Monday, December 5, 2011

Fun on the Road

     Although I have written about the value of Third World travel for personal growth in several of my past blogs, I do want to emphasize that travel should be fun also. If you don't have fun on the road, your motivation to keep going will flag and you will have wasted one of the real potential assets of the whole undertaking. I recall an abundance of moments which strike me as just, plain enjoyable. Such happenings are always desirable though they are hard to plan for.

     The first such event that jumps to my mind was an unexpected thrill I had at a popular diving resort on the island of New Britain some miles off the coast of Papua New Guinea. We stopped there because we understood that the nearby reef (an extension of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia) offered some really fine snorkeling as well as the presence of some interesting cultural groups on the island. The first morning of our stay there we went out in a boat with a group of scuba divers to the heart of the reef.  The divers got out at one site and my wife and I went into the water a few hundred yards away to do some wonderful snorkeling. We when got back into the boat, the captain asked us if we would like to scuba dive as well. We had taken no classes, had no license and were both significantly nervous about the prospect of learning in deep water off a remote island. But we could not say "no." It was too exciting an offer. About 20 minutes or so of instruction and a guarantee that the captain would take us down and stay with us led us to strap on a tank and jump back into the water. As it turned out, after about fifteen minutes of descent, my mask filled with water and I indicated I had to come up. The captain was disappointed but he left my wife sitting on a rock about 20 feet below and took me up. She felt quite lonely down there, especially since she did not know how she would ever be found and could not swim one bit. I guess I had just not gotten his instructions quite right. Must have missed the part about clearing the mask if water gets into it. When they returned to the boat, I was ready to try again and did so with more success. The diving was great. We found ourselves keeping company with several reef sharks, many rays and a few other impressive denizens of the deep. It was one of the most exciting and enjoyable moments of our travels.

     In a recent blog, I wrote about our moped experiences in Southeast Asia. The one in Vientianne, Laos was pure fun. We rented a moped one evening with a plan to spend the next day motoring from temple to temple and town to town in the area. The problem we ran into was a heavy morning rain. I was inclined to hand in the moped and do the touring by taxi but my wife said that the whole town was on the street on mopeds so we could manage just like they did. She found a large umbrella in the lobby, rode on the back of the moped with the umbrella covering most of us and we had a ball. She was right. Most of the town residents seemed to be on the road much in the same way we were and we laughed the entire day.

      Camel rides can be fun too. I have been on camels in the Sinai Desert, the Sahara and Rajasthan, India to mention a few such experiences. Of these, our ride into the Sahara from Timbuktu accompanied by a Tuareg guide was probably the most fun. We rode quite a few miles out of town and then got off for a desert walk. At one point we came upon a group of Tuaregs who had become aware of tourists in their area, gone back to their tents and brought back artifacts to create a small market. We did buy some nice things from them leaving all of us satisfied but it was truly an unusual and enjoyable experience. The fact that they were all armed with knives was one inducement to our making some purchases. Our second most enjoyable camel experience took place at the Camel Fair in Pushkar. We got to the fair grounds stadium early enough to obtain good seats to see the horse and camel competitions but as the time passed we were virtually crushed by other arrivals and could barely see what was happening. What could we do? We decided to rent two camels for the afternoon which we parked right next to the ceremony giving us private, well placed viewing and enabling us to have about as good a vantage point as was possible. Our camels were happy not having to drag us around and we had the best time.

     I wrote earlier about a piece of luck I had on the Island of Lombok one day which surely qualifies as unadulterated fun. At our beach hotel one evening, I asked the waiter if he knew of any local events which we might witness while we were there. He replied that there was to be a wedding in his tribal village the next morning and, if I wished, he would take the day off and accompany me there. That offer was irresistable; we were off to my adventure early the next morning. Along the way, we stopped at fascinating markets I would otherwise been unaware of and we toured much of the island. Unfortunately, it turned out that the wedding was to occur a day later than the waiter indicated. No problem. Instead we went to his village, visited his family in their small, tent-like home and I got to see more of real life on Lombok than I would ever have imagined. It was a traveler's dream day, an abundance of fun.

     I am not sure if my wife would classify it as fun but there was a day in the Copper Canyon I will never forget. In the evening in our hotel dining room, I overheard a Mexican family planning a horseback ride through a colorful area of the Canyon the next morning. Since my wife had ridden horses on several occasions, I told her about it and she decided to join their group. The next morning I had planned to do some hiking with a youngster I met on the train whose mother worked at our hotel. I am no horseback rider so I left my wife off with the group that was about to ride through the hills. The only problems were the that the man in charge spoke not a word of English nor did anyone else, the older woman I assumed was going with them was not going at all, my wife's horse had a knack of going to the edge of the mountain scaring her to death, and another horse which was not behaving well needed to be tied to the leader's horse so, since she was dependent on him, she went back and forth all morning. At the end of her ride when I asked how it was, I got a look which I will never forget. Did I mention that she was afraid of heights? I really enjoyed the hike. She almost left me. I laughed the rest of the day.

     Getting totally soaked in the spray of Victoria Falls in Zambia, bumping into people we knew in Puebla, Mexico or folks who lived right near us on an elevator in Cold War Budapest, finding celebrations in unexpected places, noticing that our lunch was looking at us in a small Greek restaurant that had no English menu, encountering the same salesman at the Kenya-Tanzania border who recognized us and remembered the good deal he gave us the last time we came his way and let us know immediately that we would not get that deal again, and many other such circumstances were all a great deal of fun. If you are open to it, fun just happens helping to make travel one of the most enjoyable activities one can ever undertake.

                                                 Ready to Enter the Mine, Potosi, Bolivia


Anonymous said...

What "fun" we had on a bicycle trip in Greece! Our biking clothes were immodest and we complied with the request to put on the shirts and pants in the carton outside the monastery. We laughed all the way to the store to buy lots of Quell soap. I'll bet we enjoyed that adventure as much as your wife did the horseback riding! Your writing evokes all kinds of memories for me. Love your blog.

Mark Benson said...

The great barrier reef is the marvel of Mother Nature that should be visited by Australia flights. The experience of snorkelling and diving will give you the sheer pleasure you can get from a destination of unlimited beauty.