Friday, 1 August 2014

Highlights of the Year

So with my long road to Rio trip all but over what else is there left to do? Well, like a 90s sitcom that has run out of ideas but still needs to add some content using a clip show, it's time for a best/worst of list.

Below represents the best, worst and most memorable moments or places in my trip. Of course it's hard to pack a years worth of memories in to one blog post, but here goes...

Best Food
Anyone who has followed this blog knows that food has been a big part of it. For me trying all of the local cuisine is right near the top of the list of things I want to do whenever I get to a new country or region. The food has varied greatly on this trip, from the average (Central America, really, you need more than just beans and rice) to the downright amazing.

While Brazil and Argentina have been welcome changes from the rest of Latin America at the tail end of my trip, the best food I've had on this trip is without doubt from India and Mexico. There's no real surprise in either of these; both styles of food have been favourites of mine for a long time. The big surprise was how little I really knew about both region's food.

India's array of food left me realising that while I can cook an ok curry, I need to do more to get anywhere near the level of the local stuff. Mexico, on the other hand had flavours I did not even know existed. With what passes for Mexican food so vastly different in Australia, I think the only way I will ever get that level of quality again is a return trip to Mexico.

Tacos al pastor - I miss you already!

Best Historical Landmark
This was one thing I saw a great deal of during the year. From The Taj Mahal in India, to Machu Picchu in Peru, to Chichen Itza in Mexico, there was rarely a time where i wasn't coming from or on my way to a great historical place.

As incredible as all of the above places were though (and really, they were) I think my favourite was one of Mexico's lesser known sites, Palenque. While the buildings of Chichen Itza may be more impressive, the understated surroundings of Palenque (still surrounded and partially covered in jungle) make it more impressive. Also, with only a fraction of the daily crowds of its much more well known neighbor, Palenque gives you a chance to feel a little more alone, and a feeling of what it might have been like for those that discovered it.

Ruins of Palenque

Best Sporting Event
With a blog all about my year long journey to the World Cup in Brazil, what else would you expect me to put here?

Having said that, I've been to a lot more than just the World Cup in this trip. I attended my first NFL game, two NHL games, five NBA games and gone to visit the stadium where one of the most infamous moments in world sport occurred.

Nothing will really ever top the high of the World Cup though. With amazing matches day after day, a feisty Australian team taking it right up to some of the world's best sides and national pride overflowing, the entire month (which I spread between Brazil and finalists, Argentina) was a testament to what I love about sport.

Going to the World Cup was a dream come true

Greatest Hosts
Ok, this is not easy. Throughout my trip I've had some incredible hosts, from old friends, new friends, friends of friends and randoms whom I've just met.

I've used couch surfing and found some great new friends as well as stayed with old friends throughout my trip. Even now, in the last days of my trip, I've been able to stay with new friends in Santiago that I only met a couple of weeks ago.

Aside from staying with people I've been lucky enough to have people show me around their cities. Some of these people were friends before, while others were friends-of-friends who were happy to give up their time to help out a traveller and help me to appreciate their home town as much as they do.

It is hard to go past my "Mexican family" for the honour of greatest hosts though. After losing my debit card soon after arriving in Mexico City, I was at a bit of a loss as to what I was going to do. But my Mexican hosts simply welcomed me into their family and any stress from the loss (and long time waiting for the card) was gone. In the end I was able to join them for Christmas and New Years celebrations, which was a great experience and definitely one of the top highlights of this trip.

My "Mexican family" 

Worst Moment
Anytime you leave the comforts of home things will go wrong. If you're lucky it will just be delays or booking errors, but sometimes it can get really bad. With so many people that I know who've travelled through Latin America having horror stories, I left expecting the worst. I took only stuff I wouldn't mind losing (a four year old iPOD and a very cheap laptop were my most expensive items) and got every vaccination known to man. In the end I was glad for both, but not for the reasons I thought.

While both of my "expensive" items have been damaged during the trip (both through my own clumsiness) and I had a few less than desirable border crossings, I have been very lucky on this trip except for one wildlife encounter.

The worst moment came when I was attacked by a pack of territorial dogs in Guatemalan town of San Pedro on Lake Atitlan. While I am sure the dogs were merely trying to get me out of their territory rather than being rabid, I was extremely glad to know that I had, before leaving Australia, had the pre-exposure rabies vaccine and therefore only needed the two booster shots after the attack.

Despite this moment - which was the most terrifying thing to ever happen to me - the fact that I got out if it with only a couple of jabs, a few lost days and a little bit of out of pocket expenses makes me feel very fortunate.

Friendliest People
I kind of painted myself into a corner in the first week of my trip when I said that I thought the people of Burma (Myanmar) were possibly the friendliest in the world. Since then I've met people from all ove the world who've made me think their country perhaps deserves that honour. While I have met amazing people in every country I've been to (I've truly been fortunate) there are a few countries that do stand out among the rest.

Burma is still well and truly in the mix. The people there have every reason to be cautious of foreigners like myself, but in reality it couldn't be further from the truth. Virtually everyone I encountered was warm, very giving and genuine and was curious about what I was doing in their country and how they could help my stay.

Since that post, three other countries have stood out, and all three are from Latin America; Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. I was lucky enough to meet people in each of these countries that went out of their way to make sure I had a good time. It was never just a one off either, in each place I encountered many people willing to help me out, show me around, offer me a place to stay and all looking for nothing in return other than knowing that I had a great time in their country - something I certainly did in each of these places. Is it any wonder these are the three countries I'm interested in returning to in the future?

I was lucky enough to meet great people everywhere I went

Single Best Moment
I obviously had some incredible moments throughout the year and it is really unfair to declare one moment "the best", but in this situation I think it is kind of hard to argue.

When "Super" Timmy Cahill cracked that volleyed goal against Holland in Australia's second match to pull the Socceroos level 1-1 it sent me and the Aussie fans around me into hysterics.

While we were all proud of the way Australia fought back in its opening round match against Chile, we were all incredibly nervous for the follow up match against Holland. After Dutch magician Robben scored early in the first half, many of us felt it was the beginning of the end - but Timmy had other ideas.

While many will say it was just one goal, that one goal did all sorts of things for the Soceroos on the pitch and the fans in the stands. It gave us all actual belief that we could actually win this. That's a feeling not many of us truly believed we'd feel at any point during the tournament and it made what would have been a great trip into a truly amazing one. You cant really put a price tag on hope.

Super Timmy Cahill

Best of Nature
While I may not be the most outdoorsy of people, I did get to see a lot of great scenery during the year. From great beaches in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil to the mountains of Chile, Peru and Argentina. The sailing trip from Panama to Colombia introduced me to the San Blas Islands, which was by far the most amazing beaches I've ever seen. With deserted islands and nothing by sand and coconuts it was pretty hard to top. The one thing that did top it though, is Iguazu Falls. The sheer size of the falls is truly awe inspiring with an incredible amount of water gushing over the falls every second.

Iguazu Falls

Best Activity
On this trip I've been zip-lining, mountain biking and on oh so many hikes, but the most fun thing I did without doubt has to be sitting on a piece of wood and sliding down a volcano in Nicaragua. Sure it may not have been the smartest thing I ever did, but it was a bit of a once in a lifetime opportunity and I'm so glad I did it.

Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

As I look back on some of these memorable moments from the last 12 months it has clearly been one of the best years of my life - if not the best ever. Now I prepare to go back to a "real" life, but with Rio hosting the Olympic Games in just two years, could there be a chance for another journey? 

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