Bucket list 2021: Africa, axed trips top list

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Cape Verde Islands are Africa’s version of the Caribbean and a short hop to Senegal, another African jewel. Holiday Haymarket photo

I was a sports writer in the U.S. for 40 years and sometimes football imitates life — like my life now. It’s October, less than three months remain in the year and the world is no better off than it was when the pandemic began. I’m facing 3rd-and-long from near my own end zone.

It’s time to punt 2020.

Fortunately, I’m not talking about my health. Covid-19 hasn’t pulled a sniffle out of me. Then again, unlike some moronic, infantile leaders of the free world, I wear a mask. 

I’m talking about travel. I’m a travel writer and I’ve been out of Italy exactly 12 days this year. I went to Saudi Arabia in February. I haven’t traveled this little since 1981, my first full year working in Las Vegas where I found I could be perfectly happy all year in a city with 24-hour bars and 99-cent buffets.

While letting my passport collect dust, I have turned the page. I turned my calendar to 2021. Here is where I spill out my bucket list for next year. They include entire regions I’ve never visited, nearby destinations long overdue, a couple off Marina’s bucket list and some places I want to return with Marina.

The United States is nowhere near the list. The Lost City of Atlantis is closer.

I can go to the U.S. You Americans can’t come to Italy. Well, you can if you prove it’s “essential travel.” Eating gelato in a dimly lit piazza does not qualify as essential travel. Even if you do have business here or an emergency in your family tree, once you arrive in Italy you must quarantine for 14 days.

Mask-less University of Georgia football fans at their game Saturday. The Spun photo

As a legal Italian resident, so would I. I have a family reunion in Central Oregon scheduled for August. I have a better chance of going to the dark side of Pluto.

Covid has turned the planet into a beat-up tennis ball, chewed up by dogs then soaked in a tepid, disease-filled septic tank. And no place on earth do the fumes emit such a ghastly aroma as the United States. With 4 percent of the world’s population, it is still holding strong with more than 20 percent of all cases and deaths.

As I wrote before, Covid has even returned to haunt Italy. We’ve had at least 2,200 new cases every day for the last week, compared to about 200 in July. Rome and its Lazio region lately often top the charts. I see ambulances racing patients to the hospital near my home and helicopters flying overhead trying to save lives.

But it’s all relative. France and Spain have averaged 7,000 and 8,000 cases, respectively, over the last week. The World Health Organization even lauded Italy as a model country in handling the virus.

Pres. Trump introducing Amy Coney Barrett on Sept. 26 when many of the infections may have occurred. ABC photo

Here’s the difference between countries with leadership and countries with vile, evil, narcissistic racists digging graves for their population: In light of the WHO compliments, Italy didn’t take a bow. It took its rising curves and extended its state of emergency from Oct. 15 to Jan. 31. Lazio’s governor extended the region’s mask edict from 6 p.m.-6 a.m. to 24 hours with the whole country will soon follow suit. 

Prime minister Giuseppe Conte, instead of campaigning for the Nobel Peace Prize, said Monday, “The guard remains high. If there is worsening of the epidemic curve, we will promptly intervene with new restrictive measures.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. this past week still averaged 45,000 cases and 720 deaths a day, a reported 130,000 college students had it and 70 died as of Sept. 25. Genghis Can’t gets it after holding a mask-less affair that presumably infected half the White House, then he emerges from Walter Reed Hospital to announce, “Don’t be afraid of Covid.”

I wouldn’t visit the U.S. right now if I had a free ticket on Air Force One. Hell, I wouldn’t visit Air Force One unless I borrowed Dustin Hoffman’s PPE suit from “Outbreak.”

Instead, I dream. I dream of sugary-sand beaches and palm trees. Of local rums on ice. Of four-star spas in isolated forests. Of tiny villages with local dishes that make me weep. 

Residents of Italy can travel. We can go anywhere around the European Union. For other countries we have various restrictions. However, airlines have cancelled many routes, making travel more difficult. This year airlines have cancelled our trips to Spain, Germany, Greece and Puglia.

I won’t get to all these places below but it is my bucket list for 2021. If people don’t start wearing masks everywhere and the curve doesn’t fall, I may not get to any of them. Nevertheless, this top 10 list keeps me going through autumn:

Accra, Ghana’s capital, has become a vibrant city. Disrupt Africa photo

West Africa

Hanging in my bedroom is a world map with pins stuck in every country I’ve visited. I have a vast swath of pin-less territory representing West Africa. I’ve been to three countries each in North Africa and East Africa. 

A number of places in West Africa have caught my interest over the years. The top three include:

  • Cape Verde Islands. About 300 miles west of Senegal, they are Africa’s version of the Caribbean. Beautiful beaches. Seaside villages. Mountain peaks. Green valleys. Great nightlife. Also, direct flights from Rome.
  • Senegal. It’s not just a short hop from the Cape Verdes. I wrote a term paper on Senegal in my college Geography of Africa class at Oregon and I never forgot it. More than 40 years later, it’s still one of the most stable countries in Africa with a sizzling urban culture along with a lazy beach vibe on the coast. Its French heritage is in full display in Saint-Louis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Ghana. I learned a lot about this place while covering its soccer team in the 2006 World Cup. Called “Africa for Beginners,” Ghana is rapidly developing thanks to a stable democracy that has made Accra into a vibrant capital while maintaining the country’s rich culture. Wildlife sanctuaries in the north; beach villages in the south.
The Maltese capital of Valletta. Royal Caribbean photo

Malta

When I mention Malta, Italians yawn. Marina does, too. Italians say Malta has nothing Italy doesn’t have. While they sound like New Yorkers, they may be right. Still, I have a thing for small island nations, particularly those with great beaches and a bilingual population fluent in English. Malta has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more monuments per square kilometer than any country in the world. The capital of Valletta drips with gold baroque architecture while Gozo, one of three islands in Malta’s archipelago, is rural and green and lazy. They’re all surrounded by some of the bluest waters in the Mediterannean. 

