It seems that everyone these days has a bucket list, full of grand plans (usually travel-related) like hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or seeing the moai of Easter Island or going on safari. And don’t get me wrong, those are great — I can say this with confidence because I’ve already done all of those things I just mentioned. But I can’t help but wonder at all the things people put on their bucket list and then never accomplish. To me, a bucket list is something that I absolutely have to do before I die. So for this reason, I keep my bucket list short so as not to stack the odds against myself. I have only about a half dozen things on my bucket list: go to Madagascar (number one!!), see Cat Stevens play live (check!), meet David Attenborough (check!), kiss a sloth, and visit a live volcano — I’d like to get some magma on a stick, just to see what it’s like.
Far longer and less critical to me is the list I keep of Things I’d Like to Do Someday. These are all the things I’d like to do, places I want to see, experiences I want to feel. If the opportunity arises I will jump at the chance to organize any one of these adventures; but if I die before completing any other one of them, I won’t feel too bad about it. (Also I’ll be dead, which will help.) In no particular order, here’s my pseudo-bucket list:
1. Stay at the Palacio de Sal in Bolivia
The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and a striking landscape of grim, colorless land interrupted here and there by towers of salt piled up by the people who export the area’s only commodity. The Palacio de Sal is a hotel constructed entirely of salt — not just the shell of walls and roof and floor, but also the furniture and sculptures within. Living in a mineral world doesn’t mean you have to give up your basic creature comforts, however; the hotel’s 30 rooms all come with private bathroom, hot running water, heating and free wi-fi.
2. Visit Astana, capital of Kazakhstan
I don’t remember where I first came across the surreal photo of Kazakhstan’s new capital, but at the time it seemed that I was looking at an image from some futuristic movie. It turns out that it is real but also, true to my first impression, surreal. The capital of Kazakhstan was moved in 1997 from Almaty and the new capital was re-christened Astana. With government buildings designed by some of the most influential architects and planners in the world, the result is an open plan of symmetrical skyscrapers, vivid green pillars, and a new, imposing palace anchoring the space across from the sun tower. Rumors of occult symbolism and illuminati influence add to the mysterious appeal.
3. Horseback riding through Patagonia
At some point fairly recently I came across the website of XO Private, an upscale company organizing luxury tours and exclusive experiences. There were a few things that piqued my interest in their online catalog — all of which are firmly out of my middle-class grasp — but one in particular caught my eye: a group of seasoned equestrians touring the wild Argentine landscape of Patagonia’s lake district. I wouldn’t call myself a seasoned equestrian by any means, but I grew up riding horses and active in 4-H, and I feel this adventure could be possible if I dusted off my horse skills and booked a lower-end trek.
4. Hot air ballooning over Cappadocia
Okay, every one has seen and heard of this a thousand times. Nothing new or off-the-beaten path here, just a breathtaking experience over a stunning landscape. I went hot air ballooning once before, over the deserts of Namibia — which I also recommend, if you ever get the chance — but it’s something I’d love to do again in another place and time. The place is the wild natural rock formations called fairy chimneys, and the time is TBD.
5. Sailing around the Greek isles
I’m not much for water-based adventures, and I can’t even really swim, but there’s something I find so charming about the idea of taking out a catamaran for a couple days of island-hopping in the Mediterranean. Visiting tiny uninhabited islands, discovering pristine white-sand beaches, of course there would be champagne . . . when do we start?!
6. Track snow leopards in Bhutan
When I do finally get to Madagascar, and I will, I’ll be using the services of a remarkable British tour company called Natural World Safaris. They organized a stellar safari experience for me in Namibia and, with a focus on conservation and responsible tourism, I know I can trust my visit to the delicate ecosystem of Madagascar to be a positive one. Another one of their treks which caught my eye was a trip to Bhutan to track the elusive and endangered snow leopard. I have serious doubts about my ability to withstand the frigid conditions, but with the right cold-weather gear it just may be possible!
7. Eat at Noma in Copenhagen
It could be said that I have champagne tastes on a lemonade budget, but dining at what has consistently been rated the best restaurant in the world is something I’m willing to save for, and then splurge on. It may cost me four months’ rent (not including flights), and it may be over in the course of a single evening, but some experiences are worth the sacrifice no matter how fleeting, and I’m willing to bet a dinner at Noma is one of them.
8. Visit Tristan da Cunha, the world’s most remote inhabited island
I have a fascination with remote and far-flung places, corners of the world that few people have heard of and fewer people have seen. Tristan da Cunha certainly fits the bill, with its year-round population of a mere 259 stoic souls who weather the occasional volcanic eruption or extratropical cyclone to farm and fish in isolation. Having no airport, the island can only be reached by an old fashioned, six-day boat journey from Cape Town. I can’t imagine any better way to go off the grid.
9. See the birds of paradise of Papua New Guinea
Many of my trips past and future center around wildlife and in particular birdwatching, a favorite hobby of mine. The fascinating and exotic island of Papua New Guinea has been on my radar for some time for the unparalleled sighting opportunities here; sharing top billing with some 41 species of bird-of-paradise, with their extravagant and ostentatious displays of plumage, are a plethora of endemic animals such as the spotted cuscus and short-beaked echidna. I’ll be needing extra memory cards for this one!
10. Dine at Le Jules Verne restaurant inside the Eiffel Tower
Back in civilization, there’s no need to sacrifice a sense of wonder and adventure akin to that you’ll find in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Located on the second story of the Eiffel Tower, sporting a Michelin star and under the aegis of Alain Ducasse, this is iconic French dining in the most iconic French location. Of course, you won’t have a view of the Eiffel Tower while you’re dining, but you’ll have something better: a six-course prix fixe with optional wine pairing.
11. Watch a space shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral
Continuing with the Verne theme, while I don’t feel confident enough in the advances of commercial space travel to start dreaming of it (yet!), I would at least like to see a shuttle launch at the Kennedy Space Center. This one shouldn’t be too hard, as they publicly advertise their rocket launch schedule and offer guided tours including launch viewings. I just have to hope that a Republican doesn’t take office in 2016 and cancel the entire space program altogether before I can get down there.
12. Meet President Obama
And while I’m inflaming everyone with my politics, I’m just going to leave this one here.
13. Dine at the oldest restaurant in the world
The St. Peter Stiftskeller in Salzburg, Austria claims to be the oldest restaurant in Europe and likely in the world — and evidently has the documentation to prove it, although I can’t verify this myself. Don’t expect to be dining in a dank and crumbling catacomb; the Stiftskeller offers a seat under the venerated arches of the dining room or outdoor on the bright and cheery patio. I can’t think of a better example of the word establishment. Though not cheap, a little research indicates that a meal here won’t set me back four figures, so this one shouldn’t be hard to check off should I ever find myself in Austria.
14. A visit to the World’s Quietest Room
I wasn’t going to add this one but I didn’t want to end the list on unlucky 13 so I thought I’d give you guys a bonus, and one that’s a little different from most of the others. I read an article a year or two ago about the Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis. This research center has built a room that is certified by the good people of the Guinness Record Book as being the quietest room in the world. I won’t go into the construction details because the really fascinating part is what happens when someone finds themselves inside this room: the utter and absolute lack of sound causes people to become extremely disoriented and uncomfortable. Most people can’t last longer than about twenty minutes inside the room, which is about 40 decibels quieter than an average library. I don’t expect I’ll fare any better, but it sounds like a fascinating experience.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, wishlist, or bucket list adventures — share them below!