Tag Archives: Zimbabwe

Comoros, Reunion, Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles

AFRICA: Go North, East or South

Does the ebola virus outbreak make you nervous about visiting West Africa? That still leaves you with a whole continent to explore and treasure.

A longstanding, widespread ignorance about Africa in the United States predisposes a lot of would-be visitors to a hysterical view of events on the Mother Continent. And when it comes to Africa, mainstream media always stand ready to deliver hysteria in abundance.

The latest example is the current outbreak of the ebola virus that now affects a total of six African nations.

Five are in West AfricaLiberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and most recently, Senegal. The sixth is the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa.

As a virus that creates deadly infections and has no cure, ebola certainly is no joke, but a little perspective may be in order here.

As of this writing, ebola has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa since the outbreak was first recognized as such in February of this year.

Across the African continent, malaria will have killed more people than that by the end of the day, maybe even before you finish reading this. It’s been that way for centuries.

Yet malaria somehow has never stopped people from traveling to Africa for business, education or leisure.

A little more perspective. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 killed 50 million people worldwide, some say as many as 100 million, more than were killed in World War 1. Did the world stay home after that? I think not.

Ebola is scary. Terrifying, in fact. So if you’d rather wait until West Africa gets the current outbreak in hand before returning the region to your list of must-see destinations, that’s perfectly understandable. And at this point, it’s highly unlikely that the DRC was on your must-visit list, anyway.

Africa flags

Meanwhile, allow me to point out something that mainstream media will not tell you: Africa is a continent of 54 nations, 48 of which are utterly unaffected by ebola.

AFRICA IS A CONTINENT, REMEMBER?
At least nine of those nations are in West Africa, but you’ve written off that entire region for the time being, right? So what does that leave us?

It leaves us the northern, eastern, central and southern regions of the world’s second largest continent to see, explore and treasure.

In North Africa, it leaves Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. Yes, Egypt. You remember Egypt, right? Cairo. The pharaohs, the pyramids, ancient history and culture that predate the birth of Christ.

There are no State Department travel alerts or the more dire travel warnings in effect on Egypt. None. Not on Morocco or Tunisia, either.

Most travelers associate the Nile, ones of the world’s great rivers, with Egypt…and only Egypt. In fact, the Nile is not just a river, but a river system shared by 11 African countries — Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.

To see where that system begins, and what it means to life in nearly a quarter of the African continent, you’ll have to go south of Egypt and into East Africa.

THE OTHER “GREAT LAKES”
The first thing you’ll find out is that the Nile has more than one source. The Blue Nile originates from Lake Tana in Ethiopia. The White Nile has as its mother the far larger Lake Victoria, whose shore is shared by three East African nations — Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

This also is where you find out that Lake Victoria is one of the Great Lakes.

That’s right: North America is not the only continent in the world with a Great Lakes region. The North American version has five lakes in all. Africa’s boasts 15.

Cross-border incursions from Somalia by the jihadi terrorists of al Shabab might make some folks a bit nervous about visiting Kenya these days, but Tanzania and Uganda have no such issues.

And no ebola, either.

So what do they have? Start with great natural beauty. Tanzania has 13 national parks, Uganda 10. Thirty percent of Uganda is covered by water, not bad for a country that is 100 percent land-locked.

Tanzania has Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa and one of the world’s Seven Summits. In the entire world, there are 700 mountain gorillas; 400 of them live and can be seen in Uganda.

Another good place to see the beauty of nature and the majesty of the mountain gorillas is Rwanda. Indeed, TripAdvisor can show you a list of 62 different things that make Rwanda worth a visit.

NOT JUST IN KENYA
Kenya has worked hard to give the world the impression that all the Maasai people live within their borders, to the point where they’ve practically become a living symbol of the country, a very tall national brand.

But if you’re skittish about visiting Kenya these days, you can still get to know the Maasai in northern Tanzania, one of the 125 different ethnic groups that live in the country.

Uganda, a country no bigger than Oregon, has 56.

(NOTE: You’ll be hearing more — a lot more — about Uganda on IBIT in the coming days and weeks.)

Keep going south and there’s South Africa. Its wildlife. Its cities. Its wine country. Its coastline. Its history. A whole nation still sorting itself out, post-apartheid, post-Nelson Mandela.

But as you look south, you’ll soon realize there’s a lot more to southern Africa and just South Africa.

Angola. Zambia. Malawi. Mozambique. Botswana. Zimbabwe. Namibia. Each with its own charms, its own attractions, its own layered, complex past.

Off the eastern coast of southern Africa, a short cruise or even shorter flight from the mainland, you have the islands — the Comoros, Reunion, Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles.

Speaking of islands, there’s a lovely set of them off West Africa, untouched by ebola — the Cape Verde Islands. They even have their own airline that connect to the United States via Boston.

So as you can see from all the above, if you want to visit Africa without exposing yourself to major hazards, be they natural or man-made, it really isn’t all that hard when you’ve got most of a continent to work with.

All you have to do is turn off the hysteria of the mainstream media and do some research of your own.

Then find yourself a good, knowledgeable travel agent and start making plans for journey of a lifetime.

WHERE TO START
Some links to help jump-start your research. Let me emphasize that this is just to get you started. If you encounter a problem with any of these links, leave a comment or send me an email:

North Africa
Egypt
Morocco (in French)
Tunisia

East Africa
Ethiopia
Kenya
Rwanda
Tanzania
Uganda

Southern Africa
Angola
Botswana
Malawi
Mozambique
Namibia
South Africa
Zambia
Zimbabwe

African islands
Cape Verde
Comoros (in French)
Madagascar
Mauritius
Reunion
Seychelles

In addition to guidebooks and Web sites, make a point of seeking out expats from the African countries you wish to visit. Let them know of your interest and ask questions.

Travel to Africa…why you should

Second of two parts

Nature and Black heritage are perhaps the two best-known reasons for visiting Africa, but there are many more reasons to go.

In the first segment of this series, we looked at Africa in terms of safety and whether a traveler could feel reasonably secure visiting the Mother Continent. We found that, on the whole, the answer is Yes.

Having established that can, we’re now going to look at some of the reasons why you should.

Typically, discussions of African travel focus on two themes. The first is nature. That usually means safari tours, hunting and fishing trips, bird-watching outings, backpacking, bike or motorcycle tours.

On these travels, the stars are Africa’s flora and fauna, much of it found nowhere else on Earth, and much of it under threat from everything from habitat loss to rampant poaching.

The other travel theme most commonly brought up for Africa, especially among Black Americans, is heritage travel, taking an up-close, in-person look at the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade where it began, maybe tracing their own African origins with the aid of DNA.

Both of these are valid reasons for a trip, or several trips, to the Mother Continent. But Africa has so much more to offer to the senses.

Sight, you know about already. Egypt’s pyramids and monuments. The mountains, deserts and of Morocco. The vast, grassy plains of the savanna that covers nearly half the continent. Mount Kilimanjaro.Victoria Falls, shared by Zimbabwe and Zambia. the beauty of Cape Town in South Africa.

But what of sound? There may not be enough years in an average lifespan to get your head around all the varied richness of Africa’s music, both ancient and modern.

Modern popular African musical styles by themselves are enough to swamp you in a tidal of creative sound. Afrobeat. Afrojazz. Highlife. Hiplife. Makossa. Sakara. Zouglou. And dozens more, some of them a century or more old.

If, starting right now, you devoted a year to fully immersing yourself in each style of African popular music, you’d still be going at it 40 years from now.

And those are the purely African sounds. That doesn’t count imports like Jamaican reggae nor Black American gospel music, on which Africans are putting their own delightful stamp.

What about food? On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Mother Continent may best be known for images of starving babies, thanks to our mainstream media. But the reality is that Africa has given the world many foods and many flavors we enjoy without even thinking about their origins. Coffee. Peanuts. The cacao bean that gives us chocolate.

But those are just starters, you could say.

The nations and regions of Africa produce a whirlwind of flavors, everything from pastilla and harira, thieboudienne, yassa, egusi soup and jollof rice from West Africa, wat and shiro in East Africa, Central Africa’s babute and piri piri chicken, seswaa and sosatie in southern Africa — along with a curried dish inexplicably known as “bunny chow.”

(Don’t worry. No cute and fuzzy bunnies are harmed in the making of this dish…)

You can already find culinary tours on offer in North Africa, West Africa and the Republic of South Africa, and as the interest grows, there will be more.

Religion? Nearly all the continent is a massive collection of sites and artifacts holy to Christians and Muslims, among them the rock churches of Ethiopia.

Interested in high fashion? There are major annual fashion shows in Senegal, Nigeria and South Africa.

What about film, cinematography? We all now know that India produces more feature films that any other nation. Who’s Number Two? It’s not Hollywood. It’s Nigeria. That’s right: After Bollywood comes Nollywood.

Egypt, Tunisia and South Africa even can lay claim to a growing medical tourism industry, and Nigeria is looking to get into the mix. It’s another growing trend in African travel.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about all the attractions listed above is that taken all together, they still comprise but the merest introduction of what Africa offers to the traveler. So start making your plans, saving your money, and get that passport.

