Editor’s note: Journalist and photographer Anthony C. LoBaido has worked, lived and traveled through 40 nations around the world, from Nepal to Namibia, from Laos to Lebanon and from Belize to Botswana. Between February 2002 and January 2004 he lived continually out of a backpack while touring and photographing various nations around the world.
GRENADA, Nicaragua – The view from the bell tower of the cathedral is daunting, awe-inspiring and tranquil all at the same time. From the vantage point of the bell tower the interloper can see the white-headed breakers skipping across nearby Lago Olmatepe. The Conquistadors and American mercenaries who sought to tame this place were no doubt surprised to find fresh-water sharks swimming about in these waters. And their courage and sense of adventure still live on today through the quests of those who follow in their path with the hope of encountering the dangerous, the beautiful and the exotic.
It is a path that may rank as the ultimate fantasy in our post-modern age – traveling the world via a singular backpack. Before the late 1960s, no one really traveled. It was the heady stuff of romance novels and eccentric writers. However, the emergence of the Beatles and the crumbling British Empire’s de facto connection to Eastern religion and India spawned “The Hippie Trail.” Thus a new genre of adventure-travel was born. Today, 21st century Westerners who’ve grown increasingly tired of a mundane, almost automated existence have created an entirely new industry and way of life.
When Leonardo DiCaprio filmed “The Beach” in Thailand, he was surprised to find this semi-hidden genre of travelers existed at all. (In February 1999 this writer was on hand when extras were cast for “The Beach” on Kho Pha Ngan island, called by Time magazine “the real beach.”)
If you’ve ever dared dream of what it would be like to “leave it all behind” and travel the world for a week, a month or even a year, you may be surprised with what you’ll unearth in the four corners of the Earth.
Whether you’re addicted to the TV show “Survivor” or if you don’t really want to survive but merely “rrrr” (talk and yak and bond), you’ll find plenty of stimulation and challenges from the Mount Everest base camp in Nepal to the Dead Sea in Jordan. They are respectively the highest and lowest points on the face of the Earth. Everything in between is open game in this era of increasing globalization. Advances in technology, communications, transportation and other fields of endeavor have combined to shrink the world immeasurably. Nothing is out of reach for the intrepid.
There are sights that take your breath away: Lago Atitlan, Tikal and La Antigua in Guatemala, Ambergris Caye, Belize, Victoria Falls, Zambia, the elephants of Botswana and the red dunes of Namibia. Angkor Wat, Luang Prabang and Ko Pha Ngan in Southeast Asia as well as Jerash and Petra in the Middle East. They beckon with intoxicating, romantic notions of white sandy beaches, super oxygenated jungle air and the chance to be tan in the sun.
Then there’s the quixotic opportunity to find the love of your life – as I did with my angel, Sonya, God’s crowning achievement – beautiful, graceful, passionate, brilliant and every other attribute a man could long and even ache for.
Beyond the cities (even the seediest cities like Bangkok, Thailand, San Jose, Costa Rica and Amsterdam, Holland) you will always find the same things – proud people whose lives, morals and social mores are nothing like the debased ethos in the major population centers they as rural dwellers collectively eschew. Cities mean crime and pollution. Cities are also the future in terms of population concentration. Every day “mega-cities” continue to grow around the world. (Eventually there will be a dozen or more cities with more than 25 million residents). This is being encouraged by the transnational elite who wish to maximize advertising power, regulate education and health, as well as take control of “biospheres” and other reserves under the United Nations’ Agenda 21 and other globalist directives issued in New York.
Some time ago, while heading for an evening train leaving out of Bangkok for the pristine southern islands of Thailand, this writer passed a redheaded European woman lying in the gutter, obviously strung out on heroin. Standing adjacent to this troubled young lady was a handsomely dressed Thai woman with her kindergarten-age daughter. The young girl had her hair braided, was wearing a Catholic School uniform and sported an archetype Hello Kitty! backpack.
