Monday, September 22, 2014

Adventure travel... or not?

HALLIE EPHRON: A little over a month ago, my daughter Molly moved to the Yucatan where she's working as marketing and fundraising coordinator for the Na'atik Language and Cultural Institute, a fabulous not-for-profit with a great concept: tourists who take classes in Spanish or Maya at Na’atik help to provide affordable English classes to local students in the Mexican Maya Zone. Speaking English is pretty much required for many of the decent jobs in this heavily touristed part of the world.

What Molly has had so far is an extraordinary adventure travel experience.

First there's the wildlife. The free-range gekkos (lots of them) that cruise her kitchen ceiling. Scorpions that come to rest on her Spanish homework.

Tending bee hives
with a Maya father-and-son beekeeping team. (Yucatan honey is famous.)

Getting covered in mud, biking through the jungle at night to see snakes eat bats in a cave

She's swung by a rope into a remote limestone swimming hole (a "cenote" with opalescent blue water.) She and her friends traveled there by taxi, got dropped at an unmarked road on the side of the highway, and waded into the jungle to find it. Trusted that the cab would come back hours later to get them.

I'm so proud of her, because the work she's doing is so good, and because of her adventurous spirit. I know my husband and I gave her the travel bug, but we are wimps by comparison.

Just for instance, here's a picture of my husband this summer in Ireland, sizing up a rope bridge that we will have to decide whether to cross. I leave it to you to guess whether we did or not.

So what's your most adventurous travel experience (so far)? Or have you stuck to tour buses, comfy cruises, and  resorts?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, dear. You have to count your blessings that you gave your daughter not only a good heart, but a confident one. I, on the other hand,  am confident that I can find my way to my hotel room, generally confident that I can figure out how the shower works, and confident that if the soap is too harsh, I will have brought my own.

I am okay in big cities, happy to explore and poke around. I'm not one bit afraid of heights, or depths, or language.  But um, as I once heard Sue Grafton say: "I don't do rustic."

I told you this, right? When I recently went to the doctor and they suspected Lyme disease, she asked me  "When was  the last time you went hiking, or into the woods?" And I thought about it and replied "...1979?" (I don't have Lyme.)

And I think-yes! Of course you went across the bridge! I would have, too. I think...

Uh, something I neglected to share: my husband is afraid of heights. If it had been up to ME we'd have crossed that bridge. Really.

RHYS BOWEN: When I was younger I was quite adventurous. Jeep over a 15,000 foot pass into Ladakh, for example. But I hate bugs. My daughter did something similar in Yucatan and El Salvador, Hallie. 13 inch scorpions on the walls. Hairy tarantulas walking past. She slept in a hammock (in the mistaken belief that the spiders wouldn't visit her there).

Not for me.  I used to love camping. Now I need a comfortable bed and hot shower. 

But John and I did the red center of Australia in 2009. We were up close and personal with crocodiles and saw enormous spider webs. But no more jungles, thank you. From now on my biggest adventure is to decide what type of pate to buy at a French market!

LUCY BURDETTE: No, no, no to the tarantulas and scorpions! I used to love camping but that's been a while (not as long as Hank.) But truth is,  I love being home and so traveling of any kind feels a little hard. So now that I'm doing more of it, I pat myself on the back for going:). Looking forward to seeing Australia next year, but not the way your adventurous daughter would do it Hallie!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I did a lot of cross-country camping (in a tent) in my youth, so now my idea of getting into nature is a five-star hotel and the nature channel on TV. Seriously, private bathroom, hot running water and room service. A hotel bar.

The funny thing is that my husband and I support the National Parks and Wildlife Federation. We love nature. We know it's important. But we just don't feel the need to actually go there.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I think it's an age thing, don't you? When you described Molly's adventures I thought, "How wonderful! For anyone between eighteen and twenty-nine!"

I mean, just this summer, The Boy went to an EDM (Electronic Dance Music) festival in Michigan for a week. He slept in the charter bus (which broke down two times,)  camped in a tiny single-sleeper tent, lived on hot dogs and peanut butter and never had anything dry to wear after it rained the first night. He had a grand time.

Me? No way. I'd be like those people who go to Burning man in luxury campers with flush toilets and a/c.

I banged all over Europe when I was twenty-one with my Eurailpass, staying in fleabag pensiones with cold and cold running showers down the hall, braving public bus and subway systems in languages I didn't know.

