Now that I have received a new passport that is good for the next decade and am awaiting for new great adventures, I’ve decided to create a bucket list of what I hope to see in the next ten years and before if I go blind even though I do hope that I’ll have treatments within the next ten years so that I can continue to see the world for the rest of my life.
- Maasai Mara
- Himalayan Mountains
- Great Barrier Reef
- Great Pyramids
- Taj Mahal
- Victoria Falls
- Grand Canyon
- Amazon Rainforest
- Yellowstone Park
- Angel Falls
- Mendenhall Glacier Caves
- Uluru/Ayers Rock
- Hagia Sophia
- Rohtang Pass
- Great Wall of China
- Tatra Mountains
- Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
- Forbidden City
- Oneonta Gorge
- Zion National Park
- Yunnan Province
- Yuanyang Rice Terraces
- Salar de Uyuni
- Lake Retba
- Northern Lights
- Atlantic Ocean Highway
- Ha Long Bay
- Torres Del Paine National Park
- Cape Town
- Buenos Aires
- Garden Route
- Galapagos Islands
- Kuala Lumpur
- Kruger National Park
- Pacific Coast Highway
- Mekong Delta
- Paddy Fields in Philippines
- Yosemite Park
- Saint Petersburg
- Swiss Alps
- Lake Titicaca
- Lake Tahoe
- The Wave
- Nice and Cannes
- Antelope Canyon
- Anne Frank’s Hidden Place
- Igazu Falls
- Cinque Terre
- Glacier National Park
- Rio de Janeiro
- Ica Desert
- Perito Moreno Glacier
- Atacama Desert
- Norway Fjiords
- Bryce Canyon
- Milford Sounds
- Golden State Bridge
- Lake Atitlan
- Ngorongoro Crater
- Pan American Highway – Take a road trip from the tip of Alaska to the bottom of South America.
A couple weeks ago, I sent off my US passport to the US passport office to renew it. Even though my passport does not expire for another year, it was time to kiss to say goodbye because there was only one page left. Instead of shelling out of a lot of money for additional pages, it was more logical for me to go ahead and renew it.
Sending off my passport was bittersweet. It was a key that gave me access to many incredible wonders of the world, meeting new people, and everlasting memories. It was also my most beloved education book. It took me to places where I could learn new languages, different customs, history and current events. While I’ve had many passports when growing up to visit my family in Canada, this one was special because it propelled my lifelong dream of traveling around the world. In the past nine years, I have traveled to far more countries than I have in the first 17 years of my life.
The first stamp gave me access to France in 2006. I had just graduated from high school. I was craving to see the life outside of my own homeland. I had just finished four years of hard work in learning to speak French fluently, and I so badly wanted to put my skills into good use. After a year of arguing and begging my parents to allow their 19-year old daughter who has barely traveled alone to travel to France, I took off and traveled throughout the country for five weeks (almost) solo. I stayed with four different host families and communicated solely in French. I met two of them through a pen pal letter writing project in high school. I met a holocaust survivor and learned about his life in Auschwitz. I was introduced to art history when I spent several hours immersing in the Louvre Museum and Musée d’Orsay. I was introduced to the love of mountains and beaches when my host families took me scenic drives throughout the Basque Region.
As I dreamed and craved for more trips abroad, I took off to Italy a year later and traveled throughout the country for three weeks with my university where I finally saw many art I studied when I was growing up come to life. The moment I saw David and the painting on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel, I had chills and felt completely more shocked than when I first saw the images in the book. Seeing the the architecture throughout the country and learning about the process of designing the buildings taught me to appreciate old buildings. Encountering a massive protest against former President George W. Bush’s visit to Rome taught me the importance of listening to other countries’ views about my home country. After visiting Italy, I returned to southwest France to see my friends again and soak in the beautiful countryside and beach.
