This week I started training for a half marathon, using Hal Higdon’s training program. Ouch. I feel like I’m running on empty, as I still am settling back into my new chapter here in the Pacific Northwest.
Even though I run regularly, it’s been about six years, maybe more, since I ran a half-marathon. Back then I was running one or two half-marathons a year, and finding it a great way to stay fit and healthy, and clear my mind.
My husband used Hal Higdon’s training program when he was running marathons. He has run 7 or 8 marathons, so when I was ready to try a half, he set me up with the program.
Higdon, a life-long runner, accomplished marathoner and Olympic Trial alum currently is a contributing editor to Runners World Magazine. He developed his training programs to help both novice and experienced runners reach their training peak at the optimal time to be successful in a distance run.
I’ve used this training program multiple times and have always felt prepared when the big day finally arrived. The training is a 12-week plan, and starts with a 3 mile run.
I know you think you could never run a half-marathon – I thought that too. But with the right training, just about anyone can do it. In all the races I have run since I started running about 12 years ago, I have always crossed the finish line. And the finish line is my only goal. I don’t agonize over my time, I don’t chastise myself if I need to stop, stretch or walk for awhile. I set my sights on finishing the race. And that is what Hal Higdon’s training program has done for me.
What a ride it’s been. But here we are. Home. That word feels so good in my mouth. Sweet and full. But with it comes a bitter taste – it’s not what was supposed to happen. Home and other adventures is a story of acceptance of our fate. Despite all our planning; despite all our hopes; despite all our efforts – our travel life has come to an abrupt stop.
Home and other adventures took me several weeks to wrap my head around. As each day passed, each week passed I kept adjusting my thinking. Believing we could pick up our itinerary at some point and continue. Eventually we came to the realization it wasn’t going to happen and if we are going to be sitting somewhere we might as well be sitting at home. At least it’s free and we could be working on projects and helping our family. And so we took the first flight that came available out of Cyprus.
Getting here was nothing less than grueling. It took about 50 hours from bed to bed. Three flights, one hotel, lots of cold sandwiches. Airports have few services. Planes have few services. I brought food with us, as best I could. It wasn’t good but it was something.
Departing Cyprus we drove on a bus to the plane – seriously about 15 minutes. To an entirely different airport where the planes seem to be staging. I think it was the old airport. I have no idea why. Upon boarding the flight crew was dressed like they were assisting in surgery…disposable gowns, face masks, rubber gloves and eye protection. We were given rubber gloves and told we had to wear them the entire flight. Everyone on board was wearing a mask. We were given a bottle of water and nothing else on the five hour flight. All middle seats were empty. Even couples who wanted to sit side by side were told they could not. Without flight attendants going up and down the aisle the plane was so quiet. With everyone wearing masks no one was chatting and the plane was absolutely silent. Ghostly.
We arrived in London to a eerily quiet Heathrow. No temperature checks -we breezed right through, got our bags, walked to our hotel in the adjoining terminal. Crashed on the bed in the itty bitty room.
Early Wednesday off we went again. Empty tube ride to the terminal. Almost empty terminal. Signs everywhere to distance. But staff not wearing masks or any protection. We asked why and were told it’s not allowed. It’s astonishing to me how inconsistent the rules are between countries.
Security checks at Heathrow were normal and well carried out. There was no health screening on departure. It was strange the wide variety of preparedness in the handful of travelers. Some did not have anything. Most had masks, a few had gloves as well. And then some dressed head to toe in complete “contagion” outfits. It reminded me of Willy Wonka in the Wonkavison room.
I was pulled aside for additional security screening at the gate…that was just random, not due to Covid. Mostly swabbing for chemicals and explosives. On board the British Airways 787 there were 13 people and nine crew. Wow. Nine people in economy (including us), no one in Business and four in First Class. We were able to spread out and get comfortable. In fact, we were required to each have a full row and to sit next to the window in an effort to “distance” It actually was a nice flight…I love British Airways. We had a half a sandwich served early with some chocolates and later a pizza like thing. That with the food we brought was plenty. No alcohol available.
One striking thing about all three of our flights was how when we pulled away from the gate, the plane headed to the runway and just took off! No waiting for the plane in front of you.
Arriving in the USA was interesting. First we were met on the gangway by health screeners. No temperature taking, but they asked us questions dressed in full contagion gear. The LAX airport has way more activity than in London. Several shops open and kiosks with cold food and even Starbucks open. There was none of that in London. There seems to be more staff around as well. Most are wearing masks. We breezed through both passport control and border patrol. I wanted someone to say welcome home…geeze I’ve been gone for seven months. But they hardly batted an eye. Sigh….
