December 29, 2009

Auld Lang Syne


Another year comes to an end. And what a year:

Began on a cold January day when I took off on a plane, staring down at the empty eternal snowdrifts of Kamchatka, landing in Korea and then on to chaotic, chili-scented Bangkok, then to South America for my television debut in Chile and the overwhelming landscapes of Patagonia (still breathless). Then sleeping horizontal on the seven seats of a spanking new A380 all the way to gold-spattered Dubai, a midnight tour of that constant skyscraping in sand, then across the changing blue waters of the Indian Ocean and dropping down into the blissful Maldives (ah! wonderful). Finding serenity on those beaches, on the complete separateness of that island country, the wet sun there and the world of coral underneath and the shark shadows. On to Wales, land of my fathers, to the high perfect mountains, to the low shores packed with baby lambs and crumbling gray castles and ancient words whispered in even more ancient pubs. A swift run through Londontown, a city of real memories and the true spirit of travel that simmers in every rail station--an obligatory pass through Terminal 5. Back to South America. To Argentina, it's tango, it's chic, and then it's jungle. The red earth and brown rivers, the thundering spray of Iguazu Falls in the moonlight, drowning me upwards. A wet face and crossing into rainy season Brazil, a peak at Paraguay. Midnight in Lima and back to JFK, a regretful second home for me this year. To Vienna, to expensive coffees on the cobblestone square and clean shops and European preciseness, an inconsistent preamble to . . . INDIA. An imagined land of my lifetime became real. The shiny brass, the pink dawn and pink dust and the unbearable heat of a land sucked dry. Tigers in the grass, literally. Elephants and tigers that roared, holy temples with smiling toothless priests. Silk, more dust. Stone of the ages piled into beautiful towers, carved into stories that never die. Vomiting along the road, my head brought low, which is the real point of India after all. Happy go lucky kids, then needing a rest from India until the next time which I pray daily will be soon. India is the infection that never leaves, the constant affair. Texas for the 4th of July. Shooting fireworks in the bayou. A birthday, and then to Iceland, another country that I love that starts with "I". The deep black sand desert interior, the highlands, off road and sinking tires, hot sulphur springs and my brother bundled up in synthetic fabrics. Walking four days across the naked landscape--sun overhead, snow, rock and moss underfoot. Crossing bare streams so cold it disappeared all feeling and crept up to your knees. The exhaustion from a day of walking and the endpoint of more glaciers than stone, impassable grey rivers that roared, ripping white waterfalls. To Canada, the west. Helicopters in the Rockies, scrambling up 10,000 ft. high peaks. Testing my fears and gripping white knuckles to stone without any handles. Seeing sky beneath my feet. To Maine. To simple, quiet, seaside farms, 2-day county fairs with prizewinning blueberry jam, to high and low tides and kind women heavy with life and knowledge of lobster anatomy. Back to Iceland where the skies move too quickly. Beautiful music, rainy streets and a nippy cold dip in the steel ocean, big waves passing over my icicle head. Night after night in Reykjavik, even dancing. Utah, another land of my fathers. High rock mountains once more. Snow-dusted peaks, the end of the summer hinted. Alma mater walkabout, the happiness of family closeby. The Great Salt Lake running out of shades of blue and watching the furrowed deep grooves of a lifeless landscape from the air. Rescued again by family from LAX, a terrible place. A layover-cum-picnic with palm trees and fog, then one more plane and another . . to Tahiti and beyond. French Polynesia unveiled--the old library books became real, my toes dug into the shell-sharp sand. Grass skirts without irony and drums that still beat in my ears. Hitchhiking 'round Moorea, falling in drowsy love with an island I may never see again. To Quebec, the great far north, snowless but dark pine green, to women singing beautiful French carols in a brick church. And back again, then off . . to Tasmania, to the colored facades of Hobart, to a ship that carried me past icebergs and diving penguins to uninhabited islands, and into the fjords of New Zealand. And then New Zealand fully, it's December warmth, it's blue skies and rough beaches and dinosaur-sized tree ferns. Flying back across the Pacific, reviewing and remembering it all, dizzy with the mileage I have covered, filled with joy and gratitude for such a rich year of great travel. Thankful to all my friends out there who've shared with me.

And now two days left until 2010. Another great journey awaits. Happy New Year to all of you who read and thanks for being there.

December 27, 2009

Farewell to New Zealand

About to board a flight in Auckland and whirl my way back across an ocean and a continent to home in Washington, DC, after which I'll have exactly three days to get my stuff in order and head off on my great new adventure for 2010: taking the bus to Antarctica. In a way, it's been fitting that New Zealand be the unwitting preamble to my next long haul overland journey. This country is small, green, peaceful, and most conducive to quiet reflection--the calm before the happy storm of travel on which I am about to embark. I really love this place. Driving to the airport, I enjoyed watching all the fern-covered hills, the black and white dairy cows and the impertinent sheep.

How I spent my last day in New Zealand? Out at sea, in the Bay of Plenty, fishing. That night, we barbecued snapper (delicious), piled a pavlova high with fruit and cream, and I relished the last few hours of my December summer before heading back into the snow of the Northern Hemisphere's winter.

I am excited. I have a lot to be excited about. Also a little overwhelmed with the longest to do list in the world and three days to do it in. But it'll all work out. Stay tuned . . .

December 23, 2009

Official Announcement

So it's really official. In a week's time I'll be boarding a bus in Washington, DC and heading to Antarctica . . . overland. I've been trying to get to the world's least-known continent forever, and now it's finally happening. I'm thrilled. I'm even more thrilled to be making the journey through all three of the Americas and doing it the hard (fun) way--on a bus! And . . . I'm thrilled most of all to be writing about the whole thing for National Geographic Traveler.

You can read my official first post here at Intelligent Travel. You can also follow me on Twitter where I'll be tweeting away the whole trip on @Bus2Antarctica and sometime next year, there will be an article on paper that you can read.

I leave in a week and as always, am totally unprepared. It's alright, because I have Christmas to celebrate first and a mental checklist a mile long. But the important thing right now is to say THANK YOU to a whole lot of people.

I am so grateful to all the people who've listened to my crazy plan to ride the bus to Antarctica and nodded, smiled, and agreed to help. So, thank you National Geographic Traveler! Thanks to Keith, Marilyn, Janelle, Amy, Stefan, Jeannette, Gio and all the others who are pitching in to make this the best bus trip to Antarctica ever.

You know that feeling when something really exciting is about to happen but not yet, so you have to just sit there and wait except you can't because you have so much to do to get ready? Well, that's how I feel right now.

