Sunday, January 2, 2011

The best of 2010

This year was the most turbulent of any travel year I’ve had in terms of planning when my trip to backpack Europe came to an abrupt halt (let's not open that can of worms) and was replaced by another stint of volunteering in South Africa.

My methods may have been unorthodox, but it helped me realize that I don’t need concrete travel plans to have a good time and even if I change my plans last-minute, by the time I’m immersed in an adventure I won’t even realize I’m on the wrong continent.

Here is a list of my top 10 travel list of 2010:

10. Niagara

Guilty – I’d never seen Niagara Falls until this December. So you might be asking why it rounds off the list. Or maybe not. Niagara is too touristy for my liking, and as you’ll probably get to understand as you read through the list, I’m a bit of a sucker for the outdoor-sports-backpacking-the-countryside kinds of adventures.

Nevertheless, the falls did surprise me with their sheer magnitude, and spending the afternoon in Niagara-on-the-Lake was beautiful.

9. Farming in S.A.

The minute I step off the plane in Richard’s Bay, South Africa, I want to do manual labour. The African Impact project I worked on includes some great farming development components and there’s nothing like helping out in the garden of a Zulu family to help you really get to know the culture and people of the region. Plus, the views from the gardens were always spectacular.

8. Cycling Amsterdam

I hate feeling like a tourist when I’m traveling, so when I visited my friend Emily Slofstra in Amsterdam for a night, I was given an opportunity to feel more like a local than a backpacker. Emily had been living in the beautiful Dutch city while going to the university there, so she knew all the ins and outs of the town – and even had an extra bike. I felt completely at home while sitting writing my blog in a cafe by the university, and it was a great introduction to mainland Europe and to my 2010 travels.

7. Quadbiking in Swaziland

Every once in a while it’s fun to do something that nearly kills you. Quadbiking may not seem all that dangerous but in places like Swaziland, the rules are a little lax and you have to maneuver your bike over logsand up 80 degree hills without toppling over. After avoiding toppling to a fiery death, the group I was with got to see a beautiful sunset, so I guess you could say it was worth it.

6. Sailing the Mediterranean

I’m not a huge fan of cruise ships but I’ll admit that they are a great way to see a lot of places in a short time and decide where you would like to go back to for a longer period. Although it’s a little lavish compared to the way I usually travel, it was a nice, relaxing break and pulling out of the harbours of each country made for breathtaking views.

5. Venice, Italy

Although I enjoyed Amsterdam’s canals more than those cutting through Venice, running along the pier and staying on a yacht in the heart of the city was a great experience. Seeing an orchestra playing in the evening and walking through the city eating gelato was exactly how I pictured a night in Venice – and the city did not disappoint.

4. Teaching HIV Education

The main reason I travel to South Africa is to teach HIV education to both adults and kids. Teaching in primary schools is particularly rewarding and a great way to learn a new language and culture. Just make sure you agree with the way the organization you work for runs their development assistance programs and it can be on the of the best ways to see the world.

3. Horseback riding in South Africa

There’s something special about seeing landscapes from the back of a horse. Despite having been to South Africa three times, the bush ride I took with some friends last May was a breathtaking experience. However, I would only recommend a bush ride if you know what you’re doing on a horse – the guides know when you’re experienced and they’re usually game for a gallop. And since the majority of us had been riding for upwards of 10 years - let's just say the ride likely ended up being even more dangerous than the quadbiking.

2. Santorini, Greece

Santorini was the highlight of my first trip to the Mediterranean. We rented a jeep and drove around the entire town, which exemplified everything I had ever imagined the Greek islands would be – topped off with the best Greek salad I’ve ever eaten. Although I only spent the day there, I’ve been told that it’s also a great destination for backpackers, too.

1. Climbing Drakensberg

By far the most amazing experience I had this year was climbing the Drakensberg mountains, the highest mountain range in Southern Africa. Sitting atop the world's second-highest waterfall, the Tugela Falls, was breathtaking and climbing up the mountain’s chain ladders was a thrill. It was a great first climbing experience that has kicked off my desire to do more climbing.