The Top 10 Ways You Know You’re in Colombia

If you love adventure traveling, consider taking a trip to Colombia. While many people might be nervous about visiting the South American country due to crime, drug cartels and the like, the biggest problems visitors typically deal with are frightfully unsafe bus rides and contracting gastrointestinal illness (GI) from sketchy water.

Let me preface the following list by saying Colombia is a beautiful country with friendly locals, a variety of spectacular landscapes and cool environments (including beaches, cities, jungles, mountains and more), and a host of activities for those, like myself, who love trying new things and crave a spike in adrenaline every now and then. The adventurous experiences–good and bad–now make for unique and funny stories, and this list is (mostly) tongue-in-cheek. Iodine tablets, however, are actually recommended!

Up, up, and away in beautiful San Gil.

Up, up, and away in beautiful San Gil.

1) Your bus stops in town every four minutes to pick up passengers, but then doesn’t stop for four hours in the mountains, and the bumpy ride has your bladder screaming to be emptied. 

 2) You’ve won the lottery if you’re the one person out of twenty-one who didn’t contract GI while on a four-day trek through the jungle. 

3) Starting something forty-five minutes late is the closest to on time you can hope to experience.

4) You’ve lucked out if there’s toilet paper in the bathroom you had to pay to use. Soap is a luxury you only dream about. 

5) Comparing bug bites with fellow travelers is a common past time, and twenty-eight on each leg is considered low. 

6) You eat burnt ants because they just might be better then the local fare. 

7) Honking is a substitute for stop signs, turn signals, breaking and saying hello to other drivers. 

Fording the rushing river.

Fording the rushing river.

8) In the jungle you’re wet nearly every waking moment from sweating profusely, jumping into the river to cool off, being dumped on by the daily afternoon and evening torrential downpours, fording a river with waist-high rushing rapids due to one of the said torrential downpours, or soaking in the river in the evening–lightning be damned, because you know it’s not going to stop raining before you need to get some shut eye–in attempts to alleviate the itching caused by the numerous bug bites covering your legs, and wash away the sweat from the day’s thirteen-kilometer trek. 

9) You catch a ride with a random local on the back of his motor scooter because the vehicle you were in died on the side of a mountain and you didn’t want to swelter in the afternoon sun or have mosquitoes feast on your legs while you waited for another car that may never have arrived. 

10) You nearly throw up in the back of the bus not from the seven back-to-back hairpin turns you took at seemingly one hundred and eighty-three kilometers per hour, or from the moldy mystery cornmeal pancakes of which you regrettably consumed too many bites, or from the severe back pain you’ve incurred from being ejected from and jolted out of your seat repeatedly because of the crazy road, but because someone apparently doused the vehicle in fourteen vats of Lysol immediately prior to departing, and after six hours–many of which are spent silently battling the man seated in front of you for the opportunity to open the shared window so you can suck in one breath of fresh air every hour–you’re still not accustomed to the smell.

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My 5 Favorite Olympic Moments

It’s one of my favorite times of the year. No, not the time following the groundhog’s sighting or non-sighing of his shadow declaring how much or how little of winter we have left. I’m talking about the Olympics. Summer, winter, beach volleyball, bobsled, alpine skiing, speed skating, track and field, ski jumping, fencing; you name it, I’ll watch it. Okay, maybe curling isn’t at the top of my list, but I won’t change the channel if the highlights are on.

I have loved all-things-sports for as long as I can remember. I was skiing down my driveway before I even knew what skis were, and I was watching football years before I understood there was more to it than men running around in tight pants. According to my Top 5 Dream Jobs post, I would be thrilled to be a professional athlete. To me, the Olympics have always been a no-brainer. I get to watch the best athletes in the world compete against each other in a variety of sports.

