Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters

5th Jan 2010
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 1/16 by Jenny McIver
James Bond Island, Thailand
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 2/16 by Jenny McIver
Phang Nga Bay, Thailand
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 3/16 by Jenny McIver
Amman, Jordan
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 4/16 by Jenny McIver
Bali, Indonesia
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 5/16 by Jenny McIver
Ubud, Bali
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 6/16 by Jenny McIver
Le Meridien Bora Bora
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 7/16 by Jenny McIver
Le Meridien Bora Bora
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 8/16 by Jenny McIver
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 9/16 by Jenny McIver
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 10/16 by Jenny McIver
Ile de Pins, New Caledonia
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 11/16 by Jenny McIver
Isle de Pins, New Caledonia
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 12/16 by Jenny McIver
Petra, Jordan
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 13/16 by Jenny McIver
Petra, Jordan
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 14/16 by Jenny McIver
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 15/16 by Jenny McIver
Photo of Around the World in 30 Days: Exploring New Waters 16/16 by Jenny McIver
Taipei, Taiwan

This trip was my fifth annual month-long trip around the world in January 2010. This year I headed to several new and exciting spots and (of course) a couple of old favorites. I am packing like mad and trying to get everything done before I leave. Leaving the country for a month is never as easy as it sounds.

There were lots of incredible destinations this year including Jordan, the Seychelles, Thailand, Taipei, Bali, New Caledonia, Bora Bora & Mexico.

At my first stop in Jordan I visited a lot of places. Bordered by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Israel, Jordan is an oasis in an otherwise turbulent and troubled region. I was impressed by the quality of the tourism infrastructure here, from the hotels to the preservation of ancient wonders like Petra. But mostly I will remember the friendliness of the people and the warm welcome I received from everyone I encountered here. Jordan was a safe and modern destination and the opportunity to immerse myself in the ancient history of the region was an experience I will not soon forget.

Next, Seychelles. My two days in Seychelles were extraordinary. The islands are so sublimely unique with their granite peaks and boulder-strewn beaches. It is with good reason that the slogan of the Seychelles tourist bureau is, “Not just another place, another world.” Another world, indeed.

I returned to Thailand on this journey again with some good reason. Khao San Road is known the world over as a haven for backpackers. The street offers everything under the sun from cheap lodging and food to clothing, books, and laundry service – you name it. It also happens to be the place for some of the cheapest massage places in the city, which was my main reason for heading there. I also wanted to find the used bookstore I’d discovered last year with super cheap paperbacks since I was almost through with the one I was reading.

Bali was exotic as ever. After just a few minutes on the beach, I discovered that the #1 thing to do in Bali appears to be enjoying the local Bintang beer while relaxing on the shore of the spectacular Indian Ocean. Always one to “do as the locals do” I joined the crowd. It was a lovely way to ease into the relaxed Balinese lifestyle. I think I could get used to this.

For my brief stop in Taipei I didn’t have especially ambitious plans. Kind of a random choice as a stop, I know, but it was one of those Asian cities on my to-do list so I decided to squeeze it in between tropical locales this year.

My journey was rudely interrupted by a storm in Bora Bora. On the plus side, my over water bungalow at the Meridian was completely wonderful and had stunning views of Bora Bora’s famous Mt. Otemanu (in the fleeting moments it wasn’t obscured by clouds). The other downer was the condition of the lagoons around the island. Thanks to all the rain and wind in the preceding days, the lagoon – though still beautifully turquoise in color – was cloudy and not nearly as remarkable as the lagoons I remembered surrounding Moorea.

My final destination Cabo was not at all what I expected. Resting at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, the sparkling resort towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, known as “the capes,” or Los Cabos in Spanish, differ in many respects from their “Mexican Riviera” counterparts.

At the end of these trips people always ask me what my favorite place was and my least favorite. This year I’d have to say it might be a tie between New Caledonia and Seychelles. Petra is also a strong contender and I think it’s one of those places in the world everyone should see in their lifetime. Absolutely amazing!

My first stop was the King Abdullah Mosque. Built between 1982 and 1989, the mosque is a memorial to the assassinated King Abdullah I and is capped by an enormous blue mosaic dome. I took off our shoes and made our way inside. The mosque was empty as it was still almost an hour before the next call to prayer. The interior was bright and colorful with an extravagant chandelier and intricate stained glass and mosaics. I am always impressed with the beauty of the interior of the mosques I’ve visited. It’s very different from the inside of a church but equally ornate and beautiful. Our next stop was the Roman Theater where I also visited both the Museum of Popular Traditions and the Museum of Folklore.Our last stop and the place I was most excited to visit was the Amman Citadel. Towering above the city, the Citadel is the site of the ancient city of Rabbath-Ammon. The National Archaeological Museum here contains the earliest known biblical texts ever discovered, the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls were written sometime around 50 BC and were later discovered stored in caves on the West Bank of the River Jordan. Though the scrolls tell of a treasure hidden somewhere on the West Bank, nothing has ever been found.

Photo of Amman, Jordan by Jenny McIver

A spectacular architectural wonder, this ancient city was literally carved into the rock face. The hike up to the Monastery was arduous but totally worth it. Jordan is a country steeped in history, and Petra is by far its most famous attraction. Aptly named, Petra means “stone” in Greek. Dating back as early as the 5th century BC, this city on the edge of the Wadi Araba was quite literally carved into the sandstone of a deep canyon. Originally created by the Nabateans, a group of Arab-speaking Semitics who moved into Southern Jordan two thousand years ago, Petra was in control of trade routes stretching from Africa to India and China. The Romans later conquered the area and it was eventually abandoned and forgotten until a Swiss explorer rediscovered it in 1812.After winding my way through the astonishing geological formations, colorful rocks and water channels, I was rewarded with our first glimpse of the famous Treasury. As I emerged from the Siq, I was blown away by the sight of the Treasury. Featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Treasury was painstakingly chiseled from sand and stone by the ancient Nabateans. It was truly stunning.

Photo of Petra, Ma'an, Jordan by Jenny McIver

I was a little disappointed to discover there are no giant tortoises roaming the beaches of the Seychelles (as I'd been led to believe) but the beauty of these islands is still undeniable. When you drive around the island, it is easy to picture the soaring granite peaks as the tips of submerged mountains. They create a dramatic backdrop for the white sand beaches and blue lagoons unlike any other I have seen. I rented a car and drove the entire perimeter of Mahe in a day stopping to visit several beaches accented with granite boulders. The enormous granite boulders that define the beaches of Seychelles give them almost a prehistoric feel. As if they tumbled down the side of a mountain millions of years ago splashing into the ocean exactly where they lay now – and maybe they did. Next, I visited the Victoria Botanical Gardens, where I had the opportunity to sight some tortoises. The Gardens are also home to Seychelles’ other famous inhabitant, the enormous coco de mer palm. The double nut of the coco de mer is the world’s heaviest fruit weighing in at a whopping 40lbs.

Photo of Le Meridien Barbarons Hotel, Grand Anse Village, Grand Anse Mahe, Seychelles by Jenny McIver

One of my favorite experiences in Thailand...I drove to Phang Nga (from Phuket) and hired a longtail boat for a day tour of Phange Nga Bay. It was a perfect sunny day for a cruise around the bay and of course there were a ton of other boats out there. But having my own private boat was definitely the way to go. The craggy limestone cliffs that dot the teal waters of Phang Nga Bay reminded me a lot of Halong Bay in Vietnam. Just as beautiful but much better weather! I cruised the bay for a while lingering around some of the more popular tourist stops – caves, limestone carvings, fishing villages, etc. Finally, I approached the most popular tourist stop in Phang Nga Bay – James Bond Island. Made famous in the movie, “The Man with the Golden Gun,” the movie had the location set in China but Thailand is its true home. It was an extremely popular stop with the jam-packed tourist boats so the island was crawling with people.

Photo of James Bond Island Thailand by Jenny McIver

I just had one day in Taipei but it was a great one. I took the metro all over the city and squeezed in as much as I could. Taiwan’s political situation is complex. In recent years, Taiwan has embraced its native culture and ushered in an era of growing “Taiwanization” in politics. The country's economy has done extremely well though, putting Taiwan in the "4 Asian Tigers" of the region. Anxious to explore this “Asian Tiger,” my first stop was walking distance from my hotel, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Encompassing the National Theater, National Concert Hall, Chiang Kai-shek Gate and Memorial, the plaza was packed with people on this Saturday afternoon. The Chinese architecture of all 4 buildings was ornate and vibrantly colorful and the plaza elaborately landscaped, it was a beautiful area to wander around.My next stop required a little navigation of the Taipei metro system. It turned out to be pretty simple and at only $.60 per ride, quite a bargain. My destination was Taipei 101, the city’s iconic skyscraper and – until the opening of the Burj Dubai – the world’s tallest building.

