The web is full of great travel blogs, travel stories, travel photos and travel videos – the hard part is finding them amidst all the garbage. Through the week, I curate the best travel stories I find and bring you the highlights here at the Vagobond Travel Museum.
And while there were plenty of other great travel stories this week – that’s it for this weeks inductions into the Vagobond Travel Museum. To let me know about any great travel pieces, contact me using the contact form here at Vagobond.com
The wonders of the world have been presented in various media with different listings, but there is a common agreement regarding seven of them, featuring in the “the 7 wonders of the world.”
10. Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt
This is the only wonder of the ancient world that is still standing, and it is great in every aspect. Built over 20 years (2580-2560 B.C.), the pyramid held the record for the tallest man-made structure in the world (at 480.6 feet) for over 3800 years.
9. Stonehenge, United Kingdom
Composing of large stones that are in a standing position, and form a circle, Stonehenge is believed to have been built around 2500 B.C. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Recent studies have led archaeologists to believe that it was used as a burial site in its time.
8. Golden Gate Bridge, USA
Completed in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge is an engineering marvel for its times and can be considered a wonder of the world. Connecting San Francisco to San Marino, the Golden Gate Bridge is considered by the Frommers Travel Guide as “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed bridge in the world.”
7. Machu Picchu, Peru
The literal translation of Machu Picchu is “Old Mountain.” It is located 2430 meters above sea level on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is believed to be a Inca site.
6. Mount Everest, Nepal
Though not man-made, the absolutely amazing peak of Mount Everest certainly deserves a place in the top 10 wonders of the world, as a natural wonder. Standing at 8848 meters tall, it is the highest peak in the world above sea level, and was first conquered by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.
5. Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
Certainly one of the most known structures in the world, the leaning Tower of Pisa is indeed a leaning structure, standing at 55.86 meters tall. The Tower used to lean by 5.5 degrees, but restoration work carried out between 1991 and 2000 has reduced that angle to 3.99 degrees.
4. Chichen Itza, Mexico
Meaning “at the mouth of the well of the Itza”, Chichen Itza is a large site built by the Mayans, and consists of many stone buildings; all of which are under various stages of preservation. All structures are connected by a network of roads that were formerly paved, called sacbeob. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is monitored by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, Mexico.
3. The Coliseum, Italy
The Coliseum is a massive structure, which is actually an amphitheatre, and is the largest ever built in Italian history. The Coliseum is elliptical in shape and is capable of seating 50,000 people! Though damaged partially by massive earthquakes and stone-robbers, this marvelous feat of Roman engineering has stood to survive all the tough times, and is a must visit.
2. The Taj Mahal, India
The Taj Mahal, meaning “crown of buildings”, is a breath-taking structure made of marble, and is located in India. Built over 30 years, the Taj Mahal comprises of a dome mausoleum, and also has the shrines of its creator, the emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Mumtaz Begum, in whose memory the structure was actually built. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal is a symbol of iconic beauty and love.
1. The Great Wall of China, China
This structure is also one of the most famous ones in the world. Built originally to protect the northern borders of China against attacks, the Great Wall is actually a collection of walls built across centuries by many dynasties. The whole series, collectively called the Great Wall, spans 8851.8 kilometers, and is a fascinating wonder.
2011 was a great year for me in terms of travel, family, and work. While this was yet another year that I didn’t make it home to Hawaii or the USA, it was certainly a busy year. While there were a huge number of experiences to choose from, here are my top ten favorite adventures that came from this incredible year. I’m hoping that the coming year 2021, will be another one to remember.
1) Sailing in Greece was the highlight of my year. The food, the boat, the swimming. It just doesn’t get much better than that.
2) Camel Wrestling in Selcuk, Turkey was one of those oddities that while not being the coolest thing of the year, was certainly one that will never leave me.
3) Jingabongs in South Korea are my favorite discovery of 2011. Who knew that Korean bathhouses would be so awesome?
4) Hitching to the DMZ and seeing North Korea for the first time was one of those adventures that I used to read about and dream of doing.
5) Whiskey in Montmarte, Paris. Can there really be much better than carousing with strangers, drinking whiskey in the streets, and finding great hole in the wall jazz bars? Only if you do it in Paris.
8) Istanbul walks were among my favorite travel moments of 2011. Having the chance to live in Istanbul and simply take huge meandering walks in the many neighborhoods including ferry rides, trams, and more. Yes, I miss Istanbul.
Travel writing is a dangerous business. No doubt about it. Most of all, it’s dangerous for your bank account! Of course, that’s just writing in general. The travel part…
We travel because we suffer from too much curiosity Here are a couple of links you might enjoy about the dangers of travel writing.
First of all, a great article from the New York Times about one of the first budget travel writers in the business- John Wilcock.
Here is an excerpt:
JW: Today everything’s available.
NYT: So what does that make the role of travel writers today?
JW:Everyone’s turned into a travel writer. It started when people who were bankers and people like that went on vacation and realized that if they wrote something about the trip they could maybe take it off their taxes. But today, basically everybody writes about their travel. I don’t suppose you can say there’s nothing left to discover, but it certainly is hard.
NYT:Should we be happy or sad about this?
JW:It’s just an inevitable development. The way the world has gotten smaller all the time, it’s easier to get around. it’s easier to fly everywhere. That Ryanair guy started doing $1 flights to obscure towns that nobody had ever heard of before all of the sudden they became tourist centers.
NYT:You wrote in the 1970s that most most travel writing is just “public relations bull.” Is that true today?
JW: Things have changed a lot since then. One of the things I’d like to claim is that the underground press changed the nature of almost all newspaper and magazine writing. Travel writing today is much more interesting than it was in those days. When I was working at The Times everything was incredibly impersonal. Basically, you weren’t allowed to have an opinion at all. And nowadays it’s almost the reverse, almost everything is written from the personal point of view. So things have changed tremendously.
NYT:What was this Travel Directory you founded?
JW: When I first went to Mexico, I wrote in my column that I’d like to call and see people along the way. From that evolved a directory back in the early ’60s, which eventually had people all over the world in it who were willing to offer varying degrees of hospitality to travelers.
NYT: It sounds like the original CouchSurfing.
JW: It wasn’t called that back in those days, but that’s what it was, of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could still Google the Travel Directory. I bet it ended up somewhere. [Note: It did.]
NYT: I assume that at 83, you travel a bit more luxuriously than you used to.
JW: No, I still travel as cheaply as I can. I don’t look 83, I look about 60-something, and I’m actually pretty active still. I’m not really handicapped: my eyes are going a bit and my hearing’s going a bit, but otherwise I’m in pretty good shape and I live pretty much the way I always have. When I’m staying with somebody and they say “I’m sorry, we only have a couch,” I say “Listen, I’ve slept on billiard tables and in bathtubs.” I’d like to think I’m as adaptable as I always was.
So, it’s never been easy, but in terms of competition, there has never been more. Even in the ‘vagabond’ niche which I started writing in in 2001 when there were about three people using the term. Check out this great new vagabond blog.Vagabond Paris
Artemis’ quest has been to “find some new way to define personal happiness.” Answers to life’s big questions, he discovered, require mobility. “When most people are born they are taught they need to own certain things. We’re all embedded in a matrix designed to keep people at work.” People, who admire his decision, always wistfully say, “I can’t be that courageous. I can’t be that brave.” He adds, “But I’m not much any of those things… I’m just a little crazy. It’s a different mental place.”
