Day 16: Intoxicating Istanbul

Day 16: Saturday, 2 May 2020 – Istanbul, Turkey (41.0082° N, 28.9784° E) (124,000 Covid-19 cases & 3,336 deaths in Turkey to date)

If the road is easy, you’re likely going the wrong way.” ~ Terry Goodkind

Two weeks into our memory lane virtual trip around the world. Remind me never to do this again, please! Much rather do the real thing.

To recap, (so I know where we’ve been and can figure out where I’m going), our alums memories, brought us in the first week to revisit Japan, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar; and this last week we have revisited: Nepal, India, Abu Dhabi, Zimbabwe-Zambia, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. That’s fourteen destinations so far! The last week of the rip is usually a blurr…let’s see if we can make that happen virtually. Any thoughts on what’s next? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller…

Usually around now on the annual adventure we pause a few hours for some R n’ R. We host a hospitality event or two on the road, that has been known to ply or travelers with mood tranquilizing (and attitude adjusting) drinks, and usually a shared meal of local cuisine. It allows them to let their hair down and relax a bit without any competition or concern of wasting time, share their war stories, swap spit, and just generally recuperate before their last mad dash of week. Most have been a load of frolic and fun for all, us included, thinking of: Bukhara in Delhi, couscous in Casablanca, a Kuala Lumpur seafood extravaganza, a sultry al fresco Ubud dinner, a rooftop Milan happening, Nile river dancing, a Bosphorus waterfront feast here in Istanbul, sate and then some in Yangon, drinks on the veranda in Kenya, teppanyaki in Johannesburg, a too-much-food feast in Rome, tapas in Madrid, Uruguayan pooh-poohs, pork knuckles and beer in Frankfurt, a late night Prague soirée sans absinthe, an odd and sordid spit-swapping event in Colombo, and then there was the infamous Athens hospitality party we held at Plaka Taverna in 2008. Thirty-three of my most drunken travel friends altogether in one place! What a fiasco. Our fault too; you live you learn. And boy did we learn. It was a really fun time had by all–ozou, lamb, obligatory broken plates, dancing and all–right up to the point when all the cats finally got back to the hotel and learned that for the next four days they were all traveling overground between Athens and Bucharest…then it got not so fun. But we can laugh now, right!?

Anyway, back to Turkey, which  is a great travel destination, and Istanbul remains one of my top five favorite big cities in the world. (Osaka, Paris, Vienna, Buenos Aires, New York) A couple of years ago, my family rented an apartment here in June, literally right across from Galata Tower, and we had just an amazing stay. (Funny, now I remember spending my R-rated 30th birthday dancing with German nurses and drinking raki high atop that same tower when its incarnation was a garrish 80’s style disco! Alas, it was the eighties.) Istanbul offers visitors so much to see and do…and eat. It is a very safe city, easy to get around with a multitude of private and public transportation options, and of course so historic. To me the water just enhances everything and puts it over the top. You can boat from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, from Asia to Europe, and to the Dodecanese Islands in between.

Today’s memory comes from a 2005 alum Pat & Paul (aka the Bueschers), and takes place on an early morning here in Turkey:

“Hard to believe it has been 15 years. We left the hotel at 0400 to avoid traffic in Istanbul.  Fortunately, there were enough folks out and about, our cab driver was able to ask for directions.  We made it back to the hotel in time for breakfast and on to more scavenging by 0700.  I never operated for so many days on so little sleep.”

Buescher’s at Hannibal’s tomb.

Some other 2005 alums at hammam in Istanbul…

Pamela in 2002…always a good hair day in Istanbul!

Tomorrow we head to Europe.

Stay safe and well. Till tomorrow…

Please send any memories you want us to post to ringmaster (at) globalscavengerhunt (dot) com

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Day 15: Amman, Jordan

Day 15: Friday, 1 May 2020 – Amman, Jordan (31.9539° N, 35.9106° E) (459 Covid-19 cases & 8 deaths in Jordan as of today…alas, no word on the number of cases or deaths among the 1.4+ million Syrian refugees amassed along its northern border!)

First off…We missed it! Happy belated birthday to Rome. You are 2,773 years young. The Eternal City brings hope…and happiness every time we visit it. So, Happy Birthday Roma, whose motto most surely must be: This too shall pass…

So, May 1st…May Day. To the the non-North American world it means the real labor day, a glorious international celebration of what we all are–workers. And not just a lip service perfunctory day at the end of a long weekend that signals the end of commercial summertime and the beginning of a new school year…or football season! But I again regress…

We have had a few issues over the years traveling internationally on May Day, as we are wont to do. Everything is mostly closed everywhere or operating on skelton staffs. Not a good day for doing stuff really; other than walking about and eating. But definitely not an optimal day in which to lay your grand strategic linchpin of travel plans on; that is, not a good day from scavenging on The Global Scavenger Hunt.

I recall several such days in a few destinations over the years. One in 2009, with our teams in Istanbul doing their level best to avoid the historic Taksim Square area…where thousands upon thousands of united workers had gathered to celebrate (and a few violently to protest) their day-off and their happiness/unhappiness with their current labor arrangements. I think the word riot comes to mind. But having lived through the extended racial riots of Detroit in 1967 and the Rodney King/LA riots of 1992, I would actually say it was more akin to a Super Bowl winning fan street party–say like how the the wacko 49ers fans celebrated in San Francisco after their 1982 victory! So, on my personal experience riot scale, 2009 Istanbul, ranked a lowly two. Another time here, in 2011, we actually had a mid-morning flight to catch (it was a good day to transition between destinations, because as I mentioned, nothing is really open) but our timing was iffy leaving the hotel, with it being in the center of maybe another riot scale two, but also with all the associated roads and major arteries closed. So, I had to set up a Beatles-style VIP get away; hiring a few black SUV’s to get us to IST both timely and safely. We all checked out and met in the hotel lobby at our designated time for our somewhat anxiety-filled exit when the hotel’s security–replete with sharp blue suit coats, earpieces and walkie-talkies–hurriedy escorted us down to the bowels of the hotel and a secure back service entrance where we all piled into a few awaiting vehicles. Together our vehicles sped in close convoy formation to the the airport through a lot of urban craziness. Marchers, signs, whistles, personnel carriers, cops in riot gear, and kites. I remember the high-flying colorful kites for some reason? Of course, we all made it, but then, because we were so freakin’ efficient–and there was maybe a tad too much anticipated friction time built into our schedule by the hotel security staff–that we had three hours to kill in IST departure terminal. That’s a lot of pretzels and lokum (Turkish delight) to eat, and a lot of guilt-buying terminal time to kill. Alas, all went without incident.

