Virtuoso Traveler 2018 December Good Going: Folk Trails

Good Going: Folk Trails

A bird in the hand: In Mongolia, a nomad shows off his falconry skills at the annual Golden Eagle Festival.
A bird in the hand: In Mongolia, a nomad shows off his falconry skills at the annual Golden Eagle Festival.
Photo by Nomadic Expeditions
Virtuoso’s director of sustainability shares his idea of an ideal match: authentic cultural experiences amid spectacular natural settings.

My lifelong fascination with exploring exotic lands and connecting with distant cultures had a surprising start. When I was 5, my family moved to central New Jersey, where we lived alongside one of the only Mongolian communities outside Asia – the result of a resettlement program for Mongolian refugees fleeing Stalin’s Soviet empire. I attended school with Mongolian children, ate buuz (dumplings) in their homes, and watched elaborate ceremonies led by ruby-robed monks at our neighborhood Buddhist temple. So you can imagine my excitement when, decades later, my Mongolian American childhood friend, Jalsa Urubshurow, founder of Nomadic Expeditions, invited me to join him on “the adventure we always dreamed about as kids.”

Our destination: his company’s private ger (handcrafted yurt) camp, nestled amid the sweeping vistas of remote Mongolia, to witness the Golden Eagle Festival. Cofounded by Urubshurow, this annual event celebrates the country’s centuries-old tradition of falconry, which UNESCO has recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. By day, we watched colorfully dressed nomads on horseback engage in contests of falconry skill; at night, we retreated back to the comforts of camp, where village musicians sang ancestral songs as we feasted on authentic Mongolian meals. To this day, that sublime intersection of nature and culture is still one of my most memorable travel experiences.

For similar reasons, trips to Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way – nine counties along the country’s stunning west coast – and the Marquesas Islands should top any adventurer’s bucket list. In the former, during my stay at Ashford Castle, staff set me on a journey of discovery that included trekking along dramatic sea cliffs, exploring historic stone villages, visiting ancient sacred sites, and encountering some of the friendliest, most music-loving people I’ve come across in a lifetime of travel. From meandering through emerald-green meadows to foot-stomping with fiddle players in local pubs, it hardly gets more Irish than this.

In French Polynesia, one of my favorite places is the Marquesas – a place where “paradise” really is an apt description. For years, getting there involved booking passage on a cargo ship delivering supplies to the isolated archipelago, considered one of the last outposts of traditional Polynesian life. Although the latter remains true today, Paul Gauguin Cruises now makes the voyage much easier – and much more enjoyable. Experiences such as snorkeling among kaleidoscopic coral reefs and strolling unspoiled beaches pair perfectly with strumming the ukulele with the line’s local ambassadors and touring archaeological ruins in the lush Taaoa Valley. Here’s to these and other places that let us go wild and form lasting cultural connections.

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