Africa 2 Europe sign

Day 11: Muscat Musts

Monday, 25 April 2016 – Day 11: Muscat, Oman

Good evening from Muscat. What an utterly amazing, fascinating and fun-filled 2 days here in Oman.
The 2016 Global Scavenger Hunt teams in Oman

We saw a few teams haggling in the Mattrah Souk. Some paying for gas at a gas station with their rental car. A few at great restaurants and some hanging by the pool…albeit all too briefly.
Oman 2012 (58)
Mysterious entry ways…
Half of Girls Gone World contemplating a ride
Dining with a local Omani Family
Teams Perfect Strangers + SLO Folks teaming up

NOLA 2nd Line about to get
lost in souk…

The Sultan’s ship of state
(the one on the left)….

So when everyone checked in poolside for happy hour and on time at 7:30PM, we were grateful for their safety and pleased with their stories and smiles. There were stories of: folks falling off camels, eating camel, teams playing restaurant roulette, visiting mosques and eating with locals in their homes (I love that scavenge!), dhow rides, along with visiting some remote oasis villages and historic forts too. Busy indeed. The resort and spa portion of their accommodations here in Muscat were left happily under-utilized by our intrepid travelers. Oman has such a different vibe than say Abu Dhabi and Dubai the last few years…or even Doha and Bahrain before that…Oman is oh so different.
Oman 2012 (45)
Muscat corniche

Oman 2012 (34)
Culture Clash by the pool
Oman 2012 (21)
Forts, forts and more forts…

Oman 2012 (14)
Off to market…

So all safe…and now a 4-hour notice! Where should be go? North, south, west?

Well, we take a big break here and pivot to Sub-Saharan Africa for the first time! We are excited…

But a little background: In Singapore we were notified, despite all our plans, bookings and schedules, that our airline that was transporting us to Africa from Oman, unceremoniously rescheduled our flight 24 hours later than the ones we purchased and planned for. Obviously an unacceptable unilateral, uncaring decision on their parts for we the passengers. But it left us reeling and scrambling to find a solution to our problem. (A lot of what makes this event seem so seamless for our travelers is how we organize it so expertly after 11 such events in the bag from behind the scenes.) Time zones suck when this happens as we are half way around the world and a day late for our business associate support in North America. That said…we ceremoniously dumped that airline, cancelled our flights and rebooked on another airline. Twenty-two seats at within two days. But we had to do it to keep our schedule moving forward and to make their African experiences to come be complete, not be diminished minus 24-hours.

Now there is good and bad news with that…as we have a 4:45AM flight now to catch. Ungodly I know. But there is a price to pay for Africa, and leaving to get their at a reasonable time is not one of them.

So…Good news/bad news: The good news is we are going to Kenya and have pre-arranged visas-on-arrival for all our competitors. The bad news…we have to leave the hotel at 2:15AM to catch our flight! Ugh…

As they say, if you want to do extraordinary things, you have to do extraordinary things–my way of saying that we have an ugly early morning flight to Africa.

More about the Oman leg and our exciting journey to Kenya in our next post.

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MAA 2016

Day 9: Humbling India

Saturday, 23 April 2016 – Day 9: Chennai, India (12°58′56″N – 80°9′49″E)

Svaagat he…Welcome to India…and Chennai. We arrived here after a four flight from Singapore.
hindu temple
There are three seasons here: hot, hotter and hottest. And we are close to the hottest. Our cab driver said it approached 50 yesterday and today it is 40, but feels like 47 according to anyone running around doing scavenges. That is 116 degrees folks!

We gained 2.5 hours from Singapore time…so we built in time to be productive with our layover here and hence the 6-Hour Chennai Layover Challenge.
cricket in chennai
The real challenge for this cat herder was getting everyone through the official rules and procedures at Chennai International Airport (MAA) Chennai International Airport (MAA), located at Tirusulam, that is around 8 kilometers south of the city center. We all had e-visas but they needed to process. Then customs. Then money-changing. Then sending our bags back to be on the flight. And then, and then, and then…more time than I or anyone wanted to spend at MAA.
Mumbai 2011 (50)
Old Business first…the urban, albeit a potentially 3-country swing through the Singapore area and Par 3 leg results are in following Road Official inquiries, assessments and penalties. The official scoring went like this:

In 9th place went to NOLA Second Line.
In 8th place went to Girls Gone World.
In 7th place went to T3.
There was a tie for 5th place between the Traveling Tridents and the SOCA Warriors, who both earned 635 points.
Then things got interesting atop the leg leader board:
In 4th place were 2 Global Junkies the only team to complete the infamous SIJORI travel trifecta by completing at least one scavenge in the three countries of the region: Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. They earned 650 points because they took all day traveling to and fro those destinations in a gutsy gambit that almost paid off.
In 3rd place we had Perfect Strangers 31 scavenges and earning themselves 815 points.
In 2nd place SLO Folks rose to the occasion and picked up steam completing 32 scavenges earning 872.5 points. 
And in 1st place, congratulations to the reunited Lawyers without Borders who earned a whopping 1205 points in completing 41 scavenges on the second Par 3 leg.

Great job all…you had fun, worked hard and it paid off.

But that means that there are changes to the leader board now after three fully completed legs (par 8/24 completed)…with the 3 top overall event leaders being:
3. SLO Folks = 31
2. Traveling Tridents = 25
1. SOCA Warriors = 24

Again, congrats to all and you can click here to view the updated 2016 – Leader Board. Just think, two-weeks from today we crown the 2016 edition of The World’s Greatest Travelers in Wasgington D.C.