I have seen only ten Olympic Games in my time, but I can easily recall my five favorite moments from them:

1) Atlanta Summer, 1996: Michael Johnson breaks 200m and 400m world records

Although I competed in track and field at the Division-I level in college, I’d put money on the “other guy” nearly every time in a sprint of him versus me. I can run for days, but anything less than a mile or three is much too fast for my liking and abilities. To be the fastest in the world at the 200 meters and the 400 meters (the most grueling distance, in my opinion) in one Olympics is remarkable. Michael Johnson is the only athlete to claim that success. Additionally, after annihilating his competition and breaking the world record in the 400m, The Man with the Golden Shoes (named so because of his custom gold Nikes) clocked a blazing time of 43.49 seconds that still stands 16 years later.

2) Beijing Summer, 2008: Michael Phelps wins 100m butterfly by 0.01 second

For those who have been living under a rock, Michael Phelps has been a swimming phenom for the last decade (though you may also know him for his Subway commercials or the “incident” when he decided to act like a normal young guy and smoke a little weed). His 22 medals make him the most decorated Olympian of all time and his eight golds give him the most first-place finishes in a single Olympics. He has a slew of other records and accolades, and he has often beaten his competition more than handily. What I will remember most, however, is his win in the 100 meter butterfly by 0.01 second. A sports fan can’t ask for a better competition than that.

3) Albertville Winter, 1992: Hometown Hilary Lindh wins silver in downhill

Hilary Lindh may not be a household name, especially when compared to Johnson and Phelps, but she was a named talked about in my household when I was a kid. Lindh and I were born and raised in the same small town of Juneau, Alaska. In a city of 30,000, everyone knows the names in something as minor as the police blotter. If someone becomes a pro athlete, and then goes on to place second in the Olympics, it’s a big deal. Add to that the fact that I grew up skiing—and then ski racing—on the very run that helped Lindh improve her skills, and her silver medal win is pretty memorable in my book.

4) London Summer, 2012: Misty May Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings win third gold in beach volleyball

Volleyball is a game I always want to play at the beach or at a picnic with a group of friends, yet rarely do because I’m a wimp and the ball hurts my wrists too much. However, I enjoy watching others play it, especially at the Olympic level. What’s even better is when it’s two women who have won gold medals in the two previous Olympics and are vying for their third. In the 2012 Games, Misty May Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings beat their U.S. teammates in the final match and accomplished their goal—cementing their place in Olympic history and in my memory bank, made even more impressive by the fact that Walsh Jennings was five weeks pregnant at the time.

5) London Summer, 2012: Oscar Pistorius is first amputee runner in Olympics

Potential murder-conviction aside, what Oscar Pistorius did for “disabled” athletes (though he certainly seems more able at running fast than a lot of “able-bodied” people) has left an indelible mark on me. Leading up to the 2012 games, there was rampant controversy in the world of track and field and the Olympics over the question: should a double-amputee who uses prosthetics and blades be allowed to compete in the Olympics? The main argument being that the Blade Runner would have an advantage because of his “blade legs” (as if all the other amputee runners are as fast as, if not faster than, “able-bodied” runners and are just too lazy to put in the effort Pistorius put in to try to compete against them). Pistorius, however, worked as hard off the track as he did on and finally won the right to compete against those with real legs. Though he finished eighth in the semifinals, his incredible running ability and personal tenacity will stay with me for years.

Are you an Olympics fan? What have been your favorite moments in the Games?

My 5 Favorite Books

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Always a book before bed!

I was lucky to grow up with family members who loved to read and loved to teach me to read. I was read to before I could talk, and I started reading pretty much before I could spell my middle name (which has only five letters, but was somehow challenging for me as a kid). I essentially haven’t stopped since. At any given time I’m circulating between two or three books, and I often tote a paperback in my purse for when I’m stuck in long lines. I haven’t read near the number of books as some bookworms, and I’m looking forward to reading my way through many more decades. In my 29 years, however, the following five are, as of now, my favorite:

1) The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea was Hemingway’s last work to be published while he was alive, and I believe it is his best. On the surface, the book is about an old fisherman who finally hooks a giant marlin after 84 fish-free days, but then struggles to reel it in and not lose it while heading home. Guised in that simple tale is a much deeper message about a humble, determined, prideful and strong man who refuses to give up or give in, despite continued hardships and seeming defeat. It is about the journey rather than the destination, and about having an optimistic outlook on life despite whatever obstacles arise.