Our flight to Seattle left late but other than that was uneventful. Arriving in Seattle we got our bags and changed into clean clothes before meeting our boys – just an effort to try to not spread anything we may have picked up. SeaTac was quiet with very few people. Most staff wearing masks. Starbucks was open but I didn’t see any restaurants open, but we were only in one terminal so possibly in departures there was more. I’m not sure.
Home and Other Adventures
Waking up in my bed, opening my eyes and knowing where I was. Nice but surreal. I can’t tell you how many times over the past four years I’ve had to let my brain take a moment to know where I was upon waking…so many hotels, Airbnb’s and beds. But waking up here, I knew. I am so grateful we made the decision to buy this house…it was a leap of faith to buy something sight unseen. But life in a pandemic without a home to come to would have been pretty rotten. But here we are.
I’ll be in self-quarantine here now for two weeks. Only seeing my boys, who met us at the airport. It’s good. Our youngest has been working from our house and will continue to do so until his office reopens, which may be awhile.
So what’s next? We don’t know… we will figure it out just like everyone else. We still have flights for the wedding in France in June…it’s unlikely to happen but we haven’t completely given up on it. We have a trip to Hawaii planned in October. We have a trip to Boston and New York planned in December. Will that happen? I don’t know. I do know eventually we will get out there again…just how long it will take remains to be seen.
Home and Other Adventures. Unexpected but satisfying. Be safe. Be well. Stay tuned. The adventure continues just with a sharp right turn and a few bumps in the road… Home, sweet home.
When we started this life of full-time travel I imagined getting in awesome shape while we traveled. But it hasn’t been that easy. In fact, it’s one of the more difficult parts of this ongoing journey – getting and staying in shape. Not at all what I was expecting. Over the past few weeks as we have sat in lockdown in Cyprus, I’ve begun to see again how lack of routine can wreck havoc on travel and staying fit in My Fab Fifties Life.
Keeping a healthy weight has never come easy for
me. I am not a tiny girl…a comfortable size 12 or 10 is my USA size. But I fluctuate a lot and always have.
A decade ago when I began running I found a wonderful new outlet for both stress release and weight control. I love to run!. But in that decade I have also experienced some severe injuries that kept me from running up to as long as a year. Suffering from sciatic nerve damage and plantar fasciitis being two of the worst things that have sidelined me.
But even when I am healthy, travel and staying fit, particularly running is not always feasible on this travel journey. I was surprised to find as we circled the globe how many destinations are unsafe for running; dangerous roads, uneven sidewalks, vicious dogs (remember the dog bite?) not to mention many countries where a woman should not be out alone. These surprises stymied my running for months at a time.
We are currently in Argaka on the island of Cuprus, day 42 of lockdown. I am really enjoying running here. Rural Argaka offers a flat and easy routes direct from our villa. I have regularly been running 4-5 miles daily.
Swimming is another favorite work out of mine, but alas, in four years of travel I can only think of three places we have been where a swimming pool was large enough to swim laps. Most pools are very small, and open ocean swimming isn’t something I’m comfortable with.
My best tool in my travel and staying fit goal is I can do yoga just about anywhere, and I do. I do it on my own nearly every day, and take classes when they are convenient and affordable. Yoga builds strength and flexibility as well as clears the mind and helps focus, but I really need to have a good strong regular aerobic exercise to keep my weight down. I carry a travel yoga mat and styrofoam block and use them religiously.
And then of course there is the food. And the alcohol. I love to eat and cook and try lots of new foods in every country we visit. Some countries the food is better than others, but I’ll try everything once (well
almost everything) and we enjoy food as a cultural experience wherever we are. Although I believe we are eating fresher and more organic and locally grown than in the USA, we still eat with pleasure and sometimes too much, despite the fact we usually only have two meals a day.
During our first part of the Grand Adventure I drank alcohol every day, usually a gin and tonic or two, sometimes beer. But this past winter I decided the caloric intake of alcohol just isn’t worth it to me, particularly when I am in countries where I feel like I’m not getting enough exercise. So I cut way back on alcohol. However, I have found being on lockdown has created a routine of drinking daily again…alas there are some vices we need to just accept right now, no?
Hopefully we will be back in the USA in a week or two, where I have access to safe running roads
and trails. If the YMCA reopens, I’ll begin swimming again. And yoga will continue daily on my own.
It’s not easy right now to be motivated to do anything…I know. I’m restless and not sleeping well. But having some kind of a routine, especially a work out routine helps keep me stay sane. I’m particularly thankful I can get out into nature each day. A definite blessing for travel and staying fit.
I never ever imagined the word pandemic or quarantine becoming a part of my daily vocabulary. And yet it is. Wow. So many surprising things you learn from full-time travel.
