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Guto’s Top 10 Experiences

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The question is usually inevitable: “Which was your favorite place?”. It’s common that people become curious about this when they hear we went around the globe. But it’s a tough question to answer. I could say that the best place on the planet are the beaches in Thailand. But then I remember about the beaches in Cuba, just as beautiful. I could say that the best place is Bali, with its extremely friendly people; and then I instantly remember about the warm reception we had in China. I think about the amazement of walking around Jerusalem, and then I remember the romantic fell of the Parisian streets… None of these places are better than the others. Each one has its own beauty, and left its own mark in our hearts.

It’s very complex (not to say impossible) to answer which one was the best place for us. HOWEVER, we believe that, more than places, a trip is about experiences. And those we can actually rank. That’s why we decided to make a list of the top 10 experiences each of us had during the trip, and share them with you. We’ll start with Guto’s. We hope you like it. Here it goes! 😀

PS: It’s a long post, grab a cup of coffee and chose a comfortable place to sit. 😉

 

BREAKFAST IN KOH PHI PHI

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Koh Phi Phi is Thailand’s most famous beach. And being the most famous among so many candidates to “paradise on Earth” is something huge!

Besides its wonderful beaches, Phi Phi has some of the best parties in the world. And it’s between afternoons on the sand and buckets of distilled beverages (and we literally mean buckets!) that most tourists share their time on the island. By morning, when most of the people are still passed out on their hotel beds, you can enjoy an almost deserted beach. And it was on this period that we used to go to the store, spent almost nothing on coffee, croissants and banana cake (thank you, Seven Eleven!), and had our first meal of the day sitting on white sand admiring a crystal green ocean.

There were the moments of the trip that I felt most rich (and I’m obviously not talking about money).

 

CHINESE NEW YEAR IN KEK LOK SI TEMPLE

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I love when the Universe finds its way to make everything work out.

When we arrived in Penang, Malaysia, we were intending to stay in town for only five days. But after we found out that it was the Chinese New Year week, and that most of the population of the city is Chinese, we decided to stay for three more days to enjoy the atmosphere.

With more time on our hands we didn’t rush to get to know the main attraction of the city, the Buddhist temple of Kek Lok Si. In fact, we put it back so much that we visited it on the day before we left Penang!

We reached the temple by sunset and found the place all decorated in the famous Chinese lanterns. As tradition goes, we asked Buddha for good fortune. We were still amazed by the beauty of the place when night fell and – puft! All the lanterns were lit! This new light setting made the most impressive part of the temple stand out even more – the Pagoda tower. And it’s only open to public visitation on the New Year day. We knew we were on the Chinese New Year week, but not on the specific day… and guess what? Yes! Without knowing it, we visited the temple on the exact day. We went up the tower and, while we heard the Buddhist hitting the gong to celebrate the new cicle, we felt that Buddha’s good fortune had already reached us.

 

DISCOVERING CAVES IN CAPPADOCIA

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Wandering around without a destination was our favorite activity during all the trip. But nowhere else we were so rewarded for it as in Cappadocia.

Cappadocia, in Turkey, is a region known worldwide for its beautiful landscapes. The terrain has curious rock formations, called “fairy chimneys”, that in the past were used as habitation for the locals. Until today some fairy chimneys are used as houses and hotels, but most of them are inhabited. Many are part of Goreme’s Open Air Museum, and get hundreds of visitors each day. What we didn’t know – and it’s not mentioned on the tourist guides – is that many of these old places are abandoned, in some remote parts of the region, waiting to be explored. And it was during one of our no-destination-walks that we found it out.

Walking from the small town of Goreme, we went to explore the hills nearby. What was our surprise when we found, along the way, caves, stairs, doors and windows sculpted on the rock. An archeological site revealing itself right there, in front of us. With no one around – guides, tourists or locals. Just us, the mountains and our discoveries.

On that morning, I felt like Indiana Jones.

 

WALKING DOWN VIA CRUCIS

You don’t have to be Christian, or even religious, to get emotional about Via Crucis. The main part of this is experience is not in believing that Christ existed, or discussing how was his life. Via Crucis exists – that’s a fact. And two thousand years of constant pilgrimages make it a very powerful place. You just have to take a look at the stone where Jesus supposedly rested, now sunk after being touched by millions of faithful people, to be amazed.

