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Find Out Some Canada Experiences From Nat Geo Writers

National Geographies love affair with Canada has filled our magazines, books, website, and television channel for years. Now, five of Nation Geographic writers, photographers, and adventurers—just back from assignments in Canada —share the wild wonders, cities, culture, and cuisine that most inspired them. From urban streets to forest paths, there’s a Canada experience waiting for you.

 DOWNTOWN TO LAKESHORE

Provincial Park, Ontario

Provincial Park, Ontario

ONTARIO

Alastair Humphreys, National Geographic Adventurer

“This was a journey of remarkable contrasts. Trendy, exciting, incredibly international Toronto and then an easy two hours away, the Muskoka Lakes wilderness with beautiful cottages perfect for big family gatherings with plenty of activities. Then just another hour to tranquil Algonquin Provincial Park.”

FAVORITE EXPERIENCES:
“Coming from the U.K., I’m awestruck by the extraordinary scale of Canada’s wilderness. Algonquin Park has 2,000 lakes and the autumn colors were spectacular. Swimming, fishing, and stand-up paddleboarding at sunrise were special moments. Also loved biking through Toronto, especially the Kensington area, and sampling ethnic restaurants—even more multicultural than London!”

DON’T MISS:
“Canoeing the lakes and rivers of Algonquin Park is a must. My guide was so knowledgeable about the wildlife and wild landscape we paddled through.”

NORTHERN WILDERNESS

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Yukon River

 YUKON

Robert Reid, National Geographic Digital Nomad and Travel Writer 

“The vast Yukon Territory is still an undiscovered secret, filled with stunning far north wilderness. I zeroed in on the area around the capital town of Whitehorse and found very different experiences without covering lots of distance.”

 FAVORITE EXPERIENCES:
“A thrilling canoe trip down the legendary, fast-moving Yukon River. Hiked to huge Kluane Lake. Biked up Grey Mountain. And explored the town of Whitehorse where Northern Lights paint the sky and murals paint the buildings—filled with dozens of art galleries and the Yukon River right downtown.”

DON’T MISS:
“The aerial tour over Kluane National Park’s 2,000 glaciers was amazing. Flying is the only way to truly appreciate the massive scale of raw rugged ice, mountain valleys, bright blue lakes, and floating icebergs.”

CITY LIGHTS TO HIKES

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Montreal, Quebec

QUEBEC

Eric Rosen, National Geographic Travel Writer

“Exploring Montreal’s vibrant food scene, biking through historic neighborhoods and along the Saint Lawrence River, and then having great wilderness adventures just outside the city really let me take the pulse of this extraordinary, invigorating area.”

FAVORITE EXPERIENCES:
“Phenomenal food halls and public markets reflect a robust restaurant culture fed by the renaissance of small local farms. Such a wealth of ethnic restaurants all across the city! A short day trip brought me to the Laurentians and beautiful hiking at Mont-Tremblant with forest paths, waterfalls, and spectacular panoramic views of the valley.”

DON’T MISS:
“Kayaking along the Lachine Canal will give you a fascinating eye-level look at the city’s 19th-century industrial past and imposing architecture.”

Exploring The Cook Islands In A Different Way

Even though she’s never watched Shark Week, marine conservationist Jessica Cramp cares a lot about the enigmatic, misunderstood predators. Based in the Cook Islands archipelago in the South Pacific, this National Geographic explorer helped create one of the world’s largest shark sanctuaries, fights illegal fishing, and tries to turn the tide of sharks’ Jaws-influenced reputation.

SHARKS GET A BAD RAP. WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT SAVING THEM?

I don’t want to suggest that all species are harmless, because they aren’t, but that doesn’t mean they should be wiped out either. Sharks’ reproductive characteristics—late to mature, slow-growing, few offspring—make them especially vulnerable to exploitation and overfishing. The problem is that much of the public thinks “good riddance” if shark numbers decrease. What people don’t understand is that we need to be very cautious of the balance of our oceans.

The-Cook-Islands

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE MOST ABOUT SHARKS?