Oman is a great combination of beach and desert. DGV travel photo

Oman

I’ve been to 18 Islamic countries, including one each the last three years. In keeping in touch with my inner Muslim, Oman is the perfect blend of fun and faith. It has 2,000 miles of coastline with unspoiled beaches around every corner and dolphins in the surf. The desert is loaded with adventure and Muscat is one of the prettiest capitals in the Middle East. Oman has embraced tourism as a way to advance the society but it hasn’t happened for so long that Starbucks are next to mosques. I want to take another screaming dune buggy ride in the desert then have a cold one at my hotel by the pool. Yes, licensed hotels and restaurants do sell drinks.

Maldives has 1,200 islands.
Maldives has 1,200 islands. Conrad Hotels and Resorts Hilton photo

Maldives

Seeing a theme here? Yes, I need a beach. And of all the alluring travel posters in the world, Maldives’ are in the tourism hall of fame. The country consists of 1,200 islands in a sea as turquoise as what made me swoon in French Polynesia. Individual huts on a plot of sand between a palm tree jungle and the Indian Ocean. Touristy? Yeah. Meeting locals in their villages would be challenging. But I want to visit before the rising tides put this place underwater. Who knows? Maybe I’ll dust off my C-card and go scuba diving again. 

Botswana is home to four huge national parks. andBeyond photo

Botswana

This tops Marina’s bucket list. We’re both animal lovers, particularly cats, and she loathes zoos. We love seeing wildlife in its natural habitat and Botswana’s game parks aren’t as crowded as in Tanzania and South Africa. Botswana features four huge national parks: Moremi Game Reserve, not only home of the Big Five but also one of the last Africa wild dog refuges and the endangered black rhino; Chobe National Park, crawling with elephants; Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the second largest in the world; and Savuti National Park, stark and off the beaten path, perfect for curious and adaptable wildlife.

Asturias is a lightly trodden region of northwest Spain. Reddit photo

Asturias, Spain

This was one of four trips cancelled this year. Iberia gave us until the end of 2021 to reschedule anywhere they fly at the same price but we’re sticking with this stretch along Spain’s northwest coast. We were based in Gijon, the region’s biggest city that has gone from industrial to cosmopolitan. A facelift has provided pedestrian streets and seafront promenades. It also provides easy car access to charming fishing villages east and west of it. In July and August people flock to its 200 beaches. Photos make it look like Mallorca. We planned an April trip. June sounds good next year.

Germany’s Black Forest is littered with spas and hiking trails. Hand Luggage Only photo

Black Forest, Germany

Another aborted trip we plan on reviving, we found a four-star spa about 60 miles southwest of Stuttgart, in the heart of Germany’s lush Black Forest. This area  has a wellness tradition dating back to the 1800s. Indoor pool. Massage. Pampering. Right outside the door are hiking paths all through the woods. Plus, nothing beats a German sausage and sauerkraut with a heavy stein of German beer. 

Rovaniemi has tried to replicate Santa Claus’ hometown. Santaclausvillageinfo photo

Rovaniemi, Finland

This remains on our 2020 bucket list but that has been through the shredder and we can’t even see the name anymore. We’re planning a Christmas trip to the mythical home of Santa Claus. Ever see those drawings, paintings and Hollywood reenactments of Santa’s village? That’s Rovaniemi. Located 500 miles north of Helsinki, it is a winter wonderland featuring sleighs through the snow-covered forest, saunas and cute A-framed dwellings with snow coming up through the chimney. Yes, I’m still a sucker for romance. I’m still a sucker for Christmas.

The view of Holy Trinity Church high in Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains.

Republic of Georgia

Two places I must return to with Marina. This is one of them. This former Soviet republic is my most underrated country in the world. It has mountains that make the Alps look like tenement buildings. Fantastic hiking trails all over the country. The capital of Tbilisi is vibrant with a hopping party scene, a huge square surrounded by outdoor restaurants and bars and a fascinating history. Plus, it has international renowned wine and cuisine. Ooh, I am dying for khachapuri and a glass of Kindzmarauli. She’d love Georgia. I always will.

Jeddah’s promenade is a great place to catch the sunset and locals.

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

It was my favorite part of my February trip. White Sands Beach, although carrying a $40 entry fee, is one of the prettiest, unspoiled beaches I’ve ever been on. The city has a 19-mile boardwalk lined with palm trees and locals sitting around socializing as the blood-red sun sets. It blends old Islam traditions with a tropical beach vibe that hints of San Diego with mosques. Plus, the gateway to Mecca has always been open to outsiders. With Prince Mohammed bin Salman slooooowly opening the country a little more, the locals are friendly and open to swap cultural tales. Marina is dying to go.

 


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