The Mother Continent is waiting for you.

ALSO CHECK OUT:
Travel to Africa…why you can
2014: Make your own Black History in West Africa
AFRICA: 2 rails, 3 trains, 5 stars
The AFRICA Page

the IBIT Travel Digest 1.19.14

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

IMG_1201.jpg

AMERICANS: GIVE YOURSELVES A BREAK?
Are Americans the most vacation-deprived people on Earth? According to the folks at Expedia, we’re one of them.

It’s long been known that we Americans tend to get fewer vacation days than those of almost any other developed nation. A lot of us even end up working on days when we could taking vacation time.

Paid vacation time we’ve already earned.

Now, a little research by the Expedia folks we’re doing even more of that now than before. In what they called a Vacation Deprivation Study, they claim that Americans on average who could have taken 14 vacation days last year only took ten.

Further, those four vacations days left on the table were double the average left untaken in 2012. In all, 144 million working Americans left more than 500 million vacation days unused in 2013.

Are we nuts?

You can read the entire study here.

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CRUISING: LOOKING TO THE EAST
If you’re looking for new venues for cruise travel, you’re not alone. Princess Cruises and its parent company, Carnival Cruise Lines, are right there with you.

And they’re looking to Asia.

This May, Princess will begin running three-day and seven-day cruises to South Korea, out of Shanghai, China. Another Carnival-owned cruise line, Costa, has been sailing out of China since 2006.

Travel Weekly reports that this is all part of a major move by Carnival to target the Chinese market. But there’s nothing preventing you from taking the same cruises.

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MAKE YOUR OWN BED, AND SAVE
Since I founded this blog back in 2009, I’ve been telling IBIT readers to look seriously at short-stay apartment rentals as a more cost-effective alternative to hotels.

It seems that the man I call “the Godfather of Travel,” Arthur Frommer, agrees with me.

Speaking yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show, Frommer told the audience they not only can save money, but wind up with more space, more comfort and a better vacation overall.

Two of the Web sites he suggested for finding vacation rentals likes are familiar by now to regular IBIT readers, Airbnb and Homeaway. But he also mentioned a third — Rentalo, a site we’ll examine in depth in the coming days.

Meanwhile, why not play around a bit with all three sites. Pick a destination, here in the United States or anywhere else in the world, enter some dates and see if they find a vacation apartment that looks as if it would suit you.

The Godfather and I bet you will.

“I’ve learned it’s just as comfortable and just as interesting — most deluxe hotels are the most boring places anyway,” he said.

To read more of Arthur Frommer’s remarks and advice, check out the LA Times story here.

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AND FINALLY…
One of the more bizarre promotional gimmicks of 2013: The Breezes Bahamas all-inclusive resort in Nassau offered to pay their guests $100 if their legal first name (as it appeared on their passport) matched the list of hurricane names as designated by the National Hurricane Center.

Will they do it again this year? I don’t know yet, but just in case, here are the designated hurricane names for 2014. But the NHC actually has to give one of these names to an Atlantic storm for you to qualify:

Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, and Wilfred.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR

from the New York Times
How to choose an air travel Web site. One size does not fit all.

from Travel Weekly
Do you have a constitutional right to fly? An Oregon judge says yes.

from Travel Weekly
United looks to reach deeper into China with its new Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

from Travel Weekly
SCOOT, Singapore Airlines’ low-fair subsidiary, becomes the second Asian airline to add a no-kids section to its airplanes.

LAND

from the New York Times
The NYT’s annual list of the top 52 places to see in 2014 include three from Africa — including Cape Town as Number One — Nepal, downtown Atlanta and…the Arctic Circle?

from the Los Angeles Times
Hot new travel app sightings from Jen Leo.

from Travel Weekly
More cities are making a point of providing free wifi access at major tourist attractions and elsewhere. Hotels may not like it, but travelers love it.

from the New York Times
Yo! The Generation Gap rears its ugly head in travel. Give a shout-out to Yomads, adventure travel operators in Europe and Australia. Those over 40 need not apply.

SEA

from the New York Daily News
Stomach bug, possibly norovirus, hits Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands!

from Travel Weekly
The small luxury cruise ship Seabourn Pride is in its last season of sailings under the Seabourn name. In April, she will be re-branded, refurbished and re-launched as the all-suite Star Pride.

FOOD & DRINK

from CNN
Is London a better food city than Paris? British TV chef Gordon Ramsay thinks so — and there’s at least one famous French chef who agrees.

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AFRICA

from The Herald (Zimbabwe) via allAfrica.com
Zimbabwe’s Mount Nyangani is a beautiful hike, and easy enough for a child to do it — but a wealth of steep ravines mean it’s not for the careless.

from Biz-Community.com (South Africa) via allAfrica.com
Some non-standard attractions to freshen up your tourist itinerary in Cape Town.

from This Day (Nigeria) via allAfrica.com
After one of its university hospitals successfully performs a kidney transplant, a southern state on the Gulf of Guinea sets its sights on becoming Nigeria’s destination for medical tourism.

AMERICAS

from the New York Times
Affordable adventure travel in northern Brazil. http://www.nytimes.com/video/travel/100000002535592/brazils-north-zones.html

from the Toronto Sun
Laid-back Los Cabos at the tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula has something for just about everyone.

from the San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate.com)
Excursion train trip through a California rain forest.

from Associated Press via ABC News
New travel reforms in Cuba has Cubans traveling abroad in record numbers, with no sign of mass defections or a “brain drain.”

ASIA/PACIFIC

from the New York Times
The H7N9 bird flu virus, which had faded away last March, is making a comeback in China, just in time for the Lunar New Year travel season.

from the South China Morning Post
Hong Kong braces for a tourist tidal wave, mainly from mainland China.

from CNNgo
The annual Harbin Ice and Snow Festival in northern China just might be the world’s most spectacularly artful expression of frozen water. Festival Web site.

from Voice of America
The gang rape of a Danish tourist once again turns an international spotlight on crimes against women in India. This time, however, it’s having an impact on Indian tourism.

EUROPE

from the New York Times
Paris as famed black American author and activist James Baldwin would have seen it.

from the New York Times
There was a time, not all that long ago, when if someone said “London” and “Underground” in the same sentence, the only thing that probably came to mind was a subway train. That’s starting to change.

from BBC Travel
A look at life in Milan, Italy’s fashion and financial capital, and one of its most multicultural cities.

from the Wall Street Journal
Is Paris, long heralded as the world’s most visited city, about to lose its crown to London?

from The Guardian (London UK)
The best places to eat in Britain for less than 10 pounds. At today’s rates, that’s $16. MAP

Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below:

the IBIT TRAVEL DIGEST 10.27.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

A Boeing 747 at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. Is the 747 era coming to an end? -- ©IBIT/G. Gross
A Boeing 747 at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. — ©IBIT/G. Gross

747 — END OF AN ERA?
After more than 40 years, her familiar humpback silhouette is still instantly recognized around the world and she’s still the largest airliner built in the United States. But there are signs that the famed Boeing 747, the aircraft that more than any other transformed modern air travel, is rapidly nearing the end of the runway.

Several media outlets, including USA Today, are reporting that Boeing is drastically cutting back production of new 747 models and has yet to sell a new one this year.

Bottom line, the airlines just don’t want four-engined airplanes anymore, especially big ones that burn a lot of fuel to carry less than full loads of passengers.

All good things come to an end, but this traveler will be sorry to see the big bird go.

My first real international trip was aboard a Japan Air Lines 747 from LAX to Tokyo in 1976. Boarding one for the first time was a thrill — even if your Economy Class ticket didn’t entitle you to visit the swank upholstered lounge at the top of the spiral staircase.

When they began flying commercially in 1970, airports used to boast that they were a destination for 747s — even as they struggled at first with massive new volumes of passengers, freight and luggage. And even after four decades, it remains one of the most comfortable airliners in the sky.

But while successive waves of upgrades have kept the 747 technically viable, it looks as if economic realities will shortly be its demise.

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A BOLT COMES TO CALI
The airlines aren’t the only ones going the low-fare route. Bolt Bus, a spinoff of the iconic Greyhound inter-city bus line in operation since 2008, is hitting the highway in California.

Already in service in the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest with super-cheap fares, the New York Times reports that Bolt is opening up a new route starting Oct. 31 between Los Angeles, San Jose and Oakland.

To mark the occasion, Bolt is selling one-way tickets for the first four days of the new service for $1.

That’s right…a buck.

In a sense, it’s a throwback to the days when Greyhound and Continental Trailways buses roared up and down Highway 101 and Interstate 5 between Northern and Southern California, usually loaded with college students, budget-conscious vacationers and others who couldn’t cope with the cost of air travel — or just didn’t want to.

Those Trailways buses were pretty comfortable back then, with real legroom and even attendants who served coffee, sodas and sandwiches on board. None of that on Bolt buses, but you do get free wifi, electric outlets and leather seats. Unlike the old days, you also can get reserved seats if you buy your tickets online.

