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Monthly Archives: March 2017

Way to Pack For Your Trip

Where are you going? The wilderness

The elements will be both a marvel and a maverick force. Often finding yourself miles from shelter and civilisation, you’ll need to carry protective kit. Advances in the design of walking shoes mean clunky hiking boots might not be essential, but a quick-drying, wind- and rain-proof shell or jacket will be. Large plastic bin liners, ziplock bags in different sizes and/or waterproof bag liners will help keep kit dry.

Packing essentials

Temperatures will vary wildly with weather, season and altitude, so embrace the layering system.

  • Base layer: a high-wicking, close-fitting top and possibly bottoms. Merino wool is warmest and needs less frequent washing.
  • Mid-layer: fleece or similar on top; quick-drying walking trousers on the bottom.
  • Outer layer: a breathable waterproof/windproof jacket and trousers.
  • Extra-warm layer: a down jacket for use at night can be spirit-lifting, and adds comfort on chilly damp days.

Where are you going? The cool culture city

While perhaps not so culturally unfamiliar, this destination still demands careful suitcase strategy. Many of the essentials will be digital. Want to hotfoot it across town to bag that gold-dust restaurant reservation/show ticket/cheap hotel room? Then download interactive offline maps or apps that access wi-fi without resorting to roaming charges. And while the scene may be hot, the weather might not. Layers are key for looks that balance comfort and style.

Packing essentials

  • Comfortable shoes: your kicks should be stylish but should also sit happily on your feet while pounding miles of pavement.
  • Sunglasses: it might not always be sunny, but life in the city, from the glare of the morning-after to that dazzling check-in moment at the hotel, demands sleek shades.
  • Cashmere jumper: this softie packs down to almost nothing and is the perfect defence against ferocious summer air-con in hotels and on the plane.

Where are you going? Rainforest expeditions

Packing for protection in the tropics is paramount. You’re most likely modes of transport to explore this part of the world will be exposed: canoes, kayaks, jeeps and your own two feet. It’s hot, but you’ll need to cover up.

You may be here to see the big mammals – howler monkeys, jaguars, orangutans or even tigers – but the most prevalent beasties are the smaller, biting kind. The other stinger is humidity, which will play havoc with everything from skin to suitcases if you’re unprepared.

Packing essentials

  • Shoulder the burden: a sturdy backpack is best for this terrain.
  • Quick-dry: the tropics can cool down at night so you’ll need layers, but ensure they’re made of quick-drying material (not cotton) or you’ll be clammy and chilly.
  • Itchy and scratchy: insect repellent containing DEET (diethyltoluamide) and an anti-itch ointment are must-haves.

Where are you going? The Antarctic

You’re going outside… you may be some time. But, in fact, as most Antarctic trips are cruises, much of your southern exposure is likely to occur in the comfort of a very well-equipped ship, with short excursions by motor boat and on foot. As such, Antarctic forays don’t require huge amounts of specialist gear. It’s worth investing in a decent pair of insulated waterproof boots, though.

Packing essentials

  • Parka life: most Antarctic ships provide a take-home parka jacket for each passenger, so leave that hulking great down-filled puffer jacket at home.
  • Chill out: Antarctic cruising is generally casual, so you don’t need that ball gown. Each operator has different dress codes and supplied kit, however, so read up before you travel.
  • Best bins: pack the highest-spec pair of binoculars you can afford, and a camera with a good zoom, unless you want to see nothing but the occasional finned blob.

Where are you going? High-desert trekking

From the Great Basin and the Mojave deserts of the USA to the Sahara-backed Moroccan Atlas Mountains, take a high-altitude desert trek and it soon becomes clear that not all deserts are made of sand. Packing for active trips here needs to take temperature extremes into account, along with footwear and kit that can tackle rough, rocky, exposed terrain. Take a leathery leaf out of a cowboy’s book and stay covered up. The more skin is exposed to the elements, the more evaporation (and dehydration) occurs.

Packing essentials

  • Be bio: go for biodegradable soaps and lotions where possible and, if you want to up your chances of spotting wildlife, ditch scented deodorants and perfumes.
  • Go solar: in these sun-soaked parts of the world, a solar charger will get more than enough exposure to be useful. That said, wi-fi and phone signals are likely to be scant, so while your devices may be charged, their use will be limited. Consider a GPS as a back-up, and perhaps a traditional compass, too.

