MCI (P) 012/05/2016 MAY-JUN 2017 Free
Edge of Travel Issue
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Far far Away
Our Team Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writer Konrad Clapp Creative Director Lynn Ooi
This issue it’s all about the Edge of Travel – as we visit some of the most remote, most untouched, or simply most unexpected destinations in the world. We kick things off by going far flung, beginning with one of the most well-known yet least understood islands on earth, Easter Island, before moving on to Oymyakon (Siberia), the coldest inhabited place on earth, with its weird winter festivals and crazy arctic cycling; next is arguably the most isolated (inhabited) island in the world, Tristan de Cunha – which you can visit only via a 6-day boat ride to the nearest airport; followed by France’s frigid Kerguelen Island, halfway between Africa and the Antarctic; and finally, La Rinconada (Peru), the world’s highest-altitude city. After that, it’s off to Queensland for cycling along the Sunshine Coast, following the route of the annual Velothon race (13-16 July), as well as Noosa National Park and Mt. Ngungun. Then we retrace the steps of the infamous slave trade, and the brave maroons who escaped it. From Brazil and Colombia, to Jamaica, Surinam, Mauritius, Reunion and the Seychelles we explore the living legacy in those destinations’ unique Creole cultures and heritage. We follow up with an in-depth look at two of those destinations – Reunion and Mauritius – both famous for their Creole cultures, their rum (or rhum), as well as beaches (on Mauritius) and volcanoes (on Reunion). Next we visit an array of Phoenix destinations – namely places that have recovered from the worst of war – and in the process become some of the best, most authentic places to visit, including Colombia, Rwanda, East Timor, Serbia and Sri Lanka, followed by a few that are still in the process of getting there – like the Ukraine and Nicaragua – as well as (and we’re serious here) Afghanistan, specifically the Wakhan Corridor and Bamiyan, which now has its own airport. Then we change gears, and head closer to home – specifically to Thailand’s famous Khao Yai National Park, one of the best places in Asia to see elephants in the wild. Lastly, it’s Polynesia! Following in the footsteps of ancient explorers who island-hopped their way across the Pacific, we focus on 3 of the many unique destinations in the South Seas: the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Palau. Visit our website for our blogs, or drop us a line if you want to give us some feedback or contribute a travel story! Until then, happy trails!
Junior Designer Shilpa Suresh General Manager Aaron Stewart
Media Rep Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd 19A Lorong 41 Geylang Singapore 387830 Tel 6732 0325 www.sportsandtravelonline.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sports and Travel Limited Rm. 1104 Crawford House 70 Queen’s Road Central Hong Kong Tel +852 2861 8746 email@example.com
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Contributors Adrian Rosario, Julian Rosario, Ken Berg
Special Thanks Air Mauritius Atout France Réunion Island Tourism Board and many, many others!
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Thanks to air travel and modern transportation, there’s almost no place on earth that’s unreachable. Where journeys from one continent to another once took months, they now take hours. When it seems like there’s nowhere else left ‘undiscovered’, there are still some places just slightly off the map that remain shrouded in mystery simply because they’re really difficult to reach. From frozen tundras to isolated islands, humans have persevered in these harsh landscapes despite the advent of modern travel and globalisation.
Located some 3,700km from the coast of continental Chile, Easter Island – or Rapa Nui – is a tiny island that’s not only famous for its isolation, but also for its mysterious giant, carved stone faces called moai. It’s estimated that there are about 900 moai and over 300 ahu (ceremonial platforms) on the island – the most colossal is the Ahu Tongariki, with its 15 moai. At about a quarter the size of Singapore, this island was settled at the end of the first millennium by a group Eastern Polynesians (the Rapa Nui). The population of several thousand was drastically reduced in the mid 19th
century, when slavery (first by Peruvian slave hunters, followed by a French mariner) removed most of the Rapa Nui from the island; of those left behind, foreign diseases reduced the population to little more than a hundred. Today, it’s home to about 4,000 people,
consisting of descendents of the Rapa Nui as well as immigrants from mainland Chile. There are daily flights from Santiago to Rapa Nui (a 5-hour journey), and there’s one flight a week from Tahiti.
LA RINCONADA, PERU With a population of 50,000, La Rinconada is considered the highest city in the world at 5,100m above sea level. A gold-mining camp in the remote Peruvian Andes, it’s situated on a permanently frozen glacier where ore is extracted from beneath the ice inside caverns.
there is significant mercury contamination. Most residents are poor workers who emigrated here, working on a cachorreo system where they work for 30 days without payment, and take as much ore from the mine for themselves for 1-2 days after. Women work as pallaqueras, picking at rocks for gold outside the caverns. Despite the shantytown conditions, the population has skyrocketed in the last decade, and aside from a small police presence at the border, the town is essentially lawless. For travellers, the real draw is hiking in the untamed Peruvian Andes – it’s not for the inexperienced.
Despite an economy fueled by gold, the town has no solid infrastructure: it has no plumbing, no sanitation system, and
Also known as the “Desolation Islands”, the Kerguelen Islands are an archipelago – consisting of Grand Terre, and 300 smaller islands – more than 3,300km from Madagascar, the closest inhabited island.
Its stunning geography makes La Rinconada almost inaccessible – the only access is via a treacherous, winding mountain road from Puno along Lake Titicaca.
This French territory was first discovered in 1772, and was also a whaling station for the British, Americans and Norwegians in the 18th-19th centuries who hunted the whales and seals to near extinction. There are remnants of former whaling stations at Port Jeanne d’Arc and Port Couvreux. Today, the Kerguelens have a yearround population of 45-110 visiting scientists and engineers from France, as it’s a scientific centre, geomagnetic base, and a French missile defense base. It’s also home to rare Bizet sheep – imported from France as a food source – and holds the world’s largest King Penguin colonies. Grand Terre is home to the scientific base of Port-
aux-Français (equipped with dorms, a hospital, a chapel, etc). There is no airstrip on Kerguelen; the only access for tourists is on board the support vessel Marion Dufresne from Réunion, taking you to the islands of Crozet, Kerguelen, Saint-Paul, and Amsterdam, on a 28-day journey.
TRISTAN DE CUNHA, UK Tristan de Cunha, in the southern Atlantic Ocean, is arguably the single most remote inhabited place in the world, since unlike Rapa Nui, there are no flights here, and the nearest continent over 2,700km away. Despite the isolation, the island has a rich history – discovered by the Portuguese in the 1500s, it was later annexed by the British. The entire population of about 300 inhabitants are concentrated on Tristan
de Cunha, as the other islands – Inaccessible Island, Nightingale Island, Middle Island and Stoltenhoff Island, and Gough Island – are uninhabited. There are 80 families here, mostly farmers (or fishermen) who live on the flat bit of land called Edinburgh of the Seven Seas; every family owns a patch of land on Potato Patches where they grow, unsurprisingly, potatoes. Tristan is primarily known for its wildlife, especially seabirds like northern rockhopper penguins, as well as several species of albatrosses and petrels. Although inhabitants have access to satellite and the internet, the island is very isolated. The island’s rocky geography makes building an airstrip impossible, so currently the only access to Tristan is via a 6-day fishing vessel journey from Cape Town, South Africa.
Located in Russia’s Sakha Republic, Oymyakon is officially the coldest inhabited place on earth – it averages -50ºC in January – qualifying it as a Pole of Cold. The 500 inhabitants are mostly engaged in traditional occupations such as reindeer herding, hunting and fishing. Those who arrive in winter
can try sledding, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, herding reindeer, or ride on a Yakut horse, a rare native breed from the Sakha Republic region that’s adapted to the extreme temperatures found here.
tons of gulag laborers who died during its construction during Stalin’s regime were used in many of its foundations.
In recent years, the Pole of Cold Festival has been attracting tourists who come to see a showcase of traditional costumes, music and dance of the indigenous Evens people, as well as reindeer racing, ice fishing, dog sledding and native cuisine. The journey to Oymyakon is a highlight: most people fly into either Magadan or Yakutsk, both 900km from Oymyakon. From here, it’s a road journey (20+hours drive) along the Kolyma Highway, named ‘Road of Bones’ because skele-
These days, travellers can drive, cycle or bike along the Kolyma Highway from Yakutsk to Magadan, stopping by at Oymyakon and the numerous gulag ruins along the way.
PUFF DADDY MAIL BAG UPGRADED
Mystery Ranch’s versatile 3-Way Expandable Briefcase offers a rugged, highlyutilitarian alternative to conventional laptop bags for anyone planning to really hit the road. Its 3-in1 design easily converts from a laptop bag to sling bag and backpack, while the zippered (expandable) central compartment and padded 15” laptop sleeve keeps your valuable gear safe in any configuration, with additional pockets and pouches to organise documents, store cables, adaptors, etc. Made of durable 500D Cordura fabric, it’s highly-resistant to scuffs and tears. It packs in an impressive 19L, while remaining extremely light at just 900g. Available in 4 colours (black, coyote, olive, slate-blue) at Outdoor Life at S$270.
