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Kent St. John with a koala in Australia
Kent St. John with a koala in Australia.

Where We Went: GoNOMAD Staff Travels in 2009

A travel website needs to be edited and written by real travelers. Sometimes I wonder when I read glossy magazines about whether those editors really go anywhere, or do they sit in their big offices and look at stories about other people's travels?
Not us!

GoNOMAD's staff had a busy traveling year, and below we chronicle our various destinations that we wrote about and saw during last year.

Kent E. St. John,
Senior Travel Editor


Last year my first trip was January 11th to Queensland, Australia for the launch of the Best Job in the World campaign. The winner was to live as a caretaker on Hamilton Island for six months. I think our group were the real winners as we visited Hamilton, Lizard and Fitzroy Islands. The contest winner was recently injured by a stinging jellyfish. (We think Kent got the best deal here--Ed).

It wasn’t till March when things really picked up starting with a quick trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico for the coverage of the World’s Biggest 10K race and a return to the San Juan Marriott. In April I saw some amazing beaches and culture in Salvador and Recife, Brazil, now one of my favorite areas.

In May it was the Moselle River biking tour, pedaling up to 35 miles in a day through some wonderful vineyards in Germany, a chilled bottle of white waiting at the end of the day. Shortly after was a quick food tour through Marche, Italy. Unfortunately while there a major earthquake hit. The first and hopefully the last time I am thrown out of bed.

May ended with a bang as I went to Beijing and Shanghai for my very first time in China. The amazing building going on in China was striking! The disappearing hutongs was the sad part of my experience. Early June took me to the World’s Biggest Rodeo in Calgary Alberta, first time in Western Canada and seeing the Canadian Rockies!

Parrot in Queensland, Australia. Photo by Kent St. John.
Parrot in Queensland,  Australia. photo by Kent St. John.

In Sept things really got started with a wine trip to Santiago Chile and Mendoza Argentina. Little did I know I would return in Dec for a boat trip from Chile to Argentina with a stop on Cape Horn. There is little doubt that South America is ready for visitors to head south.

Oct was packed with a Ritz Carlton bloggers blitz to Shenzhen and Guangzhou, China. Once again the building going on in China amazed me as did the sheer luxury of the two Ritz Carlton Hotels. Oct ended and Nov began while I was exploring the Baltic countries of Lithuania and Latvia, two new places for me. To see both in the beginning stages of capitalism was quite a lesson. The reminders of communism a perfect counter point.

December took me to Papua New Guinea, perhaps the most unique destination in all my travels. Over 800 languages are spoken there and a visit up the Sepik River a trip far back in time. All in all 2009 was an amazing year visiting some fantastic places.

Max Hartshorne, Editor

Max Hartshorne and frequent travel companion and partner Cindy Bigras.
Max and Cindy in the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico.

I began at the end of January when Cindy and I went to Cancun and Puerto Morelos, Mexico. I have to say we both enjoyed the smaller fishing village of PM more than the bustling Cancun, but mostly I was glad to experience the delight that is Mexico. What wonderful people and such gorgeous sites to be seen!

My next trip was to Alabama, I waited until March for this trip, which included Mobile and the Gulf Shores. There I learned about the two official factions in the state...either Roll Tide, (U of Alabama) or War Eagle, (Auburn). Everyone chooses their fav and loves them for life.

Then in April I flew down to Beaumont Texas, another first, having never set foot in this great big state. This city is near Houston and my trip included seeing Jim Belushi and Dan Ackroyd doing their Blues Brothers Show. A great night out!

In June Paul Shoul and I returned to one of my all-time favorite destinations...in fact it's the world's most popular travel spot... France. We toured Normandy and slept in a castle. Great oysters and camraderie with one of my favorite road warriors.

Then in the summer it was domestic travel time. I went to the Jersey Shore and found the elusive yet satisfying 'twilight down the shore.' A peaceful time after a day at the beach that brings families and adult beverages together in a moment of bliss just as the sun sets.

Llama in the desert of Northern Chile near Iquique. Photo by Max Hartshorne.
Llama in the desert of Northern Chile near Iquique. photo by Max Hartshorne.

I also got a chance to see the town where I summered for more than 40 years from the sea... We stayed in the Edgartown Harbor and cruised the Massachusetts Coast in the Isis, a sturdy and seaworthy vessel owned by my friend Denny.

In the fall, I combined business with pleasure and flew to Patagonia, Chile, and later up north to Iquique. It was a chance to meet hundreds of South American tourism officials and fellow journalists, and I was happy to have Sony Stark on the journey with me. What a treat! A highlight of the northern Chile journey was paragliding above the ocean in Iquique...what a thrill!

