Zimbabwe: The Breadbasket of Southern Africa

Posted July 24th, 2014 by Mel Reger

By Travel Beyond consultant Marguerite Smit

All jobs have their perks. Mine include travel, but it’s a different kind of travel – travel that moves the soul. You change as an individual with every trip you take. You can’t help it; it changes your perception, and if you are lucky enough, it moves you to dance…

My travels recently took me to Zimbabwe, a country that has been the clout of controversy over the years. I have to say that I fell in love with this place, once known as “the breadbasket of Southern Africa,” almost immediately. A remarkable 83% of the country is unemployed and although conservation efforts have been slow yet groundbreaking, hunting remains a large source of income in many of the conservation regions. These photographic regions were stumped in growth due to sanctions against the country, making hunting the easy solution. This alone should spark interest in traveling to Zimbabwe as each tourist’s dollar helps in the conservation efforts here, a country with unlimited potential. As a photographic tourist, you are literally taking bullets out of the hands of hunters – empowering conservation regions to function, employing locals and educating them on the positive future of conservation efforts. The government itself gains very little (around 1%) from tourism dollars. In fact the biggest winner in this scenario would be the wildlife of Zimbabwe.

Victoria Falls

My first stop in Zimbabwe was Victoria Falls. For those of you not familiar with the geography, the Zambezi River creates the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls and forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Seventy-five percent of the falls actually lie within Zimbabwe, where there are 16 viewpoints At these viewpoints, it rains 24hrs, 365-days a year due to the spray from the falls. The Falls never dry up on this side, and the town of Victoria Falls is less than 1 km away from the actual falls. Everything here is more convenient and accessible than on the Zambian side. The town of Victoria Falls is a small town you actually want to stroll around in. Pricing for accommodation and activities are generally lower on this side of the falls, as Zimbabwe has lower government taxes and levies. Previously Zimbabwe was seen as an unsafe country to travel to, but I would like to directly address this by saying I have never felt safer traveling as a single female in Africa. I visited Victoria Falls Hotel (colonial), Elephant Camp (tented), Imbabala (thatched) and Ilala Lodge (mid-range small resort) – all offering something unique and different.

Hwange National Park

Next I ventured to Hwange National Park where I visited Little Makalolo, The Hide and Somalisa Tented Camp, covering a triangle within the park. Elephant activity here was out of this world! The many shallow pans in the area lend to wonderful sightings of sable, roan, southern giraffe, blue wildebeest, impala and, if you are lucky, Oryx. The park is best known for its predators: lion, leopard, wild dog and cheetah, along with the smaller African wildcat, serval, honey badger, civit and spotten hyaena.

Matusadona National Park

From Hwange I travelled to Changa River Camp on the shores of Lake Kariba in the Matusadona National Park. The lodge is situated within a private concession with 4.5km of pristine lakeshore, providing stunning views of the mysterious Matusadona Mountains across the island waters of Lake Kariba. Activities here include game drives, walking and fishing safaris. Healthy populations of elephant, buffalo and antelope frequent the shoreline. Hippos and crocodiles (large crocs) are in abundance in the cool waters, and birdlife is prolific with 350 species having been identified in the area. This is also the place where “Operation Noah” took place—a remarkable story of wildlife rescue lasting from 1958-1964 in Zimbabwe. The rescue operation was in response to rising waters drowning wildlife, caused by the creation of Lake Kariba by a man-made dam – a remarkable piece of wildlife history captured in this very special place.

Mana Pools National Park

From the relaxing shores of Lake Kariba I travelled to Mana Pools where I visited Kanga (a tented camp inland from the river) and Ruchomechi Camp (along the shores of the Mighty Zambezi), getting a good feel for the region. Here you get wonderful views of the escarpment over the border in Zambia. This region is renowned for large numbers of elephant, buffalo, hippo and eland. Predators such as lion, leopard and wild dog are also found here. Birdlife in the region is superb, particularly for both the Mopane woodland and riverine species. This region also boasts the tallest Mopane trees I have seen, as elephant were heavily hunted in the 80’s in Mana Pools, which gave the trees the opportunity to outgrow the elephant’s usual feeding height. What’s left is magical for as far as the eye can see. During the dry season, the 4 main pools that Mana (meaning 4) Pools is famous for hold water year round, becoming an oasis for wildlife. I also visited Goliath, a semi-permanent camp and a very rustic option in the park located along the river. Goliath is the perfect setting for guests wanting that real bush experience: no electricity with only the basics amenities but the most breathtaking views from all around the camp. Stretch Ferreira, the owner, is on hand guiding guests and is a real personality in the area. Goliath safaris is one of the most established operators in Mana Pools and has been in operation for over 30 years.

