Porto to Salamanca on a Douro River cruise
September 20, 2019 § 3 Comments
Excited to return to one of my favorite corners of the planet to embark on this new National Geographic program, my first in nearly a year.
In my capacity as featured expert I’ll be delivering a series of lectures on the long, colorful history of the Iberian peninsula, from the earliest clues about human life to the Romans and the Moors and the rise and fall of the Hapsburg dynasty—and possibly beyond that, if we have time, to Francisco de Goya and the Peninsular War.
If there’s enough interest, I’ll also be offering an ad hoc field-based creative writing workshop, and hopefully getting some of my own scribbling done too.
Also looking forward to visiting some of the fascinating sites we have on the itinerary, meeting everyone else on our river ship, the Scenic Azure, and of course sampling some delicious food, wine, and port!
Return Engagement: Tierra del Fuego & Southern Patagonia
November 4, 2018 § 3 Comments
On this key midterm election day in the USA, I’m so thrilled to be heading back (after voting, of course) to one of my favorite corners of planet Earth, an area of vast and stunning wilderness encompassing the islands, waters, and mountain ranges of the southernmost reaches of the South American continent.
We’ll be stopping over for a few days in Buenos Aires, but the real adventure begins in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, as we board the Stella Australis, a small (150-200 passenger) Chilean-run cruise ship, and set off into the stark and storied landscapes and seascapes of Tierra del Fuego.
We’ll visit the legendary Cape Horn, making a landing if the weather allows, and then follow in the wake of Charles Darwin’s Beagle and use zodiacs to explore various fascinating features, including fjords, tidewater glaciers, a penguin colony, and pristine high latitude temperate rainforests of this spectacular convergence of land, sea and ice, we’ll be on the lookout for whales, sea lions, penguins, albatross and many other fascinating bird species.
Next, we’ll stay in the amazing Tierra Patagonia hotel at the foot of the dramatic granite spires and horns of Torres del Paine National Park. Here we’ll have several full days of hiking and/or horseback riding amidst one of the world’s most striking landscapes, in a part of Chile with some of the lowest human population densities on the planet.
This rich and diverse ecosystem is of particular interest to us because it includes an apex predator, the elusive puma, and its primary prey, the charming and highly entertaining guanaco. What a magnificent opportunity!
This will be my fifth time on this particular National Geographic itinerary, and I’m thrilled to be heading back. One of the advantages of being a writer is that it’s a multi-disciplinary pursuit—and a trip like this provides great material.
I’m a big fan of history, geography, ecology, and biography as disciplines that enrich any travel experience, and it will be my privilege to share some of those wide-ranging interests with the National Geographic group.
Talks will focus on the history and geography of the region and the lives of explorers and adventurers who went on to make important contributions to humanity and the planet—and whose early lives were shaped by their journeys to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. My final talk will be more personal in nature, about my parallel careers as a novelist and travel guide, the links between travel, writing, and environmental awareness, and what I call the “geographic imagination.”
All in all, it promises to be an unforgettable experience. This is a really fantastic part of the world and I highly recommend you get there if you can. I could be convinced, by the way, to organize a custom trip or two if anyone’s interested . . .
Back to Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia
November 2, 2017 § 2 Comments
It’s been a few years, and I’m thrilled to be returning to one of my favorite regions on the planet with National Geographic Expeditions’ Exploring Patagonia program. This season I’m slated to accompany two trips: one in November, 2017 and a second in January, 2018. We’ll be cruising through Tierra del Fuego in a small, expertly crewed, Chilean-owned ship, the M.V. Stella Australis. We’ll embark from Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, round Cape Horn, and make our way up through the Magdalena Passage and the Agostini Sound, taking advantage of daily Zodiac landings to explore Hornos Island, Wulaia Bay, glaciers, and penguin colonies. Fantastic!
The Stella Australis will then drop us off in Punta Arenas, Chile, and we’ll head up to the stunning wilderness of Torres del Paine, where we’ll have daily opportunities to wander, both on foot and horseback. We can expect to see guanaco, rhea, Andean condor, many other bird species, and possibly even a puma or two. But it’s the vastness and sublime beauty of these wilderness landscapes that is the true highlight here. This part of the world is one of the least densely populated on earth, and it’s never short of inspiring!
I’m excited to be leading the educational aspects of the program in my role as National Geographic’s “featured expert.” Other than informal group interactions the main element of this task is to give a series of illustrated talks: an intro to the history and geography of the region; Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle; American artist and adventurer Rockwell Kent; Ivon Chounard, Douglas Tomkins and “los Fun Hogs.”
I’ll also be giving a brand new talk that I’m thrilled to debut in Patagonia, in which I’ll attempt to make sense of the links between travel, fiction, place-based writing, all in the context of this strange hybrid career of mine.
If you’re signed up for either of these trips, I look forward to traveling with you. If not, stay tuned: there are likely to be similar opportunities in the future!
National Geographic Student Expeditions in Cuba
July 1, 2016 § 2 Comments
Very excited to be participating in the first ever NatGeo student programs to Cuba. I’ll be starting out with the first group toward the end of their program in the province of Santa Clara, a few hours east of the capital, and then joining the second group for the beginning of their program in Havana. Traveling to Cuba, by now, feels something akin to going home for me. It’s been a few months, so I’m looking forward to checking in on the evolving situation!
I’m also excited to be traveling with student groups, because leading student groups is how I spent most of my early career in educational travel. I relish the sense of adventure that usually arises within such groups—and in my experience NatGeo students are an exceptionally positive, creative, and intellectually curious bunch. It will be hot this time of year, but that’s nothing to worry about, as we’ll be on an island surrounded by crystalline blue water!
