How we get the bug for a place
Easy enough! We’ve been curious about the world – from our readings and viewings as children; from our long-felt goals of being part of a bigger world, especially in science; from direct contact with nature, Lou Ellen on a farm, Vince from family trips and Boy Scout ventures and merit badge studies. We read interesting books that have been filling (overfilling) our house for decades. Some are travelogues themselves, but not by dilettantes, rather by serious people on adventures for science, culture, political geography. Alfred Russell Wallace wrote the story of evolution in his book, The Malay Archipelago, filled with episodes of tribulations and exultations in travels with people from pirates to headhunters and more. The University of California Press did a follow-up, Archipelago, which we value as the single most beautiful book produced.
Not first seen by us as a book was the set of many stories by the Blair brothers in the area in the 1980s, Ring of Fire. Toss in the Lonely Planet guides we have for 30 countries, the books on ways of life in cultures still hanging on, such as Cedar by XXX, the sweeping portrayal of pan-Asian politics in The Scrutable East, by journalist Robert Trumbull (which, if politics had grasped it, would have avoided Viet Nam and other disastrous incursions). We’ve put together a short list of selections among our 500 or 600 travel books.
We look at maps and atlases. Lou Ellen acceded to Vince’s wish to have the very expensive and luxuriant The Times Atlas of the World;
he could lose himself for hours in looking at exotic areas. Even while on a trip another trip would suggest itself. An airline magazine showed the routes over Africa; our fingers can trace over remote regions such as Bangui – that transports us to the mindset of Dr. Livingstone. Vince traced the route of Edmond O’Hanlon and James Fenton into the remotest parts of Borneo; the rainforests we’ve experienced expanded a hundredfold in impact. Reading Sahara by Marc de Villiers and Sheila Hirtle expanded the efforts and rewards we’ve had another hundredfold.
We talk to friends and colleagues, esp. those who lived there or are from there by origin. Before his first overseas trip to Kenya, Vince had planned to join a Sierra Club group. Luckily, he met Jim Beverwyk and Mary Parsaca, who had lived there as Peace Corps volunteers, even having their children Mara and Tana born there. “Yes, go, but don’t go with a group. Get there, to the Thorn Tree Café at Kenyatta Boulevard and Kimathi Street. Put up a note, asking people to share expenses.”
He did. He rented a van, and, after one somewhat worrisome day about the expense of paying all the van rental, he had three fellow travelers through the game parks of Amboseli, Tsavo, Samburu, and Nakuru, great bantering conversation, worries about lions around the tents, buying produce from tiny shops of the locals. Two and a half years later, Lou Ellen and Vince were married and had hearts set on Kenya. hey found, by some roundabout way (so readily done in Los Alamos) a Kiswahili teacher. Wairimu Bowman was an Mkikuyu from the highlands, married to a physicist. Over six patient months she taught us Kiswahili.
Above: Wairimu’s sister-in-law, also Wairimu, in Othaya
Somehow also the word got out about our going to Kenya. “Say, there’s a young Maasai student at Santa Fe Prep.” This led to meeting him and his urging us to meet his grandmother. “She’s does bush medicine.” And this turned out to include open-air surgery!
We talk to people where we find ourselves. In Darwin, Australia, we meet ecologists David Williams and Margaret. Within a day we had lilos (floats) they loaned us and were on our way to splendid Twin Falls (splendid even if dry). In New Zealand we took up the offer of Warwick and Jan Silvester to stay with them. They seriously augmented our camping supplies and also our itinerary around this beautiful country.
In a few months, we’ve acquired a real feel for the country or countries. We’re replete with travel and nature guidebooks, local maps, airline schedules, names of people and places, correspondence. A most pleasant first half of the trip has transpired. We’re itching to go. We have a wish list of what we hope to do and see and steep ourselves in. We’re eager to:
- Meet people in cultures new to us; speak words to volumes in a language
- Have the feeling of being off local support, needing our wits rather often – a feeling celebrated by the great, humorous, and insightful travel author, Bill Bryson;
- Be in new landscapes, in wild nature, in fascinating, urbane cities and little villages;
- Settle into intimate little hotels, inns, chambres d’hotes, to feel cozy and to talk with the people who have their lives invested there;
- See art and crafts indigenous to the area, whether that of Turkana basketmakers,
- urban aboriginal painters, Japanese lacquer artists, or Greek ceramicists. We always bring some back. Our house is a mini-museum. There are the headiest experiences of museums and art galleries great to small. Lou Ellen and I walked through the vast Village Arts emporium in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, separately, yet found that 7 of the 10 objects we each chose were the same!
- There are lesser-know venues not to be missed. Coming to mind are the Musee Guimet of Asian art in in Paris and the Tokyo Crafts Museum, a living artists’s workshop and displays of handiwork finer than one ever imagined;
- Engrave memories in photographs, that range from simple records of a place or a time to images that recall themselves in our consciousness year after year – that woman holding her child,
- that timeless scene of a prahu sailing before the wind with the purple sky of a sunset,
- that elephant sharing space with us, having moved to within two steps of us, that exotic skyscraper in Guangzhou like no other;
- The exchange of gifts, physical and, more so, in conversations – at a dinner table or on a train – and in intermeshing of daily life – time with Maxi, Eleni, and Giorgos at home and visiting Meteora, amusing stories with Gilles Regazzoni of Gilles de Roi.