From here I headed to Zambia, but that is a story for another day. Zimbabwe touched my soul. The people I met and places where we captured moments in time together will forever be in my heart. I highly recommend a visit to this long forgotten safari destination!
 

My Favorite Trip Photos

 

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Flying long haul? When it comes to luxury, the sky’s the limit.

Posted July 24th, 2014 by Mel Reger

Written By Kim Bercaw for Travel Beyond

flying

The airline industry has been criticized more and more in past years for nickel and diming passengers, and cutting once-standard perks like free meals and leg room. The long haul flight, however, might just be the last bastion of air travel’s golden age. It has always offered airlines a chance to showcase the very best service, perks and innovation they have to offer. And, in the majority of cases, they do not disappoint. Rare and wonderful items appear on those metal carts that lumber down the center aisle. The gnome-size bag of pretzels that is normally tossed your way suddenly becomes… an actual meal? And it’s hot! There might even be an ice cream treat or a warm, lavender-scented towel offered at some point. And slippers. Over-water wifi is also becoming quite common. Amazingly, that’s just in economy!

Long haul flights are perfect examples of how the act of “getting there” can be just as exciting as arriving. In fact, the longer your flight’s duration, the harder the airlines seem to work to be sure you have a pleasant flight. (Hint: It’s always a good idea to spring for an upper class seat if your flight duration is longer than the time it takes for you to read a copy of The New Yorker cover-to-cover and, of course, if your budget permits.) The carriers listed below are ready and waiting to impress you with “wow-worthy” amenities.

Virgin Atlantic, London to Cape Town—12 hours/6,022 miles
Cheeky Brit Richard Branson always manages to boogie his way onto every “best airlines” list, and this one is no exception. Select Virgin Atlantic long-haul flight planes feature an in-flight, club-like bar area where passengers can socialize and enjoy a whole menu of beverages. The tycoon’s latest creative endeavor includes a California-based fleet of brand new Virgin America planes promising “the most spacious appointments in the skies.” You can also order on-demand food and drinks with the touch of a button, thanks to personal menu screens. All cabins are also bathed in futuristic-looking mood lighting. Nice touch, Richie.

QANTAS, Dallas to Brisbane—16 hours/8,584 miles
Thanks to tried and true Ozzie hospitality, jumping 16 hours ahead has never been so pleasant. Ergonomically designed seats are a nice touch (literally), and a trio of meals also helps pass the time. If you happen to find your stomach rumbling, though, a short walk to the self-service snack bar should quiet the ruckus. Flying first class garners some extras, including a sheepskin fold-flat bed, an ottoman for hosting a guest mid-flight and even a set of designer jammies.

Air New Zealand, Auckland to Vancouver—14 hours/7,060 miles
ANZ recently introduced a truly innovative offering called “sky couch.” It allows economy passengers who purchase three seats in a row to fold up/extend a flat, flexible platform across all three seats to create a makeshift bed of sorts.  And on the food front, first class passengers can feast on such delicacies as pan seared snapper, braised short rib and passionfruit panna cotta. Yum! But we have to ask… no kiwi?

Cathay Pacific, New York to Hong Kong— 16 hours/8,060 miles
Based in Hong Kong, this world-renowned carrier specializes in outstanding service. Headphones, real silverware and linen napkins and original artwork throughout the cabin are just a few of the extras offered.  There’s excellent legroom even in coach, and the first class cabin features impressively roomy personal suites. (Side note: I hear the first class amenities kit is quite sought-after.)

Singapore Airlines, Los Angeles to Singapore—18.5 hours/9,500 miles
And, finally, the granddaddy of them all: This long, long haul flight seats a mere 100 passengers on a craft that is totally capable of seating 300. (Read: very pricey ticket.) Each “suite” seat on this blissfully re-imagined bird features aisle access. (One suite at each window and one in the middle, per row.) Each flight is a bucket list experience unto itself. Luxury amenities include a linen mattress topper with cotton pillows and a plush duvet, walled dividers for extra privacy, lumbar support, ambient lighting and meals created by world-class chefs.

Also worth noting:

Delta, Atlanta to Johannesburg—16 hours, 55 minutes/8,800 miles
One of the few U.S. based carriers to make the “It List,” Delta offers true, flat-bed seats and gourmet meals on this uber long flight.

South African Airways, New York to Johannesburg—15 hours, 50 minutes/7,970 miles
Even economy travelers receive two full meals, a snack and complimentary beverages on this journey. Also standard? A personal media screen featuring in-flight movies and entertainment. The 2-4-2 seat configuration is surprisingly generous in the derriere and legroom category.

And coming soon…
Etihad Airlines plans to roll out a new airbus 380 that flies from London to Abu Dhabi that features 3-room suites! Each luxury “residence” will feature a double bedroom, living room and private bathroom with shower. (Good luck getting people to leave once the plane lands.)

