Travel tales that inspire adventure

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From dining in exotic locations to dancing to a different beat in far-off places, travel writers experience the globe in wonderous ways. Here they share some of their most memorable experiences – experiences to inspire every style of sightseer.

Nina Karnikowski dances the night away in Addis Ababa

Sunrays at sunrise over an orthodox church in 
Addis Ababa.

Sunrays at sunrise over an orthodox church in Addis Ababa. Photo: Shutterstock

It wasn't what we had planned for our first night in Ethiopia. With a plane to catch early the next morning to Lalibela, where we would celebrate Orthodox Christmas alongside hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, we had planned an early night to bed. And yet there we were, in the capital of Addis Ababa at 10pm, arriving at one of hottest bars in town.

At dinner earlier that night, we had met a group of locals who insisted we absolutely could not leave Addis Ababa without experiencing an azmari bet, where the country's bewitching Ethio-jazz is performed. Knowing that the best travel experiences often happen when we surrender our carefully crafted plans, we accepted their invitation to Fendika Azmari Bet.

Walking through the battered red tin doors, we were greeted by a local woman wrapped in white Ethiopian cotton, who was serving small cups of Ethiopia's thick, rich coffee and burning fragrant frankincense. Turning the corner, we found ourselves inside an enormous Bedouin tent where straw covered the floor, traditional textiles adorned the walls and an open fire blazed in the adjoining courtyard. On stage, an Ethio-jazz band played while local performers danced wildly, shaking their shoulders and popping their bodies as chunky silver jewellery clanked against their chests. We ordered glasses of local tejhoney wine and joined them, dancing for hours on end and forgetting all about our early morning flight.

No, it wasn't what we had planned for our first night in Ethiopia, but it was infinitely better than anything we could have imagined. And it served as a potent reminder that actually, being swept away by a completely unexpected experience is where the juice of travel really lies.

Storm watching in Canada with Brian Johnston

Walking along MacKenzie Beach on the Tofino coastline

Walking along MacKenzie Beach on the Tofino coastline Photo: © Tourism BC

I had an exhilarating experience on the west coast of Vancouver Island in Canada that changed my view of beaches as indolent, sun-soaked travel destinations. Here, where the Trans-Canada Highway finally peters out against a backdrop of snowy mountains, you'll find tiny fishing and logging town Tofino, where visitors come to whale-watch, hike among red cedars and sitka spruce, and walk the beaches – though they yearn not for blue skies but black clouds.

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Tofino is one of the world's best storm-watching destinations, especially in winter. The perfect holiday weather sees howling winds, a moody sky and huge breakers roll in from the chilly North Pacific Ocean, spitting spray over jagged rocks and the thrill-seekers who battle their way along the beaches. Chesterman Beach is the most magnificent, storm-tossed with tree trunks, pounded by surf and backed by a forest of ancient cedars that sway and groan. You can feel the sand tremble beneath your boots as surf crashes. You'll appreciate the wild glory of nature and the tempestuous beauty of winter weather. Even better, though, you can retire afterwards to the Wickaninnish Inn, a luxury lodge that clings to the rocks and has cathedral windows in its gourmet restaurant, splattered in salt spray. Heave off your wet-weather gear, let your fingertips tingle in front of the fire, and reward yourself with a warming whiskey.

Ute Junker swims with a sea lion in the Galapagos

Swimming with sea lions at  the Galapagos Islands.

Swimming with sea lions at the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Shutterstock

Up-close animal encounter don't come better than in the Galapagos Islands. You can sit a metre or two away from a pair of waved Albatross doing an intricate mating dance, get within spitting distance – literally – of marine iguanas, or lumber up to a giant tortoise. But nothing tops my memory of swimming with a sea lion in the equatorial waters of the island archipelago.

It was the sea lion that started it. While a group of its friends frolicked nearby, this one - a good-sized specimen, well over a metre long – was clearly curious about the two-legged intruders. The fearless creature had no hesitation in checking me out. After swimming around me, it decided to show off its acrobatic repertoire. Gracefully tumbling through a series of somersaults, then speeding towards the seafloor, before lazily corkscrewing its way back to me. Putting on another burst of speed, the sea lion skimmed underneath me, almost grazing my stomach, before finally popping its head up. I swear it had a grin on its face.

Floating side-by-side, the challenge was clear. The sea lion wanted to see what I could do. I gestured at it helplessly; there was no way I could compete. I did a duck dive and swam back up, clearly I was outclassed. This wonder of the water put on another show, demonstrating a few more smooth moves, before swimming away, leaving me delirious with delight.

Ben Groundwater and the art of sushi

A chef making sushi in Tokyo.

A chef making sushi in Tokyo. Photo: Shutterstock

This is art. You can't help but believe that as you watch the way the sushi master works, as you consider the deft stroke of his razor-sharp knife blade, as you see the way rice is molded with the subtle squeeze of his hand, as you watch the grace with which the seafood is draped across it, the almost dainty brushstrokes as sauce is added, and the reverence with which the finished morsel is placed in front of you.

Such creativity, it almost seems wrong to eat it. It seems such a shame that all of that dedication and talent will be devoured in just a single mouthful, savoured, enjoyed, and then gone. But the chef is already working on the next bite. The knife is out, the rice is handy. The cycle is beginning again.

This is the lively experience of eating sushi at a high-end Tokyo diner Kyubey. It bears no relevance whatsoever to the conveyor-belt sushi you've eaten in the past. This is art, pure and simple, the elevation of just a few ingredients to a whole different stratosphere of dining.

Kyubey is a well-known sushi bar at the higher end of the scale, though it's certainly not the city's most famous (a meal here costs about $100 – some of the best charge five times that amount). Still, the experience of sitting at the wooden counter and watching the chef at work here is phenomenal. The skill. The passion. The obvious dedication, as bite after bite is served, each morsel thoughtfully conceived and lovingly created. For anyone who loves food, this is the pinnacle. This is art.

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