It was 1976 and Mike Chambers was traveling overland on the Hippie Trail across Eurasia. During a stop in Turkey, tempers flared when a fellow traveler insulted a local vendor and suddenly, in the resulting scuffle, Mike became the target of an angry mob.
Three weeks after the presidential election in Honduras, a winner had yet to be announced and tensions were high as the country plunged into political crisis. In this essay, expat Jill Dobbe reports on living in a country in chaos and what it means for the strong and resilient Hondurans who pray for peace.
As an American expat teaching English in high schools and universities in the Philippines, YourLifeIsATrip.com contributor BJ Stolbov's students often ask him, “What makes Americans American?” Learn why it's a question that he finds difficult to answer as America becomes increasingly socially and politically divisive and discover how his answer is still one that unites.
story and photos by Christopher Clark
As the bus eased through the gears, through the green corn fields and farther away from the small terminal in the town of Kitale, I tried to cast my mind back to the beginning, to figure out what it was that had drawn me to the wild and volatile Turkana region of Kenya in the first place. I guessed that the people I would meet once I got there might want to know. But the truth was that I still didn't really have an answer.
I could at least have said that it stemmed from books by long-dead explorers; and that I was looking for something very different; and that Turkana seemed a long way away from pretty much everything I had previously known. At 28 years old I had grown bored of and disillusioned with much of what I had previously experienced. Wasn't that enough reason?
Either way, it was too late. I was on my way, heading north, already half way there. Soon the bus rose out of the the Rift Valley and gradually left the rich, thick vegetation behind as we entered a place of sparse open space and scorched earth.
The rumours about the poor quality of the dirt road to Turkana were by no means exaggerated. At times the bus seemed to defy physics, leaning precariously to the side, the ground suddenly almost within touching distance of the window. Many of whom I assumed were the more seasoned passengers whooped, laughed and slapped thighs as though it was all part of the fun. I held on to my armrests for dear life.
A few hours into our journey the bus passed a group of five or six men slouched on the sand with T-shirts covering most of their faces like balaclavas and AK-47s slung over their shoulders. As I stared out of the window at them, one of them saw me, stood up, lifted his gun aloft with one hand and waved at me vigorously with the other, and then they were gone.
We arrived at our destination, Lodwar, at a little before 11 p.m., roughly five hours late. Patience is a must for travelling in Kenya.
by Susan Mckee
After flying into Tel Aviv, Israel, from Amman, Jordan, I went to the transit area of the airport (since I was changing from a Royal Jordanian flight to the El Al flight to Newark).
There was no one in the area, so I picked up the phone and asked for instructions. I was told to wait. Three more passengers from my same Royal Jordanian flight then arrived, plus two airport workers, one in a suit and both with mobile phones. The workers told us to sit and wait for our luggage. One kept repeating the numbers from our baggage tags into his mobile phone.
After more than a half hour, the bags for the three other passengers arrived, but mine did not. The workers said that my bag was not on the baggage carousel with the other luggage from the flight. I asked to leave and go through passport control to check with the Royal Jordanian staff about my luggage. I was told to sit down and wait where I was.
More people arrived (no one was introduced), including a series of security officials who questioned me about my travel. Why was I in Israel? (The Freelance Council of the Society of American Travel Writers was invited to come.) If I was a guest of the Israeli tourism officials, with whom had I met? (The names were all on the papers in my missing suitcase.) Why would Israeli tourism host me? (You’d have to ask them.) What people had I met in Jordan? (The usual tourism industry folks.) Did I have any relatives there (no), and on and on and on.
by Judith Fein
The last time Americans were riveted to a foreign square, it was Tiananmen, and the year was 1989. Anti-government demonstrators –mostly students and intellectuals--wanting more democracy and less autocracy filled the square in Bejing. Other protests erupted around the People’s Republic of China. In a show of force the T.V. audience will never forget, government tanks rolled into the square and gunned down thousands of demonstrators. Tiananmen Square went silent, and the subject of the massacre is still taboo in China.
This time, all eyes were on Egypt and Tahrir Square. Once again, young protestors defiantly showed their opposition to the government and demanded that Hosni Mubarak pack up his toys of dictatorship and leave Egypt. But Mubarak played by his own rules, and when his trifling concessions were rejected, when even his offer not to run again was scorned, he pulled a Tiananmen—sending in his heavy guns to shoot indiscriminately into the crowd.