Two days after coming home from Italy and France, I took off again to Israel for a Birthright trip and to meet my paternal grandmother’s family for the very first time in my life. After years of seeing bombs exploding, fires and blood in Israel in the media, I was astounded by the beautiful life the country has to offer to the world. I learned that the media does not always present an accurate view of life around the world. While war exists only in very small parts of the country, life goes on. Residents go to work, school and enjoy leisure time at the beach and parks. Israel also taught me that it is acceptable not to be an observant while being Jewish. Instead of lighting candles on Friday nights and avoiding the use of technology, like many other Israelis, I enjoyed a nightlife in the city.
Several months later, I went back to France during my college winter break to volunteer on a farm in Provence. While the volunteer opportunity was a huge disappointment as the work camp leader treated me like a Cinderella, and I had to leave abruptly and trek across the country to southwest France without any plans, this trip taught me to go out of my comfort zone. Because I grew up in a very traditional suburban life, I was taught that taking public transportation is dangerous. However, this trip changed my view of public transportation as I learned that taking trains were not only safe but also far more convenient than flying. I also learned to be flexible and that it’s not the end of the world to make last minute changes and not to know what would happen in a few hours or the next few days.
During the summer of 2008, my family and I did our first overseas trip together to Europe. We first trekked to London and then took a chunnel train to Paris. Then we went to southwest France so that they could learn about my love for the Basque region and meet my friends. When my family went back to the US, I stayed in France for another week. Then I took a 24 hour train ride to Tuscany, an experiences of a lifetime. I immensely enjoyed seeing colorful homes nestling in the mountains and the beautiful turquoise water as the train traveled on the coast of south of France and west of Italy. Then I spent ten days with a family in Tuscany and experiencing their traditional Italian summer life which was going to the beach frequently, enjoying gelato, and visiting villages in the region. My trip didn’t end there. I went back to France and stayed with two different host families for a month before starting my semester abroad study in Provence. Waking up at 7 AM every morning to photograph stunning sunrises over the Luberon Mountains, drawing Provencal buildings, and taking field trips during art history classes were the most treasured college experiences.
During the winter break of 2008, I flew across the Pacific Ocean to venture outside of North America and Europe for the first time. Visiting both Australia and New Zealand showed me that our planet has endless number of incredible wonders to explore and that I should focus on visiting new parts of the world instead of returning to the same places I have visited. The Great Ocean Road, Sydney Opera House and Fox Glacier were memorable scenes to see.
Because I longed to learn Spanish and I wanted to continue to explore outside of the western world, I ventured to a developing country for the first time, Peru. I’ll never forget the moment when I walked outside of the airport and got into a taxi in Cusco, I said to myself, “Oh shit. What have I done to myself?” I was overwhelmed by seeing how Cusco looked like as if an earthquake had just happened. I stayed with a host family who only spoke Spanish, and I didn’t know any Spanish. I learned Spanish quickly so that I could break the barrier of communicating with my host family. I quickly fell in love with the country as I discovered stunning mountains, beautiful art and historical sites and friendly people. Developing countries can have their own wonderful treasures.
I loved studying in Provence so much that I went back there to relive my study abroad experience again during the fall semester of my senior year in college. Prior to returning to Provence, I went to Israel again to see my relatives and then to Thessaloniki, Greece to meet an online friend and see ancient Greek historical sites in Athens.
Because I wanted to experience being an international student and study anthropology, I moved to London for one year in 2010 and pursued a masters in anthropology. I met people from all over the world who are now my closest friends. While I studied how humans interact with the society and materials, I also explored what I wanted to do with my future. I traveled all over the UK via buses and trains and discovered that the US need to improve their public transportation system.
Right after finishing my studies in London, I went to China for two weeks to visit the home of one of my very close friends from grad school. At this point, because I had years of experiences in seeing very different landscapes around the world, I did not feel overwhelmed and instead, I was too excited to explore how different Haikou, the city where my friend was living, was from other parts of the world, I remember being so shocked to see well developed buildings and roads, as I expected the landscape of China to look similar to what I saw in Peru since both countries are developing. Because I unfortunately got sick with food poisoning and needed to change my travel plans so that I could get proper care, I went to Shanghai, which was not on my original travel itinerary, and visited a family friend. The unfortunate experience of getting sick turned into a positive experience, as my family friend hired my close friend from grad school to work for her company.
