After a lovely time in Porto Seguro (where I sort of wish I’d stayed longer) I hopped onto another overnight bus to make my way to Salvador, the capital of Bahia state. I’d read a bit about the city and was rather excited to be able to explore such a culturally and historically important place. What I didn’t expect was the city to be rundown to the point where safety is seriously compromised just by stepping outside. That was definitely a surprise, and not a great one at that.
Widely recognised as one of the most picturesque treks in the world, the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal is unlikely to leave anyone indifferent. I mean, it’s not every day that you get to be surrounded by some of the tallest peaks on the planet – some reaching heights of 8,000 metres or more! The classic trek starts in Besisahar (760 m) and progressively climbs to Manang (3,519 m) on the way to Thorung La Pass, which sits at 5,416 metres. It’s a strenuous endeavour, to put it mildly.
While I did have several favourite days on the trail, one the most special was definitely the acclimatisation trek to Ice Lake (4,620 m) from Manang. It’s a demanding hike that sees trekkers gain over 1,000 metres in altitude in just a few hours. The Ice Lake itself isn’t all that impressive (it’s a lake, after all) but the spectacular views on the way down make the effort absolutely worth it. The view you get of the Annapurna range is nothing short of breathtaking.
When people think of Gibraltar, the small British enclave in southern Spain, they usually think of the famous wild monkeys that roam around freely. While I don’t mind monkeys per se (you won’t find me playing with them, though) my interest revolved more around experiencing British culture in the Mediterranean and, especially, hiking. Namely, hiking up the widely recognised Rock – as Gibraltar is also known as.
There are a few easy ways to reach the top but I had my eyes set on a steep hike called the Mediterranean Steps. Living true to its name, it has no shortage of steps and climbing them can be a pretty gruelling endeavour on a hot day. Once you reach the ridge of the 426-metre peak you get a stunning view of both the Mediterranean Sea and the Rock itself, which immediately makes the effort more than worth it.
I’m not going to lie, I was super excited about returning to Brazil. The first time I visited – in 2016 – ended up being a bit rushed as I was at the tail-end of an 18-month round-the-world trip. While I did get to explore the city in the few days I spent there, I felt like it was a place I would eventually have to return to. Rio is a special place and you can feel its uniquely awesome energy pretty much as soon as you arrive.
Arriving in Bogotá after four months in Santa Marta was a breath of fresh hair. Quite literally. Unlike the intense heat I’d experienced on the Caribbean coast, the temperatures in the capital were much cooler. Thankfully, I had brought warm clothes so that was not going to be much of an issue. And to be honest, I was excited about it. I also missed rain (for some reason) and was hoping Bogotá delivered on that front. Ironic, seeing how I’d ran away to the Caribe precisely to escape the cold and rain.
Myanmar is a beautiful country with plenty of spectacular attractions to discover, natural and man-made. One of them is the Gokteik viaduct, a place not many tourists make a point of visiting due to its rather remote location. Well, not remote per se but certainly not on the tourist trail! I love railway bridges and this one seemed far too good to even contemplate skipping so I had to add it to the itinerary.
Built by the British in 1901, it stands at over 100 metres high over a deep gorge. To reach it you need to take the Lashio-bound morning train from a small town called Pyin U Lwin. The ride is quite uneventful until you get to the viaduct and the train slows down for the crossing, making the experience even more exhilarating – or terrifying, depending on how you look at it. Needless to say this one is best avoided by vertigo sufferers!
One of my biggest fears before travelling to China was that I’d have a horrible time at the Great Wall. Most of the pictures I’d seen seemed to have a lot of people in them and that was definitely not the experience I was after. Thankfully, my hostel in Beijing had a ‘Secret Wall Tour’ and I just went for it. To say it was one of the best decisions I ever made is an understatement.
The Wall (which can’t be seen from space, by the way – that’s a myth) extends for more than 20,000 kilometres and was built over several centuries and dynasties. Not all sections are open to tourists so we really struck gold with this tour. I was the only one who climbed to this tower and the reward was a view that left me absolutely speechless. It really is great.
Before I went back to Bogotá there were two nearby places I did not want to leave without checking out: Taganga and Rodadero. What I find fascinating about them is how they sort of represent polar opposites; while Taganga is usually compared to a hippie haven, Rodadero is tailor made for the resort types. They’re both very popular and also part of the reason Santa Marta sees so many visitors, with a considerable amount choosing to stay there instead of the city proper.
When my short stay in Palomino came to an end it was time to return to Santa Marta. I’d been away for a couple of weeks and felt ready to get back to work. One thing I didn’t realise was that January is peak season in Colombia, proper peak season – like August in Southern Europe. To say I was surprised by how busy I found Santa Marta is an understatement. So much so I had to spend a week in a different hostel because República was full. Madness!
Despite the small size, Lebanon is a beautiful country with plenty of things to see and do. One clear advantage of its reduced dimensions is that you can base yourself in Beirut, the vibrant capital, and explore the rest of the country from there. Baalbek, easily reached by shared van in a couple of hours, is the one destination (aside from Beirut, of course) I’d say is absolutely unmissable.
Its biggest attraction is the archeological site that bears the town’s name. The ruins date back to Roman times and are some of the best-preserved in existence. The whole place is spectacular and lots of fun to explore, but it’s the Temple of Bacchus – its crown jewel – that makes jaws drop. The lookout within the temple grounds gives a good idea of how massive it is. A stunner, inside and out!