A Sacred Trail
Jun09

A Sacred Trail

To some, the act of travel is more than just escaping an office cubicle and partying hard for a few weeks; it is a cleansing ritual and turning point, and a chance to heal one’s soul. Spurred by a fateful night that culminated in a suicide attempt, 42 year-old Malene Comes decided she would walk 9000 miles across the US. “I came within 20 minutes of death,” she says. “I struggled for a few years on all fronts: professionally and financially, hormonally, and dealing with horrific depression and anxiety, especially the fear of going outside. “Rejection from a trusted friend sent me over the top, and I nearly died by my own hand. The idea for this walk followed that, plus a whole lot of prayer and crying.” Malene spent two weeks researching the feasibility of her route that connects a series of her most desired landmarks throughout the country. “I wanted to experience Indigenous cultures and the Grand Canyon, and scuba dive in Florida. I have a long-standing love affair with New Mexico and wished to walk it, and also see Oklahoma. Up north, I want to get into the deep wilderness, as well as the wide-open plains. “This is my gift to me – a route specifically designed for me,” she says. “I call it The Trail, and to me, it is sacred.” At the time of writing, Malene had walked around 670 miles (1,078km) of her goal distance, and already experienced so much. “Every part of the walk is different,” she says. “The Mojave Desert [spread across California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada] was special for the trial of heat and extended time out in the wilderness. I had fallen in love with a man who ultimately did not want a relationship – but our experience in the desert was of deep love, forgiveness, and healing.” Reaching the Grand Canyon was a milestone, as it marked almost exactly one year after Malene attempted to take her own life. “One year before, I had been literally close to death by my own hand, and as personally broken as I think anyone can be,” she says. “The striking beauty of the Canyon was in juxtaposition to that experience. I was very emotional to realise how far I had come in one year. “I connect deeply to nature, and as such, nature manages to take me deep into my psyche, and I use that to heal.” Currently residing in Flagstaff, Arizona due to injuries, Malene is learning much about the disturbing struggles of the Diné people. “Moving into the Navajo Nation has been a stunning experience, and meeting the people here...

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Witness The Unseen Africa with Francis Tapon
May24

Witness The Unseen Africa with Francis Tapon

Africa: often considered to be one of the least explored, dangerous, truly wild continents on Earth, and yet so romanticised. Why is this the case? Is it that, despite the constant stream of images of turmoil, corruption, crime, and general catastrophe we see on the news, there are still echoes of laughter and love amongst the people, or elephants and lions roaming free along the plains? Is it that we don’t actually get to see a sizeable chunk of Africa’s countries due to inherent danger and inaccessibility? Or is it a combination of both things? Francis Tapon, author of two books and an avid traveller, wants to set the record straight. His upcoming series, The Unseen Africa, aims to expose all elements of this great continent – not just the most dramatic, romantic, or newsworthy. “The premise [of the show] is that we’re constantly seeing the same tired, old images of Africa,” he says. “They always fall into one of two categories: the good – safaris and wildlife, tribal dancing, pyramids etc., and the bad – war, famine, disease, and chaos. Furthermore, the media usually covers the same countries, like Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, and South Africa. “What I hope viewers will get out of The Unseen Africa is the other 90 per cent – the part that isn’t at war or suffering; the part where people live normal, healthy, happy lives; the part that lives in countries we never get to see or hear about, such as Comoros, Benin, or Guinea Bissau. And when I go to a well-known country, like Morocco, I go to parts that few others do. “By the end, viewers will have a more accurate image of Africa.” The show is based on a four-year journey across all 54 African countries, and scaling the highest mountain in each – an ambitious feat. But Francis is no stranger to travel to epic proportions: he’s walked across America four times, hiked the Continental Divide Trail (and back again!), and spent three years exploring the back roads of 25 Eastern European countries. His books, The Hidden Europe and Hike Your Own Hike, chronicle his adventures. “I adore travelling, exploring, and hiking,” he says. “I prefer sinking my teeth into countries instead of blazing through them in a few days. It’s much easier to understand Ghana if you spend a month there versus one week. “I’m trying to achieve depth and breadth with The Unseen Africa – it’s that kind of profound travel that gave me the material to write my books.” (It’s worth noting The Hidden Europe is 750 pages long). Francis, a collector of over 1000 hitchhikers,...

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Challenge Yourself with Competitours
May03

Challenge Yourself with Competitours

To many, travel is about challenge. It’s about pushing the boundaries, getting out of one’s comfort zone, and expanding the mind to new possibilities and skills. Travel and tour companies are aware of this, and cater to more adventurous markets on a daily basis. Trouble is, there’s a shift towards thinking that challenge can only be found in far-flung destinations, and that it doesn’t count if you’re not hurling yourself off a bridge or gulping down something potentially poisonous. This brand of travel is great, but it’s not always accessible. Enter Competitours — the Amazing Race-style tour company that pits teams against one another across Europe for a cash prize. Teams are faced with tasks and obstacles, but there’s more of an emphasis on fun than rushing around from country to country — in some cases, you can even select challenges that match your skill set. Competitours stresses that it’s not about speed, strength, or fitness — there are no eliminations — but curiosity, spontaneity, creativity, and resourcefulness that will see teams through to the end. Ever wanted to experience the thrill of the Amazing Race, but without the cutthroat attitude? Then Competitours might be the company for you. Anyone can play Competitours’ game is to place 12 teams of all ages in a 10-day, action-packed tour across Europe. Teams will zigzag across 4-5 mystery destinations in the region — with just 36 hours’ notice! — and participate in challenges that are fun and quirky, and not about cutting down the other teams. This way, one can enjoy suspense, but not stress. Teams will learn about Europe’s history and geography, culture and culinary scenes through a series of group and “grab bag” tasks — choosing from a menu of options that best meet individual skills and interests — and experience a series of contests as opposed to one big race. The great thing about this is accessibility — people of all ages, levels of fitness, travel experience, and skill sets can compete. Pushing your boundaries (gently) With Europe being such a well connected region, teams will maximise all forms of transport — buses, subways, trams, boats, bikes, and even hiking — to zip between the major cities, underrated smaller towns, charming coastlines and tucked-away mountain hamlets of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, or Austria (it’s a mystery, remember?). You’ll experience the bustle of commuting and challenges in the mornings and early afternoons, while late afternoons and evenings are set aside for free time, shopping, dining, exploring — whatever you want. Amazing Race contestants certainly never got that luxury! Challenges span across a range of categories, including culinary, “soft adventure”, history...

