Guatemala’s Mayan trail
The Mayan civilisation of South America was in deep decline long before the Spanish arrived, says Sarah Gilbert in Wanderlust magazine. In Guatemala, many of its “jungle-clad cities” had been abandoned by the ninth century and its population greatly reduced. So it’s a mystery how this culture and its traditions have survived beyond the Spanish conquest of the 16th century and, more recently, a “brutal” civil war. Today, 40% of Guatemala’s population is indigenous, largely descended from the Maya. A three-night glamping trek “up, down and along ancient Mayan trails”, from Antigua to Lake Atitl?n, takes you to the heart of “a civilisation that seems far from gone”.
The “challenging” trek covers up to nine miles a day, climbing to 2,745 metres. Beyond the city, a broad trail leads to a cloud forest, shrouded by an “impenetrable mist”. The higher it goes, the more “otherworldly” the landscape becomes, sprinkled with bromeliads, old man’s beard and abundant ferns. Crossing valleys, slopes, rivers and deep gorges, you’ll follow the trail along spectacular landscapes, passing small family farms and rural communities. At night, camps offer “spacious safari-style tents”, double mattresses, “marshmallow-soft pillows” and dinner under the stars – while far in the distance, Mount Fuego performs its nightly volcanic “display of lava pyrotechnics”.
One camp hosts an evening cookery lesson; in another village you can see women weaving on traditional looms. For a more spiritual insight, head to San Andr?s Itzapa’s Temple of San Sim?n, where “believers wait patiently in line” before the effigy of Maxim?n, as San Sim?n is known locally, to leave offerings of alcohol, tobacco and food. To some, this “harddrinking, heavy-smoking” Mayan deity is a saint; to others he is the devil, who has survived the arrival of Catholicism. Either way, he remains a “potent force” in this ancient culture that is “still very much alive”.Norway’s midnight sun
In far-north Norway, 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set for the whole of June and July. Of course, there’s “nothing supernatural” about this, yet knowing it and experiencing it are “two different things”, says Paul Bloomfield in The Times. Being in 24-hour daylight alters your “psyche in unexpectedly uplifting ways”. The island of Sommar?y (“Summer Isle”) made headlines recently with a campaign to become the world’s first time-free zone. On this “gorgeous speck 35 miles west of Troms?”, residents want to be free to “paint their house” at 2am if they please. With a “solarcharged spring in my step”, I set out to hike Sommar?y and neighbouring Senja.
With glittering fjords and “winsome fishing villages”, the region has all the appeal of Norway’s more southerly Lofoten Islands, but without the Instagrammers and cruise ships. This is “terra incognita”; I barely see another soul. A rocky scramble gets me to the summit of Hilles?ya, a 300ft-high headland, where “gleaming” beaches are “fringed by the clearest of jade-green waters”. I can see why this is known as the “Arctic Caribbean”, although dipping a toe in the water reminds me how far north I am. Later, I climb ?rnfl?ya, a “mini-mountain” from which I can see colourful clapboard houses clinging to the coves of nearby isles, and all is “silent save for the swoosh of waves below”. I’m entirely alone. With a “wistful sigh” I wish this day will “never end”. And it doesn’t.
A short ferry ride will take me to Senja, where “the roads are quieter, the paths wilder”. The island’s “most photographed landmark (which isn’t saying much)” is Segla, a “dramatic” monolith of a mountain. On my final evening – “at least, so my watch told me” – I sat on my veranda in Senja, “gazing west at the honeyed sun hanging low” above a nearby archipelago. Inntravel.co.uk provides walking holidays to northern Norway. Early booking for next summer is recommended.Sensory overload in dazzling Singapore
“You have to expect the unexpected in Singapore
,” said Doug Hansen in The San Diego Union-Tribune. A face-toface encounter with a toothy, 30-footlong, red-and-yellow cloth dragon taught me that on the day my wife and I decided to explore the city’s famed Orchard Road, a leafy boulevard lined with upscale shops and hotels. The dragon and the drum-driven parade it was leading turned out to be only one of countless pleasant surprises that greeted us during our five days in the vibrant island city-state
. Of the six weeks we spent touring Southeast Asia, those days proved the highlight. “In fact, Singapore has become my favorite major, modern city in the world
I should mention two drawbacks. First, Singapore is a hot, humid, equatorial city: The average daytime high temperature hovers near 88 degrees. Second, it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world. But its wealth has created something special.
