One of my favorite 2010 travel experiences included a chance meeting with Villa Sentosa’s Abdul Rahim Haji Hashim in Melaka, Malaysia. // © 2011 Deanna Ting
For more personal travel stories and photos from Senior Editor Deanna Ting, visit her personal travel blog, Passport Confessional
Savoring my first taste of barbecued abalone at the Kapiolani Community College Farmers’ Market in Honolulu // © 2011 Candice Lee Kraughto
Mud bathing in Costa Rica made me feel like a kid again. // © 2011 Deanna Ting
A snapshot of our Cozumel snorkeling group, just moments before we got in the water and spotted a nurse shark // © 2011 Deanna Ting
Having fresh durian for the first time in Singapore // © 2011 Deanna Ting
If there’s anything that I learned throughout my travels in 2010, it’s that you not only have to be prepared to expect the unexpected — you also have to embrace it. Good or bad, gleeful or terrifying, the things you least expect to happen turn out to be, more often than not, some of the best experiences of your trip. And, more than that, they often make you a better traveler — or, as was the usual case for me, a much less-hungry one — in the process.
Hawaii: A Farmers’ Market to Remember (March 2010)
Visiting the Kapiolani Community College’s (KCC) Farmers’ Market on the last day of our Hawaii press trip wasn’t originally in our itinerary. But, thanks to the keen insight of our press trip organizer, Candice Lee Kraughto, formerly with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii, we went anyway and I’m so glad that we did, even if that meant asking for a somewhat-early morning wake-up call.
Though I’d been to the KCC Farmers’ Market in Honolulu before, having the guidance of a true local like Candice was invaluable. With her help, and the recommendations of former Oahu Visitors Bureau public relations representative, Rebecca Pang, our group navigated through the bustling market, uncovering some of the tastiest meals of my entire trip — a rather grandiose statement, given the fact that Hawaii is a true food lovers’ paradise.
Some of the items we feasted on included barbecued abalone, kimchee sausages, salmon fried rice, kalua pork sliders, taro poke and even sea asparagus — all of which were both delectable and filling. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my last Saturday morning in Hawaii and I’m pretty certain that my fellow journalists were just as satiated, too.
Costa Rica: A Slippery Start (May 2010)
Growing up, I preferred hopscotch to playing in the mud but, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate both the therapeutic and just-plain-fun aspects of mud, whether it comes from the Dead Sea or, in my most recent experience, in the form of volcanic mud from the Miravalles Volcano in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region.
While I totally expected to immerse myself in the ash-colored, sulfurous mud that day, I had no idea that I’d also be slipping and sliding my way down an 820-foot-long concrete water slide as part of the beginning of my treatment. This was no ordinary slide, either; in fact, I had to don a helmet, an inner tube and a rather embarrassing — but necessary — diaper-like contraption made of tarp — definitely not my most fashionable moment.
After making my way up to the top of the slide and setting myself down in the holding trough, I was definitely a little nervous — it was quite a long way down. So, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and anxiously waited for the attendant to pull down the lever. Once he did, a gush of water carried me all the way down at what felt like a break-neck speed. It was so fast, in fact, that I could barely see a thing, only hearing the barking noises of the tour operators’ dogs as they excitedly followed me down the slide. Once I finally made it to the bottom, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and exhilaration — and was more ready than ever to take a relaxing dip in that mud.
Mexico: Out to Sea (September 2010)
Over the years, many of my articles for TravelAge West have chronicled my slight fears of snorkeling and watersports in general. Slowly, but surely, my irrational reservations have dissipated. However, my fortitude for underwater encounters with marine life was recently tested during a trip to the island of Cozumel.
While snorkeling in the Columbia Shallows reef, our group spotted a nurse shark. While I had expected to get up close and personal that day with all manner of fish, I had no idea that a shark — albeit a non-carnivorous one — would also be part of the equation. As soon as I spotted it from the corner of my eye, I could feel myself start to panic. I wasn’t alone — a fellow member of my snorkeling group even grabbed my arm when he spotted it, too. But, the more I stared at the nurse shark, my eyes literally transfixed on its every move, the more I gradually — very gradually — started to relax, allowing me to regain my composure and to start enjoying my snorkeling excursion.
I’ll never forget that initial shock but I’m also glad that I didn’t panic — or head straight back for the boat. The rest of my snorkeling excursion was wonderful; it turned out to be one of the biggest highlights of my trip, in fact. So, nurse shark or no nurse shark, I’m determined to stay in the water during my next snorkel sail.
Singapore: My Encounter With the “King” (October 2010)
I am no stranger to eating strange or exotic foods but I have to admit that I was slightly hesitant about consuming durian, also known as the “king of fruits,” during a visit to Singapore this fall. Going to Geylang, Singapore’s red-light district, to eat durian was not on our original itinerary. But, after fielding interest from a few members of my press group, our guide, Toon Hee, decided to make a special outing of it one night.
Durian is a rather pungent-smelling fruit. In fact, its odorous smell is so strong and so overpowering that people are banned from carrying it while utilizing Singapore’s public transit system. Even television’s Andrew Zimmern, the host of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods,” could barely stomach it. After trying a piece of durian, and subsequently spitting it out, one of my fellow travel journalists described its smell and taste as a cross between “garbage and more garbage.”
Soon, it was my turn to try it out. Picking up a piece of it, I decided it’d be best to just go for it. I figured that if I’d smelled it first, I’d most likely psych myself out. I’m glad my strategy worked; in fact, after my first initial taste of durian, I was already ready for more face time with the king.
Malaysia: Stumbling Upon Villa Sentosa (November 2010)
My final favorite travel excursion of 2010 really sums up what I love most about traveling: you simply never know whom you’ll meet or what you’ll encounter along the way — and that’s often the best part.
That was certainly the case when I stumbled upon the private home of Abdul Rahim Haji Hashim during an afternoon stroll through Melaka, Malaysia. His house, known as Villa Sentosa, is a living museum of sorts that encapsulates the history of Melaka and its varied cultural influences.
For me, however, my favorite part of my visit came at the very end, when Abdul decided to briefly abandon his role as our personal tour guide/historian and take on a new one — that of a handwriting analyst. Examining a brief message of thanks that I’d written in his guestbook, he looked up and told me he could tell me what my personality was like, just from looking at my script.
“You’re very organized,” he told me. “You’re very careful. You like to follow plans.”
Hearing those words was a revelation, of sorts. Abdul was right: I do like following organized schedules and having my trips — and my life in general — play out according to plan. But, after further reflection, I also realized that some of my most memorable — and favorite — experiences were the ones that I didn’t already pencil in on my calendar.
And so, with that, I’m eager to see what kinds of new and unexpected experiences I’ll encounter in 2011. Whatever they may be, I’m ready.