You know the old adage, time is money. It’s also something you don't want to waste standing in a long, long customs line. You’re tired, you’re hungry, and after a 15-hour journey you have little patience for the turtle-slow pace at which that line tends to move. Now Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program, aims to help you avoid that wasted time and frustration. Use your Global Entry card, and you don’t just cut the line, you don’t need to stand in it at all.
"Taking to the air as much as I do, to just scan my passport instead of dealing with immigration and customs is an incredible time saver and stress reliever. I love my Global Entry card!" says Toni Neubauer, President, Myths and Mountains.
What It Is
Global Entry expedites your passage through customs. You simply put your passport or U.S. permanent resident card on a "reader” at a free-standing Global Entry kiosk, look at the camera, press four fingers on the fingerprint scanner (more about that below), make a customs declaration, and you're free to go to baggage claim after giving your receipt to the CBP person at the exit point. (Unfortunately there's still no way to hurrying that process.)
Who Can Join
U.S., Dutch and South Korean citizens, lawful U.S. permanent residents, and Mexican Nationals. Canadian citizens and residents can join the NEXUS program. If you pass as a “low risk” traveler and your residence and employment history can be confirmed, you’re in.
Who Can't Join
Anyone with a criminal history or a pending criminal charge is rejected. So is a person who has been convicted of any criminal offence--even those that seem minor, like a DUI. Being investigated by local, state or national law enforcement? You’re out of luck. And if you have violated customs or immigration rules in the past, forget joining.
How to Join
It’s a multi-step process. You fill out an online application and pay a $100 application fee, but you don’t pass go until your application is reviewed and you’re invited for an in-person interview at an enrollment center. (There may be a wait for an appointment, so plan ahead and get your card before you need it.) Most enrollment centers are at major airports, but a few cities, like Washington D.C. and Houston, have them in town as well. (By the way, you don’t get your $100 back if you fail the “low risk” criteria.)
Once enrolled you can apply for programs in other countries, such as SmartGate in Australia, Viajero Confiable in Mexico, the Dutch Privium program in Holland, and the SES program in Korea. Joining another program is worth the additional cost if you frequently travel to one of these countries.
You can also use TSA PreCheck on some airlines by entering your CBP ID on flight reservations information and frequent flyer accounts. Participating airlines include Alaska, American, Delta, United, US Air, and Southwest. Be sure to let your travel agent know you have a Global Entry card and tell him to enter your ID number in the “Known Traveler” field before finalizing your reservation.
Children—yep, even babies—and spouses must have their own Global Entry card.
With a Global Entry card, you’ll never have to fill out that customs form on the plane again.
Some credit cards—Amex Platinum, Citi Thank You Prestige, Mercedes-Benz Platinum—reimburse the registration fee. So does United Mileage Plus Premier 1K and Mileage Plus Premier Platinum.
"We had seen a whole mountain range, little by little, the lesser to the greater until, incredibly higher in the sky than imagination had ventured to dream, the top of Everest itself appeared." -- George Mallory
Psychologists say that one of the things that separate us from apes in the jungle is our uniquely human ability to imagine being somewhere else. Wherever that "somewhere else" is in your mind's eye, you probably regularly feed your imagination on traveler's tales, movies, and photos. From time to time you may even eat the food of the land you long to visit--for Nepal, think momos and dal ghat.
Now, though, you can boost the quality of your imagination with the fantasy-inducing equivalent of jet fuel--a computerized zoom in, zoom out, pan-able landscape panorama of Sagarmatha "Head of the Sky."
To get a sense of Everest-size scale, click here and look closely at the panorama by famed photographer and mountaineer David Breashears. Zoom in beneath the second green box from the left until the prayer flags come into view. To almost feel how big those mountains are, slowly zoom-out until the blue and yellow tents and huts of the trekkers and climbers at basecamp become indistinguishable from the rocks and boulders. (For other examples of Rome, the Yosemite Valley, and Corfu, go to krapano.com.
Yes, this is just how the camp looks from Kalapatar--literally, the high point of Myths & Mountains' popularEverest Base Camp trek.
When virtual traveling falls short of feeling the wind, smelling the air, and watching the light change the view, let Myths & Mountains take you there. (Isn't your imagination begging for a reality check?)
We fly to Lukla, which translates "place with many goats and sheep." It's the staging area for treks in the Khumbu region of the Himalayas. From there, we trek eight days to Kalapatar (18,450 feet), where the South Col of Everest and the west and south faces--and the view of Breashears' photograph--can be seen. Trust us, whatever you imagined Everest to be can't match the thrill of seeing the majestic Himalayas for yourself.
Along the way to and from Kalapatar, you'll visit tea houses, shop in Namche for the trekking gear you forgot, listen to monks chant in Thyangboche monastery, sleep in local lodges, and talk and laugh with the locals. Imagine that!
Bangkok is a hub of travel for Southeast Asia and the most visited city in the world. Despite weeks of anti-government demonstrations and the recently declared state of emergency in the city, the unrest has been confined to very localized areas and is not affecting international visitors.
