Around the World – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times

December 31, 2009 0 Comments

One of the most common questions since we got home from our speedy trip around the world is “What was the best thing?”. What seems like a simple question is actually a hard one to answer honestly. We covered so much ground on our round the world trip, and did such a variety of different things. It’s hard to single out just one of them for special mention. There were a lot of highlights – all impressive in their own right. Listing them all off gives an idyllic impression that is nothing like the reality of what our travelling really entailed. The most accurate summary of the trip is to list off some of both the highlights and the lowlights. You can’t have one without the other, and you’ll see many places rank high on both the best and worst experiences. All together they contributed to to making our journey the brilliant experience that it was.

Let’s start with our first stop in Montreal, Canada. It’s a great city. It was a surprise to feel so much at home in the very first place we visited. The heights of Mont Royal, the leafy suburbs, the cobblestoned streets of Old Montreal, the spacious old Port… in a very short time we felt comfortable there. The people were friendly, the place lively but not too big, and the food was truly great. It was with some reluctance that we left it behind after only a few days.

New Zealand is the activity capital of the world and there’s a lot to see and do. For something a little different, you can roll down hills in a large ball in Rotorua. The Bungy Jump at Lake Taupo wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience, but it was definitely memorable (throwing yourself from a height that could easily kill you with only a bouncy rope to prevent your death should always be memorable). Building on this we did our Skydive. This experience varied from an exhilarating initial rush of air blocking out most of your other senses, to drifting peacefully like a feather as the surface of the earth drew closer.

Apart from the thrill-seeking activities, there were some beautiful places to visit in New Zealand aswell. We sat at a restaurant looking out over Long Beach Park in Auckland and enjoying good food as people strolled along in the bright sunlight before taking a stroll ourselves. We passed under the shadows of the cliffs, gnarled trees above us, silhouetted against the sun as they reached toward the sky, while we clambered over rocks and boulders along the shore.

In contrast, the next day we visited Kare Kare beach. It was miserable rainy, windy weather which only added to the atmosphere as we battled the wind along the shore or huddled in the shelter of the cliffs, watching the pattern of the sands below us as it was whipped along by gales of biting wind.

On the South Island we found the exceptionally beautiful lake Wanaka in the midst of the mountains. This is a truly idyllic setting for a town on the shores of a stunning lake with ice-peaked mountains in the near distance. The views around here are breathtaking and offer something new in every season.

Back to the miserable weather, we explored Milford Sound which was a stunning display of watery might and strength. The water running in rivulets from the towering peaks surrounding us, and the dolphin acrobatics in the misty fjord are etched in my memory along with the amazing pies we enjoyed at Te Anau.

Across the ocean in Australia we enjoyed homemade dahl with our friends in Sydney. Sydney is one of the most recognisable cities in the world. A large, but still homely city with impressive landmarks which is worth mentioning as somewhere everyone enjoys visiting at least once to see the iconic harbour bridge and opera house.

Heading up the east coast from here, we had our fill of the usual tourist destinations. There was Fraser Island with its windswept beaches and bright vistas of sand and sea. Whitehaven beach was everything the tourist brochures claimed it would be with its pale white sands and warm blue waters. The thrill of sailing the blue open seas between the Whitsunday Islands to an almost deserted beach and exploring the brightly coloured world just below the surface of the water far exceeded expectations and was definitely one of the most relaxing days.

The other obvious one from the east coast was the Great Barrier Reef at Cairns. Waves buffeted us out in the open sea as we followed in the wake of sea turtles and large fishes while marvelling at the variety of coral spread out below us.

Malaysia introduced us to spicy chicken tikka and naan bread in Penang, the thought of which still makes my mouth water. The Petronas Twin Towers were impressive as they glittered in the sun during the day, and lit up like silvery christmas trees at night.

In Thailand we found awe-inspiring sunsets on the islands. We also loved Bamboo Rafting on the peaceful Ping River in Chiang Mai. Slowly floating along the river through the silence of the jungle was a surprise bonus on our visit to the elephant camp. The White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand has to be seen to be believed. The simple colour with its ornate decoration and surreal imagery is an amazing achievement even though it’s not complete.

Of the other temples, we enjoyed the monkey temple with its multitude of small animals storming down the cliff to rapidly surround us. Another must-do experience was cooking Thai food at Time for Lime on Koh Lanta.

So that’s some of the best of the trip, which also includes the feel of something new around every corner. Constantly doing things we might never get the opportunity to do again. Exploring new terrains with their differing people and customs. Never staying somewhere long enough to get bored. But there was a flip side to all the good things…

The endless travel – the flights, the getting lost in numerous locations, the flights, the buses, the stream of airports with all the hassle of passing through security, the crowded ferries, and have I mentioned all the flights? Getting shaken around in a 4×4 vehicle for hours on end. And let’s not forget the Sunlander overnight train from Hervey Bay to Airlie Beach.

The weather – the cold and the rain. The cancelled outings because of the bad weather. Then at other times, the heat and humidity so bad you could barely breathe. The bad accommodations, the hostel from hell and particularly the places with insidious bed bugs.

The disappointing locations where you expected to find natural beauty, but instead found rampant commercialism. The godawful stench of Rotorua in New Zealand. The miserable, windy, deserted streets of Wellington. Exploring Kuala Lumpur on foot in the heavy traffic and the open sewers of Penang.

The bad food when we were lucky enough to even find some. The sleepless nights, the vaccinations, the endless task of organising future travel and accommodation constantly hanging over your head, especially on days when everything went wrong. The hassle from the locals when we just wanted to be left alone. The poverty and exploitation evident in many of the tourist villages in poor regions.

The feel of never staying put and resting. Constantly being on the move with no real options for healthy food and exercise. Having to explore new terrains every couple of days to search out sources of food. Never staying somewhere long enough to get over the tiredness that builds up day by day, sapping your appetite for anything new and different to what you’re accustomed to back home…

It’s easy to only focus on one aspect of the trip and forget that there were a lot of components that made it into the once in a lifetime experience that it was. It’s a long, hard road to follow, but it’s also an amazing road full of sights and experiences you couldn’t have imagined. It’s impossible to see so many different cultures and lands and not find your horizons broadened, your viewpoint altered. So it seems even more appropriate to be looking back over the trip as the end of the year approaches. There’s a new year about to begin with a whole new world out there to experience whether we travel somewhere new or stay in one country and look at it in a different way.