October 23, 2018
Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018
The time has finally arrived! Beverly and I begin our “Around the World by Private Jet” trip. I still pinch myself; finding it hard to believe that Beverly and I are recipients of this incredible gift from our FTBA family. It is truly the trip of a lifetime and one we shall always remember.
While I have traveled quite a lot packing and unpacking more than 1000 times, I have never packed for 25 days around the world. We are in the Tropics and high up in the mountains. We will experience weather from 25 degrees to 85 degrees during the trip. Needless to say, packing was a challenge.
This morning we fly from Tallahassee to Washington, D.C. We will be met at the airport and taken to our hotel, the Hay-Adams, in downtown D.C. This evening we will meet our fellow travelers on the trip (about 60) for a reception at the headquarters of National Geographic. We are excited to meet our travel mates for the next 25 days; along with 3 guides,/photographers from National Geographic, a doctor, a chef and 3 travel experts. Every detail seems to have been addressed and planned for.
Tomorrow morning, we ride out to Dulles Airport to board our specially equipped Boeing 757 jet for the first leg of our journey. We fly from Dulles to Lima, Peru- about 8 hours. From Lima we board a smaller plane taking us to Cusco, gateway to Machu Picchu, a 15th century Inca citadel.
From Beverly – Morning update:
The Big Day has finally arrived and Bobby and I are both bursting with excitement. This truly will be a trip of a lifetime! We arrived at the Tallahassee airport bright and early—as many of you know if Bobby is in charge it’s very unlikely you’ll be late.
We have never been on a National Geographic trip but I assure you they know what they are doing. The instructions in preparation for the trip are the most specific, detailed and helpful hints you can imagine–an organization right up my alley! They told us to pack 3-4 pairs of short or pants, 4-5 shirts, 1 dress, a jacket and sweater, a bathing suit and 2 pairs of walking shoes. But we also can take 2 suitcases and a backpack so I can assure you for 25 days we’re taking more clothes than that. I also have a gallon size baggie of medicines I hope we never have to open—Walgreens loved us.
Since the convention it has been so fun listening to everyone’s comments about our incredible gift. Most of my friends know a little of what Bobby does. They know it has to do with transportation and that we have a big convention that is lots of fun but many have asked, “what exactly is FTBA”? My answer is very simple: it’s a wonderful group of hardworking, generous and kind contractors, suppliers and other associates who are responsible for the amazing transportation system that the state of Florida is privileged to have. They also have great families who we love spending time with.
In true fashion, Bobby will provide you with the facts and specifics of the wonders we’ll see and I’ll add a few of the side stories and photographs. I’m so excited a National Geographic photographer will be traveling along with us the entire trip. If you see a truly amazing picture it could be hers.
So off we go and I hope you enjoy following along. As I often say, true friends are one of life’s richest blessings and to each of you who have made this trip possible along with those who have supported us in so many ways these last 30 years we are so very grateful.
From Beverly – Evening update:
Day one started at 4:15 am in Tallahassee and is about to close by 9:00 pm because we have to have our bags ready at 5:15 in the morning and depart for the airport at 6:10. They keep telling us that this is a very rigorous trip (but I would add worth every bit).
Ester, the trip coordinator, has a special place in my heart. Reminds me of convention days—asking people to please sign up and please, please be on time. If you’ve never toured the National Geographic headquarters you need to put that on your list the next time you’re in DC.
Great fun today walking around DC and reminiscing of old times in VA. Brad asked about the other guests: I said they were interesting and Bobby says it’s too soon to tell. The National Geographic guides are amazing—just hope I can remember half of their lectures. Tomorrow is mostly a travel day. 7 1/2 hrs to Lima and then another 1 1/2 to Cusco.
Such an amazing experience. Staff still talking about what an amazing gift. Many thanks to each of you once again!
Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018
The trip really begins this morning. Last night we had a reception and dinner with all of our fellow expedition travelers. The Hay-Adams hotel looks directly at the White House. It was a beautiful evening; and from our rooftop venue, the view of the White House and monuments in the distance was spectacular. Everyone seems very nice. About 8 of us from Florida. We were advised to begin taking our high altitude medicine last night. Cusco is over 10,000 feet and acclimating to that altitude will certainly be an adjustment.
We were up at 4:15 this morning with bags downstairs by 5:15. Took a bus from Hay-Adams in downtown DC out to Dulles Airport. The bus drove out on I-66 over sections I had a part in building 40 years ago! Our flight to Lima is about 7 & 1/2 hours. In Lima we will board a smaller plane to Cusco. Nothing but dinner tonight but we head to Machu Picchu first thing in the morning. Beverly and I are very excited and still have to pinch ourselves to realize we are really getting to do this.
Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018
Still a fast paced amazing time! I hardly know what day it is much less what time it is but my computer says October 25, 2018 and we have an hour break before our afternoon tour.
Tuesday night after having a fun day in DC we met our fellow travelers (about 80) and toured The National Geographic Headquarters, enjoyed a lovely cocktail reception there and the dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the wonderful Hay-Adams Hotel.
It was up at 4:30 am to start our very long first travel day. The plane is wonderful, the food scrumptious and the crew delightful. Even though we had to board the buses for Dulles at 6:00 am we didn’t depart until 9:00 pm. With very few hours sleep the last two nights I was sure with a 7 ½ hour flight we’d have time for a few naps. Wrong! Between the food service, the instructions of what we would be doing, transferring planes in Lima etc., and the 3 lectures from the National Geographic experts we never shut our eyes.
