Highlights of the Year in Travel: November 17, 2015 to November 11, 2016
After 2 years of hard work, immensely long hours, and never-ending 7-day work weeks, the trip of a lifetime became a reality. When you have the travel bug, it's hard to ignore it.
Country #1: Costa Rica
The first stop, 1 month on an organic farm (Finca La Puebla) near San Isidro Del General in central Costa Rica. What a change from working all the time to Tico time in a sleepy town of a few hundred people. Beautiful and some of the most fascinating insects I've ever seen.
Country #2: Perú
Machu Picchu, amazing. Salkantay trek, pretty cool. Most memorable moments? Getting so sick from food poisoning and the sketchiest AirBnB EVER with a manic, chain-smoking, close-talking, alcoholic father of the host, who wasn't there! Oh, and fear of rabies after getting scraped by a puppy in Arequipa.
Country #3: New Zealand
The prettiest and friendliest place ever. And so clean that people walk around barefoot.
Country #4: Indonesia
Nusa Penida, a totally different world from the Eat, Pray, Love crowd in Ubud, Bali. And very much worth it because of the local feel and prices. Loved volunteering at the Friends of the National Park Foundation. Most memorable moments? Snorkeling with manta rays, the amazing work done at the wildlife rescue center, the many speedboat rides between Bali Island and Nusa Penida (terrifying on some occasions).
Country #5: Taiwan
Food. Food. Food. Food. Food. Taiwanese people know how to eat. Whoa. Memories: dramatic almost breaking up on a bus with my parents and their friends, food, fighting with my parents. lol
Country #6: Japan
EVERYTHING. I loved Japan.
Country #7: Mongolia
One of the favorite places I've been, partially because it's so off the radar for most people. It's also an introvert's dream. I may also be part Mongolian somewhere, knowing that there was a Liao dynasty! Fondest memories: being able to walk literally anywhere I wanted to; ger living; ovoos circled 3 times in a clockwise direction; taking rare showers in the public shower houses in larger towns; almost everything is expired (I ate a Twix from 2014); dogs are so friendly there; the peace you feel being the only person or people for miles around. It's amazing. I want to see the ice festival, the camel festival, and more!
Country #8: China
Thirty-one days in China....woo that's a long time. Maybe too long, but due to visa concerns, that's what we ended up with. Memories: SO CROWDED; so much pollution in the major cities; the cities were so big; so dirty. I finally felt better in Anshun and Lijiang and Shangri-La, but I was definitely happy to leave. I found it the most challenging part of the trip because of the difficulty communicating and the culture/identity clash for me. People would tell me, I see your face, you're Chinese, but I would have to explain my poor speaking and lack of reading/writing skills by telling everyone I was born in the US and am American.
Country #9: Vietnam
The food! So delicious. And it was SO. HOT. Real feel was 120F on some days. But beware the scams and ripoffs, which abound in Vietnam. I don't blame people for trying, but I'm not going to pay $10 for a few stale dough sticks in Hanoi. Most memorable moments: Hoi An, the entire time there. It was a really pretty place and really pleasant to visit. Ho Chi Minh was okay, as was Hanoi, but both are hectic cities. Sapa was pretty, but also very commercial.
Country #10: Cambodia
Besides temples and crazy hot weather, my favorite part of visiting Cambodia was the time spent volunteering at the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary.
Country #11: Laos
So laid back. I rather enjoyed it. Laos has the best salads I've ever eaten too. There are plenty of activities to do in Luang Prabang through Backstreet Academy. I definitely had fun going to see the storytelling theater, learning how to carve wood, and a watercolor painting class. Some of the most memorable memories: crossing the border from Cambodia to Laos, the hummingbird moth on Don Khone, seeing the almost extinct river dolphin in the Mekong, attempting to go on a day tour in a torrential downpour in a tuk tuk - so we got pelted with rain, got cold, saw not a lot, and got pelted with termites.
Country #12: Thailand
I've literally been to Thailand 7 times in a decade. But I did spend a week with elephants at the Elephant Nature Park!
