Traveling for six years straight, we’ve gained a treasure trove of memories. We’ve seen the sunrise over 20,000-foot peaks, walked the streets of ancient civilizations, and met hundreds of people we now call friends. So many moments bring a smile to our face, though there are a few that have left a deep imprint on our heart and soul. In writing Ultimate Journeys for Two, we not only had the chance to share our favorite 75 destinations around the world but the stories that have made our travels so special. Here are a few of the funniest, wildest, most romantic, and favorite travel memories from our new Nat Geo book and eternal honeymoon.
Amazonian Life Skills
It was day four of this five-year trip around the world, and we were in the middle of the Amazon jungle with a canoe, hammock, machete, and fishing line. Our guide Cristóvão hopped in for a dip (in the same water we just caught a dozen hungry piranha!) and we thought, “Maybe we aren’t ready for this?” Cristóvão was born and raised in the Amazon. His actions seemed effortless—building a rain shelter from palm leaves, whittling a blowdart gun, foraging for fruits, and navigating the unknown. His life was completely different from ours back in the States, yet we had so much to learn from him. In our five days together, he taught us to adapt to our environment, be resourceful, and be patient. At the time we thought he was teaching us how to survive in the jungle…but we later realized those lessons were preparing us for our journey around this wild world.
A Cheetah Walking Around Our Heads
We marveled at a cheetah gracefully moving across the savanna, searching for a higher vantage point. We locked eyes and she changed course toward our safari vehicle. Excitement was quickly morphing into fear, then pounce! The cheetah leapt onto the rim of our open roof. Our hearts were lodged in our throats, as she kneaded her paws on the hot metal. Not wanting to scare her (or make her slip!), but needing to capture this unfathomable moment, I reached for my camera. Just after I started filming, as if on cue, the cat walked inches from Anne’s head, and sauntered down the hood. We took our first breath in what seemed like an eternity—thanking our lucky stars we didn’t turn into cat food and that we caught the whole thing on video!
Tet New Year with our Red Dzao Family
We were scouting a language program in the mountains around Sapa, Vietnam for the Muskoka Foundation, an organization that connects travelers with no-cost volunteer opportunities. To do this, we signed up as teachers for the week—and not just any week, but the days leading up to the Tet New Year. The Red Dzao students were so grateful for the English lessons, that they thanked us with multiple invitations to pre-Tet dinners and a very exclusive spirit cleansing ceremony. Standing shoulder to shoulder with our students, as the high priest threw smoking embers in the air, chickens were sacrificed, and men danced in a hypnotic state, we ushered in the New Year as a Red Dzao family.
Wadi Rum Party Bus
We got on a private tour bus full of Jordanian women, which made no sense, considering it was heading 130 miles in the wrong direction and we had no idea when we’d get to our final destination…but we knew it was going to be an adventure. We hopped in and were immediately offered tea and zaatar-butter sandwiches. Then the music cranked up. “Annie! Mike!” “Come dance!” The bus was going 50 miles an hour on swervy roads, but they didn’t care. These seemingly conservative woman, cloaked in hijabs, were ready to cut loose and we weren’t about to hold them back. Chanting our names and spinning us round and round, we laughed until our cheeks hurt. Little did we know the party was just getting started. We reached the Wadi Rum desert as the sun was setting over the red mountains, and we couldn’t understand why they would want to see this legendary landscape in the dark. Then we saw the strobe lights bouncing off the dunes. Two dance floors were set up, one for men and another for women. Our girls ordered three hookahs for our table, further extending the invitation into their worlds. There wasn’t a single westerner at this party…and we felt so honored to have experienced the light and warm-hearted spirit of the Middle East.
Renegade Island Hopping the Philippines
We flew to Busuanga to join Tao Philippines’ popular tour across the archipelagos, but it was booked solid. Determined to make the five-day island-hop, even though everyone said there was literally no other way, we went to the docks and sweet-talked a bangka captain. With a kayak, snorkel gear, fishing line, and a bottle of rum, we charted our own waters, guided by little more than a gut feeling. Stopping whenever we saw a reef or deserted isle that called our name, we explored at will and without limitations. We reached El Nido feeling like Captain Cook and a merry band of pirates with secret treasures, forever ours.
Landing on our Seventh Continent
We swung our legs out of the Zodiac and set foot on the land that extends to the South Pole. We practically ran up the steep mountain, enjoying every slippery step and bits of hail that pelted our faces. We reached a rocky outcropping above the glacier-lined Neko Harbour, and it felt like our four years of honeymooning were culminating at this one moment. This called for champagne. We popped the cork, and the wind sent sparkling wine into the air and up our noses. Giggling from the tickly bubbles, utter joy, and complete awe, we drank in the milestone moment.
A Bath in a Meteor Shower
“Follow me to your couples massage,” said the hostess of Verana, a glamping retreat above the beaches of Yelapa, Mexico. She showed us into the outdoor spa on the cliffs and over a hundred candles were shimmering around the steaming bath, massage tables, and flower-covered bed. Then she said, “It’s yours for the night, enjoy!” Giving each other massages, soaking in the aromatic tub, sipping tea, and counting shooting stars (we saw 14!) had us swooning for days.
African Journey Impossible
Google Maps said the coastal route from Ibo Island, Mozambique, to Zanzibar was nonexistent. But it was less than 500 miles straight up the coast–how hard could that be? So we set sail in a dhow boat, hitchhiked on top of a banana truck, slept in a mud hut, waded through a river, rode in a gin-smuggling pickup, and after 14 legs of transit and four days on the road, we made it. It was far from easy, but an unforgettable journey and one that showed us there is always a way.
Our Back Roads Angel
On a 400-mile loop through the mountains, rice paddies, and villages from Chaing Mai to Pai, Thailand, we opted for a shortcut over jungle-covered mountain. We were bobbing, wobbling, and slipping all over the place and just as we are nearing the top of a hill, smoke started billowing out of the engine. There went the clutch. We were 200 miles from the bike shop, we didn’t have cell service, we hadn’t seen a house for miles, and it was getting dark. Trying not to have an emotional breakdown, we sat put and hoped somebody would eventually stop and help us. Enter our Back Roads Guardian Angel, Pepitome! He was clearly intoxicated and void of mechanical skills, but Pepitome was determined to help. He flagged down the next driver and we all caravanned back to Pepitome’s house, where he insisted we stay until our bike situation was fixed. His family set us up with a bed, cooked us a bountiful dinner, and invited over half the neighborhood to greet us. We shared three more meals, helped with the family farm, practiced English with the kids, and enjoyed two days in a village we would have never found without a breakdown and the incredible kindness of strangers.
It’s Not About the Bucket List
On our way to one of the deepest canyons in the world, hugging the curves of the Andes and yielding to cows, a fiesta of elderly Peruvians appeared in the middle of the road. We crept forward, assuming they’d move to the side, but instead a woman wearing a traditional embroidered dress knocked on our window. “Come dance!” she said in Spanish with a smile. “You may not pass, until you dance!” Mike and I looked at each other, and then simultaneously swung open our doors. The partygoers cheered and the band of wooden instruments got louder. She took our hands and pulled us into a circle of twirling ladies. Around and around we went, with leg kicks and hip shakes, until the shot master appeared with an earthen jug. He poured us an overflowing chicha corn brew, and we toasted with an exuberant, “Salud!” Arm in arm with our new amigos, we danced until dark and happily never made it to the famed canyon.(This story is actually how Ultimate Journeys for Two starts…and that’s just the beginning of a book of unforgettable experiences.)