New Zealand imposes mandatory 14-day quarantine on all international passengers

When I read that headline, I was relieved.

Let me tell you why.

Back in December sometime during Christmas, there was talk with my travel buddies to plan for another road trip. They wanted to go somewhere, anywhere, for a road trip during the first half of 2020. I tentatively agreed to the idea at first despite an anticipated busy work schedule in the first 4 months of 2020, especially April. I suggested May, but it was a little too late for some of them. We then agreed on end of March, since I had a small window of opportunity to go for a road trip, before a flurry of activity awaited in the office upon coming back from the holiday leading to the month of April.

We were discussing where to go and I suggested New Zealand, which none of them had gone to, except me. I was not overly enthusiastic about going there again, but I didn’t mind at all, since New Zealand is such a beautiful country and enjoying the sights and nature will definitely do me more good than harm by getting away from work and allows me de-stress a little before April arrives.

At that point in December, nothing was set in stone yet as we couldn’t nail down the exact dates where all of us could take time off to embark on a road trip to New Zealand. We then agreed to confirm and meet again to plan our itinerary sometime right after Chinese New Year, toward the end of January.

At that point in time, news of the Coronavirus hadn’t caught on yet (despite the fact that the earliest infections recorded could have been as early as November 2019, but no one new that it was a novel Coronavirus). It was the week leading up to Chinese New Year, when multiple news agencies picked up various reports coming from China that a mysterious new virus has been seen spreading in Hubei province. The news caught on like wildfire, with the situation in China rapidly changing on a daily basis.

I remember at that time, China moved swiftly to impose travel restrictions around the country and began imposing total lockdown in various parts of Hubei province. The authorities in China were serious. They knew something serious and bad was happening in Wuhan. The situation wasn’t any better when it took place during the Chinese New Year period, where the movement of people is at its maximum throughout China. Soon, Singapore and the surrounding region in close proximity to China received confirmation that the virus has arrived in the countries from people arriving from China.

When that happened I had the gut feeling that this was going to get worse. It was a new, unknown virus. We don’t know how easily it can spread, its mortality rate and the symptoms one can get when one is infected. A lot of unknowns were hung up in the air, as thousands get infected every day in China. I had to be the party pooper and told my friends that I no longer felt safe to travel during this period because of the developments in China. I told them to wait and see and put our trip on hold.

Fast forward roughly two months from the moment I backed out from the planned trip, and we are now seeing over 160 000 infections all around the world. Europe is the new epicentre in the virus spread and part of the second wave of infections after China successfully managed to contain the spread from within their borders. Now the number of infected worldwide is increasing again at an exponential rate. Countries all over the world are imposing travel restrictions against one another and Singapore and New Zealand are no exception. Despite the fact that Singapore has largely been successful in containing the outbreak and minimising local transmissions and that New Zealand has only detect 8 people with the virus, given that the disease is now a pandemic, it is natural that New Zealand needs to protect itself from import cases coming from places like China, South Korea, the EU and the USA. So they impose mandatory quarantine on all international travellers.

Looking back, I was right in following my gut feeling in not moving ahead with the itinerary planning and all the flight and hotel bookings bookings, as the trip would have been impossible given the travel restriction New Zealand has just imposed today on all international travellers. I feel relieved that I did not have to go through high levels of anxiety regarding my upcoming trip to New Zealand, if all our accommodations and flight arrangements been made back in January.

Moroccan Adventure Part III: In and Around Rabat

We had a couple of days in Rabat. After driving from Casablanca, we arrived in Rabat sometime in the mid-afternoon. Our riad was in the medina. We had two problems. First, was to find a suitable parking lot to park our rented car that was not too far off from our accommodation. This is because we had luggage to lug around and we did not want to lug our luggage at great distances over unfamiliar territory. Second, we had to navigate through the bustling medina to our riad, hoping not to get hopelessly lost along the way.

