Our travels in 2017
As we travel, we video our experiences, be it capturing a rare sighting of a minke whale in the frozen south or exploring the cathedral-sized caverns of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. This video will take you on some of our travels in 2017 and might even get you thinking about where 2018 will take you.
Nik, unexpected whale watching in Antarctica
I went to Antarctica at the worst time of year for whale sightings — slightly unfortunate, as they were the one thing I’d really hoped to see. But, this being Antarctica, I knew anything could happen: it’s an utterly unpredictable destination, always at the mercy of the capricious polar weather. In bright sunshine, the ice glows and sparkles, its engulfing whiteness broken only by parades of shuffling penguins. Then there are brooding and overcast days, when your vessel feels like a ghost ship gliding through a Stygian, berg-strewn underworld.
There I was, skimming along in my kayak one day, minding my own business. Just enjoying the icescapes, the unearthly stillness. Then — out of nowhere — a young minke whale swam right underneath me, before surfacing nearby and spyhopping. Was it playing? Or just nosy? Either way, it seemed completely at ease and hung around for a good 20 minutes. Entrancing.
Ben, trekking in Chilean Patagonia
On the day I trekked in Torres del Paine’s French Valley, mist was feathering the sides of the great granite peaks that formed the valley walls. I picked my way over a boulder-studded glacial moraine overlooked by native fir forests, gawping up at the spidery ice fields and hanging glaciers clinging to the black-shale summits.
Suddenly, there was a roar and a low, moody rumble. And then a block of ice calved from the glacier on the other side of the valley, plummeting with a crash down the mountain slopes. It echoed all around the valley. Earlier that day, I’d seen my first avalanche.
The wind in Patagonia is ferocious, and likes to pummel you with icy, unforgiving blasts as it rushes unheeded down valleys. And then there are days when it relents a little, and the sun comes out, and the glacial lakes that dot the expanses of scrubby open steppe gleam cerulean blue.
Melissa, exploring the Tu Lan Cave in Vietnam
After trekking from the little village of Tan Hoa through paddy fields, past grazing buffalos and across clear-running rivers, and clambering up a rock staircase leading to the cave mouth, I’d arrived. There stood basecamp, set up on a sandy riverbank. Surrounded by nothing but thick jungle and karst cliffs, I’d seemingly stepped back into prehistoric times.
Clouds of white butterflies fluttered past the yawning mouth of Ken Cave, a cathedral-sized cavern I spent the next few days exploring with a small group of fellow adventurers. Only one group is allowed into the cave system, which sits in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, each day. We felt like we were in a little timeless bubble. After the bedlam of Hanoi and Saigon, I slept accompanied by nothing but the noise of a fast-flowing river.
Jasmine, driving from Salta to Mendoza in Argentina
The madre of all road trips? For me, yes. Driving from Salta to Mendoza in Argentina’s remote northwest, I felt as if I were passing through the Outback, then scorched badlands, then the surface of Mars. The road was in immaculate condition and easy to follow, making for smooth driving, but all around me lay a wild landscape completely untamed by the hand of man.
I loved pulling over and stretching my legs in the gnarled, reddish-rock gorges of the Valley of Arrows, and driving up a winding mountain track to reach El Hornocal, a viewpoint over the Serranía de Hornocal mountain range. I could have spent hours gaping at their waving, exposed strata — a type of limestone formation, Yacoraite. These layers look like they've been smeared onto the rock face by an oil painter in deep russets and burnt oranges, and ice-cream shades of lemon and pistachio.
Nick, journeying the Silk Route
When I think back to my Silk Route journey, there are many memories to skim through. The incredible natural landscapes along the route meant my camera was rarely out of use, but equally beguiling was the Islamic architecture I found in Uzbekistan’s cities.
Arriving at Samarkand’s Registan — a centuries-old public square — I stood agape at the three large madrasas surrounding it. Their turquoise-domed roofs glistened in the sun, and the tiled patterns covering every inch of their exteriors had the intricacy of embroidered fabric. It was hard to believe that they’d stood there for so long (work started in the 1400s) yet remained immaculately preserved.
One evening, we dined in a restaurant overlooking the square. As we ate the local dish of palov (a hearty bowl of mutton, rice and vegetables), the madrasas stood subtly illuminated against a completely clear night sky, and we watched people coming and going below us.
Vicki, staying on Baros in the Maldives
The great thing about Baros, a resort island in the Maldives, is its interest in marine life. There are about 18 resident sea turtles living on the house reef, some of whom I managed to photograph as I snorkeled. When I showed my pictures to one of the Baros marine biologists, she explained that the formation on their cheeks was like a thumbprint. From my images, she could tell me the turtle’s name, sex and age, as well as other information that had been collected — including preferred food (usually seagrass).
There’s also a healthy population of reef sharks here, which swim in the shallows right up to the shoreline. One morning, I watched as a shoal of tiny silver fish created a huge pulsating shadow. A reef shark approached and the shoal quickly flickered, creating a clear channel for the shark to swim through.
Helen, waking early to catch St Mark's at first light
We arrived in St Mark’s Square just as the two bronze Moors atop the clock tower were hammering the bell to sound 6am. I like to visit the square at this early hour on the last morning of a trip to Venice, when you’ll see more Venetians than visitors and the square seems contemplative in the soft amber light.
My daughter ran full pelt toward the pair of red marble lions who preside over the Piazzetta dei Leoncini, the enclave tucked behind the basilica’s façade (it was the only chance she’d had to sit on them all week). I headed toward the Molo, where the lagoon water laps at the square’s feet and you can see the island church of San Giorgio Maggiore.
On the way back to our hotel, I peered through an open church door. We converged with a highly coiffured, matriarchal-looking signora in black whose chest protruded like a peacock’s. On spying my daughter, she grabbed her cheek and waggled it between thumb and finger. ‘Bella, bella,’ she exclaimed happily before continuing in to her worship. ‘What did that lady mean?’ asked my daughter in deep consternation. ‘It means she liked you,’ I replied, ‘it’s an Italian thing’.
Start planning your trip for 2018
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Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.
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