Great Adventures of Yesterday and Today
Back when maps were still being charted, the oceans were home to sea monsters and other cultures seemed entirely alien, travel was filled with the possibility of adventure. now that the world feels smaller, you need to go the extra mile to capture that spirit.
TEXT: Marcelo Ibáñez
Grand Canyon Rafting
Huddled together like characters in a Western getting ready for an ambush, most visitors to the Grand Canyon see the Colorado River from afar, a glimmer of water coursing through the depths. The view is magnificent and evokes the feeling you get from attractions you’ve seen on television a thousand times. Through media familiarity, you think you know the Golden Gate Bridge, the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower, but being there gives you an immediate sense of the enormity of its impact.
While seeing the river from above can be an exhilarating experience, rafting down the Colorado is nothing short of magical. It’s one part Disneyland – thanks to the rapids, some of them level V with waves reaching heights of 20 feet – and one part Zen temple, due to the long stretches of calm waters. The river is framed by enormous cliffs and imposing walls that display a geological history spanning six million years. At its widest point, the Grand Canyon’s walls are 18 miles apart, but you’ll also have to traverse a rocky throat that narrows to a distance of barely 600 feet between the walls on either side (Marble Canyon). The dramatic beauty varies widely as you head downriver, with waterfalls, calm turquoise pools, small caverns once occupied by indigenous peoples, hanging gardens and – if you’re lucky – animals like pumas, California condors, coyotes, bald eagles or lynxes.
Swim with killer whales in Tysfjord
The tourists stay on board the Zodiac boat, laughing at the cold from beneath three layers of specialized apparel and Gore-Tex jackets. Their greatest concerns are making sure that the rocking of the boat doesn’t toss them overboard and snapping great photos to get as many “likes” as possible. Adventurers, on the other hand, are cut from a different cloth. They’re also covered head to toe with a neoprene wetsuit, a mask, fins and a snorkel. After taking the plunge, they feel the cold impact of the frigid arctic waters through their gear. There are no cameras, no photos as evidence of their bravery. The only reward is having a good story to tell, being able to say, “I swam with killer whales in the waters of the Tysfjorden.”
To experience the adventure, you’ll have to travel to the district of Tysfjord, in northern Norway, specifically the Tysfjorden fjord, 56 miles south of the city of Narvik. It’s the only place in the world where you can swim surrounded by killer whales. Measuring 23 feet long and weighing five tons, these powerful cetaceans come by the hundreds to this fjord for nearly three months a year to feed on the tasty schools of herring, which is why your greatest concern during the dive will be dealing with the cold. Unless, of course, you simply opt to be one of those tourists who stay in the boat.
This adventure also includes the opportunity to spot humpback and fin whales, the second-largest species of cetacean.
The best season is from november to mid-january.
Aysén Glacier Trail
The adventure within
Sometimes turquoise, sometimes emerald green, sometimes deep blue, the waters of Lago Bertrand change with the light. This stunning body of water in Chilean Patagonia marks the beginning of the Aysén Glacier Trail, one of the ten most beautiful treks in the world, according to the prestigious magazine Outside. Over the eight days of intense hiking along this route, you’ll experience a change very much like that of the lake. Everything seems to transform with each step you take, every mile you traverse, every day of the trek, the only constant is the profound sense of
tranquility, a feeling of being alone in the world – not the last people on the planet, but the very first. You won’t see any archeological ruins or vestiges of human life along the way, just nature in its most primal form: plains of sand like something out of a sci-fi movie, ravines covered in the greenery of the southern jungle, fairytale hills and mountains that seem summoned from legend. Dense forests, turquoise rivers, emerald lakes and gigantic rocks provide some of the postcard-worthy images that you’ll accumulate as the days pass, helping you forget your aching leg muscles. And while the landscapes are truly breathtaking, there’s one experience in particular that can’t be beat. Simply take a drink from any fresh water source; it’s purer and more refreshing than any you’ve ever had.
The trip takes a total of ten days, eight of which are spent on a trek of medium-to-high difficulty.
Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb
Climbing the coat hanger
Unless you’re talking about a war zone or a particularly dangerous neighborhood with a high crime rate, a visit to a city isn’t terribly “adventurous.” Especially when it’s somewhere as safe as Sydney, and even more especially when grandparents and children can share in the adventure, as well. But the adrenaline starts pumping when you take a look at the details: scaling the bridge in the Port of Sydney, the largest steel arc in the world, reaching a height of 440 feet.
Known to locals as the “Coat Hanger” for its particular design, the bridge has two railroad lines and eight lanes of traffic that see some 160,000 vehicles a day. Inaugurated in 1932, when 96 steam engines crossed the bridge to test its strength, the Coat Hanger’s construction used 53,000 tons of steel and resulted in the deaths of 16 workers. To avoid adding to the list of casualties, visitors who want to climb the tangled circuit of stairs and ladders are tethered to a safety line, after they’ve passed an alcohol test and a training session in a simulator that replicates the ascent.
This classic Australian landmark has been open to climbers since 1998 and has welcomed celebrities like Sarah Ferguson, Kylie Minogue and Matt Damon, as well as Paul Hogan, the Australian actor who achieved worldwide fame as the star of Crocodile Dundee.
There are four times to make the climb: dawn, daytime, twilight and night.
