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I think most people can agree that in some ways, 2017 was better than 2016. Not as many celebrities died, anyway. Although I’m not sure how that qualifies as better. I can’t speak for anyone else as to whether 2017 was a good year, but for me, it meant clocking lots of airline miles, leaving my life in the Middle East, and moving back to the United States where I am still in a state of transition. As with 2016, there were many lessons learned and many great adventures.
As I write this I am sitting in my Airbnb in Medellin, Colombia wondering what 2018 has in store for me. I’m not one to sit around and wait for things to happen, although since returning to the US I have taken my sweet time about finding a “real job.” That was my plan all along, actually. I knew January and February would be perfect for traveling to South America while my house was rented out on Airbnb.
Since I arrived in Medellin I’ve had some time to reflect on some highlights and memorable events of 2017. The biggest change was that I left my job in Kuwait after six years of teaching at GUST University. Many don’t believe me, but this was the best job I’ve ever had in terms of pay, hours, and stress level. I wish I could have taken this job with me. I left Kuwait because at 47 years old, I am tired of being single and I knew that wouldn’t change as long as I stayed there. My single status still hasn’t changed, but at least it could. Even this lucky gal has a mate in Medellin’s Jardin Botanico.
When it comes to traveling and seeing the world, 2017 was a banner year for me. I definitely hit some bucket list items. I also learned a few things along the way, not all of them particularly useful.
I rang in the New Year in Cape Town, South Africa with a friend, in a bar called Tiger’s Milk Restaurant & Bar. 2017 was the first New Year’s since 2010 that I wasn’t alone in a foreign land and I actually stayed awake past midnight! Cape Town is still one of the hottest tourist destinations in the world, and I’m thrilled I finally got to experience this beautiful city. If you’re looking for things to do in or around Cape Town when you visit, Viator has great deals on sightseeing and activities. I booked two wine tasting tours through Viator and they were both highlights of this trip. The greatest thing about our wine tasting tour was neither of us had to drive! That alone is a great reason to book a tour instead of going on your own with a rental car.
After a week in Cape Town, my friend John and I moved on to another amazing destination. Botswana. This incredible country doesn’t get as many safari visitors as some other African countries, but I think that made my safari there even more incredible. Instead of having 20 Jeeps at an animal sighting, we were often the only vehicle. The people of Botswana are wonderful. The entire staff at Little Kwara Camp was so welcoming, and the family style dinners in the evenings were my favorite part. If you’re curious about safaris in Botswana, whether you have a day, a week, or just four days like I did, there are many safari options to choose from on Viator. Just enter Botswana in the search box and you’ll be surprised by all of the options for exploring this country.
Next was a quick (too quick!) jaunt to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Wow! What an impressive amount of water rushing over these falls. We stayed in a beautiful hotel arranged by the tour company, but we explored the falls on our own without a guide. The most spectacular moment was our helicopter tour over the falls. I loved every minute of my first helicopter ride, and you don’t need a guide to book yours for you. Check out the options on Viator. Just enter Zimbabwe in the search box. The helicopter tours on Viator are actually cheaper than the one I booked. There’s really only one helicopter company in Victoria Falls, and as you can see, this pilot is very accommodating!
What did I learn from this incredible journey to Africa? I learned that meeting someone in person for the first time on an airplane in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and then traveling with that person for 2.5 weeks can be an absolutely hilarious journey. And I learned that consuming copious amounts of wine at generous wine tastings is fun!
Oh wait, I already knew that last one.
Iceland and the Northern Lights
In February, I went on a solo trip to Iceland, rented a car where I used GPS for the first time, and experienced 55cm (almost 2 feet!) of snow on my second night there. My Airbnb host was even surprised at the amount of snow. It didn’t slow me down though. Well, okay, I did drive slower, but I still accomplished what I set out to do in Iceland. My top priority was to see the Northern Lights, and I did! Twice! They weren’t very strong the first time, but they were beautiful. The second time I saw them was in Reykjavik, at the end of the Seltjarness peninsula. Absolutely spectacular. I stayed in the cold taking pictures for two hours. Most of my pictures are crap compared to some I’ve seen, but my real objective was met. I saw the Northern Lights and I’d do it again.
If you’re not up for driving yourself around Iceland, or you have a lot to do in a limited time, a tour might work for you. There are day tours and multi-day tours offered on Viator, and they are a good deal. Iceland is incredibly expensive, and tours are often a great way to save money while still having a great experience. Just enter Iceland in the search box.
What did I learn from this amazing solo journey to Iceland? I learned that a phenomenon like the Northern Lights can make a person feel small and insignificant. I also learned I can still be filled with wonder, so much so that I didn’t notice it was -10C.
And I learned how to use a GPS, making my niece very proud of me. That Garmin thing is a handy gadget, let me tell you.
Catching up with Friends in Australia and New Zealand
Another great thing that happened in 2017 was I finally made it to Australia and New Zealand to visit friends I met in 2006 on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and while working in Shanghai. I hadn’t seen my friend in Sydney for eleven years! While visiting friends, I got to see sights like the Great Ocean Road and of course, more wine tasting! This time, I didn’t book any tours because my friends were very familiar with the wine tasting regions of Australia, such as Mudgee. I also had a great time tasting wines on Waiheke Island in New Zealand using the Hop on Hop off bus. Whether it’s wine tasting, climbing Sydney Harbor bridge, or visiting Phillip Island, Viator has a tour that might just work for you. I booked my Sydney Harbor bridge climb through Viator.
A real highlight of New Zealand was a visit to the charming capital of Wellington to visit friends I worked with in China. I loved this little town and my friends, who have opened Neko Ngeru Cat Adoption Cafe, were great guides. I refer to New Zealand’s capital as Walkable Wellington. After a week here with my friends, I totally got why they wanted to live here when they left China.
Another great experience in New Zealand was my tour of the Waitomo glowworm caves. I booked this tour through Glowing Adventures, not Viator, but they do offer their tours on Viator under the heading Private Glowworm Cave Tours and they clearly state that tours are limited to 8 people. Seeing the glow worms in the caves was another real “Aha” moment that made me wonder about how things happen. If you’re not able to book a tour with them, or you need a tour that is less physical, Viator does have some excellent options. Just enter New Zealand in the search box, and then click Waitomo for the region.
What did I learn from my visit to these two beautiful islands? Catching up with friends made me realize I need to make more of an effort to do that. I also learned that driving on the left is NOT instinctual and to never get too comfortable while driving on the left, especially if it’s foggy…
Going Home to the United States
After my trip to New Zealand, I headed home to the US, to actually live there for the first time in eleven years. I thought it would feel strange, but it didn’t. It felt like it always did when I went home in the summer. Like I was “just visiting” even though I knew my plan, for a while at least, was to move back to Tucson. To do what? I really wasn’t sure. I just knew, and still know, that teaching in Arizona was not in my plan. Much to my dad’s dismay, but he’s coping well.
I wasn’t home for long before visiting a friend in the Bahamas, and a few weeks later I was off on a road trip to Antelope Canyon, and Zion and Bryce National Parks. Both were great trips, but I was feeling conflicted about whether to stay in Tucson, or move on to another overseas location and do what? I don’t know. I’m still conflicted, but I have time to figure it out. For now, I’m enjoying South America. This trip to Colombia and Peru makes a great start to 2018.
What have I learned from moving back home? I’ve learned I need to have a goal. A purpose. And that I will have to find it by myself. In fact, I’m looking for it in Colombia’s coffee region.