Top 10 In Travel 2016
Well, my top 10 in travel that is…
I traveled a lot this year, so it was hard narrowing down what my favorites were this year. The longest I’ve been home in one go this year was 6 weeks. 6 WEEKS! This year I only visited new places! But to give a brief overview I went to:
In the US: Juneau, AK (yes, the capital of my own state that I never had visited) and White Sands, New Mexico.
In the Caribbean: Puerto Rico (and its neighbor Culebra), St. Thomas and St. John in the USVI, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis and St. Maarten.
In South America: Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.
In Central America: Panama.
In Central Asia: Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
On the Arabian Peninsula: Oman.
In the Oceana: Philippines, Palau, and Guam.
Whew… That was a lot.
But to give a preface to my top 10 in travel this year…
There are so many great memories I’ve had over the last year while traveling that it’s hard to weed it out, so I’ll add a few in this paragraph that didn’t make it but it was so awesome that I can’t ignore them.
I turned 30 this year in Uzbekistan surrounded by a great group of people I had been traveling through Central Asia with. My impromptu trip up to Panama between my travels in Peru and Ecuador and cruising around the San Blas Islands (and the first place someone recognized me from my website). Hiking the high altitude landscapes in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan (although I had some pretty shit weather while I was there because I was there a little too late in the season… meaning I just need to go back). Watching the most amazing sodium sunset on the infamous Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Looking out over the near-perfect Trunk Bay Beach in St. John. Stumbling upon the most perfect village in the middle of nowhere Oman, in Bilad al Sayt. Nearly having Machu Picchu to ourselves in the late afternoon- yes, that sunrise is majestic ‘n shit, but in my opinion, the late afternoon was THE BEST time of day there. My first tryst with Puerto Rican and Carib food… yum. Swinging over the edge at Casa del Arbol- that giant swing in Baños, Ecuador. Cruising the islands around El Nido with Ape Tours- if you plan to go, BOOK WITH THEM! Ivan and Dimple (owners) are the best and you’re guaranteed to have the best day of your life with them. Wandering the streets of Almaty, Bishkek, and Dushanbe- I really liked all these cities for different reasons. Shoveling heaps of adobo, lumpia, and pancit in my face in the Philippines- I have plenty of Filipino friends back home that introduced me to their cuisine and I confusingly had read a number of posts talking about how horrid Filipino food was… I don’t know what they ate, but don’t take the negative reviews seriously, there’s some amazing food in the Philippines. Essentially being kidnapped and ushered off a busy street and down an alleyway into a 6 hour long Eid al Qurbon feast in Dushanbe. Watching sheepherders in the remote Fann Mountains create a cast with burlap, twine, and a coke bottle to mend a sheep’s broken leg. Nearly lighting the Landcruiser ablaze on an Omani beach with the propane-tank-gone-improvised-explosive-device. Dying of laughter in the back of an Uzbek taxi gone hop on/hop off pick up service which resulted in an hour-long tour of Samarkand. And spending quality time with goats in Oman and the Philippines… I’m sure there’s plenty more I forgot but I’m sure this gives you an idea! So to finally get to the point…
MY TOP 10 IN TRAVEL FOR 2016
10. Cruising Around In Golf Carts in Laid Back Culebra
Culebra: The last virgin for sure. If you ever wondered if the untouched Caribbean still exists, it does. Have you noticed that I haven’t really posted much about Culebra on here? I don’t know if I want to whore it out, it’s still a lovely little secret. Culebra is home to Flamenco Beach, which is regularly ranked in the top beaches in the world. THE WORLD. I know this is all subjective. Flamenco delivered, and that colorful tank on the beach gives it character. And it was a blast cruising around the island in a golf cart. If you want a little of my insight on Culebra, read this post.
9. Swimming With Sea lions in The Galapagos
Never in my life did I think I could ever get tired of seeing sea lions, and well all the adorable critters that live in the Galapagos… the Galapagos seal, hammerhead sharks (ok, not so cuddly and adorable but an amazing sight to see), boobies (the feathered variety, that is), marine iguanas…. and more. The sea lions were definitely my favorite. Ok, not so much above the water where they’re stinky and make mildly terrifying guttural noises. But underwater they were so playful, dancing around you, twirling, and swimming right up to your face.