December 15, 2009

Magnificent Milford Sound

Coming to the end of my life at sea for two weeks. We finally made it to the New Zealand 'mainland' (meaning South Island), cleared customs, and then head straight for Fiordlands National Park, which is incidentally the largest single contiguous national park in the world. Amazingly, we had good weather the day we were in Milford Sound. Wow. There is little I can say about this place other than it had me gawking for hours and left me with a sore neck. The cliffs shoot straight up from the see for thousands and thousands of feet--mile high mountains that come straight down to the water. Also, we couldn't anchor because the water was too deep.

I have been blogging at sea this whole time, which is not so easy I discovered, given the rocking ship, satellite internet that comes and goes but I'm not complaining. It's pretty miraculous that one gets to blog at all whilst totally unconnected to anything out in the middle of the Southern Ocean.

So, Milford Sound, according to Trip Advisor, is the most beloved and favorite destination of the entire world. Understanding the slanted democracy of the internet, I'm taking this with a whole pile full of salt, but I will say that having spent a day in the middle of Milford Sound, it's definitely up there wherever 'up there' may be. The natural beauty, sharp mountains, mist rolling in and out, the streaks of waterfalls--all of it was just so overwhelmingly powerful. I'm still trying to decide if we like it because it makes us feel so impossibly small or because it is such a pure view no matter where you look. Not a house, car, or neon sign to be seen. Just rippled water, vertical rock and in my lucky case, a blue, blue sky.

December 4, 2009

Baby Penguins at Macquarie Island

You ever have one of those days and you think that you're the luckiest person alive? Well, that was me yesterday, when I spent the entire day on the black sand beach of Australia's Macquarie Island--the southernmost point in that country. Although I was warned of horrific storms, we still had great weather, and I just laid in the sand and watched these baby king penguins for hours. Such melodramatic little creatures! For the next week I'll be exploring some rare and wonderful islands aboard the Orion, an expedition ship that ventures to the lesser-known islands of New Zealand. So far it's been utterly fabulous.

December 2, 2009

The Southern Ocean

48 hours after leaving Washington, DC I find myself on a ship headed to the southernmost point in Australia, which is actually a very cold place. On the way, we spotted icebergs like this one--huge blocks of blue and white ice that were beautiful to look at. It's starting to get colder but I'm loving being out at sea and the excitement of all the new islands I'm about to discover.

November 27, 2009

My Awesome New Backpack


Uh oh. Product placement! It was bound to happen sooner or later: the corporate world eclipsed the blogosphere long ago, so let's all deal with it. Furthermore, congress and the FCC now want us bloggers to fess up about who pays them to post funny pictures and anecdotes at 3 AM. So this is me coming clean...

Nobody pays me to blog. Not here. This is my own personal site and although I write for half a dozen blogs that do pay me, this one is where I get to say whatever I want however I want (which is the real purpose of a blog). I am still cash poor but travel rich.

However, maybe I have some stuff that I LIKE and I wanna talk about it. Like how I just got a new backpack that is pretty cool (Noobody is paying me to say that either).

I got this backpack for work, since I am now officially a "contributing editor" at National Geographic Traveler and am about to do a lot more contributing and (hopefully) a lot less editing. My new pack is still a newborn--without a crease or knife hole or spilled drink stain on it--just begging to be taken out into the world and fulfill it's purpose of carrying stuff on my back. Which is precisely my intention as I pack it full this afternoon for it's maiden voyage to an undisclosed location on the other side of the world that perhaps rhymes with Zoo Kneeland.

So, specs you ask? Without being tested, the National Geographic Earth Explorer Backpack is loved by me for the following reasons:

1: It's HUGE. I like packing light, but this is gonna fit all my blogging gear without getting bulky.
2: It's not TOO huge. Just like Goldilocks, I find the size just right. (One of my BIG pet peeves are naive backpackers seen clamoring around Europe with backpacks that are large enough to smuggle illegal immigrants in. As if that's not enough, these poor gap year kids where an additional front pack and stagger around like top-heavy zombies, just begging to be tipped.)
3: It's got one million and one pockets. So it's gonna be like having my desk on the road.
4: It has a padded, hidden slot for my laptop.
5: The internal compartments are all detachable, so I can custom build my pack to carry what I want in there.
6: It has a rain cover that bags up the whole thing in one swoop and keeps everything dry.

So, I'm gonna test it out over the Christmas holiday before I actually start using it for my first big work assignment, which is gonna be pretty nifty. If it turns out the backpack sucks then I'll make sure to let you know, although I'm already feeling a little attached to it and wanna just decorate it to death. Or give it a name.

November 26, 2009

Pit Stop: Québec


Rampant travelers often get jaded by their journeys--fast. It's an easy phenomenon, for business travelers and backpackers. Spend enough time on the road and it can all start looking and feeling all the same.

Is the antidote to merely stop traveling? No way. The antidote is to keep keeping it interesting. Which is precisely why I agreed to go from sunny Tahiti to frozen northern Québec in a snap. I arrived in Canada bundled up in a coat and scarf, a little tired and a little excited. I like Canada--always have--and have a special affinity for Québec.

Within two hours of arriving, I found myself in the back chapel of a local church, where the local women's choir was practicing a medley of French carols for their upcoming Christmas concert. The voices were heavenly and made me happy to be listening. For me, this is the very best kind of travel--to drop in out of nowhere and immediately discover the place that you are in.

I was in Québec all of two days and now I am home, decompresing and packing for my next big adventure, which is rather BIG.

November 23, 2009

Hawaiki Nui Va'a

This month has been full of all things Tahiti. Although I like to think my skills are better in the written form, the world demands video. To that end, from the three or four hours of HD video I shot of the great Hawaiki Nui Va'a outrigger canoe race, I cobbled together this two-minute clip. It's impossible to portray the adrenalin and exhaustion that is evident in this epic, three-day event, but this is my short and sweet version of exactly that. Expect future video as I continue to experiment.

November 16, 2009

Tahiti Dream

Just back from Tahiti which was truly a dream. Sometimes sunny, sometimes overcast, always exotic. Friendly, warm, lush and green. I spent the first four days hopping from island to island in pursuit of the world's largest outrigger canoe race. Then I spent two days exploring the islands of Tahiti and Moorea, which are absolutely dissimilar. I enjoyed every minute of it and fell in love with French Polynesia (which I already was). That said, this trip has given me the weirdest jet lag I think I've ever experienced--not falling asleep until 3 or 4 in the morning sleeping in until 10 AM. Not good.

