Like anything in life, traveling has its ups and downs. At the end of the year, we like to share our best and worst travel moments of 2015. Having been on the road for about half of last year, we could have written a full book about this, but decided to pick our five highs and five lows. Have fun reading!
The worst travel moments of 2015
Eric’s biggest catch so far
We had just finished a lovely breakfast aboard our catamaran in the crystal clear, turquoise-blue waters of the lagoon surrounding Bora Bora. Life really couldn’t have been better, especially since we were getting ready to go snorkeling in search of manta rays. That was when Eric managed to stick a seriously large fish hook through his thumb. Not the best fisherman in the world, it was by far his biggest catch. Sadly, we had to postpone our snorkel adventure, as we had to take the boat to the other side of the island to have the hook “surgically” removed. Actually, the doctor just cut the end and pushed the hook through, but it was traumatizing to say the least. Oh, and I forgot to mention, we also lost our anchor in the harbor. But that’s another story—and not bad enough to make it onto this list.
When the sun hides behind forest fire haze…
The haze caused by fires in Indonesia that filled the skies over parts of Southeast Asia was pretty much all over the international news, but you don’t really know what it’s like until you see it with your own eyes. We were lucky enough to only catch the very last days of this disaster, but it still gave us a sense of how bad it was. Darkened skies with the sun barely visible, and sometimes a stinging burnt smell that lingered on your clothes and hair. And what for? Only to clear areas in Sumatra and Borneo that have already been deforested in order to make way for palm oil plantations. Not only bad for the lungs, but devastating for the environment and world health.
Palm oil plantations as far as the eye can see
You can spend hours on a bus riding across Malaysia and parts of Sumatra seeing nothing but palm oil plantations in all different states of development: freshly burnt fields, palm nurseries, young palms, old palms, palm oil factories, old and neglected palm oil fields. It’s pretty depressing. Worse, we were told that you can only have two generations of these palm trees (each lasting 20-30 years) before the soil has been sucked dry of all its nutrients and nothing else will grow for the foreseeable future. If you care for our planet, check your shopping cart and avoid products that contain palm oil. You’ll be surprised how many common household items contain it.
Sick + bus ride = two things that don’t go well
Imagine you’ve just signed up for an overnight, 24-hour bus ride that is the only practical way to get from A to B in Myanmar. You haven’t been feeling well all morning, but things didn’t get “serious” until the moment you board the bus. The next 9 hours you spend getting sick at intervals (details omitted) in a nightmare of sweat and exhaustion with regular episodes of involuntary wakings due to loud “in flight” movies, bumpy roads, military check points and having to off-load the bus so it could make it across a makeshift bridge that had a serious load limit (we had to walk). Just when you start to feel better and think you’re going to make it, your partner gets sick and it starts all over again.
*no graphic content provided*
Poisonous fish encounter in Indonesia
We love wildlife, and are usually pretty careful around dangerous animals and insects, but who would have guessed that in the shallows of a beautiful sandy beach in Sulawesi a potentially lethal fish was waiting to attack Eric? Or perhaps we should say Eric stumbled into it. The scariest aspect of this disaster was we were not sure exactly what it was. Eric grazed a bed of sea grass with his knee and thought he hit a sharp rock. When he stood up to examine the damage, we saw two blood dripping holes, and horrible pain set in immediately. The pros at the place we stayed quickly deduced that it had to be a scorpionfish, lionfish or stonefish. If it was the latter, it might have been Eric’s last swim. Luckily he is still with us, so it was “only” either a scorpionfish or a lionfish. But that still meant he was in terrible pain, similar to being bitten by a rattlesnake. In fact, it’s been a month, and it still hurts, but the good news is: it could have been worse!
As you can see, our 2015 wasn’t always a walk in the park, (you can also see why having travel health insurance makes sense). That being said, we had far more positive than negative experiences, and some very special ones.
