Trekking Couple Circles Planet Three Times In 424 Days

trekking

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.

The story begins in February 2012, when the couple from Southern California started on a global adventure to raise awareness about world geography and make the subject more accessible to children. Hoping to visit 50 countries on six continents in 424 days, they planned to share the journey with more than 700 classrooms representing 50,000 students.

“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 CruisesPacific 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.

trekkingAfter 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.

trekkingOf 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.


[Photo credit - TrekkingThePlanet]

City Nicknames We’d Rather Not Hear

laundromatAs a native Californian, few things get on my nerves more than hearing the abbreviation, “Cali.” I don’t know why it irritates me so much, but I suspect it’s the knowing, insider-y tone that usually accompanies it. “Yeah, man, I just got back from a trip to Cali. It was hella cool.”

Aaargh. Also right up there is “Frisco.” Let me just tell you that Californians do not, ever, under any circumstances, refer to their state as “Cali,” nor “The City” as “Frisco.” San Francisco even famously had a laundromat called, “Don’t Call it Frisco.” I also dislike “Berzerkley,” “San Berdoo (San Bernadino)” and “The States (anyone in Hawaii referring to the Mainland).”

With these grating abbreviations in mind, I asked my Gadling colleagues what city nicknames bug them. The response was fast, furious and lengthy. Below, some highlights:

Anna Brones: Portlandia. Don’t even get me started.

Libby Zay: I personally hate “Hotlanta.” It’s also pretty annoying when people add “tucky” or “neck” as suffixes. As in, Fredneck, Maryland, or Brunstucky, instead of Brunswick, Ohio … I suppose Pennslytucky would be more of a geographic region.”

Author admission: Guilty as charged, Libby.

Kyle Ellison:Lost Wages,” for Las Vegas, and “N’awlins” for New Orleans.

Elizabeth Seward: It depends on the day whether or not these bug me. I wish I didn’t know so many. “Beantown”; “Chi-town”; “Sin City”; “Nasty Nati (Cinncinati)”, “C-town (Columbus)”; “SoBro (South Bronx, oy)”; “Marighetto (what locals call my hometown of Marietta)”; “City of Angeles”/”LaLaLand”/”Tinseltown”; “The Big Easy.”

Elizabeth, I promise to never refer to my hometown of Thousand Oaks as “Thousand Jokes” again.

McLean Robbins: “Naptown” for Annapolis and “The District” from anyone not a local to Washington, DC.

Meg Nesterov: Calling cities the Paris/Venice/X/ of the North/East, et al.

Sean McLachlan, resident history buff: Missouri is often called “Misery,” generally by outsiders from northern states and occasionally by frustrated Missourians. The term actually has old roots. The 18th century French settlers in Ste. Genevieve found the place so boggy and full of mosquitoes that they nicknamed it misère.

[Photo credit: Flickr user knitgrrldotcom]

Magical Moments Of 2012: A Personal Review

As the end of each year approaches, I try to take stock of the preceding 12 months, to absorb and assess the adventures, inner and outer. Reviewing this year, I’ve been filled with gratitude and wonder to realize that this has been one of the most enriching, exhilarating years I’ve had in a long time, especially the past six months, when I managed to squeeze six special trips into an overcrowded schedule. I hope you’ll indulge me in sharing some of my most magical travel moments, and meanings, from 2012.

Festive in France

The Cote d’Azur has been one of my favorite places in the world since I first landed there in the mid-1970s. This year I was lucky to be able to savor the region for two weeks in June, visiting four places I’d never been before – Marseille, Montpelier, Sainte-Maxime, and Cagnes sur Mer – and revisiting two I’d fallen deeply in love with decades ago: Nice and St Paul de Vence.