Okay…on to new business and the Layover Challenge here in Chennai…

We have a short 7-Hour Layover between our flight between Singapore and Muscat, Oman…and the event has never been here before, but been in other destinations of India many times. India is always the great equalizer: the most humbling, amazing and flabbergasting place in the world to travel in my humble opinion.
maa gsh

So, we arrived at 10:30AM this morning from Singapore and we leave at 7:30PM this evening to Oman. It will be an introduction for some to India. They have optional sight-doing scavenges assigned them–but they can only do 5 and NOT MISS their flights onwards–the whole point of a layover.

But it is a busy Saturday and it is hot as I mentioned.

Chennai (formerly Madras) is the capital of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu and situated on the Bay of Bengal, and is one of the largest cities in the world. It is said to be the cultural capital of India but there are also historic sites, including: the Kapaleeswarar Temple, built in the name of the Hindu god Shiva; and the gambit of old British colonial architecture, tranquil gardens and a long sandy beach…and soon their shinny new Metro will open. Soon, but not today.
dancers in chennai
Sadly, while the teams scoured the area for scavenges in markets, eateries and temples, we Road Officials had to secure a room to get online to deal with event bumps in the road. We missed the city and shopping…

A special shout out to our local food expert Kavita Chesetty here in Chennai. Thank you Kavita!

Okay…next stop Muscat, Oman which we arrive later this evening and the results of the Layover Challenge.

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sin - hindu temple

Day 8: Sizzling Singapore

About Singapore (aka Sin-no-more)…the city-state of 5.3 million turned 50  last year and boy have things changed. From swampy mosquito-infested British Navy outpost, to amazing cosmopolitan capitalist engine that could. In the global world of business deals, Singapore competes confidently with Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai. It is one of my favorite city-states. (BTW: Als0 one of the three places with the highest density are Monaco, Macao and Singapore. And notice that not one of them remotely qualifies as a desperate case! Maybe city-states are the way to go?)

But Singapore is a state of mind and only Singapore slings and Singapore noodles are real, because it is more a concept than a country with no great historical narrative or set of national myths—just one man with a vision: Lee Kuan Yew and his dominating PAP party. People don’t realize that Singapore was actually kicked out of its relationship with Malaysia in 1965—hence the 5oth birthday last year!

sin - mosque

Singapore Mosque

The Singapore of today is not the bawdy Singapore of 25-30 years ago; and for that, like Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Macau today—you either love them for that or hate them. Jury is out with me, but I am leaning. It is a more mature, confident country. Talk to an older Singaporean, however, and at some point you will hear her wax lyrical about the lost kampongs—the small, intimate villages of Singapore and the dynamic marketplaces that were Chinatown, the Arab Quarter and Little India…today all replaced by highways and high-rises. In heritage versus development—development wins every time; although a few former colonial landmarks still stand.
singapore - old chinatown circa 1989
Chinatown, circa 1989…

So, words and phrases to describe SIN: eclectic cuisine, extraordinarily safe, well-run, efficient transportation systems for all, sleek soaring skyscrapers, consumeristic, multi-cultural yet homogenous, clean, soulless, malls, clean, compact, Draconian-like in its efforts to keep people on the straight and narrow– Bubblegum is illegal. Jaywalking is illegal. Flushing is a must. Drug possession is punishable by death. An American youngster made headlines when he was caned for vandalizing cars—in fact, I think William Gibson said it best in 1993 that Singapore was like, “Disneyland with the Death Penalty.” And hard not to agree. It is very Orange County-ish too.
sin - cavenagh bridge
Colonial Rules…but now new rules.

Yet too many of the emerging economies of the world, Singapore is a model. (aka the Beijing Consensus or even Asian Values). It is politically stable and geopolitically independent; its citizens enjoy a high standard of living and all the consumption-based trappings—but not much more than the trappings they are (be careful what you wish for, right!?)—of democracy. To its politicians and status quo business community defenders, Singapore is an achievement born of self-sacrifice, hard work and commitment to inclusive multiculturalism—caning is optional.

The deal is that under the so-called Beijing Consensus, that evolved out of the 1989 Chinese Tianamen Square Massacre, that the average middle class and working class family can expect their government to deliver the economic goods, move forward effectively and efficiently, provide for positive social well-being benefits and individual prosperity through education (aka Mandarin-style meritocracy) along with assuring constantly rising standards of living… in exchange for, at times, authoritarian top-down imposed rigorously-planned modernization dictates of how it is going to be. No messy democracy here and few inconvenient truths are reported as Singapore restricts civil liberties because constant economic progress has its costs—as well as benefits! Things change here quickly. Permits are issued. Sweetheart deals made. And jobs are created. Who needs democratic input? And many other emerging nations of the world have taken notice too; they see the West mired in finger-pointing, political paralysis, growing inequalities and declining standards of living—not so here.
sin 1
Modern Singapore

Enough geopolitical history…we are here and having fun celebrating Earth Day 2016.

Speaking of Earth Day…the heat here in Singapore is just so pervasive; it envelops your body in a sticky fluid that is the omnipresence of 100% humidity. It is indeed the closet thing to swimming on land you can do I imagine.

We saw no teams today as we banded about the place, shopping, eating and seeing sights. At 3:00PM the skies suddenly opened as they are wont due in the part of this tropical world, with a deluge falling on everyone not frequenting the malls.

Happy Birthday to Bop (aka Andrew) of SOCA Warriors…

Everyone was set to return this evening at 10:00PM and receive their next 4-hour notice—I know, we just got here right! From arriving here yesterday (Thursday) until when we arrive at our next, next destination (Saturday), things will be hectic. Over that period of time, teams will have conducted scavenges in three very unique countries (maybe 5 for some!?) as the 2016 edition of the world travel championship begins to heat up after our preliminary starts in Mexico City and Tokyo. The fun has begun here in Singapore with event leaders vying for the top of the leader board with all teams fully knowing the rules of the game, how to pace themselves, and how to just let themselves go and be silly. There is no quit in this 2016 tribe even though some already know they will not be crowned The World’s Greatest Travelers. The marathon 23-day around the world adventure is now in full swing!

