Updated November 3, 2013
This trip began based on a recommendation from Richard Pauls, one of the Promega Directors, based on his experience with National Geographic expeditions. Additionally, I have gotten to know Wade Davis, Explorer-in-Residence, who gave a talk at the 2011 Bioethics Forum in Madison and will be returning to give a keynote presentation at the 2014 Forum, hosted by the BTC Institute (Fitchburg, WI).
Below is a copy of the itinerary from the National Geographic Website, so as you read the travel log, you can see where we have been and where we are going next.
This expedition takes place from October 23 to November 15, 2013. For trip highlights from the field, please click here.
Itinerary – 24 Days
Days 1 & 2 — London, England, U.K.
Depart the U.S. independently on an overnight flight to London. The following day, we begin this extraordinary adventure with a welcome reception and dinner at our hotel.
Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane (D)
Days 3 & 4 — Muscat, Oman
Our private jet takes us to the Sultanate of Oman, a crossroads of cultures where some 1,200 years ago traders sailed a maritime silk route from the Arabian Peninsula to China in wooden ships laden with riches. In the capital city, Muscat, meet archaeologist and National Geographic Fellow Fred Hiebert. Fred curated an exhibition on these ancient treasure ships for which the Jewel of Muscat was recreated—with support from National Geographic—and sailed to Singapore in 2010. Later, explore Muscat’s magnificent museums and vibrant suq, and enjoy a sunset cruise on the Gulf of Oman. Or venture into the Nizwa region, an early site of Islam in Oman, and discover its remarkable treasures. In the evening, enjoy an “Arabian Nights” dinner with traditional entertainment.
Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel (B,L,D Daily)
Days 5, 6, & 7 — Paro and Thimpu, Bhutan
Fly by private jet to Kathmandu, Nepal, and visit the ancient city of Bhaktapur, which boasts a vibrant culture, and beautiful temples, palaces, and squares. The next morning, take a local flight to Bhutan, the last remaining Buddhist kingdom of the Himalaya. Explore with anthropologist and Explorer-in-Residence Johan Reinhard, who will share his research on the legendary world of Tibetan Buddhism and his work with remote Himalayan tribes. Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis will also discuss Himalayan cultures and his new book Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest.
Arrive in Paro, situated deep in a valley dotted with hilltop Buddhist monasteries and brightly decorated fortresses, or dzongs. Venture into the great Paro Dzong, one of the oldest in the country and still home to a monastic community of 200. At the Choeding Temple, witness a Buddhist prayer ceremony. Then, enjoy an alfresco lunch accompanied by traditional dancing. In Thimphu, visit the National Memorial Chorten, the Folk Heritage Museum, the Textile Museum, and the National Library of Bhutan. Or, weather permitting, you may choose to set out on a vigorous hike to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, perched some 10,000 feet above sea level.
Dwarika’s Hotel, Kathmandu; Zhiwa Ling or Uma Paro, Bhutan* (B,L,D Daily)
Days 8, 9, & 10 — Rock Islands, Palau
Explore Palau’s spectacular Rock Islands, composed of hundreds of mushroom-shaped islets overgrown with native trees and plants. Meet with marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala,* whose Pristine Seas expeditions highlight the last healthy marine ecosystems worldwide and the need for protection and policy change. Dive or snorkel among these “floating gardens” and encounter an incredible spectrum of marine life. Learn about discoveries made on Enric’s research expeditions throughout the Pacific, and then venture to Jellyfish Lake and swim with a unique species of jellyfish that have lost their stinging ability due to an absence of natural predators.
Palau Pacific Resort (B,L,D Daily)
*Enric Sala is hoping to join the expedition, and will confirm his participation once his schedule is finalized.
Days 11 & 12 — Luang Prabang, Laos
Fly by private jet to Vientiane, then take a local flight to Luang Prabang, a gorgeous town nestled in a dramatic mountain setting at the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers. Due to its splendor and historical significance, as well as its intricate Buddhist temples and French colonial edifices, UNESCO has designated the entire town a World Heritage site. Introducing you to the cultural riches of this enchanting city will be Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis.
