All the fun of the fare

ESCAPE ROUTES 3: HOLIDAYS WITH A PURPOSE; Mexican street fiestas, rhino-spotting and biking along Route 66 are included in the prices of these last-minute getaways for the adventurous. Jill Crawshaw makes suggestions for travellers tired of just sunbathing
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The Independent Culture
HELP! WE NEED SOME BODIES

Volunteers to work alongside experts are urgently needed by the environmental charity Earthwatch, on its summer and autumn projects. Contributions are expected, to help pay towards the cost of the researchers and their upkeep. Fares are not included in the cost, though Earthwatch can organise them.

Studying songbirds in the foothills of the Italian Alps and the Hungarian wetlands near the Danube is one of their European tasks, involving netting, banding and assessing the birds before releasing them. The volunteers' contribution is pounds 445-pounds 650.

"Exploring Dolphin Intelligence" is a 20-year-old study at the University of Hawaii, where keepers record the interaction between dolphins and tourists swimming with them, or cruising among them in boats (two weeks from pounds 895).

"Triassic Park", not surprisingly, aims to demystify the dinosaurs and other prehistoric species, in Argentina's spectacular Ischigualasto Valley (two weeks, pounds 995).

As well as working with the animals, Earthwatch's brief covers reef and rainforest protection, the preservation of local cultures and traditions, archeological digs and health and nutrition projects (including AIDS) in Third World countries.

Earthwatch 01865 516366

PARTY, PARTY

Fiestas and street parties in Mexico, whether for a local saint's day or the coming of the rains, harvest festivals or more or less any excuse are vital ingredients in understanding and enjoying this fascinating and vital country. You'll find some sort of celebration practically every day of the year, whether it is in a simple Indian village or in a modern city centre.

One of the liveliest is on September 15, Independence Day in Mexico, where the celebrations include fireworks, folk dancing and non-stop mariachi bands. If you want to join in, Central American specialist tour operator Trips can provide return flights, tours in Mexico City and a hire car to drive east for the festivities to Puebla, the city with over 1,000 colonial buildings, many covered with hand painted tiles, and one of the world's largest pyramids nearby at Cholula. To recover - a couple of days on the Pacific beaches and the surfing centre Puerto Escondido. The 12- day trip with flights, accommodation and car hire is pounds 1,650 for each of two.

Trips 0117 987 2626

TIME TRAVEL

Stuck in a pre-World War Two time warp, Saaremaa, Estonia's largest and most traditional island, was once a popular holiday spot until it was taken over by Soviet officials who, for nearly 50 years until 1989, banned travel there from the outside world.

As a result there's little modern development, most hotels have only about a dozen rooms, few have more than 50, and crowds are non-existent.

Bikes are a pleasant and economical way to explore the island, which is mainly flat, with some sandy beaches, pinewoods and fascinating relics of a turbulent past when Danes, Germans, Swedes and Russians all occupied the island in turn - the huge 13th-century castle dominating Kuressaare, the little rural capital, the fortress-like churches and old wooden farmsteads. Regent Travel can organise a week for pounds 400, including flights from Gatwick, or combine Saaremaa with other Baltic tours.

Regent Travel 0117 921 1711

LET THE MULE TAKE THE STRAIN

Travelling in Morocco's Atlas Mountains is a heady combination of dramatically plunging limestone gorges and canyons, karst plateaus and hidden kasbahs and oases.

The Atlas is also the home of one of tha most ancient mountain societies, the Berbers, who accompany walking expeditions as muleteers and guides on Sherpa's Moroccan treks. Overnight stays are in tents, village houses, alpine huts or even under the stars, while baggage is carried by mules, leaving you free to photograph, sketch or write en route.

The two guided walks scheduled for this September are both to Jbel Toubkal, which is the highest summit in North Africa, and there are other equally impressive summits to be tackled, though be warned that holidaymakers on this kind of break need to be in reasonably good shape.

The two-week tours also include three nights in a hotel in Marrakesh, and cost pounds 684 for flights, most meals, accommodation, and the services of the guides on your walking tour.

Sherpa Expeditions 0181 577 2717

SPA-ING PARTNERS

Long established and booming on the Continent, spa holidays have only recently established themselves in Britain. Thermalia Travel are the specialist operator who can organise health and beauty relaxation and anti-stress holidays, sports therapy and weight-reduction programmes in a variety of spas in Europe, and as far afield as South Africa, the West Indies and Thailand.

For pounds 617 they'll take you on a one week "Beauty Package" at the Spa Hotel Colossae Thermal, near Turkey's Pamukkale, where the famous strange white rock formations have been created by the compression of cataract, pools and stalactites. Numerous treatments are included - unlimited use of the thermal pool, fitness rooms, flights and half board accommodation.

And if you need to escape for a day, the historic ruins of Ephesus are a three-hour drive away, while those of Hierapolis and Aphrodias are sited even nearer to the spa.

There are spas galore in Slovenia's delightful Julian Alps, where Thermalia offer a range of basic spa weeks from pounds 691, beauty weeks from pounds 979, and a slimming programme (pounds 790) with mud packs, gym sessions, massage and mineral baths, all based at the Rogaska Health Resort, where facilities include tennis, riding and golf.