Leaving out part of the adventure, we arrived in Cusco (elevation 11,000 ft) at about 8:00 pm had another delicious meal and crashed having taken our altitude medicine about 9:45 pm. We are staying at the Belmond Hotel Monasterio which is magnificent!!!! The is the only place we get to stay 3 nights which is great. I already see why they tell you not to bring many clothes—a total pain packing and unpacking and having your suitcases out at the crack of dawn.
This morning we toured the Chinchero Archaeological Site and weaving demonstration. Learning a good bit of history of the Inca tribe. We found a gorgeous woven tapestry that will find it’s new home over our mantel in the living room.
This afternoon Bobby is going to the Sacayhuaman fortress and the Cathedral in Plaza de Armas. I’m going to Korikancha to visit remains of the former Incan Temple of the Sun. I will be most impressed if any of you know what I’m talking about because I surely don’t YET.
Stay tuned for more adventures and just know this truly is the trip of a lifetime.
Today we spent the whole day in Cusco and the surrounding area. Cusco is the gateway to Machu Picchu and is one of the 3rd largest city in Peru with over 500,000 residents. Cusco sits in the Andes Mountains at an elevation of about 11,500 feet. The altitude takes a little getting used to. It rained off and on all day with a temperature around 50 degrees- pretty chilly. In the morning we went to the Chinchero archaeological site dating back to the 1400’s. The Incas we incredibly smart and I am continually amazed at what they accomplished ( more on that later). We also went to a weaving demonstration with alpaca wool and traditions carried down for centuries. Beverly hit the jackpot there, finding several great items to purchase.
I chose to go to another archaeological site, Sacsayhuaman, in the afternoon. It was unbelievable ! This is the site of the largest temple ever built by the Incas in the 1400’s. The Incas moved huge boulders , many over 100 tons, over 1/2 a mile in mountainous terrain. This was before wheels! They pre-cut all the rocks to fit, again without any modern day measuring devices. Finally, they even understood the need for “expansion joints” and improvised their own design for those. They were truly amazing engineers long before any of them had any education at all.
Tomorrow we go to Machu Picchu. We leave at 6 in the morning and get back to our hotel in Cusco at 10pm. It will be a very long but exciting day.
Friday, Oct. 26, 2018
Our day began early, leaving the hotel at 6:15. We drove thru the Sacred Valley to our first stop, the Ollantaytambo village and fortress. We visited in a home in the village before climbing to the top of the fortress. It was quite a climb but well worth it. Again the ability of the Incas to build these cities, fortresses, temples over 600 years ago is almost beyond belief. I have never seen steeper mountains than the Andes. They appear to go almost straight up to the sky. We caught glimpses of the high peaks but the rain and clouds hindered our view most of the time.
In Ollantaytambo we boarded the train to a Machu Picchu. The train (or hiking) are the only ways into Machu Picchu. There is no road. Our train ride was two hours. Once there we took a shuttle bus up the mountain to the entrance. Machu Picchu is truly a special place. Built over a span of about 90 years in the 1400’s it is a well preserved site visited by thousands daily. We spent over 3 hours walking up, down and all around the site. Never have I climbed so many steps. The steps are carved out of the mountainside in many instances and are very irregular. It is a tough walk, particularly at high altitude, but worth every step.
It was fascinating to me to see altars carved out of stone directly facing a particular mountain with the stone carved in the image of the mountain it was facing. The Incas were some of the world’s great engineers.
The train ride back followed by a bus ride was about 4 hours. We got back to the hotel at 9:45 pm. Quite a long day.
A couple of side notes: I had alpaca for dinner. Very good- tastes a lot like veal. Peruvian beer is very good. Very little road work here. The road system needs a lot of work. It has been privatized but they have little money to pay the concessionaire. There are no tolls. As an example the flight from Lima to Cusco is one hour. Driving time is 22 hours! A better road system would do wonders for their economy.
Off to Easter Island in the morning and we’ll be flying most of the day.
Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018
Yesterday (Friday) was a “foot tester” for me. Mission was accomplished! Left the hotel at 6:00am for a 2 hour bus ride through the Urubamba Valley and the Ollantaytambo village and fortress. I observed and photographed the climbing portion knowing that Machu Picchu was coming up later in the day. Back on the bus to board the train where we enjoyed a lovely ride to Machu Picchu complete with lunch and then another 30 minute bus ride up the mountain to the city of Machu Picchu. It is truly as amazing as everyone says but is quite difficult to navigate with the unevenness of the terrain and many, many challenging steps. I’ve crossed that off my bucket list! Bobby has already decided he could be of great help to the transportation infrastructure of Peru. After 4 hours, it was back on the bus, the train and then another bus to the hotel—arriving at 9:45 PM.
The short version of the trip so far is we eat, ride trains, buses and mini buses, listen to amazing lectures, meet interesting people, eat some more, try the local beers and wines and sleep very little.
Bobby’s beer of choice: Cusquena
Local drink: Pisco Sour (probably won’t find in the states)
100% “Peruano Candy”: Coca “reinvigorates, helps with altitude sickness and aids digestion. Made from the Coca leaf if that gives you a hint. Probably won’t find in the states or possibly not even legal.
