This time, my travels will take me to South America.
Being both a nature lover and history buff, South America has long been high on my list of places to visit.
The Galapagos Islands caught my imagination as a child, when I first saw documentaries about the marine and land iguanas. My determination to get there was reinforced in the knowledge that this unique group of island was the first place my idol, Charles Darwin, first observed variation of species, noticing the similarities of the finches between islands and how they had adapted to the specific conditions and food sources of each island.
Then there is Peru, with the intrigue of the high Andes and history of the Incas and previous civilisations. Lake Titicaca, the highest altitude lake on earth.
I could hardly go to South America, without experiencing the Amazon rainforest jungles and river. As a child I read all of Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals series. Later I wateched his television series that centred around his Jersey Wildlife Park, zoo. I fell in love with tamarinds, spider monkeys and marmosettes. To have a chance to see them in the wild, is something I could not bear to miss.
As for Easter Island, it will be an add on, if I can afford it, as it too, is one of those places that have long intrigued me.
Why is it that documentaries do not satisfy me in their own right?
Instead I want to experience these fascinating places for myself!
So far my preparations have included lots of time checking out destinations and accomodation possibilities on Trip Advisor, I have this morning spoken with a consultant from my favourite Travel agency, Four Corners Travel, in Melbourne. I used its African Specialist Travel Agency, which forms part of Four Corners Travel, when I did my safari to Kenya and Tanzania.
One of the reasons I like Four Corners Travel, is that their consultants have done the tours and itenaries they recommend to their clients. They spend regular time on the ground in destinations and train and prepare local staff to assist their clients. Services are top notch and hotels and itenaries offered, cater to a range of budgets.
The other thing I love about Four Corners Travel, is that their policies and practices are designed to empower
local people in the tourism industry and ensure profits get back into their actual communities, thus boosting education, health and other local services in the process.
On my safari in Kenya, I witnessed the regard director, Richard Ruskin, is held in by the local people, including the Masai, due to his willingness to bring positive outcomes that enrich and empower local communities. I saw schools that are funded by African Specialist Travel and extraordinary work to ensure tours that have minimal negative impact on local communities, but bring huge improvements in access to quality safe water and power.
For this reason and because, many South American travel destinations, like Ecuador, and Peru fall into the "high risk" category, I believe their expertise and 24 hour back up service at both the Australian and destination end, are worth the money I pay in comissions.
Whilst in East Africa I witnessed many unsafe practices that some low end tours engage in, such as not having vehicles fitted with roll bars in places where roads are unimaginably apalling. I saw travellers crowded into safari vehicles, where we had a maximum of four or five in a twelve seater vehicle. Our guides were impeccibly trained and their knowledge of the animals and culture extraordinary. Never once did I feel unsafe, even travelling on my own. We always had photo spot access from safe within our vehicles and were not clambering for space amongst a crowded vehicle, to get the best shots. This is a real issue, when just one person moves it results in the blurring of what should have been a static position for the photographer. Whilst it did ocassionally happen, our fellow safari goers, had both the courtesy and the space to enable the most serious of photographers to get their ultimate travel shots!
Having organised our trip to Europe with ease most recently, the reality is, travel within Europe is very easy. Train services and public transport is excellent. Lots of people speak English and the culture is not too far removed from our own experience. I could say the same for Canada, the USA and New Zealand.
However, when it comes to the Middle East, South America and Africa, I want to know I am going to have the safest and best possible experience. That is why selecting an exceptional travel agency is paramount.
I am also in the process of embarking on learning basic Spanish, prior to my departure. Enough for greetings, thankyou's directions, asking for keys and ordering drinks and food.
I initially planned on heading to Madagascar in 2015. Sadly there is an outbreak of bubonic plague there at present and although there has been very little media coverage, in the shadow of the ebola outbreak in West Africa, 122 people have died to date in Madagascar, since September. This is good reason to always check health warnings on planned destinations before booking for your dream adventure. I do not want to put myself at risk of contracting bubonic plague!
My travel vaccinations are up to date, including Hep A and B, Typhoid, Tetanus, Yellow Fever, adult Polio and even rabies, animal lover that I am. I have found Melarone to be the perfect malarial preventative for me, being allergic to other options. Here too, the price, though hefty, is worth every penny for peace of mind.
As for insect repellent, I use MosiGuard, which I initially discovered in the UK. It is now available here and though not full of DEET, does not bring me up in red welts. It is strong enough to repel the tsetse fly and even smells fantastic. A wonderful non-irritating insect repellent, that is now available in Australia.
I am still researching what clothes to take and plan on having a maximum of 15 kilos including carry-on luggage, including my camera gear. I will also be packing some teabags and powdered milk to ensure I can start and end the day with my favourite beverage!
I guess I'd better invest in some light-weight gaiters, for my treks deep into the Amazon Rainforests. Much better gaiters than leeches!
Whilst I once used to go and purchase Lonely Planet and or Rough Guides to plan my travel adventures, I now find their online services to be far superior to their publications in print, which now read like computer based information. This saves weight in luggage and can be downloaded and purchased online.
I will purchase bird and animal guides for the Galapagos, and Amazon rainforests. Here I found Lonely Planet's 'Watching Wildlife in East Africa' guide invluable and am hoping they publish the equivalent for South America.
I will also start reading fiction and non-fiction related to my chosen destinations, as well as trawling for images that will serve as inspiration, both for my trip itself and my own photography whilst there.