Toil And Travel: Gloriously Green Holiday Gifts

Well in advance of the upcoming holidays, consider an unusual voluntourism trip. Work and play with equal intensity. This kind of vacation is a non-commercial, high-value, in-depth cultural immersion. Reality not-TV and get back infinitely more than you give. There is not enough mistletoe on earth to bring about the kind of love generated by these profoundly rewarding experiences.


The Rainforest Voluntourism Program is one of social and environmental initiatives.  Help construct water filters in a bird-watching paradise community called Infierno in southeastern Peru. Infierno? (yes, it is hot as hell.)  Set where the Andes Mountains descend into the lush Amazon Basin, it is a haven of jungle life. Fabulously populated by rare birds and butterflies, this region is also home to the tapir, spider monkey, jaguar, and the cute white-lipped, tusked peccary (wild pig.) Or roll up your sleeves and help repair the elementary school and playground. The five-day, per-person rate is $2,307 and dates are flexible during the holiday season.


Whistle before you work. Safari first in three countries – South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe on the lookout for the “Big Five” –the  elephant, rhino, hippo, giraffe and  zebra. Zambia Community & Safari combines an authentic safari together with work on local projects. One “walk with the rhinos” and never be the same.  Gain insight into the culture of the Shangaan people who live between the Kruger National Park and the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. Assist in schools, community centers, building projects and/or local sports development. This great 14-day trip takes place Dec 29, 2012 – Jan 11, 2013 at the rate of only $1599. per person.

Cambodia – Laos

“New Hope Cambodia,” a grass roots, hands-on, non-government organization works to restore hope, dignity and promise to the local community called “Mondul 3.” It’s near Tonle Sap Lake, 140 miles north of Phnom Penh.  The name may sound very “Brave New World” but the little community in Siem Reap is not.  About 300 displaced souls live in extreme poverty, without education or skills. The needs are great. Volunteers can help build a new school or library, help teach in classrooms or visit families who require assistance. Greatest way in the world to avoid another New Year’s Eve at home, this 15-day trip is Dec. 30, 2012 – Jan 13, 2013 and costs only $1,799 per person. Click: Explore Cambodia & Laos,


Volunteer in the beachfront village of Jambiani on the exotic African isle of Zanzibar, helping local school teachers and organizing sports activities. Schools are very appreciative of assistance from English-speakers who help children master the language as well as tutor science and computer training.  Click Project Tanzania & Safari for more on this 13-day adventure.  Dec. 9 – Dec. 21, 2012 at $2,999 per person.


Join Project Kenya & Safari and travel by Land Rover to search the great Maasai Mara for lion, cheetah, elephant and rhino while camping in a tent under the big sky –the most exciting and uniquely African experience. Volunteer at the Limuru Children Center, an orphanage near Nairobi where children from many different backgrounds suffer from disability, abuse, poverty, illness. Help is very much needed with teaching and organizing activities.  This 15-day trip takes place Nov. 26 – Dec. 10, 2012.  $2,999 per person.

Each of these tours can be found under the umbrella known as “Greenloons” a carefully curated travel collection, eco-certified and third-party vetted.  All trips have been proven to go “the extra mile” in giving back with a focus on nature and local life.  Small groups tend to attract idealists willing to use their muscles on sustainable vacations.

“We can’t imagine a more meaningful way to give during the holiday season and wish the world “Happy New Year,” says the energetic and ardent Irene Lane, Greenloons founder and president.  We can’t either.  Click, or call her in Washington, DC at 703-752-6270.


African Tree Houses: A New Angle For Wildlife Viewing

There’s something magical about a tree house –it harks back to childhood, a place that is safe, sort of hidden but with a good view; a place that is dream-inducing, uniquely in-and-outdoors.

In Africa, a wide variety of tree houses has now been built. Some are romantic with candlelight playing in the surrounding branches, others are more adventure-oriented – built just high enough in rough-hewn walls to feel the adrenaline rush from hearing and watching wild animals not far below. Sleep?  Maybe just a wink.

