Gosh, it seems like just yesterday that I was celebrating the start of a brand new year while drinking alcohol free bubbles and eating far too much cheese on a night shift! I don’t know how, but the years just keep going more and more quickly. 2018 has truly gone in what feels like the blink of an eye, but by the same token, I have packed quite in a lot of adventuring!
In 2018 alone, I travelled to 24 countries, 13 of which were brand new to me. I spent 19 weeks of the year on the road and 33 weeks catching babies back in Australia. I also fell in love with the guy who I’ll probably marry.
It’s been one of the best years of my life and it will definitely be a hard one to top.
So, naturally, as someone who documents the vast majority of her travels, it should come as no surprise that I feel the urge to summarise and celebrate some of the most eventful parts of the year.
So, here are my ten greatest travel moments from 2018 and a handful of the not so great memories for good measure.
Happy New Year and as always, safe travels!
Exploring the sandy magic of Kolmanskop and Sossusvlei in Namibia
If I wanted to, I could really just fill this list up with Namibia highlights! 2018 has been a year filled with so many incredible adventures, so to have an entire country stand out as a highlight is pretty impressive. I had been excited to visit Namibia, but I truly had not been prepared for how much I could fall in love with it.
I am usually a lover of ice, snow and winter, so how on Earth could I possibly fall in love with the arid, dusty and scorching hot Namib landscapes? It seemed unfathomable, but somehow, it happened.
Cruising through the ever-changing scenery in our kitted out 4×4 was bliss. We made our own schedule, we had nobody to answer to and nothing expected of us – we just got to enjoy it!
Although the entire country was pretty much one extended highlights reel, for me the true standouts were the sand dunes of Sossusvlei and the abandoned ghost town of Kolmanskop.
Sossusvlei was special because of how undeniably beautiful it was, whereas Kolmanskop was special because it was unique, eerie and we practically had it to ourselves!
Everything about our stay at Jaci’s Lodges
My travels in 2018 included a handful of press visits and it is probably not surprising to learn that press trips are always pretty awesome! However, even amongst the a high calibre of press trips that I experienced in 2018, there was one undeniable standout.
Our two nights at Jaci’s Safari Lodge were like something out of a dream. The wildlife was far better than I ever could have hoped for, the food was truly innovative, all of the staff were genuinely such fun and entertaining people to spend time with and finally, our villa was right in front of a popular bathing spot for what seemed like every single elephant in Madikwe, which lead to us being able to see and hear ellies from our porch pretty much constantly!
I’d go back to Jaci’s in a split second and I have no doubts that it would be just as utterly perfect as it had been this first time.
Taking a dip in the Devils Pool and staying at Tongabezi
Talk about crossing a bunch of stuff off the bucket list this year!
Taking a dip in the Devil’s Pool had been something I wanted to do for an extremely long time, so being able to finally do it was pretty fricking amazing. This natural infinity pool on the edge of Victoria Falls is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but for those looking for an unbelievable rush, it is an absolute must!
We also got to stay at the most beautiful lodge in all of Zambia during this time, and our stay at Tongabezi was right up there with the amazingness that we had experienced at Jaci’s.
Learning to scuba dive in the Comoros
Now that I look back on it, I really don’t know why I waited so long to learn how to dive!
I had always planned on learning, but the often high price tag associated with the open water course had successfully kept me limited to snorkelling for years.
Learning to dive in Comoros was a completely last minute decision, but one that I am so glad to have made. Not only were we blessed with an awesome instructor, but the waters surrounding Moheli are an untouched ocean paradise. Diving allowed me to see so many more ocean inhabitants, and gave me a feeling of awe, peace and calmness all at once.
I can’t wait to go diving again!
Spotting the Big 5
It seems like many people have similar goals when on safari, and I was certainly no exception. I had such high hopes that I’d see the Big 5, so it was rather special that I spotted all the wildlife I had hoped to.
As it turned out, elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards and buffalo were just the beginning! We also ended up seeing the ever elusive African wild dog, cheetahs, hippos and much more.
Hiking around Lake Sørvágsvatn
I gotta be honest, the vast majority of our time in the Faroe Islands was inhibited by an unrelenting and torrential downpour. I had very much underestimated the Faroes propensity for rainfall!
However, we were lucky enough to be there for one day of clear weather, which meant that we were able to do the hike around Lake Sørvágsvatn, which was the thing I wanted to do most while in the Faroes.
As it turned out, this hike was certainly worth waiting for. The view of the lake above the ocean was even more magical than I had expected, and was a truly spectacular and undeniably unique spot that made withstanding such terrible weather completely worthwhile.
I’d travel to the Faroe Islands again in a veritable heartbeat, and I’d endure the miserable weather with a smile on my face, just as long as I got to do this spectacular hike once more.