A space that’s proved instructive. “A day has not gone by that I have not learnt something new, or met someone interesting. I spend a good portion of my time finding out what makes people happy. For some people it’s their kids, for some it’s perfecting juggling, or finding a great jazz concert, or finishing a piece of art.
Why Paris is special
Paris, a hotbed of artists, many living in squats and communes, has proved an ideal base. “It’s friendly to people who don’t have a steady job. Who opt for a free and liberal lifestyle.” The Parisians have also proved to be endearingly open-minded. “Sometimes I’ll be at a bar and start talking to some guy. As we’re leaving, he’ll say, ‘So where are you headed’ and I’ll say, ‘Turn down the street. See that lamp? I’m there.” And he’ll say, “Oh that’s cool. Why don’t you crash on my couch instead.”
And finally, here is a small feature from the blog A Dangerous Business where they showcase a traveler or writer each week and discuss the dangerous business of travel writing. Can you guess who this is?
1. How do you define the word “traveler,” and why would you consider yourself one?
It’s a funny thing, this idea of travelers and tourists. To me, a tourist is someone who has a set agenda. They know where they will go, what they will do, and when they will return. A traveler, on the other hand, operates on an altogether more free form consciousness. Plans can change, and when you travel, if you aren’t flexible, you often miss out on the best things. Yes, I’m definitely a traveler, but sometimes I don’t even like to be labeled by this definition. I almost never have the budget to travel so one way tickets usually get me to my destination. Over the past decade, I’ve learned that as long as I can carry all my possessions, it’s cheaper to actually move to a place. Not to mention the experience of living and working in a foreign culture gives you an even broader perspective than just traveling there. As such, I’m often a traveler, but more often I am what I like to call a ‘moovist’. I move to new countries more often than I travel to them.
Are you a travel writer? What do you think? Is it a dangerous business? Is there a way to earn a living at it?
Maybe it’s because I’m from New York. But I hate when people try to sell me stuff I don’t need. If I ask a simple question, don’t try to sell me a package tour or pawn me off on your café-owning best friend. When traveling, I appreciate nonpartisan information that’s given through genuine honesty. After seven weeks of backpacking, my husband and I arrived in Baños Ecuador, a hot spring town cradled in the Andean Mountains. The town is small, the food is international, and views spectacular. So, we decided to stay.
In a tight-knit community like Baños, you have to remember that everyone knows each other, that sometimes information is shaded by personal relationships and past mishaps. This is why Neil and I chose our source of information carefully when we were looking at apartments. We turned to two expats: Rebecca and Doug Greenshields.
Expat Information in Baños
Owners of the top-ranked La Casa Verde Eco-Lodge, Rebecca and Doug have lived in Ecuador for over four years. Their son Jon was born here. Their successful hotel thrives here. They wake up in the morning to guests munching away on homemade breads and they’ve a calendar full of newcomers even during low season. They are happy and content—which makes them good candidates for travel information.
Neil and I stayed at La Casa Verde twice: once for 8 nights and then again for 2, before we moved into our apartment. Both times, we reserved rooms at this hotel. Upon check in, we received area maps, restaurant suggestions, and a tour of the lodge. Green walls and natural light filter into the entry, more lounge than reception. Recycled glass bottles create a peaceful mosaic, casting red, green and blue shades on the staircase. When we asked about tours and spa treatments, they iterated what their guests had reported without plugging their own agenda. It was a nice change up from other towns where the owner stated: “There is no tourist information office and this is the only company that goes to the waterfall.” Sure.
La Casa Verde was different and that first night’s rest was the best we’d had in Ecuador.
In the morning, the Greenshields joined us for breakfast and our barrage of questions began. How much does an apartment cost? What’s typically included? Do we bargain? What areas should we look at? Who’s the best landlord? We’d a slew of queries and they answered each with thoughtful consideration. “Start looking and know exactly what you need in the apartment,” Rebecca advised. “Straighten out your budget and have a number in your head for bargaining. And be firm.” Doug added. Even if we stumped her with a question, Rebecca would find us at dinner and report back on what she’d researched in town. Between hammering away on the new La Casa Verde extensions, Doug would chug water and offer his help. “Word of mouth still works here.” In Baños, the internet isn’t a main mode of communication. The best maps are hand drawn and photocopied with scrawling notes. Business transactions can be low tech. People buy, sell, and rent through flyers in windows. “Just have a walk ‘round town.” Doug suggested. “You’ll see all the rooms for rent.”
So we strolled. We rang doorbells and inquired in Spanglish about apartments. The process wasn’t difficult. Over two and a half days of hunting, we’d visited 3 apartments. Prices ranged from US$200 to $450 per month for fully furnished, ready to go apartments.
We negotiated. We weighed options and decided on a two-bedroom flat with TV, WIFI, all utilities, and proximity to the main square. Final price (post-barter): $330.
A week after living in the new apartment, we ran into the Greenshields in town. Their son had his tricycle, Rebecca was comfortably enjoying her 2nd trimester and Doug sported a broad-rimmed hat against the summer sun. In front of Casa Hood Café, we stood and chatted like expats, catching up on the news from La Casa Verde. The extension was waiting on windows. New volunteers from San Francisco were lovely, and our open invitation to visit was offered once more. As Doug, Rebecca, and Jon walked into the café for lunch, we thanked them again for all their help. They shrugged it off in a neighborly way. “Just come visit us. You have to see the new deck!”
Story and Photos by Katherine Rodeghier exclusive for Vagobond
As my paddle dipped into water the color of black ink, I kept my eyes peeled on the glowing red headlamp of the kayaker in front of me. Single-file, we slid across Lake McLaren, following the verbal cues of our guides whose disembodied voices echoed over the water.
Kayaking, always an enjoyable activity for me, takes on an added sense of adventure at night on New Zealand’s North Island. The uncertainty of navigating an unfamiliar body of water in almost total darkness has a big payoff though: the chance to glimpse some of the oddest insects on earth, glowworms. Our flotilla of kayaks left the main channel and crowded into a narrow canyon where we flicked off our headlamps in unison. And there they were, thousands of blue dots, draping the canyon walls like Christmas lights. If you want to get all scientific, these are not worms at all, but the larvae of a winged insect similar to a firefly. They spin sticky threads hanging from the rock and switch on their nightly bioluminescence to lure prey. Reluctantly, we left the glowworm grotto and headed back on the lake, where a full moon rose above the trees as if by magic, serving as a beacon as we paddled toward shore. For visitors to New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty and Coromandel Peninsula, such moments of magic and mystery are not uncommon. Perhaps that’s due to the influence of the Maoris and their myths about their worship of the natural world. These indigenous people who traveled here from Southeast Asia by way of Polynesia on outrigger canoes—according to one theory—brought beliefs and traditions that enrich the Kiwi character today.