Easy to inflate and extremely stable, the Evolite offers a full 2 inches of loft – more than enough to even out almost any trail bumps in your tent. It’s inflated by just unrolling it with the valve open, then topping up with a few breaths, should you want it firmer. Measuring an impressively roomy 183 x 51cm, but weighing just 480g, it’s both light enough and compact enough to justify spoiling yourself on the trail with a proper night’s sleep, thanks to its inbuilt AirFrame, made with the most compressible urethane foam on the market. Available at Outdoor Life at S$275.
The Mammut Creon Guide is both sleek and versatile, with its trademark suspension system that helps diffuse loads evenly and comfortably, keeping them from shifting during hiking or even during via ferrata. The body is constructed with 100D Ripstop nylon, while the base is a durable 420D. The full-length front zipper pocket and detachable bottom compartment allow you to optimise its 35L capacity, all at a weight of just 1,250g. Available at Adventure 21 at S$279. MAMMUT Creon Guide
DOUBLE DUTY DUFFEL
Eagle Creek’s latest, ultra-light Cargo Duffle is both water-repellent and abrasion-resistant, thanks to its innovative Bi-Tech™ Armor Lite technology. It’s equipped with a variety of gear pockets, grab handles, and tie-down daisy chains, and easy-to-access (zippered) end pockets, meaning you can easily maximise its internal cargo capacity, even with oddsized gear. It’s weather-proof, thanks to its lockable zippers with storm flaps and reinforced lash-points for mounting on roof racks. The pack does double duty as either a duffle or backpack, and is covered under the No Matter What Warranty. Available in a variety of colours (black, cherry-grey, orange-grey), in sizes ranging from 45-120L, from S$166 - S$219 at The Planet Traveller and Boarding Gate.
MAXIMUM PROTECTION, MINIMUM WEIGHT
EAGLE CREEK Cargo Duffel
Weighing in at just over 232g the Montane Minimus is an ultra lightweight rain shell with an active fit tailored to reduce hem lift, perfect for trail running, biking or backpacking. Made with waterproof, highly breathable membrane and DWR coating for severe weather protection, it has a fully adjustable helmet-compatible mountain hood and microtaped seams throughout, along with adjustable hem and cuffs. With a pack size of a large apple (it comes with a stuff sac) it is available in 4 colours, now on sale at S$209.90 (usual price: S$300) at Gearaholic.
From the iconic Glass House Mountains just north of Brisbane, to Noosa and the coloured sands of Rainbow Beach, the Sunshine Coast covers over 100kms of pristine sandy beaches surrounded by coastal and hinterland villages. The Sunshine Coast offers a unique blend of relaxed beach lifestyle alongside its reputation as a major events capital of regional Australia. With its triathlons, marathons, and now Velothon, it has built itself a reputation as a mecca for the athletically-inclined. The Sunshine Coast has always had a love for all things food and wine. It’s home to fresh seafood, plucked straight from the oceans, farmers markets with home-grown organic produce, and dairy products and wineries tucked away in its lush, green hills. Dine by the ocean at one of the many beachfront surf clubs which epitomise Queensland’s surf culture, or a languid riverside eatery.
scramble, and from the summit there are 360 views of nearby Mt Tibrogargan, Mt Coonowrin and Mt Beerwah.
NOOSA NATIONAL PARK
Noosa National Park features spectacular coastal scenery, and is an important refuge for native wildlife like the koala, glossy black-cockatoo, and wallum froglet. There are kilometres of walking tracks of all grades, including a coastal track that leads to Tea Tree Bay where you can spot koalas in the trees behind the beach (best spotted in the mornings). There are numerous lookouts along the coastal track, affording spectacular coastal views where you may be able to spot dolphins, whales, or sea eagles.
Mount Ngungun (pronounced ‘noo noo’) is the sixth tallest of the Glass House Mountains at 253m, and you can climb to the summit along a well-maintained, scenic 1.1km-long track. It’s an easy hike to the top – beginning with an open forest, the trail affords a great view of Mt Tibrogarga as it passes a small rock overhang. Near the top is a steep, rocky
4WD FROM NOOSA TO RAINBOW BEACH
kayak tours, ranging from half-day to 3 days, through Lake Cootharaba, Kinaba, Fig Tree Lake and the Upper Noosa River, or the river of mirrors.
The Great Beach Drive from Noosa to Rainbow Beach is a road trip through stunning beaches, idyllic National Parks and land steeped in Australian history. The 380km-long drive connects the Sunshine Coast with the Fraser Coast, a region of abundant wildlife including kangaroos, whales, turtles, dingoes, dugongs, and platypus. Highlights include Rainbow Beach for coloured sands, Honeymoon Bay for secluded lagoon swims, and the Carlo Sand Blow for breathtaking sunsets.
CANOE IN NOOSA EVERGLADES
Recognised as one of the most spectacular canoeing adventures in Australia, the Noosa Everglades is hidden within the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park. The upper reaches of the Noosa River and the Everglades represent an ancient waterway that has existed unchanged for thousands of years, and is home to many endemic and endangered wildlife. You can explore the waterways on
This wildlife conservation is part of Steve Irwin’s legacy. Attractions include the Crocoseum, a state-of-the-art wildlife hospital, as well as enclosures reminiscent of tropical islands or African savannahs. You can also feed its resident wallabies, kangaroos, and koalas.
Velothon Sunshine Coast Velothon Sunshine Coast is coming to Australia for the first time from 13 - 16 July, 2017. This is a road cycling experience for both professional and amateur riders, with the option of a 1-day or 3-day course.
Velo. Before you make the exciting finale finish near the Velo Clubhouse in Mooloolaba, you’ll need to conquer the beast known as Obi Obi Hill. It’s a little less than 4km long but with a maximum gradient of 27%.
The course offers dream riding conditions with the perfect mix of sprints, hills, flats and distances, with King of the Mountain and Sprint stages. The stunning Glass House Mountains continually appear at different points along the course, making the Velothon a feast for the eyes as much as it is for the legs.
The 95km distance heads south through Eumundi, with a total elevation of about 1,037m. The two distances re-join with 13km to go for a finale finish near the Event Velo Clubhouse.
Velothon is a global series of events, that in 2017 will span across Germany, Wales, Sweden, Canada and Australia. It is the first Australian edition of the Velothon, bringing a fresh Gran Fondo, or mass participation, experience to the southern hemisphere. Every ride starts and finishes in and around the Mooloolaba area, with a dedicated Velo Clubhouse right on the Mooloolaba beachfront.
1-DAY VELO COURSE (16 JULY)
The Sunshine Coastal Stage offers two distances to choose from: either 95km or 155km around the northern area of Noosa and into the hinterland. The 155km distance (with a total elevation of about 2,073m) heads west through the Hinterland, starting with a section along the beach from Mudjimba to Noosa before heading inland toward Kenilworth where more challenges await. The inland section of this course will be the highlight or the bane of your
3-DAY VELO COURSE (14-16 JULY)
The 3 Day Velothon is not for the faint hearted, with its epic climbs and challenging descents. King of the Mountain sections will include some of the Sunshine Coast’s best road cycling climbs with sublime views of both the coast and hinterland. Fast and winding descents make the climbs all the more worthwhile. There are half a dozen sprints to choose from, with dedicated sprint sections through the Sunshine Coast’s best-loved towns. Rde solo or in a team of four – the first three riders across the line will count towards the team classification.
Stage 1 (118km; 2,182m total elevation) The brutal day starts from Sippy Downs, winding its way into the hilly hinterland and finishing at Buderim, with views over the spectacular Glasshouse Mountains. A King Of the Mountain in the final kilometre will keep you grinding until the last moment. Stage 2 (88km; 1085m total elevation) Starting at Moffatts Beach, the route finishes in the lovely town of Woombye in the hinterlands. This sprinters day has some blissful rolling flats and engaging climbing, with a sprint finish, all with stunning views of the Glass House Mountains. Stage 3 (155km; 2,073m total elevation) This final section follows the 1-day 155km Velo course, and by this stage, you’ll be ready to (possibly) walk on the laid-out carpet – the organisers are anticipating riders walking up this climb – for the punishing Obi Obi Hill.
The Velothon Sunshine Coast is held in Mooloolaba, which is located right in the heart of the Sunshine Coast, and only an hour’s drive from Brisbane’s Airports, or 20 minutes from the Sunshine Coast regional airport. Entry fees start from AUD99). Check out velothonsunshinecoast.com.
