Top 5 Countries

100-Country Club: I have a few friends who claim to be in the “100-Country Club.”  And while I’m not doubting them, that is a helluva lot of countries. I purposely don’t have the country count listed here (OK, 53) mostly because I don’t want to base my travels on getting to the most “places.” That is not the reason why I travel.

And, let’s admit it, I’m a goal-oriented person. (Note: I did not say “competitive” — there is a difference!) I tend to scare myself by putting a number out there. If I see I mountain, I think I need to climb the mountain. Besides do I really need to go to every country in the world? Don’t answer that…my mom might be reading.

Here’re my thoughts on the best countries, mountains, beaches, cities, lakes.

Favorite Countries: Top 5

OK, picking a favorite country is like Sophie’s Choice. How could I possibly choose? No matter which countries are on the top of the list, you’re always going to be thinking: What about Argentina? Russia? South Africa? All fine countries that I’d return to in a heartbeat.

But we must try and accomplish the impossible. I based my ranking on natural landscape and beauty, the generosity of the people, and the general zaniness of the place. A true favorite is a country that remains untouched by the modern world in some way.

Cu-Chi Tunnels, Vietnam
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Vietnam will always hold a special place for me. It was one of the first times I’d travel solo (at age 24) and survived an attempted drugging and kidnapping, as well as a much-too-close brush with the world of trafficking.

These antics, plus traveling to the Cu-Chi tunnels and learning about the Vietnam war first-hand, were a true education about the real world and America’s place in it.

Rural street scene, Nicaragua

Rural streel scene, Nicaragua
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I saw some kids playing baseball here on the beach of Lake Nicaragua, on Ometepe Island. They were using a carved stick for a bat, clumps of seaweed for the bases, and one shared glove.  The parents were playing further down on the beach (and had a real bat and a couple of gloves).

The sun was setting and everyone — but the kids especially — were having a blast. That night was a true glimpse at innocence.

Market day in Sambara mountain town, Tanzania

Market day in Usambara mountain town, Tanzania
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How can you not love a country that offers you some of the greatest adventures of all time: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and learning to scuba in Zanzibar, the Disneyland of diving. The countryside is beautiful, but the people, especially the women, are even more so with their colorful kangas and bright smiles.

Aside from being mugged in Arusha (a lesson well learned), Tanzania is about as far away from America as you can get — a true compliment indeed.

A young Mongolian on horseback
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I’d always been fascinated with the thought of Mongolia and the idea of staying in a ger. And so, last year, I took the Trans-Siberian train, crossing the Gobi Desert and the Mongolian plains.

The mountainside could not have been more pristine, but it was the pride of the people, in their horsemanship, singing and culture that won me over. Ulaan Bataar is also the true Wild West, where you know you’re facing an un-tethered frontier.

Roman fort in Turkey
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Istanbul is truly at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East and provided my first encounter with the Muslim world. Waking up to the salat, the Muslim call for morning prayer, was a real eye (and ear) opener. Sailing down the Bosporus and tramping among Roman ruins, partaking in a real Turkish bath (Please tell me that bath attendant is not using the same washcloth on everyone), and navigating one of the world’s best bazaars — all memories to keep. The Turkish people are also some of the friendliest in the world.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 30th, 2010 and is filed under Travel Favorites, Travel Favorites.

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