A cow glances at the foreign kayak in the land of the Masai in Africa.

This is the week I hope to be kayaking in a lake with the world’s only fresh water sharks, amidst volcanos, islets, and prolific birdlife as part of Austin-Lehman Adventures’  compelling flagship tour in Nicaragua. To prepare, I contacted fellow Explorer’s Club member Alan Feldstein who teaches kayaking in the Pacific waters of Los Angeles, and leads a company that offers customized water safaris via kayaks in Tanzania, Africa—Infinite Safari Adventures(More on Feldstein’s other colorful ventures below.). He shares some tips and trips with me and Luxury Travel Mavens readers:

What is “luxury kayaking”?

Feldstein: “Most kayak trips, which I have done and love to do, involve paddling to a remote site with your gear in the boat, setting up camp, and then paddling the next day.  Us aging boomers are less into camping so the better way is to paddle to a lodge or paddle to and from a comfortable wonderful lodge with nice beds, hot showers and great meals.”

What does it take to be a kayaker?  How does it relate to health?

Feldstein: “Kayaking is a great sport for active people who do not want high impact.  Anyone can kayak and our trips are offered with no experience necessary.  General good health is all that it takes.  You use your core and are not putting stress on knees, hips and other joints.”

What are your five best tips for “good” kayaking?

Feldstein: “Have good equipment, have guides who are certified and know what they are doing, eat and hydrate well before paddling, and remember ‘the journey is the destination’ so go out and enjoy, and do not worry about how far or fast you paddle.  It is that Zen rhythm you get into when paddling that I enjoy so much.”

How do you recommend someone prepare for a kayaking trip? Any advance physical training? Anything special to pack?

Feldstein: “If you have never kayaked before, it would be if possible to take a lesson or introductory course.  Otherwise that is one of the great things of kayaking – anyone can do it. There are techniques to learn but anyone can paddle with out them.  We provide everything so the only thing you will need is a pair of waterproof shorts, shirts and shoes, a hat, some sunglasses and sunscreen, and a desire to have fun!”

How is kayaking different than canoeing or rowing? Why do you prefer it?

Feldstein: “I tease my friends who are rowers that they look at where they have been.  We look to where we are going!  Canoeing is similar, but I feel more comfortable in a kayak, because I am more connected with my boat.”

What inspired you to start a safari company and include kayaking?

Feldstein: “My story of how I started my safari company, which has now expanded beyond kayaking, and offers traditional wildlife safaris as well as other adventures including climbing Kilimanjaro, scuba diving in Zanzibar and tracking chimps, is born from my love of Africa and kayaking.

In 2000, I made my first trip to Tanzania. It was during that trip that I fell in love with Africa and everything about it – the people and their culture, the animals, the natural beauty. The first time a giraffe bent her graceful neck to peer into the vehicle window – well, she had me at jambo (Swahili for hello).

The trip left quite an impression on me. I dreamed about returning. In 2005, I made another trip to Tanzania to try new adventures — climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and tracking wild chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains. While “chimping” at Mahale, I met Steve and Teena, who managed the beachfront lodge where I and my wife were staying. Steve and I discovered we shared a passion for kayaking, and much to my surprise, Steve produced an aging boat and makeshift paddles so I could go for a paddle on Lake Tanganyika.

A few years later, I brought my children to Tanzania, and they too fell in love with Africa. Steve organized our safari. I wanted to include kayaking on the trip, but there were no kayaks available in Tanzania, so Steve custom built two beautiful fiberglass boats. He and I became the first to paddle the warm waters of the Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania.

During that trip, I thought about what makes a safari a great one from a good one.  I also thought about how to incorporate kayaking, and much more. I believed that many other adventurers from around the world would enjoy the same exceptional experience. From that dream, Infinite Safari Adventures was born.”

When are your upcoming trips?

Feldstein: “We only do custom trips, so they can be done anytime people are ready to do them!”

Any good kayaking related stories from past trip?

Feldstein: “My last trip was a family of 11 – grandparents, adult kids, 2 grandkids, and an 80-year-old friend from Japan.  I loved the fact that we took the grandfather, his son and granddaughter on a paddle one day.  She was so proud of kayaking with the adults (she did great), and it was a great bonding experience for the whole family.”

What’s your personal favorite “luxury” trip that you have been on?

Feldstein: “Of course my favorite are my trips, but my next one was paddling in Halong Bay in North Vietnam.”

What is on your bucket list for future “bucket list” Luxury travels (with or without a kayak)?