Northern Spain by Rail with National Geographic
September 15, 2015 § 3 Comments
What a privilege it is to be heading back to Spain, the country that I’ve long considered my home away from home. This is a special trip, too, my first time on National Geographic’s fascinating Northern Spain by Private Rail. We’ll be starting in Santiago de Compostela and making our way across the northern breadth of the Iberian peninsula to San Sebastián, all aboard the extremely well appointed Transcantábrico Gran Lujo.
Of course we’ll be stopping quite a bit along the way, to explore Romanesque chapels, mountain villages, and prehistoric cave art. I’ll be giving a series of lectures focusing on Spanish history, the life and times of Francisco de Goya, and Ernest Hemingway’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War, and of course I’m hoping to be able to get a bit of good writing done too. All in all, much to look forward to!
Follow me on Instagram or Facebook if you’d like to see photos from the experience!
National Geographic Expeditions’ new Patagonia video
August 4, 2015 § 2 Comments
Check out this inspiring two-minute video from National Geographic Expeditions’ talented videographer Steve Pickard. It features an interview Steve did with yours truly in my capacity as the featured expert for the Exploring Patagonia program. Warning: it’s going to make you want to go to Tierra del Fuego and southern Patagonia!
A Return to the New Cuba
February 14, 2015 § Leave a comment
After an eight month absence, I’m heading back to Havana. Much has happened in the intervening time, and it will be fascinating to see how these events are reflected in the reality on the ground. Whatever the case, Cuba is always an engaging and exciting place to be, so I’m looking forward to the trip.
I’ll be accompanying a National Geographic group, where my duties include, among other things, delivering a three-part lecture series: on Spanish colonial Cuba and the historic roots of the U.S.-Cuba relationship; on 20th century Cuba and the triumph of Fidel Castro’s Revolution; and on Hemingway’s three decades in Cuba. The group will spend time in Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and various interesting points in between, meeting with scores of wonderful Cubans, including many new friends and some old friends and contacts!
If you’re reading this and find yourself yearning to travel to Cuba to see what all the fuss is about, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’ve got several affordable private trips in the works for the fall of 2015 and the late winter/spring of 2016, and the chances are there is still an opening!
Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego
October 30, 2014 § 1 Comment
Getting packed and ready for an adventure in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego with National Geographic Expeditions. We’ll start off in Buenos Aires, but the real adventure begins once we reach Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, and board a ship for the onward journey into the Straits of Magellan. We’ll follow in the wake of Darwin’s Beagle and use Zodiacs to land at various locations in and around the fabled Cape Horn and the Agostini Sound, exploring the fjords, tidewater glaciers and pristine high latitude temperate rainforests of this spectacular convergence of land, sea and glaciers. From our debarkation point at Punta Arenas, we’ll head up to the dramatic, glacier-sculpted granite spires and horns of Torres del Paine National Park for several days of hiking through some of the most compelling landscapes and some of the lowest human population densities on the planet. We’ll wrap up with a visit to the Chilean capital, Santiago.
In my role as the National Geographic featured expert, I’ve been working hard to prepare a lecture series that I hope will be of interest to my fellow travelers. The lectures have certainly been fascinating to research and compile. I’ll begin with a brief introduction to the history and geography of the places we’ll be visiting. The subsequent lectures will focus on the lives of explorers and adventurers who were shaped by youthful journeys to Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego, and who have gone on to make important contributions to humanity and the planet: Charles Darwin and the voyage of the HMS Beagle; the radical individualist artist Rockwell Kent and his madcap journey to Cape Horn on a tiny refurbished lifeboat; and a pair of dirtbag California climbers, Doug Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard, who packed into a white Ford van and set off on a six month quest to climb Mount FitzRoy in 1968. These dirtbags went on, of course, to become wildly successful entrepreneurs and key contributors to the cause of environmental conservation.
For my last lecture I’ll talk about life as a writer in modern America, and specifically the process of researching, writing, and publishing my recently released debut novel, Will Poole’s Island. Very much looking forward to this trip!
Back to Iberia with National Geographic
September 8, 2014 § 3 Comments
As always, it’s a thrill to be heading back to Portugal and Spain in my capacity as a featured expert with National Geographic Expeditions. We’ll be starting out in Lisbon and making our way east through Evora, Mérida, Sevilla, Ronda, Granada, and Madrid. We will of course hit the major historical landmarks, and quite a few of the lesser known sights as well. We’ll have a chance to hear some of the world’s great fado and flamenco artists, learn how to make ceramic tiles Portuguese style, taste freshly pressed olive oil, and sample some of the best cuisine and wine the Iberian Peninsula has to offer.
I’ll be giving talks about the sweep of Spanish history from Iberian origins to the Roman Empire, the Moors and the Reconquest, the Habsburgs and the rise of the Spanish Empire, Goya and the Bourbons, and, of course, Ernest Hemingway and the Spanish Civil War. I always look forward to these trips as a chance to revisit a region I know and love with fresh eyes, and to learn as well from my fellow travelers and the outstanding local experts we encounter throughout the program. Over all, not a bad way to spend eleven days in September. ¡Viva!
Spain and Portugal with National Geographic
September 15, 2013 Comments Off on Spain and Portugal with National Geographic
Very much looking forward to heading back to the Iberian Peninsula! This time it’s in my continuing capacity as a featured expert for National Geographic Expeditions: On September 30 I’ll be flying to Lisbon for a journey through Portugal and Andalucía, finishing up in Madrid on October 11. I’ll be giving talks on history, art, Goya, and Hemingway, and generally trying to be as helpful as I can both with trip logistics and in terms of helping travelers make personal connections with the fabulous life and culture of one of my favorite parts of the world. Coincidentally, I’ve just posted a craft analysis on For Whom the Bell Tolls, which may be of interest if you’re a writer or a close reader of Hemingway’s fiction.
Back in the U.S. on October 12.