Saturday, January 07, 2012

Top 5 Adventures for 2012

For nearly 10 years, the little scrap of paper sat folded deep in the recesses of my wallet, ready to be referenced in moments of doubt. Worn with creases and marked with faded ink, it was a list that I first started writing in 2003, on the plane ride home from Finland. Like most gap year travelers, I’d gone overseas to “find myself” and after three months travelling, only one question remained—where should I go next?

The scrap of paper detailed just that. Morocco and Egypt. Thailand. The Greek Islands. I was certain that the next time my bank account had a surplus (which, as it turned out, would be never), I’d reference the list and away I’d go.

It wasn’t until this past year in one of my purges that the little scrap of paper was discarded. Reviewing it, I realized that the only place on the list that I'd actually travelled to was Croatia. If I’ve learned anything from 2011, it’s that I lack little, if any, capacity to plan my travels in advance. There are greater forces at work and I’m more interested in the unexpected.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t keep a mental list. NASA scientists have predicted that this year the northern lights will appear the strongest that they have in over 50 years. Coupled with my 2012 Resolution (Year of the Physical Fitness Challenge), it should be no surprise that the north features predominantly on my list.

Here are my top five picks for where I’d like to go in 2012:

1. Kayaking in Greenland

Three things you need to know:

1. I’ve been obsessed with Greenland for far longer than I care to admit.
2. I have no idea how to kayak.
3. I hate being cold and wet.

The latter two facts are cancelled out by the first. It’s going to be great.

2. Polar bear watching in Churchill, Manitoba

It’s less that I care about polar bears and more that I love the lyrics to the Greg Macpherson song, Churchill:

I wore the sweater my father wore
The one he got from his girlfriend before he quit his job and met my mother
There's a train that runs from here to Churchill
I never knew that Churchill was so far away

It’s a great song. I don’t even care if I see a polar bear. I just want to hang out in a shady hotel room, drink coffee, write, think about my feelings and listen to this song on repeat.

3. Reindeer Sledding in Lapland

I haven’t stopped thinking about Lapland since 2002, which is when Helka first told me about the Sámi people. Typically led by the Sámi tour guides, reindeer excursions in Swedish Lapland sometimes include the opportunity to build and sleep in your own igloo.

I don't feel any need to further explain why this is awesome.

4. Driving the Dempster Highway

You know when relatives come back from vacations and make you sit through insufferably long mandatory slideshows of their trip? You know how it’s usually interesting for about 10 minutes and then you want to gouge your eyeballs out because you can’t handle seeing one more picture of the sandwich that they ate one day at this little out of the way diner that was amazing and only the locals know about it?

This wasn’t at all the case when my cousin Graham and his girlfriend (now fiancée) Melissa came back from a trip up the Dempster Highway a couple of years ago. Graham had to deliver a cabin up north from St. Albert, so Melissa decided to tag along for the ride, making video footage along the way.

It was beautiful and captivating and unreal. I want to go. I will go.

5. Hula Hooping in North Korea

Up until this year, I’ve had zero interest in travelling to Asia. But Kim Jong-Il’s death sparked something. And I’m not the only one. In this weekend’s Globe & Mail travel section, Bruce Kirkby included the vacation destination (yes, that’s right—I just referred to North Korea as a “vacation destination”—want to fight about it?) in his Escape Route column. According to Kirkby, the country admits "fewer than 2,000 Westerners" each year. Fewer than 2,000? That’s more than zero. I’m game.

Honorable Mention: Hiking in Patagonia

After working on a feature for Verge in the fall, my interest in green accommodation has been renewed. In 2012, I want to sleep in all sorts of unusual places: igloos, treehouses, earth-sheltered motels, public parks. Right now, Chilean Patagonia’s EcoCamp is topping the list.

*I totally stole all the photos in this post from various sources. Sorry.

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