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Friday, December 10, 2010

New Audubon Field Guide Apps

I first met David Bradbury a decade ago when he was playing a version of polo on mountain bikes in Burlington, Vermont. When I later had to write a story for The Boston Globe on hiking Vermont’s tallest peak, Mount Mansfield, I wisely chose David to take me to the summit. Of course, he chose the most challenging route, up the Hell Brook Trail. When he’s not hanging with his wife, Emily, my favorite PR maven in Vermont, or his young children, you can often find him making first tracks down Stowe in the early morning hours. So when I heard that David is on the board of a Vermont company called Green Mountain Digital, creating nature-based apps for Audubon Field Guides, I knew the product had to be good. So far, they have 30 apps categorized by geographic region (Texas, Florida, New England, etc…) and type of critter (birds, insects, butterflies, fish).  I checked out the Audubon Birds New England app and found the photographs and songs of the 370 birds to be of the highest quality. Just launched is the ORVIS Fly-Fishing Guide, with casting tips and detailed knot tying videos. The apps can be viewed on any iPhone, Google Droid, iPod Touch, or iPad. Makes for a nice Christmas gift.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/10/10 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Amman Imman: Water is Life

Today, I’m pleased to introduce my first guest blogger on ActiveTravels, my brother Jim Jermanok. I hope it will be the first of many guest writers!

Five years ago, following graduation from Yale, Ariane Kirtley went to West Africa as a Fulbright Scholar. Her career seemed assured. Almost overnight her life changed. Friends encouraged her to visit the Florida-sized Azawak Valley, the most abandoned region of Niger, the poorest country on Earth. In the Azawak, half the children die before reaching five years old, often of thirst. Ariane thought she’d seen everything in Africa, but she was so devastated by the conditions she found that she decided to dedicate her life to the people of the Azawak, and bring them water from unlimited supplies 600-1000 feet underground, much too deep for conventional wells to reach.
 
Since 2006, Ariane has worked against harrowing odds to save lives in the Azawak, among some of the most defenseless minorities in Africa – a half million Tuareg and Wodaabe nomads who have no water most of the year due to unremitting drought. Ariane set aside career goals and founded her own organization, Amman Imman: Water Is Life, to build permanent borehole wells for these nomads. Working far from civilization in suffocating Saharan heat, facing persistent health risks, Ariane and her team do major infrastructure work normally carried out by governments. In early 2010, persevering under the threat of Al-Qaida terrorists, she finished building her second borehole, the Kijigari “Well of Love.” This follows completion of Tangarwashane borehole in 2007-08. Each borehole serves 25,000 people and animals. 
 
Ariane’s dream is to build fifty such “Oases of Life” to eliminate water scarcity for the half million forsaken people of the Azawak. During this Holiday Season, please think about helping this brave woman save the lives of children and nomads who are on the brink, by donating generously to her 501c3 organization, Amman Imman: Water Is Life
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/09/10 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Cruising the Marquesas Aboard the Aranui

When people find out that I’m a travel writer, they inevitably ask, “What’s your favorite trip?” It’s silly to distill the past two decades of work down to one locale so I try to evade the question. If they’re persistent, I’ll usually mention the Marquesas. In 1994, I took a 16-day cruise with my wife that ventured 750 miles north from Tahiti to the archipelago most distant from any continent. The only way to visit all six of the inhabited Marquesa islands was aboard the Aranui, an upscale freighter that offers air-conditioned cabins and three French meals daily. The ship’s main function, however, is to transport goods to the local residents. She comes bearing bricks and cement, pipes and tractors, fishing nets, medicines, and food, all the necessities for an isolated existence; and returns to Tahiti with copra, dried coconut meat that is processed into oil, soap, and cosmetics. 

Since there are very few adequate docks in the Marquesas, travelers go ashore in wooden whaleboats to meet the locals. Burly crew members guide passengers on and off these boats quicker than they can toss a sack of rice to each other. Obviously, this is no normal luxury cruise ship. There is no shuffleboard, no stage where entertainment continually bombards you throughout the day, and no dress code for meals.

