So you want a wild honeymoon ...

Forget champagne and king-sized beds, newly weds are looking for adventure, says Wendy Holden
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Indy Lifestyle Online
"On the first night of our honeymoon in Namibia," recalls Fiona Nicholl, 30, "something very big and very smelly was peeing up against the side of the tent. We found out later that it could have been a lion or a hyena. It was terrifying. You heard the crack of a twig and thought a herd of elephants was outside. I thought I could hear lions roaring but it turned out to be my husband's stomach rumbling."

Honeymoons used to be all champagne and king-sized beds. Now, it seems, they're all king-sized bed bugs and kings of the jungle. Hot on the heels of the church and the cake, the latest going-away suits are definitely of the safari variety.

But should we be surprised? Getting back to steamy basics isn't exactly unusual behaviour for honeymooners. Nor let it be forgotten that we live in the age of as-advertised-on-TV Superbeings and people consequently expect more of each other these days. He may be on intimate terms with the Internet, but can he cut the mustard on the Amazon? "Well, if he couldn't handle a canoe, I certainly would have married him," says Sue Bryant, 32, who rode the rapids in Zimbabwe after taking the plunge with husband Paul. "But the main reason was just total, total escape."

Thirty years ago, even Ibiza was an unthinkable escape. For the newly married Mr and Mrs J Public, a Bournemouth boarding house was more the norm. But then came the package holiday boom, with the Publics taking their offspring to sunny Spain and the like. Those offspring are the been- there, done-that newlyweds of now.

The marital caution of the Nineties may, ironically, be the cause. Now that folk marry later, having known each other for longer, honeymooners demand something a little more special than the fortnight in Faro they have had for the past five years.

"Honeymooners account for a significant amount of our business," say the Thai specialists Symbiosis Expedition Planning. "We provide tailor- made tours for people who want to do something rather more off the beaten track."

"Quite a lot of people have been going to the Middle East," says Emily Heber-Percy of the upmarket travel agents Cox & Kings. "And a couple at Christmas went round Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and then spent a few days in a game park looking for the Indian tiger.

"These kind of honeymoons are definitely on the increase, though generally among well-to-do people like bankers and solicitors. We get a lot of those." They would have to. An eight-day Middle East tour through Cox & Kings, complete with camel transfers and desert camping, costs upwards of pounds 1,000 per person; the two-week Indian tiger tour above costs around pounds 5,000 for two.

"People are going for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, which tend to be expensive," says James Daunt of Daunt Books, the Marylebone High Street travel bookshop that is the scene of much pre-honeymoon browsing. Namibia, it seems, is the Tuscany of the Nineties. "It's definitely the No 1 honeymoon destination of the moment, although Peru is coming back now in a big way and Bhutan and the Galapagos are close behind. Trekking in the Himalayas is popular, too."

James himself and his wife, Katy, 31, a management consultant, spent their own honeymoon trekking in Ethiopia. "It was absolutely wonderful," says James. "We were in hotels entirely on our own and in five weeks we met about two or three other people who spoke English. It was a bit low on creature comforts, but what an adventure. The only sticky moment was when Katy dropped the torch down a loo and we had to use lighters to see anything. If we'd been non-smokers it would have been a disaster."

Katy muses: "I remember the telephone wires being down everywhere so we couldn't get any money from the banks and there being no petrol in the whole of north-eastern Ethiopia. Oh, and 30 nights solid of eating goats' cheese and chicken."

Lack of luxury, however, does little to deter love's young dream on the pan-African truck tours run by Dragoman. "At the moment," says Kichia Harris, Africa operations manager, "the trend seems to be people getting married on our trips. God knows why they do it, though. Being surrounded by 10 other tents means there's absolutely no privacy."

Yet privacy is low down the modern tryst list compared to adventure and boldly going where no 'mooner has gone before. "It wasn't really all that relaxing, as we were packing up all the time and moving on," says Eva Wheeler, a food technologist, of her 1993 honeymoon in Mexico. "The problem is that now we have a taste for adventure and have to match that experience every year. It was fascinating driving through tiny villages where they weave their own clothes, and going on amazing boat trips. All the beds were single, though, and one hotel we stayed in had no keys."

The Livingstone factor can cost the loving one dear. "I never really thought about whether or not it was romantic," says Jackie O'Neill, 30, a magazine production editor, who spent her honeymoon in Iceland. "It's not as if it was the first time we'd been on holiday together. We went to Iceland because James really hates lying in the sun and gets very bored. Iceland was fascinating and really beautiful, but not the ideal honeymoon destination in some ways because it never got dark!"

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