Words of Wisdom

Kalia Avery - A Holiday Invitation to the Hawaiian Islands

A luau is the traditional way to spend any holiday in Hawaii. It's a time when friends and families gather together and share in the abundance of the islands. Fresh fish, wild boar, sweet potatoes, and stuffed taro leaves roast underground in a smoldering bed of coals and hot lava rocks–an oven known as an imu. The aroma of tropical delicacies along with the sweet sounds of the ukulele and the slack key guitar fill the air late into the evenings. And the most precious gifts exchanged are handmade flower leis given with the intention of sharing the true Aloha spirit.

The ocean in Hawaii is an amazing kaleidoscope of colorful tropical fish and coral. During the winter months, we are fortunate to also share the water with humpback whales–a splendid time to sit and watch the sea! The whales are very active at this time of year: bearing offspring, competing for mates, playing, singing, and basking in the Hawaiian sun. The dolphins also seem to get in on the action, often swimming with the whales. This makes winter a truly enchanting time to snorkel or kayak in the islands.

As the New Year rolls around, a favorite way to celebrate in Hawaii is with firework displays. And what better fireworks than the natural ones created by Madame Pele herself? Kilauea is the most active volcano in the world. Sitting out under a star-filled sky and watching her weave her magic as she creates the newest land on Earth is an awe-inspiring experience.

Hawaii holds claim to some of the most perfect weather, with 75 to 85 degrees year round. When it rains, rainbows fill the sky and the temperature is still warm. The air is deliciously filled with the fragrance of flowers and cool clean ocean breezes, while sunsets often emit an illusive green flash as they retreat into the sea. Hawaii is the perfect place to spend the holidays–why go anywhere else?

I hope you'll join me for a taste of Hawaii Nei (my Hawaii) this holiday season.

Aloha nui loa
Kalia Avery

Kalia Avery is a Trip Leader on the following MTS adventures:
Adventures in Hawaii
Molokai & Maui Adventure

Sergio "TC" Bahamóndez Montenegro - Enigmatic Patagonia

An ephemeral Patagonian wind can have such force that it is capable of uprooting a tree in one moment, only to suddenly fall silent just in time to allow one to hear the song of a passing Chilean flicker. Sitting on such a fallen tree today, my childhood memories come flooding back as I survey the immensity of the Patagonian Steppe and the grandeur of my own backyard here in the indomitable Tierra del Fuego--located at the end of the world, or depending on one's perspective, at its very beginning!

It is hard to imagine any place more pristine and unspoiled, and even harder to believe that today I have the great privilege to guide like-minded people on their experiences to this spectacular landscape, one of the world's most pristine wilderness areas created over millennia by a great sea of ice retreating toward the mythical, granite castles known as the Patagonian Andes. In this retreat of magnificent sub-Antarctic forests, rivers, and lakes of intense blues and turquoises, an array of diversely shaped clouds swiftly traverse the skies. It is in this setting that two of the most beautiful parks in the world (due to their configurations and amazing geography) are found: Torres del Paine in Chile and Los Glaciares in the Republic of Argentina, and it is in these parks that Mountain Travel Sobek has been pioneering trips since the very beginnings.

Perito Moreno glacier, an impressive mass of ice descending from the Patagonian mountains into the largest lake in Argentina, always astonishes travelers with its grandeur. Intrepid visitors can observe the calving ice from lookout balconies positioned close to the face of the glacier. The cracking ice produces an indescribable sound and an incredible spectacle as it plunges into the water. And of course it is impossible not to marvel at the mountains of Chaltén and Paine--Cerro Fitzroy, Cerro Torre, the Cuernos, and the notable Torres del Paine (imposing, granite pillars rising up from the pampa to 3000 meters, creating what must be a similar effect to that of looking upon Everest from its base camp). But fortunately in Patagonia, one never needs to climb above about 4,000ft to enjoy these incredible views, so you can confidently plan your travels to the region without fear of altitude sickness.

I have observed the expression of happiness on the faces of group members when contemplating these wonders of nature and have seen how these same faces can change to sheer amazement after experiencing the four seasons of a year in just one Patagonian day. On a trip to these legendary lands in the southernmost latitudes, it is not difficult to predict that one will have a unique experience--no matter what conditions you encounter!

I'm sure it must have been a similarly exceptional experience for the Portuguese seafarer, Ferdinand Magellan, when he first circumnavigated the planet and linked the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean via the straight now named in his honor. A writer on board the Magellan voyage at that time described the Patagonian Indians who lived on these remote shores as mythical giants whose fires could be observed from the deck of the ship. In fact, it was these fires that ultimately gave rise to the name of the island of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). Darwin for his part made a detailed register of the flora and birdlife that co-exist harmoniously in the variety of ecosystems in this region, from flamingos and Andean condors to guanacos (wild llamas) and mountain lions. The diverse geography of the region includes the Patagonian desert, fjords with the highest precipitation in the world, capriciously shaped lakes, and stunning glaciers descending from the Southern Andes, which stretch from the north right down to Cape Horn where they disappear. (Cape Horn itself has recently been declared by UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve).

How can I not feel a fierce attachment to these lands that have, in such a short period of human history, sustained the attention of great world explorers such as Sir Ernest Shackleton, Nathaniel Parker, Robert Scott, and Roald Amundsen, as they attempted their conquest of the frozen continent below, as well as the legendary climbers Chris Bonington and Cesare Maestri, as they undertook ascents of Patagonia's compelling peaks? How can I not feel partiality for my land when reading the travel journals of these giants of world history, in which their expeditions are so tied to these far off lands? Their discoveries made it possible for these same destinations to become accessible for any mere mortal to experience. And today, anyone wishing to disconnect from the maelstrom of the big city can now come to enjoy one of the most attractive and magnetic panoramas on our planet earth.

Thus, I invite you to join the select and privileged group of human beings who have chosen Patagonia as their travel destination. It would be my pleasure to escort you and to share my passion, pride, knowledge, and experiences with you during your time in my homeland.

Sergio "TC" Bahamóndez Montenegro
Patagonia Trip Leader & Coordinator,
Exploring Patagonia

Danilo Bonilla, MTS Director - UPDATE: Recent Changes in the Galapagos Islands

Dear Friends,
The Galapagos Islands have enchanted the MTS family from the very start. But when Mountain Travel co-founder Allen Steck led the first small boat cruise to the Galapagos 37 years ago, things were quite different in the islands than they are today. There were only a small number of people living on the islands, let alone just visiting, and you could basically go anywhere without much restriction. Back then people in the Galapagos understood very little about the deep impact humans might have on the islands themselves, or on the unique wildlife that call them home. But within just a few short years, it became very clear that special protection was going to be needed if the islands were to be preserved for future generations.

In 1978, Galapagos was honored as one of the first sites to be inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. In 2001, the site was further expanded to include the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Unfortunately, adverse environmental impacts in the Galapagos are still on the increase and the islands continue to be at risk today. This past June the islands were added to the list of World Heritage sites in danger (31 of the 851 World Heritage sites are currently on this list, indicating major operations are necessary and assistance has been requested through the World Heritage Convention). In our commitment to the preservation of these magical islands, we want to be sure that all MTS travelers and friends are aware of what's going on in the Galapagos.

So what else has been happening in the Galapagos lately? Lots!

In April, Ecuador's President, Rafael Correa, signed an emergency decree stating that Galapagos is in crisis and that he would consider temporarily suspending tourism permits and enforcing rigorous population restrictions to prevent further environmental harm. (Currently there are approximately 100,000 annual visitors to the Galapagos and 30,000 inhabitants in the islands.) This pronouncement came at the time a high level delegation from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee visited Ecuador, and the result was that the islands were added to the list of World Heritage in Danger this past June with the intention of bringing about increased national and international cooperation to help eliminate the threats.

In August, President Correa nominated Eliecer Cruz as Governor of Galapagos. Cruz is a biologist specializing in the management of protected areas and has been a member of the General Assembly of Charles Darwin Foundation since November of 2003, as well as Director of Galapagos National Park Service and the principal representative of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Ecuador and Galapagos. Cruz has been charged to make all necessary efforts to rescue the archipelago from its current situation, and has promised to work ceaselessly for the conservation of Galapagos with results expected within the next two years.

Other, more tangible and immediate conservation efforts are also taking place. In July, most dive operations in the islands were suspended until further notice as part of a crackdown by the Galapagos National Park Service on companies they did not deem properly sanctioned or legitimatized. And just this September, all commercial flights landing in the Galapagos are being fumigated to prevent invasive species entering the islands, specifically the West Nile virus, which could affect the bird population. In short, changes are taking place quickly in the Galapagos. As advocates and protectors of this special place, we will make every effort to keep you apprised of what's going on and do our utmost to ensure that these wild, lovely, and utterly magical islands are preserved for all to enjoy in the future. And as always, we will continue to work hard to provide our travelers with the best and most rewarding experiences possible in the Islands, while also taking every precaution to ensure we run our trips within the regulations decreed by the Galapagos National Park Service and guidelines recommended by WildAid, the Galapagos Conservancy, and other conservation organizations. It's a challenge, but we are committed to protecting the Galapagos in every way we can.

