Trying tailor-made

Trying tailor-made

Trying tailor-made

Tailor-made holidays are all about getting to do what you want, when you want, for as long as you want, and where you want. Fancy giving it a try?

…a personal holiday planning service…

It’s a personal holiday planning service. A tailor-made travel company such as Tribes will talk to you about what experiences you’re hoping for from your time away, and work with you to get as close as possible to your dream.

This flexibility means that you could, for example, choose to have a few days in a luxury lodge on the beach, but follow that with some real adventure trekking in the rainforest.  Or you might want to join a group trip for the first week of your holiday then have another week doing your own thing.

A tailor-made holiday also allows you to choose the specific accommodation and methods of transport that you fancy (subject to availability of course) and pick the most appropriate activities and experiences for your interests.

In comparison with a group holiday you will probably be paying extra, as you don’t get the economies of scale when it comes to sharing costs of transport, guides and so on.  However, you can still very much expect value for money.

Tailor-made doesn’t have to be all about taking a luxury trip. Sometimes set (or even flexible) itineraries, however great, just don’t fit what you need, whether that’s in terms of activities or even just timing. Recently, for example, we had a client who needed two mini-breaks tailored to sit either side of a conference her husband was attending in Costa Rica – she struggled for weeks to find a company to create these for her until she came to Tribes.

You get to talk to one of our friendly consultants.

Tailor-made with Tribes

When you talk tailor-made to us we start by getting a picture of what you want, whether that’s a set of parameters to work with or a highly-detailed wishlist, along with an indication of your holiday budget.

You’ll be dealing throughout with one of our friendly consultants, someone who loves, specialises in and really knows the region you want to travel to, and who can suggest improvements/amendments that might make your dream trip even better. They will know all about those added extras, such as bespoke experiences or excursions off the beaten track, that make a good holiday into a trip of a lifetime, and, once they understand how you tick and the specific requirements you and your fellow travellers have, can suggest things that you may never have thought of but that add immeasurably to the whole experience. And they don’t work on commission, so can give you truly impartial advice.

To help us get a clear picture of what would work best for you, in addition to bearing in mind your approximate budget, we’d need to know things like:

 

  • How many of you will be travelling – and will there be any children or travellers with specific needs (e.g. disabled travellers) in the party?
  • How long would you like your holiday to be and when (or approximately when) would you like to travel?
  • Is there are particular country orregion that you want to go to?
  • What you hope for from this holiday – is it for deep relaxation, an action-packed adventure, or perhaps you want to immerse yourself in culture?
  • If there is something specific you want to do – perhaps you’ve always dreamed of horse riding in Patagonia, hiking along the Inca trail or mastering the art of a particular cuisine?
  • Whether you’ve set your heart (and budget) on luxury hotels and spas throughout or have a yen for rustic lodges or perhaps wild camping in the African bush, and whether you want beach, mountain, desert, rainforest, city – or a bit of everything!

Then we start to plan your trip – always remembering that it is your trip.

You’re never presented with a ‘take it or leave it’ itinerary (unless there is a lack of availability), we work closely with you to truly create a bespoke itinerary that gets as close as possible to what you’ve set your heart on. And, once your trip is booked, we are still there for you, making sure you have everything you need both in the lead-up to and on your holiday.

 

© Shutterstock – Joseph Mortimer

A client who travelled tailor-made to India with us recently commented, “Paul put together a great holiday for us – he listened to what we wanted and made the itinerary accordingly”, while a client for whom we tailor-made a holiday in Ecuador said “It was planned to be a memorable and unique holiday and that’s how it turned out so we were delighted.”

Going tailor-made – what you need to know

Finding a really good travel company and consultant that you trust is key.  You need someone who is going to listen to you carefully so that they understand clearly what you are wanting from your holiday.

A consultant that has a good range of destination knowledge is also important, as they are able to compare different places for you, and so get you closer to the experience you are looking for.  Hopefully they have visited many of the places which are on your wishlist, and maybe also know quite a few of the lodges and hotels you could consider.