Where are you going? Big-Five country

The tiny charter plane that delivers you deep into the African bush dictates all when it comes to suitcase strategy. For over-packers, the associated weight restrictions are as brutal as a lion kill – limiting you to luggage that averages as little as 10kg. And within this small soft duffle (forget wheelie cases) you need to combine kit that is functional, photogenic and, ideally, includes some outfits that have at least a little fashion flair.

Packing essentials

  • Colour me glad: up your chances of getting nose to whisker with the big game and blend in with the bush by wearing natural, earthy tones.
  • Get protective: Buy a couple of choice pieces of clothing that are UV-protective and pre-treated with bug repellent.
  • Camera kit and caboodle: powerful binoculars, a compact camera for snaps, SLR and long-range lenses, extra batteries, memory cards, charger… Photographic gear will already account for much of your luggage, but it’s worth considering an additional item: a rubber air-blower to remove grit and sand from clogged cameras and lenses.

Where are you going? Round the world (RTW)

How to fit kit for two hemispheres into one bag? Doing so is the key to packing successfully for a true RTW trip. Consider what you can ditch as much as what’s essential. If you need heavy trekking boots and a down jacket in New Zealand or South America at the start, but won’t use them again as you travel via the South Pacific/Asia, consider sending stuff home as it becomes redundant.

Packing essentials

  • Pull the cord: you can use a bungee or parachute cord to tie things to the outside of your pack, make a line to dry clothes, or strap your bag to the roof of a bus.
  • Plug it: does your room-mate snore like a howler monkey? Pack earplugs. These will also serve you well when bedding down for that long airport layover, or during that clattering long-distance train journey.
  • Travel trilogy: the lucky formula for light packers comes in threes. Namely three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear and three shirts; one to wear, one to wash, one to dry.

Outdoor Adventures Land and Sea in Indonesia

Kayaking

Begin a paddling sojourn in Indonesia by negotiating around the forest-clad banks of a holy mountain lake, before sea kayaking on smooth Balinese waters, or graduating to an exciting multi-day excursion in the more remote Raja Ampat Islands. Based in the Balinese mountain village of Kedisan, C. Bali runs morning tours exploring the volcanic caldera of Danau (Lake) Batur in inflatable canoes, while further south alongSanur’s beachy coastline, kayaks can be hired by the hour for leisurely exploration. In the far flung islands of Raja Ampat – around 2000km to the northeast – Kayak4Conservation explores a stunning archipelago of jungle-covered islands and concealed lagoons. Guided adventures include staying at local guesthouses.

Snorkelling

With more than 17,000 islands – and hundreds of thousand of different beaches – Indonesia offers some the planet’s best places for escaping into warm tropical waters equipped simply with a mask, snorkel and swim fins. On Bali’s northern coast, snorkelling trips depart from nearbyPemuteran to explore the waters of Pulau Menjangan (‘Deer Island’), while at Tulamben in eastern Bali, the WWII wreck of the Liberty, a US Navy Cargo Ship, is just 50m off the coast. Continue further east to theGili Islands off Lombok’s northern coast for excellent snorkeling straight off arcing sandy beaches – sea turtles are often seen – or swim with whale sharks at Nabire in the remote eastern province of Papua.

Diving

Warm tropical waters, a huge variety of seascapes, and the attraction of abandoned wrecks and brilliant marine life make Indonesia one of the finest diving destinations on the planet. For beginners, the tourist-friendly dive schools of Bali and Lombok’s Gili Islands provide an introduction to the underwater world – including the opportunity to see manta rays and sunfish off Bali’s Nusa Penida – while liveaboard boat charters are the best way to explore the expansive reefs and teeming shoals of Nusa Tengarra, Sulawesi’s Pulau Bunaken and Papua’s Raja Ampat Islands.

Trekking

Indonesia’s huge diversity offers many opportunities to discover different landscapes and cultures, ranging from enlightening day hikes through to multi-day jungle treks and ascents of spectacular volcanoes. Hook up with Sungai Penuh-based Wild Sumatra Adventures to explore the forests and mountain lakes of the Kerinci Seblat National Park or take on the challenge of ascending the chilly summit of Gunung Semeru, Java’s highest peak (3676m). Understanding Indonesia’s compelling mix of cultures includes easygoing day walks around Ubud’s verdant collage of rice terraces, sleepy villages and ancient temples, or exploring the fascinating local architecture and valleys of Sulawesi’s Tana Torajaregion.

