Often, when people hear that we’ve been traveling for five years, they think we’ve “done it all.” This could not be further from the truth – the more we explore of this world of ours, the more we realize how big and diverse it really is. This is something to be celebrated.
When we began 2011 we could not have even imagined where this year would take us. Not only has 2011 been a year of activity and reflection, but it has also been a year of many firsts.
Having never visited the Middle East, we traveled through three countries (Jordan, Iran and Egypt) this year. Having dreamed of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for over a decade, we made it to the top. Having regretted skipping Bangladesh on our previous trip through South Asia several years ago, we promised ourselves to return and visit this little known country; this year we did. And when we were invited to speak at a tourism conference in Egypt at the end of the year, we decided this was the right time to begin sharing our knowledge of the tourism industry while taking the opportunity to see a few pyramids along the way.
So without further ado, here’s a look back at 2011 and all the people and places we were able to experience and learn from during the year.
Koh Samui, Thailand
We began this year on Koh Samui, an island in the Gulf of Thailand known more for its resorts and partying than a peaceful retreat. But we found a little beach house to get the year going with a view. Not a bad way to begin.
Our maiden journey to the Middle East began with Jordan. While the big sights on our trip included Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea, our hearts were touched by learning about Bedouin culture and Zikra Initiative's tourism exchange program.
We met a grand total of five tourists in almost six weeks in Bangladesh. If you want a place that’s “off the beaten track,” it’s hard to beat Bangladesh. And the people – all 150 million of them in the size of the state of Wisconsin – will be thrilled to meet you, take your photo with their mobile phones and ask many, many questions. It's intense, crazy and wonderful all at the same time.
We went to Bali to catch our breath, relax and do a bit of yoga, but found ourselves scuba diving, climbing volcanoes and taking cooking classes before too long. While we enjoyed our few weeks on Bali, we realize we need to return with A LOT of time to explore the rest of Indonesia.
Tanzania marked Dan's first visit to Africa and also his seventh continent. More importantly, we had an opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, a shared dream of ours for over a decade. The journey to the summit was physical, emotional and epic, even more so since everyone in our group made it to the top.
Our travels in Tanzania continued with a safari through the Serengeti, Lake Manyara and NgoroNgoro Crater where we couldn't believe our luck (or more like, our guide's and driver's skills) at finding the big cats–cheetahs, lions, and even a leopard.
This was not our first visit to Berlin, but it was the first time we had stayed in one place for more than three months since we began this journey around the world. We so enjoyed catching up with old friends, making new ones and exploring more of this city we love.
As for more firsts, we did base flying from the top of a 37-story building for our 11th wedding anniversary, went to the Dachshund races, felt the delightful burn of hot sauce tasting and learned more about Berlin's changing and eclectic food scene.
We visited Crete during an interesting time as demonstrations were full on in Athens. However, life on Crete carried on much as it always had on this southern Greek island. From ancient Minoan cities to Venetian ports to endless mountain terrain, Crete pleasantly surprised us by what it had to offer to the independent traveler (we'll be writing more on this soon!). But what really won our hearts on Crete was the food – fresh, full of fragrance and just hearty goodness (more coming on this soon, too!).
This had been a dream destination of ours for years, but we finally found the right opportunity this year to actually make a trip to Iran happen. What we found on the ground regarding the reception from and warmth of Iranian people shattered stereotypes and helped us understand better their challenges. Not to mention, we were stunned by the depth of Iran's history and ancient sights like Persepolis and dazzled by Iran's Islamic architecture and design like the sort you see in the photo below. What a trip.
Our trip to Egypt at the end of the year was not only our first time visiting this country, but our first experience speaking about blogging and what we do at a tourism industry conference. What we learned: we would like to do more of each.
Although our time in Egypt was short, we still managed to visit three different pyramid sites, stroll down the streets of old Alexandria and visit Coptic (Old) Cairo and other sites in a city that's currently all over the news. Safety, perhaps surprisingly to many, was a non-issue. We also know that our Egypt experience is just a drop in the bucket for this huge country, so we look forward to returning and seeing more.
We'd like to give a huge thank you to all our readers and friends who have supported us and joined along in on our travels throughout the year. We look forward to continuing to sharing our journey with you in 2012, and we wish you all the best for a peaceful, fruitful new year!