Quinta Maconda.Live!


As per Departures Amex Publications Feature credits re. “Guatemala Gusto” article 2008.

Please note that Quinta Maconda no longer contracts Aero Ruta Maya or Helicopteros de Guatemala.

National Geographic Traveler – Going Deep!

Posted in Adventures beyond, Authentic Journeys, QM PRESS by quintamacondalive on September 1, 2008

     QUINTA MACONDA – Signature Journeys

Old World Travel

Old World Travel


Featured in National Geographic Traveler50 Tours of a Lifetime 2008

Following is the unabridged  version of GOING DEEP.    

A  Journey to the authentic and unknown Guatemala, hosted by John Heaton 

Going Deep – The original unabridged text

Going Deep – The NGT Feature

 by Carl Hoffman

 Check it out!

Madagascar: Heaven can wait!

Posted in adventure travel, Adventures beyond, Authentic Journeys, Madagascar! by quintamacondalive on December 22, 2007
Bleu Royal!

Bleu Royal!

A visit to the Sapphire pit mines of Ambondromifehy and the mining town of Ilakaka.

Our last great adventure was our journey to Madagascar.

Catherine and I spent one month from September 22 – October 23, 2007, exploring remote corners this gorgeous country and meeting its wonderful and hospitable people along the way. Total immersion within the expanse of this new land, its customs and traditions, people and culture, provided us with extraordinary encounters.

Unusually, we traveled the first leg of our journey with the help of a NYC based tour operator to get the lay of the land. The travel logistics in-situ were handled by a partner TO in Madagascar. We were quick to realize that none had done their homework well and none were versed in the great chronology of travel planning, or for that matter, in Madagascar itself.

Nonetheless, we found this great island to be enchanting and the people, delightful.

On the second leg of our travels, we handled the logistics ourselves and let loose. We followed our instinct and curiosity, indulging in the extraordinary flavors of Malagasy culture to lead the way. It was sensational! Our excitement reached a peak when our driver-guide Fenu was starting to have fun discovering his own country. He was startled at what appealed to us, and never thought visitors would have any interest whatsoever in the aspects of his culture we were now discovering together.

One day, Fenu gasped at us with startled eyes when I expressed the desire to explore the sapphire pit mines of Ambondromifehy encroaching on the Ankarana National Park. “We will get ourselves killed,” he stuttered. ” Mining in the national park is illegal – worst yet, the local buyers will see us as competition, and will murder us!”. Feeling this to be more of a leitmotif to justify his fear than actual danger, Catherine and I did our best to comfort him. “Do not worry Fenu, we live in Guatemala!” He did not quite know what to make of this, but must have felt the tone comforting, as all of a sudden he became quiet and resigned himself to come along.

Sapphire can be found in northern Madagascar near Diego Suarez at Ambondromifehy. There the corundum is derived from basaltic source rocks, and so tends to occur in green, yellow and inky blue colors. In 1995, wood-cutters in the Ankarana forest near Ambondromifehy came across fistfuls of blue stones. At first thought to be useless, children were using them as amunition for their sling shots! When they were later identified as sapphire, the rush was on.

We met with the local sapphire dealer, Monsieur Jimmy. After some schmoozing, he arranged for one of his own to take us down to the river where the raw sapphires were being extracted from their muddy cocoons. We traipsed along a tiny trail through the Ankarana Reserve to the pit mines. On the way, a local character, thinking we might be foreign buyers, scrambled towards us clawing himself up from the river bank. He presented us with two raw sapphires. Knowing next to nothing about gems, bluff was the only way to go. I took the small bluish stones from the palm of his hand and one by one held them between my thumb and forefinger holding them up to the sun. The streaming light ignited the stone and its dull bluish color turned translucent. “Bleu Royal!” I exclaimed. Those words worked magic, “Oui, monsieur, Bleu Royal” the man repeated suavely looking at us with a glistening and proud smile.

Sapphires in the Ambondromifehy area are usually found in thick clumps of yellowish-grey basaltic clay brought up from the 120 ft depths of narrow, hand-dug mining pits. The thick clay is then washed in the river in metal strainers that look like chinese hats. The lucky miners find small blue, pink, green or yellow stones at the bottom of their pans.

“Bleu Royal!” has become the color of hope and wealth for the pit miners of Ankarana. Ten thousand kilometers away, the whisper of “Bleu Royal”, reverberates with awe and glamour and never fails to cast a spell on the stratospherically rich when presented with a perfectly cut stone by one of Place Vendome’s prestigious jewelers. For us, hearing “Bleu Royal” spoken by shoeless Malagasy men covered in thick clay emerging from the bowels of the earth sent shivers through our spines.

