Tuesday, 3 January 2017

My top travel experiences of 2016

When I left for South America almost a year ago come February (where has that time gone by the way?), I left with the motivation to post regularly on my blog about all the places I was visiting. But, like most things in (my) life, that idea didn't quite go to plan.

I found it far more entertaining writing anecdotes about our largely unfortunate, but hilarious, experiences on the road. Throw painfully slow WiFi into the mix, along with a questionable travel itinerary and the occasional deadly hangover - I didn't have a hope in hell of sticking to my plan. So, now that I've dished out my excuses, and instead of rambling on, I've done what I do best and summarised my unrivalled travel experiences of the whole year into this singular lovely little post – enjoy!

The Amazon Rainforest, Brazil

Thinking back to that time when I was Colonel Ant in my primary school production of The Amazon Rainforest, I never once believed I'd ever find my self in the real Amazon, having my butt bitten every two minutes by those very ants. Our very first week was spent on the Amazon River with a great bunch of people, fishing for piranha, sleeping in hammocks, and searching for wildlife on daily explorations through the tangle of jungle. We took the boats out every day, got soaked through to our bones nearly every hour (it’s called a rainforest for a reason) and cooked a whole chicken over a fire we had built at camp with a local family. There really wasn’t a better way to start our adventure (or get our heads around the fact that spiders in the UK are minuscule compared to what the rest of the world had in store for us). Nothing has beaten the night we spent sitting in a little boat, floating down the Amazon River, in complete darkness; I don't believe I will ever see that many stars again.

Homestay in the Amazon rainforest

Hammock in the Amazon

Trekking through the Andes, Peru

Dig one large hole in the ground, place one camping chair with a similar sized hole cut out of it over the top, and surround with "toilet tent"; my daily torture whilst camping in The Andes for four days. Regardless of having to use the toilet tent or not, I was pretty sure I’d never explicitly told my boyfriend I enjoyed hiking. But, there we were 4,700m above sea level in the Andes, draped in our ponchos, hands bitterly cold from the sudden downpour of hailstones. We’d made it. Our whole group made it, and the sense of pride and accomplishment was totally worth the sore, damp feet, the sleepless nights on the frozen hard ground, and the constant walking uphill for hours every day. And I must admit I quite enjoy hiking now, too.

Meg in Machu Picchu

The Inca Trail

A bungalow amidst the tea fields in Munnar, India

The majority of my fondest memories of my whole trip can be squeezed into those three weeks I spent living in a bungalow amongst the never-ending tea fields of Munnar, Kerala. It was the one place I think we both felt truly at home. Our days were spent strolling through the endless tea fields or eating masala dosa with our yellow stained fingers at the local eatery in town, or sunbathing, book in hand, in the bungalow’s little flowering garden. We were so lucky to meet such lovely people at our little bungalow we all shared in the hills. And Arul, the eccentric but caring manager, was a constant source of laughter. I'm still smiling now remembering how he would insist we eat his handpicked passion fruit, from his garden that he was so proud of, for our breakfast.

Homestay in Munnar, Kerala

All the food, Vietnam

I absolutely loved this country; from the friendly people to the amazingly fresh and tasty cuisine, to the general vibe of the whole place. I want to go back right now just thinking about it all. I have to admit though, the food was my ultimate favourite thing about Vietnam. Some of my favourites include the trusted banh mi (essential for every backpacker on any long bus ride), bun thit nuong (I had this on my first night in Saigon and I still haven’t found one to beat it), and banh xeo (forget french crepes - if you want a savoury pancake, look no further). Oh, and I can't forget the summer rolls; goi cuon (sorry Thailand, they walk all over your greasy spring rolls). If you're a foodie like me and planning a trip to Vietnam, you must do a cooking course. We did one in Hoi An at the Red Cooking School and it was delicious. The chef was hilarious making all kinds of inappropriate jokes (I learnt to never say 'yummy' again whilst being served food in Vietnam – I'll let you discover why for yourselves), and we had heaps of food. Go to Vietnam, try and taste everything you can; you will not regret it.

Food in Vietnam

Pho in Vietnam

Snorkelling with the turtles, Gili Trawangan

Snorkelling, in general, was quite an accomplishing experience for me. Dubbed as the little sister always too scared to go snorkelling on holiday, or too afraid to go on the big waterslides, I was determined to ditch this label. And it was amazing. To anyone who also has a fear of the water or the ocean, snorkelling was an amazing way to overcome this. Some of my favourite places to snorkel were; Nilaveli, Sri Lanka - we chose not to go to Pigeon Island as there we some concerns over the conservation of the coral around the island, Koh Tao in Thailand - purely because it was the only place in Thailand we saw healthy coral (plus our guide for the day was hilarious, as were some of the fish), and Gili T in Indonesia - the most beautiful turtles, clear waters and crazy currents; which have made for some great stories.

Snorkelling in Sri Lanka

Snorkelling on Gilli T

Whitewater Rafting, New Zealand

Probably the most hilarious experience of my whole trip. And the photos afterwards were even better. We chose to head to Rotorua for our day on the water, somehow managing to book the trip which included a 7-metre drop down a waterfall. Doing things half-heartedly in New Zealand just isn't an option apparently. I can't really do this experience justice by only writing about it; it was a hysterical hour of tears, wobbling chins, fear-stricken faces and belly laughs (the majority of which only came from us girls once we were safely back in our camper van re-watching the video footage). Whitewater rafting is a must do for anyone planning a trip to New Zealand. Even if you are petrified of heights, fast flowing water, and drowning!

Whitewater rafting in New Zealand

Camping around New Zealand

Even as I'm editing this post I'm remembering so many more of my favourite days travelling; exploring an abandoned theme park in Hue, driving the Hai Van Pass on the back of a beaten old moped, dancing in the streets of Rio during Carnival... The list is truly never-ending. 

What's your top travel experience?


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