A world pandemic is at the top of the list of surprising things you learn from full-time travel. I’ve said it many times, despite all the preparation and planning, reading and studying – there still are so many surprising things you see and learn and experience that you never ever imagined. Pandemic one of many.
So today I thought I would share some of these things, since we are still stuck indefinitely here on Cyprus (currently day four of a new three-week total lockdown), it’s a good time to write a blog about the things you don’t realize you will learn from full time travel. The lessons keep coming but here are a few that stand out for me;
How the World Views America
We try to be good ambassadors for our country, but it can be really hard. Because many people have a view of Americans as loud, selfish, gluttonous and most of all ignorant and misogynistic. The view also extends to American media as biased and unreliable.
Where are you from?
So we get this question a lot. Sometimes the question is phrased like this; “Where are you from? Australia? England?”
This always cracks me up because anyone who is a native English speaker is very in tuned to the nuances of those who speak English in the USA vs England, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland etc. But for those whose first language is not English the subtleties are often lost. It’s rare that we get asked if we are from the USA. I believe that is because the countries we are visiting for the most part aren’t often visited by Americans. We are often surprised by how surprised people are to meet someone from the United States.
But the other odd thing when we get asked this question is how the answer goes. We answer “From the United States”, and 95% of the time we get a blank uncomprehending stare. So we rephrase our answer and say “From America.” Ahhh light bulbs come on and faces light up, “Amerikah!”. Despite the fact there is no country called America…much of the world refers to the USA as America.
The USA is only one of three countries in the entire WORLD still not using the metric system (Myanmar and Liberia are the other two). I mean honestly people this needs to change. I have no choice but to learn the metric system as we travel and although I don’t have it down perfectly, yet it is an integral part of everyday life from cooking to driving to filling up the car with petrol. We think in Celsius and kilometers, meters and liters. You should give it a try.
Holy Days and Holidays
In the 110 countries we have now visited we have not visited anywhere that celebrates holy days and holidays by spending the amount of money Americans do on holidays. Most holidays are about family and church with minimal decorating and gift giving. One strange thing…they often leave the Christmas tree up (artificial) until spring.
Here is a win for the USA. I have been horrified by how some cultures behave on airplanes – ignoring and harassing flight attendants, barging up the aisle on landing and not letting other people get out into the aisle, as well as other rude behavior. We have found this particularly the case in Asian and African countries. In the USA this would be almost unheard of.
Dogs and Cats
It never occurred to me before beginning our travels that we would witness often horrifying conditions for dogs and cats around the world. I can’t and won’t describe some of the things we have seen…things I try to put out of my mind.
Before embarking on this full-time travel we had visited many countries in the nearly 40 years we have been married. Some of those countries we found communicating easy and others not so much. But in the past decade most countries have begun teaching English in schools and I can’t think of anywhere we have been in the past four years where we have not been able to speak in English to just about anyone we encounter. English is definitely becoming the world language.
Oh My God
This has become a travel joke for us. Everywhere we go, whether or not the place we are in speaks good English or not, the phrase “Oh my God” is used. It is sometimes the only English words some people know. It is used to express frustration and surprise. I’m not sure if most people even know what they are saying – it’s just a colloquial term used around the world similar to Uff Da or Oi Vey or Gesundheit. Oh my God.
Boy oh boy I sure don’t take clean drinking water for granted anymore. It is to me the biggest problem around the world, and it generates another gigantic problem – what to do with all that single use plastic?
There are some countries and cities making a huge effort. In Antigua Guatemala there are free filtered water stations. In Thailand you can refill giant water jugs for just pennies. Good on ya. I’d love to see this expand.
Germs and Hand Washing
We are all now washing our hands more than ever before. But one thing I have witnessed in most countries is very consistent hand washing already…way more than what I see in public places in the USA. Particularly in Muslim countries but in most other places too people wash not just after using the bathroom but frequently throughout the day, before and after meals and in both public and private places.
Hey guess what? Africa is really, really green. So many Hollywood movies and even NatGeo portray it as a barren brown place – and there are certainly some deserts and dry areas. But most of it is so beautiful and green and big and diverse. You really should go there. Any country…just choose one. They are all great.
I find myself in situations often while traveling that make me pause…what the heck am I doing? Things like being in a sinking boat in a hippopotamus infested lake, swimming next to the edge of Victoria Falls, hiking on a snowy mountain without clampons, standing 4 meters from a wild Silverback gorilla …crazy stuff. Stuff I wouldn’t be allowed to do in the USA because of much tighter laws and a litigation culture that keeps us away from danger. In most of the world, that is not the case.
