2011 is a year that I’ll always remember – not just for the epic journeys, but also for the amazing people I’ve met and the major milestones in my life. I’ve been extremely lucky on the travel end – with trips to the Arctic, Madagascar and South Africa – places I’d dreamt of visiting for a long time. This year also marked an important event in my life: Alberto and I got married (twice) in celebration of our tenth year together! On the writing front, I’ve had several stories published on TNT Magazine, International Lifestyle and Unearthing Asia Magazine; but more importantly, I’ve launched the brand new WildJunket Magazine, a project that we have been dreaming about for ages and now making a reality (look out for the updates next week!).
In 2011, I traveled to over 16 countries on 12 different media trips. I’ve had the opportunity to see unique corners of the world, gain incredible life experiences and make some lifelong friends along the way. I have so many people to thank especially you, my readers, who have helped make my dream come true. Here’s a look back at 2010 and the places that have carved a mark in my memories.
At the start of 2010, I rang in the new year with friends and family back in Singapore. After being away for a year and a half, it was good to see the changes in Singapore and get reacquainted with old friends, but it didn’t take long for me to feel restless again, so I headed off to Sarawak in the Malaysian Borneo. Bintulu, Borneo is a destination better known for oil and gas than cultural attractions; few tourists make it out here except for local visitors but I was pleasantly surprised by what I found: lush jungles perfect for trekking, rich traditional cuisine and native tribes with intriguing culture.
After a small wedding ceremony in Singapore, Alberto and I headed over to the private island of Nikoi in Indonesia for a pseudo-honeymoon. We wanted to leave the world behind (internet connection, phone signal, everything!) and Nikoi was the perfect place to be. The private island is ringed with white sandy beaches, coral reefs and a luscious rain forest and our open-concept beach house features wooden furnishing, a sexy four-poster bed and a million-dollar view of the sea.
By the end of January, we were back in Granada, Spain – I worked hard on writing and got several articles published in various magazines but we also took time off to go on short trips around Andalusia. We explored the Alpujarras, watched wildlife in Doñana National Park and sampled tapas in Cadiz – although we’ve been living here for the last three years, we’re still slowly discovering new places in the area.
In February, Alberto and I took a road trip from our base in Spain to Algarve, Portugal, in search of some sun, sand and the sea. It was my second visit to Algarve and I’d been captivated by its wild beaches the first time round; but this time, it surprised me with what it had to offer inland.
While on a media trip to Tuscany in March, I reunited with some of my closest friends in the travel writing/blogging industry. Together we explored the region – celebrating Italy’s 150th birthday in Lucca, learning to cook Italian food and wandering through the city and countryside on bike.
Right after the trip to Italy, I zipped off to Manchester to attend the first Travel Bloggers Unite Conference. TBU’11 proved an excellent channel to pick up new knowledge and skills and rub shoulders with fellow travel bloggers – lots of interesting ideas were exchanged and new friendships forged. There were also seminars and workshops that focused on various topics such as SEO, working with PR and most importantly, travel writing.
April and May were spent traveling around various corners of Spain. I started my journey in the northern prairies of Asturias (as a guest of Asturias Tourist Board) where I tried my hands at playing the Asturian bagpipes, hiked the Picos de Europa and hopped on the luxurious Transcantabrico Train. From there, I went on a road trip with friends through Bilbao and San Sebastian and spent our time feasting on pintxos, savoring home-brewed ciders and lounging on the beach. Going further north to Costa Brava, I went on a power-packed media trip with Costa Brava Tourism. In one week, we hiked on volcanoes, sailed in the Mediterranean Sea, interviewed the world’s best chef and even went skydiving over the coastline.
Jordan has always been one of my favorite places in the world – I was thrilled to get the chance to revisit the country as a guest of Jordan Tourist Board and explore a bit more of the country. This time, not only did I get to revisit Petra by night, I also got the chance to fly over Wadi Rum, visit the Roman Ruins at Jerash, float in the Dead Sea and go scuba-diving in the Red Sea.
