As far as the eye can see the stones of the Kali Gandhaki riverbed stretch north, bordered on each side by tall brown cliffs and with the tips of snow capped mountains dotting the horizon. Walking along a path through the stones, worn by travelers - both local and international, horses, mule trains and now cars, tractors and motor cycles, you find yourself searching the stones to find one of the magical saligrams, fossils of fish, shells and other creatures that inhabited the Tibetan plateau thousands of years ago and now wash down with the river waters. To the Hindus and Buddhists, these fossils are not only sacred, a symbol of Vishnu, but a source of income from sales to tourists and pilgrims.
As you walk, there is no shade at all and the path alternates between steep climbs up onto the river banks and alongside stone and dirt walls and sandy unstable sharp drops back onto the riverbed. The dominant color is brown, brown walls, brown sandy dirt dotted with black stones. The only other colors, aside from the clothes of the hikers and animals is the bright blue of the sky with an occasional white peak of a mountain top.
The diversity of China is truly incredible when one travels beyond the metropolis of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. To learn about China's 3,000 year old history, see the cultural diversity and think about how far China has advanced in the last 20 years is extraordinary. There is much to see and learn in China... Traveling in China allows experiences such as drinking tea with nomads, taking part in Tibetan dances with the locals, visiting grottoes that survived the Cultural Revolution, visiting the Great Wall - one of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval Minds - and visiting diverse minority groups that still thrive on ancient traditions. The colorful powerhouse is home to nearly 60 minority groups that still thrive in pockets of China, half these groups living in the lush mountainous Yunnan region. In the Yunnan, we were able to observe villagers living the same way their ancestors did, building houses the way their parents did, and constructing crafts passed down from generation to generation. Here we stayed in the quaint villages of Shangri-la and Lijiang and lollygaged around the cobblestone streets at night. Red silk lanterns set the mood for local cuisine of yak momos and "crossing the bridge" noodle soup, both delicious. In the Qinghai province, the area of the Tibetan grasslands, we visited Tibetan nomads living in the grasslands for the summer and discussed their transient lifestyle and animal husbandry. Making stops along the ancient Silk Road allowed us to envision the European traders sharing their goods, skills and spiritual beliefs. Visiting ancient and highly revered Buddhist grottoes and murals that survived the Cultural Revolution, as the only tourist around, created an authentic understanding. Western China is a true cultural experience and a far off the beaten path place.
Here is a quick sampling of some of my favorite photos from our private trip to Peru. We have so many grand tales about our trip to Peru - from drinking homemade strawberry beer in a tiny, dirt-floored local bar, to being invited to the private ceremony celebrating the first haircut of a 4-month-old Aymaran baby (his mother was our guide), to rafting with a guide who was a member of the Peruvian Olympic kayak team. The topography, the people, the culture, the colors of Peru-from their yarn to their dirt, all together create an irresistible photographic journey.
About the pictures: 1) Machu Picchu, 2) from the drive to Colca Canyon where one really does feel like he is at the top of the world (the moss you see below the girls' feet takes over a hundred years to grow), and 3) from Uros. The bird is indeed an Andean condor, the largest in the world. It was captured as a baby by one of the boys of the island and is almost full grown. I took four or five pictures of him and the two boats, but in this one he seemed to look straight at the camera. All together, they tell a wonderful tale. I am fascinated by the company that you have created.
I am a retired Advanced Placement English teacher, now pursuing my three passions, travel, writing and photography and hope one day we can travel again with you.
I would rate the overall value of this trip quite high.
Days did not always turn out as we had hoped, but that's part of adventure travel. For instance, one day we traveled 2+ hours up treacherous mountain roads only to have to abort our plans for trekking to El Morado because the road was impassable (due to recent heavy rains). That I might add, however, that not following the planned itinerary many times allowed us to do and see things we would not have experienced otherwise.
All the hotels were very nice, except for one. However, upon learning of the situation, Myths & Mountains immediately took steps to move us to nicer accommodations. The breakfasts in the hotels were quite hearty, especially in comparison to breakfasts in hotels in the U.S, and the lunches that were included afforded us the opportunity to enjoy some of the local cuisine.
We were upgraded to the premium package on the Wine Train. With the sun shining, breezes blowing through the open windows of the dining car, guitars strumming, musicians singing, and food & wine flowing, we literally floated on air by the time we reached our destination in Santa Cruz. This experience was definitely a highlight of our trip!
Thank you very much for all the help Myths and Mountains provided to make our Essence of Chile's Wines trip so enjoyable. It really was a trip of a lifetime for the five of us!