The name Machu Picchu had been haunting me for years, made famous by the ubiquitous surreal picture of the ruins atop a hill next to a bigger hill. I finally found the opportunity to visit this sacred Incan spot, perfectly hidden in the jungles of Peru. But first we had to travel to Lima, Peru’s capital, then flew to Cusco (another important Incan capital). From Cusco we took a van to a train station in the middle of nowhere called Ollantaytambo, for the journey to Aguas Calientes, deep in the mountains. From this small town, we had to take a dedicated shuttle bus all the way up a steep hill to the ruins. And that’s the best and fastest way to get to Machu Picchu!
The Galápagos Islands are actually a volcanic archipelago comprising 21 islands, some one thousand kilometres west of the South American continent, in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The main airport is on Baltra Island, while we stay in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, and in Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island. The distance between Puerto Ayora and Puerto Villamil is 80km, traveling on a fast boat.
After a memorable night in an inn which was originally a Silk Road caravanserai, we explore ancient Yazd and its rich Persian, Islamic and Zoroastrian heritage.
Being an avid fan of belching, erupting active volcanoes, the Kyushu volcano of Sakurajima has been on my to-visit list for a while. Being Japan’s most active and one of the world’s most active, I just have to see it. Soon I find myself making my way from Tokyo, via Kyoto, all the way to Kagoshima, the city at the western end of Japan’s main islands, right in the shadow of Sakurajima itself. Then we backtrack to visit beautiful Nagasaki and industrious Fukuoka.
We leave Shiraz for Yazd, with stops at the spectacular ancient ruins of Persepolis, Naqsh-i Rustam and Pasargad. Then a long desert crossing before reaching our caravanserai lodge south of Yazd at sundown.
We explore Shiraz in southern Iran, the capital of Persian art, culture and literature. Highlights are Nasir-ol-Molk or Pink Mosque, Eram Garden, the epitome of Persian gardens, and Vakil Bazaar.
We end our Kyushu adventure by spending the final nights in Kitakyushu at the top end of the island, staying just next door to the Kokura Station, a major point on the Sanyo Shinkansen line. The plan is to explore this northern tip of Kyushu before returning to Tokyo with the shinkansen.
In this short visit to Porto, I take a stroll from the modern port-wine Gaia area of Porto and cross the Douro river, via the Luis I Bridge. This brings me to Ribeira, the old quarter of Porto, with buildings from the 15th century, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here facades covered with azulejos tiles (introduced by the Moors in the 8th century) look spectacular in late afternoon light. Looking a bit decrepit, but notable nevertheless. (May 2014)
We finally make it to the home of the awesome Komodo Dragons. We fly from Denpasar DPS to Labuanbajo LBJ, located at the western tip of Flores island in central Indonesia. The 90-min flight from Bali is memorable with the sights of menacing, but enchanting, active volcanoes along the way. (September 2014)
We do a quick one-day tour of northern Bali, while en route to Komodo National Park (500km to the east, near Flores island). Renting a car, we make quick stops at the icons of Bali — Pura Besakih or Mother Temple of Besakih, Kintamani with its picturesque (but dangerous) volcano Batur and lake, and finally sunset at the ever-romantic Pura Tanah Lot. (September 2014)