Category Archives: Travel

Seven New Wonders

The creative powers at ABC-TV’s “Good Morning, America” and USA Today, mindful that all but one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World have vanished, appointed a high-profile panel to come up with Seven New Wonders of the World that are relevant to travelers today. These have been broadcast and written about in print over the last week. I’m humbled by having experienced (or nearly experienced) all but one. The panelists’ list:

  • The Mayan pyramids of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. The first one I ever visited was Chichen-Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula more than 25 years ago. In searing heat, I climbed the steep steps to the top of the great pyramid and marveled at the excavated city round me and the jungle beyond. Since then, I have been to Tulum, also on the Yucatan but fabulously situated on the coast, and to Copan in Honduras, which was still only partially excavated when my husband and I visited.
  • The great semi-annual migration of millions of animals across Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. After climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro a decade ago, my family and I took a private photo safari into four Tanzian national parks, including the Serengeti. It was not migration season, but our wildlife sightings were among the most awe-inspiring experiences we have ever had. We saw thousands of lions, cheetahs, giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, elephants, baboons, and ungulates, birds and wild canines of various sorts. We stood on the overlook above the the Olduvai Gorge, where anthropologists Richard and Mary Leakey had discovered footprints of ancient homonids. As we gazed down from the viewing platform far from the digsite, the gorge itself looked as if it could have been in the Southwest, but knowing what it was made it special. The panelists mentioned the Olduvai Gorge as an ancillary wonder in Tanzania.
  • The recently designated Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument made the list. Until I saw a Jean-Michel Cousteau television documentary on this remote archipelago shortly before the act was signed to protect it, I wasn’t even aware of the existence of this 1,200-mile-long string of islands northwest of Oahu. I’ve been to Hawaii a number of times and never thought much about what might be out there “beyond” Kauai. Now it is the world’s largest marine sanctuary. One of the panelists is renowned marine biologist, Dr. Sylvia Earle, so it’s little wonder that this pristine marine sanctuary made the list.
  • The polar ice caps, rightly described by USA Today both as “inhospitable” and as “astonishingly beautiful and incomprehensibly vast.” The panelists also noted that their melting is yet another alarm about global warming. I have been to the Antarctic Peninsula during the austral summer, which isn’t the same as seeing the ice cap itseself — but I experienced fringes of the frozen continent, saw glaciers and icebergs and was enchanted by the stark and lonely beauty of the place.
  • Old City Jerusalem was selected for its “central place in religious history and struggles for tolerance.” The first Society of American Travel Writers annual convention I attended was in Israel in 1983. The struggles were evident even then, but so were the phenomenal beauty of the Old City and the special feeling I got from walking along ancient cobblestoned streets and visiting holy places of the three major Western religions. How I wish that the peaceful principles of all three were in effect rather than the turf wars fought in the name of all of these faiths.
  • Tibet’s Potala Palace is a commanding physical presence over the capital city of Lhasa and remains a symbolic and spiritual presence for the Buddhist community, even though the present Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959 and remains separate from this holy place. I have been to China three times but never to Tibet. It’s on the list.
  • The Internet. The panelists said that the “Web redefines reality.” By posting this, I am part of it, and by reading it, you are as well.

Of flights, flying and the TSA

It may be a long way to Tipperary, but it’s even longer from Colorado to Chile. We flew American Airlines via Los Angeles International Airport, with a five-hour layover in each direction, and then LAN Chile to Santiago, with a brief stop in Lima. Each LAX-SCL flight is overnight-plus. We also flew from Santiago to and from Punta Arenas on the southern tip of Chile and to and from Easter Island. I can hardly wait to see how many AAdvantage miles I accumulated!

