November 29th, 2007
Prague, Czech Republic
Dear Friends and Family,
Well, I finally did it. I never thought I’d actually say this… but I recently ate a 15 pound pigeon. I was in Luxor, Egypt, and I had heard that one of the local “delicacies” was roast pigeon. So I found a nice restaurant (as nice as a restaurant can be when it has Roast Pigeon on the menu) and ordered a cold beer and a hot pigeon. 15 pounds worth! It was actually a very small bird. About the size of, well… a small pigeon. The meat was a little tough, and it tasted like, OK, I’ll say it… it tasted like chicken. Only a bit more pigeony, if that’s a word. There. I did it. I ate pigeon. Now get off my back!
And it only cost 15 Egyptian pounds (about US$3). I figure if I had eaten sheep’s brains in Morocco and fried roaches and beatles in Cambodia, that a little pigeon couldn’t hurt, right? After more than two months of pure vegetarian meals in the Himalayas of northern India, my digestive system was screaming in protest… “Ouch! What the Hell is this crap?”
And since we’re on the subject of Egypt, let me say this… Of all the places I have been on this great Earth, Egypt is the first country that I have decided I will NEVER go back to. You can have it. Sure, the Pyramids and the Sphinx are amazing, and the ancient ruins and civilizations of Luxor are classic… but the scams and hassles and difficulties of travelling in Egypt make these world class sights almost more trouble than they are worth.
Now, I usually give everybody the benefit of the doubt. And along most of my travels, most countries and their citizens have been generally helpful and welcoming. Not so in Egypt. I was in Egypt for 12 days, in Luxor, Cairo, Alexandria, Giza, and on the Red Sea on the Sinai Peninsula. During that time, I only encountered 3, count ’em, 1-2-3, Egyptians who did not try to scam me or play games with me. All the rest, without exception, were always trying to get something from me and the other tourists. Any ‘friendly’ approach by an Egyptian eventually turned into a pitch or a scam. It was sooooo laborious and heavy to travel there. Oh, SOOOOOO heavy!
I know this may sound negative, but it’s my truth. And it was the truth and experience of EVERY other tourist that I met along the way. We were all fed up with all the hassles and games and deceptions and lies. But we all wanted to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx and ride camels in the desert and maybe eat a 15 pound pigeon. There’s a price for everything, I guess.
I’m sure there are plenty of honest, fair and friendly Egyptians in Egypt. I only found 3 in my 12 days. So I’m thinking about creating some kind of contest. The runner-up will win 2 weeks in Egypt. The winner will get 1 week. Just don’t ask me to be your tour guide. I’ve had enough.
OK. Let’s talk about something other than Egypt. No. I’m not done griping. On my last night in Egypt, I spent the night in a ‘cabana’ on the beach in the small coastal town of Nuweiba. It was a very long and painful night. Very long. Very painful. It was hot and humid. The air was stagnant. The fan was broken. And the cabana was filled with mosquitoes. So I had to endure 5 of my least favorite things in life that night:
Not getting enough sleep
Being VERY hot and sweaty
Wearing chemicals on my body (insect repellent)
Getting attacked by mosquitoes
Being in Egypt
Luckily, the next morning, something amazing and marvelous happened… I left Egypt. My favorite experience in Egypt was the ‘fast ferry’ to Jordan. Not because it was a fast ferry or a nice boat. Just because I was no longer in Egypt. Again, this was just my experience. Yours may be different. I hope it is (or was.) I’m not going back. I’ve had enough. You can have it!
Let’s move on. I have been procrastinating and delaying this edition of “The Lexpedition” for way tooo long. Simply because I don’t really know how to start.
Since my last update about the Philippines, I have visited the eerie DMZ between North and South Korea, spent 2 more glorious months trekking in the Himalayas, 6 weeks in the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Dubai and the UAE, Egypt and Oman), and most recently I’ve been snaking my way through Eastern Europe and parts of Scandinavia, including a great visit with my Latvian ‘relatives’, where I saw where my father and his family came from.
They say “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” So, realizing that there is no way to download four months of constant adventures into a perfect short newsletter, I’ll just do my good best here. Let’s go.
