Editor’s note: This is Part III of longtime WND contributor Anthony C. LoBaido’s series on the life of the global backpacker. Part I, “The Global Backpacker,” provided an overview of what it’s like to travel overseas. In Part II, “The Most Beautiful Place on Earth,” LoBaido detailed the grandeur of the spectacular national parks of Utah. Part III looks at some of the world’s top backpacker destinations.
Since the beginning of time people have traveled. For example, people moved to cities from agricultural regions on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in ancient Mesopotamia. Yet through most of human history, the movement of people was hindered by time and space as well as various transportation modes. Fierce storms, rough seas, towering mountain ranges and nomadic raiders all made travel a dangerous and risky business on what must have seemed like a terribly lonely planet sans cell phones, satellite weather forecasting, the mental illness that is political correctness and food stamps.
Alexander the Great proved that travel on a large scale was possible, even on the backs of magnificent elephants carrying entire armies. His master trek paved the way for the Apostle Paul to spread the Gospel in the ancient world. The Romans built roads from the Sahara to Scotland. In what is now the UK, the Romans established the city of Bath. They were known as “Aquae Sulis” back when London was merely a village called “Londinium.”
The expeditionary Roman SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus) legionnaires and their mercenaries took Aquincum, Armenia, Zela, Dacia, Saudi Arabia, the Sahara and Cadiz. They conquered Ilium, Leptis Magna, Aelia Capitolina and Ctesiphon – but never Scotland. The Romans conquered Britannia, but were stopped eventually by the Scots and Scotland’s rain, hills and mud. I suppose that Hadrian’s Wall serves as a testament to that fact.
The Chinese built a massive ocean-going navy, and some claim Chinese soldiers actually reached the Grand Canyon in Arizona many centuries ago. The admiral of this fleet was the maverick Zheng He. Zheng used the Wu Bei Zhi map while making no less than seven voyages to Africa and Asia. Pronounced “Jung- huh,” the seven-foot-tall Zheng He was a committed Muslim who’d made a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was also a eunuch, and this particular caste gave him access to rich and powerful women and children of that time.
Over 300 ships and almost 30,000 sailors took his orders. His 400-foot ship boasted a dozen sails and carried silks, literary works, porcelain art and other treasures to the distant reaches of the earth. Columbus’ ships were less than 100-feet long and had a crew of under 100. Most people have never heard of Zheng He because Chinese leaders of the time (in the mid to late 1430s) had to deal with famine and internal pressures and shut down many ports. They forbade sea travel after his last ocean-going reconnoiter. This was strange since China at that time desired and even needed Arabian horses, special health-promoting herbs, Middle Eastern floral gems, forested hardwoods, ivory and other goods.
Attila the Hun trekked from Mongolia to sack Rome. Along the way he studied at the Roman military academy where he mastered the tactics of the Roman fighters. Back then the Roman Foreign Legions were dominated by mercenaries. The nation of Hungary was named after Attila, and he is a hero there even to this very day. Marco Polo was the consummate traveler of his era. While en route to China he visited the Iranian city of Bam, which was relatively recently destroyed in an earthquake.
Genghis Kahn took on the West as Attila had 800 years prior. Again, it seemed that if Alexander could go east, those in the east could come west. Raban Sauma, a Christian Nestorian from Mongolia, was the Marco Polo of a parallel universe. During a time when Mongol soldiers were trying to sack Austria, Sauma was meeting with King Philip IV in France and receiving Holy Communion from the pope (this happened around 1275).
Sauma’s failure to bring Europe into an alliance with the Mongols ruling in Persia at that time changed the course of human history. The Mongols offered white civilization the opportunity to rule the then-important crusader utopias of Jerusalem and Egypt. While controlling strategic maritime chokepoints like the Suez Canal and Cape Town were centuries away, the longing for new trade routes eventually led to the European Christian expansion of Columbus, Magellan, Vasco da Gama and Capt. Cook.
