The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

sanya beach1_1276584794 The city of Sanya, China may easily be the most beautiful place on earth. It’s name means “the end of the sky and ocean.” The weather is summer tropical year round and is home to the most beautiful beaches imaginable. Sanya is an experience to exceed all others.

I spent a few days in the city on respite after a summer of teaching in Hainan City at the center of China’s Hainan Island. A trip to the beach was a much needed break by summer’s end with the hustle of the crowded city. Most of my summer was spent in the classroom, getting to and from and a few weekend visits to the northern shore where industry dominated and the waters were unfortunately polluted.

I have traveled all over the world for work, vacation and humanitarian efforts. I sincerely find beauty in every place I go, even in the dumps of Nairobi and Tegucigalpa, because when the land does not show its beauty due to poor management or abuse, the people and their cultures certainly do. However, Sanya wins on both counts with the most courteous and lovely people gifted with hospitality, gracious spirit and gentle manner. The land speaks for itself. Actually it does not speak, it shouts!

Sanya is located on the southern most tip of the Island of Hainan which sits in the South China Sea 698 km from Vietnam. It is a premier vacation destination where luxurious resorts are scattered throughout. It is also the home of the Miss World Organization. Each year talented and beautiful contestants from over 100 countries come to the island where they compete in the areas of fitness, beauty, intelligence and humanitarian projects to be crowned as the most beautiful young woman in the world. Could there be a more fitting location? 

The beaches in Sanya are breath-taking, whether developed as a resort as most are, or in the natural state. Imagine standing on the beach surrounded by mountains to the left and to the right and directly in front you are confronted with the bluest of blue water; soft waves lapping up onto the crystal white sand. It appears and feels other-worldly like a stage for a movie or a manufactured setting for a beauty pageant.  

Because the island is facing the open sea it is closely monitored. I found this out when I took a run down an undeveloped area and was approached to inquire of my intentions and identity.This was the one negative aspect of my visit, although it was not so much of an interference as a surprise. In retrospect, it was a minor issue but consider it a kind gesture to prepare other travelers.

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Years after my visit I can still close my eyes and feel, smell, see and hear the beach. Those days are a bookmark in my journey of life that mark the epitome of luxury, serenity and beauty. If ever your travels take you near, make time to visit Sanya, China. The experience of the most beautiful city on earth and the generosity of its people will make an impact on your memory and spirit like no other destination.

Climbing Through Needle’s Eye

We were in our 20s, pre-children and craving adventure. My wife, two brothers, and three cousins started a backpacking group. We were determined to hike every marked trial in the Bankhead National Forest and highlighted our trail maps to prove it. One particular weekend we planned to climb through Needle’s Eye.

For a skilled climber Needle’s Eye is a nice climb and the only challenge is squeezing through the elevated opening in the natural rock formation without pulling off your backpack. For the less proficient climber it is a moderate to difficult climb, but for the hiker that is afraid of heights, climbing up to and passing through Needle’s Eye is a challenge accepted only once if at all.

Typically my wife was the only woman in our hiking and camping group, but after much persuasion I had convinced her sister to come along. She was an occasional day hiker, but had not aspired to backpacking. We excitedly helped her gather gear. We were invested, financially speaking for the new gear we could justify buying, and emotionally. We were excited! 

Our hike into the forest was hot but uneventful as we passed stuff down the trail. Stuff like stories about when and who had passed here last. Stuff like reports of distance ahead and expected arrival times. Stuff like updates on how our boots were feeling. But never, not once, did we share stuff about Needle’s Eye. We didn’t share that it was in the air, way up in the air. Not simple facts like climbing is required and packs can throw a hiker off balance on the climb. Not any helpful stuff was passed down the trail other than enthusiasm. In retrospect, we seriously should have prepared her! The truth is we all suspected, although we never said it aloud, that she would have never put on her pack and hit the trail if we had.

As we approached the bluffs the revered rock formation came in and out of view through the trees. Echos of “I see it! I see Needle’s Eye!” spilled down the trail and through the woods. Within a half hour of the first distant sighting we hit the clearing and were standing at the base of it, all looking up with our mouths agape. Regardless of how many times we had been to and through, we were still amazed at the adventure that we sought and conquered there.Needles eye

The more experienced climbers headed up first and waited just shy of the eye to allow us all to summit together. However, not long after the climb started something became clear. I’m not sure if it was the tears or the screams that gave it away. My sister in law is terrified of heights. My wife and I literally had  to coax her one foot at a time every step as she trembled and shook and cried. “Can’t we go around this thing instead of up and over?” she pleaded. Responses like, “It’s too far. It’s miles out of the way and we won’t make camp by dark if we don’t go through the eye. The creek is just on the other side. Don’t you want to see the creek? It’s the prettiest hollow in this forest. You’re going to be so glad you did this!”

As it turned out, she was not impressed by the creek, or the hollow and certainly not by any of us. She was miserable and would not get over that climb for a long time. We tried to distract her with a swim in the creek, a campfire supper, the late night howl of a bobcat and an exhausted night of slumber on the ground. The next morning we succumbed to her misery, broke camp and headed home via the trail around the bluff rather than up and over. . 

We learned so much on our adventurous in the forest. First and foremost was that backpackers will minimize what they need to and maximize whatever the can!