AMTRAK intend to become America’s top intercity travel choice

December 1, 2012

Amtrak

Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman told a Congressional committee today that under the ongoing implementation of its strategic plan, “we intend to become America’s top intercity travel choice.”

The strategic plan was launched in October 2011 and explains Amtrak’s vision for an operation that will improve its service delivery, financial performance, and customer satisfaction.

“When we’re done, Amtrak will look more like a business and less like a government agency – and customers will find that our system is easier to use, more convenient, timelier, and more comfortable,” Boardman said.

He explained that while there are still plenty of challenges ahead, “the basics for success are definitely here, and Amtrak is doing well.” Amtrak just set the ninth ridership record in the last ten years, posted record ticket revenues, had the best year in its history for on-time performance and has cut its debt in half.

In addition, with modern passenger-friendly amenities like Wi-Fi and eTicketing, America’s Railroad® has improved revenues and cut costs, and those will benefit the company greatly in the years to come.

“These are real achievements, and they allow us the stability and the resources we need to take on the next step, which is transforming the company so that it can continue to provide competitive and attractive transportation services in a world that’s changing rapidly,” he said.

“At its core, Amtrak is a great policy solution – with a cost recovery of 85 percent, we provide some of the lowest-cost, most efficient intercity passenger rail service in the world. Our challenge is to continue to improve,” he added.

 


Ethiopia’s forgotten attraction

October 9, 2012

BY Tsegaye Tadesse

The crocodile ranch lies almost hidden and largely forgotten behind the  airport in Ethiopia’s southern town of Arba Minch.

The country’s first crocodile farm, it was built by an enterprising  government official in the 1980s to generate foreign currency in one of Africa’s  poorest countries, where people mainly live from subsistence farming.

But the ranch has since fallen into disrepair, its decline a symbol of the  challenges facing Ethiopia as it seeks to lure more tourists to its mountainous  ranges and seemingly endless plains.

At the end of a narrow path, the crocodiles laze in deep pools, their eyes  glittering as they stare down nervous visitors. Separated according to age, the  crocodiles feast on horse meat twice a week.

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Thousands of the reptiles are reared in these cement-floored pools, but the  paths leading to the ranch’s star attraction are covered with weeds and hidden  in the dense overgrowth.

Metal fences meant to protect visitors from the crocodiles’ jaws are rusted  and broken in places.

“The place would have been a gold mine, if it had been privatised to a  commercial-minded investor,” one visitor said.

Ethiopia may struggle to reach its target of attracting one million tourists  a year within the next decade.

It’s not that the country — labelled the cradle of mankind after the  discovery of ancient human remains — lacks attractions but its infrastructure  is creaking, with poor roads and a lack of hotels. A 1998-2000 border war with  Eritrea also hit tourist earnings.

Nonetheless, the government aims to promote Ethiopia as one of the top 10  tourist destinations in Africa by 2016, hoping to reap $US650 million ($A873.50  million) a year in much-needed foreign receipts.

Last year, the Horn of Africa country hosted around 227,000 tourists, earning  $US156 million ($A210 million) in foreign exchange, compared with the $US134.5  million ($A181 million) earned from 184,000 visitors the previous year,  according to ministry of tourism figures.

Like many other potential money-spinners, the crocodile ranch is crying out  for investment to improve facilities and boost earnings.

Ethiopia boasts medieval cities, rich in ruined castles, palaces and  churches. One of its holiest cities, Axum, offers teetering stelae, underground  tombs and ancient inscriptions, while the 13th century rock-hewn churches of  Lalibela feature carvings of saints and mystical symbols.

The country has eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

But most visitors would never come across the Arba Minch crocodile farm,  which generated a paltry $US48,000 ($A64,503) from visitors in 2000 — far below  its overhead expenses.

Some 500km south of the capital Addis Ababa, Arba Minch is studded with  glistening lakes formed from bubbling streams that flow through the tropical  forests on nearby slopes.

The lakes give the town its Amharic name which means “40 springs” in  Ethiopia’s official language.

Estifanos Endeshaw, one of the ranch’s guides, said some 5,000 crocodiles are  fished out of Lakes Chamo and Abaya each year to be reared on the farm.

