OFF THE BEATEN PATH
The Road Less Taken
Copyright © 1998 Laurie Meyers. All rights reserved.
How'd you like to be staring at the sun? Or on the trail of a monster storm? Explore secret voodoo rituals? Drive a dogsled? If you're looking for a unique experience for your next vacation, I have a list for you. There are a lot of "themed" travel options out there, but these stand out for their inventiveness and fresh perspective. Some of these tours could comprise the entire itinerary of your trip, while some could be taken as short side trips from familiar destinations. Use the list and its links to start planning your next offbeat vacation.
Forget watching it on the Internet-these tours take you there and throw in a little local color on the side. The next total eclipse of the sun will be on August 11, 1999, and prime viewing is from Europe. Hole in the Sky Tours is offering two tours for the big event: a Bavaria tour of Southern Germany and Northern Austria, and a Black Sea cruise from Athens to Istanbul. These 10- and 15-day tours include explorations of their chosen regions, and are structured around being at the best possible viewing point on August 11. Tours are billed as being accompanied by local and eclipse experts. For those who want to see more of the region after the eclipse, trip extensions are available. When you check out the Web site, request information for the 2001 eclipse safari in Southern Africa. Lions and tigers andů
Here's a trip you don't take for the location. Most of these tours operate out of Oklahoma City, and promise to take participants wherever necessary to stay on the path of killer storms. That's right. This is a vacation where instead of trying to avoid bad weather, you actually chase it. If you have a taste for natural disaster, this one's for you. Led by meteorologists and other professional storm chasers, these tours could take you anywhere in the Midwest's "Tornado Alley" (spanning a range that could extend as far as Colorado, Texas and North Dakota) in search of severe weather. Operators make no promises, but trips are planned for maximum possible tornado viewing. Ground transportation and hotel accommodations are taken care of, and on days when no weather fun is expected, participants are free to take in the local scene. To see some dramatic pictures and possibly book a tour, check out Storm Chasing Toursand Silver Lining.
Want to really see Alaska and the Arctic? Do you like dogs? Fancy yourself a bit Jack London-esque? Well then, mush! You, too, could be driving a dogsled. Whether you want to hang out with Iditarod mushers, or learn to drive your own team, there's a tour for you. Petersville Kennel offers a range of options from short lessons to extended overland trips to the base of Denali. Iditarod Dog Mushing Tours promises a chance to guide a team of Iditarod-trained dogs "across the frozen ice of the Bering Sea." Unsure about the trip you want to take? For a list of trips that range from semi-luxurious to "hard-core Arctic survival," see Mushing Magazine'sDirectory of Dogsled Adventure.
Trek the Himalayas
It isn't climbing Mount Everest, but it's close. There are numerous tours that offer an authentic view of this part of the world. You can trek with the sherpas, and for a short while, live life as they do. Explore Tibet, which until recently was closed to outsiders and is still relatively inaccessible. See hillside villages, ancient monasteries, and hidden mountain passes. Trek to the base of Mount Everest. Or try a jungle safari, riding an elephant through Nepal's Royal Chitwan National Park.
Tour by Camel
It seems only appropriate when exploring ancient cultures to use appropriate modes of travel. For instance, when touring Egypt, you can cruise down in the Nile in a felucca, ride a camel through the desert and camp underneath the stars. Safaricentreoffers just such an experience. Hooked on the camel idea, but you want to see other Middle Eastern countries as well? Imaginative Traveler Middle East offers camel treks through countries such as Israel, Jordan and Syria.
An American Safari
What about a road trip that's purely American? Try a blues tour in a 1955 Cadillac. The American Dream Safarioffers an odyssey into the heart of the South with expeditions into Memphis and the Mississippi Delta. Follow along the trail of practitioners of one the only forms of indigenous American music. Tour options include day trips hitting Memphis highlights, backroad tours into the heart of the Mississippi Delta, and a "blues pilgrimage" that goes from Beale Street to Bourbon Street. Memphis stops include Sun Studios, Beale Street, the Blues Hall of Fame, a visit with a Blues legend, the top of the Peabody Hotel for a sunset serenade, and then a night of music at Wild Bill's. On the blues pilgrimage, go from Memphis to New Orleans by way of the Delta and Highway 61, stopping off at such legendary landmarks as Mama Rini's Do Drop Inn.
Voodoo New Orleans
Are you brave enough? Voodoo traditions contribute to that particular brand of dark opulence found only in New Orleans. If you want to see what really makes this city different, try a voodoo tour. The Voodoo Museum of New Orleans claims to give the only authentic voodoo tours of the city, and as a keeper of the culture, it makes a strong case for that claim. Tours range from relatively tame to full-blown spine-tingling. See famous voodoo graves, haunted houses, a voodoo pharmacy, and even a Catholic church which houses a voodoo saint. Hear voodoo lore, documented stories of ghost and vampire sightings, and visit an actual voodoo temple, where you can meet a voodoo priest and priestess and see an authentic ceremony. Wherever appropriate, tour guides will give each member a protective bag of gris-gris. Visit the Voodoo Museum's Web site for more information on tours and to buy tickets.
The Real Caribbean
So you want to learn to salsa. Go to the source. Cultural Adventure Travel offers Caribbean Music and Dance Programs which allow you to explore the music, dance and culture of Brazil, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Immerse yourself in the culture with festivals, carnivals, and music and dance workshops. Song and dance workshops are taught by local artists, and side trips give the lessons a cultural perspective. The Cuban tours offer one of the only means of travel to Cuba for Americans. Cultural Adventure Travel offers license application and assistance, and will even facilitate independent travel in Cuba. It's not your usual Caribbean experience.
Now that you have a few ideas, find something that really intrigues you. Don't be one of the herd. Step outside your life on your next vacation. You never know what you might discover.
Laurie Meyers is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She works in the information technology industry, and writes a weekly satirical current events column for The Rogue Market. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.