Today’s memory takes place though here in Jordan, and is courtesy of Karen, a 2019 member of the MargoPolos:

“One of the most interesting, frustrating, but ultimately exciting aspects of the Global Scavenger Hunt is because you don’t know where you are going, you can’t prepare sufficiently, you basically learn and figure logistics on the spot, though the scavengers point you to the most important sites, sights and experiences.

So when we arrived in Amman, Jordan, and one of the scavenges was to go to Petra, I tried to recreate a powerful image I had seen of Petra at night, with people with candles. I walked (into) Petra for the night event. The walking proved the most exciting part. The actual event was quite disappointing – it ended half-hour after I arrived and consisted of some singing, and I only got a few photographs that I cared about. But staying over meant that I was able to go back to Petra at about 6 am – basically having this extraordinary place almost to myself. I had the most amazing time – hiking up to the monastery, and really lingering over details, and having time to tour the new archeological museum before getting back on the bus.”

Karen at Petra

Shepherd Boy w/ flock

We LOVE Petra

Delinquency in action

Floating in the Dead Sea…Whose selfie stick is that?

Pamela with new friends in Amman

2010’s 100% Bajan’s Dead Sea Mud Bath…

Regrets, I have few…but too few to mention. But I do have few travel regrets…and one took place here in 2010, when we brought our teams to Jordan. While they were all out and about, I mulled over going to Damascus, Syria–a straight shot two and a half hour drive north. I had not been there and the allure of finally seeing Umayyad & Sayyidah Ruqayya mosques and visiting the ancient souks, was very compelling. I had a car and driver and the passage secured for a two day visit, but at the last minute, the recent Icelandic volcano eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull, had me reconsider as I had a lot of issues to tend to–we were flying to Vienna from Amman and then yes, actually to Iceland! So I cancelled. I regret it not going to Syria badly, as we all know what began a few months later–The deadly and still ongoing Syrian Civil War that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions more. Old Damascus is no more.

Off to another pivot destination…a quick stopover in Istanbul.

I think we are all getting tired of winning! 

Stay safe and well. Till tomorrow…

Please send any memories you want us to post to ringmaster (at) globalscavengerhunt (dot) com

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Day 14: The Fabulous Bazaars of Cairo

Day 14: Thursday, 30 April 2020 – Cairo, Egypt (30.0444° N, 31.2357° E) (5,537 Covid-19 cases & 392 deaths as of today for Egypt)

Egypt. Love it, hate it. First time I visited it in the 80’s it was four days of absolute unmitigated madness: Ethnic costume dementia. Two am train fires. Stranded in the desert. Hitchhiking. Crypt break-ins. Too much Stella. Water skiing in the Nile…And then things really broke down! The several visits since have normalized Egypt for me–my kids in tow–but Egypt is Egypt; it has not really changed in 5,000 years frankly: You got the new boss and everyone else; same backdrops, same hues, same culture, same food, I imagine. Maybe not?

Anyway, Egypt is a dream come true for most people: the Egyptian Museum, lazy feluccas on the Nile, the Suez canal, genuine hospitality, hummus, Khan el-Khalili, desert oases, Alexandria’s bibliotheca …oh yea, almost forgot: Giza, Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Luxor, Abu Simbel, Saqqara, Djoser, Hatshepsut… Time in Egypt always proves too busy. (So, just wondering here now, not to pooh-pooh how lucky I am in any way–I do know it!–but how many times can you visit so-called “world wonders” like the pyramids? Is it once just to see it, Bucket List-style? Twice to get know it deeper? Three times to share it with a significant other? Fourth time to let your kids experience it? Fifth time because it’s just business? Sixth time because you are glutton for punishment? Seven times because you don’t subscribe to that old madness adage about doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results? Seven times… How many times? Please chime in here and help me out!)

We have a few Egyptian memories to share today: The first comes from Michael & Nita (aka Captain Marvel & Pi Baby), who were signed up to take our 2001 adventure, scheduled for October 2001 (alas 9/11 forced us to reschedule!), and eventually took our inaugural adventure back in the spring of 2002, but have come with us a few times after that too.

“Our most memorable time on “The Hunt“, and there have been so many in all of the four times that we have joined you. For me it’s no contest, our trip to Cairo and the Great Pyramid of Giza. I can’t remember if it was 2002 or 2004 (it was 2002) when we went to Cairo. We took a taxi from the Cairo Museum to our hotel and ask the driver about the Pyramids, he told us that he could take us there. (Of course he did!) We made an appointment for the next day to have him drive us there. He said that we should get there early to avoid the crowd so we agreed to meet at 7:00 am the next day. When we arrived at the location he told us that we could enter the Pyramid and go all the way to the burial chamber, the only thing is we couldn’t take a camera inside. He wouldn’t go in with us because it’s a long walk and the tunnel is only about four feet high. I’m 6’2″ and it was very uncomfortable for me to walk all bent over for that length of time. It took about fifteen minutes to get to the burial chamber but it was worth it. The chamber was maybe 30 by 40 feet and 40 feet high with a rectangular hole about 6′ by 10′ in the floor where the sarcophagus was found. You can use your imagination as to what our feelings were at being in the very place that is so full of history. It will stay with me for my whole life as being one of my most unforgettable moments. We feel very lucky to have found a way to do this as it was not on our list of scavenges.”

