile of you, your “perfect” cruise agent volunteers to do whatever s/he can do to make your planning as worry-free, stress-free and hassle-free as humanly possible.

Happy Sailing!

Trek to Upper Mustang

Upper Mustang (the last kingdom of Nepal) is also known as “The Forbidden Kingdom”. The last Bista king of Upper Mustang was Raja Jigme Dorje Palabar Bista. After Nepal was declared a republican country, Government of Nepal no longer gave him (Raja Jigme Dorje Palabar Bista) the recognition of king. All the allowances he had been getting from the Nepal government has been cut off. As per the new constitution he is no longer the king of Upper Mustang. But, the people of Upper Mustang still regard him as their king. They still give him the royal respect.

Due to the remoteness of this region, the people of this region (Mustangi) are compelled to practice all the traditional tools and techniques of life. They still use horses and donkeys as a mode to transport goods from one place to another.

Only limited number of tourists are allowed to travel to this region. This area has been restricted to preserve its culture and traditions. With a view to preserve culture of this area the then His Majesty of Government had enlisted this region as a restricted area. Nepal Government charges 500 US$ per person as permit fee, for 10 days visit to this restricted area. Few years ago, the permit fee to enter this region was higher than it is now. Previously the entry fee was 700 US$ for 10 days. After knowing the importance of this region for tourism purpose Nepal government reduced the entry fee from 700 US$ to 500 US$. These days the Upper mustang region has been opened for the outside world for trekking and bike tours and jeep tours. But the tourists cannot travel individually in this restricted area. They must travel through the registered trekking agency.

Mustang region used to be the trade route to Tibet in the earlier days. People used to trade wool, medicinal herbs, animals, salt, etc.

Upper Mustang region has a very beautiful landscape. It is one of the most beautiful place ion earth. We can see massive red rocks formations. The Lo-kingdom lies in Nepal’s remote Mustang region. Mustang region is also known as the cold desert of Nepal. The cool and sandy wind blows in this region during the day time. So, almost all the flights to Jomsom departs from Pokhara before 12 pm.

Kagbeni village is located in the valley of Kaligandaki river. This village separates Upper mustang region with the lower Mustang region. Its the starting point of the restricted area.

Tiji festival is one of the biggest festival of the Upper Mustang region. It is celebrated in Lomanthang (the Lo-kingdom). This festival is celebrated to mark the beginning of a new season. It is celebrated for three days. The dates of this festival are fixed by the monks using the Tibetan calendar. This festival is celebrated to chase away the evil spirits and bring prosperity and happiness into the kingdom. There is a huge gathering of monks and people of Mustang on this auspicious occasion that is held annually. Various dances, acts, religious events, rituals and ceremonies are held during the three-day festival of Tiji.

The historical myth about the Tiji starts with a deity named Dorje Jono. He battles his demon father to save the kingdom of mustang. The demon creates the water shortage in the kingdom affecting the lives of the people in this dry and barren land. Dorje dono defeats his demon father and brings prosper to the land. The festival is the representation and portrayal of the story through dancing and many rituals. This rare and untouched heritage and culture of the people of Mustang is a beautiful and unforgettable sight to observe.

The trip to Upper Mustang for the Tiji festival will be of about 18 days. 18 days includes the day starting from Kathmandu and ending in Kathmandu. The trip starts from Kathmandu. Then you will either fly or drive from Kathmandu to Pokhara. If you go by flight then on the same day you will be heading to Jomsom by flight. But if you take a drive up to Pokhara then you will stay overnight in Pokhara and then take a early morning flight or drive to Jomsom. If you are interested you can make a short hike during you time in Jomsom then Marpha village is the beautiful village you would not like to miss. Marpha is a beautiful village south of Jomsom. There is Nyingma monastery from where one can enjoy the view of the village and the Kali Gandaki River valley.

From Marpha village we will head back to Jomsom where we will stay overnight. From Jomsom we will make a short hike to Kagbeni. Kagbeni has ancient Sakyapa Monastery with old statues of Buddha and Bodhisattvas. It has special Mahakala statue taken from Kathmandu by a high-ranking lama from Mustang. In Kagbeni there is check post to enter Upper Mustang. Tourist must have special permit to enter Upper Mustang. Upper Mustang is a restricted area. So, the permit fee to enter upper Mustang is also comparatively higher than other permit fees. A tourist has to pay 500 US$ to enter the Upper Mustang region.