This competition is a lot like life…you have to do your best and hope for the best, despite knowing that sometimes you will lose a game once in a while; and that it is okay to lose, as long as you get up, dust yourself off and continue to do your best. It does not matter what others say or think, you are doing this for yourself. In real life, everyone does not get participation medals just for showing up–that is only half the battle–there are winners and losers, but it is always important to keep moving forward with honorable intentions and honoring yourself by doing your best…onward all.

New marching orders are coming…and two new secret destinations will be revealed tonight. Stay tuned.

10:00PM Update…we are off to Chennai, India for a brief 6-Hour Layover Challenge…and then? Breakfast in Singapore, lunch in India and dinner ?

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tokyo metro

Day 5: Tackling Tokyo

Tuesday, 19 April 2016 – Day 5: Tokyo, Japan

YōkosoWelcome to Japan!

All teams reported rested, relaxed and excited for the beginning of the second leg of our around the world adventure this morning here in the Japanese capital city of Tokyo. From huge Mexico City straight into (albeit following a smooth Singapore Airlines 11:30 hour trans-Pacific flight) to the world’s biggest city in the world—Tokyo!
tokyo metro
Old business first: At the check-in following each of our eight global legs, we copy all teams scores sheets (what they said/claim they accomplished) and then assign each team peer reviews. Peer Reviews as we have designed them are great ways for our travelers to not only share their travel war stories and photos, but also prove that they did what they claimed/said they did in a fun non-threatening way. It has proved to be great way to hold all the teams accountable and keep the competition fair and honest. Of course, if any issues arise during the process, both Pamela and I, as the event’s Road Officials, are the final arbiters.

At any rate, Mexico City Peer Reviews were assigned, score sheets evaluated, and then officially scored by the Road Officials. The results of the first Par 2 Mexico City leg of the 2016 edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt are in with top finishing teams completing 20 scavenges & 2 bonuses:

In 9th place, earning 207 points: NOLA Second Line
In 8th place, earning 315 points: 2 Global Junkies
In 7th place, earning 460 points: Perfect strangers
In 6th place, earning 505 points: Girls Gone World
In 5th place, earning 617.5 points: SLO Folks
In 4th place, earning 640 points: Lawyers w/o Borders
In 3rd place, earning 657 points: SOCA Warriors
In 2nd place, earning 667 points: Traveling Tridents
And in 1st place, congratulations to Wendy & Georgia of T3 who earned 715 points on the first Par 2 leg completing the most scavenges too.
Wendy & Georgia of T3

Congrats to all on a job well done…learn from your mistakes competitors and know that you are all now battle-tested and ready for more after that short introductory leg.

Click here to view the 2016 Event Leader Board following the first leg.

Okay…on to new business: We are here for two more nights here in bustling Tokyo. After handing out their new booklets, the teams were sent out on the second leg of The Global Scavenger Hunt, a full two-day medium level of difficulty Par 3 (mostly due to language barriers…because everything works really well here). They have over 60 optional scavenges to manage and find the right risk-reward strategy that works for them. Again, there is no way any team could possibly do them all. So smart choices are always required.
nrt gsh
And so the second leg has begun.  Here are a handful of Japanese scavenges they have to figure out:

– Pick up a bento box snack, catch a really fast train to Hakone and Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park to visit Odawara Castle.

– Score some tickets and attend the Eric Clapton concert at the legendary Nippon Budokan.

– Eat at any one of the 217 Michelin star restaurants in greater Tokyo.

Team Challenge: At Shinjuku station—the busiest railway station in the world—obtain a team photo with as many willing participants as possible.

– Visit either the Smash Hits or Shidax karaoke bars and unleash the inner rock star within by singing a duet with some locals.  We want video.

…and a whole lot more than that! Good luck all and have some fun…remember our 2016 event theme: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” Make it true…
Leg Two’s check-in time is 9:00PM (21:00) tomorrow (Wednesday) night.

Now…About Japan…and where we are for a few days. It is very different here than in Mexico City. Let me try to explain.

Tokyo can take even the most sophisticated and confident traveler and turn him or her into an anxiety-ridden deaf-mute.” – David Halberstam (1934-2007)
gate hotel nite view 2
The Tokyo Skyline from our hotel last night.

Greater Tokyo Area (GTA) is the biggest city in the world. Some say almost 40 million people live here! And nowhere else but in Japan could 40 million people live in such close quarters—relatively peacefully. In fact, Japan and Tokyo are some of the safest places to be in the world to visit.

Tokyo buzzes with endless eclectic energy, but appears to be a vast configuration of cloud-brushing skyscrapers, non-stop traffic and bullet-trains all reflecting a constant hypnotic repertoire of in-your-face advertising. It is futuristic, fascinating and as Mr. Halberstam eloquently understates, utterly frustrating for we Westerners. Blade Runner meets Disneyland meets tacky game show.NRT 2016

In their own way, Tokyoites are gearing up for the 2020 Olympics by emphasizing an even greater commitment to the English language for its citizens. They want to help travelers. So that will be good for our gaijin travelers…they can help them. Just don’t ask yes or no questions; the answer will always be yes. Conversely, never no. They are too polite to offend guests with a no!

I will stop here in any psychoanalysis; I am not going to go deep and attempt to capture the true essence and Zen culture that is Japan. The great Pico Iyer, who lives here can’t do it, so no one can. So I will stick to observational humor and occasional historic asides.

