Accommodations range from a New Zealand two-unit motel inside a 1950s Bristol freighter plane (rates start at $180 per night, sleep in the cockpit or tail), to $10,000 for a night on a Gulfstream G5 jet in Beverly Hills (rate includes one hour of flight time and three hours of flight attendant service. Divide that by 18 passengers and that’s…still a lot of money, but a priceless experience. Don’t want to leave the airport? If you can find a flight into Teuge Airport in the Netherlands, you can stay aboard a former government plane, now fully tricked out into a private suite. If you’d prefer a more traditional place to stay, you might enjoy the Wine Country Airplane House in Sonoma county, which has not only an airplane tail on the front of the secluded house, but also a piece of the old Golden Gate Bridge.
Check out more unique AirBnB listings in their collection of wishlists.
Children crowded the simple wooden benches on the right side of the church. Village elders and older children filled the benches facing in from the wings, while we sat with other local adults on the benches to the left of the aisle. Tapestries of the Good Shepherd and the Last Supper spread across the white wall above the pulpit, while a minister spoke in compassionate Fijian to the children.
After a pause a boy raised his hand and spoke, perhaps answering a question put to them. Mynah birds squawked outside as a quiet giggle rippled through the congregation, then the minister spoke on, smiling.
Sitting on the bench behind me, Al, my Fijian guide, tapped my shoulder and explained in a whisper what had just happened.
“The preacher was giving the children a lesson on the evils of alcohol. He explained that he put an earthworm in a bottle, then filled the bottle with alcohol, and the worm died. ‘Now what is the lesson here?’ he asked the children. The boy raised his hand and said, ‘You have to drink a lot of beer to kill the tapeworm inside.'”
The congregation broke into song, and it was a good thing because I couldn’t hold back my laughter and Al laughed along with me under the cover of the hymn that bounced off the simple white walls and flowed over the community and out to sea.That encounter in the community church at Vatudamu, just 30 minutes down the road from Savusavu on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island, encapsulated my experience here. Vanua Levu offers everything you could want in a South Pacific islands escape: superb snorkeling and diving, luxurious resorts, every imaginable tropical fruit plucked straight off the tree, seafood pulled from the ocean only minutes before eating, boat journeys up jungle-covered rivers or out into Natewa Bay – the second largest bay in the South Pacific – even golf. But while I enjoyed all that, what I took away most was the graciousness of the people.
I was booked into La Dolce Vita, a little bit of Italy in the South Seas thanks to the efforts of Luigi (Lui) Giuliani, who emigrated from Abruzzo, Italy, to Melbourne, Australia, in 1955 when he was 15 years old. He played semipro soccer there until he was in his 30s and got his introduction to Fiji when touring with his club in the 1970s. It planted a seed that germinated over time, and after a career as a civil engineer and owner of his own high-rise construction business, he bought 43 acres of land on the island and began something of a Swiss Family Robinson project to improve on what nature had provided.
He did it all with local help and his own ingenuity, beginning in 2000 when he bought the property and built himself a house. Always looking for the next improvement, he hired a local named Joe who had minimal carpentry skills and trained him to build. Over time Joe became a master and helped build the five bungalows that form the core of the resort that can accommodate 14 guests.
In 2003, Lui met a local woman named Margaret Cornish, who was managing the Copra Shed, a small shopping center in Savusavu, after she’d worked 11 years for the Marshall Islands Embassy and eight years for Air Pacific. Soon they were a team and then they were married and their business took on a new energy.
Within a few years they’d added a 6-hole golf course that Lui built himself, hired a local man named Michelle to cook and helped him, through experimentation and reading books, become a superb chef (he now lives on site in his own bungalow), hired two local gardeners and a woodcarver to carve faces of traditional Fiji Island warriors to display around the property and, in a nod to Lui’s native Italy, two gladiators to flank the entrance to the lagoon.
The lagoon might be Lui’s most impressive project. All along he knew that his property was vulnerable to storm surges and he wanted to build a seawall and lagoon to protect it. A few hundred yards off the beach the reef ends and beyond the breaking surf the sea drops quickly to 100 feet or more. To do what he felt was necessary, he needed to lease the seafront. It took him two years to get the government to agree to a 99-year lease, but a few months before they closed the deal, a cyclone blew through and the storm surge trashed the place. Part of the front wall of the house blew out, the doors went, the swimming pool brimmed with rocks, sand filled the house, and they had a resort full of guests coming in 17 days.
