Doing the Wild Thing

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside Magazine, 1999 Annual Travel Guide

Doing the Wild Thing

Eight bush camps and jungle lodges where the floor show is fierce

Temple Tiger Jungle Lodge, Nepal
Milk and musk: That's what a Royal Bengal tiger smells like. So said Jitu, our expert naturalist guide, as he led us into the jungle on the back of a swaggering pachyderm. The broad viewing deck and 27 thatched-roof huts of Temple Tiger receded from view as we made our way into the bush, crunching through sal trees amid the scream of confetti-colored birds.

Temple Tiger Jungle Lodge sits within the boundaries of Royal Chitwan National Park, a 937-square-kilometer preserve that lies along Nepal's lush southern border. It perches on a long bluff overlooking a cinematic expanse of elephant grass, a mixed riverine forest, the Narayani River, and white egrets. One-horned rhinos graze in the near distance; langur monkeys parade up the trees.

Tigers themselves are very rare — there are fewer than 100 in the entire park, maybe half a dozen within Temple Tiger's 12-square-kilometer domain. Spying one demands perseverance. You'll be up at dawn for elephant safaris and jungle drives, boat rides and nature walks, all of which are included (along with meals) in the lodge's $200-per-person, per-night tariff.

They say this is the world's most perfect desert: It hasn't rained in some of the lunar valleys since the conquistadors first stomped through, more than 400 years ago. As I wander between volcanoes and steaming cracks in the earth, I keep running into ghost towns — built by British mining companies in the early 20th century, then abandoned when the nitrate market collapsed. Humberstone is like a sprawling haunted museum, entirely preserved in the parched air. Glass still hangs in the windows; faded signs read "Cantina"; there's an empty swimming pool for the executives, and a theater once patronized by workers. Then, at the edge of town, railway tracks just disappear into the sand. I hung around for an hour, suddenly got spooked, then drove off into the void.
        — Tony Perrottet

Like any great jungle lodge, Temple Tiger is utterly unobtrusive. When Jitu finally sniffed out our tiger, it was devouring a deer in a thicket not one kilometer from the lodge's open-air dining veranda. Slugabed visitors heard the beast roar and couldn't believe how close it sounded. For those of us out on the elephant, however, the lodge seemed very distant indeed. Call Temple Tiger at 011-977-1-225780 or 221637; fax 220178; or E-mail at [email protected]
Jeff Greenwald

Bear Camp, Alaska
I can never keep it straight: Is it black bears that can climb, or browns? "Doesn't matter," drawls Scotty Boyd, he of the full-length leathers, .357 hip-ready pistol, and Winchester rifle. "Black bears climb. Browns just push the tree over."

Not that we have any intention of studying ursine attack habits. We Bear Campers are happy to remain on the spruce-forested fringe of the mile-long meadow in which we have watched as many as 17 brown bears in one field of view. These coastal browns are the near equivalent genetically of their grizzly brethren who live inland, but are actually bigger than the griz. That the closest are perhaps 100 yards away is just fine with us. When it's quiet, they're like so many bison, hunched over among the supple shoots on which they fatten every summer. "They'll eat anything but granite," Scotty informs us.

Bear Camp is a satellite of Great Alaska Fish Camp and Safaris on the Kenai Peninsula. We've flown by bush plane from Anchorage across Cook Inlet to a strip of sand on the southern tip of Lake Clark National Park. Here Great Alaska has set up four tent-cum-cabins and an open-air cook tent where groups no larger than eight can hole up from mid-May to mid-September for a couple of days of brown-bear ogling.

Viewing sessions are irresistible, but with 18-hour days, there's time to chow down, to surround a beach campfire, to fish Horn and Clearwater creeks, and to dig dinner clams at low tide. Repasts are prodigious: steak, pasta, flown-in veggies, our freshly dug shellfish. Bear Campers share an obvious trait with our subjects: We'll eat anything. Just not each other.

