The Coffee Blend

It was 1974. A local resident and friend of the Mehta family in Khartoum made an introduction to a young lady named Usha Mehta, living in Wad Madani, Sudan. The young lady traveling to Nairobi, and this friend thought we should meet. In those days, the tradition was to have an arranged marriage. And so, after being introduced, Usha Mehta and I went for coffee at the Panafric Hotel in Nairobi, which surprisingly still exists to this day.

We must have talked for almost 2 hours about everything we had in common and our lives. Afterward, when Usha went home, I was asked to make a decision regarding whether or not I wanted to proceed with the relationship. And so I did. 20 days later, we were arranged to be married on Oct 20, 1974.

Shortly after our wedding, 15 days later, we went on a safari in Tanzania, visiting the Northern Circuits from Manyara to Serengeti. Back then, this was all done by road, meaning some excitement was bound to happen along the way. I remember it was a dry day; the weather was perfect for the drive, and, as an added bonus, along the way, we met with a group that was traveling with Big Five, as some of our first travelers since the company was not even a year old at that point. One of the guests was from Syria and met up with us, conversing with Usha Mehta; now, my wife began speaking to him in Arabic since she was fluent as a Sudanese resident living in Kenya, making it a very nice encounter.

That following year,  Usha visited India with her father; as for me, having never been before, I made my very first visit to the United States. From day one, we found ourselves exploring different parts of the world; in some way, Usha was part of my path, and now here we are…50 years later. My Family, Big Five, and my Parents Dream in full circle.


Dear Advisor Partner,


Big Five Tours & Expeditions, in partnership with Art Experiences Travel, jointly announce the launch of the ME Ecuador Trail. This is a new and authentic program on the mainland.

Ecuador, allowing travel advisors and travelers alike to support local artisans and community tourism as a long-lasting part of the tourism equation.


In September 2020, Santiago, a friend in Quito, introduced me to Sebastian, the architect behind Art Hotels and Art Experiences in Ecuador. While visiting his hotel in Otavalo, we discussed the local artisans, chefs, and musicians who were forgotten during the pandemic. Like other countries and as an established tourism destination in South America, Ecuador has a major challenge – ensuring tourism dispersal beyond its main tourism draw, the Galapagos Islands. In fact, continental Ecuador competes for the same customer who is traveling to the country specifically for one experience. However, what is often left out of tourism conversations are local artisans and micro-entrepreneurs who play a small role in the tourism economy of Ecuador. The pandemic laid bare the struggle of these local artisans, who all suffered a major impact in their micro-businesses, many lost everything, and some reverted back to substance abuse or worse.


This led to the co-founding of ME Ecuador, a collaborative that prioritizes pathways to visibility for indigenous communities, artisans, and artists among travelers, travel advisors, and travel providers. The organization, which was co-founded by three tourism industry leaders (including Big Five and Art Experiences Travel), was created with the goal of giving these micro-entrepreneurs a chance to become responsible members of the tourism industry in Ecuador by helping them write their own business plans and holding them accountable through a code of ethics agreement. Ecuador is multi-diverse, boasting 14 different indigenous tribes. In addition, it celebrates many artisans and artists that have mixed indigenous art crafts with Spanish influences, making it their own version of mestizo art. The ME Ecuador Trail is a sustainable tourism initiative designed to invite Ecuadorian micro-entrepreneurs to the tourism table, allowing them to thrive and become a voice and teacher for others in their communities to join in on the effort of sharing their crafts/skills with the world.


This partnership has started to show tangible results that is changing the lives of local micro-entrepreneurs as they move away from life-damaging circumstances, in some cases, towards having respected seats at the tourism table. The journey representing this collaboration begins here with our newest President’s Pick,

The ME Ecuador Trail.

Take a peek at this week’s video.

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