BATTLE OF THE SKIES
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UNESCO Slave Route | 11
“The executioner always kills twice”, Elie Wiesel once wrote, “the second time through silence”. Historically, a huge global issue like slavery generally suffers from an absence of awareness. To break the silence around the Transatlantic Slave Trade, UNESCO launched a global initiative – the Slave Route Project – to share the legacy of this tragedy. Ironically, this bitter part of history is related to something sweet that we’re all familiar with: sugar.
The history of every nation in the Caribbean and parts of the Indian Ocean were forever shaped by sugar cane plantations that started as cash crops by European colonisers. ‘White Gold’, as colonists called it, was the engine of the slave trade that displaced millions of Africans from as early as the 16th century. Sugar cane is native to Southeast Asia, and first made its way to the New World with Christopher Columbus in his 1492 voyage to the Dominican Republic. From here, the plant – and the slave trade – spread
its way across the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, shipped by the colonial powers that shaped the world at the time: the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British. In the 18th century came Britain’s highly profitable ‘triangular trade’, which consists of 3 parts: slave ships sailed from British ports with good like firearms and alcohol (rum) to be traded in the Gulf of Guinea for slaves captured from the African interior. From here, the slaves made the perilous journey across the Atlantic – where one in six died – where they are traded for molasses (made from sugar cane), which in turn was used to make rum back in the UK.
Jamaica Colombia Suriname Brazil
Slavery was rife from the 16th to 19th century, when colonial powers – the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English – all used African slaves as a major labour force, particularly in agriculture. In sugar cane plantations especially, slaves often suffered the most due to the intense labour needed to process the sugar. Inevitably, the only way for slaves to be free from their colonial owners was to escape. Referred to as ‘maroons’, these runaways often formed their own com-
munities deep in the jungle to escape capture. The penalties were severe for runaways who get caught, ranging from torture (ie. cutting off various parts of the body) to death. However, some marooners managed to created formidable clans powerful enough that they were able to negotiate peace treaties with the colonists. Others managed to remain as (free) maroons until the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. Many of the descendents today still
practise much of the culture that was handed down over the centuries, which is most visible in their tribal dances. While the dances have different names throughout the world – Sega in the Mascarenes, Awassa in Surinam, etc – they all have their roots in Africa, and were (often) celebrated in secrecy during the slavery period.
Seychelles Mauritius Réunion
The centre of the Atlantic slave trade was the Portuguese colony of Brazil – more Africans ended up here than elsewhere on the continent. The marooners here – called quilombolas – created thousands of hidden societies, called quilombos, tucked in the country’s remote pockets. One of the most renowned is Quilombo dos Palmares, which at one point in the mid-17th century stretched over 26,000sq.km in the north coastal mountains. According to legend, Palmares was established in the 1600s by Aqualtune,
The Colombian town of Cartagena was once a major slave entrepot, making slave trading a highly profitable business in the 16th century for the Spanish Crown. More slaves entered the continent from this port than any other, because traders here had a virtual monopoly to supply Africans to the Spanish Americas. Centuries later, Colombia now has the third largest population of African descendents outside of Africa.
Most visitors today come to Cartagena for its colonial architecture, dotted with plazas, theatres, and cathedrals. At the heart of the city is Plaza de los Coches, the site of the former slave market, lined with old balconied houses and an arcaded walkway. The first wave of African slaves arrived in the 1520s, and it didn’t take long
an Angolan princess and general. She and her soldiers fled to the Serra da Barriga, a series of basalt extrusions that dominate the coastal plain, and built Palmares on a high plateau. Palmares reached notoriety under the rule of Zumbi, when it grew to become the most important quilombo in Brazil, with 30,000 maroons. It is thought that capoeira was created by these maroon slaves, merging martial arts with the cultural customs of West Africa. The escape of slaves created a problem for the sugar cane plantations, so the Portuguese mounted several attacks on Palmares, until they finally succeeded in 1694. They beheaded Zumbi on 20 November the next year – a date now celebrated throughout Brazil as Black Awareness Day.
Located in the state of Alagoas in Brazil’s northeast coast, Palmares is now a memorial park, protected within the Serra da Barriga National Park. A symbol of resistance in Brazil, Alagoas is home to 60 remaining quilombos which still preserve the influence of African culture, as can be seen in their cuisine, crafts and dances.
for the first bloody uprising when slaves burned down the town of Santa Marta in 1530 (and again in 1550). Today, Santa Marta is a holiday town, and gateway to Tayrona National Park. From the 16th to 17th century, slaves in the Colombian Pacific were able to buy their freedom thanks to the gold they extracted from mines; the others in the Caribbean and Atlantic could only run away into the remote interior and form walled villages, or palenques. The first few palenques were established in the 16th century close to Cartagena; by the late 17th century, there were at least 20. One of these is San Basilio de Palenque, nestled in the foothills of Montes de María about 1.5 hours from Cartagena, founded in the late 1600s by slave leader Benkos Biohó. He was responsible for organising the escape of other slaves, and raided Spanish properties; unable to defeat his army of maroons, the King of Spain made San Basilio de Palenque the first free village in the Americas in 1713.
San Basilio de Palenque is the only palenque that still stands today, and its residents still hold onto their African heritage and culture, particularly their language – ‘lengua Palenquera’ or ‘lengua’. Local guides are the best way to access this close-knit village of about 4,000 inhabitants.
UNESCO Slave Route | 13 JAMAICA (BRITISH)
One of the boldest stories of slave revolts lies in what today is called the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, a forested mountainous region in Jamaica’s southeast. Thanks to its ruggedness, it provided a refuge for the maroons who established a network of trails, hiding places, and settlements which now form the ‘Nanny Town Heritage Route’. Nanny Town (now known as Moore Town), a stronghold of the Jamaican maroons, was named after an escaped slave known as Granny Nanny (aka Queen Nanny) who was very adept at
liberating slaves – she was credited with freeing over 800 slaves over the span of 50 years. The town held out against repeated British colonial attacks, thanks to Nanny’s guerrilla warfare tactics that are still used today by many military around the world. One of the most popular routes that pass through the park is the 8km-long Cunha Cunha Pass, a mountain trail used by the maroons to travel between the parishes and provide an escape route during battles with the British. The trail traverses the main ridge of the Blue Mountains, where hikers are exposed to the history of the Maroons as well as the fauna and flora of the Blue Mountains.
of endemic plant species, especially lichens and mosses, and is the last 2 known habitats of the giant swallowtail butterfly, the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere. Another maroon village is Accompong, named after Nanny’s brother, which is the largest surviving maroon town in Jamaica with a community of about 600. There are village tours, and a large festival on January 6 to commemorate the signing of the peace treaty with the British in 1739.
The park is also a biodiversity hotspot, with a high proportion
The Dutch colony of Surinam became the most prosperous colony in the Guianas in the 18th century due to the massive importation of slaves for the sugar and other plantations; as a result, many plantations went bankrupt after the abolition of slave trade.
their plantations from raids. After half a century of warfare, the Dutch finally signed treaties with the maroons in the 1760s, offering them independence. To this day, the tribal populations living in these isolated jungle pockets still retain their strong African culture, although some tribes – like the Djuka – have expanded into Paramaribo, the capital.
Slaves often ran away into the dense jungles in the interior from the coastal plantations, forming settlements around the numerous rivers. The maroons often mounted disastrous raids on plantations, prompting the Dutch to launch counter attacks; all invariably lost. The marooners – nicknamed ‘bakabusi nengre’ (bush negroes) by the Dutch – were grouped into tribes; the biggest was the Saramacca (or Saamaka), which was so feared by the Dutch that they built defensive fortifications to protect
There are a number of maroon villages that you can visit (with a guide only), including Santigron which is home to 6 different tribes, each with their own chief, culture and language. Maroon villages are dotted mainly in the Surinamese Rainforest which is home to numerous parks like the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, where many of the porters and guides are maroon descendents. The park’s attractions include a jungle hike to the Voltzberg granite dome, from where there are amazing 360 views from the top. In addition, you can spot endemic species like anteaters and jaguars; the park is
also a birdwatcher’s paradise, as it’s home to the bright orange Guianan cock-of-the-rock.
UNESCO Slave Route MAURITIUS
The slave trade didn’t just happen across the Atlantic; slaves were also sent to islands in the Indian Ocean. Reunion, Mauritius, and Seychelles were colonised by multiple powers – predominantly the French and then the British – who shipped in slaves for agriculture and slave trade.
