“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sabbatical plans

So, today I begin my year off -- a year of holidays and travelling. I have the dream that I could turn it into long-term permanent travel, but I don't think I work very well on my own time -- my own blog deadlines for 1000 Amazing Places is loose, at best. I've been following travel blogs by digital nomads and other permanent travellers, I've scoured the details on how they make enough money to travel and I've even managed to write a few things (see Outrippin.com), but I travel to fast and do too much. I like breaks in between and I just don't know if I could get it to work, so I won't stress about trying to.

My plans:
I'm off to a cousin's wedding in Ireland, and I'll catch up with my brother in the Netherlands, after which I'm teaching in San Francisco for CTY (I did it before, but am really looking forward to seeing a west coast campus). I'll travel around the Southwest for a while before catching up with friends in Chicago/Madison, Toronto and Bermuda before returning to South America to see all the places I didn't get to. Colombia has so much and is so beautiful, so I'm going to do a circuit then head south into Ecuador (Galapagos!), northern Peru, and hopefully, Bolivia. Guyana with a friend at Christmastime, then the world is my oyster (if I haven't run out of money first).

Perhaps I'll join the Japanese Peace Boat, or going overland from Cairo to Capetown, during which I'll catch up with a friend in Sudan and perhaps climb Kilimanjaro -- I've always wanted to! Maybe I'll relocate to London or take a temporary teaching job. Perhaps I'll find something exciting in New Zealand? I dream of joining the boats I did the Antarctic cruise with, but sadly I lack a specialty that they would need! Perhaps regular cruise ship jobs? Anyway, what happens, happens. I'm really excited to get this started!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Top 5 Country Go To List

One of the travel blogs I follow, Never Ending Footsteps, posted on Facebook this week about the top 5 countries that she wanted to travel to. I decided to look at mine, and I couldn't really stop at 5...

The short list:
1. Madagascar
2. Malta
3. Bhutan
4. Namibia
5. Mongolia

The long list:
Bulgaria, Libya, Ukraine, Bolivia, Jamaica, Maldives, Seychelles, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Nepal, Norway, and the list goes on and on...

Too many places to go -- Several checklists!

For some reason, this week my Facebook feed has been full of 'X amazing places to see' pages. If ever there was a type of page that I can't resist, it's these ones! One day soon when I'm no longer working I plan to write one or two myself, but I still have to think of a theme! For me, life is fundamentally about travel and learning about other places and eventually, getting there myself and experiencing them. The list of places to go and places to dream of going is never-ending. Perhaps this type of life-journey is futile, as I can't take any of it with me, but new places do make me happy, and sharing other places with others also makes me happy -- which is why I started my other blog 1000 Amazing Places. I have loved counting my score up on these lists (which is up to date as of 1 May 2014). Seeing these makes me realise just how many places I still would like to get to.

10 of France's Natural Wonders Score: 0 of 10
Of course I've been to France before but it was when I was much younger (12 years old!). I only returned last summer to Paris on a whim (I was in transit and a friend I bumped into at the airport convinced me that it was a fabulous idea to have lunch by the Louvre, which it was). My mother says that it is her favorite country in the world (or at least that's what she said when she was living there!). Haven't been to any of these places, except perhaps to see Mont Blanc from a distance.

40 Incredible Places Most Traveler's Don't Know About (Rather Unknown But Really Rather Special Places on Earth) 7 of 40
A great list of places -- very beautiful places. I suppose I could increase my score by 0.5 because I've been to Thingvellir Lake in Iceland, but only the surface and not in the beautiful crystal clear water.

10 Must-See Buddhist Monuments 2 of 10
Not sure if this link will work as even when I pasted it it didn't connect, but you can find it via the blog on the website. An interesting theme -- and such amazingly rich heritage!

Ten Places To Travel For A Higher Cause 0 of 10
At first I thoguht this would be the BBC's link for voluntourism, but it turns out its for spiritual places -- and I do think they are rather random. Just missed out on seeing Medugorje in Bosnia, but chose to go to a waterfall instead!

