American Operating a 29-Mile Flight

By the time it takes you to get to the airport, check in, get to the gate, wait for boarding to begin, take off, land, deplane and get in a car outside the airport, you likely could easily drive 29 miles from Point A to Point B in less time, yeah?

So at a time when air travel demand is at an all-time low, and U.S. airlines have dramatically cut their schedules and reduced the number of planes they utilize, why is American Airlines operating a flight that only covers 29 miles?

Welcome to the rules of accepting grants and loans as part of the CARES Act stimulus package.

American Airlines has added the short hop between Vail and Aspen, Colo., according to the Dallas Morning News, to fulfill the requirements of the government’s pledge to provide more than $50 billion in grants and loans to the distressed industry. In return, the feds asked the airlines to maintain a minimum schedule to as many destinations as originally on their respective routes.

The newspaper reported it is the shortest flight American has run since the 1990s when it also had a 29-mile flight from Oakland, Calif. to San Jose that eventually continued on to Tokyo. In the 1930s, American Airlines had a 16-mile flight from Kalamazoo, Mich. to Battle Creek.

This particular Vail to Aspen trip is known as a ‘tag flight’ because it also hits Telluride, Colo. after taking off from Dallas-Fort Worth. American will be operating the flight until the beginning of June when it plans to fly nonstop to all three airports from DFW.

Source: Read Full Article

A little Italy… in Greece: The undiscovered island of Syros

A little Italy… in Greece: The undiscovered island of Syros is an Italianate masterpiece and hopes to have us in the picture this summer

  • Syros is an island of 22,000 souls in the middle of the Greek Cyclades 
  • The island’s biggest attraction is its Italian-style capital city of Ermoupoli 
  • Tourists use the island as a pit stop between Mykonos and Piraeus in Athens 

Ermoupoli is possibly the most extraordinary town in Greece. There’s no maze of alleys, no whitewashed houses and no heaps of tangled fishing nets in the harbour.

What you get instead is a busy city, whose broad squares, grandly domed churches and pastel-coloured mansions look more Italian than Greek.

Ermoupoli is the capital of Syros, an island of 22,000 souls in the middle of the Cyclades. New fast catamarans started docking there last year, which is how tourists discovered it — they use it as a pit stop between Mykonos and Piraeus, the main port of Athens.

Ermoupoli, pictured, is the capital of Syros, an island of 22,000 souls in the middle of the Cyclades

Italianate Ermoupoli is Syros’s biggest attraction. It was established in the 1820s by refugees from the ravaged islands of Chios, Psara, Kasos and Crete during the Greek War of Independence. They were canny traders and shipbuilders whose industry turned Ermoupoli into the principal Greek port until the rise of Piraeus.

They built stately homes in the prevailing neoclassical style, and decorated churches with heirlooms. One of them turned out to be quite a sensation.

Papa Kostas, the parish priest of the church of the Dormition of the Virgin, is keen to recount the story. ‘It was March 1983, the first day of Lent, and George Mastoropoulos, the archaeologist, was cataloguing the icons brought to Syros. 

He was cleaning them carefully until he started jumping around like a child. “Papa Kostas,” he said, “you have a veritable treasure here”.’

What Mastoropoulos had revealed below the grime of the centuries was the signature of El Greco. I look at his Dormition, painted in Cretan style when the master was in his 20s, and I’m glad that it didn’t end up in a faceless museum but remained in the loving care of Papa Kostas.

A quick stroll from the church leads me to the central Miaouli square, dominated by the town hall and its long, monumental stairway.

I continue through streets paved with marble to the Apollo theatre, built in the style of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.

I pass the church of St Nicholas the Rich, a domed basilica on Corinthian columns, and end up high above the town, on a cove crowned by a string of palazzos.

Greek chic: Ano Syros is full of narrow alleys. The medieval town is on a steep hill overlooking the harbour 

The next day, I climb up to the medieval town of Ano Syros, on a steep hill overlooking the harbour.

It’s here, in the old capital, that I finally discover those characteristic claustrophobic lanes, pelagic panoramas and white-washed houses.

Once again, Syros ignores the rulebook: the monastery belongs to the Capuchins, while the churches feature organs, polychromatic statues, wooden confessionals and teachings by Pope Francis.

A priest in the Church of St George explains: ‘Ermoupoli is Orthodox, but the rest of Syros is Catholic. The island used to be under the protection of the Pope. Now we celebrate Easter together on the Orthodox dates by special dispensation from the Vatican.’

No surprises, though, when it comes to the beaches. From Ermoupoli a bus runs a circuit of the southern shore, where the sands are toffee-hued and the water transparent.

Tourists use Syros, pictured, as a pit stop between Mykonos and Piraeus, the main port of Athens

The most developed resort is the golden crescent of Galissas, where I’m welcomed at the highly celebrated restaurant Iliovasilema. It serves Greek cuisine with a creative twist: sea-urchin salad, fennel flan, beef cheek orzotto.

Another popular resort is Kini, a compact fishing village with a pleasingly quiet harbour, where I board a boat with Syros Adventures for a day trip to the northern beaches.

Our final stop is Grammata, a sheltered bay with iridescent waters. I decide to follow the shore around a rocky promontory where shipwrecked sailors have carved messages of gratitude since ancient times.

Not dressed for hiking, I slip and wreck my flip flops — a disaster, as I’m left barefoot on sharp rocks. A Greek couple on a sailing boat spot my predicament and throw me a pair of sandals — that miraculously fit — so I can complete my walk. ‘Keep them,’ they shout, refusing my offers of money. ‘It’s you who needs them.’

So that’s how I remember Syros. Idiosyncratic and eccentric the island may be, but its soul belongs to an old-fashioned Greece where acts of generosity to strangers are still part of daily life.