Oh yes! I forgot – we acquired the two stones presented to us, and in an act of sublime grandeur, the vendor offered us a wide smile and small yellow sapphire as a token of friendship. That does not happen on Place Vendome!

A few weeks before, when passing through Ilakaka, the infamous mining town of southern Madagascar in the province of Tulear, we had the urge to explore. Didier, our driver then, did not want to set foot out of the vehicle. He was adamant: “it is shear madness.” This made us laugh and of course we made a point of stopping there; nothing like the threat of shear madness in the pursuit of a good time.

Not only did we stop in Ilakaka to buy a sampling of cut gems, I decided to return to Ilakaka the following night to film the local action. Didier was beside himself, I told him to stop worrying and that it would be just fine. He was visibly uncomfortable. We rolled into town at dusk and it turned into a great evening. We hung out with the miners returning from the fields and filmed their transactions with the Sri Lankan and Thai buyers protected in small wooden kiosks with steel barred windows; I almost traded my video camera for a bag of multi colored sapphires. We later ended our escapade gloriously with a few shots of Madagascar’s famous rhum arrangé in a bar of ill repute.

When finally driving out of Ilakaka, as he exhaled a generous breath, Didier had only one word to say : “WOW!” But with a big smile on his face.

Such was our trip to the malagasy sapphire mines, full of adventure and of turning fears into fun.


Madagascar: A Must! 

National Geographic Traveler – Quinta Maconda

Posted in Adventures beyond, Authentic Journeys, Guatemala Culture, QM PRESS by quintamacondalive on September 10, 2007

Keith Bellows (Editor in Chief, National Geographic Traveler) traveled to Guatemala.                                      Following is the account of his journey with John Heaton Guatemala Gifts

Video: The shrine of San Simon: 

Heli-Hiking the Bugaboos, British Columbia (video)

Posted in Adventures beyond by quintamacondalive on September 5, 2007

The 48hr train ride (Rocky Mountaineer) from Vancouver to Banff is awsome! (coming soon on QMLive!) There is a half way stop in Kamloops, the journey resumes the next day and the scenery along the way is simply majestic. A world class ride. The plexy dome of the upper level (Gold Leaf Service) offers 360º degree views and an unobstructed glance at the Rockies’ lofty granite peaks. An occasional black bear emerges from the underbrush, or a bald head eagle glides overhead. many deer dear were spotted along he way. Great food is served on board.

Once in Banff (Overnight) and the next morning a 3hr Pullman ride takes you to the Bugaboo Lodge’ Heli pad …up and away we go. (Coming soon on QMLive!)

Lift Off! On rocky summitt.

if you like the way we travel – Come travel with us in

3 Minutes to Vancouver .1 (video)

Posted in Adventures beyond by quintamacondalive on September 3, 2007

Following is a clip which purpose is to inspire the viewer to experience in a similar way during his/her travels, route and place, and to go even further. Many times one misses the multi dimensional rewards of travel for being aprehensive and not being able to visualize the experience or the services offered beyond the brochure. On QMLive we will be presenting real travel experiences. Enjoy and be inspired.


This 3 part journey to:

1. Seattle-Victoria-Vancouver
2. Victoria-Banff ( with the Rocky Mountaineer)
3. Banff-Bugaboos (Heli-Hiking)

1. Seattle-Victoria-Vancouver

Do these clips entice you to have the same experience?
Come travel with us

Thar Desert, Rajasthan – Cobra Dance (video)

Posted in Adventures beyond by quintamacondalive on August 20, 2007

An encounter with the Rajput gypsies in the Thar desert. This clip is that of a young boy interpreting the Cobra dance…
I travelled for two weeks in the land of the Rajputs Gypsies in remote communities of the Thar desert and was invited to attend the wedding of the bride’s of Taluk’dani, and extraordinary Alibabaesque affair in the desert. ( see future clip.)

Come travel with us:

Bali Trance 2000 – The inauguration of the sacred chariot (video)

Posted in Adventures beyond by quintamacondalive on August 20, 2007

Bali, Sanur – This was an amazing ceremony that honored the restauration of a sacred chariot that had been out of comission for over 60 years.
We were only 4 non Balinese to be invited by the local Raja to attend this happening.