The protestors refused to buckle, and the Egyptian nation mourned its innocent dead who were assassinated for demanding freedom. The world watched and wept and then rejoiced with them.
The ignition key to revolution was turned on by tiny Tunisia, in North Africa. The protestors upended the 23-year reign of autocrat Ben Ali, drove him into exile and exacted the dissolution of his corrupt RCD party. In a rapid move toward democracy, Ben Ali’s minions were fired or resigned, and the young people exulted in what, for many, was the first freedom they had known in their lives.
The cost of this revolution was high: as many as two hundred young lives were snuffed out. And, in a country of 10 million, everyone was affected by this horrible loss of life. There is mass mourning for the deaths, and the victims are considered martyrs to the cause of freedom.
Tunisia is one of my favorite countries in the world. I have been there seven times, lived there for 6 months when I was making two films with my husband, and have a deep and abiding affection for the gentle, kind, extremely generous Tunisians.
by Eric Lucas
It was just an ordinary neighborhood Safeway until a heavily armed lunatic showed up with a pistol. What happened next was disastrous.
I’m speaking, of course, of our local Safeway in Ballard, Washington, where I live—but you thought I was talking about the store in the Tucson foothills where an unbalanced young American gunned down six people and tried to assassinate a U.S. congresswoman. What happened at the Ballard Safeway was “milder” but in its own way illuminating, and the irony struck me because both places are well known to me. I visit Tucson a half-dozen times a year and wrote a guide to the city for a major global internet site. I am very fond of both places. I buy great heaps of toilet paper at the Ballard Safeway; at the Tucson Safeway, I help out my dad by loading up sacks of salt for his water softener.
You know what happened at the latter store, so let me describe the scene at the Seattle one when a member of the “open-carry” movement decided to saunter about one day last year. These are Americans who believe the way to assert the right to carry firearms is to, well, do so, even when you are shopping for toilet paper. Who knows when a TP bandit may strike? So Messr. Six-Gun clumped around, pistol strapped to his thigh, severely alarming everyone in the store. Our neighborhood is not a gun-totin’ place. He departed without shooting anyone, preventively or otherwise, but the incident provoked a storm of controversy on the chat-boards at our neighborhood website. Hundreds of comments flew back and forth; about 80 percent wanted to vote Mr. S.G. off the island.
Ballard is a wonderful place and I urge all to come visit—great restaurants, nice people, fresh salt air off Puget Sound, and believe me, you are very, very unlikely to be shot.
I’d say much the same for Tucson.
Lost in the coverage of the Tucson catastrophe is the fact the city is a marvelous place to visit. Its cuisine includes a unique local specialty, the Sonoran hot dog, which uses onions and chiles to meld ballpark frankfurters with North Mexico culinary styles. Its many first-class resorts include one of America’s finest spas, Canyon Ranch, and a distinctive selection of family-owned guest ranches. The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum is among the world’s leading natural history facilities. Tucson’s cultural climate makes it Arizona’s most progressive community. It’s the heart of the Sonoran Desert, a lovely and interesting Southwestern landscape that is surprisingly lush because, even though it’s an arid ecosystem, it has two distinct rainy seasons a year.
I noticed on the tarmac a "Special" aircraft parked all by itself on the ramp and heavily guarded. I am fairly sure who operates this jet. Lots of pilots call them Caspers. A Casper is a jet or aircraft with NO tail numbers or markings what so ever. It shows up, and then it disappears......like the ghost. In this case, Casper was white.
I am in love...with Tunisia. When I close my eyes and think about the kindness, hospitality and open-heartedness of the Tunisian people, I want to jump on a plane and go back. I've been to Tunisia seven times, lived there for six months, made two films about the country. But I hardly expected what has happened over the last week: there has been a grass-roots revolution. The Tunisian people have risen up against their tyrannical leader, and said no to repression. They have risked their lives in their fight for freedom.
In my lifetime, the Solidarity movement in Poland catapulted to power. The Berlin wall fell. The Soviet Union fell apart. And now, in a small Arab Muslim nation in North Africa, a despot has been deposed and the people are demanding democracy.