A woman accompanying me in our tuk-tuk, Rachel, a female Israeli soldier, commented on this contrast of globalization. “It’s the decent vs. the indecent … all over the world” she said stoically. No truer words were ever spoken. All over the world societies are being deconstructed and are only now trying to piece themselves back together again in a post modern paradigm not unlike a high-tech Middle Ages. Then it was Guttenberg; now it’s the Internet. Then it was gunpowder vs. the sword; now it’s scientists replacing soldiers as the guarantors of physical safety. Then it was the Bible vs. the old-guard clergy; now it’s the feel-good Tony Robbins Jesus vs. traditional morals.
While traveling overseas you’ll find the unlikeliest of allies and fodder for dozens of Hollywood films. For example, consider the white South African, apartheid-era mercenaries who fought to defend black children from limb hackers in Sierra Leone. (There 200 mercenaries defeated many thousands of rebels in a matter of a few short weeks.)
Along this vein, consider the child soldiers in Burma (the Karen) fighting to avenge their parents against all odds. Yes, they are all soldiers, but as a traveler you will have to fit together various “realities” as experienced by various others as though they are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
You’ll find a plethora of mysteries. For example, I was able to extensively interview the South African special forces soldier who first came up with the idea of assassinating (the now late) Jonas Savimbi of UNITA fame, this on behalf of the mercenary outfit Executive Outcomes and the FAA forces of the Angolan government. Back in 1993, when this mercenary told the FAA generals about taking out Savimbi, “they looked at me (the mercenary) as if I was crazy.” You see, they didn’t want UNITA to collapse or for the war to end – everyone was making far too much money off it.
The late Col. David Hackworth once asked me to visit Vietnam and interrogate the former Vietnam War-era Vietcong interrogators of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, with whom this writer appeared on national media on a show about North Korea.
You’ll discover the horrors of elephants stepping on land mines, a pantheon of American-exported gang culture and Hollywood filth, limb hackers, child militias, drug-funded mercenary armies like the Wa of Burma, AIDS, leprosy, pollution and a general decline in the tone of morality.
Then there are the stories that both break your heart and inspire the imagination. Yes, there are still moral people “out there.” They just don’t seem to make the newspaper.
Consider Little Angels of Cape Town. It’s a hospital (which started out in a private home) where white South Africans treat black African AIDS/HIV-positive babies. Talk about racial reconciliation and solidarity! The babies are usually thrown away in the garbage dumps of Cape Town by their parents. Little Angels social workers like Fiona Brophy sleep in the dumps at night while listening for the cries of the little angels.
When WND published two stories by this writer on Little Angels, over 17,000 rand were raised to help these precious babies. The popular TV show “Oprah!” invited the Van Rensbergs, who run Little Angels, to appear on her show. A day or two before they were to travel to the U.S. for the show, the segment was canceled without explanation.
In Thailand, I learned that my dentist went to Colgate University and took care of the teeth of that nation’s beloved king. That same king adopted 200 stray dogs off the streets of Bangkok and cares for them on his own.
In Flores, Guatemala, I met a nurse, Fatima, who cleansed my ears of excess wax. She told me of her poverty and how she was hoping to buy her 5-year-old daughter merely a single present last Christmas. Perhaps it is not so strange that in Lago Atitlan, Guatemala, children will require Westerners to pay money if you wish to kick a soccer ball around with them.
In the pre-9-11 Arab world you could retrace the steps of the Apostle Paul. This writer found guides who readily told me, “Never take a drink of alcohol, you might kill somebody!” I discovered a global economy based on that dirty three-letter word my late mother, Viola, called “sin” in which sexy clothes, pornography, drugs, alcohol, pharmaceutical cartels, abortion, fetal tissue, cloning and future designs on the human genome are combining to turn Allah McBeal into Ally McBeal.
Traditional morals “be damned” whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist. Victory in Afghanistan was not declared after the capture of bin Laden but rather once “women” were liberated from the Taliban. Imagine if we treated Germany and Japan that way during World War II?
