Best of

After travelling for 350 days, visiting 136 places in 19 countries* across 106,659km, and having a couple of months back home in Sydney to reflect on our ‘year without seatbelts’, there were a few stand out experiences, places, meals, rides etc. Here, then, is our ‘best of’ list – the superlative account of the trip, or the account of our superlatives.


Most memorable runs

We bought ‘five fingers’ barefoot sports shoes at the start of our trip which, with each toe separately encased, look like foot gloves – or Muppet feet. You may recall that the owner of a guest house in Dana, Jordan, thought I had special needs when he saw me wearing them. Our theory was that – since they pack down small, and adjust your running style to cause less strain to the body – we’d substitute running for the exercise we do at home (I commute to work on the bike). In fact we didn’t run as much as we should have since it always seemed to be too hot / too cold / too dark / too isolated – but there were some memorable moments nonetheless.

  1. Running through the millet fields near Mikumi National Park in Tanzania was liberating, especially at the thought of leopards and lions lying in wait nearby. The millet was head high, so running along the dirt paths through the fields effectively meant we were locked in. Sarah was initially using the thought of a wild cat on her tail to motivate her speed, but got so worked up by the thought of being chased that she fell, which is just what the pursuing beasts would want. I heard a yell in the distance behind me and circled around to find her sprawled on the ground with a bloody knee but thankfully not with a wild big cat attached to her jugular.
  2. Kara in northern Togo felt a long way off the beaten track and we went even further off it with a run through the grasslands dotted with Baobab trees. As with the run in Mikumi, it always feels slightly unsettling to be running through the African bush, as though you’re a mouse attracting the eyes of a predator with all of your scuttling around. On this run the most pain came through our ‘five finger’ shoes from the sharp little rocks on the path – but the views of the rolling hills, nearby mosques and sunset-bathed atmosphere were worth it. We got some encouragement from a group of farmers taking a rest from their work; at least, that’s how we took their smiles and shouting.
  3. Sarah enjoyed running in Cuba, despite the humidity which knocked me out. One of her favourite runs was heading along the Malecon harbour wall in Havana, with the locals strolling and singing and whistling and busking around her.  Another was passing goats, chickens, horses and Russian trucks serving as buses, in the rural village of Santo Domingo near Castro’s hide out in the overhanging mountains – while I stayed at the guest house and smoked a Cuban cigar (as you do). She noticed that pretty much everywhere she ran, though, in a variety of countries, young men would run alongside her for a moment, mimicking her shuffling style and encourage or laugh at her (or both).


  1. We took in a lot of great mountain scenery on our trip but the official highest point was in the Spiti Valley in northern India, where we reached the dizzying heights of Kibber village which is 4,270 metres high and surrounded by even bigger mountains. The sky seemed an even darker shade of brilliant blue up there but the river ran brown through the rocky landscape. Baby yaks nibbled on grass in the village green while we ate lunch above them.
  2. I found it surprising that Banff  in Canada is only 1,463 metres high, a mere minnow in relative terms. It’s surprising because the mountain scenery in the area is so striking and spectacular that it feels higher. The Rockies certainly stand out for their sheer majesty.
  3. At 1,800 metres, Yaylalar in the Kackar mountains of Eastern Turkey was the most snow we got on the trip. It felt like we were the first visitors of the season after winter and, driving to the end of the road, it became like a snow tunnel with the white stuff piled twice as high as the car on either side.


While not normally a ‘best of’ kind of category, we went to the lowest points on the surface of the earth that you can reach without going underwater.

  1. The Dead Sea is a remarkable place. It has it’s own little micro-climate which made it feel like summer when for the rest of time in Jordan we had been rugged up in coats. The water is ridiculously salty which makes it handy for reading the paper. It’s 423 metres below sea level which is as low as you can go.
  2. At only 83 metres below sea level Death Valley in California doesn’t really compare but it is the lowest point in the United States and it is remarkably hot. They run an ultra-marathon here for reasons that escape me. It’s a remarkable landscape but the free water for overheating engines that dot the landscape are a reminder of how harsh it can be.