2) The Giver by Lois Lowry

Many a Miss America contestant has stated her wish for the end of world suffering. As ideal as that sounds, Lowry’s “children’s novel” implies that a lack of pain and strife—by converting to “Sameness”—really wouldn’t be all that fantastic. The book starts off in an orderly-run society in which husbands and wives are matched according to their personalities, jobs are assigned based on skill, and everyone lives in harmony. Oh, and no one has any emotions. Which is, of course, the catch. Without the ability to feel pain or sorrow, how can anyone know happiness or joy? The members of the Community don’t seem to mind and are content (or, more accurately, apathetic) with how things are run. Until the hero, an eleven-year-old boy named Jonas, is assigned the job of “Receiver of Memory.” He is to become the sole keeper of the memories the Community has before the conversion to Sameness. When Jonas meets The Giver, the man whose job he will soon take, he is exposed to a world he didn’t even know could exist. A world far surpassing that of the bland, boring Sameness in which he grew up, and one in which I bet most Miss America contestants would actually prefer to one without world suffering.

3) Flags of our Fathers by James Bradley

In this heart-wrenching, intense and honest narrative of arguably the most iconic image from World War II, Bradley—the son of one of the six American soldiers who raised the flag at Iwo Jima—describes the anti-climactic flag raising that was merely coincidentally captured on film, and the harsh realities the three flag-raising survivors faced after returning home. Though Bradley has had no personal war experience, Flags of our Fathers is especially poignant as he is able to describe with such detail and accuracy how the photo itself—and what the American civilians believed it represented—affected, haunted and immortalized the three men, his father being one of them. Due to my affinity for war accounts (in film or book form), I have been exposed to a decent number of war chronicles—some firsthand accounts, others more removed like Bradley’s, and others mostly fictionalized. None has left as indelible of a mark on me as Flags of our Fathers. I read it just once, but I fear scenes and lines will forever be imprinted in my mind.

4) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If I could have penned any book in the world, I would have wanted to write one exceptionally similar to Zafon’s marvelous masterpiece. The story is infused with clandestine love, murder, war, espionage, intrigue and more, and is beautifully written. What else could one want from a novel? It opens with Daniel, a young boy, being taken by his father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He is permitted to select one and, not surprisingly, chooses The Shadow of the Wind. After flying through it, he sets out to find more books written by the same author. What he finds, however, is that in his quest he becomes highly involved in tracing the author’s entire life, at which point all of the aforementioned aspects of what make for a fascinating book come into play. Zafon’s novel is riveting, intriguing and unforgettable, and it is one of my favorite reads.

5) Columbine by Dave Cullen

No, it’s not about flowers. Yes, it’s about the horrific shooting that took place at the high school of the same name in Colorado in 1999 that left 15 dead (including the two teenage shooters who committed suicide after going on their murderous spree) and 24 injured. And families in devastation, a community in mourning, and a nation whose focus on guns and gun control grew even more intense. Cullen, who claims to have spent 10 years on Columbine, sought to dispel the myths and uncover the truths regarding the massacre. He also wanted to know why Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed their classmates, and what became of the survivors. It is painstakingly researched, rife with information that was rarely disseminated to the public—if at all—and expertly written. Cullen takes as close of a peek inside the minds of the killers as one can imagine is possible, and offers his thoroughly thought-out reasons for why they committed the atrocity. It is riveting, upsetting and tragic. I won’t likely pick it up any time in the near future, but I won’t need to; the first and only read through was memorable enough to last quite some time.

Have you read any of the books on my list? What are your top recommendations? Let me know in the comments; I’m always looking for great reads!

10 Things I’d Tell 10-Year-Old Me

Dear 10-Year-Old Me,

As a lover of lists and things that align numerically, it seems only perfect, and necessary, to create a list of 10 things I’d love for you to acknowledge as a 10-year-old.

1) Appreciate the time your immediate family spends together. Over time, the occasions where you, your sister and your parents will be in the same place at the same time will become fewer and farther between. For better and for worse, they will never be like they were when you were a kid. Take advantage of family time while you can, even if it frequently involves a considerable amount of bickering between you and your sister.

