When Mark Twain traveled by donkey through Spain, it was 1878. And despite myriad innovations in transportation since then, author Tim Moore did it more than 125 years later. Why? Just take a look at his book: "One Man and His Ass on a Pilgrimage to Santiago."
In a world where it's child's play to reach any destination with a passport and plane ticket, donkeys and other beasts of burden can still carry us where mechanized vehicles fail to reach. Consider the wilds of the Yukon or Rajasthan, high into the Rocky Mountains, deep into Mongolia, or even rural Catalonia.
Not every animal-based trip must involve donkeys. Four times a year, Jakob Von Plessen leads tours in Argentina and East Africa on horseback. His Jakotango Safaris takes a small group into Patagonia for six days and then for another four to an estancia south of Buenos Aires. Joining them are several gauchos and three pack mules to carry the camping gear and, of course, the wine.
“It is easy riding, beautiful scenery, gaucho culture, and there is even some polo,” says Von Plessen. “We get to very remote areas on our horses. There are unique moments and unforgettable views—and even challenges.”
Africa is even more challenging on horseback. On the Serengeti plains and in the bush, wild animals are never far away. Yet in most game parks, off-road driving is forbidden—a horse can get you into the veldt, and with a lot less bumping around. “You ride with the game and also go a lot faster,” says Von Plessen.
The view gets even better from an elephant's saddle. Eighteen years ago, an American named Randall Moore brought the elephant-back safari to Botswana, and today Abu’s Camp in the Okavango Delta is famous for its herd of rideable pachyderms.
Meanwhile in the Western Hemisphere, a different breed of beast is employed for uphill treks. Wild Earth Llama Adventures leaves out of Taos, N.M., for a day or longer in the Rocky Mountains. Llamas are surefooted in spite of their soft paw print, and can carry up to 100 pounds; they walk at a pace that's ideal for hikers, and their keen senses alert the group to other animals nearby. For a higher climb, lead a llama for a three-day trek from Olleros to Chavin de Huantar in Peru, crossing the Yanashallash Pass, more than 15,000 feet up.
When it's a dune, not a mountain, that stands before you, hire a camel. While the place for the classic camel trek may still be Erg Chebbi in Morocco (check out the one done by Mountain Travel Sobek), operators can now be found in places as far afield as Namibia and India, and even in Australia—where 10,000 camels imported in 1840 have flourished. Depending on the country, trips can be hour-long sunset strolls or a much longer affairs, such as Frontier Camel Safaris' multi-day trek into the Australian outback. In the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy—a former cattle ranch in the north of Kenya that has gained a worldwide reputation for its conservation efforts—a trip can last up to 14 days, taking you into the Matthews mountain range and beyond.
But the adventure doesn't have to be on land. At aquariums and animal parks from Cozumel to Anguilla, dolphin handlers will let you frolic for a few minutes with the sea world's most intelligent creatures. Do some research ahead of time, however, to ensure the animals are well-cared for and that there's at least a small educational component to the experience.
Finally, for the brave of heart—and if you weigh less than 200 pounds—there are ostriches. The Chandelier Ostrich Show Farm is just one of many such farms in Oudtshoorn, South Africa, that lets visitors brave the backs of these dumb but very powerful birds. They won't take you very far, but it's not an experience you're likely to forget. Who knows, if Tim Moore could ride his ass from France to Spain and live to tell the tale, could someone's ostrich chronicles be far behind?