TRAVEL FACTS

John travelled with Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk), which offers seven nights’ B&B in Ermoupoli from £898pp, including flights from London to Mykonos and ferry transfers. See visitsyros.com/en. 

Source: Read Full Article

A Singaporean man, who was stranded on his yacht for nearly 3 months due to coronavirus port closures, has been rescued by the Fiji Navy



a group of people in a boat on a body of water: Wong Tetchoong, right, is seen being rescued by the Fiji Navy on April 30. Republic of Fiji Navy/Facebook

A Singaporean man was rescued by the Fiji Navy last week after spending nearly three months alone at sea after coronavirus border closures around the world prevented him from docking on dry land.



a man standing in front of a boat: A Fiji Navy vessel approaching Wong's yacht on April 30. Republic of Fiji Navy/Facebook


© Republic of Fiji Navy/Facebook
A Fiji Navy vessel approaching Wong’s yacht on April 30. Republic of Fiji Navy/Facebook


Wong Tetchoong, 59, set off on a cross-Pacific sailing trip on February 2, in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak when most cases were still confined to China.

He originally took the trip with two friends from Indonesia. But his trip took a turn on February 28, when his friends had to leave him to return to their home country, which was closing its borders due to coronavirus fears, he told the Fiji Sun on Tuesday.

Wong had wanted to dock in Indonesia, but couldn’t because the currents were too strong.

So he sailed to Papua New Guinea.

“I sailed to Papua New Guinea from Indonesia because the weather was okay, but when I reached the borders, they were closed so I continued again to the Solomon Islands,” Wong told the Fiji Sun.

“It was also closed, then I went to Tuvalu and they didn’t let me in, but the Tuvalu people provided me with food.”

Papua New Guinea had banned visitors traveling from Asian countries from late January over coronavirus fears. Both the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu declared states of emergency over the outbreak in late March.

a close up of a map: Map showing Wong Tetchoong's journey on his yacht — from Singapore to Indonesia to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and finally, Fiji. Google Maps/Insider

After being rejected from a third country due to port closures, Wong said he had no choice but to sail to Fiji — a journey which took him six days and six nights.

He arrived in the waters surrounding Fiji on April 28, and found that the country also appeared to have beefed up border security.

But this time he couldn’t move on because the autopilot on his yacht was damaged.

Over the next two days, Wong’s yacht was further damaged by strong winds, at which point the Fiji Navy rescued him and helped bring his yacht into harbor on April 30.

Wong was allowed to dock in the country after talks between both the Fiji and Singaporean governments, according to The Guardian.

Related Facebook post

Health officials boarded Wong’s yacht in full protective gear to conduct a health check. He was then taken to the hospital, but discharged on Saturday. Neither the Fiji Sun nor The Guardian said why he was taken into the hospital.

The Fiji Sun says Wong plans to return to his wife and two daughters in Singapore once borders reopen.

“This is my first time in Fiji, I really like it here. A big thank you to the Fijian Navy and the Fijian Government for coming to rescue me,” he said.



a large passenger jet flying through a cloudy blue sky
Veuer Logo
Greece dodged Covid-19. Now it wants tourists
CNN Logo
a woman looking at the camera
Veuer Logo

NBC News Logo
Source: Read Full Article

Gear up for a bike ride to Turkey – without leaving your sofa

The Armchair Traveller: Gear up for a bike ride to Turkey – without leaving your sofa

  • Follow Helen Moat’s 3,000-mile cycle to Istanbul in her book A Time Of Birds
  • Absolutely India charts three TV brothers as they trace their roots in Mumbai  
  • Listen to Jane Clarke’s exploration of remote valleys in County Wicklow, Ireland 

Here we pick a selection of the best travel-related programmes, books and radio shows that will provide some isolation inspiration for the week ahead. 

On the page . . .

Spin across Europe

Glorious: Beat the blue with Helen Moat’s tales of Istanbul in her book A Time Of Birds

Helen embarks on a 3,000-mile cycle ride with her 18-year-old son Jamie

Midlife crises come in many forms: shiny sports cars, gym memberships, flashy clothes. For Helen Moat, a 50-year-old teacher from Northern Ireland, it was slightly different, as she describes in her travel book A Time Of Birds.

One day, out of the blue, Moat declares she wishes to cycle to Istanbul. She asks her startled 18-year-old son Jamie to join her, and soon they are off on their 3,000-mile journey.

Moat’s ‘blunted’ feelings and the ‘dullness’ in her brain quickly lift as the pair pedal away on an inspiring adventure through the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

On her travels, Moat thinks often of her 92-year-old father, who found solace in birds, and reflects on the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Yet this is not a downbeat read. There are humorous encounters and joyful times as they whizz along, plus some hairy moments — especially near Istanbul on a crazy ‘suicidal service road’.

  • A Time Of Birds by Helen Moat (Saraband, £9.99).

Walk through time

Robert Twigger sets forth on a 390-mile hike from Christchurch in Dorset to Lindisfarne, Northumberland, in Walking The Great North Line

Veteran travel writer Robert Twigger, 57, is contemplative, too, as he sets forth on a 390-mile hike from Christchurch in Dorset to Lindisfarne, Northumberland, in Walking The Great North Line.

He has noticed a straight line of 42 ancient sites between the two places, including Stonehenge, Avebury, Mam Tor, and Ilkley. He dubs this the Great North Line.

With a couple of friends and some rum, Twigger heads north, his pals tagging along until Avebury, sharing midlife woes, and complaints about blisters and sleeping bags.

Twigger continues wild camping alone, avoiding upsetting landowners while enjoying the mystic histories of the barrows and stone circles.

This is a warts-and-all tale, with plenty of uncomfortable nights spent in hollows in sheep fields.

At Lindisfarne, Twigger has a ‘mini-enlightenment’ that it is ok to be ‘non-conformist, an eccentric’. By then, you can’t help but agree.

  • Walking The Great North Line by Robert Twigger (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20).

