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Hawaiian Hurricanes: The Storms That Never Came

Back at 35,000 feet in route to mainland USA…after 48 hours pursuing an unprecedented and forecasted double whammy of hurricanes on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.

Jamie and I were drawn from adventures in cosmopolitan Europe to the pursuit of risk, storytelling, and a heightened sense of alarm from residents as Hawaii braced for the first hurricane landfall since Inikki smashed the islands as a Category 4 hurricane in 1992.

As fortune and the trade winds would have it, Hawaii was spared yet again and saved by the locals’ legend that hurricanes turn from Hawaii because the islands are too beautiful for destruction.

As Hurricane Iselle and Hurricane Julio loomed upon landing on the island, our 48-hour objective was set on navigating the island of Oahu and exploring life as lived outside the capital of Honolulu. Armed with tips collected on social media from those who’ve called Oahu home, Jamie and I landed on island and were met by a dynamic sister duo who grew up farming in Kansas. With Aubrie and Adriane on our team, we would be able to harvest local crops, milk cows for sustenance, and use their charm on the surfer boys in the event we found ourselves isolated.

We set out with no maps, no agenda, and “shrimp chips” that I purchased for $1.18. Packed into a Fiat that made a Mini Cooper look big, we ventured south from Honolulu towards Koko Head Park. I was immediately enveloped in a world of verdant green unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere in the world…to include the jungles of Suriname, Sri Lanka, and Costa Rica. It was as though we’d raced our Fiat onto the set of Jurassic Park. Sharp landscapes of falling precipices and razor-edged rock jutted from the middle of the island. I was struck by the knowledge that all of this before me was once below the Pacific Ocean—that is until volcanic activity brought these dramatic features to life above the ocean surface.

We made our first stop along the eastern shore of Oahu at a locals surf break known as Sandy’s. Momentum was building for rolling sets of hurricane-induced waves as we looked down from an overlook on Highway 72 into a sea of surfers. If headed north along the eastern side of the island, add this stop for a beautiful vantage point to islands in the distance of blue hued seas. We trudged north in a Fiat made for two while stopping only for Flaming Hot Cheetos and a McDonald’s McFlurry in Kaneohe. We passed villages far removed from the busyness of Honolulu and enjoyed the slower paced lifestyle of locals who greeted us with, “Aloha.” We passed on overpriced “shrimp shacks” and “Huli Huli chicken trucks” that were renowned for being featured on television shows like Beach Eats and Eat Street. We were in search of the seldom-recognized shacks and food trucks. We’d be thwarted in our quest for local Hawaiian chicken or shrimp until the next day as we turned back for Honolulu and settled into a plan for sipping Mai Tai’s by sunset on Waikiki Beach.

Always one to sprint from the well worn path of tourists, I had no choice but to check out the famous beach of Waikiki and compare it with the likes of Copacabana Beach which I visited last month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Having walked it now, Waikiki has lost the lore that once made it famous and it has been overrun with the commercialized hotel and restaurant industry that so often shoulders its way into something so beautiful. The towers of Trump, Hilton, and Marriott have moved in on a mission to suck up the tourist dollars. If only Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, the pioneer of international surfing and the ambassador who once made Oahu and Waikiki famous could see the beach today. At the recommendation of locals, we set out for Duke’s of Waikiki, a now chained restaurant with locations across Hawaii and California. I had my doubts as the crowds moved in but held out hope as the waitlist for a table grew to 90 minutes. Surely this restaurant had capitalized on something more than just great marketing, right? Sure enough, Dukes delivered with an outstanding meal of miso glazed local fish at sunset in the open breeze.

Waking rested, day two adventures took us to the famed North Shore of Oahu. While it wasn’t big wave season for the world’s best surfers, we hoped the building hurricanes would bring some swells. We navigated the beach towns of Haleiwa, Pupukea, and Hauula. We made a pit stop at Kaiaka Bay Beach Park for my first look at a volcanic beach with jagged and hardened magma from volcanic eruptions long since cooled. We passed on Oahu’s most notable shaved ice stand, Matsumoto, due to a line out of the door, but it’s on the list for my Hawaii return trip.

As a state known for surfing, I had plans to find a local surf break and pay homage to the generations of Hawaiian surfers who have made the sport popular. We pulled off the looping Highway 83 that runs the North Shore and found ourselves at a local’s only body boarding break known as Pounders in La’ie Beach Park. The rain from Hurricane Iselle’s outer bands moved in during our visit and the guys in the water paddled with excitement as anticipation for bigger waves built. We worked our way up onto cliffs above the action and had a front row seat to boarders doing barrel rolls and flips as the less experienced got crushed in the surf. From where we stood, the rain poured and the crashing waves against the cliffs left spray soaring ten feet high while crashing down on our band of Hurricane Hunters. I talked to a local about the conditions of the surf and his hopes for even bigger waves in the aftermath of both hurricanes. I crafted what I thought sounded like a Hawaiian name, “Luakakani”, and christened our vantage point this name while saying it meant powerful surf in the local language…I doubt my name for this locals spot will catch on as well you know, I don’t speak the locals language.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to find our way inland to the jungles of Oahu but were met with dead end roads and Googled newspaper articles of state parks now closed due to landslides that had killed hikers. While not wanting to test our luck, we set out for what Aubrie had named “Secret Beach” during a previous visit to Oahu. It was from here that adventure unfolded. We pulled off on a quiet stretch of road and parked as the only car around. The unassuming Fiat with Hawaii license plates would help us keep this place a secret. Here, Aubrie walked us to a lagoon encircled with mangroves that met the sea in a blissfully calm area of singing birds, coconut trees, and colorful flowers. Jamie and I made bets about who could better skip rocks and in the end, the loser (Jamie) had to cross the lagoon and land on a deserted beach. Here, Robinson Crusoe style, we spent 25 minutes determined to free coconuts from their home 12 feet up in the trees. We threw rocks, we tried climbing like locals in the movies, we swung from branches, and we said we wouldn’t give up. Finally, after a carefully plotted plan using driftwood, we freed coconuts from their perch and after working to crack them open with beached coral, we found the nectar of life (coconut milk) needed to carry on with our evening. It was here that we celebrated like we’d just found gold and coronated Jamie as king of our new island hideout. I christened this place, “Kolookukai”…another made up word for the garden of the jungle king. We discovered a rope swing that had weathered the years of fun for select locals and spent the next half-hour swinging from the branches of the low hanging tree while the surf lapped the shores below us. This is exactly what I’d hope to find in Hawaii…my own oasis in the midst of jungles meeting the sea.

