Life Is A Banquet

Couple on a beach
A few days ago I saw a story on Twitter about a guy who dressed up in a very realistic polar bear suit and then proceeded to attack and shred the tents of Black Friday shoppers camped against the wall of a suburban Walmart.  Brilliant and completely crazy, yes. Thankfully he didn’t get shot or anything drastic, but he did look like a very sad and defeated bear as the police led him away in handcuffs. Still, I felt he spoke eloquently for all polar bears and quite a few other creatures with his stand against rampant human consumerism.
Unfortunately, being human, I cannot claim to be immune to the charm of purchased things.  Not long ago I spent an evening walking around Santa Monica which has morphed over the years from a charming town into a huge outdoor upscale shopping mall.  I was full of righteous disapproval until I went into the enormous Williams Sonoma store. From across a crowded room my eyes fell upon the new Wolf line of small kitchen appliances, specifically the elegantly industrial 4-slot stainless steel toaster with giant red Wolf knobs promising dark to light toasted perfection for just $399.95!
I am no stranger to this lust for things and have devised defenses.  With practice one can come to see the end in the beginning. There is the glare of disapproval to be expected from my less susceptible husband Jeff.  I picture my irritation when it breaks down and the box cannot be found to ship it to a repair center in Denver. I see in my mind’s eye how it will clash with yet unpurchased kitchen appliances.  And worst of all I see it sitting on a plywood trestle table at some far distant yard sale. It is a sad fact that things depreciate in value over time no matter how top-of-the-line they are, or how much adoration is showered upon them at the moment of acquisition.
But lately have you noticed this great new thing where people are advocating a life rich in experiences rather than possessions?  I noticed it first on those tv shows where people are building tiny houses. Like so many things it has blossomed in expensive crowded areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles.  All kinds of people are simplifying their lives, scaling back, eliminating debt and mortgages so that they have more freedom to experience life! They are rejecting the accumulation of things in order to give themselves the freedom to get out and experience the wider world.  I think that is fascinating and a very positive sign of change to come.
When I was young I spent several years on my own traveling in Europe, Israel and Africa.  So many amazing experiences! Have you been watching the PBS series The Durrells in Corfu?  I once spent several weeks there in a crumbling villa converted into a youth hostel at $1.50 per night!  There was a tiny restaurant with 4 tables in the old town and the owner would pull you into the kitchen where his wife lifted lids off pots of lamb stew and stuffed green peppers.  At night we sat on the balcony of our villa and watched the fireflies twinkling in a grove of ancient olives. How amazing to experience a place where nearly every detail of daily life was so utterly different and often surprisingly better!
Months later in the beautiful city of Haifa, Israel I lived for a year in a tiny apartment at the foot of Mt. Carmel.  On Friday nights I would walk to a special corner in the upper town and buy a ticket to Jerusalem. They had special taxis called sheruts, long beat-up Mercedes Benz limos crammed with 4 rows of seats.  In just a few hours, squeezed in with Palestinian workmen and sometimes a live chicken, driving like a bat out of hell you would emerge in front of the King David gate in Jerusalem. I would wander aimlessly through the maze of passages in the old city stopping to eat falafel, plates of humus and cups of fresh squeezed Jaffa orange juice.  I spent hours looking at the dozens of sections in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher each representing a different sect of global Christianity. On other weekends I swam in the Sea of Galilee or hiked up to Masada looking out miles and miles over the Dead Sea.
I had several years of this wandering way of living ranging from equatorial Africa to the Arctic Circle in Norway.  In a way it was the experiential lifestyle people are talking about today and it has flavored my entire life. Never forgetting the heavenly warmth of a Mediterranean climate, in later years I abandoned overcast Seattle for the sun drenched vineyards of the Napa Valley.  My love of all things foreign nourished lifelong friendships with kindred spirits from Amsterdam, France, Brazil, Japan and Mexico (as well as the founder of Toto Tours). Exposure to the great cultures of Europe through museums, architecture, music, literature and certainly food has completely transformed my life.  As so many Americans have discovered, once you have tasted real Greek yogurt, French croissant, or Italian coffee, there is no going back. The experiences of travel are transformative. That is not a cliché of marketing. It is a fundamental truth of life.
So my advice is to skip the expensive toaster (sigh) and get busy planning the next extraordinary experience out in the wide, wide world.  In the immortal words of Auntie Mame “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” What are you waiting for? Dig in and eat heartily!
Dan Gregory has worked behind the scenes researching locations for Toto Tours since 1992.
Experiences shared with the ones you love are truly the best gifts at the Holiday Season. Toto Tours has adventures that are guaranteed to enrich your life. We wish you happy and safe Holidays and hope to travel with you soon!

