Tag Archive | "travel"

Gifts to Go

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trekking poles


By Jules Older


For travelers, there’s no shortage of toys and tools, gear and gadgets. The best of the lot make great gifts to go.

Here are some of my favorites.


Trekking Poles

You will get funny looks. You will be asked, oh, five times per mile, “How’s the skiing?” But for three reasons, trekking poles are well worth it.

First, they’re protectors of knees and spine.

Second, on rough terrain, they give secure foothold.

Third, they let you do what I like doing best — two things at once. They give your upper body a workout when you hike a trail or just go for groceries. Who wouldn’t develop abs of steel while taking a walk?

Here’s what you need to know. The two big trekking-pole companies are Black Diamond and Leki. I’ve tested both; they’re both a great investment in health. Poles come in aluminum and carbon fiber. Some fold; others telescope, either’s fine. You’ll need to buy rubber tips if you’re walking in town. And if you don’t need models that shrink, yes, de-basketed ski poles will do nicely.


Glasses To Go

This a familiar scene? You’re in a dark restaurant, and you can’t read the bloody menu. Oh, and your reading glasses are back at the hotel.

No mo. In a ThinOptics smartphone case, you have glasses to go. They’re pince-nez, meaning they fit on your proboscis, and are either the coolest things in the room or, as one woman asked me, “Are they your anti-chick magnet?”

You wouldn’t want to read War and Peace with your ThinOptics, but for menus, they’re just fine. And if the restaurant is really dark, place them on your nose, then find the flashlight app on your phone.


EarPeaceBlessed Quiet

From eyes to ears. I’m not a fan of those Bose-type sound-cancelling headphones, not because they don’t work — they do — but because you have to lug them around for the rest of your trip. And because they cost so much.

The traveler’s dilemma has always been that those freebie sponge earplugs they hand out on planes don’t work, and the ones that do cost the earth and weigh more than your lunch. Until now.

Now, there’s EarPeace. Designed to preserve audio fidelity while reducing noise at rock concerts, these tiny earplugs are equally adept at cancelling plane drone and reducing roomie snore. The two models (both of which work well) each go for well under $20.


Darn Tough SocksCool Feet

It’s not just that they’re made in Vermont, USA. It’s not just that they come with a lifetime guarantee. It’s mainly that Darn Tough makes the best socks I’ve ever worn. These days, I wear little else. That’s because they make models for (deep breath): hiking/skiing/tennis/winter/summer/snowboarding/hunting/running/biking/adults/kids.

Their newest model, Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion, uses breathable, fast-drying, light Merino, which keeps travelers’ tootsies warm in winter, cool in summer.


Canon S120Real Camera

Yes, smartphone cameras are good and getting better. But sometimes you want more — more control, more zoom, more sharpness … more.

For all this in a camera that fits in your pocket and is rugged enough to take skiing, the Canon S120 is hard to beat.

It shoots still and video, programmed and automatic, in bright sunlight and dark caves. The sound quality approaches miraculous. The zoom’s strong, too. Have a look at the nearly one hundred minimovies we’ve made with Canons and see what I mean.


LifeStraw_Products_v1Safe Water For You

We have to face it — as the world grows hotter, drinking water grows scarcer. Here are two personal solutions.

When you’re hiking or wandering remote areas, you cannot go for long without potable water. The LifeStraw provides it without boiling or iodine. It lets you turn nasty surface water into drinkable refreshment. I keep one LifeStraw for trekking and another in the car, just in case.

For urban travel to places where the water may be dodgy, consider the CamelBak Relay, a water filtration pitcher that filters ten-times faster than your old pitcher. It takes H20 from the tap to your tongue faster than any pitcher you’ve tried before.


H2OpenDoorsThe anti-Rolex

Few expenses in this world provide a worse STP, (satisfaction-to-price ratio), than an expensive watch. They don’t tell time as well as a Timex or your smartphone, and despite those beautifully lit ads in haute magazines, they don’t look better, either.

Few expenses in this world provide a better STP than a contribution to a worthy cause.