As the storm clouds moved in on our position and the weather apps continued to push Tropical Storm Warnings our way, we wrapped back around towards Honolulu for our final mission…a local’s dinner. We’d asked around the island, done our research, and settled on Maui Mike’s Fire-Roasted Chicken in Wahiawa, north of Honolulu in the center part of the island. Here I tasted, in all truth, the absolute best chicken of my life. Seldom do I rave about the food of a particular place because so often I find myself eating on a budget and going way outside a standard taste palate to try local dishes. However, in the case of Maui Mike’s, I am sharing a local’s secret that this is the best chicken I’ve ever tasted and it’s only found in this small corner shop of Hawaii. I went with a whole chicken covered in BBQ Smokey and Teriyaki sauce. If you go, the upgrade to Cajun fries is well worth the dollar you’ll pay. Head to Maui Mike’s, talk to locals in the line while you wait, and feast on Hawaiian chicken. You’re welcome.

As murmurs started echoing around the beach bar back on Waikiki, we knew the local legend would prove right yet again…the cataclysmic event of a double whammy slam of hurricanes would come to pass and the islands would be spared as forecasters backed down from the bold predictions we’d been hearing for the previous 40 hours. Tourists had called vacations short, swamped the international airport in Honolulu, and high-tailed it out of the path of storms that only skirted the islands. Meanwhile, the four of us ate free breakfast at an IHOP in Honolulu and plotted the next destination back on mainland USA. It felt good to patiently wait and watch while the weather developed.

Looking back on 2.5 days spent roaming Oahu, I’m glad we pursued the storms and am glad the islands were spared a direct hit by two powerful hurricanes. I’d never wish the devastation I saw firsthand when Hurricane Hugo barreled into my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina back in 1989 on anybody. This time on Hawaii gave me an appreciation for the beauty of the islands, the local stops that can be found when wandering, and a newfound trust in the lore of Hawaiians….something so beautiful can never be met with destruction.

#AdventureAlways

Hawaii Bound for Hurricanes

To us, it was only logical that we jump 11 time zones while making our way from Europe to Honolulu, Hawaii.

In the worldwide wanderings of a budget traveler, it is not about if/when/or how bad the jetlag will be when it finally catches up to more than 7,300 miles traveled…it’s about the experience, the adventure, the culture, and money saving deals you’ll be greeted with upon landing in a new destination.

For this adventure, Jamie and I are now on day 14 of a budget travel expedition that has taken us from Washington, DC to Paris to Lille, France, to Amsterdam to San Diego, and now flying at 34,000 feet across the Pacific towards Honolulu.

In 13 nights of travel, we have yet to pay for lodging while spending less than $30 a day. That’s travel done right…meeting locals, experiencing culture on a budget, and surviving off the relationships you develop on the go. We were living off the baguette diet in Europe, maximizing the use of public transportation, renting bicycles to criss-cross cities, and ride-sharing a car with two French girls across Belgium towards Amsterdam. Is anyone in the know on the budget meal for Hawaii?

We’re making our way to Hawaii on an invite from a friend who calls Washington, DC home. She just so happens to be the same person that generously opened the doors to the White House for me a few weeks back and provided me with the chance to bowl at America’s most exclusive alley in this post. She and her sister are exploring Oahu and the sound of a queen bed, a car rental, good friends, and state number 44 in the quest for 50 was enough to pull us from doing Europe on a budget.

The biggest whirlwind in this developing adventure is in fact a whirlwind…Hawaii is calling for a double whammy of hurricanes in the next few days while we’re here. Hurricane Iselle is predicted to make landfall within the next two days and will be immediately followed by Tropical Storm Julio. As an isolated island chain, it’s rare for Hawaii to find itself squarely in the path of a hurricane building steam across the massiveness of the Pacific Ocean. The last time any of the islands were met head on with a hurricane landfall was in 1992 by Hurricane Iniki.

As we’ve been readying ourselves to meet the storm upon arrival, it’s turned into an adventure in the making as we’ve read articles and reports of a state in preparation while connecting flights across the globe from Europe. Both Jamie and I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, a city home to storm-prepping professionals who’ve seen our fair share of hits (most notably Hurricane Hugo in 1989) and misses. We chose to carry on with this adventure because of the friends we’re meeting, the chance for both of us to knock out a new state in the quest for 50, and the potential to see some serious weather over the next three days while we’re on island.

As we prepare to land with greetings of sunny skies and hot temperatures on Oahu, we’ll bring you storm developments as we make our way around the island.

Bowling at the White House

Sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, The White House boldly holds center stage to the entangled web of politics that weave between the Executive, Judicial, & Legislative branches of the United States Government.