You might think this is a funny category…and it is. But how did I never know how many kinds of mangos, bananas and so many other kinds of tropical fruit were waiting out there for me? There are 500 kinds of mangos for heavens sake! There are 1000 different kinds of bananas! Have you ever eaten a custard apple? How about a dragon fruit? What about a pomelo or jackfruit or langsat? I’ve been living a sheltered life.
Left or Right
Although most countries of the world drive on the right hand side of the road, it still is surprising how many countries drive on the left (including here in Cyprus, a former British colony). Even more surprising is a country like Myanmar, which switched from left-hand driving to right-hand driving in 2015 BUT 90% of the cars still have the steering wheel on the right side. Talk about disconcerting.
As toilet paper has become such a valuable commodity in the USA I’ve chuckled about how different Americans view the little white squares compared to the rest of the world. Many cultures don’t use paper…the sprayer attached to the toilet does the job. Many countries you must bring your own paper if you want it, and most countries you aren’t supposed to flush it. Including here on Cyprus where flushing is a no no. Systems are not designed to handle paper, and so it goes into the bin next to the toilet.
It may seem very strange if you haven’t lived somewhere like this but just like anything else you get used to it. I always have TP in my suitcase (and paper towels too) and always have some kind of tissue in my purse.
Have You Learned Anything
Have you learned anything crazy and surprising on your travels? Have you learned anything crazy and surprising from this blog? I could go on and on because there is so much more (cheap medical care, free universities, corrupt governments, government supported community days) that most Americans can’t comprehend.
For me it’s one of the absolutely best things about travel…an eyeopening experience to how the other 96.25% of the world lives. Because get over yourself…the USA is not the center of the universe and we should all try to be more neighborly and interested in our entire planet and the diverse peoples and cultures that make it such a wonderful place.
Don’t give up on travel…we will all hopefully be back traveling again in a few months. Just wash your hands.
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The Great Mauritius Experiment comes to an end, a long term stay on Mauritius. That’s a wrap Mauritius.
Six weeks staying in one place. In one Airbnb. On one island. The longest we have stayed anywhere. Here is what we learned;
Me: I didn’t feel island fever -the malady of feeling trapped – but I did feel a loss of purpose. I’m not sure how to explain it but six weeks of doing a lot of nothing was too much for me. Some things about a long term stay on Mauritius I loved; I loved unpacking and sleeping in the same bed and feeling at home…and yet…
When I am at home (in the USA I mean), for three or more months during each year I have tasks. Things that need to be accomplished. And although we might often complain about these things, feeling that sense of accomplishment is a good feeling for me.
While on Mauritius for six weeks I set goals and created tasks to keep myself feeling accomplished. Even if it was laundry, meal planning, writing the blog, hiking, running or researching our next destinations. This provides me some sense of purpose.
Don’t get me wrong…I had definite enjoyable days of doing nothing. Even though I can’t spend hours and hours in the sun like I used to, the six weeks here included a lot of relaxing, reading and quiet time. But for me, it was too long.
My husband: He is much less in need of a sense of purpose. In fact, his life goal is no tasks. I’m not saying he is lazy. Far from it. But he prefers a life without a lot of deadlines or pressure. He was and is the driving force behind us moving forward with a travel lifestyle (although most people believe it was me) and continues to enjoy this quiet life without drama that is inevitable back in the USA.
You might also be surprised to learn that it is he who loves the heat. He can spend the entire day reading on a lounge chair in the sun. So a long term stay on Mauritius fit him perfectly.
Me: Moving forward in our planning I think I would want to stay three or maybe four weeks in a place but not longer. We stayed three weeks in Kenya and it was perfect. We stayed three weeks in Antiparos Greece and it was incredible. Much longer I just get ants in my pants. That said, once we leave here we are on a rollercoaster of movement for more than a month (8 countries) and I know when we stop to take a two-week breather in Cyprus we will be ready, tired and irritable. Finding a balance between these two kinds of travel is my goal.
My husband: He would prefer staying in one place for even longer than six weeks. Schlepping the bags is a pain. Driving is a pain. Changing lodging is a pain. Airports and airplanes are a pain. But, he doesn’t want to be back in the USA for extended periods either. The fact we are going to spend the Christmas holidays in the USA in 2020 is all my doing…he would rather not. He doesn’t like the weather, he doesn’t like the chores associated with the holidays (or the house), he doesn’t like the drama and he definitely doesn’t like how much it costs.
And so we plunge ahead. We have no plans to stop this travel life. It’s been good for our marriage. It’s been good for our health (physical and mental). It’s been good for our finances. We just continue to refine it as we go along…it’s a constant learning process.
So where to next? We depart Mauritius February 15th and begin country hopping through six African countries. Two quick days in Johannesburg, six days in the Victoria Falls triangle (Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana) five days in Uganda (Gorilla tour), seven days in Rwanda.