40 Breathtaking Places To See Before You Die 8 of 39
I think this list has the most places on my ultimate wish list -- Capadocia, Iguazu, Monument Valley, Mt. Roraima, Norway's fjords, Victoria Falls, Pamukkale, Yosemite, Tianzi, Bolivian Salt Flats, Meteora!

Here are the Top 25 Cities You Should Visit In Your Lifetime 18 of 25
With Istanbul as number one, and many great places on the list, this is where I seem to have scored the highest! Cities are amazing places to visit. Think I need to add a few of these to my 1000 Amazing Places blog!

33 Unbelievable Places To Visit Before You Die (32 Surreal Places That I Can't Believe Aren't Photoshopped) 1 of 32/33
Many repeated places on this list, but some great places too. Have wanted to get to Socotra for ages! The only one I've been to is the Glowworm caves, and since I'm a New Zealander, so I should have! I'm hoping to get to the Cano Cristales in September.

15 Famous Landmarks Zoomed Out To Show Their Surroundings 7 of 15
This is a great look at perceptions, photography and travel today -- we really are crowds in a gigantic yet small world!

And then there are the ones in Colombia, which I always have to look at because I live here!

10 places to visit in Colombia 8 of 10 
The country I live in is so beautiful. It is the top place I've been posting about on my 1000 Amazing Places blog, and so I've had to stop and post about some other places so its more balanced, but honestly, the list of places still to post about is lengthy! This is such a diverse place and so untravelled --- sad. Maybe I need to pick my top 20 places in Colombia to share before I go!

Trekking in Colombia: Top 10 Destinations 2 of 10
Colombia Reports (which is a great Latin American news website by the way) has this list of places to hike, some of which I plan to do come August and September of this year in my year off!

And then to end with: a video with many great travel images: Travel is More than the Seeing of Sights

More lists -- added 9 May 2014
As soon as I posted this, I found a whole lot more lists! I love lists!! :)

10 unique beaches you need to see to believe (2 of 10)
A cool collection with a few I'd never heard of!

10 Lakeside Hotels (3 of 10)
Although this one's about specific hotels (promotions and percentages, yuck!) I decided to ignore the hotels and count how many of the lakes I've been to!

5 of Colombia's Most Beautiful Places (5 of 5)
An excellent score on this one!

35 Most Insane Restaurants With a View (1 of 35 restaurants, 16 of 35 places)
Ditto hotels above -- these restaurants don't need promoting! I was pleased by how many cities I've seen from this list however, although LA was repeated!

5 Destinations You Should Know More About (1 of 5)
This list made me excited because its one of the few that has somewhere from Guyana, where I'm planning to go at Christmas time.

10 Most Dangerous Cities in the World (3 of 10)
With a nod to Carol who shared this with me, I liked this list because most of them were quite obscure places. It does have an annoying format of having to click from one to the next, but still, an interesting list!

10 Gorgeous Places Everyone Should Visit (5 of 10)
The same as the site above (they have lots of lists!) Pretty generic and typical, but nice places anyway!

10 Most Fascinating Castles in the World (4 of 10)
I LOVE castles!!!! This is a pretty diverse collection, too.

10 Best Airports in the World (8 of 10)
I don't know if I'd agree that these are the best... perhaps the newest, or the most renovated or the most exotic. Changi in Singapore gets number one on this list though, which I do agree with!

10 Most Beautiful Bridges in the World (4 of 10)
This list could possibly be bumped up by one if I actually remembered the famous bridges in Venice!

10 Most Visited Countries (10 of 10)
Now this list is not objective -- it should simply be based on numbers. I am surprised, however, that Malaysia makes the list. I am proud to say I have visited all of them, and I am continually amazed that France always gets number 1.

20 Most Peaceful Countries in the World (16 of 20)
The only ones on this list that I haven't been to are Norway, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Portugal, all places which I would love to go to! These places are pretty predictable though -- they all have high HDI indexes so Scandinavia, Australia/NZ/Canada and a few others thrown in.

