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1997'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURES : TRAVELS FAR AND NEAR ON FOOT, BICYCLE - AND ELEPHANT AND CAMEL.

Byline: Judi Dash Special to the Daily News Travel

When group adventure travel first took off about 20 years ago, the credo was, climb every mountain (as distant as possible), bag a slew of wildlife shots, and be a sport about food and lodgings. Meet the people? Sure, if they could carry gear and blaze a trail to remote wilderness sites.

Now a more mature adventure industry, raking in some $220 billion a year, according to the Adventure Travel Society, is casting a wider net to attract even more bountiful tourist game.

For 1997, outfitters across the board are offering new hiking, cycling, kayaking and rafting trips designed to appeal to those who want an active vacation that does not require great physical stamina, huge chunks of time, considerable culinary compromise or less-than-comfy accommodations.

Slick catalogs are filled with enticing this-could-be-you action photos that tout excursions of a week or less (many on American turf), combo adventures that pack multiple sports into even a short trip and special itineraries for families, seniors and women.

Especially popular are excursions that include social interactions with host populations. Sure, hardy types are still testing their individual mettle against Mount Everest's forbidding peaks, but the mother lode of adventurers is seeking more down-to-earth challenges, such as bridging culture chasms via village home-stays, and helping endangered animals and people through volunteer vacations.

Expeditions by sea kayak - sturdy, easy-to-maneuver watercraft that require zero brawn - are proliferating worldwide, with excursions along tranquil waterways in Australia, Chile, Costa Rica, Fiji and Vietnam, as well as the traditional happy paddling grounds of Baja California, Mexico, coastal Maine, and Alaska's Inside Passage.

Forget seeing Europe by motorcoach or rental car. If it's Tuesday, you must be on your feet exploring the countryside on a walking tour, while a van transports your luggage and a charming inn awaits with afternoon tea, gourmet fare and plumped-up pillows.

Or, hop atop your trusty horse, camel or elephant. This season, intrepid travelers are not just photographing animals, but riding them in Africa, Nepal, Argentina and the wilds of America.

Following is a selection of neat, new adventures for 1997.

On American turf

The Sierra Club has greatly expanded its reasonably priced weeklong excursions around the United States. New this season is a March backpacking trip around lush Cumberland Island, Ga., the coastal preserve that gained fame as the top-secret site of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s September wedding. The 16-by-3-mile expanse of wilderness amid palmettos, live oaks dripping with Spanish moss and rolling dunes, also boasts wild horses and some of the best fishing on the Atlantic coast. You'll bed down in beach-side campsites instead of the Kennedys' cushy digs at the elite Greyfield Inn, but the sound of the surf is just as sweet from ground level.

More strenuous are the Sierra Club's backpack trips through the meandering sandstone canyons and ancient Pueblo Indian cliff dwellings of Canyon del Muerto in Arizona's Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Led by a Navajo guide, the trip includes visits with Navajo farmers in their canyon homesteads, with time to learn about Navajo history and daily life.

For bigger thrills, consider the club's hiking, rafting and camping trip along the wild Chatooga River, which forms a 40-mile border between South Carolina and Georgia. Just how wild? The Chatooga was the river used to film the violent 1972 whitewater thriller ``Deliverance.''

Have your rapids and eat well too on Salmon River Outfitter's six-day, gourmet whitewater camping or lodge-based raft trips down the Main Fork of Idaho's Salmon River. You get three lavish meals a day (like banana-walnut buttermilk pancakes, baked salmon, and shrimp pasta marinara) along with the thrills and spills of river rafting. One trip brings along a gourmet chef who provides cooking demonstrations. Three others have a wine-tasting theme, with California and Pacific Northwest vintages.

Backroads runs six-day, inn-based hiking trips around Taos and Santa Fe, N.M., taking in the Sacred Sanctuario de Chimayo, believed to be a place of magical healing, with stays in inns. You might even catch one of the American Indian Pueblo festivals along the way. Six-day camping or inn-based easy hiking trips in Washington's North Cascades and Methow Valley are amid wildflowers and wildlife - elk, coyote, marmots, beaver and sometimes black bear, but keep your distance.

In Europe

Backroads runs dozens of walking, hiking and cycling excursions in Europe. A particularly lovely walking trip, with abundant opportunities to meet, greet - and share a pint - with the locals, is the outfitter's six-day, inn-to-inn trip around southwestern Ireland's verdant Iveragh Peninsula and the Kerry Way. The trails are alongside rocky peaks (relax, you don't climb them), and cultivated

fields dotted with sheep, hedgerows and wildflowers, with periodic misty ocean vistas. One departure date is specifically for singles.

