As the sun’s rays cross the planet for the last time in 2011, it seems like an opportune time to look back on the year and remember some of the highlights. It’s been six months since I left home and set out into the world to try to learn more about the six billion people I share this planet with, and what makes them who they are – whether it be their culture, their history, their politics or their natural environment.
I’m very thankful to the inspirational blog, Family On Bikes, for nominating me for the Best of 2011 project. Essentially it’s a chance for travel bloggers to review their year and share some of the most memorable moments. It’s slightly self-indulgent, true, but what is the festive season if not a time for indulgence!
So, without further prelude, here are my choices for the categories that everyone is choosing from.
Months before North Korea dominated the news upon the death of The Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il, I was allowed into the notoriously secretive country. Phones and other communication devices were confiscated from tourists at the airport and so I spent almost two weeks deep inside the Axis of Evil with no way of knowing what was happening in the outside world. As you’ll read here, that isolation and separation from the modern world is not so different to the way North Koreans spend their lives.
Travelling should be as much about the experience as the destinations. Often that includes the people you meet along the way. When I decided to do a road trip across the USA in an old van with a stranger I met online, I got more than I bargained for. This was a race against time for him, as he was trying to get to Chicago on a certain day. For me it was a blur of landscapes and chance encounters with Middle America. As you’ll see in this post, the journey involved much more than just the miles we covered.
Thankfully I’ve avoided a truly terrible travel experience since I’ve been on the road. You hear horror stories from other nomads but nothing has left me any injuries, missing belongings or in mortal danger – touch wood <taps head theatrically>. My worst travel experience has become one of my favourite stories. It involves a restaurant in Beijing and a large plate of animal penis. Photos speak louder than summaries, so you can find out more about it here.
I suppose there are weird people in every country but there seems to be something about the USA that encourages these people to share their insanity. And so it was that I ended up in the house of an Elvis fan who has turned his home into a shrine for The King. The shrine, though, is more of a museum to his mental illness and as he took a tour of his piles of memorabilia there were times when you had to wonder about your own safety. As you’ll read here, obsession has corrupted the life of this man.
My most embarrassing moment of my travels was an introspective one. It was a self-realisation that I have changed as a traveller from the man I was in my younger days. The backpacker streets of Bangkok were once somewhere I felt comfortable – they inspired in me a sense of adventure and of waiting journeys yet untaken. However, as you’ll see in this post, there’s been a shift in my relationship with the place that was once so defining of my travels.
You know you’ve discovered a great destination when the locals love it so much they don’t want to tell the rest of the world about it. That was the sense I got when I spent some time on the beaches of eastern Uruguay. There’s a reason this is the playground of South America – but the only reason more people don’t know about it is because those who lie on the sand and swim in the surf know that to share the wonders would be to turn it into a place that was no longer wonderful. You’ll see for yourself here.
An encounter with one particular traveller at a hostel has had more of an effect on me than meeting a dozen new people combined. And from the response this story has had on the blog, this man has clearly had a similar effect on thousands of other people. John is the world’s oldest backpacker. He’s now 89 years old and has been backpacking around the world for the past 30 years. This story about his life is inspirational… but it leaves me worried that if I follow his advice, I’ll have a lot more of these ‘best of’ posts to write in coming years!
Now, in the spirit of sharing, I would like to nominate the following blogs for a ‘best of’ post of their own:
You can find all of the rules here. Good luck and enjoy!!
- Travel ideas from bloggers for 2012
- Travel stories with personality from 2011
- Inspirational travel stories from 2011
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