With jobs that offer too little vacation time to satisfy our lust for travel and outdoor adventure, there was only one thing for my wife and me to do: Quit and travel the world! We pre-arranged international flights, but little else. Our year-long travel itinerary was so diverse that constant culture shock was certain. Using a portable CD burner we periodically sent home batches of our 11,000 photos.
You don't have to risk your life with the drug runners in the remote
Darian to see Panama's wildlife. One of our best hikes was just outside Panama
City, on a dirt road near the Panama Canal. We had barely started walking when a
flock of parrots flew overhead, squawking and frantically flapping their wings.
Another few hundred meters on: toucans, looking like they flew off a Fruit Loops
box. Later, another great bird, sitting motionless on a branch, with feathers of
every color and tail feathers shaped like upside-down lollipops.
Tourists have come to Egypt to marvel at its archaeological sites for
centuries. For good reason: they were magnificent in every way. Just outside
Cairo the enormous pyramids and sphinx of Giza dominated the vast Sahara
backdrop. The state of preservation of the 4000-year-old hieroglyphic carvings
and paintings on temples and tombs throughout the country was remarkable.
Egyptians were extremely eager and clever about getting their piece of the
tourist pie. It seemed impossible to really get to know anyone. Just when you
thought you'd made a friend, you realized you'd fallen into a scheme to get you
into a carpet or perfume shop.
One hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle over summer solstice, we
become worshipers of the midnight sun. On several hikes in the chilly, wee hours
of the night, the sun was low in the sky but never dropped below the horizon.
Sheep romped, oblivious to the strange hour. After our 2 a.m. hikes it made
little sense to get place to stay, especially at Norway's staggering prices. So
we'd pull our hats over our eyes and sleep in our car, warmed by the midnight
The !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert were small in stature with high
cheekbones and skin the color of dark honey. The men wore only an antelope-skin
loincloth and the women, little more. From their appearance, it was difficult to
judge their ages and, as it turned out, even they didn't know their ages. Linguists
have noted the distinctive clicking sounds of their language with exclamation
points. On a stroll through the bush, they showed us their way of life, including
medicinal plants, edible caterpillars, and insect egg "sweets." One of the men
quickly fashioned a thin but strong piece of rope by twisting fibers from a few
nearby leaves. He tied it around my wrist for good luck, and I clumsily thanked
him: "!Gingu !Aha."
Perhaps the stars of the incredible wildlife in Madagascar were the
'dancing lemurs.' These endemic, tree-dwelling primates must occasionally cross an
open patch of land to reach the next tree. Their comic movements to accomplish this
were like a child skipping along trying not to spill cups of water in each hand.
Our favorite video clip from the trip!
By happenstance in far north India we joined a re-enactment of a silk route
caravan. In centuries past, traders from all over central Asia traveled with pack
animals across the Tibetan plateau and Himalayan passes into Ladakh, India. Our
caravan comprised locals dressed in Tibetan costume, a few tourists, yaks and
donkeys, fabulous double-hump camels; and unruly horses and ponies. We rode in the
dry, dusty floodplain of a silty, braided river through a broad valley surrounded by
steep, utterly barren, gray peaks. Each village the caravan passed through put on
an elaborate show with slow dancing, high-pitched singing, and hypnotic music from
brass kettle drums and "snake-charmer" horns.
The Asian headquarters for backpacker-type travelers is Khao San Road in
Bangkok. By day, this quarter-mile-long street was busy with travelers looking for
budget accommodations, counterfeit designer cloths, and bootleg CD's and DVD's. By
night, party-ers spilled into the street. You could be in Anywhere, USA, if it
weren't for the pushcarts selling fried grasshoppers and grubs.
At 9 a.m. it was already hot and steamy on Bali. A man wearing a sarong
belted with a sash and a triangular 'udeng' headcloth approached the stone shrine
beside our bungalow. He carried a platter of offerings to be placed all over our
hotel grounds. Each offering was a little tray woven from palm leaves and filled
with flowers, rice, crackers, fruit, and incense. The incense smoke carries the
essence of the offering up to the gods. After the gods have received the essence,
humans are free to consume the remnants. Perhaps this explains why offerings
sometimes contain cigarettes and beer.
There were more colors of water here than I ever knew existed. Sulfur
and iron deposits in the steaming, geothermal lakes of Wai-o-Tapu colored them
yellow, red and orange. Near a deep-red crater in volcanic Tongariro National Park
were the three Emerald Lakes, whose suspended glacial silt imparted their gemlike
color. At Silica Springs silica oxide coated the rocky stream bottom chalky white.
The dreamy turquoise shades of the Tasman Sea seemed to float our kayak heavenward.
A side trail from the famed Milford Track took us to Sutherland Falls. Tumbling
1,900 feet, its water exploded into froth and sent us great waves of cold spray and
In the Samoan way, our meals were communal. Discussion among travelers
turned to: What makes Samoa so relaxing? For one thing, there wasn't much to do or
see. And one tended not to move around much because local buses were infrequent. I
think the main reason, though, was the accommodation: The Samoan beach 'fale' was a
small, oval structure with an elevated bare wood floor, palm-leaf roof, and open on
all sides. Inside, there is no furniture, only a woven sleep mat. After three
weeks of fale living, we reached new heights (or is that lows?) of relaxation.