The first of July was our official wedding day in Spain – friends and family all arrived from different corners of the world to celebrate the special occasion with us. The wedding was just what we wanted: simple and relaxing, in a dreamy setting, with close friends and family around us. We walked down the aisle to a beautiful ukelele tune, sipped cocktails at sunset and partied with all my loved ones like there was no tomorrow. Friends that we haven’t seen in awhile came and family scattered in different parts of the world turned up. Everyone I cared for was there, including my new husband by my side. It was a special night, one that would stay with me for a long time.
Madagascar and Mauritius
During our month-long honeymoon in Madagascar and Mauritius, we watched the sun set over baobab trees, saw over 30 lemurs in a day, climbed 200m-high rock pinnacles, flowed along crocodile-infested river in a dugout canoe, trekked through eerie sandstone canyons, scuba-dived with an octopus, played with village kids, tried the best crabs ever and sailed on a catamaran to a deserted island. It was exactly the kind of travel I loved and missed – Not only did this trip do me good on an emotional level, Madagascar also stirred my soul in a way I’d never imagined it to.
My expedition to the Arctic was definitely one of the highlights of 2011. As G Adventure’s Wanderer in Residence, I sailed around the Svalbard archipelago onboard their luxurious icebreaker, the M/S Expeditions. The Realm of Polar Bears trip promised to be an epic journey and it definitely didn’t disappoint. Cruising through ice fields and towering glaciers, we were enthralled by the dramatic landscapes that transitioned from icy slopes to tundra plains. On our daily excursions, we went on hikes, zipped amidst icebergs and had intimate encounters with polar bears and walruses.
In September, Alberto and I flew off to Iceland to visit our close friend and also visit the island that we’d heard so much about. I knew we were in for some adventures but little did I know Iceland had this much to offer. From Reykjavik, we drove up to Southwest Iceland to see the Northern Lights, climb a glacier, hike an active volcano and snorkel between tectonic plates in Thingvellir, before heading up north to go whale watching and whitewater rafting.
By late October, I was back in Spain but this time in the northern region, close to the French border. In the Pyrenees (once again as a guest of Costa Brava Tourism), we dived deep into the region and tried our hands at several adventurous activities again – from canyoning to biking to hot air ballooning and sea kayaking.
At the start of November, I headed up to London for the annual World Travel Market to network with travel industry folks and learn more about travel writing. I met numerous accomplished writers like Steve Keenan, Matthew Teller and Mark Hodson, who’ve inspired me tremendously, as well as other travel bloggers whom I’ve become close friends with. It was overall an excellent learning experience and I’m hoping to be back next year.
Photo by Travellll.com
My year came to an end with a big bang – I journeyed through Southern Africa on an overland trip with G Adventures and it proved to be not only the best trip of 2011, but one of the best experiences of my life. Camping out in the wild throughout the journey, we got to experience Africa in its full glory: meeting locals, driving through savannahs and watching wildlife in their natural habitat. Before starting my overland journey, I spent a few days in Cape Town and fell head over heels for the city. From paragliding to shark cage diving and wine-tasting, the array of outdoor activities in Cape Town was endless.
Namibia, Botswana and Zambia
From CT, I hopped on the G Adventures overland truck and we headed north into Namibia, through the stunning Sossusvlei (where we caught sunrise atop sand dunes) and Etosha National Park, before heading to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Chobe River and Victoria Falls in Zambia. From there, we then headed back down through Botswana into South Africa ending the trip in Johannesburg. It truly was an amazing journey of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, spectacular sights and lifelong friendships.
This January, we’ll be making major changes to our lifestyle – Alberto has left his job to join WildJunket and we’re planning to go location independent very soon – our first stop will be Thailand! We plan to be there for a few months, taking our time to explore the country and work on our new magazine at the same time. Our plan is still not finalized but we’re hoping to travel more in Southeast Asia next year before heading to Central Asia and hopefully hop on the Trans-Siberian railway on our way back to Europe. Watch out for the announcement next week!
I’ll continue to write about our travels in the coming year. A big thank you for your support, hope to see you around in the new year!