I’ve already written about Nice and St Paul for Gadling. Among other riches of the trip, I had the best bouillabaisse of my life at the harbor-front Miramar restaurant in Marseille and was enchanted by the ambiance of student-spangled Montpelier, where a perfect cobbled square with a perfect café under a perfect canopying tree seemed to magically appear around every corner (and where the streets flowed with wine and song on the marvelous night of the Fete de la Musique). One of the most memorable highlights was spending one precious night at the Hotel Negresco two weeks before that legendary institution celebrated its 100th birthday. What an extraordinary hotel! Part priceless art collection, part history museum, part culinary temple, the Negresco – still owned by the feisty and fabulous 89-year-old Madame Augier – is emblematic of the intelligence, elegance, and artfulness that define the Cote d’Azur for me.My favorite moment of the entire trip was another birthday celebration. A very dear friend who lives part of each year in France treated me to a heavenly lunch at a renowned but well off the beaten path terrace restaurant called La Verdoyante, in the village of Gassin, about two and a half miles from the sea. I will never forget this feast. On a blue-sky day, the sun-mottled, out-of-time terrace exuded something of the atmosphere of Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette: festive people savoring a relaxing repast, with a view of rolling green vineyards and hills and a soupcon of the Mediterranean glinting in the distance. We had an amazingly flavorful succession of dishes, all artfully presented, including locally made foie gras, a delectably flaky poisson du jour served with fennel, figs and pancetta, and chevre cheese from a farm over the hill. The culinary fireworks ended with a special surprise – a scrumptious, sparkler-topped raspberry macaroon cake.

Birthday gifts don’t get any better than this: a sun-bowed, vineyard-wrapped celebration of food and friendship, a reminder of the life-riches that surround us, deepening and expanding every year.

Hawaiian Hideaway

A few days after returning from France, barely enough time to do some laundry, I repacked and rambled with my wife to Maui and Molokai on a trip I had won – won! — in a random drawing at a travel fair. On Maui we stayed at the Hotel Wailea and the Napili Kai Beach Resort and on Molokai at the Hotel Molokai. We loved aimlessly exploring both islands, stopping at beaches we found at the end of meandering paths, eating at food trucks, picnicking in parks — but especially savored the quiet of Molokai, where time truly seemed to slow down.

We wandered around the main town of Kaunakakai, poking our heads into shops, asking questions of the shopkeepers, who seemed much more interested in talking story than moving inventory. Our most memorable meal on Molokai was the mahimahi plate lunch at Mana’e Goods and Grindz, a combination country store and counter restaurant on the highway toward Halawa Valley (where you could also pick up spark plugs, videos, and sweet onion salad dressing, if needed). We loved it so much we drove back the next day for seconds.

The synthesizing moment of the trip for me was one afternoon on Maui when I sat on our patio at the Napili Kai simply absorbing the breeze that rippled the sea and rustled the palm fronds: Time slowed and slowed, the trade winds blew, the moist air swaddled my skin; suddenly a rainbow appeared, arcing from the sea into the clouds, and for a suspended moment it seemed to me that nature was offering its own snapshot of my soul. Hawaii re-taught me the value of recalibrating pace, the riches that reveal themselves when you open your head- and heart-space.

California Dreaming

In August I ventured across San Francisco Bay – a good 40 minutes by car from my home – for the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference. My journey took flight the day before the official conference began, when I led a worldly, wide-eyed group of writers on a day-long walking workshop in North Beach, my favorite city neighborhood, where old-San-Francisco Italy meets new-San-Francisco China and Vietnam. We rendered homage at City Lights bookstore, Molinari’s aromatic delicatessen, and sweet Stella’s Pastry, then talked about writing and life over paninis and lattes at Caffe Greco.

The conversations and connections that took seed that day blossomed over the ensuing four-day conference. What mysteries make sparks fly, turn piazza dialogues into life-changing detours and dreams? Whatever was in the air at this year’s conference, it begat five days of exploration and exhilaration – of the word and the world — with soul-mates old and new. The defining Book Passage moment for me came at the end of the conference, and I have already described it here, but there were many other moments of magic as well, perhaps none so potent as midnight on Saturday, when a hardy band of writers and revelers gathered around five ukulele yogis, whose plangent plucks transported me to Hawaii, France and beyond – and then back to that midnight moment in a bookstore in northern California, which suddenly seemed to contain all the world.

This five-day close-to-home odyssey reminded me once again that both travel and travel writing are vital arts, stewards of the global heart, that even in your own backyard, you can wander far-flung paths of the imagination and the soul, and that the best travels and travel writings realize a redemptive goal: to piece the inner and the outer journey, the interlocking whole.

Beached in Bali

My ten-day sojourn on Bali presented a batik of bountiful moments. I have written about two of them here, questing for indolence and discovering unexpected gamelan gifts in Ubud, but I have not yet written about the two delightful dinners on two beautiful beaches that bookended my stay.

