Happy New Year! If you’re like me, you probably made about 20 New Year's resolutions — most of which seemed like far poorer ideas once the wine wore off. A few I do have to admit would make me a better person, but don't sound like much fun. There's only one am I excited about: Explore more!
Am I the only one that can lose an entire Saturday to the satellite view in Google Maps? It's not just that it provides endless fodder for an overactive imagination; some of the views are visually stunning, surreally beautiful. Just in case you, too, would delight in a little travel inspiration to start off the new decade, let me share a few of the bird's eye views that got my heart racing a bit over the holidays. See if you can guess where they are. Let me know in the comments. I’ll post the answers next week!
Location 1: These dunes are part of what may be the oldest and driest desert on earth. Yet, believe it or not, the area pictured here is just a few kilometers from a world-famous bakery (and the only bakery, I’m fairly certain, for hundreds of kilometers). I might make a suggestion, however, that if you do head out this way, you take an extra spare tire. Trust me.
Location 2: Roughly half of this reef system has died in bleaching events over the past three or four years. Fortunately, the portion of reef shown here has largely been spared… so far. Continued warming of the oceans will place this incredible ecosystem under deadly stress. If you’d like to paddle around a bit there, you can stay a few nights on a neighboring 40-acre island that’s a famous breeding ground for green sea turtles. Visit during the right months and you can watch them dig nests by moonlight from your bungalow. And you’ll be in good company. Sir David Attenborough filmed part of a documentary there.
Location 3: Holy geology, bat girl. Situated just a couple hundred kilometers from the geographic center of a continent, these folds in the Earth’s strata make it clear the world's crust was once a bit warmer and more fluid than it is today. Go on, get “out” there. This is another one that you might want a 4x4 and an extra spare tire for, though.
Location 4: This national park sits on a peninsula near the northern end of the range of the elusive aye-aye in the only country on Earth where they’re found. The forests here are filled with magical creatures that exist nowhere else on earth.
Location 5: The two images above are of the same island, famous for some of the most unusual viñedos in the world. Each vine is placed in a little hollow dug into the lava field as a way to protect young saplings from the incessant winds.
Location 6: Not necessarily the type of place you want to actually visit, but a great reminder to get to some others before they’re gone. Huge sections of once pristine rain forest have been razed and turned into palm oil plantations such as the one above. They now cover 1/6th of the entire land area of this country. This particular plantation is about 100 km NNE of the capital.
Location 7: This area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to an estimated 100 Bengal tigers, about 5% of the world’s total population of the subspecies.
Location 8: Game trails are interwoven between what, during the wet season, would be relatively dry islands. During the wet months, 11 cubic kilometers of water flow into this vast delta. None of it will ever reach an ocean. It will all simply evaporate again under the baking sun.
Location 9: The obvious boundary here between rural farmland and pristine jungle shows the impact of setting aside protected lands for conservation. This particular forest, one of the most impenetrable on earth, is home to half of the world’s remaining Mountain Gorillas.
Location 10: One of my favorite places in one of my favorite countries. Hire a water taxi in the nearby town to drop you off in the national park, then hike the 20 km back to town along what just happens to be one of the country’s Great Walks. Keep your eye out in the underbrush for the little traps used to manage invasive stoat populations.
Location 11: This is the largest city in this south American country. In its most famous neighborhood, 444 stair-steps will take you up through a maze of tropically colored homes and shops to the top of a small hill. There’s a lighthouse, a small church, and 360-degree panoramic views of the city. Totally worth a little sweat.
Location 12: This ephemeral river provides the occasional shady pool, allowing desert elephants and black rhinoceros to survive in this truly imposing and magnificent landscape. The river’s catchment area begins hundreds of kilometers inland, near the town of Otavi, before making its way out to one of the most forbidding coastlines on earth.
Location 13: Nearly every inch of land above sea level in this broad lagoon has been turned into a resort. Good thing these little guys don't quite crack the surface.
Location 14: This small island nation is famous for a lake where you can hop in the drink with thousands of harmless jellyfish
Location 15: Glow worms? Interstellar nebulae? Definitive proof of a Heaven? This atoll in the South Pacific encircles 168 square miles of water and just 5 square miles of land. It has 475 inhabitants, at least two of which would appear to live in small homes on two of these tiny islets. Sign me up (…at least for a few days)!
Been to any of these places? Got a guess or two? Let me know in the comments. I love to hear about great adventures. Or if you've found an amazing view from above that you’d like to share, drop that in the comments, too. I’ll add it to my bucket list!
We’ll throw up a quick post next week with the answer key for the shots here! Have a great year exploring!