Language in Llamaland

Break the touristico bubble in which lots of us travel by speaking or at least studying the local language. But forget about the crazy conjugations.  You don’t have to be a linguist to absorb some of the basics, the surround sound, and rhythm of a new tongue when eager to intensify an adventure.

In Peru this fall, consider spending nine marvelous days under the wing of Llama Expeditions and your life could be transformed.  The have cleverly combined active adventure travel with living language lessons taught by Carlos Bazan, teacher and founder of  “Enjoy Spanish”, top-rated Spanish language school in San Francisco.

Andean trekking specialist, Diane Valenti, founder/owner of San Francisco-based Llama Expeditions says, “Carlos believes that a language is best learned when the whole self is engaged” and she has constructed a smart trip to accomplish just this.  An on-line Spanish language quiz helps determine skill level and, adds Valenti, advanced-beginners do best. Orchestrating the stimulation of an exotic environment under the baton of a skilled linguist, travelers will be encouraged to encounter each other and the locals communicating only in Spanish.

“Spanish Learning Vacation” highlights: tours of historic Lima, a culinary dip into authentic ceviche, visits to Pachacamac, the pre-Columbian archaeological complex, colonial Cusco, Inca ruins, a traditional weaving community in the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and the salt pans of Maras. And not to worry, you’ll meet many cute llamas along the way.

Her company is philanthropically focused and guests are encouraged to donate gifts of food, school supplies and clothing. One great Spanish on-the-go trip only: Nov. 9-17, 2013 and designed for only six to ten people. The per-person double rate is $3,977 for all land arrangements and many meals.  Call 415-553-7731.

New Year’s Resolution: Summer School

Where better to learn something new than at England’s legendary Oxford University. Their Oxford Experience - a residential program of one-week courses – is open to all from July 1 to August 11, 2012.  Thrillingly, there are no requirements, no exams and no papers to write.  Summer students live and study at the venerable 500-year old Christ Church, one of the most prestigious and beautiful of the Oxford colleges.

Students of all ages pour in from the U.S., Canada, all over Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Europe, and Asia. Choose from a menu of more than 60 subjects: Virginia Woolf and her Circle; Castles in Britain; Anglo-American Relations and the Making of Modern Britain. The Celts in Britain; Tudor London; The Beatles, Popular Music and Sixties Britain. The Georgian Home; Oxfordshire Towns; The Brontës; Wagner’s Ring; A History of the BBC; English Country Houses; From the Blues to a Symphony; Page Fright—And How to Overcome It; and Warfare in the Modern World.

Feel an undeniable frisson entering Christ Church’s main gate beneath Christopher Wren’s Tom Tower and entering the great quadrangle known as Tom Quad.  Loll about in the college gardens, and meander along the riverside in the Meadow.

These ultra-rich courses also include excursions to stately homes, cathedrals, museums, evening pub walks, a whisky tasting, a quirky performance, evensong in the college chapel, plays and concerts. And on the last night, all together, drinks in the flowering Cathedral Garden and a sumptuous farewell dinner in Harry Potter’s Great HallCheers!

Bargain! The price of a one-week course—including tuition, accommodations, all meals (except those on excursions) and evening activities is ₤1,135 (about $1,775 U.S.)

And hey, slackers, a headsup: Sign up now and avoid the spring rush. The deadline for summer 2012 registration is May 1, 2012 and some courses have already sold out. For more info, or to register click:


We’re Talkin’ Tongues

Visiting any foreign country and speaking the language, even minimally, adds enormously to the experience. Of course!  But how? Cactus Language Training, a globe-trotting language training company, teaches 30+ languages in 60 countries at 500 destinations worldwide. Each year new destinations are added, new immersive cultural experiences are added too.

Emphasizing affordability and authenticity, Cactus’ new 2011 vacation programs feature: Spanish and Latin Dance in Leticia, Colombia on the banks of the Amazon; studying German in the low-key, less touristy Bavarian town of Lindau overlooking the Swiss Alps; and mastering Russian in culturally diverse Kiev, Ukraine near Belarus.

Spanish? Learn it in any of their 70 locations in Argentina, Costa Rica, and Spain. French?  Choose among 26 locales from Biarritz, Bordeaux, and Monaco to Montreal, Canada. Italian? 22 locations across Italy. Or wait a minute. Try Thai, Turkish or Brazilian Portuguese.

Sample incentives:
  • A free week with the purchase of two-weeks of French in Nice starting at $682
  • Five free cultural lessons with a Spanish language program in Madrid starting at $284
  • A free excursion to Murano, the glass-blowing island, with their Italian study program in Venice starting at $312

Amazingly, Cactus tailors its broad range of programs to fit individual needs and tosses in special experiences like wine tasting, cooking, dancing and diving that reinforce the day’s language lessons.

