High on the itinerary of any traveler to South America is Peru, the third largest country in the continent. Peru is the home to several ancient Andean civilizations -- most notably the Incas, who ruled until the Spanish invasion in 1533. Even at the simplest cultural level, it’s an inspiring country -- few places captures the imagination more than the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu; but then so do any of the colonial cities making it a land equally as influenced by indigenous people as by the succeeding invaders. The delightful part of Peru is that the country is populist but also untouched. By being on the "gringo trail", a traveller will at times be over-immersed with fellow tourists. The ancient capital of Cusco can be a circus amid its beauty -- yet the beaten track isn’t too far away -- there is even a less-well-known known Inca ruin in Keulap -- the so-called Machu Picchu of the north. Equally, the north eastern jungle towns, is perfect for the off-track traveler --while the large jungle town of Iquitos can be accessed by plane as well as boat, there are other settlements where boat is the only option. The mountains offer hiking and rock climbing in abundance, allowing you to go for days and meet no one but locals. Peru also hosts the two deepest canyons in the world, both twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and favoured spots to witness the flight of the condor. In Peru, it’s still possible to feel as if you are in a world still inhabited by Incas. Traveling in Peru Bus is the most successful way to travel in Peru -- comfortable and inexpensive; you’ll be surprised at the quality of the buses. But be warned, it can vary. Due to the size of the country, journeys can go over the 20 hour mark, so night buses are common and sometimes the only choice, although it’s not recommended to travel at night. Occurrences of thieves taking off with your possessions as you sleep and tales of snoozing bus drivers can make night travelling less appealing. Having said that, bus allows you to take in the superb scenery Peru has on offer, and with several bus companies usually setting off at similar times, prices are always negotiable. Trains are less common, but when found, worthy as they tend to be slow mountain trains, allowing time to soak in the view without risk of falling into mountain ravines. Internal air travel is an excellent option, and a good investment, especially when weighing up the cheapness of the flight compared to the toll of bus travel! Weather in Peru As with neighbouring Ecuador and Bolivia; Peru is subject to the three distinct regions, and the climates that come with them -- the jungle, the mountains and the desert. More so than any other South American nation, the Peruvians define themselves by region. Along with these regions, Peruvian weather varies according to season, which is either wet or dry. Wet season runs from January to April and dry season from June to November. Still this varies, so an unofficial guide for travelling in Peru is to rely on layers with the top coat being waterproof. The mountains tend to be cold, the jungle hot and humid. The coast varies and can experience dense fog rolling off the Pacific. Equally some parts miss rain completely, so much so that drizzle in Lima makes headlines. Don’t underestimate the risk of the sun at altitude, without sunscreen you’re toast. Peru Information: Population: 27,500,000 Government: Constitutional Republic Square Miles: 496,000 square miles (1.28 million sq km) Capitol: Caracas (pop 4,608,934) Official Language: Spanish (official), Quechua (official), Aymara, and a large number of minor Amazonian languages People: Amerindian 45%, mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 37%, white 15%, black, Japanese, Chinese, and other 3% Religion: Roman Catholic 90% Major products/industries: petroleum, fishing, textiles, clothing
The newly independent nation of Georgia is hard to describe in terms of one particular region. Some consider it part of the Middle East, others Europe, and still others Asia. The reason for this may be because it is so closely related, both geographically and culturally, with all of these places. Once it broke from the former USSR, Georgia suffered some civil unrest, but as the situation stablizes, Georgia is becoming a major player in world affairs. Unfortunally much of the political affairs with which it is associated today have to do with the conflict in nearby Chechnya. But the government is working hard to bring tourists and the like to Georgia, to show the world the virtues of this crossroads where so many cultures meet. Food is a highlight of Georgian culture, and one of the biggest draws for tourists. Georgians ascribe the same importance to their food as they do to family, friends, and God. Mealtime is full of long-honored rituals, with each meal led by an elected head of the table called a tamada (for very large parties, the tamada may in turn select assistants called tolumbashis). The tamada is always a humorous and philosophical individual who is known for his abaility to improvise speeches for long periods of time. He offers toasts throughout the duration of every meal, including toasts to friends, country, family, guests, and more. It's customary to toast with wine or some other drink (not beer, as that's seen as a slight insult) before new courses are brought out, and to wait for a toast before eating each new course or starting a new drink. As a guest, if you need to excuse yourself from a table, it's tradition to stand and offer a toast to your hosts before leaving, but it's worth noting that the tamada must give permission before anyone other than himself offers a toast. (This is not meant as a constraint, but does provide a certain order and discipline to the meal.) Georgian mealtimes also often include singing, dance contests, and revelry. And then there's the food... Georgian cuisine involves many common ingredients, but due to variations in recipes and combinations of its "obligatory" ingredients--such as walnut, regional herbs, garlic, vinegar, red pepper, pomegranate, barberries, and more--each dish takes on a unique taste and aroma, which make Georgian cuisine very popular. Georgian food typically involves an abundance of different kinds of meat, fish, and vegetables, various types of cheese, pickles, and seasonings. And the meals themselves are huge: four, five, or more courses; and it's considered impolite to not accept food when offered. If you do plan on traveling to Georgia, it's best to aviod the northern region. This is still a dangerous area, where land mines and kidnappings are common. The unrest that surrounds Georgia's neighbors has spilled into Georgia at times, so most border areas require extra attention to safety. Traveling in Georgia There are domestic flights between Tbilisi and other major cities, such as Kutaisi, Butami, and Senaki. Many roads are in poor condition and can be dangerous. There have also been reports of tourists being car-jacked, so it may be better to hire a car with a driver. There is some rail service, but due to conflict in neighboring countries, it can be very frustrating to use. Busses run regularly and may be the best way to get around Georgia. There is a subway in Tbilisi, but thefts have been known to happen there, so taking a taxi may be a safer alternative for traveling in this city. There are many places to eat Tbilisi; the city is truly a gourmand's dream. Most food is served fast and in abundance and is not very expensive. What you see on the table is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. And if you have a Georgian order for you, be prepared for at least five courses piled one on top of one another, but save room because, just when you think the meal is done, there's always another course on the way, which is usually tastier than the last. Nonsmoking sections are unheard of in Georgia, so don't ask. Citizens of Poland, Bulgaria, and the other CIS countries can enter Georgia without a visa. Everyone else must have a visa to enter. It's best to obtain this before leaving home at the Georgian embassy in your country. A visa purchased in the U.S. will cost US$40 for a two-week stay; that increases to US$80 if purchased upon arrival at Tbilisi Airport. Visa information is available at http://www.mfa.gov.ge/consular.html. There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies in Georgia. It's recommended that you bring your own syringes (with a note from your doctor) if necessary. Also, doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. The local currency is the Lari (GEL); 1 Lari is approximately equal to US$0.50. Weather in Georgia Georgia is generally accessible to tourists year-round, and there's always something to do. However, if you'd rather travel in the warmth, then June to September is the best time to go. Travel in the summer is also less cumbersome, as you will not be restricted by snow in the mountains and outside of the cities. Also, October is ideal for it's cool weather, and happens to when Georgian wineries are most active. Georgia Information Population: 5.2 million Government: Presidential Republic Square Miles: 27,200 sq mi (69,700 sq km) Capitol: Tbilisi Official Language: Georgian (71%), Russian (9%), Armenian (7%), Azerbaijani (6%) People: Georgian (70%), Armenian (8%), Russian (6%), Azeri (6%) Religion: Georgian Orthodox (60%), Russian Orthodox (10%), Muslim (11%), Armenian Apostolic (8%) Major products/industries: Heavy industry (steel, aircraft, machine tools, locomotives, cranes, motors, trucks), textiles, shoes, wood products, wine
