Wed. March 4, 1998 Hillsboro, OR 9:00 PM. 50 degrees, partly cloudy
Dear family & friends,
Spring has come here: the tulips, forsythia, and magnolia are blooming. The scent of Mom's daphnia greets us as we leave the house in the morning or as we leave the car to go back inside. The grass never turned brown, just slowed its growth; now it needs to be mown. It seems that we had a year without a winter.
This is the Epilogue, as promise two months ago - the last installment of our travelogue. All the travel newsletters are available at http://bachelor.cordada.com/forest/tfweb.nsf. I'm maintaining them in a Lotus Notes database, which is converted on the fly to HTML.
I've settled into my new job at The Cordada Group. I'm enjoying being a big fish in the pond - more of a puddle, really, but I'm relishing the level of control I have now over my professional life. Carol has done the lion's share of home setup and maintenance to date. She's looking to spend the rest of the year taking classes at Portland State and Portland Community College in graphic design and graphic arts. She wants to apply her art skills & affinities with a technical toolset more direct than a video camera. We expect to move into our own (rental) home on some acreage in a rural area in April.
I was showing our travel pictures to Erin Fry on Sunday night. She took a couple of hours to go through them. I hadn't seen them myself in a few weeks; there are a lot of memories I didn't see there, and the pictures don't look as good (mostly) as I remember. The strongest image I see we didn't photograph was of a lone bull elephant eating 20' from the road, staring right at us. We didn't see him until we were right there, next to him. It was the trip of a lifetime so far, and everything we hoped it would be. Here are my impressions of the trip, after having settled back into American life.
Surprising facts about our trip
- We made all the flights we had tickets for in July - no cancellations, rescheduling, or just plain missed flights. Our air travel all happened just the way we planned it.
- Our luggage was never misplaced, delayed, lost, stolen, or broken into.
- We were never robbed or mugged.
- The only important thing we lost (and we only lost a couple of unimportant things) was when I made the ATM in Cairo eat my bank card. I remembered my password, not the PIN, and the keyboard layout in Egypt wasn't the US style. I carried a cheat sheet around for us to use after that.
- All our parcels shipped from overseas got here.
- As far as we know, all the postcards and letters (of which there were a few hundred) arrived, too.
- Our round-the world diet, meant to shed the pounds our restaurant-only diet of June & July put on, turned into a round-as-the-world diet. Though we got exercise in Africa and trimmed, we're among the few Americans who Gained weight in India: we Really like Indian food, vegetarian or not.
- Driving a four-wheel drive in sand is easy - just like snow, except you can't hydroplane in sand.
- I didn't miss computers or technology.
- The only possession I missed was my guitar (maybe that's not so surprising).
- Chinese food is everywhere.
- So are ATMs
- So is disco
- People everywhere are friendly (except Cairo)
- Everything is cheaper in the Third World - except gasoline and telephone calls.
- Carol was at her sickest, with an intestinal flu -- in Bangkok
- I was at my sickest in Turkey, the day I delivered my papers at the conference -- with a head & chest cold.
What we most missed about America
- Family & friends
- Polyphonic, polytonal Western music. Harmony, counterpoint, and countermelody aren't worldwide. My love of Indian Classical music has limits.
- Breakfast - pancakes, waffles, and especially nice crisp bacon. At lunch & dinner we can experiment, but feta cheese and olives do not a breakfast make. It's probably a matter of comfort.
- A global food selection is available in most towns & cities. We can eat Thai today, Middle Eastern tomorrow, Indian or pizza next week. Variety is a good thing.
- Everything and every place is clean - even Boston.
- Vehicle emission controls. Sucking diesel fumes detracts from enjoying beautiful, exotic scenery, let alone scents.
- Vehicle mufflers and restrained horn use. I eventually came to enjoy muezzins calling the faithful to prayer, but combustion engines and car horns never sound beautiful, and drown out too much of what is. Most car noise here is just the sound of rubber rolling on the road, or the wind over the car on highways.
