Bootsnall top ten destinations for 2008

Bootsnall recently published its list of top destinations for independent travellers in 2008. The list is:

10 Buenos Aires, Argentina
9 Budapest, Hungary
8 Morocco
7 Chiang Mai, Thailand
6 Imet Gogo, Ethiopia
5 Queenstown, New Zealand
4 Palermo, Sicily
3 Petra, Jordan
2 Belize
1 Nepal

Interesting list, especially with Nepal number 1. I have seen some of the same on other lists, especially Argentina, Marocco and an eastern European destination. But I am a bit surprised at Nepal. I would have chosen a “newer” destination, such as Kyrgyzstan, or even Mongolia.

(via Besthike)

Alberta Trails

More and more jusrisdictions are putting trail maps up on the Web. Alberta, flush with cash, has just started a trail mapping project. They’ve done parts of NE Alberta as a trial. The section of the Trans Canada trail in that area looks intriguing – the 300km Iron Horse trail.

Travel Alberta has picked up on the project, and lists it on their site as well. Let’s hope they call the project a success and complete the entire province soon.

Outdoor Research Gear

I am a self-confessed outdoor gear addict. I believe in having few but high-quality pieces of gear. But because their are several seasons and sports to cover, that still means that I have many containers of it.

Crocs gaitersOne of my favourite brands has to be Seattle-based Outdoor Research. They have always made a range of great accessories. But nowadays they don’t only make accessories, but also jackets, shelters and sleeping mats. My favourites:

  • Crocodile gaiters. Simply the best gaiters I have had. My last pair lived twenty years. Virtually indesructible, heavy duty, and very waterproof.
  • Exos Gaiters. These are a luxury winter gaiter. Made of soft shell Schoeller fabric, they are great for snowshoeing or skiing. Your feet/legs will stay toasty warm in these.
  • Omni glove linersOmni glove liners. Most importantly for me, I can operate my camera with them, and they are more water-resistant than other liners, They have a grip patern on the palms, which is made of a cool glow-in-the-dark material.
  • Their lightweight Goretex PacLite Celestial jacket is indeed ultralight, and features innovative sidezips that make it easier to wear with a pack on.
  • The Seattle Sombrero is supposed to be one of the best rain hats out there. I am waiting for a solid spring rainstorm to test mine out.
  • Check out their exped downmats. Instead of open foam, they have a down filling, whcih has a much higher insulation value than a standard Thermarest. Very cool idea.

Exped downmatOne of Outdoor Research’s best selling points: their unconditional lifelong guarantee. When my crocodile gaiters wore out after just twenty years, they replaced them with new ones, no questions asked. To me that’s worth spending a few extra dollars on!

Winnepeg beats out Ottawa for longest skating rink

Ottawa may boast that it has the world’s longest skating rink on the Rideau Canal, but this year Winnipeg has beat them with their new nine km long rink. They’re expecting 20,000 skaters this weekend, while Ottawa has only been able to open a short 1km stretch, due to the warm weather.

It’s great to see that Canada has the two longest skating rinks. Of course, if ever it would freeze again in the Netherlands, they could easily beat either city. When there is ice, half the country is turned into one massive skating rink! Just a shame that they haven’t had much decent ice in the past few years.

Solar eclipse in northern Canada

A total solar eclipse will hit northern Nunavut early in the morning on August 1. Map of the eclipse’s path. It should be pretty as the eclipse will start just after sunrise. Total eclipses are rare enough (they occur about once per 12-18 months) and they have a tendency of appearing in remote parts of the globe. See this map of solar eclipses until 2025. The next time a total eclipse returns to Canada is on April 8, 2024. Everythying you wanted to know about the eclipse is here.

So it is worth travelling to Nunavut to see this one. Only one slight problem: it is so expensive to get there, that from Vancouver it would be cheaper to travel to China or even Bayan Olgii in western Mongolia to watch the eclipse there. And the chances of getting clear skies are much better in Mongolia and China (map).

Grise fiord is the only Canadian town in the path of the eclipse. To get there, you first fly to Iqaluit via Ottawa or Montreal, then onwards to Resolute, and from there to Grise Fiord. Total cost: probably well over $4000 (!). From Resolute to Grise Fiord alone is about $1000 return. The list price from Iqaluit to Resolute alone is $2200. It’s difficult to promote tourism in this area when it is so hard to get there.

To get to Bayan Olgii, you take a non-stop flight to Beijing, another one hour flight to Ulaanbaatar, and then an interior flight to Olgii. Probably less than $1500 or so return. You could also watch the eclipse in northern China, just one flight and a bit of overland travel away. You’d just have to get well away from Beijing and its pollution. The southern Gobi would be a good place to watch.

How to discourage tourism

I have been looking enviously at the “incredible India” campaign from the Indian Tourism Office lately. They appear to have lots of money to spread their message all over North America. It seems to have generated lots of interest in India, which of course is worrisome when you work for the Canadian Tourism Commission. But, as Tony Wheeler (founder of Lonely Planet) reports, we don’t have to worry too much, because luckily, India has a very effective immigration department, which manages to do a great job discouraging prospective tourists from actually getting a visa to go there.

As Tony mentions, the US is no less effective. Read especially this blog entry from an Icelandic woman who overstayed her visa by 3 weeks, 10 year ago.

At least Canada is much nicer to its tourists – provided you come from the US, Europe or other developed nations, that is. Now, if you are a citizen of, for example, a latin American country, well, that is a different matter all together. The Canadians can be pretty effective at keeping potential visitors at bay as well…

Hemlock resort

Vancouver is known for its three ski hills just outside city limits: Cypress, Grouse and Seymour. And of course, there is world-renowned Whistler just two hours away, and Mt. Washington over on Vancouver Island. But there are three other smaller resorts within a three hour drive: Manning (3 hours, near Hope), Hemlock (2 hours, newar Harrison Hotsprings) and Mt. Baker (3 hours, in Washington state).

Hemlock is a great little resort with only three lifts, but lots of terrain, because the hill is in the subalpine, so you cna ski just about anywhere. It’s got 1300 feet of vertical, not bad for a local hill. And the snow is good – lots of it this year. They’ve got some reasonably priced accommodation on the hill. Well worth checking out.

Radio tracking wildlife

The BBC has put together Love Earth, a great website on wildlife. The site includes a section on tracking, in which the tracks of various radiotagged wildlife are recorded. Very cool for kids. If only technology had been this far along when I was tracking willow ptarmigan up at Chilkat Pass in NW BC nearly 20 years ago. Of course, willow ptarmigan aren’t as cool as bears and elephants, but still would have been neat to follow them in Google earth, instead of the DOS-based program I had!

Bike Hike adventures

I find that the best tour operators tend to be small companies, run by passionate people who’d love to go on the trips they offer themselves. BikeHike Adventures from Vancouver is one of those companies. National Geographic Adventure magazine recently published a list of the best adventure travel companies in the world, and they agreed – BikeHike is on the list of best outfitters – as second best biking outfitter in the world.

The owner, Trish Sare, is a passionate traveller herself, having travelled and lived all over the world for the past twenty years. Worth checking out for your next adventure.

Snowmobiling along Quebec’s lower north shore

Earlier, I talked about the Relais Nordik, the ship that plies Quebec’s lower north shore in summer. It turns out that an even better way to experience the remote community along this rugged coast is by snowmobile. There is no road in the area, but in winter, they link all communities by snowmobile road, complete with road signs and all. Check out this great article in Canadian Geographic.

Where do I sign up?