On my first night on the island, when everything still seemed a bit surreal, I met a wandering writer friend who serendipitously happened to be on Bali at the same time. We sat at a table literally on the beach at Jimbaran Bay, our toes squiggling into the sand, swigged Bintang beers, and feasted on marvelously messy platters of grilled shrimp. We talked about books and blogs and world-weaving paths under the stars, by the susurrous sea, as music lilted down the beach on a smoke-scented breeze. Ten days later, we met again for a final dinner on a beach in Seminyak. This time the music was a pop playlist (highlighted by Adele serenading us with “Someone Like You”), the food was delicious grilled fish and beef rendang, the beach spread invitingly to the rose-tinted waves, and the oceanic sky gradually turned from bluish-red to cobalt-purple to depthless, star-splashed black.

As the hours passed, I felt like a character in a story, simultaneously in time and out of it, willing the world to slow down and in the same breath abandoning myself to the ineluctable flow. All the Balinese bounties of the week seemed to converge, and the spirit of the island – the joy and compassion and reverence for the everyday that emanated from virtually everyone I’d met – merged with a shared awe at serendipity’s mystery and wonder. Maybe it was the spell of the Bintang, but my sense of the preciousness of life – and of the opportunity that travel bestows to lose oneself to special places and people, and to grow ever bigger therein — seemed to expand and expand and expand, until it filled the phosphorescent night.

Continuities in Connecticut

For Thanksgiving, as I have every year since my dad passed away in 2008, I went to Connecticut to spend the holiday with my mom. You have to be a New Englander to appreciate the bleak beauty of Connecticut in November. The tree branches are bony and bare, the air thin, brittle, laced with winter. Yet these annual journeys are a special kind of pilgrimage for me. My parents finished building the house where I grew up, in Middlebury, just before I was born. I lived there for the first 21 years of my life, before setting off for Paris and Athens and points beyond, and they lived there for more than 50 years. My mom thrives in an assisted living facility in a neighboring town now, but as we do every year, we drove to Middlebury to see “our house” and reveled again in its spare, simple, classic Connecticut-clapboard style and in the expansive woods and fields and memories around.

For Thanksgiving dinner, my childhood best friend invited us to his home, coincidentally five minutes from my mom’s new home. It was glorious to re-immerse ourselves for a night in the footloose past – somehow symbolized for me by the image of the two of us driving in his convertible on a sultry summer night for soft ice cream, me staring at the stars as the wind whipped by and wishing that the ride could last forever. The woods were limitless then and so were the summer nights; it’s only later that we realize there were houses on the other side of the trees, and jobs and mortgages on the other side of the ride.

But still, these Thanksgiving journeys are a gift to cherish, an opportunity to honor, connect, and reflect. Like Brigadoon, Middlebury springs to life for me once a year: the rolling hills and uncut forests, white Colonial houses with black shutters, lush lawns and gardens and sheltering trees, the high-steepled Congregational Church and round town green – and the landscape of love that nurtured, and nurtures still, me and my youthful dreams.

Easter Island, Among the Moai

I returned two weeks ago from my final trip of the year – the realization of one of my oldest travel dreams: to visit Easter Island. For years this almost inconceivably remote place – the most isolated inhabited island in the world — seemed inaccessible, but I was finally fortuitously able to make the pilgrimage this year.

I spent a week wandering the island on foot, tracing old trails, talking with the guardians of sacred sites, watching traditional dances, exploring caves and coves and cliffs. I observed as a local elder instructed a half dozen Rapa Nui (the indigenous people’s name for the island and for themselves) teenagers in the stories of the island, the traditions and the taboos, the legends and the landscapes that had special mana. I learned the different theories about the moai and wondered at the great toppled figures that seemed to be everywhere. Many people have developed definitive explanations for what happened on Easter Island – which means, of course, that no one has the definitive answer. On the flight back from the island to Santiago, Chile, I serendipitously sat next to a Dutch scientist who has been studying the island for two decades and who told me that he and a colleague are going to publish a book next year that will refute the currently advanced theories. And so it goes.