Geographic Expeditions' nine-day Time for Tea walking and motoring tour through the countryside around England's Exmoor National Park is centered around afternoon tea times. Led by Michele Rivers, an artist, photographer and actress who is author of a book on English tea customs, participants partake of the brew and accompanying goodies at award-winning tea houses along the way, overnighting in country inns, with a healthy dip into local gossip and goings on as well.

Butterfield & Robinson's new eight-day walking trip in Sicily explores little-touristed towns on the mountainous land, which has some of Europe's most dramatic seascapes, best-preserved Greek and Roman ruins, precious mosaics and a humor that defies the island's infamous underworld associations. The group also does some heli-hiking on the volcanic slopes of 10,700-foot Mount Etna and visits the tiny offshore Aolian Islands by private yacht.

Mountain Travel/Sobek meanders into Eastern Europe with a 14-day hiking trip through Slovakia (part of former Czechoslovakia), and the lofty High Tatras Mountains, scaled down versions of the Alps. Hiking can be strenuous, but participants always are welcome to skip a tough one and use the time to explore the local culture in the medieval towns along the way.

Sea kayaking

Mountain Travel/Sobek is all over the map with sea kayak adventures. The company's domestic trips include a six-day excursion along coastal Maine, with visits to tiny offshore islands where fishing is still a key source of income - and lobster comes fresh to the table. Participants get a chance to see migrating whales, bald eagles and ospreys, with stays at waterfront inns. In Baja California, Mexico, the outfitter runs paddling excursions among the sea lions, dolphins and finback whales around Espiritu Island, just off the Baja coast in the Sea of Cortez.

Further afield, Mountain Travel/Sobek offers sea kayaking trips of six to 16 days in Costa Rica; Portugal's Douro River; the fjords of Chile; Ha Long Bay, Vietnam; and Fiji's Yasawa Islands. An expeditionary kayaking trip to Greenland, site of the world's largest fjord, is the only one requiring previous kayaking experience and physical stamina.

REI takes its sea kayaks to Kauai, Hawaii, for paddling alongside the high cliffs of the rugged Na Pali coast - a killer for hikers but a cinch in the water. Lodgings are in beach tent sites and cabins, with optional hiking on the Na Pali coast as well as inland. In Australia, REI paddles around palm-fringed islands off the Queensland coast, with snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, (largest in the world) hiking, and mountain biking also offered.

Volunteer vacations, etc.

Earthwatch, long a purveyor of programs where paying guests participate in ecological, cultural and archeological studies alongside working scientists, has introduced a 1997 catalog with more detailed descriptions of how clients' efforts truly can save the world or a small part of it. While many of the dozens of programs are in remote corners of the globe, intriguing domestic trips include an eight-day study of border music (a mosaic of Mexican, American Indian, country-western and southern-style) around El Paso, Texas!, and a 14-day study of Florida Everglades ecology and the impact of hurricanes and fires on native animal and plant life.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris' 19-day expedition to Papua, New Guinea and Irian Jaya includes participation in the extraordinary Mount Hagen ``Sing Sing'' festival, which draws hundreds of tribal peoples for an orgy of dance, music and body decoration. The primitive Huli wigmen of New Guinea still live as did their stone-age ancestors, but know well the value of a tourist dollar. Substantial time is spent with village people, learning their ways and participating in tribal celebrations, including pig roasts and spirit house ceremonies.

Wilderness Travel's 19-day cultural pilgrimage to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam provides a fine opportunity for mingling with peoples of ancient honor, tragic wars and enduring cultural treasures. From bustling urban Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, to the rice paddles of Laos, and the breathtaking Khmer temples of Angor Wat, Cambodia, participants have ample opportunities to visit with the host people, who, despite the recent past, unabashedly adore Americans.

On Location

Prices are per person, double occupancy and do not include air fare.

Backroads, (800) 462-2848. Six-day New Mexico hiking trips depart May 25 and June 1, 8, and 15. Price: $1,395. Six-day, inn-based hiking trips in Washington depart July 6 and 13 (singles trip departs June 29.) Price: $1,435. Camping trips depart Aug. 24 and 31 (singles trip, Aug. 17.) Price: $798, Six-day hiking trips in Ireland depart July 27 and Aug. 5 and 12. A trip for singles departs July 20. Price: $2,290. Family camping trips: eight-day trip in France's Loire Valley departs July 8. Price: $1,198. Six-day Idaho excursions depart July 6 and 20. Price: $749. Six-day Nova Scotia trips depart July 6 and 20 and Aug. 17. Price: $698.

Butterfield & Robinson, (800) 678-1147. Six-day walking trips in Sicily depart April 18 and Oct. 3. Price: $3,750.

