Controversy over Condé Nast Traveler’s World Savers Awards

The popular magazine Condé Nast Traveler hosts the annual World Savers Awards to recognize the efforts of hotels, airlines, tour and cruise companies that give something back through their environmental or social programs. But one recipient of the 2010 award is attracting controversy over its actions.

Wilderness Safaris won this year’s award in the Health Initiatives category for its HIV/AIDS program, which includes the construction of clinics in South Africa, Zambia, and Malawi. Now Survival International, which supports the rights of indigenous peoples, says Wilderness Safaris falls short of its image as positive force in the community.

It points to its new luxury lodge, the Kalahari Plains Camp, set on the traditional lands of the Bushmen in Botswana. The lodge boasts a bar and swimming pool while the Bushmen have to walk for miles to get water. The local people used to have a well, but the government capped it when it kicked the Bushmen off the land in 2002. Survival International and the Bushmen went to court and won the right for the Bushmen to return to their lands, but the government still won’t allow them to reopen the well.

Wilderness Safaris says providing water isn’t their responsibility, but Survival International points out that they constructed a well near one of their resorts in Zimbabwe in order to attract more wildlife.

How much responsibility does a resort have to the local community? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

[Photo courtesy Ian Beatty]

Adventurous trio running across the Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari Desert is a wild and untamed place stretching across 350,000 square miles of southern Africa. The arid expanse of land crosses through parts of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, and while it is an incredibly dry place, it is still home to a diverse amount of plant and animal life, including giraffes, elephants, hyenas, lions and more. It is a challenging place for any human being to survive in, but that isn’t stopping three adventurous endurance athletes from attempting to cross it on foot none the less.

Dubbed the Trans-Kalahari Run, this expedition will send three friends, Jukka Viljanen and Kirsi Montonen, both from Finland, along with Greg Maud, of South Africa, along a 1000km (620 mile) route that stretches west to east across some of the most wild parts of Botswana. The trio hopes to cover approximately 50km (31 miles) per day, for 20 straight days, in hopes of completing their quest. That’s the equivalent of running more than a marathon, plus five miles, every day for nearly three weeks, through some of the most demanding terrain on the planet.

While this will be an amazing adventure, and a great test of endurance for these long distance runners, they aren’t doing it just for the experience. This adventurous threesome is also hoping to raise awareness and funds for Cheetah Conservation Botswana, an organization that works tirelessly to preserve the population of those speedy felines in Africa, and obviously most specifically in Botswana. Cheetahs have a difficult time competing against other predators in the game preserves, so they are often forced to live in the more marginal border regions where they are hunted and killed by the indigenous people there who see them as a threat to their livestock. CCB is hoping to protect these big cats through community outreach and education with those rural communities, teaching them how to coexist with the Cheetahs.

Jukka, Kirsi, and Greg began their run yesterday, and they are promising daily updates to their blog, so we can all follow along with their progress. They got off to a good start, with a warm-up run of 26km (16 miles), but the real challenges, and adventure lie ahead.

[Photo credit: Elmar Thiel via WikiMedia]

Escape to the world’s quietest places

Life in most places is loud. Planes flying overhead, traffic rushing through the streets, people yelling, talking, phones ringing – it all combines to make an endless racket that follows us throughout our days. If you need to get away for some (literal) peace and quiet, take a look at Forbes Traveler’s list of the World’s Quietest Places.

Many of these aren’t the sort of places where you’ll go crazy from the silence, in fact some of them are plenty noisy. But near and far, they provide places where you can get away from the aural assault of the world and revel in a quiet(er) existence.

Included on the list are destinations like the verdant Hoh Valley in Washington State and Muir Woods in California, both places that are easy to get to from major cities but seem a world away. Further from home, there’s the island of Yap, near Guam, where the “culture is built on adherence to social peace”. The Kalahari Desert, 350,000 square miles of sparsely populated sand and scrub, also makes the list.

Victoria Falls isn’t exactly silent, but the roar of the water as it plummets 350 feet (which can be heard over a mile away) is such a natural sound and so completely shuts out everything else, that it almost feels quiet. Central Park is another unlikely addition to the list. Though it’s located in the middle of what is arguably one of the world’s loudest cities, it provides a quiet solitude away from the noise of daily life.

Road trip through Namibia

The travel section of the Times Online has a great article today about a 3000-mile road trip across Namibia, the south African country that falls along that continents Atlantic coast. The 15-day journey sent author Holden Frith across stark, yet strikingly beautiful, landscapes in a country that has wide open spaces and remote regions that few visit.

The article offers a long, and very detailed look, at Firth’s journey. He breaks down his travels on a day-to-day basis, and gives an excellent description of not only where he’s been, but the people he encountered and the amazing things that he, and his traveling companion, saw along the way. For instance, in the first few days in the country, they visited a region known as the Giant’s Playground, where strange rock formations stretch for miles, and appear to have been stacked up by some unknown force. From there, the journey continues through such places as Fish River Canyon, one of the wildest and deepest gorges in the world, and past the Sperrgebiet, or Forbidden Zone, which is off limits to tourists because of the number of diamonds that can still be found there.

Each passing day of the road trip seems to reveal some new, and intriguing, location that gives us a glimpse of Namibia’s appeal to adventure travelers. Whether it’s exploring the remote and arid Namib Desert or driving the Skeleton Coast, so named for the ancient shipwrecks that litter its beaches, the country offers hidden wonders at every turn. And while the majority of travelers to Africa head to Kenya or South Africa to go on a classic safari adventure, Namibia has plenty of unique experiences of its own, and since it remains squarely off the radar for most travelers, there aren’t the crowds that are common elsewhere.

On the trail of the Kalahari bushmen

A few days back we posted about 18 unique travel experiences that even the seasoned traveler would find interesting. One of the suggestions on that list was to travel to the Kalahari Desert to stay with bushmen and partake in an initiation hunt with the tribes that still wander the remote regions of southern Africa.

Recently, travel writer Sally Emerson journeyed to Botswana to go in search of the bushmen herself. She wrote about her adventures for the Times Online, as she explored the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari, following in the footsteps of author Laurens Van der Post, who published The Lost World of the Kalahari back in 1956. The book has become one of the seminal works on the bushmen and their culture.

Both Emerson, and Van der Post before her, were searching for the San Bushmen, one of five distinct tribes that are spread out across South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Angola, and Botswana. Today, it is believed that less than 100,000 of the bushmen remain, but those that do, maintain close ties to their culture, and the land on which they live.

Emerson says that the bushmen that she met were able to teach her about the plants and animals of the Kalahari while showing her how to set traps and hunt as well. They displayed a deep understanding of what their surroundings could provide for them, allowing them to survive for extended periods of time in the desert. Many of the tribesmen are now guides, and are eager to share their history and culture with visitors from the rest of the world. Traveling to the Kalahari to spend some time with these guides would indeed makre for a unique and amazing travel experience.