Photo of Taipei, Taiwan by Jenny McIver

In Bali I enjoyed some quality beach time as well as a trip up to Ubud to see the rice terraces. The long drive up to the terraced rice fields north of Ubud was definitely worth the investment. They are Bali’s most photographed attraction and what the average person visualizes when they think of Bali. After leaving the rice fields, our next stop was the nearby Gunung Kawi temple. The temple of Ganung Kawi was a lovely example of the traditional open air Hindu temple including a holy water pool for bathing and elaborate stone carvings and shrines. Very peaceful and serene indeed!

Photo of Westin, Benoa, Bali, Indonesia by Jenny McIver

While staying in Noumea, I took a ferry over to Isle des Pins, New Caledonia to spend the day. The island is inhabited primarily by the native Melanesian Kanaks and feels like it's lost in time. I could tell right away that the glowing reviews I’d read of the tiny island still didn’t do it proper justice. It was quite literally like a Garden of Eden in the middle of the South Pacific.The water was so clear in some places it was colorless against the pure white sand of the beaches. The two most remarkable beaches were Kuto Bay and Kanumera Bay, which were only about 200ft across a narrow road from each other. Time seems to stand still on Ile des Pins with its turquoise lagoons, sparse Melanesian tribal population, swaying palms and soaring Araucaria pines. The island’s inhabitants are known as “Kunies” and they have kept their tribal traditions alive in their small villages scattered around the island. The Kunies are very friendly to tourists and every time I passed one I was greeted with a cheerful, “Bonjour!”One of the most fascinating things to see on Ile des Pins are the “pirogues.” The tradition of sailing these ancient craft from St Joseph’s Bay has been kept alive for centuries by the Kunies. They are quite a sight to see and I was lucky enough to stumble across them in St Maurice while looking for the seaside totem poles, even though I never made it to St Joseph. The solemn circle of totem poles are said to be guarding the nearby statue of Christ.

Photo of Isle of Pines, L'Île-des-Pins, South Province, New Caledonia by Jenny McIver

After visiting Mo'orea the year before, I was dying to see Bora Bora. I planned 6 days on the island including 2 at Le Meridian Bora Bora. As the boat passed by the Meridian’s outer overwater bungalows and docked near the white-sand beach, I was speechless. What an absolutely gorgeous place. My main reason for choosing the Meridian and splurging on these 2 nights here was the resort’s Sea Turtle Sanctuary. One of only a few of its kind in the world (and the only one on Bora Bora) the Meridian’s inner lagoon allowed guests to learn about and swim with these beautiful creatures. I was dying to do that. Unfortunately, due to an impending cyclone, the turtles were kept safely in their pens while I was there.

Photo of Le Meridien Bora Bora, Leeward Islands, French Polynesia by Jenny McIver

Unfortunately, Cyclone Oli interrupted my stay on Bora Bora and I spent 17 hours in a storm shelter. Luckily, no one at our hotel was injured but it was quite an adventure getting off the island after the storm. I walked outside on my deck to see what all the fuss was about; I mean, it wasn’t even raining. Very windy, yes, but no rain. Then I noticed that the swimming deck at the end of the stairs going down from my upper deck was almost completely submerged. Yesterday there had been about 3 ft between platform and water. Alright, alright, I’m packing. Unfortunately, my adventure in Bora Bora was interrupted by the storm!

Photo of Hilton Bora Bora Nui Hotel, Pā'ea, Windward Islands, French Polynesia by Jenny McIver

Cabo is the place to be for whale watching in February and I was lucky enough to see lots of them during my stay. My Cabo plan was simply to enjoy a few days of sunshine-filled R&R after a full month of globetrotting and time-zone-hopping. However, I did have one activity in particular on the agenda…whale watching. In my quick research on the area, I discovered that January – March is whale season along the Baja Peninsula. Whale watching is one of the world’s great travel excursions. Every fall the grey whales make their migration to the Sea of Cortez from the northern Bering waters. They birth their young and spend the winter months in the warm waters near the equator. These grey whales make the longest migration of any mammal, traveling 6,000 miles. The process goes something like this: 1) a whale is spotted 2) all boats head immediately in that direction and encircle the approximate spot 3) wait for them to surface and snap photos frantically 4) repeat. Each group of whales will put on a show for a while before diving below the surface long enough to cause you to seek out another group. It’s all good fun.After spotting at least half a dozen whales, cruising back by the Arch and a nearby sea lion colony, I headed back to the marina.

Photo of Westin Resort & Spa Los Cabos, Rancho Cerro Colorado, San José del Cabo, Mexico by Jenny McIver