Sally Mikhail is reminiscing these days about some of the exotic North African sites she personally has visited — sites that previously hosted the likes of trading caravans, Roman Legions and mighty Pharaohs.
Mikhail heads GMTours, which includes several countries famed for their long pasts, and she’s using some of her time to recall her journeys in two countries that stand out for her.
“I can’t believe it has been over two months since the COVID-19 global epidemic began,” Mikhail says. “Though this crisis has caused a great deal of grief and strife, it has also offered moments of serenity. I personally find myself becoming nostalgic from time to time, especially for my fondest travel moments. I would like to share just a few of these memories gathered from traveling to two of my favourite destinations: Egypt & Morocco.”
Mikhail says Morocco’s varied landscapes boast plenty of rich colours, its streets are full of melodic sounds, and its culture “exudes a vibrant, energetic zest.”
Add dramatic mountain landscapes, a beautiful desert, and rolling, stretching coastlines, and Morocco is a dreamland come alive, she continues.
“Though Marrakech, Fez, and Casablanca are all must-see destinations, I will never forget the sublime sunrise I experienced in the Sahara Desert,” Mikhail adds. “It came as we rode through the desert on our guided camel ride. The colours were astonishing, and paired with the serenity and morning desert heat, I felt as though I were in a dream. Shortly after, we were treated to a lovely Moroccan breakfast and hot mint tea. A perfect way to end a sublime experience.
“Morocco should be on everyone’s bucket list. And while you are there, don’t forget to taste as much of the street food in Marrakech as you can, and visit their souks, (bazaars) bursting with handmade artisanal clothing, wares, and other merchandise. I cannot wait to get back.”
Another of her favourite places to visit is Egypt. On her last trip there, in the Qena area, she visited Dandara, which includes the Hathor Temple. “This temple is over 2,000 years old and is one of the most well-preserved temples in all of Egypt, with two other temples and a Coptic Church to view in the area. The colours of these temples are original, amazing, and very vibrant.”
The Hathor Temple includes ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman architectural influences. It was built by Pharaoh Ptolemy XII and completed by Queen Cleopatra VII around 54 to 20 BCE.
“It took my breath away to stand with the ancients. It gives me some small comfort to know that through whatever happens to us in the present moment, these monuments to history remain standing, unshaken and strong. What a great lesson for us all!” Mikhail says.
Egyptian and Moroccan hospitality made their mark on Mikhail. “In my own experience as an avid traveler, site-seeing and touring motivates much of my intent to go to specific places. However, I have learned that above all, it is the people of a place that makes the trip worth while in the end. Interactions with people day in and day out can make the difference between your comfort or your displeasure. Without a doubt, the people of Morocco and Egypt make me feel I am right at home each and every time.”
Mikhail is quick to add she’s doing more these days than recalling past travel. “During this unprecedented time, GMTours is working hard to bring new and exciting programs to our clients for their enjoyment in the coming months, when travel slowly reopens. In the meantime, we are connecting with our clients and agents virtually, leaning into the opportunities to stay connected in new ways, sharing our stories, viewpoints, laughs, and some more somber moments, through these trying times.
“Though we can’t wait to have everyone on board with our new and existing itineraries, we urge everyone to continue doing their part to stay safe, support their loved ones, and remember to always practice self-care!”
Paul Melhus may be better able to communicate with some of his distant colleagues these days.
The CEO of Vancouver-based ToursByLocals — which has private tours in 163 countries and sends people to both popular locales and “remote, off-the-grid” ones — says improving his Spanish skills is just one of the ways he’s keeping busy.
“My schedule hasn’t really changed much since coronavirus,” says Melhus, whose company caters to upscale travellers wanting to discover the true essence of a destination. “Now that I’m working from home I’ve tried to keep things as normal as possible. I still dress for work, start at 8:30 in the morning and try to finish at the same time I would normally in the evening. I’m making more of an effort to talk one on one with all our employees and so to keep in touch with our remote employees in Kuala Lumpur, I’ll spend a bit of time before bed talking to one or two of them. I do find that I go to bed earlier than before! I have found more time to exercise – Stanley Park is just a five-minute walk from my apartment and there’s no commute to and from the office now. And I’ve been able to devote more time to learning Spanish, so I can talk to our Argentinian office in their own language.”
