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Saturday, December 28, 2002

April Sun in Cuba - Tour

Cuba Car

There is a shroud of mystery hanging over Cuba - the largest island of the Antilles - of pirates, heroes, revolutionaries, poets and above all, characters - José Martí, Ché Guevara, Ernest Hemingway, Ricky Ricardo, to name just a few. Cuba is a land where the people are warm, the sun is shining and the sand is white. The perpetually turquoise Caribbean waters invite you to take a dip and the music just never stops! To visit Cuba is also to step back in time; back to the 1950s with its glamour, leisurely pace and classic Chevrolet cars.

Cuba is 'music and dance' - salsa, son and bolero, where African beats merge with Spanish guitars and brass. Most have heard of the 'Buena Vista Social Club' , 'The Afro Cuban All Stars', Gloria Estefan, Perez Prado, among many of the Cuban musicians who have found international fame. In Cuba, music is life, and musicians can be found in every café and restaurant to entertain you while you soak up the atmosphere and sample the local cocktails and maybe dance the 'salsa' or the 'cha cha cha'. Another wonderful experience is to see the Cuban National Ballet in the beautiful old 'Gran Teatro'.

Cuba is 'rum'. Light and dark. Follow in Hemingway's footsteps to the 'Bodeguita del Medio for a 'mojito', a wonderfully refreshing long drink with white rum, mint, sugar, soda and lots of ice. Just the thing for a tropical paradise. Floridita Bar, another of Hemingway's haunts, is renowned as the birthplace of the daiquiri.

Cuba is 'cigars'. Any afficionado can tell you that nothing beats a Cuban 'Cohiba' or 'Montecristo' or 'Robaina'.

Cuba is architecture. From elegant, colonial buildings to fortresses to tropical shanties. It is all colourful and impressive and takes you back to a world of romance and adventure.
Fidel Castro Vector Portrait
Cuba is history. From its discovery by Columbus in 1492, to its struggles for independence around the turn of the 20th century, to the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro in the 50's, with the aid of Ernesto 'Ché' Guevara and many others. It is amazing to learn of the trials that this tropical paradise has been through. Castro has been Cuba's leader since the 1st of January 1959, over 44 years.

This tour is an unique opportunity to see Cuba with  - exploring the treasures of the largest island in the Antilles. Find out for yourself what it is like to walk in the footsteps of an explorer, a revolutionary, a world famous writer or a soulful musician. Come and enjoy the April sun in Cuba!

We start with the soul of Cuba, Havana. Founded in 1519, it was the meeting place for the Spanish fleets transporting their new found wealth back to Spain. We spend time exploring Havana, Vedado and other areas, wonderful museums and colonial buildings. Visit the Hemingway Museum, stroll along the Malécon and take in a show at the Tropicana, 'A paradise under the stars'. Then, we venture into tobacco country at Piñar del Rio.

We fly over to the west coast to Santiago de Cuba, regarded as 'The cradle of the Revolution' for the considerable role it played in the overthrow of Batista. The first mayor of Santiago was the Mexican Aztec's conqueror, Hernan Cortés. The city is very Caribbean in flavour, having also been settled by French and Haitians and its people are lively and colourful. We explore the old palaces and museums and the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca (known by the locals as ''El Morro") which was built to defend the city against pirates and enemies of this then Spanish metropolis. From here we also visit Cuba's oldest European city, Baracoa, situated on a headland near the island's easternmost point.

Our journey back across the island is by land, visiting Cuba's second oldest city - Bayamo, 'the city of carriages', in Granma Province. It was in Bayamo that Cuba's great hero and poet Jose Martí was shot, and where the Creole planter Carlos Manuel de Cespedes freed his slaves, formed a militia and overran the eastern end of the island. We continue on to the ancient villa of Camaguey, founded by the coast in 1514, later relocated away from the sea to protect it from pirates and corsairs.

Our next stop is the 'World Cultural Heritage' town of Trinidad. Walk the cobblestone streets and peer through the wrought iron gates to the tile roofed colonial houses. Trinidad was once a haven for Jamaican gold and slave smugglers. We will stay at nearby Ancon, with its beautiful white sand Caribbean beach.

