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,

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,

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


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.