From Kagbeni we make a long walk up to Chele. It takes approximately about 7 hours to reach Chele from Kagbeni. When we start from Kagbeni, first we meet the Tanbe village. Tanbe is the Mongolian village where all the villagers are Gurung. From Tanbe the trail again climbs to a high point around 3100 m. The trail then drops steeply and undulates along the east bank of Kali Gandaki for 1.5 hours to the village of Chhuksang. From Chhuksang we can see the Chele and in Chhuksang there is a small cave Gumba. On our way we move under a vast block of red sandstone.

From Chele we make 6 hours long walk to reach Syamochen village which is situated at an altitude of 3,820 meters. Immediately on leaving Chele, the path climbs steeply up to a plateau region through a small tunnel like gully. On our way to Syamochen we will have a panoramic view of Mt. Nilgiri, Tilicho peak and Yakawa Kang. The peak that dominates the Thorongla Pass on the Annapurna circuit. After short walk we will reach the Samar village. After leaving Samar the trails dives steeply for about 70 meters into a deep side canyon. Inevitably, it is a short steep climb out and after a brief respite it dives again into another side canyon. This second climb is steeper and longer. After about 2 hours walk from Samar, the trail reaches at an altitude of 3750 meters and descends slightly to the first tea house. The second tea houses can be seen in the distance.

In this way, we walk along the Dhakmar and Tsarang village for the next two days to reach Lomanthang, Upper Mustang. Lomanthang Village is situated at an altitude of 3,810 meters. We stay in Lomanthang for 4 days. On the first day in Lomanthang you will be taking a rest. If you are interested you can make a short walk around the Lomanthang village. On the other three days in Lomanthang you will be watching the Tiji festival.

After Lomanthang our next stop is Yara, one of the most remote areas of this trek. There are only two lodges and there is the scarcity of water. It is also the gateway to Damodar Kunda, one of the most visited place by Hindus. Damodar has its own religious importance among the Hindu community people. Yara is the village situated at an altitude of 3,650 meters. It takes nearly 4-5 hours to reach Yara from Lomanthang

The Luri cave also known as Luri Gonpa lies in the Yara Khola Valley. Luri Gumba lies at an altitude of 4,085 meters. The Luri cave is famous for the earliest stupa situated in the cave. The Luri Cave contains some of the earliest and most beautiful Buddhist mural paintings in the Mustang region. The mysterious Luri Cave Monastery in Upper Mustang is the 12th century cave monastery located towards the east of Lomanthang.

Fun With the Seals at Duiker Island

Sightseeing charter boats typically collect passengers from the small fishing village of Hout Bay Harbor and brings them to the famous island. But before you set sail to meet the seals from Hout Bay, take the time to admire the scenic harbor views that includes the Sentinel – the appropriately named steep side cliff that acts like a gatekeeper to the bay. Although it is called an island, Duiker is more accurately described as a small cluster of rocks that barely rises from the sea water. This spot has been the home of an unbelievable number of Cape fur seals. Thus, it is not a surprise that Duiker is usually referred to as the Seal Island.

Once you reach the shores of the island, you will be greeted by the sight of over 10,000 seals. But it is important to remember that the boat ride is not as smooth as cruising into the calm lake. The waters around the area frequently generate choppy waves. If you can overcome sea sickness, then it promises to be an adventure that’s hard to forget. Animal Ocean and Drumbeat Charters are just some of the established companies that offer guided boat tours to Duiker Island.

Some companies will have open boats, which accommodate around 60 passengers, while others have the bigger flagship vessels that hold around 120 passengers. It only takes about 20 minutes to reach the island from Hour Bay Harbor but the cruises can take more than an hour. Longer cruises usually choose to go back to Hout Bay Harbor via the Kabonkelberg mountain range or the Chapman’s Peak, which is home to a collection of fascinating caves and cliffs.