 

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Hopelessly Lost in Translation

erection in progress
In the immortal words of Laurie Anderson, “Language is a virus.”  This is never more true than in the signage we encounter during our foreign travels.  With the best of friendly intentions merchants, companies and even governments set out to make us English speaking visitors feel right at home.  Mayhem ensues:
  1. Must Dominate the English Language
  2. Welcome turist we spik inglish
  3. Take luggage of foreigner
But in some cases the attempt at translation falls so short of the mark that we have no clue what they might be thinking.  In these cases context is your only friend!
  1. Beware of missing foot
  2. Racist Park
  3. Accident Porn Area
  4. Beat the Moose
  5. Present your Octopus
  6. Sale of Chicken Murder
You have to admire the attempt at politeness and good manners.
  1. You are the Best
  2. Don’t touch yourself
Inadvertently sex and smut rears it’s ugly head!
  1. Try the new Anus Pounder
  2. Fat Kok
  3. Erection in Progress
  4. Cunt examination
  5. Fisting us
  6. Insert furiously
  7. Butty Boys
  8. Big Fuck Hall
  9. SHIT
Food signage is a mine field:
  1. Fuck Vegetables
  2. Fresh Crap
  3. Vagina Tandoori
  4. Fuck the duck till Explodes
But tragically, are we any better?
  1. Entero somewhere Elso
Dan Gregory has worked behind the scenes researching locations for Toto Tours since 1992.
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Spain “Comes Out”

