I welcomed 2016 with a lot of hope and a pint of Guinness at a random British pub in Tokyo. Although I was alone in a foreign land, I could sense an air of positivity in the air. It was my first trip since I left my full-time job (again), and I was looking forward to more trips and more firsts. I didn’t know it then, but that year was going to be a rollercoaster ride, to say the least.
You can say what you want about 2016, but you can’t say it was boring. Even up to now, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling as though it is the year that the universe fucked up the world. There were a lot of times when I just wanted it to end just so I could have that illusion of starting over. I found that every political stand I took turned out to be on the losing side. The only movie I co-wrote this year leaked online while it was still in theaters. And I discovered that I suffer from a medical condition that only became apparent recently, confining me in the hospital for the first time in almost 20 years and stopping me from traveling for the entire summer. Imagine. The struggle is real.
Yet, 2016 is the best travel year so far for both Vins and myself. This is the first full year that both of us were full-time travel bloggers (having quit our jobs at the end of 2015). Despite my medical scare, we had set foot in 27 countries (21 together), including a long-time-coming two-month journey across Europe, a speaking gig at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul, and winning 3rd place at the first ever #GoogleAdventure in Japan.
But not all of our experiences were awesome! Some were pretty awful, too! Before I spoil this list, let’s begin. Here are our most unforgettable travel moments, both good and bad, in this crazy thing that is 2016.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first, yes?
WHAT'S COVERED IN THIS GUIDE?
Top 5 Worst Travel Moments
5. Earthquake in the Shower in Tokyo
Over the past three years, I had been to Japan five times (four in Tokyo). Almost every time, weak earth tremors happened. Hence, when my hotel room began to shake that November morning, I felt like there was nothing to be worried about. So there I was, in the shower, getting ready for a big day, not minding the quake. That is, until it became too strong to be ignored. The walls and the ceiling made loud, creaky sounds for what felt like forever. That’s when I started getting scared. Thankfully, it subsided eventually and no one was hurt.
When it was all over, I went to Vins’s room. (The trip was part of #GoogleAdventure and we were given separate rooms.) Vins was as shaken as I was. He was packing when it happened. We immediately went down to the lobby.
4. We got scammed in Istanbul.
Istanbul is one of the greatest cities we had seen, but like most great cities, it has more than its share of tourist scams. Unfortunately, we fell victim to one.
We were leisurely walking around the Eminönü area when I received a message that we had to attend a dinner party in an hour. Since we didn’t have much time, we decided to get one of the cabs parked by the strait. The driver was friendly and was not suspicious at all — until he offered to take an alternate route to our hotel. It was fishy because it wasn’t our first day in the city, and we knew exactly how to get to our hotel fast. But he insisted because of the traffic jam. We were in the middle of the road so we couldn’t get out. As the ride went on, we noticed that the meter was moving unusually fast. Long story short, he was asking us to pay five times than we probably should.
But it didn’t end there, after handing him our payment, he complained that we gave him the wrong bills. At first we thought we really made a mistake, but then after replacing the smaller bill, he once again complained that we gave him the wrong bills. He was taking advantage of our being unfamiliar with their notes. Anyway, when we started to demand to give us back the money, he sped off.
3. We got scammed again in Marrakech.
Learning from our mistakes in Istanbul, we were very careful when we reached Morocco. We arrived in Marrakech at almost midnight. At the train station, we carefully chose our taxi to make sure we won’t be scammed again. He dropped us off at the edge of Jemaa el-Fna because vehicles are not allowed to go any farther. From here, we needed to find our riad, traditional Moroccan house where we would be staying, on foot. Thing is, the medina of Marrakech is a giant maze. And most riads had barely noticeable signs.
Still, we were careful. Two guys followed us around, offering help, but we declined. Instead, we asked fruit vendors for directions. It wasn’t enough. We still couldn’t find it.
