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Most people would probably not label me as an athlete; my primary sport, after all, is twirling my hair. Bravery doesn’t come naturally to me either. Venturing into unfamiliar places requires a companion for courage, and despite common belief, animals intimidate me more than I do them. Yet, astonishingly, I’ve plunged headfirst into some of mankind’s most untraditional escapades.
Years ago in Austria, I chanced upon a salt mine advertisement near Salzburg. My travel companion, even less daring than I, was coaxed into the adventure with the promise of picking restaurants throughout our trip. Our journey to the mine began with a local bus and a slightly terrifying cable-car ride. At the peak, we donned miner outfits over our dresses, bracing ourselves for a trip into the mountain’s inky depths on a miners’ train.
Our descent took a thrilling turn with a 30-40 feet wooden slide where I spearheaded our human-chain descent, all of us shrieking and laughing. By the end of our multiple slides and a salt lake rafting experience, friendships had formed, and memories etched forever.
After enduring the journey, we found ourselves on a muddy path leading to the mine’s entrance. Holding hands and laughing nervously for some added bravery, we were soon dressed in miners’ white coveralls — a challenging feat over our dresses. We were handed hard hats and then positioned along the sides of a miners’ train, which seemed to vanish into the mountain’s dark abyss.
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The train was designed to accommodate several participants on each side, and we were humorously informed that by the end of the ride, we would be well-acquainted, sharing an “intimate” experience during the descent. As the youngest and only single girls present, this comment didn’t earn us any warm smiles from the primarily Austrian women who clung protectively to their husbands.
Soon after, my husband Manos introduced me to his homeland, Greece. A trip to Santorini’s capital, Fira, meant mounting an ill-tempered donkey. My urban upbringing hadn’t prepared me for this. An eventful ride filled with stumbles and screams finally landed me at the top. The descent, however, was another slippery, messy challenge.
The next year, Madeira, an island off Portugal, beckoned. A sledge ride from Monte to Funchal seemed thrilling. However, the seemingly dilapidated sled and our elderly guides gave us pause. Nevertheless, we embarked on a heart-stopping descent, dodging cars and obstacles along the steep cobblestone path.
Venturing farther north, a trip to Inarijärvi lake in Finland, 225 miles above the Arctic Circle, presented another opportunity. Encased in multiple layers against the freezing cold, our group ventured across the frozen lake to the Saami sacred island, Ukonkivi. The exhilarating snowmobile ride across the lake, coupled with stories of the Saami people by the fireside, was unforgettable.
Yet, the adventures didn’t stop there. The vast plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti unfolded beneath me as I soared in the hot air balloon during the annual Wildebeest migration. As we soared high into the clouds, wildlife moved like miniature figures below. In contrast, the lush green canopies of Mazatlan beckoned, as I whizzed through them, zip-lining from one platform to another.
But the uniqueness of my journeys also brought me closer to nature in the most intimate ways. Camel rides, for instance, transported me across vast desert landscapes, where the vastness of the surroundings humbled me, and the steady rhythm of the camel lulled me into a reflective state.
From soaring over Tanzania’s Serengeti in a hot air balloon to zip-lining in Mazatlan, from bobsledding in Jamaica to driving around the Great Pyramid of Giza, my adventures are countless. Yet, each one, no matter how intimidating, has been a lesson in pushing boundaries and learning to embrace the unexpected.
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