Also in the 13th century, Genghis Kahn was stopped by the mysterious band of slave-soldiers ruling in Egypt known as the Mamelukes. They were a landholding aristocracy of Turkish and Circassian roots who defeated the crusaders, drove the Great Kahn out of Syria and established outposts as far away as Iraq, Libya, Sudan and even India. By the time Napoleon invaded Egypt (around 1799) the Mamelukes still existed as a political force.
The aforementioned Capt. Cook and the British Empire replaced roads with ocean-going vessels. Cook discovered Australia, New Zealand and then Antarctica. Back then some reasoned there had to be large southern continents to balance out the Northern Hemisphere. Prisoners, some of who had stolen lace ribbon and a book entitled “An Account of the Flourishing Island of Tobago,” were sent from the UK to colonize Down Under.
Those convicts left England from locales like the Morpeth Arms tavern, located on the Thames River across from British Intelligence (MI-6) headquarters. When these prisoners finally reached Australia, they beat a French reconnaissance ship to the shores by a matter of hours. It must have been strange for the French captain to accept the fact he’d been cheated out of one of the great discoveries in human history by a group of criminals who’d stolen a book about Tobago. The Frenchman promptly sailed away and (almost) immediately perished in a shipwreck, perhaps still wondering about that strange book.
‘The global community’
Are you wondering what it’s really like to travel? While following in the footsteps of the adventurers of old, you’ll quickly ascertain that it’s both easy and hard, fun and difficult, shocking and exhilarating as well as heartbreaking and inspiring. It’s everything you might imagine and then some. You never know what’s right around the corner.
So, what will you find overseas on your backpacking extravaganza?
Well, you’ll be shocked to see people wearing pro-Che Guevara and pro-Osama bin Laden T-shirts on the streets of Bangkok, Thailand (and just about everyplace else). Coca-Cola reigns, along with Microsoft, U.S.-exported gang culture, images of the late Pope John Paul II and the “saintly” Nelson Mandela. Guess which one of them is the world’s most recognizable brand name? According to researchers, it’s Nelson Mandela, the former ANC leader and the first black president of South Africa.
You’re certain to find that emerging “global community” mindset off shore. During the go-go 1990s, citizens of the West were told, “We’re in a new era, take down all of your walls, boundaries and barriers as we’re now global citizens. The world is one big shopping mall, and the Dow is going to 50,000.” There was a window of quasi utopianism that existed between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9-11. Yet the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, O.J., Monica and Bill, Susan Smith, Mark Barton and other foibles of the time showed us that things weren’t quite what we thought (or hoped) they were.
You’ll gasp when you experience the resurrection Marxism is making these days in Central and South America, led by the enigmatic Marxist Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
No matter what your religious, political or cultural philosophy and background, traveling overseas will help you learn to appreciate the value of labor, thrift and why it’s important not to waste food. In other words, the very antithesis of the zeitgeist of so much of what we see coming from Generations X and Y. Although many in those generations still strive for morality, purity, humility and even heroism every single day.
You’ll learn to live with death on your doorstep in places Cambodia and Lebanon. You’ll see that real flesh-and-blood “normal” people can live and even thrive under unimaginable stress and societal implosion. In Beirut, you can see families living in very ordered apartments in huge buildings that have had half of the walls blown out.
Simply put – human beings are amazing (usually) when things are at their worst. Just ask the French Foreign Legion, Doctors Without Borders, Journalists Without Borders and The Red Cross. It’s the good times that seem to bring out the worst in people.
The Real Thing
You may be thirsty for a real nitty-gritty play-by-play, so to speak. Who hasn’t fantasized about packing it all up and heading overseas for an amazing adventure? First, you’ll want to check the Internet and gather the very best intelligence. But soon you’ll learn to rely on word of mouth concerning the road ahead. You’ll avoid the Lonely Planet “postcards” section on their website. Why? Well, the real-time postings are so horrible that if you dwelled upon them for too long no one would travel anywhere.