The French took over Mauritius in 1715 from the Dutch, bringing with them more slaves who worked in the sugarcane fields. Under the Code Noir, slaves were often ill-treated. Those who escaped found refuge in the rugged Le Morne mountain, which acted as an impenetrable natural fortress. The British took over Mauritius in 1810, and slavery was officially abolished by 1835; however, when British soldiers went to deliver the good news, the slaves mistook their intentions and jumped off the mountain instead. Today, the Slave Route Monument is located at the foot of Le Morne mountain, commemorating the impact of slavery on Mauritian history.
Seychelles was first colonised in 1770 when French settlers came with their slaves to Ste Anne island. Soon, they were scattered on several islands including Mahé and Silhouette. Similar to the New World, slaves were brought to the Seychelles to work on sugar and coffee plantations. While slave numbers in the Seychelles pale in comparison to those in Mauritius, cases of marooning weren’t unheard of, and one of the most famous maroons is a slave called Castor. He managed to escape capture for several years until he inexplicably turned himself in, and ironically became employed by the French to capture other maroons.
Today, there is a place named after him: Roche Castor, in Mahé’s upper Anse Aux Pins. By 1811, the British took over Seychelles (although it only became an official British colony in 1903), and by 1835, slavery was abolished with the Emancipation Act. During this period, many British ‘slave buster’ ships liberated slaves from Arab dhows apprehended south of the Equator, and brought them to Mahé to be ‘apprentices’ in the plantations. By the late 19th century, most of the inhabitants in the Seychelles consisted of freed slaves. The children of these liberated slaves were given a sanctuary at a mission school in Venn’s Town (also known as Capucin), which operated between 1876 and 1889. Located in the Sans Souci pass deep within the Morne Seychellois National Park (Mahé’s rugged backbone), you can see the moss-laden ruins of the 5 original buildings of the Mission Lodge. It is perhaps Seychelles’ most famous vantage point, offering spectacular sea and mountain views from the shaded gazebo where Queen Elizabeth II once sat for tea.
A real industrial revolution kicked off in 1815 with the beginnings of sugar cane cultivation, and today it remains the agricultural pillar of Reunion’s economy. At the end of the 17th century, the population could be divided into white French landowners and African slaves. In the late 18th century, there were a number of slave revolts and those who managed to escape made their way to the rugged cirques of Salazie, Mafate and Cilaos – these are believed to be named after slaves, who were joined by poorer colonists who arrived too late to take advantage of the booming sugar trade. To this day, the cirques are still relatively undeveloped; the best way to experience the cirques is on foot, as plenty of hiking trails line the rugged mountain landscape.
When it comes to packing survival gear there’s a multitude of products on the market and deciding which can be hard. Environment aside, there are certain key pieces you should always pack to be prepared for the worst. If you are travelling somewhere remote where there’s a risk of getting lost, it is best to build your own survival kit. While including a majority of what you find in any standard kit (water, food, light, radio, first aid kit, compass, matches), here are a few extra pieces of gear which may come in extremely handy depending on your situation.
A survival kit should not be heavy, so carrying a couple litres of water will do nothing but add additional stress to your load. A number of companies have developed portable water filtration units, allowing you to filter 99.99% of all waterborne bacteria. The LifeStraw is only 22cm long and ultralight (50g), making it a portable solution for an infinite supply of water. Each LifeStraw can filter up to 1,000 litres of water.
Unless you know the trail well, or are being guided by a pro, don’t leave the house without a GPS tracking device. Even the most trained professionals recommend that you bring along some form of GPS tracking. SPOT offers a GPS device allowing your friends and family to track your location during your travels, letting you mark waypoints and send predetermined custom messages to let them know you are okay. Like any good tracking device it comes equipped with an S.O.S button providing your GPS location to local authorities.
Like the name suggests, this is the same material used for parachutes. It’s lightweight, durable and strong, all important in a survival situation.
Whether it’s using the inner strands as sutures, creating a splint or sling, or even fishing line, paracord is your most diverse tool and should be in your survival kit. The TITAN SurvivorCord is a 550-strand paracord with fishing wire, snare wire and waxed jute built into the cord.
hammock will work more in your favour, such as being elevated off wet, rocky or insect-prone ground. The Skeeter Beeter Pro is a traditional hammock with mosquito netting that can hold up to 180kg. With its low price point, it makes the perfect tool to include in your survival kit. You’ll need to purchase an additional rain tarp.
A portable light is very handy in any situation, from illuminating dark nights to navigating caves. A headlamp like the Petzl Tactikka is designed for hunting, fishing and nature watching, and boasts 200 lumens of light and long battery life. It has proximity lighting, focused lighting and red lighting in order to conserve night vision.
A watch is probably one of the most portable gadgets you can bring, especially if it can do more than tell time. The Survival Watch contains a number of useful features if a situation turns south. The strap is made from 550-lb strength paracord and can be unwound to 12+ ft. It also has a whistle, fire-starter with flint rod and a compass.
As the environment will be your biggest threat, always take proper equipment with you just in case. In emergencies, you may need to bivouac, but if weight isn’t an issue, a good tent will never fail. A solid mid-way option between a bivouac and a tent is a Hennessy-style hammock – there may be situations in which a
When all else fails, fire can save you – you can signal with it, keep warm, dry freezing/ damp clothes, cook food or keep animals at bay, so matches should be included in every standard survival kit. They don’t take skill to light and provide a constant flame; UCO has a Stormproof Match Kit that will light even when completely soaked. They come packaged in a watertight container holding 25 matches and 3 strikers, and the casing is also airtight, ensuring that it floats on water.
Set adrift in the vast Indian Ocean, Réunion Island – which belongs to France – is actually closer to Madagascar (and Mauritius) than it is to anywhere in Europe. And as an island destination, its selling point is not about sandy beaches or stilted chalets above the water – this is because Reunion has what most other islands lack: adventure. When approaching the island, it’s easy to see why – rugged cloud-covered mountains blanket much of the island, relegating most of the human habitation towards its coastline. And it’s these mountains that basically provide much of the adventure, whether you’re hiking along its steep trails, rappelling down its waterfalls, or canyoning along its rivers.
LAND OF THE CIRQUES
The easiest way to see the true majesty of the island is from a helicopter (Corail; €210, 25 mins) – as you rise to the mountain ridgeline, nothing can prepare you for that first glimpse of this geologic wonder. From the air, you can actually see that much of Réunion Island owes its creation to volcanoes, with the most impressive being Piton des Neiges (Réunion’s tallest mountain at 3,071m) that created 3 breathtaking cirques (bowl-shaped craters) in roughly the centre of the island: Salazie, Mafate, and Cilaos. These 3 interconnected cirques look like a 3-leaf clover from the air, each encircled by a ridgeline of tall cliffs (remparts). Rugged mountain scenery is interrupted by the occasional canyon where waterfalls reside, and isolated vil-
lages sprinkled onto random plateaus. These hamlets were established mostly by slaves who managed to escape in the late 18th century. Unsurprisingly, a great way to explore the cirques is via a number of footpaths and hiking trails, where hikers can fuel up and overnight in gîtes (dorms) along the way. From casual afternoon walks to multiple-week treks, Réunion has no shortage of trails. In addition to a number of footpaths, there are 3 long-distance trails: the GRR1 loops around all 3 of the cirques, the GRR2 traverses the entire island from St. Denis in the north to St Philippe in the south (traversing all 3 cirques and skirting Piton de la Fournaise along the way), and the GRR3 which encircles Cirque de Mafate.
Cirque de Mafate The most remote of Réunion’s cirques, Mafate is surrounded by jagged remparts, criss-crossed with deep ravines, and studded with waterfall ridges. Thanks to its topography, there are no roads here; the sprinkling of hamlets that are scattered in this giant extinct volcano are only accessible on foot (or helicopter). Hiking There are more than 140 km of hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. All of Reunion’s long-distance hiking trails – GRR1, GRR2 and GRR3 – as well as a number of hiking paths encircle Cirque de Mafate’s ridgeline at different points. A number of gîtes are also available along the trails for overnight options, and needless to say, you can
spend a couple of hours or even a week on the trails in Mafate alone. Hiking in Mafate involves steep hikes, but the the jaw-dropping scenery – kilometre-high waterfalls, tiny villages perched on plateaus, and row upon row of jagged mountain peaks – are worth every calorie. Cirque de Cilaos There’s also a sprinkling of hamlets in Cilaos, but unlike Mafate, its main town is accessible via the RN5 – a major road that snakes steeply up to the cirque from the coastal town of St Louis, taking you around over 400 twists and turns for an unending stream of impressively scenic views. The town of Cilaos itself is a mountain resort at 1,200m above sea level, and a unique spa town since the 19th century. These days, it’s focused on tourism – particularly hiking and canyoning – as well as agriculture. There are two tiny villages within the cirque – Îlet à Cordes and Bras-Sec – which are popular
hiking destinations; the former is known for its lentils which have been cultivated here since 1835. Hiking Cilaos is a popular starting point for over 80kms of footpaths that snake around this cirque, ranging from easy trails around the cryptomeria forest, to more difficult ones involving a climb to the top of the Piton des Neiges, as well as the long-distance hiking paths of GRR1 and GRR2. Cirque de Salazie Salazie is the easiest of the 3 cirques to access by road, and the journey offers vistas of soaring cliffs sliced by rivers and thundering waterfalls, like the scenic Cascade Blanche. Salazie is also home to the pretty village of Hell-Bourg, a member of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (‘The most beautiful villages in France’). Surround-
ed by rugged mountains, this village consists of restored pastel-coloured Creole villas, complete with verandahs and quintessential Réunionnais details. There is also the remains of an old thermal spa not far from town. Canyoning Salazie is also the wettest of the 3 cirques, which makes it ideal for canyoning trips. The picturesque canyon of Trou Blanc near Hell-Bourg is Réunion’s most iconic canyoning spot. Beginning with a narrow gorge, the aquatic canyon opens up to a magnificent scenery. The abundance of natural slides and jumps – with names like ‘Washing Machine’ and ‘Vavavoum’ – culminate in a final abseil of 20m down a narrow waterfall.
