Category Archives: Africa

travel of a lifetime

Planning a Dream Holiday – The Travel of a Lifetime

My friend James and I were recently talking about travel – which isn’t very surprising since we both love to see the world, meet new people, and discover new insights about ourselves through the lens of travel. James works in finance and I’m a writer – so sometimes the types of travel we do aren’t as similar as our personalities. His work gives him the financial resources to plan much bigger, but my work allows me to find ways of getting where I want to go and doing what I want to do in a way that most people never get to – i.e. on the fly and by the seat of my pants.

travel of a lifetime

There were a couple of things we agreed on –  first, the world is filled with wonders and  astounding travel adventures that truly are the stuff of dreams. A look through the web will introduce you to everywhere and everything but here are some dream holidays to set you longing. Next, whether you are going to Timbuktoo (in Mali) or to Paris (do I need to say where?) it pays to do your research. I admit, that I’ve done a lot of seat of the pants travel where I go to a new country, city, or region without knowing a thing about it (you know, little places like China and Spain), but the truth is, that was more of a conceit – a way for me to say “Hey, look what I can do” and more of the truth is that when I’ve sat and carefully planned out a trip – I’ve generally had a more satisfying time of it. While it was thrilling to arrive in China without knowing where I was going to stay or how to get from the airport to anywhere – it was far better to arrive in Jakarta, know how far my hotel was, how much the fare should be, and how long it would take to get there.

The thing is – you can always change your plans and that is what gives you options – options equal freedom.Seat of your pants you are pretty well stuck to deal with it – so if you’re a masochist like me- you can put yourself in torturous situations and see how you cope (like going to the Balkans without knowing anything about the language, culture, history, or character of the people there) or you can do like James (and like me in my smarter moments) and actually plan the holiday of a lifetime. I hope that I am becoming wiser as I get older – and the truth is that while it is a bit daunting to actually see how much a trip will cost – you are going to pay it whether you know it or not – forewarned is forearmed – or something like that.

The final point we agreed on was that the key to a rich experience is a combination of anticipation, unique experience, and being able to be fully in the moment. That, my friends is the recipe fot the travel of a lifetime. Planning allows you to build up a well formed sense of anticipation. While it may be wonderful to see the Mona Lisa in person (she is so small), a richer experience would be taking a painting class in Paris. Finally, by having a plan in place – you no longer need to worry about where the next meal, the next bed, or the next flight will be – you can dive into that tour, class, or beautiful view.

With all of that in mind – I offer a few places and holidays that might appeal to you.

Cappadocia, Turkey.  Sleep in a luxurious cave, eat Michelin star chef prepared meals, watch the sun rise from a hot air balloon as you gaze out at the fairy chimneys.  Yes, I’ve done this and I still dream about it.

Fez, Morocco to the Sahara. Lay your head on silk pillows in a pasha’s palace, wander through the largest living Islamic medina in the world, get in a private car and head to the Sahara where you will trek by camel through the mighty sands, dance with Berber drums, and sleep in a luxury tent. Yes, I’ve done that too and it changed me profoundly.

The Aegean. From Izmir, Turkey to the Greek Islands – the Aegean is a wonderland of dreams where azure waters soothe your skin at the perfect temperature and the Meltemi winds drive you to find safe harbors. Never mind the disco lifestyle, it’s the fishermen and tavernas that make me dream of the Aegean. The ferries and raki of Turkey, the colorful houses of Greece, the cheese. If I disappear – this is where you are likely to find me. The five star luxury of Thessaloniki and the treehouses of Olympos. Yes.

Ah, as I write this- I almost feel the urge to start planning a new adventure – but for the moment – I am already on one building a life in Reedsport, Oregon for my wife from Morocco and the daughter we made in Turkey. If you’d like to read some of my adventures – including those above – you should grab a copy of  Smooth Living. Where do your dreams take you?

African Safari

A Kenya Safari in Style

Story and Photos by Steve Juba

African SafariThere are many ways to experience the great animals of East Africa, but a luxury Kenya safari is a guaranteed trip of a lifetime. Luxury safaris utilize only the best lodges and game camps, the most experienced guides & drivers, excellent food, and a complete package from start to finish.

Imagine touching down in Nairobi about to embark on an adventure filled with giraffes, zebras, lions, wildebeest, and so much more! On a luxury safari there is no need to plan anything. As soon as you collect your luggage a driver and guide will pick you up and bring you to your first hotel in Nairobi. It’s best to plan at least one night here before heading off to the game parks to catch up on much needed R&R after long flights and layovers.