We continued walking. The two guys kept following us wherever we went. We were deep into the residential area, and there were no vendors that could help us this time. When we spotted a group of locals just chilling, we decided to ask them instead. One of the guys asked for the address and promised to take us to our riad. With him leading the way, we walked down dark alleys. Vins and I started getting nervous. We felt like the guy was misleading us.
I remember telling Vins, if it comes down to it, he should grab him and I’ll kick his balls. Hahaha. We were really paranoid.
It turned out that he was really taking us to our riad. We got there without having to resort to fist fight. But as soon as we reached the riad, the guy started asking for money as token. We gave him what we felt like a good amount, but he demanded more. Equivalent to PHP500 (USD10).
2. Skydiving in Prague: CANCELED!
Between the two of us, Vins is the faint-hearted one. When it comes to extreme activities, I’m always up for the challenge. Vins always needs a lot of convincing. A LOT. When the idea of skydiving in Prague presented itself, I didn’t even hesitate to sign up. Vins didn’t even hesitate to say no. But I know it was gonna be great and that it would be a shame if Vins would miss it. I had to convince him to join. You’re gonna thank me for it, I told him. I spend an entire day and night trying to get him to agree! Not only was he scared, he was also concerned about the money. But mostly scared. This was the cheapest skydiving I’d seen anywhere in the world.
Finally, he said yes. Hallelujah! We registered. Paid in full. Scheduled for the next day.
The next day, it rained. Our dive was canceled. And we couldn’t reschedule because it was our last day in Prague. Aaaaargh! I spent 2 days trying to bend Vins’s arm to do this and it got canceled just when he was emotionally ready!
1. Northern Lights in Iceland: NO SHOW!
We carefully picked our Iceland travel dates. We took into consideration the moon’s brightness, strength of solar activity, and the weather. But you know weather, it’s fickle and fucked up!
We were in Brussels videos of the Aurora Borealis got viral online. It was special because the lights were clearly visible from Reykjavik. In fact, the government had the city lights turned off for maximum viewing pleasure. We were excited because our next stop was Iceland! We would be there in a couple of days.
When we arrived, Iceland was covered with thick clouds. They would clear up many times during the day but they evenings were overcast. Ugh! The worst part, there was strong solar activity the entire week that we were there. We just couldn’t see the lights because the clouds were blocking the view. Since Night 1, the Northern Lights tour we booked kept getting canceled and moved to the next night.
But it didn’t end there. On our last day, WE MISSED OUR SHUTTLE TO THE AIRPORT.
We had already locked our AirBnB apartment and left the keys inside, so we were stuck outside in the ICELAND cold at 3am.
At first, we didn’t think we missed it, so we waited. But after almost an hour in the cold, it finally dawned on us that it was not coming and we most definitely missed it. There were no taxis around. We tried calling transfer companies but the voice message said they open at 7:30am. We tried booking online but the next trip was scheduled at 5am. Our flight was at 6am. The airport is an hour away.
At that point, we knew it would be impossible to catch our flight.
BUT THEN, a shuttle from a competing company stopped in front of us, waiting for 2 other passengers from a nearby hotel. They waited, but the passengers CANCELED. There were 2 vacant seats in that shuttle, and we needed a ride. We talked to the driver. “We didn’t book this shuttle, but we missed ours. Would you accommodate us even without prior reservations?” He did! And he didn’t charge us extra.
We made it in time for our flight! Whew! Thank you, universe!
Top 5 Best Travel Moments
5. Free upgrade to a water villa in the Maldives!
It all started when my friend Tonet invited me to go with her somewhere she could relax. She would be coming from a trip in Japan and I from Singapore. Our initial plan was Bagan, Myanmar, but the weather forecast suggested we won’t be riding any hot-air balloon there. Haphazardly, we tried to come up with an alternative, a place that we’d never been before but did not require pre-approved visa. The idea of the Maldives was thrown on the table, and both of us grabbed it.
