Adventure travel update: quite a lot of it is going on!

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

All-inclusive resorts are popular; many bookings are for those, but when it comes to writing articles about travel, the resort side of things tends to get ignored.

Why? Probably because by its nature it is unadventurous. People know exactly what they are getting – principally warm weather and no surprises. That’s why they are popular.

The more adventurous stuff is out there – a smaller piece of the travel business but more interesting.

“Viet Nam is probably what Thailand used to be,” says Julie Sparks of Great Escapes Travel in Slave Lake. “There are hidden gems. Also Laos and Cambodia.”

Interesting Viet Nam should come up. Just that morning somebody had told this reporter he is going to hang out at Hang Lo in that country (which might actually be the islands of Ha Long Bay).

When it comes to adventurous travel, the range is quite broad. For some, a river cruise would be adventurous enough, and it can be a lovely and unusual way of seeing a country. Sparks says she did a cruise from Budapest in Hungary up the Danube River into Germany and found it “fabulous.” Not having to pack up every night to move to a new destination (by car, bus rail or whatever) made it a real pleasure.

River cruises, by the way are becoming less expensive even as they become more popular.

“More companies are doing it,” says Sparks.

Bob and Carol Jamieson – ex of Slave Lake and now living in Sherwood Park – went on a Russian river cruise this past September. It started in Moscow and ended in St. Petersburg, with all the sights you’d expect to see in those two famous cities. But in between, “You get to see a part of the country you’d never see,” Bob says.

There are lots of other river cruise options in Russia. For example, you can get on a boat in Moscow and end up in the Caspian Sea. Or you can do as the Jamiesons did and end up in a city that as far as public art and monumental architecture goes, “is like Paris times six.”

More adventurous stuff would be climbing mountains and viewing African wildlife. Even there a broad range of options are available – everything from going solo and making all your own arrangements, to booking as part of a group. The latter type is what Sparks deals with. There are companies organizing group ascents of Mount Kilimanjaro, for example, which is a popular way to go. That way you don’t have to worry about the logistics of accommodation and food and carrying stuff – not to mention translation and dealing with local bureaucracy.

The same goes for visits to the legendary Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, in which Sparks says there’s a fair amount of interest.

Speaking of which, two Slave Lake couples recently returned from a visit to Peru. The Leader caught up with Mark and Debbie Missal and Gordon Sanders and Linda Howell last Wednesday and asked what all the fuss was about. It turns out they were part of a tour of the country organized by G Adventures, which looked after the logistics.

“It’s a great way for beginners to start travelling,” says Debbie. Adds Mark: “I think (it’s) perfect for an introduction to a country, and then you can stay longer.”

Part of the itinerary was three days and two nights hiking in the Andes in the vicinity of Machu Picchu. There were also visits to the coastal desert country, the Nazca Lines, Lake Titicaca, Coco Canyon and the rainforest on the east side of the mountains.

Howell says having knowledgeable guides was helpful. You could certainly do it all on your own, she says, but it would take longer to get the same sort of benefit, and as she had a short window, the organized adventure worked better.

“As a side benefit,” says Sanders – who just retired and has never done anything like this before – “you see places you wouldn’t go on your own.”

As far as traveling in close quarters with a group, Howell – who has done this sort of thing before – says it can result in lasting friendships.

“I’m still connected with people I met 10 years ago,” she says.

Bungle in the jungle….Mark Missal and Gordon Sanders brandish machetes in the Peruvian rainforest, while Debbie and Linda appear unconcerned.

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