My Best Travel Moments of 2019
The end of the year is always a time for reflection it seems. Maybe it’s the long, dark nights that make us ruminative. Maybe it’s all the comfort food like stews and casseroles that make us too tired to do much more than sit on the couch and think. But I always find myself thinking back to the year that was, and especially the travelling that I did.
As travel goes, I had a fairly slow year, despite taking 14 flights, I only set foot in one new country in 2019, though it was a bit of a doozy. I started off the year knowing that I’d be spending my milestone birthday with some of my favourite people in one of my favourite cities, but not having anything else planned.
From a tiny town in a Chilean valley to kicking off a new decade in Central Park to the finish line in my own city, these are some of my favourite travel moments of 2019.
Turning 40 in New York
How many people would put turning 40 on their year end highlight reel? While I can’t say that I was looking forward to moving into a new decade, I was really looking forward to spending the day with my two best friends. A decade ago, I said, “if you’ve got to turn 30, you might as well do it in New York,” and the same still holds true 10 years later. And so, we had a very New York kind of day.
We started the day with a run through Central Park where we crossed paths with Hank Azaria, and a ride on the carousel. Followed by some birthday shopping at Macy’s, dinner at Sardi’s, and a Broadway show featuring Nathan Lane, one of my favourite stage actors. A few mini cupcakes from, appropriately, Baked by Melissa rounded out the celebrations.
10 years ago, my friends and I agreed that, since we all live in different provinces, we would make it a priority to get together at least once a year. Some years it’s been a quick weekend in our hometown and others it’s been more elaborate trips to places like Las Vegas, Austin, or Montreal. But it doesn’t matter where we go, having the three of us together always makes my heart burst.
They made turning 40 pretty painless and a whole lot of fun.
Stargazing in the Atacama Desert
I’m not much of a swearer. I stepped out of the campervan after eating dinner and changing into warm clothes. I took one look at the night sky, spun around slowly to take it all in, and then said to K, “Excuse me for a moment… holy f***! That’s amazing!”
I really don’t curse much but my first real glimpse of the desert night sky called for it. It was breathtaking. I’ve never seen a sky so filled with twinkling stars. I swear to God, they twinkled. It was like the sky had been draped in black velvet cloth dusted with diamonds.
The Atacama Desert has some of the clearest night skies in the world so it just might be the best place on earth for stargazing.
We must’ve stood out there for at least a half hour just staring at the sky and trying to identify constellations and stars. Because I’m a dork I had to hop around and chant, “Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!” as the red-tinted Betelgeuse came into view over the horizon. It never looked red at home.
One of the things that we found so peculiar was that, though we could see some constellations we saw at home in the Northern Hemisphere, they were off. Orion was doing a handstand and Taurus looked more like a teepee.
We could even clearly see two separate galaxies without a telescope. Both the large and small Megellanic clouds were visible and it was blowing my mind. The first ever mention of these galaxies was in petroglyphs in Chile so it’s nothing new to locals but I’d never seen anything like it.
We spent three nights in the desert and stargazing was a highlight of each night and a highlight of my entire travel year.
Completing a 10 Mile Road Race
I wrote a whole post earlier this year about completing my first 10 mile road race this summer. It was a feat I’d idly added to a bucket list type doc a couple years ago but I never really gave a lot of serious thought. I wasn’t a runner and it was intimidating. 10 miles is no joke.
But in the later part of 2018 I decided to start running. I ran my very first 5k race on New Year’s Eve and then put my sights on the Tely 10 at the end of July. There were a lot of aches, some cursing, and a few tears along the way but crossing that finish line was one of my proudest moments I’ve had in a long time.
I showed myself that when I truly decide to do something I can accomplish it. So even though this moment happened at home, I’m still going to add it as a highlight. I mean, after all, I did travel those 10 miles from Paradise to Bannerman Park. ;)
Being Celebrated in Pisco Elqui
K and I were trying to find a place to get lunch in the small town of Pisco Elqui in central Chile. He was the type to just walk into the first place he saw, while I wanted to look at TripAdvisor reviews first. I may only be in this town once, so why risk a dud? I found what looked like a decent traditional restaurant just around the corner.
It was a bit late for lunch but even so, when we climbed the stairs and I saw that the dining room was empty I had second thoughts. But we took a seat anyway. Moments later a man came towards our table, carrying flutes and a bottle of sparkling wine, followed by four women.
Our immediate thought was that he was trying to sell us on ordering a whole bottle, but after a few seconds of trying to translate what he was saying we realized he wanted us to share the bottle with them. They had just recently opened the restaurant (I suspect they bought from previous owners since there were existing TripAdvisor reviews, but my Spanish wasn’t good enough to confirm) and we were their very first guests. Each one of them were smiling big, proud grins.
As K and I quickly racked our brains for the Spanish word for congratulations, the owner popped the cork and poured up the bubbly. “Salud!” we all shouted as we clinked glasses.
His wife then introduced themselves to us – she owned and operated the restaurant along with her husband, her cousin, her aunt, and her daughter. It felt like such an honour to be a part of this family’s milestone that I insisted we get a group photo.
So if you’re ever in Pisco Elqui, please visit Restaurant Tradiciones.
Sipping Carmenere at the Vineyard
Throughout the majority of my twenties, if I was going to have an alcoholic drink, it was going to be something like Smirnoff Ice, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, or a sweet mixed drink like rye & ginger or spiced rum & Coke. I didn’t develop a taste for beer until the latter half of that decade. Wine came even later.
I remember the first glass of red wine that I actually enjoyed. It was at a small wine bar in my hometown of Saint John, New Brunswick and my best friend had recommended it. The wine had a spicy smokiness to it that stuck with me. What didn’t stick with me was the name. After that night I looked high and low trying to figure out what it was. When I finally stumbled onto a bottle of Casillero del Diablo Carmenere I knew I’d found it.
Not long after that I’d had the wild idea that someday I’d like to sip a glass at the vineyard itself. In Chile. In South America. For 20-odd year old me, this was as crazy a dream as any since I wouldn’t start travelling in any amount for another 5 years at least.
Well, this November I made it happen. I know that wine aficionados will scoff at the idea of a mass produced wine like Casillero del Diablo, I don’t care one iota. I wrote down that dream when it was such a remote possibility so to actually be able to cross it off the list was a highlight.