Gay Travel to Ecuador and The Galapagos

by Jeff Gundvaldson

Jeff Gundvaldson

Are you a nature enthusiast? Love animals? Curious about evolution? Like soft adventure? Those of us in the gay community who are into this sort of thing, or at least admit we’re into this sort of thing, are somewhat a rare breed.

Mention the idea of going to a place like the Galapagos to see wildlife among polite gay company and the reaction is often one of outright revulsion at the thought of being that close to nature and that far from civilization. I won’t lie and tell you that it was as clean and tidy like a visit to Sea World, but after visiting the Galapagos I can honestly tell you it was far from roughing it.

My husband Troy and I led a group of nearly 30 adventurous gay men on an 8-day adventure with Brand g Vacations this January. We eased into things by settling into the 4.5 star Swissotel in Quito. This fascinating city is home to one of the largest and best preserved colonial centers in South America. Its “Old Town”, a Unesco World Heritage Site is packed with colonial monuments and architectural treasures.

A tour of Quito on day two took us through three eras in Ecuador’s history, Pre-Columbian, colonial and contemporary. Among the many sites we visited were the newly opened Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, the highly decorated Jesuit church of la Compañía and the Chapel of Man, famed Ecuadorian artist Guayasamin’s homage to humanity.

Day three saw an early morning wakeup call and then off to the airport for our flight to Baltra and the start of our adventure in The Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival we ferried to Santa Cruz Island where we were welcomed with a hearty lunch and cold beverages. Then we were given the choice of visiting the famed Galapagos Giant Tortoises in captivity at the Charles Darwin research center, or in their natural habitat in the highlands of Santa Cruz. It was a tough decision for some, but after minor debate we all agreed it would be far preferable to see these gentle giants in the wild vs. a pen. We were rewarded with a multitude of tortoises and as it happened to be breeding season we even saw a bit of action albeit very slow action.

Many people think that The Galapagos are devoid of human civilization completely, but our visit to Puerto Ayora, the embarkation point for our cruise, proved otherwise. Unbeknownst to many there are more than 26,000 humans living within the Galapagos in three main population centers. Our stop in Puerto Ayora was the perfect opportunity to pick up any last minute needs before embarking the Isabella II, our cozy home on the seas for the next 4 nights.

Metropolitan Touring’s Isabella II has all the comforts of big ship life, but in a compact package. Cozy well-equipped staterooms with nice sized bathrooms, a comfy lounge with a well-stocked bar, a covered sun deck with second bar and a hot tub. The food was abundant and tasty with full American buffet breakfasts, tasty buffet lunches and 5-course sit down dinners. The Isabella is also equipped with a fleet of zodiacs, snorkel gear, wet suits, kayaks and a glass bottom boat.

Days start early in the Galapagos, so if you’re a night owl you might want to adjust your sleep schedule before visiting. Each day we had a wakeup call around 6:15am with breakfast served around 7am. Trust me it’s well worth it to get up early as there is much to see and do and nature does not wait for anyone!

We witnessed an enormous amount of diversity in land and sea life as well as flora and fauna during our four-day adventure.  There was an abundance of sea lions, iguanas, sea and land birds, sharks, rays…the list goes on and on. Among the crowd favorites were the somewhat gawky Blue Footed Boobies and the rare Galapagos Penguins. Best of all the animals have no fear of humans so you can walk right up to them and they just go about their business like you one of the gang.

We hiked, snorkeled, kayaked, and best of all shared the company of like-minded people while exploring. And that is the true beauty of traveling on an all-LGBT cruise or tour. Imagine never having to come out at dinner even once during the cruise.

Here’s a small sampling of what we saw and did. I hope you enjoy, I know we did!

Photos by Troy Bermel.

LGBT TRAVELERS GIVE BACK TO DESTINATIONS THEY VISIT

Brand g Vacations Treasures of Golden Myanmar School Donation

Minneapolis, MN, December 29, 2015– On their tour in November, a group of tourists with Brand g Vacations opened their pockets generously to support a school in rural Myanmar.Myanmar2015.school

It is often easiest to give to organizations with which we identify, and which support causes that directly affect our lives. However, as evidenced by LGBT travelers on this recent trip to Myanmar, the generosity of the LGBT community often goes beyond gay and lesbian organizations and LGBT friendly charities.

LGBT tour operator, Brand g Vacations, chartered Haimark Limited’s Irrawaddy Explorer for a cruise on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. Haimark supports a primary school in the tiny village of Yandabo, Myanmar, and had set a goal to raise $850 to put a much needed new roof on the village school building.

Only $250 had been raised from previous charters over a period of more than two months. Tour groups regularly donate school supplies on visits to schools on their tours, but Jan and Lois, a long-term couple who recently married in Minnesota, learned about this critical need. They appealed to their fellow travelers on the Brand g tour and the guests more than doubled the amount needed, generously contributing more than $1,400.