Scouts from the ranch scour the lakes’ sandy beaches in search of the hidden  nooks where the crocodiles lay their eggs.

Three months after the eggs hatch, the baby crocs are transported back to the  ranch where they spend the next year in a nursery pool. It takes up to 15 years  for a crocodile to develop into a full-bodied reptile.

Twice a week huge chunks of horse meat are thrown to the crocodiles. The  horses are bought at a nearby market and kept on the ranch before being  slaughtered and fed to the crocodiles.

Some of the crocodiles are killed on the ranch, their skins destined to be  used to make expensive shoes, handbags and belts, mainly for export.

“The crocodiles being reared in the ranch are mostly for tourist attraction,  although those which are old enough are shot for their skins,” Estifanos  said.

Reuters


How close do you think you can get to the Ugandan wilderness?

July 2, 2012

Many things can go through someone’s head when he or she thinks of Uganda. Some may think of it as a distant land only to be known through books and movies. Others may admire the country’s natural beauty yet be intimidated by its exoticism. But when the true traveler thinks of Uganda, one word most certainly always comes to mind: adventure.

GorillaSafari.travel is a Ugandan tour group that specializes in bringing travelers as close to nature as ever and providing them with the experience of a lifetime. GorillaSafari.travel is in the business of selling memories; they do this through the provision of safaris that range from gorilla tracking in the Bwindi forest to mountain hiking, primate tracking, and white water rafting.

Gorillasafari.travel adopted the .travel domain in August of 2008 to make itself as accessible as possible to the Internet user. GorillaSafari.travel’s Managing Director said, “I adopted GorillaSafari.travel because gorillas are Uganda’s number one attraction, and many users would be searching for a gorilla trip on the web. I was also unable to obtain GorillaSafari during the .com era.”

The .travel name was quickly used on company business cards, brochures, and banners. GorillaSafari.travel envisions itself as becoming one of the top five most recognized Destination Management Companies in East Africa, and .travel is enthusiastic in aiding GorillaSafari.travel in reaching its goals. To learn more about safaris in Uganda and all throughout East Africa please visit www.GorillaSafari.travel .

ETN is introducing its readers to .travel companies and destinations through a series of articles. If you are a .travel company and would like to share your story about how the .travel domain has helped your business, please send us an email to: team@eturbonews.com .

If you are interested in getting your own .travel domain, go to: www.travel.travel .


Belgium: Small Size. Big Fun. Every Day of the Year

June 21, 2012

There’s just something about Belgium. Maybe it’s the friendly & welcoming people. Maybe it’s the stunning architecture lining the cobblestone streets, or perhaps the choice of over 650 types of beer or the smell of chocolate. No matter what your interests, Belgium has something for everyone: romance, adventure, shopping for antiques as well as the latest trends. Energetic and carefree, the overall mood in Belgium is infectious, summoning visitors to take in the views of the Grand Place in Brussels as their worries fall by the wayside.

Located just 85 minutes from Paris and less than 2 hours from London and Amsterdam by train, the Belgian capital of Brussels encompasses all that Europe has to offer. Belgium is multicultural and multilingual, with English being widely spoken among locals. Visitors can easily hop on a one-hour train ride to take a walk through Liege or stroll through the romantic city of Namur hand-in-hand with a loved one.

The historical city of Brussels is one of the world’s greatest cosmopolitan capitals, and offers 80 museums, seasonal markets, jazz festivals and a bustling night life. This year, as part of the Year of Gastronomy in 2012, Brussels is a food lover’s paradise with its Brusselicious food themed festivities. Visitors to Brussels in 2012 can book a trip on the Tram Experience, 2-hour tram ride through Brussels while enjoying a 3-course meal, or enjoy a Dinner in the Sky at one of four special and historic locations in Brussels. For those who prefer a stationary meal, consider one of eight Themed Dinners ranging from the 150th Anniversary of Les Miserable, written in Brussels, to the Ommegang Pageant. Any way you slice it, you can’t go wrong!

