Canyonlands National Park in Utah is a favorite among travel writers. Photo by Tom Till, Dreamstime

When my 15-year-old granddaughter, Talya, asked me what my favorite destination was, I had to take a minute. After 35 years as a travel blogger, my usual answer to that question is wherever I’ve been last, but I felt she deserved more than my usual flippant reply.

Of course, so many different places come to mind for my favorite destinations for several reasons. For sheer beauty, there’s New Zealand. When people rave about specific destinations, it sets up high expectations, which is always a worry for me.

New Zealand did not disappoint. For me, the country held a magical appeal: Stewart Island to the south of South Island that even many Kiwis don’t know about.

It’s population is 401, the number never changed regardless of how many people I asked.

“Well, Ralphie died so that’s 399, but no, the twins were born. So, 401. Yup, 401, definitely.”

Plus a mere 18 miles of roads and more water taxis than land ones, Stewart is 80% national park with an insulated community that still remains a little wary of outside visitors. I was glad they let me in.

The beauty of New Zealand meets expectations. Photo by Daniela Constantinescu, Dreamstime
The beauty of New Zealand meets expectations. Photo by Daniela Constantinescu, Dreamstime

Let’s see? For sheer diversity of culture, it’s hard to beat China when it comes to my favorite destinations. Not Beijing or Shanghai, of course, or even Guilin with its magnificent karst mountains; however, way out in the countryside where they still plow the fields with a resident water buffalo and local tribes plant tea in their traditional multi-colored costumes, you can find diversity of culture in the Guizhou Province.

Traditional ways of life abound through rural China. Photo by Vladamir Grigorev, Dreamstime
Traditional ways of life abound through rural China. Photo by Vladamir Grigorev, Dreamstime

And a trip to Namibia introduced me to an even more primitive lifestyle. Not often, ensconced in our usually comfortable Western hemisphere lifestyle, do we take the time to reflect upon how so very much of the world lives differently. 85% of the world’s population lives in poverty. And there are some civilizations that have very little knowledge of the world outside their small communities.

And no, Talya, you can’t text them for more information.

Learning About Different Cultures, Such as the Himba People in Namibia, Is One of the Many Highlights of Travel

My time with the Himbas reinforced my knowledge of how different my life is from other cultures. The beautiful and gentle Himba people are the last remaining tribe in Namibia to cling to their native identity, dating back more than 500 years.

Although most of the country’s 12 separate ethnic groups have retained their own language, food and beliefs, many have been converted to Christianity and, while still very poor, have become somewhat westernized.

Not the Himbas. Clad in very little clothing, their bodies covered daily through a lengthy ritual with red ocher pigment mixed with animal fat, the Himbas maintain a primitive culture. There are no stores in the village, no satellite dishes and no outhouses. They use the woods that border their village as their toilet.

The Himba tribe of Namibia still enjoys its primitive lifestyle. Photo by Victor Block
The Himba tribe of Namibia still enjoys its primitive lifestyle. Photo by Victor Block

Unlike other indigenous cultures, the more isolated and economically self-sustaining Himbas were able to resist the influence of missionaries who wanted them to cover their bodies, change their gods, upgrade their stick, live in what westerners considered real homes rather than mud and dung huts, and modernize their nomadic lifestyle. I was the one who left newly educated and impressed.

African Safaris Are Some of This Travel Writer’s Favorite Experiences

Africa is high on my list of favorite destinations and includes one of my favorite experiences as well.

Countries are not known only for their interesting two-legged inhabitants; their four-legged creatures are equally intriguing. And although I’ve been on several safaris, I’d go tomorrow if another opportunity presented itself.

What's your favorite destination: Join Travel Blogger Fyllis on a recount to her granddaughter of her favorite destinations. #NewZealand #CowboyCollege #Arizona #UtahNationalParks
What’s your favorite destination: Join Travel Blogger Fyllis on a recount to her granddaughter of her favorite destinations. #NewZealand #CowboyCollege #Arizona #UtahNationalParks

Usually atop an open-air jeep designed for ultimate sightseeing somewhere in Africa, we’d leer, gawk, ooh, ah, jump up, sit down and jump up again, all the while snapping picture after picture of a huge expanse of wild creatures surprisingly willing to share their open spaces, with each other as well as us.