One of my faves is relatively new. H2OpenDoors takes a different approach to bringing pure water to impoverished parts of the planet. Instead of drilling to find water (an endeavor littered with the detritus of failure), H2OpenDoors uses existing water — lakes, rivers, bogs —removes the filth and toxins, then lets villagers drink clean and free. All powered by sun and wind. You can see how it works here.

Jules Older: PhD, psychologist, medical educator, writer, editor, app creator, videographer, ePublisher. Big awards, big adventures, big fun.

Jules Older: PhD, psychologist, medical educator, writer, editor, app creator, videographer, ePublisher. Big awards, big adventures, big fun.

Travels with Larry Olmsted: How to Travel to Cuba — Legally & Expertly

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Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba

In the nearly two decades that I have been writing on travel, few destinations have interested my audience as much as Cuba – I am asked about it all the time. For sure some of this is based on the principle of forbidden fruit, and some people are interested simply because our government makes it practically impossible for most American citizens to visit the Caribbean island. But much of it is Cuba’s legitimate appeal, be it cultural, natural, musical or historical, and for a variety of reasons, there is a sizable audience of Americans who would like to visit Cuba.

Now you can.

Read more …


larry  Award-winning travel journalist Larry Olmsted is a Contributing Editor to US Airways Magazine and Cigar Aficionado Magazine and “The Great Life” columnist for Forbes.com.

West on Books: Ode To Lawrence Osborne

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Lawrence Osborne

Lawrence Osborne

By Richard West

The British novelist and travel writer, Lawrence Osborne, writes in The Naked Tourist, “Few writers have a real voice, and when one does, the effect is nothing less than amorous…Mead [Margaret] has a voice in the act of travel.” Exactly what I vastly admire about Osborne’s five works of travel, a singular voice that’s a bit world weary, that of a true skeptimist  (all fine reporters are skeptical optimists), Oxbridge-level learned, and of a world-class hedonist. Been there, done all of that, what about a bit more?

O 1

In his first book, Paris Dreambook, (1990) he did the impossible by writing originally about the most written city in the world where he lived for several years.  Do they still slit the throats of live chickens in the Cite Veron? Between the arch of St. Denis and the rue de Turbigo do prostitutes still wear “Wouldn’t You Like To Squash Me” outfits that Osborne noted? He saw it all. Since dreambook, his unique style and eye has taken us through wine vineyards, one of the most primitive places on earth, ex-pat life in Bangkok, and drinking his way through the Mid-East.

O 2

… In The Accidental Connoisseur: An Irreverent Journey Through the Wine World (2004) Osborne no doubt agrees with Diogenes that his favorite wine is another man’s. With Ahab-like determination and concentration, he swirls, spits, and swallows gallons of refined grapes as he works his way through vineyards in California, France, and Italy. No surprise that Burgundies triumph, as the Belgians say, like “the baby Jesus dressed in velour pants sliding down your throat.” Oh yes, Osborne also is very funny, especially on the silly wine jargon perfected by the all-powerful wine critic Robert Parker. Tastes like “crisp stones”? “Melted asphalt”? “Crushed seashells?” Get outtaheah.

O 3

The Naked Tourist: In Search of Adventure and Beauty in the Age of the Airport Mall (2006). In a world where tourism has replaced travel, Osborne’s destination is to escape the former, get to the unknown as he heads east, first ambling through Dubai, Calcutta, the Andaman Islands, Bangkok, Bali, finally to the back of beyond: the impenetrable central rain forests of Irian Jaya, the Indonesian-held western part of New Guinea Island. Where his G.P.S. reads “No data”, thus “our dubious paradise did not even exist.” Where natives have never seen whites, live in large tree houses (where only men sleep), get aggressive when they smell shampoo,  eat mouse tails and “Capricorn beetle grubs, the caviar of the Kombai people, that taste like biting into sausage skins filled with explosive pus.” How did he get there and survive this place? It’s a page-turner.