Beyond Brussels is a world of castles, stone-built villages and affordable restaurants that can be visited by coach, train or renting a car. The Year of Gastronomy continues in French-speaking Belgium with food events and behind the scenes visits to local farms, food markets and producers of beer, cheese and meats. Adventurous travelers can explore the countryside as they make their way to the relaxing town of Spa. History buffs should be sure to visit Bastogne and the World War II memorial commemorating the Battle of the Bulge. Wherever your travels may lead, there is sure to be a something for every taste, style and need imaginable. For more info visit www.visitbelgium.com


Beijing to share more of Great Wall with tourists

June 20, 2012

Ever-increasing visitor numbers have prompted authorities  in Beijing to ready more sections of the Great Wall of China for tourists.

The capital plans to add the Huanghuacheng and Hefangkou  sections of the Wall to the existing four parts of the fortification open to the  public following necessary repairs and renovations.

Beijing Cultural Relics Bureau (BCRB) chief Kong Fanzhi  said the already opened Mutianyu and Badaling sections of the Great Wall would  also be extended to cater for burgeoning visitor numbers, China Daily reported.

Mr Kong said the initiatives aimed to “better protect”  the Great Wall by “diverting visitors and reducing the load” on the parts of  the fortification currently open to tourists.

According to the bureau chief, Beijing has invested millions of yuan into the repair of the Wall,  which he says is buckling under the weight of mass domestic and international  tourism, particularly on weekends and during holidays.

Making matters worse, a rising number of tourists are climbing  parts of the Great Wall closed off to the public, causing further damage to the  Chinese icon.

Despite this burden, BCRB Department of Preservation  director Wang Yuwei said most of the 60 kilometers of the Great Wall in the  capital had been kept in “good condition”.

No date has been set for the opening of the new sections,  the bureau said.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that the Great Wall of China is nearly two and a half times the length it was widely believed to have been.

According to local media, in its recent survey report,  the State Administration of Cultural Heritage deemed the wall to be 21,296  kilometres (13,233 miles) – much longer than the previously estimated 8,852 kilometres  (5,500 miles).

Yan Jianmin,  office director of the China Great Wall Society, said the sizable  discrepancy had arisen as previous estimations had only referred to Great Walls  built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

“But this new measure includes Great Walls built in all dynasties,” he  said.

In related news, archaeologists working on the latest dig  at the site of the  Terracotta  Warriors in Xi’an have said the project has unearthed more than 300  important artefacts including tools, weapons, parts of chariots, twelve pottery  horses and most notably, around 120 more warriors.

The third dig to take place in the museum’s number one pit in Xi’an,  capital of Northwest China’s Shaanxi province, began in 2009.


Victoria Falls-Africa

May 16, 2012

victoria-falls

Victoria Falls (also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, which translates to “the smoke that thunders” in the language of the Kololo Tribe, which were present in the 1800s) is possibly the largest single-entity waterfall in the world. David Livingstone, the first European to see the falls, named it in honor of Queen Victoria in 1855. I had read that he was so awestruck by the sight of the falls that he said, “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

Victoria Falls is a spectacular waterfall located in southern Africa on the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Zambezi River serves as the fall’s water source. With the collective height and width of the falls, it is attributed as the largest sheet of falling water in the world. The name Victoria Falls was given by the Scottish explorer Dr. David Livingstone.

Victoria Falls is accessed through Livingstone, Zambia or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It is recommended that whichever city serves as the entry point that visitors take advantage of the complete natural wonder experience and cross over to border to see what Victoria Falls has to offer from the differing perspective.

There are two unique and distinctive views of the falls. One of the best ways to see the falls is to take a helicopter or microlite tour over the falls, which provides a breathtaking and spectacular aerial view of the falls and surrounding area. Whether you elect to take a helicopter, microlite or both up into the air you will have a fair chance of seeing elephants, hippos or other wildlife while taking in the awe inspiring view of the falls. Although there are no guarantees, witnessing wildlife along the way will enhance your natural wonders. There are basically two seasons for the Victoria Falls area.

The rainy season runs from late November to early April and the remaining months account for the dry season. One would imagine that the rainy season with more water would make the falls more spectacular; however the additional water makes it impossible to see the base of the falls. The dry season provides an opportunity for the islets and rocky face to become more visible which makes for a more scenic view.

