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Published: March 12th 2014
Last September one of my favorite Travelbloggers, Andy and Debbie
, as he approached his fifth year anniversary as a Travelblogger, published Ultimate Travelblog: The Dream Day
describing his last day of traveling. He revisited five of his most favorite places around the world; money was no object...a real life "Bucket List!"
"Last day of traveling"...what a morbid premise for a blog I thought...I never want to stop. But if given a last chance to relive old memories of places I haven't been for years and may never visit again, perhaps there would be some benefit to having such a day. I resolved to do the same as I approached my fifth anniversary. Picking five or six favorite places was going to be tough. I've had six months to think about it.
Dawn is always a good time to start any day. There is something really special about waking early after a great nights sleep. Dawn is silent, with perhaps only a rooster crowing in the distance. There is coolness in the air, much appreciated especially in the tropics where in a few more hours the sun will bring scorching heat. The early morning brings rising mists, from rice paddies or the jungle canopy. Smells...imagine the
smell of a charcoal fire as the first pot of rice is cooked for the day.
This day starts with that rooster. I had spent the night in a Karen hill tribes thatched shack, on stilts, in the middle of a rice field on the lower slopes of Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand. As it is not the rice planting or harvesting season, I am the only occupant. I'm presently on a trek midway up the mountain where I would camp in the dense tropical forest that covers the top. I look out the thatched and bamboo framed "doorway" to see what the weather is. It's dry season...rainy season would have made the trails nearly impassable; turning the dusty trail into a river of mud. The mist rises from the jungle canopy...the rice paddies are dry, so none from that source. It will be a good day for hiking the steepest trails to the summit. I pull on my T-shirt and shorts, check my backpack for the makings of a breakfast, and climb down the bamboo ladder to start a fire. I open a C ration can of ham and eggs. or at least that's what the
label says. The rising smoke, and possibly my motions preparing breakfast, draw the attention of the hill tribes people in the nearby village. They don't see many foreigners around here. Their curiosity must be satisfied. They squat in a circle around my fire, gawking as I prepare my breakfast. I offer them some, but they wisely decline. I wish I could have some of their sticky rice with fried fish! I converse with them a bit in Thai, a foreign language to both of us, but also common to both of us. Soon it's time to be on my way. I thank them for the use of the rice shack, then sling my backpack over my shoulder. I walk through their poppy fields. Scarred pods indicate a recent harvest of the opium sap. Marijuana lines the path. I don't need either to enjoy my day. I soon enter dense jungle; wading across cold mountain streams as the sun rises higher in the sky.
As the sun rises, Linda and I are in an open roof Land Rover. The best time to see wild animals is in early morning when they visit their watering holes before the heat of the
day. The early morning sun also provides the best light as its golden rays first hit the summit of distant Mount Kilimanjaro, over the border in Tanzania. It would have been in Kenya if Queen Victoria hadn't given it to her cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm, as a birthday present. The sunlight descends the slopes to the nearer foothills, and then the endless savannah. The only smell is from the rising dust as the Land Rover slowly drives cross country. The guide knows where the animals are. Baboons, wart hogs, gazelles, zebras, wildebeests, hyenas, jackals, giraffes, elephants, lions, cheetah, rhinos, and Cape Horn buffalo are everywhere...no need for a water hole at present. Only the hippos need water most of the time. We arrive at the Mara River to watch them cavort...they look harmless, but looks are deceiving. We spot a cheetah chasing several giraffe. They get away...so much for speed...perhaps there is strength in numbers. We continue in search of the most elusive animal, the leopard. The guide spots a leopard in a tree, drapped over a branch devouring its prey, a Thompson gazelle. The guide directs our attention to the bushes at the base of the tree...we spot two cubs.
Kenya - Mt Kilimanjaro
across the border in Tanzania
A thunderstorm is approaching from the west. The contrast between the golden sun in the east and the black, foreboding skies to the west are dramatic. This scene is only perfected by a line of lions approaching over the hill from the east...the golden sun on the golden mane of the male that leads the way. He roars every few moments, with each roar echoing off the nearby hills. He and his pride pass us towards the approaching storm...proudly. It's time to return to our safari lodge, until dusk presents the next opportunity to see the greatest spectacle on earth!