Fly a MiG-29 in Moscow
Soviet Top Gun
Seeing the buildings of Red Square lit up at night is more than enough reason to pay a visit to Moscow. The same can be said of immersing yourself in the city’s extensive subway system – the fastest and cheapest way to get around. You might not even bother coming up for air: the stations are true works of art, closer to museums than typical subway stations. But for real explorers, there’s another reason to make the trip: the chance to fly a MiG-29 into the stratosphere.
The adventure begins at the air base in Zhukovsky, a small city of barely 100,000 inhabitants, just 25 miles southeast of Moscow. This is the place to charter a flight aboard a MiG-29, the Soviet answer to the U.S. F-16 and the fourth generation of the aircraft that Tom Cruise took on in Top Gun (although they’re called
MiG-28s in the movie). This taste of aerial combat reaches speeds of 1,500 miles an hour and a maximum altitude of 69,000 feet, which lets you see the curvature of the Earth and the line that separates the blue of the sky from the black blanket of outer space. An adventure into the final frontier.
Recommended by lonely Planet, the russian company fly MiG works directly with the russian air force.
Sahara Desert Trek
A land out of time
While most of the planet’s uninhabited areas are rough stretches of flat land, the Sahara is a dreamlike ocean of sand, moving in winding waves that stretch to a terracotta and ochre horizon. At 3.6 million square miles, the vast desert is nearly as large as China and crosses into ten African nations. These countries feature extremely diverse political and social climates, which is why it’s advisable to explore the areas of the desert in Moroccan, Tunisian or Egyptian territory.
An adventure through the Sahara can be as diverse as the cultures it touches, but there are essential experiences that are simply universal: timeless oases that offer an entryway into the Sahara; the slow pace of desert life; dozing on a soft bed of sand and gazing at the stunning, starry sky; the oasis-within-an-oasis ritual of drinking mint tea. Traveling in a four-wheel-drive vehicle might be more comfortable and allow you to see more of the desert, but camel safaris are more in harmony with the local rhythm of life.
Our recommended route takes 14 days from Marrakesh to Fez in Morocco on Berber routes, passing through a thousand kasbahs (mud-brick citadels) and the Roman ruins of Volubilis. Unfortunately, the Sahara’s most otherworldly landscapes are remote and located in zones of conflict, including the immense sea of dunes and Ahaggar and Tassili mountains (Algeria), the oasis of Mauritania and the legendary Timbuktu (Mali). These destinations offer the kind of adventure that has nothing to do tourism.
Visit between october and early may (there are sandstorms from january to may).
Yanshui fireworks festival
The celebration is held 15 days after chinese new year in february, the exact date of which changes from year to year and depends on the lunar calendar.
A baptism by fire
It’s 1885, and cholera is ravaging the Taiwanese town of Yanshui. The disease decimates the population, and there is no hope of a cure. Desperate, the people decide to ask the spirit of Kuan Kung – the Chinese god of war and protector of businessmen – for help. To ward off the epidemic, the inhabitants of Yanshui hold a procession for the deity, launching fireworks in his honor. The celebration continues until dawn, and cholera instantly disappears – or so legend has it.
The tradition has remained alive to this day. While the rest of Taiwan rings in the Chinese New Year with the famous Lantern Festival, with people writing their wishes on a paper lantern that they then release into the sky, the district of Yangui celebrates with a rain of fire. The religious festival starts with the faithful carrying enormous statues of Kuan Kung, armed to the teeth with fireworks, which are also attached to hundreds of wooden constructions that the locals call “castles.” An alarm sounds, the fuses are lit, and the crowd transforms into a buzz of fireworks shooting off in all directions, filling the air with fire, sparks and smoke. It’s pure collective adrenaline. Gloves, helmets, wet towels wrapped around necks and thick, non-flammable clothing are all required to survive the “baptism of fireworks,” which is believed to protect the participants against accidents and negative energy and bring good luck for the coming year.
Another unforgettable train route: the trans-american rail tour links San Francisco and New York.
Rails to the past
Perfect symbols of progress in the 19th century, railroad lines allow travelers to experience some of the world’s most spectacular and hard-to-reach locations. Many railroads became obsolete with technological advances, but others are still going strong, feeding the dreams of restless explorers, not to mention inveterate fans of mystery novels. Among them, two rail lines are unquestionable legends: the Orient Express and the Trans-Siberian Railway.
For decades, the Orient Express linked Paris with Constantinople (now Istanbul), and over time, it became the world’s most luxurious journey by rail. This classic train made its final voyage in 2009, but the Venice Simplon Orient Express (in the picture) is its rightful heir, with remodeled cars from the 1920s and 30s. The trip from London to Venice is much shorter than the original route, but there’s plenty of impressive scenery along the alpine journey, and the train occasionally runs on other routes, including the original line connecting Paris and Istanbul (with the next such voyage scheduled for August 28, 2015).
Another legendary journey takes place along the world’s longest continuous railroad: the Trans-Siberian Railway. The route originally ran from Moscow to Vladivostok, a Russian city on the shore of the Sea of Japan; the trip took seven days and spanned eight time zones. Today, there are two equally beautiful lines: the Trans-Manchurian and Trans-Mongolian Railways, both of which connect Moscow and Beijing.