We ended the year with our big trip to New Zealand's South Island. Having Cindy along made it much more fun, and surprisingly, our second trip there was just as delightful as our first trip in 2007.

We blogged and met fantastic people once again. We also got a chance to return to friends we'd met the first time down.

Shady Hartshorne and Laurie Ellis
Shady and Laurie

Shady Hartshorne and Laurie Ellis, Travel Writers

In 2009 our big trip was a 9-day, 4-city road trip through Alabama. We started in Huntsville up in the north and drove through Birmingham and Montgomery before finishing up in Mobile.

Our original inspiration for the trip was to see AA Baseball games in each of the cities, since some of baseball’s biggest stars are coming from these Southern League teams.

Along the way, we were really impressed with the cultural, historical and culinary riches that Alabama has to offer.

In November, Shady was able to go to Macao to see their famous Grand Prix race weekend. Formula 3 cars, touring cars and motorcycles all get a chance to race on the challenging road course that snakes through the streets of this former Portugese colony, which now boasts the largest casino complex in the world.

 
Associate Editor Stephen Hartshorne of GoNOMAD.com

Steve Hartshorne, Associate Editor

GoNOMAD's Associate Editor Stephen Hartshorne took a trip to the Texas Gulf Coast in May where he had his first taste of gator and his first pomegranate martini. He also met a Rockhopper penguin named Hendrix, visited Mission Control during a Space Shuttle Mission, saw a house made out of beer cans and took photos of Houston's famous Art Car Parade.

He chronicled the trip in a three-part epic on Beaumont, Houston and Galveston.

Steve also went to Chicago in September for Orbitz's first annual Blogger Day, where he toured the company headquarters and joined his fellow bloggers for some actual real-time conversations.

Steve had an opportunity to meet Orbitz President Barney Harford and take an architectural boat tour on the Chcago River.

Sony Stark, Travel Writer and Videographer

Sony Stark of GoNOMAD and Pilotgirl Productions.
Sony Stark of GoNOMAD and Pilotgirl Productions.

The first four months of 2009 were extremely busy months but not with GoNOMAD, rather with my traveling video production company, PilotGirl Productions. First a gig for the History Channel put me in the backwoods of Kentucky and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Then, my friends Joe and Agnes Roetheli flew me to Missouri to shoot a documentary on the Mississippi River as well as D.C. for the cherry blossoms.

Finally, in May, I flew for GoNOMAD and wrote about the wonders of Tunisia. Wadya was my guide into a marvelous Muslim country hailing some of the greatest Roman ruins in the world: Dougga, Sbeitla, Zaghouan Oudha and Luke Skywalkers home. Oh, wait… that last one was of the adobe sand caves in the Sahara desert used in Star Wars.

During the annual El Ghriba Jewish Pilgrimage on the Island of Djerba, I stood in reverence inside one of the oldest synagogues in the world and learned about legends dating back nearly 2000 years. Before heading home I spent my last dinar on unique pottery and glassware at the souqs (market places) in Tunis. Olive oil and fig brandy Boukka were wrapped tightly in sweaters during my transatlantic flight home.

In June I escaped to the Yukon to shoot the longest canoe and kayak race in the world, the 200-mile YRQ or Yukon River Quest. Dozens of teams from all over the world pushed off from a town called Whitehorse for a three-day paddling adventure north to Dawson City. Yukon is one of Canada’s most remote provinces and I got to see bear, moose, deer and lots of mosquitoes. At the Sourdough Saloon in Dawson City, I swigged a shot of Yukon Jack with a real severed human toe inside the glass. It was definitely the most macabre thing I’ve ever done.

Poolside at Termas de Llancahue. Photo by Sony Stark.
Poolside at Termas de Llancahue

In September Max and I touched down in the lake region of Southern Chile to visit parts of the Patagonia green and the Puyehue National Park. Surrounded by dormant volcanoes and sea lions we bathed in natural hot springs and then flew north to climb the World Heritage site “The Giant of Atacama” and sleep in bunk beds at 13,500 feet. I bought alpaca hats from the indigenous people and slept under the stars.

Then, to my delight, I wrapped up the holidays back in Tunisia again! The Tozeur Oasis Festival and Douz Sahara Festival featured traditional Berber weddings and customs, camel fighting, hair dances, horse races and snake charming. I marveled at more ruins in Carthage and Bulla Regia and walked the beach in the resort town of Hammamet. This time I stocked up on fresh ripe dates and a spicy dipping sauce called Harissa.

Fingers crossed that 2010 will bring more travel to countries with such wonderful hospitality, unusual traditions, preserved history and healthy cuisine.


Paul Shoul, Staff Photographer and Travel Writer

GoNOMAD Photographer Paul Shoul in Colombia.
GoNOMAD Photographer Paul Shoul in Colombia.