Strap Yourself In: The World's Most Extreme Road Trips (0 of 5)
Hadn't heard of some of these, but all are places I want to go to!

Tripadvisor's Top World Destinations 2014 (18 of 25)
I have some big ones here that I really should have gotten to a long time ago. Barcelona, I promise, I'm coming soon!

And even more posts - added 26 May 2014

26 Castles That Have Reached Fairytale Status (5 of 26)
I better get visiting! Lots of great ones here!

5 Mindblowing Underwater Cities (0 of 5)
Likewise, above, I better get swimming!

And even more - 31 May 2014

30 Most Beautiful Small Towns in the World (3 of 30)
30 of the Best Man-Made Sites in the World (18 of 30)

And even more - June 8, 2014
35 Most Amazing National Parks in the World (5 of 35)
Hoping to knock off a few of these this summer!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reflecting on photos

I just read this interesting NYT article about a woman who only had postcards of her early travels because she didn't have a camera and how much she regretted not having personal memories instead of the picture perfect mementos from a shop.

During my recent trip to Cuba (10 days) I took around 1500 photos -- or at least 100 a day. I know that many, ahem, most are not picture perfect framed images that I would hang on the wall, but to me they are memories of being in that place at that time and to look at them, especially in order, I am brought back to what I was thinking and feeling at the time --- visual memory.

After seeing a friend's fantastic little Rwanda/Uganda/Tanzania video of little excerpts of seeing the gorillas, riding on a boat, watching an elephant, etc, I decided to do a bit of pocket filming too -- little clips of a 10 seconds each to capture the moment in movement. I'll let you know how that turns out!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Great photos

I get (many) a daily email about photos, and todays collections were so interesting in their diversity and creativity that I wanted to share. Once I'm finished with my 1000amazingplaces Blog (which will be a few years yet as I'm only a quarter of the way through the 1000), I think I'd like to move on to doing a photography blog.

Anyway, here are some inspiring, unique photos about ordinary things:

Bouquet photos

The 'Pleasures and Terrors' of kissing by Jim Friedman

Sunday, February 09, 2014

What we leave behind

Having gone home at Christmas and spent a month going through boxes from across my life has given me a lot of food for thought about stuff. I try desperately not to collect, but it is so much in my nature and background that I think it is inevitable. My parents have so much stuff in their house that the rafters are full and they keep finding new nooks and crannies to hang/store stuff. One day it will be my brother's and mine to go through, but what is important to us is never as important as it would be for someone else.

My friend's very thoughtful blog entry about packing up her house here in Bogota was poignant and an interesting take about things passing from generation to generation. http://noessinomivida.blogspot.com/2014/01/letting-go-things-you-take-with-you-and.html
I particularly liked her comment about not burdening future generations with your own hangups, although this is definitely not a comment on my parents things -- many of which I love, although I do know that there is an awful lot of them!

Yesterday my parents told me they had collected all the National Geographic magazine collection from the family farm to bring home. I rolled my eyes and laughed -- they have an enormous collection of their own! They now have some dating as far back as 1939 or somewhere thereabouts, and many copies of ones they had of their own, mostly dating from the 1960s. They loved going back through them to admire articles of certain places and certain times, which gives them value to all.

I also just saw this very interesting photo exhibition: http://www.featureshoot.com/2014/01/photographer-memorializes-her-grandfather-through-objects-he-left-behind/
It shows the simple things in life that we collect and that mark our time but that have reduced meaning once we're gone. Photos are a nice way to remember it without having to actually keep the stuff itself.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Seasons Greetings 2013-14

Hello all dear friends and family from stunning Queenstown, except, oops, I've been back in Bogota three weeks now...
What a year, 2013!

