12,000 Feet and Falling

by Harriet Mills

I had been in Australia for just over two weeks so I was firmly in the relaxed, travel state of mind when my Dad asked me if I wanted to do a skydive over Airlie Beach, the Whitsunday's, and the Great Barrier Reef. It sounded enticing so my straight answer was a prompt yes. This occurred on our first day of five in Airlie Beach and as time progressed my nerves began to rattle me. My sister had always been the daring one, but now I had placed myself in the position where I had to befriend my adventurous side.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Solace on the Mountain

by Renee King
 
The chatter of tourists surrounded me and invaded my ears.  I tried to block it out, but, truth be told, even my own travel companions were taking up space in my head.  I closed my eyes, took slow deliberate breaths, and cleared my mind.  When I opened my eyes,  a vast white valley spread itself out before me – inviting me to take in its pristine beauty.  Towering majestic mountains on either side bookended the sea of ice before me.  Awestruck and breathless,  I tried to comprehend that I was seeing was nature – raw, unforgiving, awesome for all my senses.   As I heard questions from either side of me, I was able to deflect that unwanted noise.  I breathed deeply and found something just for me on the Mer de Glace in Chamonix, France.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Bhitarkanika Sanctuary: An Indian Getaway Into the Wild

The darkness of the night and the troublesome roads were worrisome, and at first it was a relief to get out of the car, but then the destination itself proved to be a scary proposition. Our ferry in the moonless night looked sinister. And when we thought about the fact that we had entered the terrain of ferocious crocodiles, the scene in front of me seemed straight out of the famous Anaconda movies. The lone lantern lighting the boat and the stillness of the water around us felt menacing. At first, most of us laughed to ward off our fear.

And then none of us spoke. Did we fear waking the reptiles? I do not quite know for I had become too numb to think coherently. Do not mistake me; I am not one of those who succumbs to fear very easily. But when it came to the prospect of being eaten by crocodiles, my mind became my own worst enemy. I kept repeating to myself that the creek was full of salt water crocodiles and I kept replaying the visuals of the Anaconda movie. In retrospect, and with objectivity, I can say that the boat ride was actually peaceful and serene.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Learning to Adventure from Daddy

I was born with Fernweh, an ache to explore faraway places. It’s in my DNA; both of my parents had it. It was my dad, however, who taught us to pack adventure into our explorations.  

Like my mother, I’d bask in the preparations for travel. I’d research, map out itineraries, and pack well in advance. For Daddy, however, the best part of travel was the adventure—the experiences you couldn’t plan for. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Explosion on the Mountain

It was a gorgeous day for a hike--sunny, blue skies, comfortable temperature-perfect hiking weather. F suggested we hike up to the summit of the 12,000’ peak, taking our time, enjoying the profusion of wildflowers that had suddenly emerged after the night’s rain. She was used to hiking at lower altitudes, so we stopped whenever she needed to catch her breath or eat a snack. We climbed in companionable silence, finding the meandering path up to the top with no trouble.

Almost as soon as we started eating, it began to rain. We put on our rain gear, packed up our food, and started hiking down the mountain. The temperature dropped. Balls of hail mixed with the rain. Rivulets of water poured down what we thought was the trail.

Suddenly she screamed at me. “I’m not doing this anymore. Why do you always have to hike? Why can’t we ride bikes? This is dangerous!”

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Cowboy Boots on Chimney Rock

I learned long ago the correct way to hike the trail to Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch in the Rockies of northern New Mexico. I knew I needed water, a jacket for rain, sunscreen (although in 1971, when I was six, we called it tanning lotion or sun block - and we only used it at the pool), and sensible, rugged shoes. Footwear absolutely needed to be ankle height, if not higher, with strong laces and a traction-optimized tread. Twisting an ankle always loomed as a real threat, and a good, solid lace-up boot would help prevent that. Snakebite, by a prairie rattler or the dreaded diamondback rattler, could not only wreck a vacation, it could take a life.  As a child I had no choice in the matter. When we hiked Chimney Rock, I wore my Red Wing hiking boots, which were perfectly serviceable. 

