To Infinity and Beyond

New Mexico’s Spaceport America is ground zero for commercial space travel.

executive summary by hilarius darman

new mexico space port2WHAT DO ACTOR Ashton Kutcher, soprano Sarah Brightman, and comedian Russel Brand have in common? They’re future space cadets. With the inaugural passenger flight of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galatic set for late this year, superstars and space tourists will have the opportunity to blast to a suborbital point approximately ten times the altitude typically reached by commercial aircraft. Spaceports are popping up around the globe with eight in the US., including Spaceport America, the home of Virgin Galactic. Set among the cattle ranches and creosote bushes of Las Cruces, New Mexico, the futuristic facility is the base form which future astronauts will blast off to see the curvature of Earth, peer hundreds of miles into the inky depths of space, and experience a few moments of weightlessness. The adventure comes at a stratospheric cost of US$200,000. Tickets will drop to US$100,000 or less when Armadillo Aerospace and XCOR Aerospace begin service. With the final frontier on the horizon, staying earthbound suddenly seems old-fashioned.

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Wyoming

Come, Play, Roam Free

wyoming-devil towerExecutive summary by hilarius darman

Big and wide open, just like your kid’s imagination should be.

Devils Tower Twodevil’s tower national monument

Discover Wyoming’s natural wonders.

Warm days, cool starry night, wide-open spaces, and panoramic vistas set the stage for a variety of outdoor activities such as scenic drives, amazing wildlife viewing, visits to stunning geothermal and geological features, and expeditions the whole family will treasure.

Yellowstone National Park

wyoming-Yellowstone National Park2The unspoiled splendor of this living museum makes it one of America’s greatest treasures. In addition to millions of acres of wilderness, an enormous network of hiking trails, and abundant wildlife, you’ll discover spectacular waterfalls, lakes, canyons, geysers, and hot springs in this iconic park. Old Faithfull has long wowed visitors with its dazzling display of thousands of gallons of water shooting up in the air as high as 184 feet, and the striking rainbow of colors of Grand Prismatic, the park’s largest hot spring, has left them breathless. With multiple access points, all roads lead to YellowStone National Park!

Grand Teton National Park

wyoming-Grand Teton National ParkThe jagged peaks of this ethereal mountain landscape above the Jackson Hole Valley make it the ideal escape for camping, hiking, boating, climbing, and wildlife viewing. Formed along a fault in the Earth’s crust millions of years ago, it is home to dramatic peaks, vibrant wild flower meadows, crystalline alpine lakes, bubbling streams, winding rivers, and a host of birds, elk, and deer. Be sure to bring your camera to capture these incredible images!

Wilderness and Wildlife

wyoming-wildlife2With million of acres of wilderness, forests, and national parks to explore, it’s no wonder that amazing wildlife can be seen. Depending on where you are, you can see herds of buffalo grazing, as well as elk, deer, moose, bison, wolves, and bears – and more than 300 species of birds. The lakes and rivers are filled with trout and other game fish, and in the marshes you’ll find waterfowl such as trumpeter swans.

Adventure Awaits

Wyoming-Horseback1Wyoming’s diverse terrain provides the ideal backdrop for exploring the outdoors with your family. From stunning campsites, breathtaking hikes, fishing, and relaxing boat and float trips to mountain biking, waterskiing, white-water rafting, and rock climbing, there’s something for everyone. For more information or to plan your trip, visit wyomingtourism.org

OKINAWA, jewel of Japan

Jewel in the crown of Asia, the best kept secret in pacific resort destination.

okinawa9Executive summary by hilarius darman

In Okinawa you’ll experience beauty beyond your imagination. For in a land where life under the sea is as beautiful as life above, it’s possible you’ll never want to resurface in your old life.

