Monday, April 19, 2010

Do elephants whisper?

Have you heard an elephant whisper?

We all have "favorite" animals. Some of us love the Big Cats like lions and cheetahs and leopards. Some love giraffes because they are so graceful. But almost everyone loves elephants. What's not to love? Can you resist the adorableness of a baby elephant hiding beneath it's mom's immense underbelly? Elephants are amazing and the work done by researchers like Cynthia Moss has revealed so much more of these soulful animals. Elephants are highly social animals and experience emotions similar to humans. They do feel happiness and sadness. They mourn their dead and sense when one of their own is ill. They appoint a matriarch of the herd. They can communicate over long distances and remember other elephants they may not have seen for a long time.

But what about whispers? Well it's not really hearing an elephant whisper. It's an exciting visit with elephants that we can add to any of our South Africa programs that stay at Kings Camp, Leopard Hills, Perry's Bridge Hollow or Hippo Hollow. Depending on how much time you have, we can arrange for a short, one hour visit with elephants or a half day visit -- which would include a walk and perhaps even a bath (for the elephant, of course.) It's a fun, educational visit with several elephants that were rescued from a culling and rehabiuated to interact with humans.

Why not found out if elephants whisper? Ask us to add it to your next South Africa visit.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Look Like a Butterfly

Do you know what "to do a butterfly" means?

The last time I was in Costa Rica I wanted to try one of the canopy zip trails. So, while in Monteverde, I signed up for the zipline tour through the Cloud Forest. I have to admit after signing up the night before I had a tremendous amount of apprehension. They told me at the hotel that if they didn't get enough people to sign up the trip would be canceled. So I kept hoping that it might be canceled and I could at least say that I tried to do a canopy tour!

Well, no such luck. The following morning there was a small group going and they were all pretty gung ho, jock types and could not wait to get there. This is so unbelievably well organized when you get there, they explain all the safety features and put you in a harness like a window washer. You climb up some trees (there are pegs in the side of the tree) and also cross over some swinging rope bridges en route to a platform which is built high up around the tree. Keep in mind that it is also hilly so from one tree platform to another in the rain forest there is an incline which is what actually makes you go flying Tarzan style along the zip line from one tree top platform to another! Also, when you land there is another person waiting for you on that platform and helps you brake (hopefully not break!) as you are going quite fast, also there is something like a gym floor mat wrapped around the actual tree.

I was quite nervous and I guess the staff sensed this as they chose me to be the first person to go! In a way, it was the best thing as I didn't have time to think. It was exhilarating. Most people get to walk in a rain forest but to be up in the canopy seeing everything from this vantage point is really something. Monkeys, birds, etc.

Oh, back to the butterfly. Although I did see actual butterflies, "doing the butterfly" is something quite different. One of the staff members asked me "mariposa?" I didn't understand him until he explained that we go down the zip line together, with my legs wrapped around his waist, hanging upside down so that from the air, we look like a butterfly. Pretty cool, huh? I can't really believe iI did this, actually twice! The first time the person taking my photo jammed their camera. I thought if I am going to do this , at least let me get it on film. So I had to do it a second time. If the tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it..... the rain forest that is!

I can't wait to go back and do it again! (Fran Gellar - Area Sales Manager, Midwest)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cheetahs - Up Close & Personal

On one of our staff educational trips to South Africa I had one of the best experiences of my life. We were exploring South Africa's beautiful Cape Winelands area located about an hour or so outside Cape Town. We visited the university town of Stellenbosch - looks just like an English university town with all the charm you would expect. Then on to the Spier estate that includes a world class hotel and conference center for an exceptional wine tasting experience and tasty lunch. We selected the wines we would like with our excellent lunch and then after our feast walked over to their small wine store to purchase the vintages that excited our palate... so good! After walking throughout the beautiful Spier grounds I thought we were then going to head back to Cape Town for a little shopping and dinner on the V&A Waterfront.

Well, that would have to wait for a little bit because we were in for a big surprise...

