Saturday, December 20, 2014


I just put my husband on a plane to South Africa, where he will meet and travel with his youngest daughter, who has a two-week vacation from her refugee work in Kenya.  Although I was invited to go along, I opted to stay home and do something for myself, i.e.  take a break from travel.   Some of you who don't know Bruce will probably be surprised that a husband would leave his wife over the Christmas holidays,  but those of you who know him appreciate his love of travel, and how much he adores his kids.   And as I have written in a previous post, Christmas is not a big deal for us.   Christmas, Hannuka, Kwanza, Whatever. 

Compulsion or passion?

A friend recently emailed and mentioned that Bruce seems to have a compulsion to travel.   I wouldn't use the word compulsion to describe Bruce's desire to travel.   Instead, I would call it his passion.  The depth of his knowledge about art and history, and his curiosity about cultures and customs has always impressed me, so much so that I often feel I'm riding his coattails, both figuratively and literally, as we travel the world.    I often tell people I married Phileas Fogg, and for those who don't know the story, Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne, the joke is lost on them.  

How did his passion start?

Bruce caught the travel bug when he and three of his college buddies spent 81 days touring Europe after graduation.   That whirlwind adventure whetted his travel appetite, so when there was some extra money, he used it for a trip somewhere out of the country.   His early working years didn't take him to exotic places. He went mainly to Germany where he had business relationships.  However, in the 1980s he had an opportunity to get involved business wise with a tall ship, a 165 foot, three-masted schooner called the Sir Francis Drake.  Built in 1917, the Drake was later reconfigured to function as a charter ship and sail throughout the beautiful Caribbean Islands.   Bruce's involvement in the business, doing accounting and some legal work, was very part-time, so rather than pay him a salary, the owner gave him free trips on the Drake.   That's when the notion of exotic travel began boring a little hole in his already travel-filled head.  


And what about me?

In the '70s I made several trips to Europe with my ex-husband, using Frommer's famous guide book Europe on $5 a Day.  It was not quite backpacking, but close.  After those trips, most of my travel was back East to visit family and short trips around the West Coast, which was the most I could afford at the time. Although I felt quite worldly from the Europe experience,  traveling didn't affect me in the same way it affected Bruce.  For me it was a vacation, a time away from work, time to clean out my head.

 In 1999 when I met Bruce, I had just returned from a solo trip to New Zealand, where I biked part of the South Island and kayaked in the Tasman Sea.  I wanted to prove I could travel by myself.  This trip was so fun and rewarding that on my return flight, I made a list of other places in the world I wanted to go.  Of course, the countries I identified first were the usual ones in Europe:   Italy, Spain, Holland, the places I hadn't visited before.  It never occurred to me to consider far-out destinations, like West Africa, the Sepik River of Papua New Guinea, the Arctic Circle or Borneo.  I'm not even sure I knew where those places were, with the exception of the Arctic Circle.  That's the same as the North Pole, right?

What was our first trip together?

After a few weeks of dating, when I could tell Bruce was just a little bit smitten,  he asked if would I like to go sailing with him on a tall ship in the Caribbean.  My response to that invitation was the same answer I gave him two years later when he proposed marriage -- Are you kidding?  HELL, YES!   The trip also included two of his three daughters and a new son-in-law, which gave me insight into the close relationship he has with his girls.  We were dropped off at secluded beaches and small coral atolls you could swim around. We dropped anchor in island countries like St. Vincent, a volcanic island in the Southern Caribbean.  Most people have never heard of St. Vincent, but besides its tropical beauty, it's history is complicated --  first a French Colony and then later a British Colony, until its independence in 1979.   This trip exposed me to the Afro-Caribbean culture, their people's history, unusual food (think jerk chicken and conch soup) and the music of reggae singer, Bob Marley.

Bob Marley reincarnated

St. Vincent 

How did travel affect our relationship?

Long before the marriage proposal, but a year into the relationship, we took a two week driving trip in Italy.  Bruce saw this as a way to spend quality time with the woman he loved.  I saw it as a way to know whether this relationship was going to work out for the long term.   When couples have been in a relationship for at least six months, I offer this advice.   If you want to see how compatible you are with someone, take a trip together for at least two weeks.  By that time, the pretenses have fallen by the wayside,  little idiosyncrasies become apparent, and red flags pop up.   If you can make it through two weeks of 24/7 without pulling out your hair, then there's a pretty good chance the relationship will last. 

How do we get along 24/7?  

So,  another question is:  how much do Bruce and I have in common on the travel front?   Let's start with museums because there were plenty to see in Rome, Florence, and Venice.   As I've said before, Bruce has a high pain threshold for museums.  I enjoy museums too, but not six to eight hours a day.  This is some times a problem.   On the other hand, I have the ability to talk to people six hours a day, and while I wouldn't call it a problem per se, it's only because Bruce is a very patient man.  The other problem area relates to when we are driving because navigation is not my forte. While Bruce is patient about most things, my navigational skills, or lack thereof, is not one of them.  

