What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
We were on a seven hour train ride from Banyuwangi to Surabaya, and just about every imaginable Indonesian product was being hawked on this train. Fried rice, hot soup, live music, live animals…I was thisclose to buying a bird with a 6 inch beak protruding from it’s cage, and for only $5. My friend pointed out that it would probably attack me before flying away forever, so I reluctantly passed. (more…)
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
For the first time in ten months, North Korean soldiers came down from their posts and took pictures of each other right outside the conference building joining North and South–while I was getting a tour inside the building.
However high the tension between the countries, it seemed trivialized by the bright blue paint and perfectly immobile South Korean soldiers in their teal uniforms and round helmets. It felt as if we were all acting in a play, not treading one of the highest security areas in the world.
This week I have a question. It’s one that’s been rolling around in several communities I participate in, and it’s one that tends to bring about heated debate. It’s also one that is very hard to separate from one’s own experience, as a child and as a parent as well. I’m open to all answers and to lively debate, so don’t be afraid to dive on into the fray.
Without further ado, here is the question:
Is travel wasted on the very young?
Before you answer, let’s define a few terms:
So what do you think? Is travel wasted on the very young?
I’m working on a longer piece about this, that I’ll post on my blog in a few weeks, but I’ll dive in here and start the debate by throwing the short version of my position into the ring:
I do not believe travel is wasted on the very young. Just because a developing person cannot remember something does not mean that it does not have value and is not life changing for them. To suggest that we shouldn’t bother with things children cannot remember is to suggest that reading aloud to them, hugging them, playing with them, talking to them and doing little crafty projects with them is a “waste” as well, and we all know how much those activities matter over the long haul. I would argue that travel is a great benefit to the very young because it introduces much diversity to their developing brains at a point when it is easily assimilated. It’s not “wasted” it’s just very hard to measure the benefit to the developing individual.
As always, I have more to say… but this week I really want to know what you think about this, and why you think it. Tell me your stories, educate me! Let’s debate!
That is the question I asked myself a few years ago when my husband and children wanted to ride their bicycles from Alaska to Argentina.
And when I got really honest with myself, I had to admit that, if I wasn’t afraid, I would go with them.
I was afraid that the mountains would be too high, or the headwinds too strong. The cold would be too cold and the hot would be too hot.
But when I was really, really honest with myself, I realized that it wasn’t the high mountains or headwinds that I feared. I was afraid of failure.
In order to avoid the agony of defeat and humiliation of admitting I couldn’t do it, I had convinced myself that it was better not to try at all. If I never set out in the first place, I would never have to crawl back home, defeated.
But then one night I had one of those eureka moments – a moment when I realized just how silly I was being. That night, as I lay in my bed trying to sleep, I realized that if I tried – if I started pedaling – I did face the possibility of defeat. In fact, I figured there was probably a 50/50 chance I would fail.
When I looked at it from that perspective, I realized it made no sense not to try. I might fail – in fact, I had a very good chance of failing. But I might not fail. I might possibly succeed.
The rest, as they say, is history. Together with my husband and children, I flew to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and we spent the next three years pedaling south.
In the end, I didn’t fail. In the end, I did it. I pedaled 17,000 miles through fifteen countries. But it never would have happened if I wasn’t willing to risk failure.
After spending 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel made the decision to quit her job and live a life less ordinary. Together with her husband and children, she cycled from Alaska to Argentina – a journey of over 17,000 miles through 15 countries. Now, she lives in Idaho, inspiring others to chase their dreams. You can find her at www.familyonbikes.org.
“It may seem absurd to view a sightseeing tour of Versailles or the Pyramids as a kind of pilgrim’s progress toward spiritual fulfillment — or it may seem entirely appropriate. For one thing, the pilgrim of yore had more in common with the present-day tourist than many suspect. One of the first books printed in English, Informacion for Pylgrymes unto the Holy Londe (1498) is a sort of primitive Rough Guide, advising pilgrims on how to negotiate with ships’ captains, obtain the best berth once aboard and find the strongest horses upon arrival. What’s more, many of the vices that today’s tourists are accused of in Ibiza or Las Vegas were also leveled against pilgrims. The sixteenth century Dutch theologian, Erasmus, condemned pilgrimages as little more than excuses for dissipation, accusing pilgrims of merely seeking adventure and a chance to boast of their exploits upon return.”