Explore the Royal Palace, built for King Sisavang Vong in the early twentieth century. This beautiful estate now houses the Royal Palace Museum, which features the golden Phra Bang Buddha statue, for which the town is named. Visit the area’s most revered temples, including the Wat Xieng Thong temple, layered with gold leaf and an elaborate mosaic depicting the fabled Tree of Life. Cruise the Mekong River to the cave temples of Pak Ou, home to thousands of lacquered and gilded Buddha figures. Then walk along Luang Prabang’s charming boulevards and browse the central market where members of the local hill tribes offer their fine wares.
Before departing Laos, you may witness the ancient tradition of almsgiving. Departing their temples to the sound of drums, saffron-robed monks walk single file through the city to receive food that they will eat that day.
La Résidence Phou Vao or Amantaka, Luang Prabang* (B,L,D Daily)
Days 13 & 14 — The Maldives
Fly over the Indian Ocean to the island paradise of the Maldives. Meet pioneering oceanographer and Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, a global marine conservation initiative aimed at restoring health and productivity to the oceans. Discuss with Sylvia the unique ecosystem of the Maldives’ coral islands and her work in identifying Hope Spots—vibrant places that are critical to the health of the ocean and merit special protection. Then head into the water with Sylvia to go swimming and snorkeling in turquoise lagoons teeming with hundreds of fish species. With luck, see a manta ray breach the water’s surface and launch into the air—an awe-inspiring sight.
Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa (B,L,D Daily)
Days 15 & 16 — Selinda Reserve/Okavango Delta, Botswana
Botswana offers incredible wildlife viewing and bird-watching. Here, we’ll meet Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert, the award-winning filmmakers and conservationists who established National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative, a comprehensive program to protect endangered felines around the world. Embark on game drives to spot lions, hippos, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, cape buffalo, and elephants. Learn how the local community has become involved in the effort to conserve wildlife. Take a helicopter ride over the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta system in the world.
Tented Camp (B,L,D Daily)
Days 17 & 18 — Kalahari Desert, Botswana
The Kalahari Desert is a semi-arid, sandy savannah covering thousands of square miles and dotted with the shimmering, moon-like expanses of ancient salt pans. This land is home to the San Bushmen, members of one of the longest surviving cultures in the world. Discuss their ancient legacy with paleoanthropologist and National Geographic grantee Donald Johanson, and learn about the San’s link to mankind’s earliest ancestors. Go trekking with local Bushmen, enjoy game drives, and gather for a dinner under the desert stars.
Jack’s Camp, Tau Pan Camp, or Kalahari Plains Camp* (B,L,D Daily)
Days 19, 20, & 21 — Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Embark on a thrilling trek through bamboo forests in search of Rwanda’s mountain gorillas, which the late Dian Fossey famously studied with support from National Geographic. Learn about these endangered creatures from primatologist and Emerging Explorer Mireya Mayor, whose work with Africa’s lowland gorilla population has helped to unravel their mysteries and guide important conservation measures. Or you may choose to take a helicopter ride over the Virunga volcanoes, and visit the Akilah Institute for Women, an inspiring vocational training and leadership program. Meet in Kigali with National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Meave Leakey to discuss her family’s historic fossil finds.
Mountain Gorilla View Lodge or Kigali Serena Hotel (B,L,D Daily)
Days 22 & 23 — Barcelona, Spain
We land in Mediterranean Barcelona, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Marvel at the city’s architectural gems, including Antoni Gaudí’s iconic masterpiece, the Sagrada Família church, which rests on the ancient Roman city of Barcino. Stroll amid old and new casas and art galleries lining the Passeig de Gràcia. Along the way, stop at the Picasso Museum, which boasts a superb collection of the artist’s early works.
Then take an in-depth architectural tour of the ultramodern edifices of the 22@Barcelona district and along the waterfront. Or you may choose to explore the city’s epicurean delights with a chef who will introduce you to the celebrated Mercat de La Boquería and the region’s finest products such as olive oils, chocolates, nuts, and more. Enjoy a gala farewell dinner to celebrate our historic expedition. During dinner we’ll be treated to a special performance by local castellers, who will show us a popular Catalan tradition of amazing acrobatic ingenuity.
El Palace Hotel, Barcelona (B,L,D Daily)
Day 24 – From Barcelona we plan to spend a couple of days in northern Spain (Asturias region) to visit with friends, after which we will have a dinner with our branch office in Madrid, then back to Madison.