Author travels 'round and 'round the world again by Elliott
It was the trip of a lifetime.
During a recently completed one-year journey around the world,
I was fortunate enough to stroke the marble walls of the Taj
Mahal, chug across the South Pacific on an aging cargo ship,
and take salsa lessons from a Russian girl on a crowded Estonian
beach. I rode Indian elephants and Egyptian camels. Survived
multiple sorties by man-eating Australian flies. I had life-altering
encounters with locals in twenty countries. Eager to have
encounters in at least twenty more, I've decided to hit the
road again. This time, the road may never end.
in October of 2002, I took a leave of absence from my airline
job. Longing to break from the rat race, to see our great
big wonderful world, up close and personal, I broke my apartment
lease, sold my car, home stereo system, every knickknack and
piece of furniture accumulated over the years. I took a deep
breath. Rolled the dice. Then I purchased a series of airline
tickets that would take me around the world and back.
I called American Airlines to get ticket prices. The "OneWorld"
alliance with British Airways, Qantas, Cathay Pacific and
other carriers allows passengers to book itineraries at American's
"around-the-world" desk. When attempting to make
reservations, however, the problem with airline alliances
is that you're only allowed to fly on partner carriers. This
limits your itinerary and in some situations forces you to
fly hundreds of miles out of the way. The result can mean
higher ticket prices and a more arduous travel schedule.
than face similar restrictions with United, Delta or USAirways
alliances, I contacted travel agencies that specialize in
multi-segment, around-the-world trips. Two leading agencies,
both based in San Francisco, purchase deeply discounted one-way
fares from a variety of carriers and pass on the savings to
customers. Air Brokers International provides excellent services.
But in the end I went with AirTreks.com, mainly because of
their website's "Trip Planner." It allowed me to
add, subtract and shuffle destinations until my itinerary
reached near perfection. With one click of the mouse, an estimated
price was delivered. It took only a couple of follow-up phone
calls to workout kinks in the itinerary and obtain a final
from Miami with around-the-world tickets worth about $3,500,
I flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina. There I saw my first live
fütbol match, a 2 to 1 thriller in which the Boca Juniors
defeated archrivals River Plate. A crowd of 50,000, prodded
by one-hundred-thousand volts of excitement, clamored in a
state of near delirium. Until becoming one with the masses
at Antonio Liberti Stadium, I never knew the meaning of passion.
French Polynesia I steered clear of conventional cruise liners,
and sailed instead on the Aranui. The cargo steamer delivered
food, building materials, fuel, and an endless array of provisions
from Papeete, Tahiti, to the Marquesas Islands, which lie
farther from continental landfall than any other island group
on Earth. The voyage lasted 16 days and covered 1,600 miles
round-trip. While more than thirty Polynesian crewman unloaded
some of the 2,000-ton payload at each port, passengers made
shore excursions to paradise.
the opal-mining town of Coober Pedy, Australia, I slept "underneath"
the outback at Radeka's Downunder Backpackers Inn & Underground
Motel. More than half the dwellings in Coober Pedy were built
underground to provide shelter from the intense summer
heat and chilly winter nights. Rarely have I slept so well.
north, I stopped in Brunei, home to The Sultan of Brunei.
My one big splurge was a three-night stay at the five-star
Empire Hotel & Country Club near the capital of Bandar
Seri Begawan. Hours after I checked into an opulent, yet affordable
suite, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa,
the Prime Minister of Bahrain, arrived with an entourage.
They occupied 40 rooms, including the palatial Emperor's Suite,
which, at $13,000 U.S. per night, cost a tad more than mine.
devoured scrumptious $3 Thai meals, prepared by vendors on
the streets of Bangkok. Marveled at the cleanliness and efficiency
of Singapore's state-of-the-art subway system. Watched with
utter fascination as the Balinese sun dipped, like a ball
of melting butter, into the Indian Ocean. I stood transfixed
in front of India's Taj Mahal, unable to fathom how a structure
of such delicate magnitude could have taken shape from human
Ethiopia, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela left me mesmerized.
Sometime during the 12th or 13th century in this remote mountain
town, craftsmen carved 11 elaborate churches out of volcanic
rock. Like pieces of cake cut from the center, square trenches
were dug out of the nearby hillsides. From the resulting blocks
of rock, steps were fashioned, as were windows, doors, façades.