In the town of Mount Maunganui, a small mountain sacred to the Maoris perches on the edge of the Bay of Plenty. According to myth, the spirit of this mountain, called Mauao, dragged it here as a result of a love triangle. It had been one of trio of mountains on an inland ridge, two male, one female, but when its love was not returned, it sought to drown itself in the Pacific. Just short of shore, the spirit of the female mountain called to it, pleading with it to stop. I spent a pleasant hour on a two-mile walking path around the mountain, peeking out through overhanging trees to watch surfers and swimmers off Ocean Beach. When the British came, first to take gold and lumber from the North Island, and later to settle there, the Maori were suppressed, their land taken, their language banned. But their culture was never snuffed out. Today 14 percent of New Zealanders proudly proclaim their Maori heritage and 37 or the 120 seats in Parliament are held by Maoris.
Maori tribal life is centered around the marae, an ancestral house used for social and religious gatherings. In Tauranga, cruise ship and tour bus passengers visit Huria Marae to share in a feast of Maori foods, enjoy song and dance, and learn a bit about Maori culture. Both men and women are heavily tattooed in traditional designs, perhaps the most unusual of which is a woman’s chin tattoo bestowed on those of high esteem, usually later in life when they are gray-haired grandmothers. One of the most popular tattoo designs is the spiral-shaped koru depicting the silver fern as it emerges in new growth. Representing new life, or peace, it unfolds into a long, silvery frond that’s the national symbol of New Zealand and logo of its wildly popular All Blacks World Cup-winning rugby team.
I saw plenty of large silver ferns on a day spent tramping (Kiwi for hiking) through the rugged Coromandel Peninsula with one of New Zealand’s foremost nature guides, Kiwi Dundee. A rugged, weathered gent with more than 25 years of guiding under his belt, he walks and talks through the bush, peppering his comments with puns as old as he is. In real life he’s Doug Johansen. He and his wife, Jan, named their tour business Kiwi Dundee Adventures after he was given the moniker in answer to the Aussie’s Crocodile Dundee craze in the late 1980s.
Doug points out the massive kauri trees, cut for lumber and masts on 18th-century sailing ships, the entrance to an abandoned gold mine, and hushes us to silence to listen to the bird calls in the canopy above. He also explains the volcanic origins of the peninsula and points out Hot Water Beach where, at low tide bathers dig pools in the sand that fill with hot water from thermal vents a mile out in the bay. Hot enough to cook mussels in five minutes, bathers must add cool ocean water to bring their sandy hot tub to a comfortable temperature. I missed the low tide, so I had my soak at the Lost Spring, a day spa in Whitianga. Owner Alan Hopping began drilling on the site seeking the hot water he knew was down there somewhere. Twenty-five years later he finally found it and opened his hot pools to the paying public in 2008. The Kiwis love sports, nature and wildlife, all found in abundance on the Coromandel. The peninsula, just two hours from Auckland, is where the Kiwis come to play, spending their weekends and holidays at a campground or bach (beach house). Beaches are particularly attractive on the eastern side where cliffs tumble into the sea, scattering rocky outcroppings and tree-covered islands into the ocean. A favorite is Cathedral Cove, a natural sandstone arch accessible by kayak or a hike down a path from the town of Hahei. It’s part of the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve in Mercury Bay. Off limits to fishing, it’s a great spot for boating, swimming and snorkeling. Jump in and with luck you might find yourself frolicking with a blue-eyed penguin diving and dashing off shore. It’s another of New Zealand’s unusual creatures, but much more slippery and a whole lot faster than a glowworm.
If you’d like to explore the wonders of New Zealand why not check out the cost of flights using our amazing Vagobond Flight Tool.
Once you have the tickets arranged, use our hotel search engine for New Zealand Hotels to find the perfect place to stay on New Zealand’s North Island.
A trip around the world. Right on. You’ve decided to do it. Now you get to enjoy the planning. Planning may not be half the fun, but it is a big part of it. The dreams the ideas.
First of all, you need to figure out a few very important things.
What is your budget? and What countries do you want to go to? and How long do you want to travel?
One way to start thinking about these things is to use the Round the World Travel Planner which lets you map out where you will go, how you will get there (air, land, or sea) and then gives you an idea of how much your transportation is going to cost.
Alternatively you can pick set round the world trips which take you to a variety of recommended locations for the best possible value. An example is the route of New York – Hong Kong – Delhi – Madras / Chennai – Bombay / Mumbai – London – New York which can be purchased for right around US $1100.
For some examples of how a trip like this works, check out Andy Davies Around the World in 16 Days
Or, you might want to schedule more stops, more time such as the circle Pacific Tour – Los Angeles – Nadi (Fiji) – Sydney – surface – Cairns – Darwin – Bali (Denpasar) – Singapore – surface – Bangkok – Hong Kong – Los Angeles (here) which starts at about $1800 U.S.
Of course, if you are like me, you will want to pick all of your own destinations and travel.
As an example, here is my dreamtrip around the world. Leave Istanbul and fly to Zanzibar, from there take a boat to Madagascar and then a boat to Mauritius. Fly from there to Colombo, Sri Lanka and then sail to India, work my way up through the country overland to Kathmandu in Nepal. Fly to Suribaya in Indonesia and then catch a flight to Darwin. By land to Sydney and Melbourne before a boat trip to New Zealand. From NZ catch a flight to Hanoi before another flight to Osaka and then on to Tokyo. From Tokyo hit South America and do some serious overland exploring (by caravan ideally) From South America hit the Caribbean Islands and then on to Mali, a flight to Northern Europe, a train to St. Petersburg, and a flight home to Istanbul. It’s a wacky trip and the price for airfare comes out to about $9000 U.S.
Still, I just spent a very enjoyable 20 minutes mapping it out.
Essentially it’s like sitting down with a pen and an atlas and then being able to see how much it costs.
Fun and in terms of planning your trip…it’s pretty damn useful too.
This post was originally written in 2010 – the world has changed a great deal since that time. Columbia, for example would no longer be on this list in 2020. The United States might well be on it because of political issues, racial issues, and the pandemic.
You might be surprised not to see Iraq and Afghanistan listed, but we figured that you already knew they were dangerous, so we focused on the countries you might have THOUGHT were safe.
The world is a great place, and especially so when you are welcomed and treated with respect at the places you visit. However, with the increasing rate of crime across the world, more and more countries are placing stricter travel rules in place. Some countries, or rather some regions of some countries, are already under the grip of some undesirable social elements, and just the smallest instigation can lead to trouble, especially if you are a foreigner and are visiting. Taking all these things into consideration, we compile a list of the top 5 most dangerous places to visit in the world. Though not all parts of the below-mentioned countries/places are dangerous, you should exercise caution and make sure you have travel insurance before you visit any of them. 1. Haiti
Haiti, though a beautiful island, is a country that is influenced and infested a lot by crime, and the recent earthquake has only added to its woes. The poverty here is extreme, and visitors will most likely end up feeling sorry for having to see people in such states. Looting, escaped prisoners, riots, fake roadblocks, hijacking are occurring on a daily basis now. Added to this is the strange practice of witchcraft, voodoo and black magic. Haiti certainly ranks first as the most unsafe place to visit right now.