As a landmark identified in all corners of the world, The White House stoically symbolizes freedom, strength, and power. While the house functions as a residence, a venue for diplomatic receptions, a vault of history, a gathering spot for executive decision making, and a ceremonial centerpiece, few know about the well kept secrets that provide a respite for the President and his staff during the brief moments they’re able to step away from all the pomp and circumstance.

A few days ago, I was given exclusive access to some of these recreational retreats within the fiercely guarded grounds of the White House. As my host, a Director on President Obama’s National Security Council staff, walked me through the adjacent Eisenhower Executive Office Building and into the storied West Wing, historical facts/legends/and anecdotes were retold as the U.S. Secret Service stood silent guard and late night staffers hurried by on official business. I learned of the swimming pool that now stays drained below the White House Press Briefing Room, the theater where President Obama watched the USA matches with staff during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the two-lane bowling alley sitting in a basement on the White House grounds.

With this special invite to the White House came the opportunity to don some retro bowling shoes (they even had my shoe size–16), pass a background check, and drink a beer in the confines of the President’s home bowling alley. After passing through layered security and greeting the White House Press Secretary as he walked by, our select group was taken down halls and past offices that read “U.S. Secret Service: Presidential Protection Division” and into the two-lane alley named after President Harry S. Truman when built in 1955.

Here, for two hours, our group was given unfettered access to eat/drink/enjoy the chance to bowl in perhaps the most exclusive bowling alley in America. As the 20 of us bowled strikes, spares, and gutter balls, the pressure was on as the alley was adorned with portraits of those bowlers we know as Presidents Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Here at “Truman Alley”, there was a feeling of excitement as everyone gave it their best shot while talking about the history and, “if only these walls could talk.” We guessed at who might be on the other end of the line should you pick up the red phone in the corner and what would happen if the First Lady and her daughters decided it was their turn to head on downstairs for a quick game?

At the end of the night, I rallied in the final frames, achieved my goal of getting a strike, spare, and gutter ball at the White House, and finished with a bronze medal winning third place amongst those of us who had been invited. We staged some photos, polished off the fitting “Corruption IPA” beer as canned by the local DC brewery (DC Brau), grabbed a White House Official Score Sheet for the memorabilia travel collection, and placed the well worn shoes back on the shelf so they’d be ready for the next moment when the President or staffers needed to step away from the stoplight and get their roll on.

As I exited the White House, it was truly special to have personally visited the Oval Office, walked by the ceremonial Rose Garden, greeted the Press Secretary, laid eyes on President Theodore Roosevelt’s Congressional Medal of Honor in a regal room, passed through the White House diplomatic dining room, and bowled a perfect strike on the President’s bowling lanes. It was in that moment as I drove down Pennsylvania Avenue and towards the U.S. Capitol in the distance that I thought about how special it is to travel and meet others in our journey through life. Here I was, invited to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity simply because I’d crossed paths with a traveler in the lobby of a hotel at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah in January 2013. While waiting for a hotel shuttle, we began talking as conversation drifted towards travel and where we call home. I’m keen on these simple moments that give way to opportunity when you take the time to stop and consider the journey of others. Sure, it doesn’t always end with bowling at the White House, but it ends in a story and the gift of sharing your journey with those passing by.

Le Tour de France

At 4am and 37,000 feet above the earth, there is rarely a call to action.

That is until you’re awakened by a passenger clutching his heart and asking for help. As I sprang to assist, Yaskara, the girl next to him woke up startled as though she was in the midst of a bad dream. I informed her of what was happening and made my way to Business Class through the darkness of a silent plane in search of the purser (lead flight attendant). Alarmed, she scrambled for the medical kit as I made my way back to the incident and began searching his bag with the assistance of Yaskara for the medications he said he’d previously taken that day. With the help of two doctors onboard and the flight crew, we managed to move him to a lay flat seat in Business Class for the final hour descent into Paris while he recovered…all in all, a well executed upgrade to Business Class.

Thus started the adventure that has unfolded in Paris. My buddy Jamie and I are on day three of this jaunt through Europe with little more planned than the Tour de France finish down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees at the Arc  de Triomphe. We’ve landed free lodging both nights and have managed to make friends along the way…it pays off to wheel a carry-on bag for miles and miles around “The City of Light” in pursuit of unknown lodging. As a means of journaling/blogging/sharing the adventure, I think it best to provide recaps of how the course of events has played out these first few days. As we meet travelers and are welcomed by hosts in different cities, I’ll stop to share their stories.

