Archive for the ‘Travel Essay’ Category

Intercontinental Hotel in Egypt

The beach at the Intercontinental Hotel in Egypt, photo by kikimri on flickr

I doubt that my bucket list of dream travel destinations looks much different from that of a traveler without pain. Maybe it’s a little bit more ambitious. I’m not just a traveler with chronic pain–I’m a dreamer with chronic pain.

Here are just a very few of the places I want to go and things I want to see on this Earth before I die:

* Egypt
I’ve been fascinated with Egyptian history, culture, mythos, and lore off and on since I was 11 and read a bunch of the Elizabeth Peters “Amelia Peabody” mysteries.  I want to dip a toe in the Nile. I want to stand in the shadow of a pyramid. I want to stare at a Sphinx.

I think it likely I’ll get to go to Egypt one day. Maybe even one day soon. I’m meeting people online who can help me create a trip to Egypt that will not overtax me physically nor expose me to significant political danger. I expect such a trip will be six months in the planning, minimum. I won’t go alone because I’m not an idiot–I’ve never been to Egypt before, I don’t know the lay of the land or the customs of the culture, and I’m a disabled white woman. When I go, I will do everything I feasibly can to mitigate my liabilities.

* Jerusalem and Beyond
I studied the Crusades in some depth when I was in college. My favored group was the Templars–a group that bear some odd resemblance to the opposite side of the #OccupyWallStreet protesters today. They couldn’t win a fight to save their souls (har har) but they created the checking account.

To study the  Crusades is to yearn to walk some of the holiest ground on earth. I long to follow in the footsteps of the original Pilgrims, walking from Turkey to the Holy City. It would make my decade to be able to cruise from Venice to Malta, from Malta to Acre.

But this trip ain’t happenin’ any time soon. I’m a small, half-crippled white girl who’s got no Arabic. And an arrant coward who doesn’t want to be shot or blown up or beaten or imprisoned and used as a political bargaining chip. Sue me.

A Jerusalem alley by swallroth on flickr

A Jerusalem alley by swallroth on flickr

* New Orleans
Yes, it’s shameful. A food and travel writer of American origin who’s never been to New Orleans. This one’s likely to get fixed sooner than later–I just need a budget and a ghost of a reason.

New Orleans is an easier destination for me–it’s within my home country. I know the culture and customs and what to expect regarding basic accessibility of hotels and attractions. I speak the language and can read the road signs. (Yes, both languages–I speak French too and can fumble my way along in Cajun.)  I’d feel reasonably comfortable driving a car if needed, and I know the drug laws.

* Panama and Beyond
I have been told that there’s nothing quite like standing alongside the Panama Canal and watching the ships pass through the locks. My dad’s a hydro engineer–I grew up on stories and tours of great waterworks. But beyond the manmade wonder of the canal, I’ve developed a strong desire to explore the natural wonders of Central and South America. Rumor has it that Ecuador offers amazing tourism opportunities for disabled visitors of all ability levels. Charters seem to compete for the business of wheelchair-bound sport fishermen. I like to fish!

This desire will encompass multiple trips over many years (duh), and won’t start for at least a couple of years primarily due to financial disability. Once I get the money together, I’ve got contacts in the region who will probably be able to help me put together a fabulous starter trip that will not destroy me physically. Truly, several Central and South American nations seem to Have It Together where accessible travel is concerned. I can’t wait to see how well they do with hidden disabilities.

* New Zealand
I am an unrepentant geek–one aspect of my geekdom is love of The Lord of the Rings movies. Between the sweeping vistas of Middle Earth and my dad’s and my husband’s descriptions of the beauty of this wild land, I just gotta go see it for myself.

Both financial and physical disability dissuade me from attempting NZ anytime soon. I want to be able to enjoy the adventures available in New Zealand when I get there, and I’m not in condition for that just yet.

Gettysburg cannon by BIGDOG3c on flickr

A cannon at Gettysburg by BIGDOG3c on flickr

* U.S. Civil War Sites/Trails
My geekliness encompasses a love of history. This includes U.S. history, and the Civil War is one of the most brutal and important things ever to happen on U.S. soil.

For me, the Civil War History Trip will actually be Trips. My physical limits will make it both easier and better for me to visit such a wide geographical space over the course of several distinct trips, with nice long rest breaks at home in between. While I might be able to start this journey soon, I want to plan it carefully. I want to read some books and watch the PBS Civil War mini-series again before I go.

It’s much more important to me to do these (and for that matter, all the others on this list) trips right, not fast or too soon. I want to remember what I see. I want it to matter to me, to make an impression that sticks with me for the rest of my life.

These are only a few destinations on my list. So where do you want to go? What’s on your bucket list? Do you think you’ll get there? Can I help you do it? If you think I could help, please ask anytime! I’m happy to do research, make connections and introductions, and offer any advice I’ve got.

Next, I think I’ll post a list of bucket-places I’ve already been to–focusing on those I’ve visited with my chronic pain.