O 4

Bangkok Days: A Sojourn In the Capital of Pleasure (2009) is simply the best book of life in a modern city written since Jan Morris’ Sydney, Hong Kong, and The Great Port (New York), books written from 1969 to 1992. “Hedonopolis” he called Bangkok in a previous work and the man revels in Bangkok’s erotic mise-en-scenery. Never in a sleazy way, never to the nasty tourist trap of the Pat Pong area, Osborne’s more the observer who does no harm and passes no judgment regarding the cheerful No Hands Restaurant (you’re fed by charming lady hostesses); the Dead Artists Street with racy theme bars named after Dali, Van Gogh, Goya, etc; the bar devoted to jilted lovers where you pin up a photo of the faithless one and hurl glasses at it while listening to music of despair. More, however, is a superb account of ex-pat day-to-day life in this fascinating city.  His motto seems to be Nunquam Dormio, I never sleep.

O 5

The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker’s Journey (2013) is Osborne’s latest and best-written work. He wants to bridge “the West and the East, the alcoholic and prohibited.” He begins in Lebanon where alcohol is legal and even has vineyards; hymns arak and vodka martinis at Beirut’s Albergo Hotel’s rooftop bar; has no trouble in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, before learning alcohol’s rare as cat’s tears in Muscat, only downing orange juice on New Year’s Eve with his disappointed girlfriend. He finds  one of only three bars in Islamabad (“like buying unwrapped pornography in a Walmart Supercenter in  Salt Lake City”); experiences the real danger of drinking in southern Thailand thanks to Muslim extremists; and ends in Cairo’s Windsor Hotel bar, his favorite watering hole in the Middle East.

Osborne explains the Koran’s prohibition of alcohol: it takes one out of one’s normal consciousness, thus falsifying every human relationship and to God as well. He disagrees and is eloquent on the pleasures of drinking:  it is “life giving, exultant, sense enhancing, liberating…increases spontaneity and frankness, affection, and temporary selflessness.”

Indeed, sir. Thanks Lawrence Osborne for all your work. As the Irish say, drink as many cups as the years you wish to live.

Visit Amazon.com to purchase Lawrence Osborne’s books.

richard-west-300x225  Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters.

The Interview: Paul Theroux

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Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux

Interview by Everett Potter

I can’t think of a better guide to Africa than the travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux. He went to Malawi in 1963 as a Peace Corps volunteer when he was 22 and traveled extensively through the eastern half of the continent to write the bestseller Dark Star Safari a decade ago. Now he’s back after a trek through West Africa, through some of the most hellish places on earth, writing about it in his new book, The Last Train to Zona Verde. The author of The Great Railway Bazaar and Riding the Iron Rooster discovers “cities that were indistinguishable from one another in their squalor and decrepitude.”  As in the best of his many books, Theroux convincingly takes you along for every manic bus ride. His wonderment is yours, whether he’s contemplating eating a flyblown leg of chicken, dealing with a ferocious Angolan border guard, or deciding that this time, he’s had quite enough. It’s a remarkable, teeth-gritting tale, and I caught up with him this week to ask him a few questions.

EP: Paul, has any other place you’ve traveled been quite as hellish as Angola?

PT: Yes – many but the place that stands out is Vietnam in 1973, when I took the train to Hue, the war was still hot but US troops had mostly withdrawn. A period of suspense and violence, which I wrote about in The Great Railway Bazaar.

EP: One of the revelations of “The Last Train to Zona Verde” is that all is not what it seems with the Jo/’hoansi in Namibia. But are there tribal peoples in Africa still living a life in the bush that is closer to the stone age than the 21st century?

PT: Not really. Virtually all peoples in Africa have contact with the delights of civilization, such as soldiers, missionaries, tax collectors and dictators.

EP: Early in the book, you say that “If I had a sense of foreboding about this trip, it was because travel into the unknown can also be like dying.” Is Africa an extreme version of this foreboding, since three people you meet in the course of writing the book do, in fact, die?

PT: I did have an eerie feeling, and it;s true that three people I came to like, who befriended me died. And now that number is four, because Vicki, a woman who ran a tiny guest house in a township outside Cape Town – she welcomed me – was stabbed to death by her husband not long ago.


