31 December 2017
Well, 2017, we still don’t quite know where you went, but you were a bloody cracking year!
In 2017 we returned to African shores to rekindle our love affair with the Mother City, and finally set foot in the little-explored region of Central Asia – a place we have talked about visiting for years.
We saw sunrises in the mountains, sunsets on the beach and fell asleep among the sand dunes beneath an inky sky. We nursed crisp local whites in the Cape and spent lazy afternoons by the sea with a nightly gin and tonic (or three) twirling between our fingers.
We cooked up a storm of Malaysian spice and enjoyed the simplicity of life in a yurt. We road tripped through the vibrant Namib desert and along desolate Pamiri roads. We came face to face with curious rhinos and spotted lions from afar. We gazed over the edge of Africa’s tallest waterfall and hiked the highest we’ve ever been.
We ambled through snow, savannah and forest to mirror-like lakes and unparalleled views. We sampled exotic fruits at local markets and became rather good at communicating through charades.
We watched the leaves transform into fiery autumn tones and welcomed the first dusting of winter snow.
And now, on the final day of 2017, we’ve just touched down from our final destination of the year and the ultimate winter wonderland, Finnish Lapland. But for now, let’s take a little walk down memory lane!
What started as a trip to Cape Town for a family wedding quickly became a newfound infatuation with the city by the sea; a place Freya called home for many years of her childhood and an instant obsession with Chris who didn’t miss the opportunity to explore the mountains at all hours of the day and night!
After a week of getting reacquainted with the city and another spent lazily by the sea, it was time to get back to nature with a hiking adventure in South Africa’s premier hiking region, the Drakensberg, and a mini road trip along the incredibly scenic Panorama Route.
Of all the random, impromptu decisions we made this year, the journey north to the burnt orange Namib Desert was definitely the best. Our roadtrip across Namibia was the absolute highlight of our year!
If we had to pick just one singular moment, a cherry on top of the spectacular cake that was 2017, it would be watching the shadows shift over the country’s ancient dunes, the red hues melting into shadow and the perfect arcs of sand dancing in the light of breaking day. Laying that first line of footsteps every morning and watching them be erased with the softest breath of wind and discovering an intense moment of silence somewhere in the middle of the oldest desert in the world.
Moments like that are rare and are really a big part of the reason we love to travel. So, if you take just one thing away from reading our blog this year, it should be, GET YOUR BUTT TO NAMIBIA!
And if epic sunrises and big mounds of sand just aren’t your thing, you’ll find beaches, wildlife and the desolate beauty of Africa’s open plains.
Ready to plan your trip to Namibia? You can read all about our roadtrip itinerary here.
Kazakhstan marked the start of our whirlwind adventure through Central Asia and admittedly, it was a country we didn’t know all that much about before arriving.
After a wonderful month shared between the mountain and lake districts of the country’s south-east and the bustling cities separated to north and south, we still feel we have barely scratched the surface of this place – something we are eager to rectify soon!
As the consistent favourite among backpackers in Central Asia, our hopes were rather high for Kyrgyzstan, and we definitely weren’t disappointed.
Though we spent much of our time on opposite ends of the country – Chris determined to climb the treacherous 7,134m Peak Lenin and Freya not so much – we both left with vastly different impressions of this gorgeous, mountain-covered country, one blanketed in white, and the other tinged a deep, forest green.
For more on our adventures in Kyrgyzstan, this was our favourite hike!
The striking peaks and stark desolation of the Pamirs make Tajikistan the perfect place for an epic roadtrip adventure. So, that is exactly what we did!
Equipped with a 4WD, 10 days and a very patient driver, we set off to explore the highest mountain passes, golden grasslands and truly mind-boggling scenery along the Pamir Highway, and it was pretty darn fantastic!
Want to read all about our adventure, don’t miss this post!
Enormous madrassas, intricate mosaics and labyrinthine streets we could wander for days. In truth, we were kind of exhausted by the time we reached Uzbekistan, but the beautiful silk road cities had us picking our jaws up off the floor Every. Single. Day.
Though Samarkand and Bukhara are the most famous cities, it was the winding alleys of itty bitty Khiva that stole our hearts. It was the place where we got lost in the backstreets, swept up in the market, sat in awe of the ancient architecture and discovered our favourite dish in all of Central Asia – dill-infused noodles!
You can read all about our favourite things to do in Khiva in this post.
Returning to Belgium (Chris’ home country) for the holidays marked our first taste of a ‘real’ winter in an awfully long time (see, Freya is allergic to the cold!), and while the stiff December chill was a slight shock to the system, we were finally able to partake in all the joys of a proper northern hemisphere festive season, namely piping hot gluhwein (lots and lots of gluhwein), the Christmas markets and snowball fights with friends!
We’ve spent the last few weeks winding down for the year and catching up on content from the past few months. But we’re not done yet!
As we mentioned earlier, we managed to squeeze in one final trip before the year was up. Since we’re in the northern hemisphere, we decided we may as well make Christmas as white as white can be! Our final week in Finnish Lapland was an absolute dream of snow-frosted trees, huskies and finally, a glimmer of the northern lights. We didn’t meet Santa, but hey, there’s always next year, right?
In 2018, for the first time in a long time we will be setting up a proper base in Europe – somewhere to make feel a little more like a home, where our over-sized backpacks can live on a semi-permanent basis and where we can return to after each trip rather than bouncing endlessly from place to place.
We’re hoping to explore a whole lot more of the continent this year, from the beautiful mountain regions and cute country towns to quirky urban hubs and seaside escapes. There’ll also be a few long-distance trips thrown in for good measure and our plans are already falling into place for all the exciting adventures to come.
We are so proud of what we have both achieved this year with The Sandy Feet – from a growing audience of readers (really, we couldn’t do this without you guys!), to having our work published numerous times both online and in print, to attending our very first travel conference event and meeting people we admire and destinations we just can’t wait to visit.
It feels like this has been a pretty crazy year for us, but we simply can’t wait for what’s to come and to take you all with us on the journey.
Until then, Happy New Year everyone and may 2018 be full of epic adventures, near and far!
Chris + Freya