You can read some of my Tahiti coverage over at Gadling where I have started blogging this month. It's a great site related to all things travel staffed by hilarious fellow writers and travelers. I'm also going to be doing some video of the race, so stay tuned.

A big thanks to all the great people in Tahiti who made my voyage interesting and exciting. Mauruuru to you and you and you!

November 7, 2009

Parlez-Moi de la Polynesie

I'm in French Polynesia this week, following the great Hawaiki Nui Va'a outrigger canoe race, darting from island to island witnessing the incredible human strength and endurance on display. It's very, very hot, very sunny, and very exciting. It's odd to always dream about some faraway destination--a whole lifetime of dreaming, considering, wondering, longing for, and imagining a place, and then to suddenly find oneself there, in the middle of the bright blue sea and pinching myself to make sure that it's for real. Well, here I am, and it's real and beautiful. As always, I wish I had more time to explore but I am making the most of Tahiti regardless.

November 2, 2009

Farewell Utah

Spent the last week in Utah Valley, catching up with some family and visiting my beloved Alma Mater, the BYU. Visiting Utah brings back great memories of childhood summer vacations, college antics and promenades in the great outdoors. It's also a significant piece of my personal geography, so it was good to touch base. I love watching the Wasatch mountains changing from snow to no snow, from green to red to brown to white. It was also a blast visiting my little nieces and nephew.

And so, just as I was getting used to the cool mountain air and random snowstorms, I am off again, this time headed west . . . and fairly far south. Clue: I packed my winter coat at the bottom of my suitcase.

October 26, 2009

Air Traffic Control


My weeks of semi-stationary existence are coming to an end and so I spent the weekend printing up electronic tickets and folding laundry. My next month of travel has me bouncing around a fair amount, and so I found this video quite fascinating as it illustrates the daily flow of travel 'energy' that keeps our world turning. I have watched these spinning yellow dots again and again, and I confess that the ones that enchant me the most are the tiny, isolated dots working their way singly across the oceans. Those are the planes I want to be on.

October 23, 2009

Shots

Travel's not all post cards 'n roses. Sometimes visiting beautiful exotic places boils down to digestive discomfort and painful red bug bites and vomiting in public. The US State Department's Travel Warnings should always be served with a double dose of Sodium as they are often outdated and ethnocentric (not to mention massive generalizations); however, when it comes to deadly diseases and such, I do like to take my dime store precautions--especially before heading off to new latitudes.

Over the years I've collected a nice little trophy case of vaccinations. Some of these expire from time to time--like car registrations and jars of mayonnaise in the back of the fridge. Others last a lifetime. Anticipating upcoming travels to feverish climes, I got myself three new injections: yellow fever, typhoid, and the generic, vanilla flu shot. I am also begging Santa to give me my very own H1N1 flu vaccine before Christmas but that seems to be this year's Tickle-Me Elmo: outrageously popular and unconvincingly elusive. I shall have to keep sending letters and cookies to the North Pole.

I could bore you with my op ed series on malaria prophylaxis but I'll wait for a slow news month. I think I'm a skeptic at heart but depending on where and when I'm traveling, I will pop those crazy pills.

Thus today I blog with a sore left arm and a touch of self-pity as I contemplate all the things in the jungle that they DON'T make vaccines for. Like jaguars and anachronistic Marxist ideologies.

October 18, 2009

In Reykjavík

I arrived in Reykjavík a week ago.

I don't know exactly how many visits it takes for a city to feel familiar. No matter how many times I go to Manhattan, that city feels like an overwhelming surprise. London feels like many long years dodging the rain and coming home late and in England, I am still the consummate outsider. Paris for me is the freedom of being young and the liberty that comes from art--I have big memories in every arrondissement but I still have to check the metro maps to be sure. I wrote a 400-page travel guide to Kiev but I acknowledge that huge swaths of that city remain undiscovered to me.

I have been coming to Iceland's capital now for a decade. My first trip was August 1999 and I arrived on a grey and silent Sunday morning and walked the empty streets alone--an eager American in a Nordic ghost town. Ten years later, I finally tasted the not-silent Saturday night that procedes such Sundays. Thousands upon thousands of made-up fashion teens and basement rockers congregating on wet, dark streets; migrating from club to club, keeping their neon-light vigil 'til dawn. All searching for "it."

That Reykjavík simply means "Smoky Bay" is apt. For the outdoor smokers that blow tobacco clouds up between the red and blue metal houses. For the steam puffs that billow up from the ground and the silver smokestacks of power plants. For the cotton fog that dropped in on a Wednesday morning and only faded away in wisps on this early Sunday morning.

Only when the smoke disappears do you realize that there is a whole land out there--snow-dusted mountains and a panorama of seas, lighthouses, volcanoes. On thoses clear days the city feels new, fresh, and immense asa the sky. On smoky days, Reykjavík is only as big as your stride.

I am here for a music festival. Over two hundred musical acts are strumming, drumming and shouting their sounds out into the cold and we are all here to listen, tap our feet and clap. That these events should take place in a city of fish-filled warehouses and apartment blocks is right. Travelers love sincere places but we are afraid to ruin the moment by pointing them out.

I love this city of Reykjavík. I am not the first traveler to say it, nor feel it. But I add my little voice of admiration to all the rest of them because I like the way this tiny city makes me feel (happy), the way it sounds (like electric guitars and trumpeter swans), and smells (like coffee, clean rain and seaweed). I like coming back again and again and am so glad that I get to.

October 5, 2009

Autumn Update

My passport's been taking a break for more than 6 WEEKS (it must be European: next it'll be demanding a 30-hour work week and claiming to be "en grève" right when I need it most), however, that's not to say I'm not keeping rather busy. Writing about travel is one part travel and about ten parts writing, which explains the last 6 weeks. I'm currently cooking on all four burners and enjoying the smells in the kitchen, if you can forgive me that horrible metaphor. My culinary allusion probably has something to do with Gourmet magazine shutting down without ever begging me to write for them. Also, my personal recipe book happens to be an old school folder shoved full of stuff I've clipped out of Gourmet magazine, so we're kind of in crisis mode around here.