Obviously, for a really special and luxury holiday, you don’t want to worry about your services. You want to know that everything will run like clockwork, that the services are high quality, and that you also have good backup in case of unforeseen problems.  So, choosing a reputable company is critical. Look for membership of trade organisations such as AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators) who have quality standards for their members.  And testimonials can give you a good idea of a company’s reputation, as long as there are plenty of them, so it’s obvious they’ve not been made up!

Here is a checklist of things to look for in a travel company:

  1. Has the company been going for some time?
  2. Are they members of AITO or other industry associations which promote quality?
  3. Do they have all the required licences? Are they bonded with ATOL (5802) and ABTOT so able to provide 100% financial protection?
  4. Do they have any regard to social and environmental responsibility?
  5. Are there testimonials from previous clients you can read?  Or perhaps even an actual client they can put you in touch with? Or maybe verified client satisfaction ratings?
  6. Do they have consultants who really know their destinations well?
  7. Do the consultants work on commission?  On the whole, you might expect a more honest service from those not on commission.
  8. Is the company independent and can therefore sell any services and properties they wish, or are they tied to certain hotel chains etc?   Don’t limit your choices unwittingly.
  9. Does the company put enough store on your health and safety?
  10. Do they have adequate back up services in case you have a problem?

Any good company should be able to answer all of these questions easily and positively.

So, for a very special holiday, don’t risk your money and your precious time. Get help from a good tailor-made holiday company. There are lots out there – and one right here!

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Tribes’ Amanda Marks goes chimp trekking in Tanzania

“What?! They’re right up there?” I said.

A mountain of impenetrable green forest loomed in front of us. There was no doubting the beauty of this national park – the remote Mahale Mountains rise up from the deep waters of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania – but the thought of trekking along the ridge that lay ahead of us to get almost to the summit of one of the peaks … well, it was daunting to say the least. I’m not a big fan of ‘uphill’.

I should have known, of course. Six of us had come to see wild chimpanzees and at this time of year (June) they still tend to frequent the higher reaches of the mountain range since that is where they can find food until the trees and shrubs lower down start to flower and fruit from about July to October. And the chances of us actually finding the group?

“The tracker who left earlier this morning has spotted them, so we know where they are.”

Wonderful!

“But they’re on the move and if they head into the gully over that ridge, we’ll lose them. It’s impossible to get down there.”

Not good.

At first, the forest was quite kind to us. Yes, our guides had to hack a few vines and help us to cross a couple of streams and we had to watch out for stinging nettles, roots and other plants with nefarious intentions, but it’s a beautiful place to be, the birds were singing and the incline was not too strenuous. Soon, though, we were not hacking vines but using them as ropes to haul ourselves uphill, and roots were no longer seen as trip hazards but steps to be grateful for as we tried to conquer precipitous inclines. The guides were incredible with us. Helping us find footholds, carrying bags that had become too heavy, pulling us up particularly difficult bits, and encouraging us with word from the trackers that the chimps were still within our reach.

“A mother chimp, Kupi, was sitting there on the rock grooming her boisterous baby in the sun….”

Three and a half hours later and we were nearly there. Suddenly, the air rang out with the familiar calls of chimpanzees. The sounds echoed around us like a welcoming fanfare heralding our arrival. We stood for a moment, thrilled by the obvious proximity, and we hardly noticed the last push to the top. And then, there they were!

We’d come out at a small clearing with a huge boulder in the middle. A mother chimp, Kupi, was sitting there on the rock grooming her boisterous baby in the sun. My heart was beating so fast I could hear it. We all put on the masks we’d been given so as not to infect the chimps, and then we simply sat with them, and watched, and laughed, and took photos. We were within 10-15 metres of them and, after an initial glance, they totally ignored our presence and carried on with life.

The baby’s father, Bonobo, came and sat with his family (which is apparently quite rarely seen); two adult males, Teddy and Orion, sat in the shade of the trees by the rock grooming each other; another chimp sauntered across the rock and headed off into the forest further up. Our guide asked me if I wanted to follow, and so, leaving the others, I followed further into the trees. It turned out that the big male we followed was Primus, the alpha male. He sat up a tree, just watching. It’s hard to explain why, but you could see in his face that this was a chimp with stature. He soon decided to move on and to my astonishment, walked right past me. I meant nothing to him but being in his presence meant everything to me at that moment.

