This Week in Travel (Issue No. 40)


One of the many joys of travel is leaving behind the worries and woes of the everyday grind. The flip side of that? Unfortunately for the reputation of backpackers, sometimes our sense doesn’t make it onto the plane with us. Their inhibitions left behind in the Czech Republic, this week 6 men donned Borat-inspired ‘mankinis’ and posed for a photo on a snowy day in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital. Extremities exposed, the group quickly got into hot water with the Kazakh authorities, copping a $70 fine for ‘hooliganism’. The actor behind the Kazakh character Borat is no stranger to pushing the cultural barriers, and Sacha Baron Cohen generously offered to pay the fine on behalf of his Czech comrades-in-mankinis.

In every backpacker’s dictionary ‘visa’ has two definitions. One involves a credit card bill, and the other a stamp in your passport; both can make or break a trip abroad. For the discerning traveler, it pays to know when to take advantage of newly lax legislation; a brief window of opportunity to enter a country hassle (perhaps even fee) free. However hard it may be to enter on foot, the land of a thousand hills just got a whole lot more accessible, as the Government of Rwanda have opened the floodgates- allowing citizens of the world a free 30-day visa on arrival from the 1st of January 2018. That’s 15 days more to catch a glimpse of a black rhino, sleep in an eco-lodge within a volcano, or trek for gorillas.

 

Saudi Arabia is also thinking about letting its hair down with new plans to start issuing tourist visas. Currently, the sandy state is no easy Arabian affair, with travel restricted to business, family visits and religious pilgrimage. While they recognize the enormous potential for tourism, the timeline is a little up in the air and they seem to have some commitment issues. That said, the Tourism Commission have a few concrete plans on the table, naming Mada’in Saleh as a proposed destination for tourists- the ancient 2,000-year old city carved into rock.

With passports, customs, visas and a good measure of red tape, it is all too easy to imagine the world as a collection of locked nations. In reality, the world is far more fluid, as borders and rules are constantly shifting. The Inuit of Canada and Greenland are appealing to 4 governments to dissolve borders in the North Water Polynya, a regular Arctic paradise. It is not just the equator that brims with natural wonder; the international waters are teeming with beluga, narwhals, polar bears and bowhead whales, and the Inuit commission are looking to turn this slice of wild north into something pristine. The spot has huge potential to become a destination for eco-tourism, swapping out oil barges for more sustainable practices.

As enticing as mother earth can be, nature is not a force to be trifled with, as Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg found out way back in 1981. The newly released film Jungle depicts his harrowing ordeal, enduring 3 weeks in Bolivia’s Madidi National Park entirely deprived of supplies or company. While this takes adventure tourism to a whole new level, if you’re going to get lost, you won’t get much more spectacular than Madidi. Featuring glaciers, lush jungles, and sky-scraping peaks, it is one of the most biodiverse locations on the planet. Teeming with more than 12,000 plant species, 1,000 bird species, and highly endangered wildlife, you couldn’t be blamed for wanting to venture into uncharted territory.  

Whatever we bring back from our travels, no one photograph or description will truly convey the essence of our adventure. While we can attempt to explain our experiences, so often it is the ordeals and challenges we endure that make the difference between a trip, and a journey. And these, these cannot be put into words. Know that this is a part of the magic of travel; we wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ― Terry Pratchett