2) Bicker less with your sister. It will help your relationship grow, and it will surely decrease your parents’ headaches. Though you share many similarities, your sister’s differences create chasms you are too young to fully appreciate and understand. Rather than argue, try to understand your sister and her differences. Or, at the very least, let her do her thing and respect her choices.

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Look, I carried my things differently.

3) Let your sister do her thing and you focus on yours. Don’t wait until she’s grown up and out of the house to start forging your own path. Being the youngest, it is easy to follow your older sister in her footsteps—especially if hers seem well worth following—but find something that is uniquely yours, something she has not yet discovered or delved into. The world is full of exciting new opportunities waiting for your individual exploration.

4) Keep as firm of a grasp as possible on the close friendships you have now, but understand that some—even your very closest—will become diluted or completely vanish over time. Remember that the dissolution is no one’s fault, but rather a differing of interests and subsequent paths taken. Try to reconnect with some of your childhood friends when you are older and see where each of your lives has taken you. You may be surprised with how easily a long-disbanded friendship can be reactivated.

5) Kiss the boy. You know the one. He will die much too young, and though you will have wonderful memories (like the time you shoveled horse manure together as punishment for violating field trip rules), you will not have the one where you brazenly, unabashedly plant your lips on his. It’s important to maintain a good moral compass, but sometimes it’s okay to be a tad, smidgen, iota, shred, wee, tiny bit less of a stuffed shirt and goody-goody.

6) Be a tad, smidgen less sarcastic. Secretly revel in your intelligence and wit, but learn that a more intelligent person knows when to let sarcasm fly and when to rein it in. Know that it is not always the best tool for humor in all settings and scenarios.

7) Like that of your father and sister, your hair will become categorically, without exception, frustratingly-at-times, undeniably curly. Appreciate its straightness now, and its curliness when it transforms. Rather than cursing it for changing, and trying to destroy it by using a flat iron day after day to straighten it, learn to manage your curly hair as your genetics intended. Or, at the very least, amass a large quantity of ponytail holders.

8) Run, run, run until your lungs burn and your legs ache. And then keep running. One day shin problems will make routine running only a fond memory and faraway dream. Run as much as you can before your body poses its aggravating limitations.

9) Don’t routinely settle for second best or merely rely on your genetics and natural talent. Without reservation, put 100 percent of your time and effort into something, just to see what the outcome is. You may excel or you may not even come close to meeting your expectations, but you won’t know until you really give it your all. No doubt being well-rounded has its upsides, but working insanely hard at one specific thing to see what you can truly achieve has its own unrivaled rewards.

10) Learn to dance. You will dance on countless occasions in your life and being moderately good at it would be fun, while also decreasing the chance that friends will tease, “She sure can run, but she sure can’t dance!” When you are older, you will lose some of your gumption for trying things you have accepted are “not your thing.” Make dancing your thing. Or, at the very least, take a few proper classes.

Love,
29-Year-Old Me

What would you want your past self (at any age) to know? Share it in the comments!

My 13 Favorites of 2013

Thanks to a variety of factors, 2013 was an awesome, adventure-filled year full of numerous new experiences, destinations visited, foods eaten, drinks imbibed, books read, films watched and more. What follows is a list of 13 of my favorites of 2013:

Movie: 12 Years a Slave
Perhaps I’m biased because the screenplay I wrote last year, and the novelization I’m working on now, tackles the same subject: slavery and the quest for freedom, but 12 Years a Slave was far and away my favorite film of the year. Chiwetel Ejiofor brilliantly carries the movie as Solomon Northup, a free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Michael Fassbender’s turn as a manic, brutal slave owner is perfect. There are a number of great performances and the acting is solid all around. In addition, director Steve McQueen is extraordinary, having created a film that is at times excruciating to watch, yet so gripping and masterfully executed that the viewer cannot turn away. Based on a true story, the film is necessary and educational. Rightfully so, it will not be easily forgotten. If you haven’t seen the powerful, evocative film, I highly recommend it. Just bring tissues.

