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03

Jun 2019

Beautiful Books!

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

The Most Beautiful Bookshop in the World?
Here’s a challenge for everyone who loves books as much as they love browsing bookstores: can you find a more beautiful bookshop than this Argentine gem?

El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore in the centre of Buenos Aires has to be the champ! It’s a stunning building (used to be a theatre) it’s distinctively Argentinian and is just plain unique, packed with new editions, new books, new authors, and the broadest spectrum of subjects.

We have created an Insider’s Walking Tour of BA which includes the ‘Grand Splendid’ (half day or full day) accompanied by a local university lecturer to interpret the subtleties, innuendos and implications of Porteño life a street café level. Explore like a Porteño (South American Spanish for a person who lives in a port city) and visit the ‘hoods, café scenes and imaginative graffiti spots; feel the Latin pulse of this most charming of South American cities.

Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore, Buenos Aires

The “reading area” (Stage) of El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore, Buenos Aires

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29

May 2019

Kilimanjaro cable car ….. ?

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

A cable car for Kilimanjaro? Is it April 1st?

This week saw the tragic and insane shenanigans on Mount Everest with a queue from the Hilary Step to the summit, and 12 fatalities. Last month the Peruvian authorities announced their cunning plan to build an airport at Machu Picchu to boost tourist numbers. And now we have the Tanzanian offering: a cable car for Kilimanjaro. Check the report from Reuters

Beggars belief: apart from anything else, how can a human being go from Moshi town (altitude 950m) to Uhuru Peak (5,895m) in an hour or so?! I hope their plans make good provision for body bags.

There are about 50,000 Kili trekkers annually and no matter which route you take to ascend, it’s hard work. The altitude is a definite challenge. Trekkers who climb neighbouring Mount Meru first do themselves a huge favour because they allow the acclimatisation process to work more slowly, thus avoiding the headaches and nausea. Besides, I’m old-school and believe achieving a peak should be personally earned rather than being helicoptered in.

Shame on the Tanzanian authorities for suggesting this nonsense and shame on the Chinese construction firm bidding for the contract.

Sign the protest here:

Kilimanjaro cable car

Safari and Kili climb – the perfect safari

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25

Apr 2019

Release the Inner Cowgirl!

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Following a year’s research we have just released the “Gaucho Trail” which welcomes you to release the inner cowgirl (or boy!).

Gaucho Trail Argentina. Ride with the gauchos moving cattle.

Gaucho Trail Argentina. Ride with the gauchos moving cattle.

A couple of hours away from Buenos Aires in Argentina is a large estancia (ranch) which specialises in cattle rearing. The fertile land in this area is flat and criss-crossed with rivers creating a tapestry of rolling grassland which is ideal cattle country. The estancia’s gauchos are born and bred to their trade and the criollo horses they ride are ‘home made’, quick, agile and really well mannered. In February 2019 we had our first wanabee-gauchos return from Argentina and they really loved the experience, proving with complete confidence that this stunning farm, with outstanding accommodation, great horses and a genuine gaucho welcome delivers what it promises. Given its location, north of Capricorn in the tropics, it’s a 12-month of the year destination. Min stay 3 nights; the Gaucho Trail is 7 nights.

Gaucho Trail Argentina. Ride with the gauchos moving cattle.

One of the many river crossings on the Pampa, Argentina

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25

Apr 2019

Pushkar: a Marwari ride to the greatest show in Rajasthan, India.

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

We are giving a free Venture Co daypack to welcome all Pushkar riders 2019.

Pushkar Fair ride, Rajasthan, India

25 Lt day pack from Venture Co

Pushkar is a place in India you may have heard of: it’s a small desert town 150 clicks SW of Jaipur in Rajasthan. Unusually it’s a pilgrimage site, complete with sacred bathing ghats, for both Hindus and Sikhs. But what it’s particularly famous for is the annual autumn ‘Camel Fair’.

The stat’s are startling: ¼ million traders wash and adorn 50,000 camels, a similar number of Marwari horses, and rather more cattle, all of which swell the local population for the five day fair. Add in the holiday atmosphere, magic sideshows and of course the races (camels and horses, but not together) and the scene is set for an experience of biblical proportions. Vibrant colours combine with the dusty haze and set the stage for horsemanship that will stop you in your tracks. Badminton it ain’t but attention gripping it most certainly is.