After a good nights sleep, you’re off in the early AM to a wonderful tree house lodge built on stilts in front of Mount Kenya. Mount Kenya is the second tallest mountain in Africa (behind Kilimanjaro in Tanzania - safaris in Tanzania are also something to dream of). This lodge floats 2134 meters above sea level and is situated right in front of a huge watering hole. Each room has a wonderful view and balcony of this important life source for the surrounding animals. Kick back and watch the animals flock to and from the watering hole with camera in hand. It’s not uncommon to see elephants, baboons, gazelle & other antelopes come and go. In the evening enjoy dinner in a traditionally timbered dining room built on top of stilts giving the illusion of floating on top of the surrounding ancient rainforest. After dinner enjoy a massage or hang out on the rooftop viewing deck to witness the creatures of the night.

In the morning venture back down the mountain and across the equator. Enjoy the ride African Safarithrough the bush as the temperature rises heading to the north. Arrive at the luxury game lodge just outside the Shaba National Reserve. The luxury thatched bungalows are set amongst extensive gardens with a beautiful pool to cool off in. It’s set alongside the Ewaso Nyiro River, a haven for crocodiles! Don’t worry, an electric fence protects guests from the reptiles of the river without obstructing awesome views of these fierce predators and their habitat. This evening witness a performance of Samburu dance while feasting on a delicious, locally sourced meal. The next day is filled with safari! The game drives take place in the morning and afternoon when most animals are out roaming the plains. The Shaba National Reserve is teeming with elephants, reticulated giraffes, monkeys, zebra, lions, and the rare Beisa Oryx with huge horns!

African SafariThis adventure is only beginning because after a hearty breakfast you’re off to Lake Nakuru, the most famous lake among the Great Rift Valley and home to a massive population of over 1 million flamingoes! Arrive at the game lodge to a tasty lunch overlooking the flamingo filled waters. Your private bungalow features its own balcony and view of the lake. The lake and surrounding park is also home to Kenya’s first and largest rhino sanctuary (the park is home to the rare black and white rhino)! Head out on an afternoon safari in search of these great beasts along with monkeys and lions. At some point you’ll stop along the lakes edge to walk along the unique shoreline of Lake Nakuru. It’s known as a “soda lake” due to its high alkaline content supporting rare algae’s and specialized organisms. The fuchsia pink flamingos flock here in the millions to eat the specific types of algae that only grow in the warm, alkaline waters. During certain seasons there are so many flamingos you can’t even see the water but instead a constant wave of pink. This world famous spectacle is not to be missed and amazing pictures will be taken with ease!

This morning you’re off to the world renowned Masai Mara, home to the Great Migration. African SafariIf you’re lucky enough to take this trip during September & October you’ll witness the world famous migration of over 1 million wildebeest. All the predators of Africa come out for this annual March as you witness amazing hunts and the circle of life, Nat Geo style! After settling in at a luxury tented camp (and we mean luxury!), enjoy lunch before your first unforgettable game drive on the Mara. The camp is surrounded by tropical gardens and crystal clear streams. These are no ordinary tents; they feature king sized beds, ensuite baths, and electricity. Cool off at the swimming pool after your first game drive before dinner. The next day is spent entirely on safari in East Africa’s most concentrated stadium of wildlife. It’s here you’ll have the best chance at seeing the largest lion prides and elephant herds. The elusive leopard can also be spotted if you’re patient enough. Cheetahs, cape buffalo, wildebeest, gazelle, and so much more are around ever corner. This is truly a wildlife photographers dream. Tonight enjoy a final massage at the camps spa before bidding farewell to a luxury safari of a lifetime.

African SafariAbout the Author: Steve Juba is an experienced world traveler who plans unique, off the path trips for his PhotoFly Travel Club .The group goes on adventures like the one above every month. Steve resides in San Francisco where he leads local hikes in the Bay Area in between escorting international excursions for his travel club. His love for travel, photography, culture, and people make for a great travel companion and leader.  You can follow Steve and the club on Twitter: http://twitter.com/solotravelclubs and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/photoflytravel

Modern Marrakech and Spring in Morocco

Jardin MajorelleWhen most people go to Marrakech, they like to go to the touristic circus of Jmma al Fna to see the snake charmers, the monkeys, the fortune tellers, the henna artists, acrobats, and madness that is the most Moroccan place on the planet while at the same time being the biggest caricature of what Morocco and Morocco are.  If you come to Morocco and you don’t go to Jmma al Fna to eat in the food trucks, watch the transvestite dancers, get hustled by the touts, and laugh at the crazy antics there – you are missing out on an extraordinary experience….

Morocco ApartmentThe thing is…in my humble opinion – once is enough. I’ve done it four times now. So, when I took a little micro-break to escape to Marrakech before we emigrate to the USA next week – I was looking for something different. For that reason, I was quite happy to rent an apartment from Only-Apartments which was a good clip from Jmma al Fna – and, in fact, not in the old medina. I realize that not staying in the old medina violates some sort of Moroccan tourist convention and not sleeping in an ancient riad is a travesty against foreign riad owners – but, and bear with me here…I live in Morocco and I am so incredibly tired of sleeping in shared living space, traipsing through narrow alleyways to find obsequious hosts who don’t understand I’m looking for space and solitude, and  sharing breakfast with strangers who have nothing in common with me besides also being strangers staying in a fancy riad with a friendly family taking too much care of us.