The best travel moments of 2015
Diving with Jean-Michel Cousteau in French Polynesia
As if sailing the incredibly beautiful Society Islands of French Polynesia wasn’t already a highlight, we also got to dive with Jean-Michel Cousteau in Fakarava in the remote Tuamotu Archipelago! The son of the man who invented scuba diving, Jean-Michel Cousteau, on his own right, is a famed film-maker and environmentalist. In addition to diving with him, we also had the pleasure of chatting with him about his work at his non-profit “Ocean Futures”. These were definitely a few of the most inspiring and motivating encounters of the year!
When I went to Cambodia a couple of years ago, I expected a voyage back in time. Sadly, I got there a few years too late; the modern world had done its damage and many of the local traditions and culture were gone. However, when we recently visited Myanmar, it still had the ancient charm and old ways that I was searching for. As long as you avoid tourist centers like Mandalay and Inle Lake, you’ll find kids playing kid games in the streets (instead of gazing at smart phones), locals being naturally polite and inviting (instead of jaded by bad experiences with rude tourists), and traditional ways of life still a part a the daily routine (instead of discarded for lazy modern convenience). It’s like stepping back in time, when things were less high-tech, simpler, cleaner and just more pleasant and intimate.
Overnight in our “backyard”
We love traveling abroad to exciting, exotic destinations. But one doesn’t have to go half way around the world to have a memorable experience as we rediscovered this summer. After working all day in our office, we were both mentally exhausted and looking for something to do. We were having a sensational summer in Bavaria, and the evenings were warm and inviting. So, we decided to grab our sleeping bags and hiking boots and spend the night in the foothills of the Alps, half an hour from our house. Eating on the summit, watching storm clouds passing by in the next valley and witnessing an amazing sunset was an epic experience. And even getting up at 4 am to make it back home on time was rewarded with an incredible sunrise while walking to the sound of cow bells. Note to self: adventures await you everywhere, even in your own backyard!
Witnessing the historic elections in Myanmar
We normally try to avoid visiting destinations during special events, which attract crowds and create potential security issues. That being said, our trip to Myanmar coincided with the first free elections in this country in 25 years, which we didn’t realize until the last minute. We could have avoided it, but it meant changing our entire 10-week travel schedule, which was not an easy thing to do. So, we found ourselves in the capital Yangon on election day. Happily, it turned out to be a major plus. After spending the day traveling around the city on one of Myanmar’s infamous slow trains, we came past a polling station where people had gathered to observe the counting of the votes. When they saw us joining them, a woman told us with the biggest joy I’ve ever seen in somebody’s face: “it’s a landslide win for Aung San Suu Kyi’s party!” I’m not easily knocked out of my socks, but this incredible statement and the hope in her eyes gave me goosebumps and made me teary. I so hope that things work out for Myanmar and its people, and the years of suffering under military rule come to a final end!
Balloon riding over the ancient kingdom of Bagan
I have dreamt of this amazing adventure ever since I was a child and saw calendars depicting floating balloons over Bagan in Myanmar. Never did I think I would actually experience this sensation in person, but while in Myanmar, Eric made it happen. The day began pre-dawn while we watched 20 of these gentle giants slowly inflate on a field outside of Bagan. After climbing aboard our balloon, the day expanded and we watched the sunrise while floating across thousands of stupas and temples. We often flew so low, we felt like we could jump onto the roofs. The sun cast a magical morning light on the ancient stone monuments, which glowed in an enchanting orange. All around us, small villages awoke and farmers started plowing their fields with oxcarts. I could have ridden in that balloon all day long.
I could easily extend this list with many more amazing fun adventures, like snorkeling with manta rays in French Polynesia, hiking through the jungle of Taman Negara in search of wild elephants, jungle trekking with orang-utans in Sumatra’s Bukit Lawang or waking up overlooking rice terraces in Bali, but this post would never end. So, please check out our blog where you’ll find all our great adventures and stories.