12 Aug Activities For the Backpacker – Get the Most From Your Trip
“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” – Anatole France
When you get tiring of lazing around on the beach there are plenty of fun activities you can do such as rafting or trekking. These kinds of activities can often be the highlight of a trip and you can snap loads of cool pictures you can use to make all your friends envious at home.
There are usually several different companies offering the activities. Do not only decide based on price, there may be big differences in the quality of the equipment and the food and how much the local porters get paid. Ask for references from other travelers. Sometimes you find that even though you book with one company they pool their customers with customers from other companies in order to make more money. If this is a problem for you then ask before you book.
Make sure that you are physically prepared for the activities you plan to do, bring the right equipment or rent it locally. Make sure you have enough water and food and beware of the sun.
Rock climbing is a good way to get some adrenalin going. In most countries there are local climbing clubs that usually can assist you with advice on where to go. Or they might come along as climbing partners if you ask them. If you do not have proper training and do not know how to handle the equipment securely there are usually commercial companies offering guided tours on beginner routes.
If you end up climbing in areas rarely visited you might want to check when the area was last rebolted. Bolts are affected by the wear and tear of water, especially if they are close to the ocean.
Note that different crags have different rules of what protection to use. In some places chalk is forbidden too. Make sure to stick with the local climbing rules.
A good place to find route maps (topos) on the Internet is Wikitopo.
Personal Experience – The Mont Blanc Misery
I was in Chamonix and decided to climb Mont Blanc. As this was not part of our schedule we were in a rush to bring something to eat with us. We brought some cans of food but as we were pretty tired on our way down there was not enough time to stop to cook it. Sandwiches or energy bars would have been more convenient. Preparing alpine climbing is a must as the risk increases when you get tired and hungry.
Trekking in the mountain gives you fresh air and builds your character at the same time. When you trek to higher altitudes the air pressure gets lower. At sea level the oxygen percentage is about 21% with an air pressure around 760 mmHg. As you climb higher the oxygen percentage remains the same but the air pressure gets lower. This means that your body gets less oxygen with each breath. You will lose your breath and get more tired than you perhaps anticipate.
At 6,000 ft (1 828 m) the air pressure is 609 mmHg. At 12,000 ft (3 658 m) the air pressure is 483 mmHg. At 18,000 ft (5 486 m) the air pressure is only 380 mmHg.
People are affected differently at high altitude. Already at 3 000 meters you can get a severe headache. It is important to listen to you body as you can get brain oedema and lung oedema if you keep on pushing on to higher altitudes.
The usual recommendation is modest altitude gains of not more than 300 meters per day above 3 000 meter and to spend 2 nights in the same place every 1 000 meters.
Another thing when you are at high altitude is that water boils at a lower temperature than at sea level. You may therefore have to cook food for a longer period of time.
The temperature can change drastically during the day. It may be freezing cold in the morning, extremely hot during they day and cold at night again. If you change altitude it gets colder the higher you get, around 10 degrees Centigrade (=5,5 degrees Fahrenheit) per 1 000 meters. As an example, if you start out at 10 degrees Centigrade at sea level, this can mean a temperature of -20 degrees Centigrade at 3 000 meters. The chill factor from the wind can make it even colder.
Plan your trip accordingly and allow plenty of slack in your schedule to be able to get down before dark.
If there is snow it is important to wear alpine sun glasses to avoid getting snow blind (or a severe headache).
Scuba diving and snorkeling
Going under water gives you new perspectives of the world. If you intend to get your diving license abroad it makes sense to do some research beforehand. Try to go for the two big certificates: PADI or CMAS.
Renting equipment has it pros and cons. On the upside you do not have to carry your own heavy equipment all over the world. On the downside the rental equipment in many parts of the world is rather poor. Bring your own mask, snorkel and dive watch as a minimum if you intend do some serious diving.
The quality of dive companies and liveaboards also differ greatly. In Australia it is usually very well organized and the instructors show respect to the sea and its inhabitants. In other places dive masters start chasing fish or bend up corals just to show you something “extra”. Do not encourage this behavior. Other people want to see the stuff too!
In some places, such as the Red Sea, the snorkeling is almost as good as the scuba diving. Even though scuba diving increases the chances of seeing “big”animals.
Personal Experience – The Zanzibar Snorkeling Zest
I was staying on the east coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania. I was going for a dive with a bunch of people, but before we got to the dive site we spotted some dolphins nearby. The boatman took us there and I was so eager to get into the water that I forgot my fins. Meanwhile the other people had entered the water and were swimming towards the dolphins. Back on the boat the driver said: “Do not worry. The dolphins have moved. I will take you there.” When I jumped into the water the second time I was all alone with 8 dolphins for a few minutes before the rest of the crowd came and scared them away for good. Magical.
Horseback riding is fun. And camel riding too. Being a novice is usually not a problem. If you are a skilled rider you might find rental horses non-responsive and pretty dull. This is what happens when hundreds of kids pull them in the ears all day.
If you are going on a longer tour, make sure that you get a proper inspection of the horses, camels or whatever you are going to ride.
Personal Experience – The Jaisalmer Jeopardy
In Jaisalmer, India we signed up for a 3-day camel tour out in the desert. We paid a bit extra to get “premium camel” and “premium food”. Well, it turn out my camel (nicknamed Ernst) were the slowest one in the Rajastan desert. And the special food – served every lunch and dinner – was Alu Gobi, which is a mix of potato and cauliflower. Probably the cheapest they could offer. So, it makes good sense to try to check what you are really getting if possible. Or talk to other backpackers or just browse the web.