In early March we say farewell for now to the African continent after two and a half months and head to Israel for 16 days (but in 6 different lodgings) before taking a breather in Cyprus in the end of March. In Cyprus we spend the majority of our time in one Airbnb so it should be relaxing and we will be ready.
I won’t bore you with the details from there, but I will say there is a lot of countries to come as we move north into Europe as spring and summer arrive, culminating in France for a late June wedding and heading back to the USA June 30th.
And I’m already planning 2021, using all the knowledge we have acquired in our travels so far. What a fabulous life indeed.
Have you turned on your tap today and had a quick drink of pure delicious water? Do you spend your days thinking about clean water and the issue of single use plastic?
I can count on both hands how many countries and regions we have visited where we can safely drink the tap water; New Zealand, Japan, most of Western Europe, most of the USA, Canada, Scandinavia.
Even here in Mauritius, a fairly progressive and well run welfare state country, visitors are advised not to drink unfiltered tap water. Even though the locals drink it, a visitor will likely have issues due to microorganisms that could cause diarrhea if you don’t have a tolerance built up.
Water borne illnesses can cause a lot of trouble for travelers, including some serious and potentially fatal diseases. Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Cholera, Giardias are some of the serious diseases that are transferred to humans through water. So thinking about clean water and the issue of single use plastic is something that occupies my mind a great deal.
Unfortunately you should avoid tap water in all of Africa, South America, most of Asia and Eastern Europe, according to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC).
We always research this issue before arrival and then on arrival reiterate the question of tap water with locals we can trust. Even if the question of water purity is a bit on the fence, we always side with safety first. We have both experienced the results of extreme dehydration and diarrhea and that’s not fun for anybody.
And so what to do? Here in Mauritius like so many other countries, there is but one answer – bottled water.
As a full-time traveler who REALLY wants to make less of an environmental impact and leave as small of a footprint as possible, the issue of water confounds me.
We have yet to purchase and carry a filtration system with us, but I think we will be doing that soon, because we are really conflicted about the single-use plastic. We have two reusable water bottles that we fill frequently with filtered water, but it still calls for us to use plastic bottles way more often than I am comfortable with.
Here in Mauritius we are purchasing large plastic bottles of water at the grocery store and using it for washing all our fruits and vegetables, making coffee, drinking and brushing our teeth. The good news here on Mauritius is they have a well organized system for plastic bottle recycling. Strategically placed (and loyally used by locals and visitors alike) plastic bottle recycling stations are found around the island. We have seen very little trash here. As a side note they also have a glass bottle deposit system.
We have been really excited to find some countries recently making a huge effort in this area. For instance in Antigua Guatemala the city has instigated a system of clay filtered water stations throughout the city. Free for public use. We also had a clay system filter in our Antigua Airbnb.
Our hotel on Inle Lake (Myanmar Treasure Resort) installed a water refill station for guests while we were staying there. As soon as that was installed we began using it several times a day, even though housekeeping continued to stock our room with single-use plastic water bottles.
Our Airbnb in Cenang Beach Langkawi Malaysia had a wonderful filtration system hooked up to the tap in the kitchen. All water was run through the filtrataion system and we did not need to purchase any bottled water during our month there.
In Hua Hin Thailand you could purchase a large five gallon jug of water, then refill it over and over again at a station on the sidewalk near the store for about .25 cents (USD).
Yet in other places beaches are littered with plastic (Thailand, Vietnam) and children play in piles of plastic trash (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia), and locals burn plastic along side the road (Kenya).
I’ve been doing a lot of research on water filtration options for travelers, and I think I am leaning towards the Steripen, although there are many versions available. We will be adding this to our collection of things we don’t leave home with soon…and I regret we haven’t done so yet. Here is a blog with great information about this.
Meanwhile, more than half the world doesn’t have good, clean drinking water, while others never think twice about the availability of safe and abundant water to quench our thirst and go about our daily tasks.
It’s one of a copious number of things our planet is lacking for the health and welfare of the people of the world.
Do you use a travel water filter? I’d love to hear your comments about what you like and why.
If you’ve been following My Fab Fifties Life for awhile you will remember our 2017 World Travel Awards and our 2018 World Travel Awards from previous Januarys. I definitely feel with all of our travels in 2019 (covering 40,000 miles and 12 countries) we are well positioned to once again deliver our World Travel Awards 2019 on many people, places and travel experiences that have touched us this past year. Just like the Oscar movie awards, we have seen a world of real life drama, fantasy, comedy, mystery, nature and animation. Enough to last a lifetime. This annual blog is one of our favorites to write and one we always create together. And in past years it has also been one of our best read – so we really hope you enjoy it once again.
