The only conceivable drawback is the company you may be forced to keep. At just under US$60,000 per person for the 2010 tour (add another US$5,000 if you’re traveling in 2011), chances are at least some of your traveling companions will be incurably self-involved – you know the type, people who have come to believe that the bigger their bank accounts, the less use they need to make of their ears. When David Lamb, an eight-time Pulitzer Prize-nominee and the 2011 expedition expert, starts to speak, these will be the people interjecting with their own weighty insights. “Easter Island? We were there with Bob and Dorris Fink in ’93. Did you know the Rapanui have a national football team?”
Fortunately, the nature of the 24-day National Geographic Expedition means that such types are likely to be in the minority – most should opt instead for the luxury round-the-world cruise, where they can sit at the captain’s table and not listen to one another between trips to the salmon buffet. So if you’re loaded enough to afford a trip like this, and you have the soul and the curiosity to embrace the terrain outside yourself, National Geographic’s new foray into the commercial travel industry appears on balance a safe bet.
You’ll start in Washington DC, with a welcome reception at the National Geographic Society headquarters, followed by dinner at the Mandarin Oriental. Next morning it’s off on the private Boeing 757 to Lima, Peru. Days three and four are spent exploring the Plaza de Armas and the Sacsayhuaman fortress at Cusco, and the ancient Inca ruins at Machu Picchu. Day five you’re back on the jet to Easter Island, and you know if by day six you haven’t heard anything about Bob and Doris Fink, it’s going to be a great trip.
Photo: Machu Picchu
What you’ve got ahead of you is astounding. After Easter Island the jet takes you to Samoa, where you’ll be driven along the lush volcanic coast to the site of a “fiafia” – a traditional Polynesian song and dance performance. Then you’ll lose a day crossing the International Date Line and land on Australia’s east coast, where for the next 48 hours some of the 200 bird species and 1,500 fish species of the Great Barrier Reef will float psychedelically through your binoculars and/or goggles (hallucinogens not a requirement). Days 11 and 12 are reserved for Angkor Wat, the Cambodian temple complex built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. And day 13 is Panda Bear Day, at the breeding and research centre in Chengdu, China.
Tired yet? Chug a Red Bull, because Tibet’s coming up – the Jokhang Temple, the Potala Palace and the 600-year-old Sera Monastery. Of course a trip like this would be meaningless without the Taj Mahal, so days 16 and 17 are reserved for Agra in India.
Photo: The Potala Palace
By now, even if they don’t talk too much, some of your traveling companions may be starting to annoy you a bit. Get away from them by choosing the “other” option: on days 18 and 19, when you’ll be in Tanzania, you can go to either the Serengeti National Park or the Ngorongoro Crater, where 30,000 animals live in the world’s largest unbroken caldera.
On days 20 and 21, if the people you thought you liked also turn out to be irritating, you can join up with the original group by choosing the “other” option again – what say you: the Temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt, or the lost city of Petra in the deserts of Jordan? Either way, on days 22 and 23 you’ll all be a happy family once more in Marrakech, Morroco, where you’ll stroll amicably through the Koutoubia Mosque, the Bahia Palace, the open-air market of Djemaa el Fna and the Majorelle Garden.
Photo: The Valley of the Kings
On the last night, totally free of jetlag and in no way allowing your five-star experience of the world’s great wonders to meld into one hopelessly mystifying collage, you’ll gather for a farewell dinner. It will be “festive,” according to your itinerary, and there will be “traditional entertainment”. You will not prefer to be asleep in your room. You will order another bottle, dance the night away, share memories and phone numbers with your fascinating new friends.
The next day, edified and refreshed, the Boeing will drop you back in Washington DC, from where you will catch a connecting flight home.
What are you waiting for?
By Kevin Bloom
Read more: National Geographic Expeditions
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