Welcome to Insider Out Travel, a blog about LGBT travel written by LGBT tourism professionals. Travel the globe and gain insight into the tourism industry (with a gay twist), brought to you by the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Zooming Through India Part 3: Planes, Trains, and Rickshaws

We flew from Varnasi to Delhi and proceeded to the stunning Imperial Hotel. As you approach this architectural masterpiece, the scent of jasmine fills the air, and you are greeted by men and women in British Colonial costumes offering the most friendly welcome. The hotel is massive, but because of its interesting eclectic layout feels much smaller, and every detail of this old property is crisp, flawless, and immaculate. Original artwork adorns the walls, and the interior marble floors and lush gardens are masterpieces in their own right. In other words, I love this place.

We reluctantly leave this oasis for dinner at Bhukarra, one of the best restaurants in town and are rewarded with an utterly delicious feast of perfectly seasoned tandoori meats and terrifically flavorful dal (lentils). After some extensive overeating, we came back to the hotel and sank into our plush duvets.

It’s amazing how easy it is to wake up after you’ve had such a great night’s sleep. Of course, it’s downright effortless to get out of bed when you know you have a huge breakfast and exciting day ahead of you. We enjoyed an exquisite array of Indian and British morning pastries, meats, cereals, eggs, and just about everything we could ask for. My group and I were seriously getting used to this at this point.

Our tour started with the Jama Mosque, one of the world’s largest. After taking our fill of obligatory photos, including many of the beautiful childeren at the Mosque, we took to the Rickshaws as we had in Varanasi, this time zooming through the narrow lanes of Old Delhi, occasionally stopping at the small craft stalls and shops that caught our interest. The turban shop was an especially big hit. Can you really go to Delhi and not try on a bright orange turban? I don't think so.

Our highlights for the day included the Ghandi Memorial, with its stunning garden, packed with symbolism and significance, and finally Humayum’s tomb. This mogul’s tomb was a kind of precursor to the Taj Mahal, influencing its creation and design. It was important for us to see Humayum’s tomb today, as it set the stage for tomorrow’s adventure: visiting the legendary Taj Mahal.

The next morning, our train was almost two hours late leaving Delhi, and I had to channel everything I learned in India about peace and patience so that I wouldn’t go out of my skin like I would if I were back home. We finally started moving, and in about 30 minutes, another train passed us coming the opposite direction, and it was packed full of people. Actually, it was more than just packed. Men were literally bulging out of the train in the openings between the cars. Any could have fallen off quite easily, but that wasn’t what shocked us. What caught our attention were the smiles and laughter displayed on the faces of all these men. They waived happily at our train, their arms around each other, supporting their friends to stay on, as morning sunlight beet down on their bright faces. How typical of India to once again provide me with a subtle lesson about attitude and acceptance.

As our train moved along, we realized that India’s cell phone industry is thriving. Most of those who were not sleeping were on their mobiles, and of the dozen ring tones we heard on our journey, no two were the same. Phones rang simultaneously from all over the train car creating a kind of mobile symphony that entertained us on our way to Agra.

Zoom Vacations, a global gay vacation company, offers incredible gay group and independent trips to China, Rio for New Years and Carnaval, South Africa, India, Australia for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Peru, Argentina, Madrid for Gay Pride, and several luxury mega-yacht cruises. You can find more information on their website at www.zoomvacations.com or call 866 966-6822.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mendoza is Full of Surprises!

Sarmiento Pedestrian Mall, Mendoza, Argentina

By Roy Heale
Recently I made my second trip to Mendoza and once again I discovered this beautiful city is more than just the capital of Argentina's wine industry. Amidst the beautiful parks and historic Spanish architecture there are some unusual ways for visitors to spend their leisure time.

Dining out is a major part of Mendoza's nightlife but dinner at Los Chocos proved to be a most unique experience. It's a gay-owned and operated restaurant serving a gourmet eight course dinner in a private home similar to the Paladares in Havana, Cuba. Special local Mendoza cuisine was complemented with perfect Malbec wines, wonderful company, and amazingly creative food with mouthwatering flavors, and all for only $50 US dollars. Incredible!

                                  Before Dinner Drinks at Los Chocos

This gourmet restaurant is located in the home of Martin the Chef and his partner Martin who assists with the entire dinner. It's located in the middle of downtown, on the 5th floor of a classic old residential apartment building. You have the whole place to yourself, giving it a familiar and comfortable feel. Reservations are essential as each dinner can only accommodate a total of eight guests.