Captain Marvel & Pi Baby

Another Egypt memory comes from Andy, who joined the world travel championship travel adventure in 2008.

“One of the many fantastic things that standout in my mind about The Global Scavenger Hunt is my morning in Cairo out by the pyramids. I was up early having just arrived the night before from Singapore. I went down for breakfast in the Mena House hotel which is a former royal hunting lodge and then went out to explore. A lot of people are not aware that there is a golf course at the pyramids. I walked by and stopped in out of curiosity. And yes. I played. And to this day I have a great photo of me holding a putter on a green with the pyramids in the background.”

The 2008 tribe gather moss…

A personal memory…Lucca presenting Pamela
with a mom bouquet outside our hotel room

Love getting man on the street conversations going…true
exchanges of ideas.

The story here was we all had to wait a good 15-minutes until all our luggage, checked bags and larger ones, arrived in one spot. Now the transfer to the bus…but, this being Egypt, that takes another person; a one man pyramid builder then began stacking all the bags together–35 travelers worth–onto but one single cart…and he, eventually, did it too. It was precarious sight to behold. Can you say bagsheesh!

The story here in 2005 was Pamela took the gals out for a night of Nile River revelry on a dinner cruise. Food was eaten. Drinks were had. Fun ensued. The show began and the belly dancing part of the night started. Any volunteers? Yes, Pamela of course. (She loves to dance, thankfully.) And so she does…but the audience stops clapping along, grows silent with mouth gapingly aghast. Why? Because Pamela is showing the world that she is in fact 6-months pregnant with Lucca and shimming like a…Cleopatra.

We have one more Middle Eastern destination to visit when we stop in Jordan tomorrow.

Stay safe and well. Till tomorrow…

Please send any memories you want us to post to ringmaster (at) globalscavengerhunt (dot) com

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Day 13: Tunisia! Where the heck is Tunisia?

Day 13: Wednesday, 29 April 2020 – Tunis, Tunisia (36.8065° N, 10.1815° E) (980 Covid-19 cases & 40 deaths as of today)

Okay, I know, Tunisia is not on most people’s travel radar…so it might be easier to think about the ancients, like Carthage. As in Phoenicians, Punic’s and Romans, oh my. Well, that is now basically Tunisia. And that’s where we are headed today…

A great destination that Francophones have known about since they were just Gauls. (Sorry, no more history lessons today I promise, mostly.) Anyway…perpetually sunny weather, golden beaches and affordable luxuries await you in Tunisia, along with Roman amphitheaters, ancient forts, amazing archeological sites, fascinating museums, Sahara desert caravans, mosques older than most countries, white-on-white Mediterranean architecture, and many, many colorful doors. Oh, and busy souks of course… A lot to see and do for sure, and totally off the radar of Americans. (Quick, go find it on a map.)
We brought our annual traveling circus here in the spring of 2009. (And to think, the tumult of the Arab Spring started right here in Tunisia a short time after we left with the self-immolation of a heroic street vendor named Mohamed Bouzizi. An unsung hero to millions.) And from what I remember a decade later of our visit, a good time was had by all…and a geography lesson learned too.

Today’s memory comes from Bev & Buz in the form of a video taken during the 2009 travel adventure competition, and takes place in El Gem, Tunisia, the actual location they shot some rather dramatic Russell Crowe fighting scenes for the blockbuster movie The Gladiator…they called their video The Gladiator’s Last Stand. 

The Gladiator’s Last Stand…circa, 2009 edition

Thanks Bev & Buz…now we remember!

Stay safe and well. Till tomorrow…when we visit Egypt.

Please send any memories you want us to post to ringmaster (at) globalscavengerhunt (dot) com

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Day 12: Dancing in Ethiopia

Day 12: Tuesday, 28 April 2020 – Adidas Abba, Ethiopia (8.9806° N, 38.7578° E) (126 Covid-19 cases & 3 deaths in Ethiopia as of today)

Our 2020 memory tour of the world is half over today (Yea/Boo)…but if you see the glass as still half full, as I do, that means we still have another half to finish….in another parlance: we have rounded the turn and are heading for the back nine and signalling the clubhouse to get ready for us…we’re coming home.

By now, during our actual around the world events, all the teams are in their grooves, and type of in-the-moment travel rapture has taken place; a place that allows them to move about our exotic destinations with confidence and grace. Everyone is usually happy to be traveling at their own levels for such an extended time, knowing that there is more to come.

We had tried to get to Ethiopia a couple of times prior to actually arriving there in Addis Ababa 2018, but it just never worked out: airline schedules, troubling Islamists, Somalian refugee issues, a leadership vacuum for a few years piled on bubbling ethnic tensions. Mostly petty geopolitical concerns, but enough to keep us away. So finally in 2018 we arrived, and frankly, our travelers didn’t know what to expect and questions mushroomed: Running water? Refugees with bowls and flies? Famine? Terrorism? How bad is the squalor? Do they have restaurants, and hotels to our liking? But what they found upon arrival in Addis was stereotype-shattering and comforting. They found themselves amidst a peaceful and thriving developing city undergoing a serious facelift of sorts (Seems all the construction cranes from China have migrated here!) with: a modern high-rise filled central business district, a shiny new subway, clusters of huge apartment projects, historic statues and parks, busy malls, vibrant coffee shops and cafes, five-star hotels and a vital cultural scene…a city with a youthful and lusty edge. I remember watching the travelers whiplash looking left and right out the windows during our short drive from the modern airport to our comfortable hotel. And after 10 days on the road traveling…yeah, they were eager to deal with Ethiopia. Another new destination to experience. And they did…we had a great few days. And most wanted to come back to see more of it too…
Todays memory comes from Betty & Jim again, yes they get two, of team NOLA Second Line and takes places during that 2018 stop:

“We have many wonderful memories of Ethiopia. First and foremost was the most fabulous cultural show we have ever seen. This was not a performance by a repertory company doing all the numbers. We arrived at Yod Abyssinia around 6:45pm. The show started c. 7pm. Song, dance, percussion from various locales in Ethiopia each performed by a company native to the respective area. The one exception was the only participant who made a guest appearance from the USA! We enjoyed this evening with Kim and Gilles Gagnon. Due to our jet lag we reluctantly left c. 9:30. (The show would continue until midnight). Our table was front row center. It was a magical evening full of top quality entertainment. The next day we spent several hours touring the major sites in and around Addis Ababa. On the way back to town we photographed this woman carrying the branches on her back. Ethiopia was an incredible experience. There certainly is glamour and a fascinating culture between the real life grit of living there eking out an existence. We would return in a heartbeat.”