READ why I think the revolution and the country should be on your radar in my RECENT ARTICLE FOR THE HUFFINGTON POST
And maybe, this year, if the stars are aligned correctly, you'll JOIN ME FOR A TRIP to the new Tunisia. If you're game, drop me an email.
by Judith Fein
There’s this organ in the middle of my chest that obliges me every second of every day by beating. It can be wounded, disarmed and stunned, but it keeps on doing its job. And it only asks me for one thing in return: “stay open,” it whispers. “Just stay open.”
Maybe at one point in time it was a real effort. I think I recall suspicions I harbored and some swirling fears. But, over the years, my heart does its job and I do mine. It beats, I stay open. Not all the time—because there are hurts that catch me off guard and cause me to recoil—but, as a rule, I stay exposed in life.
The risk, as you can imagine, is pain. The reward is pleasure, connection, and the ability to feel freely. I have weighed risk and reward and come down on the side of the latter.
My heart and I have traveled widely, and when someone asks me what my favorite country is I generally answer, “the last one I visited.” I am moved by the generosity, quirkiness and depth of the people I meet on the road. I love their cultures and customs and the unique way they navigate life.
by Eric Lucas
The American flag is red, white and blue; but America itself has become a bicolor place. We have red states and blue states, and almost everyone knows what these terms mean after the hotly contested elections of the new millennium. If people go to the grocery store packing pistols and Bibles, for example, you’re in a red state like Nevada. If folks wear Tevas to go to the store packing canvas shopping bags with the one-world logo on the side, you’re in a blue state: Oregon, say.
But this red-state/blue-state inventory is unsophisticated, obliterating regional differences within states—even neighborhood differences within cities.
Few states are “redder” than Arizona, for instance, which is attempting to quell illegal immigration by requiring police officers to check citizenship papers. But within Arizona are many quite liberal places—Tucson and Flagstaff, whose City Councils voted overwhelmingly to challenge the law in court.
What’s a savvy traveler to do? It’s important to know the nature of the place you are visiting. If you’re on a car trip, for example, should you remove the Obama sticker on the bumper (someone once did this for me, with a screwdriver, in a very red place) and replace it with a 30.06 in the rifle rack? Or, conversely, should you put on Tevas instead of Nocona gator-hides?
by Jules Older
Travel writers aren't famous ethicists. If we aren't cavorting on some pristine beach in the Caribbean, we’re scarfing down lamb chops at some snooty restaurant in San Francisco.
But every once in awhile, we get to flex our moral muscles. And I've just come from my workout at the Ethics Gym.
I started pumping iron when Arizona’s governor signed what the papers are calling “the most restrictive immigration bill in the country” and which I’m calling, “the Up against the wall, Brownie!” law.
And heading for her signature is a second bill. This one will require American presidential candidates to prove — to the Arizona Secretary of State — that they were born in the USA. So, come next election, President Obama could be kept off the ballot in Arizona, since nothing will ever convince the hardcore that he’s not a Commie-Muslim from Kenya.
The papers call this the “birther” bill. I call it the “Klan in cowboy boots” bill.
Most of my friends agree that the law and the bill are nasty, bigoted and more in keeping with the spirit of 1910 than 2010. But since my friends don’t live in Arizona, they think there's not much they can do about it.
Oh, but I can. I'm a travel writer.
by Eric Lucas
I was just doing my part for immigration control, dispelling myths.
“You mean people down in the States don’t all have medical coverage?” My Canadian companions asked with jaws dropped.
“Afraid so,” I explained. “You can get cancer and have to choose between death and bankruptcy.”
This last fact is, well, an actual fact; it happened in my family. And here I was, in a candlelit lodge at a ski resort in the Canadian Rockies, perched astride a mountain in a World Heritage Site that’s one of the top travel attractions on earth, demonstrating for the umpteenth time that what really matters about travel is broadening narrow horizons rather than seeing gorgeous stuff. As Marcel Proust put it, the real act of discovery consists not in finding new places but gaining new eyes.
In this case, the new eyes belonged to my new friends. They were 40-ish Canadian professionals contemplating a move to the United States—Arizona, to be exact—so they could enjoy the free-wheeling, gun-slinging, success-nurturing ethos of my home country, and escape the stifling rigidity, monotonous courtesy and suffocating taxes of Canada.
So they thought. Then they asked me to straighten out their misunderstanding about US health care. Surely it isn’t true that people forego medical care because they can’t afford it? After I explained the realities of life in a barbarian country, they looked at each other like parents who’d just found porn on their teenager’s iPod. In Canada, you get sick, it’s covered. Period.
