Talking Travel with Avalon travel writer, Joshua Berman

Avalon travel writer, Joshua Berman, whose Moon Belize guidebook (8th edition) hit book stands in October, took time from his busy book tour to answer a few questions about travel, writing, and living and breathing idyllic Central America.

Don’t forget to enter the Gadling Giveaway of the latest edition HERE (you only have until tomorrow to enter!), or read my glowing review of Moon Belize HERE.

Enjoy the interview!

GAD: Not that I’m criticizing your choice here, but how did you end up in Belize? In your mind, what makes it such a special travel destination?
JB: It was a natural northerly progression, beginning in Nicaragua in 1998, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer; followed by Honduras as both a trip leader and guidebook researcher. Then one day my publisher asked if I would take over Moon Belize from Chicki Mallan, the book’s original author, who was retiring. I said yes.

GAD: Based on your experiences living and traveling in Nicaragua and other parts of Central America, how does Belize contrast with its neighbors?
JB: Belize is less crowded, more diverse, more expensive, and just as tranquilo as Guatemala, Honduras, or Nicaragua. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America and its heritage as a British colony also makes it stand out from the rest of Central America (including Belizeans’ unique affinity for dark beer and stout).

GAD: What are your favorite things to do in Belize, and how do those activities reflect who you are as a traveler?

JB: I like to hike, paddle, and meet people. I also like to run into old friends, which happens every time I visit Belize. My favorite is when these activities all combine, like when I run into people I know atop Maya pyramids, on rivers, or in caves. It speaks to how small and special a place it is.

GAD: Can you tell us something about Belize that the less knowledgeable traveler may not know?
JB: Belize has one of the biggest cave systems in the world, the highest waterfall in Central America, and the planet’s first (and I think only) jaguar reserve. It also hosts one of the world’s longest and most grueling canoe races every March, La Ruta Maya Canoe Challenge.

GAD: With ever increasing eco-tourism and travel advancements in Belize, what kinds of changes do you see for the country as a travel destination within the next ten years?
JB: Belize is constantly walking the line of sustainability when it comes to tourism. There are always massive projects being proposed to increase cruise tourism, the airport, and the size of the developments on delicate islands and wetlands. But when it comes down to it, more than 70 percent of Belize’s 500 or so hotels have 10 rooms or less. That means small structures, family-run hotels, and lower impacts on the environment than big resorts and mega-hotels, which are standard fare just up the coast in Cancun. Also, I’d like to think that there are just too many forward-thinking people involved in Belize tourism to let it go astray. Belize recently hosted the third annual World Responsible Tourism Conference, which is a big deal. Ten years from now, I think Ambergris Caye and Placencia will continue to be built up, but the rest of the country will remain wild and small. We’ll see.

GAD: Based on your bio, I gather you split your time between Central America and the Rocky Mountains. How is this lifestyle and do you see it changing?
JB: I teach Spanish in Colorado during the school year and I travel to Central America on jobs during my breaks. Sometimes my family gets to tag along (here’s my two-year-old, Shanti, on her first backpacking trip to Nicaragua). It’s a tricky juggling act, but so far it’s working out, and it allows me to get my travel fix every few months while maintaining a home, job, and family.

GAD: What other parts of the world (not Central America) appeal to you – and why?
JB: My wife, Sutay, and I went to Pakistan on our honeymoon. This was in 2005 when it was a little edgy but not as dangerous as it seems to have become. We went north to the Hunza Valley in the Himalayas, which was one of the most spectacular lost worlds I’ve ever seen. It makes me drool to think about the milk tea and the glaciers and the apricot soup and yak-wool hats … incredible spot and very welcoming people.

GAD: What will be your next project as a traveler/travel writer?
JB: I’m putting the finishing touches on the manuscript of my first narrative book. It’s a travel memoir about my honeymoon and is tentatively entitled YOU WILL SOON BE CROSSING THE GREAT WATERS: A Love-Marriage Memoir from Pakistan, India, Ghana, and The Gambia. I’m hoping to publish it independently in the next year. I’m also updating two guidebooks this winter, Moon Nicaragua and Living Abroad in Nicaragua, with my coauthor, Randy Wood. You can always stay updated on my blog, The Tranquilo Traveler. See you out there.

Gadling is currently accepting entries to a giveaway of Josh’s Moon Belize guidebook. Entries are due tomorrow — Wednesday, November 18 @ 5 p.m. EST!!!

While you’re at it, check out my review of Moon Belize, too. You won’t be disappointed!

