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How to find adventure without much exertion

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Peter Mandel
Globe Correspondent / June 29, 2008

Travel trends come and go. For a while it was yes-it's-included tours. Then volunteer-as-you-go. The big thing now is adventure.

Heli-hiking. Jungle ziplines. Scaling sheets of ice. You want to get in on this stuff - you know you do. But you commute in a car, work at a desk. Who has time to train before vacation? And if you're hammering pitons and clutching a rock face all week, when do you get to kick back?

If you want to find excitement without breaking a sweat, here are some all-gain, no-pain trips that any couch potato can do.

Drifting in the Dead Sea

If you already huff and puff on hikes, forget about mountain areas where the air is, as they say, "thin." Think lowlands. Think the lowest point on Earth: the Dead Sea. Here in Israel the atmosphere is rich in easy-to-breathe oxygen, and airborne bromides from the sea's mineral soup waft into your system and relax your nerves - according to local lore.

Time for a good float? Coat yourself in the sea's chocolatey mud, wade a few steps into the water, and try to sit. Boing. You are barely wet. Try ducking under. Boing. You are back on top.

If you work at it you can get your swimsuit slightly damp and scrub off some of the mud. But, if you're like me, you'll just drift like a kickboard, salty and happy.

Israel Ministry of Tourism, 888-774-7723, goisrael.com.

Riding dolphins in Cozumel

An island off Mexico's Yucatán, Cozumel is sprinkled with reefs and beaches and known as a mecca for snorkelers and divers. Let's say you're in an ocean mood but too lazy for masks or flippers. There's one water activity here that requires a little less effort than most.

Head for Dolphin Discovery Cozumel, the island's swim-with-the-dolphins center in Chankanaab National Marine Park. Here a pair of well-trained animals will push and pull you around in the sun-bright shallow water. Grab on to a couple of shiny fins or wait for the dolphins to get up speed and use their soft but super-powered noses to shove you by the soles of your feet.

Unlike some dolphin parks, Cozumel's doesn't confine its charges - or its customers - to a pool. I meet my two dolphins, Madonna and Michelle, on their turf: a chunk of ocean that's enclosed by a wooden dock. After some coaching (for me, not them) the three of us are making a speedboat's wake. Once I completely relax, I pop out of the water with each foot push, and raise my arms above my head like Neptune.

Dolphin Discovery Cozumel, 866-393-5158, dolphindiscovery .com/cozumel/.

Bar-hopping in Peru

Say "Peru" these days and the thing most likely to pop into people's heads is Machu Picchu. The mountaintop "lost city of the Incas" is a world-class destination. But to see it you've got to be game for centuries-old stone steps, boot-testing slopes, and lots of clambering around.

If you're a sloth (and proud of it), spend some downtime on a barstool in the nearby town of Cuzco. Inca drinking begins with coca tea, a brew that's supposed to give you energy but without the dangerous kick of pure cocaine. It's made from coca leaves but plenty diluted and pleasantly mild. Worth a cup at least.

Peruvians are happy if instead of ordering a Pepsi you try an Inca Kola. It tastes like Beech-Nut gum and pours out yellowy green. I graduate quickly to a mug of chicha, a cidery beer that's brewed from corn. It's not bad.

Finally I'm on to a pisco sour, the tangy national cocktail made from a type of brandy, frothy egg whites, and bitters. Wow. Did someone suggest climbing to Machu Picchu at dawn? "Have fun," I say lifting my glass and settling down on my soft swivel stool. "When you're back and ready for a pisco, look for me here."

Peru Collection Tours, 410-435-0209, perucollection.com.

Snow rafting in Quebec

When you're wrestling winter, there are a few ways to come out on top. You can escape to someone else's sun. Or you can kill the cold by building your own fire skating canals in Ottawa, skiing the Andes, or sledding in an inflatable rubber boat.

Intrigued by that last one? Head to the Quebec Winter Carnival, held annually in February in Quebec City, where there are always new and weird ways to enjoy snow. In this case you don't have to be in top shape to zoom downhill in a yellow zodiac raft. But having strong nerves helps. "Do you have a hernia?" warns the sign before you step in at the top and get a shove.

I wonder about this during the wild, slippery ride down a hard-packed slope. We are bouncing. Our boat is dropping and, on corners, careering around. Since you don't have to tow your raft back up, I stay hernia-free the whole afternoon, snow-boating until a cool blue dusk closes the place down.

Tourisme Québec, 877-266-5687, bonjourquebec.com.

Sports massage at sea

Too much floating or sitting around can take its toll. My prescription is to sign up for a deep tissue sports massage onboard ship: serious supplemental relaxation to top off an already relaxing cruise.

The sun deck of my Holland America ship, the Ryndam, is the place for this, at the Greenhouse Spa & Salon. Kit Lo, originally from Beijing, greets me inside the soothing, stone-tiled little room.

I'm spread out on a towel-covered table. Soon the roll of the ship adds angles to Kit Lo's presses and chops. Incense, fountain sounds, and music come from somewhere.

Note to self: After massage, take shower, followed by pisco sour and long nap. Then, if I'm feeling up to it, begin planning couch-potato trips for next year.

Holland America Line's Greenhouse Spa & Salon, 877-724-5425, hollandamerica.com.

Peter Mandel can be reached at pbmandel@cox.net.

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