These exotic waterfalls offer many attractions to the tourists like water surfing, river rafting and river boarding. The Victoria Falls along with the nearby landscapes have been declared as the world heritage site. It is really a captivating destination where you can seriously enjoy a couple of days and make your vacations memorable.


Traveller’s Guide: Ethiopia

May 2, 2012

BY Stuart Butler

There is a place, in the searing deserts of north-east Ethiopia, where you can watch a new version of planet Earth being created. In 2005, over a period of just 10 days, a 60km-long, 8m-wide crack opened in the Earth’s surface. Scientists who witnessed it were astonished. Here, they told the world, were the labour pains indicating the birth of a new ocean and the beginning of an event that in a mere 10 million years would rip Africa in two.

The fact that Ethiopia is reshaping our planet should come as no surprise. After all, this corner of East Africa is often cited as the cradle of humanity. It was here that ancient hominids first stood upright. But Ethiopia’s contribution to Earth’s history extends much further; this is a country that has helped shape much of our culture. It is home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, an even older Jewish one, and it is where the first Muslims found shelter when persecuted in their Arabian homeland. Ethiopia is also where the Ark of the Covenant, the biblical chest carried by Moses from Mount Sinai, can supposedly be found, inside a chapel in Axum.

Going back even further, Ethiopia is where the Queen of Sheba is said to have had her palace and where she gave birth to a son, fathered by King Solomon, who became the ancestor of all Ethiopian emperors right up to Haile Selassie.

Unfortunately, despite its illustrious past, years of famine and war have kept mass tourism at bay. But things are changing, and nowadays Ethiopia is safe, stable and surprisingly easy to visit. Indeed, Cox & Kings (0845 564 8275; coxandkings.co.uk) reported that its Ethiopia group tour was the best-selling escorted tour in its Africa brochure last year. The 14-day “Ethiopian Odyssey” starts at £2,889 per person, including flights.

Most visitors focus on the northern highlands, with good reason. Homeland of the Christian Amhara and Tigrayan peoples, the north’s soaring mountain plateaux offer a treasure trove of historical sites, tiny monasteries older than any European cathedral, and rock-carved churches filled with medieval art. The main tourist sites in the north are Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, whose surface is pockmarked with tiny forested islands hiding 16th-century monasteries. Then there’s Gonder, the former imperial capital, which has some of Africa’s finest castles and palaces.

Axum has one of the greatest collections of archaeological sites in sub-Saharan Africa. And the final stop on most people’s itinerary is Lalibela, the so-called New Jerusalem. Rainbow Tours (020-7666 1250; rainbowtours.co.uk) offers an 11-day “Classic Ethiopia Historical Tour” costing from £2,895, including flights.

The north also has some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery in Africa, with the 4,000m-high Simien Mountains the most popular hiking area. For more offbeat trekking, the northern Tigray region and the area around Lalibela offer fantastic walking, and diversions include monasteries atop needles of rock. Exodus (0845 287 7613; exodus.co.uk) offers a 15-day “Simien Mountains Trek” from £2,149, with flights.

Heading south from the capital, Addis Ababa, you’ll find a land torn open by the Rift Valley, sprinkled with muddy lakes and home to a mind-boggling array of tribal peoples. Then there’s the little-visited west, among whose evergreen coffee plantations lies adventure – and none bigger than the search for the lost gold mines of King Solomon.

Finally, in the east, where Islam dominates, is the fear-inspiring Danakil Desert– with its fiercely independent tribes – widely seen as the world’s hottest, most ferocious place. Yet it wasn’t always like this: Ethiopians say that, long ago, the Danakil was a vast field of pure gold. True or not, it’s likely that, a long time hence, the Danakil will be at the bottom of a brand new ocean formed after Ethiopia tears Africa into two, and once again reshapes the world.

Axum

You might not guess it, but the small and dusty town of Axum (Aksum) was once one of the most important towns in Africa. Its influence stretched over a vast swathe of north-east Africa and southern Arabia. Today, there are still reminders of those glory days; a handful of stelae – one of them pictured right – and a clutch of tombs and mausoleums. But even with these physical remains we still know little about ancient Axum. Who constructed these stelae, and why? Are there really secret hoards of treasure hidden in sealed tombs? (It’s certainly true that there are passageways and tombs under Axum that archaeologists have yet to open.) Was Axum really once the capital of the Queen of Sheba? And, most intriguingly, does the small chapel at the centre of the town contain the Ark of the Covenant?