Earthwatch, (800) 776-0188. Eight-day Texas border music programs start Feb. 2, 12, and 22, and March 4 and 14. Price: $995. Two-week Florida Everglades studies start Feb. 15, March 1 and 22, and April 5. Price: $1,195.

Elder Treks, (800) 741-7956. Two-week walking trips in Bali and Java for travelers over 50 depart April 18, June 20, July 25, Aug. 29, Oct. 17, and Nov. 14. Price: $1,460.

Equitour, (800) 545-0019. Weeklong riding trips in Northern California depart May 6, June 17, July 15, Aug. 19, Sept. 30, and Oct. 14. Priced from $1,595.

Esplanade Tours, (800) 628-4893. Five-day elephant-back safaris in Botswana depart weekly from mid-February through December. Price: $5,000.

Geographic Expeditions, (800) 777-8183. Nine-day tea tours in Exmoor, England, depart May 31, June 7, and Aug. 2 and 9. Priced from $2,595.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, P.O. Box 655, Vashon, Wash. 98070; (206) 463-5383. Nineteen-day photo tour to Papua, New Guinea and Irian Jaya departs July 31. Price: $6,995.

Mountain Travel/Sobek, (800) 227-2384. Two-week treks in Slovakia depart June 28 and Aug. 2 and 30. Priced from $1,990. Six-day Maine kayaking trips depart June 22, July 27, and Aug. 10 and 31. Priced from $1,485. Seven-day paddling trips in Mexico's Sea of Cortez depart March 15, 22, and 29, April 5, Oct. 11, Nov. 22, and Dec. 20 and 27. Priced from $995. Call for dates and prices for paddling trips in Alaska, Costa Rica, Portugal, Chile, Vietnam, Fiji, and Greenland. Weeklong Canadian Rockies trips depart June 7 and 28, July 5, Aug. 2 and 30, and Sept. 6. Price: From $1,270.

Natural Habitat, (800) 548-7555. Departures for women-only trips; 10-day trekking and gorilla-watching trip in Uganda, March 9. Price: $4,795. Eleven-day Costa Rica exploration, March 23. Price: $2,395. Fifteen-day Botswana safari, Aug. 4. Price: $4,295. Seven-day Bahamas sailing and dolphin-watch trip, Aug. 30. Price: from $1,795. Mixed-sex itineraries are offered for above trips.

Overseas Adventure Travel, (800) 353-6262. Two-week Egypt trips depart March 1, 22 and 29, April 26, May 10, Sept. 13, Oct. 11, and Nov. 8 and 22. Price: from $3,190. Seventeen-day Turkey trips depart throughout April, May, July, September, and October. Price: from $3,290.

Rainbow Adventures, (800) 804-8686. Weeklong Arizona hiking trip for women only departs April 19 (a second trip departing April 26 will be opened after first trip fills). Price: $1,550.

REI, (800) 622-2236. Weeklong Hawaii sea-kayaking trips depart April 20, June 22, Aug. 3 and Nov. 23. Price: $1,195. Twelve-day Australia sea-kayaking trips depart May 9 and Nov. 21. Price: $1,895. Sixteen-day Nepal rafting, hiking, mountain biking, and elephant-back trips depart March 14, April 11, and Oct. 8 and 24. Price: $1,890.

Salmon River Outfitters, (800) 346-6204. Six-day gourmet rafting trips along Idaho's Salmon River depart Aug. 25 (camping, $1,145) and Sept. 2 (lodge-based, $1,225). Six-day wine-tasting raft trips, with camping, depart July 16 and Aug. 1 and 17. Price: $1,195.

Sierra Club, Outing Dept., 85 Second St., Second Floor, San Francisco, Calif. 94105; (415) 977-5588. Weeklong backpacking trip on Cumberland Island, Ga. (trip No. 97031A), departs March 30. Price: $545. Weeklong backpacking trip in the Canyon del Muerto of Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Ariz., (No. 97036A) departs April 27. Price: $655. One-week whitewater rafting/hiking trip along the Chatooga River, S.C. (No. 97052A), departs April 13. Price: $675.

Wilderness Travel, (800) 368-2794. Nineteen-day explorations of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam depart March 15, Oct. 18, and, in 1998, Jan. 10. Price: from $4,195.

(1--Color) Travelers get around via elephant on Esplanade's five-day elephant-back safaris out of Abu's Camp at the edge of the Okavongo Delta in Botswana.

(2--Color) Mountain Travel/Sobek runs easy sea-kayaking trips to the whalewatching grounds of Baja California, Mexico.

(3) Equitours' horseback trips on Northern California's Redwood Coast include galloping along vast beaches north of Mendocino.

Judi Dash/Special to the Daily News

Box: On Location (See Text)

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Title Annotation:TRAVEL
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 26, 1997
Words:2298
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