First, a few clichés to check off quickly before we begin to discuss our time here in Japan:

-I will not mention, after this sentence, the Park Hyatt Hotel, where Bill Murray met Scarlett Johansson in the movie “Lost in Translation.” √

-I will not delve into the considerable devastation and anguish that this nation suffered a few years ago with the earthquake and tsunami. √

-I will not belittle the national conformity standards, or slavish work ethic of Japans salarymen and their bar hostesses counterparts. √

-I will not debase their whale eating culinary habits. √

-I won’t mention how socially conscious they are towards others that they wear masks when sick to prevent others from getting ill. √

-I won’t mention the cramming, pushing and shoving that goes on with commuters trying to enter subway cars; especially when you consider their sacrosanct respect for personal space and privacy. √

-I won’t wax poetically about their school girl fetishes, weird otaku (obsessions), and odd relationships with inanimate cartoon animals. √

-I will not try to explain sumo wrestling. √

-I will leave it to bigger brains to explain anime, manga, karaoke and Japanese TV game shows. √

-I will not acknowledge the cultural juxtapositions of geisha culture, J-Pop and Harajuku girls. √

-I stipulate that vending machines are a way of life in Japan from underwear to floral arrangements, hot noodles to French fries. √

-and Finally, I will leave it as a given that Japan is a big undecipherable riddle, a bundle of contradictions, a mystery wrapped in an enigma and shoved into a bento box. √

Okay, what I will talk about are toilets, Japanese exactitude and food. Maybe all in one paragraph too!

The toilets in Japan are phenomenal. Forget the French version with a simple bidet. The Japanese have squared, cubed and pi-ed that version and I want one! I want one that gently washes me, delicately wipes me and then eagerly blows me dry…all while sitting on a warm cushion like seat. The Japanese know how to do toilets. In fact, the Japanese are really good at whatever it is the decided to do. They are always so focused and detail oriented always attempting to do their very level best every time they do something, no matter how mundane a task. It is part of the national culture. Fashion, electronics, toilets, driving taxis, playing baseball, brewing beer or sake (and now whiskey), art and food. And to that end, the Japanese do food really well, especially washoku (Japanese food) be it: ramen, yakitori (grilled chicken), tempura, Kobe beef, udon, okonomiyaki (savory pancakes), or sukiyaki. Personally, I love sushi. Never had it in the first 19 years of my life, but now I am making up for it. So much so, that I may try eating my body weight in sushi over the next few days. I stay away from those toney budget-busting Michelin-starred joints (Quick aside: Bet you did not know that Tokyo has three times as many Michelin-starred restaurants as Paris by a mind-blowing wide margin too: 217 to 94!) and head to older run single-proprietor sushi-ya (sushi shops). There are an estimated 6,000 such sushi joints in Tokyo Metro. I prefer older men in their late 60’s and 70’s—they really know sushi! Simply put, there is no bad sushi in Tokyo. The trick is to find sublime sushi. That I am intent on doing. (Hey, I did explain toilets, Japanese exactitude and food in one paragraph!)
subways japan
That said…what I will tell our travelers is to have fun and kanpai! (Cheers).

BTW: Reports from Mexico City show Rainey of team Lawyers without Borders has  a new US Passport and has flights confirmed to leapfrog ahead of us as soon as he now gets some new credit cards. We are relieved…

BTW…follow some of the teams as they blog around the world by clicking these links below:

Lawyers without Borders (Zoe + Rainey):
Two Texas Travelers-T3 (Wendy + Georgia):
2 Global Junkies (Sue + Wendy):
The Traveling Tridents (Chloe + Chris):

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Day 2: Viva Mexico City

Saturday, 16 April 2016 – Day 2: Mexico City, Mexico

Speaking of tequila…

Funny thing happened last night at our Bon Voyage Party at Mexsi Bocu Cantina Bistro. (Thank you Alexsi!) A given we ate and drank too much great food. A given we all got along so well and some of us now know each other much better than we did before dinner… And a given that everyone kept looking at me around 8:00PM to give them their 4-hour notice.

What’s a 4-hour notice you ask?

Well, the 4-hour notice is the point in time that signals that we will be moving on to a new, yet to that point still secret, destination. Now, in 10 of the last 11 events held since 2002, we have given the 4-hour notice between the dessert and last call. Which come to think of it is a tad redundant. Anyway, I had 20 sets of eyes looking at me like puppies wanting a promised biscuit.

Not tonight!” I said, because Mexico City is too great a place not to begin The Global Scavenger Hunt. It would be a crime to leave here and waste such a great destination on just a meeting, dinner and flight…so we are here for the day.

So…Buenos Dias!

And what a fun day it will be. How could I deny our teams experiencing a place that has so wonderfully given us: chocolate, chilies and corn…along with poinsettias, Chihuahuas, tequila, and my personal favorite, Selma Hayek! (50 Bonus points for anyone who gets a selfie with her; and 100 if you get her to call me!)

Nope, we are staying in the much maligned city of “El Monstruo” for another day. BTW: we are staying at the St Regis Mexico City Hotel on the bustling Paseo del la Reforma, along with Chris Martin and his Coldplay mates, so don’t feel too sorry for us. We really believe that age old saying: You never get a second chance to make a great first impression. And I think we did…
st regis mex
Mexico City is a great city. A great BIG city—bigger than New York City. It is modern, poor, improvisational and surreal all at the same time. It is a simmering, complex, ever-changing storehouse of history, art, fashion and food. Indeed, there is just so much to see and do here. It is an alpha global city with some of the best food in the world and a mojo vibe like no other…and, interestingly enough, a city with not only more Spanish-speaking residents than any other city in the world but more taxis than any other city in the world. But DF also has more museums than any other city in the world, with more than 140.  Bet you didn’t know that. A lot to see and do…and eat!