Danilo Bonilla
MTS Program Director in Galapagos

Kate Boor - The Last Frontier

Remember the book Shogun? In the spring of 1980 I was reading that book as I took the Alaska Ferry up to Haines for the first time ever. I'll never forget reading the description of the landscape of Japan and looking up and there it was: the fog, the jagged peaks and rocky cliffs, the feeling of mystery...where the heck was I? I was on the adventure of my life! I lived in a one-room cabin with no electricity or running water, and a lot of people still live that way in many small towns in Alaska.

Not much has changed in the tiny town of Haines, Alaska, since I first came. We still have a population of 1,800, you can still have a cup of coffee with the mayor, or joke around with our "ambassador" Ray (who in any other town would be considered crazy!). You can volunteer at the local radio station or the library, and every day there is a fundraiser of some sort to keep our town afloat.

The feeling of mystery still survives in Alaska. Even the word conjures up visions of bears, mountains, ocean mists, adventure! The people who come to Alaska are seeking something completely different than anything they have experienced on other trips and travels, and I don't think anyone goes away disappointed. Whether it's the scenery, the wildlife, or the people, Alaska is a truly unique experience.

Sometime during your trip to Alaska you'll be involved in at least one or two conversations about politics and the changes that are happening. And believe me things are happening FAST! The oil drilling up north is changing the Native lifestyle forever as well as the animal population. Salmon are disappearing from our ocean. The cruise ship industry is a welcome commodity over logging but still has an impact on small towns. These conversations are good because it makes everyone realize Alaska is truly the "Last Frontier" not just here in the US but in the world, and could be easily overdeveloped just like everywhere else if we're not careful and aware. So as people travel in Alaska and experience the wilderness, the people, the stories, they will cherish and value their experience even more and work to keep Alaska our true wilderness for future generations.

I hope you'll come experience the wonders of this great state with us yourself very soon!

Kate Boor,
Alaska Discovery Trip Leader
Alaska Discovery Adventures in 2007

Manda Chisanga - At Home in the Wilds of Zambia

As a native of Zambia, I grew up loving nature. I was brought up by my grandfather, a construction worker whose employment took us through nearly all the provinces of the country, even to the most remote areas. It was during our travels together that I first developed an intense love and respect for the natural world, and for the great natural diversity of my country. In the years since, my interest in the Zambian bush has only grown, motivating me to study the people, plants, wildlife, history, and traditions of the region, and ultimately inspiring me to pursue a career in guiding so that I might share my knowledge and passion with people from around the world.

Today my home base is in Zambia's South Luangwa Valley, dubbed by many as one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world. Home to an extraordinarily high concentration of game around the Luangwa River and its oxbow lagoons, South Luangwa National Park is known for its rugged beauty, wide diversity of animal, bird and plant species (including several unusual endemic species!), and the intimate wildlife encounters experienced by visitors. It is also renowned as one of the best places in the world to see leopard (a cat I have often had the pleasure of sighting during my years as a guide here!). And it was here that Norman Carr pioneered walking safaris back in the 1950s, a tradition that continues to distinguish Zambia from other safari destinations.

Zambia today remains largely unspoiled as a safari destination and is now home to many exciting wildlife adventure opportunities not found elsewhere in the region. From our world-famous walking safaris and night drives to small, intimate camps where you can lose yourself in the bush without seeing another vehicle for days, we have it all! And as a safari guide here in South Luangwa for the last nine years, I am very proud to be following in Norman Carr's footsteps. Leading trips allows me to take visitors back in time, to give them a taste of an "old time" safari, a unique wildlife experience that is very different from the more common vehicle safaris known throughout Africa.

The experience of walking in the Zambian bush is like no other. On game drives, your role is passive. You observe the scene without having to actually participate in it. But on a walk, you suddenly become a part of the story itself! Out on foot, you see, feel, smell, touch, and understand the bush on an entirely different level, experiencing your environment more vividly, and encountering wildlife more directly. Walking takes you away from the noise and smells of vehicles so that you have a completely different level of awareness of your surroundings; it allows you to access places and details within the bush that you would otherwise miss entirely. And just as a wild animal must rely on its senses for survival, so must you if you hope to walk safely among them.

While walking, your senses are heightened, you become much more alert, and you are far more in tune with the magnificent ever-changing scenery around you and the many details and layers within it. The precise and detailed interpretation of the environment becomes crucial: you'll see the signs of animals feeding, footprints in the dirt, dung along your path, disturbances in the trees and bushes, insects, grasses or seeds that have been browsed, and other signs of creatures that have passed before you. All these details tell a story, and together with your guide you will read the tale they tell and become a part of it. And inevitably at the end of each day you will recount the adrenaline-filled hours of your day's walk while kicking back to enjoy the exceptional comforts, delicious food, and warm hospitality at camp.

While each trip is quite different (and I can never predict what wildlife we will see on foot or by vehicle), I can assure you that the remarkable beauty of our park and the intensity of the walking safari experience will teach you a respect for the wild far greater than anything you can imagine. I hope you'll come join me Walking in Zambia this year!

Manda Chisanga
MTS Trip Leader,
Walking in Zambia
Winner of  Wanderlust Magazine's 2006 Paul Morrison Guide of the Year Award

Russell Crossey - The Zulu Discovery Trail

Culturally, the Zulus hold great store by a tree called the "buffalo thorn" (Ziziphus mucronata). The sharply hooked thorns known as "haak and steek" (or hook and grab in the Afrikaans language of the early white Dutch pioneers), has caused me to pause and unhook myself on many of my long hikes through the wilderness of this intriguing area. The Zulus believe that in so pausing one should reflect on one's life. The long stab thorn points forward and represents where we are going in life. The short hooked thorn points backward and represents where we have come from. Hence the Zulus believe that we can only move successfully forward if we have a sound knowledge of our past.

My country, South Africa, has a richly woven tapestry of history. We are not called the rainbow nation for nothing. But this wonderful harmony of races did not come without its cost in bloodshed. Against the backdrop of this raw wilderness was hammered the artifact that we call our culture. South Africa abounds in conservation and battlefield history. Here Boer fought Brit and both fought the Zulus as the nation struggled to define itself. At the battle of Isandlwana, the might of the British Empire was smashed by the Zulus in one of history's most remarkable battles. At Rorke's drift the Zulu impi armed with rudimentary spears once again threw themselves against the cannon and rockets of the British war machine. Here the British managed to hold the Zulu horde and the battle saw the awarding of the most Victoria crosses in British history.

In more recent history the battles for the preservation of the area's wildlife have been equally fierce. Ian Player, brother of the legendary South African golfer, led the struggle to save the white and black rhinos from extinction.

My trip in 2008 is a journey through my country's social and wildlife conservation history and I'd love to share it with you. We'll explore from the depths of the Indian Ocean's tropical reefs, where my British ancestors landed their ships all those years ago, to Africa's oldest game reserve, Imfolozi, and finally to the very roof of Africa. Here from the top of the 10,000-foot Amphitheatre we will gaze back upon the ground we have covered on our monumental journey of James Michener's The Covenant. Read this book and then join me on a journey through Nelson Mandela's great rainbow nation dream.

Russell Crossey
Trip Leader on Botswana Flying Safari and South African Trails

Cathy Daicoff - on The Alsek River

If you are very lucky, you may have the opportunity to experience a unique place, in an unusual way, with fascinating people. I indeed was lucky to have this experience on my twelve-day Alsek river rafting trip. After traveling to seven continents, thirty-eight countries, and forty-eight U.S. states, I am in search of those unusual experiences, which draws many of us to adventure travel.

The Alsek is breathtaking, unique, and often indescribable as it runs through provincial and national parks–a 25-million-acre World Heritage Site that is the largest internationally protected area in the world. We rafted and hiked for eleven days and did not see another person, except for our prearranged helicopter pilot for our portage. We saw thirty-four bears (a record for our guides), exquisite flowers, and enough wildlife to more than fulfill our quest to commune with nature.

Our senior guide, Mike Speaks, exudes such abundant confidence that hiking in rubber boots seems, of course, just what you should do on a glacier or an all-day mountain hike. Mike's knowledge and experience on the Alsek is legendary. It is as if he makes the river, glaciers, and mountains talk to you as he describes the unique glacier history and magic of the Alsek. You quickly discover how truly honored you are to have him as your teacher. His stories and descriptions leave you with a thirst for more and a yearning to go outside and play.