Melhus warns that the travel industry can’t expect coronavirus to disappear overnight and cautions that the damage it’s doing means the outlook for some companies is grim.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think that the coronavirus is going to ‘end’ in the sense that we will wake up one day and it will be over — wouldn’t that be a relief? Instead we’re looking at a long, slow grind – the travel industry will take many years to get back to where we were in 2019,” he predicts. “However, because we offer only private tours, I believe ToursByLocals will bounce back faster that the overall market. A private tour with just you and your family is a safer alternative to time spent in close quarters with strangers. And it’s an unfortunate reality that many tour operators are not going to be around when travel starts to come back.”
It’s hardly a surprise that Cedar Bradley-Swan is eager to once again see the world.
The Adventure Canada president is part of a family that has long made it its mission to deliver clients of their firm to far-flung parts of the world and Bradley-Swan counts remote places like Nova Scotia’s “otherworldly” Sable Island; Labrador’s rugged Torngat National Park, where she “felt like I was at the edge of the world”; Scotland’s Orkney Islands, a “haven for nature”; and the West coast of Greenland, where she was witness to a “parade of icebergs” among places that wowed here.
“In my world, work and play have always been closely intertwined,” says Bradley-Swan, who appreciates vacations that offer serenity rather than crowds.
“For the past three months I have imagined what experiencing old and new favourite destinations will look like down the road,” Bradley-Swan continues. “It (being unable to travel) is difficult. What I do feel confident about is the human spirit and its need to connect with the natural world and with each other. Rather than be apprehensive of the changes, we will need to embrace them and together watch the world re-emerge.”
Coronavirus disrupted Adventure Canada’s 2020 plans but Bradley-Swan knows she will at some point continue a family tradition of delivering those eager to experience new landscapes and cultures to distant points around the globe.
“Today, I sit in my home in southern Ontario and dream of these places that have shaped me,” she says. “I love the hustle and bustle of urban life, but long for the pauses that emerge in these extreme environments. The seclusion of these covid days does not provide the same head-clearing, refreshing moments that solitude in nature brings; nonetheless, I count myself fortunate to share these moments with my husband Jason and our daughters Charlotte and Islay. We balance our days caring for our Adventure Canada clients and preparing for when we’ll travel together once again – all the while rediscovering the world through the eyes of our children!”
Rainforest that serves as a home for the likes of toucans, jaguars and howler monkeys, and imposing Maya archeological sites means Belize has no shortage of intriguing attractions that are found on terra firma.
And Daniel Lighter is quick to point out that those visiting the country can see plenty of eye-catching sights in the underwater world that lies off its coast as well.
The Montreal lawyer — who has two Belize ecolodges, Matachica Resort and GAIA Riverlodge — fondly recalls his own subsurface explorations in Belize waters.
“Amongst the most memorable adventure experiences that I had in Belize occurred during my very first visit!,” he says. “As an amateur scuba diver, the excitement of diving the Blue Hole was a real adrenalin rush. It began with an hour-and-a-half boat ride from the island of Ambergris Caye to the world-famous Blue Hole. While aboard, breakfast was served and information provided by the divemasters. The dive itself was incredible. Depth of 132 feet,, which for me, was as deep as I’d ever been. Somehow, the first 30 feet or so was light, but then the next 30 went completely dark. Only flashlights and our guide got me down safely. Miraculously the light returned at about 60 feet until our final resting spot at 132.
“We saw a few different species of sharks, turtles, eagle rays, stingrays, dolphins, grouper, barracuda, eel and more. It was just incredible. And the spooky feeling of both the coral walls and the remarkable silence of being so deep was something I’ll always remember.”
Lunch was served on a remote uninhabited island home to blue-footed booby birds and frigate birds.
Lighter says seeing that below-surface world had a lasting impact.
“What a wonderful day and in some ways a day that inspired me to return to see more of this unique country,” he states.