No wonder Okinawa is an ideal choice for those seeking a break from the norm. With domestic flight connecting through major Japanese cities, even the most distant US vacationers can shed their daily grind and bask in Okinawa’s blue ocean in just a day’s journey. The island’s splendor is transcendent, and Mother Nature’s expanse will excite even the most jaded of travelers. One thing is for sure, no matter where else you’ve been or from where you come, you’ll find sun, beaches, and world-class water sports to take you far from the world you left behind.

Explore: Crystalline Waters

okinawa-Ishigaki IslandOkinawa is the best place in Japan for all types of water activities, and chief among them is diving. Discover its gorgeous undersea world-home to some 360 types of corals, five types of sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks, tropical fish, and other vibrant marine life-at a myriad of outstanding dive spots renowned for their clarity and perfect water temperatures year-round. Don’t miss Japan’s westernmost island, Yonaguni, which holds an underwater treasure trove filled with breathtaking and mysterious ruins that will delight divers as they swim around this unexplained marine city. Ishigaki Island, southwest of Okinawa main island, possesses paradisiacal beaches, untouched tropical rain forest, lush mangrove rivers, and one of the world’s largest coral reef systems, accessible at many diver points. The Kerma Island, just a short boat trip away, are well known for their surrounding crystal blue waters, which are transparent for nearly 200 feet. With intricate coral reefs and colorful fish found off of almost any beach, it’s no surprise that bathers and visitors are physically and spiritually renewed with a swim in these beautiful waters.

Encounter:

okinawa-Shurijo CastleVibrant culture; visit one of Okinawa’s nine world heritage sites to immerse yourself in the history of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which began in the 15th century. Shurijo Castle, located on the island of Okinawa, is the palace of the Ryukyu kingdom and played a central role in political and religious life. This palace is surrounded by various sites of historical interest, including Shureimon, the main gate reconstructed after WWII, and Tamaudun, the Royal tombs built in 1501. Shiisa, or guard lions, like those seen outside Tamaudun, are though to ward off evil and bring good fortune and can be found throughout Okinawa. The many cultural influences found in Okinawa have contribute to the development of Japan’s martial art’s tradition-specifically karate, Okinawa’s most famous export!

Discover :

okinawa-Iriomote islandAbundant Nature; Uncover the best of the natural world by hiking, swimming with sea turtles, bird-watching, surfing, and enjoying other activities suitable for the whole family. Ferns carpeting the ground and beautiful birds-including rare sepecies-characterize the nature area of Yanbaru, on the island of Okinawa. Iriomote island is called the last unexplored region in Japan and is also known as the Galapagos of the East because of its extensive green space. This island is home to peculiar animals like the Iriomote wild cat, which can only be encountered here. Experience nature’s bounty on Iriomote by jungle trekking, canoeing through one of Japan’s largest mangrove forests, or keeping a lookout for the beautiful subtropical landscapes.

Unwind:

okinawa3Soothing Lifestyle Because of the Okinawas’inherently healthful diet and culture, it’s no surprise that the highest concentration of centenarians lives there. So when you go, unwind by immersing yourself in the Okinawan lifestyle. Visit Taketomi, a traditional town where you can wnjoy a lesirely tour around the village on a wagon drawn by a water buffalo and see flowers peeking out from stone walls, Ryukyuan homes with red-tile roofs, and the sandy streets. Be sure to further relax by lounging in the peacefulness of these subtropical islands, where even in January and February the average high temperature is around 70 degrees, making Okinawa the perfect place to travel any time of year. Plan your visit at www.VisitOkinawa.jp

 

Champion of the Underdog

london zoo animalExecutive summary by hilarius darman

Two fuzz balls cuddle under a towel. They yawn. One hugs a plus giraffe, then topples over. Kittens? Actually, they’re the inhabitants of Costa Rica’s Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary and the stars of a 90-second video titled. “Meet the Sloths.” Now meet that viral hit’s British mastermind, Lucy Cooke-zoologist, TV host, author, and explorer. Whether tweeting about dung beetles in Kenya or swimming with pink dolphins in the Amazon for her Nat Geo Wild show, Freaks and Creeps, Cooke broadcasts the delights and plights of the ‘uncharismatic micro-fauna.’