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AFRICA — One region, under a visa
Little by little, the stable regions of Africa, looking to boost their tourism, are moving toward regionalizing their immigrations and customs controls for travelers.

West Africa, through multi-nation trade group ECOWAS, already has a visa that allows citizens of the 14 ECOWAS member nations to travel freely among each other’s countries on a single visa.

Comes now Univisa, which would allow visitors to travel between multiple countries in southern Africa on a single visa, instead of having to get separate visas — and pay separate visa fees &mdash for each country.

It’s only in the idea phase at the moment, but according to Travel Weekly, it’s an idea that generated a lot of traction at this year’s meeting of the UN World Tourism Organization in Victoria Falls.

This is an idea whose idea is long overdue in arriving — not just for the sake of non-African tourists, but travelers within the Mother Continent. In too many instances, it currently is easier to travel from Europe to Africa than it is to move between African countries.

If African travel, tourism and commerce are ever to reach their full potential, that has to change.

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THE EUROPE THAT EUROPE KNOWS
When we Americans first start traveling to Europe, the fascination is endless, and why not? Centuries of history to pore through. A multitude of languages, cultures, interwoven histories. It’s all layered amid cutting-edge architecture, fashion, music, food — and all stitched together by perhaps the most streamlined and sensible transportation et on the planet.

Soon enough, though, you may find an uneasy feeling coming over you as you contemplate yet another visit to London, Paris, Rome or Barcelona. That been-there, done-that, got-the-T-shirt feeling.

If that’s you, hidden europe is here to help.

It’s the Web site for hidden europe magazine, which reveals the less-familiar pleasures of Europe for travelers, especially to Europeans looking for something a little different for their own vacations. In their own words, “we criss-cross the continent to bring our readers the very best of what’s new, what’s overlooked, what’s odd and what’s fun.”

What’s more, they’re big on travel by train and ferry, which makes them travelers after my own heart.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from the Washington Post
Have airline reservation change fees climbed so high that it’s now cheaper to just not show up? Sometimes, the answer is yes.

from USA Today
Ryanair, Europe’s ultra-cheap airline, has built itself an image — low fares and no respect. And by its own admission, the latter may be wearing thin with its customers.

LAND
from Travel Weekly
Zipcar and its contemporaries are forcing Hertz to get into the self-serve car rental game.

SEA
from Travel Weekly
Princess Cruises will have five cruise ships instead of seven for European summer cruises in 2014. So where will the other two ships be? Alaska.

from Travel Weekly
Viking River Cruises is no long Viking River Cruises. These days. it’s Viking Cruises. Why? Because it’s elbowing its way into the ocean cruise business, starting in 2015.

FOOD & DRINK
from the New York Times
Going beyond fast-food chains, airports around the United States are bringing in restaurants offering travelers some truly local flavor.

from Travel Weekly
Some travel purists are fond of looking down their noses at “foodie” travel. The industry is not. Food-oriented travel has become a major niche category all its own, and its growth shows no signs of slowing.

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AFRICA
from The Point (Banjul, Gambia) via allAfrica.com
The Gambia — Africa’s smallest, least populous nation becomes a magnet for tourism investors from Russia.

from NewZimbabwe.com (Zimbabwe) via allAfrica.com
Zimbabwe looks to tap into religious tourism in the country, partly as a way to prevent Victoria Falls and Great Zimbabwe from becoming over-saturated.

from Angola Press (Angola) via allAfrica.com
Angolan citizens are being asked to select the country’s own seven national wonders — and it looks as if they have nearly 30 impressive sites from which to choose. Voting is being done by SMS, naturally.

AMERICAS
from SFGate.com
Good reasons to visit some of the less-visited travel destinations in Mexico. And no, I haven’t lost my mind.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from the Washington Post
In Thailand, elephants have been so badly mistreated by logging — and tourism — that the Thais felt compelled to create a sanctuary for most badly abused of them. SLIDESHOW

from The Guardian (London, UK)
File this one under “Who Would Believe It?” A 460-mile hiking trail that criss-crosses virtually the entire length of the Korean Peninsula. That’s right, North as well as South Korea.

EUROPE
from the Washington Post
A visual tour by day and night through the twin cities of Budapest, one of the best-preserved treasures of Eastern Europe. SLIDESHOW

from The Guardian (London UK)
Ice skating on the ocean? They do it off the coast of Sweden.

from The Guardian (London UK)
An insider’s guide to beautiful, fun-loving, independent-minded Barcelona.

Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below:

The IBIT Travel Digest 6.9.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

Yuyuan Bazaar, Shanghai, China
Yuyuan Bazaar, Shanghai, China — ©IBIT/G. Gross

WINNING ON POINTS
There are travelers who have become so adept at using credit-card points, loyalty points and frequent-flier miles that they almost never pay for trips anymore.

One of those people is Brian Kelly, who calls himself The Points Guy. If you want to see how Brian rolls — and flies — check out his site.

Meanwhile, he also recently talked to USA Today about how he does what he does.

TECHNO-TRAVEL
The New York Times has a fascinating — and perhaps somewhat disturbing — piece on the growing use of technology in our travels, especially biometrics.

We’re talking everything from fingerprint and eye scans at airport security checks to a hotel wristband with an embedded sensor chip that automatically lets you update your Facebook status.

And there’s more coming, being used not only with travelers but with employees of hotels of other establishments that serve travelers, sometimes without even their knowledge.

The day is rapidly coming, if it isn’t here already. when we may need to take a vacation as much from our technology as we do from our jobs. From here, it looks as if getting away from the job will be a lot easier.

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BETTER TRAVEL SMARTPHONE TRAVEL PICS
And speaking of technology, are you among that growing number of travelers leaving their cameras at home when they travel and taking pics and videos with their smartphone instead?

The folks at Condé Nast Traveler have produced a truly useful online slideshow with tips on how to get better travel pics with your phone.

Smartphone cameras have a lot of travelers believing that getting great snaps is now just a matter of pointing and shooting, no need to fiddle with settings as you would with a camera. Others believe their phone has no way to adjust for those differences.

Wrong and wrong.

Even if your camera is built into a phone, you still need to understand its powers and its limits. The slideshow shows the kind of results you can get when you work with both.

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AFRICAN AIRLINES: GOING LONG, GOING BIG
Two of the big dogs among Africa’s national airlines — Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways — appear to be going all-in with the newest ultra-lightweight, long-range jumbo jets.

According to the African Aviation Tribune, Ethiopian, the first African airline to acquire Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners, is looking to add more of them to its fleet over next several years.

Its well-reported battery problems notwithstanding, Ethiopian is said to be well pleased with the Dreamliner’s performance and already is planning new routes to take advantage of its added range.

At the tip of the Mother Continent, meanwhile, SAA is eyeing both the Dreamliner and its competitor being developed by Airbus, the A350.

With African airlines having to fly thousands of miles to reach markets in Europe, Asia and the Americas, adding modern aircraft designed to make longer flights without stopping to refuel only makes sense.

While Ethiopian and SAA are going for distance, Zimbabwe, which has been pushing hard to boost its tourism in recent years, is going for size. The country’s national airline, Air Zimbabwe, reportedly is making noises about acquiring the world’s largest civilian airliner, Airbus’ massive double-decked A380.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from CNN
Airline kicks 101 allegedly rowdy high school students off a flight. The school wants to investigate the airline. This is going to get ugly.

from the San Francisco Chronicle
In a moment of apparent sanity, the TSA reverses itself and drops its plans to allow small knives aboard airliners.

LAND
from Budget Travel
If your idea of a cable car is confined to the ones running the streets of San Francisco, you may not be ready for these. No, you definitely aren’t ready for these.

from USA Today
Free things to do in ten of the world’s great cities. SLIDESHOW

from The Guardian (London)
Simon Gandolfi, by his own description, is an out-of-shape Briton who just turned 80. So how does he celebrate eight decades of life? By flying to India and making his way back to London by motorcycle, solo. Rocking chair? What rocking chair?

from The Guardian (London)
Now, this is my idea of a European rail trip — Paris to Sicily, by train. Yes, I know Sicily is an island. And no, it doesn’t matter to the train.

from the New York Times
Bike sharing comes to Manhattan. One user finds it a mixed blessing for tourists.

SEA
from USA Today
Bad news for the cruise industry: A Harris Poll finds that the spate of shipboard fires in the last year is causing travelers to lose confidence in cruising as a travel option.

FOOD & DRINK
from USA Today
Do U know your Q? A regional breakdown of barbecue in the United States. Because unlike men, all BBQ is not created equal.

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AFRICA
from the Times of Zambia
Zambia’s Liuwa Plain National Park may be unique among the world’s land reserves in that it spends the first four months of the year underwater.

from Associated Press via Yahoo!
A UNESCO survey team finds damage to cultural artifacts done by Islamist rebels in the fabled Mali city of Timbuktu to be fare more extensive than first thought.

from the Seattle Times
Beautiful, diverse, edgy Cape Town.