Feldstein: I spend so much time traveling to Africa.  If I had time, I would like to go to South America – anywhere.

Pampered Paddling

Thanks Alan!  I would also love to try kayaking just about anywhere beautiful on every continent. In North America, I’ve savored kayaking while on American Safari Cruises (now Un-Cruise Adventures). They lower kayaks off their yachts for memorable paddling and pampering experiences in the Inside Passage of Alaska, Hawaii, and Sea of Cortez, Mexico.

Now I head to the largest country in Central America to dip into Lake Nicaragua!  I will remember to stay hydrated, and hope to see and photograph monkeys on the islands, the world’s only freshwater sharks, and the volcanic landscapes, but will remember that phrase “the journey is the destination.”

For more on kayaking (and ashboarding?) in Nicaragua, you can “follow me” at @ExploreTraveler  and other adventurers @AustinLehman.  To plan your own paddling journey in Africa, you can contact Feldstein via his website.

 —Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

-Photographs by Alan Feldstein, except for the one of him.

Alan Feldstein, Founder, Infinite Safari Adventures


Feldstein’s bio, provided by him: In addition to paddling and teaching kayaking, Alan Feldstein has paddled all over the world, including California, Baja, British Columbia, Cape Cod, Hawaii, Turkey, The Hudson River, Vietnam, West Africa, Lake Tanganyika, and was one of the first people to kayak and explore the coast of Tanzania. Alan is also an avid nature photographer whose work has appeared in Wavelength Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the paddling.net calendar.  In addition, Alan has traveled extensively throughout the world.  He is a member of the Adventurer’s Club of Los Angeles and Southern California Chapter Chair of the Explorer’s Club.  He also sits on the board of Trustees of the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Most importantly he is the Owner and Founder of Infinite Safari Adventures.



Private ski instruction in delicious powder, a long lavender treatment at the Fairmont Spa, and then the night adventure…

Good Morning!

Wake up in Canada’s Jasper National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, fresh snowfall wrapping your private roomy cabin as you emerge from plush bedding and head to a hot shower, all part of the upscale, rustic travel ensemble that is the Fairmont JPL (Jasper Park Lodge) 

Morning hasn’t quite emerged from night yet, and it’s still too dark to appreciate the forested lake path to the main lodge.  You call the pampering staff to pick you up in a van for door-to-door help with gear and transport to the main lodge.

Instead of cabin room service, you try breakfast at Cavell’s where casual gourmet is fine dining with local infusion. Morning fare includes a scrumptious array or a la carte. Much of the restaurant’s honey comes from the bees that live on the roof. The staff has been known to help pick the fruits and vegetables locally, and the chef works with Alberta farmers for the best organic produce.


Morning in Marmot Ski Basin, Alberta, Canada by Lisa TE Sonne

The Ups of Downhill

For a morning of skiing, hop on the 8 am shuttle going up the mountain to the Marmot Basin Ski Area.  Elk sightings are a bonus as the van’s headlights illuminate tree sentries in a world of white.

Arrive at the ski lodge as the sun debuts with splashy pinks across the mountains horizon. Skiers and snowboarders are already painting sinewy Ss into the snow.

If you have signed up in advance for private one-to-one instruction for snow boarding or skiing, you have a guru meet you and guide you for the rest of your day. Dave is part teacher, concierge, and coach who can help with everything from selecting and tightening your boots and skis for the best fit at your skill and fitness level, to showing you the secret bathroom that means no extra stairs in the boots.

Once out the door and near the slopes, he is photographer, historian and instructor with patience and a ready smile.

He reviews the fundamental basics and provides tailored exercises to undo bad habits. He selects the chair lifts and paths that will best help both your learning curve and your pleasure quota.

Riding ” the longest high-speed quad chair in the Canadian Rockies”  to the top provides scenery bonanzas. Dave designs a beautiful route down that includes sections of three different named runs.

At one point no other skier or snowboarder is in view. Majestic peaks are. The snow is powdery delicious, not icy and crusty, not squishy and smushy.  You understand how people become skiing fanatics.

A lunch break at Caribou includes a delicious salmon burger and salad with good company.  You hear a tale about a WWII secret plan in nearby Lake Patricia to build an aircraft carrier of ice. You meet Dave’s charming wife who also inspires people up and down the mountain runs.

You have to stop skiing to make the 2:30 shuttle. You want more, but know that less is better here.  You haven’t fallen or broken anything, you learned some good techniques to practice, your endorphins hum, and the scenery is a high;  you are glowing.   And the next luxury awaits.

