Fave Five 2009 Travel Excursions, Part Two

Associate Editor Deanna Ting gets more adventurous with her Fave Five travel experiences of 2009

By: By Deanna Ting

I’m a fairly cautious person by nature, but if there’s anything I learned in 2009, it’s that sometimes, you just have to go for it and not hold back — well, just as long as you’re not breaking any laws (I’ve seen too many episodes of “Locked Up Abroad” to know better than that). My favorite travel experiences from last year encapsulated that spirit of spontaneity perfectly: Each, in its own way, took me out of my usual comfort zones and I feel as though I’m a better traveler — and writer — because of them.

Jamaica and Costa Rica: Zip to It (January and October 2009)
Before last year, I’d never done a zipline before. While I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of heights, I don’t exactly love the thought of dangling precariously through the air, high above the trees, no matter how pretty the view is. Much to my amazement though, I ziplined not only once but twice this past year, first at Jamaica’s Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios, and later at Costa Rica’s Hacienda Guachipelin in Rincon de la Vieja National Park.

Both times, my heart raced as I waited on the first platform, and I wondered if I’d actually go through with the whole thing. But both times I did, and I was certainly glad I did because I had a wonderful time flying through the air and whooshing past the trees. In Costa Rica, I was even brave enough to zipline upside down — twice! With both ziplining adventures, I learned that a little adrenaline rush is worth taking a bit of a leap for.

Hacienda Guachipelin

Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica at Mystic Mountain

Jordan: Operation Desert Storm? (February 2009)

Bedouin's Tea // (c) Deanna Ting 2009

A camping excursion with Bedouins in Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert proved to be an unforgettable experience. // © Deanna Ting 2010

Last year, I found out that camping out in the middle of a desert in a foreign country can prove to be both one of the most exhilarating — and slightly frightening — of experiences, especially when there’s a sandstorm involved.

Our group was lucky enough to spend a night camping under the stars in Jordan’s Wadi Rum Desert, the same desert where they filmed much of “Lawrence of Arabia” and other films such as “Red Planet” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” It’s an utterly beautiful landscape, with an almost eerie quality to its staggering scenery of red sandstone formations and pristine sands.

Our camping excursion, from the get-go, was amazing — we sipped on sweet tea and relaxed, just waiting for the sun to set. And then, we feasted on an impeccable dinner, later dancing well into the wee hours of the morning. I had a blast.

Going to sleep that night, however, was a different story, as an impromptu and uncharacteristic sandstorm swept through our campsite. With the winds howling outside and piercing through some of the cracks in our otherwise sturdy tent, I couldn’t help but long for the morning to come. When it did, I walked outside of my tent and saw, to my astonishment, that two of the tents in our camp had completely blown over during the night. Thankfully, no one got injured or hurt, but it still wasn’t an entirely comforting sight.

Sandstorm notwithstanding, the Wadi Rum experience remains one of my favorite travel excursions of 2009, simply for its exhilarating highs and even for its sometimes scary lows. While I wouldn’t hesitate recommending a camping trip in the Wadi Rum desert to friends and fellow travelers, I do so with this cautionary note: Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with.

Captain’s Desert Camp

Wadi Rum

Hawaii: Getting Up Close and Personal (May and July 2009)

In an article published last year, I opened up about one of my most irrational of fears: snorkeling with sea creatures. While I’m all for exploring the deep blue sea, I think that’s better left to other adventurers than a land lover such as myself. Nevertheless, I managed to go snorkeling twice last year in the beautiful islands of Hawaii.

My first snorkel excursion of 2009 took place on Hawaii’s Big Island in Keawaiki Bay. While I was scared at first, I easily warmed up to the idea of being around fish, starfish and pufferfish thanks to the serene locale and some help from the friendly folks at Ocean Sports.

By the time I embarked on my second snorkel excursion of last year with Holo Holo Charters, I didn’t feel much anxiety at all (although, I admit, I was still the teensiest bit nervous). Nevertheless, I freely set about exploring the waters off of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast and was even one of the last snorkelers to get back onboard the ship. I’m hoping that, this year, I’ll have yet another chance to snorkel and to slowly, but surely, overcome my phobia of personal encounters with the sea kind.

Holo Holo Charters

Ocean Sports

Israel: “The Amazing Race” (September 2009)

An impromptu dip in the Mediterranean // © Deanna Ting 2010

An impromptu dip in the Mediterranean
// © Deanna Ting 2010

Another important lesson learned from last year’s travel experiences involved perseverance. After taking an unfortunate and accidental dip into the clear-blue waters of the Mediterranean in Israel, I wasn’t necessarily inclined to proceed with our eight- to nine-hour “Amazing Race” throughout the Western Galilee. Because I had no idea our race would take us to the ocean, literally, I was ill-prepared and didn’t bring an extra change of clothes to wear for the rest of the day. Nevertheless, soggy or not, I soldiered on and I’m glad I did — our “Amazing Race” proved to be one of my favorite, one-of-a-kind experiences of the entire trip, and I’m glad I didn’t sit it out.

Go Galilee 2009

Japan: To Fugu, or not to Fugu (December 2009)

Blowfish Tempura // (c) Deanna Ting 2010

Grilled fugu (blowfish) and shirako (blowfish
milt) from Tempura Matsu in
Kyoto // © Deanna Ting 2010

On a recent trip to Kyoto, Japan, I had one of the most memorable — and filling — meals I’ve ever had: a 10-course omakase (chef’s selection) dinner at Tempura Matsu, a favorite restaurant among Kyotoites. While I consider myself to be a gastronome of sorts, my eating abilities were tested when I was confronted with grilled fugu (blowfish) and shirako (blowfish testicles) halfway through the amazing meal. While I was initially worried about consuming such a potentially poisonous (and sometimes fatal) fish, let alone its, umm, private parts, I let my inhibitions go and decided to savor the moment. While I came out of the whole experience slightly lightheaded, I also felt a sense of achievement. Now, I’m hungry for even more exotic and unusual dishes to try.

Japan National Tourism Organization