Travel is Fatal to Prejudice – Mark Twain
Sadly, I’m not convinced Mr. Twain was entirely correct. For a clear majority, travel opens eyes and hearts, but there are those who seem to travel just to confirm their own biases or, even worse, to take advantage of people in marginal conditions.
Undoubtedly travelling the world is fun and highly addictive, but I would also hope the nomadic lifestyle will be guided by an overarching ethical approach to humanity and our planet. Specific aspects of travel (e.g. carbon footprint vs. economic development) can be difficult to navigate, but a basic framework of respect, interest and a desire to ‘do no harm’ is surprisingly easy and straightforward.
At a December get-together in England, it was pointed out to me that I have been guiding tours for over 20 years. In all those years of travelling the world, I remain convinced 99.9% of people are good – or at least want to be good. Our similarities – the world over – far outstrip any differences. Despite serious environmental challenges, our planet remains intensely beautiful.
There are now almost two billion more people on Earth at the end of 2018 than when I lead my first tour in 1996. Here in Western Canada, where space remains abundant, our population has grown impressively. In 1988, Calgary was a city of 650k people when it hosted the Winter Olympics, now it is home to 1.3 million.
I first studied Spanish (a language I have come to love) in Guatemala in 1998. The population of that diverse country was 10.8 million – there are now nearly 17 million people in Guatemala!
This is one of my 2018 reflections; for whatever reason, I have begun to feel this increased population density, despite spending much of my time in far-flung corners of our world.
A few 2018 tour memories
As always, my first few tours every year are here in our beautiful Canadian Rockies. 2018 was a dream come true – we were not detoured by a single avalanche on the Icefields Parkway! In fact the only detour occurred on the one trip I did not do – I was in Cuba on a custom trip and could only email!
The Winter Rockies are dear to my heart and I have more repeat travellers on those tours than any others. My friends Cat and Bob Brain will be returning for their sixth trip in December 2019. Anne is coming on her third winter visit January 16!
As always, it was good to return to Cuba, but due to renewed sanctions and a series of other challenges, the socialist island is struggling. Now that the Castros are all gone, it must be time to normalize relations.
In March we watched the sun set on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). That was my third time in 12 months. Chile is a remarkable country wedged along the southern Andes and defining a large part of the Ring of Fire. LAN Airlines, has begun over-booking too many flights, but otherwise, travel in Chile is wonderful, albeit expensive.
April was family travel in Ecuador. We may buy land there – here is a fun read.
In May, after a trip to Cape Cod and a fun tour of Eastern Canada, I returned to Florida. This was my first visit back to the Keys since they were walloped by hurricane Irma. The damage was obvious, but the people of Key West – The Conch Republic – are stoic and strong. Tourism was in full swing.
It is also worth noting, Cuba’s disaster response was efficient and effective, whereas the death toll on Puerto Rico is tragic. Unacceptable.
In Late June I lead a US National Parks tour and loved every minute. By the time we were in the canyons of Utah, the temperatures were climbing above 110 degrees F (over 40 C) – but I am always reminded how beautiful that area is!
Our Northern Hemisphere summer is short-lived in the Rockies, but beautiful. Yet this August – just as in 2017, forest fires from Yukon to California filled the air with smoke. Air quality in Central British Colombia was among the worst in the world.
The ‘Going to the Sun Road’ in Glacier Park, Montana closed, and on the detour we saw open flames. Our forests are too mature for their own good and a warmer, drier climate exacerbates the natural fire cycle. Perhaps we need to spend more time raking the floor 😉 …
In September I pushed my own travel limits. After finishing my beloved Banff to Wyoming tour in Jackson, I flew: Jackson – Denver – Newark – Rekyavik! After sleeping for two hours under the stairs in Iceland’s main airport I met a group for an 8 days tour. I had almost forgotten how much I love Iceland and the weather was perfect. I enjoyed that group immensely and then departed at 4 am ….
Flew to London, Heathrow, had a British lunch, and three hours later boarded a flight to Montreal for a 17 day Across Canada tour. Again, a fabulous group and I did make it home for two nights when in Banff.
Ireland / Scotland / London (and a little Paris)
In October we organized a custom trip to Ireland and Scotland, so took the opportunity to take Finn (now age 12) to London and Paris for a week. We had so much fun! Finn was a little shocked by north Paris – have a look here, and fell in love with London. It is an easy city to love!
For the second time in two years Ireland bucked its reputation and offered up beautiful, clear weather. Scotland was alive with autumn colours and crisp, wintery air.
As a news junky, every conversation, newspaper article or news program was about BREXIT. It is all consuming in Britain and Ireland these days. What a shame. He is a quick explanation of the Irish issue.
Colombia and Escobar
Switching gears, November was Colombia and Panama. With all the bad news in Venezuela, it was such a pleasure to run a trip to Colombia. After years of civil war and conflict, Colombia is doing extremely well. The people are so hospitable and the food delicious. December 5, 2018, marked the 25th anniversary of Pablo Escobar’s death. We actually saw a guy praying at Escobar’s grave!
I highly recommend Colombia as a destination and based on this trip, Would love to take more groups to that beautiful country. Tourism is still rather new and service is excellent! Here was our tour.
Panama is always fun. The Switzerland of the Americas – and divided (almost perfectly) in two – the isthmus nation is always worth a few days.
2018 was also a year of loss. This summer a kind gentleman, Larry Hodges came on his first trip since losing his beloved wife. Despite never receiving his luggage, he was fun, lively and warm. We would have a drink in the evening. I learned about 6 weeks later he passed quickly.
December 29 saw the untimely passing of Andre Havard. Andre was an international tour guide and a mentor. Kind, fun, bright (with a passion for music), and 62. Far too young. He leaves his beloved wife and fellow traveller, Marianne.
My Dad is still with us. Rather settled now – and still with his famous sense of humour. Dementia is a cruel disease. On our many visits we are reminded of why we love our public healthcare system and also, despite the illness, how much people with dementia still understand. He really enjoys Mr. Bean these days.
From a macro perspective, the ongoing tragedy of Venezuela carries on. As does the misery in Yemen where the Saudis continue to commit genocide. I choose to support Doctor’s Without Borders and apply whatever political pressure my minor voice can offer.
May we continue to travel, laugh, love and be happy into the new year. Despite so much pessimistic news, life continues to improve for many around the world. Our environment continues to take a beating, but there are moves to ban plastics, charge polluters and work together. Hopefully 2019 will be the year we move past this scary populist agenda and remember we’re not here for a long time, but rather for a good time!