 I spent a romantic evening in Rome with a Finn, had to barricade my hotel door against the Irishmen I'd been drinking with in Heidelberg, saw Der Rosenkavalier at the Vienna Staatsoper wearing jeans (I got the student rush tickets for standing room stalls.) I'm with Hank here - I like my adventures urban.

Nowadays, I'd still happily go to all those cities, but I want a comfortable bed in a good hotel with an ensuite bath. And I'd probably take taxis a lot more.
HALLIE: So, dear Gentle Readers: Would you walk through the rain forest or take the zip line? Take the river cruise or the rapids raft? Order french fries or deep fried bugs?


  1. Cheers for adventurous Molly --- it certainly does sound like she is having a wonderful time, but none of those things would I choose to try . . . .
    Nor would I take the zip line, cruise the rapids, or eat the deep fried bugs. Nature is good, but I am content watching the deer from the comfort of my living room sofa and gardening is about the extent of my adventurous outdoor spirit. . . .

  2. Deer! Now they really are dangerous. They can hit your car, share their ticks...

  3. No, nothing like your daughter, Hallie!

    I've only been moderately adventurous in backpacking the Sierra when I was still a walkie and living on a remote ranch in California. Our address was 13 miles south of Weldon on Kelso Creek Road. Turn right after the third cattleguard. Cross the creek and up the other side. Holler.

  4. Reine, every time I think I know everything there is to know about you, you pull out some new extraordinary bit of information. So you were close to Death Valley, one of my all time favorite places in the world.

  5. Holler! Love that, Reine.

    Last night we went to the Judy Collins concert--she was fabulous.
    At one point, she tipped over the vase of red roses that had been placed under her piano. (There didn't seem to be water in it.)
    She righted the bouquet, then smiled and said: "Gardening."

  6. I was even closer than that to Death Valley when we lived in China Lake which borders and includes parts of Death Valley. I patrolled there couple of times when I was a member of the CLPD for a very brief period and got to watch a lot of wild horses run the floor of valley. My partner used to make arrowheads from a pile of obsidian when I wasn't looking and pretend he found them.

  7. Yes, Hank. Holler. Honking is so rude. And Close the gate, please. :-)

  8. Ha! Gardening. I got to meet her a couple years ago, when she brought her autobiography to Books by the Banks (which is in a couple weeks). She is exquisitely beautiful close up, still.

    The wildest travel thing I've ever done was the Wild Cave Tour in Mammoth Caves, back in my 20's. If I remember correctly, it's six miles long, and you have to wear headlamps (the helmets come in handy, way too often), and there are several long stretches where you have to climb, or slither on your belly, or squeeze through the most ridiculously tiny spaces. I was a nervous wreck.

    My unmarried, 30-year old daughter is getting ready to do major, worldwide traveling for the next year. She's on her way here in one of those fancy Sprinter vans, borrowed from a friend, and loaded with all her earthly goods, to store at our farm while she's wandering. First she's going to Nevada and California to do some climbing, and visit friends and relatives (wonder where she gets this?), then dropping her car off here, and flying off to Europe for at least six months in various countries.

    Just like Molly, might as well do this kind of thing while you're young and unattached. I'm so excited for her, and hope to meet up with her someplace.

  9. Karen, our daughters sound like kindred spirits. And I love your description of slithering through a cave. Reminded me, when I was quite pregnant (what WAS I thinking?) I started an underground walk and at one point it was so narrow I almost got stuck. I had to be backed out. A loooong way backed out.

  10. We are mostly a traveling family (one of my four daughters prefers the home hearth), but we are not campers so much. I ate fried grasshoppers in Oaxaca. When I have traveled with my husband, there would be lots of time when I was on my own -- tackling the subway in Tokyo, walking around Rio.
    My husband has traveled to 70 countries -- but he generally stays in very nice hotels (even in Addis Ababa).

  11. Having done the zip-lining and white water rafting, I can certainly vouch for Julia's assertion that this is an age thing.

    Once I hit 40, I was like "what am I thinking doing these things." No more.

    At least, I did always have the sense to say if we were going to do those adventure things, we would be staying in a cabin with a hot tub and heated towel racks.

    I don't do rustic. Rustic for me, is the Holiday Inn (which, for the record, I also no longer do).

  12. Egads, Hallie, that sounds terrifying. Glad you were able to get out. You weren't, by any chance, pregnant with Molly then?

    The boyfriend I went with to the caves was a big guy, 6'4" and 240, and at one point someone was hauling on his arms in front of us, and shoving on his butt behind him, because he got stuck, like three miles in, underground.

    Only part of why I was so nervy!