The city of Jerusalem by itself is already impressive: a piece of land in the middle of the desert where three of the biggest religions of the world were born and still live side by side. To walk down the fourteen stations of the cross, going through parts that seem untouched since the year zero, is surreal.

 

YOGURT IN BEIJING

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The best experiences are not only related to great doings, great constructions or great events. Sometimes they can be part of a simple and daily act, like… having yogurt.

While exploring Beijing we found out some peculiarities of the city. One of them is this yogurt, sold by the door of basically every shop, in a ceramic vase and sealed by a simple piece of paper and an elastic band. It gives the impression that it’s an old tradition in the Chinese capital.

It took a little courage to find out what was inside the pot. Our mandarin is not that great, so we couldn’t ask. The only way was to try it.

It was worth the risk – it tastes good. However, it’s not the flavor that makes the Beijing yogurt special. The best of all is that, every time I had one, I felt in completely touch with the Chinese culture. First, for trying a local delicacy. Second, for (at least trying) communicating with the Chinese sales clerks, and exchanging gestures and smiles until I finish the drink and returned the pot.

I have great memories of the Chinese people, and Beijing yogurt is a big part of it

 

THE HUKA FALLS TRAIL

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Before we got to go to New Zealand, our expectations about the country were huge. Well, who watched Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and wasn’t impressed by the landscapes, right? And you know what’s really impressive? New Zealand EXCEED our expectations. Caves, hills, volcanos, geysers, beaches… We visited many natural attractions that left us amazed. And the most striking one was the trail to the Huka Falls.

To reach the falls we left the city of Taupo by foot, and followed the natural trail on the margins of the Waikato river. The crystal clear green and calm waters of the river are beautiful and, more than that, inviting. We didn’t take our bathing suits on this walk, but… Backpackers always find a way, right? It heat was so high that we had to take a dive – with our underwear. The problem was the rush to put our clothes back on while the trail was still empty. Hehe.

To reach the Huka Falls is really great. The Waikato river becomes this blue waterfall, that flows among big rock walls and forms a big volume of foam when it reaches the river again. It’s New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction, and it should be. We spent a long time there, admiring, before returning through the trail.

On our way back, we saw a hot waterfall, filled with people. And there we were without our bathing suits… Man, when would I have another opportunity of enjoying a thermal waterfall? The only way was to leave conventions and embarrassment aside, and go in wearing my boxers anyway.

I came back home with a relaxed body and a renewed spirit after this great day.

 

THE BEST HOT CHOCOLATE IN THE WORLD, ON A COLD, COLD DAY

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Coziness. The next experience can be summed up by this word.

The best hot chocolate in the world was in Trosa, Sweden. Trosa is a small town by the Baltic ocean, full of boats, colorful wooden houses, and trees with leaves that follow the color pattern of the houses. Everything is so perfect that it looks like a movie set. Actually, Sweden is kinda like that all around. And one of the people who can enjoy all of this is my sister, that lives close to Stockholm, and gave us the most comfortable stay in all this trip. Not only she provided us with housing, food and clean clothes, she took us to some great places – like Trosa.

Our walk through the town was beautiful, and cold. Trosa, considered by the Swedish as the end of the planet, is precisely the place where the wind turns around, and comes back freezing cold. Imagine our happiness when we entered a typical Nordic coffee house, and tasted the best hot chocolate in the world accompanied by family.

Coziness.

 

FROM DELHI TO AGRA DURING DIWALI

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From the 278 days of this trip, the one when we went to visit the Taj Mahal and experienced Diwali was, without a doubt, the most crazy one. I’ll try to shorten the story.

It started at 5 AM, when we left our hotel in Delhi and walked through Paharganj, the craziest place in the world, to reach the train station. We dodged the scammers that try to fool the tourists, and got a train to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located.

Taj Mahal was probably the tourist spot that impressed me the most so far. The beauty of the monument itself, the colors of the women in saris, the local people who become paparazzi and photograph the tourists nonstop, the Bedouins on the way to the temple, the visible air pollution… everything there is impressive.

