As you meander the streets of a vintage city like old Cartagena, Colombia, take time to notice the details – plant-strewn balconies, antique cracked windowsills, the intricate doorways with sometimes massive doors and… the door knockers.

Yes, antique door knockers adorn the doors of many older period houses and mansions. Cartagena is known for door knockers, aldabas, which were used to indicate the status of the residents inside. The larger and more elaborate the aldaba usually signaled wealth and referenced status. Lizards, for example, were associated with a family’s royal Spanish heritage.

The use of these attention-getters is said to date back several thousand years to ancient Greece. Doors replaced hangings for improved safety and privacy. Spartans would simply yell to alert the homeowner of their presence. The more sophisticated Greeks such as the Athenians adopted for the use of a door knocker.

But not just a door knocker.

Upper-class Greeks had slaves whose sole purpose was to answer the door. In fact, the door-opener slaves were chained to a heavy ring attached to the door in order to greet guests. If the slave fell asleep, the visitor rapped on the door with a short bar of iron attached to a chain. Evidently, some people took to using the bar as a weapon to attack the householder so property owners turned to new technology.

The knocker evolved into a heavy ring fastened to the door by a plate to serve as both knocker and handle. Early designs were based on statues that stood in front of old Greek houses. These statues were created with distorted, grotesque features, and were thought to be useful to banish malevolent spirits and witches. Churches were the exception as they had no such statues outside. They had a holly water stoup by the entrance of the church’s main door that they thought was enough to deter malignant spirits.

Good luck door knockers were used to insure good fortune to the dwelling, and were said to have magical or healing properties. These door knockers were crafted using a motif of good luck charms including horseshoes, stars, suns, angels and flowers. Many intricate door knockers are in the shapes of human heads or mythical beasts.

One popular shape is a hand. This is often seen in Muslim countries, and is thought to symbolize the Hand of Fatima protecting the house from evil as well as showing that the occupants of that house followed the Muslim faith. It was also assumed that there were different knockers, one male and one female, to avoid women opening the door to a man. Each knocker made a different sound, so the woman would know when to open the door.

Elaborate or plain, door knockers around the world have been used to symbolize hospitality and good luck as well as to serve as a warning or to ward off bad spirits. So be sure to keep an eye out for these striking door adornments in the old town sections of Cartagena and Quito as well as in colonial towns such as Colta and Ingapirca in our newest President’s Pick: Ecuador & Colombia Exploration.

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First, a note: Since the beginning of this blog, no other issue that we have explored here has more closely aligned with one of our tours than does this one. At the risk of seeming self-serving, it is important to understand that even before we knew about TOFTigers, we developed our Precious Journeys® India: Saving Tigers precisely for this reason.

Now, on to the blog.

Saving Tigers In India Tour

Tyger, tyger burning bright…  She is absolutely gorgeous as she steps noiselessly out of the brush and onto the trail. The largest member of the cat family, the Bengal tiger walks casually past disappearing into the jungle as silently as she appeared.

An encounter like this is something most us will sadly never experience. She is one of a shrinking global population of tigers in the wild, estimated to be around 3,890, according to the World Wildlife Fund. This is down some 97%, from around 100,000 at the start of the 20th century.

These graceful creatures once ranged widely across eastern Eurasia. They could be found from the Black Sea, to the Indian Ocean, and from Kolyma to Sumatra. Over the last century, tigers have lost a massive 93% of their historic range. Today, they are limited to 13 countries in Asia and the Orient, including India Bhutan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Russia.

Major reasons for the population decline include habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation and poaching. The extent of area occupied by tigers is estimated to have declined a whopping 41% just since the mid-1990s.

These territorial animals are apex predators, preying mostly on ungulates such as deer and bovids. Tigers are solitary but still social animals, and need large areas of habitat to support their prey requirements. But they are indigenous to some of the more densely populated places on earth, which has, of course, lead to significant conflicts with humans.

Big Five has joined with the nonprofit organization TOFTigers in its global campaign to support wildlife conservation on the Indian subcontinent through better planned and more sustainable tourism practices. TOFTigers seeks to plan and promote the best practices of nature tourism both inside and outside protected areas.

“We decided this platform was needed, because so far the only response has been to ban all forms of nature tourism in India,” says Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five. “A ban is not the answer. We believe our partnership with TOFTigers is the right avenue to do our part in preserving what is left of the endangered species in India.”

Experience and research show that responsible wildlife and nature tourism can provide an invaluable platform to support and sustain parks, wildlife conservancies, buffer zones and local communities. It can also play an important role in poverty eradication through education and employment. It is critical that local communities become stakeholders, rather than conservation victims, in the battle to save India’s forests and wildlife. Join us on TOFTigers.

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We just completed one of our most compelling national rituals – the annual battle between worthy challengers which millions of us wait impatiently for throughout the season. This super rite of passage comes with a tiny promise tucked inside that spring may not be far away (well, maybe not this year).

We thought we’d take a look at a Superbowl of a different kind – the Superbowl of nature’s super bowls, if you will – craters!