I remembered having to circle around the medina several times because I kept missing the turn that led to a potential parking area to park our car. I kept driving the same coastal road again and again, which I did not mind actually since the coastal road was beautiful, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The weather was bright and sunny with almost no clouds in the sky. It was a beautiful day.

When we finally found a parking lot, we made our way on foot. We only had a vague address and the GPS coordinates on Google Maps showed the way on foot to our riad. The riad is unlike any hotel that we have ever stayed, not the ones where they prominently display the name of the hotel in big letters outside the buildings. The riad, like a traditional house, can resemble many riads in the surround areas in the medina. So finding them can be quite a challenge.

In the end, after about navigating for the better part of the hour, we finally made it. It was beautiful. Upon entering the Riad and into the inner courtyard, we were treated to a nice little fountain in the middle of a courtyard and a small reception off to the side for guests to check in. I remember the welcome reception, warm and friendly. Free wifi and beverages were served upon entering and after filling out a form for guests to check in, we were shown to our rooms. Madu the resident cat, simply looked at us in disdain. In her eyes, we were just another guest.

My friend on the second floor of the riad that we were staying in Rabat.
The fountain in the middle of the inner courtyard with the small reception area for guests to check in.

Our rooms were on the first floor. It was actually two rooms, one on the left and one on the right with a shared main door. directly in front of the main door was another door containing the shared bathroom. The bedrooms were on the mezzanine level, not quite second floor but there is a staircase in the room leading up to the bedrooms.

The rooms were cosy, if not a little bit spartan. Everything was new to us so we were not complaining. After putting our luggage down, we explored the riad. We had access to the roof and it was gorgeous, with plush cushions and chairs to lounge around in the evening and night. The rooftop also offered great views and the sounds from the hustle and bustle of the Rabat Medina can be heard.

Rabat Medina and The Bou Rougreg river.

We had a few of daylight and made this opportunity to explore the Medina. By now, we were familiar to the sights and sounds of the medina. The crowd, the shops, the street food. It was a feast for the senses.

We made our way to the Bou Rougreg river, just outside the Medina. The river overlooks the Kasbah of the Udayas. A kasbah is essentially a fort, or a keep or a walled old city. There are numerous kasbahs all over Morocco. Some well-preserved, like the Kasbah of the Udayas. Others in the more rural parts of the country, are largely abandoned and in disrepair, when the family that owned the land and the structure for generations, could either no longer pay of the upkeep of such a sprawling building or no one within the family has offered to stay in such a building and left for the cities.

Bou Rougreg river.
Fishing boats along the river.

Along the river, we saw locals fishing and fishermen repairing their nets, locals and tourists alike strolling and just enjoying the sunset, taking picture sand selfies. There were also makeshift food stalls dotted all over the place, selling roasted peanuts and cotton candy, popular among the kids.

We got hungry and started looking for a good restaurant to eat.

We came across Dar El Medina Restaurant that Google Maps recommended to us. Its inside the Medina, but we did not know how to get there. Upon reaching the general area of the restaurant, we were met with various dead ends. We simply couldn’t find the entrance to the restaurant. I remember a random boy approaching us and asking us if we were finding Dar El Medina. We told him yes, and he simply led us to the restaurants.

Tasty! The vegetables are to die for!

One of the most fascinating things about the Medina and the locals living inside one is that they seem to know where they are going. As far as I could recall, there were hardly any formal signs and street names for the numerous alleyways inside the medina. It’s just one gigantic labyrinth. I guess you need to live your whole life in the medina, just like the locals do to really know your way around the medina.

Andalusian Garden and The Kasbah of the Udayas.

We made our way to the Kasbah of Udayas, but not before checking out the Andalusian Garden. Its a well tended garden at the foot of the Kasbah. We were there in the morning and the ait was clean and fresh. There were a lot of cats around the gardens, a number of them kittens and they did not seem to mind humans. We headed to Cafe Maure, a gorgeous cafe situated on the cliff side on the river’s edge and overlooking the Kasbah of the Udayas situated at the top of the hill. It was a gorgeous place to chill and have coffee. We had some sweet treats and interesting pastries along with our coffee and played with a couple of cats that sauntered past us from time to time.