What I have taken away most deeply from Rapa Nui is this: On the second full day of my stay on the island, I decided to get up before dawn to commune with the moai at Ahu Tongariki, a spectacular seaside platform where 15 statues have been restored to standing position. I was dropped at the site well before dawn, when the night was still so inky that I couldn’t see the ground in front of me, much less the moai in the distance. I stumbled slowly towards the platform, looking vainly into the dark, and then in an instant I sensed the presence of the moai so palpably that the hairs on my arms stood on end. I stumbled forward some more and suddenly the head of the tallest statue leaped into looming silhouette before the stars. The power of that statue was almost magnetic: It pulled me towards it, but not in a frightening way, more like a benevolent force.

As I got closer, the heads of the statues appeared more clearly, silhouetted presences hulking into the sky. I could feel the sheer immensity of the figures, and the power that they must have emanated over the villagers who lived under their gaze day and night. I tried to imagine waking up every dawn to their stony presence, and retiring to sleep as they loomed into the sky. Their role as a force in everyday life became clear to my core. Their mana was undeniable.

As time passed and dawn’s rays illumined them in a buttery light, their hold on me softened. Dozens of photographers arrived, setting up their tripods, seeking the perfect perspective. The site was no longer mine alone. But it didn’t matter. I’d already found the perfect perspective – and it looms within me still, a hulking silhouette of pure Rapa Nui mana in my mind.

At the end of these reflections, the theme that resonates with me is this: Anything is possible. Each one of these magical moments forms a piece of a picture-puzzle that shows the potential of life, wherever we are literally and metaphorically, to be transformed, re-inspired, completed – for the mind to stretch, and the soul to soar, and the heart to expand.

I relearned this year just how full of marvel our mundane world is. And I learned again that life follows a mysterious and serendipitous map, that confluences and convergences abound all around, and that we can choose to open ourselves to them – to leap through the door, set foot on the road — or not. I learned again that passion is the best signpost, honor the best staff, and kindness the compass that illumines the path. And that however we wander this human race, the love we give returns to us, boundless with each embrace.

[Photo Credits - Book Passage: Spud Hilton; All others: Don George]

Cruise Line Adds Photography- And Biology-Themed Sailings

Photography And Biology

Travelers can know more about biology and photography by sourcing knowledge in a variety of ways. Online research leads to entire websites devoted to teaching us both. Locally, area colleges and universities will have lab-grade biology experiences as well as hands-on classes on photography for all ages and abilities.

Still, nothing quite beats the thrill of capturing an image of a bear in the wilderness.

This winter, adventure travelers into marine biology or photography can choose a themed cruise catering to their interests aboard 36-guest Safari Explorer or 86-guest Safari Endeavour. InnerSea Discoveries and sister-line American Safari Cruises has added themes to ten Un-Cruise sailings in the Hawaiian Islands and Mexico’s Sea of Cortés.

“Themes bring together people with common interests and adds one more benefit for booking these dates,” said Tim Jacox, executive vice president of sales and marketing.

Themed cruises come in every shape and size, bringing together like-minded travelers to spend up-close and personal time with a star of their shared addiction.

The new Un-Cruise photography- and marine biology-themed cruises come with an expert guest host along for the ride. Special presentations will be held on the ship or ashore and passengers are free to interact with the host throughout the voyage.

Kids in Nature departures are for families traveling with kids 12 and younger. The expedition team gears the program to a variety of ages and activity levels with a focus on educating. Hiking excursions, kayaking trips, skiff explorations and snorkeling all provide hands-on learning in a fun environment. Active explorations in nature and wildlife sightings engage all ages.

2013 Theme Cruises in Hawaii
Jan 5 – Photography and Whales with Flip Nicklin, highly-regarded whale photographer.
March 9 and 30 – Kids in Nature, a focus on spring break departures for the whole family.
April 6 – Photography with professional photographer/world traveler Peter West Carey.

2013 Theme Cruises in the Sea of Cortés
Jan 12 – Marine Biology with La Paz resident Rodrigo Rocha Gosselin, a local with passion about conservation and nature.
Feb 16 – David Julian, a 30-year veteran professional photographer.
March 16 – Ellen Barone, traveler, freelance writer and photographer.
March 30 – Marine Biology with Giovanni Malagrino, an oceanologist and professor of marine biology.
March 9 and 23 – Kids in Nature, spring break departures for the whole family.

Safari Explorer sails seven-night cruises between Hawaii, the Big Island and Lana’i with two days of activities on Moloka’i. Flexible yacht itineraries focus on explorations of four islands: Lana’i, Moloka’i, Maui and Hawaii.