 

 

We tried to follow Primus but he was too fast, and instead we came across a male called Darwin.

This gentle chimp had the kind face of a well-loved grandfather, with grey hairs and slightly watery eyes, and he just lay on his back on the forest floor with his head propped up on his arm and his feet on a nearby branch. He was the picture of Sunday morning relaxation.

The guide and I sat quietly with him for about ten minutes. He looked over at us occasionally. I just stared, drinking him in. It was one of those moments never to be forgotten.

“We were lucky this day as the chimps had come down the slopes.”

Two days later, I was sitting in another piece of forest further north, but still on the edge of Lake Tanganyika. This was Gombe National Park. You may know the name through the work of Dr Jane Goodall who was the primatologist who first habituated the chimpanzees in this area, back in the 1960s. She is in her eighties now, but still firmly involved and her foundation is still going and still a key force in the park.

Though the terrain at Gombe is very similar to that at Mahale, we were lucky this day as the chimps had come down the slopes. This made the experience here very different, and far more similar to the trek you would expect (even in Mahale) if you visited from about July to October. It took us only 20 minutes walking to find our first groups of chimps in the Kasakela community. The forest at this level is not so dense and there are more pathways that make the going much easier, though of course the chimps aren’t necessarily going to follow the paths – and they didn’t!

“You must keep to a distance of 10m and wear a face mask. You cannot visit them if you are ill – even with a cold – as you could wipe them out.”

We found a few different groups of chimps as we walked, as these chimps were not in such a sedentary mood as the Mahale chimps had been. We walked and stopped, walked and stopped for a couple of hours. We saw Gremlin and her high-spirited twins, we met Gaia and her family, we watched Google and Grendo having a chat on a log, we were there as Golden suckled her baby, as they all ate, squabbled, played and groomed each other.  I could have stayed all day.

All in all we had one hour with each group. I am more than thankful for the experience, for the fact that they still exist and that they accept our presence, that the forest is still here for them, that I was able to have the opportunity to come here, that they are being protected thanks to tourism. However, my heart was also full of concerns after leaving them: could the forest – their home – be protected from logging (either commercial or simply from nearby villagers needing land or wood); could the chimps be protected from poaching (wild meat poachers are known to still cross from DRC); will the tourists like us be the unwitting cause of the destruction of these incredible creatures through the transmission of disease; can these wild chimp populations be assured of a future?

Sadly, I don’t think anyone can offer a confidently positive answer to any of these questions. All we can do is do our best to ensure that forest creatures such as these magnificent chimpanzees are given all the protection we can afford them. They deserve it. This is their planet too.

So, is it worth the expense and the travel and the exertion to see these extraordinary creatures that are so like us?

Yes, yes, and yes again. Do not hesitate. Just come.

Can you help protect chimpanzees?

VISIT THEM IN THE WILD
Although tourism is a double-edged sword because it can bring disease if not carefully managed, in the view of most conservationists, it remains the strongest weapon we have in the protection of the species and their habitat. There are about 700 chimps in Mahale, but only around 100 in Gombe. The numbers in both communities are in decline. Up to 30 visitors per day can visit the chimps, with a maximum of 6 people per group for only 1 hour. You must keep to a distance of 10m and wear a face mask. You cannot visit them if you are ill – even with a cold – as you could wipe them out.

Please come and visit these remarkable creatures. You’ll be helping them to survive as tourism pays for their protection.

Tribes offers sample itineraries on the websites – Ruaha, Katavi, Mahale (11 days)Chimps, Serengeti and Spice (11 days) but we can tailor-make any itinerary you want.

DONATE FUNDS TO THEIR PROTECTION

If you are not able to visit, but still want to help, please consider donating to a charity such as the Jane Goodall Institute. www.janegoodall.org.uk
Their work is critical to the well-being of the chimps at Gombe National Park.