Situated about 575 miles southeast of Miami, the Turks and Caicos make up a Caribbean archipelago with few people and a long history. The original residents of the Turks and Caicos were the indigenous Tainos; however, as in much of the rest of the region, these peaceful people were driven into extinction by war and disease, in large part by way of the arrival of Europeans in the post-Columbian era. During the height of the colonial times, the island group was handed off between the English, French, and Spanish, never remaining a possession of any one nation to develop a positive identity. In the mid-1600s, an industrious group of Bermudians emigrated to the Turks and Caicos to find their fortune peddling "white gold," that is, salt. Many of the salinas, or salt ponds, mills, and historic structures can still be found scattered throughout the islands. The market for salt from the Turks and Caicos disappeared for good in the 1960s, but for a time during the 1600s and 1700s, these man-made salt flats dominated production and export of the substance around the world, the main recipients of which were the cod-fishing communities of the northeastern North American colonies. In the years after the American War of Independence, a number of Loyalist plantation owners tried their luck farming cotton on the Turks and Caicos, bringing with them slaves from their U.S. plantations. The farming operations failed and the land-owners left for greener pastures, but many of their former slaves stayed to work as rakers in the salt flats. Today, the locals whose lineage dates back to the early days of the Turks and Caicos, a group known amongst themselves as "Belongers," can traces their heritage to the Bermudian salt industrialists and the transplanted slave rakers. The political identity of the remained fuzzy for some time, as governing bodies changed hands, from the Bahamian government to Jamaica, to the British, French, and finally British again. Currently, the islands fall under the blanket of Great Britain, though talk of independence occasionally crosses the tongues of residents. The salt fields have become a relic of the olden days, and the land is by and large too arid to farm. That leaves the sea and the beaches to provide a regular income for the Turks and Caicos. Since the 1960s, tourism has exploded there, with the biggest draw being the reefs and sea walls that comprise the many scuba diving opportunities there. There are many beautiful beaches and some bird watching to be done, plus the islands have, for the most part, kept a quiet Caribbean feel--with only Providenciales (or "Provo") becoming somewhat overrun with resorts. Many of the islands are sparsely populated with few cars and people who's way of thinking embodied "island time. The latest residential boom has come from retired corporate executives and wealthy individuals who sometimes have ties to illicit trade (e.g., the drug trade). Traveling in Turks and Caicos Most travelers reach the Turks and Caicos from the U.S. Direct flights can be taken from New York, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami. Canadians can charter flights out of Toronto, but if you're coming in from Europe or elsewhere, you'll probably connect through the U.S. on the way. There are a number of local Caribbean Airlines that will take you from nearby islands and islands hopping around the Turks and Caicos themselves. For yachters, there are customs offices at Provo, South Caicos, and Grand Turk. Citizens of the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and the E.U. can travel to the Turks and Caicos without a visa. Most other national will need to obtain a visa. Legal photo identification (i.e., a passport) is required for everyone. It's not cheap to travel to the Turks and Caicos. A budget travelers might easily spend US$100 a day. More extravagant travelers could go up to US$300 a day. A moderately priced restaurant meal will cost up to US$25. Credit cards and traveler's checks are widely accepted on Provo and Grand Turk. On the smaller islands, it's best to keep cash on hand. Currency can be exchanged at local banks. Taxi is the best mode of transport to get around each island. Be sure to settle on a fare before departing, as most cabs will charge per person, rather than per mile traveled. Many drivers will also double as tour guides for an extra fee. It's possible to rent cars and mopeds, as well, but there is a government tax placed on all rental vehicles. It should be noted that drivers are on the left side of the road in the Turks and Caicos. Weather in Turks and Caicos Temperatures range from and average of 77°F (25°C) in winter to an average of 90°F (32°C) in summer. Average annual rainfall is 21 inches (53 cm). Most of the rain falls in summer. The only truly uncomfortable time of year to be in the Turks and Caicos is from August through November, when the weather can be swelteringly hot and inescapable. Turks and Caicos Information Population: 17,502 Government: British dependency Square Miles: 166 sq miles (430 sq km) Capitol: Cockburn Town (pop 4900) Official Language: English People: Mainly African descent, plus Haitians and Dominican immigrants, and North American and European expats Religion: Baptist (41%), Methodist (19%), Anglican (18%) Major products/industries: Tourism, finance, fishing
In the years since the Communist Revolution, the public face of China has been very difficult to read. Politically and economically, it has appeared at once uniform and homogenous, standing by a staunch Maoist line and keeping all non-oldguard ideas at bay, as well as open and curious about western capitalist opportunities, modernism, diversity, and cooperation. In the west, China has been viewed as somewhat of an enigma: suppressing freedom of expression and communication (the Chinese government is infamous for extreme censorship of any and all media), openly violating globally accepted standards of human rights while claiming ignorance or slander, and military posturing that is meant to discourage nations such as the United States from looking too closely at what goes on behind their closed doors; all the while urban Chinese are quickly embracing modern technoloy and communication methods such as the Internet, cities have turned into boomtowns where everything is for sale, and the Chinese government has made efforts to draw in western industry and capitalize on business and growth that would send them in a direction opposite the Communist ideals of Chairman Mao and his Cultural Revolution. For many thousands of years, the Chinese culture has been one of walls. Finished in the earliest days of unified China--during the Qin dynasty--the Great Wall literally surrounds much of the nation. This is more symbolic than functional, but the years since its completion have seen many more political and cultural barriers built, intended as much to keep Chinese pride and culture in as they are to keep the western world out. The age of colonialism came early for China, as armies swept across much of Southeast Asia conquering lands for their emperors. But as of the sixteenth century, westerners began knocking on China's doors in droves--beginning with the Portuguese, in 1516, and soon followed by the British, French, Americans, Germans, Russians, and more. So many outside nations wanted a part of China that they literally divided up the country among themselves into "spheres of influence." This was the beginning of the economic pillaging and a cultural oppression that eventually led to such calamities as the Opium Wars, America's "Open Door" policy, the Boxer Rebellion and China's civil war, and finally to the Chinese Communist Revolution itself. A smaller nation than before (although, at roughly 1 million square miles, still huge by any