The Spa lounging area, courtesy of the Fairmont, Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta, Canada

Afternoon Recharge– Blue Reflections

Your signature spa treatment awaits in your own niche of the Fairmont’s 10,000 square feet sanctuary in the Main Lodge. You skip the interior access to the great outdoor pool, the inviting sauna and steam room. You change and ease right into a 90 minute session to cleanse and rejuvenate your skin, and sooth any muscles that might be tired after skiing .

Brittany welcomes you with her soothing voice and nurturing trained hands. First you breath deeply and inhale lavender and eucalyptus , and exhale troubles.

“The Blue Reflections” for some might be to chase away the winter blues, but at JPL it’s to celebrate the blue skies and “Blue Magic” lavender.

Brittany works her magic with especially formulated scrubs, rinses, and moisturizers as she explains that lactose acids build up after a work-out and massage is a great way to flush out the toxins and get the circulation going.

You feel like a super athlete with this post ski session, and like royalty ( you heard that the Queen Mother stayed at the Fairmont JPL, but no word on whether her blue blood ever circulated better because of a “Blue Reflections.”) From head (your scalp is massaged with hot oils for deep hair nutrition ) to toes ( ahhh, massage) you feel  relaxed and revived.

To make sure your stomach is not deprived, you  asked for Room Service to deliver to the spa, and enjoy a chef’s plate of delectable cheeses and fruits artfully arranged.

It is tempting to stay in the spa’s comforts and float into dreams, but you planned to add exploration to your luxury since  Jasper National Park is a “Dark Sky Preserve” and you were told that Maligne Canyon is part of the largest karst system in the world!  Karst topology can be drainage systems of caves- above or below ground, and sinkholes formed by bedrock that is dissolved over time.

The Sundog night Ice Canyon walk, Alberta, Canyon. Photo by Lisa TE Sonne


Cool Nightlife!
In the lobby you meet with a few other intrepid spirits who are sharing their boot sizes with guide Wes Bradford of Sundog Tours . He hands out boots, headlamps, hand warmers to go in mittens, and “icers” to clamp footprints of spikes on the bottom of your boots, the better to grip for ice-walking.

.A drive later and you are walking under the mega astronomic canopy of a “Dark Sky Preserve.” Tales of shooting stars and northern lights and the huge arc of the Milky Way make the current cloud cover seem oppressive and rude.

But you decide to forget the “have nots, “ of your night, and the “haves” makes it seem like you are enveloped in a gigantic cosmic cave –seeing only what headlamps illuminate.  Wes stops to point out with a flashlight the deep canyon to the right and the animal tracks in the snow to the left.  Wolves are very large here.

It’s 20 below zero (C not F)  and when you descend into the canyon, the path ends as you walk in the stream bed, some of it moving liquid and some of it ice- solid. You are flanked by nature’s ice sculptures seen with dramatic patches of flashlight.

If you wear glasses, you will want to make sure your excited steamy breath and warming headwear are not creating fog blindness or a mini-weather system with clouds and then rain between your eyes and glasses. You not only will act like a wimpy, dorky adventurer since you can’t even see your own feet, but you might fall and miss some of the hanging icycles or the fossils that Wes points out.

When your night vision is clear, it’s fun scampering and crawling and leaping in the streambeds, grabbing onto solid ice columns to pull yourself up to peek into a cave. The elements direct a landscape that changes nightly. You can hear water behind walls of ice.  You are in geology’s drama.

Snowflakes drift down languidly.

For most of history, people had curiosity about the mysteries and beauties of nature, but they didn’t have headlamps, glasses, hi –tech fabrics, hand-warmers, and cold-tolerant cameras.

They certainly didn’t have a heated cabin at the Fairmont waiting for them.                                   by Lisa TE Sonne,    a Luxury Travel Maven

Along the path from cabin to main lodge.


A private ski lesson! Sonne with instructor Dave.

Photographs by Lisa TE Sonne except the Spa photo, courtesy of Fairmont JPL, and this one thanks to Sarah Sekula. Ready to plan your own trip to Jasper, Alberta, a Fairmont?




Window view on Via Train from Edmonton to Jasper National Park, Canada

Traveler’s content is settling over me like a well- placed comforter. The train rocks me, the scenery is flocked forests and red barns with roofs of thick white snow and tribes of bare-branched birches collecting ice crystals like ornaments. So many shades of white. The Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, I need a more versatile vocabulary for the blue-whites, green-whites, and brown-whites so soothing to the eyes viewed from the pleasures of a moving train.