Pushkar Fair ride

Pushkar Ride: riding Marwaris through the desert in style!

Our host for this ride often buys a stallion or brood mare at the fare, so we, as part of his entourage, are very much ‘in’. The trading and bargaining is utterly unfathomable: no visible sign can be seen and few words are exchanged; just a rather intriguing sash draped across clasped hands, concealing an ancient, tactile communication. Eventually a price is agreed and a deal struck but no-one knows the detail except buyer and seller. And low and behold a new horse joins the herd!

There are a couple of things that set our riding group apart: as you might imagine, tourists are bussed in to the fair on day trips, click their cameras and depart. We ride in across the desert, riding Marwaris, and arrive very much in traditional style. More subtly, the Marwaris we’re riding are top class examples of the breed and have all the right physical attributes, but they also have the intangible spirit that sets a classy Marwari apart. Local dealers will recognise this at a glance, and you’ll get a different reaction compared to the bussed-in brigade.

We can organise this ride in a number of ways: with a tiger safari, or without, including a visit to the Taj Mahal, or not and visiting Pushkar at the beginning of the itinerary or at the end. We remain flexible and can even include the Diwali experience in a Rajasthan fort. Please contact us for a detailed, tailored proposal and price.

 

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24

Apr 2019

Patagonia – Latest News

Posted by / in Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, South America, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Several of you will know Cathy in Chile and Dominik in Argentina, the wonderful characters who guide the trans-Patagonia rides. There are big changes coming up for 2020.

The problem we have noticed over the last two seasons is water – or rather the shortage of water in the rivers. The Grand Traversée ride contains as a star feature several river crossings which can be several hundred metres wide with the water lapping your stirrups and the horse’s belly all the way! It’s a thrilling experience, particularly because you can dip a cup into the river (upstream of the horses!) and drink directly from it; it’s that clean and glacier fresh.

Horse riding holiday in Patagonia

Crossing the Rio Puelo, fed from a glacier in Chile, Patagonia.

The trouble is that rainfall in Patagonia’s summer (Nov to March) has declined significantly, making the lakes and rivers run lower than usual. Global warming? Well, probably. The glaciers still produce run-off but it’s not being topped-up from rain. We have traditionally crossed the Chile-Argentina border by boat across a lake to the rapids, up the rapids and across another lake to the new border. During late Jan, Feb and March there simply isn’t enough water in the rapids to make them navigable. The alternative is a 14 hour road / trail trip – which ticks everyone off!

Sadly we will not be running the Grand Traversée after Jan each year.

The Huaso Trail remains as it is but in a truncated season. We’ll be tweaking The Andes Crossing itinerary which will continue to run between Oct and March each year, but note the contingency plans on day 6. Here’s a summary of the Patagonia rides:-

Ride title Days Season
Grand Traversée

14

Nov, Dec & Jan
Huaso Trail

7

Jan & Feb
Andes Crossing

6

Oct to March
Patagonia cattle drive

Twice p.a.

Oct & March

 

The Grand Traversée remains my favourite, by far. An epic ride that takes you into the heart of remotest Patagonia giving you a glimpse of a way of life that is as far from ‘digital’ as it’s possible to get on a horse. I wonder how much longer this ultimate riding experience will be able to operate?

Riding holiday Patagonia

Driving cattle on the Pampas, Argentina. Approaching the foothills of the Andes.

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17

Apr 2019

Okavango Delta water level Apr 2019

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Water level in the Okavango Delta. (17th April 2019)
Recent updates from Botswana suggest that it is likely to be a dry year. Rainfall levels have been lower than normal and flood levels are lower than previous years. This will limit water activities in areas without permanent water, such as rivers and lagoons. Water activities are expected to start later than normal in 2019, probably around August time. However, when water is scarce wildlife congregates around pools making the game viewing spectacular, particularly from the back of a horse. Riding and game drives have been good, as have walks. All transfers in and out of camps that we will be using in July will probably be by land / donkey, rather than by makoro.

Riding Holiday in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Big Game viewing frm the back of a horse

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05

Apr 2019

Grow your own clarinet!

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Yes – you read that right!

Buffet Crampon is a French manufacturer of woodwind musical instruments, including oboes and bassoons, but they’re best known for their clarinets which are the brand of choice for many professional musicians.