All images © Amanda Marks

Kaziranga and the Big Eight

Kaziranga and the Big Eight

Kaziranga and the Big Eight

AMANDA MARKS

“We have our own Big Five here: the one-horned rhino, elephant, swamp deer, wild buffalo and tiger. I think we should have the Big Eight though, and include the Hoolock gibbon, Malayan giant squirrel and giant hornbill.”

“A tiger just swam across the lake and went into the elephant grass over there”

Our guide, Hrishi, was obviously proud of his park, but I had come with few expectations of what we might see here; perhaps one or two rhinos if we were lucky and maybe a wild elephant – I would be happy with that. I assumed a tiger sighting wouldn’t even be worth hoping for since, although the park has one of the highest densities of tigers, they’re not easy to see here; you’re far better off in central Indian parks such as Ranthambore, Kanha or Tadoba for tigers.

We headed off with a guide and driver in our Gypsy. These are the jeep of choice for Indian wildlife parks since they’re small and light which makes them suitable for the narrow tracks, though if you’re used to African game vehicles you might be slightly shocked by the lack of suspension and space.

We didn’t care though. Within three minutes of driving through the central gate we saw our first one-horned Indian rhino … with a baby! We stopped and Hrishi pointed out that there were also 3 other rhinos in the distance, plus an elephant and three hog deer (one of the three species of deer in the park – swamp, hog and barking). 

“Within three minutes of driving through the central gate we saw our first one-horned Indian rhino … with a baby! ”

AMANDA MARKS

 

As we carried on along the earthen track that wound through a pretty area of broadleaf woodland, we stopped again. A handsome jungle fowl assiduously kept his back to us but there was no missing the striking plumage of this ancestor of our domestic chickens.  Less obvious was the little owl hiding deeper within the foliage but, as it turned out, our guide was a good spotter and didn’t miss much.

The park was a mix of grasslands, swamps and lakes, and wooded areas. It was mostly very flat but, on the western edge, the Burrapahar Hills offered a hazy backdrop in muted tones of grey. As we reached a lookout tower near a large lake, there was definitely some excitement in the air. A group of six people were training their binoculars on a stand of tall grasses at the edge of the water.

“A tiger just swam across the lake and went into the elephant grass over there,” said Hrishi. We had just missed seeing it. A matter of moments earlier and … But no, it wasn’t to be.

 

“We left Kaziranga very happy to have seen seven of his Big Eight!”

We might not have seen a big cat, but we were really lucky with our sightings of wild elephants. Sometimes they hid shyly in the tall grasses, but one family came to splash in a muddy lake and it was joyous to watch them. Wild elephant numbers in India are dropping at a staggering rate and it’s thought there are now only around 27,000, with 1900 in Kaziranga.

The following morning we went to the far west gate and the sound of gibbons echoed round the forest. I hadn’t realised just how rare Hoolock gibbons are, and this is the only ape to be found in India. They weren’t easy to photograph, but you could definitely see them and hearing them was no problem at all. It felt like a privilege to stand beneath them as they peered imperiously down at us.

But it was the rhino sightings that surprised us the most. In two days in the park, taking morning and afternoon game drives from our lodge on the edge of the park (Diphlu River Lodge), we counted 65 of these armour-plated mammals!  Kaziranga has 2400 Asian one-horned rhinos, which is about 70% of the world’s population, and that number is slowly growing. It is the best place to see them, and what an accolade for the protection teams working here; they are doing an incredible job.

Hrishi was disappointed that we’d missed the tiger, but that definitely didn’t spoil our visit as we’d not really coming expecting to see one. In fact, we left Kaziranga very happy to have seen seven of his Big Eight!

Remote North East India trip

If you would like to explore the forests and unique living root of bridges of Meghalaya followed by safaris in Kaziranga National Park, home to two thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos, click here to view this unique trip.

See Amanda’s blog about the Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya, also in northeast India. 

Living Root Bridges

Living Root Bridges

Living Root Bridges

 

AMANDA MARKS

It’s rare that you come across anything on this earth that hasn’t also been thought of by someone else in a totally different region. However, the living root bridges of Meghalaya are a uniquely special entity found nowhere else. As a tree-lover, I just had to go and see this for myself. It’s a long way to go to see a bridge though — would it be worth it?

