The short version:
DC -> Colombia -> Peru -> Argentina -> Brazil -> South Africa -> Namibia -> Botswana -> Zambia -> Zimbabwe -> Malawi -> Tanzania -> Kenya -> United Arab Emirates -> Morocco -> Turkey -> India -> Nepal -> Bhutan -> Burma -> Japan -> China -> Vietnam -> Cambodia -> Laos -> Thailand -> South Korea -> Hawaii -> San Francisco
The long version:
Colombia: Our first stop is Cartagena. We’ll amble around this enchanting colonial town and enjoy its food and music and people, reading Gabriel García Márquez along the way and following the party trail of Hillary Clinton. We’ll spend a night or two sleeping in a hammock on the beach on a little island off the Caribbean coast. The stars will be our roof, and the mosquitos will be our blanket.
Peru: After a brief stay in the gastronomical hotspot of Lima to enjoy ceviche and Pisco Sour hangovers, we’ll set towards Cusco, the historic capital of the Incan Empire settled high up in the Andes. We’ll spend four days trekking through Lares Valley, visiting small villages and admiring snowy peaks and glacial lakes, en route to the incredible archaeological marvel of Machu Picchu. The Incan god that punishes people who spend 10 years sitting behind computers will exact its wrath on our exhausted bodies.
Argentina: Next stop is Buenos Aires. Agenda: eat, drink, and enjoy.
Brazil: Off to Rio. More eating, drinking, and enjoying in the cards. We’ll explore some favelas and the crumbling mansions of Santa Teresa, ogle the beachgoers at Ipanema, and explore the world’s largest man-planted forest. Then we’ll head to the epic Iguaçu Falls, and complete our stay in the sprawling metropolis of São Paulo.
South Africa: In Cape Town, we’ll take in the townships, the vineyards, and the gorgeous coast, and dive with some Great White sharks. We’ll google “never go paragliding in South Africa” and see if it convinces us to scrap those plans. Then we start our 41-day drive across most of sub-Saharan Africa, stopping first at the Orange River for some swimming or kayaking.
Namibia: We’ll check out Fish River Canyon, the biggest in Africa, and then head into the Namib Desert and stare up at the towering red sand dunes of Sossusvlei, the world’s largest, up to 300m high. The question, Whose dune driving is more deadly to ourselves and others?, will be answered. Then we’re off to the African-German beach town of Swakopmund, with mind-boggling lunar landscapes and bizarre prehistoric Welwitchia plants. From there, it’s north to camp and safari in Etosha National Park and the Waterberg Plateau Game Park.
Botswana: We head east into the heart of the Kalahari Desert, camping at villages along the way, until we reach the Okavango, the world’s largest inland delta. We’ll take canoes into the delta and spend a few more days avoiding being eaten by large animals. Next is Gweta to stay under ancient Baobab trees, and finally to Chobe National Park and its spectacular population of 120,000 elephants.
Zambia and Zimbabwe: We cross the Zambezi River and enter Zambia to gape at Victoria Falls and get some R&R in Livingstone. Then it’s a long journey to a private game farm just outside Zambia’s capital Lusaka.
Malawi: We’ll spend several days lounging around, swimming, and snorkeling in Lake Malawi, which has more fish species than any other lake in the world, including 1,000 species of cichlid. I will hunt for relatives of the cichlid I had in 5th grade so I can deliver the bad news in person.
Tanzania and Kenya: Off to Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar via the mountain passes of the Great Rift Valley, stopping at tea and spice plantations and enjoying the east African coastline. At some point I will use the phrase, “I’m not gonna cook it, but I’ll order it from Zanzibar.” Then we’re back on the road, past Kilimanjaro, to Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro crater and conservation area for several more days of safariing, and a final drive to Nairobi.
United Arab Emirates: After nearly 40 days of camping, we’ll revel in the Las Vegas-esque luxuries of Dubai, slipping and sliding in a water park while drenched in suntan lotion to fend off the 110 degree August heat.
Morocco: We venture back west to Casablanca and then to Marrakech, just in time for the end of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr feasts. We’ll split our time between romantic life in our riad and hand-to-hand combat with touts in the market. Then we drive through Rose Valley and the Atlas Mountains enroute to Merzouga, where we’ll hop on some camels and head into the Sahara to stay at a Berber camp with dunes as far as the eye can see.