FIRE AND EARTH
While Piton des Neiges is dormant, Réunion’s only other volcano happens to be one of the most active in the world. Occupying a large chunk on the east of the island, the Piton de la Fournaise is a large shield volcano (basically, one that emits fluid lava rather than just ash) that last erupted in January this year; to get an idea of its volatility, it erupted in 2015, 2010, 2008, 2007 and 2006. When it isn’t active, however, the area is a haven for hikers.
Piton de la Fournaise Also known (aptly) as The Volcano, Piton de la Fournaise last erupted in January this year, and has produced more than 150 recorded eruptions since the 17th century. Situated within the UNESCO-protected Réunion National Park, the most impressive aspect of this region is its drastically different landscape – Piton de la Fournaise is reminiscent of a red-earthed moonscape which is dotted with craters of different sizes and heights. To get a glimpse of this expansive landscape, follow the forestry road all the way up to Pas de Bellecombe (2,311m), situated over the caldera rim cliffs, for an expansive view of the northeast part of the caldera. There is a snack shop and a gîte here. All hikers start from the car park at Bellecombe where plenty of hiking trails originate – it’s better to arrive early in the morning to avoid the thick fog that shrouds the area by noon.
A hike in the caldera begins with a stairway path that descends from the rim to the caldera floor where the surrounding crater walls loom around you. A number of routes are marked by white paint on rock, and a hike inside the crater takes about 5 hours. The first site is the tiny 18th century Formica Leo crater, followed by Chapel Rosemont, which is a large mound of lava. From here, the trail forks: the right leads to the steeper Crater Bory (2,631m) which takes 45 minutes to hike to; to the left you’ll encounter some stunning scenery while you spiral the flanks of Crater Bory as you continue towards Crater Dolomieu (1.5 hours). Le Grand Brûlé When Piton de la Fournaise erupts, the lava flows through the plain of Le Grand Brûlé before hitting the ocean. The lower parts of the Grand Brûlé can be visited from the coastal N2 highway, which has signs documenting the lava flows in the area. Here, the surrounding landscape is a mix of barren black
rocks of hardened lava, dotted with portions of greenery (volcanic rock is very fertile). Erupting lava will cut across the N2, so it has to be rebuilt after each incident. You can also visit the bowels of the earth, following the route of the lava as it flows from Piton de la Fournaise to the sea. There are a number of lava tubes in the area, and the most recent one open to the public is one from the 2004 eruption. A number of tube tours are available, ranging from 3-hour ‘discovery’ visits (about 1.6km) to 6-hour ‘sporty’ excursions.
jacuzzi baths in all rooms – and seafront location where you can observe surfers in action. Further down the coast at St. Leu, it’s a popular area for kitesurfing, as well as paragliding, thanks to its excellent wind conditions. Numerous paragliding operators offer tandem paragliding trips as well as lessons.
While much of the attraction seems to be inland, the coast also offers plenty of action. If you’re based in the west coast, considered the ‘dry’ portion of the island, the coastal waters are renowned for their coral reefs (particularly around the northwest), where you can snorkel or dive. It’s worth noting that you should only swim at signposted beaches, since the currents/waves can be dangerous in some areas. However, diving is not the only activity – at St. Gilles-les-Bains, a popular resort area, you’ll see plenty of surfers along the shoreline. The Le Saint-Alexis hotel and spa at St. Gilles-le-Bains makes a good base: it has a unique architecture – with its very accessible pool and
Today, multi-ethnic families are quite common, making up a third of the population, creating a unique Creole identity. Creole is more than just a widely spoken language – it manifests in dances, as well as cuisine, like the ubiquitous carri (curry) which is served with rice, and samosas. Lunch or dinner buffets offer a variety of carri dishes, which is often served with rhum arrangés (rum infused with fruits and spices).
A unique aspect of Reunion is its culture. First settled in the 17th century by French settlers and Malagasy slaves, Réunion today is a true melting pot of east and west, with settlers who came here from other parts of Africa, Arabia, India, and China.
The Grand Raid de la Réunion, also known as “The Madmen’s Diagonal”, is a mountain ultramarathon which takes place annually in October on Réunion. The 162km route traverses the entire island – following the GRR2 trail – from Cap Méchant in the south to St. Denis in the north, climbing up to Piton de la Fournaise, as well as all 3 cirques along the way. With an elevation gain of almost 10,000m, it’s an iconically challenging race – the record holder completed the route in just under 24 hours.
© Studio Lumiere
To get to Réunion Island, you can fly to Mauritius (7 hours), from where there are shuttle services to Réunion (1 hour). For more on Réunion, visit www.france.fr or en.reunion.fr. Air Mauritius (www.airmauritius.com) will celebrate its 50th anniversary this June, and is currently the most convenient way to access the islands of the Indian Ocean (like Réunion) and countries of eastern and southern Africa.
One of the most popular beach destinations in the Indian Ocean, its tropical climate, shallow coasts, spectacular beaches, and luxury hotels are some of the country’s major draws. However, there’s more to Mauritius than just its beaches. For starters, it has a very unique culture that stems from its colonisation at one time or another by the Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English, creating a true melting pot of cultures and peoples who’ve come from Africa, India, China, and Europe. Today the majority of the population are Indo-Mauritians (of Indian descent), in addition to Creoles (of African or mixed race) and Sino-Mauritians from China’s Hakka-speaking regions.
1 CLIMB MOUNT LE MORNE
The rugged and iconic Mount le Morne on the Le Morne Brabant Peninsula was once a hideaway for runaway slaves (marooners) thanks to its fort-like structure: it features vertical cliff walls, steep slopes intersected by ravines, and a flat plateau accessible only via a deep gorge called the V-Gap (referred to as the key of the mountain).
After becoming independent in 1968 it’s kept French as its official language, although there are dozens of languages spoken amongst its population. Its food is also influenced by its mélange of inhabitants, although dholl puri – a thin crepe stuffed with ground yellow split peas – is ubiquitous. Mauritians eat a lot of curries (including octopus curry) and mazavaroo (chilli paste) with rice at almost every meal. While many holidaymakers tend to gravitate towards the beach, there are plenty of things to see and do in Mauritius’ hinterland, from hiking to rum-tasting and kitesurfing.
Mauritius was once part of the global slave trade during the French colonial era; escaped slaves would make the journey up this treacherous mountain, but if they were caught, punishments ranged from ear-cutting to skin branding and death. After the British abolished slavery in 1835, a group of soldiers went to Le
Morne to let runaway slaves know that they were finally free. But the slaves feared that they were being recaptured, so they threw themselves off the cliff rather than face the horrors of dehumanisation. Today, the Slave Route Monument, at the foot of Le Morne, is in clear view of the sheer drop into what’s since been called the “Valley of Bones.” There is a popular hiking trail (6km, 3-4 hours) that takes you up to Le Morne; it starts with an easy hike along well-maintained forestry trail to a plateau with a viewpoint. From here, a mountain path continues up to a small summit where a white iron cross is planted, although the portion up to the cross is officially closed due to repair works on the ropes that assist you up the loose, rocky trail. Start as early as possible, as the mountain is very exposed. From the top, you’ll be greeted with spectacular views down the lush mountain, the white sand beach and crystal clear ocean. Nearby is the *LUX Le Morne, a beachside resort overlooking the mountain.