“How long does it take to grow a bridge? About 15 to 20 years!”

If you’re anything like me you’ve probably never heard of Meghalaya. Last year was the first time I became aware of it, and I’ve worked in international tourism for over 30 years. This small state in north east India was born in 1972, one of the so-called Seven Sisters States along with nearby Nagaland, Arunchal Pradesh, Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur. Sikkim has since been given separate statehood too. All these north-eastern states were previously part of Assam.

Meghalaya means ‘the abode of clouds’. Sitting just to the north of Bangladesh, it is largely covered by the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills and is known for its green, forested landscapes. The Khasi are the main tribe here, though there are also smaller numbers of Garo and Jaintia tribes. It isn’t a densely-populated region (just under 3 million people), and the inhabitants mainly live off the land, be that small-scale farming or quarrying for limestone and granite in their many hills.

The state experiences unusually high levels of rainfall, with one town, Cherrapunjee, taking the prize for being the rainiest place in the world! The average rainfall here over almost the last fifty years is 12 metres per year. You can imagine the fierceness of the rivers in the rainy season (April to October – with June to July and sometimes August taking the brunt of the downpour), and it is this natural phenomenon that led to the creation of the bridges that drew me here.

 

A few hundred years ago, some bright spark decided to harness nature — Indian rubber trees (ficus elastica), to be precise — to help the community cross the swollen rivers. A length of aerial root was taken from one of these long-lived, fast-growing trees and trained across the river with the aid of bamboo or betel tree scaffolding. Over time, more and more roots were encouraged from bank to bank and interwoven to create strength and stability. This was no quick task. A bit like planting trees, this was a work-in-progress that future generations would reap the rewards of. How long does it take to grow a bridge? About 15 to 20 years!

 

You might think that with modern methods of construction such a natural and traditional solution to a problem would no longer be used or valued; it is sadly so often the case. However, you’d be wrong in this instance. In this harsh terrain, a bridge built of modern materials lasts perhaps 30 years with luck. The rivers smash into concrete and steel with unforgiving force. They hammer unrelentingly on the bullish pride of twentieth century workmanship and, before long, the waters begin to undermine and erode. Living root bridges, on the other hand, have the capacity to bend and give. Inflexibility in the face of nature’s power is not for them; they go with the flow and accept the attentions of the rivers with a strength married with tolerance. They endure, and they grow stronger with age. It is believed that root bridges can live for 500 years.

Meghalaya has 80 living root bridges in its hilly forests, 11 of these in the Cherrapunjee area which is where I came. The longest is about 50 metres. The oldest is thought to be about 250 years old, and the most unusual is the ‘double decker’ at Nongriat (presumably built because the villagers were still getting their feet wet on the lower level in the rainiest months!).

 

Being part of the forest, this botanical architecture blends in seamlessly with the surroundings. The bridges have no sharp edges, and no incongruous colours nor expanses of flatness to flag their presence. They look like something that Tolkien would have dreamed up; I didn’t see any hobbits crossing them but I wouldn’t have been too surprised if I had. I was almost on top of my first bridge before I saw it — its organic gnarliness seemed to appear magically in front of me. Tentatively setting foot on it, I half-wondered if the knobbly walkway of roots might recognise the footsteps of a stranger and twist its shape to block my entry: ‘You shall not pass!’ 

I stayed with my bridge for at least an hour. Only one farmer crossed in that time, and there were no other visitors. The forest breathed peacefully, butterflies and birds busied themselves around me, and I just looked. I had travelled many miles and for many hours to get here … to see a bridge! Am I crazy? Perhaps, but by the time I left I felt like I was leaving an old friend, and I’m sure you’ll agree that old friends are worth the effort. 

INTERESTED IN SEEING THIS FOR YOURSELF?

Currently, the two easiest areas to see such living root bridges in Meghalaya are Mawlynnong and Cherrapunjee. Some bridges get more visitors than others – there were perhaps 30 people at the bridge near Mawlynnong when I was there. At Cherrapunjee I was lucky to get so long without other visitors when visiting the bridge described above.