Train Travel to the Canadian Rockies

Train Travel to the Canadian Rockies

A bit of traveler’s dilemna. My body wants sleep. My cabin is one big cradle and the bed is so nicely pulled down. My eyes want to feast on window fare—a tall steepled church monolithically rising from the white just passed before I could get my camera on. My mind says use the time for writing stories, for overdue emails, for writing thank yous… no, it argues, don’t forfeit tracks of uplifting “now”– meditate on the cold world beautifully framed by the window, a moving canvas of a realm harsh to others and benign to the pampered traveler.

From Edmonton to Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

I have started writing about yesterday for this column, but the light is so cheerfully bright outside. I expect the cone-shaped firs to start twirling in dance like Christmassy tops. Blue sky over the clean whites, clusters of horses, curved parallel lines- ski tracks to somewhere I can’t see.


Culture and Nature

We left Edmonton many kilometers of tracks back, heading through Alberta, Canada from the bright lights of a dynamic creative urban center to the raw wilderness and muses of the Canadian Rockies. Ahead,  Jasper National Park with its Dark Sky Preserve, as well as the comforts of the renowned Fairmont “JPL”- Jasper Park Lodge.

My highlights in Edmonton –staying at the historic Fairmont MacDonald, the “Chateau on the River”;   a regenerating NVE Institute spa treatment by the innovative founders;  the private tour at the Art Gallery of Alberta, the building itself a work of art;  Chef David at the museum’s Zinc Restaurant with his creative “open concept” cuisine, Madison’s Grill with its inviting hospitality– are all physically behind me now, but they are packed in my internal luggage. Now just isn’t the time to unpack them.

I am nestled in one of Via Rail’s most spacious sleeper cars with a private bathroom, having enjoyed good service and food in the dining car.  And now the soul food of nature is out my window.

Canadian Rockies in Alberta

The Rockies thrust up assertions of tenacious glory.  The scrimshaw of geology etches jutting timetables to the sky. And the train keeps rolling forward.

-Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photography by (c) Lisa TE Sonne

by Lisa TE Sonne (c)

Reflections of the Rockies, Via Train rolling through Alberta, by Lisa TE Sonne

What is sustainable travel?

Luxury travelers can afford to make choices for choice travel, so why not aim for destinations that are sensational and “sustainable,”  places that are both good and great?  But how can you tell what’s marketing for the green of your pocketbook and what’s for the green planet?  Who is ranking and rating? And how and why?  In some of my columns this year, we will look at some “Choice Travel.”

We start with six sensational, “sustainable” destinations chosen by The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), a group  founded by the World Tourism Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, UN Foundation, Rainforest Alliance, Sabre/Travelocity to ” be a global initiative dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism efforts around the world.”

  • The Fjords of Norway
  • Teton County,Wyoming
  • Mt. Huangshan, China
  •  St. Kitts & Nevis, Carribbean
  • Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain
  • Okavango Delta, Botswana

According to the  Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s (GSTC), the destinations above and below meet the new and evolving  GSTC Criteria for Destinations that “a destination must reach in order to move toward social, cultural, and environmental sustainability—maintaining the cultural and natural attractions that tourists come to see, while benefiting the local population. This pioneering group of destinations will be the first to test and provide feedback on the Destination Criteria, which complement the GSTC’s existing Criteria for Hotels and Tour Operators.”

How do hot spots for travel meet hot issues?

If you are interested in traveling to a place not on the list above,  Kelly Bricker, Phd, board president of GSTC, recommends that you “Look for third party certifications from recognized bodies when booking an accommodation and/or tour operation.” The GSTC website posts their growing list of approved third party groups that vet with the same standards as GSTC.

As provided by the GSTC. here are the words and images of six places aiming to be memorable for you and future generations:

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone

Where in Wyoming?

GSTC: “Wyoming’s Teton County–takes pride in a long history of sustainability, dating back to the creation of the world’s first national park, Yellowstone, in 1872; forty years later, local outcry at the elk starving near the town of Jackson led to the creation of the National Elk Refuge, and less than 20 years after that, Grand Teton National Park was added to the county’s roster of natural splendors; the Teton and Yellowstone area comprises the largest intact ecosystem in the continental U.S.

Says Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tim O’Donoghue, “As stewards of one of the most beautiful places on Earth, our community has made a strong commitment toward sustainability, with significant results. Our participation in the GSTC Early Adopter Program gives us the tools to achieve even more.”