Once I finished school, my traveling opportunities became severely restricted, as I had limited number of vacation days. Because I wanted to continue to explore Latin America, I ventured to Costa Rica in 2012 where I saw stunning waterfalls, beaches and rainforest.
In 2013, I was missing Europe so much, and it had been four years since I visited the mainland Europe. There was still so much more to explore in Europe. I took a two weeks trip a to Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. I know I obsessively talk about how beautiful our planet is, but Croatia and Slovenia did not cease me to say how gorgeous the landscapes were. I adored seeing the turquoise lakes and oceans, waterfalls and mountains. Because I loved watching Sound of Music when I was growing up, I so wanted to stop by Salzburg and see where the movie was filmed. I immensely enjoyed recognizing scenes from the movie everywhere I went in Salzburg.
The very last stamp in my passport was my trip to Canada to see my family last summer. I look forward to receiving my new passport, and I hope my new passport will continue to unlock many more doors to wonderful destinations around the world and also more opportunities in my life.
Rice and beans. As an American who view breakfast as eating cereal, eggs, french toasts, muffins and pancakes, I couldn’t picture eating rice and beans. I later learned from the locals that they eat rice and beans during all three meals. Wow!
Pan American Highway has to be one of the world’s longest roads – it goes from the top tip of Alaska to the bottom tip of South of America – I hope to find a man who wants to drive for me on this road for a year. It’s a serious dream!
Several weeks ago, I posted on Twitter and Facebook asking how I can head to Llanos del Cortez Waterfall. No one responded.
I searched online. One offered a private driver to head there from Flamingo Beach for over 200 dollars. Another tour group offered a day tour that included the waterfall, but a big part of the tour was climbing on this big volcano that didn’t really excite me. The tour organization said that they didn’t know if the tour would happen because I was the only one who signed up. So much for the low season. Then I learned the tour was cancelled.
But I didn’t give up on searching.
I then finally found this great tour guide, a gentleman named Meme from Meme Adventures. He had raved reviews on Trip Advisor.
I also really wanted to see the Guaitil, a town where all the Costa Rican potteries are created. As someone who loves shopping, especially for exotic house decorations and clothing, it was very important for me to see the people behind the artisanal items and have the opportunity to purchase artisan items. Meme mentioned on his website that he does tours to Guaitil, but didn’t mention anything about the waterfall or going to destinations that were not on his list. So, I asked Meme if he could take me to the pottery town. He said no problem. Then I asked him, “Is it possible to go to Llanos del Cortez Waterfall too?” He said, “No problem,” and gave me a great deal.
Et voila! Thanks to Meme, this is what I got to see:
Here is a peak in the potter town, including the process of making potteries.
After hearing from many Americans about how wonderful the beaches are in Costa Rica, I knew it was a must to see a beach and stay at a resort. When I see advertisements of sparkling blue pool along with smoothies and fruits and, I often thought they were exaggerations. But they were truly not exaggerations. When I first arrived at the Flamingo Beach Resort, a staff member handed me a mango smoothie with pineapple clipped to the cup. Wow! The smoothie couldn’t be any more delicious. The water in the pool was sure sparkling blue. Looking out from the pool, there was the beach. The beach couldn’t be any more beautiful – big hills and trees were part of the coastal line along with the sand.
As I am typing this, I am not going to deny that I am falling asleep. I’ve probably put you guys to sleep. Yes, it’s nice to have a memory of relaxing in a paradise, but there is no truly real great story to tell about this part of the trip. No drama happened. Nothing extraordinarily different happened during my two days stay at Flamingo Beach in Gaunacaste. I just waded in the pool. I drank smoothie. I watched the sunset. I ate food. Although I did have one small drama. I accidentally dropped one of my sound processors in the pool, but I picked it up right away and it continued to work like a miracle.
Anyway, the lesson of these moments is that travel adventures that have a lot of drama, especially unplanned dramas where lots of events go wrong, are far more interesting stories to tell. When I share crazy stories, I find people are more amused and enjoy listening to them more. I even personally have more fun sharing those stories. While one may feel angry and upset during the unpleasant dramas, our feelings about the drama change a week later. We change our feelings from frustration and upset to humorous and thrilling.
