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adventure tourism

In search of adventure Travellers are no longer just sitting poolside, sipping mai tais in Acapulco By Alan Forsythe Considering the crowds on mount Everest this spring, an accomplishment that once made worldwide headlines — climbing the world’s highest peak, first done by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay — has been reduced to the level of a recreational retreat for well-heeled travelers. One can almost hear the conversations between the latest dot-com millionaires: "You going to the Hamptons this year?" "No, we thought we’d check out Everest." The ’90s saw an explosion in adventure travel worldwide and that trend shows no signs of abating. So why are so many people interested in out of the way places? The wanderlust of a lot of these new age travellers can be attributed to baby boomer affluence. Now in their 40s and 50s, they are generally more fit and athletic than the generation before them were at the same age, and they are looking to get more out of their holiday time than just ticking off the sights in a guide book. Of course there will also always be travellers in their 20s and 30s who just like to get off the beaten track, but today many are eschewing the traditional back backing on a Eurail Pass for mountain biking through the Andes or trekking in Nepal. But whatever the age group, athletic ability, marital status or sexual orientation, it only takes a five-minute scan of internet listings to see that there is a vacation package or guide service tailor made to whatever gets your adrenaline flowing. For those of us living here in Whistler, we don’t have to go too far afield to experience the clear mountain air and fast flowing rivers that many people travel thousands of miles for. But with summer almost here and skis locked away until November, locals or those just here for the season start to look wistfully at the horizon and wonder what might lie beyond the alpine idyll of Whistler. So depending on your budget and time constraints, there are a number of adventures available to hardy thrill seekers; some are just down the highway and some are thousands of miles away. A hop skip and a jump from Whistler lies Squamish, and above it and the fast food restaurants that dot the highway looms The Chief. Squamish Rock Guides offer instruction for the novice to advanced climber on this imposing granite face, starting at $125 a day. They also offer private guiding, including some of The Chief’s more difficult routes. They operate April through September. If climbing vertical rock faces isn’t your thing there is always the less extreme hiking option. For day hikes all you need are some sturdy boots or shoes, water and some bug repellent — and don’t forget to tell someone where you’ve gone. There are trails that will take you up the backside of The Chief or over Shannon Falls. A little further down Highway 99, are trails to the Sky Pilot region above Furry Creek or just above Britannia Beach can be found a trail that will take you to the base of the Lions. Also located in Squamish is Garibaldi Eco Adventure Centre, which is sort of Tours Central. They can help you organize a day trip or overnight excursion for just about every mode of transportation, including horses, 4x4, sailboat, whitewater raft or your own feet. They can also help you find accommodation in Squamish and handle groups from two to 150. "Were here to fulfill adventure needs in the Squamish area," informs Barbara Cummings. If the waters of the inside passage and the Gulf Islands are more your speed you might consider sea kayaking with Spirit of the West Adventures, based in Heriot Bay on Vancouver Island. They offer guided tours of the Gulf Islands and the west side of Vancouver Island. John Waibal tells me that their most popular trip is to discovery islands to see orcas, as well seals, otter, deer, eagles… "What about bats?" I ask. "No bats. Well, maybe at night," says John. These trips run from June till early September and groups are kept to a maximum of 10, plus two to three guides, and start at $395 for three days. For those who absolutely must have a cold martini and a hot tub at the end of the day, Spirit of the West also has The Songee, a converted 95-foot former naval supply ship which features (besides the aforementioned hot tub) private state rooms and gourmet meals. Also along for the trip on The Songee (five days, four nights) will be aboriginal historian Jeanette Taylor. If you can live with the U.S. exchange rate you might want to head south, all the way to Oregon, to the Oregon Caves Lodge, which fittingly enough is situated right by Oregon Caves National Monument just off highway 46 near Grants Pass. "Are there bats in those caves?" I ask Mike Romick of guest relations. "Yes there are, Thompson Big Eared bats to be precise." "Has anyone ever been attacked and had their blood sucked dry by those bats?" I can’t help but ask. "No that has never happened." Nor has anyone ever been lost in the caves, which are lit and have a paved walkway through them. Okay not much of an adventure, but judging from the pictures they have posted on their web page the lodge really does look spectacular. All rooms are a flat rate of $90US/double occupancy and they usually have space