The two-day, one-night package including bush-plane flight is $445 per person; it also can be booked as part of a seven-night safari package ($2,395-$2,795 per person). Call Great Alaska Fish Camp and Safaris at 800-544-2261.
Robert Earle Howells

Yacumama Lodge, Peru
At a typical Amazon base camp, you might find yourself in 110-degree heat on a leaky riverboat that's belching diesel. In which case you can douse yourself with deet and pretend you're Aguirre. Or you can go to the new Yacumama Lodge on the Río Yarapa, at the headwaters of the Amazon. This Peruvian getaway is affiliated with Salmon River Outfitters, an Idaho-based rafting company, which recognizes that you want to be surrounded by rainforest but not necessarily consumed by it.

You'll take a nonstop, 4.5-hour flight from Miami into Iquitos and then travel by boat 110 miles upriver to this solar-powered jungle camp. The complex of seven thatched-roof bungalows has a main lodge with a modern kitchen that serves river fish like pirarucu, piranha, and tiger catfish and vegetables from the organic garden. By day, you can set out with a local shaman and learn about medicinal plants, anacondas, and jaguar. Climb the 115-foot observation tower to get a bird's-eye view of parrots, toucans, and butterflies. Then slip into a harness and glide on a roller system through the treetops to another observation tower. At night, it's enough just to stroll down the walkways lit with oil lamps, listening to the sounds of creatures best left unseen. The $1,895- per-person tab includes round-trip airfare from Miami, transfers, seven nights' accommodation, all meals, and all activities. But bring the deet anyway. Call 800-346-6204.
Everett Potter

Makalali Private Game Reserve, South Africa
Makalali is not your average canvas-and-khaki safari camp. The whole place — four separate camps, each made up of six one-bedroom thatched-roof chalets, a central dining area, and a pool-is the work of one crazily inspired guy with a Tarzan fetish and a lot of sheet metal on hand. Loopy cutouts of animals and dancing people grace everything from lamp shades to room dividers.

Outside are the animals you expect: Hippos snort in a pond. Rhinos lurk in scrubby trees. Giraffes peer over thornbush. Elephants cross the road just in front of your open Land Rover. It's all part of what you might see as your guide drives you around the 15,000 hectares surrounding Makalali Private Game Reserve.

Between game drives, cool off in the pool or try out your big-enough-for-a-party private bathtub or outdoor shower. Lunch-dishes like Algerian baby chicken with avocado sesebo-is served in your own private sala, a sort of tree house full of pillows. Your bed is monumental, enveloped in a mosquito net the size of a parachute. Rates are $366 per person per night, double occupancy, including all meals and two game drives. Call Makalali Private Game Reserve at 011-27-11-883-5786, fax at 27-11-883-4956, E-mail at [email protected]
Ann Jones

Explora en Patagonia, Hotel Salto Chico, Chile
In the coldest-sounding of Chile's provinces-Magallanes y la Antßrctica Chilena — the 447,935-acre Torres del Paine National Park can be a, well, chilly place (average summer temperature is 52 degrees). Good thing, then, that after a day in the park, guests at Explora en Patagonia, Hotel Salto Chico can defrost in a steaming outdoor Jacuzzi.

Guests have a choice of five guided activities daily, including hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and boating on Lago Pehoe and the Río Paine. On daily guided hikes you'll see pink flamingoes flit among icebergs, flightless black ±and”es (relatives of the ostrich) sprint down the trail, and Andean condors scouting for lunch. But your most common sighting will surely be the docile guanaco (rhymes with taco), a woolly llamalike creature. Less easy to spot is the reclusive puma. And when the Spanish-speaking driver excitedly yells "íZorro!" while pointing out a figure moving across the plain, he is not referring to a swashbuckling Latino do-gooder, but rather a prowling fox.