Safari Endeavour sails Luxury Adventures round trip to La Paz, Baja, Mexico. While the sailing may be themed, an unstructured itinerary explores hideaways such as Isla Espíritu Santo, Isla San Francisco, Bahia Agua Verde, Los Islotes and Loreto.

In the Hawaiian Islands and the Sea of Cortés, guests can be as active as they like and activities include trekking, kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling and skiff excursions. On-board naturalists provide interpretation on guided excursions ashore and at sea. The unstructured itinerary allows time for viewing wildlife such as whales and dolphins.

Sound like fun? Passengers aboard the Safari Explorer got the opportunity to jump in and swim with a whale shark last week as we see in this video:


[Photo Credit- Flickr user FelixR]

Hotel News We Noted: November 10, 2012

secrets the vine cancunIt’s official, and hopefully you’re not too blue about it. We’re in for four more years of President Obama, but that doesn’t mean Washington (hotels) are any less excited about inauguration. We’ve been tracking what our favorite properties are doing to prepare, but also what’s going on in the hotel world at large for this week’s “Hotel News We Noted.”

As always, send us questions and comments via email, and don’t forget that our annual Black Friday / Cyber Monday roundup is fast approaching. If you know of a great deal, sent it out way.

Hotel Openings: The James Miami, Four Seasons Beijing, Kukui’ula Club Cottages, Andaz Amsterdam
It’s a big week in the world of hotel openings! Here are the highlights:

  • The James has expanded their brand to the hot, hot, hot Miami with the opening this week of The James Royal Palm. The renovated property (formerly The Royal Palm) will join The James’ brand of boutique hotels in New York and Chicago.
  • Prefer something a bit more exotic? Four Seasons has opened their first hotel in China’s capital this week. The 313-room property is close enough to be useful to downtown business travelers and leisure guests seeking access to China’s many cultural attractions too.
  • We’ve had our eye on Hawaii for some time now, as airfare from the East Coast has been unusually affordable. On our next visit, we’re excited to check out the new Kukui’ula Club Cottages on Kaua’i, 15-single family cottages right next to the main Plantation House. Hello, if the President rents a private home while in Hawaii, why shouldn’t we?
  • Hyatt’s most hip brand just got a bit cooler, thanks to the opening of the new Andaz Amsterdam. What makes it a haute hotel opening? Awesome art (think in-room video art installations), a bicycle repair shop on-site (the city’s first) and a new step forward for the brand, as it’s the first Andaz in mainland Europe.

Hotel of the Week: Secrets The Vine Cancun

It takes a lot for us to express a desire to visit Cancun, a city better known for spring break than relaxing resort vacations. We’re intrigued by the new Secrets The Vine Cancun, an upscale take on the all-inclusive option. The adults-only resort is inspired (as The Vine name suggests) by wine, and includes a bar with 3,000 wine varietals, sommelier-led classes and tastings, wine-inspired spa menus and private chefs dinners. It’s not a trip to France, but it’s still pretty cool.

Happening Hotel Package: Bond, James Bond at Trump Toronto
In celebration of Toronto’s special “Designing 007: Fifth Years of Bond Style” exhibit and the newest Bond film, “Skyfall,” Trump Toronto has launched a totally over-the-top package we’re dying to try. The $17,007 “Shaken Not Stirred: Bond on Bay” package includes a two-night stay in an Executive Suite on the hotel’s 30th floor, offering fantastic downtown views, access to a Continental Bentley GT for duration of stay, all meals, including dinner with champagne at STOCK™ Restaurant Bar & Lounge for two for the duration of the stay, admission for two to the exhibition and two movie passes to a Bond film at TIFF Bell Lightbox, as well return limousine service, designer cocktail dress and Hugo Boss tuxedo with private fitting at The Room, courtesy of The Hudson’s Bay Company, a spa experience at Quartz Crystal Spa™ that includes a couples massage, hair and makeup for her and manicure for him, a martini “Shaken not Stirred” lesson at Suits Lobby Lounge and an in-room bespoke chocolate from the Chocolate Lab at STOCK Restaurant Bar & Lounge, as well as complimentary fruit and cigar box. Stays are available through January 20 using code PKG007.

[Image Credit: Secrets The Vine Cancun]