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RTW #9: All About Africa & SE Asia

The Thrill of Travel, the Joy of Coming Home: Wrapping Up RTW #9

Posted by on Feb 27, 2014 | 0 comments

The Thrill of Travel, the Joy of Coming Home: Wrapping Up RTW #9

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And so we come to the end of another globetrotting adventure! Another January (and/or February) spent gallivanting around the globe completely oblivious to general winter nonsense like ice storms and the occasional “snowpocalypse.” Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past 9 years: When summer abandons you…hunt it down.

And that’s just what I did, spending this year’s round the world trip safely below the equator enjoying the sunshine and warmth of southern Africa and Southeast Asia. While the continents were fewer on RTW 9, the experience was no less rewarding.

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The Song of the South Pacific: Fiji & the Mamanuca Islands

Posted by on Feb 25, 2014 | 0 comments

The Song of the South Pacific: Fiji & the Mamanuca Islands

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Ooohhh, who owns that yacht?” we asked with envy as our high-speed catamaran docked back at Denarau Marina. “My 2nd husband,” joked Ma, as laughter filled the Captain’s Lounge. We’d just returned from a day of sailing through Fiji’s Mamanuca Islands and Makereta (or just “Ma” as she preferred to be called) was our cheerful hostess and Cruise Director for the voyage. It had been a simply spectacular day and the Fijian people like Ma were a big part of the reason why.

People often throw the word “paradise” around with reckless abandon (I myself have likely been guilty of that) but for me, the South Pacific truly defines the word. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of this region (Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Vanuatu and Easter Island) and for my money, there’s no better overall South Pacific destination than Fiji.

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Jetlagged in Jakarta

Posted by on Feb 21, 2014 | 0 comments

Jetlagged in Jakarta

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No traffic, no Jakarta” joked my driver as we sat parked on the highway just minutes after leaving the airport. Of course, it probably didn’t help matters that I landed in the middle of Friday morning rush hour. Luckily, it’s still only 7:30am so I’m not in any hurry.

It’s not considered much of a tourism destination, but the sprawling city of Jakarta is perhaps one of the world’s most dynamic capitals due to its sheer size alone. The city is home to more than 10 million people which certainly explained my current traffic situation.

My last stop after two weeks in Indonesia, I arrived in Jakarta from Lombok with just one night to see a little of the city before jetting off to Seoul the next day. Getting to the airport in Lombok in time for a 6am flight meant a 3:30am wake-up call but since it was the only direct flight of the day, I booked it. And it’s a good thing I did.

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Idyllic Indonesia: Lombok & the Gili Islands

Posted by on Feb 18, 2014 | 0 comments

Idyllic Indonesia: Lombok & the Gili Islands

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Widely considered to be Indonesia’s next great tourism hotspot, tiny Lombok is often overshadowed by its more popular neighbor to the west, Bali. What I’d read about the island promised it was Bali 30 years ago, unspoiled by traffic and rows of mega resorts. It sounded like my kind of place and I was anxious to see it for myself.

However, my decision to make a stop in Bali on the way to Lombok had cut my originally intended length of time on the island in half so I needed to make the most of the two days I had. My short flight from Bali was scheduled to land at noon but as I was quickly discovering, Lion Air has a very “relaxed” opinion regarding on-time departures and I yet again found myself staring at my watch as my scheduled departure time flew by without comment from the gate agents (for those of you keeping score at home, I’m now 0-3 in on-time arrivals within Indonesia).

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Blissful in Bali

Posted by on Feb 16, 2014 | 0 comments

Blissful in Bali

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It’s been 4 years since my last visit to the “Island of the Gods” and it seems a lot has changed. New shopping centers, new condos and most notably, two new Marriott hotel properties – the Sheraton Bali Kuta and the Le Meridien Bali Jimbaran, both of which opened in the past year. I’d originally planned on passing over Bali and spending four nights on the island of Lombok but when the Sheraton Bali Kuta invited me to drop by for a visit, well it was just too good an offer to refuse. I mean really, how can anyone be expected to say no to Bali? And after all I was in the neighborhood.

After a 6-hour drive to the airport in Makassar and yet another severely delayed flight (come on Lion Air, get your head in the game) it was after 8pm by the time I landed in Bali. Thankfully, the Sheraton’s car was ready and waiting for the brief drive to the hotel. Once I arrived, I was greeted exuberantly by the staff and ushered to a spacious ocean-front suite. After 3 nights on Sulawesi in a hotel that had power occasionally and running water, well, most of the time…it was literally heaven.