There are more than 800 varieties of potatoes grown in Peru of all shapes, sizes and colors
We’re off the altitude meds for about a week
On to malaria meds, which can make you have wild dreams. Heaven help me, as my dreams are wild enough.
Bags out at 6:15 am this morning. Packing and unpacking keeps us on our toes. Next 3 days we will have our big bag only—our “wheelie bag” as the Expedition Leader calls it will remain on the jet.
Just found out we will be 1 ½ leaving Cusco because of weather (boy could we have used that extra hour of sleep) but no worries about making our connection in Lima—our private jet awaits us.
On our ride to the airport our local guide was thanking us for visiting their city and telling us that the motto of the Peruvian people was: “Love, Teach, Work”. Reminded me of FTBA members.
Amazing trip!!!!! Love to you all.
Monday, Oct. 29, 2018
Day 5 was a travel day. We left Lima about 2:00 for the five hour flight to Easter Island. Easter Island is part of Chile. Being 1500 miles off the coast of Chile it is one of the most remote, inhabited islands in the world. It was formed from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. About 7500 people live on the 65 sq.mi. island.
Day 6 and the first half of day 7 were spent exploring the island. It is famous for it’s moai, large sone carvings/ statutes that are found all around the island. These moai were tributes to tribal chiefs. They are some of the most photographed archeological sites in the world. There are only two flights a day into Easter Island, both from Santiago, Chile’s capital. Our “private jet” is a bigger plane than the normal ones coming in here. Also, in Jan- March cruise ships come here with anywhere from 1000-2000 passengers. In a year they have about a million visitors.
Similar to Machu Picchu I continue to be amazed at how these large rocks were quarried, carved and moved. Human ingenuity knows no bounds. We were very fortunate to have as tour guides several of the archeologists responsible for the restoration of the moai. Many of the moai were toppled over and scattered by a tremendous tidal wave that struck the island in 1970. While the pieces making up the moai were for the most part left intact, they were scattered around like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
This morning we were up before sunrise to go with famous National Geographic photographer Nevada Weir on a photo shoot looking out over the moai into the Pacific.
This afternoon (Monday) at 2:00 we travel to Samoa, crossing the International Dateline, arriving in Samoa on Tuesday at 7:50pm! Time really does fly.
I think Bobby about summed up our trip to Easter Island. It was actually far more fascinating than I even dreamed—particularly the 5 year restoration project from the tidal wave. The “project managers”, professors from the University of Chili, shared amazing stories of the restoration. Their stories of personalities, politics and bureaucracy were particularly interesting.
So sorry my Dad is no longer with us. He would be very happy to know that I absorbed much more knowledge about construction than even I realized.
We have a long, long day of flying today and we even lose a day as we cross the International Date Line.
This trip redefines the meaning of staying busy. I couldn’t miss the sunrise photo shoot but skipped the last, last hike so I could catch up my mind if not my body a little.
We’re still enjoying happy travels with more memories than you can imagine.
Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018
After crossing the international dateline upon landing in Samoa about 7pm Tuesday night we are now 18 hours ahead of Tallahassee. Samoa is beautiful but our time here is brief. We had a wonderful dinner with a show last night including fire dancers.
We had our choice this morning of going up the mountain to the home and burial site of Robert Louis Stevenson or relaxing on the beach. Guess which option Beverly and I took? As I write this I am sitting in a lounge chair on the beach looking out to the beautiful South Pacific. Very nice!
We leave about 12:30 to fly to Cairns , Australia, and the Great Barrier Reef. It is almost a 7 hour flight to Cairns. Cairns is 4 hours behind Samoa so we arrive at 3:30 pm. We spend 2 days in Australia at the Great Barrier Reef and go inland a little to a rainforest. Really looking forward to that.
The trip far exceeds the greatest of our expectations. The people are all very nice and some of the experts are amazing. Sitting behind Beverly and me on the plane is a gentleman named Rob Hernandez who is former senior editor of National Geographic. Rob is about my age, maybe a couple of years younger. In the early 70’s he sailed from Costa Rica to the coast of Africa, all around the South Pacific Islands , and back to Los Angeles; about 32,000 miles in all. He did this in a 29 foot sailboat that he describes as a piece of junk with no radio and no navigational equipment- ALONE! Quite a feat and so interesting to talk with.
Next stop Australia!
We landed in Samoa last evening and while they are 18 hours ahead of Eastern time I’m finding it’s just easier for me to look at my watch and go with it.
It’s truly beautiful here but not too much to do other than relax which is a welcome change. My overall impression is other than the beauty of the island is the beauty of the people. They are so kind and appear to be genuinely happy. I wish more people in our country could adopt that philosophy for living.
I miss our family and friends but we’re having the time of a lifetime.
Next stop Great Barrier Reef—we leave in a few hours.
Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018
November 1 is here and Beverly and I are in Port Douglas on the northeast coast of Australia. What a day we had! We were up early and took a boat about 45 miles offshore to the Great Barrier Reef. The reef , or actually a combination of about 3000 reefs that comprise the Great Barrier Reef, runs about 1600 miles along the eastern coast of Australia. Once we reached our open-ocean platform we boarded a semi- submersible vehicle with a glass sides to explore the reef. It is very impressive. Lots of fish and thousands of different coral were right there for us to see. Next we put on our Lycra suits, hopped in the water and snorkeled around the reef. It was an experience I shall always remember. I was not too excited about coming face to face with a shark and fortunately we did not. Our guides told us not to worry; they would be frightened of us. I wasn’t sure I believed that.
