Postcard From Our Traveler: The Power of a Tour Leader

I have no doubt you have heard this many times before, but we wanted to share our enthusiasm about our Tour Leader, Suzanne Noakes! We were greeted at the airport like this was her first group tour! She focused in on each individual’s special interests, was always available for extra bird walks, always had a sense of humor and always kept us fully informed about up-coming activities and all the extras that were added. She was a natural for special touches for special needs—she would say to the local guides, “SPEAK LOUDER, I am hard of hearing!” when in reality, it was my husband Bob who was hard of hearing.

She went out of her way to ensure the safety of all group members, especially on the walks on slippery mud paths—she was always right there to assist. She always made sure to do a personal re-introduction to the chief villagers, before we intruded on their territory, and it was obvious they loved her greetings. And, very best of all, she never rushed us out of any village visit. She gave us plenty of time to explore on our own. We felt the itinerary was an ideal mixture of destinations and cultures and to end up in Tufi was spectacular. We are so glad to have had the extra days—the snorkeling was awesome!

One of Suzanne’s comments really stuck with us. When a bridge was destroyed on our way to the airport in Mt. Hagen, in no time at all, she had a Plan B. We knew we were in good hands when she said “leave the worrying and stress to me—thats what you are paying for!” LOL! Suzanne made the trip exceed our expectations! Thanks so much for this adventure of a lifetime!

– Sue and Bob

Suzanne & the Huli

Sue and Bob embarked on our Small Group Tour Papua New Guinea: Island in the Clouds – Tumbuna
 with a Custom Extension to Tufi to relax and explore the beautiful coastal environment. Asia Travel Specialist, Tom Lastick, planned their itinerary. This was their first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys.

A Staff Postcard from the Field: Clean Water Brought To You By Asia Transpacific Foundation

Clean Water Initiative

I LOVE  Burma. LOVE LOVE LOVE it. If you’ve never been you HAVE GOT to go. There are many wonderful places in Asia, but Burma is special. It’s amazing! The people are so kind and gentle.

The last time I visited in 2011 I dropped by the factory that makes ceramic filters that produce clean water for locals. It’s funded by our very own Asia Transpacific Foundation and I highly recommend a visit to any of our travelers! It’s located in the village of Twante which has been a pottery center in Burma (Myanmar) for centuries.  It is a two hour drive from Yangon, along the red mud banks of the Irrawaddy River. It was a thrill to finally get to visit this village. It has been functioning like a well oiled machine for over four years.

As I arrived the local supervisor, wearing his best shirt and the traditional longyi (men’s sarong), flashed a huge grin in my direction and came to meet my vehicle.  He and his crew had been anxiously awaiting my arrival. I clasped my palms together in the traditional greeting and they all did the same. Then they presented me with tea and snacks. After this warm welcome I was invited to see the progress at the plant and meet the workers, who take great pride in their jobs.  The kiln was precisely built, and had been used to fire many loads of filters. As a matter of fact, filters were everywhere, in various states of finish.  Some were being pressed from raw clay that had been mixed with rice husk to create the required post-firing porosity, some were being dried in preparation for firing, some were being unloaded from the kiln and being tested for flow rates, others were being painted with colloidal silver and being packed for shipping to surrounding villages.  There were at least 30 people working diligently at all this.

All this is a huge success story for the people of this area! Clean water is virtually non-existant in many parts of rural Burma. Asia Transpacific Foundation and donations from our travelers have generously funded this effort. I was happy to see the diligence and dedication that the workers bring to their jobs, the clean drinking water that each filter provides and the income that this project provides for the workers and their families.

Later that day as my driver and I headed down the dusty red dirt road, I looked back to see all thirty of the employees smiling and waiving a warm good bye. The warmth of the Burmese people once again touched my heart.

~Rebecca Mazzaro, Asia Travel Specialist

Rebecca in Burma

The normally non-smoking Rebecca Mazzaro, Asia Transpacific Journeys Travel Specialist Extraordinaire, throwing caution to the wind in an effort to connect with locals in Mandalay, Burma

_______________________________________________________________________

Rebecca became hooked on travel after spending a year of high school in a small Spanish province bordering Morocco. She studied Environmental Biology earning her degree at CU Boulder. A musical streak culminated in a performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and a penchant for travel manifested itself in years spent guiding around the U.S.

She fell for Asia during extensive travels in the region, where she expertly captures its people and places in photos. She revels in sharing her deep first-hand knowledge and was named a Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist for 2007. Rebecca was also named one of the World’s Top Travel Agents by Travel + Leisure magazine in 2011.

Photo of the Week :: India Travel Photo Contest

This week’s photo was taken by Andrea Perullo.

