Build your own adventure with the Africa Safari Planner

The Africa Safari Planner is a new tool for travelersThe Africa Safari Planner, a newly launched website from adventure travel company Natural Habit Adventures, gives travelers the ability to create their own custom trips to the African bush. The site, which launched earlier this week, provides options to visit nine different countries, and stay in over 300 unique camps, while encountering some of the most spectacular wildlife on the planet.

The process begins by selecting which months you would prefer to travel in, and indicating the number of people in your group. From there, you’ll be presented with options for travel in both Eastern and Southern Africa, in such countries as Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, and Namibia. After selecting a starting destination, travelers are then given the choice of several single and multi-country routes for their African adventure, which then prompts the site to suggest possible camps to stay in for each day of the journey. Those camps are broken down into categories based on price, giving the customer the ability to budget accordingly.

That said, there isn’t much that is “budget” about these tours. They definitely fall into the upscale category, and travelers on these custom safaris aren’t exactly roughing it. No matter which camps they choose to visit, they’ll have their own comfortable rooms, complete with large beds and private showers. They’ll also enjoy gourmet meals in spacious dining rooms and access to a host of other amenities while at the lodge. Of course, you don’t go to Africa to hang out at the lodge, and each of the camps offers unique options for viewing the wildlife as well.

If you’re looking for a truly once-in-a-lifetime journey, and don’t mind paying for it, then this is an excellent tool for creating your own custom safari itinerary. There are less expensive alternatives for booking a trip to Africa, but few offer this kind of flexibility and options for travelers.

10 Etsy shops from around the world

With all of the Etsy shops out there, how are you supposed to know which shops to peruse and potentially support? While it’s a good thing to be supporting independent, local, self-made, all-natural, and/or struggling artists, it’s a difficult thing to know where to start. So here’s some advice, fellow travelers of the world: start with the Etsy shops that bring different regions of the world to your shopping window. Start with the Etsy shops that can transport you into another culture with a single browsing. Start with the Etsy shops that allow you to bring home goods with a flare from your favorite places if you can’t always be getting on a plane to travel to those places and bring home the goods yourself. Need some inspiration? Here’s a list of 10 Etsy shops from around the world, 10 personal favorites. This should help get you started.
1. Wooden decor from Ireland
Zen-inducing, modern art with a minimalist flare. Mostly wooden items like clocks, picture frames, and candle holders. ArtGlamourSligo on Etsy.

2. Jewelry, vases, home decor, and more from Kenya
This shop offers varying items from different artists. Taken from the shop description:
“Onacar School of Art is an innovative school that is helping organizations come up with income generating activities through various artisan activities such as soapstone carving, the making of jewelry and the designing of cards. All items are made from locally available materials that can be used without destroying the environment. Soapstone carving has changed from being just an art to being a production industry that helps organizations and communities generate income.” They’re selling good stuff for a good cause. Onacar on Etsy.

3. Laser woodcut jewelry from Argentina
Geometric shapes never looked so good! This artist, based in Buenos Aires, sells laser woodcut jewelry. Necklaces and earrings abound! Indomina on Etsy.

4. Organic skincare and perfume from Hawaii
I can smell these products from here! And they smell good! From the shop description:
“Ambrozhia’s essential blends are created with pure essential oils, absolutes, CO2 extracts and resins. I have spent over 18 years sourcing these precious botanical oils from reputable suppliers and am confident of their superb quality. I would like to note that I do incorporate special aromatics from fragrance oils in my perfumery to expand my blending palette and enliven the blends. One fragrance is musk oil, as I do not believe in using any animal products OR support animal testing. My Sandalwood is a combination of Arabian Sandalwood fo* and Austrailian Sandalwood essential oil as the Mysore forests of India are in the process of reforestation. Essential oils and fragrance oils have been combined and used in the art of perfumery since the 1800’s.” Aromatique Arts and Organic Skincare on Etsy.

5. Sea glass and other jewelry supplies from Grenada
Grenada, home of many fabulous beaches, boasts an incredible amount of island-esque jewelry and supplies. Interested in making some of your own? Buy from this seller. MamaBois on Etsy.

6. Vintage-inspired dog-themed art from Switzerland
Love your pooch? This Swiss shop will have you rejoicing in dog humor if so. Taken from the shop description: “As a digital designer, Kennel Club judge and a great admirer of dogs, I decided to go one step further to show that the dog is no longer just a companion and supporting figure in art, but the main protagonist of the events, and so receives well-deserved role.” NobilityDogs on Etsy.

7. Simple tea light holders and home decor from Japan
If you like the simple but beautiful Japanese aesthetic, then you’ll love this shop. Complete with minimalistic pieces, many designed for candles, I wouldn’t mind having some of these in my own house. TokyoCraftStudios on Etsy.

8. Throw pillow covers from India
Shimmering fabrics, intricate designs, and vivid colors help this shop’s items come to life. Based in Pune, these Indian throw pillow covers are gorgeous. TheHomeCentric on Etsy.

9. Coat racks, coffee tables, and other handmade things for the home from New Zealand
This homeware is simple, modern, and straight from New Zealand. ObjectifyHomeware on Etsy.