On our way to Varadero, we'll stop at Santa Clara to visit the Museum of Ernesto 'Ché' Guevara and his comrades. It was here that Ché carried out combat in the final struggle for liberation. We wind up our Cuban experience with two days relaxation at Varadero - one of the most beautiful beach resorts in the Caribbean, with its fine white sand and transparent blue waters. Enjoy the beach, take a cruise on the Bay of Matanzas, snorkel or scuba dive.

We return to Havana for shopping, dancing, and some 'vida cubana', before beginning our final farewells and journey home.


Monday, November 11, 2002

South America Tour

PERU'S SACRED VALLEY

South America is pleasantly removed from the worries emanating from other parts of the world at this time and is every bit as exciting many of world’s most sought after locations. Vast Amazon jungles teaming with wildlife; incredible mountain ranges with some of the world’s most significant archaeological sites including ten UNESCO sites in Peru alone; vibrant, cosmopolitan cities like Rio de Janeiro and the vast glacial wilderness of Patagonia, South America has it all.

By far the most popular of all our South American packages is the 22-day Rhumba tour. Designed with the first time visitor in mind, it is a distillation of our vast knowledge of the world’s fourth largest continent and all it has to offer. Almost infinitely variable, Rhumba can be modified to individual tastes and preferences. For example, enriching extensions are offered to Santiago and the scenic lakes district of Chile as well as Ecuador and the Galapagos. Think about stopovers in tropical Tahiti or mystic Easter Island.

Beginning in Buenos Aires, you’ll move on to the magnificent Iguazu Falls, the world’s largest before spending four days in incomparable Rio de Janeiro. The superlatives continue when you fly to the world’s highest city, La Paz in Bolivia, one of the central points of the ancient Inca civilisation. Travel on to Huatajata, Puno, Cozco and the crowning jewel, Machu Pichu, the fabled “Lost City of the Incas” via train and even a hydrofoil across Lake Titicaca. Rhumba then moves on to Lima, the rich former Spanish colonial capital of Peru.

From dizzying mountain-tops to the near-silent serenity of the Amazon jungles, the tour then heads by boat to Ceiba Tops, a new luxury resort located directly on the Amazon and just 40 kms from Iquitos. You’ll spend three days exploring the primary Amazonian jungle and visiting the local Yagua Indians as well as the famous former Franciscan mission town of Indiana.

The tour winds down in Buenos Aires, leaving you enough time for some leisure and a scintillating Tango Show at the spectacular “La Ventana” nightclub.


Polar Bear Quest



Few of the earth’s creatures evoke such wonder as the world’s largest bear, the massive arctic polar bear. Surprisingly agile and an accomplished swimmer, the powerful polar bear inhabits virtually all areas of the arctic and is particularly prevalent in the remote northern archipelago of Spitsbergen, 350 miles north of Norway.

Spitsbergen, a scenic wonder in itself with its rugged snow-dusted mountains, vast sweeping tundras and profusion of vivid arctic wildflowers, is home to a ‘core’ population of polar bear. In fact around 20% of the world’s polar bear population of just 30,000 animals is concentrated around this northerly archipelago. The World Wildlife Fund is currently conducting a sophisticated tracking program for two adult females in the area.

Following on from the growing popularity of this very affordable arctic expedition, again offers our nine day “Polar Bear Quest”. Departing from the administrative centre of Svalbard, Longyearbyen, you’ll spend eight nights aboard the classic, ice-strengthened MS Origo.

Limited to just 22 passengers, your cruise will be a very personalised, intimate and flexible one, ably guided by our experienced Swedish captain and expedition leader. The small numbers ensure unprecedented access to zodiac time and the flexibility to make on-the-spot decisions to explore opportune wildlife sightings and scenic diversions.

Apart from the relatively abundant polar bear, voyagers will also see walrus, seal, reindeer, numerous species of seabird and a high probability of whale sightings as humpback and blue whales return to the northern waters. Scenery and landscape lovers will enjoy the almost constant vistas of ice flows, glaciers, fjords and tundra.

Friday, November 8, 2002

Fear of Travel

Not that long ago, a voyage to the other side of the world took months and was fraught with all manner of dangers from disease, shipwreck and even piracy. Driven by the passion for discovery, or the desperation for a new life elsewhere, people still undertook these journeys aware of the many tribulations likely to befall them. Even the great Marco Polo was quoted as saying, “An adventure is misery and discomfort relived in the safety of reminiscence.” How things have changed!

