Traveling to another world (via the Pantanal)

Hyacinth Macaws are abundant in the Pantanal

When I visited the Brazilian Pantanal, I felt like I was traveling to another world. Water is everywhere, and it defines life for the animals, birds, and reptiles. The ranchers who live here are in sync with the region, and have a deep understanding of the annual rhythms that are centered around the rainy season.

Mama Giant Anteater with her baby on her back

My most memorable mammal sighting was a mother giant anteater, locally called tamandua, carrying her baby on her back. I had understood these are very rare (or perhaps extinct) and only active at night. In fact, they are quite common in the Pantanal and frequently observed around dusk. Somewhat clumsy looking and sometimes caputured as pets, they have a limited range in South America and are considered threatened and vulnerable. They eat large numbers of ants and termites and so are considered beneficial to villagers. Night safaris provide an opportunity to see tamandua as well as a variety of other nocturnal animals and birds.

The abundance of water also makes this a sanctuary for thousands of birds that arrive from drier and colder climates.  Birds that are rare elsewhere, like the large, stunning, periwinkle-colored hyacinth macaw, can be observed here in great numbers, often at close range. The vast area is open and there are fantastic vistas, so it is possible to spot wildlife from a distance.

If you travel to see wildlife, then move this trip to the top of your list. There is nowhere else in South America where you can easily observe as many large birds and mammals in one place.

 

 

Countdown to Earth Day: Revisiting our Roots

Robin Weber Pollak, Journeys International’s president and daughter of the founders, reflects on the company’s roots in Earth Day. 

I made this collage, which hangs on my office wall, to reflect our roots in Earth Day and our values as a company.

Forty-five years ago, strangers Will Weber and Joan Schwartz heard about Gaylord Nelson’s idea to build a “national teach-in on the environment,” focused around one day in April every year that would energize citizens to rally for a healthy, sustainable environment. Will, an undergrad student at University of Wisconsin and an avid environmentalist, stepped up and volunteered to help lead the efforts at Wisconsin. Joan, a visiting student from Mount Holyoke College, met Will at an activity fair on campus, and he made a compelling case for the importance of Earth Day, persuading her to get involved. For her, it was exciting to get involved with such a large-scale movement during her semester on a Big Ten campus.

Joan and Will worked together to help make that first Earth Day in 1970 a huge success. But not only did they play a big part in the start of an international movement; they also fell in love. They spent a few years apart, but when Will decided to join the Peace Corps in Nepal, Joan realized she wanted to share in the experience – and that she couldn’t stay away from him. She joined him in Kathmandu, where Will’s post involved helping to start the Nepali National Parks Department, and Joan got a job teaching English. In the summers, she ran a day camp for Nepali kids with field trips into the Himalayan foothills.

They got married. They returned to the United States for grad school at the University of Michigan. They had me and my brother, Noah. And they ached to return to Nepal. So, in 1978, they gathered a group of friends and planned a visit back to show them this amazing part of our planet.

This old photo is from an early Earth Day event, co-hosted with Journeys Nepal, that involved a reforestation project.

My parents didn’t set out to build a business like Journeys, but they did set out to do what they felt was their part in protecting our world’s natural and cultural resources. One trip led to another, one country led to another, and now, here we are.

Journeys continues to celebrate Earth Day every year, and our business model has been guided by the mantra ‘Every Day is Earth Day.’ For example, my parents were the first leaders in the industry to develop a Code of Ethics, which guides travelers as they explore the world.

We truly believe that clients who engage in adventure travel and companies who help them experience the world are in a unique situation to have an impact in our global community. Because we are involved with communities on a daily basis, we are able to experience firsthand the beauty and fragility of our world, and how a seemingly insignificant act on one side of the globe can affect people and places on the other side. It is our responsibility to practice Earth Day every day, in spirit, mind and business.

On April 22, Journeys will announce a new partnership with the Earth Day Network, as well as an Earth Day pledge for the coming year. Stay tuned!

Charging rhino in Tanzania

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Excitement in Tanzania! Thanks to our recently returned traveler for sharing this photo and story: Our final portion of the safari was Ngornogorno Crater, with its 25,000 plus animals living deep within the 2,000 foot walled caldera of an ancient volcano. It is like a miniature of the Serengeti. And there we finally saw black rhinos. Four adults and one baby. We even had one charge our vehicle, only to back off at the last moment when the Land Cruiser didn’t react to his aggression.

