Celebrate Memorial Day

On May 28, 2018, people across the country will celebrate Memorial Day to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Many will celebrate with parties, parades and picnics while others gather at cemeteries to lay flowers and flags, and pay their respects.

Did you know that every year on this day, there is an official moment of remembrance at 3:00 p.m. local time?

The holiday dates to the American Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865. A few years later, on the first Decoration Day, as it originally came to be known, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

This is one holiday that did not arise all at once out of some specific event. It grew slowly, organically in the years following the Civil War. By the late 1860s, towns and cities across the country began to hold tributes in the spring for the fallen soldiers. It’s also associated with the unofficial beginning of summer.

In 1966, the federal government proclaimed Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day because it first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866, and because its annual event was for the entire community. Businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.

We continue the tradition of honoring those who gave the last full measure of devotion.

We hope you enjoy your holiday weekend, and at 3:00 pm on Monday, you will take a moment to reflect.


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Hello from Minneapolis, where I am participating in a speaker series on emerging destinations with one our amazing agency partners.

You might notice that our blog is coming out a day early this week. That is because today my hero – my father and our company founder Mahen Sanghrajka – turns 70 today!

Every day when I walk into our office, I look at the plaque next to the front door, and I see the names of my grandparents, who I was never fortunate enough to meet.  You see, Mahen lost both of his parents before he was 20 years old.

Last week while in Colombia on an educational, we were forced to charter a plane from the remote Huila airport to get back to Bogota. Watching the plane land, I became unexpectedly emotional as I thought about my dad’s birthday because memories of my childhood surfaced.

One of my earliest memories is walking into a McDonalds in New York City as a child with my father. I wanted a full meal but he only had enough money for one small order of French fries. He bought it and watched me eat it while he ate nothing. I wanted ice cream and asked for toys that my friends had, but we could not afford those at the time.

I remember stories Mahen told me about growing up in Kenya, and of his deep fascination at an early age for the wildlife. His lifelong commitment to conservation began during the 1960s when he collaborated with zoologists in a project tracking, tagging and studying elephant and rhino populations of Kenya and Uganda. He also participated in research projects studying lowland and mountain gorillas in the rainforests of Rwanda and Zaire. From these beginnings arose a lifetime of commitment to the animals, people and natural habitats of the world. He founded and serves as the chairman of the Spirit of Big Five Foundation, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to supporting to conservation, poverty alleviation, education and healthcare.

Mahen told me once about the people who expected him to fail when we moved from Kenya to the US. But they never deterred him for an instant. He and my mother started our family as they built this company from nothing. And, they managed to save every possible penny to give me a higher education. In fact, I became the first in our immediate family to attend university. I look back and wonder how some weeks we were even able to afford the groceries my mother cooked for dinner.

I watched as Mahen and my mother, the bedrock of our family, never gave up, and worked even harder in the face of certain adversity — proof that my work ethic was inherited. And here we are in our 45th year. Big Five is what it is today because of all our hard work, started by the solid foundation my father and mother created. I have enormous respect for my parents.

Just a few weeks ago, an email from one of our closest consortium partners came out showcasing a video with me in it. My father wrote me an email, and, in typical fashion, no ordinary email.

He wrote in part, “Ashish, I watched the video with you in it and I began to cry (clearly a genetic trait) because I was so proud of what you have accomplished. You gave this company a name in the industry. Love Dad.” I was sitting in a hotel room in Boise, Idaho when I read this. You can guess what I did next… like father, like son.

Today we celebrate 70 amazing years for our founder, CEO, my father and my hero. In his honor, I ask you for only one thing. The next time you see Mahen either in town, at a conference, or if you email him at mahen@bigfive.com, please tell him I said thank you.

Happy birthday, dad.

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Ashish just wandered back from the Tatacoa Desert last Friday.

Where is that?

That, my friends, is a little known (even by most Colombians) desert that occupies just 150 square miles sandwiched between Colombia’s mountain ranges, the Central and the Oriental Cordilleras. This is a warren of red – rock formations, dry canyons, and cacti – candelabra and prickly pear. The land is dotted with prehistoric fossils of turtles, armadillos and giant sloths. The soft light of morning brings the voices of canaries, parrots and parakeets as falcons and buzzards wander the sky.

