Sunday Times

BIG AD­VEN­TURES

From epic an­i­mal en­coun­ters to walk­ing in the foot­steps of an­cient civil­i­sa­tions, Ja­nine Stephen of­fers some trips to stoke your ex­plorer’s soul

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SEE THE GREAT MI­GRA­TION IN KENYA AND TAN­ZA­NIA

Some 1.5 mil­lion wilde­beest, plus ac­com­pa­ny­ing preda­tors, move from Tan­za­nia to Kenya and back again in search of sweet new grass dur­ing this great­est show on Earth. A sight­ing you don’t want on sa­fari? A noisy row of ve­hi­cles lined up along the Mara River, wait­ing for a flood of her­bi­vores to cross. This is an un­for­tu­nate re­al­ity at peak sea­son (Au­gust to Septem­ber) in our over­pop­u­lated world.

But those averse to crowds have op­tions: head for the con­ser­van­cies, pay for ex­cel­lent guides and space at pri­vate camps, or visit at other times of the year.

A trusted source rec­om­mends March: “The rains are just com­ing so there are ba­bies every­where (be­ing snacked by spotty cats), there are mas­sive skies and thun­der­storms and far fewer tourists.”

Also con­sider a mo­bile camp that fol­lows the herds. Those with deep pock­ets are spoilt for choice.

great­plain­scon­ser­va­tion.com, asil­i­aafrica.com.

GO DOGSLEDDIN­G IN ALASKA

Alaska at­tracts tough char­ac­ters, and tough dogs. Yet swish­ing through pow­dery snow on a dogsled seems such a gen­tle way to travel, the 1,000-mile en­durance race Idi­tarod Trail aside.

I went glid­ing be­hind a team run by for­mer Cold­foot, Alaska, res­i­dent Joe Hen­der­son — the man who, with his dogs, ap­peared in Dis­ney’s 1991 White Fang. It was just a quick trek, a taste of glory, but once the yip­ping, squirm­ing hounds were in their traces, which bind the dogs to their sleds, and the or­der to mush had sounded, they ran silently, breaths steam­ing, the crunch and slide of skim­ming over snow the dom­i­nant sound. Black spruces whipped by at an as­ton­ish­ing rate.

It was an en­tirely joy­ful ex­pe­ri­ence in an ex­treme en­vi­ron­ment. This win­ter Joe will of­fer 30- to 40-minute rides with his Alaskan mala­mutes in An­chor­age for $75pp (R1,075). alaska­n­ar­c­tic­ex­pe­di­tions.com

DIVE CHINA’S LOST CITY

In 1959, a dam built on the Xin’an River to sup­ply hy­dro­elec­tric power to Zhe­jiang, China, was fi­nally com­pleted. Liq­uid crept slowly into the stone streets of Shi Cheng, or Lion City, drown­ing a me­trop­o­lis that dates back some 1,400 years to the East­ern Han Dy­nasty.

Now the five an­cient city gates, the re­mains of arches, bridges and even pre­served trees, stand in inky silence 25 40m be­low the sur­face of “Thou­sand Is­land Lake”.

To see the elab­o­rately carved ru­ins, pull on a cou­ple of wet­suits (the wa­ter is freez­ing), load up with lights and go on what is es­sen­tially a night dive to ex­plore.

You’ll need a guide to hit the spot in enor­mous Qian­dao Lake. Sadly, this one will have to stay on the bucket list a while longer: Big Blue Scuba in Shang­hai says the lo­cal gov­ern­ment has closed the site in­def­i­nitely. But check with them or Bei­jing Dragon Div­ing Club to en­quire about other dive spots in the lake and when Lion City will re­open.

big-blue.cn

DRIFT UP THE AMA­ZON IN BRAZIL

Fancy swing­ing in a ham­mock on a river boat up the Ama­zon? You can get a cabin for a price, but choos­ing the ham­mock for the five- or six-day jour­ney from Belém to Manaus, Brazil, means lots more fresh air and com­pany. Young vil­lagers some­times pad­dle fu­ri­ously along­side, ask­ing for hand­outs. But over­all, it’s a so­porific, lan­guid ex­pe­ri­ence — days and nights slid­ing by like oil, re­mark­able in­sects at­tracted to the lights, and rice and beans served up time and again for meals. You need to be able to let go, snooze a lot and ide­ally have a novel or two in hand as not a whole lot hap­pens. A les­son in how to stop time. Buy tick­ets at which­ever port you choose to sail from.