Read Full Post »

Liz Hamill on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai

Liz Hamill on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai, daring to find the astonishing beauty and stunning joy in the world

I know that last post about travel writing being “dead” blew pretty hot. But the top of my head didn’t actually fly off until I read Jon Carroll’s little opinion piece on SFGate’s Travel page this morning.


While I was scraping bits of hair and blood and bone off my ceiling, I figured out why this kind of article and the travel writers who create them make me so insanely angry.

These guys travel the world in search of pain. Then they glorify other people’s suffering, misery, and poverty, exploiting it for their oh-so-serious prize-winning books and articles. Best of all, they sneer and snipe at all of us mindless plebeians who dare to travel for fun. And of course they look as far down their imperially arched noses at magazines like Escape (the one Jon Carroll was whinging about in his article) that publish articles that promote pleasure travel, making it look like lots of the world might be a nice place to visit. How dare they!?!

And after they’ve had their deep and meaningful looks into the filthy alleys and suppurating sores of the real world, they go home. To their nicer-than-average houses and apartments in good neighborhoods, their three squares a day, their pain-free lives. No matter how poignant their prose, no matter how much they feel as though they’re One With the Common Man of the World, they are tourists. They do not live where they “work.” In fact, most of them don’t seem to have the slightest notion of what it might be like to actually have to LIVE with pain and suffering, rather than “present an objective lens with which to view” it.

Mr. Carroll, I gotta tell you something about me: I don’t need to travel halfway around the world digging desperately to find some suffering. I can suffer at home for free. Every single day. I don’t live in squalor or poverty…just pain. Which puts me in better shape than millions of people around the world, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for my home, my family, my skin color, my relative position in an often cruel and rock-hard world. And I’m not the only traveler like me  out in the world, I’m afraid.

Aston Circle Hotel Waikiki

My friend Andrew, who has Crohn's Disease, in one of those cute, clean, evil little motel rooms that apparently add to the evils of pleasure travel.

I travel to Escape suffering. Not to find it.

(Hee–see there how I made a funny using the name of the magazine Carroll hates so much! Go me!)

For me, the act of traveling exudes magic. When I travel, I feel surrounded by a perpetual aura of wonder and joy as I see new things and familiar things and soak in the amazing wonder of the world. Travel is the best painkiller I’ve ever found, and trust me when I tell you I’m a heavyweight in the painkiller league.

That’s not to say that I feel no pain when I travel. One of the reasons I’ll never travel without luggage, no matter how unfashionable it might be for a travel writer to overpack these days, is that the one bit of baggage I can never leave behind is my chronic pain. Where I go, it goes. And thither go the big pile of stuff that diminishes that pain.

But on the road, even when the pain hits hard, somehow my reaction to it changes. Even though I ended up sprawled in a graceless heap on the Atlanta airport bathroom floor, it was worth it to meet Nancy. To go snorkeling on the reefs of Cozumel. To ride one of those enormous cruise bricks.

Traveling is fun. FUN, DAMMIT!!!

Carroll, Theroux, Greene, et al–how dare you try to take that fun away from me? How dare you condescend to and sneer at writers who aim to help people like me find ways to escape to something better than real life, and in doing so improve the lot of that life?

How. Dare. You.

Travel is my favorite escape from the crippling chronic pain that the doctors have finally admitted will never go away. And you know what? It’s not your right to look down on me for that, even if you are a Big Deal in my chosen profession. I’ve got the right and in fact the duty to spread the joy of traveling as far and as wide as I possibly can.

Andrew & Catherine on Waikiki Beach

Yup, I inspired my friends Andrew & Catherine to debase themselves by walking Waikiki Beach. They don't look miserable at all. Wanna come play with me?

If I ever have more money than J.K. Rowling, I’m going to do something that will probably cause the Old Boy’s Travel Writing Club to whimper and scream and curse my name. I’m going to set up a fund that helps people go on the best, most fun vacations possible. Disneyworld, Hawaii, a Comfort Inn, wherever. Wherever you want to escape, I’ll give you that chance. You name the place you’ll enjoy the most, and I’ll send you there.

I wonder how many of those noble savages Carroll and his buddies so love to gawk at and scribble about will take me up on the offer if I can ever extend it? My guess–probably roughly all of them.

Until I have all the money and can send all of you on your dream vacations…Beaches are beautiful in September. The next Free National Parks days are November 11-13. Disneyland tickets are free on your birthday.

Go find the fun!

Read Full Post »

Black Chasm Cavern California

'Cause who'd want to go take a tour of a cavern that looks like a setting for a fantasy novel when you could stay home and stare at the ceiling instead?

Recently a friend was kind enough to send me a link to one of the endless stream of “Wah! Travel writing is dead!” articles. Just to be sure I am being fair to the poor white men who feel so desperate about travel writing and the act of travel itself, I found another article that poses exactly the same theory as the first.

Travel Writing Is Dead. Dead Dead Dead!

