Friday, February 6, 2015

Top 10: Most popular TRAVEL posts of the year (Unpublished #3 from Hong Kong)

A family trip to Spain:  One of our many, MANY yet-to-be-published overseas travel stories

From Hong Kong:

As explained last month in my Honorable Mentions compilation, this is Part 3 of a previously unreleased "Best of" series from January 2014, based on page views for my 2013 posts.  Yes, this series is an entire year old and these posts are from 2013.

Writing new content for this blog has taken a backseat recently to family time, ministry, leading hikes, the occasional climb, and traveling overseas.  Perhaps this unpublished series will help readers pass the time until I start blogging again.  If not, check back when I get home from Hong Kong in a few days!

As always, links look like this.  Here is the link to last week's "Top 10: Most popular non-travel posts"!  Only the 18 travel posts from that year were factored into this list.  So now, from January 2014, here are some brief reflections on each of my travel-themed Top 10:

10.  Bogota, Pt. 5:

Risky Business and the Musicology Hostel

Sometimes a travel post is nothing more than a plug for a Colombian hostel with plenty of character.  And characters.

A couple of earlier entries in this Colombia travelogue, covering my journey from the U.S. to South America, didn’t make this Top 10 list:  No Sleep ‘Til Bogota!, and also Bogota, Pt. 2:  Colombia, At Last

This journey that immediately followed South America began in Switzerland, continued in Italy, and was finally coming to a close when I met Ravil at the JFK airport.

More worthwhile, I.M.O., is the less popular "Italy: Killing a Day in Milan."  Stories and photos from my least favorite Italian city (I prefer the mountains and countryside anyway) included the can’t-miss sights of the Duomo cathedral and the Swiss/ Italian mountains.

On some years we frequently fly to Italy every few months, so I’m looking forward to seeing Houtan again on one of our upcoming Italian visits!

Though awash in criticism, this story was all clean, innocent fun.  After relocating to the next Colombian hostel, I edited and tightened up this post to clear up any misconceptions.

The inserted apology was probably overkill.

And I thought that previous #8 post about the birthday party was controversial?  Public and private backlash on Facebook and Twitter was staggering after I released this story of fellow traveler Hector and me exploring a rough part of Bogota, Colombia.

Granted, our lives were put in serious danger multiple times (including a terrifying, unmentioned episode that I’ll share in person but would never release online).  But Hector and I knew what we were doing.  And God was certainly watching out for us as we shared a wonderful act of service together.

True story, with one significant footnote:  The only artistic license I took with this narrative was my intentional vagueness about Hector’s true identity (again, I’ll freely share the “real” version with anyone who asks).

In other words, a few extra sentences would've changed this story completely.  Choosing to omit this detail dramatically changed the original, inspirational narrative into a straight up life-or-death adventure… and it definitely was that.

Three hours before departure, Mommy changed her mind about allowing Lil’ Lena to visit one of Daddy's friends in the Netherlands for the day.  I gave a rain check to my graciously understanding friend in Amsterdam and hit this Dutch beach town instead.

Thanks to my other well-traveled friends at the Flying Pig Beach Hostel, this relatively minor weekend getaway was one of my favorite trips of the year (after Rome and Venice, of course)!

But alas, there's just no substitute for an overseas daddy-daughter day trip.

5.  Northern Italy, Pt. 2:

Verona, Venice, and beyond

Before the year's end party in Rome, some clever friends surprised me for a most memorable weekend in Venice.  While the departure from Venice was downright catastrophic, the quick stopover in Verona beforehand was a joy.

The only damper on Carli's and my wedding facility recon for Robbin (which we never got around to anyway) and touristy Verona sightseeing was setting a sky high record for sleep deprivation.  Full flights had dragged out my U.S. departure for Italy by two full days, forcing me to cut out the en route get-together in Austria entirely.  Thus, I was a barely conscious zombie by the time I reached Verona.

I don't exactly remember falling asleep... But at some point that night, I woke up in Venice for the main event.