I find myself profoundly changed by the Alsek and thankful to have experienced such a unique place in the world with a premier travel company, a wonderful group of clients, and gifted guides. Run the Alsek–the experience will surpass even your wildest expectations. You will feel humbled by the grandeur of the river and the endless surrounding mountains and glaciers. You will be forever grateful to experience one of the truly unique places on our planet. The Alsek will touch your soul!

Cathy Daicoff,
Guest on The Alsek River, July 2006

Luis Die - The Galápagos Islands

Having guided in the Galápagos Islands for 18 years, I still can't believe some of the experiences I've had with the local fauna. Some of them are simple observations that you will never find in a guidebook. Others are so profound and unique that most people wouldn't believe they're possible outside of a zoo. Not to mention occasional spectacular volcanic eruptions that I've witnessed with some very lucky travelers!

On one of those magical days, we were very lucky to find a whale shark feeding at the surface. We got the dinghy down, put on our snorkel gear, and jumped in the water to swim with the whale shark. But things got better every second because after a few minutes there were two, then three, whale sharks swimming around us (or maybe we were swimming all around them!). And, as if this wasn't enough, that same night we witnessed a full volcanic eruption on Fernandina Island! We were one of the few groups that witnessed the awesome eruption.

Not too long ago a group of bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales came close to the ship, so for those who decided to jump in the water to swim with them, this was by far the most amazing close-up contact with animals they had ever had.

Experiences vary depending on the season, but every day and every month there is so much activity happening in the islands that regardless of which season you decide to visit the islands, you'll fall in love with the fascinating natural history of the Galapagos.

Right now the cooler time of the year is starting, and this is the favorite time for most animals to breed: bird colonies are at their best, and the albatross of Española are performing their lovely courtship. Sea lions will soon start delivering babies on the beaches, and there is nothing like sitting next to a tidal pool, not to look for anemones, but to look at a bunch of restless, playful seal pups.

Snorkeling is fantastic during these months, because the relatively cool waters bring more food, so the fish, penguins, turtles, and sea lions are more active. While snorkeling near Bartolome Island with one of my recent groups, we found a group of ten penguins attacking a school of anchovies! Attracted by the activity, several pelicans and blue footed boobies started diving there, while groupers and mackerels were getting their share, too. All this happened literally under our noses, in eighty feet of water…what a snorkel!

For any nature lover, Galápagos is one of the world's ultimate experiences that will remain in your memories forever.

Luis Die
Trip Leader
The Galápagos Islands

Silvia Giacon - Bella Italia

I was born in Italy and as an adult lived for several years in North America, enriching my life experience with travels in India, Russia, Indonesia, northern Europe, Antarctica, and the Sahara. But some fifteen years ago, a need of intimacy with myself and a desire to enter more deeply into a world shaped by mankind's creativity and intelligence brought me back to Italy, first to Venice–my hometown–and then to Tuscany, followed by Umbria and Sicily. I went back to my studies of ancient and medieval history, but soon found it was fun to become a wine connoisseur and regional food expert!

During the spring of 2000, Mountain Travel Sobek gave me the unique opportunity to share the things I love with people who had open hearts and wide eyes. Becoming the outfitter and leader for Hill Towns of Tuscany & Cinque Terre gave me a way to introduce people to the timeless beauty of Tuscany: medieval castles and villages, Etruscan stone walls, rolling hills defined by an incredible pattern of rows of grapes alternating with olive trees. The sound of bells, the fragrance of Scotch broom, vast fields of golden sunflowers, and vibrant blue irises along the trails make springtime one of the most magical times to visit Tuscany! And yet, autumn sports warmer colors, the leaves turn gold, the grapes are fully purple–and it is such a childish joy to pick them and taste them just before the harvest…away from the farmer's eyes! The light in September and October is softer: the hills of Chianti suddenly turn to a shady blue, resembling the waves of a peaceful sea. In the evening it is a wonderful experience to sit all together around a huge fireplace in the house of a Tuscan country gentleman, enjoying a homemade ribollita and drinking powerful Chianti wine!

Hospitality in Italy is still a sacred matter and people will always be ready to offer you a glass of wine, as well as a slice of salami or a piece of local cheese. And people's faces haven't changed very much over the years: young girls often have the same perfect oval that can be seen on the frescoes representing Madonna on the walls of country pieves (roadside shrines) and churches, while young men have the same intense expression of the peasants and soldiers painted by Ghirlandaio or Benozzo Gozzoli.

The trip, of course, is not only this. A short introduction to the Renaissance period, which exploded mainly in Florence, is offered by a daily walking tour of this city built along the magic Arno River, with the Brunelleschi Dome suspended over the town like the star over the nativity. And if Tuscany's landscapes give nourishment to people in search of art and harmony, the conclusion of the trip in Cinque Terre is like the last moment of contemplation over an ancient land meeting the sea after a long journey. The effort is represented by those five peninsulas stretching out like the fingers of a hand. On each finger is placed a precious stone: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore–the five fisherman villages are colorful gems that people cannot forget.

There are many memorable moments: you will return home with your own favorites, but, in my opinion, the most touching one is our last dinner together, sitting on a beautiful terrace overlooking the sea, saying goodbye to new friends, content with new experiences, and promising to come back, another time, to this beautiful country.

Silvia Giacon
Trip Leader & Partner for Hill Towns of Tuscany & Cinque Terre

Camilla Hvalsoe - Captivated by Greenland

Being a native of Denmark, I always had an awareness of this big ice-covered island "up there" called Greenland. And as someone who likes the outdoors, I knew that Greenland had all the mountains, glaciers, and ice one could ever hope to see! So, when I was offered the chance to spend the summer of 2007 guiding hiking trips up there, I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, Greenland has become my second home.

I cannot think of a more magical place on earth, and I'm still trying to define exactly what it is about Greenland that mesmerizes me. Clearly, the place's mind-blowing scenery–way beyond what I previously imagined–plays a significant role. I have lived right next to the famed Kangai Icefjord, the northern hemisphere's most prolific glacier and the source of a difficult-to-grasp natural phenomenon (it spurts out giant icebergs on a regular basis!) that most visitors to Greenland come to experience. But my favorite place is actually further north, a small and remote wilderness camp called Ice Camp Eqi. Here, when the boat drops you off and leaves, it's just you with an immense silence (aside from the nearby calving glacier!) and the vast, imposing Arctic nature. Ten charming, bright red cabins and a cozy cafe with homemade meals are all you'll find here–and all you'll need. I have been there several times over the summers, and practically cry every time I have to leave.

Beauty aside, Greenland–with all its contrasts and contradictions–fascinates me. It continues to challenge my beliefs, and in some cases, moves boundaries I thought I had firmly cemented. I have learned that global warming implies crisis for some, but prosperity for others. I have experienced Greenland's ancient Inuit culture–incredibly strong and proud, yet so fragile and problematic. I have encountered different attitudes towards whaling, depending on where people are from (Greenpeace vs. a small settlement in the North). And I have come to understand that even a society still fully dependent on Denmark can at the same time possess a strong desire for total independence. These are just a few of the complex issues I have come across during my time here. And as a Dane, they each certainly give me much to reflect on.

Greenland may not be the easiest place to get to, but I'm positive that you will find it well worth the journey if you go. There's a reason that this icy island was written up in New York Times last December as the destination for "Where to Go in 2008." If endless skies, giant floating icebergs, calving glaciers, and ancient Inuit culture (and the opportunity to dine on delicious, unusual local ingredients) interests you, then I invite you to join me. You may become as captivated with Greenland as I am.

Camilla Hvalsoe
Trip Leader
Greenland's Disko Bay Explorer

Willie Kern - For the Love of Water

My life as a river runner has defined the places I go and the values and traditions I hold dear to my heart. It's trite, but true, to say the river is a metaphor. And that we are pilgrims.

River running has captivated my life. In the last 20 years I have been a member of major and minor expeditions both pioneering new rivers and repeating sections that have been done before. And in my evolution as a river runner, it has become increasingly clear that at some point the compass shifts in favor of giving back, and leveraging experience in favor of the places I work, play, and live.

In the fall of 2002, I was among a group of seven professional guides The Nature Conservancy invited to China to work with provincial and local governing agencies to asses a possible course for the development of river running as an industry in the Yunnan Great Rivers project area.

Northwest Yunnan is a place like no other. Four of the most influential rivers in Southeast Asia (the Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, and Irrawaddy) flow through an impossibly steep landscape. The Himalayan orogeny has driven towering mountains higher and forced the "Great Rivers" through a very narrow gauntlet of canyons at the eastern end of the Himalaya. This region is inhabited by 14 different ethnic minority groups that have evolved in time with one another, separated only by geography and tradition.