On the positive side, Bruce is my history and art teacher.   I've learned more on the road with him than I ever did in the classroom.  Bruce credits me for giving him the gift of new friends, since I have no problem talking to strangers, and we've come home from a trip having made some really good friends.    Other positives:  We both enjoy traveling to out-of- the-way places, where only travelers go, not tourists.  When driving, we often take back roads because there's a better chance of seeing the unexpected.  We drink local brews and wine and seek out regional music in local bars and clubs, where we can hangout with townspeople.  We prefer to eat in small restaurants that serve authentic traditional  food.  We also enjoy the best restaurants in town, but a Michelin Star is not important because from our experience  Michelin food tends to be too precious   We also like soft adventure, but we like to know we have a place to sleep each night.   Searching for exotic treasures, like art, artifacts and local crafts, is also a shared interest, so much so our friends call our house a museum.  

The unexpected in NW Argentina

Bruce had an iron stomach in China 

An antique treasure we bought in Myanmar

Funny bathroom stories

On several occasions while traveling in Africa, we've had a bathroom with only a bucket and sponge for washing up,  but at least there have been Western toilets and not a hole in the ground.  I think the funniest bathroom situation was when we were in a hotel in China.   When Bruce was in the shower, I noticed a large gap in the tile and saw water pouring out onto the bathroom floor.  I yelled at him to turn the water off, and then together we tried to mop up the water with the only two towels we had.  When we realized we had a small lake in our bathroom,  I went to the front desk to report the problem and to ask for more towels or to have someone help us.   Frustrated by the fact that no one could understand or speak English,  I repeated slowly in pigeon English what it was we needed.   Finally, a woman nodded her head, but I quickly realized she wasn't getting my drift, so I took her to our room and showed her the standing water.   She looked down at the floor and nodded her head and then she left.  I assumed she was going to get help or at least get us more towels.  Ten minutes later she returned with a big smile on her face, and instead of towels, she  handed me a hair dryer and a shower cap, nodding as if to say will these help?   We were so amazed that there was nothing for us to do but laugh.  

Compromise?  Or do it my way

Neither one of us consider ourselves high maintenance, which is a good thing because someone who needs frequent attention wouldn't travel to some of the places we've been.    We have walked off our buns and scrambled over rocks to see important sights.  We both like to take pictures.  I take stills and Bruce takes video.  We are both interested in learning about different cultures and visiting places on the brink of change.   What is important and works for us is being flexible, spontaneous,  fairly easy going, adventurous, and having a good sense of humor.   There is one area that still gives me consternation.  I need to leave for the airport in plenty of time, just in case something happens along the way, and we are delayed.  I despise feeling rushed, and I some times worry I will miss the plane because of a backup on the freeway.  Bruce is much more casual about this and prefers to have about 10-15 minutes before boarding, so he can grab a cup of coffee.   Now that Bruce has experienced my airport anxiety, we do it my way.  

Scrambling down the Bandigara Escarpment to reach Dogon Country in the West African Country  of Mali

More Trips

After Italy in 2000, a wedding and Caribbean honeymoon on a catamaran in 2001, we took another giant step and did a safari in Southern Africa in 2003.  The American tour company we used made a couple of serious goofs in our itinerary, which could have complicated our trip if we hadn't noticed the inconsistencies in advance.  When we expressed concern, i.e. complained,  they upgraded us in such a major way that we stayed in ultra-luxury lodges run by an upmarket company called Wilderness Safaris (rack rate $1000 per night) and flew from camp to camp in their small private planes.  This experience would have been completely out of the question if it hadn't been for the goof.   Sadly, the tour company went out of business the following year.   We hoped our luxurious trip wasn't one of the reasons why.

After our safari, a young woman we met in San Francisco said, "Well, if you liked Africa, you should consider a trip to Papua New Guinea."   I knew of  PNG because I was acquainted with someone who had traveled there.  She showed me some amazing pictures,  and a few of the local treasures she brought home.  This background information was what inspired us to investigate and find a tour company that did trips there.   In 2004 we flew to Papua New Guinea and with a small group traveled up the Sepik River, visiting remote villages, experiencing an exotic culture, and meeting tribal people, who lived in primitive conditions in areas that are still difficult to get to today.   This trip exposed us to something truly out of the ordinary, and because of it, we wanted to do more.   Then we met other travelers who craved the same adventure and also wanted to explore remote areas of the tribal world.  This is how our soft adventure travel life began.  


I have really benefited from Bruce's passion because I can now say I have traveled the world, although it's not about bragging rights.  I think I'm a different person because I have seen the world.    I am more adventurous and willing to explore countries and cultures that some people are afraid of or would never think of going to.   The trip to Papua New Guinea was definitely the first step in opening the door to a new way of thinking about future destinations.   Adventure travel is exciting, that's for sure, but we also covet our relaxing time at an all-inclusive called Club Med with family and friends, and believe it or not, we are actually talking about taking a cruise some time, but we have agreed that it has to be to somewhere exotic. 

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