“Before something like this happens you worry about it,” Lui said, “but after it happens, there’s nothing you can do but clean it up. If you keep your mind to it and don’t lose your spirit, you can get it done. I must have hauled twenty loads of sand out of here. We had people from the village working with us picking up everything and putting it back together. Well, we got it done in 14 days.”
I was a grateful beneficiary of Lui’s grand vision and hard work. Each meal I had could have challenged anything served in the top restaurants in my hometown of San Francisco (for instance, cabbage stuffed with shellfish, blackened walu, cassava fries that had to be tasted to be believed, homemade ice cream and meringue cakes).
One memorable day we took a boat excursion up the Galogalo River to Salt Lake surrounded by imposing jungle-covered cliffs as if we were in the middle of a caldera; we had to wait until the tide was low enough to get under the bridge, then took a tide pooling walk to Lui’s Island, 20 minutes across the strait at low tide, where we saw deep blue sea stars and countless tentacled creatures poking out of the sand looking for nourishment. Little fish-like worm-like creatures zipped away from our clomping feet, and small crabs scuttled off to avoid us.
One of Lui’s next projects is a tree house on the island, and soon he’ll have a caretaker there to watch over his property. Another neighbor told us a “mad German” who lives in a mansion across the way rows across to the island and steals the sand from Lui’s beach, but Margaret just laughed when we mentioned it. “Nature always brings it back,” she said. “The tidal flow always changes things.”
One day we drove the dirt road along Vanua Levu’s narrowest point to a boat launch where we were greeted by several local people with an exuberant “Bula!” and a handshake, one after the other as if at a wedding reception. By then I had learned that for Fijians this was nothing special, they were just saying a genuine hello and making me feel welcome.
We were planning to look for spinner dolphins and snorkel on the reef in Natewa Bay. Lui’s carpenter, Joe, served as boatman and guide. Margaret said that nine times out of ten they see dolphins when they go out, and usually when they don’t spot them it’s because of the weather. “If you go out on a nice day and you don’t see them, you can expect a storm to come in the next day.”
Her assessment fit the pattern of my experience. The wind picked up as we headed out, and the calm sea turned choppy. An hour out Joe said we’d better turn back because the wind had shifted, so we swung around to a coral reef, a long patch of green in the limitless blue sea, observing a few flying fish along the way. Thick jungle hung off distant cliffs and banana and coconut trees dropped to mangroves at the water’s edge. We snorkeled in our tropical aquarium with small fish of every color, Joe diving deep to touch patches of coral that instantly changed from yellow to white. Back on the boat, he said he’s able to dive to depths beyond 100 feet because he’s been doing it so long. When we’d had our fill, we headed in to do what comes naturally in the tropics: read, nap and enjoy doing nothing.
Not long after we’d returned, the thunderheads formed, marching across the sky all around, dropping huge swaths of rain across the horizon. Here, at La Dolce Vita Retreat (“not Resort,” Lui said, “because it’s a retreat from the rat race rather than a place that offers every possible activity”), only the wind came up, the local mongoose came out, the flying foxes (giant fruit bats) lumbered across the sky like antediluvian spirits and the mynah birds kept up their incessant musical chatter.
Lui, meanwhile, enjoyed his peace and quiet. “I’m more Basil Fawlty than true host,” he said. “You know, ‘the only thing wrong with this hotel is the bloody guests!’ I always say the only thing missing from our place is a big No Vacancy sign.” He may say that all he wants, but he’s a superb storyteller and excellent host, and I’m sure he knows it.
That day at the church, after the ceremony where I’d been welcomed from the lectern by a tall man with a booming voice, I exchanged greetings with many of the people. One tall fellow with a friendly but dignified air wore a broad tie with an image of the bible woven into it and “The Bible” inscribed above the image. I thought it indicated a fine sense of humor so I asked if I could photograph it. Of course, he beamed, and afterward I learned that his name was Romulus, he was the brother of Wilson, the man with the booming voice, and Wilson was the husband of Leola, the exceedingly warm La Dolce Vita staff person who served our meals every day.
Of course it’s a small world in a village, but I was tickled nonetheless. Romulus and Wilson were as welcoming as could be, and elders of the community. They’re the fifth-generation owners of the local estate that measures more than 100 acres. Romulus’s house is visible just across the way from the church on the hill, a house that I’d photographed because I found it and its setting picturesque.