I’ve seen and done the real thing in more than 40 countries around the globe. There’s no shortage of ports of call. However, some places are more special than others and as such, they shouldn’t be missed no matter what the cost.
The Santa Catalina Arch of La Antigua, Guatemala, a Conquistador-era city and former capital of the nation. (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)
Some of my favorite destinations are as follows:
For many years this writer dreamed of backpacking across Australia, this after viewing films like “Gallipoli” and “The Coca-Cola Kid.” Sun, waves, Aussie “Sheilas,” koalas, kangaroos and Foster’s beer may have been the lures, but there’s so much more awaiting the trekker in a city like Sydney, home of the famous Opera House. Incidentally, Sydney was originally slated to be named “Albion,” and only Sydney harbor was supposed to carry that moniker.
When you get to Australia, you’ll learn that nation has an anti-varmint fence longer than the Great Wall of China. The Simpson Desert, which could house a decent chunk of Europe, didn’t even have a name until relatively recent times.
You’ll also come to grips with the power of the Pacific Ocean off of Australia, which is immense when compared to the waves off of Fire Island, N.Y. where this writer grew up. The “50 year storm” off Bell’s Beach, popularized in the hit film “Point Break” has only added to the true myth of the Pacific’s powerful force. (Tragically, the Asian tsunami added an exclamation point!)
Want to see Africa? Try a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, and head right for the Farm Inn in Pretoria. (The city has been renamed Tswana as Afrikaner culture continues to be wiped away in “The New South Africa.”) At the Farm you can feed small lion cubs with a milk bottle. Yes, they smell awful, but the cubs will hug your boots, play around with unbridled joy and steal your heart forever in only a matter of minutes.
Then head for the vineyards and beaches of Cape Town. Watch out for the sharks, which are vicious eating machines unchanged by countless millennia of so-called “evolution.” Study the crocodile, whose immune system – having survived 50 million years of every bacteria, virus and microbe available – is now standing at the very forefront of HIV/AIDS research.
Fly up to Livingstone, Zambia, to witness the jaw-dropping splendor of Victoria Falls. Vic Falls is truly one of the natural wonders of the world. After that, head across the river to Botswana to see the 54,000 elephants at the Chobe Game Reserve, the largest concentration of elephants on planet Earth. Continue west to Namibia, where the giant red sand dunes of Sossusvlei rank as the world’s highest. Some claim they are challenged in parts of China’s Gobi.
A South African elephant. (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)
In Africa, you’ll see globalization remaking entire civilizations right before your very eyes. You’ll see elephant culling, lions stalking their prey, ivory poachers, massive AIDS, dictators, Islamic jihad, Marxism, neo-Maoism, man-made famine, mercenaries, child militias, anti-white hatred, tribal intrigues and proud warriors in Kwa (meaning “place of”) Zulu. You’ll also see legions Afrikaner children walking the streets of Pretoria/Tswane as prostitutes, the very antithesis of their infamous Great Trek.
In its own way, the Great Trek rivals the adventures of Lewis and Clark, Burke and Wills, Wesley Powell and Ernest Shackleton. The Afrikaners defeated the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River, later made peace with them and gave the Zulus their own homeland. Then the Afrikaners survived two Anglo-Boer Wars and eventually went on to build the greatest, most successful and richest nation in the history of Africa.
In Kwa Zulu you’ll encounter an honorable people combating HIV/AIDS through the age-old practice of inspecting virgins. Children are sacred to the Zulus and their god “Unkulunkulu” is very much like the God of the Bible. Perhaps it is not so strange that the Zulus and Afrikaners have shared a special bond since Blood River.
South Africa’s Afrikaners, while likened to the Mormons in many respects, also share much in common with the Israelis (who also value racial, cultural and religious purity, send all males into the army and built the atomic bomb) as well as with South Koreans.