EP: The singer Bono of U2 comes up for some barbed comments in the book – a “ubiquitous meddler,” you call him — and other do-gooders, charities and aid agencies fare no better. Why do these types get under your skin so much?

PT: Because to improve their image they present themselves as saviors in places that are quite capable of saving themselves, and they distort the reality of life in Africa. I wish they would either join the Peace Corps or else go away.

EP: You travel through parts of South Africa, Namibia and Angola on this trip, and visit “… futureless places … of stupefying disorder.” You also make an impassioned argument towards the end of the book about why enough is quite enough, that it’s time to go home and not continue further along the West African coast. But you also state early on that “Africa drew me onward because it is still so empty, so apparently unfinished and full of possibilities…” Do you still believe that?

PT: Yes, the great green heart of Africa is largely in its natural state, and there is always hope in wilderness.

EP: “The Last Train to Zona Verde” ends with you remarking on similarities between the red clay roads of the African bush and the  American South, and of the poor people who live in both places. Will you write about these Americans, and this part of the United States?

PT: I have a longing to look deeply into the rural south, the Deep South, and hope to find something to write about.

EP: You mention traveling in Africa with a shortwave radio, something I used to do years ago. I gave it up in the age of the Internet but do you still rely on BBC World Service and other stations to keep you connected when you’re off the grid?

PT: A small shortwave radio is a great friend, when you are in an outof the way place and want to know whats happening in the world. I am speaking of places without TV or internet connections, and there are many in Africa.

EP: I’m curious to know what you did upon leaving Africa. Did you go somewhere for R&R?

PT: Home is always R & R for me – after all, I live in Hawaii half the time and Cape Cod the rest.

EP: Are you still kayaking? I really enjoyed “The Happy Isles of Oceania” and shorter pieces you’ve done on kayaking off Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.

PT: I was paddling off the North Shore of Oahu just the other day and in fact sighted some humpback whales in the distance. And it’s a satisfaction to me that The Happy Isles is still in print and finding new readers.

EP: This may be your last book on Africa, but will you write another travel book?

PT: I hope so, because the ambition to write one is an excuse to go to the ends of the earth.

West on Books: Paul Theroux’s African Valediction

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Reviewed by Richard West

Perils he sought not, but ne’er shrank to meet:

  The scene was savage, but the scene was new;

  This made the ceaseless toil of travel sweet.” (“Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” Byron)

For 50 years Paul Theroux has been a traveling man, and as dean of American travel writing, chronicled his wanderings in fifteen best-selling books. Like Childe Harold, for Theroux it has not been a question of happiness but the happiness of the quest. Occasionally, as in “The Kingdom by the Sea,” he has come across as ornery as a bunkhouse cook, but, for me, that has been part of the great charm found in his writings. Lovely prose, displaying the curiosity of great explorers, opinions!, chronicling the Sisyphrustrations of hard daily travels absent in “tourism” have been the admirable hallmarks of his travel narratives.

Ten years ago in “Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town” Theroux explored the right-hand-side of Africa. In his new “The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari” he resumes his trip in Cape Town and “after seeing how that city had changed in ten years, travel north in a new direction up the left-hand-side until I found the end of the line, either on the road or in my mind.” Both it turns out in this bitter-sweet wonderfully-crafted book that takes him from South Africa north through Namibia to the dreadful abyss of Angola. Energetic Paul Theroux has aged very well (he is 71), but much of the Africa he found in this new book is a violent trashcan of MRE’s (morally repugnant elites) or living-on-the-edge poor folk.

It starts well in Cape Town– improved townships, a booming economy, the enduring beauty of Table Mountain which holds more plant species than all of the British Isles—and lovely towns to the northwest like Citrusdal and Springbok. Namibian cities like Windhoek and Swakopmund are clean and orderly, reflecting their Germanic heritage. But look on their outskirts: hardscrabble gatherings  like Swakopmund’s Mondesa bleak township with its poverty, high HIV/AIDS infection rates, unemployment, and general neglect.