El Zocalo

I love Mexico City. First the former Aztec powerhouse Tenochtitlan (1325), then a colonial city of Spain (1521); MC may be the first city of the 21st century—so watch out Shanghai and Toronto. Just so many clichés combined with so many alternative realities. From the glamorous environs of posh Polanco, hipster-ridden Roma Norte, café-buzzing Condessa, historic Coyoacan and of course the heart of Mexico City, the huge public space known as Zócalo, ranks alongside Moscow’s Red Square and Beijing’s Tiananmen Square as one of the world’s largest city squares…and more interesting too.

Clichés sure…conquistadores, mariachis, pollution, Montezuma’s Revenge, traffic congestion, police corruption, crime, narcos, tacos, tamales and tortas. But for the estimated 22 million—yes 22 million!—Chilango’s who live in this gigantic metropolitan city (aka DF = districto federal, the federal district) that sits pretty smoggy at 7,300 feet above sea level; not only is the air thin, but so is their skin. They want approval. They want acknowledgement. They want the recognition they rightfully deserve. Too many travelers by-pass this great city and miss an amazing opportunity to see and do so much, instead usually end up laying on a coastal beach with an umbrella drink in hand. Too bad for them. But different strokes for different folks.
mex masks
Lucha Libre masks

Anyway…we have sent our intrepid travelers out on a relatively easy warm up Par 2 introductory scavenger hunt this morning, and we should see them all at the first legs official check-in time of 8:30PM tonight.

(Background: The 2016 world travel championship is divided into 8 official legs of varying lengths and degrees of difficultly (like golf), of between an easy-peasy Par 1 and more strenuously difficulty long Par 6. The 2016 event will have Eight Legs with a total value of 24.)

So what will they be up to today? Good question…here are six examples of today’s scavenges:

– Take the light rail train from Tasqueña Metro and visit Xochimilco; then take a tanjineras ride to find the Isla de las Munecas.

– Splurge for ringside seats at Arena Mexico to see Mexico’s famed lucha libre.

– Try three different tacos at El Borrego Viudo.

– Obtain a team photo, one as rudos (bad guy) and one as tecnicos (good guys) lucha libre wrestlers.

– Visit Museo Nacional de Antropología and find something from the following five pre-Colombian cultures: Olmec, Toltec, Zapotec, Aztec and Mayan.

– Make a tortilla. Prove it.

…along with 50 other scavenges of various degrees of difficulty. Needless to say, they can’t do everything, but have to figure out a workable strategy to do some.
mex museum
One of the world’s best…hands down!

Personally, I want to see who wins the Team Challenge: What team member will eat the hottest chili procured in a local produce market? The Scoville Scale (x’s hotter than a jalapeño) will need to be used to measure the heat of that one—and a lot of cerveza I am sure too. BTW…hoping nothing is hot as the nasty (and potentially lethal) Komodo Dragon Chili Pepper!

So off they go…I guess they will be again looking at me come check-in time tonight as to their illusive and anticipatory first 4-hour notice—where to next ringmaster?

Just curious, where would you take them next after Mexico City? Suggestions please.

Film at 11…err, 8:30 (20:30) tonight!

BTW…follow some of the teams as they blog around the world by clicking these links below:
Lawyers without Borders (Zoe + Rainey):
NOLA Second Line (Betty + Jim):
Two Texas Travelers-T3 (Wendy + Georgia):
2 Global Junkies (Sue + Wendy):
Girls Gone World (Julia + Marla):
SOCA Warriors (Savannah + Bop):
SLO Folks (Paula + Tom):
Perfect Strangers (Simmone + Alina):
The Traveling Tridents (Chloe + Chris):

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continents signpost

T’was the night before…

Thursday, 14 April 2016 – T’was the night before…

Buenos tardes…

Before we start…Happy Birthday Pamela…my best friend, my spouse, the mother of my children, and my partner on this global crime spree we call our lives. We had a good day here in Mexico after arriving last night. We started the day climbing the pre-Columbian pyramids of Teotihuacan–the Temple of the Sun;

followed by seeing some great Frida Kahlo art
DSC_0046 DSC_0049
and then enjoying an amazingly memoriable meal at Dulce Patria en Las Alcobas here in Mexico City. Happy birthday Pamela!
DSC_0025 DSC_0067

And please indulge me a moment longer…a 20-year reign of unmitigated greatness ended last evening in the NBA: Kobe’s last game. 5 rings. 18 all star appearances, countless memories…and he ended his Laker career unlike any athlete I have ever seen…with a giant unqualified exclamation point:  60 points in a come from behind win! Left me slack-jawed. Thank you Kobe for 20 years (and 5 rings) of memories.

On a few side notes: 1) congrats to the Warriors…good job…of course what you do in the playoffs is what really counts; and 2) Go LA Kings!

Okay…that said…

…It is the night before the beginning of the 2016 travel world championships that start in Mexico City tomorrow.

Teams are assembling as we speak from various destinations and flying into MEX (aka Benito Juárez International Airport) in order to meet up at the starting gate tomorrow at 3:30PM (15:30) for the start of The Global Scavenger Hunt—the 12th edition of the annual around the world travel adventure competition that crowns The World’s Greatest Travelers™.

For the uninitiated, my name is William D. Chalmers (call me Bill please), and I will be this blog’s narrator over the next 24-days as we circle the globe visiting 10 secret destinations across four continents. My main job is Event Director. Pamela calls me the CEO (aka Chief Experience Officer) and some past participants have referred to me as the Ringmaster. It is a traveling circus to be sure. I will be candid, honest, political and sometimes irreverent. (My daughter says cheeky and saucy. My son just says “Really dad?!”…a lot.) I will also try to post as many photos and videos as I can along the way and create quick hyperlinks to help share additional info and insights.
wdc point
Me…well, you know.

