2020 Annual Recap

2020 is not going to go down as the year with most countries visited or most countries flown – 19 countries and territories, 41 flights, and 21 vehicle rentals (9 of them with a driver). Over 60,000 km driven! All continents except South America! All oceans except Arctic! And despite covid and all the lockdowns, it was a year of nonstop exploration – just a different strategy: instead of hopping adjacent countries —> explore larger countries and destinations in full, from A to Z. In a way, it was an even more intense year of traveling then before… less countries but truly in depth! 794 posts and over 27,000 pictures posted on Facebook! Have you seen them all? The year 2020 began in French Antarctica on a ship, surrounded with icebergs, penguins, and whales. Then followed a series of subantarctic islands of New Zealand with their incredible megaherb flora and beaches covered with sea lions. Next, the little visited Austral Islands of the French Polynesia with insane white sand lagoons and climbing green-topped sharp mountain peaks and exploring otherworldly caves. Next – Tuamotu archipelago and coral atolls and all the swimming with sharks and best in the world palm-fringed desolate beaches one can imagine. Next – Society Islands and incomparable Tahaa with its drift snorkel coral gardens, vanilla and Pearl farms, and ultramarine lagoon. Reload, recharge, do your laundry, and off then off to the Yemeni island of Socotra, a longtime bucketlist item. This was totally surreal – endemic flora of ghostly drago lm blood trees and blooming bottle trees, camping on stunning beaches underneath the dunes and towering mountains, and the most insane sunrises and sunsets imaginable. 3 month soft lockdown in Ukraine? That’s not a reason to lock up and do nothing. We drove and explore every possible corner of Ukraine – from the Carpathian Mountains to Odessa to the red lakes of Sivash. Kiev, Dnipro, Kharkiv, Lviv, and so on – every single oblast of the country (except Sumy). Medieval castles, Valley of Daffodils, wooden churches of Carpathians, forgotten forts and monuments, old Soviet Union missile command (including going Domingo the missile silo and pressing the red button). Mushroom picking, fishing, and all the Ukrainian food you can imagine and eat. Lockdown lifted and the first flight to the USA toward the new explorations. Rent a car and put 28K miles driving across all 48 contiguous states of the USA – the ultimate road trip! Lobster overload and lighthouses in New England, endless grasslands of Midwest, bourbon and whiskey in Kentucky and Tennessee. Badlands and presidential mountain graffiti in Dakotas, all the geysers and bisons of Yellowstone NP, Montana’s landscapes and Glacier NP. Majestic North Cascades and the Olympic range in Washington, hiking on the snow-covered Mount Rainier, driving down the beautiful Oregon coast, surreal Crater Lake. California redwood forests, north California coast, giant sequoias and black bears, crazy landscapes of Joshua Tree NP, Mohave Desert, and Death Valley. World’s oldest bristlecone pine trees, desolation of Nevada with its ghost towns. All the red-rock attractions of Utah – Arches & Canyonlands, Mesa Verde and Gunnison canyon in Colorado, Grand Canyon and Petrified Wood in Arizona, and White sands and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Everything big in Texas and endless cornfields of Oklahoma and Nebraska. Drive down the US East Coast, sampling crabs in Baltimore, monuments of DC, walking shady streets of Charleston in South Carolina and Savanna in Georgia. Complete loop around Florida, the Keys and the panhandle – stunning beaches, Everglades, and more stunning beaches. Creole cuisine of Louisiana, Amish cartwheel carriage in Pennsylvania, and perfect bbq in St Louis and Memphis. It’s really impossible to mention it all! Next came three weeks of Turkey exploration with a complete loop through the Black Sea Coast and center and all the way to the Armenian border and Mount Ararat, then down and along the Iranian and Syrian borders, back into the middle for Cappadocia, then along the Mediterranean coast, and ferry onto the European Thrace. We saw everything – massive mosques, ancient Byzantine churches, ruined Armenian city of Ani, ancient monasteries, markets, fields of cotton, loads and loads of fortresses and castle, insane landscape of Cappadocia’s hole-ridden hills, white terraces of Pamukkale, dozens of Greco-Roman antiquity ruins with theaters, stadiums, columns, and finally the religious Edirne with its pretty houses of worship. All this accompanied by piles of all possible kebaps. Next came Zimbabwe where there were no other tourists but two of us. So we had all the wildlife to ourselves – lions, elephants and all possible antelopes. We got charged by a hippo in the water and an elephant on the ground. We ate flying ants and canoed on Zambezi and enjoyed the majestic Victoria Falls. Quick bridge crossing and you are in Zambia – more wildlife game drives and more lions and the most incredible landscape of the Liuwa National Park with the second largest wildebeest migration in Africa and all the accompanying predators – lions, hyenas, cheetahs. Tanzania offered a chance to relax at the Indian Ocean’s shore on a private lions with seastars, hermit crabs, and bushbabies. And last but not least – a long time bucketlist item of seeing the Dubai fireworks celebrations – front row at Burj Khalifa, also with just 20% of the usual crowds. Hello 2021 and let’s hope the adventure continue!