8. Checking Out Mendenhall Glacier’s Surreal Underside
Mendenhall Glacier’s Ice Cave ranks as one of the most terrifyingly wondrous experiences of my life. To be honest I never knew this place even existed until a Sunday afternoon, booked out a ticket on Monday, and was on a plane Friday morning to Juneau, Alaska. I had been meaning to make a trip to Juneau for years, and of course, I’d put Mendenhall Glacier on the to-visit list. But seeing photos of the ice cave made me book that ticket on a whim. On a Saturday morning after a crazy night out there, I was, walking across Mendenhall Lake, up the western flank of the glacier, and descended into the ice cave. I’ve never been in something so amazing I didn’t want to leave but so eerie that I wanted to get the hell out asap. Knowing that it could collapse at any time, and hearing the occasional groan of the ice shifting was enough to send you running out as fast as your little legs can carry you, but the sheer beauty being under there kept me saying ‘just one more picture and then we can go’. Check out this post if you’re thinking about visiting. Oh, and as always: You’re at your own risk. This is a dicey prospect.
7. Oman’s Wadis
Oman, you didn’t disappoint. Now that Lonely Planet put it in the ‘Best in Travel for 2017‘ it’s about to become better known, and I’m so glad that I got to see it in the calm before the storm. The wadis were some of my favorite (among many things) about this country. To hit the highlights; the landscapes, the clear waters, and the Omani people are all to die for. I haven’t had a chance to write about Oman yet, but you can read Dan Flying Solo’s post here.
6. Taking in Palau, From Above
Palau is world-famous for its Blue Corner- known as one of, if not the best dive spot in the world. I, unfortunately, didn’t get to dive here because A) I procrastinate, B) I have a complete lack of fear, sometimes viewed as recklessness which led to, C) Me wrecking a motorbike in the Philippines, which led to, D) Me getting lots of stitches, which made me, E) Unable to do my dives to get certified! This all could’ve been resolved by me not procrastinating and getting my dive cert (I’ve been putting it off for 5 years!). So the absolute highlight of Palau for me? Flying above its beautiful little islands surrounded by crystal clear waters with Pacific Mission Aviation*. I’m not sure that even if I had dived in Palau that it would have been as exhilarating as this flight. Oh yeah, the plane doesn’t have a door so you have all these views with the wind blowing in your hair.
5. Gasping For Air At Vinicunca, The Rainbow Mountain
When Tay and I were making our game plan for what exactly we had to do in Bolivia and Peru I found a photo of the Rainbow Mountain. I sent it to Tay and said, if we’re going to be in the vicinity of here we gotta check it out. By the end of the day, I knew that the tours were based out of Cusco and we were most definitely making the time to trek up there. This was one of the most difficult treks I’ve ever done. Not because it was technical or steep, it’s just so high in elevation. By the end your standing at over 5000 meters, and let me just tell you: that oxygen is thinner than the lineup walking down the catwalk at a Prada show. All I can say is make sure you acclimatize before even thinking about this trek. Oh, and make sure and book it with a company that’s eco-conscious. I feel like this place is on the verge of being hurt by some idiots that don’t have any respect for the Earth…. yes, I’m referencing people like those assholes that Red Bull stupidly sponsored that walked across the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone. I did my trek with Flashpacker Connect* with our guide Abel from AB Expeditions and I cannot recommend them enough! Plus this trek was great conditioning for the high-altitude trekking I’d be doing in Central Asia later in the year.
Read this post here if you want a review of Flashpacker Connect and a what-to-know guide.
4. Stargazing at White Sands National Monument
Another last-minute, on a whim trip. Before I knew it I was Tucson-bound and then cruising across the Sonoran Desert in route to White Sands, New Mexico. I have a thing for white sand, but this sand is quite unique. It’s actually gypsum, so even when its to hot to bear, the sand stays nice and cool. But the sand wasn’t the main draw for me. It was those ethereal night skies I was after. Hands down, the best shots I have taken of our little galaxy, the Milky Way was here in New Mexico. But if you are planning a camping trip out here make sure to check out this post to make sure you’re prepared for a night in the park. Spoiler alert: It gets COLD at night in the spring, fall and winter!
