Feeling disoriented and breathless after a long travel day and wheeling our suitcases up the steep stone Callejón (pedestrian street), we knocked on the rustic wood door of the rental house and hoped that the housekeeper would be there to greet us as planned.
I was jet-lagged from the trip but, even more, I was emotionally exhausted. My husband, Hank, and I had returned to the States, after more than three years of living abroad, to attend a family wedding and ended up postponing our travels for the next five months due to a series of events that had left us reeling. This was our first foray abroad since then and I hadn't realized how tense I was until a woman with a kindhearted smile and a cheerful yellow apron opened the door and I felt a wave of relief flood through me. The intensity of the emotion startled me.
As dream jobs go, to spend your days photographing lions, cheetahs, and leopards in the wilds of Africa could possibly be the ultimate gig for a wildlife photographer. For Kathryn Haylett, co-author of The Photographer’s Guide to Etosha National Park, it is a daily reality. And as one of four participants on a photo safari with Haylett, it was my reality, too.
Snorkeling with sea lions, beach bonfires, cocktails to celebrate the full moon, stand up paddle boarding on glassy blue water, desert mule rides and not a port of call in sight. This is not a cruise. It’s an Un-Cruise. Unhurried. Unconventional. Unbelievable.
Discover ten trip highlights and the essence of Baja’s magic and the Un-Cruise experience in the following photos and videos.
Can’t stop searching for the next mind-blowing destination or exciting new adventure? Me neither. From once-in-a-lifetime dream trips to absolutely doable, here are 10 extraordinary adventures currently topping my Wanderlist —and why I want to go.
What about you? What places and experiences do you dream of? Where next?
It was 4AM. The kerosene lanterns used to illuminate our open-air room flickered to life, a subtle reminder to get moving. I crawled out from under the mosquito netting, shuffled down the hall to the communal bathrooms and fifteen minutes later was tromping down a dark jungle trail in mud boots and a headlamp to board a boat.
Groggy and grumpy, I wished I’d stayed in bed as the motorized canoe puttered upriver in damp obscurity to deliver us to the sandy islet that would serve as our birding blind. The sky was still ink black as we settled in to wait. Perched upon folding canvas campstools we clutched cameras and tin cups of tea in anticipation of the morning’s Big Event –the world’s largest macaw claylick.
I admit it. Reptiles creep me out. I find them as cute and cuddly as Hannibal Lecter. But there I was, face to scaly face, happily snapping photo after photo of iguanas: self-appointed paparazzi of the Galapagos Islands.
Mother Nature can do that to me. One day I’m going about my rich yet ordinary life–work, hang out with Hank, read, nap, eat, walk, meet up with friends, eat again, read some more. The next, I’m stalking lizards like a star struck groupie at the Oscars.
“Do you need to be fluent in Spanish?”
“Is it affordable?”
“What’s the weather like?”
These were questions I asked my husband more than a year ago when he first suggested we try out expat living in Cuenca, Ecuador.
Now that we’re here, these are the same questions we hear from friends and family who are curious about Cuenca.
“Don’t worry, Elena,” said our host, Juan Rabasa, co-owner of Enduro Ecuestre, an equestrian outfitter based in San Cristobal de las Casas in the highlands of southwestern Mexico. “Palomo is the perfect horse for you. You can trust him.”
But could Palomo trust me? Everyone knows you can’t fool a horse. But fooling yourself? That’s easy.
How easy it was to forget that the ‘me’ that is seduced by exotic adventures, is only a distant cousin to the ‘me’ reflected in the morning mirror, and - here’s the rub - a complete stranger to the nervous ‘me’ perched atop an Arabian horse in the wilds of Chiapas, Mexico.
We all have our favorite places. Maybe it’s the place we call home, or where we grew up. Perhaps it’s a vacation spot we return to often. A place we know inside and out; where to find the best cup of coffee, who to ask for information, and the businesses best avoided.
For me, one of those places is Ajijic, a quirky lakeside village in the mountains of Jalisco, Mexico, an hour’s drive from Guadalajara. For the past fifteen years, my husband, Hank, and I have called Ajijic home for extended stays in every season.
There are few places in the world with a better network of public footpaths than Britain. And there are few companies better at sharing their passion for walking in the English countryside than The Wayfarers.
In early June, I headed to South West England for a picture-perfect, eight-day walking vacation across Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks. We were a small convivial group: Four of us, all repeat walkers. It is my fifth walk. Longtime friends, Pat Renucci and Wendy Kersman had joined up for their sixth. And Glen Sullivan, a retired San Diego lawyer, boasted an impressive 14, soon to be 15, Wayfarers’ walks beneath his boots.
