Four Fantastic River Trips

I love traveling by boat. Perhaps it’s because I was born on a lake and spent my early day commuting to and from the land based transportation in a wooden boat that my dad built. I find the motion soothing. I love that the world looks different afloat than it does when standing on dry ground. I love that I’m not constrained by road ways, or fences, and instead can move freely in just about any direction.

Rivers are my favourite, I think. Forward motion is inevitable as the current sweeps you downstream. Having spent much of my life on a river island, I’ve learned to see the world through the eyes of a river, ever changing, never static, pushing forward, the raw power of evolution, both physical and human.

Perhaps that’s what’s drawn me to rivers in my travels. I have a desire to see what the world looks like from the moving water that shapes the landscape. In case you too are drawn to moving water, let me share four of favourite river trips and how you can take them too.

The Rhine River

If you find yourself in Germany I’ll accept no excuse for not floating a part of the Rhine. If you’re asking for my recommendation, and you’re looking for a day trip, then the section from Koblenz to Mainz is particularly spectacular, especially if you like castles and idyllic vineyards. Of course it’s easy enough to start in Cologne, as well, and make it two days.

There are combination cycle and boat tours that will allow you to hop on and off of the boat and bike trails that line the river, enjoying the best of both worlds.

Of course, being a “go big or go home,” kind of girl, I’m now thinking about how to up the game. I’ve got this idea to go to the Netherlands and either buy, or rent one of the live aboard river barges that are so beautiful and so common in Europe, and travel the length of the river from Amsterdam to Basel, in Switzerland. I think it will take all summer. Who’s in?

The Mekong

I dare you not to be swept away by romantic notions of the Mekong River. I know I was. The first time I saw it in person was standing at the viewing point of the Golden Triangle, north of Chiang Rai, where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos come together and the river curves and meanders south. A great terra cotta coloured band that divides countries and has provided transportation, sustenance and communication for as long as people have lived along it’s edge.

It’s easy enough to book a tour. There are many. But, you could up your game. You could simply hop the local boats that run the circuit, not for tourists. Or, hire a local with a private boat to be your guide and chart your own course. It’s easy enough to do at any of the local ports. For the seriously intrepid: buy a boat, choose your own adventure, and sell it when you get to the Cambodian border and can go no further because of the falls.

“Try not to get cholera. That’s all I’ve got for advice.”

I can tell you, from personal experience, that doing this trip during monsoon ups the harrowing factor, as does a complete lack of literacy and being dumped off in places you had no intention of going. The 4000 islands are well worth a week. Good luck finding the pink dolphins. Make sure to see the ruins of Champasak. Try not to get cholera. That’s all I’ve got for advice. It will be an epic adventure. You’ll have a blast.

The Saint Lawrence River

river-St Lawrence
Beginning where Lake Ontario ends and flowing to the Atlantic Ocean, the Saint Lawrence River isn’t on too many RTW travel itineraries, but it should be. The great lakes are the largest reservoir of fresh water on the planet and they span the border between the USA and Canada. This history and culture of these lakes and the river beyond, are incredibly diverse and the potential for big time adventure is great.

The 1000 islands are worth your time. Boat tours abound, on both the US and Canadian sides of the border. Don’t miss Boldt Castle. Check out Fort Henry, in Kingston, Ontario. The fort that was built when our northern neighbors were worried about American intentions. The Saint Lawrence Seaway is the superhighway of giant container ships moving goods from the interior of the great lakes to the sea. It’s also one way to see the river, if you can hitch a ride on one.

“Or, you could buy a kayak, a canoe, or a rowboat and Huck Finn it downstream. “

The obvious option is to book a cruise, they leave from as far away as Boston, MA, and make multiple stops along the river. Or, you could hire a sailboat. Or, you could hitch on a sailboat. Or, you could buy a kayak, a canoe, or a rowboat and Huck Finn it downstream.

Another option, if you don’t want to get your feet wet, would be to walk, or cycle the 1600 km Waterfront Trail which lets you start as far away as Detroit, Michigan and travel the shore the length of Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, as well as the St. Lawrence, almost to Montreal. If you want to travel only the St. Lawrence portion, begin in Kingston, Ontario and head east.

The Amazon River

It’s an obvious choice, don’t you think? And yet the possibilities are almost endless, across the breadth of South America. I spent a couple of weeks in an off the grid lodge on the Tambopata River, near the headwaters of the great river this July. It was a life changing experience for a river loving girl like me. The mind-boggling size of the river, and knowing just how far I could go if I kept on floating sang to my adventurous soul. The breathtaking biodiversity of the surrounding rainforest is something everyone should see and fall in love with. Especially if we’re going to have the courage to make the changes we will have to make, as a species, to preserve it. The history of epic adventures that have unfolded through the centuries on and around that vast ribbon of water form the stuff of my dreams.

“It’s not an entirely tame part of the world. Which, of course, it what makes it a spectacular adventure.”

Read Walking the Amazon, by Ed Stafford, while you are there. It will give you about ten good reasons per page to float the journey instead of hoofing it. He was the first man documented to have walked the entire length, from the headwaters in the Peruvian highlands, to the sea. It took him almost three years. He’d planned for one. Talk about an adventure!

It’s getting easier to experience the Amazon as eco-lodges are popping up in buffer zones around the protected areas. Do your homework and make sure that the eco-lodge you choose is actually, you know, eco.

It’s definitely possible to rock into a town like Puerto Maldanado, find an out of work guide and hire your own boat to do some serious off the grid journeying. Pay attention to the permits required and the visa and border crossing details, as there aren’t exactly formal crossing set up riverside. In addition, you’ll want to hire a guide (or several as you go) who are familiar with the local communities, their laws and customs. It’s not an entirely tame part of the world. Which, of course, it what makes it a spectacular adventure.

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