Abercrombie & Kent announce extreme adventures for 2010

Adventure travel specialist Abercrombie & Kent have announced their “extreme” adventures for 2010, offering up 15 amazing opportunities for travelers looking for unique experiences, provided of course they also have plenty of cash to pay for them.

No matter what kind of adventure you crave, you’re sure to find it on this list. For instance, you can head off into the desert on an eleven day expedition that follows in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia, or if sun and sand aren’t your cup of tea, then maybe you’d prefer to go dog sledding in Norway for nine days. Fancy a mountain setting? Than book a trip to Everest Base Camp for 20 days of trekking in the Khumbu Valley instead. These are just a few of the great options that A&K have in store for 2010, with tours planned for remote locations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and even the South Pole.

Widely considered one of the best luxury travel companies in the world, Abercrombie & Kent has years of experience planning adventurous trips to the far corners of the globe. The company promises small group tours, ranging in size from about 6-8 people, which allows for more one-on-one interaction with their expert guides, as well as ensuring that the group can move quickly while having a very limited impact on the environment.

Of course, these specialized tours come at quite a cost, and while many tour operators are looking for ways to offer discounted options in these challenging economic times, A&K is sticking to their plan to offer unique experiences for premium prices. For example, that dog sledding expedition that I mentioned above comes with a hefty price tag of $9655, not including airfare. Clearly not for the backpacker on a budget!

Belize it or not: Diving the Blue Hole

Greetings from Belize.

Yesterday, I made one of my life-long dreams come true. I dove the Great Blue Hole, a submarine cave about 45 miles off the coast of Belize. They say after diving it, divers are usually either utterly disappointed or absolutely blown away. I found it absolutely amazing.

The Great Blue Hole is circular, over 1,000 feet (330 meters) across and 400 feet (120 meters) deep. It was formed as a limestone cave system during the last ice age. As the ocean began to rise again, the caves flooded, and the roof collapsed.

The trip

To get to the Blue Hole, we booked a diving with the operator Aqua Dives Belize. They offer a $199 per person special now, which was the cheapest deal going, from what I could see. It includes the boat trip out there, breakfast, lunch (on a tiny caye on the same atoll) plus yummy rum punch (after diving), purified drinking water, 3 tanks and weight belts.

(We’d tried Ambergris Divers earlier, and found their staff friendly and competent, but we preferred Aqua Dives and their newer equipment.)

You start out at 5:30am, and make a 3-hour boat ride from Ambergris Caye to Lighthouse Reef. After a total of three dives, they get you back at 5:30pm.

The trip to the Lighthouse Reef, which the Blue Hole is a part of, goes through some rough waters. People were getting sick on the boat, which is always the “fun” part about diving. Isn’t that funny that there is always that one girl who throws up on the way to the reef. (That girl is typically me, but it wasn’t yesterday. I took half a Dramamine, which is not a great idea before diving since it makes you drowsy, but I survived!)

[Here is a question for you. Why is it always girls who get seasick? You never see guys throwing up from fishing boats.]

The diving

We parked the boat right in the middle of the Blue Hole. Eight divers with two instructors (one in the front, one in the back) descended with us to the depths of 140 ft (45 meters). As you descend, you see great stalactites which cover the cave. You don’t see a lot of fish. In fact, we only had couple of solitary bull sharks swimming with us, which was way cool.

The sheer drama of swimming among the stalactites makes it almost a religious experience. I caught myself forgetting I was under water. Some people might see the “lack of fish” as boring, but I found it incredible. Never saw anything like that in my life.

This was the deepest dive I have ever done. I, naturally, found the breathing much harder than breathing at, say, 80 feet. The air is denser and you feel like you have to breathe harder.

Since it is a pretty deep dive, I’d heard some people experience nitrogen narcosis, which–using the dive master’s term–means they get a “little crazy.” They have had people taking their masks off at that depths, taking their regulator out of their mouths, wanting to go deeper and deeper, and cut themselves from hugging the stalactites. Obviously, going to the full depth of 400 ft is not possible, but that apparently doesn’t prevent some people from trying. Several people have died diving the Blue Hole (I knew of one of them).

You’re only in the water for about 25 minutes, and down at 130-140 feet for about 8 minutes (due to the depth), but every second was worth it. A sandy ledge slopes down from near the surface, down to about 50 ft. Then, it’s straight down a vertical wall to about 110 ft. Then, you’re in the cave. You swim in and around stalactites that are easily 3 ft or more in diameter, and underneath the old cave’s “ceiling.”

Below you, at about 170 ft, you can see another sandy ledge. It looks so close that you could reach out with your leg and touch it. It’s like you’re swimming in a cathedral, with the stalactites forming statues hanging from the arched ceiling.

It’s magic how you can watch the bubbles ascend the walls, and see the light and wall above you. You can see tiny creatures living on the walls and stalactites. A diving light is not necessary due to the clarity and complete lack of current.


I thought the dive masters did a great job preparing everyone for the dive, repeating all the underwater hand gestures, safety instructions, etc. I was surprised that me and my buddy were the most experienced divers on board, having been certified for only 6 years. The rest of the divers all had less than two years of diving experience. Those are some gutsy people. I don’t think I would have gone down 140 ft with that little experience.

I actually would not recommend the dive to beginners. Not because it’s that difficult (although the depth makes it more technical), but because I don’t think as a beginner, you quite appreciate how special the Blue Hole is. As a beginner, all you want to see is big and colorful stuff – fish and corals. Plus, you should be very relaxed in order to really get the most of it. As an experienced diver, you have seen all those things that beginners want to see– sharks, turtles, eel, lobsters — and seeing something as stark as the Blue Hole is actually quite powerful.

Belize’s coral reef is threatened

Belize has been on my “places to dive” list for years. At the same time, I get anxious every time I think about diving in Belize. Years ago, I knew somebody who died while diving the Blue Hole, the infamous collapsed limestone cave more than 400 feet deep. She was an experiences diver, but panicked. Ever since then, the Blue Hole has sounded a little scary to me.

After reading this USA Today article, it sounds like I should get over myself and finally go there soon because Belize’s coral reef is vanishing quickly. A potent mix of coastal development, tourism, overfishing, pollution and climate change has apparently damaged an estimated 40% of the Belize reef system, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Western Hemisphere’s largest barrier reef, that attracts more than a third of Belize’s 850,000 annual visitors. Ouch.