Apocalyptic adventure

Mark O’Connell’s intriguing Notes From An Apocalypse is all about the Irish writer’s ‘anxiety’ around the planet’s precarious future

With uncanny timing, new father Mark O’Connell’s intriguing Notes From An Apocalypse is all about the Irish writer’s ‘anxiety’ around the planet’s precarious future.

This prompts an offbeat adventure to see escape bunkers in South Dakota, remote landscapes in New Zealand where billionaires are building retreats, hideaway camps in the Scottish highlands, and Chernobyl — where a tourist bus takes him to the site of a modern day ‘apocalypse’. An uneasy read for uneasy times.

  • Notes From An Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell (Granta, £14.99).

ON THE TELLY . . .

Camels & whale sharks

Watch on as camels race one another while being ridden by remote control ‘jockeys’, and whale sharks (the world’s largest fish) swim in waters near oil platforms in a behind-the-scenes look at the Arabian peninsula.

  • Wild Arabia (Sunday at 8pm, one hour, BBC4).

Mancs in Mumbai

Culture shock: Absolutely India charts three TV brothers as they trace their roots in Mumbai

When the three Thomas brothers — Ryan, Adam and Scott, from Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Love Island respectively — swap the North of England for Mumbai to trace their roots, they are in for many culture shocks. Accompanied by their droll father Dougie, this week they find their inner Zen, while Scott has a hair styling session involving flames.

  • Absolutely India (Wednesday at 8pm, 30 minutes, ITV).

Inside North Korea

As rumours circulate about the health of Kim Jong-un, find out more about his secretive nation with this Michael Palin documentary.

  • Michael Palin In North Korea (Thursday at 9pm, two hours, Channel 5).

. . . ON THE RADIO

Desert island survival

When William Golding wrote Lord Of The Flies, his classic tale of boys surviving alone on a Pacific Ocean island after a plane crash, it was initially rejected by publishers for being ‘rubbish and dull’. Luckily one disagreed!

Enjoy this first part of an excellent BBC adaptation that will run over several days.

  • Lord Of The Flies (Tuesday at 6pm, 30 minutes, BBC Radio 4 Extra). 

Hiking in Ireland

Listen to Jane Clarke’s exploration of remote valleys in County Wicklow, Ireland

Travel along the Miners’ Way, exploring remote valleys in County Wicklow, Ireland, in the company of Jane Clarke, who has written poetry to complement the gorgeous landscape.

She also interviews locals about old mining ways and how life has changed over the years.

  • The Miners’ Way (tomorrow at 4.30pm, 30 minutes, BBC Radio 4).

AND DREAM TRIPS . . .

Maldives sunshine

Anyone for crystal clear waters, white-sand beaches and baking hot sunshine? Save 40 per cent on a six-night, post-travel restrictions, half-board stay at Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas — now from £7,070 for two. This includes lunch in its underwater restaurant, a manta ray snorkelling trip and a stargazing experience (kihavah-maldives.anantara.com).

French spa treat

Imagine being on a seven-night spa break at the Evian Resort Hotel Ermitage on the peaceful banks of Lake Geneva in the French Alps — and then book it, if you like. The post-restrictions B&B price is from £942 pp, 20 per cent off — flights are extra (hotelermitage-evian.com). 

Source: Read Full Article

Sao Tome and Principe are a pure delight for body and soul

Africa’s bountiful secret: Never heard of Sao Tome and Principe? That’s the point – but these far-flung tropical islands are a pure delight for body and soul

  • San Tome and Principe are tropical islands and second smallest country in Africa
  • Island nation has 200,000 inhabitants and used to be under Portuguese rule 
  • The islands boast more rare birds per square mile than the Galapagos

Many of us (now more than ever) hope to find a glorious tropical island — somewhere small, perfectly formed, filled with wildlife, an exotic bolthole to escape from the trials of the world.

Sao Tome and Principe, with only 200,000 inhabitants, is a good place to start. Especially as it has more rare birds per square mile than the Galapagos, and more turtles than you can shake a stick at, and is aiming for sustainable and responsible development.

It is also a safe place to visit, with virtually no crime thanks to a strong and stable government. Which is not bad for the second smallest country in Africa.

Island getaway: Sao Tome (pictured) and Principe is the second smallest country in Africa 

Sao Tome and Principe (the latter pictured) were discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century

It sits off the west coast, near the equator, directly below London. The water is warm, the sun is hot and there is no jet lag. It used to be under Portuguese rule until 1975, so it seemed fitting for my son and I to fly to Lisbon for a two-night stopover at the beginning of our adventure.

Staying at Memmo Alfama Hotel, in Lisbon old town, just behind the cathedral, we took advantage of the free walking tour — and enjoyed exploring this hilly city so much that we invited our talkative guide and his girlfriend to join us for lunch. As he told us, ‘Lisbon is like a game of Tetris, played with buildings.’

Next morning, we flew to Africa, landing in Sao Tome— the larger of the two islands that make up this country — for a couple of nights relaxing by the pool and beach of Hotel Omali.

Driving round with local guide, Daniel, we bought coconuts from roadside sellers, watched locals wash laundry in rivers, and learned that all islanders are descended from slaves brought over by the Portuguese. It was an eye-opening introduction to Africa’s brutal past and present. ‘I am not owned by the past. I am more interested in the future,’ said Daniel.

Principe, with a population of 7,000, is smaller and prettier than Sao Tome. Coming in to land after a 30-minute flight, we saw its jungle-covered hills and land edged with soft beaches. It seemed remarkably unspoilt.

Tourism has only taken off in the past few years. To keep visitor numbers down, there is just one flight a day to Sao Tome from Principe, on a small plane — a deliberate ploy to encourage sustainability.

We sampled all three of the main hotels on Principe. Bom Bom Island hotel is on a tiny splinter of rock, 100 metres from the northern edge of Principe.

