There’s just a few hours left of the year 2016 here on the East Coast of the United States and, before the clock strikes midnight, it’s time for a reflection.
As I prepare to write this, 2016 doesn’t feel like it was a big year of travel for me. Perhaps no year will ever feel like a big year for travel again after the year I spent visiting 25 countries at age 25. But if I stop and look back, I realize my memory faults me. This year really was packed with travel. I made it to six new countries in 2016 – Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Papua New Guinea, increasing my overall country count to 46.
Below is a short reflection on my travels throughout the year and the lessons they taught me. Here’s a look back at my 10 favorite travel moments of 2016 (in order):
10. Montezuma, Costa Rica
Today the jungles of Central America feel like a distant dream. But, as outlandish as it now seems, at this time last year I was living in the rainforest of Costa Rica while working as a Marketing Manager at an outdoor education company.
I started 2016 off with a big leap – literally. One of my first trips of the year was to Montezuma, a small pueblo located on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Penninsula. In Montezuma I soaked up Costa Rica’s iconic beauty with long walks along the beach and hikes through the rainforest. The highlight of this trip was a hike to the Montezuma falls, a trio of waterfalls, where I jumped from 50-feet off the tallest waterfall into a pool of fresh water.
Of all the daring activities I’ve done in my travels, jumping from such a height was one of the scariest, but I pushed through my fear and learned an important lesson — It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t let fear stop you from doing something bad ass.
Read more about my big leap in Costa Rica here.
9. The Andes
In March my 18-month journey in Costa Rica came to an end as I completed my work contract. Before returning to the States I embarked on one last aventura and set foot on the South American continent for the first time on a ten-day trek through Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.
The landscapes of South America, so vast and wide, impressed me as I traveled by bus from Santiago across the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina’s wine region, and onto Buenos Aires. While in Chile I took a day trip to El Yeso Reservoir and overlooked the stunning mountain range.
Living in the rainforest was a a huge challenge for me, and at times as the rain peppered down day after day in wet season, I questioned if my pursuit of travel was worth it. Standing here, looking out at the snow capped mountains the magic of being in such a beautiful place washed over me and filled my soul up with life, reminding me why I travel and why I hope to always travel.
Read more about my visit to the Andes here.
8. La La Land
In April one of my long held dreams came true and I got to move to Los Angeles for a job in international marketing. I’m a native Californian and I had been feeling for some time that it was time for me to return to my home state. My brother Sean is a Senior at USC. Thanks to him, I had the opportunity to get to know the city better over the past few years, so that when the time came to move it already felt a bit like home. Thank you Sean!
I love LA. There’s such a spirit of optimism in the city and LA is a place where it feels like anything is possible. Call me cheesy, but surrounded by the city’s famous dreamers and doers, I feel I can be whoever I want to be and achieve anything I set my mind to.
When I return to California in January, I’m moving to a new apartment in the beachside community of Playa del Rey. I look forward to exploring new places, establishing a new routine, and the shorter commute to work!
Read more about my move to Los Angeles here.
This May, after travels that took me around the world from Paris and Madrid to Costa Rica and Cuba, I got to head down under again to the very place that solidified my identity as a rambler six years ago on an experience with study abroad – Australia. More specifically I got to visit Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, on a business trip. I spend many of my days at work marketing the rock, as well as the rest of Central Australia now.
For my journey to come full circle in this way is a big moment for me – the kind of moment that only comes around a few times in life perhaps, and reminded me that my path had a purpose far beyond my understanding.
Read more about my thoughts on returning to Uluru here.
6. Crocosaurus Cove
From behind the safety of sturdy glass, my childhood Steve Irwin-inspired dreams came true as I swam with a saltwater crocodile. In addition to filling me with a heart-pounding sense of wonder, I also came to greater appreciate these magnificent creatures, as I swam inches from their powerful teeth and white leather skin. Swimming with crocodiles taught me that in the details there are mountains of beauty waiting to be observed.
5. Iguazu Falls
The universe blessed me with great irony this year. As my time in Costa Rica came to an end, praying my “dream job” in travel marketing would come through in LA, I planned a last-minute trip in the two week window I’d thought I’d have before starting. I used this sliver of time (and the last of savings I could spare before relocating to California) to visit Chile and Argentina. I chose these two locations because I’d never been to South America before and was certain it would be a while before I’d have a chance to go back. On my first day of my new job a miracle happened – I learned I’d soon be going on a business trip to, of all places, back to Chile, along with Argentina and Brazil, a new country for me.
Because I had already seen many of the sights in Buenos Aires, I squeezed in a day trip to Iguazu Falls and crossed the border into Argentina. The power of Iguazu Falls is all encompassing, and here, standing in this corner of the globe, for at least a moment in time, I felt peace on Earth.
Read more about my visit to Iguazu Falls here.
4. The Atacama Desert of Chile
Along with Iguazu Falls, I also spent a weekend following the trip exploring the Atacama Desert in Chile, visiting such otherworldly locations as Moon Valley and Laguna de Cejar. The windswept landscapes of the desert took my breath away and I was reminded with some words from The Little Prince.
“Yes,” I said to the little prince. “The house, the stars, the desert– what gives them their beauty is something that is invisible!”
I’ve come to agree that the world is full of invisible beauty, of treasures that aren’t actually hidden at all. Sometimes these treasures are marked clearly on maps and sometimes they await us down accidental paths. But always this invisible beauty is within our reach, just a short car ride, a plane trip, a bold decision away.
Read more about my visit to the Atacama Desert here.
3. The Highlands of Papua New Guinea
As part of my job in international marketing, this year I visited my 46th country – Papua New Guinea. And oh what a wondrous 46th country it was! After meetings in Port Moresby and scuba diving in Kaveing, I flew to the Highlands where I had the privilege of meeting a variety of tribes and learning more about their culture and way of life.
The Highlands are the most densely populated region of Papua New Guinea, a country that is home to more than 700 cultures and 850 languages.
While touring the Highlands I met the iconic Asaro mud men and my new friend Robert took me under his wing to teach me their moves. Thank you Robert! It’s the ultimate gift when people who live half way around the world from you welcome you with open arms and invite you to be part of their traditions.
2. The Children of Papua New Guinea
From the shores of Fisherman’s Island to the roads of Kavieng, I spent much of my visit to the country playing with children, swimming, touching eels, eating coconut, swinging off ropes into freshwater swimming holes and running through villages playing tag and soccer. The children of Papua New Guinea touched my heart big time, and their smiles lit me up both in person and in memory long after I returned back to California.
All the little friends I made throughout the country were a beautiful reminder that the best part of travel is always, always the people.
1. New Orleans
One of my last trips of the year was to New Orleans, a city I loathed after a bad visit with my family at age 15. I returned this Fall for a business trip and my time there not only illuminated me to the city’s fascinating history, but also transformed my view of my own Country. My travels in New Orleans are a subject I hope to write more about in early 2017.
The experience reminded me to dig a little deeper in my travels – great knowledge may be lingering below the surface and first impressions don’t have to be last impressions.
I’d like to end with a big shout out to all those of you who followed my 2016 adventures here on Something In Her Ramblings. Here’s to a bright and bold 2017!