By Lori Reader

Most of us make New Year’s resolutions, usually about diet, exercise, outlooks on life, being a better person, parenting, or our careers. One of mine in 2017 was to make sure I visited at least one new country per year, since I had already hit most of the hot spots of the United States. I had also toured much of Europe, Israel, the Caribbean and South American countries, so where to? 

Reykjavik, Iceland, in February 2017 sounded like a great choice to visit with my fiancé, Brian. To my surprise it was warmer there that time of year than in New York City. We got the honor of being able to see the northern lights illuminating the sky; not everyone is that lucky! The dramatic natural beauty of waterfalls, glaciers and black sand beaches were enough to take our breath away. 

Highlights of the crystal icicles of the winter wonderland included a full day tour of the Golden Circle. From towering waterfalls to bubbling geysers, the tour traveled to Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall and Strokkur Waterspout and, of course, past miles of volcanic scenery. A top must-see in Iceland is a relaxing visit to the Blue Lagoon, a natural outdoor hot springs spa. 

If you love salmon, as I do, Icelanders prepare it in every way imaginable, and minke whale was a new adventure for my taste buds. 

I thought I accomplished my goal of one new country for the year, but then my daughter said, “Hey Mom, before I move and start my career, let’s go somewhere.” And with that, my youngest son, Blake, said, “I’m on spring break and I’m down to go somewhere.” I was busy working to make the money to pay for this wild adventure idea and said okay, plan it…so they did! 

We landed in Dubai after a 15-hour plane ride. My son was dumbfounded by the cars as Porsches, Ferraris, Rolls- Royces, Bentleys and Lamborghinis, to name a few, were endless sights. The malls were total insanity. They included every upscale restaurant and store you can ever imagine, with aquariums, movie theaters, indoor skiing, haunted houses, amusements parks — all within the walls of the mall. 

We ventured to the desert to sand surf and dune buggy — barrels of fun! And the spices were endless! Exhilarating describes the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building and skyscraper in the world, topping out at 2,722 ft. 

Well, I thought I got my quota in for new countries that year, but no. Friends invited Brian and me to their home in Panama; how could we pass up that offer? So, we met them for a summer vacation in Panama City and ventured to San Blas Islands of Panama, an archipelago comprised of approximately 365 islands and cays, of which only 49 are inhabited. What I mean is the people that “live” on the islands do so without water, electricity and indoor plumbing! The “homes” are made of trees, tarps, sand, palm fronds — literally what you see on “Survivor” and living off the land and sea. The families that live on their own island visit other islands by using man-made canoes and boats. We were sailing on a private catamaran eating lobster and octopus – boy, talk about feeling guilty! After our sailing adventure, we made the six-hour drive to our friend’s home at the top of a remote mountain top — paradise to say the least! One day we went 20 miles out to a fisherman’s paradise, catching tuna faster than we could reel them in, and me eating sashimi a few minutes later. Pure heaven. As we drove through the mountain back to the house, our friends dropped fish off to the local villagers in return for eggs, fruits and vegetables. The other view from the mountain top home was endless miles of luscious greenery. Our friends’ dune buggy made for great fun, riding through the remote mountain to private natural pools and springs, with chickens, goats, horses, dogs, birds of all kinds and critters roaming around. ◆