Anyway, what I am up to right now:
  • I am editing a 500 + page manuscript for the 3rd edition of my Ukraine guidebook. Things change wildly fast out on the far eastern fringes of Europe and I'm trying to keep all my good readers abreast and au courant. Heads up to my updater(s) who did such a thorough job scouring the country on my behalf.
  • The grammar of my fears was published on National Geographic's Intelligent Travel.
  • I have been nominating my favorite hotels for National Geographic Traveler's TO STAY List for 2010.
  • I am attacking a feature article about one of my trips this summer (for a magazine that shall remain nameless).
  • I am planning, researching, and writing not one, not two, but three upcoming talks for the Smithsonian Institution--the first is all about my summer trip to India, the other two are big, big secrets--Stay Tuned in 2010.
  • I met writer and Chinese-American goddess Amy Tan at National Geographic LIVE's new "Conversation" series. Prayed that she would rub off on me.
  • I'm still reviewing Washington's most fitting restaurants, clubs, and hotels for Blackbook magazine & attending this week's official opening of the new "W" hotel. But what will I wear?
  • I'm planning all my travels from now until March 2010 which are not few in number. Hint: there seems to be a lot of Southern Hemisphere happening.
  • I'm busy window shopping on SkyMall which you can read about here.
  • I'm spending way too much time on Twitter. Tweet, tweet. I have a lot of cool people following me & I am following a lot of very cool people. Thanks tweetpeeps.
Honestly, I always enjoy a bit of a break from the road while at the same time missing the thrill of it. Thankfully, I will be departing for my dear, dear Iceland in a week for some work and then later in the month headed out to my old college stomping grounds in Utah where I get to go trick-or-treating with my fine nieces and nephew. Can't wait!

September 18, 2009

Meet Me in Maine

I am now home from Maine, which proved itself to be a blissful escape from the city and my regular schedule. Thank you to my wonderful friend Karen who lent me her seaside home as a writer's retreat and to all the great people in the town of Brooklin, Maine who took me in and treated me so kindly. Between long stints at my computer, I was able to sneak out for walks in the woods, take short kayak adventures to pine-covered islands and experience the full beauty of Maine's wild seacoast. I left Bangor airport with three live lobsters in my carry-on luggage and a wistful longing to return someday.

The place that Maine occupies in my head has shifted from just another one of the New England states to a very separate, wild, American place that is far enough to be out of mind for most East-coasters. Plus, it has its own very separate culture, language, and cuisine. The tourist appeal is real, but it's still a huge, vastly unpopulated place that is remarkably beautiful and comfortably old-fashioned. Thank you, Maine.

September 1, 2009

Running Away

Although it might seem that I'm always on the road, I actually work at home. At my desk or at the kitchen table or sometimes on the couch. Sometimes I get distracted by things like the internet and my hungry pet fish so that it becomes very hard to write serious stuff.

Now that September has swung into center stage, I'm gonna try to be a bit more serious. Which is why I'm disappearing for the next two weeks--from my home, from Washington, DC, and from the internet. Nobody really knows where I am, but it's really beautiful there/here and I'm gonna get tons and tons of good writing done.

Catch ya later-
AE

August 27, 2009

Climb Every Mountain

Well-known fact: I'm terrified of heights. Big heights, little heights, all heights. But when you're in British Columbia high up in these gorgeous, ice-capped mountains and someone you've never met before promises that it's TOTALLY safe, then do you conform? If your friends were all jumping off cliffs, would you do it too? Well, actually, that's exactly what I did.

Commuting to the base of the climb by helicopter, I spent the day picking my way up cliffs and over rocky peaks to achieve the summit of Nimbus Tower, a 9,000 foot peak of brown-grey rock in the middle of the Columbian Range. Was it terrifying? Slightly. Luckily, I was so focused on the rock and clipping myself in and out of each new section that I rarely took time to stare outwards into the clear-skied abyss--a drop of some 3,000 feet. After about four hours of climbing, I ended the hike by rapelling off the cliff's edge, dangling to the bottom for a good 150 feet. Folks, this is not something I do. Despite popular belief, I am not an adrenalin junkie. But I did it.

August 21, 2009

My Awesome Brother

I dislike unpacking. After a terrific journey, it's kind of sad to empty suitcases and download pictures. It means it's really over and the actual experience has begun the transition into memory. I came back from Iceland two weeks ago, but thanks to my big fancy TV debut and lots of work deadlines, I have only now begun to dust off the black volcanic dust of Iceland's breathtaking interior from my boots and clothes. I have been to Iceland many times, but this time was special because my brother came with me. Together, we hiked the famous Laugavegurinn trail, from the scorched and steamy springs of Landmannalaugar to the green glacier valley of Thórsmörk. The 4-day walk crosses some of the most tremendous landscapes in the heart of Iceland's uninhabited interior. On a single day we passed bubbling mud pots, walked through the sulfur steam of fumaroles, winded through chunky lava fields, trudged across mountainsides of shiny obsidian and tiptoed across immense snowfields. It was a tremendous journey and I recommend it highly to anyone who loves uninterrupted, beautiful spaces. And ice caves.

My brother Nathan--an aspiring filmmaker, musician, fellow adventurer and all-around wunderkind--was a perfect hiking companion. Together we conquered some very high peaks (for me) and left footprints in sand, mud, snow, and moss. I'll be writing the entire journey up a little bit later for a magazine article but until that's done, I will be recommending the hike to any and all who suffer from walking wanderlust. Thanks, Nate!


August 11, 2009

As Seen on TV

So I survived my little Travel Channel debut last night without any major trauma or fainting spells. A big thank you to all my fabulous friends who watched with me and showed their support and another thank you to all the great people in Chile who made the show/trip possible. I'll be back!

August 6, 2009

Confessions of a Travel Writer

As much as I wanted to keep it a secret, I am going to be on national television this upcoming Monday night. In my eager attempt to infiltrate new trends in media, I participated in a reality TV show that has been daringly dubbed Confessions of a Travel Writer. The show airs on the Travel Channel at 9 PM EST on August 10th, 2009.

I won´t even attempt to script a disclaimer for this one, as I have absolutely no idea what might appear in the final cut. However, let it be known that I had a great time in Chile during the shoot, fell in love with the country, loved the camera crew and had a blast traveling with all the other writers. See you all in TV land.

July 25, 2009

L'Anse-Saint-Jean

I am very lucky to be able to scribble blog posts for Intelligent Travel, the blog wing of National Geographic Traveler. Yesterday, they published a bit that I wrote about one of my favorite villages in Quebec: L'Anse-Saint-Jean (you can read it here). I was there at the end of last summer and was touched by what a sleepy, little place it was. The things I remember the most are the architecture--traditional, Quebecois houses showing strong Breton influence--as well as the food--all of it so fresh and local: trout, blueberries, and lots of local cheese. I spent most of my time there walking in the fields, staring out at the Saguenay fjord and enjoying the town, meeting many of the fascinating people who live there. I always love having a moment in a small town--perhaps because I grew up in a small town. Anyway, I don't know if I'll ever make it back to L'Anse-Saint-Jean but I'm glad that I was there for at least two days of my life.