My love of cowboy boots came from my very first pair of Acme harness boots. I got them as a young boy in Nebraska, and they helped me feel independent, strong, protected, and stylish. I lost track of those boots, and really didn’t have another pair until late into high school, at which time I was too cool to wear them -- city kids just didn’t wear boots. We left ‘wearin’ shit kickers’ to the country boys.  I chuckle when I return to Nebraska now, because with enough distance, I can see that my hometown has and probably had plenty of room for cowboy boots.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Caught in a Mudslide

story and photos by Lori Marquardson

 

So many reasons for going to Ecuador, but being stuck on a bus full of local Evangelical Christians in a mudslide was not one of them. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. 

I had been backpacking alone through Ecuador and, deciding that a few days exploring the Amazon jungle was in order, made arrangements to meet up with a small group in the dusty oil frontier town of Lago Agrio.  From there we would go to the Cuyabeno Nature Reserve for a few days of roughing it with iguanas, howler monkeys, piranhas and blue morpho butterflies. 

River reflections, Cuyabeno Nature Reserve, Ecuador.

A cool drizzle fell as I boarded the overnight bus in Quito. The driver’s personal touches of green fringe and dangling images of saints above the steering wheel couldn’t mask that the bus was more contraption than road-worthy vehicle. My fellow passengers were mostly short and dark, with a number of women wearing the typical Andean dress of black bowler hats, full skirts and rubber sandals while I, the obvious foreigner on board, sported beige zip-off pants and a purple windbreaker. We headed northeast, following the twisting mountainous roads leading out of the city, and despite the jolting motion, I drifted off.

At some point, I came to: the bus was not moving, no engine running, nada. I could see the driver had relaxed into what was definitely a non-driving position:  head tilted back, mouth agape, arms crossed over his chest, and legs spread-eagled. Strange, but having been in South America for quite some time, I had experienced unexplained delays before and generally they weren’t show-stoppers, so I tried to fall back asleep. Then came a huge rumble outside, followed immediately by murmuring voices inside.

“What the hell is that?”  I said to no one in particular and, being in the front row, I leaned over to the driver, and asked “¿Qué está pasando? “ 

“Hay un derrumbe.”  A landslide.  Hmmm, that did not sound good. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Desert Revelations

story and photos by Christopher Clark

 

As the bus eased through the gears, through the green corn fields and farther away from the small terminal in the town of Kitale, I tried to cast my mind back to the beginning, to figure out what it was that had drawn me to the wild and volatile Turkana region of Kenya in the first place. I guessed that the people I would meet once I got there might want to know. But the truth was that I still didn't really have an answer.

I could at least have said that it stemmed from books by long-dead explorers; and that I was looking for something very different; and that Turkana seemed a long way away from pretty much everything I had previously known. At 28 years old I had grown bored of and disillusioned with much of what I had previously experienced. Wasn't that enough reason? 

Either way, it was too late. I was on my way, heading north, already half way there. Soon the bus rose out of the the Rift Valley and gradually left the rich, thick vegetation behind as we entered a place of sparse open space and scorched earth.


The rumours about the poor quality of the dirt road to Turkana were by no means exaggerated. At times the bus seemed to defy physics, leaning precariously to the side, the ground suddenly almost within touching distance of the window. Many of whom I assumed were the more seasoned passengers whooped, laughed and slapped thighs as though it was all part of the fun. I held on to my armrests for dear life.

A few hours into our journey the bus passed a group of five or six men slouched on the sand with T-shirts covering most of their faces like balaclavas and AK-47s slung over their shoulders. As I stared out of the window at them, one of them saw me, stood up, lifted his gun aloft with one hand and waved at me vigorously with the other, and then they were gone.

We arrived at our destination, Lodwar, at a little before 11 p.m., roughly five hours late. Patience is a must for travelling in Kenya.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Fire, Candle, Drum, and Stones: A Sensory Experience

by Fyllis Hockman

The first thing I heard were sounds. Were they cymbals? Was it thunder? What did they mean? Were they supposed to mean something? But I didn’t have time to ponder before the next sensory assault -- this time different textures caressing my bare feet -- gravel to burlap, wooden slats to smooth slate to soft rug. Were the others experiencing the same thing?

