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Elephants in the Masai Mara

Exclusively Yours - Adventure Travel, July 2001

Although space tourism at this point in time is beyond the means of all but a few multi-millionaires, more and more of us are pushing the outer limits of travel here on Mother Earth. We’re heading off to places most people never dreamed of visiting two decades ago, and while there, undertaking adrenaline-boosting activities to test our stamina and stretch our minds.

Kilimanjaro. Everest. Mongolia. Timbuktu.

The very names spell intrigue and spark wanderlust in those of us seeking distant galaxies to explore.

Not content with traditional sightseeing on well-worn tourist paths, intrepid wayfarers in the early 21st century are getting actively involved, preferring to pedal, paddle and hike their way through faraway lands. Perusing slick brochures from the growing number of high-end adventure travel specialists, the “been there, done that” crowd salivates at tempting itineraries in Arctic waters, Amazon jungles and hidden Himalayan kingdoms.

Joss Kent, chief operating officer of Abercrombie & Kent (A&K), perhaps the premier upscale tour operator, said, “These (adventure) trips are for people who don’t just want to be shown the world—they want to participate in it. For them, sedentary days are a thing of the past.

“What we believe people really want are physically active days—walking, trekking, kayaking, rafting—followed by extremely comfortable nights with great food, fine wines, hot showers and a well deserved rest in a luxuriant bed,” Kent said.

Many exotic offerings, including the A&K Active lineup (800-323-7308), fall into the category of “soft adventure,” meaning guests can expect comfortable accommodations in hotels, inns or luxury tented camps, along with expert guides to smooth the way and perhaps even porters to carry the gear. All equipment is provided, and sometimes a support boat or van follows along to give paddlers, hikers or bikers a rest.

The more rigorous and remote adventure trips, on the other hand, feature quite basic camping or rustic lodgings, and guests may be expected to pitch in with camp chores.

An increasing number of outfitters are packing “multisport” trips that feature two or more types of activity. For example, Backroads (800-462-2848) blends hiking, biking and a bit of kayaking on its 10-day exploration of New Zealand’s North Island. The company’s nine-day “Bali Multisport” includes pedaling through emerald-green rice terraces, hiking on palm-studded beaches and snorkeling with tropical fish in Indonesia’s most enchanting island paradise.

Some of Backroads’ most popular two-wheel and walking programs target regions of France and Italy. A company known as VBT (800-245-3868) also organizes an extensive array of bicycle trips in Europe.

Thoughtful tour operators often set aside certain departures exclusively for solo travelers or families. For women over 30, AdventureWomen (800-804-8686) designs journeys as diverse as horseback riding in Iceland and tracking gorillas in Uganda. At additional cost, most companies can customize trips for private groups.

So that gung-ho travelers don’t get in over their heads, adventure outfitters assign ratings for their physically demanding odysseys. Trips rated “easy” or “moderate” are fine for anyone in reasonably good health, while “challenging” or “very strenuous” journeys require a higher level of fitness and skill.

Ready to scale the highest peak in Africa? A&K’s 10-day “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” features an ascent to the 19,340-foot summit of the fabled, flat-topped mountain on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, with six days on “Kili.” It’s not a technical climb and requires no mountain climbing experience, but steep slopes and high altitudes make “robust physical fitness” a prerequisite. Porters set up the igloo-style tents, which allow travelers to bypass the primitive huts used by most parties. Many climbers combine their Kilimanjaro trek with safaris in renowned game sanctuaries like Kenya’s Amboseli and Tanzania’s Serengeti national parks.

To the south, in Zimbabwe, Mountain Travel-Sobek (888-687-6235) offers the “Ultimate Zambezi River Safari,” an exhilarating two-week trip featuring six days of whitewater rafting. Following the path of 19th century explorer David Livingstone, tour members start out with three days of paddling the calm Upper Zambezi by canoe, drifting past a menagerie of elephants, lions, kudu and other animals as they come to drink at the banks. Then, going where Livingstone didn’t dare, the fearless “river rats” careen down the Lower Zambezi in the foaming rapids below Victoria Falls. Steered by a guide manning 10-foot oars, their boat plunges down the “world’s biggest whitewater roller coaster,” riding waves that shoot up 20 feet in some stretches.

If riding a humped beast is your preferred method of bouncing across Africa, consider a camel trek through arid northern Kenya. On 15-day safaris arranged by Eco-resorts (www.eco-resorts.com), guests spend several days sitting atop or walking alongside camels led by the red-clothed Maasai people. Mobile tented camps feature bucket showers filled with hot water by your tent steward, and meals are cooked in vintage tin trunks.