Marrakech ApartmentSo, I was very happy to stay in Anas Majorel Apartment just a stone’s throw from the magnificent (but definitely overpriced) Majorel Gardens. The apartment was done up in modern Moroccan which can sometimes feel like a boudoir from a oriental love epic, but was perfect for my needs. Two modern grocery stores within walking distance, a complete kitchen so I could indulge in my guilty pleasure of frozen pizza and fresh orange juice, and a cafe downstairs with wi-fi that just reached the balcony so I could answer important emails but not get distracted by dirty movies.  The view from the balcony was urban, but the blackout blinds allowed me to shut out the glorious pink buildings of Marrakech’s ville nouvelle when I was ready to sleep or watch American films on the big plasma screen televisions.  An actual drip coffee maker completed my sense of comfort and American ease as I drank gallons of coffee and watched a seeming marathon of Owen Wilson movies on MBC-Action.

Jardin MajorelleOf course, I didn’t spend all of my days cocooned in the apartment.   I met with friends, took long walks, and drank coffee in the many cafe’s of modern Marrakech as well. The weather was astounding and beautiful. Early April weather in Morocco is almost impossible to beat. Wildflowers and endless expanses of green fields blanketed the nine hours on the train from Fez to Marrakech and for once, my first class ticket put me in a compartment with no companions so I was able to read, listen to music, draw, paint, and eat sandwiches without feeling like I should offer some to the other inhabitants or curb my gluttonous appetite for Sour Cream and Chive pringles. Yeah, I ate the whole 3 inches of them!

I did finally visit the Majorel Gardens and since I’m from Hawaii – the cactus and bamboo didn’t blow my mind – though, it was certainly someplace I was happy to be – until the two busloads of chubby tourists arrived – they all seemed to have eaten the twelve inch stacks of pringles…

Trucks in MoroccoGiven the number of visitors, I would never recommend that anyone pay the 50 dirham entrance fee to the Majorel…EXCEPT… that inside is the best museum I’ve visited in Morocco. The Berber Museum is an additional 25 dirham and while it is a small museum it is exceptionally well curated, fascinating, beautiful, and will give you a finer appreciation for everything else you will see in Morocco. I’ve been here for five years, I’ve read ravenously about the place, I’ve written books about it…and on my two hour visit to the Berber Museum, I learned a huge amount. The Berber Museum is worth the entire 75 dirham price tag (because you can’t go to the Berber Museum without going into the gardens – tricky).

Installed in the workshop designed by Paul Sinoir in 1931 to Jacques Majorelle, the personal collection of Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent is presented to the public.

 Since my arrival at Marrakech in 1966, I have never ceased to be fascinated by the Berber culture and art. Over the years I have collected, admired the art that spans several countries at once. Rightly, the Berbers have always been proud of their culture that have continued to claim despite the vicissitudes they faced. In Marrakech Berber country, in the Jardin Majorelle created by an artist who painted many scenes , men and women Berber, it is naturally the idea of this museum is imposed.    Pierre Bergé

Jardin de BalaI admit, I did pay one more visit to the old medina and Jmma al Fna. My friend Mike Richardson of Cafe Clock in Fez is building a new Cafe Clock in Marrakech. When it is complete, it will certainly create a new compelling reason to visit the old medina. We grabbed some Indian food at Les Jardins de Bala which turned out to be pretty delicious. I’ve had bad luck with non-Moroccan cuisine in Morocco, but in this case – the naan, chicken tiki masala, and saag were delicous. As for the restaurant and setting itself…just wow. Gorgeous.

Finally, for those who want to see modern Morocco and the creativity that lives and breathes – I might recommend a gallery that is not designed for tourists, not made for the public, and not listed in any guide book. The truck depot not far from Bab Doukala is a place to see and feel the real Morocco. The truckers were surprised to see me wandering among their rigs, taking photos, and looking at their art. Many of them were confused and began conversations with ‘No pictures” or “Go”. I was very grateful to be able to explain to them that I love their trucks and their art. My Arabic was sufficient to bring understanding and soon I was being led around, offered tea, and introduced to other truckers and shown more trucks.

I admit that in the hustle of touristic medinas, the glitz of posh hotels with submissive staffs, and the con of trying to buy any sort of handicraft or artifact – I have sometimes lost sight of what makes Morocco and Moroccans beautiful.  I am grateful for those awesome truckers for reminding me that the beauty of Morocco is of and comes from her people.

The Moroccan Spring is beautiful and almost made me wish I were staying.