Talking Travel with Step Back from the Baggage Claim, Jason Barger

Jason Barger already knew a fair amount about people before he headed off his 7-day, 7-airport travel spree to do nothing but watch them interact. He’d spent many a spring break leading adolescents and adults on house-building ventures in Mexico, a trip that took him through various airports with a band of travelers of all ages, for example.

Wanting more fodder to further develop his ideas about airport behavior and what it says about humanity, he decided to airport hop logging thousands of miles and observations as he zig zagged across the U.S. While he watched people either shine with behavior that would make Mom proud –or in such a way that if they were a piece of luggage no one would claim them, Barger honed his ideas about how the airport is a perfect metaphor for modern day life.

The result was Step Back from the Baggage Claim, a book that Barger hopes people will leave on a bench somewhere for someone else to pick up once they’re done reading it. The result of passing the book along will be that people will think about how they interact as they move through their day.

Ever since I read Barger’s book, I’ve made my own observations about airport interactions. It does seem he’s onto something. Over the past months since his book came out, gaining steam through venues like the Washington Post and ABC News, I’ve kept up with Barger’s efforts. Yesterday, there was a post on his new video.

Today is a Talking Travel interview with questions Barger answered through e-mail in between a trip to the Dominican Republic to help with a house-building effort there. If you are looking for a tasty bite to eat that’s not expensive while passing through an airport, Barger has a suggestion.

With Thanksgiving travel rapidly approaching, listening to Barger’s advice to step back from the baggage claim is not a bad idea.

Now that people know that you’ve written a book about airplane and airport behavior, do you feel like the “Dear Abby” of travel? Does everyone have a story to tell you and want advice?

It has been fascinating to see that “everyone has a story”. Also, because the airport metaphor has been so highly relatable, people are connecting with it in profound ways.

2. What surprised you the most about your airport hopping experience? Something you didn’t expect to find out?

That we’re on ‘Autopilot’. I had the perception that people were either experiencing a real ‘high’ and excited about where they were headed or a real ‘low’ and miserable about their travels. However, what I observed was that the majority of us look like we’re walking around on ‘Autopilot’ – we’re going through the motions, almost as if we’re in a trance. This was a powerful image for our everyday lives – are we truly alive as we move through our routines? How can we be more awake as we travel from point A to B in life?

3. Have you noticed any connection between how people dress and the airport/airplane experience? Does dress for success work?

Hard to make generalizations on this one, but certainly an indicator of how a person is ‘entering’ the airport environment. Some are laid back and comfortable and some you can tell are all business.

4 Do you think it’s possible that very nice, sane, considerate people actually turn into jerks at the airport? If so, why? Is it catching?

Yes, for some reason it appears that the airport is a space in the world where some people alter their normal behaviors. I choose to believe that people are good and want to be kind to others, but it appears that the stresses and uncertainty of the airport environment often brings out the worst in people.

5. Have you ever seen Improv Everywhere’s stunt “Welcome Back?” where In case you haven’t. Here’s the link. (In this video, actors meet people at the airport with signs, flowers, balloons and applause to welcome them home. They find people to welcome based on the names scrawled on signs that drivers hold–those who are at the airport to pick someone specific up.)

Wonderful. It is amazing what positive ripples it sends to everyone in the area when others feel ‘welcomed’. It reminds me of a time years ago when I went to the airport with some friends of mine to pick up another friend coming home. We dressed in suits as if we were secret service and ushered the person off the plane. It got a great response from all!

Okay, here are some quick airport questions. They can be about ANY airport, not just the ones you chose for the book.

6. Which airport has the coolest feature and what is it?

Detroit’s ‘cosmic tunnel’. It is a great deviation from the norm. see this blog entry for specifics

7. Which one is the most comfortable for hanging out?

Seattle. I love the Seattle airport. Beautiful high glass windows looking out on Mount Rainer, thoughtful seating arrangements, variety of creative eating options, and just a well thought out design contribute in positive ways to the atmosphere.

8. Which airport has the best personality, if airports have different personalities?

Seattle for the laid back pacific northwest charm and Minneapolis for it’s classy Midwest warmth.

9 . Which airport seemed to foster anxiety?

Miami. Lots of construction, limited seating and food options, and clusters of people add to the normal airport tensions.

10. What airport has the best food find. What is it?

The Quiznos’ pre-made Italian sub that you can find at a Quiznos ‘to go’ kiosk in many airports is one of the better pre-made sandwiches I’ve ever had.

11. Name three airports you have not been to that you would like to if you had the chance?

Johannesburg, South Africa. Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tokyo, Japan.