Once you get to Duiker Island, you don’t have to admire the thousands of seals just from distance, although it is an incredible sight and worth taking several photos. A number of tours also give passengers the opportunity to snorkel and swim with the seals. If you are a qualified diver in open waters, you can also arrange to dive and discover Duiker’s rich underwater world! Make sure to check if your guide can provide you with all the necessary gear. The Atlantic waters can be cold, so request thick neoprene wetsuits to keep your body warm. Some outfitters also rent GoPro cameras so you can take videos and pictures of your time with the playful seals in their own wild habitat.

The Breeding period for Cape Fur seals takes place around November/December but Duiker Island is not a breeding colony because of the rough waters. Trips to Duiker Island are usually scheduled from September to April as this is the time for the most favorable weather conditions. Nevertheless, take note that trips can be delayed, postponed or cancelled depending on daily weather conditions. But on a nice sunny day, you are guaranteed to enjoy your trip to the marvelous Seal Island!

Cerro Negro Nicaragua

So what is volcano boarding? It basically refers to an exciting ride that brings you down the slope of the volcano at a fast speed. To achieve this, you will need a relatively large piece of wood that will act as your board. How do you go about volcano boarding? First, you will need to engage one of the several organized tour companies that conduct volcano boarding at Cerro Negro area.

Next, you will need to trek to the top of the volcano which takes about one hour. From here, you can enjoy amazing view of the volcanic landscape. Then, with your wooden board, your guide will bring you over to a specific spot to slide down. And finally, you will need to get on that board and go down Cerro Negro’s slope, which is made up of small grains of volcanic rock over which you glide at a speed of 30 mph! Although the acceleration only takes a couple of minutes, volcano boarding is definitely an unforgettable and adventurous experience. This is the reason this activity is so popular among visitors and especially to backpackers.

There are two methods of riding the board. The first one is the safer one, which involves sitting down on the wooden plank as you would on a sled or toboggan. The second one is the more daring one, as it involves standing up similar to a riding a snowboard. The snowboard position proves to be slower and makes it more difficult for you to turn in different directions. What is guaranteed is that you will get more speed when sitting down as the center of gravity is lower. But don’t expect volcano boarding to be as smooth snowboarding as snowflakes are more slippery than volcanic rocks, which create more friction with the board.

The volcano boards are usually equipped with a rope, which your hands can hold for stability. And when you lean back and pull this rope, it will allow you to get maximum speed. Safety of course is a huge priority while doing this fun activity. Make sure to choose a tour operator that offers you the right equipment such as one-piece protective suit, goggles and leather gloves. Volcano boarding is of course not for everyone, and is ideal for physically fit people who have a good sense of balance. There’s always the risk of crashing into the sharp volcanic rocks, so make sure you have travel health insurance before attempting this challenging activity and that it covers you for adventures like this.

Yachts for the Rest

Yachts are like floating mansions. Normally a yacht will include several rooms, and luxury models can include many bedrooms, a family room, office, den, library and a theater room. Only the view from the windows lets you know you are on the ocean.

Even though yachts can be expensive to purchase, they are often available for rental. Yacht rental companies allow customers to use their yachts for an hour, day, week or even longer. This can be a great opportunity to have the yacht experience without breaking the bank. Many people rent a yacht for cruising on the ocean or lake for a few days as part of their vacation.

If you rent a larger yacht, you will normally have an experienced boat captain and perhaps a crew to pilot the ship for you. This can allow you and your family and friends to relax and enjoy the water and the yacht experience. These crewed yacht vacations allow you to live in comfort and style during your vacation. Normally you will have full amenities on the lot, and even a few fun extras like scuba diving equipment or kayaks to enjoy the ocean.

Picnic Along The River Nile

Rob dashes into the kitchen and packs my home made salads, (potato and Mediterranean), coleslaw and fruit salad along with wine, beer and soft drinks into a ‘cool box’. “We’ll be late”, he says, “hurry up”. “Rob, where’s Susie ?” “In the garden, I’ll give her a shout”. Susie, our daughter, is six and lives for these picnics. She’s already wearing her lifejacket as she rushes in from the garden, dancing about in anticipation.

