Sharing discoveries, inspiration and the great beauty along the road on my life’s journey is a blessing. Discovering new vistas, cities and people in our amazing world makes my heart sing. It all started as a child of about eight down in the concrete floored basement of my childhood home in Montana. It was there that back copies of National Geographic magazine were stored in neat stacks. The yellow outlined covers with white and crisp black type hardly hinted at the worlds inside. Then, many of the magazine images were color illustrations. The people and faraway places were enthralling and lodged firmly in my mind’s eye. I spent hours sitting paging through those magazines. ‘Take me there’ my heart said. From then it was only a matter of time…grade school, high school, university – I was off to discover the places that had so inspired me in those National Geographic pages.
University, junior year in Italy 1970-1971. Firenze – magical – a deep dive into the Renaissance history. Life from Pensione Bretagne overlooking the River Arno yielded a cornucopia of breathtaking moments. Night rain that turned the cobblestone streets into glassy reflections of piazzas and palazzos. Lazy lunches in the cacophony of Tuscan trattorias in Fiesole, Sienna and San Gimignano. Endless encounters of 500 year old frescos, Botticelli’s and Michelangelo’s. Eyes closed leaning against Ghiberti’s bronze doors of the Florence Baptistry that Michelangelo called the Gates of Paradise; Dante Alighieri was baptized there. Sitting on the Ponte Vecchio singing Bob Dylan songs… On weekends and holidays, travel everywhere anywhere: Beirut, Istanbul, Jerusalem on Christmas Eve, Moscow, Leningrad, Bern, Geneva, Budapest, Warsaw, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Munich, Vienna, Venice, Rome, Seville, Barcelona, Marrakesh, Paris, Madrid, Heidelberg, Amsterdam… the genie was out of the bottle.
Ghibert’s Baptistry Doors
Returning to Seattle to complete undergraduate study, the plan for India was already well formed. As a world literature major passionate about poetry, I loved Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Gibran and was a devotee of everything Gandhi.
Virtually everything Gandhi said made sense to me. I integrated his philosophy into mine and that became the bedrock of my core values today. I just had to feel the earth from his country under my own feet. I wanted to see that country, it’s people and that culture that spawned this man. India was half way around the world. It made sense to keep going rather than return back and thus a plan for circumnavigation of the globe materialized. I worked multiple jobs to save enough money -about $2,000 and was off.
It was an overland journey by design, traveling the mode of average people in each country. No flights unless necessary. Trains across Europe. Down to Egypt. A barge across the Aswan Dam with Sudanese camel merchants to Wadi Hafa. Train down into Sudan to where the Blue and White Nile merges. Lorries across the Sudan into Ethiopia. Mud hut villages I‘ve never yet found a map.
where the Blue and White Nile meeting in Khartoum
Sudanese Mud Hut
Kenyan sea front. Two weeks in the belly of a ship crossing the Indian Ocean in steerage – Mombasa to Bombay. Trains in India from the north to the southern most point, Rameswarem. A little ferry to Sri Lanka – on to Kandy and Colombo. Back up to Rangoon. Down through Southeast Asia. Flights up to Korea, Japan, Taiwan. 26,000 miles of discovery. That too, was just a beginning.
Shwedagon Pagoda Burma
People travel for many different reasons; to see world wonders, for a holiday, for work… For me, since witnessing those National Geographic images as a child, it’s been a quest to come to know myself personally as part of the family of man. The more diverse my fellow family, all the more intriguing to understand. It’s something quite visceral. We are all as one, however diverse. As Teilhard de Chardin said “We are all spirits in our human experience.” How fascinating to see the manifestations of our human experience in cultural rituals, artistic expression and language and yet to know that at our core, we are all part of one universal family.
There are an estimated 196 countries in our world. I’ve only been to about 75 of those in my first 61 years. Time to make hay while the sun still shines.
On the cover of the National Geographic of October 1958 an article about Fiji caught my eye. This was possibly one of the magazines that so moved me as a seven year old child. Over 50 years later, it’s time to see what that was all about.