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Posts Tagged ‘adventure travel’

Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica (Photo by RaeJean Stokes)

Who: RaeJean Stokes

Where: Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

When: January 2009

What: Looking at this picture, I can close my eyes and hear it. Waves crashing in the distance. The buzz of insects and lizards. The goodnight calls of the howler monkey and countless other unseen animals stirring at our porch step.

When my husband and I travel, we usually combine low-end and top-end; hostels in the places where we’ve got a lot to see and do and nicer places where relaxation is the M.O. Last month’s long overdue vacation to Costa Rica was no exception. After ten days of hiking, lava-watching, kayaking, and other active pursuits, we treated ourselves with three nights in heaven: the Osa Peninsula.

While Costa Rica itself is definitely discovered (Chick-fil-A in the San Jose airport is a sure sign of that), the Osa Peninsula remains decidedly off the Gringo trail. Part of the reason for that is its inaccessibility. The roads in and out are terrible, and it can take the better part of a day to get there. That leaves one option: flying. Even though the flights are regular, and affordable, the planes are small and can only ferry so many people to and fro. Let’s hope it stays that way.

We arrived at the tiny airstrip in Puerto Jimenez (which borders a cemetery) and were immediately whisked into a weathered LandRover for the bumpy ride to the Bosque del Cabo. It’s not the most exclusive (or expensive) of Osa’s wilderness lodges, but the Bosque del Cabo was exactly what we were looking for. Each of the three nights we were there, we sat on our bungalow’s private porch soaking in the view. While the sun set over the Pacific Ocean—its fantastic reds, yellows, and oranges lighting up the sky—spider monkeys flew through the trees above before retiring for the night.

And then as the sun dipped below the horizon, the jungle’s noises perceptibly changed. Every night was a free show a la Animal Planet, and the perfect antidote to our worker bee existence in the other jungle back home—the one made of concrete.

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Iceland's volcanic highlands

Who: Josh Roberts

Where: In the shadow of Mount Hekla, Iceland

When: July 2006

What: When I wrote about this weeklong hiking trip in an August 2006 feature for USA Today and SmarterTravel.com, I likened the Icelandic interior to Tolkien’s Middle-earth: “With its obsidian lava fields and steaming hot springs, its moss-covered foothills and treeless valleys, Iceland is Mordor one minute and the Shire the next. It has a magical quality to it, this Land of Fire and Ice—as if it has been plucked from the imagination and placed here, somewhere between Europe and North America, to be a playground for the adventurous traveler.”

To me, nothing demonstrates that spirit better than this photo. I love the way it captures the wild and wide-open essence of the highlands: the snow-capped peaks, the spidering streams, the mossy greens and reds and browns of a land virtually untouched by human hands. It’s hard to imagine anywhere more epic. I also like seeing the seven hikers there in the foreground, a tiny fellowship of adventurers in true Tolkien-esque fashion.

The backcountry is dominated by Mount Hekla, a volcano that was once thought to be the literal mouth of Hell. A thousand years ago, Iceland’s Viking settlers sent criminals to this same inhospitable interior, where they were forced to survive for 20 years in order to earn a pardon. Most never made it. My wife and I lasted a week, but we needed the help of a guide from the Fjallabak Trekking Company to do it.

The trek meets up with the way-marked Laugavegur Trail on the fifth day of hiking, but before that most of the areas we explored felt as if they’d never been visited by other hikers. These highlands are different than, say, the European Alps, which are so well-traveled that it’s easy for experienced hikers to go it alone. Here, a good guide is essential.

I booked my trip through Adventure Center, the U.S. retailer for Fjallabak and other local operators. If you’re considering a backcountry trip, theirs definitely come with my recommendation. Icelandair, incidentally, offers inexpensive flights to Reykjavik from several East Coast cities, making it a cheaper destination to get to than mainland Europe.

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