Tomorrow we go to a wildlife habitat where we will see many different Australian native species. We had an expert from the local university speak to us last night about the most venomous country on earth- Australia. The area we are in around Cairns is the most venomous region in Australia. 13 of the 14 most venomous snakes in the world are here. We saw film of a snail that injects venom thru a needle-like snout that can actually kill a human. We learned it was the beginning of the jellyfish season here and one particular jellyfish can produce enough venom to kill a person in short order. The moral of this story was be careful and don’t touch things that appear harmless but could be deadly. Obviously people aren’t being killed very often because the Australians have anti-venom serum for all these exotic species.
I learned an interesting fact yesterday when we went to the airport in Samoa for our flight to Australia. They have a beautiful, new and very modern airport. The Chinese government financed the airport- a form of “Public Public” partnership I guess. The airport only has 3 regularly scheduled flights a day. Not sure what the Chinese have in mind long term but they must be expecting something in return from the Samoan government.
Tomorrow afternoon we fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Monday evening November 1, 2018 – Another fabulous day in yet one more paradise!
We left Samoa mid day yesterday and landed in Cairns, Australia about 10 hours later. Our local guide said that the motto here is “Beautiful one day; Perfect the next. I’ve quit even trying to figure out the time changes but we are 14 hours ahead of our EDT friends—don’t want to even think about adding day light savings time to the equation.
It’s truly astonishing that we leave one country and end up in another hours later while having an enjoyable flight filled with nice people and practically no hassle. The crew was even decked out in Halloween costumes and had decorated the plane.
Today’s visit to the Great Barrier Reef was absolutely amazing! I was not aware that the reef is actually about 45 miles off shore. You take a boat ride for about 1½, snorkel, eat lunch and then return. I have a few pictures but there is no way they can begin to depict the beauty that surrounded us.
Off to Cambodia in the morning. Another long flight but as one of our main guides told me: “This is not a vacation, it’s an expedition” and one that we are loving every minute of.
Friday, Nov. 2 & Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018
We arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia Friday night. Yesterday we spent the morning at Angkor Wat, the amazing temple complex that dates back to 1100 AD. The temple was home to both Hindu and Buddhist religions thru the years depending on the religion of the ruler. Cambodia is now predominantly (95+%) Buddhist. I continue to be amazed at the ability of these ancient civilizations to build such magnificent structures.
In the afternoon Beverly and I visited an artisan village selling native Cambodian crafts. Following that I went on a boat tour of Tonle Sap, the largest lake in SE Asia. During the rainy season the Mekong River literally reverses flow and floods the Tonle Sap River and Lake. Tonle Sap is home to thousands of “boat families” that live on floating homes in the lake. They have schools, markets, churches and other businesses typical of any village, only floating. For us the life would seem incredibly poor and difficult but the people all seem happy.
Lots of motor scooters here. Traffic is a nightmare. There are literally hundreds of new, modern hotels in Siem Reap. I had no idea the number of visitors attracted to Angkor Wat.
The Siem Reap airport is very new and modern, built to handle all the tourists coming to Angkor Wat. The airport is privatized, owned and operated by Vinci, parent company of FTBA member Hubbard Construction.
This morning (Sunday, Nov 4) we are flying to Kathmandu, Nepal, gateway to the Himalayan Mountains. Quite a change from the 90 degree tropical weather of Samoa, Australia and Cambodia.
More about Kathmandu tomorrow.
Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018
We flew from Cambodia to Kathmandu, Nepal this morning. It was a beautiful, clear day so lots of good viewing from the plane. Flew over Thailand, the fertile river delta of Myanmar, across the Bay of Bengal, up thru northeastern India and into Nepal. We had an amazing view of the Himalayan mountains. We saw Mt. Everest (over 29,000 ft) which was a real thrill for me. The Himalayas are magnificent.
Kathmandu is a city of 5 million people. Extremely crowded with motor bikes going in every direction. They suffered a very serious earthquake here 3 years ago and are still rebuilding. The damage was enormous. We toured the ancient city of Bhaktapur where many of the temples are built of wood- a jungle hardwood that lasts hundreds of years. The ancient people here, again Hindu and Buddhist, were excellent wood carvers.
Nepal is a tiny country about the size of Kentucky. It goes from an elevation of 200 ft in the southern end to over 29,000 feet in the north. This change in elevation occurs in less than 120 miles!
Monday morning we tour the ancient Hindu religious site of Pashupatinath on the banks of the Bagmati River. From there we head to the airport to fly directly over the Himalayas to Tibet. We had to have new pictures made last night for our Chinese visas- no smiling allowed. There is no google in China (Tibet), no Gmail and no Facebook. Should be very interesting. We will be up at an elevation approaching 14,000 feet.
More tomorrow from Tibet.
Monday, Nov. 5, 2018
4:30 am in Kathmandu, Nepal. We are 9.75 hours ahead of EDT.
A couple of wonderful days and 2 countries have flown by since I was last in touch. I have no idea how the time flies by so fast or why we never have a minute with nothing to do but as we try to soak in every magical moment that’s the “situation”.
