Photo of the Day (12.24.10)

For Santa, Christmas Eve must be a royal pain in the ass. First of all, he obviously has to work at an unreasonable, unfathomable pace. He is also forced to grapple with potentially uncooperative reindeer and salty elves–not to mention children who just won’t go to bed. One imagines that by the time Santa hits Apia he’s ready to jet back to the tundra and hibernate for a good long month.

On top of everything else, Santa has to constantly watch where he’s going, lest he plunge face-first into a building. In this image, taken in Ljubljana by Gadling Flickr pool contributor pirano, he’s done just that.

Got a funny image of Santa? Upload it to the Gadling Flickr pool. If we like it we’ll select is as a future Photo of the Day.

New Zealand surfer escapes tsunami

Surfers are constantly on the hunt for the “big one” – that epic wave they’ll be able to tell their grand kids about. But for New Zealand surfer Chris Nel, that epic wave turned into a nightmare. Nel was out surfing with five friends in the Samoan Islands last week when a catastrophic 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck, sending a towering tsunami of water rumbling his way.

Before they even realized it, the ocean around them was rushing back out to sea, sucking Chris and his friends along with it. Chris describes the scary feeling of doom as he was pulled towards the giant mass of water, powerless to do anything but ride out the waves. For the next 45 minutes, Nel and his friends struggled to stay afloat in the pounding tsunami surge, worried they would be smashed into the beach or jungle. Finally, the friends caught a lucky break, scrambling to safety back on land in between surges. However, the surf camp where he was staying was completely destroyed. Chris returned to New Zealand wearing nothing but a pair of jeans found in the jungle.

For all the tragedy that came from last week’s earthquakes and tsunamis, it’s heartening to hear of some good news. Despite the increasing availability of tsunami warning systems in the Pacific Ocean, it’s not likely Nel or his friends would have even had time to get out of the water, even if they learned of the wave in advance. Like any outdoor sport, surfing is not without its occasional risk – sometimes you just happen to get lucky.

Tourism in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Samoa in light of recent disasters

In light of the recent quakes in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Samoa and the total devastation in the areas surrounding Manila, Padang, and Apia, it’s important to understand what tourism will look like as these tourism hot spots recover. Here’s a look at the current relief work happening in each locale, and some speculation as to what tourism will look like in the coming year.

The Philippines
Nearly a third of Manila, the capital city, was under water after a devastating quake late last month. Today, news is coming in that a second quake hit the Moro Gulf off Mindanao. Recovery in the city will certainly be slow and difficult, and as the main hub in the Philippines, travel will be slow and treacherous, meaning travelers to the Philippines might be better off waiting a few months before embarking on a pleasure trip.

Two massive earthquakes rocked Indonesia. Most recently, the popular surf destination of Padang was completely brought to rubble. Several tourists — most of whom are surfers — are still missing and presumed dead, and the recovery process in this remote area of Sumatra will be very slow. Indonesia has long been a top surfing destination, but in the wake of these earthquakes and the political unrest in this part of the country, travelers may well be wary of traveling to this area — and rightly so.

My friend recently returned from a surf trip from Samoa, where she and her boyfriend missed a swell, but are now feeling just fortunate to be safe and home. The resort she stayed in has now been completely destroyed by the tsunami that hit the island after an earthquake struck offshore. Samoa, too, will be slow to recover from such devastation. Like Indonesia, the country is slowly becoming a hot surf destination, but surfers will likely head to less volatile areas in light of these natural disasters.

While tourism for pleasure may slow in all these areas, volunteer opportunities abound. Should you be interested in helping a hand on ground in one of these countries, visit one of the following websites for more information.

Lonely Planet lists Ireland as the friendliest country in the world

Sometimes you go to a place for its beauty or famous tourist sites. Other times, you simply go for the people.

That’s partially how I ended up in Ireland to work after college. In my humble opinion, the Irish are some of the nicest people on this planet. And now, there is documented evidence to support this.

Lonely Planet’s remarkable Bluelist now boasts that Ireland is indeed the friendliest, most welcoming country in the world.

While this is no surprise for me, I’d never be able to guess the other countries mentioned in the top ten list. And in fact, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that backpackers and travelers voted the USA in at second; this is great news considering the bashing we’ve been receiving abroad in the last few years.

In case you are looking for a holiday destination where the people themselves will put a smile on your face you may want to check out the other countries which also made the list; Malawi, Vietnam, Thailand, Fiji, Indonesia, Samoa, and Scotland.