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The Beauty of Bira: Taking it Easy in Sulawesi

Posted by on Feb 15, 2014 | 0 comments

The Beauty of Bira: Taking it Easy in Sulawesi

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The Indonesian archipelago is made up of more than 18,000 islands. Obviously, I didn’t have time to visit them all but I did want to break away from the more traditionally visited islands – like Bali and Java – and challenge myself a little while I was over here. Enter Sulawesi…

True to its wild-looking form on the map, Sulawesi presented a number of challenges, not the least of which was deciding where on the island to go. Sulawesi’s rugged interior was thick with mountainous jungles rendering it virtually impenetrable which left just the four spider-leg-like peninsulas jutting out into the sea as realistic options.

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Yogyakarta & Sunrise at Borobudur

Posted by on Feb 14, 2014 | 0 comments

Yogyakarta & Sunrise at Borobudur

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My first stop in Indonesia welcomed me with just the kind of torrential downpour you might expect from any tropical nation’s rainy season. It’s possible you’ve never heard of Yogyakarta (I hadn’t until a few months ago) but the main reason for my brief visit here was to see Java’s Borobudur.

Though you’ve probably never heard of Borobudur either, you’d likely recognize it in photos. It first appeared on my radar when the Amazing Race teams went there a few years ago. When I decided to spend some time in Indonesia this year, it shot straight to the top of my priority list.

Getting to Borobudur isn’t the easiest since it’s not really located near a major city (like Angkor Wat in Siem Reap). However, diligent research showed that the city of Yogyakarta was the most convenient for a visit.

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Sarawak Borneo: Getting Catty in Kuching

Posted by on Feb 11, 2014 | 0 comments

Sarawak Borneo: Getting Catty in Kuching

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Made up of four independent regions – Brunei, Indonesian Borneo and the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak – the island of Borneo is the largest in Asia and third-largest in the world. And with a rainforest that’s more than 130 million years old, it’s also one of the world’s most unique destinations.

You may remember that I visited the Malaysian state of Sabah on Round the World #6 and also enjoyed a bonus stopover in Brunei on my flight out. This time I was looking forward to exploring Sarawak Borneo, known to be the island’s cultural heart with a thriving indigenous population retaining the ancient traditions of the island.

My base for the next four nights, Kuching, the capital city of Malaysia’s largest state of Sarawak. After a quick flight from Kuala Lumpur, I was back in Borneo.

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Malawi Misadventures & the Magnificent “Lake of Stars”

Posted by on Jan 31, 2014 | 4 comments

Malawi Misadventures & the Magnificent “Lake of Stars”

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“If we hit a goat, we don’t leave it behind, we take it. It’s good meat.” said my driver, Jacob, as he halfheartedly slowed to avoid a smattering of languid goats along the dark and deserted (of cars, anyway) road from the airport in Lilongwe to my hotel on Lake Malawi. It was after midnight now, so at this point I’d known Jacob for about an hour which suddenly seemed like not long enough.

We’d gotten off to a bit of a rocky start at the airport in Malawi and now I was mildly alarmed that he’d just seriously floated the idea of loading a dead goat into the back seat with me. But before I move on to my exciting drive from the airport on my first night in Malawi, let’s back up to how I got here…

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Cruising to Mozambique on the MSC Opera

Posted by on Jan 29, 2014 | 2 comments

Cruising to Mozambique on the MSC Opera

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For my second cruise with MSC in as many weeks, I was headed up the eastern coast of South Africa bound for Mozambique. Like Namibia, Mozambique was a country that I hoped to visit while exploring southern Africa but the logistics of getting there and deciding where to stay were complex.

So when I discovered that MSC had several cruise itineraries from Durban that visited Mozambique, it was a no-brainer. I had originally planned to do a cruise that included both Madagascar and Mozambique but couldn’t work out the dates for that sailing with the rest of my itinerary so I settled for the MSC Opera’s sailing that called at the capital city of Maputo and made a second stop on the uninhabited sands of Portuguese Island.

For nearly 200 years after Vasco da Gama landed at Mozambique Island en route to India in 1498, the Portuguese ran trading posts along the coast of what they called Portuguese East Africa. In the centuries that followed, the gold trade turned to the ivory trade and by the end of the 18th century, both had been replaced by the slave trade. Nearly a million Africans were sold into slavery through Mozambique’s ports making it a major center of the African slave trade.

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Lesotho & the Sani Pass: A 4-Wheel-Drive Adventure to the Kingdom in the Sky

Posted by on Jan 24, 2014 | 0 comments

Lesotho & the Sani Pass: A 4-Wheel-Drive Adventure to the Kingdom in the Sky

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It’s the world’s highest-altitude nation where even the “lowlands” sit at a dizzying 4,500ft above sea level earning it the nickname, the Kingdom in the Sky. Though Lesotho is surrounded on all sides by South Africa, its defensible position in the mountains and a determined people kept it independent through the decades of apartheid.