Onward…tomorrow we head to the banks of the Southern Mediterranean Sea, to an old-school Middle East stop in Tunisia.

Stay safe and well. Till tomorrow…

Please send any memories you want us to post to ringmaster (at) globalscavengerhunt (dot) com

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Day 11: Zimbabwe, Zambia & Botswana too…

Day 11: Monday, 27 April 2020 – Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (17.9318° S, 25.8256° E) (31 Covid-19 cases & 4 deaths in all of Zimbabwe as of today)

Good News Monday!
-Aspirin may reduce digestive tract cancers by 22-to-38%!
-The Hubble telescope celebrates its 30th birthday still sending us great space pics
-My horoscope said it was going to be a 5-star day!
-Harmful toxic air pollutant has dropped as much as 60 percent in some parts of the globe!
-New Zealand claims victory over Covid-19 within its borders! (Do you think they’ll let us in now?)
-Pamela has four baked goods available this morning: chocolate caramel brownies, date bars, peanut butter cookies and biscotti!
Homeland finally ended!

We decided to head south into Africa! We’re like that…keep our travelers off balance while they are out of their comfort zones as much as possible for 23-days.

You actually can get from Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Victoria Falls (VFA), of course you can, it takes 10 hours with a quick plane change in Johannesburg (JNB). Frankly, you can get anywhere from anyplace these days. Well, at least you could pre-Covid-19…as the future is unwritten.

I visited Zimbabwe once when billion and trillion dollar bills were all that was left of their sad local currency, it was a tough time; no visitors = no revenue. So, I actually had the entire Hwange National Park to myself (except for that lurking lion at 3am) for the days I was there–a solo safari goer…at the nation’s largest, with over over 100 mammal and 400 bird species spread out over 14,561 km2 (5,600 sq miles). Spectacularity unbelievable.

Thank you my Camp Hwange mates…

If you ever get the chance, visit Hwange National Park!

Now that is not to say take anything away from the great parks of neighboring Botswana (Okavango, Moremi, Makgadikgadi & Chobe) and Zambia (too many to name but two I love are Kafue & Luangwa) are equally amazing too, I just had such a great time with the place absolutely to my selfish self. Luckier than a…

Today’s set of memories come from Jim & Betty aka NOLA Second Line who joined us in 2018 to this part of Africa.

“Even though Jim and I had been in Victoria Falls in August 2017, it was nice to be back to this interesting Zimbabwe-Zambia-Botswana area during the wet season. Kim and Gilles (team Leo & the Crab) were with us. We enjoyed seeing their reaction and for us it was a nice comparison between wet and dry. Both have their merits but if we had to vote—wet edges out dry. On the way back we dilly dallied and Kim and Gilles went ahead. At that point we met this family of locals visiting the falls and have been in touch since. The heartwarming part of this was that they contacted us a couple of weeks ago to see how we are faring with the Coronavirus. New Orleans has been in the news and these wonderful people were concerned about us! They wanted to know if we are safe. They are also at home following the rules. Meeting people like this is what makes travel so special. Early one morning, Jim and I went on a very special safari leaving the hotel at 6am to visit the Zambezi National Park. Arriving at the Zambezi River before dawn, Jim took this scenic photo of the mist rising off the river. We sat there in that mystical, misty moment enjoying the incredible view and the gorgeous sunrise. It was so worth getting up before dawn. This is a memory etched forever in our minds.”

NOLA Second Line w/Leo & the Crab at the much touted Victoria Falls Hotel
(Thank you Bill. We liked where we stayed much better.)

BTW: The best Victoria Falls hotel is the Batonka Guest Lodge.

Oh yeah…you need a Vic Falls photo:

Tomorrow we continue in Africa but head back north to magical Ethiopia.

Stay safe and well. Till tomorrow…

Please send any memories you want us to post to ringmaster (at) globalscavengerhunt (dot) com

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Day 10: The Malls of Arabia

Day 10: Sunday, 26 April 2020 – Abu Dhabi, UAE (24.4539° N, 54.3773° E) (9,281 Covid-19 cases & 64 deaths as of today)

The Pivot. It takes place every year. It is the destination (aka a well-placed international-serving airport hub) that we inevitably have to stopover at, as we circle the globe in just 23-short days. There are a few such spots in the 21st century that have been specifically designed and built–if they build it they will come–for the hypermobile world we live in. (Or, used to live in?) They call them aerotropolises. And over the years we have used Manama-Bahrain, Doha-Qatar, Muscat-Oman and both Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, as previous pivot destinations. Usually we try to linger a day or two, as these nouveau riche nations prove to be such a great juxtaposition to their older rundown Middle Eastern brothers–that we may or may not, visit later on. Tip: Oman is a wonderful destination that NOBODY visits…go!

So, having said all that, we were somewhat surprised that we only got one memory from this part of the world with biggest, tallest, newest, fastest, most expensive and bestest in everything…and it is from Ali (Who just had a baby, named Freya! Congrats!) and her 2019 team NEXUS…that takes place in the United Arab Emirates:

“The scavenge: Take in a tanoura dance. If you’ve ever heard of the term “whirling dervish” then you probably have a reasonable idea what a tanoura dance might look like. A heavy skirt is worn and the dancer spins about fast enough that the skirt flares out. My teammate and I were treated to a performance while having dinner at a little desert camp outside of Abu Dhabi. At the end, the dancer looked for volunteers from the audience to join in, but everyone else was too shy, so of course I stepped up! My only question: how many points is joining in worth?”

