Text: Claire Lessiau Photographs: Marcella van Alphen
The morning sun bathes the city in a warm light as we walk towards the bank of the Arno River at the foot of Saint Michelangelo’s Piazza in the city of Florence, Italy. We are meeting with Tommaso Pucci, the founder of Toscana SUP and organizer of Uffizi Sup Race and Florence Paddle Games. He knows the Arno River, and the Tuscan waters like no one else, and has a clear passion for his city, Florence, that he is about to have us discover from an unusual point of view… Keep travelling!
Text: Claire Lessiau Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Cinque Terre is so much more than just five instagrammable colourful medieval villages dominating the crystal-clear Ligurian Sea. First of all, it is more like a dozen other tiny villages including the ones that are high up overlooking the five most famous Italian villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore (from North to South). It is also a National Park, including a large marine reserve, and it is an agricultural land where vineyards have been cultivated on narrow terraces supported by dry-stone walls for almost a millennium.
The vast Colorado River winds its way through the metamorphic red stones of the Colorado Plateau where it has sculpted the land for millions of years carving one of world’s most spectacular gorges. If the Grand Canyon had made explorers of the Great Unknown shiver, the shorter Cataract Canyon just a couple of hundred miles upstream had remained one of the most difficult sections of the Colorado River to conquer. In the springtime, the melting snow feeds both rivers, the Colorado and the Green that merge at Confluence in the heart of Canyonlands NP, the starting point of the Cataract Canyon. Both un-dammed for hundreds of miles upstream, these mighty rivers merge to lead to the greatest white waters of the USA this time of the year with Class II to V rapids ranking along with those of the Grand Canyon in power and difficulty. Today they make the bravest white water enthusiasts shrill while riding these exhilarating rapids!
“Stand up, lean backwards, rope between your legs, and put both of your hands on the rope. Good. Smile for the camera! And off you go!” I force a little smile towards Olivier’s GoPro before I look down upon one of the many magnificent natural pools of the Reunion Island 35 meters below. Around me bright green and lush vegetation covering the 80-meter high volcanic cliffs contrasts greatly with the deep blue sky. Swallows are flying low below me as they hunt for mosquitos in their acrobatic flights just above the water basin. The only sound I hear is the roaring waterfall to my left of which I feel the splashes on my wetsuit. It is just loud enough to cover up for the sounds of my heartbeat in this adrenalin-packed adventure on which Olivier is taking us in order to uncover the rugged beauty of this lost island in the Indian Ocean. Keep exploring!
If many of the wadis of Oman are dry, and are a great playground to hike or climb, the wet canyons are the perfect place to cool down and have some serious fun! From just swimming to going on an intense canyoning adventure, the warmth of the crystal-clear waters makes the experience very enjoyable. We have listed some of the best wadis of Oman in this visual tour to help you choose the ones to your taste. Keep travelling!
The early morning sun slowly colours the steep rocky slopes of Oman’s wildest peaks as our Toyota Land Cruiser makes its way along one of the country’s most stunning 4×4 tracks via the village of Hatt. Patches of lush vegetation break the dry mineral landscape here and there. Large birds of prey hover in the sky. Chris puts the car to a halt. He switches the gear over to 4×4 as things are getting serious. The Toyota peeps and cracks on the bumpy and steep downhill track along the deep and scenic canyon. While being rocked in the car, slowly a massive dark crack in the rock-strewn slopes, far below us, becomes visible: a crevice so deep that we cannot see the bottom. Or not yet as it is the goal of our canyoning expedition! Keep exploring
Halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth lies George, the capital of the most famous South African coastal stretch: the Garden Route. While the neighbouring Knysna and Plettenberg Bay are highly advertised for, George deserves way more attention as an outdoor paradise. This laidback town in the Western Cape is about to become the hotspot for adventure seekers with its dramatic mountains overlooking the ocean, its precious and rare fynbos ecosystem, its stunning gorges covered in pristine forests where leopards still roam freely. What a better way to discover this secret nature by kloofing (South African for “canyoning”) than with the man who has explored almost every single canyon of South Africa?
