Traveling, it is the one thing I like to do the most. Exploring, experiencing and tasting the rest of the world, that is what traveling is about and above all, meeting amazing people along the way. A few years ago, I went on my first journey and traveling has been a big part of my life ever since. Traveling is never dull or boring and it to me it is the greatest teacher in life. At the moment of this writing, I have been on 5 continents and I have visited 31 countries. I have seen ruins of many ancient civilizations, I have walked through the oldest rainforest, I snorkeled and dived in the most beautiful oceans, climbed mountain peaks and tasted the most delicious food. Things I would not have done if I would not have left my safe haven.
When people ask me what my best travel experience is, it is hard for me to give an answer. So many things were awesome on so many different levels. But to give an answer and to explain why I love traveling so much, I have made a top 10 of my favorite travel experiences. Now, top 10 list are usually very short and a source of quick information but I want to tell you more of a story. A personal story about the best moments of my life. This is why I travel!
1. Climbing the Rinjani Volcano, Indonesia – Lombok
Early in the morning, while it was still a little foggy, we left a small village in Lombok to set foot to the 3726m high volcano peak of mount Rinjani. It is the second highest volcano in Indonesia and still active, although it is considered safe enough to be climbed. From where we left it was a three day climb to the top and at that time, I did not know it yet but it turned out to be the coolest and most wonderful thing I have ever done. The first day, a small trail took us through a dense rainforest with moss covered trees. When it started to rain, the forest became foggy which gave it a mystical atmosphere. At night our guides cooked dinner on self made fires and we slept in tents.
When we woke up the next morning, the sky was crystal clear and the higher we got, the better the views. From this side of the mountain we could easily see Bali in the distance with the tropical Gili Islands in between. Around noon we reached the lower ridge of the volcano and from there we could see the inside of the volcano. The view was stunning. It was a huge crater with a lake inside and a mini volcano. Slowly we descended to the lake where we had a swim and lunch. Nature was amazingly beautiful in this area. There were waterfalls and hot springs which gave an excellent opportunity to take a bath, heated by the inner earth. When we reached the other side of the lake, the climb got steeper and tougher. At the end of the afternoon, we got to another part of the ridge where we set camp and had a beer above the clouds during sunset.
At 2.30 am, my guide woke me up. It was time to go for the top. It was dark and freezing cold but luckily there was a campfire and a cup of tea to keep me warm. A lot of people from our group stayed at the camp because they were too tired and the last part was known to be the toughest. I was full of adrenaline and ready to go. Other groups already left but soon we were starting to catch up with them. It seemed that another guy and I were faster than the rest and after a while we left everyone behind. We got higher and higher and with every step we got closer to the stars. There were so many of them and I could easily see the nebula of our own Milky Way and other galaxies. Not to mention the many falling stars. The last part was super tough because of the sandy soil and at this point, I left the other guy behind as well. For 10 minutes I was alone on the top with only the wind, the stars and an orange stripe on the horizon that was announcing the new day. Within the next hour, more people arrived and together we watched a magical sunrise. Everywhere around us, we could see other Islands of Indonesia and in the sky there was a shadow of the mountain, as a floating triangle. With the morning sunrays touching my face I made my way down, happy and extremely satisfied.
2. Riding through the Thar Desert, India – Rajasthan
They call it the Golden City because when the sun sets and the last warm rays hit the city walls, the city gets a golden glow. It is quite spectacular! The city I am talking about is Jaisalmer, a desert town in India, close to the Pakistan border. Although Jaisalmer is a nice city, there is not a lot to see and it is quite small. It is the desert where you are really coming for! After seeing the Maharadja of Jaisalmer in a colorful parade, we arranged ourselves a two day tour through the desert.