Sally & Baraba at falcon hospital…

Team NEXUS exhibiting a fun case of Ethnic Costume Dementia…it happens.

Our 2019 tribe in Abu Dhabi

Since we’re at a transport hub, this might be a good chance to rehash an unpleasant experience we had in 2014. It was a typically sunny Sunday morning in Dubai when we awoke with all right in the world. Our well-designed plan was to have a busy but fun day for our travelers, enjoying a rather healthy breakfast in one country (UAE), with the plan to have lunch in a second still mysterious country during one of our thrilling 8-Hour Layover Challenges (Istanbul, Turkey), and then dinner and late night cocktails in a third country (Budapest, Hungary). All the work planning it, all the meticulous scheduling, all the organization skills…all for not. Here’s what happened: All our teams arrived at the Dubai International Airport (DXB) with plenty of time to take their confirmed spaces on their confirmed flight to Istanbul. As I watched our last few remaining teams (always lollygaggers) finally get checked-in, and now knowingly relieved that everyone had their assigned boarding passes, I noticed with amusement a robed sheik with a large family along with a retinue of subservient attendants, arrive in haste pushing themselves to the front of the queue, as they are prone to do. A briefcase is plopped on the counter and opened. Apparently there was a lot of money in that briefcase. Apparently the sheik has notoriety in the kingdom. The airline’s passenger service staff assemble. Heads shook. Hands waved. Calls are made. The next thing I know, as we are in the final boarding process for our DXB-IST flight, a kind of scuffle ensues at the gate. A few passengers with valid confirmed boarding passes in hand, are now being unceremoniously denied boarding; including six of our adventurers, including our defending champs The Ogopogos from Canada, as well as team Heckarewee, also from Canada, and the GeoTrekers. As I quickly express my deep concern with unmovable and unempowered gate agents, the sheik and his entourage are escorted onto the plane behind me. Ahhh…

Needless to say, our day was shot to shit…but we all did eventually get to Budapest, the final six arriving exactly 24-hours later on the next days flight. Up to then, it was the only major snafu to date–knocking on the wood of my desk, in fifteen around the world adventures including hundreds of flights; we have had 10 participants in total miss their scheduled flights: these six, a gal in 2002 who forgot her passport in her Istanbul hotel safe, one PAX was left in Poland on our return flight back to the USA because his First Class ticket wasn’t in order!?, and last year in 2019, team Order & Chaos were left in Vietnam because of a spelling mistake on their tourist visa to enter Myanmar. They all arrived to their impending destinations quickly thereafter. But that time in Dubai, I still take it personally, and will never again travel to the Middle East–without a briefcase of money! And yes, not to worry about the three teams left in UAE, led by Gerry’s (RIP) invaluable years of international travel experience, they of course were all put up in a splashy DXB airport-adjoined hotel for the night with sincere apologies expressed and tabs paid. And apparently their collective dinner, and rather lengthy bar bill entered four digit territory! Well done

The 2014 tribe intack…Yes, we all make mistakes!

Stay safe and well. Till tomorrow…

Please send any memories you want us to post to ringmaster (at) globalscavengerhunt (dot) com

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Day 9: Exhilarating India

Day 9: Saturday, 25 April 2020 – Jaipur, India (26.9124° N, 75.7873° E) ( 24,942 Covid-19 cases & 779 deaths in all of India as of today)

A brief aside for us travelers. Maybe hopeful, maybe not.

I confess to have eaten dirt when I was a kid. And other dirty things too. I played with living and dead critters. I have never been obsessed with avoiding germs. In fact, I saw the benefits of the healthy and varied biomes in my stomach–trillions of organisms from thousands of species, yikes! My science classes taught me that microorganisms were our friends…the good ones of course; and germs and parasites are ubiquitous. I let my daughter eat ants–apparently they were spicey! But not worms. We always had numerous species of pets. Never had wipes growing up or when raising my kids. Playgrounds, pre-school, sports…yep. Hand sanitizers are relatively new in my consciousness. I do see their merits of course, but simple thorough hand washing was always the mantra in our house. We let minor kid conditions run their course without zapping them with pharmaceuticals. And none of my kids have asthma, autoimmune disorders or food allergies of any kind; me either. Coincidence? Anyway, here’s my point: I would speculate that we travelers have been exposed to a wide range of bacteria and viruses from around the world (that Sri Lankan out-house, that Hong Kong wet market, that refugee-run restaurant in Ethiopia, those Moroccan farm animals, that Indian train ride, that Yangon to Dala ferry, that intercontinental flight from Istanbul…etc, etc..) that would seem essential to our health and the production of our antibody immunities. It can’t be just because I drink vodka on the road! I would think that like athletes in training, that our immune systems have been strengthening themselves with repetitive exposures while we travel the world. Maybe our systems are super strong and create extra-high energized T-cells that more easily overcome the bad pathogens that may enter our systems and help us maintain our homeostasis. Makes sense, no? So, to all us travelers, stay healthy, I think we are well-equipped…but keep on self medicating with vodka too–it can’t hurt in these perilous times!

India…What are the clichés? The great unknown. The definition of culture shock. You’ll either love it or hate it–there is no in between. Expect the unexpected. An assault on the senses. India time is relative. The land of snake charmers. Delhi belly. They’re so poor, but happy. Organized chaos. Cows rule the road. They have too many Gods. Be careful you don’t lose yourself. Corruption is everywhere. No one speaks English. The food is too spicy. It’s too hot, too humid, too polluted. Forget personal space. The land of temple burnout. The people will tug at your heart strings. INDIA = I’ll Never Do It Again. India teaches you patience. You have not experienced India until you’ve taken a train. Nothing can prepare you for India. Heartbreaking. Life affirming. …stereotypes are shorthand for turisms. And there is a lot of human truth to be found in India; the good, the bad and the ugly. And that’s all before breakfast.

