Yep, it’s that time again! Lord only knows how, but another year has disappeared before my very eyes. 2019 has been an undeniably tumultuous year for me. Life plans were made and quickly disintegrated. Relationships dissolved and others were forged. I returned to some of my favourite places and travelled to a bunch of incredible new ones too.
Like the year before, 2019 started for me whilst on a night shift in Darwin. I ended up spending the first four months of the year in Darwin without going on any adventures. This was because I took off several months from all types of work to undergo two reconstructive plastic surgeries. The recovery was pretty brutal and took me to the lowest point I’d been in a very long time. The second surgery took an enormous toll on both my physical and mental health – so much so that I found myself suddenly and terrifyingly depressed, and even suicidal. This huge lapse in my mental health was due to a number of factors. I had an absolutely overwhelming pain response, I had had a huge amount of general anaesthetic in a short space of time, I was taking an enormous amount of opioids and remained in excruciating pain. I also felt like the results weren’t that good, and in all honesty, I got absolutely no support from the one person who I wanted it from – my then partner, Dan.
I recovered from this serious case of the post surgery blues within about a month, which doesn’t sound like that long, but it honestly felt like a year. I hadn’t been so depressed since I was an obese teenager, and though I still need some corrections from the second surgery, I am in no rush to go back under the knife.
In late April (and still fresh from my operations) I travelled to Melbourne to attend Dan’s sisters wedding. I had a lovely time despite my depressed state.
As it turned out, that would be the last time that I would see Dan again. We broke up in June, which left me feeling pretty heartbroken. Long distance was hard, but at that point I wasn’t really ready to give up on us. However, by August, Dan decided that he wanted to get back together, but by this time, I wasn’t really sure if that was what I wanted. In October I called him and told him not to book flights to Darwin. I had fallen out of love with him and had started to move on. As much as I had loved Dan, being apart allowed me to see the (numerous) problems in our relationship and really demonstrated to me that we had irreparable differences regarding what we wanted from life. I decided that I did not want to try again, and that instead, I wanted to make plans for a future that I don’t know if I could have had with him.
There are no hard feelings between us and we still message each other semi regularly, but we both know that we aren’t right for each other. Dan wants to live and work in Melbourne. He wants to get married and have kids. I don’t want to do any of that.
To be perfectly honest, writing this down makes me rather sad. I honestly thought that he would be the man that I would spend the rest of my life with. There are still some days where I wonder if I made the right decision, but ultimately, I think that parting ways was the right thing for us.
By early June (and ever so slightly pre break-up) I was fully recovered from my surgeries (both mentally and physically) and keen to get back on the travel horse. I hadn’t been overseas in over six months by this point, which is the longest time I have gone without international travel since mid 2015.
I was lucky enough to be given two press stay opportunities which were both just a short boat ride away from each other!
After flying to Singapore and catching a 90 minute ferry, I found myself in Bintan, Indonesia. I then transferred via land (and another boat ride) to the magnificent Joyo Island. My two glorious nights marooned on this rustic island were spent reading, relaxing, eating, knocking back beers and splashing around in the truly glorious ocean.
After Joyo, it was time to transfer to nearby Cempedak Private Island.
Despite being very close to Joyo, the vibe of Cempedak was totally different, which was great, as it meant that things didn’t become a bit ‘same-same’. I stayed in an enormous villa with one of the prettiest private plunge pools that I have ever seen.
My two days at Cempedak were spent downing cocktails, getting massages, cranking tunes and floating around in the aforementioned pool.
It was heavenly.
Not long after I had recovered from my operations and started back at work, one of my favourite friends – Jasmine – said that we should bugger off to somewhere in Asia for a week together, and you best believe I wasn’t gonna say no!
We had initially planned to visit Laos, but the flight schedule just didn’t quite match up with our free days. I quickly suggested Myanmar as an alternative – I had loved my visit in 2017 and ever since, had been itching to return.
So, in June, off we went!
We started our adventure in the historic area of Bagan. We spent our time trying not to crash our e-bike, searching for pagodas that were still climbable and eating our body weight in tamarind leaf salad – it was perfect.
Next, we ventured to Mandalay. This was one of the places that I hadn’t had the chance to visit on my first trip to Myanmar, and thus I was extra excited to explore some new and beautiful gems.
Our first stop was the stunning waterfall of Dee Doke. It was gorgeous and serene for about fifteen minutes… but that all changed when about thirty Burmese teenagers showed up with an enormous stereo!
These teens proceeded to play Despacito on repeat and turned the place into a bit of a daytime rave, making it one of my most fun and unexpected travel experiences of the entire year.
The other reasons I wanted to go to Mandalay were the Mingun and Hsinbyume pagodas. These unique pagodas are quite popular on the ‘gram and thus I expected to face a huge mob of other travellers during our, but we ended up having them almost to ourselves, which made the experience even better.
In August, Papa Burne and I were bound for Tonga. I had visited this same area in August of 2017 to swim with humpback whales and had been dreaming of going back ever since. So, when Daddio told me that he would love to do it too, we put a plan in motion.
I decided that we would return to the Sea Change Eco Retreat in Ha’apai, and we managed to get some absolutely phenomenal swims in.