Going through security at LAX for the LAN Chile flight provided a fine example of the Transportation Stupidity Agency at work. Assured that he could take it through security check, the fellow in line in front of us had bought a small (under 3 ounces) sealed jar of some moisturizing cream at one of the duty-free shops in the terminal. The TSA screener would not let him put that single item in the plastic bin with his belt, keys, coins and shoes. “It has to go into a one-quart zip-lock bag,” the screener told the traveler guy. Traveler: “I don’t have one. Where can get one?” TSA guy: “I don’t know. We don’t sell them. I don’t care where you get it, but you have to have one.” This back-and-forth went on a while. We interjected and asked if he could put his jar into our one-quart zip-lock bag to send it through X-ray. That evidently didn’t violate any TSA regulations. The passenger was grateful, at that point the TSA guy no longer cared, and we were left shaking our heads.

Today’s Denver Post features a front-page story about a new TSA policy that prohibits air-traffic controllers from leaving the tower during a meal break unless they use accumulated personal time. “They have to stay in the 327-foot tower…where their menu choices are a bit limited. Just like airline passengers, controllers can’t bring liquids or semi-solid food items through security checkpoints,” wrote reporter Jeffrey Lieb. He also quoted the president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn. as calling it “lockdown cafe.” Now, don’t you wonder how this policy will affect the morale of people holding stressful jobs?

In Chile (and in New Zealand, where I was in august), passengers are permitted to walk through metal detectors with their shoes and jackets on, to bring bottled water aboard and to have such items as any size of toothpaste, hand cream and cosmetics in their carry-ons. In fact, the airport in Santiago has kiosks where people can, for a fee, have individual pieces of luggage shrink-wrapped. Here, the TSA’s no-locks policy sets checked baggage up for pilferage. I just heard from a travel writer colleague who had some $700 worth of items stolen from his luggage on a Continental flight from Trinidad to Denver via Houston. Not likely to happen in Chile or elsewhere, where bags may be locked and even wrapped in clear plastic.

Aside security issue and bizarre regulations is the disappearance of anything resembling pleasant travel. Long flights that board in or are destined for the US have become airborne tubes crammed full of crabby, hungry, thirsty, smelly travelers, to say nothing of the foot odor assaults at security checkpoints because of the TSA’s shoes-off policy. None of this makes me feel any “safer.” How about you?

Santiago, Chile – Initial Observations

I am in Santiago, Chile, for the Society of American Travel Writers annual convention, after which there will be no more meetings, no more banquets and no more speeches, but opportunities to visit outlying parts of the country. Chilean officials keep referring to the country’s climatic and geographic diversity. As an illustration, a map of Chile overlaid on a map of North America, with the southern end of Chile on top of San Diego, the northern tip would stretch all the way to Prudhoe Bay.

Chile, now led by Michelle Bachelet, a democratically elected woman prime minister, has emerged from the long, dark shadow cast by former (and still jailed) dictator Augusto Pinochet, is proud of its robust economy, growing sophistication and personal liberties. Nowhere is this more evident than in Santiago, where some 5.5 million Chileans live. It’s just the start of out visit, but here are some initial impressions of Santiago:

  • The official bird of Santiago is the construction crane. Buildings are going up all over. Many are dramatic. Most apartments sprout small balconies, and most balconies sprout flowers and greenery.
  • Civic improvements include a new airport terminal and a number of new roadways, including a lengthy tunnel literally under the Mapocho River. The river is a concrete-lined culvert, made more attractive by several parks along its banks. I’ve read that it has long been heavily polluted both with household and industrial effluent, but the government has undertaken clean-up efforts and built wastewater treatment plants.
  • The parts of the city that tourists are likely to visit are relatively litter-free, but graffiti blights many of the best old buildings.
  • At this time of year (October = spring), mornings are foggy, but the sun usual comes out in the afternoon. Perhaps this Mendocino-type climate is why the wines grown nearby in the Maipo Valley are so good.
  • Local chefs do not seem at all concerned with sustainable seafood harvesting. Salmon often come from fish farms. Chilean sea bass is served all the time, though someone has told me that the Patagonia toothfish that appears on US menus as Chilean sea bass is not the same as sea bass in Chile.