Day 1: San Francisco, USA

Friday, 14 April 2017 – Day 1: San Francisco, USA (37.7749° N, 122.4194° W)
the world in a suitcase
Let the games begin…welcome all to San Francisco and the beginning of the greatest show on earth.

We are ready. The stage is set. The flights books. And the travel eagles have assembled in San Francisco for the 13th edition if The Global Scavenger Hunt (GSH), the 2017 edition of the world travel championship.

First off…a BIG Happy Birthday to Pamela our Event Coordinator, my partner, the mother of my children, and wife of 13 years. She is “The World’s Greatest Follower” and has accepted her BIG birthday present—a trip around the world. Happy Birthday Pamela! And of course, this event could not happen without you. Hope you like all your cards…we all love you.

Poor Pamela…her birthday always seems to fall on the dates of our event. A few birthdays past:
GE2008 (266)    GE2002 (49)
Pamela & Little Lucca, Beijing (2008)                          Birthday cake in Kyoto (2002)

2 - PVG China 2013 (304)       B - KIX3 2014 (4)
Shanghai (2013)                                   Osaka (2014)

Teotihuacán (46)   1 - Fiji - GSH2015 - dwnld (66)
Mexico (2016)                                  Fiji (2015)

…Okay, on to the main event:

We are tanned, rested, and ready to start our travel adventure after a brief Sonoma Coast expedition—and nothing clears your head like good long walks on the windy California coast with the vast Pacific blue making you feel so small: Waves pounding rhythmically, toes in the sand, brisk wind in your face and the sun to keep you warm. So, the Ringmaster is revived, rejuvenated, recharged and ready for the 2017 around the world travel adventure competition. Are the competitors?

By the way, it should be noted, that we haven’t actually met all the 2017 participants yet. We have interviewed them all and have corresponded—some for years—but when we all meet in a few minutes at a informal Rules n’ Spirit meeting here in San Francisco, it will be our first real meeting.

It should be interesting to see how everyone sizes everyone else up. Stoic poker faces come in all shapes and sizes. There is a wonderful feel of raw anticipation in the air. Speculation. Uncertainty. Not the negative dreading anxiety-ridden kind, but the positive welcomed feeling of the time has come for something good and fun to happen to you. Of course, they are all wearing their best poker faces: appearing outwardly light, but obviously, butterflies are flapping their wings on the inside. And why not? That is completely normal; as they have endeavored like few every dream of doing to take a giant leap of faith and travel around the world not knowing where they are going to go. And their Blind Date with the World is about to begin. Surely existential questions abound: “Are we really up for this?” “I wonder if they are good travelers?” “What have we gotten ourselves into?” “Where are we going to first?”

Demographically speaking, we have seven participants who have competed before, and competitors ranging in age from 14 to 79. We have a team from China and one from New Zealand, two father-daughter teams (I have a soft spot for those), a team made up of two total strangers (but great travelers who have agreed to check their egos at the door in order to compete united—there is no I in team, right!), along with the usual boyfriend-girlfriend, best friends and significant other teams. We have our very worthy defending champions, Zoe and Rainey–who just returned from a Bhutan biking expedition—I anticipate they are ready, willing and able to take on all comers who hope to capture their beloved crown and become The World’s Greatest Travelers for 2017!

Without further ado, let me introduce the 10 teams competing in the 13th (I mean the Baker’s Dozen) edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt. Joining us here at the starting line in San Francisco today, we have:

1) The 5 time event champs, who are participating in their 10th event this year, from Houston, Texas, the legendary Zoe & Rainey (Lawyers without Borders)…we are happy to have them here today!
Our 2016 Champs, Rainey & Zoe…The World’s Greatest Travelers™.

2) Also returning for their 3rd adventure, we have Jim and Betty hailing from New Orleans hence their team name NOLA Second Line…they are partners in crime for 46 years…Jim is a retired scientist and Betty is a retired belly dance choreographer…and if you have not seen their wild ride on a runaway elephant from 2 years ago—we highly encourage it!
Jim & Betty

3) We have another team returning for the second time… It only took Paula 14 years to finally convince her husband Tom to join us and now I think they are hooked! They are from San Luis Obispo, California, and call themselves SLO Folks…we know now that their name is an attempt to lull you into a false sense of complacency because these are two serious adrenaline junkies and a keen on winning in 2017!
Paula & Tom…we think?!

