Why a homestay?

Why a homestay?

Why a homestay?

Staying as a guest in someone’s home has a very different feel to staying in a lodge, hotel or even a B&B. A night in a private home is a fascinating way to see at first-hand what life is like when you step out of the travel environment and into the daily life of the people in the destination you have travelled to. For many it forms one of the most memorable parts of their holiday.

“Our hostess was very welcoming and smiley.”

As a homestay guest you will eat the food your host prepares for you, cooked in their home kitchen and consumed with their family. You spend the night in a room in a ‘normal’ village or city home and neighbourhood and your host family will do all they can to make you feel at home. There is plenty of time to talk to your hosts, to learn about their way of life and their homeland, gain a new perspective on the destination you are visiting and maybe pick up the kind of insider knowledge you wouldn’t find in a guidebook.

Most homestay hosts love to meet new people so are very welcoming, and you also have the satisfaction of knowing that you have directly benefited the local community.

Amantani Island homestay, Peru

The pre-Inca Aymara people of Amantani island on Lake Titicaca, Peru, welcome guests and their guides for overnight stays with local families. The island is between four and five hours by boat from Puno and a stay here is usually preceded by a visit to the floating reed islands of Uros, with a trip to Taquile island the following day. Guests are assigned their host family on arrival on Amantani, with the islanders taking it in turn to host visitors.

As a guest in an Amantani island homestay you are likely to have the best bedroom in the house or outbuilding, though it is likely still to be fairly basic by western standards, possibly with limited or no electricity. Remember, you are living as the islanders do.  You’ll enjoy wholesome, simple local meals and may well be invited to the village meeting place for a dance afterwards.

Just as you would do if you were a guest in someone’s house in your home country, it is nice if you take a small gift for your hosts, perhaps vegetables, fruit or bread or candles.

Tribes’ guest feedback includes comments such as ‘Our hostess was very welcoming and smiley and produced tasty food from her stock-pot over an open fire and a gas cooker’, and ‘Walter and Vilma and their children welcomed us with open arms and treated us like friends, the food and level of service was wonderful.’

 

Indian homestays 

Hospitality is one of the most valued traditions of Indian culture, with guests in Indian homes being seem as representatives of God. Tribes’ directors Amanda and Guy Marks recently stayed at Rosie’s Homestay in Meghalaya in north east India. This is larger than the usual homestay, with four guest bedrooms and Rosie is an excellent cook who is happy to give cookery lessons to her guests, who can also watch local craftspeople at work.

 

Hospitality is one of the most valued traditions of Indian culture, with guests in Indian homes being seem as representatives of God.

Amanda said “Rosie is a lovely Khasi lady with plenty of oomph! And she is a great cook too; we had a superbly tasty pork dinner. Her 4 bedrooms are clean and have the basic necessities. Ask her to take you for a walk around her little lake and grounds if you come, and maybe even ask for a cooking lesson. A stay here is not about luxury, it’s about seeing a bit of (middle-class) Khasi life.

Homestays aren’t restricted to villages; travellers to Dehli can enjoy daily family life in an affluent residential suburb of the city with a stay at Aashiyan Homestay, a contemporary house where hosts Kiran and JP Singh  go out of their way to make guests feel at home. And, for a peaceful night just 4km from Mysore city, the spacious and elegant Gitanjali Homestay in the Chamundi Hills provides relaxing air-conditioned comfort and Kodava cuisine.  Cookery classes can be arranged, as can yoga sessions and Ayurveda treatments.

So, if you’d like to live like a local for a night or two on your holiday, let us know!

Travels as a father

Travels as a father

Travels as a father

With Father’s Day this Sunday, June 16, I asked that seasoned traveller, Tribes’ Director Guy Marks, about his experiences of seeing the world through the eyes of his sons…

“You don’t get a second chance to experience something for the first time, but sharing someone else’s experience comes a close second.”

What age were your boys when you started taking them on ‘serious’ holidays, and where was the first destination you took them to?

Or youngest, Luke, was five and our oldest, Dan, was eight when we first took them on safari in Tanzania.

Where else have they travelled to with you?

