2015 In Review
Wow. 2015. What a year. From ringing in the year from the my old haunt of Seoul, South Korea, to flying home from Sao Paulo, Brazil, for Christmas 2015, this has been quite the year of travel. I was on the road for 48 of the 52 weeks of 2015, easily my busiest year yet. I travelled on 5 continents, including setting foot on Antarctica, my 7th and final continent, & through 38 countries or territories, 30 of which I hadn’t visited before; I travelled many, many thousands of miles; I have walked thousands of kilometres around hundreds of cities; I slept in hundreds of different beds & on dozens of modes of transport; I’ve seen many sights that will resonate with me for years to come, and I’ve seen places that I’ve already forgotten about; I met many top-drawer people, & I’ve met some douchbags, too; I’ve been hot, and I’ve been cold. I’ve had many, many highs, and a few lows. And of course, I’ve taken a countless number of photographs. As I said it has been quite the year. This is it in review.
Plotting 48 Weeks of Travel on 5 Continents & Through 38 Countries & Territories
I tinker with my blog a lot. Way too much; the time spent getting to what you see here today could have easily seen me say learning a language to fluency. When passing time one February Sunday afternoon in a café in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, & while waiting for an Iranian visa that was to come through when it was too late, I added the above interactive map to my blog, one I was to use to plot my route throughout the year. For someone who loves maps, it quickly became a favourite feature of my blog, second only to the pictures I chose to display. I remember thinking when publishing the map for the first time that, and assuming my 2015 was to go as planned, the map would be an impressive sight come the end of the year. For the most part 2015 did go as planned – save for Iran & a cancelled, because of Ebola, February jaunt to North Korea – the completed map does look impressive, even if I do say so myself. A grin-inducing memento from an unforgettable year.
Picking The Best of 2015
All of my previous yearly recaps have started with me lamenting about the same thing – how hard a chore it is to select favourite images from the year that was. Suffice to say 2015 is no different. I find everywhere photogenic – as a travel photographer should – but some locations I travelled to in 2015 were immensely photogenic: the historic Silk Road towns of Uzbekistan; the Caucasus mountain scenery of Georgia; the changing, rum-fuelled time warp that is Cuba; the beaches & palm trees of the Caribbean; the awe-inspiring scenery of Andean South America, specifically the Titicaca region; the ruggedness & raw beauty of southern Patagonia; & of course the winter wonderland scenery, wildlife, and the endless light that is summer in Antarctica. I could easily fill a Top Ten of 2015 or the like with images from each of these locations alone, ignoring all the others. Needless to say that wouldn’t work. So, and to give everywhere a fair shake, I’m breaking it down into months of the year with 3 images from each month. Even that’s a chore, an impossible task for most months, and it means I’ll have more than just 10 pictures from the year (34 actually). But I have to do something. I want to do something. So here’s a month-by-month recap of my mammoth year in travel & photography for 2015.
2015 A Look Back || The Complete Gallery
Best Of 2015 Selection
Countries Travelled || South Korea
A quiet start to a busy year, the calm before the storm. I spent January of this year in South Korea tending to dwindling work commitments. I didn’t have my camera out much during the month, the notable exception being a late January visit to the National Museum of Korea, the country’s most impressive & one of the world’s largest museums.
Countries Travelled || China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan
February saw me, and as I have done many times over the years, set out from South Korea, heading westward through China & into Central Asia. By the end of the month I had spent time in Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan and was en route to Uzbekistan.
My second & third favourite images of the month were both captured in Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s largest, by some way, country & a location I really enjoyed.
Countries Travelled || Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania
The last day of March this year saw me arriving in Bucharest, Romania. The start of the month saw me coming to the end of a long, ultimately fruitless wait in the Soviet architectural nirvana that is the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek for an Iranian visa, one that was finally approved, albeit long after I’d left the region behind & long after I’d given up hope of visiting Iran on this particular jaunt. Coming shortly after the cancellation of the North Korea trip, the failure to get to Iran was another blow. Thankfully, and as it turned out, it was the last blip in my travel plans for the entire year – everything else was to go to plan.
In traversing Central Asia, passing through the Caucasus & arriving in the Balkans, I covered a lot of ground in March, and took a lot of pictures. The churches & early Christian UNESCO-listed monasteries of Armenia, the world’s first Christian nation, were a treat, as was the Soviet-era architecture of Kyrgyzstan & the medieval fortresses of Bulgaria. History. So much history. Everywhere. However, it was the mind-blowing Islamic architecture & people of Uzbekistan, in the heart of the ancient Silk Road, & the epic Caucasus mountain scenery of Georgia that were the main highlights of the month, and not just photographically.
Countries Travelled || Romania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Cuba
I made it home for two weeks in April, stopping off en route from the chill & snow of the Balkans to the heat & sand of the Caribbean. Talk about contrasts. Picking a favourite trio of captures from this month was a challenge. I loved the dairy landscapes & fairy-tale castles of Transylvania in Romania; despite obvious signs of its recent warring past, the quirkiness & beauty of the Serbian capital of Belgrade pleasantly surprised me; as a result of this month, infamous, history-rich & tolerant Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina is now easily one of my favorite cities in Europe; I finally got to see what all the fuss was about with admittedly beautiful but overhyped & overrun Dubrovnik, Croatia; seven years after my first visit, I – Oh là là – was reacquainted with Paris, France; and I ended the month somewhat bedazzled in an effort to get to grips with Cuba, my introduction to the rum, palm trees & tropical breezes of the Caribbean and a location like no other.