Saturday July 26th: The guy with heart issues lived to tell the tale of his connecting flight to Beirut in the story above. Jamie & I attempted to use my Delta Diamond status & his United Star Alliance club access to score free showers and breakfast when we landed at Charles de Gaulle airport. Due to security reasons, we were unable to access Terminal 2 and were thwarted in our resourceful plan. We paid 1o Euros ($13.50) for the local train (RER) into Paris…it’s currently the cheapest option into the city aside from hitchhiking. We set out from Notre Dame on an excursion to find wi-fi and options to store our bags. Within minutes, we picked up a new friend named Sean who had also just landed from Cincinnati and was willing to join our trusted duo of weary red-eyed travelers thus making us a terrific trio of Americans in Paris. We spent the morning trolling AirBnB in an effort to avoid homelessness that night and thanking Starbucks for their wi-fi. With miles spent on foot and the wheels wearing on our carry-ons, we met up with Yaskara, the girl who’d helped me with the distressed passenger enroute to Paris as she had discovered a free walking tour of Paris for the afternoon (http://www.neweuropetours.eu). The tour lasted 2.5 hours, covered all the key attractions, was a payment by choice donation, & we managed to be a hit with our carry-ons in tow the whole time. Through the power of social media and a request for lodging put out across multiple channels, I received a message that someone would meet us in a local park to pick us up for a room we could have that night…in the end, the person picked us up in his car and offered us shots of Absolute vodka while driving to go along with a selection of cigarettes and a recited knowledge of where we could find the best prostitutes in Paris. We managed to bail on the offer of lodging, get out of his car at a local metro stop, and as the sun began to set, it appeared we’d be homeless on night number one. After logging 12 miles on foot with bags in tow (come to find out later, you can store bags for 8-14 Euros at train stations across Paris), we made the executive decision to train 45 minutes back to the international airport and call home an airport bench. Upon arrival, we found a nice “bed” and as we settled in for zero star service, I received another message on Facebook via a connection from a friend in Nashville. This time, I was put in touch with Mathilde, a well-traveled Parisian who’s the essence of French hospitality. She offered up a couch (and in turn her bed when she saw we’re American sized) to us strangers, provided a beer after navigating public transportation mazes to her place, and set out with us at midnight to show us her neighborhood—the famous Montmartre. We strolled by Moulin Rouge, wandered by bar crowds spilling into streets, gazed at the Basilica Sacre-Coeur, and bought a bottle of cheap Bordeaux wine to share on the steps as locals listened to American Hip-Hop on a 90′s boombox. We talked world travel, laughed about the differences of America and France, thanked her for trusting us as strangers, and walked home to empty streets as we took over her bed at 5am. With little sleep on the red-eye flight over and a full day of exploring Paris complete, it was the perfect place to crash after just 4 hours of sleep in the 34 hour period since we’d left the USA.

Sunday July 27th: We awoke to the sun and sounds of kids playing in the street below. It was quintessential Paris as we looked out on classic Baroque architecture & set out for breakfast at the local cafe. Mathilde fueled up on croissants, Jamie settled for a double espresso, and I finished with the signature jambon/fromage baguette. We set out on rented bikes (1.70 Euros for 24 hours! A steal of a deal compared to other cities for hop-on-hop-off access) and conquered neighborhoods across a 4 mile stretch towards the day’s mission…watching the finish of the famed Le Tour de France bicycle race that is held annually in Europe. As the parade started, and people looked for vantage points from all angles, Jamie and I napped in a park nearby while trusting we’d find a unique spot to watch as the crowds pressed against barriers hours before riders were scheduled to arrive. We awoke to the masses and many nappers who followed suit with our energizing idea to sleep after a 5am night on Saturday. As we circled the Arc de Triomphe, I noticed a 7-story building that was covered with well concealed scaffolding and tall spiked fencing. As has become the custom when Jamie and I travel together, we decided this would be the best spot to witness the Tour finish and it was time to get climbing. We circled the block, saw that two Embassies were next door, and did our best to translate the signage on our building to ensure we weren’t about to scale an Embassy, and staked out a way to avoid the roving patrols of security officials and police who were managing the crowds. In the end, it was decided that I’d solo the building since I had the camera and Jamie would watch from below while mingling with the masses. I found a cornerstone that allowed me to essentially boulder my way 10 feet up the fence and onto the first level of scaffolding while darting behind the concealment that covered my climbing route. As I made my way up the scaffolding, it was apparent that no one had seen me climb and I was in the clear. Sitting  7 stories above the crowd, I was primed to have the best view of the course. It was unreal as I looked across rooftops, the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and the Arc de Triomphe looming before me. As I settled in and worked with my camera as racers neared, I was welcomed with a thundering fly over by 6 French Air Force jets roaring right over my head. The peleton neared and lapped the Avenue des Champs-Elysees time after time while I snapped photos from my perch, kept low to avoid wandering eyes, and took in the moment of cheering crowds and the world’s best cyclists. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was made better by the fact my feet hit the ground without getting caught. As we walked the course towards the winner’s podium, I was witness to a pro-Palestinian kid who hopped the security barriers screaming freedom in the name of Palestine while getting promptly tackled and arrested by the French Gendarmerie. His bold move to capture the attention of the crowds and chants to remember the dying citizens that are embroiled in a bitter Middle East dispute made me pause to remember the struggles of others that don’t have the chance to peacefully sit and soak in a global sporting event. It was a poignant reminder of the world in which we live. Jamie and I met back up with Yaskara from the day before and the three of us continued our very own Tour de France as we biked Paris and weaved throughout traffic in search of wi-fi and another waning sunset without secured lodging for the night. At a local Starbucks where we searched for housing options, I was able to have some fun with the world’s most popular coffemakers by helping them assist a passed out drunkard on the street outside the store who couldn’t even sit upright in his stupor. He was ranting about France and sprawled across the sidewalk as tourists turned their kids attention away while passing. While those of us helping got a good laugh with his rambling, it was off to the drunk tank he went when the police/paramedics arrived…not amused. We were unsuccessful in securing budget lodging so we decided it’d all work out and we picked up a bottle of wine to take to the steps of the Grand Palais and overlook that last bit of light behind the Eiffel Tower. The steps were packed as darkness fell but we hopped some barriers onto a ledge alone as Yaskara joined our duo again for wine night and the sparkling Eiffel Tower. Rain settled in as we biked back to Montmartre for our bags and what appeared to be another homeless night. With another turn of luck at 11pm, Jamie landed us lodging through an old co-worker who now lives in Paris…night number two of free lodging! We climbed onto a roof around midnight for what we hoped would be spectacular views of Paris in the rain, but were met with a false summit at the top and decided to hangout on the top of the ladder and just look across the rising spires of church steeples in the opposite direction. As the rain fell, the streets emptied, and the cabs cruised the quiet streets, it felt as though I’d stepped into the scene of a number of Paris based movies…in this case, I’ll pretend it’s the Jason Bourne series. We rolled into the apartment at 3am and crashed after recapping the day at 430am. We need to address this pattern of not sleeping until almost 5ish in the morning.