- Toilet paper is provided for use everywhere. Squatting was no big deal; rinsing by hand with water was gross.
- Well-maintained roads. Even in Boston, they have at least two lanes, painted side & center lines, tiny defects in the pavement - and no cows, sheep, goats, or produce drying on them!
- Calm and sedate drivers. Even in Boston, seldom do people pass on blind or hairpin curves.
- Things work. In particular, phones, banks, and postal services provided services we particularly wanted yet were only intermittently (or slowly, after much waiting) available.
What we missed least about America
- BankBoston. Terrible service at awful prices: "Oh, yes, your new ATM card is in the mail." Not. We refer to it now as an Egyptian bank (Things worked worse in Cairo than anywhere else we went).
- Malls. A national esthetic disaster promoting wasteful consumption.
- Hair Club for Men ads. Misplaced vanity.
- Advertisement generally. Much of American advertising seems to focus on amplifying fears, then urging people to assuage those same fears by buying products.
- Time share condos. Our first solicitation in the US was for this. How can I complain about Turkish rug sellers?
- Signs advertising "the oldest... biggest... the fastest" anything. More misplaced vanity.
- Roadkill. We saw more of it here in a day than in a month in India, or Turkey, or Southern Africa. Too many people here just don't care.
Importance and urgency, possibilities and essentials
After being out of the country for four months and 'catching up' with world events, only two seemed important. One was the deepening economic and social crisis in East Asia (which coincidentally made our visit in Thailand cost only 2/3 what I expected). The other is only important because of my line of work, and may yet amount to nothing: the current law suits against Microsoft regarding Internet Explorer. The other so-called news was urgent yet unimportant. I've found it hard to watch TV news (never easy) or read a newspaper (which I've usually enjoyed). Beforehand, and while on the road, I thought the trip was about beauty and meaning. Those it had, but our journey was more about possibilities and essentials. We saw much we had never considered possible, and carried with us much less than would have previously seemed necessary.
What else is important to say?
- 0.3%/year population growth here has more impact on the environment than a 3%/year increase in India. I've overvalued zero population growth and undervalued zero consumption growth.
- We try to live our lives without - or at least despite - fear: not to let fear keep up from doing what we want most. With this trip, we did that. It seems easy in retrospect.
- We were middle market travelers. We weren't staying in hostels or Hyatts. We tried to travel like local tourists - Turkish tourists in Turkey, Indian tourists in India - and were plenty comfortable and safe.
- If we get two weeks and tickets to repeat any one stop, we're going back to southern Africa - Carol to Zimbabwe, me to the canoes in Botswana.
- Lonely Planet travel guides are absolutely correct. Don't leave home without one - at least as a baseline.
- We spent about what a downpayment on a house would be - about $25,000 - total for two.
- Next time, we buy a plane ticket only the first leg - e.g. Boston-London - and make it up from there. It's hard to meet people & make new friends while constantly on the run.
- Why DO we need more that what we can carry?
- We made it a point not to take anything of high value, emotionally or financial (for instance, I left the watch Grandma & Grandpa Lum gave me for high school graduation at home. I spent 500,000 Turkish Lira on a replacement - US$3). But we should've taken the good camera. Even elephants can look like little gray dots (though in a few pictures they're Much larger).
- Speaking the natives' language is not necessary, but would be nice. Sure, English is the common language of the global tourist industry, and we were seeing large parts of the former British Empire to boot. But a knowledge of Greek, Turkish, Arabic, Zulu, N'debele, Shona, Setswana, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Thai would've allowed us to go further off the beaten track, to go where tourists don't go, to meet jes' plain folks. Phrase books cover the barest essentials. Next time I'd like to take some language classes before we go.
- Sometimes life outside the box is just life inside a bigger box - though perhaps an automotive box, on a hairpin curve, without seatbelts, expecting oncoming traffic in our lane. Or perhaps being outside the box means carrying the box - after filling it with food and putting it in the bottom of the canoe, hoping that baboons don't empty it.