To learn more before you leap, check out:

Air-to-Air Combat

Deep in the heart of the American desert, in Mesa, Arizona, Fighter Combat International School can zoom you to stratospheric learning heights. From their menu, for beginners, we’d select the Aerobatic lesson: get strapped in for a 20-minute mid-air lesson (they fly, you scream)  in a state-of-the art plane.  For the more adventurous or advanced, check out a combat half-day lesson that simulates the jet-fighter experience. Wheew. You and the pilot-instructor are up front in this two-seater with dual controls … so you can actually try out your lesson live at 250 mph.  Should you have even extra reserves of adrenaline that require siphoning off, do consider their “intensive” five-day program.  Hero photos available.

Sorry Frank Sinatra, “Fly me to the Moon” somehow pales in comparison.

Call 866-359-4273 or click: Fighter Combat and check out their far out gift ideas.

Digging Israel

Looking to work, literally like a slave, in the hot sun for no or low pay some summer?  If you join an archaeological dig in one of the ancient sites in Israel, you will sift soil where King David walked and Jesus trod. You will see and feel the past, alive in your own hands and on the soles of your feet. The thrill and incredible excitement of finding authentic treasures such as pottery, mosaics, glass, and gold that are thousands of years old and holding them is hard to describe.

What’s in store? Dust! Heat! Stones! Sunburns! Brains! Brawn! History!  New friends. And sometimes even romance… (hey, you never know…) So shake out your shovel, grab a hat with a big visor, slather on the sun cream and join one of the many major archaeological excavations scattered throughout this modern-ancient land, some near cities, some on the shores of the Mediterranean, some in the mountains or deserts.

Biblical Archaeology Review publishes a wealth of information on their excellent website:  They show which digs are current, which ones need extra hands and where, exactly, they are located in Israel as well as in Jordan, Italy and Spain.


Whisk around the World

Small classes, great chefs, and almost everywhere around the world — Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, South America, India, and the U.S. – cooking schools make for delicious cultural immersions.  Sign up for a cooking school and make friends, explore local markets, discover delicious and unique local produce: wines, cheeses, and antiques (of course). Explore tiny towns and neighborhoods… and even learn a culinary trick or two. The Shaw Guide to Cooking Schools is a dizzyingly encyclopedic treasure trove of precise and valuable information on who, what, where, and when, plus career ideas.

The excellent, extraordinary website is easy to navigate.  To research and select the right recreational cooking school as a vacation-destination, please click


Here’s a chance to transform your boring old self into a:

  • Brew Master
  • Archaeologist
  • Part of a Pit Crew
  • Chocolatier
  • Sports Announcer
  • Wine Maker
  • Innkeeper
  • Cheese Maker
  • Fishing Outfitter
  • Alpaca Rancher
  • Dog Trainer
  • Sword Maker
  • Pro Gardener

… or try out any number of other dream jobs for 2-3 risk-free days and under the trained eye of an expert-mentor in VocationVacations ®, a unique work-travel program that offers over 70 professional experiences with over 170 expert mentors. This is not a tag-along look-see. All VocationVacations are hands-on, feet-in, and shoulder-to-the-wheel.

For example, click on Alpaca Rancher – and for two days you’ll learn the ropes in Grants Pass, Oregon soaking up info in a one-on-one mentorship with a professional Alpaca Rancher. $849 per person

Or, click on Dude Rancher and hang for 3 days with the owner of K Diamond K Guest Ranch in Republic, Washington. $1349 per person

Or how about: Learning to be a Tour Guide from Jeff Alexander in Denver, Colorado for 2 days. $849.

The founder, Brian Kurth, developed “VocationVacations Career Mentorship Experiences” a couple of years ago and it caught on almost immediately. The program is so unusual and so rewarding, that it has become the subject of a 13-part TV series on the Travel Channel.  Click: or call them in Portland at 503-720-4282.

Give (and Get)

Consider joining a grassroots project team in one of the host communities now located all over the world.  This is a really rich vacation! However hard you may work, the rewards are incalculable and the good you will do ripples out.  And new friends could last forever.

Help: Boost community spirit
Help: Encourage self-reliance
Help: Provide essential services

Remove: yourself from mainstream tourism
Plunge: deep into the heart of a community
Learn: about farming, child care, teaching, archaeology, and on…

Play: a vital role in cultural appreciation
Play: a role in world peace
Pay: token fees

1. Greenforce offers 10-week intensive wildlife programs aimed at protecting biodiversity.  Base camps.  Monkeys in trees.  Animal mapping and often in pristine environments.  Ecuador, Nepal, Tanzania, Bahamas, Borneo and Fiji.  Call 800-710-6065 or

2. Global Citizens sends teams to partner with local grassroots organizations in a world-wide network of one-to-three-week immersions at U.S. and foreign sites.  Work on libraries, help with business skills, build a clinic, plant trees… No special skills required, just a desire to help others. Call 800-644-9292 or

3. Volunteer for Peace is a huge program of international service for two and three-week programs in over 100 countries.  Founded 1920, VFP aims to provide essential community services all over the planet — actively and personally. Vietnam and post-Katrina New Orleans are currently highlighted. Call 802-259-2759 or click on