2. South AfricaNow this may sound surprising, but the picture of South Africa as you imagine it to be – with Nelson Mandela, cricket, football and great wildlife sanctuaries is not all what it seems to be. It has been proclaimed by many people and media around the world as the rape capital of the world. Crime here is a genuine problem, and visitors are cautioned not to travel alone outside at nights. Exercising caution, however, will make your stay memorable.
Algeria is now among the most unsafe countries of the world, mostly due to the recent rise in the number of warlords, who have found chances to exploit the country after the recent wars that have taken place. Though there are places to visit, you may face a great deal of danger in the form of fake road blockages, terrorism and abductions, which are common here. So visiting Algeria is highly NOT recommended. Go to Morocco instead.
Once a great country, Pakistan has fallen into bad hands. Though the government may seem stable from the outside, the terroristic activities that are going on within the country make it the fourth most unsafe place to visit in the world. The recent incident of the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad shows the state the country is in, Other than that, of course, Pakistan is a good country with some really good tourist destinations, but you need to exercise great caution.
Though Colombia’s crime rate is not as much as it used to be a couple of decades ago, it has not completely vanished. The main threats to the country are the presence of paramilitary organizations and a large number of drug and human traffickers who do not waste time in luring foreigners into their clutches. Activities like kidnapping, extortion, robbery, murder, car bombings, drug trade are prevalent and avoiding such area will help make your visit to Colombia a bit better, especially if you visit the magnificent Andes mountain range.
Of course, knowing the readers of Vagobond.com, you are either there now or have already visited. How did you find the countries above? Do you agree?
As I biked on the long winding road down into the canyon, I was struck dumb in the shadow of the setting sun. Zion is indescribable, but I will attempt to describe it. It is ineffable because that’s a word too. The sheer cliffs rise up threateningly and gorgeously on both sides of the echoing canyon like that girl or guy that you’ve always been in love with from the moment you first saw her and who is so attractive that you find it difficult to speak in his/her (because I’m gender neutral) presence: intimidating but undeniably stunning. Zion immediately made me feel like I was on some kind of nature speed, lighting a passionate fire that so often waits impatiently to be sparked and left blazing on a heaven-on-earthly grill and, once burning, is loath to be put out. Vagabonding Tip #1: Find something that lights your fire. Then burn baby burn and scorch the earth lusting to quench your fiery desire. So I was wide awake and euphoric and raring to go with lightning speed, and like a keen owl in the balmy Utahan night my eyes were sharp and focused and trained completely on the present moment. And here, in my manic state of elevation, I biked headlong down the spectacular canyon glorying in all these buttes and monoliths because those are apparently words. These rock formations in Zion beckon urgently to all who are born to boldly boulder, and immense mountains call climbers breathlessly sans lungs to climb higher to elevate our lives, and rolling rivers swerve alluringly through narrow slot canyons away from the sun. My first day in Zion I did two hikes, the 8-mile Observation Point hike and the 6-mile Angels Landing hike. I was a solo venturing yodeling vagabond at this point, as my cousin and I had gone different routes a week earlier. Words of Wisdom #1: If no one wants to vagabond with you, go alone! Being alone on the road is highly superior to being clustered and flustered in claustrophobic cities where finding any time at all to be alone is difficult. When I was in Zion, words—even words of wisdom–were not forthcoming. How does one describe the indescribable? How does one express the ineffable because that’s a word too? What does one say in such a place? I had not acquired the courage to speak to the stunning woman who dared me to approach her overawing beauty and I approached and we neared closer but I spoke not. On my way up to Observation Point, I traversed through slot canyons which provided discrete sneak peeks through narrow windows, portholes to paradise, hinting at the magnificence that would become vividly clear upon reaching the top. Then there was a curvy section that looked out to the east and then to the west in a cyclical wondrous fashion as I winded my way to the top. At the Point, the other hikers and I all competed for Zion’s attention and she like an eternally beautiful always vigorous spinster chose no lover but stirred the spirits of all men and women who exulted in her spacious canyon. She made youthful the old and she made bold the faint-hearted; she never spurned her admirers’ advances but spurred on the souls of restless vagabond wanderers who had searched ceaselessly to see her and delight in her delights for days and decades alike and she did this with a mysterious majestic air of constant slight amusement, laughing inwardly at the magnetic effect that she had on all. And then I descended Observation Point and began to hike up Angels Landing, where messengers would surely come down from on high and pronounce Zion as the unmistakable heaven on earth and all comers would enter into the gates where the angels land and where spirits of sojourners soar with just-realized wings to new elevations. The hike began in earnest and the angelic views took shape at a point where the steepness increased and a rope was needed to hold onto. I took my time here and enjoyed the journey. For the vagabond, it is all about the journey. In the words of the Grateful Dead —Such a long, long time to be gone and a short time to be there. Fun Definitely Disputable Fact Which Is Not A Fact At All But An Opinion #1: The Grateful Dead is the best band to listen to while vagabonding on the road. Agree or disagree with this statement as you see fit. Say I am unquestionably correct or that I am disgracefully mistaken. My view on the matter has been stated with conviction and I hold steadfast to it. And with the Grateful Dead playing in my head, I dreamed peaceful daydreams on the angel’s throne. The next morning, I arose early. Although the previous day had been incredible and I had climbed two hikes considered the best in the park by some, I wanted to earn the beauty that I was witnessing by allowing the all-powerful Zion to put my physical abilities to the test. And Pride Rock provided that opportunity. Pride Rock was simply a mountain that had a rock that looked to me like Pride Rock from Lion King. Vagabonding Tip #2: Pride Rock is an unknown unmarked hike. You won’t find it in any guides or handbooks. Do the established hikes at places like Zion. Even with the crowds, they are absolutely worth it. But also go off and climb your own mountain. And choose a cool fitting name for it. I knew that Pride Rock would be a noble competitor. I would describe the climb as very difficult bouldering. When I needed some limb to grasp hold of in precarious points of the climb, Pride Rock offered not his hand to hold; when I needed to climb on his back, he carried me not; when I needed energy for the last final push, he gifted no such burst and I was forced to find it inside myself. But finally, though Pride Rock put me full to the test and did not help me at any point and was an altogether stubborn but beautiful bastard, I finally made it to the top where I zanily unrestrainedly exulted to no one in madcap yodels, which were insane enough to do any traveling minstrel proud. And then Pride Rock and I shook hands with the utmost mutual respect and we sat together and watched the sun set slowly to the west, pleading with the tyrant of time to stop and stand still and soliciting the sun to do the same and stay motionless for a time in the sky and fall not. But time went on as it does, and the sun went down as day turned to night, and I rode back for my last night in paradise. Then the next day I biked up the canyon back onto the road.
Brian Leibold is a student of life and a yodeling vagabond. You can find his work at his blog at BMLontheroad.blogspot.com and maybe even back here at Vagobond.
Shopping is often an integral component of any travel itinerary. You’ve malls, kiosks, and street fairs where locals showcase everything from handcrafted silverworks to traditionally stitched clothes and one-of-a-kind woodcarvings. In our first five months in South America, Neil and I were able to visit four of the most famous shopping meccas of Ecuador and Peru.