4) We have another returnee, a man that first came with us back in 2012, traveled with a partner we teamed him up with as Team 2 Steps Ahead, and this year he is bringing his own teammate with him. They hail from New Zealand, please meet Geoff and Ella. The will be known as Team Long Gone.
Ella & Geoff

5) Now technically they did not compete and only traveled with us for a week back in 2013, but I am pleased to have a father and daughter Team from Austin Texas, Greg and Catherine joining us. Catharine is one of two 14 year olds joining us as part of father-daughter teams. (For which I have a soft spot) …and I am also told that she is 3 months younger older than the other 14-year-old! Please welcome the Traveling Bohemians.
Greg & daughter Catharine

6) Now the newbies…Also, back in 2013, I chatted with this man and his daughter about joining us that year. They couldn’t make it happen, but this year he dumped his daughter and brought his wife. They came all the way from Shanghai, China to join us, please welcome Mark and Lily, Team YoloGoNow!
Mark & Lily…

7) Now she contacted me a few years ago too, did not have a partner…I told her not to force it…let it come to her. Well, I am pleased that these two wonderfully bright women from Arizona are joining us this year, please welcome Roshy & Avni, Team Flying Snitches! (I believe that has something to do with Harry Potter.)
Avni & Roshy

8) I have a soft spot for father-daughter (and mother-son) teams, so I was pleased that this Houston team figured out a way to make this happen for both of them…They will be a tenacious team I know. And as mentioned, Sydney is also 14… Please welcome Alan & Sydney, Team Ying.
Sydney_Alan Ying
Alan & daughter Sydney

9) This LA-based couple read about us years ago in a book, Frommers I think? And the dog-eared page unfolded in front them auspiciously in the New Year and they contacted us on somewhat of a lark I think. But after a couple great chats, we are pleased that they decided to join us on this adventure, please welcome Gillian & Mike, the Blackout Mates!
Gillian & Mike

10) Now we have our special team; she hails from Providence, Rhode Island, he from Colorado. She worked really hard, and quickly, to find a partner who was game for taking this adventure …and they are daring enough to give it a go as perfect strangers. Please welcome Jenny and Mark, Team Thundersnow.
10671290_937491829606936_5432182495123437736_n buena_vista-012
Jenny & Mark above; they even have a team logo below…

Our tribe of travelers this year in 13th edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt.Obviously, and rightfully so, Rainey and Zoe are true champions in every way and have to be the odds on favorites again. But I think that along the way we will have some long shots move to the front of the pack, some dark horses emerge, and probably some front runners charging hard to the homestretch… No betting please! And, by the looks of it, we have enough players for our annual naked beach volleyball game in the Greek Islands this year. Kidding…maybe.

And a competition it is, because everyone not only wants to win the crown of The World’s Greatest Travelers for 2017—but also winning a free trip around the world that goes with it…needless to say, bragging rights and egos are involved too.

We are off to our Bon Voyage Party this evening at Rosa Mexicano… tapas, margaritas and more.

Sizing up the 2017 tribe as I looked around the restaurant at the event veterans and newbies alike, I knew that they all shared some strong convictions about travel, and some common quirky personality traits aside, all shared a deep passion for travel and to see and experience the world. They are also extraordinarily adventurous with a hunger to explore new and interesting parts of our planet. Getting to know them better as event unfolds in the coming days, we will learn much more. Trial by fire. Heat of competition. Fish out of water. All the cliches fit. My gut tells me that they all are curious and engaging people, people who prefer to do stuff, to enjoy experiences and save memories—rather than just acquire more stuff in life. They all seem to be people people too–who enjoy the company of others…and that will come in handy because very soon they will need to employ the events unofficial motto of trusting strangers in strange lands! Finally, they all have willingly signed up to participate in an event that will literally take them into the great unknown; take a giant leap of faith and travel to places not of their own design—but ours! Not too many people can lay claim to that little BIG detail. Think about it…

Finally…and we will periodically remind our readers and followers of this fact…we conduct this event annually not just for fun of it—and boy is it fun! And not just to conduct the world travel championship—and that it certainly is! Not just for our egos or our traveler’s egos—but to hopefully do some good in the world.

You see this event was originally designed to merge our two passions: our love of travel with giving back to the world. When you have the time and resources, and luck, to travel the world like we have with your eyes open and engaged in humanity, you see a lot of need out there. This event helps to expose the true plight of the other 96% of the people who inhabit this planet with us. And to that end, action is called for and we hope to give back a little bit to help others help themselves through the GreatEscape Foundation’s work.

We build co-ed schools in less prosperous places of the world that help empower both boys and girls. We also donate interest-free micro-loans to budding (mostly women) entrepreneurs to help them help themselves and their families out of the cycle of poverty.

So, if you believe like we do that we are all very privileged people and want to help a little; please make a small secure online PayPal donation during the course of the 2017 event. We would love to build a new school this year and need $10,000 to do so. It will impact hundreds of lives. Although those you help to change the course of their lives will never know you—we will and we will thank you…and send you a tax receipt too.

And then this happened…

ANYWHERE road sign
Where are we starting?