account), with a much larger population, weaker economy, and rash of environmental and other problems to face, China is now making some efforts to align itself with western policies, without totally abandoning the Communist foundations upon which modern Chinese culture is based. As China tip-toes into new-world economics, and as the voices of dissent begin to grow too loud to ignore, it will be very interesting to see if this ancient and great culture evolves from being defined by walls, to being identified with its openness and eagerness to join the modern world. Traveling in China Visas are required by all foreigners to enter mainland China, with the exception of a 24-hour reprieve for anyone with a ticket for a connecting flight out of the country. Visas can be gotten from Chinese consulates and embassies in most countries. Currently, a visa is not required for western nationals to enter either Hong Kong or Macau. The environment in China is varied--from the soaring and snowy Himalayas to the flat plains of the Yangzi River valley and the Inner Mongolia Plateau. The most dramatic region of China, from a geologic point of view, is arguably the Yunnan-Guizhbou Plateau in the southwest. Here, the limestone bedrock has been carved away by the elements, creating jaw-dropping waterfalls, underground caverns, and gorge rapids to make the most expert river runner nervous. Unfortunately, because of over-population, pollution, and the effects of stripping the land for agriculture, many of China's indigenous species are either endangered or extinct. The few that remain, however, include some of the world's most appreciated--including the panda, snow leopard, yak, and elephant. Plant life has suffered as well, though not quite as much as fauna; the northern subarctic region is home to China's largest forest, and the steamier south has more diverse plant life in its rainforests. The bottom line is, this is a country of more than a billion people; under the pressure of such a huge population, and without the govenmental or economic support needed to encourage conservation, much of China's potential for ecological wealth has been destroyed. Health risks include rabies, bilharzia, dengue fever, malaria and cholera. Immunization against cholera, hepatitis A and B, Japanese encephalitis, polio, rabies, and typhoid is necessary before going to China. Weather in China Weather is China varies greatly, as expected in a country of its size. Most people visit in the spring (March through April) and fall (September through October), when average daytime temperatures range from the mid-60s to the mid-80s (in degrees Fahrenheit). This is, however, the hottest time of year in the south, and coincides with typhoon season along the southern coast. It's best to do your research according to where you'll be and when. Otherwise, it is very difficult to try to predict weather for the entire country. People's Republic of China Informaton Population: 1.25 billion Government: Communist republic Square Miles: 9,596,960 sq km (mainland) Capitol: Beijing (pop 13.8 million) Official Language: Putonghua (Beijing Mandarin dialect), Cantonese People: Han Chinese (93%), plus 55 ethnic minorities Religion: Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism (no stats available); Muslim (14 million), Christian (7 million) Major products/industries: Iron, steel, coal, machinery, textiles
Even with the American travel ban, Cuba continues to thrive as a tourist destination for Europeans and otherwise. Before Castro, the Caribbeans largest island was very popular among U.S.-based tourists and business people; now, however, it takes a slightly more more adventurous sort to go there from America. But given the opportunity, those people simply can't be kept away. When the travel ban does get lifted you can be sure that Cuba will again be one of the busiest destinations in the Caribbean. If you would like to see the Cuba of modern American "mythology," it's better to go now. Once the U.S. government warms up to that nation enough to lift economic sanctions, as well as the travel ban, there will be a flood of investment into Cuba's tourist economy that is sure to change the face of the culture fundamentally. Cuba still has the colonial architecture that makes its cities so appealing ... even if the surface is well worn, the beauty is still there. There are also many wonderful beaches and lush highlands to hike. But if you are an American and plan on visiting Cuba, it will take some work. There are a number of programs that will sponsor government-approved trips from the U.S., or you can depart from a country that doesn't have a travel ban in place (although this is technically "working the system," as the American economic sanctions preclude spending unlicensed U.S. dollars in Cuba--ironic in that it's these illegal dollars that help keep the Cuban economy afloat) Traveling to/in Cuba Flights to Cuba depart from Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Europe. Because of the American travel ban, most people from the U.S. go through the Bahamas, Mexico, or Canada. A few cruise ships have started to go to Cuba, but most of them have to originate in the Bahamas, as they aren't allowed to go from the U.S. There are also many private pleasure crafts that visit Cuba regularly. Americans, though, should be cautious as the current U.S. administration is more strict about visiting Cuba; you could end up with a fine from the government when you return. Another alternative is to find a government-approved program on which to "piggy-back." There are a number of academic, social, or research programs (among others) that obtain licenses from the U.S. government to travel to Cuba. These same programs often--legally--sell spaces on their trips for tourists. More information about the U.S. sanctions against Cuba, travel restrictions, and guidelines for licensing and travel to Cuba can be found at http://www.ustreas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/sanctions/index.html. There is a domestic airline, Cubana Airlines, that will get you around the country once there. You can also travel by bus on the dollars-only Viázul line or pay pesos for a less expensive--and less comfortable--camiones particulares, privately owned trucks that can be found throughout the island. There is a train system, as well, though it is not as reliable as it once was. Weather in Cuba The weather in Cuba is much like the other places in the Caribbean, which means there really isn't a bad time to go. The rainy season is between May and October--the hottest time of year in Cuba. Like the rest of the Caribbean, droves of tourists arrive from the north between December and April--the coldest time of year for Europe, Canada, and the like. Cuba Information Population: 11 million Government: Communist republic Square Miles: 110,860 sq km Capitol: Havana (pop 2,200,000) Brades, in Carr's Bay/Little Bay (established after eruption) Official Languages: Spanish People: 60% Spanish descent, 22% mixed-race, 11% African descent, 1% Chinese Religion: 47% Catholic, 4% Protestant, 2% Santería Major products/industries: Sugar, minerals, tobacco, agricultural, medicine & tourism
As part of our effort to bring you essential stories and information on travel and culture, Travel Outward presents you with our first ever "Traveler Profile," where we will examine the lives of individuals making a name for themselves in adventure travel, education, and the cultural experience. For this inaugural piece we introduce you to Nancy Collins, co-founder and president of the adventure travel company Global Adrenaline. In the coming months, we hope to offer more material from the logbooks of Global Adrenaline, including feature articles based on the adventures they bring you.The word "overachiever" comes to mind, as I examine her resume. Her education alone is impressive, if not intimidating--she graduated with honors from Princeton University with a degree in economics, earned her Master’s of Science in development economics from Oxford University, and an MBA from Harvard, all before turning 32. Then there’s her employment history: five years working in corporate finance between New York and Sydney, Australia, with the investment bank J.P. Morgan; two summers with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) helping to pave the way for that nonprofit refugee relief organization to provide long-term care to people in need; and a year with the World Bank managing funds for much-needed supply of power to countries around the globe. All the while she was seeking action, adventure, friends, knowledge, and more by planning trips for her classmates, coworkers, family, and herself.