STALK RHINO IN SA OR SWAZI­LAND

With a dose of luck and the right guide, it’s pos­si­ble to get close enough to hear the beasts chew­ing — with­out pay­ing thou­sands for the priv­i­lege.

On a bush walk in Marakele Na­tional Park, Lim­popo, a few years ago, the guide stood me down­wind from a white rhino with a multi-ton young­ster at her side — and didn’t blanch when a big male sud­denly mo­tored up. The rhi­nos had a stand­off, com­plete with mock charges and the odd squeal. The ex­pe­ri­ence is branded in my me­mory, all dust and adren­a­line. A bush walk in Marakele costs just R360. An­other rea­son­able op­tion is Mkhaya Game Re­serve in Swazi­land.

san­parks.org.za; biggamepar­ks.org.

WALK THE CAMINO IN SPAIN

Years ago, we ar­rived in San­ti­ago de Com­postela, Spain, by bus, not on foot as thou­sands of pil­grims do. The an­cient city’s cathe­dral is the epi­cen­tre and fi­nal des­ti­na­tion for those who walk the Way of Saint James, fol­low­ing iconic scal­lop-shell mark­ers on var­i­ous routes from Por­tu­gal, France, the North­ern Basque re­gion of Spain or Seville.

It can be busy: in Au­gust 2018, over 60,000 pil­grims ar­rived in the great Praza do Obradoiro, the town’s main square.

But that day, af­ter a hushed few hours in the golden glory of the church, we walked out of San­ti­ago with vague plans to hitch to Barcelona. Lovely old women tut­ted and called and told us we were go­ing the wrong way. I’ve wanted to walk the fa­mous Camino ever since – the 1,000km Via de la Plata route is my cur­rent pick. All that’s re­quired is to set forth with “at least an at­ti­tude of search”. ofic­i­nadelpere­grino.com. ●

SWIM IN OMAN

Fjords in Oman are called khors — and con­tain spin­ner dol­phins. A six-day swim­ming tour al­lows wa­terba­bies to ex­plore some spec­tac­u­lar gashes of blue sea amidst the dry Ha­jar Moun­tains: the khors of the Mu­san­dam Penin­sula, on the north­east­ern tip of Oman.

Var­i­ous guided swims are 1km - 4km long. Two sup­port boats fol­low the swim­mers and the wa­ter is warm.

Guests travel be­tween sites on a tra­di­tional dhow, which also serves as a lunch spot; nights are spent in a ho­tel over­look­ing the Strait of Hor­muz. Ad­di­tional plea­sures are lo­cal food, vis­its to fish­ing vil­lages, Tele­graph Is­land, re­mote coves and a hike up an isth­mus sep­a­rat­ing the Per­sian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman. From £1,250 (R23,400).

swimtrek.com.

EX­PLORE A RUIN IN MEX­ICO

The King­dom of Bone in the state of Chi­a­pas, Mex­ico, was aban­doned around the 9th cen­tury and is now sur­rounded by drip­ping, breath­ing for­est. The an­cient city of Palenque is easy to visit on your own steam. The out­skirts are still dot­ted with still-to-be-ex­ca­vated piles of stone, with only trees and deaf­en­ing in­sects for com­pany.

But the key ex­ca­vated sites of this Un­esco World Her­itage Site — ball court, palace, tem­ples — are set in won­der­ful clear­ings in the for­est. Glyphs, carv­ings and mu­rals dec­o­rate the walls, and the palace it­self is a won­der of cham­bers and bats.

