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Hidden Secrets of the World

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

The so-called “world traveler” that I am, I have been blessed to bear witness on many famous and coveted landmarks around the globe.  According to my map on facebook’s Where I’ve Been application, I have seen about 1/3 of the world. Some world traveler!  But as they say (or at least, what I’m told quite often) its not about quantity, its about quality.

Sure, I’ve seen The Great Wall of China, The Sydney Harbour Bridge, The Statue of David, The Egyptian Pyramids, Big Ben, Alaskan Glaciers, The Colesseum in Rome and even The Blarney Stone….but its the obscure landmarks and uncommon experiences that I have been blessed to view that I feel are true witness to being properly labeled as a world traveler:

The country of Ecuador is an aesthetic smorgasbord of sight and sound.  The mountains of the Andes not only surround this country, they emcompass it.  Imagine the rolling hills of Ireland, blended in with the jagged edges of the endless Alaskan mountain range. Villages sit on sloped mountainsides, grass and farmlands intersect with rock and cliffs….the climate is pure and the people live simple lives compared to America, yet traffic conjests the motorways like any other big city.  The equator, an imaginary symbol of what’s north and what’s south has a profound effect on Ecuador’s tourism, economy and climate.  Tourists flock to park-like settings to view a painted line and learn the effects of the gravitational pull on this side, and then on that side.  The weather, while changeable is relatively constant and comfortable given that this gravitational pull actually deflects aggrivated weather patterns.  The most amazing and well-preserved 400-year old Hacienda Pinsaqui provides historic and meaningful authentic Ecuadorian hospitality.  Of course, Ecuador is also the gateway to The Galapagos Islands.

Le Touquet, France is just a couple hours car and ferry ride from London and is a popular beach resort for French and English tourists alike.  Finding an American in Le Touquet (pronounced Leh Tookay), however would be as unlikely as a french fry being, well, made in France.  You’ve probably never heard of the town, but those Europeans who yearn for beach, sun and a resort-like lifestyle make Le Touquet a frequent summer destination or “snowbird” residence,  if not an outright year round home. Few of the locals speak english (the English who visit do speak French) so for me, it was a challenge ordering food in a restaurant or having a chat with anyone other than my traveling companions (two of whom were able to interpret).  The town is all about the beach and the ocean with almost every residence, restaurant, storefront and of course hotel having a view of the ocean if not being right on the water.

 

Cadaqués, Spain owes its beauty in part to its complex geology. Only a two-and-a-half hour drive from Barcelona, it is very accessible for tourists and locals who want a second home for weekends and summers. Cadaqués official population is less than 3,000 but that number skyrockets during the summer months. This small seaside town’s historic claim to fame belongs to Salvador Dalí who visited often during his childhood, and later kept a home on a bay next to the town.  Other notable artists, including Pablo Picasso also spent time here.   Cadaqués is one of the wildest winter weather spots on the Costa Brava in the winter (Costa Brava means “wild coast”),  as the coasts and cliffs are battered and eroded by the wind whipping  off the mountains.The geological history has been exposed by erosion from wind and sea, and many geologists have mapped the area for this reason.  While visiting Cadaqués I was mezmerized by the authentic Spanish feel of the past; narrow mazelike cobblestone alleys, ancient brick & mortar buildings so close to each other that you would be better off chatting with your neighbor out the window than with a telephone call…and fauna that grew from strange angles on cliffs and beachy alcoves borne from mist and relentless sea action.  Beauty and Spanish authenticity aside, my strongest memory is of visiting Salvador Dalí’s House-Museum.

Barrow, Alaska is a dull, unscenic, underdeveloped and weather-ravaged city. My day in Barrow, however, was one of the most memorable and amazement-filled days of my life. This is a place where the temperature soars above freezing less than 20 days a year; where for 120 days a year the sun rises and falls–somewhere else; where polar bears roam freely during the winter months; where a staple in the diet is whale meat; and where satellelite dishes point horizontally towards the horizon because they need to reach south as much as possible but pointing them anymore downward would have them reflecting off earth rather than space.  Barrow is the northernmost spot in all of the U.S.. and save for remote parts of Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia, it is literally ‘on top of the world’.  In the winter, average temperatures are so far below zero that you have to cover your coffee cup if you go outside because it will freeze instantly in the cup otherwise.  Our guide took us along the coast so that we could see where earth ended and the Arctic Ocean began.  Some touched the bitter cold – your’s truly joined the official and authentic Polar Bear Club with a dive into the freezing abyss. Whaling is an important part of Barrow-ian’s culture and the worship of whales is both ritualistic and essential.  Hunting is regulated and moderated to serve the purpose of feeding the community and providing oils, clothing and other elements of living in these elements.  Each whale is blessed and each whale serves every resident in some way.  Our guide took us to his home to see if his mother was there to give us a sample of their ration.  Fortunately, she was not there–only his sister–but as recompense, we got to meet the neighbor who was busy skinning his caribou for that night’s dinner.   An unusual treat was lunch at the most famous establishment in Barrow. No, it wasn’t McDonalds. It was Pepe’s Mexican fare. Interesting?  Yes  indeed.  A hidden secret?  Just one of many in this strange and wonderful world in which we live.

Which leads me to suggest this: While visiting such icons as the Opera House in Sydney, the Acropolis in Greece, or the Hermitage Museum in Russia are bucket list To-Do’s for most adventure seekers….the effort to take some time to go “beyond the borders”; to see what the masses usually don’t; and to follow the path less taken….is a fulfilling, enriching and specially memorable addition to anyone’s personal travel resume.  The true essence of meaningful travel is to see more than what the guidebooks tell us; to do more than our predessors have done.  To truly see the world beyond those borders, make it a point to go off the beaten path, to expect (no…hope for) the unexpected, and realize that traveling is more about a journey than it is about the destination.