Travel Tales

Fred Gielow

Posted here initially: July 3, 2017.


Click on a topic to jump
to that topic.
(Topics are listed in
no particular order.)

Dot Panning for Gold
Dot A Swim in Lake Maggiore
Dot Toilet Encounter
Dot Sore Ankle
Dot Ant Encounter
Dot Language Barrier I
Dot Language Barrier II
Dot At the Berlin Wall
Dot Lost in Australia
Dot Lost in Uganda
Dot Tarantula Encounter
Dot Mosquito Encounter
Dot Lava Tube Encounter
Dot Climbing Mt. Fuji
Dot Ariau Amazon Towers
Dot Luray Caverns
Dot Shopping in Bancock
Dot Horse Encounter
Dot Moose Encounter
Dot Movie
Dot Food Poisoning I
Dot Food Poisoning II
Dot Shower in Namibia
Dot Bat Encounter
Dot In Madrid
Dot Strange Encounter
Dot Rock Encounter
Dot Ayers Rock
Dot Mouse Encounter
Dot Hurricane Encounter
Dot Meeting Friends
Dot Spider Encounter
Dot Strange Encounter

Dot Rock Encounter
Dot Ayers Rock
Dot Mouse Encounter
Dot Hurricane Encounter
Dot Meeting Friends
Dot Spider Encounter
Dot Lion Encounter
Dot Stuck in the Sand
Dot Alarm Clock I
Dot Alarm Clock II
Dot Vespa Encounter
Dot Ultra Light Encounter
Dot Hippo Encounter
Dot Long Wait
Dot Business Trip
Dot Piranha Encounter
Dot Camel Encounter
Dot Magical Moment
Dot Cape Buffalo Encounter
Dot Altitude Sickness
Dot Riding Elephants I
Dot Riding Elephants II
Dot Riding Elephants III
Dot Sumo Wrestlers
Dot Scorpion Encounter
Dot Police Encounter
Dot Bear Encounter I
Dot Bear Encounter II
Dot Englishman
Dot Owl Encounter
Dot Vine Encounter
Dot Train Encounter
Dot Glacier Encounter
Dot Rare Bird Encounter


Panning for Gold. During one of my visits to Alaska, probably in the 1980s, I went to an old gold mine, where, after paying an entry fee, I was issued a shovel and a metal pan.

I dug into the bank along a creek, dumped the dirt and gravel into my pan, and sifted through the material with water from the stream in search of a tiny nugget of gold. I wasn't expecting a big lump, but I hoped for just a grain or two so I could to say I found gold in Alaska. (Photo: Internet.)

I spent a half hour, then an hour, then longer, but my panning was to no avail. The sun was going down. I wanted just a single speck. I panned some more. It was getting dark. And it was getting cold. Strange how the possibility of finding gold, however remote, drove me on. Finally, it was too dark to see what I was panning for, so I gave up. What I discovered was the lust for gold is powerful.


A Swim in Lake Maggiore. When I was 20, I went on a Cook's Tour of Europe. One of the stops along the way was beautiful Lake Maggiore, located a little north and west of Milan, Italy. We had enough time to go for a swim, and I remember jumping in the water from a wooden dock. It was refreshing and a pleasant change of pace from all the sightseeing up to that point.

After splashing about for a few minutes I looked at my left wrist and noticed my ID bracelet was missing. I knew the links were a little weak, but I didn't think any would give way. I thought for a moment I might be able to retrieve my bracelet, but no, it still resides to this day at the bottom of beautiful Lake Maggiore.


Toilet Encounter. When I was 20, I was honored to be selected to attend the centennial celebration of the YMCA in Paris from August 12th to the 23rd, 1955.

There were thousands in attendance. A number of students (myself included) were housed at a residence hall used for the City University. I believe the building was the Lycee Saint-Louis. Anyway, I was assigned a big room that had beds lined up sort of like a penitentiary. No, it wasn't as nice as a penitentiary. There must have been a dozen beds in the room, spaced one right next to another. That was unusual, I thought, but even more unusual was the toilet. (I had to take a picture of it.)

There was just one for the entire room. It really wasn't a toilet at all; it was a hole in the floor with two slightly raised areas where you put your feet when you squatted down. That was different.


Sore Ankle. My brother and I were in Uganda. It was the day before the "highlight" of our trip -- a hike into the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and up to the top of the mountain to see gorillas. (Photo: Internet.)

Our guide suggested he could lead us on an afternoon walk in a bush next to the lodge. We jumped at the offer and started off. The terrain wasn't very even. After a short time, I stepped on something and twisted my ankle. I was able to hobble along, but not without some discomfort. So, what about the big climb the next day?

By evening, my ankle was okay . . . if I didn't walk on it. I couldn't put much pressure on it at all. We had dinner and went to bed.

The next morning, my ankle . . . was just fine! I had no trouble at all going up and down the mountain. What a perfect outcome! The gorillas were thrilling to see!


Ant Encounter. (Reference.) My brother and I were in Brazil, just off the Amazon River. Our guide navigated our little boat directly underneath an enormous black nest of ants so we could get a good look at all the activity going on.

It was fascinating to watch the tiny critters. They were dashing around in every direction. But as luck would have it, the boat must have nudged the branch supporting the nest, because it came tumbling down on us, hitting me on the head, then landing on the seat. Immediately, ants were everywhere. And I do mean everywhere! (Photo: Internet.)

The nest was thrown overboard, but several gazillion of its creepy-crawly occupants remained on board. And they weren't happy. And neither were we!

Hurriedly, our boat was driven to a nearby dock, where we jumped out, then did wild and imaginative dances trying to get the pests off us. Ants were crawling on our arms and legs, our heads, inside our clothing. Our guide shouted to us, "Don't worry, they won't bite."

Nearly instantaneously, I yelped. "Ouch! One bit me! Ouch! Another! Ouch! Ouch! OUCH!"

It was hilarious! We were laughing and jumping, and swatting, and shaking. And we continued our little exhibition for maybe 15 minutes. It must have been a riot to watch.


Language Barrier I. I was in Paris in 1955 and needed to get some clothes cleaned, so I found a shop that provided such a service. I could speak no French, and the shopkeeper could speak little to no English, but that shouldn't be a problem, right?

I left my clothes and then returned in a couple days to pick them up. I asked the shopkeeper what the charge was. He struggled with his words and said something like: "Two thousand francs." I did some quick math and calculated that was about ten times what I expected. Now, how was I going to negotiate a resolution to that?

The shopkeeper realized I was confused and uncomfortable, so he wrote out the amount. It was two hundred francs. He just got the English a little wrong. Issue resolved.


Language Barrier II. I was with my younger son (Tim) seated at a counter in a small restaurant in Tokyo. Japanese people were seated all around us, speaking nothing but Japanese (of course).

