Monday, May 12, 2014

"Heart Places"

Recently, I read a blog post titled "Places Around the World that I Shall Never Forget." It was a great read, filled with exotic locations and remote destinations-- it gave me chills just reading about it.

The author writes on his blog, "While I always talk about the people I meet being the most rewarding aspect of a life of travel, let’s face it, sometimes people can truly ruin our day....I still love people of course but man, I must admit that I’m also grateful for those special places out there..."

I completely understand what he means. Sometimes, you just go to a place, and you're completely in awe. Humbled as a human being. These are the destinations you will never forget.

BUT. Let's face it. I'm probably an extravert. I love interacting with people. Whenever I travel,  the most random and unexpected people always seem to find their way into my heart and into my memories. These are the people that find a way to speak to you---probably in a different language, probably through miscommunication, but always to teach you something new about yourself and about the world. These are the people you will never forget.

So for this post, I think I'm going to attempt to answer the age old travel question: what's the favorite place you've been to?

To me, my favorite places will always be the dynamic locations that have the most unforgettable landscape and culture. When you go somewhere and you stumble upon both amazing scenery and amazing people, these are the truly special places that stay with you--these are your "heart places."

So in no particular order, here are my heart places so far...

Sumatra, Indonesia

When a friend told me about her 4-day backpacking trip to Machu Picchu, I thought, holy crap--that's hardcore. Until I somehow signed up for a 9-day jungle trek in the rain forests of Sumatra...oops! But we were going to Southeast Asia....I had to see the orangutan! And I have to say, that was probably one of the best decisions of my life. Not only was it amazing to see a mother orangutan and her child about a foot away from me, but I got to hike through the jungle with an awesome group of local villagers who showed me where the tiny elephant trails were and taught me that tigers like wild durian. And every night when the rain started to pour, we would huddle underneath our makeshift shelter and (as corny as it sounds) share stories, sing football songs, and play games. Oh, except that one night, when we caught a baby python in between our sleeping bags...

Córdoba, Spain

When everyone talks about studying abroad in Spain, no one talks about Córdoba. In fact, most people don't know where it is! But after quickly falling in love with the Spanish language, I can't tell you how lucky I felt to find myself here.  Once the largest city of Spain and also the capital of Andalusia, over the years, Córdoba fell on the popularity ladder to become a place for touristy day trips. But when the tourists leave on their buses at night, here was a magical city that just felt so right to be in. There's too much in its history and culture in the air to even begin to touch on, but all I can say is that I'm grateful to be have lived in this beautiful city, even for such a short time. Córdoba really is my home away from home!


Angkor Wat is a breathtaking location--with its temples overtaken by encroaching jungle, it's one of the most picturesque places in the world where nature and humanity collide. But beyond that, it's a country seeped in a rich history. The bullet holes that dot one of the holiest places in the country are a testament to its violent past. But here, I met people with resilience, tenacity, and above all, a good sense of humor. From Dr. Fish, to our amazing tour guide, to the slickest fast-talking hard-working tuk tuk driver you'll never meet, I easily and instantly became charmed with Cambodia.

Lyndonville, New York
It was like Dorthy being airdropped into Oz when I landed into the town of 838 people in upstate New York. I was shy, I was anxious, I was so out of place. But Uncle Ron picked us up from the airport and welcomed us into his house. And when I heard the country music playing from the radio, just like that, I knew a connection was made. Without any reservations from that point on, I delved into an every day life that was so different from my own. From shooting guns to riding crazy magnificent horses, it was so fun to I got to be able to experience something as intimate and loving as Lydonville, New York. And most importantly, I got to learn out what real cowboys wear! Hehe, I don't wear my Justin boots for new reason!


I don't think anyone can fully understand what Nicaragua means to me. I went there to play doctor, and the poor villagers that welcomed us taught me humidity and happiness. I went there a second time to play scientist, and I got a paper published. This country is overwhelming in its beauty, reflected both in the earth and in the faces of every day people. It has so much to offer if you choose to look. Plus, can I just say, there is absolutely no feeling that ever compares to waking up with the jungle. From the moment you wake up in completely darkness to the sound of the howler monkeys, to the minute you feel the fog lifting and the world around you coming to life, Nicaragua is quite possibly the most beautiful place in the world.


So there you have it---my five "heart places." Interestingly, I tried to keep the writing somewhat consistent when describing each place, but I just couldn't--each destination evoked such different emotions in me. But in the end, there is one thing I feel throughout all of this: lucky.

Here's to adding more heart places in my future!

And I'd love to hear...what's the favorite place you've been to?

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