My favorite mornings are on the French Riviera. The early morning sun bathes the quaint towns with mellow light, drawing many painters to this area. Linda, bathed in that sunlight but with no artist to save that moment, has just finished breakfast on the balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The sun promises a few hours on the beach before its rays threaten burns, and even the cool sea can't revive one from the heat. The kids are anxious to go so we collect their shovels and pails for building sand castles, our beach towels, and sun tan lotion and
umbrella to protect us from that sun. A short stroll across the street from the hotel, and we are soon arranged on the beach. The kids proceed to build castles, Linda proceeds to search for sea shells, and I proceed to read a book. We watch as other families arrive and set up their umbrellas, dip their toes into the water, and build sand castles. Our kids have friends to play with. At one end of the beach is the town of Antibes, the castle with its Picasso Museum, and ramparts providing the ideal bookend to this scene. The other bookend is the Cap D'Antibes, with fishing boats in the foreground. Before us windsurfers glide across the surface of the azur sea, skipping the tops of the waves. In the distance yachts churn their way from St Tropez to Monaco. The kids get bored building castles, so go exploring. They eventually return with their treasures, including sea urchins. Apparently, touching them is not fatal. The sun and the accompanying heat remind us that it is late morning. Not even SPF 50 will protect us. The kids grudgingly pick up their shovel and pails, knowing we will be back later that
afternoon. We walk along the city ramparts, then have lunch at a sidewalk café in the old town. It seems that the Mediterranean peoples have two important things in common...they have great food and they love kids.
After a delicious lunch, we board a small six passenger Piper cub. We take off from a dirt air strip; climbing rapidly to 15,000 feet. Mount McKinley, or as the natives call it, Denali, looms before us. We are still 5,000 feet below the summit. In the far distance, across the desolate tundra, we see other mountain ranges and the hundreds of miles of glaciers flowing from them. Soon the kids get used to being in the small space, with not much separating them from a long fall to earth. This is a lot different than the protection seemingly afforded by a commercial jetliner! As we circle the peak several times, we see the vast glaciers between sharp ridges below us. We spot some block dots on white snow; climbers on their way to the summit. We soon land at Kantishna, the end of the road where we wait for the park bus to return us to the beginning. The mosquitoes, the
size of hummingbirds, swarm around our faces, forcing us to find protection in the lodge. The drive back takes all afternoon. We stop along the way to see Dahl sheep, a grizzly bear with her cubs, caribou, eagles... I enjoy talking to the bus driver who is full of information about life on the frontier. Back at the beginning, we retrieve our car and drive to a trail head. We hike along a stream, spotting more Dahl sheep. We see a grizzly bear approaching. It's time for dinner.
It's dusk. Almost as serene as dawn. I am sitting on the balcony of the hotel's rooftop restaurant with my son, Will, enjoying a Tsinghua beer before dinner. The Taklamatan Desert stretches a thousand miles beyond the western horizon. As the sun sets, shadows deepened on the eastern slopes of the nearby sand dunes. We talk about our amazing journey thus far along the Silk Road...the terra cota warriors in Xian, the Tibetan monastery in Labrang; and the camel ride in the dunes and the Buddhist caves we experienced early today. On this day we are feeling better; no gastrointestinal illness and hospital visit for my son and no broken ankle
with the black boot for me. A gentle breeze blows off the desert and the Evening Star is the first to appear. We soon feel a chill. It's time to go in to dinner. The hotel restaurant makes great Italian food...spaghetti carbonara...a break from the Chinese food we have become tired of; but still an appropriate choice as Marco Polo brought spaghetti back from China when we traveled this very same road 650 years earlier. I almost wish I was in Rome again...but dinner is meant to be spent with friends!
Linda, Will, and I are on another balcony. Arrayed in front of us is the Sydney skyline, the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House; soon to be enhanced, if such a thing was possible, with sparkling lights as the sun sets. We have joined Dancing Dave
and Denise for dinner at Rachel's apartment. RJT
, a gourmet chef, as is Denise, is putting the finishing touches on the salad. The rest of us turn from the view to set the table. David shares his love of World Music, and gives Rachel a short African dance lesson as she brings the salad to the table. Soon we are enjoying a fabulous dinner
and conversation...talking about travel with fellow Travelbloggers is absolutely the best way to finish my last day of traveling!
Linda just reminded me that Rachel and Denise owe her their recipes.
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