It was taking longer than seemed necessary for our meals to come out and I was getting impatient. I said to Tim something like: "When will the ding bats in this place get their act together?" We waited some more and finally got our food. Just before we finished, the Japanese man sitting next to us got up to leave. He turned to us and said, "Have a nice day."


At the Berlin Wall. (Reference.) On a business trip to Germany in March 1990, I found myself in West Berlin. I got there Saturday and decided to walk around for a little exercise. A few blocks from my hotel, I came upon a high and imposing wall.

It was the Berlin Wall! After some 28 years, though it had "fallen" four months before, it was still largely intact. (Photo: Internet.)

I thought of the East Berliners who risked everything to get to the West. Many attempted the 110-yard dash through mine fields and rifle fire. More than 200 never made it. I found crosses, flowers, and memorials not far from the Brandenburg Gate.

Some of the huge concrete wall sections had been toppled over. Yet, many remained upright. Working on them was a small army -- mostly kids -- chipping and pounding on the wall with picks and hammers. Some were souvenir hunters; others were collecting pieces for sale to tourists.

I bought a few chips myself, then decided I, too, needed to pound on the wall. I borrowed a hammer and started whacking away. The wall was unyielding and I was able to dislodge only small particles. I beat at it harder and harder, finally dislodging a few fragments. It was an emotional experience: partaking in the process of removing this insult to freedom.

The next day, Sunday, I returned to the wall and found Checkpoint Charlie. A long line of people had formed there. They were waiting to cross over into East Berlin to spend the afternoon. I decided to join them.

I spent an amazing couple of hours walking the streets of East Berlin, visiting a museum or two, buying some drinks and a few treats, and thinking about the amazing transformation Germany was undergoing.


Lost in Australia. On a trip to Australia, I signed up for a tour of some rock formations near Darwin. I think we went to the Lost City in Litchfield National Park. I was one of maybe 8 or 10 people in our tour group.

The formations are fabulous, particularly for someone (like me) who likes to take photographs. (Photo above: Internet.)

I took a few steps and took a picture, then noticed even more interesting formations a few steps further. Everywhere I turned there were scenes that delighted my eyes. I walked a few more paces into the jumble of rocks, snapping my camera shutter again and again.

All of a sudden, I realized I had wandered off from the group. Where were the others? The formations made a complex maze of narrow pathways. I started back, but quickly found I couldn't retrace my steps. There were no familiar landmarks. Each formation looked different when seen from a different angle. I scurried along the paths, not knowing if I was getting closer or further away from the group.

Just about the time I thought I should shout for help, I found the group guide. I tried to appear like I wasn't really worried about what had just happened.


Lost in Uganda. (Reference. Also.) In February 2003, my brother (Jim) and I traveled to Uganda with the express purpose of seeing gorillas.

After a challenging and exhausting three-hour climb up a 2000-foot mountain, we got our first glimpse of those incredible beasts (photo.).

All of us in our group of maybe 16 people were fascinated. Picture taking began immediately. After a short time, I ran out of tape for my camera, so I stepped away from where all the action was, to change the cartridge. It only took a minute or two, but when I looked back, everyone, including the gorillas were gone. The people and animals had vanished.

I was sure they hadn't gone very far, but I had no idea in what direction they had moved. After some anxious moments, I was able to locate the group, and I quickly resumed picture taking, but it was a real scare, albeit a relatively short one.

(Turns out Jim had a similar experience. The film in his camera ran out, so he found some shade under a tree to change rolls. When he looked up, everyone was gone and he had no idea where. He made his way back to where some of the guides were waiting for us, so unfortunately, he lost a lot of time with the gorillas.)


Tarantula Encounter. During one of my two trips to the Amazon, I stayed a couple of nights at a camp about 25 miles from Iquitos, Peru. We had just finished dinner. It was dark, probably about 8 o'clock, but all of us had flashlights. We were concluding our dinner conversations as we left the lodge for our cabins.

As I looked back over my shoulder to say good night, I caught the briefest of glimpses of something black in the path in front of me . . . where I was about to step! It was an enormous tarantula, maybe 12 inches in diameter.

I let out a blood-curdling scream and jumped about 13 feet off the ground. The tarantula scampered off into the brush to the left of me. I continued on to my cabin with great care, watching intently to see what was on the path in front of me.


Mosquito Encounter. My brother and I thought it would be fun to spend two or three days in the Everglades, so I made a reservation at (I think it was) the Everglades City Motel. When we got there in the early evening, there were mosquitos everywhere! They were big, they were bad, and they were hungry. You needed a spare pint of blood just to get from the car to the office.

We thought they wouldn't invade our room, but they were there in force. We maxed our air conditioning unit, but that didn't slow down the mosquitos one bit. Even wrapping ourselves in blankets was no defense. The nasty little blood suckers found a way to land on our skin and start harvesting.

I couldn't take it. The next morning I canceled the remainder of our reservation. We drove over to the Keys and checked into a motel there.


Lava Tube Encounter. (Reference.) I made arrangements to go on several tours during my 2015 trip to Iceland. One was to explore a lava tube. I thought we'd walk around in a tube for a half hour or so and that would be it. Well, not the lave tube we visited.

Steel helmets and flashlights were passed out. The entrance was just an opening where a section of the tube's roof had collapsed. The rocks were sharp and slippery, but I noticed the others (mostly "kids" in their 20s and 30s) were scampering over the obstacles like ants running around an ant hill. I was proceeding more like a tired snail on sandpaper.

Inside the tube it was even worse. The ceiling was low; in most places I couldn't stand up. The floor was littered with huge jagged rocks. And it was pitch dark. Beams from our flashlights were the only means of illumination.

When we finally got to the end of the tube, I was tuckered. Our guide told us a little about the history of the tube, then it was time to retrace our steps. I found by then my energy supply had been largely depleted. The crawl back was grueling, but the guide was very thoughtful and accommodating. He stuck with me the whole time, helped pull me through tight spots, and was quite encouraging. The others hadn't even worked up a sweat. I was huffing and puffing, and my glasses were fogged over.

Guess I ain't quite as young as I used to be.


Climbing Mt. Fuji. I was in Tokyo on business, but had a free weekend. I got in touch with a friend who was living there and we decided to drive (with his car) to Mt. Fuji and spend some time walking along the paths and taking in the sights.

He picked me up at my hotel late Sunday morning. The distance to the mountain is less than 60 miles, so we thought we could be there in maybe an hour and a half. (Photo: Internet.)

However, neither of us had considered the traffic. Apparently, a whole lot of other people had also decided on a drive to the mountain that day. Traffic in Tokyo was congested, as we expected, but when we got out of the city, it was worse! The highways were bumper to bumper.

We would drive a few feet, then stop, drive a few feet, then stop. An hour passed. A second hour passed. We still had a long way to go. We finally got to Mt. Fuji at dusk! We only had time to stretch our legs before we got back in the car for the return trip to Tokyo.