Country #13: Myanmar
I loved Myanmar because it's still not very developed for tourists. The longyi and traditional thanaka worn by many Burmese, the decrepit-looking buildings, the driving on the right side of the road but with the steering wheel on the right side of the car, it was all very interesting. It's very laid back so don't expect lots of thrills and spills. And the western influence is apparent but mainly in the westernized restaurants at NYC prices. My fondest memories, the Bagan hotel the ex and I stayed at at the same time as the Miss Myanmar beauty models. They were all so tall (tall shoes); Inle Lake meeting the 60-something year-old Buddhist monk who used to be in the military and had been married and had children. He spoke no English and us no Burmese, but we shared smiles and multiple cups of tea. And temples galore. I love Buddhism.
Country #14: Malaysia
Honestly, I didn't get out and do much in Malaysia. Do you know why? I HAD DENGUE!!!!! I probably contracted it in Myanmar and developed symptoms (1 in 4 is symptomatic) but deferred admission to the hospital in Kuala Lumpur. Instead, I went to get blood draws every day in between being horrendously sick in bed for a week. I did, however, do the Skytrex zip lining course while sick. Also, at Prince Court Medical Center, the doctor sort of laughed at me when I suggested that I likely had dengue but I got the last laugh when my test came back positive. Helpful hint for fellow healthcare travelers: they are REALLY good at getting blood. The nurses hit my veins on the first try every time. Usually it's like an archaeology dig when someone tries to get my blood.
Other memories - lots of cafes, great wifi, good food when I could eat it (I was so sick from dengue that even the faintest smell of food made me want to vomit).
Country #15: Nepal, September 16th to October 11, 2016
I signed up for this expedition to Mera Peak (6476 - North peak, 6461 for Central peak) through World Expeditions in July, I believe. The highest altitude I had achieved before was the summit of Kilimanjaro in 2011 (5895 meters above sea level or about 19,340 feet above sea level). I wanted to see if I could get higher and I did. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done - taking 2 steps and being exhausted from the lack of oxygen. The views and the experience were unforgettable. Words cannot describe the beauty of seeing the world from 6461 meters above sea level.
Country #16: India
The original plan to stay in India for 2 months eventually got trimmed to 2 weeks. After so many months in less developed countries, there was definitely a sense of burnout and a desire to get back to western comforts and cleanliness. As a result, Fort Kochi and Mumbai were the destinations of choice, Mumbai because it was en route to last minute changes that included a few weeks in Greece, Italy, and Spain, destinations that had not been decided upon before departure. I definitely got a LOT of stares for the tattoos, including the talking to I got from a female airport security screener who took the time to tell me about her negative thoughts about the tattoos. But you have to take it all in stride given the cultural differences. One of the outstanding memories from the time there was the excellent food! I didn't get to do a lot of sight seeing because I was recuperating from Nepal and I was working remotely.
Country #17: Greece
Greece was the first industrialized country in several months, the last being Japan. The fact that I could use the tap water was amazing! The two weeks were split between Athens and Santorini. I absolutely LOVED Santorini. Despite the party atmosphere reputation of the islands, if you go in the off season right before everything closes down for the winter, it's AMAZING for introverts like me. Not a lot of people, NO crowds, lots of time to eat and relax and ride an ATV around the island. Athens was also fascinating and lovely. I was also working remotely during this leg. My favorite memories were the sunrises from the beach.
Country #18: Italy
Another remote working country. Again, we were in Italy, namely Rome, for only a short period of time. In between working, there was a decent amount of walking around and sight seeing, from the Parthenon to the Colosseum to museums. And eating. As in Greece, there was a lot of eating. And the AirBnB hosts were awesome and treated us to a dinner at their house the last night in the Rome. It was full of delicious cheese, pasta, and dessert. You can't go wrong with that. The most memorable moment? Experiencing my first earthquake.
Country #19: Spain
The last 2 weeks or so of the world trip. It was bittersweet and filled with uncertainty leading up to the election. However, the friendliness of the people, the ease of navigation, the delicious food, and sightseeing opportunities in Barcelona, were all winning points. Plus the LGBTQ friendliness meant I felt safer than I had been in some other countries. Fondest memories? The wonderful and friendly people at Transforma BCN coworking space where I had delicious meals, good conversation, free beer, and hugs; tapas, tapas, tapas; Gaudi; and the Dali museum. As with everywhere else, I wish I had more time to see EVERYTHING, even if it's not feasible.