We’re home! As we’ve caught up with family and friends this week, find we’ve found the number #1 asked question about our round-the-world journey is: “What was your favorite place?” Jenni and I try to answer this question by listing our favorite (and not-so-favorite) experiences around the world this year. For more travel recommendations, more about check out the Places We Love section in each of the fifteen countries we’ve traveled to this year….
Lisa: Boracay, Philippines. Incredibly long stretch of white sand beach with the bluest waters I’ve ever seen. With so much beach, it’s easy to feel like you’re on your own secret island. We got engaged here. It can get a bit over-touristed, so I recommend staying further down the island in Station 3 where it’s significantly more quiet.
Jenni: Zanzibar, Tanzania is up there too. Another white sand paradise. We stayed at a fantastic beach resort that was quite affordable, as Zanzibar can get quite expensive. I set my watch for 5pm happy hour every day.
Jenni: Mactan, Philippines. I’ll never let Lisa live this one down. Although the Lonely Planet clearly warned us to stay away from Mactan (“over-priced and ugly”), Lisa insisted that she had had a great experience at the Shangri-La hotel in Mactan with her family before. Turns out that Mactan as experienced from a five-star hotel versus Mactan as experienced from a cheap hostel is worlds apart. Dirty, unattractive, and overrun by Korean tourists (not that I have anything against Koreans, but a lot of the tour companies would only serve Korean customers), I couldn’t wait to get out of here.
Best Adventure Sport:
Jenni: Surfing. We enrolling in surf school for the week in Bali. Having several days to practice our new sport gave us a fun physical challenge while also getting to know local Balinese guides. I also loved our cave-abseiling excursion in New Zealand. It’s a mind-blowing experience to abseil down 100 meters into the earth and then scramble your way back up through underground rivers and caves.
Worst Adventure Sport:
Lisa: As someone who hates being under water, I wasn’t jumping up and down when Jenni suggested going scuba diving in the Philippines or river kayaking in Nepal. But this was my year to try new things, so I decided to give them a go. Neither went well. I had a near panic attack while learning to scuba (you want me to take off my mask underwater?!), and I gave up learning to kayak after Eskimo rolling caused me to throw up from motion sickness. I’ve decided that I prefer sticking to land.
Jenni: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Next to San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro is our favorite city in the world. With miles of beach along a developed city, a culture of live music, and a laid back attitude, we ended up extending our stay from five days to three weeks. My favorite activity was people-watching on the beach with an acai smoothie (the Brazilians are addicted to acai) in one hand and an empanada in the other.
Lisa: Agra, India. Because everyone who comes to India has to go to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, this city is overrun with aggressive touts and a bajillion rickshaw drivers vying for your business. Combined with the extreme noise pollution, disgusting streets, and general chaos, I suggest making your Taj Mahal excursion no more than a day trip from Delhi via one of the bullet trains. To escape, we spent a big chunk of the day hiding out at one of the few Western-style coffee houses in the city.
Lisa: I can’t stop talking about our seafood experience in Jimabaran beach in Bali, where we picked out our live seafood and watched them kill, grill, and serve it to us on the sand while watching the sunset.
Jenni: I practically ate my body weight in meat at Porcao Rio, the renowned Brazilian steak house in Rio. Not only were we continually served by waiters walking around with huge skewers of every kind of meat imaginable (my favorite was the lamb chops), the restaurant also had an amazing sushi and salad buffet too. To my dismay, Lisa was full after two rounds. But I managed to keep going for at least four rounds by following my mom’s buffet strategy of skipping all carbs and beverages.
Lisa: Landing in Taipei after a long flight, we were starving and walked into the first local restaurant we could find. Jenni can speak chinese, but she can’t read, so we just picked something randomly off the menu. We ended up with some stew of chicken innards.
Lisa: I brought us back to Hostel’s International at Iguazu Falls in Argentina, where I had stayed ten years ago. With a swimming pool, comfortable rooms, and all-you-can-eat Argentine bbq for $8, we might have been among the oldest people there but the place still rocked.
Jenni: We traveled to Udaipur to interview Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil and stayed in Hotel Kumbha Palace. Our toilet needed to be manually flushed with a bucket which didn’t offer enough pressure to eliminate waste down the pipes, making our room smell something awful. Not the place to primp before meeting royalty.
Best Wildlife Experience:
Jenni: I loved the Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania. Where else can you see all the characters of Lion King in one place? I also can’t get over the monkeys in the Amazon jungle. We stayed in a lodge in Puerto Maldonado that was home to a gregarious crew of monkeys who loved playing at the pool with us.
Worst Wildlife Experience:
Lisa: I came face-to-face with wildlife when a bat flew into our room in the middle of the night at Taroko Gorge in Taiwan. While Jenni slept on (ignoring me and the bat altogether), I bravely saved the day by trapping the bat in our window.
Best Day Hike:
Jenni: Two hours outside Nairobi we hiked around Mt. Longonot Crater. During the five mile hike, you see the most incredible views of the Rift Valley, known as the “cradle of humanity” as this is where the oldest human remains have been found. Giraffes are easily spotted throughout the park.
Worst Day Hike:
Lisa: Mt. Merapi in Java, Indonesia. You leave at 10pm and climb through sunrise, struggling through volcanic ash (which required us to wear a face mask through much of the hike), loose rock, and high winds. Our experience was made worse by the fact that Jenni and I were also struggling with a bout of food poisoning that night.
Lisa: Mt. Kilimanjaro. This has been on my bucket list since I was a teenager. Nothing compares to standing on the rooftop of Africa at 19,341 feet (see photo left).
Jenni: Mt. Kilimanjaro. By day three, the altitude was killing me. I was exhausted just by walking from my tent to the toilet. Ultimately, a retinol hemmorhage (apparently something that can happen as a result of altitude) ended my summit climb. After having to be piggy-backed down to base camp, I vowed to spend the rest of my life closer to sea level.
Best Gay & Lesbian Bar:
Lisa: The Sal y Pimiento Bar in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro. Live music on the main floor (featuring a band with a butch woman as the lead singer) and gay-boy dance music on the second floor. Plus I got Jenni really drunk that night (those caparinhas are really strong!), so she was particularly a lot of fun.
Best Travel Experience:
Jenni: Spending two weeks meditating and doing yoga at an ashram in India. When else do you get the luxury of time and space to be with just yourself?
Lisa: Camper-vanning our way through New Zealand. It was a last-minute splurge for us, but I loved having the freedom and flexibility of a home on wheels. Plus, New Zealand is totally set up for campervans, so it was easy to find places to empty out waste, refill water, and park at night. My only suggestion is: buy the full insurance. I ended up driving into a pole at the gas station, and the insurance saved us from a financial disaster.
Worst Travel Experience:
Jenni: Getting a horrendous bout of food poisoning in the middle of a trek in Nepal. I spent two days lying prone in my sleeping bag feeling really bad about myself, unable to get anything more than a few sips of soda down. Thank God for antibiotics, or I may still be up in that mountain.
Lisa: We’ve had very few negative experiences. Travel can certainly be stressful, and over the course of a year you’re going to get scammed, you’ll stay in a lot of crummy places, and you’ll get lost about a million times – but all in all there is nothing I would change about this year. I see at as an incredible investment in myself and in our relationship.