And here’s the rub. We were all blindfolded, one hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us, as we moved about our mini-jungle. At first, I felt disoriented, out of control, with the added annoying question lurking in the back of my head: I am a travel writer, how am I supposed to take notes? But our Mayan guide propelled me back into the moment by explaining that when our sight -– our main sense in relating to the world around us –- is cut off, the others senses are expanded. And I had better start paying attention.

And so began our Sense Adventure Tour, part of a larger eco-oriented nature park and sustainable tourism program at the Hacienda Tres Rios Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico.

Nothing can hurt you, we were reassured. Just trust in yourself and follow your senses. Do not talk, please – communicate only with yourself. And become one with the universe. How does one do that?

Then a baby laughed – or was it crying – followed by a clash of thunder and then the sounds stopped being a focus and just began to wash over me, as did the bucket of pebbles dumped on my head. I felt like I was being buried. Was that it? Were the baby’s cries rebirth? I had no idea. 

The only time the blindfold was removed was within a tent with constellations of stars twinkling overhead -- the universe we’re supposed to feel a part of. Blindfold back in place, the avalanche of sensory overload continued – smells, textures, taste, sounds. All the senses were challenged, often in conjunction with one another, sometimes competing, sometimes complimentary – should I pay attention to the Native American chants or focus on the pebbles pored over my body or the cinnamon under my nose or just give in to the swaying of my body being encouraged by the guides.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Diver Nightmare

by Lynn Smith

I was diving on a reef off of Harbor Island, in the Bahamas. It was a lovely morning, the bright sunshine spearing down through more than thirty feet of water to light up the colorful and fishy reef below. I had a cheap plastic underwater camera and was floating upright just off the sandy bottom, positioned to record the dive master hand-feeding a few of the “tame” Nassau groupers.  A small cluster of divers eagerly watched the dive master as she pulled some goody from the front pocket of her buoyancy compensator (BC) and hovered over the reef.


Pretty soon, four large groupers swam out of their holes in the reef and slowly approached the dive master. I took a quick “establishing” shot, careful to capture the dive master, the fish and the group of tourists. I tried to crank the roll of film manually to the next frame, but the gloves I had on to protect my hands from sharp coral made operating the film advance wheel impossible.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Confessions of a Tour Guide

by Melanie Webb

“Be grateful for whoever comes, because each guest has been sent as a guide from beyond.” - Rumi 

Eiji and I ascended higher into the silence of a still autumn afternoon on the Colorado Plateau. The Wave, iconic redrock remnant of petrified sand dunes, disappeared below us. Twice already we’d cliffed-out, reached dead-ends where our path fell away into the abyss below and forced us to backtrack and work another angle.

“Are you sure you can get back down?” I spoke slowly to my Japanese guest and gestured to the steep slope we had just hiked.

The wave. Photo by Michael-Wilson/Flickr CCL

I remained still until I had his buy-in on the route I’d chosen. This had to be a team effort or we wouldn’t succeed. We were several hours into the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, a 280,000 acre geologic treasure on the Utah/Arizona border. There was no room for error and there would be no alternate escape route should Eiji suddenly trigger a forgotten fear of heights.

Eiji took a deliberate look behind him and nodded his head. “Yes. We go on,” he said in his quiet broken English, breathing hard.

Eiji had worked hard to be with me on the rock, and he wouldn’t give up that easily. He made the trip to Colorado last year, only to be rained out by summer monsoons and flashfloods. Back home in Japan, he diligently entered his name in the online government lottery every week for 10 months, each time paying a non-refundable fee to take his chance at being one of the lucky 20 people per day issued a permit to visit this fragile spectacle of rock. His prized permit in hand at last, Eiji traveled nearly 24 hours to spend two days with me photographing hidden rock formations few travelers have seen: Melody Arch, The Alcove, and Top Rock Arch.