Ace Cultural Tours (01223 841 055; aceculturaltours.co.uk). offers a 14-day group trip, calling at Axum, for £2,950, with flights.

Lalibela

The legends say that, 1,000 years ago, a poisoned man was carried to heaven by the angels and shown a breathtaking city of rock-hewn churches. He was then commanded by God to return to Earth and recreate what he had seen.

The result was Lalibela. Easily the No 1 attraction in Ethiopia, and one of the architectural wonders of Africa, the dozen churches, hewn out of rust- red rock, are the high point of an ancient Ethiopian building tradition. You can explore them quite freely, but note two things: you will be expected to take off your shoes, and the carpets covering the floors are often alive with fleas.

Lalibela is a living, breathing religious site, and to be here during one of the major Christian holidays, when thousands of white-robed pilgrims pour into town, is to witness Christianity at its rawest and most powerful. Explore Tailormade (0844 875 1890; explore. co.uk/tailormade) offers an 11-day “Ancient Kingdoms” tour that includes Lalibela, Axum, Gonder and some well-kept secrets. From £2,275, with flights.

Omo Valley

In the remote south of the country is a side of Ethiopia that stands in utter contrast to the cool, Christian highlands. The Omo Valley is the Africa of Hollywood films; wild and sometimes untamed, it’s home to a plethora of tribal groups, including the bull-jumping Hamer people, the Beshadar and the fascinating Mursi, whose women wear huge lip plates and whose men still live a life of cattle rustling and tribal fighting.

Last century, tourism in these parts was unheard of, but today, the Omo Valley has become one of the Ethiopian tourist boards’ biggest selling points.

Getting to the southern Omo Valley, where the greatest concentration of tribal villages can be found, is an adventure, and, because of a paucity of public transport, even hard-core backpackers end up using a tour company.

Wild Frontiers (020-7736 3968; wildfrontiers.co.uk) has a 13-day “Journey through the Omo Valley” from £2,170 without flights, or £2,695 inclusive. The tour includes crater lakes in Langano, visits to indigenous villages and boat trips on Lake Chamo.

Lonely Planet’s Ethiopia & Eritrea guide is available now, price £16.99 (shop.lonelyplanet.com)


Bedrock of Art and Faith-Art and Travel

April 21, 2012

The St. George church in Lalibela, dedicated to Ethiopia’s patron saint, is one of 11 Ethiopian Orthodox churches that were carved out of the rock in the 13th century and are literally anchored in the earth.

By HOLLAND COTTER

ON the roads through Ethiopia’s highlands traffic raises a brick-red haze that coats your clothes, powders your skin and starts a creaking in your lungs. Despite the dust people wear white. Farmers wrap themselves in bleached cotton. Village funerals look like fields of snow. At churches and shrines white is the pilgrim’s color.

I wear it too, protectively: long-sleeved white shirt, tennis cap, Neutrogena sun block. A pilgrim? Why not?

I’m here for something I’ve longed to see, Ethiopia’s holy cities: Aksum, the spiritual home of this east African country’s Orthodox Christian faith and, especially, the mountain town of Lalibela, with its cluster of 13th-century churches some 200 miles to the south.

Lalibela was conceived as a paradise on earth. And its 11 churches, cut from living volcanic rock, are literally anchored in the earth. In scale, number, and variety of form there’s no architecture or sculpture quite like them anywhere. They’re on the global tourist route now, though barely. To Ethiopian devotees they’ve been spiritual lodestars for eight centuries, and continue to be.

Heaven seekers and art seekers are, in some ways, kindred souls, impelled to spend precious time and travel mad distances in search of places and things that will, somehow, fill them up, complete them. For the religious, pilgrimage is a dress rehearsal for salvation. For the art seeker, it can transform a wish list of experiences into a catalog of permanent, extended, relivable memories. But why do art seekers go to the particular places and things they do? This is a personal matter; complicated, with roots in the past.