While tiny Lesotho is one of Africa’s poorest nations, this alpine mountain kingdom just might be one of the continent’s most underrated travel destinations.

Easily accessible from Durban or Johannesburg (as long as you have a 4×4, that is), Lesotho’s highest peak tops 11,400 feet, the highest in all of Southern Africa (topped on the continent only by Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro).

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The Township Legacy of Cape Town

Posted by on Jan 22, 2014 | 0 comments

The Township Legacy of Cape Town

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Cape Town, South Africa…I loved it so much on Round the World #1, I went back for more on Round the World #2. But it had been more than 6 years since my last visit and I was long overdue for a return to one of the world’s most stunning cities.

I had two days before my cruise to Namibia and one day after to enjoy all that Cape Town had to offer. After spending my first night settling in at the Westin, the next day I headed over to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront area (an easy walk from the hotel) for lunch and a little shopping.

The V&A (as the locals call it) is a working harbor and its importance dates back to the Cape Colony of the 1800’s. Safe shipping was essential for the budding colony and the first load of stone for the harbor breakwater was tipped by none other than Prince Alfred – second son of Queen Victoria.

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Cruising to Walvis Bay Namibia: USA, Party of One (Are Americans Missing the Boat?)

Posted by on Jan 20, 2014 | 0 comments

Cruising to Walvis Bay Namibia: USA, Party of One (Are Americans Missing the Boat?)

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It’s the only place on the planet where the dunes of the world’s oldest desert meet the crashing Atlantic surf; a German colonial legacy set against a lunar landscape. It’s Namibia…and no journey through Southern Africa would be complete without a visit.

Namibia has been on my list ever since Matt Lauer stopped there a few years ago on “Where in the World is Matt Lauer.” I know, I know, I seem to get a lot of my travel inspiration from Matt and it doesn’t always pan out (see Seychelles), but watching him explore those incredible dunes in the Namib Desert was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and I just had to see it for myself.

Since Africa was a major focus for this year’s RTW, I figured there was no better time to add Namibia to the itinerary. After a little research I realized that I couldn’t get to the major airport, Windhoek, on Skyteam so I would need a separate flight (outside my RTW ticket) if I flew. But even if I did book a flight to Windhoek, it appeared that the places I would actually want to visit were hours away and driving on your own was roundly discouraged. I needed a better plan.

Enter, MSC Cruise Lines.

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Off the Grid in the Kingdom of Swaziland

Posted by on Jan 13, 2014 | 0 comments

Off the Grid in the Kingdom of Swaziland

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Where in the world is Swaziland?” said pretty much everyone I know when I rattled it off between Paris and Cape Town on the Round-the-World #9 itinerary.

Sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique, the tiny nation of Swaziland has been independent since 1968. Known for its natural beauty and friendly people, I decided no 3-week trip around southern Africa could be complete without at least a brief stopover.

But first, a recap of how I got to Africa’s last remaining monarchy…

When last I left off, I was boarding the world’s largest aircraft, the Airbus 380, in Paris. Now, flying on the A380 is awesome, it’s just a behemoth. Unfortunately, loading and unloading that behemoth takes about twice as long as any other plane. As a result we departed Paris late and a comfortable ninety minute connection in Johannesburg turned into a mad dash through yet another airport.

Luckily, my flight to Manzini, Swaziland was an international connection, meaning I didn’t have to clear customs in Jo’burg. Both times I’d connected here before I’d been headed to Cape Town (a domestic connection) and had to wait in long immigration lines before heading to my gate.

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Layover Luxury in Paris

Posted by on Jan 10, 2014 | 0 comments

Layover Luxury in Paris

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On the way to South Africa, I had 12 hours to kill in one of my favorite cities in the world – Paris. My original plan was to take the train into town – luggage in tow – and wander around the city for the afternoon, stopping for lunch at a crepe stand and a cozy dinner at my favorite little restaurant on Ile St. Louis.

It was a good plan, I thought, until my friends at Starwood interjected with a better one…come check out the newly renovated Prince de Galles Hotel which had just re-opened in May after a 2-year closure for a total overhaul. They were kind enough to offer lunch and a place to shower and store my luggage for the day but (to be honest) I didn’t need much convincing, it was too good an offer to refuse – so I didn’t.

So, after a 7 ½ hour very pleasant (although lacking any real amount of sleep) flight on Air France from Atlanta, I arrived in Paris right on time at 11am and made my way into the city on the train.

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