One point three billion people; that’s 1,353,000,000 souls. Each with a life, a family, a past and a future, and a story to tell. And you might possibly meet them all too…if you do it right. And we have tried to do it right, having visited India seven times while conducting our annual travel adventure competition, The Global Scavenger Hunt: Chennai, Delhi, Pune, Agra, Jaipur, Mumbai, Amritsar…and a whole lot of villages and national parks in between. But we have barely scratched the surface. India is the great equalizer to me, and the ultimate travel competition gameboard. Win, lose, tie, it doesn’t matter where your team places on the India leg; survival is the key…getting through it. Indeed, if you can travel well in India, you can travel well anywhere. And so, we do our best to expose our travelers, usually every-other-year, to the amazing land and people that is the India I know.

Knowing full well that India is hard to articulate, yet such a Wow!…we of course got a few memories from our alum about their adventures in India. First up today, based on his early-years seniority, is Randy, a 2004 almost event winner until the last day (A fun story you should ask him about someday!), that seems like a fun movie trailer:

“The Taj Mahal delivers on its reputation as one of the seven wonders of the new world. The Taj draws seven million people a year and is a goldmine for local entrepreneurs. The Slumdog Millionaire (2008) scene where Jamal Malik poses as a guide and passes off an absurd history of the Taj is one of many scams. And the kids stealing shoes outside the entrance of the tomb? Yeah, they exist. It’s easy to miss the sign where for 50 rupees your shoes will be safely guarded. At least it was for me. Compounding my new dilemma of losing the only tennis shoes I had for the entire trip was the searing heat of the stones beneath my socks as I hotfooted it out the main entrance. But I was in luck. A smart fellow ran a shoe store right outside the main gate, dealing in cheap handmade goods and the fenced take from the previous day. He had many choices, right up to the equivalent of a U.S. men’s size 9. I wear a 12. The problem with running around the hilly streets of Agra in a race for scavenges on a hot day in March is the debilitating calf cramping caused by curling one’s toes over the edge of a leather sandal three sizes too small. This must be what it’s like to bonk at the end of a marathon. I stumbled into the nearby Agra Sheraton one hot mess at the end of the day but felt far better when greeted at the front door by two unusual men, one beturbaned with a large sabre tucked in his waistband and the other in a furry chipmunk costume. Fear and Loathing in Agra. The next morning in the tiny backseat of a beater car on the way to Jaipur that would later break down I cut up a pair of gym socks to use for heel straps and ran around in this ridiculous getup for two more days. As I remember we won the India leg of GE2004, literally on my last leg. I doubt the kid who lifted my Nikes ever found someone with feet large enough to buy them, nor could he imagine this story coming up 16 years later. Cultural immersion is indeed a beautiful thing. The moral of the story? When the shoe valet charges 50 rupee, use it!”
Randy and Agra friends, sans Nikes.                                       Better days, pre-adventure appropriation!

More scenes from India past…

Next up is Jackie’s memory. Part of a 2009 team called the GG’s (aka Galavanting Gals), her memory is not only a great story, but sums up the spirit and creativity the event calls on…:

“A great Global Scavenger Hunt moment for us took place April 27, 2009 in the Rajasthan Area, Jaipur, India. We were asked to climb to the top of the Palace of the Winds and convey the purpose of it. We were then told to enjoy the view from across the street in a rooftop cafe. Scavenging on foot since about 1:00pm, with the temperature at about 118, we went to the top of the Palace of the Winds about 3:30pm. This palace we learned was for the ladies of the harem. From the many jali screens they could observe without being observed.  In addition, the jalis were designed to catch the wind for cooling…how wonderful. From the top, the entire city could be seen. We then crossed the street to complete the scavenge and there wasn’t any rooftop cafe around. So we found a nice merchant on the street to help us locate such a cafe. He confirmed that there weren’t any rooftop cafes. The charming man took us through his little storefront opening into a courtyard and up some stairs to his artifact store. He proudly displayed his espresso machine, made us coffee to drink out of his beautiful china cups and served us on his balcony overlooking the Palace. Upon leaving he asked us for the web information so he could follow us on our journey. We were the only team to fully complete this scavenge that day. Success was ours in trusting this stranger in a strange land.”

Jackie & partner Sylvia using a good map…

Finally, Alicia from the 2004 winning team offered up her top ten list, and since a few are from India, we will leave it here for you:

“Wow, there were so many memorable scavenges and events during our Global Scavenge trip in April 2004. My top ten are:
1.  Seeing the Taj Mahal.  I teared up and thought of my mother who would have loved to see this beautiful and elegant architectural homage.
2.  Talking our way into the Burj al Arab Hotel and holding up a line of their silver Rolls Royce’s because I wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
3.  Spotting a flat bed truck with a body wrapped in white sheets and following it in a tut-tut to witness a cremation/burial on the Yamuna River.
4.  Eating street food in New Dehli and living to tell about it.
5.  Eating the most delicious Thai food in Bangkok.
6.  Sunrise at Ankor Wat while spending time with the orange robed monks.
7.  Firing an AK-47 at the Viet Cong tunnels in Cú Chi.  It was the first time I ever handled a gun.  It will be the last time.
8.  Walking within the beautiful old city of Fez and navigating the souks.
9.  Visiting Sintra with its magnificent palaces and bringing home a stunning reproduction of tiles used in the early 15th century.
10. Winning the 2004 World’s Greatest Travelers award.”

Finally today, we have Pamela, half of the 2018 team of Sonoma County Strong:

“I had always wondered about India, but never actually thought I would get there. When we found out we were going, I was exhilarated and terrified in equal measure. I figured well, when in Delhi, we had to see the Taj Mahal. It was a crazy, smelly, devastating, intense train ride just to get there. I knew it would be a good experience, and it would be beautiful. However, I was not prepared for the tears that I wept when I finally walked through the gate and saw it in its full glory. Despite the intense heat and discomfort, it took my breath away. One of the major awe-struck moments of my life. I’ll never forget it. Thanks for showing us the world.”
Gawd, I know what I want for dinner tonight after this post…a Bukhara feast of: onion kulcha, Sikandari raan, Mugrh chicken tandoori, garlic naan, dark dal, and keep the Taj lagers a coming, please. (Bev, Buz…you coming over? We could go to the Golden Temple in the morning?)