To summarize: There’s no place on Earth that a healthy, able-bodied white male can go where another healthy, able-bodied white man hasn’t already been. Also, trashy (and successful) travel writers now dare to write about personal experiences in fun places rather than reporting on the grimmest possible politics in the least visitable countries on the planet. Therefore travel writing is dead. In fact, travel itself is dead. We might as well all stay home and watching Maury Povich and The View, because Real, True, Serious World Travelers  have no worlds left to conquer and no Real Serious Issues to Observe and Report.

Aw, those poor guys, stewing in the unconscious arrogance of able-bodied white male privilege that’s let them explore every war-torn nook and rapist-infested cranny of the planet. My heart bleeds…it’s making a puddle on my couch.

To me, Graeme Wood comes off as a pompous bore who’d probably collapse into a quivering mass of worthless jelly if he were ever put in a position where he actually had to stay put, unable to travel wherever he wanted whenever he wanted. Paul Theroux reads like a spoiled three-year-old at daycare who won’t play with any toy that another child has touched first.

Here’s what I think about the idea that travel and travel writing are dead:


1. You boys really want a unique adventure? Go back to Saudi, or Afghanistan, or UAE, and try climbing those mountains again. Wearing a burqa. Yes, that’s right, I want you guys to try to imagine exploring the Middle East while possessing XX chromosomes. Better still, bring a female travel writer with you on your next trip. Watch a woman wearing pants with uncovered hair try chatting up the native Muslim men in a tiny desert town to get directions. Observe the reaction to your female companion driving the rental car, checking into the hotel, or walking to the corner store by herself. See what happens if she tries to so much as speak to a mullah.

Perhaps some new observation-based stories about the state of the world might suggest themselves.

2. Try a month-long African walking safari from a new elevation–the seat of a wheelchair. When you roll instead of strolling, every rock in the path becomes a hazard, and every gentle slope a mountain. Bring ice packs and an orthopedic surgeon for your shoulders.

Consider climbing Kilimanjaro or Everest with diabetes. Imagine carrying a chilled container of insulin, syringes, and sterilization supplies on your back every step of the way. Be sure not to forget the sharps disposal container so that you Leave No Trace!

Perhaps you could try one of those Arctic Circle survivalist camping trips dragging along chronic pain that exhausts and diminishes you and responds to severe cold by getting much, much worse. When you gray out and lose control of your limbs as you’re bobbing about in your orange plastic suit, perhaps a new pot of prose may stir in your breast.

3. Frankly, who cares what others have done or where they have gone? So what if someone has already explored the ruins of Pompeii or strolled down the Valley of Kings or chased bright fish across the lagoons of Bora Bora?

Travel is about experience. Personal experience. Sorry Wood–a sense of individual exploration and discovery pretty much defines the universal human experience.

I hope I am never so jaded by the luxuries of my job that I cannot find joy in seeing and smelling and touching and tasting a new-to-me place for the first time. Any place, regardless of whether ten people or ten million people have gotten there ahead of me. If that happens, it will be time to consign my roll-aboard to the garage and start selling insurance. (Are you listening, Paul?)

4. No. It’s not somehow better or more meaningful to stay home than it is to leave, to travel, to explore. Period.

No one who’d spew pusillanimous crap about how narrowing and pointless it is to travel has likely ever been forced by real circumstances to stay home for more than a couple of week at a time. Boys–some of us can’t just pick up and go off to Iran or China or Brazil anytime we please. (And I find myself wondering what percentage of his soul an average Saudi kid might sell for the chance to go to Disneyland for a day.) Believe it or not, many of us lowly mortals must struggle just to go on a five-day in-state road trip. In fact, enough of us have this kind of experience that there’s…wait for it…a market for travel writing about “easy” travel that does what a thousand reams of dishwater-dull observational exposition about repressive regimes and violently misanthropic microcosmic cultures can’t possibly do. It touches the minds and hearts of millions of real travelers, tourists, and vacationers around the world.

I don’t think I’ll ever manage to take quite so much for granted as these men do. I doubt any of you my readers can be that callous either. We know what matters. Life matters. Getting out of the house, taking a trip (even if it’s to a cheap motel 20 minutes from home) seeing sights beyond my bedroom window and my TV–these things Matter. I write about them because I want them to matter to you too. I don’t write to lord it over you because I got to Wherever McAnyplace first.

The moral of this rant:  Theroux & company are WRONG. Travel remains a wonderful, amazing, awesome, life-affirming thing to do. As more people have the opportunity to travel and to read about travel around the world, travel writing becomes an ever-more viable vocation and avocation.

Travel is worth the effort, the expense, and the pain. Perhaps it takes a specific perspective to appreciate the ability to travel, the opportunity to personally experience new places, to go on freakin’ vacation. If travel and travel writing inspire nothing but ennui in you, feel free to get a job at your local Jiffy Lube and leave the rest of us to enjoy the miracle of being physically able to leave home and the wonder of exploring new-to-us places.

Thank you and good night. Anyone needs me, I’ll be planning my next trip to Disneyland…


Photo (c) Liz Hamill. That’s my friend Kate in Black Chasm Cavern in California, by the way.

Read Full Post »