I spent the last two days of 2014 in a haze, trying to beat jetlag and fatigue from the long transatlantic flight to South America . During the turn of the year hug exchange and fireworks, I was soundly asleep, enjoying my warm bed. Despite the endless wishes and photo’s circling on social media, I’ve only just realised a new year has begun. I blame the altitude.
I wasn’t expecting 2014 to be a busy travel year but it turns out, it’s impossible to make such predictions. At least for me it is. 16 countries in one year without being on a round the world trip, I’m still not quite sure how it was possible. Let’s see…
I started 2014 in the heart of Toraja in Sulawesi, Indonesia. A start of a new year with good friends and 24-hour fireworks on every street corner- often handled by children ages 4 and up. It was magical, crazy and unexpected. The festivities were followed by an off-the-grid vacation, exploring the colourful underwater world, deserted beaches and untouched jungles. I spent a day at a local funeral and saw one of my travel dreams come true: seeing a tarsier in the wild. I really had to keep myself under control not to kidnap one of these cute monkeys.
As if the Torajan death rituals weren’t culture shock enough, I faced yet another cultural eye-opener: Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur. I gasped at the men, women and children as they devoted themselves to their gods by suffering the pain of large metal hooks piercing through their skins during their pilgrimage to Batu Caves. Read my blogpost about the festival here.
As we knew this was going to be our last month living in Bali, we spent the month doing the touristy things we hadn’t done yet. Visiting those temples we never got around to, taking that silversmith workshop we’d been meaning to… We spent time with friends, I took up yoga, went surfing and learned to cook healthy organic meals. I always seem to have the best time when I know a journey is about to end…
A long time wish list destination finally within my reach. I found the city to be a perfect balance between East and West. I got to see quite a bit of the city even though my travel companion was injured during the trip and our activities consisted -for a large part- of sitting down options, or let’s just say eating. I’m not complaining. So far it’s the only place in the world where I actually like dim sum- how’s that for a travel snob quote?!
During our stay in HK, a short stint to Macau diversified the trip. Having spent a year in Asia, I felt home in the European-looking streets of Macau. I found out spending money in casino’s wasn’t really my thing.
Home sweet home. I thought it would be a good idea to surprise all our friends and family by showing up unexpectedly into their homes. Nobody had any idea we had arrived in Belgium. The joy was intense, so much fun. I immediately resumed work at my previous job and spent my free days filling up on breads, chocolates, Belgian beers and my favourite local dishes as well as catching up with family and friends. It was incredibly challenging to fit into the society I now felt so alienated to. I spent my birthday in my home country with my family, something I hadn’t done in years.
By may, I reached a high in missing my life in Asia. However, I decided not to sulk but take advantage of the perks of living in Europe. I took some time off to explore the culinary side of Italy. Well, a small side at least. Bologna brought me to me knees with it’s incredibly pure and fresh food. I hadn’t even left the city and was already talking about coming back.
Three years after my last visit I returned to the motherland. People called me crazy for going to one of the most dangerous corners in the world; North Kivu in the Democratic Replublic of Congo. Even crazier for bringing along 20 muzungu’s (swahili for white people) and “endangering” their lives. It wasn’t nuts to me: part of my family lives there, so why would I not go? I was right not to second guess my instincts; the trip went smoothly, the muzungu’s had the time of their lives and oh… I got married!
It was however, an exhausting journey, more so mentally than physically. Perhaps that’s the reason why I have not yet found the courage/energy to write about the trip. But byy now, it’s at the tip of my fingers and I’m eager to share the stories with you very soon.
On my way to the DRC, I revisited my favourite spots in Uganda. Lake Bunyonyi still holds a special place in my heart. This time my entire family joined me, which made it even more special. Thinking I will return to Uganda again next time I visit DRC, I once again skipped the gorilla tracking. Still don’t think this was one of my brightest moves.
Having spent part of my childhood in Rwanda, I had my heart set on going back and mirroring childhood memories to reality. I began to search for our old house and schools which I found after several hours of “Sherlock Holmes-ing”. I was surprised at how much the country had changed post-genocide. Most of my favourite places in Gisenyi, the town I had lived in, where still up and running, with a fresher look nonetheless.
FRIESLAND- THE NETHERLANDS
To finish off summer in Europe, Douglas and I treated ourself to a weekend in Friesland visiting our friends we had met in Bali. Strangely enough, Friesland always sounded like an exotic place, despite the fact that it’s right next door. We were lucky to arrive during a festival celebrating Friesland’s cultural heritage. It was time travel at it’s most possible. We went ‘supping’ on the Frisian waterways, which is actually a great way to explore the region.
MONTENEGRO, ALBANIA, KOSOVO
Montenegro and Albania both surprised my with their natural beauty and quaint historical towns. Though both countries are completely different, I found both nationalities to be warm, helpful and welcoming even to a dark skinned traveler like me. In Montenegro I enjoyed my solo travel in Kotor and around. Albania stole my heart the minute I set off to the mountains, which was undoubtedly one of my travel highlights of the year. I highly rate both countries and am looking forward to visiting again as soon as possible.
As for Kosovo, I only spent a short time and visited just one city, Prizren. I found the cobbled stoned city rather pleasant and spend the afternoon strolling around and drinking coffee in the riverside café’s. I loved the fact that it was an unexpected visit, but I needed more time to really get to know the country.
I went to Greece to attend TBEX, the biggest travel Blogger’s conference. I had a magnificent time getting to know other travel blogger, the city of Athens and myself on a professional level. After the conference I took some time to see more of the country. I visited Corinth, went on a wine tasting tour in the country side and learned to cook traditional Greek food in one Athens oldest taverns. I’ve yet to see the rest of Greece, so I consider this trip as the intro.
Why Iran? People asked me. I couldn’t even remember the exact reasons, it had just been on my mind for such a long time, for so many reasons. When I stumbled upon a dirt cheap ticket, I didn’t think for a moment and booked straight away. The time had finally come. I ignored all the safety warnings, I was convinced they were overstated, especially coming from people knowing nothing of the country. Boy am I glad I did!
Iran made me laugh, cry, think, marvel, love, feast and fantasise. The architecture is stunning, nature is untouched and diverse, the history is absolutely astonishing and the food is truly unique. But most of all, the people… They are the best part of Iran. Lots of Iran posts coming up soon.
The last destination of 2014, Ecuador. Not for travel but possibly to live for a while. We set off to Ecuador knowing very little of the country yet planning to live there. That’s what makes the start of the new year even more exciting.
What will happen next? I have no idea and I like it that way. I’m excited about what 2015 will have in store. I’m pretty sure there will be less international travelling, but then again, I said the same thing last year…