If you jump in the water with them under normal circumstances, meaning no fish in your wet suit, you aren’t necessarily going to be attacked. In the Galapagos, I jumped off a boat into a group often large silky sharks. They swam in slow, curious circles around me and then, uninterested, continued what they were doing before I got in. I wanted more interaction, but they were bored with me.

HOW CAN SOMEONE AID IN SHARK CONSERVATION?

If you like to eat fish, you can start by learning about whether or not that fish is threatened in the wild. Then you should inquire how your fish gets caught. What method of fishing was used—longliner, trawler, pole and line, a purse seine? What are the side effects of those methods? Does the restaurant make a point to buy sustainable fish? Are your fish-and-chips actually shark meat? It’s a good start to understanding the challenge.

Bad Antogast: Stillness In The Black Forest

Going on a ten-day silent retreat in Bad Antogast, a small hamlet on the edge of the Black Forest in Germany punctuated by a handful of farmers’ houses and terraced fields, was my wife’s idea of a fun vacation, not mine. Left to my own devices, I would have preferred to trace the Alps, hiking a well-known trail and marking it off on my list of accomplishments. I get a kick out of tangible outcomes. My wife suggested I learn to quieten my mind. I was unconvinced. She booked me in anyway.

Located in Germany’s deep south, close to the Swiss and French borders, Bad Antogast is encircled by mountains and forests, making it difficult to reach from any German city. That’s not necessarily a bad trade, for all the clockwork German precision also melts away as one leaves the hustle of the cities behind. Appearing unannounced in a valley, it’s a village custom-built for experiments with reclusiveness. There are no markets to be seen, no traffic. A mineral water spring is the only tourist attraction.

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The Silence Retreat is located on a slope. My room was a minimalistic rectangle, the windows of which opened onto the forest. Wooden flooring, thick woollen blankets, and a warm bed turned it into a comforting nest Cellular network didn’t penetrate its walls. Everything about the retreat suggested silent enquiry, mostly within. The trouble with wandering minds like mine is that even silent pauses are pregnant with planning. In my free hours, I conspired to mountain bike to the neighbouring villages of Maisach or Griesbach or go looking for the hidden spot, somewhere up in the mountains, from which a sole parasailer sometimes appeared out of thin air and remained hanging in the blue vastness for long hours.

Conversations were difficult to strike up though. Walking past the cowshed next door, I’d spot men separating hay into small heaps for their animals, and women working on the slopes, growing potatoes and cabbage. In this part of the world, they still dress the old German way in Iederhosen, the leather pants that last a lifetime. The farmers smiled at me, and treating this as an invitation, I walked up to them to learn more about their lives. They didn’t know English though, and I had never really taken my German lessons seriously. Silence was less of a choice, more a necessity.

To fill the hours of my ten-day stay, I took to walking with the feverishness of a dervish. The trails here gain a gradient as they slant upward, with temperate mixed forest of pine and oak taking over the fir that lines the lower hills. There are no beginnings or ends to the paths. They all seem to merge into one another, before circuiting to the tarmac in the valley below. From the gaping slits in the curtain of trees, thatched huts in pastel hues of red and yellow are visible far out in the valley. After a day of walking, once the sun lost its shape, I would walk back towards one of these huts and curl up next to a fireplace.

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The next morning, the cycle would begin again, and I would follow another forest trail. So often was I spotted on the dust-laden tracks zigzagging across the forests that the village folks would wave at me from a distance. For once, in these narrow settings, I became a recognizable figure. The Black Forest is a neat absorbent It ingests everything: the sound of my footsteps crushing dry leaves, the vaporous puffing from the efforts of a solitary climb, an orphan grunt from slipping on a wet stone. It transforms these noises into a gentle nothingness, returning not even the slightest rustle. Somewhere on the trail, I stopped to listen. My breath was still heavy from the strain of the climb, and despite the chill, sweat droplets tracked my brow. No birds chirped, even the gurgling of the streams was out of earshot. Stillness dominated.