Accomplished Goal: Spending a night alone in the wilderness
It was one of the most daunting goals on my 30×30 list, but I successfully completed it a couple months ago and greatly enjoyed it. You can read about the experience here.

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I could eat heaps of this deliciousness!

Meal: A meze plate in Katakolon, Greece
While visiting the Magna Grecia farm on the outskirts of Katakolon, Greece, I was treated to a plate of delectable nibbles such as Kalamata olives, sausage, and bread dipped in olive oil procured from olives from a 300-year-old olive tree. Paired with copious amounts of wine, shots of ouzo, and fun, friendly conversation with my generous Greek hosts, it was my favorite meal of the year.

Artist: Macklemore
I was introduced to the music of Ben Haggerty (stage name Macklemore) via his chart-topping hit “Thrift Shop.” Expressing his joy for shopping at thrift stores to save money–and because, according to him, it’s ridiculous to spend $50 for a shirt that six other people will have at the club–I found a kindred spirit and instantly took a liking to him. His songs are catchy, intelligent, fun and perfect for bike rides along the beach boardwalk, or cleaning the house, or dancing (well, trying to dance, in my case).

Experience: Hiking to 16,200 feet in the Andes in Colombia
After a crazy bus ride in the mountains, hiking into camp and spending a night in a frigid cabana where seven wool blankets was barely adequate for a decent night’s sleep, we were set for taking on El Pulpito del Diablo in Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy: the biggest hike of our lives. We started at around 13,000 feet and it wasn’t too hard going at first. Once we reached about 15,000 feet, however, having conquered a pretty steep section, we morphed into zombie-like creatures. With heads down we zigzagged the final pitch, half-dragged ourselves, panted and, when our bodies could afford the extra energy expenditure, let out grunts reminiscent of the possessed dog-creatures in The Thing.  When we finally reached the top, all of the effort had paid off. We were treated to a (literally) breathtaking view of the northernmost part of the Andes Mountain Range, the snow-capped peaks and the moraine lakes below.

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Exhausted but elated at 16,200 feet.

Blog PostThe Pixar Theory by Jon Negroni
Negroni’s article explaining the idea that all of Pixar’s fourteen movies are connected is fun, well-written and thought-provoking. I am not alone in the opinion, as the post has garnered 4.4 million views. If you’re a fan of the Animation Studio that has produced imaginative and creative films such as Toy StoryFinding Nemo and Wall-E, I’ve no doubt you’ll be interested in reading Negroni’s theory that ties them together.

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Thrilled to see the magnificence in person.

Site: Colosseum in Rome, Italy
Constructed nearly two thousand years ago, the Roman Colosseum is the largest amphitheater in the world–and the coolest site I saw this year (though the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, was also magnificent). The second I caught my first glimpse of the enormous structure, I caught my breath. And then I smiled and said, “Wow.” Of course I had seen in photos and videos the former home of gladiatorial contests, executions and dramas, among other public spectacles, but seeing it in person was a real treat and brought my knowledge to life. It definitely shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Rome.

Night: Partaking in the fun in Istanbul, Turkey
The night started with Raki (an unsweetened, anise-flavored hard alcoholic drink), fresh fruit, and Turkish music from a lively band led by a female singer who was beautiful and wore fantastic red pants. Dancing quickly ensued, which was followed by more dancing at another joint. After a considerable amount of drinking, dancing and revelry, the night ended with smoking hookah for the first time, enjoying delicious tea, eating more fruit, nuts and other treats, and watching the sun come up over the grand city.

Song: “Lost but Won” by Hans Zimmer
If you missed my post espousing my love for film scores, to reiterate: I love film scores. For years one of my favorite composers has been Hans Zimmer. It’s of no surprise to me that one of his songs from this year made my list of favorites. Featured on the Rush soundtrack, “Lost but Won” is moving, beautiful and complements the film perfectly.