I’m not a churchgoer. I’m barely a believer. But that Sunday morning in Vatudamu, Vanua Levu, Fiji Islands, I felt right at home and at peace with the world, just as I had at Lui’s La Dolce Vita. And isn’t that what a church service, and an island escape, are supposed to do for you?
They started trekking the planet more than a year ago, promising to travel the globe bringing children in classrooms from around the world with them, virtually, as they visited scores of countries and continents. Now their journey is complete and Darren and Sandy Van Soye are back to tell about it.
“Our dream is to educate children about geography and world cultures so we’ve planned the ultimate trek around the world to do just that,” Sandy Van Soye told Gadling when they began. In January of this year after passing the 50,000 mile mark, they had stopped in 40 countries with another dozen or so to go before returning to the United Sates. At the time, they had already beaten their own projections with 850 classrooms in 20 countries following their journey online.
Now with their world trek complete, the Van Soyes have traveled a total of 77,000 miles or the equivalent of three times around the earth at its equator. Their trek is an impressive amount of travel in such a short period of time for sure. But how they went about it is even more interesting.Starting on January 28, 2012, the journey began aboard a cruise ship, Princess Cruises‘ Pacific Princess, a small ship, which proved to be an efficient mode of transportation.
“We used cruise ships to get us between continents so that we could see more of the world,” said Sandy Van Soye. Spending 97 days of the nearly 500-day trek at sea the couple racked up 35 ports in 18 countries. An impressive number but travel via cruise ship is not the fastest way to be sure. From San Diego, it took 29 days to reach Sydney Australia, normally a 16- or 17-hour flight. But along the way, they visited Hawaii, American Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand.
After a seven-day trek in Tasmania, the team boarded another cruise ship, Ocean Princess to travel near Australia’s eastern coast, along the way visiting the Great Barrier Reef, the city of Darwin, Bali, Indonesia, and Ko Samui, Thailand, before arriving in Singapore. At each stop, they selected travel plans that would show students following along the natural beauty and unique people they encountered.
On land for the next eight months via a series of multiple day hikes, they visited 27 more countries in Asia, Europe and Africa before boarding the Pacific Princess in Rome. That Mediterranean sailing crossed the Atlantic Ocean, sailing up the Amazon River all the way to Manaus, Brazil.
Two months on land took them through 4,600 miles of South America before the final leg of their trek a voyage on Star Princess in Valparaíso, Chile, for their fifth and final cruise home.
Of all the places they went, which was their favorite? Kenya because of its rich culture and natural beauty
“It is a place that kids (have) heard of, so it was a pleasure to go there and talk more about it,” said Sandy of their visit to three Kenyan schools, one in the Maasai Mara and two in the Samburu region.
The biggest surprise along the way? Riga, Latvia
“There was just so much to see and do here and, though it is a capital city, it was relatively inexpensive,” said Sandy.
In addition to a lifetime of memories, the Van Soye’s trek produced a library of 60 four-page education modules for teachers available as supplements to existing classroom materials.
Also, their Trekking the Planet website contains free articles, quizzes, more than 70 documentary videos and a summary infographic: “Trekking The Planet: By The Numbers.“
So is that the end of the road for this couple? Hardly.
Driven by the fact that nearly a third of U.S. young adults cannot locate the Pacific Ocean on a map, Trekking the Planet hopes to help educators change these statistics with future geography-oriented projects.
Hola and buenos tardes from sunny and warm Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, “Hotel News We Noted” readers. This week, as always, we round up the best, the worst and the most interesting news in the hotel industry, tracking resort openings, pampering packages and other reportings from our travels.
Stay tuned next week for a special edition, including a full recap of our Cabo exploration. We welcome your feedback and comments, so feel free to shoot us an email or leave a note below with ideas and thoughts.
Hotel Wi-Fi: IHG Announces Free Global Wi-Fi for Travelers … An Innovative or a “Finally, What Took You So Long” Moment?