AMERICAS
from the Washington Post
In San Francisco, the neighborhood known as Dogpatch, once a collection of meatpacking plants, is stepping up in class.

from NBC Travel
Tornado tourism? Yes, people actually pay to go out and look at — and pose for pictures with — tornadoes. A potential killer of a trip.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from Agence France Presse via France 24
A Chinese farmer restores a run-down section of the Great Wall of China on his own time and his own dime…about $800,000 worth of his own dimes.

from France 24
About two hours outside of Beijing, a luxury hotel opens in the birthplace of Confucius.

from France 24
Promoting South Korean tourism…Gangnam style.

EUROPE
from the San Francisco Chronicle
Is tourism in Turkey likely to take the same kind of hit from the current spate of street protests that Egyptian tourism did? In Istanbul, they don’t seem to think so.

from the New York Times
Do you love the fluid, vibrant colors of Claude Monet, the godfather of impressionism? Would you like to explore his country garden from which he drew his inspiration? You can, and without fighting your way through mobs of tourists.

from USA Today
In Europe, spending less for a hotel can actually contribute to a better travel experience. So says European travel guru Rick Steves. Been there, done there. It’s true.

from CNN
Want to chill out and kick back in style, and maybe work in a little exercise at the same time? Consider barge cruising in France. SLIDESHOW

the IBIT Travel Digest 2.10.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

Hong Kong fireworks
Hong Kong fireworks — © Farang | Dreamstime.com

Wishing peace, health and prosperity to our IBIT friends in China and Chinatowns around the world as they ring in the Year of the Snake on this Lunar New Year.

EAT, DRINK AND GO TRAVEL
Every so often, I go back through old digests of mine to look for recurring themes — and if you’re a regular reader of the IBIT Travel Digest, there’s at least one you’ve spotted already. Nearly every digest, it seems, features at least one mention of food or drink.

So starting today, FOOD & DRINK gets its own section in the digest — and it kicks off with two subjects equally dear to my heart and my tastebuds.

New Orleans was a foodie town long before someone invented the term “foodie.” The word itself is out of favor these days among the blogerati (not that I give a damn), but the NOLA’S flare for flavor will never die.

From its beginnings, New Orleans cuisine has blended a mélange of influences — French, Spanish, Native American, African, Italian, Irish. Starting with the 1980s, though, a new taste fell into the city’s gumbo pot — the flavors of Vietnam.

San Diego was the first American city to receive South Vietnamese refugees en masse following the 1975 fall of Saigon, which made it the first to be exposed to Vietnamese dishes in a big way.It didn’t take long for pho and banh mi, with their fresh ingredients and vibrant mix of flavors, to become staples here.

And for you gumbo purists out there (and you know who you are): Yes, they do put in okra on request.

But while the Vietnamese cuisine tsunami was washing over San Diego, other refugees gravitated to the Gulf of Mexico to resume their lives as fishermen. Inevitably, many settled in New Orleans.

A city that already treated po’boys and gumbo as basic food groups had little trouble embracing pho soups and banh mi sandwiches. And among the Vietnamese and their descendants who grew up in the NOLA, the feeling seems to be mutual, as the New York Times recently discovered.

Today, within an easy drive from my house in San Diego are at least two Vietnamese restaurants whose menu is a mix of Vietnamese and New Orleans Creole dishes, run together by people from both locales. The nearest one features a daily special that includes half a banh mi and a bowl of gumbo.

But the best place to see the result of this marriage of cultures is in the Crescent City itself and you’ll see it below in the inaugural FOOD & DRINK section of the IBIT Travel Digest.

IBIT says: Bon appétit…or perhaps, chúc ngon miệng!

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WILL TRAVEL FOR JAZZ
Back at the turn of the 20th century, as Europe was plunging into the first of its two disastrous world wars, Paris witnessed the arrival of blacks from America, mostly soldiers, who brought with them a style of music Parisians had never heard before.

The Americans called it jazz, and Paris promptly fell in love with it. And as Jonathan Lorie discovered when he went roaming Ernest Hemingway’s old Parisian haunts for London’s The Guardian newspaper, the love still burns.

Jazz may be an American invention — perhaps the best of all American inventions — but there may be no better place to enjoy it than Paris. And as you’ll see in Lorie’s article, there are a lot of venues in the City of Light where you can enjoy it.

Lorie’s piece also links four other famed Jazz Age authors — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Christopher Isherwood and Somerset Maugham — and their jazz hangouts from New York to Germany and even Sri Lanka.

But if all these folks were still around today, they all might leave their hearts in San Francisco. The reason is SFJAZZ, which opened late last month in the city’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.

It is the first concert hall in the United States — and maybe the world — built expressly for jazz. It features an auditorium, an ensemble room, rehearsal areas, a digital learning lab, and even a sidewalk cafe.

IBIT says: Hemingway would’ve dug it…once he got used to the no-smoking rule.

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AND FINALLY…
USA Today reports that Kate Hanni, head of the airline consumer organization FlyersRights.org, is stepping down as the group’s executive director, walking away from the outfit she founded in 2006.

You can read the entire USA Today story here.

She formed Flyers Rights after being stuck on the tarmac aboard an American Airlines flight in Austin, TX — for nearly nine hours — and getting little more than lip service from the airline. Her outspoken efforts since then led to federal regulations governing how the airlines handle flight delays.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Hanni didn’t make a lot of friends in the airline industry during her time with Flyers Rights, but she did prove that consumers who organize at the grassroots and speak truth to power can make a difference.

IBIT says: Thanks for all you did, Kate, and all you tried to do.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from the Los Angeles Times
In the eternal hunt for airfare bargains, booking too early can be as costly as booking too late.

from Travel Weekly
You may soon be able to watch in-flight shows and movies on-demand on Southwest Airlines flights, streamed to your own personal electronic devices. That’s the good news. The bad news? You’ll be paying extra for it.

from Budget Travel
A survey of travel agents says that when it comes to booking their clients on connecting flights, Atlanta-Hartsfield is one of their most favorite airports. It’s also one of their least favorite airports. Am I confused? No. I’m just booking non-stops.

from Travel Weekly
Frequent-flier miles…from an airport? Starting in June, the parking, food, merchandise or airport hotel stay you buy at Dallas-Ft. Worth International (DFW) will count toward airline miles.

from FareCompare
When is a “free” airline ticket not really free at all? FareCompare’s Rick Seaney counts the ways, and there are five of them.

LAND
from Condé Nast Traveler
The world’s ten most beautiful train stations, according to CN Traveler, right on time as New York’s Grand Central Terminal marks its 100th anniversary. Some are classic, others ultra-modern, and some brilliantly mix old and new. SLIDESHOW

from Travel Weekly
For the third time since it first opened in 1981, San Francisco is set to expand its Moscone convention center.

SEA
from the New York Times
Lust and luxury aboard the Queen Mary 2. Just don’t call it a “cruise.” It’s just not done, you know…

from Travel Weekly
Kai Tak, Hong Kong’s old airport, where almost every landing seemed like an adventure, is returning to the travel business — this time as a gleaming $1 billion cruise ship terminal that can handle the largest vessels in the business, even Royal Caribbean’s behemoth Oasis-class ships.

FOOD & DRINK
from the New York Times
In New Orleans, they know their pho — and their yaka mein. If you don’t know either, read up. WARNING: Your mouth may involuntarily water while reading.

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AFRICA
from Travel Weekly
The Radisson hotel chain opens its first Radisson Blu hotel in Mozambique.

from TechZim (Zimbabwe)
New travel startup, Zimbabwe Bookers, aims to make finding hotel rooms easier for travelers in one of Africa’s growing tourist markets.

from Tanzania Daily News (Tanzania) via allAfrica.com
Tanzania draws up plans to aggressively promote tourism in overseas markets. Its top four markets — Britain, the United States, Germany and Italy.

from Angola Press via allAfrica.com
Angola’s environmental agency building bungalows, other facilities in the country’s national parks in a bid to boost ecotourism.

AMERICAS
from The Guardian (London UK)
When your mother takes you on a sailing excursion to Central America at the age of six, just the two of you — and it lasts for four years — school field trips may have a hard time holding your attention after that.

from the New York Times
A look at San Juan, Puerto Rico, starting with one of my favorite spots — Condado Lagoon. SLIDESHOW

from The Guardian (London UK)
Are you into “Girls?” I’m referring here to the HBO hit TV series, set in Brooklyn. A look at the neighborhoods that give the show its inspiration.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from the Washington Post
Singapore spent so many decades living with the reputation of being the straight-laced capital of Asia, that it’s hard to imagine this city-state having a quirky side. But it does have one. Yes, it does.

EUROPE
from France 24
When a man is tired of London, he is tired of…graffiti? The city’s Shoreditch neighborhood is becoming a mecca for lovers of street art.

Edited by P.A.Rice

the IBIT Travel Digest 1.20.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

American Airlines' new livery on their new Boeing 777-300ER airliners.
American Airlines’ new livery on their flagship Boeing 777s. What do you think? | Image courtesy of American Airlines

A NATION AFLOAT
Bangladesh — poor, low-lying and frequently flooded — is not on many people’s travel wish list. And maybe that’s our loss.