Mint Tea in the morning. Superb start to the day.

The Kasbah of the Udayas is a World Heritage Site. The oldest structure in the kasbah is a mosque, dating back to the 10th century. In the alleyways, the buildings in the kasbah were primarily painted blue, great for selfies and Instagram worthy shots. Souvenir and artisanal shops including art galleries dotted the place. At the top of the kasbah, we were treated to scenic views of the river and the ocean. The place had this Dubrovnik vibe to it. For a moment it felt like you were in King’s Landing from The Game of Thrones.

Strong Game of Thrones vibe.
The Kasbah of the Udayas in the background.

Hassan Tower and Chellah

Hassan Tower and Chellah were two other popular tourist attractions in Rabat that we checked out. Hassan Tower is particularly interesting for me because it was supposed to be a mosque but it was never completed. Therefore, all you see are the half-built minaret, which was supposed to be the largest minaret if completed and the 384 columns that were left behind in different states of completion.

Hassan Tower.

Despite it being half built and abandoned, it is a very interesting site. I could appreciate the potential for this place to house the world’s largest mosque if it had been completed in the 12 century. It could have been majestic in its own right. But alas, it the project was never completed. The site also housed the modern Mausoleum of Mohammed V, on the opposite end of Hassan Tower. It contains the tombs of the Moroccan king and his two sons. It is a beautiful white building featuring architectural features of the Alaouite dynasty with green tiled roof, representing the color of Islam.

Chellah is a Muslim necropolis, which was previously occupied by Roman settlers. The influences of Muslim occupation and Roman settlers made this site really unique. You can see ruined mosques with minarets erected on the site, and royal tombs now no longer occupied. On top of it all, you can ancient Roman architecture among the ruins. I have seen such Roman ruins while I was travelling to Turkey, Tunisia and I have always loved such sites. It is full of history.

Chellah with the minaret, now home to a number of storks’ nest.

I miss Iceland

Two weeks in, and I already miss Iceland.

Kirkjufell. One of the most iconic mountain in the Snæfellsnes peninsula. This is taken during the autumn season, where the snow hasn’t really arrive yet, but the chilly winds is enough to chill you to the bones!

There is something magical about this island, this country, the land of Ice and Fire. It’s more than just the beauty this land offers. It’s something raw, more primal. It’s the raw Mother Nature you come face to face while you are there that really pulls you in.

My most favourite shot I have ever taken during my trip to Iceland. Dettifoss waterfall, one of the biggest in Iceland. The fact that you can come to close to the river bank, just before the sheer drop is mind blowing!

Will I go to Iceland for the third time? Definitely! It’s just a matter of when. There is a million things to do, a million places to explore in a totally different season. It’s a country that keeps on giving. And you will never be disappointed.

Gulfoss. I had the opportunity to get close to the waterfall as compared to the winter season when I was there 3 years ago when the slippery snowy pathway made it dangerous to get closer. My life is complete, now that I was able to get close to the edge of the waterfall.
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. A nice stroll along a fault line that separates the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate.
Snæfellsnes peninsula is absolutely beautiful. I personally feel that it is one place most people tend to overlook. For travellers going in the anti-clockwise direction from Reykjavík, most people tend to hurriedly whiz past this place to return to the city after a circuitous route. But if you take time to explore this place, you will be well rewarded.
This lighthouse really adds a dramatic effect on the landscape.
There were a lot less glacier in the autumn then it was during winter. Nevertheless, this little spot is breathtaking. It’s a good place to reflect on the raw beauty of Mother Nature and how fragile it can be from the effects of climate change.
I will never forget the first time I hiked on a glacier. It’s out of this world! Now, fast-forward three years later, I hiked on the same glacier, but with a different guide and it was still out of this world! I believe that for anyone who had the opportunity to hike on a glacier, you will immediately appreciate how vulnerable they are to the effects of climate change. All we need is just a shift in perspective to make us care for the environment just a little bit more. Thanks Aaron for guiding us around!