  1. The hottest place we visited was – unsurprisingly – Death Valley which has the second highest temperature ever recorded in the world. When we were there in early autumn it only got to 46 degrees celcius which is enough that you notice it. The locals working in the national park office said it was a cool day for that time of year.
  2. The next hottest place was Delhi which got to 43 degrees in the shade. It was a dry heat at least but definitely not good weather for wandering around ancient landmarks. At the Delhi Observatory I hid in the shade of a bush like an overheating bird.
  3. It’s not all about highest temperatures as those familiar with the evils of humidity can testify. The place that felt the hottest to me was Ouidah in Benin, home to the voodoo festival. We stayed in a small hostel and the room overlooked the backyard kitchen and grill. There was no air-conditioning so we just had the overhead fan on full blast above us all night.
  4. Sarah felt hottest in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania with humidity at 85% and a heat rash courtesy of anti-malarial tablets and too much sun on Mafia Island. She lay awake for most of one night with burning arms, before settling on a system of using unopened cans of cold drinks to cool down.


Sarah is my canary in the coalmine for cold weather. She travelled with a mini hot water bottle and would whip it out at the slightest chill – including asking random people at restaurants and guest houses to borrow their kettle. These are the places where the hottie got a workout.

  1. Thankfully the coldest place we visited was also the most well heated. Iceland has no shortage of heat – it steams and bubbles out of the ground and is tapped with hot water heaters and the sublime thermal swimming pools and hot tubs. It was with anticipatory pleasure that we got cold in Iceland, knowing we’d warm up in an instant at the end of each day. Truly blissful.
  2. You wouldn’t expect Jordan to be a cold place but in November the cold wind whipped off the desert and chilled us to the bone. Unlike Iceland there were no hot tubs waiting for us at the end of the day. In fact, at one hotel they had to turn the petrol generator on for us. It was probably the coldest we felt on the trip.
  3. In Eastern Turkey it was coming into spring, not that you would know it. Erzurum is the biggest town in the eastern region and is known as the freezer of the East for its low temperatures. We caught it in a more mild season but it was still freezing. There was snow in the hills and its iciness was transported directly to us on the biting winds. We had to wait for the heating in the hotel to come on at night and we just huddled together until then.

Most enjoyable people

The trip reinforced for us one of the things we love about travel – that people are kind, welcoming and interesting, all over the world; it really is a global village. But there is also a national psyche that you can pick up on in different countries. The Canadians can’t help but all be Super Nice, but with Sarah’s family and friends scattered across that great white land, I’d be accused of bias (or stating the bleeding obvious) if they were to make the top three.

  1. Turkey certainly wins for having the most considerate locals, from the taxi driver who undercharged us to the teenager on the bus who said nothing but bought us a chocolate bar each. They are not effusive but downright decent.
  2. Despite its scary image, Africa had the most open and friendly locals on our trip. Honest and warm, almost everyone we met was a delight.
  3. People in Jordan were super-friendly and honest. Again, this belies the media portrayal of Middle Eastern countries being humourless and hostile to Westerners, but the locals really do take being hospitable as a point of pride.
  4. Sarah notes that she was amazed by the courtesy between locals and towards us in India and China, given the massive population of each and almost constant crowds – there was hardly any pushing, shoving, shouting, and (based on road rage at home) it would be hard to imagine Aussies packed that densely being so polite to each other.

Best meal

  1. The standout meal in my opinion was in Mexico with the Gonzalez family. They took us to a local restaurant where the salsa was freshly pounded at the table by the waiters. We were presented with a sizzling t-bone which we sliced ourselves and put into soft tacos with the salsa and a variety of other fresh ingredients, all washed down with excellent tequila. There were also delicious breakfast options and other taco meals, including cactus.
  2. We had a fancy meal in Istanbul for Sarah’s birthday which was relatively cheap but top dollar for Turkey. It was sensational Turkish food with modern sensibilities. Lamb kebab with charred plums, delicious dips and fresh seafood, all with a gorgeous view over the Bosphorus. The bread in Turkey, which I devoured at every meal, is worth the price of admission alone.
  3. Some of the best food meals on our trip came from an unlikely place, the coast of Ghana. We stayed at a small resort with thatched cottages owned by a Nigerian and French expat couple, whose exacting food standards combined with the fresh produce led to some superb meals of fresh fish with flavourful tomato, and yoghurt with millet for dessert.
  4. A special mention has to be made for China whose rich food history results in cheap, delicious and varied fare. Every region has a distinct meal, style or ingredient. From northern noodles and fresh dumplings, to Peking duck, to spicy Sichuan hotpots, to Central Asian lamb dishes to Vietnamese-style Yunnanese fare (including flower salads) – Sarah and I looked forward to every meal.