Sometimes I take for granted how lucky I am to travel the world. When I am on the road a lot, the stress of keeping to a tight schedule and the constant “I just made the flight” starts to get to me.

Our trips are not leisurely, most of our time is jam-packed often for 10-to14 hours a day. Then comes the added time needed to write, organize notes, download images, back them up, post to the blog and clean and charge all the starving digital devices.

But when I wake up that first morning in a new country, my love of travel is always renewed when I walk out into a foreign landscape and am struck by just how damn cool the world really is and how fortunate I am to have seen so much of it.

The good things in life are better when you can share it with someone else. That’s what GoNOMAD offers us and the rest of you travel junkies, a place where we can say, “Wow, you have to see this!” Look what I found!

Monkeys in Tiradentes, Brazil. Photo by Paul Shoul.
Monkeys in Tiradentes, Brazil. photo by Paul Shoul.

2009 was not my busiest travel year but it was one of the best. Just a few months after a major surgery and way before the advice of my docs, I was on the road again, this time to Tunisia in Northern Africa.

What a fantastic country, rich with the deep history of places like Roman Carthage and the ancient walled cities and mosques. I traveled along the Algerian border through the desert to The Sahara Festival where Nomadic tribes challenge each other to horse racing and camel fighting.

Right near by in Tozeur I went to one of the strangest places I have ever been, the set of one of the Star wars movies. A fabricated town on an alien planet in the middle of the dessert where film director George Lucas

found the light he had been looking for to create the atmosphere for his epic films. Along the sea in Tunis I tried the finest Mediterranean food, smoked hookahs in the souks and ate the sweetest dates I have ever had.

My Next trip was across the globe to Brazil and the state of Minas Gerias. About an hour inland from Rio by plane Minas Gerias is a powerhouse producer of raw mineral products and home to its own cuisine revered by Brazilians. The world heritage city of Ouro Preto was built in the mountains in the 17th century during the countries largest gold rush and its cobble stone streets and gold laden churches are spectacular. The capital Belo Horizonte is a thriving metropolis, poised to become a must see destination in Brazil.

Dog and friend in Rouen, France. Photo by Paul Shoul.
Dog and friend in Rouen, France. photo by Paul Shoul.

Next was my favorite of the year, a road trip by car through Normandy France with Max Hartshorne, as a guest writer for Johnny jet.com.

Max and I make a good team and when we were not getting lost (some travel experts!) and we were privileged to stay in a 13th century Chateau, climb the cliffs of Etretat, walk in the footsteps of Joan of Arc and dine at the restaurant that turned Julia Child on to French cuisine in Rouen.

We also toured the D-Day beaches near Caen and were awed by the WW2 memorial there. Normandy is so much more than most Americans bother to see and I am already itching to go back.

My final trip of the year was back to Brazil to Fernando de Noronha an Island 300 miles off the coast of Recife. This place was truly the stuff of pirate legend and would have made a great location to film Jules Verne’s the mysterious island. Tall pillars of stone rise a thousand feet into the air along the perfect white sand beaches.

A world heritage site, only 400 outsiders are allowed to be on the island at one time to protect the environment. The turquoise ocean teems with sharks, sea turtles and dolphins. The scuba diving and snorkeling are world class and there is even a cave that roars like a lion when the high tide crashes into it. The city of Recife is a destination in and of itself with another Brazilian world Heritage site, the historic town center of Olinda.

Thank you to all the wonderful people around the world who opened their homes and helped me make 2009 such a great year on the road. Now I am looking forward to 2010 and once again returning to GoNOMAD to say "Look what I found!"

Kelly Westhoff with a giant fruit in Mexico
Kelly Westhoff with a giant fruit in Mexico.

Kelly Westhoff, Travel Writer and Blogger

Hubby and I road tripped to Northern Minnesota to the town of Walker on Leech Lake. While in the area, we visited Itasca State Park, which is where the Mississippi River starts, and walked across the epic waterway at its beginnings. We visited the birth place of Paul Bunyon and went walleye fishing. I caught a 23 inch walleye! Blogs

Nayarit, Mexico

I also traveled to the Mexican state of Nayarit. Nayarit is just a few miles away from the Puerto Vallarta, which is in the state of Jalisco. Nayarit is one of the least populated states in the country, but it offers historic colonial towns, mangrove swamps and funky beach side communities. Oh...and mangoes! Be sure to go in June when mango season is at its peak! 

Nayarit, Jalisco Mexico.
Nayarit, Jalisco Mexico.









READ ALL OF THESE WRITER'S BLOGS ON GoNOMAD's BLOGS PAGE













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