July 21, 2009

The Future of Travel Writing

So I've caved in and entered this online contest for a blogging gig to Antarctica. The continent is kind of an obsession for me and thus far, all other attempts have failed. I'm fully aware that this time it's just a big online marketing campaign. I accept that I racking up HUGE Spam Karma by campaigning online, alas here's my first stab at viral video. Watch it and spread it like swine flu.

July 17, 2009

Andrew's BEST OF 2009


July is that month when all the travel mags start unrolling their red carpets and donning out prizes. Perhaps summer is a slow news month, perhaps people are in the midst of making plans and payments for vacations present and future. Whatever the case, and despite my repulsion of rating travel and making lists, I am compiling my own--for my own sake and for any out there who may be curious. Contrary to real magazines that claim to have surveyed thousands of customers and applied reliable quantitative methods, my list is 100% personal and subjective. I've compiled my judgments based on my own experiences of the past 12 months; "NEW" denotes new for me. So here's my list (Links included where applicable):

DESTINATIONS
  • Best New Country: MALDIVES
  • Best New City: Valparaiso, CHILE
  • Best Small Town: L'Anse St. Jean, QC, CANADA
  • Best Island: Grimsey, ICELAND
  • Best Shopping: Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA
  • Best Suntan: Kalahari Desert, BOTSWANA
  • Best New Art Museum: Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, USA
  • Best Guided Tour: Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, WALES
  • Best Nightlife: Reykjavik, ICELAND
  • Best-looking natives: INDIA & ARGENTINA (impossible tie)
TRANSPORTATION
HOTELS
ROOMS
SPA & HEALTH
CUSTOMER SERVICE
  • Best telephone customer service: ZipCar, USA
  • Best Hotel Staff: &Beyond, worldwide
  • Best Waitstaff: CityZen, Washington, DC, USA
  • Best Wi-Fi: anywhere in DENMARK
  • Best Border Guards: Canadian Immigration, Trudeau International Airport, Montreal, QC, CANADA
NATURE
FOOD & DINING
MEDIA & BOOKS
TRAVEL RECORDS 2009
  • Longest nonstop flight: Johannesburg, South Africa to Washington, DC, USA (18 hours)
  • Most expensive manicure: $60
  • Longest wait for baggage claim: London Heathrow Terminal 4 (1 hour 20 minutes).
  • Longest layover: Dubai, UAE (8 hours)
  • Most lost luggage: American Airlines, USA
  • Closest near death experience: zip-lining, Argentine Military Base, Igauzu, ARGENTINA

July 14, 2009

Antarctica or BUST!

I could write a book about all my failed attempts at getting to Antarctica. Let's just say that I've made more attempts than Shackleton. After grant applications, trying to talk myself onto science boats, applying for odd jobs on remote US bases and the like, I'm making an eager attempt to be sent as an official blogger for Quark Expeditions.

The contest is simple: he who gets the most online votes wins. Vote for me here:

VOTE FOR ANDREW

You must register first, which takes a minute. Also, due to the viral nature of this marketing ploy, I invite you to send out and/or repost my entry far and wide. I'm gonna need thousands of votes to win this thing.

Thanks to all of you who helped me kick off this first day of voting. I look forward to making this dream come true in the next two months.

July 8, 2009

Place of Birth

I'm from Texas. It's where I was born and where half of my family lives today. I also spent most of my life elsewhere--in Ohio, in Utah, Washington, DC and nearly a decade in Europe. American identities are generally so fluid but something about Texas is different. Perhaps it seems I spend all my time traveling outside America and focusing on the exotic elsewhere, but for me, Texas is always an adventure. This past week I've been home, catching up with family from Houston to Tyler and trying to stay alive in the 103 degree heat. I had some darn good Tex-Mex, counted about 50 barns painted with the Texas flag and enjoyed the still beauty of the green pin oaks. I even saw a longhorn steer in a scrubby suburban field and on the plane home, I sat next to two card-carrying members of the DaRT (Daughters of the Republic of Texas) who invited me to come help them paint the Alamo next month.

Having just finished a big project on Wales and my Welsh heritage, it was nice to go back to the land of my birth certificate and reconnect with a different side of the self. I don't know how qualified I am to be counted as a Texan--being born there, having a driver's license and voting there off and on is probably not enough--but regardless, I do wave the Texas flag alongside all the others that I love and claim it as one of my homes. I like the kind people there, the open space, the mighty sense of frontier in the midst of frightful post-modern sprawl and that cocksure superiority complex thing they have going on. Could I ever live there again? It's too big to say. I've been snowbound in Amarillo and sunburned in Corpus Christi in the same month of the year--I think that's my answer. Still, no matter where I roam, every border guard and hotel receptionist should see those two great letters--TX--and know what it means. Don't mess . . .

June 26, 2009

CYMRU on the Mall

Last night, I gave my two-part lecture at the Smithsonian all about WALES and what a lovely country it is. On the way there I stopped for a look at the Smithsonian Folk Life festival that's roaring full tilt on the mall right now. How splendid it was to see all of the red and white tents and hear Welsh being spoken over the loudspeakers--so cool! If you get a chance, head down and check it all out. Thanks again to everyone who helped me out with my trip to Wales in April and everyone at the Smithsonian. I appreciate your wonderful support and interest in my travels! Talking about Wales made me miss it all the more and realize that there are still many corners for me to unravel, so . . .watch out Cymru, "I'll be back."

June 5, 2009

Bollywood Beauty

Shuchitra Pellai, Bollywood actress, singer and dancer extraordinaire.

May 22, 2009

Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright


Made it to the middle of India--Modhya Pradesh, and whaddya know, I was riding on the back of an elephant and saw this gorgeous adult male tiger. The video's fuzzy, but the tiger was not.

May 20, 2009

INDIA, Finally

Writing this from the Vienna airport--a place with lots of deep travel memories stretching back a good 15 years. I am on my way to deepest, darkest (and hottest) India to complete a swirl of assignments.

I've dreamt of visiting India my whole life, and now that it's actually happening, it feels a bit like a dream. I expect the dream-like state to continue for a long time. But still, I am thrilled.