Barcelona Pride 2009
American gay life in the 80’s! Everything was about figuring out how to be gay and “come out”. Are you out? How long have you been out? Are you out at work, out to your parents? Between tricks and lovers, shopping and jobs, we were also discovering politics and demanding our rights. In 1987 I can clearly remember being blown away by the films of gay Spanish director, Pedro Almodovar. It was in an art theater in Seattle that I first saw his early films, “Law of Desire” and “Matador” and I was hooked!
In Almodovar’s world nobody agonized about coming out or organized politically. Nobody questioned their desires. It was like watching “Days of our Lives” on acid. Who were these odd people living in Barcelona or Madrid with their strange sexual obsessions and twisted intertwined lives? Some were clearly gay. Like, hugely gay. But they blended right into the mix of other people’s lives without any apparent issues. In Almodovar’s weird and wonderful world the colors popped and the characters lived in a bubble of sexual freedom that seemed decades ahead of anything we were experiencing in conservative Seattle. Where did that incredible burst of creativity and gay freedom come from? We may think as Americans we have a sort of patent on gay rights. But let’s take a few minutes and look at the truly astonishing evolution of gay rights in Spain.
Since little is known about homosexual love amongst the Neanderthals, we can probably start with the lusty Romans. Spain was a province of the Roman Empire and a beautiful prosperous province it was. The early Romans admired the Greeks and we know how generally accepting of male bonding the Greeks were. Senators and emperors had lovers and there may even have been same sex marriages. The literature on the subject inspires into the present day. It was a liberal and pleasant time for gay love. But Christianity was evolving in the East and moving West. By the 4th Century a new and restrictive morality was taking hold. Sex was relegated to an act of procreation. The rest became suspicious and then immoral. Finally, the church and Christian Emperors made laws that ranged from castration to burning at the stake. This was not such a good time.
But the Roman Empire was not as sturdy as the Romans supposed. When Rome fell in the 5th century there was an invasion of Spain by a violent warlike Germanic group called the Visigoths. The Visigoth morality seemed to draw the line at being the “receptive” partner in sex. Their gods following the Norse model seemed sometimes to be pretty flexible, but this was a culture where the men were men and there were punishments for any deviation. There seems to be a dearth of homoerotic literature from Visigoth poets, or even poets for that matter.
In 718 the Islamic expansion crossed from Africa into Spain. For hundreds of years Spain was under Islamic rule and again a certain degree of culture and freedom returned. We have seen the evidence of this fantastic cultural flowering in the dazzling palaces and fortresses of the Alhambra in Granada and the Alcazar in Seville. This was a rich and highly educated culture with a refined appreciation of pleasure and beauty. Poets spoke of love. Nightingales sang. Handsome young men and boys came and went. For the upper classes and the powerful this was a time of romantic tolerance. And yet there were strict legal codes following Islamic law that seemed to be applied rarely and only to the lower classes or those without political support. This would have been a favorable place to be for the wealthy and powerful, and maybe also for the beautiful and desirable.
It was a queen who brought all this poetic love to a halt. King Ferdinand and Isabella drove the last of the Islamic rulers out of Spain in 1492. With Isabella came the Catholic church and a zealous fanaticism that led right into the Inquisition. The liberal acceptance of Jews and other foreigners was gone. The power of the church became absolute and small infractions could cost you your life. This was of course a terrible time and place for same sex love. And yet does anyone suppose the church to have been much different at that time with it’s forced celibacy and exclusive enclaves of men? In this time we are talking torture, burning, castration, or maybe exile if you can afford to buy your escape.
In 1812 a short, good looking Frenchman named Napoleon captured Barcelona which is near to France. Napoleon’s control did not last long, but during that time same sex intercourse was made legal! Vive la France! In 1814 Spain became a unified kingdom and in 1822 a legal code was established that specifically legalized same sex intercourse. But by 1928 the ruling dictatorship recriminalized “habitual homosexual acts.” I’m thinking they also frowned on occasional acts.
In 1936 Spain entered a period of bitterly divisive and destructive civil war. The forces under General Francisco Franco were victorious and for nearly 50 years his repressive regime made laws that sought to eradicate same sex love altogether. But in this more modern time the tool brought to bear was science. Homosexuality was categorized as a mental illness and men were arrested, put into special prisons called “galerias de invertidos”. Thousands of men and women were imprisoned and tortured with shock treatments, drug injections and any number of terrible “treatments”. It is shocking to think that the defeat of the Nazis and the reforms that swept Europe after 1945 did not liberate Spain. Franco stayed in power until his death in 1975!
This superficial overview of more than two thousand years of history reads like a metronome. First somewhat acceptable, then death, then a more forgiving period, then torture and burning capped by a 50-year dictatorship. This then can serve as a kind of explanation for the phenomenon of modern Spain and the swift embrace of freedom and liberalization we have seen in our lifetimes. When Franco died a wave of liberal political action swept over Spain. Not immediately, but in time it touched and liberated gay citizens too. In 1979 same sex intercourse was again legalized and remains legal today. More reforms followed and in 2005 same sex marriage was approved. Gay people can adopt children, serve in the military, donate blood, and are protected against discrimination and hate crimes. And most fascinating, a recent poll by the Pew group shows that 88% of the citizens of Spain have a favorable attitude toward gay people. This compares to 60% just recently reached in the United States.
I come back to my adoration of Pedro Almodovar and his marvelous films. When we enter his world after looking at all these thousands of years of history it seems more comprehensible. In America we came out. But in Spain the entire nation came out! Countries like Spain may be as close as we have been able to get to true equality and acceptance. I find all this very profound and inspiring. It certainly makes me want to return to Spain, see these incredible places and join in their beautiful hard-won freedom.
Dan Gregory has worked behind the scenes researching locations for Toto Tours since 1992. Toto Tours invites you to see the Best of Spain, August 29 – September 8, 2019. You can read the details here:
Viva España: Best of Spain
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PROGRESS FOR GAY RIGHTS IN INDIA