Late last month, InterContinental Hotels Group announced that they were offering free Wi-Fi to all loyalty members worldwide, regardless of whether or not a guest was staying at the hotel. The announcement bandied about terms like “first in the hotel industry.” We wanted to do some digging before reporting this to you. The statement was bold, and in some respects, it’s true. When we asked, IHG told us the following:
While some of our competitors do offer free Internet in some of their hotels or in some regions, IHG is the first and only global hotel group to offer free Internet to all of our loyalty program members in all hotels, regardless of whether they are staying with us, conducting a business meeting with colleagues, or simply stopping in for coffee. In other words, our IHG Rewards Club, as the program will be named come July, members do not have to be staying in the hotel to take advantage of free Internet access.
Another key factor that separates IHG from our competitors is our sheer global scale – more than 4,600 hotels in nearly 100 countries and territories – and likewise for our loyalty program, which has more than 71 million members (the largest of all hotel loyalty memberships).
They are right: IHG is the first global hotel company we can find to offer free Wi-Fi to loyalty members, although there is a caveat: Wi-Fi is free to Elite status members from July 2013 on, and for all members beginning in 2014.
That said, they aren’t first to market. Luxury brand Capella offers gratis Wi-Fi to all travelers, as do most Four Seasons. Kimpton, which currently has only U.S.-based hotels, offers free Wi-Fi to loyalty members (without requiring a stay) and has since 2009. While we’re glad to see IHG touting their new benefit, perhaps they shouldn’t be so excited to push that they are offering a service that several of their competitors have been offering for years. Hotel Openings: The Sirtaj Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills’ newest boutique hotel destination is now open. Marketed as a “chic, sexy retreat with a scent of spice and a nod to the east,” the SIRTAJ is named for the Indian word meaning “highest crown.” The 32-room hotel features contemporary decor and luxurious touches like 42-inch smart TVs and Lavazza espresso makers in each room. The indoor-outdoor restaurant dishes up organic cocktails and craft beers, and nice touches like complimentary breakfast either in-room or in the hotel restaurant are welcome perks.
Haute Hotel Package: Pie Camp at Paws Up
We’ve loved this ultra-luxe Montana resort ever since we visited a few years back to explore the glamping trend, and now Paws Up is at it again with a new “Upper Crust” weekend for baking enthusiasts. By day, visitors will enjoy baking, wilderness and food photography lessons from Kate McDermott, of the famed Art of the Pie in Seattle, and New York Times photographer Andrew Scrivani. At night, they’ll retreat to the resort’s private vacation homes and enjoy food prepared by Robin Leventhal (of “Top Chef” fame) and wine pairings. The event doesn’t take place until October, but spots fill fast. Three all-inclusive nights are $5,361 for two or $3,102 for one.
Luxe Hotel Amenity: Ritz-Carlton Turns to Asprey
The Ritz-Carlton has made the shift from Bvlgari in-room amenities to Asprey’s Purple Water fragrance. The ultra-luxe Brit-based brand boasts a purple jacquard print tube and will now be found in all guest rooms and suites. It’s a notable change for the brand, and, to the best of our knowledge, Ritz is the only hotel partnering with Asprey for in-room amenities.
Green Hotel: Fiji’s Turtle Island Goes Almost 100 Percent Solar
Fiji has always been an escape for travelers seeking extraordinary natural experiences, but now the island nation is better than ever. A multi-million dollar renovation has rendered Turtle Island the greenest place in Fiji, with nearly 1,000 solar panels providing, on average, an island powered by 85 percent solar power. The new solar installation on Turtle Island produces 1 mega watt of power a day, enough to cover 100 percent of the power needs of the island on a sunny day. Even on rainy or cloudy days, the backup generator reduces the total solar power to about 85 percent, maintaining outstanding energy efficiency. As if we needed yet another excuse to visit the all-inclusive luxury retreat.
In a quest to tackle 30 must-have travel experiences before they turn 30, career breakers Gerard & Kieu of GQ trippin traveled 108,371 kilometers (67,338 miles) in 312 days through 20 countries for one adventure of a lifetime.
Shooting 1,266 videos along the way, the traveling couple ended up with 11 hours of video but has reduced it and their entire year of travel to just three minutes as we see in this video.
While traveling, the couple simply gathered video, saving countless hours of editing and production for later.
“We never claim to be vloggers, which is probably why you hardly saw any videos from our travels last year,” says Gerard & Kieu on their GQ trippin website, charged with a simple mantra: See Eat Trip. “Most are short clips of random things that don’t really make sense on their own, so we didn’t bother sharing.”
A year of travel also means a lot of meals, some not so good, prompting the couple to post their Worst In Food this week.