As an American teenager in the early 1960s I sensed Africa all around me, secondhand. African independence was on the evening news; names like Lumumba, Nkrumah and Senghor chanted by jubilant crowds. “Civil rights” was turning into “black power,” with preachers in suits replaced by Huey Newton holding a spear in one hand, a shotgun in the other.

In college I took an anthropology course called “Primitive Art.” It met in an ethnological museum that had a collection of masks from West and Central Africa. I loved them instantly, these things made for dancing, healing, telling stories, changing identities. They looked old but felt new. I wanted to go to where they came from.

But not ready yet, I went that first college summer to Europe, where I dashed through countless museums in 15 countries before ending up in Istanbul. Again, love, immediate. One look at Byzantine art — the lifting-off dome of Hagia Sophia, the Buddha-calm saints of the Chora mosaics — confirmed what I had begun to suspect: my compass was not set westward.

At that point I didn’t yet know that Byzantium and sub-Saharan Africa had once fruitfully intersected. I later learned, and that intersection is what I’ve come to Ethiopia to see.

The history of Ethiopian culture is deep, going back — if the national epic, the “Kebra Negast” or “Glory of Kings,” can be believed — to at least the 10th century B.C., when an Ethiopian ruler, the biblical Queen of Sheba, traveled to Jerusalem in search of the wisdom of Solomon. The two monarchs met, bonded and had a son, Menelik, who would become Ethiopia’s first emperor.

Solomon, the story goes, wanted to name Menelik as his heir. But the young prince, with Africa on his mind, left Jerusalem behind. He did not, however, leave empty-handed. Secretly he took with him the Ark of the Covenant, which held the tablets given by God to Moses, and brought it to Ethiopia, in effect, establishing a new Israel there.

History, if that’s what this is, then fades out for stretch, until around 300 B.C., when a new empire coalesces in northern Ethiopia, with the city of Aksum as its capital and a still-existing group of immense stone stelae, carved with architectural features, as its grand monument. Another fade-out. By the fourth century A.D. Ethiopia has become officially Christian, and the Ark is in Aksum, enshrined in a cathedral named St. Mary of Zion, where it remains.


Tourists from 5 nations victims in Ethiopia attack

January 18, 2012

Travel & Safety

By LUC VAN KEMENADE, Associated Press

Gunmen in Ethiopia’s arid north attacked a group of European tourists traveling in one of the world’s lowest and hottest regions, killing five, wounding two and kidnapping two, an Ethiopian official said Wednesday.

Ethiopia called the attack “an act of open terrorism” and said the gunmen came from neighboring Eritrea and attacked the tourist group before dawn on Tuesday. Three Ethiopians were also taken hostage. Eritrea denied it was involved.

Austrian, Belgian, German, Hungarian and Italian nationals were among those in the tourist group, Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon said.

Two Germans, two Hungarians and an Austrian were among the five killed, according to an Interpol report cited by the spokesman for Hungary’s prime minister. Two Belgians were seriously hurt and two Italians escaped unharmed, the report said. Two Germans were kidnapped.

Austria’s foreign ministry confirmed that an Austrian man from the province of Upper Austria was among the five dead. Germany’s foreign minister also confirmed two German deaths. Germany’s foreign minister said 12 other people were flown to safety by helicopter.

Those wounded in the attack arrived in Addis Ababa Wednesday evening, where they were met by embassy personnel. A British diplomat at the airport said it was possible one British tourist was among the group attacked.

One victim had to be moved in a wheelchair. Others covered their faces to avoid being photographed by journalists. A diplomat said that the victims did not want to make any statements to the media and said that they have had “a very hard time.”

Ethiopia offered its condolences to the families of victims and said it would “do everything possible to try and get those taken prisoner released as soon as possible,” a government statement said. “It is already clear that the attack was carried out with the direct involvement of the Eritrean Government. There is a fear that the people who have been kidnapped might be taken across the border into Eritrea.”

Ethiopia said it suspects the attack was linked to an upcoming African Union summit in Addis Ababa later this month. It said the attack shows that the international community “must now get serious about the destabilizing role of the Eritrean regime in the region.”

The tourists were visiting a volcanic region in Ethiopia’s northern Afar region, which lies below sea level and is known for its intense heat and picturesque salt flats.