 And it gets worse the closer Theroux gets to Angola, the only African colony that began as a penal settlement. “Portugal’s Siberia” Theroux calls it, now obscenely rich ($40 billion annually) from off-shore oil and diamonds, yet remains a brutalized landscape with stumps of deforestation, burned-out tanks from a decades-long civil war, poisoned streams, no wild animals (all killed in the fighting or eaten by the hungry populace).  He gamely endures the squalor, an ATM fraud of $48,000, the rudeness and contempt of officials, the deaths of three friends (one beaten to death), inedible food, what sociologists call “challenging urban environments” and we call bad neighborhoods, as he sinks into a Lear-like lamentation at the ruination of his beloved Africa. By the end you picture our seasoned traveler with his head in his hands like Van Gogh’s portrait of Dr. Gachet.

“Zona Verde” is a euphemism for the bush, the non-urban outback Theroux loves the most. Yet this train-loving traveler refuses the trip: “Not this time. I had no desire to board the train. And, thinking it, I was joyous—a great relief to conclude that this was the end of my trip. No more…I felt beckoned home.” OWAWA, oh well, Africa wins again.

richard-west-300x225-150x1501   Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters




The Best Travel Books of 2011

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"Estonia" by Alexander Theroux

By Richard West

 Welcome to  Everett Potter Travel Report’s 4th Annual Best Travel Books of the Year choices, a selection of opinions and quotes from previous reviews that whirls and dips like a drunkard’s bedroom.
One of the main themes in 2011’s travel narratives is exploration of the back of beyond: East Prussia, South America’s Guianas, Estonia, the almost unchartable, unfindable east central Europe of Romania and Albania.
Another is the paucity of fine books on traveling the U.S.A. William McKeen’s excellent “Mile Marker Zero: The Moveable Feast of Key West” is more history than travel.  Without further ado’s or adon’t’s:
1. John Gimlette’s  Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge ranks as our best of 2011, “The adventurous Gimlette goes everywhere, suffers, endures with bravado. Don’t miss this book so you can give the places themselves a pass.”
2. Alexander Theroux’s  Estonia” A Ramble Through the Periphery, as he wrote, “seeing Estonia—disrobing her—was my focus.”   Mine was “an astonishing dissection of this little-known country but the ramble was more through Theroux’s head than the countryside.”
3.  Max Egremont’s Forgotton Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia, where Kant  taught, where Herder and Hamann studied, where Copernicus revolutionized science. “an extremely intelligent trip through a ‘vanished kingdom’ of Teutonic orders and the history of the Baltic.”
4. Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands.  “The subtitle reads ‘Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will’…99 per cent of them are dots in vast oceans that amaze with astonishing stories. The result  here is literary and graphic beauty.”

"To a Mountain in Tibet" by Colin Thubron

5.  Colin Thubron’s To A Mountain In Tibet. “As always Thubron’s thorough research permeates his lyrical language, especially on the allegedly sin-cleansing 32-mile circular path at 18,000 on Mt. Kailas… a beautiful travel work that also serves as a chapter of autobiography.”
6. Andrzej Stasiuk’s On The Road To Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe.  “By which he means forgotton villages in the outback of Ukraine-Romania-Slovakia-Hungary-Albania…places of no future, of the used-to-haves and the never-hads…all utterly fascinating.”
7.  David Downie’s Paris, Paris: Journey  Into the City of Light.  “All 31 essays are beautifully written, combining history, personal thoughts, facts. Don’t leave your hotel without it.”

Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters.

West on Books: A Review of “The Tao of Travel” by Paul Theroux

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Reviewed by Richard West

Somewhere in George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” Will Ladislaw airily posits that some places should remain unknown, “preserved as hunting grounds for the poetic imagination.” I don’t believe Paul Theroux got Will’s message. In the 50 years since he first spread his canvas to the gale, Theroux has been almost everywhere  and turned his travels into thirteen non-fiction travel narratives. Oh yes, with the success of his first, “The Great Railway Bazaar (published in 1975), and those that followed, he became the father of modern American travel writing.

