For photographer Don Vilfer, viewing the world through a camera lens is a way to not only take home indelible images of people and places, but also to deepen his experience of each destination he visits.
A former FBI Supervisory Special Agent in charge of Sacramento's Computer Crimes and White Collar Crimes squad, Don has traveled a lot over the years. He left the Bureau 10 years ago and now runs a company that does computer forensics and electronic discovery. Pursuing his photographic interest while traveling is much easier now that he’s a civilian. He recalls, “Once while traveling with the FBI I was in another country – I can’t say where – and I just wanted to go out and exercise my photography interest, but it caused concern with foreign officials that this FBI agent had a particular interest in going to photograph some area. That area was only of interest as a cultural area, but it kind of caused some incident.”
Don, his wife, Pam Hanback, and their two sons recently traveled on a Myths and Mountains trip to Bhutan. “We had been promising our kids since they were five that when they graduated high school, they could pick someplace as a travel destination,” Don explains. “This was what my younger son picked. He was totally absorbed in the culture, the destination. He really had an appreciation for the way of life.”
Today we headed to the Elephant Valley Project - which has been my favorite tour so far, I think ... although everything has been great! I know I've said it more than once, but I'll say it again, I love Cambodia!!!
Seeing and interacting with the elephants was life-changing experience. I thought we'd just be looking at the elephants, but we actually got to hang out with them, help bathe them and touch them. They were so friendly and they walked right up to you looking for bananas. They truly are gentle giants and every elephant really does have a different personality. All of them have been rescued from abuse and neglect, usually in tourism and logging. A few of the elephants are blind on their right side from getting hit with a stick - but now rest assured, they're in a place where they are loved and properly cared for. They really are in a much happier place now.
I have fallen in love with this country - I absolutely love it. Around every corner is something new to experience, to taste, to try.
To say the least, everyone in Cambodia has kept me busy and each day is a new adventure. I just got back from dinner with my guides, Andy and Roth, both whom I adore very much. Andy is very engaging and we've shared some very interesting conversations and Roth is as sweet as can be. They showed me their office and introduced me to the staff - everyone was so friendly. I can't say enough about how wonderful they really are. Having creative, amazing overseas partners like our land operators makes our job so much easier.
It's been incredible here and I'm having a fantastic and insightful journey. I'm in Phnom Penh tonight and off to the Rainbow Lodge tomorrow. From there, we will head to the beaches - can't wait!
Here's an update from our very own Julie Ganski, operations coordinator, who's roaming around Cambodia on a research trip for Myths and Mountains:
Once you've traveled with a private guide, you'll know that it's worth paying for this special privilege. For most of our Myths trips, our clients do have private guides, and they enjoy the added benefits of having a guide who caters to their style of travel and their interests. We trust our guides to share insights into how local people live - it adds a wonderful flavor to our itineraries.
For instance, Sinat explained, "Julie, look, those sticks you see are their anchors" - pointing at the sticks coming from the water, which I wouldn't even think to ask about. Driving down the road, he'll say "Julie, look, they are boiling palm juice to make sugar." I love that he sees details that lets me understand the local Cambodian culture even more!
Another example was when we were hiking to Kbeal Spean. He always would stop and notice the littlest things around us - like an army of termites marching up a tree or a giant centipede worth checking out. The butterflies took quite a liking to him and one landed on his hand and climbed a good portion of the hike with us just hanging out on his hand.
One of the perks of working for an adventure travel company is... getting to go on an adventure! Our operations coordinator, Julie, arrived in Cambodia last week to do some research and development and to check out the newest in boutique hotels for our travelers. Here's her first field report:
I made it to Cambodia! And I love Siem Reap!!!! Gosh I don't even know where to start. Today I said goodbye to my guide and driver Sinat and Sypha. I really loved them both so much, and felt they were more friends or big brothers looking out for me.
I went to Angkor Wat for sunrise the first morning, and had a lovely catered breakfast by the moat in the woods with a table set for one (just me!) with table cloths and flowers. I had a delicious quiet breakfast of coffee, pineapple juice, fresh fruit, a delicious rice noodle, chicken and vegetable soup and croissants. A very enjoyable way to begin the day and what a stunning backdrop. I feel so lucky to be have a job that lets me experience something so unique.