We’ve been to a few places in Europe and even UK holidays to Cornwall; but the real travelling has been taking them as a family to wonderful long-haul destinations – Nepal, Jordan, South Africa and Costa Rica. And I’ve also taken Dan to Brazil for a trip deep into the Amazon.

As somebody who specialises in helping other people have their own dream holidays, how did it feel to start to see the world through your sons’ eyes? Did it make you look at anywhere, or any experiences, in a different way?

When you have done as much travelling as I have, a lot of things that other people would think were out of the ordinary become pretty normal to me and sometimes go unnoticed. So to see the boys experiencing things for the very first time certainly made me sit back and take another look. You don’t get a second chance to experience something for the first time, but sharing someone else’s experience comes a close second. It was fabulous to watch them see their first lions and elephants, or smile as they tried new exotic foods in Nepal, especially when Dan tried something too hot! And the thrill they got from white-water rafting or from seeing a chameleon change colour in front of their eyes was simply enrapturing.

 

Some people shy away from taking their children on safari, but your boys have been lucky enough to experience a number of trips. What are your best or most exciting memories of taking them on safari?

A five year old has a short attention span even if he is on safari, but I remember how brilliant our driver-guide was in Tanzania, taking Luke on his lap at the wheel of the Land Rover so that he thought he was driving the car himself. 

And at age 7 and 10 they tried their hand a horse-riding whilst on safari in South Africa, only to come face to face with rhino. Most adults don’t even get the opportunity to do that, so to see the two of them get such a magical experience at such a young age and on their first ride was certainly memorable.

Most children love seeing wildlife on safaris and holidays to places like Costa Rica – what were your sons’ most memorable wildlife encounters?

I think for Luke it was seeing a sloth in Costa Rica, but only because it so closely resembled his older brother!

Many of your trips have been as a family, but you have also travelled just with your oldest son. Tell us about that.

Yes, I took Dan to Brazil on a work trip when he was 15. A great age where he was old enough to get the most from it and to put up with me doing some hotel inspections, but young enough still to want to go on holiday with his dad. We did Rio in a couple of days, making time to see the key sites, and then we headed for Manaus in the heart of the Amazon. Taking a river boat cruise into the smaller tributaries gave us amazing encounters with everything from tarantulas to pink river dolphins, and monkeys to piranhas. Then we went deeper into the jungle to a floating lodge in the Mamiraua reserve in search of the elusive uakari. It’s a white-coated monkey with a bald bright-red face. I’m pleased to say we saw several. It was a wonderful time and fabulous to have Dan there to share it with me.

 

“Travel has given them more than just a great thrill… it has given them a broader field of reference for life”

How do you think the travel experience has impacted on your sons? 

Travel has given them more than just a great thrill and experience. It has given them a broader field of reference for life that can only be a positive thing in understanding the world and their place in it. When you see how other people live and what the wild places on earth are really like then you appreciate the society and privileges we have here, and have a greater understanding of global concepts like conservation and the destruction of biodiversity. 

And how did travelling with your sons impact you?

For me, having already gained that wide field of reference from an unbelievable amount of travel in my life, the impact has been less profound. But the best thing about it has simply been the fun – the joy of spending quality time with the people I love most in the world.

 

Quito’s Traditional Healers

Quito’s Traditional Healers

Quito’s traditional healers

Go to any downtown market in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, and you’ll probably notice the stalls belonging to the curanderas. Their display cabinets are often distinguished by garish, almost toy-like, little cartons depicting amorous couples, coupling, or beaming children. Typically they contain aphrodisiacs and fertility snake oil with unsubtle names like ‘Amor’ and ‘Macho’, or soaps promising ‘instant attraction’ with various magical and esoteric effects.

“They can easily draw on a natural larder.”

Curanderas, or traditional healers, remain very popular in Ecuador and here in the Andes they can easily draw on a natural larder comprising a hundred or more herbs within an hour’s drive of the capital. Traditional herbal preparations include rue, or herb-of-grace, to regulate menstrual cycles and even coax abortions, and cedron whose bitter seeds are believed to counter snake bites. There’s guayusa, a kind of holly, whose infusions with their caffeine-based stimulants are typically favoured by rainforest hunters whose nickname for it is the ‘night watchman’, and many other more run-of-the-mill herbs like camomile and lemon grass.