I noticed that my urge to speak had diluted, and then disappeared. With silence, my perception also sharpened, and I began to notice things that previously would have gone unnoticed. I reflected that people here didn’t blab mindlessly. They spoke in monosyllables and only when needed, as if words were potent vehicles to provide clarity, and should be used sparingly. I stood soaking in the silence. For once, thoughts failed to bubble up, and the indecisiveness I had carried with me faded away. All I could notice was the several shades of green that prevailed on the thick cover of the trees around. Never before, outside a box of crayons, had I perceived such variety of a single colour.  I stayed there looking at the valley till the sun disappeared. And thought of nothing. All the travels I had taken so far, all the flights I had negotiated, had brought me to this one suspended moment I closed my eyes. The timelessness was comforting.

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UFO Festival – Roswell, New Mexico

LATE JUNE TO EARLY JULY.

SO THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE!

If truckloads of alien paraphernalia and tens of thousands of alien-existence believers are anything to go by, then yes. The belief that there is something out there is alive and well at the world’s premier UFO festival.

ROSWELL IS WHERE IT ALL HAPPENED, RIGHT?

UFO-festival-roswell

Sure is – this is where the extra-terrestrial spaceship (aka military surveillance balloon) crash-landed in 1947. Don’t feel left out if you’re a believer in the balloon over the spaceship; the festival actively welcomes any sceptics out there who might need some convincing.

WITH A SHORTAGE OF ACTUAL ALIENS AND UFOS, WHAT ELSE HAS THE FESTIVAL GOT IN STORE?

Over the course of four days there are costume competitions, including one for your pet, if they enjoy getting their alien on too; an alien street parade; live musical entertainment; and guest speaking panels packed with authors who have been published on the topic of the moment – ETs and UFOs.

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Thaipusam Festival – Batu Caves

LATE JANUARY OR EARLY FEBRUARY (DEPENDENT ON THE TAMIL CALENDAR).

ERM, WE MIGHT SIT THIS ONE OUT.

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Deep breaths; this gnarly festival isn’t a stickler for audience participation. THAT’S A RELIEF. NOW WHAT

ON EARTH IS GOING ON?

Thaipusam is observed around the world where there are significant Hindu Tamil populations. The celebrations centre around the remembrance of Lord Murugan, a Hindu god of war. He was apparently responsible for killing demons, thus demonstrating the triumph of good over evil.

SURE, BUT WHERE DOES THE WHOLE SKEWER THROUGH SKIN BIT COME IN?

The extreme flagellation is a way of showing atonement for sins and a commitment to overcoming temptations. The devotees carry their kavadi (burden) from Kuala Lumpur to the Batu Caves (approximately 9km) balanced on the piercings in their bodies. Once at the caves, they offer their burden to the gods and pledge their fidelity to family and divinities. It’s a custom passed down from generation to generation, and despite the somewhat gruesome nature of the event, you’ll see all members of the family getting involved, all the way from children to grandparents.

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La Tomatina – Bunol, Valencia

LAST WEDNESDAY IN AUGUST.

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THIS HAS GOT TO BE ONE OF THE MESSIEST FESTIVALS WE’VE EVER SEEN.

We’ll give you a hot tip – don’t wear your Sunday finest. You can expect to get entirely covered from tip to toe in squished tomatoes at this annual food fight festival in Eastern Spain.

AND THIS IS ALL IN AID OF WHAT?

A rollicking good time. Is there a better reason? The origins of the festival aren’t clear, but that doesn’t stop thousands upon thousands of revellers turning up on the last Wednesday in August to hurl tomatoes at one another.

DO WE BRING OUR OWN TOMATOES?

The festival has grown to such extraordinary size that the town trucks in tonnes of the red missiles and dumps them in the centre of town for the food fighters to get stuck into.

HOW LONG DOES THE CHAOS LAST?

Partying lasts all week, but the messy part of the affair lasts just a few hours, from 11am to around 2pm. Most of the action happens close to the town centre, but the streets fanning out from there are all caught up in the mix, so you can expect to get pelted wherever you are.

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Kanamara Matsuri Festival – Kawasaki

EARLY APRIL.