May 10, 2009

Geographic Dissonance

Bright May has arrived in Washington, DC and the city is all flowers and people in tank tops smiling. I bought a bike to ride outside in the streets and put away all my mittens and woolly hats. Meanwhile, I am feeling a bit snowed under by several competing deadlines. I'm learning to mentally dart from one place to the next--this week my mind will be focused on Iceland, the Indian Ocean, then South America, then Russia, and ending with Africa. It's an odd feeling to be sitting at my desk, totally entrenched in one place, looking at the saucy stains on my notebooks and remembering what I was thinking and feeling when I was in that one place, and then get up from my desk and return to sunny spring in Washington. Of course, this all leads to a healthy amount of introspective behavior, but isn't that how blogs originated?

So today I am [my mind is] in Russia. Moscow--to be precise; writing a feature and having these little trickles of memories of that place, most of which involve snow and ice and that poetic humdrum of Russian winter. Meanwhile, the American sun is beating down on the right side of my face in a most un-Russian way. I love this picture because it capture so perfectly the matching hue of sky and ground--two stripes of white--a scene I know all to well from the many winters spent in Eurasia.

April 29, 2009

Live @ the Smithsonian

Now that I'm back from Wales, it's officially official: on June 25th, I'll be talking for TWO whole hours at the Smithsonian all about gorgeous Wales. I feel honored to have been asked and even more honored to be part of the much larger Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, for which Wales is the featured country this year. Until then, I will be fretting in my attempts to squeeze such a massive little country into two tiny hours and trying to brush up on my scant Welsh.

April 16, 2009

Iceland in Polish

My Iceland book was just released in Polish and showed up on my doorstep looking bright and colorful and fantastic. Thanks to National Geographic for doing a superb job, as always. I don't know if there are as many Poles as there were the last time I was there. Foreign language editions of guidebooks are rarely, if never, dedicated, but if I could include a dedication, it would be shared by the Polish motorcyclist who rode his bike from Gdansk to Hofn, via Sweden, Norway, and the Faroe Islands, along with the geography class of middle-schoolers from Warsaw who took the ship with me from Denmark. Dziekuje!

April 8, 2009

Yr Wyddfa

Me, atop Mt. Snowden in 45 mph winds, in the rain, and with a temperature of 3 degrees Celsius. I was glad to finally make it to the top of the highest mountain in Wales (1,085 metres--about 3,500 feet, I think). The last time I tried, the path was closed with too much snow. Even more surprising is that after reaching the top, I met a kind Scottish gentleman who granted me access to the new restaurant that will open at the summit this summer. How bizarre to be brought into a clean, warm and dry building after hiking for two hours in the wet, rocky wilderness. What's more, it was equipped with wi-fi, and to prove it, here's a picture of my website being accessed on the summit of Mt. Snowden!

April 3, 2009

Wrapped Up in Books

I think every single English-language travel magazine has done a feature or focus piece on Hay-on-Wye. The little village on the English/Welsh border has been discovered to death, but not yet by me, so I made sure to make a wee stop in my grand tour of Wales. Given that Hay is a town that sprawls with 25 (twenty-five!) used book shops, my wee stop turned out to not be so wee at all. Depending on today’s exchange rate, I think I walked away for (just) under a hundred bucks. I present you some of my finds:
  • Plays of the 1960s, including Billy Liar.
  • British Boys Annual 1919
  • Short Stories by Dylan Thomas
  • A book in Welsh with a pretty Art Nouveau cover
  • Across the Plains by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1913
  • The Great White South by Herbert G. Pointing 1921
  • A guide to dieting from the 1940s ("No Duck!")
  • The Mabinogion (see below)
Also, about fifty nifty, old-fashioned, vintage post cards, my favorite being a collectors set extolling the charms of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Honestly friends, I think Hay-on-Wye is the most dangerous place on earth--a black hole of endless bookshops that draws you from your path like a band of unkind mermaids lying in wait to drown some poor sailor. You think you're done for the day and headed back to the carpark, but then, "one more bookshop" turns into another hour or so or four. There's no way such a place would be legal in my country.

Hay-on-Wye isn’t that English and it’s not that Welsh. It's somewhere in between, situated quite literally on the miasma of a "border" that everyone keeps referring to but nobody really cares to delineate--at least not since the 1400s. The Welsh have their own type of expressive borders that obviously start with their language and end somewhere on the rugby field. In Hay-on-Wye there is a castle though--a single point in the connect-the-dot border that still remains.

Today the tumbledown castle is a bookshop ("The Castle of Books") and I got the feeling that it's kind of where the whole book theme began for this town. I'm sure it's all on Google, but confession: I am so badly researched on this trip.

Anyway, I was sifting through a dusty pile of old-time photography from some 19th-century Scottish studio when this wonderful old man approached me and struck up a conversation. He commented on each of the books that I had chosen, then offered me a grand discount for the lot. My accent betrays my foreign-ness but when he discovered that I was an Evans, of Welsh descent, he gleamed.

"Ah, then let me give you a free copy of the Mabinogion. It’s a book all about your people!" He led me to the shelf and pointed it out.

And then began his greatest lecture--a tribute to the old and forgotten book, an expose on the new media elite, interspersed with a grand reflection on the phenomenon of Hay-on-Wye. There was just too much to record, but here are a few highlighted quotes:

“You see, the new economy of poverty is the secondhand book. It's what everyone will be trading in soon. We’ve got to discover an economy of poverty—not in currency, but in books!”

"A new book is for the ego, a secondhand book is for the intellect."

“See, it wasn’t the fancy porcelain pots--those were for rich people--it was was the crumpled colored Japanese prints that the pots were wrapped up in that people began reading. THAT'S what started the orientalist movement."

"America is my favorite cocktail!"

"You understand that America sounds like Deutschland to most people's ears."

“The secondhand book is the greatest relic, more than the pyramids."

Scribbling down his wisdom, I asked his full name--to whom may I credit each of these jeweled sentences?

“Put it in Welsh boy!” He shouted, waving his cane in my face, “Brenin y Gelli. That ‘s my name! It means 'King of Hay' because I am a king and I live in this castle." I nodded in agreement.

“Oh bother, if you want my name in English, then you can have it by George," (he really said by George) "It’s “Richard Booth.” He concluded by praising the valor of Midwesterners ("I love their ethnicities!") and his final words to me were a brilliant sum up: "I’m happiest in Nebraska.” It was a strange kind of British ‘I-love-you” farewell.

His mention of Nebraska flooded my pscyche with memories of never-ending road trips, eating cold cereal at concrete reststops and counting the hours to the border, but funnily enough, earlier in the day, in another lovely bookshop down the street, I had bought a collection of 1970s postcards advertising Sunny Nebraska.