Santo Antonio, the main settlement on Principe island

Behold Pico Cao Grande, a 1,200ft-tall needle-shaped rock that rises out of jungle on São Tomé

Pipi Waterfall on Principe, which can be reached via one of the island’s many walking trails

It is named after the sound of waves rolling onto shore and has beachfront bungalows perfectly positioned so you can roll out of bed, step onto soft sand and go for a morning swim while looking out for low-flying parrots.

Chaplin, an African grey parrot, lives at the hotel. She was caged once, until her owner released her to the wild. After a few weeks away, she returned, spending most days hanging out with her human friends and some lucky guests.

After taking boat trips along the coast, exploring gorgeous empty beaches and snorkelling in clear waters, I can see why Chaplin never wanted to leave. Roca Sundy is an old plantation owners’ house, located inland, that has been turned into a boutique guesthouse, with great views over the valleys below.

We met up with local resident Sandra, who showed us round the hotel grounds, where she lives. Roca Sundy is situated in a sleepy village, complete with schools, bakery and tiny chocolate factory.

Strolling round a nearby ruined hospital, now converted into a high-rise shanty town, we found ourselves in a house belonging to another local, Sheira. She runs a restaurant from her front room, feeding tourists grilled fish while her grandchildren play at our feet, or listen, fascinated by our accents.

A carnival parade taking place in the town of Sao Tome on the island of Sao Tome

That evening, sitting outside the hotel, high above the valley, we listened to parrots singing in the treetops as the sun set, and enjoyed the local, jackfruit-flavoured tipple. It was the perfect way to prepare for our next adventure — turtles.

We had seen their nests on the beaches, each clutch of eggs marked by a painted stick in the sand. Our guide cheerfully admitted that in the past he had caught turtles and eaten their eggs. Not any more. These days they are worth far more alive than dead, as the few tourists there are will happily pay to see them.

Walking along the starlit beach, we stepped over hundreds of crabs and watched three huge green turtles — each one the size of a wheelbarrow — hauling themselves up the sand. It was fascinating. It takes them hours to find a spot, dig their nests, lay their eggs and return to the sea. A perfect example of the locals’ favourite phrase: ‘Leve, leve.’ (Slow, slow.)

Our final night was in a tented villa at Sundy Praia, at a whopping £800 a night — more than twice the price of the other hotels.

Proud of its eco credentials and use of local materials, it takes glamping to new heights, with enormous suites of rooms under canvas. Our bath was carved from solid rock and, apparently, weighed over a ton. It was a grand finale as we prepared to head for home.

So, if you ever want a taste of tropical joy, just head south from London and keep on going until you hit the equator. When this pandemic is far behind us, I can think of no better place to go and celebrate the simple beauty of being alive.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Stan and his son travelled with (rainbowtours.co.uk) which offers 14 days’ half-board at Omali Lodge in Sao Tome, Hotel Bom Bom, Roca Sundy in Principe and Sundy Praia Resort from £3,135 pp. 

A stop over at Memmo Alfama in Lisbon, international flights with Tap Air (flytap.com) and internal flights are also included. 

 

Source: Read Full Article

Titanium Tours Offers Travel Agents 50-Percent Upfront Commissions

WHY IT RATES: Titanium Tours, a provider of tailored, luxury FIT and group itineraries throughout France, Portugal, and Spain, sells only through travel advisors and is now supporting its partners with 50-percent upfront commissions on paid bookings. — Laurie Baratti, TravelPulse Associate Writer

We understand times are tough and that you are looking for ways to generate revenue today, not in six months.

We want you to know we are all in this together. For that reason, we are pleased to announce that now we are offering 50 percent of your commissions upfront.

Once a booking is fully paid or if you can include your commission in your client’s deposit, you will receive 50 percent of your commissions at payment time. The balance of your commissions will be paid upon your clients’ departure from North America. All in all, sooner than ever!

In the past, we have waited until your clients have returned from their trips to pay commissions. We did this because, as you know, with FIT clients, there are regularly last-minute changes. However, we know that times are tough and we want to thank you for booking with Titanium Tours. This is one of many creative ways that we are finding to say thank you to you, our Travel Advisor Partners.

When to Book?

September – November are great months for travel to Spain, Portugal or France. The weather is still beautiful and autumn seasonal activities abound. According to the news coming from each country, we are confident that tourism will resume by then. As you can see above, September and October are great months for travel in a typical year.

Furthermore, you can now find extremely cheap fall airfares going to any of our airports. For example, NYC – BCN for $250 non-stop, $150 with one connection!

What to Book?

The beauty of FIT and partnering with a company like Titanium Tours is that we can guide you to areas where COVID-19 is not present or has had little impact. We can help you pick boutique hotels, less crowded routes, private experiences, etc. where your clients will feel safe while traveling abroad.

Our three countries have been impacted very differently and different areas of each country have been affected very differently. We can guide you to create an itinerary that’s both exciting and safer for your clients.

For instance, Portugal has had significantly fewer cases than France and Spain. If your clients want off-the-beaten-path experiences, we can, for example, take them 90 minutes north of Lisbon to our Castles and Wild Horses experience.

In France, we can avoid crowded areas by taking your clients to visit the Hill Top Villages of Luberon in Provence and take them truffle hunting. Winter truffles are more aromatic and their season starts in November.

In Southern Spain, where COVID-19 has also had a much smaller impact, we can take your clients to the private workshop of a silk shawl craftsman who’s family has been embroidering silk shawls, most typical in this region, for generations. Not only will your clients observe an artist at work, but they can even try their hand at it.

Or, perhaps, this is the year to go admire the beauty of the Azores.

So, let us help you craft some itineraries for this coming fall and remember, 50 percent of your commissions are now payable upfront. Contact us today.

For more information, visit titaniumtours.com.

