If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Timbuktu

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Timbuktu

Primary sources exposed and explained.
Jan. 26 2007 11:06 AM

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Timbuktu


Today's university alumni are citizens of the world. They cannot be wooed, as potential alumni donors once were, with charter flights to Paris in the company of some retired professor of art history. The California Alumni Association's in-house travel agency, Bear Treks, has learned to change with the times. In December it mailed a 20-page brochure to members, offering alumni association members and their families "an epic journey by private jet" to gawk at indigenous peoples on three continents before they die out. Available for a limited time only! "The powerful and widespread effects of globalization threaten the future of these colorful cultures," the brochure explains.

Up to 88 reservations are now being accepted, according to sample excerpts of the brochure below and on the following eight pages, to participate in this exclusive travel package. The three-week journey features "the ultimate in convenience, security & service," including an expedition chef who uses "only the freshest ingredients" and a staff physician "knowledgeable in travel medicine." Further, "a world class team of scholars will ... illuminate the history of empires" throughout the expedition. The cost of your Birkenstocks is not included in the package.


The itinerary begins in Finland, where "like-minded" U.C. grads will discover  Sami nomads, "the oldest surviving inhabitants of the Scandinavian Peninsula" on the island of Inari for an "intimate" Sami family gathering and "yodel-like singing of poems." The group then jets south to study proud Armenians, "people of the world's first Christian nation," where U.C. alums are hosted by the Hayer people, who "believe they are descended from … the great grandson of Biblical Noah."

The happy travelers next fly east in their "specially outfitted Boeing 757" to pay a call on "one of the last remaining horse-based nomadic cultures." Ulaanbaatar, at the foot of the Mongolian steppe, is so remote only one U.S. president has ever visited, but U.C. grads will be welcomed with "a private banquet accompanied by a special performance of Mongolian throat singing." From there, they head south again to take amusing cell phone pictures of  "55 distinct" ethnic minority groups, such as the Naxi people of China's Yunnan Province, and to visit the 1000-year-old "incredibly well preserved town" of Lijiang.

Margaret Mead would certainly covet the tour group's next stop, a first hand look at a "40,000 year old culture" of Australian Aborigines, followed by a peek at New Guinea's Stone Age Huli Wigmen, and the ancient Khmers of southeast Asia's Mekong Valley. The final leg of the trip puts on view Bhutan Buddhists, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, and finally ends up at a mud brick mosque in (where else?) Timbuktu

The cost of the alumni association's cook's tour of primitive Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa cultures: $44,950 per person (double occupancy).  The brochure gives no guidance on the etiquette of tipping members of vanishing civilizations.