From the time of my first visit to the Chinese Himalaya, I have been transfixed by the diversity of life that exists here. The composition of geography unlike anywhere else on the planet is breathtaking. I also connect with people, and in northwest Yunnan, traditional cultures have maintained a reverence for the natural surroundings in which they have evolved. These are people with a shared vision, but who come from decidedly different backgrounds. It is a land of extremes. And most importantly it is a place not worth overlooking. Preconceptions of China are our greatest hurdle in the attempt to help shift a paradigm. We hope that our expeditions here can help erase those preconceptions, and convince others of what we already know: northwest Yunnan has a rich cultural and natural heritage deserving of consideration.

In partnership with FLOW (For Love of Water), a states-based non-profit run by myself and fellow guides Jed Weingarten and Jim Norton, and Mountain Travel Sobek, we are attempting to offer an alternate reality for the rivers of northwest Yunnan by promoting a model of river-based eco-tourism that is in favor of the conservation and protection of one of the most biologically important places on earth. Our mandate is to facilitate trips that are consistent with, and help leverage, a constituency in favor of a conservation-based approach to the development of the economies that will drive places like northwest Yunnan. We also further our goals of local enterprise by simultaneously training local guides during the winter season (when the lower volume of water makes the rivers more manageable) in the skill set specific to river running.

It is our hope that sections of these rivers will remain when the dust of China's rapid development settles. But the Great Rivers are threatened. And the time is now. With your help, we are in a position to show alternate ways that rivers can positively impact an economy, without compromising the resource. Your participation is invaluable in the demonstration of a constituency in favor of rivers in their natural state.

This isn't the first time that this approach has been taken to protect rivers, nor will it be the last. But it is truly a rare opportunity in this day and age to weigh in on and affect the future of some of the most important rivers on the planet, where there still exists an opportunity to do it right.

Willie Kern
Trip Leader
The Great Bend of the Yangtze
The Upper Mekong River

Laurent Langoisseur - A Day in the Life of an Alpine Guide

A nutcracker is calling somewhere! A wheatear chirps on top of a rhododendron, its voice almost covered by a cricket concerto. Suddenly, someone springs up–"Look over there!" Higher up, a female ibex comes down, followed by two kids. The younger looks like it was born last spring. They come and go skipping off a rocky ridge and disappear. Earlier this morning we were lucky to see a few chamois bouncing away like antelopes, but so far no eagle today!

We stop here for lunch. The meadow is punctuated with colorful stains, blue from spring gentians, yellow from cinquefoils, and pink from louseworts. The cold lake reflects the Mont Blanc range and its gleaming glaciers. Nobody is talking anymore. Everyone is either taking a picture or just enjoying this moment, and I'm proud!

I'm proud to be a guide. A guide is not the one who leads–even if he has to once in a while–a guide is the one who shares his love, his passion, and his knowledge of the mountains with people. Looking at the beautiful scenery through the clients' eyes reflects my own emotions, my feelings. I would have never thought–while working on my guide test for the Companie de Guides–that I would get so much in return from my clients, and that they would become my friends.

When I arrived in Chamonix, in 1987, I only wanted to get a job that would leave me plenty of time off to hike, climb, or ski. But after a few years, and more experience, it became an evident that that was not enough. I needed to spend more time up in the mountains. And here I am today. A client once told me "Do what you love, and love what you do." I got that chance. And, I will never forget it.

I look forward to meeting you on the trail one day soon (and on one of my many stops in the U.S. this spring!)

Laurent Langoisseur
MTS Trip Leader in the Alps

Nadia Le Bon - Trekking to the Mountain Lodges of Peru

I love traveling to Peru, and always feel the true warmth and embracing welcome of the land and the people. It's a land of social and geographical extremes, with so many interesting things to discover: Inca and colonial history; the cultures of indigenous people; and their dances, rituals, and more. And, of course, there are the varied and magnificent natural settings, from the high Andes to the cloud forest, and even the desert.

I enjoy spending time in Cuzco, and am even happier out on trek. A trek in the Andes challenges our physical well being, mostly because of the altitude, and yet being in such a setting stimulates awareness and a deeper need to understand others and ourselves. Last spring I had the good fortune to trek to Machu Picchu through the spectacular landscapes of the Vilcabamba range. This was my second trek in Peru (and third visit to Peru in general), but this time instead of camping, we had the pleasure of staying in a series of recently built mountain lodges whose architecture blends in with the environment and incorporates Inca architectural motifs. While they differed in style and size according to the locations, each provided very comfortable accommodations including down comforters and fine linens, hot showers and bathrobes, and the assistance of a friendly and helpful staff. Similarly, the meals were carefully prepared incorporating local traditional foods with nouvelle cuisine flair. And to top off the experience, there was nothing like soaking in a Jacuzzi at the end of the day and watching the stars so bright in the dark Andean sky!

The trek itself followed a varied terrain, from high Andean snow-covered peaks and glacial lakes to cloud forests filled with orchids and colorful butterflies. The second day was long and arduous as we crossed a high pass, but the views were stunning, and a slow pace worked well at such elevations. Along the way we met mule trains, local people on horseback, and a few settlements where we were always welcome to stop for a break. For most of the trek, our luggage was transported by mules. But on the last day of hiking, porters assisted us instead so that we could follow a newly restored section of "Inca Trail," a wide path with remarkable stonework that offered extraordinary views of Machu Picchu and the sacred peaks of Salcantay, Pumasillo, and others, for almost the entire day.

Our trip ended with an extraordinary day at the ruins at Machu Picchu. There is so much to see, from the fine stonework of the inner sanctuary and the audacity of the construction on top of Huayna Picchu to the amazing views from the Gate of the Sun. And all we had read about the Incas, their beliefs and social structure, their knowledge of the stars and agriculture, permeated our minds as we walked the ancient paths and ran our hands over the smooth walls of the temples.

Indeed, Machu Picchu is a place that deserves to be included in the new seven "wonders" of the world! And having the opportunity to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime trek through the high Andes while still being able to enjoy the comforts of a deluxe lodge each night is a luxury not even the Incas could have imagined! It's an experience I will certainly never forget, and I hope you will all come join us in Peru to experience the magic for yourselves!

Nadia Le Bon
MTS Director of Special Programs

Scott Muller - A Flash of Harmony

While Phil the postman, Dave the dentist, Martin the banker, and Laurentino the lobster fisherman from the village of Wurgandi watched a pair of tapirs checking out our sea kayaks on the beach at the river's mouth, I had a flash of harmony.

After paddling and snorkeling for five days with the Kuna among small white sand islands, cultural celebrations and isolated offshore cays, our skin was bronzed and salty. By now, most of our lips had an over-snorkeled, semi-permanent pucker to them, while the nut-based black ink tattoos on our noses from the first night's dancing were beginning to fade. And bathing in the cool crystal freshwater creek proved a proverbial baptism. Monkeys howled, toucans soared, hawks ate snails, crocodiles lay in the sun, and the tapirs proved nimble at stepping between fragile kayak paddles.

Take a map of primary forest cover from anywhere in the tropics, overlay a political map of lands traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples, and you'll find they're nearly a perfect match. The crucial link between natural and cultural patrimony is not coincidence. The indigenous Kuna here in their sovereign territory of Kuna Yala now find their natural patrimony referred to as the best conserved forests in Mesoamerica, the purest running rivers, and the best conserved coral reefs in not just Panama, but in the entire Central Caribbean Bioregion. They know well it's the result of the strength of their culture and the fruit of their historical struggle for autonomy.

Our hulls glided over countless sting rays in the mouth of the river as we began our paddle back to the palm-fringed offshore island camp before the fall of evening and the familiar nocturnal trade winds. A flock of white ibis soared along the mangrove coast while our guides Nemesio and Serrano quizzed us on the Kuna names for the wind directions.

Oh yes, indeed, these places still exist. MTS's pioneering adventures are portals that enable us to experience the sustainable use of the natural and cultural resources that have been a part of the indigenous and local community's balanced heritage for hundreds of years.

You can read about wild places in these catalogs of course; but I trust you prefer to feel the sand between your toes while counting dolphin and contemplating the wonders of a matrilineal culture.

I hope to see you in a hammock soon!

Scott Muller
Trip Leader
Kuna Yala Explorer

Shelli Ogilvy - Growing Up On Alaska's Glacier Bay

I've had the same conversation with every new person I've ever met. They ask, "Where are you from?" And I say, "Alaska." Following, there is a pause, a small silence where each of us transcends into some space in our minds where dreams of landscapes of mountains, glaciers, and oceans are realities.

I come from a place where time is a landscape in itself: Glacier Bay National Park, a spot in the world defined by epic measurements of time, ice ages, glacial retreat, and forest re-growth, a place where everything is in a state of almost daily redefinition. The beach I grew up on has risen two feet in my lifetime, the glaciers are slowly receding back to their birthplace in the mountains, and the forest has grown and risen gradually over the rocky terrace the ice left behind.