It’s hard to describe the wonder of a leviathan elephant whose tusks almost reach the ground, a black-maned lion baring his teeth or half-a-dozen adolescent zebras cavorting around a waterhole within feet of the jeep. Africa, home to an infinite number of animals, made me feel as if I had climbed into the Discovery Channel.

Spotting a lion on a safari is one of the great joys of traveling. Photo by Victor Block
Spotting a lion on a safari is one of the great joys of traveling. Photo by Victor Block

Occupying those omnipresent endless plains were millions of hoofed animals continually on the move in search of pasture for survival, constantly watched and pursued by the many predators whose own survival depends on feeding off them. Although I’ve been on numerous safaris, I never get tired of watching that dance.

I’d love to take you on one, T.

Utah’s Five National Parks Never Fail to Impress and Inspire

But there are myriad adventures to be had at home, in the United States as well. How about the five Utah parks for starters?

Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion share many commonalities, including uncompromising splendor, history of both the earth and the country and a sense of personal sanctuary. And then there are their differences.

Aptly named, Arches National Park, is a mecca of some of nature’s most intriguing creations including architectural designs that span space and confound logic for which no man-made blueprint was ever drawn.

Nearby, Canyonlands requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle, preferably with a driver. At 6,000 feet, the view from Island in the Sky looks down at cliffs 2,000 feet tall, arising out of a magnificently gouged and painted landscape.

Landscape Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park is one of nature’s glorious creations. Photo by Tom Till, Dreamstime
Landscape Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park is one of nature’s glorious creations. Photo by Tom Till, Dreamstime

Although geologic history is stressed in every park, at Capitol Reef, it’s what defines it. Ranging from 80 to 270 million years old. A stroll along the Grand Wash River nearby, which is so narrow in parts you can touch both canyon walls at the same time; evoked old western film images of the lonely cowboy out on the trail.

Bryce Canyon is synonymous with hoodoos and phantasmagorical images emerging from the weird and wonderful rock formations. There are thousands of the little (and not so little) guys in all shapes, colors and sizes.

Arriving at Zion reinforces the idea that each park is unique.

At the other parks, your line of sight extends out toward the horizon as well as down into the canyons. At Zion, you look straight up, and up and up. Towering cliffs, some of the tallest in the world, flank you on either side. They meet the sky at a point that strains both the neck and the imagination.

But not all travel-writing destinations are magnificent scenic or fascinating places. Some are just quirky. Enter Scottsdale, Arizona’s Cowboy College where I channeled Billy Crystal in City Slickers.

Tayla, you may be too young to remember that movie.

I was in training to be a cow hand ready to go on a cattle drive.

“Heels down.” “Toes out.” “Squeeze with calves, not knees.” “Lighten up on the reins.” “Sink your butt into the saddle.”

So began my first riding lesson which was followed by instructions in grooming, shoeing, advanced riding techniques and roping.  

Cleaning a horse’s hoofs is one of many surprising experiences at Cowboy College in Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo by Victor Block
Cleaning a horse’s hoofs is one of many surprising experiences at Cowboy College in Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo by Victor Block

My experience up to that point was an occasional trail ride where the horse was presented to me all spruced up and saddled, all I was expected to do was mount it. That was not so here.

All of which was way outside my comfort zone, and honestly, it was great fun. In truth, most people visiting the college actually go on a multi-day cattle drive. My thighs were just thankful it didn’t have to get back on the horse the next day.

So hopefully, Talya, this gives you some idea of the very rough life of a travel writer. And oh yes, there is one other place high on our list of favorite destinations to visit, your house.

If You Go

New Zealand

Stewart Island

Unfortunately, China is closed to tourists right now.

Guizhou Province

Africa

Namibia

United States

Utah

Five National Parks in Utah

Arizona

Scottsdale

Cowboy College

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