Learned Skill: Guitar
While my singing is best suited for the shower or alone time in the car–places where the ears of others cannot be assaulted–learning and playing instruments has come fairly easily to me. I started playing piano as a kid and I played the flute in middle school. I even dabbled with drums back in the day. The first time I picked up a guitar and tried to play a chord, I immediately became frustrated with stretching and holding my fingers just the right way to eke out something that sounded like a chord. Years later, I added playing a guitar song to my list of goals, determined to fight through the initial bloody and calloused fingers. Thanks to many a Youtube video, I can now strum six chords and even play a song. It has only four chords, and I play it slowly, but I’m getting better. And, best of all, I’m enjoying it.

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I ran up so I could enjoy the view longer.

View: Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
After running three miles to the top of the ancient castle walls that stretch above the city, I was treated to the stunning view of the Bay of Kotor, a highly indented part of the Adriatic Sea that is a ria, or a submerged river canyon. The towering limestone cliffs add to the impressive, picturesque view. One that is definitely worth the sweaty, calf-burning run.

Book: Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French
French reportedly spent six years researching for his book about the largely unknown and fascinating world of a zoo, its inhabitants and its keepers–and it shows. I learned so much from Zoo Story I started taking notes so I could tell my friends interesting facts and tidbits I had acquired (for example that male seahorses get pregnant rather than their female counterparts). The book largely focuses on captivity and the goings on at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, introducing such characters as Herman the beloved chimpanzee, Enshalla the Sumatran tiger with a dark and tragic past, and Lex the overzealous zoo keeper. Additionally, French discusses extinction and conservation issues, which are usually of interest to me. If you’re an animal lover like me, it’s a fascinating read.

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Sipping sangria in Spain.

Drink: Sangria in Spain
If I lived in Spain, I would most likely develop a drinking problem. From sip number one in Malaga, Spain, I fell even more in love with sangria. I had had the drink before, but never a glass as refreshing or delightful, or with such a perfect level of sweetness. I was fortunate to get to imbibe in the tasty drink in a few different cities (Malaga, Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca), and attest that it never failed my expectations. If you get the chance to visit Spain, do not pass up the opportunity to imbibe in a little (or a lot of) sangria. Your taste buds will thank you.

10 Great Places for Solitude

For those who desire a little quiet hermitage, I’ve recently discovered that taking a solo camping trip can be just the ticket. If you want a little more isolation, the following destinations look like some fantastic places to be a recluse. I have described only two locations based on my experiences (PNN El Cocuy and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi), so I look forward to visiting the rest! Except for Alert, Canada. That frigid place in the middle of nowhere doesn’t look all that appealing to me.

DSCN02461) Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy – Colombia

The long and varied journey to the park in the northern part of the Andes mountain range keeps the number of visitors to a minimum. It involves a lengthy ride through the mountains on a bus with screeching brakes that are in desperate need of new pads; followed by a jarring ride on a road riddled with pot-holes, in a local’s truck that no longer has shocks; and completed by an hour-long hike at roughly 13,000 feet carrying all your gear on your back. Your sleeping options are limited to a tent you pack in or a cabana that offers less heat than a meat locker. But once you’re there, you will realize the joy and elation of being nearly all alone in a weird and unique environment that exists only a few places on Earth.

2) Rongbuk Monastery Guesthouse – China

You don’t need to climb the tallest mountain in the world to experience the solitude Mt. Everest can offer. Staying at the guesthouse at an elevation of 16,732 feet might have you winded just walking to the bathroom, but gazing up at the snow-covered peak that has claimed the lives of more than 200 climbers will likely make you feel pretty small in the grand scheme of things, which is usually a good exercise in humility.

3) Wilson Island – Australia

If you want to experience near-seclusion without high-altitude trekking, an ideal location is the island in the Great Barrier Reef that shares its name with the beloved volleyball friend of Chuck Noland in Castaway. As only twelve guests are permitted on the five-acre island at a time, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful and relaxing place perfect for a recluse. If you desire to see life, but not of the human variety, visit in January when green turtles and loggerhead turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.

4) Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve – South Africa

If you prefer the company of animals of the non-human variety, there are few better places to stay than in game parks in Africa. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, the oldest proclaimed natural park in Africa, is home to the Big Five—elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos and cape buffalo—as well as a plethora of other animals including zebra, giraffe, hyenas, crocodiles, warthogs and numerous others. Staying in a safari tent in the park puts you right in the midst of the wildlife, where your only neighbors are the slithering snakes, mischievous monkeys, elegant Wahlberg’s eagles and a few other adventurous travelers like yourself.

5) Alert – Canada

If the idea of merely spending time alone isn’t enough, and you want to put your survivor mettle to the test, look no further (as if you can) than Alert, the world’s most northern inhabited land, a town some 500 miles from the North Pole with a population of five. Yes, five. As it is a far cry from another city—the nearest being roughly 1,200 miles away—and a really far cry from being a tourist destination, you must bring your own sleeping bag. And provide your own food. And build your own accommodation, specifically an igloo to adequately combat the icy temperatures.

National Geographic World

(property of National Geographic World)

6) Kobuk Valley National Park – USA

Avoid the throngs of people that flock to well-known national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite by traveling to the least-visited national park in the U.S. Thirty miles north of the Arctic Circle, Alaska’s Kobuk Valley offers visitors complete solitude in lieu of trails, roads or campgrounds. In typical fashion for many who inhabit the Last Frontier, most park visitors are skilled hunters, and subsist primarily on caribou. Make like Katniss Everdeen and shoot your dinner with a bow and arrow if you’re up for the challenge. At any rate, it is likely to be just you, the caribou and a few other animals.

7) Pitcairn Island – South Pacific

Another idyllic place that is mostly devoid of people—only fifty call it home—is Pitcairn Island, noted for being the landing spot and eventual home of nine mutineers from the H.M.S. Bounty who settled there more than two hundred years ago. Located just south of the Tropic of Capricorn, the island enjoys warm weather year-round, and is home to many birds and nine plant species that exist only on the island. The island is volcanic, however, so be sure to visit before it blows!

(property of Travel Channel)

(property of Travel Channel Tumbler)

8) Glover’s Atoll – Belize

Apparently even many Belizeans aren’t too familiar with this ninety-square-mile ring of coral reef located forty-five miles off the coast of the mainland. The unspoiled atoll offers privacy, solitude, snow-white sand, coconut trees and a vibrant underwater world that can be mere inches from your nightly lodging if you stay in a thatch cabin over water. With your only neighbors being animals you’ll barely hear unless they jump out of the surf, Glover’s Atoll seems like heavenly seclusion.

9) Svalbard – Norway

If Norway is considered a quiet and remote country, than Svalbard, an island 400 miles north of Norway, must be even quieter. Roughly 2,000 people reside on the island in the only town aptly named Longyearbyen. As it is located above the Arctic Circle, the inhabitants—mostly coal miners and scientists—live in months of continuous daylight and then months of continuous darkness. While it is not known for having a productive agriculture, it does house the Global Seed Vault, an underground store of the world’s plant seeds in case of a global doomsday.

10) Tristan Island – South Atlantic

To visit the most remote inhabited place in the world you’ll need to go to Tristan Island in the Tristan da Cunha group of four islands, located about 1,700 miles from Cape Town between Argentina and South Africa. As a testament to its remoteness, Tristan boasts a meager population of 271 and there are only seven surnames among the inhabitants. Visiting is allowed, but taking up permanent residence can be difficult. There are no spare houses, only a few jobs exist, and, perhaps the biggest barrier to entry, new residents must be approved by the Island Council.

(property of New York Times)

(property of The New York Times)

What’s the most remote place you’ve been? Let me know in the comments!

My 20 Most Embarrassing iTunes Songs

Creating this list was difficult; not in that it was challenging to scrape together twenty songs I’m embarrassed to admit owning, but in that I had to pare down the original quite-lengthy list! In my defense, I’d like to think I have some great music in my library, but I don’t need to name specific artists or groups to exemplify that belief (Otis Redding, Bob Marley, The Rolling Stones). Considering the songs are of equal…quality?…ranking them in order of best to worst (or, really, worst to best) would be too daunting of a task. Therefore, they are listed alphabetically by artist or group name.