Driving from Edinburgh to Skye via Fife, Aberdeen and Inverness
Basically, our entire road trip around Scotland was one beautiful landscape after another. The roads are easy to navigate, delicious food is abundant and if you are a Jamie loving Outlander enthusiast, you’ll find yourself spotting many places that were used for filming along the way.
Highlights of this road trip included the picturesque Fife Coastal Route, Craigievar Castle, Eilean Donan Castle and the otherworldly Fairy Glen that is pictured below.
Eating the greatest meal of my life at Qunu in Johannesburg
Over the years, I have come to expect very little from hotel restaurants, but every once in a while, there is one that just blows you away.
Qunu is one such restaurant.
We were treated to an undeniably special three course meal, which easily stands out as being the best meal that I’ve ever had. Words cannot describe the exquisiteness of the steak diane (cooked in front of you), the tenderness of the pork belly, the stunning presentation of my choc-orange dessert and the impeccable cocktail and wine pairings.
Since this meal I have gone pescetarian, but I’d make an exception to eat the steak diane at Qunu once again.
Discovering a new favourite waterfall at Háifoss
I really thought that waterfalls didn’t get more magical than gorgeous Goðafoss, but upon making it to Háifoss, I discovered that they really do! Getting to this stunning waterfall really did mean risking our rental car insurance, as the track is 4×4 only for good reason. I was glad that we took the risk, and even more glad that we didn’t kill our 2×2, because it meant making it to one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever seen.
But fair warning, you really shouldn’t attempt this track without a 4×4 vehicle!
Eating breakfast with giraffes in Kenya
Some experiences are just worth splurging on. Sometimes the high price tag is completely justified.
This was very true of our stay at Giraffe Manor.
Was the cost exorbitant? Yes.
Was it worth it to get so up close and personal with these magnificent creatures? Abso-fricking-lutely!
Our one night at the manor gave me memories that will stay with me for life, and for that reason, it earns the final spot on this list.
Missing a flight in Vietnam
…due to my own stupidity!
On our first full day in Vietnam we arrived to the airport with (what I thought was) plenty of time. However, this absolute nincompoop had actually looked at the flights arrival time instead of the departure time; and as a result, our flight had already left!
This was not a good feeling, and having to pay airport prices to rebook on the next flight made the sting of making such a mistake even worse.
Getting eaten by bed bugs
This year I got attacked by the dreaded bed bugs for the third time in my life. Naively, I kind of thought that now that I am a bit older (and spending far less time in dorms) that I wouldn’t have to encounter these awful beasts anymore, but alas, it turns out that even when you pay a decent chunk of change, bed bugs are still a horrid possibility.
We had to spend a night in Dar Es Salaam and it made sense to stay near the airport. However, there were no nice Crowne or Hilton airport hotels to be seen, so after a fair bit of research, we settled on a small airport hotel that had a rating over 8.5 on booking.com and decent reviews. We spent over $50 USD for any extremely basic room, so you can imagine my displeasure upon feeling the telltale itching and subsequently finding the dreaded bugs.
The woman managing the hotel initially had the gall to only offer us bug spray, but after a firm word we were moved to a new room, but even this had bugs in the bed; although thankfully these were not actual bedbugs.
The terrible itchiness for the next week or so was definitely not a fun experience!
Trying to transfer flights in Dar Es Salaam
You can probably tell that I didn’t exactly love Dar Es Salaam! When we first arrived into Tanzania from Johannesburg, we needed to obtain visas and transfer terminals in 2.5 hours, which sounds like it should be plenty of time, but instead we almost missed our domestic connection!
Firstly, getting a visa on arrival in the middle of the day was extremely chaotic. The process took close to an hour, and this was actually faster than most! If it weren’t for the guy prompting people with connecting flights to move to the front of the queue, we definitely would have missed our flight.
Once we finally made it through, it was time to transfer from the international terminal to the domestic. This was not as easy as it sounds. The signage at this airport is pretty appalling and there were no clear signs directing us where to go. We eventually found the office of the domestic airline with which we would be flying, and they provided a minibus transfer between terminals. It is worth noting that it would take 15-20 minutes (at least) to walk between the terminals.
We finally arrived at the domestic terminal, but we still had a ways to go. Once entering the building a man asked to see a print out of our ticket, which I didn’t have – it is 2018 after all! We explained that we needed to go to the counter to check in, something I thought would have been a given, but he seemed extremely determined to slow us down. It took at least ten minutes of frustrated negotiation before he allowed us to move to the check in desk, and he even followed us and spoke in annoyed Swahili to the girl at the desk and though I can’t speak Swahili, it was obvious that he was annoyed that she didn’t find our lack of a printed ticket an issue.
Then to top it all off, our flight left 40 minutes before the scheduled departure time!
We were extremely lucky to have made that connection.