Excited after our visit, we came back to the train station to return. Everything was going well until we found out we had to wait: the train was late. Exposed, feeling dislocated in a unknown place, we became easy targets for all kinds of scammers. I won’t tell all the problems we went through, just know that during this afternoon, while we waited for the train, we almost decided to leave India and forget about the rest of our itinerary there!

After waiting for almost six hours, we decided to buy the cheapest tickets on the last train that went to Delhi. Even though we were afraid after reading the recent news about tourists being attacked, things went well, we even made some local friends!

The problem was that the train didn’t actually stopped in Delhi, but in the neighbor town. And the BIG problem was that, besides being dark already, we were there during the religious holiday of Diwali, and there weren’t any taxi drivers working! Thanks to Ganesh we could find a tuk-tuk that would drive us to the hotel. But it couldn’t be a regular tuk-tuk. Noooooo. It was the tuk-tuk driven by the craziest driver EVER, who started speeding like crazy and cutting traffic lights, while singing a bollywood song. The streets also couldn’t be on a regular day. Nooooo. Diwali is the Festival of Lights, and that’s why people were partying, and firing bombs and fireworks on the pavement that almost made our tuk-tuk flip over.

Feeling a little dizzy, we reached the hotel thinking about going to bed. Until we found out that right under our window they were also firing bombs. And it was the people who worked at the hotel! What did I do? Well, I went there to fire some bombs with them, and put a beautiful end to one of the craziest days of my life.

 

DIVING IN KOH TAO

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After being going around half the globe you think you’ve seen a lot… until you reach somewhere that shows you a whole new world.

For me this place was Koh Tao – another amazingly beautiful Thai island, and one of the best places in the world to dive.

Imagine yourself swimming on a calm ocean, with ten meters of crystal waters below you. So you put on your snorkels, put your face underwater, and find yourself in a computer wallpaper: corals of all shapes and sizes, multicolor fishes at your reach, sunrays cutting through the water. It’s breathtaking (couldn’t resist it, lol). A odd and fascinating universe, waiting to be explored.

I had dived before in Brazil, but Koh Tao was incomparable! Feeling like you’re inside the most beautiful ornamental aquarium in the world was by far one of the best experiences of this trip.

 

FRIENDS ALL AROUND THE WORLD

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Imagine how hard it was, after such intense nine months, to choose just ten among all the experiences we had. I read the list over and over again, always thinking: “oh my, so many incredible places didn’t make the list… what now? Oh, what a cruel decision!” Hahaha! Alright, I’m exaggerating. But it’s not exaggerating to say that everywhere we went we had at least one experience that deserved to be on this Top 10.

There is, however, something we experienced and that is not about just one place, but all of them: making friends. Friends were, without a doubt, the soul of our trip. They introduced us to local things; showed us another ways of being, seeing, living; opened up our minds; entertained us; comforted us.

Talking about our friends may compensate for some of the places that didn’t make this list so far. To name a few: Stefan, Lisa, Franco and Cielo in England; Federica, Claudia, Max, Sonia and Rubem in Italy; Dora and Magnus in Sweden; Selim in Turkey; our friend with the tea in Jordan; Matan, Mirian, Nufar and Rinat in Israel; Pooja and Dhanish in India; Dek, Putu and Wayan(s) in Indonesia; Gigi in Cambodia; Bee and Henry in Malysia; Alex (ou 单飞) in China; the plumber boys in New Zealand; Mark and Sean in Australia; Ruth in Hawaii; Amanda, Brock, Andi and Jeff in the USA; Michelina and Fabrizio in Mexico; Carlos, Carlos’ mom and Alfredo in Cuba; Juan in Chile. Not to mention our Brazilian friends, that we had the pleasure to meet on foreign lands: Ju in Sweden, Cá in Australia; Mari, Carol and Lilo in the US; and the traveler Dani, in Turkey AND China!

The world is made of people, and getting to know them was probably the best experience we had. We don’t know if one day we’ll see them again, or even get to know about their destinies… But the connection with them makes the world a smaller (and better) place for us. 😀

 

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