Some of the tourists appeared to be traveling with Addis Ababa-based Green Land Tours and Travel, according to three people in Ethiopia’s capital, all of whom asked not to be identified because the information hadn’t yet been made public.

Green Land Tours and Travel offers a 15-day travel package to the Afar region, which include visits to watch salt extraction from salt lakes and a trek around a volcano that spouts lava pools.

Some of the tourists on the trip also appear to have been booked by a company in Germany called Diamir, which posted a statement on its website saying that it deeply regrets what happened. Diamir said it had offered the Ethiopia trip several times a year since 2006.

“Up until the current incident, Diamir had no indications that the security of guests could be in question in the region,” it said, adding that there was no German travel warning in place for Ethiopia or parts of it at the time of the incident.

Bereket said that “some groups trained and armed by the Eritrean government” attacked the tourists about 20 to 25 kilometers (12 to 15 miles) from the Eritrean border.

Eritrea’s ambassador to the African Union, Girma Asmerom, said Ethiopia’s allegations are an “absolute lie” and that the attack is an internal Ethiopian matter.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war from 1998 to 2000,claiming the lives of about 80,000 people. Tension between the neighboring East African countries rose last year when a U.N. report claimed that Eritrea was behind a plot to attack an African Union summit in Ethiopia.

Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Peter Launsky-Tiefenthal said there was an Austrian Foreign Ministry travel warning in effect for the region since 2007 “because of several incidents involving attacks on tourist groups … in some case politically motivated in others criminally motivated.”

In 2007, five Europeans and 13 Ethiopians were kidnapped in Afar. Ethiopia accused Eritrea of masterminding that kidnapping, but Eritrea blamed an Ethiopian rebel group. All of those hostages were released, though some of the Ethiopians were held for more than a month.

In 2008, Ethiopia foiled a kidnapping attempt on a group of 28 French tourists in the area.

“The problem is, there is no infrastructure in the area, no telephone lines, satellite phones barely work,” Launsky-Tiefenthal said, comparing the remote area to “the surface of Mars.”


How to Explore Pristine Islands with National Geographic

November 14, 2011

While Americans are being more careful with their money than ever, one sector where spending has increased is travel. Recent research has found that people who spend their money on travel and occasionally disconnect from the digital world rate their lives as happier.

Many travelers look to the restorative powers that come from visiting places of wild natural beauty. If close encounters with indigenous creatures appeals to you, then a holiday to the Galápagos Islands will provide you unparalleled opportunities to explore beautiful landscapes and observe incredible wildlife while relaxing in comfort.

Visitors regularly say that one of the most interesting things about visiting Galápagos is the unique natural habitat, which allows travelers to come face-to-face with wildlife that has never developed a fear of humans. Only in Galápagos do visitors have the chance to snorkel with playful sea lions, walk alongside grazing giant tortoises, approach birds like blue-footed boobies and marvel at penguins at the equator – all in one vacation.

The Galápagos Islands are located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador and are renowned for their unique wildlife and diverse geography. Lars-Eric Lindblad took the first non-scientific travelers to the archipelago in 1967, and the islands have been captivating travelers ever since.

The Galápagos archipelago consists of 13 main islands and 6 smaller isles, which together embrace some 19,500 square miles of ocean. With such a vast geography to explore, one of the best ways to visit the islands is to travel by boat. Small-ship expeditions are very popular in Galápagos for good reason. Small ships offer a great balance between comfort and convenience and many travel operators, such as Lindblad Expeditions , price their trips to include all activities, so there’s no need to pull a wallet out while onboard.

When looking for a travel provider, be certain that you select an operator that offers up-close exploration opportunities. The longest running travel operator in Galápagos, Lindblad Expeditions, features nimble Zodiac boats and kayaks that enable guests to visit the volcanic shores and land on the pristine beaches of the archipelago.

Lindblad Expeditions also works in alliance with National Geographic, which enables travelers to participate in the world of natural and cultural history as engaged, active explorers who care about the planet. And, every Lindblad expedition in Galápagos is led by a team of naturalists providing a multitude of resources for a rich, unmatched understanding of the incredible wildlife and special environment that is known as the “Land of Darwin.”

Galápagos is one of the most extraordinary places on earth to connect with nature. It is never too late, or too early, for a life-changing adventure.


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