Finally, the interior rock was scooped out, leaving vestigial
columns for support.
reached Europe at the beginning of summer. Danced atop beach
bars on the Greek Island of Mykonos. Strolled the stone bridges
and cobblestone streets of Prague. Shopped in Rome. Museumed
in Lithuania. Girl watched along Nevsky Prospekt, the busiest
street in St. Petersburg and perhaps the most storied in all
1837, for example, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin – Russia's
most beloved poet and the great-grandson of Abrahm Hannibal,
an Ethiopian slave – ate his last meal at the Literary
Café, on the second floor of a classically designed
building on Nevsky Prospekt. He was mortally wounded after
defending his wife's honor in a duel with a flirtatious Frenchman.
down the street, nearly 100 years earlier at the Stroganov
Palace, a French chef came up with a recipe to suit the Stroganov
family's numerous guests. He sautéed beef, sliced it
into thin strips, served it with onions and mushrooms in a
sour cream sauce, and thus introduced the world to Beef Stroganoff.
allowed myself to be flogged with a birch branch inside a
Finnish sauna, following the ages-old tradition. I was welcomed
as a house guest by an Indian family, even though we had never
met. Somewhere among the juniper shrubs in the Estonian countryside,
I drank shots of "Old Ferdinand" moonshine whiskey
with Ferdinand Tammekivi, a ruddy-cheeked "spirits entrepreneur,"
at his 80th birthday party.
memories are too numerous to delineate. The experiences have
enriched me beyond comprehension. If you're the slightest
bit like me, if your heart beats a little faster at the mere
mention of a place you've never been, you'll agree with the
following aphorism: The more you travel the more you realize
how much there is to see.
only seen a glimpse of what the world has to offer. So why
not spend the next few years trying to see the rest of it?
The decision has been made. I've arranged another leave of
absence and am setting off to travel 'round and 'round the
the previous trip, which involved a carefully mapped-out flight
itinerary and the mistake of trying to see everything each
country had to offer, this time I plan to move more slowly.
Instead of traveling to six destinations in a single nation,
as I did in Argentina, for example, I'll settle into one or
two locations and really get to know my surroundings.
with Quito, Ecuador, where I'm currently enrolled in a Spanish
language immersion program, I'll drift from country to country,
spending approximately one month at each stop. My experiences
will take the form of monthly dispatches that focus on cultural
escapades, adventure activities, and interesting people I've
met along the way.
travel by plane, bus, train or boat, moving in short hops
for the most part: Ecuador - Peru - Argentina - Colombia -
the Dominican Republic, and onward to Martinique perhaps.
From there, who knows? Perhaps Switzerland, Nova Scotia.
to keep expenses at a minimum, guest houses and hostels will
be my home away from home. When opportunity presents itself,
a swanky hotel will be a welcome upgrade. Outside the U.S.,
many major airports provide hotel booking desks which often
provide lower room rates. You simply choose lodging from a
list of possibilities, pay in advance, receive a hotel voucher
and jump into a cab. Occasionally, you can book a four-star
hotel for peanuts. Which brings me to the subject of money.
I carry an ATM card and a small stash of cash and traveler's
checks. Because of sacrifice and diligence, my only debt is
that which is accumulated monthly on one of three credit cards.
The balances are paid off every month through online banking.
Internet has given travelers virtual freedom. All my banking
is conducted online. My monthly bank statements, credit card
statements, and cellular phone bills are paperless. Contacts
are kept on file on my Hotmail web page. I stay in touch with
friends, family and business associates via email.
I carry a laptop with which to compose stories, convert digital
photos and listen to MP3 music files, it's almost always cheaper
and more convenient to access the Web from a local Internet
café. They're everywhere these days. (Last year I plucked
away at a computer keyboard in a tiny Internet "shack"
in the remote mountain village of Lalibela, Ethiopia. Five
years earlier, the town had no electricity. Now you can sip
tej in the shadow of the Lasta Mountains, while paying your
MasterCard bill online.)
further delay, let the second trip of a lifetime begin! Toting
a rolling duffle bag and computer backpack, I'm off to see
The Wizard. There's no Tin Man, no Cowardly Lion or Scarecrow
on my global Yellow Brick Road. Unlike Dorothy, I like traveling
solo. And when the going gets tough, when the Wicked Witch
casts an evil spell upon my best-made travel plans, I won't
click my heels and chant "There's no place like home."
Out in the world is where I want to be. A continental drifter
with only an email address.