Every morning I think well today can not be better than yesterday and then it is! We were in Cambodia on Saturday and it’s almost impossible to describe the magic of those people and the passion for life that they have in their hearts when you think back to the horror many lived through in the 1960’s-90’s. The dinner and performance that night was probably the most elaborate celebration I have ever seen. I will try to send a couple of pictures but trying to get all our “devices” and cameras working together is quite the challenge especially since you usually can’t have but one or two devices between the two of us turned on.
Yesterday was another very early morning (“wheelie” bags down in the lobby at 5:45 am) and we were back on our private jet at 8:30 heading to Kathmandu. (You have totally spoiled us as far as flying goes). This is another fascinating city especially since there is still so much devastation and destruction as they continue to rebuild from the major earthquake that struck here 3 years ago. We are staying at the Dwarika’s Hotel, probably the most incredible hotel I’ve ever stayed at and trust me there have not been any shabby hotels on this trip. This has been a very brief but wonderful stop on our journey.
We leave this morning for Tibet, which I’m sure, will be an adventure in many ways. The altitude of over 12,000 ft will definitely be a challenge for me even with the altitude meds that we’re taking. They also told us that no Google or Gmail is allowed in China so we may be somewhat out of pocket the next two days. Just seeing Mt. Everest from the plane was quite impressive.
On a practical level there are a couple of side stories as well. The first is the challenge of keeping the right clothes in the right bag and having some sense of order in our room—this one presently looks like an earthquake hit it. Another that I’m sure everyone our age will appreciate is waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and trying to figure out which direction to go—I almost ran into the window a bit ago.
I hope you don’t mind me saying this again but this truly is the most amazing trip, adventure, experience and yes even “Expedition” I have ever been on in my life and full of so many memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. It’s also the most incredible gift ever!!!!!
We spent the morning in Kathmandu. As I mentioned yesterday we went to the ancient Hindu religious site of Pashupatinath on the banks of the Bagmati River. The Hindus practice cremation as a way to honor the dead. The cremations are performed daily here at Pashupatinath. Usually bodies are cremated within 3-4 hours following death. We stood on one side of the river and approximately 20 yards across the river were the cremation altars. It appeared that cremations were only performed on men. The body was carried out by sons on a bamboo type stretcher covered in an orange or yellow cloth. A large stack of wood was ready on the altar and the body was laid on the wood. The sons removed their shirts and marched around the body three times before lighting the fire at the mouth of the body. We saw 3 of these in various stages while there for about an hour. It takes about 4 hours to complete the cremation and then the ashes are dumped in the river. While this may sound horrible it is all very spiritual to the Hindu people. I am sure it is something I will never see again.
Our jet cannot fly into Tibet. The altitude is such that it could probably land but it could not take off. We had a smaller Airbus 320 from Sichuan Airways, a Chinese airline. First time I could not read anything in an airline magazine- heck I can’t even understand any of the letters to try and pronounce a word. The weather was again very clear and we flew directly over the Himalayas. I will never grow tired of seeing those mountains. Tibet is known as the rooftop of the world. It consists of mountains and very high plateau. Once we began our descent into Lhasa, Tibet, the wind picked up and the flight was very bumpy. Flying in and out of there is not for the faint of heart.
Upon arrival we were greeted by Chinese immigration. They seem to be making it very difficult for Westerners coming into Tibet. Rumor has it they may shut off tourism to Tibet. While Tibet was a country years ago it is now really just a region of China. Chinese soldiers are visible around the city and no pictures of soldiers or military installations are allowed. Tibet is the 3rd least populated area/country/continent in the world behind Antarctica and Greenland.
The Chinese are building thousands of new apartments around Lhasa and moving people from other rural areas of China to Tibet. In this way they hope to eventually run thru the Tibetan culture and create a Chinese culture. Lhasa is very modern and is now a fairly big city- over 500,000. The weather here is tough. Winters are brutal. Lots of sunshine, virtually no rain, and lots of wind. The mountains are stark and barren.
Tomorrow we tour the Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lamas, originally built in the 1600’s.
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018
Election Day, but you certainly wouldn’t know it in China. We are 12 hours ahead of the US so it will be mid-morning Wednesday before we see any results (either from Nepal where we get back on our jet or when we land in India).
Today we visited the Portala Palace, former home of the Dahli Lamas. It involves a long climb up very steep, narrow steps. Being at over 12,000 feet doesn’t make it any easier. I am proud to say that Beverly and I both made it up and back! The palace is beautiful and many monks still live and worship there. Like so many other ancient structures- the palace was built in the 1600’s- the ability to build these fabulous structures continues to amaze me.
Our hotel in Lhasa is very nice. The rooms, food and service are very similar to a Ritz Carlton. Not sure I could survive very long in China, at least in a remote area like Tibet. Virtually no one speaks English except our guides. I do not know a single letter in either the Tibetan or Chinese alphabet so looking at signs offers no clue. Thank goodness we have the guides and staff from National Geographic.
Wednesday, Nov. 7 & Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018
We arrived in Agra, India about 3:30 on Wednesday from Kathmandu. India is 10.5 hours ahead of EST. First in Tibet where we started the morning, then in Kathmandu and, finally, in Agra I was trying to watch election results. Hotels and airports don’t exactly have hi-speed internet so it was somewhat frustrating at times. Needless to say I was very happy with the Florida results. FTBA and TransPAC did very well.