Ariau Amazon Towers. (Reference.) My brother and I visited Ariau Amazon Towers in 2001. It's a maze of interconnected wooden walkways and buildings built on high posts or stilts, and it looked like a small scaffold city perched over the waters of the Rio Negro River, not too far from Manaus (Brazil). Vertical supports frequently weren't vertical, pieces of lumber stuck out at funny angles, roofs were wrinkled sheets of steel. It looked temporary, but it was permanent. (Photo: Internet.)

On our arrival, a guide pointed out the main building (reception, restaurant, auditorium), a couple of swimming pools (on decks also on stilts), the room where we'd be staying, some souvenir shops, a UFO pad (really, built for UFO landings -- none so far), and "The Pyramid," a structure about 20 feet square and 20 feet high, with metal frame and plastic, insulated, semi-transparent panels. It served as a sort of meditation room (air conditioned). We were led in (we had to take off our shoes) and it was suggested we lie on individual rugs and pillows placed strategically on the floor along the outside edge of the building. We were told we might derive great peace and comfort with ten minutes or so of meditation. I opted to forego all the peace and comfort and I waited outside in the blazing sun and heat.

After lunch, a nap sounded like a good activity. We awoke a short time later swimming in a pool of water -- well, actually it was sweat. The room had no air conditioning and it was stiflingly hot. It had to be over 100 degrees in there. We determined that sleeping in the tiny pie-slice-shaped room at night wasn't feasible. Fortunately, we were able to get a room upgrade -- at extra cost, of course -- to a room with air conditioning.


Luray Caverns. When I was a kid, the family took a trip to see Natural Bridge, Mount Vernon, Monticello, some other attractions, and Luray Caverns. (Photo: Internet.)

I was really looking forward to seeing the caverns. I bought a dozen flash bulbs (they were expensive!) to use with my camera (I think it was a Brownie Reflex) to get good pictures of stalactites and stalagmites.

I used all 12 flash bulbs in the caverns. I was excited about the pictures I took, anxious to see how they came out. They didn't. The flash bulbs weren't up to the task of illuminating such large spaces. All the pictures came out black. It was a learning experience.


Shopping in Bangkok. (Reference.) I was on a business trip for a week to Tokyo and was able to schedule a meeting in London for the following Monday, so I had time over the weekend to fly to Bangkok and do some sightseeing. (It also allowed me to circumnavigate the globe!)

Walking around the city, I came across a shoe store, went in, and made a purchase: a pair of boots from Bangkok!


Horse Encounter. (Reference.) On a 2002 tour of Costa Rica with my brother, I selected a horse ride and swim for one morning's activities.

My horse was named Cicero. After climbing aboard, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with the animal. I explained that I'd go easy on him, if he reciprocated in kind. Right from the beginning we reached a meeting of the minds. I patted him approvingly on the neck. Neither of us broke our agreement.

(Photo shows some of the others on our ride.)

It was a delightful, easy ride up the mountain along a mostly dirt, but sometimes rocky road. With the slightest nudge of the rein to the left, Cicero would edge to the port side. With a gentle nudge of my heals in Cicero's stomach, he'd accelerate just a little. After a while I thought Cicero's rein might be chaffing his neck, so I used both hands to keep it from rubbing. Cicero and I were buddies.

The ride was only a half hour or so. At our destination, the gorgeous 135-foot Fortuna Falls, I dismounted, and put on my bathing suit. The pool at the base of the falls was maybe 60 yards in diameter. I descended down a narrow, sometimes steep path to the water and enjoyed a simply delightful swim. 'Twas a perfect day.


Moose Encounter. In 1980, I visited Yellowstone. I love that place! It's an exciting and beautiful place to visit. (Photo by FG.)

As I was driving along, I saw a moose no more than ten yards or so from the road. I stopped, grabbed my camera, got out of the car, and approached it. A moose is a big animal. It can run faster than 35 miles per hour, can weigh up to 750 pounds (in Wyoming), and the animal attacks more people than bears and wolves combined.

I didn't know all these helpful statistics when I was edging closer and closer to the moose, which was grazing peacefully. I just wanted to get a photo. I didn't want to cause any trouble.

I was able to get my picture (actually, several), back away from the moose, and get back in my car without incident. How about that!

Taking another look, I see that's not a moose at all in the photo! My recollection is clear; it was a moose I encountered, but the photo shows some kind of antelope. I took a lot of pictures while I was at Yellowstone.


Movie. As far as I can remember, I've only seen one movie in a movie theater outside of the U.S. It was "Gone with the Wind" in Paris, with French subtitles. (Image: Internet.)

In one scene, a man was excitedly urging on some horses. The actual dialog went something like this: "Faster, faster you slow pokes! Get a move on! Pick it up! Pick it up! Faster, faster, FASTER! We can't be late!"

Written at the bottom of the screen was the French translation: "Giddy up."


Food Poisoning I. When I was a teenager, I took a trip with very good friend John Lama in his family's car. He drove us from Detroit into Michigan's upper peninsula, down into Wisconsin, around the southern tip of Lake Michigan, and back home.

After stopping for a while at the Wisconsin Dells, we had lunch and continued on to Chicago. Half way there, it became clear our lunches were not our friends.

We checked in at the downtown YMCA, just in time for John to rid himself of his stomach contents along with the food poisoning. However, through heroic willpower, I was able to avoid that nasty process.

The YMCA was in a bad part of town and a guest or member of the staff informed us that just the night before, someone had been shot and killed a block or two away. Not happy bedtime thoughts.

My stomach was complaining loudly and indicating clearly the food poisoning was not welcome, but I thought a good night's rest would resolve the problem.

I was wrong. When I woke up, I found my intestines had taken it upon themselves to rid me of that problem. During the night, without my even knowing it, they had released all the poison into my bed! It was perhaps the most disgusting thing I ever experienced. I'll leave all the grim details to your imagination.


Food Poisoning II. (Reference.) On my first trip (or two) to Tanzania, I was with a tour that stopped at Seronera Wildlife Lodge for two nights, followed by the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge also for two nights. I don't know which was the culprit (my suspicions are the first, since there were severe water restrictions there), but I was hit with a bout of food poisoning.

It seems the penalty I paid for this was about a week and a half of uncertainty. Do I need to get to a bathroom right this very instant, or can I wait through the next game drive, or the next whatever? Sometimes, like the very close-up encounter with lions (I was sitting in an open vehicle and the lions couldn't have been much more than ten feet away) the excitement of the moment added noticeably to other pressures I was dealing with.

A lengthy visit to the rest room at the Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg, just prior to my flight back to the states, brought my diarrhea binge to conclusion. There are sometimes hidden costs on trips to foreign places.


Shower in Namibia. (Reference.) The first safari trip my brother (Jim) and I took together started with a stay at Ongava Tented Camp, at the edge of Etosha National Park in Namibia. (Source of representative photo.)