Because if we went, we’d see people using their own ingenuity to deal with the floodwaters threatening to gradually drown nearly 20 percent of their country…permanently.

In Bangladesh, climate change is not a theory. Melting Himalayan glaciers combine with annual monsoon rains and cyclones (what we call hurricanes) to inundate a country built on marshy delta. But the Bangladeshi people are finding ingenious ways to cope.

When major floods hit, the kids don’t go to school. It comes to them, on hand-built wooden boats — about the size of the vaporetti water buses that you’ll on the Grand Canal in Venice. Floating schools, floating health clinics, even floating libraries. There also are waterborne shelters for families displaced by floods.

But as you’ll see on the Fast Co.Design site, they’re going beyond adapting boats. They’re actually creating floating solar-powered farms producing vegetables, ducks and fish.

I would love to see all this in action. The Bangladeshis just might be more adapted to living with floodwaters than any other people on Earth.

On the other hand, that old “the monsoon ate my homework” excuse just won’t fly anymore. Sorry, kids.

BOEING’S BAD DAYS
To say it’s been a rough week for Boeing and its new 787 Dreamliner is an understatement.

By now, you know the story. A series of problems with the new jet, especially problems related to its Japanese-made lithium-ion batteries, led one airline after another to ground their 787s for safety inspections until the inevitable finally happened.

Not only have Dreamliners been grounded worldwide, but Boeing has halted deliveries of new ones until the problems can be tracked down and fixed.

Lots of writers, including IBIT, have pointed out that all new airplanes go through a certain amount of technical hiccups when they first come on-line. But when you’ve got batteries that leak enough corrosive fluid to burn holes through the floor and start taking out avionics, that’s no minor glitch.

Can/will the Dreamliner’s problems be fixed? Yes, and for the simple reason that London’s The Guardian newspaper points out: They have to be.

Both Boeing and the world’s airlines are all-in on this airplane. A Dreamliner demise would hit them like a financial tsunami.

All, perhaps, except Boeing’s European nemesis, Airbus, which has a rival to the Dreamliner, the A350 XWB, months away from its first flight.

IBIT will be introducing you to the A350 XWB in the coming days.

Meanwhile, should we be concerned that the same Japanese firm that makes the Dreamliner batteries also provides lithium-ion batteries aboard the International Space Station?

Oh dear…

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OLD SHIPS, NEW ROLES
The crew at CNN Travel have come across a pair of venerable vessels destined for new duties in travel. One invokes a famous legacy and a tragic past. The other, you just won’t believe.

The first involves the Queen Elizabeth 2 of Britain’s Cunard line. Known simply as “the QE2,” she spent some 40 years as an ocean liner in the grand Cunard style, making the trans-Atlantic crossing between Southampton, England and New York City.

In 2008, she was sold to an investment firm in Dubai and has been floating in limbo ever since. The word now is that she’s to be set up somewhere in Asia as a floating luxury hotel, like the old Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA.

The exact destination hasn’t been disclosed, but the betting so far is on Hong Kong. That would be supremely ironic, because that’s where the QE2′s predecessor met her end.

When Cunard retired the original Queen Elizabeth in 1969 after 30 years of service, she was brought to Hong Kong to be turned into a floating university. Cool idea, right? But while being converted, she caught fire under suspicious circumstances and had to be scrapped.

If indeed QE2 is bound for Hong Kong, let’s hope she meets with better luck.

Meanwhile, China already has a floating hotel in Tianjin. But they aren’t using an old ocean liner or retired cruise ship.

No, their floating hotel is the Kiev, a retired Soviet aircraft carrier from the equally defunct Soviet Navy. She’s now known as the Binhai Aircraft Hotel, which her owners describe as “high-end.”

And in this CNN Travel slideshow, she certainly looks the part.

No gym. No swimming pool. But does boast three presidential suites among her 148 rooms, and is probably the only upscale hotel in the world with gun turrets, missile launchers and a flight deck big enough to launch and land jump jets.

The Chinese have another Kiev-class carrier in Shenzen. They turned that one into a theme park.

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RANT: AFRICA’S SELF-INFLICTED TRAVEL WOUNDS
I have a friend whom we’ll call Lisa, an American expat living in a West African country. She was looking forward to attending a major social media event next month in nearby Nigeria. But Lisa won’t be there.

Why? Because the country in which she now resides won’t give her visa to travel directly to Nigeria and back. the immigration office insists that she first fly all the way to the United States, obtain a visa there, and then come all the way back.

This is but one example of the inexplicable bureaucracy that has hamstrung regional African travel since the end of colonial days, and it’s not reserved for expats. Africans trying to travel within the Mother Continent have had to deal with nonsense like this — and worse than this — for decades.

It’s a simple equation, really. The harder and more expensive you make it for travelers to visit your country, the more likely they are to go elsewhere — and take their money with them. That’s what makes the United Nations’ recent warning on immigration rules so timely.

You’ll see that in the AFRICA section below.

Africa is poised to explode as an international travel destination, with billions of needed dollars pouring into national economies up and down the continent. But it won’t happen until its governments stop shooting themselves in the foot.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from the from the Washington Post
Why you shouldn’t fly within a month after having surgery. Two words: blood clots.

from NBC News
American Airlines is changing its look (see above). What do you think of this new livery?

LAND
from Forbes
A rare bit of good news from your friends at the TSA: Those overly revealing full-body scanners installed a few years ago at US airports are going bye-bye.

Budget Travel via Yahoo
Top ten budget travel destinations for 2013.

from the Washington Post
The must-have items for your travel health kit.

from the New York Times
Amtrak adding awards incentives for frequent riders of their best trains. (The kid in the pic could’ve been me on my first cross-country train trip.)

SEA
from Cruise Critic
How to pick the right cruise ship for your at-sea vacation.
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AFRICA
from CNN
The violence in Mali has placed the historic treasures of Timbuktu under threat.

from the Zimbabwe Independent via allAfrica.com
The UN’s global tourism body has a blunt message for Zimbabwe (and by extension, the rest of Africa): Ease up on your visa restrictions or lose out on tourism.

from the Tanzania Daily News via allAfrica.com
How the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer are putting American eyes on Tanzania, and boosting that country’s tourism in the process.

from This Day (Nigeria) via allAfrica.com
A feature film meant to raise the international profile of Nigeria’s prolific film is also raising awareness of one of its biggest tourist attractions — Cross River state.

from Associated Press via Yahoo
In South Africa, veterinarians are joining the struggle to save endangered animals from the poaching epidemic.

AMERICAS
from the New York Times
If all you know of Medellin, Colombia is the memory of the late and largely unlamented Pablo Escobar, then you really don’t know Medellin. And it might be worth your while to get acquainted.

from CNN
Costa Rica. It’s not just for backpackers anymore. Livin’ large in the rainforest. SLIDESHOW

ASIA/PACIFIC
from CNN Travel
Officially, Beijing smog is not the worst in the world. But your eyes, throat and lungs all may have a very different opinion. Is a major world capital and travel destination on the verge of becoming unlivable? SLIDESHOW

from CNN
A local’s guide to Singapore. The operative word is “change.”

EUROPE
from BBC Travel
Meetups at the movies in Paris. Want some popcorn to go with that wine?

from The Guardian (London UK)
You can travel from London to Paris by air, by train, by barge and even bus. Now, if you’re up for a few days of challenging, lovely riding, you can do it by bike.

from the New York Times
Reykjavik. Capital of Iceland. Hard to spell, hard to pronounce. But easy to love during its spectacular winters.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Hiking the Scottish Highlands. Cycling in Malta. Healthy vacations don’t have to be about suffering for the sake of exercise.

the IBIT Travel Digest 1.14.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

Southwest Airline Boeing 737
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 landing in San Diego | © Greg Gross

LOOKING ELSEWHERE, LOOKING HOMEWARD
Last weekend’s Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show in Long Beach was equal parts eye opener and reminder.

Japan, still pushing hard to rebuild its tourism after the earthquake/tsunami/radiation disaster of 2011, was the biggest country sponsor this year, with all kinds of intriguing offers, including one that never would’ve occurred to me — anime tourism.

Expect to hear more about that later on IBIT.

Turkey also had a major presence this year, as did Indonesia. Baja California destinations — from Cabo San Lucas at the peninsula’s southern tip to Tijuana, Rosarito Beach, Ensenada, Tecate and Mexicali, also were representing well, and that was good for this old Baja hand to see.

But the destination that reality hooked my attention this year was Malaysia.

How many of us ever seriously consider Malaysia as a place to visit? How many of even know where Malaysia is? Well, somebody knows, because it’s the tenth most popular tourism destination in the world.

And in this case, getting there might actually be half the fun. Its national air carrier, Malaysia Airlines, gets a five-star rating from Skytrax for its passenger service, one of only six airlines in the world to be rated that highly.

At the other end of the travel scale, and literally on the other side of the floor, there were a lot of exhibitors touting outdoor and adventure travel in places like California’s Sequoia country and Yosemite National Park. It reminded me that we have some world-class attractions right here at home that we too often take for granted.