For the past 10 years, I have been very fortunate to guide sea kayaking expeditions in and around this landscape, repeatedly journeying up this mystical bay where we encounter beauty beyond description. Aspects of this landscape change and mold the traveler. Surrounded by ice and sky, blues shouting from the ocean, mountains, and glaciers, all interspersed with the green and cream of sand, earth, and stone. We paddle in front of glaciers–John's Hopkins, Reid, Lamplough–awed and humbled by their existence. Revolutionary War-era snow has transformed into the most ethereal color of blue and slowly peels off into a thunder only heard here, followed by a quickening silence.

We encounter all weather: wind that pours off miles of ice; rain that makes glaciers, that makes us laugh, and forms rivers and deltas out of campsites; and then a midnight sun that emerges as we are reborn into this place. The mountains seem larger and the ocean more magical covered in shimmering diamonds of light. Time slows here. We nap on the beach. We witness the weight of 18 feet of water being moved by the tide and breathe the incense of barnacle and seaweed. The grass seems to have grown a foot taller in all this moisture, secretly disguising wildlife until it emerges suddenly and gracefully into our view.

I watch how each group of travelers changes during their visit here. The hurried business of normal daily life melts away, and we find our own sense of time. The human relationship converges with the wild, and we find we never want to leave.

All these experiences and memories pass through my mind in that pause of conversation that occurs each time I'm asked, "Where are you from?" And I respond, "Please come." And I hope you will.

GuideLine by Shelli Ogilvy
Sea Kayak Operations Director
Alaska Discovery

Shelli Ogilvy grew up commercial fishing in Southeast Alaska. She currently lives five months of the year in her cabin without running water, electricity, or plumbing and works in similar conditions guiding wilderness expeditions for Alaska Discovery. The other months, she paints and lives in Taos, NM. During the summer of 2008, she will also be working as head of Alaska Discovery's sea kayaking operations in Gustavus, AK.

Gustavo Orozco - A Jewel in the Tropics

A small country of only 20,000 square miles, Costa Rica is without a doubt a jewel in the tropics, and I feel blessed to have been born here. I grew up in a countryside town of coffee growers and in my lifetime have had the opportunity to see my country grow and transform.

After abolishing its armed forces in 1948, Costa Rica's peaceful nature began to attract scientists from all parts of the world. Very quickly, they discovered the realm of diversity to be found here and in the 1970s, they alerted the Costa Rican government of the need to create a system of national parks to protect this special habitat. Since then, the country has excelled in putting together a fine network of parks to protect and conserve its wildlife.

Costa Rica is definitely the result of many fantastic events that forged the country the way it is today. It is also a country of extremes, not only biologically but also geographically. And as one moves from one place to another, new discoveries can be found among active volcanoes, wild rivers, deep canyons, and gorgeous valleys and plateaus. Each time we start an MTS journey in Costa Rica, I know I will be able to spot swinging monkeys, lazy sloths, and hundreds of little natural details that thrive in every corner of the rainforest. As a naturalist, I find it a joy to be able to find wildlife with such ease, sharing these fabulous birds and exotic mammals at home in the wild while at the same time hearing volcanic eruptions in the background!

Guiding for MTS gives me the opportunity to travel to the most pristine and exclusive corners of Costa Rica, which in turn allows me to see the world at its best. But certainly the most thrilling moments of my career as a naturalist guide have come with the smiles and expressions of satisfaction and thankfulness of all of those who travel with us. Come join us soon to discover this fabulous destination for yourself!

Gustavo Orozco
Trip Leader
Jewels of Costa Rica

Christa Sadler - Ice Age Boating on the Alsek

The Alsek River originates in the Yukon Territory in Canada and runs through British Columbia and Alaska before joining the Pacific Ocean, just west of Glacier Bay. When I discovered this river 11 years ago, I thought nothing was as big or as wild as the Grand Canyon. I was surprisingly mistaken. In its 160-mile course, the Alsek River travels through one of the most extraordinary landscapes you'll ever see. The mountains and glaciers of this land far surpass the grandeur and wildness of any other place I've ever been. There are spots on this trip where you can stand and look out (if the weather is clear!) to 14,000-foot mountain peaks 40 miles away. And you realize that in all that space, there are no humans whatsoever, and it's just as likely that no humans have ever been there at all.

The Alsek is not a whitewater river, even though there are a couple of days of great whitewater fun on the trip. The reason to come here is to see and be a part of one of the last great wildernesses left on our continent–a landscape that is still untouched by human hands and is, quite frankly, the better for it. The river begins in the rain shadow of the St. Elias Mountains, the second highest coastal mountain range in the world (next to the Andes) and the youngest mountain range in North America. This is a landscape straight out of the Ice Age, filled with craggy peaks, blue glaciers, icebergs floating in the river, bears, mountain goats, moose, wolves, and incredible fields of flowers. The river cuts straight through the mountain ranges of the southern St. Elias: the Alsek, the Ice Field, the Icy and Noisy, and the Brabazon, just to name a few. Along the way, we pass massive glaciers, helicopter portage the boats around unrunnable Turnback Canyon (where a three-quarter-mile-wide river is funneled into a 50-foot-wide canyon–it's quite a ride!), and watch for animals in places so untamed and grand that it's hard to concentrate on looking for wildlife. The term "scenic overload" was coined on this river.

For most of the course, the Alsek is swift and shallow, a gravelly, braided stream that is always moving–fast! When it flows through the gorge, it becomes a powerful river with standing waves and S-turns, bouncing from side to side as it carves through the mountains. It's a glacial stream, so it's silty and extremely cold! And when the Tatshenshini joins it just outside of Glacier Bay, the river becomes an astonishing two to three miles wide.

Although the Alsek is similar in many ways to other river trips (great food and equipment, hiking, and, of course, fabulous guides!), the trip is also more strenuous and more of an expedition, in the true sense of the word. We gather wood and water every day, we set up tents every night, and we can't just take off alone on hikes because of the danger from bears. The weather can be absolutely fabulous: clear, hot, and sunny. But it can also be cold, rainy, and windy. Generally, you see a little bit of both on each trip. While you may think that enduring rain or fog on your trip isn't that fun, it wouldn't really be Alaska without a little of it. When the horizon closes in, your viewpoint changes from looking far into the distance to looking up close at the river, and you see different things as a result. You learn many techniques for living in a wet and cold environment, and not just surviving it, but perhaps enjoying it too!

I hope you'll consider joining me on this river. It's truly a unique and awe-inspiring landscape, the kind of place that is fast disappearing in our world today. I feel very lucky to be able to spend time here, and I feel even luckier to share wild and extraordinary places on our planet with other travelers.

Christa Sadler
Alaska Discovery Guide on The Alsek River and The Tatshenshini River

Jeff Sloss - The Most Spectacular Place on Earth

The Wrangell-St. Elias Glacier Expedition (Icy Bay) in Alaska is one of the best living examples of global warming in action anywhere on the planet. This World Heritage Site is one of the least-visited and most spectacular places on earth, yet it involves only easy to moderate paddling and hiking activity to access it! Come see this phenomenon with me while it's so easy to view!

I'm convinced this remote corner of Alaska is one of "the unknown vortexes of the world" and also my favorite in almost 30 years of living in and exploring this great state. It's also becoming more popular with a variety of wildlife, too. On a recent trip we watched three moose browse the willows where we had seen only tracks and scat in previous years. Mountain goat, brown bear, and wolf inhabit the area, as well as an assortment of other wildlife, sea birds, and marine mammals.

One of the most scenic and prominent highlights of our trip is seeing stunning, 18,008-foot Mount St. Elias towering over Icy Bay, along with many other lofty summits. This is the highest coastal mountain range in the world, and when combined with some of the largest glaciers, it makes for some unforgettable scenery. The glaciers of Icy Bay have been moving dramatically in recent years, both advancing and retreating, so it's been fascinating to observe over the years!

I hope you can come with me to experience this dramatic landscape this summer. I look forward to sharing one of my favorite locations anywhere (after having traveled in all seven continents). Our meeting point in Yakutat makes a great stopover on a flight to Anchorage or Juneau to explore more of Alaska if you have time. I look forward to seeing you there!

Best travels,
Jeff Sloss
Alaska Discovery Trip Leader
Alaska Discovery Adventures in 2007

Granite Stanley - Growing Up on the River

As a kid, I always loved the water. My parents worked for the Forest Service on Mount Whitney and my brother and I would cruise up and down the alpine streams waiting for them to get off work. Later on, my father started rafting. And because he thought he should raise his kids the way he'd always wished his dad had raised him, he brought us along. My brother would stand in the front of the boat and point out any obstacles he saw, warning Dad not to hit them, while I took to the water on my body board. And when we got a little stronger, he taught us how to row a raft ourselves. Soon enough my brother and I were charging down the Tuolumne River all by ourselves, with all the confidence in the world. And by my 15th birthday I'd already had my first day of work on the river, swimming 16 miles on my body board to retrieve a raft that had been lost by a private party. The very next year that same company offered me a job. I've never looked back.