While Indian visitors come to the hills of Meghalaya throughout the year, including in the monsoon season, most international travellers tend to visit in the dry months from about October to March when there is often little or no water in the rivers.

You need to be fit enough to deal with a reasonable amount of walking up and down steep steps. There is one fairly accessible bridge (about a 15-minute walk from the car drop-off point) but others such as the Double Decker require a roughly 4-5 hour round trip hike down and up 3500 steps with a descent of about 750 metres.

Accommodation near the bridges is limited; most of it is very simple and some (which we don’t offer) is extremely basic. Please talk to Tribes Travel’s Indian specialists for our best advice on where to stay.

It’s easy to make a wonderful trip in this region. Have a look at our ‘Remote North East India’ trip suggestion or talk to us for other recommendations of what else to combine with the living root bridges.  I combined it with a trip to Kaziranga National Park in Assam. Read about that trip here.

Remote North East India trip

If you would like to explore the forests and unique living root of bridges of Meghalaya followed by safaris in Kaziranga National Park, home to two thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos, click here to view this unique trip.

Northern Serengeti in the Low Season

Northern Serengeti in the Low Season

Northern Serengeti in the low season

 

 

AMANDA MARKS

Sitting alone, a large, battle-scarred male with a chunk missing out of his top lip was trying to disassociate himself from the seven females and youngsters relaxing in the sunshine on the edge of a dry riverbed.

Not that we were counting at the time, but that made it twelve lions we’d seen that morning. Twelve lions (plus two small cubs), five oribi, two bat-eared foxes, six giraffes, four dwarf mongooses (so cute!), four elephants, four rock hyrax, three red hartebeest, two greater eland, dozens of zebras, quite a few impalas, hundreds of wildebeest, and a partridge in a … No, maybe not.

The point here is that I was in northern Serengeti in late November. This time is classed as the low season for this region: November to May. Ask around and you’ll find that the general received wisdom is that it’s not worth coming to northern Serengeti in these months because you won’t see anything.

Well, I’d like to let you into a secret: that’s nonsense!

The reason many people think June/July to October are the only months to consider for this area of the Serengeti is that these are the months when the migration is either resident here or passing through on the way to the Masai Mara. It is in these months that you are likely to see thousands upon thousands of wildebeest and zebras plus attendant predators, and it’s also the time when you stand a chance of spotting the famed river crossings. There’s no doubt that this is indeed an incredible place to be when this natural phenomenon is around, however, to dismiss northern Serengeti for the rest of the year is to act rather ostrich-like. Look around – the resident wildlife here is excellent!

Thousands of hectares of wilderness are yours for the exploring.

It just happened that my colleague, Tracy, visited the area in first week of November, and I visited in the last week in November. We both had superb wildlife experiences, but what made it even better was that we shared these experiences with almost no-one else. Really! Thousands of hectares of wilderness are yours for the exploring, and when you spot wildlife you’re not vying with a dozen (or any, in my case) other vehicles.

And it’s such a beautiful place. The granite rock boulders sprinkled liberally over the landscape shine with what seems like an inner light as the early morning or late evening sun warms them as it has done for thousands of years. It’s ancient land, and particularly when it’s empty, it still feels like the soul of the earth is speaking to you here.

Big cats love it: leopards love the rock kopjes and cheetahs love the flat grasslands of the Lamai Wedge. Lions are happy anywhere really, but they prefer it if they don’t have to make too much effort for their dinner, and if they can find a nice quiet place to sleep. The proud, scarred old warrior we met had chosen his spot well. Northern Serengeti is a good place to be.

Where to stay…

There are some fantastic camps and lodges that operate in low season in the Northern Serengeti. For example, Sayari Camp  is a deluxe camp next to the Mara river, while Lemala Kuria Hills Lodge  offers gorgeous glass-fronted suites with private plunge pools. 

NOTES:
Low season in northern Serengeti is from November to May. Camp prices are cheaper and there are far fewer people visiting at this time.

Rainy season is late March/ April to May, so many camps are closed.