Thermalia Travel 0171 586 7725

EASY RIDERS

The joys of the open road on a Harley-Davidson can be all yours in Britain, France, Switzerland, Holland and the US if you hold a full motorbike licence, can provide your own protective clothing and helmet, and can afford up to pounds 99 per day. Minimum age depends on the country; 30 in the UK, 25 in Holland.

Full details are available from Budget. Prices vary; in this country rental costs pounds 99 per day, pounds 259-pounds 349 for weekends; in Holland, the daily rate is pounds 75, for a weekend pounds 150; while in Switzerland the prices are pounds 81 and pounds 312 respectively, plus heavy insurance charges in some cases.

USA Tailor Made Holidays offer a range of Harley Davidsons from pounds 42 a day in low season, pounds 58 in high season for their top models, but with considerable extras for insurance. Cities you can pick them up from include Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, Miami, Chicago, Denver and Phoenix. On a special deal, four or more bikes can travel the famous Route 66, picking up bikes in Chicago, and dropping them off in Los Angeles, Phoenix or Las Vegas, with no extra one-way fee.

Budget Rent-A-Car UK 0800 626063/ Continental 0800 181181. USA Tailor Made Holidays, 0181 693 9953

YEMEN HIGHLIGHTS

Remote villages which are accessible only by four-wheel drive Land Cruisers are included in Jasmin Tours 10-day breaks in the Yemen. These holidays are tailor-made to order, with the more adventurous, independent traveller in mind.

Among the highlights; San a'a, the old city with its souks, bazaars and traditional architecture classified as one of UNESCO's world treasures; the royal palace at Taiz, the former capital; Marib, the most renowned ancient site in the country where the Queen of Sheba built her dam, and Shibab, the Yemeni Chicago - its five and six storey skyscrapers appearing like a mirage out of the desert.

The trip costs pounds 1,400 during August and September, which covers return flights, all excursions and mainly half board accommodation.

Jasmine Tours 01628 531121

BEAR NECESSITIES

A six night fully guided camping expedition travels down British Columbia's Babine River along an area inhabited by an estimated 100 grizzly bears. The four September departure dates coincide with the spawning of the river's huge population of salmon, which maximises the chances of sighting not only the bears but also bald eagles, feeding on the fish. Travelpack Canada's tours are escorted by guides with backgrounds in natural history, and you are warned that since each expedition is equipped with firearms, bear scaring devices and flares, special insurance is required. The cost, whch does not include international flights, is pounds 860 for each of two, which includes two nights hotel accommodation in Smithers, camping in tents, all meals and the services of the guide.

Travelpack Canada 0990 747101

BATTLE WISE

For the past two decades, Holts Tours have been organising tours to the worlds' battlefields, accompanied by expert lecturers.

At a time when patriotic fervour may just have begun to fade following the European Cup and Tim Henman's Wimbledon knockout, "John Bull's Front Line" might help to re-ignite the flame on a three-day, two-night tour costing pounds 226 per person, based at Ashford in Kent, tracing General Sir John Moore's plans to beat "Bogey" - if he had dared to land on our shores.

"The Great War in Words and Music" (pounds 394) recruits Rupert Brooke, Robert Graves et al to provide the words, and Bliss, Holst and Ivor Novello for the music.

This four night pilgrimage is based in Arras and Ypres, and is a mixture of history and nostalgia; on the last evening there's even a sing-song at the Toc H in Poperinghe, around the old piano where "the boys" were singing 80 years ago.

On a slightly more contemporary note, "The Battle for Arnhem" (pounds 428) evokes memories of one of the Second World War's epic battles in September 1944 - one that we lost. The three nights and four days in Holland include visits to the various battlefields, and inevitably some of the cemeteries, both allied and German. Hotel accommodation, generally with half board as well as the ferry crossings (where relevant) are included in all prices.

The Holts' programme includes not only most places in Europe where there was some form of armed conflict - generally involving this country - but goes as far afield as the Americas, South Airica, China, India, the Middle and Far East, for those who would like to be more adventurous in their travels.

Holt's Tours 01304 612248

JUNGLE QUASIMODOS

Native only to Borneo and northern Sumatra, the huge, hairy, long-limbed Quasimodos of the forest, the orang utangs, have been threatened with extinction for some years, but are being gradually rehabilitated in a small number of National Parks and research centres.

Camp Leakey Research Centre in Kalimantan, though fairly inaccessible, is one of the best of these centres; Discover the World will get you there, and to the remote forested Tanjung Puting National Park, where there's a chance to see the orang utangs living in their natural habitat.

The two week tour then moves on - by dugout canoe, plane, bus, African Queen style riverboat and on foot, to the Ujung Kulon National Park on the western tip of Java, home of most of the last 60 or so Javan rhinos in the world.

Even if you don't spot a rhino, the park has a host of other wildlife, from leopards and flying foxes with five foot wingspans, to giant Atlas moths and grey-cheeked bulbuls.

A chance to view the volcano Krakatau, and a few relaxing days in Bali make up the rest of the 15 day tour, which costs pounds 2,715 in September for flights, reasonably comfortable accommodation, guided excursions, park visits and most meals. This, and other "soft" two week adventures are available in Madagascar, Alaska, Ecuador and the Galapagos for those who are not short of money but have limited time.

Discover the World 01737 218800 !

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