Why do you love ‘ugly’ animals? Freaks of nature tell fascinating stories of evolution, but they don’t get enough attention.

What are the weirdest of the weird? In South Africa you can see the pangolin, an anteater covered in large scales that work as armor. It looks like a walking pinecone, or like an extra from Star Trek. Then in Borneo, not far from where everyone goes to see orangutans, there’s a sanctuary in Labuk Bay for proboscis monkey’s, which have potbellies, what looks like Donald Trump’s hair, and big dangling noses that amplify their barks.

You love sloths. Where is the best place to see them? Costa Rica has a famous sanctuary, but just as wonderful is one near Medellin, Columbia, called Aiunau.

Favorite places to travel? On islands, animals evolve in isolation. Tasmania is like a Noah’s ark for lost freaks, from the duck-billed playtypus to the Tasmanian devil. You can walk among creatures that walked alongside the dinosaurs.

Did any place change you? Brazil’s Pantanal wetland is like (naturalist) David Attenborough on acid. Virtually all the animals are oversize-jaguars, anacondas, flightless birds, the capybara rodent. The landscape is surreal.

What advice do you have for travelers? Do your research. Visit sanctuaries. Remember that the place is often as good as the guides: A great one can bring a place alive.

Best Worst Trip Ever

best worst trip1Executive summary by hilarius darman

The security line at my home airport in Washington, DC., isn’t where I expected to get my first reminder that I should have trained a little more for 19 days of trekking the mountains of Peru. I assumed that lesson would be taught somewhere around 9,000 feet, on the Inca Trail. But before I even board the plane, the security agent tells me, “Sir, you need to remove those items from your shirt pockets”-forcing me to explain that those “items” can be removed only through diet and exercise. Admittedly, one of the bonuses I’m anticipating from this trip is the excess body baggage I  hope to leave in the Andes, as there’s no escaping the extreme physical effort required to hike repeatedly over mountain passes, some higher than 15,000 feet, for almost three weeks. The Inca built many of these trails 500 years ago, and they’re still the only way to reach all of our destinations-Machu Picchu and also a few seldom visited yet equally impressive Inca sites, such as Choquequirao; the water shrine Picha Unuyoc; and Vilcabamba, also called Espirtu Pampa, the last city of the Inca.

best worst trip3Our guide as arranged for tents, food, supplies, mules to transport our gear, mule handlers, cooks, and – as insurance-a couple of horses should anyone need the assistance of an equine taxi. In spite of these amenities, we will for the most par t be sleeping on the ground, using rivers for baths and laundry, and surviving with out phones, internet, and electricity. We’ll also be facing a high probability of occasional rain , maybe even snow, at altitudes where we sea-level dwellers have difficulty breathtaking. Inexplicably, my 22-year-old son, Taylor, and two couples agree to join me. They think it sounds like fun. My wife and many friends react differently: “That sounds like the worst trip ever.”

Near the end of our first full day on the trail, I have a gnawing fear I will be forced to confess to my wife the three most difficult words in any relationship: “You were right,” I had expected the beginning to be an easy warm-up-all downhill, from the village of Cahcora to the Apurimac River, and then a short climb to camp. But after eight hours and some 5,000 feet of steep descent, I remember that downhill is worse than uphill on old knees with no cartilage. Still, spirits are high. Adrenaline levels are, too, as we approach the Apurimac, where we will be pulled a hundred yards across while seated on a small metal plate swinging from a steel cable that is suspended high above a river whose name loosely translates to “god that roars.” Five minutes after that rush, as we head up the other side of the canyon, the reality of where I am-both on the mountain and on the scale of high-altitude cardio fitness-hits with an unexpected thud. My legs announce that they’ve put in their eight hours and are through for the day. Unfortunately, we are fewer than a hundred feet into a 2,000-foot climb to the next campsite. No pumping adrenal glands speed to the rescue, so I have to concentrate on each step, willing my body forward like a toddler learning to walk, as the air hangs hot and heavy without even a whisper of a breeze.