Agra is home to the Taj Mahal and about 2.5 million people. The airport is very small, actually it is an Indian Air Force base. We are in India during a huge festival called Diwali or “Festival of Lights”. Wednesday night was the biggest night of the celebration. Our hotel is incredibly nice and is the closest hotel to the Taj Mahal. We have a beautiful view out our window. Fireworks went off all night and people everywhere were in a festive mood. Our hotel had a special show for us and, as Jay posted on FTBA’s Facebook page, I was adorned with a turban along with all the other men on the trip. The show was great and we followed it up with an Indian dinner. I will say that I have tried and enjoyed many new foods on the trip.
This morning we were up and standing in a long line prior to sunrise for the opening of the Taj Mahal. The gates open at sunrise (today it was 6:30) and close at sundown. I have been looking forward to seeing the Taj Mahal ever since the Saturday night of the convention when I learned about the trip. I am not going to give any history on the Taj Mahal because Ananth can explain all about it much better than I can. Construction began around 1630 and took about 22 years. What I will say is it is the most magnificent structure I have ever seen. I had very high hopes and was not disappointed. No wonder almost 7 million visitors a year come here. I am so happy that Beverly and I were able to visit and experience the Taj Mahal.
After the Taj we went to a small craft area in town where a family, descended from the original marble carvers who built the Taj, continue the craft to this day. Carving the marble and placing small small stones in the marble is an art shared by only a few families here in Agra. Their work is very beautiful and watching them work was a real treat for me.
Beverly and I loved India but, Ananth, they have one helluva traffic problem. You could not pay me enough money to drive over here.
We leave early tomorrow morning for our 7.5 hour flight to Tanzania and the Serengeti. Hard to believe we’ll be home a week from tomorrow.
Friday, Nov. 9, 2018
Most of today was spent flying. We left India about 9:00 India time (6:30 Tanzania time) for our 7.5 hour flight to Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania. After going through security twice in 100 feet where we removed our shoes, everything in our pockets and cell phone and i-pad from our carry on, we boarded our small bush plane for another 1 hour flight to the famous Serengeti game preserve. We then took an hour plus drive to our hotel – the Four Seasons Serengeti – along which we saw lots of wild animals. Once we arrived we were cautioned to keep our sliding glass door to our patio closed and locked if we were not on the patio. The baboons like to open the door if unlocked and come into your room. They will proceed to ransack your room. One man heard his wife screaming while he was taking a shower. They had left their sliding door slightly ajar. Bingo, a baboon, was in the room eating some food that was left out. Beverly and I checked and re-checked our door before going to bed to be sure it was locked.
Tomorrow we will tour Serengeti from 7-5 trying to cover as much of the 15,000 sq km park as possible. It is the largest preserve in Africa.
Greetings again. In reality I hardly know what day it is much less what time it is but we are merrily strolling along. Just finished two amazing days in India which was very fascinating. We were staying in a fabulous hotel and could see the Taj Mahal out our window. We both had to shake ourselves to realize we were visiting one of the 7 wonders of the world. We also toured one of the local villages which was at the opposite end of the spectrum—very impoverished but once again the people were incredibly happy and pleased for us to see their way of life. The number of children who eagerly waited for me to take their picture particularly struck me. I think my blue eyes, blonde hair and light skin catch their attention. While their living standards are not the worst it was difficult to see how they live. This village does have running water and some electricity but no toilets.
After another fabulous dinner and great breakfast we were off to the military airport for our flight to Tanzania (7+ hours). Not exactly sure I’m going to get back into the routine of cooking much less getting organized and ready for the whole gang at Thanksgiving but we are so excited we’re going to be able to share our journey with everyone while it is still fresh in our minds. Can you imagine going to bed in India and waking up (at 5:00 am) for our flight to Africa? An absolutely incredible journey. Only chartered flights are allowed to fly out of the airport at Agar and evidently being allowed to do that is no easy task. Security was very tight (happy to say) and as Bobby said you almost have to undress to get through security. I think almost every airport has had “pat down” security.
On the subject of food, it’s all been over the top and most plentiful but thus far the Chinese and Indian foods are my favorites. Bobby loved the Yak from China.
The private jet and crew are amazing and so much fun. When we boarded the plane this morning they were all dressed in the Indian attire they had purchased while in Agar. A bit different than our normal domestic travel.
They just passed out a middle school geography quiz for us to take. I’ll let you know how Bobby does—I’m keeping a clean copy for our children and grandchildren.
This trip continues to be fabulous, amazing, enlightening and truly a once in a lifetime experience but remember it’s “An Expedition not a Vacation”. We had to laugh when a friend from Tallahassee texted me and said she hoped we were having lots of fun and a relaxing time—if she only knew that the latest we have slept is 6:30 one time.
I’ll be back in touch from or after Africa. I’m thinking the pictures (of which there are numerous) will have to wait until we are back in the states. The Internet has been a challenge to say the least.
Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018
What a day we had in the Serengeti! We were out early for our game drive and were not disappointed. Our guide was very knowledgeable and seemed to find all the right spots. We saw 4 of the “Big 5”, only missing the rhinoceros. We saw the Water Buffalo, Elephant, Lion and Leopard. We were up close with all four of those plus another 20+ animals. It is amazing to watch the balance of nature and how the entire ecosystem for Africa is so intertwined. We watched lions eating a freshly killed Wildebeest, a crocodile facing off against a giant hippo, a leopard stalking a herd of gazelles and a cheetah searching for its next meal among other things. Of course we saw the elephants, zebras, and giraffes along with numerous other animals.