Our days on the trail settled into a comfortable routine. Early each morning, we’d congregate in the hotel dining room for breakfast. By 9AM we were traipsing over Hill and Dale, ambling alongside chattering rivers, across ancient footpaths, and through thatched hamlets and deep valleys eons in the making.
Don’t let cold, snowy weather keep you from getting away. Say goodbye to the winter blues, gather the gang and head for Grand County, Colorado.
When a friend, who’d landed in Grand County twenty-five years ago and stayed, called to invite me to join her there for a winter girl’s getaway, I jumped at the chance.
Situated only 67 miles from Denver’s highlife, come-as-you-are Grand County bundles a world class ski resort, spas, yoga, alpine pursuits, and stunning mountain scenery into one of Colorado’s hometown favorites.
Take a little inspiration from these Grand County discoveries and launch your own escape.
For 30 years, Winter Park residents have fueled up on hot coffee and breakfast at Carvers Bakery Cafe. Rustic and relaxed, the homey eatery boasts the convivial sounds and baked-goods aroma of a small town favorite. Try the sumptuous cinnamon rolls and homemade bagels. 93 Cooper Creek Way.
Home sweet vacation home
Buying a vacation home might be out of the question (damn the recession), but renting someone else’s luxury mountain house, is not only budget friendly, it’s fun! You may think you’ll be missing out on hotel services. Not true. From arranging welcome meals and in-home grocery stocking, to lift tickets and rental equipment, The Grand Concierge service by Destinations West will coordinate your transportation, plan special activities, and customize an all-inclusive vacation that IS all about you. www.mtnlodging.com
Any place that can tempt me to keep it a secret must be extraordinary— and Nicaragua is just that, as I discovered over three visits in three years. Beautiful, welcoming and resilient, the country of six million people, roughly the size of New York State, hosted 931,904 foreign tourists in 2009. It’s no longer absurd to speak of it as a destination where delighted tourists will find market stalls stocked with bright hammocks, or go boating on Lake Nicaragua, or surf Pacific waves.
While Nicaragua may not have the infrastructure and services comparable to its better-known and more trampled neighbor, Costa Rica – it offers some of the greatest natural gems in all of Central America: the largest area of primary-growth rain forest north of the Amazon, mist-shrouded cloud forests, and steamy jungles, more than 600 species of birds, as well as jaguars, sloths, monkeys, toucans, manatees, crocodiles, and the world’s only freshwater sharks.
Georgia O’Keeffe has been quoted as saying “If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.” Artists can be prone to exaggeration, but on this point I tend to agree with the lady. There is a magic at work here, a subtle yet powerful influence that is more than the high desert light.
A friend in Santa Fe says that she “lives to leave.” I’ll never understand that, for my heart sings when I’m in New Mexico in a way that’s hard to talk about without sounding foolish, annoyingly evangelical, or like a lowlander high on altitude. So, in the spirit of full disclosure let me say this: I am not an impartial journalist writing about a New Mexico walking vacation. I’m a twelve-year resident head over my cowgirl boots in love with the big sky, adobe charms and quirky characters of my adopted homeland.
“I had no idea,” says Maria, a well-traveled executive from Chicago, and one of seven vacationers joining this mid-September walk with The Wayfarers. “Of course, I’d heard of Santa Fe, but I’m blown away by the natural beauty, diversity and history of this place.”
I know what she means. The first summer I spent in New Mexico, I felt like I’d landed in a foreign country. The low-slung mud brick architecture, the melodic rhythm of Native and Hispanic languages, mañana mind-set and dramatic landscape were alien to my suburban life back East. Vast and exotic, New Mexico is a land of wild places and ancient cultures teeming with authenticity (not multitudes) where pristine light, towering mountains and a combination of cultures, history and landscape exists unlike anywhere else.
bodacious: adj. excellent, admirable, or attractive. ORIGIN: Boldacious. Blend of BOLD and AUDACIOUS.” - Oxford English Dictionary, 11th edition.
“I’m off to the Bugaboos.” Just saying it, feels bodacious; though I am neither bold nor audacious by nature. What I am, unfortunately, is heavier than I’d like (thanks to a love affair with chocolate), and I can rationalize my way out of a morning run faster than you can say Mocha Grande. So why am I traveling solo to the Canadian Rockies for a Bodacious Girlfriend Getaway heli-hiking and yoga vacation. Why not?
The simple purity and intense beauty of the West has long been a place where dream seekers can indulge such brazen fantasies unfettered by the hard facts of reality. Turning intimidating concepts into inspiring life-enhancing adventures, in fact, is what Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), has been doing since 1965 when they first started ferrying skiers by helicopter into the remote mountains of British Columbia.