best worst trip4I’m sweating so profusely, I have to dry my ears with a bandanna to hear, though the only sounds are my own noisy gasps for air, Taylor has also hit the wall, and neither of us can afford the energy to offer encouragement. When we finally collapse into our tent after 11 and a half hours on the trail, Taylor summons the strength to ask, “Are you as embarrassed as I am?” “No,” I reply. “I’m just relieved-the days over and we made it.” I assure him that tomorrow and every day after will get a bit easier, as we acclimatize. And they do, at least cardiowise, with Taylor practically running the trails by day three. But there are unexpected setbacks, any one of which, when later described to friends, elicits that familiar response: “That sound like the worst trip ever.”

We endure ten straight days of rain, which occasionally transforms the trail into a mud slide. On day five, we stop for lunch on a beautiful pass, but my knee locks up and I’m forced to descend the next 2,200 feet using trekking poles like canes. (Taylor suggests it could be a new episode of Locked Up Abroad).  On day seven, the rain becomes a heavy snowstorm as we make our way up and over a 15,000-foot pass. The snow further complicates the process of going down 3,500 steep Inca stone steps, tricky enough with my bad knee. Then on day 13 we’re crossing our tour’s highest pass when, for a solid hour, BB-size hailstones pelt us. And did I mention the fighting that breaks out between the Peruvian Army and the Shinning Path guerrillas, in the valley near Espritu Pampa? For that, we reroute the second half of the trek.best worst trip2

Still, wherever we go, the scenery is breathtaking beautiful, and when heavy rains trap Taylor and me in our tent for hours at a time, we have no choice but to talk-father and adults son discussing everything that’s ever happened in our lives. At one point, Taylor turns to me and says, “Suffering is not fun, but it makes you a stronger, better person.” I’m not sure that’s always true, but for us, the accomplishment of not only surviving but also being able to laugh about our struggles at the end of each day left us both saying this was “the best trip ever.” Oh yeah, and I also lost 15 pounds.

best worst trip

Remembrance of Things Past

REAL TRAVEL

shanghai1By Daisann McLane

MY FEET HURT FROM walking in circles, and my head feels as if it’s going to explode with frustration. For about the fifth time in the past half hour I pause at an intersection in this old neighborhood in Shanghai and fish around in my bag for the map and my magnifying lens. The Chinese writing on the map taunts me-it grows smaller and less decipherable no matter how I position the lens. Still, I try, painstakingly, to match up the teeny wiggles and strokes with the street signs and the numbers marked on the buildings around me. The place I’m looking for ought to be right here, but nothing about the area resembles the street of my memory.

Six months ago I visited Shanghai for the first time, with my friend Leslie. She travels there a lot and zips around the alleys of the city’s residential districts like a local. Having a shanghai-savvy pal as my guide was a treat; I happily followed her into a maze of shikumen, low-rise tenements filled with working-class shanghai families.

One of the great things about travel is that it gives us an excuse to declare a time-out from our daily business and watch others going about theirs. In shanghai, Leslie and I jumped into the city’s river of life and rode its currents for hours. We grabbed pillowy pork buns from ladies hovering over bamboo steamers, floated through the flotsam of pushcarts and rickety bicycles piled high with curious cargo (mattresses! Chickens in cages!), admired the chubby faces of toddlers peeking out from cotton slings on their mothers’ chests. At last, we washed up in a shadowy antiques shop covered with the dust of ages. Inside, a man introduced himself as Mr.Wong. out of thin air (well, all right, out of an old cabinet in the back) he produced an astonishingly beautiful green silk Chinese jacket trimmed with rabbit fur. Leslie bought it without even bargaining, not wanting to spoil the treasure handed to us.