We at Myths and Mountains receive frequent reports from our Thai tour operators and guides in Bangkok. They are monitoring the situation around-the-clock and are prepared to make changes in touring itineraries quickly if the need arises. Thus far, no alterations have been necessary. As one traveler told us, "The city is operating beautifully." Wandering on his own, this traveler accidentally bumbled into a demonstration, which he described as, "Peaceful...lots of families, people selling things like a Night Market, including T shirts with 'Shut Down Bangkok' written in English!"
For tourists, the main issue is the inconvenience of traffic disruptions. Our contacts in Bangkok say that some streets where protestors are demonstrating are blocked, but these can be avoided. Traffic is always horrendous in Bangkok, and now it is just more so, particularly in the core downtown business center and spaces near government buildings targeted by protesters.
Nevertheless, Bangkok is a very large city, and business in most areas is unaffected, including the riverfront area where Myths and Mountains clients usually stay.
Important sites -- the Grand Palace, the Temple of Dawn, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, the temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Chatuchak Weekend Market to name a few--are open as usual and safe for visitors. Banks, hotels, spas, and restaurants are open also. So are schools and colleges. No curfew has been imposed. However, shops and restaurants downtown may close during a demonstration if necessary.
All airports are open and operating on schedule. Pick up times for transfers to the airport are four hours prior to departure as a precaution in case of any road blockages or diversions.
Public transportation--the Skytrain, subway, boats, ferries, and buses are operating. Taxis carrying visitors are issued stickers that allow them to pass through areas that may be blocked.
Of course, anyone visiting Bangkok needs to be flexible and vigilant. Although we're told that the protests are generally peaceful, we advise you to avoid joining the demonstrations and to stay away from those sites, especially at night.
On January 19, the U.S. Department of State joined 45 other countries and issued a travel alert, cautioning Americans about the potential risks of traveling to Thailand, particularly Bangkok. Thai officials issued the state of emergency on Sunday, February 2, as a result of disruptions at voting polls.
We at Myths and Mountains are keeping a close watch on the situation in Bangkok and throughout Thailand, and will keep our clients and friends informed. Along with news and government reports, we rely on our contacts on the ground in Bangkok for information. They are monitoring events 24/7 and reporting to us frequently on the situation in the city. We will be passing that information on to Myths and Mountains clients regularly. As always, we are available any time if you need further information.
What is THAT noise? I struggle awake and check the time - it's just past 6 am and I realize THAT noise is the sound of horses neighing. I rip open the curtains which reveal a window framed by a giant vase of gorgeous handcut pink-tinted roses and beyond, the Andean mountains, shrouded by morning clouds. Right below my window, Hacienda Zuleta's stable of horses is being brushed and fed. As they stomp and shake their manes, I can see steam rising from their glossy coats.
Breakfast is served in a private dining room - a selection of fresh cheeses and artisan breads made right on premises, served with eggs made to order. The coffee is thick and rich with flavors, and the fruit juices are freshly squeezed. I opt for the "Moro", a type of tart but delicious blackberry. I'm joined by the owner, Fernando, whose family has owned and operated this working hacienda for over a century. The family touches are everywhere, from personal photos of children, the friendly family dogs who faithfully follow guests on hikes, and the many fireplaces in the house, always lit to warm its guests.
We set off on a leisurely hike past the organic gardens, wave to farmers tending to the farm's many horses and cows, and follow cobblestone paths that meander the paramo under towering mountains. If you're lucky, you might spot a spectacled bear. The resident naturalist knows each one of them by name and can recognize each bear by their unique facial markings. The naturalist, a blonde Brad Pitt lookalike from France, is also in charge of the Andean condor rehabilitation center on the property. He shares fascinating information about these gorgeous raptors, who boast wing spans of close to nine feet. In the horse fields, we meet two American archaeologists who've spent weeks uncovering ordinary looking grassy mounds. Underneath are hidden the remains of clay homes, revealing facts about how the indigenous cultures lived many centuries ago. Pointing at me, he notes, "You're actually standing on an unmarked grave right now."
Today I learned the Spanish word for ghost - it's "fantasma."
I hopscotched across four different time zones, finally arriving In Quito's newly opened airport at 10:30 pm. I'm here in Ecuador to attend the largest meeting of Latin American travel specialists and the top outfitters and hotels in the continent. But first, a little overnight break to commune with nature. Why not? Ecuador boasts the highest biodiversity in wildlife anywhere in the world.
A driver named Christian is happy to meet me but when he tells me that the country hacienda I'm staying in is still a two-hour drive away, I try to steel myself to stay awake just a wee bit longer (not easy considering my 4am wake up call that morning!)
We roll through a darkened countryside, a nearly full moon highlighting the steep canyons and never-ending rolling hills. The last 35 minutes of the drive is on a deeply rutted dirt trail, once a cobblestone road. It's a bone-rattling, teeth-jarring, hang-on-to-the-seat-of-your-pants ride. I laugh and grip tightly to my seat. What a welcome!
Finally, at about 1am, we enter a private gated entrance to Hacienda Zuleta, a working ranch/country estate that was once a presidential retreat. Rodrigo, the night watchman, takes me and my luggage to my room, where a roaring fireplace has died down to warm embers, a king sized bed with a fluffy duvet is covered with rose petals, and a delicious bag of buttery cookies and chocolates await me.
I sink into the bed, exhausted and excited to see what tomorrow brings.