  13. I spent my teen years as a Girl Scout camp counselor - and loved all the out door challenges of the woods near the Dismal Swamp. Once I even killed a snake with a little ole hand hatchet!!! NOW... I shriek when I see any kind of urban bug in my 8th floor Manhattan apartment! Thelma Straw

  14. Karen, I WAS pregnant with Molly! Maybe that's what did it!

  15. As many of you know we live half the year off-grid in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan woods, but I understand where most Reds are coming from. One of my favorite bosses said she considered she was roughing it when she had to bring her own hair dryer to the hotel!

    Shoulder issues prevent me backpacking anymore, but I've just started planning a multiple day white-water trip for my oldest granddaughter as part of a month-long trip out west next summer.

    Jan, does not sleep on the ground anymore, so she'll be staying in motels for the week that the kid and I will be sleeping under the stars.

    ~ Jim

  16. I'd just as soon pass on the scorpions and spiders, too, but we've gone tent camping for years. Unfortunately, (who said it's an age thing?!) we tried to recreate a getaway with our dearest friends this weekend (in a cabin rather than a tent at her insistence - honest!), and we were both so happy to be home to our comfy bed and hot shower.

    But Hallie, your daughter's adventures sound incredible! It's great to have kids to (re)live such travels through.

  17. Jim, you're an inspiration to us all.

    White water rafting or kayaking is something I'd love to do again if I (1) were back in shape and (2) had time to repolish my kayaking skills after years of limiting myself to scenic paddling in Maine's coastal inlets.

    When Ross and I went on safari to Africa, we did a rafting trip on the Zambezi, a level five river. The put in was right below the Victoria Falls, and the water was so rough I got my first toss-off while we were still roped to the pier! That was the only trip where I was truly afraid I was going to break something.

  18. Speaking of camping out "under the stars" I remember as a kid at camp sleeping in a sleeping bag under a cotton wood tree in Arizona, falling asleep to the sound of cicadas, and waking up to cicadas falling dead out of the tree like hail. They are big and ugly. Ick.

  19. My partner Norman and I still take a canoe trip each summer in Algonquin Park, Ontario but we keep looking for routes with fewer and shorter portages.

    Pretty tame, really. Wildlife sightings range from mosquitoes to moose.

    We each started going there in 1958 with our respective families, so it's a match made in the wild.

    my adventures

  20. Julia, that sounds like quite a trip. The most exciting time I've had on water, besides sleeping on a 20-bunk boat in the Galapagos (and being deathly seasick the entire time) was a raft trip on the New River. It was a blast, but I was too young and dopey to anticipate any of the potential risk.

    One of my cousins was an Olympic rower for Canada in the 70's, and since he quit that he's been a river guide on both the New and the Gauley Rivers.

  21. My apologies for not getting in today's chat, but yesterday I had a horrible travel day. Not in the wild, but in airport/airplane hell. Sitting roasting plane with no air conditioning, back into terminal. Back into roasting plane. Back into terminal. Flight canceled. Rebooked standby. Spent the next five hours going back and forth the length of 23 gates, not making standby on flight after flight. Finally, at almost nine last night, I got on a flight to Abilene, which took 36 minutes!!!!

    I'm usually a good air-traveler but yesterday was not a good day.

    As for rustic, that is my hubby's idea of heaven. Me, I like four star hotels, and five star would be even better. Good bed, deep bath, room service. But I can do a beach resort where you can lie in a hammock, listen to the crash waves, and read books. I am a WIMP!

  22. Love your pictures, Susan... looks like your partner is the original "mountain man!"

  23. I like my adventures HUMAN. I like meeting people of all kinds, seeing how they live, trying (most of) their food, that sort of thing. So the adventures don't have to be urban, but there are more people in an urban situation.

    I grew up on a lake, and I love to swim and canoe and kayak, but not if I have to lug or carry the canoe or kayak further than from the boathouse out to the dock. I was in master swim for a number of years, so water doesn't scare me, but after I once floated out into the open sea right over the rope floats in Jamaica (I opened my eyes when I noticed how quiet it had become and paddled like crazy for the shore) I'm a little wary of OPEN water which includes ocean swimming. And I like swimming in warm water, so that rules out swimming anyplace the water is cold (or the beach is cruddy).

    I have never been down in a cave, and the thought sort of creeps me out. So do heights. And those big ugly cruise ships that look like Stalinist apartment blocks sitting on a boat? No way. If I want to stay in a high rise, it'll be a hotel on shore somewhere (though I'd prefer a quaint inn).