Northern Ecuador’s Otavalo Saturday Market Lauded as South America’s biggest market, the Saturday Market in Otavalo, Ecuador is more like a melange of three markets: textiles, fruit, and live animals. During the week, vendors sell their wares on a smaller scale (and often with competitive prices) that includes hats, scarves, and jumpers. But as the weekend reaches full swing, the usually tame fruit, animal, and textile markets swell into each other, blurring the borders between each other so that shopaholics can stroll between the three without much effort. Furthest from Otavalo’s central plaza, the animal market, located just past the soccer stadium, is an open lot of mewing calfs, bagged guinea pigs, playful kittens, and giant hogs lounging in an open field or beside their owner’s pickup trucks. Early risers may catch a glimpse of street-crossing ducks as they clog traffic, much to the amusement of gringo onlookers.
Cuenca’s Weekend Market in Southern Ecuador Bursting at the seams with produce and indigenous locals, the Feria in Cuenca is located west of the historic center, a short bus ride from the city’s Old Church. It seems like everything here is a dollar: toilet paper, local honey, grains, rice, and juices. As you walk into the complex, fruit vendors praise the freshness of their wares as two-month old puppies yip for attention. Fish mongers stack tilapia, trout, and catfish in high mounds and as locals cluster for the best cuts, young apprentices sweep and spray the walkway to the stalls. Wrinkly faced grandmas sell whole roast pigs with skin so crisp they flake off into luscious chicharron chips. As a seafood lover, I had to admire the beautiful baskets of purple river crab sold just off the main avenue. Each little crustacean had its lavender-black claws tied up with a cream-string bow. I only wish I had time to have a crab boil in my hostel.
San Blas Artesian Market of Cusco Artists and artsy admirers will fall in love with the San Blas district of Cusco. Not only is the city renowned for its Incan past but it currently (and rightfully) boasts a bohemian culture that produces works across media including oils, brass, gold, bronze, and weaving. Uphill from the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, San Blas is lined with little workshops, most family owned and handmade to souvenir-perfection. While many pieces are religious and encompass the Virgin and Child as well as the Nativity, the artwork in general pays homage to the life of the campesinos, or country people. Two shops that must not be missed are the Merida Art Gallery and Mendivil Family Wokshop. Both are located at the top of the steep hill, a nice reward after the ascent. If you have time, stop by the Coca Shop where the sacred coca leaf is transformed into decadent treats like brownies, bon bons, and tea.
Larco Mar In Lima, Peru
With upscale shopping and unparalleled views of the sea, Larco Mar is Lima’s Disneyland for commercial consumerism. In an open-air environment, the seaward breeze moves in and the Larco Mar dominates the seaside like a beacon calling in serious shoppers. All the usual suspects are here. Jewelers, name brand apparel makers, and even an iStore jockey for your Peruvian Soles. International movies are played in the cinema and a food court satisfies fast food cravings. High end restaurants cater to businesspersons and their retinue, while at the fountain middle-class skateboarders practice their curbside kicks. The scene is a cross section of wealth and fashion which even boasts a proper humidor bar where you can enjoy a Cuban cigar and a glass of your favorite distilled liquor. At night, grab a smoothie and stroll along the cliffside walkway to watch the lights of Lima reflect over the Pacific Ocean.
Souvenirs aside, shopping or window browsing is another way to see the true culture of a country. In Otavalo, Neil and I saw the commercial success of many indigenous peoples. In Lima, we saw the ultra-modern success of present-day Peruvians. Neither mall nor market is better than the other. They are different windows into modern day Andean culture. Where the former showcases reverence for the past and its traditions, the latter hints at the overall commercial success of its countries and the wealth of its people.
Story and Photos by Brian Leibold Do you own a bike? If not, get one! If yes, do you know how to ride it? If no, learn how! (And question the wisdom in owning a bike and not knowing how to ride it). Now that everybody has a bike and knows how to ride it how about you… Go on a bike tour! But first read this. Then go, man! Maybe train some to prepare and perhaps learn how to fix a flat tire. Then take off, man, ride on! Actually I would strongly suggest purchasing panniers or a trailer to carry supplies first. Then definitely take off, my fellow vagabond, get, ready, set, go! But don’t leave without first of course deciding where you want to take off. Then by all means, what are you waiting for, you nomadic rascal, go! But I would suggest taking your time and thinking about it first. There’s no rush. It’s not a bike race, it is a bike tour (not to be confused with the Tour de France or similar tours of that racing nature. —Words of Wisdom #1: Do not confuse “bike tour” with “bike race.”It is not a race. On a similar but at the same time different note, the words “It is not a race” could also be applied to life. That could be a book, Life: A Tour, Not a Race. Or something. Some might not know what a bike tour is. It is self-explanatory. A bike tour is when you have your bike, you put all the stuff you need for however long you may be touring, whether it is for a weekend or a year, and then you go! Some people just start from where their bike is, while others ship their bike to another place and go from there (I shipped mine to Montana).
— Money Saving Tip #1: It is cheaper to ride a bike that you already have than to purchase a bike that you don’t have to go on a bike tour. Also you don’t really need a great expensive road bike to go on a tour, just a bike that is dependable. —Money Saving Tip #2: Most bike shops will ship your bike to another bike shop for cheaper than it would be to ship it on the plane. So do that. Last fall, I took off time from college and joined my cousin for a leg of his bike trip. His was an adventurous epic that began in Washington (state) and just recently finished in Washington D.C. (On The Res, his blog about his trip). I would bike over 2000 miles and explore the states of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Arizona (BML ON THE ROAD, my blog). It surprised me a little just how easy it was to get accustomed to being on a bike for 6 or more hours a day and putting in as many as 100 miles a day. If I can do it, having very little biking experience, so can you! So go! But finish reading this first. The first distinctly memorable place Richard and I biked to was Yellowstone, the first National Park in the country. Yellowstone is made for bikers and hikers. While cars have to wait for scenic overlooks in order to stop, where hundreds of other cars create hungry horrid mobs of mass pulsing humanity, the biker hiker community is able to avoid the mobs by stopping at unofficial points to explore off-road. And so the first place in Yellowstone we biked was famous Old Faithful, which was not off-road but needed to be seen and so we saw it. We experienced the spouting, spurting, springing, old-in-years-but-still-with-youthful-raw-get-up-and-go-energy, timeless geyser that is Old Faithful, uncontrollable in its pure natural wondrous power exploding out of the ground phenomenally and perpetually, with a sort of violent vigor like a surreptitiously but supernaturally strong Samson shaking and bursting up towards the surface, longing for the open air, to be freed from the shackles and constraints which held it down in the discolored volcanic ground.
—Fun Fact #1: Yellowstone is the world’s largest active volcano. In that way, the geyser was sort of like some vagabonds who live in the way they do in order to escape from the shackles and constraints of modern day society and by traveling and seeing and experiencing new places and meeting new and wonderful people, they set themselves free. —Fun Fact #2: I just compared Old Faithful in Yellowstone to vagabonding. We explored Yellowstone for many days, and it never failed to drop our jaws with its geysers and raging rivers twisting with snaky sinewy vigor through the eternal Eden and peaks and mountains and just the general heart-warming wondrous naturalistic beauty of the place. Beauty can be found most everywhere in America if one searches hard enough for it, from big, industrial, neon-brightened cities to small, lonely ghost towns that lay neglected and forgotten off never-ending highways in the western night. But in Yellowstone the traveling vagabond is able to experience a land that is preserved to look like the earth did back before all the skyscrapers and the endless development and the constant construction, and even before there were houses or railroads, and back to an even earlier era still when men and women perhaps lived in caves, or just out in the wild under the stars, reveling in the natural glory of the land around them.