Travelers on Twitter raved about Tabacon Hot Springs and said it is one of the most relaxing and beautiful hot springs in Costa Rica.
After riding a bus where I was the only one on the bus (Another great perk of low season!) for a few hours from Monteverde to Arenal Volcano, I decided that getting a good dip in the hot water would be well worth it.
Wow! I can understand why it’s such a magical place for honeymooners. There are lots of “little private pools” giving couples exclusive time and space to themselves. Water cascades were everywhere. Rainforest surrounded the hot tubs. There was even a slide, which gives a message that it’s family friendly too.
I toured Rio Celeste, a beautiful turquoise river running through a rainforest near Arenal Volcano and Gaunacaste beaches. The water is so indeed turquoise and the color comes from the sulfur from the volcano. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
When traveling, I often want to experience the lifestyle of people. Because I had limited vacation time and wanted to see the country as much as I could, staying with a host family during the entire trip was not an option. However, I was able to find a small opportunity to experience one Costa Rican family’s life by visiting their coffee plantation for a few hours. Costa Rica is known for their coffee. I should add that traveling during low season brought in some great perks as I got my own personal tour and was able to go at my own pace!
A lovely woman who was raised by an American mom and a Costa Rican dad walked me through the plantation along with the very friendly owner of the plantation. I’m not going to go into the details of the process of making coffee because I think I’ll bore you, and you can always google info about it. So, I am just going to touch upon a few very special highlights of the tour.
Seeing what coffee beans actually looks like before they reach the stores was a “WOW!” moment. It looked like a bright red grape. It gave me a greater realization that we can’t just pick the commodity straight out of the ground and send it straight to the stores. There is a long process to get the real good hot coffee in a cup. It involves picking the beans, drying them, roasting them, pouring them into a bag, shipping them, and then grounding the beans to turn into the great liquid we drink. Nowadays, when I get coffee, I think about all the people involved in the process. There has to be hundreds of people along the way. On top of all, I have a better understanding of how the price of coffee is determined.
I sure did get to try a few samples of coffee. What amazed me is that a change of process of producing coffee can change the flavor. For instance, coffee that were roasted after being dried out tastes different from from coffee that were roasted without having been dried.
No one can miss zip-lining in the rainforest in Costa Rica. Today, I went zip-lining on 13 lines.
Some of my most favorite moments in life are dreaming of my flying like a bird while sleeping at night. The feeling of being able to move with the wind at a high speed, choose my own path of journey, and see the world above me is such an exhilarating experience. Often times in my dreams, I am flying through exotic destinations. Perhaps these dreams are a sign of longing for more travels? I think so. I should admit that I often get reoccurrence dreams of flying through Lacoste, France, where I studied for two semesters during my undergrad studies. I do still long for going back to France to enjoy the serene scenes of mountains, beautiful buildings, and delicious food. However, I have to push myself to move on and see new destinations. I have to remind myself that there is still so much of the world out there that I haven’t seen, and I will come across many more beautiful places.
Thus, zip-lining gives me the closest real life experience of flying. Even though I am attached to a long cord and cannot choose which path to take, I can still feel like as if I am flying along with the wind and see the world above me. Seeing the trees above me along with mountains in the background was such a surreal experience. Seeing the rainforest in Monteverde confirmed that there are indeed many more beautiful destinations aside from Provence.
After zip-lining through the rainforest, I walked on several canopy bridges. While the bridges were high above the world, the experience was no where near as surreal as zip-lining. There was no feeling of high speed and flying. I often hear that the benefit of walking on canopy bridges is being able to see many of rainforest species as majority of them are in the tree tops. However, I did not see any species. I am sure if I went with a guide who has experiences in being able to spot species, I would have been able to see them.
Check out these videos of my flying through the rainforest!
AND YES! I went on the Tarzan swing! Be aware – if you have phobias of falling, I would NOT watch it!