1) Dr. Jones (Aqua) – The fact that I didn’t list the most well-known Aqua song, “Barbie Girl,” is a testament of my loyalty to the Danish-Norwegian pop group. Also to the embarrassment I feel at having more than just one Aqua song in my library.

2) Larger than Life (Backstreet Boys) – Listening to this song helps me feel larger than life, or at least larger than the Backstreet Boys. And by larger I mean better.

3) Back at One (Brian McKnight) – How can a girl my age not have this in her library? If only for nostalgia’s sake in remembering those high school dances of yore.

4) Overprotected (Britney Spears) – I have this song in my library in an attempt to support every Brittany in the world, even those whose parents misspelled their name.

5) I’m Alive – Dance Remix (Celine Dion) – Having a Celine Dion song in my library helps me feel like I’m keeping on good terms with our friendly neighbors to the north.

6) Ridin’ Dirty (Chamillionaire) – This song is an homage to my childhood. (It is about riding in a car that has been dirtied by the mud because it rains so much, right?).

7) Only God Knows Why (Kid Rock) – Really, only God knows why I have this song in my library. Kid Rock and his auto-tuned voice don’t even know why.

8) Girl on TV (LFO) – OMG. LOL at having LFO in my ITL. ROFL. LMFAO. Wait, different group. (And really, when will we stop turning everything into an acronym?)

9) Without You (Mariah Carey) – Where would I be without you, Mimi, and your skyscraper-high voice and oh-so-inspirational music taking up space on my hard drive?

10) Air Force Ones (Nelly) – Listening to this song reinforces the idea that anything is possible. Entire songs dedicated to overpriced shoes can help a rapper go platinum. A rap music video can be successful even if more screen time is devoted to shoe boxes than nearly-nude women. And, perhaps most noteworthy, wearing a band-aid on your cheek can be considered trendy.

11) Gotta Be Somebody (Nickelback) – The saddest part about having this song in my library is that it’s there at all, especially considering I heard it on repeat for twelve hours while working as an extra in a commercial.

12) Super Bass (Nicki Minaj) – I refuse to remove this song from my library until I can figure out who “the guy with the thing on his eye” is, and just what exactly is on his eye.

13) Straight Up (Paula Abdul) – Straight up, I really have this song in my library as a reminder of Paula before her days on American Idol. And under the influence. Although the latter is considerably more entertaining than her days as a singer and dancer.

14) Shorty Be Mine (Pretty Ricky) – Not only does this song speak to me on a number of levels, but it references the great(est, in all the world) R. Kelly. (See number 16).

15) Bad Boys for Life (Puff Daddy) – This song reminds me that it’s okay to have multiple identity crises and go through numerous name changes. As long as not one of them makes any sense.

16) The World’s Greatest (R. Kelly) – Why I have this song in my library is a no-brainer. Robert Sylvester Kelly is the world’s greatest. Okay, he actually threatened to urinate on me if I didn’t have at least one of his songs in my library. Just to appease him, I have two.

17) Fire Burning on the Dance Floor (Sean Kingston) – Somebody call 911, because clearly having this song in my library means my ear drums are busted or my brain is fried.

18) Hustler (Terrence Howard) – I refer to this song from time to time when I need advice on gambling, specifically playing craps.

19) Live Your Life (T.I. featuring Rihanna) – I keep this song around because it provides my daily foreign language study, though I’m still trying to work out exactly what “Miya hee, miya ho, miya hu, miya haha” really means.

20) Boom Boom Boom Boom (Venga Boys) – Few songs have received such highly varied remarks as this ditty. It has been labeled “the fifth worst ever summer song,” (which makes me wonder what the worst is), “their biggest hit yet,” a “spine-chilling teeny-pop chart hit,” one of the “top songs of 1999” and “as daft as the title.” Additionally, a furniture retailer reportedly used the song in a promotional campaign and saw sales increase by ten percent, while an internet viral game containing malware used to gain remote control of computers used the song to “torture” those whose computers had been attacked. Such a controversial song has to stay in my library for interest’s sake.

What are the most embarrassing songs in your collection? Let me know in the comments!