 

The Friendly Skies?

Seldom do I turn down the chance to talk all things Canadian with our neighbors to the North. Last week while I was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the FIFA World Cup, I found myself on Copacabana Beach talking with a Canadian couple. We touched on topics that drifted towards hockey, poutine, great white winters, and then back to hockey.

Today, as I landed at Reagan National Airport (DCA), in Washington, DC, I was met by another crew of Canadians…this time, with a video camera and boom microphone as I deplaned and headed for the metro into Washington. The film crew requested an interview on a topic that I feel might appeal to international readers.

I was asked my thoughts about today’s decision by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ban all flights to and from Israel for the next 24 hours as tensions mount and rocket strikes escalate between Israel and the U.S. designated terrorist group, Hamas. The FAA reached this decision after a reported rocket strike landed within one mile of Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv today. International airlines have followed suit with cancellations to Israel by Air Canada, Lufthansa, KLM, and Air France to name a few.

As the questions came from reporter Adrienne Arsenault and the cameraman zoomed in, I was pressed to give my opinion on whether or not this could be striking fear in the minds of travelers OR if this was perhaps a new wave of government agencies implementing precautionary measures in the midst of world events and crisis. I answered that I was in agreement with the FAA’s decision to place a temporary ban on flights into Israel as the events play out and circumstances dictate the airlines next move. I went on record as saying that airline passengers automatically relinquish a sense of security and control when we hand our lives over to a pair of pilots at 35,000 feet and entrust them to move us to and from across the globe. If the FAA and other international airlines have reasons to believe that our security and safety could be compromised in transit then I’m for enacting precautionary steps until clearer evidence prevails. The Canadian reporters seemed to insinuate that the FAA dictating flight paths would do more to heighten fears. I was quick to reference the tragic events of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 last Thursday and the loss of 298 innocent lives in what appears to be rooted in a missile strike across open commercial airspace. As events have unfolded, it has become clear that regional airlines and other countries surrounding the strike had closed commercial airspace before tragedy struck. Should air traffic control in Ukraine have done more? Is this the FAA being overly cautious? Are we moving towards a new wave of circumventing danger in commercial aviation?

I’m curious as to what readers think. Do you think the FAA made the right decision in suspending flights into Israel? Are we building a sense of fear in the minds of skittish travelers? Should international airlines fall in line with the FAA decision? Please comment below.

The crew that interviewed me is from THE NATIONALthe signature news program that airs during primetime in the evenings across Canada on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television. If my segment airs, I’ll post it here.

As always, thanks for following, contributing, and venturing back to the blog I’m resurrecting.

BEAR

Varying the Viewpoint in Veracruz, Mexico

I’ve always been cautioned that there are two sides to every story…and remembering that has saved me on multiple occasions.

Until this trip to Mexico, I’ve never truly stopped to consider the fact that moments of historical significance also share two sides of the story.

Growing up, I was the mischievous student who found ways to get in trouble—until it was time for history class. As the pages turned and my teachers went on about exploration, battles, and conquests, I was zoned in until the bell rang. It’s naive of me to admit that I’ve trusted the history books and accepted the viewpoints of my teachers all along.

This city of Veracruz is rich in historical significance. The Spanish Conquistador, Hernán Cortés, led an expedition against the natives and triumphantly laid claim to the eastern coast of Veracruz, Mexico on Good Friday in 1519. It was here that he anointed it, “True Cross” or Veracruz as a seaport of riches and new land for the Spanish.

Fast-forward 494 years to today and you’ll find me wandering around the “centro histórico” here in Veracruz as I try and place all of the history while attempting to decipher Spanish. Sound the “gringo” alarm!

In this moment, Ricardo Cañas Montalvo, saved the day. He’s the curator of the City Museum of Veracruz and has been for many years. He pulled us inside the courtyard of the museum and beautifully recreated the imagery of 150 children running around and playing on the Italian marble that had been laid where we stood in 1861 when this building was constructed to house an orphanage. It became the museum after serving as a home to orphans for 97 years.

Ricardo spoke of the Aztecs, the Mayans, the Totonacs, and other ancient civilizations from Mesoamerica. He captured my attention with stories of ancient burial grounds on islands off the coast of Veracruz and spoke of years when this port city was the center of trade for Latin America. As we moved through the museum, I was anticipating that we might get to that little piece of history when the United States moved into Veracruz and occupied the city during a push to assert power in the midst of deteriorating relations with Mexico during their revolution. The anticipation wore off as my new friend dove right into the story.

Mexico vividly remembers the details from 99 years ago. I listened to a different perspective from Ricardo. It wasn’t told with bitterness. He simply stated the historical facts and actions of the United States and Mexico during the U.S. occupation of Veracruz in 1914. He was incredibly intelligent and recalled the story from historical accounts and pictures on a laptop computer inside the museum.