I began the year in a tiny little diner in Bariloche, Argentina, which kind of feels like I've come full circle because Bariloche is sometimes compared to Queenstown in its ski resort, lake-town vibe. We looked everywhere to find a restaurant but everything was either closed or reservation-only. We shared our table (not the done thing!) with two Argentinian guys who were there to hike and cycle. I had just spend the most amazing 10 days going to Antarctica from Ushuaia -- am still nostalgic about such a trip of a lifetime!
After beautiful weather in Bariloche, we then went on to further amazements like horseback ridingwhite-water rafting and wine-tasting in Mendoza, following the Jesuit trail in Cordoba, to exploring the delta and historic districts of Buenos Aires. Argentina was so vast and diverse and had mixes of Europe, Southern Hemisphere, and South America everywhere. We loved the bizzare touristy cemetery where Evita is buried, the great art museums and the tango show!
January through March were a hard slog of work -- not a single long weekend, and the greatest concentration of deadlines and catch up work. However, I still managed to fit in my first Chiva ride, climb Guadalupe, and visit Choachi,... I continued to work on my little project, my blog called 1000 Amazing Places, whose self-imposed deadlines have been good for me (when I manage to make them!) and the reflections of places, magical. Perhaps its a bit overly positive, but I'm enjoying it (detesting it) immensely! Most of the links in this blog post lead to it, so please peruse!
Over Easter my parents joined me for a quick tour of Colombia -- La Calera mountain farm villages near Bogota, Guatavita (although the mystical Laguna de Guatavita was closed after the public holiday - my second failed attempt), charming colonial Villa de Leyva and Barichara, with lots of pottery bought in Rakira! We walked down the ancient Camino Real (pre Colombian) trail to Guane and marveled at the fossils in the rocks in its tiny museum.

June gave us a few long weekends to play with -- zipped off first to Pasto to see the magnificent Sanctuaria de Las Lajas and the beautiful Laguna de La Cocha then the following weekend we went on almost the same flight path further south to Quito in Ecuador -- the traditional Incan market in Otovalu was colorful and traditional, but I think I loved the vistas from the Panecillo hill best coupled with the super Quito Basilica which is the only one I've ever been in that lets you walk inside the roof and climb every turret and tower.

Bogota continues to bring delights like my Salsa Casino -- see the videos below -- (although I haven't managed to get there for the last part of the year), excellent restaurants and a mild (ahem, wet, rainy and cold) climate. I love walking to school in the mornings, my teaching/HoD role is more manageable this year, I have a fabulous mix of great friends to spend time with and life is good (but doesn't it always seem so from a far away holiday?). I lament the lack of (non-salsa) live music, the distance I live from the center of town and best restaurants, and the overly-fanatical or non-existent sports/outdoor options in Bogota, but love the short hikes up the mountainside when I manage to get up early enough to enjoy them (my favorite one is only open from 7-9am).

I am addicted to Audible.com's talking books so can say I've 'read' more this year than ever -- most recently I, Claudius but also The Disappearing Spoon, Birdsong, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Salt: A History (after which I was full of amusing salty anecdotes to drive people crazy with!), Things Fall Apart (finishing just before Chinua Achebe's death), Cutting for Stone, The Night Circus, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey and Mirror Mirror -- I really can't remember the last time I read so many great books -- audio books have changed my life! I won't tell you about the bad books I read, though Mao's Great Famine almost killed me (luckily I stopped reading it part way through and let the lovely ladies of my book club tell me the key parts).