Morne. The large, shallow lagoon has a white sandy bottom, with a water level that varies from ankle- to chestdeep. There is plenty of space for beginners to practise in the Le Morne Lagoon, with world-class waves just beyond the reef for more experienced kiters.
2 BOTANICAL GARDENS
If you’ve got a morning spare, drop by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens (or ‘Pamplemousses’ to the locals) for a quiet stroll through the southern hemisphere’s oldest botanical gardens. Built in 1770, the grounds include gigantic palm trees like the Tahina Spectabilis which only flowers once in its lifetime and then dies, as well as the iconic pond of giant Amazonian waterlilies (Victoria amazonica), the leaves of which can grow to an average diameter of 2-3m.
Air Mauritius (www.airmauritius.com) flies direct from Singapore, with a flight time of about 7 hours. It will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this June, with promos including a 5D3N package to Mauritius starting from S$1,238 (book by 12 June, travel by 26 June). Local operator Kreola has numerous itineraries and can assist with accommodation at resorts like Club Med.
Mauritius has plenty of shallow lagoons protected from crashing waves, and due to the favourable east/southeast winds, most of the kitesurf areas are located on island’s south. The most exciting time for kitesurfing is during winter (May to November), when the winds from the east reach 15-30 knots. This is also when most resorts are in ‘low season’. When it comes to the best kitesurfing spot, most Mauritians will point to Le
Bel Ombre, on the island’s south, has a shallow lagoon that extends 500m to the reef, making it ideal for beginners. The reef breaks are only for experts, with waves getting up to 4m in height. The annual Kiteival (23-30 July 2017) is a week-long kitesurfing event that allows every level of rider to kite on the best spots on the island alongside some professional kiters.
5 VISIT A RUM DISTILLERY
Mauritius is one of a few countries that produce both industrial rum (made with molasses) and agricultural rum (made with fresh cane juice). The latter is appreciated much like whisky, with a number of boutique distilleries also producing an ‘island recipe rum’ which includes infusions of coconut, vanilla, or coffee. Mauritius is currently home to 6 distilleries (the oldest dates back to 1926), of which Rhumerie de Chamarel, Rhumerie de Mascareignes, and St Aubin are authorised to produce agricultural rum. All three offer distillery tours and tasting; Chamarel is a newly-built facility, while both St Aubin and Rhumerie de Mascareignes feature 19th century family-owned plantation houses.
4 HIKING BLACK RIVER GORGES
With a wild expanse of rolling hills and gorges, the Black River Gorges National Park is the country’s biggest park, and the last indigenous forest where endemic bird species still survive, including the Mauritius kestrel, echo parakeet, Mauritius cuckoo shrike, and pink pigeon. Most of the park is designated for hikers, with 60km of hiking trails varying in length and difficulty snaking through the landscape. The boardwalk near Le Petrin visitor centre
leads you deep into marshy, plantrich heathland; from Alexandra Falls, a trail leads into a dwarf forest that is the habitat of the lime-green echo parakeet; and the easy Macchabees Trail (10km) leads to a viewpoint overlooking the gorges and Tamarin Bay. You can also climb 9km to the top of Black River Peak (Petite Rivière Noire), the highest point in Mauritius, where you’ll be rewarded with an amazing panorama, with L’ile aux Benitier island on the horizon.
SNAPSHOT: PHOENIX TRAVEL Belgrade Fortress
Since gaining independence in 2006, Serbia has been famous for its hospitality. Belgrade is a party destination, while in winter the mountain resorts beckon skiers – the Kopaonik National Park is the most popular, with its smattering of old monasteries, medieval fortresses and castles. More ancient fortresses and baroque churches can be found in Novi Sad, which hosts an epic 111km ultramarathon in nearby Fruška Gora, itself littered with monasteries that make for scenic mountain bike rides. Brave cyclists can tackle trails in Mt Radan to Djavolja Varoš, a collection of eerie stone pyramids. Serbia has 5 national parks, and plentiful nature reserves, so it’s not difficult to find a trail, whether it’s in the Dinaric Alps, the Carpathians, or the Iron Gates gorge in Djerdap National Park. Spa resorts are another draw: Soko Banja has a working 15th century Turkish bath, while Vrnjačka Banja’s mineral waters have been rejuvenating Roman troops since the 2nd century.
Uma Lulik (Spirit huts)
After the end of a civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka has successfully rebuilt itself as a darling of tourism. The country’s main draw is an area loosely referred to as the Cultural Triangle, which takes in the 3 great Sinhalese capitals of Kandy, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura – within it is the country’s most extraordinary sight: Sigiriya, a royal palace and fort built atop a giant monolith. Not to be outdone is the Dambulla Rock caves which are festooned with a marvelous array of Buddhist murals. In Galle, a 16th century Portuguese fortified city, you spot fishermen perched on stilts going about their day in the ocean. Enjoy a cuppa tea, or visit rolling tea plantations – and their colonial bungalows – which are accessible via scenic train rides or picturesque hikes. Its national parks are home to wildlife like elephants, leopards, and sloth bears, while offshore there is diving and surfing.
Some of the worst war-torn regions of the 20th century have made miraculous recoveries, transforming from places of carnage and decimation to hubs for exploration and adventure.
Rwanda has been building itself successfully as a tourism hotspot over the years, thanks in no small part to its resident endangered silverback gorillas made famous by Dian Fossey. Today, Volcanoes National Park is the country’s biggest draw, where only 64 trekkers per day get to see gorillas face to face in their natural habitat at the foothills of the volcano. Gorillas aren’t the only primates in Rwanda: at Nyungwe National Park, chimpanzees – along with colobus, L’Hoest, and Owl Faced monkeys – are the main draw, while at Akagera National Park, olive baboons and vervet monkeys rule. The latter is a Big 5 game park. The country is known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, and is building a reputation as a cycling destination, beginning with the annual Tour du Rwanda race. Thanks to a network of well-maintained roads, it is hoped that cycle tours could be another way to explore the country in the near future.
Volcanoes National Park
Timor-Leste (East Timor) became Asia’s newest country in 2002. After a violent protest which resulted in an army intervention in 2007, the tourism industry is still in its infancy. Diving is a big draw for visitors, especially in the pristine reefs of the north coast and Atauro Island where cetaceans congregate. You can also take courses on freediving and spearfishing, the latter practised by local fisherman. The mountains are home to misty villages, dotted with markets, spirit huts, and coffee plantations where you can witness the harvesting process, or sip local brew at a traditional Portuguese pousada. Mt. Ramelau (2,986m) is Timor’s highest peak, site of the Virgin Mary statue and an annual pilgrimage; hike to the top for a view of the rolling mountains and coastline in the distance. Or go on a road trip – as you grip the rugged cliffs along the north coast road, the uninterrupted ocean view is nothing short of stunning.
SNAPSHOT: PHOENIX TRAVEL After overcoming a dictatorship and civil war in the 80s, Nicaragua is still struggling with poverty. However, its colonial cities, pristine beaches, and growing ecotourism are part of the draw of this budget travel destination. While the coastlines – on both the Pacific and Caribbean – beckon with white sand beaches, there’s more to see in the colonial cities of Granada and León, which brim with iconic architecture. Nicaragua’s nature reserves range from rainforests to cloud forests; at Miraflor Natural Reserve, the cloud forest is dotted with coffee plantations and waterfalls. Nicaragua is a ‘country of Lakes and Volcanoes’, with a chain of volcanoes to climb, from the active Concepción to the dormant Cosigüina. You can also go volcano boarding – at 30mph – down the active Cerro Negro. One of the country’s 2 lakes – Lake Nicaragua – is home to unique freshwater bull sharks and many islands, including Ometepe with its 2 volcanoes (Concepción and Maderas).
Las Lajas Cathedral
While Colombia has been synonymous with cartels and corruption, it has evolved into one of Latin America’s brightest tourism stars following the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993 and the signing of a peace deal with Farc rebels recently. Bogota and Medellin have reinvented themselves into hipster cities, complete with edgy murals. Colonial towns like Cartagena – with its colourful plazas and horse-drawn carriages – continue to draw tourists, while Mompox and Zipaquirá (with its underground salt cathedral) are quieter and no less spectacular. For wow factor, there’s the Las Lajas Cathedral in Ipiales, built in the canyon of the Guáitara River and resembles a fortress in Lord of the Rings. Adventurers can head into Ciudad Perdida, built some 650 years before Peru’s Machu Picchu, via a 6-day hike deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. There’s also epic cycling along the Alto de Letras, a punishing 80km-ride that climbs 3,700m into the mountains.
Not all post-war destinations manage to keep off travel advisories for various reasons – as long as you’re vigilant of your surroundings and are up-to-date with research, travelling to these countries are well worth the time.