Luck and a bad case of itchy feet have been my companions ever since. As a teen, I was off to Central America each time I had more than a few hundred dollars in my pocket. I fell in love with the South Pacific when I got a little older and had enough for a plane ticket. Then I danced my way through South America just to say that I had. Traveling had become not just something that I did, but it was who I was. The urge to see new places was a hunger I just couldn't quell–the more difficult to get to, the more I wanted to go. I've now been guiding for thirteen years and have rafted more rivers than I can count. Everything from the big Caribbean green waters of the Futaleufu to small but steep glacial creeks in New Zealand that we had to fly into with helicopters (even jumping out sometimes while the chopper was still running because it didn't have a place to land!).

Coming to work for Mountain Travel Sobek was a dream come true. The company is the combination of my two biggest passions. And on top of that I got to work with legends. Not only had these guys done the rivers I wanted to do, they did them first. I had read Richard Bangs' books as a teenager, was enthralled at the thought of dropping into the mythical gorges of South America, Alaska, New Guinea, and Africa, of buying food from the local fisherman and farmers along the way. As boaters these guys had done it all. But what I didn't realize was just how much these men and women had to teach me about being a person.

It took a long time for me to realize that what keeps me coming back year after year isn't only the places I get to travel as a guide, it's the people I get to share the experiences with. There's no better feeling than seeing the excitement of a child (or an adult!) on a rafting trip for the first time. Sitting around the campfire, far from our cell phones, email, and cars, we get a chance to truly slow down and take the time to get to know one another and to discover our world. We talk about the things that are really important to us and in the quiet of the river, we discover just what makes us all so similar, whatever our walks in life might be.

I have traveled around the world looking for the place I most want to be, but all along it was right there, half a day's drive from my hometown: The Middle Fork of the Salmon River. This beautiful Idaho river not only provides the feeling of wildness I crave, it also offers the length and time required to actually get to know someone while traveling her waters. And its location allows us to provide the creature comforts that might bring people who have never spent a night outdoors, while also offering new experiences to even the most intrepid travelers. Not to mention it's a lot of fun! I get to have my clients try their hand at captaining their own inflatable kayaks, watch them blast through rapids entirely on their own steam, as well as have them just sit back and enjoy the scenery and stories of this beautiful and historical wilderness area. So it's not just the feeling of awe and amazement of my guest that gets me chomping at the bit every spring, no matter where I am, to get back up to Idaho. By guiding on the Middle Fork I get what I crave in life more than anything else: the camaraderie of working with people I consider family, the beauty of traveling through our country's largest roadless area, and constantly hunting for native trout with my beloved fly rod.

But it's the journey that's the ultimate reward, isn't it? The experience of getting there can be thousands of times more rewarding than the destination itself. So I'll finish typing, and get back to preparing for a summer full of river journeys, not just river trips. Put all the pieces of the puzzle together for a few months of laughs, new experiences, and new friends. And in doing that, I know I'm fulfilling my dreams and goals, and helping others to do the same. I don't think most people want life to be like a freeway, the straightest point from point A to B. We want a river, changing as it goes, bubbling up through the rough spots just enough to make you truly able to enjoy those calm waters.

I hope to get the opportunity to share this place with you, your spouse, your children, and your friends, to learn from you, and to share what I've learned in return. I've found the place I love, and can only wish the same for everyone. If you ever feel the need to start that journey, I'll be here waiting.

Granite Stanley
Trip Leader on The Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Update from the Middle Fork from Granite Stanley (2008)

We've got another year of great trips ahead of us on the whitewater rapids on Idaho's Middle Fork of the Salmon River. And regardless of whether you're an old river rat or a bit wet behind the ears when it comes to rafting, I promise this river adventure will be some of the most fun you've ever had on a summer vacation!

Idaho's Middle Fork of the Salmon, which courses through the largest wilderness area in the Lower 48, offers more than a hundred rapids in a hundred miles. What's more, it travels through a spectacular mountain landscape filled with hidden canyons, abundant wildlife, hot springs, and views galore. From smooth little riffles that whisk us swiftly around the snaking bends of the river to more challenging drops that steal your breath away, this river is a ton of fun. And with six days to boat through this scenic wonderland, we'll have time to enjoy it all!

I'm happy to report that the snowpack in Idaho this year has been great–90 to 115 percent of average–which bodes well for a great upcoming season on the Middle Fork. And while there's a chance we'll have to maneuver around a few new obstacles or do some portages if logs from last year's fires in the region are still present in the river, to me, this is part of what makes running the Salmon so exciting. It's such a dynamic river, where you can see the interplay of the entire ecosystem at work, and it gives us a unique run every season. In fact, it is this variability that keeps me coming back every year (and this is my 6th year on the Salmon!).

This summer, I'll be back on the Salmon with my trusty fellow guides, Jim and George Butts, with three great options to suit every type of river-runner–making this an especially good trip for family fun. (You might say we have small, medium, and large options, depending on your appetite for adventure.) You have the choice of kicking back on the oar boat (the guides do all the rowing), paddling with a raft team, or chuting the rapids on one of our inflatable kayaks (known as duckies) for a truly adventurous experience. Of course, we guides will determine the best option for the conditions and your individual experience level, but rest assured thateveryone will have a wildly good time on the river each day!

Designated a Wild and Scenic River in 1968, the Middle Fork offers much more than great whitewater. We'll also have opportunities to hike to old homesteads and hidden waterfalls, visit pictographs dating from the days of the Shoshone Indians (the earlier inhabitants of the area), and soak in soothing hot springs–a wonderful antidote to tired bones after a big day on the river. And I shouldn't forget to mention the area's wildlife (some parts of the river are home to impressive mammals like bighorn sheep and black bear!) and superb fly-fishing for native cutthroat trout (catch and release only). With local experts like Jimmy and George along on each trip, you're guaranteed to have an educational and exhilarating outing with many great stories and photo trophies to take home.

And of course, one of the best ways to experience the Middle Fork is from camp! At the end of each day, we'll relax in the most beautiful and comfortable campsites on the river, swapping stories around the campfire, and indulging in gourmet meals prepared by the guides (chocolate brownies, chicken curry, fajitas, steaks, and blackened salmon taste the best on the river)–complete with fabulous wines! It is this combination of great food, great comfort, and great fun that makes the Middle Fork the perfect summer destination for adventurers of all ages. Many of our families and groups have even made it a yearly event! After a week on the Middle Fork, you're sure to come away with fond memories and great river adventure stories to last a lifetime.

I've forged many wonderful friendships on this amazing river over the years, and I hope I will have the chance to share the Middle Fork experience with you this summer.

Granite Stanley
MTS Guide on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Cathy Ann Taylor - Touching the Himalaya

Just the other day I got a call from Dawa Sherpa, in her first year at community college in Kansas City, Kansas. Instantly memories of my first encounter with the Himalaya came flooding back to me. Dawa at that time was a tiny tot in a village near the Everest region and her dad was my staff cook on Mountain Travel Sobek's Ultimate Everest trek in Nepal. During our time in the region, the devotion and selfless simplicity of the local people had left a profound impression on both me and my MTS group. It was then that I decided I wanted to "give back" in any way I could. My fellow trekkers felt the same way. And with the help of other like-minded, caring individuals such as these, I have since been able to manage the sponsorship of eight children from remote Himalayan villages, all of whom are now in boarding school (and one just about to graduate from University in Australia!). Dawa's call quickly took my mind back to my early years in the Himalaya.

In 1990 I took my first trip to Nepal with Mountain Travel Sobek, and this encounter with the Himalayas and its people changed my life's course. I knew after my second day in Kathmandu that I had to work there. The transition from being an account executive at Eastman Kodak to being a guide in the Himalayas was an easy decision. I started guiding trips to this region a year later and have been guiding for Mountain Travel Sobek ever since. My passion for the mountains and rigors of the outdoors, the beauty of the people and their unique cultures has left an indelible impression.

There is something about the Himalayas that speak of adventure–an amazing union of serene forested valleys, magnificent castle-like monasteries, awe-inspiring mountain views, diverse cultures, and mystical religions best explored on foot with the help of an experienced trekking guide and incredible local support staff.

"Curtains of mist, hanging like lace veils, thickening into bizarre shapes, moving over primeval forests of the highlands, tufty Himalayan cedars on precipitous cliff faces, and fertile rice fields in the valleys." These are some of the vivid images I have of Bhutan, a peaceful and beautiful place that will transport you to another world. Guarded by gigantic mountains and primeval forests, its culture and traditions have remained largely intact, making it a unique and special destination.

