The 12 Coolest Things I Saw in 2016

Ages ago, I set myself a goal that I go somewhere new every year. If you know anything about me, this might seem ridiculously low – but we all start somewhere. I didn’t leave Europe until I was 22.

This year was a good year for adventures, though! Mainly my travel writing goes in Where the Hell is Cate, but as the year ends, here are the 12 coolest things I saw.

12. Pablo Escobar’s Vehicles

At Hacienda Nápolés, Pablo Escobar’s country retreat, is the collection of cars – many of which were burnt out. It’s not your average mogul mansion, because it’s a ruin – it was decided that it was unconscionable to preserve it. You can also find a herd of hippos, surprisingly dangerous creatures (just the thing to eat your enemies, provided there’s space for them). Although there’s a special hippo, “amiga Vanessa”, who was more like a  family pet.

There’s also a museum that documents the horrors – most people in Colombia were affected in some way.

Hacienda Nápolés is a bizarre place, not like anywhere else you’ll see. But if you’re in the vicinity (it’s between Medellín and Bogotá) worth checking out. You can take a tour in a golf cart, which sounds very lazy, but it’s extremely hot. There’s also an African museum, and capybaras, and enormous model dinosaurs for Escobar’s son.

11. The Statue of Liberty

It’s shocking how many times I had been to NYC without seeing this – a hazard of going mostly for work, I guess, since it takes a while. I walked to Battery park, where I met my friend G, and we took the boat. The statue is a pretty amazing sight as the boat approaches. Afterwards, we went to the museum – which is fascinating. Later the same day, I saw the statue again from the top of the Empire State Building. Another cool thing to do in NYC.

10. Giant Mechanical Flower

The Floralis Genérica is one of the sights of Buenos Aries. The petals are more open during the day, and close at night. After seeing it during the day, I sat there for two hours waiting for them to close. Eventually everyone was kicked out because the park shut. It was worth the wait to watch it light up purple, though.

9. The Eiffel Tower

I didn’t expect the Eiffel Tower to be so cool – I felt somewhat inured to it, because there are so many images of it everywhere. However up close it’s incredible – the scale is so impressive. When you get up to the top, the views are amazing, and Eiffel’s apartment at the top, wow.

8. Degas’ Ballerina

I saw a lot of cool art this year, but my favourite was two more of Degas’ ballerina, La Petite Danseuse de quatorze ans – a piece I first fell in love with when I saw it in Copenhagen. I saw one at the Musée d’Orsay (Paris), and another at the Met (NYC). I love her pose, like she’s just doing her.

I saw some amazing pieces at the São Paulo Bienel, and at the newly reopened SFMOMA. The weirdest piece of art I saw was Maurizio Cattelan’s America.

7. The DMZ from the other side

In 2013, I went to North Korea. This year, I finally made it to Seoul where I got to see the DMZ from the other side. Seeing this place from both sides, and hearing the story that each side tells gives a pretty unique perspective on the history.

6. El Peñón

One of my favourite places in Colombia, I went solo and loved it, and later I returned to with my Alice when she came to visit. El Peñón is an enormous rock that you can climb. From the top, there are extraordinary views of the reservoir and surrounding areas. The best time to climb is first thing in the morning – if you make good time, you’ll get to be alone up there for a while. I also love to go up at the end of the day and watch the sun set. It’s a special place.

One of my favourite little stories about the rock is the partially written name on it – because of the disputed ownership between the towns of Guatapé and El Peñol. We rented a jet ski and drove around it (the algae jammed the engine and left us stranded…). We also hired a boat to go and explore La Manuela, Pablo Escobar’s bombeed out mansion. They have paintballing, but we just took the tour.

5.Feminist Shark

In January, Feminist Shark made the news because she ate a male shark for being annoying. This was at the  COEX Aquarium, in Seoul, so when I was in Seoul I went to pay homage to her and see if I can learn anything. Bonus: the fish tanks are so creative and cool! I love the telephone box!

4. IRL Owls

Seriously, I just LOVE owls, and in Tokyo I got to meet some. They are soft and beautiful and wonderful. I went with my friend Michelle and took a lot of owlfies.

Bonus: I also met bunnies and hedgies. Cat cafe’s are so 2010.

3. Caño Cristales

Caño Cristales is an extraordinary place. It’s also known as “the river of five colors”, because the river is extremely colorful – due to a particular kind of algae. It’s right in the middle of FARC territory, but the town is safe, although there’s a big military presence. I hung out with a boy named Jesus.

2. A Sea Turtle

I watched a sea turtle laying eggs and burying them, then slowly making her way back to the ocean.

1. A Lookout Post at the End of the World