Turkey: East again to Istanbul to soak up culture and rendezvous with family. We’ll try to stave off the heat by heading south to the Mediterranean to cruise the coast for 3 days on a traditional wooden gulet. We’ll end up in Olympos, a little coastal enclave, for a stay in some tree-houses amidst vine-covered ancient Roman ruins.
India: We arrive in Delhi at 3:30am, no doubt feeling fresh and rested. To escape any late-summer monsoons (fingers crossed), we head north to Amritsar, the spiritual capital of the Sikhs in Punjab, then venture to Srinagar in the glorious Kashmir Valley, watching the sun rise while floating in a houseboat on Dal Lake. We drive east to Ladakh, climbing steadily through unreal scenery to nearly 12,000 feet, ending in remote mountainous Leh. Eventually we’re back to Delhi and then to Agra for a visit to the Taj Mahal, and further south to the holy city of Varanasi to be overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells along the River Ganges.
Nepal: We land in Kathmandu without an agenda. We’ll either be wooed by a rafting or trekking expedition in the Himalayas, or lying comatose and gathering energy for the next leg of our trip.
Bhutan: Next it’s down to the seldom-visited Kingdom of Bhutan, where the major index is Gross National Happiness and “giant protective penises are painted on the walls of most houses.” We’ll explore Buddhist monasteries and dzongs, take in some archery, the national sport, and meditate at the Tiger’s Nest temple complex, built precariously on the side of a cliff that’s 10,000 feet above sea level.
Burma: From the capital Yangon, we head straight to Lake Inle, a “wonderful watery world of floating gardens, stilted villages and crumbling stupas.” We’re daydreaming about it already. “There is even a monastery where meditating monks have taught the cats to jump,” a travel guide tells us. “There’s enlightenment for you.” After a few days in Mandalay, we’re off to be awestruck in Bagan, with its stunning vistas of 4,000-plus pagodas and temples, most of them nearly a millenium old.
Japan: Nico gets to return to the city of his birth, Tokyo, and we’ll try to take it all in — the “tongue-gasmic food porn” and eccentric fashion, the kaleidoscope of neon and the serene gardens and ikebana — before heading to Kyoto and surrounds for a taste of traditional Japan: rock gardens, narrow alleys, bamboo groves, 17th-century teahouses, and a restful stay in a ryokan.
China: After a week in the bustle of Beijing, we’ll head south to Yangshuo and its surrounding villages to explore a bit of rural China. We’ll bike around the countryside and take things slow, enjoy some homestays and markets and farms.
Vietnam: Our culinary tour of Vietnam begins in northern Hanoi and ends in southern Ho Chi Minh City. In between, to avoid overstuffing, we’ll be sucked by leeches while roaming Phong Nha Kẻ Bàng National Park, a large rainforest teeming with wildlife set amongst beautiful limestone hills, beaming turquoise streams, and some of the most stunning cave systems in the world. Then we’re off to Phu Quoc, a paradisal island off Vietnam’s western coast, to rest up for the final leg of the journey.
Cambodia: Next up is Siem Reap and another architectural wonder, Angkor Wat, perhaps the largest religious structure in the world — “erected by some ancient Michelangelo” and “grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome,” according to the Frenchman who dug through the jungle to “re-discover” it, and who promptly died of malaria.
Laos: We’ll hop on a motorcycle and explore the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos, full of small villages and waterfalls with swimming holes. Then we visit beguiling Luang Prabang to admire the French colonial architecture and be awoken in the morning by temple drums. (Karina’s note to her mom: Don’t worry, the motorcycle part is still being debated.)
Thailand: We arrive in Chiang Mai just in time for the celebration of Loy Krathong, a gorgeous ‘festival of light’ in which paper lanterns are ubiquitous and residents float beautiful candle-lit rafts down the city’s river. We’ll scrub some elephants in the river at one of the famous Thai sanctuaries and then finish up in Bangkok.
South Korea: We’ve got a 36-hour layover layover in Seoul. Agenda TBD.
Hawaii: We thought the only reasonable way to avoid total U.S. culture shock was to reintroduce ourselves in phases. So, we’ll finish up our journey and relive our memories on the beaches of Honolulu.
San Francisco: Reunite with family, celebrate the holidays, and pick up where life left off.
Here we go!