12. And one more– Based on what you’ve observed from airport and airplane behavior, is there any hope for humanity? Any hope at all? Any?

Absolutely. We all share in the creation of today. We all contribute to each moment based on the spirit we choose to put out into the world. We can begin to ‘Change the World’ by bringing more gratitude and compassion to life in the seemingly insignificant daily moments – such as at the airport. Step Back from the Baggage Claim: Change the world, start at the Airport!

Talking Travel with Equitrekking’s Darley Newman and Chip Ward

Have you ever dreamed of seeing the world on the back of a horse? I’ve had my fair share of horseback adventures, so it’s definitely something I’d love to do. It’s certainly an eco-friendly and challenging mode of travel.

Equitrekking, the first travel television series to explore the world on horseback, takes viewers horseback riding around the world to experience history, adventure and culture with local people. Darley Newman, the show’s hostess, and her husband Chip Ward, its producer, searched the world for the best places to horseback ride. Everywhere they go they ride on local breeds of horses.

Gadling had the privilege of sitting down with Darley and Chip to learn more about Equitrekking and to talk travel. Enjoy!

GADLING: Thanks for taking time to correspond with Gadling! Where are you now, and what are you travel plans in the foreseeable future?

Darley: We’ve just gotten back from riding with the gauchos in Uruguay, our 27th episode, and we’re traveling to Montana, Jordan, Peru and Alberta next.

GADLING: What is the ultimate aim of your Equitrekking series?

Chip: Our initial goal was just to get ONE episode on PBS. Now we have 26 episodes broadcasting in over 93% of the country and Equitrekking broadcasts internationally in over 25 countries. We also have a coffee table book, Equitrekking Travel Adventures on Horseback, and our website has become a great resource. We couldn’t have dreamed it better. That said. It’s been a lot of hard work. We just hope to continue traveling and producing Equitrekking, because we love doing it and it’s a special series. There’s really nothing else like it on television.

GADLING: Can you briefly explain for our Gadling readers where the Equitrekking idea came from?

Darley: Equitrekking is the first travel television series to explore the world on horseback. Equitrekking combines my passion for horses and travel with my background in television production, so that’s how it all got started. In every episode, we travel through an area with local people on horseback to discover history, stunning scenery, culture and destinations that aren’t on the typical tourist path. This is my favorite way to travel, because I discover things that aren’t found in the guidebooks.

Chip: When you explore a place on horseback, like we do in our series, you ride with local people, who are showing you the best of their area and their favorite places. I usually end up just chatting with the locals as we ride, and we have regular conversations about what’s going on in the world, etc., so I’ve gotten to hear a lot of different world views. Horses are really just a way to see the world, and from a much different perspective.

Darley: Seeing a place on horseback, gets you off the beaten path to some beautiful natural areas where a lot of people don’t venture because they are remote. This makes the trip very special. I am also more aware of my surroundings when I am riding and so I notice more than I normally would if I were walking or biking or in a car. In Costa Rica, we rode through the rainforest, viewing howler monkeys, colorful macaws and other animals we wouldn’t have seen had we been in a noisy vehicle and maybe even hiking, as we were able to travel further into the jungle more quickly and quietly.

GADLING: What is the coolest equitrek you’ve done?

Darley: Central Turkey was one of our coolest adventures. We rode through these bizarre geological formations, called fairy chimneys, in Cappadocia, and to Güzelyurt, a small village in Cappadocia where not a lot of tourists trek. Because of this, the villagers were very welcoming and curious to see what we were doing, especially as we rode through the town on horseback. The town is literally carved into this big rocky outcrop. As we rode through the cobblestone streets, local children came out of school to greet us. In Güzelyurt, many people are still living a subsistence lifestyle, so we passed people laying out apricots to dry and riding by carrying wheat on their donkeys. We were invited into a local home to drink homemade ayran, a salty yogurt drink that very popular in Turkey. Because we rode with a local, we were able to meet others in the village, who invited me into the town square to play backgammon and have tea, before we visited Güzelyurt’s underground city. It was an amazing experience that we were able to film for our new Equitrekking Central Turkey episode.

Chip: One of my favorite experiences was riding in Waipi’o Valley on Hawaii’s Big Island. It’s a valley nestled between the ocean and steep mountains, and one has to hike down a mile long, very steep decline to get there or have a pretty substantial vehicle with 4WD. Of course, one must walk back up the road as well, which deters many tourists. It turns out that people live in the valley, many without electricity, showering in waterfalls and subsisting off an abundance of fresh fruit, fish and taro. These folks are truly off the grid and rather welcoming provided you aren’t there to disrupt their lifestyle or damage the land. There are wild horses, spectacular scenery and the freshest fruit I’ve ever tasted.