As the Mexican side of the story goes, eight U.S. Marines rowed into town one day from their ship that was just off the Mexican coast in April of 1914. They proceeded to buy gasoline and other necessities before returning to sea. When encountered by soldiers of the Mexican military, they were held for a couple of hours until the confusion of U.S. soldiers wandering ashore in the mix of the Mexican Revolution could be sorted out. All was well until President Woodrow Wilson caught wind of our soldiers being held without cause in Mexico. He ordered a U.S. Naval blockade of over 180 naval ships just outside the port of Veracruz. Tensions never boiled over in the port city and as a result, it was passed by leaders from both sides that the standoff should cease in Veracruz. Mexico ordered their troops inland towards Mexico City to engage in offical battles of the revolution and also as a demonstration that they intended no hostilities towards the American troops. President Woodrow Wilson had issues with the newly instituted president of Mexico, Victoriano “The Jackal” Huerta, because he was involved in a coup d’état and usurped the Mexican presidency in 1913 to establish a dictatorship. With the Mexican military moving inland, President Wilson instead sent 5,000 U.S. troops onto the shores of Veracruz in what was described as a “peaceful occupation” of the city. The civilian population feared for their lives as the U.S. cut telegraph lines and seized critical strongholds like the train station and buildings of key infrastructure. With no Mexican military present, the citizens of Veracruz broke into various weapon depots throughout the city and issued a call to arms against the occupation of U.S. forces. Additional forces from the American side were called in, which resulted in street fighting as Veracruz was bombarded with artillery by U.S. ships along the blockade. The occupation lasted for seven months until November of 1914. The U.S. had 22 casualties, yet Mexico lost thousands upon thousands of  militiamen and civilians who were shot and left in the streets. An official count of the casualties has never been tallied due to the fact that those who lost their lives were piled into mass graves surrounding Veracruz. The city never forgave the U.S. invasion until generations had passed.

Ricardo opened my eyes to a fresh perspective. This story isn’t a fond piece of American history. Therefore, it is overlooked and wiped from the books we studied as students. There isn’t much to be researched about our occupation of Veracruz. The years passed and America moved on. However, it is still a critical piece of Mexican history. Monuments stand tall in the center of plazas throughout Veracruz as a somber reminder to those who proudly took a stand for their city against an unjustified occupation.

I don’t write this post as a knock on America. Ricardo didn’t share the vivid details and pictures of Mexican patriotism with animosity towards me for being an American. He simply told history. He shared perspective. He provided the details that we as a nation have chosen to forget. Ricardo didn’t rewrite the history books. He simply showed me the story through pictures and documentation.

As travelers, we tend to see the world from various perspectives and different means. I for one choose to dive into cultures and seek the experience of living like a local. I take the risks on local foods. I push through language barriers and I communicate through smiles. I walk for miles and I wander through slums. It positively changes your perspective and outlook when you put yourself in the element of someone else’s routine.

It wasn’t until today that I really stopped to consider—not the routine of someone else, but instead, the history and perspective—of someone who has been brought up with an entirely different vantage point because of those that have lived and in some cases, died before them.

Next time you travel, I encourage you to seek out the other side of history.

Vary Your Viewpoints,

Barrett

Monkey’n Around…

Life moves rapidly here in Nigeria. It doesn’t ever seem to slow to a comfortable pace. We’re escorted in armored cars by armed men with AK-47s. We’re alerted as pirate attacks, kidnappings, and robberies occur. We receive reports when the extremist group, Boko Haram, launches terrorist attacks. It’s a wild place that demands a heightened sense of situational awareness. It’s exhilarating as you compete to cross traffic with drivers that will hit you, witness fights in the streets, and talk with locals who describe life in Lagos as a battle to survive.

Today, we escaped the chaos and moved outside the haze of Lagos and into a nature preserve east of the city. The Lekki Conservation Centre is a seldom-visited hideout that the government has established as a place to explore and appreciate the stillness of life amongst the clamor of 21 million people.

It was refreshing to be somewhere we could unwind. That was until I noticed one simple rule as we entered the jungle, “Swimming is prohibited in the crocodile pool and any survivor(s) will be prosecuted.” Ahh yes, the straightforward logic found in Africa. I love it. We moved into the canopy as the sound of honking horns, the smell of diesel, and the dusty streets gave way to the screeches of birds, the buzzing of insects, and a world canvassed with varying shades of green.

We quickly established that our mission was to find monkeys. I hopped off the path and moved through lowlands while doing my best to mimic the calls of what I thought sounded like an excited monkey. Based on the fact no one came to play, I should probably watch Jumanji again. We moved deeper into the nature preserve and tried to anticipate what might be watching us. Signs told us to be wary of crocodiles, monitor lizards, antelope, and, of all things, the large ground squirrel. I just wanted to find my monkey.

At last, the warning cries of a Mona monkey sent the treetops shaking. It was Tarzan in full effect as they swung from branch to branch and laid low for cover when our eyes met. It quickly became a game of spy versus spy. I’d hide in the undergrowth until they thought I had moved past their playground. They’d quietly move to lower branches and swing about while eating fruits from the hardwood trees. I’d move slowly for my camera and even slower to close in and investigate. They had a keen sense of awareness but also a Curious George-like curiosity as they observed us, possibly wondering why we showed up to spoil their party.

In an effort to be one with the monkey, I climbed up on the boardwalk railings to balance and walk like the ones who watched me. This gesture of solidarity came crashing to a sudden end. During my short performance of balancing like Gabby Douglas, the boardwalk and railings collapsed thanks to the work of termites and I landed hard and fast where it counts.

We moved into the open grasslands towards the back of the preserve. Kevin cried wolf—well lion—in an attempt to scare everyone. We wandered about in the sweltering heat of Nigeria while telling the others we were lost and off the trail. This led to planning where we would camp and how we would combat the ferocious ground squirrels and swarms of malaria-infested mosquitos. In the end, we made it back to the jungle and the boardwalk that took us back to the armored car and eventually, the chaos of the city.

