Whether you want to be put through your paces on an anti-poaching patrol of the Cambodian rainforest or capture the wildlife that roams the cushioned tundra of the polar region on camera, learning a new skill in these awe-inspiring destinations will prove to be a truly transformative experience. Words: Lauren Romano
The late essayist Arthur Christopher Benson once said: “very often a change of self is needed more than a change of scene.” But perhaps the two are more intertwined than would first appear. Certainly, jaw-dropping panoramas alone aren’t always enough to alter the way you feel deep down. But the act of stepping into new and unfamiliar surroundings has the power to uproot you spiritually and emotionally – and transform the way you view the world. By splashing through the shallows of a secluded beach on a Sumba horse or foraging for mangosteens in the jungle, you might start to think differently. By taking the opportunity to connect with the landscape and learn from the people and wildlife you encounter there, you’ll come away with a better understanding of yourself and how to reach your highest potential. Here are five of the most transformative experiences to kickstart your quest for personal growth….
From the hypnotic sight of surf crashing onto the shore to the rhythmic canter of horses clipping the sand, a visit to NIHI Sumba, a remote slice of paradise in Indonesia’s necklace of idyllic islands, will sharpen all your senses. Situated on the ‘edge of wildness’, the eco lodge, is mostly untouched by the modern world, meaning peace and serenity reign supreme. Without the noise and distractions of everyday life, you can centre yourself firmly on the present and let your curiosity run wild. And what better way to do so than by swimming with the island’s aforementioned native horses like local tribes have done for centuries? Riding bareback on these majestic creatures, feeling every muscle flex as they wade weightlessly through the ocean is a truly magical, humbling encounter. As the swell causes their hooves to rise steadily from the ocean bed, you’ll find yourself floating, the warm waters ebbing and flowing around you. What could be more invigorating for mind, body and soul?
The adventure begins the moment you arrive at Bensley Collection - Shinta Mani Wild, a riverside retreat and conservation project deep in the heart of Cambodia’s rainforest, courtesy of a zip line that propels you 380 metres over foaming waterfalls far below.
And if that doesn’t give you an adrenalin rush, hurtling through the rainforest on a motorbike with the local anti-poaching patrol will. Staminadepending, these exhilarating and vital expeditions can last anywhere from two to six hours, during which you’ll help the rangers defend the surrounding habitat and the wildlife that calls it home.
With some of the world’s most endangered species on its doorstep, Shinta Mani Wild is committed to protecting the vast river valley from poaching, mining and logging, and its hands-on approach to conservation means you can make a real contribution to reclaiming land that is the beating heart of the region. Bird watching, hiking and mountain biking all add to a colourful feast for the senses and underscore the role of the forest in providing for creatures great and small, leaving you energised to play a more active role in protecting the planet.
We could all do with a slice of la dolce vita from time to time, and at Borgo Pignano, an 18th-century villa ensconced on a bucolic organic farm in the countryside of Tuscany, a taste of the good life is guaranteed. Having devoted the best part of two decades to restoring the region’s ancient ecology to how Mother Nature intend it to be, the 750-acre estate produces everything from the olive oil used in its restaurant to the soaps in the rustic terracotta-tiled bathrooms.
What’s more, you can play a part in ensuring the environment is protected and supported. This might mean foraging for flora in the fragrant gardens with the resident herbalist to concoct your own perfumes and oils or learning how bees are cared for. All of which should rekindle your sense of stewardship and leave you with a better understanding of the time-honoured practices that keep the delicate ecosystem in check – not to mention a desire to push yourself to live a more sustainable life.
Think safari in the Maasai Mara, think Big Five game drives, stalking lions and wide, panoramic plains filled with herds of grazing zebra and giraffe. While all these elements are part of a stay at the intimate Cottar’s Camp, so too is learning about the four Cs – conservation, culture, commerce and community.
The camp is on a mission to create a more purposeful safari; one that will leave you with a greater understanding of the unique biodiversity of the bush and the efforts made to ensure a positive impact on both landscape and the local community. Spend time with the only all-female conservation ranger unit in the Maasai Mara, take part in a seed disbursal bushwalk or learn about the culture and responsibilities of the Maasai community. You’ll be able to hear first-hand from those who live and work in this awe-inspiring destination and connect with them on a deeper level, forging memories that last long after your head hits the pillow back at the luxurious 1920s-inspired base camp.
After all, isn’t that what personal growth is all about? So why not take a leap of faith: immerse yourself in the unfamiliar, and you’ll soon come to appreciate all that this wondrous world has to offer, and your place in it.
How many people can say they’ve spied icebergs bobbing along like sugar cubes in the distance, or moustachioed walruses bellowing as they haul out to lounge on their blubber-packed bellies? Swan Hellenic cruises take the most intrepid of explorers to the furthest-flung corners of the polar region – from the remote Russian and Norwegian archipelago at the top of the world to Siberia’s mighty Yenisei River.
Expeditions give front-row seats to sights straight out of an Attenborough documentary – prowling polar bears hunting moulting ringed seals; frozen landscapes strewn with whalebones – with experts on hand to provide fascinating insights into the terrain and the wildlife encountered, making the experience as enriching and wonderous as possible.
Lectures will leave you craving adventure – and the ability to get even closer to the enthralling frozen realm beyond your cabin window. Luckily, regular zodiac outings, polar kayaking and trekking expeditions should satisfy this longing and provide a visceral way to gauge the magnitude and hostile beauty of the landscape, which you’ll be able to capture in all its glory thanks to a little help from the shutterbugs at the onboard photography lab. Then again, no photo will ever do the surroundings justice, so why not ditch the camera and bask in the sheer thrill of being at the ends of the earth, feeling so insignificant yet so alive.