IBIT says: Watch for more on all of this in the coming days.

DREAMLINER DIFFICULTIES
How’s this for a reality TV show: You’ve got this hot new jet, state of the art, but there are so many problems building it was three years late arriving. But now it’s finally here and flying all over the world and everything’s great and…

Wait, say what? Electrical fires? Fuel leaks?

Welcome to the very real world of Boeing and its new 787 Dreamliner.

The Federal Aviation Administration is ordering a safety review after those problems surfaced aboard Japan Air Lines 787s in recent days.

Such reports can’t help but make travelers nervous, especially those flying across oceans. However, this CNN report puts it all in perspective.

Bottom line: all new planes have teething problems. The Boeing 707 and 747 did back in the day, as do Airbus aircraft, most recently its A380 super-jumbo. When the problems arise, you jump on them, as the FAA is doing, fix them, keep an eye on them…and move on. We should do as well maintaining our cars.

Still, it does bear watching, which IBIT will be doing.

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TITANIC SAILS AGAIN?
Did you see the movie “Titanic” and come away wishing you could have sailed on that early 20th century luxury liner — minus the iceberg, of course?

Three years from now, you may get your chance.

The Associated Press is reporting that an Australian billionaire is planning to build a 21st century replica of the ill-fated vessel in a Chinese shipyard, combining old-school opulence with state-of-the-art construction, propulsion and navigation features that Capt. Edward John Smith could not have imagined back in 1912.

You can read the entire AP story, courtesy of USA Today, here.

The would-be builder hasn’t set a price tag for this project, but you know the old saying: “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

And this guy apparently can.

Even so, other attempts to create a Titanic 2.0 have never left the proverbial drawing boards. If all goes well, however, the new and improved Titanic will hit the water sometime in 2016.

This time, hopefully, the water won’t hit back with a large, angry block of floating ice.

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BOEING 737 — SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
For nearly haf a century, while bigger, faster, more imposing-looking airliners have grabbed headlines and captured the imaginations of travelers, the stubby, unassuming little Boeing 737, like the one above, has quietly established itself as world’s the most widely used airliner.

Every five seconds, two of them are taking off or landing somewhere on the planet. Not bad for an aircraft which began life as basically a cut-down version of the Boeing 707.

Over the decades, a steady steam of modifications have made them bigger and more sophisticated. Now, Boeing is planning to take their winged bus even further with yet another large-scale makeover. The result, called the Boeing 737 Max, should be ready for service by 2017.

To the layman’s eye, it’ll still look the same 737 that first flew in 1967. But in many ways, as USA Today reports, it will be a brand-new airplane.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from Christopher Elliott
The merger between American Airlines and USAir seems all but official. What does it hold in store for the traveling consumer?

from the Los Angeles Times
What flight attendants really think of you. Everything you’ve always wanted to know…or maybe never wanted to know.

from the Washington Post
Jet lag is hard enough on a body in any direction, but it’s actually harder on you flying east than west. What to do about it.

LAND
from Smarter Travel via USA Today
Ten overrated tourist traps — and ten better alternatives. Agree or disagree?

from the New York Times
You’d think famed travel author Paul Theroux has been just about everywhere, but his wish list of destinations is still massively long — and many of them are right here in America.

WATER
from USA Today
The steamboats are back on the Mississippi River this summer, and the competition could be fierce.

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AFRICA
from The Mirror (London UK)
For a real off-road mountain bike adventure, with gorgeous views thrown in as an extra, consider South Africa’s Table Mountain above Cape Town. Just mind the puff adders.

from The New Times (Rwanda) via allAfrica.com
What a concept: Rwanda sets new rules enabling African nationals outside of East Africa to obtain visas on arrival in Rwanda. A big step forward for African regional travel, perhaps?

from the Namibian (Namibia) via allAfrica.com
one of Africa’s great rivers, the Okavango, and the struggle to save it from pollution.

from Bulawayo 24 via allAfrica.com
A new 5-star hotel opens on the shores of Lake Victoria, just in time for the August general assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization in Zimbabwe.

AMERICAS
from the Los Angeles Times
In the United States, bus travel is often disparaged by many. In Brazil, it’s the way to go.

from The Guardian (London UK)
If you really want to “cowboy up” for less than an American dude ranch, do it vaquero style on a working cattle ranch in Mexico.

from SFGate
Scottsdale, AZ is more than golf clubs and baseball spring training. Save some love for some seriously gorgeous desert.

from SFGate
California’s Monterey County, long known for its beautiful seashore and iconic jazz festival, has quietly become a heavyweight in another arena: wine. Could the Napa Valley natives be getting restless?

ASIA/PACIFIC
from the Washington Post
A traditional guesthouse in rural Japan, where the highlight is Italian food prepared by an Australian chef.

from the Daily Mail (London UK)
When the Iron Curtain fell for good in the early 1990s, a lot of historic, unspoiled and intriguing Central Asia opened up to the world as new nations. One of them is Uzbekistan.

EUROPE
from The Lookout via Yahoo
Birth of an island? What was nothing more than a sand bar ten years ago has now appeared as a fully formed 34-acres island off the coast of northern Germany.

from the Los Angeles Times
Now free to be creative, Russian chefs are putting a modernized touch on tradition Russian cuisine.

the IBIT Travel Digest 11.25.12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Strasbourg Christmas lights stand
Shopping for Christmas lights, Strasbourg, France | @copy;IBIT/G. Gross

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UNEASY MIDEAST
The so-called “Arab Spring” may have brought political change to North Africa and the Middle East, but it’s bringing little good cheer to the travel industry. The ongoing turmoil in that part of the world continues to make it — justly or unjustly — a no-go zone in the eyes of many travelers.

Travel Weekly reports that between now and next April, Norwegian Cruise Line is dropping Egypt from its 10- and 11-day cruises, scheduling port calls in Istanbul, Crete and Naples in its place.

And NCL came to that decision before Egypt’s new president got involved in brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and then tangled with his own nation’s judiciary over sweeping new powers he claimed…for himself.

Bottom line: Many of the countries now being avoided by travelers and travel companies alike may be perfectly safe to visit, but it may be a good while yet before the traveling public perceives them that way.

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AMTRAK RIDING HIGH
Anyone who tells you Americans don’t take trains hasn’t been to a train station lately. IBIT has and I can tell you, they’re busy.

Amtrak’s business year officially closed out on Sept. 30, and it closed on all high notes, starting with this one: 31.2 million passengers for fiscal 2012.

Two things make that number important. First, it’s the highest ridership for Amtrak since it came into being in 1971. Second, it’s the ninth year in a row that Amtrak has set a new ridership mark.

While you’re at it, smoke this over: Between 2000 and 2012, Amtrak ridership has risen by 49 percent.

You’ll find the rest of Amtrak’s glowing figures in the corporation’s press release here.

A lot of airline CEOs would kill for numbers like these. Then again, the misery that is present-day air travel in the United States is a big reason why more people are turning to trains in the first place.

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AND FINALLY
You know those customer-satisfaction surveys by J.D. Power & Associates, the ones that companies always tout in TV commercials to show how wonderful they are? Here’s one you won’t be seeing anytime soon, from anybody.

With hotel business picking up, J.D. Power decided to survey hotel guests. Those guests put the hotel industry on blast. Low-end, high-end, no one was spared:

“Satisfaction with check-in/check-out; food and beverage; hotel services; and hotel facilities are at new lows since the 2006 study and satisfaction with guest room has declined within one point of its lowest level in the past seven years.”

If I’m that guy at Motel 6 and I hear that, I’m leaving the light on because I can’t sleep. How did this happen?

Here’s a clue, courtesy of Travel Weekly’s Arnie Weissmann: Most of the top hotels in the country aren’t owned by real “hotel people” anymore.

They’re owned by private equity companies, which specialize in boosting profits by cutting costs — mainly by cutting staff and lowering service levels — before selling off the business to someone else.

That may be necessary when you’ve got hotels full of empty rooms at the height of a recession, but to keep doing it after your customers start coming back? Not smart, as J.D. Power vice-president Stuart Greif gently points out:

“Hoteliers need to get back to the fundamentals and improve the overall guest experience. Charging guests more and providing less is not a winning combination.”

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from Travel Weekly
Qatar Airways joins oneworld, the world’s number two airline alliance. QA joins Malaysia Airlines and SriLankan Airlines as members-elect. It’s a big deal for Asian air travel and a big boost for oneworld, but the announcement is overshadowed by the ongoing beef between American Airines and its pilots.

from Travel Weekly
The Middle East may still be too hot politically for some travelers, but that’s not stopping three major Persian Gulf airlines from building alliances with European carriers.

from Travel Weekly
Southwest Airlines will start flying this spring from Florida to Puerto Rico. Officially, it’s a simple takeover of existing service from AirTran, which Southwest bought. But as its first air service outside the continental United States, it’s a big step.