The first night, we were absolutely exhausted, having traveled from home to Miami to Johannesburg to Windhoek and to Ongava in the prior few days. I fell into bed and was asleep in no time. Jim, however, was dealing with the idea we were sleeping in a tent with lions nearby. He figured my snoring might irritate them to the point where they might wish to claw their way in and see what the noise was all about. He got very little sleep that first night.

The second night we had time for a shower before bed. The shower stall was at the back of the tent. There was no roof over it. Water was heated all day in tanks in the blazing Namibia sun, and it was in abundance. As I lathered up under a full and hot stream of water, above me were only the moon and stars. It was a clear, calm, peaceful night. A cool breeze enhanced the warmth of the water and the beauty of the moment. I think it was the best shower I ever had.


Bat Encounter. (Reference - Peru.) On a trip to the Amazon, I traveled 50 miles or so by water taxi from Iquitos to the camp where I stayed. It was a climb of two or three dozen steps to get from the river to the lodge. A guide said that during the rainy season, there's no climb at all!

I checked in and was assigned a room. I noticed all the rooms were partitioned, but had a common ceiling overhead. I also noticed high up in the rafters were some nesting bats. That's interesting, I thought. When I mentioned this to a guide, I was quickly moved to another room.

There are lots of creepy-crawly things along the Amazon, and of course that's to be expected. But the thought some of them might wish to join me in bed at night was not comforting. I decided to tightly enclose my mattress with mosquito netting. Then I thought my travel bag, clothes, and other possessions might be invaded as well, so I piled everything inside the netting. That didn't leave a whole lot of room for me, but I figured it was a small price to pay for a bug- and bat-free sleep.


In Madrid. (Reference - Spain.) On my way back from a business trip to Europe, I stopped off in Madrid for a little sightseeing. I thought I'd take in a soccer game, but there there were lots of different ticket booths around the stadium, and I didn't (still don't) know any Spanish.

Well, I reasoned, I'll just find someone who can speak English and that will solve my problem. (Photo: Internet.)

I asked dozens of people if they spoke English and got dozens of blank expressions. For more than a half hour I searched. In vain. Then I saw a guy who looked very American and asked him. Success. He escorted me to a ticket window, talked to the agent, and got me a ticket, right next to where he was seated. Great!

It turns out he was president of Diners Club (maybe it was Carte Blanche) and he spent much of his time traveling the world examining company offices and performance. We watched maybe half the game, then he suggested we go for dinner. Well, yes, of course!

After dinner, he suggested we take in some nightclub action. Well, yes, of course!

It was quite an amazing evening! A late-into-the-night evening! But a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable experience!


Strange Encounter. I stayed at a Marriott during a business trip to San Jose, California. The motel was situated on the other side of an expressway from a large shopping mall. I walked around the mall just for something to do one evening.

When I got back and was about to enter the motel, I looked up and saw an enormous, powerful beam of light streaming parallel to the expressway and about 50 feet above it. The beam was maybe ten feet in diameter, and accompanying it was a deep, eerie sound. It was just what you'd expect to see and hear in a science fiction movie. The light was intensely bright and the sound was strong and menacing.

I stood there transfixed. The light and sound lasted probably less than ten seconds. There was this unworldly "thing" I saw and heard -- then it was gone. The world returned to normalcy. I waited to see if it would reappear. It didn't. I looked around to see the reaction of other people. Traffic on the expressway seemed unaffected by what had just happened.

Was it my imagination? No, it was not. I saw it and heard it. What was it? I have no idea. And I have absolutely no explanation for the whole incident.


Rock Encounter. (Reference.) On a trip with my brother (Jim) to Uganda, we went for a boat ride on the Nile River. The boat could hold 20 passengers, but Jim and I were the only tourists aboard.

We saw pods of hippos all over the place: along the shore, in river channels, even shallow sections in the middle of the river. It was wonderful to be able to get quite close to them without fear of an attack. And we also saw a smattering of crocodiles, sunning themselves on the river bank. Our guide said some were mothers protecting their eggs, but I wasn't convinced the terrain was right for laying eggs. But, what do I know?

As we approached Murchison Falls, the captain wedged the boat between a cluster of small rocks on the port side and a good sized rock on the starboard side in the middle of the river. Thrust from the engine kept us in position, countering the strong river current.

Our guide invited us to step out on the starboard side rock. With his help, I cautiously climbed out for some pictures. The water raced by so quickly, it was quite disorienting. One slip and I was in for one very serious swim.

Jim declined the invitation, opting instead to take this picture of me standing on the rock. Great fun!


Ayers Rock. (Reference.) One of my stops on a trip to Australia was Ayers Rock. It's over 1100 feet high and slightly less than six miles in circumference.

At one spot along the base, a chain railing has been installed to aid visitors who wish to climb to the top (photo). It's not a walk in the park. It's not ever a climb in the park. It's a challenge. The route is sometimes steep, sometimes slippery, and occasionally dangerous, particularly if you're holding a cumbersome camera with one hand.

The view from the top was extraordinary. Grand vistas in every direction. Totally unexpected: someone had lugged a unicycle all the way to the top and was riding the thing!


Mouse Encounter. (Reference.) On the last night of our 2006 stay at the Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp in Namabia, as my brother and I were ready to turn in, he said, "What was that?"

"What was what?"

"I thought I saw something streak along the floor."

I figured it was just his imagination. Then he said, "There it is again." And so the search was on.

In a short time we discovered we had a guest: a little brown mouse. We tried to chase it out the door. No luck. He had plans of staying for the night. After several futile attempts to coax him to leave, we decided to just forget about him. But forgetting about something is not easy to do, particularly when it's a critter who might decide to hop into bed with you.

I thought perhaps we could pull mosquito netting tightly around the beds to keep Mr. Mouse at bay. And we did that, but there were gaps. Fortunately, a few extra pillows allowed us to fill those gaps, and our mouse battle was over. The netting reduced the effectiveness of the ceiling fan, but that was a small price to pay for a restful sleep.


Hurricane Encounter. I returned from my summer-long trip to Europe in 1955 on the Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt. (Photo: Internet.)

About half-way across the Atlantic we encountered Hurricane Flora. I thought that was very exciting: strong ship listing, driving rain, and heavy winds topping out at 105 mph. But the excitement was curtailed when it was announced we couldn't go out on deck. Then, at one point, the ship's engines were turned off and we just drifted in the storm for a day or so.

Then, the storm wasn't quite so much fun. It extended the length of the cruise and we were a day or two late reaching New York City.


Meeting Friends. My mother was a friend of Lein Pot, who lived in the Netherlands. I have no idea how or when they met. I remember Mom filling up large Care packages for Lein and her brother Cornelis during the war (WWII). Once, Cornelis visited our family and stayed at our home in Detroit for a few days.

On a business trip to Europe in the 1970s, I made arrangements to meet the two of them at the train station in Amsterdam (I think it was Amsterdam). How could we find each other? Cornelius said he'd be waving a handkerchief, and I should look for it.