Well, as I like to tell our travelers, it’s now time to reposition ourselves into another part of the world, to conduct one of our infamous pivots–that might take us north to Europe, south/west to Africa, or maybe just linger in the Middle East? …with our stop tomorrow being a quickie to Abu Dhabi.

By the way…I have been asked what kind of music I am listening to during our period of  Covid-19-inspired self-isolation…good question. Of course, like everything/mood, I have playlist for that:

Stay safe and well. Till tomorrow…

Please send any memories you want us to post to ringmaster (at) globalscavengerhunt (dot) com

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Day 8: Nepal

Day 8: Friday, 24 April 2020 – Kathmandu, Nepal (27.7172° N, 85.3240° E) (48 Covid-19 cases & zero deaths as of today)

Here we are, just a week into The Global Scavenger Hunt 2020 23-day memory road edition…and we’ve already revisited Japan, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar. Makes sense…although I am kind of surprised we got no Laos memories from Luang Prabang: that Boun Pi Mai New Year’s water festival was a treat. Onward we go…we have a world to circle and just two short weeks now do it in.

The legend is that the idea of actually doing this scavenger hunt travel adventure came to me while visiting Nepal in the 90’s somewhere on the Annapurna Circuit. Anybody who knows me longer than 10-minutes knows how passionate about travel I am, and ever since participating in that 1989 race around the world on public transportation ala Around the World 80 Days, knows I wanted to do it again. Sadly, no one was ever foolish enough to organize such a thing…it is not a most financially viable enterprise one could undertake. But hey, you only live twice, right. So, yes, it was in Nepal that the reality that I could do it my way was first entertained. Divine intervention? Naw. More like oxygen deprivation. But as Thoreau, Nietzsche and Kant all knew: walking does make you think clearer. And so here we are…fifteen turns under our belt. Will another ever take place? I dunno in these radically uncertain times, the will is still there; but will there be a way?

We have visited Nepal a couple of times. It is a special place like no other. In a split screen moment of time in the mind’s nostalgic eye, I remember: my not yet 3-year old son being chatted up by a colorfully-dressed sadhu with a potion bag filled with who-knows-what, while my 13-year old daughter watching in horror as a man dies with his hand in the brackish-grey Bagmati River next to several burning body cremations on nearby ghants (the dying man’s fate within an hour), all while my wife tries to shoo away a couple of mischievous gray langur monkeys trying to steal my camera bag as I overlooked the always busy with pilgrims sprawling spiritual Pashupatinath hindu temple complex. All in one take! Life is like that sometimes for us travelers. And it seems to happen a lot in places like Nepal. Inspirational, breathtaking, amazing, saddening, magnificent, confusing, enchanting, enlightening, words are sometimes useless. Nepal must be seen and experienced.

Sadly though, our lone Nepal memory comes from the mother half of a 2008 mother-daughter team known simply as Claire & Mia (Not their real names! Funny story that is too…), here is Claire’s memory:

“Every moment in Nepal was astonishing and unforgettable, in ways I’ve never experienced in any other country. All my senses were continually bombarded with something extraordinary, on every level, from shallow to profound. Art adorns almost every surface; there is also grinding poverty nearly everywhere. Thus my eyes were dazzled by beauty even as my heart so often ached. Women in bright jewel-toned saris emerge from blue tarp slum encampments to step over smoking piles of garbage on the way to fetch water. Shoeless, malnourished children trudge past well-fed girls in crisp school uniforms waiting for a school bus. In one glance down the Bagmati River I saw a family of means above the burning corpse of a loved one, scrawny poor children searching the river bottom for the gold teeth of the incinerated dead, a beautiful young woman waist deep in the river washing a bright orange sari. I also found in Nepal, more than any other place I’ve been, a fierce determination to improve themselves and their nation, a palpable drive to learn and prosper. Every third world country has beggars, but only in Nepal have I seen signs posted everywhere imploring citizens: Preserve our dignity, do not beg.”
The sights, sounds & smells…

A Mount Everest flight…on Buddha Air?

And the money shot…

The 2013 Tribe in KTM…

Lucca & dad having drinks in Bhaktapur…

Daughter & dad                    Ms. Pamela learning the finer points…yum.

Our final subcontinent stop tomorrow is the mack-daddy of all travel adventure destinations–India! Because, as Frank would sing: If you can travel there, you really can travel anywhere. 

Stay safe and well. Till tomorrow…

Please send any memories you want us to post to ringmaster (at) globalscavengerhunt (dot) com

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Day 7: The Plains of Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay

Day 7: Thursday, 23 April 2020 – Yangon, Myanmar (16.8409° N, 96.1735° E) (123 Covid-19 cases & 5 deaths, as of today)

To paraphrase a Beatles song, I read the news today, oh boy…even the funny pages were sad: 50,000 Americans dead in a month, 900,000+ cases, 26+ million unemployed, over $4 trillion allocated to relieve the pain…and yet…he’s still there and telling people to inject disinfectant into their lungs! WTF folks!? (Sorry, some days are easier than others…allow for my brief outburst, please. Chalk it up to cabin fever, or stark rationality, pick ’em?)

But in another world, far, far away from reality…today we come to the edge of the Indian subcontinent that straddles Southeast Asia and China too…Myanmar. Another amazing travel destination. But not for the faint of heart…

Myanmar was the destination I took Pamela to on her Road Test. What’s a Road Test? you ask. Well, it is when you are getting serious about someone and you want to know first hand what type of travelers they are. Especially when traveling is such a big part of my life. It is a make or break proposition in the best of times: on a lush resort weekend trip or a week dining in Italy; but traveling to a lesser developed country (aka Lower-middle income nation, what some in the olden days before PCism, called the Third World) for an extended duration, that is a toughie. Not a lot can be hidden there. Needless to say, despite all the hurdles I put in front of her, on a rather short 10-day notice too, Pamela passed with flying colors. She remains frankly (love you kids, really!) the only person I prefer to travel with other than going it solo as I still so often do. And she is much more fun than going solo…if you know what I mean. But I regress…

We have brought our adventure here twice now: Once after President Obama opened it up for legal US tourists in 2011, and then again last year. Both visits were breathtaking. It is a Thumbs Up, Bucket List, and Go Visit Now destination. (Well, maybe not right now.) The place is so rich on so many levels it is impossible to describe, so we will let three of our alum’s memories speak for themselves.