This is a long blog. But I believe it offers some valuable travel insight to the world. I hope you will find it informative and entertaining. Please enjoy our third annual World Travel Awards, Best and Worst of 2019 – My Fab Fifties Life.
For reference – our 2019 countries visited were; Costa Rica, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, USA, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Oman and Kenya.Due to our efforts for much slower travel, this is half as many countries as 2018.
Favorite Overall Country – Guatemala with honorable mention to Myanmar (title photo above, Lake Atitlan Guatemala)
You’ll find a clear pattern through out the awards this year with Guatemala winning several awards. It is just a very unique and special country, with few tourists, fantastic food, gorgeous scenery, amazing history and quiet and hard working people. And it’s cheap.
This all can be said for Myanmar as well. We hope to return to both of these countries in the future.
Favorite City – Antigua
Well there it is again – Guatemala. Antigua is a remarkable city of ancient history in the shadow of a live volcano and for us visiting the weekend of Semana Santa gave us the most unique and incredible experience we could ever hope for.
Most Beautiful City – Shanghai China
Shanghai is the antithesis to Beijing – brand new, sparkling clean, stunningly beautiful (especially at night), easy to maneuver and very pedestrian friendly, Shangahi was our favorite beautiful city of the year.
Cutest Town – Big Fork Montana USA
We spent four months in the USA this year, getting out to visit some new places and some old favorites. Big Fork Montana was a new addition to our travels and it is just so quintisential America; cowboys, artists, wildlife and good food too. We hope to visit again.
Most Expensive Country – Oman and the USA
Oman and the USA tie for most expensive, although neither was outrageously expensive and should not deter anyone from visiting.
Least Expensive Country – Malaysia
Malaysia doesn’t feel poor like some African countries, but the cost of visiting there is dirt cheap. One of the least expensive destinations per day we have visited and we enjoyed all four of the Malaysian areas we visited.
Most Disappointing City – Mandalay Myanmar
Although Myanmar lands at the top of our list this year for many things, the city of Mandalay was a disappointment and I would skip it when recommending a Myanmar tour.
15 Airbnbs, 19 hotels, 1 boat
Best Airbnb Overall –Mal Pais Costa Rica. We spent two weeks with our friends Randy and Sue in this gorgeous beach front Airbnb on the southwest coast of Costa Rica far from the crowds. We were well cared for by an onsite staff person, we witnessed the most incredible wildlife right in our own front yard, and had the most perfect nightly sunset show I’ve seen anywhere in the world. See it here.
Best Airbnb for Service – Diani Beach Kenya. Our lovely little cottage in Diani Beach Kenya came with daily maid service (she even washed the dishes), laundry service (a tiny additional cost), wonderful onsite owners who helped with tours and questions. We spent Christmas with these people and enjoyed having them around us for the holidays. See it here.
Best Airbnb for Authenticity –Antigua Guatemala
Our one-room loft with small kitchen in a historic Antigua home included an outdoor patio that overlooked the traditional inner courtyard as well as the ACTIVE volcano which at night we could see shooting lava into the sky. Wow. Unforgettable. See it here.
Least Expensive Airbnb – Diani Beach Kenya (see above for Best Service Airbnb) at $65 a night. We spent three weeks in a darling cottage with pool. It was an incredible value for everything we got and we felt right at home.
Most Unique Airbnb – Lake Atitlan Guatemala. Hands down one of the most beautiful yet also somewhat strange accommodations I have ever stayed in. We lived for 8 days in a cave basically, with the kitchen, living area and deck built in and around the boulders of the cave, a bathroom one level below in another cave and the bedroom, another level below that. Unforgettable. It was 270 steps to access the cave house from the road below. But oh what a view. See it here.
Favorite Hotel – Inle Lake Myanmar, The Myanmar Treasure Resort. Far and away above any other hotel we stayed in this year, the beauty and uniqueness of the Myanmar Treasure Resort had us giddy with joy during our two week stay in our over-the-water bungalow. And the staff and service was impeccable. See it here.
Worst Hotel – Crooked Tree Resort Belize. I’ve tried to block the one horrible night we spent in this dirty and rodent infested house with broken furniture and mold, from my mind. We were supposed to be there for four nights. We packed up at first light and disappeared.
Favorite Country Cuisine –Guatemala
Healthy use of local and fresh vegetables and beans with just enough protein I fell hard for the unique spices and flavors of the Guatemalan people’s cuisine.
Best Meal –Myanmar Treasure Resort offered a wonderful menu of local specialties and the local “Butterfish” was my favorite meal of 2019.