SOURCE: Titanium Tours press release.

Source: Read Full Article

Report Shows Drastic Drop in Airline Ticket Sales

As a result of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, air ticket sales dropped by almost 90 percent in March.

According to data from Airlines Reporting Corporation, ARC-accredited travel agencies experienced an 86 percent decrease in air ticket sales in March, year-over-year, with travel restrictions and economic struggles as the main culprits.

As a result, the consolidated dollar value of tickets sold by agencies last month decreased to $1.3 billion, an $8 billion drop when compared to March 2019. ARC also reported the total number of passenger trips settled for its agency customers decreased by 62 percent.

In addition, the report found U.S. domestic trips decreased by 59 percent to 7.4 million when compared to 2019, while international trips were down 67 percent, totaling 3.7 million.

The average price for a roundtrip ticket in the U.S. also dropped dramatically from $487 in 2019 to $377 in March.

When compared to February, the number of passenger trips in March fell by 55 percent, with domestic flights dropping by 53 percent and international journeys declining by 52 percent.

Last week, ARC it would not be taking action against clients regarding debit memos involving flight cancellations or passenger compensation disputes caused by the viral pandemic.

Airlines received good news recently after they accepted a share in the $25 billion Payroll Support Program. While the money should help carriers navigate the impact of the coronavirus, longtime discount-airline investor Bill Franke said the airlines need more government aid and health checks for travelers to get through the crisis.

Source: Read Full Article

Sao Tome and Principe are a pure delight for body and soul

Africa’s bountiful secret: Never heard of Sao Tome and Principe? That’s the point – but these far-flung tropical islands are a pure delight for body and soul

  • San Tome and Principe are tropical islands and second smallest country in Africa
  • Island nation has 200,000 inhabitants and used to be under Portuguese rule 
  • The islands boast more rare birds per square mile than the Galapagos

Many of us (now more than ever) hope to find a glorious tropical island — somewhere small, perfectly formed, filled with wildlife, an exotic bolthole to escape from the trials of the world.

Sao Tome and Principe, with only 200,000 inhabitants, is a good place to start. Especially as it has more rare birds per square mile than the Galapagos, and more turtles than you can shake a stick at, and is aiming for sustainable and responsible development.

It is also a safe place to visit, with virtually no crime thanks to a strong and stable government. Which is not bad for the second smallest country in Africa.

Island getaway: A Sao Tome beach. Sao Tome and Principe is the second smallest country in Africa 

It sits off the west coast, near the equator, directly below London. The water is warm, the sun is hot and there is no jet lag. It used to be under Portuguese rule until 1975, so it seemed fitting for my son and I to fly to Lisbon for a two-night stopover at the beginning of our adventure.

Staying at Memmo Alfama Hotel, in Lisbon old town, just behind the cathedral, we took advantage of the free walking tour — and enjoyed exploring this hilly city so much that we invited our talkative guide and his girlfriend to join us for lunch. As he told us, ‘Lisbon is like a game of Tetris, played with buildings.’

Next morning, we flew to Africa, landing in Sao Tome— the larger of the two islands that make up this country — for a couple of nights relaxing by the pool and beach of Hotel Omali.

Driving round with local guide, Daniel, we bought coconuts from roadside sellers, watched locals wash laundry in rivers, and learned that all islanders are descended from slaves brought over by the Portuguese. It was an eye-opening introduction to Africa’s brutal past and present. ‘I am not owned by the past. I am more interested in the future,’ said Daniel.

Principe, with a population of 7,000, is smaller and prettier than Sao Tome. Coming in to land after a 30-minute flight, we saw its jungle-covered hills and land edged with soft beaches. It seemed remarkably unspoilt.

Tourism has only taken off in the past few years. To keep visitor numbers down, there is just one flight a day to Sao Tome from Principe, on a small plane — a deliberate ploy to encourage sustainability.

We sampled all three of the main hotels on Principe. Bom Bom Island hotel is on a tiny splinter of rock, 100 metres from the northern edge of Principe.

Sao Tome and Principe has more rare birds per square mile than the Galapagos, and more turtles than you can shake a stick at

It is named after the sound of waves rolling onto shore and has beachfront bungalows perfectly positioned so you can roll out of bed, step onto soft sand and go for a morning swim while looking out for low-flying parrots.

Chaplin, an African grey parrot, lives at the hotel. She was caged once, until her owner released her to the wild. After a few weeks away, she returned, spending most days hanging out with her human friends and some lucky guests.

After taking boat trips along the coast, exploring gorgeous empty beaches and snorkelling in clear waters, I can see why Chaplin never wanted to leave. Roca Sundy is an old plantation owners’ house, located inland, that has been turned into a boutique guesthouse, with great views over the valleys below.

We met up with local resident Sandra, who showed us round the hotel grounds, where she lives. Roca Sundy is situated in a sleepy village, complete with schools, bakery and tiny chocolate factory.

Strolling round a nearby ruined hospital, now converted into a high-rise shanty town, we found ourselves in a house belonging to another local, Sheira. She runs a restaurant from her front room, feeding tourists grilled fish while her grandchildren play at our feet, or listen, fascinated by our accents.

A carnival parade taking place in the town of Sao Tome on the island of Sao Tome

That evening, sitting outside the hotel, high above the valley, we listened to parrots singing in the treetops as the sun set, and enjoyed the local, jackfruit-flavoured tipple. It was the perfect way to prepare for our next adventure — turtles.

We had seen their nests on the beaches, each clutch of eggs marked by a painted stick in the sand. Our guide cheerfully admitted that in the past he had caught turtles and eaten their eggs. Not any more. These days they are worth far more alive than dead, as the few tourists there are will happily pay to see them.