Khajuraho Erotic Art
As gay Americans we are aware of the long and tortuous years of legal wrangling that have brought us a measure of equality before the law. Remember the Supreme Court ruling in 2003, Lawrence v. Texas? Gay sex was illegal in various states under the heading of “sodomy”. The police could legally burst into your home and arrest you in the act! Hard to believe but it was just 15 years ago that the court ruled sodomy laws were unconstitutional, and that gay citizens also had a right to privacy.
India’s gay community has been in a similarly difficult legal struggle but the road to equality in India has a history spanning hundreds, even thousands of years! Incredibly, there is a long history of tolerance for same-sex relations in Hinduism. You may have visited ancient temple complexes such as Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh and seen for yourself the erotic figures depicting every variation of physical pleasure. Acceptance was not universal, but even religious texts contained descriptions of deities with fluid genders. Hindu scripture and practice did not in general exhibit a moral objection to homosexual love.
In the 16th century India was ruled by Mughal emperors. Their stunning palaces and wondrous architectural gems such as the Taj Mahal are must-see items on most bucket lists. But imagine what it would have been like to be a gay man in that time. It seems there was an effort to codify preexisting laws into the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri. Unlawful intercourse could get you 50 lashes for a slave, 100 for a free infidel, or death by stoning for a Muslim! The truly crazy thing is that homosexuality was rampant in Moghul court life, but these laws did not seem to apply to the ruling class.
Repression shifted into high gear with the arrival of the British Raj. In 1861 anal and oral sex for both homosexuals and heterosexuals was outlawed in Section 377 of the Indian Penal (snicker) Code. In the immortal words of the great novelist E. M. Forster, “England has always been disinclined to accept human nature.” The laws imposed on India regarding sex were just a small part of British domination but over time those ideas remained fixed in the conservative fabric of Indian law. Victorian morality imprinted itself on India and has persisted even to the present day.
In 1986 the first case of HIV was diagnosed in India. As in the United States and other countries the disastrous effects of the epidemic spawned a political movement. Gay activists organized, and legal cases came before the courts. In 2003 the Indian Government said that legalizing homosexuality would “open the floodgates of delinquent behavior.” (Thinking back on the year I came out in Chicago, this quote is not entirely without merit.) In 2009 a lower court decided that it was time to set aside the Section 377 sex laws dating back to the Raj. A steady stream of decisions by the government and the courts left the matter unresolved, until January of 2018 when the Supreme Court agreed to judge the validity of the section 377 laws once and for all.
On the 6th of September, just 2 weeks ago, there was a verdict. The Court unanimously ruled that Section 377 is unconstitutional as it infringes on the fundamental rights of autonomy, intimacy and identity, thus legalizing homosexuality in India!
At last, legal status! But not so fast. Gay marriage is not yet legal, and it must be understood that the progressive decision of the Supreme Court does not automatically guarantee equality or freedom from discrimination. In some cases, an individual may now have legal grounds to bring a law suit to defend themselves but there is no guarantee of success. The conservative morality that is the legacy of the Raj will take time to reverse. Families will continue to pressure their children to comply with traditional marriage. LGBT young people who live in rural areas will have to continue to walk a fine line hiding their feelings and identities, sometimes for the sake of their very lives. Fundamentalist religious communities – whether Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Christian – will be slow to accept these ideas regardless of the court’s decision.
It is interesting that all over the world there is a simultaneous growing movement to extend rights to LGBT citizens and to face up to the discrimination and ignorant ideas of the past. It is fascinating to watch these changes take place in a country as ancient and diverse as India, and it is easy to have admiration and a feeling of solidarity with all LGBT people in India who are facing these daunting legal and societal issues with courage, creativity and intelligence.
Dan Gregory has worked behind the scenes researching locations for Toto Tours since 1992. Toto Tours visits new regions in India every year. See our upcoming itineraries here:
Karnataka: Heritage of Southwest India, October 15 – 30, 2018
Eternal Rivers: Spiritual Heart of India, January 28 – February 9, 2019
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Experience Life!