Best Cooking Class – Antigua Guatemala and Hopkins Belize. We couldn’t decide between these wonderful experiences. In Antigua I had a private class at La Tortilla Cooking School from a Mayan woman with an English interpreter. We made at lease 8 dishes and all were spectacular. In Hopkins my entire family enjoyed an afternoon with Garifuna Chef Gloria where we learned so much about the local Garifuna traditions, local produce and fish and gorged ourselves on the delicious cuisine.
Best Beer – USA all the way on this one, particularly since we didn’t spend any time in Europe, the beer of the USA is hands down the best.
Best Coffee – Guatemala. There is Guatemala again (I bet you really want to go there now dontcha?). I loved the coffee in Guatemala where they produce the best from the America’s – a deep rich and almost chocolaty brew. Kenya rivals it with their mountain grown beans that are often touted as the best in the world. For me though I preferred the dark beans of Guatemala over the lighter somewhat fruity Kenyan roasts. Both however got the job done and the smell was heaven on earth.
Best Food Experience/Tour – Taipei and Kuala Lumpur Two of the all-time best food tours we have ever taken happened this year, the first in Taipei Taiwan with Taipei Eats and the second in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia with Food Tour Malaysia . For both these tours the food was beyond abundant but it was the guides who really made sure our experience was remarkable and unique.
CULTURAL AND NATURAL EXPERIENCES
Best Sunset – Mal Pais Costa Rica. For fourteen glorious nights in a row we sat on a log on the beach, gin and tonic in hand, and watched the show…a fiery blend of orange, pink and purple as each day in Mal Pais came to an end. It was truly remarkable.
Most Authentic Cultural Experience – Muscat Oman dining with a local family. We were lucky to stumble onto the Website of Zayr, a local organization who brings visitors together with local Omani’s. Our experience dining in the home of a lovely local family included delicious food, but more importantly wonderful conversation and cultural exchange. We enjoyed it immensely. Shukran to our new friends.
Best Beach – It’s a tie! Cenang Beach Lankawi Malaysia and the greater Diani Beach area of Kenya both deserve the gold statue this year. Diani’s baby powder fine white sand and turquoise blue water is one of the reasons it shows up so often on lists of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But Langkawi’s Cenang Beach, is a clean, long expansive golden beach with incredibly warm waters all with easy access and lots of restaurants and services to make your beach visit comfortable. We loved them both.
Best Driver – Alehandro in Guatemala was our favorite driver who was not only a safe and exceptional driver, but was a great tour guide, passionate about his country and understanding when I was dealing with severe motion sickness. We became friends. If you need a driver in Guatemala let me know and I can get you in touch with him.
Best Tour Company – China Connections China we don’t use many tour operators, but for our time in China we were taken great care of by several operators and guides secured for us by China Connections, who also booked and organized our Yangtze River Cruise. Everything done without a hitch.
Best Bucket List Historic Site – Bagan Myanmar. I had read so much about Bagan and the unique and ancient temples there but I still was not prepared for it’s ancient religious beauty and the reverent and dedicated Buddhists who come to this place.
Best Natural Site – Glacier National Park, Montana USA. For wildlife spotting in the United States you can’t beat big and beautiful Montana and our visit to Glacier National Park did not disappoint. A top site in the USA you should not miss.
Best Waterfall – Mayan King Waterfall Belize. When our two adult sons visited us in Belize this waterfall was one of the unexpected and fun things we did just outside of Hopkins Belize.
Best Manmade Site – Tikal Guatemala. When I first started researching visiting Guatemala it was because I had heard so much about this remarkable Mayan site. And it was very remarkable. And we were surprised by all of Guatemala but the fascinating Mayan history here was the cherry on the sundae.
Best Mosque– Muscat Oman, Honorable Mention Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of the most beautiful if not the most beautiful (better than the Blue Mosque in Turkey even??) I have ever seen. Only a few years old the tiles, hand-knoted carpet and astonishing chandeliers are phenomenal. Our honorable mention goes to the Wilayah Mosque in Kuala Lumpur for the incredible customer service provided visitors there. Where we had a private tour for free and an opportunity to watch the mid-day prayers.
Best Day Hike – Wadi Shab Oman. After not being able to do this on our first try because of a big flood and mudslide the day before, we are so glad we returned a few days later to try again. I think most people would be pretty surprised at the rugged yet beautiful terrain of Oman, and it makes for exceptionally challenging and beautiful hiking.
Best Multi-Day Hike – Hiking from Inle Lake to Kalaw. This two day hike was longer and harder than I thought it would be (I should read the fine print) but the experience was amazing. Our guide was great, the food was surprisingly abundant and delicious and even sleeping on the floor in the home of a local Myanmar family with no electricity or running water was a memorable experience.