Walking along the starlit beach, we stepped over hundreds of crabs and watched three huge green turtles — each one the size of a wheelbarrow — hauling themselves up the sand. It was fascinating. It takes them hours to find a spot, dig their nests, lay their eggs and return to the sea. A perfect example of the locals’ favourite phrase: ‘Leve, leve.’ (Slow, slow.)

Our final night was in a tented villa at Sundy Praia, at a whopping £800 a night — more than twice the price of the other hotels.

Proud of its eco credentials and use of local materials, it takes glamping to new heights, with enormous suites of rooms under canvas. Our bath was carved from solid rock and, apparently, weighed over a ton. It was a grand finale as we prepared to head for home.

So, if you ever want a taste of tropical joy, just head south from London and keep on going until you hit the equator. When this pandemic is far behind us, I can think of no better place to go and celebrate the simple beauty of being alive.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Stan and his son travelled with (rainbowtours.co.uk) which offers 14 days’ half-board at Omali Lodge in Sao Tome, Hotel Bom Bom, Roca Sundy in Principe and Sundy Praia Resort from £3,135 pp. 

A stop over at Memmo Alfama in Lisbon, international flights with Tap Air (flytap.com) and internal flights are also included. 

 

Source: Read Full Article

Confused about what airlines are doing? We give you the plane talking

Confused about what airlines are really doing? We give you the… plane talking

  • British Airways has cut back its schedule and is only flying from Heathrow T5 
  • Jet2.com has suspended all flights and package holidays until at least June 17 
  • More than 90 per cent of Ryanair’s fleet is to be grounded in the coming weeks 
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

The rapid spread of coronavirus has brought the world to an emergency stop. 

Airlines and airports are close to shutdown, travel plans are in disarray and many of us are out of pocket due to flights and holidays being cancelled or abandoned.

With the Government now advising British nationals to avoid all non-essential journeys ‘for an indefinite period’, here’s the latest information for air travellers caught up in the chaos.

BRITISH AIRWAYS CUTS BACK

British Airways has cut back its schedule and suspended all flights from London Gatwick 

The carrier has suspended all flights from Gatwick and its reduced services at Heathrow now operate from Terminal 5 only.

Passengers with existing bookings up to May 31 should complete an online form to receive a voucher valid for 12 months from the original travel date.

If you are feeling optimistic, the airline has attractive deals for this winter, including return fares as low as £249 to New York in November and £383 to Antigua in December (ba.com).

JET2.COM SUSPENSION

The low-fare carrier has suspended all flights until June 17. Affected customers can rebook for a later travel date without an administration fee until April 30.

Even though it remains uncertain how long the travel restrictions imposed here and abroad will last, the airline is offering winter flights to sunshine favourites such as Tenerife in the Canary Islands from £65 one-way (jet2.com).

VIRGIN ATLANTIC OPEN TICKET

Virgin Atlantic is currently only operating out of London Heathrow after drastically cutting its flying schedule 

The airline has cut its flying schedule drastically and now only operates out of Heathrow. Customers with flights affected by the current travel restrictions can fill in an online form to ‘keep my ticket open’ with no change fee.

This can be used to fly to a new destination but any fare difference will be payable and you must complete travel before April 30, 2021.

Its website is also providing free meditation exercises for anyone feeling stressed or overwhelmed (virginatlantic.com).

RYANAIR’S STILL FLYING

But only to ‘keep the skies open and maintain vital links’ until Thursday. 

More than 90 per cent of its fleet has been grounded ‘for the coming weeks’ and affected passengers should receive an email outlining their options.

The airline has a sale of flights for travel throughout September from 19 UK airports with most fares from £39.99 one-way (ryanair.com).

QATAR AIRWAYS LOOKS AHEAD

Qatar Airways has introduced rigorous health produces and social distancing for passengers

The Middle Eastern airline has reduced its services to meet the latest travel restrictions but remains determined to ‘maintain a strong schedule of flights’.

If you are hoping to make a long-haul trip in the coming months its policy of ‘maximum flexibility’ allows customers to book tickets for travel up to September 30 and then, if it becomes necessary due to cancellation or disruption, alter the date free of charge or exchange the booking for a voucher valid for one year.

The carrier has also introduced rigorous health procedures such as making its flight crews self-isolate while overnighting in a foreign city, and implementing social distancing for passengers as part of the boarding process (qatarairways.com).

EASYJET DROPS ITS FLIGHT CHANGE FEES

Fees normally charged to change a flight booking have been dropped ‘until further notice’ for customers who do this using the airline’s website or mobile app.

This applies to both existing and new bookings and includes travel to an alternative destination with any fare difference payable.

Passengers who have had a flight cancelled can request a voucher valid for 12 months from the date of issue, which is only redeemable through its website (easyjet.com).

NORWEGIAN OFFERS A LITTLE BONUS

Travellers with cancelled flights on Norwegian are being offered credit notes 

Travellers with cancelled flights are being offered a credit in the form of CashPoints (the airline’s digital currency) plus an extra 20 per cent. 

If you are booked to fly by May 31 but don’t wish to travel, you can rebook without a fee for a trip to be completed before November 30, or exchange for CashPoints for later use (norwegian.com).

LOGANAIR’S REBOOKING TOOL 

Glasgow-based Loganair is limiting its services to passengers with ‘an essential need to travel’ until May 4. For those due to fly before May 31 an automated ‘On-Hold’ service is available that lets you suspend your booking without confirming a new travel date.

There is no fee but a fare difference may apply (loganair.co.uk).

AER LINGUS BONUS VOUCHER

Aer Lingus is inviting passengers booked to fly before May 31 to apply for a voucher for the full value of their travel plus an additional ten per cent.

This will be valid for use across the airline’s network for five years from the date of issue (aerlingus.com).

 

Source: Read Full Article

A Land and Sea Journey Through the Vibrant Islands of the Galapagos

The giant curious eyes studied me with a disarming warmth and total lack of fear. They surveyed my snorkel mask and flippers with wide-eyed wonder and an engaging playfulness that instantly became a language of its own between us.