Rob finally loads everything into the Jeep and locks up the house. He treats every outing with military precision. Once we’re in the jeep he produces what can only be described as a check list. When he’s satisfied we’re all present and correct he starts the engine and drives the short distance to the river where our friends are waiting.

Susie and I climb on the catamaran which has twin hulls and makes me feel safer. Rob and a friend jump into their sailing dingy and set sail immediately. The others decide which dingy they’ll take. Mike’s sailing the catamaran and waits for them so we can all leave together.

I’m not keen on sailing, particularly along the River Nile but our picnics are an institution. I’ll be happy when we reach the island in the middle of the river where we always picnic. We’re not too far away now, almost at Crocodile Island where Rob and his friends sometimes go shooting. Each time we pass it I shudder. Rob and his friend, Neil, are well ahead of us. They can’t wait to see if the pit which Jeff and Pete are digging is ready. They left at six this morning to prepare the pit and the fire because we roast a whole sheep which takes hours.

Susie decides to make her presence felt. She calls to Mike who’s sailing along steadily. “Uncle Mike, Uncle Mike, tip it over, tip it over !” My eyes lock with Mike’s. “Don’t you dare! She’s a little Madam. She knows I hate sailing”. I turn to Susie who’s giggling. “And you, Susie, ought to know better than to ask Uncle Mike to tilt the boat. Just because Daddy tips it over doesn’t mean Uncle Mike will. He’s got more sense”. She snuggles up to me. “Well, I’m sailing back with Daddy. It’s more fun”. She jumps up and I watch her scramble across the boat, my heart in my mouth, terrified she’ll fall into the river. She turns around, displaying a cheeky grin and waves to our friends in the other boats. A few more minutes and we’ll be there.

Mike expertly steers the catamaran to the island. All the women are wearing bikinis and smother themselves in sun cream. The men have already erected a couple of tents for those who want some shade. Rob walks over to us. “Come and have a look at the barbeque, Jan. The sheep’s already on the spit. Susie, that’s enough sun cream. We’re going to have a look at the barbeque. Hold my hand.” We trudge through the sand and watch Neil basting the sheep. He’s using the sheep’s tail attached to a stick which he dips in olive oil and lemon juice to baste it. Pete’s turning the spit so the sheep will cook evenly. We all have a go at turning the spit for a while. That way it means one person isn’t doing all the work. It’s only half past ten and we’ve the whole day ahead of us. As I take a quick dip in the river I try to forget about the crocodiles and the deadly bacteria which thrive in its waters.

The men are drinking beer while I swallow gallons of Coke. I must have the cleanest stomach in the Sudan. Susie plays with the other children while we adults stretch out and sunbathe, each of us sporting tans in various shades of mahogany!! Suddenly it’s mid afternoon and the sheep is ready. The men take their turn to carve while we produce the ‘goodies’ we’ve prepared at home. Each of us is starving and we devour the food in record time. We send the children to rest in the shade of the tents but they never stop chattering and giggling.

Unbelievably, it’s time to return. The sun sets early in the tropics so we never stay later than five p.m. Before long everything is packed up and we’re ready to leave. Susie stays behind with Rob while he makes sure the fire is out, fills the barbeque pit with sand and clears up any left over rubbish. I again climb on the catamaran, which Mike’s sailing, along with several of our friends. We arrive back first and they drop me off at home.

Make Your Cruise Truly Unique

After all, almost every cruiser who has been on two or more cruises has been to the Caribbean … and Russian cruises are no longer a novelty either …

In case you are looking for something that is off beaten path when it comes to taking cruises and have already been on several cruises, then here are a few tips to make your cruise unique …

  • New cruise destinations – The cruise industry is also faced with the same problem – offering cruises that are distinct every year – and they are exploring new destinations all the time. As a result, new cruise destinations may have been added since the time of your last cruise … you might want to check them out.
  • Get a great travel agent – Travel agents who are specialized in certain regions can have a wealth of knowledge about a place. Asking them for advise can make a lot of difference in your cruise experience.
  • Take a custom cruise – If you can afford it, or if you could cruise as a group – then there are few other options that can be as exciting as this one. Taking a custom cruise designed specifically with your tastes in mind could make your cruise truly unique. You get to decide where you go and when you go.

