I fell asleep with local rum and Spanish music in Nicaragua when the calendars flipped to 2015. The year feels like a racy dream – from the Himalayas to the Caucasus, from working on a vineyard in Germany to going vegan in New York, from living with nomads in the Mars-like desert of Jordan to watching a meteor shower in the cracked salty desert of Gujarat. These moments of incredulous beauty and serendipity filled me with an inexplicable love for the road.
Behold, my 2015 in a nutshell:
The Caribbean spirit: Trinidad & Tobago
I knew nothing about the West Indies (well, except cricket) until I actually landed in Trinidad, thanks to an incredibly cheap flight from New York. And it was an instant love affair. Trinidadians have the coolest accent I’ve ever heard. We had pristine white sand beaches all to ourselves, pigged out on Caribbean-Creole-Indian influenced food like “Buss Ab Shut”, and hiked in the mountains of the indigenous herb-growing Paramin community.
Giraffes in my backyard: South Africa
I was a bit bummed out when my first South Africa trip, planned by South African Tourism, didn’t include a wildlife experience. But they sprung a last minute surprise that had me staying at the Dinokeng Game Reserve, and when I stepped out of my room in the evening, I saw a family of giraffes hanging out in the bush nearby. I gazed into their gentle eyes, and they into mine, and the rest of the world just faded away.
Life through the lens of an Italian artist: Umbria, Italy
On an unexpected solo trip in Italy, I booked a last minute Airbnb – the dreamy home of an Italian artist on the countryside of Umbria. He invited me to a lazy Sunday brunch of stone oven pizzas, in the 100-year-old country home of his friends, charted out little known bicycle trails for me and encouraged me to crash neighbourhood gatherings. Those sunny post-siesta afternoons, chatting in broken Italian over homemade strawberry cake and coffee, surrounded by olive trees, was straight out of an Italian dream.
Delving deeper into the heart of Kumaon: Uttarakhand
I accepted an invitation to stay at Itmenaan Estate in Kumaon, unaware that they had planned a 40km hike through remote villages for me. I’m not much of a hiker, but decided to take on the challenge – and away from civilisation and connectivity, it turned out to be an introspective journey into a region I love so much. By day, I walked with my guide through terraced fields, sleepy villages and deodar forests, and by night, we lit a fire and swapped leopard stories and village gossip.
A world connected only by water: Spreewald, Germany
I thought I knew Germany. Then I discovered a little-known region with villages connected only by water – Spreewald. I navigated the water “streets” with a kayak and map, and saw cops patrolling by boat, a yellow postal boat delivering mail, charming houses with river-facing mailboxes and locals fishing in their backyard. What a life!
Cycling to the Russian border: Georgia
When my friend scored an internship in Georgia, I jumped at the idea of rubbing shoulders with the mystical ways of the Caucasus region. Hiking through dreamy meadows in the backdrop of snow-capped glaciers in Kazbegi, starting the morning with a traditional shot of homemade whiskey in Racha, the fierce way of life in Svaneti – it felt like another world. Then we cycled past vistas straight out of a Lord of the Rings movie to the border of Russia!
Kayaking in the backdrop of an active volcano: Nicaragua
Nicaragua and I got off on the wrong foot – visa troubles, terribly cramped chicken buses, an epic new year plan gone wrong. Then a 16 hour ferry journey deposited us on the stunning Ometepe Island, and kayaking on Lake Nicaragua in the surreal backdrop of Volcan Concepcion and Volcan Maderas finally made me befriend this strange country.
Falling in love with Himachal Pradesh again
After two years of feeling too weary of the changes that have gripped Himachal Pradesh, I was so glad my friend discovered Jibhi – a little village where Himachali culture and pristine mountain life still survive. Our abode, the incredible mountain home of a young couple, was the cherry on the cake.
Serendipitous friendship: Orjan, Jordan
Finding soul connections in unexpected corners of the world is what keeps me on the road. And so it was in Orjan, a small village of olive groves and apricot fields tucked away in the remote north of Jordan. Maysoon, who’s family we stayed with, invited me into her life with open conversations on relationships and the role of women in Jordan, shared traditional family recipes, and made me realise how similar we all are at heart.
Working on the vineyard of a wine merchant: Lorch, Germany
On my mission to discover #NotJustBeer in Germany, the tourism board set me up with the Rossler family – wine merchants from the little village of Lorch, who grow and make their own Riesling. I joined them for a day of work in the vineyards, pruning mature vines, cleaning the ground for younger ones, and well, learning just how much work goes into a bottle of fine wine.
Susagade in the rains: Goa
Goa in the rains has become my annual ritual, and what can I say? I fall deeper in love every time.
Unexpected love: Tbilisi, Georgia
I’m not much of city person, but I fell so in love with Tbilisi that it was hard to tear myself away. I crashed my friend’s loft, loved buying fresh produce at the supermarkets (everything from fresh oregano to hand made pasta), never once felt cheated in a taxi even on a late night at the train station, got invited to a traditional supra in the house of a Georgian family, and felt right at home despite how hard the language is.
Turning vegan in New York
So, after a dozen years of being vegetarian, I decided to go vegan this year. The reasons and challenges are for another post, but buying, cooking and eating vegan in New York City was such a delight that I can’t wait to go back.
Solitude in the mountains: Dominican Republic
On an impulsive solo trip to the Dominican Republic, I found myself high up in the mountains of a family-owned eco lodge. The nearest village was 3km away, the caretakers only spoke Spanish, and I had an entire forest to myself – sometimes, that’s the kind of solitude I need to understand my own thoughts.
The Geminid Meteor Shower: Little Rann, Gujarat
After catching the bright green Gemenids on a dark night in the sandy Rajasthan desert in 2013, I wanted to be somewhere far with clear skies this year – and decided to finally travel through Gujarat. For 3 dark nights, from the roof of a watch tower in the Little Rann, I spotted long tail, strange, orange meteors in the sky, among a thousand shooting stars, as foxes and jackals howled in the distance!
The calendars flipped to 2016 at an off-the-grid hideout in the rice paddies of Sri Lanka, with locally brewed Arrack and Sinhalese music. I can’t wait to find out what this year has in store for me.
What were your favourite travel memories of 2015?
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.