As 2010 nears its end, I reflect upon the year just passed. Things I’ve learned, people I’ve met, fun I’ve had, roads taken and dreams realized. As an homage to 2010, I devote the last post of the year to some of its travel highlights. But be forewarned: the list is long and far from exhaustive.
The year started with a quickie sojourn at a luxurious beach resort on the Riviera Maya in January. As I sat in my five-star villa overlooking sea and sand, I learned of the earthquake that swept Haiti. The paradox struck me hard. No amount of donation could have made me feel better about the fact I was living a charmed life while thousands were dying in rubble. Talk about counting your blessings…
Mexico was followed by a four-day art and chocolate-infused trip to Brussels. Then in February came the highlight of my travel year: a visit to my husband’s home country, Angola. It was his first in 15 years and my first ever to sub-Saharan Africa. This eye-opening experience not only brought me closer to my husband but also to a world I had only ever imagined through books and films. It also gave me the privilege of meeting my sister-in-law Cristina and her beautiful son Vicente, two special people who now hold a very dear place in my heart.
After Angola, I was off solo for a ten-day trip around South Africa, on assignment for a couple of publications. What impressed me were not the high-end hotels and safari lodges where I stayed, although I must admit that the safari experience was heaps of fun. The highlight was meeting the people in the townships, hearing their first-hand stories of hair-raising years during the Apartheid. One of them was the charming Ronel Stevens, whom I featured in an interview for amNew York. The musicians I met in the Cape Town townships were inspiration for another story I wrote, about the music of the Cape Flats, for a Berlin-based publication called Electronic Beats.
In March, I zipped over to London for a Lonely Planet authors’ meeting. In a lovely combo of work and play, I met my old friends from the time I lived in England in the early to mid-1990s. It was inspiring to meet their children, a new generation of beautiful people. A comfort to know we will be leaving this world in their hands. I also got to satisfy a few food cravings.
Soon after my return to New York, I traveled to Thailand in April for an assignment, a magazine article about the spas of Thailand (due to be published shortly in New York Resident). I was on a ten-day trip covering some of the country’s most exclusive spa resorts, where one night cost twice my monthly rent back in New York. Meanwhile, Red Shirt protesters were raging against the government in the streets of Bangkok, protests that left many dead in their wake. There I was in a total five-star bubble, yet another paradox of my travel writer’s life.
In May, I traveled to Mexico City for the first time, to cover a boutique hotel that had just opened. While there, I managed to meet up with friends who briefly lived in Brooklyn a few years ago and then moved back to Mexico City. Through this pair of creative souls, I was lucky to see an offbeat slice of the city. I still have vivid memories of our night at the peso-for-dance halls.
I headed off to my native land in June to research the next edition of Lonely Planet Croatia (which comes out in February). I spent six weeks traveling around Dalmatia, Istria and Zagorje, with Zagreb as my base. As always, the research was intense but I also managed to squeeze in time with my family at our ancestral home in the Croatian countryside. A couple of articles came out of this trip, including a piece for BBC Travel.com about Zagreb and a story about truffles in Istria for The Washington Post.
I came back to New York in late July and wrote frantically for weeks on end, in order to meet my manuscript deadline in early September. It felt fantastic to hand it in, especially because the next day I flew to Toronto with my husband for the Toronto International Film Festival where a film that he shot in Kinshasa (photo by Julien Momenceau) this past winter, Viva Riva, had its North American premiere. Viva Riva was called a surprise hit of TIFF 2010 and quickly picked up by distributors worldwide. My husband, Hoji Fortuna, plays the lead villain of the movie, which will soon premiere in cinemas around the US.
While in Toronto, I also sought stories (surprise surprise!), one of which was picked up by BBC Travel/Lonely Planet, about the artsy West Queen West neighborhood.
A few hours after returning to New York from Toronto, I flew to the Galapagos, my first visit to this Atlantic archipelago off the coast of Ecuador. The sailing was unforgettable (will be writing about it for New York Resident magazine this spring) as was the day I spent in Quito.
The time between trips in New York was short again. A couple of weeks later, off I was again, this time to Central America. In Costa Rica, I attended the second annual conference on sustainable tourism, People Planet Peace, while staying at a gorgeous coffee plantation & inn just outside San Jose, Finca Rosa Blanca. It rained for days on end during my stay, as hurricane Thomas poured buckets of rain across Central America. The last night, as I soundly slept on soft bamboo sheets at Finca Rosa Blanca, a mudslide washed away an entire hillside suburb in San Jose, killing more than two dozen people and leaving many homeless. It was another jarring moment of my travel writer’s life, where reality and tourist brochure fantasy collide head-on.
I traveled to Nicaragua overland the next day, as the rains lifted and sunshine broke through. I spent four heavenly days at the new Jicaro Island Ecolodge on a private islet in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, while exploring nearby villages, volcanoes, coffee plantations and the colonial showcase of Granada.
I returned to New York for one night, only to fly to Lisbon the next day. The ten-day trip took me to Portugal’s capital, one of my adopted homes, and to Porto, another city that I find poignantly beautiful. My assignments included an update of a travel guide, a couple of articles and a radio interview. In addition to back-to-back hotel inspections and meals at top restaurants, I managed to reconnect with dear friends, my Lisbon family.
Back in New York, there was one last trip of 2010 waiting for me. And a special one to boot, since a friend came along and made my stay on St Barths tenfold more enjoyable. I mostly travel solo so to have company was a sweet treat. I was also lucky to have a guide who showed me the reality behind the St Barths glamour.
Phew, just reading the above made my head spin. No surprise that, after five continents and over a dozen countries, I’ve imposed a travel embargo on myself. It’s been almost an entire month of staying put in New York and – believe it or not – I’m still not jonesing. I’ve even managed to turn down a few very tempting trip invitations. Let’s see how long that lasts…
Meanwhile, I have plenty of work lined up through March. That includes another travel writing class I’ll be teaching for Mediabistro, starting on February 1. If you’re interested or know anybody who may be, please sign up or spread the word. I’m also almost done working with a developer on revamping my website. The major change will be my blog moving over to WordPress. Stay tuned!
As for my wishes for 2011… I wish for peace, in stillness and in movement. I wish to carry my home inside my heart, wherever I may be in this world. I wish for truth and honesty in my words and actions. I wish for inspiration to connect the dots of all my journeys into one (admittedly curvy) line.
And for all of you reading, traveling or dreaming of new horizons, I wish you love, truth and peace. Happy 2011!