LAND
from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pickpockets in Spain, gypsy cabs in Rome and other avoidadable travel scams.

from Travel Weekly
JW Marriott opens the world’s tallest hotel in Dubai. How tall? About eight stories shorter than the Empire State Building in New York. Yep, that’s tall, all right.

from Independent Traveler.com
Lots of folks have tips on how best to travel with kids — but what about traveling with grandkids?

from NBC News
Honeymoons…with friends? Really? Yes, really.

SEA
from Cruise Critic
Cruising for grown-ups. Seven options for sailing without the kids.

from Travel Weekly
Norwegian Cruise Line is going all Grinch on Hawai’i. Seeing strong demand for its Hawaiian cruises, NCL is raising its Hawai’i cruise prices 10 percent starting Jan 1, 2013. Merry Christmas…

from Gadling
Travel insurance is one purchase a lot of cruise travelers try to do without. Don’t. But have a clear understanding of what travel insurance will and won’t do for you.

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AFRICA
from the Ethiopian Press Agency via allAfrica.com
Addis Ababa starting to become a destination for conference travel.

from The Herald (Zimbabwe) via allAfrica.com
The justly famed Victoria Falls are starting to get some serious competition as a tourist attraction from the Mana Pools. Chinese tourists in particular just love this spot.

from allAfrica.com
Citizen of Vietnam caught in Mozambique with a half-dozen rhino horns in his possession. Wonder how to say “You in a heap ‘a trouble, boy!” in Vietnamese?

from Inform Africa
An African looks at our Thanksgiving tradition, and wonders why African-Americans find anything to celebrate.

AMERICAS
from Travel Weekly
If you’re used to paying $51 in airport fees when flying into and out of Antigua, get ready to go a little deeper into your wallet from now on.

from the Los Angeles Times
The Hotel Chimayo de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, NM walks a fine line between respecting an impoverished local culture and providing a successful escape for its visitors.

from USA Today
If you’ve been frightened away from Mexico over the last several years, you can at least think about returning now. The most recent State Department travelers warning about Mexico exempts most of that country’s traditional tourist destinations.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from the New York Times
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city, is obsessed with good food. For a traveler, that could be a very good thing, indeed.

from the New York Times
A short but worthwhile visit in the city we used to know as Calcutta. Nowadays, it goes by Kolkata.

from The Guardian (London UK)
With a sleek new mountain eco-resort not far from Shanghai in Zhejiang province, China hopes to lure environmentally conscious tourists — and perhaps simultaneously clean up its international image as one of the world’s major polluters.

from France 24
Are the people of Singapore real-world Vulcans a la Star Trek, utterly lacking in emotions (as well as pointy ears)? A US Gallup poll says yes. Even worse, a fair number of Singaporeans seem to agree. It seems they’re too busy making a living to have a life.

EUROPE
from The Guardian (London UK)
A look at the town of Vicenza, one of northern Italy’s under-appreciated jewels, and the creation of one of its most famous architects. A UN World Heritage Site that still manages to slip below the tourist radar.

Edited by P.A.Rice

the IBIT DIGEST 10-28-12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

awash coffee ceremony
©IBIT/G. Gross

HIT THE COFFEE ROAD
In addition to wildlife safaris, history and heritage, you now have a new reason to visit East Africa: coffee. An outfit called ET African Journeys is offering a 14-day tour next month called Ethiopia & the Birth of Coffee.

Don’t expect a lot of “down” time on this trip. The package includes visits to a coffee cooperative and at least three different local tribes — the Erbore, Kanso and Woito peoples. You’ll also head into the Great Rift Valley for 4×4 drives and boat rides on valley lakes, as well as the Blue Nile Falls. You’ll also be seeing two different UN World Heritage sites, the castles of Gondar and the rock churches of Lalibela.

Lest you drop from sheer exhaustion and sensory overload, they’ve also worked a couple of resort and spa stays into those 14 days, as well.

Ethiopia is where coffee was born and there are those of you who will swear it’s the best in the world. It spread east into the Arab world and then to Europe before finally making its way to the Americas and the rest of the planet.

I’ve never been a big coffee drinker, but after getting my first taste of it during San Diego’s African Restaurant Week, I can tell you this: Ethiopian coffee is the only coffee I’ve ever had that I would willingly drink black. It’s smooth, it’s flavorful and it won’t bite your tongue off.

I’ll make my apologies to Juan Valdez later.

The tour departs Washington DC’s Dulles airport on Nov. 30 aboard a long-range Boeing 777 jumbo jet from Ethiopian Airlines. For more information, go to the ET African Journeys site here.

-0-

AMERICAN DELIVERS…SORT OF
Think of this as a kind of pre-emptive strike from American Airlines.

We all know how much travelers resent those airline baggage fees. We also know that travelers are starting to turn toward air freight companies and luggage shipping services to get their bags picked up and delivered, thumbing their noses at the airlines in the process.

Well, before too many more folks opt out of letting the airlines handle their bags, American has decided to partner up with one of those services to offer its own baggage delivery. For a fee, you can now bypass the luggage carousel and let American deliver your bags to your home or hotel.

You can read about it here at Travel Weekly.

Sounds like a great idea, and a pretty slick move by American…until you learn that you pay for this extra service on top of the airline’s checked bag fees. That, I suspect, will be a deal-breaker for a lot of travelers.

-0-

AIR ALTERNATIVE TO PARIS
OpenSkies is a small upscale subsidiary of British Airways that flies trans-Atlantic routes with smaller Boeing 757 narrow-body jets set up to be more comfortable for travelers willing to pay for a pricier ticket.

In addition to offering more legroom, nicer meals and seats that don’t leave you feeling you’ve spent six hours in a vise, the airline is now offering flights from New York into Paris’ other major airport, Orly.

Most international travelers, especially from North America, usually fly into Paris via the massive, chaotic and perpetually packed Charles de Gaulle international airport. If you’ve experienced CDG in the past — and would do anything to avoid a repeat of it — this may be your chance.

And now, here’s the Digest:

AIR
from SmarterTravel
You know those controversial airport X-ray body scanners? The TSA is quietly replacing them with scanners believed to be less potentially harmful. But the old machines aren’t going away, just being moved to smaller airports.

from Yahoo Travel
Coming soon to an airline near you — personalized airfares. Individual airfares based on your personal profile data and travel history. Good deal or something sinister? Read and decide.

from Smarter Travel
Eight foods and beverages to avoid when you fly. Some, like beans and garlic, are no-brainers. Others, like alcohol, are no surprise. But sugar-free gum?

from Travel Weekly
With Orbitz, you may not always know: the federal government fines the online travel agency $25,000 for failing to properly disclose airline baggage fees.

from USA Today
Feel like living dangerously? North Korea’s Air Koryo, judged by aviation experts around the globe as the world’s worst airline, launches a Web site. Apparently, the site is about as functional as the airline it represents. Pyongyang, anyone?

LAND
from the Travel+Lesure via the BBC
The five best neighborhoods in America for authentic ethnic food — and you won’t see a lot of “the usual suspects” on the list. If you have dissenting opinions, list your own nominees in the Comments section. SLIDESHOW

from SmarterTravel
Was it something you said? Five phrases never found on the lips of a good traveler. SLIDESHOW

from Travel Weekly
There’s a little less competition in the rental car business these days. Hertz is buying up Dollar Thrifty. Good news for Hertz. For the traveling consumer, probably not so much. But the feds still have to bless this merger, and there’s no guarantee that they will.

from the United Nations
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, adds 26 new locations to its list of world Heritage Sites. Meanwhile, the crew at SmarterTravel picks its ten favorites. Your bucket list may need a bigger bucket.

from USA Today
Few visitors to New York City have reason to hit Staten Island, even with the lure of a free ferry ride from Manhattan. That could change by 2016 if plans go ahead to build the world’s biggest Ferris wheel in the Big Apple’s most ignored borough.

SEA
from Travel Weekly
This from Carnival Cruise Lines: No more saving deck chair for someone who’s not on deck.

from Travel Weekly
For those who plan ahead: The Cunard line has already set its world cruise itineraries for 2014 The cruises can last three months — but Cunard will let you buy much shorter segments, as short as eight days.

AFRICA
from CNN Travel
If unique wildlife is your thing, then Tanzania may be your place. Who’s up for a safari?

from Bulawayo 24 via Travel Comments
Ahead of next year’s big general assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization in Zimbabwe, three African airlines are adding more flights to Victoria Falls. You don’t have to be a UNWTO attendee to take advantage.

from Gadling
Forget trick-or-treat. If you want to see something truly spooky, check out the annual migration of 8 million African bats. Relax, they only eat fruit.

AMERICAS
from the BBC
New entry fees and visa requirements going into effect in Argentina and other South American countries. If you’re planning a trip to South America, don’t wait until departure day to get yourself up to speed on the new requirements. If you do, you may never get out of the airport.

from Agence France Presse via France 24
You know all that stuff you’ve been hearing about how the Mayan calendar forecasts the end of the world in 2012? Well, the Mayans say it’s all bogus and they have one word for all the folks out there pushing this myth: STOP.

from the New York Times
Want to really go New Age in Santa Fe, NM — and get healthier at the same time? Explore it by bike.

from The Guardian (London UK)
El Vilsito. Auto mechanics by day, wonderfully fixed up tacos al pastor by night. Only in Mexico City.