Now, back in Shanghai, I’m pounding the pavement with map in hand trying to find that marvelous place. As my cheerful whim transforms, over the course of an hour, into a cranky determination, I begin to realize something : I’m not irritable because I can’t locate Mr.Wong’s old shop. I’m upset because I’m after something far more difficult – and far more meaningful – to recover; the pure joy of my first day in shanghai.

shanghai ruinMemory is the invisible spirit that guides, informs, and often haunts our journeys. For me, travel and memory are so entwined, I’m sometimes unsure where one ends and the other begins. When I was young, I’d create little stories about adventures to faraway lands, based on books I’d read or photos I’d seen in National Geographic. Decades later, when I finally did visit Tokyo, or Rome, or Australia’s outback, I felt I was retracing my steps. The memories of my imaginary travels were so strong that they had the power to shift reality.

As I traveled, my travel memories-real ones, now – grew deeper and began to seem almost like living things. I’d find myself in some wonderful new place, or experiencing something extraordinary, and I’d feel the tickle of memory stirring, spreading its tendrils across the landscape. Every destination became suffused with my emotions, my personal story. Year later, when I yearned to go back in time and revisit the person I used to be-the woman thrilled to be standing at a bar sipping prosecco at 10 a.m. in the Venice market, giddily singing folk songs in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse, mursing her heartsickness on a beach in Mexico- I only needed to travel to these place again to find her there. It never occurred to me that these places where my memories, my past selves, came alive so vividly could vanish.

shanghai ruin2Deep down I understand that change is constant, that the world doesn’t-and should not-freeze like a snapshot so it always will match one traveler’s beloved version of it. However, I figured that I’d have a few decades of slack before the world I remembered and the world of today parted company, shifting dramatically out of sync.

It used to be that if I fell in love with a café in Paris or a particular old building in Delhi, I didn’t have to worry about it disappearing the next week. But in our lifetime, billions more people have populated the planet, hundreds of millions are travelling, and global development has ramped up to warp speed. Nowadays I head out to breakfast in Hong Kong every morning with fingers crossed that my favorite noodle place is still open for business and not swathed in scaffolding or covered with ‘For Rent’ signs.

The map in my hand is only six months old, but today that’s a traveler’s eternity. When I finally approach a passerby an show him Mr. Wong’s shop address, the man points down the road to a construction site that stretches several blocks, then to a forest of hulking cranes that I’d deliberately been trying not to notice.

‘Gone,’ says the main in Chinese. ‘All gone now.’

I nod my thanks to the man, fold up the map, turn slowly away. As I walk, I peel my memories from this aching hole in the ground and move Mr. Wong’s shop, the shikumen tenements, and the rest of this old shanghai neighborhood to the place I know I won’t ever lose them: my traveler’s heart.

New Mexico

new mexico2Executive summary by

Welcome to the Land of ENCHANTMENT

Whether visitors come to encounter authentic adventures, explore historic sites, marvel at impressive landscapes, or surround themselves with every aspect of the state’s rich heritage and culture, they’ll soon realize that the true enchantment of New Mexico resides in the friendly people who call it home. No matter when and where you travel, you’ll be under New Mexico’s spell. The brilliant sunsets and spirited history will allure you. The fabulous local cuisine and flourishing arts scene will charm you. The abundant adventures and world-renowned spas will captivate you for life. Discover the magic of the Land Enchantment.

Adventures de Taos

Magnificent natural surroundings provide endless possibilities for outdoor adventures from adrenaline-filled rafting on the Rio Grande and breathtaking moonlit snowshoeing to hiking picturesque mountain peaks and top-notch downhill skiing. The indescribable yet inspiring “Taos light” has compelled many to make Taos home.

Taos is launching Adventures de Taos-a campaign that promotes Taos’s unique adventures from a local’s perspective. The adventure await at taos.org/adventure.

new mexico chilli2New Mexico’s land, people, and mix of civilizations deliver an adventure steeped in culture. New Mexico invites ‘sight doing’ : getting out of the car and experiencing a refreshing sense of connectedness with the past, the land, with family, and with self. The natural beauty and timeless images of New Mexico will continue to vividly exist, even after one leaves.