And so with our ancestors of yore in their graves or wherever their spirits may lie, we paid our respects to our possibly-cave-dwelling vagabond ancestors by exulting excitedly in the land around us as the sun slapped our sweaty brows as we biked up to precarious peaks and the wind whipped us with a frenzied rush of bursting gusts as we heehawed and yodeled all the long way down. We would go on to many National Parks on the bike tour, including Grand Teton immediately following Yellowstone, Zion and Bryce Canyon both in Southern Utah, Grand Canyon, and lesser known but no less wonderful in their own way parks such as Craters of the Moon and City of Rocks in Idaho. And at every park, especially when the tourists and sun-setters (those who see only the sunset and then promptly leave) were scarce, I would feel that sensational sensation of experiencing land in its original state. And so if you wish to live the life of a vagabond biker, I would suggest that you get your bike out of the dusty dark depths of the back of the garage, put some stuff you need on the bike, get on the bike yourself, and go! First maybe see if any of your friends want to go with you. Then take off, man, go! First, though, of course say goodbye to your loved ones, and tell them you love them, and give them a handshake or naw, be demonstrative! Pretend you’re going for the handshake but then give them a big old hug! Maybe even get a little emotional. Then go! Ride onwards, westwards, southwards, eastwards, upwards, downwards, any wards! Jump in the air and fly like an exotic vagabond bird, a nomadic eagle with wings spread! —Words of Wisdom #2: Ride out onto the road! It is open ahead. Brian Leibold is a student of life and a yodeling vagabond. You can find his work at his blog at BMLontheroad.blogspot.com and maybe even back here at Vagobond.
Although road trips may have originated in America, the rest of the world has quickly caught on. Now with car hire companies offering their services in thousands of locations worldwide no destination is unreachable. You quite literally have the world at your fingertips!
Whilst the thought of driving for hours on end along an endless highway may conjure up memories of being cooped up in the back seat of your parents un- air conditioned car, wedged between a suitcase and the kitchen sink that your mother insisted on bringing, road trips today have evolved into something truly extraordinary.
Nothing gives you freedom like the open road, whether you’re driving fast or slow, have a destination in mind or are simply following your nose, or should I say bumper? road trips are the ultimate example of independent travel. Without having to rely on public transport timetables and guaranteed you’ll always get a window seat there really is no better way to see the world your way.
So, if you are looking for a thrill then look no further then these fantastic driving experiences.
1. The Pacific Coast Highway, USA.
Although it is one of the most well-known road trips it is by no means any less exciting. Navigating the winding two lane highway, with imposing rocky hills on one side and sheer cliff drops into the ocean on the other, makes for an interesting drive to say the least. The 200km stretch of highway should take around 5 hours to complete and with features such as the Bixby Creek Bridge it is a truly exhilarating experience. Simply wind down the windows,
feel the wind in your hair and soar over the Santa Lucia Mountain Range as it plunges into
2. Atlantic Ocean Road, Norway.
This coastal road is something of a worldwide architectural accomplishment. An 8km stretch of highway made up of a series of bridges that hop from island to island, the Atlantic Ocean Road is without doubt a unique experience. Passing through the incredible Hustadvika coastline, which is renowned for being exhilaratingly dramatic when in storm and the perfect spot for fishing and whale watching in calmer weather. This road has been awarded the status of national tourist route. The almost rollercoaster like peaks and curves of the bridges give the impression that you are teetering on the edge of the ocean. A feeling that is only enhanced by stopping at one (or all) of the four panoramic view and rest areas incorporated into the design of the road. These viewing points offer spectacular vistas so be sure to stop and experience the expert harmony of the natural world and this man-made construct.
3. Icefields Parkway, Canada.
The Icefields Parkway is not only one of Canada’s national treasures but one of North America’s most impressive landscapes. Drive through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains amidst a world heritage site and two national parks. This is truly a world-class experience that offers access to a breath-taking wilderness of majestic sweeping valleys and glassy, turquoise blue mountain lakes fed by ancient glaciers. This route is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get up close and personal to one of the world’s most unforgiving environments. It is in fact one of the only places in the world where you can drive right up to a glacier. With highlights such as Bow Lake, Panther Falls and the Ice fields themselves, every turn through this unique landscape is an ‘Oh my gosh!’ moment.
4. The Savannah Way, Australia.
Also known as Australia’s adventure drive, The Savannah Way stretches across the country’s north region from Cairns to Broome. Whether you choose to traverse just a section or cross the continent from coast to coast, drivers on this route are never short of views across striking landscape. It is a journey rooted deeply in the Aboriginal and pioneer heritage and links 15 national parks and five world heritage areas, guaranteeing you wide horizons, ancient gorges and abundant wildlife. As you head west from Cairns’ rainforests and reefs you will have the chance to see iconic waterfalls, embark on your own pioneering adventure on a bush walk and explore the caves of Undara Volcanic National Park. But be warned this route can be dangerous. As you drive through its remote centre, don’t expect to see a gas station or another person for several hours. Make sure you leave well prepared with plenty of supplies.
The natural world is a thing of great beauty and picturesque scenery is not that hard to find, but for truly unforgettable experiences and memories that will last a life time these road trips are a set of adventures that will get your heart racing with views that will make your stomach drop.
There is no question that 2020 has been stressful for almost everyone. While we won’t get into the major effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected millions of people in different ways, we do want to talk about how it has impacted travel.
Since the beginning of March, the travel industry in the U.S. alone has seen a loss of over $300 billion. Other countries across the globe have taken similar hits.
Now, thankfully, restrictions are starting to loosen across different areas, and with the right precautions in place, people are starting to travel once again.
While it’s still an uncertain time and traveling isn’t what it once was, it’s nice to think that it’s possible to see the world and stay safe. Hopefully, these trends will continue in a positive direction, so we all can eventually get back to normal.
If you do decide to travel in the near future, it’s more important than ever to stay healthy. With the pandemic still impacting much of the world, taking care of yourself both before and during your travels is essential.
So, what can you do to give your immune system a boost before you travel somewhere? How can you make sure you’re as healthy as possible before you head to your destination? Let’s look at a few tips that can reduce your chances of getting sick while you’re away from home.
Practice a Healthy Lifestyle
One of the easiest and most effective ways to keep your immune system strong is to live a healthy lifestyle as much as possible. This is a good rule of thumb all the time, but especially before you travel.
It might sound easy, but it often ends up being easier said than done for some people. What does it mean to live a healthy life?
The three basics of a healthy lifestyle include:
Getting enough sleep
Far too many people don’t get enough rest each night. Unfortunately, that can contribute to illness. Getting enough sleep can boost your immune system, give you more energy, and strengthen your heart. Set a nightly routine to help you get in the right “mode” for a good night’s sleep, and aim for 7-8 hours every night.
Eating right isn’t always easy, but it’s one of your best lines of defense against getting sick. Foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, like fruits and vegetables, will work with your body’s natural defenses to fight off illnesses.