Speaking of Israelis, you’ll find them everywhere with their backpacks on – in Thailand, India and Guatemala just to name three popular Israeli backpacker destinations. And one of Israel’s greatest secrets is their abundance (so they claim) of gorgeous women. Needless to say, almost every Israeli soldier dreams of backpacking around the world when his or her military service has been completed. It’s like a second or third rite of passage.
The reef off of Ambergris Caye, Belize, is the world’s second-largest next to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)
Want to see the most beautiful island in the world? Then you must head to Belize’s Ambergris Caye. While a recent crime wave of golf cart-jackings (yes, they drive golf carts there) and even a murder at the popular Fido’s watering hole have shaken the faith of Belize enthusiasts, it’s still a glorious place to visit. For an upscale visit, consider staying at Victoria House. For lower budgets, stay at Ruby’s Inn and sit on the third story deck where you can watch the stars at night. Then head west to San Ignacio for enchanting forests and deep caves featured in National Geographic.
It’s possible to continue across the border to the great Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala. Stay at Tikal (you can sleep in the park at night if you’re crazy and/or foolish enough) or continue one hour west to the cul de sac town of Flores. Then go south through Guatemala City and on to the Conquistador town of La Antigua, an official World Heritage Site that seems as a though you’ve passed through a time machine. Climb Volcan Pecaya outside of La Antigua and then journey to Lago Atitlan, a huge lake surrounded by a handful of cloud-kissing volcanoes.
If you’re brave enough to try the Middle East, it’s possible to retrace Lawrence of Arabia’s World War I trek via automobile. There’s Beirut’s Pigeon Rocks, where you can enjoy Arab cuisine (surprisingly good) and watch divers jump headlong into the rocks below. They time their jumps when the tide is out – thus by the time they reach the bottom the waves have rolled in again. (This writer was reminded of the “Toilet Bowl” cove nestled in Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay).
Remains of the ancient Roman city of Baalbeck on the border of Lebanon and Syria. (Photo: Anthony C. LoBaido)
Continue through the Bekka Valley to Baalbeck, site of the greatest ancient Roman ruins outside of Rome itself. Above the Beqaa plain, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury were once worshipped with a local flair. Baalbeck was first studied in modern times by the Germans (around 1898) during a special archeological expedition. The Temple of Bacchus is a true ancient marvel. Some of the Latin inscriptions on the stones of Baalbeck are so well preserved they appear as if they were inscribed just yesterday. These ruins have withstood war, earthquakes, looting, sun and wind for almost 2,000 years.
Travel south to Jerash in Jordan, another ancient Roman city. Go and see the disappearing Dead Sea. Stand at the very spot (as this traveler did) where Jesus was baptized. Sit in John the Baptist’s Cave, visit Moses’ tomb and check out Elijah’s chariot liftoff point like so many space shuttles, sans the “eco-friendly” tiles of course.
Nowhere else on Earth offers more to see in less time and in a more confined area as does Jordan. Don’t forget Petra (featured in the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”), and also Aqaba, which sits on the Red Sea. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of Jordan’s glamorous Queen Rania.
Asia is perhaps this writer’s favorite travel destination of all. Fly cheaply to Bangkok and stay at the tourist Mecca of Khao San Road. Walk amid the Buddhist temples, honor Thailand’s ruling king, feed the street elephants, shop till you drop and take a day to see the River Kwai Museum. (It’s the real thing featured in archetype films like “The Bridge Over the River Kwai,” “An End to All Wars” and “The Great Raid.”) Multi-day elephant treks north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are also highly recommended.
If it’s fun in the sun you want, buy your train tickets and take the sleeper to Suratthani. (This is on the eastern, non-Tsunami side of Thailand). While en route you’ll sleep on clean sheets and have your meals, cold beer and hot tea served by smiling Thai attendants. In the morning you’ll awake to find yourself in the middle of the jungle. At sunrise, backpackers will sit between the train carriages and smoke cigarettes while watching the morning mist float heavenward.