THIS PRETTY MUCH TAKES THE CAKE.

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If you thought Finland was out there with its wife-carrying and air guitar obsessions, then here comes the weirdness to outdo all weirdness.

IS THAT A…?

Yes ma’am, it sure is. The English translation of this festival’s name is the Festival of the Iron Phallus. We’re betting you haven’t seen quite so many penises out in the open, in one place, at one time. The penis parade that happens in the afternoon on the day of the festival is a sight to behold; in particular, the phalluses put up on the pedestals are impressive in their anatomical correctness.

SEEMS A TOUCH GRATUITOUS.

For Westerners, the sight of so many model penises on display, some of which are the size of a standing human being, for example, can be confronting or amusing, depending on your point of view. However, the meaning behind the festival isn’t so token or gratuitous – the point of the festival for many normally reserved Japanese is to celebrate fertility, marriage, birth and healthy sex.

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Ivrea Orange Festival – Ivrea, Turin

FEBRUARY.

A FRUIT FESTIVAL SOUNDS VERY QUAINT.

That’s what we thought, but no, this is war.

WAR DOESN’T SOUND LIKE MUCH FUN.

Ok, it’s not exactly war, but a re-enactment of an historic battle between the victorious yet humble village folk and a despotic lord – instead of using more historically accurate weaponry like swords, the actors use oranges.

OF COURSE THEY DO. THAT MAKES PERFECT SENSE.

ivrea-orange-festival-1

It’s thought that the use of oranges came about after young women decided to drop oranges from balconies on high onto boys below that they found attractive… but ignoring the nonsensical sequence of events that got us here, the festival is a colourful, entertaining, vibrant spectacle watched by over 100,000 spectators. It’s not possible for just anyone to take part in the actual battle, however; you need to register to be part of the regiment of foot soldiers.

OH GOOD, WE CAN STAND SAFELY ON THE SIDELINES AND CHEER THE VILLAGERS ON.

Sure, but be warned, being anywhere near the town square while the oranges are being launched will put you at risk of copping a juicing.

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Dia de los Muertos – Mexico City

1–2 NOVEMBER.

DEATH ISN’T USUALLY A GOOD REASON FOR A RAUCOUS PARTY.

Dia-de-los-muertos

Try telling Mexico that. The widely observed and wildly popular ‘Day of the Dead’ festival is more about a joyous celebration of life than it is a subdued mourning of the dead.

HOW ON EARTH DID THIS COME ABOUT?

It’s believed that the modern Mexican celebrations originated in indigenous traditions and rituals over 3000 years old. By the late 20th century the customs had developed to honour the deaths of children on 1 November and adults on 2 November.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS AT THESE DEATHLY PARTIES?

Families will decorate the graves of their lost loves as well as set up altars in their homes with the deceased’s favourite food, drink, candles, flowers and incense in order to wish them well in the next world. The exuberant celebrations include dressing up in masks and painting faces. The ubiquitous skull motif has become a symbol of the festival, as it’s designed to remind us that no matter what we are in life, we are the same in death.

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Buso Festival – Mohács

FEBRUARY.

HUNGARIAN HALLOWEEN?

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The creepy costumes donned by the revellers at this eccentric Magyar carnival certainly give Halloween ghouls a run for their money.

WHAT ARE THESE MASKED MEN DOING? AND WHY?

Dressed as horned monsters with woollen pelts, these costumed fiends are entrusted with the job of frightening off the freezing winter weather. It’s a symbolic nod to a significant Hungarian historical event. In the 16th century, the townsfolk of Mohács dressed in disturbing get-up to frighten away the invading Turkish army.

ONCE THE AWFUL WEATHER HAS BEEN SENT PACKING, WHAT’S NEXT?

The festival lasts six days and over the course of this time there are lots of activities, open to all, that won’t scare you silly. There’s a costume competition for little monsters, a street procession that starts off on boats on the Danube and ends with horse-drawn floats in the centre of town, and a burning man effigy to signal the end of the cold. Everyone walks around drinking mulled wine and brandy and toasting their success at seeing in the imminent end of winter.