The Spier's family donated land to the Cheetah Outreach Project - a small group of people that volunteer to hand raise baby cheetahs (how's that for a fun job!) to be "ambassadors". The staff shared their extensive knowledge with us and we had an opportunity to see some very young ones up close and personal.Then the surprise... the opportunity to pet one of the amazing cheetahs. Thinking it would be one of the babies... I said sure. Well, we were led over to a large run pen and there was a full grown very large (as compared to the babies) beautiful male cheetah. He was in a good mood (thank goodness) so we were advised to come into the enclosure slowly, get down on our haunches and pet him on his back... NOT the head or feet as we could lose a digit or two! His fur is not soft kitty cat like but rather more rough like a Brillo pad! As I was petting him he turned his head to look at me... yikes, what pretty yellow eyes you have kitty! We were only in the pen for a few minutes but what a thrill... just amazing! This was one of many fantastic experiences on this trip of a lifetime... (Jim Kivlehan, Vice President Sales & Marketing)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Petra - One of My Top 5 of All Time

Our tour specialist Cindi Zdance visited Jordan a couple of years ago and shares some of her thoughts:

Thanks to my career in travel, I've had the opportunity to visit many amazing destinations. I would have to put Petra in my Top 5 Greatest Visits.

Our full-day visit was amazing. The tour began with a short, but exhilarating horse ride to the beginning of the Siq. My horse boy felt the need to run with my horse rather than trot slowly (which he politely asked for my approval when I mounted the animal).

Standing at the mouth of the Siq, a seemingly hundred foot tall narrow valley of colorful rock which leads you to the entrance of this Lost City, you suddenly realize the importance of the site. Treasures are found in the rock along the way which offers insight on how the ancient Nabataeans lived, with a water channel which brought water into heart of Petra, to games which children played.

After the 30 minute walk or so through the Siq, you arrive at the Ancient Treasury which towers a few stories high. The monument was restored in the 1960s to strengthen and preserve it’s appearance.

We continued through the city passing remnants of a city from years ago, including more games carved in rock, temples and tombs. Up until the 1980s, many Bedouin families lived in these tombs, or caves, of Petra, but were moved to the houses built by the government at Umm Sayhoon. We were fortunate to meet Marguerite van Geldermalsen, author of the book "Married to a Bedouin". Ms. van Geldermalsen is still in Petra and sells jewellery handmade by local women and autographed copies of her book.

After a tasty lunch at a small restaurant located near the end of city, we burned off our meal with a hike up the 800+ natural stone "steps" to the Dier (or monastery). While it may sound daunting, I highly recommend pushing yourself to make the climb (donkeys are available to be hired as well). Not only is the Dier an impressive site, being the largest monument in Petra, but the awe-inspiring view of the valley below quickly makes you forget the climb. An amazing end to and unforgettable day (of course, there’s only one way in, therefore one way out of Petra, so you get to re-live the adventure as you follow your steps back toward the entrance - be sure to wear comfortable shoes) !

We spent the night at nearby Tybet Zaman Village, a very unique property, located just a few minute’s drive from the ancient site. Once an old Jordanian village, it was deserted by the living community during the 1960's. After much debate, the government decided to build a tourist hideaway to keep the community and culture intact for visitors to enjoy. The Village is now locally owned and managed. Maintaining an authentic feel, the bedouin-style rooms are each uniquely appointed and made of natural materials and stone. I loved the stay here and felt transported back to the late 19th century of rural Jordan, while still enjoying all the modern amenities of today.

Pictures just cannot do Petra justice! Hands down, I would say Petra will forever stay within my top 5 favorite sites in the world!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Amazing Galapagos

Our Tour Consultants enjoy traveling too. Senior Tour Consultant and Group Specialist Janet enjoys the Galapagos so much, she's been several times. Here are some of her thoughts.

Even before I experienced Africa, I visited the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador,
and have been happy to make repeat visits. The weather in the Galapagos Islands is pleasant any time of year and I have always been fond of smaller ships.