I have the good fortune to visit Tibet every year as well and it holds a special place in my heart. There is no place like it. The dream-like and enchanting Tibetan Plateau is a place of desolate beauty and spectacular snowcapped peaks; it seems to float close to heaven. Crystal clear air, a pristine environment, and the ever-changing light take your breath away. It is truly a magical place, rugged and with equally impressive people. My recent exploratory The Khawa Karpo Expedition in the southeast of Tibet was one of the highlights of my guiding career, and capped off a wonderful year in the Himalayas.

I've had the opportunity to share our experiences, joys and passions in a very personal way amongst the majestic setting of mountains. I believe all mountains are sacred. Perhaps it's places like this that have affected us in a special way. For many these trips have been profound and life changing.

I hope you will join me in 2007 on some of these incredible adventures, including the Bhutan Chomolhari Trek in April, the Trek to Heavenly Lake in Tibet in June and August, the Mount Kailas Pilgrimage in Tibet in September, Bhutan Chomolari trek in October, or The Bhutan Laya-Gasa trek in November.

Happy Travels,
Namaste & Tashi Deleg,
Cathy Ann Taylor
Trip Leader & MTS Adventure Consultant
Bhutan: The Chomolhari Trek
Tibet: Trek to Heavenly Lake
Tibet: Kailas - Sacred Mountain of Tibet
Bhutan: The Laya-Gasa Trek

Joe Toback - Making Dreams Come True

It was Huckleberry Finn that charted my fate. I was a city kid and when I read that story all I could think about was building a raft and floating off to places unknown. My best friend bought a canoe and we started heading out on rivers and bays, and suddenly the world of my imagination became real. I learned how to plan and transform whimsy or the wonder of a magazine photograph into a real trip--literally learning how to make my dreams come true! I also found that these experiences were heightened when I teamed up with other people of open spirit, those who also wanted to check out other cultures, other landscapes. So I started doing international trips with friends and later accepted an offer to work as a guide (an opportunity that at first, I wasn't sure was for me).

In 1995 I was invited on an MTS exploratory trip to Halong Bay, in the North of Vietnam. The region is a place of mystery, of limestone spires and caves and secret lagoons, so the trip appealed to my sense of exoticness. It also allowed me to explore any unresolved feelings I had about the war that had devastated their country as well as ours. But what most touched my heart then, as it does now, was the kindness of the Vietnamese people. And it was this overwhelming kindness that encouraged me to want to learn more about the country and its people.

My first trip as a commercial guide was to Portugal's Douro Valley, an area that holds a romance that speaks of old time hospitality and appreciation for the simple pleasures of life: a good meal, a glass of wine, spirited conversation with new friends, a poem to a way of life.

I had lived in Europe in the 70s as a student, and I had chanced on a trip to Portugal in 1975 when the whole country was celebrating the end of a military government. This tiny once-great country was having a party, and people everywhere were so excited at the possibilities of the future. It was a moment where the taste of freedom was strong in the mood of the people, and it was exuberant. There were groups gathering in plazas in places like Coimbra, and we would talk all night and drink wine and sing songs, and I was a part of it, even though I had only a few words of Portuguese. It was a kind of joy and life spirit that I had never fully encountered before. It hooked me to a quest for shared experience and made me consider what humanity shares as well as what geography makes unique.

So, when I returned to Portugal in 1996 as a kayak guide I didn't know what to expect. I found a country that had matured, but the spirit of openness, curiosity, and generosity was still the same. I made the acquaintance of several families along the river, which was the center of a specific, traditional culture based around the growing of the grapes for port wine. I learned about an old world hospitality that accepted travelers off the river with open hearths and open hearts. And my acquaintances grew to friendship, then to a feeling of family, and now that is what they've become for me. Today, this romantic, forgotten area of old Europe remains one of the few corners of the continent still untrammeled by tourists and true to its old ways. And this September I will have the pleasure of returning to the home of so many wonderful friends and exceptional memories as the leader of Mountain Travel Sobek's kayaking adventure on the Duoro River (Portugal's Port Wine Region).

My passion for traveling to new places, for new cultural encounters, grows with each experience. I cherish the opportunity to feel like a child again, to explore my dreams, to learn about the world from people along the way. I invite you to join me for an inspiring journey and to share this experience together.

Joe Toback
Trip Leader, The Undiscovered Vietnam and The Portugal's Port Wine Region

Brian Weirum - Changing the Fate of the Tiger

One of the most awe-inspiring sights on the planet is a wild tiger walking through the jungles of Asia. In 1994 I created the Save the Tiger trip with Mountain Travel Sobek in an effort to provide clients with this experience, to educate them about what was being done to help prevent the tigers' disappearance, and to help contribute to efforts aimed at saving them. Today, after 13 departures of Save the Tiger, Mountain Travel Sobek has raised over $165,000 for tiger conservation, funds that go to India and Nepal via the California-based Fund For The Tiger, a non-profit public charity I founded in 1995.

There is no question about it. Those who are lucky enough to travel to the jungles of Central India or Nepal in search of wild tigers with us will quickly come to understand the incredible power of these majestic beasts and the great need for the world to invest in saving them.

A Day on the Road ~ Bandhavgarh National Park, Central India

It's early morning and the dappled sunlight is just breaking through the trees of the deep Bandhavgarh forest. We're driving down a small dirt lane between Sera and Rajbera Meadows, behind the massive plateau from which Bandhavgarh takes its name. Our road is suddenly blocked by the massive grey bulk of Gautam, the lead elephant used for patrols, tiger monitoring, and traveler forays into the jungle. Atop Gautam is Kuttapan, the renowned mahout who has worked at Bandhavgarh for 24 years and who knows more about its tigers than anyone.

Kuttapan gets my attention and points to something on the road. It's the distinct impression of a tiger which has recently lain down on the road. The imprint–torso, forepaws, and tail–lies clearly over any tracks or disturbances which came in the night.

Off to the right we hear a distinct "bleep-bleep"–the alarm call of the chital, or spotted deer, announcing the presence of a predator. Kuttapan and Gautam go off to investigate and we drive around to intercept them on the other side of the forest. Not ten yards down the road, we hear a loud "varoom"–the call of the tiger–and we slide to a halt on the dusty road. Walking directly towards us at a distance of 100 yards is a large male tiger. We sit in stunned silence as cameras whir and click and knuckles whiten as travelers tighten their grips on the seats and roll bars of the jeep. The tiger continues his insouciant stroll directly towards us. About 20 yards from our jeep, he walks into a small clearing off the road, marks a tree with his scent, then comes back out onto the road and walks within 3 feet of the jeep.

When the tiger is about 50 yards past us, our reverie is broken by a commotion in the forest across the road. Anil, our Nepali naturalist, whispers loudly, "WOLVES!" There, in a clearing in the forest, are two Indian grey wolves. Rigid, alert, clearly in a state of alarm, they begin yelping at the tiger. The tiger spins around on the road and charges off into the forest after them. We drive down the road where, in a clearing, stands the tiger, looking around as if to ask "Where'd they go?" We park the jeeps and watch an incredible silent drama unfold.

As the tiger walks away, out of the forest comes the larger of the wolves, probably the male, who scampers up to within a few yards of the tiger. The tiger turns his head and the wolf scampers back into the forest. The larger wolf again walks up to within a safe distance from the tiger. This time the tiger turns around and glowers at the wolf, assessing the distance between them and the speed it would take to catch him. They stare at each other, the muscles of the tiger begin to twitch, and off goes the wolf into the forest again. Finally, after one more of these encounters, the tiger moves away and the wolf disappears one last time into the forest. We can only assume that the aggressive behavior of the wolf meant he was protecting some pups and wanted to be sure he drove the tiger off his territory.

The tiger, now left in peace, continues his stroll. He moves off the road into a patch of golden grass ablaze with sunlight, marks the spot with his spray, crosses the road in front of our jeeps, and disappears into the forest. This marking of territory was not whimsical. A few hundred yards down the road, Kuttapan and Gautam have found the tiger they were looking for, relaxing in the dry leaves of a bamboo forest, his nose still visibly scarred from a fight.

Rudyard Kipling could not have scripted this better: Shere Khan and the wily wolves in a taunting, even mocking, dance of survival. Though Kipling never visited the forests of Central India, his fabled jungle stories took place in these hills–what is now Madhya Pradesh and the forests of Kanha and Bandhavgarh.

A Day on the Road ~ Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal

The sound of a vehicle announced it was time to drive back to the lodge for a much-anticipated cold beer. We slithered, lumbered, and fell off the elephants to get into the waiting jeep. If there is a graceful way to get on and off an elephant, I haven't mastered it. Chuck McDougal was driving. Chuck is a long-time friend who has lived in Nepal for over 30 years and is world-renowned as THE tiger expert there.