Ah, Summer... the reason I am a teacher. Two months of me time to travel, see family and catch up with friends across the world. I started July in London (met my darling nephew!), which at that point was a bit cold and wet, but went on some nice little trips to Canterbury, Manchester, Bradford, Leeds and York (yay, cat trail!) to see Michelle and Carol. On July 5th I fulfilled a long-held dream: I flew to Iceland (country number 80 or so). Wow, what a place!!! So amazingly beautiful, wild, safe, friendly, spectacular, lovely, gorgeous, photogenic, green, wet, majestic, etc, etc, though a bit cold when I was there. I rented a car and circled the island counter-clockwise and it was one special vista after another. Highlights included the amazing waterfalls, walking on a glacier in the East Fjords, driving through the East Fjords (especially past the iceberg lagoon Jokulsarlon) and staying in charming Seydisfjordur (one of the best hostels I've ever stayed at). Peculiar Krafla and volcanic Myvatn and the Husavik whale watching (though my flight over the central mountains was grounded due to bad weather), I thought the northernmost city of Akureyri was very livable (but likely miserable in winter as its almost on the Arctic Circle). The Western Fjords were majestic and rough -- large paths of gravel roads and a roaring wildness emphasized by the isolation and the wind. Reykjavik was charming and the trip ended all too soon!
I flew straight from the cool Arctic winds to the Mediterranean heat in Dubrovnik, Croatia -- I love that city!! The history and the ambiance, despite the billions of tourists and inflated prices, were fantastic while the solid impregnable walls shadowed over the glistening Adriatic. We did a day trip into Montenegro and then bussed up into Bosnia and back into Croatia to Zagreb. My friends took off and I enjoyed Slovenian alpine hospitality (and caves!) and sites alone. I caught up with Jo in her idyllic home near Fethiye in Turkey, and she showed me all over the area before I flew back to London for a last catchup with my brother and his wife Janneke in London (and of course, my charming nephew, Timmy) before life in Bogota resumed.

I had a lovely weekend in Villa de Leyva for the Kite Festival -- beautiful, enormous decorations floating in the serious Andean wind!

September saw serious protests in Colombia where farmers (campesinos) across the country were blocking roads and leading strikes and marches which led to looting and military clashes. Colombia recently signed a free trade agreement with the United States, and while parts of this were one issue being protested, other problems such as smuggling of (cheaper) goods from Venezuela and Ecuador and government subsidies were causing problems. We had two days of school cancelled and a curfew over half the city shaking up our new teachers a bit who had barely been in the country a month!
Two of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Colombia, San Agustin and Tierradentro, have amazing connections to the pre-Colombian civilizations of Colombia, and I made that my destination for the October break, flying to pretty Popayan and wending my way on crowded local busses through the high mountains to see them both. San Agustin is famous for it's carved standing stone figures and ancient Stonehenge-like tombs and Tierradentro for its painted underground tombs. San Agustin was prolific in its beautiful carvings of animals and people on sites that reminded me of Maori Pas, and Tierradentro impressed with the hundreds of tombs scattered across a very steep mountaintop -- ancient symbols and colors decorating man-made caves initially found full of rubble.

We rented a car in November to take us to Melgar and La Mesa which was unexpectedly eventful with power cuts, stolen hubcabs (rims), and a tiny little house. Seeing the Magdalena river at its point nearest Bogota and it's now defunct railway brought thoughts of colonial Colombia and the interesting travel mechanisms that we are nostalgic about.

After a lovely Dec 1st Christmas dinner we headed into exams and then I flew via Santiago, Chile to New Zealand -- the first time I've come home in more than four years. It is so wonderful to be back and to be in our family home (for the first time in 20 years). My brother and his family joined us for Christmas and we have had many other friends and relatives here to catch up with. I loved the spectacular mountains that I can stare at for hours and the long drives down all the remembered paths to other beautiful local destinations like Glenorchy, Skipper's, Arrowtown, Bob's Cove, Jack's Point, Moke Lake, and of course Queenstown itself.

New Year's eve meant Queenstown fireworks, reflections on a great 2013 and the promises of 2014. I will be finishing my current job in July to take a year off from work for travel, projects, volunteering and reflection and possibly short-term contracts or work. It is very exciting! I will probably be in and around South America until December, but who knows after that?
I had hoped to get this written soon after I arrived in New Zealand and before Christmas, but too many cups of tea, hokey-pokey ice cream excursions, barbeques, picnics and day trips seemed to get in the way! Returning to Bogota meant even more delays.

But am done, now, January 31st. I hope its not too late to wish that 2014 brings wishes come true, dreams realized, love, light and laughter for you all. 

Much love from Natalya xx