Once upon a time long ago—at least in terms of our relatively new focus on experiential and volunteer travel—Myths & Mountains’ president Toni Neubauer founded READ Global, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering communities by increasing literacy and access to education. The idea came when she (that’s Dr. Antonia Neubauer who speaks five languages and holds a doctorate in educational administration and a masters in French literature) was trekking in Nepal and asked her guide what he wanted most for his village. His answer? A library. Exactly 20 years later, READ Global has supported proposals from villages in Nepal, India and Bhutan for development of the 57 community libraries and resource centers now operating. In 2006, the nonprofit’s pilot site, READ Nepal, won the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Access to Learning Award.”
While Myths & Mountains is not the sole U.S. operator committed to contributing to the well-being of the destinations they promote for tourism, the company is certainly a pioneer in ethical travel and travel philanthropy. In addition to contributing a portion of its profits on behalf of each traveler to building and sustaining the projects of READ Global, “We are dedicated to connecting our travelers with the people and cultures they visit, and since we know our countries [in Southeast Asia, Asia and South America] inside and out, it makes it easier to share our passions with our travelers,” says Neubauer.
A most direct READ connection involves traveling with Neubauer each fall to either Bhutan or Nepal (or both for hardy clients), to see how this fascinating nonprofit is working to build a rural public library system. “Our passengers are always interested to discover that a village has to write the proposal, donate the land, put in a minimum of 15-20 percent of the funds,” she explains. “Villages come to us, not we to them, and library projects involve the whole village.” You know, she adds, “a library is a catalyst for development, for you also have to create an economic support system that will keep it going. Further, if you build a school, it’s only for the students; a medical center is used by the sick; but a library—and ours all have meeting rooms—is for the whole village.”
Right now, Neubauer is just finishing up a 2-week trip in Bhutan that combines touring in the western Bhutanese cities of Paro and Thimphu with trekking—a bit of fitness required for this journey—to remote Merak and Sakteng, home of Bhutan’s most colorful nomads. Next year, this Bhutan tour (Paro to Paro) travels Oct. 6-21, priced at $5,159 pp based on a group of 3-10 persons. Among the costs included are accommodations (hotels/inns/private homes/camping), most meals, camping equipment and tents, camping staff and horses, and Bhutan visa.
In 2012, Neubauer will also accompany the Myths & Mountains’ Nepal: Mountains, Monkeys & Books tour, which includes visits to beautiful temples and monasteries in the Katamandu Valley and time for shopping for jewelry and rugs. In the mountains, guests ride a Tibetan pony to Tukche and in Royal Chitwan National Park track wildlife on an elephant. Tour members also spend time in Katamandu with the READ Global board—a cross-section of Nepali intellectuals and artists—as well as with the staff at remote projects in Tukche and Jomsom in the Annapurnas in the shadow of Dhaulagiri, Syangia near Pokara, and Jhuwani in Chitwan National Park. Dates for 2012 are Oct. 22-Nov. 2, and the land cost, including internal air, accommodations, most meals, excursions with expert English-speaking guides, starts at $2,795 pp based on a group of 7-10 participants.
For additional information on all the company’s scheduled tours in Asia, Southeast Asia and South America, as well as customized itineraries for FIT and group tour clients, contact Myths & Mountains at (800) 670-6984 or visit mythsandmountains.com.
P.S. Myths & Mountains directs us—industry partners, clients and media—to “Ethical Traveler’s 13 Tips for the Accidental Ambassador” journeying to developing countries. Some of these follow, while the rest are available at ethicaltraveler.org:
• Learn and respect the traditions and taboos of your host country. Never, for instance, pat a Thai child on the head, enter a traditional Brahmin’s kitchen, or open an umbrella in a Nepali’s home.