Been There, Done That (But Would Do It Again)

On the wall of my office is a large world map, covering the majority of the available wall-space above my desk. I used to have one twice the size before I sold my home with the purpose of literally downsizing. In each case, the map was/is liberally dotted with color-coded pins detailing the places I’ve been – a badge of honor within the travel community; a lame attempt at looking cool to everyone else. While the act of pinning my map on the safe return from a voyage abroad is a great source of joy (See my blog post: Happiness is Pinning a Giant, Oversized Map), the greater joy comes from reflecting on which experiences were had on that particular spot, and the memories each pin represents.

With so many unpinned places on my map, I’m always quite reluctant to use my precious time and resources to go back to places I’ve already been. But experience has shown that there are some places that are most certainly more than worth it. Below I’ve compiled a list of five of my greatest travel experiences (in no particular order) and the wondrous places where you too can have those same experiences for yourself.

Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia, Turkey

This region in Central Anatolia is right out of another planet. With cities carved out of the soft volcanic rock and the giggle-inducing shapes of the so-called “fairy chimneys” it’s hard to believe you’re still on earth and not in a galaxy far, far away (See my blog post: The Witty Traveler’s Guide to Cappadocia). The best and most-awesomest way to take in this surreal landscape is by hot air balloon, which will allow you to alternately soar far above and skim the surface of this otherworldly wonderland. If it weren’t for parking and three-point turns, I’d say hot air balloon is the nicest way to travel, period.

Zip-lining in Jodhpur, India

IMG_7793
Zip Lining Mehrangarh Fort

I’m a fan of zip-lining in general, having done so numerous times; mostly in jungle settings. The only gripe I have about these “canopy tours” is that often there’s little to see other than branches and tree trunks as you hum along a cable to the next platform. It’s still an awesome experience, but in the city of Jodhpur, India, you can have the same zip-lining excitement with an entirely different backdrop – in this case the mammoth Mehrangarh Fort with the ethereal ‘Blue City’ lying at its feet (See my blog post: A Hyper-Inspirational Shade of the Color Blue). Starting and ending from the fort’s massive stone ramparts, participants will soar over and around an artificial lake and stare out at the boxy monochrome houses right out of an Escher drawing. So if you like your adventure with a side of scenery, this is the place to do it.

Cheetah Encounter in Livingstone, Zambia

Zimcon 1246As an animal lover, some of my greatest travel experiences quite understandably revolve around animal encounters (See my blog posts: Game On! A Rundown of What to Expect on a Safari Game Drive, and The Chobe Riverfront: Botswana’s Got Game). Of all these encounters, the most thrilling most far was the Cheetah Encounter excursion I had in Livingstone, Zambia (See more on the blog post: When a Cheetah Licks Your Head, Try Not to Laugh). Having the chance to pet, walk and get licked by these gorgeous giant felines was a thrill that still hasn’t worn off. Located near incomparable Victoria Falls, these spotted kitties almost made me forget about that ‘other’ attraction in town.

Shark Diving in Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Scan0026
Lagoon of Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Continuing the animal encounter theme, the only thing I like more than seeing animals is seeing animals underwater. I’ve done a few shark feeding dives where a ribbon of meat is lowered down an anchor line to the sharks waiting below, and each time it was both thrilling and a tiny bit terrifying. What made the experience in Bora Bora so memorable was the appearance of a trio of 8-10 foot Lemon Sharks who nonchalantly snapped up a morsel of floating food just inches above my head. Being in the open water with creatures longer and fatter than I am is a humbling and exhilarating experience; so much so that it trumps my enthusiastic octopus encounter (See my blog post: To the Octopus I Chanced Upon One Early Winter’s Eve) for Best Undersea Experience.

Hanging Out in Brazil’s Costa Verde

Abraao
The idyllic harbor of Abraao, Ilha Grande, Brazil

I know hanging out doesn’t sound all that exciting, but if you’ve been to Brazil’s Costa Verde I’m sure you can understand. Whether it was a night out on the town in Rio de Janeiro (See the blog post: In Rio de Janeiro Save the Drama for the Scenery), a stroll through the rain forest on idyllic pedestrian-only Ilha Grande (See the Post: A Love Letter to the Island I Met a Year Ago), or an evening’s exploration of the cobblestone streets of supremely charming Parati (See the post: Parati, Brazil – The Whole Package), doing something or nothing was an amazing experience either way. In a perfect world, this is where I’d want to live. I would also have less grays and a six-pack but that’s a story for another time.

Insufficient Data…Sort of

To date I’ve visited 65 countries/territories across all seven continents. That said, according to the handy app Been (#beenapp) I’ve only covered 26% of total world countries (29% of Europe, 18% of Asia, 52% of North America/Caribbean, 42% of South America, 10% of Oceania and 100% of Antarctica). This means that however many pins might adorn my map, there’s still the majority to go. Knowing as I do that each future pin represents an as yet unrealized experience, the above list is subject to change and the activities mentioned are by no means an exhaustive compilation of all that awaits. The fun is going out and finding those experiences that will last a lifetime. That, and pinning it on my giant map.