This afternoon of monkey’n around was much needed after 37 days in the center of Lagos. Africa’s largest city has given me opportunities to witness people fight for what they want and work hard for what they have. I’ve watched as men stand in knee-deep water and break apart raw sewage so that it and trash can continue flowing towards the river. I’ve seen grown men fight in the streets over a one-dollar tip received for standing security over a parked car. I’ve talked with crippled men who drag the ground on skateboards asking for money. I’ve seen politicians show up for anti-corruption meetings at the prime hotels in their Bentleys.

Stepping away from it all and into the natural beauty of Nigeria was just what I needed to escape, think, and relax. If you’re ever caught in the rapid pace of Lagos, head east for 16km towards Lekki and you’ll find yourself alone in the jungles with monkeys calling and crocodiles waiting…

Barrett

FEATURED: National Geographic Traveler’s “I Heart My City—Barrett’s Charleston”

I started this blog 5 weeks ago with a mission to capture cultures, explore untracked paths, and highlight the good found in others as I travel the world. I’ve been pushing content that I hope challenges, inspires, and educates those who choose to read. The comments you leave on the blog posts and the interactions I’ve had through FacebookInstagram, and Twitter have been encouraging and motivating. I ask that you continue to spread the word via social media and engage with comments on this site as I move forward with new posts, new ideas, and new adventures. The travel community is catching wind that I’m out to focus on the story of others and the impact they have on my life…it’s an exciting time and the avenues for writing are endless. With that, some big things are in the works and I’m pumped to share that I’ve been featured for the first time on another website…and not just any website….try the pinnacle of all things awesome and great in the world of exploration, conservation, and travel!

I’m humbled and excited to announce that  while detailing my travels, adventures, and experiences with you all here at Bearly HomeI’ve been able to reach a broader audience thanks to the fact I was published this week on National Geographic Traveler’s Intelligent Travel blog.

The superstar staff over at National Geographic Traveler provided me with the opportunity to showcase the city I’ll forever call home…Charleston, South Carolina…”The Lowcountry.”

Growing up over the span of 18 years in Charleston meant dodging tourists, preparing for hurricanes, loving the outdoors, and never wanting to go anywhere else on vacation. It’s a remarkable destination defined by history, culture, cuisine, the arts, and most importantly, the people. I hope you’ll be able to relive some of my favorite things through the I Heart My City: Barrett’s Charleston post I did for Nat Geo and when you do, that you’ll share your experiences in the comments below.

Many thanks to those that swing by my tiny corner of the internet and share in part, the life I’m livin.

Barrett

 

A Community Forced to Disappear, but Fighting to Stay Alive in Lagos, Nigeria…

I pointed at what appeared to be a temporary encampment on the shores of an overgrown island. Mkpa, the Nigerian who captained our boat, hesitantly reconfirmed that this was indeed where I wanted to come ashore. We maneuvered between two large river barges that were rusted, battered, and grounded in the shallows just off the beach. These monsters of floating steel had found their final resting place among the other ships that were left for scraps in this “floating graveyard.” We idled towards a partially grounded tanker ship, seeing that a beach landing was impossible, and climbed a rope ladder that dangled off the starboard quarter. A startled group of men on shore appeared confused and threw their hands up in alarm as we climbed aboard their ship. Quickly, my Chief managed to descend another ladder to the trash-riddled shore and peaceably extended his hand as they laughed and realized we weren’t the prowling pirates who routinely attack ships here in West Africa. With a friendship forged and safely on shore, we approached the temporary encampment.

As we moved closer, I could hear shouts of joy from a lot of children running through the tall grass as they closed in on our position. Out of the grass emerged not three, not six, but nine children who served as the community’s ad hoc welcoming party. They held our hands, played with the tennis ball I gave them, and smiled for “snaps” as I started taking their pictures, much like in my previous posts.

Immediately, I noticed signs that pointed towards this serving as a permanent residency instead of the temporary encampment it appeared to be from the water. There were foundations of huts that had been destroyed. Men were hewing the wood of felled trees in a painstaking attempt to make canoes. Ladies in the community were cleaning dishes in the oily and filthy water that lapped the banks of the beach on which we landed. Children poured out from what appeared to be trash piles, wearing nothing more than underwear. Island elders asked why we had decided to stop here of all places and visit them. We stated that we chose this community at random because we could tell it was a welcoming island of friendly people…at least I hoped.

I saw the bright smile of a middle-aged woman who gestured for me to follow her and walk about the small village. I asked her for a brief history of the island. She said the ship building company down river had come in three weeks ago and destroyed all the homes since islanders were squatting on their property, even though they were far removed and out of sight from the shipbuilders area of operations. They left nothing but the foundations. Others in the community told me the shipbuilders had destroyed their homes five years ago. Others said nine years ago. But the largest number of people told me that the razing of their homes had occurred 11 YEARS AGO. The lady who had shown me around and opened my eyes to the encampment was merely trying to save face for a community that was unwanted and told to disappear.

As I learned of their despair, it became apparent that this community had rebuilt itself over the last decade or so with trash and debris as it floated ashore or was gathered by canoe. Any refuse they could collect was added to a “home.” The more trash they piled up, the better shot they had at staying dry during the six months of monsoon season between April and October. It was an incredibly sad state of affairs. Leaking oil drums served as walls for their homes, palm branches thatched the roof, and they were served the option of sleeping on the sand or on the hardness of wooden pallets. Used gas cans collected rainwater. Buckets pulled from the passing river served as cooking pots. Weathered tarps and half sheets of plywood sheltered residents from the 94-degree heat and humidity. Honestly, it was living conditions unlike any I’ve seen in all my travels around the world.