To view the complete album, please visit this Link.

Iceland in Autumn 2019

Road 901. Perhaps the most scenic and beautiful road I have driven in this trip to Iceland. A light winter’s touch topped with a sprinkling of light snow throughout the landscape made this place surreal as if straight out of a fairy tale. Shot on the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

In 2016, I went on an adventure of a lifetime. My friends and I embarked on a road trip to Iceland, in the middle of winter no less.

None of us had any experience with snow or wintry conditions, much less driving in such an environment. It was a perilous journey driving the entire circumference of Iceland. But we saw many things for the first time and it opened up our eyes to the mighty force of nature. I was enthralled. By the end of the trip, Iceland has filled a special place in my heart. I made a secret promise to myself to visit Iceland again in the near future, perhaps in a different season, where the landscape is completely different.

Fast forward 4 years to 2019, and I was back. This time, I embarked on the same journey but with my parents. It was their first time to Iceland and we went during the fall season. Driving without snow on the road was much easier. The weather was more forgiving compared to the full onslaught of winter my friends and I experienced back in 2016.

Everything was different. I barely recognise some of the places that I previously visited. I had the chance to see more things, travel to more places, places that were previously inaccessible due to wintry weather. While the journey was familiar, the memories formed were new. Not once did I get bored during the trip. Iceland truly fills a special place in my heart. Iceland just keeps on giving. It’s a country that really ignites your sense of adventure, your sense of curiosity and your sense of wonderment. Whether you are on foot or behind the wheel, there is always this intense urge to go a little further and see what is behind that next hill, mountain, or ridge. There is no end to satiating your appetite to explore everything Iceland had to offer.

But alas, time is your biggest enemy, there is only so much you can explore and discover with the limited time you have. That is why I am so blessed to be given the opportunity to go back to Iceland after 4 years and experience new things.

Dettifoss. Such a mighty waterfall and the fact that you can walk up so close, right up to the river bank AND the edge of the cliff before the drop was a mind- blowing experience. Dettifoss was something I couldn’t experience back in 2016, but with milder weather, it was accessible this time round. Even then, the road to reach Dettifoss was full of potholes. It was the bumpiest 30 minute drive ever in Iceland. I can see why it is very difficult to reach the waterfall during winter. The road condition to reach Dettifoss is really bad. Shot on the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Overall, my parents enjoyed the trip. I guess there were some parts of the trip that was a little bit too taxing, physically. I wish they could walk a little further, withstand the cold a little bit longer and just appreciate the beauty of Iceland. But I don’t resent them. They experienced more than they initially bargained. After all, Iceland can be an unforgiving place. Unpredictable weather, freezing temperatures, strong winds, all can sap their energy quickly. But I can see that they were willing to push themselves a little bit more so that they can see more of Iceland for my sake.

So will I ever go back to Iceland in the not so distant future? Hell yeah! Third time’s the charm right? But the bigger question is; what am I going to do while I am there for the third time?

Seljalandfoss. It’s a beautiful waterfall, made even more beautiful by the fact that you can walk behind the it. I didn’t had the chance back in 2016 because the trail behind the waterfall was dangerous and slippery. You will get wet, but that is what’s fun about this waterfall. Shot on iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Well, I think that if I were to truly plan my next trip to Iceland in the near future, it will definitely be during the summer season. I will drive less in Iceland and instead focus more on experiencing the beautiful hiking trails around the country. I will like to go for day hikes, see the sights where it is only accessible on foot. And it will be much safer during the summer as there will be more people on the hiking trails.

And I really look forward to the day of going back to Iceland for the third time.

Going to Iceland, again!

So shit just got real. Previously me and my dad were just casually discussing about going on a trip to Iceland. Obviously I went there with my friends 3 years ago in February of 2016. It was full on winter. Super cold and the snowy landscape was just drop dead gorgeous. Of course, the landscape changes with the seasons. Winter looks totally different as compared to summer.