Consider the economy of the international drug trade. The U.S. has sent over $400 million in military aid to Colombia since the mid-1990s. Think of the spraying, weapons and helicopters. Consider that the U.N. reported drugs make up 10 percent of the global economy. That money isn’t stuffed in a mattress someplace. It’s fueling the global economy in virtually every nook and cranny imaginable. The tiny Pacific island of Nauru, well-known as a KGB drug and money-laundering center, has a population of just over 10,000 and it is a member of the U.N., while economic superpower Taiwan is not. It you changed the morals of mankind, to a large measure the entire global economy would have to be transformed.
What else can you expect to find while toting your backpack around the globe?
Well, you’ll find out that the world is basically empty despite the overpopulation and depopulation propaganda machine. (Try flying over Russia, Canada and Australia and then deciding. More than 90 percent of the world’s land surface is empty). Yet the truth be told, overpopulated places like the city-state of Hong Kong conjure images of the cult film “Soylent Green.”
You’ll find ex-KGB agents running perfectly normal businesses in Cyprus, the transnational underworld All Star Game in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, European paganism and hysterical BBC reports with a level of political correctness that would stupefy the average American media consumer. The grandeur of our dying European civilization remains but a faint echo in the shadows of the cathedrals of Central America, the Roman ruins of Lebanon and Jordan, and even Africa’s jewel, Cape Town.
You’ll find both the very serious and the not so serious. In Mozambique, you’ll find Canadian “Rachel Kruger” running a land mine dig for eight years and going from 150 pounds to 108 pounds in the process. In Nepal, you’ll meet a Hindu man in front of McDonald’s lamenting how you’re “eating another Quarter Pound of my god … with cheese.”
You’ll help others, and meet famous people like P.W. Botha and Harry Wu. You’ll feed baby lion cubs with a milk bottle. You’ll change money, overcome malaria, endure dysentery and constipation, defend America, write down keen observations in your journal(s) and feed starving dogs.
You’ll meet beautiful women like Tai, Stephanie Over, Grey, Heidi, Irene and Petra. You’ll even meet your next-door neighbor, as I did in Belize in the fall of 2003 when I strangely encountered Nora Lovell of Mastic-Shirley, Long Island, fame.
You’ll watch amazing sunsets and sail, rail and drive over terrain you’ve never imagined. Forests, jungles, deserts and cities will come and go with a blur. Change will be your constant companion, and you will come to embrace it like an old friend. You’ll learn to live simply, carry and read one book at a time and thank the good Lord for your health.
You’ll accumulate amazing souvenirs and make special friends who’ll become e-mail buds for life. You’ll be both at odds and at one with nature. You’ll realize that people all over the world believe in UFOs and long for spiritual fulfillment. You’ll laugh and perhaps fall in love. You’ll realize that the world isn’t just one big shopping mall or business but rather a unique collection of the different hopes, dreams and aspirations of various peoples and cultures like the Hmong, Karen, Afrikaners, Kampas, South Sudanese, Rhodesians, Koreans, Israelis, Zulus and many others.
You’ll learn to live with death on your doorstep in Cambodia and Lebanon. In Honduras, you may well find dead bodies on the side of the road with a few limbs hacked off on New Year’s Day.
There are the precious tidbits. In El Salvador and Belize, you’ll find that men of Middle Eastern heritage now run those nations. In Nicaragua, you’ll learn that a hot dog is literally a “perro caliente” or a dog that is (literally) hot. (In Belize and Guatemala, this would be considered an attempt at humor).
You’ll learn to rely on word of mouth for your best intelligence-gathering operations concerning the road ahead.
You’ll cross language barriers and learn that a “hooker” is someone who throws a rugby ball into something called a “scrum,” that jelly in South Africa is really Jell-O, (don’t ask for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – you may not like what you get!) that “yeab tow ko toad” in Thai means “I’m sorry for stepping on your foot” and that Korean children use the word “nim” meaning “honorable” in just about every context imaginable.
My favorite is; “Qwal-mool nim eli-wa yo” or “Honorable monster from the pond continue your honorable chase of us.”
So dust off your Rand McNally World Atlas. Pick a country, region or continent. Get your vaccinations, camera and film and American Express Traveler’s Checks and slip on your backpack.
As for the world, well, as Breaker Morant said in that memorable and climactic scene in the biographical film of the same name, “I’ve seen it.”
Now it’s your turn.