The Favourites of Jan Hiebert

Canadian traveller Jan Hiebert shares her favourites with EveryCountryInThe

How many countries have you been to?

63 purposely travelled through/to.
64 including Slovakia, but I had randomly jumped on a bus and it brought me there, and I left that evening.
66 if you include autonomous regions.
69 if you include crossing over the border momentarily while experiencing another country, driving through to get to another country or stopover in the airport for copious amounts of wait time.

How many days have you approximately travelled?

Roughly 985 days

What are three of your favourite countries and why?

The Philippines
The people! Kind, generous, welcoming, beautiful souls. The absolutely stunning landscape/beauty. I am a sucker for that piercing, clear blue, the colour of the ocean- northern Palawan is just indescribable. Everywhere looks like a postcard.

I am generally drawn to the ocean when travelling, but this landlocked country packed a punch for me. There were so many incredible things to do; between heading south to the salt flats, heading north to the Amazon basin, activities in La Paz like Cholita wrestling, and facing unknown adventures like mountain biking down the Death Road. Every second in this country was awesome.

Life-changing. The countries I travelled through in Africa were all life-changing, but Tanzania gave me a lot of “green moments.” Like those, wow I cannot believe I’m here doing this right now, moments. Wildlife, Zanzibar Island, people, food, scenery, life perspective as a Canadian citizen. Many wow moments.

I’d feel not right about not including Australia, as I was there for a whole year. Besides South East Asia, that was my first taste of real-world independence. I experienced a lot of firsts there, in terms of my travelling experiences. It was the place where I decided I would be a lifelong traveller, not just a vacationer.

Are there any countries you don’t enjoy travelling?

There were a few countries I didn’t give a chance to, like Slovakia. I’m sure I would have found something amazing had I spent some time there. I’ve had unsafe circumstances in a few countries, been very sick in lots of countries, but I don’t think I can say there is somewhere I didn’t like. I guess if I had to choose, Bulgaria wasn’t my absolute favourite, but that may have been because I was excited to get to Turkey and Greece.

What are three of your favourite cities and why?

Bangkok, Thailand
There is something so familiar about this city, even though it is so different from where I live. You can wander for hours and find the most eclectic and interesting things. Food stalls, the party life, temples, interesting people. Something for everyone.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I’ve never been to a street party quite like the one I attended in Rio de Janeiro until 6 am. It just seems like such a vibrant city. I love beaches too. I know it is considered a dangerous city, but for some reason, I felt safe there.

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The dream was to always go and see the Opera House. Spending Christmas and New Years here was quite the experience. Another, pinch me, I’ve seen this place a million times in magazines and on the internet, and now I’m here. Lively nightlife, cool areas, excellent beaches. Easy to travel and lots to do and see.

What are three of your favourite hotels or places you’ve stayed and why?

Old Firestation Backpackers Hostel – Freemantle, Australia
I lived here for roughly 5 months, using it as a base for my travels in western Australia. The people were incredible, felt like a family. It was on top of an Indian restaurant so we had access to some of the best Indian cuisine I’ve ever tasted. There was always something going on there, and the people who stayed there often stayed for months at a time, as I did. Was just a really great and fun atmosphere. The number one best place I’ve ever stayed in all of my travels.

Hilton in Manila
Great service, comfortable beds (we didn’t sleep on a comfortable bed the entire time in the Philipinnes), excellent food. Very fancy for my tastes, but they didn’t make us feel like outsiders even though we had huge backpacks on our backs.

Radeka Downunder Underground Backpackers and Motel – Coober Pedy, Central Australia
Unlike anywhere I’ve ever stayed before. Coober Pedy is world renown for Opal mining. So they have made hotels and hostels underground (also because it easily reaches into the mid 50s degrees Celcius there, so it’s a great way to keep cool). A very unique experience. One I have remembered for 15 years.

What are the three worst places you’ve stayed?

I don’t generally stay in my room/hotel for very long. I use it to change and sleep. So I don’t think I can comment on my worst places. Or I have selectively forgotten my bad experiences, lol. I’ve stayed in many dives, but I don’t generally write them down, or stay too long there. One place in Northern Laos, about 15 years ago was an overnight stop on the slow boat trek. We were on our way to Luang Prabang. It was $1/night Canadian. There were rats and cockroaches. It was not pleasant. I couldn’t recall the name of it if I tried, or the village it was in for that matter. It was the only option to sleep. Thank goodness for a mozzie net, we felt somewhat protected.