(With index finger in the corner of my mouth): hmmmm

March 30, 2009

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I left the Maldives today (sigh) and began my aerial hopscotch across the Indian Ocean on my way to London. Here's the airport and plane I started with--my day ended with a Boeing 777 touching down at Heathrow. I think I was the only person in Paddington Station wearing shorts.

March 26, 2009

The Turtle & Me

After an arduous day of work in the Maldives, I went for a swim outside my room and found this little guy swimming nonchalantly along the reef.

March 24, 2009

In Which I Meet the Indian Ocean

Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic . . .I've swam in all of them. Only the Indian remained and yesterday I finally touched toe to the bath water warmness of this perfect beach in the farthest atoll of the Maldives. The above view happens to belong to me for the next five days. There are no words: "exquisite, paradisaical, beautiful, heavenly" all fall short. I have a week to figure out how to describe this shade of blue. The stresses of my work environment are just too much.

March 22, 2009

Digital Postcard: Cook Islands

Friend and travel writer extraordinaire Kristin Luna is in the mangificent Cook Islands, soaking up a bit of paradise. I am touched she spent her limited internet time to shoot me this for the blog:

The great part about being a travel writer is that you get to see places that typically only appear in people's dreams, the stuff you believe only to truly exist in CGI creations and C.S. Lewis anthologies. And you get flown first class to far-flung locales, paid to stay in the poshest of hotels where Kiehl's and Bulgari bath products are as ubiquitous as Starbuck's and McDonald's in first-world countries. The bad part about being a travel writer? Sharing these experiences with thousands--if you're lucky, millions--of others. (And yes, I do understand that's kind of part of the job description.) It's not just that you're unable to do them justice; Hell, I've long since stopped trying to put my adventures into words. I'm only a mediocre writer with mediocre photography skills--it's beyond my realm of capabilities to even begin describing the supernatural aura surrounding Aitutaki, my most recent obsession in the northern Cook Islands (South Pacific for those of you who need a broader geographic scope).

No, I've come to terms with the fact that mere adjectives can't relay the color of the water, blown-out pictures don't capture the snow-white quality of the sand. That's all fine and good, but what's truly at the root of my uneasiness? Sharing hidden gems like this with the rest of the free world. Because once the word is out, nothing can keep the untainted beauty, well, untainted. Throngs of tourists will descend upon the Cook Islands like the army of sugar ants currently attacking the spider carcass dangling from my wall. They will take more than photographs, leave more than footprints. It will no longer be my fantasy writer's retreat, the place where I can (someday) go to finish--er, start--my Great American Novel (or if we're being more honest, chick lit, as seems to be my destiny). At that point, it might as well be Grand Cayman or Paradise Island, only a bit further away and the result of a much pricier plane ticket. So the eternal question remains: What's a travel writer to do? Share a secret like her contract demands, or hold it close to her heart so it's all her own?

(That's not a rhetorical question; I'd really like to know what you think.)

xo from Paradise,
Kristin

Dear Kristin,

What do I think? Well, not to get all philosophical, but its the same question that faced dear Antigone back in ancient Greece: the choice between right and right. I relate to all you say--I wrote a 500 page book about Iceland but it's the places I didn't mention that hold a special place in my heart. In fact, one woman I met insisted I don't include her village--she didn't want anyone showing up for a random visit. On the other hand, if you don't write about a place, someone else will follow behind you. It's the human way. By writing about a place, at least you can put it into the context you want to for others. What if Cortez had focused his narrative on the wonderful cuisine and sturdy textiles of the Aztecs as opposed to their gold and human sacrifice? You know?

Anyway, you've made me want to go there. Thanks for the note!

xo from the airport on my way to Paradise,
Andrew

March 19, 2009

That Game

We've all played it. Toss a coin, make a wish, pick a card. Leaving all things to chance we spin the globe, faster and faster. We watch it spin, dizzy from the swirl of colors. Our bangs puff off our foreheads from the fake earth breeze. We close our eyes to let destiny work all by itself. And then, thud. One tiny index finger stops the world. We look closer, where did our finger land us? Where will we go next? What random part of the world have we just touched? What random part of the world will touch us next?

Children play the game and never tire of it. Grown-ups don't grow out of it. Leave a bunch of adults in a room with a globe and eventually, they too will start playing it. For even with all of their stories about all of those places, the surface of the globe is an infinite ouija board of possibility.

I'm playing it right now. And you won't believe where I've just landed . . .

March 15, 2009

Back from BA

So I was finally able to experience the wonders of Argentina's capital of Good Airs. It was wonderful being thrust back into the summertime while freezing rain was falling back at home. Equally wonderful was the strange new taste of combination flavors that is Buenos Aires--things that you never thought should go together (straight British roads, curley-cue French architecture, crazed Latin American driving, Italian chic). By no means is my experience a revelation--people have been saying this about BA from the beginning, but now I actually know it and love it--like discovering the strange joy of ham and pineapple pizza.

Despite every Argentine being fashionably skinny, food and drink seemed central to passing hours in this ultimate city. I believe I ate my weight in Dulce de Leche, then repeating the same but with blood red steak. Surely this is a city that deserves a month or two of agenda-free days and nights. I had a grand total of two days but my eyes took in enough art and park scenes for weeks of contemplation. And that is what I am doing now: contemplating how I can sell all my belongings and get a nice 6th or 7th floor apartment with a balcony somewhere in Recoleta and trade in my life's ambitions for the much more daunting task of pretending to be Argentine.

My favorite moment in BA? An hour left before leaving for the airport, walking up the frantic sidewalk of a cobblestone street of roaring traffic, past Parisian magazine kiosks and the charge of Friday afternoon people, stepping into the post office (ring!), taking a number, and watching a giant old clock tick-tocking away. That, and the many alfajores.

March 12, 2009

Iguazú

Here's proof that I finally made it to Brazil. Iguassu/Iguazú falls necessitates a multi-perspective approach, hence trips to Brazil and Argentina, then back again during the full moon night. I think that my young brain was corrupted by early 1980s advertising as the entire time I have been at the falls, I have been craving Sprite.

March 6, 2009

Live at the Smithsonian

So, my next travel talk will be held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC on May 16th. The topic? Botswana and why it's such a mind-blowing destination. I'm still editing images and writing the talk, but I can say that it will include lots of zebras, elephants, hippos, crocodiles and the splendid Okavango Delta. You can buy tickets online here or through the Smithsonian Resident Associates (+1.202.633.3030). See you there!