First there was one set of eyes, and then another, and finally a third.

Together we floated back and forth on the warm current, this trio of inquisitive baby sea lions and myself, just a few feet away from each other near the shoreline of a tiny Galapagos island.

The sea lions darted as close to me as their bold courage allowed, taking in this strange creature in front of them. And then just as quickly, dashed away to the safety of a nearby crop of rocks at shore’s edge, peaking furtively from around a corner.

Moments later, they were back again, tumbling through a series of exuberant underwater acrobatics as they approached, twisting and turning effortlessly around each other’s sleek gray-brown bodies in harmony like a trio of boisterous children tumbling across a rug until they were no more than a foot in front of me once again.

This playful game continued for 20 minutes punctuated every so often by the trio of sea lions swimming even closer to me so that we could stare directly into each other’s eyes and bask in the glow of our mutual curiosity.

The snorkeling outing was one of many unforgettable highlights from my journey earlier this year through the Galapagos Islands with Exodus Travels, an experience that was as pure an encounter with nature as I’ve ever had during many years as a travel writer.

The trip seems a distant dream now that life around the world has been upended by the struggle to contain the coronavirus. And as I reflect on the vibrant, soul-enriching days of my visit, made up of hiking, sailing and snorkeling, I’m suddenly even more aware of how special the trip was and immensely grateful to have had the experience when I did, mere weeks before the global travel industry would come grinding to a halt.

I traveled to the Galapagos curious about the impacts of overtourism and the plastic waste problem plaguing so much of the Earth and many of the destinations I’ve written about in recent years.

My visit left me awed and humbled by the efforts of the Ecuadorian government to protect this incredibly special corner of the world. Not once during seven days of sailing from island to island in the Galapagos did I observe a wayward piece of trash or plastic, either on land or in the ocean. What’s more, only on rare occasions did we even encounter other groups of tourists as we explored land and sea.

Perhaps more importantly, I won’t ever forget the incredibly rich interactions I had with all manner of wildlife in a place where so many animals exist free and in the wild, largely unharmed by human beings and more vibrant thanks to the ability to live unhindered. During a week of explorations, I experienced nature in ways I never would have expected and that will remain with me for a lifetime.

The Journey Begins

It is said that Charles Darwin’s initial impressions of the Galapagos, which he visited in 1835 on the HMS Beagle, were not exactly favorable. But it wasn’t long before the famed naturalist and biologist’s opinion of this stunning archipelago changed and its importance to his theories about evolution became abundantly clear, ultimately making history.

My own exploration of this bucket-list destination began with a commercial flight from mainland Ecuador to San Cristobal, one of the oldest of the Galapagos islands. The plane landed on a tarmac alongside San Cristobal’s small, single-story airport, a building surrounded by flat, mostly colorless and largely unremarkable landscape.

From the airport, there was a brief bus ride to the docks of San Cristobal where a small panga (boat) waited to take about two dozen passengers out into the turquoise-colored bay where we would board the M/V Evolution. A 192-foot, 16-cabin luxury yacht built to accommodate up to 32 passengers, the Evolution would be our home base for the journey ahead.

During the course of the coming week, we were to navigate some 400 miles, exploring the northern and central islands of the Galapagos, crisscrossing back and forth across the equator as we sailed.

Visionary Island Management

During our first afternoon on the M/V Evolution, we’re briefed about appropriate behavior for the week ahead. It was a talk I’d been eager to hear in order to learn more about the measures currently in place to protect this fragile environment and ecosystem.

The rules we were given included remaining on marked trails and being careful not to step on vegetation; as well as not touching, handling, or petting anything, and leaving everything exactly as we found it.

It was also comforting to learn that Ecuadorian officials have established a strict limit of only 100 tourist boats in the Galapagos park at any one time in order to minimize crowds and the impact of human visitation on wildlife and the environment. In addition, each tourist boat plying the waters here must follow a slightly different itinerary, visiting islands in a different order than the other vessels. This is another measure designed to minimize human disruption of the environment, ensuring that any single island is not burdened by too many tourists at one time.

“The environmental laws here are serious and many people are willing to enforce the laws,” 51-year-old, Bolo Sanchez, our group leader and naturalist, informed us.

Sanchez, who has been working in the Galapagos for 25 years and first began visiting the region as a child with his father, later explained to me that there’s a very strict management plan in place that was developed long ago by government officials. The plan dictates how many tourists can visit each site within the Galapagos archipelago and those limits are based on environmental factors, topography, wildlife and more.

“This is what made a difference, the management plan,” says Sanchez. “It’s an old plan, but it has been improving. And it was visionary for a small, poor country with an unstable democracy to develop such a plan.”

A Week of Island Hopping: Life in All Shapes and Sizes

The tortoises, iguanas, snakes and lizards that are native to the Galapagos arrived millions of years ago thanks to their ability to survive for long periods of time without water and make sea crossings. After arriving in the Galapagos, such creatures were able to persevere in the often unwelcoming, stark, lava-covered landscapes that dominate so many of the islands, where little more than cactus and scrub brush grows.

Now, iguanas are among the most commonly sighted creatures on these desolate islands, perhaps second only to the ubiquitous sea lions we encountered day after day or the dazzlingly colored Sally Lightfoot crabs.

Darwin once described the marine iguanas of the Galapagos as “a hideous-looking creature, of a dirty black color, stupid and sluggish in its movements.”

It’s an entirely unfair and undeserved description really. Both the marine and land iguanas that inhabit the Galapagos are fascinating not only for their sheer variety of colors and sizes, but they ooze character as well.

We became acquainted with these quirky ambassadors of the Galapagos during one of our first outings, a walk on South Plaza Island. As we stepped from a panga onto the shore, we were surrounded by at least half-dozen iguanas sunbathing languidly or sitting practically motionless on rocks like the subjects of a still life painting.