Martin and His Partner Chef Martin

Chef Martin personally delivers each of the dishes, which are all made with local flavors and ingredients. They feature truly regional ingredients and dishes, unlike anything you'll find in bigger Argentine cities like Buenos Aires. Chef Martin was also kind enough to explain each course, how his creations were conceived, and how long this process takes. The menu only changes with the seasons four times per year but even repeat visits are enjoyable.

Here are just a few of the taste-tempting courses I enjoyed:

*Tapa from Cuyo a braised butternut squash in “jarilla” butter, fresh goat cheese with citric notes and onion marmalade in Malbec served over a crunchy “ sopaipilla”.
*Toasted tomatoes, leek confit, and black sausage pudding, garnished with grated cheese and poached egg yolk.
 *An eight hour slow roasted goat meat, served with a sweet potato mash and garnish.

Every dish was accompanied by amazing home made bread and paired with great wines from a local vineyard.

The rest is up to your own imagination, but this is a singular Mendoza experience not to be missed when you visit the city.

After all those calories late at night some exercise might be in order. Just next door to the restaurant building are two more little-known and unusual Mendoza attractions. Dating back to the 1950s is an old-world Pool Hall with a domed ceiling and wood paneling which is truly like stepping back in time. Then downstairs in the next door building is an even more surprising Bowling Alley where the balls and pins are wooden and there is no mechanical equipment as the pins are reset and the balls returned by a human being! Even if you don't feel like a game of pool or bowling, a visit to each of these venues is a must.

Luckily after this late-night feast and entertainment I only had to walk two blocks to where I was staying at the Modigliani Art and Design Suites. This is Mendoza's only gay-owned and operated accommodations which are conveniently located in the heart of the downtown core. Incidentally the staff are very familiar with Los Chocos and can easily help with your reservations and plans for the whole evening.

Modigliani Art and Design Suites

Mendoza truly is a picturesque Andean city full of surprises and, of course, always great Malbec wines to enjoy!

For Reservations at Los Chocos: (54 2611) 5454 5320 or los.chocos@yahoo.com.ar
For More Information Contact: www.deptosmendoza.com.ar

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Zooming Through India Part 2: The True Meaning of Faith

It's so difficult to describe what our group experienced in the holy city of Varanasi. Let me put things into perspective.

Imagine you are walking up 8th avenue in Manhattan, and the buildings have been stripped of their facades, revealing course brick, mortar, and cinder block. Now give them all a nice coating of gray dust with an additional half inch of dust on the street, blurring any hint of lane lines. Fill 8th avenue full of people, none over 5 and a half feet tall, and add a cow or two every 50 feet, plus some stray dogs and goats. small cars and larger trucks dart in every direction, as motorcycles and rickshaws dodge in and out of traffic, avoiding the crowds of pedestrians. All you hear is the honking of horns and the calling out of vendors selling fruit, crafts, dinner, and unidentifiable items from make-shift stalls that line the avenue.

Women in brightly colored Saris dot the otherwise gray canvas, and their beauty takes your mind off the smells of gasoline, food, livestock, and occasionally urine. One thing illuminates the scene; the bright eyes and smiles of all you pass on your way to the Gangses. And in this foreign, strange city where little is familiar and expectations are constantly questioned, there is one thing we have come to expect: if you offer anyone here...I mean ANYone a friendly smile or hello, you are met with the most humbling, sincere, beautiful greeting in return.

We arrive by rickshaw to grand, ancient stone steps leading into the Gangses, amidst throngs of people, the smell of smoke filling the air, and gentle chanting heard in the distance.

Boarding our small boat, we sailed the tranquil waters just 15 minutes upstream to witness the cremation funeral Pyres, where families come to ceremonially burn their deceased.

We were allowed to take photos for a while, until we were right next to the pyres on the banks. Seven pyres could be easily seen but there were surely more, and without much imagination we could see the outlines of cremated bodies on the piles of wood. So why didn't it seem in any way morbid? Why did it instill in all of those in our group a peaceful, beautiful silence? Varanasi, in all of its multi-sensory chaos and strangeness was somehow silencing our cynical minds and opening our hearts. This was fortunate for us, because tomorrow would challenge everything we thought we knew about faith, healing, spirituality, and ourselves.

Normally waking up before 7 am fills me with such dread that I subtly pout the night before. But today, I have woken at 4:30 am, and I am so excited for today's events that I have morning energy I've never experienced. Today we once again descend to the Gangses, this time to view the morning Hindu rituals as the sun rises above the river, opposite the city.