On the road back to the lodge we slowed to cross a small stream just before entering a massive sal forest. The setting sun was now a massive ball of flames balancing on top of the distant trees. A langur monkey was perched above us cradling a small baby in her arms. A spotted deer drank from the stream. We passed a small lake where the day before I had seen a tiger cub swimming. A massive one-horned rhinoceros stood nearby, loudly chomping grass. Its prehistoric appearance was beautiful glistening in the late afternoon sun. Far off on the edge of the forest, the Indian Cuckoo was singing its melodious refrain. All was becoming very still. The jungle was preparing for the night.

As we approached the park boundary, a large shadow moved out of the grass and crossed the dirt road several hundred yards in front of us. It was too poised and majestic to be anything but a tiger.

I gazed upon a face of incredible beauty–not more than 30 feet away–and looked up to the North. The Annapurna Himalaya, only 50 miles away but more than 26,000 feet above us, was turning alternate shades of pink and grey in the fading light. My reverie was broken by a whisper from the back seat. "Is there any chance this tiger will charge?" asked Robert. "There is always that chance," I replied.

Out of the grass came the tigress! In one powerful motion, with incredible speed, grace, and a total absence of malice, she cut the distance between us in half, then turned off into the tall grass. Before I could even begin to mouth the words "Oh, ____!" she was gone. We looked at each other and it took a moment for our eyes to go back into our heads and our mouths to close into big smiles.

To those who are indifferent about the fate of the tiger, to those who think extinction is inevitable, I invite them to sit with me at the foot of the Himalayas and watch this magnificent animal move through the forest.

Brian Weirum
MTS Guide on Save the Tiger, Trekking Mongolia's Altai Mountains, and other MTS adventures

Mark Willuhn - Discovering Mesoamerica

All guides love where they work. Otherwise we couldn't do our jobs. But for such a relatively small geographic area, I'm surprised how much more I still have to see, do, and learn after 15 years of working in Mesoamerica. During the winter months I generally travel from Belize to Guatemala to Honduras to Nicaragua. Not just once or twice, but pretty much constantly. In fact, add Southern Mexico and El Salvador, and that's pretty much what I do all year. But while I am introduced as a "regional expert," which I am, I am still impressed by just how many more places I have yet to see.

Culturally and from the abundance of spectacular natural areas, Mesoamerica is amazing. It constantly keeps me engaged and challenged. I work with a big network of local guides, indigenous communities and services providers – my posse. From the proud and quiet Pech, the funky Garifuna, to the Maya jokesters, each of my trips includes an interesting set of characters. We're all somewhat kindred spirits from wildly diverse backgrounds. And over the years we've been through many great and challenging experiences with groups together. So with each new trip, it's always fun to hook up with the local crew to find out what's new, how the kids are doing, etc., and we're always enthusiastic to share new areas we've visited, first ascents, descents, and new itineraries. With the diversity of friends I've developed and many different experiences that each month presents, it really gives one an interesting perspective on life. And with the MTS itineraries, we've distilled all these years of experiences and offer what we think are the most unique, fun, and engaging itineraries for Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Usually I'm very quiet when my wife drags me out to social engagements. But I have to admit, once I begin to speak about what I do for a living, my passion takes over and things can quickly get out of hand as I recount the people, places, and moments that fuel my love for this special region.

I hope to be able to share my passion with you on one of these great trips very soon!

Mark Willuhn
Trip Leader on Honduras Tropical Explorer and Nicaragua: Volcanoes, Lakes & Rainforest

Anne Wood - Eastern Europe: Playground for Explorers of the Unbeaten Path!

After having logged extensive travel time in many remarkable parts of Europe, I had the pleasure of traveling through much of the former Yugoslavia in May 2007. I thought I had a fairly good sense for what to expect. But in truth, I could never have guessed just how inspirational this particular trip would be. Within just the first few hours of my trip, I immediately thought: where have I been traveling all of this time, and why haven't I been here yet?

My trip into Eastern Europe occurred for two reasons: to scout a new MTS trip in Slovenia and to do some work with USAID in Croatia, touring the country to observe post-war tourism development efforts and presenting regional lectures and workshops to hundreds of hopeful tour guides, hoteliers, and service providers in that country. And during my time there, I made an extensive tour of Croatia, from the far eastern region of Slavonia, to the northern region of Istria, to the southernmost tip of Dalmatia, as well as a week of in-depth touring Slovenia with my colleague and local guide there. And what struck me most throughout my travels was just how much and how diverse the natural beauty is in this part of the world. For such a relatively small area, there was far more than I could have ever imagined: the majestic, snowy peaks of the Julian Alps; the rolling vineyards of the Karst wine country; the shocking pale blue Soca River; the spectacular limestone cliffs of Croatia; the vibrant azure water of the Adriatic; the bright purple bellflowers of Istria; orchards of pomegranates and figs, fields of red poppies and lavender; the islands and vineyards and medieval villages.

Still recovering from over a decade of conflict, many points east of the Adriatic are yet to be discovered by the masses of tourists who normally flood into Europe's picturesque old villages or bask on the many white, sandy beaches that line the coasts. If they only knew what was waiting for them! Here in the Balkans region of Eastern Europe, particularly the former Yugoslavia, I found a giant playground for active travelers and explorers of the unbeaten path. And now that the war has ended and peace has been restored, the region is ripe for exploration. And I was eager to develop itineraries that would allow our guests to experience it fully–before everyone else does!

The remarkable landscapes, mountains, monuments and villages found in the former Yugoslavia (and throughout Eastern Europe) are all places you should see in your lifetime. However, what will stick with you the most, and leave you feeling forever connected to this part of Europe, are the more unique personal experiences you are likely to have when visiting an area so recently affected by the pains of war. It's good to be aware of the tumultuous history of this area when you travel here, because just about every person you meet along the way (the farmers, your driver, the lady who poured your coffee that morning) has lived through a war. It is part of the beauty of these countries–the human experience, and what we learn from each other along the road less traveled. But the war has ended, and now these warm and gracious people welcome us to their land–happy to share their smiles, their wonderful food, and their history with us, because right now there is peace, and everything is beautiful.

Come experience it for yourself!

Anne Wood
MTS Program Director in Europe & the Pacific

John Yost - Making Up for Lost Time

I was lucky. I found my true love early, and stuck with it. I have always loved rivers, not only for that special adrenaline rush of big waves and rapids, but for where the rivers take me. Wild rivers are pathways leading away from cities, away from roads, away from the worst of man's effects on nature. They are pathways leading to wildlife, unspoiled natural wonders, fascinating local people, and quiet moments of self-discovery.

I co-founded Sobek Expeditions to support my river habit and to introduce others to my river loves around the world. Unfortunately it was impossible to run an international rafting company and enjoy the fruits of my labor with any frequency. For years I sent guides out to run trips down the best rivers we could find while I stayed home making sure we'd meet the next payroll. These were great years for me, but I rarely got on more than a couple rivers, usually first descents, each year.

Fortunately over the last five years, I have been able to make up for lost time. I am at last a guide again, roaming the world and rafting fine rivers everywhere for MTS. I have selected certain Sobek classics to revive and offer once more, like Papua New Guinea's Watut, the Katun in Siberia, and this fall's journey on the Tambopata River of Peru, and I have led or worked on a number of ongoing MTS programs too. These years and these trips have just been warm-up exercises for next year, when I will have the opportunity to float with MTS on Guatemala's Cahabon, the Çoruh in Turkey, the Rioni in Georgia, the Tara in Montenegro, and Ladakh's Zanskar--a true royal flush of rafting!

Each of these rivers is different, not just geographically but in what it has to offer the adventure traveler. The Cahabon is a small, exciting tropical river that is part of a journey to fabulous caves and Mayan ruins. The Çoruh is the definition of Class V whitewater, and our trips on it in 2007 are a final tribute to a king of rivers about to be submerged under the still waters of a reservoir. The Rioni is a re-exploration of a river we tried once more than 20 years ago that might become a replacement for the dammed Çoruh. The Tara is a crystal clear spring torrent in Europe's deepest canyon, a thrilling accent to ten days that include the medieval walled cities of the Adriatic Coast and marvelous hikes in the high peaks of Durmitor National Park. And last but far from least, the Zanskar is my revival trip for 2007, a classic whitewater run through the heart of Tibetan Buddhism, combining superb mountain scenery and steep gorges with remote lamaseries and palaces.

I am thrilled to be part of such an incredible year and hope these prospects excite you too. Perhaps you'll come join me on one or more of these whitewater winners?

John Yost
Sobek Co-Founder and Trip Leader
The Coruh River
Montenegro: Jewel of the Adriatic
Adventures in Guatemala
The Zanskar River


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