When I got off my train, I looked around. They were not hard to spot. They didn't have a handkerchief. They had an enormous, white bed sheet that they were waving at me.

(Cornelis was quite a fellow. He came from a family of shipbuilders and was managing director of Smit Slikkerveer, a factory that made dynamos for ships. He also had a passion for music and wanted others to be able to enjoy playing and singing music as well. He developed a music notation he called Klavarskribo, which means "keyboard writing" in Esperanto. He expected the music world would embrace his invention, but that was not to be.)


Spider Encounter. I noticed several spiders in my room at a lodge where I was staying next to the Amazon River. They looked unfriendly, even aggressive, so I thought I'd better figure out how I was going to deal with them.

I don't like to kill spiders. Besides, one looked like it might be big enough to fight back. So I figured if I moved the bed away from the wall, at least they couldn't get to me by climbing up a wall. I could lift up all the sheets and bed coverings, so they couldn't get at me that way, either.

What to do with the legs of the bed? I decided I could get four containers and fill them with water and place one under each leg. Implementing all those intricate plans took a considerable amount of time. And effort.

I got into bed and sighed. Safe at last!

Then I looked up. They're spiders, for goodness sake. They could crawl up to the ceiling, spin a strand of silk, reel it out, and descend right down on my nose!

That was too much to contemplate. I figured if they were that innovative, they deserved to get me.


Lion Encounter. (Reference -- Zimbabwe. Also.) One of my more exciting African adventures was a canoe ride along the Zambezi River with my brother (Jim) and others. I sat in the front of our canoe and Jim sat in the back.

During one afternoon paddle, a guide spotted a lion lying lazily under a tree on the top of a sand bank by the side of the river. We quickly beached the canoes and began tracking what turned out to be two lions.

It was hard to believe what was happening. Our little band of eight (six tourists, two guides) was actually following -- on foot! -- two good-sized, adult lions. Our guides had weapons. We didn't. (Photo: Internet.)

We followed the animals into the bush maybe a quarter mile, stopping occasionally behind trees or bushes. As if that offered any protection.

Then as the lions flopped down for a rest under a tree, we positioned ourselves behind a big termite mound maybe a hundred yards from them. We were actually tracking lions, on foot, in the open. That's crazy!

After several minutes a guide led us (or at least those willing) on hands and knees out from behind the termite hill toward the lions, but the beasts soon grew weary of our peering at them and they sauntered off toward the south, deeper into the bush.

What an adventure! It's really nifty to have tracked lions on foot in their domain.


Stuck in the Sand. (Reference -- Kenya.) On one of our safari drives during my visit to Kenya with my older son (Bob), our vehicle (photo: Bob is on the left) got caught in the sand. The only remedy was for all of us to get out and push.

There were enough pushers without me, so I decided to take pictures, and I moved back maybe 15 feet from where the action was.

I got a picture or two, our vehicle was dislodged, and we all piled back in and continued on our way. Our guide said, "Did you see him?"

"Did we see who?"

"Didn't you see the lion watching us from behind the bush?"

"Absolutely not!" None of us saw "him."

We wondered if there really was a lion hiding behind a bush. Guess I'll never know.


Alarm Clock I. Running around London on my first trip there was exhausting. After several days of non-stop activity, one night I decided I'd get to bed early and sleep in late the next morning. A few extra Zs was just what I needed.

So I set the alarm for ten o'clock and hit the hay.

I hardly got to sleep and the darn alarm clock went off! Seems I went to bed before ten o'clock at night. I had outsmarted myself.


Alarm Clock II. On the way back from a business trip to Tokyo, I took some vacation days in Alaska. I spent time in Anchorage, took a train to Fairbanks, spent time there, then flew to Barrow. (Image: Internet.)

It was summertime, so at night, the sun didn't set. It just dipped down close to the horizon, then rose up again.

I set my alarm clock for midnight, got up, and went out to get a picture of the midnight sun. My photo was unsuccessful, but the experience was very successful.


Vespa Encounter. (Reference -- Italy.) On a free day in Rome in 1955 (when there were no Cook's Tour activities), I rented a Vespa motor scooter.

This was very foolish. I couldn't read the road signs, didn't know traffic customs, and didn't even have a map of the city. But I started off nevertheless.

Amazingly, I found the Colosseum, the Fountain of Trevi, the Vatican, all the places I had seen the day before. I was able to take my time at each location, look around, take pictures, then hop on my little scooter and buzz along to the next. It was marvelous!

In the late afternoon I knew it was time to return to my hotel. I thought I knew the route. I scooted along, turning here and there. The sun was close to setting and I knew I'd be in trouble if I had to find my way in the dark. Sometimes I'd go for quite some distance before coming across a recognizable landmark. Once or twice I had to backtrack until I found something familiar. I had numerous moments of doubt, but I kept going.

The rental place was adjacent to the hotel and amazingly, I got there just at dusk. It was a totally successful day and a truly exciting experience!


Ultra Light Encounter. (Reference -- Zambia. Also.) On a 2004 trip to Zambia, my brother (Jim) and I stayed at the Vuyatela Lodge in the Djuma Game Reserve. One of the options there was an ultra-light ride. Oh, boy! I signed up! (Photo taken by Jim.)

My ride took off at 6:30 in the morning when the air was still. (Later, as the sun heats things up, winds can be rather turbulent.)

The flight was absolutely amazing! Not at all bumpy as I thought it would be. On the ground, the temperature was quite chilly, but in the air it was freezing! Well, not really, but it sure felt that way.

I struggled with my video camera to capture images from the ride. The face shield on my helmet made looking into the viewfinder a bit difficult.

The ride lasted only 15 minutes. We (pilot John and I) circled around, banking left and right to get extra-good views. Sometimes we were only six feet off the ground. We saw an estimated thousand cape buffalo grazing lazily below us. We saw elephants. We saw puku and wart hogs. We saw an eagle's nest with a little baby eagle inside. Then we flew along the river directly in front of the lodge.

All too quickly John landed our tiny craft on the dirt airstrip from whence we had departed. It was a great thrill! Exhilarating!



Hippo Encounter. (Reference.) On my brother's (Jim's) and my 1998 canoe trip down the Zambezi River (on the north border of Zimbabwe), we had lots of thrilling experiences. It was a three-day adventure of paddling during a day, then staying next to the river at a tented camp set up just for our group of 6 (plus guides and camp crew). After each stay, the crew tore down the camp completely and moved it by truck to our next destination. (Photo: Internet.)

On the last canoe day, as we neared our final camping spot, we approached a pod of hippos on our left. We were told it was a good sign if they just stared at us and then submerged. That indicated they were comfortable with our being there.

The pod we came upon was clustered next to a small island perhaps ten yards from us. Our guides stopped the canoes and explained that while the animals were comfortable where they were, sometimes large males hang out in small streams feeding the Zambezi. We had to cross where one of those streams emptied into the river. Getting between one or more of those males and the rest of the pod would be very dangerous.

