Visiting the Galapagos is an unforgettable experience for most travelers, but for the Malès family of McLean, Virginia, their Myths and Mountains trip to the Enchanted Islands had an impact that continues to echo through their lives.
Experienced adventure travelers, Eric and Barbara Malès, along with their daughter Billie, had already done a substantial amount of research on the Galapagos when they decided to work with Myths and Mountains. "We wanted someone with the expertise to guarantee that it would be a trip of a lifetime, but secondarily someone that really knew how to tailor the trip to our needs," Eric explains. "Later as we got to know them we learned of their commitment to different areas of the world and discovered, for example, that they were very involved in organizing other travel companies to do conservation in the Galapagos."
Mention Cambodia, and most travelers' first thought will be of the amazing temple complexes at Siem Reap. Yet there's much more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat. "It's a country that's just getting on people's radar, and it's definitely worth going to see," says Myths and Mountains President Toni Neubauer. "It has fairly good infrastructure and varied ecosystems and people. I think it should be up there on the hotlist."
There are wonderful beach and jungle resorts, luxury tent safaris to magnificent but little-known temples, opportunities to see diverse wildlife, and of course a fascinating and welcoming culture. Yet most U.S. travelers experience only a fraction of Cambodia's diverse attractions.
"You just don't see a lot of American tourists doing any of this," Neubauer says. "They're missing out."
High on Neubauer's list of Cambodian favorites is the beach resort of Song Saa. One of Asia's premier luxury resorts, Song Saa is set on two private islands in the pristine Koh Rong archipelago. "If you're looking for a truly unique and beautiful beach experience you just can't beat it. A tropical nirvana," she says. Although expensive, the resort is good value because it includes all food and drink, as well as excursions and activities.
Starting this fall, arriving into Quito, Ecuador, will get a little bit more interesting. Currently, if you fly into Quito (airport code UIO) like most of our travelers, you'll land right in the middle of the city, making access to most hotels in town an easy 15- to 20-minute drive away. The new airport, scheduled to open in October or November, will be located about 45 to 60 minutes (possibly as much as 90 minutes during heavy traffic) outside the city in a more rural setting. Since most flights from the USA arrive after 8 pm, this may mean rethinking your options. Here are a few ideas:
Book earlier flights into Quito. If possible, try to fly into Quito as early as possible. Although you might have to leave home earlier in the morning than you usually prefer, you'll be happier to settle into your hotel room at a reasonable hour.
Go straight to Otavalo instead. This is a great alternative if you are arriving a few days before your cruise departs. What used to take two hours (from the old airport to the world-famous Otavalo Market) will now take about 75 to 90 minutes.
What about Guayaquil? Flying into this tropical coastal city would mean missing out on the Andes, but it's a warmer option than Quito, at a much lower elevation. All flights departing from Quito to the Galapagos automatically stop over in Guayaquil anyway, so you'll eliminate one leg of the journey to the islands.
Quito's new airport has been a long time in the works. When UIO was built, it was located to the north of Quito, but the city has long since grown to surround the airport. As a result, there is no room for expansion to accommodate increased air traffic or larger aircraft. In addition, the high altitude and mountainous terrain make the present airport riskier to operate than the new one, which will be located at a lower elevation and in more open terrain.
From 1969 to 1970, Mike Close served a year-long tour of duty in Vietnam. Five months ago, he revisited the country for the first time since the war, in a trip that turned out to be as much about change as it was about memories.
When Mike and his wife Chris decided to make the trip together with a friend from Mike's unit, John Berend, and his wife Marjorie, they turned to Myths and Mountains, with whom the Closes had previously traveled to Peru. "If I'm going to do a trip to an out-of-the-way place, I'm not even going to talk to anyone besides Myths and Mountains," Mike says. "They really do this out-of-the-way stuff well."
Mike and John had both served as pilots in Vietnam's Central Highlands and wanted to revisit the places they had flown in and out of every day. For logistical reasons they decided to do the trip by car, so Myths and Mountains President Toni Neubauer - whom Mike calls "basically a walking encyclopedia of Vietnam" - laid out a clockwise itinerary starting in Saigon. She also booked one of Vietnam's best guides, Le Van Cuong, to accompany the group.
Unfortunately John and Marjorie had to cancel at the last minute, so Mike and Chris ended up making the trip alone. Early on, it became clear that Vietnam in 2012 was very different from 40 years ago. Dalat, part of the no-fire zone during the war, was "one of the prettiest cities I've ever seen," Mike says. Further north, Buon Ma Thuot saw some of the heaviest American bombing in the country. Now, "it's a thriving little city. There's not a sign of the war left."
The town of Pleiku, site of an American base during the war, had grown beyond recognition. "I lived in Pleiku for seven months and couldn't even find within a half a mile where I lived, it's changed so much," Mike says.
Money often presents one of the biggest challenges in preparing for an international trip. Will your credit card work overseas? Can you use your ATM card? Should you carry lots of cash? It's always best to be prepared, so that you don't find yourself in a foreign country without the financial resources you need. You can count on Myths and Mountains to make sure you have all the information you need before you go.
In Bhutan and other Asian countries, things operate very differently than in North America. Just because the ATM in your bank at home works, does not mean that the ATM in Bhutan will accept your card. In fact, it won't. Just because you have a platinum American Express Card does not mean that the antique store in Thimphu will allow you to buy that beautiful basket. In fact, it won't. Bhutan will sometimes accept Visa, but no other credit cards, and travelers cannot use local ATMs. Myanmar does not accept any credit cards and has no ATMs at all. In other countries such as Nepal sometimes the ATM works - but invariably, when you need it most, it doesn't!
For countries such as these, the best thing to do is to bring dollars in cash and change them into the local currency. If you are nervous about carrying a lot of money, break it into two packets and put them in separate parts of your travel gear. Then hope you remember where you put everything!