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The Luckiest Girl: A Honeymoon in Peru

Posted June 26th, 2014 by Molly Demmer

Written by Travel Beyond consultant Jennifer Gillmore (formerly Bravo!)

Tortuga Bay Galapagos

I am the luckiest girl in the world.

This is my 19th trip to Peru, and the best one yet…my honeymoon!  Paul and I were married on a sandy beach in the Galapagos Islands, our tiny ceremony attended only by close friends, a black-tip reef shark and a mess of curious marine iguanas. Now here I am sharing another remarkable place, my home away from home, with the love of my life.  It is his first visit, making this one all the more exciting for me.

Every year, millions of tourists come hustling through Peru to check off the quintessential bucket-list destinations of Machu Picchu and the Peruvian Amazon. As spectacular as these places are, it is the life-changing culture and scenery surrounding them that keep me coming back time and again.  Most travelers will only get one chance to see Peru…it is a shame to think that so many of them will speed right past the juiciest parts!

TitilakaLodge

We begin our luna de miel on the stony shores of Lake Titicaca, on a remote peninsula twenty miles from the Floating Islands of Uros, at a stunning waterside lodge.  There are sheep and long-haired donkeys everywhere. We spend intimate time with three generations of a single family of traditional weavers in the village of Copamaya, who dress us in traditional wedding garb and kiss our faces when we leave.  Next, we sail the choppy Titicaca water to reach the island of Taquile, a sanctuary of Andean history that seems frozen in time. Here, knitting is the way to a woman’s heart and the locals still speak Quechua.  Of course, we are bemused to find one of them speaking it into a cellular phone!

Cusco

The next leg of our trip is my all-world favorite, the timeless mountain stronghold of Cusco. Perched upon the dragon’s teeth of the Andes, Cusco is a city of layers. The Inca built their capital on the bones left behind by their mysterious predecessors. The Spanish destroyed their temples, and left behind a romantic labyrinth of cobblestone streets, clay tiles and European arches.  Every doorway is a history lesson, whether carved in wood or wrought in iron, or simply a woven blanket flapping in the breeze. The Plaza de Armas is always buzzing with activity, and bursting with the exotic smells of Peruvian culture and cuisine…sweet-smelling flowers and fruits, roasting corn, charred guinea pigs. And of course, the comforting smells of tourist-focused pizzerias and burger joints.

Too soon, we are following the winding road away from Cusco. We have a guide now, a Cusco native with roots in the community and a passion for his peoples’ history. We take our time on the quiet road.  Wilfredo beams with pride as he describes the Andean tradition of pachamanquero cooking, wherein the farmers bury potatoes and maybe fresh trout in a pit of clay and stone and embers. Lunch cooks slowly in the earth as the farmers work all day, and a circle continues.

Wilfredo leads us to a nondescript rock formation, just off the cultured stone and grass trail of the King’s Road of the Incas.  A doorway hidden in the rock face leads us into the sacred cave known as the Temple of the Moon.  For centuries, farmers have made offerings here to the fertility goddess Pachamama on an altar of smooth stone.  Barefoot, Paul and I climb onto the altar and hold hands as we bathe in the soft glow of the natural skylight above it, and all is right in the world.

The road winds on, and it feels almost like the mountain passes of our Colorado home…until all at once the Sacred Valley of the Incas opens up before us, the mighty Urubamba River kissing the craggy faces of the mountains on first one side, and then the other.  The valley floor is a patchwork quilt of farm plots, quinoa and corn and crops of every kind.  Ancient terraces peer down at us from the hills.  We feel a deep yearning to leave it all behind, to put down roots and raise bees in this glowing golden cradle of all things nourishing.

Maras

In many ways, the Valley belongs to tourism now.  But if you take the time to dig a little deeper, to linger a little longer, you will find a passionate and peaceful people with a feverish and loving grasp on their history and traditions.  You will find the brilliant salt pans of Maras, and the ingenious agricultural laboratory of Moray.  There are llamas and flowers and waterfalls.  The boutique hotels here are a traveler’s dream, luxurious and organic and built as if they belonged here.  The locals are full of hope and wisdom, like flowers nourished by the sun.

Moray

Wilfredo says he has hiked the Inca Trail more than 400 times. Rosa is our guide from the Sacred Valley onward, and one of my dearest friends. She too has been exploring these ruins for a lifetime, and has been my guide here many times before.  Paul is transfixed by her accounts of Inca history and Peruvian culture.  She teaches him about the philosophy of the Incas, a centuries-early love affair with peace and bio-diversity, a culture of sharing and of teamwork.  She prepares us for the deeper meaning of Machu Picchu, the hidden beauty beyond the photo opportunities.  We have already found serenity, and we are only now approaching mankind’s greatest monument to community, and to sustainable living.

I am the luckiest girl in the world.

MachuPicchu

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