In his fourteenth travel book, “The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road,” Theroux gathers advice, wisdom, reminiscences, philosophy, and miscellany from his own books and those of previous great travelers. He begins  with his own echolalia,  wise, hard-earned counsel that defines authentic travel: “Luxury is the enemy of observation…tourists will believe almost anything as long as they are comfortable…my ideal of travel is just show up and head for the bush…a train journey is travel; everything else—planes especially—is transfer.”


Paul Theroux, in motion.


Subsequent chapters gather travel wisdom from legendary wanderers like Dervla Murphy, Samuel Johnson, Evelyn Waugh,  Freya Stark, Patrick Leigh Fermor.  The great Victorian traveler, Sir Francis Galton, in his “The Art of Travel” advises us on sleeve-rolling: “Sleeves must be rolled inwards, toward the arm, not the reverse way.” Ms. Murphy suggests  learning as much as possible about religious and social taboos, then respect them.  Robert Louis Stevenson sighs, “Sightseeing is the art of disappointment.”  Oddly, Theroux’s book doesn’t mention England’s Colin Thubron, arguably the greatest living travel writer, or anything from the  luminous younger Theroux’s: Tim Mackintosh-Smith, William Dalrymple, or John Gimlette.

Theroux fans will delight in his final chapters in which he reveals  his miss or hit  parade: the top 10 dangerous places (Port Moresby, Newark, downtown Nairobi, post soccer match England); top 10 happy places (Bali, Orkney Islands, Costa Rica); alluring places (Greenland, Angola, Timor), and his Five Travel Epiphanies. Finally his own Tao of Travel:

  1. Leave home.
  2. Go alone.
  3. Travel light.
  4. Bring a map.
  5. Go by land.
  6. Walk across a national frontier.
  7. Keep a journal.
  8. Read a novel that has no relation to the place you’re in.
  9. If you must bring a cell phone, avoid using it.

10.  Make a friend.

To which I would only add: when you’re lost, follow a dog.



Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters.

The Interview: Bespoke Travel with Trufflepig

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Climbing Striding Edge in the Lake District, England. All photos courtesy of Trufflepig.

By Everett Potter

In the late 1990’s, I traveled through Morocco with Butterfield & Robinson, the Canadian biking and walking company. On this trip, I met an engaging young guide named Greg Sacks. Shortly thereafter, I met another bright, adventurous B&R guide named Charlie Scott. After they spent years taking well-heeled travelers around the world on myriad adventures, they left B&R to do their own thing. They called it Trufflepig and simply put, it’s custom travel taken to its logical conclusion: nothing is off the shelf, everything is meticulously planned, in destinations that would try the patience of Job. To get you jazzed, this Toronto-based company (with an outpost in Paris) has one of the most beautiful and understated  travel websites I’ve ever seen. I sat down to chat with Charlie Scott at breakfast at New York’s Balthazar restaurant not long ago before he was off to parts unknown.

Trufflepigs: (L to R) Greg Sacks, Jack Dancy and Charlie Scott

Everett Potter: Charlie, let’s start with obvious question: why do you call it Trufflepig?

Charlie Scott: It just seemed the perfect metaphor to explain what we do. A truffle pig is a passionate beast with an instinctive nose for finding precious things that are difficult to find. The pig leads the hunter deep into the woods, they sniff around, and figure out exactly where the hunter needs to dig in order to unearth a truffle (the fungal variety, not the chocolates) hidden deep in the dirt. We do the same thing. But instead of the forest, it’s an overload of options. And instead of a truffle, it’s a meaningful and memorable travel experience.

EP: Am I correct in saying that the origins of Truffle Pig lie in Butterfield & Robinson?

CS: Very much so. The three of us who started Trufflepig (Jack Dancy, Greg Sacks and myself) all cut our travel teeth at B&R. We guided, we researched, we trip planned, we took photos, we got completely and irreversibly hooked on exploring the world. It was a remarkable place to learn and a great place develop our own sense of travel. If you strip away the trips, the brochures, the bikes and walking sticks, B&R is simply an approach to travel. We share a similar spirit.