March 5, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air

So, I just listened to the latest interview by gorgeous TV babe Samantha Ettus. Her guest of honor? Peter Greenberg, a quick-tongued and salty journalist who suffers no fools when it comes to the subject of travel. I like. Especially when he says, "What is a tourist? A tourist is a victim." Also, when he takes travel shows to task for being plotted and dull. OK, I'll admit I've never heard of this guy before now, even though I realize that clearly he's a big shot for the industry. I would love to have a conversation with him, as long as he never found out that I write travel guides. To watch the full clip, please click here.

March 4, 2009

Andrew's Odessa

My post on Odessa for Intelligent Travel is now live, you can read it here. I do really love the city of Odessa--like none other in the world and truly alive and crazy, the way I like cities to be. I've been there a half-dozen times but someday would love to go and spend a good, long while.

March 1, 2009

St. David's Day

Happy March 1st, St. David's Day, wonderful day of Wales and all things Welsh. How did I celebrate? Stayed inside, well out of the snow and ice and thought about leeks, coal, and daffodils. I'm headed to Wales at the end of the month and have enjoyed pouring over several detailed maps planning my journey. I must confess a great pride in being Welsh--well, half-Welsh, probably much less than half, but totally Welsh in name--and am looking forward to exploring new climes back in the fatherland.

February 20, 2009

Going Back to Rockville

Yesterday (or maybe it was the day before yesterday) I embarked on a mission that took me to Rockville, Maryland--the sweet, innocent (& historic!) suburb of suburbs of the capital of the United States of America in which I live. I also live on the red line, and Rockville is also on the red line, so public transportation was an option. This year is only six weeks old and I have already been to three continents BUT I have never been to Rockville. I smell adventure.

The metro and my book put me to sleep in Van Ness and I woke up just in time for Rockville. Everything was concrete and painted lanes. I waited and waited at the station for the bus, but it never came. Nobody said hello, and I tried asking directions but nobody wanted to talk to me. So I walked. Two miles through the brown grass suburbs and naked tree parks with DO NOT... signs nailed to wooden posts. Past the Korean Presbyterian Church, the Latvian Lutheran Church, the Episcopalian Church and the First Baptist. I crossed over a sixteen-lane highway on a pedestrian bridge paid for by some Ruhr valley sister city in Germany--a cycle lane lined with overhead chain link guards to keep me from jumping to my death or throwing projectiles at people's windshields.

I wandered; I walked and walked. I accomplished my mission and then covered the miles of lawn and sidewalk and brick shopfronts back to the station, where I climbed on at Rockville and disappeared myself back to DC.

Only then did I have that kind of self-wake up call (Hey!) for the song and lyrics of R.E.M's most appropriate song: Don't Go Back to Rockville. Guitarist Mike Mills wrote it for his girlfriend who actually wanted to move back to Rockville, Maryland and his lyrical depiction of the place is kind of dead on. Also, it's a perfect song for the great American malaise known as the American suburbs because Rockville is the real-life Springfield of the United States. There's at least one Rockville in Maryland, Connecticut, California, Indiana, South Carolina, Utah, AND New Jersey (case closed).

Don't get me wrong, here. It's SO easy to trash the American suburbs--we all love to make fun of them but we all grew up in them. America's suburbs are why we lived to be this age and how we got to have straight teeth and know how to play tennis and swim butterfly and do algebra. What's more, it's America. We can't pretend that America is just purple mountains and the St. Louis arch and the Mojave desert and Pennsylvania Dutch mandalas painted on red barns surrounded by wheat fields. Most of America is cookie-cutter, communal mailbox, "from the lower 200's" subdivisions separated by school district and the asphalt expanses of shopping malls. Mock it not, because it just is. And the rest of the world from Johannesburg to Shanghai is trying their darndest to recreate the ideal we're trying our darndest to disdain.

U2's "The Joshua Tree" was the first cassette tape I ever owned. The second was R.E.M's "Eponymous" which changed my life. Here's the song that's been stuck in my head since Wednesday, filmed way back in 1985 when it was still fresh and edgy and not yet a cult classic, sung by a blonde and boyish Michael Stipe. I probably won't go back to Rockville, but if I do, I'd have this song on repeat.

February 12, 2009

My Life on the D-List

  • Gum-chewing, pissed-off woman with big hair speaking Brooklyneese: "Uh, isn't Rick Steves s'posed to be here?"
  • Me: "I dunno, I'm sorry. Maybe you could go check . . ."
  • Bothered woman: "I don't wanna go somewhere and ask--just tell me!" [shouting at me, the disobedient autistic child] "Is Rick Steves gonna be here or what??"
  • Me: "I think he might be coming later in the day, but I don't know for sure."
  • Woman: "Well I wish you'd just tell me 'cuz I don't want to go buy one of his books if he ain't comin'." She storms off in a huff.
And THAT, dear readers, was the extent of human interaction during my one hour book-signing at the New York Times Travel Show. Ah, New York! If it wasn't for your pizza, pastry, and publishing industry, would I ever go back? Yeah, OK, I probably would.

But Rick, did you not appreciate the warm and ready plastic seat that was awaiting for you to make greeting your adoring fans a bit more comfortable? Hey, don't mention it. Anytime, bro.

February 9, 2009

The Breakfast Club

I'm back from the breathtaking vistas of southern Chile and facing the cold realities of February. Sometimes travel happens so quickly and intensely that one can only reflect on the full experience after the fact. For years I've been desperately trying to trademark the phrase, "it's not where you travel, but who you travel with that matters." (My retirement plan is to sell little cross-stitched pillowcases and appliqued t-shirts with the phrase). For now though, I am left holding a week's worth of rich and bizarre memories--the wilted party favors of an incredible journey with five random travel writers. Allow me to introduce our motley bunch: Charles, Jimmy, Chantal, Shira, and myself. The Breakfast Club's cardboard VHS cover tagline said it best: "They Only Met Once, but it Changed Their Lives Forever." I will surely miss the antics of my fellow voyagers. Also, I am slowly dealing with the realization that I might just be the Anthony Michael Hall of travel writing.

February 7, 2009

Travels with Shira

So here it is, folks: my fifteen seconds of fame, over and done like the snap of a toe separator getting yanked from a size 6 foot. Let me introduce you to Shira Lazar (www.shiralazar.com) who the Fates brought into my life somewhere below the 54th parallel of the southern hemisphere. Shira's a TV personality extraordinaire who welcomed me into her sunshine ever so briefly. If I seem like an awkward speechless seventh grader next to the most popular girl in the school, it's because I was having an awkward seventh-grade moment. Yes, we are in Patagonia and that's a condor feather in my pocket.

February 4, 2009

Icebergs!

Kayaking on Lago Grey in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.