It wasn’t only Eiji I was worried about – it was myself. Though I’d guided The Vermilion Cliffs many times, I’d never been to the specific arches Eiji was determined to reach. Land use restrictions applied even to us local guides, and I wasn’t allowed in The Wave without a client. My pre-game ritual of scouting the route to feel connected to the land, know current conditions, and anticipate the challenges of my clients was prohibited. There wasn’t even a topo map of the area, for goodness sake! I felt uncharacteristically dubious about my success.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

An Expert Hacker in Amazonia

by Fyllis Hockman

I am a hiker.  But at home, no one uses a machete to blaze the trail prior to walking on it as Souza, our Amazon guide, did, creating a path in the overgrown rainforest step by step.  Slicing, swatting, swooping, chopping, no branch, bush, vine or twig was safe. 

The hike was one of four daily activities during an 8-day adventure exploring Amazonia. Calling the Tucano, a 16-passenger riverboat, home, my husband and I traveled more than 200 miles along Brazil's Rio Negro. For daily excursions, we clamored aboard a small power launch which took us hiking, bird-watching, and village hopping, and on night-time outings that dramatized the allure of the river not experienced in any other way. 

Souza demanded quiet during our launch rides, using all of his senses to read the forest, listening for the breaking of a branch or a flutter through the trees, sniffing for animal odors, scanning leaves above and below for motion, or the water for ripples… and alerting us at every junction of what he has discovered. On our own, we would have heard, felt and discerned nothing. 

Souza’s most amazing talent was his ability to identify the multitudes of birds traversing the river and forest, many of whose calls he could replicate precisely. He could imitate more birds than the most gifted comedian can impersonate celebrities. He carried on such intimate conversations, that halfway through a lengthy discussion with a blackish gray antshrike, I think they became engaged. Then Souza, fickle male that he is, romanced a colorful blue-beaked Trogan perched upon a dead branch high in a tree. As one of my travel companions observed, “If you don’t like birds, you might as well take the next flight home.”

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Meddling With Medieval Mysteries: Hiking through history in Southern France

by Fyllis Hockman

Climbing up the wide circular stone staircase to our hotel room in the Chateau des Ducs de Joyeuse on the first night, I knew this would be a very different trip. I could just as easily be entering a medieval castle as a lodging facility -- and then I found out I was, though I suspect our modernized room was a lot less drafty than those of the lords and ladies who preceded us.

The experience, near Les Oliviers south of Toulouse, certainly set the tone for our Southern France Walking Through History tour—conducted, ironically, by a company called New England Hiking. As we hiked through, around, up and over one medieval village after another, traversing castles and countryside and learning about the Middle Ages of the 11th-14th centuries, we were immersed in history.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

What’s Adventure Travel Anyway?

by Judith Fein.

Photography by Paul Ross

Not too long ago, I was sitting in the waiting area of a hair salon, indulging in a guilty pleasure—reading trashy magazines. I skipped over the plunging necklines of movie stars I’ve never heard of,  bounced over an article or two about how to hook your man like a flounder, and my eyes settled on a pop quiz: how is your fitness level?

Treadmill? Yes, ma’am. 

Do you go to the gym twice or more a week? Check.

Is walking part of your daily routine? You bet. I walk at least 75 minutes a day in the hills and arroyos (river beds) around my home. 

Swim? Uh huh.

Hula hoop? Love it.

Tai chi? I’m there.

Yoga? Kundalini style. 

Biking? Nope. Hurts my butt.

Hiking? Well, if I can go really slowly on ascent.

Mountain climbing? Next life.

White water rafting? Sure, if it’s class 2 or under. 

Paragliding? I like to watch it. Does that count? 

I stopped the quiz and scrolled down to the results, which informed me that I am probably fit, but not an adventurer.

So, I wondered, does that mean I’m unqualified for adventure travel? And then my always-active mind skipped to: what is adventure travel anyway? 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Motorcycle Diaries in Vietnam

by Sasha Hill

 

When I think of Vietnam, I think of the motorcycles. 