Surfing

From the beginner-friendly breaks of Bali, to brand new locations being discovered every year by intrepid travellers, Indonesia is a hotspot for surfers from around the globe. The southern beaches of Bali are packed with surf schools, laidback hostels and a pumping after-dark scene, while the islands of Java, Lombok and Sumbawa combine palm-fringed beaches and simple thatched bungalows perfect for a long-stay surfing sojourn. The massive island of Sumatra anchors Indonesia’s hottest surf regions including low-key Pulau Nias and up-and-coming Krui, while legendary Mentawai Island breaks like Pitstops, Telescopes and Bank Vaults are hugely popular with more than a few Australian and Brazilian boardriders.

Bicycling

From downhill journeys through the villages and rice paddies of central Bali to more challenging mountain biking adventures, exploring Indonesia on two wheels is a great way to explore more leisurely and travel at the same speed as the easygoing locals. Biking operators based inUbud or Kintamani lead tours around winding mountain roads past temples and heritage monuments, while the northern Balinese town ofLovina is a good base for independent day trips to nearby waterfalls. Exploring the backroads of Lake Toba’s Pulau Samosir in northern Sumatra includes verdant volcanic views, while Java’s cosmopolitan university city of Yogyakarta is a pleasant 17 km bike ride from the Hindu temples of Prambanan.

White-water rafting

For a small island, Bali packs in a diverse itinerary of outdoor adventure, and rafting the Ayung River near Ubud or the even more rugged and scenic Telagawaja River in eastern Bali are popular day trips after kayaking on Lake Batur or biking downhill from the mountain town of Kintamani. The Grade II to Grade III rapids are at their rollicking best during or just after the wet season (from November to March). Across on Java, the Citarak River offers exciting Grade IV white-water thrills, and there are also challenging Grade IV rapids on the Sa’dan River in Sulawesi. Based in Tana Toraja, Indosella runs rafting trips negotiating the Sa’dan’s 20 rapids. Book a three-day trip to combine overnight stays in riverside huts.

Wildlife watching

The world’s biggest reptile, superb birdlife and other iconic animals including orangutans and the endangered Sumatra rhinoceros all feature in Indonesia’s diverse menagerie. Growing up to 3m in length and weighing up to 100kg, the legendary Komodo dragon patrols the beaches and scrubby forests of Komodo National Park, while orangutans are best seen along the riverbanks of the Tanjung Puting National Park. Elephant-watching and birding trips combine in Sumatra’s Way Kambas National Park – including the opportunity to see the world’s smallest rhinoceros – and the diverse fauna of remote Papua includes colourful birds of paradise and exotic marsupials including tree kangaroos.

Family Bikepacking in Ecuador

It feels suitably off-the-beaten-track, but with a range of comfortable digs along the way, cyclists can recharge before tackling Ecuador’s tremendous inclines. Cass Gilbert describes his family bikepacking experience in this extract from Epic Bike Rides of the World.

For those unfamiliar with the topography of South America, let me assure you of this: the Ecuadorian Andes are a deeply crumpled land. A slim band squeezed between the expanse of the Pacific Coast and the vast sprawl of the Amazon, it abounds with microclimates, determined more by geography and altitude than by any season. Within these folds, one steep-sided valley dovetails into the next. Cradled between two volcanic ranges, they form the Avenue of the Volcanoes, as coined by Alexander von Humboldt, the Prussian naturalist who journeyed through the continent in the 19th century.

We shared our Ecuadorian adventures with three brothers I’d first met while cycling through the country three years prior. Mountain guides by trade, they lived off-grid on an organic family farm outside Quito. In the interim, we’d kept in touch – and we’d all had children. When the chance came to visit Ecuador once again, this time I travelled with my partner and our two-year-old son Sage, so we might experience this beautiful and unfeasibly rugged country together.

In any shape or form, this ride would have been epic enough. Apart from the quiet dirt tracks, small mountain settlements, and fluffy roadside llamas, its backdrop was nothing short of spectacular: high altitude Ecuadorian paramo, the alpine tundra for which the country is known, and the emerald-tinted 3.2 km-wide Quilotoa crater lake, a definitive highlight along the Avenue of the Volcanoes.