Seeing Victoria Falls, Zambia, from an ultralight with Trufflepig

EP: How large is Trufflepig, the company? I get the sense that the “office” is virtual and that you’re all on your smart phones in two-seater aircraft on different continents, seeking remote spots for your clients.

CS: There are nine of us who work full time at Trufflepig–most on the ‘Farm’ (yes, we actually call it that) in Toronto, and a couple at our tiny outpost in Paris. And then there are a number of Pigs (independent guides, writers, photographers, and friends) in the field, who help us with our digging and delivery. All of us travel often (sometimes in small planes), keeping our research fresh and growing our relationships.

EP: How would you characterize the Trufflepig approach to adventure travel and how does it differ from the competition?

CS: Are you sure you want to get me started on this? Our approach is to genuinely know what we’re talking about, treat our clients like friends, and not shy away from having an opinion. When it comes to putting trips together, we select ingredients that have an extra measure of character and offer an extra shot of quality. While our trips tend to be somewhat to very high-end, we don’t choose hotels, restaurants, guides (or anything) on price. We pick the people and places that we personally like, and that we feel will deliver a true sense of the place. Sometimes those things cost a fortune, other times they don’t. I don’t feel I can fairly comment on the competition–it’s so hard to separate the steak from the sizzle.

Fording the Aconcagua River in Chile with Trufflepig

EP: Is this strictly bespoke travel we’re talking about?

CS: Yes

EP: Give me an example or two of trips you’ve done for Truffle Pig clients?

CS: Our trips are literally all over the map. Since every trip is made from scratch, we never quite know what’s going to happen when the phone rings. About this time last year, I got a call from a Scottish guy living in Germany. He wanted to take his family (including a 5-year old daughter) on a no-holds-barred trip around the world. Two months later they were on a plane to Hong Kong, and for the next six months we arranged every inch of their adventure–every hotel, every transfer, every everything. Because there was so much planning involved (they ended up visiting something like 18 countries), and they wanted to keep things flexible, the itinerary was rarely finalized more than a few weeks ahead. It was like fighting a forest fire. But they were incredibly game for anything and trusted us to make decisions. It was silky smooth and they had an amazing time. On another recent call, we had a client ask if we could arrange a mountain biking trip in Guatemala. He was supporting an archaeological dig of an ancient Maya city deep in the jungle and wanted to spend a couple of nights there with a dozen friends. There are no hotels in that neck of the woods so we built them a luxury tented camp, with proper beds, private toilets and solar showers (in their tents). We had the canvas safari tents custom-made in New Hampshire, scouted new bike routes by helicopter, found a shaman to conduct rituals in the jungle, and basically went half-mad trying to pull it off. But we did. These are two extreme examples of what we’ve done. The reality is that most of our trips are 1-3 week journeys for regular people looking for a smart itinerary with a thoughtful, creative twist.

Captain Charisma, India

EP: You’ve been in this business for some time. How do you see adventure travel changing, in an increasingly frenetic world dealing with recession worries and lack of free time?

CS: I guided my first trip in 1994. In those days – did I just say that? — scheduled departure, group trips were the norm for tour operators. People weren’t really thinking of custom trips as an option. But now, everyone wants their trip, their way, on their dates. Why wouldn’t you? The world is only going to become more bespoke, and I suspect travel companies and everyone else will get better and more efficient at delivering in this way. In turn, that’ll make things more affordable and time-efficient for travelers–just as we find out we have and even less time.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

EP: Any new destinations for Truffle Pig this coming year?

CS: Always. We’ve got some research planned for Israel, Syria and Zambia. And I’ve just stated working on a ridiculously uncivilized winter trip in the Yukon.

EP: What places remain on your personal travel wish list?

CS: Don’t laugh.  Chicago — I know, it’s borderline fraud.  And Newfoundland, Argentina, and Myanmar.