Whittling down to a selection of three images for April was tough. Choosing my favourite from the three I did pick, which all focus strongly on people, was next to impossible so here they are presented in chronological order.
Countries/Territories Travelled || Cuba, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico
May of this year was to be the first of two months spent travelling west to east through the Greater & Lesser Antilles, a.k.a. the Caribbean, en route to South America. By June I had island-hopped my way to the Lesser Antilles but May was reserved for the Greater Antilles, the group of islands in the western Caribbean, the western West Indies – Cuba, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Hispaniola (Haiti & Dominican Republic) & the American commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This was the first of two months of Caribbean sun, sea, sand, laid-back vibes & tropical breezes. There was lots of colour, too, my abiding memory of a region I didn’t expect to like as much as I actually did – I’m not a beach bum or water baby, the sun doesn’t agree with me, & the Caribbean region itself boasts few so-called must-see attractions, it’s expensive, &, short of owning your own yacht, it can be somewhat of a challenge to get around. But for me the Caribbean was a treat, one that threw up more than a few photogenic highlights from the year that was.
Countries/Territories Travelled || Puerto Rico, Sint Maarten/St-Martin, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, Venezuela, Colombia
June brought an end to my 59-day Caribbean island hopping exploits as I twin-propped my way from the Greater Antilles & through a selection of idyllic breezy island destinations in the so-called Lesser Antilles, creeping ever closer to the South American mainland in the process. On the 21st of the month I finally made it to South American terra firma after what felt like years of trying. I was to spend the rest of the year on my penultimate continent, using it as a springboard to access my final continent, Antarctica, which I did towards the end of year. Venezuela was to be my (brief) introduction to South America, a country I was happy to breeze through en route to Colombia, somewhere that was to prove immensely photogenic & where South America for me started in earnest.
Countries/Territories Travelled || Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
It was the 2nd day of the month & I had just crossed the border from Colombia into northern Ecuador. I was en route to the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, a 5 to 6 hour bus ride away. Out of the blue someone in officialdom boarded the bus and, among his routine observational chores, started handing out a flyer promoting the range of things to do and see in the country. Everyone was welcome to one – they were professionally printed in many different languages – but the intended recipients were the obvious foreigners on board, of which there was only one – me. I thought that was neat, rare promotion by a state tourism body while conducting a routine a police check, something definitely not uncommon in South America. That goes some way to understanding how important tourism is to the Ecuadorian economy and how seriously the authorities take in promoting it. And although Ecuador is one of the smallest countries on the continent there’s a lot to promote – Inca ruins, hot springs, awesome colonial architecture, the Andes and the so-called Andean ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’, the Amazon rain forest, Pacific Coast beaches &, of course, the famed Galapagos Islands. In July I sampled all Ecuador had to offer meaning it was to be one of my favourite South American countries & July was to be one of my favourite months of the year for photography.
Countries/Territories Travelled || Peru & Bolivia
Panpipes, or more the sound they make. That’s my abiding memory of August. I spent the majority of the month in the Andean heartlands of Peru & Bolivia where you’re never too far from the soothing sound of the primitive wind instrument synonymous with the region. My other abiding memory of the region was its vibrant colour. There’s colour everywhere.
Countries/Territories Travelled || Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay & Chile
Crisscross. I covered a lot of South American ground in September. I first travelled west to east, coming down out of the Andean hills of Bolivia & right to the Atlantic coast of Brazil, before crossing the whole continent to arrive back at its Pacific Ocean side in Chile. And once I got there I kept going all the way out into the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean – I ended the month on Easter Island, a highlight of the year and one of the most awe-inspiring amazing places I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting.
Countries/Territories Travelled || Chile & Argentina
The majority of not only October but also November was spent splitting time in both Chile & Argentina. I crisscrossed the border between the two countries over half a dozen times as I slowly made my way south, destination the very end of the continent. Andean splendour & the remoteness and ramshackle wooden architecture of Chile were to be my abiding memories of the month of October.
Countries/Territories Travelled || Argentina, Chile & Antarctica
November started out well & kept getting better. It was to be a very special month in a very special year. Gravity kept dragging me south and I eventually made it, made it all the way to the so-called end of the world, Ushuaia in Argentinian Tierra del Fuego. Getting there, through the remoteness and jaw-dropping beauty of Chilean Patagonia, was memorable but nothing compared to the 10-day trip to Antarctica, my 7th and final continent, that I eventually embarked upon from Ushuaia. Yes I had to wait around a bit for that, which ate into my December plans for warmer climes further north, but if I had to relive it all again I wouldn’t change a thing. Not a single thing.
Countries/Territories Travelled || Antarctica, Argentina, Uruguay & Brazil
In December I left the remoteness & laid-back vibe of the very south of South America behind to spend 2 weeks in Argentinian, Uruguayan & Brazilian cities. And I did so rather abruptly – within 24 hours of arriving back in Ushuaia from Antarctica I was donning summer attire for the first time in months while warming up in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital that I’d only passed through some months earlier en route from the South American Atlantic coast to its Pacific coast. And having visited countless South American cities over the previous 6 months, I think I might just have left the best of the lot – Rio de Janeiro – until last.
A few days after the above picture was taken, December 14, I flew home from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and in doing so I brought an end to what was easily my busiest year in travel & photography thus far.