Darley: In Waipi’o Valley we actually rode wild horses native to the valley that Maile, our guide who was born and raised in the valley, had tamed. This is the only wild herd in the state of Hawaii. At many points during our riding and filming, my horse would whinny really loudly to his friends, who were milling around eating grass and crossing dirt lanes throughout the valley. Because there are rivers to cross and because you can ride with a true local like Maile, I think horseback riding is a really great way to experience Waipi’o.

GADLING: What is the difference between horseback riding abroad and equitrekking? More importantly, how realistic is equitrekking for practical travelers?

Darley: Equitrekking is a word that we use for horseback riding travel in general and you can do this type of travel in far away destinations like Namibia or in areas closer to home, like your local trails, and state or national parks. The great thing about horseback riding is that there are opportunities for all levels of riders on all budgets. You just need to find a riding opportunity that fits your fitness level, budget and riding ability. For instance a stationary ranch vacation can be great for beginners and families, because you can ride when you want, get paired up with a seasoned horse and experienced wranglers. The horse and the wrangler can both help you learn to ride and then when you get to sore you can sit on the porch or soak in the hot tub. There are lots of riding opportunities in the U.S. state and national parks that may suite beginners and more experienced riders and these may range from one hour to multi-day trips, so you can make a vacation out of the ride or incorporate one into your vacation. More experienced riders may want to head to Ireland and ride from inn to inn or take off with the gauchos at an estancia in Uruguay.

GADLING: What are the newest destinations for the latest Equitrekking series, and where else do you hope to go?’

Chip: We have a new season of episodes starting now on PBS with high definition episodes from Scotland, Alaska, Southern
Spain, Quebec City and Beyond, Wales and Central Turkey. We’re in pre-production on a new season now. We just returned from Uruguay and are traveling to Alberta, Montana, Peru and Jordan in the coming months and then… I’d really like to film in Kyrgyzstan for the fifth season.

Darley: I think that people would be surprised by the great horseback riding opportunities around the world. I hope to hit as many places and ride as many horses as I can and learn about these destinations from the locals, because it’s such an exciting way to travel.

GADLING: What is the most challenging part of filming and photographing Equitrekking?

Chip: Equitrekking is a very challenging series to film, because a lot of times our entire crew is on horseback. That means that Greg, our cinematographer, and I are sometimes riding with our equipment, like in Costa Rica. We filmed a Cabalgata with hundreds of people on horseback. Everyone is riding and constantly moving with stops for food and drinks, so we had to get set up to film and then gallop ahead to keep getting in front of the crowd. We galloped with our high definition cameras and equipment, which is not easy to do and can be stressful for us producers who own the equipment! It was worth it though, because the Cabalgata is such a unique thing to film.

We’ve done all sorts of crazy shoots. Last winter we filmed in Quebec and Greg and I were hiking uphill through backcountry snow ten feet deep, wearing snowshoes and falling into snow banks. We did this so that the main path where Darley and her local friend Daniel would be riding would remain pristine for the filming. I ended up losing a shoe and falling into snow up to my neck. Greg wouldn’t help me out ’till he got some good pictures. The good thing about our crew is that we have a sense of humor along with our sense of adventure. You can never really plan what’s going to happen on our shoots, so we always just go with the flow. There are so many stories I could tell you… frozen equipment in -10 degree cold, overheated equipment in 110-degree desert heat. In Quebec I had a hard drive tucked against my chest to warm it up because it froze solid. In Turkey I crawled through tunnels with my still camera in an underground city that ran for miles. Early Christians hiding from persecution originally dug out the tunnels in the first century. Some are lit… until I accidentally kicked a bulb and shorted out the system. We had to crawl out from several stories underground. Total darkness is something we in the modern world don’t often experience, unless of course you’re in an underground city. You tend to miss the holes in the ground, which drop down to other levels as they’re masked by total darkness. It’s always an adventure.

Equitrekking’s new fourth season debuts on PBS stations across the nation in April and May. You can find out where Equitrekking is broadcast in your area with our PBS station finder. Check out their companion coffee table book, Equitrekking: Travel Adventures on Horseback, or read Darley‘s blog. The Equitrekking website is a resource for travelers interested in horseback riding with video clips, expert and travel articles and an online Travel Guide.