They walked me to a hole in the ground. It was a well the men had dug for the community’s source of freshwater. The maddening problem was the noticeably thick layer of oil and sand that sat on the surface of their drinking water. Another hole in the ground nearby served as an unkempt outhouse for those who chose not to relieve themselves on the ground outside their homes.

The good I sought out in this destitute community was the joy of the people. The parents shielded what they knew of the outside world from their children. The kids and teenagers simply knew of nothing better off the island. Kids climbed on the members of my team, showed us termite mounds that grew to 12 feet high, and played chase with us through the tall grass. The tennis ball and American football we left them were the first gifts they’d been given, and it was as if they’d received that one Christmas or birthday gift you always wanted. Children younger than six or seven rubbed our skin and played with the hair on our arms, as it was the first time they were up close and personal with something different than their own. Kids ran their hands through our hair repeatedly as it was a texture they’d never felt before. They smiled with pure joy for my camera. These moments were beautiful in a way I can’t describe. An innocence I’ll never be able to share through words.

We had personal interactions with every resident in this abandoned and disregarded community. Just across the river—within eyesight—sat the Port of Lagos and the center of the commercial shipping industry. There were jobs. There was a livelihood. A freedom or independence found in employment. A lifelong tease that for this village was unattainable and just out of reach. The river served as a simple metaphor for the great width and breadth that distanced this community from life “on the other side.”  A painful reminder that there was lost hope for a community that outsiders saw as a lost cause.

I don’t know where this blog will take me. I share stories and adventures from around the world as they happen. As stated in my first post, I’m out to share truth and vivid accounts of life lived outside the modern comfort zone. We as citizens of a developed country tend to encapsulate ourselves within the bubble that nicely fits our career, our family, and our friends. While I’ll be the first to admit that it’s nice to catch a few routine days back in Williamsburg, Virginia, I know there’s so much to be shared as life takes me from place to place and culture to culture. My comfort zone bubble bursted long ago and as life unfolds and opportunities arise, I’ll be sharing more and more in the hope that others can see the world through this blog. As it grows, ideally I’ll find a way  for others to get involved as I step ashore into the lives of people long forgotten.

Thanks for caring and most of all, thanks for sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

Humbled and Determined,

Bear

 

The Island Party…

After class on Friday, our students changed out of their uniforms and told my team, “It’s the weekend! We will take you to party and a new place to explore.”

We piled onto boats, laughing and listening to a mix of English and their native tribal languages. Here I sat, on a boat with armed escort, off to an unknown destination, with 15 Nigerians for an afternoon of adventure. It doesn’t get much better.

The engines roared to life as we turned upriver and moved into coastal wetlands. We passed abandoned ships, island communities, and villages built around the sand harvesting industry. In shallow bays like this, islanders craft boats for the purpose of filling them to the brim with sand. They move up and down the river finding shallow areas where men can dive with buckets and collect the sand that is then sold to other villages and homebuilders. It’s a very dangerous profession, as these boats are loaded down with several tons of sand and ride just above the waterline. The smallest wake from a passing boat can swamp the sand canoes, thus sinking their vessel and wrecking their livelihood. Many people die in this industry because they’ve never been taught how to swim when their boat succumbs to waves.

As we slowly idled by each sand boat, we moved closer to our destination…an island village known as Ibeshe that sits on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a community that survives on a niche they’ve developed. They use their sand boats and handcrafted canoes to supply the massive cargo ships that sit at anchorage on the horizon, awaiting entrance into the port of Lagos, Nigeria. Villagers set out at dusk or dawn and spend hours motoring miles through the ocean and offshore to ships well over 1000 feet long. If the sea and currents cooperate, they arrive to deliver food and freshwater. I spotted massive storage drums attached to these handcrafted delivery boats and assumed they were for the delivery of water. While that’s true, I learned that many also hold illegally purchased diesel fuel from the ships out at sea. The community provides potable water to the ships and the ships in turn hustle fuel, which locals use or sell at a higher rate. It’s a unique give-and-take enterprise that enables the village to survive.

As I learned about life on Ibeshe, I also delved into the personal stories of the students I’ve been training these last few weeks. One student, a quiet and reserved man named Egwu Sunday, wasn’t body surfing or battling the ocean waves like the rest of us. When I asked him why, he somberly explained how his story on this beach was dramatically different than the one I was creating today with students. At this spot three years ago, he lost his firstborn son, Calvin, and his son’s best friend when they were carried out to sea and drowned. He shared the events of that day and how it has impacted his life. He tenderly supports his other five children with a renewed since of devotion. He is a pillar of strength for his family. He lives with a better understanding of love. It was sobering to witness him partake in all the fun of a party—while only myself and two other guys knew how this sandy strip of beach had changed his life forever.

Locals from the community made their way out to us on the beach. Here, I was introduced to local whiskey and the skin-baking sun of West Africa. I can confidently say those are two things I don’t need more of. Students danced, we played soccer, and some guys “fell in love” with the local women. After hours on the beach, we loaded up the boats and raced back to base.

Yesterday left me wanting more time on this great continent. I love the culture. I love the people. I love the happiness they exude. It’s the true spirit of Africa and while I was faced with a father who’d lost so much and a community sustained by illegal bartering, I was still captivated by the fullness with which they embrace life—albeit, a hard and trying life.

Burned and Baking in Bed,

Barrett