The elephant that sat on a car

Destination Specialist Kerina Rowley recently returned from a visit to Thailand, where she was immersed in two different programs aimed at helping elephants.

You might have heard about the elephant who, in January 2015, was all over the news for crushing a car in Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park. Authorities dismissed the incident, saying the elephant was acting out because it was mating season.

While in Thailand, I was fortunate to meet Soraida Salwala, the woman who started and runs Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE), an elephant hospital in Thailand. Soraida didn’t believe it was simply a ‘mating incident.’ She believed the elephants were being tormented by being on display day and night. After the January incident, she went to Khao Yai National Park administrators to demand that they end night safaris and close the park from 6pm to 6am to give the elephants some peace and quiet. She fought for six weeks, and finally, around the time of my visit, the authorities agreed.

It was a victory for Soraida, but she still has a long way to go to protect these majestic creatures. In 1993 Soraida founded FAE as the first elephant hospital in the world that cares for sick and injured elephants. Costs to run the hospital are very high—about $33,000 USD each month. Donations come in from all over Thailand, but it’s barely enough to cover the expenses so she is limited in how many elephants she can help.

During my trip, we also stayed at Chai Lai Orchid, which is a resort that works to serve the local community. In addition to programs aimed at helping women and families, and protecting the culture and environment, Chai Lai Orchard has a program specifically focused on elephants. While staying at Chai Lai Orchid, we were able to play with, care for and ride elephants.

One of Chai Lai Orchid’s goals is to purchase the elephant camp next to their Eco-Resort so they can create happier, healthier lives for the elephants and their mahouts (trainers).

It was fascinating to stay at the lodge on the Chai Lai property. The accommodations are basic, with a mosquito net over your bed. But what you won’t find anywhere else are the elephants… the lodges are surrounded by them! In fact, there was an elephant standing right in my cabin’s backyard. It was an awesome feeling to see these gentle giants roaming about.

On a Journeys trip to Thailand, you can visit one or both of these elephant sanctuaries, supporting their efforts through your trip. But even if you aren’t able to visit, you can still help by sending them donations. To learn more, visit them online:

You can also donate through the 501c3 charitable arm of Journeys International, the Earth Preservation Fund. On your donation be sure to indicate that it’s for support of one of the charities noted above.

Temples, mountains and baseball in South Korea

Britta and her brother, with their orange rally caps during the baseball game

In March 2015, Journeys International launched its first trip to South Korea. Here, traveler Britta Blodgett shares her experiences in this magnificent country.

South Korea hadn’t been on the top of my list, but because my brother was living in Busan it was the perfect excuse to venture halfway around the world.

View of Busan from the top of the hike

South Korea is a stunning country. It has an amazing array of city activities, excellent restaurants and jjimjilbangs (Korean spas), plenty of cultural activities such as museums and historic sites, and an abundance of outdoor activities and beaches.

My favorite part of the trip was hiking with my mother and brother. Busan offers dramatic views, with the city located directly between ocean beaches and the mountains. From my brother’s apartment, we were able to walk to a large park right on the edge of the city. The three of us hiked up a mountain for about four hours — the view of the city and the ocean below was lovely. On the way down we missed a few turns and inadvertently took a rather steep route. Our accidental shortcuts turned a four hour hike up into a one hour hike down.

At the Busan Giants game, with the mountains in the background.

Another highlight was going to a Busan Giants baseball game. With an energetic crowd, a view of the mountains from the stadium seats, and squid and octopus for snacks, it would have been hard not to get into the spirit of the game. We were also given rally caps — orange plastic bags to blow air into, twist shut, then hook a handle over each ear. In my book, looking goofy while singing songs and watching baseball is an afternoon well spent.

I was surprised by the large percentage of the people we met who spoke English, making it easier for us to navigate the country. Also, while hiking, we often encountered an impressive number of older people on the trails, which spoke to the country’s culture of physical activity and appreciation of natural resources.

For anyone planning a trip to South Korea, I would encourage visiting Busan for all the variety it offers. My one regret is not visiting Seoul; next time it will definitely be on the itinerary.

Britta is a nonprofit communications specialist living in Brooklyn, NY. Next on the agenda for Britta is a trip to Turkey to see hoodoos in Cappadocia.

(P.S. This month, Journeys announced its first ever trip to South Korea. Visit the website to learn more and see the full itinerary.