–George Pendle, “Sight Seers,” Bidoun, Spring/Summer 2006
Tearing up the Silk Road: A Modern Journey from China to Istanbul, through Central Asia, Iran and the Caucasus
by Tom Coote
Garnett publishing, 2012 (buy on AMAZON)
With nine weeks on your hands, the last thing you want to do is breeze from Asia to England through the Silk Road and the Caucasus. Trust me: I know what I am saying as I completed a very similar trip in double that time. The sheer vastness of this part of the world would be enough to put such a task under the perspective of “this time, maybe better not”. However, for some determined individuals, being short on time is not necessarily a problem getting in the way to realize life-long dreams.
Tom Coote is one of them. An individual who’s not just content with the personal pride of having completed such an overland odyssey using only public transport, as he also managed to pen his experiences down in Tearing up the Silk Road. The title is explicative enough, as Tom has literally breezed through a lot of ground, still being able to visit the highlights of 8 countries, a couple of which – China and Kazakhstan – are two of the biggest colored drops on every World map. The more we get into the book, and the more we feel the hourglass inexorably passing sand to its bottom. Ancestral sands similar to those the author has felt creeping down his collar as he ventured from the wilds of Xinjiang to the barren deserted expanses of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. (more…)
Most of us travel so that we can see the world, get out of our “box” and explore another culture, or corner of the world. If we wanted everything to stay the same, we would just stay home! It boggles my mind when I see travelers who spend their entire time abroad trying to recreate home and, essentially, avoiding the local interactions they claim to want.
There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with staying at the Hilton, eating at McDonalds or shopping at the Dispensar Familiar (a box store that is owned by Walmart but is masquerading behind a “local” label) but don’t kid yourself into thinking you’re having a local experience, or contributing to the local economy when profits are funneled into big corporations “back home.” There are some simple ways to have a more “authentic” experience wherever you happen to be traveling and to make sure your dollar goes further within the local economy as well. Here are three of mine; perhaps you have some of your own to add:
1. Stay local
Sure, you might book that first night by the airport with your travel miles card, but after that, stay at a family run hotel or guesthouse. Go one step further, and stay somewhere not recommended in the guidebook. Those places are getting a big bump by virtue of their write up in Lonely Planet, but there are likely several other very good places run by families who have generations invested in a particular place that will stretch your buck and add depth to your journey. We’ve found, across the board, that these sorts of places yield “insider” information and recommendations if not personal invitations to explore with new found friends, the proprietors. You’ll also find a very interesting subset of traveler frequenting these places, they’re the people you want to meet, I promise you.
2. Eat where there’s no english menu
That is to say, eat where the local folks are eating. In Merida, Mexico, this might mean walking deep into the mercado, flipping over a five gallon pail and bellying up to the tile bar with the roadwork crew to eat the plata del dia. No need to know what you’re ordering, they only serve on thing per day. I guarantee your money isn’t padding the pocket of the big red clown with preternaturally large feet.
3. Hire a local
It’s possible that the slick looking “Green Travel” agency on the strip in Champasak is genuinely locally owned and operated, but I’m not betting my money on it, based on their advertising. If you have the time and the patience, track down a guy with a boat and book your own ride down the Mekong to the next town. I promise you’re paying extra through the agencies, and that money is probably not being invested the way you wish it was. Look for opportunities to hire local people to teach you things. Hire the Mayan woman who comes knocking to teach you to use a back-strap loom. Hire your cyclo driver in Hue, Vietnam to take you on his motorcycle out into the hills, he’ll bring two of his friends if you have as many people as we do, and it will be a cross-cultural party!
4. Send out your laundry
Okay, here’s a fourth, I couldn’t stop at three: Send out your laundry, and not through your hotel. The laundries that have hotel contracts are doing well, making lots of money. Take a walk, look for the hole in the wall that looks like it’s run by a mother-daughter team and give them your business.
How ‘bout you? What are your best tips for making sure your dollar stretches within a local economy and is spent to the betterment of the community you’re visiting?