Photos – Click ’em to see the bigger, world-class versions. Seriously… they’re pretty cool.
Here I am eating the “15 pound pigeon” in Egypt. It’s been 6 weeks since that ‘meal’, and my stomach is still not happy with me! Go figure.
A view from one of the many high passes along the 21-day trek (over 100 miles as the crow flies) through the Zanskar Valley in the Himalayas. 21 days of walking/hiking/trekking 6 to 8 hours a day through beautiful, quiet, massive mountains, valleys and rivers. Man, I love the Himalayas!
The impressive Gumburanjan mountain, next to the Kargyak river in Zanskar. This mountain dominated my view for at least 4 hours of solid walking that day. It was MASSIVE. And beautiful. I miss it. It was my friend.
Our ‘campsite’ for the night at Tso Moriri lake. These are our 3 horses. You can see the ‘campsite’ behind the white horse in the distance.
A small stack of rocks (aka a ‘cairn’) on the quiet bank of the Tso Moriri Lake. I walked for the next 6 hours on the small path along the right bank to our next campsite. You can see it ahead where the lake ends below the snow-capped mountains. 6 more hours of bliss. Giddee-up! Off in the distance, you can almost see the massive glacier at Barang La that I would have to cross in 3 days to complete the trek.
Standing up above the beautiful Tso Moriri Lake on the 11-day Spiti Trek (from Rumptse to Kibber) in Northern India. This is a massive blue lake situated at about 4,600 meters above sea level (around 14,000 feet). After already walking for about 4 hours, I’m standing above the lake at about 18,500 feet (about 6,000 meters). Freezing my buns off. If you look closely, you can see that I’m shivering. But I was oooh sooo happy! From this point down to the lake (about 4,000 feet down) took another 3 hours of solid walking to our next campsite.
OK, let’s move on to some warmer places.
Standing on top of Mt. Sinai (where Moses did something famous) on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. Wearing a local head covering. I told you I don’t tan well.
Wearing my ‘important shirt’ (AKA a shirt with a collar) while watching a super cargo tanker cruise through the Suez Canal, making its way from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.
A couple of pyramids, the Great Sphinx, and the Great Big Stinx. The wrinkles around my eyes are from years of neglect and sun damage. The wrinkles around the eyes of the Sphinx are from pigeons.
A big pyramid-shaped ancient structure. Wahooooooooooo!
Floating on the Dead Sea in Israel, reviewing my hectic calendar while enjoying a nice hot cup of… what else? Coffee! (I LOVE Coffee! And the only thing I love more than coffee is more coffee. There was a coffee chain in Riga, Latvia called ‘Double Coffee.’ Sounds good to me. And there is a chain called ‘Coffee Heaven’ here in Prague. When I die, I want to go to Coffee Heaven. I like coffee.)
Anyway… you can’t drown here on the Dead Sea. You have no choice but to float. Don’t ask me how… but the salty water feels a little like pancake syrup. It just holds you up. Most people floating there that day had big, goofy grins on their faces (like me.) It was pretty cool. You gotta try it. That’s Jordan in the background. Not Michael. The country!
A bright red sand dune and our camels. On an overnight camel safari in the Wadi Rum Desert, near Petra in Jordan. If you ride a camel for more than a few hours, it really hurts. And it hurts in places you never even know you had. You catch my drift?
In front of the Treasury of Petra in Jordan. I’ll admit. Somehow, before this trip, I had never even heard of Petra. But I’ll say this… of all the ‘things’ I have seen on this planet (man-made ‘things’), Petra is by far the BEST. In my humble opinion, nothing else even comes close. Angkor Wat and the ancient ruins of Cambodia come in second for me, but Petra blows everything else away.
In all seriousness, if you can only see one of the world’s most glorious places… you gotta see Petra. It’s unbelievable. I’ll write more about it late, and include more pictures. But for now, all I can say is that Petra rocks!