In its place, you’ll visit the island Nuka Hiva, where a 22-year old sailor named Herman Melville jumped ship and wrote about his experience with cannibals in his first book, Typee. Paul Gauguin’s gravesite rests on the neighboring island of Hiva Oa. Sitting under a plumeria tree on a hillside over the bay, the stone is simply inscribed, “Paul Gauguin, 1903.” A three-hour cruise from Hiva Oa brought us to the verdant island of Fatu Hiva.  Here, you can take a ten mile hike into the stunning Bay of Virgins, the most majestic site of the voyage. Towering, storm-worn basalt rises from the ocean’s depth, forming a v-shaped buttress that’s illuminated by the sun’s yellow-green rays. In the distance, serrated ridges, cloud-piercing peaks and impassable gorges stand as a monument to the centuries of volcanic fires that formed this fantastic landscape. That sight is hard to forget.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/08/10 at 02:00 PM
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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Have Skype, Will Travel

This past month, I was home only three days, traveling to Kenya, Mexico, and Chicago. That’s a long time to be away from my family. My antidote for homesickness is a video call on Skype, where I can see and talk to my wife and children. The clarity of the call is exceptional, far superior to any international cell phone I’ve ever used. All you have to do is sign up at Skype, pay a nominal fee (it averages about 10 cents for a 10-minute call), and start adding all the significant people in your life as contacts. For travel writers and all other businesspeople who find themselves on the road a good chunk of the year, it’s the most essential tool to connect with your loved ones.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/07/10 at 02:00 PM
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Monday, December 06, 2010

Mexican Travel is Safe and on the Rise

The time between America’s Thanksgiving and Christmas is usually slow season for many resorts and travel destinations. For warm-weather locales, the big surge happens from late December through early April. So I was surprised to find that many of the resorts I was visiting on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula were filled to capacity with a mix of Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and South Americans. Destination Weddings are still the big trend in travel, with daily nuptials being held as many as three times a day at some of the resorts I stayed at. American media loves to focus on crime in Mexico, but I found the Yucatan to be incredibly safe. The United Nations Climate Control Conference was being in held in Cancun while I was there, with many heads of state including the Mexican president, staying next door to me. So Federal Police were everywhere. Yet, even away from Cancun, making my south to Tulum, I never felt unsafe. That is, until I made my way to the swim-up bar at Iberostar Paraiso Maya and was surrounded by a group of drunken Saskatchewanians. That’s always dangerous.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/06/10 at 02:00 PM
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tulum, Mexico, No Longer a Sleepy Seaside Town

The southernmost town on the 80-mile strip of sand referred to as the Riviera Maya, Tulum has always been a perfect getaway from Cancun to see the Mayan ruins. Only well-traveled European backpackers would consider spending the night in one of the bungalows on the beach. Lately, however, a small sampling of all-inclusive resorts have opened in this sleepy seaside town. It's ideally suited for young American families on their first international trip. Children learn about the historical significance of the Mayans by touring the impressive ruins. Then they can snorkel at Xel-Ha and go for a dip in one of the natural swimming holes called cenotes. Plus, those same white pearly sands that cater to the Spring Break crowd in Cancun can be found on Riviera Maya in a more serene setting that families find attractive.

I’ll be headed to the Yucatan all next week and most likely won’t have the time to blog. I know I’ve been traveling quite a bit this past month and missed many a blog, but stay with me. I have great travel advice, film footage, and photos from Kenya that I’ll be sharing upon my return on December 6th.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Make sure to work off that turkey by doing something active.  And, as always, thanks for checking in!

 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/24/10 at 02:00 PM
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It’s The People Who Make Africa So Special