Waterside lunch at Mali Zaton, Croatia

EP: When you’re not working, where do you find your center of gravity?

CS: Neck deep in antique markets.  The scruffier the better.

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West on Books: Crossing the Heart of Africa

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Crossing the Heart of Africa

Reviewed by Richard West

Are you about to get married? Be careful what you read.  In a book on language evolution, Julian Smith, soon to wed Laura, his girlfriend of seven years,  ran across  a paragraph about Ewart Grogan’s 4,500-mile walk in the late 19th-century  from Cape Town to Cairo, the first human to traverse the length of Africa . Why? To prove to his prospective father-in-law he was worthy enough to marry daughter Gertrude, Ewart  being an adventurous –but-penurious young  chappie, Gertrude being wealthy and above his station.

An accomplished biologist and journalist, Smith had no in-laws worried about the merger. He was the problem.  Like many a prospective groom, he fretted about…wed lock. Commitment.  Life ever after preciously tempoed as a cotillion. Parenthood. So before crossing the Rubiconsciousness stream of marriage—Shazam!—why not retrace Ewart Grogan’s route through eight countries of East Africa, not only to highlight this forgotten explorer’s remarkable feat,  but prove to himself life held further adventures. Thus his new book, Crossing the Heart of Africa: The Odyssey of Love and Adventure.

Goodbye Laura, hello damp-towel-smelling Beira, Mozambique’s second largest city, also the start of Grogan’s trip, though Smith had to manage without the Englishman’s 150 porters and had only two months before the wedding, not two years.  From here north Smith endured the usual  trials of African travelers (not tourists):  days hotter than dollar chili, dust, riding buses filled to the point of metal fatigue,  insectile bedding,  food he despised like Beethoven would Sid Vicious.

And too many frustrating instances to count that brought to mind an acronym familiar to all African travelers: OWAWA, oh, well, Africa wins again.

But he did it with anchoritic zeal and the patience of old wallpaper while stumbling upon many kind people and earthly wonders.  I’ll bet he didn’t know Lake Malawi has more species of fish (1,000+) than any other in the world; or that Lake Tanganyika, only 45 miles across, would stretch from New York to Charlotte, N.C.;  or get to see, face to face in Rwanda’s Parc National Des Volcans, one of the world’s 700 remaining mountain gorillas. And he must have felt a sense of history squatting under the mango tree where Stanley famously met Livingstone in November, 1871, near the Tanganyikan lake port of Kigoma.

Like Homer’s Odysseus, Smith on his way home to his own Penelope avoided the Lotus Eaters (drugs), the Sirens (whores), a cannibalistic Cyclops (though Grogan fought his way past warlike Congolese  whose tribal name translated as “ eaters of flesh”), and goddesses like Calypso urging him to stay awhile.  But thanks to 21st century unpleasantness—the ongoing genocidal civil war in Sudan—he didn’t reach Cairo as did Grogan. What can’t be ended must be mended so 48 hours after reaching Juba in Southern Sedan, realizing farther travel was foolhardy, he was flying home to Penelope’s Portland, Oregon.

Grogan married his Gertrude two years after his adventure, honeymooned in Paris, and wrote his widely popular “From The Cape to Cairo: The First Traverse of Africa From South To North” before settling in  Kenya.  He finally died, age 92, in 1967, 24 years after his beloved Gertrude.  Julian Smith married his beloved Laura 107 years and nine days after Ewart’s ceremony.  To the Smiths we offer a popular toast of 19th-century Anglo explorers of Africa: “Broth to the ill, stilts to the lame.”

Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters.

Win a Free 4 Night Vacation in the Florida Keys — a $1,600 Travel Contest Prize — at Hawk’s Cay and Hyatt Key West

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Hawk's Cay Resort.

Our latest travel contest has just ended and one lucky winner has won a 4-night stay in the Florida Keys at Hawks Cay Resort and the Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa.

But the good news is that our next contest — for a getaway at Mohonk Mountain House — begins on July 7, 2010. So come back and enter daily for a chance to win.


Hyatt Key West

Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa.