The year 2015 is almost coming to the end. How did this happen? I didn’t believe it when my grandmother said ‘time goes faster when you get older’, but now I understand what she meant. Time flies. Especially this year I feel it more so. Why is that? Because I’m having too much fun? There are too much to think about in life? Or is it just a relativity of time that applies to everyone.
Nonetheless, it was a good year for traveling. I’m fortunate to be part of the world and to tell the story to my readers. I’m fortunate to travel places where people normally dream about for their whole life. I’m fortunate to have all of you, who I can share the experiences with.
Machu Picchu and Salkantay Trek – Peru
There are not enough words to describe the feeling when I first saw Machu Picchu coming out of the morning fog. The expectation was even more grand after hiking up to the gate of Machu Picchu from Aquas Clients, after 4 days of trekking via Salkantey Trek with the help of coca leaves. My body was screaming but my mind was saying ‘It will be worth it.’ And it was worth it.
It’s a famous story how the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham came to Peru in the summer of 1911 to find the lost city of the Incas, and ‘re-discover’ Machu Picchu by the help of an 11-year-old boy. After years of excavation and study, We still don’t know much about the place and the Incas. History aside, Machu Picchu is simply incredible. The world would have been a different place if the Inca civilization survived. Seems like Incas knew how to live in harmony with people, culture, and nature. Incas tried to avoid wars.
Easter Island – Chile
Did you dream about moai statues when you were little? I did. Growing up as a bookworm, I read every possible books available including biographies and history. Somewhere in between, the story (mystery) of the moai stuck. Many years later, I stood in front of the Moai statues, thinking ‘little Jiyeon would be so happy right now’.
The ‘Rapa Nui Magic’ got me big time. The mana penetrated me deeply. After got back from the island, I started to read books about this place for better understanding. Moai statues are known to be made within 1250 and 1400 AD. Although there has been a lot of studies about the statues and the Rapa Nui culture, the exact story behind of these magnificent statues are still not clear. The Norwegian explorer, Mr. Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl sailed to Easter Island in 1955, and that was the first attempt to solve the mystery behind this island. He published his expedition about the Easter Island, Aku-Aku, which became another international best-seller. I highly recommend reading Aku-Aku and the sequel Easter Island: The Mystery Solved, before after your expedition in the island.
Atacama Desert – Chile
If you are interested in astronomy, you would’ve heard that Atacama Desert is one of the best places to study the stars. The world’s driest desert, Atacama is the perfect place to set up expensive telescopes. Its high elevation is also another positive factor. The famous ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) Observatory is located in the 5,000m plateau outside of San Pedro. But you don’t need a fancy telescope to enjoy the fine night sky of the Atacama. All you need is to look up.
This is one of the places where you can feel the closest to this Universe. Exploring the high elevation mountains (including target=”_blank”>the famous Cerro Toco, 5602m/ 18379ft) was a huge bonus!
Northern Lights in Lapland – Finland & Norway
I just can’t get enough of the northern lights. It’s one of the secret words to get me moving. When I heard my new online-friend Tiina is from Utsjoki (where?) and she started an aurora-viewing business, I decided I had to go.
For the nine days in Utsjoki (69.9° N), we traveled all around northern Lapland to chase the northern lights. Unfortunately, Scandinavia was covered with clouds the whole week, (damn you global warming!). Thanks to our friends at Aurora Holidays, we were able to find some amazing spots not only in Finnish Lapland, but also in Finnmark of Norway.
The trip was even more meaningful because we got to learn about Sami culture. If you are interested in the Sami people and if you like the movie, Frozen, you would enjoy my recent article Reindeers Are Better Than People – Life of Sami and Reindeer.
Outback Angel Flight Trailblazer – Australia
I was invited to a unique event earlier this year. It’s a one-of-a kind 4WD adventure showcasing Queensland’s inland, for seven days. It’s called Outback Angel Flight Trailblazer, a fundraising rally for Angel Flight, who flies country people who are suffering the triple trouble of bad health, poor finances, and huge distance, free of charge. So, for seven days, 63 cars with 120 participants drove to the most remote and characteristic places in the Outback Queensland.
After visiting places like Betoota of population 0, Middleton of population 2 (nearest towns are 200km away), Birdsville of population 111 ± 7,000, and more exceptional places, I fell in love with this region more than ever. It’s harsh but attractive country. I haven’t been to Sydney, Melbourne, or Cairns, but I’ve been to (almost) everywhere in Queensland’s Outback. Is it odd? Maybe. Even the reporter from ABC thought so. Read the interview I had with ABC: South Korean reporter joins Outback Trailblazer for adventure through remote Queensland. How can you not love this place?
Glen Coe – Scotland
If someone asks “Where is the most beautiful places you’ve ever been?” What would you say? I have been lucky enough to have quite a few places in mind, and Glen Goe of Scotland is definitely one of them. Glen Coe is where the highest peak in the British Isles, Ben Navis stands. The whole area is surrounded by various sizes of peaks, creating sensational view in every angle. Because of its scenic qualities and geographic uniqueness, Glen Coe attracts walkers and climbers. The dramatic scenery is nothing like others. Indeed Glen Coe has been featured in numerous films over the years, such as Braveheart, Highlander, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Rob Roy, Skyfall, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s amazing to think the movie-like locations exist in really life, and it’s even more dramatic in real life.
Back to New Zealand
It was like completing a full circle of life. Everything began with the ‘Visitor’s Permit’ stamp at the Auckland Airport, New Zealand back in 2004. The proof of my first time as an independent, solo, overseas traveler. That one-month trip changed everything. I met life-long friends (who I consider my second family), I learned how to speak English, learned about life and being independent, and picked up the joy of traveling. My life would have been quite different without my visit to New Zealand 11 years ago.
In May this year, I went back to New Zealand for the third time. This time, I brought my husband with me. We stayed at the same house where I did 11 years ago. For three weeks, we hung out with my second family and visited a few places in the North Island including Coromandel Peninsula. Every time I visit, I ask myself “Why don’t I live here, again?”. Why is that?
New Zealand will always remain as a special place to me.
So there we have it, those are my top 7 travel memories of the year 2015. It was another busy year with lots of travel. What will 2016 bring? I have no idea, but I’m sure it will be a good one!