In truth, travel is still not without its hazards, but risk is still an unavoidable part of life, even if you never travel. Statistically you are much more likely to hurt yourself at home or in the immediate neighbourhood, than while undertaking any sort of journey. Aircraft travel is the safest form of travel bar none – even considerably safer than walking! The most dangerous thing you do is to get in a car or cross the road.

Recent events have sent shockwaves through the travel industry and many tour operators, destinations and transport companies have been severely affected. But often a tragic event can create unnecessary panic and alarm. In 1933, the great Franklin D Roosevelt addressed his economically challenged nation with the words “… the only thing we have to fear is fear itself …”. I contend that phrase also applies to adventure travel, and has always done.

Sure, one should never disregard warnings or advice about particular destinations or activity but, on the flip-side, one can’t become so paralysed by fear as to destroy our enjoyment of life completely.

In our thirty years of adventure travel experience, including time at the very forefront of destination touring to Antarctica, many different events and experiences have shaped the way we do business. Locations go in and out of vogue for various reasons, but there is always somewhere isolated from the prevailing conditions that make it all the more attractive.

Arctic and Antarctic destinations revel in their remoteness, and now South America returns to the spotlight as a desirable adventure travel location. Pleasantly removed from the Asian disturbances, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil are enjoying a pleasing rebound in tourist numbers. With recent economic developments in places like Argentina, travel to South America is now more affordable than ever before – and the variety and diversity is, as it always has been, vast and supremely enriching.

Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Investing Offshore with Confidence, and Spreading your Risk



Many of our clients prefer to invest into Australian shares directly. However, investing directly into International shares from Australia can be difficult. Internet transacting is beginning to make this possible, but the need to constantly monitor the companies, and make decisions on when to buy or sell your shares is an on-going and difficult task. This job is made even more difficult by the fact that many overseas markets are only open while we are asleep!

We find the best solution for clients wishing to invest a portion of their portfolio offshore is to use Managed International Share funds.

Large Fund Managers, such as Colonial First State, Credit Suisse and ING for example, have investment analysts stationed overseas, where they are close to the major international markets. By having experienced professionals ‘on the ground’, it is more likely your international share portfolio will deliver your expected returns.

When you consider that Australia makes up less than 2% of the world combined sharemarkets, and that the largest 12 companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange make up 51% of our overall market, it makes our sharemarket a fairly small and narrow place to invest.

This can be put into some perspective, when we compare the value of America’s largest company – General Electric (recently valued at around $946 billion) to the value of Australia’s entire market (valued recently at around $731 billion). In simple terms, GE is worth more than $200 billion more than the value of the whole Australian Share Market combined!

Whilst sheer size is not a guarantee of future returns, the sheer range of choices in International share markets makes the chance of good returns much higher.

For example, UK based GlaxoSmithKline operates in the pharmaceuticals sector, and is one of the world’s leading companies, producing Ventolin as well as other well known products. We cannot compare this company to one in Australia, as there really isn’t one. The pharmaceuticals industry is tipped to be one of the world’s high growth industries over the next decade. The vast majority of this growth will be from companies operating overseas.

With large global players such as Coca-Cola, Sony, Adidas, IBM and Pfizer (to name a few) operating outside of Australia, consider for a moment the truly global players in the Australian Stock Market. News Corp?

It is also important to bear in mind that returns from International Shares have tended to outperform Australian Shares over the long term. 16.57% per annum (MSCI World Index) versus 13.24% per annum (S & P ASX 300 Accumulation Index) over the last 5 years.

Whilst International Share funds produced the worst returns last year (mostly negative), the feeling is that the pace of world economic growth is picking up.

If you believe you do not have sufficient exposure to this very important asset class, we are able to assist you with a wide range of Managed International Share Funds to suit your needs.

MLC’s Platinum - Global Fund, for example, has produced strong returns over many years, and is available in Managed Funds, Superannuation, and now in their Allocated Pension.

Other large Fund Managers such as ING, BT, Perpetual, Zurich and Colonial First State also have International Share Funds which have produced returns averaging between 12-17% over several years.

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