“Welcome to my office,” says Lyle Grisedale, a professional CMH hiking guide and designated ‘bodacious bro’ on our women-only getaway. A courteous bon vivant with enough Irish devilment in him to fit right in with the girls, Grisedale is equal parts superhero, spiritual guru and mountain goat. Beyond his outstretched arm, tower the wild and jagged peaks of the Bugaboos –a granite mountain range in the Purcell Mountains of eastern British Columbia. A stunning land-sea of serrated ridges, turquoise lakes, lush meadows, and blue-tinged glaciers surround us.
Only a few hours earlier, I’d scrambled aboard a twin-engine Bell 212, 14-passenger helicopter at the CMH helipad (near Radium Hot Springs) after a scenic two-hour drive from Banff. The ten-minute flight to the Bugaboo Lodge, one of 11 self-sufficient, eco-sensitive lodges run by CMH, provided a thrilling, IMAX view of snow-capped peaks, evergreen forests, glistening snowfields, and wildflower-filled valleys sandwiched between rocky ridges. By comparison, it would have taken two full days of hard walking to cover the same distance.
Wrap your head around this: There are 14 species of whales in Alaskan waters; residents of Fairbanks can see the Northern Lights an average of 240 nights per year; approximately 1 in 66 Alaskans is an active pilot; and Alaska is larger than all but 18 sovereign countries. This is NOT your average vacation spot. With over 650,000 square miles of mountains, rivers, and glaciers, the 49th state is open for adventure.
This year, trade the city break for the Last Frontier faster than you can say ‘former governor’ and discover Alaska beyond the cruise ports - there’s plenty of it.
Earlier this summer, my husband, Hank, and I piggy-backed a wilderness voyage with Un-Cruise Adventures in southeast Alaska with a tour of the southwest and southcentral regions. Here are our recommendations for making the most of your explorations.
photography by Ellen and Hank Barone
[before you go]
What NOT to Wear: Forget dress to impress. In Alaska, the focus is not on fashion, but rather the outdoors. Local wisdom has it that “there is no bad weather, just bad gear.” Key items should include fleece, waterproof rain gear, good walking shoes, a hat, lightweight gloves and quick-dry everything. Other items you’ll want to bring: sunglasses, sun block (yes, even in Alaska, especially on the water and ice), a swimsuit (many lodges feature hot tubs and/or saunas), camera, and lots of memory cards!
For guaranteed wildlife sightings, load up your camera and make the scenic drive south to Portage for a visit to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. With consent from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the center takes in orphaned or injured animals for treatment and rehabilitation. We could easily have spent the day there watching the resident bears romp and swim, but bring bug spray. The June day we visited the mosquitoes were fierce.
In the wake of InnerSea Discoveries’ inaugural ‘un-cruise’, southeast Alaska - with its mountains, glaciers and watery wilderness - is open for adventure and it’s up-close-and-personal.
Like many adventurous travelers, there was a time when I dismissed cruising as the domain of gawkers and grandparents. A no-go zone for real travelers. Shame on me.
Truth told, there were a few gray hairs among us and whole lot of oohin’ and aahin’ going on last week as we plied the wild reaches of southeast Alaska aboard the first-ever InnerSea Discoveries adventure cruise. But that’s where any cruising clichés ended. There was a wild streak than ran thru the passenger ranks that defied age - from the 20-something rebel rousers thru the mid-life explorers and right on up to the no-adventure-left-behind AARP members.
My husband, Hank, and I had been enlisted, along with 14 other intrepid explorers, by InnerSea Discoveries to travel-test their new small-group wilderness adventure voyage. From snorkeling shallow tide pools teaming with marine life and paddle boarding glacial ice flows to kayaking with humpbacks and meeting outback oyster farmers and native totem carvers, the 8-day, 7-night voyage cranked up cruising to a whole new level.
It takes a discerning nose, disciplined devotion, and an encyclopedic palate to be a respected oenophile. I arrived in Portugal’s Vinho Verde wine region possessing none of the above. Fortunately, that’s forgivable in a land where vintners are as friendly and easy to like as the wines they make.
There are plenty of reasons to visit Portugal, from its sandy beaches, cultural riches, flavorful cuisine and mild climate, to its lost-in-time pace of life and inexpensive cost of living. But in the Vinho Verde region of northern Portugal, a lush area of emerald hillsides carpeted with vineyards, it always comes back to the wines.
The vine occupies some 135-square-miles of land in a region where the unique alchemy of cool Atlantic breezes, a fertile landscape with 22-centuries of wine growing history and 30,000 wine growers, produce 1,000 brands of fresh, light aromatic wines known collectively as Vinho Verdes.
Armed with a steno pad and a Trader Joe’s two-buck-chuck pedigree, I managed to hitch my curious self to a visiting group of erudite US and British wine tasters, sommeliers and importers. For four days I would sip, spit, swill and swirl close to 150 varieties of Vinho Verdes.