Just five years ago, the region was inaccessible. It was under the control of the F.A.R.C. and no one traveled there. About a year ago, Ashish was there with an educational group meeting with minsters about sustainable tourism. Those same ministers were working on a final offer for a peace treaty with F.A.R.C, a controversial moment. The news of the treaty signing broke that night, and Ashish and the group of travel advisors became a part of history.

While opinions on the treaty may differ depending on who you speak to in Colombia, the indisputable fact is that it is allowing us to expand our exploration of this once sleeping giant.

“I love Colombia, and it feels like home. There is still so much to discover here,” said Ashish. “We have opened so many doors since the peace treaty was signed, and yet only about a quarter of the country has been open to travelers. That is why we are continuing to open doors such as exploring places like Tatacoa. It is a stunning setting that’s been hidden away all these years.”

Tatacoa Desert is not a true desert, but rather a dry tropical forest that millennia ago was a lush forest full of vegetation and animals. Today, there is little water runoff, but the flora and fauna have adapted to the low humidity and high temperatures. Wildlife includes turtles, snakes, spiders, scorpions as well as eagles, alligators and wildcats. The cacti grow to between 13 and 16 feet high.

One of the delightful surprises here is La Tatacoa Observatory, one of the most important observatories on the continent. The sky here is strikingly clear and free from air or light pollution. It seems to explode with stars and meteor showers at night. This desert is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. Due to its location near the equator, the show offers the unusual opportunity to view both northern and southern skies at the same time.

A resident professor of astronomy presents relaxed stargazing show, using several telescopes aimed at the stars and moon and a laser beam flashlight as travelers lay back and relax on a large green carpet rolled out over the desert floor taking in the night sky.

This little traveled Tatacoa Desert can be incorporated into an amazing Colombia journey.

Look for new adventures to lesser known Colombia coming as soon as we can get Ashish to settle down.

Australia Down Under Luxury Tour

I don’t think so….

What we love about our travelers is that they do not come to us for an Eiffel Tower tour or ask us to book a Caribbean cruise. They choose us to take them far off the beaten path. And when they return, they ask us, “Okay, what’s next?”

We relish that challenge to present you with what’s next on the untraveled road. And our newest President’s Pick falls nicely into this category.

We are reimagining Australia with Australia Down Under Canvas. This 15-day journey explores the luxury tented camp experience in out-of-the-way locations, beginning outside Brisbane in northeastern Australia. Sanctuary by Sirromet is a new high-style tented camp on the grounds of Sirromet Winery. Each luxury tented pavilion has a private balcony that seems to float above the landscape as you gaze across the tree canopy over the lake. Activities include a private guided bike tour of Brisbane.

Then, it‘s up north to Darwin on the Top End and west to Kakadu National Park and Bamurru Plains, a safari lodge with exclusive access to floodplains and savanna woodland on the Mary River, edging the remote national park. A cornucopia of wildlife flourishes here, from wallabies and large varieties of birds around the lodge to crocodiles in the shallow floodplains.

On to Perth in Western Australia and then to the Margaret River region, home to outstanding wineries, breweries and galleries plus lime stone caves, white sand beaches and spectacular scenery. The safari-style bungalows of Olio Bello Margaret River are nestled around the lake on an award-winning olive farm. An old dairy farm until an American couple transformed it into an organic olive farm and sustainable retreat, planting thousands of native trees, shrubs and an endless organic orchard.

On the central coast, high on a ridge, adjacent to traditional Aboriginal rock carvings in the beautiful Bouddi National Park is Pretty Beach House, a luxurious private guest house with just four spacious one-bedroom pavilions. The Didgeridoo Smoking Ceremony, private cooking classes, mountain biking and a guided Indigenous cultural experience hosted by traditional Aboriginal Elder are a sampling of opportunities among spectacular landscapes, from beaches and cliffs to rainforest and heathland.

Discover the President’s Pick Australia Down Under Canvas that takes you beyond what most people expect of Australia and offer a taste of many regions of this unique and colorful continent.

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