King Pakal was buried un­der the Tem­ple of In­scrip­tions, his body dusted in poi­sonous red cinnabar, his face cov­ered by a jade mask. At Palenque, the nat­u­ral and su­per­nat­u­ral worlds feel tightly en­twined, and death is ubiq­ui­tous: many a carv­ing shows a de­cap­i­tated vic­tim or two. Don’t rush it and be sure to visit the on-site mu­seum.

whc.un­esco.org/en/list/411

ES­CAPE TO ANTARC­TICA

Frozen cliffs in shades of blue; re­mark­able wildlife, such as Earth’s largest pen­guins, plus the sense of go­ing where few have gone be­fore all draw trav­ellers to our south­ern­most con­ti­nent.

Most de­part by ship from Ushuaia, Ar­gentina, and cross the volatile Drake Pas­sage to reach the Antarc­tic Penin­sula. Do some re­search to find the per­fect trip: some (such as SA’s own Rock­jumper) spe­cialise in bird­ing while oth­ers con­cen­trate on wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy or ac­tiv­i­ties such as kayak­ing, snow­shoe out­ings, div­ing and moun­taineer­ing. Some of­fer the chance to camp on the ice overnight. The ves­sel is also im­por­tant. Smaller boats mean faster dis­em­barka­tion, but larger ships can be bet­ter for sea­sick-prone stom­achs. The weather and the fact that there’s zero in­fra­struc­ture mean you can’t travel far in­land on the con­ti­nent it­self. Many trips in­clude vis­its to is­lands such as the South Shet­lands and South Ge­or­gia for added doses of nat­u­ral beauty and wildlife.

rock­jumper­bird­ing.com; oryx­pho­tog­ra­phy.com; re­spon­si­ble­travel.com.

SEE PYRA­MIDS IN SU­DAN

Su­dan is a chal­leng­ing des­ti­na­tion, which is the only rea­son there are no throngs at its re­mark­able pyra­mid fields. The best pre­served are the Meroë pyra­mids, about 200 steep-sided tri­an­gles up to 2,700 years old, scat­tered about the desert.

Other crum­bling key sites are at Nuri, where the re­mains of more than 70 Nu­bian pyra­mids stand in two wide arcs, and Gebel Barkal, the site of a sa­cred moun­tain. Here, sculp­tural el­e­ments also re­main, like chunky stone rams.

“Twice a year, on spe­cial oc­ca­sions, the sun — set­ting ex­actly be­hind the sa­cred moun­tain — casts the last, fad­ing shadow of its rock pin­na­cle (in which the an­cients saw a gi­ant sanc­ti­fied co­bra crowned with the sun-disk) on the necrop­o­lis of Nuri,” says Agnieszka Do­browol­ska, of Archi­nos Ar­chi­tec­ture, who works on pre­serv­ing Su­dan’s cul­tural her­itage.

Tours can take you to the an­cient sites in rel­a­tive com­fort if solo travel is too daunt­ing.

● en­coun­ter­stravel.com; corinthi­antravel.co.uk

● L S. ©Ja­nine Stephen

 ?? Pic­ture: 123rf.com/ci­cloco ?? TALL TAIL A hump­back whale says “hi” to some vis­i­tors off the Antarc­tic Penin­sula, the north­ern­most part of the main­land of Antarc­tica.
Pic­ture: 123rf.com/ci­cloco TALL TAIL A hump­back whale says “hi” to some vis­i­tors off the Antarc­tic Penin­sula, the north­ern­most part of the main­land of Antarc­tica.
 ?? Pic­ture: 123rf.com/kjekol ?? PULL TO­GETHER A team of dogs makes short work of haul­ing a sled.
Pic­ture: 123rf.com/kjekol PULL TO­GETHER A team of dogs makes short work of haul­ing a sled.
 ??  ??
 ?? Pic­ture: 123rf.com/soft­light69 ?? JUN­GLE FEVER A visit to the an­cient Maya city of Palenque, Mex­ico.
Pic­ture: 123rf.com/soft­light69 JUN­GLE FEVER A visit to the an­cient Maya city of Palenque, Mex­ico.

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