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Looking for Adventure


Bungee jumping in New Zealand, cycling in Morocco, riding in Kyrgyzstan,
you name an adventure and we’ll find the holiday for you, says Minty
Clinch.

In an ever-
shrinking world, global gypsies have never had it so good. Riding in Kyrgyzstan, lemur spotting in Madagascar, cycling in Morocco, hiking in Catalunya or Peru or Nepal?  Take your pick, get online and book it up.   It sounds simple, and in theory it is, though making the best choice from a surfeit of options is a little trickier.

Take lemur spotting, for example. The engaging primate is a Malagasy one-off and it’s impossible not to spot it when it’s sitting on your breakfast table trying to steal your rolls.  In our eco-conscious age, feeding wildlife is actively discouraged, but the ring-tailed lemurs in the Berenty Reserve aren’t interested in notices telling tourists not to share their food.  It follows that every visitor is guaranteed more digital images of Madagascar’s most photogenic animal than they could possibly need.

This begs the question as to what to do for the rest of your visit. On
an island two and a half times the size of Great Britain, the options
are far-flung and wide-ranging, though all involve nature in the raw.
For a start, there are 51 species of lemur, including the sifaka, known
as the ‘dancing lemur’ for its silly walk, and the nocturnal grey
mouse lemur. Then there are the baobab trees, with their distinctively
swollen trunks topped by disproportionately tiny branches. There are
radiated tortoises, fruit bats, huge ant colonies and rare birds like
Appert’s Greenbul.  These creatures are to be found in diverse
habitats, wetlands, forests, deserts and plains. Last but not least,
there are tropical shores lapped by warm seas.

For most people, making the most of these attractions in a couple of
weeks means buying a package, but whether it should  be with an
intensely specialist company like Naturetrek or one offering a broader
picture like Explore Worldwide depends on your priorities.  In either
case, you will be part of a soft adventure group of about 16, travelling
by bus with a British guide, supported by well-informed locals. As is
mandatory with ecotourism, you will spend a lot of time hiking through
dense tropical forest and waiting your turn to photograph very small
well-concealed animals.  And you will get a couple of days on the beach.

Unless you’re a nature fanatic, you might imagine that Explore would
be the more relaxing option. Not so. Having road-tested both companies,
I discovered, to my surprise, that the Naturetrek clients mixed
dedication with a sense of fun, whereas the Explore ones seemed to feel
that sitting chatting over a beer was a waste of quality home video
time.

It took a two-week trip on horseback through the mountains of
Kyrgyzstan to explode another of my preconceptions.  Naively, I’d
imagined that riding over rough terrain would require a certain basic
skill. Quite wrong. I can now promise that anyone with the endurance to
spend 10 hours a day in the saddle can embark on a Wild Frontiers Nomad
trip with total confidence. When they needed to stop their horses, four
out of the eight clients had no option but to pull and pray, but they
not only survived, they had a wonderful time.

This trip is a genuine adventure, a chance to explore a small isolated
Central Asian Republic with no industry beyond a single gold mine and no
visible means of support beyond the mixed flocks of wild horses, goats,
sheep and yaks that roam the sunlit uplands in summer. We met no other
tourists and no townies on our journey, only the local herdsmen who
graze their livestock on the high pastures between June and September.
Sometimes we stayed in their yurts, but more often we camped on the
banks of clear mountain streams, eating delicious stews or fried river
fish prepared on a single gas ring by our expert Kyrgyz cook, before
falling asleep to the sound of horses chomping on rich grass.

Horseback holidays are increasingly popular, but they’ll never match
cycling trips in the adventure league tables. On the grounds that I,
like almost everyone else, can ride a bike, I signed up for an Exodus
tour of the Jebel Sahro & the Draa Valley in southern Morocco. Whereas
horse riding holidays appeal almost exclusively to women, cycling
attracts a mix of men, women and couples of all ages and levels of
fitness.

Exodus grades its tours from A, suitable for anyone who can ride a
bike, to E, recommended only to mountain biking gods and goddesses. Ours
was B/C, with B suited to occasional cyclists and C to confident riders
who train two or three times a week. In the D and E categories, the
clients bring their own top level bikes with front and back suspension
and disc brakes, but our group hired local Rockhoppers with front
suspension, much needed on hostile off-road terrain. Mind you, disc
brakes would also have been reassuring on testing mountain descents.


Most adapted their rental machines with pedals and saddles brought from
home, plus cycling shoes, padded shorts and padded gloves – essential to
reduce numbness in the hands.   We cycled on five of the six days,
covering distances ranging from 40km to 96km, often over
puncture-inducing rocks in heat that reached 35°C at midday, but always
with the option of loading the bikes onto the backup vehicles in case
of need.  We overnighted in Berber hotels, comfortable and atmospheric
with brightly coloured carpets and hangings, and dined on couscous and
tajine on alternate nights, washing both down with the warm red wine we
carried with us to avoid the disappointment in alcohol-free hotels.

That wouldn’t happen in Catalunya where Inntravel combine castles,
coves and vineyards in a gentle 7-day walk on inland plains and coastal
paths, the easiest of several itineraries in a part of Spain that is
known for its gastronomy. At the tougher end of a walking scale that
runs from 1 to 3, they launch into the rugged limestone heights of
inland Andalucia, taking in mountains, flowery meadows and cork-oak
woods.  With 80 walks in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Switzerland, Italy,
Austria, Slovenia and Norway, they reasonably claim to have a schedule
to suit everyone. They arrange accommodation and luggage transfers and
supply such detailed route notes that the clients can go it alone
without fear of getting lost.

Another fresh aspect of adventure travel is the introduction of
specialist family brochures. Running on a ‘best school in the world’
ticket, the Adventure Travel Company leads the field in small group
expeditions targeted at children with parents in tow.  Predictably, many
of their trips are animal-led – camel and donkey riding, dog sledding,
turtle or tiger watching, whale or dolphin spotting – but the
educationals include Feluccas and Pharaohs, Dracula’s Mountains,
Headhunters of Borneo, Good Morning Vietnam and Nuts about Brazil. They
cater for the whole family, with programmes for infants, kids and
teenagers.  As for the parents, they just have to adapt as best they
can. 

Eco holidays (including Madagascar)
Naturetrek: 01962 733051; www.naturetrek.co.uk
Explore Worldwide: 0870 333 4001; www.explore.co.uk
Wildlife Worldwide: 020 8667 9158; www.wildlifeworldwide.com

Riding Holidays
Wild Frontiers: 020 7736 3968; www.wildfrontiers.co.uk
Ride Worldwide: 01837 82544; www.rideworldwide.com
Equine Adventures: 020 8667 9158; www.equineadventures.co.uk
Inntravel European Riding Holidays: 01653 617930; www.inntravel.co.uk
American Round Up: 0870 747 2624; www.americanroundup.com
Cycling Holidays Exodus: 0870 240 5550; www.exodus.co.uk
Explore Worldwide: 0870 333 4001; www.explore.co.uk
Inntravel: 01653 617722; www.inntravel.co.uk

Hiking and Trekking
HF Holidays: 020 8905 9388; www.hfholidays.co.uk
ATG Oxford: 01865 315 678; www.atg-oxford.co.uk
Walks Worldwide: 01524 242000; www.walksworldwide.com
Crystal Active: 0870 240 7545; www.crystalholiday.co.uk
KE Adventure: 017687 73966; www.keadventure.com
Headwater’s Worldwide Walking Holidays: 01606 720033; www.headwater.com

Family Adventure Holidays
The Adventure Company: 0845 450 5311; www.adventurecompany.co.uk

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