With 2013 barely off the ground, a new blogger relay has taken the travel world by storm. The idea? To pick your best posts from the past year, depending on twelve predefined categories. When I was nominated by JdombsTravels to take part, it sounded like a great opportunity to reflect on everything I’ve been up to and to scrutinise my blog posts with a fresh pair of eyes!
Here are my best dozen posts of 2012:
1. Most popular
According to the Google Gods, my most read post is one in which I offer advice to people trying to get between Cali in Colombia and Quito in Ecuador by bus. Before I set out on my trip through South America, I was anxious about my safety in Colombia. From the research I did, I kept hearing that this particular stretch of road is a common spot for bus hijackings. Under no circumstances should I consider doing it at night. During the day, I’d have to keep my wits about me. The journey also involves a lot of bus and cab exchanges, as well as a border crossing, and with Quito’s reputation for crime, I didn’t want to get there after dark. I managed the trip with no bad experiences, and it seems a lot of people have checked out my story in the hope that it will allay their reservations about it.
2. Most helpful
During my travels, I’ve tried to write about my own experiences and throw in tips for anyone looking to visit the same place. Not many of my posts are solely about advice, but I did put together a post before I left the UK on essential toiletries for long-term travel. I’d come across a lot of handy little gadgets, most of which have been lost or stolen along the way, but they’re great for packing light and making your dorm mates jealous.
3. Surprisingly successful
I got a lot of feedback on my post about Loki Hostel in La Paz. The Loki chain is well known throughout Peru, Bolivia and Argentina as a big party place. I wanted to share my experiences, which were a mixture of fun, organised activities, alcohol-fuelled parties and cultural escape. But I think the thing that attracted people’s attention to this post is what happened to me on Halloween. I returned from a night club to find that the man in the bunk below me had emptied his surprisingly sizeable bladder all over my backpack, drenching every single item of clothing I owned and leaving me with no choice but to continue dressing as a witch for the whole of the next day while my clothes got a good wash!
I thought the headline ‘TEFL in a graveyard‘ would attract the attention of some curious readers, but the post didn’t get many views. It was one of those experiences that doesn’t go anything like you expect. Instead of a tour group, I had one guy in a car driving me around. I wasn’t even convinced he was a guide. I had a spooky time alone with him in a cemetery after dark, and he definitely spent more time coaxing me to teach him English than actually telling me about the place we were in. The final straw was him telling me I should move to Peru and marry him!
5. Most controversial
Potosi in Bolivia is one of the highest cities in the world. It’s also home to a small mountain full of silver. The history of mining in the area is fascinating because of the horrific working conditions and the millions who have died over the past two centuries. I took part in a guided tour of the mines, experiencing first-hand the claustrophobia, altitude sickness, humidity, poisonous gases and very real danger of tunnel collapse. Some people consider it unethical to visit the mines, as if it demeans the workers to stand there and gawp at their misery. But I found it a humbling experience and hope that sharing what I saw in my blog will help to make a few people more aware of the conditions.
6. Most amusing
In terms of the memories it evokes, my post about getting lost in a maze of maize on my way to Colca Canyon in Peru is one of the most amusing. My friend and I were hopeless. We ignored the advice of a toothless man who we wrote off as crazy, almost fell off a cliff face trying to squeeze behind a horse, and finished up so delirious that following a stray dog seemed like our best bet for finding the footpath. It was a tough day, especially when we had to hike back out of the canyon in the heat of the afternoon with insufficient water. Oddly enough, I look back on that day with the fondest of memories.
7. One I’m most proud of
I’m taking the easy way out with this one. Self-praise has never been my forte. Rather than telling you which post I feel was my best piece of writing, I’m opting for the post that describes my biggest achievement. When I was in La Paz, I heard so many stories of people injuring themselves cycling the Death Road, I almost decided not to try it. But it had been on my mental bucket list since I first heard it was possible, and I’m not one to wimp out. It turned out to be an exhilerating day, made so much better by the beautiful scenery. I was buzzing with adrenaline when I returned to the hostel that evening.
8. Best travel story or travel perspective
Sometimes the best stories come from the most unexpected places. When I planned to visit the Amazon via Rurrenabaque in Bolivia, the obvious option was to fly there. Unfortunately, flights were getting cancelled right, left and centre. Then a couple of people in my hostel advertised that they wanted to get a group together and hire a jeep and driver to take us there instead. It turned out to be the most eventful journey of my life, with breakdowns, landslides, road blocks and our driver falling asleep at the wheel. You’d think 18 hours in a cramped seat with strangers would be painful, but we had the best time entertaining ourselves with stupid car games and getting to know each other. I love that I got to experience a more authentic method of transport and know how it is to travel the local road.
9. Best travel adventure
I’ve been on a lot of adventures in South America, but nothing compares to the challenge of climbing Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador. We had to set off in the middle of the night and crawl slowly up the mountainside with head torches while the full effects of altitude sickness made our heads pound. My guide turned out to be a tough cookie, yelling at me whenever I stopped to breathe, and going mental when I almost fell down an ice crevice from exhaustion. If I never see a pair of ice crampons again, I’ll be a happy lady. It was one of those few experiences I’m pleased to tick off as a ‘once in a lifetime’ event.
10. Cultural perspective/insights
When someone mentions Bolivia, what’s the first thing that springs to mind? For a lot of people, the answer to that question is ‘cocaine’. It’s still a massive industry, despite multiple intervention programmes. As a novice drug user, I decided to check out the Coca Museum in La Paz to learn some really interesting facts about the coca leaf and its effect on different cultures through the ages. While I was there, I had a glass of coca beer. If you ever have the opportunity to try it, I strongly recommend you decline!
11. Most beautiful
There is no question in my mind about where I took the best photos on this trip. I spent two blissfully happy weeks in the Galapagos – eight days of which were aboard a catamaran. We saw stunning landscapes and exotic animals that didn’t flinch when we approached them. It was a photographer’s dream. My post about boobies and other Galapagos residents is a bit of an odd one as a result of my background as a zoology graduate. But even if you’re not interested in the geeky sciency stuff, you can’t pretend not to be affected by how cute these animals are.
12. Best photo/photo gallery
In August, there was a blogger relay competition run by travelsupermarket.com called Capture the Colour. The idea was to post your favourite travel shots that represented the colours red, blue, green, yellow and white. I decided to base my post on Colombia alone, and set about trying to get good shots from different regions in different colours, and depicting different scenes. It was a fun project and I have some photos to treasure as a result.
Now it’s time for me to nominate five other bloggers to take part. Here are some I really recommend you check out. And if they choose to participate, you’ll benefit from a nice round up of their top 12 posts from last year too! Over to you…
Shaun of shaunscrackedcompass.com
Lauren of lateralmovements.com
Liz of youngadventuress.com
Vicky of vickyflipfloptravels.com
Neil of www.backpacksandbunkbeds.co.uk