“Hug the rock! Just hug the rock!” I keep telling myself as the white waters in which I float like a cork violently smash into a big boulder downstream coming at me fast. The first rock that my gecko (a small one-person raft) went for had me capsize, as I naturally leaned away from it to try and minimise the damages. Approaching the boulder I hold on tight to my gecko as I am exploring one of South Africa’s most scenic rivers: the Sabie River. Keep travelling!
“Hmm, Claire did you read the incoming email from Eric, regarding our kayak trip to the Statue of Liberty next week?” I fearfully ask her. We both sit down and read Eric Stiller’s questions concerning our seaworthiness and fitness level, and a slight panic starts to take control over both of us. The proud owner of the Manhattan Kayak Company wants to know in what specific types of kayaks we have practised, for how many hours a day, and what our average speed is. We are about to board the A380, the super jumbo jet Air France flies from Paris to New York City for a new adventure on the Hudson River, Keep traveling!
My eyes catch something massive crossing the river in a slow but steady pace. It is an Asian elephant carrying a man on its neck, seated in a lotus position. Fresh water from the river splashes my face and startles me. “Paddle forward! Keep reading
The honking horn of a ferry boat announces its departure. Three more honks by other boats overpower the white noise of the city. Soon, four ferries start getting out of their terminals in rear gear in a well-orchestrated routine. A sightseeing boat loaded with tourists rushes by while a helicopter is flying over it. I manoeuvre my small kayak to avoid being flipped over by the waves. It is rush hour on the Hudson River in New York City which we are kayaking to take in the Manhattan skyline. Keep paddling!
The young ayudante holds his balance gracefully when the colectivo (the mini-van turned local bus), sets off to the next bus stop on the winding road. The engine makes more noise as the gradient of the road gets steeper and the view on the rolling hills surrounding us more beautiful. Behind the next curve lays the remote mountain village of Santa Fé, about five hours South-West of Panama City.
The Sarapiqui River is powerful and brownish, as it has been raining non-stop for the past 24 hours. Seated in a kayak, resting on the river bank, I observe how David flips himself over with his kayak in the current. The short red embarkation is now floating downstream, upside down. Within a few seconds though, David appears from underneath the water, with a huge smile. “So this is how we do the underwater exit”, he says. “Your turn now!” Keep traveling!
I finish pumping up the raft before boarding it with a small team of daredevils. I check the safety gear one more time. We are about to start the first white water rafting descent of the Chiriquí Viejo River in Panama. No one has ever done so. Keep traveling!
The delicate brown little bird with its bright yellow beak dances elegantly on its high grey legs on a large waterlily leaf. It is a challenge to capture it from my unstable 1-person kayak that rolls violently on the waves caused by a lancha (a small passenger motor boat) passing by. I am kayaking around Las Isletas de Granada, (the islets of Granada), in Nicaragua. According to the legend, there would be 365 islands scattered around the peninsula, one for each day of the year… Quite a lot to explore!
Passing a few women washing their clothes in the river and drying them on the warm volcanic boulders on this sunny Sunday morning, we are entering the Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua, a beautiful playground of soft boulders, steep cliffs, clear pools and wild rapids for a 6-hour self-guided canyoning adventure. Keep traveling!
“Step out slowly, step out slowly, step out slowly!” The voice of Pedro, one of our guides for the day gets louder to reach an almost screaming order that is quite unexpected from this strongly built and very jungle-confident Maya. While I was stepping cautiously on an anthill to observe the leaf carriers, I pointed out to him a small snake coiled on the hill, about half a meter from my foot. As I am backing off, apparently way too slowly for Pedro, he starts telling me with a slight panic in his voice that this baby snake is the deadliest of South and Central America: the fer-de-lance. After a very bumpy ride through the Belizean citrus fields in a former US school bus turned military-graded 4×4, this is how our caving waterfall adventure to the Footprint Cave starts.