Visiting the National Museum, we were impressed by Singapore’s rapid rise in the first several decades after it was founded in 1819 as a trading post for the British East India Company. A global, multicultural powerhouse by the end of that century, the city—comparable in size to New York City’s five boroughs—is today a leader in education, finance, technology, and entertainment, as well as one of the world’s safest, cleanest, and healthiest countries. And English is the official language.
We changed hotels twice to explore different areas of the city, anchoring ourselves at one point within short walks of several major museums, the famed Raffles Hotel, and a spectacular bayside park. Both the 203-acre Singapore Botanic Gardens
and the Gardens by the Bay are must-sees, the latter being the home of the world’s tallest enclosed waterfall. But as beautiful and green as our surroundings were by day, “after nightfall the city transformed itself into a nocturnal kaleidoscope of color, especially down by the bay.” At the Supertree Grove, in the Gardens by the Bay, a light and sound show bathes a stand of 100-foot-tall, man-made trees with music and changing colors.Exploring untamed France in a classic Citro?n
The C?vennes captured my imagination before I’d ever set foot in that corner of France’s south-central highlands
, said David McAninch in The New York Times. “One of the wildest and most sparsely populated parts of the country,” the ancient mountain range with its 5,000-foot peaks and deep river gorges seemed like the perfect place to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine: making a road trip through rural France in a vintage Citro?n 2CV. My wife, fortunately, was willing, and when I discovered Drivy.com, a site that’s like Airbnb for cars, I quickly located an owner in Lyon willing to rent us his 1976 2CV for $70 a day.
The first day didn’t go well. It “rained ropes,” as the French say, and our mintgreen Deux Chevaux lacked a defogger or any wiper speed beyond medium-slow. But when we woke to clear skies the next morning near the village of Anduze, the surrounding landscape was “every bit as beautiful as I’d imagined: terraced foothills backed by craggy, sun-dappled mountains, with pockets of mist nestling in between.” We started to enjoy coaxing our underpowered mule through the mountains and up their “preposterously steep switchbacks.” The idiosyncratic machine coughed and wheezed but mostly carried on. And when we passed a matching mint-green Citro?n, its passengers smiled and waved wildly, just as we did.
On the morning of our final day on the road, the car simply wouldn’t start. Because it was Sunday, and we had a flight to catch, we quickly exhausted all other options and had to leave the car outside our hotel. We made it to Paris in time for dinner and wine at a bistro in the 10th Arrondissement, and the car’s owner was not upset. The repair turned out to be routine, and we had parted ways with the car in a beautiful spot, a riverside village called Sainte Enimie. It sits at the end of a cave-pocked river canyon favored by motorcyclists, and just past the “beautifully bleak” uplands of the Causse M?jean. On Drivy.com, owners offer cars for rent starting at $30 a day.Exploring Morocco through its music
Though there are countless ways to explore Morocco, “I went in search of the heartbeat,” said Mickey Rapkin in National Geographic Traveler
. The music of Morocco is “as varied as its landscapes, from the Atlas Mountains to the red walls of Marrakech
to the expansive deserts,” and today, a new generation is integrating traditional sounds with electronic dance music. Live music festivals have multiplied, and when I attended one just outside Marrakech, I felt as if I were witnessing a revolution. And I say that even though the headliners, the Master Musicians of Joujouka—a group of traditional Sufi trance artists that Beat writer William S. Burroughs once described as “a 4,000-year-old rock band”—fit right in.
From the moment I enter Marrakech, music is everywhere—starting with the five daily Islamic calls to prayer and the horn melodies of the snake charmers in the ancient marketplace. Down a narrow alleyway, my guide and I sit for tea with Mohammed Sudani, a master of Gnawa music, which combines hypnotic rhythms with Islamic poetry and is said to have healing powers. “The music is a doctor,” Sudani explains as he strums a guembri, then sings in Tamazight, the ancient language of the Berbers. Later in Anraz, a remote village high in the Atlas Mountains, I listen as eight men and women perform ritual music that “rings out in a gleeful call-andresponse.” Suddenly, the men pull me into the circle, dress me in a flowing jellaba, and hand me a drum. “While the rhythm eludes me, the joy does not.”
During my week of chasing such moments, the single best show I see transpires at a Marrakech caf? where four women perform traditional music at a deafening volume “while young people dance like nobody is watching.” But nothing tops the Marrakech festival for bringing together the new and the old. A Gnawa legend first shares the stage with celebrated British DJ James Holden, and once the 13 Masters take the stage—some pushing 90—they play nonstop for two hours. “The music is visceral—the high-pitch whir of the lira flutes like a snake worming its way through my earholes and taking hold of my brain stem. It is that loud from the first drumbeat.”