Venture Co has been working with the African Blackwood Conservation Project  since 2002. ABCP collects ebony tree seeds; propagates; and gives saplings to shamba farmers (shamba = smallholding) to plant around their fields and homes thus establishing beyond doubt their boundaries. After all other field markers could be moved! Ebony trees take a lifetime to grow (70 or 80 years) to a useable size, so boundaries become well-established, and there now exists an incentive to protect the young ebony trees. The Makonde carving industry in Kenya and Tanzania, combined with sapling-nibbling goats, have devastated the ebony trees creating the need for some conservation.

Grow your own clarinet

Ebony seedlings

Even with all our clever technology and material science degrees, the best woodwind instruments are still made from Dalbergia Melanoxylon or ebony, or Mpingo in Swahili. Ebony’s density, dimensional stability and machinability are difficult to replicate. So there are all sorts of stakeholders in the future of the modest Mpingo.

Last year Buffet Crampon visited the nursery and tree planting sites in Tanzania, and agreed to finance the project. They continue to lead the industry with the manufacture of “Greenline clarinets and oboes” made of recycled blackwood. This material has the same acoustic properties as the harvested wood, remains stable in all playing environments and is not prone to cracking. It is therefore reducing current harvesting demands for ebony. And before too much longer modest supplies of mature ebony will once more become available.

If you visit the project for an hour or so, after a Serengeti safari, who knows, you could plant a clarinet for your grandchild.

Contact us for safari ideas and quotes.

 

Sebastian Chewa, founder of the Mpingo Project

Sebastian Chewa, founder of the Mpingo Project

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05

Apr 2019

Black rhino in Tanzania

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Black rhino
The black rhino population in Ngorongoro Crater has been decimated by poaching over the last 50 years – that’s not news. What is great news is how successful the conservation efforts have been. Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) have been the ‘feet on the ground’ and it’s all been paid for from income derived from wildlife tourism: conservation funded solely from safari visitors to the Ngorongoro Crater.

Here are the stats:-

Year    Popln
1968      108
1977         25
2018        52

Nowadays the rhinos are under 24-hour camera surveillance which has reduced poaching and improved husbandry allowing more calves to survive. A few blacks have also been reintroduced to Ngorongoro, from South Africa, to improve the gene pool.

The oldest resident is Fausta (54 years) and she is now on a special care programme because they recon 50 years is the usual life expectancy for a rhino.

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05

Apr 2019

Poachers in Kenya

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

The Fate of Elephants & Black Rhino
“Wildlife poachers in Kenya will face the death penalty”, so says Najib Balala the Minister of Wildlife in Nairobi.

Kenya is home to a wide variety of species and remains a popular safari destination, but its reputation has been damaged by Al Shabaab activities and the continued niggle of poaching. In 2018 69 elephants, out of a population of 34,000; and 9 rhinos, from a population of under 1,000 were poached.

The highly social African elephant

“We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of US$200,000” Mr Balala said. “However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence.”

Needless to say, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights opposes the move and would like to see the death penalty abolished worldwide.

Recently 2 black rhino and a calf were poached in Meru National Park, virtually cancelling out the overall rhino population’s growth in Kenya, according to the Save the Rhino organisation; gestation periods are 16 to 18 months.

Social-media reaction varies from some users applauding Kenya and calling it “fantastic news” and others insisting it should never happen. Watch this space.

Happy as a rhino in a mud-wallow!

Happy as a rhino in a mud-wallow!

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05

Mar 2019

Quagga

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

I must admit I’ve never heard of a quagga, and couldn’t guess what one is!

Picture a zebra that’s been put through a washing machine and lost the stripes from its quarters and belly: that’s a quagga. They went extinct in the first half of the 20th C.

Enter the Heck brothers who were Nazi geneticists at Berlin zoo during WW II. They specialised in resurrecting extinct animals. Another German, Hr Rau picked up the baton in the 1980’s, after the death of the brothers Heck, which subsequently passed to the South African National Parks a decade ago. And hey-presto, derived from the Plains Zebra of Etosha, Namibia, please welcome back the Quagga. The first quagga foal, Henry, was born 5th Jan 2005. Numbers are now up to about a dozen, mainly in the Cape Town area.

 

The quagga

This is not a Quagga – but it’s equally strange to look at!

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