available, unless it is a holiday weekend. Heading over to the Oregon coast and the scenic Highway 101, you will find the Oregon dunes. For all of you who love big loud machines that go really fast, jet boat trips on the nearby Rogue River are offered by several outfits, including Hellgate Jet Boat Excursions, whose name I liked best, but also Jerry’s Rogue Jets, Mailboat Jet Trips and Gold Beach Jet Boats. If you love the great outdoors, but are traveling on more of a budget, you could head east to Banff and the Canadian Rockies and stay at the Rampart Creek Hostel, which is open May 15-Nov. 15. While not quite as opulent as the Banff Springs Hotel, it will only set you back $16 a night or $12 if you have international hostel membership, children (up to 15) pay half if accompanied by an adult. They also have bicycles for rent and an outdoor volleyball court, plus a lot of mountains to climb. But if you really crave something more exotic you could surf over to www.canada-outdoors.co for useful information on traveling in Canada’s high arctic. But if dealing with frostbite is not your idea of a Summer vacation then you might want to check out Worldwide Adventures website at travel@worldwidequest.com. They offer a number of adventure vacations to South and Central America year round. For example, running from May to September they offer a trip to Peru, which includes cruising down a tributary of the Amazon by river boat and a stay in an Amazonian lodge. That’s followed by hiking up Inca trails to the ancient city of Machu Picchu, with time left over to explore the Spanish tavernas and cathedrals of the old colonial capital of Cuzco. Sounds pretty good to me, except for the price $1,995US (not including airfare). Still if you have the money, then what the heck. Sticking with mountains as a theme, summer isn’t exactly the best time to go trekking in Nepal, but you certainly won’t have to fight the crowds. June through July is monsoon season there, but if you’re from the West Coast then you are probably used to the rain. If you can wait until October to go then you will find a dry climate and mild temperatures, but also droves of fellow trekkers. Nepal is still pretty reasonable on the pocket book, once you get there. Despite its growing popularity, decent rooms can be found in Katmandu for as little as $15 a night. But if you go you do need a visa, available at point of entry and good for 30 days (extensions are possible). Flight Centre in Vancouver lists flights to Katmandu as starting at $1,599 or $1,199 one way if you decide you want to stay and join a Buddhist monastery. From Nepal you might want to continue on to Tibet, which is even cheaper than its neighbour and has a shorter monsoon season (July-August). You can also trek or mountain bike pretty much to your heart’s content without running across tour buses or hordes of tourists (in other words people like yourself). You can fly to the capital, Lhasa, from Katmandu or Beijing. But unlike Nepal, you will have to secure your visa before going. However if you really have had enough of the wet coast there’s nothing like a desert to cure what ails you. How about the largest desert in the world, the sprawling Sahara? Start by traveling to Morocco, either via Spain or fly directly to Tangiers or Rabat. (Avoid Casablanca.) Then make your way to Fez and find a guide — or more likely a guide will find you — to take you to one of several oasis for the day, overnight or several days, depending on how much you like looking at sand. Temperatures through the summer months range from pleasant (June) to pretty darn hot (August). Farther east but still in North Africa is Egypt, and while it is blazing hot May-October (except for the Mediterranean Coast) you can travel first class on a budget. You can pretend to be Lawrence of Arabia while touring the pyramids by camel, although you will probably be surprised at how close they are to Cairo. If you plan to stay in Cairo, I recommend the Hotel Windsor, which is a cheap, somewhat faded two star hotel, that will make you feel as if you have walked into an Agatha Christie novel, complete with old cage elevators and fez-adorned bell hops. Egypt has some of the best scuba diving in the world along the Red Sea, which it shares with Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Several coastal towns have dive schools offering instruction for divers of all abilities. If you’re really feeling like an Indiana Jones then you can take the ferry from Nuwaiba on the Sinai across the Gulf of Aqaba to Jordan and then on to the lost city of Petra (which of course isn’t quite so lost anymore), where they shot parts of the final installment of the Indiana Jones trilogy. However, if you have an Israel stamp on your passport you may be denied entry to Jordan. Finally, if you are looking for an out of the way spot this summer or fall, far from the maddening crowds, then I highly recommend the Lonely Planet series of guide books; they seem to have a guide to just about every obscure place on Earth, as well as most of the not-so-obscure places. Also good are the Let’s Go series, which are geared much more towards the student traveler. There is also the old standby Fodor’s, which might be more appropriate for older travelers.

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