Most Unique Outdoor Experience – Learning to Goeduck Even though I was born and raised in Goeduck country, I had my first experience this year in Gig Harbor Washington USA.
Expensive but Worth it – Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride over Bagan Myanmar $700. Ridiculously expensive. Once in a lifetime memorable.
Best Wildlife Experience Orangutan watching in Borneo Malaysia with Honorable Mention to seeing sloths and toucans in Costa Rica. We love it when we can see wildlife in its natural habitat. Our time in Borneo was all and more than I ever could have dreamed of seeing up close and personal the endangered orangutans as well as proboscis monkeys. In Costa Rica a lifetime goal of seeing sloths in the wild was fulfilled.
Most Moving Experience – Journey for Purpose Kayak Trip Belize. If you have a chance, you should do this experience. It was such a wonderful way to stop and appreciate my own self-worth, while getting to know and rejoice together with a group of women I had never met before. The kayaking was hard but the scenery was beautiful with weather that challenged us. And such wonderful memories were made with these women as we held each other up when a family tragedy back home for one women gave us a unique opportunity to show our female nurturing strength and come together as one. I will never forget it. This trip happens annually, learn more here.
Best Performance Marionette Show Mandalay Myanmar. Although Mandalay was not my favorite place, the best thing we did there was attend the Myanmar Puppet Theater and enjoyed exceptionally talented puppeteers who have kept this Myanmar art form alive. Who knew marionettes’ could be so lifelike?
Least English Spoken – Guatemala wins again. Although we were always able to find people who spoke English when necessary, a large portion of the Mayan population in Guatemala who are older than a teenager do not speak any English. English has only been taught in the schools for the past ten years.
Hottest Day: Diani Beach Kenya 91 degrees F and 77 degree dew point. We swooned.
Coldest Day: Port Orchard Washington USA. During our time in the USA we had a couple of very chilly and wet weeks in June that kept us decidedly indoors
Wettest Day: Waking up in Placencia Belize to water all over the floor of our Airbnb and sewer bubbling up out of the holding tank after a torrential downpour all night long.
Best Yoga – Balance Yoga Retreat El Tunco El Salvador. I enjoyed a lot of great yoga around the world this past year with memorable moments in Kota Kinabalu Malaysia (where I did sound healing for the first time) and in La Fortuna Costa Rica, and Punta Cana Dominican Republic but my favorite of possibly all time was the ten days I enjoyed yoga both morning and evening at Balance Yoga Retreat in the tiny paradise of El Tunco El Salvador. Who would have thought?
Best Place to Run – Cenang Beach Langkawi. Getting up early before the heat of the day and running on the safe, flat and fabulous ring road and along the beach boardwalk of the small town of Cenang Beach gave us an entire month to really get back in running shape.
28 flights, 1 train ride, 2 small boat rides, one river cruise
Smallest Airport – Punta Gorda Belize. I am not joking when I say the terminal was a shack about 10’x10′.
Worst Flight Experience – Getting sever motion sickness on a tiny plane from Florez to Guatemala City and then needing to do a three hour drive on winding roads to our final destination of Antigua.
Airport Most in Need of Upgrade – Heho Airport outside of Inle Lake Myanmar. It’s actually pretty busy, but very rundown. The check-in counter looked like something used as a ticket booth at a carnival.
Best Airport – Muscat Oman was shiny and new and very comfortable.
Worst Day of Travel – We had to spend one night in Nairobi before flying on to Mombassa where we would go by car for the 40km trip to Diani Beach. We didn’t know that due to a ferry, that 40km trip usually took 4 hours and on the day we were doing it took 6 and half because of high traffic from the Kenyan holiday of Jamhuri the day before. Not sure how we missed that information in all of our research but it made for a very long and exhausting travel day indeed.
Just Because It’s Unusual Category – Dental Work in San Jose Costa Rica. I didn’t have a category to fit this in but I needed to mention it because it was quit unusual. But I had a wonderful experience at Meza Dental having an extraction and implant done for a third of the cost of doing this in the USA. A year later it is perfectly healed and I would do it again in a heart beat.
Sad But True Category – Photographer Death in Belize While our sons came to visit us in Belize we did some family photos of all of us on the beach with a female photographer I found online. She did a wonderful job and she was creative and nice. We received all the photos via email about a week later. Tragically just a few days after that, she died of a stroke. Rest in peace Marian.
So there you have it. The winner of the Fab Fifties version of the Oscars for 2019. What a great year full of incredible experiences around the world. We are the luckiest people on the planet. Who needs a little gold statue when you have a Fab Fifties Life?
What a fabulous life it is. WATCH OUT! 27 countries planned for 2020!
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