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life…
I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive,
so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances
with our own innermost being and reality,
so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
Joseph Campbell
A lot of life can be tedious business, and who among us doesn’t have the urge sometimes to break out, see the world and maybe even have some of those life-changing experiences we hear so much about?  For millions of people that itch is scratched with a holiday cruise or a flight to an all-inclusive resort. Yes, there may well be buffets and a huge dessert bar with a chocolate fountain, but what if you are looking for something more adventurous? An experience of being alive?  
Clearly that would be different for each of us.  I had a friend named Dennis who planned yearly trips to New York City specifically and only to have as much sex as humanly possible.  He swore fealty to a level of hotness, variety, and a certain degree of kinky that involved, I think, Italians. My personal ecstasy buttons, however, are pushed by an authentic almond croissant and cafe au lait (in a bowl) in a quiet traditional patisserie somewhere in France. Chaque un a son gout!
Since 1990 my good friend Dan Ware at Toto Tours has been putting together the most astonishing gay adventure tours to every possible corner of the planet.  The concept is adventure travel. We are talking about a group of fun-loving individuals all coming together to really experience life in a new place, with different people, fascinating customs, stunning natural surroundings, and often ancient cultures to explore.  Look over this list of the tours that are booking now. See if something doesn’t make you think…what if?
Eternal Rivers: Spiritual Heart of India, January 28 – February 9, 2019
Pearls of the Orient: The Philippine Islands, February 25 – March 9, 2019
Carnival: Festive Chiapas Mexico, March 3 – 12, 2019
Island in the Sun: Splendors of Sicily, April 24 – May 3, 2019
Eastern Balkans: Bulgaria & Romania, May 20 – June 2, 2019
Wild Island: Untamed Sumatra, June 14 – 25, 2019
Dan Gregory has worked behind the scenes researching locations for Toto Tours since 1992.

 

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TAORMINA EXPOSED

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden was born in Germany in 1856. How could anyone know that his extraordinary life would give him a place in history as something of a gay icon among a fascinating group of friends in far off Taormina, Sicily? First, he wasn’t a Baron at all but apparently there were family rumors that in the past a relative was some kind of Mecklenburg official. He grew up to be a handsome, artistic lad from a family with a bit of money and he headed off to art school where we all know one thing can lead to another. But what is a young man with a developing taste for the beauty of other young men to do in conservative, religious Germany? The answers came from a trip to Italy where Wilhelm met his fascinating cousin, Guglielmo Pluschow, who had a studio where he was making art photographs featuring beautiful (often naked) young men!
This was the era of the Grand Tour when Europeans set off from the Northern countries to visit the great cities and monuments of antiquity.  In Italy there was a market for postcards and romantic imagery of draped figures posed by a fountain or a column. Presented in the format of foreign antiquity, a bit of artistic flesh was just the thing to sell and Guglielmo’s portraits made a real impression on everyone including young Wilhelm.  He continued his journey South and made his way to Sicily and in 1878, aged 22, he arrived in the sunny and gloriously picturesque town of Taormina.
Taormina was then a small fishing town with an ancient past.  Rising from beautiful beaches, the views stretch out over the blue Mediterranean to a flawless silhouette of Mount Etna.  Incredibly, the Mayor of Taormina was a fellow German! Otto Geleng was a very talented painter who captured the grandeur and romance of the land, sea and mountains in wonderful landscapes that are highly valued to this day.  Otto and Wilhelm became good friends and within a short time Wilhelm decided to buy a house and stay in Taormina.
Wilhelm got right to work, set up a photography studio and began to seriously apply his talent toward photography.  Released from the moral structures of the North he found handsome young local boys to model for him. He paid them for their work and even set up a system of reimbursement where they received additional payments as the images continued to sell over time.  His images for the public were somewhat chaste and sentimental. Local scenery made the backdrop for set pieces evoking ancient Greece or Rome, and his subjects were transformed into shepherd boys, satyrs and dreamy youths populating the classical ruins. For visiting clients with more rarified tastes, the boys lost their drapery altogether and were photographed singly or in groups gazing into each other’s eyes like figures from a Greek amphora.  The photographs do not depict sex acts but rely on the beauty of the young models to evoke an erotic mood. In this, you will agree, he is very successful!
Wilhelm spent most of his life surrounded by his friends in lovely Taormina interrupted only by the first World War when he and other foreigners were forced to leave for a time.  Over the years thousands of his images spread to Europe and had quite a following, even including inspiring artists in America like Maxfield Parrish. There were many famous visitors who came through Taormina and purchased photographs in the studio, including royalty, wealthy industrialists, and in 1897, Oscar Wilde!  Wilhelm formed a lifelong relationship with a boy named Pancrazio Bucini who became his lover at age 14, remaining with him and becoming heir to his house and huge collection of photographic plates.
This fascinating circle of friends grew larger when in 1899 a very handsome young English gentleman, Robert Kitson, inherited his father’s fortune and made his way to Taormina.  He was also a well-known painter with a desire to make an escape from English moral codes that could in fact land you in prison! Kitson bought a piece of land and built a large Villa high on the hill with a beautiful view out to the sea.  He called it Casa Cuseni. Imagine the wonderful life all these friends shared in beautiful Taormina. The sun, the beaches, the food, the parties, famous visitors, lovers, artists and, no doubt, any number of boys in togas!
When Kitson died he left his beautiful villa to his sister who came to Sicily to get it sold.  But she came to her senses and kept the house, converting it to a B&B which is still operating today.  Over the years a seemingly endless stream of famous people visited, including Ricard Strauss, DH Lawrence, Greta Garbo, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.  The city of Taormina sponsors a museum in the villa that is open to the public for tours. The museum houses a collection related to Kitson and the astonishing world of gay friends that made Taormina a heavenly refuge from the prejudices and closed-mindedness of the outside world.  This is a destination no gay traveler should miss.
Dan Gregory has worked behind the scenes researching locations for Toto Tours since 1992.
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A SPIRITUAL CONVERGENCE

