Now that 2015 is almost here, it’s that time of the year again for to look back and reflect.
2014 has indeed been a fulfilling and meaningful year — I reprioritized my travels and made it my number one mission to tick off items on my bucket list. Places like Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Iran had always been high on my travel wish list, and this year, I finally made them a reality.
This year alone, I traveled to 16 different countries across four continents, almost all of which were new to me. All in all, I’ve been to 90 countries on all seven continents, with only ten left to reach my goal of joining the Traveler Century Club!
2014 has also been a special year for Alberto and I as we just found out that I’m 6-months pregnant! It came as quite a surprise as I did not have a single clue until last month. Funny enough, the baby has already been to seven countries, flown on a paraglide and walked the Camino with me!
Let’s take a look back at 2014 and the places that have made the year such a fantastic one:
Table of Contents
- January: Papua New Guinea
- February: Singapore and Thailand
- March: Brazil
- April: Germany
- May: Australia and New Zealand
- July: Camino de Santiago
- August: Mongolia
- September to October: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey
- November: Sri Lanka
- December: Granada
- What’s Next?
- Interesting in reading more?
- 2013 in Photos
- 2012 in Photos
- 2011 in Photos
- 2010 in Photos
January: Papua New Guinea
Before 2014, Papua New Guinea was number one on my wish list and I’d always dreamt of exploring its highlands and getting to know its intriguing tribal culture. Papua New Guinea is one of the most isolated archipelagos in the Pacific and therefore tourism infrastructure is somewhat non-existent. It is also one of the least visited places in the world, largely because of the negative image it’s been portrayed in (in light of unstable political situations and tribal disputes), but that was perhaps why I found it so compelling. As it turned out, Papua New Guinea was how I’d imagined, and more.
I met and befriended the amazing Huli wigmen in the raw and rugged highlands of Tari, took some time to decompress and experience birdwatching there, and also went scuba diving and trekking around the coast of Tufi. Experiencing a sing-sing was another highlight of the trip for me, something that was truly out of this world. Special thanks to the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority for making this trip happen and for showing me their beautiful country.
February: Singapore and Thailand
Since I was in the Pacific, I took the opportunity to fly home to Singapore and see my family and friends. My sister also flew back from California to introduce our island nation to her one-year-old son, the joy of the family, Baby Dominic, as well as her Haitian partner Gary. It was so good to hang out with my family again and see how much my adorable nephew had grown in just one year!
We also made the most out of our time in Asia to go on a short family holiday in Phuket, Thailand. We rented an apartment and spent all of our time on the beach, feasting on Thai food and temple-hopping — the perfect combination for a relaxing break!
I’d long dreamt of visiting Brazil during the Carnaval to join in the world’s biggest street party. This March, I finally had the opportunity to head back to my favorite continent, South America, with my favorite tour operator G Adventures to experience Carnaval and at the same time explore the wilderness of Brazil. We traveled from the colonial fishing town of Paraty (where I drank too much caipirinhas) to the earth-shattering waterfalls of Iguassu and then headed on to Bonito to snorkel in its famous freshwater rivers before camping in the lush wetlands of the Pantanal where some of Brazil’s endangered wildlife species still live.
Our trip ended with a bang in sexy and sizzling Rio de Janeiro, where we became a part of the world’s biggest Carnaval celebration. My personal highlight was the Sambadrome parade: thousands of samba dancers decked out in massive glittery headdresses and bikinis strutted their stuff on over-the-top chariots; the atmosphere was impalpable and the energy infectious — I’d never quite seen anything like that before and it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
After spending a few weeks back in Spain, I headed to Leipzig, Germany for the Social Travel Summit. It was the first conference/summit organized by iAmbassador and it turned out to be a huge success indeed. The top players of the travel blogging world as well as industry folks congregated at this event and it was truly an honor to be a part of it.
I had a great time meeting up with some of my best friends in the industry and getting to know new ones. Since I was in Germany, I also took the chance to catch up with a few old friends of mine who lived nearby.
May: Australia and New Zealand
In May, I found myself back in the southern hemisphere, to spend two weeks exploring Queensland. It was my fourth trip to the land down under, but probably my first time properly spending time getting to know the region. Upon landing, I headed straight to the Outback, beginning with a four-day camping trip in the spectacular Boodjamulla( Lawn Hill) Gorge National Park with Adels Grove as my base.
This was followed by a week of fun and adventure on the Gold Coast, where I went skydiving at 12,000 feet above ground, snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, and cuddling koala bears in the conservation park.