The marine iguanas are distinct thanks to their darker skin, which is often decorated with flecks of color that allow them to blend in with the plants and rocks along an island’s shoreline. They’re also the only iguanas in the world that have learned to feed exclusively from the ocean, hardly the characteristic of a stupid animal.

Land iguanas meanwhile, typically can be found sitting majestically on a well-placed rock further inland. They exude the air of regal kings surveying their kingdoms. And their scaly skin, a canvas of varying shades of yellows, browns and oranges, provides a vibrant splash of color in what is often an otherwise dull, dry landscape.

On still other islands, we spent time watching the famed and beloved blue-footed booby engaged in mating rituals. And on Santiago Island we came across tiny, comical finches that boldly landed on our camera lenses and cell phone screens to stare at their yellow and brown feathered bodies in the reflection.

Halfway through the week we sailed six hours during the night as we slept, crossing the equator to awake anchored off of Genovesa Island. As the sun rose, the sounds of a cacophony of birds floated across the bay into the cabins of our boat.

Often referred to as bird island thanks to the vast number of seabirds that come to nest on its shores (as many as 10,000), remote Genovesa remains one of the most pristine patches of land in all of the Galapagos.

We spent a remarkable few hours here spying baby boobies in their nests, adolescent boobies and all manner of adult boobies. Many of the birds were nesting on the ground among the large white rocks, while others were perched in nests at eye level, making them easy to spy.

During one afternoon stroll along the beach on another island, as I walked along peacefully taking in the sounds of the crashing waves, I suddenly heard an angry chirping growing louder and more insistent. It seemed to say “Heyyyy. You!! Do you see us down here?” rousting me from my thoughts.

I look down and just a few feet ahead were two adult Oystercatchers fiercely guarding a cluster of fuzzy, newborn babies that were ambling right toward me. As I took in the scene, I found myself stunned once again by the variety of life here at every turn. Every phase of life is on full display.

Indeed, on multiple occasions I walked back toward our waiting pangas after a hike marveling at just how remarkable this place is where animals live and roam peacefully, yet boldly, fully confident in the knowledge that this is at least one corner of the world where they remain largely in charge. The Galapagos continues to be very much their home, and humans are merely visitors passing through.

The Colors Beneath the Sea

The color that the lava covered Earth lacks above ground in the Galapagos can all be found beneath the sea.

Our daily snorkeling excursions exposed us to such a diversity of life that all else seem suddenly and especially barren by comparison. We swam past great shimmering schools of sardines and alongside groups of dazzling angelfish that range in color from blue to brown, with splashes of bright yellow and peach on their fins.

On the seafloor beneath us there were often clusters of chocolate chip starfish that looked very much like their name implies with giant brown dots.

The parade of marine life also included Moorish idols (which are believed to be a harbinger of happiness), blue tangs, sergeant majors, yellow surgeonfish and cardinal fish that looked like small red flames passing through the water.

From the blue murky depths fish of all shapes and colors emerged one by one or in clusters, coming into focus like shimmering orbs of light, each a magnificently different array of luminous colors.

On one memorable afternoon we snorkeled above a half dozen hammerhead sharks. On other days we spied white-tipped reef sharks tucked into dark alcoves resting. Moray eels poked their heads from underneath coral as we passed above and we observed Panamanian sea stars that look as if they’d been crocheted from orange yarn.

Streams of fish often swam below us, two by two, as if on some sort of fish highway. And on rare occasions, we even came across the magnificent Spotted Eagle Ray.

“The Galapagos is all about marine life,” Sanchez tells me one afternoon as we head back to the Evolution on the panga.

Yes indeed, I thought. During our daily snorkeling outings, I enjoyed a profound sense of peace swimming among this vibrant display of life and color, mesmerized by the panoply of turquoise, lavender, silver, yellow, orange and the deepest of blue.

One Final Swim

On one of our last days in the Galapagos we did a brief snorkel from the beaches of Floreana Island. With the trip nearly over, I had one more item on my Galapagos bucket list—swimming with a sea turtle.

Within minutes of entering the water my wish was granted. Our group came upon a large sea turtle right near the shore that was foraging. I spent a few minutes observing this brilliant creature and then turned and headed back toward land satisfied with my swim, as the rest of the group snorkeled on.

After a few minutes of swimming alone, I came upon an even larger and more magnificent turtle. The current moved me right toward him, less than a foot away. If I reached out my arm I could have touched him. I remained gliding along quietly beside him for about 10 minutes, enjoying this peaceful moment with just the two of us, letting the current carry me along instead of continuing to paddle my fins.

I watched as the turtle poked his head under rocks taking bites of seaweed here and there while clusters of colorful fish hovered above him and beside him. He seemed totally oblivious to my presence, though I was entirely fascinated by his.

At one point an incoming wave pushed me to within just a few inches of him, making me feel as if I was invading his space far too much and I decided it was time to leave and let him glide on in peace.

The Land Where Time Marches On

At the beginning of my journey in the Galapagos I sat in my cabin reading a book that describes this place as “the land time forgot.” Each day as we explored, that description was never far from mind. I was continually mulling over what the author meant.

During the days I spent here, I witnessed a place where life very much marches on despite the forces of climate change plaguing our modern era and the many other challenges facing the planet including pollution and countless threats from the human race.

I saw a place that in many ways remains pristine and where it’s still possible to truly escape and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature, forgetting for a brief time that so many places on Earth have not fared nearly as well, or remained quite as well preserved.

That’s not to say the Galapagos doesn’t face its own pressures and threats. There are indeed plenty of them.

Still, time does not seem to have caught up with the Galapagos in the same devastating way that it has other destinations around the globe. The Galapagos I will hold in my mind’s eye remains a shining example of a time when the Earth was a much purer place.

Source: Read Full Article