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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Memories of a Lifetime

One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. -- Henry Miller

I love to travel, and I have been fortunate to do a lot of international travel the past two years.

I have visited Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Poland, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Spain and Canada. Of course, my time in some of these countries was limited to just a few days and I got to visit only a few places, but I enjoyed each country.

Traveling to other countries has really opened my mind to current events in places I would not have given a second thought had I not visited there. The terrorist attacks on Kenya have been so much more painful after meeting and spending time with the warm, friendly people of Kenya. I have witnessed the beauty of ancient mosques in Istanbul, and I experienced places of great horror and sadness such as Auschwitz and Birkenau, as well as seeing the factory in Krakow where Oskar Schindler saved the lives of hundreds of Jews by employing them in his enamelware factory. I have walked the ancient streets of Petra, Jordan, and gazed in awe at the Treasury and other centuries-old buildings. I visited the town of Bethlehem, now part of the Palestinian territory, and viewed the huge white wall erected by Israel to keep its enemies out. I walked the thousands-of-years-old streets of Troy and I marveled at the engineering feats of the ancient Romans, whose cities such as Ephesus and Pergamum still stand in silent tribute to their builders.

I got to watch elephants swim across a river in Botswana and look on in awe as five young male lions set out on their evening hunt. I watched the graceful self-confidence of a pair of cheetahs moving silently through the tall grass. I saw evidence of the mighty power of elephants that had uprooted and demolished a large baobab tree. I visited a school in rural Kenya that was lacking in every modern amenity, including electricity, lights, solid floors, computers, printers, copiers, even textbooks. And I was struck by the eagerness of the children, who ranged from kindergarten through high school, to learn despite the hardships they faced.

I have had the thrill of watching a grizzly bear meandering through a meadow in search of food before its long winter hibernation, and stood in awe as a pack of wolves ran silently through the snow as darkness fell. I stood silently as several wolves -- all unseen -- howled to each other early one autumn morning. Most recently, I was thrilled to watch polar bears exploring around and under the tundra lodge -- a wheeled lodge placed on the Canadian tundra each season as the bears start to gather in anticipation of the freezing of Hudson Bay. I was mesmerized by a female polar bear who looked directly into the eyes of the people on our polar rover, as she spent a good 20 minutes entertaining us.

I stood outside, night after night, in far northern Canada, waiting for the northern lights to appear. It was so cold no one could stand the cold for more than a few brief minutes before dashing inside to thaw out.

I walked part of the Camino de Santiago -- the Way of St. James -- in Spain, an ancient pilgrimage route that has been used since Medieval times. I experienced the unbridled joy of a man named David, who shed his worldly possessions and now lives a simple life of service to the thousands of pilgrims who pass his way. Of my many trips, this was perhaps the most memorable and had the greatest impact on me.

I stood by Jerusalem's Western Wall and placed a prayer on a tiny, rolled up piece of paper in a crack in the ancient wall. I rode a camel with a nasty streak in Jordan and trudged through the mud of a rain forest in Costa Rica.

Travel has expanded my interest in learning more about a lot of things, including great rivers of Africa and African wild dogs. Simply put, travel changes us. It isn't just about the places we visit or the sights we see. It's about so much more. It's about experiencing a new culture, trying new foods, seeing new things and getting to know, even superficially, new people. As Mark Twain wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness."

What did I bring home from these trips aside from a greater curiosity and knowledge? Thousands of digital images, a coffee cup from each country, and oh so many wonderful memories and experiences. The memories, most of all, are what I treasure.