Most of the lodge's 30 rooms have a view of the Cuernos del Paine-the "horns" on the range's spectacular southern face. Four-day/three-night packages cost $2,080-$3,546 for two; eight-day/seven-night packages, $3,888-$6,738. Rates include transfers to and from Punta Arenas-a six-hour drive-and all food and activities. Call 011-56-2-206-6060, fax 56-2-228-4655, or E-mail them at [email protected]
Lance Gould

Canaima Camp, Venezuela
English-speakers know the world's longest cascade of water as Venezuela's Angel Falls. But after spending a few days in the surrounding Canaima National Park-the jungle home to caimans, peccaries, and bush dogs-you may find yourself using a more evocative Pemn Indian term-which means "falls from the deepest place" — kerepacupai-meru.

Well, you might need a few cups of coffee first. We started our day with breakfast in the Canaima Camp on Canaima Lagoon, where the roar and spray of three powerful falls (though relatively minor compared with mighty Angel Falls) was disrupted by the squawking lunacy of courting macaws. Later that morning, an excursion down the Carrao River by dugout canoe took us past screeching howler monkeys and three-toed sloths.

Angel Falls is the showstopper, but most visitors see it from the comforts of a flight-seeing prop plane. Those brave enough to make the three-day round-trip jungle trek to get there might see armadillos, giant anteaters, tapirs, and the elusive jaguar.

Packages to Canaima Camp include the round-trip flight from Caracas, two nights in a thatched bungalow, all meals, two canoe excursions, and a flight-seeing tour of Angel Falls. The cost is $499 per person, or $650 with the three-day trek to Angel Falls. Call Sabrosa Adventures at 800-843-4778.

Damaraland Camp, Namibia
As you head north from the capital city of Windhoek in central Namibia to the country's northwest corner, you'll watch the scenery simplify. In the scrubby desert, just where the region of Damaraland drifts northward into the Kaokoveld, the land hunches up between dry washes that inch down to the Skeleton Coast on the Atlantic and, once in a while, run with water. By the time you reach Damaraland Camp (you can drive the 342 miles from Windhoek or have the camp book a flight from Windhoek for about $271 per person round-trip) amid those desolate hills of red rock and sand, the desert has grabbed you, and the camp's eight canvas tents, pinned down by a white sun, look like an oasis. The Damara people who own the land welcome you like family-with glasses of cool water, freshly baked bread, and vegetables from the kitchen garden.

Toward evening, when the red hills are luminous, they'll take you for a hike or a game drive in a Land Rover. Wildlife is as sparse as the shadows of the thorn trees in the broad sandy bottom of the Huab River, but it's choice. You'll see graceful antelope species like springbok, gemsbok, oryx, and steenbok, and herds of desert elephants. The cost is $200 per person per night, double occupancy, including all meals and activities. Call Namib Travel Shop/Wilderness Safaris in Windhoek at 011-264-61-225178, fax at 239455, or E-mail at [email protected]

Friendly Beaches Lodge, Tasmania
To get to the Friendly Beaches Lodge you have to take the long way around: From Hobart, take a bus to Coles Bay, hop on a boat that sets you down at the southern tip of the Freycinet Peninsula, and then embark on a 25-mile guided hike. You can hike the low road, which runs along beaches and wetlands, or the high road through meadows and eucalyptus forest to the rocky top of 1,900-foot Mount Graham. Either way, you'll sleep in huts at two low-impact camps stocked with supplies (you only need carry a daypack) and on the third night end up at Friendly Beaches, a five-mile-long stretch of brilliant white sand.

Hidden among casuarina trees at the north end are three simple buildings made of Tasmanian oak. The communal building houses the kitchen, dining room, and library, while the other two each contain four spacious bedrooms filled with huge, overstuffed pillows. You can go swimming and fishing (the staff will cook up whatever you catch for dinner), and go for hikes through the bush, where you'll see Tasmanian devils, wallabies, black cockatoos, and opossum-like eastern quolls.

The four-day, three-night package costs $706 per person, including all meals, transfers to and from Hobart, activities, and equipment. Call Freycinet Experience at 011-61-3-6223-7565, fax at 6224-1315, or E-mail at [email protected]

Copyright 1998, Outside magazine

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!