From Australia, I traveled further south to New Zealand, a country I’d been dying to go since I became an adventure junkie. I joined G Adventures once again on their Best of New Zealand trip, and had an excellent time traversing the North and South Island and experiencing adventure activities along the way. Some of the highlights for me included heli-hiking on Franz Josef Glacier, tubing in the Waitomo Caves and doing the Shotover Canyon Swing in Queenstown.
July: Camino de Santiago
Ever since learning about the Camino de Santiago eight years ago, I wanted to walk it. In July, I finally fulfilled this long-term goal of mine. With two close friends of mine who had flown over from Canada and Sweden, we started the 300km walk in Leon, and made our way across northern Spain in just under two weeks.
My aim of walking the Camino was to challenge myself both physically and mentally, and it sure kicked my ass. Walking around 25 km (15 miles) a day for 2-4 weeks was definitely hard work — I suffered tendinitis (inflammation of the tendons) on both my knees and pulled the tendons on both my Achilles. The Camino was one of the toughest challenges I’ve had to face in my life and I’m really glad I pulled through it, thanks to the support of my dear friends.
After a short break in Spain to decompress and let my sore muscles take a break, I was back on the road again, and this time to the far-flung nation of Mongolia. This was once again another item high up on my bucket list, and I was so glad to have the chance to travel there with G Adventures. The capital city Ulaanbaatar was quite a surprise — it really wasn’t as smoggy and ugly as I’d imagined it to be.
But the goal was to see the raw and rugged countryside and we spent most of our two weeks out on the rural steppes and mountains. My favorite moments of the trip included climbing up the sand dunes of the Gobi, hiking the canyons of Yolyn Am, and camping with a nomadic family (which included feasting on traditional underground barbecue and drinking home-made vodka with them at 10am!).
September to October: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey
This was the trip of the year for me, and it definitely turned out to the highlight of 2014. Traveling Central Asia had been my dream for a long time, tempting me with its golden sand dunes, ancient cities, and exotic architecture. I’d wanted to traverse the Silk Road for years, but the amount of red tape and expensive prices of getting from one country to another had always deterred me. Thankfully I found a great company who did the exact route I was looking for, at a good price, and they handled all the visa applications, transportation and accommodation. My two-month journey on the Silk Road with Oasis Overland took me through six countries and I saw as much of the region as I possibly could in that short period of time.
Our first stop was Bishkek, where we celebrated Kyrgyzstan’s Independence Day at the traditional horse races.Then we went westward to Kazakhstan where we stumbled upon a fascinating Sunday animal market in Taraz and went hiking and camping in Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve.
Our journey continued into Uzbekistan and we spent two weeks visiting the three main cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva — Uzbekistan’s architecture truly blew me away. Heading southwest, we crossed in Turkmenistan, camped by the Darvaza gas craters and marveled at the complete bizarreness of the modern capital city Ashgabat. From there, the group traveled further south into Iran, taking three weeks to slowly make our way through Mashad, Tehran, Esfahan and up to Tabriz. Iran was definitely the biggest surprise of them all, and it’s a place I highly recommend people to visit.
November: Sri Lanka
By November, I was exhausted from all the traveling, but this trip to Sri Lanka surprisingly rejuvenated me and gave me the motivation I needed to focus on work once again. I was there to attend the Travel Blogger Conference Asia 2014 organized by the PTBA (Professional Travel Bloggers Association), as one of the 40 selected members invited to Sri Lanka to discuss the future of travel blogging with exciting industry folks.
Not only did the conference give me the kick I needed, Sri Lanka itself also surprised me. It may be just a leap away from the chaos and madness of India, and yet it seems like a world away. In place of the maddening crowd and traffic is a soothing sense of serenity and lush garden-like atmosphere.
As part of my plan to explore more of our backyard, I joined Granada Tourism Board on a journey around the province of Granada (not to be confused with the city of Granada) to uncover little secrets in the region. What I found were little hidden corners and interesting local haunts that reminded me of how I first fell in love with this part of the world. It’s been almost four years since we’ve called Granada home (on and off), but there’s still so much to explore and discover. In just a few days, we went from the ski slopes of Sierra Nevada to the sun-kissed beaches of Costa Tropical and the traditional mountain villages of the Alpujarras.
We’re currently spending the festive season at our home base in Granada, Spain. With the baby due in March 2015, we expect to be spending much more time grounded in Granada. I’ve been talking about slowing down since two years ago, and it looks like this time I finally have no excuse!
We’ve had to cancel our trip to India for the Rickshaw Run at the last minute as well as a trip to Japan planned for April, but that’s just for the time being. I sure will continue to travel with the little one in tow next year and I bet she’ll be just as adventurous!
Here’s wishing all a fantastic 2015, hope to see you around!
How was 2014 for you? What were the highlights?