When the school’s headmaster was informed about the donation, he called in the town’s mayors to accept the gift. The additional funds raised will be used to purchase much-needed desks, furnishings and additional learning materials for the students.

“I am not surprised at all to witness such generosity from our guests,” says Jeff Gundvaldson, co-owner of Brand g Vacations. “Our guests are very engaged in the world community and see travel as a way to further educate themselves and to interact with the people in the countries we visit.” Gundvaldson goes on to say “some of the most compelling moments for our guests are the opportunities to make personal connections with the local residents in the countries we visit. They recognize how fortunate they are to be able to travel the world and, when presented with a need, they are quick to respond with great generosity and compassion.”

Founded in 2011 as “the next generation in lgbt travel,” Brand g Vacations offers unique and compelling tours to lesser-traveled corners of the globe for their guests.

“We always aim for exotic bucket list destinations along with some of the tried and true more popular spots” says Gundvaldson. “What really makes us special is our emphasis on unique destinations and smaller ships, which translates to more intimate personal experiences for our travelers.”

 

Myanmar/Burma: Where’s That?!

Me w TemplesDiscover why Ashton calls Myanmar his most unique experience in Asia! Guest-blogger, Ashton Giese, the GAYographer, looks to expose gay travelers to true cultural experiences with custom tours abroad as well as advocate for LGBT rights with his blog and travel news brief, GAYography

Want to go somewhere unique and developing, yet functional and relatively safe? Check out this magical Southeast-Asian nation. Despite lots of growing pains and a still shady government, adventurist tourists have discovered Burma at an exciting juncture in its history. So, if you’re looking for a challenge, beautiful sights and friendly people, come check out this emerging country. Gays are flocking here too! Being LGBT might always be difficult in a relatively conservative society, yet the predominant religion (Buddismremains relatively ambivalent and you’re likely to find friendly eyes just like everywhere else in the world.

Panaramic Temples Bagan

Temples of Bagan

My first day I set out in the capital, Yangon (or Rangoon), a hot-bed of frenetic activity – everyone on the street attempts to sell something, though mostly the same products. It’s difficult to imagine how people can make a living – but they sure are trying. Food is also right there on the street – but the hockers have to keep moving, swatting the flies and shouting out about their products. With the locals (and foreigners alike) wearing traditional longyi, faces smeared with allegedly antioxidant Thanaka paste and teeth & mouths gleaming red from chewing betel nuts it can feel quite alien, yet everyone’s always smiling (especially at foreigners)…

Girl with thanaka paste

Thanaka paste

Read the complete blog at gAytlas.com 

Brand g Vacations Opens New LGBT Bridges with Cuba

LGBT tour operator Brand g Vacations today released an updated itinerary for its February 2015 trip to Cuba, expanding its unique People to People Exchange.
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Founded in 2011 as “the next generation in gay travel,” Brand g Vacations aims to capture the growing numbers of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) travelers, along with straight allies, who enjoy innovative escorted vacations to international spots.

“It’s a whole new way to see Cuba” said Brand g’s Managing Partner, Jeff Gundvaldson. “This will be one of the first opportunities for US citizens to enjoy shipboard life not only to travel from city to city but also as a floating hotel.” Jeff added, “This allows ample time to see the very best Cuba has to offer, while ensuring high quality dining and comfortable lodging, and minimizing the time spent traveling by motor coach.”

The new itinerary contains many special attractions for LGBT passengers including an optional visit to Humbolt 52, Havana’s first gay bar and Cabaret Las Vegas with its popular drag show. Visitors also will have the chance to meet with Dr. Alberto Roque, one of Cuba’s best known advocates on gender issues and equality, take a visit to the National Sex Education Center, Cenesex, which is an educational organization and an advocate for LGBT rights in Cuba, and enjoy lunch with Norma Guillard, lesbian activist and professor at the University of Havana.

According to Gundvaldson “This will be a great opportunity for our enthusiasticpassengers to connect face-to-face with Cuba’s leading LGBT citizens and allies, as well as a chance to learn about Cuban life, history and the progress they are making.”

The itinerary also allows for a special visit to the UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve region and the international/eco-community of “Las Terrazas,” a tour of ‘Old Havana” a walk through one of the country’s largest nature reserves and a turtle breeding center, and to take part in exchanges with artists, salsa dance lessons and much more.  “We will offer a good cross section of activities across a wide range of interests,” said Gundvaldson, “We are sure that there is something to appeal to most everyone.”

Brand g Vacations has shown continued growth since its launch, from a single riverboat trip in 2012 to eight trips planned for 2015. Itineraries include full-ship riverboat charters in Europe and Southeast Asia, as well as three Amazon and Machu Picchu departures and a Panama Canal crossing. Future plans for Brand g include the Ganges in India, Greece and Turkey, southern France and many more destinations.Trinidad Street

“Our goal is simple. We offer unique, compelling and lesser traveled corners of the globe to our guests,” said Gundvaldson, “We have a real passion for LGBT group travel and especially for more intimate and meaningful trips that Brand g is best known for. We always aim for exotic bucket list destinations along with some of the tried and true and more popular destinations. What really makes us special is our emphasis on unique destinations and smaller ships, which translates to more intimate personal experiences for our travelers.”