With warm days beneath blue skies, and cool, quiet evenings under the stars, New Mexico’s landscapes are spectacular. Spacious vistas, bewitching plays of light, and a sense of purity have long attracted travelers, settlers, artists, and scientists.  Experience centuries of heritage in the ancient yet living culture of the state. New Mexico is rooted in tradition rich in expression and is seen in the ancient Native American ruins, ghost towns, cliff dwellings, wagon trails, long abandoned forts; felt in the raw spirit that inhabits adobe cathedrals and pinon forests; and experienced every day in its bold cuisine and vibrant art.

new mexico native2New Mexico’s springtime adventure should include stops at the unique museums, cultural centers, and monuments located in every corner of the state. From Native American relics to space exploration, and folk art to dinosaurs, New Mexico’s cultural heritage is seen everywhere in the Land of Enchantment.

Outdoor enthusiasts will delight in the unlimited recreational opportunities-from cycling, skiing, and bird-watching to hunting, fishing, hiking, and wilderness tours. The springtime waters invite flyfishing, rafting, canoeing, and kayaking.

New Mexico sings of the past, live the present, and eagerly awaits its future. It is ever unfolding in a distinct blend of mysterious beauty and majestic grandeur.

new mexico frijoles canyon2We are all travelers. What we seek is a place that is true. That place is New Mexico. Come and share this special time of year in the Southwest’s favorite playground. Your adventure that feeds the soul begins at newmexico.org. We are all travelers, each of us looking for ourselves in every place we go.

New Mexico that feeds the soul begin here. Newmexico.org

Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

Lift your spirit in Albuquerque, where every October the world’s premier balloon event decorates the clear blue New Mexico sky. The crisp fall climate and beautiful desert landscape of Albuquerque create the perfect atmosphere-it’s no wonder that the sight of over 500 balloons rising above the city is one of the world’s most photographed events.new mexico balloon2

And though the view is always mesmerizing, Balloon Fiesta isn’t just about watching the balloons launch .the public can get involved by taking a balloon ride or by volunteering with a chase crew, holding a rope, or helping to lift a gondola. Although if your preference is to just watch, the sky is filled with events such as mass ascensions, special shape balloon rodeos, flying competitions, a long-distance gas balloon race, and evening fireworks. With 19 countries represented last year alone, this is the largest international event in North America and the largest ballooning event in the world! Don’t miss your chance to experience this phenomenal fiesta. Start planning your trip today by visiting balloonfiesta.com.

Feeling New in Old SANTA FE

new mexico st francis of asssi cathedral2Trail and chiles blazed daily. Visit Santa Fe.org for delicious deals and your chance to win a  culinary getaway package.

Santa Fe may be the second oldest city in the U.S.,  but with its fresh setting, contemporary art scene, and distinctive gastronomic delights, it’s the perfect place to escape for a reboot on life. Sitting at the base of the southern Rocky Mountains, Santa Fe is a huge outdoor playground of endless hiking, mountain biking, white-water rafting, rock climbing, camping, and fishing-waiting for any visitor or adventurous traveler who’s ready to experience its pristine landscape and limitless activities.

santa-fe-new-mexicoWithin the city, a vibrant art market can be found. Unique stores and galleries create a perfect combination for intriguing shopping. Additionally, Santa Fe is a hot spot for performing arts, especially in the summer when the Santa Fe Opera, free santa fe bandstand performances, and many different festivals add to the city’s calendar of music, theater, and dance.

One Santa Fe delight that is served up in abundance is chili. It’s the most important ingredient here and it’s used in almost everything imaginable. With more than 125 restaurants, and the freshest of seafood ingredients available throughout the year, fabulous food options can be found everywhere in the city. Go to santafe.org to plan your visit.