How to choose the right tree house? Take no chances. Instead, take advantage of the wisdom of Chris McIntyre, managing director of Expert Africa, one of the top tour operators in this neck of the woods.  Here are some who get his highest marks:


Moja, Mbili, Tatu, Nne, Tano and Saba, each a separate eco-honest tree house within the Chole Mjini Lodge compound.  Built of indigenous mangrove wood by the skilled local craftsmen, each is set in a huge ancient baobab tree.  Waves lap at the roots of some of them (yes, really, tell your botanist friends), and all are open to the elements on all four sides.  Glorious views and soft breezes easing through.

The exotic Chole Mjini Lodge is set on tropical tiny Chole Island, just off the Tanzanian coast and part of the Mafia Island archipelago. (Mafia Island?  We kid thee not.)  Chole is not as well trod as Zanzibar Island to the north, and virtually unknown.  A definite plus.


The Elephant Hide of Kaingo Camp in the South Luangwa is a must for the adventurous traveler. It is tucked inside an enormous national park that supports large populations of giraffe, great herds of elephant and buffalo. Set on a wooden platform nestled between an ebony tree and a sausage tree (getting hungry?) it is high above a centuries-old “elephant highway” through the Luangwa River, one of the major tributaries of the mighty Zambezi.


There’s no place like this home –“The Dove’s Nest” – a multi-level tree house near the Zimbabwe Lodge and set in a leadwood tree in the Hwange National Park. Tiered rooms, a middle floor viewing platform, a high bedroom reached by wooden stairs and a trap door.  Love that trap door! Offbeat.  In-out. Cool viewing of any of the 100-plus animal species at home in this enormous park.


Recently rebuilt, Tongabezi Lodge’s Tree House has to be one of the most wildly romantic in Southern Africa. Constructed around the branches of a riverine ebony tree on the banks of the Zambezi River, this secluded house spreads over a pine deck, just upstream of Victoria Falls and partly suspended over the water—perfect hyper-real floating sensation.

To zero in on the right tree house for you, contact the London-based Chris McIntyre of Expert Africa with your wishes.  He will produce customized itineraries that will hit one or more of these unique and extraordinarily exciting ways to spend a night. Call toll-free 800-242-2434 or click

Coming Attraction:

“Bush Night” in Tanzania

Beho Beho, a private camp in the Selous Game Reserve (Africa’s largest), is setting up a moveable feast of the tree house experience.  Chris McIntyre says, “This is a way of camping that will enable guests to overnight in several tree houses during one stay. Without doubt, this will be highly original, luxurious and slightly quirky in the best of ways.”



Paw Prints!

Track African Cats in Namibian Highlands

This summer, multi-award winning non-profit Biosphere Expeditions will lead a small group of global volunteers deep into the heart of Namibia to help conduct a scientific survey of African cat behavior. Join them for what will surely be a transformative experience of a lifetime.

No pussies in this scene.  We are talking leopard, caracal, and cheetah.

West of Windhoek, Namibia’s capitol in the remote Khomas Hochland (highlands), volunteers will brush up on their bush skills and then follow collared cats on foot and in expedition Land Rovers to collect and record behavioral data.

Tasks are: conduct game counts,  participate in community education, accompany school children on game drives/hikes, and if you are brave, you may also assist with cat capturing and collaring  – all in an effort to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and create a sustainable future for all in the Khomas Hochland.

A team consists of 12 members, 1-3 local scientists and one expedition leader.  The first group-team departs from Windhoek on July 29 and returns August 10, 2012.  Then one departs in August, three in September and one in October.  All are 12-nighters but if serious and dedicated, you can sign on for more than one segment.

NB: This is not a military style ‘boot-camp’. They assure the volunteers will be comfortable, safe and well-fed.  Base camp is rustic, but comfortable: safari tents with beds, linens, mosquito netting and basic furniture. There are hot showers, toilets, a communal lounge, rest areas with hammocks and a kitchen.

Scientific knowledge or training is not required. There are no age limits although a moderate fitness level is basic, and although much of the work will be done from Land Rovers, one also needs to be able to walk for about 5 km, sometimes under the hot sun and sometimes on irregular mountainous terrain.

To participate in this over-the-top thrilling and important expedition the land-only cost is $2590. For exact dates and other equally wild research trips click:  To contact their US office in Florida call 800-407-5761.