“I had just walked out of the Taj Mahal and was greeted by these women in their colorful saris.  I think the colors of the saris with the Taj Mahal as the backdrop is absolutely breathaking.  It actually brought tears to my eyes!” – Andrea Perullo

Photo: Andrea Perullo (c) All rights reserved

If you’ve captured that one-in-a-million shot on a recent trip to India then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contest” and you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

See all the other wonderful India travel photos that have been submitted on our Online Photo Contest Album.

Deadline for submission is July 31, 2010. Winners will be announced by August 31, 2010.

A Staff Postcard from the Field: Discovery in China

China travel notes from Chris Dunham, Asia Travel Specialist


Ni hao from China!

I’m currently on a whirlwind visit to cover 9 cities in 17 days. It’s amazing to see all the changes that have occurred within China since my last visit. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Yunnan Province, which is new for me and I would fully recommend you visit Kunming, Lijiang, Dali and Zhongdian if you are looking for something different from the traditional tourist track in China. Yunnan is very tribal and while many parts of China are predominantly of the Han majority, Yunnan’s population is comprised mainly of ethnic minorities such as Naxi, Tibetan and Yi Peoples, to name a few.

My favorite experience so far was in Zhongdian, which is about as close to resembling Lhasa, Tibet as one can get without actually traveling to Lhasa. As a side note to this story, my fiancée, Ali, is back in the US and she is constantly on my mind as we are getting married in about two months, but she couldn’t take the time off to travel with me this time around. On this particular day in Zhongdian with my guide, I hiked up to the top of Dabao Monastery just on the outskirts of Zhongdian, where I lit Yak Butter Lamps for my future with Ali as well as all of my family. Then, I was blessed by the Chief Lama of the Monastery and given some lovely prayer beads, which I am still wearing. Finally, I purchased Tibetan prayer flags from a local woman and wrote down my wishes for a good life with Ali on the prayer flags and then hung them in the sea of prayer flags on the side of Dabao Mountain. Our names and wishes for a good life are still blowing in the wind on those prayer flags. I will always cherish the time I spent in Zhongdian and I look forward to my next opportunity to return to this gem nestled along majestic mountains and beautiful countryside.

My account above is just one of the amazing, beyond-the-ordinary experiences I’ve had while in China. Time is fleeting, so keep traveling!

Zai-jian,

Chris

Interview with Traveler and Award-Winning Photographer Dimitra Stasinopoulou

Among the things that make our jobs so rewarding are the special people who travel with us. Dimitra Stasinopoulou has been to Asia four times with Asia Transpacific Journeys, and photography is her means of connecting with local cultures. She has traveled with us to India, Bhutan and Papua New Guinea and has published books about her travels. But the books are not for sale—Dimitra gives them away. She has given away nearly 10,000 books so far.

We called Dimitra in her native Athens to talk travel, photography, and how she finds joy in “giving the books away.”

ATJ: What drove you to begin photographing people and producing such beautiful books?

DS: “Five years ago I was 52, I quit my job at Chase Manhattan Bank in Athens, in order to be involved in the pharmaceutical business my husband has in Romania. This was a big change in my life. I was feeling depressed there until I bought a camera and began taking pictures, mainly of the local people and their life. I had never photographed anything before. This was like opening a door for me, to really see the people. I published a book called Romania of my Heart. In this book I tried to express my love for this country that has moved me with its genuine character, its beauty and its boundless hospitality. The 4,000 copies printed have been offered as a gift both in Greece and Romania. For this book they gave me the UNESCO prize, since, as they said, it has deepened the friendship between our two countries. The book was officially presented to Greece by the President of Romania. After distributing the book I received many letters, but what I cherish the most is the Romanian people, who, as they told me, felt again proud for their country. It was a labor of love and they understood it. It changed my life.”

ATJ: In your book, Bhutan—Smiling Faces From the Roof of the World you take many portraits and seem to have a gift for engaging people. Can you comment on that?

DS:  “Communicating with people for me is the most interesting and rewarding experience. In Bhutan my eyes opened to a completely different world. It is so peaceful and the people are so innocent and welcome you wherever you go. I believe they understood that I really liked them and that I wanted to communicate with them. It was very special.”

ATJ: How do you go about getting someone’s permission to take their photo?

DS: “I never ask. I just engage. If you ask, then they freeze, everything changes. With my photography I try to really see the person. I smile and they smile back. That’s the permission. My camera does not come between us, it helps me to really see their heart. They feel this too.

I don’t look for perfect light or position. I don’t know how to adjust the camera for this type of thing. I just try to communicate with people.  Even if I knew I wouldn’t have time enough to adjust the camera since it is only a second that you capture.”