There are so many reasons why we choose to travel. Not least among them is a desire for spiritual inspiration, to attain a fresh understanding of whatever we choose to call God, and seek out enlightenment—sometimes at a sacred historic source. The world’s most ancient cultures offer experiences both profound and exotic born of thousands of years of accumulated spiritual knowledge and practice. It is with that sometimes-undefined yearning for both adventure and illumination that Toto Tours has put together an amazing journey into the heart of India where you will join in the dazzling and transcendent Kumbh Mela celebrations.
“At the point of confluence of the rivers, a space opens up between this world and the celestial…” Prof. Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Lancaster Univ.
The Kumbh Mela is a sacred Hindu festival that takes place every 12 years according to the alignment of Jupiter, the sun and the moon. The location on the plain where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet attracts over 120 million pilgrims and visitors over a two-month period. The festival is a gathering that attracts the spiritual leaders and sects from every part of the Hindu world. Followers of holy men called Sadhus place their tent compounds along broad streets where visitors can stroll and enter into fascinating discussions or participate in age-old rituals. Demonstrations involving extreme physical contortions and ascetic practices are presented for everyone to see. All of this revolves around the practice of bathing in the sacred river Ganges on proscribed times and days. It is at once a spectacle beyond description and an interior journey of enlightenment for each individual visitor.
If this sounds fascinating but a bit daunting, fear not! Toto has secured space in a marvelous compound of individual crisp canvas safari tents. Each comes complete with a private bathroom and hot and cold running water! You can lose yourself for a time in the swirling sea of spirituality but then retire to your air-conditioned tent for a shower, a delicious lunch and a nap! This is the sort of thing you would be hard pressed to arrange on your own and Toto has done all the logistics so that you can relax and join in this incredible, life-changing adventure in comfort and security.
The tour begins in New Delhi where of course there are amazing sights to see. From Delhi progress to Budhgaya where the Buddha achieved enlightenment under the fabled Bodhi tree. The focus is on fascinating Buddhist holy temple complexes that must be seen to be believed. Next the tour moves to Varanasi on the river Ganges. This is the holy city all Hindus must visit once in their lifetime to bathe in the sacred river. The city is a gorgeous warren of temples and bazaars and Toto has arranged a lovely evening on the river at sunset where you will observe the spectacle of the aarti fire ceremony. From Varanasi the journey moves to the city of Allahabad and two days soaking up the atmosphere at the amazing site of the Kumbh Mela festival.
Moving on from Allahabad the tour continues to Lucknow and Agra ending with a pre-dawn carriage ride arriving at the glorious Taj Mahal just at sunrise! The “Eternal Rivers” tour promises a seamless joining of adventure and spiritual experiences that will enhance your life and open your heart in new and unexpected ways. “All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.” Swami Vivekananda
Click here to read the itinerary and prepare for an out-of-this-world experience!
Dan Gregory has worked behind the scenes researching locations for Toto Tours since 1992.
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SMIRKING INTO THE FACE OF DEATH