The next day, my friend and I set of with three camels and two guides to explore the Thar desert of Rajasthan. We both got to ride our own camel and from its high back, you have a good view. The Thar desert is not like the Sahara and endless ocean of sand dunes. Sure it is sandy and dusty but there is also quite some vegetation. During the morning, we crossed little desert villages with houses made from clay and we saw beautiful desert landscapes while eagles were circling high in the sky. When it got too hot in the afternoon we relaxed in the shade under some trees. Our guides made a small fire and cooked a lunch made out of spicy curry and chapatti bread. I was looking around me and saw our camels eating the leaves of a tree a little further away. A few goats were doing the same but the most peculiar animals I saw in this dusty desert were the bright colored peacocks. Somehow, they did not really fit into the picture but there they were. And there were many.
When the sun came closer to the horizon and the temperature was bearable again, we hopped on our camels to ride to some sand dunes where we would spend the night. Now there is a term in photography which is called ‘the golden hour’ and this is the hour before the sun sets (or after it rises). During this hour the rays of the sun consist only warm colors and the shadow are long which make landscapes even more beautiful. Right during this golden hour we arrived at the sand dunes and what we saw was truly breathtaking. We watched the sunset from the dunes and soon after, the sky was filled with stars. The light of our campfire attracted some nomadic desert people who came on their camels and together we had dinner.
We slept outside under the stars and I remember I wanted enjoy that night as long as possible because everything was so perfect. When we woke up the next day in the soft morning light, the temperature was nice and cool. Everywhere around me, I saw small traces in the sand from probably lizards. We had breakfast and sweet tea and when our camels were awake again and packed, we continued our journey again. We enjoyed the desert some more that day and eventually we drove back to Jaisalmer, one great experience richer.
3. Walking the Tongariro Crossing trail, New Zealand
In my opinion, everything in New Zealand is great but the Tongariro Crossing left by far the biggest impression on me. It is a landscape I had never seen before and never after yet. If you want to know how it is like to walk on the moon, I think the Tongariro Crossing is one of your better options. The Tongariro Crossing is a trail on the Northern Island of New Zealand, leading you through a volcanic landscape caused by the multi cratered Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauhuroe and mount Ruapehu which lays a little further away. All the volcanoes are active and still erupt from time to time. The trail takes about seven hours and during the trail you will cross Mount Tongariro and you will pass the base of Mount Ngauhuroe. It is a desolate landscape where only little grows but this is what makes it a unique experience.
My family and I arrived at a campsite at the base of these volcanoes on the day before new year. My only chance on fireworks were the volcanoes erupting but that did not happen that night. When we arrived, it was still cloudy but around sunset, the sky cleared and we had an amazing view on the volcanoes. The next day, the weather was still sunny so that meant excellent views. A bus took us to Mangatepopo which is to most common starting point and from there we started walking. The first part is relatively flat. Sharp volcanic rocks are marking the landscape and there is still some low vegetation growing here. Then you arrive at the Devil’s Staircase, a steep and tough climb but also very rewarding. From the top of the staircase there is a beautiful view on one site and a moonlike terrain on the other. From that point, I had to cross one of the inactive craters where really nothings grows. While crossing this crater, I also passed the base of Mount Ngauhuroe which is used as Mount Doom in ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ movie. It is empty, strange and great at the same time.
But the most beautiful surprise is still ahead. Once I climbed out of the crater on the other side, I found myself on the edge of another crater. This is called the red crater, simply because it is red. I could still feel the heat coming out of the crater and it smelled like rotten eggs. It is also oddly shaped and I am sure everyone it thinking it when they are standing in front of it but no one is telling. All you see from here are brown/grey rocks and sand but there is one thing that is responsible for an intense contrast. The emerald lakes! It is truly beautiful when you see it. At the base of the red crater are three bright emerald colored lakes. They are colored like this because of volcanic minerals and they were an absolute highlight during the hike. As I continued I passed an old lava field and when I looked back I could see the three volcanoes in a row. After that, it was only walking down the mountain. At some point, smoke was coming out of the mountain but soon, nature claimed its place again and rocks were making place for grass and eventually grass for trees. A very special and unique experience!