Edison, my guide, opted instead for the juice vendors’ stalls and ordered a fairly humble naranjilla alfafa. Grey-green in colour, it looked awful. Resembling a tomato, the obscure naranjilla, or ‘little orange’, is commonly used in juices across Ecuador but here Edison’s medicine was mixed with alfalfa grass and a quail’s egg. “It’s very healthy,” he assured me, licking his lips, “and rich in iron”.

As we continued around the market, Latin America’s rich array of ‒ to Europeans at least ‒ strange fruits and unusual vegetables was readily apparent. There were tamarillos, or tree tomatoes, and granadillas, oversized passion fruits, mountain papayas and oritos, or finger bananas, dozens of potatoes streaked with colour, heads of purple maize and curious cloves of intensely-flavoured ‘male garlic’. The latter, I heard, are used not just in food but as amulets to ward off the evil eye and bad luck.

Outside, more curanderas stalls lined a clutch of busy little streets, their signs incorporating close-up pictures of eyeballs superimposed with lists of ailments and afflictions. “You could also try a limpia,” said Edison. Puzzlement crept across my face.

In the curandero’s varied armoury it is the limpia which is perhaps the most profound and elaborate. The limpia is a kind of spiritual cleansing rooted in the ancient traditions of the region’s indigenes and remains a well-known practice across parts of Latin America. For locals it’s traditionally a cure for emotional trauma, something to counter a run of bad luck or feelings of disharmony and acute unease. For tourists it’s sometimes diluted as a kind of tonic or quasi-spiritual massage ‒ much depends, I suppose, on whether you’re a believer.

 

Back at my (totally respectable) hotel a few days later I stripped to my underwear for a session with a curandera. A stocky woman in her sixties arrived and ushered me into the bathroom where I sat on a stool. As if I were dusty and cobwebbed, she brushed me from top to toe with a hefty bundle of sage, nettles, basil and rue. She murmured and sucked in air while my skin tingled. Sprayed with scented water, she made me exhale over a chicken’s egg which was gently rubbed over my crown. The egg, it’s believed, can absorb impurities and anything causing an ‘imbalance’.

In many ways this was a ‘limpia-lite’ ‒ the process often involves a patient lying on the floor, arms outstretched like a crucifix, while recounting their trauma or whatever it is that’s bothering them. Some curanderas will even leap over their outstretched clients, frightening unsettled souls back into their rightful bodies.

After about forty minutes of this and that she was done, and I remain stout in body and soul. But I’ve never quite been able to look at English nettles in the same way since. 

Why visit Quito?

Named after the pre-Colombian Quitus tribe, the city was the capital of the Incas’ northern empire before the Spanish conquest in 1534. Now a World Cultural Heritage Site, Quito has  magnificent colonial architecture, but the city also offers an experience of contemporary Ecuadorian city life.

Quito highlights include: 

  • The Cathedral, home to the superb 18th century tableau The Holy Shroud. 
  • Plaza da Independencia – the city’s main square is a great place to people-watch and the neoclassical Government Palace lines one side. 
  • A vast array of shops, cafes and restaurant.
  • Enjoy the city and rural views from the rounded hill El Panecillo – the ‘bread roll’.  
  • Head just 25km north of Quito and you can cross the Equator!

Ecuador is a small, friendly South American country and a trip combines perfectly with a tour of the Galapagos Islands or a Peruvian adventure.  Trip ideas include:

 

 

Serious ‘chillaxing’

Serious ‘chillaxing’

Serious ‘chillaxing’

 

With Mother’s Day this Sunday, March 31, a straw poll of the mums in the Tribes office revealed (not surprisingly!) that the chance to relax would be a most welcome gift. This then set us off onto a conversation about some particularly relaxing holidays or holiday experiences, with spa treatments topping the list  – we’re talking serious ‘chillaxing’!

‘In India they quite rightly take relaxation very seriously.’

