Trek Talk - ElderTreks Blog

 

With our own New Year having just arrived, and the Chinese New Year fast approaching on January 31st, it seems appropriate to focus on China as we usher in the Year of the Horse, and our first newsletter of 2014.

New Year's celebrations are one of the most important festivals in the Chinese calendar, lasting almost a month and filled with a sense of optimism and promise. It's also steeped in rituals with rich symbolism and traditions originating from legends and myths that date back centuries.

Mythic Beasts and the Power of Red Underwear

Known as the Spring Festival, and lasting 23 days, Chinese New Year is a time to set the stage for a year of positivity and prosperity. A thorough house cleaning sweeps away any bad luck from the past year, and makes way for incoming good luck. Red scrolls inscribed with symbols for good fortune, happiness, or wealth are hung on doors, and token amounts of money are given out in red envelopes. Firecrackers can also play a significant part in the celebrations, and on the 15th day of the month, red lanterns are hung in personal and public spaces as part of the Lantern Festival.

But why the colour red?

Legend has it that in China, each new year began with a fight against a mythical creature called the Nian, a beast who emerged from hiding on New Year's Day to terrorize villages, and satisfy his appetite for everything from prepared food and livestock to children. One particular child, however, who happened to be wearing red, succeeded in frightening the Nian away, leading the villagers to believe that red would ward off the beast. For this reason, red scrolls and lanterns were hung on the doors of the village homes to protect them from the Nian. Of course, it probably didn't hurt that a few firecrackers were set off, too.

Eventually the evil Nian was tamed by the monk, Hongjun Laozu, who capitalized on this fear of red by sporting red underwear when he confronted the beast, thereby thwarting the Nian's attempt to eat him.

So if red lanterns aren't your style, you might want to think about adopting red underwear as another New Year's tradition of your own.

(Ironically, China does not follow this custom, but other cultures like Spain, Italy, Turkey and Mexico do, gifting or wearing red underwear as part of their New Year's Eve good luck tradition.)

Whatever your chosen tradition, here's to a new year filled with happiness, good fortune, and exciting adventures!

Jane Canapini - January 23, 2014
 

A message from ElderTreks President, Gary Murtagh:

The end of every year is both a time for reflection and looking ahead to the new year. Having recently returned from finalizing our new Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe itinerary, I can honestly say that this trip has contributed to many of my most outstanding memories of 2013. And I'm really excited to be offering it to you in 2014. Here's why:

1. Elephants. On this single trip alone, I saw not just hundreds, but I'm guessing upwards of 2000 elephants on our safaris! It seemed that no matter where we went, elephants were everywhere, including foraging for food in our camp one night!

2. The Big Five. For anyone who has been to Africa or is thinking of going, heading out on safari in search of the 'Big Five' (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant) is a must. But it is quite an achievement to spot all five, and this was the first safari where I've actually seen all five of these magnificent animals on one tour. As an added bonus, I also got to see the extremely rare wild dog in its natural habitat. As one of the most endangered carnivores in the world, seeing these few surviving animals in the wild was particularly thrilling.

3. Big Cats. Like elephants, they are synonymous with Africa, but this was also the first safari where I spotted three of the big cats multiple times: leopards (3 sightings), cheetahs (2 sightings) and lions (3 sightings).

4. Malawi's welcoming people. Probably some of the friendliest people I've met in all of Africa, who greeted us with smiles wherever we travelled, and who couldn't do enough for us.

5. "The Smoke that Thunders" at Victoria Falls. People often ask what time of the year is best to view the falls, in the dry season (the fall) when you see less water and spray, which can be better for photography, or in the spring when the falls' raging waters are at their most impressive volume. Having seen both, we are considering adding a summer departure in 2015 to take advantage of the falls when they are near their peak, as well as our fall tour, so you can experience this destination at whatever time of year you prefer. It's just that beautiful.

I can't say enough about these experiences, and the opportunity this tour offers to showcase Africa is its pristine state - wild and majestic - and to see nature at its most impressive, all without the crowds you typically find in other parts of Africa.

To those who might be hesitant about visiting this part of Africa, let me say this: I last visited Zimbabwe four years ago, and since then much has changed to make it a much safer destination for travellers. The introduction of the US dollar as the official currency has stabilized the economy and the political situation, and I absolutely believe now is a great time to visit.

This new itinerary was definitely one of the highlights of 2013 for me, providing photographs and memories which I'll treasure for years to come.

Similarly, I hope that ElderTreks has contributed to some of your most memorable moments this past year, and I look forward to having you join us on more incredible adventures in 2014.

Gary Murtagh - January 06, 2014
 

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