One of our guides got out of his canoe and maneuvered by hand one of the tourist canoes past the point of danger. Then he did it for the next canoe. Ours was the last canoe and he guided us slowly and carefully past the stream.

There were no attacks, but there sure was a lot of adrenaline flowing. At least in us! Very thrilling!


Long Wait. (Reference.) On a visit to South Africa, my brother and I had returned from the Kruger area to Johannesburg and were waiting in the airport terminal for a tour representative to drive us to The Palace at Sun City. We waited five minutes, then ten, then fifteen. No one came for us. I spoke with the woman at the airport information desk. She suggested we wait some more. We did.

I spoke with her again and she suggested I call the agent, but I didn't have any South African money. The information woman suggested we wait some more.

Finally, out of sympathy, she gave me a 2-rand coin -- her own money -- to make a call. I tried one phone, but the number didn't register. I try another phone. Same result. The information woman suggested I try a third pay phone.

I did. This time the number registered, but there was no answer.

The poor woman was able to find an emergency number to call. This time the number rang and the call was answered! I explained that someone should have met us an hour ago. The representative told me she'd look up my record.

There was a pause, and a recorded message told me I was on hold and I should wait. I did. The message repeated. And repeated. And repeated. Then, I heard a click and a buzz. The line was disconnected.

I revisited the information desk and explained what happened. The woman was really sympathetic and called the agent herself, asking the agent to call her right back. There was no call back. She then redialed the agent and gave me the phone to sort out the problem. I was told Gordon would be at the terminal to pick us up in 20 minutes.

Twenty minutes passed. No Gordon. Then twenty five. Then thirty. After thirty-five minutes, Gordon raced into the terminal, found us, and explained he had been instructed we weren't going to arrive for another hour or two.

Such glitches are to be expected on travels . . . anywhere. An inconvenience, a bother, some wasted time. But otherwise, no big deal.


Business Trip. I was on a business trip to . . . I think it was Cleveland. It was one of those perfect and oh-so-rare business trips where I met the right people, said the right things (in an an absolutely flawless way), and accomplished absolutely everything I wished to accomplish. It was a dream business trip.

Everything was absolutely perfect, until I was saying my good-byes at the bus terminal. Even the good-byes were flawless, but then I turned to get on a bus . . . and walked headlong into a huge concrete post. All my business associates had a good laugh. Not the perfect way to end a perfect business trip.


Piranha Encounter. (Reference -- Peru.) On an afternoon fishing expedition on the Amazon, I was having no luck at all. There would be a nibble, but then nothing there when I pulled up the line. My guides advised me to jerk on the line quickly when I felt a tiny tug. A while later I felt a slight tug, I gave a strong jerk, and out of the water leaped a beautiful, good-sized, brightly-colored piranha.

My tug was a little too enthusiastic, however, and I watched as the fish on the line flew up and over the boat in a graceful arc and back into the water on the other side, where it quickly detached itself from the line and swam off.

Eventually, I was able to catch a couple of tiny piranha, and I had them for dinner that night.

(Photo: my two guides.)


Camel Encounter. (Reference -- Australia.) On a trip to Australia, I signed up for a several-hour, camel-back trek across the barren outback.

There were maybe a dozen of us gliding along in single file. Riding on a camel's back was quite easy. There was a saddle with stirrups attached, and the animal moved slowly enough to make the ride fairly smooth. (Photo of me, center, taken by our guide.)

Probably most memorable were the flies. They were everywhere. There was nothing to see for miles in the outback except red dirt, scrub, and rocks. Yet, from out of nowhere they attacked, buzzing around my head (and everyone else's) and causing no end of aggravation.

It was then I understood why Australians wear those funny hats with corks on little strings attached to the brim. It's to chase away pesky flies!

My camel-back experience was great!


Magical Moment. (Reference.) It was the last day of our (2006) stay in Namibia. My brother and I were at the Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp. Our guide, Felix, suggested we take a nature drive.

It sounded boring, but we agreed to go. We drove slowly along the dirt road looking for animals and birds. Felix pointed out interesting features in the scenery. We stopped at a tree filled with the nests of the weaver bird; one branch was so loaded it fell to the ground. We looked at animal droppings and Felix identified the source.

For our sundowner Felix found a small hill (photo) maybe a hundred feet high. We ascended to the top. Felix laid out treats and drinks for us.

As the sun slowly sank into the horizon, the western sky turned pink, then red. Then, as the red darkened, a sliver of a moon appeared.

Felix told us about some of his childhood experiences: when he was bitten by a scorpion -- three times; when he reached his hand into a bird's nest (to get a bird) and retrieved a snake instead; his close-up encounter with a lion; a scary confrontation with elephants; his experiences as cook, bar tender, and rugby player; gatherings of men in his community (women were not allowed); sitting around a fire to talk of hunting tales and impart family values to the young ones.

We looked off in all directions -- a full 360 degrees -- and could see no other human being or human activity. It was as though the three of us were the only people on Earth. It was magical. What a memorable moment!

Absolutely priceless!


Cape Buffalo Encounter. (Reference -- Kenya.) My first trip to Africa was with my older son (Bob) in 1982, and one of the stops on our safari tour was TreeTops Lodge, in the Aberdare National Park, Kenya. (Photo: Internet.)

In the evening, flood lights were turned on so guests could see all the animals congregating around the small lake next to the lodge. (The photo doesn't show the lake. It was off to the right.)

The lodge roof was a great spot for animal viewing, but there was a room with three glass windows at ground level, and sometimes cape buffalo would come right next to the window. It was thrilling to be just inches away from these beasts and to hear them snort and breath.

It was very exciting indeed!


Altitude Sickness. (Reference.) On my way to Cuzco and Machu Picchu (Peru), some tourists told me they experienced altitude sickness when they went there. The cure, they said, was to drink a cup of coca-leaf tea (made from leaves of the coca plant, source for cocaine), and get plenty of rest. (Photo: Internet.)

I knew I wouldn't have any trouble with high altitudes, but I decided to take their advice anyway, so when I got to my hotel at Cuzco (elevation: 11,000 feet), I ordered several cups of coca-tea, then went to bed early and got a good night's sleep.

The next morning, I wasn't feeling right, and during a tour around town I was feeling worse. I wondered if my headache and upset stomach were just signs of an oncoming cold. That evening I ordered more cups of tea and went to bed early again.

The following morning I felt rotten: splitting headache, aches all over, and the beginning signs of diarrhea. This was the day to take a train to Machu Picchu (elevation: 8,000 feet). I climbed aboard the train, found a seat, and collapsed in it.

The ride was several hours, with stops along the way. I felt like a zombie. I hardly moved the entire trip. At my destination I dragged myself off the train and onto a bus for the hairpin-turn-road ride to the top of the mountain.