Formed by the very forces of the nature, these massive depressions come in a smashing variety of shapes. Impact craters form when meteorites or asteroids strike the earth. Calderas are the remnants of volcanic activity, usually the result of very large explosions that open up the magma chambers below the volcanos allowing them to empty and collapse. Shield volcanoes are created from fluid lava flows that spill over in all directions from a central summit vent or vents that build a broad, gently sloping flat, domical-shaped cone.

The Earth Impact Database by the Planetary and Space Science Centre at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, lists the number of confirmed impact craters around the world at just 190. Not as many as you might expect. But a source has noted that there are about 1,500 volcanoes (not all have craters) that have been active over the past 10,000 years, with some 600 active during the current period through recorded history. About 50 to 60 active volcanoes erupt at least once a year. There is some evidence, however, that suggests that millions of volcanoes may have existed dating back to the origins of earth.

In Africa, Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is, of course, the reigning star with the highest point on the continent at 5,895 meters/19,341 feet. But its remnant caldera does not match that of Kenya’s Empakai Crater, 3,200 meters/10,500 feet, for sheer good looks. This is one of the most beautiful craters in Ngorongoro Conservation Area and measures about eight kilometers/five miles in diameter. From the rim, you enjoy fantastic views into the craters’ lush green floor, a large portion of which is covered with a lake with a wall rising 300 meters/984 feet.

Because of the altitude, the area is often shrouded in mist that when mixed with the green lake creates an almost enchanted atmosphere. The views from the trail into the crater are spectacular, and on the way, you may encounter buffaloes, bushbucks, blue monkeys and birds such as sunbirds and turacos. You may also find waterbucks and elands when you reach the lakeshore. From the northern and eastern side, you can see the dramatic cone of the still active volcano, Oldoinyo Lengai. On clear days, you can see even further to the Great Rift Valley and Lake Natron. If you love hiking, think about including this remarkable environment as you plan your Kenya safari adventure.

New Zealand’s has its share of craters in the Taupo Volcanic Zone on the southern end of the North Island. Mount Ruapehu, also simply called Ruapehu, is an active stratovolcano at the southern end of this volcanic zone. Its most recent major eruptions were between 1995 and 1996 with more activity in 2007. It is within Tongariro National Park on the North Island a short distance Lake Taupo.

The largest active volcano in New Zealand, Ruapehu has the highest point on the island and encompasses three major peaks: the highest is Tahurangi, at 2,797 meters/9,177 feet, followed closely by Te Heuheu and Paretetaitonga. The deep, active crater is between the peaks and the crater’s lake sits on top of the vent, making it subject to change as the activity of the volcano changes. Activities on the mountain range from skiing to ice climbing to hiking. Consider including this active volcano as part of an outstanding New Zealand journey.

Colombia’s Purace Volcano is a 4,750 meter/15,543 feet dormant volcano situated in the Purace National Park. In the southwestern region of Colombia, it faces the Pacific Ocean to the west. Most of the park is over 3,000 meters/9,843 feet high. Two of the highest peaks are Purace and the Pan de Azúcar, both well over 4,500 meters/14,764 feet. Both mountains offer easy hiking opportunities. To reach the summit of the Purace Volcano, one of Colombia’s most beautiful, you need only your trekking gear and water-proof clothing. You enjoy spectacular views of Popayan’s valley and other Coconuco Range volcanoes from the summit on clear days. Purace’s crater is 500 meters/1,640 feet wide. The park also contains the sources of four of Colombia’s greatest rivers: Magdalena, Cauca, Caqueta and Patia. You can incorporate a volcano hike into this lush environment on our 19-day Volcanoes of Latin America.

Don’t wait for next season or next year to set out to find your own Superbowl challenge…  The rewards are worth far more than a trophy.

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Seems a little unlikely, I know, but necessary. Last year, we launched, a site dedicated to making sustainable travel in Latin America more easily understood and applied, and it includes rankings for individual countries. will soon be joined by a partner site that will serve the same purpose for Africa, including our rankings of individual countries. Why, you ask.

Africa is unique in all the world. The second most-populous continent covers six percent of Earth’s total surface, and is home to 16% of the world’s human population that includes a variety of distinctive cultures. It also encompasses the world’s largest combination of density and free-ranging wild animal populations. That makes its conservation, preservation and environmental issues completely different from anywhere else on earth, and they must be confronted with unique approaches and solutions.

Even though the concepts around conservation have been talked about in Africa for years, the necessary actions have not always been as forthcoming. With so many different narratives out there, how do you plan an authentic African journey if you care about sustainable travel?

Add to that, the way we travel in Africa has completely changed from previous generations. Once there was a hierarchy of sorts for safari travel. First timers usually traveled to Kenya and Tanzania, while seasoned Africa hands ventured into countries such as Botswana and Namibia.

Not so today. First time travelers are just as likely to go gorilla trekking in Uganda or to meet the Bushmen of South Africa. That makes it more important than ever that we offer you an easy, understandable approach to sustainable travel in Africa.

So…. Keep your eye out for the new (oops, I almost spoiled the surprise), coming soon.

Contact Big Five Tours for more sustainable travel recommendations and tourism planning

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