Ever since independence following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has been veering towards an alliance with Western Europe, leaning away from Russia’s orbit. Ukraine is one of Europe’s last genuine travel frontiers, brimming with Soviet legacy and diverse natural landscapes. History is all around. In Kyiv, gold-domed churches dominate: there’s St Sophia’s Cathedral with the world biggest ensemble of 11th century frescoes and mosaics, and the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra with its underground labyrinth lined with mummified monks. In Lviv, indulge in some of Eastern Europe’s best coffee as you admire the graceful domes of cathedrals and tiled-roof buildings that evoke a fairytale setting. Visit a traditional Ukrainian sauna, where participants smack themselves with branches to increase circulation. You can go mountain biking and hill walking in the Carpathians, or take a chance on a tour to Chernobyl – the town is eerily frozen in time, with children’s toys still littering the streets.
Afghanistan has spent the last 3 decades in the news for all the wrong reasons, and while warnings against travel to Afghanistan are founded, it’s a large country with areas that are relatively safe for visitors. The Bamyan Province, famous for giant Buddha statues carved into the cliffs 1,500 years ago, remains a popular site despite being destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. The surrounding snow-capped mountains, once a caravan stop along the Silk Road, is also a prime ski country. The cities of Mazar-i-Sharif, famous for its blue-tiled mosque, and Herat, renowned for its citadel and blue-tiled mosque, are also relatively safe. The spectacular Panjshir Valley, known for its snow-capped peaks and precious stones, is another relatively peaceful area, as is the pristine Wakhan Corridor, a sliver of land inhabited by Kyrgyz nomads and untouched by insurgents. The only reliable way to get around is by air, as travelling by road is often time-consuming and dangerous.
Khao Yai National Park is roughly a 3-hour drive from Bangkok and is one of Thailand’s most visited national parks. In terms of size it is the third largest in the country, covering 2,168 sq.km. Within the park you can find some of Thailand’s most diverse flora and fauna, with 2,000 different species including 300 types of birds, and 70 species of both reptiles and mammals, notably the Indochinese tigers which are critically endangered have recently been spotted breeding in the park premises. Khao Yai is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is one of the only places in Thailand where you can find herds of elephants walking along the park roads.
HIKING THE PARK
There are three different levels of hiking within Khao Yai, with the two of the easiest and most popular walks in the park being nature trails.
exotic species such as Orange-breasted Trogons, Siamese Fireback, and much more. The trail should take approximately 45 minutes to complete.
The first is a 5km walk, which begins at the Park Office and ends at Nong Pak Chi; this usually takes just under 2 hours to complete, and will have you hiking up a mud road.
There are 6 intermediate hikes you can do around the park which do not require a guide. Visitors should check with the park office to verify the trail conditions, which can range from good to dangerous, depending on the weather.
The second (Kong Kaew to Old Golf Course Road) is a much easier 1.5km walk which is ideal for any avid birdwatcher. The park has one of Thailand’s largest populations of hornbills (including the Great, Wreathed, Oriental Pied, and Brown), as well as being home to
Like most national parks, the trails can sometimes become a weathered and hard to see, so be sure you have a compass and map with you, just in case. One of the more scenic treks starts at the Pha Kluaymai Waterfall and takes you through to Haew Suwat
Waterfall. Most treks average between 2-8km and can take anywhere between 1-5 hours to complete. There are 5 other treks which all require a local guide; ideally, allow yourself at least 1 full day of hiking. Most of these can be completed within a day although they can be done as an overnight trek – there are 2 main campsites which are situated between Haew Pratoon, Haew Sai Fai, Haew Suwat and the Kongkaew falls. Both campsites have a restaurant close by so bringing food is not necessary. Be aware if you bring food along, as the monkeys are known to steal.
The national park has teamed up with a number of different partners licensed by the Tourist Authority of Thailand to deliver a selection of wildlife tours at Khao Yai.
Whilst bats are not commonly known to be the most attractive creatures, their beauty can be seen in numbers. In the northern end of Khao Yai lies the Khao Luk Chang Bat Cave, home to over 3 million Wrinkle-lipped bats.
Once the sun has set and the twilight hour begins, the bats begin to stream out of the cave forming a wave of cylindrical bodies to create a truly amazing spectacle. It takes two hours for all the bats to fully exit the cave, although due to the continual loss in light, there is only 45 minutes in which the bats are in full view and able to be photographed. The Khao Luk Chang Bat Cave is another 45 minutes drive from the centre of the park, unless you have access to a private vehicle, a tour is the best way to see it.
These tours run from 1 to 4 days, and include hiking as well as a guide to help spot any wildlife such as elephants, gibbons, hornbills, snakes and much more. Prices range from 2,000 THB to 22,400 THB, with leech protection socks provided.
For more on Khao Yai National Park, visit www.thainationalparks.com.
GETTING THERE UPCOMING MARATHONS
There are a number of upcoming marathons happening throughout Thailand. Check out www.42race.com for marathon travel packages or email for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org. Laguna Phuket Marathon (3-4 June) Saturday (3 June) holds the 2km, 5km and 10.5km races, whereas Sunday (4 June) will have the main marathon. The track covers a number of scenic locations such as pineapple plantations, local villages and beach sections. Entries close on 28 May.
Samui Marathon 2017 (25 June) The Koh Samui marathon is designed as a flat route to allow participants to view the different parts of the island not commonly seen by tourists. There are 5, 10 ,21 and 42km races to compete in, with registration closing on the 30 May. Bangkok Marathon (19 November) While the annual Bangkok Marathon will be held in November, there is an upcoming micro marathon on 23 July, covering only 6km. Registration for both races are open, with entries for the main marathon closing on 30 August.
Bangkok has two international airports which are close to Khao Yai, with over 28 flights per day from Singapore. From Bangkok, there are a number of buses to Khao Yai; alternatively you could hire a private van for the day. The trip from Bangkok can take anywhere from 2.5 - 3 hours. If youâ€™re looking to spend a couple of days in and around the park, there are plenty of different accommodation options surrounding the outskirts, many of which can organise tours. Visit sg.tourismthailand.org for more on Khao Yai National Park.
The mere mention of the names Polynesia and Micronesia conjures up images of exotic, far-flung islands dotted in a long chain across the Pacific, stretching from Asia to South America. While they’re almost all characterised by their sandy beaches and swaying palm trees, for many travellers, their true allure lies in their ancient cultures and untouched hinterlands. The Polynesian Migration While it varies significantly from island to island, their shared Polynesian cultural roots form an unbroken link to a long-forgotten past, when the first Polynesian settlers left their ancestral homes in what is now Taiwan over 4,000 years ago, and started island-hopping their way across the Pacific. Polynesian Triangle Today the islands of “Polynesia” – one of the 3 main regions of the Pacific along with Micronesia and Melanesia – are geographically defined by the Polynesian Triangle, a core area covering millions of square kilometres across the Pacific, stretching between Hawaii (set-
tled circa 500AD), New Zealand (circa 1,000AD), and Rapa Nui (circa 700AD). In the cultural sense, Polynesia also includes a number of distinct “outlier” islands, located outside the core in parts of Fuji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Common Cultures Early Polynesians sailed ever eastward for centuries, in search of new lands to settle, in the process leaving their mark on hundreds of islands across the Pacific – seen in everything from their languages (which often share common words for the wind, sky and sun; all critical to early seafarers), to their religions (which share myths about their ancestral homeland, Havaiki), right down to the very outrigger canoes still in use to this day. That commonality is due to the speed early Polynesians settled in almost the entire Triangle (in less than 500 years); this meant that each successive island’s culture had less time to evolve.
ISLANDS IN THE PACIFIC
Palau Cook Islands
FRENCH POLYNESIA A byword for exotic and remote, French Polynesia was made famous by 19th century luminaries like Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson. Settled by ancient Polynesians around 300AD, the islands remained largely unknown until being “discovered” by European navigators like Magellan and Captain James Cook between the 16th18th centuries. France eventually made the islands an overseas territory, and today they are one of the most far-flung parts of France – second only to New Caledonia, another French territory, lying nearer to Australia in the west. French Polynesia is made up of 118 islands, divided into 5 groups – the best-known being the Society Islands, which include famous destinations like Bora-Bora and Tahiti, followed by the relatively lesser-known Austral, Marquesas and Tuamotu-Gambier groups.
Together they cover 4.7 million sq.km. of ocean, an area larger than the entire EU, making them some of the most remote islands in the world. While French Polynesia is best known
for its luxury resorts, it also boasts legendary surfing, pristine dive sites, and a number of iconic climbs in its rugged hinterlands.