And there it was, Machu Picchu (photo: Internet). But first things first. I dashed to the men's room. I think I spent more time there than I did looking at the sights. I felt absolutely wretched.

Back on the train, I proceeded to a tiny town not far from Lake Titicaca (elevation: 12,500 feet). I checked into my motel (don't remember how I got from the train there) and fell into bed.

I was almost asleep when I heard a knock on the door. Who could that be? The motel manager had seen I wasn't feeling well, and had some soup made and delivered to me. That was exactly what I needed. How thoughtful! I'll never forget that.

When I got up the next morning, I was feeling a little better. I walked out to the road and waited about a half hour for the bus that took me to Lake Titicaca and a boat ride on the lake. I was worried the motion on the water might exacerbate things, but by the end of the day I was feeling much better.

The attitude sickness was a bother, but perhaps a greater bother was realizing I could get it. I thought altitude sickness was for sissies.


Riding Elephants I. (Reference -- Nepal.) One of the highlights on this trip with my older son (Bob) to India and Nepal was our stay at Tiger Tops in Nepal, and our elephant rides in the Chitwan National Park.

We were on the lookout for tigers and rhinos, and saw several rhinos, but no cats. One of the elephants in our group was charged by a rhino, and that certainly was exciting! (Photo: Bob with one of the elephants.)

A mahout rode on the elephant's neck and gave both verbal and tactile commands to the beast, and the two of us sat on a little platform on the elephant's back.

I knew mahouts used poles with hooks on the end, but I was shocked and angered to see one of the mahouts use a hatchet! He literally beat the poor animal on the head with the blunt end of a hatchet to get it to obey his commands!

They weren't gentle taps either, they were strong, powerful whacks! I was surprised the elephants didn't rebel.


Riding Elephants II. (Reference -- Zimbabwe.) I rode elephants for a couple of days with my brother (Jim) at Elephant Camp in Zimbabwe. What a treat!

We rode in a group of maybe eight elephants total, through the bush, across streams, up embankments, all over. Great fun! And of course an added delight was seeing a variety of African animals along the way. (Photo: Internet.)

While the elephants in Nepal had small wooden benches secured to their backs, at the Elephant Camp, large saddles were used. One embankment we were confronted with was quite steep. Our elephant was up to the challenge, but apparently the straps holding our saddle in place were not.

As the elephant struggled up the bank, we found ourselves struggling to keep on the elephant's back. The saddle slipped, then slipped some more, but did not fall off. Thank goodness!

Our guides tightened the straps more securely and we were on our way again.

(Saddles shown in the photo seem to have a raised platform for the passengers. Ours did not. There were stirrups for our feet, but next to no padding to sit on. Jim got a really sore rear end and wasn't comfortable sitting down for the rest of our trip!)


Riding Elephants III. (Reference.) The first day my two sons (Bob and Tim) and I reached Camp Jabulani, close to Kruger National Park (in 2014), we went for an elephant ride. We set off on a three-mile walk that took about an hour.

It was truly spectacular! I rode at the very rear of our caravan. Bob rode in front of me and Tim rode in front of him. Oh my, it was fun! I was kept very busy taking still pictures and video . . . and holding on for dear life.

I can't express the joy this experience brought me. I was at one of my favorite places in the world, with the two most important people in my world. And we were all riding elephants! (Photo: view from my elephant.)

Life couldn't get any better than that!


Sumo Wrestlers. (Reference.) My younger son (Tim) was able to accompany me on one of my business trips to Tokyo (1985). Each day in the early morning, I'd head off to work, and he'd head out in search of new and exciting Tokyo things to do. He went to the zoo, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Disneyland, and who knows where else.

On Saturday, Tim suggested we visit some sumo wrestlers preparing for a big tournament the next day. I have no idea how he knew where they'd be, but we headed for Asakusabashi, and after a brief search, found them in a building that looked like a small store.

After peering in the window for a while, we discovered we could actually go inside and watch the practice up close and smelly. There was no admission fee. We just walked in the door and stood by the window as the massive men grunted and struggled to knock each other over (photo).

It was a dirt floor and all the tussling heated up things in a space I imagine wasn't much bigger than a two-car garage. Come to think of it, probably smaller than that. A total of 16 wrestlers "performed" for us. It was quite a show. It was quite an experience.


Scorpion Encounter. (Reference.) I was staying at the Tanda Tula Safari Camp in South Africa in 2013, and I decided to take a brief shower in the tent's outdoor shower stall before going to bed. It was so pleasant to stand in the warm stream of water, under the stars. (Photo: Internet.)

I lathered up with soap and covered my head with shampoo. The night air was cool and peaceful. A soft breeze blew about occasionally. I started to rinse down. Then, without notice, I was plunged into darkness. The power for the whole camp had gone out.

How could I finish my shower in those strange surroundings? Where were the water faucets? Where was the handle to the door into my tent? Where were all the sticks and leaves I had seen on the shower floor? (Didn't want to slip on them and fall down.) Where did I put my underwear? Where's my bar of soap and shampoo bottle?

After a few minutes, about the time I decided I could find my way back into the tent, the power came back on again. Well, that was an interesting little episode.

I continued rinsing off when I sensed something was crawling on the shower wall next to the faucets. I glanced over and couldn't believe my eyes. It was a medium-sized, black scorpion! About four inches long. I watched him intently as I finished up, then saw he had a friend of similar size crawling around nearby. (Photo: Internet.)

If the power had remained out, I certainly would have felt around for the faucets and more than likely I would have been bitten by one (or both) of those scorpions. I don't know how serious the bite(s) would have been, but I do know I would have been scared out of my wits!

(I found on the Internet: "Most southern African scorpions are relatively harmless to humans, and although they can inflict quite a painful sting, no other toxic effects are expected to develop. However, a small number of scorpion species can cause life-threatening systemic envenoming.")


Police Encounter. During a visit to Paris in 1955, I stayed in three different facilities: a very nice hotel room (while I was finishing up my Cook's Tour), an inexpensive hotel room (while I waited for the YMCA conference to begin), and a dormitory room at the Lycee Saint-Louis. In my room at the inexpensive hotel one morning, I was startled by a knock on my door. Who could that be. Another loud knock followed quickly.

I opened the door and saw two policemen standing there. That was unnerving. They announced, "Police!" and marched into my room. They didn't speak much English, but I was able to figure out they wanted to see my passport. I showed it to them.

It turned out they were customs police and they wanted to make certain I was not overstaying the time specified in my travel papers.


Bear Encounter I. In 1956, a good friend (Dick Moore) and I took a trip in his family's station wagon. We drove from Detroit down into Virginia and then to points south and we slept in the car when we could, to save money.

In the Blue Ridge Mountains one evening, we stopped at a park and set about to prepare supper. We had a can of chili, probably some hot dogs, I don't remember what else. We ate at a camp picnic table and afterward, it was late enough to go to bed. We slept in the back of the station wagon.