It’s true, this is the resume of a classic overachiever. But to be sure, she’s now doing exactly what she wants. As the president and co-founder of the adventure travel company Global Adrenaline, Nancy Collins is bringing curious people to remote regions of the world that they might never have otherwise considered. And subsequently, she’s helping to foster rich ideas, images, and knowledge of those places and cultures in the minds of a growing population of travelers.
And what of all the development, business, and economics education she amassed over the years? Well, according to Collins, it’s helping her achieve these goals in the best way she knows how.
Nancy Collins comes from a military family. Her father was in the U.S. Navy, and she spent her childhood moving around the country, mainly between Southern California and Washington, D.C. She speaks with the clipped pace of someone not used to staying in one place for very long, and while she didn’t get into the "business" of planning trips until the end of her undergraduate years, she acknowledges that her mobile upbringing influenced her as a planner and organizer, as though she’d been doing it all her life.
"When I went to college," she says, "I thought I’d be a doctor. Then I thought I wanted to be a math major." But a few stabs at the complexities of advanced linear algebra quickly changed her mind, and Collins took on economics as her primary area of interest. On the side she started organizing class functions and get-togethers, and after graduating, she followed in the footsteps of so many young people with a background in economics: she went into finance. Over the course of her years working with J.P. Morgan in both New York and Sydney, Collins developed a heartfelt respect for the company that she is quick to voice today. "J.P. Morgan was great," she says. "If I were to get back into that kind of work, I wouldn’t want it to be with any other company."
But in the end, she was drawn back to school. Collins entered a Master’s program in developing economics at Oxford, and followed that with an MBA from Harvard Business School (HBS). She spent the summers between in Macedonia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Burundi with the IRC, and also continued her hobby as a travel and social planner.
"I’ve always had an interest in developing countries," she says. Upon completing her program at Harvard, she went to the World Bank in Washington, D.C., as an investment officer helping to fund the construction of power plants in Chile, Argentina, and India. But Collins grew restless. She appreciates the results the World Bank’s labors, but Collins wanted to find a place with less bureaucracy that allowed her more personal freedom and control over the challenges she took on.
Soon after leaving the World Bank, her career took yet another turn. A group of friends contacted her with a proposition--"They told me about a company they were starting and said they wanted me to be a part of it. They didn’t know what part yet, but knew I would make a good fit." In their own words, her new partners needed "somebody who can make order out of chaos." And they were sure Collins could do just that. The company was London-based Altgate Capital--an internet startup that worked closely with the European finance community--and while it was a short-lived endeavor (Altgate has since closed its doors), it opened Collins’ eyes to the potential of being her own boss. Within months of leaving Altgate, she and new two business partners founded the adventure travel company Global Adrenaline. It was an opportunity to combine her interests in developing world cultures, her talents as a travel and events organizer, and her desire for more autonomy in her working life.
At Global Adrenaline, the business is about "planning trips for young, educated professional people," Collins says. "There aren’t many companies that focus on that market alone."
The adventure travel industry is a crowded one. There are scores of companies that include in their clientele the niche market at which Global Adrenaline is aimed specifically, and many of those are much larger than Global Adrenaline will ever be. But very few set their sights solely on young academics and professionals, and that, according to Nancy Collins, is part of what makes her company so unique.
"To be good at what you do, you have to be focused on your customer," she says, "...people are looking for very different things in terms of educational and physical aspects of their trip: the 12-year-old will want one thing, the 30-year-old will want another, and the 60-year-old will want still another."
Global Adrenaline markets itself primarily to a group of people they know will be both intellectually curious and physically able--their clients want to go where they’ll be able to experience pristine nature and cultures that haven’t been overrun by bus tours and billboards. They want to go where the average family vacationers will not, if only because it’s hard to get there. But the company differentiates itself from its peers in another way--while many of the bigger names in the industry will cater to either backpackers on a shoestring budget or wealthier individuals who can afford extravagance when they travel, Global Adrenaline likes to balance elements of luxury with the realities of traveling in the third world, and they try to make this experience affordable across a broad range of incomes.
"It would be wonderful if we could be truly global," Collins says, referring to the company’s name, "but we add a lot more value by organizing trips to places that are challenging in very specific ways." Part of this sense of challenge comes from traveling to more remote regions that take an extra measure of effort to reach. Global Adrenaline has organized programs such as cruising to the Falkland Islands and the rugged Antarctic Peninsula, rafting and kayaking the rivers of Patagonia, trekking through the Tsering Kang Himalaya in Bhutan, or climbing the snowy heights of Mount Kilimanjaro. They set themselves apart by including in their staff of local guides, individuals who are authorities in specific fields. For instance, on a trip that takes adventurers hiking to the north face of Mount Everest, one of the specialist guides is also a professor of Tibetan studies at a major New Zealand university who is fluent in local dialects and an expert in Tibetan culture. It goes without saying, there are great benefits to having someone with such intimate cultural understanding as a guide.
But for Nancy Collins, there’s more to consider when building a travel program than the interests of her clients. Part of her--and thus, Global Adrenaline’s--philosophy is to give back to the communities they visit. "We make certain kinds of business choices that will be economically advantageous to local communities," says Collins. "We develop itineraries so they have culturally sensitive and educational elements."
This means, for example, providing accommodation in locally owned inns and houses, and using local suppliers, guides, and more, in an effort to ensure that all the money spent in each community goes back to that community, and not to governments and organizations that are likely to spend it elsewhere.
Collins is open about seeking clients eager to delve into the realities of a culture, even if those realities are at times harsher than our own. But it should be made clear that Global Adrenaline clients aren’t expected to sacrifice their overall comfort in the name of cultural immersion. Each trip is staffed by guides who double as gourmet cooks, fixing daily rations that often blend local flavors with western-style cuisine; and while accommodations are typically split between lodges and tents, Collins works to ensure her clients are happy and comfortable in both: lodges tend to be reasonably priced three- or four-star establishments, and camp sites are often chosen for their spectacular settings and can include solar showers and a private "toilet tent."
"I’m definitely more detail oriented, than a ‘big-picture’ person," says Collins, "which has worked out perfectly because, when you’re planning a trip for someone, everything has to be perfect."
When asked about her own ideas on the people and places she is getting to know, Collins’ tone turns to that of an academic who began her journey studying the world through economics. "Broad generalizations can be made across cultures in terms of their level of economic development," she says. "There are a lot of things that are common to developing countries that are different for developed countries..." She goes on to talk about family size, income, education, and religious freedom as indicators of social development, referring often to the gaps between first-world and third-world nations. They are valid and well-constructed points that demonstrate her insight into the evolution of modern societies, but behind the academic jargon, one senses Collins has a greater, if simpler, understanding of what she would like her clients to take away from their trips: there are opportunities to learn that goodness exists in the differences between us, and we can interact with these communities in a way that benefits everyone. Certainly, in global times such as these, there are few more important lessons.
Collins, herself, has gone on most of the trips her company offers, and--like any good business person should--she makes sure all of Global Adrenaline’s employees have a chance to experience them as well. "My favorite trips are the ones furthest from anything resembling civilization," she says. "I think I get the most out of a trip when I am challenged both physically and mentally. I don’t like to be spoon fed a cultural experience--you have to go out and do it."
As with most things in Nancy Collins’ life, the future of Global Adrenaline cannot be predicted. She’s sure of its longevity--"it will be here ten years from now," she says with confidence--but the rest remains to be seen. "It takes a lot out of you on a personal level to start a business, but I wouldn’t do anything differently. It’s very personally rewarding to dump yourself into something that you have a vision for."
Collins follows a "learn-as-you-go" mentality, believing that Global Adrenaline will grow larger as it matures; but while undoubtedly she would like to see her company included among the big names in adventure travel, she seems hesitant to turn it into a physically large company. "That’s not what I want it to be," she says. "When it’s smaller, it’s more like a family." And if there’s one lesson she’s taken away from this challenge, it’s this: "you realize just how important friends and family are."
One senses there are many more turns in Nancy Collins’ life that even she cannot foretell. From Princeton to the World Bank to Global Adrenaline, she is an adventurer on an epic journey. And while we may not be there every step of the way, we can at least feel at ease in the knowledge that this is one person who’s working hard to make our world a better place.
Egypt might be considered the world's oldest tourist destination. With a plethora of cultural artifacts dating back thousands of years, and a long history of artistic, political, intellectual, and commercial milestones, the country and region have been attracting travelers since ancient times. The pyramids and tombs are not the only reason to visit Egypt. There is an extraordinary amount of art and architecture including relics from centuries of Greek, Roman, and Arabic occupation. All along the River Nile you can see different parts of Egyptian history that have survived thousands of years of cultural change and the rapid growth. But Egypt, like so many ancient lands, has entered the modern world paradoxically. Laborers often use the tools of their ancestors to farm, while the automobile traffic in the cities can be maddening. These contrasts are all over Egypt, and how much modernization Egypt accepts will ultimately effect the past, as well as the future of this great land.
Traveling in Egypt
Most flights connect to Egypt through European cities. Flying domestically in Egypt can be expensive, but there are trains, buses, and boats that will take you anywhere you want to go. Trains and buses can be extremely crowded because they usually wait until they cannot fit another body, before pulling away from the station. This may be uncomfortable, but it's a great way to immerse yourself in the culture.
Everyone traveling to Egypt is required to obtain a visa, avaible from Egyptian embassies worldwide. However, if you are from the United Stated, the European Union, Canada, or one of GCC countries, you can get a visa upon arrival at one of the larger airports, but you may want to deal with this beforehand, to avoid the trouble. Most visas last for one month, but they can generally be extended.
Traveling in Egypt is cheap: most meals cost under US$5, good hotels can be found for under US$50 a night, many are under US$25.
There are plenty of pickpockets around so it is a good idea to be extra careful with cash or valuables. Traveler's checks are still a good way to carry cash as long as they are American Express or Visa. Credit Cards are accepted in some places, and there are ATM's in larger cities.
Gratuities are generally included in the bill, but you might double check to be sure. Haggling for items at the market and elsewhere is a way of life in Egypt, so don't take anything at first glance--the cost of most products can be bargained down, including hotel rooms and other goods. A rule of thumb, when haggling, is never offer a price if you are not willing to pay it; if a shop keeper accepts your offer you, will be expected hand over the cash, pronto. Don't bargain hunt if you're not going to purchase--it could get you into trouble.
Weather in Egypt
South of Cairo, toward Luxor and Aswan, the blazing heat can be very uncomforable between June and August. However, this is also the most crowded time of year around the Mediterranean Coast. So when you choose to go depends entirely on what you want to do. The best time to travel south of Cairo is December to February. If you want to enjoy the north shore, March to May is the least crowded time when the weather will still be warm.
Health Concerns in Egypt
Bilharzia ranks second behind malaria as a public health concern in tropical and subtropical areas. You can get this disease through contact with infected water, and in Egypt, it is mainly found in the waters of the Nile.
Diagnosing bilharzia is done by checking a patient's urine or fecal matter. If you want to keep from getting this disease it is best to stay away from fresh water rivers and streams, especially near agricultural areas. For more information check out the following website: http: //www.who.ch/.
