Scouting Report 2007

By Kate Appleton, David LaHuta, Laura MacNeil, Sean O'Neill, Erik Torkells, and Brad Tuttle
August 9, 2007
We asked 10 people who explore for a living to reveal the places they've recently "discovered"--in other words, the best places you've never heard of (and, frankly, neither had we). Go now, before the rest of the world catches up.

CARAÍVA, BRAZIL
Henry Madden: Co-owner of the Rio de Janeiro-based companies Dehouche (dehouche.com) and Anteater Travel (anteater-travel.com)

Henry Madden traveled around the world for six years as an investment banker--but that all changed in March 2003, as soon as he and his high school friend Paul Irvine arrived in Brazil for vacation. Within eight months, the two had quit their jobs, moved to Brazil permanently, and embarked on a yearlong road trip through the country.

As the co-owners of two Rio de Janeiro-based companies, Dehouche and Anteater Travel, Madden and Irvine scout around South America nearly every week for their businesses. "We pop over to Patagonia or Paraguay for a week to check something out," explains Madden.

Madden can't say enough good things about Caraíva, a rustic beach town at the southern tip of the state of Bahia. It's a laid-back vacation spot for Brazilians from Rio and São Paulo who are willing to make the 44-mile trek from the nearest airport in Porto Seguro down a partially unpaved road. "It's a little too far for some, but that's a good thing," says Madden. There are no cars in Caraíva--visitors leave theirs by the river and ferry across to the town. What Caraíva does have is a wide gold-sand beach and a calm river where visitors can float away the afternoon adrift on inner tubes. "It's so lovely, it's almost surreal," says Madden. The town also borders tribal land where there's a village at which visitors can buy local handicrafts. In the evening, everyone convenes at the few restaurants. "My favorite has seating beneath a large tree," says Madden. "I particularly love the fish stew."

Rooms at Pousada da Barra are basic but appealing--though there's no air-conditioning, all eight rooms have ceiling fans and balconies that take advantage of cross breezes between the river and the ocean. "There's a rhythm to the place," says Madden. "It means that everybody is at the beach at the same time. You can stay a week and know everyone in town."

How to get there: Round-trip TAM Linhas Aéreas and GOL Transportes Aéreos flights from Rio, from $206; taxi to Caraíva from Porto Seguro, $103; Pousada da Barra, caraiva.com, from $78.

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Scouting Report 2007

CASTELMEZZANO, ITALY Enrico Pizzorni: Tour leader for Ciclismo Classico, which runs small-group cycling and hiking trips in the U.S. and Europe (ciclismoclassico.com) A native of Piedmont, Italy, Enrico Pizzorni grew up idolizing cyclist Fausto Coppi, who won the Tour de France twice and the Giro d'Italia five times. In 1998, Pizzorni channeled his cycling talents into a gig leading and then developing small tours for Ciclismo Classico, which leads bicycle groups through Europe and New England. When destination-hunting in the off-season, Pizzorni says he tries to find "a cycling route that has something different to show the customer every day. Even if the landscape is nice, if it doesn't change after a week, it may become boring." One of the company's most varied routes begins in Puglia by the Adriatic Sea and heads southwest across the arch of Italy to finish in Calabria. After completing that trip, Pizzorni and a colleague wondered if they could find a more appealing place to stay than their base in Potenza. One night they skipped dinner to scope out the surrounding villages. "It was dusk, and we were driving up a little mountain and then through a tunnel when all of a sudden this incredible place appeared," recalls Pizzorni. The tunnel is no longer open--visitors to Castelmezzano now enter town from a different direction--but cream-colored houses still hug the sides of craggy peaks known as the Dolomiti Lucane for their resemblance to the Dolomites in northern Italy. (The region around Castelmezzano was once called Lucania.) Wandering among the fairy-tale village's alleys, Pizzorni and his colleague--who were by then starving--lucked upon Al Becco della Civetta, a restaurant with an adjoining hotel run by a family that seeks to preserve recipes such as cavatelli con la mollica (pasta covered with bread crumbs). "They make things that you don't hear about even in the other nearby villages," marvels Pizzorni. He recommends a 20-minute after-dinner stroll further up the slope to the base of the rocky spires that overlook Castelmezzano's 13th-century church, the ruins of a Norman fortress, and the Basento valley. "It's very romantic," he says. "Italy is full of these unknown places." How to get there: Public SITA buses from Potenza take about an hour, sitabus.it, $3; Al Becco della Civetta, 7 Vico 1 Maglietta, 011-39/0971-986249, beccodellacivetta.it, cavatelli $8, doubles from $101.

