South America

Journeys of a Lifetime in January

Happy New Year! Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

The Orinoco River Cruise: The dry season in January lends to the viewing of more land mammals along this river cruise through Venezuela. Boy oh boy...the description of this places includes words such as: expedition, canoe, venture, wetland and steamy jungle. I'm there.

The Mekong River: Laos is on a ticking clock toward Vietnam status, and it's up to you to seize the opportunity to view this country's incredible landscapes before the authenticity becomes manufactured. Nat Geo claims this is the most scenic stretch of the massive river through the Southeast Asia region.

By Road

Historic Spain: There's no bad time to see the architecture of historic, central Spain. January will wash out the summer tourist crowd and give you snow capped mountains in your photograph backgrounds. Give yourself one week to drive along this ribbon of highway, and remember to ask in Segovia about the suckling pig.

Crossing the Sahara: Get your visas ready and your car rented. You're about to drive across Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania to see some cultures and barren landscapes that present an awesome challenge to the "bring it on" type of traveler.

By Rail

Bangkok-Kanchanaburi-Nam Tok Line: This time riding the rail will bring you closer to the gritty, not further away. Taking this infamous route, known as the "death railway" from WWII, will remind you of the many POWs and lives lost from building the bridge at the River Kwai. It's not all gruesome and heavy-hearted; the landscape is Thai-rific.

The Palace on Wheels: India's glitzy region of palaces and architectural masterpieces will give you plenty of eye candy and good photographs on this luxurious train ride. It's not my favorite side of India, but many find the old British and Raj culture appealing. The Golden Triangle along with Udaipur and Jaisalmer makes for an awesome itinerary, though!

On Foot

The Shackleton Crossing: South Georgia is a speck in the Southern Ocean and looks like a challenge for weathered climber types like Jon Krakauer and Bear Grylls. I pretty much guarantee no one reading this post will attempt this climb, but I thought I'd give you some dream material for tonight's slumber.

Climbing Kilimanjaro: Africa's tallest peak and the only 8,000+ meter mountain that one could ambulate - climbing Kilimanjaro seems to be an achievement worth going for. Those who have claimed the summit unanimously advise climbers to take the longer route (Machame) for better odds of success and greater views.

In Search of Culture

Japanese Kabuki Theater: With make-up that would spook the Joker and costumes that could presumably stand on their own, the men of Kabuki theater become household names for their dramatic and powerful performances. Brace yourself; these shows look lengthy but worth it for a one-time experience.

Earth Architecture of Yemen: High rise earth architecture makes Yemen look pretty darn cool. Perched at the heel of Asia's wee bootie are homes made of sun-dried mud bricks and a culture sure to intrigue. Nat Geo recommends going with a reputable tour company and taking caution with photographing people. Should make for an interesting trip!

In Gourmet Heaven

Eat Your Way Around Sydney: After you recover from a surely intense NYE celebration on the beach, enjoy Sydney's January Festival and a slew of culinary jackpots around Oz's biggest city. If you're into Euro-Asian fusion food with top notch seafood, I'm guessing there are few places in the world better than Sydney.

Malaysian Melting Pot: And we thought we were a melting pot…maybe next January you'll be traveling up the peninsula of Malaysia to sample the converging tastes of many prominent food traditions: Chinese, Indian, Arabic, etc. Thanks to all the hawkers and street food artists, some call this country a snacker's paradise.

Into the Action

Following Che Through South America: Cross the Andes on two screeching wheels in the footsteps of Che Guevara, but make sure you remember to ride something a little more reliable than "La Poderosa." Buenos Aires to Machu Pichu will take you across some varying landscapes and surely on a journey fit with ceaseless inspiration.

Cross-Country Skiing in Lillehammer: Check out this "premier cross-country location" if you want to make like a Scandinavian and glide. Easily accessible from Oslo, renting all your gear is possible on location, and going in January ensures a helluva daylight surplus!

Up and Away

The Nasca Lines: It is only from the sky where you can truly appreciate the diversity of Peru's terrain, as one ecosystem bleeds into the next. Also from this vantage point you can be slapped silly by the wonder of these earth drawings that were created with pre-historic tools by the Nasca people.

Alpine Baloon Festival: Arrive in Switzerland in late January for a display that surely inspires painters, children's book illustrators and surrealists worldwide. A sky of balloons decorate the invisible Christmas tree in the Swiss Alp valley. Inquire about the nighttime flight of illuminated balloons while you're there!

In Their Footsteps

Road to Enlightenment: Follow Buddha's journey to enlightenment from his birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal to Patna, India, past the third-generation descendant tree where he attained nirvana. Ahh, the ease of traveling in the moderate chill of February around the Subcontinent.

Tramping After Mark Twain: A boat trip down the Neckar River could inspire you to write a Huck Finn sequel, just as Twain was inspired to write the original on this journey. Tramp across Germany and Switzerland, enjoying the chill and scenery of winter, on a journey that the famed American author used to "improve himself."

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in February for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

Brazil...Check: Day 18

Streets of Salvador

Streets of Salvador

After having the be-jesus scared out of me for this port, I was a tad hesitant to step off the gangway, expecting to have my passport easily sliced out of the money belt that was conveniently located in my underwear. Because of this long winded warning, I was at my most attentive state, armed with an angry stare and a determined stride (holding a pen like a weapon at my side). Even though my façade was solid, pulsating drums and colorful piles of houses melted my interior, as did the humidity. Scamming taxi drivers got us to the bus station where we quickly bought the last three tickets to Lençois. It was a six hour ride full of unnecessary pit stops, grotesque Brazilian teens smoking in the lavatory, and smelly seat companions, but we certainly had an adrenaline rush every time the bus played “chicken” with oncoming traffic. Every little uncomfortable bit of the journey was a treat to experience.