Exercising is also a great way to boost your immunity. Not only can it help to flush bacteria out of your lungs, but it can boost the number of disease-fighting white blood cells in your body.
When you commit to a healthy lifestyle all the time, you won’t have to worry as much about making drastic changes right before you travel.
Although a healthy diet is important, it can be difficult to always get the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. Certain vitamins and minerals are required for everything from keeping your heart healthy to making it easier to see.
If you don’t feel as though your diet is giving you the nutrients you need, taking daily supplements can help to fill those gaps.
Vitamin C often gets the most attention when people think about how to protect their immune systems, and there is a good reason for that. Vitamin C helps to boost the production of white blood cells in your body. Vitamin D also shouldn’t be overlooked as an immune booster. It can reduce your risk of catching common illnesses like a cold or the flu. It’s even more important to take a Vitamin D supplement in the cold, winter months when there isn’t as much sunlight.
Natural supplements are perfectly safe, and if you start to take them on a daily basis you could notice a difference in your energy levels, as well as your overall, general wellness. If you don’t want to take a variety of supplements, consider a multi-vitamin that has almost everything your body needs in one convenient capsule.
Manage Your Stress
It’s fairly safe to say that this year has been more stressful than most. While a little stress isn’t problematic, feeling overwhelmed by it can weaken your immune system and even lead to mental health issues like anxiety or depression.
Managing your stress might be another one of those things that seem easier said than done. But, there are ways to keep the symptoms of stress at bay every day, so your mind and body can remain healthy and strong.
One of the easiest ways to keep your stress in check is to practice mindfulness. This word has gotten a lot of traction in recent years. But, it’s more than just a “buzz” word, it’s a technique that is incredibly effective.
Mindfulness is simply the practice of focusing on the present without letting your thoughts drift to the past or future. Closely related to meditation, you can practice mindfulness at any time by closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. Let any thoughts that come to you pass by without holding on to them.
By staying in the present and concentrating on your breath, the things that were causing you stress will start to dissipate.
Staying Healthy While You’re Away
The great thing about all of these immune-boosting tips is that they are lifestyle changes, rather than quick fixes. You can start to make them habits immediately, and you obviously don’t have to stop doing them on your trip. You should make them a priority every day, whether you’re at home or halfway across the world.
As you prepare to travel again for what could be the first time in months, make sure you are making your health and your immune system a priority. In doing so, you’ll reduce your risk of getting sick, so you can continue to travel freely and safely.
In early October of last year, I and seven other members of a conservation corps (usaconservation.org, not a bad gig for the youthful vagabond, free housing off project, free food on, free time to explore the American southwest on and off), head eastward, Texas-bound, after a tough 8 days working on trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeast New Mexico. We head to Guadalupe and Big Bend National Parks and Terlingua.
Our first stop is Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the largest wilderness area in Texas, just over the New Mexico-Texas border. In the midst of the Texas desert, a cool calm stream runs through McKittrick Canyon under the rocky cliffs. When compared to the rest of Texas, there is no comparison. Texas is known for its flatness, its uninteresting monotony, so mountains are a welcome change. The Canyon has life “that is part desert, part canyon woodland, and part highland forest.” We arrive at noon, set up tents, and start hiking.
Early in the hike, we see a rattlesnake. I almost step on it, it blends in so well with the shadows and rocks. We wait for a few moments for it to slink away. And it does, retreating with a sort of sullen hurt pride, snakily twisting its way across the rocky desert floor, aware of its lowliness. Don’t tread on me, the snake seems to hiss. Definitely a Texan snake. We circle carefully around.
As we climb up higher, the typical desert prickly pear cacti and walking-stick chollas and yuccas and mesquites disappear and maples, red and orange under the warm October sun, appear. It grows colder and more colorful, more like the weather and foliage of New England than the Texas desert. We make it back to the campsite at dusk, the sun shining on the very tops of the mountains then slowly sinking down the juniper-scattered hillside.
In the morning, I wake up early while everyone else is still in their tents. We are heading to Big Bend National Park, but not for a few hours. I have time to pack up everything, put it in the van, and start climbing up one of the trails, not stopping until I reach Guadalupe Point, at 8749 feet the highest point in Texas, a 3000 foot climb from the campsite. I stay at the top for a few minutes: the wind is powerful, views spectacular. I am the highest man in Texas, actually the highest man in the US anywhere east of New Mexico. As I descend, another man is coming up, ready to take my place on Texas’ throne.
I run down, in the type of mood where one feels compelled to yodel, singing ZZ Top, those good old boogie rocking bearded Texas boys. Though by no means a sharp dressed man or a man of means, I do have some cheap sunglasses and was for eight minutes the highest man in Texas. And that counts for something.
We drive on to Big Bend in our big white van. Driving is not my favorite way to travel, but there is sort of rambling joy that comes with driving on some desolate desert road to nowhere. We are on the desolate desert road to Big Bend, and we listen to Marshall Tucker Band:
“Gonna take a freight train
Down at the station
I don’t care where it goes”
On the way, we stop at an American Legion for a piss stop. It doubles as a bar and one of the regulars there, who tells us to call him Hollywood, is a character who looks like he may have spent the last ten years continually drunk. He doesn’t stop talking for the hour we are there. Some of my favorite of his lines:
—Everyday above ground is a good one.
—I don’t need any girls. I got my dog.
— You know how Jesus died and then rose after three days. There was this gun fight yesterday. It’s documented. I didn’t even need three days.
Did he have a job? Did he have a wife? Don’t think so. He was just a pure Texas renegade in the wilds close to the border, sure of only one thing, that there was nothing sure in this world ‘cept laughter and beer, a rebel against who knows what.
We spend this night in Terlingua, a ghost town next to Big Bend filled with misfits and travelers and outlaws. When I think Texas, I think of Terlingua. To the wanderer searching for those few places in America outside the law, where unemployment and poverty and a vagabond mentality make one rich and wealth makes one strange, where indolence is seen as a virtue and ambition is looked upon as a bizarre and contagious plague that is ravaging society, Terlingua is definitely worth spending some time in, if only to listen to the stories, because everyone there has got one. The job of the people who live there is to have no job, to live their lives as they please free of all governmental influence.
Personally, I couldn’t spend all that much time there. I respect people who resist normality and live outside the law, but for a bohemian outlaw town full of dissenters from the mainstream world, they seemed a little too content with their place in life, too settled. They weren’t traveling, exploring, vagabonding. Their world was their town. Which works for some people, and I wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks there, but before long I’d get restless, like all vagabonds do. And the cure to restlessness is movement. So we go on down the road.
The next day we go on down the road to Big Bend. We stay there two days. It feels that we are not only out of Texas, but in another world altogether. To describe Big Bend is to fail. It soars above and beyond words, resisting definition and definitive analysis. The first day we lie contentedly in an oasis of warm water next to the river, the muddy Rio Grande, which rumbles through the craggy cliffs.
On our side, America. On the other, Mexico. For a second, I get the insane urge to swim across the border, illegally and ecstatically leaving my friends and co-workers behind, wearing nothing but my shorts, with no plan but to keep moving. I do not swim to the other side, since I would have to pay a hefty fine if caught. Plus, I have no ID on me, a necessity now in this world of identification and regulation. The Rio doesn’t give a damn if it’s flowing through Mexico or the US; it just flows, that’s all. Some people care though and say on this side is one country, on the other side is another, separate and far from equal. The river flows, that’s all.
