Snowbird Adventures: Active Getaways

Want to get moving? The best active getaways selected by the editors of Zoomer Magazine.

KENYA

Why: The ultimate bucket-list trip. We landed in Nairobi late at night and stayed at the historic Norfolk Hotel (now a Fairmont property),where photographs of 20th-century colonial Kenya and its most famous inhabitants, Isak Dinesen (a.k.a. Baroness Karen von Blixen, who penned Out of Africa and was portrayed by Meryl Streep

in the 1985 film) and her lover, the doomed aviator Denys Finch Hatton (played by Robert Redford), graced the walls. The sepia pictures set the scene all right, and I was ready to unearth my own personal experience and find a connection with the country I’d dreamed about for my whole life. The journey began the next morning on a bush plane. I’m no fan of heights, so getting onto the tiny plane was unnerving. Remember Finch Hatton? But something happened once I was up in the clouds: the view below opened up and the green vistas dotted with exotic animals made my fear subside.

We landed on a dirt strip in the Masai Mara National Reserve – known locally as “the Mara” – in the southwestern part of Kenya. The Mara is the continuation of the Serengeti Plain from neighbouring Tanzania. Masai warriors greeted us and demonstrated their native dance as our guides loaded the trucks with our luggage. Then, we were off on our first game drive. There is a reason the local government came up with the tourism slogan Magical Kenya. Every direction was teeming with wildlife. Zebras. Gazelles. Baboons. Giraffes. Buffalo. Cheetahs. Leopards. Hippos. Ostriches. And, at long last, elephants. A family of six grazed peacefully. A baby stuck close to its mother, and the herd slowly marched. I was transfixed. After decades of longing for this moment, seeing elephants in the wild was a visceral emotional experience that went beyond nature documentaries and movies. Some moments in life aren’t easily captured by camera or pen, and this was one of them. I could die happy now.

 

BARBADOS

Why: ’Cause everybody’s surfin’ now. Sure it’s known for its white sand beaches, British reserve and polo playing, and it’s the only Zagatrated island in the Caribbean, but Barbados is also home to a vibrant surf culture – which developed after two Californians on a surf safari left their boards there in the ’60s. Consider, then, the island the perfect destination for those looking to release their inner soul surfer. But if you haven’t gone tubular since, say, 1972, head to the south coast for good waves and even better surf instructors. Brian (Irie Man) Talma, who is an internationally ranked windand kite-surfer, gives lessons in his specialties as well as surfing to all skill levels. Check out deAction Beach Shop (www.briantalma.com/deactionshop.cfm) on Silver Sands beach in Christ Church. Go while the going’s good: the waves are best in winter.

 

LAGUNA SAN RAPHAEL GLACIER, CHILE

Why: To gain a new appreciation for nature’s quiet beauty. Silence envelops the group of bundled passengers gazing awestruck from the prow of the catamaran at the sapphireblue crevasses of the glacier in Laguna San Raphael. Suddenly,a thunderous roar breaks the stillness as a three-metre chunk of ice topples into the water below. A small tender is lowered into the water from the decks of our cruise ship, and three crew members buzz up-close-and-personal to the glacier where they gather chunks of ice to bring back to add to the Pisco Sours, Chile’s national drink that we will raise in a toast to this natural phenomenon.

The visit to the glacier extending from Mount San Valentin, the tallest peak in the Southern Andes, is definitely a unique experience. The glacier is a gorgeous kaleidoscope of translucent blues, greens and whites, but we are saddened to learn from our guides that, like much of our world, the glacier is receding quickly, threatening the fresh water supply of the entire continent of South America. It’s two kilometres wide and rises 65 metres above the waterline, but only three years ago,it rose 70 metres above the water.

 

RIVIERA MAYA, MEXICO

Why: For a golf getaway of a different kind. The ultra-luxe Mayakoba Resort has the Jim McLean Golf Academy, a state-of-the-art centre featuring personalized instruction programs, high-tech golf analysis software and certified Jim McLean Master Instructors. McLean not only owns the No. 1- rated golf school in America, he’s also considered one of the top golf teachers in the world (ranked fourth by Golf Digest). Test his tips on the Mayakoba’s El Camaleón golf course, designed by the Great White Shark, Greg Norman. Then go beyond the links: visit the nearby town of Playa del Carmen; snorkel or dive the Great Mayan Reef for the second largest coral reef system in the world; and explore the not-tobe- missed archeologically important Mayan sites of Xcaret and Tulum.

COSTA  RICA

Why: An ecotourist’s paradise. My trip started at Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation and Inn, with a delectable dinner of local cuisine, with American ex-pat owners Glenn and Teri Jampol. Luckily, I work off the dinner the next morning with an hour-long hike through the Central Highlands, where the property is located. The organic coffee beans grown here are roasted right on plantation, and the coffee tour is quite the draw. At Harmony, I find just that. Situated on Guiones Beach, in the revered surf safari destination of Nosara, Harmony’s urban boutique hotel esthetic blends seamlessly into its surroundings – jet-set chic gone ’70s surfer vibe. Two days of surf school on some of Costa Rica’s best waves leave me sorely in need of the property’s healing centre, where a massage and yoga are on tap.

The great thing about Costa Rica is that there’s a Canadian on every corner. At Harmony, I meet a young couple from Eastern Canada who are enjoying one last endless summer before starting med school in Toronto. Back in San Jose, the capital, after crisscrossing the country aboard Nature Air, I lunch at Hotel Grano de Oro, owned by retired Calgary businessman Eldon Cooke. About 15 years ago, Cooke and his family revived and renovated the hotel, which stands as one of the best examples of Victorian architecture in the country. In their spare time, Cooke and family created Casa Luz, a safe haven for victims of abuse and sexual exploitation, which opened in 2003. Meanwhile, Arenas del Mar is a resort experience on a larger scale. Golf carts ferry you around the hilly spot, where monkeys chatter in the trees. They’re great preparation for the rainforest trek, where eagleeyed guides point out the unique exotica, from gekkos to rainbow-bright birds.

 

(September 2011)