For those of us who have daydreamed about running off to join the Foreign Legion in the deserts of North Africa, Travel in Style (888-466-8242) has a 10-day Morocco adventure that includes a four-day camel caravan in the Sahara. From the town of Ouarzazate, near the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, the caravan travels the “Route of 1000 Kasbahs,” passing villages where life has changed little since the 12th century. Trek members walk two to four hours daily, ride the camels when they like and clamber up sand dunes for panoramic views. They camp under starry skies at verdant oases next to the palm-frond shelters of nomadic tribesmen. Some lunches are with local families.

In sub-Saharan West Africa, Mountain Travel-Sobek ventures to Mali and Burkina Faso on its “Timbuktu and Beyond,” a two-week journey highlighted by a Niger River expeditions, camel caravan, rugged four-wheel-drive travel, hiking to villages of the ancestor-worshipping Dogon tribe and wandering the silent, sandy streets of Timbuktu, Mali. The trip includes 10 nights of camping and five nights at the best available hotels.

Trekking in the Himalayas of Nepal is regarded as one of the most classic adventure trips. KE Adventures (800-497-9675) offers a 15-day trek to Everest Basecamp, located in the high valley below the planets’ loftiest peak, conquered for the first time by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. Ideal for the first-timer to Nepal, the hike is easy-paced and affords stunning views of Mount Everest (29,028 feet) and other snowy summits, plus a chance to meet the native Sherpas, known for their mountaineering skills. Other KE treks in the Himalayas go to Mongolia, Pakistan and the Buddhist enclaves of Tibet and Bhutan, the latter a “Shangri-La” that admits only a limited number of foreigners.

Southwind Adventures (800-377-9463) specializes in South America, presenting a wide range of options in the Amazon Basin, Andes Mountains and Galapagos Islands, an archipelago located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. One of its most popular trips is an 11-day, porter-supported trek following the Inca Trail to the mysterious mountaintop citadel of Machu Picchu, Peru’s “Lost City of the Incas,” the continent’s most famous archaeological site. Walking at times on the original stone staircases built by the Incas, group members spend five days trekking an average of 5.6 miles a day at elevations of 8,365 to 13,780 feet. They pass through alpine meadows and lush cloud-forests, encountering noisy parrots, delicate orchids and Inca ruins. A whole day is devoted to exploring Machu Picchu.

The Bolivian Andes, well off the beaten path, provide the setting for Southwind’s two-week “Highlands Llama Trek,” which includes eight days of high-altitude hiking accompanied by the shaggy, gear-carrying pack animals indigenous to the region. There are many chances to meet the people, such as nomadic Aymara herders. While acclimating to the elevation during the first week, visits are made to the markets and museums of La Paz, the world’s highest capital city at 11,930 feet, and the traditional reed-boat builders at Lake Titicaca.

Southwind’s nature safaris in the Amazon rainforests of Brazil, Venezuela and Peru combine jungle hikes with travel by motorized canoes. In the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador’s largest national park, tour members make a deluxe motor yacht their base for studying rare species—giant tortoises, land iguanas, birds—that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

For a cool-clime adventure at the top of the world, consider sea kayaking in Greenland with Whitney & Smith Legendary Expeditions (403-678-3052). For two weeks in August, participants paddle past enormous icebergs and tidewater glaciers, visit camps on Inuit hunters and see a wide range of polar wildlife in an area just 800 miles from the North Pole.

If easy kayaking in Polynesia is more your cup of tea, sign up for the 10-day Fiji fling packaged by Wilderness Travel (800-368-2794). Besides paddling two or three hours a day, the group gets plenty of time for swimming and snorkeling in the gentle turquoise waters. Rainforest hikes and village celebrations enhance the program. Nights are spent in cottages or camping on the beach.

In the Australian Outback, GAP Adventures (800-692-5495) stages the “Survivor II Adventure,” an eight-day vacation available every week through November 18. Travelers experience much of what the 16 TV show participants had to endure, and there’s even a “Tribal Council.” Guides teach fishing, hunting, boomerang-throwing and other skills. Swimming, biking, hiking and canoeing also keep “survivors” engaged.

On all seven continents, countless adventures await active globetrotters in search of new destinations—and in search of themselves.

All the outfitters mentioned above offer a multitude of programs in addition to the ones singled out here. An extensive website covering many adventure travel companies is www.interntadventures.net.

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