Over the years, the vessels have become more luxurious, like the 20-passenger "Coral I" and 36-passenger "Coral II" yachts. Some families still like the larger ships like the 100-passenger "Galapagos Legend," or the 90-passenger "M/V Santa Cruz." Other cruisers enjoy the 40-passenger "Isabella II".

No matter which style of sailing you enjoy, the adventure begins when - adorned with life jackets, we get to board the small zodiacs or pangas for the fun ride ashore to exotic places like Bartolome Island. All the island visits are great, spotting plentiful land iguana, or marine iguana, or walking among Blue footed boobies and watching the Frigate birds inflate their red chests!.
But most memorable to me was the visit to Bartolome, arriving at an ancient island evolved from black volcanic flow, looking like something from another planet. The black sand is untouched here - instead walking on a boardwalk above the sand, and upstairs all the way up the hill for a spectacular view of Pinnacle Rock. As there is almost no rain or wind here, a wayward footprint would still be there months and years later.

Next our zodiac took us to an official swimming beach and a chance for snorkeling, too. We were greeted by a Galapagos penguin who had swam over from another island for our visit. We were thrilled. As with any wildlife trip - no two trips are the same and you never know exactly what you will see. While swimming the sea lions joined us too. You know it can happen ... but when it does, it's absolutely amazing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Costa Rica - A Favorite Choice

After celebrating her 50th anniversary in travel, our Senior Tour Consultant, Alice has been just about everywhere. What places are among the top on her list? We asked her. "Costa Rica is one of my favorite places in the world. It’s beautiful and is the oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere. They don’t even have an army. They are “The Switzerland of Central America, said Alice.”

Besides the eco-friendly parks, lodges and populace, there are the volcanos! Arenal is probably the most famous as it spews red-hot lava into the air almost every night for a spectacular sight. But my favorite is Poas. It’s about a 2 hour or so drive from San Jose. It’s in a rainforest so it’s really wonderful to be standing in a cool drizzle, looking into the volcano and seeing the smoke rising. It’s actually possible to get close enough to the edge to look down into the crater. A truly wonderful place!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Guilt-Free Getaways

United Travel Group blasts the myth that an Africa vacation is only for the rich with our Guilt-Free Getaways, a collection of short getaways to East and Southern Africa that start as low as $1,695 per person, including airfare from New York (departure taxes and fuel surcharges are additional).

"We focus on making safaris affordable," says Jeannie Rodgers, company president. "By putting our buying power to work, we're able to design safaris that don't skimp on amenities but are extremely affordable. The collection features something for everyone: independent travelers can use our Cape Town Breakaway (starting at just $1,695 per person) as a quick relaxing break or the foundation of a longer, pan-African adventure. Honeymooners can venture to the idyllic Indian Ocean island of Mauritius and history buffs will enjoy our Glimpses of Egypt journey which includes a 3-night Nile River cruise. One of the most popular tours is our 9-Day Highlights of Kenya which features Mt. Kenya, Lake Nakuru and the Masai Mara -- starting at $2,595 per person. There are currently six Guilt-Free Getaways all starting at less than $3,000 per person, including airfare from New York (add-ons are available from other cities). You can find full details on our website at"

United Travel Group's experienced Tour Consultants work with travelers from start to finish, creating a personalized vacation within their budget. UTG's flexibility not only gives travelers the option to mix and match different hotels to splurge in some places and "conserve" in others, but in most cases, tours can be designed to depart on almost any day of the week. And because United Travel Group arranges tours throughout East Africa and Southern Africa, travelers can arrange a full pan-African experience with just one phone call.

Guilt-Free Getaways give back to the community as well. For each passenger who takes a Guilt-Free Getaway, UTG makes a donation to one of several wildlife conservation efforts.

"Our Guilt-Free Getaways are extremely popular. With the built-in flexibility, many travelers extend the tours to other destinations or substitute a favorite lodge. Guilt-Free Getaways allow travelers to indulge in the ultimate vacation - and not break the bank," said Rodgers.