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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Vacations will become life-changing adventures

Christianne Sharman The Spokesman-Review

The literary folks at IthakaXP – named for Odysseus’ island home – would like to send you out into the world, too. And they think you’ll come back changed for the better, just like Homer’s hero did.

“We wanted to create an organization that’s different and set apart from the others, one that will create and customize truly unique experiences,” says Jeff Geldien, one of the Spokane travel company’s founders. “These are more than vacations; they’re trips that will change people’s lives.”

Geldien and his partners James Ramirez, John Swett and Suzanne Swett bring a background in travel and event management to the new venture.

Their first expeditions tackle two heavy subjects: Christ and the gray whales.

(That’s a good name for a band, too, and you’re free to use it.)

“A Journey of Faith to the Bible Land” packages The Very Rev. John Smylie with the banks of the Jordan, the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Via Dolorosa and Emmaus, the road to which served as the site for Paul’s Christian conversion.

Smylie, fresh off his gig as dean of Spokane’s St. John’s Cathedral, will serve as guide and spiritual director for two sessions, Jan. 28-Feb. 8 and Feb. 11-22. Here’s a look at a typical schedule of activities:

On Day 6, you’ll head to the top of Mt. Tabor for a visit to the Church of the Transfiguration. Then, on your way to Mt. Gilboa, you’ll stop by Harod Spring, where Gideon (you’ve seen his Bible in your hotel room) chose 300 men from the 12 tribes to lay claim to the neighborhood.

Next, drive along the Jordan Valley to Jericho, and past the Dead Sea to the cave where the eponymous scrolls were found.

You’ll spend the night at the Caesar Premier, a 4.5-star hotel with a spa-full of Dead Sea minerals and mud.

If you’ve ever glanced through the Good Book, you’re probably familiar with the rest of the stops on the Israel itinerary.

IthakaXP’s second debut tour will take you to La Paz, the capital of Mexico’s Baja California, from Feb. 16-20.

Once you get settled in your hotel, you’ll take day trips to Magdalena Bay for whale watching and the island of Espiritu Santo to kayak and snorkel with sea lions.

Now, regular readers of this column may remember that I have had many a go at whale watching and come up empty every time. Every single one.

A number of those efforts have taken place in the very vicinity of IthakaXP’s trip. So consider yourself warned.

The sea lions have been much more cooperative, however, and I’m happy to report that they give great saltwater fun.

You’ll wind things up on Day 4 with a tour of La Paz and a pearl farm, and travel home on Day 5.

The $1,430 and $2,675 price tags for La Paz and the Holy Land, respectively, include a guide, lodging, some meals, ground transportation and entrance fees for planned activities, based on double occupancy for a group of about 15. (Presumably, Sirens and Cyclopses don’t come with the package.)

Most of IthakaXP’s plans for our neck of the woods seem to revolve around rafting and skiing. Geldien says they may eventually schedule local sports camps, too.

“We want to have a broad focus,” he says. “We’re looking to change lives.

“In today’s world, people’s schedules are so tight and the tensions are so high. We want to bring people home with a renewed spirit and focus on creativity, family and community.”

Find out more on the Web at, or call 879-7071.

Hit the canvas, Canadian style

When I was in grade school, once a week I would walk over to Mrs. Morrison’s house to join other would-be Monets to paint in the studio behind her house. I had no discernible talent. but I loved it.

The Hotel Grand Pacific in Victoria, B.C., seems to have learned what Mrs. Morrison knew so well: There’s money to be made from frustrated artists.

The Watercolour Weekend (they’re Canadian, you know, so, in the nicest way possible, they like to assert their independence with that extra “u”), Oct. 27 to 30, will put you in the hands of artist Grant Fuller for three full days of painting.

Fuller, who received a first-prize jurors’ award from the Federation of Canadian Artists for his full-sheet watercolor “We’re Donkeys,” will provide instruction in drawing, design and color mixing.

You’ll also venture out to Fisherman’s Wharf, Beacon Hill Park and the Inner Harbour (there it is again) in search of picturesque lampposts, boats, gardens, birds and cafes.

Rates run around $1,200 per person (depending on the exchange rate) for two artists sharing a room. That includes a welcome reception with a painting demonstration, a group breakfast and a finale dinner with critique.

Make your reservations at or by calling (800) 663-7550.

Regional events

“Wenatchee River Salmon Festival, Sept. 17-18, Leavenworth, Wash. Educational and family activities at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, including storytelling tent, fun run and a Native American Intertribal Village and Powwow. Free. (

“Rhino VIP encounter, Sept. 18, Portland. The Oregon Zoo’s tour will teach you about endangered rhinoceroses, give you a tour of the barn and let you help give their resident rhino his morning snack. The up-close-and-personal will set you back $100. (

“1805 Blacksmithing Technologies, Sept. 24, Great Falls. The last summer workshop at the Lewis and Clark Institute takes you step-by-step through the process and gives you a memento to take home. The $75 fee covers materials, tools, protective equipment and lunch. (

“Watershed Fun Fair, Sept. 24, Edmonds, Wash. Learn all about local water resources with nature crafts, exhibits, demonstrations and a guided walk on the Shell Creek Nature Trail. (425-771-0227)

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