Images © Ananda in the Himalayas

In India they quite rightly take relaxation very seriously, and just reading about the Ananda Wellbeing Holidays had us feeling tensions diminish.  Ananda in the Himalayas is a splendid palace set in 100 acres of grounds high above the Ganges River Valley. It’s a true sanctuary where you feel miles – and years – away from the stresses of 21st century life. There’s a range of programmes to choose from, including Yogic detox, stress management, Ayurvedic rejuvenation and even an active programme for those who want to combine spa therapies with circuit training, white water rafting etc.  Expert therapists, doctors and chefs collaborate to provide an immersive experience – all in a beautiful setting.

Another wonderfully relaxing location in India is SwaSwara, which overlooks Om Beach. This sanctuary is focused on refreshing you mind, body and soul, with three programmes that range from five to 21 nights in length.

A river cruise is, by its very nature, usually pretty relaxing, but an Irrawaddy River cruise in Burma on board the elegant Sanctuary Ananda is another thing entirely in the relaxation stakes. Seeing the sun rise over the temples of Bagan is a glorious way to start a day, and, while the trip has a fabulous range of activities to make the most of your being in this fascinating part of the world – including ox cart and rickshaw rides, pagoda and temple visits and demonstrations by local artisans – life on board the Sanctuary Ananda is designed to make everyday cares float away. Styled rather like a 1930s steamer, this luxurious craft has its own spa offering a range of theraputic and beauty treatments,  plus a plunge pool and a sundeck, which is a perfect spot for yoga.

‘Life on board the Sanctuary Ananda is designed to make everyday cares float away.’

Image ©Sanctuary Ananda

‘Spa treatments with organic, locally-grown Andean plants and herbs..’

Images © Sol y Luna

A number of the hotels in Peru’s Sacred Valley have spas, making them the perfect place to relax after exploring the stunning landscape and remarkable Inca archaeological sites. The charming Sol y Luna, for example, sits in a wonderfully relaxing location in the Sacred Valley, set in 25 acres of flower and bird-filled gardens. The Yacu Wasi spa of this Relais & Chateaux property offers daily yoga sessions as well as spa treatments with organic, locally-grown Andean plants and herbs. Tribes’ travel experts would be only too pleased to help you plan an itinerary that includes not only Sol y Luna but also the Belmond Andean Explorer – this luxury sleeper train has its own spa car!

Nyara Springs in Costa Rica (pictured above and in the image at the top of this page) is in a fabulous setting in the Arenal Volcano National Park. The mere fact that each room has its own private plunge pool fed by natural mineral hot springs is sufficient to initiate the relaxation process. Add a beautiful spa perched above the rainforest, with open-air treatment pavilions and a stunning yoga pavilion, and you’re likely to find it very hard to leave!

Having a spa treatment while on safari is a great treat, and there are some excellent spas to be found amongst the safari lodges of South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia, including The Elephant Camp (Zimbabwe) , Saruni Samburu (Kenya), Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve (South Africa), and Lemala Kuria Hills in Tanzania. This overlooks the plains of the Northern Serengeti. The Melengali Spa at Lemala Kuria Hills is a very relaxing place for a muscle-soothing massage – and the views from the bathrooms of the tented suites are fabulous too!

Or how about a classic Indian Ocean getaway? The White Sands Villa and Spa boutique hotel on the east coast of Zanzibar offers barefoot luxury and a beautifully-located spa in lush, colourful gardens a stone’s throw from the beach

Want to get even further away in search of peace and quiet? There’s no spa or massage service at Fanjove Private Island (pictured above) but, with just six guest bandas and requiring a flight in a small plane then a boat trip to get to it, this 1km x 300m piece of castaway seclusion in the Indian Ocean is hugely relaxing.

Or, if you want to get away from – pretty much – it all but still have a spa to hand, may we suggest Easter Island? A five hour flight from the Chilean mainland, Rapa Nui is an intriguing place to visit, and the Hangaroa Eco Village and Spa is a fantastic place to stay on the island. Spa Manavi overlooks the Pacific Ocean – fabulous!

‘Chillaxing’ at Lemala Kuria Hills in Tanzania…

In Praise of Forests

In Praise of Forests

In Praise of Forests

Visiting a forest is a life-enhancing thing to do. Who can forget that moment when Lucy steps out of the coat-filled wardrobe and into the snow-covered forest of Narnia? Happily you don’t have to travel to Narnia to experience the exotic or the unknown of the forest world. From the dense, luxuriant, hot and humid rainforests of the Amazon, the ebony groves of Zambia and the bamboo, oak and magnolia forest of India’s Singalila National Park to the misty cloud forests of Costa Rica, there is an incredible wealth and diversity of forest to explore. It’s an arboreal adventure just waiting to be taken, and we would love to take you there!

“Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land.” (United Nations)

This Thursday, March 21, is the UN International Day of Forests. A forest is a beautiful thing, of course, but it’s so much more than that. Forests cover one third of the world’s land mass and, according to the UN, “Some 1.6 billion people – including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures – depend on forests for their livelihoods, medicines, fuel, food and shelter. Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than 80% of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects.” 

What most of us would think of as ‘classic’ rainforest can be found in the Amazon in Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Costa Rica. On a trip such as our Costa Rica Wildlife holiday you’d experience everything from lowland wetland rainforest, highland rainforest and cloud forest to the dense rainforests of the Osa Peninsular.

Madidi National Park in Bolivia boasts an incredibly variety of flora and fauna, its rainforest home to over 340 species of tropical birds, and 4,000 species of plants as well as to jaguars, tapirs, capybaras, ocelots, spider monkeys, howler monkeys and caimans.

The rainforest of Peru’s untouched Tambopata National Reserve, with its macaw and parrot-crammed clay licks and its giant trees and fabulous birdlife is the perfect place for a photo tour, while in a lodge such as Mashpi in Ecuador you can get an incredible bird’s-eye view of the cloud forest, both from the luxurious lodge itself and from the dragonfly cable car and the skybike.

An Amazon river cruise on board a lovely riverboat such as the Tucano is a wonderful way to get into the heart of Brazil’s rainforest, spending a week exploring some 200 miles of the Negro River, heading out in small motor launches and exploring the forest on foot. Alternatively a floating lodge such as Uakari is the ultimate get-away-from-it-all-in-the-Amazon! Here you would see the endemic red-faced Uakari monkey and in the wet season, paddle through the flooded rainforest in canoes, seeing the plantlife and wildlife at very close quarters.

Madagascar has a remarkable variety and abundance of forests.  The dry deciduous Kirindy Forest is home to the fosa, Madagascar’s largest carnivore and predator, and is not far from the world-famous Avenue of Baobabs at Morondava.  The unique spiny forest of Ifaty has amazing baobab trees, one of which is believed to be 1,500 years old, and the indigenous forest in Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park is home to 12 species of lemur, including the critically endangered golden bamboo lemur, which was discovered there in the 1980s.

“In Costa Rica you can experience everything from lowland wetland and highland rainforest to cloud forest.”

The 25,000-year-old Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda is glorious, not least because it’s home to about half the world’s population of mountain gorillas. It is actually penetrable(!) and, in addition to the magical experience of seeing gorillas in their natural habitat, visitors can see an incredible wealth of birdlife and butterflies, while the national park in which the forest is located is home to 120 species of mammals, including 11 primate species.

The ebony groves of South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, are something very special. The park is one of the finest wildlife sanctuaries in Africa, so game viewing is amazing, and the ebony trees are quite beautiful. Visit in the dry season and they are glorious, visit in what’s called ‘the Emerald Season’ – the rainy season – and you can experience the flooded ebony groves, the tree trunks emerging from several feet of water. It’s an almost primeval experience to make your way amongst them in a canoe.

While not strictly forming a forest, the baobabs in Ruaha in Tanzania are unforgettably impressive trees, as Tribes’ director Amanda Marks felt moved to pay tribute to last year. The acacia-covered savannah lands of Serengeti – again not forest, but gloriously tree-filled – are also stunning, and a trip that combines these with Ruaha is a great option.

The forests of Singalila National Park in India are home to the endangered red panda, as well as the black panther, Himalayan black bear and clouded leopard. And, for the ultimate forest getaway, there’s the Tree House Hideaway in an area of private jungle on the edge of Bandhavgarh National Park, which is home of a healthy population of tigers. The deluxe rooms are set in large trees, so you couldn’t get any closer to the heart of the forest!

Future forests

For each booking made with us we plant trees via our Travel Forest, which is part of the Tribes Foundation, the charity we back with admin and funds. We are proud to say that, as of 2018, we have planted over 50,000 saplings in Africa and Peru.