10. Gemstone jewelry from Singapore
Confession: I have purchased several items from this store myself. This Singapore-based artist has a way with gemstones. Looking for a special piece of jewelry? Look no further. I even wore one of her pieces for my wedding. AstralEye on Etsy.

A Tour of Etsy in New York

Ivory poaching leads to steep decline in elephant populations

Ivory poaching has had a severe impact on the elephant population in parts of AfricaA growing demand for ivory, particularly in Asia, has led to a substantial rise in the number of large-scale seizures of the banned material, and a steep increase in the poaching of elephants. So much so, that the populations of the animals in parts of Africa are now in serious decline.

According to a new report from wildlife-watchdog organization TRAFFIC, 2011 was a record year for ivory seizures. In the past twelve months, 13 large-scale seizures, defined as more than 800kg – or 1763 pounds – have taken place world wide. The combined weight of those seizures is in excess of 23 tons, which is the equivalent of roughly 2500 elephants killed. In contrast, in 2010 there were only six such seizures, totaling 10 tons.

Most illegal shipments of ivory are bound for China, where they are commonly used in traditional medicines. TRAFFIC officials believe that the majority of those shipments originate in Kenya and Tanzania, where elephant populations are now in a sharp decline. A recent census of herds in Tanzania for example, recorded a 42% drop in the number of elephants between 2006 and 2009.

The illegal poaching of elephants mirrors what we’ve seen recently with rhinos as well. Those animals are valued for their distinctive horns, which are also in demand throughout Asia. 2011 was a particularly bad year for those creatures too, as the black rhino was declared extinct in West Africa.

Efforts are being made to put a halt to the brutal killing of these animals and to stop the poachers from trading in these illegal goods. But it seems that demand is simply too high and the risks and punishments are too low. If you’ve ever wanted to see these amazing creatures in their natural habitats, you may want to do so soon. At this rate, the rhino and elephant may be gone from the wild in our lifetimes.

Ivory poaching on the rise thanks to Asian demand and a legal loophole

poaching, ivoryThe poaching of elephant tusks is a growing problem due to increased demand from Asian nations, the Kenyan newspaper Business Daily reports.

A loophole in the UN law regulating the ivory trade allows Japan and China to legally purchase some ivory from selected nations under tightly controlled contracts. This has encouraged poachers to smuggle their illegal goods to Asia. Once there, it’s much easier to unload them.

African nations are split on a global ivory ban, with Kenya supporting a ban and Tanzania wanting the trade to be legal. This basically comes down to whether nations want short-term profits by killing their wildlife and hacking their tusks off, or long-term profits from safaris and tourism.

Radio Netherlands reports that 2011 was a record year for ivory seizures, showing that at least some nations are taking the problem seriously. It also suggests, of course, that the trade is on the rise.

Authorities around the world made at least 13 large-scale seizures last year, bagging more than 23 tonnes of ivory. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, says that represents about 2,500 elephants. The figure is more than twice that of 2010.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress. It dates to sometime between 1880 and 1923, showing poaching isn’t a new problem.

New Book celebrates 10 years of the Tour d’Afrique

The Tour d'Afrique celebrates ten yearsThe Tour d’Afrique is a legendary cycling event that runs from Cairo to Cape Town on an annual basis. Covering more than 7500 miles, and requiring four months to complete, the Tour is a popular “bucket list” item for adventure travelers and cyclists the world over. This year, the Tour d’Afrique commemorates its tenth anniversary, and to celebrate, the company behind the epic event has released a fantastic coffee table book entitled 10: Celebrating Ten Years of the Tour d’Afrique Bicycle Race and Expedition.

The book begins with a forward written by Tour founder Henry Gold. A decade ago, when he first pitched the idea of a bike ride across Africa, Gold was met with skepticism to say the least. Many thought that it simply wasn’t possible for an event like this one to exist and he was regularly told he was crazy for even considering it. Ten year later, Gold has turned his idea into a yearly event, and his adventure travel company produces similar cycling tours in a host of other locations across the globe.

10 is filled with stories from the road, as riders share tales, quotes, and anecdotes of their own experiences from the Tour. For some, it was a life altering experience for others an adventure of a lifetime, but no one who has taken part in the journey has come away unchanged. Their words are likely to inspire readers to want to join Tour as well, and even if you haven’t been on a bike in years, you may find yourself dreaming of pedaling under African skies. The book doesn’t try to hide the challenges of the ride, which range from oppressive heat to unexpected downpours, not to mention ever changing road conditions, but the amazing beauty of Africa and the camaraderie that is formed amongst the riders, will have a universal appeal all the same.

If the words of the riders don’t inspire you than perhaps the amazing photographs contained in this book will. 10 is a visual love letter to cycling, adventure travel, and most importantly, Africa itself. The 252 page volume is packed with breathtaking images that have been compiled over the past decade and capture the spirit of the Tour very well. Not only do those photos show the day-to-day experiences of the ride, but they also manage to convey a sense of wonder at the countries and environments that the riders pass through, as well as the people that live there.

If you have a cyclist or adventure traveler on your holiday shopping list, than this book is sure to be a hit. Just be warned, after reading it, they may feel compelled to join the ride themselves. Africa is most definitely calling.