This year, my family and I are going to Iceland in October. Autumn! Just as the seasons are beginning to change, but not fully snowy yet. It’s going to be a dramatic change for me going there again, I might not even recognise some of the places that we would be going!

Today, we just booked our tickets to Copenhagen, Denmark, before making our way to Reykjavik, Iceland. It is the same flight itinerary that me and my friends went. I don’t mind at all. I like Copenhagen and its an easy city to navigate at just the right size that is within walking distances to major sights within the city. It’s going to be an easy for my parents as well. As for the time of the year we are going to Iceland. It’s near freezing at times, but not overly cold like the last time we went, where temperatures can plummet to -20C! That is too much for my parents to handle. Going in October should be just nice for time to enjoy the mossy green landscape with a scattering of snow and ice at upper elevations.

We are going to self drive again, but this time a couple of days shorter. We will see how that will turn out this time round. We will be spending a bit more time in Copenhagen as compared to my last trip. This is a good opportunity for me to explore a little bit more around the city and perhaps beyond.

I so psyched!

Iceland Adventure Day 0

Planning for this Grand Adventure began more than 6 months ago.

Back then, we were throwing around ideas on our next big holiday. The Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Greenland) often came up during our almost weekly discussions over dinner meet ups. At that point of time, we weren’t very keen due to the costs involved, but after exploring other viable options and seeing them as neither attractive nor interesting, it started to become clear that we might eventually end up there for our next adventure. One of the main reasons why we chose that region of the world was the chance to see the Northern Lights. We all agreed that seeing the Northern Lights has always been in our bucket list. Sweden, Norway, and Finland were prime candidates to see such a magical event. We also decided to do a road trip in one of those countries, renting a car and just driving from town to town, soaking in the beautiful sights and natural wonders that these nordic countries had to offer. But to drive during winter can be a little bit of a challenge in those countries. Short daylight hours in the northernmost part of those countries weren’t ideal for a road trip. Plummeting freezing temperatures were another issue. And simply chasing Northern Lights alone at the expense of everything else would not make our trip enjoyable in the long run. Furthermore, these countries are huge. It is simply too vast of a distance to cover thoroughly by car, especially when travelling a circuitous route to end up where you began.

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Signalling all those concerns, Iceland quickly fell into our sight. And so, in the subsequent weeks, we began researching more about Iceland and what it had to offer. The more we researched, the more we were satisfied that Iceland might meet our holiday “objectives”. And those objectives were to see the Northern Lights, go on a road trip during winter, and experience the Nordic climate during our stay without much logistical challenges. The primary goal however, was to experience something out of this world. To come back with memories worth sharing, and cherishing it for years to come.

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Going on a road trip means renting a car, planning our route and staying at guesthouses, hotels, or farmstays at different parts of country. We decided to make our lives a little simpler. We approached Nordic Visitor, a very reputable tour agency to help us plan our adventure based on what we want to do and where we want to go. We chose a simple 10-day self-drive tour package with some customisations on our own. In the package, they would provide the rented car, help us book all the accommodations, issue a printed itinerary, a comprehensive travel map, an emergency phone, a 24-hour hotline and even include personal pickup and drop-off at the airport and our first accommodation. Everything would be arranged for us in the most professional way. What really drew us to Nordic Visitor was the ability to truly customise the itinerary to fit us. We planned to travel around Iceland for 13 days and do a couple of outdoor activities. Nordic visitor was generous enough to modify the original itinerary to suit us and they did it all without fuss, adding a couple of days stay here and there during our stay, helping us book our glacier and ice-cave tours with the outdoor tour companies well in advance. Everything was sorted through email and they were professional and prompt in their responses to any queries we had prior to committing to the tour.

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And soon we realise it was just a month before our grand adventure would begin. Four weeks became three. Three became two. Packing lists were created, insurances bought, flights finalised, camera gear checked and ready to shoot. Passports ready. All of a sudden, in a blink of an eye, in the midst of all the preparation and the anticipation, it was time for us to go.