 

Avian pride – feathered national ambassadors

Avian pride – feathered national ambassadors

Feathered Ambassadors

Tribes’ travellers journey to destinations that are home to hundreds of bird species and, even if you don’t start your trip as a birder, you may find you’ve become one by the end!  The concept of a national bird is an interesting one. In some cases it’s an official title, either awarded after a national vote or by a government department. In others it’s unofficial, something assumed by tradition and or long association with that country. And in some cases what one might think is the national bird isn’t!

“The peacock features strongly in Indian folklore and mythology.”

The magnificent African Fish eagle (above left) is the national bird of no less than three countries – Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and is widespread across the lakes, rivers and coastal areas of Southern Africa. Its white chest and head, bright yellow beak, black wings and reddish-brown body are very distinctive, and it’s often seen perched high in a tall tree, scanning a vast range of terrain. The call of the African Fish eagle is known as ‘the voice of Africa’. Living up to its name, it largely feeds on fish, but has been known to eat water birds, even flamingos.

The national birds of India and Nepal are both part of the pheasant family, though you may be surprised to learn that the Indian peacock is a pheasant at heart. India’s national bird is, perhaps above all others,  most synonymous with the identity of its country, the extravagant pattern and colours of the plumage of the male peacock being replicated in Mughal architecture and in art and textiles, and the bird featuring strongly in Indian folklore and mythology. 

With its metallic purple, green and blue plumage, the male Himalayan Monal – also known as the Impeyan Pheasant – is another wonderfully colourful creature. The national bird of Nepal (pictured above) prefers to live at high altitude in the summer and is a prodigious digger.

Visitors to Costa Rica could be forgiven for believing that the Resplendent quetzal (pictured below) is the national bird. It is truly stunning, especially during the mating season when the males grow tail feathers that can be up to a meter long. However, in a country that’s not short of colourful feathered inhabitants, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that the modestly-plumed Yigüirro – the Clay-coloured thrush – actually carries that title. It was chosen by the Costa Ricans in 1977 because of its strong, sweet song.

 

The national bird of Kenya, the Lilac-breasted roller, is a hugely charismatic bird that draws the eye and the camera lens. This beautifully-coloured creature is widely found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where it’s mostly spotted in wooded areas or savanna. Unlike many bird species, the female is as gorgeously vibrant as the male. They’re not overly shy, so you are likely to have the chance of getting quite close to one, and they seem rather fond of adopting photogenic solitary poses on trees – often handily against a bright blue sky!

Many people think that the Lilac-breasted roller is also the national bird of Botswana but, in 2015, the world’s heaviest flying bird – the Kori bustard – was awarded that title. Kori bustards can weigh up to 19kg and, while they are strong fliers, it’s not something they do if they can avoid it, so are ground dwellers by preference. Males can reach up to 150cm in height and can have wingspans up to 275cm.

 

 

“The national bird of Peru is a very distinctive creature.”

The Andean Condor  is the feathered ambassador for Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. This is a massive bird, with a wingspan of up to 320cm. It’s also very heavy – up to 15kg – so makes use of that huge wingspan and the air currents of mountainous or coastal regions to glide. Watching condors rising on the morning thermals is a ‘must-do’ part of any holiday to this part of the world.

With its vivid scarlet plumage and fan-shaped crest, the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, the national bird of Peru, is a very distinctive creature. It is found in the cloud forests of the Andes mountains, where the males gather on leks to perform elaborate mating dance displays to attract females.

While not an official ‘national bird’, the Blue-footed booby is without a doubt the bird most people associate with the Galapagos Islands. Their feet are a stunning shade of blue and the males put them to good use when it comes to attracting a mate, lifting and proudly displaying their feet in their rather cumbersome mating ritual. Although clumsy on land, in the air these large seabirds are powerful, and they are superb divers.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the national bird of Britain, in 2015 a nationwide ballot of more than 200,000 people saw the robin elected to the role, beating the barn owl and blackbird to the job. 

WHERE TO SEE THEM

Our consultants would be delighted to help you plan a trip to see some of these amazing birds. Here are just a few suggestions: