Big Five Tours & Expeditions is renowned for customized, luxury soft adventure travel to more than 45 destinations worldwide. Our mission is to turn dreams into reality. We offer customized luxury travel for individuals and small groups. Our journeys are tailor-made to satisfy the discriminating tastes of our guests to any of our exotic and exciting destinations.
On July 18, 1918, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born to a Xhosa family in the village of Mvezo in Umtata, which was part of then South Africa’s Cape Province. He was given the name of Rolihlahla, a Xhosa term that means troublemaker.
How could his family have known they were going to be raising a child to a man, who would become a superhero to millions, and cause a great deal of trouble for some along the way?
He came from a royal line. His patrilineal great-grandfather, Ngubengcuka, was king of the Thembu people in the Transkeian Territories of today’s Eastern Cape. Mandela’s father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa Mandela, was a local chief and councilor to the monarch. But he grew up with his two sisters in his mother’s kraal in the village of Qunu, where he tended herds as a cattle-boy. Both his parents were illiterate, but his mother was a devout Christian, and sent him to a local Methodist school when he was about seven. Baptized a Methodist, Mandela was given the English forename of “Nelson” by his teacher. When Mandela was about nine his father came to live at the homestead where he later died.
Mandela would later state that he had inherited “his father’s proud rebelliousness and stubborn sense of fairness.”
In 1933, Mandela began his secondary education at Clarkebury Methodist High School in Engcobo, a Western-style institution that was the largest school for black Africans in Thembuland, and then went on to Healdtown, a Methodist college.
His path would lead him in and out of his Xhosa community as his world expanded to encompass college, new friends with different perspectives and law school. Mandela began studying law at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he was the only black African student and he faced racism as he had throughout his life. But he was befriended by liberal and communist European Jewish, and Indian students. He was becoming increasingly political.
From these beginnings, Mandela went on to change South Africa and the world. He was arrested and sent to prison for his beliefs, he was beaten, and he failed as many times as he succeeded. But his indominable spirit and that stubborn sense of fairness would win in the end.
We honor the 100th birthday of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who became the first black president of South Africa (1994-99), saw the end of institutionalized Apartheid in the early 1990s, and would continue to be the best kind of troublemaker, working for peace throughout the remainder of his life.
In the U.S., we celebrate Independence Day on July 4th, while in Canada, our neighbors celebrate Canada Day on July 1st. We can both lay claim to some pretty goofy traditions.
In Oatman, Arizona, on July 4th they like to challenge the premise that it is “so hot outside you could fry an egg.” We don’t know eggactly when the tradition started but we can be pretty sure it has something to do with the seasonal heat. Oatman opted to make this challenge an annual solar-frying contest. So you can fry an egg during the day and catch the fireworks at night.
As a way of celebrating Canadian hardiness in the face of extreme cold, Canadians place their next day’s underwear in the freezer June 30. If anyone forgets and gets caught, they are given the “ice wedgie.”
Lobster racing takes place in, where else, Bar Harbor, Maine. Each year, one of New England’s preferred foods is set loose to race against time and other lobsters. This is even a betting sport, with people cheering on their favorites. The lobsters don’t quite get the idea of the game, so some simply wander off while others sit at the starting line.
Ocean Beach, California, takes a much lighter tone to celebrate. The toss marshmallows at each other. Everyone gets involved and it means sticky fun for all. The s’mores probably come later.
Each Canada Day, all Canadian children between the ages of 6 and 12 are separated into French-speaking and English-speaking groups. After attaching pillows to their ears, they then take part in a round-robin fistfight tournament, with the winner receiving the “Maple Crown.”
Tug of War is a traditional harmless summer game. But in Bolinas and Stinson Beach, California, well, they seem to take it to extremes. Every Fourth of July, these two towns challenge each other to a Tug of War across the Bolinas Channel that separates the towns. They have both men’s and women’s competitions. But here’s the catch. Bolinas apparently has a 200-pound weight minimum for participants, while Stinson Beach has in past years brought in teammates that include 500-pound Samoans, the UC Berkeley rowing team, the San Francisco Golden Gate rugby team and even a a Jeep.
Finally, and, most likely, not everyone’s cup of tea, the people of Hailey, Idaho, play an unusual annual game to celebrate independence. The parade route is marked out in a series of 10,000 squares, and participants buy the squares to play. The route of the Fourth of July parade follows this path and the game is to see in what squares the horses leave “road apples” behind. If a dropping lands in a paid-for square, the name of the owner of that square goes into a drum for a chance to win prizes.
We celebrate with gusto and imagination. Whatever you do this holiday, have fun but be safe.
Of all of Japan’s 6,852 islands stretched along the Pacific coast of East Asia, one of the most intriguing must surely be Naoshima Island in the Seto Island Sea. More casually known as Art Island, it was originally the settlement of Honmura, a coastal castle town during the century of warring states, 1467 to 1568.
Today, Naoshima is famous for its contemporary art museums as well as outdoor contemporary art installations throughout the 5.5-square-mile island. Art Island is a superb surprise that was begun by Japanese billionaire Soichiro Fukutake and his Benesse Corporation. The island has become an important venue for large works by some of today’s most prominent contemporary artists such as James Turrel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lee Ufan, Walter de Maria, Yves Klein, Cy Twombly, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Yasumasa Morimura, Andy Warhol and Richard Long.
Fukutake began commissioning large pieces specifically for this island in the 1980s. The architecture had to be equally spectacular. The islands buildings were designed by noted Japanese architect Tadao Ando, to match the size and scale of the artwork. Indeed, the art and architecture seem inseparable now.
There are half a dozen art museums as well as installations and sculptures spread across both on Naoshima and on neighboring islands. Benesse’s museums include Chichu Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum and all the buildings of the Benesse House. Naoshima’s municipal buildings and schools were designed by the modern architect Ishii Kazuhiro. There are also some beautiful nature walks on the island is well.
Art Island from Yayoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin” on the end of a dock on Naoshima Island to the remarkable Teshima Art Museum by Ryue Nishizawa and Rei Naito on neighboring Teshima Island, which is both a work of art itself and a museum, offer unique perspectives on the state of contemporary art in Japan.
Art Island is a must-see for art lovers and nature lovers, and can be incorporated into your Japan adventure.
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Unlike the summer TV series from a couple of years ago, these domes will not entrap you. They will surround you with comfort, warmth and design in the rugged and incredibly beautiful landscapes of the Peruvian Andes.
Much like the yurts of Mongolia, the domes are eminently practical. At the same time, roomy and bright, these domes have space enough for king or twin beds, wood burning stove and a private bathroom with toilet and hydromassage shower. Dinner and drinks are served in either the dining dome or lobby/bar dome. Each camp creates a fine gourmet dining experience in accord to each camp’s altitude.
The sustainable Ecocamps plant organic gardens using solar energy and natural water sources. Each of the five camps is powered by solar energy and water turbine systems. The water is filtered and treated with UV light, so it is safe to drink the tap water, thus reducing the use of plastic bottles. Vegetables are produced with the help of the waste of fruits and vegetables from the kitchen and other organic fertilizers. The camp kitchens and bathrooms use organic non-detergent products. Indeed, the camps are fully self-contained, which limits pollution and reduces wear on the sites.
The best part of these camps is that all are on the route to Machu Picchu!
That’s right, they are strategically placed along the Salkantay Trail, within the great Vilcabamba Mountain Range. Less known or used than the Inca Trail, the Salcantay’s proximity to Machu Picchu makes trekking around it a beautiful alternative. And with fewer, and in places, no fellow trekkers to be seen. Salkantay was one of the ancient trade routes for coca and potatoes, and passes some recently discovered Incan storage facilities.
Peru Ecocamp offers the first private, sustainable luxury glamping experience that brings you in close contact with Andean culture as well as taking you hiking across pristine mountainsides, where condors still fly, passing glacial lakes such as Humantay, small villages and ancient Inca citadels. Every Ecocamp has eight 28 sq. m/300 sq. ft of space to snuggle up in after a good day’s walk.
And you can hardly ask for more spectacular landscapes.
Big Five has a new adventure around this remarkable hiking and glamping experience, a 12-day Peru Adventure Trek.
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On May 28, 2018, people across the country will celebrate Memorial Day to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Many will celebrate with parties, parades and picnics while others gather at cemeteries to lay flowers and flags, and pay their respects.
Did you know that every year on this day, there is an official moment of remembrance at 3:00 p.m. local time?
The holiday dates to the American Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865. A few years later, on the first Decoration Day, as it originally came to be known, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
This is one holiday that did not arise all at once out of some specific event. It grew slowly, organically in the years following the Civil War. By the late 1860s, towns and cities across the country began to hold tributes in the spring for the fallen soldiers. It’s also associated with the unofficial beginning of summer.
In 1966, the federal government proclaimed Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day because it first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866, and because its annual event was for the entire community. Businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.
We continue the tradition of honoring those who gave the last full measure of devotion.
We hope you enjoy your holiday weekend, and at 3:00 pm on Monday, you will take a moment to reflect.
Hello from Minneapolis, where I am participating in a speaker series on emerging destinations with one our amazing agency partners.
You might notice that our blog is coming out a day early this week. That is because today my hero – my father and our company founder Mahen Sanghrajka – turns 70 today!
Every day when I walk into our office, I look at the plaque next to the front door, and I see the names of my grandparents, who I was never fortunate enough to meet. You see, Mahen lost both of his parents before he was 20 years old.
Last week while in Colombia on an educational, we were forced to charter a plane from the remote Huila airport to get back to Bogota. Watching the plane land, I became unexpectedly emotional as I thought about my dad’s birthday because memories of my childhood surfaced.
One of my earliest memories is walking into a McDonalds in New York City as a child with my father. I wanted a full meal but he only had enough money for one small order of French fries. He bought it and watched me eat it while he ate nothing. I wanted ice cream and asked for toys that my friends had, but we could not afford those at the time.
I remember stories Mahen told me about growing up in Kenya, and of his deep fascination at an early age for the wildlife. His lifelong commitment to conservation began during the 1960s when he collaborated with zoologists in a project tracking, tagging and studying elephant and rhino populations of Kenya and Uganda. He also participated in research projects studying lowland and mountain gorillas in the rainforests of Rwanda and Zaire. From these beginnings arose a lifetime of commitment to the animals, people and natural habitats of the world. He founded and serves as the chairman of the Spirit of Big Five Foundation, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to supporting to conservation, poverty alleviation, education and healthcare.
Mahen told me once about the people who expected him to fail when we moved from Kenya to the US. But they never deterred him for an instant. He and my mother started our family as they built this company from nothing. And, they managed to save every possible penny to give me a higher education. In fact, I became the first in our immediate family to attend university. I look back and wonder how some weeks we were even able to afford the groceries my mother cooked for dinner.
I watched as Mahen and my mother, the bedrock of our family, never gave up, and worked even harder in the face of certain adversity — proof that my work ethic was inherited. And here we are in our 45th year. Big Five is what it is today because of all our hard work, started by the solid foundation my father and mother created. I have enormous respect for my parents.
Just a few weeks ago, an email from one of our closest consortium partners came out showcasing a video with me in it. My father wrote me an email, and, in typical fashion, no ordinary email.
He wrote in part, “Ashish, I watched the video with you in it and I began to cry (clearly a genetic trait) because I was so proud of what you have accomplished. You gave this company a name in the industry. Love Dad.” I was sitting in a hotel room in Boise, Idaho when I read this. You can guess what I did next… like father, like son.
Today we celebrate 70 amazing years for our founder, CEO, my father and my hero. In his honor, I ask you for only one thing. The next time you see Mahen either in town, at a conference, or if you email him at email@example.com, please tell him I said thank you.
Ashish just wandered back from the Tatacoa Desert last Friday.
Where is that?
That, my friends, is a little known (even by most Colombians) desert that occupies just 150 square miles sandwiched between Colombia’s mountain ranges, the Central and the Oriental Cordilleras. This is a warren of red – rock formations, dry canyons, and cacti – candelabra and prickly pear. The land is dotted with prehistoric fossils of turtles, armadillos and giant sloths. The soft light of morning brings the voices of canaries, parrots and parakeets as falcons and buzzards wander the sky.
Just five years ago, the region was inaccessible. It was under the control of the F.A.R.C. and no one traveled there. About a year ago, Ashish was there with an educational group meeting with minsters about sustainable tourism. Those same ministers were working on a final offer for a peace treaty with F.A.R.C, a controversial moment. The news of the treaty signing broke that night, and Ashish and the group of travel advisors became a part of history.
While opinions on the treaty may differ depending on who you speak to in Colombia, the indisputable fact is that it is allowing us to expand our exploration of this once sleeping giant.
“I love Colombia, and it feels like home. There is still so much to discover here,” said Ashish. “We have opened so many doors since the peace treaty was signed, and yet only about a quarter of the country has been open to travelers. That is why we are continuing to open doors such as exploring places like Tatacoa. It is a stunning setting that’s been hidden away all these years.”
Tatacoa Desert is not a true desert, but rather a dry tropical forest that millennia ago was a lush forest full of vegetation and animals. Today, there is little water runoff, but the flora and fauna have adapted to the low humidity and high temperatures. Wildlife includes turtles, snakes, spiders, scorpions as well as eagles, alligators and wildcats. The cacti grow to between 13 and 16 feet high.
One of the delightful surprises here is La Tatacoa Observatory, one of the most important observatories on the continent. The sky here is strikingly clear and free from air or light pollution. It seems to explode with stars and meteor showers at night. This desert is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. Due to its location near the equator, the show offers the unusual opportunity to view both northern and southern skies at the same time.
A resident professor of astronomy presents relaxed stargazing show, using several telescopes aimed at the stars and moon and a laser beam flashlight as travelers lay back and relax on a large green carpet rolled out over the desert floor taking in the night sky.
This little traveled Tatacoa Desert can be incorporated into an amazing Colombia journey.
Look for new adventures to lesser known Colombia coming as soon as we can get Ashish to settle down.
What we love about our travelers is that they do not come to us for an Eiffel Tower tour or ask us to book a Caribbean cruise. They choose us to take them far off the beaten path. And when they return, they ask us, “Okay, what’s next?”
We relish that challenge to present you with what’s next on the untraveled road. And our newest President’s Pick falls nicely into this category.
We are reimagining Australia with Australia Down Under Canvas. This 15-day journey explores the luxury tented camp experience in out-of-the-way locations, beginning outside Brisbane in northeastern Australia. Sanctuary by Sirromet is a new high-style tented camp on the grounds of Sirromet Winery. Each luxury tented pavilion has a private balcony that seems to float above the landscape as you gaze across the tree canopy over the lake. Activities include a private guided bike tour of Brisbane.
Then, it‘s up north to Darwin on the Top End and west to Kakadu National Park and Bamurru Plains, a safari lodge with exclusive access to floodplains and savanna woodland on the Mary River, edging the remote national park. A cornucopia of wildlife flourishes here, from wallabies and large varieties of birds around the lodge to crocodiles in the shallow floodplains.
On to Perth in Western Australia and then to the Margaret River region, home to outstanding wineries, breweries and galleries plus lime stone caves, white sand beaches and spectacular scenery. The safari-style bungalows of Olio Bello Margaret River are nestled around the lake on an award-winning olive farm. An old dairy farm until an American couple transformed it into an organic olive farm and sustainable retreat, planting thousands of native trees, shrubs and an endless organic orchard.
On the central coast, high on a ridge, adjacent to traditional Aboriginal rock carvings in the beautiful Bouddi National Park is Pretty Beach House, a luxurious private guest house with just four spacious one-bedroom pavilions. The Didgeridoo Smoking Ceremony, private cooking classes, mountain biking and a guided Indigenous cultural experience hosted by traditional Aboriginal Elder are a sampling of opportunities among spectacular landscapes, from beaches and cliffs to rainforest and heathland.