    I don't think I'm agoraphobic-- I didn't mind the Great Plains as I recall (it's been more than half a century since my family drove across them), but there is something rather scary about being in the middle of the ocean and not being able to see the shore (even with my affinity for water noted above).

    Yeah, creature comforts-- at least to a degree-- and lots of people to interact with, and absence of bugs does it for me. Third class trains across Europe were fine in my youth, but road trips across the USA are finer, and beaches and beach towns are finest, at least for me.

  24. Oh, Debs... boy do I feel for you. I HATE it when air travel turns into a nightmare. And after multiple delays and cancellations and walking miles, I swear never to travel through O'Hare again. Makes white water rafting seem tame.

  25. Hallie, you can avoid O'Hare if you are going to the Chicago area either by flying into Milwaukee which is about an hour to an hour and a half north of O'Hare and a much smaller (and user friendly) airport, or by using Midway.

    There are buses between the Milwaukee airport and O'Hare, and you can get an Amtrak train to downtown Chicago from a station at Milwaukee's Mitchell International. A lot of people in Chicago's northern suburbs use our airport instead of O'Hare.

    I've never tried Midway, but Southwest flies out of there, and I understand it is more user-friendly than O'Hare-- and more centrally located in Chicago.

  26. Milwaukee airport - isn't that where there's a sign where you come out of TSA screening that says "Recombobulation Area" - Got to love an airport with a sense of humor.

  27. I haven't flown in 15 months so I'm not sure what's at the Milwaukee airport-- except that it still has a large used-book store (something else you've gotta love; I used to stop in there regularly to see if they had copies of my o.p. books, and once picked up a 40-year-old Life magazine to help vet a client's book.)

    I used to fly at least every 15 days. It's like that was a different person who lived in a different world.

  28. Hallie, I admire your daughter for her courage to work in another country, as well as for being willing to do so many "different" things while she's there.
    Around 8 years ago I did an Elderhostel trip. We stayed in a modest hotel. The first night I discovered that I had "room-mates": a couple of different kinds of bugs, some in my bed (I don't think they were bed bugs, based on what I've read about them, but still...)and some in the bathroom. I got myself a new room as soon as possible!
    I am definitely NOT the camping type!

  29. As someone else said, what an awesome adventure - for someone between 18 and 29. I adore nature. I want to see it all - from the comfort of a hotel room and river cruise.

    My meager adventuring came in my six months working in Puerto Rico and Saint Croix. When I arrived in St. Croix, a native told me, "Don't kill the geckos. They eat the bugs." I had two of them in my condo. I named them Ralph and Herbie.

    And I never saw a bug.

  30. From what Karen in Ohio has written since she got back, I'm sure her photo safari earlier this year was wonderful, but you know, you can get a really close up and detailed view of nature (with an explanation*, and a lot of adventures that you'd have to wait months or years to have yourself) by watching PBS. We have a chance to see the wonders of the world in the comforts of our living rooms. We don't know how lucky we are!

    *I went to a zoo in Beijing where I saw a whole bunch of pandas, and came face-to-face with one in an adjunct building, and it was wonderful. And then I wandered into the rest of the zoo, and saw all kinds of fantastic turtles and other creatures, but the wall notes-- including what they were-- were in Mandarin. PBS and the cable channels about nature are in English! And there are no bugs.

  31. Mary Sutton, geckos are good luck. Plus they're cute. And they don't bite or get into your bedding.

  32. Hmmm, I wonder if THIS is what they mean when they talk about "getting the travel bug."

  33. I'm firmly in the Urban Explorer camp, though I'm not nearly as adventurous as when I was young. Where does that spirit go??? I was quite fearless when I was a 22-year-old backpacker!

    The stupidest thing I did at the time was probably sleeping at an Italian train station after I missed a connection, with my backpack straps wrapped around my arms so nobody would walk off my bag.

  34. I am a serious wimp, and under no circumstances will I ever sleep in another tent.

    My idea of roughing it is having to walk a half a block to the boulangerie for a couple of croissants and then back to a dear little apartment in the 7eme and make my own coffee.

    Tomorrow I plan to make my way to my recliner and spend the whole day with Deb's new book. :)

  35. A timely reminder, Ann, because tomorrow on Jungle Red it will be ALL ABOUT DEB'S NEW BOOK!

  36. Hallie—you fell "asleep to the sound of cicadas…"?

  37. Aw, Debs…

    Delays in airports are awful. Actually on the runway in a plane?—horrific.

    Wishing you a better travel experience for the rest of you book tour, which I predict will be wildly successful.