In the morning we realized we had not cleaned up after our supper meal. We had left the can of chili on the picnic table, and it didn't take long to figure out someone had cleaned up for us.

Based on what others in the camp told us, a bear visited during the night and had licked everything clean. (Photo: Internet.) The chili can looked like it had been through a dish washer.

That meant a bear was wandering around within inches of where we were sleeping. Neither of us heard a sound.


Bear Encounter II. I'm not entirely sure why I was at the Widmark Farm in Gardiner, New York in 1976. Maybe I was working on an article for the Hudson Valley Magazine.

Anyway, at the farm was a trained bear that performed inside a steel fenced-in cage with his trainer who was inside the cage with him.

As is usually the case, I was trying to get some good photos, and I was walking around looking for the best angle. The trainer noticed me. "Want to come in the cage with us?" he asked.

Well, I certainly wasn't expecting that. Was he serious? Should I actually get in there with a good-sized, live bear? Just how well trained was this trained bear? More importantly, when was the last time he was fed?

Throwing all caution to the wind, I entered the cage and began picture taking. Talk about exciting! And the very best part: I got out of the cage with a few good pictures, with my life, and with not even one scratch. (I'm amazed I found the negative I took of this encounter.)


Englishman. My Cook's Tour of Europe in 1955 was the first time I had been out of the U.S., except for a few trips across the Detroit River into Canada. My first stop was London and the city fascinated me.

There was so much to see. So many pictures to take. So much to experience. So exciting! (Photo by FG.)

I wanted to take a photo of "the perfect Englishman," so everywhere I went, I was on the lookout for him. As luck would have it, after a week or so, I found "him."

I explained my objective and asked if he'd be willing to pose for me. He was very gracious and agreed. He stood there so prim and proper, in the perfect pose, and I snapped the shutter.


Owl Encounter. A guide was leading just me on a jungle walk not far from the Amazon River. It was a beautiful but rather warm day. The sun was shining brightly. There was little breeze, as trees, vines, and foliage prevented movement of the air.

As we walked along, I felt a quiet peacefulness. The only sound was the rustling of leaves under our feet.

Then from out of nowhere, a huge "thing" came swooping down at us from up in the air. It was an enormous owl -- must have had a wingspan of five feet -- and it scared the dickens out of me. It zoomed down directly at us, then glided up just over our heads. That sure got the heart rate soaring!


Vine Encounter. On the same walk where I had the owl encounter (above), my guide and I came upon a number of long, sturdy-looking vines hanging down from far up in the trees.

My Tarzan instincts kicked in and I thought I'd swing on one. I asked the guide if it would be safe. He assured me the vines were strong enough to support my weight. (Photo: Internet.)

I found what I thought was a good one, took hold of it, and climbed up a small mound of dirt so I could get a really good swing.

I thrust myself forward and swung out what I thought was an impressive distance. The vine held just fine, but at the highest point of my swing, I began to think my grip wouldn't.

Turns out, I'm not used to swinging on vines and neither are my muscles! Fortunately, I was able to come back down without letting go, but for a few moments I doubted that outcome. I was quite disappointed with my Tarzan skills.


Train Encounter. It was at the end of the UofM school year and the weather was gorgeous -- a perfect time for a picnic. A good friend, Chuck Jones, and his future wife were in the back seat and my future wife was with me in the front seat of my parents' car. (I was driving.)

We came to a railroad crossing. The signal was flashing and clanging away, so of course I stopped as the train lumbered by. When the crossing was clear, I stepped on the accelerator and the car went over the tracks.

At that very moment, a thought crossed my mind: how long after a train has passed does the signal continue to flash and sound? As that thought was coming into focus, I looked up and saw a train coming from the other direction was headed right at us.

By then we were across the tracks, but not more than a few feet beyond the crossing. About one second, two at most, separated us from annihilation.

I had to pull over and stop the car. That was way too close for comfort. We all had to catch our breath and deal with what had just happened.


Glacier Encounter. (Reference.) One of the highlights (there were many) of my 2015 trip to Iceland was spending time on and in the Langjokull glacier, the second largest in Iceland.

A specially-built truck transported us (a dozen or so tourists) quite some distance along the top of the glacier. When it stopped, we got out and walked down a ramp into a hole that had been carved out of the snow.

After putting on a set of crampons, we walked down further into the glacier (photo). Lights had been installed so we could see. Several good-sized rooms had been carved out of the glacier. Along some of the passageways, we could see giant crevasses that had formed over time.

The cave was more snow than ice and because of that, any rain that fell outside drained right through to where we were walking. Sometimes the flow was significant.

Of course the glacier was moving, though very slowly, so all the snow was shifting and settling ever so slightly. That meant there could be a collapse at any moment without notice. Fun!

I had been in a glacier in Switzerland, but Langjokull was different. Much more exciting. We spent maybe 30 minutes inside before we had to return to the vehicle. Such a thrill!


Rare Bird Encounter. I was waiting by the dock in Iquitos, Peru, for a boat to take me down the Amazon. A number of others were waiting along with me, and among them were two avid bird watchers. As we waited, the watchers were searching with binoculars in every direction for birds.

"Oh look," one would say, pointing, "there's a purple-breasted humming thresher" (or whatever it was).

"Seen it," the other would say.

Then, "Look there! It's a green-throated caterpillar eater" (or whatever it was).

"Very commonplace," came the reply.

Then after a pause, one pointed down by the edge of the river. "Oh my gosh! I can't believe it! It's the very rare and tiny ruffle-crested nectar guzzler" (or whatever it was).

"That's an amazing fine! Where is it? I can't see it."

"Right there! Look! Oh, this is wonderful. This is so rare. No, wait! Oh, this is awful!"

It seems a great big king vulture had swooped down, grabbed the little bird in its claws, and then ate it!

The watchers were heart broken, but some of the rest of us (I'll have to admit I was one of them) thought the whole incident was pretty funny.

I've left so many great travel tales untold: petting lion cubs at an animal park outside Johannesburg, petting a cheetah in its cage at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (near Kruger National Park), walking with lions at the Ukutula Game Reserve (South Africa), having lunch with massive elephants standing right behind me in Botswana . . .

And swimming in the Rio Negro River (near the Amazon), visiting Victoria Falls, seeing an animal sacrifice in Nepal, tracking rhinos on foot, taking a balloon ride near Sun City (South Africa), taking a seaplane ride at Kariba (Zimbabwe), taking a hovercraft ride and a hydrofoil boat ride at Copenhagen, taking a helicopter ride in Iceland . . .

And trips to fascinating, far-away places: Hawaii, Venice (Italy), Casablanca, Singapore, Delhi, the Galapagos, Cape Town, Hong Kong, Oslo, Kathmandu, Monte Carlo . . .

Memories of these places and activities are rich and wonderful and in great abundance.

My good fortunes overwhelm me!

The way back home.