3. Road Tripping The Pamir Highway
The Bam-i-Dunya, meaning, ‘the roof of the world’ won’t disappoint. Tajikistan has been sky-high on my list of places to visit for over a hot decade. I don’t know why I took so long to get here, but I finally did it and well, the Pamir Highway is nearly as high on the list of my favorite destinations as the second highest highway in the world is in elevation. Stark nothingness, colorful mountains adorned with rainbowy swirls, the elusive Marco Polo sheep, and the Pamiri hospitality that will knock you off your feet are just a few of the highlights of roving this little traveled highway. If you’re thinking about a trip to the Pamir Highway read my Tajikistan Travel Guide to get started.
2. Breaking My Lens At The Door To Hell…. And Yes, It was worth It
Don’t worry there will be a ‘Worst in Travel, 2016‘ to follow before the clock strikes midnight and we cross into 2017. Spoiler alert: breaking my lens will probably make the list! When I first was thinking, yes, I will go to Central Asia this year, two places came to mind that I had to visit: Tajikistan and Turkmenistan’s Door to Hell. What’s there not to like about this?: A giant burning hole in the ground that was set ablaze by Soviet engineers in an attempt to burn off poisonous gas from floating into the air after an environmental disaster resulting in a giant crater in the ground. Yes please, with a side of YES! This is a pyro’s wet dream… err… fiery dream? (A wet dream probably isn’t the best description of a pyro’s fantasy destination that’s on fire, you know cause most wet things put fires out). This is hands down one of the coolest places I’ve gotten to stand in front of. They practically had to drag me away. But needless to say, is one of the most klutzy people you’ll ever meet, I tripped over a pipe sticking out of the ground and fell down so hard I didn’t even have a chance to put my hands out to break the fall. In my defense, it was pitch black and I would have never seen that pipe… and I’m an idiot and didn’t have my headlamp on. So my camera got smashed into the ground and it broke my super wide-angle lens. Any of my wide-angle shots of the crater didn’t turn out crystal clear after the spill… or any shots I used the lens for thereafter. The real kicker is that I didn’t realize this until I was able to get home and get the photos up on my computer.
Well played Turkmenistan, well played, looks like I’ll just have to go back. Damn.
1. Solo Trekking the Fann Mountains
Photos of the Fann’s neon blue lakes and jagged mountains were what introduced me to the existence of this country over 10 years ago. Ever since then, I’ve been eyeballing this place and in September it all finally came to fruition. There I was in the Fann Mountains picking up my jaw off the ground day after day. This was my first introduction to Tajikistan and let me just tell you, it was love at first sight… and I’ve never believed in that BS, until then. Everything about this place was pure magic. The mountains are more monstrous than any photo can do justice, the lakes are so bright blue I know everyone probably assumes my photos of them are oversaturated, the locals are so friendly that they’ll turn up in the evening to your tent just to make sure you’re well and to share their chai and non with you. I cannot recommend a trip here and to the whole of Tajikistan to all of you enough! If you are considering it check out my Tajikistan Travel Guide to start your research. Your next step is to speak with the lovely Munira at ZTDA* to start making plans or set up a tour of the Fanns and its surrounding areas.
So that’s it for my Top 10 in Travel for 2016!
It was tricky trying to decide which experiences and places were my favorite 10, mostly because I’m indecisive. Realistically this could have turned into my 5,729 top travel experiences in 2016, but that’s a lot typing and I don’t got time for that. Hopefully, this gives you a little more insight into my 2016 and some ideas of where to add to your list for 2017. I’m still thinking through all of the possible destinations for next year. A friend of mine recently decided to buy a home in Costa Rica so I definitely want to visit them at some point if I can fit it into my schedule. I’m trying to cultivate my travel plans for next year, but only time will tell where I end up!
What destinations are on your list for 2017?
*Any links marked with an asterisk are companies that I’ve reviewed, collaborated with on sponsored content or Instagram, and/or provided photography work for in return for flights, tours or other travel-related services. I’m brutally honest, so don’t worry about me sugar-coating a travel-turd to you guys. I wouldn’t play you like that