We both wanted to experience staying at a luxury resort but we had limited budget, so we booked the cheapest room at the cheapest private resort we found. We got one of the beach rooms. Nothing fancy, but comfortable enough. Everything was alright, until one morning when Tonet and I were just walking around the reception. The manager called our attention and approached us.
“How would you like to upgrade to a water villa? There are vacant villas.” the manager said. Knowing how expensive these overwater bungalows are, I looked at Tonet, trying to find a way to say no politely.
“Hmmmmm,” Tonet said.
“It’s for FREE. No charge,” the manager added.
And just like that, Tonet and I answered at the same time: “SURE!”
4. Speaking at World Tourism Forum in Istanbul
I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t a bit scared during this trip. It was scheduled in a period when Istanbul’s most touristy site fell to a terrorist attack. But I never really let fear stop me from traveling to places outside war zones. So even when we were nervous, we flew to Istanbul and honor our commitment with the World Tourism Forum.
It was a great decision because I thoroughly enjoyed the event and Istanbul as a whole.
3. Chasing Waterfalls and Rainbows in Iceland
Iceland didn’t show us its precious Northern Lights, but it gave us something more splashy — waterfalls. Of these wonders, Skogafoss stood out. But not at first.
When we arrived, we were a little underwhelmed. The waterfall was great, yep, but after seeing the majestic Gullfoss, we would need more than a cascade. The place looked grey and dreary. They said it normally looks better under the sun, but even the sun was not in the mood. We were just about to leave when we stopped and said, “Let’s wait a bit more. Maybe.”
And just like that, the sun finally showed up. Just like that, a rainbow appeared in front of us.
Sometimes, all you have to do is WAIT a little bit more. FIGHT a little bit harder. STAY a little bit longer. And then you’ll see.
2. First Snowfall and Hot Air Balloon Ride in Cappadocia, Turkey
We had our first snowfall in Cappadocia. Sure, I’ve seen and touched snow before, but it was already on the ground. The first time I saw it falling happened in Goreme, Turkey. A snowflake landed on my glove-less hand and it disappeared almost instantly.
When we arrived at our hostel in Goreme, it was snowing hard. Our hostel had a rooftop cafe, where Vins and I waited while the staff prepared the room. The owner, who welcomed us, kept urging us to go inside. “It’s snowing, come in, come in,” he said.
But we stayed outside. Trying to embrace the snowfall. We looked like idiots!
“You don’t understand,” I told the hostel owner. “It’s our first snow!”
But that’s not even my most unforgettable first in Cappadocia. On our second day, we rode a hot air balloon for the first time, hovering above an endless sea of rock formations, from towering pillars that nature meticulously molded into massive chimneys for over 2000 years to spires that the early Christians carved through to create dwellings and churches centuries ago. The ride also allows a glimpse of some of Central Anatolia’s mighty peaks, from where the sun would emerge in a breathtaking celestial display. It was surreal.
1. A Dance in Florence, Italy.
Where to begin? From our first look at the Duomo to our last meal in the city, there is so much to love about Firenze! On our first day, we wanted to try a panini behind the Duomo. When the staff asked us what we would like to have, I simply said, “whatever you recommend.” He then asked us to try the ingredients — cheeses and cold cuts — one by one, while he explained what they were and where they got them. We’re talking about a 6EUR panini here. It’s probably something that they do to every new customer that walks through their door, which is more admirable.
Same thing happened in one gelato shop. We were the only ones in the shop, but I couldn’t decide what flavor I wanted. The owner had us taste each flavor one by one so we could make an informed choice.
It’s little things like these that our memories of Florence for keeps. But one thing I will never ever forget was on one night on the way back to the hotel, there were street performers playing a classical tune. Suddenly, a mother began dancing with his probably 10-yo son in the middle of the street. They were tourists, and they just danced there with everyone watching. It was a tender moment that made me believe that despite all the bad things that happened in 2016, this world is remains brimming with love and beauty, and that life is still worth celebrating.