We see things today that challenge our every notion of life, death, right, and wrong. In our morning showers at the hotel, if a drop of water falls in our mouths it ignites a panic, yet here, in the same sacred waters that receive the ashes of the dead, as well as garbage and even livestock passage, are people bathing and drinking. They swallow mouthfuls of the Gangses in large gulps, while others around them burn small fires on the banks and chant prayers. Flowers and candles adorn the steps in exotic designs. Women in bright saris of pinks, blues, oranges, and yellows hover on the steps preparing their rituals and then submerging themselves fully clothed into the ashy Gangses, like a newborn baptism.

Then we see something that again challenges our ideas of faith, and the power that this mystic river holds for its inhabitants. A partially submerged dead body floats past our boat, bumping the oar, and then vanishes again into the murky waters. This is no more than 10 feet from where the living are bathing.

Our guide brushes it off that the owner of the body was merely in the deepest of sleeps. He explains that some families cannot afford the pricey cremation prices (roughly 500 rupees--about $12) and their faith draws them here to deliver their deceased loved ones in the mystic waters in any way possible. Bodies are bound with weights to take them to the river bottom, but sometimes they come loose.

Our cruise down the Gangses passes various temples and now-smoldering funeral pyres, and eventually drops us off on the banks to make our way through the small streets and allies of Varanasi, toward our hotel. Fifteen minutes after we leave our boat, I realize I have left my bag with my favorite sunglasses and some other random items on the boat. I tell our guide, who promises to contact the captain, but I know I will never see my bag again. It's OK, I decide, because whomever ends up with my bag needs the contents more than I ever could.

Street merchants are everywhere selling fruit, camera memory cards, cigarettes made from leaves, and silver paint to anoint our foreheads. My friend Mike finally succumbs to a young, adorable boy in ragged clothes selling the silver paint and agrees to a sale which comes to about 2 dollars. The boy doesn't have change so Mike tells him he can keep it.

"No, sir" the boy says, "I will bring to you".

We proceed through the city streets and just when we had completely forgotten about the boy, he miraculously finds us and presents Mike with his change, some of which is coins. Mike tells him to please keep the coins, and the boy responds, "no, please, sir, give them to the poor people."

We are humbled to our core.

We eventually arrive at our van which will take us the short distance to our hotel, and I can't believe what I see on the front seat. It is my bag that I thought was lost forever. The owner of the boat, upon hearing I had left my bag, found the captain and then tracked us through town to deliver it to its owner.

I have been to so many places where myself or my friends forget our belongings and never see them again. But this isn't those places. This is India.

Zoom Vacations, a global gay vacation company, offers incredible gay group and independent trips to China, Rio for New Years and Carnaval, South Africa, India, Australia for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Peru, Argentina, Madrid for Gay Pride, and several luxury mega-yacht cruises. You can find more information on their website at www.zoomvacations.com or call 866 966-6822.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


By Roy Heale

Following the enormous success of the first two conferences, the planning is well under way for the GNETWORK360 2010 International Forum of Businesspeople and Entrepreneurs. With only three months to go, the excitement is building towards the third annual Forum. Businesspeople and entrepreneurs focused on the LGBT market will be gathering in Buenos Aires from July 21 to 23, 2010 at the Axel Hotel, Venezuela 649, San Telmo. Based on last year's attendance of more than 700 delegates it is anticipated that more than eight hundred attendees will join together to share information and learn about business opportunities within the LGBT travel niche market.

The forum producer---GMAPS360---is proud to organize “GNETWORK360” the third of these annual Forums. The event is designed to provide information and networking opportunities for companies and organizations which are currently dedicating part of their communications strategy to the LGBT community. By joining together once again, these businesses will work towards the common goal of promoting Argentina and Buenos Aires as gay-friendly destinations. It is also a unique opportunity for fellow IGLTA members to meet and share information or opportunities throughout South America and around the globe. Conference attendees will also learn about the unique LGBT niche market from distinguished guest speakers, workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.

Attendance at the Forum is FREE and delegates must be registered in advance to attend the events and activities. This is perhaps the best and most inexpensive way to meet numerous other industry professionals and to learn important information or business techniques from the distinguished guest speakers.
In South America this conference affords an unprecedented opportunity to learn about one of the most lucrative and loyal global travel market segments. It will also provide an excellent opportunity for networking and connecting with other travel professionals and businesspeople from different travel-related genres.

 Event Producers Gustavo Noguera (left) Pablo De Luca

So mark your calendar with these important dates and plan to be in Buenos Aires for the 2010 GNETWORK360 International Forum of Businesspeople and Entrepreneurs.

For More Information Visit: www.GNETWORK360.com
For More Travel Stories By Roy Heale Visit: http://www.royheale.blogspot.com/

Zooming Through India, Part 1: Dahl, Devotion, and Diwali

When I told people I was going to India, I was met with reactions ranging from, "why do you want to go there?" to, "Why, do you have a problem with your laptop?"