Speaking in Tongues

Before going to Colombia on vacation, Lisa Tomlinson of New York City wanted to brush up on her Spanish. She tried listening to cassettes in the car, but found it too passive. Tomlinson signed up for three sessions with FluencyNow, a new company that uses online video streaming to give students real-time interaction with a native speaker. With a headset and a high-speed Internet connection, Tomlinson received one-on-one attention from Rocio, a Paraguayan now living in Vancouver. "The conversations really forced me to speak Spanish, and I got an immediate evaluation of my pronunciation," Tomlinson says. FluencyNow offers classes in 17 languages, including less-obvious ones like Ukrainian and Nepali. Students can customize lessons for real-life travel situations--ordering a coffee in Paris, figuring out a bus schedule in Shanghai, and so on. The instructors have webcams, so students can see them, but webcams are optional for students. (Tomlinson wishes she had purchased one.) Appropriately for the iPod era, many language companies are focusing their efforts on audio. ISpeak sells "audio phrase books" that include a CD. After importing the CD to your iPod, you can scroll down to choose which topic you want to study. Another outfit, Earworms, calls itself a Musical Brain Trainer because it uses groove-heavy music as a backdrop while teaching words and phrases. There are 10 languages, sold as 10-track albums. And Living Language, which has been producing self-study courses for 61 years, began selling audio-based online sessions in May. The languages on offer are Spanish, French, German, and Italian. One of the most interesting companies out there is Praxis, which started ChinesePod in 2005. It provides a free daily podcast with a 10-minute lesson about specific situations, such as dealing with health issues or visiting a museum. The company sells subscriptions from $9 per month, with which you get access to the ever-expanding archive. Pay more and you get more, including mobile access and study and vocab guides. ChinesePod also has a new sister outfit, SpanishSense. The granddaddy of language schools, Berlitz, offered its first live online lessons back in 2002, but those early efforts were focused mainly at business travelers and serious students--i.e., they were expensive, and less than ideal for someone spending just a few days in Prague or Buenos Aires. In August, the company launched Ticket to... French, a program for leisure travelers. Up to eight students participate in 90-minute, PC-only classes that meet once a week for five weeks. Students can hear the instructor and each other. Using a virtual pointer and pictures, the classes cover situations such as ordering food and asking for directions. Berlitz plans on adding more languages in December. Just be careful when you promise your teacher an apple; he might think an iPhone is coming his way. A few questions for Fatima Mooney, French instructor for FluencyNow... What do your students generally want help with? Pronunciation. They want to know the right way to speak French. So we have conversations in various scenarios: what to say at the airport, how to order a croissant at a bakery. Which words would one use to sound très cool in French--words that are too current to be in a guidebook? Use voilà all the time, like "there you have it," at the end of sentences. And c'est canon, used for an article of clothing or a person, means "it's really gorgeous." Do you care if people show up for class in pajamas? They need to have some clothes on, that's for sure. But pajamas are no problem. FluencyNow 50-minute class, $30; fluencynow.com iSpeak Phrase book with CD, $13; mhprofessional.com Earworms Rapid downloads, $30; earwormslearning.com Living Language 10-session programs, $55; livinglanguage.com ChinesePod Basic subscription, $9; chinesepod.com SpanishSense Basic subscription, $9; spanishsense.com Berlitz Five-session Ticket to... course, $175; berlitz.us Special offer for Budget Travel readers! Use coupon code cpn9497JC on FluencyNow.com. This coupon code is good for $5 off a session and it can be entered when purchasing. Valid through the end of September.