This is where the journey truly begins 😊 I was dropped off at YYC airport with time to spare. I found a cozy little spot to watch the planes fly in with a beautiful mountain backdrop. Here is where I reflect and fathom where in the world I was actually headed…… 14 years ago I almost jumped on a ship to Antarctica, now the dream is really coming alive, the emotions are high and feelings of excitement all over my body!
They are a group of 41 women, belonging to a cooperative called Tontolo Maitso in a small, Madagascar community in Ankarafantsika National Park, in the NW of the country. The group of women have been hard at work, cultivating the seedlings. Every day, members of the group tend to the plants. They water them, and check to ensure there is sufficient light, and enough space to grow. The seedlings look green and lush now—healthy—and it’s no wonder: the women in the cooperative are experts, having worked on this project for the past year. Soon, the women know, these plants will be ready for transport.
This is not your ordinary gardening project. These seedlings consist of trees, many that are native to Madagascar, which will provide habitat to the unique wildlife in the country, the endangered lemurs and birds only found in Madagascar and nowhere else on Earth. The women are working as part of a forest regeneration project run by Planet Madagascar, a Canadian non-profit organization. Thanks to generous support from Civilized Adventures, Planet Madagascar and the women’s cooperative have grown 10,000 new seedlings this past year. Once transported and replanted, 6,000 of the trees will become part of a self-sustaining 75-hectare corridor of forest.
The corridor connects two forest fragments where lemurs and other endangered species are known to range. By connecting the fragments, the amount of habitat that is available for the wildlife to range will increase.
Madagascar is a global conservation priority because it has lost a great deal of forest cover—approximately 44% between 1953 and 2014—and, as a result, the wildlife that relies on these forests are highly endangered. Researchers estimate that 95% of lemurs are threatened with extinction, making them the most endangered group of animals on the planet. It is crucial to address habitat loss and fragmentation. But the problem is complex. People in Madagascar are some of the poorest in the world, living on less than two dollars a day in many places. Habitat loss in the country is related to small-scale farming, charcoal production, and cattle grazing. It is therefore critical to consider the needs of the people and ensure that local members of the community feel ownership over the project. That’s why when Civilized Adventures donated the 10,000 trees, they made sure that while 6,000 seedlings would be planted in the corridor, the remaining 4,000 trees would be planted around the community to the benefit of the people.
“This is a long-term project, but we are making exciting progress toward our goal,” says Travis Steffens, Executive Director of Planet Madagascar. “The 10,000 trees donated by Civilized Adventures will make a huge impact, not just for the lemurs but also for the people living in this region.”
While in Colombia Connor enjoyed a coffee tour which he says “was amazing! It’s located on Los Santos which is a table top in Colombia. It is based around a 130 year old “home” that has 6 rooms to sleep with a very colonial feel.
We continued on a plantation tour where they grow the top 10 coffee in the world, across 320 acres, all organic and pesticide free. It was really interesting to see shade coffee, which is grown under the cover of shade, and the bird life was quite extraordinary, with dozens of species coming up to eat right beside you as you travel through the plantation.
A few other highlights so far have been the “Chicamocha canyon” which is currently being looked at by UNESCO. With a maximum depth of 2,000 metres, an area of 108,000 hectares and a length of 227 kilometres it is the second deepest canyon in the world. We also went mountain biking and white water rafting through the canyon, which was fantastic!
Besides that the guides have been absolutely spectacular and the food, amazing”!
Well we made it to Machu Picchu…what an experience this has been!
After hiking the last few hours to the town of Ollantaytambo, we stayed the night and then took the train the next morning from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes – the end of the line. Once there, we found a bustling little town built along the railroad with seemingly 1 purpose – to get people up to the ruins of M.P.
We were fortunate enough to spend the day and evening at the beautiful Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, one of the Unique Lodges of the World properties in the Andean cloud forest. With 12 acres of natural beauty – hummingbirds, the iconic Andean cock-of-the-rock, orchids, and a tea plantation, we were in awe!
The next day we lined up with all the other tourists, climbed aboard a bus and made our way up to the site. It’s a busy spot with all the adventure seekers ready to make their pilgrimage through the ruins and to get their iconic photos of this incredible masterpiece. Believe me…it does not disappoint!
