April 22, 2008

Packing Light

After speaking all day at the Smithsonian about Paris, I just got way too excited and have to go back. Now. So I am, tomorrow. I don't care that one Euro is worth a thousand bucks or that all the airlines are folding or merging. The best part of this trip is that I have NO agenda. Paris without any agenda is pure indulgence and I shall indulge. I'm calling it a business trip without any business, though I'm expecting good cheese and at least one day with sunshine. Otherwise there are no expectations whatsoever. Let there be bread.

Last week in Atlanta I gave a lengthy sermon on the joys of packing light, and so I intend to practice what I preach. This trip to Paris is carry-on only, TSA be damned. I'm basically bringing my tiny gym backpack, minus my terrorist deodorant, shaving cream and toothpaste (see . . . Paris is the perfect destination!). I maintain that you really only need three things when you travel: a passport, a ticket, and a big fat credit card.

C'est tout. Bon Voyage to me.

April 15, 2008

One Person to Meet Before You Die

Had to add one more pic of me with Patricia Schultz! It's really nice to talk with someone who understands what it's like to write a strong and factual book about a place or many places. I've already read her books but after hearing her talk so passionately about America's great destinations, I am eager to explore much closer to home. In particular, I've got Quebec and Lake Winnipesaukee on my mind.

April 14, 2008

Atlanta Travel Expo 2008

Back from Atlanta where I had a great time at their inaugural travel event. I spoke on "Iceland and other offbeat destinations" and was flattered by the great turnout. I had the pleasure of meeting Arthur and Pauline Frommer, who are amazing in their breadth of knowledge and travel experience. I'm astounded by how in touch they are with what travelers want. I also had a nice conversation with Patricia Schultz, who's even more inspiring in person than in her books. Among her many wise words was her line that "travel makes you a better person." She also bought a copy of my Iceland guide and I was truly touched.

I always have fun at travel shows for the people who are there, and for all the great destinations featured. Among the lot in Atlanta, I was most fascinated by representation from some of the Caribbean's smaller islands (Montserrat, Nevis, Anguilla), Nicaragua, Tahiti, and Zanzibar. I hope to see all those places soon. Thanks to NaTour Communications for the invitation to Atlanta, and thanks to Borders for selling my books!

April 9, 2008

An Island of My Own

Out of print books are usually the best ones. These are stories that entertained for a time and then were put to rest by a market of attention-deficient readers. When a friend recommended the book "An Island to Oneself" by Tom Neale, I tracked it down on Amazon (with great difficulty) and got it about three weeks later. When it showed up, I started reading around 7 pm and finished at 8 o'clock the next morning. The book tells the true story of Tom's quest to live alone and in peace on a miniscule islet in the South Pacific called Suwarrow (Suvarov).

I think every human has that desire to escape to the quietest, remotest place he or she can find and simply be. It's the very subject of Yeat's poem "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and a common sentiment among most sentient beings.

Today, Suwarrow is no longer an unknown entity. It's now a target destination for passionate yachties, who can range from a respectable bunch of travelers to an undesirable sort. Luckily it's the former who frequent Suwarrow (seemingly). A quick flickr search reveals dozens of snapshots from the island, including a monument to author Tom Neale with the inscription "Tom Neale lived his dream on this island".

I once spent a week alone on a deserted Caribbean island, though that is another story altogether. It was less idyllic than one might think because surviving is hard work. I especially related to Tom's frustration with husking coconuts. Not an easy task at all.

So now I am doing what everyone must do with out of print books. Passing it on to a friend.

April 3, 2008

Well I Guess That Makes Me an Explorer

It's no secret that Hollywood's adventurous character Indiana Jones was modeled after the real life explorer, paleontologist, naturalist, and taxidermist Roy Chapman Andrews (1884-1960). I must confess a strong affinity towards a guy who grows up in the Midwest, moves to the big city and in a few years goes from the janitor at the Natural History Museum to their prize collector. Andrews established the popular image of the rugged gentleman "explorer", complete with leather hat and whip, a hyper-masculine demeanor, and an honest to goodness fear of snakes. Nowadays, anyone who gets carried up Mt. Everest or "swims with sharks" at some Caribbean island resort gets tagged as an explorer. Worse yet are all the nonsense expeditions that serve no other purpose than to inflate the ego of the perpetrator (e.g. "Watch me kayak the length of the Mississippi backwards"). Once upon a time I was invited to help sail a boat across the North Atlantic from Scotland to Greenland. 'Twas the adventure that got away as I had to drop out at the last minute--but I had great respect for the salty captain and his rum-soaked world view. His opinion was that all the real explorers were dead and that anyone who called themselves an explorer--in the days of satellite phones, GPS, and travel insurance--was a ponce. Hmmm, a worthy thought.

Roy Chapman Andrews had his own set of standards which he laid out in his book This Business of Exploring (1935):

To meet the popular conception of an explorer a man must have suffered cold, heat, starvation, fever, attacks from wild animals and savage natives and must have been bitten by snakes.

Is that all? Well, let's see then:
  • COLD? Check. Fell through the ice in the Gulf of Finland, air temperature -40°
  • HEAT? Check. Phoenix, Arizona in July; 120° F. Suffered severe nausea from heat exhaustion
  • STARVATION? Check. Ukraine, 1995. Lost a pound per day for 3 weeks straight as there was no food.
  • FEVER? Check. Crimean Peninsula. 104° fever for 3 days.
  • ATTACK (from wild animal)? Check. Bit by wild mongoose in Hwange, Zimbabwe.
  • ATTACK (by savage natives)? Check. Beat up by street hooligans in England.
  • BITTEN by snakes: Check. Bit three times on the wrist by wild garter snakes held captive by my older brother.