Garrett, Alexis and I jumped out of our seat when a woman passed us and asked in English, “Is anyone in the bathroom?” Immediately, we made friends with the American and her bilingual friend, who within minutes of meeting us made accommodations for our overnight stay and two day trek through the wilderness.

We greeted a very wet Chapada Diamantina at 0900 hours with our guide, Arnaudo, who was equipped with all our gear and a wonderfully bouncy gait. Natural rock slides and water the color of iodine made our first rest stop a bruising but exciting delight, and after teaming up with another trekking group, we powered off into a rainforest known to gobble up naïve travelers without guides.

Scaling a singed mountainside in the clouds

Scaling a singed mountainside in the clouds

The rain came and went in the most unfortunate of times, for instance, while trudging up a steep rock face on the side of a mountain. Apparently their motto that it only rains in the mornings and at night is relative (similar to ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere’), as well as their concept of time (15 minutes = 3 hours). The most unexpected part was watching one of the guide’s backpacks float down some rapids we were debating on crossing, only to see him jump in at a moment of panic. The rain rerouted our travels to a cavern on a cliff where we spent a soggy night spooning on sleeping bags that smelt of unpleasant things. Alexis was careful to listen for jaguars outside our nylon walls, but Garrett focused on not rolling down a 60 foot drop. I, on the other hand, had little to think about other than the Chinese water torture nature was conducting on my forehead.

We survived the night and left alone to back track our travels to the rockslides, which went from amusing to abusive overnight. Arnaudo met us at the top of the falls to warn us against crossing, out of fear for our lives, so we lounged on the other side of this tourist destination and relaxed our burning feet in the cool waters. After twenty minutes of peace, we see crowds forming on the other edge of the water hole and men with ropes jumping haphazardly into the rapids. We started to pack up and look for the guide, but the men told us to stay. They were the survival crew from town, crossing the water to rescue us. The following twenty minutes included zip lines, cheers from the crowd, grasping rope for dear life, being pulled underwater by the force of the currents, the crowd taking pictures, bloody knees, bags flopping on the rocks, and a triple high-five from the three “Americanos” who were saved from danger in the Brazilian outback.

After the trek with Arnaudo

After the trek with Arnaudo

It was only when we ended our two day trek in the mountains of Brazil when we realized how horribly we smelt. One hospitable offer from Arnaudo and the three of us were taking showers in shantytown. My dripping hiking boots did not look inviting, so I took the streets like a local and walked barefoot to the nearest shoe store for some Brazilian sandals.

Meeting back with our fourth friend, Robb, at an Italian restaurant back in town facilitated an animated recount of all our travels and the great times we had, as did the three Caipirinhas that satiated our thirsts. As the night winded down, we rested in the town square where a stray dog and his antsy legs kept us company until a spontaneous downpour sent us running with everyone else under the covered market, laughing all the way. During that overnight bus ride to the ship, an overwhelming exhaustion sent me into a deep sleep that I could not remember having. I rejoined mankind at noon the next day with sore legs and clean hair, finally.

Pelourinho, the old city district in Salvador, glittered of elaborate Carnaval celebrations, loud musical presentations, and children spraying very wet silly string on their annoyed parents. Women in large, bell-shaped dresses and men in mini-skirts made us feel like the least festive people on every city block as we pranced around in jeans with our valuables duct-taped to our stomachs. The constant fear of being mugged or abducted by lurking criminals exhausted us, as did the shock that we were in the presence of the biggest festival celebrated on planet Earth.

We decided to embrace this once in a lifetime opportunity and head to the heart of the main event, the Barra circuit. My heart vibrated in my chest with every semi that rolled by, blaring traditional music and rattling bass beats from the hundreds of speakers on every truck. Twirling skirts, sweat beads flying, free bandanas being thrown everywhere, SKOL vendors shaking makeshift maracas to lure in thirsty partiers, confetti shooting into the sky, old ladies with tinsel wigs and gold pants…every audio-visual stimulus sent our hearts racing.

Brazilian women with beads and mustaches made our nights with their shimmys and chants, making us feel like we were united in the celebration. The only thing that brought us down from our elevated state was when they informed us that we were presently surrounded by drooling, dangerous criminals, eager to ruin our American lives. Luckily, the Brazilian SWAT teams were constantly weaving through our territory.

Proud of a successful trek

Proud of a successful trek

Millions of dollars in fireworks and pyrotechnics could not have raised our excitement anymore than when the next "bloco" rolled into our vicinity and the name of FATBOY SLIM appeared in flashing lights. Parked at our feet, the world-renown DJ’s semi blasted a techno/reggae remix of Eminem’s Lose Yourself, an American classic that we alone appreciated to its fullest extent. For many of us, this was one of the best moments of our lives, only topped by the fact that our safety that night was never in jeopardy.

I melted into my bed that night, too pooped to even ice my throbbing feet, but my ears were ringing from an unforgettable experience. The intensity of every situation in the past few days was paramount to what I have known in the past, and I met it all with two thumbs up and one very shifty eye. As I like to put it, Brazil smacked me in the face, but I smacked it right back. And now…on to South Africa.