Monthly Archives: August 2016

Wrestling Cholitas

Fronting a fierce spectacle of body-slamming, bowler hats and petticoats, Bolivia’s wrestling women have not only been winning fans around the region but also changing the conversation on equality in the country, as Sarah Gilbert discovers.

In a blur of red lamé, frilly petticoats and flying pigtails, La Gloria bounces off the ropes, lunges at the retreating back of her opponent and grips his neck with her thighs. He hits the canvas with a resounding thud, landing in an ungainly sprawl.

“Are you afraid?” she cries, as she rests her dainty foot on the back of his head, raising her arms triumphantly to an ecstatic audience.

I’d already watched an ageing but still muscular Mr Atlas, underpants over his tights, take on a fearsome-looking Crow. Then a handsome Aladdin floored The Devil, with help from the 75-year-old referee Ali Farak, as the crowd chucked half-chewed chicken bones and popcorn in their direction, accompanied by jeers and cries of ‘cheaters’.

Finally, over ear-splitting music, foot stamping and impatient whistles, the compère bellowed dramatically into the microphone, the curtains leading to the backstage parted and La Gloria sashayed towards the ring to the biggest cheer of the day.

“Let’s dance!” she shouted, putting her bowler hat, fringed shawl and dangly earrings to one side. Within seconds of the bell, La Gloria and La Muerte – or Death – were locked in a high-octane bout, filled with athletic somersaults, flying fists and hair pulling.

Holiday that is not just good but spectacular

Long-distance backpacker Andrew Skurka set off from the Grand Canyon to walk ‘The Great Western Loop’, a 6,875-mile journey which takes in a vast swathe of the left hand side of America. Upon his triumphant return in November the same year, his status in the adventure community skyrocketed. National Geographic named him an adventurer of the year and everyone from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal wanted to speak to him.

Skurka became a hot ticket.

With brains to match his brawn, he realised that ‘exposure’, while nice, wasn’t going to buy him a house or convince his girlfriend he was serious marriage material. In fact, he now says, he was “a backpacking dirtbag,” spending as many days on trails each year as he could and then working as little as he had to in order to get by.

When Skurka hit 30 in 2011, he decided to turn the thing he knows and loves into a business and set himself up as a backpacking guide offering less-experienced hikers memorable and meaningful adventures in the Rockies. Five days with Andrew costs around £1,200 – not bad considering the experience, planning and fireside stories he brings to the table. “I was tired of financial uncertainty,” he says, “and going into business doing something I loved was a more appealing option than a 9-5 job.”

Though he perhaps didn’t realise it at the time, Skurka had cottoned on to something that is only now starting to become a bit of a ‘thing’: namely that big-name adventurers are not only there to bag sponsorship money and chase news headlines, they can also show us lesser mortals how to we can have an awesome adventure, too.

At one end of the spectrum is Bear Grylls. His popular Survival Academy offers trips ranging from 1-5 days, but he’s not normally there to haul you up the mountain or help you build a raft. If you want the man himself to show up, you’ll have to pay an incredible – wait for it – £110,000, though that does include all fees for a group of up to 10 people.

Rather more affordable is TV’s Ray Mears, who leads several adventures a year to places like Namibia and charges a jolly reasonable £5,000 for 10 days. Even more wallet-friendly is Kenton Cool, the famous mountain guide who helped Sir Ranulph Fiennes make it up Everest. It’ll set you back around £475 a day to get one-on-one tuition from Cool, one of the world’s most vaunted mountain guides, which is not a whole lot more than what you’d have to pay to go climbing with someone no one has ever heard of.

There are other adventurers who are starting to smell the potential of offering themselves up as personal guides, too – people like Jason Lewis, the first person to circumnavigate the globe using human power.

“I’ve certainly thought about it,” says Lewis. “Getting amateurs into the field and having a grand adventure is something I’ve always felt passionate about, and I’ve done it several times, though I’ve only asked people to cover their costs. But seeing as I’ve already done it for free and a couple of times it’s not been very pleasant, then hell, why not charge for it?”

Better in every visit

There are some cities that you just want to return to again and again – places where memories are made and new discoveries wait around every corner.

We were inspired by Flights.com’s “Don’t Skip the Trip” campaign and the reasons why some cities are worth visiting more than once. Whether you know them like the back of your hand or only by reputation, these classic US destinations are always chock-full of surprises.

New York

If cities were music then the Big Apple would be a pure gold track: one that stands the test of time and gets the nostalgia flowing whenever you hear it. That pinnacle-packed skyline must be the world’s most famous cityscape, and it’s been wowing travellers from all across the world for generations. There are a few iconic experiences that every first-time visitor to New York needs to get out the way (think a trip up the Empire State Building, shopping at Macy’s and a stroll around Central Park), but it’s impossible to really delve beneath the city’s skin in one visit. To ‘get’ NYC you need time: time to discover the quirky little neighbourhoods, hidden speakeasies, mad museums and invite-only restaurants that make this a place to fall more deeply in love with on every trip.

Austin

A melting pot of artistic, musical and gastronomic creativity, Austin prides itself on being wonderfully weird. Like most eccentrics, though, the Texan capital only really opens up on better acquaintance. At first glance, the city is all elegant architecture, glitzy restaurants and high-brow cultural institutions. It takes a few visits to uncover Austin’s crazy side: the offbeat nightlife of the warehouse district, the Tex Mex bars, the funky vintage shops… There’s always something new to do here, whether it’s watching the sunset from Pennybacker Bridge, catching a free outdoor concert at the Long Center or taking in the view over Lake Austin from the summit of Mount Bonnell – so grab a ‘Keep Austin Weird’ bumper sticker and make yourself at home.

New Orleans

Ah, the Big Easy. Birthplace of jazz, home of the famous Mardi Gras parade and reputedly the most haunted city in North America. New Orleans is like no other city in the country. With its gabled houses, charming historic districts and traditional social order, every trip here is a journey back in time. It’s easy to get swept up in the romance of the place from the start, and the city’s allure just continues to grow with every visit. Embrace the relaxed Mississippi way of life and enjoy the famously warm welcome – you’ll feel like a local New Orleanian in no time.

Fall in love with Wyoming's natural beauty again and againFall in love with Wyoming’s natural beauty again and again
Jackson Dean Fikar / Thinkstock

Jackson

The party never stops in Wyoming’s youngest and funkiest town, where sunburned skiers mingle with climbers and adventurers in a constellation of achingly hip bars. You’ll be sifting through nostalgic memories of bracing mountain hikes and crazy nights out long after the end of your trip. There’s always bags of fun to be had in Jackson, but it’s the allure of the great outdoors that draws visitors back time and time again. There are countless ways to enjoy this scenic wonderland, from kayaking down white water rivers and paragliding over wildflower-filled meadows to horse-riding around endless backcountry trails. The more you explore, the more you’ll find yourself drawn in by the dazzling beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

Honolulu

You could spend a lifetime in Honolulu and never get bored of the colours: those searing blue skies, dazzling sands, turquoise seas and lush green jungles. First-time visitors tend to make a beeline for Waikki, a chic beachfront suburb scattered with high-end hotels and populated by tanned surfers, but the fun of further trips lies in getting off the tourist trail. Whether it’s donning a grass skirt and boogying to traditional Hawaiian music, exploring the archipelago’s enchanting secret beaches or tantalising your taste buds in the restaurants of Chinatown, Honolulu is seething with things to see, do and discover.