The members of The Travel Collective wandered far and wide this year. Here they nominate their favourite places. You’ll be surprised!
LOS CABOS, MEXICO
In the days before electric chargers became commonplace, they used to say that when your batteries were getting flat, the trick was to lay them out in the sun for a while. Los Cabos is where I recharged my batteries in 2018, and it’s where I rediscovered the beauty of sparkling sunlight.
In the modern urban world, we have lost our horizons. Office blocks and skyscrapers hem us in and cast their shadows upon us, turning “broad daylight” into narrow strips. Down on the pavements, awnings block our view of the sky. Los Cabos is different. “The Capes”, at the southernmost tip of the Baja California peninsula, has plush resorts, gorgeous beaches and dramatic cliff-faces, but what will strike you most about it is its light, space and openness. It’s a vast but sparsely populated municipality (San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas are the two main towns) where height restrictions ensure that buildings blend into the landscape, and no matter where you turn, there’s a sense of infinity. The natural tendency is to gaze out to sea, particularly near its most famous landmark, El Arco (The Arch) at the southern tip of Baja California; but the view inland, where the shimmering desert rises gently to the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range in the distant yonder, is just as mesmerising. Los Cabos does have its limitations – you don’t come here to immerse yourself deeply in Mexican culture and history – but when you’re propped up at the ledge of an infinity pool (like the one at the top of this post) with a cocktail at hand, overlooking a shiny beach and watching the mantra rays leaping in and out of the sparkling blue water offshore, you have to ask yourself, “Does it get any better than this?”
CONGO BASIN, REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
I’m wading through a river in the Congo Basin – that remote, rain-forested belly of equatorial Africa through which Joseph Conrad cruised in his novel Heart of Darkness and Tintin roamed during his many high-spirited adventures. The water is still and tannin-coloured; I can’t see what lurks beneath. Yesterday, in a crystalline, ankle-deep stream, a snake had swum up to my foot and retreated faster than I – frozen with panic – could do myself. But my guide Alon and guard Dieudonne inspire confidence in me. Alon points out the place on the river where a herd of forest elephants crossed over once when he was guiding visitors along this waterway. Like them, I know to follow his lead, to do what he says, to tread slowly and thoughtfully through this wilderness. And Dieudonne is close behind me; he was born in this place, and knows it far better than Conrad or Tin Tin ever could. I relax into the rhythm of our walk and the sounds animating the air around us: the soft slapping of water on our thighs, the shrieks of monkeys and the twitter of birds, the rustle of leaves that might indicate a buffalo or a chimpanzee or simply the breeze. I’ve never in my life felt so remote from the outside world; nor have I ever immersed myself in a place so utterly foreign to me. This capacious, fecund basin in which western lowland gorillas flourish and tourism is slowly taking root is no heart of darkness; instead, it is shot through with possibility and light.
As a single woman of a certain age navigating the complicated relationship politics while living in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, in the early 2000s, it was with an overwhelming sense of relief that I met these two extraordinary women, Juliet and Clare, with whom I am, far too rarely, reunited across the world. This year we met in Vence, in the south of France, a medieval walled town, famous for its spring water and rich with history, including the extraordinary Chapelle du Rosaire decorated by Henri Matisse, who lived nearby, and works by Marc Chagall.
Clare, a cycling tour guide (see A Ride Less Ordinary), had stayed at a sprawling converted artists’ retreat, Le Vieux Mas, with views as stunning as its architecture.
The day this photo was taken was truly memorable. Clare had guided us on a hike, during a heatwave, along a track she had discovered a few months earlier. It was tough going but the scenery was spectacular and she kept us motivated by promising a cold boule de cidre at the charming hillside village of Tourettes sur Loup at the end. Sweaty, and verging on grumpy, we arrived at the tiny café where our host brought out bowls of the local ice cold beverage. We ordered a bottle to share, then two. Then we thought crepes were just the thing and before we knew it our quick pit stop turned into hours-long revelry. Thus fortified, we caught the bus down the hill back to Vence. This photo was taken after a welcome shower, some delicious French wine, cheese and saucisson, and lots of laughter about the day.
For a fleeting moment I feel as if I’m living in a fantasy novel. Swathes of emerald green light herald the arrival of dragons. Snap! – back to reality, I’m looking up in awe at the Yukon night skies and witnessing mother nature’s amazing light show, the Aurora Borealis. My dragon-capturing device is my camera and tripod, and it works perfectly. I can easily see how the Aurora is entwined in the myths, legends and folklore from the First Nations people here in Canada, to the Sami people in Northern Europe, passed on from generation to generation, children listening to their elders tell the stories of the lights.
We warm up briefly by a log fire in the tipi, then go outside again. To the north is the emerald green of the Aurora; turn around to the south and it’s a bright white light of a beautiful full moonrise – slow and gentle.
Time disappears, hours feel like minutes and the Aurora lights starts to fade, but not the memory, it’s as vivid as the the emerald green of the northern lights. TTW
Photos © The Travel Collective. • Bernard O’Shea travelled to Mexico as a guest of Visit Los Cabos. • Catherine Marshall travelled to the Congo Basin as a guest of The Classic Safari Company. See also African Parks. • Diana Streak travelled to France at her own expense. • Zora Regulic travelled to the Aurora viewing at her own expense, and to the Yukon courtesy of Ted’s Cameras, Travel Yukon, Olympus and Adventure World Travel.