Travel Magazines and television programming love nothing more than to show their audiences images of sad but beautiful Indian children, medical staff in crisp white garments juxtaposed with the gray squalor of the slums they are serving, and livestock living under the same roofs and often the same beds as their masters.

While these elements undeniably exist in India, this country is so much more than this. Amidst the grit is unfathomable glamour. Among the splendor is spirituality. And everywhere the greedy minority are outnumbered by the gracious.

For me the question was never "Why would I want to go to India" but rather, "How can I have the pampering vacation my mind and body crave while opening my heart to let my time in India nourish my soul?" The answer evolved with each passing day of the trip.

Our tour of India started in its famous seaside city, Mumbai, formerly Bombay.

After a delicious Indian breakfast, consisting of a multitude of indiscernible, yet tasty dishes like dahl, nan, and more , we boarded a rustic boat for a tranquil one hour cruise bound for Elephanta island. Upon arrival, we boarded an even more rustic small train, which resembled a down-on-its-luck roller coaster to the steps of the 6th century Hindu worship site, Elephanta Caves.

The mammoth caves were hand-chiseled out of the mountain, and enormous, carved columns were placed throughout, purely for decoration, not for structural value. Elaborate carvings of Shiva adorn the walls of the caves, telling stories of Shiva's strength, power, wisdom, and benevolence.

When the Portuguese invaded the caves a few hundred years ago, they fired their guns into the caves, chipping away at the once perfect statues and carvings. Once a spiritual Hindu statue has been damaged, it is no longer sacred, and thus the Elephanta caves could no longer be used as a formal site for worship.

We left the caves and ran into some young male locals of the rustic island, who seemed to have found a new object for worship, namely the body of our hunky traveler, Mike Ruiz. They crowded around him with amazed and curious eyes, not unlike our own wonderment of the caves just minutes before. You don’t see a lot of big, muscled men in India, and Mike was very popular. With a fond farewell to his fans, Mike and the rest of us boarded our boat for our return trip to Mumbai, and to the Diwali celebration that was just beginning.

Diwali is kind of a cross between Christmas and New Years, and its origins may not make a lot of sense to the foreign observer. It stems from the tale of a banished prince who returns from his 14 years in the forest to reclaim his thrown from his step brother and illuminate the path for his kingdom's recovery. Diwali is therefore celebrated with prayer, the lighting of special candles, and setting off the loudest firecrackers you've ever seen.

All around our hotel, and really the whole city, and to be honest, the whole country one can see and hear fireworks igniting the sky. Brightly decorated horse-drawn carriages could be summoned for a small fee to take passengers on a joy ride along the bay, to enjoy the festivities in style.

Having a busy day ahead of us tomorrow, we called it a somewhat early night, and after a delicious Indian seafood dinner, went to sleep to the soft sound of firecrackers in the distance.

Zoom Vacations, a global gay vacation company, offers incredible gay group and independent trips to China, Rio for New Years and Carnaval, South Africa, India, Australia for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Peru, Argentina, Madrid for Gay Pride, and several luxury mega-yacht cruises. You can find more information on their website at www.zoomvacations.com or call 866 966-6822.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Pacific Beat

For the unsure, New Caledonia is a French Territory in the southern Pacific Ocean (AKA Coral Sea) – a mere 2.5 hours flying time east from Sydney, Australia and north from Auckland, New Zealand.

Go ahead, Google Map it. It’s a new travel destination for many, only recently discovered by lesbian and gay travellers in search of fresh tropical destinations, romantic holidays and experiential travel.

New Caledonia Tourism, Aircalin the international airline, and several tourism operators, night clubs and destination agencies have recently joined IGLTA or become Rainbow Tourism accredited, so your gay comfort is assured.

If you go soon, there’s still time to have an authentic Melanesian experience, mix with local gays at after dark venues, and enjoy pristine beaches and a coral reef like no where else.

Go with your partner, your family or yourself. While it is a place for romance, solo explorers can have gourmet moments, pursue rock climbing and snorkeling, and experience blue-lagoon ecstasy too.

Custom Packages for Gay & Lesbian Visitors

Rainbow Tourism and Noumea Discovery are offering Festival Short Break and Festival Week Escape packages for the Fourth Melanesian Arts Festival in Noumea in September. Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu artists and performers will be flocking to New Caledonia for the two-week festival from 12-24 September.

This would be a good time to get introduced to New Caledonia and enjoy a few nights in Noumea for the free festival events and two nights at a rainforest retreat before or after.