Are rumors of horrible medical care abroad holding you back from heading out to see the world? Take heart – most of those rumors are unfounded. A while ago I read 5 Myths About Health Care Around the World by T. R. Reid and started thinking about our experiences with health care in the four corners of the globe – including the United States of America.
In Ethiopia, my husband’s heart went into arrhythmia and he was admitted into ICU at the local hospital. Within minutes of arriving at the hospital, he had a team of doctors on his case and received the best care possible in the country. As it turned out, the Ethiopian doctors knew exactly what needed to be done, but they were not prepared to equip my husband with a pacemaker should it be required – so they arranged to have him evacuated to Israel.
In Israel, top-notch doctors treated him with the most current, innovative methods and did a massive barrage of tests to ascertain exactly what was going on. In the end, they managed to get his heart converted and he went home to Ethiopia a healthy man once again.
In Taiwan, my hip suddenly began to hurt. The very next day I had an appointment with a hip specialist who sent me for an MRI – in two hours! After dealing with the US system of waiting weeks to get an MRI approved and scheduled, I was pleasantly surprised.
In Mexico, doctors took care of my son’s badly sprained wrist and I got to see a knee specialist about my bum knee.
In Panama and Colombia, my son had ingrown toenails surgically removed.
Yes, I’ve dealt with the medical system in the USA and it is slow and cumbersome compared to the health care you will get at a much lower cost in most other countries. Doctors around the globe are highly trained and professional, good facilities can be found in nearly every country, and health care is generally much more affordable than in the USA.
If you are thinking of globetrotting around the world, medical issues should certainly not stop you!
“D.H. Lawrence, in a letter written early in the last century, complained, “I feel sometimes, I shall go mad, because there is no where to go, no ‘new world.’” In Tristes Tropiques (alternately—and tellingly—titled A World on the Wane), published in 1955, Claude Levi-Strauss wrote, “There was a time when traveling brought the traveler into contact with civilizations which were radically different from his own and impressed him in the first place by their strangeness. During the last few centuries such instances have become increasingly rare. Whether he is visiting India or America, the modern traveler is less surprised than he cares to admit.” Maybe every generation feels this way. Alexander the Great was said to have wept when he realized he had no more worlds to conquer, and Evelyn Waugh, in 1946, took the same tone when he wrote that he did not “expect to see many travel books in the near future,” adding that, “Never again, I suppose, shall we land on foreign soil with letter of credit and passport … and feel the world wide open before us.” Even the title of the book from which that passage is drawn, When the Going Was Good, puts joy in the past tense.”
–Malcolm Jones, Is Travel Writing Dead? The Daily Beast, Jun 5, 2011
There seems to be an interesting trend starting in the theatre world, one which has history lovers and travel addicts like me very, very intrigued.
Theatrical companies are facing declining audiences as many now flock to the more realistic experiences of the modern digitally-enhanced blockbuster, and they have been forced to get creative in their choice of staging. This has prompted some to do away with the stage altogether; catering to people’s interest in a more, shall we say, “immersive” theatre experience. As a result, some highly respected British drama companies are beginning to hold performances of historically-based plays on the very sites where those stories actually took place.
The latest—and largest—to follow this new trend is none other than Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The revered drama company recently announced plans to spend its new season performing the Bard’s three Henry VI plays, which cover the tumultuous and violent reign of Henry VI and the medieval War of the Roses, on the sites where the plays’ historic battles took place. The drenched-in-history surroundings of Tewkesbury, St Albans, Barnet, and Towton (no, NOT Downton) will see productions of the classic works set where the fifteenth-century king and his knights duked it out with his rivals for the crown.
A similar performance was also held at the Bosworth battlefield in a production of Shakespeare’s epic Richard III, the main character of which has recently gained new fame after his remains were unearthed in a car park near the site of his death in combat. Across the Channel, a performance of Henry V—famous for his victory over the French and his “Band of Brothers” speech riling up his hopelessly outnumbered troops—will take place in Agincourt, the site of his unlikely triumph.
So, if you find yourself near any of these historic and serene locales this year, you might just be able to experience a world-class performance of a classic play—on the soil upon which it all happened.
Suddenly, a night at the theatre doesn’t sound so boring, does it?