What is at stake for those participating in this travel adventure? Well, only bragging rights as The World’s Greatest Travelers™, a little mantle-worthy trophy…and oh yea, a free $25,000 trip around the world to defend their title in the next travel world championship event.

It is often asked by prospective competitors, media and travel professionals, and fellow travelers alike that we meet out on the road: What does it take to be crowned The World’s Greatest Travelers™? That is, what does it take to win The Global Scavenger Hunt…to win the travel world championships? And that is a great question.
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We think (and know after 11 previous events) that it takes a lot. Yet weekly (sometimes daily), we hear someone tell me after I explain the event to them that of course—“I would so win that!” We have heard it thousands of times over the last decade. Everybody thinks they have the right stuff, have the skills and savvy necessary and are truly great travelers.

Some websites even create lists of self-described great travelers! But being a great traveler isn’t just about checking off items on a list and seeing where you rank. (Which you need a lot of money to do!) No, it is about being a great situational traveler and empirically proving it mano-a-mano in authentic competition against other great international travelers. This is usually where the rubber meets the highway. Doing it… Being a great marathon runner means running marathons against other great marathon runners. Being good at Jeopardy means getting on the show and proving it against others who obviously feel the same way. The same is true with travel, although many deny that fact.

In a nutshell, the Global Scavenger Hunt that we created back in 2000 (Yep, before the Amazing Race even aired!), is an annual competitive travel event that challenges our participating travelers cumulative Travel IQ. It tests their situational awareness, the limits of their linguistic and cultural understanding (universal people skills), and is the ultimate scrutiny of their logistical savvy. Indeed, this event competitively evaluates most of the components that make great travelers great. Including:

-mastering the art of a layover;
-efficiently getting from point A to point B when your public transportation options are limited;
-figuring out how to effectively communicate when your native tongue fails;
-overcoming the marathon effects of jet lag through 24-time zones over 23-days;
-being open to culinary challenges;
-sympathetic to cultural nuances;
-conquering potentially defeating team dynamics;
-standing up to the heat of a real life one-on-one competition:
-properly strategizing the event’s risk/reward point system by doing and seeing amazing world-class sites;
-allowing yourself to be immersed in authentic, challenging and participatory site-doing activities;

Indeed it takes a lot of acquired travel skills to win The Global Scavenger Hunt. Our travelers truly have to look hard into their big travel tool kits to find the right skill sets to match the challenges we lay out before them. Yes, it takes luck too. Yes, it takes savvy. But it also takes stamina, wits, creativity, efficiency, hope and optimism.

Because from language barriers and cultural differences, to logistic snafus and battling the severe effects of constant jet lag, overcoming each set of challenges well—becomes the difference between just surviving this annual event and doing well in this world travel championship competition. It also clearly makes the difference in ultimately winning the coveted World’s Greatest Travelers crown and trophy.

Over the years we have witnessed countless acts of tenacity and creativity on the part of our travelers in the name of performing their challenging and highly-participatory scavenges. We have watched teams, equally successfully—and some not so successfully—endure our quick three-week lap around the world. Some do well, some don’t. This travel adventure competition requires overcoming a lot of challenges day in and day out over three weeks on the road, not the least of which are potentially volatile internal team dynamics, as well as, the obvious heat of the competition itself.

We are ready! Are they?

Good luck to all that finally do make it to the starting line tomorrow. Because as they say: You can’t win unless you enter the race!
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Tomorrow we meet our teams…stay tuned.

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Different strokes edited

Packing Issues…Who doesn’t have them?

“He who would travel happily must travel lightly.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

We at believe that you should always be prepared, like every good Boy/Girl Scout, because you never really know what you might need or when you might need it. Your safety, security and health are our primary concerns.

Our Travelers Packing List has been refined and evolved over the years as a result of being tried and tested annually on our real world adventures. It is not meant to cover every travel situation, but merely serve as a really good guide. It will we firmly believe, enhance your coming around the world adventure. It will help you prevent Packer’s Block from occurring—that irrational inability to intelligently decide what you really need to take—and not take! Obviously, different strokes for different folks, as there is no right way. (Well, actually there is!)

Our advice for you is to pack as simply, smartly and lightly as possible to avoid the equally dreaded Packer’s Stoop—the consequence of carrying too much stuff. Symptoms include: excessive sweating, marriage dissolution, fear of theft, hernias, team squabbles and extreme upper body muscle development. Honestly, a simple roller-bag and a light day-pack will suffice.

You have no doubt read all the advice and heard all the clichés. But lest we forget those sage nuggets, indulge me in paraphrasing it all again for you as we believe that it is really freakin’ important. So, here goes: Some say that how you pack your bags defines your journey and that less stuff equals less worries. Embrace minimalism and enjoy more experiences. If YOU can’t carry it — it shouldn’t go! (Bill’s Travel Rule #1) The lighter your burden, the more pleasant your journey. It makes sense to pack light: security reasons—the less you have the less you can lose; better mobility—easier to move; it’s economical—you don’t have to tip anybody and laundry is cheaper than paying for extra bags; it’s quicker too—you don’t have to wait for your bags anywhere and no-checking issues.

That said, know a couple things are in your favor at the onset: 1) we will be traveling the globe during the months of early spring, so don’t think extreme weather; but cool evenings are likely—layer up! Rain is always a possibility between the Tropics (where we will spend most of our time!); 2) On every trip some heavily-laden travelers will inevitably jettison and ship some unneeded stuff home—you can too!; 3) They do have laundry services at most of our hotels—utilize it!; and finally, 4) Know that the world is full of consumer-friendly stores everywhere these days if perchance you really need something.

