2018 Annual Recap
Another stellar adventure-packed travel year: 68 unique countries (31 of them new), 87 flights with 34 airlines, 12 train journeys, 4 ship expeditions, 15 self-drive car rental, 23 driver car-rentals. Africa, Europe, Asia, North America!
The year began in Washington DC getting African visas. Next came a long Central/South African journey through less-visited countries: forts in Ghana, voodoo markets in Togo, slavery memorials in Benin, eating goat head in Nigeria, traversing Burkina Faso by land, marveling at the mud-mosques of Mali, spotting rare giraffes in Niger, visiting lost-world villages in Chad, driving among UN tanks in the Central African Republic, hiking up Mt Cameroon in Cameroon, being horrified at the sight of endangered pangolins for sale in Equatorial Guinea, trekking Eastern Lowland gorilla in remote Gabon, driving through the highlands of Lesotho, landing on St Helena, flying helicopter over the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, watching rhinos in Zambia, going on wildlife safaris in Botswana, exploring the jewel attractions of Angola with a side trip to Congo and Cabinda, and finally leaving no stone unturned on both Sao Tome & Principe islands.
Roughing it in Africa required a little bit of change in style – historic and cultural sights of Portugal and sampling porto wines in the cellars, checking off Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain’s Galicia, driving all around Catalonian coastline, and flying over for an in-depth exploration of Mallorca – did the trick.
Long-planned trip to Libya opened the summer season with Tripoli and Roman sites. As if Libya wasn’t crazy enough, Damascus in Syria was next – an amazing experience in one of the oldest cities on Earth in a country finally recovering from the civil war.
A multi-month car journey through Europe followed, including cathedrals of Northern France, Flemish towns in Belgium, peaceful landscapes in Luxembourg’s Ardennes, a complete southwest to northeast cross-Germany drive with myriads of timber houses, in-depth exploration of everything in the Czech Republic, dancing away at two 90s Eurodance music festivals along the way, sampling Tokaj wine in Hungary, walking around upper old town in Zagreb in Croatia, savoring fresh truffles in Ljubljana in Slovenia, traversing Republika Srpska and Bosnia & Hercegovina, and marveling at frescoes at half-a-dozen Serbian medieval monasteries. Electric Love music festival was a blast in in Austria, followed by wine tasting in Burgundy and Bordeaux, running with the bulls in Pamplona, and finishing Europe off with a couple more provinces of the northern Spain.
By then, it was a culture and architectural euro-overload and it was time to switch it up for pure nature of the remote Torngat Mountain in Labrador, icy-covered waters of Canadian Arctic and desolate permafrost lands of Baffin and Devon Islands of the Nunavut province. Whales and seal, walruses, polar bears, caribou, and even the elusive belugas and narwhals!
Jeju Island in South Korea kicked off the fall season, followed by the Russian Far East of Vladivostok and Khabarovsk. The natural wonderland of the Sakhalin and remote Kuril Islands of Kunashir and Iturup were full of absolute superlatives – volcanoes, mountain hiking, hot springs and fumaroles, empty beaches and limitless landscapes, digging clams and shucking oysters right in the water, grabbing salmon with bare hands and squeezing caviar straight into your mouth, chased with vodka – it was beyond insane! A two-week journey through Japan’s Hokkaido island covered every nook- and-cranny of it, every single national park, and a total overload of the freshest raw seafood on earth. A short stop in Thailand completed the eastern Asia block.
Next came Middle East and East Africa. Somalia was perhaps the most dangerous trip in my life, while a short trip into Yemen felt safe and marked the last and final 193rd country on the UN-member list for me. Beaches of Oman and forts of UAE completed the Middle Eastern picture, and I finally managed to skydive from 13,000 feet above the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. Two more bucketlist items followed shortly with a weeklong exploration of the bizarre tribes of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia and freezing my ass off in the highlands of the Bale National Park in search of elusive Ethiopian wolves.
Finally, to finish the year off, it was time to visit the ex-USSR countries of Belarus/Russia/Ukraine. Homecoming to Belarus was a whirlworld tour of newspaper and TV interviews as the first Belarusian to visit every country in the world; visiting and speaking to the kids in my old school was perhaps the most satisfying. Ukraine, not the most pleasant place in November, brought the cultural sites of the western part of the country around Lviv, as well as an absolutely surreal and otherworldly visit to the abandoned Chernobyl, the site of the biggest nuclear accident in history and another bucket list item for me. Add in a couple breakaway and disputed territories and frozen conflict zones – and I most certainly pissed off half of my followers and friends and scared the other half by pushing the travel spirit to an absolute limit.
It was an incredible year! Thank you everyone who made it possible and all the old and new friends that shared it with me! Hey, 2019 – hit me!