First up…Tom and Paula are an interesting husband/wife team of adventurers; Paula contacted us way back in 2003 wanting to join in on the fun of The Global Scavenger Hunt  that she obviously saw, but it took her over a decade to finally talk stubborn old Tom into finally going. Hooked now, they have traveled with us several times, with this memory from team SLO Folks 2019 lap around the world …that was just 11-short months and yet a thousand years ago!:

“Visiting Myanmar was an eye opening experience for us in 2019. It’s a large country with so much to see. We could have stayed in Yangon, the capital city, but chose instead to go out into the countryside. It’s an exotic place, with a multitude of temples, pagodas, and stupas. It was hot and sticky but so worthwhile. Some of the temples in Bagan are over 2,500 years old and even Marco Polo commented on their beauty. One of the most memorable attractions was a long drive from Inle Lake, where houses are built on stilts to the Kakku Pagodas. There are over 2,000 pagodas constructed thousands of years ago, all remarkably preserved. In Yangon, we visited the biggest, most famous and sacred pagoda of all, the Shwedagon Buddhist Pagoda. It eclipses the city and takes about an hour to circumnavigate.  We would have to say that Myanmar was one of our favorite countries to visit. The people and the sights were overwhelming wonderful.”
Tom & Paula @ Kakku Pagodas                          Shewedagon

Then there’s team Order & Chaos (a long story), who’s real names are Sal & Vivian–both doctors fighting currently to save us all!–and this memory of theirs, also from 2019, but it takes place in Mandalay:

“Well, here we are a year later in a very different world wishing we could go back in time and relive 2019 for a variety of reasons. The beauty of keeping a log is that we have access to all sorts of memories, but what’s more interesting is the memories that get referenced without having to go back and review anything. For us, a very recent reference was the roti we found in Mandalay. It wasn’t that it was dark, or that we were in an unfamiliar city, or that the location of the clue was wrong (the only time in the history of the GSH in which a clue was somewhat obtuse bordering on downright incorrect), all of those things are just icing on the cake. If the GSH teaches you anything it is that if you have to work for something you’ll appreciate it even more. So we worked for a couple blocks in every direction until we found it…an Indian woman and her sons making roti on a street side grill. This was early enough in the trip that we still had antibiotics in the case of food poisoning and this was 2019 so we still had access to toilet paper. Of course, we recognize that a place with no apparent water supply can only mean that they thoroughly washed every ingredient and their hands before setting up for the evening, right? Fears aside, that was the best roti we ever had. We split one and immediately realized we needed a second. And here’s why you should never go on The Global Scavenger Hunt, because once you’ve searched out and found the world’s best roti, everywhere you go and try to recreate the experience…it doesn’t live up to it, like roller coasters or weddings. Hmm, I might be wrong about that…but later that same trip we did go on world’s fastest roller coaster in Abu Dhabi three times in a row and it kept getting better. Okay, maybe I didn’t learn any life lessons the way Bill hoped, but we did have some awesome Indian food in Myanmar of all places.”

The BEST roti, ever!

Stylish as ever!

Finally today, we have half of the Young Gunz team from 2012, with Angel sharing his memory of a long night and sublime morning:

“One of my most memorable adventures on The Global Scavenger Hunt was when we were in Myanmar. We went and found someone to drive us overnight to Inle Lake from Bagan. (About seven hours and 340-kilometers) I remember not being able to sleep because of how bumpy the road was. (Or maybe it was just the car we were in?) I would look out the window and you could see just how close the other cars would speed by us. After a long night of no sleep we finally arrive to the most beautiful view. The sunrise at Inle Lake! You could see the silhouettes of fisherman on their boats holding and steering themselves with the paddle using one leg, balancing with the other, then throwing their casting nets. It was definitely one of the most amazing experiences in my life.”

Reasons to still smile…team Young Gunz

Morning has broken…

Angel motivating the lads…

Boating on Inle Lake…

My view at the Residence…

My view at Bagan…

And more memories than we can hold in…

The End…or is it? So, last year, we are home in Sonoma County for about four or five days (mid-May) before I get to unloading my backpack. About an hour later, I hear Pamela calling me, “Honey, there is something wiggling on the hallway floor.” I come to check it out. And yes, there indeed is something wiggling on the hallway floor. It is a small, and I must say, rather emaciated looking Montblanc fountain-pen sized snake. It was not a Wine Country indigenous snake either. It was a brightly-colored red and yellow exotic snake of unknown origin, clearly not found in these parts. And the slithering critter was worse for it’s travels too…wherever it came from. An involuntary hitchhiker. I immediately escorted it outside. Yet, minutes later I was profoundly sorry for doing that. I should have killed the scalley slimey deadly mother#@! And now I know I may have inadvertently unleashed an invasive species into our front yard and Wine Country’s backyard. I later took notice that Lonely Planet mentions that Myanmar has one of the highest incidences of death from snakebite in the world (Who knew? Travelers, I wish to amend my previous opening remarks…) …I reckon it wasn’t a Burmese python (not the right colors or size)…but may have been an Banded krait or a Mangrove snake (most likely)…and as we stayed in a riverfront hotel with dock-like see-through floors over the water adjacent to the swampy reeds of Lake Inle for a night, it could have easily slithered into the bag then? That’s my best guess.

Whew, our cup runneth over…hard to leave Myanmar. Always an exceptional destination.

Our memory lane stops over tomorrow in Nepal.

Stay safe and well. Till tomorrow…

Please send any memories you want us to post to ringmaster (at) globalscavengerhunt (dot) com

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