Population: 69.5 million
Square Miles: 622,272 sq mi (1,001,449 sq km)
People: Berbers, Bedouins, and Nubians
Religion: 94% Islam, 6% Christian
Major products/industries: Oil & gas, metals, tourism, agriculture (especially cotton), and Suez Canal revenues
photographs by Jeff Walpole On every river you can find one place that’s so full of mystery, life, and beauty, that it’s like finding the very heart of the river itself. It may be a shadowy, swirling pool that reflects light in such a way, you could swear you were seeing into another world. Or it could be an easy bend where the rush has undercut the bank, and trees’ roots dip into the stream. They are images of every river, but something about that particular spot makes it seem different, unique, and inspired. On the Alsek, you can find that place after each turn. The Alsek River is not easy to find (it’s short, often not labeled on maps or in atlases) and a challenge to get to: we traveled to Juneau, Alaska, a capitol city accessible only by air and sea, and took a ferry on the Alaska Marine Highway system up the spectacularly immense Lynn Canal fjord to the panhandle fishing town of Haines. From there, we drove five hours in a school Area of interestbus into the Yukon Territory, Canada, to the Kluane National Park and Reserve town of Haines Junction; then we hiked in several hours to the banks of the Dezadeash River--near the confluence of the Kaskawulsh River--just upstream from where the Alsek begins in earnest. Here, we joined our guides, acquainted ourselves with the two-ton (loaded) inflatable oars rafts that would be our primary mode of transportation for most of the next two weeks, and set off downstream. This was the start of a wilderness so remote that once we were on the water, we wouldn’t see another group of humans for more than ten days. It’s a part of the world where there are mountains as far as the eye can see, many soaring to 10,000 feet or more, and most of them still unnamed. The same goes for the glaciers, flowing from a lake of ice in the center of the adjacent mountains that’s so vast, an entire range has been named for it (the Icefield Range), its frozen rivers coursing through the valleys and filling the Alsek with frigid water, icebergs, dirt and silt, boulders, and more, as they grind the earth beneath their creeping weight. On our hike into the launching point, we saw the first of eight bears (black and grizzly; a low number, compared to some trips, but we weren’t disappointed), as well as any number of regionally specific birds, including trumpeter swan, golden eagle, and Arctic tern. We were a group of fourteen, including three highly experienced professional guides. Ours was a private trip organized by an old friend, Mike Pratt, who had run the Alsek more than any man before him; he would be our lead guide on the river, and this would be his last commercial trip down it, before settling into married life in his home back in the contiguous United States. The gear, itinerary, and all three guides had signed on through the international adventure travel company Mountain Travel Sobek. Running the Alsek is not for the faint of heart. We were twelve days on the river, hiking and paddling and very often fighting off the dampness of 34º water; sometimes enduring a bone-chilling rain that turned to snow just up the side of the nearby mountains; sleeping in tents filled with mosquitoes "big enough to carry off grizzly bear," I heard someone joke; not showering or bathing properly; sharing ourselves and our most intimate moments with a group of people. But it’s not bad either. There are special things on the Alsek: a herd of mountain goats that graze on the grassy slopes of a hillside named specifically for them (Goatherd Mountain); the soft fluorescence of blue ice at the core of a massive, recently calved iceberg; and of course, the ancient whispering rush of currents at the confluence of two great rivers: the Alsek and its more frequented neighbor, the Tatshenshini. In the first few days we got our bearings. We tried our hands at the oars (though our main jobs would be to paddle when the oarsman/guides needed our help, or when we needed the circulation to keep warm). We acclimated to the temperature, altitude, and environment. We got to know our tents and, in some cases, our tent mates. And we asked questions--lots of questions... Will we see many bears? What do we do if we see one up close? [Counter to many people’s understanding, our guides refer to the popular "bear bell" as a "dinner bell," because it is more likely to attract a bear, than deter it.] How well will we eat? How often will we eat? Where will we do our "business"? What are the rapids like? What happens if we fall in the cold, cold water? How far can we roam without a companion, bear spray, knife, guide, or otherwise? Questions. Questions. Questions. Listening to us, you might think we’d never set foot outside our urban enclaves before, protected by the convenience of a McDonald’s on every corner and a Starbucks in between. In fact, for the most part, all of us had reasonable experience in the outdoors: camping, trekking, rafting--roughing it, as they say. But none except our guides had ever been to a wilderness so removed and dramatic as this. It had an immediate effect: it turned us into excited little kids, with a new question for every answer we were given. What? How? When? Where? Why? It sounds rather pesky, but on the Alsek, where danger can arise at every turn, these questions must be asked. What do you do when you’re standing face to face with a grizzly? You gently raise your arms to the sky to show that you’re not threatening, then you speak quietly to the bear, while slowly backing away in an oblique direction: "Hey bear," you might say, "Ho bear. I don’t mean any harm. Just passing through..." And if the grizzly decides to charge, and you’re lucky enough to have bear spray at hand, then you make sure--in the split second you have to think--that you’re not downwind, when you spray that animal right between the eyes. One small can of bear spray (essentially, mace for a 1,200 pound beast--guns are strictly forbidden in the Canadian parks system) will almost always disable the animal, sending it into the woods to tend to its stinging senses. If you’re downwind and the spray blows back on you, you’ll feel the very unfortunate effects yourself. Of course, if you’re unlucky enough to be without the spray, you should drop to the ground, face down, cover the back of your neck, and let the bear maul you. Very often he or she will simply play with you before losing interest, but "playing" with an animal six times your size, with gnashing teeth and razor sharp claws means being thrashed and slashed open, severely injured, or even killed. And that’s the point: there are many opportunities to lose your life on the Alsek, if you’re not careful. That’s part of what makes it such a wilderness adventure. But danger is only one side of the equation. Depending on your method of travel--using a professional company, with guides who are also great cooks, storytellers, naturalists, and jokesters; or a self-guided trip down the river, which can be not only more dangerous (for not having at least an idea of what to expect), but also less inspiring, if you’re not totally familiar with the Alsek--for every threatening moment, there can be ten more that are comforting and even luxurious. On our third day, camping at a site we called "Sandblaster" because of its uncomfortably strong winds and barren sandy landscape that pelted us horizontally in the gusts, we were treated to an exhilarating hike up Goatherd Mountain, from the top of which we had the best vantage possible of the enormous Lowell Glacier--a frozen river of mud and ice so wide it resembles a 50-lane superhighway; then we feasted at the river’s edge on a delicious dinner of fresh grilled sockeye salmon and vegetables, with tea and hot chocolate; followed by a site I thought I’d never see in such wilderness: a makeshift--but ingeniously engineered--sauna, made from a spare tent covered with heat-trapping tarps, the steam created by dripping glacier water over three heavy steel bricks that had been buried in the fire pit for hours. Later, our night was defined by the blowing wind and the rhythmic rumble of icebergs calving into the river, and well before the rest of camp rallied, a few of us woke for a glorious view of the 3:30 A.M. sunrise over the ever-present Mounts Kennedy, Alverstone, and Hubbard, which themselves seemed to rise out of the much closer Lowell Glacier. It is the kind of picture, I think, mere words cannot describe adequately. Even a photograph