Tonight we went out into the “bush” and had an amazing meal under the stars. This area of Tanzania is only 3 degrees south of the equator but at elevation 5000 feet the evenings cool down to the low 60’s Tomorrow morning we have another game drive before heading to the airport to fly to Jordan. After Jordan only one more stop before heading back home. It is a great trip.
Another country down and two more to go. You all are probably getting tired of hearing me say this but it’s almost impossible to describe this journey. In addition to being the trip of a lifetime, in some ways it has been a life changing experience. About a third of our group went to the Ngorongoro crater rather than the Serengeti Plane. At one point I was wondering if we should have gone to the crater since we visited South Africa 10 years ago but I’m so glad we came here. The experiences are quite different in many ways and the animals magical. My plan was to just enjoy the animals and the beauty of the land and not get caught up in taking so many pictures but as you might imagine I couldn’t stand it and captured quite a few beautiful pictures of the animals and their surroundings. On top of that, who would have ever imagined that the first Four Seasons Hotel I would stay in would be in Africa?
We leave this morning and head to Petra, Jordon. I know nothing about Petra but one of our favorite guides told us it was his favorite stop on this trip. It’s a long travel day—we drive an hour in jeeps back to the Seronera Airstrip, fly about an hour to Kilimanjaro where we transfer to our jet, fly 5 ½ hours to Aqaba, Jordon and then 2 hours to Petra by bus. Yes, our bodies are getting a little weary, we’re ready for some different clothes and shoes and I’m looking forward to a cup of coffee in bed, and it will be nice to sleep past 6:00 am but in the big picture that is nothing.
Once again, I’ll try to send some pictures, but with the internet service we get through the hotels that doesn’t always work. I hope you’re enjoying our posts about 1/100th as much as we’re enjoying this “Expedition”.
Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018
This morning we took a game drive on the way to the airport in the Serengeti. We came upon a large herd – maybe 300- water buffalo. That was quite a site. They are huge animals. We took a small plane back to the Kilimanjaro airport where we boarded our National Geographic jet for the flight to Aqaba, Jordan. The flight was a little over 5 hours and we flew over some of the most desolate landscape I have ever seen. It looked like what I have always imagined the surface of the moon would look. We flew over Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, Egypt, the Red Sea and finally in to Aqaba.
Aqaba is Jordan’s only port city and is on the border with Israel and Egypt and only 15 miles from Saudi Arabia. Jordan borders Israel to the west, Egypt to the south, Saudi Arabia to the south and east and Syria to the north. Not exactly the most peaceful area of the world. Jordan is about the size of Oregon with about 13 million population.
Jordan is very mountainous but has an outstanding highway serving the port at Aqaba moving goods into the rest of the country. You see sand bags around the bigger public buildings and we had to go through security at our hotel similar to airport security.
Tomorrow we visit the ancient city of Petra, built in the first century BC. Many of the cities structures have been carved from the rose-red rock of the mountainside. More on Petra tomorrow as we spend all day exploring the site.
Monday, Nov. 12 & Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018
I really did not know much about Petra before arriving there. Petra was a city built into the mountains and a canyon in Jordan by the Nabataeans in around 300 BC. The city flourished for about 400 years around the time of the Roman Empire. Once entering Petra you walk through a “Siq”, a narrow gorge between to gigantic mountain faces. Similar to other ancient sites we have visited I am amazed by the ability of the Nabataeans to build such a complex. They built a series of dams or diversions along with water channels to provide drinking water. The monuments were literally carved out of the sheer mountain walls and are huge. There are over 800 monuments along with many “caves” carved into the mountains that housed the city of maybe 25,000 people. To me, it ranks right up with Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal as must see sites in the world.
This morning we toured part of the area known as Wadi Rum, a desert village where many movies such as Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones have been filmed. We had tea in a Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert.
Jordan is an interesting country. It is ruled by a king, but he is a benevolent dictator. The people are very nice and seem to be a pillar of stability in a troubled part of the world. I am sitting in the airport in Aqaba, Jordan, writing this. I can literally look out across the runway and see Israel. We had our first “delay” today caused by one of our travelers. Someone left their passport at the hotel in Petra. It will take 2 hours to drive it to the airport from Petra. Oh well, just glad it wasn’t Beverly or me!
We fly from here to Marrakech, Morocco, about a 7 hour flight. This will be the last stop on our fabulous trip before heading home.
Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018
We are on our “private jet” heading to Marrakech, Morocco the final destination on our Expedition Around the World. I’ve just about run out of adjectives to describe this experience. Thanks to our wonderful FTBA family who made this possible. I don’t think anyone on this trip had ever heard of FTBA, but they all know about you now as well as why we’re taking “construction” photos at every stop.
Yesterday we explored the UNESCO world Heritage site of Petra, the most famous site in Jordan. We walked through the long mysterious chasm (known as the Siq). The Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled in Jordan more than 2,000 years ago, created an impressive city combining massive architecture with an ingenious complex of dams and water channels. It was an absolutely amazing journey into the city and quite a hike back out.
Dinner last night we gathered for a festive Bedouin feast and show. The food and entertainment have been as impressive as the sites and education.