Rental car issues in Iceland
I won’t go into detail here, but on our final morning in Iceland on our way back to airport we had a slight mishap with our rental car, and I was sure that we were going to get slammed with an enormous fee, which was something that I couldn’t really afford.
Luckily, that didn’t happen, but the stress that it gave me was certainly not fun!
Needing to tell off a pervy old man in an airport lounge
People go to airport lounges to escape the discomfort of airports, not to find it! Basically, we were relaxing in an airport lounge in Johannesburg, and there was a man a few seats away from me who seemed incapable of not staring at me. When Dan went to go to the toilet this staring completely intensified, and it was honed in on one area and one area only – my cleavage.
In the end, I frustratedly asked ‘hasn’t anyone ever told you that it’s rude to stare?’ I then told him that he was a disgusting perv and stormed out of the lounge.
I wasn’t even showing a lot of cleavage! I was wearing the dress shown in this next picture; it is hardly a scandalous piece of garb!
Thinking I’m doing the right thing at Saksun… but finding out that I’m not!
Saksun is one of the most visited spots in the Faroe Islands, something that the land owners in the area absolutely despise. I had read online that these owners really hate tourists damaging their land, so I was conscious to try and be as respectful as I possibly could.
However, due to some rather vague signage, I ended up doing the complete opposite of what I intended!
I spotted what looked like a clear a trail leading down to the beach thought that it would be a beautiful walk. On the way, I came across a bunch of signs saying ‘stay off the grass’ and figured that this meant that people should stay on the trail – not a completely outlandish assumption.
After about twenty minutes on this trail, we were accosted by a Faroese man on a quad bike who came up to us, shouting that he was ‘sick of tourists raping these lands’ and that we were trespassing on private property. He then proceeded to ask us if we were blind or just not capable of reading, and I was so taken aback that all I could do was apologise. But really, in hindsight, those signs never actually informed us that it was private property and they never told us not to pass, they just said to keep off the grass.
I felt totally crummy that it had happened (I pride myself on being a respectful traveller, and this made me feel like the complete opposite) but really, those signs need to be more clear so that people don’t make the same mistake that I did. Furthermore, I’d say that the guy tearing up grass with his quad bike was probably doing more damage to the land than we were! Also, as someone that has actually been raped, I found his use of the word completely uncalled for and offensive. If that is his idea of being ‘raped’ then the guy is extremely lucky.
It put quite the dampener on our time in the Faroes, and despite Saksun being a beautiful and scenic place that the Faroese tourism board lists as a must visit spot for ‘sightseeing’ on their website, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to go, as it is clear that the locals do not want any foreigners around.
Almost missing a flight in the Comoros for the most stupid reason
Our experiences with domestic flights within Comoros weren’t exactly great. Our first flight was from Moroni to Moheli with AB Aviation – a 25 minute flight. However, it took a lot longer than 25 minutes!
We arrived at the proposed check in time and checked in without any issues. In the line, we met a lovely Comorian guy who had lived in New York and Paris, and was one of the very few people we met who had a good grasp on the English language. This guy ended up being our saving grace.
We waited for over two hours for our flight before finding out that there were ‘troubles’ on the third Comorian island of Anjouan. The flight to Anjouan had been cancelled, and our plane had been delayed in order to be used by the military to transport personnel to the island to attempt to control what we later learnt were the relatively frequent politically motivated riots.
We then waited for another two hours in the box that they call an airport (it is literally a concrete box with chairs) before Dan got fed up. I hadn’t eaten since the day before and as a result, was feeling like absolute shit. We were only told ‘soon’ and to ‘wait’ with no further information. So, after two hours of getting told ‘soon’, Dan decided that he would go to the international terminal to get me some food because by this point, I was so nauseated that it was all I could do not to vomit my guts up all over the concrete floor.
Of course, two minutes after he’d left, they announced boarding.
As I can only utter a few words in French, I was unable to communicate where Dan had gone and what had happened.
I was torn. I knew that if I left to find Dan that we would miss our flight and that our bags would end up on Moheli two days before we would, so I couldn’t leave. But staying posed problems too, as nobody seemed to understand why I wouldn’t board the plane.
Luckily, our new Comorian friend came to the rescue and informed airport personnel of where Dan had gone. They seemed incredibly annoyed by this, and still tried to usher me onto the plane, which I of course refused. After a few minutes of negotiation, they sent someone to the international terminal to find him, and luckily, we both made it onto the flight.
It was probably the most stressful twenty minutes of our time in Africa, and if we had just been given simple information like the ETA of our aircraft, it could have all been avoided.
But, things aren’t exactly well run in the Comoros, and mishaps such as this one are not at all uncommon.
Luckily, none of these travel lows resulted in any major issues, and overall, my 2018 was much more filled with highs than it was with lows.
Here’s hoping 2019 continues in the same vein!
Happy New Year, and as always, safe travels.