The (Almost) Final Frontier

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

The (Almost) Final Frontier

Don't expect the cell phone to work

Cape Leveque, Australia
If you've ever wondered what it felt like to be a deranged Victorian explorer, try driving to Cape Leveque via the "back road" from the town of Derby in northwestern Australia. Locals will provide a hand-drawn "mud map," and off you grind along sandy cattle tracks into the ghostly eucalyptus bush. This is the "Never Never"
Every second guy around here seems to be named Robinson, which makes good sense: The place's sole claim to fame is that a foul-mouthed, somewhat obnoxious Scottish sailor was marooned here, at his own request, in 1704 (Daniel Defoe tidied up his image, threw in Man Friday, and turned him into the cuddly Crusoe).

The main island is actually a bit damp and chill for paradise. The top diversion is hiking up a mountainside to Mirador de Selkirk, the lookout named for the old sailor who used to head up there each day at dawn to scour the horizon for stray British frigates. It's a great workout for one morning, but you can see how, after four years and four months, it just might lose its shine.
        — Tony Perrottet

up here, Aboriginal-owned land where termite mounds and piles of rock serve as crucial roadmarks; it's the sort of remote Outback country where you genuinely pray not to break down (in which case you'll be forced to kill and devour your driving partner by a sun-parched creek bed).

By the time — Hallelujah! — the Timor Sea appears, 200 miles later, all you can do is go down on your knees and gibber at the opulent spectacle. The sand is white as bleached bones, the water placid and an impossibly cool, metallic blue; the orange sandstone headlands turn blood red in the sunset.

This is the domain of Kooljaman — a casual, no-frills collection of cabins, beach shelters, and campsites that is less a resort than a frontier outpost. Although you can stay in perfectly pleasant cabins (two with private bathrooms, four with shared bathroom) hidden amongst the desert scrub, or set up your own tent at one of the resort's campsites, the best options are the cheap "beach shelters," each with four poles supporting three palm-frond walls. Throw out a sleeping bag on the sandy floor, and amble up to the resort's modest restaurant for dinner (bring your own Foster's — this Aboriginal-owned land is "dry"). There's snorkeling on a reef, walks along the coast, and mud-crabbing excursions led by a laconic Aboriginal guide named Vince. But most people simply kick back and enjoy the eerie tranquility. Just by getting here, you've earned a rest.

Beach shelters are $6.50-$9.50 per night, and four- to five-person cabins are $39-$64 per night. Camping costs $5-$6.50 per person per night. The resort can more easily be reached by dirt road north from Broome (137 miles) or by charter plane from Broome or Derby. Call Kooljaman at 011-61-8-91-924-970.
— Tony Perrottet

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
If you have a desire for interplanetary adventure travel but don't feel up to building your own spaceship, go to the Salar de Uyuni in southwest Bolivia. The Salar is an enormous flat plain covered with a layer of crunchy white salt, giving it the appearance of a frozen, snow-covered sea. It's located near the bleak little mining town of Uyuni, 12 hours south of La Paz via the ironically named tren expreso. In the rainy season, November to March, the Salar is covered with a shallow sheen of water that reflects the blinding blue sky of the Andes. But during the dry season, from May to September, you can rent a four-by-four (with a guide) from one of the hotels or mom-and-pop agencies in Uyuni and actually drive around on the 12,106-square-kilometer, amoeba-shaped expanse of salt. Snowcapped volcanoes loom like gigantic chocolate sundaes, and in the small villages at its edges, campesinos raise llamas and coax potatoes out of the dusty soil.

Camping is permitted on the Salar's tiny uninhabited desert islands, which are covered with boulders and cacti, and there's even a 15-bed inn in the center, the Hotel Playa Blanca, that, aside from a straw roof, is made entirely of salt blocks. Either way, the Salar is a surreal spot to spend the night, and when the moon rises over the silent expanse of salt, you might come close to convincing yourself that you've landed on Pluto.

The train from La Paz to Uyuni costs about $14; guided four-by-four tours are about $100 to $140 per day. Rates at the Hotel Playa Blanca are about $20 per person per night.
Granville Greene

Kosrae, Caroline Islands
Last November I was the sole tourist on the Caroline Island of Kosrae. This 42-square-mile island, 1,500 miles northeast of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, is the easternmost of the Federated States of Micronesia's 607 islands. Many are featureless coral atolls, but Kosrae's 2,000-foot volcanic mountains and lush vegetation reminded me of Kauai without the helicopters and mega-resorts.

Kosrae's simpler pleasures include canoeing through mangroves to Walung, a traditional village that has resisted electrification and roads, and exploring the thirteenth-century ruined royal city of Lelu. The islanders are mostly devout Congregationalists, and swimming, fishing, and drinking alcohol on Sundays are misdemeanors theoretically punishable by fines and incarceration.

But Monday to Saturday, Kosrae's Japanese wrecks and coral shelves, teeming with barracuda, damselfish, puffers, and turtles, offer exceptional diving. Your base is the grass-hut-fantasy Kosrae Village Resort and its five-star PADI dive center, which can set you up with diving and snorkeling equipment and instruction (two-tank dive, $65; snorkeling trips, $32.50). No mere primitive shacks, the 12 oceanfront thatched-roof huts each have an attached bath with hot water, a ceiling fan, a mini refrigerator, and a private porch. The $170 double-occupancy "touring rate" includes breakfast, airport transfers, room tax, and daily customized boat, outrigger canoe, kayaking, and land tours (room-only rate for doubles, $95 per night). Call 691-370-3483, fax 691-370-5839, or check out the web site at Continental Micronesia (800-231-0856) flies to Kosrae three times a week from Honolulu.
— Thurston Clarke

Terdrom Gompa, Tibet
In the middle of the eighth century, the great scholar and sorcerer Padmasambhava — the "Lotus Born" — left his home in India and trekked north. His assignment? To subdue, through powerful magic, the violent Earth and Air deities who were making it impossible for Buddhism to take root in Tibet.

His mission accomplished, Padmasambhava stayed in Tibet a while. He grew especially fond of a power-place called Terdrom, an otherworldly refuge at the end of a narrow canyon by the confluence of two wild rivers. There, the famous teacher cavorted in a cave with his main student and consort, the sky-dancer Yeshe Tsogyel.

This mythical site actually exists, a five- or six-hour drive northeast of Lhasa. There is an ani gompa (Tibetan Buddhist nunnery) there now, led by the current reincarnation of the great scholar's lover. Despite the presence of a few Chinese soldiers, the place remains magical. The rushing white rivers and weird, evocative cliff formations are nearly hallucinatory, and day hikes lead up steep grassy hills to reveal mind-bending views. You can even make a long day trip to the sacred cave itself. Pace yourself; you'll be climbing to more than 16,000 feet above sea level.

At the end of the day you'll take a short stroll from the Japanese-built guest house (bare bones) to the gompa's steaming mineral springs, segregated for men and women. Don't panic if you feel something slither between your knees; it's just a sacred naga, one of Terdrom's guardian snakes.
Jeff Greenwald

Copyright 1998, Outside magazine

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