For more information about Brand g Vacations’ cruises and tours, visit www.brandgvacations.com or call 1 800 433 4303.

Prague Pride 2014 to support gays and lesbians from the East

The Czech Republic remains the most tolerant country of the former Eastern Bloc, which is reflected by its Pride event, which is the biggest and most open LGBT festival of the region. However further East many gays and lesbians face persecution by their government and extremist groups in their societies. This is why Prague Pride decided to support them by giving them an opportunity to attend this year’s Prague Pride parade virtually. They will be able to connect to a secured website www.LGBTavatars.cz, which will be launched shortly. Here people can choose a person physically present in Prague, who will represent them in the Parade. These „live avatars“ will join the Parade on their behalf and share messages, photos and short videos from the Prague Pride Parade through an easy mobile application. Those who do not enter the interaction with a concrete avatar can still access the public contents on the website.

“People cannot organize festivals similar to Prague Pride to the East of our country. In Moscow, such parades have been banned until 2112 and attendees in neighboring countries risk attacks from the police or extremists,“ said Czeslaw Walek, the president of Prague Pride.

The main theme of Prague Pride 2014 is also reflected by the festival poster in the style of propaganda posters from the 1950’s and will be visible in several events during the week, such as a debate on LGBT in diplomacy and the Pride Talks, where people from different kind of societies from all over the world will talk about LGBT life in their respective countries.

Overall Prague Pride will provide a week-long cutting edge program, with almost a 100 different kind of cultural and social events, parties, debates and much more. Many of those  events are catered especially to tourists and will be held in English. There will be a week-long festival village on the banks of the river, where people can join in various activities, see exhibitions, watch movie screenings, enjoy concerts and get all the information about Prague and its gay community. It will be a place of to meet participants, guests and the organizers of the festival. Other highlights of the program include a concert by the famous British duo the Pet Shop Boys, the election of Mr Bear Czech Republic and the annual Business Forum.

The main event of the week, the Prague Pride Parade, will take place on Saturday 16 August and will start at the world-famous Wenceslas Square. This year more organisations than ever before will participate. The route of the parade will lead through the beautiful historical city centre to Letná Park, where a free concert with several DJ stages and an information fair will be held until late in the evening. The Saturday will conclude with several parties all over town, showing the many facets of Prague’s gay scene.PraguePride_visual_Eng

Join us for Give OUT Day on May 15 – National Day of LGBT Giving

giveout day

Being based in Minnesota, we at Brand g vacations know the power of giving back. Our state hosts one of the largest “Days of Giving” in the country, when people are encouraged to give to their favorite non-profit organization(s) during a 24-hour period. Following that same great model, on May 15th, the LGBTQ community and allies across the country will come together for 24 hours of generosity. Watch as our dynamic Minnesota LGBTQ organizations compete for local prizes and try to win the National Title of most individual donors!
Minnesota organizations will compete for a prize pool of $15,000 as well as competing for national prizes. Prizes are based on the number of individual donations – so every organization has a great chance of winning one of the prizes. On Give OUT Day itself people will be able to see which organizations are getting the most gifts – in real time – by checking out the Minnesota Leader Board on the Give OUT Day home page.
http://giveout.razoo.com/giving_events/giveout14/home

Details for Minneapolis Give OUT Day Event
Mason’s 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
528 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55403
(612) 516-3344
http://www.masonsmn.com/

Cash Bar
Appetizers complimentary paid for by the Kevin J. Mossier Foundation
Internet available and results will be projected on screens
As we all agreed at the last meeting – no entertainment..

Brand g Vacations Reunites with Prague Pride

Brand g Vacations is teaming up with the leaders of Prague Pride for our second Danube River cruise. We’re working with local LGBT organizations in Prague to provide guests with optional activities that stray from the conventional. Our pre-cruise stay in Prague will coincide with the 2014 Prague Pride Festival – August 12-18.Prague Pride blog
We have continued our relationship with Czeslaw Walek, an advocate for LGBT rights and Director of Prague Pride. Walek helped organize the first-ever and highly successful event in 2011, which drew strong criticism from Czech president Vaclav Klaus and right-wing groups.
“I was very impressed that Brand g Vacations made the effort to reach out to us again,” said Walek. “It shows that they are going above and beyond in their continued commitment to their guests.” Following our pre-cruise nights in Prague, our all gay group will sail down the Danube from picturesque Nuremberg to Passau, Melk, Vienna, Bratislava and ending in Budapest. We have created a custom itinerary that includes two of the best Eastern European cities which have become prime destinations for gay and lesbian travelers.
“There’s no better way to support destinations that welcome us than with our tourism dollars,” says Rounds. “A full ship of LGBT passengers can make a strong statement, and it gives us the chance to validate the power of travel through our choices.”