Everyone seems to go to Africa on safari. And yes, after spending the past week finding lions poking their manes out of the bush, watching a leopard gnawing on a goat high up a tree, and seeing family after family of giraffes, elephants, and warthogs, I can attest to that exhilarating feeling of wild abandonment. But as cute as those animals are, you have very little connection. It’s the people who make Africa a special place, especially in Kenya. From the high-end safari owner who feels it’s her civic duty to provide a water well, schooling, library, and HIV prevention education to a large slum in Nairobi even though she already employs many Kenyans on her payroll. Or the Maasai villager on the Tanzanian border, who after performing a tribal dance in headgear and dress, asks me if I’m on Facebook. He’ll happily send me pictures of the lions, he notes. Or the insightful safari guide, who received his college education in the States after a California professor visited Kenya and was quickly enamored with his brilliance. I turned him on to the African dance tunes of Deep Forest. Or the General Manager of a resort in the shadows of Mount Kenya, who being from India, taught me a secret of dealing with travel dysentery. Always eat yoghurt the first day of visiting a country, especially in places like India or Mexico, known for their laundry list of stomach ailments. Most of all, there are those smiling faces of young children in Nairobi schools and the Maasai villages. The ones I love to pass out “heart” stickers to. These people are the reason I return to Africa. Sure, I love Simba and Pumba like the rest of us, but it’s to the Kenyan people that I say asante sana for a wonderful trip. Hope to see you again soon!


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/23/10 at 01:59 PM
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Monday, November 22, 2010

London’s Savoy is Finally Open Again

On the way back from Nairobi, I had a 12-hour overnight in London, just enough time to check out The Savoy. The grande dame reopened on 10/10/10 after a 3-year renovation, with Prince Charles on hand to do the ribbon cutting. Now under the helm of the Fairmont, they enhanced the Edwardian and Art Deco design so all that polished silver and lacquered onyx shines again. We had a casual dinner of tuna sandwiches in the Thames Foyer next to a large winter garden gazebo under a glass cupola. Across the room, a woman was belting out “All That Jazz” from the stage of the Beaufort Bar, the same spot where Gershwin first played “Rhapsody in Blue.” That night in the American Bar, the classic cocktail lounge that came to fame in the 30s, Jerry Hall was supposedly in the house near a photograph of a younger Jerry Hall shot by photographer Terry O’Neil. Conveniently located on the Strand in the heart of the Theater District, the Savoy is hopping once again, so stop by for dinner, drinks, or afternoon tea and you’ll probably be staying the night like Richard Harris often did. In fact, there’s now a suite named after him.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/22/10 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Maasai Open Their Own Resort

The Maasai are best known for their mud huts. So it might come as a surprise that these tall warriors of southern Kenya have recently entered the hotel business. They have formed a joint partnership with a private safari company, Nairobi-based Art of Adventures, to open Shompole Game Reserve. Shompole is nestled on 35,000 acres of conservation land near the Nguruman Escarpment in southeastern Kenya. The resort only has six mega-sized guest rooms, which comes with private plunge pool and a sprawling lounge area. The main activity at Shompole is game drives, where guests travel through the bush in open-air Land Rovers accompanied by a Maasai tracker. The more adventurous can also go on game walks, sunset trips to Lake Natron to see the flamingos, or evening picnics in the bush.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/18/10 at 02:00 PM
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Friday, November 12, 2010

Mount Kenya Safari Club

If you wander into the bar at the Mount Kenya Safari Club, you will not see Ernest Hemingway telling tall tales from a day of big-game hunting. Nor will you have to fight pet leopards for a seat at the bar. But in the club’s heyday in the 1960s, these things were commonplace. Hollywood heartthrob William Holden (Bridge Over The River Kwai, Network) and his partners, oil billionaire Ray Ryan and Swiss financier Carl Hirschmann, ran the place as the most elite private members’ club in the world. Membership was by invitation only and included Bing Crosby, David Lean, Charlie Chaplin, Steve McQueen, Conrad Hilton, Winston Churchill and the Maharaja of Jaipur. Holden, who fell in love with Kenya on hunting safaris in the 50s was known for his practical joking in the bar, such as snakes hidden in the bottom of a peanut tin. Yet there is more to this sybaritic retreat in northern Kenya than Hollywood magic dust left behind from years of raucous carousing. It is the sheer beauty of this stretch of land that sits at the base of Africa’s second-highest mountain, 17,057-foot Mount Kenya. Manicured lawns sweep down to a pool, past flower-filled ponds and then on to the slopes, where they climb for miles to the snow-dusted peak, known locally as Kirinyaga. The club is built directly on the equator, its line cutting straight through the main bar, following the curve of the national park before running into the seventh hole of the club’s small nine-hole golf course.

There will be no blogs the week of November 15th since I’ll still be in Africa. I’ll be back on November 22nd. Have a great week, filled with adventure!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/12/10 at 02:00 PM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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