ASIA
from Xinhua News Agency via CNNgo
China is taking not quite $1 million to turn its first atomic bomb test center into…a theme park? Swords into plowshares is one thing but, uhh…wow. This is one new tourist hotspot that could be just that.

from China Daily
For decades, travelers from around the world have descended on Hong Kong in search of bargains. Now, te Chinese are doing it, too.

from The Province (Vancouver, BC, CANADA)
There’s a lot to see and do in Hong Kong. There’s even more to see and do outside one of the world’s most densely crowded cities. Venture out.

EUROPE
from The Guardian (London UK)
There are lots of good reasons these days to visit the Czech Republic. Here’s one you may not have heard about — good skiing, incredibly cheap.

from the BBC
In Paris, the Seine is getting a 35 million euro makeover that will make the riverbanks more pedestrian friendly and even more attractive to locals and visitors alike. It comes at the expense of daily commuting motorists, who are less than thrilled.

from CNN Travel
Ten cool and free things to enjoy in Paris, including your own guided tour with a local. Did I mention that it’s all free?

ZIMBABWE WEEK: City of stone

Great Zimbabwe
© Karen Graham | Dreamstime.com
FOURTH IN A SERIES

See the ancient ruins that gave Zimbabwe its name, a city of such size and sophistication that Europeans tried to deny that that black men had built it.

Zimbabwe is a country awash in natural beauty and wildlife, but at least one of its greatest historic treasures is man-made.

I’m old enough to remember when this nation cast off the name Rhodesia — the name imposed upon it by gold-hungry British colonists — and adopted the name Zimbabwe. But I never knew where the name had come from.

Now, I know. It came from this place. An ancient city of nearly 2,000 acres, with a population that may have been as large of 18,000, built by the Shona people.

It was first built some time around 1200. The country whose adventurers would later colonize this land didn’t even exist yet.

Five hundred years before there was a Great Britain, there was Great Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe bird
© Agap13 | Dreamstime.com

The name “Zimbabwe” is believed to be derived from a Shona word meaning “houses of stone.” It was called “Great Zimbabwe” to disinguish it from the many smaller stone settlements that dotted the region, in modern-day Zimbabwe and beyond.

This city stood for 300 years, a city of stone walls and high towers, held together without mortar, built with such skill and sophistication that those same colonists were uncomfortable acknowledging that black men had built it.

In later years, long after Great Zimbabwe had been abandoned and fallen into ruin, the racist white government of what was then Rhodesia made denial of Great Zimbabwe’s black African origins a matter of national policy.

Ian Smith, who led the creation of a white supremacist government in Rhodesia, went so far as to commission a fake history of Great Zimbabwe to make it a creation of whites.

That policy is gone now, as are Smith and his government. And when the country’s new rulers looked about for a new name for this ancient land, they didn’t have far to look.

Today, Great Zimbabwe is a UN World Heritage Site. It has survived centuries of weather, neglect and ill-advised attempts at excavation — not to mention official denial.

This historic site gave the country more than its name. The ancient bird found on the national flag is based on soapstone carvings found at Great Zimbabwe, like the one pictured above.

Ancient ruins like this are a natural draw for anyone with an interest in history or anthropology in general, or just a curiosity about life in the Mother Continent before the European colonists got hold of it.

Do you enjoy a good mystery? You’ll find a good one here. Who were the people who built this place? We don’t have much specific information about them. What caused them eventually to abandon it, long before the Europeans came? We don’t really know that, either.

When I look at a place like Great Zimbabwe, I see neither ruins nor mystery. I see what black men are capable of when we focus our creative energy on a positive purpose.

When I look at Great Zimbabwe, I don’t see a lost past. I see a shining future, waiting for us to reach for it.

What will you see when you visit Great Zimbabwe?

IF YOU GO
Great Zimbabwe is located outside the town of Masvingo, 182 miles south of Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare. It’s about a four-hour drive down Highway A4.

There is lodging nearby, including the Great Zimbabwe Hotel, and several tour companies conduct tours or safaris that include a visit to the ruins.

NEXT: The urban side of Zimbabwe

ALSO CHECK OUT:
ZIMBABWE: Revealing “a World of Wonders”
ZIMBABWE WEEK on IBIT
ZIMBABWE WEEK: “The Cloud that Thunders”

ZIMBABWE WEEK: A steady stream of wonders

ZIMBABWE WEEK: A steady stream of wonders

THIRD IN A SERIES

© Karen Graham | Dreamstime.com

Zimbabwe’s lists of attractions includes a vast array of African wildlife, towering mountains, lush rainforests, the world’s largest man-made lake and a pool of clear water 300 feet deep — at the bottom of a cave.

By itself, the mighty Victoria Falls would be reason enough to visit Zimbabwe. But when it comes to natural beauty, the country has a lot more going for it.

Start with the fact that this nation of about 150,000 square miles — roughly the size of California — has ten national parks that form a rough circle within its perimeter.

Start with Victoria Falls National Park. In addition to hiking to the best viewing spots above the falls and whitewater rafting through the gorges below it, you can walk along trails that will introduce you to East Africa’s unique animals — warthog, hippo, crocodile, antelope, elephants and buffalo.

Even Victoria Falls, however, has a rival in Zimbabwe. That would be Lake Kariba, the largest man-made lake on Earth, formed by the waters of the Zambezi River after they flow downstream from the falls.

The reservoir is larger even than the one behind China’s controversial Three Gorges Dam.

Like the falls, Zimbabwe shares Lake Kariba with Zambia. The Zimbabwe side alone has more than 600 miles of shoreline for you to explore.

That shoreline includes Matusadona National Park, a mix of high plains and mountains where wildlife abounds.

Adventurers visiting Lake Kariba can camp out along the shore. Those who value their creature comforts can stay in a lake shore lodge or self-catering apartment. The ultimate lake stay might be on one of the many houseboats available to rent.

However you choose to make your stay, you’ll be treated to some spectacular views, including some incredible sunsets.

Lake Kariba also is home to the tigerfish, popular with sport fishermen. If your idea of a good time is pitting rod and reel against a fast, powerful game fish whose teeth are considerably bigger and sharper than yours, you need to be here.

Speaking of water creatures, have you ever seen elephants swim? There’s a good chance you’ll see them at Lake Kariba.

You, on the other hand, need to be judicious about where you choose to swim in the lake. Pick the wrong spot and the crocodiles get very excited.

One place where you won’t find five-star accommodations but a great deal of natural wonder is the Mana Pools National Park. Like Victoria Falls, this also is a UN World Heritage Site. Unlike the falls, it is totally wild and undeveloped, so much so that just getting there can be an adventure.

If you’re looking for a glimpse of wild Africa, though, it will be worth the effort.

During the rainy season, the plains flood, creating four great lakes or pools, hence its name (the word ‘mana” means “four” in the language of the Shona people), and numerous smaller ones. The pools are a magnet for wildlife of all types, including the black rhino.

If you’re prepared to “rough it,” it’s a great place to backpack or explore by canoe.

At nearly 6,000 square miles in northern Matabeleland, Hwange is the largest of Zimbabwe’s national parks. Back in the day, this was the private hunting ground of kings. These days, the preferred weapon on these grounds is a camera with a long lens.

With that, you can bag your fill of everything from leopards to lions, hyenas to cheetahs — 100 species of animals and 400 species of birds live here.

Elephants abound in Hwange National Park, so much so that they’re actually putting a strain on the environment. After years of hearing horror stories about elephant poaching in Africa, this kind of problem is almost a nice one to have.

Zimbabwe’s other national parks include:

  • Chimanimani
  • Chizarira
  • Gonarezhou
  • Matopos
  • Mutirikwi
  • Nyanga
  • Zambezi

There also are numerous recreational parks around the country — one of which, the Chinhoyi Caves Recreational Park, may appeal to divers. Within the park is a cave 30 yards wide and 45 feet deep. At the bottom is said to be a pool of clear water with a confirmed depth of 300 feet.

A pool 300 feet deep…at the bottom of a cave? Whoa!

But perhaps the greatest of all of Zimbabwe’s parks is one still coming into being, not a national park but a multinational one — an area the size of Belgium or the Netherlands. When completed, it will straddle the borders of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique and be shared by all three nations.

They’re calling it the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, and when it’s all finally put together, it’s going to be something special.

But you don’t have to wait for that. You can go right now.

As you can see, when it comes to nature, Zimbabwe truly lives up to its nickname, a “world of wonders.” But Lake Kariba is not the only man-made wonder in this country. There is another one, centuries older than the reservoir. It’s the one that gave this nation its name.

And we’re going to take a look at it.

NEXT: Great Zimbabwe

ALSO CHECK OUT:
ZIMBABWE: Revealing “a World of Wonders”
ZIMBABWE WEEK on IBIT
ZIMBABWE WEEK: “The Cloud that Thunders”

Edited by P.A.Rice