It's the adventure-travel industry's worst-kept secret: most big outfitters hire local tour operators and simply modify those companies' itineraries. They send an American lead guide along as a liaison, tack on a few days at a swanky lodge—and then mark the trip up a few thousand dollars. But if you can do without the upgrades, Detour Destinations, a four-year-old company run by former Mountain Travel Sobek guide Greg Findley, can save you cash. It vets reputable foreign outfitters—mostly in Central and South America—and then sells their trips to U.S. customers with only a slight markup. Detourdestinations.com.
Another option: cut out the guide—and the annoying couple from Phoenix—entirely. A growing number of outfitters have begun offering self-guided trips, which can cost 50 percent less than an adventure with all the customary herding and coddling. Here's how it (usually) works: a regional company rep meets you at the airport, transfers luggage between prearranged hotels, and is a phone call away for questions or emergencies. Otherwise you're on your own. Beautiful. Butterfield and Robinson offers a six-day cycling trip through Burgundy featuring châteaus, postcard-perfect valley roads (you'll average 17 to 27 miles per day), and, of course, wine-soaked dinners. $2,995 (the guided version costs $5,795); May–October; butterfield.com. Country Walkers offers ten new self-guided hiking trips. Our pick is an eight-day, 60-mile traipse on the vineyard- and olive-grove-studded Spanish island of Mallorca. Nights are spent in a refurbished monastery and a 19th-century bishop's home with a private pool and hot tub. $2,548; March—October; countrywalkers.com. Journeys International's South Africa road trip, from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, is customizable. You pick the wildlife parks you want to visit, as well as excursions like canoeing the Keurbooms River. From $3,250; year-round; journeys.travel.
Rafa Ortiz may have successfully kayaked over Mexico's 128-foot Big Banana Falls in December, but the mainstream media is just catching up. Ortiz, along with photographer Lucas Gilman, appeared on MSNBC yesterday to talk about the drop. At age 23, Ortiz is only the fifth person to successfully navigate a waterfall higher than 100 feet.
"You say it's only three seconds," Ortiz said, "but when you're falling right there, you're just covered in adrenaline. Your body reacts so fast that it actually happens kind of slow. You have time to make little adjustments on the way down."
Ortiz walked away with only a cut on his eyelid that required a few stitches.
"There's a couple very big project coming up," Ortiz said about his future plans. "But I can't really talk about it out loud."
Add surfing to the list of sports where younger and younger teenagers are pushing the limits. Jordan Romero's summit of Everest led to questions about age and mountaineering. A crew of teens besting each other on round-the-world sailing trips led to debates on whether parents should let their kids tackle such long and dangerous trips alone. Now, Matt Higgins of ESPN explores the issue of age on big waves off of Maui.
As the day wore on, the crowds on the cliffs watched a scene with approximately 20 Jet Skis, three helicopters, several boats with film crews in the channel, and a guy attempting to catch 30-foot waves on water skis. A half-dozen skinny teenagers had ditched school to be there, too, ripping on some of the biggest surf of the day. They included 16-year-old Tyler Larronde; Joao Marco Maffini, 15; and the youngest, a 4-foot-10, 100-pound eighth-grader named Chaz Kinoshita.
"They want to push it," says Dave Kalama, 46, Hamilton's longtime tow partner. "They'll position themselves to put it all on the line. So in that sense, they are very aggressive. Their first few waves, their first couple swells, were so much more significant than our first few waves and our first couple swells. Their jumping off point is a lot further up the mountain."
But some wonder whether the youngest, often towed into waves by their fathers, are ready.
Check out Higgins' article for some perspective of big-wave surfing and age.Then tell us what you think. How young is too young for surfing a 30-footer?