I was born in a house outside of Amsterdam. As a young boy, I traveled with my fashion model mother who had split from my father, to other European countries including Belgium, France, Spain and on the continent of Africa. It was at that time that I learned to love adventure in foreign lands. A friend once said to me that you can tell a lot about people by the language they speak. I wanted to find the key to unlock that knowledge. This was the start of my desire to learn different languages, to learn about different people.
As I contemplated blogging about my travels, snippets of memories about my early life and travels came back to me.
In Spain for a summer, I remember seeing a recently caught giant octopus on the front of a beached speedboat. A crowd of people surrounded it speaking excitedly in Spanish, a language I was only beginning to understand. I strained to hear the story of the giant octopus but my effort was only rewarded with frustration.
In the middle of a May night in 1968, we found ourselves banging on the front door of the Dutch consulate in Paris. It was the start of the student riots. We had been on a train from Madrid to Amsterdam, and had been stopped due to the civil unrest. The consulate was locked and I remember being terrified until someone finally came and opened the door, allowing us to spend the night on a hard bench. There was significant violence in the street and I saw a student stuff a tee shirt into the gas tank of an overturned car and light it on fire. There were handmade posters plastered all around the city to tell the tale, but I didn’t understand them.
Upon returning to The Netherlands, I lived with my Grandmother in the beach town of Wijk aan Zee, in a pension which is similar to a bed and breakfast. On the advice of Elizabeth Taylor, who my mother had met on the set of a movie on which she worked, she (my mother) had decided to move to America. Without me.
In the summer, the Wijk aan Zee pension was fully booked with German tourists which is how I began to learn German. I then became quite fluent in German by watching German Batman episodes on television. But my favorite show was High Chaparral, an American Western.
I have a distinct memory of the field in front of our pension filled with hundreds of Vietnamese refugee children. I wanted to know where they were from and how they got there. I was on the other side of the fence. I threw them a soccer ball so they could play. I tried to speak to them but they didn't speak Dutch. One morning I woke up and they were all gone, tents and all, and I felt like I had just lost hundreds of friends.
I was lonely.
Next to the ice cream shop In the town square, there was a little cemetery where I would often sit on the wall, next to the final resting place of an unknown soldier from World War II, He was a British airman. I knew he spoke a different language and I wanted to learn it. I wondered what his name was and if anybody missed him. I wondered if my parents missed me. I had heard my father had moved to France. I knew my mother would be speaking English, American English, and my father was most likely speaking French. I ached for my parents and knowing where they were and the words they were speaking.
Once an impeccably dressed, dark-skinned man came to the front door for a room. I knew he was American by his accent. My step-grandfather turned him away. I wondered where he was from, where he was going and why he was denied a room because I knew we had a bed for him. I wanted to ask him if he might know my mother, if he had seen her in America, but he quickly disappeared into the night.
Eventually my mother came back to take me to America, which caused a great deal of conflict. Even though I had missed her desperately, I wanted her to return to The Netherlands, not take me to America. On the other hand, I did yearn to see the land of High Chaparral. I wanted to meet a cowboy. She and my new stepfather took me to America where we settled in Westport Connecticut, a suburb of New York City. That is where I finished growing up.
I attended boarding school in Massachusetts where I established the beginning of my international network of friends and colleagues. Subsequently, I worked with an international logistics company making frequent trips between New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and London, the beginnings of becoming a truly seasoned international traveler.
I met Cynthia many years after my divorce and raising my children. Her desire for travel immediately intrigued me. It was something we had in common. Since our children were adults, we started making plans to travel in earnest. Sitting in a café on our first trip to Santiago Chile, we turned over a placemat and took turns writing the places we would most like to visit in the world. We filled up the placement, folded it, and placed it in my backpack for safekeeping, frequently consulted like an old friend. We now have new memories to create and new cultures to learn.
Each day that I walked my dog Pietro down to the beach in Marina del Rey, California, I would touch the railing at the end of the jetty and say to him, "We have made it to the end of the world." And of course it felt like that because the Pacific Ocean at that point is magnificent, the waves often crashing over the path, the fog horn at the ready, the stone wall of the channel the last bulwark against the unstoppable sea. Every day the sky was a different color, and the sea a reflection of its fickleness. I called it a thousand shades of sky. In awe of the scenery before me, I decided that I wanted to travel to other ends of the world all over the world. I didn't have a lot of money to do so, but I knew I had to try.
I had wanderlust from the moment I started reading. Growing up on a farm, with very little to no television, neighbors, or vacations, I developed a love of books. Since I really didn’t have my own, I read my mom’s. Opening one of her books like Gone With The Wind or Dr. Zhivago, was like traveling through a portal to the plantations of Georgia or pre-revolutionary Russia. I wanted to go to all of the places I read about. I wanted to see them and experience them for myself.
I went to college. I got married. I had children. I got divorced. I worked. I worked. I worked. To be sure, I traveled in between. Every year, the kids and I went on vacation somewhere even if it was just back to the family farm or a couple hours up the coast. When my kids left for college, I came up with a goal to visit five new places a year that I had never been to before. I took delight in not just exploring new places but in figuring out a way to get there and even the act of travel itself.
I had some rules such as it had to be a city/town/region and I had to stay overnight there or at least spend the day including a meal. Stopovers in airports didn't count. When money was really tight one year, I drove up the coast and hiked/camped out in Sequoia National Park - which turned out to be one of my favorite trips. Some years I made it to many more than five places (including 2016 when I traveled to Patagonia which really is at the end of the world), but every year I made sure I made it to at least five.
For a long time, I was alone and I was okay traveling alone. It was better than sitting home alone, but I missed being with someone. My travel flew into high gear when I met Dennis who shares my love of adventure. He is a fantastic travel partner. Neither of us are divas. We fly coach. We rent cars and drive on long road trips whether it be in the nearby Mojave desert, or through the faraway Black Forest. We’ve stayed in spectacular hotels and places where we were afraid to climb in the shower. We’ve stayed with friends and family and Airbnbs and Bed and Breakfasts and even did a house swap. We have patience because that’s what you need when you travel. We take problems and issues in stride. We remember that the goal is not the destination but it is the journey.
We would like to challenge you to the same goal. And then we want to hear about it. What are the five new places you visited this year? What was your journey to the end of the world?