Discover the President’s Pick Australia Down Under Canvasthat takes you beyond what most people expect of Australia and offer a taste of many regions of this unique and colorful continent.
If you used Google Earth like we did, you will have discovered that the GPS coordinates mentioned will take you to the area of Tanzania’s Grumeti River where the great wildebeest migration is heading.
It’s the green season and animals have started the long walk across the Serengeti in search of greener grasses.
The star of this spectacular annual event is the million or so wildebeest. They can make you smile, these irregular animals that tend to look like they were put together by a committee. They are one of the odder-looking members of the antelope family; not at all like their sleek and slender cousins.
But the wildebeest is surprisingly fast and agile. Between four and five feet tall, weighing as much as 600 pounds, wildebeest are powerful animals. There are two species – blue and black. The differences are found in the curve of the horn and the color of their fur. They have powerful hooves that are designed to allow them to travel over rugged terrain, and prevent slipping or sliding in the mud. The curved horns help protect them from predators that are especially plentiful during migration. The back end of the body closely resembles that of an ox.
As they begin the 500- to 1,000-mile journey, the herd cannot slow down for those unable to keep up such as the old, weak or very young.
We have a penchant at Big Five for trying to figure out odd things. We were curious about how many steps it might take a healthy adult wildebeest to walk the same distance as it would for a safari vehicle to drive. I know that sounds like one of the uncertain challenges by the guys from Top Gear. But those of you who know Ashish know he is a car geek who uses car metaphors to explain the world.
While we are not mathematicians, Ashish is pretty good with a calculator. All things being equal, we figure that the vehicle traveling an average of 40 kilometers an hour will take about five hours to drive from the Central Serengeti to Northern Serengeti. The poor wildebeest will have to take some 1,148,000 hoof beats to cover that same distance.
The bark of India’s ghost tree changes with the season from pale pink to green, and even at times light blue. But it’s the summer skin of white that gives it that other-worldly feel. It stands out against its surrounding as the slim branches curl and twist and spread, leafless poking up to the sky.
A member of the gum family, the ghost tree, also called mahua, has soft wood that appeals to tigers. They sharpen their claws or mark the bark as part of their territorial messaging. The tree begins life pushing its way through a rocky landscape and is normally found with stones at its base. This deciduous tree with horizontally-scattering branches grows as tall as 49 feet on hillsides and higher ground. This invites the cautious leopard to drag its kill to the top to better keep a wary eye out for tigers. And the ghost tree calls to sloth bears, too, for they are fond of its flowers, which, once digested, turn into alcohol. You may find the bears sleeping near a waterhole after having their fill of the mahua’s flowers.
Man has also found the ghost tree useful as it releases a natural karaya gum that is used as a laxative, and as a thickener in cosmetics and medications. In manufacturing, it is added as a binder, emulsifier and stabilizer in preparing beverages and foods.
The sometimes spooky-looking trees live in Tadoba National Park, also known as Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, one of India’s 47 project tiger reserves. Estimates suggest only about 3,900 tigers are left in the wild on the entire planet. Of all the big cats, tigers are the most endangered. This park is said to have up to 72 tigers spread over 241 square miles, which means you have a good chance at spotting these magnificent creatures.
Although the major attraction here is, of course, its tigers, the park is home to large herds of chital as well as sambhar, barking deer, chousingha, gaur, Nilgai, and whistling wild dog. At night, you may glimpse one of the small civets. For bird watchers, they can search for some 195 species of birds such as the honey buzzard, the crested serpent eagle, the shy jungle fowl and paradise flycatcher. Reptiles include the endangered Indian python, terrapins, star tortoise and cobra. During the monsoon season, spiders abound including giant wood spider, signature spider and red wood spiders.
Landscapes dotted with ghost trees and the stunning wildlife make for a rewarding safari adventure such as on the 15-day Naturally Indiajourney, which focuses on India’s wildlife in Tadoba as well as two other parks.