seems only to partially capture the environment of the Alsek. In the end, I knew, I was witnessing among the best the earth had to offer; after this trip, I thought, I would not sense the world around me in the same ordinary terms I once had. This was indicative of our experience there: work hard in the day--paddling and hiking through a spectacular environment, while finding harmony with cold rain and winds, icy river water, and sometimes frozen air--and unwind at night with a hot meal, good drinks, stories, games, and a warm sleeping bag. When we were lucky enough to find a camp with a long, flat beach, we’d set up a horseshoes pit, or play a sort of tug-of-war game called "hunker down," which involves two opponents balancing opposite each other on ammo cans (used on river trips for easily accessible airtight containers) and trying to force each other to fall to the ground by strategically pulling and releasing the end of a rope that the players hold between them. There are several places on the Alsek where I thought the world had invented itself in the most striking and beautiful possible form. The purple sunrise on Mt. Hubbard, behind the meandering Lowell Glacier; the fresh fallen snow on a jagged nameless peak that reminded me of something from a Tolkien novel; the churning holes in the great rapid Lava North, for which we donned dry suits and an extra measure of courage to run (falling in the river there can mean certain death, if you get caught in an eddy); or the eerie silence on a foggy morning as we gathered firewood on a sandbar at the head of Alsek Lake. But despite all of these amazing natural wonders, the time my adrenaline hit its peak was not while immersed in the unadulterated landscape of the Alsek, but rather, while hurtling through the air, hundreds of feet above the seven-mile-long face of the Tweedsmuir Glacier, staring down at the boiling cauldron of rapids in the impassable Turnback Canyon, from the relative safety of a speeding helicopter. This was our portage day. Turnback Canyon is a place on the Alsek--a river known more for its pristine beauty, than its dangerous rapids--where the valley walls contract from roughly 1.5 miles wide to about 30 feet over a very short span. The boils, holes, eddies, and falls created by that dramatic change in the river’s dimensions, makes it virtually impossible to pass through and survive. In 1971, the legendary kayaker Walt Blackadar became the first to run Turnback. It was by shear luck--he said later on--that he lived to talk about it. Only having successfully paddled through the treacherous canyon did he claim it was unrunnable and he would never think of doing it again. Afterward he said, if he could have turned and gone back after the very first rapid, he absolutely would have--a humbling admission from a man who had seen, perhaps, more whitewater adventure than any other by the time he died kayaking seven years later. Since then only a handful of boats--inflatables like ours, as well as kayaks--have tried to make it through Turnback Canyon, and just a few of them have emerged safely on the other end. Thus, we arranged for a helicopter to meet us at the last camp before the canyon, to haul us and our gear over it. The cowboy pilot at the helm was like someone out of the movies, telling us one moment that he wasn’t allowed to dive into the canyon, and the next, doing just that at a speed so jarring and exciting that I simultaneously wanted to lose my lunch and get my pilot’s license. Once on the other side, we reassembled our gear and began the leg of our journey that traversed the lower end of the Alsek, heading toward Alsek Lake, and beyond that, the ocean. Alsek Lake was the site of our final night. But more than that, it was a culmination for me: so full of grace and beauty, awesome size and geology, wildlife, quietude, color, and light that I thought, if the entire two weeks were spent there alone, the trip would still have been amazing. The entrance into the lake began at the tail end of one of the most arduous rains we experienced. After paddling through the morning, we stopped at a beach at the head of Alsek Lake. A short walk through fields of wildflowers--blazing Indian paintbrush, fireweed, goldenrod, and more--opened up to the iceberg-laden water, still hidden in afternoon fog. Through that mist, we’d find our last camp. As we paddled across the lake, we slowly entered what might have been a completely different universe from the rain and cold of just minutes before. The clouds broke and the blue sky opened over us, light beaming onto the house-sized blocks of ice floating before us. I looked around and saw, between narrow spits of land in the distance, the vast plains of three tremendous glaciers. They were the Alsek Glacier--spilling into the lake, its towering face calving huge chunks of ice; the Grand Plateau Glacier; and the sprawling Novatak Glacier. And even farther away, almost painted on the background, Mt. Fairweather rose high into the sky. At roughly 15,300 feet, Fairweather is the region’s highest peak, and it is situated practically right next to the ocean. The name comes with a touch of irony as it can generally only be seen when the weather is clear, which is not often in those parts, but we were the lucky ones. As we tied our boats together--creating a single, wide float--and paddled among the ice, with blue evening sky overhead and a rainbow of colors reflecting off the surrounding water, I spotted the flash of a great bald eagle sweeping down the valley wall. Graceful, fast, and furious with its talons flared, the eagle slammed into the placid lake and almost immediately began to struggle under the weight of the salmon in its claws as it took flight again. It was an image I had only dreamed of up to that point. And as that dream slipped into reality, I thought, that--for me--was the true heart of the Alsek.
Ancient history melds with cutting-edge technology; long, rainy, or freezing winters contrast against vibrant, endless days of summer. Such are the complexities of Scotland, a land where the gloomy weather very often belies the sunny dispostion of her people. "Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, the hills of the Highlands for ever I love," wrote Robert Burns, Scotland's National Poet, and true enough, the Scottish Highlands have captured the hearts of many. This rugged land is defined by its jagged mountain peaks, verdant valleys, icy lochs, and imposing solitude. It's a place meant for relflection and with all the solitary activities to take on in the Highlands, it'd be hard not to spend some quality time looking in at yourself. Fishing and hiking are two of the most popular pastimes. The rivers and lakes are filled with trout, and an afternoon of casting flies while waist deep in frigid water (with waders of course) is enough to have you heading to the pub come evening for a pint and a bite. There are marked hiking trails all over the highlands (the West Highland Way, for instance, will take you from Stirling all the way to the base of Ben Nevis--the tallest mountain in Britain--in the town of Fort William), but you don't need a trail marker to give you permission: rights of way on private land for walkers is a tradition still followed in many parts of Britain. You shouldn't have too much trouble tramping across a field here and there. Or for a little more social activity, grab your clubs and hit the links. Scotland is perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of golf; anybody can get a tee time at the Old Course in St. Andrews, but beware: their next opening may not be for many months. Head out to the west coast and have access to many of the western isles. Mull is a short ferry trip away from the coastal town of Oban and offers good walking trails and the quaintness of its fishing port Tobermory, without having to travel far from the mainland; others like Islay and Coll are more desolate, with walking trails, castles, distilleries to tour (and taste from), and picturesque scenery. The Isle of Skye, further north and connected to the mainland by a bridge, is larger and more diverse, with small towns like Portree offering a few shopping oportunities, and a dramatic landscape from the rocky Cuillins down to the sea. For even more peace and quiet, make your way to the Outer Hebrides where island names like Harris and Lewis represent the superlative in stark beauty: mountains, moors, beaches, and more, and very few people to distract you. Or head to the far north to the Orkney or Shetland Islands, both known for their prehistoric artifacts (such as Skara Brae on Mainland Island) and diverse bird life. The Shetland