This ‘Treasury’ building was carved out of the canyon walls over 2,000 years ago. There was an entire village and civilization living here in this massive canyon. By the way, I saw an exhibit here in the Prague Castle yesterday that said that Jesus Christ was born in 4 B.C. No joke. Jesus Christ was born 4 years Before Christ, according to this museum. Helloooooo?!?!? Who’s in charge of this museum? Am I missing something? Is this some kind of joke? You call this a museum? You got some of your dates wrong, Mister!
Somehow, this entire Petra civilization was only recently ‘discovered’, about 50 years ago. Petra basically died and went ‘Missing In Action’ for over a thousand years, until some western archaeologists ‘discovered’ it around 1950. Now they are busy uncovering it and showing it off to the
world. It’s wonderful. Put it on your list.
Standing on top of one of the massive Petra buildings, enjoying the amazing views. I was being very careful not to hurt the structure or to fall to my certain death, ’cause they probably would not have found my body for a few more hundred years.
You can see the scope and magnitude of the Petra ‘buildings’ carved out of the mountains. Here is a bunch of tourists making the long walk out of the park at sunset. It’s a VERY long walk.
The ancient ruins of the Luxor Temple in Luxor, Egypt. If you look at the big picture, you can see the hieroglyphic symbols on the pillars and gigantic stone blocks on the top. And the remains of the 20 foot tall (6 meters) statues. Pretty cool, huh?
And now back to the cold….
Here I am with Leonards Latkovskis at the Aglona Basilica in Latvia, where my grandparents were married. Leonards is my father’s first cousin. Leonards and his wife Velga were amazingly generous and hospitable hosts during my stay in Riga, Latvia. And my ‘cousins’ Dace and Gundars and
Gustavs and the rest of the gang there took great care of me.
We went on an all-day road trip to see where my grandparents and father and family history came from, and I had a great dinner with some of my distant relatives on their farm in the country. To all of you in Latvia, thank you very much for the great visit! I hope to return to Latvia and Poland with my father this Spring. Yahooooooo!
Well, that’s enough for now. Saturday marks the 16 month anniversary of this trip for me. It has been an amazing trip, to say the absolutely most cliche’ least. I will take my 42nd flight on this trip from Germany back to Kentucky on December 12th. I’m excited… I will (finally) be buying my childhood home in Louisville from my father (AKA Rockbox), who retired earlier this year and has decided to downsize a little. Yahooooooo! Should be a fun project.
And I’m VERY excited about seeing my family and friends back home. And I’m REALLY excited about seeing how big my 7 sweet nieces and nephews (and my mom) have gotten since I left. Ouch!
By the way, it will be very interesting to walk into my garage back home and see what’s left of my crap there. As I mentioned last year, right after I left on this trip, my garage was flooded in a freak storm, and most of my crap got ruined. And by crap I don’t just mean crap, but all my books and photos and my bed and antique furniture and belongings and clothes and CD’s and a bunch of other crap. Most of it’s gone. Oh well.
I am very fortunate. I did not get here alone. Many great and beautiful and supportive people have cheered me on, helped me out, picked me up, and made this whole adventure possible. I am deeply and forever grateful. Thank you. You have helped me explore my motivations and passions even more deeply. I’m still living my passion and my dreams. Maybe the poem below by Mary Oliver called “The Journey” will help me say this better. It’s one of my all-time favorites.
And I ‘owe’ many of you an email or two. I have left quite a few of you hanging lately. Please don’t take it personally. I trust you understand.
Anyway, I don’t know what will happen next, or when I will hit the road again… but I will. I gotta see Machu Pichu and the Antarctic and Croatia and Buenos Aires and Spitsbergen and a few more places before I die. And I gotta get back to the Himalayas again. Many more times. Anyway, I have a few days left here in Europe before I head home, and I get to finally explore Berlin and see some old ‘Stray’ friends from New Zealand in Cologne before my flight home.
After 16 months on the road, all I really know for sure is this:
I love coffee
I don’t tan well
I like bullet points
I love coffee
I wish you all the best, and I look forward to seeing a whole bunch of you real soon. The great poem by Mary Oliver is below. I hope you enjoy it.
Peace & Love,
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice– though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles. “Mend my life!” each voice cried. But you didn’t stop. You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations, though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do– determined to save the only life you could save.
by Mary Oliver