Worst meal

  1. There weren’t as many bad meals as you would expect. I think the worst was on one of our first nights in Ghana where we had the traditional dish of fish stew with fermented corn paste. The paste tasted like uncooked dough and the fish looked like the type that we saw in markets, dried in the sun and covered in flies. Later on, across Africa, we had the paste (ugali or fufu) and it was fine, though on the bland side (like rice or pasta) if not eaten with a curry or sauce.
  2. A meal that gives you food poisoning doesn’t necessarily taste bad, but sadly the fish dish in Havana that caused me to spew up horrible green bile the next night was also rank tasting. That should have been a warning sign but sometimes you’re just so hungry that you finish anyway. To add insult to injury the street cat under the table sneezed on my leg after I had palmed half my dinner off to him.
  3. It’s not often that you leave a hotel because of the food they serve but the hotel restaurant in Mbeya, Tanzania seemed to have stopped caring. We were in a vegetarian phase but the vegetable curry they served up was just so ordinary that life was too short to experience it again.
  4. Dishonourable mention has to go to Cuba in general. Whereas China has a rich food tradition, Cuba seems to have focussed their attention on singing, dancing, music and rum, which they do very well. The food is not totally lacking fresh ingredients but there is just no imagination shown in any of the cooking. Everyone does the same meals across the island. I have since developed an aversion to guava juice and eggs for breakfast.
  5. A second special mention goes to the dried cod chips in Iceland. You buy these in the supermarket like a bag of crisps but freeze dried chunks of raw fish is not my idea of a good time. I couldn’t even finish one piece; kudos to Sarah who had two. We didn’t get a chance to try the local traditional dish of putrefied shark, partly due to it being the wrong season, and partly due to the incredibly expense of eating anything in Iceland. We ended up sticking with supermarket purchases and making our own – although you could buy sheep heads packaged like any other meat cut, direct from the supermarket and ready to cook at home.

Best natural scenery

  1. Iceland is a stunning country. There are so many moments that stand out as the sun set over the mountains in the early afternoon. Add glaciers, black sand beaches, volcanoes, natural thermal pools, winding mountain roads and no one else around, you get somewhere that feels unique. The island is slowly being pulled apart by tectonic forces so go and see it while you can.
  2. Tanzania hands down has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. The diversity is incredible, from the beautiful wide open savannahs of the Serengeti to the mountainous areas like Kilimanjaro, Arusha, the Usumbaras and the Southern Highlands, and then the exquisite white sand / turquoise blue water beaches of Zanzibar.
  3. The Himalayan region of India is mind blowing in scale. There is nothing like a huge mountain range to make you feel like an ant in both time and space. The Spiti valley was huge and remorseless; dry, high, dusty and stark.

Best man made scenery

  1. Even though it was made a long time ago, the Roman ruins in Jerash are still gob-smacking, even crumbling as they are now. The scale and detail are like nothing else we saw, apart from…
  2. the Taj Mahal. This gleaming edifice is breathtaking. Even being de-sensitized to its general shape from seeing it over and over in the media doesn’t dull its impact. Definitely a building that lives up to the hype.
  3. In many ways the city of New York is a modern wonder. Built on an inhospitable and swampy island it now has the most recognisable skyline in the world. We’d both visited before, but still love it. And further, the buzz of life, art, food, action, architecture there is a big part of why the scenery is so intoxicating – it’s inhabited scenery.

Most surprising destination

  1. Iceland was the best surprise we had on the trip. All I really knew about the place was the Blue Lagoon and Sarah just wondered why we were going at all. We discovered a stunning and unique country that we could have spent a lot more time in if it wasn’t so damn expensive.
  2. We were also surprised to be surprised by China, given how much is written and talked about it. Intellectually I know that the place is modern and growing and has great artists, but to see it all bundled up with the history and food and scenery is something else again. Sarah was expecting to be intrigued and interested by China, but was surprised to be emotionally engaged by it too. Wonderful place, and not just because it is carrying Australia’s economy!
  3. We didn’t have a firm idea of what Zanzibar was like before this trip but it was a revelation. The blend of African, Arabic, Indian cultures and languages and food and history together with amazing meals and scenery made this one of the most interesting places we visited.

