Don’t let the title fool you: This is really a tale of two cities; of how you can have the best of times and the worst of times in the same destination; and how what we experience when we travel has as much to do with expectation and context as it does with research and planning.
Our story begins– as many travel tales do– with a dream. For 20 years Mary harbored romantic fantasies of island-hopping the classic Greece you typically see in guidebooks, or on Rick Steves’ Europe. Santorini, with its stunning coastline and striking blue-and-white domed churches, was the epitome of her idyllic aspirations.
So when TBEX invited us to speak about Branding For Bloggers at their conference in Athens, I made it my mission to make Mary’s dream come true. Lo and behold, through a series of fortuitous circumstances, we were actually able to visit Santorini twice during our 16 days in Greece…
My delectable dish might be your nightmare. Things I would walk a mile for are things you might like to dump in the garbage. What to me is ecstasy could be your ordeal.
And that’s precisely what makes different foods so exciting– the discovery, the knowledge that you are about to push beyond your comfort zone and the anticipation of doing so.
The French are known for their adventurous cuisine and for eating most anything that moves as well as every imaginable part of an animal. The following five weird foods are adored by the French, yet often detested by everyone else.
Let me bet on this: There’s probably a food here you love. And there’s probably at least one you wouldn’t dare try, ever…
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the stories we tell when we travel. Not just “we” in the sense of travel writers and bloggers, but human beings in general.
We use our cameras and mobile devices to capture snapshots of us at our idealistic best, every hair in place, smiling just so, capturing moments in which we’re “living the dream” (to quote a popular blogger cliché). It’s easy for other people to look at these photos in envy, jealous of our perfect lives and wishing they could have just a taste of the bounty we’ve been blessed with.
But while pictures like the one above may be worth a thousand words, they rarely tell the full story.
Usually I want to travel. Our trip to Belize was a rare case where I desperately needed to get away. Our end-of-year deadlines had been brutal, leaving me exhausted to the core after weeks of 12-hour days. My father passed away unexpectedly the day after Christmas, just before his 68th birthday, and his memorial service left me wrestling with a complex cauldron of emotions over the fact that I’ve been estranged from my immediate family for over two years.
By the time I got to Belize– a place I’d dreamed of visiting for 15 years– I was beyond tapped out on a physical, mental and emotional level. I was so exhausted, we nearly canceled our first day’s tour of Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (home to the world’s largest concentration of jaguars). After the second day– when I was knocked into a reef by another Scuba diver who didn’t see me beneath him, got severe leg cramps during our second dive and ultimately got seasick after my ascent– I literally broke down.
Honestly, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
You won’t see any photos of me getting sick over the side of the boat. You won’t see pictures of the ugly scar I got from scraping my elbow on the reef. And you won’t see any shots of the tears I wept when I finally let go and acknowledged that I just wasn’t able to handle all of the myriad things that had been piled upon my plate.
The photo you see above, of the beach at Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, doesn’t tell any of these stories. But that’s not the point of this post. This shot– taken after our dive, a refreshing dip in the resort pool, and a snack to settle my stomach– is incredibly symbolic for me.
This dream-like image of peace and serenity represents promise and possibility, specifically the goals that Mary and I have been working towards the last four years. There’s a chair for me, Mary and my daughter to sit in and gaze out on the gorgeous surroundings, with our dog Huckleberry at our feet. There are no laptops, phones, deadlines or other obligations to be met. Just time and space, shade from the midday sun, and remarkable natural beauty everywhere you look.
Of course, that’s not the reality behind this image: In truth, I was nauseous, sweaty and at the end of my emotional rope, trying to force myself to be OK at a time when I was decidedly not OK. I was simply trying to get a few quick shots of this beautiful beach before moving on to our next adventure. But it’s representative of the dream that I aspire to– the dream that we push ourselves to our limits to in an effort to achieve.
And I know deep in my heart that, by the next time we visit this beautiful beach in Belize, that dream will have become real… –Bret Love
If you enjoyed our photo from Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, you might also like:
Don George is a legend in the travel writing world, and has been for more than a quarter of a century now.
His resume reads like an aspiring travel writer’s bucket list: Since getting his first full-time gig at the San Francisco Examiner back in 1980, he’s served as a travel editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com, Lonely Planet, National Geographic Traveler and BBC.com. He literally wrote the book on travel writing– appropriately titled Travel Writing– and he’s edited more than a half-dozen literary travel anthologies (including Lonely Planet’s latest collection, An Innocent Abroad).
Perhaps even more impressive than his accomplishments as a writer and editor, Don has invested an impressive amount of time and energy into education and nurturing up-and-coming writers and bloggers. Not only through the Bay Area’s annual Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference, of which he is co-founder and chairman, but also through his speaking engagements and workshops at conferences such as TBEX.
Coincidentally, the first time I met Don was after my own appearance at TBEX as part of the Opening Keynote Session on Responsible Travel in Cancun last September. He was one of the first people to come up on stage and congratulate me on a job well done, which– given the fact that GGT was partially inspired by my love of National Geographic– was deeply humbling. I later attended his session on Travel Writing, where his passion for the craft of storytelling and his earnest desire to help bloggers become better writers proved incredibly infectious.
On the last day of the conference, Mary and I noticed Don and Tim Leffel, whom we’d also met the day before, having dinner with our friends David and Veronica James (a.k.a. The GypsyNesters). On our way out of the restaurant, we stopped by their table to say goodnight, and they insisted we join them for drinks and dessert. We talked about travel, writing and the future of blogging for hours, and I knew then that I needed to talk to Don more in-depth for GGT’s Interviews series.
What follows are the highlights of our hour-long conversation, which veered from his earliest travel memories and the beginning of his career as a travel writer to his thoughts on how bloggers are impacting the landscape and advice for those wanting to break into the freelance writing world. It’s a long one, so grab a cup of coffee (or beer) and settle into a comfy chair for a conversation with the coolest Travel Editor you will ever meet… Continue reading
I see the flick of a tail, ringed in black and white. Then I see the lemur, climbing over the tree branches to pick some orange berries. He briefly turns towards us, staring with wide, hypnotic eyes, before leaping away. Then I see another ring-tailed lemur. And another.
A whole troop of catta lemurs (the ring-tailed critters like Madagascar‘s King Julien), was around us. About half a dozen individuals, climbing on trees or scurrying on the ground, grooming one another, jumping from branch to branch.
Normally, wildlife viewing comes with no guarantees. You may wander around for the whole day, only to spot a blurry figure zipping across the trees, two burning eyes observing you from the darkness, or some faint tracks.
Yet, in Madagascar’s Anja Reserve, ring-tailed lemurs are everywhere. Which is incredible because, less than 20 years ago, they were in danger of disappearing forever.