4. Snorkeling in a cenote in Mexico
‘Wow that looks creepy’, I thought while I was still standing on the shore. ‘Do I really have to get in there?’ I was standing in Dos Ojos, one of the many cenotes you can find in the Yucatan area in Mexico and I was about to learn a lesson. Things are not always what they look like, give things a chance and you might discover true beauty. A cenote is a big hole in the ground as a result of the collapse of limestone. These holes are filled with rainwater and were already used by the Mayas as a source of sweet water. Some of the cenotes have big underwater cave systems and are popular with divers.
Cave diving is not without danger and as I am not a highly experienced diver, I decided that snorkeling was the better option. So there I was with my fins on, looking at this uninviting water and mentally preparing to get in. My usual snorkel setting is beach, sun, ocean, coral and fish but this was nothing like it. I jumped into the water and it was less cold than I expected. I looked under water and experienced the weirdest feeling. The water was so crystal clear that it looked like there was no water at all. Of course I could feel the water around me and I needed my snorkel to breath but besides that, it felt like I was floating in the sky.
There were a couple of fish but what was more interesting were the cave structures in the deeper parts. Further away I could see lights placed for divers and occasionally a few divers passed by. As soon as I got confidence that no monster from the deep was going to eat me I started to explore the rest of the cenote. It was shaped like a ring so I could swim in a circle. Suddenly, right in front of me I saw one of the most beautiful things I have seen. One beam of pure sunlight was going straight through the clear water, all the way to the bottom. It was really cool to make bubbles in the beam and to be surrounded by them in the light. We ‘beamed ourselves up’ by swimming from the bottom to the surface through the beam and it took a while until I was ready to say goodbye to that place. What looked unpleasant from the shore in the beginning turned out to be one of my best experiences. Sometimes it pays off to give things a chance.
5. Being surrounded by phosphoric plankton in the sea, Malaysia – Perhentian Islands
When I think of this moment, I still get a smile on my face. I love to tell this story to others and it is about a very romantic and magical night. It took place on a small tropical island in the South China Sea called Pulau Perhentian Kecil. It is part of Malaysia and together with the bigger island Besar, they are called the Perhentian Islands. The islands are green and lush, have white sandy beaches and are surrounded by crystal clear water. The sea is full of colorful fish and coral and it is not hard to spot sea turtles and sharks while snorkeling. There is a very easy going vibe and it is a perfect place to relax for a while. Once you get there, it is hard to leave again.
The bigger Island Besar is more suited for families and Kecil for backpackers. I was on Kecil. There are two main beaches on Kecil called Long Beach and Coral Beach. Long Beach is the busier one. It is bigger, there are more bungalows and at night, this is the place for a party. No crazy parties like on the Thai Islands but fun, low key parties. Coral Beach is the prettier one of the two and a bit more quiet. Because of this, we decided to stay on this part of the Island but Long Beach was only a 5 minute walk across the island.
On this particular evening, we walked with a group from Coral Beach to Long Beach through the dark. A small trail through the jungle led us over a hill and it was really cool to arrive on Long Beach after this dark trail. Torches gave the beach a warm glow, low tables were spread around and summer vibes came out of the speakers. The sweet smoke of the Sheesha filled the air and people were talking, laughing and dancing. We sat down as well and together we shared beers and stories and we played games. The atmosphere was free and exotic and as the evening grew older, the booze made us looser and the world more intense.
All of a sudden, the sky unleashed a heavy rain shower. Because we were already wet, we decided to take off most of our clothes and we ran into the water. The water was nice and warm and as we moved further, we started to notice that the water was glowing. We were surrounded by green phosphoric plankton and everyone who has seen the movie ‘The Beach’ knows what I am talking about.
We went further and furtherinto the sea and slowly the group started to split up. In the group was a girl who I liked and conveniently we ended up together alone. The water was warm, it was still pouring rain and we were surrounded by a green glow. In the distance we saw the lights on the beach and we heard the soft beat of the music. We looked at each other and we came closer and closer, so close that our lips touched and became a kiss. The moment was magical. I tasted her kiss, the salt water from the ocean and the sweet water from the rain. We danced and kissed in the ocean and for a while it was only us. When the rain stopped we went back to the party, back to earth. Although the girl left the next day and I have not seen her again, I am still very glad with the memory.
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