This morning on the way to the airport we left the hotel at 7:00 am and drove through the Wadi Rum, the magnificent red desert where T.E. Lawrence was based during the Arab revolt.
I have mixed emotions as we arrive at our last stop tomorrow. While I’m sure I’ll miss the great food, wonderful new friends and most of all the intellectual stimulation I’ve really missed our family and “old” friends and I’m ready to settle back into our normal routine at home.
Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018
Today was our last full day on this amazing Around the World trip. Tomorrow we fly back to Washington, DC, and Friday we fly home to Tallahassee. We are in Marrakech, Morocco, in North Africa. Morocco is governed by a king and is a predominantly Muslim country. The country is stable and the people are very nice.
Marrakech is a very cosmopolitan city of about 1.2 million people. It serves as a getaway for the rich and famous from Southern Europe. The country was under French rule until the 1950’s and there is still tremendous French influence. Other than Arabic, French is the most common language. Our hotel is magnificent and it definitely caters to the high end European traveler. I would say this is the nicest hotel we have stayed in and that is saying a lot because all the hotels have been top of the line.
Marrakech is famous for its huge market that covers acres and acres of land with one shop on top of another along incredibly narrow streets. The streets or alleys accommodate not only pedestrians, but bicycles, donkeys and motor bikes as well. You have to be extremely careful when walking through the market or you can easily be run over. The shops sell almost anything you can imagine. You may have a butcher next door to a jewelry shop. You see leather goods being made in a lot of places. The actual leather is being delivered daily to the shop and being made into belts, bags, wallets and other items. We watched live chickens being delivered to the butcher for slaughter that morning- assuring they were fresh!
Of course, the Moroccan market is famous for its snake handlers. We watched as handlers played music and several live cobras or other vipers swayed to the music. You could take pictures but needed to be aware that you might turn around and be face to face with another guy holding a big snake inches from you. Beverly was not real excited with this but I did agree to put a snake around my neck (non- poisonous) for a few pictures.
We had our farewell dinner tonight and it was fantastic. Almost everyone dressed up in a costume from somewhere we had visited and we were treated to a Moroccan feast. We have met some great people on the trip and look forward to staying in touch after we get home.
People could not get over the fact that this trip was a gift to Beverly and me. Honestly, I still find it hard to imagine. The trip far exceeded our expectations. We could not have had a better time. I have never been part of a group that was better organized. Every little detail was taken care of. In the morning we board our private jet for the last time for the trip back to Washington. The flying time is about 9 hours but we have to make a stop in the Azores for a final security check. While the Marrakech airport is very new and very nice it is evidently not TSA approved. All the bags along with all the passengers must be unloaded and screened before flying on to Washington.
I am anxious to get back to Florida and, hopefully, some finalized election results.
Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018
As we head across the Atlantic back to Washington, DC (and the snow) my main thought is WOW! An expression I have used too many times to count the last few weeks.
In the interest of not rambling on too long, which I could easily do, I’m going to just give you a few bullets to wrap up my thoughts for now:
This “Expedition” has been so much more than I could have ever imagined and this gift from so many of you will fill us with memories for the rest of our lives.
As “explorers” our bodies have hung in there and we feel a real sense of accomplishment at completing this trip.
Our journey has been 24 days of excitement and exhaustion.
We will have traveled 31,870 miles, visited 9 countries and our jet has used 77,690 gallons of fuel.
While it will probably take us months to process, we have developed a better community acceptance and understanding of our humanity and an appreciation of our planet as a whole.
The grace and kindness of the people who welcomed us into their lives will be my fondest memory. Their happiness with a life so far different than ours was truly an inspiration.
The devotion and commitment to their religion was inspiring while they totally respected ours as well.
Our Expedition Leader, Esther, has been absolutely superb. Being a very organized soul myself, I have marveled at Esther and her team’s work. While they appeared as swans gliding across the pond they were furiously paddling underneath tending to every detail.
The “private jet” and amazing crew of 12 has spoiled us forever.
The quality of the lectures and immense knowledge we have acquired has been more than we ever could have imagined and I know we have both become more intellectually curious.
While the pace has been fast and furious and we have only gotten a snippet of the countries we visited, there is no doubt that we saw the best of the best and had the best local guides imaginable.
The food was unbelievable—Indian and Chinese my favorites.
I have climbed more steps in the past 24 days than I have in the last 10 years—in the thousands for sure.
We have consumed more bread and dessert these past few weeks than we have during the entire year, not to mention the daily wine and beer with lunch.
Bobby has sampled local beers around the world and I think the Indian one took the first prize.
It is impossible to say what our favorite city was as they were all so different. Bobby says his favorite was “the place we were on any given day”.
The most “ridiculous” security was in Tanzania with a close second being our refueling stop in the Azores today. Every bag and person had to deplane and essentially have a dress rehearsal for customs in DC later today.
Our hotel in Morocco was amazing along with the system of the lights in the room. Figuring out how to turn them on was quite a challenge and turning off the TV was one we were too tired to conquer. We finally put a towel over the screen and went to sleep.
I could go on and on, but that’s probably enough for now.
Special thanks to Stacy for sharing our Expedition on FTBA’s website and we’ll be posting a pictorial journey soon.
Happy Thanksgiving to each of you with much love and appreciation for the trip of a lifetime!