What are three of your favourite restaurants and why?

The Carnivore Restaurant – Nairobi, Kenya
Unique experience. Safely tried different types of meats that would seem very exotic to an average Canadian. Staff was fun and gracious.

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Ganesha Ek – Indian Cuisine in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Simply delicious.

Street Tacos in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Cheap, tasty and you can eat about 10 of them.

What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?

Playing catch with new friends in Northern Botswana; in a watering hole, while elephants played on the other end of the pool with each other. Some of the world’s most dangerous snakes lie in the grasses/bushes where we put our things and laid down to sun tan, prides of lions were just past us hanging out. So many ‘dangerous’ animals just playing alongside one another with us humans in the middle.

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
I feel like I did it before it became such a popular tourist destination. Yes, I was by no means the first as there were many before me, but it was still 13 years ago so it feels pretty special. No one I knew at that time even knew what Machu Picchu was. I had terrible boots which gave me blisters after 30 minutes and I had to wear cheap flip flop sandals for the rest of the hike. It was hard, and cold most of the time (rain while trekking, and sleeping in a small tent in the snowcapped Andes) and I didn’t sleep for 3 nights. But I didn’t complain and getting to see Machu Picchu after that, made it even more amazing. Early in the morning, atop the sun gate, with the peaks splitting the clouds. Just incredible.

Bathing in the springs of Tirtu Empul, Bali, Indonesia
This was a very significant moment for me but also my wife. She has also fallen in love with travel, and even though this place had many tourists, it still felt really special to us. It was one of those moments we shared, that is unlike anything else we have experienced.

What are three of your worst travel moments and why?
Getting dropped off in the middle of nowhere in Costa Rica. Told if we didn’t find a way out of where we were that armed men would probably come and kidnap us. Essentially laid down on the highway to force a bus to stop for us, and forced our way on with all of our bags. Getting to a city, and being told different stories about people following us. Not feeling safe at all.

Getting stuck on a train for 33 hours in China
Bad timing. Chinese New Year, worst ice storm in 50 years had our train stopped for hours. Couldn’t use the bathrooms because the waste goes straight onto the tracks. My friend and I were in separate train cars, and we don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese, so we could not communicate with anyone. The only food we had was the snacks we brought with us. Not my favourite memory.

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Getting sick in central Africa while on a 40-day camping trip from South Africa to Kenya
I was so, so sick in Malawi and there was no comfort from it because I was living out of a tent in the sweltering heat. Coincidentally, weeks before that, camping in Namibia was the coldest I’ve ever been, as I was not prepared for it to be cold enough for my water bottles to freeze. My friend and I did not have any warm clothes and my sleeping bag was only good to 10 degrees Celcius when the temperature was well below freezing. We suffered for about 5 nights until we made it to Windhoek, and were able to buy new sleeping bags and warmer clothes.

What are three of your best travel tips?

Go with an open mind
Nowhere is just like home, so find the good in that instead of complaining about things (I’ve literally been on a bus where I’ve overheard someone complaining that the sea was too salty).

Travel flexibly whenever possible
That is when you find the best experience; no plans. I would have never discovered the San Blas Islands in Panama if I’d had a plan, and they are some of the most magnificent and beautiful islands I’ve ever been to.

Find people who you travel well with
If you are a free spirit, but your travel partner is picky, you will lessen your overall experience greatly. Also, try travelling alone. It’s a completely different experience, even though I’ve only done it once.

Do you have any little known travel tips?

Separating your passport, other identification, credit cards and atm cards and all your money into different areas of your person when moving from one place to another. I’ve been pickpocketed in Equador and Bulgaria, and both times I saved myself a lot of grief because I had separated all of my things so I always had a plan B for money and ID etc.

On long trips, like more than a month, a universal sink plug and bars of hand soap go a long way in cleaning your undergarments.

Packs of kleenex in your pouch or purse, and on you at all times. Many public places do not have toilet paper, and I have been hit with many situations where I needed to use a toilet immediately without warning during my travels.

You can follow Jan on Facebook and Instagram.

Interview: November 2020.

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