Finally, know that you couldn’t possibly take everything that we list—although a few foolish folks have tried—so please be wise in your choices and save money by packing smart and light.

The Global Scavenger Hunt Packing List:

Essential Toiletries (share if possible):
all required prescriptions
allergies? EpiPen, eye drops, decongestants, nasal sprays, antihistamines
eye wear (glasses or contacts)
sun protection (waterproof & SPF 30)
30-50% DEET-based insect repellent
any malaria medication
pain relievers: aspirin/Aleve/Tylenol/ibuprofen
10-day supply of antibiotics
tummy aids: antacid tablets, Imodium, Lomotil, laxatives
mole/second skin
liquid Band-Aid + bandages
antibiotic cream (Neosporin, Bacitracin)
non-drowsy cold medicine
sleeping aids, Melatonin
5-Hour energy drink or chocolate-covered espresso beans
Pedialyte powder packs
tiger balm
lip balm
small nail clippers + tweezers
tooth brush/paste + floss
feminine products
contraceptives (Who’s getting lucky!?)
nasal moisturizer spray
motion sickness relief
hand sanitizer/towelettes

Useful Stuff to Consider:
re-useable synthetic tote bag 

point n’ shoot digital camera
plug adaptors
USB charger cords
USB rechargeable batteries
mini-LED rechargeable flashlight/headlamp
small waterproof gadget dry bag
extra digital camera chips
lightweight speakers
headphones or ear buds
Swiss Army knife (stowed in checked bag)
note pad w/ pens
faux wedding band
cheap watch
Pashmina (good for Islamic nations + planes)
alarm clock (if not on phone or watch)
extra sealable Zip◊ Lock plastic baggies
insurance details
address list for postcards
small useful gifts for children (balloons, stickers, balls, pens & pencils—no candy!)
team business cards with names & websites
sewing repair kit
crispy $1 bills (for tips, fees and baksheesh)
snacks/energy bars (maybe one for each day)
quick dry travel towel

Flying Comfort Kit (packed in daypack):
refillable water bottle
snacks: nuts/dried fruit/candy/energy bars
warm layer
portable media player/iPad or mini-laptop
downloaded music, movies & books
noise reduction headphones or ear buds
reading material
sleep eye mask, ear plugs + neck pillow
lip balm + moisturizer
tooth brush
tissue + hand wipes
chewing gum/mints
playing cards
small towel/washcloth
4-visa photos
optional change of clothes (top + pants)

Items for Women:
1 – outer shell waterproof/windbreaker jacket
1 – hat (floppy or cap)
1 – warm dark sweater or fleece pullover
1 – walking casual shoes/sneakers/flip-flops
5 – socks (dress & athletic)
5 – underwear/bras
1 – sleep clothes
1/2 – sarongs or casual skirts, LBD
2 – lightweight casual pants (khaki’s/travel)
1 – bathing suit
1/2 – shorts
3 – T-shirts, polos
5 – long and short-sleeve blouses
1 – belt (double as money belt optional)
1 – scarf or bandanna

Items for Men:
1 – outer shell waterproof/windbreaker jacket
1 – hat (floppy or cap)
1 – warm dark sweater or fleece pullover
1 – walking casual shoes/sneakers/flip-flops
5 – socks (dress & athletic)
5 – underwear
1 – sleep clothes
2 – lightweight casual pants (khaki’s/travel)
1 – bathing suit (double as casual shorts)
1/2 – shorts
3 – T-shirts, polos
5 – long and short-sleeve shirts
1 – belt (double as money belt optional)
1 – scarf or bandanna

That said…forget half the above!

The Global Scavenger Hunt Packing Tips

Bill’s Packing Rules of Thumb:
> The single biggest travel mistake? Overpacking!
> Old adage: Pack half the stuff—bring twice the money!
> Resist the urge to pack more “just in case“—they’re called stores!
> Take nothing you can’t bear losing.
> It is true that, there’s no bad weather, only bad gear! Buy quality stuff.
> Stick to a twin color (darkish) scheme for versatility and layers.
> Split a few necessities 50/50 with your teammate’s bag—if lost you’re still okay.
> Think about stuff you can share.
> Take old socks + underwear—throw away!
> Roll up your clothes—don’t fold them.
> The Holy Grail of Packing? The judicious use of large Ziploc bags. Trust me!
> Put daily pills/Rx’s in 2″x2″ pill bags.
> Tuck socks, underwear or longish doodads into your shoes.
> Take care of your feet: comfortable, not stylish shoes—and break in before you go!
> Wrap your heavy items in the middle and bottom of bag.
> Take a digital photo of bag just in case!
> Think no-wrinkle, UPF protection lightweight microfiber-blend clothes.
> Buy shirts + pants with zippers for extra security.
> One word about the unpredictability of weather and clothes: layers!
> Use scented dryer sheets in your bag—it keeps clothes smelling fresh and clean.
> Take items that are utilitarian dual-use.
> Use transparent silicone travel-size bottles.
> Always pack airplane snacks to maintain blood sugar.
> Have a copy of medical and eyeglass Rx’s. > KISS—keep it simple stupid!

Pre-Departure Check List:

> valid passport with 5-empty pages + 6 months validity.
> 4-passport photos for VOA
> Any Mandatory immunization certificate!
> Full trip supply of recommended Rx’s
> emergency contacts
> travel insurance
> cold hard cash ($20 bills)
> set up WhatsApp + Skype connections
credit cards & ATM Cards (Maybe let them know you will be traveling.)
> scans + copies of all docs and then e-mail to yourself too
> all immunizations booster updated: tetanus & polio, typhoid series, Hep-A, Gama globulin, etc
> antimalarial prophylaxis (Malarone)

Travel Gear (Suggestions):
> main roller bag—20 kilo max!
> TSA-approved luggage locks
> a daypack/shoulder bag
> money belt/security pouch (optional)
> extra present/tchotchke bag (optional)

Stuff You Probably Won’t Need:
> jewelry
> Travelers Checks, really!? ATM’s!
> guidebooks (verboten!)
> umbrella
> gloves
> an International Driver’s License
> blow dryer (hotels have them)
> iron—three words: wrinkle-free clothes
> language phrase book + currency converter
> Please leave camouflage military-style clothes at home!
> Your vanity! No one cares what you look like…just be the real you!