And, after a long day of hikes and exploration, so do we, leaving Big Bend and flowing on to the next adventure.
“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. “
Regardless, I’ll try. Recently, I went hiking into the Abyss of the Grand Canyon.
I am living in Flagstaff, Arizona. A good town for the vagabond, good enough to settle down for a long time in the vagabond mind (3 months). Of course, we must settle our restlessness by never settling. I know this all too well.
Flagstaff isn’t too big, and there is beauty all around. Enough National Forests close by for a lifetime of exploring, the red rocks of Sedona 40 miles south, and of course the Grand Canyon 70 miles up the road. An easy hitch, two rides tops.
I’ve been to The Canyon three times with other people; this time I go alone. Sometimes a man needs separateness to see the loveliness and love the rest of it. Or something. Vagabonds are usually lone vagabonds, lone wolves, steppenwolves.
“The man who goes alone can start to-day; but he who travels with another must wait till the other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”
I decide to hike the Hermit Trail, one of the more difficult and least populated trails at the South Rim. Getting to the trail head is the worst part, as I have to take two standing-room-only shuttles packed full of rim tourists with Nikons around necks and a yawning old driver deadlocked in dead end job. One of the stops is called The Abyss. The driver:
Now approaching The Abyss. This is The Abyss. Please exit through the back doors to The Abyss. Step carefully over the white line as you descend into The Abyss.
Edward Abbey in the late-sixties, with prophetic foresight, writes in Desert Solitaire:
Industrial Tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims in the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars, they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of those urban-suburban complexes they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while…the automotive combine has almost succeeded in strangling our cities; we need not let it also destroy . out national parks.
For the most part, though, the Grand Canyon can never be destroyed. It is invincible and perpetual. Let the rim be overrun by the terrifying tourists. The inside of the canyon itself will remain relatively untrodden. The sloth of the American public guarantees that.
Finally I make it to the trailhead and start hiking down into the true abyss. All is still on this mid-October afternoon in the canyon. It grows warmer as I descend, naturally, but it is not yet overly hot. Colors. Green junipers and cottonwoods and firs in front of me, red jutting cliffs with probably hidden caves behind that, white almost checkerboard-looking cliffs beyond.
I arrive at the bottom, 5000 feet below civilization. I walk on past the Park Service campsite thirty minutes to the Colorado. There is a sandy area where I put down my bedroll and sleeping bag. I probably will not even need the sleeping bag, it is warm enough without it. I have no permit (the $5 seemed excessive), but this is no campsite.
The same sun shines down on the Colorado river at the bottom of the canyon as shines upon Times Square, but it shines upon two different worlds. Here is stillness. Not silence, the roar of the Colorado is heard, the buzzing of bees insects, the occasional chirpings of the birds that frequent these parts, the unfortunate though fortunately distant rumbles of airplanes (but that’s a whole nother world). No, not complete silence, but stillness. A deep pervading peace. And magnificence. Natural magnificence. In New York, there is no denying the empire state building is mechanically magnificent, mechanically masterful.
But what is it when compared to this canyon? Nothing. To me they cannot be compared. It would be like comparing an wealthy man in a suit talking on a blackberry or an attractive woman in the dress with earrings costing thousands of dollars and a wild tiger in the wilderness. The former is attractive because it looks distinguished maybe, wealthy. Impressive in a material sense. Can be attained with the proper resources. To those who strive for wealth and power, it is attractive.
The latter is pure unrestrained wild unattainable unfathomable fierce beauty. The wild tiger, the wild canyon. Here is the place for the yodeling vagabond. Here is true beauty.
The Grand Canyon cannot be shaped by the will of humans. No people can chisel or hammer the canyon to fit their needs. The empire state building was built to fit our needs. The canyon rises above or actually sinks below our petty human ant like comings and goings.
And so, sublime sub time and beyond time and mind.
But even as I curse the distant rumbles of the airplane which disturb the natural tranquility of the canyon, seeing it flying through the sky and seeing the white trail in its wake fading behind it, it is magnificent. Yes, it too is beautiful. I am proud of the human race to see an airplane in the sky. It is an accomplishment, a testament to our abilities but also our restlessness. Who but a restless people would create such a speedy hurrying vehicle?
Anyways from here the sound of the airplane is like a song. The airplane sings along with the birds and the rest of nature in harmonious pitch. In its distance, I can appreciate the airplane, its usefulness, even its genius. All looks and sounds beautiful from where I sit beside the river, the red rocky cliffs soaring above me, the Colorado cutting through in all its primeval fierceness, the light and shadow of the setting sun. From the ugly smoke filled city of head aching confusion, the airplane looks ugly. Just another noise. Adding to the chaos. From here, where all is still and quiet and there is no ugliness, the airplane only adds to the glorious scene.
A little after sunset a bird on the cliffs opposite the Colorado chirps. Another answers it on that side. And one on this side. The bird on this side sounds the same as the second on that side. I don’t know their names.
Travel to the places that don’t make it into most magazines or guidebooks is usually much more interesting and exciting than reading about Bali or Boracay from yet another person who has ‘discovered it’. Certainly I didn’t discover Pernik, but it was a pleasure to get to see it in this way.
We woke up bright and early to go up into the forest with my friend Borislav’s grandfather. He was much more bright eyed than either of us, but one thing I figured out quickly is that Balkan people can drink all day and all night and seem to not suffer from it at all. And they usually seem to start the day with a shot of schnapps.
As for me, I usually suffer if I drink the night before. The sidewalk was icy and it was C-O-L-D but that didn’t stop this 80+ year old man from being the first one down the street, the first one up the hill, and the first one to wherever he was leading us. To be fair though, usually the one doing the leading should go first.
He led us past the nuclear reactors and over the river and then past this amazing testosterone driven machine where the testosterone apparently gave out with a flat tire. Then we crossed the road and went up among the gypsy houses and gypsy dogs.
Now, let me be honest here. These were very kind, simple, and humble people. Their apartment was anything but luxurious but filled their needs. That’s why when we got to the massive house they live in during the summer, I was so surprised. It was gorgeous. Decorated like a boutique hotel, each room different with a different flavor. In the basement, the canned preserves, the still, and the big vats of wine just sitting and waiting to be poured into old coke bottles.
The weather was turning worse, we took a winding path through trees and down icy trails and no one fell but if they had I would have remembered Katya telling me that the funniest thing in the world is the confused look on people’s face when they realized they are no longer standing up. Even if it was me.
Finally, our historic guide decided to go back home where it was warm and asked Borislav to complete the tour by showing me the various monuments and statues in the town of Pernik. In fact, we did see those but given the blue faces we had, we deemed it best to duck into a cafe and grab some coffee.
We did manage to see the old church, the statue of the town protector, the old mining building, and some other statues and monuments that the cold weather made impossible for me to remember.
After that we went back to his grandparents for lunch with his aunt and while there was some rakia, I avoided getting so much of the hospitality of these wonderful people this time that my head would feel like it might explode.