It had been special the first time, but it was even more special to do it with my father.
Due to the flight schedule, I had to go via New Zealand when coming home from Tonga. I only had one night and one half day in Auckland (Daddio stayed on longer) and originally we had planned to just have a low key morning before my flight departed at 4pm.
However, I have always wanted to visit Hobbiton and after researching the length of the drive from Auckland to Matamata, I decided that if we left super early, then we would have time to make the journey.
Dad actually bought a hardcover copy of The Hobbit for me when I was around seven years old as it had been one of his favourite childhood books. We have spent much time bonding over this shared love of LoTR and thus it was something very special to do with my Dad.
We both absolutely adored our visit, much more than we had expected to. It was a wonderful experience to have on its own, but much like Tonga, it was extra special because I was with my Dad.
This past year, my home town of Darwin had an absolutely ripper dry season. The perfect weather made exploring more of my own home very easy and very appealing.
Such exploring included a return trip to Litchfield National Park, complete with a successfully acquired drone permit!
Ever since I had moved to Darwin, going on a helicopter pub crawl had been at the top of my ‘Top End Bucket List’ – so when the beautiful Jasmine announced that she would be moving back to Adelaide, it seemed like the perfect excuse to finally do it.
We spent an entire day choppering from one remote outback pub to another, landing on beaches, spotting crocodiles, turtles and more along the way – with a brewski in hand the entire time! It was easily one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Lastly, I also had the opportunity to visit Matt Wright’s Top End Safari Camp. This overnight adventure involved airboats, choppers and an enormous crocodillian named Tripod – it was a pretty epic weekend!
In September, a few girlfriends from work and I took a little long weekend getaway to Bali. From a travel perspective it wasn’t anything special, but it was certainly nice to get daily massages, pedicures and eat a seemingly endless feast of delicious food.
In early November I travelled all the way from Australia to Botswana to start a 7-week Africa adventure. Botswana is an enormous country and I only had a few free days, so I decided that instead of trying to cram a traditional safari into too short a space of time, it would make more sense to try and just accomplish one thing.
That thing? Well, I set out to finally see meerkats in the wild, and boy oh boy, it did not disappoint.
From Botswana, I flew to Joburg and met up with one of my favourite humans – Chelsea. If the name sounds familiar, it is because we are no strangers to travelling together. If you are familiar with my first Myanmar series or my 2018 Iceland series, you will know who I am talking about.
After meeting up, we picked up a rental and drove all the way to Cheetah Plains – an exclusive private reserve located within the Sabi Sands National Park. Our safari was absolutely phenomenal, and the accommodation was some of the most astoundingly special that I had ever encountered.
From Cheetah Plains, we drove back to Joburg and hopped on a flight bound for Cape Town. We spent four glorious days eating until our jeans were basically exploding and drinking enough wine to tranquilise a horse. Other than the one day that involved a seriously thumping hangover, it pretty blissful.
We then flew into Kigali. We were not visiting Rwanda to explore, on this trip, we were more using it as a stepping stone to the DRC. However, we did still manage to visit the horrifically moving Genocide Museum and Memorial – something that anyone visiting Rwanda simply must see.
Democratic Republic of Congo
From Kigali, we made our way to the DRC border crossing. We travelled to the DRC to see the critically endangered mountain gorillas that call the Virunga National Park home. Our visit was extremely well organised (thanks to the team at Virunga NP), far more comfortable than expected and exceeded every expectation.
The hour we spent with the gorillas was better than I ever could have imagined, and will easily be remembered as one of the greatest things I have ever done.
It would have made more geographical sense to go to Sudan after Ethiopia, but due to a severe bout of visa stress, it ended up being easier for us to go to Sudan first.
Sudan ended up being far easier to travel solo than I had anticipated, although I found my patience tested just about every single day. However, despite the frequent frustrations and neverending humbug, it was a true highlight for me this year.
We travelled via public bus from Khartoum to Karima and Meroe before heading back to the capital. On the way, we visited unbelievably well preserved tombs, roadside pyramids with nobody around and stunning deserts. We ate average ful (a traditional bean dish), outrageously good chicken and perfectly delicious sweets. The language barrier was real, but locals – especially women – were helpful and kind. I look back now on my time in Sudan and honestly, I would really like to go back one day.
Next, we travelled to Ethiopia.
I had been extremely excited to visit Ethiopia, but I must admit, I left with very mixed feelings. I experienced pretty much constant verbal sexual harassment, from men who thought they simply couldn’t not tell me about they liked my ass. It was frustrating, at times unnerving and it seriously put a dampener on my time there. I have travelled to many African and Middle-Eastern countries, but this was the first time I felt really uncomfortable and frustrated within one.
Not only were the catcalls neverending, so were the beggars and so were the humbuggers. I have never been so forcefully and so frequently told that I needed a guide. I actually went to Lalibela wanting a tour guide, but all the touts there were so obnoxious, rude and forceful that in the end, we went without because we didn’t want to give these assholes our money!
They only place where this did not happen to us was at Gondar Castle, where they had an official office and everything was above board.