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Two Challenges, Twelve Countries: Rally with the Travel Scientists
Apr08

Two Challenges, Twelve Countries: Rally with the Travel Scientists

As adventure travellers, we’re eternally searching for new ways to see well-trodden countries (and not-so-well-trodden ones, for that matter). With tours being too mainstream, planes no longer exciting, cars too isolating, motorbikes too clichéd, and bicycling on the rise, there aren’t too many options left for carving your own intrepid path. Thankfully, there are companies trying to inject a little eccentricity into travel. Enter the rally: a race from one end of a country to the other, or across multiple countries, on a local form of transport. Rallies are a little more dangerous than your typical cross-country tour – you’re largely without support, face harrowing road and traffic conditions, and sometimes required to pass through countries in varying states of warfare. Sounds pretty damn fun, doesn’t it? The popular name in rally travel at the moment is The Adventurists. However, there are other companies that are just as awesome and vying for a piece of the spotlight. The Travel Scientists are one such company to keep an eye on – they’re offering some seriously cool, adrenaline-injected challenges. Ric Gazarian has participated in two of the Travel Scientists’ rallies: the Rickshaw Challenge – 2000km from Mumbai to Chennai, India, in a tuk-tuk – and the Caucasian Challenge – 7000km from Budapest, Hungary to Yerevan, Armenia in a secondhand Jeep. “I was unaware of the ‘rally culture’ until a serendipitous stroll down the streets of Yerevan,” he says. “I was walking down the street and saw a large banner for the Caucasian Challenge. It caught my attention. “As soon as I read about it, I knew I had to participate. It sounded amazing.” Ric completed the Caucasian Challenge in 2009. “My teammates and I bought a 1993 Jeep Cherokee in Budapest for 2000 euros. It was memorable for the unique sounds the engine produced,” he says. With the course and agenda established by the Travel Scientists, the challenge took 17 days, and was supposed to span nine countries – but Ric and his team ended up passing through 11. “Once, we got lost and ended up in Montenegro – a quick diversion until we ended up in Kosovo, which was our intended destination. Then we took a shortcut through Macedonia,” he says. “The Albanian roads aren’t as good as the Macedonian ones. So we exited in northern Albania, cut over to Macedonia, and reentered Albania near Lake Ohrid, where we camped. We had a day of rest on the Black Sea where we camped in Turkey.” Ric’s success in the Caucasian Challenge prompted him to research other rallies taking place around the globe. “I knew I wanted to do more,” he...

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A Day of Sun, Sand, and Otters at Discovery Cove.
Mar26

A Day of Sun, Sand, and Otters at Discovery Cove.

Imagine there were a place you could swim amongst dolphins and exotic fish, hand-feed tropical birds, and lie around on a gorgeous beach, peacefully remembering there are few others to jostle with you for space, and no turnstiles keeping you out. You wouldn’t hesitate to take your family there, right? Luckily, to your family’s delight, such a place does exist. At Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida, your options for a fun-filled holiday are as endless as the ocean on the horizon. Discovery Cove has everything a gaggle of nature and sun lovers could want: beaches, rivers, oases filled with fish and otters, snorkelling, and unlimited access to SeaWorld Waterpark are just some things you can expect. You’ll love it, your spouse will love it, and your kids will love it — so, what are you waiting for? Of course, you need more information! Here’s what you need to know before your children drag you out the door. Tell me more about Discovery Cove and its facilities. With pleasure! Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive, reservations-only park, restricting numbers to approximately 1300 per day for a more intimate experience. They provide loads of ways to spend your day in the sun and sand: a 30-minute Dolphin Interaction, in which parents and children alike can swim with, and touch, dolphins; The Grand Reef, where you can snorkel with tropical fish and rays; the Freshwater Oasis, full of adorable otters and marmosets to gush over; The Explorer’s Aviary, filled with parrots, toucans, and other exotic birds you can feed by hand; and a large resort pool and flowing, tropical river. Other perks include breakfast, lunch, and unlimited drinks and snacks, free equipment rentals — and, the best part (well, according to your children, anyway) is unlimited admission to SeaWorld and Aquatica, included with the Discovery Cove Day Resort Package. Sounds great! When should I go? Florida is known for its brilliant weather, and this makes your choice a whole lot easier. Naturally, summer is the best time to go, with the hottest temperatures and minimal showers. Shoulder seasons — spring and autumn — are also ideal, though temperatures during the day will be milder. But, you know, fall in Florida is still a lot like summer! Winter brings cooler days (70 degrees Fahrenheit/20 degrees Celsius and around) and moderate rainfall — not exactly winter in Moscow, is it? Be sure to check Discovery Cove’s website for the forecast of your desired days. My kids are practically dragging me to the car. How do I get there, and where can I stay? You’re in luck! Discovery Cove has a number of partner hotels that offer...

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