But factor in no less than eight bicycles and five accompanying trailers, charged with a payload of children ranging in age from six months to three years, and such a journey takes on an even more memorable character. Despite the afternoon downpours and the occasional synchronised meltdowns, our pint-sized expedition proved to be an incredible life experience for everyone.

Together, we blazed a trail of family mayhem through the countryside. We rubbed shoulders with poncho-clad horse riders, picnicked amongst fields of quinoa, visited an indigenous market, and lingered in village playgrounds.

We kept distances short, and tried to harmonise riding times with napping schedules. When our three toddlers needed a break, we stopped and played football, helped them climb trees, or just explored the land. And what a land it was. A fertile patchwork of vertiginous fields clung to steep-sided slopes, surrounded by both soaring peaks and crumbling canyon cliffs. Pigs scuffled around by the road, men sauntered by with machetes on their hips, and women crammed their colourful shawls with fresh corn, their felt hats peeking out through the foliage.

The route itself looped south-east through Ecuador’s Central Sierras. After stopping to applaud the natural watery wonder of Quilotoa, and scout briefly along the knife edge of its crater, it took us through the small settlement of Chugchilán, where we detoured into the dewy delights of the Illiniza Cloud Forest. There, fingers of mist curled through the trees, enveloping the land, filling every nook and cranny with silence. When the sun occasionally permeated through, it was subtle and shadowless, painting the mountains in gigantic, camouflaged swatches.

Up and down we rode, rarely a flat moment for respite. Climbs had our derailleurs clattering frantically through the gears, spinning our legs in the lowest cadences we could find, the ballast of our toddler cargo weighing us down. In immediate riposte, descents demanded we pull on brake levers like reins on a horse, lest our trailers shunt us forwards. Added to this, the terrain was often bumpy, sometimes even cobbled. Yet when I looked back to check on Sage, more often than not he was sound asleep, oblivious to our efforts.

Travelling over the winter holidays, we celebrated Christmas in Isinliví, a picturesque settlement perched in one of the region’s verdant valleys. As we came to appreciate, South Americans know how to party, whatever time of the year. The main square was awash with revellers, countryside cowboys and a roving brass band that relentlessly circled its stony streets. To Sage’s delight, it even boasted an antiquated funfair, featuring a merry-go-round that spun with dizzying speed.

Isinliví was also our last staging post before we tackled the longest climb of the trip, a Herculean undertaking that involved 1000m in altitude gain, on an unpaved road at that. Inevitably, this final undertaking had us all off the bikes and pushing, our Lilliputian team of toddlers enthusiastically lending a helping hand too.

When the summit finally came, it was rewarded with a feast of local produce, cheese and deliciously ripe avocados that had filled our panniers. Then, with a last gaze out towards the highland paramo, we dived into the whirligig descent that lay ahead, the flags of our trailers snapping in the wind.

Despite the diminutive daily distances, I won’t lay claim that family bikepacking is easy; without doubt, it poses its own set of mental and logistical challenges, quite apart from any physical toils. But I couldn’t more highly recommend trying one out, wherever it may be in the world, for however many days you may have. Gather the troops and brew up a plan. Choose a route that everyone will enjoy. Take the time to luxuriate in being off the bike as much as you are on it. I can guarantee that such undiluted family time will warm the heart and feed the soul. For everyone involved.

Trips of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca

Though it is well known to the mountaineering set, the Cordillera Blanca tends to fly under the radar of most travelers who favor  iconic cities and sites such as Cuzco and Machu Picchu. While these places are remarkable in their own right, the Cordillera is a rugged, mountainous dreamscape that keeps you gazing around in wonder.

While dedicated hikers might prefer to complete longer routes such as the Santa Cruz trek, several convenient but spectacular day trips are also possible – we’ve highlighted some of our favorites here.

Icefalls at Huandoy

Walk through the golden fields near the Keushu ruins, past the neighboring turquoise lake, up a narrow trail through some scrubby trees and you’ll find the Rajururi valley, a yawning hole cleaved into the side of the Cordillera. This narrow stretch of land is sandwiched between towering granite faces and leads directly to the sleeping glacier at the base of Huandoy, the same piece of ice that split the valley sprawling before it.