Reflections: biodiversity, history, displacement and togetherness
One of my papers at last year's System Dynamics conference was about modeling biological diversity and the big extinctions of the last 540 million years, including the end of the Paleozoic, the end of the Mesozoic and its dinosaurs, and the one we are in and causing. While driving through Africa, I was wondering what America looked like 13,000 years ago, when there were elephants, lions, camels, cheetahs, tigers, tapirs, capybara, horses (today's wild horses were reintroduced by the Spanish), beavers as big as black bears, three-ton giant ground sloths, one-ton armadillo-like glyptodonts, and 200 pound carnivorous birds in North America. Until then, the Great Plains bore a much stronger resemblance to southern Africa than it does now. Since well before history, people have taken as much as they could.
My other paper at the 1997 conference was about the dynamics of civilizations in Anatolia and the Balkans. While driving through Turkey, I was mindful of the great changes in culture over the last 4,000 years - Hittite, Lycian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, Ottoman. Even on human time scales, changes come and go over large areas. Yet despite the cultural changes, how different are the people from the ones who lived there in 1800 BC? Going from Athens to Istanbul and through Turkey, the differences between Greeks and Turks seemed unimportant.
The cross country trip, with stops in Boston, Mass.; Lawton, Okla.; and Hillsboro, Ore. was dissociative for me. From 1960-1964 and 1973-1976 I was in Oregon, and I've visited every year or two since. From 1964-1973 I was in Oklahoma, excepting 15 months in El Paso (which is also where I was born, in 1958). From 1976-1997 I was in Boston. No one knows all three parts of my life, and I know them only as three completely distinct parts of me. Seeing them all in a 12 day span, I became unstuck in time and place. I was unsure of the place and year even more than I had been on the round-the-world trip.
Though I had thought our trip would be deep, during it I thought more often that we were waterbugs crossing a pond, seeing a lot but directly exploring only the merest of surfaces. The depth of the trip we provided ourselves by being together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 20 weeks. We've never been America's premiere joined-at-the-hip couple. We've each lived our own lives, occasionally together but just as often not. Somewhat to our surprise, we got along very well on the trip, and feel much closer than ever before. Carol was a wonderful travel partner. Our worst disagreements - typically in late afternoon, while hot, thirsty, hungry, tired, and a little lost - were never far from a good laugh. Now that we've taken the trip, we'd answer 'What would you want if you had six months to live' question, which catalyzed the trip, differently. Carol isn't sure yet what her new answer is. I'd want to spend more time with family, which is much easier to do here in Oregon. But we want more nature, so are planning to move someplace with more birds and fewer people. We'll want to travel more in the years to come - Tahiti and New Zealand in '99, Norway and more of Europe in 2000, and maybe a round-the-Pacific-Rim trip (if it's good enough for Michael Palin, it's good enough for us). Then again, perhaps on our next sabbatical we'll plant ourselves in the tropics for a few months to write and paint, sing and dance, snorkel and swim - and entertain guests.
Thanks to Barbie Sibley, for handling our affairs while we were out of the country - particularly for handling BankBoston. Thanks also to Sue Lum for sending travel updates, and for providing a landing pad for us on our return to the U.S.
Finally, I want to thank our late friend Doug Rapkine, as gracious, thoughtful, and lighthearted a friend as one could hope for, even to the end. Carol asked him if he had any regrets. He had to think about it for a while, then decided that he had done what he most wanted to do. He made our travel much easier even as he finished his last trip. We last saw him the week we left Boston; we heard of his passing when we arrived in Istanbul. He especially was always with us on our travels. This note is sent in his memory.
Thank you all for traveling with us. As often as we wrote, you were on our minds far more. May your travels be as happy as ours.
Tom & Carol
Hillsboro, Ore. USA
March 7th 1998