If traveling aboard a cruise ship with a couple of thousand other passengers is not what you relish doing, then you might want to give a thought to how you can make your cruise experience unique and fun. A bit of imagination and creative thinking may be what you need to design a great cruise experience yourself.

Majestic Tamul Waterfall of Mexico

Tamul Falls may not be as popular as other Mexican sites, but this often underrated attraction is every bit beautiful. The falls is located near the town of Tanchachín, which is about an 8-hour drive away from the state of Texas in the United States.

Although it may not be easy to get to, Tamul Falls promises to be worthwhile trip. With a height of 344 feet, it is considered to be the highest and largest waterfall in the entire state of San Luis Potosi. But finding this falls is an adventure in itself. When you get to Tanchachin, there are barely any signs or markings in the area that will clearly point you to the exact location of the falls. The best way to make it to the falls is to ask a local to assist you. Although there may be a way to hike to the top of the falls; most tourists opt to reach it by boat because this method is the most accessible, organized and direct.

Despite its low profile, Tamul is a very impressive and powerful waterfall. Not only is the continuous flow of the large amount of water simply mesmerizing, the cascade’s surrounding landscape also deserves much attention and admiration. Tamul Falls is adorned by interesting rock formations, and the ancient ruins of Tamtoc are also close by. These ruins are believed to be the northernmost pre-Columbian city with a pyramid site in Mexico.

Tamul’s waterfall flows into the Tampaon River. To come closer to the drop, you will need to hire a boat and a local guide. The locally-made boat can sit three people. Take note that all three passengers need to paddle upstream to reach the base of the waterfall. As you come closer to the massive waterfall, you will notice the current becoming much stiffer, and the rapids becoming stronger. At this point, it is wise not to push your luck and move in closer. Instead, you can settle on the large boulder in the middle of the river. You can also move to a flat sandy spot just a couple of steps from Cuevas del Agua, a gorgeous water-filled cave just downstream the Tamul Waterfall

The rainy season in Huasteca province is between the months of July and August. During this time, the rapids are much stronger, and thus, it is much more difficult to go near the falls by canoe or small boat. If you go during low water season, Tamul is much more accessible. Before heading to the falls, remember to bring a good swimsuit. After hours of paddling upstream, you will most likely be tempted to swim just to cool off.

Pleasant Resort Town of Marmaris

The town is widely known of its fantastic nightlife scene. Along its coast stands a range of clubs, pubs, cafes and bars to keep tourists awake and partying until the break of dawn. Many revelers visit Marmaris for its high tech clubs, which feature the newest tunes in dance music. Bar Street is definitely one of the areas where you can enjoy this type of club and also outdoor dance venues.

But Marmaris also has a subtle and family-friendly side. Its countryside features not only scenic landscapes, but is also rich in culture. Around this area, you will find charming villages, unspoiled beaches and ancient ruins. Within the city are two waterparks where you can bring the entire family. Water sports and activities at nearby beaches are also offered by various hotels and available through travel agencies. In addition. there are secluded coves around Marmaris that can easily be reached by traveling by land or by going by boat.

If you are walking around the town center, it is hard to miss the castle, which is arguably that most important building in Marmaris. This impressive fortress was built in 1522 by the Ottomans, and replaced an older castle originally built by the Ionians. Today, the castle welcomes the public and also houses a museum and a lovely garden. The indoor sections maintains archaeological collections, which display interesting items excavated in the region throughout time. Examples of such pieces include coins, earthenware, and glassware.

Another captivating building built by the Ottoman is the Hafza Sultan Kervansaray. This building was a caravanserai or travellers inn, founded in 1545. These days, the building’s small seven rooms act as souvenir and gift shops. Also located at the heart of town is the Historic Bazaar, which still functions as a marketplace. However, you should know it primarily caters to tourists as opposed to locals.

If you want to see where the locals shop, don’t despair as it seems like every nook in Marmaris is occupied by a bazaar or market. When you head out to the neighboring small town of Icmeler you will discover a bustling street market packed with stalls. Other spots will have a market open only certain days of the week. Some of the famous products in Marmaris sold in these markets include spices, healing herbs, handmade rugs and pine honey.

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