Thanks to its shorter length and lower altitude, this route serves as a good introduction to hiking in the Cordilleras – it always helps to spend a little time getting your mountain legs. The trail ascends through patches of arid vegetation and decently large boulders until it gives way to a barren basin of ice and small glacial pool at the top. Look at the surrounding ‘rocks’ closely to discover hints of blue glacier peeking through the dust.

The valley and its glacier also serve a practical purpose for the communities below: not only does melting ice provide an important water source, but the glacier sustains entrepreneurship: locals from the surrounding villages have long been making the trip up to Huandoy to harvest the ice, most commonly for their snow cone stands (really!).

If you feel like treating yourself, stay the night at the lovely Llanganuco Mountain Lodge (llanganucolodge.com) – the entrance to the Rajururi valley is literally located in its backyard, and the lodge itself is a comfortable place to unplug and enjoy the mountain air.

Chavín de Huántar

Peru’s cultural history stretches back thousands of years, and remnants of these ancient empires still dot the mountain ranges today, shielded from the elements by the Cordillera. The most intriguing of these isChavín de Huántar, an archaeological site dating back nearly 4,000 years to when the Chavín people controlled the northern Andean highlands of Peru. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the oldest known pre-Columbian (and pre-Incan, for that matter) sites in existence.

The complex consists of temples, plazas and underground corridors where priests carried out their many religious ceremonies, serving as a holy site and central meeting place for the local community. Interesting fact: Chavín priests underwent a rather intense initiation process at this very location. Candidates ingested mescaline derived from the native San Pedro cactus and headed down into the network of tunnels beneath the temple, where they came face to face with the carving representing their supreme deity, today known as the Lanzón de Chavín. Visitors can descend into the tunnels to get a sense of the initiation process and meet the Lanzón themselves.

The site is roughly a two hour drive from Huaraz, a route that offers jaw-dropping views of the lunar-like landscape stretching between the Cordillera Blanca and its more subdued sibling, the Cordillera Negra. But be sure to take your Dramamine – about halfway through, the paved road gives way to a very bumpy gravel road full of switchbacks. Pro tip: on the way to the site, you’ll pass the glimmering Lago Querococha; hop out of your car to snag a coca tea at the roadside stand and take in the view.

Laguna 69

Think of the bluest blue you’ve ever seen, and then multiply it ten times over. That’s the color of Laguna 69, a cerulean pool nestled beneath the glacial peaks of Chacraraju at an impressive altitude of 4600 meters. Perhaps one of the Cordillera’s most breathtaking landmarks, Laguna 69 practically glows in the sunlight, its waters dancing beneath the delicate waterfall fed by the melting snow above. While it’s likely that you won’t be the only person on the shores, hikers are reverent, speaking in low tones as they take in the otherworldly vista (though you might hear the occasional squeals of those brave enough to take a dip).

It should be noted that the hike to the lake is not exactly easy; part ofParque Nacional Huascarán, the trail is well worn, but a good part of it requires steep ascent and the altitude takes its toll. Hikers should be well acclimatized before making the trek. That said, the trail leading to Laguna 69 shows off some seriously postcard-worthy scenery, passing through the Cebollapampa, a pastoral valley lined with dramatic granite peaks and book-ended by the frosty mountain giants Huascarán and Yanaphaqcha. The air fills with the soft rush of the waterfall at the end of the valley, while a babbling creek winds its way among the tall grasses and grazing mountain cows – the climb is punctuated with various plateaus and look-out spots, so take advantage of those water breaks to survey your surroundings. You’ll feel like you should pinch yourself to make sure it’s real.

Make it happen

The buzzing mountain town of Huaraz serves as a convenient base for those looking to access the Cordillera Blanca; while it is a solid seven hours away from Lima, visitors have multiple travel options. Those wanting to save time can book a flight to the small airport right outside of Huaraz, but be warned that the flights are not very frequent, usually only once per day. Traveling by bus takes longer but offers more flexibility – those looking to maximize daylight hours should consider taking an overnight bus. Companies like Oltursa (oltursa.pe) make this easy, offering reclining seats, wi-fi, and even on-board meals for round-trip prices as low as S29 (US$9) for a basic seat and S75 (US$22) for a VIP spot.

Once in Huaraz, you can either take a taxi to where you want to go (a surprisingly affordable option), or hire a tour guide and driver. Car rentals can be risky, especially when driving on the unpaved, winding roads throughout the range.

The dry season in the Cordillera, roughly May through September, is the best time for trekking.