It’s hard to believe 2013 has already come and gone, but such is the lament we all repeat year after year.
Looking back over the last 12 months, I’m thrilled to have tallied nine new stamps in my passport–which by the way has become a beautiful swirl of pinks and greens and cool, holographic visas. I am full of gratitude for the experiences I have had over the year, the new friends I have met, and for the many spectacular places I now have etched in my memory. But even for those who love traveling, it doesn’t mean that we’ll love every new place we visit. There are those places we just don’t click with, and places that make us want to hide under the duvet in the hotel room (ok, maybe that’s just me…). Traveling is about new experiences, and travelers must learn to take the good with the bad. That’s why I’ve decided to include my less than pleasant memories in my 2013 travel round up.
Best Travel Moments of 2013:
A Day at Iguazu Falls
I have never seen nature’s power display itself as spectacularly as it does at Iguazu Falls, one of the world’s largest waterfalls, located on the borders of Brazil and Argentina. The roar of the big water, the mist lifting diaphanous rainbows into the torpid air, and the fun of watching the myriad jungle creatures frolicking amongst sweaty tourists was definitely one of my most memorable days of the year. (The only thing that would have made it better was if Steve could have been there with me!)
Horseback Riding in the Andes
My birthday occurred whilst I was on a solo trip to South America this winter. To treat myself, I did something completely out of character for me–I went on a horseback riding excursion in the Andes Mountains–and I loved it! Before that, my previous experiences of animal riding was a giant tortoise at the county fair and sitting on my neighbor’s pet pony, all when I was about five years old. Although at first, sitting astride a horse felt really unnatural, and I had trouble getting my steed to actually walk and stop eating weeds along the trail, after an hour or so I got the hang of it. Wine and dinner at the lodge with my new excursion friends made the day into one of the best of my entire time in South America.
Reuniting with Steve in Phuket
Steve and I were apart for three months at the beginning of this year, and we missed each other terribly. I know this is very cheesy and romantic, but I can’t help it because I am a very cheesy and romantic person! Seeing my darling again after three months was wonderful, and to be reunited on a beautiful tropical island was beyond dreamy.
Living on Koh Yao Noi
When Steve’s teaching job in Korea was cut short because of the school’s closure, Steve and I had do decide what to do next. Stay in Korea and find a new job? Go back to England or the States? Or live the dream on a tropical island in Thailand, writing from our hammocks in between hours long stretches of sunning on the beach? We chose the latter. We spent a week house hunting and found a gorgeous bungalow a mere five minute walk from a pristine stretch of sand. We spent our days exploring the tiny island on our motorbike and shopping in the market for fresh veggies. We made friends with the locals and indeed began to feel a little like locals ourselves. It is a place that we hold very dear, think of very often, and plan to return to very soon. (If you plan to visit, check out my posts on Where to Eat, Where to Drink and Where to Stay in Yao Noi.)
A Night at Navutu Dreams Resort & Spa, Siem Reap
Maybe everyone does at times, but I always have champagne wishes on a beer budget when it comes to hotels. I adore the fancy miniature toiletries, giant bathtubs, plush towels and high thread counts found in posh hotels, and to stay at a five star establishment is my favorite splurge. So when Steve and I spent a week on our visa run to Siem Reap, Cambodia, we spent one night at the fabulous Navutu Dreams Resort & Spa. This eco resort was as chic as they come–a garden full of fan palms, a saltwater pool, flower filled spa with treatments like scrubs and Thai massages. It was 24 hours of absolute luxury that we did not want to leave.
My Week at Phool Chatti Ashram in India
Three weeks into my six week Indian adventure cum misadventure, I spent one of the most relaxing weeks of my life at the Phool Chatti ashram in Rishikesh, India. Maybe because the past 21 days had been an enormous challenge for me (sick for a week in Darjeeling, panic attacks in dirty trains and cities, excessive heat, etc.), I enjoyed the peaceful respite of yoga, meditation and silence more than I normally would have. This place was the only time in India where I was not stressed about something (My usuals: Is this water safe to drink? What am I stepping in? Why must I go to the bathroom on a FLOOR? Is that a snake?), and didn’t feel dirty all the time. Heaven!
Worst Travel Moments of 2013:
Sick and Alone in Buenos Aires
I had grand plans for my solo trip to South America. First, I would spend six weeks in Buenos Aires–a city in which I have always wanted to live–learning Spanish, seeing a tango show or two, and wandering around the quirky neighborhoods of Palermo and San Telmo. Then I would spend the rest of the trip making my way overland through Argentina to Chile, then Chile to Peru and maybe Bolivia, and fly home when I ran out of money. Of course, the first week I got sick with a raging flu. All alone in my apartment, I had to drag myself out of bed to wander to the shop around the corner for drinking water, tissues, soup and medicine, and spent the best part of the next seven days sweating and crying and feeling sorry for myself. After my fever broke, I developed a raging cough and cold, which lingered on for the next three weeks. I dropped my Spanish class (I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting in a quiet room hacking for four hours a day). Although the trip had gotten off to a terrible start, I persevered and still managed to make it to Iguazu and wine tasting in Mendoza, then across the Andes into Chile for some time in Santiago and Valparaiso. But I was feeling worn out and lonely and cut my trip short to reunite with Steve in Thailand.
The Overnight Train in India
Dirty feet, dirty beds, hot air, bad smells, DISGUSTING bathrooms, and images of horrendous Indian train wrecks flashing through my mind. To an OCD germaphobe, this is the ninth circle of hell.
Hyperventilating in Varanasi
Anyone who has ever suffered through a panic attack knows that it is a terrifying experience. Well, this happened to me in our grungy hotel room overlooking the Ganges River in Varanasi–aka the dirtiest city ever. I was hot, I was sick, I had just come off one of the worst nights of my life (aka a second class overnight train with no air con). I had just walked 30 minutes through tiny, crowded alleys covered in cow droppings to a guesthouse where first thing, the manager showed me a YouTube video of people drowning in the flooding river outside the door. So, when I saw a giant lizard on the ceiling of the guesthouse bathroom, let’s just say I totally lost it. Steve was very supportive, and when I said I didn’t want to stay there a moment longer, he kindly booked us flights out to Agra the next morning.
And what’s next for 2014? Steve and I are ringing in the New Year in Darwin, Australia, then hopping over to nearby Bali to celebrate Steve’s 40th birthday in style. Paris follows for three months, then three more months in San Francisco. After that, it’s anyone’s guess! We like to keep it exciting.
Wishing you all a new year filled with chic adventures!
What is your best and worst travel memory of 2013?