This October Toto Tours has put together a fantastical adventure into the heart of ancient Mexican culture, not just to witness but to join in the gorgeous celebrations of Dias de Muertos, The Day of the Dead. Predating the Spanish conquest by hundreds of years, the festival is a blending of native Mexican cultural rituals and Catholic All Saints celebrations. The festival is a national smirk into the face of…well…death. It is sort of… “Death, Ha! I mock you!” For days in advance people gather brilliant yellow marigold flowers and shop for the choicest ingredients for traditional delicacies. Families build elaborate altars in their homes to honor the memory of loved ones and decorate them with flowers, candles, photographs, mementos, food and cast sugar skulls! Families leave a trail of marigolds from their doors to the cemetery where their loved ones rest so that on the nights of November 1 and 2 the spirits of ancestors can find their way home. People dress in amazing elaborate 19th century—even Aztec—costumes. With masks and colorful face paintings, everyone becomes a grinning skeleton, angel of death, a dead bandito, a whimsical apparition—death is just a big joke and nobody is afraid! All night long there are picnics and singing and tequila and testimonials and poetry and more tequila as whole families spread out feasts of tamales, classic breads decorated with white bones and every delicious dish “uncle Julio” loved.
Let me whet your appetite and tell you a bit about the tour Toto has planned for this October that starts in the astonishingly beautiful city of San Miguel de Allende. San Miguel is a World Heritage Site nestled high in the mountains with the most heavenly climate. The city is a dream of golden domes and church spires, cathedrals and elegant buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries. Beautiful public squares, fountains, restaurants, shopping—San Miguel is a city you can never forget. A frequent Toto traveler and artist, Danny Cameron, has a charming home in San Miguel and all are invited for rooftop cocktails overlooking the city at sunset! What could be more exclusive?
After three days in San Miguel the group heads to Morelia. Morelia has a bit of a…uh… reputation. It is known to have the best gay bars in Mexico! (I close my eyes and hear Ricardo Montalban saying: “We have the best gay bars in all of Mexico!”) Dazzling and exotic bars like Rojas Pop, Open Mind, and Mama no lo Sabe (“Mama doesn’t know”…but I’m thinking she does) offer another kind of cultural experience not to be missed! Yikes! What happens in Morelia….
The tour moves on from village to village around beautiful Lake Patzcuaro, with plenty of eating and shopping and ancient ruins, until the Days of the Dead arrive. This is when things get really interesting. Toto has engaged an expert face painting artist to come to the hotel. If it were me I would pack an old tuxedo jacket and a black t-shirt! Grinning skulls all around! Out into the night, hopping from cemetery to cemetery and over the lake by private boat to the hauntingly beautiful Isla de Pacanda—this will be a night you will never forget! This is an experience you can never duplicate, and you will share it with the best of friends. In an atmosphere like Carnival, who knows what will happen or who you will meet? How can anyone resist this adventure?
Click here to read the itinerary and get ready to smirk in the face of death!
Dan Gregory has worked behind the scenes researching locations for Toto Tours since 1992.
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SARDINIA AND CORSICA

Toto Tours hosted a small group of veteran travelers in September 2017 as we explored regions of Italy and France which are totally separate from the mainland—the gorgeous islands of Sardinia (Italy) and Corsica (France). This was no hurried exploration, as we spent almost two weeks journeying from the bottom of Sardinia, across a ferry, and on to the very top of Corsica. Sardinia is known for its ancient settlements of the Nuragic peoples, its Roman ruins, and countless beautiful beaches. Corsica is much greener and mountainous in the interior. It even has a wonderful train through the mountains, which we used to get from one destination to another. Perhaps its most famous resident was Napoleon Bonaparte, who was born on the island. This diverse and exciting tour, offering us a savory taste of two countries, concluded in style at a luxury hotel on the ramparts of Bastia.
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THE BALKANS – April 17-30, 2017

This expansive tour wound through four Balkan countries formed after the break-up of Yugoslavia: Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. It attracted a large group (26 of us), and many international adventurers, including four Mexicans, two Australians, one Brit and one Italian! We whooped it up through an unexpected snowstorm crossing the mountains between Serbia and Montenegro, and shivered through unseasonably chilly and rainy weather during some of our outings. But nothing could dampen our spirits! The sun shone brightly as we toured fabulous Kotor and Dubrovnik, and we thrilled to see the capital cities Belgrade and Sarajevo.
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