How About You?

Do you have a Top-Five worthy travel experience that you’d like to share? Leave a comment and share your story to inspire the rest of us

In Your Face, India (& Ears & Nose & Mouth)

New Delhi, India
New Delhi, India

Perhaps it’s a sign of conceit that I’m hardly interested in visiting anyplace that, well, just doesn’t sound all that interesting. Sure, I’ll still go, but there’s no doubt that I am a bit jaded, and these days, a little bit harder to impress. You can thank India for that. In fact, I do, & here’s why:

India is a fascinating, sometimes overwhelming, never bland or boring, assault on the senses. More than anywhere else I’ve been on earth, travelers run the risk of stimulus overload. Your eyes will be dazzled by the vivid palette that encompasses entire cities—such as Jaipur, the Pink City; Jodhpur, the Blue City; and Udaipur, the White City. The detail in the architecture is an explosion of curves and flourishes, and I’m convinced you’d be hard-pressed to find even one blank surface in the entire country.

Pole Position, Amber Fort
Pole Position, Amber Fort

You ears may not find as much pleasure as your eyes, since in all but remote villages, the sound you’re most likely to hear is a cacophony of beeping horns—all day and all night. When in the midst of things, you’ll also hear the sound of hordes of pedestrians, bleating cattle that wander freely through the streets of even major cities, and extroverted shopkeepers haggling in the market.

With all the poverty, you would think your nose would end up with the worst lot, but in reality, aside from the diesel fumes while crawling along in the most intensely absurd traffic imaginable, the smell of burning wood (and sometimes plastic) fills the air, making even the most urban setting smell rustic. And when you venture into a dining venue, things will just get better for your nose and then some.

A Feast for the Eyes & Mouth, Jaipur
A Feast for the Eyes & Mouth, Jaipur

Yes, your tongue will compete with your eyes when it comes to stimulus overload. Indian cuisine is much like its architecture—bold, saturated with flavor, and on occasion liable to bring tears to your eyes. Even the street vendors with their open-air woks that may not look like the kind of place you’d want to eat without really good health insurance, serve up delicious samosas and local fare that leave you not caring about where you got it. You’ll just want more.

No Blank Surfaces to be Found
No Blank Surfaces to be Found

So if I seem a bit blasé about “normal” destinations like Cancun or the Dominican Republic—don’t blame me. Blame India. It isn’t beginner travel, but if you’re open to new experiences, not agoraphobic, and wish to be dazzled, put India your bucket list. Your senses might be up all night with information overload, but along with your photo album, will thank you for it later.

For more travel pictures, be sure to follow Trip Accomplice on Instagram at @tripaccomplice

Share Your Love For All Things Travel With A Gift From Customtravelart.com!

Whether it’s a custom tee, bucket list design or personalized departure or arrivals board, Custom Travel Art can create the perfect gift for the traveler in your life – even if that traveler is you! Browse our collection now for the perfect travel gift.

A Hyper-Inspirational Shade of the Color Blue

The Blue City, Jodhpur, India
The Blue City, Jodhpur, India

It’s not often that travel and sci-fi are mentioned in the same sentence. But if you bear with me, I have an unusual mash-up of one of my favorite sci-fi excerpts and my favorite city in India.

 

It’s weird. I know. Just bear with me.

 

In Douglas Adams’ classic novel The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I’ve always felt that Adams’ comic genius was best encapsulated in the scene where President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox steals the cleverly-imagined starship The Heart of Gold (equipped with the also cleverly-imagined Improbability Drive). What I found so amusing wasn’t the act of grand larceny or even the name Zaphod Beeblebrox. It was the description of the reception committee, which included humanoids, some reptiloids, and a Hooloovoo—described as a super-intelligent shade of the color blue. I don’t know why the concept of a super-intelligent color struck me as so hysterical. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never met a shade of blue that could even be considered of average intelligence. Whatever the reason, that’s the thought that sprang into my mind when—and here’s the connection—I first laid eyes on the historic center of the Indian city of Jodhpur.

 

It is at this point that any similarity to science fiction goes out the window. Despite the rapid modernization going on in other parts of the country, Jodhpur is still pleasantly ancient. Situated at the edge of a desert in western Rajasthan, with little else around, it wasn’t hard to figure out why.

 

The main attraction is the enormous Mehrangarh Fort, perched like a giant on a sandstone bluff dominating the skyline. This fortress-turned-museum houses relics of Jodhpur’s royalty along with the fascinatingly ornate architecture so prevalent throughout India. It is also here that one is treated with mesmerizing views of the heart of the ‘Blue City’—a sprawling yet densely-packed warren of flat-roofed houses nearly all painted in a lovely shade of blue.