My travel partner, Sierra, and I marveled at the sea of them, flowing in a colorful mass around the city streets. We zeroed in on individuals: tiny young women in heels, families with three generations along for the ride. What for us was a cultural statement of rebellion, of reckless daring, was for them just a means of transportation. My grandpa had once punctuated his description of my mother’s “wild” young adulthood by recounting a story of how she once rode a motorcycle up the East Coast with a friend. “I bet she never told you that”, he concluded, in dramatic satisfaction. If he could only see the middle aged Vietnamese ladies, demure in their business suits and protective masks. 

Vietnam was the final stop before we crossed the Pacific to home, after eleven months on the road, from Peru to Asia. We’d brainstormed the trip when we were fourteen, and spent four years planning and saving up. 

It was Sierra’s idea to rent the motorcycle. The trip itself was her idea. My role was usually to follow along, checking her only when the ideas got out of hand. Like when she proposed we schlep down from Granada, Spain to Meknes, Morocco a day early on no sleep to make it in time for a Halloween party. Sometimes I regretted my all too responsible reactions. Rent a motorcycle? We had no experience! What if we crashed? And right at the end of our trip.  

But I found myself saying yes. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Searching For A Hidden Western Algarve Beach

by Connie Hand

Admittedly, the beaches in the Portuguese Algarve are famous for their beauty, but they are also very crowded.

Having been to the Algarve several times, I always wondered where the quiet, uncrowded beaches were. There had to be many since the coast was about 60 miles long. But how to find them?

My research always came to a dead end. I used a current Michelin map of Portugal. I went online. Not many beaches were noted except the usualmostly eastern Algarve four and five star resorts.

I imagined beach after beach, cove after cove nestled under huge rocks and boulders. With so many coastal miles, especially on the Atlantic Coast, I was sure that the Portuguese and the German and British tourists or expats knew about dozens of these paradises, even if Americans hadn’t yet found them.

Praia do Castelejo. Photo by Portuguesa72/flickr.com

A couple of years ago, I decided to find some people to speak with on the subject during my visit. But about a week before my trip, while reading a Rick Steves’ Portugal guide, I came across a small paragraph that mentioned Castelejo Beach on the Atlantic Coast of Algarve, Portugal. In his guidebook under “The Algarve: Cape Sagres” section, he listed “Beaches”. He stated that there were many little beaches from Salema to Sagres. And then...he mentioned Praia do Castelejo which is north of Sagres past Vila do Bispo. Rick wrote “If you have a car and didn’t grow up in Fiji, this is really worth the drive”. He said it was “the best secluded beach in the region”. 

At last, someone was as interested as I in the tucked away and little heard of western Algarve beaches! 

So my husband and I decided to go for it.

When we arrived at Lagos, we checked into the Romantik Hotel Vivenda Miranda. This boutique hotel is situated up on a cliff overlooking the Praia do Mos. (The hotel is beautiful and lovingly cared for by owners Vera and Urs Wild, and their friendly, helpful staff. I highly recommend it).

After lunch, we made our plans to drive out to Castelejo beach the next day. We would follow Rick Steve’s directions.

The next morning, after a delicious buffet breakfast on the hotel patio with its ocean view, we left on our adventure. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

A Wild Ride in the Dominican Republic

by Fyllis Hockman

First things first. No water slide at any man-made water park will ever be the same again for me –- not after cascading down natural waterfalls in the Dominican Republic. 


The waterfall escapade –- billed as 27 Waterfalls, though that’s really a misnomer, as it’s more like ten waterfalls flowing into twenty-seven pools of water –- is only one of a multitude of outdoor activities offered by the Dominican Republic eco-adventure tour operator, Iguana Mama.

For many, a Dominican Republic (DR) vacation is a stay at an all-inclusive beach resort in Punta Cana, the most visited (read: touristy) destination in the DR whose admittedly beautiful beaches are lined with a succession of All-Inclusives. 