Our mountain lodges of Peru day 3 took us to a village visit and ceremony for the good health and blessing of the community’s sheep flock. We were able to hike up to an archaeological site of Pumamarka – a pre-Inca defensive Fort up on the mountain top with a picnic lunch overlooking the valley. After lunch it was time for our beautiful hike to Ollantaytambo- seeing the “half-moon “ terraces up the hillside and many stone granaries up high in the mountains to keep their grain and supplies cool.
We stopped at Ancasmarca and hiked up to the old Inca granaries and met some ladies who were selling Alpaca scarfs so I bought one! Drove through the Lares pass up to 14,500 ft and made it to the small village of Choquecancha. We walked part way up the hillside to a cute spot where we stopped for a delicious lunch! Our favourite dish was a stuffed pepper (stuffed with Quinoa/spices and served with a light crunchy topping – delicious!)
We then continued up the hill to some ruins for a lookout of the town square (found in the photo by the cross)
We finished the day at the stunning Huacahuasi lodge where I tried out their lovely yoga room followed by delicious dinner and a private jacuzzi! Mountain Lodges of Peru runs a smooth operation!
Kathy is at the spectacular Explora Valle Sagrado – a beautiful and classic property set amongst the corn fields and fertile lands of the Sacred Valley, Peru.
“We spent the morning on a brisk bike ride around the area and along the Urubamba River that brings water from the glaciers down through the Inca aqueducts (still in use), to the farm lands. In the afternoon we hiked to a nearby village and learned more about the flora and fauna in the area. This was followed up by a trip to the very unique and lovely spa that was carefully built among some ancient ruins.
Explora is spoiling us with 5 star food and service and the rooms have wonderful huge picture windows looking into the valley and the majestic Andes mountain range”.
After spending time on the river boat seeing the many hippos and crocs, we were ready to canoe down the Zambezi. The lead up is nerve-wracking as the intensive safety briefing goes over the things that can go very wrong. Hippo flipping a canoe, crocs getting you, hitting a hidden tree stump…Anyways lots of things to get your adrenaline up.
Once we got in the canoes though I felt fairly relieved as our guide leading the trip had canoed the river over 2500 times over the past 20 years. We would not encounter any hippos but we knew they were around. After 6km of paddling, we would stop to watch the stunning sunset while sipping on a cold gin and tonic with a hippo family nearby. A very enjoyable experience.
Today we headed inland where we had the opportunity to experience a different area. Located away from the river looking on a spring, the camp is small and intimate with only 3 rooms. The beds are on the roof, only covered by a net, making for a very unique stay and a very neat experience as you look up at the stars while falling asleep, listening to the hyenas calling.
Meals at the camp were cooked over the bush fire, including margarita pizza which was fantastic! The eggs benedict was a treat as well.
Walking the Sapi River we stopped to play sausage throw, which you win by getting the sausage from the sausage tree closest to the target. Several rounds later, it came down to Alex and I in the championship playoffs.
After a quick 15min flight I would land in a place called Chikwenya…a legendary safari area that has been revitalized after a 15-year hiatus. The area is known for its exceptional wildlife thanks to a natural floodplain and its location on the river. On a private concession, the area is exclusive to the camp giving you your own private safari.
After some time at Chikwenya, I would meet 5 other agents from around the world to experience the newly opened Great Plains camps Sapi Explores and Sapi Springs Camps. Our guide for the trip was Humphrey Gumbo… a legend in the Zimbabwe guiding industry as he is one of the youngest to get his guiding licence and is known as one of the top guides in Zimbabwe.
The journey would start with a history lesson on the area including some of the Baobab trees (my favorite) which are estimated to be over 1500 years old. Some say the gods planted the tree upside down as the branches look like a bunch of roots. One of the trees we saw had pots said to hold the remains of Chief Chikweyna (who was a lady). After passing by the baobabs, we headed for the river where we enjoyed a cold gin and tonic taking in the classic African sunset. We drove back to camp using a spotlight to try and spot animals. The light gives a reflection (similar to red eye in photos) of the animal’s eyes. We would see a small serval cat and an unidentified snake slither across the road. On arrival to camp, it was magical with oil lamps lighting up the paths and the staff singing a welcome song. The sky was stunning with millions of stars and the only thing lighting up the camp was lanterns. For dinner, the chef was preparing a beautiful meal using only traditional cooking methods – fire! We would have full chickens cooked in the ground. A fine meal paired with fine South African wines followed by a delicious desert.