Speaking of ever-evolving trip beginnings, this unplanned trip to Osaka was the fallout from the unfortunate events in Part 1- China: Shot down and the earlier teaser, China:  Beijing in My Sights.  No single factor was to blame.  My convoluted visa scheme was risky, I was brushed aside by my hopeful contact in China, and the standby passengers were all deplaned when our flight was declared overweight in Seattle.

The change in destination sent me headlong into Japan's Golden Week. The festivals and parades were exuberant. And it was all worth the hassle for the opportunity to bust out some wingman magic for my eligible bachelor buddy, Xia.

My Japanese coworkers later objected that chaotic Golden Week is the craziest time of the year to fly standby to Asia.  But it came down to flying to Osaka or flying home.  On that note, flying home from Osaka was one of the most unbelievable "non-rev" ordeals I've ever encountered.  The best twist: getting my passport yanked in Guam. Long story.

And that's why there's definitely gonna be a very belated Parts 3 and 4 on Garth's Blog to conclude this saga.  Trust me, the rest of this story is too outrageous to pass up.

The Swiss protest photo above is the first pic that I ever "live tweeted" from a news making event.  Merely a week after my "In Harm's Way" incidents in Colombia (see #7 on this list), I wasn't in a rush to get caught up in any more excitement for the month.  But then this happened.

Kathy and I hadn't seen our buddy Sebastien since the dancing, sailing, swimming, and snorkeling at Club Med in Turks and Caicos Islands several months earlier.  After landing in Zurich, I hopped a train through the Swiss Alps to Lausanne.  Seb gave me some suggested sights to see while I waited for him to get off work.  Before sightseeing, I made sure that I could navigate my way to his flat and also to our meeting spot, the nearby Church of Saint-François.  All was peaceful.

All hell had broken loose by the time I returned to our meeting spot that evening.  Throngs of protesters had overrun the church courtyard and the surrounding streets.  The collective shouting* made it impossible to hear a phone conversation, so Seb and I attempted to locate each other with a mish mash of emails, texting and Facebook.

*Fortunately, there were no gunshots this time.  Kathy and I nearly peed our pants when deafening gunfire broke out during the earlier protest that we saw in Argentina.  The nerve of those guys!

By the time Seb showed up from work, the crowd had moved on.  I excitedly told him what had just happened as we left the scene to kick off our night.  Other than my pics and a video clip, he had to take my word for it.

The next day's stop was, you guessed it, another Italy trip.  But that was completely unrelated to my second most popular travel story of the year...

My tweet from the JFK airport taxiway was elaborated on here, in this short story about the alcohol-related incident that forced our plane to return to the gate.  It was hastily composed on my Note phone as my water taxi cruised through the canals of Venice.  And it is disgusting.

Consider this a cautionary tale about excessive drinking before flying... as well as a warning to anyone in the airline cabin service industry who is prone to gag reflex.

And the #1 most popular travel post of the year (and nearly all time) is...

Other than a questionably prudent but climbable side excursion (referenced in the title) that I discovered, the pilgrim's path up Colombia's Mount Serrate is not difficult nor dangerous in the least.  In fact, anyone in decent shape should be able conquer the high altitude and run up to the peak.

Lingering too late at the touristy summit, however, can lead to problems.

Since trail access is shut down before dusk, running back down may be the best option to slip through the gates before they are locked for the night.  In this case, though, there were some non-runners making their way down who needed a hand.  And you know what they say, leave no man (or woman) behind.

As I was assisting some older ladies on a steep stretch of trail, the gates below closed for the night.

 Lowering fragile bones over the side of a trail and then boosting them back up the other side was the only thing I could think of to get us back to the trail head.  Surely there was a better way?

Previously unknown fact: 
A single photo of Hector, the violence-prone star of #7's "In Harm's Way," is subtly buried in the #1 post.  That's probably the closest I'll get to publicly revealing the truth about Hector's identity.  Any guesses as to which one he is?

Thanks for taking the time to revisit these travel posts, readers.  The current adventure in Hong Kong is almost ready to be published.

Stories from our family's more recent and upcoming overseas travels are coming soon!

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