Furthermore, there are some seriously silly rules in Ethiopia. Women can’t share a double bed, so you’ll have to get a room with two singles, and you better believe that that will cost you more money – but of course, to make this even more confusing, it is a rule that is only selectively enforced. Oh, and if you are left with some extra birr when you go to leave? Bad luck, you cannot exchange it back to any other currency and duty free shops in the airport don’t accept it – something I learned the hard way – it’s a total cash grab, and it means that I left with quite a sour taste in my mouth.
However, despite all the negatives, Ethiopia is still a very naturally stunning country, with a lot of amazing places to visit – for me, the Dallol Depression, the Danakil salt flats and the rock churches of Ethiopia were absolutely incredible, and well worth all of the aforementioned hassles.
I absolutely do not regret going, but I must admit, I am not in a rush to go back.
From Ethiopia, I flew to the capital of Antananarivo – or Tana, as it is called by literally everyone – in Madagascar. After overnighting in the capital, I flew via domestic flight to Antsiranana in the North-East of the country. From there, it was just a 30 minute helicopter flight to the island of Nosy Ankao, home to the utter magic that is, Time + Tide Miavana.
Time + Tide Miavana is one of the most exclusive and innovative resorts on the planet. During my stay, I got to experience unique and abundant wildlife whilst staying in a level of luxury that can only be described as utterly wild.
The blogs from this once in a lifetime adventure are coming (very) soon with far more detail, but in the meantime, I will leave you with a couple of photographic previews.
10 thoughts on “My Year in Travel Photos: 2019 Edition”
I am sorry to read your news. I thought you had all of this life things sorted there. I’m glad you’ve recovered although I’m sorry it seems to have been such a bad experience but if you need any encouragement about how great you’re doing just look what you’ve squeezed into six months. I did none of that in a whole year and to be honest some regular trips to Manchester in December was an achievement for me and I just live down the road. All my best for the space-age 2020. Keep catching those babies.
I’m happy that you got through all the surgeries OK Ellen! Your photos are beautiful from all around the world! I’m sorry about your relationship, it sounds like you made the right decision. I have avoided relationships for three years now after the D. I wish all the best for you this new year Ellen, be well! ❤️
Here’s to a much more positive year relationship and health wise! Sounds like you have great friends and family though, which is very important. And you still have that thirst for adventure. Happy New Year. Xx
Once again, thank you for your insight and inspiration, as this was the year that I did my solo RTW trip. There are still places that I have wanted to see, and you have added to that list, just in your trips this year.
Great post 🙂
Sorry to hear about your breakup and surgeries, but your travel pictures are stunning. Especially Indonesia and Myanmar x
Hey hope is not too late to wish you a Happy New Year! anyway great post & awesome photos you got there. All i can say is despite of what happen, you got great friends and family who keeps supporting you. Never give up!
Ellen, I am so sorry to read about your surgical and mental difficulties. It must have taken a lot of courage for you to write about your severe depression. Also, I am very saddened to learn about the relationship issues. My guess is that you probably knew during the surgical recovery that things weren’t what you wanted, and that probably added to your depression. Glad you followed your gut; I am sure you made the right choice as tough as it was.
Back in 2016, I almost took my own life due to a long string of complex issues far too numerous to write about here. The suicidal feelings, urges really, culminated with the election of Trump; I seriously could not even contemplate living in a fascist dictatorship, although it does appear that our country may indeed be headed that way. For me, my blog seemed to be therapeutic, and it still is. Writing and sharing is what got me back. I am not sure that I would still be here today were it not for my blog and the global connections with people like you who restored my faith in humanity.
Enough of that however. I haven’t seen many of your posts for many months, partly due to a huge change in my work that cut down on my reading time and I gather now partly due to your own life. I was so happy to read this post, and as always your writing and photos are incredible.
Maybe I can say one thing that I noticed in your posts from earlier in 2019 and later 2018. I have always found your blog not only informative, but quite entertaining as you were alway injecting your personality and experiences into stories, like when you fell on your knee on the ice in Greenland and wondering whether your Dad read about your sexual exploits. Those little tidbits of yourself always made the story like I was right there next you, and we were sharing our memories of the day over a beer or something. I didn’t feel or see that last year, and frankly, I missed it.
However, this post has that Ellen persona back again. I was troubled by your Ethiopian sexual harassment experiences; I’m sure that was somewhat frightening as well as annoying. But that added text brought that story out as you. I can totally feel that experience now as if I were there with you.
So, here’s to a better 2020 for us all, and I am so glad to see that you are back to putting yourself into these posts. That’s why I follow you! Oh, I love the photos; you have a real talent, but it is the story of Ellen that makes me smile, feel sad and most of all want to keep reading about your adventures.
Thanks as always for sharing.
Your friend from the States,
I’m praying and working out to have the courage to travel solo. I really want to do it. ☺️
Your photos are stunning. Sorry to hear about your hardships in the first half of the year. I too had a low in my mental health for a few months after injuring my back and not being able to go anywhere so I can empathise. The uncontrolled pain must have been so tough, you were so brave. Wishing you happy travels for 2020. I always enjoy reading about your adventures.