Staff Roundup: Unexpected Wonders
Inspired by Pico Iyer’s eloquent essay, "The Wonders We Never Look For," we asked our staff to remember instances where their destinations offered up unexpected wonders.
Don George, Wanderlust Editor in Chief
I went to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, but when I was overwhelmed by the selfie-snapping throngs of tourists there, I journeyed three and a half hours north to an obscure temple site called Banteay Chhmar. Clambering over the jungled ruins there, entirely alone, turned out to be one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.
Starla Estrada, Destination Expert
I spent a week on an ice floe in the Canadian Arctic to see the narwhal (“unicorn of the sea”), and while we did see a couple of those beautiful creatures, the highlight of the week was spending time with the Inuit guides and elders, learning about their culture, ancestry, current lifestyles, hunting techniques, and challenges of modern times.
Natalie Crow, Destination Expert
On my first trip to South America, Machu Picchu was the one thing I wanted to experience. However, the top highlights turned out to be the blue-green color of remote mountain lakes; meeting local villagers and their horses, llamas, and guinea pigs; and the feeling of trekking up and over the Andes.
Jesse Knight, Operations Specialist
Madagascar had an instant WOW factor that I didn’t expect. The animals are incredible, and you can walk everywhere during your safari because none of them are dangerous to us. Culturally and scenically, the island is a really interesting mix of Africa and Asia.
Tina Liadis, Destination Expert
While on Flores Island in Indonesia, I stumbled upon a celebration in a remote village. Traditional music and dance were performed to welcome some visiting government officials. But the real fun began after the VIPs left, when it seemed the entire village, from toddlers to grandparents, joined the dancers onstage. It was one of those joyous moments that make travel so special.
Jennine Cohen, Destination Expert
The unexpected high point of my recent llama trek in Argentina was the spontaneous visit I had with a family living in a remote area of the Andes outside of Salta. That, and meeting a family of fifth-generation winemakers!
Sabrina Middleton, Operations Specialist
I went to Antarctica for the penguins, and I did see many adorable species of the bird, but I was most surprised and delighted by the icebergs. The icescapes of white, gray, and blue and the immense size of the icebergs and surrounding scenery were awe-inspiring.
Wen Minkoff, Marketing Specialist
I went to East Africa for the spectacular wildlife and tribal cultures, but the food was an unanticipated highlight. As a vegetarian who is also a bit of a foodie, I was delighted by fresh, gorgeously presented meals that were often farm-to-table.
Amanda McKee, Marketing Specialist
When I finally saw them in person, Alaska's mountains and fjords were just as glorious as I’d dreamed. But I never imagined I’d get so close to brown bears. Lots of brown bears. After our pilot-guide flew us by bush plane into the wilderness, we spent an unbelievable four hours on foot watching some 30 grizzlies graze on grass, dig for clams, snooze in meadows, pounce on swimming salmon, and romp around in mud. And we lived to tell the tale!
Errin Mixon, Destination Expert
I have seen Angkor Wat, the pyramids of Egypt, and Bhutan's famous Tiger's Nest monastery—all architectural marvels. And yet I never fell in love with a building until I met the dazzling Taj Mahal in India. On first sight, my heart actually swelled. I wanted to lay my hands on its marble, to embrace its grand dome, to gaze at it all day.
Corinne Edwards, Operations Specialist
Though I was thrilled to see Iran's amazing historical sites (like Persepolis and the Tomb of Hafez), what I came back raving about was how incredibly friendly and hospitable the local people are. It was such a heart-opening experience, and so different from what the media portrays.
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