What Travelers Most Often Forget?
that they are married!?
their manners
personal hygiene items
power cords (converters + outlet adaptors)
back-up vision (glasses, contacts, sunglasses)
enough Rx’s
ear plugs + headphones
an extra layer (sweater or sweatshirt)
bathing suit

Things to Do Before you leave Home:
> change voicemail
> STOP all home deliveries + mail
> unplug computer after you back up!
> put a few house lights on timer switches
> arrange pet care and/or gardening care?
> prepay necessary bills
> do the dishes, take the trash out—yucky!
> Please leave your expectations at home!
> Leave all loved ones on great emotional terms.
> Unplug and let go…

© 2000-16 GreatEscape Adventures Inc., All Rights Reserved


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sydney sisters wimn

Who Are The World’s Greatest Travelers?

Until the 20th century arrived, the answer to the question was easy. There is a long heritage of great travelers, real and imagined, from Odysseus, Sinbad, Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Zheng Ho to Ibn Battuta. The Vikings were pretty good travelers say the sagas.

The word “circumnavigator” didn’t even enter the lexicon until 1625, and prior to that the concept itself was unthinkable. But then the illusive became the benchmark of great travelers for centuries. Magellan’s mates Enrique of Malacca and Juan Elcano were arguably the first to do it, followed heroically by: Drake, Loyola, Cavendish, van Noort, Dampier (who did it three times and was fictionalized in Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” and Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels“), then Shelvocke, Anson, Cook, Jeanne Bare (the first woman to do it), Darwin, Slocum and Abiel Abbot Low- — who did it in just 89 days.

When you think about it, it was only 141 years ago that Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days was published, raising the bar when Phileas Fogg and his sidekick Passepartout, employed rail, steamship, horseback, balloon and foot, among other modes. By then, traveling the world became all about speed. Who could do it fastest? Then it was Nellie Bly who did it in 75 days, and George Francis Train who did it in 60. By the time aeroplane arrived on the scene, the record for circumnavigating the globe stood at 39 days.

But of course planes changed everything. In 1933, Wiley Post flew around the world in under eight days. By 1941 Pan American Airways (aka Pan Am) had scheduled “round-the-world” commercial service. Anyone could go around the world now and fast. Hey, Yuri Garagin did it in about 90 minutes! People have now walked, biked, hitchhiked, ballooned, any other mode of transportation you could think, to become famous, and infamous, great travelers.

The winners of the cast, scripted, stunt and drama-induced reality TV show The Amazing Race? Not likely. Is it Gunther Holtorf, a 75-year old German who has driven more than 800,000 kilometers around the world to over 170 “nations” the last few decades? Is it Graham Hughes, a 34-year-old British man who traveled 160,000 miles over 1,426 days and visited more than 200 “countries” — without using a plane? What about Dave Kunst who walked around the world? Or the uber-nouveau riche Internet tycoon Charles Veley, who has claimed to have visited over 829 “countries”? Maybe it’s Michael Palin, who has done a fair amount of fun traveling around the world north, south, east and west, in conjunction with his BBC shows? It seems that anyone with enough resources can do something that attracts the media spotlight.

Obviously, they are all great travelers just because they have survived, endured and had good press agents. They all must have serious travel skills to do what they have done, along with an elevated Travel IQ. But who are The World’s Greatest Travelers?

I submit to you that today, in the era of the Super Bowl, World Cup and the Olympics, that The World’s Greatest Travelers are the winners of the very real around the world travel adventure competition known as The Global Scavenger Hunt. The annual event which is designed to answer the question by testing the travel mettle, acumen and savvy of willing international travelers in an open-to-all who enter travel competition — travelers from over 50 nations have applied! The competition pits traveler against traveler, as they not only circumnavigate the globe, but also visit 10-secret countries (no prior preparation or intelligence is possible) while performing a series of real-life site-doing scavenges that tests their Travel IQ, situational awareness, and ultimately, their true travel bona fides. Good travelers prevail mano-a-mano, as the cream rises to the top. These competitors — who all pay the same entry fee to participate — must quickly adapt to new environments (urban, rural, developed, undeveloped, Western, Eastern, Muslim, Hindu, island, city-state, etc.), overcome language barriers and cultural differences, the jetlag of circling the globe, the inevitable logistic snafus when limited to public transportation, surviving the 23-day marathon-like event, team dynamics (having a great travel mate is critical), and the ever-present heat of competition. Only after surviving all that, and flourishing, are The World’s Greatest Travelers crowned.

And so to answer the question I posed; today, just days before the start of the 2016 edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt, the reigning title holders of The World’s Greatest Travelers™ crown are: two sisters hailing from Sydney, Australia. But there will be new winners in 2016, as a group of international teams, including four-time defending champions Zoe & Rainey (Lawyers without Borders) will be jostling for the title over the next three weeks  as they all travel between Mexico City  to Washington D.C.  — the long way.

You can follow the event with regular dispatches from the road, as well as on the event’s official blog site here at PostCards, along with Facebook and Twitter too. Enjoy the ride and stay tuned to find out who will be crowned The World’s Greatest Travelers™ for 2016. Do you think you have what it takes? A lot of people think they do…but soon the rubber hits the pavement! 

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