At Suratthani you’ll take a two-hour speed boat ride to Ko Pha Ngan (called “The Real Beach” by Time Magazine). On Ko Pha Ngan you’ll find pristine beaches, coconut plantations, scorpions, cobras, fishing, sun and the world’s ultimate celebration – the Full Moon Party as featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Beach.”
From Thailand take a short leap to the glittering Buddhist temples of Luang Prabang, another U.N. World Heritage Site. If you want to become a monk, shave your head and beg for alms, you’ll be able to do so with relative ease. You can become a monk for only ten minutes if you desire – or a day, week or year or even 50 years. From Laos continue south to Cambodia’s awe-inspiring Angkor Wat (the Pyramids of Asia) and the haunted Killing Fields outside of Phnom Penh.
Between a picture and 1,000 words
Along the way you’ll gather a collection of great moments that will last a lifetime. You’ll need plenty of photographs, too. Digital cameras are all the rage these days, but this writer and photographer sticks to old-fashioned film. I’ve seen too many excited tourists delete their hard-gathered photos with the single click of the wrong button.
I’ve been told that I stole my photographs from National Geographic or that they’re “just plain luck,” because I “didn’t use a light meter.” As if I could walk up to an African elephant amidst a mock charge and ask, “Would you mind terribly taking two steps to the left please? The lighting isn’t just quite right.”
Looking for the ultimate photography adventure? Try Yaxha, an offshoot of Tikal in Northern Guatemala that’s only recently been unearthed (and now home to TV’s latest season of “Survivor”). Head down the Chobe River in Botswana to stalk lions and elephants with your lens. Sunsets in Thailand, Moab, Utah, and Cape Town, South Africa, will take your breath away.
There’s a never-ending supply of photogenic people in Guatemala, Laos and Nepal. Billions of stars beckon via the night skies of the Kalahari. Watch kittens and puppies huddle together by a roaring campfire in the Sonora region of Western Mexico. There are thrilling boat rides and hikes around Lago Atitlan, Guatemala, as well as along Belize’s Barrier Reef. Capturing the world on film is a noble task indeed.
You’ll feel the 6 a.m. heat in Nicosia, Cyprus, and the 6 a.m. cold in mega tunnels at the North Korean border. Head for Kars, Turkey, on the road to Mount Ararat and the Biblical Noah’s Ark. Endure epic flights from the U.S. to Cape Town, Bangkok and Sydney. They last 20 hours or so. You’ll watch a movie, have dinner, watch another movie, and you’ll still have (only) 15 hours left to go. You may even find yourself stranded in Tokyo with KLM stewardesses on Christmas Eve if you’re not careful!
LoBaido at the Durupinar Site, rumored to be the remains of Noah’s Ark. Critics say it was a Mongol fort.
Speaking of globalization, you’ll see a Shiite Muslim woman sitting next to a white-as-an-Easter-lily statue of Colonel Sanders in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. You’ll also hand a Yeti doll from “Rudolph’s Christmas Special” to a Buddhist monk in Katmandu, Nepal.
You’ll cuddle with koalas Down Under and climb the volcanoes of Guatemala like Shackleton trekking that last leg over South Georgia during his glorious Antarctic survival epic. (Sir Ernest later claimed an angel guided him and his two shipmates).
You’ll drink ice-cold beer while sitting next to a wood fire on the canals of Denmark in September, watching the tall rigging of the ships as they sail in. You’ll get to know the gals working on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange while visiting the art museums of the Dutch capital. You’ll share honeymoon/birthday dinners with amazing couples like P.J. and Grey Hynson-Glandon on Temptation Island. You’ll adopt stray German shepherds in Thailand and those dogs (Lucy and Lucy) will stay by your side through malaria and even tropical storms.
And after experiencing all of these things you’ll ask, “Will it ever be enough?”
The answer is of course, “yes” and “no” and “maybe.”
You’ll never find out what’s hiding inside your fortune cookie unless you break it open.
Remember, the greatest journey begins with a single step.
Take it and don’t look back.
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