“Maybe we ought to reconsider moving,” Lisa said, smiling uneasily at me, as if I were a Hottentot attending a soiree at Queen Victoria’s court.
Thus I prevented another knock on the US door. No money-grubbing Maple Leafans thinking they can immigrate down here with socialist notions.
Story by Andrea Gross; photos by Irv Green (unless otherwise noted)
I'm in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the gentleman across the table from me is telling me stories about a time when most Americans, including prominent senators, did the government’s bidding because… Well, just because they trusted the government to do the right thing. No bickering. No complaints. Not even any questions. These stories blow my mind.
On the airplane en route to Tennessee, I’d read articles about more partisan squabbling in Congress, more defiant businessmen, more people trying to advance their own interests at the expense of others. Now it occurs to me that, except for a few weeks after 9/11, I can't remember a time when the people of the United States were really united.
But this gentleman is telling me that such a time existed not so very long ago. “During World War II,” he says, “extraordinary things happened,” and he continues to tell me about the “Secret City” that existed in his neck of the woods.
It happened like this: On August 2, 1939, President Roosevelt received a letter from Albert Einstein stating that there was reason to believe Nazi Germany was developing nuclear capabilities. Roosevelt realized that the United States had no choice but to do likewise — and to it faster.
Thus was born the Manhattan Project, a massive, top-secret, all-out effort by the United States government to develop nuclear capabilities.
Senators and Congressmen authorized the money without debate, knowing only that it was needed for a secret war effort. (Hmmm…. Can you imagine this happening today?)
by Judith Fein
I love Craig’s List. I really do. It has transformed the way we advertise, buy, sell and think about transactions. It’s beautiful. It’s free. I have used it so many times that I refer to the founder as Craigie. But, like the little girl with the curl, when the list is good, it is very very good, and when it is bad…well, you know.
My Craigie episode started a few months ago when my husband and I decided we desperately needed a vacation. Truth be told, I am not sure we’ve ever taken a vacation. As travel journalists and photographers, we’re always writing, shooting, taking notes and stumbling over stories, even when we don’t mean to.
But this time it was different. We were burned out from having our eyeballs glued to our computers l5 hours a day, meeting deadlines, emailing, researching. We looked at each other, and, in that silent way we sometimes communicate when we are not yakking or yukking, we knew we had to stop. For a full month.
I went to Craigie, of course, and typed in the name of a beach community in California.
There it was: the little bungalow that was waiting for us, half a block from the ocean.
It was, according to the owner, small, clean, with a spacious backyard where we could hang, escape the winter, and drink margaritas. For me, it was a done deal.
It took several weeks to get a contract. Turns out the dude who advertised with Craigie wasn’t the owner, but the renter, and this was a sublease. Fine. Also, he was doing some mysterious work or traveling in Asia and was hard to contact. Okay. His friend was handling the rental. Fine. When you have the prospect of being half a block from the ocean, you’re willing to put up with a lot. At least I am.
by Eric Lucas
Who needs ice at 3 in the morning?
No one. But that didn’t stop the ice machine out in the hall from heroically performing its appointed rounds, manufacturing fresh delectable ice in a steady, cacophonous landslide for all those hotel guests who simply have to have martinis at vampire time. It was 3:12am. The relentless clatter of cubes into basin sounded like the dwarves of Moria hammering orc swords. Clack. Thwark. Thunk.
That’s what it seemed like to me, jet-lagged and testy after flying into San Francisco from Vienna. It’s a long way. You cross nine time zones, and when you arrive your “day” has stretched nine extra hours.
All I wanted was a quiet room. Peaceful sleep.
Quiet is the ultimate travel luxury, the almost unattainable Holy Grail of journeying through the 21st century. In airports you will listen to CNN or Kenny G whether you want to or not; if you do find a corner that has escaped Orwellian electronic coverage, that’s where Nadia Sulaiman is changing the diapers on all eight of her brood. On the plane, unless you’re in first class, Dennis the Menace is practicing soccer on your seatback; if you are in first class, you’re right behind two robber barons gobbling Bloody Marys at 8am and planning a leveraged take-down of Amalgamated First Second National Global Savings & Loan. If you buy noise-canceling headphones, you discover that they cancel only ambient noise, thus magnifying conversation.