Islands were, until 1469, under Norse rule, and the Scandinavian heritage still runs strong there. It is perhaps the most remote region of Scotland from that point of view. But Scotland isn't just for escaping. The cities have lots to offer as well. Edinburgh is a thriving metropolis, banking and academic center, and home to the Royal seat in Scotland--the Palace of Holyroodhouse. There are a number of notable museums, such as the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Scotland, as well as unique and beautiful parks like Calton Hill (home to a number of Scottish monuments), Arthur's Seat at Holyrood Park, Edinburgh Castle, and the Royal Botanic Garden. Take a stroll down the Royal Mile or through New Town and you'll find pubs, shops, restaurants, and accomodations that will suit your mood. Glascow is a very different kind of city. This one-time shipbuilding capitol has weathered the storms of recession and come out the other side with a fresh, new perspective. Glascow is known for its art, design, and architecture. It's a decidely more modern city than Edinburgh, and as such, it attracts a great deal of younger people. Make your way to Sauchiehall Street for all of your shopping, eating, and drinking needs; but don't miss the history that Glascow has to offer too. In the eastern part of the city you'll find the gothic Glasgow Cathedral, St. Mungo's Museum of Religious Life and Art, and Provand's Lordship (built in the 15th century, it's the oldest house in Glascow). Another interesting attraction is the Tenement House museum--offering a window into middle-class life around the turn of the 20th century. Traveling in Scotland Traveling in Scotland is typically less expensive than in England (and certainly less than London). The cities are costlier than the countryside, but rates will rise significantly in the Highlands and Islands due to their inaccessibility. Scotland has its own currency, but the pound stirling is accepted everywhere (just as the Scottish pound is generally accepted in England). Accessing funds in Scotland shouldn't be a problem as traveler's checks and credit cards are widely excepted, and ATMs are abundant. The summer is when most people visit Scotland. Summer days are very long and, on the whole, drier than winter days. Also there are a number of festivals and attractions in the summertime, such as the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe Festival in August and September (a word of warning: accomodations in the city and neighboring areas are booked often a year in advance of these festivals; if you want to go to Edinburgh during this time, you have to plan early). But winter has a lot to offer as well. Skiing is fast becoming a major sport in the Highlands, and other outdoor adventure sports, like ice climbing, are popular. The New Year (or "Hogamanay") ushers in a seriously fun celebration that can turn the biggest city or the smallest town into a chaotic mass of revelers. Weather in Scotland Weather in Scotland can be very grim--it's true--but the bright side is, it's beautiful in the rain, and even more beautiful in the sun. The dampness can feel everpresent and farther north, rain turns to snow in the winter. The worst time to visit Scotland, weatherwise, is definitely in the winter. The sun barely comes up (don't be fooled by the relative warmth provided by the Gulf Stream; Scotland is very near the Arctic circle), and the clouds linger and drip. The best times are between April and September--the weather is warmer and drier then, and most commercial operations are open...and in the north, in the summer, the sun barely goes down. Scotland Information Population: 5.1 million Government: Parliamentary Democracy Square Miles: 30,414 (78,772 sq km) Capitol: Edinburgh (pop 408,000) Official Languages: English, Gaelic People: Celts, Anglo-Saxons Religion: Presbyterian Church of Scotland, other Presbyterian churches, Anglicans, Catholics Major products/industries: Banking and finance, steel, transport equipment, oil and gas, whisky, tourism
As apartheid and all that it represents becomes a thing of the past in South Africa, much of the country is moving forward with rejuvenated ideas, interests, and fair politics. And tourists are flocking back to South Africa in droves. Many of the dangers of traveling to this country have gone by the wayside: political violence is down, and with certain notable exceptions, touring the country is safer and more pleasurable than it was for much of the second half to the twentieth century.
Traveling in South Africa
For the uninitiated in Africa, South Africa is a pretty good place to get your feet wet. As the government organizes in the post-apartheid environment, infrastructure improvements and ease of travel have taken great strides forward. The climate is generally mild and--with many national parks and eco-safaris available--South Africa is a fantastic place to view wildlife. However, there's a lot about this country that still smacks of the Dark Ages: poverty continues to exist in its rawest form, AIDS has overrun the population, and random violence remains a problem. As always, it's best to use common sense when it comes to traveling safely, but be sure to take an extra measure of precaution in crowded public places such as train and bus stations, shopping bazaars, major cities, etc. Keep your money out of sight and in a place where it's not easily accessible to pick-pockets, be wary of potentially dangerous situations, and go to South Africa with the understanding that it continues to be a society in flux.
Weather in South Africa
Summer can be quite hot, particularly in the lowveld (coastal plain). High-altitude areas are pleasantly warm over summer, but the mountains are prone to rain. The northeastern regions can be humid, but swimming on the east coast is a year-round activity. Springtime is the best time for wildflowers in the northern and western Cape provinces. Winters are mild everywhere except in the highest country, where there are frosts and occasional snowfalls.
Mid-December to late January is vacation time for South African city dwellers. Resorts and national parks are heavily booked and prices on the coast can more than double during these months. School holidays in April, July, and September can also add congestion to beaches and national parks.
Visas for South Africa
Entry permits are issued free on arrival to visitors on holiday from many Commonwealth and most Western European countries, as well as Japan and the United States. If you aren't entitled to an entry permit, you'll need to get a visa (also free) before you arrive.
Health Concerns in South Africa
Malaria is mainly confined to the eastern half of South Africa, especially on the lowveld. Bilharzia is also found mainly in the east but outbreaks do occur in other places, so you should always check with knowledgeable local people before drinking water or swimming in it. AIDS is a major problem throughout Africa, and South Africa is no exception, with upward of 20% of the total population infected. While it is common knowledge to much of the Western world that HIV can only be transmitted through sexual contact, shared intravenous needles, or blood transfusions, in South Africa, only recently have efforts gone underway to educate the people. It's always a good idea to be aware of such pandemics as you enter a country, for reasons of protecting yourself, as well as gaining a better understanding of the culture and environment.
Cash in South Africa
It's very possible to spend just US$10 per day, if you're willing to camp or stay in hostels. Arranging public transport can make this number considerably higher, and some of the more daring souls choose hitch-hiking, in favor of bussing, flying, or taking the train.
If you'd rather have the privacy of a solo hotel room, eat in restaurants, and tour the country by bus or train, expect to spend roughly US$40-60 per day.
Tipping is expected because of low wages. Roughly 10%-15% is the norm.
South Africa Information
Population: 43.1 million
Government: Republic and independent member of the British Commonwealth
Square Miles: 1,221,037 sq km
Capitols: Pretoria (administrative), Bloemfontein (judicial), and Cape Town (legislative)
Languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Pedi, English, Tswana, Sotho, Tsonga, Swati, Venda, Ndebele
People: 77% black, 10% white (60% of whites are of Afrikaner descent, most of the rest are of British descent), 8% mixed race, 2.5% of Indian or Asian descent
Religion: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and traditional religions
Major products/industries: Mining, finance, insurance, food processing