To everyone planning travel : Listen to NPR’s latest podcast of “To The Best of our Knowledge” after, of course, first reading this blog. And then, buy and read “Beyond Guilt Travel,” remembering, of course, this blog.
“To The Best of Our Knowledge” is an often dead-pan basement interviewing machine adroitly edited to keep you awake. When successful you actually learn quite a lot. Ditto for this week’s podcast about travel.
Twenty years old I thought I was an up-and-coming journalist albeit of a different kind. Because the Movement into which my age conscripted me was winning. We young, naive often reckless kids were actually stopping the war in Vietnam, and we “journalists” played a proactive part in bringing that about.
Why am I writing about this on Martin Luther King Day?
Joe Biden landed in Egypt for the COP27 conference just as we began our first day of the Egyptian safari. I was about to post this blog (two weeks ago) just as Egyptian police announced that reporters and bloggers be put on notice: Don’t criticize the government.
Regular readers know how unlikely I would criticize anything much less a big African government, basically believing everything in the world is honky-dory, but valor being the better part of splendor I conceded to my valuable clients that their interests were paramount: no blogs about modern Egypt until I was out of the country.
It was the perfect time for a woman to make a move. Her great-grandfather Ahmose had started her family’s dynasty by defeating the barbarians who had so blithely overrun the ancient kingdoms with their new invention, the chariot. It didn’t take Ahmose long to make his own.
Her grandfather Amenhotep was therefore able to consolidate rule once again where it belonged, with the rulers of the North who had before the chariot charlatans had ruled for nearly two thousand years. Her father Tutmose solidified a reign that many consider the beginning of the greatest dynasty in all of Egyptian history in part by marrying his favorite daughter, Hatshepsut, to her half-brother, the pharaoh-to-be Tutmose II.
The incredible multi-thousand year old history and monuments of pharaonic Egypt draw nearly 12 million visitors a year. But I’m getting really fascinated by the much later periods, when first the Greeks, then the Romans, then ultimately Muslims took control of the empire.
The basic pantheon of Egyptian gods existed from about 5000 years ago, about a dozen deities that explained creation, the difference between good and evil and the afterlife associated with each. But with time the collection of gods increased substantially, and with it the elaborate tombs and monuments and ceremonies that created a civilization that became encapsulated in myth and held stable by fierce ideology.
We just finished seven days in Jordan: Two fabulous rest days on the Dead Sea, playing Lawrence of Arabia in Wadi Rum, and of course Petra.
Nine out of ten tourists travel to Jordan for a single attraction: Petra. Most of those are day-trippers or one-nighters from Red Sea cruises. Our guide told us that tourism is back in spades following Covid and that there are now about 4,000 visitors daily to Petra.
I’m generally not one to join crowds. Couldn’t stand Pompei with its thousands and thousands of visitors, so I was a bit apprehensive about this visit.
But as Kathleen and I stood on a trail a couple hundred feet above the main thoroughfare of the city, watching the thousands of tourists below, I got the sense of what it would have been like 2000 years ago when this city was flourishing with 20,000 residents.
Three soldiers — all very young – like stick men in a video game strutting awkwardly across an intersection at the very far end of a very long, dark street. Too far to hear their boots on the lose rocks. But the shrill shouts of very young children displace their cadence, and they lift their TAR-21s to hip level and face the sounds of the screaming children.
It just so happens that the kids are between me and the soldiers. I’m in the line of fire.
The “Great Wall,” the rapturing at the Church of the Nativity, an intimate private lunch with a Palestinian family — so much, today, but one of the most telling was our visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Considered a sacred site in both Judaism and Islam for the same reason, the ability of believers to worship here is now “absurdly” controlled by Israel.
Israel has valid security concerns since at least 67 Jewish worshipers were gunned down here in 1929 on rumors that Jewish militias were going to take over the Temple Mount.
The easiest question of the day: ‘Where’s the center of the earth?’ Certain Christian sects believe it’s the Temple Mount; Jews believe it’s Golgotha; and the always necessarily compromising Palestinians simply draw a line between the two assumed centers and declared the half-point the real middle which conveniently falls in the middle of the Church of the Sepulcher.
So that’s the easy part. So glad we finally figured that out since it’s been bugging me for such a long time.
Unusual message from the Lufthansa purser: “Please prepare for an immediate landing.” But we’re a long way… “Make sure that you leave behind all personal belongings if asked to evacuate.” Evacuate? I look out the window. “Tray tables now immediately to upright positions.”
But we’re three-quarters of an hour before the scheduled landing! The whole jammed-pack aircraft is now filled with erect, silent passengers – some like me in window seats, squashing their noses against the glass for a better view.
I don’t like crowds… of people, that is. I take my rovers into tens of thousands of wildebeest, sometimes hundreds of thousands. My cars are often the only ones in view.
It’s selfish and egotistical, perhaps pridefully arrogant. We handful of guides with the skills and experience to find the calving fields represent an extremely small group of tourists. It’s hard to get there, not without risk since there’s no roads or tracks and sometimes, in fact, we don’t find them.
Rather, what the mass of tourists usually sees was truthfully documented in last night’s PBS premiere of this season’s ‘Nature,’ Running with the Beest.
Beware The Woke. For half a century I’ve lived, worked and critiqued Africa. Now I’m supposed to relent, regret what I did? This mostly leftist campaign currently focused on the entertainment industry is ready to pounce on me and thousands like me.
So I’m pouncing first.
“Our interaction with Britain has been one of pain, death and dispossession, and of the dehumanisation of the African people. We do not mourn the death of Elizabeth.”
This statement from South Africa’s third most powerful political party rings hollow even though it’s true.
South Africa is exquisitely beautiful and culturally devastatingly complex. It’s the bitter-sweet but intense experience I try to convey at the start of a South African trip.
My job was made really easy this time. The whole massive conundrum is so perfectly conveyed by Cape Town’s new super modern art museum, anchored at the moment by Rose Tracey’s “Shooting Down Babylon” exhibition.
On the one hand we walked across the top of the Cape of Good Hope able to see for miles and miles out to see and watch all the anger boiled by the seven seas crash against giant mountains. And on the other hand the vast majority of South Africans remain captured in an asphyxiating ugly past that Tracey characterizes as “Mandela’s Dream Deferred.”
The unexpected night at Hemingway’s resort in Nairobi refreshed and rejuvenated everyone. I love Hemingway’s. I thought of Raffles in the Seychelles, an over-the-top property specifically marketed as a “fancy resort and spa.” I like Hemingway’s better.
The rooms are bigger, the bathroom is just aw large and gorgeous, the woodsy grounds with flowered landscaping a fine substitute for the Indian Ocean, and the dozens of chirping swifts, grunting colobus and melodic bulbuls more relaxing to me than the crashing waves on the beach.
Hemingway’s is where you go to rest up, not worry about which jewelry worn to dinner will perfectly reflect the candlelight. I ordered a hamburger.