Dimitra Stasinopolou © All rights reserved | Girl at Pushkar, India

ATJ: You also just published an amazing book of photographs called India—Unity In Diversity. Can you highlight some of the differences and similarities between photography in India and Bhutan?

DS: “Bhutan is unique. There are so few people living there. They have had very little contact with outsiders. India is quite different, India has a billion people, it can feel overwhelming at times. But, everywhere I went in India, I met an unparalleled cultural heritage and magnificent people, sometimes sad in their poverty, but always positive and peaceful within. Hindu people are the most compassionate, sweet and calm people anyone can come across. Violence is never part of their emotions. It is these people, with their disarming innocence, in reality, that represent the biggest treasure of the country. Take the slums—the people are smiling, beautiful, clean and hard working. I decided to attempt to capture with my lens the human dignity of the Indian people, their sweetness and their optimism. The qualities of these people are so strong that conditions of life are a secondary matter.  I am really exhausted after the India project but I will always remember Indian people and their smiles.”

ATJ: Do you have a favorite place or destination for your photography?

DS: “It’s very difficult to say. Every country has its own beauty. Bhutan is special, very quiet and calm. The people are smiling all the time. You must be there to feel the peace. It’s one of the happiest places on Earth.  India is also exceptional, Papua New Guinea is unique.  Every place has its own beauty.”

ATJ: Do you use all digital technology or also film?

DS: “I only use digital. That’s how I started and I think it is unique, if a person like me that knows absolutely nothing about cameras is able to take good pictures.”

ATJ: What type of camera do you use?

DS: “Canon. I started with a Canon EOS 30D, 50D and now I shoot with a Canon Mark II 5D. I am used with them and also very pleased. I don’t think I will ever change.”

ATJ: Can you give a tip or two to aspiring photographers?

DS: “Shoot from the heart. Don’t think about the quality of the picture. Engage emotionally.  Share with other people. Today’s technology is so huge, a picture can be fixed, but it should be as close to reality as possible. No Photoshop, don’t try to turn the sky blue. The technical things are not important to me.”

ATJ: Do you have any other books planned?

Dimitra Stasinopolou © All rights reserved | Boy in Mt. Hagan, Papua New Guinea

DS: “Maybe the next one will be for Papua New Guinea. I am also going to China’s Silk Road with Asia Transpacific Journeys in May. Maybe China will be the next one. I don’t know yet.”

ATJ: Where can someone buy your books?

DS: “They are not for sale. I give them away to people I love, to people I admire, to friends, so that they pass them on to their friends, and of course to people I meet while traveling—fellow travelers and local people. It’s the biggest gift to give myself, for me to be able to give to others. For example in Romania while I was at a diplomatic reception I gave a local woman who was attending the coat check the book Romania Of My Heart. She thanked me so sincerely, and said she had been working at that coat check for 30 years but no one had ever given her a gift before. When she said that to me she gave me a gift to remember and treasure for the rest of my life. She and I both made a friend that day.

It’s so personal. I put my soul in these books. I couldn’t sell them or connect them with money. I don’t think a professional photographer would spend thousands of hours putting a book with more than 950 pages together. It’s a huge effort, it takes months. It could never pay. A publisher is now asking me to reprint the Bhutan book and sell it to India. If that happens I will donate any money away to charity. I know I am very lucky I can do this and I also know that so many other much more talented photographers could have made an even better book if they had the means. I believe the most important things in our life are given free, so what I am doing is the minimum I can do. I am a happy person doing this now.”

ATJ: Thank you so much Dimitra, it has been our sincere pleasure to talk with you.

DS: “I want to make a comment about your company. I feel I am the luckiest person on earth to be able to discover Asia Transpacific Journeys out of so many companies existing. I really believe you are working in such an exceptional way that you are also the ones to be credited for the books, at least for Bhutan and India. You organize things in such a way that you made me discover the best of each country. The personnel is so friendly (especially Rebecca Mazzaro with whom I talk the most) and well informed and always understood what I am looking for and guide me accordingly. I am always traveling alone, and in the beginning I thought it wouldn’t be easy. Most of the times the rest of the group are Americans, but they all are so very kind with me, making me feel at home with them. These pictures are a wonderful keepsake of our trips together. I am honored to have traveled with them and feel so privileged to have them as my friends. I thank you from my heart for existing and enabling me to make my dreams come true.

Since English is not my native language it is not so easy for me to express what I feel but I hope you understand.”

Dimitra in Ladakh

Dimitra Stasinopoulou is the recipient of the International Aperture Award for her photography and the artist behind three books of photography. Her book on Romania was awarded a UNESCO prize. She picked up a camera for the first time five years ago.