POLYNESIA + MICRONESIA
Surfing French Polynesia’s surfing is legendary, with the best breaks found year-round on Tahiti and neighbouring Mo’orea. Known world-wide for big waves, the islands boast everything from beginner breaks, to massive barrels depending on the season; waves from the north (Oct-Mar) tend to be less heavy, and generate hollow barrels, making them good for all levels of surfers; while winter waves from Antarctica (MayAug) are some of the biggest, and most challenging in the world.
ideal place to watch the pros, and a fixture on the World Tour circuit. One of the best beginner waves, and Tahiti’s only beach break, is at Papara (on the south coast); it’s got a sandy bottom (unlike most of the island’s reef breaks) with swells from 1-3m, making it ideal for most riders. Haapiti on neighbouring Mo’orea boasts one of the best breaks around, with a long left-hander (and occasional barrel), ranging from 1-3m depending on swells. Diving Dotted with dozens of atolls and lagoons, some of the best and easiest dive sites are located near Tahiti.
There are dozens of surf spots on the islands, with one of the most legendary being Teahupo’o on Tahiti’s southwest coast. Its infamous waves are some of the biggest in the world, making it an
Diving in Mo’orea Located just 15km from Tahiti, nearby Mo’orea boast some of French Polynesia’s best dive sites, especially when it comes to pelagics like sharks, and the occasional ray or whale. Two of the most famous sites, both on
the north coast, are Tiki Point (18-25m) and Sharks Dining Room (15-30m). While they are hand-baited (for better or worse), you can swim with big lemon sharks, along with dozens of blacktips, grey reef sharks, and whitetips all competing for a bite. Moray eels and Napoleon wrasses are also abundant. Diving in Tahiti Rangiroa on Tahiti is the world’s second-largest atoll; twice per day, its massive lagoon empties and fills with the tides via two narrow passes – Avatoru and Tiputa – creating a huge exodus or influx of marine life in one of two narrow chutes. Varying in depth, depending on the tide and direction, divers swim amongst a huge array of species including black tips, barracuda, silvertips, turtles, whitetips, and the occasional hammerhead (Dec-Mar).
Tahiti (aka Tahiti Nui) is the largest island of French Polynesia, and home to the capital, Pape’ete. It’s also the hub for travel into and around the country, by sea (to nearby islands like Mo’orea) or air. Air Tahiti services over 50 airports throughout the islands, and international destinations including Auckland, Paris and Tokyo.
Climbing Bora Bora Best known for its luxury scene, Bora-Bora is also home to some of the Pacific’s most iconic climbs – the triumvirate of Mt. Otemanu, Mt. Pahia and Mt. Ohue. The distinctive silhouette of Mt. Otemanu (772m) dominates almost any view of Bora Bora. The island’s tallest peak, it’s only possible to climb up to the shoulder below the final, vertical
tower; it’s never been fully-scaled on foot as the sheer upper rock face is too soft for pins/clamps. Mt. Pahia (661m) and Mt. Ohue (620m) make for a strenuous, but stunning 6-hour climb, starting on the jungle-clad slopes above Vaitape and Faanui, with the summits connected via a vertiginous knife-edge, and offering complete, 360º views of Bora Bora and its entire lagoon below.
COOK ISLANDS Officially a country in a “free association” with neighbouring New Zealand (3,200km to its west), the Cook Islands cover just 240sq.km. of landmass. Its 15 islands are spread across more than 1 million sq.km. of ocean; its largest island, Rarotonga (67sq.km), is home to more than 70% of the country’s 15,000 residents. Other islands include Aitutaki (pop. 1,700) with its turquoise lagoon, and the tiny coral atoll of Pukapuka (pop. 450), measuring just 1sq.km.
Rarotonga is the starting point for journeys in the Cooks. The island’s surrounded by a fringing coral reef and calm lagoon, while inland it rises steeply in a series of extinct volcanic peaks, culminating in Te Manga (652m) – itself the summit of the massive underwater volcano that forms the entire island. Given its rugged interior, almost all of Rarotonga’s population live in coastal villages, with only a handful of unsealed roads extending inland.
© Air Rarotonga
© Zhang Da Quang © David Kirkland
Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia operate regular Auckland-Rarotonga services; Air Rarotonga and Air Tahiti run weekly services from Tahiti. Within the Cooks, Air Rarotonga runs regular services between all the main islands.
Cross-Island Track With no roads in the interior, the only way across the island is via the hiking trail, Cross-Island Track, with a steep ascent up Te Rua Manga – aka “The Needle”. While it’s not the highest peak on the island, iconic Te Rua Manga (409m) rises straight up from the forest and is visible from miles around.
The route starts in the north at Avatiu Harbour, heading inland via the Avatiu Valley before hitting the lower slopes of The Needle, a steep 1.5-hour climb around the middle of the peak (it’s not possible to summit FIT, given the danger of rock falls, and sheer drops).
The route then follows Papua Stream towards Wigmore’s Waterfall (the sole waterfall in the Cooks), from where hikers can walk to the coastal road. The trail can be completed in about 4 hours. Diving There are around 40 sites dotted around the coast, including reefs, walls and wrecks. The seabed drops off sharply beyond Rarotonga’s fringing reef, with notable sites including the Arorangi Dropoff (10-40m) in the west that’s home to Eagle rays, triggerfish, Whitetips and Trevally; Queens Reef (10-40m+), in the south with rays, Grey reef sharks and Whitetips; and Matavera Wall (12-35m) in the east, with its numerous species of sharks and turtles. Mataora Wreck (12-20m) Situated off the northeast coast, former freighter MV Mataora is the best of Rarotonga’s 3 wreck dives. Scuttled in 1990, it’s accessible to all levels of divers, with the uppermost sections starting at just 8m with good visibility and little to no currents.
Over the years, successive cyclones have broken it into numerous parts, creating extensive hiding places for species including gobies, Morays, soldier fish and target fish, darting among its hard and soft corals.
SS Maitai (3-12m) Another easily-reached wreck on Rarotonga’s north coast is the SS Maitai. Dating back over a century, it’s substantially overgrown with coral and barnacles, but visible parts of the boiler and rudder remain, with resident species including Lionfish, octopus, Napoleon wrasse and Scorpionfish.
POLYNESIA + MICRONESIA PALAU Like many of its Polynesian neighbours, the island nation of Palau is made up of hundreds of islands covering just 465sq.km. of land, but spread over 600,000sq.km. of sea. The vast majority of the population living on Koror – Palau’s main town (and island) – and nearby Babeldaob and Peleliu, all of which are surrounded by a barrier reef. Not surprisingly, most visitors come to experience the country’s underwater wonders, including its reefs and wreck dives, its famous Rock Islands, and the country’s traditional culture.
Just 45 minutes by boat from Koror, the UNESCO-listed Rock Islands are
Palau’s most iconic landscape. The 445 islands stretch across the Southern Lagoon between Koror and Peleliu, and are remnants of ancient coral reefs pushed upward by volcanic forces, creating their iconic array of mushroom-shaped domes.
The islands also boast ancient rock art sites and ruins of human villages dating back 5,000 years, along with unique birdlife like Jungle Nightjars, Micronesian Kingfishers and Palau Owls.
The area is home to thousands of marine species, including 385 types of coral, hundreds of species of fish, dugongs, and big pelagics like eagle rays, as well as 13 varieties of shark, all of which can be readily seen by divers and snorkellers.
Jellyfish Lake (closed) The heavily forested islands also boast the world’s highest concentration of marine lakes including Eil Malk’s famous Jellyfish Lake which is filled with stingless jellyfish.
Blue Corner Arguably the best dive site in the world with its reef and wall (as well as intense currents), the Blue Corner is home to huge numbers of species including barracuda, eagle rays, giant grouper, green turtles, and sharks.
The Jellyfish Lake was closed in 2016 due to rising ocean temperatures and salinity which have altered the chemistry of the lake, resulting in the decimation of its unique Golden jellyfish population. Authorities are closing the site until further notice in an effort to conserve the survivors.
it’s probably most famous for its 60+ WWII era-wrecks.
Diving The waters are home to over 700 types of coral and over 1,300 species of fish; not surprising in a country that recently voted to turn over 80% of its total territory into the world’s 6th largest marine reserve.
Iro Maru The most famous of Palau’s wrecks, the Iro is an exquisitely preserved Japanese freighter sunk in 1944. Resting upright in 40m of water, the forward tower is just 8m down, covered in anemones, nudibranch, and soft corals populated with marine life like clownfish and lionfish.
While Palau has well over 100 dive sites, including caves, reefs, and walls,
Just across the lagoon lies the Iro’s sister ship, the Satu Maru, as well as
the Choyu Maru (famous for its lionfish) and Amatsu Maru (famous for its black coral) – also the largest shipwreck in Micronesia.