My husband and I didn’t go there. Instead, we opted for Puerta Plata, on the north coast, which also boasts lovely beaches but offers a wealth of nature-based adventures not available in Punta Cana. There, you can explore the countryside, meet the locals, visit off-the-beaten path communities and connect with nature. And, for us, the best way to discover the north coast was with Iguana Mama.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

What Happened in the Wilderness

by Nancy King


On a cool sunny dawn, after getting up at 4 a.m., my friend and I began our hike into the Grand Canyon after agreeing that we would each walk at our own pace and meet at the rest stops. She took off and I followed behind, starting down the 14-mile hike on the Kaibab Trail, munching a protein bar and drinking the electrolyte-water in the bladder of my backpack for breakfast. As the golden rays of the sun highlighted huge stone canyon structures, I felt blessed by the beauty surrounding me.


Before we began the hike I was concerned about hiking back up the steep Bright Angel Trail, but it never occurred to me that going down could be a problem. I was totally unprepared for the widely spaced wooden steps and heavily eroded trail in front of me. Down two feet to a log step, then up two feet to the next log step. Down, up, down up, all the time moving down a steep incline. Still, I was contentedly making my way when suddenly I lost 75% of my energy and could barely control where and how I stepped. I began falling backwards as I tried to take a step. My body refused to move normally. I had no idea what was happening to me.

What I did know was that I couldn’t afford to panic and waste my waning energy.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay: Surreal Doesn’t Begin To Do It Justice

by Fyllis Hockman 

Descending the steep, narrow plank, inch by inch, hand over hand along the long pole, I thought: “This better be one hell of a cave!” Exploring the other-worldly interior of Hang Trong Cave was to be one of many surreal experiences I was to have traveling along Ha Long Bay in northeast Vietnam.


In the 1992 movie Indochine, credited with putting Ha Long Bay on the map, Catherine Deneuve describes it as “the most remote outpost of Indochina.” Today, the bay still retains that end-of-the-Earth, Lord-of-the-Rings-on–water quality.   

The almost 600 square miles comprised of thousands of karst islands, caves and inlets, which we visited as part of a trip with Myths and Mountains tour company, create a solitary natural environment that belies description and inspires awe. I kept thinking how many times can I use the word surreal in one travel article? 

The boat we called home, replicating an old Chinese Junk, was basic, but we dined well and huddled about the crew as they studied tidal charts to determine our daily itinerary. Inflatable canoes, powered by guides, were our vehicle of choice for purposes of exploration. Cave opening too small to navigate? No problem –- just let some air out of the canoe. Very versatile.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Channeling City Slickers’ Billy Crystal for a Day

by Fyllis Hockman 

Heels down. Toes out. Squeeze with calves, not knees. Lighten up on the reins. Sink your butt into the saddle. So began my first riding lesson at the Arizona Cowboy College in Scottsdale which was followed by instructions in grooming, shoeing, advanced riding techniques and roping. And this was just a one-day primer to what other “city slickers” experience in their six-day cattle drive at the College -- but more on that later.

First, despite the city’s admonition of 300 days of sunshine, it was cold and rainy when we were there. And for my story, I had my cowboy shirt, hat and boots all on for the requisite photo op but ended up ensconced in multiple layers instead, including winter jacket, wool cap and gloves borrowed from the ranch. Wasn't exactly the fashion statement I was going for.


The day began with some initial instruction from ranch manager and Jigger Boss Elaine Pawlowski, whose main goal seemed to be to keep us from falling off the horse and to avoid getting kicked when not on it.

My experience up to then had been an occasional trail ride where the horse was presented to me all spruced up and saddled and all I was expected to do was mount it. Not so here. Prior to even thinking about actually riding the animal, I was taught how to groom and brush her -- Billie, a brown mare -- and how to do so safely. I had never been this close to a horse from all sides, responsible for the behind-the-scenes handling. Elaine showed me how to pick up Billie’s hooves and clean out the bottom of the horseshoe with a pick, removing the excess dirt, pebbles or nails before taking her out. My first thought was, “You want me to do what?” As I was cleaning out one of her hoofs, I couldn’t help thinking there’s 1200 pounds of horse flesh here that with one thrust of the hoof I’m holding can flatten me. Fortunately, Billie was not so inclined.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...