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Sustainable in Africa

GSTC: Botswana’s Okavango Delta region is one of Africa’s premier wildlife destinations, famous for the enormous herds of elephants, buffalo and other animals that flock to this oasis within the Kalahari Desert each spring. Despite pressure from mining and farming interests, the area has been developed with a “low volume, high yield” model of ecotourism—fewer visitors, paying higher rates than those in other parts of Africa. This model has since been replicated elsewhere, leading to greater economic benefits with less environmental disturbance.

Lanzarote island in the Canary Islands, Spain

Spain’s Sustainable Destination

GSTC: Lanzarote is the easternmost of the Canary Islands, just off the African coast but belonging to Spain. Of nearly 500 animal species found only on the Canary Islands, 97 are endemic to just Lanzarote. This great biological wealth, along with year-round sun, quaint fishing villages and lovely beaches, make the island a popular tourist destination. But Lanzarote has been careful about its tourism development. The island has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and more than 40% of its area is protected.

Huanghsan, China

China and GSTC

GSTC: In China, Mt. Huangshan—known for its spindly granite peaks and the painterly pine trees that grow up through their cracks—sees more than 2.5 million visitors every year. The area’s administrators have already made efforts to reduce the impact of these sightseers by promoting alternative footpaths, encouraging winter visits, and closing the most frequented “hot spots” on a rotating basis.


One of the beautiful beaches of St Kitts

Norway’s Beauty

GSTC: Likewise, Norway’s Fjord region, along the country’s southwest coast, has been attracting travelers since the mid-19th century. In 2006, two of its fjords were named among the world’s best-cared-for UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the region has published a “white book” to help other destinations develop sustainably. But they’re eager to do even more explains Fjord Norway’s CEO, Kristian B. Jorgensen, “Being part of the GSTC’s Early Adopter program is a very concrete way of helping us find the balance between preserving our spectacular landscape and growing as an attractive, nature-based travel destination.”

Beach walk in St Kitts

Sustainable Carribbean

GSTC: The twin-island nation of St. Kitts & Nevis is relatively new to tourism, certainly when compared to some of its Caribbean neighbors. However, the destination has seen exponential growth in cruise visitors over the last few years and the government is eager to make sure that this development happens sustainably and with the preservation of the local culture and environment in mind.

In the coming months, a sustainable tourism consultant will visit each of these early-adopter destinations to see the criteria implemented, and to provide valuable feedback as the GSTC finalizes the Destination criteria. Once the GSTC publishes its revised criteria, these early-adopter destinations will have the opportunity to apply for formal recognition that they operate in accordance with these universal principles of sustainable tourism

GSTC is evolving criteria for vetting how travelers can best capture great experiences.

The GSTC is collecting comments from the public on the criteria; input and suggestions can be made online.

GSTC is also currently conducting a second review phase for additional destinations.Destinations interested in becoming an early adopter of new Criteria for Destinations are encouraged to contact the GSTC as soon as possible.

The GSTC works to expand understanding of and access to sustainable tourism practices; helps identify and generate markets for sustainable tourism; and educates about and advocates for a set of universal principles, as defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The Criteria is a set of voluntary principles that provide a framework for the sustainability of tourism businesses across the globe, and is the cornerstone of our initiative.”


Grand Tetons in Wyoming..Sustainable?

All the  images in this piece and the words above about the destinations are the point of view and information of the GSTC as part of a new series to look at how travel can best enrich the traveler and the destination. As tourism grows as an important part of nations’ economies, and people’s lifestyles, the impact on cultures and ecosystems is even more critical. And the luxury traveler’s choices increase.

Please let me know if you have suggestions for my upcoming pieces on “Choice Travel” –people or groups like Irene Lane at Greenloons which offers “green” trips and lists goals for ecotourism.   Please share your own experiences and join the dialogue about how “luxury” and “sustainable” can be in the same sentence.

-GSTC materials included in this week’s column by Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens


Happy 2013 in Any Time Zone from 57th Street in New York

Happy 2013!  Whatever your time zone, may your celebrations be joyful & rejuvenating, and your resolutions inspiring & reachable!  We hope this site can help you “Dream, Go, Discover” in the New Year!

Feel free to share your dreams, aims, and resolves for the New Year below in comments or any “gratitude memories” for great travels in the past year.

To “Happy Trails” not Hard Trials ahead! And to love and luxuries you can share to make life and the world better!

-Lisa TE Sonne for LuxuryTravelMavens.com

Photo from 57th Street,  New York before New Years day on a snowy night–the times in Chicago, Seoul, Moscow, Bangkok, Caracas,