 

Into the Blue
Into the Blue

I have no idea of what a Hooloovoo’s preference of living quarters might be, but if one did exist, I imagine this is where you’d find it. From the lofty vantage point of the fort, you can witness the locals going about their business much as they have for hundreds of years—drying clothes on their rooftops, sipping tea, or just chatting—all with that bluish backdrop that may or may not be intelligent, but is most certainly inspirational.

 

When I enquired as to the reasoning behind the blue palette stretching out as far as the eye can see, my guide explained that in the days of the caste system, a blue home was an indication that the occupants were of an upper-level caste. Eventually, someone noticed that this color apparently has the pleasant side-effect of repelling mosquitoes, and that’s a cause that appeals to ALL levels of society. Regardless of the origin, the visual effect it has produced—changing in hue with the angle of the sun—was sufficient to inspire me to travel halfway around the world.

 

Zip Lining Mehrangarh Fort
Zip Lining Mehrangarh Fort

And if witnessing this otherworldly scene isn’t cool enough, a company called Flying Fox Asia offers zip lining tours from off the ramparts of the fort, out along the shores of an artificial lake, and in full view of a portion of the Blue City. I’m a big fan of zip lining. I’m an even bigger fan of zip lining with interesting things to look at as I dangle precariously from a cable. Solely based on that criteria alone, Jodhpur was my favorite locale for this exhilarating yet safe sport.

 

There’s plenty more to say about this fascinating city but I’ll leave that for another time. Suffice to say, the Mehrengarh Fort and the Blue City are an inspiring sight to see. And as you walk the stony ramparts and gaze out at the maze-like city awash in blue, be sure to drink in the moment, drink in the ambiance, and, while you’re at it, you might as well drink up a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster*. Zaphod would want it that way.

 

*According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is defined as the “Best Drink In Existence” with its effects described as being similar to “having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.” Furthermore, it advises that you should never drink more than two unless you are a ‘30-ton mega elephant with bronchial pneumonia.’ For some more laughs, I recommend you Google the recipe and also pick up a copy of the book in its five-part trilogy version.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Miles

One of the most frequent questions I get asked when people peruse my travel photos is: “What made you go there?” followed by the inevitable: “How did you even hear about that place?” The response is the same for both: “I saw it in a picture.”

Yes, just as the beauty of Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships, so too a few travel photographs have sent me on a chase of many more than a thousand miles, just to witness the scenes depicted in person. My earliest recollection of this was an old book my parents had on a shelf in the crude entertainment center my dad built on his own when I was still a young boy. In it was the iconic scene of Machu Picchu, and I knew then and there I wanted to see it for myself. (I made the attempt to do so back in 2010 but was denied due to mudslides, so that goal is still pending).

Is it a sign of weakness that my mind (and wallet) are so open to suggestion? Perhaps. But there’s no doubt I have consistently had my expectations either matched or surpassed when I finally got to see the real thing. Below are just a few examples.

 

The Meteora, Greece

The Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece
The Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece

The first time I saw the image of ancient monasteries dwarfed by enormous pillars of stone, I thought I was looking at a scene from a video game (specifically something out of MYST). When I found myself in the general neighborhood of Greece I made visiting this otherworldly setting a priority and was thrilled when I was able to add hundreds of inspirational pictures to my own collection.

Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey
Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey

This surreal landscape captivated me at first glance. I mean, where else can you wander entire villages of sculpted rock right out of a Dr. Seuss book? Add to that the opportunity to stay in an authentic cave hotel (the coolest thing ever, btw) and I knew that despite being literally in the middle of nowhere (well, Turkey actually) it was worth the effort. My photo album is in complete agreement.

Jodhpur, India

Image
Partial view of the Blue City

 

While India had always been a dream destination of mine, nothing stoked my wanderlust quite as much as a picture of Jodhpur, The Blue City as seen from the imposing Mehrangar Fort. Other than the intriguing color, the warren of flat houses, alleyways & staircases seemed a real-life M.C. Escher drawing. Considering its use as a setting in the Dark Knight Rises installment of the Batman series, apparently I’m not the only one to consider it as worth the trip.

Parati, Brazil

Sunset over the Historic Center, Parati, Brazil
Sunset over the Historic Center, Parati, Brazil

It was in a book of travel photography that I first caught sight of the cobblestone streets and whitewashed houses of Parati. Having always wanted to go to Brazil anyway, I not only included it in my itinerary but also decided to spend the bulk of my time there. Sure, I had read up on all its fine attractions, charming pousadas and artistic vibe, but it was those first pictures that made me say “I have to go there” and made me feel so very glad that I did. In fact, very shortly I will be posting about what a marvelous place it is.

These are just a few examples but by now I’m sure you get the point. So the tip is: If you’re lacking in inspiration or have always taken the road most traveled, do yourself a favor and go down to your local library, take out a book on a destination that intrigues you, and flip through the pictures (or alternately, view my photo gallery.) Inspiration is never far away so long as there are pictures, and so long as there are pictures, there will always be a reason to travel.