Worst illness

  1. Sarah only had one bad illness but it gets the prize for the worst. The altitude sickness in Mexico hit without warning, but hit hard. Like a really bad flu it gave Sarah fever, diarrhoea, nausea, loss of appetite and worst of all, sleeplessness – which meant all she could do was lie there and complain to me. Somehow she managed to survive the trip through Mexico City traffic and the bus to Patzcuaro but there wasn’t much moving for the week after that. It only released its grip when we descended to the heavy sea air in Manhattan.
  2. My food poisoning episode in Santiago de Cuba was probably not helped by taking gastro stop in the mistaken assumption that it was some kind of diarrhoea cure when in fact it hinders healing. My dodgy stomach hung around for a good couple of weeks and just as I recovered in Havana I got a second dose of food poisoning (refer to questionable fish meal and sneezing cat above). I was not a happy camper.
  3. The last illness I got was in China. A beast of a lung infection, it hit while we were climbing thousands of stone steps on Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) and had to wake at 4:30am to see the sun rise. It had me feverish and bed bound for a week and hung around as an irritant long afterward.

Being sick overseas is easily the worst part of travel. We just dreamed about Vegemite toast.


Best wildlife

  1. It’s hard to go passed the gorillas (literally).  Seeing a wild animal up close with no barriers, especially one as close to humans as gorillas are, is a magical experience.  The feeling of crouching beneath a chest thumping silverback will stay with me for a while.
  2. There were so many amazing safari moments in Tanzania.  The herds of elephants and giraffe in Mikumi, the lions walking towards us in the Serengeti, and the huge herd of elephants we had to drive madly passed as they wandered up the dirt track.
  3. The pandas in Chengdu are not quite as wild as these African animals.  Even if they were in the wild you get the impression they would still be chilling out on their back munching their way through a clump of bamboo.  They are definitely the cutest.

Top memes

When you’re spending almost literally every waking hour with another person you develop a special language based on some of your shared experiences. These are the top memes from our travels.

  1. “Awww stinky!”. This was said in the accent of a young Australian boy and was expressed at foul smelling bowel gas. Stinky was a dog we met on the beach in Ghana. Sarah thought it was a cute name as he sat near us at the beach restaurant until she looked closer and saw all the scabs and fleas. For some reason, Stinky (the actual dog) and this phrase stuck with us.
  2. Guzelyurt (pronounced Ger-Zel-Yurt) has become our secular replacement for ‘bless you’ when one of us sneezed. It is a town in Capadoccia, Turkey that really has no link to sneezing.
  3. “You know what I mean” said in an adorable French-Canadian accent. Sarah’s cousin Julie’s son was trying to explain something to his sister in the car but couldn’t quite convey the meaning. In the end he resorted to saying “you know what I mean!” over and over while his sister giggled and said “no I don’t”.
  4. “Right there!” was uttered every so often by Connor, Sarah’s cousin Steph’s son. In itself this is not remarkable but Connor’s voice is as gravelly as a pack a day man which is incongruous coming from a toddler. Add a cute Canadian accent and you have the beauty of “right there!”.
  5. Our safe word was “Woolloomooloo”. If either of us slipped this word into conversation it was meant to indicate a dodgy situation or vehicle that we should exit as soon as possible. Sarah would sometimes ask “Is this a Woolloomooloo situation?” to which I inevitably shrugged. Now that we’re back in Sydney we might need to come up with a new safe word.

*Canada, USA, Mexico, Cuba, Iceland, UK, Jordan, Israel, Dubai, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Rwanda, Tanzania, Turkey, India, China, Singapore, Bali – and yes, we can now list these in one breath!

2 comments to Best of

  • richard

    Nice rundown! And I bet it all seems like a hundred years ago now…?

    • David Bacon

      The start of the trip does seem like a long time ago. China is still fresh in the mind.

      We’re planning future trips already though I doubt they will last for a whole year, at least not for a while.

      I remembered to add our favourite animal experiences to the list as well.

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